The King's Speech

This is the one to beat for Best Picture and Best Actor at the next Academy Awards. Director Tom Hooper ("John Adams") didn't cut the actors any slack, the cameras are right up in their faces and there is no place to hide.

This wonderful script by David Seidler (lots of TV) tells us about a little- known fact regarding the father of the present-day Queen Elizabeth II of England. Before he reluctantly became King George VI (remember his brother relinquished the throne to marry the woman he loved), Bertie and his gracious wife Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mum) had tried every humiliating technique under the sun to eradicate his crippling stammer.

I want to talk about this brilliant cast:
  • Colin Firth ("A Single Man") is the Duke of York, a loving father to Elizabeth and Margaret, happy in his marriage and hoping against hope that his elder brother will be a capable king. Bertie has no desire for the throne, in fact he's petrified at the very thought. We have to suffer through a couple of his painful attempts at public speaking and pray for something that will help.
  • Helena Bonham Carter ("Alice in Wonderland") is his wife Elizabeth: loving, supportive and resourceful in her search for a remedy. She even learns how to run an elevator all by herself! If this character is anywhere near true to life, it's no wonder the Brits loved their Queen Mum.
  • Geoffrey Rush ("Shine") is Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist who learned his craft treating shell-shocked veterans of WWI. He is sworn to secrecy about his client's status, but insists on calling him "Bertie." Their personality clashes are realistic and funny.
  • Derek Jacobi ("Endgame") is Archbishop Cosmo Lang who elicited groans from the audience with his unctuous offers of help for our hero.
  • Timothy Spall ("Enchanted") was better than I expected as Winston Churchill, complete with ever-present cigar.
The script goes big (a pending World War) and small (cozy family gatherings, complete with Corgis), funny (interjecting profanities into speech to distract the stammerer) and sad (Edward VI weeps as feelings of inadequacy sweep over him before his coronation).

We are treated to families who actually care for one another, colleagues who have good manners, actors with impeccable acting skills and the sweep of history. You shouldn't miss a moment of it!


Rabbit Hole

Is it Academy Award time again? So soon? It must be... here comes Nicole Kidman with her latest! Actually, this isn't as depressing as "The Hours," "Cold Mountain," or "Margot at the Wedding," but we DO get a workout.

It's good to see Aaron Eckhart ("Erin Brockovich," "The Dark Knight" and "Love Happens") cast in a role worthy of his abilities. He isn't a second banana this time and he certainly holds his own.

Eckhart and Kidman play a happily married couple whose four-year-old son was killed in an accident in front of their house. When we join them eight months later, things haven't improved very much. She is fed up with their grief therapy group and starts trying to cope in different ways ...one of which is to stalk the teen-aged driver who killed her boy.

Besides Eckhart and Kidman, we see:
  • Sandra Oh ("Grey's Anatomy" and "Sideways") who has attended those group sessions for eight fruitless months.
  • Dianne Wiest ("Dan in Real Life") is Kidman's mother, who has also suffered the death of a child.
  • Tammy Blanchard (lots of TV) is Kidman's free-spirited sister, who has just become pregnant.
  • Miles Teller (soon in the "Footloose" remake) is the hapless teenager who drove that car.
Of course there are assorted co-workers, friendly neighbors and concerned family members as well, but our focus is on these two stricken people who are basically decent folks. (Although I watched her make pie crust and... Oh my dear...)

I had the sense that writer David Lindsay-Abaire (who won both a Tony and a Pulitzer for the original stage play) has had first-hand experience with this sort of loss. The emotional arc and some of the statements ring very, very true. And to watch two people get the giggles in grief therapy was perfect! Kind of like the funeral for Chuckles the Clown in the old Mary Tyler Moore show.

It's good to be reminded of the resilience of the human spirit.


True Grit

Having never seen the 1969 John Wayne version, I can draw no comparisons to this remake. Of course Joel and Ethan Coen ("No Country for Old Men") have their own darkly humorous take in their films, so you have been warned....

You will notice a couple of things immediately: The musical underscore consists of various arrangements of old gospel music, which range from a tantalizingly sparse piano offering to a full-out vocal rendition of Leaning On the Everlasting Arms, during the closing credits. Also, the dialogue is quirky, as there are no contractions. No one says, "gonna" or "doesn't" but instead says "going to" or "does not." This creates a slightly stilted sound which enhances the characters' choice of words, like "stalwart" when describing a Texas Ranger.

Mattie Ross has come to retrieve her father's corpse. He was killed by Tom Chaney, who then stole his horse and crossed the river into Indian territory. After checking around, she determines that the U.S. Marshall she will hire to bring him in is Rooster Cogburn, as he has "true grit," and that's what she needs. Problem is, a Texas Ranger is also on Chaney's trail for an earlier murder committed in Texas.

The casting is delicious:
  • Hailee Steinfeld (mostly TV) is Mattie, a primly determined fourteen year old who is undaunted by the various impediments thrown at her. She is smart, resourceful and courageous. In truth, she epitomizes True Grit! Let's watch this youngster.
  • Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart") is Cogburn, a bearded, disheveled drunk...but a crack shot and a ruthless hunter of criminals. Plus, he needs the money she offers to do the job. Bridges clearly relishes his role.
  • Matt Damon ("Hereafter") is our stalwart Texas Ranger. He has no interest in Mattie's problem, his job is to catch Chaney first and take him back to Texas. Damon has become a good utility player; he works in comedies, dramas, TV and animation. He is excellent here.
  • Josh Brolin ("Milk") is Tom Chaney, almost mythical until Mattie gets him in her sights. There was a moment when he drew himself up and I could see the evil in his character's eyes. Brolin has been noticed by awards committees before and I think the best is yet to come.
Little things irritate me, like failing to synchronize the sound of hoof-beats with the sight of a horse galloping; failure to tend the horses, no frontiersman would be so heedless of his animal's needs; the snakes were too contrived, would they nest in a corpse?

In all, suspend disbelief and go enjoy the four lead actors, Hailee in particular. We already expect excellence from the other three.


The Fighter

Mark Wahlberg ("Date Night") has been trying to get this film made for years, so if we want to see someone persevere against long odds over a long period of time, he's our man. He kept himself in shape to play a boxer even when it appeared that all was lost. Way to go, Mark!

Wahlberg plays real-life welterweight boxer Mickey Ward who is saddled with a mother from hell and a brother who is her spawn! I got so exasperated by those two bozos I could hardly contain myself. The fact that they are played to perfection only made them so aggravating I wanted to slap them! The brother is Mickey's coach, while Mom is his manager. Early on, we can see how well THAT is working!
  • Christian Bale ("The Dark Knight") a method actor, lost a significant amount of weight to play Mickey's crack-head older half-brother, a one-trick pony who had (and lost) a match with Sugar Ray Leonard; that is his one and only claim to fame. He is an egocentric, monomaniacal motormouth who cannot accept that maybe his brother deserves a little attention for his hard work.
  • Melissa Leo ("Conviction") is that horrible mother...nine children and the seven daughters are a clamor of harpies (I just looked it up) who still live at home and answer only to her. By the way, Mickey was conceived during a separation, so his siblings are only half...
  • Amy Adams ("Leap Year") is the barmaid who falls for our hero. She can see the family dynamics and understands the perils of linking their future with Mickey's brother, an undependable drug addict, particularly when a title fight seems to be in the offing. This gal is tough and doesn't budge an inch even when out- numbered by those harpies!
Director David O. Russell worked before with Wahlberg ("Three Kings") and he captures the adrenalin rush of a close match. Of course as the "villain," Bale dominates his every scene; during the final credits the real-life brothers are filmed and even then, Mickey says, with a wry smile, "I can never get a word in edgewise!"

This is Lowell, Massachusetts, a working-class town filled with working- class people. Because we are in a gym a good portion of the time, be prepared for LOTS of profanity!

The Little Fockers

Yup, they're back! All those pesky Fockers, big and little, still struggling for approval. Again we have the classic stand off between Ben Stiller ("Tropic Thunder") and his militant father-in-law, played by two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro ("Machete"). Again the rejected fiancé played by Owen Wilson ("How Do You Know?"), makes a dazzling but unwelcome appearance. Again we marvel at the audacity of casting two entertainment legends as Stiller's parents: Dustin Hoffman ("Last Chance Harvey") and Barbra Streisand ("Meet the Fockers"). His character is learning the flamenco in Spain while hers is hosting a hit TV show about sex.

Here we have the sort of contrived coincidences that only happen in movies, with absurd humor and a sappy resolution. One key scene is centered around encouraging a patient to relax while instruments are inserted for a colonoscopy. We are shocked to see what must be done when the effects of a male enhancement drug last more than four hours. And then there is a brawl that takes place in a kiddie recreation park... So why wasn't I entertained?

To me, this was a comedy that just wasn't very funny. We mostly see Ben Stiller go from one embarrassing situation to another; he is humiliated by his father-in-law while trying to elude a ridiculously aggressive pharmaceuticals rep, played by Jessica Alba ("Valentine's Day"). On the other hand, his wife, played by Teri Polo ("Meet the Fockers") tries to plan a birthday party for their five-year-old twins (the Little Fockers) while evading an old suitor.

I can only hope this is a trilogy so I won't have to put up with those Fockers a fourth time....

How Do You Know

If I say "I really LIKE Reese Witherspoon," or "I really LIKE Paul Rudd," you automatically expect, "but..... " so here it is. This is a sweetly romantic comedy that hits all its marks: it has likable stars, an interesting script and no actual bad guys; it uses New York City neighborhoods so well I could almost live there myself. But... I just wish that the script wasn't overloaded with fortune-cookie type affirmations; it is trying to appear deeper than it is.

Writer/director James L Brooks seems to be resting on his laurels ("Terms of Endearment" and "Broadcast News") and his considerable clout must be why he was able to assemble this cast:
  • Reese Witherspoon (Academy Award for "Walk the Line") is a professional softball player who is unexpectedly cut from the team. She has never dated a non-athlete.
  • Paul Rudd ("I Love You, Man") works for his wealthy father in a multinational corporation. Problem is, he has just been subpoenaed to testify about a situation he's never heard of.
  • Owen Wilson ("Marley and Me") is a highly-successful baseball player who falls for our heroine. He is massively egotistical and blithely unaware of it.
  • Jack Nicholson ("The Bucket List") is the businessman/father whom we suspect should have been subpoenaed.
  • Kathryn Hahn ("Revolutionary Road") is Rudd's secretary. She knows some secrets but he isn't allowed to hear them until after he testifies. Oh, and she is pregnant and has no husband...
Even though it is pleasant enough, this film has no bite. The dialogue is spoken in quiet tones and there are a lot of perplexed looks and wryly sincere smiles, but Brooks missed his chance to make some commentary on the pitfalls of dating an egomaniac or Americans doing business in other countries.

I really wanted to LIKE this one...sigh...


I Love You Phillip Morris

In a film based on real people, Jim Carrey ("Yes Man") plays Steven Russell, a church-going cop who is happy to remain closeted until a traffic accident causes him to reassess his life. He has a wife and child, so he gets a divorce, moves to Miami and starts living the life of an "out" gay man. Of course his flamboyant version of that life is pretty expensive so he becomes a con man. Each con is a little more daring than the last, so eventually he is caught and put in jail.

He quickly learns the ropes and continues his cons, this time enlisting his fellow prisoners and guards. He hasn't been there very long before he meets the love of his life: Phillip Morris. Ewan McGregor ("The Ghost Writer") has never been more appealing! This time our Scottish-born sweetie has a mild southern drawl; his character makes it very clear that he too, is equally smitten.

Once Carrey's quick-witted character serves his sentence and is released, he begins a legendary bout with the law. This resourceful fellow is never without one audacious plan or another and he is determined to get our eponymous hero out of jail so they can live happily ever after.

The fun is in seeing how inventive and reckless Carrey's character is, and how cautious and gentle his lover is. Russell's former wife, played by Leslie Mann ("Funny People"), remains a loving Christian who never gives up in her quest to bring her erring husband back to the Lord.

As usual, I have some reservations about Jim Carrey, but Ewan McGregor stole my heart! My thanks to the European branch of JayFlix for this tip.


From the Ashes

Obviously I don't know how esoteric your foreign film taste is, but if you have a high tolerance for foreignness, I highly recommend "From The Ashes," a restoration of a Chinese film that had been partially lost. The "Redux" folks (including cellist Yo Yo Ma) have done a remarkable job of restoring a film that was heavily damaged in China's more recent political upheavals. If you want to be "in the know," watch the extras, okay? (They have English captions.)

Tony Leung is the marvelous heartthrob (...sigh...) from "In the Mood," even though he has a fairly minor role in this one: watch for the fellow who is losing his sight.

The script shows us a highly evolved society, and is written by someone who had great insight into human mental processes and behavior.

The cinematographer is the fellow who later shot the wonderful "Rabbit-Proof Fence" which I have highly recommended in the past...

I tend to fast forward through the martial arts stuff ...unless you really get off on Asian slo-mo blood-letting. The voice-over is actually quite wry but the stylized photography shows us why it won so many awards. It's amazing what a brilliant artist can do with a bird cage!

The restoration is seamless and you will be treated to a film that is the Oriental equivalent of our Occidental classic, "Lord of the Rings."


The Tourist

Anyone who has seen "The Lives of Others" is no doubt already a fan of Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. He can pull me in without pushing the standard conditioned-reflex buttons most directors use: music, back-lighting, voice-over...you know...

Angelina Jolie ("Salt") is her usual enigmatic, tantalizing self, relying on a poker face which provides a blank tablet on which we write all the emotions we expect her character to experience. And of course she's lovely... Skinny, but lovely....

Johnny Depp ("Public Enemies" and the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise) is fully capable of playing a grown up. He has proven it over and over, so are we going to keep calling him "Johnny?" Hasn't he earned "John" by now? Of course we still allude to Jimmy Stewart.... and Jimmy Cagney... Oh never mind!

Anyway... Johnny Depp is our eponymous tourist, a community college math teacher on vacation, picked at random by Jolie to confuse the gangsters and cops who are trailing her. They all hope she will lead them to her boyfriend who has stolen an astronomical sum from the gangster and has spent some of it on extensive plastic surgery and a new identity, so he can't be spotted. Naturally Depp is mistaken for the thief. His character is sooo American: a little naïve, a little gauche and more than a little scared. His futile attempts at speaking Italian insult the Italians because they always turn out to be in Spanish.

Paul Bettany ("Creation") is a British agent hot on Jolie's trail, much to the chagrin of his boss, played by Timothy Dalton ("Hot Fuzz"). Expect lots of humor, gorgeous clothes, swanky hotels, elegant surroundings and an interesting (bare) foot race on the tiled roofs of Venice as a pajama-clad Depp flees mobsters with guns. (His character's not very athletic so he really looks authentic!)

This one will open big! They had to turn away over 100 would-be screeners because the theater was full.

Oh, one last thought: Be sure to suspend disbelief, okay?

Chronicles of Narnia: Dawn Treader

The full title, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is too cumbersome. This latest installment in the classic Narnia series joins us once again with two of the Pevensie siblings Lucy and Edmond, who are the reluctant guests of their loutish cousin Eustace, in pre-WWII London. This massive, heavily CGI production is populated by familiar faces and excellent voices.

Let's talk about a few:
  • Georgie Henley (mostly "Narnia" films) is back as Lucy Pevensie: spunky, pretty good with a bow and arrow, and maybe attracted to Caspian....
  • Ben Barnes ("Locked In" and "Narnia" films) is Prince Caspian. He looks more like Keanu Reeves every day.
  • Skandar Keynes (mostly "Narnia" films) is Lucy's brother Edmund, who is royalty in Narnia and just a teenager back in London.
  • Will Poulter ("Son of Rambow") is that little toad Cousin Eustace. This kid has pretty good comedy chops and his character's evolution seems to be the main theme of this installment.
  • Tilda Swinton ("Burn After Reading" and "Narnia" films) returns as the White Witch, still trying to divert the Pevensies from their goal by tempting them with their fondest wishes.
  • Liam Neeson ("The Next Three Days" and "Narnia" films) is, once again, the voice of Aslan, the majestic lion who promises the orphans that they will see their parents again some day.
  • Simon Pegg ("Star Trek" and "Narnia" films) steps in as the new voice of our charming Reepicheep, the swashbuckling rodent.
This is a huge production with a huge cast, and suffice it to say it has lots of action, with flying dragons, huge sea serpents, endless sword-fights and general melees. Because this is juvenile literature by C.S. Lewis, there are no sweaty bodies and you'll see no blowie uppie stuff.

The audience seemed satisfied and entertained as we exited the theater. Me? Not so much. I never developed a taste for C.S. Lewis; his popular books came along after my childhood.


As It Is in Heaven

JayFlix folks strike again. I've been waiting for this Swedish film "Så som i himmelen" to show up ever since I got a rave review from one of you in Europe over a year ago. I bought this DVD from Kino, which sells collectibles, but it may also be on Netflix or its equivalent.

Let's talk about it. When you were in grade school were you the bully-er or the bully-ee? Yeah, I know I made up both of those words, but you get the idea. Where in the bullying spectrum were you? Dishing it out? Taking it? Or a silent witness....

This wonderful Swedish film (English captions) is about bullying in childhood and the scars that linger into adulthood. It is also about bigotry, provincialism, and shattered dreams. But WAIT! Before you shy away, let me add it is also about renewed hope, the healing power of love and the joy of community.

My current heartthrob Michael Nyqvist ("The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," etc...) is a celebrated orchestra conductor. He is, however, felled by a tricky heart which has forced him to an early retirement. Rather than rest on his laurels on the Mediterranean or a similar life of ease, he chooses instead, to return to his old hometown (the scene of his childhood misery), knowing that no one will recognize his new name, his new persona or his new attitude. He buys the abandoned grade school building and moves in.

First thing he knows, the local pastor calls on him; he is given a complimentary bible and an invitation to be the church cantor. He apologizes and explains that he is only there to listen, not to get involved in music.

Well, one thing leads to another...you know how these things go. And before you know it, we are acquainted with many of the small town personalities: the local bully and his battered wife, the punctilious preacher and his frustrated frau, the local slut, the town "retard," the current choir mistress, the elderly singers, etc., etc., etc. By this time, I was smugly certain I had it all figured out, but I was wrong.

Help yourself to a smörgåsbord of unexpected pleasures.



Introduced as Disney's 50th animated feature film, this reimagining of Rapunzel is just familiar enough to draw us in and just new enough to surprise us. Of course they can't call it "Rapunzel" because maybe boys wouldn't buy tickets. In keeping with this new spin, the main character is a bandit named Flynn Ryder, who is also the narrator.

Here are some of the capable voices:
  • Mandy Moore ("American Dreamz"), is our cast-iron skillet-wielding heroine. I almost said she does a great job of acting, but it's animated, remember? The animation is very, very good, with subtle displays of emotion: a flash of guilt, a glint of defiance, great double takes, authentic reactions and all with a faint dusting of freckles on her nose.
  • Zachary Levi ("Chuck") is the bandit: clever, not too honest, and certainly NOT looking for someone to hinder his flight from justice (he stole a tiara from the palace). Levi's handsome animated character looks just like his real-life headshots!
  • Donna Murphy ("The Nanny Diaries") is the witch; she has told Rapunzel that she is her mother and that the outside world is a dangerous place. Murphy sings beautifully, but her animated character looks like a cross between Bebe Neuwirth and Cher.
Rapunzel is fascinated by a mysterious display of paper lanterns that float heavenward each year on her birthday; she sees them in the distance from her tower window and longs to experience them from "outside." Her trusty pal, a loyal chameleon, hangs on for dear life as she lowers herself from her tower; other than her "mother," this lizard has been her only living companion. Rapunzel's first encounter with cool green grass beneath her bare feet is exquisite, as are the lights when she finally views those lanterns from a rowboat.

It's fun to watch attraction slowly build between the two leads; they are both appealing to us from the start, but they are too busy to notice each other for quite awhile...

Some of the songs are entirely unnecessary, but Mother Knows Best, sung by the witch, is clever. There is absolutely no need to pay the premium price tag for 3D, this film depends on story and character- ization, not visual razzmatazz. I liked this one very much.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

It seems that every writer who has talked about this movie used the word 'penultimate.' Well I refuse. This next-to-last film in the wonderful Harry Potter fantasy series is nothing more than a dark, glorified setup for the eighth and final film, which will be an epic battle between our hero and his loyal cadre of friends against the growing power of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his henchmen; so I'll talk instead about the Harry Potter phenomenon itself.

If Laurence Olivier were alive, I'm sure he would have appeared in this series in which the crème de la crème of British acting royalty has appeared at one time or another. I won't itemize them here because very few are in this latest film; after all, our dauntless little trio has left Hogwarts so we mostly see faculty members who are in league with You-Know-Who. (I assume you are familiar with the story line.) The only British actor who didn't show up when called was Richard Harris...he died!

Author J.K. Rowling (richer now than Queen Elizabeth II) scrutinized every aspect of these films and her meticulous eye has guaranteed astonishing production values, a solid story line, sympathetic main characters and a logical child-to-adult arc for our three valiant warriors and their erstwhile classmates. Of course it didn't hurt the budget to base these movies on her record-setting series which prompted millions of children worldwide to read those huge "chapter books." For that, I will always be grateful.

In addition, I appreciate having the opportunity to watch three capable youngsters grow up on film. The three main actors have stayed the course, developed their acting chops and kept out of trouble. Seeing the rest of the exemplary cast speaks very well of British pride and mutual support. The end result is a gift to us all.


Clichés become become clichés because audiences respond to them. This cliché-ridden armload of razzle dazzle is fun even though we know we are being manipulated. Clearly inspired by the enormously successful "Chicago" a few years earlier, we see a down-at-the-heels little nightclub with a modest entrance and one neon sign, which leads us into a place with an average-size seating area and a performance area the size of an MGM sound stage.

On one hand we have a divorced couple, ably assisted by a long-time friend, trying to keep the club's doors open despite a demanding landlord. On the other hand, we see an optimistic young woman come to the big city in hopes of finding a career in show business. Naturally we also meet the waitresses, dancers and bartenders at the nightclub.

Let's talk about them:
  • Cher ("Stuck on You") is the weary but determined proprietress of the place, part seamstress, part businesswoman, part mother hen and part diva.
  • Peter Gallagher ("Conviction") is her panicky ex-husband, fresh out of ideas, waiting for the landlord's ax to fall.
  • Stanley Tucci ("Lovely Bones") is her artistic director/sympathetic right-hand man; patient and inventive, wise and resourceful.
  • Recording star Christina Aguilera is our hopeful singer/dancer. Her determination and talent match Cher's; she really can't take "No," for an answer.
  • Tacoma-born Cam Gigandet ("Easy A") is a bartender sporting heavy eyeliner. It's no wonder our would-be starlet thinks he's gay!
  • Eric Dane ("Grey's Anatomy") is the successful real estate developer/landlord with a taste for the good life...and hopeful starlets...
  • Kristen Bell ("You Again") is the nightclub star who is threatened by that talented newcomer.
Cher sings the most tuneful two songs in this film, while Aguilera shows us her range and her vocal power with the rest. Eric Dane is smooth and charming, while Gigandet is our heroine's sweetly exasperated roommate. (He has to watch while success swoops her up in its talons.)

The script plays neatly to Cher's loyal gay devotees while the rest of us laughed in all the right places anyway. Nothing like a good cliché to please an audience.


Love and Other Drugs

This R-rated film starts out as a raunchy sex comedy with nude folks cavorting around. In my opinion, watching the emotional shift of the two lead characters as their relationship evolves is the perfect arc for us, their audience, as we ease into some of the stark realities for both a patient and his/her family when confronted with a degenerative, incurable disease.

Based on Jamie Reidy's memoir Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, we follow a randy devil-may-care salesman as he seduces his way from one marketing escapade to another. It is clear that he can sell...he just can't keep his fly zipped. His successful family despairs of him ever settling down. He smooth-talks his way into a pharmaceutical sales job for Pfizer just before Viagra is launched, and we are treated to the mind-boggling statistics of "Big-Pharma" during his orientation. Very soon, we see him become acquainted with a true expert in legal prescriptions: a defiantly independent young woman in stage one Parkinson's Disease.

This is the capable cast that lures us into rooting for them:
  • Jake Gyllenhaal ("Zodiak") is the ADD-afflicted super salesman who revels in the feeding frenzy initiated by the introduction of Viagra. Even though he is smart, he doesn't want to give his father the satisfaction of going to medical school... His girlfriend wisely asks, "How's that working out for you?"
  • Anne Hathaway ("Valentine's Day") has once again fearlessly embraced a demanding adult role that shows us how much she has grown. There comes a time when we feel her fatigue and frustration from too much help, and we really do care about her character and her bleak future...
  • Judy Greer ("American Dreamz" and lots of TV) is one of the gate-keepers who guards a successful doctor's office.
  • Hank Azaria ("Year One" but also TV, Broadway and voices for animated works) plays that successful doctor, who has reached the point where he questions his own motives and goals.
  • Oliver Platt ("Please Give") is our hero's frustrated boss, relentless mentor and tireless tail twister.
  • George Segal ("2012") is our hero's father, a doctor who wants a son to follow in his footsteps.
  • Jill Clayburgh ("Running With Scissors") is the matriarch of the family. She just wants them to be quiet long enough to eat their dinner. (Clayburgh died about the time this film was released.)
  • Josh Gad (Lots of TV) gives younger brothers a bad name.
We went into this screening with fairly low expectations, but were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the story and the performances. Director Edward Zwick ("Defiance") can add this one to his list of high-quality projects.


The Next Three Days

Writer/Director Paul Haggis ("Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby") puts us into the shoes of an everyman; except this guy's much-loved wife has been arrested and convicted of first degree murder and is in prison for life. Our hero is a teacher at a local community college and his six-year- old son is having trouble adjusting to life without Mom.

After all appeals have been exhausted, he reluctantly concludes that the only way to free her is a jailbreak. Now we watch an inordinately bright man start down a path for which he is inordinately ill prepared.

Here are the actors who subject us to action, suspense, and despite it all...doubt:
  • Russell Crowe ("State of Play") allows us to see him THINK. His faith in his wife's innocence is unshakable and his determination to set her free is equally fierce.
  • Elizabeth Banks ("W.") is the jailed wife and mother. Her character is going to be moved to another prison in The Next Three Days, so her husband's planning time is suddenly cut short.
  • Brian Dennehy ("Meet Monica Velour") and Helen Carey ("Julie and Julia") are our hero's parents, suddenly saddled with doubt about the mother of their adored grandson.
  • Aisha Hinds ("Unstoppable") and Jason Beghe (LOTS of TV) are two of the detectives still puzzling over that original murder.
  • Lennie James (LOTS of TV) is the (very!) smart detective hot on the trail of our hero.
  • Daniel Stern ("Whip It") is his lawyer.
  • Liam Neeson ("The A-Team") is the prison escape artist our hero hires as a "consultant."
This film won't win any awards but we know we are in capable hands who will show us excitement, suspense and clever plotting. Oh I know, I know, there ARE a few plot holes, but this is a movie. See it with a friend so you can discuss it later. It's fun to suddenly realize, "Oh! Now I see why he used three garbage bags!" and "Haiti? Perfect!"


127 Hours

Going in, we already know what we are in for. There are no spoilers for this film: all the publicity clearly states that Aron Ralston has to amputate his lower right arm in order to extricate himself from a crevasse where his arm is pinned by a fallen boulder. This film is based on his book: Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

Director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire") takes us to the wonderful wind-eroded rocks of Blue John Canyon near Moab, Utah, where the event took place. We see a blithely arrogant, supremely self-confident Ralston, played perfectly by James Franco ("Pineapple Express" and "Milk"), leave for another solo climbing trek in the wilderness. He fails to tell anyone where he is going, which of course, is the biggest mistake he can make. By the time he is considered missing, no one knows where to search.

We aren't limited to a 94-minute one-man show...thank goodness! Instead we see what a happy-go-lucky fellow he is, e.g., early in his hike he encounters two young women who are lost, and before he gets them back on track, he treats them to a little-known swimming hole. This is a spectacular set piece and we embrace it, knowing all too well what is yet to come. We also see he was always a bit of a pill: we watch a youthful version of him harass his little sister and tax the patience of his parents. In addition, as he begins to hallucinate from lack of food and water, we join him in admiration of all things liquid: Gatorade, beer, ice, and water, water, water.

Even as his strength wanes, Ralston keeps his wry sense of humor; he documents his experience with his little hand-held video camera, so that tends to lighten our experience. Whew!

Our screening audience was subdued but satisfied as we exited the theater.

Client 9

The complete (though cumbersome) title of this documentary is, "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer." Through a bit of serendipity, we saw "Inside Job" on Saturday and this one the following Monday.

Saturday was about the banking debacle and the egregious thievery that launched our Great Recession; "Client 9" is the prequel.

There were the same faces, only they were the targets of a pugnacious Eliot Spitzer a couple of years earlier when he was Attorney General for the State of New York. In his opinion, if the Federal regulators weren't doing their work, he and his crackerjack staff would do it for them! In his eight years on that job, he mowed a wide swath; obviously he made some powerful and unforgiving enemies who saw to it that he was hung by his own zipper.

Private investigators were only too happy to show the public that, like other Type A men before and since, "Mr Clean" had feet of clay. (He was "Client 9" at an exclusive call-girl operation.) The press had a field day and Mr. Spitzer, elected by a wide margin as Governor of New York, chose to resign (over his wife's objections). He blames no one but himself, although the evidence is pretty compelling that those wily old devils he attacked, had turned around and nailed him! Whether it is fair or square is up to you to decide.

The numerous interviews are with one of the prostitutes he employed, several executives he exposed, two staffers he disappointed, some media folks who smelled a rat, and Mr. S. himself. Newscasts and press clippings, both pro and con, are interspersed and there is plenty of wry humor.

I can't think of a moment when I was bored, although I do admit to a higher than normal interest in governmental issues....as should we all!


Inside Job

This documentary provides a step-by-step account of the whole stomach-churning catastrophe that created the collapse of the automobile and banking industries and their subsequent bailouts by the Federal Government.

It illustrates the financial shenanigans of bankers, trust officers, corporate board members, regulators, auditors, lobbyists, educators, members of Congress and residents of the White House, plus the ratings firms who supposedly analyzed how risky an investment might be in a particular company.

The most glaring shock was watching the blank faces of the guilty, with nary a smidgen of guilt or remorse. They walked away with millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses while bankrupting tens of millions of hard-working Americans whose only crime was to save their money and invest in their retirement accounts.

We learn about derivatives, about bundled assets and how to create toxic investments...none of which hurt anyone but homeowners and taxpayers. Aarghhh!

Narrator Matt Damon makes it clear that having a new resident in the White House just promises us more of the same... The good ol' boys are still in the picture! C'mon you journalists! There is a Pulitzer in it for you if your investigation lands a few of these bozos in jail!

If you can control your blood pressure, you might want to take a look at this one.


I tend to run hot and cold on Director Tony Scott: I thought "The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three" was great but hated "Cyrus." On the other hand I've pre-ordered "Pillars of the Earth," so I went to this movie with an open mind; I was NOT disappointed.

The pacing and editing on this actioner are excellent; we have time to get acquainted with the principal characters:
  • the two bunglers T.J Miller ("Extract") and Ethan Suplee ("My Name is Earl"), who set the whole catastrophe in motion by failing to connect the air brakes on a mile-long train loaded with lethal chemicals and abandon it after trying (and failing) to divert it to a siding, which leaves it moving at ever-increasing speeds toward a mid-size Pennsylvania town;
  • and we meet Denzel Washington ("Man on Fire" [directed by Tony Scott]) and Chris Pine ("Star Trek") as the grizzled veteran engineer and his yellow-vested conductor four months out of training, who are routinely shuttling a train on that main track, but inadvertently lined up for a head-on collision.
To see a piece like this set in contemporary times illustrates the ubiquity of television news cameras and helicopters, bystanders using their cell phones to take pictures as the runaway train blasts through their towns and live coverage by reporters, who announce important elements even before some of the railroad officials know them.

Suffice it to say there is plenty of nail-biting suspense, hair-raising excitement, and even some blowie uppie stuff. There is never a moment when we are not fully engaged. The stunt work is amazing and we were on the edge of our seats. There are tiny moments of humor, snippets of corporate villainy and dabs of humanity, plus we have plenty of folks to root for! Best of all, we know it is based on a real-life event a few years ago.

Ya want exciting entertainment? This one's for you!


Cool It

At last, cooler heads (...smile...) might be heard in this infernal Global Warming hoohah! Based on his book by the same name, author/narrator/interviewer Bjørn Lomborg is the ideal person to ramrod this discussion. A vegetarian, a member of Green Peace, a bicycle-riding health nut, he is also a scientist, an economist, an academic and an environmentalist. His first foray into this issue, The Skeptical Environmentalist, resulted in such venomous attacks by established Global Warming professionals, he feared that his career might be over before it began.

Born in Denmark, this globe-trotting researcher supports common sense solutions to a global issue. Using cost/benefits analysis, solving the issue of climate change by using current methods would cause economic catastrophe with only marginal results. A steady budget of $350 billion per year (the current estimate) for the next 100 years will result in less than a one percent reduction of global temperatures. For example, it might save one polar bear per year. That figure is eclipsed by the number killed each hunting season. Mr. Lomborg asks, "If we want to save polar bears, why don't we just stop shooting them?"

He rejects the inflammatory approach of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, but instead, finds scientists the world over diligently addressing the issue with creative and cost-effective solutions. In a review of Katrina, not one person claimed Global Warming as being in the top ten causes. Per the engineers who have improved the dams and flood mitigation devices in the Netherlands, their devastating flood a couple of decades ago was the result of poor engineering, not Global Warming.

During interviews, we see that Third World inhabitants don't give a rip about Global Warming. They simply want a decent standard of living, health care, education and clean water for their children. "Developed" countries have the luxury to fixate on other issues, because they already enjoy that standard of living. As a result, school children in the UK are traumatized by Global Warming. They pray about it at night, compete to see who can create the smallest carbon footprint for the week, and generally spend a lot of time suffering from the scare tactics of Global Warming professionals.

Lomborg posits that humans are adaptable, so let's use technology to adapt. We could use that $350 billion:
  • To develop clean, affordable energy, e.g., wind, wave, algae, nukes, solar, the list goes on and on;
  • To provide clean, potable water;
  • To address global health issues;
  • To study and launch the many climate-mitigating technologies that are under development. I won't go into them here, but they are fascinating and the interviews are terrific.
This screening was in a modest-sized theater and, to Seattle's shame, only attracted a handful of people. I guess if Al Gore isn't the central celebrity, it must not be any good. Actually, I think there was one earlier screening and I can't say how many attended that one. Gotta be honest here...

This review only covers the tip of the iceberg (...smile...); there is much more to see and learn. On the other hand, this film might be hard to find because of the nature of its viewpoint. Of course, if you want to see "Jackass 3D" I'm sure THAT's in your neighborhood multiplex. Aarghhh!


Morning Glory

Rachel McAdams ("Sherlock Holmes" and "Red Eye") is one of our best Canadian imports. She's been working non stop since she was four years old and never seems to flag. In this, her latest outing, she plays a hyper-kinetic, motor-mouthed assistant producer on a morning television talk show. Fully expecting a well-deserved promotion, she is speechless when she is downsized instead.

After a diligent job search, she is hired as executive producer at a fourth-place network, to bring her youthful energy to Daybreak, its moribund morning talk show.

Cue the cast:
  • Harrison Ford ("Indiana Jones," I thru IV) in full curmudgeon mode, is a much-honored newsman, now in semi-retirement since his show was canceled, but, per his contract, still on the payroll. This new gal wants to insult his integrity by having him demean himself by reporting trivial topics to trivial audiences.
  • Diane Keaton ("Mad Money") has been a co-host of Daybreak for many years, watching randy co-hosts and ambitious executive producers come and go. One important thing though, she really wants to see the show succeed and is, as she puts it, "A ROCK!"
  • Jeff Goldblum ("The Switch") is the laid-back executive who takes a chance on our heroine...sorta....
  • Patrick Wilson ("The A-Team") is the local dreamboat. Turns out he worked for Ford's character in the past and has the scars to prove it!
  • Matt Malloy ("The Bounty Hunter") is Daybreak's game utility man. Wait until you see him on the carnival ride; our screening audience loved his adventures.
My favorite scene was our gal's first organizational meeting at her new job. She talksthisfast and you'll love the looks on the faces of her skeptical new team before they hit her with a barrage of questions. Her response is worth the price of admission.

My second favorite scene was when Ford's character predictably goes on a bender and she tracks him down; he is drinking with an incredible group of well-known newscasters. We just hooted as we recognized face after face! (Maybe that was a spoiler...sorry...)

McAdams spends a lot of time sprinting up and down cluttered network hallways, New York City streets and Central Park in spike heels; she's a tireless dynamo. This little frolic is predictable but fun and the audience laughed out loud a remarkable number of times. That in itself is a treat!


Due Date

To me, this movie epitomizes the word "conflicted." To watch Robert Downey Jr. is to watch a thoroughbred in its prime. On the other hand, Zach Galifianakis.... What can I say? My distaste for this guy over-shadows every scene he inhabits. The characters he chooses to portray are invariably selfish, immature, impractical, impetuous and repugnant ...almost impossible for me to watch. Of course if you want to know how I REALLY feel about him, you'll have wait until I make up my mind.

This is a classic road picture with a couple of wildly disparate characters enmeshed in a frantic dash from Atlanta to the West Coast...think "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." Although this is primarily a two-person flick, we see:
  • Robert Downey Jr. ("Iron Man") is an architect who has to arrive in time to lend his support to his wife, played by...
  • Michelle Monaghan ("Eagle Eye") for a scheduled C-section which will deliver their first child.
  • Gus Galifianakis ("The Hangover") is the fly in the ointment, a would-be actor on his way to Hollywood, whose drug use causes confusion, pain, inconvenience and otherwise makes their cross-country trek a living hell.
  • Juliette Lewis ("Conviction") is the drug dealer on their first detour.
  • Danny McBride ("Tropic Thunder") runs a storefront check-cashing enterprise.
  • Jamie Foxx ("The Soloist") is Downey's successful friend who finally steps in and makes the last leg of their journey possible.
  • A coffee can of human ashes. Yeah, that's what I said!
Even with Downey in the lead (he gets handsomer and more appealing with every appearance), the absurd plot sinks further and further into parody. Cartoonish car wrecks; amazingly impossible stunt driving; physical mayhem which leaves Downey's character with a bloody nose, a broken arm, cracked ribs and multiple bruises; an ugly masturbating dog (yeah, you read that right!); compounded with supposedly funny drug use, just don't do it for me.

I love road pictures, I love Robert Downey Jr., and I love comedies, but this one I just can't love!


Once again, we are warned, "Be careful what you wish for..."

Ever since his misbegotten childhood, Megamind, voiced by Will Ferrell ("The Other Guys"), has been a super-villain. His arch enemy, Metro Man, voiced by Brad Pitt ("Burn After Reading"), fights for Truth, Justice, and... Oh, you know....

These two mighty foes have battled for years, neither able to win a decisive victory over the other. One of their sources of contention is spunky television newscaster, Roxanne Richey, voiced by Tina Fey ("Date Night") who is totally fearless.... Well, maybe spiders..... She is ably assisted by her long-time cameraman Tighten, voiced by Jonah Hill ("Cyrus"), who is packing a huge adolescent crush on her.

To my surprise, this turned out to be a romance. I expected a morality tale, this movie is, after all, designed for children, but I enjoyed many delicious bits of humor aimed directly at us adults (mispronounced words and clever names for secondary characters), plus it was fun to watch the dawning of affection between two of the characters. Megamind learns it's hard to be Evil without having Good for balance; Roxanne learns that she sorta DOES judge a book by its cover; Metro Man learns he really DOES have a destiny.

Two things struck me:
  1. DreamWorks does spectacularly good animation: reflections in windows, ripples on water and Roxanne's hair blowing in the wind are the first three examples that come to mind.
  2. My companion and I agree that we like Will Ferrell and Jonah Hill much better when we don't have to SEE them. They both do a terrific job as voices. I wonder if it is Ferrell who does that great send-up of Brando.
Philippe Denis ("Shrek") is the visual effects supervisor and deserves special mention for the quality of his work.

Other than a fire alarm which caused the multiplex to be evacuated, a pleasant time was had by all.


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (2010)

I'm going to cheat here and quote our well-known American author Stephen King, regarding one of his must-read picks for the summer of 2010: “Lisbeth Salander is one of the great female characters in fiction, dangerous as hell in spite of her waiflike appearance; she karate-kicks as well as computer-hacks. The best thing about the late Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is that the three books form one long, interconnected tale. And like Jo Rowling’s Harry Potter series, it’s a relentless, unputdownable narrative.”
And like Steig Larsson's phenomenally best-selling books, these three Swedish movies (English captions) are equally compelling. This one picks up where the last one left off, with a critically wounded Lis being transported to a hospital for medical aid. She has suffered three gunshot wounds, so is fairly well immobilized while many moving pieces of plot ricochet across the screen. No face is so closely scrutinized: we examine her features, searching for tiny hints of emotion. Maybe pain? Maybe relief? Maybe fear? Maybe affection? The teeniest glimmer is savored.

As portrayed by Noomi Rapace however, our Lis is anything but passive. We watch as she painfully sets about regaining mobility, strength and flexibility, using any equipment she can contrive in her heavily guarded hospital room and then later in her prison cell, where she awaits trial for murder.

Her loyal friend Mikael Blomkvist, as played by Michael Nyqvist asks his sister, who is a civil attorney, to take Lis' criminal case. She is heavily pregnant, but she too, is made from pretty stern stuff. In addition, Mikael is smart enough to enlist Plague, her brilliant hacker friend, so we see much more of his essential character in this exciting conclusion.

Special mention should go to the screenwriter Jonas Frykberg for his brilliant adaptation of all three books. Loyal readers will note some items that have been judiciously eliminated or combined with others, but the changes are needed to avoid long running times. Moviegoers who have not read the books won't suspect a thing!

Don't leave early. Just when you think the movie is over, there is one more exciting episode, which serves to wrap up the rest of the loose ends. By the way, this film works better if you are familiar with the other two, because as Mr. King says, "...the three...form one long, inter-connected tale...."



It's that time of the year again, time for Clint Eastwood ("Invictus" and "Million Dollar Baby") to release this year's Academy Award contender. Well, I suspect he won't be in the running this time. His latest outing is very good but not very involving, and Mr. E. himself has set the bar so high....

As the title implies, we explore his perception of the "Hereafter" through the eyes and minds of three widely disparate people, linked only by their individual experiences with death on three different continents. Of course this movie isn't limited to just three characters, so let's look at the cast and their roles in this story:
  • Matt Damon ("The Informant!") is a blue-collar worker in the United States cursed with the power to see "beyond." After a brief notoriety for this ability, he now lives in semi-seclusion, unable to forge any meaningful relationships.
  • Jay Mohr (mostly TV) is his brother, eager to exploit the possibilities...
  • Bryce Dallas Howard ("Eclipse") is his cooking class teammate, who serves to illustrate why Damon sees his ability as a curse.
  • Cécile De France ("Avenue Montaigne") is a television journalist on vacation in Indonesia with her lover when the tsunami hits.
  • Frankie and George McLaren, in their film debut, are inseparable identical twins who live with their drug-addicted mother in London.
Over his brother's protests, Damon's character just wants to live a normal life; our French journalist is compelled to seek an understanding of her near-death experience; the identical twins are desperately lonely.

Of course there are many things to applaud, e.g., the performances are terrific and the tsunami is masterfully done, I just wish they hadn't stooped to that old cliché, the teddy bear! Aarghhh! On the other hand, the dialog leaves much to be desired. I have hearing problems, so I liked the French episodes best because there were subtitles. I'll probably check this out of the library when it is released on DVD to see what I missed.


We're talking about two definitions of the word "Conviction": Kenny Waters, played by Sam Rockwell ("Moon"), is convicted of a horrific murder; his sister Betty Anne Waters, played by Hillary Swank ("Amelia"), is convinced he didn't do it. Therein lies this tale, based on their true story.

After a gruesome pan of a bloody crime scene, followed by the arrest of the accused, we flash back to a series of childhood vignettes in which we see Kenny, with Betty Anne loyally tagging along, get into one scrape after another. Their derelict mother is neglectful at best, so the two siblings can only depend on each other. We quickly learn that Kenny has an explosive temper and Betty Anne is always trying to save him from himself.

At the time of the murder, the best tool the forensic team has is blood type. The murderer has Type O blood, and so does Kenny; in addition, several witnesses testify that he confessed after they saw him in a bloody shirt; AND the prosecuting attorney is running for higher office. Based on these three elements, he is sent to prison for life with no parole.

After trying desperately to appeal the case, Betty Anne realizes her only hope is to get a law degree and do it herself. To the chagrin of her neglected husband (they soon divorce) and sons, she does just that. The only other "old woman" in law class is Abra Rice, played by Minnie Driver, who insists on becoming Betty Anne's friend. We get to watch these two chums wade into water waaaay over their heads as they try to re-open the case with help from a bungling bureaucracy and a non-profit group led by the durable Peter Gallagher ("Center Stage" and lots of TV).

We are treated to lovingly long closeups of both Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell. His character ages believably, while hers never changes. Hmmm... It's nice to see Minnie Driver ("The Riches") again; plus Juliette Lewis ("The Switch") does a chillingly effective job as one of the witnesses. I can't tell you more at risk of revealing too much, but I was impressed.



A few days ago I was describing this marvellous 1996 little film to a friend and promised to send a link to my review. Imagine my shock when I discovered that I have never written one. Shame on me!

Here goes:

This award-winning French drama focuses on a four-year-old girl who is in a car accident with her mother. The mother is killed but the little girl only suffers a broken arm. Her distraught father works a job that entails a lot of travel, consequently as soon as she is out of the hospital, he parks her with a benevolent aunt and two lively cousins, who are about her age.

When Ponette sleeps she dreams about her mother, but is grieved to learn that she can't "keep" her when she awakens. This prompts MUCH discussion with well-meaning folks, both children and adults, about what happens when a person dies.

Little Victorie Thivisol, who plays our eponymous and much-loved heroine, tries to cobble together some semblance of meaning out of these various religious beliefs, but still grieves. She withdraws from everyone and tries chanting, praying, confronting her fears, taking risks, anything that might bring her mother back.

Director Jacques Doillon does brilliant work with children. There is only one fleeting moment on a school playground where one of the extras seems a bit self conscious, otherwise these little actors are flawless, the script is authentic, and our little Ponette demonstrates a wrenchingly strong character.

I've owned this French DVD (English captions) for years, so it must be available from the standard outlets; it certainly deserves a look. You can't go wrong!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Please watch this trailer:
* * * * * * * * * * * *



Well, THAT was the most fun I've had in a movie in a long, long time! This thing is intricately plotted, perfectly photographed, and extremely well cast! Although there was little or no profanity and no sweaty bodies, we did see a lot of gunfire, car chases and blowie uppie stuff. The audience ate it up!

First, let's talk about that cast:
  • Bruce Willis ("Cop Out") is a former CIA black-ops agent, now he's Retired, Extremely Dangerous...get it? He's trying to deal with boredom and inertia, and has taken to calling a particular gal in a call center about a check he keeps insisting never arrived.
  • Mary-Louise Parker ("Weeds") is that gal (see above). She reads bodice-rippers like Love's Savage Fury and dreams of having a manly man come into her life and sweep her away to excitement, passion and exotic locales. She is hilarious!
  • Morgan Freeman ("Invictus") is another retired agent, now relegated to a nursing home where he is dealing with a terminal illness. He too, is bored and lonely; this is NOT the way he expected his life to end.
  • John Malkovich ("Secretariat") is also part of this bunch. He spent a few years being injected with LSD, so his hold on reality is a bit shaky, but he LOVES guns, ammo and explosives! Talk about a loose cannon!
  • Helen Mirren ("The Last Station") isn't quite as retired as her buddies; she admits she still "takes a side job or two." She can wield a machine gun with the best of them and still packs a yen for an agent she had to shoot.
  • Ernest Borgnine ("SpongeBob SquarePants") should have retired years ago, but he's still working in the CIA's top-top-secret archives.
  • Richard Dreyfuss ("My Life in Ruins") is an industrialist who knows WHY a mysterious list was made of people who MUST die.
  • Karl Urban ("Star Trek") is absolutely perfect as a new-generation black-ops agent, every bit as well trained and deadly as his predecessors. I'm always impressed by him.
This terrific film was beautifully directed by Robert Schwentke ("The Time Travelers's Wife"). When every scene is deliciously shot, with guts, glamor and LOTS of giggles, we naturally look to the director. Let's keep an eye out for this guy, okay?


You Again

Okay, here's the deal:
  • Betty White? ("The Proposal") I like her; although she's a tad overexposed.
  • Jamie Lee Curtis? ("Freaky Friday") I like her; she has an unusual "look."
  • Sigourney Weaver? ("Avatar") I like her; her ultra-sophisticated persona works here.
  • Victor Garber? ("The Town") I like him; he makes a convincing paterfamilias.
  • Patrick Duffy? (Lots of TV) I like him; although I can't say when I last saw him.
  • Cloris Leachman? ("New York, I Love You") I like her; her appearance is a delightful surprise.
  • Kristen Bell? ("When in Rome") Not so much....
  • Kristin Chenoweth? ("Four Christmases") Not at all!
The moral of this story? High school grudges should probably stay in high school, although your worst enemies in those anxious days may be the biggest contributors to your success in adulthood because you've just gotta "show those guys!!!"

Other than a sterling cast, this movie doesn't have much to recommend it: The plot is puerile; the multi-generational grudges start cute, but fizzle out; the high-school flashbacks are painful; the humor is forced; the acting is dreadful; the dialogue stinks; and self-centeredness seems to be on display ... again.



Never Let Me Go

If you have seen the trailers you already know our main characters have been raised since infancy in an institution which provides organs for transplants. Is that upsetting enough for you? This is a horror film with very little blood and is a poignantly romantic film with very little sex.

We see the gentle methods used to raise and educate these passive children, consequently we are not surprised to see that they are childlike even as adults. Why have them feel agitated when eventually they comprehend the reality of their situation?

There is a telling episode where two more worldly chums take our three main characters into a "normal" village. They don't know how to cross a street or order a meal. They cluster together like a gaggle of geese. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

This stellar cast is anchored by:
  • Carey Mulligan ("An Education"), who is the odd girl out in what becomes a romantic triangle;
  • Keira Knightley ("The Duchess") gets the boy;
  • Andrew Garfield ("The Social Network"), is wrenchingly effective as the man-boy who is the object of their affections.
Even though this is beautifully shot and well acted, I had a devil of a time hearing their murmured dialogue. The DVD will be much, much better, because there will be captions. I'll own it just to see Garfield's wonderful performance again.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a preview:
* * * * * * * * * * * *

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

In this, Woody Allen's latest outing, we hop on a marriage-go-round for two couples which falters when four monkey wrenches are thrown into the works. Woody has taken to shooting many of his films in Europe ("Match Point" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), this time it's London. I was happy to see he used cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who is worth every penny!

First our two couples:
  • Anthony Hopkins ("Fracture") has been married long enough that he is starting to feel the itch for a second youth. To that end, our wealthy fellow gets a divorce, buys a sports car and starts chasing young women (augmented by generous doses of Viagra).
  • Gemma Jones ("Harry Potter") is the discarded wife. She has been married the same number of years, but is devastated and starts going to a "seer," a charlatan who realizes that she has struck the mother lode.
  • Naomi Watts ("The International") is their daughter, married and wanting a child but forced to work in an art gallery for a very appealing boss.
  • Josh Brolin ("Jonah Hex") is her husband, a one-trick pony: a doctor who refuses to practice medicine because he wrote a best seller; he is trying to catch lightening in a bottle a second time. I should note that Mr. B. plays a real husband, not some sculpted Adonis with a six-pack. Kudos for his courage!
Now the monkey wrenches (it's the UK, so they are called "spanners"):
  • Judy Punch ("Dinner for Schmucks") is the hooker with the heart of lead who captures our hero in the midst of his mid-life crisis. Her name is Charlaine but the angry daughter calls her Chow Mein!
  • Freida Pinto ("Slumdog Millionaire") lives across the alley from Josh and Naomi; he can't help but notice that she rarely pulls her blinds.
  • Antonio Banderas ("The Other Man") is the dashing owner of that art gallery.
  • Pauline Collins ("From Time to Time") is the scotch-pouring money-grubbing charlatan...
Several of the cast members do a credible job of duplicating the patented Woody Allen stammer; I just wish it wasn't quite so obvious. The domestic scenes have a ring of authenticity and we enjoy long single takes, clearly an economical way to make a movie if a cast is professional enough to meet the challenge; this one is. The end credits show Woody used a very small crew compared to the armies it usually takes to make a film these days, and he adds a traditional jazz sound- track; that might be Mr. A. himself on the clarinet. The narrator Zak Orth sounds like Tom Hanks.

I found this to be a light, satisfying 98 minutes.


Life as We Know It

Romantic comedies are a great tradition; my thanks to Jane Austen and William Shakespeare for starters....

If you've seen the trailers, you know Katherine Heigl ("27 Dresses") and Josh Duhamel ("When in Rome") suffer through one of those catastrophic blind dates and swear they will NEVER do THAT again! We follow a montage of scenes which illustrates their close bonds with two friends who marry and have a child (they were the ones who arranged that awful date), only to die in a car wreck. When the will is read, those best friends have named our stunned and grieving duo co-parents for their baby.

Duhamel plays a motorcycle-riding chick magnet who is in no hurry to grow up. Heigl is back in her familiar role as the über-organized scold who tries to get everything under control.

Much of the fun in this delightful frolic is to watch two inexperienced adults take on the complicated business of child rearing under the watchful eye of the busybody neighbors. In reality, both Heigl and Duhamel are clearly at ease with little 'uns, and the triplets who take turns as the baby are equally relaxed. One seems to specialize in crying and the other two are charming in the sunnier episodes.

Director Greg Berlanti (lots of TV, particularly "Everwood" and "Brothers and Sisters") offers a generous helping of closeups and some unexpectedly subtle shadings in some choice scenes.

Both Heigl and Duhamel are easy on the eye and do a fine job projecting the emotional arc we expect. Plus, Duhamel in his whitey tighties is worth the price of admission!

Lots of comedy. Lots of romance. No big surprises, but certainly no letdown, either.


Goose bumps!

This terrific film is beautifully presented with a great cast, great photography and a great, great story. I already knew that "Secretariat" was, in 1973, the first winner of the Triple Crown of horse racing in 25 years. I did NOT know that his record in two of those three races still stands today. He won at Belmont by an astonishing 31 lengths!

Let's talk about the wonderful cast:
  • Diane Lane ("Nights in Rodanthe") is Penny Chenery Tweedy, the beautifully coiffed daughter of the owner of a failing horse farm; she wins a big red colt on the toss of a coin.
  • John Malkovich ("Burn After Reading") is Lucien Lauren, the cantankerous trainer she is determined to hire; he tends to spout his invectives in French when irritated and wear outrageous clothes; he plays terrible golf and none of his horses have ever won at Belmont.
  • Margo Martindale ("Million Dollar Baby") is my favorite character actress. This time she is Miss Bess, the long-time faithful secretary at the Chenery stables. She is the one who names the red colt Secretariat.
  • James Cromwell ("W") is Ogden Phipps. When he won first dibs in the coin toss, he opted for a filly with a great blood line but, as it turned out, no racing spirit.
  • Dylan Walsh ("Nip/Tuck") is Jack Tweedy, the husband who keeps the home fires burning while she manages her race horse; they have four children.
  • Nelsan Ellis ("The Soloist") is Eddie Sweat, Secretariat's devoted groom. He spent more time with the horse than any other living person; there is a statue of him with jockey Ron Turcotte in the winner's circle at Kentucky Horse Park holding "Big Red" (his name for Secretariat).
Of course there are other cast members but the pleasure is in the races and a couple of slow-motion shots of a powerful race horse in full stride.

This is a PG movie with the only sweaty bodies being those of the horses, and the only gunshots being those at the starting gate. Sound systems in movie houses have improved so much the floor shakes as tons of straining horseflesh pound past. They were kind enough to include some "Rest of the Story" snippets during the final credits so we know what has happened since the film. Our screening audience applauded this one!


The Social Network

This involving and fascinating film is the story (and the trial) that surrounds the development of the social phenomenon, Facebook.

We start in 2003 (was it that recent?) as we watch Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg clumsily derail a potential date. He is brilliant, thoughtless and socially incompetent (maybe a touch of Asperger's?). Oblivious to the hurt he inflicts in that perfectly fine young woman, his first on-line venture springs from his desire to strike back at her.

This perfectly cast film boasts the following characters:
  • Jesse Eisenberg ("Zombieland") IS Zuckerberg: smart, ambitious and emotionally isolated.
  • Andrew Garfield ("Boy A") is perfect as his patient and much-exploited roommate and would-be friend. It looks like this guy might be our new Spiderman in 2012...
  • Rooney Mara ("Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" US version, 2011) is that unfortunate date.
  • Armie Hammer (TV credits) is amazing as the conflicted Winklevoss twins; Harvard gentlemen don't sue other Harvard gentlemen just for stealing an idea. He (they) look like taller versions of young Prince William.
  • Justin Timberlake ("Alpha Dog") is Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, who wants a piece of the action.
  • John Getz (Lots of TV) is Zuckerberg's lawyer. I'm only including him because I've liked him ever since "Blood Simple."
A lot of the action takes place on a college campus, so we see stereo-typical parties, drug use and general misbehavior which is mostly ignored by our computer hacker/nerd, Zuckerberg. The contrast is nicely depicted by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin ("Charlie Wilson's War") and director David Fincher (he'll be doing the American version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"). There is plenty of humor because we have 20/20 hindsight and KNOW what happened with Facebook. The tagline for this movie is: You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.

Once again, we are treated to snippets of what happened after the trial which is central to the film. I always appreciate that!


The Owls of Ga'Hoole

The full name of this Australian/US production is "Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)" but I find that mouthful far too cumbersome. Based on the first three children's books by Kathryn Lasky, this is a mashup of legend, myth and fairy tale as told by a gabby relative to three fascinated owlets and their co-tenant, a snake, which I was surprised to discover, isn't unheard of. By the way, that title is pronounced "Ga Hoo' lee."

Of course this is another "Hero's Journey" and this time a brave little owlet, who is convinced those myths are real, must save his world. The narrator is Australian, as are many of the characters' voices. You would recognize some of the names but I won't go into them here.

There were two things that I particularly enjoyed: 1) Woodland Park Zoo sent a bird specialist with a Spectacled Owl (not a Speckled Owl) to talk to our screening audience, particularly about the calm 18-year-old specimen she had perched on her arm. She was extremely knowledgeable and the unflappable (...smile....) owl didn't mind all the cameras that flashed during her talk. 2) It was fun to try to identify the various types of owl as they came on screen: Great Gray, Burrowing, Pygmy, Snow, Sooty, Great Horned, Spotted, Screech, and our hero, little Soren, who is a Barn Owl.

The 3D animation is just fine (funny how blasé we have become) and the characters "emote" in subtle and satisfying ways. However (you knew this was coming, didn't you), the flying and battle sequences are far too long. As in movies with gun battles, each individual clash is filmed and then they must decide which ones to cut. I beg the editors, PLEASE have the courage to cut more out of these things. Sometimes too much is just too much!

It's Kind of a Funny Story

All of our defense shields were up as we entered the theater. We had very low expectations for this one; maybe that's why we were so pleasantly surprised.

This movie treats clinical depression like the illness it is. The teenage boy who commits himself to a mental ward is never derided, never scorned, never condescended to. In fact, by the end of what turns out to be a five-day stay, his high school classmates also acknowledge the seriousness of his situation and extend helping (and understanding) hands.

This is played like a comedy and yet we don't laugh AT our immature hero. He is grappling with his family's expectations, his classmates' super achievements and his own unrelenting dreams of suicide. They are presented as super-realistic satires and are, by themselves, fairly fantastical and funny. And yes, he's a teenager, so our first instinct is to not take him seriously; but after watching the mental health professionals and their astute (and respectful) treatment of him, we are forced to admit that maybe he does have a problem.

Of course in reality, things usually don't work out in just five days. But c'mon folks! This is a movie.

We were able to enjoy the talents of:

  • Keir Gilchrist ("The United States of Tara") who does a fine job as the teenager who wants some help;
  • Lauren Graham ("Flash of Genius") is his baffled mother;
  • Emma Roberts ("Valentine's Day") is a fellow patient;
  • Zach Galifianakis ("The Hangover") is an overrated actor who plays another patient;
  • Viola Davis ("Eat Pray Love") is a psychiatrist, with a wry (and winning) view of what that means.
We liked it more than we expected, and that was a pleasant surprise.


This is yet another self-involved, narcissistic endeavor by three technophiles with a video camera and waaay too much time on their hands. For some reason they felt their amateurish exposé about the fallacies and fantasies generated by Facebook relationships would be a riveting experience.


My companion woke up about five minutes before the end credits, but I was tossing and turning trying to think what I could say about this thing that would be printable.

Anything I might say would be a spoiler, so consider yourself warned.... okay?


Alpha and Omega

We've all heard about the Alpha male. Here we see a wolf pack with an Alpha female cub who romps with an Omega male cub. Even though these are youngsters, the issue of mating is looming on the horizon. Problem is, these erstwhile friends have learned that there is no future for their friendship. She is to procreate with another Alpha and our Omega hero must go elsewhere. (There are political issues at stake in the pack!)

Suddenly the two of them are tranquilized, captured by forest rangers and transported from Jasper National Park, Canada to a National Forest in Idaho, to repopulate the region. Wait! "Repopulate" means "procreate," doesn't it? Well, she isn't having any of THAT!

Guided by a French/Canadian goose and his sidekick, a duck, these two lost souls must get back to their Canadian pack before the Alpha male selected for her falls for her flirtatious sister.

This international animated film (USA and India) brings sophisticated 3D images along with a nice PG rating that ignores the fact that wolves are carnivores and that the caribou central to the plot don't live in that part of Canada.

Oh well, I enjoyed the midnight howl and the various duets. The children in the screening audience didn't care that wolves don't tobaggon ride, nor do wolves take advice from golf-playing geese or caddying ducks. It's a sweet predictable tale, nicely done by animators in Mumbai; Pixar and Disney had better watch their backs!

The Town

Ben Affleck's latest Bahston-situated effort has a couple of things going for it: Unlike "Gone Baby Gone" the story line is fairly lucid, and unlike "Good Will Hunting," it doesn't feature Robin Williams.

"The Town" is Charlestown, an enclave across the river from Boston. According to the overview presented during the opening credits, robbing banks is considered a career in The Town, a legacy handed down from father to son. So guess what this movie is all about! Yup,with lots of profanity, lots of vehicular mayhem and lots of gunfire.

These are the folks that make it happen:
  • Ben Affleck ("Extract") is an experienced bank and armored truck robber. Unfortunately, his gang takes a hostage from one of the banks.
  • Rebecca Hall ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") is that bank manager. Even though she was released with no injury, she still suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.
  • Jeremy Renner ("The Hurt Locker") is the loose cannon in the gang. This actor brings a menacing energy to his roles that evokes danger even when his character is chatting over a beer.
  • Jon Hamm ("Mad Men") is a determined FBI man. He, like Afflick, is a fashion victim, with a scruffy three-day growth of whiskers disfiguring his handsome face.
  • Pete Postlethwaite ("Inception") is a local florist; he is evil incarnate.
  • Chris Cooper ("Breach") plays Afflick's understandably angry father, up for parole in a couple of years.
The aforementioned Boston accents were emphasized at the beginning but became hit or miss as time passed. Affleck didn't embarrass himself, but his directing isn't of the caliber of Guillaume Canet ("Tell No One") either. At least we worried about the bank manager spotting that tell-tale tattoo, so clearly we had someone to root for!

HOWEVER: I could have trimmed at least 15 or 20 minutes off the running time by editing out some of that tiresome gun-play.

Easy A

"Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!" Maybe this screenplay could have used a little help from Sir Walter Scott, but then again, maybe not...

Emma Stone ("Zombieland") plays a clean-cut high school student who, in a moment of frustration tells a fib to a blabbermouth friend. The friend has invited her for a weekend with her eccentric family, and to get out of it, our heroine pretends she has a date with a college boy. By Monday, this evolves into an admission (also false), that she lost her virginity during this fictitious date. Naturally the story goes like wildfire and the next thing you know, she has a "reputation." Since she has been studiously ignored by her classmates in the past, she sorta likes it...

Her English class is studying Nathanial Hawthorne, so she sews a scarlet "A" on her clothes and starts dressing like a slut. Thomas Haden Church ("Smart People") is her English teacher who wisely understands she is pretending but doesn't know why, so he asks his wife, played by Lisa Kudrow ("Paper Man") to look into it. Even though she is a student counselor, it turns out that she isn't a very good choice. By the way, Church's character is one of the few that isn't a caricature of a stereotype.

Our heroine's humorously permissive parents are expertly played by Stanley Tucci ("The Lovely Bones") and Patricia Clarkson ("The Station Agent"), while her brother is played by Bryce Clyde Jenkins ("My Homework Ate My Dog"). The high school principal is portrayed by Malcolm McDowell ("The Book of Eli") and our heroine's gay friend by Dan Byrd ("Norman").

The setup is good: handsome Penn Badgley (lots of TV) is our romantic lead and Amanda Bynes ("Hairspray") is the Bible-spouting villainess; BUT the camera work is too stylized; each (supposedly) comic scene is played to death; and it is hard for me to warm up to a plot which pivots around a case of chlamydia.

Any questions?

The Virginity Hit

You deserve to know why I disliked this movie so much:
  • To witness the plotting and conniving on the part of "friends" to help a teenage boy lose his virginity is a major snooze.
  • Hand-held camera work is often burred, herky-jerky and muffled. This "movie" is VERY blurred, herky-jerky and muffled!
  • I don't like to see nice people humiliated.
  • Drug use is not entertaining.
  • A gang of school chums is NOT a reliable source for good relationship advice.
I realize the production team of Owen Burke and Will Ferrell (LOTS of TV shorts) is enormously popular in the Viral Video world, but that is not MY world. I find their work to be immature, raunchy and worst of all, boring. The screening audience (which included, to my dismay, children of eight or ten!) was mostly silent. There were very few spots that generated any laughter, and even that was mostly embarrassed and uncomfortable.

Your time is valuable and I'm not going to waste any more of it. The 86 minutes I lost should be enough for all of us.


Going the Distance

Very funny, but surprisingly raunchy and profane. I've never seen Drew Barrymore ("Whip It") throw back her head and laugh the way she does in this one. I really liked seeing her so unrestrained!

Her character is in New York working as an intern for a newspaper; she meets a guy the night he breaks up with his girlfriend. She starts out by berating him in a profanity-laced, verbal assault; he's pretty impressed by her mastery of the language but he makes her laugh, so they start dating. It is agreed that she will be returning to California in a couple of months, while our hero, played by Justin Long ("Saturday Night Live") stays gainfully employed in New York, so there will be NO romantic entanglements. ...Yeah...right....

A couple of things should be acknowledged: 1) This movie illustrates the employment challenges that confront young adults these days. 2) This is another film where the romantic lead gets all of his relationship advice from his single, immature buddies.

Once our gal is back in California, she stays with her married sister and family. This is one time I'm happy to eat my words. I have never had much use for Christina Applegate ("Samantha Who?") but here I found her to be consistently funny and appealing as the mysophobic sister, constantly scrubbing and sanitizing everything. By the way, potty mouth seems to be a family trait.

Of course bi-coastal relationships are fraught with peril, and this one is no different. Both of our lovers are lonely, so they are in constant touch: calling, e-mailing and Instant Messaging. They even try phone sex, but neither of them know enough about it to be very successful. To me, the funniest thing was when an irritated friend snatched our hero's cellphone, grabbed a golf club and lambasted the thing into Kingdom Come! I led the applause for that one!

No big surprises. Romantic comedies are what they are. We laughed more than we expected but I will be glad when Drew's contract with CoverGirl expires. She's a little overdone....


First a little background: In 2007, a couple of audacious film writers, Quentin Tarantino ("Pulp Fiction") and Robert Rodriguez ("Sin City"), wrote two feature-length horror films linked by fake trailers, all three presented as "Grindhouse." Fanboys went NUTS! Plus they started begging for one of the spoofs featured in the trailers!

Thus was "Machete" born.

This blood-splattered (but humor-laced) potboiler illustrates the far- reaching tentacles of the drug cartels south of the border and the political chicanery to the north. Our story centers on one muy feo hombre whose weapon of choice is...you guessed it...a machete; all that blowie uppie stuff is for sissies! He is a former Mexican Federale who is now an illegal alien, just trying to get work as a laborer.
  • Former real-life felon Danny Trejo ("Dark Games") plays our very ugly fellow, a tragedy-scarred loner, a man of few words who prefers low-tech weaponry.
  • Former action star Steven Seagal (TV's "Southern Justice") is the brutal jefe honcho of the Mexican cartel.
  • Former tabloid queen Lindsay Lohan ("Mean Girls") is the messed-up daughter of a political functionary.
  • Former marijuana front man Cheech Marin ("The Perfect Game") is Machete's brother turned priest.
  • Former heartthrob Don Johnson ("When in Rome") is a lawman, a stogie-smokin' Good Ol' Boy.
  • Jeff Fahey (LOTS of TV) brings plenty of blue-eyed charm to his role as a political strategist.
  • Robert De Niro ("Meet the Fockers") is a racist state senator running for reelection on an anti-immigrant platform.
  • Jessica Alba ("Little Fockers") wears spike heels as a hard- working DEA agent! (Her hair looks sooo clean.)
  • Michelle Rodriguez ("Avatar") runs a taco stand out of a van. She darn near steals the show.
By the way, those two females pass the Bechdel Test, i.e., their characters have names and their conversations are NOT about a man, but instead about the problems of immigration and corrupt governments. Kudos to the writers. That being said, this is an over-the-top, highly exaggerated view of the immigration problem. The bloodshed and the betrayals however, are probably right on the money.

You'll either love it or you'll hate it.

NOTE: In June, 2013, I saw the first preview for the sequel!


The American

Being a professional hit man isn't for the gregarious type. George Clooney (the "Ocean's" franchise and "Up in the Air") is a lone wolf, who practices his profession and ponders the meaning of it all.

The film starts in Sweden. Of course our hero is with a beautiful woman (by the way, all of the women are beautiful in this film, whether they are Clooney's girlfriends, prostitutes, or fellow assassins); they are in the North woods beside a frozen lake when he spots an animal's track. Somehow, this alerts him and before you know it, there are corpses strewn all over the place. He calls his mysterious "boss" and says he wants out. The boss says he has one last job for him (sound familiar?) and he won't even have to pull a trigger.

Off he goes to Italy, where we encounter labyrinthian streets, alleys, sidewalks, stairs, and roads that loop back and forth through the mountains. In my opinion, this is a metaphor for the plot.

We see many leisurely shots of Clooney working out, eating meals, drinking coffee, climbing stairs, walking deserted streets, assembling machinery, making love, chatting with a priest, and considering his future. He is a very nice-looking guy, and they never let us forget it. At least he is NOT scruffy this time.

The photography is commendable, the acting is acceptable and the plot is predictable, but everything is at arm's length: I felt no emotional connection with any of the characters. Clooney's handsome face provides a blank slate onto which we can project anything we want, so maybe I just didn't want anything badly enough...

The butterfly is a nice touch, though.



I observed a number of things in this action-packed heist flick:
  • Not all cops are crooked, but keep an eye on Matt Dillon ("Old Dogs") and Jay Hernandez ("Grindhouse").
  • Thugs use very little profanity, which was a big shock until I noticed the PG-13 rating.
  • It's bad to shoot kids or cops; Idris Elba ("The Losers") and Paul Walker ("Fast & Furious") show surprising restraint.
  • Hand-held cameras are very disorienting. 'Nuff said...
  • I resent actors showing secret gang hand signals in their publicity photos.
  • Loyalty is good; disloyalty is fatal; so this gang of heist artists is extremely loyal.
  • Thieves get gorgeous girlfriends; yup, Zoë Saldana ("Avatar") again!
  • Parkour is the most exciting urban sport on film; I'll take it over vehicular mayhem any time.
  • Russians make formidable enemies in the organized crime world.
  • Crime seems to pay for most criminals over the short haul: witness the great cars, clothes and cribs.
  • Crime does not pay for most criminals over the long haul: witness the corpses that litter the screen.
This wasn't as enjoyable as I expected, although I certainly did appreciate the eye candy for women: Idris Elba, Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen, Michael Ealy, Johnathon Schaech, Chris Brown, etc., etc., etc. In fact the women in the audience actually applauded when Mr. Elba was rousted from his bed in his whitey tighties.... and he richly deserved it!


The Switch

I couldn't believe what got switched! And after I read what it was, I couldn't imagine how in the world they were going to depict it.

Okay, here we go: Jennifer Aniston ("The Bounty Hunter") plays a childless 40-year-old who still hasn't found the man of her dreams, so she decides to find a "donor" who will make a "contribution" in exchange for cash. This is a medical version of a turkey baster, so I was expecting some pretty gross jokes, but all in all, I was pleasantly surprised.

The main honors should go to:
  • Jason Bateman ("Extract") has been our heroine's best friend for far too long. His feelings are hurt that she doesn't even remotely consider him as a potential donor because he isn't exactly Mr. Sunshine and she doesn't want that trait in her child. On the evening she is to conceive, he is understandably upset and through a series of bungles, ends up having to make his own "contribution." In fact, he is so wasted he doesn't even remember he did the switch until six or seven years later. (See how Diane Sawyer fits into this equation!)
  • Jeff Goldblum ("Law and Order") is our hero's lanky long-time best friend. He is, however, NOT amused when the two of them finally figure out that a switch had taken place.
  • Juliette Lewis ("Whip It") is the party girl who caused our hero to be so wasted.
  • Patrick Wilson ("The A-Team") is the handsome (married but broke) erstwhile "donor."
  • Thomas Robinson ("Heroes") is pitch-perfect as the result of "The Switch." He looks and acts like a little Jason Bateman, and his personality isn't exactly Mr. Sunshine!
This is a predictable romantic comedy and we had plenty of both romance and comedy! No profanity, no sweaty bodies, no gunshots, no blowie uppie stuff, just one scene that's sorta icky...

Get Low

Our story takes place in 1930s Tennessee, so the period cars, clothes and customs are a treat to the eye. This is the sort of role in which Robert Duvall ("Four Christmases") shines. He plays a taciturn old goat with a secret he has kept for 40 years. He lives in an unpainted shack in the woods, runs off terrified little boys with his shotgun and heads into town with a big idea: He wants the local Reverend, played by Gerald McRaney ("The A-Team") to conduct his funeral while he is still alive and invite anybody who has a story to tell about him. Naturally the minister declines.

A down-on-his-luck mortician, played by Bill Murray ("Get Smart") hears about it and is desperate enough that he is willing to give it a try. He takes his assistant, played by Lucas Black ("Jarhead"), out to the shack despite the "No Damn Trespassing" sign, to propose a deal.

A very welcome Sissy Spacek ("Big Love") makes her appearance none too soon, packing her own version of that secret; and we know that old codger played by Bill Cobbs ("My Summer Friend") also has his own take on it.

This unpredictable little film was part of a gala for the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival and has garnered its share of well-deserved praise. It's nice to watch professionals do their job with very little fuss or feathers.