Grown Ups

It looks as though contemporary humor consists of trading insults, slams to the crotch, fart jokes, ogling gals in short shorts, and getting drunk and disorderly. Adam $andler ("Funny People" and "Bedtime Stories") knows this stuff by heart. In fact, he has built an enviable career portraying developmentally delayed man/boys ("The Wedding Singer," "Big Daddy" and "Mr. Deeds").

In this, his latest outing, he doesn't stint on these audience-pleasing elements, but buried (deeply!) in this script are some laudable tips for parenting: Get your kids away from the TV set, the video games and the text messaging. Let them learn how to entertain themselves: skip a rock, dribble a basketball and play Chutes and Ladders (no batteries required).

Sandler is a successful LA talent agent, married to a gorgeous fashion designer, played by Salma Hayek ("Frida"), with whom he has three over-indulged children. Their marriage is rock solid or it couldn't weather the week he arranges at a cabin. The most influential basketball coach of his youth has died and he reconnects with four other team members at the funeral. He has been asked to spread the coach's ashes at an old weekend retreat, so he convinces his former buddies to bring their families and they will recapture their youth.

Trot out the talented team:
  • Chris Rock ("Death at a Funeral") is married to Maya Rudolph ("Away We Go"), and is saddled with a mother-in-law who farts (I warned you)
  • Kevin James ("Mall Cop") is married to Maria Bello ("The Jane Austen Book Club"), who still nurses their four-year-old son.
  • Rob Schneider ("American Virgin") is married to Joyce Van Patten ("Marley and Me"). These two actors milk the "ick" factor to death, with their lecherous interaction compounded by a twenty-year age difference (she's the older one, which is considered really, really icky).
  • David Spade ("I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry") is still chasing skirts but is married to a bottle of booze.
Eight-year-old boys LOVED it when the camera lingered on the crotches and breasts of lissome young women. They also LOVED to see the characters fall face first into poop or mud, and they LOVED the insults. There was a lot of laughter and the audience exited the theater upbeat and happy. Personally? I was mentally reviewing synonyms for "inane." Puerile, foolish, insipid, meaningless, stupid...need I go on?


Knight and Day

Ya want action? This thing has ACTION! Gunfights, fistfights, foot races (on rooftops!), car chases, and ambushes. You are on airplanes, cars, trains, speedboats, trucks, helicopters...even a motorcycle during a running of the bulls in Pamplona and some blowie uppie stuff. Great locations? You are in Spain, Austria, East Coast, West Coast, Jamaica, the Midwest, a remote tropical island and in a waterfront warehouse.

This thing is laugh-out-loud silly from beginning to end, and it never, ever takes itself seriously. I think that's why I would call this an Action/Chick Flick. Director James Mangold knows his stuff when it comes to gunfights ("3:10 to Yuma"), romance ("Kate and Leopold"), and dirty cops ("Cop Land"), so we are in good hands from the get go.

Cameron Diaz ("Shrek" and "My Sister's Keeper") has to get to Kansas for her sister's wedding. She bumps into Tom Cruise ("Tropic Thunder" and "Valkyrie") at the airport and ends up on an airliner where she is the only passenger who isn't an assassin. Of course this is too absurd, so she keeps denying that any of it is real while he helps her dodge bullets, escape villains and get to that blasted wedding!

There is no attempt at realism and that is just fine with us! At one point he grabs her in a diner and holds a gun to her head. He yells at the startled customers, "Nobody follow us or I'll kill myself and then her!" When he wounds her former boyfriend he ends up charming the poor guy anyway!

The dialogue is very funny; both Diaz and Cruise are appealing capable stars and they are ably supported by Peter Sarsgaard ("An Education") as an FBI man and Paul Dano ("The Extra Man") as a wacky inventor who is targeted for kidnapping.

Go on....you KNOW you'll enjoy it!


Toy Story 3

Some parents will never learn! Just because Disney/Pixar is associated with a film is NOT license to bring one- to four-year-old toddlers to the theater. Parents at today's matinee had their hands full and most had to leave before the film was over. Here are some reasons why:
  • Abandonment issues are too complex; tots don't understand why the toys are angry, confused or traumatized.
  • They don’t understand why Buzz Lightyear speaks Spanish after his reset button is pushed (and they can't read the captions).
  • They don't understand how that trash bag mix-up caused such a huge misunderstanding, or what the misunderstanding IS.
  • They don't understand how recycling facilities work and might find those scenes scary: the incinerator, the shredders and the magnets.
Older children and adults, on the other hand, will relish the lessons in teamwork, loyalty, vanity, resourcefulness, tenacity, and good old- fashioned love. The final scene when our college-bound Andy, voiced again by John Morris ("Toy Story 2"), has to dispose of his childhood toys is poignant and heart-warming. Pixar can convey so much with a slight intake of breath or a sag of the shoulders as tension eases.

The story is logical, as eleven years have passed since Toy Story 2, and the same terrific voice talents have returned: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, John Ratzenberger, and Don Rickles (among others). New players include Ned Beatty as the misleadingly cornpone huggy bear and Michael Keaton as Ken, who lives in Barbie's Dream House. As Andy, no longer a little boy, prepares for college, the toys are boxed up for the attic. Things go awry and they are sent to a daycare center instead, where the story really gains momentum.

What they do about it and why, is the gist of this wonderful story; but do NOT bring a child under seven or eight... Please!

Jonah Hex

Graphic novels (comic books) are considered reliable source material for Hollywood these days. No longer interested in Superman's stodgy old standards ("truth, justice and the American way"), they have ramped up the grotesque, ramped up the horror, and ramped the blowie uppie stuff WAAAAY up!

Action fans really enjoyed the gun fights, the knife fights, the hatchet fights, the sword fights, and even got a look at a post Civil War Weapon of Mass Destruction! Aaarghhh, cartoons....

The characters and the actors who played them include:
  • Damaged hero, played by Josh Brolin ("No Country for Old Men"), a scarred, grieving, monosyllablic bounty hunter, has a horse named "Horse" and a mangy dog he hasn't given a name. He was brought back to life by the Crow Indians, so he can "talk to the dead" (you really don't want to see it!).
  • Dastardly villain, played by John Malkovich ("Burn After Reading"), who made our hero watch as his wife and child were burned to death, then branded him on the face. Oh yeah, he's the one with the WMD. Nice guy....
  • Gleeful henchman, played by Michael Fassbender ("Inglorious Basterds"), who loves having power over his victims.
  • Hooker with a heart of gold, played by Megan Fox ("Trans- formers"), who believes in a LOT of concealed weapons.
  • President Grant, played by Aidan Quinn ("The Eclipse"), who knows the disgraced Jonah Hex is our country's only chance....
I enjoy sardonic humor, but bottom line... Did I like it? Not so much...

Solitary Man

We start out on Michael Douglas' side. This guy has been around most of our lives ("Romancing the Stone," "Streets of San Francisco," "Wall Street" and "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past") and we WANT to like him. Imagine our dismay when, with every scene, his character sinks lower and lower until we do a collective groan as he hits bottom. This is NOT a likeable man and he rarely thinks with his "big head." He might love his family, but he loves himself far more.

This character is a rags-to-riches guy, worked his way through college, eventually became a multi-millionaire with car dealerships all over the northeast. Then he got this bright idea...and ended up with a front page scandal and a ruined reputation. Problem is, he still thinks he belongs on the cover of Forbes...with a new nymphet in his bed each night.

Here are some of the exasperated people he alienates:
  • Susan Sarandon ("The Lovely Bones") plays his first wife, dumped, but who landed on her feet;
  • Jenna Fischer ("The Office") preaches fiscal responsibility to her spendthrift dad;
  • Mary-Louise Parker ("Weeds") is stunned by his immorality...but not for long. Hell hath no fury...
  • Danny DeVito ("House Broken") runs a deli; he's the closest thing to a genuine friend our hero may ever have.
There are so many cringe-worthy moments we start to root against him; we watch him suffer from his self-inflicted wounds, oblivious to the implications of his actions. It takes a couple of smart young women to voice our outrage and we applaud when they do!

There are too many "Ick" moments; I wonder if this movie will find an audience....



"L'affaire Farewell" (English captions) was a huge hit at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival. The whole point of this Spy-vs.-Spy story, based on actual events, is the hope that somehow, some way, one person can change history.

We become acquainted with a French engineer, a young bookish-looking fellow, living in Moscow with his wife and two small children. He is asked to meet someone and pick up "a package." His contact is a Russian man who looks like a genial unmade bed, rumpled and weary. When he takes the package home, he and his wife decide to sneak a peek before he delivers it to Paris. They are shocked to see highly secure data from the United States, e.g., codes to get into the White House, schematics of Air Force One, etc., etc.

Little by little, our Frenchman, Pierre Canet, develops an understanding and an affection for the Russian, Colonel Grigoriev Kusturica of the KGB, who has become disenchanted with Russia under Communism. He no longer trusts the KGB, which is why he has chosen as his contact someone who is above suspicion: a French engineer. Kusturica will do anything to leave a better Russia for his son.

The information bypasses standard CIA/KGB channels and goes directly from the French Secret Service to French President Francois Mitterand and from there to US President Ronald Reagan, who is understandably skeptical. Eventually, the operation is given the codename "Farewell."

As we come to know both of our principals, we relate to their issues and share their aspirations. The Frenchman brings hard-to-find items back from Paris, e.g., a Sony Walkman for Kusturica's son, because the Russian refuses any monetary compensation, as that would be too capitalistic.

The final twenty minutes of this film are intense, emotional, and ironic. Do NOT leave early!


Paris Return

This nice little documentary (shot by a nephew) features two men who have been a devoted Parisian couple for decades. One of these guys is a grumpy sort who rarely smiles; the other is a sunny optimist who is ten years younger. Between the two of them, their living dynamics are comfortable and lighthearted.

The older one wants to move back to Israel; he is certain he hasn't much longer to live. The other, an immigrant from Italy, is equally certain that a move this late in life wouldn't be healthy for his partner. They are working on a compromise: continue to live in Paris, but visit Italy and Israel for a few weeks each year.

We follow them through the daily minutiae of living. We see no car chases and no blowie uppie stuff, in fact, their biggest issue is whether or not they should sell their dining room chairs, but we come away feeling that we know them pretty well. This 2010 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Israel has English captions.


"Micmacs" (with English captions) was a huge hit at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival. After they shoehorned us into the theater, we were ready for fun...and we got it!

Writer/Producer/Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Amelie") once again brings his trademark combination of whimsy, fantasy and social commentary, all tied up with a comedic bow. ("Micmacs" translates loosely to "Shenanigans.")

Dany Boon ("The Valet") is our hero, a video store clerk shot in the head by a stray bullet, which is left embedded in his brain because the surgery to remove it might prove fatal. (The operating team makes the decision based on the toss of a coin.)

He finally gets out of the hospital and returns to his old job, only to discover that he has been replaced; his boss is blithely unaware that it might cause him any inconvenience. Our hero quickly finds himself homeless and in desperate straits, as his father had been killed in Algeria years ago by a land mine and his mother has since died.

He is "adopted" by a quirky group of street people who live at the city dump. As he reconstructs the events in his life, he realizes that the manufacturer of the land mines that killed his father is headquartered directly across the street from the munitions factory that made the bullet which changed his life.

What he and his loyal gang of resourceful chums do to them is both funny and appropriate, consequently we left the theater laughing and satisfied.


The A-Team

Here is a nice big expensive remake that is oodles of fun. Lots of fist fights, lots of gunfire and LOTS of blowie uppie stuff! It is a great big overblown cartoon brought to super-exaggerated but entertaining life.

Plot? Nah. These are the standard war vets framed for something they didn't do, so they have to get out of prison and clear their names. You know the drill... There are so many crosses, double-crosses and flip- flops that I lost track. The dialogue is very funny, the situations are absurd, the characters are easy on the eye and we laugh out loud right on cue.

Here are the players:
  • Liam Neeson ("Clash of the Titans") is the team leader, creative and clever.
  • Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover") is the handsome one, sexy and funny.
  • Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson ("Never Surrender") has a spiritual crisis to overcome.
  • Sharlto Copley ("District 9") plays crazy better than anyone.
  • Patrick Wilson ("Watchmen") is everyone in the CIA named Lynch?
  • Jessica Biel ("Valentine's Day") shares a past with the handsome one.
  • Gerald McRaney (lots of TV) is a beloved general.
Is the ending ever in doubt? Nope, but you'll sure have a good time!

Crossing Hennessy

This modest little romantic comedy, "Yue man xuan ni shi" (English captions) actually had better insight and humanity than most of the films I screened during the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival. It was a pleasant surprise!

Our "hero" is a 41-year-old man who has never moved away from his flamboyant mother and shy aunt. They run an air conditioner store on Hennessy Street in Hong Kong. His mother despairs of him ever finding a wife of his own, so she hires a professional matchmaker.

Across the street is a sweet young woman who lives with her uncle, as her parents died when she was a child. To his chagrin, she refuses to date, using many alibis.

Problem is, HE is secretly having an affair with a highly successful woman with whom he has been friends ever since their childhood, while SHE is in love with a charismatic thug who is currently serving time in prison for assault. Neither wants to admit his or her real reason for refusing to date, so they reluctantly agree to meet at a tea shop. They discover that they both like the same detective novels, but she tells him all about the man she loves and he is glad because his lover leaves him very little spare time.

As you might expect, things go awry and both of our sympathetic characters have to deal with unexpected events. The script is fun, but it doesn't demean any of the characters, including the rambunctious mother, her intimidated sister, or the thug.

The Karate Kid

When single mom Taraji P. Henson ("Date Night") wisely decides to take her fatherless boy, played by Jaden Smith ("The Day the Earth Stood Still" 2008) and move from Detroit to Beijing, the little guy is under- standably reluctant. We are already familiar with "The Karate Kid" (1984), so we know where we are going, but Jaden's parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith have co-produced a winning re-imagining of this upbeat story for their son.

Their smartest move is to star Jackie Chan ("The Spy Next Door") as the maintenance man/kung fu master who becomes our young hero's mentor.

This is a high-dollar, mainstream movie shot in China, complete with colorful scenes of the 2008 Olympic Village, the Forbidden City in the center of Beijing, and the Great Wall. It is always fun to watch someone master a skill, and this film is no different. We see the boy's frustration at the inscrutable demands of his tutor, his slow mastery of skills, and the maturity and wisdom he finally achieves. And we relish his defiance of the school bully.

Of course we can expect the championship martial arts match and all the excitement that promises, but this is a feel-good film all the way. In their son Jaden, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith have produced another winner.


I Miss You

With "Te extraño," (English captions), Mexican director Fabián Hofman has used the fate of Argentina's 3,000 or more desaparecidos to illustrate the political turmoil of the late 1970s which resulted when a ruthless military dictatorship took power in 1976. Those people are neither living nor dead, as they have disappeared without a trace.

We become acquainted with a pair of brothers: the younger one still in high school, the older one active in a revolutionary group opposed to the dictatorship. There are many night meetings, concealed weapons--including grenades--and covert operations. The upshot is that the older brother disappears and the family is afraid the younger one will, as well. They send him to stay with an aunt in Mexico but he is anxious and restless, so he is sent to Uruguay, where he reunites with his parents and his senile grandmother.

The ending was abrupt, mystifying and unsatisfactory. The press screening audience at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival was mostly frustrated, and I was no different; I prefer endings with some sort of resolution, for good or ill...

Miss Nobody

Here we have a sweet young thang with a heart of coal.

"Miss Nobody" has blended into the woodwork ever since she was a child; she is overjoyed when her promotion is announced, but by the next morning, it has been rescinded. The smooth-talking highbinder who bumped her, now has the nerve to hire her as his secretary! When he wants to "work late," she reads it for what it really is: a pass. She needs the job, so agrees to it. After drinks at his place, she discovers he has a fiancée and in the ensuing tussle, he falls, hits his head and is killed. She gets her promotion after all.

Oh WOW! Is THAT how it's done?

Let me list some of the folks you will see in this black comedy:
  • Lesley Bibb ("Iron Man 2") is the mild-mannered blonde, just trying to make her way in this big bad world.
  • Brandon Routh ("Superman Returns") is the slick fellow who learns his lesson too late.
  • Vivaca A. Fox ("Junkyard Dog") is one of the higher-ups who crosses swords with our heroine.
  • Eddie Jemison (the "Ocean's" franchise) is electrocuted while sitting on a copy machine with his pants down.
  • Kathy Baker ("The Jane Austen Book Club") is our heroine's mother... she sorta runs a boarding house.
  • Adam Goldberg ("Christmas on Mars") is a cop who rents a room in that boarding house.
Big questions: Does crime really pay? Can you really get away with murder? Do you really want that promotion? Hmmm....

Come Undone

Some things make me weary: like couples who opt for a quickie, then decide they've "never felt like this before," and proceed to create chaos and heartbreak, all to no avail. These lovers aren't even particularly attractive: He needs a shower and a shave, while she needs to wash off her raccoon eyes.

This in a nutshell, is the plot for this European entry to the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival. I realize that the director and the actors are striving to give their audience Italian/Swiss Porno-Lite, but after the twentieth stroke, gasp and clutch, I was longing for my remote.


The Over The Hill Band

This Belgian film "Meisjes" (English captions), features one of the better performances by an actress (Marilou Mermans) in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival.

In this charming dramedy, she plays the mother of a winner and a loser. Her winning son is a successful businessman, complete with family, security and a good reputation. The loser is her other son, a wastrel, a boozer and a down-and-out musician.

At her husband's funeral, she reconnects with two old friends. The three of them had enjoyed a brief period of fame in their youth as a popular vocal trio, so she uses that old connection in an attempt to launch her musician son's nonexistent career. The women, now in their 70s, are hesitant, as the gap between their music and the driving beat of later generations seems unbridgeable.

We watch the musicians get acquainted, try to cobble together a compromise of styles and prepare for the "Big Night." (Of course, her son has entered them in a festival, much to the dismay of the more uptight son.)

Ultimately this film is unpredictable and mostly forgettable, but Ms. Mermans' performance... I'm impressed.


Love in a Puff

Here is a romantic comedy set in modern-day Hong Kong, with attractive, intelligent, witty protagonists. The "meet cute" aspect is covered by a voiceover that tells us of Hong Kong's smoking restrictions. This explains why a gang of smokers meet regularly in an alleyway for a cigarette break.

This is merely an excuse for a series of bawdy insults and anecdotes shared around the smoky group and a quick gossipy overview of some of the smokers: Who is single (and why), who is a coworker and who "puts out." As "sin taxes" on cigarettes are increased, our two main characters end up on a trek around the city, searching out supplies of smokes as the city stocks up against the higher prices.

The script is clever but raunchy and we want the two appealing leads to finally get together, but there is soooo much talk, talk, talk...and text, text, text. (I find it interesting that text messaging is a central device in many of this year's Seattle International Film Festival selections.)

The Reverse

This 2010 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Poland (English captions) was unpredictable, funny and highly entertaining, with many laugh-out-loud moments. The film is shot mostly in black and white, which allows the director to integrate newsreels of 1952 Warsaw, so we see actual post-war construction projects, Communist parades, and political events.

We start our story in 1952, the secret police are everywhere, life is bleak, people are ultra-careful in their behavior and we meet three women. One skinny gal works in the poetry division of the national publishing bureau; she lives with her mother, a pharmacist whose business was closed by the Communist regime; and her ailing grand- mother, who is desperate for her granddaughter to get married and have children...SOON!

Our gawky heroine, eyeglasses glittering, is painfully shy. We meet a couple of her clueless would-be suitors, invited by her scheming mother because she too, is frantic to see her daughter married. When our gal is accosted by a pair of ruffians on a dark street one evening, she is rescued by a handsome stranger who is almost too good to be true. Sure enough, he begins to court her, to the delight of the older women.

Now things get unpredictable and involving. We root for our three resourceful women, even though we know the odds are stacked against them. We had great fun!


This muffled Irish film is done in such a dim, murky way, I checked to see if I had left my sunglasses on by mistake. In my opinion, much of the humor got by me simply because I needed captions. The plot doesn't actually take shape until the last third of the movie, then it is exciting and we come away understanding (most of) the story.

That being said, I'm happy to reiterate my admiration for Colin Farrell ("In Bruges" and "Crazy Heart") while at the same time wishing he could find a project in which he cuts his hair, takes a shower and has a shave. I'm so tired of assuming he doesn't smell very good...

Farrell's character is a divorced, (recovering) alcoholic fisherman with a daughter who suffers from kidney failure and requires dialysis on a regular basis. The daughter, played by Allison Barry in her first film, is a precocious little gal who whips around their tiny village in her motorized wheelchair. When she learns that her father pulled a woman out of the sea in his fishing net and resuscitated her, she heads for the library and looks up tales of the sea that might prove there is a little magic coming their way. She feels they are overdue.

The local priest, played by Stephen Rea ("The Heavy"), must be forgiven if he is a bit skeptical of that fishy story. He asks our fisherman where "Ondine" (for lack of a better name) sleeps, and I don't think he believes what he's told.

The production feels authentic (except for Farrell's delicate hands pulling on that tow line), and the acting feels genuine. The story offers a nice romance, some excitement, and we can't fault the father/daughter relationship.


An Ordinary Execution

Joseph Stalin's death is shrouded in mystery. This Russian film (English captions) posits an interesting scenario.

We are in post-war Russia with KGB operatives picking up suspects, soliciting denunciations and causing disappearances. No one feels exempt from their reach. This can be felt in a medical facility where an attractive young doctor refuses the attentions of a coworker. She can only hope he doesn't deliver on his threat to cobble together some accusation and turn her in simply because he can.

When she is picked up by secret police, she is afraid it is because of the coworker, but instead it is because Joseph Stalin has heard of her "healing hands" and is seeking relief from chronic pain. Because Stalin doesn't want the Russian people to know he isn't in strapping good health, her entire life (and that of her husband) is compromised. She has been happily married to a physicist. For this reason, they have better than average living conditions, i.e., they have their tiny apartment to themselves, but she is shocked to learn that Stalin knows every little detail of their lives.

What follows is the crux of our story....


Blood Relation

This documentary is sorta sad. A young adult daughter in a successful Israeli family finds some old letters from an aunt. It seems that years ago she either eloped or was kidnapped by a Palestinian Muslim when she was 14. Despite letters to her family pleading for them to bring her home, her family left her there where she married the fellow and bore him eight children.

Now over thirty years have passed and the woman is dead, but the young Israeli woman wants to reconnect with any family members who may be living in Palestine. She convinces her father to make a phone call and arrange a family get-together.

Because the visitors are half Jewish, the daughter doesn't anticipate any problems but her father has to pull some strings to make it happen. When a middle-aged cousin arrives, she is deeply grateful for the chance to meet the other half of her family. She is interviewed, along with her mother's former neighbors, some cousins and other family members. She needs some money to fix a temporary problem and the Israeli businessman loans it to her, despite his brother warning him that it will only cause trouble. Sure enough, that one loan isn't enough...

The woman says, in one of the later clips, "I'm grateful for the help he has given me, but he has so much..."

The daughter finally expresses her regret at the conclusion of the documentary, saying she "made a mistake."


The Art of the Steal

Albert C. Barnes was born in 1872 to working-class parents in Phila- delphia. An avid student, he accumulated degrees and became an MD by the early age of 20. He also studied pharmacy and chemistry at the University of Berlin and made important connections with individuals in Germany.

Using his education and those friendships, he collaborated in the development of a compound that quickly made him a millionaire. Being somewhat of a Renaissance man, he studied educational concepts, art, philosophy, and psychology. He began testing his theories on his employees by exposing them to art appreciation discussions and displaying art in the buildings for their benefit. To those ends, he purchased twelve acres outside Philadelphia and established the Barnes Foundation in 1922.

Now that you have that background, you can skim through the first of the DVD and get to the heart of the matter: Barnes had an unerring eye for modern art. He made many, many trips to Europe and his collection grew steadily. He generously offered to loan a few pieces to the Art Museum in Philadelphia and was soundly ridiculed for his worthless art.

From then on, his collection was displayed in a specially designed and built facility on Foundation grounds. As modern art became accepted in society, his collection gained stature but he continued his humanitarian acts. He founded (and funded) a school for African-American students, he continued to travel extensively and he collected additional art. His wife Laura established the Arboretum School for the study of horticulture, botany and landscaping.

By the time he died, the Philadelphia Art Museum, demonstrating a complete change of heart, was lusting after his collection, now valued at $25 billion! The terms of his will clearly prohibit any of his art ever to leave Foundation property and most particularly to be loaned to his old nemesis, the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Herein lies the tale... Remember the title of this film! This story is interesting, funny, sad, infuriating, and frustrating. There are excellent interviews sprinkled around in this documentary, along with newspaper headlines, numerous photographs and commentaries, insight into a long-standing grudge match and the ineptitude of well-meaning people. Of course, the City of Philadelphia has its own view of the matter....

You will end up much wiser than you started.
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You'll like this preview:
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Waiting For Superman

Okay folks, this one is a rave!

"Waiting For Superman" is the most important documentary shown at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival! (It won the Audience Award at Sundance.) It illuminates the weaknesses in the American education system, both public AND private, and compares our students with those of other countries. Globally, our students rank waaaaay down in academic achievement (and that's American students from both public AND private schools), but they are at the very TOP in their own assessment of their abilities!

In fact, unlike the generally accepted myth, the deluded students from our more affluent school districts think they are doing great, but Bill Gates is still forced to hire engineers from India. In fact, I think he is building a facility there, and NOT because he wants to, but because so few American graduates have the fundamental skills his company requires. He is pouring millions of dollars into fixing the problem and has teamed with President Obama to defy the teachers' unions to that end. Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the Washington DC school system is tackling the same problem from her vantage point. She's a pistol!

This movie puts a face on five or six students who are caught up in the "Failure Factories" which we support with our tax dollars. Educational reformer Geoffrey Canada, not only recognized the problem (after he realized in grade school that Superman was fictitious and would NOT come to save the day!), but has developed successful charter schools that prove the problem CAN be fixed. He focuses on students from the poorest districts to prove his point!

We visit the notorious "Rubber Room" discussed in The New Yorker magazine about a year ago, in which tenured teachers show up every day, sometimes for three to five YEARS, as they await their termination papers. These include inept teachers, child molesters, thieves, and drug addicts. They continue to collect full pay, regular salary increases, medical benefits and accrue vacation time, while playing bridge, solitaire, sleeping or reading. Virtually every school district in the United States has its own version of the Rubber Room.

We come to care about the students (AND parents!) who aspire to a better life. We watch in the final minutes of the film as the lotteries for various charter schools are drawn, in which only a small fraction of the qualified applicants can be accepted.

The graphics are top notch and there is plenty of humor. I invite you to view the trailers:

Please request this wonderful film from your libraries, Netflix and any other source you can think of, as it MUST get distribution!

From Time to Time

Writer/Director/Producer Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park") brings us two deliciously realized time periods at one stately English mansion: the early 1940s of WWII and the 1740s of two hundred years earlier. We see a lad in knee pants, played by Alex Etel ("Millions"), waiting at a 1940s train station for someone to meet him and transport him to the ancestral home of his grandmother, played by Maggie Smith ("Harry Potter").

Our young fellow has no more than arrived when he is startled by the ghost of a teenage girl who is evidently blind. She is aware of him, but her companions literally walk right through him, much to his amazement. The next morning he attempts to steer a chat with Granny to the topic of ghosts but she beats him to it, correctly assuming he has seen one of his ancestors. When he describes the apparition, she identifies the girl and starts to relate the family history that surrounds her.

This Films 4 Families selection at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival is full of mystery, suspense, and respect for the ability of the audience to follow the exciting plot. We pop into the 1740s, go to the 1940s and then go back again. The cast is first rate and the production values are pure "Fellowes," i.e., elegant and authentic.

Personally, I think Alex Etel is a little tall to be wearing short pants, but I guess if that was the style of the day for boys his age...


This suspenseful sci-fi features a derelict cargo ship carrying supplies to an idealized planet called "Rhea." A newly hired young doctor has taken this job because she wants to join her sister and her niece some place habitable, as Earth is considered a lost cause.

Our heroine remains on active duty while the rest of the small crew is placed in suspended animation. As they near the end of their journey, she begins to suspect that there might be a stowaway on board.

There are rebels on Earth called Luddites. (...smile...) who think Earth can be saved, but our space ship is already under way. The photography/ CGI is impressive, e.g., humans look like ants as they climb up ladders in the cargo hold. The suspense is palpable as they tentatively search the rusty ship down leaky corridors. The sound is very well matched to the visuals: Thunderous roars of the ship's thrusters, metallic clangs of the hold doors, and gasps in the respirators as they encounter alien con- ditions.

As the evidence mounts, so does the tension. This 2010 Seattle Inter- national Film Festival entry from Switzerland (with English captions) is great!


Get Him to the Greek

Does anyone remember "My Favorite Year" with a hapless Mark-Linn Baker struggling to get a soused Peter O'Toole to an appearance on television that might reinvigorate his waning career?

In this (to me) remake of that 1982 comedy classic, we have a hapless Jonah Hill struggling to get a drugged-out Russell Brand to an appearance on television that might reinvigorate his waning career. (By the way, "The Greek" is the name of a theater.)

In the original, we didn't have our hero concealing drugs in body cavities, nor did we have semi-orgies, but beyond that the story follows the same basic arc: Substance abuse, fragile egos and a jeopardized relationship for our hero. One big difference: In the original, the star remained a souse; in this remake, the star actually cleans up (a little applause here).

I only subjected myself to this thing because I had read about Sean Combs. I freely admit his character was the best thing in the movie. He was profane, he was a tyrant, and, unlike the Jonah Hill character, Combs was funny! In my opinion, the only reason Jonah Hill ("Cyrus" and "Superbad") is a star is because Hollywood seems to think corpulence is hilarious; I can detect no talent, no comic timing, no appeal.

Ah well....

The Dancer and the Thief

"El baile de la Victoria" is a 2010 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Spain (with English captions), although the story takes place in South America. It offers two of my favorites: 1) Ballet 2) Humor.

We meet two fellows recently discharged from prison. One, played by Argentinean Ricardo Darín ("The Secret in Their Eyes"), is a famous thief, a local legend who has sworn he will go straight after serving five years in prison for his crimes. His notoriety is obvious, people recognize his face and are eager to help him. The other, played by Argentinean Abel Ayala, is a young man who has just served a grueling two year prison term. This energetic guy is creative, funny, and resourceful. He provides the warmth and humor which cause us to care about the outcome. Either one of these men could be the eponymous thief.

The dancer is portrayed by Miranda Bodenhöfer, who performs just enough that we buy the concept. Her character was traumatized as a child by her parents' kidnapping and murder during the political turmoil in Argentina during the late 70s and early 80s. As a result, she is mute and her best means to communicate is through dance.

Our young hero falls for her instantly and immediately devises a way for her to audition for the premier ballet company. At the same time, he is concocting a fool-proof heist for his role model/idol, the legendary thief.

What they do, how they do it, and what results, is why we watch movies like this. And we ARE invested in the outcome!

Father and Guns

It was Dizzy Dean who said, "It ain't braggin' if you can do it." This is the quandary for our hero in "Father and Guns." His father is a braggart, an egotistical show-off and a self-centered bully. Problem is, he is also a testosterone-laden top cop, an effective undercover agent and a crack shot. Our hero is a pretty good cop in his own right, but "pretty good" isn't good enough for his father, who never misses an opportunity to berate, bully and humiliate him.

When a brutal biker gang kidnaps a fellow Montreal police officer, they go undercover and discover that the gang's defense lawyer and his unhappy son have gone on a woodland bonding retreat in an attempt to fix their dysfunctional relationship. Our warring pair pretends to want to repair their relationship, too, so they're off to the wilderness to try to convince the lawyer to turn state's evidence.

This French-Canadian (English captions) entry to the 2010 Seattle Inter- national Film Festival was a crowd pleaser, because the dialogue and the situations were hilarious. Insult humor has never been my favorite, but I found the father's sarcastic comments, laced with contemptuous barbs to be laugh-out-loud funny. Okay, okay. I should know better, but I did laugh!

Some of the bonding stuff gets a little maudlin, but the main characters are played by actor-comedians, so the lines are delivered flawlessly and we enjoyed an unlikely combination of action, suspense, and farce.


Nowhere Boy

This docudrama explores John Lennon's trajectory from his first har- monica playing and banjo picking as a rebellious teenager in Liverpool, to his departure for Hamburg with former Quarrymen bandmates Stuart Sutcliff, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. (Hamburg was where the Beatles forged their final group and refined their craft.)

Aaron Johnson ("Kickass") is far too pretty to play John Lennon, but he captures the Liverpudlian accent and it's fun to watch him segue from a pair of Buddy Holly glasses (Holly was an early idol) to an Elvis hairdo, as he searches for a sexy persona. McCartney and Harrison are played by baby-faced Thomas Sangster ("Love, Actually") and Sam Bell, respec- tively.

The main thrust of this film is about Lennon's anger and confusion. He is raised by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George, while his mother lives nearby with her new husband and two younger children. This has never been explained to him, and as we learn more, we realize this melodramatic tale HAS to be true, no self-respecting storyteller could get away with it.

Of course Beatles fans will, with the arrogance of 20/20 hindsight, smile at little things: Paul and John walk past a Strawberry Fields sign; Paul says they should write their own music to avoid royalty fees; John admits he only writes "a little poetry." I had to keep reminding myself that artistic license doesn't matter now, because this story is considered history, not current events....


Last Train Home

In this Chinese entry to the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival, director Lixin Fan has chosen to document the lives of one migrant family, so as to put a face on the cultural and generational turmoil confronting China today. 130 million people go back to their villages to celebrate the New Year. This results in the largest mass migration in the history of mankind... once each year!

The congestion at the train stations is mind boggling. I am a practical soul, so I tried to imagine the logistics for mobs that have to wait, standing room only, from two to five days just to purchase tickets! What did they do, wear Depends?

Many Chinese leave their infants and toddlers with grandparents while they go to the cities to earn a living. There is a direct result of this which is multiplied by the millions who do it: These children feel abandoned and have no emotional link with their parents, nor do they respect them.

I was struck by the murky look of this film when it finally dawned on me that China's air IS that murky! If their industrial pollution can be viewed from space, it must also obscure the sun.

I always thought Communism was a cradle-to-the-grave proposition, but no, if people become ill, they have to pony up the cash for medical treatment. And much of what they earn is either spent on their children's educations or must be saved for the worker's old age. Hmmm....

I didn't come away from this one with very upbeat impressions, did I!


Director Marc Evans ("Snow Cake") gives us two separate stories. The first is about residents of Chubut, a Welsh territory in southern Argentina that was founded in the 1860s by colonists who left Wales for greener pastures; they settled in Patagonia with the assistance of the Argentine government. A very elderly woman enlists the aid of a teenage neighbor to help her travel to Buenos Aires for treatment on her eyes. To his surprise, her plan is to slip off to Wales and seek the old family farm. All she has is a faded photograph and stunned teenage boy to help her.

The second story begins in Wales, where a photographer has landed a contract to travel to Chubut and photograph the many chapels that are scattered amid the panoramic landscapes. To his delight, his girlfriend asks if she might come along. The driver hired for their trek is a farmer from the area, so the three of them speak Welsh and Spanish (with captions when necessary). Welsh actor Matthew Rhys ("Brothers & Sisters") is the driver. The photographer sees an attraction begin to grow between his girlfriend and their driver.

These two stories never intersect, although they are edited so we switch back and forth. The teenager and the elderly woman suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as they travel to rural Wales, while the driver makes things much easier for our threesome in Patagonia. It was interesting to note that those three characters in the romantic triangle become more and more attractive as the movie goes on, particularly the driver. Some of us gals in line for the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival press screening were in total agreement about HIM!

Director Marc Evans can do more with a glance than most directors can do with complete nudity and sweaty bodies. Whew!


Director Alejandro Amenábar ("Abre los ojos" and "The Sea Inside") brings us a sword and sandals melodrama that is based on the life and times of Hypatia, a singular woman who lived in the late 4th century. She was a highly respected philosopher, mathematician and teacher. The 2010 Seattle Film Festival audience, sitting smugly in possession of 20/20 hindsight, smile as she struggles to ascertain if Earth is round, is the universe heliocentric and what the devil is gravity? Her experiments are creative and interesting.

We see the brutal persecution of early Christians in Roman Egypt. Then, when the Roman Emperor converts and the Christians prevail, their enthusiastic persecution of the Jews. After the Jews are driven from Alexandria, the Christians turn on the pagans and continue their blood-letting. Religious fervor is NOT pretty!

Hypatia, played by Rachel Weisz ("The Lovely Bones"), is the central character, but her slave Davus, later freed, has the most interesting story arc. As depicted by Max Minghella ("Art School Confidential"), Davus evolves from callow youth with a crush on his mistress, to smoldering adulthood, still in love with her. Oh yeah...and a pretty good Prefect, as played by Oscar Isaac (Prince John in the latest "Robin Hood").

Of course we might expect lots of Computer Generated Imaging, swordplay, floggings and incinerations (as we already know, the library at Alexandria is burned for containing heresy), plus a few bits of artistic license. In my opinion, Weisz is gorgeous but Minghella steals the show.


Waste Land

This documentary from Brazil (with English captions) studies the "contadores" who sift through unbelievable quantities of garbage at Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest landfill, just outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. These professionals view themselves as recyclers, not trash pickers, and have an active union with several thousand members.

Transplanted Brazilian artist Vik Munoz travels from New York to his native country to film, interview and feature a variety of these folks. In this award-winning project (Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals), he photographs dozens of them, then transforms each portrait into a collage using found items from the landfill itself. In turn, he takes pictures of these collages and offers them at art auctions and museums. The money goes back to the individual who was photographed.

Like any other study, the item being studied is transformed by the study itself. We follow the evolution of his subjects and admire their stubborn pride, their ambition and their unique beauty, while at the same time, we recoil from the unexpected impact on a few, and the unrealistic expectations of others.

Our audience at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival appreciated the snippets during the final credits that told us what has happened to some of the people we have come to care about.

The Extra Man

What happens when you take a aspiring young playwright, send him to a derelict New York apartment building and have him rent a room from an eccentric fellow who escorts wealthy women to social functions?

This is the plot for the movie shown at the opening night Gala for the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival. One of the writer/producers, Robert Pulcini ("The Nanny Diaries"), explained that he had griped to Jonathan Ames (lots of TV) that there are NO comedies for adults being written any more. They teamed up and wrote this quirky little piece.
In the cast, we see:
  • Paul Dano ("There Will Be Blood") is a writer who can't tell whether his fascination with cross-dressing is curiosity or compulsion. Dano is the last person I would expect to see in a comedy, but he manages just fine.
  • Kevin Kline ("Definitely, Maybe") is the roommate from hell: Has a bad back, is impatient, loves clutter and has no impulse control.
  • Katie Holmes ("Mad Money") is a vegan co-worker at the "green" magazine that hires our writer; she catches our hero's eye.
  • John C. Reilly ("Chicago") is the fearsomely bearded neighbor who fixes things; he speaks in a truly annoying falsetto.
I can't say that this is predictable, because it isn't; I can't say it is hysterically funny, because it isn't; I can't say it is insightful, because it isn't. But I CAN say I was entertained.

Meet Monica Velour

Adolescence is a period of barely controlled insanity. Adulthood isn't much better. "Meet Monica Velour" proves it!

Kim Cattrall ("Sex and the City" and "The Ghost Writer") is the infamous Monica, a talent-less former porn star gone to seed. Her main fan is a gawky 17-year-old boy from Auburn, Washington, who has collected all her videos, posters, press clippings and publicity items from websites, video stores, yard sales and E-Bay. This goofy kid is played to geeky perfection by Dustin Ingram (lots of TV) whose character is out to prove that love IS blind!

Our hero is the proprietor of a mobile hot-dog vending van; it has a giant hot dog mounted on the roof. His father is a boozy retiree, played by Brian Dennehy (working hard on stage and screen since 1977), who gives his son the keys to the van as a high-school graduation present. The boy instantly lists it on E-Bay and finds a buyer in the mid-West, not too far from the last known address of his dream girl.

Off he goes and our story begins....

This 2010 Seattle International Film Festival entry is well written and capably directed by Keith Bearden. Cattrall certainly is not afraid to depict a less-than-admirable character and our hero perfectly illustrates the nuttiness of adolescence. (But everyone's teeth are too white; they look fake.)

Yo Tambien

"Me Too" is a skillfully scripted award-winning entry at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival. In fact, this entry from Spain (with English captions) is SO skillfully scripted I thought for awhile I was watching a documentary about a Down Syndrome facility.

We see caring adults tending their clients, young and old. We see a dance class and an art class. As we become acclimated to the environ- ment, we see a young man being given an orientation tour and assigned his new desk. It is clear that he has been hired to work there and is a well-educated professional, despite our preconceived notions about Down Syndrome and the limitations we expect him to have.

Next we see a rather brassy blonde come dashing to her desk, late and hung over. Our hero assesses her situation but keeps his mouth shut. When a copy machine balks, she comes to his rescue; she even ties his shoe for him. Imagine how she feels later when she learns that he has been tying his own shoes since he was nine!

This film explores the challenges which face a person with 47 chromo- somes when he or she is attracted to a person who has only 46.

This film gives us enough back story to care about the principals and enough humor to keep this from being a drag. I always appreciate that!


The Topp Twins

This musical novelty act has been enormously popular in New Zealand for decades. These identical twins have been entertaining people all their lives and have developed a unique style. In addition, they are funny as the dickens and totally believe in enjoying themselves. Consequently, their audiences enjoy THEMSELVES, too! When they introduced their film at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival, they talked, sang, took questions and hawked their DVDs. They came out amid the crowd and sang all the way. They are generous with their time and talent and audiences respond wholeheartedly.

These gals do sketch comedy and have an assortment of personas they trot out, e.g., "The Camper's Mother and The Camp Counselor," and a couple of fellas who make wry comments about local news and society in general. One plays the guitar and the other specializes in yodeling. Yup, yodeling! And pretty good, too! They are fearless in both their costumes and their comedy.

They have lived on a farm or an Arabian horse ranch their entire life, so they aren't above donning gingham and big wigs to do a little foot- stompin' music, then they turn around and put on Stetsons and levis to sing ballads. When they wear suits (and moustaches!) the audience goes nuts! They did one tour throughout New Zealand in a brightly painted wooden green wagon pulled by a farm tractor; as they would s-l-o-w-l-y approach a town, people would come out of their homes, stores and offices, then head to the nearest theater or fairgrounds to line up for tickets. The musicians who tour with them are in awe...

They are both in long-term relationships (they are lesbians) and embrace political activism. Seattle LOVES them!


This beautifully directed Australian film perfectly captures the lives of six Melbourne teenagers and their personal dramas, then it switches to the lives of their mothers and their corresponding motivations. When we see one point of view, we naturally tend to "side" with that perspective. In the second half of this 2010 Seattle International Film Festival entry, when we see the rationale of the adults, our loyalties become a little fuzzy.

The teenagers include:
  • A pair of shoplifters
  • A runaway boy whose younger sister insists on following him
  • A would-be cat burglar
  • A boy raising money via the porn trade
The adults are:
  • A health-care worker
  • A compulsive gambler
  • A seamstress
  • A semi-dotty old woman
  • A former call girl
Most of the faces are new to me, other than English-born Frances O'Connor ("Iron-Jawed Angels" and "Timeline"), so this movie had a semi-documentary feel to it. In my opinion, director Ana Kokkinos did a flawless job.