When in Rome

Talk about lame! I can't categorize this as a Comedy because despite all the pratfalls, embarrassing situations, ridiculous blunders and walking into things, this pathetic movie is NOT funny. I hesitate to call it a Romance because the hero seems more in love with himself than with the heroine. (It's always a mistake to cast a hero prettier than the woman he's supposed to fall for.)

Here are some of the lambs led to this particular slaughter:
  • Kristen Bell ("Couples Retreat") is our toothy heroine who goes to Rome for her sister's wedding and steals some coins from a fountain. Uh oh, this means a magic spell in reverse: Any coin retrieved from this fountain will cause the owner to fall in love with the person who retrieved it.
  • Josh Duhamel ("Transformers" 1 and 2) meets her at that wedding and is instantly smitten (is it possible to be too pretty?).
  • Don Johnson ("Bastardi") is the oft-married father of the bride.
  • Peggy Lipton (LOTS of TV) is the divorced (and bitter) mother of the bride.
  • Will Arnett (LOTS of TV) is a would-be painter whose coin our gal steals from the fountain, so he is instantly smitten and sets out in hot pursuit of the new love of his life.
  • Danny DeVito ("Get Shorty") is the Sausage King, another victim of our heroine's thievery; he is uncredited and doesn't claim this movie in his résumé...I can hardly blame him!
  • Jon Heder ("Napoleon Dynamite") is a struggling magician; his coin too, was stolen from the fountain so he joins the lovelorn posse chasing our gal.
  • Anjelica Huston ("The Kreutzer Sonata") is our much-pursued heroine's New York boss at the art museum.
Both Duhamel and the Guggenheim are nice to look at. ...sigh....


Under Our Skin

Director Andy Abrahams Wilson brings us an exposé on the skullduggery that surrounds the diagnosis and treatment of the ever more ubiquitous tick-borne Lyme disease which, if untreated, attacks the central nervous system. In addition, he offers compelling evidence that it is inextricably linked to other diseases of the central nervous system. Two of the most devastating chronic diseases mentioned are Parkinson's disease and Multiple Sclerosis.

This is part medical drama and part Who-Done-It, as Wilson uncovers empirical evidence that the big pharmaceuticals are pressuring medical service providers (i.e., doctors and labs) to support their claim that there is NO link. In one unbelievable series of shocking scenes we watch a doctor lose his medical license, despite a courtroom filled with patients he has cured and whose lives he has saved! Corruption is not only profitable, it is life-threatening!

We watch the heart-breaking effects of a progressive disease and are horrified to see the deterioration of a once-healthy young woman as she loses her ability to speak or care for herself. She and her husband are two of the courageous people who have allowed the documentarians to film their challenge of big Pharma. You will rejoice with us as we watch her amazing case unfold.

Lyme disease seems to be spreading across the United States as the deer tick population proliferates. One of our JayFlix folks gave me the DVD because she knows I have a loved one who could possibly benefit from the information. This is an important issue that richly deserves a fair hearing.


Edge of Darkness

Boston homicide cop Mel Gibson ("Payback") is enjoying a rare visit from his adult daughter, played by the striking Bojana Novakovic ("Drag Me to Hell"), when a shotgun blast on his front porch kills her. Of course, given his profession, it is assumed that he is the target.

Wild with grief, he plunges into his own investigation (Boston PD regulations don't allow him to work the case); as he digs deeper and deeper, it slowly dawns on him that she may have been the target after all. She had been working in a highly classified business and had said that she had something important to tell him.

This is a much better than average action flick with interesting characters played by Ray Winstone ("The Departed"), David Aaron Baker (LOTS of TV), and Danny Houston ("Wolverine"). Expect violence, vehicular mayhem and some humor.

Everyone speaks with an authentic Boston accent, particularly when a favorite tag line is used (right out of "The Book of Eli"): "You'd better figure out if you're the one hanging on the cross... or the one banging in the nails."

One thing I should mention, maybe it was the theater, but I had a devil of a time making out the dialogue and found myself longing for captions.


Extraordinary Measures

Based on Geeta Anand's book "The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million and Bucked the Medical Establishment - In a Quest to Save His Children," this is solid filmmaking! No vehicular mayhem, no sweaty bodies, no blowie uppie stuff, just a good, decent family to root for and a really curmudgeonly Harrison Ford (the "Indiana Jones" franchise) to keep everyone on his toes!

The aforementioned good, decent folks are played by Seattle's own Brendan Fraser ("Inkheart") and Keri Russell ("Waitress"), who depict a middle class Portland, Oregon couple with two of their three children cursed by Pompe, a rare but fatal genetic disorder which will cut their young lives very, very short.

Following a frantic search on the Internet, the father tries to reach a scientist affiliated with the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, who has been trying a unique approach with a new enzyme. The father's calls aren't returned, so he goes to Lincoln and meets him (Harrison Ford) face to face.

Their association is never an easy one and Ford's character never becomes less thorny. Fraser's character is so wrapped up in his children's tragedy it is hard for him to remain professional, even though the two of them must cobble together some sort of successful working relationship.

Watching the struggle...in Lincoln, in Portland and ultimately in Seattle... with its inevitable setbacks and medical crises, is involving and certainly gives us an investment in the outcome. They kindly provide additional information about our characters during the final credits. I always appreciate that!


Tooth Fairy

Dwayne Johnson ("The Game Plan") has done this movie before: you know… the successful sports figure (this time ice hockey) with lots of devoted fans; he's conceited, cynical and—we can tell—overripe for a dose of reality. Which in this case, strikes in the guise of a Tooth Fairy Facilitator, ably portrayed by Stephen Merchant ("The Invention of Lying"), who is charged by the Head Tooth Fairy (Julie Andrews) to make our hero less cynical and more caring. Johnson must serve for a week as a tooth fairy, with his sentence automatically extended if he fails to do the job.

The object of Johnson's affection is played by Ashley Judd ("De-Lovely") who depicts a single mother with two children, the youngest of whom has just entered her tooth-shedding years.

We see lots of ice hockey (not very well faked), some ridiculous shots of Johnson with wings and a tutu, plus silly episodes with our guy trying to plant dollar bills under pillows and make off with teeth. Writers Babaloo Mandell and Lowell Ganz ("Parenthood") understand family dynamics and even with the predictable plot, many of the adults laughed out loud, while the children clearly enjoyed it.

An uncredited Billy Crystal ("Analyze This") makes two very funny appearances at the beginning and end of this little frolic.


Youth in Revolt

This is supposed to be a comedy? Is drug use funny? Is blowing up a storefront funny? Is masturbation funny? Is having a slutty mother funny? Are religious zealots funny? Is Zach Galifianakis (the new Jack Black) funny?

Flavor-of-the-month juvenile lead Michael Cera ("Juno") has accumulated almost enough screen time as a virgin to challenge Doris Day! His character is the one with the slutty mother, excellently played by Seattle's Jean Smart ("Sweet Home Alabama" and LOTs of TV). Her revolving bedroom door admits both Galifianakis (evidently being a bad actor and having a big belly is considered hilarious in Hollywood) and Ray Liotta ("Observe and Report"). In my opinion, Mr. L should find a new agent!

Cera's character gets a crush on a new neighbor, played by Portia Doubleday ("Bram Stoker's The Mummy") who just wants to get into a private school so she can specialize in French. Thus inspired, our hero creates an imaginary friend who seems to represent his id, i.e., THAT is who blows up the storefront, sports a wispy moustache, wears shoes without socks, chain smokes, and speaks with a phony French accent.

I have decided that, instead of being a comedy, this is really a mystery. How did it get financing? Why do critics like it? Where will Hollywood find the courage to depict zealots from religions OTHER than Christian? And when will Galifianakis realize his 15 minutes are up?



The Lovely Bones

As you probably already know, this movie (and the novel on which it is based) is narrated by a dead girl who was brutally murdered by a serial killer. She observes the effect her disappearance and presumed death has on her family and other loved ones. Anyone who attends this film can count on being manipulated by the masters:
  • Alice Sebold, upon whose only published novel this movie is based.
  • Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings" franchise), master of Fantasy, who modified the book in order to obtain a PG13 rating: He did NOT make us watch the murder.
  • Fran Walsh (screenwriter on the "Ring" movies, "King Kong" 2005,) who collaborates with her husband of over 20 years, Peter Jackson.

They bring us tension, horror, repugnance, sorrow, fantastical views of the afterlife and someone to root for. In fact, I can't remember when I have ever heard such a vocal response from a screening audience, who welcomed relief from one of the most tension-filed scenes with shouts and applause.

The cast consists of:

  • Saiorse Ronan ("Atonement" and "City of Ember") pronounces her name "Sur' shuh." Born in New York and reared in Ireland, she speaks "American" perfectly.
  • Mark Wahlburg ("The Italian Job" 2003 and "The Departed"), who plays the father of the murdered girl. His family life erodes as he experiences grief, frustration and rage.
  • Rachel Weisz ("The Constant Gardener" and "Definitely, Maybe") is our heroine's grieving mother, struggling to reclaim some semblance of normalcy for her family.
  • Stanley Tucci ("Julie and Julia" and "The Devil Wears Prada") plays the chillingly methodical murderer. This is not a spoiler, unlike the police, we know from the beginning who did it.
  • Rose McIver (LOTS of TV) plays the sister of the murdered girl; she quickly claims a central role.

Director Jackson recycles the islands floating in the sky, a la "Avatar," as part of his lyrical vision of the afterlife, along with other flights of fancy.

I can't say if you have read the bestseller you are guaranteed to love or hate this film, because I refused to read the book. ...Sorry...

The Spy Next Door

Jackie Chan ("Rush Hour") just keeps making movies. Like other action stars before him, as his shelf life nears its expiration date, he tries other genres. Each one is a little sillier, a little dumber, a little more juvenile, but we just keep being entertained...a little...

This time Chan is retiring from the spy business. His boss, expressing regret for the whole team, gives him a high-tech CIA-designed wrist watch and extends everyone's best wishes. The boss is played by George Lopez ("Beverly Hills Chihuahua") and one of Chan's team members is played by Billy Ray Cyrus ("Hannah Montana").

Chan intends to court and marry his sweet-tempered next-door neighbor, played by Amber Valletta ("Premonition"). Of course, the folks in the spy business don't see him as retired. Of course, the neighbor has a family crisis and has to leave her three children with him. Of course, her three children want nothing to do with him!

This is mostly harmless, sort of entertaining, and has nothing new under the sun. No spies were harmed during the making of this movie....

The Book of Eli

A few words come to mind: Post apocalyptic and dystopian.

A few movies come to mind: "Mad Max," "Fahrenheit 451" and "Children of Men."

If you've seen the ads, you know our favorite hero, Denzel Washington ("The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" 2009) is seen determinedly trudging through a barren wasteland. It is clear that a catastrophic war took place decades earlier: Carcasses of rusted-out vehicles litter the roadside, highways are disintegrating, bridges have collapsed, and buildings are rubble. Rarely do we see a hint of color, unless it is a faded logo (Product Placement, you know!); and I think I counted three smiles, besides the evil leers of the villain, played by Gary Oldman ("The Dark Knight").

The eponymous book is a King James Bible, the sole survivor after a religious war that engulfed the globe. Our hero reads it at night to reinforce his commitment to deliver it "West" where it will be safe; our villain seeks it to establish moral authority over his domain.

Other actors you will recognize:
  • Mila Kunis ("Extract"), whose character experiences a profound effect after she listens to our hero read from the book. (Washington is a preacher's son and is comfortable reading scriptures.)
  • Jennifer Beals (Lots of TV) is her blind mother and a captive of the villain.
  • Ray Stevenson ("Rome") plays the only henchman with any hint of moral conflict.
  • Frances de la Tour ("The History Boys") and Michael Gambon ("Harry Potter") are a pair of potty but resourceful survivors.
  • Malcolm McDowell (Lots of TV) makes his appearance in time for the final twist.
I had trouble making out some of the lines, so was grateful to my companion for a second set of ears. Several of our folks were interested in seeing the movie a second time once they had seen the end. If you're tough enough, you may be interested in seeing it twice.


Crazy Heart

Didja ever notice that whenever a guy picks up a guitar he also picks up a drawl? To my amazement, not only did it happen to Jeff Bridges, who we already know is a musician, e.g., "The Fabulous Baker Boys," but to Irish Bad Boy, Colin Farrell ("In Bruges"), who turns in an acceptable American accent and sings "Country!" He and Bridges even do a duet.

This is Bridges' role of a lifetime. He disappears into it so thoroughly I could almost SMELL him. He is an ill-kempt, chain-smoking, maintenance alcoholic on a slow slide to oblivion. His once-stellar career is in total eclipse, as his agent struggles to book him in bowling alleys and taverns in the Southwest. When he mentioned a booking in Benson, Arizona, I wondered if it was at the Horseshoe Cafe! I didn't find out because he canceled the gig and hurried on to Phoenix. Rats!

A generous serving of original music is offered by T. Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton. The soundtrack has an authentic twang and is one of the main reasons Bridges agreed to do this film.

Maggie Gyllenhaal ("Away We Go") is a young journalist who asks to interview our fallen star. He agrees and his well-known charm (he's been married four times) seems to work its magic again. I confess to a certain amount of "ick" when watching those scenes, because even though I am admirer of Mr. B. and have been for years, as I said, I could almost smell that character!

Robert Duvall (an Oscar for playing a similar role in "Tender Mercies") is the guy Bridges runs to when everything else goes downhill. Duvall, along with Bridges, also serves as one of the Executive Producers.

Watch for this one at the Academy Awards.


Leap Year

What a delightful blend of classic road picture and romantic comedy! Remember "The Sure Thing" with John Cusack? This has many of the same elements: Two widely disparate individuals, a place they MUST reach, a time element and one catastrophe after another.

Although Amy Adams (“Enchanted” and "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day") is the titular "star" of this chick flick, every female exiting the theater was talking about Matthew Goode, who continues to impress me. So far he's been an American thug in "The Lookout," a wealthy Englishman in "Match Point" and a gay American Navy officer in "A Single Man." This time he's an Irishman, authentic brogue and all!

Adams' character stages real estate for brokers' open houses in Boston; she has a keen eye for decor and makes dwellings irresistible to potential buyers or renters. She has been involved with a cardiologist for four years and finally, exasperated, decides to fly to Dublin where he is attending a medical convention. She intends to employ an old family tradition and propose marriage on the 29th of February.

Due to bad weather, she lands way off the beaten track and the rest of the movie is a chronicle of her struggles—IN HIGH HEELS!—as she tries, by hook or by crook, to get to Dublin in time to propose. Goode runs the local pub at the first wide spot in the road where she alights... dragging her Louis Vuitton luggage, trying her best to be chirpy and persuasive, while he tries to make sense of her demands. We are treated to lovely scenic shots of the Auld Sod, which she sees at first only as impedi- ments.

No cliché is overlooked and it doesn't matter: At the end, we still care about what she would save in case of a fire, if she had 60 seconds in which to decide.
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Here is a trailer:
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