Category Archives: Movies

Film Review – Jack Strong (2014)

I had the chance to watch the 2014 Polish film Jack Strong thanks to the Polish Heritage Club of Madison and WUD Film and the UW. I really enjoyed the film. The movie is in Polish, Russian and English.

The film is based on the true story of Ryszard Kukliński (code name Jack Strong) who passed intelligence from Warsaw Pact forces to the CIA during the Cold War. It had some famous figures in it – some of who I even recognized (Jaruzelski’s glasses gave him away). It also referenced some famous events such as the uprisings in Prague in 1968, Gdansk in 1970 and the Solidarity movement. The martial law that was put in place in Poland was also in the plot.

I liked the acting – Kukliński was well portrayed. The character Ivanov, whose job it was to catch spies, was almost cat like and I would definitely not want him as an enemy. Leonid Brezhnev made an appearance in a somewhat humorous scene Marshal Kulikov (Brezhnev was on the red phone but there were so many other colored phones on his desk – how did he keep them straight?) I also liked all of the Polish names – Ryszard, Hania, Iza, Waldemar, Bogdan, Florian etc.

The filmmaker plays some tricks on the audience throughout the film so keep an eye out for that. Also the car chase in the streets of Warsaw was definitely not high budget but it was realistic!

Overall I liked the film. It had me invested in the characters, kept a high level of suspense and let me see a little of what Poland was like behind the curtain including the empty shops and family dynamics (Plus cigarettes and lots of vodka). If you get a chance to check it out I definitely would do so.

Have you heard of the Pixar Theory?

I was wandering around the internet the other day when I stumbled across a blog post called “The Pixar Theory” penned by a guy named Jon Negroni. It was a fascinating read. His basic premise is that all the Pixar movies exist in the same universe and but generally at different times. Another site that does a good job of summarizing is

If you have seen Pixar movies you probably know about some of the “Easter eggs” like the Toyota pizza delivery truck that seems to make it into every movie. For me I saw this as something fun but I didn’t take it much more than that. This post, by contrast, puts a lot of thought into tying all of the movies together. I daresay it may be borderline genius. Mr. Negroni suggests, convincingly so, that the Pixar universe is an alternate universe where cars and animals develop intelligence. If you like Pixar movies you should really give this a read.

I like the idea that there is a person or persons kind of setting an overall theme and storyline for a whole universe and movies are made from different times and places within that universe. It all feels kind of meta and gives a whole new depth to Pixar movies. I wonder if we will ever get confirmation of this.

I know it seems like a borderline conspiracy theory but read it and judge for yourself. It isn’t flawless but it is very intriguing; definitely food for thought. I will never see a Pixar movie in the same way again.  If this were true it would be pretty amazing that this overall plan was in place since Toy Story in 1995. Do you think the Pixar Theory makes sense? Let me know what you think in the comments.

The Band’s Visit – Bikur Ha-Tizmoret

I recently watched The Band’s Visit (Click for Wikipedia). It is the story of a police orchestra going to Israel but ending up in the wrong town for the night. We get to see the interaction of the band and the natives.

Movie poster from The Band’s Visit from Wikipedia

First off I must admit that I don’t know a lot about the Israeli-Egyptian relationship except that it probably isn’t the greatest. I know that there is some animosity but I am sure the film would have had much more meaning if I knew more about the countries involved.

Even without knowing much about the above I really enjoyed The Band’s visit. It shows the interactions of real people in  a small (fictional) town in Israel. A lot of times movies tend to focus on the big cities but I think there are good stories to tell in small towns too. The film is in Arabic (the Egyptians), Hebrew (the Israelis) and English (the common language of both).

The story seems to focus on the Band conductor Tawfiq. From the outset he seems like a hard man and as the movie goes on we learn more about him. Another character to watch is Haled, the young buck of the group. The roller skating scene had me laughing out loud.

I enjoyed the mix of languages in this movie. English was the way the two groups communicated. According to Wikipedia this movie was submitted for Israel’s Foreign Language submission but it was rejected because over half of the dialogue is in English. I did have a hard time understanding some of the words but overall I did pretty well with it.

For me this movie was memorable because of the small town portrayal, the look at everyday normal lives, and the bit of scenery we get to see. Overall I would recommend this movie and I am glad I ran across it at the library.

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Heaven Can Wait & Hang ’em High

As the weather this weekend was snowy and cold cold cold I rented some movies from the library. The two I watched this weekend were Heaven Can Wait and Hang ’em High.

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. A dead man visits the devil to ask to go to hell because he doesn’t think he will make it into heaven. He recounts his life to his “excellency”. The movie is based on a play called Birthday. The main character goes by Henry van Cleve. The movie takes place over 70 years (starting around 1887) in New York City with a side trip to Kansas. It was a pretty good movie. The change in dress and decoration over the time periods was interesting. The van Cleve home is at 921 5th Avenue in New York. I did a Google Map search and I don’t think it exists.

Henry had a crazy life and a strange family. He was a playboy and a smooth talker. To me he was neither likable or unlikable. I guess he was a bit complex. The devil looked very modern and urban. Overall the movie was okay. I don’t think it is anything great but I wouldn’t say avoid it either.

Hang ’em High (1968)

Clint Eastwood plays a man accused of vigilantes of murder and cattle rustling. He is hung but makes it out alive. He then becomes a lawman with an aim to get justice from those who wronged him. The movie takes place in Oklahoma when it was still a territory in 1889. Capital punishment seems to be a central theme for this movie. The judge (the only one in the whole territory) sees being tough on crime as a way to get statehood for the territory. Our hero disagrees with the methods and decisions of the judge at several points in the movie.

The characters were a bit predictable. One of the bad guys had an eye-patch. The love interest has a grudge. Clint Eastwood plays the strong, silent type that always gets the job done. The ending was – unsatisfactory. I have been on a western kick but there are better ones out there. I wouldn’t go very far out of the way to watch this one.

Have you seen any good movies lately?


I recently watched Yojimbo. It is the movie that A Fistful of Dollars was inspired by. It is Japanese and is about a bodyguard (yojimbo in Japanese) that comes into a town and sets out to destroy the two rival gangs that are terrorizing the regular townsfolk. It is directed by Akira Kurosawa who also directed The Hidden Fortress and Seven Samurai. I would recommend all three of these movies.

I really liked this movie even though I kind of knew the plot line because I had recently watched A Fistful of Dollars. One thing that stood out to me was the music. It was well done and really helped to set the tone and mood of the story. The main character inspired confidence. I had a hard time keeping track of which villain was which sometimes but I got the main gist of it. One interesting twist was the fact that most of the fighting was done with swords. There was only one gun in the movie which gives the gun wielder quite an advantage. Bringing a knife to a gun fight indeed.

If you like the man with no name trilogy I would give this movie a try.

Three Westerns and a Documentary

I have been on a movie watching binge recently thanks to the sub zero temperatures. In the past week I have viewed the following movies:

Django Unchained – I am a little late to this party but this was a great movie. I enjoyed it very much, even though it was a little gory for my tastes. (But I should have expected it with Tarantino). Although it was not 100% historically accurate it was fun to watch. My favorite character was easily Dr. Schultz. I was also intrigued by the female tracker with the scarf but the story never gave any back story about her. If you don’t mind a lot of violence I highly recommend this film.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird – is a South Korean film based on The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. It follows a similar story line but is set in Manchuria in the 1930’s. It was fun and had a good pace. The scenery was different than most westerns because it is set in Asia. This movie also has quite a bit of violence but overall it is pretty good.

A Fistful of Dollars – is the first movie in “The Man With No Name Trilogy” by Sergio Leone starring Clint Eastwood. A hired gone blows into a dusty town orchestrates the destruction of the two rival gangs. This was a fun movie, but not as good as the other two in the series in my opinion.

Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story – is a documentary about all things Monopoly and follows a few players to the National and International Monopoly Championships. It goes through the history of the game, it’s place in pop culture, and the people who play for championships. I like some of these quirky documentaries (see also Word Wars & Triviatown). A fun watch, especially if you like to play Monopoly.

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese

I recently went with my girlfriend to see The Wolf of Wall Street. This movie is about Jordan Belfort and his company Stratton Oakmont. Stratton Oakmont was a boiler room. The story follows Jordan from starting out as a stock broker, to his ascendency and financial success, and finally to his arrest.

I had watched the previews and read a little about the movie before I saw it but I was still surprised by many aspects of the story. First off this is rated R for a reason. There was a lot of sex and drugs. Way more than I was expecting. No matter what else you may think about the characters one thing everybody must agree on is that they lead quite an exciting life. Not a life for everyone, mind you, but an exciting one.

I had three main takeaways from this movie:
1) If something sounds to good to be true (stocks in particular) it probably is.
2) White collar crimes carry way less penalties compared to other types of crime.
3) Don’t do drugs.

The main character and his pals had a lot of money and partied a lot. But they didn’t exactly acquire all of the money legally. They never show the person on the other end of the phone. We only see the perpetrators and their lives. I wonder if this still goes on today, and if it does I also wonder how widespread it is.

After the movie my girlfriend and I tried to come up with characters that we liked. There were not a lot of candidates. I liked the FBI agent and the friend who was a drug dealer (Brad – the character with the mustache and the foreign wife). I also thought the Swiss banker was funny and Aunt Emma was a nice addition to the cast and story.

Did you see this movie? What did you think of it? What was your favorite character?

November to date

I will start off by apologizing. I have not had a post in awhile. I have no real excuse but I am going to try anyway.

I had been studying for a test at work (I passed). These tests are voluntary and are to earn designations (letters after my name). I find several benefits to these tests and the designations I can earn:

1. It shows I care and looks good to management
2. The designations are recognized industry wide and are transferable
3. The company pays for the tests, bonuses when you reach certain levels and gives study time and extra time off if you pass

I think the time I spend on it is well worth it.

I saw the movie Gravity with my brother the other week. It floored me! It was visually stunning, the story was great and I was on the edge of my seat with the characters. Look for the fetus imagery, the howling at the moon scene (noticed by my brother) and the evolution out of water scene. For those of you that now a bit about the Polish language keep an ear out as well.

My girlfriend and I had the chance to spend some time together. One of the places we went to was the National Mustard Museum in Middleton. I have never really eaten mustard but with the free samples it was a great time to try it. I did like some of them. The museum was free and was pretty busy, much more so than either myself or my girlfriend expected. It was a fun place. I would suggest checking it out if you find yourself in the area with time to kill.

I am continuing to commute by bike. The only problem I have had has been my lock freezing up after the snow we had earlier in the week. It was only just below freezing so I was able to get it undone by blowing hot air into it. I have no shortage of that. I am now being more careful about how I position it. I have also bought lock deicer. Two solutions that I have heard since I was talking to people about it were a lighter and a cup of hot water. I would have never have thought of these things myself. I guess I don’t know everything just yet.

How have you been? Has anything exciting happened to you lately?

Movie – All My Good Countrymen (Všichni dobří rodáci)

All My Good Countrymen or All My Compatriots (Všichni dobří rodáci) (Vojtěch Jasný, 1968)

First things first I must confess I am not sure about the exact name. The DVD I checked out from the library says All My Good Countrymen but Wikipedia and IMDb give the title as All My Compatriots. I guess it is always ambiguous when you are translating. (Google Translate says: All Good Citizens but I always take Google Translate with a grain of salt) Are there any readers who speak Czech who would like to elaborate?

This movie covers a few years from the late 40’s to the early 60’s. It is how the collectivization of farming changes a small Moravian village. It focuses on the people and their stories. I rather liked the film. The scenery is really pretty. (It isn’t helping my wanderlust.) This movie was made after the Prague Spring but was then censored after the communists cracked down on such things shortly after.

I definitely see why it was censored – it does not paint a flattering picture of agricultural collectivization.

Someone guesses the collectivization of his farm is not going to work out

Someone guesses the collectivization of his farm is not going to work out

The characters are memorable and none of them are perfect. One that stood out to me was the “Merry Widow” character. Everyone she dates seems to die. You would think some people would learn! The movie does a really good job of using the seasons and the scenery to help the story. It makes me wish I had a time machine and a passport. From the booklet that was in the DVD case I found out that the town the movie was filmed in is called Bystré. It is still a small town according to Wikipedia. The portrayal of a small town made it a better movie for me.

An evening at the pub

An evening at the pub

Overall I liked the movie. It is quite remarkable that the movie was made and I think we have the Prague Spring to thank for that. I would recommend it to anyone who likes movies about rural life.

All My Good Countrymen 1