The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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2015

Blueprint Pictures/Participant Media/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by John Madden

Produced by Graham Broadbent/Peter Czernin

Written by Ol Parker

Based on characters from the novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach

If you go to see THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL I strongly suspect it will be solely because like me, you went to see the first one and liked it. Or maybe you’re a movie lover who is retired and in their golden years like the characters in this movie and you’re not interested in going to see a movie with a lot of sex, cussing and stuff blowing up. Fair enough. I myself appreciate and heartily endorse movies like this one because there are a lot of retired and elderly folk who enjoy going out to see a movie. And they aren’t interested in superheroes or excessively violent and sexually explicit action extravaganzas with all that naughty language. Again, fair enough. When we talk about diversity in our entertainment, let’s not forget our retired and elderly. They deserve to have movies made for them playing in theaters featuring actors playing characters their age and dealing with issues they themselves may be going through.

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And to be honest, it wouldn’t hurt some of you whippersnappers reading this to get your head out of all that angry sex and hyper-violence once in a while. Dark movies that are grim and despairing and full of angst are okay and all but you don’t have to revel in your wallowing in it, okay? Watch something cheerful and life-affirming to cleanse your mental palate. Trust me, it’s better for you.

The thing that makes THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL a good sequel for me is that it actually continues the story of the characters we met in the first movie and gives them new challenges  and takes their lives in new directions, building and expanding on what happened to them in the first. Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) has suddenly and amazingly found herself with a whole new career on her hands. She’s been offered a job to purchase textiles in India and ship them to her native England as she’s become a whiz at haggling for the best prices with the local merchants. Co-owners/managers Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) and Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) have ambitious plans to expand The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that depend on them impressing the representative of an American hotel chain they hope to get financing from. The problem is that they don’t know if the representative is the somewhat mysterious Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) or the cheerful Lavinia Beach (Tamsin Greig)

Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) has become a tour guide. A job made all the more difficult as he doesn’t have the slightest idea of the history or architecture he’s supposed to be an expert on (his solution to the problem provides some of the best laughs in the movie) Aging playboy Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) fears that while during a drunken venting session with a cab driver he may have mistakenly put a hit on his unsuspecting girlfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle) Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) is juggling two suitors, both of them immensely rich and both capable of providing her with the financial security she craves. But is that enough for her?

Yeah, that’s a lot of subplots elbowing each other for space. Throw in the upcoming wedding of Sonny and Sunaina (Tina Desai) and the romance between Guy and Sonny’s mother (Lillete Dubey) and that’s a lot to keep track of. But I didn’t have a problem doing so as I was invested in these characters and genuinely wanted to see how things were going to work out for them. And the multiple plots doesn’t give you time to get bored. We’re constantly going from one plot to another and that makes for a rather lively pace.

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That doesn’t mean the movie was all that. The relationship between Evelyn and Douglas gets a bit tiresome as there’s no real reason for them not to consummate it. She obviously likes him and he obviously likes her. Hell, even Douglas’ estranged wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) asks Evelyn, “What the hell are you waiting for?” I missed the insights in Indian culture and the scenery we got in the first movie. After I saw the first movie I wanted to jump on a plane and go to India. I didn’t feel like that after I saw this one and I missed that feeling.

But we do get an absolutely wonderful performance from Maggie Smith who with such brazen ruthlessness steals every scene she’s in. She has all the best lines in the movie, including one I’m going to put on a T-shirt. Her relationship with Dev Patel’s Sonny is for me, the sweetest and most heartfelt one in the movie. It’s a great friendship, one that doesn’t feel forced or contrived. It’s a testament to the acting talent of both Smith and Patel that we buy 100% into this oddest of odd couples.

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So yeah, I’ll admit that THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is little more than a Lifetime movie on steroids. But I can’t find it in my heart to dislike a movie that has so many characters that I genuinely like and enjoyed spending a couple of hours revisiting. The cast is so enormously talented and elevates the material in such fine fashion that I feel they gave me my money’s worth of entertainment. Highly Recommended.

Rated PG

122 Minutes

The Poseidon Adventure

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1972

20th Century Fox

Directed by Ronald Neame

Produced by Irwin Allen

Screenplay by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes

Based on the novel “The Poseidon Adventure” by Paul Gallico

 

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE didn’t create The Disaster Movie genre. If you go all the way back to 1937 you can find “The Hurricane” which I suppose could classify as a Disaster Movie since the climax involves the mother of all hurricanes devastating a South Seas island paradise.   But even though it may not have created the genre, over time it has emerged as the undisputed Champion of Disaster Movies. Yes, there have been Disaster Movies with far bigger budgets, more spectacular special effects, better received by critics and have grossed more at the box office. But I guarantee that if you ask anybody what their favorite Disaster Movie is, they’ll say THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. It’s the “Citizen Kane” “Gone With The Wind” and “Star Wars” of Disaster Movies.

The S.S. Poseidon is on her last voyage. This luxury liner, once the queen of the ocean has been retired and is scheduled to be scrapped. She’s heading from New York to Athens at full speed at the insistence of Mr. Linarcos (Fred Sadoff) who represents the ship’s new owners. The Poseidon’s captain (Leslie Nielson) warns that the ship is heading into rough weather and does not have enough ballast to ride out a severe storm.

During the New Year’s Eve celebration, The Poseidon is indeed hit by a tsunami that capsizes the ocean liner. Despite the insistence of the ship’s purser that help will be coming, a small group elects to undertake a perilous escape route through the now upside down vessel from the dining hall to the hull and hopefully they will be able to get out near the propeller shaft where the hull is the thinnest. Their decision proves to be the right one since it is quickly and horrifyingly apparent that The Poseidon is sinking. Slowly, yes, but still sinking.

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The group is led by the charismatic yet heretical Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman). Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine) is a tough, old school NYPD detective. His wife Linda (Stella Stevens) is an ex-prostitute he married to keep her off the streets. Susan Shelby (Pamela Sue Martin) and her little brother Robin (Eric Shea) are travelling by themselves, on their way to meet their parents. Manny and Belle Rosen (Jack Albertson and Shelley Winters) are a retired Jewish couple going to Israel to meet their two-year old grandson for the first time. James Martin (Red Buttons) is a lonely, shy man who seems like the last person in the world who would go on a trip like this. Nonnie Parry (Carol Lynley) was the lead singer of the band entertaining during the celebration. Acres (Roddy McDowell) is a waiter who’s knowledge of the ship is essential to the group’s survival. It’s a desperate race against time and it tests the group to the limits of their spiritual and physical strength. Some of them rise to the challenge. Some don’t. Some live and some die.

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THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is one of those movies that I simply will not hear a bad word against. I saw this in the theater way back in 1972 and I fell in love with it the first time I saw it. I watched it today on Turner Classic Movies for what must have been the twentieth time and I was still just as engrossed in the characters and the story as I was the first time.

The performances are absolutely first rate. You’ve got no less than five Academy Award winners in the cast and they all give it all they’ve got. And it’s the performances that sell the movie as everybody takes this material as serious as cancer. Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine are especially good fun to watch as they bark and bite at each other like junkyard dogs. Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson may come off at first as if they’re playing a stereotypical old married Jewish couple but they get in nice little bits of characterization that display a lot of understanding of this particular type of couple they’re playing.

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And yes, this is the movie where Shelley Winters gets to play one of the greatest, most classic death scenes of all time. And the reason why it’s so great is that Shelley Winters knew what she was doing with Belle in each and every scene that leads up to the death scene. So by the time we get to it, it’s a real gut punch. Yeah, other people die in the movie but it’s the death of Belle Rosen that we actually feel.

But it’s Red Buttons that always stands out for me. I can’t say that I’ve ever been a fan of his comedic roles or his stand-up. But when he’s in a dramatic role I can’t take my eyes off him. His quiet little haberdasher character surprisingly turns out to be quite the man of action when he’s put to the test and I really like the scene where he’s the one who jumps in between Reverend Scott and Mike Rogo when they’re about to come to blows and makes them stop their squabbling. And when Mike Rogo has given up and Susan breaks down into hysterics, it’s James Martin who steps up to the plate and takes charge.

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Technically you couldn’t ask for anything better. It must have been an absolute nightmare to have filmed on those upside down sets, many of them filled with fire or water or in some cases fire and water. And it’s obvious that the cast did a whole lot of their own stunts, especially Shelley Winters and Gene Hackman in those truly tense underwater scenes. And of course everybody knows the iconic theme song; “The Morning After” but did you know that the movie’s score was composed and conducted by a young up and coming composer named John Williams?

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is one of those movies that I simply cannot imagine anybody who claims to love movies saying that they’ve never seen it. It’s got a preposterous premise that is given real life and real suspense by the superior performances of the cast and the technical expertise that totally convinces you of what you’re seeing on the screen. It’s quite simply one of the best movies of its kind ever made and there’s a good reason it enjoys the reputation it enjoys today.  It earned it.

PG

117 Minutes

Authors Anonymous

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2014

Bull Market Entertainment/Forever Sunny Productions/Screen Media Films/Starz Digital

Directed by Ellie Kanner

Produced by Ellie Kanner and Hal Schwartz

Written by David Congalton

Being a writer myself (Hey, I heard that snickering in the back! You there! You get your coat  and get out right now!) I’m always on the lookout for movies about writers and writing. And there’s plenty of good ones out there. Even a few great ones. AUTHORS ANONYMOUS falls in between good and great. It could have been a great one if it hadn’t been for the filmmakers forgetting at many crucial moments that the premise of the movie is supposed to be a mockumentary. It switches between being one and a regular movie and that’s something that gets on my nerves. Much the same way Found Footage movies will switch POVs back and forth. Once you’ve settled on a format and style of telling your movie, have the commitment to stick with it and work within that format instead of simply switching to a straight-up and down movie when it’s convenient.

Having gotten that off my chest, let me just say that if you’re writer, you should see AUTHORS ANONYMOUS. If you’re the spouse or offspring of a writer, you should see AUTHORS ANONYMOUS. If you’re the therapist, psychiatrist or bartender of a writer, you should see AUTHORS ANONYMOUS. Trust me. It’ll explain a lot about the type of writer you are or the type you’re dealing with.

The movie tells the story about a writer’s group. The members are a seriously dysfunctional group and I guarantee that if you’ve got a writer’s group you’ll recognize some members of your group in this one. Henry Obert (Chris Klein) is the nicest guy in the group. He’s also struggling with a severe writer’s block that isn’t helped by his long standing crush on another member of the group, Hanna Rinaldi (Kaley Cuoco). Alan Mooney (Dylan Walsh) is an optometrist who is constantly speaking into his mini-recorder with ideas for books he’ll never write. That’s because he’s way too busy nurturing the earthquake sized ego and insecurity of his wife Colette (Teri Polo) who is amazingly shallow and pretentious. She’s the type of writer who believes with all her heart she’s divinely imbued with writing ability. William Bruce (Jonathan Bennett) sees himself as the new Bukowski and rewrites the same three pages over and over and over again. John K. Butzin ( Dennis Farina) is rock solid in his belief that he’s the heir apparent to Tom Clancy’s throne and is convinced that just as soon as his cousin’s neighbor’s best friend gets his book “Roaring Lion” into the hands of Clint Eastwood, it’ll be the next blockbuster movie.

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The group is disrupted by the news that Hanna has gotten an agent and there’s a very good chance the book will be published. While on the surface the other members of the group are supportive and happy, underneath they’re spewing volcanoes of resentment and jealousy. Especially from Collette and John K. Butzin who are the most delusional and hungry for attention and proceed to launch their own campaigns to get published by any means necessary. And as Hanna’s star continues to rise with a movie deal impending, the group as a whole gets more and more frustrated and desperate.

Now before you start thinking the wrong way, let me say that first and foremost this is a comedy and an extremely funny one. And it’s funny because there’s a lot of truth in it that if you’re a writer and hang out with other writers you’ll recognize it. Part of the group’s resentment of Hanna’s success comes from the fact that when it comes to writing and literature, Hanna is totally ignorant. In fact, Henry damn near has a stroke on the spot when Hanna reluctantly admits to him that she’s never read “The Great Gatsby”.  Kaley Cuoco really surprised me in this movie as she didn’t play a version of her Penny character from “The Big Bang Theory” Hanna is a totally different type of person, one who is far more in touch with her talent than the other members of the group because she doesn’t take herself so seriously. She wrote a book because she thought it would be fun and not because she thought it would change the destiny of human civilization.

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Dennis Farina, Teri Polo and believe it or not, Tricia Helfer as John K. Butzin’s German mail order girlfriend Sigrid walk away with the acting honors here. The level of John K. Butzin’s delusion about his talent is mindboggling. No matter what goes wrong with his plans to become a published author, he manages to turn it into just another part of his belief that he’s destined to be a success. Teri Polo’s Collette has that really creepy narcissistic bent that way too many writers have and she manages to make it utterly hilarious. But at the same time she wrings every last drop of sympathy out of a later scene where she simply just can’t take it anymore that Hanna is where she always dreamed of being and she’s not.

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So should you see AUTHORS ANONYMOUS? Absolutely. I enjoyed the premise and the performances and it made me laugh a lot. It’s got enough insights into the hopes and dreams and yes, delusions of aspiring writers that if you’re a writer yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously, you’ll have a good time watching it. It’s available for streaming on Netflix right now. Enjoy.

92 Minutes

Rated PG-13

 

 

Jupiter Ascending

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2015

Village Roadshow Pictures/Anarchos Productions/Warner Bros./Roadshow Entertainment

Written and Directed by The Wachowskis

Produced by Grant Hill and The Wachowskis

When it comes to The Wachowskis I think it’s only fair to tell you that their track record with me has been up and down. I really liked “Bound” but thought that “Cloud Atlas” was just okay. To be honest with you, I had to watch that one three times before I got it and even now I’m still not sure. “Speed Racer” I consider a magnificent masterpiece. As a confirmed “Speed Racer” addict ever since I was a kid I feel like The Wachowskis made “Speed Racer” just for me, that’s how perfect a translation from animation to live action I feel it is. Matter of fact, just talking about it gets me so hyped just thinking about it I’m gonna go watch my Blu-Ray of “Speed Racer” just as soon as I finish this review.

And as for “The Matrix” trilogy of films…they’re okay, but I’ve never been as wild about it as I’m sure many of you reading this were/are. They’re solid action films, sure. An exceptional visual style, sure. Outrageous action sequences, absolutely.  But if you’re a fan of science fiction movies, books, Marvel comics and Honk Kong martial arts/action movies for any period of time longer than ten years then nothing in any of “The Matrix” movies was new to you. What I give those movies a lot of credit for is being the first multi-racial science fiction trilogy.

Which brings us to JUPITER ASCENDING. Where would I put it in the Wachowski filmology? Let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way and then we’ll get to that, okay?

Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is an illegal Russian immigrant living and working with her family in Chicago. Along with her mother and aunt she cleans the houses of the wealthy and fantasizes about what it must be like to be so rich and live in such luxury. She sees no future in trying to rise above her station in life until she’s rescued from alien bounty hunters by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) Caine is himself a genetically modified warrior who explains to her that she is the genetic reincarnation of The Matriarch of The House of Abrasax. As such, she is not only galactic royalty but the owner of the planet Earth.

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Caine takes her off Earth and into deep space where Jupiter runs into a bewildering and astounding variety of alien and humanoid races, including her genetic children: Balem (Eddie Redmayne) Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth). All of them are scheming and plotting to get control of The House of Abrasax, which seeded life on Earth millennia ago to finance the family business which is immortality, plain and simple. Jupiter is the pivotal piece in the galactic chess game being played by her treacherous genetic offspring as they each seek to manipulate her for their own ends. Balem hasn’t got time for that felgercarb, though. He’d rather just kill Jupiter and get it over with. Good thing that Caine is there to thwart him at every turn, backed up by his former partner/mentor Stinger Apini (Sean Bean).

I have greatly simplified the plot because believe me, it is a lot more complicated than that. The Wachowskis have gone to a lot of trouble to establish this universe and I give them the highest of credit for it. They aren’t content to simply swipe from “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” in the creation of their universe. Everything looks absolutely incredible. The technology, the architecture (one spaceship looks like a flying Vatican) the fashion…JUPITER ASCENDING’s universe is one of the most complete, detailed and fully realized I’ve seen on film in a long time. The only movie I can think of that comes close is “The Fifth Element”. And indeed, there were moments when JUPITER ASCENDING had the same vibe as that movie.

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But the movie suffers from having two miscast leads who have zero chemistry together. Channing Tatum should have taken his cue on how to act in this kind of movie from Sean Bean. Mr. Bean knows he’s in a B-movie Space Opera with an A-movie budget and plays it accordingly. Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis play it as if this thing were written by Tennessee Williams. Tatum in particular is about as interesting as a tree stump. Considering that he’s got this badass pair of funky anti-gravity boots that let him skate on air and Errol Flynn all over the place, he goes through the whole movie as if he’s got the universe’s worst job. I watched his performance and all I could think of was how Chris Pratt’s committed performance was so integral to the overall fun and success of “Guardians of The Galaxy”. In contrast, Tatum looks he can’t wait to get out this movie and go make another “Jump Street” sequel.

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And I guess that is my main problem with JUPITER ASCENDING. For all the astounding visuals and outrageous action sequences, nobody in this movie looks like they had fun making it and there’s not much fun in watching it. It’s spectacular to look at, yes it most certainly is. But it’s a movie you can wait on for the Blu-Ray or Netflix.

127 minutes

Rated PG-13

American Sniper

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2014

Village Roadshow Pictures/Mad Chance Productions/22nd & Indiana Pictures/Malpaso Productions/Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Produced by Clint Eastwood-Robert Lorenz-Andrew Lazar-Bradley Cooper-Peter Morgan

Written by Jason Hall

Based on “American Sniper” by Chris Kyle-Scott McEwen-Jim DeFelice

Say whatever else you want to say about Clint Eastwood’s direction of AMERICAN SNIPER but this you have to admit: the man knows how to clearly put images up on the screen so that at no time are we unclear as to what is happening, who it’s happening to and why it’s happening to them. I would so dearly love to sit Paul Greengrass down and have him watch this movie to show him that movies can be made without the camera wildly whipping around as if the cameraman is drunk. You put your camera down firmly. You put your actors in front of the camera and let them act. What’s so hard about that?

And if your story is strong enough, you don’t need fancy camera tricks to tell it. And the story of Chris Kyle is a strong one. When we meet him, his life is aimless. But then he joins the U.S. Navy and is accepted for SEAL training. His exceptional skill at shooting a rifle paves the way to his ultimate destiny as a Navy Seal sniper.

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The movie follows Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) through four tours of duty in Iraq. He proceeds to rack up an extraordinary number of kills. So many that he earns the nickname of “Legend” Its a nickname he’d rather not have. Between his tours, he returns home to Texas and his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and their children and tries to settle down to normal life. But there is obviously something going on with Chris that he either will not or cannot verbalize. When he’s Iraq he misses his family. But when he’s in America he is filled with a guilt that turns him into an emotional cripple. Chris feels a personal obligation to take out Mustafa (Sammy Sheik) an enemy sniper whose skill and commitment to his craft is just as powerful as Chris Kyle’s. The two men have a war of strategy going on in their brief, but deadly encounters and Chris will not consider his job done until Mustafa is dead.

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Besides the outstanding direction by Clint Eastwood, the other reason to see this movie is Bradley Cooper’s amazing performance. I gotta give Mr. Cooper a standing ovation. Here’s a guy who could easily coast along on his good looks and charm. Which he has more than his share of. But he makes some very interesting acting choices ranging from the action fest “The A-Team” to science fiction thrillers like “Limitless” the romantic comedy “Silver Linings Playbook” and the “Hangover” comedy trilogy. It’s gotten so that he’s one of those actors on my list I’ll watch in anything because even if the movie if crap *coughAmerican Hustlecough* I know without a doubt that he’ll be terrific.

I liked how he played Chris Kyle as a man who does not revel or delight in his exceptional talent at sniping. It’s a talent that saves lives, but also puts him somewhat alone. There are several instances where he leaves his post as a sniper to get down on the ground with Marine troops as they conduct house by house searches. Does Chris feel that he should be taking equal risks along with them even though those men are more than willing to go on missions knowing that “Legend” is out there with his sniper rifle watching their backs? It’s a question the movie doesn’t answer and I’m glad it doesn’t. It’s enough that the movie shows us how others view Chris and how he views himself. It’s two very different views.

I wish I could recommend the other performances as well. Sienna Miller gets to play Taya in a manner we’ve seen in a dozen other war movies. She’s got the job of staying home with the kids and being the loyal wife. The rest of the supporting cast is competent and professional, but that’s about it. There’s really no one I can single out as we never really get to know anybody else in the movie except for Chris Kyle.

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Should you see AMERICAN SNIPER? It’s a movie that has already generated a lot of heat on The Internet, but I’m not going to get into that here. I’m not here to debate the politics of this (or any) movie. I simply give my opinion on a movie’s entertainment value. And on that basis, AMERICAN SNIPER is well worth your time and money.

138 Minutes

Rated R

Taken 3

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2014

20th Century Fox/EuropaCorp Distribution

Directed by Olivier Megaton

Produced by Luc Besson

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

TAKEN 3 is a perfect example of why I turn my hearing off when I hear whining about spoilers. If you’ve seen the trailers for it (and don’t you dare say that you haven’t) then you know that the murder of Famke Janssen’s character Lenore and the framing of her ex-husband Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) for that murder is what sets the plot in motion. That’s actually the only surprising thing that happens in TAKEN 3 and it was spoiled in the trailer. So don’t flood me with emails screaming; “Spoilers!” because not only TAKEN 3 but 90% of movie trailers are nothing but spoilers and if you’re going to gnash your teeth and wail about them, then direct the wailing and gnashing at the studios who put the trailers together.

Why did I lead off with that mini-editorial? Because the plot of TAKEN 3 is so slight and slim that I figured I have enough wordage to veer off into a digression and still have plenty of wordage left over. And it is a slim plot. Lenora is murdered, Bryan is framed and he spends most of the movie staying one step ahead of the LAPD, led by Inspector Dotzler (Forrest Whittaker) who mistakenly believes Bryan killed his ex-wife. The police are also keeping an eye on Bryan’s daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and Lenore’s husband, Stuart St. John (Dougray Scott) Kim of course knows that her father didn’t kill her mother and acts as Bryan’s inside man, keeping tabs on what the cops are doing. Bryan rounds up his three golf buddies for backup, all of whom we’ve seen in the previous two movies. All are ex-CIA Special Ops who now run their own security firm. So they have access to high-tech weaponry, computers and gadgets they are more than happy to loan out to Bryan. So it’s pretty clear that the LAPD is outmatched right from jump street.

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It’s not that TAKEN 3 is a bad movie. It’s professionally made and by this time Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace have got their characters down so well that they seem more than ever like father and daughter. And I liked that Lenore’s death has real resonance for the characters and they’re allowed to have moments of emotional impact as they deal with how she died. In most of these revenge driven thrillers, the poor dead soul whose demise is the reason for all the subsequent mayhem is totally forgotten about halfway through the movie. Not here. Both Bryan and Kim have moments separately and together where they get the chance to react to Lenore’s murder. As always, TAKEN 3, like it’s two older brothers benefits greatly from the performance of Liam Neeson. Getting an actor who actually can act was the smartest move of this franchise. He elevates the material and gives it more gravitas than such a thin story deserves.

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If there is one actual thing I didn’t like about the movie is that it takes place in Los Angeles. The first two “Taken” movies were filmed in France and Istanbul and for me, thrillers filmed in Europe seem to have extra weight to them, more meat on the bones.  Having this one filmed in L.A. just makes it look like another cookie-cutter action movie. For me, what made the “Taken” movies different from other action movies were their exotic locations and that in each movie there was somebody kidnapped that Bryan Mills had to rescue. Allegedly, Liam Neeson agreed to do TAKEN 3 only if there was no kidnapping involved. As a result what we’ve got is a pretty standard action movie that reminded me of half a dozen other movies. This is supposed to be the last “Taken” movie and on one hand that’s really a shame as TAKEN 3 ends the series on a definite whimper and not a bang. On the other hand, this frees up Liam Neeson to bring his Bryan Mills character to the next “Expendables” movie.

So should you see TAKEN 3? You won’t be wasting your time if you’ve got a couple hours to kill and can see this for matinee prices. But don’t feel you’ve got to rush out and see it. It’s always good to see Liam Neeson in action hero mode but TAKEN 3 can be enjoyed in your own home when it comes to Netflix if you prefer to wait.

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108 Minutes

PG-13

 

Annie

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2014

Village Roadshow Pictures/Overbrook Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Will Gluck

Produced by Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Caleeb Pinkett, James Lassiter, Lawrence “Jay” Brown and Tyrone “Ty Ty” Smith

Screenplay by Will Gluck, Aline Brosh McKenna and Emma Thompson

Based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” by Harold Gray and the stage musical “Annie” by Thomas Meehan

So how did I end up seeing ANNIE you may well ask. Especially as I had no burning desire to see the movie in the first place. Having to listen to “It’s The Hard-Knock Life” for the past two weeks didn’t help either. Not that I don’t mind listening to Patricia sing. Not at all. She has a delightful singing voice. But hey, listening to to two weeks of anything puts a damper on my enthusiasm. But the real deal breaker was the name of Jamie Foxx’s character.

“What’s wrong with his name?” Patricia wanted to know.

“It ain’t Daddy Warbucks,” I replied. “And if it ain’t got Daddy Warbucks then it ain’t ANNIE far as I’m concerned.” What can I tell you? I’m a traditionalist. If I’m going to see a movie based on Little Orphan Annie, I want to see Daddy Warbucks as well as his loyal bodyguards Punjab and The Asp who were in the 1982 movie with Punjab played by the late great Geoffrey Holder. However, in our PC mad world today, I knew there was no chance those characters would be in the new movie. So I was prepared to be disappointed.

My interest was piqued by the very clever opening scene in a classroom which believe it or not, reminded me of the scene in “Django Unchained” where Jamie Foxx and Franco Nero meet briefly and there is a subtle passing of the torch. The same thing happens here where there is a subtle passing of the torch from the classic Little Orphan Annie to the Annie of the 21st Century (Quvenzhane Wallis) Things like that will earn my respect for the filmmakers and what they’re doing as they’re demonstrating their respect for what came before in their acknowledgment of the source material.

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Ten year old Annie Bennett is a foster child living in Harlem with four other foster children. Their foster parent Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) is a frustrated and bitter alcoholic who continually rebuffs Lou (David Zayas) the owner of the corner bodega who has a massive crush on her. Annie never gives up hope that her real parents will one day return for her and she spends her days singing and bringing good cheer to all. Her ability to brighten anyone’s day is put to the test when she meets Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) billionaire communications mogul. Stacks is running for mayor of New York but his disastrous campaign is in the toilet and about to be flushed for good. All that changes when he rescues Annie from being hit by a truck. Stacks’ campaign advisor Guy (Bobby Cannavale) sees this as the perfect opportunity to improve Stacks’ image with the people as he’s an unlikeable workaholic germophobe. Stacks’ assistant Grace Farrell (Rose Byrne) arraigns for Stacks to become Annie’s temporary guardian.

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Being no fool, Annie agrees to help improve Stacks’ chances of being elected mayor if his bodyguard Nash (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) will use the resources of Stacks’ communications empire to find her parents. Guy arranges all sorts of public outings for Annie and Stacks, making sure to take advantage of social media to turn Annie in a star and Stacks’ public image rapidly improve along with his chances of actually winning the election.

All this is well and good but slowly Annie, Stacks and Grace come to realize that maybe the family they all are looking for and desperately want is right in front of them. Stacks discovers that he and Annie have more in common than he would have believed. Meanwhile, behind his back, Guy hooks up with Miss Hannigan to concoct a scheme that will make the both of them very rich. But will also destroy the relationship and trust that has grown between Annie and Stacks.

ANNIE is not a movie made for cynics or for those of you who insist on your movies being dark, depressing and realistic. This is very much a Musical in the tradition of classic musicals. Even down to the fact that everybody in the movie understands that they live in a musical universe where it is normal for people to break out in song and dance to express how they feel. There’s never any doubt that there’s going to be a happy ending and no matter how bleak things seem, nobody stays worried for very long because there’s another song to cheer them up.

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From start to finish the movie is owned by Quvenzhane Wallis. She’s just as captivating here as she was in “Beasts of The Southern Wild” a movie I totally loathed but loved her performance. Her Annie is funny, twice as smart as any of the adults in her life, compassionate, loving, generous, gutsy and resourceful. In other words, she’s a movie kid. But Quvenzhane makes Annie believable. She never steps over the line and makes Annie an adult in a kid’s body. At the right times she reminds us that for all her smarts and confidence, Annie is still a kid. It’s a wonderful performance that is complimented well by Jamie Foxx’s performance. In between the songs Foxx shows us that in a lot of ways, Stacks is still a damaged kid himself.

Cameron Diaz comes close to stealing the movie as Miss Hannigan. Her incarnation of the character is not as depraved or as insane as the Carol Burnett version. Diaz’s Miss Hannigan is more sad and pathetic and we never fear that the girls may very well come to harm at her hands. Unlike the Carol Burnett version who seemed as if she’d actually strangle one of the orphans in one of her drunken rampages. I’m glad that Rose Byrne is in a movie where she gets to use her own voice and doesn’t have to use an American accent. She and Quvenzhane have a nice number together; “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” It’s not a show stopping number like “It’s The Hard-Knock Life” or “Tomorrow”  but it is quite charming and cute.

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So should you see ANNIE? I say yes. I have a great affection for movies that are designed to do nothing but make you feel good and for two hours put a smile on your face. ANNIE does that. It’s not High Art or innovative filmmaking and it doesn’t have to be. It knows what kind of movie it is and its content to unashamedly be that kind of movie. It’s nothing but pure family entertainment and if that’s what you’re looking for then enjoy with my blessings.

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PG

118 Minutes