Tokyo Sonata

This one's gonna be a tough one to market because it doesn't fit neatly into any specific genre...
  • Drama
  • Comedy
  • Political/Economic Commentary
  • Musical
  • Tragedy

We start out in corporate Japan, kind of like the atmosphere in "Shall We Dansu?" - 1996, with a mid-level executive in a business suit living a stable, comfortable life, commuting to a modern office. We are certain it won't last, given the recent economic turmoil in Japan, but little do we know how far things will stray.

When he is downsized, there is no way our hero will admit this total loss of face to his family, so he continues to leave for "work" each morning, carrying his briefcase, much like Tom Wilkinson's character in "The Full Monty." He finds his fruitless job search to be more and more demeaning every day. Sadly, he is only one of a throng of men who find themselves in an identical situation; we even become acquainted with some of them. His stoic bearing up under the increasing strain made me think of the stalwart hero of "Twilight Samurai."

His older son Takashi, has been passing out pamphlets on the street, albeit not very successfully, so he has secretly decided to join the US military in order to get away from home and earn a living. The problem is, he's under age, so he needs a parent's signature to enlist. By the way, this is artistic license, there is no such program for Japanese men to serve in the US military.

The younger boy Kenji, is a musical genius but Dad forbids piano playing, so Kenji secretly uses his lunch money for lessons. The histrionics displayed during those parent/child confrontations made me think I was in an Akira Kurosawa film.

Mom is the hard-working mother, maid, nanny, babysitter and generally the chief cook and bottle-washer in this household of helpless males. Mom is secretly wishing she would wake up and discover this has all been a dream. Her own dramatic turn of events actually would be very funny, if it wasn't so scary and sad...

There are some very, very funny intervals, along with some poignant ones. On the other hand, this is the only film I have attended recently where I was able to hear Debussy's wonderful "Clair de Lune" in its entirety. And THAT'S worth a LOT!


Sunshine Cleaning

It's amazing what lengths a mother will go to so she can send her bright little boy to a private school! Amy Adams ("Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day," and "Enchanted") is that mother. Saddled with a father, played by Alan Arkin ("Little Miss Sunshine" and "Get Smart"), who never lacks for get-rich-quick schemes, and a ne'er-do-well sister, played by Emily Blunt ("The Jane Austen Book Club" and "Dan in Real Life"), who can't seem to hold a regular job, she is frantic, but determined. Both sisters are thrust into this latest act of desperation: cleaning up crime scenes after the police complete their investigations.

Amy is the sparkplug for this dynamic duo, while Emily is the unreliable scold. We watch Amy learn the ins and outs of this messy sort of cleaning: the chemicals, the training, the licensing, the environmental issues and coping with the odors. On the other hand, Emily is more concerned with the human side of each tragedy and the folks who are left behind.

Steve Zahn ("Happy, Texas" and "Riding in Cars With Boys") is Amy's (married) lover, a police detective who complains about the exorbitant price the current cleaners charge for this specialty. She thinks, "How hard can it be?"

Brace yourself...


The Great Buck Howard

Tom Hanks wonders, "Where did I go wrong?" He plays the fictional father of his real-life son, Colin ("The House Bunny" and "W."), whose character has dropped out of law school and signed on as the personal assistant ("gofer") to a demanding, egotistical, eccentric "Mentalist," the eponymous Buck Howard, as he milks his waning celebrity to half-empty houses in small towns and cities across rural America.

During the introduction at the Sedona Film Festival, the managing director told us that when he first saw the film at an earlier festival he thought, "OMG! I worked for this guy! It's Kreskin the Great!" He had coordinated one of Kreskin's appearances and encountered exactly the same eccentricities shown in this movie. Sure enough, when this movie ends, it gives credit for inspiration to the aforementioned Kreskin!

Once again, John Malkovich ("Burn After Reading," "Changling" and "Being John Malkovich") has found a role that suits his oddball appearance and delivery. He is perfect as a talented, driven misfit who wants to be recognized for his unique stunts. Through one mishap after another, his most spectacular "event" is overlooked by the press and he sinks into even greater obscurity. He has one regular, sure-fire stunt where the payment for his appearance is placed in an envelope; while he is absent, the audience conspires to hide it from him. He comes back out and discovers where it is hidden. The success and/or failure of this stunt is central to the plot.

My opinion?
  • Colin Hanks is adequate
  • Emily Blunt's considerable talent is wasted
  • John Malkovich owns his role
  • Great production values
  • Formidable supporting cast.

This movie doesn't disappoint....nor does it thrill....



During the first few scenes of this movie I was reminded of the old romantic comedy "Lover Come Back" which starred Rock Hudson and Doris Day, where they played advertising executives who competed for an account to promote a product that didn't exist!

"Duplicity" is all about industrial espionage, no "World in Peril," no blowie uppie stuff, no nukes, guns or car chases. It still manages to create tension, generate interest, and amuse. The dialog is clever, the locations are fun and the loathing between two corporate arch enemies, played by Paul Giamatti ("Sideways" and "John Adams") and Tom Wilkinson ("Michael Clayton" and "The Full Monte"), is the driving force from the clever (slow-motion) title sequence onward.

Our two principal spies are played by Julia Roberts ("Erin Brockovich" and "Pretty Woman") and Clive Owen ("The International,""I'll Be a Long Time Dead" and "Croupier"). They relish what they do, but the downside is that they -- not being trustworthy -- do not trust anyone. Remember, you always judge others by yourself. The wheeling and dealing between this duplicitous duo is involving and sometimes confusing. Be warned, you'll need a scorecard to keep track of who is working for (or against) whom! Luckily all the secondary characters have distinctive appearances and personality quirks.

The twisty plot is echoed by the twisty camerawork, with great impressive swoops around our heroes. I'd love to see a documentary of how this movie was made, I'll bet the camera operator needed a seat belt!

The dialog is witty; I particularly liked one of the lines: Owen's character says to Roberts, "I think about you all the time. Even when I'm WITH you, I think about you!" You have NEVER seen him smile so much and they seem to have great chemistry. In my opinion, this is a BIG improvement over the icky relationship they had in their previous collaboration, the cynical film, "Closer." Whew!

Great tagline for this movie: Outwit. Outspy. Outsmart. Outplay. Then get out.


Play the Game

Of all of the "artistic" films we saw when we attended the Sedona Film Festival, this mainstream romantic comedy elicited the most heartfelt laughter. It is an unabashedly silly, multi-generational lark about David, a young ladies' man, smoothly played by Omar Adam (LOTS of TV), who regularly visits his elderly grandfather, played by Andy Griffith ("Waitress" and "A Face in the Crowd"), at the assisted living facility where he resides.

Grandpa is depressed and lonely, so our hero starts sharing with him his mind games, the foolproof sales techniques which work equally well when selling expensive automobiles or seducing young women. He insists that all you have to do is "play the game." Grandpa wants nothing to do with dating, he still misses his deceased wife and expects to be lonely until the day (soon, he hopes) he dies.

Our young man works for his father at a high-end new car lot and a nasty piece of work HE is! As played by Clint Howard ("Frost/Nixon" and "Cinderella Man"), we can certainly see why Grandpa is David's parent of choice rather than Dad.

By the time Grandpa is blindsided by a frisky old dame who mixes Viagra in his wine, he has all but given up on life, but now he's beginning to see some possibilities. There are many, many Viagra jokes and Griffith does them justice.

As a side story, our game-playing young man plays touch football with his chums on the weekends. A new player shows up and immediately starts putting him down in a playful but definite way. This attractive young woman keeps him at arms' length throughout most of the movie, but we can tell... (wink, wink...)

Of course, in the inevitable flip flop, Grandpa is soon urging our lovelorn young man to "Get back in the game!" while our scandalized hero is begging Grandpa to "Act your age!"

This is NOT "artistic" but it is certainly a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. And the surprise ending is fun, too!


I Love You, Man

First of all, I'd like to point out that this is NOT the time of year for top-notch movies, okay? That being said, let me tell you about this latest bottom-notch movie.

Paul Rudd ("Role Models," "Clueless" and "40-Year-Old Virgin") is the main attraction. This good-looking, capable actor will, some day, get a vehicle that is worthy of his talents. In the meantime, he has a family to support.

Our hero overhears his fiancée's gal pals talking about clingy men who don't have their own set of (male) friends with whom they can hang out. He realizes that he has more female than male friends and sets out to do something about it; he does, after all, need a best man for his wedding. So he goes on a quest to find a new best friend.

Hilarity ensues...kidding...

  • Paul Rudd
  • The fact that the fiancée never becomes bitchy or shrill
  • Our hero's awkwardness in trying to be "manly."


  • Gross humor (farting, puking, etc.)
  • Scatological language
  • Catering to the target audience: 10-23 year old guys. I don't fit the demographic.

Full disclosure: I laughed out loud more than once. I STILL like Paul Rudd.


What happens if life doesn't go your way?

This is the tagline for "Revanche" ("Revenge"), an Oscar-nominated German film that explores the inner turmoil of an ex con who has planned the perfect bank robbery after which he will take his Ukrainian girlfriend to a Mediterranean resort where they can forget about their demeaning lives: hers as a prostitute and his as a bouncer/lackey in the same house of ill repute.

We meet his grandfather a little distance out of town, still pottering around on his primitive farm in the German countryside, as he feeds the cows, picks apples, chops firewood and grieves for his long-deceased wife.

We also meet the grandfather's helpful neighbors, a local cop and his wife, saddened by her recent miscarriage but soldiering on, trying to be good citizens and friends.

By the time the cop inadvertently shoots the girlfriend (he isn't a very good shot), we are deeply involved in all of their lives. The poor cop begins to suffer from post-traumatic stress triggered by the shooting, while our broken-hearted hero starts to plot his "Revanche."

To say that we care about each of these people is an understatement. This quietly affecting movie won numerous awards in Europe and richly deserved its Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film in the US.

Be prepared for a European approach to sex and feel sorry for that poor lead actor, Johannes Krisch, who does more physical labor than anyone else in this thing. He schleps cases of beer, lugs four-foot lengths of firewood into a barn where he uses a power saw to cut them into foot-long pieces. Then he chops the pieces into stove-sized chunks and stacks them up again. He never stops working, unless it's to have sex. ...smile...

Good movie, though. I saw it twice at the Sedona Film Festival. It is due to be released in the United States sometime in March. Watch for it!


Race to Witch Mountain

In my opinion, Dwayne Johnson and Disney are a pretty good match. He has been striving to convey a more admirable image and that is what Disney does best.

This is an updated version of the 1975 Disney sci-fi movie "Escape to Witch Mountain" (there was also a forgettable made-for-TV version in 1995) in which the main (human) character is now a Las Vegas cab driver, played by Dwayne Johnson ("The Game Plan" and "Get Smart"). Of course we are now politically and ecologically correct, so the two alien teenagers are trying to get back to their planet in order to prevent their military from attacking Planet Earth. Their own population has destroyed its environment and these youngsters carry a solution that will enable their people to stay put instead of being forced to relocate to another galaxy.

The "spin" on this version is that it takes place during a major sci-fi convention in Las Vegas and "aliens" abound. Taxi drivers are surrounded by them and have learned to tolerate all sorts of strange behaviors and appearances. Our hero is no different.

On a parallel track, we follow governmental agents who are sent to investigate the crash of a UFO just outside the city. This group is led by England's most dependable and hard-working utility player, Ciarán Hinds ("Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" and "There Will Be Blood") who pursues his quarry with single-minded determination.

Expect lots of chases, lots of blowie uppie stuff and lots of wrestle mania. (Remember, Dwayne Johnson - "The Rock" - is from THAT world...smile...)

Pray the Devil Back to Hell

This excellent documentary tells the story of an amazing group of women who demanded peace from a decades-old civil war in Liberia. They took no sides and refused to be affiliated with any political faction. They didn't support either the government or the rebels, instead they kept their message pure: "We want PEACE!"

The movement was first ignored and the women who pioneered the group were either jailed or beaten, but as their numbers grew, even the president was forced to acknowledge them (all of the women wore white shirts, blouses or t-shirts, so they were highly visible to news cameras). The movement included women from all religions, including Muslims, who never wavered from their simple message. By focusing on that single goal, they couldn't be categorized as an enemy by any political group. To the soldiers, to other citizens, and to the world, they were everyone's grandmother, mother, aunt, sister or daughter.

By the time it numbered in the thousands, it had become a multinational movement and included women from neighboring African countries as well, all of whom continued to wear their trademark white.

This independent film (2009) includes archived newsreel clips, interviews with the principal movers and shakers, and a postscript which documents the result: the election of Liberia's first female president.

The former (brutal and highly corrupt) president is now exiled and the women continue to insist on peace for their struggling country.

NOTE: May 20, 2012 headline in the Seattle Times: Former Liberian president Charles Taylor gets a 50-year sentence in a U.N.-backed court for aiding and abetting war crimes.

* * * * * * * *
You probably already know this but Liberia came about as a result of requests from former American slaves to President Monroe to be transported back to Africa. He accommodated them and in gratitude they named their new country "Liberia" and their capital "Monrovia."


"Mi padre es homofóbico, mi abuelo es gay. Yo soy Pedro." (My father is homophobic, my grandpa is gay. I am Pedro.)

This is the tagline for this lightweight but enjoyable little romp from Chile which was screened at the Sedona Film Festival. It is in Spanish with English subtitles.

Poor Pedro. His father just got out of jail and is NOT a happy camper because, given his prison record, his employment situation is iffy at best. Their economic situation is bad and Grandma tells them they will have to move to her ex-husband's place in another city because she can no longer afford to keep them.

Pedro's papa hasn't seen his own father for decades, so he is totally unprepared when his flamboyant father comes to meet them. Pedro calmly accepts the situation right away; he isn't nearly as horrified as his homophobic father...but remember, Papa spent some unpleasant time in jail!

Grandpa and his boyfriend generously help Pedro and his dad get settled. Pedro and his grandfather immediately set about forming a mutual-admiration society; they find that they enjoy each other's company and are becoming fast friends. Grandpa's boyfriend has a pal who is willing to hire Pedro's father, but it is in a gay nightclub.

Enlightenment ensues...


The Greatest Show on Earth

Despite the screenplay, I'm going to call this a documentary. Cecil B. DeMille rode along (in his own private railroad car!) with the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus during the preparation and filming of this corny epic. The end result is a meticulously filmed, step-by-step description of how a three-ring circus traveled from town to town in the United States. This type of circus is as outdated now as a buggy whip, a manual typewriter, or a Studebaker.

This Best Picture Oscar winner for 1952 is available on DVD from your local library or possibly from Netflix or Blockbuster. When you get it, I hope it includes Robert Osborne's interview with star Betty Hutton ("The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" and "Annie Get Your Gun"). Just to watch this exuberant 80-year-old fall back in her chair laughing and kicking up her leg with glee is worth the price of admission. Hers is a life worth noting.

Clichéd and predictable, we watch a trapeze artist (Hutton) accustomed to the center ring, as she is bumped to second billing by a new hotshot Italian, played by Hungarian Cornel Wilde ("Leave Her to Heaven" and "The Naked Prey") who also happens to be a handsome ladies' man. She soon discovers that she is not impervious to his charms, much to the dismay of Charlton Heston ("Ben Hur" and "Hamlet" - 1996), the hard-working manager who directs roustabouts in the loading and unloading of the tents, animals, costumes and rigging at every whistle stop along the way. We watch the raising and lowering of the Big Top, a spectacular train wreck and lots of circus acts.

We also are treated to Jimmie Stewart as Buttons the Clown who always stays in makeup, Gloria Grahame as the worldly elephant trainer who has a shared past with the Italian fellow, Dorothy Lamour as a glamour-puss performer and many, many luminaries from the circus who play themselves.

Robert Osborne introduced this classic at the Sedona Film Festival. He stressed that this film depicts an event we took for granted in the 40s and 50s, but which will never pass this way again.

Irina Palm

This Belgian film is over a year old but is just now looking for release in the United States. This was a popular selection at the Sedona Film Festival, although the delightful artistic director chided us for staying up so late just to see this titillating film!

Marianne Faithfull is a widowed grandmother, driven to desperation by the illness of her much-loved grandson. She, her newly unemployed son and frantic daughter-in-law have borrowed, hocked and sold everything they can get their hands on, only to learn that a very expensive medical procedure has just become available "overseas." If they can pay for the transportation and housing, the boy might very well be saved.

Not only is she distracted by her family drama, the neighbor women aren't particularly nice to her during their frequent kaffé klatches. They tend to be snoopy, while she has a very strong sense of privacy.

Finally, at her tether's end, she takes a job as a hostess in a local sex club. Her initiation into the nitty gritty of the services provided there, is actually funny as hell and her reactions are priceless. We watch as she gains new confidence and a different outlook, and she discovers that she isn't quite as unappealing as she had been led to believe.

Her suspicious son follows her to work one day and therein lies the tale...