Sunday, March 31, 2013

Basketball: NCCA

I think this year is the first time I’m 0 for 4 on the final four.  I only had 2 teams out of the final 8 this weekend.   I had selected Ohio State and Florida to make the elite 8 but I had both of them losing to teams that didn’t make it out of the round of 16.   I thought Miami would win it all but found myself routing for Illinois and given the missed official call on an out of bounds play with about a minute left, I wasn’t disappointed when Miami lost their next game.   I was surprised by how many friends had picked Miami to win it all.   But I can’t believe only 2 out of 8 and a zero for the final round.  

Syracuse defense has been superb.  They usually are a good defensive club but these last two games have been excellent.   I didn’t have either Syracuse or Marquette going past the round of 16.  In other words, it is a good thing I wasn’t betting money on my picks as I would have lost what I would have won in prior years. 

I watched Louisville demolish Duke.   I’m really disappointed that Louisville is living up to its no. 1 ranking.  I never route for a Rick P---- team.  Does anyone know if Rick finally acknowledges his stay in Hawaii on his resume?   It would be wonderful if Wichita State were to beat them on Saturday but that is not a likely occasion.   
With the very different defensive styles played by Syracuse and Louisville, an April 8 championship game between the two of them could be fascinating assuming Syracuse gets past Michigan.  

There is something pleasurable about a number 1 team losing even when it is only to a no. 2 team.   Only having one number one team surviving is a good thing.  The 16 team division ranking system is part of the pleasure of the NCCA tournament.  As usual, I’ve enjoyed watching some great basketball and looking forward to see if another NC State Miracle can happen as to the Louisville game while expecting the Michigan/Syracuse game to be close.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

Movie: Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful: a children’s movie.  Beautiful colors and an interesting story line will not be enough for most adults in this tale as to how Oscar Digs, aka Oz, got to the land of Oz.  If I had to use one word to describe the film, bland would be my choice.  But as I started to fidget in my seat, I noticed the young kids in the theatre were really enjoying themselves.  This may be the most Disney of Disney films in years.  There are scenes in the movie that reminded me of the old Disney TV show: the fireworks display is a good example.  Anyone with a pre-teen child should take the child to the film.  You won’t dislike the movie and if you are with your child, you may not find the 129 minutes quite as long as I did.  For adults, it wouldn’t have taken much to move the film into the positive category.  How about Johnny Depp as Oz?  James Franco was a dud as Oz.  How about making the witches act like witches?  The children presumably liked it because these are the most un-evil witches you may have ever seen and the good witch had no real personality.  We could also have done away with the scene where the background song lyrics say freedom and we suddenly see a black couple.  I’m pleased Oz is integrated but…  I know a lot of money was spent putting this film together and you can sense it as you watch it.  The film is directed by Sam Raimi.  When you see competent actors give blah performances, you wonder about the directorIn this instance, however, I think it was faulty casting, at least as to Franco.  Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams play the three witches with Michelle also doing the opening character, Annie.  Williams is not the only actor with a dual role.  The movie opens in Kansas (where else) in the year 1905.  This opening sequence is in black and white.  Oz has a male assistant named Frank, played by Zack Braff, who is also the voice for Finley the Monkey.  Besides a monkey with wings, there is a talking porcelain China doll instead of a lion and a man of straw. The acting  problems, except for Franco who was simply miscast, was probably more the script than the director.  It could be copyright issues (Warner Brothers owns The Wizard of Oz) or the lack of female input (credits overwhelming male).  I saw the movie in 3-D.  I think if I’d seen it on a regular screen, it really would have been a long 2 hours.  The photography was brilliant and the highlight for me in a movie that clearly is not directed towards adults. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Movie: Emperor

Emperor: a movie based upon actual events.  Tommy Lee Jones plays General Douglas MacArthur and the place is Japan right after the WW II surrender.  The question the movie presents is whether Emperor Hirohito should be charged as a war criminal along with Japan’s political and military elite who were responsible for the Pearl Harbor bombing and subsequent events.  Matthew Fox is General Bonner Fellers, the individual MacArthur assigned to investigate whether the Emperor should be charged.  General Fellers is quite favorably portrayed and is given a love interest.  The favorable treatment  I found quite interesting as the real Gen. Fellers was a major figure in the John Birch Society in the 1950/1960s.  He also was unwittingly the person whose messages to General Marshall  while being assigned as Military Attaché to the U S Embassy in Egypt in 1941 had been compromised by both the Germans and the Italians leading to Alley losses: but I’m going off subject.  The film shows how devastated Japan was from the fire-bombing that occurred before Hiroshima.  The film also clearly sets forth the reality that a significant part of the military command was not ready to surrender despite the bombing destruction.  Gen Fellers’ report accurately stated that it is impossible to determine whether the Emperor could have stopped the war machine and the decision to bomb Pearl Harbor but he clearly was the key person in the surrender of Japan without a land invasion.   I believe the first time the Japanese public heard the voice of Emperor Hirohito was when he announced over the radio that Japan surrenders.  The fact that an attempt was made to assassinate him before the address was played is portrayed in the movie.  The romantic parts of the movie are the fiction although there is a factual base.   Gen Fellers did meet prior to the war a Japan female national attending college in America.  The sequences involving Aya (Eriko Hatsume) and her family raise the film beyond being a well done piece for the History Channel.  I enjoyed the scenes with Aya’s military uncle.  The Japanese characters are fully developed and not portrayed as stereotype figures.   Takataro Kataoka plays Emperor Hirohito.   The movie is directed by Peter Webber working off a quality script by David Klass and Vera Blasi.   The Japan occupation is one of the few things General MacArthur did right in my opinion and I don’t mind that Jones gives another excellent performance portraying him in a favorable light.  I enjoyed this 106 minute film and I was educated about the historical background as to the wise decision not to have prosecuted the Emperor.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

MOVIE: West of Memphis

West of Memphis:  an excellent documentary film about a failure in the criminal justice system.  The movie tells the story of three males who were teenagers when the incident took place and who spent 18 years in prison.  The title comes from the town where the incident happened,  West Memphis.  The year was 1993 and the incident was the murder of three young (8/9 yrs. old) boys whose bodies were found bound and drowned in a drainage ditch and had the appearance of having been mutilated.  The prosecutor labeled the boys’ death a Satanic Cult murder.  One of the three accused had confessed.  This particular individual, however, was mildly retarded and the confession had serious flaws.  All three teenagers were into heavy metal.  The movie is not a reenactment and, as such, you are not visually exposed to the violence; the descriptions, however, are enough.  The sentences handed down by the court were death for Damien Echols and life sentences for Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.  All three men were released in 2011.  They had entered what is called an Alford guilty plea and got time served.  Translation:  the accused were allowed to maintain their innocence in the process of pleading guilty.  Such a plea gives the State immunity from a civil lawsuit.  The individuals just wanted their freedom.  The movie clearly sets forth their innocence, including the total lack of DNA evidence.  What little DNA evidence did exist points to the step-father of one of the deceased.  Despite the serious issues concerning evidence that existed from the beginning, it was only when the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the lower court had to consider DNA evidence that the authorities began entertaining the release of the three men.  The movie also leaves you with the impression that if serious “Hollywood money” had not been invested in proving their innocence, the three men would still be in jail.  The celebrities who became involved include Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Peter Jackson, the Dixie Chicks and Henry Rollins.  We are not told how much money was spent but it clearly exceed $1 million by a significant factor.  The 2 hour and 25 minute film was directed by Amy Berg who was also the co-writer.   It could have been edited a little more tightly.  The tragedy addressed in West Memphis is not limited to the fact that the real killer was never jailed and that people lost 18 years of their lives, but that the judicial system was so reticent to admit that an error had been made.  When you hear, for example, the true story on the “mutilation”, you wonder how this all could have occurred.  If some of this story sounds familiar it’s because a trilogy entitled Paradise Lost had been done while the three men were still in jail.  I’ve not watched the earlier films. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Movie: The Savoy King: Chick Web

The full title of the movie is "The Savoy King: Chuck Webb & the Music that Changed America".  I saw this documentary at the Honolulu African-American Film Festival at the Doris Duke Theatre.  The reason for the title is The Savory nightclub in Harlem was reportedly the first to allow both Black and White people to dance at the same time in front of a live band.   Places like the Cotton Club were segregated.  Chick Webb's band was the house band.   Today, Chick Webb is probably best known for giving Ella Fitzgerald her original platform to perform on a regular basis.  In fact, Webb, a drummer, was quite influential and his band was equal to any jazz band performing in the 1930s, including Duke Ellington.   As for the movie, it was a delight.  If you are a jazz fan, this film is a must see.   The film intersperses photos from the 1920's and 30's with conversations of artists who played at the time and although in their 90s, are still energized by the music they produced.   Reminiscences are spoken by well known actors such as Danny Glover (Count Basie), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Dizzy Gilespie), Jeff Goldblum (Artie Shaw) and Bill Cosby, who speaks the words of Chick Webb.   This marvelous film was put together by Jeff Kaufman, who was present to discuss his movie.  He was asked how was he able to afford such well known people and we learned they did it for union scale and most of them never knew Kaufman prior to his asking to participate.  The running time on the movie is 90 minutes.   It appears to be showing at film festivals and not available for general release.   If you get the opportunity to see this film, do so.

Movie: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild: a remarkable original film.   A number of people had told me I needed to see this film and I was pleased to see upon returning from my vacation that it was still playing at the Kahala theatre.   The literal story line is about a six year old girl named Hushpuppy.   You are introduced to her at the start of the film and slowly you learn physical location, offshore of New Orleans, and details as to her life.    The movie is shot in  the bayous of Louisiana and opens shortly before Katrina.    Yes, it is a Katrina story but not one you likely have seen before.   Hushpuppy is raised by her father, named Wink.    He is more complex than his initial presence would indicate and he is a carrying and loving father.  Her mother is discussed but is not around and you are never told exactly why.   Wink had told Hushpuppy that she had “swam away”.   My conclusion is that she died in child birth.   This is a first time acting performance by the performers playing Hushpuppy, Quvenzhane Wallis, and Wink, Dwight Henry.    Henry was cast after the crew had been buying his pastries.   This 93 minute movie is by a first time director named Ben Zeitlin.  I look forward to seeing what he does next.   A lot occurs over a short period of time and due to the magnetism of Wallis, it all works including the animation.   Why the title?  Hushpuppy and other children living on the island in the bayou named Bathtub are taught that once upon a time there were giant creatures called aurochs who would devour any living thing, including their parents, who were not strong enough to stand up for themselves.  There is a marvelous scene with Hushpuppy and an auroch: it alone is worth the admission price.   The movie is about independence, survival and relationships and one could draw an analogy as to this being a tale Mark Twain would tell using modern technology.    I’m pleased to report that this film is still showing at Kahala.   Do yourself a favor and view a film that is quite different, imaginative and entertaining.


Movie: Skyfall

Skyfall: the Bond franchise is at the top of its game.   This time the movie ad stating best one yet may be correct.   Daniel Craig is superb as Bond.  The decision to acknowledge that Bond has aged is part of the reason this film is successful.   Also helps that Javier Bardem plays the bad guy.   Bardem does it so well: he may be currently the best bad guy movie actor.   And Naomie Harris maintains the tradition of a beautiful female player.  The opening movie sequence grabs your attention after hearing part of the traditional Bond music score.   The film fits together quite nicely.   The storyline is that Silva, played by Bardem, is a former British intelligence officer who M (Judi Dench: wonderful as she always is) traded to the Chinese to free others.   He is looking for vengeance against both M and England.  We learn the why as to his actions about halfway through the film.   The scenes with Craig and Bardem have the appropriate tension.   Instead of gadgetry, the film acknowledges the computer world and raises the question of the need for field agents.   Bond answers this question for us.   Along with a strong script, there is excellent acting and not limited to Craig, Bardem, Dench and Harris.   Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes are among those giving a fine performance.   The film is long (2 hrs 25 min) but the director, Sam Mendes, keeps you interested.   I should mention that in addition to hardly any gadgets, there is not a string of bikini women in this Bond film.   Since Craig became Bond, the stories have become more intense and plausible, the Bond character has become more complex and the movies are more than excellent special effects.   This occurs with the essence of Bond remaining strong.   I loved the fact that Bond takes time to adjust his shirt cuff after jumping into a moving train car.  If you are truly into Bond, you will find a surplus of references to prior Bond films.   These references also assist in making Bond more than a caricature when coupled with taking us to the Bond homestead in a cold barren section of the British Isles.    Every Bond fan needs to see this film and for those of you who are not, you may want to give Bond a second chance

Movie: Lincoln

Lincoln: only Steven Spielberg could give us a film about making sausage – in this case, a realistic showing of how the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was passed – and hold our interest for 2 hours 25 minutes, without Bond special effects.  The movie opens with a Savings Private Ryan scene of Black Union soldiers killing Confederate soldiers in hand-to-hand combat but the scene is not that long and most of the rest of the film is about what takes place in Washington.  The movie time line is 1865 and there are no flashbacks.  Towards the end of the movie there are scenes making it graphically clear just how destructive of life was the Civil War but the movie focus is on what it took politically for the House of Representatives to pass the 13th amendment.   Lincoln is shown to be an LBJ master of the process.  This realistic portrayal is not your high school civics course on how legislation occurs.   Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln may have won himself another Oscar.   He is a remarkable actor.   The entire cast is remarkable.   Tommy Lee Jones as Representative Thaddeus Stevens, the head of the Radical Republicans, gives an exceptional performance.  Sally Field as Mrs. Lincoln will probably receive an Oscar nomination for her performance as  her Mary Todd Lincoln is not the stereotype one dimension shrill/mentally unstable person found in many history books.   As with Jones performance, the real person was much more complex.   The movie script by Tony Kushner is also Oscar quality.   There is humor, particularly the James Spader character W. N. Bilbo, one of three lobbyists hired by William Seward (David Strathairn) to bribe, cajole or whatever else was needed to get 20 Democrats to join the Republicans in voting for the amendment.  The reality and meaning  of the word freedom is set forth in all its complexity.   This could become a very lengthy review as there is much to praise including additional actors such as Gloria Reuben and Hal Holbrook.   I think John Williams will win another Oscar nomination for his music score along with the cinematographer.   There are movies yet to be seen in 2012 but I can’t imagine anyone other than Spielberg winning the Oscar for best director.   A complex story is told while keeping your attention throughout.  Every American should see this film.

Movie: Life of Pi

Life of Pi: an amazing film especially if you see it in 3-D.  This is a film you need to go to the movie theatre and not wait for the DVD.  When I saw the movie trailer with the boy and the tiger on a boat in the middle of an ocean, I thought this film will either be very good or very bad.   I also thought that different people will react quite differently to this film.   I left the theatre amazed that the director Ang Lee and the film scriptwriter David Magee had pulled it off and produced something so delightful, thoughtful and enjoyable.   But I bet there will be some strong dissenters as to this adoption of the novel by Yann Martel.   A substantial portion of the 126 minute film takes place with a teenager and a tiger trying to survive on a boat in the Pacific Ocean.   Need I say more as to why some of you may have a different reaction?    Further, there is no suspense as to whether the boy will survive because the opening scenes are a conversation between a writer recently returned from India who was told to visit Pi, who is now a middle aged man.   Scriptwriter Magee used the conventional devise of having someone say I am going to tell you a story to convert a novel most people would never have believed could be made into a movie.    Despite the lack of suspense as to the outcome and a very conventional opening followed by a childhood remembrance by Pi growing up in India, when the shipwreck occurs and Pi is left to his own devices to survive in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it  is what follows that this commentary opens with the word amazing.   Irrfan Khan plays Pi as an adult and the movie opens and closes with him.   Pi as an 11/12 year old is played by Ayush Tandon.   But who is amazing is Pi on the ocean played by Suraj Sharma.   Survival stories are festinating when the focus is on how a person goes about the tasks of surviving: finding food and water while keeping your sanity.   From the childhood scenes we know that Pi has a religious soul.   But the movie doesn’t have God providing.   Instead we see Pi take the practical steps necessary to find food and obtain water.   As for the tiger, who we first meet in India and Pi’s family had named Robert Parker, the animation is remarkable.   The tiger always appears to be real and you never think otherwise.    I will be surprised if Magee does not win an Oscar for script adopted from another media.   Lee clearly deserves an Oscar nomination for this work.   Director Oscar winner this year is tough competition with Spielberg for Lincoln and Afflict for Argo.  This film along with Lincoln and Argo will receive nominations for best film of the year.   All three films are excellent with Life of Pi being truly unique.   For those of you not familiar with the book, the boy named himself Pi after being teased for his real name, Piscine. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Movie: Amour

Amour: Oscar winner as best foreign film 2012.  The showing of the movie in Honolulu only commenced the week before the Oscar broadcast.  Due to the quality of the acting and the script, it is quite understandable why it was nominated for a number of awards in addition to best foreign film.  For much of the movie there are only two individuals on screen, the elderly couple Georges and Anne.  I think there are only eight people who have speaking roles, and other than the adult daughter, their time on screen is quite limited.  The movie opens with firemen breaking into an apartment.  We then see an elderly woman lying on a bed as if in a funeral parlor.  The rest of the film is about a couple addressing issues of age and illness.  Emmanuelle Riva was nominated for best actress and she clearly deserved the nomination.  Jean-Louis Trintignant is equally strong in his performance as the devoted husband caring for a spouse who has two strokes during the course of the 127 minute movie.  When you first meet the couple, you know they have had a vibrant relationship that has lasted for decades.  They were piano teachers and an early scene has them watching a concert featuring one of Anne’s former pupils.  The film takes place in contemporary France (subtitles) and except for the opening concert scenes, occurs almost entirely in the couple’s spacious flat.  The movie, directed by Michael Haneke, is about a love that continues through illness.  The devotion and commitment of Georges is, unfortunately, not often seen in reality.  From what I’ve observed over the years, the verbiage exceeds the reality.  Describing the physical deterioration of Anne may lead you to believe the film is an emotional downer, however, due to the caring shown by Georges and the final scenes of the film, I did not leave depressed.  You will also hear beautifully played Shubert and a musical score that matches superbly with what is occurring on screen.  Georges ages during the movie (I think his walk becomes slower) and the movie doesn’t hide from the difficulties of aging.  But it also shows that if the mental capacities remain unimpaired, there is still much to enjoy.  One item not explained is why the daughter is distant from her father.  Is it just that she married an Englishman?  Isabelle Huppert is excellent as the daughter however the script doesn’t adequately explain her relationship with her parents.   I recommend your seeing this movie.