Revolutionary Road

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

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

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

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

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


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Bedtime Stories

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

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

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

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


3:10 to Yuma - 1957

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

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

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


Marley and Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


Seven Pounds

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

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

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

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


Yes Man

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

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

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

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

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

The Wrestler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gran Torino

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Day the Earth Stood Still

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tale of Despereaux

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cadillac Records

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

Here are some of the actors she inspired:

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

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



Well that was an unusual experience!

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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