Rustlers' Rhapsody

"Rustlers' Rhapsody" is a 1985 tongue-in-cheek spoof of all those Saturday matinees that Republic Pictures used to make. In fact, it starts with black-and-white establishing shots that are soooo familiar they make you smile... the solitary cowpoke strumming his guitar and singing to his palomino, the fleeing stagecoach beset by robbers, the rearing stallion silhouetted against the skyline. ..you know...

A VERY young Tom Berenger ("Platoon" and "Eddie and the Cruisers") is Rex O'Herlihan, the classic lonesome stranger; but in this spoof, he travels with a huge armoire on wheels pulled by a mule. He has to write his mother for traveling money and worries about grass stains on his elaborate cowboy shirts. He is a "Good Guy" through and through.

"The Colonel" is played by Andy Griffith ("Waitress" and "What it Was Was Football"). He's the corrupt Cattle Baron ...you know, big hat, no cattle... He is ably assisted by Sela Ward ("Day After Tomorrow" and "Runaway Bride") as his daughter, and Marilu Henner ("Noises Off" and the TV series "Taxi") is the local "Hostess" with a heart of gold.

The town drunk, who desperately wants to be a sidekick, is played by G. W. Bailey ("Police Academy" and sequels.) This isn't a surprise because the Writer/Director Hugh Wilson ("Blast From the Past" and "Dudley Do-Right") originated the successful "Police Academy" franchise.

Of course, a railroad is slated to be built through this little western backwater, transforming it and the property values as well. The Railroad Colonel is played by Fernando Rey; he and his hired hands all wear Spaghetti Western outfits, much to the envy of the town drunk.

Despite having the movie shot in Spain, the country/western soundtrack is pure Americana, with Rex Allen, Jr. doing some of the honors. Play the DVD all the way through the credits to get as much of the soundtrack as possible.

Two things take this one over the top! Rex O'Herlihan's amazingly well-trained palomino and John Wayne's incredibly handsome son Patrick. Individually or together, they are worth the price of admission...or your Netflix dues...


The Producers

When I saw this movie at the cinema, most of the attendees were aficionados of musical theatre, consequently, after a big production number, we would actually applaud as though we were in a "live" performance. We were struck by the oh-so-clever choreography of the wonderful Susan Stroman who did the honors for Mel Brooks and his Broadway version, then was handed carte blanche to develop the new, more elaborate one we see on film. To say that she is creative and resourceful is a major understatement. Let's hear it for this next generation of choreographers breathing new life into Broadway!

When watching the DVD of this movie, I was suddenly amazed by the terrific lyrics and music written by Mr. B himself! I didn't "get" them in the theatre because I was too busy being overwhelmed by the comedy, the choreography and the clever performances by all of the principals: Matthew Broderick (you have NEVER seen a security blanket better used!), Nathan Lane (how he avoids a stroke with all of that prancing, I'll never know!), Uma Thurman (who has legs that go "all the way to her ass," to quote the late, not-so-great John Bramlet), and Will Ferrell (terrible German accent, pathetic yodeling and stylish lederhosen) as the unrepentant Nazi who writes "Springtime For Hitler," the show that is guaranteed to fail. Having the captions turned on will give you the specifically naughty lyrics Mel Brooks wrote for each production number. He's really BAD!

If you ever doubted Stroman's abilities as a choreographer, take a gander at how efficiently she has all those old ladies tapping their walkers in synch!

Need I remind you? This is MEL BROOKS, so there is no depth to which he wouldn't stoop! No political correctness, no tender sensibilities, no ox left un-gored... This is colorful, funny, crass and entertaining. Uma will surprise you, too!



This one has been around awhile. My volunteer daughter directed me to it.

It is based on true-life events that might seem a little farfetched, but you know the English!

The story is about a convicted felon who is transferred to a new experimental prison where the main thrust is rehabilitation rather than incarceration. Our central character Colin, played by Clive Owen ("The Inside Job" and "Croupier") just wants to be left alone; the prison warden has other plans. Because Colin refuses to choose a vocation, he is put to unsavory tasks, whereby an elderly fellow advises him to become a gardener, because at least he can be outdoors.

To his surprise, he not only has a knack for gardening, he really enjoys it. A local much-celebrated doyenne of gardening, played by Helen Mirren ("The Queen" and "Prime Suspect") needs extra help for a TV special, so she borrows a crew from the nearby prison. The upshot is that after she becomes acquainted with Owen and his uncommon skills, the prison is entered into competition for England's most-prestigious garden show award.

Bingo! Bureaucracy springs into action...

Quirky, sweet and above all, based on real people, "Greenfingers" is a satisfying little film.


Salaam Bombay

Many of you have seen this, because it is over 15 years old now, but if, like me, you have missed the boat, there is no time like the present. Current DVDs have interviews with the adults who were children at the time it was shot and the story of the workshops and the process they went through to be cast in the movie is fascinating. None of them went on to become Bollywood stars, although the interview with the lovely woman who played the main prostitute would lead you to believe she has continued on as an actress.

The clip of one boy who was adopted by the American camerawoman is very, very interesting. The children thought she was extremely old because she was blonde and the only light-colored hair they had ever seen before was grey. He is now a well-educated American, a college graduate who would like to somehow use his good fortune to help the children in India. (His family too, was cared for by the camerawoman.)

There are many interviews with people who are the directors of schools/ shelters for street children in three major Indian cities; they are named after and funded by the revenue from this film and the subsequent interest and charity it has generated over the years. This was the first film directed by Mira Nair ("Monsoon Wedding" and "Vanity Fair" [2004]) and it not only launched her highly respected career but others on the project also went on to professions in screen writing, etc.

This is a story of the street life in Bombay (now Mumbai), complete with street children, drug dealers, prostitutes and scam artists, all surviving at the most basic level. If it sounds like "Oliver Twist," it should, because that's exactly what it is! (minus the storybook ending due to coincidences that Dickens loved) The friendships, (misplaced) loyalties, desperation, street smarts, betrayals and broken hearts are the stuff of wonderful cinema!

This film won many awards the year it came out and the little boy who starred in it was also honored. The interview with him as an adult is particularly telling. The scene that earned him his awards is the final, transformative one, done in one long, single take in which a full array of emotions works its way slowly across his face. The final look fixed on his face will stay with you for a long while.

This one is definitely worth a NetFlix viewing.

(And I highly recommend her other two mentioned in this note, as well...)


The Fountain

Let's start with the good stuff:
  • Hugh Jackman ("X-Men") is a fine actor and he's gorgeous, although there are no "money shots" here...sorry.
  • The camera loves Rachel ("About a Boy") Weisz's face and she is a highly capable actor. (This movie was directed by her husband, Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream".)
  • Ellen Burstyn ("Spitfire Grill") is holding up well.
Now, here are some "spoilers."
  • Too many fluids - tears, spit, snot, puddles, ponds, blood, surgical cleansers, tree sap, have I missed anything?
  • Too arcane, muddled, incomprehensible, and "woo woo."
  • No clear narrative - just Hugh Jackman looking terribly concerned ...most the time.
  • If it wasn't a doleful string quartet playing chamber music, it was a New Age orchestra going nowhere.
  • Too much CGI - too many patterns of bright light ebbing and flowing.
  • Terrible sound - most dialogue is whispered, thus muttered, distorted, and indecipherable.
  • No captions - without which there is no way to understand the complicated story.
  • Hugh Jackman periodically shows up floating in a bubble, bald, serene, and in a full lotus position.
  • The sap from the Tree of Life causes flowers to pop from the ground.
  • When ingested, those same flowers erupt from one's torso, ala "Alien," then from the mouth, nose and eyes.
Between murderous Incas and self-flagellating priests, it's enough to put one off religion for life!
Any questions?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The ad before this preview is very short:


Slings and Arrows

"Slings & Arrows" is a Canadian TV series about theatre. To those of us who love theatre, whether as a performer or as an audience member, this one will be a satisfying (and hilarious!) treat.

The lead character (played by an absolutely yummy Canadian, Paul Gross) is the failed artistic director of a defunct shoestring theatre, closed by a landlord because his rent check bounced...again. His life is complicated by the fact that eight years earlier, during the third performance of his towering portrayal of Hamlet, he had jumped into Ophelia's grave and exited the theatre. He has spent seven of those intervening years in a mental institution. His Ophelia has soldiered on to a respectable career playing ever-older characters and becoming more and more diva'ish...

Gross saunters through this series in a Columbo-style raincoat, which is every bit as disreputable as Peter Falk's. His original theatre hires him back as a temporary artistic director when their current artistic director dies (you have to see it to believe it!). Our star, the deceased director and the (aging) actress had, before his breakdown, been an inseparable trio. His job is complicated by several things:
  • The theatre is looking for a permanent artistic director to replace him.
  • Our (formerly) inseparable trio still has "issues."
  • The ghost of the deceased director persists in appearing to our impoverished hero, telling him what to do, arguing with him about his interpretation of the current production of "Hamlet," and living with him in the prop room.
This show is peopled by folks you come very quickly to care about. The actress/diva has a penchant for (very) strapping young men, which creates a delightful subtext to the production events roiling around. Hamlet will be played by an American movie star with a huge following of teenagers. He was hired for his box office appeal, not his acting skills. I could go on and on.

The backstage interplay and rehearsals have an unmistakably authentic feel, most members of the cast (two of whom are also writers for the series) have a LOT of theatre experience. The portrayal of actors, with their egos, their insecurities, their impractical world-view, are all lovingly but accurately, depicted. (The tax audit is spot on!)

Season Two features "Macbeth" in all its gory glory...casting, rehearsing and performing.
Season Three focuses on "King Lear" with an aging "name" actor signed in a casting coup.

The only Canadian "face" you will recognize is Rachel McAdams in Season One, who is known to us from "The Notebook," "Mean Girls," "Wedding Crashers" and "Redeye." (All of which you wouldn't mind watching, by the way....) She is Ophelia's understudy who, naturally, is called upon to take to the boards when Ophelia breaks her leg...
I LOVE theatre!


The Devil Wears Prada

"The Devil Wears Prada" was fun. Anne Hathaway ("Brokeback Mountain," "The Princess Diaries") is actually the central character. The book on which it is based, was written by a woman who briefly worked for Anna Wintour, who was/is the head of Vogue magazine.

Wintour has always been known as a notoriously vain, evil, demanding, self-centered bitch, now recreated with delicious glee by Meryl Streep "A Prairie Home Companion" and "The Manchurian Candidate"), who obviously got a huge kick out of playing a fictitious, glammed-up version of her.

Hathaway plays the whipping boy/girl who applies for the chronically vacant assistant editor's job simply because she is a journalist and wants a chance to write for "Runway" (a fictitious version of Vogue). Her character has never read the magazine and she is obviously tone-deaf when it comes to haute couture.

We enjoy a competent supporting cast, comprised of Emily Blunt ("The Jane Austen Book Club"), who portrays a fellow sufferer/arch rival; and Stanley Tucci ("Swing Vote"), in the de rigueur role of the gay mentor who provides our heroine with fashion tips, wardrobe and a shoulder to cry on.

This movie makes a point of illustrating how petty and arbitrary Streep's character can be; AND, she never lets up or changes! According to what I see/hear/read, Wintour is exactly like that! Yikes!


Mrs Henderson Presents

This is an interesting snapshot of an actual series of events that took place during the WWII London blitz.

A wealthy widow, played by Judi Dench ("As Time Goes By" and the James Bond films) decides to go into the theatre business. Things start out with great success, but then inevitably slow down. She does some research, assisted by her hard-working and dedicated artistic director, played by Bob Hoskins ("Hollywoodland" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?") and they come to the decision that nudity would rejuvenate her mostly military audience numbers.

When she is told that nudity in legitimate theatre is illegal, she meets with the Minister of Culture, played by Christopher Guest ("Waiting for Guffman" and "Best of Show"), who adamantly refuses her personal plea for an exception in her case ("to lift the morale for our boys!"). During tea, she quizzes him on why nudity is allowed in art galleries but not in the theatre. They finally ascribe it to: "in art galleries, the nudes don't move."

She dashes back to the theatre where she and Hoskins develop a series of tableaux wherein the nudes stand immobile while a musical number sashays around at the front of the stage.

The scenes where she and Hoskins must convince the actresses that they CAN appear nude are very funny and their ploy (having everyone else nude, including Hoskins! while they rehearse), works just fine. 1940's clothing, hair styles, social mores, etc., are immaculately done, and the secondary plot of an actress falling in love with a soldier, is wrenchingly sweet.


A Prairie Home Companion

"A Prairie Home Companion" is pure Robert Altman, who just died within the past week (11-20-06). With his trademark overlapping dialogue, I always come away from his movies swearing to get the DVD so I can find out what they had been saying. This one is no different.

Kevin Kline ("Dave" and "Life as a House") seems to be reprising his role from Steve Martin's recent remake of the "Pink Panther." (He was the French police commissioner.) And Meryl Streep ("Stuck on You" and "The Devil Wears Prada") is annoying as always, but she CAN sing! ...and so can Lindsay Lohan ("The Parent Trap" and "Mean Girls").

Rounding out the cast are John C. Reilly ("Chicago" and "The Good Girl") and Woody Harrelson ("Ed TV" and "White Men Can't Jump"). Everybody sings with a "Country" vocal style, and Tommy Lee Jones ("The Fugitive" and "Coal Miner's Daughter") is properly menacing as the "suit" who is closing down the show.

One thing bothers a lot of us: The impression given at the end of the movie is that "Prairie Home Companion," the classic radio show, has been cancelled. Garrison Keillor should have known better! Don't be misled. It's still on the air, despite this movie.


The Queen

Although I already expected Helen Mirren ("Calendar Girls" and "Greenfingers") to be wonderful, I didn't realize what a huge role Tony Blair played during that week between Princess Di's death and the services for her at Westminster Abbey. Michael Sheen ("Music Within" and "Blood Diamond") portrayed Prime Minister Tony Blair; evidently he has played that role in some other film, as well. He is very good and extremely believable as Blair.

Interesting tidbits, I assume they are true:
  • The royal family was at Balmoral in Scotland and the Queen had no intention of going to London. She maintained that since Di was no longer "HRH" the planning and execution of the funeral was to be left strictly to Di's family.
  • The Queen fully believed that the British looked to her for a dignified and restrained response to Di's death. "This dignity is why the world looks up to the British." Ergo, no public statements or rituals.
  • Prince Philip took the boys "stalking" (deer hunting) and they were isolated with no radio, newspapers or telly.
  • Prince Charles correctly read the mood of the crowd and fully expected to be assassinated.
  • The Queen drives her own Land Rover in Scotland.
  • Tony Blair had barely become Prime Minister when the princess was killed. His urging of the Queen to make a statement was not welcome.
  • The flag over Buckingham, like flags over most royal palaces, is there to signify whether or not the royal is in residence. The British expected a Union Jack to be flown at half-mast and when it wasn't, it generated unbelievable resentment.
  • In the interests of time, they used the basic plan that had been worked out in anticipation of the Queen Mother's funeral (much to HER indignation) substituting movie stars, dress designers and rock stars for heads of state. Had to do in a pinch!
  • When Elizabeth yielded and made a televised statement, it was construed as a major victory to the anti-monarchists (Blair's wife being among them).
  • Blair and the Queen have developed a warm friendship with mutual respect.
The movie is cleverly done, interspersing old TV clips with current (but grainy looking) bits that also look like TV clips but which feature the actors. Television plays a HUGE part for all concerned. Everyone is riveted by the events, the PM's staff, the Queen's staff, the PM, the Queen, Prince Philip (although he is enraged by it and turns it off whenever he can). The amount of personal detail in this depiction is notable. I have to assume it has been authenticated. Can a Queen sue for defamation?

The Station Agent

"The Station Agent" is a quiet, insightful study in loneliness, friendship and tolerance. Peter Dinklage ("Elf" and "Find Me Guilty") plays the title role, a handsome dwarf who has made his lifetime hobby of trains into a quasi-obsession when he retires to live near the railroad tracks. He is a solitary soul, content to wallow in his solitude.

Enter a gregarious young man played by Bobby Cannavale ("Shall We Dance" -2004 and "The Night Listener"), who runs a mobile hot dog stand in the back of a van; he has decided to be friends with our hero and he simply can't take no for an answer.

Patricia Clarkson ("Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Miracle") is a divorced artist deeply troubled by the death of her young son. Michelle Williams ("Brokeback Mountain" and "A Thousand Acres") is a local small-town librarian who takes a shine to our leading man.

This is a sweet, poignant examination of solitary people who manage to find each other...and that is enough.


Vera Drake

On November 14th, I spent the day at a friend's house on the Issaquah Plateau. Along with general catching up, we watched "Vera Drake" starring Imelda Staunton. It's hard for younger people to imagine a world where abortion was illegal and illegitimacy was an unbearable scandal. The movie takes place in 1950 and my friend hadn't been born yet.

My, my, how things have changed...

Suffice it to say, Staunton ("Shakespeare in Love" and "Much Ado About Nothing") does a terrific job as a religious, hardworking, upbeat, financially strapped British maid and housekeeper.

Oh yeah, she's also the friendly neighborhood abortionist.

She never takes a penny from her "poor girls," doing her careful work with nothing but pity and charity in her heart; but the acquaintance that does the referrals is doing a land-office business!

The casting of Imelda and her simple family is so authentic it's spooky. Those folks look REAL! The awkward courtship of their painfully shy daughter is a thing to behold! And their house is so authentic you practically get chilblains just watching!

Staunton was nominated for an Academy Award for this role...in which she is totally unglamorous and genuinely believable.

It's very well done, but I had avoided it for just exactly the reasons I observed today. It's not exactly an "upper," now, is it!



First, a little background. My Swedish friend and I went to the Guild 45 on Super bowl Sunday. Our plan was to see the movie, then eat at Bizzarro's just off Stone Way. We saw the movie, then engaged in a spirited discussion of what we had just seen, all the way from the theatre to the restaurant, only to discover the restaurant was not open, to quote the note on the door, "...because of the Greatest Game in the World." We ended up at University Village, because the next two restaurants were closed for the same reason!

"Cache" stars Daniel Auteuil ("The Closet") and Juliette Binoche ("The English Patient"). It is a cryptic, spooky head-scratcher, extremely well done. The two stars play a successful TV talk-show host and his equally successful wife. They live a life of upscale ease.

A video tape is dropped off at their front door and it turns out to be nothing but a surveillance view of their house. The single camera, unmoving, films only occasional cars or people moving past. This is weird, and a little disconcerting.

From that beginning, you watch these baffled people try to discover who is watching them, and why. It is spellbinding and compelling.

Here is part of what I saw in a magazine a few days later.

* * * * * * * *

It was a review of "Cache." The last few sentences read, "Haneke's camera, so quietly predatory, is the herald of disaster. And we the viewers are its beneficiaries, watching and waiting for something awful to happen. Here it does, first subtly, then spectacularly. The twist is not revealed until the last shot--if you keep your avid eyes open."
* * * * * * * *
By renting this DVD, you will have the luxury of replaying parts that baffle you. I had to go back and BUY a movie ticket! Aarghhh!



This is the version of Truman Capote's development of "In Cold Blood" that I will OWN! Philip Seymour Hoffman was brilliant in his depiction of "Capote" and deserved his Academy Award, but you were always aware while watching it that you were seeing a great actor at the top of his game.

In "Infamous," Toby Jones IS Capote; he was born to play this role. He is of the same small stature, has the same body type, the same uniquely shaped head, similar facial features and, as he is also a voice actor (Gollum in the Harry Potter films), he has mastered the characteristic Capote voice and lisp. He has laboured (...smile...) long and hard in the vineyards of British theatre. You are never aware of him as an actor; he is absolutely the central focus of an involving movie featuring OTHER actors that you can be free to enjoy:
  • Sigourney Weaver ("Alien" and "Working Girl") is Babe Paley, one of Capote's gossipy Manhattan "Swans"
  • Juliet Stevenson ("Truly, Madly, Deeply" and "Bend it Like Beckham"), is Diana Vreeland, rapier wit intact
  • Peter Bogdanovich is Bennett Cerf, editor of "The New Yorker"
  • Jeff Daniels ("Blood Work" and "The Squid and the Whale"), is the Kansas sheriff beguiled by Capote's tales of Brando and Bogart
  • Sandra Bullock ("28 Days" and "Miss Congeniality"), is Nelle Harper Lee ("To Kill a Mockingbird") just before she wins the Pulitzer.
Daniel Craig ("L4YER CAKE" and "Munich") is beyond amazing in his role as Perry Smith, one of the murderers. A child of former rodeo riders who went to seed - alcoholism, abuse, poverty -- Smith wants to elevate himself, through his artistry (he paints and writes music) and his vocabulary (he reads a dictionary for self-improvement). With his hair and eyebrows dyed a very dark brown, Craig resembles a younger Tommy Lee Jones. His British accent is completely gone and he speaks a slight "Country." He is angry, bewildered, scared and ultimately taken in by Capote, who regales him tales of his exploits with movie stars, travels and other books, which he loans to Smith.

Sandra Bullock deserves special mention for her willingness to totally occupy the unglamorous persona of Harper Lee, this includes unflattering clothing, flat shoes (and anklets!), chain smoking, awkward physical stances and a shared childhood, warts and all, with Capote. Their discussions of reality-based novels are interesting and insightful -- this is a GREAT script! Harper Lee is a non-threatening presence in Kansas, unlike Capote's flamboyant firefly. As a result, the people there talk to her, while Capote quietly stands nearby and uses his photographic memory to capture the conversations. When they repair to their hotel, between them they can reproduce the entire interview, which they then commit to paper.

This script has humor, gossip and lots of well-known faces (Hope Davis, Gwyneth Paltrow and Isabella Rossellini, among others). When the movie was over, three of us (strangers, all) stopped outside the theatre and discussed the film. We were so enthused we couldn't contain ourselves. One of the men hadn't seen "Capote" but the other guy actually lived in that Kansas town! He was a youngster at the time, so the whole drama passed him by, and he was in the Peace Corps when "In Cold Blood" came out. Now he has seen all three movies and said "Infamous" absolutely nailed it...the town, the people and the mentality. The others only tried...

Juliet Stevenson, Toby Jones and Daniel Craig are, all three, British. There is never a hint of accent! I am, once again, reminded of how well-trained British actors can be! Craig has played cold-blooded criminals and killers, but they were always well-educated and slick. This time, his Perry Smith is heartbreaking. He will make an outstanding James Bond!

Can you tell I liked it?


Sergeant York

In watching "Sergeant York" I was reminded that the ugly reaction of the isolationists in the early 1940s forced the studio to pull it after only a week or two in theatres because it was "jingoistic and war-mongering." After Pearl Harbor, it was released again when patriotism and the rationale for taking up arms had become acceptable. Make no mistake, it is an excellent film, nominated for 11 Academy Awards!

If you rent it, please, please watch the extras. Gary Cooper and Alvin York were BOTH isolationists, York, before WWI, and Cooper, when approached to play him in a movie, before WWII. The studio courted York long and hard, writing and rewriting the script, over and over to suit York's religious and political views. Of course, after struggling with the contradiction between those views, York had gone on to become the most acclaimed soldier in WWI, capturing 132 German soldiers!

Cooper was hesitant to play a living person and was isolationistic to the bone. He visited York, that in itself not an easy task, as York lived far off the beaten path. York and Cooper developed a friendship which endured.

York never changed his religious views, refused to capitalize on his fame, remained in his modest home all of his life and loved the hometown girl he married all those years before. His is a story worth telling and you will appreciate it.

The Departed

Martin Scorsese loves violent movies and he makes them a LOT! This time he has Matt Damon -- doing a terrific job as a Mob "mole" placed in the Boston PD; and Leonardo DiCaprio -- doing an even better job in a sympathetic role as a Boston PD "mole" placed in the Mob; and Jack Nicholson -- who has become an ugly, ugly parody of himself as a brutal and nutso Irish "capo"; and Martin Sheen -- being a corrupt police official; and Mark Walberg -- who will never be Marky Mark again. He's all grown up and doing fine work. In fact, his character is actually semi-sympathetic and the only one who doesn't get "popped."

Suffice it to say, Boston looks gritty and dangerous, the police force is shown to be corrupt to the core, and everyone dies. This is the remake of the Japanese film whose name escapes me right now. I'm sure you haven't seen IT, either!

Nuff said? Yuck! But beautifully shot and acted.

Whew! I just saved you the price of a ticket. My companion was shocked that everyone died but it said so in the newspaper! She just hadn't read the article.



"Millions" is an Irish movie about a little boy whose mother is dead. He lives in a quasi-dream state, and has the occasional chat with various dead Catholic saints.

England is going to be converting its money within the next couple of weeks and as people turn in their old pound notes, the government is transporting them by train to be burned. There is a clever robbery at the train station which diverts police attention from the train itself.

One of the robbers stays on the train where he starts systematically tossing off duffle bags of the money along the tracks. The little boy finds one and thinks God has given him a miracle.

The story becomes funny, exciting, sweet, etc., etc. The little boy is darling and his older brother has the right combination of vinegar and smarts to offset the sweetness. For those folks who don't buy into the miracle explanation, the moral dilemma is: the money doesn't belong to anyone now, it is going to be burned anyway, so why not keep it?

One of the robbers figures out the boys have one of the bags of the money and is hot on their trail. The little boy wants to give the money to various charities while the older one wants to buy real estate or put it into a savings account but he is under age. The father is clueless about what they have done until it's almost too late. I enjoyed it.



This movie is dark. It starts with the police line at George Reeves' house following the call which reported his suicide. The movie follows two different paths. One is a private eye, played by Adrian Brody ("King Kong"), who is separated from his wife and can't cheer up his little son who is depressed over "Superman's" death.

The other is a series of flashbacks that trace Reeves' career from his role in "Gone With The Wind," through a period of unemployment, then, to his dismay, his casting in the role of Superman. Reeves is capably played by Ben Affleck ("Pearl Harbor" and "Jersey Girl").

He has a fairly long fling with the wife of one of Hollywood's prominent producers (Bob Hoskins, who bears absolutely NO resemblance to the guy in "Mrs. Henderson!"). She buys him a house, jewelry, wristwatches, clothes, a car, etc., etc., etc. When he goes to New York after the TV show is cancelled, he is trying to get a job as a director. While there, he meets an ambitious starlet who immediately seduces him and convinces him he "has never felt this way before."

The movie depicts three options. We get to watch all three.
  • An accidental shooting by the starlet girlfriend,
  • a murder contracted for by the producer, and
  • a suicide.
All in all, everyone does a good job, particularly Affleck and Hoskins, but it really is a downer.



Most of you have already seen this, but if you haven't, here is my "take" on it. (This is a Walt Disney/Pixar co-production, with the spectacular CGI that Pixar ["Shrek I & II"] has developed and which has set the standard for today's animated films!)

Watch for:
  • "Serpentine! Serpentine!" (Pixar's homage to the 1979 original "The In-Laws," one of the funniest road movies ever made.)
  • The Hummer with the Schwarzenegger accent which represents California's Governator.
  • "Incoming!" from the military jeep when a runaway vehicle approaches.
  • That same military jeep's rage at the Jimi Hendrix version of the "Star Spangled Banner" each morning.
  • Organic everything from the hippie VW bus.
  • The amazing studies in perspective during the speedway smash- ups.
  • The nighttime lighting both on the interstate and off...
  • Paul Newman is an experienced race car driver, how appropriate to voice a 1951 Hudson Hornet, "Doc Hudson"!
  • The loving tribute to Route 66. (If you watch the DVD extras, you will see this is no coincidence!)
  • The outrageous fins on the automobiles from the early to mid-50s.
  • The little blue VW Beetles flying around.
  • Doc Hudson's blue eyes...smile...
  • The authentic desert landscape, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada... You know... Route 66...
  • This is a good history lesson about the impact of the Interstate Highway System, which was built during the Eisenhower Administration, on small American towns bypassed into dusty oblivion.
  • My guess would be that "Lightning McQueen" is named that because Steve McQueen was also a race car driver...
I hope you enjoy this as much as the rest of us did. It was given a Grade "A" by other reviewers!


Little Miss Sunshine

By now, you've heard about "Little Miss Sunshine," but let me get in my two cents worth. To start with, I really like Greg Kinnear ("Nurse Betty" and "As Good As it Gets") and I usually like Alan Arkin ("The In-Laws" and "America's Sweethearts"), although I'm not fond of the drug-addicted former hippie character he plays in this one.

Kinnear is a so-so motivational speaker who is hoping for a breakthrough contract. Toni Collette ("The Sixth Sense" and "In Her Shoes") is his long-suffering wife. Her teenaged son from a previous marriage (played by an underrated Paul Dano) has embarked on a self-imposed silence as an exercise in self control in hopes he can get into the Air Force Aca- demy (don't ask!).

Steve Carell ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Bruce Almighty") is her gay brother who has just attempted suicide by slashing his wrists because his student/lover has left him for another man. There is a also a precocious little girl who wants to enter a child's beauty contest in California. Her grandpa (Alda) is coaching her (PLEASE don't ask!).

They end up in a faltering VW bus, struggling to get to California by the registration deadline. Suffice it to say, the journey is the important thing here... that, and acceptance. This thing grows on you and you can't help but cheer these folks on, because they really deserve to prevail!


Superman Returns

Despite an awesome CGI budget and special effects, "Superman" works best when it focuses on the characters and relationships within the (flimsy) story. Brandon Routh ("Denial" and lots of TV work) does a passable job playing Christopher Reeve playing Superman.

In reality, the guy who comes out best is James Marsden ("The Note- book") who plays Lois Lane's sturdy, kind, thoughtful, dependable, and resourceful new "squeeze." (All those adjectives should tip you off.) The only bad guy is, of course, Lex Luther, this time played by Kevin Spacy ("Pay it Forward"), while Parker Posey ("Best of Show" and "Waiting for Guffman") is Luther's latest sidekick.

I liked it when Lois and her boyfriend have to save Superman. Of course Luther has kryptonite again (I'm not sure how to spell it). There are some humorous spots...far too few, in my opinion, ...mostly character driven, which rely on the audience being familiar with the whole saga.

This movie won't win any awards...


2 Brothers and a Bride

"2 Brothers & A Bride" (aka: A Foreign Affair) stars two Americans, David Arquette ("3000 Miles to Graceland") and Tim Blake Nelson ("Minority Report"); a British actress, Emily Mortimer ("Dear Frankie"); and a whole armload of lovely Russian actresses.

These two guys live on a farm in the mid-West with their mother, played by the ubiquitous Lois Smith ("The Pledge"). She dies, so their house gets filthy, the dishes aren't washed, they are eating canned goods and they need a woman to take care of the mess.

After losing one cleaning lady after another, things are pretty desperate. At the local library, Tim Blake Nelson spots an ad for Russian women. The upshot is, they go to Russia on a sponsored tour with a bunch of horny middle-aged men who are all shopping for new women. Mortimer plays a British TV journalist who wants to video tape the whole sordid process.

Arquette is a loose cannon and Nelson tries frantically to keep things under control. Mortimer just wants to film everything.

I loved the shots of St. Petersburg, the translations, the use of "spaciba" ("Thank you") in the proper context, etc., etc...

This is a film by Jan Bijker, Geert Heetebrij, and Helmut Schleppi. I don't think it was made in Hollywood, do you?


Snakes on a Plane

(From 07-05-06)
By the way, you may not be in the loop about the upcoming "Snakes on a Plane" phenomenon. Samuel Jackson stars. The aforementioned title was simply a working title for a to-be-announced movie. The internet started buzzing about the movie and the name became so well known the producers realized that most of the promotion work had already been done for them, so they made it the actual title.

The trailer starts: "This summer, you have seen big stars... pirates... superheroes... cartoons... super spies... fairy tales... but there is one thing you haven't seen... SNAKES ON A PLANE!" The audience was starting to giggle when the trailer started and was so well primed that when the title finally came on the screen, they burst into applause. It was a male "voice" I heard and I'm sure there will be no young man under 25 who will miss it! Thank God I don't fit the demographic!

(From 12-05-06)
Now with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this movie had a flameout within the first week. Seems like the demographic had already seen all they wanted to on the internet downloads. Ah well...


The Breakup

"The Breakup" is little Chicago-based romantic comedy which came out about the time the two leads were officially declared a two-some by the show-biz gossip rags. Neither Jennifer Aniston ("The Good Girl") nor Vince Vaughn ("Wedding Crashers") are known for their dramatic chops, but they don't embarrass themselves, either.

They are an engaged couple who jointly purchase a condominium, have a falling out (because he is an overgrown adolescent and she is a control freak), and come to grief over how to dispose of their jointly owned property. Neither of them is willing to move out, so this is sort of an odd couple, sharing space, with some major, unresolved issues.

He continues to swill beer, eat junk food, play video games, conduct tours for a local family-owned sightseeing enterprise, go bowling, and hang out with the boys. She eats healthy, works, cleans, and grieves. Of course, this is a romantic comedy, so we are pretty sure we know how it will end, but Vaughn's character does a commendable job of self-exam- ination, after one of his buddies finally tells him he is a selfish jerk.

I read a review that complained that he looked pudgy. Well, he did. If the reviewer had watched the film he/she would have noticed that that was part of the plot. After he is kicked off the bowling team and has to take a clear-eyed look at himself, he does a nice job of cleaning up his act, as does Aniston's character as she learns to adjust her expectations. The ending IS unexpected, but in my humble opinion, it doesn't hurt the movie a bit.

Worth a Netflix; NOT worth a ticket!

The Lake House

Here is one on my "Must-buy List." "The Lake House" is sappy enough to earn its poor reviews but in my opinion, has a nice sexual tension and story arc, so I liked it anyway. Plus, I really like Sandra Bullock ("Miss Congeniality" and "Infamous"), and I found Keanu Reeves ("Some- thing's Gotta Give" and "Parenthood") to be far more appealing than I've ever seen before. It features an ugly dog though....

The gist of this story is about a lonely doctor (Bullock) who moves into a unique house on a lake just outside the city where she works. Through the battered mailbox standing out front, she begins exchanging letters with its former resident (Reeves) who is a frustrated architect. Eventually they both figure out that they are separated by two years time but fall in love anyway.

Pay attention, because this little fantasy does make sense, but you can get off track if you aren't on top of it every moment. At least with the DVD you can go back and doublecheck the climactic hit-and-run accident, see how that ugly dog fits into both of their lives and understand why everyone should live happily ever after.


Thank You for Smoking

I liked "Thank You for Smoking" a LOT! Based on Christopher Buckley's best-selling novel, it delights from beginning to end.

Aaron Eckhart ("Erin Brockovich") is an unapologetic lobbiest for the cigarette industry. He belongs to a little clique of people who call themselves "The MOD Squad" (Merchants of Death). They hold regular meetings (in a bar) to discuss upcoming legislation and ways to circumvent it. The MOD Squad consists of the lobbiests for Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms.

Our hero is entrapped by a reporter, played Katie Holmes ("Pieces of April"), who appeals to his (little) head. She nails his ass, but then he rebounds in a big way.

Most of the fun is watching how an experienced "spinmeister" can weasel his way out of practically any tight spot. (Watch him tangle with the lobbyist for the cheese industry!) Problem is, his son is developing the same skills, and THAT might be cause for concern...

This movie is very satisfying and very funny.


Mostly Martha

This delightful 2001 German comedy, "Bella Martha," starts with a tragedy.

The eponymous Martha, played by the wonderful Martina Gedeck ("The Lives of Others" and "The Good Shepard") is a headstrong master chef at a high-end German restaurant. Her obsessive nature prompted her boss to send her to a therapist, but even there, she just talked about food.

All this changes when her sister, enroute for a visit, is killed in an auto- mobile crash. This leaves a nine-year-old niece with no one but Martha to care for her. Problem is, this little girl is every bit as stubborn as her aunt. She just wants her mother and she wants to go home, neither of which is possible, so she goes on a hunger strike. What better way to hurt a chef!

Martha, on the other hand, hasn't a maternal bone in her body. She forgets essentials, e.g., pick up the girl after school. With daycare inappropriate for a nine year old, she takes her along to the restaurant and gets in trouble with the authorities. Finally, her boss forces her to take a short leave of absence so she can adjust to her new situation.

While she is gone, a new Italian chef is hired. When our prima donna returns to work she goes ballistic!

This movie was re-made for American consumption (...smile...) as "No Reservations" with Catherine Zeta-Jones. As usual, I imprinted on the original; I'm sure the DVD is available.



You will either love this one or hate it. I daren't guess which it will be...

"Sideways" was a little independent film that made modest waves the year it came out. Paul Giamatti ("The Illusionist" and "American Splendor") plays a recently divorced schlub who has a hobby of wine tasting. An old acquaintance from college has sent him a wedding invitation, and because Giamatti's character doesn't have many friends, he decides to take this guy (Thomas Haden Church, who was nominated for an Academy Award for this role) on a wine-tasting tour of the California wine country as a wedding gift. This is more an excuse for companionship than an act of generosity.

The friend is blustery, claims to be blissfully happy with his impending marriage and is delighted to take off on the tour. The minute they get out of town, he starts being an absolute jerk. He is immediately unfaithful to his fiancée, gets into one scrape after another and generally turns this "gift" into an unmitigated disaster. HE is on a wine-drinking tour, not a wine-tasting one.

Sandra Oh plays one of the women with whom he hooks up. When she discovers that the men have to be back "home" in time for his wedding, she pops a cork! That scene is immensely satisfying to every woman in the audience, so stay with it, even when you are becoming very impatient with the characters. Talk about getting your just deserts!

I hated this movie until this scene and then I loved it!

The Count of Monte Cristo

I re-watched "The Count of Monte Cristo" the other night. I LOVE this version! The locations are breathtaking (Malta) and I like Jim Caviezel (from Mt. Vernon, WA). It was one of Richard Harris' last movies (other than his Harry Potter films), but he is so bearded, dirty and hairy, one would hardly recognize him...and that's a GOOD thing!

If you are a devoted fan of Alexandre Dumas, you will spot the change from the book, but it is so logical, you will be happy they did it. As the scriptwriter said, "If you want it exactly like the book, read the book! It's a good book!"

That Australian actor Guy Pearce ("Memento," "LA Confidential") makes an absolutely despicable bad guy and Luis Guzman ("Traffic") is the perfect sidekick for our Count. Great story, beautifully rendered! Maltin calls it "surprisingly good" and gives it three stars. If you didn't manage to catch this 2002 version in the theaters, please get it from Netflix.