I observed a number of things in this action-packed heist flick:
  • Not all cops are crooked, but keep an eye on Matt Dillon ("Old Dogs") and Jay Hernandez ("Grindhouse").
  • Thugs use very little profanity, which was a big shock until I noticed the PG-13 rating.
  • It's bad to shoot kids or cops; Idris Elba ("The Losers") and Paul Walker ("Fast & Furious") show surprising restraint.
  • Hand-held cameras are very disorienting. 'Nuff said...
  • I resent actors showing secret gang hand signals in their publicity photos.
  • Loyalty is good; disloyalty is fatal; so this gang of heist artists is extremely loyal.
  • Thieves get gorgeous girlfriends; yup, Zoë Saldana ("Avatar") again!
  • Parkour is the most exciting urban sport on film; I'll take it over vehicular mayhem any time.
  • Russians make formidable enemies in the organized crime world.
  • Crime seems to pay for most criminals over the short haul: witness the great cars, clothes and cribs.
  • Crime does not pay for most criminals over the long haul: witness the corpses that litter the screen.
This wasn't as enjoyable as I expected, although I certainly did appreciate the eye candy for women: Idris Elba, Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen, Michael Ealy, Johnathon Schaech, Chris Brown, etc., etc., etc. In fact the women in the audience actually applauded when Mr. Elba was rousted from his bed in his whitey tighties.... and he richly deserved it!


The Switch

I couldn't believe what got switched! And after I read what it was, I couldn't imagine how in the world they were going to depict it.

Okay, here we go: Jennifer Aniston ("The Bounty Hunter") plays a childless 40-year-old who still hasn't found the man of her dreams, so she decides to find a "donor" who will make a "contribution" in exchange for cash. This is a medical version of a turkey baster, so I was expecting some pretty gross jokes, but all in all, I was pleasantly surprised.

The main honors should go to:
  • Jason Bateman ("Extract") has been our heroine's best friend for far too long. His feelings are hurt that she doesn't even remotely consider him as a potential donor because he isn't exactly Mr. Sunshine and she doesn't want that trait in her child. On the evening she is to conceive, he is understandably upset and through a series of bungles, ends up having to make his own "contribution." In fact, he is so wasted he doesn't even remember he did the switch until six or seven years later. (See how Diane Sawyer fits into this equation!)
  • Jeff Goldblum ("Law and Order") is our hero's lanky long-time best friend. He is, however, NOT amused when the two of them finally figure out that a switch had taken place.
  • Juliette Lewis ("Whip It") is the party girl who caused our hero to be so wasted.
  • Patrick Wilson ("The A-Team") is the handsome (married but broke) erstwhile "donor."
  • Thomas Robinson ("Heroes") is pitch-perfect as the result of "The Switch." He looks and acts like a little Jason Bateman, and his personality isn't exactly Mr. Sunshine!
This is a predictable romantic comedy and we had plenty of both romance and comedy! No profanity, no sweaty bodies, no gunshots, no blowie uppie stuff, just one scene that's sorta icky...

Get Low

Our story takes place in 1930s Tennessee, so the period cars, clothes and customs are a treat to the eye. This is the sort of role in which Robert Duvall ("Four Christmases") shines. He plays a taciturn old goat with a secret he has kept for 40 years. He lives in an unpainted shack in the woods, runs off terrified little boys with his shotgun and heads into town with a big idea: He wants the local Reverend, played by Gerald McRaney ("The A-Team") to conduct his funeral while he is still alive and invite anybody who has a story to tell about him. Naturally the minister declines.

A down-on-his-luck mortician, played by Bill Murray ("Get Smart") hears about it and is desperate enough that he is willing to give it a try. He takes his assistant, played by Lucas Black ("Jarhead"), out to the shack despite the "No Damn Trespassing" sign, to propose a deal.

A very welcome Sissy Spacek ("Big Love") makes her appearance none too soon, packing her own version of that secret; and we know that old codger played by Bill Cobbs ("My Summer Friend") also has his own take on it.

This unpredictable little film was part of a gala for the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival and has garnered its share of well-deserved praise. It's nice to watch professionals do their job with very little fuss or feathers.


Mao's Last Dancer

Bruce Beresford is a wonderful director ("Crimes of the Heart," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Tender Mercies," "Paradise Road"), the list goes on and on.... When he uses the word "Dancer" in the title, he knows his audience... and he delivers!

It is so satisfying to watch someone build a skill, whether it be fencing, car racing, or dancing. We come away with a reminder of the blood, sweat, and tears that go into the making a ballet dancer.

There are generous segments of well-known ballets to admire, soaring tour jetés, and a handsome leading man to root for. Three different actors play Li Cunxin: the first as a child in a remote Chinese village, the second as a homesick student in Beijing, and third as an accomplished adult dancer. The adult version is portrayed by Chinese-born Chi Cao, who also trained at Beijing Dance Academy and became the featured dancer at the Birmingham Ballet in 2002.

Bruce Greenwood ("Star Trek," "National Treasure" and "I'm Not There") does a delicious turn as the man behind the Reagan Admin- istration's cultural exchange which brought our hero to Houston and future stardom with the Houston Ballet. Greenwood plays his character with teeny little hints of gay and he convinced ME that he could be a choreographer.

This story is not only true, it contains humor, pathos, romance, glamor, excitement and best of all, lots and lots of ballet! Our screening audience loved it!

Nanny McPhee Returns

Esther Williams, eat your heart out! Synchronized swimming...by PIGS! That's just one of the silly scenes in this latest script by Emma Thompson ("Sense and Sensibility"). Once again, she was inspired by the characters in Christianna Brand's Nurse Matilda stories.

This time Maggie Gyllenhaal ("Crazy Heart") is the overwhelmed parent; her husband, played by Ewan McGregor ("The Ghost Writer") is away fighting WWII. Their three children are hardworking farm kids, but they must make a payment on the tractor before it is repossessed and unavailable for the grain harvest. To that end, they are raising piglets to sell. Problem is, their dastardly uncle, played by Rhys Ifans ("Vanity Fair"), wants to sell the farm, in which he holds half ownership. Mom is desperately trying to hold a part-time job working for Maggie Smith ("Harry Potter"), who is as dotty as they come.

Enter two cousins, a pair of priggish, overindulged twits, sent to the countryside to avoid the London Blitz. Naturally this culture clash results in chaos, which prompts our eponymous heroine to arrive on their doorstep. Emma Thompson ("An Education") has played this role before, so we know those children will promptly start learning her lessons, one by one, and we can hardly wait to see her creative methods.

Ralph Fiennes ("In Bruges") does a fine job in a small but pivotal role as the father of the London cousins. He works in the War Office and is NOT the warmest parent....In fact, his son is honored to get a handshake!

The children are cute and well directed, the animatronics are NOT overdone, the villain gets his comeuppance and the children in the audience giggled at the poop jokes (it IS a FARM, after all!). Oh, and Gyllenhaal sports a pretty serviceable British accent!


This sweet little film is "When Harry Met Sally" for grade schoolers. Writer/Director Rob Reiner ("The Bucket List" and "The Princess Bride") just keeps chugging along. This time his story is very, very PG and mild but still provides insights into the most important elements of a relationship: Friendship, Respect and Laughter.

Based on Wendelin Van Draanen's novel, our story begins as a moving van stops in front of a standard 1950s rambler in an ordinary neighbor- hood in a Midwestern city. A second-grade girl runs across the street to welcome them, latches onto their second-grade son and is a thorn in his flesh from that moment on. This continues until high school, at which time our boy decides she IS the girl of his dreams, after all. Problem is, she has recently changed her mind...

This movie is notable for its cast:
  • Madeline Carroll ("Swing Vote") is the teenage girl (the casting changes as the characters grow).
  • Callan McAuliffe (mostly TV) is the teenage version of the boy.
  • Rebecca De Mornay ("Music Within") plays the boy's mother (is this really the sexpot from "Risky Business?").
  • Anthony Edwards ("ER" and "Top Gun") continues to show us his range. Here, as the boy's father, he is a knee-jerk jerk.
  • Penelope Ann Miller ("Blonde Ambition") is the girl's patiently resigned mother.
  • Aiden Quinn (scores of movies and TV since 1984) is the girl's artistic (and wise) father.
  • John Mahoney ("Burn Notice," "Frasier" and "Say Anything"), as the boy's grandfather. This actor works all the time!
This movie is pleasant, diverting and sorta corny, but we exited the theater in a quiet, pleasant mood. It has officially opened, but only in limited markets. Some of you will be able to see it now, others will have to watch for it.


Ramona and Beezus

Here is a sugary sweet little film based on Beverly Cleary's popular schoolgirl, Ramona Quimby. This McMinnville, Oregon author sets her series in Portland, so we North westerners smile when we see that Ramona's family lives on Klickitat Ave.

Ramona, portrayed by Joey King (on TV since she was four), is an imaginative, lively little girl who can't help but make problems wherever she goes. Her ultra-patient parents are played by Bridget Moynahan ("Noise") and John Corbett ("Sex and the City"), while Selena Gomez ("Another Cinderella Story") is her big sister.

The big issue for our loving family is Dad's recent unemployment and Mom's new part-time job. Ramona is afraid he will divorce their mother and move to Tacoma like the father of one of her classmates, so she launches a number of money-making schemes which signal one disaster after another.

Rounding out the cast are: Sandra Oh ("Grey's Anatomy") as her exasperated school teacher; Ginnifer Goodwin ("He's Just Not That Into You") as her unmarried aunt; Josh Duhamel ("When in Rome") as the neighbor who wants to reel in her aunt like a sea bass! The most repugnant thing that happens is when Ramona gets raw egg in her hair on School Picture Day, so the children in the audience weren't trauma- tized, the story is upbeat and everyone lives happily ever after....

The Expendables

Sylvester Stallone can write good scripts ("Rocky" and I LIKED "Rhinestone"), but this isn't one of them. At least as an actor (AND he directed), he didn't look so Botoxed this time, although I wish he'd let his eyebrows get shaggy again... That is also true of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made clever but colorless cameos.

When Stallone knows he has a flimsy script, he ramps up the action: There is endless gunfire, lots of blowie uppie stuff, continuous fisticuffs, some Asian martial arts (Jet Li is one of the action stars), and they even destroyed several fruit carts! Enough already!

Jason Statham ("Crank" and "Transporter") has the most well- developed and sympathetic character. At least he is one guy in the cast we can root for; the rest are cardboard cutouts. The action is too murky and cluttered for us to give a rip who is the shooter and who is the shootee.

Eric Roberts ("Heroes" and "Crash" on TV) makes an elegant but hiss-worthy villain, while Giselle Itié (lots of Spanish-language TV) is the clichéd damsel in distress. Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler") runs a tattoo parlor which seems to serve as a hangout for "the guys."

When a cattle call for action movie retreads is this broad based, Stallone has opportunity for lots of humor, but this is a fairly leaden outing. Sigh....

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

The poster says this is "An Epic of Epic Epicness" and I guess that's a fairly good description. Based on yet another graphic novel, this one is really, really graphic: The title sequence is psychedelic; the deafening guitar music is visible; words flash on the screen when a character crashes through a brick wall or strikes an opponent; cute little hearts erupt from lips during a kiss; and CGI-driven martial arts have never been so blindingly vivid.

This Canadian film is set in Toronto. Director Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz") takes uber-bland actor Michael Cera ("Juno" and "Superbad") and:
  • has his character play a guitar with a garage band preparing for a Battle of the Bands;
  • gives him an underage girlfriend, played by Ellen Wong in the role of her lifetime...so far...;
  • has him share an apartment with a gay pal, wittily played by Kieran Culkin ("Paper Man");
  • blesses him with a practical sister, portrayed by Anna Kendrick ("Up in the Air");
  • then has him fall for a purple-haired rollerblading UPS delivery girl, smoothly played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("Grind- house").
This attractive young woman comes with considerable baggage, i.e., seven ex lovers who must be defeated in battle before our eponymous hero can win her heart. The plot is absurd, the fighting is completely over the top, the characters haven't an ounce of believability and the jam-packed audience of young adults ate it up!

So who am I to say.....?


The Other Guys

This slam-bang, over-the-top comedy/action flick starts with slam-bang, over-the-top vehicular mayhem. Two ultra macho cops are chasing petty thieves. They wreck dozens of cars, trucks and a bus, and blow up numerous buildings. These highly decorated heroes are portrayed with conceited gusto by Dwayne Johnson ("The Tooth Fairy") and Samuel L. Jackson ("Iron Man"). AND these two guys are merely cameos for the movie to come.

"The Other Guys" who sit at the police station and do the paperwork for their famous colleagues, are played by Will Ferrell ("Land of the Lost") and Mark Wahlberg ("Date Night"). Ferrell is an PD accountant who is ready to arrest an international financier, played by Steve Coogan ("In the Loop"), because despite his multi-million dollar developments, he has never obtained any permits for scaffolding. Wahlberg is semi- disgraced because of an unfortunate incident with baseball star Derek Jeter.

Here are some of the supporting players in this laugh-out-loud comedy:
  • Derek Jeter (You have to see this one to believe it) is a victim of Wahlburg's;
  • Ray Stevenson ("Rome") is some sort of henchman;
  • Anne Heche ("Everwood") is a business associate of Coogan's;
  • The Jersey Boys cast does "Big Girls Don't Cry";
  • Eva Mendez ("The Women") is Ferrell's physician wife;
  • Michael Keaton ("Toy Story 3") is our heroes' captain.
I could go on and on; just look at the front row at the basketball game and your head will spin as you identify face after face.

Be sure to stay for the final credits. They show graphs and charts that illustrate the enormity of the 2008/2009 financial meltdown and the mind-boggling bonuses rewarded to the CEOs who engineered it. Many of us stayed seated for that fascinating bit.