Youth

A movie called Youth stars two men who are 82 and 76. Funny, huh?

Of course, the story is filled with reminiscences of their younger days, plus encounters with several youthful individuals.

The setting is a resort in the Alps, sort of a Grand Tyrolean Hotel with similarities to The Grand Budapest Hotel from last year’s Wes Anderson film. It is a spot for the rich and famous from all over the world to escape, enjoy quiet days and nightly entertainment and, maybe, become healthier.

Youth is not as madcap as GBH but it has a its own goofy moments and characters.

Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is a retired conductor and composer. Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel, who also appeared in Grand Budapest Hotel) is a film director and screenwriter. They are old friends who are sharing a suite at the hotel.

Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) is being dumped by her husband, who is Mick’s son. She stays at the resort and begins a flirtation with a mountain climber.

Among the story lines is an effort by the queen to recruit Fred to conduct a command performance in London of a song he composed. Fred repeatedly refuses for personal reasons.

Late in the film an actress who has had a long personal and professional relationship with Mick shows up at the resort. Brenda (Jane Fonda) has big news to deliver. For her brief appearance Fonda received a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actress.

Favorite scenes in Youth include Fred sitting on a log while “pretend conducting” cows and their bells, a guest hackysacking a tennis ball and Mick and his co-writers literally putting their heads together as they script his next movie.

Sort of a running joke: Smoking is forbidden throughout the resort but we see guests and staffers frequently lighting up. Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), an actor who is visiting the resort, smokes shamelessly. By the way, Youth contains a significant bit of gratuitous nudity.

Youth is a lark, not a “must see.” But if you like Michael Caine—and most of us do, don’t we?—you will enjoy sharing his holiday in the mountains with him and the other guests.

 

 

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a ton of fun! It’s action-packed and full of surprises. It moves at a frantic pace and never slows down until its final postscript. Like last year’s Lego Movie, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a better movie than we usually get in February.

Harry Hart (Colin Firth) aka Galahad is the dapper, well-dressed ops director of the secret spy organization that works out of a men’s clothing store in London. The versatile Firth is, as the British say, “spot on” in this role.

Following the death of a colleague in a 1997 mission, he gives a medallion and contact information to the man’s young son Eggy. Years later, now in his early 20s, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) needs help getting out of a jam and calls Galahad who takes care of the situation. When Kingsman agent Lancelot (Jack Davenport) is killed in action, Galahad recruits Eggsy to try out for a position. The competition is tough and Eggsy works hard to succeed.

When the film’s villain Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is introduced, he is apparently a good guy, an environmental warrior. But his method for saving the planet involves eliminating much of the world’s human population. He scores good will by giving the entire world free wi-fi and internet—but there’s an evil motive to his generosity.

Galahad consults with Kingsman chief Arthur (Michael Caine) who suggests Galahad learn more about Valentine. At their first meeting, the dinner scene is a classic. (I’m tempted to share more, but… alas, no spoiler from me.)

K:TSS recalls early James Bond films, but in a more appreciative fashion than the Austin Powers movies did. As Q does in the Bond films, Galahad introduces Eggsy to amazing spy devices. Villain Valentine has an impressive mountaintop lair, complete with an airplane landing strip in a cave. And there’s the promise of a sexual payoff for the story’s hero, a la 007.

Kingsman: The Secret Service contains numerous memorable and bloody fight scenes. They are cartoonish and, in many case, quite funny. Director Matthew Vaughn (who also directed X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass and Stardust) has created a film that looks good and has plenty of clever bits. Like the woman with the lethal Oscar Pistorius prosthetic feet, the exploding opening credits and the high-speed chase scene where the car being chased travels in reverse.

Kingsman: The Secret Service delivers the goods. I like it a lot.

 

 

Interstellar

 

“Time is a flat circle,” said Matthew McConaughey’s character Rust Cohle in TV’s True Detective last winter. In Interstellar, McConaughey’s character Cooper is concerned with time, space, gravity, wormholes, black holes, extra dimensions as well as family and love. It’s a sci-fi fantasy filled with suspenseful adventure, memorable spectacular effects and heartfelt philosophizing about the fate of our species.

Director Christopher Nolan’s newest movie is big, loud and ambitious. In an IMAX theater, with speakers aplenty, you almost feel the G forces of Interstellar‘s space travel scenes. Hans Zimmer’s score is not shy about bringing emotion and volume. The composer is a certain Oscar nominee.

Cooper is a widower with 2 kids, Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and Murphy (Mackenzie Foy). Their welfare is his #1 concern. He’s a former astronaut, now working as a farmer in a Kansas-looking flatland. (Plains scenes were shot in Alberta.) Dust storms—not unlike dustbowl storms of the 1930s—have ruined all crops on earth, save corn. The planet is in big trouble.

When mystical happenings occur, young Murphy suspects ghosts. Her dad suspects something more physical. Magnetism, gravitation anomalies or other forces lead him to a hidden fortress in the mountains where he finds… NASA!

The population has become so disenchanted with the U.S. space program that history books have been revised to tell of moon landings that were staged in an effort to bankrupt the Russians. So, NASA has gone underground, literally.

In short order, Cooper’s former boss Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) recruits him to fly a mission to Saturn where a wormhole appeared a few decades back. Earlier brave astronauts made it to the other side of the wormhole; Cooper and crew are charged with bursting through, checking on the prior travelers and determining if three particular worlds in that new dimension are suitable for sustaining human existence. Is their mission to save their own families or to save the species?

Cooper’s crew includes Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), Dr. Brand’s daughter, Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi). After 2 years of travel, they touch down in shallow water on a new planet. Shortly after exploration begins, an enormous wave approaches, leading to a harrowing escape. They go off to a new, very cold planet where they find Dr. Mann (Matt Damon in an uncredited role) in suspended animation. Events there lead to another hasty exit.

Interstellar’s final act involves many back-and-forth cuts between events in space and those on earth. Our heroes have not aged significantly during their time in space, but back home, Cooper’s kids have become adults (Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck). The earth continues to be ravaged by dust storms. Meanwhile, beyond the wormhole, Cooper and crew work to define and to achieve satisfactory results.

Nolan’s Interstellar (co-written by the director and his brother Jonathon AKA Jonah Nolan) is a gigantic movie, clocking in at 2:45. It is efficiently made. Scenes that don’t necessarily advance the story help delineate the characters and the settings.

Some notes about Interstellar: The underground bunker where NASA is based reminds me of a Bond villain’s lair. The excessive exposition about time and math and gravitational anomalies quickly becomes tedious—I wonder if Steven Hawking will pause the DVD to see if their blackboard formulas are correct.

The little girl who plays the child version of Murph looks like a young Anne Hathaway. A few of the film’s effects recall similar bits in Nolan’s Inception. I loved the cool robots TARS (voiced by Bill Erwin) and CASE—loyal servants and deftly mobile. The cast also includes Topher Grace as adult Murph’s doctor friend and John Lithgow as Cooper’s father-in-law.

Interstellar is not the best movie I’ve seen in 2014 but it has enough going for it to merit an Oscar nomination. Nolan should receive a best director nomination. McConaughey is a possible contender for best actor. Effects, makeup and sound production crews could be taking home awards as well.

I think audiences will enjoy Interstellar because it infuses science with humanity. Last year in Gravity, Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone talked about her earthly concerns; in Interstellar Cooper’s family is onscreen and is a major part of the film. Interstellar plays on our survival instinct. Several times in the film, Caine’s Dr. Brand quotes Dylan Thomas’s poem about fighting off death, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Interstellar does not go gentle. It rages against the dying of the light.

 

 

 

 

 

Now You See Me

Now You See Me presents illusion on a grand scale. Not only the outsize magic tricks, but the characters and the plot points, too, are not always what they seem to be. The result is a vastly entertaining movie.

At the movie’s start, four magicians are introduced in brief vignettes: Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Henley (Isla Fisher) and Jack (Dave Franco). After demonstrating their talents, each gets a mysterious card inviting them to a meeting that results in their forming a team.

The Four Horsemen, as they call themselves, begin with a true WTF? illusion in which they rob a bank in Paris from their Las Vegas stage. Hard to explain the depth of the illusion here, but it’s a mind-blower. (The audience volunteer for this trick looks, on first glance, to be a very big star in a cameo. Whoa! But, no, it’s not actually Robert Downey Junior, just a guy who looks a bit like him.)

When the Paris bank finds that their Euros have gone poof, FBI agent Dylan (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma (Mélanie Laurent) question the four, but release them. Also entering the story is Thaddeus Bradley (played by Morgan Freeman), a former magician who has made a career debunking and exposing other magicians’ tricks via a line of successful videos. Michael Caine appears as the Four Horsemen’s manager/advisor/benefactor.

As the fast-moving storyline progresses, the main question to be answered is who assembled these four and what is this person’s motivation? Following a trick/stunt in New Orleans that includes the apparent criminal theft of more money, our gang of four retreats to New York. As authorities close in, they run. Magician Jack is pursued in an exciting chase through Manhattan traffic that results in a fiery crash on the 59th Street Bridge. Jack’s apparent demise leaves no one feelin’ groovy.

After the Four Horsemen’s penultimate bit of business atop an NYC rooftop, all is explained and the elaborate, tangled web is unraveled.

With some films, you might hope to get to know the characters better, but with Now You See Me, it’s the plot that keeps the wheels turning. Mere surface awareness of the film’s individuals turns out to be for the best, I believe. Because, as Eisenberg’s character Daniel says at the movie’s beginning, “The closer you look, the less you see.”

(Rated PG-13.)

The Dark Knight Rises

This is one of the all-time great films. The story, the screenplay, the soundtrack, the acting, the directing, the stunts, the effects—all winners!

It’s the story and its telling that give TDKR a specialness that the other Christopher Nolan Bat movies didn’t have. The others had bombast and standout performances, but TDKR has more heart and soul. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman is heroic, to be sure, but is presented here as more human and more vulnerable (in numerous ways). His transition from a limping, Howard Hughes type recluse back to Bat mode sets the film in motion.

Nolan and Nolan (director and co-writer Christopher and his co-writer brother Jonathan) give memorable lines to several of the key players. Michael Caine as Alfred is in tears as he advises Wayne not to go back into the Bat suit. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as police officer John Blake, a longtime Wayne admirer, tells Wayne his emotional story of life in an orphanage. Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon hesitates to tell the truth about Batman, lest he mar the legacy of Harvey Dent.

The ladies are better in this Bat movie. Anne Hathaway as Selina Kay/Catwoman is a beguiling mix of evil and good. Plus, she looks terrific in the leather jumpsuit. Marion Cotillard as Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate shares a romantic interlude with Bruce Wayne and is a key character in significant plot points.

Tom Hardy is evil incarnate as Bane, the terrorist who brings fear and havoc to Gotham. His mask and haunting voice bring to mind classic bad guy Darth Vader. Bane’s violent acts will prompt recollections of NYC’s 9/11 terrorist attacks. His band of thugs commandeers certain defense assets to do harm to Gotham and its defenders.

If this is a movie you plan to see, get into your movie house sooner rather than later. TDKR has content you want to enjoy on the big screen (IMAX, preferably) instead of a small screen. This review contains no spoilers, but others will. Be careful monitoring online forums and social media feeds, so as not to be burned by those who tell too much.

“The Dark Knight Rises” has iconic scenes and dialogue that will endure in my personal movie memory scrapbook for a long time. Expect multiple awards nominations and wins at year’s end. The movie adds another notch to Christopher Nolan’s reputation as one of our great movie storytellers. Like his “Inception,” TDKR is a movie to be enjoyed many times over. But don’t wait for the DVD or Blu-Ray. Witness true greatness at a theater near you ASAP.