Category Archives: Top 10

Truth, Brooklyn, Room, Spotlight, Concussion, The Martian

I have a new blog/life project in the works but I did want to recap some of the movies I saw last year before moving on to my new venture. These movies are among my favorites of 2015 and are making the rounds on critics’ top 10 and award contender lists.

The performances in each of these films stood out for me and I think the way actors took on the characters in the films based on true stories should be the source of recognition as awards season continues.

In no particular order …


tru2Movies about journalism and the news business make me happy. They make for good drama and a peek into a world that informs us of what’s going on. Journalism has changed a lot, so films about “old school” reporting on true events to build a story and the following success or fallout are especially interesting to me. In Truth, Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford star as producer Mary Mapes and CBS News Anchor Dan Rather in the time leading up to his resignation. That time includes their investigative report and broadcast about George W. Bush’s military service as well as the career-changing aftermath it caused for Rather and Mapes and their reporting team. In addition to learning more about the facts of the story in the early to mid-2000s as it played out on screen, I found myself enamored with Blanchett and Redford’s performances and I think they really made this movie. The supporting cast has its highs (Elisabeth Moss) and lows (Topher Grace and sometimes Dennis Quaid) but I think this film is overall underrated. Some scenes were a bit over-the-top but Blanchett and Redford always brought it back and their moments alone together really honing in on what they were trying to accomplish and why, away from all the drama, put the story into perspective. Truth doesn’t have a strong presence on the awards circuit (at least Blanchett’s hairstyle should be nominated) but I think it’s worth watching for newsies and film buffs alike. It will be out on DVD Feb. 2.


room_stillIf I ever write a movie, Brie Larson will need to be in it. She’s having a moment right now, which I expect will continue for some time, so I am sure she will be game to star in my rom-com that has a plot no one has ever used before. Brie, call me.

Larson has range from working in dramas and comedies and in Room takes on a role where I imagine she needed to combine those skills to play her character, Ma. Room tells the story of a mom and her son, Jack, locked in a garden shed for several years after Ma was kidnapped as a teenager.

A good part of the film is Ma and Jack together trying to maintain a normal life in one room with, seemingly, no way out. If you see Room only once it is a drama and suspense, if you see it twice — which I did — it turns into more of a character-driven story about a family trying to rebuild their life and relationships. Ma’s parents come into the picture in the film as well and what happens to her is an avenue for them to focus on and rebuild their relationships with Jack at the center of it all.

I didn’t read the book the film is based on, which I think is a good way to go into this particular film, but if you did I still think watching it on screen will present a dynamic and unexpected telling of the written story.

Room is probably one of the strongest award contenders on this list, in addition to Spotlight, and I just hope Larson will still star in my movie after she wins. Seriously, call me.



Brooklyn is a perfect movie. It ends the way you want it to end, Saoirse Ronan is just compelling to watch and it presents a complete picture of her character’s dilemma to build a new life in Brooklyn or stay in her hometown in Ireland.

In some ways I felt myself wanting more conflict in the end and to be left with a dissenting opinion about Eilis’ (played by Ronan) life decisions – but then Brooklyn wouldn’t be a perfect movie.

It is not often I find myself with little to write about a film — and this does not mean I didn’t like Brooklyn — it’s just that good and I think it’s probably a story all audiences will like.

I will say Ronan’s performance stands out in this film and I would like her to be in my movie with Larson. Saoirse, call me. If you want to hear more of her lovely voice (and life story) I recommend listening to her 2013 interview with Chris Hardwick on The Nerdist.



Spotlight is another movie about the news business – this time about print journalism and The Boston Globe’s coverage of abuse in the Catholic church. It is directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy and includes top character performances by Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo (who could also join my movie if they would like) as well as Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber.

This NPR story focuses on how the cast, mainly Keaton as Walter Robinson, took on who their characters are as much as depicting how the Spotlight team uncovered and reported on the story of the Catholic church scandal in Boston.

I actually want to see Spotlight again but as it stands now I think the acting carried the film as much as — if not more than — the telling of the story it is based on.


concussionTell the truth! Doug Loves Movies fans out there will know that Doug Benson has been working on his Will Smith character impersonation for the past few weeks when he asks his guests about their favorite movie that the actor stars in.

What’s interesting about Concussion is you will lose sight of the fact that it’s Will Smith playing Dr. Bennet Omalu not long into the film. Omalu, a pathologist performing autopsies, very thoroughly, comes across a disease affecting football players that can really only be detected after they die. Concussion is another true story and character-focused plot and Smith excels at playing a man fighting keeping his reputation and career as a doctor intact while trying to bring the truth out and ultimately help people while the NFL tries to silence him. It presents a well-rounded telling of the story but one that could be pretty forgettable without Smith’s performance.

The Martian

The-MartianI know I raved a lot about The Martian from the moment I heard about it and I am finally getting to writing about it now, months after I saw the film. It is nominated for Golden Globes in the best picture, directing (Ridley Scott) and acting (Matt Damon) categories. I think it has some strong competition as far as awards go and I’ve heard some critics pan it because they are sick of space movies and found The Martian didn’t live up to the hype. I, overall, liked the film and felt (despite all my bias about Damon) he did well acting alone for much of the film. While Damon (as Mark Watney) is stuck on Mars trying to survive, Scott and the film’s writers (including novelist Andy Weir) did well mixing in the story of people on Earth trying to save him or “Bring Him Home.”

You may or may not know what happens, but I like how understated the very end of the film was and overall how the narration by Damon as Watney (which I didn’t like very much in the book) played out on screen.

There are a lot of movies to see this year, but I wouldn’t mind revisiting The Martian. It is out on DVD Jan. 12.

In the meantime, I am starting out my year in movies by seeing Mustang today and I’m pretty excited for what’s to come.

Also Matt Damon, call me.








I like Steve Jobs and Surprises



I listened to Marc Maron interview Danny Boyle (director of Steve Jobs) on WTF this week and their conversation made me think more about some of my favorite aspects of the film.

It is becoming more of a front runner for me as far as one of my favorite films of the year and it’s largely due to the acting by Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet.

In my last, short, commentary on Steve Jobs I did not focus on Jobs’ relationship with his daughter portrayed in the film. Boyle and Maron talk some about the relationship and how its one of the key components in the story that bring what flaws and weaknesses Jobs has to the surface.

They also talk a lot about Aaron Sorkin’s work on the script and the process to hone it to balance Jobs’ professional and personal life without actually going overboard with the dialogue.

I remember very heated, sometimes lengthy, conversations between Jobs (Fassbender) and Joanna Hoffman (Winslet) as Jobs prepared to launch various Apple product throughout the film but Boyle and Sorkin built in effective pauses to let the moments sink in and show the impact of what can be said without words.

It’s an interesting reflection to have on a Sorkin script (I am still scarred by the verbose Social Network – or maybe just Jesse Eisenberg) but he and Boyle achieved a healthy balance in Steve Jobs.

The film, while still not getting the attention it deserves, has acting nominations for Fassbender and Winslet between the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes lists released in the last week.

Strong acting seems to be a common thread among many of the top films whose studios are pushing for a spot on the Academy Awards nomination list.

For example, Johnny Depp made the SAG cut for his performance as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass. I didn’t like the film as much as I thought I would and, despite the incredibly distracting and unnecessary makeup, Depp did shine through.

I’ll leave it to Eric Kohn from Indiewire and Anne Thompson from Thompson on Hollywood  on Screen Talk to better explain the unpredictability of which films will make the Academy’s final cut.

The Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes lists  have some consistency – but more surprises – which makes me think (or at least hope) that could influence the final word from the Academy. The Academy Award nominees are usually easy to predict by the end of the year, but I’m happy with the unknown for now and how many great films  are on the way to theaters before the home stretch of award season.

In other news, for the first time in a many years I am going to see a movie on Christmas Day. Our selection depends on what is showing at the theater in up nort’ Wisconsin, but I am pretty, pretty excited about it and getting out of town to spend a week with my family.


The title is the hardest part …

steve jobsIt’s hard to pick 10 top movies from one year.  I even have my movie stubs from 2015 on a bulletin board connected with red yarn and thumbtacks to identify the culprits — but we all know that strategy never works.

If I am going to complete this list today, much less by the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, I better just start writing. (Luckily I have excerpts from my previous posts to work from.)

10. What We Do in the Shadows

One of my favorite parts of the film is knowing going into it (after hearing interviews with Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi on the Nerdist podcast as well as an episode of Sklarbro Country) how passionate they were about their idea and getting the film made.

Clement and Waititi effectively weave in lore about vampires (such as that they can’t see themselves in mirrors and sleep during the day) with allowing characters to discover modern things like the Internet and digital cameras. The visual and verbal humor is consistent throughout the film and it’s one that’s fun to watch in a crowded theater (update- or on Netflix in a crowded living room with your peeps.)

Fans of Clement and Waititi will definitely like this film and I hope they develop a whole new audience and continue to work on more projects together.

9. A Most Violent Year

Well If there is one thing I learned from watching A Most Violent Year, Jessica Chastain certainly knows how to put a district attorney who interrupts her daughter’s birthday party with a search warrant in his place.

I believe “This was very disrespectful,” was the line from Chastain’s character, Anna Morales, as she leaves the attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo) in the driveway with a piece of birthday cake while she politely ushers her guests out the door with party favors.

Chastain’s role is the wife of Abel Moreles (Oscar Isaac) who is trying to keep his business running and protect his family as violence in New York City runs rampant.

In the end it’s really a story of who you can trust and what people will do to get what they want. Even Lawrence, seemingly trying to save the city, might not be entirely innocent, even if he hasn’t broken the law.

I think A Most Violent Year is underrated or at the least got lost in the shuffle of other films in early 2015. The slow burn of the story that reveals the characters’ inner struggles was an unexpected strength of the film.

8. Spring

Spring is definitely my favorite love story/monster movie of the year and one of the most visually appealing on this list.

There is nothing like a good love story. There is also nothing like a good monster love story.

Evan is one of the main characters in Spring and the story focuses on his decision to travel to Italy as a way to escape his past and struggles in life. Evan quickly finds friends to backpack with and meets a local student, Louise, during their travels.

Evan is instantly smitten with Louise and drawn to her, but she is hesitant to go out with him. As fate would have it, they keep running into each other after Evan stays in the city where she lives and finds a job on a local farm.

The backdrop of a foreign country really works for the film, not only because of the scenery Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson were able to capture, but also because it adds to the feeling that Evan doesn’t really know what he is getting himself into by living in a new place and pursuing Louise.

Sometimes a good love story will just get to you, even when it is mixed with a bit of fright and blood and gore. Moorhead and Benson’s talent for character development while building suspense and fear in their audience shows in Spring, especially through the visual effects and soundtrack.

If there is an underlying theme of the film, perhaps it is people aren’t always who they appear to be and you need to take some chances in life.

Spring has been popular on the film festival circuit and had a short run in Minneapolis. More details on where to see or buy the film are on the Drafthouse Films website.

7. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

I’m obsessed with the show Fargo lately. I’m only in season one, but each episode is almost like a movie in itself and so intense I can only watch one before I have to take a break for a while. Plus I can prolong seeing anything bad happen to Colin Hanks’ character. I can’t take it.

Related to Fargo (more the movie than the show) Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter explores more of the true story that inspired the Coen brothers years ago.

If there is one thing I would recommend before seeing Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, it’s actually best to know as little as possible about the true story that it’s based on.

I saw the trailer for the film in February and was fascinated by the premise and portrayal of the quest of a Japanese woman, Takako Konishi (Rinko Kikuchi), to find the money buried in the movie Fargo, which she believed was real.

Watching the film with only that little bit of information in the back of my mind added to the mystery of it and Kumiko’s character as she is seen working in an office in Tokyo while plotting how she will travel to the U.S. to find her treasure.

Interestingly the filmmakers, David and Nathan Zellner, were able to keep away from media coverage of the story they were telling so it wouldn’t influence their creativity while they completed the project, according to an article from Indiewire.

Once the film was over, my mentality (temporarily) switched from not wanting to know anything to wanting to know everything about the story. I wanted to know more about Kumiko’s character and why she thought what she saw in the movie Fargo was real and that it was her destiny to find it. Now, having thought about it for a day, I am satisfied with the mystery and unknowns the Zellners presented in the film while appreciating their technique in cinematography, writing and storytelling.

The film was made both in Japan and Minnesota and the transition from one location to the next and the differences between the cultures exemplified Kumiko’s struggle as she tries to find her treasure and — ultimately — happiness.

Visually, the composition of scenes with Kumiko in Tokyo compared to the sudden stark winter landscape she faced, seemingly without fear, was stunning to watch.

Music, by The Octopus Project, added to the haunting components of the film and overall the instrumental soundtrack was fitting to accompany Kumiko on her journey.

There was a small amount of humor in the film, but for the most part I found it to be sad and dark and hard to watch at times, even with the way the Zellners chose to portray the end to the story.

I know I’ve said it before, but movies can be a escape, especially for me. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is easy to get lost in and think about what the journey was like for her and the people she did meet along the way.

6. Ex Machina 

Oscar Isaac is back on the list.

I wrote about this film briefly over the summer and it is one I really want to revisit again soon. Science fiction isn’t really my thing, and this film technically fits in that genre, but it’s subtle enough and presents underlying themes about human nature to keep you thinking for a while.

Ex Machina delves into artificial intelligence and testing the ability of one, Ava, to display human emotions. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is selected by Nathan (a Oscar Isaac) to spend time with Ava over one week at his remote house. What could go wrong? The film has its share of twists and turns to keep the viewer in suspense about Ava and Caleb and how much power Nathan, as the inventor, really has. There are certainly scenes where I wanted to close my eyes, but trust me, don’t do it. Oscar Isaac dances, and you don’t want to miss that.

5. The Diary of a Teenage Girl

I really wish I wrote about this film when it was fresh in my mind. That said, the visual style of the film is one of its many strengths that I keep going back to and that makes it one of my favorites from this year. The coming-of-age film stars Bel Powley as a teen who is trying to grow up too fast and decides to pursue an older man during the rebellious phase of her life.

To complicate things, the man (Alexander Skarsgard) is also her mom’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend.

The story (based on a novel) is told against the backdrop of 1970s San Francisco and with graphical depictions of what is going on in Minnie’s mind as she navigates her teenage years and ultimately learns about her true self.

In some ways the story is a bit dark, especially when the relationship between Minnie and Monroe (Skarsgard) ultimately comes back to show the strain between her and her mom. However, in its own way, the film also has everything work out in the end and presents closure to all of the characters’ struggles.

It also shows the dramatic range Kristen Wiig has and I hope she has more roles like this in the future (also see The Skeleton Twins.) The Diary of a Teenage Girl will be out on DVD in January. I haven’t seen it yet but Wiig’s film Welcome to Me is on Netflix and getting some critical praise.

4. People Places Things

This is where Jemaine Clement comes back into the picture. Last week, (in August) I saw Clement in one of my favorite movies of this year People Places Things.

Clement’s character in the film Will Henry, a newly-single father of two, finds himself trying to navigate work, taking care of his daughters and eventually breaking out into the world of dating again.

Henry is a graphic novelist and college professor. His drawings play their own role in the film as scenes the characters are experiencing are modified in Henry’s imagination and shown to the viewer as he draws them out on paper.

Not too far into the film, as one of Henry’s students sets him up on a date with her mother Diane (Regina Hall), Henry presents the question: Is happiness in life is really a sustainable concept?

There is a connection between Diane and Will based on this concept and the idea they are both on board for a “no bullshit” courtship.

It’s all easier said than done and of course things do get complicated as a result of Will and Diane’s past relationships, and their kids.

Overall it’s a simple premise for a film — in some ways one that’s been done before — but writer and director James C. Strouse effectively takes the “romantic comedy” to a new place and completes the story with its share of unpredictable plot points.

In the end you may not be surprised by what happens to Will and the decisions he makes, but you will be happy.

The film has a subtle humor, a lot of heart and continues Clement on the path to my kind of leading man following his role in What We Do in the Shadows and what I am sure will be a delight if the big-screen version of Flight of the Conchords is made (there is a movie in the works.)

People, Places, Things is streaming on Netflix now.

3 and 2. Amy and Tig

I have a lot of documentaries on my favorites list this year … but I want to at least highlight Amy and Tig for now.

Amy is an in-depth and unique story about Amy Winehouse’s life, and sadly, her death. The film, which interestingly uses mostly audio interviews with Winehouse and her friends and family, starts in her childhood and continues to tell the story of her rise as a musician in London and the U.S.

The film presents a disturbing glimpse into how Winehouse lived in the media spotlight while dealing with her personal struggles with addiction and bulimia and trying to continue to make music. it also shows the influence she had on other artists, like Mos Def and Tony Bennett, and their admiration for her through it all.

It’s a sad story but I feel the film strongly presented both the ups and downs of Winehouse’s life and the legacy of her music.

As for Tig … Tig Notaro is one of my favorite comedians and I am still recovering from the news that her podcast with David Huntsberger and Kyle Dunnigan, “Professor Blastoff,” is now over. But if it makes room for more projects from each of the comedians like Notaro’s documentary, “Tig,” then I guess I can live with it. (Plus I still have most of the four years of archives to listen to.)

Tig, which is available on Netflix, focuses on the year since Notaro became sick, her mother died and her cancer diagnosis. Notaro talked about her diagnosis, one day after finding out, during a famous show at Largo in Los Angeles and the documentary also focuses on her work leading up to the anniversary of that show. Fans of Notaro will know some of her story but the documentary provides more of a look into her life and at her as a person than what I’ve seen and heard before. I also recommend “Knock Knock, it’s Tig Notaro,” about her comedy road trip to fans’ hometowns with Jon Dore.

I wrote the original post about Amy and Tig as I was preparing to move and said,  “I didn’t even get through all of what I’ve seen lately. I’ll have to continue with that project after I set up a writing perch at my new place.”

That’s where I am now and I am going to close out this list with a film that I did see recently … Steve Jobs.

1.  Steve Jobs

Is Michael Fassbender becoming my new Oscar Isaac? I have not seen as many of Fassbender’s movies, but his performance as Steve Jobs definitely moved him up on my list (and I can’t wait to see Macbeth.)

Steve Jobs focuses mostly on the title character’s launch of the iMac in the late 1990s and his professional and personal life leading up to that moment.

I honestly don’t know enough about Steve Jobs to reflect on whether Fassbender captured who he was during that time of his life, but it is one of those performances where you lose sight of the fact that someone is acting as a real person. (Much like in Spotlight.)

That’s really what sold me on this film. It equally balances the history of Macintosh technology and the people surrounding Steve Jobs in his life and their struggles with him.

Unfortunately the film did not get that much attention to keep it in theaters very long, but Steve Jobs has critical merit and buzz on the awards circuit.

Until Steve Jobs is on DVD or streaming, check out Michael Fassbender in Frank

Here is an excerpt from my post about the film:

I was hooked on what I thought was a completely fictional movie just from the trailer, only to find out at the end that it’s based on a true story documented in a newspaper article by Jon Ronson.

Ronson is the inspiration for one of the main characters, Jon Burroughs, an aspiring musician who stumbles upon an opportunity to play a gig with a mysterious band, the Soronprfbs.

The band leader is Frank Sidebottom, who always wears a paper mache head with a face painted on it.

The role of Frank Sidebottom is a departure for Fassbender, I think, but he masters the performance and the musical talent of the main character. Fassbender’s voice is key in the film as he performed many of the songs by the Soronprfbs and had to act, for the most part, without using any facial expressions.

One of the many films that didn’t make it on this list is TangerineIt is also one of my favorite films from this year, but I think I am going to revisit it before sharing my thoughts. (It’s also streaming on Netflix.)

“That is All.”

P.S. If you want to know more about Steve Jobs, I recommend this interview with John Hodgman on The Nerdist.








Tracks, Gone Girl Driving Tours… and snakes

Oh, hi. Don’t mind me, I’m just the lady in the back of the movie theater audibly gasping when a giant snake slithers across Mia Wasikowska’s body in her new movie “Tracks.”

It’s unfortunate that “Tracks” isn’t in the theaters anymore, at least in the Twin Cities, but don’t let the aforementioned snake nightmare (for me) deter you from seeing it when it’s released on DVD (or laser disc or whatever format you choose.)

BUT, if you do have a fear of snakes, I warn you that there is no build up to the scene to allow for time to cover your eyes and therefore not say “Oh Jeez” in the theater loud enough so the people a few rows away turn around and look at you. The scene is actually in the trailer so I thought for sure there would be time to prepare and know that a giant snake is about to appear, but no such luck.

As far as I can tell, the scene was in the movie strictly for visual effect and beauty, which makes sense with “Tracks” because the backdrop of the Australian desert it takes place in is just stunning. (Minus the snake.)

I just have to let that go because “Tracks” really is my favorite movie of those I’ve seen of late.

Wasikowska stars in the film as Robyn Davidson, who in real life walked 1,700 miles across the Australian desert with camels that she trained and her dog, Diggity.

She is joined, at times, along the way by a National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) to document her journey. Davidson set out to do it completely alone, but the magazine sponsored her trip and required coverage of it in return.

I enjoyed the interactions Davidson had with Smolan and even more so the indigenous people in the desert who served as guides and hosts during her trip. While there are many other characters in the film aside from Davidson, there is just enough time spent on why she sought out to complete the journey on her own and the background of her life.

Davidson wrote a book about her journey as well, which I want to read, but I recommend the film for its visual depiction of the story alone.

Moving on, it’s hard to rank the rest of the films I’ve seen lately, but “Gone Girl” has to be my second favorite. I went to it on opening night, along with a lot of other people, and was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t a huge fan of the book and, with author Gillian Flynn serving as a screenwriter, I was worried some of the negatives from the novel would translate to the movie version of the story. I mainly didn’t like Flynn’s writing style in the novel but it somehow was transformed into a solid script and film with just the right amount of camp and dark humor.

I heard a rumor that the movie ending to the story was different from the book, but Flynn and director David Fincher stayed true to the original plot. There are subtle hints of Fincher’s directing style from some of his darker films but “Gone Girl” is really a mix of suspense, mystery and humor. She doesn’t have a big role, but Casey Wilson’s appearance as the nosy neighbor to Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike (Nick and Amy) made my day and Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry work well in their supporting roles. It took a while to get on board with Affleck’s performance, but once the dark comedy theme of the film sets in he plays a perfect as a dumb husband who really isn’t that dumb.

I’ve been following the production of this film for quite a while since it takes place, and was filmed in, the town where my aunt lives — Cape Girardeau, Mo. She sent me local news articles during the filming (did you know Ben Affleck shopped at a thrift store there? OMG) and I admit I’ve done some research of my own about it. The latest news, which my aunt did send me, is that the visitor’s bureau in Cape Girardeau is now hosting Gone Girl driving tours.

I also have to credit my aunt with working in a Seinfeld reference when she sent me the news. I hope they really do have muffin stumps on this tour.

If I don’t get to it before I leave for Missouri to geek out on Gone Girl even more, here is a quick ranking of the other movies I’ve seen lately “The Two Faces of January,”  “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” “Kill the Messenger,” and “This is Where I Leave You.”

“Time is of the essence.” Newman.


The Departed

Two of the three movies I am most excited to see this summer, “Pacific Rim” and “The Way Way Back,” are out in theaters this weekend.

ElysiumMy third pick “Elysium” (Matt Damon!) is due for release in August. If I see the first two in one weekend, which is the plan, what else am I going to watch?

There are countless movies on my list that I have not watched even once but, on a recent Saturday night off, I decided to revisit “The Departed.”

The 2007 Academy Award winner for best picture is inspired by the film “Infernal Affairs” from Hong Kong.

I have not seen that film, or the other two in its series, but get the sense Martin Scorsese’s creation was more of a tribute to it than a big budget remake.

It’s commonplace now that many films are based on other films or art forms and I appreciate how literary stories can be brought to life on screen or through a different person’s point of view.

The DepartedIn the case of “The Departed,” Scorsese took the story of police force corruption and the mafia from  Hong Kong to Boston. Writers from “Infernal Affairs,” Alan Mak and Felix Chong are credited for the film and William Monahan adapted the screenplay. He also won an Academy Award for his work.

It was nice to watch the film at home and rewind scenes to pick up details I did not notice years ago.

It starts with the stories of Colin (Matt Damon) and Billy (Leonardo DiCaprio) coming up in Boston and working their way toward making rank in the Massachusetts State Police.

In the background is mafia boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) who knows Colin from a young age and gets to know Billy more later on.

Billy is more of a “wrong side of the tracks” kid trying to make his life right and Colin only seems like a good guy on the surface.

Colin is loyal to Frank and the mafia and therefore works as a mole from inside the police department. Any time an investigation into Frank’s crimes comes up, he can thwart the police from his trail.

Billy ends up working undercover from inside Frank’s crew to help with police investigations.

When Billy and Colin find out a there is a rat on both sides, they end up searching for each other.

The story builds slowly and watching it at home you can really take in the plot and the techniques of Scorsese and Monahan.

The lead actors, Damon and DiCaprio, played characters fighting their own internal battles as much as trying to survive in the world of crime and corruption.

Damon, as Colin, is only pretending to be one of the police force and is very private about his work with his girlfriend Madolyn (Vera Farmiga).

As Billy, DiCaprio ends up being used both by Frank and his bosses Dignam (Mark Wahlberg – nominated for best supporting actor) and Queenan (Martin Sheen) that he just doesn’t seem to have a place in the world at times.

Nicholson in the role of Costello, has more of a one note character who wants what’s best for himself and won’t protect those who work for him.

Billy is the one you want to have a chance in the world, but it’s surprising who ends up with the last word.

I hope I’ve inspired a second viewing of “The Departed” or if you haven’t seen it take a few hours on this hot day for a screening.

“When I was your age, they would say you can become cops or you can become criminals. Today what I’m saying is this, when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”

– Frank Costello

The Kings of Summer

I think I’ve fully recovered from the long and terrifying, yet somehow completely heartwarming, scene with a snake in “The Kings of Summer.”

The trailer features a glimpse of said scene and I figured I could just look away, but it is actually very important to the story. Don’t look away, trust me, don’t look away.

“The Kings of Summer,” isn’t your average coming of age story.

Sure, the film is about three friends who run away from home to build a house in the woods while dealing with family issues, girls and finding their way in the world but I’ve really never seen anything like it.

The filmmakers’ (director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and writer Chris Galletta, among others) use of imagery and unique cinematography alone sets the film apart from the pack.

Then the performances by Hollywood newcomers Nick Robinson (Joe), Gabriel Basso (Patrick), and Moises Arias (Biaggio) just left me in awe of this piece of art.

I realize I am stumbling through some cliché terms to describe this film, but I am kind of at a loss of how to summarize my admiration for it.

As for the style of the film, including the visuals and dialogue, it took some time to get into, but in the end it just works.

Beneath the surface of Joe and Patrick, with Biaggio tagging along, setting out on their own because they are not happy with their family life, the story focuses on father-son relationships, the bond of friendship as well as coming to know yourself.

One of my favorite scenes is actually between Joe and Patrick’s fathers, played by Nick Offerman and Marc Evan Jackson.

They are fishing together well after both their sons have disappeared.

“I guess maybe we did something wrong.”  – Mr. Keenan (Patrick’s father)

Joe’s relationship with dad, Frank, is more strained than that of Patrick and his father.

Joe’s mom passed away and in the beginning of the film he says he wants to leave home before he becomes like his Dad.

But Joe and Frank are reunited in a time of need for both and all is right with the world.

Everyone survives, broken friendships are mended and (spoiler alert) the snake dies.

Biaggio says it right with, “You should never quit on a friend.”

If there is one theme to the film, it’s that.

From what I can tell, everyone in this film sought to make something close to their heart in some way. They didn’t want fame or fortune, just for the story to be told.

I will say, especially of Robinson, Basso and Arias, this is just the beginning of their careers.

Keep watching Offerman, too. While I love what he brings to Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation,” I want to see more of his range as an actor.

“The night is still young.”