The Owls of Ga'Hoole

The full name of this Australian/US production is "Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)" but I find that mouthful far too cumbersome. Based on the first three children's books by Kathryn Lasky, this is a mashup of legend, myth and fairy tale as told by a gabby relative to three fascinated owlets and their co-tenant, a snake, which I was surprised to discover, isn't unheard of. By the way, that title is pronounced "Ga Hoo' lee."

Of course this is another "Hero's Journey" and this time a brave little owlet, who is convinced those myths are real, must save his world. The narrator is Australian, as are many of the characters' voices. You would recognize some of the names but I won't go into them here.

There were two things that I particularly enjoyed: 1) Woodland Park Zoo sent a bird specialist with a Spectacled Owl (not a Speckled Owl) to talk to our screening audience, particularly about the calm 18-year-old specimen she had perched on her arm. She was extremely knowledgeable and the unflappable (...smile....) owl didn't mind all the cameras that flashed during her talk. 2) It was fun to try to identify the various types of owl as they came on screen: Great Gray, Burrowing, Pygmy, Snow, Sooty, Great Horned, Spotted, Screech, and our hero, little Soren, who is a Barn Owl.

The 3D animation is just fine (funny how blasé we have become) and the characters "emote" in subtle and satisfying ways. However (you knew this was coming, didn't you), the flying and battle sequences are far too long. As in movies with gun battles, each individual clash is filmed and then they must decide which ones to cut. I beg the editors, PLEASE have the courage to cut more out of these things. Sometimes too much is just too much!

It's Kind of a Funny Story

All of our defense shields were up as we entered the theater. We had very low expectations for this one; maybe that's why we were so pleasantly surprised.

This movie treats clinical depression like the illness it is. The teenage boy who commits himself to a mental ward is never derided, never scorned, never condescended to. In fact, by the end of what turns out to be a five-day stay, his high school classmates also acknowledge the seriousness of his situation and extend helping (and understanding) hands.

This is played like a comedy and yet we don't laugh AT our immature hero. He is grappling with his family's expectations, his classmates' super achievements and his own unrelenting dreams of suicide. They are presented as super-realistic satires and are, by themselves, fairly fantastical and funny. And yes, he's a teenager, so our first instinct is to not take him seriously; but after watching the mental health professionals and their astute (and respectful) treatment of him, we are forced to admit that maybe he does have a problem.

Of course in reality, things usually don't work out in just five days. But c'mon folks! This is a movie.

We were able to enjoy the talents of:

  • Keir Gilchrist ("The United States of Tara") who does a fine job as the teenager who wants some help;
  • Lauren Graham ("Flash of Genius") is his baffled mother;
  • Emma Roberts ("Valentine's Day") is a fellow patient;
  • Zach Galifianakis ("The Hangover") is an overrated actor who plays another patient;
  • Viola Davis ("Eat Pray Love") is a psychiatrist, with a wry (and winning) view of what that means.
We liked it more than we expected, and that was a pleasant surprise.


This is yet another self-involved, narcissistic endeavor by three technophiles with a video camera and waaay too much time on their hands. For some reason they felt their amateurish exposé about the fallacies and fantasies generated by Facebook relationships would be a riveting experience.


My companion woke up about five minutes before the end credits, but I was tossing and turning trying to think what I could say about this thing that would be printable.

Anything I might say would be a spoiler, so consider yourself warned.... okay?


Alpha and Omega

We've all heard about the Alpha male. Here we see a wolf pack with an Alpha female cub who romps with an Omega male cub. Even though these are youngsters, the issue of mating is looming on the horizon. Problem is, these erstwhile friends have learned that there is no future for their friendship. She is to procreate with another Alpha and our Omega hero must go elsewhere. (There are political issues at stake in the pack!)

Suddenly the two of them are tranquilized, captured by forest rangers and transported from Jasper National Park, Canada to a National Forest in Idaho, to repopulate the region. Wait! "Repopulate" means "procreate," doesn't it? Well, she isn't having any of THAT!

Guided by a French/Canadian goose and his sidekick, a duck, these two lost souls must get back to their Canadian pack before the Alpha male selected for her falls for her flirtatious sister.

This international animated film (USA and India) brings sophisticated 3D images along with a nice PG rating that ignores the fact that wolves are carnivores and that the caribou central to the plot don't live in that part of Canada.

Oh well, I enjoyed the midnight howl and the various duets. The children in the screening audience didn't care that wolves don't tobaggon ride, nor do wolves take advice from golf-playing geese or caddying ducks. It's a sweet predictable tale, nicely done by animators in Mumbai; Pixar and Disney had better watch their backs!

The Town

Ben Affleck's latest Bahston-situated effort has a couple of things going for it: Unlike "Gone Baby Gone" the story line is fairly lucid, and unlike "Good Will Hunting," it doesn't feature Robin Williams.

"The Town" is Charlestown, an enclave across the river from Boston. According to the overview presented during the opening credits, robbing banks is considered a career in The Town, a legacy handed down from father to son. So guess what this movie is all about! Yup,with lots of profanity, lots of vehicular mayhem and lots of gunfire.

These are the folks that make it happen:
  • Ben Affleck ("Extract") is an experienced bank and armored truck robber. Unfortunately, his gang takes a hostage from one of the banks.
  • Rebecca Hall ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") is that bank manager. Even though she was released with no injury, she still suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.
  • Jeremy Renner ("The Hurt Locker") is the loose cannon in the gang. This actor brings a menacing energy to his roles that evokes danger even when his character is chatting over a beer.
  • Jon Hamm ("Mad Men") is a determined FBI man. He, like Afflick, is a fashion victim, with a scruffy three-day growth of whiskers disfiguring his handsome face.
  • Pete Postlethwaite ("Inception") is a local florist; he is evil incarnate.
  • Chris Cooper ("Breach") plays Afflick's understandably angry father, up for parole in a couple of years.
The aforementioned Boston accents were emphasized at the beginning but became hit or miss as time passed. Affleck didn't embarrass himself, but his directing isn't of the caliber of Guillaume Canet ("Tell No One") either. At least we worried about the bank manager spotting that tell-tale tattoo, so clearly we had someone to root for!

HOWEVER: I could have trimmed at least 15 or 20 minutes off the running time by editing out some of that tiresome gun-play.

Easy A

"Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!" Maybe this screenplay could have used a little help from Sir Walter Scott, but then again, maybe not...

Emma Stone ("Zombieland") plays a clean-cut high school student who, in a moment of frustration tells a fib to a blabbermouth friend. The friend has invited her for a weekend with her eccentric family, and to get out of it, our heroine pretends she has a date with a college boy. By Monday, this evolves into an admission (also false), that she lost her virginity during this fictitious date. Naturally the story goes like wildfire and the next thing you know, she has a "reputation." Since she has been studiously ignored by her classmates in the past, she sorta likes it...

Her English class is studying Nathanial Hawthorne, so she sews a scarlet "A" on her clothes and starts dressing like a slut. Thomas Haden Church ("Smart People") is her English teacher who wisely understands she is pretending but doesn't know why, so he asks his wife, played by Lisa Kudrow ("Paper Man") to look into it. Even though she is a student counselor, it turns out that she isn't a very good choice. By the way, Church's character is one of the few that isn't a caricature of a stereotype.

Our heroine's humorously permissive parents are expertly played by Stanley Tucci ("The Lovely Bones") and Patricia Clarkson ("The Station Agent"), while her brother is played by Bryce Clyde Jenkins ("My Homework Ate My Dog"). The high school principal is portrayed by Malcolm McDowell ("The Book of Eli") and our heroine's gay friend by Dan Byrd ("Norman").

The setup is good: handsome Penn Badgley (lots of TV) is our romantic lead and Amanda Bynes ("Hairspray") is the Bible-spouting villainess; BUT the camera work is too stylized; each (supposedly) comic scene is played to death; and it is hard for me to warm up to a plot which pivots around a case of chlamydia.

Any questions?

The Virginity Hit

You deserve to know why I disliked this movie so much:
  • To witness the plotting and conniving on the part of "friends" to help a teenage boy lose his virginity is a major snooze.
  • Hand-held camera work is often burred, herky-jerky and muffled. This "movie" is VERY blurred, herky-jerky and muffled!
  • I don't like to see nice people humiliated.
  • Drug use is not entertaining.
  • A gang of school chums is NOT a reliable source for good relationship advice.
I realize the production team of Owen Burke and Will Ferrell (LOTS of TV shorts) is enormously popular in the Viral Video world, but that is not MY world. I find their work to be immature, raunchy and worst of all, boring. The screening audience (which included, to my dismay, children of eight or ten!) was mostly silent. There were very few spots that generated any laughter, and even that was mostly embarrassed and uncomfortable.

Your time is valuable and I'm not going to waste any more of it. The 86 minutes I lost should be enough for all of us.


Going the Distance

Very funny, but surprisingly raunchy and profane. I've never seen Drew Barrymore ("Whip It") throw back her head and laugh the way she does in this one. I really liked seeing her so unrestrained!

Her character is in New York working as an intern for a newspaper; she meets a guy the night he breaks up with his girlfriend. She starts out by berating him in a profanity-laced, verbal assault; he's pretty impressed by her mastery of the language but he makes her laugh, so they start dating. It is agreed that she will be returning to California in a couple of months, while our hero, played by Justin Long ("Saturday Night Live") stays gainfully employed in New York, so there will be NO romantic entanglements. ...Yeah...right....

A couple of things should be acknowledged: 1) This movie illustrates the employment challenges that confront young adults these days. 2) This is another film where the romantic lead gets all of his relationship advice from his single, immature buddies.

Once our gal is back in California, she stays with her married sister and family. This is one time I'm happy to eat my words. I have never had much use for Christina Applegate ("Samantha Who?") but here I found her to be consistently funny and appealing as the mysophobic sister, constantly scrubbing and sanitizing everything. By the way, potty mouth seems to be a family trait.

Of course bi-coastal relationships are fraught with peril, and this one is no different. Both of our lovers are lonely, so they are in constant touch: calling, e-mailing and Instant Messaging. They even try phone sex, but neither of them know enough about it to be very successful. To me, the funniest thing was when an irritated friend snatched our hero's cellphone, grabbed a golf club and lambasted the thing into Kingdom Come! I led the applause for that one!

No big surprises. Romantic comedies are what they are. We laughed more than we expected but I will be glad when Drew's contract with CoverGirl expires. She's a little overdone....


First a little background: In 2007, a couple of audacious film writers, Quentin Tarantino ("Pulp Fiction") and Robert Rodriguez ("Sin City"), wrote two feature-length horror films linked by fake trailers, all three presented as "Grindhouse." Fanboys went NUTS! Plus they started begging for one of the spoofs featured in the trailers!

Thus was "Machete" born.

This blood-splattered (but humor-laced) potboiler illustrates the far- reaching tentacles of the drug cartels south of the border and the political chicanery to the north. Our story centers on one muy feo hombre whose weapon of choice is...you guessed it...a machete; all that blowie uppie stuff is for sissies! He is a former Mexican Federale who is now an illegal alien, just trying to get work as a laborer.
  • Former real-life felon Danny Trejo ("Dark Games") plays our very ugly fellow, a tragedy-scarred loner, a man of few words who prefers low-tech weaponry.
  • Former action star Steven Seagal (TV's "Southern Justice") is the brutal jefe honcho of the Mexican cartel.
  • Former tabloid queen Lindsay Lohan ("Mean Girls") is the messed-up daughter of a political functionary.
  • Former marijuana front man Cheech Marin ("The Perfect Game") is Machete's brother turned priest.
  • Former heartthrob Don Johnson ("When in Rome") is a lawman, a stogie-smokin' Good Ol' Boy.
  • Jeff Fahey (LOTS of TV) brings plenty of blue-eyed charm to his role as a political strategist.
  • Robert De Niro ("Meet the Fockers") is a racist state senator running for reelection on an anti-immigrant platform.
  • Jessica Alba ("Little Fockers") wears spike heels as a hard- working DEA agent! (Her hair looks sooo clean.)
  • Michelle Rodriguez ("Avatar") runs a taco stand out of a van. She darn near steals the show.
By the way, those two females pass the Bechdel Test, i.e., their characters have names and their conversations are NOT about a man, but instead about the problems of immigration and corrupt governments. Kudos to the writers. That being said, this is an over-the-top, highly exaggerated view of the immigration problem. The bloodshed and the betrayals however, are probably right on the money.

You'll either love it or you'll hate it.

NOTE: In June, 2013, I saw the first preview for the sequel!


The American

Being a professional hit man isn't for the gregarious type. George Clooney (the "Ocean's" franchise and "Up in the Air") is a lone wolf, who practices his profession and ponders the meaning of it all.

The film starts in Sweden. Of course our hero is with a beautiful woman (by the way, all of the women are beautiful in this film, whether they are Clooney's girlfriends, prostitutes, or fellow assassins); they are in the North woods beside a frozen lake when he spots an animal's track. Somehow, this alerts him and before you know it, there are corpses strewn all over the place. He calls his mysterious "boss" and says he wants out. The boss says he has one last job for him (sound familiar?) and he won't even have to pull a trigger.

Off he goes to Italy, where we encounter labyrinthian streets, alleys, sidewalks, stairs, and roads that loop back and forth through the mountains. In my opinion, this is a metaphor for the plot.

We see many leisurely shots of Clooney working out, eating meals, drinking coffee, climbing stairs, walking deserted streets, assembling machinery, making love, chatting with a priest, and considering his future. He is a very nice-looking guy, and they never let us forget it. At least he is NOT scruffy this time.

The photography is commendable, the acting is acceptable and the plot is predictable, but everything is at arm's length: I felt no emotional connection with any of the characters. Clooney's handsome face provides a blank slate onto which we can project anything we want, so maybe I just didn't want anything badly enough...

The butterfly is a nice touch, though.