Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Michael Cera ("Superbad," "Arrested Development" and "Juno") has the sweetest face. He can look hesitant, honest, smart and loveable, all at the same time. He is Nick, brokenhearted because he was recently dumped by Tris, an unfaithful, heartless wench, played by Alexis Dziena ("Fool's Gold" and "Broken Flowers").

He is a straight guy who plays guitar in a band whose other three members are gay. During the course of one chaotic evening, he encounters Norah, played by Kat Dennings ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "The House Bunny") who has just broken up with a friend...with benefits...a euphemism for...you know...portrayed by Jay Baruchel ("Tropic Thunder" and "Knocked Up"). We can tell right away that he clearly doesn't deserve her.

Norah seems to feel responsible for the well-being of her chronically irresponsible best friend Caroline, vastly overplayed by Ari Graynor ("Mystic River"), who does things with a stick of chewing gum that you really do NOT want to watch!

This is a gross-out comedy, funny in many ways, cruel in many others, but always brought back to sanity by the calm, sensible instincts of our loveable hero Nick. It was a hoot watching him grind and backfire his way around New York City streets in his rusty, (semi-) trusty old Yugo!



So these two lonesome strangers mosey into this dusty little wind-swept burg called Appaloosa...

No! ...Wait! ...FIRST we have to start with the cold-blooded murder of a sheriff and his two deputies by a wealthy cattle rancher, played by Jeremy Irons ("Inland Empire" and "The Colour of Magic") who is flanked by his numerous henchmen, THEN the two lonesome strangers mosey into town.

Laconic, taciturn and wryly humorous, both Ed Harris ("The Truman Show" and "A History of Violence") and Viggo Mortensen ("Hidalgo" and "Eastern Promises") portray the iconic Western anti-hero, hired by the intimidated town elders to "clean up this town."

Director Ed Harris ("Pollock"), who also adapted the script from the Robert B. Parker novel, has opted for the classic Western genre, and in this, I think, he doesn't disappoint. Maybe I'm just not a fan...

In fact, by the time the young widow comes to town, I was looking desperately for something new. Actually, as portrayed by Renée Zellweger ("Chicago" and "Bridget Jones's Diary"), her character is just that - quite a character. We didn't expect her to be quite so subtly brazen or so slyly forward. In a word: Pragmatic.

I was grateful for several things:
  • No stampede
  • The gunfights are brief
  • Little or no profanity (or maybe I just couldn't hear it!)
My major complaint was with the soundtrack. I wasn't the only one who had trouble deciphering the dialog. I was envious of those lucky folks who were able to make out enough of it to laugh at the many clever turns of phrase that lace the script. I guess I'll just have to settle for the DVD with captions when it comes out.

The Women

When Clare Booth (Luce) set her delicious all-woman play "The Women" in 1936 New York City, her satire focused on the idle (rich) wives and divorcees who patronized posh spas, gossiped over martinis, and shopped till they dropped at Saks Fifth Avenue. Maybe the critics didn't like it, but the play-going public DID! It became a long-running hit. It was recently revived at Seattle's ACT and starred 13 local actresses using her original script. It was divine!

In 1939 she was fortunate to have Anita Loos adapt her script into a screenplay for an all-female movie version by the same name. At that time, Reno was THE place for quickie divorces, infidelity was scandalous, pregnancy wasn't discussed in polite company and lesbians were known as "career women." It starred Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Butterfly McQueen, Spring Byington, Marjorie Main, and many other luminaries of the silver screen.

By 1956, when it was remade as "The Opposite Sex" with June Allison, Joan Collins and Ann Miller, it was expanded to include men. The husbands and boyfriends were visible, the story was updated and the movie was in Technicolor ...but it was not an improvement over the original.

In 2008 we have a defanged, politically correct, wimpy script that tries once again to catch lightening in a bottle, by excluding all males from the screen...again... Unfortunately, Meg Ryan repeats her long ultra-curly, ultra-messy hairdo from "When Harry Met Sally." Problem is, that hairdo was designed to make fun of the time period, not to depict a wealthy, society dame who enjoys all the privileges of money and position. Things go downhill from there.

The women in this cast have all done better work:
  • Annette Bening ("Being Julia") has the gossipy Rosalind Russell role.
  • Debra Messing ("The Wedding Date") is their fertile friend.
  • Jada Pinkett Smith ("Collateral") is the lesbian, but is VERY funny in the childbirth scene.
  • Candice Bergen ("Miss Congeniality") is our heroine's wise mother, and I DID like her plastic surgery getup.
  • Bette Midler ("The First Wives Club") is the oft-married divorcee. When she comes tripping down to the lakeshore in her high-heeled wedgies, I thought things were finally going to pop, but they dropped that whole subplot!
  • Cloris Leachman is the housekeeper. She has worked non-stop for decades, but we all remember her in the classic "Young Frankenstein."
  • Debi Mazar ("Collateral") is excellent at the gossipy manicurist who starts the ball rolling.
  • Eva Mendez ("Hitch") is more like a glamorous Sophia Loren than a conniving Joan Crawford when she dons a black Merry Widow to set off her Jungle Red nail polish.

Wonderful opportunity....wasted. I'll keep my black and white copy of the original, directed by George Cukor, thanks.



What a thrilling movie! If you are a little squeamish, there are two hide-your-eyes spots in this film; otherwise, buckle up for an exciting, involving, suspenseful ride!

An American couple has just completed a humanitarian project in Eastern Asia. To take advantage of the trip, the husband, played by Woody Harrelson ("A Prairie Home Companion," "No Country for Old Men" and "Battle In Seattle") convinces his wife, played by Emily Mortimer ("Dear Frankie," "Match Point" and "Lars and the Real Girl") to start the trip back by riding a train from Vladivostok to Moscow instead of flying directly to the US. He is a train buff and feels this is the best chance he will ever have to experience a really l-o-n-g train ride (it is a seven-day train trip to Moscow). The rigors of train travel, particularly in a country where very few people speak English, are made very clear: the claustrophobia-inducing sleeping accommodations, the undependable plumbing, the ubiquitous vodka.

They are soon joined by another couple: a charming Spanish man, played by the appealing Eduardo Noriega, and his smoky-eyed companion, played by Kate Mara ("We Are Marshall" and "Brokeback Mountain"). It soon becomes clear that things aren't quite what they seem. At one of the stops our hero goes missing and his wife is assured that if the three of them get off at a nearby stop, they will show her a spectacular sight while her husband catches up with them on the next train.

Ben Kingsley ("Gandhi," "House of Sand and Fog" and "You Kill Me") is a Russian policeman who seems to have amazing insight into everyone's behavior.

Let me just say that the aerial shots of the train traveling through Siberia, the views along the way, the pictures she takes (she is an amateur photographer), all factor into this straight-forward plot. Emily Mortimer is a wonderful actress and this film makes the most of her abilities. As an aside, I was impressed by a tiny twitch under the left eye when one of the characters was under stress.


Eagle Eye

Whew! That was exhausting...and exciting...and exhausting...

Shia LeBeouf ("Disturbia," "Transporters" and "Indiana Jones...Crystal Skull") is the surviving twin from a mismatched pair; one twin -- now deceased -- was highly motivated and ambitious, while LeBeouf's is not. We see him winning at cards in the back room of his place of employment, a copy mart, then trying to elude his landlady because his rent is overdue.

Michelle Monaghan ("Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang," "Gone, Baby, Gone" and "Made of Honor") is a single mother, proudly sending her son off for a trip to Washington, D.C., where he will play trumpet in a grade school band which will be entertaining the President of the United States and a joint session of Congress.

Each is inexplicably thrown into a high-speed, death-defying flight from Homeland Security, the FBI, the CIA and what seemed to be every law enforcement officer on the East Coast. They end up fleeing together, blindly following instructions from an all-seeing, all-knowing series of electronic messages displayed on cell phones, reader boards, traffic signs and numerous other unlikely sources. The action becomes almost comical because it is so clearly over the top, but the two stars are so frantic and decent that you can't help but root for them. I really enjoyed their rough and tumble odyssey through the luggage system at the airport. I have always wondered what that place looked like.

Their primary (FBI) nemesis is played by Billy Bob Thornton ("Love, Actually," "Friday Night Lights" and "The Ice Harvest"), ably assisted by his earnest sidekick, Ethan Embry ("Sweet Home, Alabama," "Timeline" and "Vacancy"). These two guys may not have all the good lines, but it sure seems like it...Thornton in particular!

Rosario Dawson ("Shattered Glass," "Rent" and "Grindhouse"), Anthony Mackie ("Million Dollar Baby," "Half Nelson" and "We Are Marshall") and Michael Chiklis ("Fantastic Four" and lots of television work) are also featured players.

This is a high-tech espionage thriller with lots of blowie uppie stuff, very paranoid, very cartoonlike and very illogical .....but lots of fun...and exhausting...

3:10 to Yuma - 2007

Let me get this out of the way first: We should take up a collection and get those guys an atlas! The opening scenes of this movie have continuous references to Bisbee, Arizona. I spent a good portion of my life in Bisbee, so I was more than a little curious, to put it mildly! Imagine my surprise and dismay to discover that Hollywood's Bisbee is NOT in the southeastern mountains of Arizona, is NOT a mining town, and is NOT in even the vicinity (despite numerous references to crossing the border into Mexico), but is, instead, somewhere flat, grassy, and with cholla (the "Jumping Cactus"), which grows farther north! To add insult to injury, they had the temerity to include an interval (you'll see Luke Wilson as a bad guy) with Chinese laborers building a railroad! In Southern Arizona? Puleeze!

This is right up there with the classic "My Darling Clementine" starring Henry Fonda. That one was supposed to be about Tombstone and the Gunfight at OK Corral, but was filmed in Monument Valley, which is in the far northeastern part of Arizona, over 300 miles away. That location was hard to stomach, too!

Okay, now that I got that off my chest, let's talk about the movie itself. It is absolutely terrific! Dan Evans, played by Christian Bale ("Batman Begins" and "The Prestige") is a law-abiding small-time rancher, struggling to make ends meet. His hard-working family consists of a wife and two sons. The man who holds his mortgage has cut off his access to water and he is on the brink of ruin. He had the lower part of one leg amputated in the Civil War. In the early scenes of the movie, their little ranch is raided, their cattle run off and their barn burned.

As Dan and his fourteen-year-old son track their small herd, they happen upon a stagecoach robbery being committed by a gang headed by a charismatic, Bible-quoting fellow named Ben Wade, played by Russell Crowe ("A Beautiful Mind" and "Cinderella Man"). This gang is so feared and respected they travel the area with relative impunity. Dan and his son pick up an injured Pinkerton guard, played by Peter Fonda ("Ulee's Gold" and "The Hired Hand"). They have to get him to a doctor (who actually turns out to be a veterinarian), played by Alan Tudyk ("Death at a Funeral" and "28 Days"). Wade and his gang have stopped in "Bisbee" for some R & R, and as a result of a terrific scene between Dan and Ben (this is based on a story by Elmore Leonard), Ben is captured. With a rueful smile, Ben says, "Remind me never to play poker in this town."

Russell Crowe's Ben Wade is a fascinating character. He intellectually seduces everyone, finding grounds for common interest, obtaining agreement on some shared value, searching each new acquaintance for a weakness. He is, on the other hand, a cold-blooded killer who does not hesitate to shoot someone because "He bored me."

The Pinkerton Agency is charged with the responsibility to deliver Ben Wade to the "3:10 to Yuma." The train will deliver him to the Territorial Prison, where he will be hanged. Finding a shortage of willing guards, a reluctant Dan Evans is hired to help out; the pay should go a long ways to getting his struggling ranch back on its feet.

Getting there is what this movie is all about. Be prepared for bloodshed, suspense and humor. You know Elmore Leonard... I'm on the waiting list at Seattle Library to view the original classic Western that starred Glenn Ford. (I wonder if THEY found Bisbee!)

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Laurence Olivier's widow, Joan Plowright ("Dance With Me" and "The Spiderwick Chronicles"), is Mrs. Palfrey. She is a Scottish widow who has moved to London to be on her own for the first time in her life. To her dismay, she discovers that the Claremont is nothing but an old folk's home where the elderly live quietly boring lives. She attempts to contact her only grandson, who is an archivist at the British Museum, but he doesn't return her calls.

One day, while returning from mailing a letter, she trips and falls. A young man (Rupert Friend! Write that down!) comes dashing out of his daylight apartment and helps her to her feet. He takes her inside, tends her injured knee, and makes her a cup of tea. To reciprocate, she invites him to the Claremont dining room for dinner the following Saturday.

When she announces at the Claremont she will be having a guest later on that week, the others immediately conclude that it is her mythical grandson, come at last! She fails to correct their error in time and realizes she has painted herself into a corner. She quickly warns the young man and he is sure he can play along and pretend to be her grandson. After all, he is a busker, an actor and a would-be writer, so feels he has both the talent and the wit to carry it off.

Their friendship grows and they both gain a great deal from their intergenerational exchange of ideas and points of view, movies and music, poetry and philosophy.

Everything goes very, very well until her real grandson drops by to visit....and her domineering daughter gets involved.... and Mrs. Palfrey gets a proposal of marriage...and...

By the way, this is heartwarming in a sweetly poignant way...

I must warn you...the DVD does NOT have closed captions, which was a big disappointment to me, as I rely on them far more than most of you. On the other hand, I must express my heartfelt gratitude that evidently British writers are forced to type with their shirts off! Let's hear it for artistic integrity!

The only other movie I know of that our Mr. Friend has appeared in so far, is the Keira Knightley version of "Pride and Prejudice." Unfortunately, he's Mr. Wickham... But we'll all keep an eye out for him, okay?

Miracle at St. Anna

Director Spike Lee ("Inside Man," "Malcolm X" and "Summer of Sam") has become one of the biggest gorillas in the Hollywood jungle. As a result, he has become too powerful to edit. "Miracle at St. Anna" is an extremely well-made film, but it is too long by half! My companion and I could name entire sections that didn't advance the story, which easily could have been deleted with no negative effect. I think this movie clocks in at two hours, forty minutes. Enough already! ...but who will bell the cat?

Our story begins in contemporary times when a postal clerk, portrayed by Laz Alonzo ("Jarhead" and "Stomp the Yard") suddenly pulls a Lugar from beneath his counter and shoots a customer point blank. A diligent newspaper reporter played by Joseph Gordon-Leavitt ("The Lookout") insinuates himself into the investigation and discovers that the clerk is within a few weeks of retirement, is the recipient of a Purple Heart and has no criminal record of any kind. They soon discover in his apartment a sculpted head which is quickly identified as a priceless artifact from the Ponte Santa Trinita bridge that had been blown up by the retreating German army in 1944.

The ensuing flashback depicts a WWII drama of four Buffalo Soldiers (the military was still segregated) who advance into enemy territory in the latter days of the war. The Germans are already doomed and many of them know it; they are tired, hungry and miserable but they trap our four heroes in a Tuscan village. The Americans have brought along a small Italian boy they encountered along the way, who needs medical attention. They want to leave him with the villagers but he has attached himself to PFC Sam Train, portrayed by Omar Benson Miller ("Shall We Dance?" and "Things We Lost in the Fire") and refuses to be separated from him. A young (Corporal) Laz Alonzo serves as the group's interpreter as well as their radioman.

Derek Luke ("Glory Road," "Antoine Fisher" and "Definitely, Maybe") and Michael Ealy ("Kissing Jessica Stein" and "Barbershop") comprise the rest of our quartet. Suffice it to say that this is a war movie with all that implies (fire fights, severed limbs, corpses, cowardice and courage). Please keep in mind that, no matter how competent he is as a filmmaker, Spike Lee could use a trusted friend who can tell him when enough is enough.


The Lucky Ones

What a wonderful, wonderful ensemble piece. This three-character study features Tim Robbins ("The Shawshank Redemption," "The Player" and "Mystic River"), Michael Peña ("Crash," "Million Dollar Baby" and "Babel") and the lovely and talented young Canadian actress, Rachel McAdams ("The Notebook," "Red Eye" and "The Family Stone") ...this time with a faint "country" twang to her speech.

All three are returning from an Army tour in Iraq, each with an agenda, each focused on achieving it. Robbins is just out of the Army, ready to resume his middle-class life in the suburbs; Peña has aspirations of going on to Officers' Candidate School and making a career of the Army; McAdams is a wounded private and has a 30-day furlough during which she will deliver an old heirloom guitar to the family of a deceased Army buddy.

In this classic road picture, Robbins is very mature and sensible, happy to get home and eager to be a civilian again. Peña is glib, chatty and full of bluster, despite a seemingly minor shrapnel wound that has caused him some serious moments of self-doubt. McAdams is ingenuous and big-hearted, with a serious case of blabbermouth! How the three of them end up crossing the United States together and what happens along the way, is the heart and soul of this satisfying comedy.

Writer/Director Neil Burger ("The Illusionist") has given each actor his/her own moment to shine and each has risen to the challenge. As a nice touch, he shows various Americans going out of their way to accommodate this trio and taking the time to say "Thank you." To me it seemed that this is a result of our country's shameful treatment of her returning military folks during Vietnam as we consciously try to avoid making that same mistake again.

I really liked this movie! (...but captions would have been seriously welcome! I'll have to watch the DVD to catch some of the witty dialog.) With Tim Robbins in the cast, I was braced for a jeremiad about the war in Iraq, but instead saw a balanced story with an unexpected outcome.

The Other Boleyn Girl

Unless you are just going to ogle the gorgeous costumes, you'd better brush up on your English history. This movie leaves huge gaps, implying that the audience already knows:
  • Henry VIII was a second son; his older brother died before ascending to the throne.
  • Henry married his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon, who claimed that her first marriage was never consummated.
  • Henry and Catherine had six children, only one of whom (Mary) survived. Henry wanted a male heir.
  • Catherine, a staunch Spanish Catholic, adamantly refused to have their marriage annulled.
  • The Pope refused Henry either a divorce or an annulment which would have freed him to marry Anne Boleyn.
  • Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey aren't even mentioned, although in real life, they were deeply embroiled in the critical religious aspects of the situation.
  • Henry created the Church of England so his divorce and subsequent marriage to Anne would be legitimate.
  • Henry and Anne had a daughter, Elizabeth.
  • Catherine's daughter Mary claimed the throne after Henry's death but Elizabeth maintained that the Church of England was the "true" church, consequently she was legitimate and eligible to rule England.
  • The third of Henry's six wives was Jane Seymour, who bore him a sickly son, James, successor to Henry's throne, although eventually, Elizabeth assumed the crown and became the greatest monarch in England's history.

This 2008 version features a highly attractive cast:

  • Natalie Portman ("Closer" and "Beautiful Girls") is Anne Boleyn.
  • Scarlett Johansson ("Match Point" and "The Prestige") is her sister Mary, the other Boleyn girl.
  • Kristin Scott Thomas ("Four Weddings..." and "The English Patient") is their intelligent but powerless mother, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn.
  • Eric Bana ("Munich" and "Troy") is a young (30'ish), virile Henry VIII, who has the hots for both girls.

(There is also an earlier 2003 film of this book which stars Jodhi May and Natascha McElhone but it doesn't have Closed Captions.)

The best-selling book on which this movie is based, "The Other Boleyn Girl" by Philippa Gregory, plays fast and loose with English history. It focuses on the eternal triangle -- two sisters and their man.

This isn't the first time Kristin Scott Thomas has played Scarlett Johansson's mother. They had the same relationship in "The Horse Whisperer."

Many of the exteriors were shot at Hampton Court which has been preserved by the British government from the time Henry VIII lived there with Anne Boleyn. Even though the interiors LOOK like they were shot there, I doubt if that would be allowed these days...

As a side note, only one of the four principal actors I have mentioned is actually English. From an American moviegoer's perspective, this helps. Even though they boast acceptable British accents, they are more easily understood by my unsophisticated American ears.

In my opinion, it was lucky for the UK that Elizabeth was born Church of England. Had she been Catholic, the Inquisition that blazed in Spain, Italy, Portugal and France during her reign, would have brought its tortures and brutalities to her shores as well.


Ghost Town

What a pleasure! I'm not sure when this opens but I can tell you that the Capitol Hill screening crowd applauded when this comedy/fantasy ended, and they are a tough sell!

Ricky Gervais ("Stardust," "Extras" and "The Office" - the British original) is a bitter, sarcastic loner who does everything he can to antagonize his coworkers, his dental patients and his Manhattan neighbors. His sarcasm is actually quite funny so we were entertained as he insulted, avoided and generally was rude during the first quarter of the film; e.g., he hops in a cab that had stopped for another client; he pushes the "Close Door" button on an elevator after telling an over-laden woman that he would hold it for her; he disregards his coworkers' personal lives.

During a routine colonoscopy he suffers an anomaly and dies for seven minutes. When he awakens he is able to see ghosts of the dead who are hanging around trying to resolve some issues so they can "move on." Naturally they are very excited to encounter a live person who can actually see and hear them and they want to solicit his help. HE has absolutely no interest in helping anyone, to say nothing of dead people, so much of the next part of the film consists of his determined attempts to ditch them. The most persistent and annoying is a former attorney, played by the always excellent Greg Kinnear ("Little Miss Sunshine," "You've Got Mail" and "Baby Mama").

Téa Leoni ("You Kill Me," "Fun With Dick and Jane" and "Flirting With Disaster") plays Kinnear's widow; she is also a neighbor of our hero in his Manhattan apartment building...he closed that elevator door in HER face!

This movie has armloads of the things I like:
  • Great dialogue
  • Attractive stars
  • Beautiful scenery
  • No blowy uppie stuff
  • No car chases
  • A love story
  • Redemption
  • A happy ending

Please go see this pleasant little movie as soon as it opens. It is up against the big summer blockbusters and may disappear without a trace. If it does, put it on your Netflix or Blockbuster list RIGHT NOW!


The Duchess

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, portrayed by Keira Knightley ("Bend it Like Beckham," "Pride and Prejudice," "Atonement" and "Pirates of the Caribbean") was a notorious beauty and one of the most outrageous personalities of her time -- the late 1700s. This movie seems to start at Althorp, the family home, which has been in the Spencer family for nearly 500 years, in fact one of Georgiana's distant nieces, Princess Di, is buried there.

The Duke of Devonshire is played to poisonous perfection by Ralph Fiennes, reviled by millions of school children the world over for his unearthly portrayal of "Voldemort," the arch enemy of "Harry Potter."

We are subjected to one example after another which illustrates the powerlessness of women during that time. It was legal to beat them (so long as the stick used was of approved size), deprive them of their children, banish them or otherwise control every aspect of their lives. They had little or no recourse. Their sole reason for existence was to bear an heir, little else.

As written by Jeffrey Hatcher ("Casanova" and "Stage Beauty") and Anders Thomas Jensen ("Red Road"), we see the genesis of Georgiana's outrageousness: her youthful marriage quickly followed by her husband's unapologetic philandering and the ménage a trois that evolves when she invites a hapless friend to stay with them. As a matter of historical fact, the three of them lived together until Georgiana's death, many years later.

Her first extramarital love affair was a poorly kept secret, as was the illegitimate child that resulted. Her lover was future Prime Minister, Charles Grey, portrayed here by Dominic Cooper ("History Boys," "Mamma Mia!" and "Starter for Ten").

If I mention the beautiful scenery, locations, clothes, ballrooms, etc., that will make it official: this is a Chick Flick, although the men in the audience seemed as focused and involved as the women.

Numerous books have been written about this woman because she was an undisputed beauty, she was an influential hostess, she was fiercely political, she was adored by the public, she incurred gambling debts and she lived in a scandalous situation even after she and her husband divorced and he married her friend. All of these things are well documented, so I suspect the script didn't have to exaggerate very much, huh? And looking at Princess Di's life and death, the apple didn't fall very far from the tree...sad to say...


The Visitor

This is one I really, really wanted to like. That already tilted the scales, didn't it? This screenplay was written by Thomas McCarthy (who also wrote and directed the terrific "The Station Agent") specifically for Richard Jenkins ("Snow Falling on Cedars," "North Country," and the hilarious FBI agent in "Flirting With Disaster"), who is known primarily as a character actor. Not only was 61-year-old Jenkins flattered, he is absolutely flawless in this, his first leading role!

Jenkins plays a widower who halfheartedly teaches college in Connecticut; his college course has been unchanged for twenty years, he simply changes the date on his syllabus each term; he claims he is writing a book and uses that as his alibi to drift through his life, unengaged, bored and sinking.

He owns a two-bedroom condo in New York City but rarely uses it. When he is scheduled for a symposium that he can't dodge, he reluctantly goes to the city and discovers that his place has been illegally sublet in his absence and an immigrant couple is living there. The couple is extremely apologetic and quickly packs to leave. As they stand on the street corner trying to figure out what to do, he discovers that they overlooked a picture on the mantel so he goes down to the street to give it to them. When he sees their quandary, he invites them to stay until they find an alternative.

Bit by bit, this stifled fellow comes alive. He is inveigled by the man into drumming, of all things (!), and finds it deeply satisfying. (He is a frustrated musician who has started piano lessons numerous times, but to no avail.) The plot doesn't really kick in until the young man is arrested over a misunderstanding in the subway. It turns out that the couple is in the United States illegally.

This is an involving, often humorous, well-balanced look at the changes wrought by 9/11 in this country, and consequently, in the world. Jenkins has certainly proven the wisdom of scriptwriter McCarthy by living up to his expectations and giving us a character we won't soon forget. Remember, I always want someone to root for!


After the Wedding

"After the Wedding" is a Danish film starring Mads Mikkelsen (the villain whose tear duct wept blood in "Casino Royale"). This time he plays a wastrel who outgrew his bad habits and has become a dedicated worker in India, feeding and caring for an endless supply of orphans. The woman who runs the charity tells him they have been offered a chance to be granted a healthy sum of money if he goes to Copenhagen and meets with a well-known billionaire who has shown an interest.

In one brief airplane ride, his life is transformed from one of heat, dust, poverty and hunger to one of luxury and largesse. When he is met at the airport, the fellow who picks him up is the billionaire's soon-to-be son-in-law, as the wedding is scheduled for the next day. Even though he declines, the bombastic billionaire insists he attend the wedding (he has all the subtlety of a pile driver). They have had a brief, cordial and to our hopeful hero, optimistic, meeting, so he reluctantly accepts, as he doesn't want to insult the man and possibly jeopardize his much-needed contribution. I liked the contrast between their complexions -- the Danish man is Nordic pale and the health-care worker definitely shows the effects of intense sunlight, he is bronzed and weathered.

He arrives late to the wedding and comes in just as the young couple is concluding their vows. His arrival creates a minor stir and among the faces that turn in reaction, he recognizes a woman he had loved almost twenty years ago. She is the fortyish mother of the bride, who is a little over nineteen.

Then things get interesting...

This film won raves at Cannes. The acting is superb, particularly that of the billionaire. The camera work was a little too intense for me: super close close-ups of eyes, eyelashes, lips, etc., that I found somewhat disconcerting. The pace is very European, which is NOT a negative in my book!

Be prepared for an emotional workout, interesting locations and great performances.


Burn After Reading

Nobody does blacker comedy than those brilliant Coen brothers ("Blood Simple," "Fargo," "Miller's Crossing," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "No Country for Old Men"), so brace yourself! These guys do NOT shy away from scenes that will make you cringe even as you laugh.

This is one of those movie where the confidence of the production team absolutely leaps off the screen. You know from the get-go that your entertainment dollar will be well spent, so long as you remember that after the tenth "F" word (about two minutes into the opening scene!), the word WILL lose its punch.

Once again the Coens have assembled a sterling cast, starting with John Malkovich ("Being John Malkovich," "The Man in the Iron Mask" and "Rounders") as a CIA operative who is abruptly terminated from his job. One of his accusers explains that it is because he drinks too much. Malkovich's character spits back, "You're a Mormon! To you, EVERYONE drinks too much!" (I've cleaned it up...smile...) Rather than feel demeaned by a transfer to a lesser job somewhere else in Government, he resigns and sets about writing his memoirs.

Our hero's wife is played by Tilda Swinton ("The Deep End" and "Michael Clayton"), who is having an affair with a promiscuous Treasury man, portrayed by George Clooney ("Ocean's 11, 12, & 13" and "Leatherheads"). Both of these characters are singularly unsympathetic, even though Clooney is always polite and charming to the many, many ladies in his busy life.

The plot picks up speed when two dim-witted health club employees, played by Brad Pitt ("Babel," "Troy," "Fight Club" and "The Assassination of Jesse James...") and Frances McDormand ("Paradise Road," "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day," "Laurel Canyon" and "North Country"), stumble across a disc that seems to hold proprietary information. McDormand's character desperately wants money to pay for plastic surgery, as she intends to "start fresh" despite the obvious affection extended to her by her lovelorn boss, played by Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor," "Rumor Has It" and "Fun With Dick and Jane"). On the other hand, I think Pitt's character just wants to feel important. Pitt, in my opinion, has the funniest role and knocks it out of the park!

Now we get to watch as these lame-brains try to find a way to capitalize on the disc...but remember, this is black, BLACK comedy...