Public Enemies

This was a 90-minute Bang, Bang, Kiss, Kiss, Shoot-Em-Up that, unfortunately, stretched out for waaay over 120 minutes! How many rounds can a Tommy gun shoot before it runs out of ammo? That became of paramount interest to me as I yawned my way through this much-anticipated but ultimately dreary film.

What a squandering of talent!
  • Johnny Depp ("Sweeney Todd" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") is John Dillinger, who created his own personal crime wave in 1930s America.
  • Christian Bale ("Terminator Salvation" and "The Dark Knight") is Melvin Purvis, charged with the responsibility of bringing down Public Enemies such as Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger and others of that ilk.
  • Billy Crudup ("Stage Beauty") is a very young J. Edgar Hoover.
  • Marion Cotillard ("A Good Year" and an Academy Award for her brilliant portrayal of Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose") is the pretty face that catches Dillinger's eye.

The production values are meticulous, the 30s really look like the 30s: the cars, clothes, guns, banks and streets of Middle America where his one-man crime wave took place, all look authentic. Producer/Director Michael Mann ("Hancock" and "The Insider") spent a LOT of money making this happen!

I found a couple of things interesting:

  • The general population routinely mistakes notoriety for celebrity. Dillinger was practically a matinee idol.
  • The Congress Hotel in Tucson, Arizona still exists, pretty much unchanged.
  • The use of the latest technology in the early days of the FBI: telephones, wire tapping, teletypes, etc.

Other than that, we already know how it will end, and we have no emotional connection with the characters. What a waste of a huge, capable cast and talented artists!

Alpha Dog

How does Nick Cassavetes do it? There was more emotional connection in this sordid tale than in all 130+ minutes of "Public Enemies!" This 2006 release is based on the true story of Jesse James Hollywood, a young drug dealer who ended up on the FBI's Most Wanted List, so we get to see a wrap-up for the main characters during the final credits. I always appreciate that.

Cassavetes assembled a notable cast of familiar faces:
  • Bruce Willis ("Die Hard" franchise) is the arrogant father of the drug dealer
  • Sharon Stone ("Streets of Blood") is the suffocating mother of the kidnapped boy
  • Emile Hersch ("Milk") is Jesse James Hollywood, the young drug dealer
  • Anton Yelchin ("Star Trek") is the baby-faced kidnapped boy
  • Ben Foster ("3:10 to Yuma" 2007) is an out-of-control brother of the kidnapped boy
  • Justin Timberlake ("Shrek the Third") is a member of the gang that does the kidnapping
  • Harry Dean Stanton ("Inland Empire") is the grandfather of the drug dealer
  • Shawn Hatosy ("Nobel Son") is the drug dealer's whipping boy
  • Amanda Seyfried ("Mamma Mia") is a party girl who entertains the kidnapped boy.
There are many more, but despite the size of the cast, you never lose track of what is at stake: a teenage boy's life. You see the ridiculous posturing and one-upmanship that is so central to some young men's lives, the peer pressure which that entails, rampant drug use, AND you hear more "F" words than you can count.

I nominate Nick Cassavetes to direct the next big budget blockbuster. He's proven he can direct anything: "The Notebook" - which he hates by the way - and "My Sister's Keeper" from the sodden-hanky school of cinema, to this violent drug-riddled thriller. I obtained this DVD from the city library as a result of a recommendation from one of you JayFlix folks...ahem...you KNOW who you are....
Post Script: In early July, 2009, Jesse James Hollywood was convicted and could receive the death sentence. He had been extradited from Brazil.


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Can one suffer sensory overload from a senseless movie?

I don't blame the actors:
  • Shia LaBeouf ("Disturbia" and "Indiana Jones" - 2008) remains one of the most talented and appealing of our up-and-coming generation of young actors. I hope he cleans up his act!
  • Megan Fox ("How To Lose Friends And Alienate People") is still gorgeous.
  • Josh Duhamel ("Las Vegas" on TV) will always be "Tad Hamilton" to me!
  • John Turturro ("The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3") is one of the busiest utility players in Hollywood.
  • Tyrese Gibson ("Death Race") has the only two funny lines in this boring, wearying endurance test.
  • Ramon Rodriguez ("Pride and Glory") is inching his way into the big time!

I blame the three writers (maybe each one wrote about 45 minutes worth of script, ya think?) but more particularly, I blame the director, Michael Bay ("Transformers" - 2007, "Pearl Harbor" and "The Island"). In my opinion, stories aren't Bay's long suit, but rather his blowie uppie stuff ....and Boy oh Boy! Is there a LOT of blowie uppie stuff! Endless battles, endless CGI, endless muddled scenes where you haven't a clue what just happened, nor do you care! The humor is sparse and thin... The love scenes are few and far between... The supposedly funny characters are overdrawn and insulting... DreamWorks was involved again, but I couldn't detect Steven Spielberg's deft touch anywhere on this one.

Did I like it? Nah... But the box office will be HUGE because fanboys don't give a rip about anything but blowie uppie stuff!!!


The Fall

What a quirky little treat! I watched this 2008 Netflix DVD with some neighbors and we found it laugh-out-loud funny, particularly in the early scenes. My thanks to the neighbor who brought it to the party!

This fanciful piece is set in a 1920s Los Angeles hospital, where a little girl with a badly broken arm is entertained by a grievously injured movie stuntman. She is mobile but still hospitalized because of the break (she wears one of those awkward casts that holds her arm out in a bent, horizontal position), so she wanders around the facility, meeting people, observing their activities and accumulating LOTS of questions. She has a vivid imagination.

The stuntman sees this, so he entertains her with a fantastical story about five mythical heroes. Day by day, she comes back to his bedside for more episodes; the plot is patently absurd, e.g., the villain's name is Governor Odious, but our little girl doesn't care. Along with a severe back injury, the stuntman is nursing a broken heart, but the little girl is oblivious to anything but the story.

Our two central characters are played by:
  • Catinca Untaru: This Romanian-born eleven year old has wanted to be an actress since she was four. In preparation, she began learning other languages and accents. She loved visiting foreign countries, as this movie was shot in twenty stunning locations around the world. This is her first film.
  • Lee Pace: A Juilliard-trained Oklahoman, this Emmy-nominated fellow was the heart-wrenchingly devoted piano accompanist to Amy Adams' nightclub singer in "Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day." In my opinion, Pace is a highly capable actor, "Infamous" and "The Good Shepherd" are among his many credits.
Although I feel this piece has some minor third-act weaknesses, it is still satisfying while at the same time being absurd and melodramatic, with eye-popping scenery and lavish costumes (the production design is awesome!). Some things about it made us think of "The Wizard of Oz," but then again... Check it out.


My Sister's Keeper

Nick Cassavetes (son of Director John Cassavetes and Actress Gena Rowlands) has taken Jodi Picoult's best-selling novel and, along with Jeremy Levin, created yet another intimate family drama. The Cassavetes/Levin team ("The Notebook") brings authentic insights into the dynamics that constitute a family.

If you have seen the promotion, you already know that a successful couple, played by a never-better Jason Patrick and a heart-wrenching Cameron Diaz discover that their toddler daughter has leukemia. For numerous reasons, the odds are against them getting a match for bone-marrow transplants, etc., so they opt to have a "designer baby." This little one is genetically compatible with her sister, so from the moment of birth, she is used to extend her sister's diminishing life.

The three children and the parents are all exceptionally nice people... well, maybe Diaz's character is a little too focused on her first-born daughter, but under the circumstances...

Our family:
  • Jason Patrick ("Little Children") is a fireman who is the loving father to this brood. (I'll sure be glad when that skuzzy, three-day-beard look goes out of fashion, though!)
  • Cameron Diaz ("Being John Malkovich") is the attorney who has abandoned her career in order to put all of her intellect and resources into saving her stricken daughter.
  • Sofia Vassilieva (LOTS of TV) is the teenage leukemia victim, trying to squeeze a little normalcy into her life.
  • Evan Ellingson ("Walk the Line") plays the brother who is consistently overlooked as the rest of the family struggles with his older sister's mortality.
  • Abigail Breslin (who has been working since she was six years old) is the designer baby who finally files for medical emancipation so she no longer has to give up body parts for her sister. (By the way, Alec Baldwin is the dirt-bag lawyer she hires and Joan Cusack is the judge who hears the case.)

This is a beautifully wrought piece that illustrates the effects of chronic illness on every member of a family. Cassavetes draws amazing performances from everyone in this film. I expected to find it maudlin (there WERE a few sniffles from the audience), but instead, found the character studies to feel authentic and involving. Diaz in particular, really shines: you love her and you understand her, but you hate her, all at the same time.


The Swimsuit Issue

"Allt flyter" is a Swedish comedy (with English captions) about growing up. We see what has become today's stereotypical group of quasi-adult men, playing an interesting game of what appears to be "Floor Hockey." They compete for gym time with others in their small community and, through a series of events, end up using the swimming pool instead of the gym. As a lark, they pretend to be synchronized swimmers. They make a gag video of their hi-jinks and are hired to entertain a party of wealthy folks.

One thing leads to another and they start to take themselves seriously. The titular leader of this group is an immature divorced father of a teenage girl. His ex gets an opportunity to work as an actress in London but needs time to set up her apartment before sending for their daughter. Our hero absolutely does NOT want to take on any parental responsibility, but when the ex offers to help offset his expenses, he reluctantly agrees (he has just lost his job).

Father and daughter go through a period of adjustment after which, because she is a synchronized swimmer for the local team (the literal translation of the Swedish title is "Everything Floats"), Dad cooks up the idea to have his gang compete at an international synchronized swim meet. Their chances are pretty good, as there aren't many male teams; so with that in mind, they start rehearsals with the teenaged daughter as their coach.

This is one of those mini-dramas that the Scandinavians do so well. I enjoyed this SIFF selection and think you will, too. By the way, some of the team members look much better in swim trunks than others. After you take a gander, you'll know exactly what I mean...smile...


The Proposal

Chick Flicks are so dependable: We know where we're going, and we also know we'll have lots of fun getting there. Sandra Bullock knows her Chick Flicks ("While You Were Sleeping" and "Miss Congeniality"), although she has done commendable work in other genres ("Infamous" and "Crash"). As an executive producer, she has, once again, opted for a good script, a great cast and spectacular scenery, so let's just relax and enjoy ourselves.

Ryan Reynolds ("Adventureland" and "Definitely, Maybe") has spent four miserable years as Boy Friday for Bullock's arrogant publishing executive. She has failed to renew her visa and is confronted with deportation back to Canada, so she announces that she and her dumb- founded lackey are getting married. Quickly regrouping, he strikes a deal that includes publishing a book and being promoted, and the race is on. He had wanted a long weekend so he could go home for his grand- mother's 90th birthday, and she immediately co-opts the plan so they can parade their phony engagement to his family (they have a suspicious immigration agent hot on their heels).

Turns out he's from Sitka, Alaska, so this pleasant little jaunt is far more complicated than she expected. Bullock loves to play a fish out of water but in this one, she falls out of a speedboat INTO water; in addition she gets to be haughty, mean, selfish, awkward, embarrassed and humil- iated. At one point she cravenly tries to get an eagle to swap a fuzzy little white dog in exchange for her cell phone. Oh, did I mention that she also gets to be nude? ...well, she DOES have a Loofah mitt... THAT scene with our two leads is great fun.

Betty White ("Golden Girls") is Grandma. It was sweet to hear the audible murmur of affection from the screening crowd when her face first appeared on screen. Mary Steenburgen ("Four Christmases") is the bridegroom's excited mother, while Craig T. Nelson ("The Family Stone") is his semi-alienated (and very sceptical) father. Oscar Nuñez ("The Office") plays the ubiquitous Ramone, Sitka's presiding Jack of All Trades: a caterer, a male stripper, a store clerk, and a minister.

No sweaty bodies, no car chases, no gunshots and no blowie uppie stuff. Chick Flicks aren't Art, they're Entertainment!


Flashbacks of a Fool

The Fool? Daniel Craig! ...although I forgave him as soon as I saw him in the altogether (!) in the tawdry opening sequence of this effective little piece. He plays an aging Hollywood star adrift in a sea of drugs, alcohol, and prostitutes. His efficient and sassy housekeeper is played by Eve ("Barbershop" and LOTS of TV) who manages to keep him together despite his lifestyle. She resigns regularly and he coaxes her to stay with generous pay raises. It is interesting that Craig has somehow managed to sandwich this between his James Bond commitments and other commendable work ("Defiance" and "The Invasion"). In fact, he also served here as Executive Producer.

Neophyte writer/director Baillie Walsh has only a few music videos to his credit so it is fun to see how his script includes a young music video director who is planning his first feature film. The next actor to impress me (after Mr. C.) was the ever-evolving chameleon, Mark Strong ("Body of Lies" and "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day"). I had to go back (God bless DVDs!) and make sure he really was that Hollywood agent! How does he DO that?!

Our Fool receives a phone call at his Malibu home telling him that a childhood friend has died unexpectedly. This shock triggers the eponymous flashbacks and it's interesting to note that Craig isn't on camera after the first few sequences, until the very end. Our primary focus is on his teenage self, effectively played by the yummy young Harry Eden who has spent most of his past eight years on the British telly.

I found this film to be a little slow, but considering the topic (the confusion and catastrophes of adolescence), not distractingly so. The supporting cast is marvelous and the soundtrack is great.

Thanks for the tip! You know who you are....smile...


Imagine That

Hmmm... Evidently the last week of the school year includes a class trip to a multiplex. I have seen a surprising number of school children accompanied by authorized adults this past two weeks. One group attended "Imagine That" the same evening I screened it. This review will acknowledge THEIR response, as opposed to mine.

Wildly inconsistent Eddie Murphy (his work ranges from "Shrek" to "Norbit") is a successful financial executive who is confident that a big promotion is in the works. Instead he is confronted by a competing financial executive whose bizarre predictions threaten to derail our hero's career. This opponent, who goes by the name of "Whitefeather," is a pseudo Native American who uses bogus doubletalk to forecast financial trends. The governing board is impressed by this unique approach and Murphy is frantic. Whitefeather is played to perfection by the wonderful Thomas Haden Church ("Sideways" and "Smart People").

The upshot is, our neglectful father/financial executive is forced to listen to his nine-year-old daughter as she summons imaginary friends who come to his aid in this struggle to salvage his career. The school children in the audience audibly reveled in watching Murphy as he is forced to repeat his daughter's rituals in order to invoke these friends. Of course, this results in a new, tight bond between father and daughter, which was the point from the beginning. Murphy is fearless as his character suffers one humiliation after another.

The children loved it...


Hachiko: A Dog's Story

One of the most mystical, yet common links between two ordinary creatures is the one between a dog and its human. We love being reminded of them through literature and movies:
  • Call of the Wild
  • Lassie, Come Home
  • Old Yeller

Many films have been made honoring this link and we love them all. While visiting Edinburgh, Scotland a few years ago, our bus passed a statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the real-life Skye Terrier whose endless devotion was memorialised in books and history. After his master died, Bobby visited his grave every day until his own death 14 years later.

Japan has its own legend of equal power. Screenwriter Kaneto Shindô did a Japanese-language version of that story in 1987, then collaborated with Stephen P. Lindsey to create this Americanized film about an Akita puppy that happens into the life of a successful suburbanite played by Richard Gere ("Nights in Rodanthe"). Since our hero commutes by train to the city each day and had discovered the eponymous puppy at the train station, that location becomes the touchstone between man and dog; the dog walks him to the commuter train each morning and meets it at 5:00 PM each evening.

"Hachi" is directed with a deft touch by Swedish director Lasse Hallström ("My Life as a Dog" which, strangely enough, has nothing to do with a dog, "Chocolat" and "Cider House Rules"). Joan Allen (the "Bourne" trilogy and "The Upside of Anger") plays Gere's gentle and under- standing wife.

The film was made with special care; I particularly enjoyed:

  • The effect when we saw things through the dog's eyes: Everything was in black and white and from his perspective.
  • The most "evil" thing anyone does in the entire movie is when the wife says, "No dogs!" (Of course she capitulates right away.)
  • Gere down on all fours with a tennis ball in his teeth, trying to teach the puppy to "fetch."
  • The sight of a happy family, living its life, growing older and changing over the years.

The appearance of "Hachiko" at the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival seems to be the official release date in the U.S.

Bring two hankies...


The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Now THIS is how an action movie should be made!

Director Tony Scott has worked with Denzel Washington before ("Man on Fire") but I'm guessing this is his first time with John Travolta ("Swordfish"). Having never seen the 1974 original, I have nothing with which to compare this 2009 version, but the technical values, the caliber of the acting and the perfection of the two leads in this one convinced me that it is probably the better movie. I didn't like the herky-jerky camera work during the establishing shots, but I promise you, things WILL settle down. Whew!

This updated script gives us perfect pacing: humor, drama, action, suspense, car chases, gun fights, helicopter flights over a New York City skyline (I still miss the twin towers) and a character with whom we can relate. This is basically a heist flick, so it's satisfying when we compre- hend the intelligence of the plan. Our Mr. Washington is the hapless dis- patcher who gets the call when a subway car is taken hostage and the passengers are held for ransom. He is waaaay out of his depth, but is so earnest and resourceful that we have that vital element: Someone to root for!

On the other hand, John Travolta gets his teeth into a big character and never lets go! He plays every word in every scene with great relish... AND he's funny! James Gandolfini ("In The Loop") is no slouch in the funny-lines department, either.

Lots of humor, lots of excitement, lots of tension, lots of bang for your entertainment buck!


The Girl From Monaco

The girl? A gorgeous, amoral, ditzy, Euro-trash blonde! She's the weather girl on a local television station in Monaco. It's immediately obvious that she was hired strictly for her looks, as she has no talent, doesn't under- stand weather and furthermore, doesn't give a rip! (But she DOES plan to be a star: her two idols are Princess Grace and Princess Di.)

Why do we care about this creature? Because of her effect on a mature lawyer who has come from Paris to defend a wealthy woman in a murder trial. His client is an equally mature woman who had been drawn into an unfamiliar world of drugs, sex, wild parties and hedonism by a hand- some, amoral, conniving young man. As the trial progresses, the lawyer encounters the weather girl and he too, is drawn into an unfamiliar world of drugs, sex, wild parties....you know...

Because the victim was a Russo-trash gigolo/waiter and the client's son is afraid of retaliation by his notorious Russian family, a bodyguard is hired to protect our lawyer. Of course he finds it irksome to have a stranger in such close proximity 24/7. Before long, the lawyer discovers that having a resourceful fellow at his beck and call has unanticipated benefits, so we watch their relationship change.

La fille de Monaco starts out as a bright, silly French comedy set in marvelously scenic Monaco, but quickly takes on deeper tones.

These are the three principal cast members:
  • Fabrice Luchini, who plays the lawyer, has been a working actor since 1969, but even though his face seems familiar, the only film in which I remember seeing him, is "Moliere."
  • Roschdy Zem plays the bodyguard. He too, has been working for decades ("Days of Glory" [“Indigènes"] and "My Wife Is an Actress").
  • Louise Bourgoin makes her film debut in this eponymous role. She's drop-dead gorgeous and may have quite a career in her future...
This Seattle International Film Festival selection has been available in Europe for quite some time (it's already out on DVD in Russia), but is just making the film festival rounds in the USA. It is scheduled for a limited release in July, 2009.

(500) Days of Summer

The tagline for this movie is: Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn't....but WE had so much FUN! The first frame of the film is clever, by the third frame we laughed out loud. The 2009 Seattle International Film Festival crowd just leaned back, relaxed, and had a blast!

Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("The Lookout" and "Third Rock From the Sun") is a gifted young greeting-card writer whose glass is perpetually half empty. The fact that he had intended to be an architect might have something to do with it, but he IS pretty good at those greeting cards. He's a romantic from the get-go and KNOWS he must find The One to experience True Love.

The company hires a new gal and our hero's new life begins - Day 1. Oh, by the way, her name is Summer. "500 Days of Summer"...get it? Zooey Deschanel ("Gigantic" and "Yes Man") is our eponymous gal. She is the only actress I can think of who can wear a blue bow in her hair and NOT be ironic! Summer has refused to believe in True Love ever since her parents' divorce.

Each episode of their relationship begins with a frame that informs us what day it is. This clever device helps us know where we are because it tells us if we are viewing Day 12, Day 72, or Day 400.

We skip around in time but it isn't disorienting. There are many, many laugh-out-loud moments and some that are pure whimsy and fantasy (like his song and dance in the street the morning after their first sexual encounter). In my opinion, Ikea did brilliant product placement, as our young lovers "play house" in their store. Both of these actors are con- vincing and relatable, so we have that vital ingredient: people to root for!

In the final scenes, enjoy the Bradbury Building (prime location for "Blade Runner"), a classic (1893) architectural treasure located in the heart of old Los Angeles. I love that building and I was doing handstands when I realized where we were!

No sweaty bodies, no gunshots, no car chases, no blowie uppie stuff; instead, we had a charming, enjoyable, upbeat experience.



This German entry to the 2009 SIFF is based on the 1901 Thomas Mann classic novel by the same name. It is a richly produced, big-budget Warner Brothers project and in my opinion, it followed the novel fairly closely.

If you are in the mood for an authentic re-telling of the decline and fall of the prominent Buddenbrooks mercantile family as they struggle to main- tain their social standing and wealth, this lush costume melodrama does the job. In German with English subtitles, this saga runs 140 minutes and unfortunately, it seems even longer.

In scriptwriter Heinrich Breloer's defense, when adapting a classic, it's hard to know what to cut, and then have the courage to do so. As a result, we see all of the abortive love affairs, the failed marriages, the business dealings and to top it off, a truly grisly episode in a dentist's chair. Ugh!

Great costumes, authentic sets, capable actors, a classic story line, but too much of a good thing is still too much...



This 2009 SIFF selection is from Norway, so "Nord" is in Norwegian with English captions.

We are introduced to a young man who is so depressed from a recent nervous breakdown, he is almost catatonic. He works at a remote ski lift but the poor customers have to pretty much fend for themselves. He pleads with his caseworker to let him come back to the asylum to live, but she wisely insists he has to get better by living out in the world.

When an old buddy shows up, they immediately lunge at each other like a pair of young bulls. By the time things settle down, the friend tells our depressed hero that he is a father. Their girlfriend (the bone of conten- tion between them), had a little boy four years ago and never told him. The friend tells him where to find the mother and his child, and takes off.

Stunned, our young man medicates himself with booze and pills, then this brand-new father accidentally burns down his shelter at the ski lift, and sets out to go "North." He is using a Sno-Cat or a Ski-Mobile (I can't tell them apart), so I guess we can say this is an "(Off) Road Movie." Like a Road Movie, though, this film focuses on his stops along the way, the people he meets and the effect they have on him. By the first time there is a teeny glimmer of his first smile, we rejoice!

As a rule, young men tend to avoid most foreign-language films, but who knows...maybe this one will start a new trend: a vodka-soaked tampon Scotch-taped to the top of one's freshly shaven head, anyone?

I thought it was interesting that in this vast snow-covered landscape, they used guitar pickin', banjo strummin', hoedown music. I guess they were trying to convey a Norwegian out-in-the-sticks feeling. It didn't detract, it was just interesting.

This movie is predictable in an unpredictable way; I liked it and so did the 2009 SIFF evaluators.


"talhotblond" is a contemporary cyberspace name used in a notorious Internet chatroom.

This 2009 Seattle International Film Festival selection starts with a voiceover which explains we are looking at a photo of a fellow who is dead, so he will have a friend do the narration in his place. Shades of "Sunset Boulevard," huh?

There are two things that set this stunning documentary apart:
  1. The editing is so ingenious that various bits of information come unexpectedly and the full picture isn't revealed until very late in this engrossing piece. I actually heard the audience gasp...
  2. I love Eric Satie's "Gymnopedie" and as soon as I heard that familiar piano music in the background, I felt this would be a film that was a cut above average.
This is basically a project about cybersex, chatrooms, obsession, self-delusion and justice. It consists of interviews with many of the principals in this tangled web: what they thought, what they saw, what they did, and how they feel today.

There was not a single moment when I was bored.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
NOTE: There has been a scripted movie based on this event, released in 2012. The difference is the title, the scripted one has a capital "T" e.g., "Talhotblond".... this 2009 original is "talhotblond."

In Your Absence

This 2009 Seattle International Film Festival selection from Spain, "En tu ausencia" (with English captions), was highly praised by other audience members, so maybe I was just weary; but in my opinion, the gorgeous scenery and the attractive boy playing the lead couldn't overcome what, to me, was a heavily foreshadowed tragedy, particularly after that shotgun showed up!


The Hangover

Raunch! Nudity! Profanity! A tiger in the bathroom??? (and I still don't know about the chicken...)

Actually I'm delighted to see that yummy Bradley Cooper ("He's Just Not That Into You" and "Yes Man") in a lead role. He's as handsome as ever, and this role does nothing to make me change my mind.

His character is best man for an upcoming, big formal wedding. As the groom's closest friend, he has organized a bachelor party to end all bachelor parties. They are traveling to Las Vegas with two other guys, one is the bride's skuzzy brother and the other is an old college chum. You will see:
  • Justin Bartha ("Failure to Launch") as the would-be bridegroom
  • Ed Helms ("Evan Almighty") as the henpecked chum with the maxed-out credit cards
  • Zach Galifianakis ("What Happens in Vegas") as Justin's future brother-in-law.

In addition:

  • Heather Graham ("Bowfinger") is a sweet stripper who ends up with that heirloom ring...
  • Oh, and did I mention Mike Tyson???
  • ...and that baby?

The first morning after our foursome arrives, three of them awaken in their trashed hotel suite with a baby in the cabinet, a tiger in the bathroom, and a groom gone missing; the rest of the movie shows them trying to reconstruct what happened and locate their missing buddy before it's too late!

This movie richly deserves its "R" rating, but it's also very, very funny. As an audience exits a theater, I can usually get a feel for their reaction by the volume of their voices. This crowd pleaser generated a LOT of upbeat energy.

Away We Go

Question: When is a road movie not a road movie?

Answer: When the two principals already know and love each other. The problems they encounter in THIS road movie exist at their many stops along the way, not between the two of them.

Director Sam Mendez ("Revolutionary Road" and "The Kite Runner") brings us a loving couple, played by John Krasinski ("The Office" and "Leatherheads") and Maya Rudolph ("Saturday Night Live" and "A Prairie Home Companion") who are happily expecting their first baby. They have envisioned a storybook setting for their firstborn, complete with visits to Grandpa and Grandma's house.

When they go to visit the aforementioned G & G, they discover that, unbeknown to them, the old folks are preparing to flee the nest: They have accepted a position in something like the Peace Corps. In addition, they have sold their house! Jeff Daniels ("Squid and the Whale" and "The Lookout") and Catherine O'Hara ("A Mighty Wind" and "Penelope") are so excited about this new phase of their lives, they don't even notice how much it upsets our young couple.

So much for making plans...the rest of the movie consists of their travels to many other destinations, where, each time, our optimistic couple hopes to find family, stability and a new storybook ending. We finally realize that, this time, it is the destination, not the journey that is important. Their friends and relatives are portrayed by a roster of capable actors who, much to our couples' chagrin, show them that an imaginary scenario is always more fun and romantic than real life. Maggie Gyllenhaal is particularly effective as a sanctimonious Earth Mother.

This movies is rated "R" so brace yourself for some forthright language and lovemaking. No car chases or blowie uppie stuff, though...

My Life in Ruins

This predictable little romantic comedy is brought to us by the "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" team: actress/writer Nia Vardalos and once again the production team of Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks. This time, sadly, Vardalos only acted, she didn't write the script.

Vardalos plays an American professor of Greek History in Athens who has been downsized and is working as a travel guide while she tries to figure out what to do with her life.

Richard Dreyfuss (Dick Cheney in "W.") is a widowed tourist who becomes a guru for our group as they tour the magnificent ruins in Greece (this is a great sightseeing tour). It is immediately obvious that Vardalos' character is a professor, not a travel guide, and the poor busload of tourists is bored stiff. We watch as this group gradually comes to appreciate one another and knits into a gang. Naturally, Vardalos learns to unbend a bit. Hmmm...that bus driver seems to have potential if he'd shave off some of that scruffy hair...hint, hint...

Rita Wilson makes an affecting cameo in a scene with Dreyfuss. That alone, was almost worth the price of admission.

The theater was packed, the audience had a great time and this is a harmless "PG" rated Chick Flick.

Land of the Lost

If you think it's funny to watch Will Farrell ("Anchorman") pour a five-gallon jug of urine over his head to thwart a T Rex, then have I got a movie for YOU! Actually, real-life television anchorman Matt Lauer has a couple of VERY funny scenes as he plays himself trying to interview our egocentric time-machine inventor, Farrell. Just watch the beginning and end of this thing, you can skip the middle.

In the middle, you'll see impressive computer generated images of critters, landscapes and other clever effects, but to me, this was just another one of the puerile, money-making products that has made Ferrell a very, very rich man.

It is what it is...


The Missing Person

First of all, let me say there is NOTHING wrong with the cast in this 2009 SIFF film; it features:
  • Michael Shannon (nominated for an Oscar for "Revolutionary Road");
  • Amy Ryan (nominated for an Oscar for "Gone Baby, Gone");
  • Frank Wood ("The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" - 2009);
  • Linda Emond ("Across the Universe").

Our biggest problem was the way this homage to film noir was shot: weird camera angles, lots of dark shadows, gruff voiceover, understated reactions, oblique relationships and unanswered questions. We walked out with far more questions than answers, and for film noir, that is NOT good! And yeah, it is mostly black and white. We rarely see any trace of color until the very end.

Shannon is the clichéd alcoholic private detective; Ryan seems to have hired him to find the eponymous missing person. After a train ride across the country, that person turns out to be Frank Wood; former Seattle stage actress Linda Emond plays the missing person's wife. The deux ex machina which seems to have set all these wheels in motion is 9/11, even though the movie takes place in the present. No, I'm sorry to say, I do NOT recommend this stylish but confusing and frustrating film.

Princess of Africa

This 2009 SIFF selection is a nicely hyped tale of a 14-year-old girl from Senegal. It appears to be a documentary about her aspirations to be a dancer. It seems that her father's third wife is a professional dancer from Spain and our princess wants to emulate her.

This turned out to be a quasi-documentary that looked more like a home movie: it featured lots of interpretive dancing, i.e., writhing hips, waving arms, twirling and smiling. The wife from Spain meets the local wives and everyone loves everyone else. They included an explanation that the men in Senegal are allowed to have four wives and I couldn't help but wonder what they do with all the surplus unmarried men...

At one point most of the people being filmed seemed to be crying, but we never figured out why. The final narrative says the girl from Senegal has come to realize that she doesn't like Spain so she is going home.

Nah, this was NOT worth our time...