The Answer Man

This should be renamed. I'd call it "The Joys and Sorrows of Self-Help Books."

In this satisfying romantic comedy for grownups, always dependable Jeff Daniels ("The Lookout" and "Squid and the Whale") is the wildly successful author of a classic self-help book called "Me and God." (That title grates on my nerves because I had an English teacher who taught us NEVER to put "me" first in a phrase like that!) As a result of the lionizing, our hero has become an embittered recluse; he lives under an assumed name and refuses phone calls, invitations and personal appearances. Furthermore, he no longer believes in the message contained in his book.

Lauren Graham (shamefully un-acclaimed for 154 episodes of "Gilmore Girls") is a single parent raising an eight-year-old boy and opening a chiropractic office in her first venture as an independent business woman. She has made a life for herself and her son and clearly does NOT want to rock the boat.

Lou Taylor Pucci ("Southland Tales" and "Fanboys") is a young man fresh out of 28-day rehab, shaky but sober. He had the only key to his little bookstore in his pocket when he went into rehab, so his clerk simply left it locked and closed the entire time. He comes back to his little Philadelphia neighborhood business to find a financial catastrophe...no business...lots of bills....and his father is still a drunk.

We watch the paths of these three nice people intersect, tangle, get knotted up and snarled as each one struggles for a normal life.

No blowie uppie stuff, no betrayals, no gunshots, no car chases, three people to root for...plus a really cute little boy. Hmmm... I think I liked it!


Lorna's Silence

The setting is Belgium, the Land of Opportunity for two émigrés from Albania, who dream of opening a modest snack bar and joining the ranks of the self employed. The male half of this duo is headed south for a temporary job on the Mediterranean, while the female, convincingly played by Arta Dobroshi― nominated for the European Film Award of 2008 for this role―has worked with a broker to fake a marriage to a Belgian so she can obtain the necessary citizenship papers. The lucky guy is a junkie who needed the money for drugs. Naturally they occupy the same domicile, but that is as far as it goes.

Once she gets her legal papers, the broker's plan is to administer an overdose to the junkie so our heroine/now a widow, can be paid a handsome sum to turn around and marry a Russian, who is ALSO seeking Belgian citizenship. In the meantime, our hard-working couple has saved a significant wad of cash and are on the brink of success. In fact, she has started shopping for a site where they can launch their little business. Got that so far?

Suffice it to say, the best-laid plans...

Ms. Dobroshi is wonderful, the situation actually feels realistic, and her character's reaction to the swirl of plots around her is understandable. I'm sure this world is full of desperate people who have voted with their feet and are trying to make a better life for themselves.

More power to them!


Inglourious Basterds

Once upon a time... This is a fairy tale that posits "wouldn't it be cool if...?"

Writer/Director Quentin Tarantino ("Kill Bill" and "Pulp Fiction") is a loose cannon. His movies aren't predictable: at times they are breath- takingly audacious and at other times they are stomach churningly horrifying. One thing is consistent: they are always loaded with explosive violence. His production values are top notch and his cast is exceptional (well...maybe I've seen a better Hitler).

The cast:
  • French actress Mélanie Laurent plays a teenage French/Jewish proprietor of a Parisian movie house;
  • Austrian actor Christoph Waltz (with excellent English) is a disarmingly clever Gestapo colonel;
  • American actor Brad Pitt is the good-ol'-boy leader of a squad of Jewish soldiers bent on striking terror into Nazi hearts (they scalp their victims);
  • German actress Diane Kruger ("Troy") plays a German actress.

Spoiler Alert!!! In this little fairy tale, Tarantino has cobbled together a plot that kills Hitler in Paris. Is that spoiler enough for you? To me, the interesting thing is watching how cleverly he sucks us in: he offers humor (Brad Pitt's cornpone accent and down-home syntax is always good for a laugh); generates tension (is that Nazi officer onto the double agent?); creates a new movie star (you WILL hear from Christoph Waltz again!); and fills a movie theater (this will probably be the biggest earning opening for the month).

Other than the unnecessarily long running time (he needs someone with the courage to tell him to trim about half an hour), this is a masterful work by a man who loves movies and loves making them.


Post Grad

When a cast this capable turns in work this mediocre, I'm inclined to blame the director. In this case, Director Vicky Jenson ("Shark Tale" and "Shrek") seems to treat her actors like cartoon characters:
  • Michael Keaton ("The Merry Gentleman") is the quirky but (kinda) clever father of our recent college graduate;
  • Carol Burnett ("Horton Hears a Who") is a caricature of a repugnant old grandmother;
  • Jane Lynch ("Julia and Julia") has her comic talents wasted as the (sorta) sensible mother of our heroine;
  • J.K. Simmons ("Juno") is the widowed father of the juvenile lead.

Now let me explain why this movie didn't grab me in the slightest. The two stars of this tepid little project display absolutely NO charisma, nor do they generate any heat on screen. Alexis Bledel ("Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" and "Gilmore Girls") is our recent college graduate. We are treated to endless shots of her huge blue eyes as she suffers her way through her first post-graduation encounters with the cold cruel world:

  • Her dream job doesn't materialize;
  • she loses the apartment she has blithely rented;
  • she has to move back home;
  • she screws up her relationship with her boyfriend (who seems to be the only friend she has);
  • her car gets totaled and...
  • her dad kills the neighbor's cat.

Now let's talk about that boyfriend...I wonder if Zach Gilford ("Friday Night Lights") has friends in high places? How else did he get cast? He isn't particularly good looking, his character is inarticulate (but planning to be a lawyer?), and his singing and guitar playing is downright pathetic.

I think I'll forgive them ALL and blame the director.


District 9

This is the movie "Transformers" should have been, although Michael Bay has never shot such an involving, coherent actioner! This exciting sci fi drama makes good use of the considerable resources which producer Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings" trilogy) brings to the table: the screen is teeming with human-sized, insectoid, sentient creatures which require LOTS of talented, high-cost CGI technicians!

A gigantic space ship hovers low over Johannesburg, South Africa; it has been there for 20 years. Early on, military forces were sent to cut their way into it. They discovered thousands upon thousands of extra terrestrials who were starving to death, so they brought them to earth and placed them in a huge camp called "District 9." Over the years, the camp evolved into a militarily enforced prison compound where the poor refugees have become targets of anti-Prawn activism. (They are called Prawns because of their unusual physiognomy.) A mafia-like gang of Nigerians has taken over all commerce inside District 9 because discrimination will not allow the creatures to work outside.

This is the setup and from here on I will only talk to the JayFlix folks who can deal with hard-core sci fi. The rest of you go see a quieter film, okay? "Julie and Julia" comes to mind...smile...

This terrific film has one of the best character arcs I have seen in years: A timid, eager-to-please government functionary is being videotaped as they document his efforts to evict the ETs and move them to District 10; the local citizens are out of patience and have started a strong anti- Prawn movement. From his early naïve attempts to serve eviction notices on the ETs, our hero is pulled into a no-holds-barred interspecies struggle and we side with him as he evolves into an action hero.

The clever quasi-documentary style seems to be the only reason why "Cloverfield" was even mentioned in the same breath as this enjoyable movie. The aforementioned catastrophe had no cohesive story, no relatable characters and certainly no one to root for. By contrast, "District 9" manipulates us into a sympathetic view of the ETs and we cheer as our milquetoast climbs into a gizmo much like Ripley's in "Alien" and rips some hateful militants a new one! The screening audience applauded.

We see lots of blowie uppie stuff, all of which makes sense; hear lots of profanity, all of which is appropriate; discover a love story, which is unexpected; and easily follow a complicated plot despite lots of yelling, many many explosions, and big-time fire power (which only works with a particular DNA...yup, that's what I said...trust me!).

Go see this movie!

The Time Traveler's Wife

This sweet, heartwarming film sticks pretty close to the best-selling novel by Audrey Niffenegger. I suppose you could call it a romance, but then again it's sorta sci fi... Our Time Traveler, played by Eric Bana ("Funny People" and "Troy") has a genetic disorder that causes him to skip in and out of time periods in a semi-random fashion. He tends to visit the same locations so there is a faint sense of predictability, but he can't control his departures or arrivals, nor can he pick a target date.

For a movie goer like me, it is worth mentioning that even though our hero can travel through time, his clothes can't! This means he arrives in the altogether each time he travels; so we see a LOT of Eric Bana, and that's a good thing! Let me hasten to add, this only results in full backtal nudity, not full frontal. ...smile...

The eponymous wife, played by the wonderful Rachel McAdams ("The Notebook" and "The Family Stone"), epitomizes the word "resilient." She is not only lovely, she is resourceful, accepting and smart.

Don't spend too much time trying to sort out the various timelines. People far better paid than we, have supposedly kept track of who knew what and when. Just relax and watch a capably presented, interesting, and often humorous story of two people caught in a terrible quandary: How do you make a life with someone who flits in and out of your own?

Ron Livingston ("Music Within" and "American Crude") is the first outsider pulled into this mystifying situation and his take on it is the same as ours would be: Denial, followed by bafflement, followed by a deep appreciation for the challenges it presents.

I won't include any spoilers. Just go see it and let me know what you think, okay?


How embarrassing! Here we have a perfectly wonderful romantic setup which depicts two attractive and intelligent young New Yorkers, ostensibly American, but in reality played (beautifully!) by an Australian and a Brit. Can no American actors do roles like this? Aarghhh!

The excellent plot focuses on the problems which surround living with Asperger's Syndrome, so in a brief chat at the theatre last night, star Hugh Dancy ("Confessions of a Shopaholic" and "The Jane Austen Book Club") told us that his main concern was how to depict the physical and emotional side of the character; he relied on other cast members and crew to monitor his accent and correct his pronunciation during the shoot.

He probably didn't get much advice from his co-star Rose Byrne ("Troy" and "Wicker Park") because SHE'S from Australia! (Although you'd never suspect it from her capable Americanese.) Her character is a grade-school teacher who approaches this new challenge with a nice combination of intelligence and sensitivity.

Asperger's Syndrome is sometimes defined as a high-functioning form of autism. A person afflicted with it has, among many other things, difficulty reading body language in others and maintaining eye contact. In this warmhearted movie, a lot of information is conveyed which is both helpful and interesting.

Of course Asperger's isn't the only topic in this movie: Peter Gallagher (working hard since 1952!) is our heroine's father and Amy Irving (working almost as hard since 1975) is her mother. He has been accused of a white-collar crime and she intends to stick by him.

Frankie Faison ("My Blueberry Nights" and "In Good Company") is Adam's sensible (and essential!) friend.

Can you tell that this movie is loaded with people I could root for? What a pleasure!

Writer/director Max Mayer told our screening audience that the main lesson he wants to convey is: Life isn't perfect, so why should you be? Cut yourself some slack!


Japanese Anime is always excellent, particularly the artwork. The theater was packed with little'uns and they were entranced from the get-go. I can see why Walt Disney is the distributor. I smiled as I noticed that parts of the musical soundtrack resembled Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries particularly during Ponyo's ride on the waves of a tsunami.

The director, Hayao Miyazaki is already well known to American fans because he brought us "Princess Mononoke" and "Spirited Away."

As I said, "Gake no ue no Ponyo" is Anime, so of course the children are darling, the parents are laudable, and the little boy has to EARN his reward, it isn't just magically dumped on him. I LIKED that!

The English version has a terrific voice cast:
  • Liam Neesen ("The Chosen") is Ponyo's father
  • Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth") is her mother
  • Tina Fey ("Baby Mama") is the little boy's mother
  • Matt Damon ("The Bourne" trilogy) is the little boy's father
  • Noah Cyrus (sister of Miley "Hannah Montana") voices Ponyo
  • Frankie Jonas (yes, he's one of the Jonas Brothers) is Sosuke, our brave little boy
  • Cloris Leachman, Betty White and Lily Tomlin are three of the old gals in the senior center.

I enjoyed the quirky little car and was reminded once again that the Japanese drive on the left-hand side of the road, so the steering wheel wasn't where I expected. Also, I appreciated seeing a woman who was confident, loving and resourceful (although her body language when her husband has to go back to sea is very, very funny and realistic). This terrific mother loves her son and trusts him. In return, he is respectful and trustworthy. What a concept!


Paper Heart

Hmmm... THAT was a quirky little trifle... Not as funny as I expected and not as involving as I hoped, but the theater was air conditioned...

Co-writer Charlyne Yi ("Knocked Up" and "Cloverfield") plays a stand-up comic named Charlyne Yi who sets out on a quest to discover what constitutes "LOVE." She conducts live interviews in a quasi-documentary style in supermarkets, malls and private homes all over the U.S. During the course of this quest, she encounters Michael Cera ("Superbad" and "Juno") who plays himself. They become a couple, temporarily, even though she still insists there is no such thing as "LOVE."

Co-writer/director Nicholas Jasenovec has cast Jake M. Johnson (lots of TV and "Redbelt") to take his role. From the setup, it is clear that our writers hoped this story would have a much different ending, and in my opinion it DOES lack resolution, but... if it is really hot outside and the theater is air conditioned...


Julie and Julia

Not one, but TWO happily married couples! That's gotta be a record for Hollywood, isn't it?

Based on two books ("My Life in France" by Julia Child and "Julie and Julia" by Julie Powell), this wonderfully funny script is written and directed by Nora Ephram ("You've Got Mail," "Sleepless in Seattle" and "When Harry Met Sally"). The casting is brilliant because Meryl Streep ("Momma Mia" and "Doubt") is the only actress working today who can nail Ms. Child's unique vocal qualities―although you will agree that Dan Aykroyd comes close. Yes, that famous Saturday Night Live sketch is included! Stanley Tucci ("Swing Vote") is her ever-lovin' (but much shorter) husband Paul, and Jane Lynch ("Best in Show" and "Role Models") is her equally tall sister Dorothy, come to France from their home town of Pasadena, in search of a husband. Neither of the aforementioned actresses is particularly tall, so some clever camera work is used to make them seem that way.

We are treated to many delightfully entertaining scenes of a happy, lusty couple in post-war France: Julia is a perpetually upbeat and energetic wife, while Paul is a government functionary stationed at the American Embassy. Being an easily bored American, Julia starts to investigate possible hobbies: Hat making? Nah... Playing bridge? Nah... Cooking? Maybe.... But the Cordon Bleu definitely does NOT want a woman, especially an AMERICAN woman, enrolled there. Former Seattle actress Linda Emond ("Across the Universe") has a plum role as Child's first book collaborator.

Bringing sweetness and desperation on a parallel track is Amy Adams ("Sunshine Cleaning" and "Enchanted"), a contemporary young woman who toils in a cubicle taking post-9/11 calls for a New York City agency. She has a tendency to abandon anything she starts, so when she sets herself the ambitious goal of cooking all the recipes in Julia Child's cookbook within a year (over 500 of them!), neither her husband nor her mother expect much. The studio tagline is: "Passion. Ambition. Butter. Do You Have What It Takes?"

The audience laughed out loud repeatedly and I joined them! This is a diverting and information-filled (you'll pick up a few pointers about cooking) bit of entertainment that will leave you smiling (although I STILL don't want to cook a live lobster or de-bone a duck!).