Furry Vengeance

I wonder if Brendan Fraser drinks. That would be one way to dull the pain when your main source of income is in witless but popular kiddie fare, while your more artistic attempts are studiously ignored. His "Mummy" franchise was enormously $ucce$$ful, as was "Dudley Do-Right," while the more earnest "Extraordinary Measures" landed with a thud at the box office.

At Saturday's screening, he was, once again, cast in an unflattering role, physically unattractive, socially inept and professionally craven. However, and this is a BIG however, the audience response was so enthusiastic I actually thought for a moment that there was a separate laugh track. When I looked around the theater, I saw people were totally involved with the animatronic critters, all of whom were explosives experts and psychological warfare specialists. Children and adults were vocal in their glee as they watched the animals devise corporate dirty tricks along with tactical skunk emissions and the pathetic sight of a slightly pudgy Fraser forced to dash out of his house in an ill-fitting woman's sweat suit.

Fraser's character has moved his unwilling wife, played by Brooke Shields ("Lipstick Jungle") and son, played by Matt Prokop ("High School Musical") to Oregon to develop a "green" community, unaware that the evil corporation that employs him has no intention of keeping it green. Of course, a local raccoon is aware, so he quickly musters all the critters in the forest; they attack Fraser because he represents the developer.

This brings me to Ken Jeong ("The Hangover") who plays Fraser's boss. This actor is all over the place: movies, good and bad; plus TV, good and bad. I have to say that he can make me laugh, even when I really do NOT like the characters he plays. I guess there's something to be said for that.

Oh well, the kids are gonna love this movie!


The Losers

Graphic novels are the new comic books. This DC Comics creation has a major emphasis on "comic." This cartoonish outing features a CIA black ops team that is betrayed (naturally!) but escapes because they had unknowingly allowed 26 Bolivian schoolchildren to evacuate in their place on a doomed helicopter. They toss their dog tags into the burning wreckage and disappear. Their motivation for the remainder of the film is revenge for those unwarranted deaths.

Yup. Lots of gunfire, mortar rounds, automatic weapons and blowie uppie stuff, all done with sardonic asides and character-driven humor, over- the-top violence and impossible odds. The heroes are heroic, the villains are villainous and the ending is never in doubt...well...maybe one little glitch...

Let's look at some of the actors:
  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan ("Taking Woodstock") plays the team leader. Now that they are officially dead, he no longer has his military rank, so must lead his troops by force of personality; he has notoriously bad taste in women....
  • Chris Evans ("The Nanny Diaries") is the comic relief; he plays the romantically awkward techie who also, courtesy of a stunt double, shows us some parcour-style action. I enjoy watching this impressively athletic genre and always want more....
  • Idris Elba ('Stringer Bell' in "The Wire") is the crew member who constantly challenges their team leader. That testosterone-laden rivalry strikes me as sorta silly, but then I'm a little short in the testosterone department....
  • Jason Patric ("My Sister's Keeper") is the arch-villain Max, new owner of the latest weapon of mass destruction; he has many of the good lines and makes the most of them. I never understood what was up with his left hand....
  • Zoë Saldana ("Avatar") is the mysterious dame who hires our heroes to capture "Max," make big bucks, and avenge those poor little dead schoolchildren. Saldana has a GREAT agent! She has appeared in "Death at a Funeral," "Star Trek" and "Vantage Point" in less than two years....
It is what it is: Entertainment.

The Back-up Plan

The career of Jennifer Lopez ("El Cantante") is a mystery to me. She's pretty enough, she's certainly successful, and she doesn't lack ambition, but for some reason, to me, her movies just never seem very good.

In "The Back-up Plan" she plays a determined, ambitious business woman whose biological clock is ticking. Rather then spend any time worrying about it, she decides to have a child and is inseminated.

Naturally on that very day (!) she meets the man of her dreams, played by Alex O'Loughlin ("Whiteout"), who runs a goat-cheese shop in her neighborhood. The fact that these two supposed lovebirds generate absolutely NO heat on screen was exacerbated by obvious personality flaws in each character: He has commitment issues and she is arbitrary and capricious.

I found this predictable non-starter to be objectionable on many levels, but particularly for the graphic depictions of pelvic exams, insemination procedures and a truly repugnant scene with a woman giving birth in a child's wading pool with a gang of women chanting and drumming their support.

Too much information!


The Eclipse

This spooky thriller was compromised by three unnecessarily gruesome GOTCHA! moments. Set in the midst of the Cobh Literary Festival in County Cork, Ireland, this otherwise high-quality suspense film introduces three principal players:
  • Ciarán Hinds ("Persuasion" and "Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day"), portrays a local widower who is striving to raise his two motherless children, tend his elderly father, and volunteer as a driver for celebrities who are visiting the Festival. Problem is, because of recent events in his home, he is starting to believe in ghosts.
  • Iben Hjejle ("The Boss of it All" and "High Fidelity") plays an author of a best-selling novel about ghosts. Her character gets some unwanted attention from a visiting American author. This lovely Danish actress reminds me of a young Robin Wright Penn.
  • Aidan Quinn ("Wild Child" and "Practical Magic") is a loutish American author, a pathetic philanderer, drunk and disorderly, but a celebrity who exudes charisma, just the same... (I LIKE Aidan Quinn.)
Because of dim lighting, whispered conversations and Irish accents, you might have a little trouble making out the dialogue. If so, you might want to wait for this one on DVD; it's scheduled to come out June 29th, so it won't be long... I'll send a reminder.

Death at a Funeral - 2010

Hmmm... This is a pretty fair copy of the terrific British original, "Death at a Funeral" - 2007, but being American, they have ramped up the profanity and added some truly gross bits (is that why Hollywood calls their take the "grosses?"). At least they kept one actor, without whom I cannot imagine this movie being made.

Let's talk about the cast:
  • Peter Dinklage ("Death at a Funeral" - 2007 and "Find Me Guilty"), this handsome fellow is a MOST unwelcome guest at the funeral! He played the same central character in the original.
  • Zoë Saldana ("Avatar" and "Vantage Point"), her character is the one who inadvertently administers a hallucinogen to her anxious fiancé just before the funeral. Quick question: How skinny must she be in real life to appear this slender on the big screen?
  • Chris Rock ("Everybody Hates Chris" and "Good Hair"), he plays the eldest son of the deceased: dependable, worried, and financially strapped.
  • Martin Lawrence ("College Road Trip" and "Bad Boys"), is the feckless younger brother, a successful author of best-selling sexploitation drivel. Mom always liked him best...
  • Tracy Morgan ("Cop Out" and "30 Rock"), plays a loose cannon who has been invited to the funeral.
  • Ron Glass ("Lakeview Terrace" and "Firefly"), his character is Zoë Saldana's father, highly disapproving of her choice for a husband.
  • Danny Glover ("2012"), his cantankerous character is trans- ported from his nursing home to the funeral. Director Neil LaBute couldn't resist paying homage to his iconic "Lethal Weapon" character, with both situation and dialogue.
  • James Marsden ("Enchanted" and "27 Dresses"), this good- looking fellow has been leaning more and more to straight comedy and even though they have overdone his character's hallucinations, he gives it all he's got - LITERALLY. No full frontal nudity, but lots of full backtal...smile...
Even though I "imprinted" on the British original, the screening crowd responded enthusiastically and audibly to this version. It IS the same, but also very, very different.


The Last Song

Here's another entry in the soggy hanky school of cinema. We know if it's based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, that's inevitable. Furthermore, he adapted his own novel specifically for Miley Cyrus in her first starring non-Hannah Montana role. In my opinion, she didn't embarrass herself, but she didn't set the world on fire, either.

Our heroine is the alienated daughter of a divorced couple, played by Kelly Preston ("Old Dogs") and Greg Kinnear ("Ghost Town"). Dad is a former concert pianist and teacher who has retreated to a beach resort town in Georgia. Mom is planning her wedding to a new fellow and is distracted, so they have agreed that both of their children will spend the summer with their dad. The little brother is winningly played by Bobby Coleman ("Post Grad"), while Cyrus plays a high-school graduate who has been accepted by Juilliard, but is so wrapped up in being spiteful, she refuses to go.

Summer romance stalks into her life in the shape (!!) of Liam Hemsworth ("Triangle" and LOTS of Australian TV) playing volleyball on the beach. I don't know what they feed their men in Australia, but I sure wish it could be exported. This predictable movie gives us a wonderful Greg Kinnear (when is he NOT wonderful) and some sappy situations (turtle eggs, anyone?), but I'd pay good money to see Hemsworth's wonderful shoulders any time! Yum!


City Island

City Island is a modest working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of New York City. Its citizens are long-time residents who are employed in a variety of mundane jobs, e.g., receptionists, prison guards, etc., some of which are across the bridge in The City, and some closer to home.

"City Island" is a film about secrets: secrets held by working-class folks who have fashioned decent lives with their homes, their jobs and their families. Some of the secrets seem trivial, e.g., spouses still sneaking cigarettes even though they claim to have quit smoking, while other secrets are worthy of a film.

Writer/Director Raymond De Felitta ("'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris") has assembled a top-notch cast, among whom we see:
  • Andy Garcia (the "Ocean's" franchise) as a third generation Italian citizen of City Island; he is corrections officer who is concealing his acting lessons from his wife. In addition, he has another really BIG secret.
  • Julianna Margulies ("The Good Wife") is our hero's equally Italian wife, opinionated, outspoken and more than a little frustrated. She is determined to create a secret of her own.
  • Steven Strait ("Stop-Loss") plays a felon whose mere existence is a huge secret.
  • Alan Arkin ("Sunshine Cleaning") is a Brando-hating acting instructor who secretly slips out for auditions.
  • Dominik Garcia-Lorido ("Reflections") is the Italian couple's college-age daughter; believe me, she should keep her job a secret! Fun Fact: she is the real life daughter of Andy Garcia, here playing his film daughter.
  • Ezra Miller (lots of TV) is their teenage son with a weighty secret desire....
  • Emily Mortimer ("Shutter Island") plays a fellow student in our hero's acting class; she has not one secret, but three!
This is billed as a drama, but it's laced with good-natured humor through- out, e.g., did they ever finish building that extra bathroom? Our screening crowd thoroughly enjoyed it.

Date Night

Steve Carrell ("The Office") and Tina Fey ("30 Rock") are two of the best comic actors working today. This delightful outing had the screening audience chortling from the first scene. In real life, both have been married to the same spouse for years, so they capture perfectly the essence of a marriage gone just a little bit stale. Our couple regularly hires a sitter and has a "Date Night," but they tend to take their daily cares along.

They suffer a shock when a couple with whom they have socialized announce their pending divorce. This motivates them to heat up their next date; Carrell promises a swanky meal at a swanky restaurant, but they can't get a table. While waiting in the bar, they hear a name announced repeatedly and realize that the folks by that name aren't there, so they pretend it is THEIR name and get a table after all.

Problem is, the no-show couple was hiding from some thugs, played by Jimmi Simpson ("The Invention of Lying") and Common ("American Gangster"), and this would-be romantic evening turns into a hilarious chase based on a mistaken identity.

Lending their comic talents to this wild escapade, are:
  • Mark Wahlberg ("The Lovely Bones") is a former real estate client of our heroine...he never wears a shirt;
  • Mark Ruffalo ("Zodiac") is the soon-to-be-divorced friend;
  • Kristen Wiig ("Whip It") is the soon-to-be-divorced spouse;
  • James Franco ("Pineapple Express") is the REAL guy with the reservation at the restaurant;
  • Mila Kunis ("The Book of Eli") is his foul-mouthed but ever-lovin' spouse;
  • Ray Liotta ("Battle in Seattle") is a wiseguy capo;
  • Taraji P. Henson ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") is a cop to the rescue;
  • and Will.i.am (Black-eyed Peas), does a cameo as "Will i Am"...
all of whom play it completely "straight," which of course, adds to the comedy.

No sweaty bodies, no blowie uppie stuff, but LOTS of gunfire and vehicular mayhem. And a good time was had by all!



"Okuribito" ("Departures") was one of the hits of the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival. I heard nothing but raves about it, so obtained the DVD from the city library. I had to wait while hundreds before me enjoyed it.

This is a tale of a contemporary Japanese cellist whose orchestra folds for lack of financing, so he has to find a job. He takes his perpetually sunny wife to his childhood hometown so they can live rent free in his deceased mother's house. As he scans the want ads, he sees one about "Departures" that includes the magic words, "No experience necessary!" Of course, he sets off immediately, thinking it must be a travel agency.

He is hired and has accepted an advance on his pay before they explain that the ad had a typo; he will be helping prepare corpses for their departures to the crematorium. He is horrified but really needs the money, so he avoids telling his wife the exact nature of his work.

To me, the most interesting thing is the cultural difference in the way the deceased are cared for in the Orient. Professional encoffineers do the work that we here in the Occident expect from the mortician: they cleanse the body, fix the hair, shave and apply makeup. Furthermore, this is done in full view of the family, albeit tactfully masked from their watchful eyes with ingenious draping throughout the process!

As I watched this elegant ceremony I was struck by the calming effect and the respectful grace these professionals bring to what could be an emotional gathering as they quietly prepare loved ones for their final farewells. I appreciated the different attitudes they encountered from those widely diverse families. The first scene is hilarious as our neophyte encoffineer encounters a surprise under the masking drapery: the lovely woman he has been preparing turns out to be an entertainer...a drag queen!

We admire the skills this fellow acquires and hope his wife gets over the shock after she discovers what he does for a living. In addition, we learn about stone letters; these add an important and touching element to the story.

The music is delicious. The cello arrangements range from Mozart and Handel to "Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop..." This is in Japanese with terrific English captions. The interview with the director also has captions and I think you will find it educational...I know I did.


Coco Before Chanel

Writer/Director Anne Fontaine ("The Girl From Monaco") had signed Audrey Tautou ("Amelie" and "The Da Vinci Code") to this project before she wrote one word of the script for "Coco avant Chanel." That's how convinced she was that Tautou would be the perfect Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel, in her fictionalized take on the formative years that made Coco Chanel the icon of women's fashion, not only in Paris, but globally.

We follow Gabrielle and her sister Adrienne from their trip to the Catholic orphanage where their father left them, to her attempts to make a living as a mediocre cabaret singer and a would-be actress. One of her trademark songs was "Have you seen my dog Coco?" from which she derived her nickname, which stuck with her for the rest of her life.

One her first "sponsors" was a happy-go-lucky scion of a wealthy family, played by French actor Benoît Poelvoorde. Although he was inclined to keep her out of sight from his society friends, this was her first taste of elegance and beautiful homes. She likened women's fashions of the day to "meringue" and pitied the wearers for the constrictions of corsets and the constraints of massive hats. To her sponsor's dismay, she persisted in dressing like a boy and her square peg could not be pounded into society's round hole.

We see her meet the love of her life, an Englishman, played by Boston- born Alessandro Nivola ("Grace is Gone"), who had to brush up on his high-school French and learn to ride a horse well enough to pretend to play polo. Yes, this movie is in French with English captions.

When things went bad for Gabrielle, she would fall back on her abilities as a hat maker and as a hard-headed seamstress who could not be talked into strapping women into corsets; she also was a ground-breaking proponent of women riding horses astraddle and wearing trousers.

What would our world be like today without her influence?

My thanks to the JayFlix individual who talked me into getting this DVD from the city library.


Clash of the Titans

Okaaay... Sam Worthington in a skirt ain't all that bad!

Our aforementioned Mr. W. ("Terminator" and "Avatar") must have a terrific agent! He has been in blockbusters ever since he came up from Down Under. I haven't figured out what is so appealing about him, but whatever it is, he's got it.

Suffice it to say, our hero is:
  • a demigod -- half god, half human;
  • dauntless -- he attacks giant scorpions with just a spear;
  • loyal -- he dives to impossible depths to try to rescue his adopted family from their sinking boat;
  • brave -- he rejects the magic sword his father Zeus (Liam Neeson) has provided;
  • impractical -- he wants to win this "Clash" with Hades (Ralph Fiennes) as a human, not as a god.
Other warriors in his cohort are played by:
  • Mads Mikkelsen ("Casino Royale" and "After the Wedding")
  • Nicholas Hoult ("A Single Man" and "About a Boy")
  • Gemma Arterton ("Lost in Austen")
  • Mouloud Achour (Cyprien")
  • Ashraf Barhom ("The Kingdom")
There are great opportunities for spectacular CGI when our little troop of heroes crosses the Styx, when Perseus slays Medusa, and when he rides Pegasus (don't ask...) to save Andromeda (Alexa Davalos). As is to be expected, our literary experts in Hollywood felt it was necessary to tweak Greek mythology just a tad to make it more marketable, but then again, who's to say for sure....


Still Bill

Poet, composer, philosopher, husband, father, and former stutterer, performer Bill Withers (Ain't No Sunshine and Lean on Me) is profiled in this nicely edited documentary which reinforces our impression that this is an exemplary human being. He won a Grammy in 1981 and was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 2005.

Born in the tiny coal-mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia, Withers had a childhood that shaped him: bullied by cruel classmates, supported by close chums, and cheered by his beloved grandmother (Grandma's Hands), his primary ambition was to GET OUT! To this end, he joined the Navy at age seventeen.

We follow (via snapshots and affectionate reunions) his path in the Navy ("There's a girl behind every tree in Guam!" "There's only two trees on the whole island!") to his job installing toilets in airliners for McDonnell Douglas; he was a barroom singer (but only after a couple of drinks) until he managed to launch Ain't No Sunshine.

From Withers' wry observations about his beginnings in the music business ("You need an intro here." "What's an intro?") and the brutal effects of touring ("They wanted me to wear a gold lamé suit!"), it's very clear why he turned his back on performing and turned his focus instead, on things closer to his heart, namely his marriage and his family. Looking at his remarkable résumé I suspect he has made a comfortable living from the rights to his music, as his unforgettable songs have been used in numerous movies and on countless TV shows.

This is an articulate fellow, obviously revered by his peers (Sting even adds his two-cents worth), his life well managed by his own solid values and by a wife with an MBA. His children are successful in their own right and it's clear how much love and respect there is in their lovely home.

No, I haven't told you too much. It's a pleasure to spend some time with this fine, humorous man and you will come away with a big smile, and with an even higher regard for him as a warm, kind man. The screening I attended at NW Film Forum in Seattle concluded with an invitation to tell our friends about the movie, buy the DVD or book it from Netflix. One of my JayFlix folks was in touch with Marcia Withers. The website for the DVD is: http://www.stillbillthemovie.com/home.html. I'm sorry I don't have a better link to a preview.
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