My Year Without Sex

This Australian entry to the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival illustrated the effects on a family when the mother suffers a brain aneurysm and isn't allowed to sneeze, lift heavy objects, or have sex, for a year.

My biggest problem with this film was my distaste for the mother. The father comes off as fairly likable and the daughter is a pistol, but the son is a cipher....and Mom? She is so egocentric it's a wonder her family puts up with her. Maybe the filmmaker was trying to show possible personality changes as a result of the catastrophe, but it just didn't come off.

Of course I enjoyed seeing Christmas celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere during the heat of summer, but I hated it when their goldfish died, their innocent dog was attacked and when the son was approached by a pedophile. I didn't "get" the importance of the dad's coaching or the mother's church attendance, as none of these events seemed to matter, nor did they tie in with the central theme...

The chapter titles for each month of that eponymous year were clever, but misleading.

Nah, I didn't much like it.

The Trotsky

Jay Baruchel ("How to Train Your Dragon," "She's Out of My League" and "Tropic Thunder") plays a high-school student named Leon who is barking mad. To the consternation of his exasperated parents, he insists that he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, the notorious Communist who was a leader of the Russian Revolution in 1917.

His first attempt at a summer job fails abysmally because he tries to organize the workers into a labor union, at his father's business! His activism causes enough trouble at school that his parents, in an attempt to punish him, condemn him to a (gasp!) PUBLIC SCHOOL for his next year of high school. Undaunted, he forges ahead, trying to create a Student Union that is a real union of students, complete with demands of the faculty. Of course his main challenge is the apathy of his classmates.

Given today's economic climate, his anti-business/anti-bankers rants actually garnered a spattering of applause in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival audience. It is fun to see a comedy that isn't about T & A, but instead about a youthful psyche groping with some serious philosophies.


Woman Without Piano

"La Mujer Sin Piano" (with English captions) is the sort of film that, in my opinion, gives film festivals a bad name.

First of all, the pace is glacial! The characters have the potential to be interesting but instead, they just walk around Madrid at night and don't do much. There is very little dialogue and what there is, proves oblique and puzzling.

The main character is a woman named Rosa, whose husband is a cab driver. Once he is asleep, she gets up, dons a wig and sets out on what may or may not be a nightly prowl around Madrid. The actress is wonderful but the story is nonexistent.

By the time this film finally meandered to a close, I had a few questions but absolutely NO answers. I found this frustrating and a waste of time. At the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival screening I attended, there was a spattering of applause, but it was more than offset by the number of people who walked out.

Oh yeah, in one scene there was a piano for about 60 seconds....

Like You Know it All

This South Korean entry to the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival seemed to run for about three hours. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was just over two hours (126 minutes).

The film centers around a film director, newly famous, who has been asked to serve as a judge for a film festival in Seoul. This turns out to be the least important element of the film, which seems to be about smoking and getting drunk, with the occasional sex act to try to make it more interesting.

It didn't work...



As you might expect from the title, this entry in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival concerns itself with a freshman entering college saddled with an inconvenient virginity. I automatically braced myself for a snicker and grin T & A-type toga party, but had to quickly alter my expectations. Although there are a few bongs around, the story quickly evolves into a far more complicated one.

There are no "name brand" actors in the cast, so I'll just talk about the characters:
  • Our hero is a talented artist but his parents are determined that he will be an engineer. His roommate is such a successful lothario, our guy quickly becomes sleep deprived.
  • One fellow student in his art class is a gorgeous woman (NOT a girl!) who seems flirtatious and approachable. There is a reason why she doesn't drink, though.
  • Our hero's roommate is the stereotypical horndog whose life is a constant party. He isn't above a practical joke or two, either.
  • A delectable 14-year-old girl gets a BIG crush on our hero. Problem is, she's the daughter of that gorgeous woman in his art class!
  • The parents footing the bill for this iffy college career are understandably concerned.
This is a film that will have trouble finding an audience. It's too dramatic for a comedy; too funny for a drama; doesn't have enough sex for a toga party; has too much sex for a family film.


Our hangdog hero will eventually have his day, though. Whew!


The Dish

"One small step for man..."

Remember that? Have you any idea how close we came to NOT hearing those immortal words? In this award-winning movie from Australia, Director Rob Sitch ("The Castle") shows us the challenges involved.

Because of the location of the moon landing, the position of the earth, and a host of technical issues, the satellite dish that was to receive this transmission was a hastily authorized one located in the middle of an Australian sheep paddock. This comedy of errors gives us an inside look at the people involved (with various levels of technical expertise), the problems encountered (wind, sheep and sand), and the political situation at the time (the cold war and a mayor's ego).

Part of our crew:
  • Sam Neill ("The Vow") is Cliff Buxton, doing his level best to cobble together a workable solution, under complicated and challenging circumstances.
  • Billy Mitchel (Australian TV) is Cameron, a local technician whose ingenuity is sorely taxed.
  • Roy Billing ("The Chronicles of Narnia") is Mayor Robert 'Bob' McIntyre, in the spotlight (or on the spot) with his first foray into global exposure.
  • Bille Brown ("Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries") is the Australian Prime Minister. Yes, even the Prime Minister became involved!
This delightful local view of an international event is interesting, heartwarming and funny. I've owned the DVD for years and loan it out on a regular basis. Rated PG-13 for mild profanity, this provides a peek at an event very few know about. It's always fun to know "the rest of the story."
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Here is a bit to enjoy:
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Some Days Are Better Than Others

This was actually a lot better than we expected. The interconnecting stories are cohesive...eventually...and the acting is good. Our 2010 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience was clearly invested in the outcome, but none of us were doing handstands over it.

Even though two of the main characters are (capably) played by lead singers from two well-known local bands: James Mercer, front man for The Shins; and Carrie Brownstein of Slater-Kinney, I think this film will have a problem finding an audience, as it isn't funny enough to be considered a comedy, the singing is incidental, and the drama is very understated.

This film centers around the detritus of life. One character is hired to help clear out the house of an elderly woman after she dies, another deals with abandoned dogs at the animal shelter, a third one works in a Salvation Army-type drop-off station. I very much appreciated the way the gal did her job of sorting clothes, books, toys, dishes, etc., etc., etc. And I admired the way she handled the situation when she discovered a burial urn that contained the ashes of a child.

None of these people are mean; each is trying to make his or her way through a marginal existence and still maintain a modicum of dignity. I like that...

This review was originally released May 2010, but finally showed up in a few theaters in April, 2011. In keeping with this glacial pace, the DVD is just being released on 04-24-12!


Just Wright

There is a certain comfort in watching a Romantic Comedy... Boy meets Girl...Boy loses Girl... you know....The only variation is in the details that are thrown at them between Points A and B.
  • Queen Latifah ("The Secret Life of Bees") is a physical therapist living in New Jersey. She is a dyed-in-the-wool basketball fan and The Nets are her NBA team of choice. I really like her beat-up old Mustang.
  • Common ("Date Night") is an NBA star who suffers a blown-out knee about two months before The Big Playoff. They had already met at a gas station, but a conniving childhood friend has stepped in and won his affections.
  • Paula Patton is that shallow friend. This role is a long ways from the saintly one she played in "Precious."
  • Phylicia Rashad ("Cosby" and lots of other TV) is the skeptical mother of the basketball star. Her alarm bells start to clang when she meets the new glamor puss girlfriend.
  • James Pickens Jr. ("Grey's Anatomy") is our heroine's Do-it-Yourself father. He wants to help with the fixer upper she bought.
Basketball fans will be gratified to see many favorite NBA coaches, trainers and stars, while the rest of us will enjoy the warm comforts of a good old-fashioned RomCom...

Letters to Juliet

At least it's a picturesque tour of the agricultural area surrounding Siena, Italy... This saccharine, predictable little fable boasts a reunion of sorts between a notorious pair from the 60s: Franco Nero (working non-stop in Italy since 1962) and Vanessa Redgrave ("Atonement") who met while filming "Camelot." To the delight of the tabloids of the day, they had a son together. Most of you are too young to remember Guinevere and Lancelot, but I got a kick out of seeing them share the screen again, after all these years.

Little Known Fact: There is an actual group of women who reply to letters tucked in a wall by distraught lovers at Juliet's grave site in Verona, Italy. As we all know, Romeo's Juliet is fictitious, but in Verona tourism pays well, so I guess if your heart's broken...

In this contrived plot, our heroine, played by Amanda Seyfried ("Dear John") has gone to Italy with her ebullient fiancé, played by Gael García Bernal ("Motorcycle Diaries") who is opening his own restaurant in New York City. I have never seen Bernal so energetic, upbeat and delightful; his English is excellent and he comes across as extremely articulate and appealing. Because he is busy calling on his future wine, cheese and olive oil suppliers, she is at loose ends and discovers the wall with those "Letters to Juliet." The upshot is, she stumbles onto a 50-year-old letter that had never been found, so she sends a reply.

Lo and behold, within days the letter writer, now almost 70, turns up with her grandson, blandly played by Christopher Egan ("Crush"); she is hoping for a second chance with the Italian man she rejected 50 years ago.

The search commences....

One question: Aren't Seyfried's 15 minutes up yet?

Casino Jack and the United States of Money

Okay, okay. I get it, I get it! Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!

This interesting but ultimately tedious documentary was created to show compelling evidence that Jack Abramoff and his cronies were crooks. Even though Abramoff was sentenced to an egregiously short prison term, I think that point has already been made.

As I sat through this thing I was trying to envision who it was for: Politics is boring for the average American, sad to say; the trial is already over; the topics aren't interesting enough for an after-school special; it's too long for a political convention, although it is clearly anti-Republican. Of course, here on the Left Coast it was already preaching to the choir....

Some of the elements in the trial were amusing. The former lifeguard who was asked to head a money-laundering front organization was funny and wry. When asked about his credentials that made him an appropriate choice, he laughs and admits that he isn't qualified to run a Ben and Jerry's, let alone an international corporation (it was in a tiny beachfront cabin and he lived upstairs). This particular front was used by Abramoff so he could lobby Congress for Malaysia without registering as a lobbyist for a foreign country.

The e-mails used for the part of the trial which involved bilking Indian tribes while ostensibly lobbying for their casinos, are noteworthy for their blatant racism and utter contempt for the clients. The Pennsylvania Avenue address in DC where the tribes mailed their checks was actually a Mail Boxes, Etc.!

Some of Abramoff's background, e.g., his conversion to Judaism and his college campus days, is interesting, but this whole thing could have clocked in at under an hour. Yawn...

Robin Hood

It's the early 1200s. Richard The Lionheart is killed in France as his battle-weary Crusaders plunder their way back to England. Our story takes place BEFORE the signing of the Magna Carta in 1214, although you can see the idea formulating with the barons who expect even more onerous taxation as their newly crowned King John demonstrates his ineptitude at leadership (he lost his war with France in the next year or so). This was centuries after Pax Romana, so it is no surprise to see old Roman mileposts along the road.

Enough history! Let's talk about who's who in this romp (there is far more humor and music than I expected). Some of these folks completely fooled me:
  • Russell Crowe ("State of Play") is our hero. It's fun to watch him assemble his well-known cadre of friends.
  • Cate Blanchett ("Indiana Jones....Crystal Skull") Marian was married for a week to a fellow who left with Richard the Lionheart. This spirited gal has been living and working on her blind father-in-law's farm for years.
  • Max von Sydow ("Shutter Island") It is this blind man's idea to pass off Robin Longstride as his long-absent son, to secure ownership of his farm for his hard-working daughter-in-law when he dies.
  • Mark Strong ("Sherlock Holmes") is the double-dealing villain of the piece. He has a generous amount of on-screen time and uses it well.
  • Eileen Atkins ("Cranford") is Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of two kings and mother of two. She has a wry view of power.
  • Danny Huston ("Edge of Darkness") I never suspected that he was playing Richard the Lionheart!
  • Mark Addy ("The Full Monty") His Friar Tuck is a beekeeper.
  • Matthew Macfadydn ("Death at a Funeral" - 2007) has a very funny moment as the Sheriff of Nottingham.
  • William Hurt ("Endgame") is one of the leaders who sees the flaws in newly crowned King John.
  • Oscar Isaac ("Body of Lies") is Prince (soon to be King) John. He is selfish, spoiled, cowardly and short-sighted. We get great satisfaction knowing that this piece of work will be forced to sign the Magna Carta in the near future!
The list could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Director Ridley Scott shows us how hard the serfs worked in those days...e.g., plowing, horseshoeing, fetching water, etc. Blanchett looks pretty convincing as she works on that horse's hoof or wrestles with a plow! She and Crowe manage to generate some heat even though they keep most of their clothes on!

140 minutes running time! When will they let ME do the editing? I'd be happy to prune off LOTS of tedious slaughter!


Paper Man

Talk about avoidance behavior!

This "blocked" author builds a couch out of unsold books from his earlier novel. At his getaway cabin on Montauk, he moves all the furniture into the yard. He chats endlessly with Captain Excellent, an imaginary friend who is a holdover from his childhood. Our writer hires a babysitter to come to the cabin for a couple of hours a week even though he has no children. He won't "pick up" when his wife calls from the city, nor will he return her calls. He is stuck on the opening line to his new book AND he doesn't know what to do with his hands!

This movie has the potential to be endlessly boring, but in the skilled hands of writer/directors Kieran and Michele Mulroney along with the always dependable Jeff Daniels ("The Answer Man" and "The Look- out") as the writer, his midlife crisis is involving and entertaining. Emma Stone ("Zombieland") is the babysitter; she does most of the heavy lifting in this film, although I have to remind myself that Daniels makes his work look so easy, he probably does as much or more than Ms. Stone.

Lisa Kudrow ("Hotel for Dogs") is the baffled vascular surgeon married to our hero, while Kieran Culkin ("Lymelife") is the devoted friend who shadows our babysitter. A very buff Ryan Reynolds ("The Proposal"), complete with blue leotard, spandex, and blonde hair, is Captain Excellent, who very much wants to move on...

I may watch this again when the DVD becomes available, because there were bits of the dialogue that were hard to discern. Young American actors do NOT know how to articulate!


I Am Love

First of all, I freely admit that I am not an artiste. Next, I'm happy to own that I'm not above a little nudity or a sweaty body or two if a story calls for them. But finally, I prefer stories that GO somewhere....

In "Io sono l'amore" (with English captions) we saw far too many Italian streets and buildings, with architectural details lovingly caressed by the camera, ad infinitum, before the story had begun.

In fact, I despaired that the story ever WOULD begin before a bit of plot was finally thrown our way. Then we meandered through an enormous, elegant home; admired expensively dressed aristocrats; and hungered after exquisitely prepared meals. In other words, we sampled snippets of life among the idle rich.

Eventually we sorted out some of the players:
  • The mamma is played by Tilda Swinton ("Burn After Reading") who is a trophy wife imported from Russia.
  • Her favored son and heir is played by Flavio Parenti (lots of Italian TV) who wants to get out of the textile business and become a restaurateur.
  • Edoardo Gabbriellini (lots of Italian TV) is the fellow who wants to open a restaurant with that son.
  • Pippo Delbono ("The Sofa") is the papa, a wealthy textile manufacturer looking to liquidate his holdings.
Mamma falls for her son's friend, amid endless shots of honey bees, flower blossoms, waving wheat sheaves, clover and sweet peas. Despite nudity and orgasmic orchestration, I could discern absolutely NO heat and was not in the least bit invested with the outcome.

If you have lots of patience, maybe you'll appreciate this film. There was a spattering of applause from some of the audience members at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival, but others had already walked out....


Iron Man 2

Director Jon Favreau ("Iron Man") refused to go back and tweak his film to make it look like it was shot in 3D. Good for him! This film is great in 2D because it relies on the actors, the story and naturally, lots of CGI. Yup! High-speed car chases, rockets, gunfire, and LOTS of blowie uppie stuff!

We love Robert Downey, Jr. as billionaire Tony Stark, not because he's handsome, not because he's rich, but because he's funny and SMART! When something needs to be done, he rolls up his sleeves, does the math and builds a mini supercollider right there in Malibu. Okay, this takes a little suspension of disbelief, but who cares...

Once again, we enjoy:
  • Robert Downey, Jr. ("Iron Man" and "Sherlock Holmes"), all suited up and awesome. Problem is, remember how he got a mechanical heart in that first film? Well, it's wearing out and he's in deep trouble.
  • Gwyneth Paltrow ("Iron Man" and "Two Lovers") still serves her boss with efficiency and devotion. The dialogue between these two is delicious, they bicker and interrupt like a long-time couple.
  • Jon Favreau ("Iron Man") is the pragmatic head chauffeur for the CEO of Stark Enterprises, no matter who he or she might be...
  • Don Cheadle ("Brooklyn's Finest") takes over as Rhodey Rhodes, a loyal friend, but military through and through.
  • Scarlett Johansson ("He's Just Not That Into You") is a newly hired assistant at Stark Enterprises... we think...
  • Sam Rockwell ("Moon") is the smarmy industrialist trying to beat our hero at his own game.
  • Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler") is a disaffected Russian scientist, frustrated, angry ...and tattooed!
Despite all the special effects, the relationships and most particularly the dialogue, are noteworthy. Downey matches styles with whomever he shares a scene, his character's failing health is literally a military secret, and it takes Samuel L. Jackson to come on board and get his attention!

We even got a teaser for the next sequel. It should be a dandy, too!