Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
This documentary, directed by Alex Gibney, shares the story and suicide of America’s greatest ‘gonzo’ reporter/author, Hunter S. Thompson, probably most famous for his novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and his reporting in Rolling Stone. Thompson’s hollowness was filled with a mix of rage, alcohol, drugs, super-libido, and a genuine concern to make America (or Aspen, Colorado at least) a better place where everyone could, as he did, live with twenty-odd guns loaded and ready to bear. Gibney gives us the man raw, highlighted with insights from his two wives, politicians – whom he generally loathed – including Jimmy Carter and Pat Buchanan, and the team that stood with him in his unsuccessful run for Sherrif of Aspen. In the end what we see is a man ruined by the very character he created. A brilliant writer, sure, but a tragic man. My rating 8 out of 10.
Away We Go
Directed by Sam Mendes (he of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road), this film is an ode to finding home. It stars John Krasinski (as Burt Farlander) and Maya Rudolph (as his very 6-months-pregnant commonlaw wife, Verona) and has us journeying with the couple as they crisscross the continent looking for a place to settle down when baby is born. The search is necessary after Burt’s parents, Jerry and Gloria (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara) announce they are skipping town for Belgium. Without grandparents to rely on, or lay roots for, Burt and Verona venture to Phoenix, Tucson, Madison, Montreal, and Miami meeting up with an odd assortment of relatives and friends. In the end, as is so often the case, they find ‘home’ by returning home. Sweet, quirky, and decidedly not for everyone, Away We Go works by allowing us to remember – as James Joyce so often wrote of – that home is where the hearth is. And that is not a typo. My rating 7 out of 10.
The Haunting in Connecticut
Saddling up to vie for the latest successor to the creepy-house-with-evil-inside genre is director Peter Cornwell’s The Haunting in Connecticut. The film, based on the purportedly ‘true’ experiences of Al and Carmen Snedeke, stars Virginia Madsen (she of Sideways fame, who clearly was in need of cash taking on this schlep of a movie) as Sara Campbell who’s son Matt (Kyle Gallner) is battling cancer. In order to save driving time and have him closer to the clinic, she rents the house in question. Course, turns out the house is a former funeral parlour with a funeral director who had a decided love of things clairvoyant and otherworldly and who’s son, Jonah, has remained haunting the house. There are some okay scares here and there and Elias Koteas (as Reverend Popescu) is especially good, but in the end, The Haunting in Connecticut is no successor to the creepy-house-with-evil-inside genre. My rating 4 out of 10.
A film that stands as a testament to all that is seen is not necessarily so. While Gran Torino was marketed with a Dirty-Harry angle, the film in fact, is a treatise on aging and perspectives and certainly race. Clint Eastwood stars (and directs) as Walt Kowalski, a disgruntled and retired auto worker with no love for anyone. Yet, when a Hmong family moves in beside him and the family’s youngest son, Thao (a superb newcomer Vee Bang), ends up at the wrong end of an asian gang, the movie morphs into a bittersweet drama that speaks volumes to the ends we’ll go when friendship trumps race. Gran Torino is a pure gem of a movie with a tempo that is perfectly placed thanks to the steady hand of a master director and actor. My rating 8 out of 10.
When two sailors, Clarence (a very young Frank Sinatra) and Joe (Gene Kelly) find themselves on leave in Los Angeles, they end up caught up in an adventure to get a beautiful opera-wannabe Susan Abbot (Kathryn Greyson) a screen test before the still famous music producer, Jose Itrubi (who played himself). Anchors Aweigh is a perfect marriage of comedy and music and is as accessible and fun today as it was upon its release in 1945. Directed by George Sidney with a full-on Hollywood style that has since vanished it has several great dance sequences, most notably when Kelly does his “Mexican Hat Dance” piece with the wee Mexican girl (played by Sharon McManus). For the music and dance sequences (and ignoring the rest) Anchors Aweigh gets my rating of 6 out of 10.
A hallmark of fine film-making with thanks to director Michael Curtiz. An exquisite balance of intrigue, romance and subtle comedy, Casablanca remains timeless despite the nearly 70 years since it was made. With a perfectly structured story and wonderful cast that included Humphrey Bogart (as Rick), the beautiful Ingrid Bergman (as Ilsa), Paul Henerid (as Victor Laszo), Claude Rains (as Captain Renault), Peter Lorre (as Ugarte) and Dooley Wilson (as the iconic Sam [who, in fact, was a drummer and couldn’t play the piano]), Casablanca gives us a magnificent example of a great Hollywood film. Central to the film’s success is the banter between Bogart and Rains; these two different yet like-minded souls trapped in Casablanca are – despite the romance and music – the heart and soul of this masterpiece set in Morocco. My rating 10 out of 10.
Julie & Julia
Not half as good as the book (and the book wasn’t that good to start) Julie & Julia is saved by Meryl Streep (as Julia Child) and Stanley Tucci (as her husband, Paul). Nora Ephron directs the half-baked screenplay cobbled together from the novel by Julie Powell. A wasted Amy Adams tries hard but falls as quickly as a souffle from the oven as the bureaucrat looking for meaning in her life, Julie. The scenes with Meryl shine and give us a wonderful sense of the woman who brought French cuisine to American housewives. The proof is in proverbial pudding, they say, and this dish is dead on arrival. My rating 5 out of 10.