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Monday, September 1, 2014

Grand Champion (Released in 2004) - A family film - Starring Jacob Fisher, George Strait, Emma Roberts and Joey Lauren Adams

The 2004 released, multi-starrer Grand Champion is a comedy drama directed by Barry Tubb. The movie is almost entirely shot in Texas and has many cameo appearances from country music stars, such as George Strait, Natalie Maines (of the Dixie Chicks), Robert Earl Keen and others. Among the star cast are Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts as well.
Grand Champion is about a twelve year old boy named Buddy and his pet calf Hokey. Buddy played by Jacob Fisher, lives with his single mother, Hallie, played by Joey Lauren Adams and sister, played by Emma Robert on a small ranch in Lone Star State. He adopts a calf and nick names him Hokey Pokey. Initially, the story is about the love that develops between Buddy and Hokey. When Buddy adopts Hokey, he is more of a pet than anything else, but soon he starts training the calf to become an award winning steer.
Slowly and steadily, Hokey grows up, groomed to become a prize winner. His friend Edgar, played by Cache Williams helps him to gather enough money to enter Hokey into the Grand Champion. People from all walks of life help Buddy accomplish this dream. Buddy and his family then pack all their stuff and head for the big city where the Grand Championship is being held. The competition is stiff, but eventually Hokey Pokey wins Grand Champion.




After winning the Grand Champion, Buddy is approached by Blandford International to buy the prize winning steer for a whopping $775,000. Buddy feels the money could help his family and send his sister and himself to college. So with a heavy heart he decides to sell Hokey to Mr. Blandford, played by Bruce Willis.
Later, however, when Buddy learns that Mr. Blandford plans to make barbeque out of Hokey the following weekend, he decides to rescue his four legged friend. Along with Edgar, Buddy hatches a plan to cow-nap the steer and save him from being killed. Once Hokey is rescued, the boys and Hokey are on the run. But, soon the runner up in the Grand Champion realizes that if Hokey doesn’t show up soon, then he would be named Grand Champion in Hokey’s place. Meanwhile, Mr. Blandford also will stop at nothing to recover his prized acquisition. What ensues is a toe tapping finish as everyone possible tries to help Buddy save Hokey.
Julia Roberts has a cameo role in this movie. She took up the role more as a support factor for her niece, Emma Roberts. The story line is simple and innocent. But the Country singers and big names like Roberts and Willis add more weight to the movie. Overall the movie is a fun enjoyable watch and is clean entertainment for the entire family.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Released in 2002) - Starring Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Sam Rockwell, Rutger Hauer

The movie Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a biographical depiction of the book with the same name, which traces the life of famous game show host Chuck Barris. The movie is actor George Clooney’s directorial debut, proving without a doubt that Clooney is not just a good actor, but also a smart and curious guy. His interest in the life of Chuck Barris is understandable, especially because his own father was a game show host and he has seen that life from back stage.
Sam Rockwell plays the part of Chuck Barris and fits the role perfectly. The story, as based on the novel, begins with Chuck moving to Manhattan to become an NBC page, with hopeful dreams of making it big in television sooner than later. However, after being fired he moves to Philadelphia where he meets the cute Penny Pacino, played by Drew Barrymore, and eventually falls in love with her. He is approached by ABC productions to pitch a show called “The Dating Game”. However, when “Hootenanny” is chosen instead of his pilot, he is crushed.
Unhappy and drunken nights ensue. And after a skirmish at a bar, he is approached by CIA agent Jim Byrd, played by Clooney himself. He hires Chuck to work as an assassin for the CIA, and sends him to Mexico for a mission. He returns to find that his project – The Dating Game has been given a green light, and his girlfriend Penny has become somewhat of a hippie. The movie then traces Bariss’s life through different assignments throughout the globe, where he meets the lovely operative Patricia Watson, played by Julia Roberts, and later a German American agent named Keeler, played by Rutger Hauer. Keeler is shown to be captured by the KGB and released later during the West East spies’ exchange. But soon, a mole is discovered inside the CIA, and Keeler gets killed.
The movie simultaneously traces the success Chuck receives when he gets back home and is in production with new TV shows like “The Newlywed Game” and later “The Gong Show”, because of which he was a household name overnight, but also received immense criticism for having lowered the quality of American Television. Penny and Chuck move in together. Despite Penny’s attempts, Chuck has reservations at getting married.




Fame does unpleasant things to people, and Chuck Barris is shown to be yet another victim. When Byrd tells him about his parentage and the reason why he was hired by the CIA, Chuck begins to spiral out of control. Meanwhile, Byrd dies mysteriously. Chuck almost has a nervous breakdown on his show, after which he holes himself in his hotel room, from where Penny attempts unsuccessfully to convince him to return to California and get married.
Barris then tries to get his life back together. He confronts Patricia who is the mole and kills her. He moves back to California and marries Penny. During the wedding he confesses to her that he was a spy for the CIA. She only laughs, assuming incorrectly that he is joking. Finally, after many years, he is shown to be preparing for an interview for the film adaptation of his autobiography.
When asked whether he really was an assassin for the CIA, Barris refused to comment. But, eventually it doesn’t matter whether the story is true or not, as any autobiography becomes a piece of fiction, with the author subconsciously rewriting parts to appear heroic or blameless. Barris seems to blame himself for a lot, and thus he has an even greater need to appear heroic through his writings.
George Clooney has created a movie which does not only have an interesting script, but also is wonderful to look at, with two startling contrasts shown through the pop world of the 1960’s and 70’s and a cold spy world. Sam Rockwell has done an amazing job. All in all, it is a wonderful adaptation and depiction of the life of Chuck Barris. In spite of not having done superbly in the box office, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind still received respectful reviews.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Released in 2002) - Starring Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Sam Rockwell, Rutger Hauer

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ocean's Eleven (Released in 2001) - Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy García, and Julia Roberts

A remake of a 1960’s movie with the same name which starred Frank Sinatra and his Rat pack, Ocean’s Eleven is an American comedy about a group of guys who are brought together by Danny Ocean to plan a heist. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the movie is fun, entertaining and slick. It is a fine example of what happens when a serious accomplished director decides to venture into some “over the top” quirkiness.
The movie has an impressive star cast, with Danny Ocean being played by Mr. Smooth and Sauvé – George Clooney, and his better half Tess Ocean is played by one of the few actresses who can hold her own next to Clooney – Julia Roberts. Not to be left out, Ocean’s eleven include superstars like Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Casey Affleck, Elliott Gould and Turk Malloy.
The movie opens with Danny, who is fresh out of prison, and eager for a job. He gets in touch with his trusted sidekick, Rusty, played by Brad Pitt. Together they chalk up a plan to steal $ 160 million from not one but three casinos in Las Vegas, namely The Bellagio, The Mirage and The MGM Grand. They get together a team to help them with this job. The team comprises of a talented acrobat, con artists, a techie, a pick pocket, gifted mechanic and an electronics and surveillance expert.




Rubin, a senior con artist, played by Elliot Gould, is initially reluctant to help because he knows how tight casino security usually is. However, with a chance to get back at Terry Benedict, the Casino owner, played by Andy Garcia he jumps on board to finance the whole operation. While some of the members recon the casinos, the others get into making exact life size replicas of the casino vault floors.
On one of the recon missions, Rusty finds Tess Ocean walking with Terry Benedict, the guy they are about to rob. He confronts Danny and asks him whether this entire heist is about her. Danny replies that it is of course about her. It is about stealing from his ex- wife’s new boyfriend and trying to get her back in the process. However, George Clooney and Brad Pitt pull off, even a confrontation, with style.
When the plan is set and everything is in motion, as a viewer you feel like rooting for the con men. Not for any other reason but the sheer panache and flair with which they pull of a very detailed and intricate plan. In the end, Danny gets Tess back, by proving to her that Terry prizes his money more than he does her. Mind you, nothing is done simplistically in this movie. Every scene and every dialogue has a certain smooth talker style and élan which could only have been accomplished by Ted Griffin’s style of dialogues and screenplay.
As far as the heist goes, there have been movies with more fastidiously planned con jobs. But in Ocean’s Eleven, one does not go for the heist. They go for the super smooth dialogue delivery and an end which doesn’t involve a shootout, but a rather exquisitely planned heist which goes off exactly as Danny and his boys had planned – with finesse.
The movie is nothing like the usual Soderbergh movies, but it is an entertaining enjoyable watch never the less.

Ocean's Eleven (Released in 2001) - Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy García, and Julia Roberts

America's Sweethearts (Released in 2001) - Starring Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones

Directed by Joe Roth, America’s Sweetheart is a romantic comedy which feels like a recycled version of the 1952 hit – Singin’ in the Rain. The movie isn’t all bad, but since it has taken its inspiration from a classic, it falls short in comparison. Where Singin’ in the Rain was an effortless comedy, America’s Sweethearts lacks conviction and confidence. It side steps from cynicism and comedy, and attempts to give insights and truth.
With that said, one must applaud the acting skills of all the actors. Kiki and Gwen (played by Julia Roberts and Catherine Zita-Jones respectively) are shown to be sisters. Where Kiki is dumpy and overweight, Gwen is a Hollywood actress. Kiki has always played second fiddle to Gwen by being her assistant. The film is about movie publicist Lee Phillips (played by Billy Crystal) trying desperately to organize a press conference for a movie directed by the eccentric Hal Weidmann (played by Christopher Walker) who has refused to show Lee a single shot of the film, claiming he will do so directly at the Press Junket. The actors of this movie included Gwen and her now estranged partner Eddie.
With no idea what the movie is about, Lee sets out trying to reconcile Gwen and Eddie so that they attend the Junket and he can focus the conference on them rather than the movie. He tries to convince both to attend, which isn’t an easy task, considering the reason they hate each other is that Gwen was having an affair with Hector (played by Azaria) and Eddie has an emotional breakdown when he realizes this, thus landing himself in a “retreat”.




Finally when the two do agree to attend the Junket, what ensues is confusion and drama. Gwen forces Kiki to be the intermediary between herself and Eddie. Kiki is attracted to Eddie, and when Eddie sees how much weight Kiki has lost and how lovely she now looks, he takes to her. Eventually he realizes that it is Kiki and not Gwen who he has loved always.
Realizing this Lee tells Eddie to go ahead and tell Kiki, and end his relationship with Gwen. When Gwen finds out she tries to save her pride and career by manipulating Kiki and Eddie. However, Eddie sees through her behavior. Amidst all this, the mysterious movie directed by Weidmann is aired at the Junket and everyone realizes that the movie isn’t a movie but a reality film. In the film, Gwen is seen as a conniving manipulative selfish person who is having an affair with Hector. Eddie is the nice guy who starts getting paranoid about his wife.
Gwen is livid at this reality movie and tries to salvage what little pride she has left by announcing that she and Eddie are reconciling. However, Eddie stands up and declares his love for Kiki, who also stands up against her sister. The end is a bit feeble, with Eddie and Kiki leaving together after Kiki has been fired by Gwen, and Gwen trying to put up a brave front.
With a great star cast and amazing acting skills presented by each of them, where the story falls short is the storyline and screenplay which is all over the place. The end could and should have been rewritten. There are some amazing scenes. But they feel a little forced when you watch the movie as a whole.

America's Sweethearts (Released in 2001) - Starring Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Mexican (released in 2001) - Starring Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, James Gandolfini - Carrying a cursed gun

The Mexican is a comedy/ road trip movie directed by Gore Verbinski of “The Ring” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame. With a screen play that could have easily turned the movie into a mushy romantic chick flick, the movie has taken a simple concept and made it fun, stylish and witty. With two blockbuster stars and a very entertaining support cast, the movie is enjoyable.
Since Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt are starring in the same movie, one would assume that the movie involves a romantic angle involving the two. But, that is not the case. Considering how badly Jerry and Samantha get along, played by Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts respectively, it is a good thing that they do not share a lot of screen space. The movie revolves around the offbeat relationship which develops between Samantha and Leroy, played by James Gandolfini.
The plot begins with Jerry and Samantha having problems. Samantha is tired of Jerry’s lack of commitment to their relationship and after he picks going to Mexico for yet another assignment, instead of going to Las Vegas with her as promised, she throws him out. From there on the storyline no longer ventures on the romantic side, but becomes rather quirky.
Jerry owes a Mafioso played by Gene Hackman. And it is this debt which he has to repay. Jerry takes up one last assignment for him. He has to trace a cursed gun called the Mexican through Mexico and deliver it back to the mafia. What follows is a thoroughfare of mishaps surrounding Jerry and the Mexican.




Meanwhile, Samantha decides to go to Vegas on her own, and on the way lands up getting kidnapped by Leroy, played by Gandolfini. The kidnapping seems to have taken place for simple reasons. But, those reasons start to get murkier and increasingly complicated as the movie progresses. However, there is a lot of psychological babble between the two, as they start to share their insights.
The screenplay keeps shifting between the misadventures of Samantha and Jerry. Jerry seems unable to pull himself out of the mess, created all because of the gun - the Mexican. He is obsessed with trying to get Samantha back, and hence keeps bungling everything up. Among the many entertaining features of the movie, there is Jerry’s obsession with trying to speak Spanish, by adding an “O” at the end of every English word, and real Mexicans taking him round in circles. The movie has brilliant dialogues, and the exchange between Samantha and Leroy are interesting on a totally different level.
Gandolfini’s character makes Julia Robert shine. The movie isn’t like any other gangster mafia movie. Nor is it romantic. What it is - is dark and hilarious. The story is not in your face, but witty and entertaining in spite of that. Each actor shines in his own role. If Julia and Brad had been paired together, there would have been no role for Gandolfini’s character and the result would have been just any other predictable story.
All in all, the movie is a must watch. But, to reiterate, don’t expect any mushy rom-com in this movie. Go for it, for nothing else but its understated appeal.

The Mexican (released in 2001) - Starring Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, James Gandolfini - Carrying a cursed gun

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Eat Pray Love (Released in 2010) - Starring Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, James Franco

Eat Pray Love, previously named as “The virtues of life”, is a rom-com drama directed by Ryan Murphy, and is based on the book by the same name, written by Elizabeth Gilbert. Like the book, the movie is a memoir of the author and her exploits and experiences around the globe. Starring Julia Roberts as Liz Gilbert, the author and protagonist, the movie starts with Liz leaving behind her husband, home and a successful job, because she feels lost and confused about what she wants in life. She steps out of her comfort zone and decides to travel the world for a year. In her journeys she meets people, each of whom contribute in her quest for self-discovery. The story begins in New York and travels all the way to Italy where she spends a few months eating, then to India, where she finds solace in prayers and Indonesia where she tries to find a balance in life and falls in love with a Brazilian businessman, played by Javier Bardem.
The movie is mostly on the same lines as the book. However, it does vary in rather frustrating aspects. Where, in the book Gilbert spends only a few pages on her divorce and wanting to travel, in the movie Gilbert spends a grueling 45 minutes in New York. Consequently the viewer is silently begging her to move ahead and get on the plane out of NYC.




Gilbert then goes to Italy where she indulges in pastas like they were going out of fashion. But, where in the book Gilbert tries to find herself and her identity in solitude, in the movie Gilbert is shown to be enjoying by socializing. From Italy, Gilbert moves to India where yet again, on the advice of someone else, she joins an ashram and tried to find strength and a sense of identity through prays. After 3 short months of inner reflection in India, she goes to Bali, Indonesia where she meets a Brazilian businessman - Javier Bardem and falls in love.
Julia Roberts does a wonderful job as a witty and exuberant Liz Gilbert. However, where it could be fun to spend a year travelling with Liz Gilbert, it isn’t much fun watching a 2 and a half hour long movie all about her and the good men thrown her way. The movie is all about Gilbert, her journey, her ambitions, and the good luck she has in finding decent men, most of whom she turns down or leaves. She funds her entire trip on an advance given to her by her publisher, who hopes a years’ worth of exploits will make a good read.
The cinematography is beautiful, with rich and exquisite landscapes shown throughout the film, especially towards the end in Bali. But the gigantic running time, tests the patience of even the most loyal viewer. Unfortunately, the movie is a long and dreary version of the book, with the spot light shining firmly on Liz Gilbert’s every whim and fancy. Worth a watch for Julia Robert fans, but be prepared to sit through the entire length of the movie, which could get tedious.

Eat Pray Love (Released in 2010) - Starring Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, James Franco

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Larry Crowne (Released in 2011) - Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts - Nothing exceptional

Larry Crowne is a romantic comedy movie which is produced and directed by Tom Hanks. The screenplay is written by Hanks and Nia Vardalos of the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” fame. However, most if not all of Nia Vardalos’ movies have been downhill since then. In spite of Tom Hanks’ direction, the movie has a total lack of excitement. In spite of a colourful star cast, the movie fails to make an impact.
Larry Crowne starts with the protagonist, the movie’s name sake-Tom Hanks, working at a U-Mart store, after having left the Navy. He finds out that instead of being praised for his work, he has been downsized on account of the fact that he does not have a college degree. Subsequently, Larry finds himself struggling with a lot of things. Having lost his job, he now struggles with mortgage payments and a lot of free time on his hands. He sells the SUV he can no longer afford and buys a scooter from his neighbor, played by Cedric the Entertainer.
Realizing he needs to get a college degree, he goes back to his local community college, and takes up 2 courses. One of them is Economics, which he excels in; and the other is Speech, taught by Mercedes Tainot, played by Julia Robert. Mercedes is shown to be struggling with an unhappy marriage to Dean, who was a writer, now turned self-proclaimed blogger, played by Brian Cranston.




The story timidly moves ahead with Larry now adjusting to college life surrounded by people who would be better suited in a Disney movie. Larry undergoes a life transformation with the help of Talia, played by Gugu Mbatha Raw and accepts her invitation to join her Motor Scooter Club - which is a tamer version of the motorbike gang. He even takes up a job at the local diner.
While enjoying a night out with the scooter club, Larry passes Mercedes waiting at a bus stop after her night with Dean goes horribly. He offers her a ride home, which she eventually accepts. On the way they spot Dean being pulled over for drunk driving. A romantic relationship develops between Larry and Mercedes, whose mood starts to improve as the screenplay makes her move away from her monstrous husband Dean.
The screenplay is predictable from here on, with every box being checked. Mercedes divorces Dean - Check! Mercedes and Larry develop a relationship - Check! Larry gets better in speech class and masters both courses - Check! Larry moving on to next semester, and pursuing a relationship with now divorced Mercedes - Check!
Another negative for this movie, is the rapid decline of importance given to a crucial issue, which is the impact of unemployment on the middle age population. After confronting serious issues of economic crises in the beginning, the movie just abandons any seriousness and progresses to more sugary fluffy stuff.
Overall the movie is not bad. It’s just very tepid, completely lacking conflict and drama. The screenplay is happy go lucky all around and very bland. Larry Crowne is a good decent guy who will have a good decent life overall. Watching this 100 minute movie is like watching a cake being baked, which isn’t exciting. You just want it to be over soon.

Larry Crowne (Released in 2011) - Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts - Nothing exceptional