Quartet (Movie 2012)

2 Kernels

 Lacking Substance
 Movie 2012 (Directed by Dustin Hoffman)
Staring: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, and Pauline Collins


Fantastic line-up of stars, especially Maggie Smith. I couldn’t wait to see her in action. Perhaps my expectations were too high going into another British movie, but unfortunately it didn’t move me as much as I had hoped. In fact, I fast-forwarded the ending just to get through it.  I so hate giving a two-star review to great artists.  But just because they are, it doesn’t make the work itself a great picture.

It’s a story about a retirement home where aging musicians go to live out the remainder of their lives.  Many of them know each other from the early days when they were at the highlight of their careers.  They have now congregated in one place to continue dabbling in the art of music while they wait for the undertaker to take them away in a body bag.

Maggie Smith plays Jean Horton, a once famous and highly sought after opera singer who is now old, broke, and alone.  (Of course they say she’s broke, but I’m not sure how she affords the swanky retirement home.)  Like most elderly, her baggage upon arrival is filled with bitterness over life. To make matters worse, she discovers that her ex-husband is living out his days at the retirement home as well.  He’s not much better when it comes to forgiveness for Jean’s early days of adultery, so most of the movie he has a chip on his shoulder along with the air of being a former star himself.

The storyline is weak, superficial, and frankly uninteresting.  I will say this, that it would be a great place to retire! The movie is set in an converted English manor, with gorgeous countryside, comfortable and beautiful interior, kind staff, and an eclectic mix of eccentric elderly. You can sing your days away, rumba to music, croquet to your heart’s content, and walk the grounds with a dirty old man, if you’d like. However, the story, at least for me, started with a great premise, but moved at a snail’s pace.

If the movie accomplishes anything, it does give a poignant view of aging and how one’s youth and glory fades. We all know it’s coming; perhaps we just don’t wish to acknowledge it.

Excuse me, while I search the Internet to find a retirement home in the UK that fits the description for retired authors.  I would love to pack my bags and take my own bitterness over life to a swanky retirement home in the English countryside to live out my days. I can pen murder mysteries until they haul me away in a body bag. Works for me.

Man of Steel (Movie 2013)

PG-13 | Intense sequences of sci-fi
violence, action and destruction,
and for some language.
4 Kernels
Well, I just got back from watching Man of Steel.  After being hyped up for months on end with trailers, pictures, and secrets about this movie, it’s over.  Superman has arrived in a new cool suit.

Wow, where do you begin?  Well, how about Russell Crowe delivering a baby on the dying planet of Krypton.  I often wonder if alien planets were out there, would their technology look as cool as the stuff we imagine?  Kudos to the minds who thought up these visuals.  Perhaps they had an alien muse from Area 51. Aside from the nifty technology, Crowe was great throughout the picture alive and dead (you’ll have to figure that one out).

Move onto planet earth with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, more legends on the screen giving great performances.  The movie offers insight into Superman’s younger years with terrific performance from the young lad (Dylan Sprayberry), who plays his part.  It’s an internal struggle that Clark must journey on his own to find his identify.  His earthly father teaches him wisdom and restraint with his gifts, until he finally meets his real father and learns of his origins and why he is on planet earth.

Enter cute Amy Adams who plays Lois Lane, destined to fall in love with Superman.  As one army woman says at the end, “I think he’s hot.”  And hot he is!  Henry Cavill did a great job in the role with the internal identity struggle and the will to do good among the humans he has lived with for thirty-plus years.  It’s not until the end in order to save the planet does he finally succumb to willfully killing another to save others.   Amy is cute in her own right, falling in love with a handsome well-dressed alien in red and blue, but she is also acquainted with the man in jeans and a tee shirt.  I’m sorry, but you just can’t help but wonder what making love to Superman would be like – perhaps we shouldn’t go down that road.

The technology of the aliens is quite cool.  The alien ships, suits, and costumes are unique. Though many humans are killed in the battle for earth, there isn’t a lot of blood and gore.

The only complaint I really had about the movie was the lengthy fight scenes between Superman and the aliens.  They seemed to go on forever, and frankly I think they could have cut a good half-hour out of the movie.  All right, you get the point, it’s a fight of evil and good, but a few good cuts on the editing floor would have done the movie better.  My guess is the guys in special effects were like kids having too much fun seeing how many walls and buildings they could throw Superman and his enemies through. It’s two hours and twenty-three minutes long, so hit the restroom or be like the fifty people I saw running out during a lull in the story — including yours truly.

Of course, as you watch the movie you think things like — How can he fly in space without air?  How can he get beat up for a half hour straight and not have a scratch or drop of blood on him?  How can he walk through fire?  How can he breathe under water? How could society recover at the end with so much devastation?  The list goes on and on – but hey, it’s Superman!  I suppose if we ever do get invaded by aliens, I’d like this dude on my side.

It’s quite obvious at the end that sequels are coming, because it ends with Clark Kent getting a job at the Daily Planet to blend into society. Of course, Lois Lane, who has probably kissed him a few more times by now, knows his secret!
One more note, Hans Zimmer does a great job at a musical score.  A bit dark like the Dark Knight, but nonetheless quite good.  I love the guy’s music anyway.

Is it worth the ticket?  Sure.  Just for the story and the visuals, plus the top-notch stars in the movie.  Is it worth two-hours and twenty-three minutes?  I could have done with one and forty-five and less fighting between Superman and Zod (played by Michael Shannon), who by the way is one of those damn villains who just won’t die!

All in all, Superman is just super. It is not a movie filled with jokes and lighthearted scenes. It’s serious. He overcomes obstacles constantly when he should have died at least twenty times in the movie from all that he went through to save the human race.  Probably a little over-the-top but that’s the movies.  It’s all make believe, epic sci-fi special effects, and cute Henry Cavill in one damn good looking suit.

And it’s not an “S” on his shirt – it’s a symbol that means hope.  But on earth, it’s an “S” to us, standing for Superman.

“You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”

(You might enjoy the cool website too!  http://manofsteel.warnerbros.com/)


The Guardian (Television 2001-2004)

4 Kernels

Complicated Character Extraordinaire
The Guardian (TV)
Stars:  Simon Baker, Alan Rosenberg, Dabney Coleman,
Wendy Moniz
Nick Fallin.  Could there possibly be a more complicated character than this dude?  Psychologists must have loved watching this creation on television with his multifaceted personality.  He can be a tongue-tied child at one moment and a savvy attorney the next as he argues your case in front of the judge. He’s intelligent, closed off, and barely communicates. To top it off, he’s a former drug addict going through a very reluctant rehabilitation.

The story begins when Nick, who was arrested for misdemeanor drug possession, is sentenced to 1,500 hours of community service.  He’s the rich kid, who had everything.  His father is the big-shot attorney in Philadelphia who owns his own firm. He sent Nick off to boarding school at the age of 12 when his mother died.  His father is no better in expressing an ounce of honest emotion than Nicholas. The man can barely lift his head for two seconds to give his son eye contact, or if he does, he’s pushing his bare palms over his nearly bald head.  

Even though Nick Fallin is a complicated mess that sometimes you want to shake by the shoulders and bring out of his shell, you sort of feel bad for the guy. I’ve had this overwhelming motherly urge to give him a hug and tell him it will be okay.  Simon Baker plays his role very well.  His facial expressions, his eye movements, the way he shrugs his shoulders, uses body language, or lifts the corner of his mouth up in his usual non-verbal responses tells you exactly what he’s going through. When he smiles, it flashes for a brief moment and then gets reigned back lest you think Nick could really be happy.  At times you think you have him figured out and then reacts differently and frustrates the hell out of you. On top of his inability to communicate and express his feelings, he is emotionally cut off from others. His greatest flaw is his denial that he doesn’t have a problem, which he clearly does.

His community service begins working with child legal services in representing children in court.  At first his arrogant pride puts him far above that kind of work. He’s awkward to the point he’s clearly challenged in dealing with emotional situations, especially those of kids. As the show progresses and the children make a difference in his life, you slowly learn that Nick Fallin is nothing more than a soft-hearted teddy bear deep down inside, with a rock-hard shell.  He just can’t show it unless wild horses drag it out of him, or a particular woman.

As the season progresses, the child community service loses its funding and becomes legal aid for adults.  Once again, he’s challenged because he has to deal with adults as well as children. He falls for a woman in the office, but can’t bring himself to tell her he cares until its too late.  His relationship with his father is tested to the core, and he once again dabbles in drugs for a short time to numb the pain he cannot express.  

All in all, after watching the first season, I’m going to tune in the others.  It’s a great show.  Actually, a bit educational as well, especially learning what the legal guardian does for a child in court.  As far as Simon Baker, he’s nice to look at.  In some of the shots, he looks very young.  He’s supposed to be 32 in the series, but he reminds me at times of a 23 year old.  It’s interesting to see how he’s matured in his current work in The Mentalist.

The other characters, as usual, have their own lives that suck you in, gut none are really as interesting as Nicholas.  It’s worth the watch.  Of course, it only took me 12 years to finally get around to it, but what the heck.  Better late than never.

UPDATE:  I’m nearly done with Season 3.  I’m going to miss this series.  The best episode – when Nick and Lulu fight and then he finally…yes, finally, grabs her in the heat of passion and kisses Lulu after they both yell at each other, “screw you!”  Priceless.

LAST UPDATE:   The series finale was a huge disappointment to me.  The writers could have done a wonderful job ending the series with a decent closure. Instead they focused upon a sub-plot regarding capital punishment that took up too much time from the lives of Nick, Lulu, his father, and Alvin.  

I wanted to kill the writers of the show.  Okay, I get that all things come to an end, but not giving Nick and Lulu a happily ever-after relationship really disappointed the hell out of me. You are led to believe their relationship is healed, and suddenly Lulu turns cold toward him when he’s finally come to a place of responsibility and healing. 

Nick has bent over backwards to heal their relationship, care for their baby, purchase her a house, set up a trust fund, and go to counseling.  Everything she asked for, he did.  The woman had too much control over his life and heart and gave him nothing in return but pain and rejection. I wanted to slap Lulu in the hospital bed for not loving Nick, when it’s clear that all the viewers fall in love with his repentant character.  I’m not sure if the writers knew that the season was not being renewed or not when it was written, but if they did….badly done…badly done.  I got the impression they really didn’t care to end it on a high note.

To The Ends of the Earth (BBC Television Series 2005)

3 Kernels

BBC Television Series
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Neill, Jared Harris, Victoria Hamilton, Others

Let me preface this review by saying I had a keen interest in watching this film. One of my English ancestors (2nd great uncle) left northern England and sailed to Australia in the early 1800’s to make a new life for his family. Through ancestry research, I’ve found new relatives in Australia and New Zealand who are decedents and pictures of the graves of the brave family travelers. So, of course, I had a great interest in what it would be like on a ship sailing to the ends of the earth from top to bottom.

After seeing such stars as Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Neill, Jared Harris, Victoria Hamilton, in the series, I had hoped to be in for a treat about life on a ship, the English separation of class, and the various interactions of the voyagers seeking out a new life elsewhere. Frankly, as the story unfolded with each of its main themes for the three episodes, I wasn’t as impressed as I had hoped to be in the substance of the series. Nevertheless, life on the ship was an eye-opening experience from Edmund Talbot’s first response upon entering the lower deck, “What is that smell?”

I can only imagine what it was like for passengers throwing up from the tossing and turning, riveted with fear of the possibility of meeting a French war ship during the voyage, or stormy weather that takes water onto the ship and threatens the old converted battleship from sinking to the depths of the ocean. My ancestors were not aristocrats, so as tiny as the little private cabins some were given, I have no doubt they were in the dark holes of the ship shoved in like rats for most of the voyage. Frankly, we think some have it hard on cruise ships that have problems today. Let’s face it, we have no idea of the life of the poor and what they endured while those with titles received the small benefits of status.

Benedict was quite good, I thought, as he acted his voyage of travel and character realization. The long trip and Talbot’s actions to various situations serve to open his eyes to some questionable traits that cause him shame. The film is tag lined, after all, as “An epic journey of self discovery.”

Jared Harris, who I recently saw hang himself in Mad Men, was alive and well as the captain of the ship. He played a great seasoned sailor, as well as those who portrayed the crew. The other characters from a vicar to various individuals have their own side stories, personalities, and quirks.

Unfortunately, for me, I did not think it was a five-star wonder, but more of an eye opening voyage to what individuals endured traveling the stormy seas from the ends of the earth to get to a new world. For me a meaningful story leaves a lasting impression, and the only thing I felt impressed with was life on the ship and not the interactions and occurrences in the lives of the characters themselves.

There are instances of immorality that may shock some, but it’s no different than portrayed in movies of the 21st century. It’s probably surprising because audiences may not wish to believe people were as indecent in that time period. Human nature is human nature regardless of the era.

On top of the rest, I wondered how they filmed the scenes from watching the travelers tilt from one side to the other, while being jarred around on several occasions, or what ship they used for the movie. If it had been me, I would have been barfing with the rest of them. Perhaps the camera men were heaving over the side as well if they were on the open sea.

Now you know the scoop, so if the experience of traveling abroad in such a fashion interests you, it’s worth the watch. It’s currently on Netflix.

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