Then She Found Me

Hmmm.... Where to start....

Maybe I should begin by admitting that I have never been a fan of Helen Hunt ("Pay it Forward" and "What Women Want") despite her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress ("As Good As It Gets"). In this particular film, she not only co-wrote the script, she produced, directed, AND starred in it, so that is rather more Helen Hunt than I can tolerate. In addition, she is too old to be as reed-thin as ordained by the current Hollywood fashion these days; she just looks stringy.

On the other hand, I have always liked Colin Firth, from his early, early days ("Apartment Zero"), to his career-making turn as Mr. Darcy in Masterpiece Theatre's "Pride and Prejudice," and his later frolics in "Love, Actually" and "Bridget Jones's Diary." This summer we can look forward to seeing him as one of Meryl Streep's three former lovers as she and her daughter try to figure out which one was THE One in "Mamma Mia!"

This dichotomy was what prompted me to see "Then She Found Me" in the first place. As expected, I found Hunt to be mannered and stilted with her patented look of inner pain in abundant supply. There are many reasons for it: Her character wants a baby and she is 39 years old. Her adopted mother dies. Matthew Broderick ("The Producers" and "Election"), her husband of eight months, leaves her because he "thinks he made a mistake." Her birth mother, played by Bette Midler ("Beaches" and "The Rose") shows up. A single father, the aforementioned Firth, has children in the school where she is employed and seems attracted to her.
A couple of things I found interesting:
  • This movie contains a lot of Jewish ceremonies, songs, traditions and rituals.
  • Well-known author Salman Rushdie ("Bridget Jones' Diary") plays a medical man (is he trying to start a second career?).

Broderick's character is such a schlemiel it was hard for me to see why our heroine suffered a couple of relapses over the course of the two hours running time, but Hunt's direction is very straightforward and honest. She does NOT try to glamorize her own character and a few of the scenes are refreshingly long, with very little editing or cutting. This makes me feel that the participants are professionals who don't need their work cobbled together in the editing room. Midler's character has a very slippery relationship with "Truth" and that makes me uneasy, but her story is an old one...

Did I like it? Well, as I said at the beginning: I have always liked Colin Firth...

Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The enormously popular series of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis completely passed me by. As a result, I haven't viewed the two live-action movies through the same filter as his adoring fans. It is clear to me that he was a devoutly religious man and one who knew how to entertain children; witness the blockbuster a couple of years ago, "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe."

My first insight was the stage play "Shadowlands," which depicted the unexpected romance between confirmed bachelor C.S. Lewis and the brash American, Joy Gresham, based on his book "Surprised by Joy." When she is dying of cancer, evidently he wrote "The Lion..." as a comfort to her young son. I know the hospital scene on stage was goose bumps all the way!

Like the first chapter of this series, this one stresses the importance of faith, belief in life after death, making (and keeping) commitments, and once again, it features the same four young stars who portray a royal family in the Kingdom of Narnia.

The movie starts, a la "Harry Potter," in a train station. This time, instead of King's Cross, the four Pevensie siblings are at the Strand, a London Underground stop. Like Potter, they are dressed in their school uniforms and are carrying their luggage, ready for a new school year. A sudden fierce wind whisks them to Narnia, and they pick up where they left off in the first movie. Of course, it is over a thousand years later in Narnia, although only a year has passed in "London" time. (Always remember to suspend disbelief when watching a movie. It's vital!) In fact, when Caspian first learns who they are, he puzzles for a moment, then says, "I thought you'd be older..."

It is clear that the producers have every intention of continuing this franchise. It had a huge budget with production offices in Prague, Rumania and New Zealand (they obviously used Peter Jackson's special effects geniuses because many effects resemble the eye-popping "look" of "Lord of the Rings"). They cast charismatic leads, particularly the new guy Ben Barnes ("Stardust") who plays Caspian. He looks like a younger brother of Keanu Reeves, and I mean that in a GOOD way...

There is a welcome addition of Peter Dinklage ("Death at a Funeral" and "Elf") who is the skeptical and much-maligned leader of the dwarfs ("dwarves?"). He never fails to dominate his scenes and I am always happy when he appears.

For the children: Lots of battles with animatronic creatures assisting our heroes, lots of humor, particularly a clever little critter called "Reepacheep" voiced by Eddie Izzard, who reminded me of "Puss in Boots" voiced by Antonio Banderas in "Shrek." Never fear, Aslan the Lion is back, once again featuring the voice of Liam Neeson.

For the older children: Huge budget, huge cast, lots of special effects, lots of sword fights, more humor, many appealing stars and dastardly villains, and an involving story. It looks like another winner...


Next Stop, Wonderland

Here is an offbeat little 1998 gem for you rental folks. Written and directed by Brad Anderson ("The Machinist"), it features the prolific Hope Davis ("American Splendor, "About Schmidt" and "Infamous") and the always dependable Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote," "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" and "The Savages"). The rest of the cast is comprised of B-level actors, although Alan Gelfant certainly wormed his way into my heart.

Boston-based Davis is devastated because she is being abandoned once again by her boyfriend, political activist Hoffman, who is leaving her to fight a new real estate development on an Indian reservation in Arizona. She is a nurse who had started Harvard medical school but abandoned her plans to become a doctor when her father died. Her mother, played by Holland Taylor ("Baby Mama" and "The Wedding Date"), has adjusted to widowhood and is living it up with a series of lovers and wants to see her daughter set free, as well. To that end, Mom places a personal ad for her in the local newspaper, much to Davis's dismay.

Cut to four young men -- two of them brothers -- who are partying together and philosophizing about whether or not their lives are foreordained. This scene is interspersed with one featuring Davis and some of her hospital co-workers holding pretty much the same conversation, with Davis taking the position that random events would interfere with anything foreordained.

This is a sanitized "Sex and The City" depicting the singles dating scene with all its tawdry disappointments, along with welcome scenes of both Davis and Gelfant actually working at their jobs. Davis in the hospital and Gelfant as a plumber for his father's firm, but volunteering at the local aquarium and studying to become his heart's desire: an oceanographer. Both are reluctant to date and both are vigorously opposed to the pretense of personal ads.

The scenes after she finally starts to listen to the responses to her ads are very funny. You get to see each caller in all his dismal glory as he creates the improbable picture of who he WANTS her to visualize. In the meantime, our hero is the target of an aggressive classmate who uses every ploy in the book to pretend he is actually dating her, e.g., she borrows his lecture notes after class then meets him for dinner to return them.

Of course Hoffman returns after a successful but ultimately disappointing trip. They have stopped the greedy developers but now the Indians want to build a casino, so Hoffman is back in Boston working as a pizza deliveryman. Obviously he wants to move back in with our gal.

I loved the soundtrack which featured Astrud and Joao Gilberto ("Girl from Ipanema") along with other Bossa Nova selections. By the way, Wonderland is a greyhound race track on the same transit line as Logan Airport, both of which figure into the story.

You have The Case of the Missing Puffer Fish, the inept aquarium guard, and there are a couple of through lines which are very clever and ultimately very satisfying. See if your rental folks have it available. I hope they do!


Indiana Jones and...Crystal Skull

Wow! What a treat! I read somewhere that Stephen Spielberg is a huge proponent of reading and he insists that a good movie always starts with a good story. The script for his latest Indiana Jones movie, has been twenty years in the making, so it HAD to be good. Once again Spielberg has collaborated with George Lucas (the "Star Wars" franchise and "American Graffiti") and David Koepp ("Spiderman" and "War of the Worlds") to develop a story and a script that would meet with approval from Harrison Ford ("Indiana Jones" and "Star Wars") who is one of the biggest gorillas in the Hollywood jungle (over two billion dollars in box-office take from his movies!).

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" has everything! Chase scenes, waterfalls, jungle critters, lots of CGI Army ants, KGB agents, betrayals, sword fights, fist fights, Mesoamerican mythology, and a truly impressive snake (Indy HATES snakes!). Twenty years have passed; Nazis are no longer an issue; Indy is older and greyer; his father (Sean Connery) has died, as has Dr. Brody (Denholm Elliott). Indy is still a professor of archeology at an Eastern college and his current superior is Dean Stanforth (Jim Broadbent). The female students are no longer mooning over their handsome professor, in fact, one of the most outstanding things about this script is that everything is age appropriate!

Shia LeBeouf makes a perfectly splendid entrance...on a motorcycle...in a leather jacket...with a ducktail hairdo! "Mutt" is clearly a rebel, has dropped out of school for all the standard reasons, plans to repair motorcycles for a living and only contacts Indiana Jones because his mother asked him to. A mutual friend is missing, and now Mutt's mother has disappeared, too. Indy isn't very interested until he realizes a couple of KGB agents have followed him into the campus malt shop. One thing leads to another and they make their getaway on Mutt's motorcycle. Whenever things quiet down, Mutt drags out his comb and renews his "do." He isn't quite a Greaser, but his language is right from the 50s and we get to see cars, fashions, airplanes, etc., that evoke those Happy Days.

If Shia LeBeouf ("Transformers" and "Holes") will keep his nose clean, he has all the attributes to become a major movie star: He is good looking, he can act, and he has been handed an unprecedented opportunity. I want to see it happen, I happen to be a big fan.

This wonderful script combines lots of humor...character driven, not gags!...lots of outrageous action, lots of visual treats and great technical skills are once again brought to the table. You can relax, because you are in expert hands.

Go! You WILL enjoy it!


What Happens in Vegas...

Okay...the basic plot...both characters, played respectively by Ashton Kutcher ("The Butterfly Effect" and "The Guardian") and Cameron Diaz ("Being John Malkovich" and "The Holiday") have suffered individual setbacks. Each has been counseled by his/her best friend, "Let's just go to Las Vegas and have a good time! Give yourself a break!" (Her fiancé broke up with her because she wasn't spontaneous enough and his father fired him because he never completed any of his carpentry projects.)

They meet because a computer error books both sets of friends into the same hotel room. Before this little Las Vegas "break" is over, Diaz and Kutcher find themselves married -- as a result of a MAJOR drunken night! They wake up in a snit because neither one wants to be married, particularly to each other. She storms out of the room. A few minutes they throw insults back and forth in a casino where she has been playing a slot machine, she waves a quarter in his face -- which he grabs -- and she turns to leave. Angrily, he stuffs the quarter into the slot machine and wins three million dollars. He played the machine; it was her quarter; they fight again and then she decides she will go for a community property settlement. She flashes her vending-machine wedding ring and the fight is on.

The upshot is that an impatient New York City judge, played by Dennis Miller ("The Net" and "Murder at 1600"), refuses to hear the case until he sees evidence that they are trying to mend their broken marriage. They are assigned a marriage counselor, played by one of our favorites, the dependable Queen Latifah ("Bringing Down the House" and "Hairspray"), who instantly sees through any baloney they might try. They have to meet these conditions for six months or forfeit the money.

This is a clichéd premise, predictable and formulaic, but it is great fun, nonetheless. The script is generous with secondary plots and characters, so there is never a dull moment. Our screening crowd was also treated to a guest appearance of the screenwriter, Dana Fox ("The Wedding Date"), who chatted freely with us after the show for almost half an hour. She said she got her biggest surprise at their first production meeting. She discovered that both Diaz and Kutcher are actually very smart people! I know he produces several television shows and they are both well-traveled and experienced, but I, too, was surprised. In about ten years, after he grows into his bones (and maybe improves his acting skills?) Kutcher might become a force to be reckoned with. He is already a treat to the eye!


Iron Man

Ya know, in a classic comedy, how a pack of dogs comes racing through a house, barking? And then, after they are gone, a little one comes yipping along, waaay behind? In some of the comic sequences of "Iron Man," keep an eye on the fire extinguisher! ...I'm just sayin'...

Here is a delightful movie that has it all! Lots of CGI with generous portions of blowie uppie stuff; lots of wise cracks made by bright witty folks; a smart guy in a battle of brains with another smart guy (one of my favorite plot devices); a lippy computer; a sweet dollop of a love interest; lots of pretty clothes; fast cars; sleek airplanes; and hi-tech offices and labs...plus that diligent fire extinguisher... The US Military is not portrayed as a bunch of knee-jerk thugs, and people are allowed to have a change of heart.

Robert Downey, Jr ("Chaplin," "Soapdish," "Zodiak," "Good Night, and Good Luck") is a walking, talking miracle. Initiated into the wild, wacky world of drugs by an overindulgent father before the age of ten, he has been on the slippery slope to self destruction most of his adult life. After his last stint in rehab and jail, he was divorced and no longer insurable, so his good friend Mel Gibson (they starred together in "Air America"), to demonstrate his belief in him, personally insured "The Singing Detective" and Downey was back on the path to stardom. This time, he is clean, sober, straight and still incredibly talented.

This delicious film uses his good looks, his likeability, his wit and his intelligence as he plays a wealthy, handsome, charming and most of all, SMART, heir to an international arms-manufacturing consortium. His right-hand man is Jeff Bridges ("Starman," "Seabiscuit," "The Big Lebowski" and "Arlington Road"), while his Girl Friday, a lovely secretary/assistant par excellence is played by Gwyneth Paltrow ("Infamous," "Proof," "Possession" and "Shallow Hal). His patient college chum, now an Army officer, is played by Terrence Howard ("August Rush," "Pride," "Ray" and "Crash").

We see the genesis of a graphic novel hero (Marvel Comics icon and creator Stan Lee even appears as himself according to the credits, but I missed him), the how and the why. This should be HUGE, and rightly so!

Did I miss anything?


Speed Racer

First of all I should point out that video games are a HUGE market in this electronic world. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on them each year, even though I would venture to guess you and I don't spend one thin dime. If you have anyone in your family (and I suspect you might) who enjoys the colorful action, the gaudy special effects and the cartoonish mayhem of video games, let's talk about this movie...

The Wachowski brothers (the billion-dollar "Matrix" franchise) who wrote and directed, know their fanboys! They know video games and they know high-voltage entertainment. What surprised me was their solid through line of family values, the importance of playing fair, why one should keep one's word and the necessity for children to grow up and leave home. The comedy was broad, with no double entendres, no smut and only one kick to the crotch.

If kids are already used to the visual impact of video games, they would have a much higher tolerance for what I watched on the screen for over two hours. I'm too old to enjoy the color-drenched hyper-reality and animated martial arts. On the other hand, I'm sure the kids will eat it up. And they will be getting a nice message as well: respect your parents, love your siblings, be loyal and honest.
  • Emile Hirsch ("Into the Wild" and "The Emperor's Club") is doing an interesting mix of roles, with the super serious movies I just mentioned, to the eponymous "Speed Racer" of this current frolic.
  • John Goodman ("Raising Arizona" and "The Big Lebowski"), out of rehab and looking much healthier than he has lately, is Dad, who expresses appropriate parental concern along with a generous dollop of love and high regard for his wife.
  • Susan Sarandon ("The Banger Sisters" and "Enchanted") is Mom, a sensible, affectionate wife and mother.
  • Rain, an appealing Korean-born actor who will be starring in a upcoming project, tentatively called "Ninja Assassin." (He had an assertive young promoter passing out business cards which extol his talents...interesting...he's not leaving anything to chance, is he! Many of us waiting in line for the movie were a little curious, he seems to sing, too!)
  • An extremely well-trained monkey. I didn't catch his name...

Suggest this movie to the youngster in your family or neighborhood. He'll be surprised you are so well-informed!



At last! A movie with a beginning, a middle and an end. This movie has a plot, and a whole armload of characters you care about. Many recent movies leave us trying to find someone to root for, often unsuccessfully. In this one, with the exception of the soon-deceased husband, you care about every person. What a twist!

And at the conclusion, there is a wrap-up that explains everything and makes you realize why everyone acted the way they did...although you might have suspected as much over the course of the story.

Penelope Cruz ("Open Your Eyes" and the English version, "Vanilla Sky") is wonderful. Director Pedro Almodovar ("Talk to Her" and "Live Flesh") is absolutely terrific with women, and his cast is comprised almost entirely of women of all ages. Penelope's character is resourceful, loving, hard working, and maternal. She is voluptuous, energetic and practical. When she weeps, her mascara even runs; there's something new! At one point her mother asks, "Has your chest always been so big?"

At one point, she hires a friend who is a prostitute to help her, paying for an entire night, simply because she needs help with some manual labor that must be done by someone who can keep her mouth shut!

As an added bonus for ME, it is in Spanish, which means there are captions, so I had absolutely no trouble getting the dialogue. Whew!

If it isn't playing where you live, put it on your NetFlix list...