The Soloist

That felt odd: An adult film for an adult audience. No car crashes, no sweaty bodies, no blowie uppie stuff.

Instead, we are taken to contemporary Los Angeles (where 90,000 homeless people live today in the sorry, sad underside of the city) and follow a real-life reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Steve Lopez, played by the extraordinary Robert Downey, Jr. ("Iron Man," "Tropic Thunder" and "Zodiac"). We are given entree to Disney Hall and the opportunity to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic, plus we visit the Los Angeles Times newsroom.

Our reporter encounters a street person named Nathaniel Ayers, capably depicted by Jamie Foxx (an Academy Award for "Ray," plus "Jarhead" and "Dreamgirls"), who is playing a two-stringed violin, although we later learn that the cello is actually this classically trained musician's instrument of choice. Curious, the reporter lingers to see if he can get a human interest article out of their chance meeting.

As the story progresses, the reporter learns more than he ever anticipated about mental illness, homelessness and art. Like the rest of us, Lopez is convinced that if he provides a clean apartment and finds the right medication for Ayers, he will soon be "normal." Very quickly, it becomes clear just how frustrating and intractable a problem like Ayers' can be. We are treated to a light show as we "see" music through the eyes of a man suffering from schizophrenia and we glean from his stream-of-consciousness rants, why this sick man refuses his meds.

What a joy to see two wonderful actors given the latitude to work their magic and convince us that these real-life men were actually up on that screen. Kudos to the director, Joe Wright ("Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement") for not dumbing down the screenplay. We are in his debt. According to the fellow who introduced the film to our screening crowd, both Lopez and Ayers attended opening night for "The Soloist" in Los Angeles.


This time I'm going to be a critic while everyone else is shouting kudos for this project.

In my opinion, the folks at Disneynature Films bit off more than they could chew in this G-rated live-action movie released in 2007, but enjoying a new release in April, 2009.

We range from the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa to the Himalayan Mountains in Central Asia, we leap back and forth from the Arctic to the Antarctic, we s-l-o-w-l-y pan over scenes of great northern forests and tropical rain forests. We see LOTS of time-lapse photography with entire seasons encapsulated in less than a minute: little green sprouts spring from the earth, bud and bloom, and rain clouds skitter across the sky. We follow a 3,000 mile migration by a mother humpback whale and her baby; polar bear cubs make their first foray out of the den where they were born; millions of birds take off in one gigantic frenzied flock (why are there no mid-air collisions?); there are wonderful aerial shots of migrations of caribou, elephants, and geese. Any one of the topics listed in this paragraph would have been perfect for its own feature-length film.

We see predators make their kills: a wolf pulls down a game little caribou calf, a cheetah only catches a frantic baby antelope because it loses its footing, a killer whale does a HUGE slow motion capture of a seal, but all of these scenes stop just before the blood spurts. Whew!

All of this activity is accompanied by the most inconsequential music I have had the displeasure to endure. Not one note of the score added a thing to our experience! And there WERE opportunities: the first flights of a darling clutch of baby Mandarin ducks; the polar bear cubs trying to manage a steep icy slope; the courting dance of a peacock; the string of exhausted elephants, each of which bumps into the one in front when the leader suddenly comes to a standstill; a line of baboons gingerly picking its way through a flooded area. Any one of these could have been great fun but I only heard an isolated giggle or two from the audience.

There were misleading scenes made more so by their juxtaposition. For example, we admire a shot of a huge waterfall while our narrator, James Earl Jones, tells us that climate change is causing a water shortage. This is immediately followed by a shot of the Sahara in which the lines of the horizon are very much like the ones behind the waterfall. This would make you think you were seeing a before and after shot of the same place. The narrative does NOT say that, but I found this subliminal message creepy, just the same.

All this being said, the 8- to 10-year-old boy and girl in the row in front of me were engrossed, particularly during those life and death struggles as they waited for the blood to spurt; the smaller tots were bored stiff. Does the word "Disney" make parents think ALL ages will be enthralled? Aarghhh!


La Lingerie

Okay, which one of you told me to get this 2008 DVD from the library? It's okay to confess, I'm NOT mad...

This Japanese film has to be the goofiest, funniest, sweetest (and saddest) little frolic I have seen in quite awhile. Of course, being Japanese, it is waaaay over the top in each of these categories, but I didn't anticipate some of the zany twists.

The story is about four young Japanese women and their love lives (or lack thereof) and of course the catalyst for each one of them is in some way tied to sexy lingerie.

I won't even begin to attempt to tell you the story, but I found it diverting and well worth the 119 minutes running time.


State of Play

Who (Whom?) do you trust?

  • Politicians? Nah...
  • Journalists? You've gotta be kidding!
  • The Military/Industrial Complex? It's obvious that Hollywood doesn't!

This movie asks the question, then commences to serve a paranoid view that pretty much slams all of the above.

Great cast:

  • Russell Crowe ("A Good Year" and "A Beautiful Mind") - bad hair, but at least it was clean. Crowe plays a traditional newspaper reporter who sees three seemingly unrelated murders and looks for a link.
  • Ben Affleck ("Pearl Harbor" and "Hollywoodland") - great hair and impeccably groomed. Affleck is an up-and-coming congressman investigating corruption between a multinational corporation and the military.
  • Rachel McAdams ("The Notebook" and "Red Eye") - altogether lovely. McAdams is the contemporary version of a reporter: She runs a blog for the newspaper.
  • Jeff Daniels ("The Lookout" and "Infamous") - a cipher this time out. Daniels is a senior politico who has become a power broker.
  • Helen Mirren ("Calendar Girls" and "The Queen") - profane and funny. Mirren is, in turns, exasperated, supportive and angry. She is far more interested in the bottom line than reform, so she would prefer a tawdry headline and increased sales, rather than a Pulitzer.
  • Robin Penn Warren ("Princess Bride" and "Forrest Gump") - once again, a lovely sad woman. Her character is married to the congressman, but has a history with the reporter.
  • Jason Bateman ("Juno" and "Arrested Development") - this guy just gets better and better! Bateman is a smarmy go-between who has turned information gathering to his financial advantage.

If you pay close attention, you can follow the convoluted plot; this is a grownup movie with philosophical and political questions rather than who is "hooking up" with whom. Affleck and Crowe had been college roommates, so they have a long-standing relationship. Yes, there is plenty of action and suspense, but Helen Mirren offers welcome relief with her acerbic lines, beautifully delivered, which articulate today's precarious financial situation for newspapers.

In my opinion, Jason Bateman stole the show. Okay, so maybe I am showing my prejudice, but even when he is an out-and-out villain, I just LIKE him.

17 Again

Does anyone remember "Damn Yankees?" In that one, middle-aged insurance salesman Joe Hardy makes a deal with the Devil so he can be transformed into a pennant-winning baseball player. In "17 Again" middle-aged pharmaceutical salesman Mike O'Donnell wishes for a "do-over" with a janitor/Spirit Guide at his old high school. This adult version, played by Matthew Perry ("Friends" and "The Whole Nine Yards"), is separated from his wife, has been passed over for a pro- motion, and has just realized that neither of his teenage children think very highly of him.

Instead of 1958 teen idol Tab Hunter in the old movie, our do-over this time gives us 2009 teen idol Zac Efron ("Hairspray" and "High School Musical"). In both movies, the younger version continues to love his wife, but in the current one, our transformed hero enrolls at his children's high school and comes to realize that he didn't know his offspring at all! In my opinion, Zac Efron does a commendable job of playing an unapologetic adult, with adult attitudes and adult sensibilities, lodged in a teenager's body. He is the one who has to deliver all the common sense advice for teenagers and do it in a believable way. This guy might be able to make the transition to "real" movie star, after all...

This piece of fluff is predictable, silly, and highly fantastical, but I heard the audience laugh out loud numerous times. There were tweens in the crowd but I never felt uncomfortable for them, and in today's anything- goes environment, that is worthy of comment.

I enjoyed it.


Sin Nombre

The United States is populated by immigrants. Every immigrant family's story is different but each one is the culmination of initiative, grit and determination. Even though the U.S. is the ultimate destination in this affecting movie, we watch folks from Honduras as they pass through Mexico, enroute to the Estados Unidos.

First we meet "Willy," a tattooed gang banger who is helping initiate a boy called "Smiley" into the rules of his ruthless gang: Smiley must accept a beating by his fellow gang members, kill his first opponent and adhere to their code of silence. Problem is, Willy himself isn't as diligent as his gang would like him to be. He prefers the company of his lovely girlfriend and does NOT enjoy administering those beatings.

On a parallel track, a young woman named "Sayra" has been convinced by her long-absent father to accompany him back to New Jersey, where he had immigrated and started a new family. She is hesitant because she is convinced she can make it by herself but he wants to mend fences and offer her a new beginning, so she goes with him.

Three things:
  1. "Sin Nombre" means "without name" or, as I would translate it, "Nameless."
  2. The ubiquity of those Latino gangs is particularly chilling. After his initiation, Smiley is told that he now has thousands of brothers to watch his back, plus there is reference to "the boss in California."
  3. The use of a hand gesture as a "secret" signal reminds me of the photos I see of some rappers and hip hop artists as they slyly incorporate their own gang's hand gestures into publicity shots.

Because we aren't familiar with any of the actors and this movie is extremely well directed, this almost feels like a documentary rather than a scripted piece of fiction. It is engrossing, suspenseful and poignant.

Observe and Report

The saddest thing about this pathetic travesty, is that it will probably make money! One of my companions called it a "Spring Break" movie; and I'm afraid that might be true.... Yuck!

Seth Rogan ("Knocked Up" and "Pineapple Express") turns up the raunch for this one. He is an idiotic mall cop with delusions of adequacy exacerbated by a (sporadically medicated) bipolar disorder. His mother is a drunken simpleton, his co-workers are dolts and the love of his life, played by the usually fetching Anna Faris ("House Bunny") is just plain disgusting. I was horrified to see Ray Liotta ("Wild Hogs" and "Battle in Seattle") in this debacle. What in the world was he thinking?

The only person I could conceivably root for was the poor gal at the donut shop but I certainly didn't agree with her choice of boyfriends when she fell for our "maul" cop. This violates my most basic requirement for any movie: I've gotta have someone to root for.

We saw unwarranted violence, heard more "F**K YOU!"s than we could count, and then were subjected to an entire panoply of drug use that was supposed to be entertaining.

The character with the most exposure (...heh, heh...) was the flasher who opened and closed this dog's dinner. The final scenes were comprised of an extended chase with his whatchamacallit flapping in the breeze as he raced through the crowded mall.

Nah...I'd pay NOT to see this one!

* * * * * * * *
I wish I could write like this critic in the Washington Post: John Anderson warns that Seth Rogen's "Observe and Report" is way too dark, weird and unfunny: "Rogen is playing a delusional, violent, sexist, racist, homophobic mall cap with a bipolar disorder, so there's not really a lot to laugh at. In fact, how the movie got made at all is going to remain one of those mysteries, like decaffeinated coffee and little ships in bottles."

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Once again, I was smart enough to listen to one of you and order this DVD from the city library. Comic actor Simon Pegg ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and "Run, Fatboy, Run") plays a British writer hired by a high-profile New York magazine to report on entertainment personalities...sort of a People magazine, as it were.

Problem is, his editor, played by The Dude himself, Jeff Bridges ("The Big Lebowski" and "Iron Man") hired him because he liked his edgy work in London, but can't allow him to use that style now that he is in New York because most of those entertainment personalities are represented by a powerful agent, played by Gillian Anderson ("Bleak House" and "The X Files"). Naturally, our hero feels stifled and frustrated. He becomes chums with an equally frustrated co-worker, played by Kirsten Dunst ("Spiderman" and "Wimbledon"), while routinely being humiliated by his immediate boss, played by Danny Houston ("Children of Men" and "Marie Antoinette").

So far, nothing new, right?

Here is what strikes me...and the person who recommended this movie: Simon Pegg has a knack for playing less-than-admirable characters, and yet, by the time the chips are down, you can see his decency, find him loveable and feel yourself rooting for him! This goofy movie is particularly fun and involving. It has deliciously silly stuff, e.g., the sultry actress who, in her award-winning role, plays the young Mother Teresa, and shows the world that "saints, too, were human before they were saints!" And you don't want her to find out who killed Cuba! Trust me!

Yup, heroes to root for, villains to hiss, a couple of plot twists, and fun all around. Oh, and a happy ending...sorta...


Paris 36

"Faubourg 36" has all the elements I love in French films: it is a delight to the eye, good for the heart and has enough charm and romance to satisfy the sap in all of us!

I can never resist a movie about show business and that's what this one is all about. We are introduced to a small run-down theatre in 1936 Faubourg, an *arrondissement in Paris, where one of the stage crew, played by GĂ©rard Jugnot ("Les Choristes"), is understandably worried about his wife, who, as it turns out, is a faithless floozy. She takes off with one of the other performers and he continues to raise their son, not very well, truth be told, because her abandonment has broken his heart. But their little boy, played by Maxense Perrin (the DARLING little boy in "Les Choristes"), is managing to keep things together, e.g., he plays an accordion while a chum sings for coins on the street, then asks the butcher to lie about how his bill gets paid.

Of course, we become acquainted with a community full of characters:
  • A would-be performer, played by Clovis Cornillac, who specializes in perfectly dreadful impressions (and ugly jackets)
  • A hot-headed (but handsome) Communist organizer, trying to unionize the local laundry workers
  • "Radio Man," played by one of my favorite actors, Pierre Richard ("La Chevre" and "Les Comperes"), who has suffered from agoraphobia for the past 20 years
  • A hopeful young singer, played by Nora Arnezeder, who desperately wants a job in the theater
  • Various merchants who populate that little urban enclave
  • Performers auditioning for a job, some more talented than others
  • A selfish wealthy man who owns the theater.
There is plenty of humor and humanity, with just enough pathos...you know...a French film...

*arrondissement - administrative district in large French city...


Hmmm.... I expected some sort of animated feature, but instead was subjected to the angst of young adulthood in Pittsburgh. I don't suppose I've ever really LOOKED at the poor souls who have to work at the game and ride concessions at a second-rate theme park. Now that I've had an insider's peek, I'll never treat them as invisible again.

And another thing: The movie credits actually showed the character and then the name of the actor who played it! What a treat. In the past, the standard way is to show the credits, then it is ASSUMED that we will know the faces for all those names...

Okay, back to the movie: Jesse Eisenberg ("Squid and the Whale") is a newly minted college graduate ready to enjoy his graduation gift: a trip to Europe. Problem is, his father has just been downsized and the parents can no longer afford it. Instead, he is directed to a nearby theme park to work for the summer. He and most of the other employees agree: it is the worst job...EVER!

Of course, with all these young adults, hormones are raging, but the gal who most appeals to our hero is played by Kristen Stewart ("Twilight"). Unbeknownst to her co-workers, this Daddy's Little Girl is having a fling with the (married) repairman, played by Ryan Reynolds ("Definitely, Maybe"). She is desperately unhappy at home because her widowed father has just remarried.

Of course, the cast of characters is populated with nerds, sluts, drunks, druggies, and virgins (...but not for long...). Their boss and his wife are played to comic perfection by Bill Hader ("Tropic Thunder") and Kristen Wiig ("Ghost Town").

This is a predictable trip down the primrose path for our hero but I was surprised to see Ryan Reynolds play a less-than-admirable fellow this time out. That is quite a change of pace for him. Maybe there's hope yet!

Fast and Furious

Boy! Is it EVER!

Vin Diesel ("The Pacifier" and "Find Me Guilty") re-teams with Paul Walker ("Eight Below" and "Flags of Our Fathers" to once again subject us to the world of muscle cars ("The Fast and The Furious" - 2001).

Yes, once again we see absurd action and wildly impossible car races, smashups, and vehicular stunts. We watch our manly men with stony faces as they (sorta) work undercover, over the objections of the agency that employs Mr. Walker. Their objective is dual: Vin Diesel wants revenge for the murder of his long-time girlfriend and Paul Walker, who is in love with Diesel's sister, wants to break up a drug cartel. Of course, the man they seek is one and the same...but I won't divulge his name to you.

For someone like me, the revving of engines and the unrealistic races were laughable; others in the audience were riveted by the action. We saw lots of undulating bodies, but nothing that was particularly X-rated. Our heroes weren't profane, they didn't consort with any of those undulating bodies, and both seemed to be reasonably decent guys. And of course, after a drag race conducted in L.A.'s Koreatown (!?!), both qualified to drive fast cars through an under-the-Mexican-border tunnel for a despicable drug smuggler. Despite those absurdities, I was never bored...does that count?


Thanks to a suggestion from one of your JayFlix colleagues, I ordered this 1952 black and white Japanese movie from the city library. It is considered one of Akira Kurosawa's finest films.

We first meet Kanji Watanabe in post-war Tokyo, sitting at his desk as the section chief in the city Department of Public Affairs. Methodically, he reviews reports and then stamps them. We see a group of disgruntled women try to meet with him to discuss a neighborhood eyesore. It is a swampy low-lying swale that accumulates sewage and breeds mosquitoes. They want it drained and converted into a park for their children. His underling directs them to the Parks Department.

Kanji leaves for a doctor's appointment because he is having stomach trouble. Meanwhile we watch those women sent from the Parks Department to the Department of Sanitation.

To his horror, Kanji learns he has cancer of the stomach and has about six months to live. At the same time, we watch as those women are hustled off from the Department of Sanitation to the City Engineers.

Our widowed hero tries in vain to discuss his mortality with his only son. As expected, the women are sent from the City Engineers to the Street Department.

We become acquainted with the folks in Kanji's office, along with his spoiled son and grasping daughter-in-law. He is understandably overwrought but can't find anyone with whom he can confide. We see those women shuttled from the Street Department to the City Council.

By the time the women are diverted to the Deputy Mayor's office, Kanji has struck up a mild friendship with one of his former co-workers, an energetic young woman who simply makes him feel better. From that, he is inspired to try to make a difference during his remaining time.

As I have said before, Asian acting techniques are more overwrought and passionate than our Occidental methods but the story itself is worth your patience. The actor who plays Kanji Watanabe is a fellow named Takashi Shimura, one of Kurosawa's stalwarts. You will recognize his face if you follow Japanese films. If you get this DVD from your library, you will probably be given the Criterion Edition so you will find a second disc in which Kurosawa does a lengthy interview on filmmaking. The translation is excellent (it was updated in 2002).

Big caveat: This is strictly for fans of foreign films; I liked it.


Boy A

Who recommended this 2008 DVD? I got it from the library and just finished watching it. What a wrenching piece this is, but thank you, whoever you are...

Our story takes place in Manchester, England and centers around a young man who is being given a new identity and background by his parole officer, in hopes that he can build a new life now that he has paid his debt to society. He has spent many years in prison for a murder in which he was involved when he was a boy.

At the time it happened, that murder was a shocking and scandalous affair; the tabloids had a field day and the two boys became notorious. That is why it is now imperative that his new identity be kept a secret.

Our young man, very, very capably played by US-born, UK-raised Andrew Garfield ("Lions for Lambs" and "The Other Boleyn Girl"), takes tentative first steps as an adult in the outside world. He has a menial job but makes the most of it; he rents a room and is fastidious in its care; he wins a girlfriend, nicely wrought by Katie Lyons ("Sidney Turtlebaum"), and she finds him to be a considerate and passionate lover.

His parole officer, wonderfully played by Peter Mullan ("Children of Men"), realizes the delicate balance our young man must employ to keep an even keel, in what is to him, an over-stimulating environment. We are all so proud of his wavering progress.

This is a highly involving story with wonderful acting. Be prepared for a European approach to sex (...and that ain't all bad, ya know...!), great character development and flashbacks that really DO inform!

I liked this movie!