A Prophet

"Un prophète" is a French film (English captions) that teaches us the gory details of life in a French prison. A young Arab man is imprisoned for some unstated crime and is thrown into the super-macho, testo- sterone-ridden hierarchy of brutal power behind bars. He is beaten up as soon as he arrives and within days has been told by a Corsican capo to kill a fellow Arab prisoner. If he doesn't do the job, he himself will die.

We watch this frightened young fellow try to master how to conceal a razor blade in his mouth as he practices the lethal technique he has been taught. When the moment comes, he is trembling and afraid, so he clumsily botches the job, but ultimately kills this stranger...whose image continues to appear to him throughout the remainder of the film: razor cut to the throat and all!

It seems the Corsicans and the Arabs have a long-standing feud over a lucrative narcotics trade. The Corsican mob is run by the capo from inside the prison. Our hero becomes a lackey to him, making coffee, running errands and serving as a general drudge for his gang. Over time, he picks up the Corsican language and his value increases. He is a model prisoner and as such, starts to earn furloughs, twelve hours at a time, during which he carries out orders from his boss. In addition, he takes classes to learn how to read, write, and do math.

In my opinion, the most satisfying thing was watching his evolution over the years, from a frightened whipping boy, to a well-groomed man of the world during his brief forays outside the prison. As his confidence grows, so does his ambition. And THAT, my friends is where the plot starts to thicken!

I found this film to be violent, involving, and just a tad confusing, but your close attention will be rewarded.


How to Train Your Dragon

Ya learn somethin' new every day... I was under the impression that Vikings were Nordic, you know...Scandinavian? Imagine my surprise to learn that they speak with a Scots' accent!

Our main Viking, a scrawny young fellow voiced by Jay Baruchel ("She's Out of My League") is American as apple pie, but his father and his instructor, voiced by Gerard Butler ("Bounty Hunter") and Craig Ferguson ("Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events") respectively, are Scotsmen, born and bred, with brogues as thick as haggis.

It seems their little village is constantly under attack by dragons, who schlep off all the livestock they can carry. Naturally, fighting dragons is a time-honored skill and our gawky hero finagles his way into training. (He is eager to prove his "Viking-ness" until he actually meets one young dragon eyeball to eyeball.) His classmates provide the comic relief and one of the tough little girls, voiced by America Ferrera ("Our Family Wedding") is determined to make the first kill.

This being a DreamWorks 2D, 3D and/or IMAX production, you will see lots of action, admire amazing landscapes and find a moral to the story. If you are taking a tot to this PG film, either sit very close or offer your lap for some of the more tense situations―there ARE fire-breathing dragons. The children in the screening I attended were mostly elementary age, but the younger ones seemed to survive it quite nicely.


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - 2010

Run, don't walk, to your nearest cinema that screens foreign films. This absolutely terrific Swedish film "Män som hatar kvinnor," is based on the first book of Stieg Larsson's best-selling "Girl" trilogy. It is in Swedish with English captions.

The story has been streamlined only a bit to make it possible to film; all the essential elements of that slam-bang book are up there on the screen, fully intact, and the casting is spot on.

If you are one of the thousands who have read the books, you may be sure that the more upsetting scenes are right there and you might want to hide your eyes. But rest assured, when Lis Salander, our eponymous "Girl" is tearing down that rain-slashed highway on her motorcycle, hell bent on saving Mikael Blomqvist's life, she is the very personification of an avenging angel. What a thrilling movie!

My companion commented on the casting: Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist is a forty-ish guy who, as she put it, "walks like he means it!" And Noomi Rapace makes the perfect Goth computer-hacker heroine.

I realize I'm falling all over myself, but I was so relieved to see that wonderful book manifested so perfectly on the screen, I can hardly wait for the next one, "The Girl Who Played With Fire."


The Bounty Hunter

Director Andy Tennant ("Hitch" and "Sweet Home, Alabama") can do better than this. Notwithstanding the crushingly inferior "Fool's Gold," his movies usually have more heart.

This romantic comedy has very little romance and even less comedy. Why didn't I feel robbed? Because my expectations were so low it would have taken worse than this to disappoint me. Ever since "Dear Frankie," I have liked Gerard Butler; and even though I find Jennifer Aniston ("Love Happens") singularly annoying (I don't like all that business with her hair), the movies in which she appears are usually well-financed and staffed by capable professionals.

Butler plays a divorced and disgraced former cop who has been reduced to hunting felons who have jumped bail. His ex-wife Aniston fails to appear at her trial for assaulting a police officer so a bench warrant is issued for her return.

You got it. Butler is the bounty hunter who tracks her down and tries to bring her in. Problem is she is a reporter and is on the trail of a criminal, so they are waylaid by thugs en route and go on the lam together.

Predictable? Yup.
Fun? Sorta.
Romantic? Nope.
Comical? Sometimes...

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Sometimes we forget how cruel children can be. Middle school play- grounds aren't all fun and games; there is usually an unpleasant under- current we all choose to overlook and/or forget. Our self-worth is just germinating, but our need to fit in is in full bloom. Our eponymous "Wimpy Kid" is a harmless reminder of that more unpleasant aspect of those good old days.

Director Thor Freudenthal ("Hotel for Dogs") has elicited excellent performances from his roster of children:
  • Zachary Gordon ("The Brothers Bloom" plus LOTS of TV and voice work) is our hero, with an over-inflated ego, unrealistic expectations, and zero loyalty.
  • Robert Capron ("Bride Wars") is the pudgy sidekick, bullied, abused and tormented, but with an unfailingly upbeat take on each miserable experience.
  • Grayson Russell ("The Rainbow Tribe") is a hopelessly geeky hanger-on.
  • Chirac Gupta, in his first film, is a wannabe friend. Gupta is from the Seattle area.
  • Devon Bostick (LOTS of TV) is our hero's seemingly fratricidal brother.
Along with numerous classmates and stereotypical teachers, we also see Steve Zahn ("Sunshine Cleaning") as our hero's clueless father and Rachel Harris ("The Hangover") as his patient mother. In my opinion, Ms. Harris bears a spooky resemblance to a young Madeline Kahn.


Repo Men

So when did my disenchantment set in? Was it when I saw:
  • Yet another dystopian art design, dirty, littered, damp and repulsive?
  • Forest Whitaker ("Our Family Wedding") speak with a British accent, only to lose it by the next scene?
  • Jude Law ("Sherlock Holmes") taser a terrified fugitive and remove some vital organs?
  • Liev Schreiber ("Defiance") sweet talk a hapless family into signing an ironclad contract for a grossly overpriced organ, knowing he was already looking forward to the time when he could repossess it?
  • No motivation for "The Union" to harvest organs in the slums if they were selling (and repossessing) mechanical ones?
If you've seen the TV spots, you've probably seen the best this film has to offer. There is a twist that makes you think about the film one more time in order to grope for a modicum of logic, but in my opinion...

Oh never mind. If you like lots of blood, violence, brutality, fist fights, cruelty and grisly scenes of organs being removed without benefit of anesthesia, please be my guest.


She's Out of My League

The concept of buddies serving as relationship consultants goes waaay back. The more recent examples are, "The Forty Year Old Virgin," "I Love You, Man," "Knocked Up," and "The Hangover." Are you getting a glimmer? Yup....Raunch!

In this latest iteration, I found myself sorry about the raunch because the two lead characters are decent, thoughtful, worthwhile people who earn their happy ending. Plus, the movie has a laudable theme: It's all about self esteem (note the title).

Jay Baruchel ("Tropic Thunder") plays a gawky TSA employee who is polite, considerate and totally humiliated by his selfish ex-girlfriend. Jay's three friends are unanimous that he shouldn't demean himself trying to win her back, but he is willing to overlook her obvious character flaws. She's the only gal he's ever loved and besides, his parents love her too... they even love her NEW boyfriend!

Alice Eve ("Crossing Over"), who bears a spooky resemblance to Tiger Woods' wife Elin, portrays a traveler for whom our hero intercedes when his airport coworkers want to do a pat-down search, simply because she is beautiful and they want to get their hands on her. She can see that he is a gentleman. One thing leads to another and...you know...

There are plenty of obstacles they must overcome but we root for them all the way. No sweaty bodies, no blowie uppie stuff, and given his old rattletrap, there are certainly no car chases. There are lots of laughs, but oh! The RAUNCH from those buddies! This will hit the target audience (18- to 24-year-old guys) right in the funny bone.

Our Family Wedding

It's a rare family indeed who thinks their child's intended spouse is "good enough" to marry their darling. The two families featured here are no different. The major difference is the two fathers in this trivial bit of filmmaking: Forest Whitaker ("Vantage Point") and Carlos Mencia ("The Mind of Mencia") play the fathers, and a more bigoted, racist, juvenile pair I have never seen. Even though the audience was amused, I found myself embarrassed for the actors who had to portray such behavior.

America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty") and Lance Gross ("Meet the Browns") make an appealing engaged couple but I was surprised that these two intelligent characters could be so blindsided by their respective fathers' knee-jerk reactions to the idea of a marriage between a Hispanic woman and an African-American man.

Everyone is successful, educated and enlightened, so there was no excuse for the stereotypical portrayals. I found them demeaning and exasperating. The women fared much better: Diana-Maria Riva ("17 Again") and Regina King ("Southland") are, respectively, the bride's mother and the groom's family friend. They try desperately to inject a little intelligence and good manners into the mix.

In case you think I'm being a stuffy old dame, just picture the damage wrought by a Billy goat brought to a formal wedding after it gets into the host's Viagra! If you think that sounds hilarious, rush right down to your neighborhood theater.

The venue where we attended the screening is notorious for its poor sound quality, so that definitely played a role in my less-than-stellar experience.
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See what you think:
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Alice in Wonderland

If you have seen previous collaborations between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton ("Sweeney Todd," "Ed Wood," "Corpse Bride," "Sleepy Hollow," and "Edward Scissorhands" are a few of them) you already know what to expect. Expert filmmaking, unbridled fantasy, lots of computer generated imaging, and an underlying sense of menace.

As I watched this endeavor, it occurred to me that I have read neither Alice in Wonderland nor Through the Looking Glass in its entirety. Because of this failure on my part, I am NOT able to say if this film follows the books. However, as a cinephile, I can tell you that these guys know their business.

Adapted by Linda Woolverton ("The Lion King") from Lewis Carroll's books, this Disney production boasts:
  • a spunky heroine, played by Mia Wasikowska ("Vash-i-kov-ska") ("Defiance"), an import from Down Under,
  • a tea party of addled characters,
  • loathsome monsters,
  • colorful scenery and costumes,
  • Anne Hathaway ("Valentine's Day") as the White Queen,
  • a gap-toothed, orange-haired Johnny Depp ("Pirates of the Caribbean") as the Mad Hatter who recites Jabberwocky,
  • and Helen Bonham Carter ("Sweeney Todd") as the Red Queen who shouts "Off with her head!"
This movie can be viewed in either 2D or 3D. What more could I possibly want?


Brooklyn's Finest

In the first three minutes of this "Crash" -meets-Corrupt-Cops actioner, Vincent D'Onofrio ("Law and Order") verbalizes the central theme: If good people do bad things for a good reason, and bad people do good things for a bad reason, which is "Gooder," and which is "Badder?" Then we are launched into non-stop violence, with a bloody, highly profane view of what Hollywood thinks it takes to be a policeman in today's Brooklyn.

Director Antoine Fuqua ("King Arthur") uses an impressive roster of first-stringers:
  • Richard Gere ("Hachiko") is a low-achieving cop whose 20-year career is dwindling down to an uncelebrated retirement.
  • Don Cheadle ("Hotel for Dogs") is an undercover cop confronted with a demand to betray a friend.
  • Ethan Hawke ("New York, I Love You") is a narcotics cop with a desperate need to move his growing family to a new home that isn't infested with mold.
  • Wesley Snipes ("Blade") is a felon who is uneasy about his unexpectedly sudden release from the penitentiary.
  • Will Patton ("Wendy and Lucy") is the go-between for the undercover cop and a long-promised promotion.
  • Lili Taylor ("The Promotion") plays the fecund wife of a devoutly Catholic Brooklyn cop.
  • Ellen Barkin ("What Do Women Want?") is an ambitious official. (I still think Barkin is vastly overrated...)
This film is overloaded with crucifixes, pictures of Jesus on walls and other evidence of Catholicism. Is this Fuqua's way of thumbing his nose at religion or are the tawdry hangouts of drug dealers, white slavers and prostitutes always decorated this way? I guess I don't really need to know....