May 31, 2014


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Based on a section of Master of Disguise by Antonio Mendez.

I was talking to Quilter Extraordinaire about movies, and she found out that I hadn’t seen this; I had seen trailers for it, and thought it looked interesting, but never made it to the theater to see it. I needed a movie for my stint at the Red Cross, so I borrowed it from her and watched it there

Firstly, the book it’s based on is by the actual CIA operative that Ben Affleck plays in the movie; this movie is taken from one part of the book, which is a memoir of his career in the CIA (and is the only autobiography of a CIA operative that they have endorsed, interestingly enough.)

Although I (and most people my age) remember the hostage crisis, where people were holed up in the American embassy in Iran trying desperately to keep the Iranians out, I didn’t know anything about this incident, where six Americans actually got out of the embassy and took refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador.

This movie is about the CIA and Mendez’ plan to get them out by pretending to be scouting locations for a Hollywood film in Tehran. John Goodman and Alan Arkin are his Hollywood buddies that are trying to help convince the Iranians that this is a real project.

This was great- good filmmaking, edge-of-your-seat thriller action, and because I didn’t know how it came out (I suspected that they would make it out safely, but wasn’t sure) it was really exciting. Affleck (who was angling for Serious Honey status until his career blew up) seems to be recovering from his slump, although I am not hopeful about his ability to pull off the Batman side of the new DC teamup movie…but I digress.

Affleck was good in this- not engaging, a bit wooden, but certainly worth watching.  The settings and costumes were great, it all really looked like the 70s, fun to see. And the writing was excellent, a complex plot with many intricate details was very well (and amusingly) presented so that the viewer had no trouble keeping all the places and people straight.

This one was a winner, good enough that when I came home and told Mr. Otter how much I enjoyed it and he watched it, I enjoyed seeing it a second time in the same day. You will too, watch it if you haven’t.  Thanks for loaning it to me, QE!

Dallas Buyer’s Club

May 31, 2014


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An electrician who is a homophobe and kind of a shady character is diagnosed with AIDS in the early 1980s and ends up fighting the powers-that-be to open a medical marijuana dispensary for other HIV positive and AIDS patients.

I actually had no idea what this was about; Mr. Otter brought it home and I saw that Serious Honey Matthew McConaughey was in it and said, Sure!

And I’m so glad I did.

McConaughey has been doing romcoms for a long time, most of which are pretty forgettable, but now that he’s getting older, he is reinventing himself and taking on new and different kinds of roles. This was a very good one.

Not only was he amazing as the former player turned militant crusader for the rights of people he was not comfortable even talking to at the beginning of this movie, he made the transition work as the character changed and became outraged at the situation. Plus he lost 40 pounds for the role, and looks totally believeable as an AIDS patient; now THAT’S dedication.

And of course the history was excellent, the whole seriously bad handling of the AIDS crisis from the beginning, and this movie shows that as well.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good people in this movie, and the writing is excellent, but McConaughey just steals the show.

This was a very happy surprise.

CSA: The Confederate States of America

May 31, 2014


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A look at what might have happened had the Confederate side won the American Civil War.

Often, in the evenings, Mr. Otter and I ensconce on our big couch, Frank, and he will watch something that I’m uninterested in, and I’ll read, sew or play computer games, just to hang out together.

On one of these nights, he started watching this…and I got totally sucked into it. Not only for what it was, but at the beginning I kept making him pause it and summon his avatar, Historian-on-a-Stick, to tell me what he thought of the alternate history, which was at least as entertaining as this movie.

This was interesting, for a consciousness-raising movie. The changes in ‘what we know’ were well thought out, and the ramifications made sense. The writing (the director was also the writer, and it was produced by Spike Lee) was good, and it really did look like a History Channel or A&E special, complete with commercials that went along with the theme of the show.

My favorite part was where Jefferson Davis (now president of the whole country) made the Northerners who were holding out and refusing to own slaves give in by lowering taxes for anyone who owned slaves! LOL, that would indeed work in many cases, well thought out.

And at the end, there is a section talking about why this movie was made and real-life examples of racist ads, laws and statements from the early 1800s up to modern times, that underscored the point the movie was making.

A good and interesting effort, well done and very watchable.

Blood and Sand

May 31, 2014


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From the novel Sangre y arena by Blasco Ibañez.

Small town poor boy dreams of being and vows to become a famous bullfighter, then forsakes his faithful wife for a Scarlet Woman…and of course pays for it.

Mr. Otter, the Squirrel Lady, Spider Jerusalem and I went to Niles to see the silent version of this with Rudolph Valentino (He’s SMOKIN’, said the Squirrel Lady. And I had to agree with her.) A couple of weeks later, I got this from Netflix to see how the later version with Tyrone Power compared to the older one.

And I have to say, Valentino wins hands down. Not only is he hotter and more Latin that Power, but he was totally believeable as a bad boy turned famous bullfighter wrapped around the bad girl’s little finger. Charming, sexy, graceful, he was perfect for this role. Power? not so much…he stomped through the movie snarling and smiling alternately, trying to act but not really managing it.

Don’t get me wrong, the later version is not a bad movie- it’s well written and interesting, just not a patch on the original, especially when one can watch Valentino do his thing. The cast of the later movie is good, the production is just fine, and if I hadn’t seen the silent beforehand, I would have liked this one perfectly well.

I’ll drink cheap champagne, too, until I’m offered something more expensive…

The Road

May 31, 2014


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From the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy.

A father and son make their way across the post-Apocalypse United States.

This was the choice of our book and movie review group. Mostly mine, I admit, I put all my voting points behind it instead of splitting them up. Spider Jerusalem put it on the voting list, but whenever anyone mentioned it he said, It’s really dark. You know it’s dark, right? it’s REALLY depressing. It’s dark.

Okay, SJ, got it!

And of course he was right.

Now, that’s not to say that the book isn’t well written…I thought McCarthy’s writing was amazing. The book was short, didn’t waste a word, and the precision and care that the author used in writing it was really wonderful to read. Yes, it was dark, the world is spiraling down the drain and people are just trying to survive as long as they can…but the writing was really good.

The movie…not so much. It was well done. Viggo Mortenson is always a good actor. They did a good job of translating the book into a movie…but it didn’t have any of the beauty and style that the book did, it was just a sad and depressing movie about the end of the world and two people holding on as long as they could.

Read the book, you can skip the movie, no added value there.

Oh, there was one good thing to come out of it though: I made a dessert called Clafoutis for the first time the night the group got together to watch it, and it was absolutely DELICIOUS. And because we ate it while watching The Road, it is now known as The Dessert of Despair.

Monuments Men

May 31, 2014


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From the book of the same name by Robert M. Edsel.

A group of art historians and experts join the army at the end of WWII to rescue art that has been stolen by Nazis from being destroyed as they lose the areas where it is kept.

Mr. Otter, Spider Jerusalem and I were very excited about this…a WWII story, with great actors, and also about trying to preserve art and history…what’s not to like? Some of our favorite people are in this: Clooney and Damon, of course, but also John Goodman, Bill Murray and Bob Balaban, among others. And as librarians, we are totally behind the ‘preserve the world’s art treasures!” thing.

We tried to go see it with SJ, but our schedules just didn’t play well together. Finally, Mr. Otter and I said, we’re going to see it TOMORROW. Come if you can…and he couldn’t, so we had date night at the movies.

And…well, I won’t say we were disappointed. The actors were good. The history was good (and Mr. Otter’s avatar, Historian-on-a-Stick, felt no need to make an appearance.) The writing and acting were good.

But…and you knew there’d be a BUT, right?

For a war movie, with a good story, it was pretty…well…it was kinda dull.

There was a lot of action. They made the story revolve around finding and saving two specific pieces of art, among the thousands that the Nazis stole and hid in a whole lot of places. The character development was very good, and each one of them got a moment in the sun. There was a bit of high-intensity boy-girl stuff between Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett. All of it was well done.

But there was no real excitement. There was no edge-of-your-seat-oh-my-gosh-what-will-happen-next thrill. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that they would find what they were looking for with a minimum of danger or harm (sure, one of them dies, but I would have put money on it walking in that SOMEONE would, it’s not much of a story otherwise.)

And of course, we were told OVER and OVER and OVER AGAIN how important art is and why these guys were doing this. Preachin’ to the choir, honey. That got a bit repetitious, but I can understand why they did that.

So…yes, it was good, worth seeing, just don’t expect thrills or excitement, just a good workmanlike job and a nice story.

And maybe that’s all that we needed here. But I was just a tiny bit disappointed…