REVIEWS OF RENTED DVDs I GET IN THE MAIL

Archive for the ‘B’ Category

THE BLIND SIDE (2009)

In B, Biography, Drama, Motion Pictures, Sports on May 11, 2010 at 10:43 pm

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STUDIO — Warner Bros.

CAST — Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Ray McKinnon, Jae Head, Lily Collins, Kathy Bates

DIRECTOR — John Lee Hancock

MPAA Rating: PG-13

In many parts of the United States, football is more than a sport; it’s practically a religion. This is especially evident through the South and Midwest, where college football reigns supreme. I can testify to this fact, as I have seen Bulldog-themed restaurants in Georgia, Longhorn-themed stores in Texas, and Cornhusker-themed everything in Nebraska. In fact, I can personally support the theory that life all but shuts down on Saturday afternoons in the fall in the state of Nebraska. After spending 16 years of my life there, I have brought back this observation: Go shopping in a department store during a Husker game, and life stands still while a play is in progress. When the ball is snapped, everyone stops in their tracks and listens intently to the radio broadcast (guaranteed to be on in at least 95% of the businesses in the state); if there’s a touchdown, they celebrate like they’re all guests of honor in a massive bachelor(ette) party. Then when the game goes to commercial, as if by magic, they go back to whatever they’re doing. It almost looks like a scene from the classic Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons” (Just watch through the first sct, and you’ll see what I mean). I do, of course, say this in jest, but it is still fascinating to witness.

There is no mistake in identifying passionate football fans. They support their favorite teams until the ends of the earth, even if they have been “rebuilding” for 15 years. They wear their hearts on their sleeve, their wardrobe is adorned with the team colors of their choice, their cars are littered with flags, decals, and other paraphernalia, and they even plan social events around the games! This is true of nearly all passionate sports fans, but college football fans really love their sport, and they really love their school, no matter where they live. Such is the case of Leigh Anne Tuohy, an Ole Miss graduate living in Memphis, Tennessee.

Michael Oher (Quiton Aaron, right) at Thanksgiving dinner with the Tuohys (from left, Lily Collins, Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Jae Head)

By now, I am sure that you have heard of Mrs. Tuohy, and the remarkable story of how she took in a kid from the wrong side of town because he had nowhere to go. That kid grew up to become Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens. They could not have been more different. She was an affluent, pretty, outspoken white woman with a family; he was a very large, very shy, very homeless black teenager with no ambition or direction in life. Yet, she took him into her home, fed him, clothed him, and guided him into becoming a young man who had found his destiny.

Okay, I’m not sure what has already been said about this movie, but I will say that, as sports movies go, this is one of the best I have seen in the last 20 years. One remarkable fact about The Blind Side is that it is the first motion picture with one actress billed above the title (by herself) to gross over $100 million. Now, I have had a soft spot for Sandra Bullock ever since she burst on the scene as the off-beat cop of the future in Demolition Man (1993). She is a quirky, slightly-left-of-normal girl next door, and I knew there was nothing but a bright career ahead for her. But never in a million years did I expect her to achieve serious critical acclaim, and I don’t think she did, either. When she co-starred in Crash (2004), things began to change. I noticed that Sandra Bullock was evolving from a movie star to an actress (there is a difference), and when you are an actor or actress who is also a movie star, really good things begin to happen.

The Blind Side contains fine performances from much of the cast, beginning with Bullock, who won Best Actress as Leigh Anne Tuohy. TIm McGraw was an agreeable Sean, and Quinton Aaron did very well, too. I did have one concern: Did Michael Oher, during the lost days of his youth, really lack intelligence, or did he just not care? Signs seem to point to the latter, and Aaron played from that angle fairly well (Although I did notice a few overly-vacuous spots in his performance). The breakout performance in this movie (to me, anyway) goes to Jae Head, who played Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy’s son, S.J. First of all, he had all the best lines (“Enough with the rugby shirts! You look like a giant bumble bee!”), and it was very easy to see he and Quinton Aaron bonded well. Also, watching S.J. coach Michael through drills is a sight to behold! Oh, one more cool fact about this movie: The college football coaches in the film are the real deal. Some had retired and others moved on to other positions, but yes, Virginia, that really was Lou Holtz you saw on the screen.

The Blind Side is a wonderful and inspirational story of generosity, love, and good ol’ Christian beliefs. And football. Lots of football. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, then get thee to your Queue and line it up!

4 out of 5

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)

In B, Best Picture Winners, Classic, Drama, Motion Pictures, Romance, War on April 26, 2010 at 1:25 pm

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STUDIO — Samuel Goldwyn Co.

CAST — Dana Andrews, Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Virginia Mayo, Teresa Wright, Harold Russell, Hoagy Carmichael, Cathy O’Donnell

DIRECTOR — William Wyler

NOT RATED (MPAA Equivalent: PG)

Over the last few years, there have been occasional news stories about combat veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan who encounter difficulties when making the transition back in “The World” (a term sometimes used by service members deployed overseas when they talk about the U.S.). We hear about spikes in divorce rates, domestic violence, and (sadly) even suicide among combat veterans. This isn’t a new problem, as illustrated in the Best Picture of 1946, The Best Years of Our Lives.

With World War II still fresh on everyone’s mind, The Best Years of Our Lives paints a picture of the hardships of three veterans returning from combat. First, there is Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), a decorated captain in the Army Air Corps who wants only two things: a good job and quality time with his wife (whom he married before he shipped out). Next is Al Stephenson (Best Actor Fredric March), a banker with a loving family (Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, Michael Hall) who became an infantry sergeant in the Pacific Theatre. Finally, there’s Homer Parrish (Best Supporting Actor Harold Russell), an athlete who joined the Navy right out of high school, but lost both of his hands in a fire on his aircraft carrier. These veterans from the (fictional) town of Boone City meet up early on in the Air Transport Command terminal and share the flight home in the nose of a now-decommissioned B-17. One by one, each man reunites with his family, but the real stories begin after the last tears of joy have been shed.

Homer, Al, and Fred (Harold Russell, Fredric March, Dana Andrews) on their way home from the airport

Fred encounters trouble finding work, while at the same time he discovers that his wife Marie (Virginia Mayo) is more interested in money and socializing than she is with building a new life together. Meanwhile, Al is welcomed back with open arms by his family, and he is guaranteed a promotion at the bank he had left years before, yet he is uncomfortable and starts drinking heavily. But the most moving story is that of Homer’s difficulties, both internal and external, because of his disability. On the surface, he’s all smiles and eager to demonstrate what he can do with his prosthetic hooks, but on the inside is a man reeling from the pain of being perceived as some sort of freak.

Produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by William Wyler, this is a movie about veterans made by veterans. Wyler (who had served as a film documentarian during the war) made sure the entire film crew consisted of returning veterans, thus lending a perception of authenticity. The lighting, the sound mixing, the costuming, even the editing were all done by veterans, and their combined effort shows in the movie’s overall “feel”. This is especially evident in a key scene toward the end of the movie, in which Fred wanders through the town’s “boneyard” and crawls inside the dusty hulk of what used to be a B-17. Words cannot describe the flood of emotions in this scene, and taken out of context, it is nearly pointless to do so; it is something you will need to see for yourself by watching this movie from the beginning.

Here is a not-so-commonly known fact about this movie: Harold Russell, who had lost his hands in a training accident, is the only actor in the history of the Motion Picture Academy to receive two Academy Awards for the same role in the same movie. As mentioned earlier, he was the Best Supporting Actor of 1946, but he also received an Honorary Oscar “[f]or bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance in The Best Years of Our Lives”. Russell, who passed away in 2002, went on to become a voice and face for disabled veterans since World War II by helping to create AMVETS, an organization he had led on three different occasions.

After the euphoria of the fall of Nazi Germany and the surrender of Japan, America (and the entire world) needed to heal from this gaping wound with scars buried deep within its soul. The Best Years of Our Lives showed us a society on the mend and, in the right hands, the hope of a better tomorrow. It is emotional and sometimes painful to watch, even 64 years later, and its themes have a new-found relevance to today’s combat veterans. If you or someone you know has served in the Armed Forces (which should be just about all of us), then I strongly recommend this movie. And guys, it’s okay to cry with this one…

THE BROADWAY MELODY (1929)

In B, Best Picture Winners, Classic, Drama, Motion Pictures on January 29, 2010 at 3:22 am

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STUDIO — MGM

CAST — Charles King, Anita Page, Bessie Love, Kenneth Thomson

DIRECTOR —  Harry Beaumont

UNRATED (MPAA Equivalent: PG)

The Broadway Melody marked many firsts in the history of the Academy Awards, save one. It is not the first motion picture to receive the Best Picture award (That honor goes to 1927’s Wings). But it is the first “talkie” to win Best Picture, and it is the first Best Picture winner to spawn sequels (four, in all), and, though not technically a musical, it is the first to feature several musical numbers.

Let me make one thing clear: Lawrence of Arabia, this movie is not! Sound was still a novelty in the late 1920s, and all of the major studios (as well as most movie stars) made the switch to keep with the times. So, while The Broadway Melody is an entertaining spectacle, it suffers from substandard (even for the time) camera work, clunky acting from many members of the cast, and a script so cheesy, I could cut off a slice and put it on a burger.

The Mahoney Sisters (Anita Page, Bessie Love) perform on stage

Does this mean it’s a bad movie? Not necessarily. Anyone who has any interest in old movies will still enjoy it. The Broadway Melody was made for one reason: to entertain. And it does, thanks to serviceable performances by Bessie Love and Charles King. There are also a few running gags in the movie which will keep your attention, including Broadway producer Francis Zanfield’s gang of “yes men”, stuttering Uncle Jed, and a drunk lackey known in the film only as “Unconscious”.

If you know anything about show business history, you probably noticed the name Francis Zanfield (Eddie Kane). Yes, it is close to the name of legendary Vaudeville  showman Florence Ziegfeld. Another name that may catch your attention is that of the movie’s antagonist, Jaques “Jock” Warriner (Kenneth Thomson); it is very close to that of Jack Warner (as in Warner Bros.). Ironic that Warner Bros. would later acquire the rights to the MGM motion picture library when they purchased Ted Turner’s televesion empire, but I digress…

The Broadway Melody is the story of the Mahoney sisters, Hank (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page), and their quest to make their big break in show business. Hank’s fiancé, Eddie (Charles King), has assured them an “in” by getting them in Mr. Zanfield’s Vaudeville troupe, but like all well-laid plans, things don’t work out so well. Eddie becomes smitten with Queenie, Queenie falls for Jock, Eddie gets jealous, and Hank gets… Well, you didn’t expect me to spoil the whole thing for ya, now, didn’t you?

The Broadway Melody is an excellent study in early motion picture history, and it is mildly entertaining. For the truly bold and adventurous, you can check out the Special Features on the DVD, which include a short loosely based on the movie and with a canine cast, called (wait for it…) “The Dogway Melody”. Less cringe-worthy are a selection of five Metro Movietone Revues, featuring various musical and Vaudeville acts of the time. And there is a peek at the trailers to the other four movies in the franchise, as well.

3-1/2 out of 5

BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

In Action, B, Motion Pictures, Movies, Sci-Fi/Fantasy on January 22, 2010 at 1:34 am

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 Batman Begins (2005) STUDIO — Warner Bros./DC Comics    

CAST — Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes    

DIRECTOR — Christopher Nolan    

MPAA Rating: PG-13    

For my first review, I thought I would start things off with a bang (and a POW!, a BIFF!, and an OOF!). Okay, all kidding aside, and with apologies to Adam West, let us begin our quest for the genesis of Batman, as seen through the vision of director christopher Nolan.    

This story centers around the beginnings of the crime-fighter known as the Batman, and how it nearly began with an act of revenge; a still-young Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) wanted to kill the man who shot his parents. When that didn’t work, he traveled abroad, ultimately winding up in prison for attempted theft in Asia. What follows is the now-famous training sequence, in which a man named Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) introduces Bruce to the League of Shadows. Now with his training complete, Bruce returns to Gotham to find it worse than it was when he left. In fact, it seems the only five people in town who aren’t corrupt are Bruce, his butler Alfred (Michael Caine), his one-time girlfriend (and assistant DA) Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), Wayne Enterprises employee Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and a police lieutenant named Gordon (Gary Oldman).     

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) embraces his fear

I found this movie entertaining, with a flow to the plot that didn’t stop dead in its tracks, even though I found the Scarecrow subplot to be somewhat contrived.  Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is a brooding badass billionaire, with a near-perfect characterization that (thankfully) doesn’t fall into the caricature of George Clooney. Michael Caine makes an excellent Alfred, who not only is Bruce Wayne’s caretaker, assistant, and confidant, but here we also see him as his center and surrogate parent. The chemistry between Christian Bale and Katie Holmes worked well. Also, Morgan Freeman is a welcome addition to nearly any movie. I think I will stop right here to say that both Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are among my favorite actors of all time, so having both of them in this reboot of the Batman franchise was a stroke of genius. Finally, the custom-built Batmobile was the perfect cherry on top of this ice cream sundae of a movie. 

Overall, Batman Begins is well-paced, wonderfully shot, and a visual feast on the eyes. Though 1978’s Superman is still the standard of the modern superhero movie, this movie meets the challenge head-on without wavering. 

3-1/2 out of 5