A Single Man

It's 1962. We remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Princess phones, the tail fins on cars, the bouffant hairdos, the outrageous eye makeup and the narrow ties, but not one single gay person. That's because in those days, they were firmly closeted. This means when Colin Firth's character loses his beloved partner of sixteen years in a car wreck, he isn't notified until later, nor is he invited to the funeral (it's for family only) and is forced to mourn in solitude.

Fashion maven Tom Ford has written, produced and directed his first screenplay, based on a short story by Christopher Isherwood. To me, it's a little too stylish, but given the characters and the time period, maybe everything was over the top in those days. Ford certainly has given us a recognizable style and has drawn remarkable performances from the four leads:
  • Colin Firth (our favorite Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice"), is utterly convincing as a meticulous, witty, warm-hearted college professor. Not since "Apartment Zero" has he so affected me.
  • Matthew Goode is his deceased lover; we can enjoy his company only in flashbacks. UK-born Goode impresses me with his versa- tility. He was an evil American thug in "The Lookout," a silver-spoon-in-the-mouth Brit in "Match Point" and here he is Ameri- can once again, a gay Naval officer.
  • Nicholas Hoult plays one of our hero's students. I was amazed to see that conniving and desperate little guy from one of my favorites, "About a Boy," has now grown taller than Firth!
  • Julianne Moore ("Blindness") is a blowzy neighbor who moved to L.A. from London years ago. A one-time lover and long-time friend, confidante, and drinking buddy, she is the only person who understands our single man's grief.

I found this poignant movie to be unpredictable, very funny at times, and thoroughly captivating. One scene, which involves a potential suicide, features a key aria from the opera La Wally in which the heroine pre- pares to leap to her death. What an excellent choice for background music!

Personally, I'm glad he forgot to take the bread back out of the freezer...

Broken Embraces

Oscar winner Penélope Cruz ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") brings her star power to Pedro Almodóvar's latest effort. This is, once again, a great pairing of a writer/director and a highly acclaimed actress ("Live Flesh," "Volver," and "All About My Mother"), but in my opinion, the most outstanding performance is one by an actor I have never seen before, Lluis Homar; but that's my fault, he's been working hard since 1978!

Almodóvar is best known for his impressive direction of actresses, and this film is no different. Key roles are performed by:
  • Penélope Cruz (see above) plays a secretary in desperate need for extra cash to help her grievously ill father. She calls a former employer (a madam) and begs for part time work.
  • Lluís Homar plays a scriptwriter/movie director who auditions Cruz for a film role. Even though she isn't very good, he is so smitten with her that he casts her in the lead.
  • Blanca Portillo ("Volver") is an often-honored actress in Europe. Here she plays the director's vitally important assistant, always efficient, always vigilant, always anticipating his every need.
  • Ángela Molina ("Live Flesh") is our heroine's desperate mother, seeking help for her ailing husband.
  • José Luis Gómez ("Goya's Ghosts") is the handsome son of that efficient assistant. He too, assists the director/scriptwriter and is collaborating with him on a script about vampires.

Almodóvar is a terrific director. His movies are accessible, interesting, and competently shot. He tends to lean toward the melodramatic, but I usually forgive him because his movies deserve it (they are in Spanish with English subtitles). You can expect parent/child issues, along with secrets from the past. In other words, issues with universal appeal.


Sherlock Holmes

Robert Downey Jr. ("Tropic Thunder" and "Iron Man") has a face the camera loves. I've thought about this film and it's sorta like a comedy, but not really; sorta like a drama, but not totally; sorta like a romance, but certainly not; and yet I was never bored and furthermore I LIKED the guy! There were many laugh-out-loud moments and the thorny relationship between Sherlock and Dr. Watson (this takes place very early in their acquaintance), had verbal cudgels flying.

Director Guy Richie ("Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels") loves the mayhem of fisticuffs and this film starts with a bare-knuckle brawl in which Holmes seems to be getting the worst of it. Then we are inside his head as he plots his strategy, which we watch in slow motion. When the time comes for him to implement his moves, they happen with blinding speed, but precisely according to plan.

We generally know how an intricate Sherlock Holmes plot will unfold, so let's focus on the actors:
  • Jude Law ("The Holiday") is Dr. Watson, frustrated at every turn by Holmes as our good doctor attempts to marry the girl of his dreams and divorce himself from Holmes' byzantine life.
  • Kelly Reilly ("Me and Orson Welles") is that self-same girl of Watson's dreams.
  • Rachel McAdams ("Red Eye") is lovely and enigmatic as Irene Adler, The One Who Keeps Getting Away from our hero.
  • Mark Strong ("The Young Victoria") is the not-quite-dead villain. What is that link with Moriarty? Hmmm... Mr. Strong is fast becoming one of the most ubiquitous actors in Britain.
  • Eddie Marsen ("Little Dorrit") is Inspector Lestrade, reluctantly dependant on Holmes' brilliant deductive powers.

The production values are excellent and the dark, dank London streets are authentic and ominous. Expect plenty of humor, pay close attention to the plot, admire Richey's skill as a filmmaker and have a good time... I know I did.

It's Complicated

What's complicated? Marriage? Divorce? Life? All of the above!

When Nancy Meyers ("The Holiday" and "What Women Want") writes or directs a film, it will probably be a chick flick, quite often for the old hens (women of a certain age) who can spot a piker a mile off and want to see him get his comeuppance. You will see a loyal flock of gal pals clucking over our heroine and enjoying generous servings of wine, and you will wince at all the insecurities and awkwardness of mature dating. Yeah, it looks REALLY complicated!

In case you don't believe me, take a gander at Meryl Streep ("Mamma Mia!" and "Doubt") whose character has spent the last ten years trying to un-complicate her life after her husband, fearlessly played by Alec Baldwin ("30 Rock" and "My Sister's Keeper"), abandoned their 20-year marriage for a much younger woman. They run into each other at a hotel where they both happen to be staying for their son's college graduation, and all the old bells start to chime. We can see his charm and want her to cut loose and have some fun, even though we can't forget his track record with fidelity....

You will root for her architect, played by Steve Martin ("Father of the Bride" and "The Pink Panther") as he tentatively approaches a wary Streep; and John Krasinski ("Away We Go" and "Leatherheads") who almost steals the show as Streep and Baldwin's ultra-confused future son-in-law. We enjoyed many laugh-out-loud moments, mostly at the expense of Alec Baldwin's character, which he played for all they were worth! Kudos to him!

These are basically good people, warts and all, picking their way through the detritus of maturity. Not as young as they would like, not as old as they fear. Personally, I liked Streep's underwear: No Victoria's Secret here... More like real people!

The Young Victoria

Emily Blunt ("The Devil Wears Prada") is the young Victoria. When we first meet her she is being browbeaten by her mother's advisor to sign a paper which will grant her mother authority to act as Regent when King William dies. Victoria knows the king wants her to inherit his throne, so she refuses. As things turn out, she is barely 18 when she becomes Queen of England. Of course, there is plotting and conniving enough to satisfy any History buff, but to me, the pleasure was watching the cream of British cinema take their turns in the spotlight.
  • Miranda Richardson ("The Lost Prince") is Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, completely under the sway of John Conroy, her advisor.
  • Mark Strong ("Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day") is that dastardly advisor who wants to continue to advise Victoria's mother if she becomes Regent, thus he would rule England.
  • Jim Broadbent ("Moulin Rouge!") is King William, childless and dyspeptic.
  • Rupert Friend ("Cheri") is Prince Albert dispatched from Saxe- Coburg to spy on the throne; he is ill-prepared for the task, he doesn't even know how to dance!
  • Paul Bettany ("Inkheart") is Lord Melbourne who steps in and advises the young queen, right down to a list of Ladies in Waiting.
  • Michael Maloney ("Me and Mrs. Jones") is Sir Robert Peel, the first elected official to cross Victoria after her coronation...to his regret.

This is a competently filmed history with a few technical glitches, which surprised us, but all in all, it is a painless way to learn a bit of history. Of course, some of it has been tweaked just a tad, but it IS, after all, a movie!


Why did I feel so let down? I suppose it was because I had such high expectations from director Rob Marshall ("Chicago"), that I was expec- ting more razzle dazzle instead of a middle-aged man's fantasy about half a dozen gorgeous young women chasing him while he wrestles with the demons of creativity (he writes and directs Italian films). This is not an upbeat movie, and in my opinion, there is no vicarious thrill in wit- nessing writer's block. Plus, the cad keeps promising his wife he will be faithful, but....

This is the film version of the Broadway musical version of the Italian film "8 1/2"...got that so far? On Broadway it featured Antonio Banderas ("Zorro") in the lead. In this film musical we get two-time Academy Award winner Daniel Day Lewis ("There Will Be Blood") taking his first shot at singing and dancing. He does just fine...

We are treated to the considerable talents of:
  • Dame Judi Dench ("Shakespeare in Love") as his perennial movie costume designer and confidante
  • The indestructible Sophia Loren ("Two Women") as his madre bella
  • Penelope Cruz ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") is a revelation as his needy mistress
  • Nicole Kidman ("The Hours") as his bemused muse
  • Marion Cotillard ("La Vie En Rose") as his no-longer-resigned wife
  • Kate Hudson ("Almost Famous") as a sexually aggressive journalist
  • Fergie (of the band "The Black-Eyed Peas") as a cherished childhood memory: his first prostitute.

With the first five actresses, I listed a movie for which she won an Academy Award; the next, Kate Hudson, was nominated but didn't win. In my opinion, with this kind of talent, had they been given better material, we would have had a sure-fire winner. As it was... eh...

None of the songs were memorable and we certainly did NOT leave the theater humming any of them. ...and I was sooo ready to love this film... (Although a week later I DID find myself singing "Be Italian...")


Uncle Nino

When I watch a DVD I always check out the extras. This 2003 movie included an interview with Joe Montegna and his daughter Gina. He takes on the issue of the artistic merits of this project, head on! He says some people call it "Sappy." Then he adds, "I LOVE Sappy." This movie played in some midwestern cities for a year or more, so it seems to me that a lot of folks must like "Sappy!"

Joe Montegna ("Starter Wife") is the ambitious husband and father to a mildly dysfunctional family reluctantly moved into a new neighborhood. Anne Archer ("Fatal Attraction" - it was her kids' bunny that was boiled!) is his patient wife and the mother of his two children. His daughter Gina plays his movie daughter Gina, BOTH of whom really want a puppy, much to the chagrin of both the real-life dad and the movie dad.

When Uncle Nino unexpectedly shows up from Italy, they are thrown into a tailspin because his eccentric and Old-World attitudes create quite a clash in their upscale neighborhood. Uncle Nino is played by Pierrino Mascarino ("Broken Glass") who does a delicate balancing act between being a little too naïve and a little too cunning.

We see standard teenage rebellion, issues with the Homeowners' Association in their suburban enclave, and seemingly unreasonable demands on an ambitious would-be executive in this heartwarming, family-oriented film. You know... sappy stuff we can all relate to...

My thanks to the JayFlix person who recommended this sweet little film.

Gloomy Sunday

JayFlix folks strike again! "Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod" (1999) was recommended about a week ago and I quickly checked out the DVD from the Seattle library. According to the cover notes, the plot centers around a song, recorded by Billie Holliday among others, which, according to legend, had fateful effects on listeners.

We meet László, a restaurateur in Budapest in the thirties. László is played by Joachim Król who grows on you as the story proceeds. His lover is a waitress in his establishment; Ilona is played by the lovely Erika Marozsán. László hires a pianist to add a touch of elegance to his thriving business; the appealing András is played by Stefano Dionisi.

This story quickly evolves into a congenial menage a trois with all three participants at first hesitantly, then whole-heartedly, committed. The relationships are loving, respectful and a little wry; the men agree that having part of Ilona is better than having none at all. She is relieved that she doesn't have to choose. The pianist writes a song for her, Gloomy Sunday, which soon becomes an international hit. Even though he receives royalties, he continues to play at their restaurant.

Things quickly change when Nazi Germany gains traction in Europe. A young German who had rashly proposed marriage to Ilona years earlier, returns as a Nazi officer.

This film is involving, heartwarming, and a treat to the eye. All three leads are extremely busy Europeans: Król was born in Germany, Marozsán in Hungary, and Dionisi in Italy. The Nazi officer is played by Ben Becker ("The Harmonists" which I highly recommend!), who also has an extensive résumé.

Gloomy Sunday is requested throughout the movie: "Please play the song. You know, the famous one," makes you think of As Time Goes By from "Casablanca."

You'll love the twist at the end.



Wow! Those Marines sure are tough to kill!

James Cameron ("Titanic" and "The Abyss") spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this project and in my opinion it's worth every penny! It has a solid serviceable story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It has LOTS of blowie uppie stuff. It has two worthy adversaries... both of them Marines. It takes place on an other-worldly planet that is meticulously realized: with fantastic flora and fauna; populated by blue-hued human- oids (yup, excellent CGI) with their own language and mythology. It has plenty of humor (the first time our hero has to wear a thong...you'll laugh). And it has a sweet romance... boy meets girl...you know....

The 3-D is so good that I automatically took a casual swipe at a pesky gnat that flew within my periphery, and the dust motes in the air are simply a realistic touch, no issue is made of them. In addition, I felt pangs of acrophobia as the characters ran atop a high tree branch or inched along a cliff's edge.

The terrific cast includes:

  • Sam Worthington, who impressed me in "Terminator Salvation" (which was actually made after "Avatar," as this film has been over 10 years in the making). British born, Australian bred, he makes my socks roll up and down. He always starts slow then wins me over when it counts. Watch this guy!
  • Sigourney Weaver ("Snow Cake") is the queen of high-class Sci Fi (note the "Alien" franchise).
  • Zoë Saldana is a blue humanoid, so you don't get to see her wonderful face. Just remember Uhura in 2009's "Star Trek."
  • Stephen Lang ("Men Who Stare at Goats") provides the leavening for the dough. Just as Othello would be just another disgruntled Moor without a cunning Iago, our hero would be just another paraplegic Marine without this kickass opponent!
  • Michelle Rodriguez ("Fast & Furious") is there when you need a tough chick on your side...

I'm sure you'll be fascinated by the tiny jellyfish-type floatie things that pulsate through the air, but do NOT drink too many liquids before entering the theater, as this thing lasts over 2.5 hours and there is no dull interval where I can suggest a visit to the litter box. Time will fly, but not if you drink too many liquids!

Notes: 1) An avatar is an alter ego adopted by an on-line gamer, an image that embodies his/her philosophy and/or desired physical attributes. 2) Be sure to suspend disbelief as soon as you buy your ticket!


Did You Hear About the Morgans?

A sophisticated, successful (and separated), New York couple, played by Hugh Grant ("American Dreamz") and Sarah Jessica Parker ("Sex and the City") witness a murder and must go into the witness protection program. Of course, to get a real fish-out-of-water effect, they are shipped to Wyoming.

This lackluster outing for all involved is predictable, mildly amusing, and harmless. We see a few familiar faces:
  • Mary Steenburgen ("The Proposal") as the sharpshooting distaff side of a team assigned to protect our protagonists
  • Sam Elliott ("Up in the Air") as the other half of that team
  • Wilford Brimley ("The Road Home") the local sheriff in that cornpone hick town in Wyoming.

A couple of grievances:

  • Parker's character is just this side of annoying and naturally is the one who betrays their location to the killer (is that a spoiler?).
  • No one on the set knew the first thing about milking a cow.

Oh well....

An Education

Based on Lynn Barber's memoir, this coming-of-age story is about an educated high-school student and how she got that way.

We are in 1960s London and watch a gifted girl meet a man almost twice her age who reassures her that he means no harm, disarms her parents with his charm and introduces her to his exciting friends, played by Dominic Cooper ("The History Boys") and Rosamund Pike ("Pride and Prejudice" 2005) who seem to have no money worries, live well, have LOTS of fun and go anywhere they want! By the way, Miss Pike plays the dimmest bulb in the box; I have NEVER seen her play a dumb blonde before and she nails it!

Clearly, our heroine's boring life no longer has any appeal and she launches herself on her own education. What she learns and how she learns it are the central issues of this film. It is excellently cast, with the lead played by Carrie Mulligan ("Public Enemies") and her appealing swain played by Peter Sarsgaard ("Jarhead").

Her parents are perfect, with the always excellent Alfred Molina ("Under- taking Betty") as her gullible father, and Cara Seymour ("Adaptation") as her complacent mother. This is before the women's movement, so they are understandably bewildered by their daughter's view that college shouldn't simply be a place for a girl to find a successful husband and settle down. She wants to go to Paris, speak French and smoke French cigarettes!

This movie definitely offers someone to root for and you become deeply involved in her life lessons. My thanks to the JayFlix gal who suggested this to me!


Me and Orson Welles

Hmmm... A show biz film about show business. How could I resist? Of course this fictionalized episode from the storied life of the legendary Orson Welles is one of those "What if..." type projects, but it portrays people who actually participated in Mercury Theatre's ground-breaking 1937 production of "Caesar." (Not Shakespeare's classic Julius Caesar with which we are all familiar, but instead a truncated and much-modified version as envisioned by the Boy Wonder himself!)

We see:
  • Orson Welles, played by Christian McKay ("Abraham's Point") who is a Welles impressionist, not a Welles impersonator.
  • John Housemen, played by Eddie Marsan ("The Illusionist") who shows us the endless patience it took to work with Welles.
  • George Courlouris, played by Ben Chaplin ("Stage Beauty"), as he shakily tackles the challenging role of Mark Antony.
  • Muriel Brassler, played by Kelly Reilly ("Mrs. Henderson Presents"), who worries that her Portia will be upstaged by Welles' Brutus.
  • Joseph Cotton, played by James Tupper (LOTS of TV), who is Publius in this legendary production.
  • Gretta Adler, a fictitious character played by Zoe Kazan ("It's Complicated"), a young woman whose goal is to publish an article in the New Yorker magazine.
  • Sonja Jones, probably fictitious, ambitious and worldly as played by Claire Danes ("Shopgirl"), she helps our hero (see below) learn about the big, bad city.
  • Richard Samuels, another probable fiction, played by Zac Efron ("17 Again"), a high school student who samples life upon the wicked stage.

I spent most of my time trying to identify who each actor portrays, as the topic of the Mercury is a fascinating one for a person who loves theatre. The story itself seems to be a vehicle for Efron, although all the actors do a commendable job. I could only pity anyone who had the honor/ horror of working with Welles...



It takes leather balls to play rugby. Leather rugby balls are the same shape as the ones used in American football, but other than having goalposts, that seems to be the only similarity. Rugby players use no helmets or padding, and part of the game consists of thousands of pounds of heaving manpower straining against each other in a giant mound of flesh on the field. To say that I don't understand rugby is a gross understatement. It is said that soccer is a gentlemen's game played by hooligans, and rugby is a hooligan's game played by gentle- men. Soccer was popular with blacks in Apartheid South Africa, while rugby was equally popular with whites.

When Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa, he realized he needed something that could knit two disparate populations into one country, unified by a common goal. He dreamt of doing just that if South Africa could win the 1995 World Cup Championship Rugby match. The captain of the national rugby team, played by Matt Damon ("The Informant!" and the "Bourne" franchise), is stunned to realize that Mandela expects his mediocre Springboks to go all the way.

"Invictus" means invincible or unconquered, which, by the way, is a terrific title for a sports movie, and this one leaves no cliché behind. You know, the "slender hope against overwhelming odds," "the little guy against Goliath," and "Let's win this one for the Gipper!" (well... for Mandela... but you get the idea). And clichés become clichés because they WORK!

Many, many years ago when Nelson Mandela first met Morgan Freeman ("The Dark Knight"), he said, "You should play me in a movie some day." Years of friendship followed, during which Freeman paid close attention to Mandela's delivery, walk, speech and mannerisms. When he had a script that met with approval, Freeman took it to Clint Eastwood ("Gran Torino") who signed on instantly.

This is a big movie that doesn't neglect small details: Mandela's dream of integration started with his own staff. The bristling animosity that con- fronts him is realistic and the gradual easing of tensions is a pleasure to watch. Eastwood and Freeman found a worthwhile topic and made the most of it. Thanks, guys!

The Princess and the Frog

So there I sat, in a theater teeming with rugrats, and not a sound was heard but the dialog and music the Disney WANTED us to hear! Those kids' eyes never left the screen. And there were some tiny tots, too! This is one of the first hand-drawn Disney features in decades: No Pixar, no CGI, no motion capture...What a concept!

The much-publicized switch where that magic kiss, which is supposed to convert the ugly frog into a handsome prince but in this case actually converts the princess into an ugly frog, works amazingly well! Having two frogs as the main characters was not a stretch for those kids and the rest of us happily concurred.

Set in Jazz Age New Orleans (Woodrow Wilson has just been elected President), we follow a loving African American family: he's a laborer, she's a domestic for a wealthy family. They encourage their little girl to dream big dreams but to understand the vital role that hard work plays, as well. The daughter of Mama's wealthy employer provides the comic character of the ditzy blonde, while a cast of supporting characters range from a firefly to an alligator.

Randy Newman composed the nimble sound track, with vocals provided by a number of suitable singers. The voice actors are highly capable, as well. Fireflies provide moments of beauty, while a nasty villain provides some scary bits: just enough to excite the kids, but not enough to traumatize them.

I won't go into the stellar list of individuals who provided the huge cast of voices, but suffice it to say, it is STELLAR! (Oprah, anyone?) This movie should be enormously popular and become yet another standard bearer for Disney.


Up in the Air

Remember when they used to say how sad it was that George Clooney just couldn't seem to make the transition from TV's "ER" to the big screen? No matter how hard he tried, he just wasn't cut out to be a movie star. Well, who has the last laugh now?

This delightful and unpredictable film works on many levels. George Clooney ("Burn After Reading" and the "Ocean's" franchise) is a corporate downsizing expert. He flies from city to city as a hired gun who works for a company which specializes in dismissing employees for employers who don't want to do it themselves. The company he works for is headed by Jason Bateman ("Juno" and "Extract") who sees today's terrible economy as a gold mine for his sort of business and they have refined their routine to a science based on phony compassion. Clooney's character only spends forty days or so a year in his one-bedroom Omaha apartment, the rest of the time he's in the air, in airports, in airport hotels, or in the process of firing people.

Some of the best segments of this film are the taped interviews with people as they confront the shock of unemployment. We recognize some of the faces, but they look and act like the real deal. Special credit should be given to screenwriters Jason Reitman ("Thank You for Smoking") and Sheldon Turner ("The Longest Yard" 2005), as they have incor- porated the angst of a contemporary issue with a "ships-that-pass-in-the-night" romance, and even work in a winter wedding. I read later that Reitman actually used recently fired people for some of these interviews.

The aforementioned romance is...are you ready for this?...age appropriate! Vera Farmiga ("The Departed") is the free spirit who charms Clooney in various layovers (sorry...) around the country. Anna Kendrick ("New Moon") is the ink's-still-wet freshly minted college graduate who brings an academic vision of how to streamline their company. When accused of being romantically interested in Clooney's character, she scoffs, "He's OLD!" You'll love the look on Clooney's face when he overhears THAT! Be ready for generous bits of humor and clever dialog.

I guess if I came away with any lesson, it would be that old one: "Be careful what you wish for."

Everybody's Fine

This so-so dramedy features a capable group of professionals who know their business. The film is amusing but not hilarious, sad but not maudlin, sweet but not saccharine and is content with being a peek into an ordinary family with ordinary ups and downs. A remake of the far superior Italian film "Stanno Tutti Bene," you'll see no car chases, no sweaty bodies and no blowie uppie stuff.

In this cast we see:
  • Robert De Niro ("Stardust") as a recent widower who discovers he really doesn't know his adult kids. He applied PVC coating to a million miles of telephone wire before he retired and, as a result, his health has been impaired. Telephones and telephone wire are an ever-present element in this film.
  • Drew Barrymore ("Whip It") as a daughter with more than one secret, although her mother knew everything from their many phone calls before she died.
  • Sam Rockwell ("Moon") as a son who is NOT an orchestra con- ductor, despite his father's impression that he is. In my opinion, Rockwell is a vastly underrated actor and I hope to see lots more of him.
  • Kate Beckensale ("Whiteout") as a daughter who is a partner in a successful ad agency who has a picture-postcard life...or maybe not...
  • Then there is the missing son, the one who had become an artist. He doesn't return his calls and we see those ubiquitous phone wires humming with calls back and forth between his three sib- lings as they discuss his latest plight and how much they should tell their dad.

I liked the sound track that featured Perry Como of all people, and the many panoramic shots of America as De Niro tries to surprise his various offspring after each one cancelled his/her attendance at a family reunion.


Fantastic Mr. Fox

Based on the popular children's book of the same name by Roald Dahl ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach"), screenwriter/director Wes Anderson ("Rushmore") has used stop-action figures to create an affecting story with particular emphasis on family dynamics.

The husband/wife team, voiced by George Clooney ("Men Who Stare at Goats") and Meryl Streep ("Mamma Mia!"), are an affectionate but real- istic couple trying to deal with their rebellious teenage son. This poor kid is a pale copy of his over-achieving dad and it only gets worse when his paragon of a cousin shows up. This new kid turns out to be the epitome of the perfect adolescent: Scholarly, obedient, athletic, considerate and courteous; plus he's an expert in Eastern thought and martial arts. Aarghhh!

Of course, our hero Mr. Fox, is a (semi-) reformed chicken thief who is having trouble denying his inner beast, so he talks his best friend, an opossum, into joining him for one last spree. (Sound familiar?)

I got a kick out of:
  • the opossum going into a pinwheel-eyed state of semi- consciousness when agitated;
  • the excellent facial expressions on the anthropomorphized characters;
  • the macho grandstanding done by our eponymous hero.

I was disappointed in Meryl Streep's Mrs. Fox. The script didn't give her much to work with, so it makes sense that there was nothing noteworthy in her work. Other Anderson regulars, e.g., Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, work with him again, and I was pleased that this project wasn't as eso- teric as some of his others: "The Darjeeling Limited" and "The Royal Tenenbaums."

The children in the audience seemed to stay involved in the story and the screening audience laughed right on cue at the generous servings of humor, particularly those focused on Mr. Fox's egotism. Clooney got that just right.


Ninja Assassin

Great gushing gouts of gore!

Korean martial arts star Rain ("Speed Racer" and LOTS of TV) comes through with a long-promised Chop Socky hit. His director James McTeigue has been paying his dues as second unit director on things like the "Matrix" films and the aforementioned "Speed Racer," so he knows his way around slam-bang editing and non-stop action.

Of course, this being Asian martial arts, we were treated to throwing stars, swords, numchucks, daggers, amputations, beheadings and other gory macho stuff, but came out of there thinking that Rain just might have a future. He has a terrific body, moves extremely well and can deliver a comic line at least as well as Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Seagal, Van Damme, or Jackie Chan. Well, maybe not Chan....

There were few humorous moments but when they happened, our screening crowd clung to them; in fact I think maybe we overreacted just a tad. Of course most of the screening crowd fit the demographic of post-adolescent men who loved the fighting, the gore, the blowie uppie stuff and the suspense. Some of the rest of us got the giggles...sorry... When I saw arms being lopped off, I couldn't help but think, "It's only a flesh wound!" with due apology to Monty Python.

The Blind Side

Where do I begin? This delightful biography works on so many levels it's hard to decide. Let me explain: This movie is based on the book The Blind Side: The Evolution of the Game by Michael Lewis, about NFL tackle Michael Oher and his unlikely success story.

This desperately poor, over-sized, under-educated kid is accepted into a private Christian high school after a coach challenges the faculty to "act like Christians." This was done with no irony, just a straightforward statement that left no room for dissent. After that, the problem for the staff was to find a teaching method that would work for this gentle giant. At no time is the fact of religious conviction treated as a cause for derision. I found that refreshing.

Our youngster is spotted walking alone on a cold November night by Leigh Anne Tuohy and her husband Sean. This wealthy couple takes him home and offers him shelter for the night. He is quietly grateful and unfailingly polite. Leigh Anne is, both in real life and in this movie, a force of nature, beautifully played here by Sandra Bullock ("Crash" and "The Proposal"), who boasts a mild Tennessee sound, not one of those corny overdone twangs that makes us cringe. Country music superstar Tim McGraw ("Flicka" and "Friday Night Lights") has never been more appealing or natural as her loving, wryly supportive husband. Their daughter Collins is played by Lily Collins in this, her first movie role.

Now we come to S.J. (Sean Junior): The boy who plays him, Jae Head ("Hancock" and LOTS of TV) threatens to walk off with the movie by himself! There is never a moment that looks faked; he throws himself into every scene with conviction and verve. What a great, great little actor! Although the movie itself has a LOT of humor, S.J. adds even more. We're always happy to see that freckled face on the screen.

Quinton Aaron ("Be Kind Rewind" and "Mr. Brooklyn"), the young man who plays our hero in this heartwarming little gem, is perfectly cast. In fact, during the final credits, they intersperse photos of the real Tuohy family, which include their adopted son Michael, and it is remarkable how well each person was cast.

Kathy Bates ("Revolutionary Road") has a key role as a tutor, and you'll get a kick out of seeing all those college coaches play themselves during the recruiting frenzy.

No sweaty bodies, no car chases, no blowie uppie stuff (although there is one startling car wreck); just a movie that illustrates man's humanity to man. Yes, I enjoyed it and hope you do, too.


Need someone to root for? Try an unlikely heroine called "Precious." I'll bet you'll be in her corner in no time.

This prestigious film is one you will hear about come Academy Award time... and rightly so. Both of the central characters are particularly well acted, although ALL of the performances are noteworthy. This tells me the director, Lee Daniels ("Shadowboxer") has done commendable work. This unpredictable but ultimately upbeat story is based on the best-selling novel "Push" by Sapphire, and adapted for the screen by Geoffrey Fletcher.

Co-producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry are to be commended for putting their considerable clout behind this endeavor.

Among the noteworthy actors/actresses, we see:
  • Gabourey Sidibe (TV appearances) is "Precious," the overweight, illiterate, nameless face of poverty, ignorance, and child abuse.
  • Mo'Nique (LOTS of TV) is horrific as her mother, Mary. This role is a shoo-in for nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category.
  • Paula Patton ("Swing Vote") is luminous as Ms. Rain, the life- changing teacher at the alternative school.
  • Mariah Carey (legendary vocalist and LOTS of TV) is fearless as Mrs. Weiss, the case worker at the welfare office who tries to contrive a truce between Precious and her mom.
  • Lenny Kravitz (musician and composer) is super appealing as good-hearted Nurse John.
Other roles are played with zest and good humor, especially the class- mates who attend the alternative school with Precious. Some of the camera work is a little clumsy, e.g., abrupt focus changes, and there are scenes in this movie where we want to hide our eyes, but we are never subjected to gratuitous violence. If we just stick with it - like our eponymous heroine - it will be worth it.

NOTE: Mo'Nique won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress that year.


A Christmas Carol

This is the perfect collaboration: Charles Dickens ("Nicholas Nickleby"), who never used four words when ten would do (he was paid by the column inch); and Robert Zemeckis ("The Polar Express"), who never met a Computer Generated Image he didn't like. This means that children will see a fully developed version of Dickens' book but some of the scenes are too scary for the little 'uns.

Zemeckis' homage to Dickens includes the use of some of the actual dialogue from the original book and he clearly relishes the opportunity to simulate the special effects that Dickens described in this, his only classic ghost story.

Jim Carrey ("The Truman Show") has proven himself to be a highly capable voice artist in his depiction of Scrooge and some of the ghosts, but I was dismayed to realize that I have become a "microwave person." I found myself longing for the remote so I could zap through the endless flights over mid-1800s London and the overblown ghostly scenes; sorta like skimming over some of Dickens' more verbose passages. How embarrassing...

The artwork is brilliant; the CGI is awesome; and the ghost story is exactly that: a ghost story. So what did I think I was going to see? Despite the rave reviews, I'm afraid I found it tedious.

Good Hair

"Is that gal gonna be high maintenance?" This seemed to be a key question posed by the fellows in a lively barbershop when comedian Chris Rock ("Everybody Hates Chris") asked them for some candid observations about dating black women. They all agreed that their sex lives have been sorely impacted by the "Hands Off!" aspect of dating a woman with a weave; one went so far as to name the actual date (in 1987!) when he last had a worry-free date.

The jaw-dropping particulars I learned about what constitutes "Good Hair" and what it costs in time, money and social dues was only part of this entertaining and insightful documentary. For example, most of the hair used in weaves is from India. On average, each Indian woman has her head shaved three times in her lifetime. One "religion" encourages people to bargain their hair against some aspect of their lives. If things work out for them, they go to a "Tonsure" temple and pay off their debt with their hair! These temples, in turn, sell the hair to Europe and the United States. Revenues for that religion are second only to those of the Vatican!

There is never a moment when Chris Rock isn't engaged, curious and wryly entertaining. We are as incredulous as he when we learn of the billions of dollars spent each year on hair and hair products. He represents all of us as he reels from information about the toxic chemicals used by black people to "relax" their hair (some are toddlers of FOUR). He questions the economics of a $1,000+ hairdo when the rent is past due. He laughs at the absurdity of black hair being "Bad Hair," but acknowledges the power of marketing and peer pressure.

We were with him 100 percent when he went home to his two darling girls and kissed what he called, their "nappy little heads." He reassured them that he loved what was inside their heads and didn't really care what was on the outside.

I am encouraged to see clear-eyed and entertaining documentaries that question what constitutes "Beauty." Kudos to fellows like Chris Rock and Darryl Roberts ("America The Beautiful") who care enough to see the problems (please see the alphabetized link on my Home Page) and who try to shine some light on them.


The Men Who Stare at Goats

From its irresistible title to its unlikely ending, this quirky, unpredictable romp is basically a two-man show, ably assisted by a few great supporting characters.

Ewan McGregor ("Miss Potter" and "Angels and Demons") serves as our alter ego, incredulously observing the unlikely roles played by George Clooney ("Burn After Reading" and "Michael Clayton") and Jeff Bridges ("Iron Man" and "Seabiscuit"), who are former members of the U. S. Army's First Earth Battalion. As you might suspect, this battalion was created to use paranormal powers. That these powers might be augmented by judicious use of controlled substances, good old-fashioned 60s Flower Power, lots of chanting, a deep immersion in Eastern philosophies and a general disconnect from the real world, is something that McGregor's character slowly comes to understand. As to their effectiveness and veracity, only he (and therefore WE) can decide for sure...

The story takes place in current day Iraq, with McGregor's character determined to go where the action is, not just as a journalist, but as a man desperate to prove to his soon-to-be ex-wife that he is a "manly" man. When he meets Clooney, the "truth" slowly evolves, if only to be upended on a regular basis. It's clear that he really WANTS to believe in paranormal powers, it's just that he can't see any evidence...

This movie contains my favorite line in many a moon: "Don't eat the eggs..." And McGregor delivers it with a delicious, understated glee. I think you had to be there!

Oh yeah, there are some goats....


Running With Scissors

This 2006 biography of Augustin Burroughs' outrageous childhood boasts a stellar cast:
  • Joseph Cross ("Strangers With Candy) is our teenaged hero, struggling for an ordinary life "with Hamburger Helper...";
  • Annette Benning ("The Women") is spectacularly good as his unstable mother (she was nominated for a Golden Globe for this role);
  • Brian Cox ("Zodiac") is her Machiavellian therapist;
  • Jill Clayburgh (LOTS of TV) is his wife with no dreams of her own;
  • Alec Baldwin ("My Sister's Keeper") is Burroughs' alcoholic father;
  • Evan Rachel Wood ("Whatever Works") is one of his adopted siblings;
  • Joseph Fiennes ("Shakespeare in Love") is another adopted sibling;
  • Gwyneth Paltrow ("Iron Man") is yet another....

Suffice it to say, truth is far stranger than fiction and Burroughs was clearly delighted to find writer/director Ryan Murphy ("Nip/Tuck" and "Glee") to help bring his bizarre upbringing to the screen. The consistent quality of the performances tells me that Murphy is a fine, fine director.

My thanks to the Swedish branch of JayFlix for bringing this gem to my attention.


This Is It

Okay, I have to start by admitting this is the first time I've ever seen Michael Jackson perform. Because I read so much, I was always aware of the Jackson family dynamics, so from the time he made his debut as a small child, I avoided watching him for the same reason I avoid zoos: I recoil from seeing helpless creatures exploited.

This was to have been a comeback tour, starting in London (50 shows, all sold out) and, if everything went as they hoped, the beginning of a world tour. Jackson had spent over a decade focusing on his children and he wanted to get back in the game.

Director Kenny Ortega has done an amazing job of editing down 120 hours of rehearsal footage to give M.J. fans a candid behind-the-scenes look at the blood, sweat and tears that went into the preparation for a show that never happened. The caliber of artists involved only serves to highlight the sort of person Jackson was: he was a terrific musician with an uncanny ear. The dancers were from all over the world; they grew up watching his music videos, consequently they are a perfect out-picturing of their idol in his youth, complete with iconic moves: moonwalks, shoulder pops and crotch grabs.

Jackson wanted every selection to be a blockbuster and no one could refuse him. Consequently we saw spectacular after spectacular, each one an over-the-top production number. How a man his age could have sustained his voice and his health during that lengthy run in London was more than I could imagine.

I was impressed by how consistent each selection was: the tempo, the music, the choreography. They could switch from an early rehearsal to a much later one and the only discernible difference was in the polish. I was also impressed by the respect and affection shown M.J. by everyone from props and costumes to the dancers themselves. When there was a slight error, Jackson would say, "Don't worry about it, that's why we rehearse."

The audience responded to familiar selections: Billie Jean, Thriller and Beat It, as all three were world-wide best-selling videos, but they are only a sample from the multitude of blockbusters on the program.

All in all, this will be a one-of-a-kind experience and will no doubt top all the charts, from movie ticket sales to the inevitable CDs and DVDs. This troubled but talented man was beloved throughout the world.


Everlasting Moments

Where, oh where, is a good clichéd plot twist when you need one?

Actually, that lack creates the power behind this sincerely felt domestic drama that looks at a Swedish family in the early 1900s. In "Maria Larssons eviga ogonblick" there are no easy outs, no magic solutions, no happily ever afters. Instead we become deeply invested in the life and times of these folks, particularly the wife and mother, subtly played by Maria Heiskanen. According to a voiceover, her character had won a camera at a fair and her date said it belonged to him because he bought the ticket. She told him the only way he can have the camera is to marry her. So he did.

Seven children later, he still has her (and the camera) but the effect the camera has had on her and her own sense of identity is profound.

This camera motif seems to pervade the award-winning cinematography for the entire film. Each scene is beautifully framed and is lovingly lit with an authentic, sepia-toned quality. The sense of real life for this struggling couple and their ever-growing family is fascinating: the rooms in their home are realistically small, their clothes are NOT glamorous, our hard- working heroine has a care-worn look with its own natural beauty.

Theirs is NOT a Disney family: The children get into mischief and fall ill; the hard-working father drinks and philanders; from our contemporary point of view, the mother takes too much abuse, although her maltreat- ment wasn't out of the ordinary for those days. In my opinion, director Jan Troell has flawlessly captured the quality of life in those times.

Even though the film is officially open in the US, it isn't exactly a block- buster, so it may be hard to find until the DVD comes out. The showing I attended was sponsored by the Nordic Heritage Museum and screened at Seattle Center.

This Swedish/Danish (with English captions) movie was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. The cast, film and cinematography won numerous prizes in European film festivals...and deservedly so!



So what was it that left me dissatisfied? As a rule, I like Mira Nair's directing ("Vanity Fair" and "The Namesake"), but this time she didn't touch me. As a former private pilot, I usually like aviation movies, but this time I was frustrated by the artistic license they took. I know, I know, artists want a beautiful scene, but if Amelia Earhart was half the pilot the media made her out to be, she would have blushed!

Of course the great unsolved mystery is: What really happened to Amelia Earhart on that penultimate leg of her attempt to circumnavigate the globe? Hilary Swank ("Freedom Writers" and "Million Dollar Baby") stars as Amelia; she has the right look and pulls it off nicely. In fact, they use some real news clippings and it's impressive when you compare the two.

The film explores her off-and-on relationship with George Putnam, the man she eventually married, played by Richard Gere ("Hachiko" and "Chicago"). Lest we forget that she was a liberated female long before there was such a term, we also are treated to a peek at her long-term affair with Gene Vidal (father of Gore), played by Ewen McGregor ("Angels & Demons" and "Star Wars") while still married to Putnam.

After her first trans-oceanic solo (the first after Lindberg's historic flight), Amelia became the Paris Hilton of her day: Putnam crassly exploited her achievements, her face, and her fame, as he made hers a household name and helped raise money to support her flying habit.

This movie is capably done, I just hope your theater has better sound. Our screening was in the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, and we suspect the venue might have been at fault.

Ong Bak 2

I missed the first "Ong Bak" but it was evidently successful enough to warrant a sequel and I certainly heard a number of audience members reminiscing about the noteworthy martial arts in that one. Other than the title, this latest one has nothing in it that implies an earlier film, although this ending absolutely indicates that there WILL be an "Ong Bak 3"! This movie from Thailand boasts an appealing lead actor/director Tony Jaa along with some truly despicable villains.

The training sessions with the bandit chief made me think of a Marine Corps Boot Camp. They master spears, swords, sabers, knives, nin- chucks (or numchucks), fists and fingers. They are killing machines!

Because I have never been a fan of the Chop Socky genre (although I get a kick out of Jackie Chan), I see very few of them. That means the spec- tacular moves the fighters make are not only impressive, they are brand new to me, so I gasp along with the rest of the audience. And Jaa doesn't over-do the slow-motion scenes.

There is very little story to recommend this actioner, so if you like non- stop martial arts that feature a lone hero confronted by insurmountable odds (in the rain!), this is just the ticket.


New York, I Love You

Similar to the 2006 film "Paris, je t'aime" this delightful film is a col- lection of vignettes, some witty, some poignant, but all memorable, and all featuring well-known faces and personalities, each vignette directed by an established professional. It was so much fun to recognize and identify name after name, face after face.

Just off the top of my head, I recall:

  • Hayden Christensen ("Shattered Glass") as a slick pickpocket
  • Andy Garcia ("Ocean's" franchise) as an even slicker pickpocket
  • Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover") as a frequent taxi fare
  • Natalie Portman ("The Other Boleyn Girl") as a Jewish bride
  • Ethan Hawke ("Before Sunset") is almost pornographic as a would-be seducer
  • Robin Wright Penn ("What Just Happened?") shines as a side- walk smoker
  • Shia LaBeouf ("Eagle Eye") is startlingly good as a crippled bellhop
  • Julie Christie ("Away From Her") plays a retired (and pensive) opera singer
  • James Caan ("Las Vegas") is a nosy pharmacist with a teenage daughter
  • Olivia Thirlby ("The Answer Man") is Caan's daugher: a method actor
  • Anton Yelchin ("Star Trek") plays a high-school senior whose dreams come true
  • Chris Cooper ("Breach") surprises us a couple of times... pleasantly!

Believe me, this is only a fraction of the stars you will smile about, laugh at and grieve for (but mostly laugh!). I would be remiss if I didn't pay a special tribute to Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach as the 63-years-married couple trudging to Coney Island, kvetching all the way. In addition, Carlos Acosta stunned us with a one-minute dance solo that took my breath away. That segment, directed by Natalie Portman, is NOT to be missed!

This is a MUST-SEE movie for movie lovers.

More Than a Game

This inspiring documentary, gleaned from family videos, school photos, sports clippings, interviews and various other sources, shows us the development of a close-knit group of chums in Akron, Ohio, who started shooting hoops at their local Salvation Army gym when they were in elementary school. Their coach was one boy's father who had been a football player in school. He had to learn about basketball because that was his son's sport of choice.

Even before they entered high school, these boys showed unity and determination, they switched to a different school because the first basketball coach wouldn't accept one of them (he was too short). This little 4'11" whiz proved to be a remarkable scorer and was a major contributor to their overall success. This loyal gang of freshmen became a well-oiled machine that stood high-school basketball on its ear in the United States.

During their final year, the Akron Fab Five won the National High School Basketball Championship despite the suspension of key player LeBron James during a preliminary game because he had been given two t-shirts by a local sporting goods store (you'll love this game!). He appealed, and his suspension was revoked, so he was able to play out his senior year. Currently an NBA superstar, James is executive producer of this film. He insisted that ALL of his friends be featured, that it not be just a puff piece about him.

We see interviews with each member of the Fab Five and his family, any one of which would be a captivating story. Tales of family pride, family sacrifice and family struggles are the stuff of legend. Judicious editing unfolds each story in its own time, highlighting each player in turn, showing his prowess on the court as well as his family dynamics and his relationship with his four other friends; we see they are decent hard- working folks, one and all.

The little guy's father was shanghaied into the head coaching job when their first high school coach was recruited by a college, so this poor fellow had his own struggle, which is quite a story by itself. He came to realize that his job was not only to coach winning basketball, but to teach his boys how to be men.

Where the Wild Things Are

Maurice Sendak's wildly popular children's classic came out too late to be read by my sons or me. I read it for the first time to a four-year-old girl about two months ago (it only contains twelve lines) and I was dismayed by how dark it was. She seemed to like it fine, so I suspected I was out of step with contemporary tastes.

Now that Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich") has adapted the book into what will no doubt be a top-earning movie, I am POSITIVE I am out of step with contemporary tastes!

Judging by the ill-advised parents who had to take their bored toddlers out of the theater, please be advised that this is NOT your standard children's fare: it is dark, scary, slow, and fairly complicated.

The movie has stunning production values, terrific animatronics and a dauntingly realistic episode in a little boat. The book doesn't include other people, but in the movie we are thrown into a conflicted family scene with Max Records ("The Brothers Bloom") as our "hero" Max, com- pletely out of control: running wild, breaking his sister's things and even biting his mother, played by Catherine Keener ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin"). Consequently, I found it very difficult to be on his side as the story progressed.

The voice artists are terrific, They include James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michael Berry, Jr., and Chris Cooper.

If you've read the book, you already know how it ends, so I won't go there...after all, isn't that where the wild things are?

Law Abiding Citizen

This one is a dandy! Great plot, wonderful actors, lots of blowie uppie stuff, plenty of gruesome scenes (but you know when to hide your eyes) and it speaks to the frustration many of us feel when we watch loath- some criminals released back into society on some "technicality." In addition, this movie contains one of my favorite plot devices: two extremely smart people going head to head!

Gerard Butler ("The Ugly Truth") is a happily married, highly successful family man whose home is invaded one evening; not only is he brutally beaten and left for dead, his wife and daughter are also bludgeoned and slaughtered. When arrested, the more vicious of the two thugs quickly turns state's evidence and plea bargains an insultingly short prison term in exchange for his testimony which guarantees a death sentence for his accomplice. Jamie Foxx ("Ray") is the prosecuting attorney who cuts the deal, to which our widower is strongly opposed. He wants justice.

In this highly unpredictable movie, our hero does things we can only fantasize about: He takes on arrogant judges who throw their weight around, attorneys who play it safe, and career criminals who have nothing but contempt for their victims.

Some profanity, lots of violence, a bit of suspense and a number of people to care about. In other words, good old-fashioned movie making.

Let's hear it for director F. Gary Gray ("The Italian Job" 2003), script writer Kurt Wimmer ("The Recruit") and at least one executive producer, Gerard Butler! Smart man.


Couples Retreat

When Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) and Vince Vaughn (“The Break-Up”) started to write their new movie, they asked themselves, “Where would we like to spend a few months?” Of course the answer was Bora Bora, so they wrote a movie that would take place there. Clever devils, huh?

They wisely opted to have their movie directed by Peter Billingsley who we all remember from his classic “A Christmas Story” days as Ralphie, the little guy who wanted a Red Ryder BB gun, but he’s all grown up now and does a fine job.

Favreau and Vaughn have cast themselves as two of the four guys who bring their wives and/or girlfriends to a posh couples’ retreat in Bora Bora, along with Jason Bateman (“Extract”) and Faizon Love (“The Perfect Holiday”). This luxurious resort is run by Marcel, “The Couples Whisperer,” played to woo-woo perfection by Jean Reno (“The Pink Panther”). Marcel employs touchy-feely stuff that makes everyone uncomfortable except for control freak Bateman and his wife Kristen Bell (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), who used a Power Point presentation to entice the others.

To everyone’s dismay, that irresistible group rate turns out to be a classic bait and switch, as the snorkeling, jet skiing, and other resort activities come AFTER mandatory marriage counseling, and the only spouses who will admit to having problems are the aforementioned Bateman/Bell.

This predictable R-rated film has its share of adult humor (including a digital fig leaf), but I liked it when Vaughn called the long-haired yoga instructor “Fabio,” and I also agreed that no one would want to go to Applebee’s alone…smile…

Vaughn always casts his father in his movies. This time, Papa Vaughn plays Vince’s father. How’s that for typecasting?

The above Jon Favreau is not to be confused with President Obama’s primary speech writer, Jon Favreau. They are two separate but equally talented writers.

Funny dialog, beautiful setting, attractive stars, silly plot. We had lots of fun….



The thing that hooked me was a tantalizing remark by a reviewer: If you liked "Shaun of the Dead," you'll like "Zombieland!" And it's true! This had just enough gory stuff to sell tickets to the fanboys, with just enough potential romance for their dates and a nice road picture for the rest of us.

There were surprisingly long, peaceful intervals with great dialogue, there were lots of amazingly wrought CGI scenes of wanton destruction, there was a potentially sweet romance, and then of course, there was the great cameo by the big B.M! (My lips are sealed...smile...)

Of course our "Don't go in the basement!" moment was actually in an amusement park, but they covered it nicely; and our hero, Jesse Eisen- berg ("Adventureland"), has that sweet, decent, sorta virginal look that I thought Michael Cera had patented! I really appreciated his rules for survival in this post-apocalyptic world filled with flesh-eating zombies.

Each of the main characters is called by his/her city of choice:
  • Jesse Eisenberg ("The Squid and the Whale") is Columbus, who wants to find his parents.
  • Woody Harrelson ("No Country for Old Men") is Tallahassee, who just wants a Twinkie.
  • Emma Stone ("The House Bunny") is Wichita, who is trying to protect her baby sister.
  • Abigail Breslin ("My Sister's Keeper") is Little Rock, who wants to visit a theme park where she has happy memories.

Each of these characters is dealing with a very real loss of one sort or another, but this gore fest was LOTS of fun, just the same!


Whip It

For such a young woman, Drew Barrymore has led a full, rich life and has had an interesting career. In 1982 at age seven, she was in a blockbuster movie ("E.T."). She continued to work as an actress despite her stint in drug rehab when scarcely a teenager; she wrote a book about it but continued to work. In 1999 she ventured into producing movies, some in which she appeared ("Never Been Kissed") and in others she just furnished the voice ("Olive, The Other Reindeer"). With very few professional missteps, she soldiers on.

This time, she acts, produces AND directs a movie, and by no means has she embarrassed herself. In fact, I like the messages that provide the basis for the movie:
  • Love and respect your family;
  • have the courage to try something new;
  • dump your first love if s/he doesn't deserve you;
  • take your knocks and
  • try very hard to win!

For this action-filled movie about competitive roller-skating, she has wisely assembled an extremely game (they do most of their own skating) and capable cast:

  • Ellen Page ("Juno") is our heroine, a semi-shy misfit living with her parents (she 17) and a younger sister in a modest hamlet outside of Austin. She is saddled with a mother who is positive she can win a beauty pageant and who is pushing her hard toward that end.
  • Marcia Gay Hardin (won an Oscar for "Pollock") is her ambitious mother who wants her daughters to move beyond her own level: she's a mail carrier for the U.S. Post Office.
  • Daniel Stern (you probably remember him from "City Slickers" and "Home Alone") plays the amiable father of our reluctant beauty contestant.
  • Juliette Lewis ("The Other Sister") becomes our heroine's arch enemy when they encounter one another in an all-female roller derby.
  • Kristen Wiig ("Ghost Town") is a teammate who talks common sense to our heroine when her life derails.
  • Eve ("Flashbacks of a Fool") is another roller-skating team- mate named Rosa Sparks.
  • Drew Barrymore (see above) has a secondary role as Smashley Simpson, another skater.

This movie isn't as predictable as you might expect and the underlying messages are excellent. Barrymore has given generous screen time to supporting characters, so you will recognize many other faces. As an aside, the closing credits actually show the names along with the faces of many of the actors. I really appreciate that!


The Boys Are Back

It’s such a relief to see Clive Owen (“Duplicity”) move beyond shoot- ‘em-ups and romantic comedies. In this heartfelt film, inspired by a true story, he is a twice-married fellow with one son from each marriage. His second wife dies suddenly from an unsuspected cancer and he is left to raise their six-year-old son, played by Nicholas McAnulty. His elder son, played by George MacKay, lives in England with his mother, while our hero lives in Australia with the younger one.

This film is based on the 2001 memoir by Simon Carr, which tracks a young widower as he evolves from grieving husband to inept father. His parenting style is laissez faire at best and irresponsible at worst. He tries to bring joy back into the life of his six-year-old son by being a pal, and the result is chaos. When the older boy arrives from England for a visit, he is shocked at the disarray in the house, but manages to adapt as best he can. After some disastrous missteps, our struggling father is finally forced to face up to his shortcomings.

The director is Scott Hicks (“Snow Falling on Cedars”) and one of the producers is Greg Brenman (“Billy Elliot”), so we are in the capable hands of a team that understands family dynamics. No car chases, no sweaty bodies, no blowie uppie stuff, although when the two boys are alone and their home is invaded, we feel plenty of anxiety for their safety.

My biggest regret was that the volume in the theater was too low, so I missed over eighty percent of the dialog. Despite that handicap I found the story easy to follow, because Owen and the rest of the cast do a fine job.

The September Issue

The most surprising thing about this documentary was to see that the doyenne of fashion, Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue magazine, seems to be unfailingly polite. (As parodied by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” my impression was that The Ice Queen was rude, demanding and abrupt.) Also, she seems partial to only one type of necklace; I saw her wear it repeatedly in two different colors, but no other variation.

The most UN-surprising thing about this documentary is how absurd I personally find haute couture. I realize that high fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry, but to see how seriously these experts take a single issue of a single magazine is risible, even Wintour’s own family finds it “amusing.” And I find the ridiculous outfits paraded by those anorexic coke-heads to be contemptible jokes foisted off on a gullible public. How anyone can take them seriously is beyond me. If you want to know how I REALLY feel, you have only to ask.

I found only two items of even vague interest: 1) Where are the missing photos of Sienna Miller which were taken at the Coliseum? 2) When Assistant Editor Grace Coddington manages, in the nick of time, to cancel Wintour’s instructions to Photoshop a candid picture of a photographer: Grace kept his slight tummy bulge in the shot.

Evidently September is the new January in the fashion world, so it is essential to Vogue’s prestige to launch a catalog-sized issue each September. If you are a fashion victim who dotes on the latest and greatest clothing trends, you absolutely MUST see this movie. For the rest of us, it’s sorta like discovering how sausage is made: We’d rather not know….

The Invention of Lying

Once upon a time there was a world where people not only did not lie, they didn’t know how, nor could they recognize a lie if it was spoken. Of course this automatically puts a damper on things like courtship (“If I had children by you, they would be fat and have stubby noses, so this will be our only date.”), advertising (a Pepsi ad says, “For when they don’t have Coke...”), and television (no fiction). Not surprisingly, this makes for a pretty bland world, as there are no illusions, no fantasies.

Ricky Gervais (the excellent “Ghost Town”) is a screen writer for a television show. He has been assigned to write about the 14th Century, which had only the Black Plague to recommend it, so he isn’t surprised when his script fails to generate any enthusiasm and he is fired. His secretary, played by Tina Fey (“Ponya” and “30 Rock”), volunteers that she won’t miss him, as she never liked him anyway.

Along with Gervais and Fey, you will enjoy the talents of:
  • Jennifer Garner (“Juno”) who is the reluctant object of Gervais’ affection;
  • Jeffrey Tambor (“Arrested Development”) is his boss;
  • Rob Lowe (“Brothers and Sisters”) plays a truly despicable co-worker;
  • Jonah Hill (“Funny People”) is a suicidal neighbor;
  • Louis C.K. (writer for “Saturday Night Live”) is our hero’s best friend;
  • Christopher Guest (“Night at the Museum…Smithsonian”) is a stuffy TV host;
  • Edward Norton (“The Painted Veil”) uncredited as a traffic cop.

Much of the humor in the early part of the movie is generated by people telling the bald, unvarnished truth. We come to realize how much easier life can be when it is leavened with little white lies. Our hero stumbles into telling his first fib at a bank; this new-found skill causes him to make his mother’s death a much easier passage, as he is able to allay her fears…to the amazement of the medical staff who overhears his well- intentioned fiction about eternal life, meeting long-dead loved ones and mansions in the sky.

This will probably generate a lot of flack from religious folks but personally, I found it not only lots of harmless fun, but nicely done, too… particularly the confused reactions of the populace as a whole, as people seek The Truth.

As an aside, I got a kick out of seeing the headboard of Gervais’ bed blocking his bedroom window. That seems to be peculiarly British; we Americans tend to leave our windows unblocked.



This wonderful multifaceted, multigenerational tour de force takes us throughout the lovely city of Paris, then to the slums of Cameroon and back.

We hear ruminations from a six year old on whether or not there is a Santa Claus, and from a middle-aged professor on whether or not the minutiae of early Parisian history can justify a life-long career. A heart patient imagines happiness in the faces of all those he sees from his taxi, but we recognize some of those faces and realize the truth.

Among the people we get to know:
  • Juliette Binoche (“Cache” and “Dan in Real Life”) who appears in movies throughout the Western world and is terrific every time. This time she plays a single mother saddled with a tough job and three children. Her brother is played by:
  • Romain Duris (“The Beat That My Heart Skipped” and “Le Divorce”) who portrays a former professional dancer who must have a heart transplant which he may or may not survive.
  • Fabrice Luchini (“The Girl From Monaco”) plays the history professor suffering a mid-life crisis. Who would have guessed a man his age could dance like THAT?
  • François Cluzet (the steadfast, stoic husband in “Tell No One,”) is a tearful son grieving the death of his father and weeping with joy at the birth of a brand new baby.

We come to recognize the folks at the fruit stand, the vegetable stand, the fish shop, the bakery. Not only that, we understand how their worlds interconnect and appreciate how they respond to the triumphs and catastrophes which occur in their lives.

This movie is funny, sweet, romantic, scenic and tres French (with English captions).


Bright Star

I guess you have to be a fan of the Romantic Poets: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats. I admit that I am not, so this story about the short, tragic life of Keats left me pretty well unmoved. (I’m more a fan of “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” by Robert Service.)

This movie is beautifully directed by Kiwi-born, Jane Campion (“The Piano” and “The Water Diary”), who currently lives in Sydney. We are treated to many bucolic scenes with children romping in flower-strewn meadows and apple trees in full bloom; England should always be so lovely.

The tragic but chaste three-year love affair between John Keats and his neighbor Fanny Brawne is well documented because their love letters were preserved and he wrote letters about it to his brother in America before dying of consumption (tuberculosis) at age 25.

Our star-crossed lovers are played by Abbie Cornish (“A Good Year”) and Ben Whishaw (“The International”). They start out at odds because she loves high fashion and he loves literature and poetry. As she begins to respect him as a caring person, she develops a taste for poetry. The rest, as they say, is history.

A few items struck me a particularly noteworthy:
  • When notified of his death, her weeping was unusually authentic;
  • No one just sat, all the women had work at hand, whether child care, sewing or food preparation, they were never idle;
  • I very much enjoyed the sounds of the human orchestra; it’s surprising how people entertained themselves before radio, television, or the cinema;
  • Young Samuel Sangster (the darling little lovesick boy in “Love Actually”) has grown into a tall, gangly adolescent!

Many of the more pensive moments have a poetic voiceover. With my hearing impairment and my poetic tin ear, those were lost to me. If your hearing is good and you love the Romantics, this is just the ticket.

Love Happens

The biggest “name brand” in this movie is Jennifer Aniston (“Marley and Me” and “He’s Just Not That Into You”), but she has very little to do in this tepid Chick Flick, other than occasionally show us a little blue-eyed charm.

Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight” and “Thank You For Smoking”) actually has the central role: he plays a widower who facilitates seminars in which he teaches others how to cope with loss. These seminars are based on his best-selling self-help book, “A-Okay.” Of course, as the movie progresses, we begin to think, “Physician, heal thyself!”

Martin Sheen (The Departed” and “Talk to Me”) appears briefly in a few scenes, two of which are key moments. Of course, he overacts as usual… chewing on the scenery with gusto.

Our favorite BFF (Best Forever Friend) from countless Chick Flicks is Judy Greer (LOTS of TV, plus “27 Dresses” and “American Dreamz”) not on screen here as much as I would like, but dependable when she is.

Character actor John Carroll Lynch (“Gran Torino” and “Zodiac”) has been a familiar face since 1993 but he has never been given an opportunity to show his stuff before. He has a couple of extended scenes, no editing, no cutting, just continuous takes where he knocks them out of the park. He plays a bereaved father stuck in his grief over the death of his twelve-year-old son, attending the grief seminar at his sister’s insistence.

Because the central theme is coping with loss, there are many emotional moments, directed with great skill by Brandon Camp. I hope to see more of his work.

Of course, to the Seattle screening crowd, the generous number of Seattle street scenes, points of interest and cityscapes were a treat, plus we smiled at the incessant rain and some of the more egregiously faked Seattle-scapes. Don’t let me mislead you, this movie has plenty of humor and we even learn three new words!

No blowie uppie stuff, no car chases, no gunshots; just some nice people to root for…I liked it…sorta.

The Burning Plain

Charlize Theron (“Hancock” and an Academy Award for “Monster”) is a fine, fearless actress. Her nude scenes (this movie is R-rated) are integral to her character and are tossed off with a careless nonchalance. We are subjected to episodes of self-mutilation, but by the time this movie is half over, we begin to understand their genesis. In addition, by the time we see that confounded mobile home explode and burn four or five times―each time from a different perspective―we begin to understand THAT, as well.

Filmed in Las Cruces, New Mexico plus Depoe Bay and Portland, Oregon, this is a multi-cultural story with NO issue made of ethnicity; which I appreciated. It is also multi-generational, which brings us to the only weak link in the cast: Kim Basinger (“Cellular” and an Academy Award for “L.A. Confidential”) never for a moment convinced me that she was the wife of a long-haul trucker and frustrated mother of four. In my opinion, her carefully tousled hair was studiously done by some Beverly Hills hairdresser trying to make her look like Hollywood's impression of a hick.

John Corbett (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Dinner Rush”) has the thankless task of portraying one of Theron’s many rejected lovers.

When a film is presented in a non-linear fashion, I find myself getting irritated, but my companion felt that this initial confusion added to our stress, which in this movie, is an essential component, so I accept the skipping around this time. One caveat: Just try to keep track of everyone and pay close attention to names and locations.

I want a movie to be thought provoking, and have found myself thinking about this one long after the screening, so I guess writer/director Guillermo Arriaga (“Babel” and “21 Grams”) has accomplished his mission, although my thoughts weren't very positive....

The Informant!

Yes, the exclamation point is appropriate! This totally unpredictable plot is based on the book written by Kurt Eichenwald, which in turn was based on true-life events which surrounded a price-fixing scheme involving the Agri-giant conglomerate Archer Daniels Midland Co., headquartered in Decatur, Illinois, and a true-life whistleblower named Mark Whitacre, played by Matt Damon (the “Bourne” and “Ocean’s” franchises).

For this project, Damon gained over 30 pounds and is utterly convincing as a middle-aged chemist turned FBI informant, clearly in waaay over his head. Scott Bakula (98 episodes of “Enterprise” and lots of TV) and Seattle's own Joel McHale (“The Soup” and many cameos) are the two increasingly bewildered FBI men who work with Whitacre during a three- to five-year period as he helps gather evidence for their international crackdown of ADM by the Justice Department. Their befuddlement is due to the unexpected layers of conspiracy that Whitacre peels away, step by step, over the years.

To say that Damon’s character made my head spin might give away too much, so I will simply say that this movie is very, very funny and Matt Damon is perfect! He was wise enough to pair, once again, with Producer George Clooney (“Leatherheads” and “Michael Clayton”) and Director Steven Soderbergh (“The Good German” and the “Ocean’s” franchise).

The rollicking score by Marvin Hamlisch leaves no doubt that you are watching a comedy. Watch for unexpected faces: Both Tom and Dick Smothers are there, although you must be alert or you’ll miss Tom….


My One and Only

Very loosely based on the autobiography of Mr. Tan himself, George Hamilton ("Love at First Bite"), this sweet-spirited story follows the ever more-desperate meanderings of a former Southern belle, played by Academy Award winner Renée Zellweger ("Appaloosa" and "Miss Potter"), who has left her philandering husband, played by Kevin Bacon ("Frost/Nixon" and "River Wild"). She has taken her two endlessly patient teenaged sons, played by Mark Rendall ("Charlie Bartlett") and Logan Lerman ("Gamer") and headed for greener pastures, seemingly unaware that her once-radiant charms have faded over the last 20 years.

With no professional skills to call her own, her game plan is simply to find a new husband. Among the men who pass through her life, we see:
  • The aforementioned Mr. Bacon;
  • Chris Noth ("Sex and the City");
  • Steven Weber (LOTS of TV);
  • David Koechner (excellent in "Extract");
  • Eric McCormack ("Will and Grace");
  • Nick Stahl ("Terminator 3").

Troy Garrity ("Bandits"), finally getting as handsome as his genes would promise (he's Jane Fonda's son), is a hapless highwayman in a great scene on the Mojave Desert. That scene contains the only gunshot in the entire movie and we are sooo proud of the shooter!

No sweaty bodies, no blowie uppie stuff, great ironic dialogue and a perfectly nostalgic evocation of the 50s: fashions, cars, street scenes and movies.

My favorite line owes a debt to George Hamilton's reputation as the man with the perfect tan. After they arrive in Southern California, his fictional mother tells her teenage offspring, "Go to the beach and get some sun. You are as pale as a nun's behind!" And THAT, my friends, is the only off-color comment in this entire movie.


All About Steve

C'mon...this movie wasn't nearly as bad as some critics said. In fact, there were a number of laugh-out-loud moments, and it's always fun to look at Bradley Cooper ("Hangover" and "He's Just Not That Into You"). Cooper is a cameraman for a dimwitted television newscaster, played to perfection by Thomas Hayden Church ("Imagine That" and "Sideways"), who desperately wants to break into the Big Time.

Cooper's mother has arranged a blind date for him with a friend's bright but eccentric daughter, fearlessly played by Sandra Bullock ("The Proposal" and "Infamous"), who is never afraid to look goofy, act silly or get really, really dirty (as in DIRT - she falls down a mine shaft!). Bullock's character constructs crossword puzzles for a local Sacramento newspaper and has absolutely NO personal life. Once she sets eyes on her handsome date though, she dashes back upstairs (she lives with her parents), changes into sexier clothes and jumps his bones before they leave her parents' driveway.

He is flabbergasted and very uncomfortable with her aggressive moves, so is grateful when his cell phone interrupts and he is immediately dispatched to cover a distant media event involving a deformed baby. Her next crossword puzzle is "All About Steve" and when he hears about it, he begins to fear that she might become a stalker. As a result of that puzzle, she loses her job, so sets out to follow him...thus confirming his worst fears.

Soon, our intrepid news team is off to Galveston, Texas to cover a hurricane, with Bullock and some newfound friends in hot pursuit. Cooper's boss, played by Keith David ("Gamer" and "Coraline"), has decided to fire this inept team until their next assignment lands them in Colorado where a media circus erupts with his boys right smack in the center ring.

Because I am an avid crossword puzzle fan, I can relate to the wealth of little-known facts that our heroine has at the tip of her tongue; because she is uncomfortable in public, she blabs away, non stop, and I can relate to THAT, as well! In addition, I like stories where characters can learn things about themselves and grow. Hey, I'm trying, I'm trying...

I think my favorite moment was when Bullock smoothed Church's hairdo with spit just before he went on camera.


World's Greatest Dad

Hmmm… This movie doesn’t fit into any particular genre. It certainly isn’t a comedy; it’s more like a drama (that quickly descends into a melodrama). It seems to be a treatise on mob hysteria or group think; how it happens and how ridiculous it looks. In addition, it is the perfect “how-to” manual if you want to be a pathetic parent.

Robin Williams (“August Rush” and “Man of the Year”) is the ineffectual father of a truly unpleasant teenager, played by Daryl Sabara (“Her Best Move” and “Halloween" 2007) who not only doesn’t respect his father, he loathes him. With an apologetic little half-smile, Williams teaches poetry― ineptly―in a fictitious Seattle high school, where two of his fellow teachers are portrayed by Alexie Gilmore (“Definitely, May- be” and “Mercy”) and Henry Simmons (“Madea’s Family Reunion” and “The Insurgents”). Partway into the movie, Williams’ character is confronted with a horrific situation, but in a clumsy attempt to lessen its effects, he makes matters infinitely worse and things quickly spiral out of control.

It was fun for the screening audience to spot familiar Seattle scenes, including an iconic restaurant in West Seattle, but most of it could have been (and was) shot elsewhere.

Writer/Director Bobcat Goldthwait (LOTS of TV) warns us to be careful what we wish for because we just might get it. As expected with Goldthwait, the language is bluntly pornographic, and the screenplay is often silly and embarrassing. In my opinion, these two former stand-up comics didn’t do each other any favors with this one!

In re-reading this, I can see there was no one to root for, so I guess I didn’t much like it, did I!


This movie opens with a con: An attractive young woman is shopping for a guitar for an absent relative. Mila Kunis (“Max Payne” and “Tom Cool”) plays the smartest character in the entire cast. She is a con woman, a crook, a seductress and the spark plug that starts the entire plot rolling.

Maybe I was just tired, but this clever little comedy slipped under my defense shields and won me over. Of course, I always like Jason Bateman (“Juno," “Hancock” and the upcoming feature film “Arrested Development") and J.K. Simmons (“Burn After Reading” and “Post Grad”), or maybe I was in the mood to see something about an earnest man running a small business and dealing with realistic trials and tribulations as he tries to keep his doors open after a minor industrial accident (well ...MAJOR to the employee who suffered a groin injury), which could wipe out their livelihood for dozens of people.

Bateman is a former bartender who devised a formula that is the backbone of his extract bottling plant. Ben Affleck (“Hollywoodland” and "State of Play") is a bearded stoner who still tends bar at their old watering hole. His character proves that free advice is worth quite a bit less than it costs!

Bateman’s plant is filled with familiar faces, one of whom caught the attention of my sharp-eyed companion (I missed it). She knew he looked familiar and when I checked him out, I was very impressed by his body of recent work: Clifton Collins Jr. plays one of the plant employees, mousy mustache, mullet and all (he is the victim of the aforementioned accident). We have recently seen him as a one-armed Hispanic in “Sunshine Cleaning,” a high-performance car driver in “Crank” 2009, and a Romulan in “Star Trek” 2009. And that’s just a teeny sample of his recent work!

If I have any complaint, it is to see Hollywood’s smug impression of small town people. As a small town émigré I take exception to this, but then again, I’ll admit that I’ve been in some small towns… In addition, I recoil from on-screen drug use, although the zany results of this particular event make the movie an excellent cautionary tale about the pitfalls of narcotics, legal or not. If I add that Dustin Milligan (LOTS of TV) plays a dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks gigolo, I might be giving away too much of the plot…so I won’t…smile…


The Answer Man

This should be renamed. I'd call it "The Joys and Sorrows of Self-Help Books."

In this satisfying romantic comedy for grownups, always dependable Jeff Daniels ("The Lookout" and "Squid and the Whale") is the wildly successful author of a classic self-help book called "Me and God." (That title grates on my nerves because I had an English teacher who taught us NEVER to put "me" first in a phrase like that!) As a result of the lionizing, our hero has become an embittered recluse; he lives under an assumed name and refuses phone calls, invitations and personal appearances. Furthermore, he no longer believes in the message contained in his book.

Lauren Graham (shamefully un-acclaimed for 154 episodes of "Gilmore Girls") is a single parent raising an eight-year-old boy and opening a chiropractic office in her first venture as an independent business woman. She has made a life for herself and her son and clearly does NOT want to rock the boat.

Lou Taylor Pucci ("Southland Tales" and "Fanboys") is a young man fresh out of 28-day rehab, shaky but sober. He had the only key to his little bookstore in his pocket when he went into rehab, so his clerk simply left it locked and closed the entire time. He comes back to his little Philadelphia neighborhood business to find a financial catastrophe...no business...lots of bills....and his father is still a drunk.

We watch the paths of these three nice people intersect, tangle, get knotted up and snarled as each one struggles for a normal life.

No blowie uppie stuff, no betrayals, no gunshots, no car chases, three people to root for...plus a really cute little boy. Hmmm... I think I liked it!


Lorna's Silence

The setting is Belgium, the Land of Opportunity for two émigrés from Albania, who dream of opening a modest snack bar and joining the ranks of the self employed. The male half of this duo is headed south for a temporary job on the Mediterranean, while the female, convincingly played by Arta Dobroshi― nominated for the European Film Award of 2008 for this role―has worked with a broker to fake a marriage to a Belgian so she can obtain the necessary citizenship papers. The lucky guy is a junkie who needed the money for drugs. Naturally they occupy the same domicile, but that is as far as it goes.

Once she gets her legal papers, the broker's plan is to administer an overdose to the junkie so our heroine/now a widow, can be paid a handsome sum to turn around and marry a Russian, who is ALSO seeking Belgian citizenship. In the meantime, our hard-working couple has saved a significant wad of cash and are on the brink of success. In fact, she has started shopping for a site where they can launch their little business. Got that so far?

Suffice it to say, the best-laid plans...

Ms. Dobroshi is wonderful, the situation actually feels realistic, and her character's reaction to the swirl of plots around her is understandable. I'm sure this world is full of desperate people who have voted with their feet and are trying to make a better life for themselves.

More power to them!