The Baker

Even though this delightful little British farce was released in 2007, it won't officially be available here in the US until late May, 2009. I saw it at the Sedona Film Festival this past March and thought it was a treat!

Damian Lewis ("Forsyte Saga," "Friends and Alligators" and "Band of Brothers") is an enterprising hit man who works for Michael Gambon ("Cranford" and "Harry Potter"). After a successful job, Lewis is dispatched to a bakery in a small village in Wales to await further orders. Consequently he buries his Glock under a tree and treks into town. He finds himself in the awkward position of having to pretend he has moved there to serve as the new village baker because the previous one is gone.

This isolated little village withholds judgment about the newcomer because they DO need a baker, so....

Meanwhile, one of the young men in town had observed the burial and digs up the gun. He immediately concocts a fantastical scenario which is shockingly close to the truth.

Watching Lewis attempt to woo a local lass while struggling with the intricacies of making bread, doughnuts, and other pastries, is great fun. When they finally fling themselves into each other's arms, their enthusiastic lovemaking amid slippery frosting, dough, and batter ingredients, rivals that of the classic paint shop scene in "The Stuntman."

Many of these same actors appear in the hilarious update of "Much Ado About Nothing" which also stars Damian Lewis, so maybe it is the same production company. If you are curious about THAT one, look for it in the "ShakespeaRe-Told" collection (spelling verified). It is by far my favorite selection out of the four in that set.

I like silly British comedies that take place in quirky little hamlets, and for some reason Damian Lewis is one of my favorite actors, so this is one I enjoyed immensely. I found this one in 2011 at Amazon under "Assassin in Love." (Hate the new title!)

Cloud 9

"Wolke Neun" features Ursula Werner, Horst Rehberg and Horst West- phal and is directed by Andreas Dresen. This geriatric eternal triangle was notable in its glacial pace, the ordinary appearances of the actors and the authenticity they brought to their roles. The German actors were terrific...and fearless. The lovemaking was as realistic as I've ever seen on film and there is LOT of nudity.

This 2009 SIFF drama brings us the classic lover's quandary, but these aren't glamorous movie stars who look like glamorous movie stars, these are mature people in their 60s and 70s who look every day of their age. Our frumpy heroine is a seamstress who personally delivers an alter- ation job to a nice-looking widower's home. He takes delivery of the pants, puts them on to make sure they fit, and takes them right back off again! Thus our story begins...

This is a little domestic drama that rings true with every speech, every action and every reaction. (This German film has English captions.) No one is a bad guy, no one is a good guy; I could feel myself taking sides depending on who was talking: the dialogue captured both points of view. Also notable was the easy domesticity of a 30-years-married couple. (For example, at one point they are separated, but she starts doing the dishes after a grandchild's birthday party. He brings in the rest of the dirty dishes, puts them in the sink for her, then automatically picks up a towel and starts drying as they share observations about the family.)

I guess life is messy and unpredictable, no matter what your age or situation, so bring it on!

The Merry Gentleman

Michael Keaton ("Multiplicity" and "Mr. Mom") directs and stars in this gripping drama which showcases the talents of its two leads, Mr. K himself and the wonderful Scotswoman Kelly Macdonald ("Gosford Park" and "No Country for Old Men").

This movie may be short on glamour, but is long on talent and plot:
  • Keaton is an icy assassin whose cover job is that of a tailor in an upscale men's shop.
  • Macdonald is the abused wife of a policeman.
  • Bobby Cannavale ("The Station Agent") is her violent husband.
  • Tom Bastounes ("The Opera Lover") is a policeman investigating an assassination.
  • Darlene Hunt ("Idiocracy") is a coworker at the wife's new job.

Because of the "Blue Shield" among the cops, Macdonald knows, correctly, that her husband will not be restrained by his fellow officers, so she flees. She moves to another city, finds a job and creates a new life for herself. During her first Holiday season spent alone, she buys an inappropriately big Christmas tree and is struggling to get it into her apartment. Keaton is at hand, so he offers to help.

This is an opportunity for two gifted people to show us their stuff: flawless acting; long takes with no cuts or editing; no nudity or car chases; no blowie uppie stuff (only two gun shots); and our tough screening crowd applauded when the final credits started to roll. The movie wrapped in 2008 and was shown at Sundance at that time. It seems to be doing a slow rollout with limited release dates, but I hope it gets some attention; I highly recommend it.


What's On Your Plate?

This 2009 Seattle International Film Festival selection features two 11-year-old students who investigate the sources of the food they eat. One of them is already borderline diabetic and her friend is concerned about the school cafeteria food and where it originates. They are surprised to see 100% fruit juice is a mix of juices from international suppliers, so they calculate the distances these items must be transported in order to be sold here. This prompts them to begin to question the logic.

This glorified after-school special takes us to their cafeteria, the mercados in their neighborhood, farmers' markets, and nearby truck farms. They interview doctors, local government officials, parents, families, cafeteria workers, members of collective farm groups and generally build a case that Americans would be better off eating locally grown, organic food.


Post Script: The 2009 SIFF evaluators also seemed to see this as a well-intentioned after-school special...


Cold Souls

Calling all Paul Giamatti fans! This whimsical, fantastical, unusual, existential comedy taxes your ability to suspend disbelief while at the same time admire Mr. G's acting chops. We've seen him many times before, from "Sideways" and "Duplicity," to "The Nanny Diaries" and "The Illusionist," so he is NOT an unknown quantity.

In this 2009 SIFF selection, our favorite actor plays himself, and is... guess what...an ACTOR! That is your first stretch but it won't be your last!

Our hero is having difficulty with his character (he is playing the title role in Chekov's "Uncle Vanya") and has slid into a dark funk. He sees an advertisement that promises to extract your soul and relieve you of self-induced pressures and doubts. After some hesitation, he makes an appointment. You follow him through a convoluted (but clear) path from New York to Russia and back. Emily Watson ("Gosford Park") is his befuddled wife, while David Straithairn ("Fracture" and "Good Night, and Good Luck") is wonderful as the technician to whom Giamatti turns...and returns....and returns.

Find this one at a theater near you...and please contact me afterwards so we can discuss that last scene...okay?

I'm happy to report that the 2009 SIFF officials gave this a pretty positive rating.

West of Pluto

It had never occurred to me that I was unhappy in high school, but this 2009 SIFF selection certainly made me reexamine my life and times, because I recognized some of those icky moments that were captured in living color.

For the first half of "À l'ouest de Pluton," I was convinced it was a documentary about French-speaking high school students, complete with their angst, their drugs, their crushes and their cliques. The jerky hand-held camera techniques only added to that impression. By the time I realized this was a scripted movie, I was forced to re-think the skills displayed in the first half, in this true-to-life depiction of a group of Canadian teenagers and their families.

The realistic and funny vignettes of students making presentations in a class about their hobbies, passions and pastimes certainly had a documentary feel, and the young actors were flawlessly convincing. I loved the debate between two teenage girls about Quebec's place in the world and its relationship to France. (This takes place in Quebec, so it is in French with English subtitles.) The science project about Pluto includes that planet's recent decommissioning to non-planet status.

In my opinion, this would make a great after-school special. It doesn't quite measure up to a feature film, but it is expertly done, just the same.

Post Script: The 2009 SIFF judges didn't like this as much as I (sorta) did: It landed in the negative points column.


Here is another Disney/Pixar animated collaboration that is aimed more toward adults than children (see "WALL*E"). In fact, two of the adults who saw this with me feel strongly that it is far too dark and scary for children (although to be fair, I remember the forest fire and the death of the mother in "Bambi").

We are treated to a cute back story that explains how a little boy and girl met. This is followed by a montage of scenes that illustrates their life together: school days, dating, engagement, marriage, disappointments (complete with her inability to bear children), their aging and her death. Are you with me so far? (Most of the children in Wednesday's screening audience had lost interest by then.)

When we resume our story, the main character is now an elderly widower, complete with a four-footed cane. He is somewhat of a curmudgeon (Ed Asner provides an appropriate voice). He sees an old photo album in which some pages were left blank by his deceased wife; they were to be filled by pictures from her dream trip...which they never took. Overcome with regret, he devises a plan to go after all: float his house to South America via balloons.

Many of the story's elements were a little beyond the little 'un's understanding.

  • They had never heard of a "Snipe Hunt" which is what caused a little stowaway to end up floating along with the house when the old man attached thousands of helium balloons to it.
  • When our old man was a boy, his hero was an Air Force ace who was later stripped of his medals because he claimed that a peculiar bird existed, but he couldn't provide proof (that even confused ME!).
  • The vicious dogs were led by a Doberman named "Alpha," who obviously dominated the pack.
  • I never quite understood why the former hero was so homicidal.

I enjoyed the trek through the South American wastelands with the pudgy little boy's non-stop lament: "I want a drink of water!" "Are we there yet?" "My feet hurt!" "I'm hungry!" Some things never change.

Despite my complaints, this IS Pixar and this IS Disney, consequently, it will be a huge hit, so just be prepared to explain some of that other stuff, okay?

If the little one can stick it out through the scary parts, at least there is (finally!) a happy ending.


Lovely Loneliness

This 2009 SIFF Argentinean selection, "Amorosa soledad," is, to me, all teapot, no tempest.

We see a young woman who, given her income, clearly should be living at subsistence level, instead living a life of relative comfort and ease; evidently her well-to-do parents help her out. The movie begins when she has just been jilted. She vows to remain celibate for the next three years. Naturally in very short order she meets an appealing young man and immediately forgets her vow. In the meantime we watch her behavior: She shops for medical equipment, e.g., blood pressure gauges and thermometers, like other young women shop for shoes; she visits the doctor so often we start to suspect she is a hypochondriac; she visits a new hospital and tells the receptionist that she is "just looking."

Her business partners are more forgiving than she deserves and I personally became totally out of patience with her malingering.

The production values are top notch and the actors are appealing. I only wish the story had some substance...

Post Script: The 2009 SIFF evaluators voted this film to the (just barely) positive side of their scorecards.

Black Dynamite

I don't know how the actors in this goofy send-up/homage to 70s blaxsploitation films kept from giggling, but they played it absolutely straight, which made it very, very funny!

Due to the bushy 70s Afros and moustaches, the retro polyester clothing, the "Shaft"-type lead (and sound track), plus the mannered moves, automobiles and plot, this farce is hilarious. It suffers from some second-act problems, but everything is done with such good spirit and wicked satire, I'd like to see it succeed.

Our hero is played with dead-pan intensity by Michael Jai White ("The Dark Knight"). "The Man" has murdered his brother and is getting kids hooked on heroin before they leave the orphanage. Even worse, the ghetto is being flooded with a malt liquor that is adulterated with a chemical that reduces one's "manhood!" Obviously, this is a job for "Black Dynamite!"

Of course we are treated to Asian martial arts, lots of manly grandstanding and outrageously big guns. The attention to detail gets extra points in my book.

Post Script: This ended up being a great audience favorite at the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival. Although it made it into the positive side in the SIFF judging, I suspect they thought it was too politically incorrect to merit official praise.


Melodrama Habibi

This absurd little comedy, "Une chanson dans la tête" came to the 2009 SIFF from France, although most of it takes place in Lebanon.

An aging one-hit wonder named Bruno, played by Patrick Chesnais, is hired to sing his sole hit at a birthday party for a wealthy Lebanese woman who has fond memories of him and his hit from the 1970s. Although he has never been to Lebanon before, to his bafflement she clearly recalls a previous visit when she was a young woman (the literal translation of the title is "A Song in the Head"). As our financially strapped hero is nursing a bad case of unrequited love and a bit of a drinking problem, he reluctantly agrees to attempt a comeback.

As we become acquainted with her wealthy coffee-magnate husband, we are astonished when she is kidnapped. We are even more astonished when the men involved are more concerned about the Mercedes in which she was riding, than in her! Evidently kidnappings are pretty standard fare and it is just a matter of putting together the cash for the ransom and arranging the swap.

In the meantime we meet a cosmetician, played by the utterly gorgeous Pierette Katrib, who also is familiar with that same one hit from long ago. In her case it was associated with the death of her father when she was a child, thus it is a BAD memory. I was fascinated with Mlle. Katrib's face: She seems to be a blend of Sandra Bullock and Juliette Binoche. I hope we see more of her!

This goofy little movie wanders from farce to musical to romantic comedy, but we are never bored.

My Dear Enemy

"Meotjin haru", a 2009 SIFF selection from South Korea, boasts a noteworthy opening sequence: a tracking shot that pays homage to Orson Welles' "A Touch of Evil" with at least three or four separate elements woven seamlessly into the fabric of this continuous shot with no cuts or editing. It starts with a shot of a car; a woman stands outside the car smoking a cigarette and holding a lengthy conversation with a man; eventually she walks toward a large building. As she starts into the building, the camera turns its attention to a group of men who walk in front of us, heading in a different direction planning their lunch. When they make their decision, the camera changes direction again, focusing on another subject in the frame; it begins to follow a woman through some hallways and into a racetrack betting parlor. By this time I had lost track of the specifics, I was just very, very impressed...

The story is simplicity itself: An old girlfriend, unemployed and broke, shows up and demands that her former boyfriend repay an old loan. This launches the duo on a day-long trek around Seoul as he attempts to borrow enough money to settle his debt. This boyfriend starts out as a sort of bozo, he seems promiscuous and shallow. As we spend the day however, we discover hidden aspects to his personality. His glass is always half full and he is indomitably upbeat and cheerful. The jazzy score seems to reflect his happy outlook.

Eventually we come to like him more than we expect to, and realize that we have become interested in the outcome...and that's good!


The Firm Land

Evidently the culture in India doesn't believe in happy endings.

This 2009 SIFF entry from India features a group of six men selected by their local village to "go to the city and get help from the government." Villagers are infected with AIDS and need medication and assistance right away, so they take up a collection and send these timid and naïve fellows on their way.

This movie is about these six simple country mice and their journey to the mean streets of Mumbai. We watch them get duped and swindled, kicked and robbed (I'm just glad we didn't have to SMELL those streets!). The screening description calls it "an absurdist story-within-a-story" but I found it painful to watch from beginning to end. Their version of a happy ending features the men finally back home in their village with many tall tales to tell... No success stories, but tall tales which entertain the entire village, even as their neighbors continue to die from AIDS.



Everything Strange and New

Ennui on a stick!

This 2009 SIFF entry from the weird and wonderful foreign land of SoCal was a tough one to endure! First of all there was a mumbled voiceover that sent a number of people scurrying from the theatre scarcely before it had begun. The voiceover evidently contained some humor because a lucky few actually chuckled occasionally. I felt if I stuck it out, I should be able to get the gist of the thing by watching the action and (maybe) reading a few lips.

Ugh! I was treated to a disaffected husband and father who seemed numb from the shoulders up! He didn't have any complaints about his wife, his children, his house or his parents and he seemed to like his job, his co-workers and his boss. So what the HELL was his problem!

We watched him get a couple of blow jobs (one of which was from his wife...), read bedtime stories to his boys, council his boss to quit shooting cocaine, and periodically appear in clown makeup. I finally realized that he wasn't REALLY in clown makeup, he just FELT that way. What a self- centered, self-pitying, selfish pain in the patootie!

If you insist on watching this thing, wait for the DVD, then be sure it has captions!

Post Script: The 2009 SIFF judges disliked this as much as I!

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Ben Stiller lives in a giant toy box called Hollywood. He has looks, wealth, talent, prominent parents (Ben Stiller and Anne Meara), and an impre$$ive track record, both as an actor ("Meet the Parents" and "Night at the Museum") and as a producer ("Tropic Thunder" and "Blades of Glory"). From my perspective, it looks as though he can phone pretty much anyone he wants and they show up for cameos in his films. This time out he musters:
  • Amy Adams ("Doubt" and "Enchanted"), is appealing as spunky aviatrix Amelia Earhart.
  • Robin Williams ("Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Patch Adams"), once again makes a bully Teddy Roosevelt.
  • Owen Wilson ("Shanghai Noon" and "Starsky and Hutch"), repeats his miniature cowboy action figure, Jedediah Smith, originated for the first "Night in a Museum" outing.
  • Steve Coogan ("Hamlet 2" and "Tropic Thunder") is another miniature action figure, Jedediah's sidekick, Roman soldier Octavius.
  • Christopher Guest ("Spinal Tap" and "Mrs. Henderson Presents") resents that his character is called Ivan the Terrible; he thinks it should be Ivan the Awesome!
  • Hank Azaria ("American Sweethearts" and "The Birdcage") is villainous as a lisping Egyptian pharaoh Kamunrah, and then proceeds to show us his stuff as a voice actor (LOTS of TV characters), by voicing both statues, The Thinker and Abe Lincoln.
  • Ricky Gervais ("Extras" and "Stardust") comes back as a museum official who resents any and all changes to his beloved New York Museum of Natural History.
  • Keith Powell (lots of TV) is rock solid as a Tuskegee Airman who commiserates with Earhart, "They didn't think WE could fly, either!"

Because I love history, this was far more interesting to me than the first "Museum" offering, and the enormous Smithsonian makes a much bigger playpen for our boy wonder, Mr. Stiller. I had a good time!


In the Loop

At the SIFF Opening Night Gala on Thursday, I saw how a knack for insult humor could be elevated to an art form!

Scotsman Peter Capaldi ("The Best Man" and LOTS of British TV) plays a hot-headed governmental functionary who ricochets from target to target, berating any and all victims within range! And his insulting threats are lewdly funny (I won't even try to paraphrase them here). His character is trying to do spin control on a bungle by an inept official played by Tom Hollander ("The Lost Prince" and "A Good Year").

In my opinion, Hollander does a delicious turn as this pivotal character: he talks out of turn, makes ill-advised candid remarks and generally starts a deadly down-hill skid toward an international declaration of war. In reality, this poor schmuck doesn't WANT war but his remarks are so oblique and open to interpretation that the tabloids have a field day. Hollander is subtle, but perfect; watch his face as he gropes for a way out of each quandary in which he finds himself. Coworkers in his chaotic office are, in turn, helpful, angry, loyal, insulted (by the spinmeister) and resigned.

James Gandolfini ("The Mexican" and "The Sopranos" on TV) is an American Army general who is opposed to war because he has actually fought in one. In the insult wars however, he only comes in second ― even though he's pretty good, too. I loved it when he and the Scot went nose to nose, matching insult for insult...

Because we are "in the loop" we get to watch politics in action: the maneuvering, manipulating, leaking, editing, reediting, lying, seducing, and floundering, that makes up both domestic and foreign policy. Like taking a tour of a frankfurter factory, maybe some things are better left unseen...

But this movie is really funny!

Pop Star on Ice

This 2009 SIFF selection is a documentary about the enormously talented (but a little flakey) ice skating super star Johnny Weir, the US National Men's Figure Skating Champion, 2004-2006.

Weir has come thisclose to winning a much-coveted Olympic medal, but hasn't made the grade...yet... We follow him, his coach, and his mother beginning with his late start at ice skating at age 12. His first ice rink was a frozen cornfield behind his house. As soon as he put on a pair of skates it was apparent that he was a natural athlete who had nothing but talent to go on. He had been inspired by Oksana Baiul and her performance in the 1994 Olympics when she won the gold medal despite suffering an injury just before the meet.

As we get acquainted with our hero, we are also treated to interviews with other world-class skaters, most of whom are familiar names to all of us. They sing his praises, but also voice some skepticism because of his reputation as non-conformist. In addition, a lot of unnecessary time and ink is squandered by speculation on whether or not he is gay.

Weir is personable, witty, attractive, outspoken and, as they said, a bit of a hell raiser, so it comes as no surprise (Spoiler Alert!) when he falls short. The folks making the documentary clearly had a different ending in mind, and as audience members, we too, were guilty of a little magical thinking.

We had the opportunity to watch spectacular skating, though... And that counts!


Eat, Drink, Man, Woman

Once again I listened to a JayFlix participant and checked this 1994 classic out of the library. Ang Lee ("The Wedding Banquet," "Sense and Sensibility," "The Ice Storm" and "Brokeback Mountain") was just mastering his cinematic craft when he made this lovely film. By the time he shot this, his third movie, he knew he wanted to place more emphasis on women, and to do that he had to exercise more patience and focus more carefully on their beauty. He made lovely Asian women look even lovelier!

Although I had seen the Mexican/American remake ("Tortilla Soup"), this is far and away the better movie. In each film, the plot centers around the preparation and presentation of food. At the time, Mr. Lee was a stay-at-home dad (his wife supported them during their early days), and he had come to realize that the preparation and serving of food was an unspoken way to offer love.

The cast is flawless. It consists of a widower and three adult daughters, all of whom still live at home. The father is a master chef at a prominent restaurant but he has lost his sense of taste, so he has come to rely on an old chum to do quality control for him.

The oldest daughter, a high school teacher, is a committed Christian who is still carrying a torch for a long-lost love (ten years!). The next daughter is a successful executive for an airline; her personal life is in a holding pattern as she focuses on her high-flying career. The youngest daughter works in a fast-food joint and offers lots of advice to a lovelorn friend. All three have come to view their father's elaborate Sunday meal as a weekly drudgery that must be borne.

We get acquainted with everyone, learn their individual challenges and dilemmas. We see lots of comedy mixed with drama as we watch changes occur and hope our friends are making good choices. We have come to care about all of them and that, to me, is a sure-fire recipe for a satisfying experience.

Check it out!

Terminator Salvation

Well, I always complain about movies where there is no one to root for. In this one, there are plenty of folks to root for, even a villain!

Christian Bale ("Batman," "The Dark Knight" and "3:10 to Yuma" - 2007) is racking up yet another blockbuster project to list behind his name. Who is his agent? Wow! Bale is John Conner and if you have followed any of the mythology of this franchise you know he has to go back in time and save the boy who will eventually become his father. Got that so far? And the youngster he is trying to save is played by another fellow with an equally terrific agent: Russian-born Anton Yelchin ("Charlie Bartlett" and Chekov in this season's massive hit, "Star Trek") has a plum role as a plucky survivor of the post-Apocalyptic wars between humans and cyborgs...don't get me started.

The heroic villain (villainous hero?) starts the movie off by being put to death for some egregious murders. He is played by an appealing new face from Down Under, Sam Worthington ("Rogue" and LOTS of Aussie TV). I'll be watching for this guy!

Suffice it to say, this movie is mostly Computer Generated Imaging, blowie uppie stuff galore and absurdly violent battles. Much of the vehicular mayhem made me think of the old Australian "Road Warrior" films. The plot is easy to follow and there is no unnecessary on-screen gore, so this movie does exactly what it was designed to do: Entertains. From a personal point of view I was mostly rooting for Yelchin's character, along with Worthington's. There was also a cute little kid, winningly played by a child named Jadagrace.

The screening audience applauded this one...the critics probably won't...



We are on the Asian steppes with a family of semi-nomadic herdsmen: mother, father, daughter and two sons, the youngest of which is the most rambunctious little squirt you've ever seen! The wife's brother has come home from the Russian navy and wants to have his own herd, complete with wife, yurt, Bactrian (two-humped) camels, sheep and donkeys. He intends to work for his brother-in-law until he can make it happen.

The object of his unsolicited marriage plans, "Tulpan," never appears on screen. Ultimately our eponymous heroine seems to exist only in the mind's eye of our hero, and thus in ours. This eligible young woman lives more than a day's drive away from where he does, across a mind- blowing expanse of land. She is elusive, petulant (she thinks his ears are too big!), demanding and unavailable, therefore she is irresistible!

Once again I thank my lucky stars that I am NOT an actor, particularly on the wind-blown steppes of Kazakhstan! This 2009 SIFF selection, subjects the lead actor (and us!) to the most grueling lambing scene I have ever endured, although (Spoiler Alert!) both mother and child (ewe and lamb) survive.

The cinematography was astonishing. Polish cinematographer Jolanta Dylewska won the Asian Film award for 2009. She caught things on film that absolutely could NOT have been staged and leave you scratching your head in wonder. Between the animals, the weather and that unfettered little boy, I was impressed.

The dialogue is in Russian and Kazakh with English subtitles...and very good ones, too. The language seems idiomatic and natural, while the woman who played the mother was wonderful. This film held my interest from beginning to end (even that yucky lambing scene).

Post Script: The 2009 SIFF evaluators placed this on the plus side of their ledger, but not by much. (I'll bet it was that lambing scene!)

The Maid

This 2009 SIFF selection has been honored with both the Critics' Award at the Cartagena Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. I found "La Nana" unpredictable and convincing.

The story centers around a maid who has been with a family for 23 years. Even though she is treated fairly and with a great deal of consideration (the family throws a birthday party for her, plus they pay her medical bills when she falls ill), she seems to feel threatened. Her tasks are many and never-ending: She cooks, cleans, does laundry and tends the children from sunup to sundown. The mother of the family feels that the maid needs some help, as the house is big and there are four or five children, but our heroine is determined to undermine any poor gal who is hired to assist her. This is HER family and HER house!

Catalina Saavedra is an unknown actress to American audiences, so we totally buy into her stoic and unbending persona. In fact, by the time she finally smiles, it is such a shock that it has a major impact! The camera pries into her thoughts, feelings and strategies, but Saavedra is up to the task. She is a wonderful actress: you can SEE her think.

Post Script: The 2009 SIFF evaluators were as impressed as I!

La Mission

Writer/Director Peter Bratt (yes, he's Benjamin Bratt's brother) has given the 2009 SIFF audience an insider's view of the San Francisco Mission District. It is a multi-cultural area with a dominant Hispanic population, so we see bus drivers, low-riders, mechanics, and gang-bangers, i.e., a panoply of lifestyles and occupations in a quasi-integrated neighborhood.

Benjamin Bratt ("Miss Congeniality" and LOTS of TV) capably does most of the heavy lifting as a widowed bus driver raising a son who, as it turns out, is gay. Our hero, along with being deeply religious, has quite a history: he is an ex-con who belongs to AA; he still goes out in his restored vintage auto to cruise the streets and show it off; he is open-minded about race and creed, but NOT about homosexuality.

Therein lies our tale...

Actor Benjamin Bratt and his brother director Peter Bratt attended the Festival.

Post Script: The 2009 SIFF evaluation places this film firmly in the plus column.

Post Post Script: A JayFlix participant sent me this lovely review after watching the film. I obtained permission to include it along with mine...I should only be so eloquent!

This spiritual transformation does not take place in The
Castro or any other gentrified affluent neighborhood. This
is the Mission, where tradition is observed, celebrated
and respected.

A rich tapestry of passionate characters surrounding a father
and son who are faced with the conflict between their love for
each other and their community and being true to their hearts.

Every actor in this piece portrays their role with sincerity
and believability. The stand-out player, however, is Benjamin
Bratt, who brings to life the joy, the misery, the fun, the
anger, the elation and the confusion that a father in a
neighborhood like this would experience.

The film touched two other chords for me. It reminded me of
a love-affair I walked away from in my early 20s. It also
brought back the hollow feeling of walking with my graduating
class while searching the stands hoping in vain to see my
mother, who had not attended.

Lastly, allow the beautiful music of this film to carry you
on a rhythmic journey through a vibrant community and a tale
of a brief time within it.

Food Inc

No NEW news, and no GOOD news...well, maybe a little good news for SIFF attendees. More about that in a minute...

As expected, we are treated to the stomach-churning realities of food production in this country. The movie isn't quite as bloody as I feared but dwelled instead on the incredibly deep pockets of the major food producers and how they manipulate regulations, laws and, by extension, the health (and wealth) of American citizens.

The interviews are excellent, with personable, attractive and articulate participants who range from a mother who lost her son to e-coli a few years ago, to a (young and thriving) "old-fashioned farmer" who feeds his cattle on grass and lets his chickens range freely.

One former hippie says he got tired of being David and decided to become Goliath. His victory: Getting Walmart to start carrying organic milk products via consumer requests. (See? I told you there would be some good news.)

This is an involving project with an excellent soundtrack. I couldn't help but notice that the music varied widely: from hoedown sounds when visiting a supermarket dairy case with its "farm-fresh" products, to a hard-edged selection as we viewed nothing but metal pipes in one of the factories. The music always related to the images on the screen.

Yup, it preaches to the choir, but is watchable and informative.

I Know You Know

SIFF has booked a dandy with this one!

We see a hero-worshiping boy, played by Aaron Fuller in his first film, who suspects his father, played by Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty"), is an espionage agent for MI6. It's fun to see this Welch boy emulate his father's actions, e.g., when Dad sits with his legs crossed, the boy mirrors him; when Dad smokes a cigarette, the boy waves a lollypop with the same motions.

As this thrilling story progresses, we, who are sitting in the audience, are a little ahead of the boy, as doubt starts to creep in. Whether or not it is true and how to cope with it is the crux of this poignant and involving movie.

Post Script: The 2009 SIFF evaluators placed this film on the plus side of their scores...not too far, but positive, just the same.

The Hurt Locker

Director Kathryn Bigelow returns to her strong suit: Action movies ("Blue Steel" and "Point Break"), in this 2009 SIFF screening. The story centers around US Army Demolition experts, who have ample opportunity to blow themselves up in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As you might expect, this movie offers LOTS of tension along with some unexpected faces, e.g., Guy Pearce ("The Count of Monte Cristo") and Ralph Fiennes ("In Bruges"). The premise of this movie is that in wartime, the tension alone generates enough adrenaline to hook an addictive personality.

Our heroes diffuse bombs, so expect plenty of blowie uppie stuff, lots of gunfire and of course, explosive personalities. I found it compelling from beginning to end.

Post Script: The 2009 SIFF evaluators gave this exciting film a strong positive score and this is favored to be one of the contenders in the Oscars!

Post Post Script: This one blew its major contender "Avatar" out of the water, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, plus four other Oscars.

I'm No Dummy

This film cites the SIFF screening as its opening engagement. It is a documentary about ventriloquism, with interviews of many, many practitioners of the art, along with the director of a museum of ventriloquism, which I didn't know existed. To me it was notable because of the generous collection of clips from the files of many well-known ventriloquists, including famous pairs like Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney, plus world famous Seňor Wences (of Ed Sullivan fame) and his well-known box.

The interviews include the hows and the whys, plus insider tips on engaging an audience through ventriloquism. I found it fascinating.

Post Script: The 2009 SIFF evaluators liked this movie, too.


Little Ashes

This artistic little endeavor seems to emulate the writing style of Federico Garcia Lorca, the Spanish martyr/poet/playwright, with lingering artistic shots of waving foliage, drops of rain, flowering plants, etc., etc... The story itself explores the young adult lives of Señor Lorca (June, 1898 - August, 1936), eccentric Surrealist artist/playwright Salvador Dali (May, 1904 - January, 1989) and Luis Buñuel (February, 1900 - July, 1983), the Spanish-born father of cinematic Surrealism. The three of them attended a Madrid college together in 1922. This movie is based on interviews with Dali near the end of his life.

We watch the three of them become friends; Lorca, appealingly played by Javier Beltran ("El paso") and Buñuel, capably portrayed by Matthew McNulty ("The Mark of Cain" and LOTS of TV) are already chums when Dali, played by Robert Pattinson ("Twilight"), arrives, insecure but ambitious. All three of them assiduously date women, because homosexuality is illegal in Spain, as it is throughout the Western world at that time, but only Buñuel is actually heterosexual. Of the other two, Dali seems to be bisexual, while Lorca plays (pretty much) for the other team.

We are subjected to numerous scenes of collegiate carousing which seem to be universal, whether in Cambridge or Madrid, and the Seattle audience applauded Dali's outspoken nonconformity. One of the actresses did a splendid job as the woman who was in (unrequited) love with Lorca, and I witnessed more of the history of the Spanish revolution than I really sought; but tragically, this movie didn't "grab" me. Many in the audience found it moving and informative, so I suspect I was in the minority.

It's clear to me that Pattinson is striving to avoid typecasting which could threaten his career due to his more recent starring role in the "tween" vampire franchise (he also appears in the "Harry Potter" series). He plays the eccentric artiste Dali very well, but unfortunately, his early variations of the characteristic Dali'esque moustache look glued on. I know, I know, that's pretty picky...

This screenplay is in English, although Lorca's poems are spoken in Spanish with an English voiceover layered into the soundtrack.

Angels and Demons

Masterful filmmaking! Ron Howard ("A Beautiful Mind") can make big, confident films, beautifully paced and capably directed. His portrayal of Vatican City and the Cardinal College feels authentic and it is obvious that he instructed the scriptwriter to avoid trashing the Catholic Church this time (see "The Da Vinci Code"). In fact, this movie is loaded with interesting bits of history about the Church that were satisfying to a trivia buff like me, without making a point of debunking either the religion or the institution.

Even though we skip around Europe and the United States during the establishing shots, we are treated to an in-depth view of Rome, the Vatican, and major churches located around the city...and I mean IN-DEPTH. We scamper through more tunnels, grottos, crypts, catacombs and other subterranean spots than you can count. (But the Vatican Archives are something to behold! I wonder if they are really that impressive.)

Although this didn't seem to be either a prequel or a sequel to author Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" (he wrote it as a prequel), we still have Tom Hanks ("Charlie Wilson's War") as historian Robert Langdon, called in to assist when a terrorist threat is delivered to the Vatican upon the death of the Pope. A canister of anti-matter has disappeared which has the potential to disintegrate the Vatican and much of the surrounding city. The plot nicely includes a time element which adds to the suspense, and physical violence which adds to our investment in the outcome. And because it is Dan Brown, the Illuminati somehow must be involved.

Among the many Italian actors, there are some familiar non-Italian faces:
  • Stellan Skarsgǻrd ("Momma Mia!") is well cast as a skeptical law-enforcement officer
  • Ewan McGregor ("Miss Potter") is the functionary who must serve as an interim Pope until the College of Cardinals elects a new one
  • Ayelet Zurer ("Vantage Point") is the lovely particle physicist who stumbles into the plot
  • Nikolaj Lie Kaas ("Kandidaten") is an appealing Danish actor who plays an assassin
  • Armin Mueller-Stahl ("Eastern Promises") plays one of the senior Cardinals.

This is a whiz-bang action movie, with lots of violence, car chases, gun shots, knifings and various types of torture. I was never bored!


Twilight Samurai

This is a Chick Flick with just enough sword fighting and blood to satisfy action fans. The DVD for this wonderful film came out YEARS ago, but it remains a favorite of mine.

We follow a widower with two small girls who works for a wealthy feudal baron as an accountant in a warehouse. In addition to the little ones, he also cares for his elderly mother-in-law who obviously suffers from Alzheimer's. He makes cricket cages in the evenings to try to make ends meet. He has fallen a long ways from his earlier glory days as a master swordsman.

His time and energy are so exhausted that he is chastised by his coworkers for not bathing often enough, and his little ones need some help learning how to dress and manage their hair. All in all, he is in over his head. Then he is told he must leave his household to go fight for his master.

When he asks an old childhood friend for help with the family in his absence, the fellow enlists his sister, who has recently left her abusive husband and is in hiding. This trio had been inseparable when they were children and our hero shyly shows us that he still has feelings for his old chum. We can't help but hope that she returns his affection.

We watch her fix the little girls' hair and take over some of the household responsibilities while maintaining an appropriate distance from our hero.

We not only watch some effective swordplay, but we also get a peek into the human side of the protagonists. This is a poignant, beautifully realized love story with ample blood and guts. The time period for this film is set just before the entry of Western rifles from the United States: about 30 or 40 years before the post (US) Civil War era of Tom Cruise's film "The Last Samurai." The fellow who plays the hero in our film, plays the villain in Cruise's film. He's very, very good!

I'm not limiting my distribution to just the foreign film contingent of the JayFlix gang because it is such a great love story!


Star Trek

This "Star Trek" prequel wasn't just a treat, it was a banquet! We are offered generous servings of:
  • Young versions of an iconic cast of characters (Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Uhura, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov) who are introduced in clever ways. These folks are played by well-cast actors who, if you don't know them now, you certainly will in the future, as this franchise gets a much-needed shot in the arm.
  • Wonderful pacing, action, spectacle, drama, and above all, comedy, as this movie has generous dollops of character-driven humor. Because we know these people so well, the audience is often laughing before the punch line.
  • Ingenious effects: Scotty scooting through a clear-glass water tube comes immediately to mind.
  • LOTS of blowie uppie stuff; Director J. J. Abrams (I am almost prepared to forgive him for "Cloverfield") didn't stint on computer-generated imaging.

I have never been a major fan of this franchise but went to the screening because I was certain it will be one of the big hits of the summer. Little did I realize how much these characters have become a part of our lexicon: "Beam me up, Scotty...There's no intelligent life here." "Live long and prosper." "I'm givin' her all I've got, Captain!" And of course, the word "Dylithium" DID come up from the engine room.

This new generation of actors did the movie proud:

  • Chris Pine ("Bottle Shock" and "Just My Luck") is chick-magnet Captain James T. Kirk.
  • Zachary Quinto (LOTS of television guest shots, including Sylar on 42 episodes of "Heroes") is Spock, logical and understated.
  • John Cho ("American Dreamz" and "Harold and Kumar...") is quietly effective as Sulu.
  • Karl Urban ("The Bourne Supremacy" and "Ghost Ship") makes a terrifically emphatic Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy.
  • Zoë Saldana ("Center Stage" and "Drumline") brings us a fetching Uhura in a dancer's body.
  • Anton Yelchin ("Charlie Bartlett" and "Middle of Nowhere") is appropriately unintelligible as a very bright, very young, Chekov.
  • Simon Pegg ("Hot Fuzz" and "Run, Fat Boy, Run") is hilarious as Scotty.

Everywhere you turn, you see another "name brand" e.g.,

  • Eric Bana ("Troy"), a favorite Aussie actor; his good looks obscured by his villainous makeup.
  • Jennifer Morrison, ("House") is Jim Kirk's mother.
  • Winona Ryder, ("Heathers" and the police department mug shot for shoplifting) is Spock's mother.

Also Bruce Greenwood, Tyler Perry and of course, Leonard Nimoy himself (I just wish his dentures fit better!).

Go see this movie!

* * * * * * * *

There have been questions about the actor who played second (Romulan) banana behind Eric Bana. The fellow's name is Clifton Collins, Jr. and he's quite the chameleon. He was the one-armed shopkeeper in "Sunshine Cleaning," and a murderer in "Capote."

Next Day Air

This is one I debated reviewing, primarily because I didn't want to admit to you folks that I had seen it, and secondarily, because the language was soooo vile it was hard to tolerate; but I reconsidered, primarily because it is an excellent cautionary tale about the consequences of getting involved in drug trafficking, and secondarily, because there are some very funny performances.

Based on the cast and the poster, I expected a comedy. Little did I know that it would be such a dark, dark, dark comedy! I saw familiar faces:

  • Donald Faison ("Clueless" and "Scrubs") is the hapless stoner who bungles the delivery of a package.
  • Mike Epps ("Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins") is the delighted recipient of the misdirected delivery.
  • Debbie Allen (LOTS of TV) plays the stoner's mother, who tries to get him on the straight and narrow.
  • Mos Def ("Cadillac Records") is the droll co-worker who also works for the eponymous delivery company.

The plot centers around one ill-fated delivery: the ones who sent it; the ones who delivered it; the ones who expected it; the ones who actually received it.

You see a bungled bank robbery, hear LOTS of profanity, see truly repugnant violence and occasionally laugh at the stupidity of the two recipients. I think they were trying for a sort of low-budget "Pulp Fiction." In my opinion, I didn't see nearly enough of Mos Def, as I have admired his work for a long time ("Something the Lord Made," "Hitchhiker's Guide..." and "The Italian Job"); more of his presence might have elevated the film. Then again, maybe not...

There! I admitted it.



This prequel to the "X-Men" franchise tells the story of our favorite mutant, "Wolverine," and how he got that way.

Because I am blinded by Hugh Jackman's persona (one of my friends calls him "Jack Hughman"), I am inclined to overlook any defects in those movies in which he appears ("Swordfish," "The Fountain" and "Australia").

His co-star, Liev Schreiber ("The Painted Veil," "Defiance" and "The Manchurian Candidate" - 2004), shared billing with him in an earlier project, "Kate and Leopold." This time out, they are conflicted brothers.

Anyone familiar with the "X-Men" series already knows the mind-boggling super powers bestowed on our cherished mutants, so there is no point in reiterating them here. As you might expect, this movie is loaded with computer generated special effects, interesting locations and LOTS of blowie uppie stuff, but for a refreshing change of pace, a military officer is one of the GOOD guys!

If you like action-filled spectacles, CGI and/or Hugh Jackman, you'll like this movie, otherwise....eh... (I liked it.)


Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Judging by the size of the screening crowd, this predictable and lightweight movie should open to pretty good box office. In my opinion, there isn't a heck of a lot to recommend it.

Matthew McConaughey ("We Are Marshall" and "Fool's Gold") is a confirmed bachelor living the good life. He is a successful photographer for high-end magazines, specializing in fetching shots of scantily clad young women who all seem enthusiastic about his "casting couch." Over his strident objections, he agrees to be best man at his younger brother's wedding; he not only doesn't agree with the concept of marriage, he is actively opposed to it.

As soon as he arrives at the hotel where the festivities are to take place, he starts to wreak havoc. He begins by trying to convince his brother, nicely played by Breckin Meyer ("Clueless" and LOTS of TV), that he should bail out and leave his bride at the altar; the majority of the bridesmaids are former flings; and he encounters a childhood girlfriend, played by Jennifer Garner ("The Kingdom" and "Juno") who obviously dislikes him (hint, hint).

In the men's room, he encounters a ghost, that of his deceased uncle, played by Michael Douglas ("Traffic" and "Wonder Boys"), who advises him that he will be visited by three ghosts (a la Charles Dickens' "Christmas Carol"). Because he had always admired and emulated this promiscuous bachelor uncle, he thinks this might not be so bad.

From that point on, we follow Dickens' plot fairly closely: ghosts of Past, Present and Future emphatically make the point that his uncle might not have been the best role model after all. His biggest "aha" moment comes when he discovers that his former "flings" don't share his high opinion of himself. He did, after all, break up with three of them on a single conference call!

Most of the humor is pretty broad, the plot is durable, and his conversion―like that of Scrooge before him―seems a little abrupt. There are lots of attractive people to admire, some clever repartee and an underlying moral that isn't all bad. Breckin Meyer does most of the heavy lifting and McConaughey is easy on the eye. All in all, I had a nice time...

The Battle for Terra

"Can’t we all just get along?"

That seems to be the underlying theme of this 3-D animated film. Some top-drawer talent was signed up to provide the voices for this well-meaning project, I just wish it had been more involving.

Among the well-known voices, you will hear:
  • James Garner ("The Notebook") as the kindly leader of this quasi-aquatic seeming civilization (except they "swim" in the atmosphere, not in water).
  • Evan Rachel Wood ("The Upside of Anger") is the adolescent heroine of this drama.
  • Chris Evans ("The Nanny Diaries") is part of an attack force trying to conquer the planet (which they have optimistically named "Terra"), because Earth was blown apart and humans need a new place to live.
  • Brian Cox ("Zodiac") is the "take-no-prisoners" general of the human attack force that has targeted this peace-loving civilization. However, the occupants of this planet are not naïve, so they DO have some means to try to fight off invaders, they just aren't very sophisticated.
  • Danny Glover ("Gospel Hill") tries to be the voice of reason.

There are many more celebrity voices, but suffice it to say, this movie may entertain the kiddies, but the adults may feel less than satisfied. Expect lots of 3-D blowie uppie stuff, clean language, no romance, family loyalty and a happy ending.

Is Anybody There?

This lightweight little trifle would be totally overlooked had not Michael Caine ("Miss Congeniality," an Academy Award for "The Cider House Rules," and the "Batman" franchise) agreed to star in it. He plays Clarence, an elderly magician, recently retired, who comes to an assisted living home, "temporarily!" The home is run by a young down-on-their luck couple who have ousted their ten-year-old son Edward from his bedroom in order to accommodate another paying guest.

Edward, capably played by Bill Milner ("Son of Rambow") is fascinated by the idea of life after death, so he places a tape recorder under the bed whenever one of their residents is dying, hoping to satisfy his curiosity.

The youthful Edward and the elderly Clarence start out at odds, but of course, find a common ground in magical tricks combined with magical thinking.

This slight little movie is predictable, the elderly actors are believable, and there were no major surprises. ...Well...maybe the guillotine trick. All in all, this is a nice film and my time was well spent.