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A Chef to Savor

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REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net If you’ve had your fill of super-heroes, super-villains, zombies, Godzilla’s and other zillas plus assorted other freaks, treat yourself to “Chef.” It’s a delightful take on the food world, family bonding and multiculturalism with a great soundtrack and a bit of a travelogue to boot. After a disastrous experience with “Cowboys and Aliens” and a few other non-memorable movies, Jon Favreau wrote, directed and stars in this charming and very funny piece of entertainment. Carl Casper (Favreau) is a first-rate chef in a successful Los Angeles restaurant. The problem is that he’s still turning ... Read More »

What Happens In Vegas…

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REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net If you suspend your disbelief, sit back and relax and you just might enjoy “Last Vegas.” It’s virtually mindless frothy comedy with a predictable script, saved only by the acting of four old pros and a decent director. Yes, there are some reminders of the vicissitudes of aging that draw some guffaws from the geezers, but no deep message. The unlikely quartet of Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) grew up as buddies in Brooklyn. Here’s where disbelief must be shed immediately. No such mixed group ... Read More »

Piracy and Heroism

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REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net “Captain Phillips” starts quietly enough. Captain Rich Phillips (Tom Hanks) and his wife (Catherine Keener) leave their Vermont home one morning. The Captain is off to Oman where he will take charge of a freighter, the Maersk Alabama, destination Kenya. The ship carries various goods, including relief supplies for those suffering in Africa. Phillips is a by-the-book, firm New Englander, and he is aware of the threat of piracy as the ship must go past the Horn of Africa where Somali pirates abound. Two small powerboats chase the Alabama, but must turn back. One ... Read More »

RUSH

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REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net The setting is Europe. The critical year is 1976, although it’s mingled with a number of flashbacks. The movie centers about the rivalry of two Formula One race car drivers, one handsome, dashing and British; the other Austrian, not so handsome, not so dashing – indeed dour, arrogant – and Austrian. This fascinating thriller is more about the two opposite personalities, and their approaches to life, than it is simply about racing incredibly fast cars around the European Circuit. Interestingly, both main characters, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) were from ... Read More »

ENOUGH SAID

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REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a divorced masseuse with a daughter, Ellen, about to enter college (impeccably played by Tracey Fairaway). Albert (the late, great James Gandolfini) is a divorced father of a girl also bound for college. Thus begins “Enough Said,” a charming little comedy that gets into the foibles of middle class, middle aged life in California. Eva has a self-deprecating sense of humor that sustains her through her loneliness. She lives for her job, daughter and a few very good friends. She meets Albert at a party, and they share a few ... Read More »

Prisoners

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REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net As the first scene begins a father is repeating a prayer as his son prepares to shoot a deer for their Thanksgiving dinner.  This is the fitting prelude for almost three hours of tension and superb performances in a far-from-ordinary “crime thriller. The setting is a wintry, somber, dank Western Pennsylvania town.  It appears to be a normal suburb, but the Thanksgiving dinner celebration of two families goes awry when the daughters of both families disappear.  The story becomes a study of rage by one father (Keller Dover, brilliantly played by Hugh Jackman) while ... Read More »

The Butler

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REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net By trying to do too much, “the Butler” ends up doing too little. It intersperses the life of White House butler named Cecil Gaines (modeled on real life butler Eugene Allen) with episodes of the Civil Rights Movement. In a huge cast, including Robin Williams (who is supposed to be Dwight Eisenhower, but looks more like Mr. Truman), Alan Rickman as a very soft toned Ronald Reagan, Liev Schrieber who plays Lyndon Johnson, even down to dictating while on the John, Vanessa Redgrave, Mariah Carey, and others in small roles. The two characters supplying ... Read More »

Woody’s Best Blue Jasmine

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REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net From the moment we first see Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) we’re entranced, even though she’s talking to herself and her neighbor on a flight from New York to San Francisco. Jasmine is dressed to the nines in Chanel and a huge Hermes purse. That’s all accompanied by monogrammed Louis Vuitton luggage awaiting her on the carousel. What follows are flashes backward and forward as it becomes clear that Jasmine has left the Manhattan high-life destitute and is moving to San Francisco to live (temporarily?) with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). If all this hints of ... Read More »

Red 2 – Sit Back And Escape

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REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net No Zombies. No Vampires. Not even an Alien. RED2 is all about good old earthly mayhem with enough one-liners and visual gags to make for excellent escapism. The old gang of semi-retired (and retarded) not so secret assassins is back again. Bruce Willis (Frank), John Malkovich (Marvin) and Helen Mirren (Victoria) reprise their identities as “Retired and Extremely Dangerous (RED)”. This time they are after a deadly super weapon built and hidden by a dotty British scientist well played by good old Anthony Hopkins. He manages to confuse and surprise everyone. Is he really ... Read More »

Reel Review: ‘42’

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By Monte Lazarus – Bengoshi@comcast.net You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate, enjoy and possibly choke up a bit, when you see “42.” It’s the story of 18 months in the life and career of Jackie Robinson. As with the few outstanding “baseball movies,” e.g., “Bull Durham,” “Bang The Drum Slowly,” “42” is not simply about baseball. Rather it is a fascinating study of a chunk of American society around the middle of the Twentieth Century, and some reflections on the inner workings of two of the movie’s main characters, Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. When World ... Read More »

Zero Dark Thirty

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By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net The beginning of “Zero Dark Thirty” is controversial and unsettling. Shortly after the first scene at the World Trade Center, the site changes. A CIA operative has an Al-Qaeda member in a dank dungeon – a “black site” – somewhere in Pakistan. It’s 2003. What makes the scene disturbing is the sequence of torture that takes place – slapping, naked abuse, waterboarding and ultimately forcing the prisoner, Ammar (Reda Kateb) into a tiny box. What makes the scene controversial is the question it raises. Some observers think it glorifies torture. Others believe it demonstrates that torture ... Read More »

“Anna Karenina”

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REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” is generally considered one of the greatest novels ever written. It’s been made into movies 13 times, and the Greta Garbo/Fredric March version of 1935 is widely recognized at the best. This latest edition is a balletic show-within-a-show that dances back and forth from footlights to backstage to “reality”. Despite the heroic staging, magnificent settings of St. Petersburg and Moscow of the late 1800’s, and a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, it falls far short. Keira Knightley as Anna is beautiful, but unconvincing. Jude Law is excellent, but wasted as her ... Read More »

“LINCOLN”

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REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net n 1865, the Civil War was draining the blood of North and South. Mr. Lincoln was personally ravaged by the war and was also determined to abolish slavery by passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. This piece of history and Mr. Lincoln’s remarkable life is the focal point of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”, based in large part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals”. Daniel Day-Lewis is extraordinary as he cajoles, manipulates and threatens both Republicans and Democrats to pick off each critical vote. This is not the Lincoln of past movie makers; ... Read More »

BOND AT 50

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REEL REVIEWS  By Monte Lazarus  Bengoshi@comcast.net For the fiftieth anniversary of the James Bond movies, “Skyfall” is a perfect fit. Daniel Craig ranks one or two with Sean Connery as the best Bond of all. This Bond is very different. He’s not the suave, sophisticated James of yore, although he manages to handle a tuxedo fairly well. This is a gritty, darker Bond. This one can handle a motorcycle with the best while being able to play baccarat with the wealthiest. Of course, “Bond – James Bond” has his romantic moments, but they are momentary as he proceeds from peril ... Read More »

FLIGHT

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REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net Don’t be fooled by the title. “Flight” has very little to do with aviation; it has a lot to do about character, lies and deception, and morality. And, it’s beautifully done. The superb Denzel Washington plays “Whip” Whitaker, a first-rate airline pilot who is also an alcoholic, drug user and carouser. In the opening scene, Whitaker awakens after a night of sex and booze, lights one of innumerable cigarettes, gulps down a drink and snorts some cocaine. His lady of the night, a flight attendant, reminds him that he has a trip coming up ... Read More »

REEL REVIEWS: DOUBLE FEATURE

By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net “ARBITRAGE” Richard Gere moves through “Arbitrage” like a sleek panther. Everything about him oozes wealth: not the Trump type of display, but the understated Gramercy Park Mansion type of polished dark wood and quiet elegance. Gere plays Robert Miller. As Miller, Gere is no longer the much younger playboy type of millionaire he played in “Pretty Woman”. He’s much older; his hair is wavy white; his face is more chiseled; his demeanor is suave, but cynical and dismissive of lesser mortals. He’s serious and so is the movie. It’s – a combination of whodunit (although we ... Read More »

BOURNE CHANGES IDENTITY

REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net From the opening majestic shots of Alaska this is a different take on the Bourne series of films. Gone, regrettably, is Matt Damon. In “The Bourne Legacy” Jeremy Renner is Aaron Cross, ostensibly a Bourne-type successor. Renner is different; not as subtle an actor as Damon, but good enough as an action oriented, genetically altered super spy. Matt Damon was slated to do another Bourne episode, but he and director Paul Greengrass departed over apparent disagreements on the project. The new film is therefore set up with a different lead, cleverly injecting just enough ... Read More »

AH ROMA!

REEL REVIEWS  By Monte Lazarus  Bengoshi@comcast.net   Woody Allen’s latest, “To Rome With Love”, is feel good fun. The movie is a pastiche of unrelated plots, while paying tribute to the Eternal City, with spectacular photography of Rome’s treasures. The plot? There isn’t one. Rather, the film begins with one of Rome’s elegant traffic cops introducing some of the characters and each story takes off. Woody Allen returns to the screen (he also wrote and directed) as Jerry, a neurotic – as usual – retired opera director, flying to Rome with wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) a strong-willed psychiatrist, to meet ... Read More »

SAFE HOUSE IN SOUTH AFRICA

REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net Denzel Washington is, well, Denzel Washington. He’s one of those rare actors who never seem to give a bad performance no matter the plot or script. In “Safe House” he’s Tobin Frost, a cool, cynical ex-CIA agent who is viewed by the Agency as having gone rogue. There’s no particular reason given for his apparent defection. Was it money? If not, what else? The film opens with magnificent views of Capetown, South Africa, but it doesn’t take too long for action to explode and continue through the film. Newly acclaimed Swedish director Daniel Espinosa ... Read More »

THE ARTIST

REEL REVIEWS By Monte Lazarus Bengoshi@comcast.net Run; don’t walk, to see this movie. It’s advertised as a “silent”, but it’s not quite. There are a few sounds, and a continuous musical background. Other than that there’s no real dialog. On its surface the film appears simply to be a tribute to the silent movie era. However, that’s only the façade. Few of us remember silent movies. They dominated the screen until the late twenties when “The Jazz Singer” opened the new dimension of sound, and revolutionized the business. Yes, the film tells a story of a matinee idol of the ... Read More »