Last night I had a free pass to see "Next" with Nicholas Cage... Other- wise I would NEVER spend either my money or my time on that bozo.

Have you heard anything about this new film? In it, Cage plays a guy who can see two minutes ahead in his life, so he can support himself by gambling, which he keeps to a modest amount so he isn't thrown out of the casinos. The cameras spot him anticipating cards and they even spot him spotting them as he becomes aware of their surveillance. He has been hiding from the government most of his adult life. As a cover, he is a two-bit magician, playing to mostly empty houses in Las Vegas, trying to avoid governmental agencies who have been studying him since childhood, making him feel like a lab rat. He's afraid he might be used for espionage with which he might disagree.

This plot, which has more holes in it than a sieve, stumbles around and involves the FBI. They are trying to locate and disarm a nuclear device (naturally) but the agent in charge (Julienne Moore) is convinced that our hero, the magician, can help them find it. He knows he can't help because he can only see ahead for two minutes in HIS own life! Naturally, he tries to elude them.

He has had a vision of meeting a woman at 8:10 (I think it is) in a restaurant but doesn't know if it is AM or PM and this seems to exceed the two-minute rule (did I mention a sieve?), as he goes to that same restaurant repeatedly. Jessica Beil is appropriately appealing when she does finally make her entrance, and watching him mentally test various approaches (and rebuffs) before he successfully goes up to her and makes her acquaintance, had the audience ...and me... giggling.

This flimsy vehicle for Nicholas Cage (I wish he would have his adenoids removed so he could breath with his mouth SHUT!) has some other mildly amusing scenes. For instance, I liked how he would just point where he wanted the FBI gal to shoot and she did so instantly. And of course she killed an enemy gunman ...every... single... time! Plus they did a clever ruse with a landslide into the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, triggered by a collapsing water tower on the Havasu Indian Reservation near Flagstaff. (I thought they were Hualapais up there, but what do I know...maybe I misunderstood.)

Lots of blowie uppie stuff, but little else....


The TV Set

David Duchovny ("Return to Me," and "Evolution") is a television screenwriter who has long dreamed of a series that is semi-autobio- graphical with the core of the story being the true-life suicide of his brother. He has written a pilot episode which is being cast for shooting so the network bigwigs can give it a thumbs up or down. You will NOT recognize him as a former "X-Files" heartthrob! And his distress as he tries to balance his artistic integrity against his very real needs to pay the mortgage and support his growing family, is palpable.

Sigourney Weaver ("Heartbreakers" and "Gorillas in the Mist") is a programming chief who is riding high on the success of her current hit, a new reality show featuring "Sluts." She has some reservations about this proposed pilot however, because suicide is "depressing" and she thinks the brother should be in jail, not dead. Other than that, she LOVES it!

Ioan Gruffudd ("Amazing Grace" and "The Forsyte Saga") is Weaver's second in command, recently moved here from England with his home- sick wife, struggling through his first season in this position. He is deter- mined to succeed but is reluctant to "sell out" to the crass commercialism of mainstream American television. He was hired for his impeccable taste with the BBC and is thrust into one unhappy dilemma after another. In my opinion, Gruffudd hasn't been this appealing since The Forsyte Saga.

Judy Greer ("American Dreamz" and "13 Going on 30") is a familiar face doing a familiar thing. This time she plays an upbeat go-between who insists on spinning every single report in such a way that it doesn't sound negative or discouraging. This character works in a world of actors, directors and script writers but has never seen Martin Scorsese's classic, "Taxi Driver!"

The casting scenes at the very beginning are worth the price of admission, so everything beyond that is an extra. Weaver has made an amazing career out of playing ambitious, scheming (but successful), professional women. This time out, she has done it again. The tyro actor who is cast for the series lead, over Duchovny's objections, capitulates to the siren song of fame in record time, the big break, the bigger car, the biggest ego... and it's fun to watch.

The script is witty AND wise. The actors are very good. I enjoyed it.


Hot Fuzz

Did any of you see "Shaun of the Dead?" If so, you won't be a bit surprised with this latest effort by the same creative team.

This is a not-at-all-subtle comic homage to shoot-em-ups like "Point Break" and other over-the-top police dramas of that ilk. In fact two of the characters watch a couple of those videos just to make sure you don't miss some key moments.

Our main character is a London policeman who is absolutely gung-ho. He makes the most arrests, has the most convictions, has the fastest running track score, is the best pistol marksman, is separated from his wife....you get the picture. He is an irreproachable and dedicated cop, but his personal life is in the toilet.

He is promoted and transferred to a tiny village far, far away from London because he has been making the rest of the police force look bad by comparison. His predecessor in this picturesque village far, far away, had suffered a nervous breakdown and had to take an early retirement. This tiny village has won annual awards for its reputation as the cleanest, prettiest and most crime-free village in all of England. The village fathers and mothers take great pride in their accomplishments.

You will enjoy seeing the former, former James Bond, Timothy Dalton ("Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights") as one of the prominent businessmen in the village, while Jim Broadbent ("Bridget Jones' Diary," "Iris," and "Moulin Rouge!") is the police chief.

Our dauntless hero is immediately confronted by a grisly car crash which he instantly construes as murder. His fellow police officers, the detectives and the police chief all agree that it was a tragic accident and close the case.

Now we get to watch him uncover crime after crime, only to have each crime solved and closed because it was NOT a crime, it was just an accident and the tiny village keeps its pristine reputation intact. He becomes more and more overwrought and finally, in total frustration, arms himself to the teeth; he WILL clean up this cesspool or know the reason why! He even chews on a matchstick (or toothpick) to show us how manly and determined he is!

The awesome firepower and the stylized gun battle is hilarious. Every gunshot is so thunderous that it shakes the theater. The camera shots deliberately echo those of classic gun fights from well-known movies. Every cut is a slash cut that is almost a slam. You are pummeled by sounds, scenes and shots...none of which ever touch our hero, and only wound...never kill, mind you... WOUND and incapacitate his opponents. By the time his erstwhile partner frantically pumps three slugs into the air, the audience is anticipating it and shouts with glee...(you had to be there).

Okay. Lots of noise. Lots of gore. Lots of guns. Lots of laughs. Lots of fun. Make up your own mind.


Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

"Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress" is a wonderful film which follows the lives of two young educated Chinese men, sent to the hinter- lands during the Cultural Revolution. Their only diversion from the grinding labor, inescapable poverty and wrenching hunger with which they find themselves, is some smuggled -- and forbidden -- French literature.

Our eponymous seamstress is the lovely young granddaughter of the traveling tailor who occasionally brings his durable old treadle sewing machine through that part of the mountains. She is his able -- but not necessarily willing -- assistant.

This is a perfect way to witness the impact of the Cultural Revolution on China's educated populace, to see the village Communist hierarchy in action and above all, to stare in open-mouthed awe at the amazing landscape! Remember how all the classical Chinese art depicts impossibly steep mountains with waterfalls, conifer trees and deep valleys? Here it is! In living color! That really IS what the landscape looks like in that isolated part of China.

The story itself is charming, as it shows the impact of literature on ordinary folks. It includes a wry twist you never see coming, and allows you to enjoy the entire thing without feeling cold or hungry! The movie is almost as good as the best-selling book, but it is far better in it's depiction of authentic life in China at that time.

I saw in the newspaper that the DVD is now available, so it should show up in your rental catalogs very soon.


My Cousin Vinny

I know, I know. This thing is DECADES old! But it might have slipped past you like it did me when it first came out. My son and daughter-in-law told me about it at least 10 years ago and what a revelation! I KNOW it is still available...

This little 1992 gem stars Joe Pesci ("Lethal Weapon" and "Goodfellas") and Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei ("What Women Want" and "In The Bedroom") as two fish-out-of-water New Yorkers who go to Alabama because Pesci's nephew Ralph Macchio ("The Karate Kid" and "The Outsiders") has been charged with the murder of a convenience store clerk. (He thought he was being arrested because he inadvertently shoplifted a can of tuna.)

The subsequent trial is presided over by a lugubrious Fred Gwynne ("The Munsters" and "Pet Sematary") in his final role before his death in 1993. The major problem is that Pesci's character had to take the bar exam six times before he finally passed and has NEVER had a case go to trial before. He has been specializing in personal injury cases and settles out of court. You will LOVE how he deals with one of the town toughs who lost a pool game to Tomei but then refused to pay her.

Tomei's and Pesci's characters are beautifully matched. You will delight in their argument about the dripping faucet in the hotel room. Both of them LIVE to argue and thrive on their debates!

You can see by the movies I am referencing that many of the leads are no longer "hot" but what a treat to watch them in action. You will laugh out loud at Pesci's clothes and Gwynne's reaction to his accent, "Did you say 'youts'?" Tomei's outfits alone are worth the price of admission! In this Academy Award-winning role, she is outrageous, gorgeous and her character is smart as a whip! (Pesci's is no slouch, either!)

This is a well-crafted script and deserves a second look. You won't regret it... Particularly if you are in need of a good laugh!


Sometimes when you accept a free pass, you see something you would otherwise skip. Such was the case tonight when I saw "Fracture." This Hollywood-based procedural starts with Anthony Hopkins ("Hannibal" and "Hearts in Atlantis") shooting his adulterous wife before our very eyes. We have already been treated to snippets of her and her lover, so we fully understand his motivation as he prepares for and then commits the crime. When the police come he readily admits his guilt which he later repeats while being booked at the police station.

One little problem, the man with whom she was having the affair, is the police detective who is dispatched when the 911 call is received. He is shocked, horrified and immediately starts CPR. When the EMTs arrive, they find a pulse, so she is taken to intensive care where she remains in a coma.

Ryan Gosling ("Half Nelson" and "The Notebook") is a cocky public prosecutor who is leaving his county job and moving to a high profile law firm where his girlfriend and colleague, Rosamund Pike ("Pride and Prejudice" - 2005 and "Love in a Cold Climate") has paved the way. His current boss, David Strathairn ("Good Night & Good Luck" and "River Wild") understands the conviction is a lock and expects Gosling to leave public service with yet another highly laudable conviction to his credit.

No one can anticipate, however, how cleverly Hopkins' character has contrived his crime. You watch as, step by step, Gosling is outwitted at every turn. Hopkins serves as his own defense counsel and despite the judge's many admonitions he doesn't seem to be even trying. The judge is played by Fiona Shaw ("Persuasion" and "Harry Potter") and she is indeed perplexed at the defendant's amateurish ploys. When Hopkins is acquitted of attempted murder, you have watched as Gosling devolved from a cocky up-and-comer to a sleep-deprived humble fellow, desperately trying to save the life of the comatose woman, his values completely turned upside down (Hopkins can now legally authorize pulling the plug).

There is something about watching brilliant people take on brilliant people, seeing a battle of wits between two well-matched opponents, that is so satisfying. There are characters to root for, a well-devised script, lots of gorgeous shots of L.A. and Malibu, plus many beautiful offices in beautiful buildings. What more could you want? (For me, closed captions would have been a big plus!)

Hardly any blowie-uppie stuff, although Hopkins does shoot a gun, doesn't he!

I liked it.


Blades of Glory

Silly? Yup!

I was hoping to see some spectacular ice skating but so much of this is Computer Generated Imaging that it let me down. Suffice it to say, you will once again be treated to the sight of Will Ferrell's less-than-Adonis-like figure, this time not totally naked, and lots of crotch jokes.



Reign Over Me

My latest little-known fact: "OC" doesn't just stand for Orange County, it also can mean Open Captioned. What a treat and what a huge relief! Now that the Baby Boomers are aging and 65% of the Y Generation has over 40% hearing loss due to their loud music, theatres are getting wise. No more gizmos with flexible arms, reflective plastic and rearview projection, this is open captions like we have come to love on our television sets at home! Watch for it along with the titles and the times in your local movie listings. Whew!

Which brings me to "Reign Over Me." Adam Sandler ("50 First Dates" and "The Wedding Singer") has been known for two major things:
  1. He is a primarily a comedian.
  2. He never enunciates.

In this movie, he is a surprisingly touching tragic figure, a dentist who lost his wife and three daughters in one of the 9/11 flights. As a result, he has sunk into a deep post traumatic shock. He rides a silent electric scooter around New York City and collects old vinyl records reminiscent of his carefree college days, remodels his kitchen endlessly and avoids engaging in life. He still mumbles, but to my relief, Closed Captioning made it possible for me to catch every single word. In addition, he bears a remarkable resemblance to a rumpled Bob Dylan.

Don Cheadle ("Hotel Rwanda" and the "Ocean's" franchise) was Sandler's roommate in college and practices his dentistry in New York City. He recognizes his old college roommate but there is no response or acknowledgement from Sandler. Cheadle is married to Jada Pinkett Smith ("Collateral" and "Set It Off") who quickly becomes alarmed at her husband's new focus on his old college buddy with his obvious mental problems. She too, speaks very softly but I didn't miss a word because of the captions! Yippee!

By the time Donald Sutherland makes his entrance as a judge, I had forgotten he was even listed as a player! His tidy and articulate appearance was a delight, because it totally obliterated my painful memory of his rheumy-eyed Mr. Bennett in the most recent remake of "Pride and Prejudice." Saffron Burroughs ("Circle of Friends" and "Troy") has a small but pivotal role, while Liv Tyler ("Lord of the Rings" and "Stealing Beauty") is a psychiatrist who tries in vain to break through Sandler's mental wall.

This movie was better than I expected and I will warn you that there was a moment late in the movie where I became afraid I was going to witness a tragic "suicide by cop," but thank goodness, that is NOT what happened! I can recommend the movie and once again, must again comment on Don Cheadle's range. He never falters...



One of the special joys of being a movie aficionado, is seeing movies I might otherwise skip because I have received a free pass. This is one of those instances. I really enjoyed "Pride." In my opinion, Terrence Howard is a terrific actor, or at least he has been in the movies I have seen; although I felt his pain more acutely in "Crash" than I did in "Hustle and Flow."

This is based on the real-life tale of a fellow named Jim Ellis who was a failed competitive swimmer. Not failed because of his abilities, but because of the cruel racism we cringe to watch (indicative of the time, 1972/73) and the response of the people who should have been on his side. At his wit's end, he finally lands a job with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation clearing out a defunct community center prior to its demolition.

He immediately antagonizes the live-in janitor/caretaker, played by Bernie Mac ("Ocean's" franchise and "Kings of Comedy") but discovers an abandoned swimming pool in the all but abandoned facility. As he sorts, stacks, scrubs and sweats, he also cleans up the pool. After observing the ragtag gang of teenage boys who play "pretend" basketball (the hoops have been removed by the PDR in anticipation of closing the center), he lures them in to swim in the pool.

Naturally they resist any attempt on his part to exert any authority or accept his expertise about swimming, but bit by bit, he wins them over. As his gang improves, he finally lands an opportunity to compete against his old nemesis, a coach played with disconcerting believability by Tom Arnold ("True Lies" and "Happy Endings"). Naturally, his team scorns the "fag" swimming trunks he expects them to wear and they view the entire competition as a lark. Once they have been soundly trounced and humiliated, Jim Ellis starts his real work. As we all know, getting there is half the fun.

As a side note, Jim Ellis is personally responsible for an impressive number of youngsters obtaining college scholarships for swimming and continues his excellent and inspiring work for the Philadelphia Department of Recreation.

Yup, I liked it.


Lone Star

Once again, I am reminded what a terrific film this is. John Sayles made this movie in 1996 (Academy Award-nominated for Best Screenplay) and his eye for detail and his ear for dialogue is unsurpassed. Chris Cooper ("Breach" and Academy Award for"Adaptation") excels as the sheriff of a border county in Texas. This story moves back and forth in time so it requires close attention, but there is no scene wasted, no scrap of dialogue unnecessary. You are watching two generations of people in this town, Black, Hispanic, Anglo, as each individual tries to cobble together a life that accommodates the changing times and the things that time won't change.

Joe Morton ("Brother From Another Planet" and "Bounce") is a gung- ho Colonel at a nearby Army post who has just moved his family here to oversee the closing of the facility; this movie does NOT disparage his attitude about his chosen career. His estranged father runs the only local bar that welcomes blacks.

Elizabeth Peña ("Tortilla Soup" and "Transamerica") is a local school- teacher who was acquainted with Chris Cooper when they were both school children.

Matthew McConaughey ("A Time To Kill" and "Two For The Money") is Cooper's father, seen in flashbacks, who became sheriff when the corrupt lawman played by Kris Kristofferson ("Dance With Me" and "A Star Is Born") disappeared along with $10,000.00 of county money.

Frances McDormand ("Paradise Road" and "Fargo") has a wonderful cameo as the drug-addled ex-wife of Cooper's character.

You sort your way through a tangled web of racism, illegal immigration, military commitment, adultery and murder. This is one of the sexiest, warmest, most intelligent and delicately balanced movies you will ever encounter that has been set in a contemporary border town. Each time I see it, I am reminded once again of Sayles' warm-hearted illustration of good people trying to live decent lives amid mixed messages and confounding situations.

Check it out, you won't be sorry...