Talk to Me

Will Don Cheadle live and die as unheralded as he is today? If so, it will be a major miscarriage of justice!

Just think of his career; "Hotel Rwanda," "Reign Over Me," "Ocean's" series (Cockney, no less!), "Crash," "The United States of Leland," "Swordfish," "Traffic," "The Family Man" (the angel), "Mission to Mars," "Bulworth," "Boogie Nights," "Devil in a Blue Dress," ..need I go on? These are just SOME of his movies, from a prestigious list, and I haven't touched his television work.

He says he has no notoriety because the paparazzi won't cover his kids' soccer games, the PTA meetings or the trips to the grocery store. He seems to be a hard-working professional actor who enjoys a happy and solid personal life. Wow! What a concept!

In "Talk to Me" he plays a real man named Petey Green, who was an ex con, a chain-smoking, fast-talking BS artist who bluffed his way into a job at a Washington DC radio station and played a significant role in quelling the riots that threatened the city when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Martin Sheen plays the station manager.

This is basically a two-man show with Chiwetel Ejiofor (you say it, I can't!) sharing the honors. Mr. Ejiofor was last seen in "Kinky Boots" as a drag queen, and he is equally excellent in this current work. These two men OWN the screen when they are on! (Although I suspect they hired a body double for Cheadle's nude scene, otherwise he has been seriously over- looking an alternate career! Woohoo!)

Both characters have an interesting arc to their lives, although the real-life man that Ejiofor plays is still living and his life underwent the most radical change.

This is interesting as a period piece and as a slice of American History. It is flawlessly played and you owe it to yourself to take a look.

No Reservations


You KNEW I'd have trouble accepting this remake, because I love the original German film, "Mostly Martha" so much.

Well, let's talk about it. First of all, if any of you have friends or family that would be traumatized by the death of a young mother (off-screen, you don't see it!), do yourself a favor and avoid it. That element is unchanged from the original German film.

As a matter of fact, the first twenty minutes of "No Reservations" is, shot for shot and word for word, identical to its original. After things get rolling though, the broader humor and more obvious plot devices of the American version kick in, to the delight of the audience with whom I attended.

Catherine Zeta Jones ("Intolerable Cruelty" and "Chicago") plays Kate, a chef in a high-class New York restaurant that is owned by Patricia Clarkson ("Station Agent" and "Pieces of April"). Kate's unmarried sister and her niece are enroute to visit her in New York, when they are in an automobile crash and her sister is killed. This means that Kate now has custody of the daughter, played by Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine" and "Raising Helen").

The little girl just wants to go home, which is clearly impossible. Kate takes some time off to spend with her, and the restaurant owner hires Nick, played by Aaron Eckhart ("Thank You For Smoking" and "Erin Brockovich"), to fill in for her.

Obviously this raises the hackles of our chef, who, like most master chefs, is clearly the prima donna of that restaurant kitchen and has no intention of sharing her throne. Here is where the American version diverts from the German one: In the American version there is no quest to find the little girl's absent father.

One of my friends explains that we "imprint" with the first version of a book, play, movie, etc., and have a hard time accepting a substitute. I think that's what happened to me. Make up your own mind. If you haven't seen "Mostly Martha" by now, you probably never will, so no harm....

Something the Lord Made

Here's a dandy little 2004 movie that slid in and out of the multiplexes before we noticed. HBO can do that sometimes.

The movie starts in the 30s with the economic issues wrought by the Depression, followed by WWII with a massive number of military personnel whose lives were saved because they were prevented from going into shock by a technique developed by Alfred Blalock, played by Alan Rickman ("Harry Potter," "Truly, Madly, Deeply" and "Sense and Sensibility").

This real-life surgeon was ably assisted by his under-employed lab technician, Vivian Thomas, played by Mos Def ("The Italian Job" and "16 Blocks"). In "Jim Crow" Nashville, it was never considered appropriate for a black assistant to receive any credit for his contribution, so Thomas was not honored for his valuable input.

When Blalock was promoted and transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital, he prevailed on Thomas to move his wife and two girls from Nashville to Baltimore despite the hardships it caused. Even though he worked side by side with Blalock in his laboratory, Thomas was classified as a Class 3 Laborer on the payroll and was paid accordingly.

Consequently, while Blalock lives a life of luxury and ease, Thomas has to do part-time handyman work to help pay the rent.

At Johns Hopkins, as Head of Surgery, Blalock is determined to develop a treatment for "blue babies," babies born with faulty hearts, doomed to an early death. He and Thomas finally devise a technique that they think will work. They do the experiment over the strident objections of all the powers that be at the hospital and in 1944, open-heart surgery is born.

This is an excellent snapshot of the 30s up to the 60s, with the social upheaval, civic unrest and turbulent times for racial issues. Mos Def is wonderfully directed and has given us a performance he can be proud of. Naturally, our old work-horse Rickman, is flawless...this time with a mild Southern accent! Those Brits!


Cesar and Rosalie

What a terrific, offbeat little gem this one is! I stumbled across it in the Seattle Library List and checked it out. It was made in 1972 when these three appealing stars were at the peak of their box office appeal: Yves Montand ("Grand Prix" and "Delusions of Grandeur"), Romy Schneider ("What's New, Pussy Cat?" and Boccaccio '70"), and Sami Frey ("Who was Kafka?" and "War and Remembrance"). All three are a treat to the eye!

Initially, Montand's character made me think of Broderick Crawford's junk dealer in "Born Yesterday" but he quickly showed me that this man has much more to offer; disregarding his wealth from scrap metal, this character has an upbeat personality, is funny, charming, likeable and considerate, although his lower-class roots sometimes assert them- selves. His and Schneider's characters are lovers, although they don't live together, while Frey's character was the man she loved before she married her FIRST husband (remember, they're French...), who comes back to France to look her up. Schneider's character is enigmatic, honest, gorgeous, smart and much loved by both men.

Montand starts out very confident of Schneider's love, then doubt starts to creep in. The lengths to which he is willing to go for her happiness are what this movie is all about. This is yet another of Montand's characters that continue to amaze me as I dig them up. His range was wonderful and he was never less than convincing. What a gem!

This DVD is available in all the on-line catalogs, so I have to conclude it is also available through the various rentals, e.g., Netflix, Blockbuster, etc... I hope so, I'm sure you will find it clever, insightful and diverting.


Okaaaaayyyy.... Here is a high-energy musical movie version of the high-energy musical stage version which was a remake of the original (non-musical) movie. We'd better warn them that any more copies of copies will result in a pretty diluted original.

It's good to see Michelle Pfeiffer ("Married to the Mob") doing comedy again. She started out as quite the comedienne and I've missed that aspect of her skills! She is funny AND attractive as the station manager who wants her daughter to win the coveted "Miss Hairspray" contest on the local daytime show. As you may already know, Christopher Walken ("Blast From the Past") started out as a song-and-dance man, so he is obviously the man for the job as Tracy Turnblad's father. He even made it convincing when he sang "Your Love is Timeless" to John Travolta ("Swordfish") as his zaftig (Rubenesque?) wife. The choreography is terrific and it's great to see so many really skilled young dancers coming on the scene again. Yippee!

Loved Queen Latifa...she had some of the BEST lines, and delivered them flawlessly, of course. ("If any more white kids come into my shop, we'll be a suburb!") James Marsden's dance show host wasn't at ALL as smarmy as I expected and I loved spotting "Hairspray" originator John Waters as a flasher in the opening montage during Tracy Turnblad's "Good Morning, Baltimore!" It seems to be an un-credited appearance however, as the only time his name appeared in the credits (as far as we could see) was as a "consultant." By the way, my sharp-eyed friend spotted Ricki Lake as one of the William Morris agents. A much heavier Ricki starred as Tracy Turnblad in the original John Waters movie.

The weakest casting in the entire movie was John Travolta. They worked so hard (and so did HE!) with the fat suit, the makeup and the hair, but his accent was absolutely all over the place, ...some Baltimore, some Southern and some just unidentifiable. I could have made a short list of actors who would have been more convincing, but then again, no one asked...

The movie is lots of fun and you'll enjoy the energy of the dancing, the bright colorful clothes, the big hair, the huge changes in some customs (e.g., the two pregnant women sitting drinking martinis and smoking!), the cars, the TV sets, and on, and on, and on....


Jean de Florette

"Jean de Florette" is a rich, complex story you can really get your teeth into, but I caution you from the get-go: Have "Manon of the Spring" sitting beside your video player! Watching the first story but having to wait to see the conclusion of this saga is cruel and unnecessary.

The cast is flawless: Gerard Depardeau ("Les Comperes" and "Les Miserables"); Yves Montand ("Is Paris Burning?" and "On a Clear Day"); Daniel Auteuil ("The Closet" and "Cache"); along with an armload of other French actors and actresses playing authentically provincial characters. Both movies are shot in a single area in an interesting, rocky, semi-arid part of France, although the dialogue is sometimes in French and sometimes in Italian, so it clearly is supposed to be near the border. The story begins immediately after WWI and the second part ("Manon") takes place ten years later.

Gerard Depardeau is an ebullient hunchback, happily moving his cherished little family, a former opera-singer wife and their pre-teen daughter, Manon, into the area. He inherited the farm from a relative and is eager to leave his tax-collector job in the city and pursue an "authentic" life in the pure country air. He has many textbook-based theories on farming and animal husbandry, most of which his closest neighbors, Montand and Auteuil find amusing. Montand is a wealthy bachelor farmer from a family which has been prominent in the area for decades. Auteuil is his homely dim-witted nephew who only wants to grow carnations.

Montand's clever character very much wants to buy the adjacent land but does NOT want to pay very much for it. He sees his plots to run off the increasingly desperate little family as a kindness, "They would be so much happier in the city and a hunchback makes a better tax collector than a farmer!" He and his nephew, as a preemptive strike, had stopped up and concealed a spring that was conveniently close to the farmhouse, even before our family has a chance to move in. In addition, they create a bias against the newcomers in the nearby village. A summer drought forces the three to carry water on foot and by mule, as they know nothing of the spring, and an empty cistern threatens to derail Depardeau's optimistic plans.

Both films taken together create the complete story. Montand does most of the heavy lifting, particularly near the end of the second film...and he is WONDERFUL!...although Auteuil is convincingly daft and Depardeau shows a sunny disposition I don't think I've ever seen him display before. Both films were shot in 1986 and have been treasured for decades. There should be no reason why you can't obtain both at the same time...sorta like having your own mini-series.



Guy meets Girl, right? That seems to be their names in the sweet little Irish musical about a guy who meets a girl...

Guy is played by Glen Hansard, who, in real life is the frontman for a band called "The Frames." (No, I haven't heard of them, either.) Guy is a street musician in his own time and works for his father in a vacuum cleaner repair shop as his "day job." By the way, the father is sober, supportive, loving, reasonable and is NOT a clichéd bad guy!

Of course most people walk right past Guy with his guitar but the Girl (Marketa Irglova) stops and strikes up a conversation. Within the week, the two of them are walking down the street together dragging her broken Hoover by the hose (he has agreed to repair it for her) and becoming acquainted. She is a recent immigrant from the Czech Republic who is allowed to play piano in a nearby shop (she can't afford one of her own) and who happily collaborates with him.

This is a musical with real musicians but without the saccharine plotting that usually gums up our systems. Of course he needs to record a demo but has no backup musicians... Of course they can only afford limited time in the recording studio... Of course the technician is blasé about their music until something catches his ear...

Trust me when I tell you it is NOT predictable but is still heartwarming and enjoyable. The leads are ordinary-looking people who are NOT pretty. Their faces grow on you and you find yourself smiling along with them when they are pleased about something. This movie has something to say about man's humanity to man... So THERE!

You'll like it best on DVD because of the captions. I keep telling myself that Ireland is an English-speaking country, but...


Brace yourself. I'm gonna sing the praises of Pixar again! Those guys are incredible! I'm going to go out on a limb and guess you have never ONCE wondered about a rat's-eye-view of a busy commercial kitchen from a real rat's perspective, have you?

I thought not. See there?

This is a pretty standard plot about a poor misunderstood rat who is cursed with a sophisticated palate, but is stuck in alleyways and garbage bins, to his utter disgust! His father discovers this discerning skill can be used to detect rat poisons cleverly slipped into their "food," but our hero is otherwise a misfit.

Enter the gawky newly hired kitchen helper, a human who, to me, oddly resembles a caricature of Barry Manilow! This poor schlub can't boil water and is positive he will be summarily fired by the nasty little Master Chef at the first opportunity.

The plot is too convoluted to describe here; suffice it to say I very much appreciate the artistry of the Pixar folks and did NOT suffer while viewing this movie (and no animals were injured, either...smile...).

Evan Almighty

Steve Carell is a nice guy. If he isn't, he has fooled a LOT of people! He played the ambitious television news reporter who gets his tongue all tangled up when Jim Carrey is blessed with God-like powers in "Bruce Almighty" a few years ago.

Steve, who has primarily focused on television ("The Office"), is now a movie star! His first starring role, as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" won raves. Based on that success, he was cast in this incredibly expensive, incredibly bland, sorta semi-religious movie.

He is a newly elected Congressman who moves to a new house in the DC area. His wife, played by Lauren Graham ("Gilmore Girls") is a pleasant, supportive wife and mother who is as determined for him to make a success of this as he is. (They both just want to "make a difference...")

Naturally, God, once again played by Morgan Freeman ("Shawshank Redemption," "Nurse Betty" and "Along Came a Spider"), shows up and begins interfering with our hero's life. Evan gets a package from UPS which contains ancient wood-working tools. Next a realtor tells him how happy she is he purchased the adjacent lots. Soon there are trucks unloading lumber.

Even though God had told him to build an ark, poor Evan was caught up in some new land-use legislation and had decided he was probably hallucinating.

If you've seen the trailers, you know he grows a beard he can't shave off, he is coerced into wearing sandals and a robe, and all sorts of animals start showing up...two by two...

Poor Steve Carell. He didn't deserve to be in such an expensive movie. The plot itself is overkill, to say nothing of the CGI required to bring the story to a climax.

Don't blame him, okay? Blame the "suits" who play God in Hollywood!

Ocean's Thirteen

Okay, so I like "Eye Candy!" It's not a crime you know...

At least "Ocean's Thirteen" has more of a plot than "Ocean's Twelve" did, although I admit that wouldn’t be very difficult.

In a nice twist, the thirteenth caperer this time was the victim in "Twelve." Yes, Andy Garcia is in on the plot, although he threatens our heroes within an inch of their lives if they cross him (all the while plotting how HE is going to cross THEM!).

Having never been a fan of a much overrated Ellen Barkin, I took great pleasure in seeing her character get her comeuppance! AND Vincent Cassel is back, although his character isn't mentioned, but I recognized him.

It's the whole gang: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Shaobo Qin, Scott Caan, Casey Affleck, Bernie Mack, and Edward Jemison. This time they also have the talents of Eddie Izzard, Al Pacino and David Paymer to squander.

These guys appear to have so much fun with these little frivolous diversions, you can hardly get upset if they aren't making "Shindler's List" or something! Personally, I just lean back and let the movie flow around me. I know it will have a happy ending; it will include sly humor that alludes to their personal lives; it will have lots of beautiful sets, gorgeous clothes and an impossibly complicated heist.

Ah yes...


49 Up

Forty-two years ago, Michael Apted filmed a little gem he called "7 Up." It featured a group of seven-year-old children whom he gathered together and interviewed at a children's' park/zoo. This film isn't listed in Leonard Maltin's, so I am assuming that it was a BBC television feature and not considered a movie. Seven years later he tracked down the same children and called those updates "14 Up."

Every seven years, through one of the greatest sociological upheavals in the history of Britain, he filmed interviews with these same individuals. One boy dropped out after "21 Up" and it looks as though another will stop allowing her interviews when it is time for the "56 Up" episode, but "49 Up" contains snippets from all of the preceding collections. Hair, clothes, expectations, surroundings, all evolve over time, but the basic person- alities seem to hold true.

The Jesuits say, "Give me the child until he is seven and I will have the man." It is fascinating to see the man in the child and the girl in the woman as these human creatures evolve. This project covers the spectrum of classes, from two boys in a foundling home, to three boys who are clearly privileged. They didn't all remain in England. Some of the contemporary interviews take place in America and Australia! You can see the effects of institutionalization, heritage, tradition and long-standing personality traits.

Roger Ebert's half-hour interview with Apted is also insightful. It should be on any disc you get from whatever your source might be.

This isn't exciting, per se, but it IS engrossing. Give it a shot!


La Vie En Rose

How apropos that "tour de force" is a French term.

This messy showcase exists mostly to show off the fearless performance of Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf ("The Little Sparrow"), who was the French Judy Garland, a tiny little singer (4'8") complete with irresponsible parents, an enormous talent and a huge voice. In addition, you will have to endure hop-scotching through an out-of-control private life replete with drug and alcohol problems, an artistic temperament, a messy love life and numerous personal tragedies.

Given the undeniable skills of Ms. Cotillard, who assumes the character of Piaf from about age 13 and carries the role convincingly to the bitter end at a prematurely feeble and astonishingly fragile age 47, this should have been a much better movie. The way the actress modifies her physical carriage to reflect various stages of osteoporosis, arthritis, and simple aging, is notable!

The actor who plays Marcel Cerdan (the middleweight boxing champion - and pig farmer - who was the love of her life), is a devastatingly hand- some and rugged individual (Jean-Pierre Martins), who convinced ME that he could box. In fact I could even forgive him for being married, just like Piaf did!

Gerard Depardieu is the owner of a popular nightclub who discovers her singing on the street for coins and launches her professional career. He seemed to have mob ties and I think he was murdered. There was a spot toward the end of the first third where she was accused of being involved in his death, but that story line seemed to fizzle.

The biggest problem is the way the film jumps from deathbed to infancy to deathbed, then to adolescence, then stardom, then middle age, back to childhood and thence to feeble old age. Using that device repeatedly was totally uncalled for and distracting. They even tossed in the death from meningitis of her toddler son, of whom we hadn't had a hint up until a few moments before the end of the movie! Many of the elements in the movie are based on artistic license, nothing more, and again, are unnecessary; her life was melodramatic enough without taking liberties with the truth. Aarghhh!

This film was much praised and highly honored, as was Ms. Cotillard (Academy Award), so if you are in the mood for a tour de force, be my guest, s'il vous plait.

Knocked Up

What a letdown! Based on his sweet-centered "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," I had much higher expectations from Judd Apatow! This time out, I have been reading reviews that praise the "heart" in this latest immature man/boy outing. Deliberately rude and crude like "Virgin," this time, unlike "Virgin," it somehow failed to redeem itself at the end...to me...

With an actress as sweet looking as Katherine Heigl ("The Ringer" and "Grey's Anatomy" on TV), I really did expect more heart! As you probably already know (Hey! I've been out of town, okay?), this story is about an unemployed, pot smoking, beer swilling schlemiel played by Seth Rogen ("Superbad") who gets an up-and-coming TV talent (Heigl) pregnant during a drunken one-night stand. She was celebrating a promotion to an "on-camera" job and thought he was using a condom. Her character works as a producer for Ryan Seacrest, who, playing himself, has a ball throwing a hissy fit in the television studio.

The story really isn't worth belaboring. Suffice it to say, the only rationale I could see for these two unlikely people to be attracted to each other AT ALL, was that they seemed to have a similar sense of humor. At least, he could make her laugh...and I would be the first to admit... that IS an important rationale!

Handsome and talented Paul Rudd ("Clueless") will be steadily employed for the foreseeable future because he always turns in a believable performance. Mrs. Apatow (Leslie Mann) very capably plays Rudd's wife, while Apatow's daughters play his two little girls. (Does Actors' Equity know about this?)

Sorry the film let me down. Maybe you'll like it better.... Don't buy a ticket. Good for a rental on a quiet night. Have a beer.


American Dreamz

"American Dreamz" is my idea of a mean, spiteful dark comedy and I really liked it!

Hugh Grant ("Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Bridget Jones' Diary") finally gets to play a self-loathing character with few or no, redeeming qualities. He is a self-centered host of an "American Idol"-type TV show. We watch him mistreat his staff, boink the contestants, squander his wealth and enjoy (and abuse) his celebrity.

On the other hand, we become involved in the lives of some of the would-be stars: The talentless singers, the dancers without rhythm, the clumsy magicians, etc. One of the evolving characters is an Arab who is a closet Showtunes aficionado. When, to everyone's surprise, he makes the finals, to his horror he is recruited to be a suicide bomber.

Another character is a Southern gal played by Mandy Moore ("A Walk to Remember") who IS talented, ambitious, scheming, and absolutely without mercy. She ruthlessly exploits her ex-boyfriend's injuries when he returns home from his tour of duty in Iraq, and the camera catches her eyes as they quickly verify that her (fake) emotional greeting is caught on film. Hugh Grant's character spots it and she makes the finals because he wants folks on his show who know how to maximize their opportunities.

Dennis Quaid ("In Good Company") sweetly plays a clueless US President who thinks he detects some contempt on the part of the media and his staff. Consequently, he decides to rectify the impression he makes by reading a book or two. As he reads more and more, his staff panics because he is starting to have opinions of his own; and his ever- patient wife, played by Marcia Gay Harden ("Mystic River") is amazed! Our poor president discovers that there are no easy solutions to the world situation and becomes immobilized with confusion.

Thus goes the tale... You won't expect it, you won't disagree with it... Again, okay on Netflix, not worth a ticket in a theatre...

Kinky Boots

Ya know those fun old movies where the underdog, after much heartache and travail, manages to come from behind and "win the big one"? Well, this is actually a movie like that... It is based on a real story and it is shot in a real shoe factory, using some of the real craftsmen (and women) who really work there. It is an upbeat movie that stars actors with whom I am not familiar, so it is easy for me to suspend disbelief and totally buy into this thing.

The only actor I recognize is Chjwetel Ejiofor, and I can't even pronounce HIS name! He has been in "Dirty Pretty Things" with Audrey Tautou, and "Red Dust" with Hillary Swank, but I haven't seen either of those. He is a pretty good singer, and he can look pretty good in drag, too! (The comments on the DVD case call his character a "sassy, cross-dressing cabaret singer.")

The story is about an English shoe factory that is over 100 years old. The owner suddenly dies, so his reluctant son and heir is saddled with it. Not only does he NOT want to be there, but he quickly discovers that the factory is on the brink of disaster, as one of it's major clients has just gone into receivership, leaving a massive inventory of men's oxfords. His father had made him work all aspects of production while he was growing up, so he not only knows the work, but he has laboured side-by- side with the very people he now finds it necessary to lay off. (Did'ja notice the King's English spelling of "labour?" ...nudge, nudge, wink, wink...)

What with one thing and another, he desperately clutches at a last straw...making footwear for drag queens, who have been forced to purchase women's shoes, which are...too flimsy...too small...not outrageous enough. Therein lies our tale.

The sound track is great fun, from Nina Simone, with her unique little tremolo, to a rousing rendition of "These Boots Were Made For Walkin'" with Mr. Ejiofor himself doing the honors. It's surprising how many songs there are that have references to shoes, feet and boots!

The movie was shot on location in a shoe factory in England, and in Milan, Italy, where the international footwear show is held each year, so you get to travel a little, too.

This is no Oscar-winning art piece, it's just a little feel-good flick that makes you smile...

A couple of you have seen this, please let me know if you agree, disagree, or wish to add something. Thanks!

Me, Myself and I

This is NOT to be confused with the Jim Carrey film "Me, Myself and Irene."

This little Australian gem stars Rachel Griffiths ("Muriel's Wedding" and "Blow Dry") and is stuffed with eye candy-type guys! One blonde man in particular ...yum!

Irene is celebrating her birthday, alone, drunk and depressed. She is a successful businesswoman, but... she's alone, drunk and depressed!

The next morning on her way to work, she is hit by an automobile and wakens in a hospital. She is still herself, but is no longer occupying the life she had been regretting. In fact she can discover no trace of herself from that life. She determines that she is now herself AS IF she had accepted instead of refused the proposal of marriage from a boyfriend in college years ago, and had instead, become a "soccer mom."

She now has a marriage...gone stale; three children...rebellious and selfish; a house...not very well kept; old friends...much altered over the years; and a husband who is no longer interested in her.

Suffice it to say, after an initial elated sense of curiosity and glee, reality sets in and she has to make the best of it. She has never been stupid, so she sets about changing things with determination and will. This includes breaking off an affair she discovers she had been conducting with the husband of one of the old friends, and whipping the children and the household into shape. No one suspects she is a "ringer" except the littlest boy, who still needs his bottom wiped (to her horror! .. and she had THOUGHT she wanted children!), and is quietly observant.

This wouldn't quite fall into the "heartwarming" category, but it's sure fun and satisfying.

NOTE: There is a movie by this same name starring JoBeth Williams, be careful!

The Namesake

Another overflow crowd at the Uptown Cinema! "The Namesake" is Mira Nair's latest offering ("Monsoon Wedding," "Bend It Like Beckham" and "Vanity Fair") and her capable direction is evident once more.

Her unlikely choice for the juvenile lead is a young man named Kal Penn, who I only know of as being in "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," which I have so far, avoided seeing. That he does so well in this movie means either that I have misjudged his abilities or that Nair is a terrific director. I suspect it is a bit of both...

If you have read the book, which I have not, you may already know that the movie is as much about the wife and mother in this story, as it is about the young man who is her son. His father, years ago, was in a near-fatal train crash in his native India. He was reading his favorite Russian author, Nikolai Gogol, at the time. As a result of this apocalyptic event, he throws caution to the wind and moves to the United States, where he starts to build a new life. When the time comes for him to marry, he, like most people of Indian heritage at the time, engineers an arranged marriage with a lovely young woman from his native Bengal. She marries him, knowing they will live in New York, far from friends and family.

No one does culture clash with such a deft touch. Nair uses humor to illustrate how an action we here in America take for granted, can be seen as a gross violation of etiquette in another culture. The actors who play the first generation immigrants (Tabu, a lovely actress is the mother, and Irrfan Khan is the father), do a surprisingly good job of aging over the twenty years during which we follow their lives. Their two children never doubt their parents' love and support, although Gogol (yes, we know why he was given that name) chooses to change his first name to Nick ("Nikolai"...get it?) to avoid having to explain it to his college chums. There is humor and poignancy sprinkled throughout; you'll love seeing the mother driving in a busy city street, and the simple action of trying on someone else's shoes is effective both times it is used...trust me!

We come to learn that Gogol's constant theme in his books and stories were of being a stranger in a strange land, never quite fitting in, adapting to a new and different culture. Here, Mira Nair makes it a pleasure.


My daughter-in-law in Mesquite recommended this movie, based on our mutual admiration for Chris Cooper ("Lone Star" and his Academy Award winning role in "Adaptation"). I was aware of the movie and was happy to go because I also have come to respect Ryan Phillippe ("Crash" and "Gosford Park"). The bonus casting included Laura Linney ("PS" and "You Can Count on Me") and that astonishing chameleon, Gary Cole ("Office Space," "Talladega Nights" and "Win A Date With Todd Hamilton!").

The movie is about the real-life spy, Robert Hanssen, his proven brilliance and his unsuspected flaws. This is the man who was a counter-intelligence mole for the Soviet Union for over two decades, only to be brought down in 2001 by a neophyte F.B.I. plant, Eric O'Neill, competently backed by the technophiles in the agency, who had reluctantly come to suspect him. Hanssen was responsible for countless deaths of agents when he betrayed them to the KGB. He was a loving and considerate family man, a devout Catholic, a porno enthusiast, and a megalomaniac. His motive never seemed to be about money, but simply the act of outwitting his fellow agents and secretly scoffing at them. Of course, Chris Cooper does flawless work; you can actually SEE his brain work.

The agent, Eric O'Neill, is completely taken in by Hanssen and thinks he is wasting both his and the F.B.I.'s time. He asks to be taken off the case and put to more valuable use (he's a computer whiz). Ryan Phillippe is handicapped by his looks, he is so pretty that we are inclined to disregard him as an actor. He was totally wasted in "Gosford Park" but looked better to me in "Crash." (I haven't seen "Flags of Our Fathers" yet.) Because the book on which the film is based was written by O'Neill, you see most of the story unfold through his eyes. He makes several blunders that almost cost the agency their case...and because the agency has moved Hanssen to a more prestigious rank, Hanssen, always alert and always suspicious, smells a rat and prepares to jump ship.

There are some frantic moments that effectively keep you on the edge of your seat, despite the fact that the movie begins with the announcement of Hanssen's arrest, so I haven't shared any spoilers here. O'Neill is painfully aware that he is in over his head and his ploys are borne more out of desperation, than intelligence.

Laura Linney never disappoints and Gary Cole is an absolute wonder. When you compare his skinny hillbilly redneck "Pa" in "Talladega Nights" to his unctuous boss in "Office Space," it is hard to believe he is the same man. His sycophantic father in "Todd Hamilton" is totally unlike his quiet, capable officer in "Breach." He isn't one to don costumes or disguises, he just transforms his persona. He is amazing!