Pineapple Express

After much hesitation, I have decided to come right out and admit that I went to see this movie...albeit it was free, but even so...

Actually, there was much about the collaboration of Seth Rogan ("Knocked Up" and "Superbad") and Judd Apatow ("40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Drillbit Taylor") that was predictable: it was raunchy, it featured chronically stoned ne'er-do-wells and it had a completely unrealistic plot. Nevertheless, these guys have become two of the biggest moneymakers in Hollywood for those same reasons.

That being said, let me talk a little bit about the movie: In this one, "Pineapple Express" is the brand name of a particularly exclusive variety of marijuana, which can only be identified by experts, namely the BIG guy who deals in the stuff, played by my favorite chameleon, Gary Cole ("Breach" and "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!"). His tough sidekick is capably played by Rosie Perez ("White Men Can't Jump" and "Fearless").

Rogan is a process server who stops by his dealer's house to pick up a new supply of pot. His dealer is played by James Franco who surprised me with his comic chops. He has been featured in dramas ("Spiderman I, II and III" plus "James Dean") along with a number of movies I have managed to miss, so his stoner turned frantic fugitive from a ruthless drug dealer was a pleasant surprise.

These two characters are craven cowards, they smoke pot as they flee and make absolutely senseless bungles. About 3/4ths of the way through the movie, Rogan's character thinks Franco's might be dead. He has an epiphany and basically admits he has been a jerk most of his life but it was because he has been stoned most of his life and he can see that's probably the reason.

As they wrap up this unrealistic (but big budget!) story, you have the sense that Rogan's character just might clean up his act...but Franco's character? Nah....

The theater was full of young adults who audibly related to the stoners and LOVED all the blowie uppie stuff!


Tell No One

"Ne le dis à personne" is one of the most confidently directed movies I have had the pleasure to watch! This French (with English subtitles) movie is still in first-run houses, the release date for the DVD hasn't been announced. The director, Guillaume Canet, has been around for awhile, but I am not familiar with him or his work.

On the other hand, Francois Cluzet ("French Kiss" and "Ready to Wear"), the wonderful actor who portrays a busy pediatrician, is a more familiar face, as is Kristin Scott Thomas ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "The Horse Whisperer," and "The English Patient") who has a principal role -- and speaks French fluently, as she is married to a Frenchman and lives there.

Our story begins with the pediatrician and his much-loved wife on an outing at a lakeside cabin. After skinny dipping with him one night, she climbs out to go to their cabin, while he prepares to follow. She cries for help from the underbrush and he is brutally whacked on the head with a baseball bat. After three days in a coma, he awakens to discover that her corpse has been found, the victim of a serial killer.

Eight years later, still single, he is quietly involved in his medical practice when he receives a mysterious e-mail advising him to "tell no one" about the attached video clip which is a film of a woman who appears to be his long-dead wife. Naturally he is vitally concerned and step by step we watch him become more and more deeply embroiled in a tangled web of lies, deception and violence.

This film has NO wasted dialogue, NO unnecessary scenes, NO careless editing. It is exciting, involving and leaves no questions unanswered. It sweeps us along as our man, still in love with his long-deceased wife, tries with dogged determination and uncommon intelligence to untangle an eight-year-old (closed) murder case. His task is complicated by a Colombo-like police detective, played by Francois Berleand ("The Transporter" and "The Chorus"), who reopens the case and is convinced that our hero is somehow implicated.

There are a number of plot twists but each makes sense and is consistent with the character of the person doing the twisting. There are a number of beautifully staged chase and street scenes that are brilliantly executed, along with high caliber acting every single minute. Cluzet's pediatrician is a person you WILL root for and this satisfying movie is one you will remember for a long time.

I will watch for other movies by this director!

The Dinner Game

This seems to be my week for French comedies. Again it is on DVD, as it was released in 1998. Again it is directed by Francis Weber, so you can expect a great story, easily recognizable characters, funny plot devices, and probably someone named "Pignon." (For some reason, Weber uses that name in most of his movies...)

This is a laugh-out-loud farce about a group of arrogant young professional men who hold a contest once a week, in which they compete to see who can bring the dumbest, most boring, most idiotic yokel to dinner. Their objective is to humiliate the poor schmucks and enhance their own feelings of superiority.

The "Idiot of the Week" is a fellow who builds replicas of bridges, the Eiffel Tower, and other landmarks, out of toothpicks. He is an insufferable bore (not boor) and he is portrayed by Jacques Villeret, who has also played this character on stage. The man who discovers him is a successful publisher, portrayed by Thierry Lhermitte ("Le Divorce" and "The Closet") who seems to specialize in playing fairly unsympathetic rascals. His character is married to a woman who had originally been engaged to his best friend. The more we get to know this handsome scalawag, the less we like him. On the other hand, the more we know about the poor bozo who has been selected as the victim of this week's dinner game, the more we feel sympathy for him.

This is one of the most satisfying plots I have ever enjoyed. I re-watch my DVD on a regular basis and never fail to feel happy about the outrageous turns of fortune for all involved...and there is definitely someone to root for!

NOTE: Please, please, please do NOT confuse this with the lame American remake, "Dinner for Schmucks" that came out in 2010.


The Dark Knight

Talk about a sensory overload! Wow! "The Dark Knight" should be another Batman-based blockbuster for Director Christopher Nolan ("Batman Begins" and "The Prestige"), who also co-wrote the script.

Sadly, a lot of the buzz about this movie is due to morbid curiosity about the late Heath Ledger ("Ten Things I Hate About You" and "Brokeback Mountain") and his interpretation of The Joker in this, his final completed film. As expected, the villain is, once again, the most entertaining aspect of this Batman chapter. Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze, Danny DeVito's Penguin, Jack Nicholson's Joker, the list goes on and on. These actors always delivered the most interesting characters to these formulaic movies and this one certainly is no different.

Christian Bale ("Batman Begins," "3:10 to Yuma" and "I'm Not There") reprises his role with a brand new hi-tech Bat suit and a very conflicted personal story. Of course he still loves Rachel Dawes, played this time by Maggie Gyllenhaal ("Donnie Darko" and "Stranger Than Fiction"), but a love triangle has developed with Aaron Eckhart ("Erin Brockovich," "Nurse Betty" and "Thank You for Smoking") as "The White Knight," District Attorney Harvey Dent.

Morgan Freeman ("Bruce Almighty," "Driving Miss Daisy" and "The Shawshank Redemption") brings us a second chance to enjoy Lucius Fox and the gadgets he creates to help Batman in his relentless fight against crime. No Batman movie would be complete without the butler Alfred, brought back with delicious understatement by Michael Caine ("Children of Men," "Secondhand Lions" and "The Cider House Rules"). We get to see when Lt. Gordon of Gotham City becomes Commissioner Gordon; he is played by Gary Oldman ("Harry Potter," "Sid and Nancy" and "Air Force One").

Other characters zip by at a blink-and-you'll-miss-'em warp speed, e.g., Cillian Murphy ("Breakfast on Pluto" and "Red Eye") as Scarecrow and Eric Roberts ("Runaway Train" and "L.A. Confidential") in the slightly larger role as a mob capo.

In looking at all those "name brand" actors, it is clear that this was a high-budget, high-profile project. The production values are amazing and the story is clichéd but involving. My biggest caveat is around the increasingly horrific violence that seems to be taken for granted these days, and the additional sadistic glee Heath Ledger brings to his Joker.

Proceed at your own risk...


Get Smart

First of all I must come right out and admit it: I never saw the "Get Smart" television series because I don't really watch TV. This means I didn't suffer the pangs of cherished memories being shattered when I saw Steve Carell ("Dan in Real Life" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin") as Maxwell Smart and Anne Hathaway ("Brokeback Mountain," "Princess Diaries" and "Becoming Jane") as Agent 99.

Instead, today I was treated to an entertaining hi-tech espionage comedy with theme music that sounded vaguely familiar... Both stars are attractive and capable, plus there is a terrific supporting cast: Dwayne Johnson ("The Game Plan" and "Gridiron Gang") is a sleek, handsome Agent 23, while Alan Arkin ("Little Miss Sunshine" and "The In-Laws" - 1979) is the no-nonsense and always supportive Chief.

This movie is a great travelogue! Wonderful, wonderful scenes from Moscow: Red Square, St. Basil's Cathedral, Gum Department Store and great shots of the bridges over the river across from the Kremlin. In addition, there were great shots of Washington, DC, and a super trip to Los Angeles with lots of location work at the Disney Symphony Hall. That place is too unique and waaay too big to fake!

Soooo. Throw caution to the wind and prepare to enjoy yourself. I laughed out loud a number of times and had a rollicking good time. I enjoy good clean humor and had two favorite stars to root for!

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

It's a COMEDY!! Who knew? I certainly didn't.

Suffice it to say, I was relieved and more than pleasantly surprised, even though the cartoon characters and CGI violence was NOT unexpected. As I sat through it, I was reminded of the mechanical assembly of parts in "Transformers," the bizarre bar scene in "Star Wars," the secret government agency in "Men in Black," the huge doughboy walking down a New York street in "Ghostbusters," the winged creatures that flit about in "Pan's Labyrinth" and, God help me, the municipal mayhem in "Cloverfield." UGH!

Although there were laughs throughout, my favorite part was when Hellboy and Abe Sapien, both conflicted over their feelings for the gentler sex, drink too much beer and launch into a maudlin song. I don't remember right now if it was Neil Diamond or Barry Manilow, but you get the idea.

The story hinges on an ancient truce which threatens to be broken by the younger generation; a conflicted pair of twins who are mentally linked; and tons of ridiculous violence, e.g., shooting guns at insect-like critters that swarm all over our team. Shooting guns at bugs? Nah! Guillermo del Toro is currently Hollywood's Director du jour, but I remain unimpressed. Nothing new, nothing unique.

Ron Perlman ("Hellboy" and "Enemy at the Gates") is our hero; Doug Jones ("Hellboy" and "Pan's Labyrinth") is the smitten Abe Sapien; Luke Goss is Prince Nuada, the young rebel maneuvering for war; while Anna Walton is Princess Nuala, his psychic twin. Jeffrey Tambor ("Hellboy" and "Arrested Development") is head of the secret agency that investigates paranormal creatures and Selma Blair ("Hellboy" and "Legally Blonde") is Mrs. Hellboy who has just discovered that she is pregnant.

I don't recommend this movie, but personally, I had a good time.



Here's an oddball little gem from the UK! I love it when one of you suggests a movie I can check out of the library, then turn around and pass on the tip to the rest of you. My thanks are sent winging to Sweden...you know who you are!

One HUGE caveat, however. This is a spoof of "Reality Television" and it is a contest among three engaged couples to see which one can stage the most original wedding. The winning couple gets a brand new house worth $1M. The caveat? One pair of finalists are devoted "Naturalists" (Nudists) and have every intention of taking their vows in their birthday suits. You see many, many mocumentary-type interviews with the contestants and their families, and every time these kids are interviewed, they are ALWAYS in the nude...both frontal AND backtal... smile...

Another highly competitive couple loves tennis and intends to have a tennis-themed ceremony, while the last pair loves 30s and 40s Hollywood musicals. Busby Berkley, here we come!

By the time the big day rolls around you have become so fond of the gay fellows who serve as the long-suffering wedding planners and you are so well acquainted with all of the participants (AND their families!), that you hate knowing two couples are going to lose!

I won't take the time or the space to identify the actors. Actually, I only recognized two of them out of a HUGE cast, and I see a LOT of British movies, so...Not knowing the actors makes it feel more authentic, don't you think?

If you are in the mood for a quirky, feel-good little diversion that you'll probably forget by the next day, you'll laugh out loud while while it's playing.

Mamma Mia

Musicals are back: "Dreamgirls," "Moulin Rouge!" "Enchanted," "La Vie En Rose," "Sweeney Todd," "Once," "East Bank Story," "The Producers" and "Prairie Home Companion." And that's just looking at the ones I've reviewed!

"Mamma Mia!" is an ABBA songbook musical with a typically flimsy story, gorgeous scenery, lovely people, exuberant dancing, plus oodles of bawdy humor and romance...hmmm...sounds just like a musical, doesn't it? When I first saw this show on stage, I was shocked at how many ABBA songs I recognized, even though I had never been a big fan.

The story centers around Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried ("Mean Girls" and "Alpha Dog") -- raised by her single mother, portrayed by Meryl Streep ("The Devil Wears Prada" and "Prime") -- who has never been told the name of her father. They have lived on a Greek isle all of her life and she wants a father to give her away in her pending marriage to Sky, played by Domenic Cooper ("History Boys" and "Starter for 10"). Rummaging through her mother's closet, she discovers a diary that covered the interval nine months before she was born. She realizes that any one of three different fellows could conceivably (sorry...smile...) be her father, so she tracks them down and invites ALL three. She is positive that as soon as she lays eyes on him, she will be able to tell which one is THE ONE.

Enter Colin Firth ("Pride and Prejudice" and "Love, Actually"), Pierce Brosnan ("Evelyn" and "Bond, James Bond") and Stellan Skarsgård ("Good Will Hunting" and "Pirates of the Caribbean"). All are bewildered about being invited but are curious enough to show up. At the same time, Meryl's old buddies from her hippie days are there, too: Christine Baranski ("The Birdcage" and "Bowfinger"), better known for her work on Broadway; and Julie Walters ("Calendar Girls," "Becoming Jane" and "Billy Elliot"). These gals prove that older dames can kick up their heels, too!

All of the principal actors did their own singing and are listed on the soundtrack for the movie. That in itself is quite a feat, considering that many of them are better known for their dramatic chops rather than their pipes.

The audience was enthralled! The fellow next to me knew every single song and all the words! He didn't bother me as much as he impressed me! People didn't exit the theater during the credits because Streep, Baranski and Walters did two more songs, then the three guys threw in another treat, then the whole cast joined in again. It went on and on and folks left the place laughing and singing.

Do ya think I liked it?????


Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

This has to be the most sanitized, politically correct, enjoyable Great Depression movie I have ever seen! You know going in, that it will have a happy ending, and you are going to enjoy getting there.

Let's start with an eminently likeable cast:
  • Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine" and "Nim's Island") is the eponymous "Kit," a sunny, Pollyanna-ish "tween" with aspirations to be a newspaper reporter, based on the popular series of stories by Valerie Tripp (shades of Nancy Drew, huh?).
  • Julia Ormond ("Sabrina" - 1995 - and "Smilla's Sense of Snow") as Kit's sensible, hardworking mother.
  • Chris O'Donnell ("Circle of Friends" and "Cookie's Fortune"), all grown up, still handsome, and reassuringly believable as her loving father.
  • Joan Cusack ("In and Out" and "Martian Child") with a padded behind and sensible shoes, is the librarian who drives (albeit badly!) the 1930s vintage bookmobile.
  • Max Thieriot ("Jumper" and "Nancy Drew") is a young hobo accused of theft. (My Goodness! He shore is purdy!)
  • Jane Krakowski ("Dance with Me" and "Alfie" - 2004) plays a dance instructor who is one of the boarders in the Kittredge family home.
  • Stanley Tucci ("Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Devil Wears Prada") is a boarder who makes his living as a magician.
  • Wallace Shawn ("The Princess Bride" and "Clueless") is the editor of the Cincinnati newspaper. I smiled over this delicious bit of casting because his father was William Shawn, legendary editor of the New Yorker Magazine.
  • Grace, a lugubrious Bassett hound.

Of course there are the necessary best friends, classmates and neighbors who fill out the cast. The art direction is impeccable with the 1930s evoked in the music, clothing, brand names, street signs, food, automobiles and furnishings. The children were more opposed to clothing made from flour or feed sacks than when I used to wear them, but of course, Kit, with her indomitably upbeat attitude, prevails. Suffice it to say, this movie has lots of excitement for a "tween" and serves up a happy ending with a few good moral lessons to boot.


Journey to the Center of the Earth

Talk about a wild carnival ride! I saw the 3-D version and it was great fun. Between the jaw-dropping visuals and the irony-free depiction of Jules Verne's vision of the center of the earth, I was glad I had suspended disbelief at the door.

Brendan Fraser ("The Mummy" franchise and "Crash") has found a way to inhabit these ridiculous movies and come out of them without either making a fool of himself or making fun of them. I'm not sure how he does it but he's made a pretty good career out of it. Naturally, because he is a graduate of Seattle's Cornish School of the Arts, I have paid particular attention and freely admit to a little bias...

Evidently the book upon which this movie is based had a neglectful dad thrown together with his alienated son. Fraser reasoned that there was no need for the characters to overcome the audience's antipathy and luckily has enough clout that he was able to change the characters. He now plays the boy's uncle who is supposed to entertain him for a couple of weeks while his widowed sister-in-law takes a trip.

The whole movie is fantastical, so I won't try to describe it, but it has little fun things, e.g., when the teenage boy, capably played by Josh Hutcherson ("Bridge to Terabithia" and "Firehouse Dog") sees the mountain guide who will take them to their destination, he quickly says, "I get dibs on the guide!" Fraser is shocked but then takes another look at the guide, played by Icelandic actress Anita Briem, who has a face that grows prettier and prettier, the more you watch her.

I WILL say that 3-D has come a long way since "House of Wax!"