Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon – To Catch a Thief (1955) – RobbinsRealm

robbinsrealm:

I would very much like to thank, Rob of Movierob and Zoe of The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger, for hosting an awesome, Alfred Hitchcock Blogothon. If you’re not already a follower of either of those blogs, you need to immediately change that. Rob offers concise film reviews, which give a reader all of the pertinent information someone could possibly want in determining whether or not a particular film is for them. Zoe’s blog covers not only a diverse array of films, that span past and present, and represent a multitude of genres, but she also covers television series, as well as literature. In addition, if you’re a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, a number of wordpress.com blogger’s participated in the blogothon, covering films that spanned the entire career of the master of suspense, and are well worth taking the time to read.

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For our 42nd review of the Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon, here’s a review of To Catch a Thief written by Jonathan of RobbinsRealm. If you don’t already follow his site, I strongly suggest that you go there to find some great movie reviews.

Thanks for joining in Jonathan!

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“Grant and Kelly Star in Hitchcock’s Gem – To Catch a Thief”

Jewels stolen in multiple burglaries during the night, women screaming when they wake in the morning to the realization that they have been robbed, and a black cat making its way across different rooftops. Those are the scenes which serve as the catalyst for director Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief.” The entertaining, well paced, witty and stylish film, premiered on August 3, 1955, in Los Angeles, California. The movie was not only another entry into Hitchcock’s illustrious body of work, but marked the return of two time Oscar nominated…

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“Robin Williams Inspirational In Dead Poets Society”

On Monday, August 11, 2014, shortly before noon, comedian and actor, Robin Williams, was found by EMT’s – unconscious and not breathing – at his home in Tiburon, California. Several minutes later, the sixty-three year old, who had imparted so much joy to the world over the years, was pronounced dead. According to the Marin County Sheriff’s Department, he had tragically ended his own life by suicide from asphyxia. A short time later, William’s publicist, Mara Buxbaum, stated that the performer had been battling severe depression.

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Robin McLaurin Williams was born on July 21, 1951 in Chicago Illinois, and raised in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, before moving with his family to San Francisco when he was sixteen. There are many different career paths Williams could’ve chosen. For instance, he could have decided to enter politics like his great grandfather, Anselm J. McLaurin, who was both a former Governor of, as well as United States Senator from, the State of Mississippi. Williams did briefly entertain the thought of making politics his life’s work. He studied political science at Claremont Men’s College, but in the end, thankfully, entertaining the masses had a more magnetic pull on him, so he enrolled in the College of Marin to study theater. A short while later, he won a scholarship to attend Julliard in New York City.

While at Julliard, Williams studied under, Academy Award and Golden Globe winning actor, John Houseman (Three Days of the Condor). The veteran actor informed Williams that he was wasting his time, and should immediately set out to make a name for himself in stand-up comedy. Before graduating, Williams left Julliard and moved back home to San Francisco, where he worked a series of dead end jobs, while waiting for his big break.

After performing in various nightclubs, such as “The Improv” and “The Comedy Store,” he eventually got to audition for producer, Garry Marshall (Laverne & Shirley). Marshall hired him for a guest appearance on the television show “Happy Days,” as the character of ‘Mork from Ork, in the 1978 episode “My Favorite Orkan.” The popularity of the character, an eccentric alien, who travels to earth to study both the planet and human beings, led Williams to co-star with Pam Dawber (My Sister Sam), in the show “Mork & Mindy,” which ran on ABC television from 1978-1982. (As an aside, in addition to “Happy Days,” and “Mork & Mindy,” Williams played the character of Mork in the pilot episode of the short lived television show “Out of the Blue.”)

Robin Williams in 1978

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According to IMDB, Williams compiled one hundred and four acting credits during the course of his career, garnering four Academy Award nominations, and one Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for “Good Will Hunting.” In addition, he won the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2005 Golden Globes. Prior to that, he had won an impressive five Golden Globes: for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion -Picture Comedy / Musical for “Mrs. Doubtfire;” a special Award for the vocal work he did as the Genie in the animated Disney film “Aladdin;” Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy / Musical for “The Fisher King;” Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy / Musical for “Good Morning, Vietnam,” and Best TV Actor – Musical / Comedy for Mork & Mindy (1980). Williams was also the recipient of two Primetime Emmys in 1987 for “Carol, Carl, Whoopi and Robin,” and in 1988 for “ABC Presents: A Royal Gala.”

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“Dead Poets Society,” one of my favorite films starring Robin Williams, was directed by BAFTA winner, Peter Weir (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). The film was written by Tom Schulman, who would win the Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Originally premiering in Canada on June 2, 1989, the film was a box office success; budgeted for well under twenty million dollars, it would go on to earn close to one-hundred million. The movie which is 128 minutes in length, won two BAFTA’S for Best Film and Best Original Score.

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The year 1959. The setting, Vermont. It is the start of a new school year at the exclusive, Welton Academy, a male preparatory school. A small group of students enter an assembly hall, carrying banners that extol the four pillars of the school – tradition, honor, discipline and excellence – words which the entire student body will stand in unison and recite a moment later. Amongst the faculty, most of whom come off as very stern and serious, there is one teacher that seems out of place.

Intelligent, quick witted, English teacher, John Keating (Williams) has passion when it comes to poetry, but he has an even greater love for life. He believes in seizing the day, something which he often entertainingly imparts to his students, most of whom are enthralled with his teaching methods. In fact, he starts his very first class, by having the students leave the room and follow him out into the hallway. “O Captain! My Captain!” Keating says aloud, and then asks the students if any of them knows where that line comes from? None of them answer, so Keating informs them that it is a poem by Walt Whitman about President Abraham Lincoln. He lets his students know, that in his class, they can call him Mr. Keating, or if they are more daring, O Captain! My captain!

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While out in the hallway, where photos of previous graduating classes are located, Keating asks his students to look at the pictures. He wants them to see how the men in the photos are not that much different than themselves. He wants his students to realize that just like them, those young men thought they were invincible. They were boys, who at the time had their whole lives ahead of them to make a difference in the world, but that sadly, each and every one of them, is now six feet under. Keating asks his class: Did those former students achieve what they wanted to in life? Will they, his current students, live by the Latin adage ‘Carpe Diem,’ and seize the day, or as one of Keating’s favorite poets, Henry David Thoreau writes in regard to most men, “will they lead lives of quiet desperation.”

The film mainly focuses on four key students, who take Mr. Keating’s lessons to heart. Robert Sean Leonard (House M.D.) portrays Neil Perry. He is an overachiever, who secretly yearns to be an actor, but whose father, played by Kurtwood Smith (That ’70s Show), wants to hear none of it. Mr. Perry has a single minded purpose for Neil, which includes his son graduating from Welton, going to Harvard, and becoming a doctor. After Neil earns his medical degree, he can do whatever he wishes with his time, but as he lets Neil know, he has made far too many sacrifices for his son to fall short of achieving the goal; besides, he reminds Neil how much the young man’s becoming a doctor means to the boy’s mother. In the role of Todd Anderson is three time Oscar nominee, Ethan Hawke (Training Day). He is a new student to Welton, and his character is that of an introvert, at least at the start. There is the romantic, Knox Overstreet, played by Emmy nominated actor, Josh Charles (The Good Wife), who falls in love at first sight with Alexandra Power’s character of Chris, who is the girlfriend of the school jock. Lastly, Gale Hansen’s (The Finest Hour) Charlie Dalton is the troublemaker of the class.

After the first class, Keating has most definitely peaked his students’ curiosity. Knowing that he is an alumnus of the school, they find his class yearbook. After having a chuckle at his picture, their curiosity is further piqued by something that is written under his photo. It is about him being a member of a club known as ‘The Dead Poets Society.’ When the students confront Keating about the club, he lets them know that the ‘Dead Poets’ were dedicated to sucking the marrow out of life. The group would meet at an old Indian cave, located on the school grounds, and take turns reading poets such as Thoreau, Shelly and Whitman. The members of the club considered themselves romantics, and they didn’t just read poetry, they breathed a passion into the words they recited. Part of what Williams’ character tries to teach his students, is that they have to break free from conformity and what is expected of them, in order to embrace their inner passion. In essence, they must find their inner voice, so it will let each one of them know what will make their individual lives worth living. He stresses that maintaining one’s own beliefs is not easy, but they must each trust in themselves that they are making the right choices. It doesn’t matter if what they want to do is unpopular, or viewed as odd, just because it defies everything that the rigidness of conformity represents.

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A book is left on Neil’s desk called “Five Centuries of Verse.” When Neil opens the book, he sees Mr. Keating’s name in the top right hand corner; underneath is a hand written message that reads: To Be Read At The Opening of DPS Meetings. The traditional message that opens all club meetings is a message from Thoreau. That night, under the cover of darkness, a select group of students sneak off through the woods to the cave. While there, they take turns reading and telling stories. Unfortunately, one of the members of the newly formed ‘Dead Poets’ puts an article about their activities in the school newspaper. The article, coupled with the tragic suicide of one of Welton’s most promising students, has the administration in an uproar. In order to get to the bottom of things, the powers that be, are not above, not only using threats, but the vile method of corporal punishment that was both permitted and quite acceptable during the time period in which the film takes place.

What will happen to the members of the ‘Dead Poets Society,’ now that one of their own is dead? Will Mr. Keating ultimately be held responsible for the young man’s death? Do his teaching methods conflict too much with the way things have always been done at Welton? Does he get fired because of it? I know the movie is far from new, and a great many of you out there who are reading this already know the answers to those questions. For the benefit of those, who have yet to discover this gem of Robin Williams’ career, I will refrain from providing the answers to those questions.

The personal information I provided on Robin Williams was meant just to provide some basic background on the extraordinarily talented individual that he was. Had I discussed, at length, any number of the other worthy films he performed in, his work on behalf of the homeless, comedic stage performances, or mentioned numerous other facts, such as that he spoke French fluently, this blog would have had to have become a series, instead of a single entry. Williams, who was married three times, is survived by a daughter, Zelda and two sons, Zachary and Cody. Additionally, he is survived by his half-brother, Todd Williams. May he rest in peace. In closing, I am including the full Walt Whitman poem “O Captain! My Captain!” as a tribute to this very talented genius, at this very sad time.

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up–for you the flag is flung–for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths–for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

 

 

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“Mookie: Life, Baseball, and the 86 Mets”

“I always thought about writing a book for a long time, but the question was what I wanted my book to be…I didn’t want it to be a baseball play-by-play. I wanted the book to have some meaning, a purpose, a direction for people to be inspired and entertained. I wanted them to leave with some insight. That’s what I wanted my life to be, and I wanted my life to come across through the book.” 

Mookie Wilson

I was young, and I do mean very young, when I got to witness the baseball team I cheer for, and more often than not, die hard with, win the 1986 World Series. I know that the 1969 Mets are dubbed the ‘Miracle Mets,’ but that was long before I was born, so to me, I will always consider the ’86 Mets, the team that staged the most improbable of comebacks, the miracle makers. While I have seen the team make it to the World Series one more time, in 2000, I have yet to see them win the whole thing again. Reading books by integral members of the Mets power-house, that dominated the National League by winning 108 games during that epic season, as well as watching old VHS tapes, and newly re-mastered DVD’s, is all I have left, other than my memories.

With that said, I recently sat down to read “Mookie: Life, Baseball, and the ’86 Mets,” the two-hundred and eighty-eight page book, which was released by Berkley Publishing in hardcover on April 29, 2014. Co-written with Eric Sherman (Steve Blass: A Pirate for Life), the book is a candid portrayal, which chronicles Wilson’s life from his humble beginnings in South Carolina, his importance in World Series history, his current role as not only a club ambassador for the Mets organization, but also his strong involvement in his church as a minister, and everything in-between. The book also features a brief forward by another fan favorite, Keith Hernandez, who is currently a member of the Mets television broadcasting team.

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Former professional baseball player, Mookie Wilson, will never be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The outfielder was never a batting champion, homerun champion, MVP (Most Valuable Player), and even though he was fleet of foot, he did not become Major League Baseball’s all time stolen base champion, during his tenure in the big leagues – September 2, 1980 to October 6, 1991. What the consummate professional was, however, and continues to be to this day, to New York Mets fans of a certain age, is one of, if not, the most beloved player in franchise history.

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William Hayward Wilson was born on February 9, 1956 in Bamberg, South Carolina. Life was not easy for Wilson as a child growing up as an African American in the racially divided south. His father, James, a hardworking sharecropper, only made twenty-five dollars a week, and had a large family to support on the meager amount of funds. Wilson often had to miss school, in order to help his father and other siblings work the farmland, so there would be food for dinner that evening. In fact, he didn’t play organized baseball until he was in high school. His playing days might have ended right then and there, if not for the intervention of a local judge who thought there was something special about Mookie and his abilities. Eventually, Wilson impressed more than just the judge, when scouts came to watch him play. Initially, he was offered a scholarship to South Carolina State, but ironically the school eliminated its baseball program, prior to his arrival. Not the type of person to easily give up, after a stint at Spartanburg Methodist College, Mookie transferred to the University of South Carolina, becoming the first African American in the school’s history to play on a sports team.

During the amateur draft in 1977, Wilson was drafted by the Mets in the 2nd round. He signed a contract for a little over $20,000 dollars, pocket change for professional ball players by today’s standards. At the time, the Mets were perennial losers, always playing second class citizens to the older and mystique filled New York Yankees organization. Mookie was determined to play hard, no matter how poorly the majority of the team performed, or underperformed for that matter.

“I was accustomed to winning. I had won in every league I’d been in… When you celebrate because you didn’t lose 100 ballgames, that’s not good. Some of the players couldn’t care less about winning. When you get comfortable at losing and there’s no threat to your job, there’s not much incentive. You come to the ballpark, you play nine innings, you lose and you don’t see anybody coming up to remove you from your job. That may be overstating it a little bit, but that’s the way I saw it. Winning was not a priority. They wanted to win, but maybe they didn’t know how.”

The first chapter of the book, deals with the often discussed, Game Six of the ’86 World Series, or more importantly, the 10th inning, when a slow rolling ground ball Mookie hit, after a ten pitch at bat, went through Boston Red Sox’s first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs. Had the ball not made its way past Buckner, the game would have remained tied, and considering the Red Sox had a 3-2 game lead in the series, had they gone on to win in extra innings, they would have been crowned world champions. The chapter is written in an interesting way; Wilson and Sherman don’t bog the reader down with insignificant details. Mookie doesn’t shy away from admitting, that even had Bill Buckner, a man he has since become good friends with, played the ball cleanly, he still would have beat him to first, and Mets third baseman Ray Knight would have scored the winning run. Wilson recounts how Buckner was playing injured, and that in order to make the play he had to play the ball laterally away from the bag. (As an aside, the ball Wilson hit, last sold at auction back in 2012 for $400,000).

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One thing that bother’s Wilson was his firing from the Mets coaching staff following the 2011 season, which was the first for current Mets manager, Terry Collins. Collins, who picked Wilson for his staff, has told Mookie that he had nothing to do with his firing. What bothers Wilson the most is not the fact that he was let go by the organization, but to his way of thinking, he was never given a satisfactory reason as to why. He also is quite clear in his feelings regarding team management, and the fact that he feels they really don’t care about his concerns.

“I feel that I deserve to hear just some words to justify the actions of an organization that I have honored and promoted every day of my nearly thirty-year existence in it…I don’t care about not having a job. If they fire me because they have a better replacement, that’s fine. But when no information is given as to why a move is made, it’s much worse than getting an explanation I might disagree with. They just dictated my career as a player and a coach and it wasn’t right.”

In addition, to his firing, Wilson speaks on how he felt the Mets were headed in the completely wrong direction at the time, in terms of how the ball club was being constructed.

“I felt like I was watching the deterioration of the Mets organization. They seemed to have no identity. My concern was that the character of the players they were looking for superseded the talent they brought to the table. Character on a team is important, but you’ve got to have the horses to win.”

Wilson also discusses his views on the careers of Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry. He blames Mets management from the 1980s, for the way the two gifted, young superstars were basically given carte blanche to do whatever they wanted, as long as they performed on the field. Their constant imbibing of alcohol and cocaine abuse, which sadly, led to habit forming addictions for both men, Wilson feels, greatly impacted both player’s chances to be first ballot hall of famers. Mookie also feels personal remorse for not being able to help the two young all-stars lead a better lifestyle.

In addition to the topics I have briefly touched upon, the book goes into detail about the marathon Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, that to a man, each member of the Mets knew they had to win. None of them wanted to have to face pitcher Mike Scott of the Houston Astros in a Game 7, because baseball history might have turned out differently if they had. Wilson also speaks about his playing time for the Toronto Blue Jays, as well as his life after baseball; the various jobs he has had, and his pursuit of his degree in divinity. “Mookie: Life, Baseball, and the ’86 Mets,” is a story that can be read by anyone who likes to learn about the lives of well-known professional athletes; and the well written, interesting book is a must read for New York Mets fans, both those fans who watched Wilson during his playing days, and younger fans who are interested in team history.

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“The Conspiracy”

Conspiracy theories are nothing new, but thanks to technological advancements and the ability to use social media to reach countless people, they are more prevalent in society than ever before. The internet, however, is not the only place for individuals to exchange theories, photographs, evidence and seek out information. Books, magazines, and television shows, such as “Unsealed Conspiracy Files” which can be found on Netflix instant streaming, also add fuel to the conspiratorial fervor. While I do find some of them interesting, by and large, I tend to disbelieve the great majority of conspiracy theories, with the exception of the JFK assassination. I have read a number of articles and books, as well as watched numerous television specials and documentaries on the subject. That is the one conspiracy that I admit I am fascinated by. I sat down recently to watch the movie “The Conspiracy” on Netflix, and while it didn’t have anything to do with the assassination of President Kennedy, it most certainly held my interest.

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Written and directed by Christopher MacBride (Sleep Lab), “The Conspiracy” originally premiered on September 21, 2012 at the “Austin Fantastic Fest.” Two documentary filmmakers, Aaron (Aaron Poole) and Jim (James Gilbert), set out to make a movie, not about a particular conspiracy theory, but about a man, Terrance (Alan C. Peterson), who makes it his life’s work to expose the validity of the conspiracies. He is someone who takes to the street with a megaphone and spouts off his beliefs in the direction of office buildings and to pedestrians passing by. The walls of his apartment are covered with literally hundreds of newspaper clippings, anything that he deems of a suspicious nature that is being done, especially by the government. He also frequents internet chat rooms where he interacts with like minded individuals.

The filmmakers lucked onto Terrance thanks to someone who sent them a video of him. What mainly interested Aaron and Jim, was not so much what Terrance was saying, but all of the comments of support he received from people who were agreeing with him. After several recording sessions with Terrance, the filmmakers don’t hear from him for a month. Finally, they go to his apartment, but according to the landlady she hasn’t seen him. Aaron and Jim bag up his newspaper clippings before they leave.

Aaron sets about picking up where Terrance left off. He wants to know what the man was working on. Jim, on the other hand, is skeptical and now that their subject is no longer available for filming, wants to abandon the project. The confliction in Jim is evident: Part of him feels that people like Terrance waste their lives chasing down endless leads about secret organizations vying for global domination. He also states, however, that if people like Terrance are correct, and a select few individuals are really in charge of everything, then they have always been in control and they always will be.

Eventually, through a tireless effort on Aaron’s part, he comes across what he thinks to be a pattern in Terrance’s work. A series of dates, that all take place the day before important historical events occur. After punching the dates into the computer, Aaron comes across an article written by Mark Tucker (Bruce Clayton), about an organization called the Tarsus Club. The dates, in and of themselves, were interesting to him, but when he learns that the Tarsus Club has met on those dates, he becomes even more convinced that there is some sort of conspiracy that involves the club, whose members are among the wealthiest and most politically prominent.

Jim agrees to help Aaron look into Tarsus. They post things on-line, asking people to contact them with any and all information they have on the organization, but all they come up with are dead ends. The only piece that has been written on the club was the one by Marc Tucker, who is seemingly nowhere to be found; that is, until one day, when he contacts the filmmakers. He agrees to speak to them, as long as his face is blurred out, and provided they take down everything they have posted pertaining to Tarsus.

I liked how MacBride incorporated real news footage, as well as speeches by politicians, which helped to give the film a more authentic feel. According to an interview I read, that the director gave, his work on researching the various conspiracy theories took him longer to do than the actual writing of the script. I thought it was clever on MacBride’s part to synthesize a number of other conspiracy theories pertaining to secret, powerful organizations, whose membership is comprised of the most elite members of society, and creating his own faux club for the film.

What information does Marc Tucker give to Aaron and Jim? Is it substantial enough that they will want to continue investigating the Tarsus Club? Will they discover the truth behind the club’s real purpose for existence? What will happen to them if they do? Those questions and more will be answered if you take the less than ninety minutes it requires to watch this interesting and effectively done film.

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“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Quirky characters, vibrant colors, an intricate prison escape and quick witted dialogue, are several of the things that are featured in the film “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” The movie premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 6, 2014. The one hundred minute film was directed by three time Oscar nominee, Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums). Inspired by the writing of Stefan Zweig (Letter from an Unknown Woman), Anderson wrote the screenplay for the comedy based on a story he co-wrote with Hugo Guinness (Fantastic Mr. Fox).

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The highly entertaining film begins with a series of flashbacks, initially narrated by Golden Globe winner, Tom Wilkinson (John Adams). The older Wilkinson reflects back on his younger self, who is played by Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes). Law’s character is spending some time in a sparsely populated hotel known as The Grand Budapest. He speaks to the fact that most of the guests who are there, primarily keep to themselves. One day, he spots a man who he has not seen before. He asks the concierge of the hotel, M. Jean (Jason Schwartzman) who the man is. The person turns out to be Mr. Zero Moustafa, former hotel lobby boy, and current owner of the hotel, which is located in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. He is portrayed by Academy Award and Golden Globe winning actor. F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus). A short time later, the two men have a chance encounter. Law’s character asks Mr. Moustafa how he came to own the hotel, a story which Zero tells him, he will relay to him in full, over dinner. (As an aside, the name Zubrowka was taken from a Polish vodka).

After the two men sit down to dinner, Zero begins telling his story. The younger version of Zero (Tony Revolori) begins life as a lobby boy at the opulent hotel. At first, he goes unnoticed by the legendary concierge, M. Gustave H., played by BAFTA winning actor, Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List). Gustave is a poetry quoting, fastidious, gregarious individual, who never forgets a face, and it would seem, he is one of the main reasons people came to stay at the hotel. Once Gustave discovers Zero, he takes him under his wing, and begins to tutor him in what goes into becoming an effective lobby boy. What starts out as a professional relationship, will soon turn into a deep and abiding friendship. (As an aside, Wes Anderson originally wanted Johnny Depp (Donnie Brasco) to play the role of Gustave.)

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Gustave, according to Zero, can be smelled prior to entering a room, and long after he has left; this is due to his dousing himself in a perfume called ‘L’Air de Panache.’ Additionally, he has romantic dalliances with the older, blonde haired, wealthy female clientele of the hotel. One woman in particular, the eighty-four year old, Madame D., acted by Oscar winner, Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton), is almost unrecognizable, due to very effective makeup. She has a deep affection and love for Gustave. Her subsequent murder, shortly after she leaves the hotel, will be the catalyst that sets in motion the events that transpire during the remainder of the movie.

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At the reading of Madame D’s will, the character of Deputy Kovacs, portrayed by Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park), informs the assemblage that Gustave has been bequeathed a valuable painting known as ‘Boy with Apple.’ This does not sit well with Madame D’s greedy, foul mouthed son, Dmitri, played by Oscar winner, Adrien Brody (The Pianist), nor his sinister henchman, Willem Dafoe’s character, Jopling, who has some scary looking teeth.

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Gustave is framed for the murder of Madame D. and sent to jail. This is thanks to Dmitri producing a witness, Serge X (Mathieu Amalric), who claims Gustave was the last person who was with Madame D. before she was murdered. It is now up to Zero to assist him from the outside, not only with clearing his name, but in a daring prison escape, orchestrated by Harvey Keitel’s (Reservoir Dogs) character, Ludwig, and the inmates who share his cell. Zero, who has fallen in love, since becoming a member of the hotel staff, gets the assistance of his fiancée, Agatha. Portrayed by Saoirse Ronan (Hanna), her character is an exceptionally talented baker, who has a birthmark on her face, which, as is pointed out to the viewer, is in the shape of the country of Mexico. Working for Mendl’s bakery, she places digging tools inside of pastries, which are then sent to Gustave at the prison. The film, from that moment forward, becomes a wild ride, as Gustave with Zero’s help, attempts to clear his name. To write more about the specific details of the plot, I feel, would spoil the enjoyment for those of you who have not yet seen the film.

Film Review The Grand Budapest Hotel

The movie is visually stunning, thanks to the cinematography of Robert D. Yeoman (Bridesmaids). The score by Alexandre Desplat (Argo), also deserves mention, as it helps to effortlessly compliment the action on the screen. Traversing three different time periods, the film utilizes a very large cast, several of whom I haven’t even mentioned in this blog. One of those actors is Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom), who has a limited amount of screen time, as M. Ivan, Gustave’s fellow concierge and friend. This is the seventh time that he and Wes Anderson have collaborated on a film together. Overall, it is a very enjoyable movie that should appeal to a wide audience.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel - 64th Berlin Film Festival

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“Lauren Ambrose Shines in The Film – About Sunny”

I would imagine that being a single parent is one of the most difficult jobs someone has to undertake. All of the decisions regarding a child, that normally would be discussed and decided by two people, now fall on the shoulders of one individual. The single parent is responsible when it comes to making choices that are best for their child’s educational development, nutritional needs, who they are allowed to socialize with, disciplinary measures for misbehaving, and a myriad of other decisions. The task of one parent, doing the work of two, must be daunting, especially when the child is at an age where they can’t fend for themselves.

That is the dilemma facing Emmy nominated actress Lauren Ambrose’s character of financially struggling, rough around the edges, single mother, Angela, in the film “About Sunny.” Ambrose gives a masterful performance, completely embodying her character in the movie. The love she has for her daughter, Sunny (Audrey Scott) is evident, and they occasionally share happy moments together, but those times are few, and can change quickly when Sunny doesn’t do exactly as Angela asks her to do (what child does?). The viewer will recognize that Angela’s frustrations toward Sunny are merely projections of her own feelings of low self-esteem. Angela also demonstrates bad behavioral traits like smoking all the time in front of Sunny, as well as making poor judgment calls. For example, even though she owns a car, it has a bad battery, and frequently doesn’t start. Angela opts to take cabs and car services, instead of the bus, which even as a young child, Sunny suggests they do, because it will save a good deal of money.

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Written and directed by Bryan Wizemann, the film originally premiered under the name “Think of Me,” on September 9, 2011, at the “Toronto International Film Festival.” The drama has a runtime of one hundred and three minutes. I recently sat down to watch the film on Netflix. In the interest of full disclosure, I did so, only because Ambrose was the star of the movie. I have always thought she had great talent, and I am sorry she hasn’t been given more opportunity to showcase her acting prowess over the years since she was on HBO’s “Six Feet Under.”

The slow moving, emotional film takes place in Las Vegas, and begins with Angela picking up a guy (E.K. Harris) at a strip club. She doesn’t work at the club, but will sometimes stop in to have a drink, because it is close to her apartment. When morning comes, Sunny walks in while the man is getting dressed to leave. At that moment, Angela, who thinks the man she slept with is a professional basketball player, asks him if she could have a hundred dollars to help out with Sunny, which request he refuses.

Later that day, while working at her dead end telemarketing job, Angela is presented with an investment opportunity by her boss, Ted (David Conrad). The price of the initial investment, she is told, is $2,000, but if all goes according to plan, she will be able to triple her money. Jumping at the opportunity, she contacts Sunny’s father, who is never shown on screen, to ask for $2,000 toward back child support payments. She makes a deal with him, that if he wires her the money immediately, she won’t bother him for any more in the future.

Angela works at a call center with Max, Emmy nominated actor, Dylan Baker (The Good Wife). His character is unsavory, and is merely out for his own financial enrichment. In the evenings, he takes portraits at the mall. In addition, to that honest line of work, he also sells people’s names and social security numbers to a man who comes around to see him once a month. He lets Angela know that he makes $400 extra from that unscrupulous, side business, and asks if she wants to get in on it with him; she turns him down. She does, however, take Max up on the offer to take Sunny’s picture for free, because the child’s birthday is the following day. After he is done taking the pictures, Max points out some toys for Sunny to play with in the adjoining room. He then proceeds to tell Angela about his sister, Louise, portrayed by Penelope Ann Miller (Carlito’s Way). Apparently, she and her husband Adam (Chris Boeres), attempted to adopt a child from China, paying the amount of $20,000, but the deal never went through, devastating the couple.

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The next day during Sunny’s birthday party, the money her ex sent her for the investment is stolen. Angela is in a state of panic, and contacts the police. She barely has time to deal with that situation, when she needs to head off to her new second job, at a cleaning service. Ironically, the building she is assigned to clean houses the firm she works for during the day; something, her boss discovers, and is none too pleased with. He is doubly upset with Angela because she never came through with the money for the investment; and he subsequently fires her. She knows he will be putting in a call to the cleaning agency, informing them that he doesn’t want her cleaning the offices at night. In one twenty-four period, she has lost both jobs and two-thousand dollars cash. She is right back to square one as far as her financial troubles are concerned, or is she?

About Sunny

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The day before, Max attended Sunny’s birthday party along with Louise, and Adam, who are visiting him from Toronto, Canada. Louise, a former teacher, starts helping Sunny with her reading, an area where she has been struggling; something that Angela had been informed about earlier in the film by Sunny’s actual teacher, who thinks she might have dyslexia. Private testing was recommended, but as with most things Angela can’t afford the testing. A short while later, the same amount of money that Louise and Adam were going to pay to adopt the child from China, is offered by Max to Angela for Sunny.

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What decision will Angela make given the state of desperation that she is in? Will she take the money? Does she not only give herself a badly needed financial boost, but at the same time relieve herself of the responsibilities of raising Sunny? Does she flat out reject the offer? Can she live with herself if she goes through with the deal, even if she thinks that Louise and Ted, taking Sunny is in the child’s best interest? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion, which, for Ambrose’s performance alone, is worth investing the under two hours it takes to watch it.

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“Big Bad Wolves”

When I learned that two time Academy Award winner Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), went so far as to praise the movie “Big Bad Wolves” as the best film of 2013, I knew I had to see it. He is one of my favorite directors, so when I saw that the film was available for instant streaming on Netflix, I sat down the other night and watched it. I had very little knowledge of the film, prior to viewing it, and when it was finished, I am glad that I hadn’t come across that much information on the movie’s plot. Written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, the captivating film comes from Israel. The movie is parts dark comedy, crime, and thriller, and has a runtime of 110 minutes.

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The catalyst for the film begins with an innocent child’s game of hide and seek, amongst three children, two girls and a boy. Innocence, however, soon turns to tragedy, with the disappearance of one of the little girls who had been hiding in a closet of an abandoned building the children were playing near. After the girl’s friend leaves the building to find her hiding spot, and the boy is shown counting, while standing in front of a tree, another figure is shown in the hallway. The viewer does not get to see the face, or any other telling characteristics, of who is walking toward the room where the girl is hiding. When the other two children return to the room and open the closet, their friend is missing; all that is left, is one single shoe.

The next scene depicts four police officers dragging a man into an abandoned warehouse. The man’s name is Dror (Rotem Keinan). He is a religious studies teacher, and the prime suspect in the disappearance of the girl. No concrete evidence supporting Dror’s guilt has been found, and during the entire film, he steadfastly maintains his innocence. The only thing the police have on Dror, is the eyewitness testimony of a child, who thinks she saw him at the scene of the crime. At the warehouse, the police attempt to beat a confession of guilt out of him. In addition to fists and kicks, the phone book is used as a weapon. Unfortunately for the officers involved, a teenager happens to also be at the location, and captures the entire incident on his cell phone camera. By the end of the day, the brutality committed against the suspect by the police has gone viral for the world to view. The strange thing is, that Dror doesn’t file a lawsuit against the officers in question, nor does he seek the help of the media to bring to justice those officers who have violated the laws they have sworn to uphold. This is where the first seed of suspicion as to the character’s guilt is planted, but the film, which is cleverly written, made me as a viewer, change my mind several different times regarding the validity of Dror’s guilt or innocence. When Tsvika (Dvir Benedek), the police officer in charge of those doing the interrogating, calls to find out what is going on, he wants the officers to immediately stop harming the suspect. Micki (Lior Ashkenazi), is convinced of Dror’s guilt, but per Tsvika’s orders, he has to allow him to go free.

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A short time later, while Micki is being reprimanded by his boss, an anonymous phone call comes into the police station, alerting them to where they can find the missing girl. The girl’s body is discovered in a wooded area; most of her body anyway. The girl’s head is missing – it is the same method of killing that has been used in several other murders. At the scene of the crime, Micki is told by Tsvika, that he has been demoted to the traffic division, however, after the beating video reaches his desk, he tells Micki that he is temporarily off of the police force. Dror’s students have, by this point, seen the video as well, prompting one student to draw a very unflattering depiction, and others to write derogatory remarks in place of answers on their exam papers. Dror doesn’t have to worry long about the behavior of his class, because Principal Meir (Ami Weinberg), comes to speak to him about the phone calls he has been receiving from the parents of the students, encouraging Meir to fire Dror . Simultaneously, Micki, now free from the constraints of being a police officer, is able to pursue Dror, the way he wants to.

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At a park, Micki attempts to capture Dror for an interrogation, but Dror sees him coming in enough time to run away. Chasing after Dror, Micki eventually catches him, on a street where a truck is blocking a path to escape. Knocking Dror out, Micki drives him to the woods, and makes the suspect dig a hole; the threat of death hangs in the air. Micki asks questions, and each time he feels Dror doesn’t answer honestly, he puts a bullet into the chamber of his gun, and fires at Micki, not knowing if he will actually be firing a bullet or not.

The first two shots are empty air; after loading the third bullet into his gun, and about to fire, Dror thinks he has been granted a reprieve. A man comes up from behind Micki and knocks him out with a shovel. Dror might think he has been sent a guardian angel, but he is completely wrong. The man, Gidi (Tzahi Grad),who has saved Dror from Micki’s gun, is none other than the grief stricken father of the girl who was murdered. He has also been following Dror, taking pictures of him, and plotting revenge. Revenge that is based on the information of the police report he was able to obtain about what happened to not only his daughter, before she was murdered, but the other little girls as well.

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Writing more about the film from that moment forward, could potentially give too much away, and ruin the experience for those of you who have not seen it. The question I kept asking myself while watching the movie was: Is this teacher really guilty of the crimes he is accused of, or is Micki, to a degree, and the father, fully committed, to seeing a vile crime be answered for at all costs, despite any sort of concrete evidence or a confession? Credit must be paid to the three leads of the film, who give very convincing performances. Each brings his character to cinematic life, and the characters are written in such a way that doesn’t, for one second, make one feel they are stereotypical. The dialogue is another excellent aspect of the film; never did I feel it was forced, nor did I sense a false note being spoken at anytime. The music by Haim Frank Ilfman, also helps to drive the story forward, and adds to the overall tension during certain scenes. This is a film that, while there is not an overwhelming amount of gore, has certain scenes of intense violence, that might be too much for those of you who are generally squeamish. In closing, I very much liked how the film kept me in the dark as to the truth of what really happened until the final closing minutes, as well as the haunting last scene.

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