Monday, March 30, 2015

The Unruly Mystic

The Unruly Mystic - 65min - NR

I had the distinct privilege in being invited to a private screening of this documentary. It's hard for me to watch some documentaries. I find them to be filmed from their own perspective and not looking at the subject objectively. That is really not the case with this one. The focus of this film isn't the personal journey of the film maker it's about St. Hildegard of Bingen.

Michael Conti’s story is really the catalyst for the film. The film stands as an introduction to a nun from the 12th century who is one of the great minds of the church. She was an abbess who blended her faith in with her art, music and science. In her time, she founded two monasteries and wrote extensively on the healing power of stones and spices. A talented musician she wrote one of the oldest surviving morality plays. It was only recently (October 7th, 2012) that Pope Benedict XVI named her a Doctor of the Church.

Saint Hildegard Feast Day,
September 17, 2013 - Ebingen, Germany
The filmmaker talks to people who have been inspired by St. Hildegard. Their study of her work has ensured that her legacy will live on. This film focuses on these passionate people and brings her humanity to the 21 century. Listing to people explain who she was with affection gives people of today an introduction to a truly remarkable woman.

I grew up thinking that a Christian wouldn't be involved with healing with stones and the mystical world would be sinful. Hildegard was instructed by God to write down everything she knew about the natural world. She wrote two books on natural medicine and cures. She also illustrated her visions and collected them in the book Scivias. I took a look at them and they remind me of some of the mandala that the Tibetan monks create.

Interview with Sister Lydia
at the Hildegard Abbey, Ebingen Germany.
There is so much to learn about her that a single film can't contain all of how remarkable she was. Michael Conti weaves the conversations together to give us the outline of someone who from what we learn would have fit in nicely today. It's that sense of realness that makes her an interesting subject and draws people to her story.

It is really hard to translate one's personal inspirational moment to film and give it the appropriate weight and significance without overdoing and making it self-absorbed and ridiculous. Mr. Conti uses his experience as a framework for the more important introduction to the woman who has inspired him. He opens the door for the viewer to walk away wanting to know more about the Saint of Bingen and perhaps allow her to inspire more people who now know of her existence.

There is something magical about a person talking about their passion. Mr. Conti has brought together people who have a genuine affection for the Saint. I envy his connection with Saint Hildegard and I also thank him for introducing her to me.

If you will excuse me I have some reading to do.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher - 130min - PG-13

This is an excellent example of  how a few apple boxes and some good casting can make Tom cruse look like The Barrel chested tree of a man known as Jack Reacher.  See my review on Web Wombat 

Monday, March 23, 2015



Awaken - 92 min - Not Yet Rated

I had the opportunity to see a sneak peek of Awaken. It's a great action romp with some twists. This movie is a mixture of Lost and El Mariachi. There are some kick-ass fight scenes with a tragic backstory. I really had a good time watching it. Check your brain at the door, stock up on cold beer and sit back and enjoy this green light 70's exploitationesque independent film.

Billie(Nataile Burn) wakes up on a beach, unaware of where she is or how she got there. While trying to get her bearings she finds a woman who is running from soldiers. She gets swept up with a group of castaways who are just like her, stranded on this island for nefarious reasons. The leader of the castaways, Quentin (Robert Davi), tries to keep them clam and together. The Leader of the soldiers, Sarge (Vinnie Jones), works for Rich (Jason London) a merchant of unusual products. Billie works with some of the castaways who don't want to just get by. She struggles to get answers to why her search for her sister has brought her to the island.

This is a total guy’s movie. I don't know what I was expecting when I read the description but it wasn't this. Beautiful women, awesome fight scenes and a huge gun fight. The fist fighting seemed very organic and flowed naturally from block to counter to punch. It also had the right tempo and ferocity of action. They didn't hold back in any of those scenes.

There are some really good flashbacks between Billie and her father played by Benny Urquidez. They show us where Billie got her fighting skills. They also show how Billie gets to be so tough. We see her father choke her out so she can keep her wits about her when someone tries this for real.

There are two story elements that I would have changed. Rich has a business deal with Mao (Daryl Hannah). In one scene, Mao examines Rich’s product from a security monitor. That scene would have been better if Mao did it in the presence of the product. When she is demanding only the best for her daughter, it would really add to the tension of the scene.

Also, one of Billie’s companions is an ex-military man named Stitch (Daz Crawford). He's a big guy and you would think he would be good in a fight but he is not as experienced as Billie. We find out right before the big fight that he isn't who he makes himself out to be. I think this interaction and confession should have come much sooner in the story so the audience has time to make a connection with him and feel more for him. That would make his actions in the final fight so much more impactful.

I was expecting more of a fight between Mao and Billie. With Daryl Hannah's experience in Kill Bill I was ready for a huge fight. That would have been epic. The end fight was more focused on the psychologically damage that Mao was going through. She is a broken crime boss roaming through the battle like a zombie capping Rich's gang. I would have her go through and kill indiscriminately, shooting whoever was in sight. That would have made the final confrontation between Billie and Mao way more suspenseful.

The director/writer Mark Atkins made some choices in the film that I respect. A movie like this typically has a lot of nudity or at least topless scenes. The choice to focus on the film’s strengths and not have any is really great. There are times in the story where this would have been an easy choice they don't even go there. I know, I may have to give up my Man card… heh who am I kidding? I don't have one, I am too much of a feminist. I appreciate the movie making the choices that it did, and showing us a very strong female central character.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski - 117min - R

This is the movie that started the Dudeism movement. It's a great movie that provides a way of life that teaches you to abide. as far as the Coen brother go, this movie really ties their films together well.  Read my review on Web Wombat .

Monday, March 16, 2015


Paddington - 95min - PG

Good children's movies need to have several layers to engage not only the kids but also the adults. Parents are often subjected to films that are just directed to the kids and it can be classified as cruel and unusual punishment. Paddington, however has something for everyone. It was laugh-out-loud funny at some points and very emotionally engaging in others. I was introduced to this little bear in the gift shop at Paddington Station and was looking forward to seeing it. I wasn't disappointed. Oh and my son loved it as well. This is a very green light film.

A bear (Ben Whishaw) is found on the platform in Paddington Station, a note says “please look after this bear.” He is from the deepest, darkest Peru and has a worrying marmalade habit. The Brown family finds him and takes him in until he can find someone to connect with. He has a bear name but humans can't really communicate in bear. They settle on the English name Paddington. The Brown family helps him find a new home but find out that their home is the best fit.

The biggest problem I have with the movie is the trailer. It highlights the most disgusting part so I was concerned that it would be all gross body humor the entire time. So not the case. The art direction and some of the animation really set the tone of the mood of what is going on in the scene. For instance the main stairwell has a painting of cherry blossoms that are in full bloom when Paddington arrives, when he leaves the house because he doesn't want to be a bother to the Brown family the blossoms fall off. When he comes back to the family the blossoms come back. It's small things that generally get overlooked in a film that really make me appreciate the great film work.

There are some really good messages about community and family. How a person should treat other people as Paddington has to go from losing his family to being cared for by his aunt(Imelda Staunton) and uncle (Michael Gambon) . He also has to go to London and how he is brought into the home of come caring people is an excellent example of how we should not be afraid of helping people. Marry Brown (Sally Hawkins) has compassion for the lost lonely bear where her husband, Harry (Hugh Bonneville), sees a possible danger. We need to be more like Marry.

Paddington is easy to live with…mostly, because he also teaches manners. He goes through life living the example of how good manners can take you further. He even has the ability to give a hard stare, to use on people who forget their manners. You don't have to be a jerk when someone else forgets their manners you just give them a hard stare. Many mothers know this look instinctively.

The musical score is outstanding. There is a live band that makes cameos as the actors pass by them, but the music is very engaging and has made it to my iTunes Playlist. Very catchy tunes. Check it out.

Aside from the few gross scenes and a few very creepy scenes in the museum, this is a really great movie to share with the family. The adults will appreciate the lessons that are learned without beating them over the head, while also entreating everyone. Go see this fun movie.

What is your favorite children book? Have they made a movie out of it? Should they?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai  - 154 min - R

This film is a step back in time and a fantasy about one man who beats his demons. Not a very original story but fun to journey through. I would love to spend a winter in a Japanese village.  You can rad my review here at Web Wombat. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Project Almanac

Project Almanac - 106 min - PG13

I wish the filmmakers really did have a time machine so they could go back in time and prevent themselves from making the choices that lead this interesting idea down the road of paradoxical disaster. Amongst their sins are: found footage gimmick: not playing by their own rules: and an ending that makes the whole journey not worthwhile. I so wanted to give this movie a green light on the concept, but its execution gets a red light from me.

David(Johnny Weston) is a high school senior. He finds a camera in his dead father’s belongings with a recording of his 7th birthday party. He sees his 17-year-old self in the mirror in one of the shots. This leads him to find what his father was working on before he died, a time machine. With the help of his sister, Christina (Virginia Gardner), and his two closest friends, Quinn (Sam Learner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), they finish the time machine. They start out with small jumps that only go back three weeks and then further. They include David’s crush, Jessie (Sofia Black-D'ella), after borrowing the battery in her Prius for a test.

Found footage is a one trick pony, the person who came up with it gets to claim that trick and it should have stayed there. This concept in a horror can work because we see what people have recorded before their demise. As other genres try this technique, it starts getting more and more absurd. Not only am I a crazy person who has to film everything I do, I have to get coverage from two cameras. Then there is the mutant-like power to set the camera down in a hurry and have it land so that the entire room is in frame and you are not looking at the floor or a blank wall. EVERY TIME you set it down. Let’s just agree to be done with this style of filming. It’s a shame, the story itself could have stood on its own merits without the filming gimmick.

It took a long time for the movie to get to the point. It could have been a much better if they tightened up the introduction. They also fell down with following their own rules. It's established that one you go back and change time it ripples and changes and it gets out of hand. David chooses to go back to stop all of the craziness. He goes back ten years and destroys the time machine before they have a chance to screw things up. So he does, and he disappears but for some reason the camera he used doesn't get affected by the paradox. If he destroys the time machine, he never goes back so he disappears from existence but not the camera? Blink....Blink... Nope you lost me.

The one good thing in the film is how they start using the time jumps for small things and then they go larger and larger. They do build tension, because anyone who enjoys time travel movies knows that jumping to the past has consequences. According to the butterfly effect, a small thing has an effect on other larger things. As a viewer I did feel more and more uncomfortable waiting for the temporal shoe to drop. It's too bad they didn't know how to manage the velocity of the story once it got out of control.

What was your favorite time travel film? If it's this one, forget I asked.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

God's Not Dead

God's Not Dead - 113min - PG

I would like to see a Christploitation film that was really good, I am not getting that here. See what I wrote on Web Wombat. Less preachy and more time sorting out the dodgy script. It's too bad, there are thousands of Christians looking for a good movie that caters to them.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Selma - 128min - PG13

I am honored to be in a society that was blessed to include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember reading about the march in Selma. But it was out of a school book. It lacked the depth to show how compelling this story truly is. It is set in a time where racism is prevalent. The start of the civil rights movement was a dangerous time. This is a green light film that leaves you with much to think about. I recommend you see this movie with someone else so you can enjoy the conversation this movie will undoubtedly create.

Dr. King (David Oyelowo), fighting against voting inequality, heads down to Selma to stage a peaceful protest. The small town is the backdrop of the bigger fight between Governor Wallace (Tim Roth) and the changing views of America under the leadership of President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson). The first march was attacked by state troopers. Being televised it was a galvanizing event in the civil rights fight. Dr. King calls on everyone who feels that people are equal to come and march with them. Together thousands marched from Selma to Montgomery but not without its costs.

This film had me engaged from the moment it started. This is the kind of movie that sparks some wonderful conversation about its themes and some of the history we have been through. It would be easy for historical films that focus on race and how we as a country have fought long and hard for equality to push an agenda in today's political struggles. This movie does set the stage for conversations that could include racial views today but keeps focused on what has happened on the past.

David Oyelowo is remarkable as Dr. King. The sprit of the man faced with such a hard choice in a world on the brink of change can be seen in his demeanor and his face. The enormity of the journey and its impact on us as a people can be felt in every word delivered on screen. Tom Wilkinson has always impressed me as a performer and in this production he raises the bar. He has a line in this movie that really resonates with me and should resonate with all political figures. I am going to horribly butcher the real line but I am paraphrasing. "We should not be thinking about 1965 we should be thinking of 1985, and how they will see us when they look back." Simply powerful.

Ava DuVernay is now one of my favorite directors. This picture masterfully tells a very moral story without beating us over the head with morality. She tells us the events that happened and gives us a glimpse into the personal lives of those affected. Her work on this picture gives us all a connection point to our shared history and should be listed among the other directors up for consideration for best director.

Removing race and gender from the argument the movie stands on its own merits to be considered for best director. It's almost too ironic that a black woman who did a stellar job, making a spot-on movie about inequality gets overlooked by an Academy that is primarily white males. Her work clearly out matches anything else on the ballot.

What do you think about the lack of diversity in the Academy?