Made of Honor

Even if a movie is a Chick Flick, can't it at least be smart? And this movie starts with a reminder that former President Clinton has become a punch line for a lame joke.

Maybe with the direction of Paul Weiland (of "Mr. Bean" and "The Black Adder" fame), I shouldn't have been so surprised with the pratfalls, too-broad humor and contrived situations. But Mr. McDreamy himself, Patrick Dempsey ("Sweethome, Alabama" and "Enchanted") has made some excellent choices for movie outings in recent years, so I was disappointed to see him playing so far beneath his game.

This is a predictable, contrived, "searching for the bluebird of happiness that is right in your own backyard..." sort of hogwash. I DID enjoy Sydney Pollack's ("Michael Clayton" and "The Interpreter") elaborate sixth wedding, delayed while the bride circled the block in her limo as their respective attorneys hammered out the pre-nup on their cell phones!

For ten years, Hannah, played by Michelle Monaghan ("The Bourne Supremacy" and "Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang") has been the best friend of Tom, a wealthy womanizer played by Patrick Dempsey. Each Sunday they get together, shop, eat, gossip and generally hang out, sharing their past week and generally enjoying each other's company. Tom has a gang of guys with whom he plays basketball, plays poker and does guy things, but when the chips are down, i.e., when Hannah goes to Scotland for a six-week business trip, he realizes how important she is to his life and how much he misses her when she is gone. He resolves to rectify the situation, but on her return, she brings back a brand new fiancé from Scotland! In addition, in light of their close friendship, she asks him to serve as her Maid of Honor. He desperately surmises that this will bring him close enough to the action that he can derail the wedding.

In my opinion, some of his actions and reactions are downright petty, some of his tactics are unnecessarily mean, and some of the scenes seem clumsily devised. Dempsey says he is playing to his regular television audience with this role, so maybe they know something I don't.

I suspect this movie will do quite well...

Baby Mama

Smart, funny, entertaining and unpredictable! Men and women both enjoyed this one even though, going in, we thought it was just another Chick Flick.

Tina Fey ("Mean Girls" and "30 Rock") is a professional woman working for an insufferably "WooWoo" CEO of a chain of environmentally sound, organically grown, vegan food outlets, hilariously played by a pony-tailed Steve Martin ("Bringing Down the House" and "Parenthood").

She has reached the age where she suffers from "babyitis" in which she desperately wants a child of her own. Unmarried and burdened with a uterus her gynecologist "just doesn't like" and already turned down by an adoption agency, she hires Sigourney Weaver ("Snow Cake" and "The TV Set") who specializes in matching surrogate mothers with desperate (but comfortably well off), would-be parents.

Enter Amy Poehler ("Mean Girls" and "Blades of Glory") a down-home, uneducated, junk-food addict who ends up moving in with Fey for the term of her pregnancy.

This movie has an embarrassment of riches. The cast alone is to die for:
  • Greg Kinnear ("Feast of Love" and "As Good as it Gets"), a local juice bar owner who might be displaced by the new organic food outlet Tina Fey is ramrodding for the organic food company
  • Dax Shepard ("Idiocracy" and "Employee of the Month"), Poehler's country-fried bozo of a conniving, common-law husband
  • Romany Malco ("40-Year-Old Virgin" and "The Chateau"), the doorman at Fey's apartment building
  • Maura Tierney ("Insomnia" and "Diggers"), Tina Fey's fecund sister (look it up!)
  • Holland Taylor ("Legally Blonde" and LOTS of TV work), Tina Fey's bewildered mother
  • James Rebhorn ("Far From Heaven" and "Cold Mountain") is the baffled judge pulled into the situation.

The unexpected plot twists and turns don't feel contrived, the personalities feel authentic and the story feels good! Aaaaahh... A "Feel-Good story!"

Let me know if you enjoy it as much as I did!


88 Minutes

This isn't so much a "Whodunit" as it is a "Who's Gonna DO it," and a "Won't it ever be over?"

Al Pacino ("Two for the Money" and "Ocean's Thirteen") is an extremely successful college professor of forensic psychology associated with the University of Northern (!) Washington in Seattle, the Seattle PD and the FBI. Pacino's character is a hard-drinking womanizer who was drawn to this profession by an event in his own past that still haunts him. In the meantime, his expert testimony convicted a serial killer on circumstantial evidence; nine years later the felon's appeals are exhausted and he is slated to die.

Once again I must comment on how sick movies and television writers must be, to come up with so many creative ways to horrify, terrorize and/or disgust their audience. This movie is no different. After some establishing scenes, Pacino is told via a call to his cell phone that he has 88 minutes to live. (By the way, from the moment Pacino's character is advised of the time involved, the movie has exactly 88 more minutes to run...including credits.) As the movie progresses, he encounters message after message, left in clever ways, apprising him of a count- down that will end in his death.

Pacino has been called by the Seattle police to look at a crime scene which echoes the modus operandi of the "Seattle Slayer," the man who is scheduled to die within the next day or so. Despite this confusing new turn of events, Pacino insists that the convicted man was guilty and the execution should go on as planned.

This is such a trite premise and so overworked, I found myself instead, captivated by the scrambled geography of "Seattle." Pioneer Square becomes -- in a blink -- the campus of UNW (see above). The time necessary to get from Point A to Point B clearly ignores Seattle's traffic congestion and street layout. He crosses the Montlake Bridge but I suspect the "campus" is in Vancouver, BC or elsewhere....

This will not make anybody's Top Ten...


The Blue Angel

There is usually some reason why a classic film became a classic in the first place. In "The Blue Angel" we revisit the timeless tale of the middle-aged man falling head over heals with a sexy young vamp. In this 1930 German classic (which richly deserves the title, "Classic"), The Blue Angel is the name of a speakeasy where local college boys go to find excitement, buy naughty postcards and have some drinks. Professor Immanuel Roth, played by the amazing Emil Jannings, is a portly fellow with absolutely NO sex appeal or charisma. He spends some wearisome and overly-long scenes with his young charges, ineffectively trying to force them into less decadent pastimes. In thus doing, he first encounters cabaret singer/dancer Lola Lola, played by Marlene Dietrich in this, a career-making role.

By his second encounter with her, he doesn't return home that night. Reprimanded for his scandalous behavior by his superior the next morning at the college, he declares his intention to marry her. Thus begins our story...

Suffice it to say, I found this story to be very affecting. Professor Roth's eventual humiliation is wrenching and complete. You will probably have a two-disc set if you get this from a library or a rental. Play the German version with English captions; the acting will be better and the accents are so fierce in the English version, you wouldn't understand them anyway. They shot the German and the English scenes, one right after the other, but German was the first language of the actors, director and the crew. They seem ill at ease with the foreign tongue and it hurts the quality of their acting.

We are so accustomed to the lickety-split pace of today's movies, we become a little impatient with some scenes that seem too broad, or too long. Just remind yourself that it was over 70 years ago and ALL of those people are probably dead, so cut them some slack!


Smart People

Well, it's official. After a promising beginning ("Breaking Away" and "The Big Easy"), a middling early adulthood ("The Parent Trap" - 1998 and "Traffic"), plus a fairly attractive and/or comic maturity ("In Good Company" and "American Dreamz"), time finally has caught up with him; Dennis Quaid will NEVER be a heartthrob! His bulbous nose and potbelly are quietly obvious as he portrays Lawrence Weatherhold, a widowed professor who is stuck in his grief, pretty much ignoring his college-student son James, played by Ashton Holmes ("A History of Violence" and "Peaceful Warrior"), and his ambitious daughter Vanessa, played by Ellen Page ("Juno" and "X-Men III"), who is striving for a perfect SAT score.

Lawrence is a combination curmudgeon and self-centered pontificator, bullying his students and thumbing his nose at campus rules, e.g., he routinely takes up two parking spaces by leaving his car at an insulting angle which hogs both of them. After his car is towed for the umpteenth time by campus security, he angrily climbs the chain-link fence to retrieve his briefcase from his impounded car. While climbing back over the fence, he suffers a seizure which lands him in the hospital where a former student Janet Hartigan, played by Sarah Jessica Parker ("Failure to Launch" and "The Family Stone") is his ER doctor.

Because she reported the seizure to the Motor Vehicle Department as required by law, he isn't allowed to drive for six months. This means his ne'er-do-well adopted brother Chuck, played by Thomas Haden Church ("Sideways" and "Idiocracy"), might earn his keep after all, by serving as his driver for the interim.

Each of these actors are capable enough, but the movie just didn't come alive for me. Perhaps some of the witty dialog which I missed because of my hearing, might have redeemed it, but I couldn't for the life of me see why any of the characters were attracted to any of the others; although I DID appreciate the wisdom displayed by Chuck when he found himself in an untenable situation.

As I had said in my review of "Juno" last year, Ellen Page is a talent to watch, and this movie does nothing to dispel that opinion. She is attractive, capable and eminently watchable... But Quaid? In my opinion, it's too late now...

The Boss of it All

This Danish DVD is definitely not for most of you. But I know some of you like foreign films; while some of us get a kick out of actors and their "process"; and others are fans of the Danish director Lars von Trier ("Dogville" and "Dancer in the Dark").... If you fit any of these categories, have I got a film for you!

When I ordered it from the library, I asked for "The Boss of it All" but it shows up as "Direktoren for det hele" in IMDb and on other lists, so take your pick...

In a nutshell, a fellow with a Danish information technology company hires an actor to pretend to be the chronically absent president of the company just long enough to grant him power of attorney. That way he can sell the company to a hostile man from Iceland (who hates the Danes for 400 years of servitude!). The poor actor hasn't been very successful lately, so is desperate enough to give it a try. He's a little unsure of the ad lib aspect of the job, but agrees to do it.

When he attends his first meeting, one of the employees slugs him and things go downhill from there. One of the women says she can see through his disguise. He thinks his pretence has been uncovered but instead she says she knows he has been trying to hide his homosexuality in his e-mails and is prepared to show him how she can help him get over it. This is Scandinavian cinema, so naturally, he allows himself to be "shown."

He is very concerned about his lines and his timing, while the employees are very concerned about their JOBS! He becomes better acquainted with them and the situation... but then another character makes an entrance...

Suffice it to say, this is very, very dry humor, and the extras, which include a mockumentary, are hilarious...but only if you like exceedingly dry humor.


Across The Universe

For those of you who, for one reason or another, don't remember the late sixties or the early seventies, this piece by the brilliant Julie Taymor ("The Lion King" and "Titus") might supply some missing information, ahem...smile...

Featuring characters named "Jude," "Sadie" and "Lucy" (are you starting to get a glimmer?), this movie provides an overview OF the times while entertaining us with a generous supply of music FROM the times. Jude is played by Jim Sturgess ("21" and "The Other Boleyn Girl") who surprised me with his British accent. I looked him up and sure enough, he was born in the UK and was simply playing American in "21!" Lucy is the other half of boy meets girl, boy loses girl...you know... Her character is confidently played by Even Rachael Wood ("Running with Scissors" and "Thirteen").

Jude is the son of a British girl from Liverpool and an American GI from Princeton, New Jersey, who was never told of his existence. Lucy is the sister of the Ivy League student who befriends Jude when he comes here to track down his father. The generation clashes and the burgeoning protest movement are presented in a natural way, with the evolution of the characters following the all-too-familiar arc that many young adults experienced during that turbulent period...sex, drugs, and rock and roll...

I enjoyed seeing former Seattle actress Linda Emond as Max and Lucy's mother, and the brilliant Bill Irwin in a throwaway cameo as their uncle.

As you might expect, this movie is an excuse to revisit the popular music of the era (over 30 Beatles songs are woven into the plot), although "Strawberry Fields" seems to be the centerpiece...

The editing is impressive and the lip synching is amazing. I found myself caring about the principals and diverted by the music, even though I remember EVERYTHING about that era, so obviously I wasn't a part of the protest movement.

The DVD comes with a generous second disc of extras, but without captions, I had to give up.


Nim's Island

So I allowed myself to be talked into going to this little fantasy... I can't even pretend I am sorry, because it features Gerard Butler ("Dear Frankie" and "Phantom of the Opera") in two roles. In one, he is the widowed father of Amy Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine," "Definitely, Maybe" and "No Reservations"), a home-schooled girl living the good life with him on a remote island in the South Asia Sea. In the other role, he is Alex Rover, the swashbuckling hero of a fictitious series Amy reads incessantly, the alter ego of an author named Alexandra Rover, played by Jodie Foster ("Panic Room," "Flightplan," "Inside Job" and "The Brave One").

To me, an unrepentant fan of Mr. Butler, I found it to be extremely gratifying to have him on screen at least 75% of the time, particularly when he was buckling his swash as Alex Rover, because they used every cliché in the book to make him just like Indiana Jones (sans bullwhip)!

Jodie Foster's author seems to be suffering from a recent case of agoraphobia, she hasn't been out of her San Francisco home for several months. They never offer any sort of explanation for her condition, and in a movie this removed from reality, we don't need one. When she finally does venture out, it is to save the little girl who seems to be stranded by herself on a remote island, injured and defenseless... (They communicated over the Internet.) Her intentions are good, and, as a recent traveler, I really appreciated watching the rigors of modern-day travel; ...the security systems, the 3-oz. limit on liquids (she was bringing a year's supply of hand sanitizers), schlepping the suitcases, feeling crammed into airliners, etc. When she does make it to the island, her greeting isn't anything like she expected.

You are treated to Disneyfied natural disasters, a volcanic eruption, an earthquake, a typhoon, and, worst of all, an invasion of tourists. They have anthropomorphized the critters on the island, the iguanas, the sea turtles, the sea lion/seal, etc., so I repeat, this is a fantasy...e.g., an albatross carries a toolkit to a sailor stranded at sea.

But I had almost two full hours to ogle Gerard Butler, so it wasn't all bad...


The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Cecil B. DeMille must be spinning in his grave. When he produced his Bible epics, he would advertise "With a Cast of Thousands!" and actually had to hire a thousand extras for the scenes. These days, a clever computer programmer can achieve the same effects with a good Computer Generated Imaging program.

CGI has done two things: 1) It has provided many recent epics with a cast of thousands, and 2) it has raised the bar for the audience. Sorry, but this particular cast of thousands in this particular movie was strictly ho-hum... Isn't it funny how quickly we adapt to CGI effects and STILL need more in order to be dazzled?

Terra cotta soldiers and skeletons aside, the most interesting thing in this movie to me, was how naturally Brendan Fraser (two previous "Mummy" movies and "Dudley Do-Right") adapts to playing a father to a twenty-ish young man! His wife is now played by Maria Bello ("The Jane Austin Book Club" and "A History of Violence"), who seems to relish her action scenes. Luke Ford ("Kokoda" and "The Black Balloon") is their impetuous son. I was delighted to see John Hannah ("Amnesia," "Sliding Doors" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral") reprising his role as Fraser's drunken, cowardly brother-in-law, supplying some badly needed humor to an otherwise overly earnest cartoon.

Jet Li ("Kiss of the Dragon" and "Romeo Must Die") makes a terrific villain, unfortunately we only see him briefly minus the terra cotta shell his character wears through most of this silly epic, while Michelle Yeoh ("Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Tomorrow Never Dies") brings maturity and finesse to her two-thousand-year-old character.

There will be no plot synopsis, because in my view, there was no plot. All martial arts, CGI, and blowy uppie stuff.



Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive... (by the way, that is a quote from Sir Walter Scott, not William Shakespeare)

Our hero, Ben Campbell, played by Jim Sturgess ("The Other Boleyn Girl" and "Across the Universe") is a brilliant student at MIT who desperately needs a scholarship to pay for his VERY expensive medical schooling at Harvard. Problem is, ALL the students at MIT who are competing for the scholarship are brilliant, so...

One of his math professors Kevin Spacey ("Beyond the Sea" and "Shipping News") recognizes his cool, unemotional talent with math and realizes he can be coached to count cards in Las Vegas along with a handful of other carefully selected students. They are played by:
  • Kate Bosworth ("Beyond the Sea" and "Win a Date with Todd Hamilton!")
  • Aaron Yoo ("Rocket Science" and "Disturbia")
  • Liza Lapira ("Cloverfield" and "Domino")
  • Jacob Pitts ("Quid Pro Quo" and "Across the Universe")

Problem is, in Spacey's younger days, he counted cards himself (it isn't illegal, but the casinos WILL throw you out if they catch you!) and made a BIG problem for Laurence Fishburne, who was in charge of security at the time. Obviously, Fishburne still packs a grudge.

No surprises here. Easy money generates greed; too many lies derail friendships; the "good life" corrupts our hero. Need I say more?


Great, great vintage production! The art direction was terrific, evoking mid-1920s cars, trains, streets, men's and women's fashions, offices, football stadiums and football fields (VERY muddy!!!). The colors were tinged with sepia, while the manners and styles of speech were definitely "dated."

This movie explores the early, early days of professional football, with the less-than-scrupulous intentions, the total lack of official rules, the helter-skelter scheduling, the catch-as-catch-can transportation and the insecurity of trying to scratch out a living at it. The dialogue is very witty, particularly between George Clooney's "Dodge Connelly" and Renee Zellweger's "Lexie Littleton." Their characters didn't generate much sexual heat, though. (George Clooney isn't THAT good an actor!)

This movie had a huge cast that I relished:
  • George Clooney ("Michael Clayton" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?") getting thoroughly muddied, knocked around and generally made fun of...which was nice, seeing as how he also directed!
  • Renee Zellweger ("Chicago" and "Cold Mountain") is an unscrupulous newspaper reporter who is going to "cook some- one's goose!" (She just isn't very pretty, is she...)
  • John Krasinski ("Jarhead" and "License to Wed") plays a WWI war hero who is a deeply honest, well-meaning "good guy" who happens to play football very, very well.
  • Jonathan Pryce ("Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Very Annie Mary") becomes the Bulldogs' smarmy first team "agent."
  • Jack Thompson ("The Good German" and "December Boys") is Zellweger's editor at the paper. I've been a fan of this Australian actor since his "hunk" days, long, long ago!
  • Steven Root ("No Country for Old Men" and "Mad Money") who is one of the team's boosters; although nothing will ever top his stapler-centric character from 1999's "Office Space!"

In addition, there were familiar faces playing football team members, members of the press, fans, speakeasy patrons, soldiers and I even spotted Randy Newman doing the honors at a piano during a barroom brawl! His soundtrack had just the right rinky-dink, Rudy Vallee-type sound, so when authentic songs from that period were played, they fit right in.

I enjoyed the movie and will like the DVD even better, as some of that great dialogue got by me...


The Prestige

If you are a fan of Hugh Jackman ("X-Men" series, "The Fountain," "Swordfish" and "Kate and Leopold"), Christian Bale ("Batman Begins," "Rescue Dawn," "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" and "3:10 to Yuma") or Scarlett Johannson ("Match Point," "The Other Boleyn Girl," "The Nanny Diaries" and "The Horse Whisperer") you may already have seen this movie. I wasn't particularly interested, based on the reviews, but my friend Scott Bramlett did the trailers and I never saw them in the multiplex, so I thought I'd get the DVD from the library. Quite often, the trailers are part of the extras on DVDs...

This end of the Nineteenth Century story also includes performances by Michael Caine ("Miss Congeniality" and "Alfie") and... as Nicholas Tesla, Davie Bowie ("Basquiat" and "Labyrinth")!

Jackman and Bale are rival magicians who had formerly been best friends until Jackman blames Bale for the death of his wife during a performance. Over the course of their rivalry, they "share" a magician's assistant (Johannson) and spend MUCH effort trying to top each other's best trick, sabotaging each other at every opportunity. The production values are top drawer, the costumes are great and the performances are just fine. However....

The story is contrived, the "reveal" is contrived, and the conclusion is contrived (and repugnant!). Not only that, the trailer wasn't included! Aarghhh!


Margot at the Wedding

After emphatically stating that I would NOT review this thing, I had second thoughts, simply because I would like to spare you the 92 minutes running time. Those minutes are, after all, time you will never get back!

Nichole Kidman ("The Invasion" and "The Golden Compass" - what has she been thinking lately???) is Margot, a devious, sly, probably mentally unhinged writer who, during the course of the movie, upsets her son, rejects her husband, derails her sister's wedding and generally wreaks havoc for everyone within her range. Of course it is all for their own good, not because she is judgmental or cruel.

Jennifer Jason Leigh ("Georgia" and "eXistenZ"), who has been making quirky and mostly unpleasant movies since 1973, is Pauline, the unfortunate bride trying to mend family fences by inviting her successful author sister Margot to her modest little wedding. The groom, played by the vastly overrated Jack Black ("King Kong" and "Nacho Libre") is a would-be songwriter who seems to be sponging off his prospective bride.

Margot's rejected husband Jim, clearly a kind and thoughtful man, is played by John Turturro ("Transformers" and "The Good Shepherd") while her heartless lover Dick (!) is played by the ubiquitous, hardworking Ciarán Hinds ("There Will be Blood," "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day," "In Bruges" and "Amazing Grace"). At least his character administers a well-deserved thrashing to Jack Black...I LIKED THAT!

The reviews had already warned me about this thing but with a free check-out DVD from the Seattle City Library, I thought it was risk free. I just squandered 92 minutes of my life...


Eastern Promises

Okay, we have ALL heard about the fight scene in the steam bath in which Viggo Mortensen ("Hidalgo" and "Witness") is completely nude...well there ARE some tattoos... Talk about "raw" courage...

That particular scene notwithstanding, this is an interesting movie about a subculture of a subculture, the Russian Mafia in London. Director David Cronenburg ("The Dead Zone" and "M Butterfly") has collaborated with Mortensen before in "A History of Violence," so neither of them is known for being timorous about violence, homosexuality or blood. This movie offers all three...although the homosexuality is strictly between the lines, never overt.

I was, however, surprised at how involving the story was: Naomi Watts ("Plots With a View," "King Kong" - 2005 and "Mulholland Drive") plays a midwife at a North London hospital. She has recently broken up with her boyfriend and has suffered a miscarriage, so she has moved back home with her mother and her uncle for some time to heal. She delivers a baby for a 14-year-old girl who dies giving birth. A diary written in Russian is found on her corpse. Naomi takes it home and when the Russian uncle translates the diary it is clear the girl had been duped into leaving her village in Russia and was held against her will in a house of prostitution in London. The diary has the potential to alert the police, so the criminals want it BADLY. On the other hand, Naomi is struggling with the temptation to keep her mouth shut and simply adopt the baby girl.

We are treated to the workings of the Russian Mafia with its own code of the Vory V Zakone criminal brotherhood; the London branch is headed by Semyon, effectively portrayed by Armin Mueller-Stahl ("The Music Box" and "The Story of an African Farm"), who shows us a kindly paterfamilias that loves his family, runs a thriving restaurant and is a cold-blooded, ruthless capo, as well. His oldest son, Kirill, is played by Vincent Cassel ("Casino Royale" - uncredited, "Birthday Girl" and "Ocean's 12 & 13") who effectively plays a loose cannon, combining drunkenness and arrogance in his maltreatment all of his underlings, which include Mortensen, who serves as his private driver and flunky.

With a plot twist here and there, a fascinating DVD extra about the etiquette of prison tattoos and some insight into the immigration of Russians into England, it was enough to keep me interested all the way through. (Even the extras have closed captions! Whew!)

I checked the DVD out of the Seattle Public Library, so I know it is available on the rental lists. If you aren't too squeamish, you WILL like this film.