This wonderful multifaceted, multigenerational tour de force takes us throughout the lovely city of Paris, then to the slums of Cameroon and back.

We hear ruminations from a six year old on whether or not there is a Santa Claus, and from a middle-aged professor on whether or not the minutiae of early Parisian history can justify a life-long career. A heart patient imagines happiness in the faces of all those he sees from his taxi, but we recognize some of those faces and realize the truth.

Among the people we get to know:
  • Juliette Binoche (“Cache” and “Dan in Real Life”) who appears in movies throughout the Western world and is terrific every time. This time she plays a single mother saddled with a tough job and three children. Her brother is played by:
  • Romain Duris (“The Beat That My Heart Skipped” and “Le Divorce”) who portrays a former professional dancer who must have a heart transplant which he may or may not survive.
  • Fabrice Luchini (“The Girl From Monaco”) plays the history professor suffering a mid-life crisis. Who would have guessed a man his age could dance like THAT?
  • François Cluzet (the steadfast, stoic husband in “Tell No One,”) is a tearful son grieving the death of his father and weeping with joy at the birth of a brand new baby.

We come to recognize the folks at the fruit stand, the vegetable stand, the fish shop, the bakery. Not only that, we understand how their worlds interconnect and appreciate how they respond to the triumphs and catastrophes which occur in their lives.

This movie is funny, sweet, romantic, scenic and tres French (with English captions).


Bright Star

I guess you have to be a fan of the Romantic Poets: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats. I admit that I am not, so this story about the short, tragic life of Keats left me pretty well unmoved. (I’m more a fan of “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” by Robert Service.)

This movie is beautifully directed by Kiwi-born, Jane Campion (“The Piano” and “The Water Diary”), who currently lives in Sydney. We are treated to many bucolic scenes with children romping in flower-strewn meadows and apple trees in full bloom; England should always be so lovely.

The tragic but chaste three-year love affair between John Keats and his neighbor Fanny Brawne is well documented because their love letters were preserved and he wrote letters about it to his brother in America before dying of consumption (tuberculosis) at age 25.

Our star-crossed lovers are played by Abbie Cornish (“A Good Year”) and Ben Whishaw (“The International”). They start out at odds because she loves high fashion and he loves literature and poetry. As she begins to respect him as a caring person, she develops a taste for poetry. The rest, as they say, is history.

A few items struck me a particularly noteworthy:
  • When notified of his death, her weeping was unusually authentic;
  • No one just sat, all the women had work at hand, whether child care, sewing or food preparation, they were never idle;
  • I very much enjoyed the sounds of the human orchestra; it’s surprising how people entertained themselves before radio, television, or the cinema;
  • Young Samuel Sangster (the darling little lovesick boy in “Love Actually”) has grown into a tall, gangly adolescent!

Many of the more pensive moments have a poetic voiceover. With my hearing impairment and my poetic tin ear, those were lost to me. If your hearing is good and you love the Romantics, this is just the ticket.

Love Happens

The biggest “name brand” in this movie is Jennifer Aniston (“Marley and Me” and “He’s Just Not That Into You”), but she has very little to do in this tepid Chick Flick, other than occasionally show us a little blue-eyed charm.

Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight” and “Thank You For Smoking”) actually has the central role: he plays a widower who facilitates seminars in which he teaches others how to cope with loss. These seminars are based on his best-selling self-help book, “A-Okay.” Of course, as the movie progresses, we begin to think, “Physician, heal thyself!”

Martin Sheen (The Departed” and “Talk to Me”) appears briefly in a few scenes, two of which are key moments. Of course, he overacts as usual… chewing on the scenery with gusto.

Our favorite BFF (Best Forever Friend) from countless Chick Flicks is Judy Greer (LOTS of TV, plus “27 Dresses” and “American Dreamz”) not on screen here as much as I would like, but dependable when she is.

Character actor John Carroll Lynch (“Gran Torino” and “Zodiac”) has been a familiar face since 1993 but he has never been given an opportunity to show his stuff before. He has a couple of extended scenes, no editing, no cutting, just continuous takes where he knocks them out of the park. He plays a bereaved father stuck in his grief over the death of his twelve-year-old son, attending the grief seminar at his sister’s insistence.

Because the central theme is coping with loss, there are many emotional moments, directed with great skill by Brandon Camp. I hope to see more of his work.

Of course, to the Seattle screening crowd, the generous number of Seattle street scenes, points of interest and cityscapes were a treat, plus we smiled at the incessant rain and some of the more egregiously faked Seattle-scapes. Don’t let me mislead you, this movie has plenty of humor and we even learn three new words!

No blowie uppie stuff, no car chases, no gunshots; just some nice people to root for…I liked it…sorta.

The Burning Plain

Charlize Theron (“Hancock” and an Academy Award for “Monster”) is a fine, fearless actress. Her nude scenes (this movie is R-rated) are integral to her character and are tossed off with a careless nonchalance. We are subjected to episodes of self-mutilation, but by the time this movie is half over, we begin to understand their genesis. In addition, by the time we see that confounded mobile home explode and burn four or five times―each time from a different perspective―we begin to understand THAT, as well.

Filmed in Las Cruces, New Mexico plus Depoe Bay and Portland, Oregon, this is a multi-cultural story with NO issue made of ethnicity; which I appreciated. It is also multi-generational, which brings us to the only weak link in the cast: Kim Basinger (“Cellular” and an Academy Award for “L.A. Confidential”) never for a moment convinced me that she was the wife of a long-haul trucker and frustrated mother of four. In my opinion, her carefully tousled hair was studiously done by some Beverly Hills hairdresser trying to make her look like Hollywood's impression of a hick.

John Corbett (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Dinner Rush”) has the thankless task of portraying one of Theron’s many rejected lovers.

When a film is presented in a non-linear fashion, I find myself getting irritated, but my companion felt that this initial confusion added to our stress, which in this movie, is an essential component, so I accept the skipping around this time. One caveat: Just try to keep track of everyone and pay close attention to names and locations.

I want a movie to be thought provoking, and have found myself thinking about this one long after the screening, so I guess writer/director Guillermo Arriaga (“Babel” and “21 Grams”) has accomplished his mission, although my thoughts weren't very positive....

The Informant!

Yes, the exclamation point is appropriate! This totally unpredictable plot is based on the book written by Kurt Eichenwald, which in turn was based on true-life events which surrounded a price-fixing scheme involving the Agri-giant conglomerate Archer Daniels Midland Co., headquartered in Decatur, Illinois, and a true-life whistleblower named Mark Whitacre, played by Matt Damon (the “Bourne” and “Ocean’s” franchises).

For this project, Damon gained over 30 pounds and is utterly convincing as a middle-aged chemist turned FBI informant, clearly in waaay over his head. Scott Bakula (98 episodes of “Enterprise” and lots of TV) and Seattle's own Joel McHale (“The Soup” and many cameos) are the two increasingly bewildered FBI men who work with Whitacre during a three- to five-year period as he helps gather evidence for their international crackdown of ADM by the Justice Department. Their befuddlement is due to the unexpected layers of conspiracy that Whitacre peels away, step by step, over the years.

To say that Damon’s character made my head spin might give away too much, so I will simply say that this movie is very, very funny and Matt Damon is perfect! He was wise enough to pair, once again, with Producer George Clooney (“Leatherheads” and “Michael Clayton”) and Director Steven Soderbergh (“The Good German” and the “Ocean’s” franchise).

The rollicking score by Marvin Hamlisch leaves no doubt that you are watching a comedy. Watch for unexpected faces: Both Tom and Dick Smothers are there, although you must be alert or you’ll miss Tom….


My One and Only

Very loosely based on the autobiography of Mr. Tan himself, George Hamilton ("Love at First Bite"), this sweet-spirited story follows the ever more-desperate meanderings of a former Southern belle, played by Academy Award winner Renée Zellweger ("Appaloosa" and "Miss Potter"), who has left her philandering husband, played by Kevin Bacon ("Frost/Nixon" and "River Wild"). She has taken her two endlessly patient teenaged sons, played by Mark Rendall ("Charlie Bartlett") and Logan Lerman ("Gamer") and headed for greener pastures, seemingly unaware that her once-radiant charms have faded over the last 20 years.

With no professional skills to call her own, her game plan is simply to find a new husband. Among the men who pass through her life, we see:
  • The aforementioned Mr. Bacon;
  • Chris Noth ("Sex and the City");
  • Steven Weber (LOTS of TV);
  • David Koechner (excellent in "Extract");
  • Eric McCormack ("Will and Grace");
  • Nick Stahl ("Terminator 3").

Troy Garrity ("Bandits"), finally getting as handsome as his genes would promise (he's Jane Fonda's son), is a hapless highwayman in a great scene on the Mojave Desert. That scene contains the only gunshot in the entire movie and we are sooo proud of the shooter!

No sweaty bodies, no blowie uppie stuff, great ironic dialogue and a perfectly nostalgic evocation of the 50s: fashions, cars, street scenes and movies.

My favorite line owes a debt to George Hamilton's reputation as the man with the perfect tan. After they arrive in Southern California, his fictional mother tells her teenage offspring, "Go to the beach and get some sun. You are as pale as a nun's behind!" And THAT, my friends, is the only off-color comment in this entire movie.


All About Steve

C'mon...this movie wasn't nearly as bad as some critics said. In fact, there were a number of laugh-out-loud moments, and it's always fun to look at Bradley Cooper ("Hangover" and "He's Just Not That Into You"). Cooper is a cameraman for a dimwitted television newscaster, played to perfection by Thomas Hayden Church ("Imagine That" and "Sideways"), who desperately wants to break into the Big Time.

Cooper's mother has arranged a blind date for him with a friend's bright but eccentric daughter, fearlessly played by Sandra Bullock ("The Proposal" and "Infamous"), who is never afraid to look goofy, act silly or get really, really dirty (as in DIRT - she falls down a mine shaft!). Bullock's character constructs crossword puzzles for a local Sacramento newspaper and has absolutely NO personal life. Once she sets eyes on her handsome date though, she dashes back upstairs (she lives with her parents), changes into sexier clothes and jumps his bones before they leave her parents' driveway.

He is flabbergasted and very uncomfortable with her aggressive moves, so is grateful when his cell phone interrupts and he is immediately dispatched to cover a distant media event involving a deformed baby. Her next crossword puzzle is "All About Steve" and when he hears about it, he begins to fear that she might become a stalker. As a result of that puzzle, she loses her job, so sets out to follow him...thus confirming his worst fears.

Soon, our intrepid news team is off to Galveston, Texas to cover a hurricane, with Bullock and some newfound friends in hot pursuit. Cooper's boss, played by Keith David ("Gamer" and "Coraline"), has decided to fire this inept team until their next assignment lands them in Colorado where a media circus erupts with his boys right smack in the center ring.

Because I am an avid crossword puzzle fan, I can relate to the wealth of little-known facts that our heroine has at the tip of her tongue; because she is uncomfortable in public, she blabs away, non stop, and I can relate to THAT, as well! In addition, I like stories where characters can learn things about themselves and grow. Hey, I'm trying, I'm trying...

I think my favorite moment was when Bullock smoothed Church's hairdo with spit just before he went on camera.


World's Greatest Dad

Hmmm… This movie doesn’t fit into any particular genre. It certainly isn’t a comedy; it’s more like a drama (that quickly descends into a melodrama). It seems to be a treatise on mob hysteria or group think; how it happens and how ridiculous it looks. In addition, it is the perfect “how-to” manual if you want to be a pathetic parent.

Robin Williams (“August Rush” and “Man of the Year”) is the ineffectual father of a truly unpleasant teenager, played by Daryl Sabara (“Her Best Move” and “Halloween" 2007) who not only doesn’t respect his father, he loathes him. With an apologetic little half-smile, Williams teaches poetry― ineptly―in a fictitious Seattle high school, where two of his fellow teachers are portrayed by Alexie Gilmore (“Definitely, May- be” and “Mercy”) and Henry Simmons (“Madea’s Family Reunion” and “The Insurgents”). Partway into the movie, Williams’ character is confronted with a horrific situation, but in a clumsy attempt to lessen its effects, he makes matters infinitely worse and things quickly spiral out of control.

It was fun for the screening audience to spot familiar Seattle scenes, including an iconic restaurant in West Seattle, but most of it could have been (and was) shot elsewhere.

Writer/Director Bobcat Goldthwait (LOTS of TV) warns us to be careful what we wish for because we just might get it. As expected with Goldthwait, the language is bluntly pornographic, and the screenplay is often silly and embarrassing. In my opinion, these two former stand-up comics didn’t do each other any favors with this one!

In re-reading this, I can see there was no one to root for, so I guess I didn’t much like it, did I!


This movie opens with a con: An attractive young woman is shopping for a guitar for an absent relative. Mila Kunis (“Max Payne” and “Tom Cool”) plays the smartest character in the entire cast. She is a con woman, a crook, a seductress and the spark plug that starts the entire plot rolling.

Maybe I was just tired, but this clever little comedy slipped under my defense shields and won me over. Of course, I always like Jason Bateman (“Juno," “Hancock” and the upcoming feature film “Arrested Development") and J.K. Simmons (“Burn After Reading” and “Post Grad”), or maybe I was in the mood to see something about an earnest man running a small business and dealing with realistic trials and tribulations as he tries to keep his doors open after a minor industrial accident (well ...MAJOR to the employee who suffered a groin injury), which could wipe out their livelihood for dozens of people.

Bateman is a former bartender who devised a formula that is the backbone of his extract bottling plant. Ben Affleck (“Hollywoodland” and "State of Play") is a bearded stoner who still tends bar at their old watering hole. His character proves that free advice is worth quite a bit less than it costs!

Bateman’s plant is filled with familiar faces, one of whom caught the attention of my sharp-eyed companion (I missed it). She knew he looked familiar and when I checked him out, I was very impressed by his body of recent work: Clifton Collins Jr. plays one of the plant employees, mousy mustache, mullet and all (he is the victim of the aforementioned accident). We have recently seen him as a one-armed Hispanic in “Sunshine Cleaning,” a high-performance car driver in “Crank” 2009, and a Romulan in “Star Trek” 2009. And that’s just a teeny sample of his recent work!

If I have any complaint, it is to see Hollywood’s smug impression of small town people. As a small town émigré I take exception to this, but then again, I’ll admit that I’ve been in some small towns… In addition, I recoil from on-screen drug use, although the zany results of this particular event make the movie an excellent cautionary tale about the pitfalls of narcotics, legal or not. If I add that Dustin Milligan (LOTS of TV) plays a dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks gigolo, I might be giving away too much of the plot…so I won’t…smile…