Revolutionary Road

Kate Winslet ("Finding Neverland" and "The Holiday") is a wonderful actress; and one actor who can go toe-to-toe with her is Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Aviator" and "Body of Lies"). Their pairing in "Titanic" was a fluke which resulted in unsettling super-stardom. It looks as though both of them managed to survive that early challenge, and they have each settled into a steady flow of exceptional movies and performances which tells us that they are in it for the long haul. Many youngsters have been derailed by similar circumstances, so I'm happy to see their stability and appreciate their consistently high-quality work.

As is true of most "Art" films, this one is NOT fun. It is exceptionally well acted with each of our principals taking turns as less-than-perfect human beings, taking turns in the spotlight with wonderful gut-wrenching scenes, and taking turns being appealing and attractive. They give us a close-up view of a relationship -- both good and bad -- after our loving couple has married, moved to Connecticut, had two children and he has become a commuter into the city to a job he hates. (Hmmm... Sounds like "The Dreaded Daily-ness" of living, doesn't it?)

You already know I want someone to root for, but both of these characters have feet of clay. I was dismayed to see how realistically they evoked the 50s with the continual cigarette smoking and the constant drinking. How quickly we forget! I found it curious that during their most dramatic scenes, their two children were conveniently elsewhere.

Kathy Bates ("Primary Colors" and "About Schmidt") does her usual flawless work, but to me, the most interesting character is her son, who is on "leave" from a mental institution. Of all the people in the entire movie: neighbors, co-workers, lovers, bosses, acquaintances, etc., he was the only person who spoke "Truth" with a capitol "T." Everyone else tiptoed around, skirting the issues and making nice. This guy just blurts out all the nasty thoughts everyone else is secretly thinking. Michael Shannon ("Lucky You" and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead") plays that role to creepy perfection.

Remember that I said this film is NOT fun, but it is well-written, well-acted, and well-received. We'll probably hear more about it when Academy Award season rolls around. (...sigh....)


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this fanciful work of art has technical brilliance, masterful art direction and terrific acting. I am thoroughly impressed with Brad Pitt ("Babel," "Fight Club" and "Burn After Reading"), as his eponymous character is born a decrepit old man in a baby's body and commences to grow younger, day by day. His mother dies in childbirth and his grieving father, who instantly sees him as a monster, grabs him and runs to the river to drown him. He is thwarted by a policeman, so instead, he abandons the baby at a boarding house/nursing home run by Queenie, a childless black woman, wonderfully played by Taraji P. Henson ("Talk to Me" and "The Family That Preys"). Despite the shocking appearance of this "baby" she lovingly raises him amid elderly boarders who make him feel right at home.

One of the audience's favorite lines is spoken over and over by one of those boarders: "Did I ever tell you that I was struck by lightening? Seven times?" Eventually, you too, will laugh out loud in anticipation.

This a two hour, forty-five minute saga, so be prepared for ingenious computer generated imaging and inspired makeup, as Pitt's cleverly aged features occupy the wizened body even as it grows younger and younger. Although he was born baby-sized, as he learns to walk, talk, read, etc., he grows and his features evolve. He becomes a toddler, a pre-adolescent, and a teenager. At age six or seven, he meets the little girl next door, an audacious little thing who isn't repelled by his peculiar appearance. Naturally he falls head over heals in love. By the time he looks like a fairly mobile but elderly man, she is a blossoming teen. When he is very mature looking but really about eighteen, he goes to sea on a tugboat and she goes to New York to study ballet. While living in Russia, he has an affair with a married woman, played by Tilda Swinton ("Michael Clayton" and "Narnia").

The wonderful Cate Blanchett (one Oscar for "Elizabeth," "Babel" and "I'm Not There") has once again hidden her Australian accent, this time under a mild Southern one (most of the action takes place in New Orleans), and her faux ballet dancing is pretty convincing! The makeup throughout is amazing and great care was taken as Pitt's bald head gradually grows more hair, his wattle subtly becomes a double chin and later, in his beefcake shots, he is square-jawed and fit. Her reaction when she first sees him after their ages finally intersect, is delicious!

You become deeply involved in their story, their ups and downs, their hopes and dreams, their comedies and tragedies. Yes, there is a LOT of comedy in this fantasy...and that makes its poignancy even more affecting.


Over ten years ago, when Writer/Producer/Director Edward Zwick ("Legends of the Fall," "Shakespeare in Love" and "Traffic") spotted an obituary in a New York area newspaper, something about it made him curious. Upon further investigation, he discovered that the deceased, an immigrant named Tuvia Bielski, was indeed the unsung hero of a hitherto unknown WWII saga, the leader of a small cadre of Jews who fled from Nazi-occupied Poland deep into the Belarussian forest, where they eventually accumulated a community of over a thousand fellow fugitives. In addition, two of Bielski's brothers, Zus and Asael, along with other brave refugees, assisted Russian troops in their fight against a common enemy, the Nazis. The fourth Bielski brother, Aron, was just a child when he fled with his brothers.

In a post-screening discussion on December 1st, 2008, Zwick remarked that he had, as a lad, always been slightly embarrassed by the passivity of the Jews as they were herded into cattle cars and transported to concentration camps and gas chambers. As he explored Bielski's story, he discovered that he had grown up with the Hollywood version of the Holocaust. In addition, the Russians, whom the Jews had helped, failed to credit them when it was time to write their own version of WWII history. Zwick was gratified to discover that there had been active Resistance groups in every Jewish enclave throughout Europe. Some were more successful than others, but in every instance, there were fierce fighters who did not go passively.

Zweck collaborated with other screenwriters to develop a script, then approached Daniel Craig to play Tuvia. Craig was delighted and signed immediately. The studio was not enthused about using an actor who was capable enough, but not very well known (this is pre-"Casino Royale"). Now, with the advent of a new James Bond, that situation has changed, but to the studio's delight, Craig still honored his commitment.

Because many of the actors in this film, shot in Estonia, are not known to us, I'll just talk about the four Bielskis:

  • Daniel Craig ("Infamous" and "Quantum of Solace") is Tuvia, a quietly inspiring leader. He is desperate, sick, hungry, and sometimes overwhelmed by the responsibilities thrust upon him...and he DOES have a "Spartacus" moment! (Kirk Douglas was sent a copy of the film and he agreed that he would have played Tuvia!)
  • Liev Schreiber ("The Painted Veil" and "The Manchurian Candidate" - 2004) is the more volatile Zus, angry and militant, with a hair-trigger temper set off by anti-Semitism.
  • Jamie Bell ("Billy Elliot" and "Nicholas Nickleby") is Asael, who has to grow up very quickly. He takes his family's responsibilities seriously and finds the strength and maturity to rise to the challenge.
  • George MacKay ("The Thief Lord" and lots of television work) is the youngest brother, who provides a face and a name which, to us, represents the resourceful women and sturdy children in the group.

This is an excellent ANTI-Holocaust film, which shows us that Truth is far more gripping than Fiction! And be sure to stay for the wrap-up because it tells us the “Rest of the Story” about all four brothers.


Bedtime Stories

Adam Sandler ("Click" and "The Wedding Singer") is once again playing the man/boy that has made his career the success that it is, despite doing commendable work in projects like "Reign Over Me." At least it is under the Disney brand, so his behavior has been toned down and his character has reasonably good manners. He is a maintenance man in a large hotel, on property previously owned by his father.

Courteney Cox ("Friends" and "The Tripper") is his sister, mother of his niece and nephew. She must go out of state for a job interview, so he shares babysitting duties with a friend of hers, played by the luminous Keri Russell ("Waitress" and "August Rush"). The story gains momentum when he tells bedtime stories to the aforementioned niece and nephew, only to have the stories come to pass the next day. Naturally he tries to tweak this phenomenon but the results turn out pretty iffy.

The plot is flimsy, the acting is serviceable and the characters are caricatures, but there was one actor who surprised me: Guy Pearce! This hard-working Australian always surprises me. In "L.A. Confidential" he played a conflicted dramatic role. In "Memento" the challenges caused by his memory loss were almost palpable. In "Traitor" he was a focused intelligence officer. But in this one? He's a rich man's nephew, a slimy, backside-kissing sycophant! Is that too subtle? Not only that: He sings! He dances! He does pratfalls! I think Mr. P. must have grown bored with standard drama and has gone goofy for a change. It took me awhile to adjust my expectations...

This movie is made for children by Disney, so they WILL be amused, there WILL be a moral, and they WILL enjoy a happy ending. 'nuff said...


3:10 to Yuma - 1957

Okay, I've seen it and they couldn't find Bisbee, Arizona either! (Please see my earlier review of the 2007 version.) They even sketched a map in the dirt and pointed out distances to Benson and Fort Huachuca, which were correctly placed, but then had the temerity to imply that they could reach Nogales by nightfall (86 miles! - on horseback?). Aarghhh!

In this excellent film, Glenn Ford is the charismatic Ben Wade, while Van Heflin is the saintly Dan Evans. The main thing that struck me was the fundamental shift that has taken place in American movies. This 1957 movie is also fraught with tension, but it takes place mostly in a hotel room and is far more psychological. The 2007 version has Wade's heartless gang raiding Evans' ranch, burning his barn and scattering his cattle (I don't think they killed his dog...). It is far more bloodthirsty and much of it takes place out on the trail; it even includes an Indian raid. The end is vastly different with Dan Evans dying in the newer version, while in the original he will collect his hard-earned money, pay off his debts and enjoy the rainstorm that has just broken the drought.

I'm glad I don't have to pick a preference...


Marley and Me

If you've ever owned and loved a dog, be forewarned: This movie covers a span of about 14 years and you may already know the average lifespan of a golden lab.

That being said, I was very impressed by the caliber of acting from the principals. Both Jennifer Aniston ("Friends With Money" and "The Good Girl") and Owen Wilson ("You, Me and Dupree" and "Wedding Crashers") do an excellent job of depicting a real-life couple, Jennifer and John Grogan, as they adopt a rambunctious puppy and have to contend with, what John later calls in his newspaper column, "The World's Worst Dog."

When they try to enroll him in obedience class, the instructor, played by Kathleen Turner ("War of the Roses" and "Romancing the Stone") expels him! John's best friend, played by the ever handsome Eric Dane (mostly TV work, e.g., "Grey's Anatomy" and "Charmed") uses the lively dog to pick up girls on the beach (they live in Florida).

Both of the Grogans are journalists, she is slightly more successful than he, but she chooses to quit her job to have a family. To make up for her lost salary, his editor, played by Alan Arkin ("Get Smart" and an Academy Award for "Little Miss Sunshine") bribes him with double pay if he will write a regular column instead of work as a reporter. When he is stuck for a topic, he sometimes writes about his obstreperous dog...and they discover that the readers enjoy those columns a LOT! Unconvinced, he finally accepts a reporter's job in the Northeast, so they move their three children, AND Marley, to a new state, a new house and a new professional situation.

Through it all, Marley remains uncontrollable, playfully destructive and brimming over with exuberance.

This movie depicts marriage in a realistic way: the early passions, the distractions of children, the professional disappointments, but it never becomes tawdry or self-pitying. The actors do a great job of aging, with one minor exception: Both Aniston and Wilson are famous for their distinctive hair. During the entire movie, their hair never changes. A minor point, I admit, but I found it amusing.

The movie is based on Grogan's best-selling book by the same name, and we already know it is deeply involving, so bring tissues...



Even though we KNOW how the story will end (it is based on actual events), this well-crafted script still manages to evoke suspense, excitement and above all, a character to root for!

"Valkyrie" is the code name for the crack special forces troops who are entrusted with the ultimate protection of the German government in the event of a revolt against the Nazis. The operations manual has been modified by a group of patriotic Germans who see Adolph Hitler and his SS troops as Germany's most critical threat. We watch as they maneuver Hitler into signing it...unread...and put into action their plan to assassinate him, after which they intend to imprison the SS troops and negotiate a peace with the Allies.

Tom Cruise ("Mission Impossible," "Collateral" and "Tropic Thunder"), who plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, also executive produced this film and he has assembled a noteworthy cast:

  • Kenneth Branagh ("Harry Potter" and "Rabbit-Proof Fence") is Major-General Henning von Tresckow who starts the ball rolling with Stauffenberg. Big caveat here! Those early strategy conversations are mostly whispered, so I wasn't able to hear them. Luckily, as the plot opened up, I was able to figure them out!
  • Bill Nighy ("Notes on a Scandal" and "Pirates of the Caribbean") is perfect as General Friedrich Olbricht who willingly participates in the plot but suffers a crisis of confidence when the chips are down.
  • Terence Stamp ("Yes Man" and "Get Smart") is Ludwig Beck, another patriotic German who risks everything to try to save her from destruction.
  • Eddie Izzard ("Velvet Underground" and "Across the Universe") is General Erich Fellgiebel, saddled with the vital responsibility for communications to and from The Wolf's Lair when the coup is launched.
  • Carice van Houten (wonderful in the 2006 nail-biter, "The Black Book") is von Stauffenberg's wife and the mother of his five children, the last one born in a Nazi prison camp after the plot failed. She died in 2006.
  • Tom Wilkinson ("In the Bedroom" and "Michael Clayton") is the wily General Friedrich Fromm, who immediately launched the kangaroo court that doled out the death penalty to the principals in this, only one of 15 plots to kill Hitler.

The list goes on and on; Cruise should be justly proud of this project, the star power it displays and its dramatic depiction of a tragic event from recent history. The firing squad executes our heroes in the exact spot where the real event took place -- once the German government got over Cruise being a Scientologist.

Director Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects" and "Superman" films) conveys a complex plot in a realistic but accessible way, and THAT isn't always easy.... He wisely chose to depict Hitler as the ailing enigma he has become as WWII draws to its inevitable close. This particular attempt takes place only nine months before Hitler took his own life. By the way, the code name "Valkyrie" evolved because of Hitler's well-known fondness for Composer Richard Wagner, who wrote "The Ring of the Nieblungen" from which "The Ride of the Valkyries" is one of the most thrilling pieces.


Seven Pounds

Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of Will Smith's ("The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Hancock"); I've even forgiven him for "Wild, Wild West." He seems to average two blockbusters a year and has for some time. His latest movie is extremely well done and he has once again proven that he is a fine actor, but...(Yeah, that dreaded "but...") it was soooo maudlin. The foreshadowing was obvious and the plot was predictable. All that remained was to sit there long enough to discover the specifics: the Why and the When.

Smith plays an IRS agent who seems to have a few selected folks in his sights. We aren't sure why, but it always seems to boil down to whether or not each individual is a Good Person. We take that to mean Deserving. Through flashbacks we start to get a glimmer of the tragedy that he's trying to come to grips with, and we also learn that he has a very strong sense of right and wrong.

Rosario Dawson ("Eagle Eye" and "Rent") is a woman who suffers from congestive heart disease, but because of the fine print in the medical insurance world, is not eligible for a heart transplant. Woody Harrelson ("Transsiberian" and "No Country for Old Men") is a blind piano player who also works as a telemarketer selling beef products, despite being a vegan. You also have a volunteer coach for children's sports, a sick little boy and a battered wife. Michael Ealy ("Miracle at St. Anna" and "Never Die Alone") is Smith's furious brother and Barry Pepper ("Flags of Our Fathers" and "We Were Soldiers") is a physician who has been his friend since childhood.

I'm not going to divulge any of the plot. I found it noteworthy that most of the soundtrack is without a musical score. This was a help to ME, because the sound was a tad low, so I struggled to hear much of the dialog, but it takes courage to make a film where you rely on the ACTING to telegraph emotions rather relying on MUSIC to do the job. With Will Smith up there on the screen, you are in good hands.


Yes Man

Jim Carrey is capable of fine work: "The Truman Show" and "The Majestic," but there are times when he needs a firmer hand on the tiller or his mugging goes overboard: "The Cable Guy" and "The Mask." Thankfully, I can report that "Yes Man," is more of the first than the second.

Make no mistake, in light of Carrey's target audience, there IS crass humor. For example, when we see that glass of water on the nightstand, we KNOW that old woman will take out her dentures...and WHY! By the way, last night's audience LOVED that part...

On the other hand, we watch as an emotionally isolated Carrey is inveigled into attending a self-help seminar in which they extol the merits of saying "YES!" to everything. As he reluctantly embraces this new mindset, he is launched into an entirely different world from the circumscribed one that has sheltered and protected him since his divorce three years earlier. As a result, he assists a homeless man, takes Korean language lessons, learns to fly an airplane, masters the guitar, meets a cute gal on a motor scooter, dates an Iranian woman and hands out micro-loans by the dozens in his job as a loan officer at a bank. And you know what? All of these skills come into play before this movie ends.

Carrey capably handles the role and the movie surprised me in several ways:
  • The seminar leader, played by Terrence Stamp ("Get Smart" and "Valkyrie") isn't a shyster, but is, instead, a fairly decent fellow who sincerely wants his flock to succeed.
  • Carrey's best friend, portrayed by the handsome Bradley Cooper ("Wedding Crashers" and "Failure to Launch") isn't a slacker, but is, instead, an intelligent, employed, and caring pal.
  • The motor scooter gal, the ever-appealing Zooey Deschanel ("Bridge to Terabithia" and "The Assassination of Jesse James...") isn't an irresponsible whack job, but is, instead, a photographer and part-time vocalist at a club.
  • The former co-worker who talks Carrey into attending that seminar is played by my favorite Christopher Guest repertory guy, John Michael Higgins ("Evan Almighty" and "The Breakup"), who isn't a meddler, but is, instead, a guy who actually cares about Carrey's decline since the divorce.

The movie has many things to recommend it, but just enough crass stuff that you might want to think twice. Then you must make up your own mind...smile...

The Wrestler

If you are a fan of Mickey Rourke's, please stay away from this pathetic film, as it cruelly documents his own real-life downward spiral from movie star glamour, to the disfigured ruin of his life.

If you are NOT a fan of Mickey Rourke's, please stay away from this bathetic film, as it has absolutely no socially redeeming qualities: No one to root for, no hope in sight and no happy ending.

If you don't care one way or another about Mickey Rourke, please stay away from this horrific film just on its merits: it is bleak, dreary, frustrating and tragic. In addition, you may be offended by the blood, the drugs, the sex or the language.

I WAS interested to see how friendly and supportive the wrestling community is within itself. They review the moves they plan to make and try not to hurt each other more than absolutely necessary. On the other hand, I hated the maiming by barbed wire, the staples shot into live flesh and the drugs necessary to deal with the pain.

I'm just sorry Marisa Tomei needs work this badly...her role will do nothing for her once-stellar career.

There had been pre-Oscar buzz about Rourke's performance, but looking at the published release date of January 16, 2009, I thought the producers have given up on that idea. They have opted for a limited release before the end of the year, I'm sorry to say. I was going to hold this review until a more appropriate date, but I just want to get it off my chest.

If you have a more productive way to spend 109 minutes, please stay away from this film...

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Afterthought: As Academy Award time approaches, a friend and I conducted an unscientific survey of moviegoers who were standing in line for another film. We discovered that the fans who LOVED this film are predominately men, while most women found it revolting.

Gran Torino

This unpredictable little domestic drama ended up being well written, well acted and well received.

Clint Eastwood ("Million-Dollar Baby," "Changeling" and "Blood Work") co-wrote and directed this affecting dramedy. It starts with the funeral of his character's wife and it quickly establishes his surly character, his chilly relationship with his sons and his lingering hatred for Asians (he is a Korean War Vet). He uses every politically incorrect term in the book for them, even after he becomes slightly acquainted with his next-door neighbors, who are Hmong. To his chagrin, his neighborhood has gradually become Asian and he is NOT gracious about it.

His cantankerous nature eventually becomes funny. When he rescues a neighbor boy from Asian gang members, he has them at gunpoint and insists that they "Get offa my lawn!" INCLUDING the boy he just rescued! As tokens of gratitude for the rescue, the Hmong bring him food...food...and MORE food! To his frustration, he can't stop them.

An earnest young priest, who had promised he would look in on the widower after the funeral, takes some pretty funny verbal abuse, and the next-door neighbor, an elderly Hmong woman, who speaks NO English, sits on her front porch, glaring back at Eastwood, every bit as bigoted as he. They both mutter racial epithets and each knows the other is insulting him/her, even though neither can understand a word the other is saying.

One of Eastwood's treasures is a 1972 Gran Torino in bandbox condition. The teenage boy next door is supposed to steal it as his initiation into a gang...which he REALLY does NOT want to join. Eastwood thwarts him and eventually takes him under his wing. His profane lessons on "manliness" are a stitch!

Word of caution: I had lots of trouble hearing the dialog, so if you have any problems, wait for the DVD, because the story is too involving, too entertaining and too satisfying, to be marred if you have to strain to hear.


The Day the Earth Stood Still

Hmmm... Have you seen the 1951 original? The black and white version with Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie? There is something about being a part of a groundbreaking idea, a revolutionary way of thinking, a new type of film-making, that is so delectable. Everything after that seems a little derivative, doesn't it?

Do you want to know what we talked about as we exited the IMAX last night? ...about Product Placement for crying out loud! Does that tell you anything? On the other hand, this movie has awesome Computer Generated Imaging! If the CGI was omitted, we would be left with just another diatribe about learning to get along ...or the need to protect the environment ...or change...

We know the story. The alien thingy...this time a ball of unknown substance... impervious to our best shots... source of xenophobic panic...(and for good reason, it turns out), lands in Central Park. Other identical spheres land all over the world, starting a global panic, complete with riots, food shortages and mass hysteria. The President and Vice President are taken to shelters and Kathy Bates ("Titanic" and "P.S., I Love You") has to call the shots as Secretary of Defense.

Keanu Reeves ("Matrix" and "The Lake House") is perfect as Klaatu, who is shot by a trigger-happy soldier as he exits his UFO...the one in Central Park. He is taken to a medical facility where he escapes and contacts Jennifer Connelly ("A Beautiful Mind" and "Blood Diamond"), who stretches our credibility as the only molecular biologist who is capable of representing the U.S. in this pending disaster. She's a widow, raising a nine-year-old stepson - the child of her deceased military husband - beautifully played by Jaden Smith ("The Pursuit of Happyness"). Yes, he's Will Smith's son. The boy embodies the best "arc," as he first wants to kill the alien, then wants to defend him; in addition, he ultimately bonds with his stepmom.

Klaatu tells her that he is here to save Earth, which means he must destroy mankind, so Earth can thrive once again. She tells him "We can change!" Swayed by a compelling chat with a Nobel Prize winning scientist, played by John Cleese, they relish the common language of mathematics.

This review didn't go out last night because I had to ponder it awhile. I finally concluded that our younger generations are so reluctant to watch black and white movies, they miss out on many classics. This is probably as close as they will get to the original, so...

The Tale of Despereaux

Fans of this popular children's book will probably see some glaring additions or omissions, but the rest of us were happy with this tale of an unlikely alliance of creatures who strive to do what is courageous and honorable. The production company is NOT Disney, but the nuances of character are beautifully developed and the roster of A-List actors providing the voice talent is noteworthy!

Matthew Broderick ("The Producers") is Despereaux, a young mouse who simply cannot grasp the basics of mousehood, e.g., fear of knives, cats and humans. He doesn't skitter and isn't interested in learning. He would rather READ a book than EAT it, and he is inspired by the brave knights and handsome princes from the fairy tales he reads. His teacher is frustrated and his parents despair. As a result, he is banished from Mouseworld.
  • Sigourney Weaver ("Baby Mama") provides the narration. The sound was so low, I heard maybe every tenth word. Aarghhh!
  • Ciarán Hinds ("Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day") is Botticelli
  • Dustin Hoffman ("Stranger than Fiction") is Roscuro
  • Emma Watson ("Harry Potter") is Princess Pea
  • Tracey Ullman ("Tracy Takes On") is Miggery Sow
  • Kevin Kline ("A Prairie Home Companion") is Andre
  • William Macy ("Happy, Texas") is Lester
  • Stanley Tucci ("Kitt Kittredge, An American Girl") is Boldo.
The list goes on and on; because there were so many voices, I confess I finally couldn't tell who was who. One of the main characters is a rat who abandons his ship and becomes a misfit in Ratworld. Another is a chef who creates a soup the entire kingdom depends upon for inspiration and, because of some sort of mystical connection, also for rain and abundance. There is a princess imprisoned in the castle; her father, the king, is in deep mourning because his wife, the queen, was startled by a rat and drowned in her soup (you had to be there).

The humans don't like the rats; the rats don't like the mice; and the mice -- all except Despereaux -- are terrified of everything. At one point, the princess is tethered to the floor in a Lilliputian sort of scene, and, given all the forces arrayed against him, you can't imagine how our little hero will prevail, but prevail he does! One of my favorite through lines is, "Are you a man or a mouse?" Whereupon Despereaux, without a trace of irony, says in all sincerity, "I am a GENTLEman." You really DO root for him.

Happy ending, folks!
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Here is a preview:
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Nothing Like the Holidays


Some of this formulaic project was predictable; some was not; but none of it was impressive.

This is one of those "Home for the Holidays" seasonal films that is supposed to wrap up with smiles and hugs all around. The unpredictable part of this one was that there were serious elements of tragedy that lingered as we left the theater.

The movie is studded with an array of hard-working "B List" actors, all doing their best, but the script didn't give them much with which to work. Alfred Molina ("Undertaking Betty" and "Spiderman") had the most conflicted role and as usual, he did it justice. We rarely see a more capable actor; this time he's the dad.

The mother of this Puerto Rican family holding its holiday reunion in Chicago, is played by Elizabeth Peňa ("Lone Star" and "Tortilla Soup") who is angry about her husband's perceived infidelities and her lack of grandchildren, but who is deeply grateful for her youngest son's safe return from Iraq.

Deborah Messing ("The Wedding Date" and "The Women") is a terrific comedienne, but this time she is saddled with the thankless task of being the only onion in the petunia patch, the sole Gringo in this exuberant gathering of Puerto Ricans. Her emotions are limited to sour, embarrassed, sympathetic or angry. Her husband, played by John Leguizamo ("Summer of Sam" and "Romeo and Juliet"), wants a baby, but she is weighing a tempting offer to manage a hedge fund, even though the alarm on her reproductive clock is clanging. Leguizamo is a better stage than screen actor, he has a problem "toning it down" for the big screen.

Luis Guzman ("School for Scoundrels," "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "Traffic") has another thankless task: his character's personality exudes a "Female Repellant" according to his character's sister. Consequently he is bombastic, rude and politically incorrect.

This movie is mostly okay, it's just nothing to write home about...


Cadillac Records

This consistently well-acted film illustrates the beginnings of Chess Records and follows the arc of many well-known black musicians in 1960s Chicago. In my opinion, to get such high caliber performances from every actor, we should look to the director, in this case, the lovely Darnell Martin, who has been focused on television work for many years. Her actors had the daunting task of depicting legendary entertainers, always a delicate balancing act.

Here are some of the actors she inspired:

  • Jeffrey Wright ("W." and "Quantum of Solace") as Muddy Waters, the first talent who made it big for Chess Records in Chicago. As a reward, he was given a new Cadillac.
  • Adrian Brody ("King Kong" and "The Pianist") as Leonard Chess, who founded Chess Records and promoted black performers into crossover success. One of his first gifts when an artist achieved success was a new Cadillac. Personal gripe: Adrian's nose is always aimed toward the southeast when he is facing south.
  • Cedric the Entertainer ("Talk to Me" and "Barbershop") as Willie Dixon, the songwriter who provided the tunes for Muddy Waters.
  • Columbus Short ("War of the Worlds" and "Stomp the Yard") as Little Walter, the volatile singer/harmonica player who contributed so much to Muddy Waters' success, but couldn't handle fame.
  • Beyonce Knowles ("Dreamgirls" and "The Pink Panther") as the legendary Etta James, who is still alive and performing around the world. When she finally launched into "At Last" there was an audible ripple that went through tonight's audience. We LOVE that song.
  • Eric Bogosian ("Wonderland" and "Heights") is Alan Freed, the groundbreaking disc jockey of "Payola" fame. It was considered part of the cost of doing business to bribe the DJs for airplay when promoting records.
  • Mos Def ("Lackawanna Blues" and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") is like a breath of fresh air when he makes his entrance as Chuck Berry, late in the film. It covers his conviction and prison term for violating the Mann Act and his dismay when he realizes how many white successes were achieved by plagiarizing his work.

There is a huge cast and no weak performances. It is sad to watch that familiar trajectory for so many artists: the struggle, the success, the fame, the good life, the controlled substances, the decline, and, once again, the struggle.



Well that was an unusual experience!

We went to a movie theatre, stood in line, then went in and watched the pilot of a new television series, "Leverage," transmitted to the screen from a DVD played on the producer's laptop. Afterwards we had a Question and Answer period with Producer Dean Devlin ("Who Killed the Electric Car?" "Flyboys," "Independence Day" and "Cellular") along with Gina Bellman, an actress in the series.

Remember that old, old classic television series "Mission Impossible"? Yes, the one Tom Cruise has turned into his ultra-successful movie franchise, distinctive theme music and all. This one evokes that same feeling! (And Devlin admits that he had it in mind as he developed this new series.) We watch an angry but honest man who has been betrayed by a big corporation; he is approached by a fellow who claims he too, has been betrayed by a large company. He explains that his airplane prototypes have been stolen by a long-time rival and he desperately needs them back in time for an upcoming shareholders' meeting.

Our reluctant hero, played by Timothy Hutton ("French Kiss," "The Last Mimzy," "Ordinary People" and "Beautiful Girls") assembles a crack team of professional crooks, each of whom has a specialty:
  • Aldus Hodge ("American Dreamz" and TONS of television work) plays the computer geek, technical wizard and unrepentant crook.
  • Beth Riesgraf ("Struck" and many TV spots) is the amoral thief, expert pickpocket and double-jointed gymnast.
  • Christian Kane ("Hide," "The Christmas Conspiracy" and lots of TV shots) is a martial arts specialist, jack of all trades and all-around thug.
  • Gina Bellman ("Permanent Vacation" and many TV shows) is a grifter, a failed legitimate stage actress and successful con artist. (Her "take" on Lady Macbeth is something to behold!)

The premise of this series will be to rectify a wrong each week, with corporate fat cats as their usual target. It will feature lots of smart people matching wits with lots of other smart people -- one of my favorite plot devices. If the next episodes are half as much fun as the pilot, we have a winner!



This wonderful film defines the word "EPIC." Baz Luhrmann ("Romeo and Juliet," "Strictly Ballroom" and "Moulin Rouge!") has never been shy about pushing all of our buttons; he knows just WHAT will thrill us, and just WHEN to do it. In "Australia," he never misses his mark!
  • Hugh Jackman ("X-Men," "Van Helsing" and "The Prestige") is a cattle drover: all hero...horse, hat and whip.
  • Nichole Kidman ("The Golden Compass" and Academy Award for "The Hours") is the stuffy British aristocrat who inherits her late husband's Australian ranch. Upon her arrival, she is completely lost in the rough and tumble world of the Outback, where she quickly discovers she is in jeopardy of losing everything.
  • Bryan Brown ("The Poseidon Adventure" and "Along Came Polly") is the dastardly fellow who intends to own her ranch, lock, stock and barrel, so he will have a monopoly on all the beef shipped out of Darwin for the war effort in Europe.
  • Brandon Walters, in his first film, is the most appealing aboriginal boy who ever played an appealing aboriginal boy. He is in practically every scene and you miss him when he isn't there. His is the central role in the film.
  • Jack Thompson ("South Pacific" - 2001 and "The Good German") is the habitually drunken cleric who volunteers for a risky cattle drive.

Even though our story begins in 1938, this movie starts out like a good old-fashioned American western, complete with lots of brawling, bronco busting, a cattle drive, jaw-dropping landscapes, a wonderfully staged stampede, and lots of humor, as Kidman's character is forced to get off her high horse and earn her spurs. We are reminded it is Australia however, when Jackman's drover must depend on an Aborigine to "sing" the herd to a distant water hole. Songlines are a fascinating part of Australian history, far too complex to address here.

There is also the issue of sheltering a "creamy" (sp?) on Kidman's ranch, despite pressure to turn in the little guy. As you probably know, the government in Australia had an official policy -- which has since been rescinded -- to take custody of children who were of mixed parentage and ship them to missionary schools, where they were taught menial skills, e.g., housekeeping, gardening, etc., so they could take their "rightful place" in society. (Please see the wonderful film "Rabbit-Proof Fence" for a more in-depth dramatization of that sad chapter in Australia's history.)

Once the cattle drive is over, the movie might have ended, but for Pearl Harbor. After December 7th, 1941, WWII erupted in the Pacific, with Australia sitting directly in the line of fire. Darwin, in northern Australia, is the first city hit from the air, so the next part of the film addresses the Japanese surprise attack, the unexpected jeopardy and the swiftly changing fortunes of our principals -- with plenty of blowie uppie stuff -- and you WILL get goose bumps when you hear "Somewhere, over the rainbow..." played on the harmonica!



Because this is a matter of recent history, Harvey Milk's death is announced at the very beginning of the movie. What follows is the story of how he came to be where he was and what transpired before he was shot. He had received death threats, as does anyone in the public eye, but this prompted his recorded autobiography, which also serves as a voiceover for the film.

We watch him migrate to San Francisco, a middle-aged New Yorker, accompanied by Scott Smith, his partner, both professional and personal. They open a camera and film shop on Castro Street, which quickly becomes a Mecca for gays who are routinely beaten and sometimes killed for their "offense" of living. As Milk becomes more and more incensed, he begins to rally friends, customers and neighbors; they begin to formally protest the treatment of gays. Eventually this segues into politics, where he hopes to make a difference.

His three failed political campaigns teach him vital rules for success: he cuts his hair, shaves his beard and learns to dress like the business man he is, rather than like a hippie; he learns to bring in campaign professionals who know how to obtain necessary things, like newspaper endorsements; one of his opponents tells him that his speeches seem like a hopeless litany of wrongs, so he has the audacity to introduce "Hope" into his appearances.

Milk was eventually victorious because the city had to re-draw its political districts and the new boundary they ratified encircled the area where he had his highest percentage of support. This is the most animated anyone gets in the entire movie. The nuts and bolts of political campaigns are not the stuff of exciting cinema, but in this case they are necessary.

  • Sean Penn ("Mystic River" and "The Interpreter") is the eponymous Harvey Milk, mildly effeminate, a touch of New York in his speech, a man who is not physically attractive, but who develops a winning public persona.
  • James Franco (the "Spiderman" franchise and "Pineapple Express") continues to impress me with his range. This time he is Scott Smith, Milk's partner until he finally runs out of patience because his home is constantly overrun by political activists; he reluctantly moves out.
  • Emile Hirsch ("Speed Racer" and "Into the Wild") is a street hustler recently moved to San Francisco from Phoenix, who becomes a highly efficient campaign worker for Milk, developing a telephone "tree" that enables them to generate throngs of people on the street whenever they are needed.
  • Victor Garber (LOTS of television work, including "Alias") plays Mayor Moscone, eventually persuaded by Milk not to reinstate Dan White, who had recently resigned his commissioner position, but then changed his mind.
  • Josh Brolin ("No Country for Old Men" and "W.") is Dan White of notorious "Twinkie Defense" fame. In real life, Dan was eventually convicted of manslaughter and spent a token amount of time in jail; he later committed suicide.

Milk's focus was on anti-discrimination: not just gays, but blacks, Asians, elderly, handicapped, etc. I remember the rampant gay-bashing here in Seattle. I don't say it's gone, but there is far less than there was... It's interesting that California, despite its progress for diversity, voted against gay marriage. After the results were overturned by the courts as unconstitutional, they voted again in November 2008 and again went on record as opposed to gay marriage. I read one article by a gay man who said, "Inch by inch... We ARE making headway. Do not despair... Look at how far we've come!"



This wonderful 3-D Disney animated film works on so many levels I scarcely know where to begin.

I'll start with the 3-D: It has already become so ordinary they don't resort to gimmicks in this film. And that's good, because if you see it "plain" there won't be glaring missed effects.

It's predictable. That's how children's movies should be. There's a certain security in knowing there will be a satisfactory ending.

The story is wonderful. It works on an adult level but never forgets that kiddies are the primary audience. The focus is on the love between a child and a dog; what could be more basic? Secondarily, it takes disparate characters, namely a cat and that dog, then literally and figuratively binds them together until they are forced to collaborate and solve their problems. The character development is flawless! The dog is naïve but means well. The alley cat is mangy, skinny and very, very resourceful. The hamster is the ultimate fan who absolutely refuses to recognize reality. The pigeons, both the "New Yawk" variety and the "La La Land" ones are hilarious!

Our hero, the television star "Bolt," expertly voiced by John Travolta ("Pulp Fiction," "Hairspray" and "Swordfish"), is a super dog in a weekly action series. His co-star is a little girl named Penny, voiced by Miley Cyrus ("Big Fish" and "Hannah Montana"). In order to get the best "performance" from the dog, the producers and directors have kept him from knowing that this is make believe, so he really thinks he has super powers. Of course, once he is separated from his human and finds himself a continent away from her, it takes a series of painful lessons before he finally "gets" that he is ordinary, but he knows that he still wants to be with her.

The alley cat Mittens, beautifully voiced by Susie Essman ("The Secret Life of Dentists," "The Man" and LOTS of television guest shots) has the onerous task of teaching Bolt how to be a REAL dog: the protocol of sniffing behinds, the joy of fetching sticks, begging for food and hanging his head out the window of a moving vehicle! Those scenes had me chortling with glee.

The dialogue is authentic, crystal clear (I heard every single word!) and is never confusing. The story unfolds in a logical way, the necessary lessons are learned (some of them the hard way), and sad bits are truly sad; but we get a happy goose-bumpy reunion at the end. Take your kids, your grandkids, your nieces or nephews, the neighbor's kids, the kids down the block, or slip into a weekday matinee when the kids are at school and enjoy it all by yourself!

I loved this movie!


Mystified? Have no fear. Only a very few of us aficionados would recognize these initials as belonging to "The Muscles From Brussels," world-class karate/kickboxing martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme ("Bloodsport," "Time Cop" and "Desert Heat").

In this oddball serio-comic little gem, our hero, cleverly named Jean-Claude Van Damme (?!), has just arrived in Brussels and is unable to use his credit cards. He asks the cab driver to take him to the post office so he can negotiate a money transfer (he has, both in real life and in this pseudo-autobiographical movie, suffered financial setbacks due to ego problems, tax problems, alimony problems and child custody problems). The fellow at the door of the post office doesn't want to let him in. He recognizes who he is and is actually trying to spare him the trouble lurking behind that locked door.

Because Van Damme insists on coming in, he soon discovers that everyone in the post office has been taken hostage: employees, customers and all. Despite his heroic character on screen, in reality he is as frightened as his companions.

The fun starts as he is forced, at gunpoint, to speak with the hostage negotiator. When the negotiator realizes who is on the phone, he, the press, and the gathering throng of fans, think Mr. VD has snapped because of his personal tribulations, and is holding up the post office in an act of desperation.

In flash-backs, we see the perks and trials of celebrity, and how worthless it is in the face of real-life criminals. Various fans ask him questions which indicate that they faithfully read the tabloids. He keeps up a good front and tries to remain polite, but obviously is weary of this sort of byplay. For example, when he explains to the taxi driver that he is jet lagged and tired, she accuses him of playing the high and mighty movie star, too good to chat with the likes of her.

Van Damme does one notable (very lengthy) monologue in which, without cuts or editing, he describes the sad trajectory of a has-been movie star: The instant fame, the money, the ego, the women, the drugs and alcohol, and then the sad dwindling of available roles. Later come the inevitable financial battles as the buzzards pick over the bones of his ruined reputation.

The dialogue is very, very funny. His parents show up; on the phone his mother pleads with him to give himself up, she weeps that they still love him and they are sure things will work out. He has to admit to one of the robbers that even though the tabloids named him as the star of an upcoming martial arts film, Steven Seagal ended up getting the role because he cut off his ponytail. If you don't get THAT joke, this movie is NOT for you!

This unpredictable piece almost looks as though it was shot in black and white, but there is some muted color. The camera does NOT try to flatter Mr. VD, in fact, there is no camouflage of his aging: the bags beneath his eyes, etc., are right there for everyone to see. This is such an honest, funny, well-acted film, I wish more people would see it; but sadly, it will disappear without a trace in a week or two... too bad... I might own this one...


Four Christmases

We start out with two extremely likeable stars, Reese Witherspoon ("Penelope," "Sweet Home, Alabama" and "Legally Blonde") and Vince Vaughn ("Wedding Crashers," "The Breakup" and "Into the Wild") who depict Kate and Brad, a happily unmarried couple who have lived together for three years. Each holiday season they cook up some story to tell their families while they slip off to some tropical paradise.

This year is no different. They tell their families that they are going to Burma to do some charity work, but in reality they are going to Fiji to snorkel and bask in the sun. Problem is, San Francisco International Airport gets fogged in and no flights are going in or out. It causes a huge backup at the airport and television cameras catch our dismayed couple just after they are told they can't get away after all...and their families, all of whom live in the Bay area, see them in living color.

With their alibi gone, now they have to visit ALL of their divorced parents on Christmas Day:
  • Robert Duvall ("Open Range," "Secondhand Lions" and "The Godfather") is Brad's father, demanding and crass, with Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw playing his other two dimwitted sons. There is a $10.00 limit on gifts but Brad and Kate weren't told, so that causes major grief.
  • Mary Steenburgen ("Inland Empire," "Nobel Son" and "The Brave One") is Kate's born-again mother, who seems to be living in an all-female enclave but is visited regularly by her pastor, played by Dwight Yoakam. Brad and Kate get roped into playing the leads in a Christmas pageant.
  • Sissy Spacek ("Coal Miner's Daughter," "In the Bedroom" and "Blast From the Past") is Brad's mother, exploring her inner cougar via a hot new relationship with Brad's (former) best childhood friend.
  • Jon Voight ("An American Carol," "Pride and Glory" and "Transformers") is Kate's father, who has come to realize the importance of family and is now mending fences, particularly with Kate's mother.

This movie has a nice pace, maybe it's a little too slapstick and over-the-top, but it is laced with family-friendly moments where our two nice people must confront their own private demons. In my opinion, once we meet the families, those demons seem pretty inevitable. The movie is predictable, the actors are willing to extend themselves, and we are in capable hands, but it just seemed to me like if they had cut down on some of the "ick" factor (babies throwing up, Brad falling off a roof, horny old women), it would have been a little funnier....

By the way, the multi-talented Jon Favreau is a working actor, but directed one of 2008's blockbusters, "Iron Man." The guy named Jon Favreau who serves as Barack Obama's speechwriter is a different Jon Favreau.



Hmmm... Too much Disney and not enough Pixar...or maybe it's the other way around. Let's talk about it.
  • Disney usually has non-stop action on the screen but knows when to insert recognizable little quirks that will delight the kids. In this case our "hero" tends to track dirt which is verboten on the space ship he boards as a stowaway.
  • Pixar is the brilliant organization that gave us the sweet, impish little goose-neck lamp who ruins its ball by mistake. However, even with credentials like that, their movies can sometimes be too grown up and/or intellectual for the rugrats, like the mid-life crisis in "The Incredibles."
  • Disney has patented the idea of the sidekick who provides humor and insight for the hero (Jiminy Cricket in "Pinocchio"), but this time has an almost insurmountable problem: The sidekick is a cockroach and 95% of this movie is non-verbal.
  • Pixar has the collection of geniuses who animated "Shrek" so realistically you could see the wind ruffle Donkey's fur, but for "WALL*E" the landscape is bleak and unrelentingly lifeless.
  • Disney has never before had a mental ward in any of their movies. That concept went right over the heads of the children, so when the inmates were unexpectedly freed, it was a non-event to the audience. I wasn't sure how we were supposed to feel about it. Did we sympathize with them for being detained in the first place?
  • Pixar gave us our first full length computer-generated animated movie with "Toy Story," but in that one, the love match between two dolls was relatable and appealing; in "WALL*E," the attraction is between a hardworking mobile trash compactor and what appears to be an alien life form.

As a rule, I can't say enough good things about either company, but in my opinion, this story is too complex and ultimately it overtaxes the attention spans of the little 'uns. Of course we are assailed by the idea of Man the Villain, (mankind has destroyed all life on earth and has been existing on a massive space ship for hundreds and hundreds of years) and (another commentary from Hollywood), all humans have become enormously fat in this dystopian vision of the future. Those ecological points seemed to go right over the heads of the target audience and there were plenty of overweight parents in attendance who didn't seem to find it entertaining...

Naturally our dauntless little trash compactor is admirable: He is resourceful, extremely hard working and has many appealing traits. Pixar has given him a recognizable personality and paints an exceedingly lonely existence for him. It's no wonder he falls for the first quasi life form -- besides his sidekick the cockroach -- that he sees!

The four-year-old girl next to me was extremely well behaved but there were long intervals where she was confused and bored. The infants in the audience were squalling and I sat there regretting I wouldn't have more positive things to report.

Bottom line? In my opinion, more for the grownups than for the kidlets.


Another Cinderella Story

I LOVE dance movies! And this new, updated version of that old cliché, has a lot of dancing. In addition, there were some things that I found particularly enjoyable:
  • Jane Lynch ("A Mighty Wind," "Best in Show" and "Talladega Nights") is the BEST wicked stepmother that ever walked the face of this earth! "Clean up my room! That fish stick has been laying there since Lent!"
  • The new and improved magic pumpkin is an orange VW van, driven by our heroine's BFF (best forever friend).
  • Cinderella is now called Mary. She is played by Selena Gomez who has done a LOT of television work. She has a certain toothy charm that is uniquely her own.
  • Prince Charming this time out, is called Joey Parker, a successful pop prince who is taking a breather from his high-profile existence to "return to his roots" and try to remember why he loved dancing in the first place. Joey is played by the yummy Andrew Seeley ("Complete Guide to Guys" and "Christopher Brennan Saves the World").
  • The selfish step-sisters are played as dumber and dumberer (they aren't aware that their zip code isn't 90210; in fact, they might not know for sure what a zip code actually is!).
The inevitable dance contest had some terrifically talented competitors; in fact, I might have chosen a couple of them over our eponymous heroine.
In this Beverly Hills-based version, Jane Lynch is a music video star, totally self-centered and nasty. I loved that she called one of her masseurs "Fabio" ...and NOT in a flattering way! She travels in a stretch limo, while her much put-upon stepdaughter travels on a skateboard.

This particular iteration of the classic story boasts some very clever choreography, which masks the shortcomings of the two stars. In fact, the choreography is so good, I didn't really care that our hero was a faux Justin Timberlake, complete with the cute fedora and the dance maneuvers with the floor stand of his microphone! When they shot it in silhouette, I really couldn't tell WHO it was!

All of the characterizations are VERY broad with everything painted in neon colors so you won't overlook anything. The camera work and editing are strictly music video'ish and the dance duet featuring our two leads is cleverly done in front of a two-way mirror, so HE thinks he's dancing with his image, while SHE knows he is thisclose to her. Fun!

There is one chaste kiss, mild language and of course, the sweet happily ever after ending.


Quantum of Solace

"Quantum of Solace" is the first James Bond movie to be a direct sequel to its predecessor, "Casino Royale." The director this time, Marc Forster ("The Kite Runner" and "Finding Neverland") flings us into non-stop action and hair-raising vehicular mayhem before we have time to finish unzipping our jackets. The problem is, there is too MUCH non-stop action and vehicular mayhem; we left the theater more than a little confused. Not about the quality of the production, the fascinating locations or the terrific actors, but about the basic story line, muddied by herky-jerky hand-held cameras and hard-to-decipher dialog.

James Bond, capably played once again by Daniel Craig ("Moll Flanders,""Munich" and "Infamous"), is still mourning the loss of Vesper, his lover from "Casino Royale." If you recall, she was trapped underwater in an elevator cage and he was unable to save her.

This time out, he is still trying to solve the tangled web of conspiracies that seemed to involve her, the CIA, M16 and a shadow organization called "Quantum." His boss, M, still played by Judi Dench ("Notes on a Scandal,""Cranford" and "Mrs. Henderson Presents") has serious reservations about his motivation. She strongly suspects that he is out purely to avenge Vesper's death and has lost touch with his fealty to her, to M16 and to Britain.

The plot hinges on an environmentalist who is cutting a deal with a scuzzball representing the Bolivian government, but don't worry, you will see plenty of traitors within the various organizations, interesting locations, beautiful women and LOTS of gun battles, fist fights, aerial skirmishes, knife fights and speedboat chases. Yup, LOTS of blowie uppie stuff!

The villain this time has no gimmicks: no gold finger, no steel jaw, no bald head. Instead, as played by Mathieu Amalric ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" [won Best Actor Cesar, the French Academy Award] and "Munich"), he is simply a successful, amoral conniver who has figured out a way to milk environmentalism and enrich himself at the same time.

My advice? Honestly? Wait for the DVD so you have captions to help you with the complicated plot, and you can reverse it when you suspect something has slipped by (I automatically kept reaching for my remote...).


Role Models

Once again we are faced with two semi-slackers (at least they ARE employed) played by Paul Rudd (“30-Year-Old Virgin” and “Le Chateau”) and Seann William Scott (the “American Pie” trilogy and a voice in the “Ice Age” franchise), stuck in a demeaning, dead-end job in which they promote a phony “energy” drink and make “Just Say No” speeches to area high schools. Rudd is chronically depressed and Scott is an aphorism-spouting lady’s man.

Rudd snaps when his marriage proposal is rejected by Elizabeth Banks (“W.” and “Definitely, Maybe”). After an egregious traffic mishap, they end up with a choice: Either a prison sentence or 150 hours of community service mentoring as Big Brother-types, courtesy of a reformed druggie, played by the hilarious Jane Lynch (“Another Cinderella Story” and the Christopher Guest gang, e.g., “A Mighty Wind” and “Best in Show”). Naturally she assigns them her two most difficult “Littles,” played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Bobb’e J. Thompson. They are, respectively, a Medieval Fair misfit and a potty-mouthed rebel.

Despite the language and nudity (did I just SAY that?) this movie has some redeeming qualities:
  • Growth – the “Bigs” are forced to change their priorities and attitudes
  • Loyalty – they earn to defend someone they care about
  • Tenacity – everyone learns the value of stick-to-itiveness
  • Redemption – this time it's the “Bigs” who learn from the “Littles”
  • Maturity – FINALLY!

This movie is custom made for its target audience – teenage boys – who have already seen and heard much worse language, believe me, but I was happy to see that there IS a moral to this story. As a movie buff, I enjoyed identifying well-known lines from old movies. They went over the heads of most of the audience, but were good for a grin from this cinephile.

Of course the movie is NOT based in reality, but when you watch our heroes march into a medieval melee in full battle attire and “Kiss” makeup, you too, will laugh out loud!


Soul Men

What a quandary! First of all, I've been a fan of Samuel L. Jackson ever since "Long Kiss Goodnight," "Star Wars," "Snakes on a Plane" and up through "Extras, Season 1" and "Lakeview Terrace." Bernie Mac has been around through thick and thin, e.g., ("Pride," the "Ocean's" series, lots of TV, and voice work in "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.") They both turn in commendable depictions of has-been soul-singing legends who are asked to appear at the Apollo Theatre to commemorate the death of the former lead singer of their defunct trio, played by John Legend who has done a little acting but who is better known for his stellar composing and recording career.

Our two heroes have been estranged for decades: Mac's character went into the automobile business, where he prospered but is now semi-retired, and bored stiff. Jackson's character is out of prison (armed robbery), is on parole, and works as an auto mechanic. Mac wants to use this occasion to re-launch their singing careers; Jackson wants to be left alone. Much of the humor centers around the various ploys each uses to achieve his own ends.

Eventually they set out on a road trip from California to New York City for the event. Mac has booked some intermediate stops where they can perform and regain their "chops." Their relationship is contentious: they are still angry about their final fight, which was over the woman who became Mac's first wife (out of four!). They sing, do modest choreography and deliver effective dramatic moments...but the LANGUAGE! It is just exactly what you would expect from these two notorious potty mouths. Without the language, the film wouldn't have felt authentic; but with it... I guess all I can do is warn you... We saw lots of Viagra jokes, smarmy sex, and audience-pleasing vulgarity. I think you had to be there.

Even though Bernie Mac has three more projects yet to be released, this movie concluded with a fitting tribute to both him and Isaac Hayes, who died on August 10th, a day after Mr. Mac (August 9, 2008).


Slumdog Millionaire

Where do I begin? This movie is involving, exciting, funny, horrific, unpredictable, and utterly captivating. It won a "Peoples Choice" award for Best Director for Danny Boyle ("Sunshine" and "Millions") at the Toronto Film Festival, and it will open in the U.S. in time to qualify for a Best Film Oscar. The official opening date originally was early 2009. The wonderful script was written by Simon Beaufoy ("The Full Monty," "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" and "Blow Dry"). Considering my fondness for those films, I'm not surprised I liked it.

We follow orphaned Jamal as he and his brother struggle to survive the Dickensian squalor and poverty of Indian slums. They are Muslim, so are attacked by Hindus. (Yes, religious zealotry rears its ugly head all over the world!) They are energetic and fearless, as evidenced by their many clever ploys and schemes. At one point, one of the little guys poses as a tour guide at the Taj Mahal while the other steals shoes that must be left outside the edifice. As time goes by, they are joined by Latika, a desperate little girl about their age who would like to be their "Third Musketeer."

Eventually they taken in by what seems to be a kindly man, but who intends to maim Jamal to increase his value as a street beggar. Rescued by his brother, they try to save the girl too, but she loses her grip while trying to escape on a moving train (this movie is action PACKED!). By the time Jamal becomes a contestant in the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?," the three of them have been separated for a few years, so he hopes the resulting visibility will help him reconnect with the other two.

This is a wonderful illustration of how a street urchin learns the trivia he needs for such a contest. Brace yourself for some interspersed scenes of torture, as the host of the show is sure Jamal is being fed the answers and he wants the police to get a confession before the big payoff.

The adult versions of Jamal and the girl are appealing in every way. Freida Pinto, the lovely actress who plays the adult Latika, is one of the most beautiful actresses ever to grace the silver screen. She and Dev Patel, who plays the adult Jamal, make attractive survivors of the savage slums of Mumbai: Their characters are wary, observant, street smart and have earned a happy ending. I always want someone to root for and this movie delivers!

By the way, of the five movies in bold face in the first paragraph, I heartily recommend all but "Sunshine," and that's simply because I haven't seen it. Go to your NetFlix or Blockbuster reservations list RIGHT NOW.

Be sure to watch through the credits, as they toss in a Bollywood musical number as a bonus...
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Here is what it looks like:
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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

This is far and away the most involving "Holocaust Film" I have ever seen. As I watched it, I could see that from a skeptical point of view, some of the details didn't add up, but the main character was so genuine and the story evolved in such a convincing way, that it really didn't matter! I KNOW when I'm watching a movie...smile...

Our story begins in wartime Germany as we observe four eight-year-old boys exuberantly racing down a busy city street, arms outstretched; they are emulating airplanes, laughing and dodging pedestrians. They are well dressed, well fed and oblivious to anything but their friendship and their joy at being alive.

Bruno, played by Asa Butterfield ("Son of Rambow") dashes into his own home where he can see preparations for an elaborate party are under way. It turns out that his father, a Gestapo officer played by David Thewlis (the "Harry Potter" series), has been promoted, and everyone will be celebrating this auspicious event. His mother, played by Vera Farmiga ("The Departed"), is a supportive wife, a loving mother, a glamorous hostess and a loyal German citizen, even though her own mother seems a bit skeptical and faintly disapproving. On the other hand, her father is enormously proud of his ambitious son-in-law.

Along with the promotion goes a move for the entire family. Because we are familiar with the history of WWII, we recognize their destination as the site of a notorious concentration camp. The Commandant's house is separated from the camp by a sylvan area, and our little hero is forbidden to play on that side of the property. Without his former companions, our little boy quickly becomes bored and unhappy. He spies on his older sister as she develops a crush on a handsome Nazi officer, played by Rupert Friend ("Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont"). He peeks over a transom and watches a movie his father screens for his superiors. We immediately recognize a "Potemkin Village" take on the Jewish incarceration, complete with happy well-fed children playing and well-dressed adults smiling and waving. He peers out an upper-story window and sees some distant farm buildings beyond the trees.

Naturally our little hero sneaks out into the woods so he can see for himself these unusual "farmers" who wear striped pajamas. He encounters a little boy on the other side of an electrified barbed wire barrier, and over the next few weeks they form a tentative friendship: our hero because he is terribly lonely and bored, the little prisoner because his new friend brings him food and is willing to talk with him. "Shmuel" is utterly baffled by his situation; he only knows his mother "went away" and doesn't know when she will return.

The main thing to remember is that we see things develop through the eyes of a naive eight-year-old boy, who has limitless energy and curiosity, but is handicapped by a very limited worldview. In fact, even his own mother is slow to awaken to her husband's real duties, but when she does, her formerly complacent world is shattered.

This movie is beautifully photographed, flawlessly acted (by an all-British cast, so everyone speaks with an English accent, NOT German - Whew!), and features involving secondary story lines that never intrude between us and our main character.

Please send me feedback when you see this movie, okay?


Henry Poole is Here

This is one I've pondered for a few days before writing my review. Here is a movie that might have been made in the 1940s when it wasn't considered hokey to express religious faith. These days, anti-Church forces are usually so vocal, I've been waiting to hear a groundswell of criticism, but...nothing... Maybe later?

Henry Poole is played by Luke Wilson ("You Kill Me," "Home Fries" and "The Royal Tenenbaums"), but in my opinion, the heart and soul of this movie rest on the sturdy shoulders of Oscar-nominated character actress Adriana Barraza ("Amores Perros" and "Babel"). Her character is aptly named "Esperanza," which means "Hope," the dominant theme of this unusual little movie.

Our story opens with Wilson being shown a nondescript California tract house by a diligent real estate agent. He is not only unimpressed, he obviously doesn't give a rip. He says "It won't matter, I won't be here very long." Because this is a movie and all plot lines are painted with broad strokes, it's clear that he expects to die. The when and the how will soon be revealed. I was surprised to see the role of his doctor portrayed by Richard Benjamin ("Portnoy's Complaint"). I was unaware that he was still working so I looked him up. Lo and behold, he has been slogging along all these years!

Wilson has no more than moved in and closed all the curtains and shades when there is a knock at the door. He is NOT sociable, but reluctantly opens it (his character is always polite). There stands a smiling woman holding a plate of still-warm tamales, welcoming him to the neighborhood. Over his objections, she barges in, looks around, and offers a brief history of the house and its former occupant. She sails into his back yard, chattering all the while, with him following after in bewildered protest. To his surprise, she is stopped short, transfixed by a stucco wall. She is convinced that he too, should be able to see the face of God in a water stain that has seeped through a recent paint job.

His life goes downhill from there. The plot is enriched by a darling little mute girl who lives next door, an indomitably cheerful checker in Coke-bottle eye-glasses at his local grocery/liquor store and the priest from Esperanza's church, portrayed by George Lopez ("Real Women Have Curves"). To Poole's chagrin, miracles seem to occur; despite his reluctance, he becomes acquainted with the people in his neighborhood; against his better judgement, he starts to care again.

Hope can be such a nuisance....


Pride and Glory

No, no, no!

Run...don't walk...away from this gore fest!

How can such capable actors, experienced directors and popular writers turn out such dreck? I refuse to name names because I don't want to take up your time.
  • Good cop/Bad cop
  • Corruption in the NYPD
  • Drug money
  • Family intrigue
  • Several hundred iterations of the "F word"
  • Brutal torture (including threatening a squalling infant with a hot iron)
  • Cold-blooded murders
  • Betrayals
  • Absurd fistfights
  • "Mean Streets"
  • Riots
  • "Manly men" beating the tar out of one another.

That's enough about this mess....



This is my fault -- and probably yours, too: When Clint Eastwood tried his hand at comedy ("Paint Your Wagon," "Bronco Billy" and "Any Which Way But Loose"), I didn't buy ONE ticket, did you? As he drifted into darker waters ("Mystic River," "Million Dollar Baby" and "Letters from Iwo Jima"), he was identified as a brilliant filmmaker and thus encouraged (by Oscar) to continue his efforts along that line. For this, his latest outing (based on a true story), he stays darker, believe me!

Once again we are pulled into a different time and place: this time it is 1920s Los Angeles. Angelina Jolie ("A Mighty Heart" and "Wanted") is a single mother of a nine-year-old boy, played by Gattlin Griffith. She works as a supervisor for Pacific Telephone, at a time when the switchboard rooms were so long the supervisors had to wear roller skates. As a former phone company employee, I love that authentic little touch. She and her boy ride the electric streetcar to school and to work (ah, the good old days!) and she wears a hat and gloves whenever she goes out! I should emphasize that the production design, e.g., the clothing, vehicles and street scenes, is masterful.

Her son goes missing and is gone for many long, grief-stricken months; then a boy who claims to be him is delivered to her by a Los Angeles police captain, played by Jeffrey Donovan ("Burn Notice" and "Come Early Morning"). She immediately insists that the child isn't hers, but he asks her not to make a scene in front of the mob of reporters and photographers who have convened, so she docilely allows her picture to be taken with the boy. As she continues to claim the boy isn't hers, they explain that a child can change a lot in a short period of time and insist that she take him home with her. She reluctantly obeys, but begs them to continue searching for her son, just the same. The police start to view her as a hysteric and an unfit mother because she appears to reject her own son, who, in reality, is three or four inches shorter than her boy, and is circumcised!

She is approached by an activist minister, portrayed by John Malkovich ("Burn After Reading" and "Being John Malkovich"), who is determined to uncover rampant corruption and incompetence in the LAPD, so she feels empowered enough that she tries again. This time, the frustrated captain has her thrown into a mental ward and things go downhill from there...

In my opinion, Jolie is almost grotesque, her lips don't look real and the makeup folks persist in using scarlet lipstick on them, which only emphasizes how unnatural they look. We are subjected to grueling scenes of profound grief and rage, a few horrific situations and a poignant ending. If you have ANY trouble hearing dialogue in theatres, do yourself a favor and wait for the DVD. The movie is excellent (but NOT enjoyable), and deucedly difficult to hear. I would put this down to my hearing impairment, but I have been treated to several movies lately in which I heard every single word, so it is NOT my hearing!

While you are waiting for the DVD to come out, you might want to sample a couple of Eastwood's comedies...


The Secret Life of Bees

The great piney woods of South Carolina have never been so lovingly photographed...at least I assume that's where it was filmed. If you have read the best seller by Sue Monk Kidd, you already know that is where the story takes place.

Dakota Fanning ("Man on Fire" and "Charlotte's Web") plays the 14-year-old daughter of Paul Bettany ("A Beautiful Mind," "Wimbledon" and "A Knight's Tale" - remember his nude Chaucer?), a hard-drinking lout who makes her kneel in uncooked grits when she disobeys. I would have scoffed at this, but I recalled one of my friends whose stepfather forced her to kneel in pie tins of uncooked pinto beans, so I guess this must be acceptable. Our young heroine is troubled by memories surrounding the loss of her deceased mother and after a traumatic event triggered by some racist good ole boys, she runs away, along with the family's hired girl, played by Jennifer Hudson ("Sex and the City" and an Academy Award for "Dreamgirls").

They end up at the home of the Boatwright sisters, who make their living harvesting honey from their many bee hives. The three sisters are effectively played by Queen Latifah ("Chicago," "Bringing Down the House" and "Mad Money"), Alicia Keys ("Drumline," "Ugly Betty" and "Quantum of Solace") and the amazing Sophie Okonedo ("Hotel Rwanda," "Martian Child" and "Skin"), who dazzled me with her convincing turn as the sister who "isn't quite right."

If you've read the book you probably wonder if their house really IS Pepto-Bismol pink....yes, it IS!

Once again I feel compelled to comment on the versatility of some of the actors:
  • Paul Bettany, an Englishman, this time with an authentic Southern cracker twang.
  • Sophie Okonedo, London born and bred who had a Ugandan accent the first time I saw her!
  • Queen Latifah, never more beatific -- but with NO irony this time. In this role she really IS saintly.

This movie is lovely to see and has a satisfying conclusion. The 60s are evoked by the clothing, the cars, the politics and the street scenes of the semi-rural south. In my opinion, they have brought the book to life.


Lakeview Terrace

Neil LaBute ("Nurse Betty," "Possession" and "The Wicker Man") seems to understand the inner workings of men's brains: what motivates them and what frightens them. Or at least that's how it looks to me.

We start our story in an idyllic upscale L.A. cul-de-sac. Samuel L. Jackson ("Snakes on a Plane," "Star Wars" and "Coach Carter") is quietly tending his greenery as a U-Haul trailer and a car pull into the driveway next door. He makes no bones about spying on his new neighbor and quickly ascertains that they are a mixed-race couple; Patrick Wilson ("Little Children" and "Phantom of the Opera") is the husband and Kerry Washington ("The Last King of Scotland" and "Miracle at St. Anna") is his wife. They are both excited and apprehensive at the prospect of being first-time home owners.

Minor annoyances quickly escalate to major aggravations. It becomes increasingly clear that Jackson's character, a widowed Los Angeles policeman, does NOT approve of the relationship, nor of having a couple like them live next door to his two growing children. He feels it sends a bad message to his own youngsters in their formative years. There is an ever-present foreshadowing of an out-of-control brush fire in the nearby hills encroaching on that part of the city.

Certain aspects of the story seemed predictable, and yet as a whole, it didn't go where I expected. To me, this is a plus, even though I found some of those directions to be unsettling. I was pleased to see Ron Glass ("Firefly" and "Serenity") as Kerry Washington's wealthy and disapproving father. It's clear that he too, is NOT happy with his daughter's mixed-race marriage.

The violence that we see is not out of reason and the gunfire is predictable. No blowie uppie stuff...

What Just Happened?

That's what WE wanted to know.... Watching this movie was like reading the fiction feature in The New Yorker magazine: Lots of erudite elements but it never jells...and then it just dribbles away and stops... Truth in advertising would dictate that this movie be at least as funny as the trailers, but no such luck.

The making of movies is a lot like the making of sausages: We would like them better if we didn't know what went into them! We watch Robert De Niro's Hollywood-based movie director endlessly driving around the Los Angeles area, always late, rushing from one meeting to another, talking (and lying!) on his Bluetooth headset, picking up his children from various marriages and delivering them to their various schools. He can't seem to keep his projects under control as he dashes from one disaster to another, nor can he control his ex-wives, consequently his personal life unravels as well. He doesn't seem like a BAD person, but he certainly isn't a GOOD one.

These are the people we watch:
  • Robert De Niro ("Stardust" and "The Good Shepherd") - over-stressed movie producer faced with launching an artsy catastrophe.
  • Catherine Keener ("Capote" and "Friends With Money") - icy studio head with a deceptively calm demeanor.
  • Bruce Willis ("Fast Food Nation" and "Grindhouse") - playing a bearded actor named Bruce Willis who contracted for a new action movie but, in a highly profane manner, refuses to shave his newly grown facial hair.
  • John Turturro ("Transformers" and "Margot at the Wedding") - nervous talent agent with a nasty case of acid reflux.
  • Sean Penn ("Milk" and "The Interpreter") - playing confident actor Sean Penn who stars in a brutal, bloody film that will debut at Cannes (they shoot the dog!).
  • Robin Penn Wright ("Message in a Bottle," "Forrest Gump," and of course the classic, "Princess Bride") - Robert De Niro's second or third wife. I lost track...
  • Stanley Tucci ("Swing Vote" and "The Devil Wears Prada") - scriptwriter dating De Niro's ex. (But he's signed Brad Pitt for his new project, so De Niro probably will collaborate anyway.)

In this movie's defense, we are treated to a lengthy scene (one long take) between the always excellent Robin Penn Wright and Robert De Niro at the Divorce Counselor's office ("You'll come out of this therapy so happy you'll never want to be married again!"). We never see the counselor's face, but we know from the trailer that it's Jane Lynch ("Another Cinderella Story" and Christopher Guest's repertory company, e.g., "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind")!

Other than that, there were too f**kin' many four-letter words!



In a word: B-O-R-I-N-G....

Josh Brolin ("No Country for Old Men" and "American Gangster") is excellent as George W. Bush, but the script is lame and the sound is horrible. It was very difficult to discern the political strategizing and the sly humor. I hasten to add that I wasn't the only one who wasn't laughing. The (mostly) liberal crowd found very little to laugh about, even though everyone came in primed and ready to laugh. Case in point: when Bush made a speech in Congress, we were treated to news clips of the Clintons, Lieberman, Pelosi, and Kennedy listening to him with varying degrees of attention and the audience responded with a respectful hush. When John McCain's face flashed briefly on the screen, the crowd burst into laughter. This tells me they were eager to be amused.

This movie lacks focus. The first-rate cast is mostly wasted despite some spot-on impressions:
  • Thandie Newton ("The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Run, Fatboy, Run") is a wonder as Condoleezza Rice.
  • Elizabeth Banks ("Comanche Moon" and "Definitely, Maybe") is a convincing Laura Bush.
  • Ellen Burstyn ("The Fountain" and "Lovely, Still") makes a refreshingly forthright Barbara Bush.
  • Jeffrey Wright ("The Invasion" and the upcoming James Bond movie "Quantum of Silence") is a thoughtful and honorable General Colin Powell.

It seemed to me that director Oliver Stone ("JFK" and "Any Given Sunday") shot a much longer film and tried to edit it down to pivotal moments, e.g., Bush's frustration about the search for weapons of mass destruction and whether or not he should use the term "Axis of Evil" in a major speech. Consequently, for these actors, their best scenes were probably cut:

  • Colin Hanks ("The House Bunny" and "Untraceable") is one of President Bush's speechwriters.
  • James Cromwell ("The Queen" and "Becoming Jane") is George H.W. Bush, shown here by Stone as a distant father, first frustrated, next mystified, and ultimately apologetic for his eldest son.
  • Richard Dreyfuss ("Poseidon") as Dick Cheney. In 2001 he played Alexander Haig in television's "The Day Reagan Was Shot."
  • Scott Glenn ("Nights in Rodanthe" and "The Bourne Ultimatum") as Donald Rumsfield.
  • Ioan Gruffudd ("Amazing Grace" and "The TV Set") is sadly wasted as Tony Blair. Where, oh where, is Michael Sheen when you need him?

Some of the scenes were delicious: The perspiring little cluster of over-the-hill desk jockeys trying to keep up a tactical conversation with Bush while trudging down a dirt track on his Crawford, Texas ranch; any scene with Toby Jones ("Infamous" and "City of Ember") as Karl Rove; Brolin's ability to talk with his mouth full -- I was dazzled! However, despite these gems, the crowd left in a remarkably constrained mood.

In my opinion, Stone has misunderestimated his audience....smile...


Rachel Getting Married

Well, Disney's Princess Anne isn't in Genovia anymore... Anne Hathaway ("Princess Diaries," "Becoming Jane" and "Get Smart") is Kym, who getting a temporary pass from her current stint in rehab so she can attend her sister Rachel's wedding. She is a self-centered, emotionally starved whack job with little or no regard for the rest of her dysfunctional family.

Her long-suffering sister, the eponymous Rachel, is played by Rosemarie DeWitt ("Off the Black" and "Cinderella Man"). In my opinion, it will be the quality of DeWitt's performance that will elevate Hathaway's to possible Oscar contention, in much the same way that Daniel Day Lewis owes his statue to Paul Dano who collaborated with him in those extended, Oscar-worthy scenes in "There Will Be Blood."

The brilliant Bill Irwin ("Across the Universe," lots of "Sesame Street" on television and a 2005 Tony for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?") plays their divorced and happily remarried father, limited by the script to being concerned, perplexed and consistently loving.

Anna Deavere Smith ("The Manchurian Candidate" - 2004, and "Rent" but better known to me as a playwright) has a largely non-verbal role as the girls' stepmother.

Debra Winger, a Hollywood favorite, primarily because she is so reclusive and eccentric, makes a quiet but ultimately explosive appearance as the sisters' mother. We all remember her from those early classics "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Terms of Endearment," but she has been working steadily ("Big Bad Love" and "Radio").

This is NOT a fun movie. The extra-long scenes that hammered home their point about multi-generational and multi-cultural harmony, ultimately became wearisome. In my opinion, our unhappy Kym had some legitimate gripes and may never see the end of her misery. Her parents will go on living their separate lives and never "get" the overwrought relationship between their two daughters.

An American Carol

My WORD! A movie that doesn't echo the prevailing politics of Hollywood or network television. I went out of curiosity and ended up laughing out loud a number of times.

First of all let me extend my personal salute to the actors who had the courage to appear in this goofy thing:
  • Leslie Nielsen ("Airplane" and "Naked Gun") is obviously a favorite of Writer/Director David Zucker. Neilsen plays himself, a grandfather and backyard barbecue specialist who tells the story for the kidlets. They are willing to hear his story just so they don't have to eat his terrible cooking!
  • Kevin Farley ("LA Blues" and "Dog Gone") who is a terrific doppelganger for notorious real-life political gadfly Michael Moore. Farley's character is named Michael Malone, and he makes anti-American documentaries, but can't sell enough tickets to justify making any more, so now he is now trying to outlaw the Fourth of July in order to generate enough publicity for a new project.
  • James Woods ("Endgame" and "Northfork") is Malone's frustrated agent. He knows the next movie has to be a feature film or Malone's box office track record will doom his career.
  • Kelsey Grammer ("X-Men: The Last Stand" and "A Christmas Carol" in which he played Ebenezer himself!) is General George S. Patton, serving in this picture as Malone's escort to the Ghosts of America's Past, Present and Future. I laughed out loud the first time Patton slapped Malone, as that has become one of Patton's signature moves these days.
  • Jon Voigt ("Glory Road" and "Transformers") is George Washington, discussing the need for war when the situation warrants.
  • Chriss Anglin ("The Hitman Chronicles" and "The Parallel") is JFK. The physical resemblance is slight but his voice work is noteworthy.
  • Trace Adkins ("Trailer Park of Terror") is The Angel of Death. He is the country singer who is featured at Madison Square Garden, the site for the climactic scenes of the movie.
  • Dennis Hopper ("Sleepwalking" and "Swing Vote") is a judge who wearies of ACLU lawyers.
  • Bill O'Reilly is himself.

There are three stooges...oops, I mean three terrorists... who intend to blow up Madison Square Garden during a Fourth of July celebration. Two have been honored to be next in line for all those virgins, but they are understandably reluctant.

I looked this up on IMDb and here is what it said: WARNING! This movie may be offensive to children, young people, old people, in-the-middle people, some people on the right, all people on the left, terrorists, pacifists, war-mongers, fish mongers, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics (though you'd have to prove it to them), the ACLU, liberals, conservatives, neo-cons, ex-cons, future cons, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, people of color, people of no color, English speakers, English-as-a-second language speakers, non-speakers, men, women, more women, & Ivy League professors. Native Americans should be okay.
Any questions?


City of Ember

This is a post-apocalyptic world-view for kids. "City of Ember" is based on the first book in a popular series of juvenile novels by Jeanne Duprau. According to a friend, if this first one does well at the box office, there will probably be a series of films based on the books. In this one, we follow a pair of teenagers who have been assigned their first adult jobs in a 200-year-old underground city. It is obvious that things are in an advanced state of decay; for example, the generator that provides the light, air and power for this mini-civilization is starting to falter, consequently the citizens are plagued by an accelerating incidence of brownouts and blackouts.

Our girl Lina, portrayed by Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement" and the upcoming "The Lovely Bones"), is eager to perform her first "grown-up" task, that of being a messenger in the city... a task she takes very, very seriously. The boy Doon, portrayed by Harry Treadaway ("Control" and "The Disappeared"), will work with the ever-leakier pipes in the drippy labyrinth that serves the city. His overly cautious father is played by Tim Robbins ("The Lucky Ones" and "Noise"), while his narcoleptic co-worker/boss is played by Martin Landau ("The Majestic" and "Love Made Easy").

The plot has to do with The Builders, who prepared this underground city as a retreat for mankind in the wake of some cataclysmic event that made the surface of the earth uninhabitable. According to their calculations, in 200 years things will return to normal, humans may emerge from their shelter and mankind's regular life can resume.

The current mayor of the city, played by Bill Murray ("Groundhog Day," "Lost in Translation" and "The Royal Tenenbaums"), is vaguely aware that an important metal box had been misplaced a couple of mayors ago. As a result, no one knows that it contains detailed instructions for exiting the underground. Instead, the people blithely worship "The Builders" to whom they look for a safe return to "The Outside." The mayor's loyal sidekick is ably played by the always dependable Toby Jones ("Infamous" and "The Painted Veil").

For awhile I thought we were going to do Plato's allegory of "The Cave," but things brightened up after we left those rusty, leaky corridors and jumped into a hi-tech carnival ride. This movie was probably originally intended for 3D, but it wasn't screened that way. Nevertheless, it is exciting for the kids and has just a couple of scary moments that center around a mole, of all things! ...and that smarmy politician, the mayor...