Funny People

Okay, so they're "Funny People," but not very...

Adam Sandler is a former stand-up comic who seems to be entertaining aspirations to be an actor...witness "Reign Over Me." His one-time roommate Judd Apatow is a writer/director ("Superbad," "Pineapple Express" and "40-Year-Old Virgin) who is the King of Raunchy Comedy in Hollywood right now. He even has the nerve to cast his wife Leslie Mann ("17 Again" and "Knocked Up") and daughters Maude and Iris ("Knocked Up") in starring roles and they do a good job!

Sandler/Apatow together are able to make a casting call to just about everyone in Hollywood and they will show up! This time we see an astonishing number of stand-up comics doing cameos. In my opinion however, the best cameo was done by Eminem ("8 Mile"), who is a rapper, NOT a comic.

Sandler has specialized in those man/boy roles that currently are all the rage, but this time out, we are seeing what "happily ever after" looks like when a comic has finally achieved fame and fortune. His character lives in solitary splendor in a palatial estate, complete with a diligent domestic staff, limos, private jets, etc., but his melancholy life is lonely and he is troubled by insomnia.

In a nutshell, Sandler's character is told he has a terminal illness. He has no one in his life, so he hires a neophyte stand-up comic to write for him but quickly turns him into a gofer, a confidante, and his only friend. He isn't a bad person, but he is withdrawn and is completely tone deaf when it comes to personal relationships and feelings.

Our newly hired Jack Of All Trades is played by a recently slimmed-down Seth Rogan ("Knocked Up" and "Superbad") whose character seems to be a semi-decent guy. In that statement lies my quandary: There is no one to root for. Maybe "The One Who Got Away" (Leslie Mann)? or maybe not... There are bits that are very well acted but then again, there are others... There are funny bits but they are few and far between...

This is a raunchy sit-down comedy about raunchy stand-up comedy, so it deserves its "R" rating. From my own perspective, I guess it's memorable because they finally found a role in which Eric Bana ("Star Trek" and "Troy") is NOT attractive! I never thought I'd see the day...sob...


Hula Girls

In 1966, a small coal-mining town in northern Japan began to feel the first glimmers of obsolescence. The company that owned the mines didn't want to abandon the families who had devoted their entire lives in their employ, so they decided to try something audaciously new. The mines had been plagued by hot springs that were a constant irritation, so they decided to try to make some lemonade... smile...

They put out a request for coal miners' daughters between ages 17 and 20, to volunteer for a dance troupe that would feature hula dancing. The idea was to provide the town with alternate employment by building a Hawaiian theme park AND utilize those pesky hot springs. Of course the citizens were fairly provincial and thought the dancing would be in the nude, so they tried to run the dance instructor out of town to protect their daughters.

This heartwarming story is based on the true experience of just such a town. If you are lucky enough to get the double DVD set from Netflix or your library, please watch the extras because they interview some of the original girls from that first troupe AND that instructor! I love movies that show the learning process and these extras are frosting on the cake because they include the casting of the actresses in 2006 and their learning process, before they can depict the girls from 1966 and THEIRS. It's no wonder this film won so many well-deserved awards.

"Hula gâru" is in Japanese and the captions are excellent, the acting is a little over the top (remember, it's Japanese...), and as usual, each scene always lasts just a tad longer than I find comfortable; but once again, I want to thank the JayFlix participant who made this recommendation. You're on a roll!


The Ugly Truth

I expected a standard Chick Flick, but instead, I was treated to an R-rated ("R" for Raunch) romantic comedy that tickled the men, too. Australian director Robert Luketic ("Monster-in-Law") has squeezed a lot of entertainment into 97 minutes.

We start with Katherine Heigl ("Knocked Up" and "27 Dresses") typecast once again as an icy, control-freak blonde. This time she is the producer for a local Sacramento television show which features John Michael Higgins ("The Breakup" and "Best in Show") and Cheryl Hines ("Waitress" and "Henry Poole Is Here") as a married couple whose ratings are sinking fast.

Enter community channel phenomenon Gerard Butler ("Dear Frankie" and "P.S., I Love You") as a blunt-spoken self-appointed s/expert who voices The Ugly Truth about relationships and what men REALLY find appealing about women (which I can't repeat in this PG13-rated blog). Naturally the TV station hires him to boost those pesky ratings and our blonde (with a shockingly dirty mouth!) is furious.

The rest of the movie consists of Heigl finally meeting the perfect man of her dreams and, by following the advice of her new in-house expert, enticing the appealing sucker into a relationship. Neither of our lead characters are quite as rigidly stereotypical as we expect and eventually we come to like them both...and that's a GOOD thing.

Several scenes are waaaay over the top―vibrating panties, anyone? ―but the guys in the audience certainly enjoyed them.


With two of the three production companies being Walt Disney Pictures ("Up" and "Toy Story") and Jerry Bruckheimer Films (the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise and the "National Treasure" franchise), you know this will be a PG rated 3-D comedy for 10-year-old boys with LOTS of blowie uppie stuff! They even throw in a Transformer for good measure!

Many of the voice actors portraying guinea pigs and other rodents who work as intelligence agents for the government are playing waaaay below their game:
  • Nicholas Cage ("National Treasure") is the mole;
  • Sam Rockwell ("Moon") is particularly good as Darwin, the group leader;
  • Penelope Cruz (Oscar: Best Supporting Actress "Vickie Christina Barcelona") is the sultry agent, Juarez;
  • Tracy Morgan ("30 Rock") is the resourceful brutha;
  • Steve Buscemi ("I Think I Love My Wife") is the feckless Bucky.

The plot is convoluted but unimportant. Bill Nighy ("Valkyrie") is an industrialist and Zack Galifianakis ("The Hangover") is the animal lover who has recruited this unusual team. Animatronics keep getting better...


Bollywood Hollywood

Writer/director Deepa Mehta ("Earth," "Fire" and "Water") has become someone whose work I watch for. This 2002 DVD from the city library is SUCH fun! It takes place in Canada and beautifully illustrates traditional, generational, and cultural conflicts in what I liken to a Bollywood version of "Pretty Woman."

Rahul Khanna (a Bollywood star in his own right) is the wealthy scion of an Indian family located in Toronto. His father has died and left him with a sister, mother, and grandmother to shelter. The sister desperately wants to get married right away, the mother has made a career out of being the grieving widow, and the grandmother has a Shakespeare quote for every occasion. Both our hero and his sister are contemporary Canadians who speak flawless English laced with current slang.

To the horror of his family, he intends to marry a non-Indian, but that plan soon falls through. His mother refuses to allow her daughter to marry until her son finds a Hindu bride. He is in a major quandary until he meets a working girl in a bar. He assumes she is Hispanic, but thinks she could pass for Indian, so they quickly strike a deal and go to work on the charade. They have only to act engaged until after the sister's wedding.

Our Pretty Woman is played by the lovely Lisa Ray ("Toronto Stories" and "Water") who insists that she can figure out a way to defy her deeply traditional parents and find her own way in the world...even though she still lives at home... Hmmm....

Of course, this is Bollywood, so expect some musical numbers with clever choreography, attractive people and lots of humor. I particularly enjoyed watching this from a personal viewpoint because the handsome young actor playing the lead looks so much like my housemate Maneesh, who rented a room from me for years and remains a good friend to this day.

This is lots of fun!



JayFlix participants strike again! (Thanks for the tip ― you know who you are!) I obtained this 2005 DVD from the Seattle City Library.

The making of the film was a saga. Evidently fundamentalists in India objected to the depiction of the traditional Hindu treatment of widows by their devotees. According to their holy book, when a woman is widowed she has three choices:
  1. She may accept the honor of suttee and throw herself on her husband's funeral pyre (now officially outlawed);
  2. She may marry her husband's younger brother;
  3. She must live in exile with other widows, reduced to begging for subsistence (in 2001 when this movie was made, there were 20 MILLION of them living in India under these conditions).

They didn't want this aspect of their religion aired to the world. To her credit, writer/director Deepa Mehta ("Bollywood/Hollywood") was not easily bullied: She set up shop in another part of India and shot her film anyway.

Our story is set in 1938 when Mahatma Gandhi and his followers were just beginning to gather momentum. As we know, their efforts culminated in Partition, which ultimately divided India by religion: Buddhist and Muslim (the religious division was something to which Gandhi was firmly opposed!). Our story ends before the resulting bloodbath begins. (Don'tcha just LOVE people slaughtering other people in the name of religion?)

We first meet a little girl being awakened by her father who tells her that her husband has died. She is only eight years old and can't even remember getting married, as her marriage isn't to be consummated until she is a little older. Her family's religious tradition dictates that she be sent to an ashram to live out her life with other widows. She is confused, unhappy, and a little rebellious. As she becomes acquainted with her fellow widows, we also meet them.

This movie features a lovely couple in the romantic leads: Lisa Ray ("All Hat") is Kalyani, a twentyish widow; and John Abraham ("New York") is Narayan, a wealthy young college graduate. Both of these appealing actors are hard-working professionals and I hope to see them in some of their many other films.

We see what it takes to survive in an ashram of widows and are shocked by what we learn. We see the dynamics of privilege and cringe to see how it affects all of the poor souls in the vicinity. We definitely care about our principals and are deeply invested in their happiness. This is a poignant, well-acted movie, performed in Hindi with English captions.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Here they are again, and every single one is an A-List British actor:
  • Michael Gambon ("The Baker") this time, his Dumbledore has a "Moses" moment.
  • Maggie Smith ("Gosford Park") somewhat underused, but still here.
  • Alan Rickman ("Something The Lord Made") who articulates every...single...con-so-nant.
  • Jim Broadbent ("Iris") who can look more befuddled than anyone.
  • Robbie Coltrane ("The Brothers Bloom") Is he really as big as Hagrid looks?
  • Helen Bonham Carter ("Sweeney Todd") still wearing Mrs. Lovett's fright wig.

Our wonderful trio of young friends is growing up before our very eyes:

  • Daniel Radcliff (hilarious in"Extras") is our eponymous hero, earnest and sincere.
  • Rupert Grint ("Driving Lessons") is his roommate, loyal and loveable.
  • Emma Watson ("Ballet Shoes" and an American Ivy League college) is still smart as a whip and lovelier than ever!

Given the age of our principals in this, the sixth installment of J.K. Rowling's massive oeuvre, it is entirely appropriate that hormones are raging...and rage they do! They offer a humorous counterbalance to what is mostly a dark setup for her final book, which, because of its size, will have to be broken into two separate movies.

The production values are, once again, top notch. Throughout this mighty work, Rowling has been present on every film set, providing her own quality control. Even though these movies have had a variety of directors, the through-line has remained constant: Good versus Evil.

I know, I know, Rowling has more money than the Queen of England, but you know what? She's earned it!



"Brüno," NO, NO!


Summer Hours

"L'heure d'été" (with English subtitles) is not for everyone. In my opinion, it has three individual moods:

The first shows us a gala family reunion in an elegant country home, complete with lovely people, delectable food, happy children and a house full of museum-quality artifacts. During this interval, the aging matriarch tries to give her eldest son some instructions about disbursing her belongings after she is gone, but he refuses to listen to her.

The second set of scenes illustrates how complicated it is to cope with estate matters when the children haven't been brought into the decision-making process.

The third mood evolves as we watch the effect on deceased matriarch's home and her beloved treasures, as the next generation, with its total lack of elegance, its disregard for tradition and its selfish habits, wreaks havoc to her cherished property.

Some reviewers are of the opinion that this matriarch represents France, but I think she represents humankind. Complaints about "this younger generation!" have been with us since Cicero, so let's not get too deep here, okay? It is what it is...

Every Little Step

This film is a theatre-lover's dream! "The Chorus Line" in its original incarnation was based on eight hours of interviews of professional dancers ("gypsies") taped by Michael Bennett, then cobbled together into a show about a pseudo-audition for dancers, with music composed by Marvin Hamlish. From this bare-bones beginning, these geniuses turned a simple concept into an award-winning classic. From that Tony award-winning stage production, a subsequent (so-so) movie was made.

Now, Broadway is ready to revisit this musical and, as you might expect, the auditions of the new dancers for the musical are every bit as dra- matic and heart-wrenching as the auditions of the original characters they are to portray.

We become acquainted with a dozen or so, and see, up close and personal, how challenging it is to be chosen from a "cattle call" that generated a flood of over three thousand dancers standing in the rain outside the theater where the auditions were to be held. We catch many of the first attempts and become familiar with the group of producers and directors who will be mounting this latest version. By the time we see the final callbacks months later, we have seen egos, heartbreaks, triumphs and nerves.

We saw one audition that was so moving, the selection panel was in tears. We saw professionals "lose it" because of the stress and we couldn't help but cheer for our own preferences.

Interviews with composer Marvin Hamlish, director Bob Avian, dancer Charlotte d'Amboise (and her legendary father, Jacques!), and dancer Donna McKechnie (the original Cassie), were interesting and informative, while film clips of other, now deceased artists such as Michael Bennett, were wonderful bits of nostalgia.

If you love musicals, you will LOVE this film!



This is a gripping sci fi film that features Sam Rockwell ("The Assassination of Jesse James..." and "The Hitchhiker's Guide...") and Sam Rockwell ("Choke" and "Frost/Nixon") as an astronaut working a lonely three-year shift on the dark side of the moon. I'm being sort of facetious here, because this is a two-man show, and both men are the same character played by Sam Rockwell. They have, however, significantly different personalities and you NEVER confuse the two.

The only other actors you see in this, are via video clips and, in the case of Kevin Spacey ("Telstar" and "21"), via his voice, that of GERTY, the ever present and meticulously obedient robot which shares the desolate space port with our hero.

As this unsettling plot develops, you become more and more invested in the outcome...that's probably all I should tell you. Just see it, but don't be mad, okay?

Interesting bit of trivia: The neophyte director, Duncan Jones (II), is the son of David Bowie, the musician.
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Whatever Works

Despite misgivings, I ended up getting a mild kick out of this latest Woody Allen movie. I expected another version of a dirty old man's wet dream (well, to be honest, it DID start out that way), but the dialogue was so acerbic and the performances were so silly and entertaining that we left the theater with a smile.

Allen uses an amusing device: His central character, a nihilist curmud- geon, played by Larry David ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") drops the fourth wall and talks directly to us in the audience. He comments on our pop- corn, our vacuous smiles, our empty lives, and the hopelessness of it all. Others in the scene are bewildered and peer around him trying to see who he's talking to. This happens just often enough to be amusing. It could easily have been overworked.

Evan Rachel Wood ("The Wrestler") is the sweet young thang from the South who talks her way into his life, even going so far as to marry him. All of the objections we in the audience feel about this May/December pairing, are anticipated and voiced by our resident grouch. Our heroine is sunny, upbeat and completely outclassed by his intellect when he grouses about how awful everything is...but no matter, she's happy anyway.

Patricia Clarkson ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") is Momma, come to fetch her baby back home, only to be blindsided by New York City and its hedonistic delights.

This screenplay was originally written for Zero Mostel and was set aside upon his death in 1977. It took a potential actors' strike a couple of years ago to prompt Allen to take it down from the shelf, dust it off and update it.