As It Is in Heaven

JayFlix folks strike again. I've been waiting for this Swedish film "Så som i himmelen" to show up ever since I got a rave review from one of you in Europe over a year ago. I bought this DVD from Kino, which sells collectibles, but it may also be on Netflix or its equivalent.

Let's talk about it. When you were in grade school were you the bully-er or the bully-ee? Yeah, I know I made up both of those words, but you get the idea. Where in the bullying spectrum were you? Dishing it out? Taking it? Or a silent witness....

This wonderful Swedish film (English captions) is about bullying in childhood and the scars that linger into adulthood. It is also about bigotry, provincialism, and shattered dreams. But WAIT! Before you shy away, let me add it is also about renewed hope, the healing power of love and the joy of community.

My current heartthrob Michael Nyqvist ("The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," etc...) is a celebrated orchestra conductor. He is, however, felled by a tricky heart which has forced him to an early retirement. Rather than rest on his laurels on the Mediterranean or a similar life of ease, he chooses instead, to return to his old hometown (the scene of his childhood misery), knowing that no one will recognize his new name, his new persona or his new attitude. He buys the abandoned grade school building and moves in.

First thing he knows, the local pastor calls on him; he is given a complimentary bible and an invitation to be the church cantor. He apologizes and explains that he is only there to listen, not to get involved in music.

Well, one thing leads to another...you know how these things go. And before you know it, we are acquainted with many of the small town personalities: the local bully and his battered wife, the punctilious preacher and his frustrated frau, the local slut, the town "retard," the current choir mistress, the elderly singers, etc., etc., etc. By this time, I was smugly certain I had it all figured out, but I was wrong.

Help yourself to a smörgåsbord of unexpected pleasures.



Introduced as Disney's 50th animated feature film, this reimagining of Rapunzel is just familiar enough to draw us in and just new enough to surprise us. Of course they can't call it "Rapunzel" because maybe boys wouldn't buy tickets. In keeping with this new spin, the main character is a bandit named Flynn Ryder, who is also the narrator.

Here are some of the capable voices:
  • Mandy Moore ("American Dreamz"), is our cast-iron skillet-wielding heroine. I almost said she does a great job of acting, but it's animated, remember? The animation is very, very good, with subtle displays of emotion: a flash of guilt, a glint of defiance, great double takes, authentic reactions and all with a faint dusting of freckles on her nose.
  • Zachary Levi ("Chuck") is the bandit: clever, not too honest, and certainly NOT looking for someone to hinder his flight from justice (he stole a tiara from the palace). Levi's handsome animated character looks just like his real-life headshots!
  • Donna Murphy ("The Nanny Diaries") is the witch; she has told Rapunzel that she is her mother and that the outside world is a dangerous place. Murphy sings beautifully, but her animated character looks like a cross between Bebe Neuwirth and Cher.
Rapunzel is fascinated by a mysterious display of paper lanterns that float heavenward each year on her birthday; she sees them in the distance from her tower window and longs to experience them from "outside." Her trusty pal, a loyal chameleon, hangs on for dear life as she lowers herself from her tower; other than her "mother," this lizard has been her only living companion. Rapunzel's first encounter with cool green grass beneath her bare feet is exquisite, as are the lights when she finally views those lanterns from a rowboat.

It's fun to watch attraction slowly build between the two leads; they are both appealing to us from the start, but they are too busy to notice each other for quite awhile...

Some of the songs are entirely unnecessary, but Mother Knows Best, sung by the witch, is clever. There is absolutely no need to pay the premium price tag for 3D, this film depends on story and character- ization, not visual razzmatazz. I liked this one very much.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

It seems that every writer who has talked about this movie used the word 'penultimate.' Well I refuse. This next-to-last film in the wonderful Harry Potter fantasy series is nothing more than a dark, glorified setup for the eighth and final film, which will be an epic battle between our hero and his loyal cadre of friends against the growing power of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his henchmen; so I'll talk instead about the Harry Potter phenomenon itself.

If Laurence Olivier were alive, I'm sure he would have appeared in this series in which the crème de la crème of British acting royalty has appeared at one time or another. I won't itemize them here because very few are in this latest film; after all, our dauntless little trio has left Hogwarts so we mostly see faculty members who are in league with You-Know-Who. (I assume you are familiar with the story line.) The only British actor who didn't show up when called was Richard Harris...he died!

Author J.K. Rowling (richer now than Queen Elizabeth II) scrutinized every aspect of these films and her meticulous eye has guaranteed astonishing production values, a solid story line, sympathetic main characters and a logical child-to-adult arc for our three valiant warriors and their erstwhile classmates. Of course it didn't hurt the budget to base these movies on her record-setting series which prompted millions of children worldwide to read those huge "chapter books." For that, I will always be grateful.

In addition, I appreciate having the opportunity to watch three capable youngsters grow up on film. The three main actors have stayed the course, developed their acting chops and kept out of trouble. Seeing the rest of the exemplary cast speaks very well of British pride and mutual support. The end result is a gift to us all.


Clichés become become clichés because audiences respond to them. This cliché-ridden armload of razzle dazzle is fun even though we know we are being manipulated. Clearly inspired by the enormously successful "Chicago" a few years earlier, we see a down-at-the-heels little nightclub with a modest entrance and one neon sign, which leads us into a place with an average-size seating area and a performance area the size of an MGM sound stage.

On one hand we have a divorced couple, ably assisted by a long-time friend, trying to keep the club's doors open despite a demanding landlord. On the other hand, we see an optimistic young woman come to the big city in hopes of finding a career in show business. Naturally we also meet the waitresses, dancers and bartenders at the nightclub.

Let's talk about them:
  • Cher ("Stuck on You") is the weary but determined proprietress of the place, part seamstress, part businesswoman, part mother hen and part diva.
  • Peter Gallagher ("Conviction") is her panicky ex-husband, fresh out of ideas, waiting for the landlord's ax to fall.
  • Stanley Tucci ("Lovely Bones") is her artistic director/sympathetic right-hand man; patient and inventive, wise and resourceful.
  • Recording star Christina Aguilera is our hopeful singer/dancer. Her determination and talent match Cher's; she really can't take "No," for an answer.
  • Tacoma-born Cam Gigandet ("Easy A") is a bartender sporting heavy eyeliner. It's no wonder our would-be starlet thinks he's gay!
  • Eric Dane ("Grey's Anatomy") is the successful real estate developer/landlord with a taste for the good life...and hopeful starlets...
  • Kristen Bell ("You Again") is the nightclub star who is threatened by that talented newcomer.
Cher sings the most tuneful two songs in this film, while Aguilera shows us her range and her vocal power with the rest. Eric Dane is smooth and charming, while Gigandet is our heroine's sweetly exasperated roommate. (He has to watch while success swoops her up in its talons.)

The script plays neatly to Cher's loyal gay devotees while the rest of us laughed in all the right places anyway. Nothing like a good cliché to please an audience.


Love and Other Drugs

This R-rated film starts out as a raunchy sex comedy with nude folks cavorting around. In my opinion, watching the emotional shift of the two lead characters as their relationship evolves is the perfect arc for us, their audience, as we ease into some of the stark realities for both a patient and his/her family when confronted with a degenerative, incurable disease.

Based on Jamie Reidy's memoir Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, we follow a randy devil-may-care salesman as he seduces his way from one marketing escapade to another. It is clear that he can sell...he just can't keep his fly zipped. His successful family despairs of him ever settling down. He smooth-talks his way into a pharmaceutical sales job for Pfizer just before Viagra is launched, and we are treated to the mind-boggling statistics of "Big-Pharma" during his orientation. Very soon, we see him become acquainted with a true expert in legal prescriptions: a defiantly independent young woman in stage one Parkinson's Disease.

This is the capable cast that lures us into rooting for them:
  • Jake Gyllenhaal ("Zodiak") is the ADD-afflicted super salesman who revels in the feeding frenzy initiated by the introduction of Viagra. Even though he is smart, he doesn't want to give his father the satisfaction of going to medical school... His girlfriend wisely asks, "How's that working out for you?"
  • Anne Hathaway ("Valentine's Day") has once again fearlessly embraced a demanding adult role that shows us how much she has grown. There comes a time when we feel her fatigue and frustration from too much help, and we really do care about her character and her bleak future...
  • Judy Greer ("American Dreamz" and lots of TV) is one of the gate-keepers who guards a successful doctor's office.
  • Hank Azaria ("Year One" but also TV, Broadway and voices for animated works) plays that successful doctor, who has reached the point where he questions his own motives and goals.
  • Oliver Platt ("Please Give") is our hero's frustrated boss, relentless mentor and tireless tail twister.
  • George Segal ("2012") is our hero's father, a doctor who wants a son to follow in his footsteps.
  • Jill Clayburgh ("Running With Scissors") is the matriarch of the family. She just wants them to be quiet long enough to eat their dinner. (Clayburgh died about the time this film was released.)
  • Josh Gad (Lots of TV) gives younger brothers a bad name.
We went into this screening with fairly low expectations, but were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the story and the performances. Director Edward Zwick ("Defiance") can add this one to his list of high-quality projects.


The Next Three Days

Writer/Director Paul Haggis ("Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby") puts us into the shoes of an everyman; except this guy's much-loved wife has been arrested and convicted of first degree murder and is in prison for life. Our hero is a teacher at a local community college and his six-year- old son is having trouble adjusting to life without Mom.

After all appeals have been exhausted, he reluctantly concludes that the only way to free her is a jailbreak. Now we watch an inordinately bright man start down a path for which he is inordinately ill prepared.

Here are the actors who subject us to action, suspense, and despite it all...doubt:
  • Russell Crowe ("State of Play") allows us to see him THINK. His faith in his wife's innocence is unshakable and his determination to set her free is equally fierce.
  • Elizabeth Banks ("W.") is the jailed wife and mother. Her character is going to be moved to another prison in The Next Three Days, so her husband's planning time is suddenly cut short.
  • Brian Dennehy ("Meet Monica Velour") and Helen Carey ("Julie and Julia") are our hero's parents, suddenly saddled with doubt about the mother of their adored grandson.
  • Aisha Hinds ("Unstoppable") and Jason Beghe (LOTS of TV) are two of the detectives still puzzling over that original murder.
  • Lennie James (LOTS of TV) is the (very!) smart detective hot on the trail of our hero.
  • Daniel Stern ("Whip It") is his lawyer.
  • Liam Neeson ("The A-Team") is the prison escape artist our hero hires as a "consultant."
This film won't win any awards but we know we are in capable hands who will show us excitement, suspense and clever plotting. Oh I know, I know, there ARE a few plot holes, but this is a movie. See it with a friend so you can discuss it later. It's fun to suddenly realize, "Oh! Now I see why he used three garbage bags!" and "Haiti? Perfect!"


127 Hours

Going in, we already know what we are in for. There are no spoilers for this film: all the publicity clearly states that Aron Ralston has to amputate his lower right arm in order to extricate himself from a crevasse where his arm is pinned by a fallen boulder. This film is based on his book: Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

Director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire") takes us to the wonderful wind-eroded rocks of Blue John Canyon near Moab, Utah, where the event took place. We see a blithely arrogant, supremely self-confident Ralston, played perfectly by James Franco ("Pineapple Express" and "Milk"), leave for another solo climbing trek in the wilderness. He fails to tell anyone where he is going, which of course, is the biggest mistake he can make. By the time he is considered missing, no one knows where to search.

We aren't limited to a 94-minute one-man show...thank goodness! Instead we see what a happy-go-lucky fellow he is, e.g., early in his hike he encounters two young women who are lost, and before he gets them back on track, he treats them to a little-known swimming hole. This is a spectacular set piece and we embrace it, knowing all too well what is yet to come. We also see he was always a bit of a pill: we watch a youthful version of him harass his little sister and tax the patience of his parents. In addition, as he begins to hallucinate from lack of food and water, we join him in admiration of all things liquid: Gatorade, beer, ice, and water, water, water.

Even as his strength wanes, Ralston keeps his wry sense of humor; he documents his experience with his little hand-held video camera, so that tends to lighten our experience. Whew!

Our screening audience was subdued but satisfied as we exited the theater.

Client 9

The complete (though cumbersome) title of this documentary is, "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer." Through a bit of serendipity, we saw "Inside Job" on Saturday and this one the following Monday.

Saturday was about the banking debacle and the egregious thievery that launched our Great Recession; "Client 9" is the prequel.

There were the same faces, only they were the targets of a pugnacious Eliot Spitzer a couple of years earlier when he was Attorney General for the State of New York. In his opinion, if the Federal regulators weren't doing their work, he and his crackerjack staff would do it for them! In his eight years on that job, he mowed a wide swath; obviously he made some powerful and unforgiving enemies who saw to it that he was hung by his own zipper.

Private investigators were only too happy to show the public that, like other Type A men before and since, "Mr Clean" had feet of clay. (He was "Client 9" at an exclusive call-girl operation.) The press had a field day and Mr. Spitzer, elected by a wide margin as Governor of New York, chose to resign (over his wife's objections). He blames no one but himself, although the evidence is pretty compelling that those wily old devils he attacked, had turned around and nailed him! Whether it is fair or square is up to you to decide.

The numerous interviews are with one of the prostitutes he employed, several executives he exposed, two staffers he disappointed, some media folks who smelled a rat, and Mr. S. himself. Newscasts and press clippings, both pro and con, are interspersed and there is plenty of wry humor.

I can't think of a moment when I was bored, although I do admit to a higher than normal interest in governmental issues....as should we all!


Inside Job

This documentary provides a step-by-step account of the whole stomach-churning catastrophe that created the collapse of the automobile and banking industries and their subsequent bailouts by the Federal Government.

It illustrates the financial shenanigans of bankers, trust officers, corporate board members, regulators, auditors, lobbyists, educators, members of Congress and residents of the White House, plus the ratings firms who supposedly analyzed how risky an investment might be in a particular company.

The most glaring shock was watching the blank faces of the guilty, with nary a smidgen of guilt or remorse. They walked away with millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses while bankrupting tens of millions of hard-working Americans whose only crime was to save their money and invest in their retirement accounts.

We learn about derivatives, about bundled assets and how to create toxic investments...none of which hurt anyone but homeowners and taxpayers. Aarghhh!

Narrator Matt Damon makes it clear that having a new resident in the White House just promises us more of the same... The good ol' boys are still in the picture! C'mon you journalists! There is a Pulitzer in it for you if your investigation lands a few of these bozos in jail!

If you can control your blood pressure, you might want to take a look at this one.


I tend to run hot and cold on Director Tony Scott: I thought "The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three" was great but hated "Cyrus." On the other hand I've pre-ordered "Pillars of the Earth," so I went to this movie with an open mind; I was NOT disappointed.

The pacing and editing on this actioner are excellent; we have time to get acquainted with the principal characters:
  • the two bunglers T.J Miller ("Extract") and Ethan Suplee ("My Name is Earl"), who set the whole catastrophe in motion by failing to connect the air brakes on a mile-long train loaded with lethal chemicals and abandon it after trying (and failing) to divert it to a siding, which leaves it moving at ever-increasing speeds toward a mid-size Pennsylvania town;
  • and we meet Denzel Washington ("Man on Fire" [directed by Tony Scott]) and Chris Pine ("Star Trek") as the grizzled veteran engineer and his yellow-vested conductor four months out of training, who are routinely shuttling a train on that main track, but inadvertently lined up for a head-on collision.
To see a piece like this set in contemporary times illustrates the ubiquity of television news cameras and helicopters, bystanders using their cell phones to take pictures as the runaway train blasts through their towns and live coverage by reporters, who announce important elements even before some of the railroad officials know them.

Suffice it to say there is plenty of nail-biting suspense, hair-raising excitement, and even some blowie uppie stuff. There is never a moment when we are not fully engaged. The stunt work is amazing and we were on the edge of our seats. There are tiny moments of humor, snippets of corporate villainy and dabs of humanity, plus we have plenty of folks to root for! Best of all, we know it is based on a real-life event a few years ago.

Ya want exciting entertainment? This one's for you!


Cool It

At last, cooler heads (...smile...) might be heard in this infernal Global Warming hoohah! Based on his book by the same name, author/narrator/interviewer Bjørn Lomborg is the ideal person to ramrod this discussion. A vegetarian, a member of Green Peace, a bicycle-riding health nut, he is also a scientist, an economist, an academic and an environmentalist. His first foray into this issue, The Skeptical Environmentalist, resulted in such venomous attacks by established Global Warming professionals, he feared that his career might be over before it began.

Born in Denmark, this globe-trotting researcher supports common sense solutions to a global issue. Using cost/benefits analysis, solving the issue of climate change by using current methods would cause economic catastrophe with only marginal results. A steady budget of $350 billion per year (the current estimate) for the next 100 years will result in less than a one percent reduction of global temperatures. For example, it might save one polar bear per year. That figure is eclipsed by the number killed each hunting season. Mr. Lomborg asks, "If we want to save polar bears, why don't we just stop shooting them?"

He rejects the inflammatory approach of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, but instead, finds scientists the world over diligently addressing the issue with creative and cost-effective solutions. In a review of Katrina, not one person claimed Global Warming as being in the top ten causes. Per the engineers who have improved the dams and flood mitigation devices in the Netherlands, their devastating flood a couple of decades ago was the result of poor engineering, not Global Warming.

During interviews, we see that Third World inhabitants don't give a rip about Global Warming. They simply want a decent standard of living, health care, education and clean water for their children. "Developed" countries have the luxury to fixate on other issues, because they already enjoy that standard of living. As a result, school children in the UK are traumatized by Global Warming. They pray about it at night, compete to see who can create the smallest carbon footprint for the week, and generally spend a lot of time suffering from the scare tactics of Global Warming professionals.

Lomborg posits that humans are adaptable, so let's use technology to adapt. We could use that $350 billion:
  • To develop clean, affordable energy, e.g., wind, wave, algae, nukes, solar, the list goes on and on;
  • To provide clean, potable water;
  • To address global health issues;
  • To study and launch the many climate-mitigating technologies that are under development. I won't go into them here, but they are fascinating and the interviews are terrific.
This screening was in a modest-sized theater and, to Seattle's shame, only attracted a handful of people. I guess if Al Gore isn't the central celebrity, it must not be any good. Actually, I think there was one earlier screening and I can't say how many attended that one. Gotta be honest here...

This review only covers the tip of the iceberg (...smile...); there is much more to see and learn. On the other hand, this film might be hard to find because of the nature of its viewpoint. Of course, if you want to see "Jackass 3D" I'm sure THAT's in your neighborhood multiplex. Aarghhh!


Morning Glory

Rachel McAdams ("Sherlock Holmes" and "Red Eye") is one of our best Canadian imports. She's been working non stop since she was four years old and never seems to flag. In this, her latest outing, she plays a hyper-kinetic, motor-mouthed assistant producer on a morning television talk show. Fully expecting a well-deserved promotion, she is speechless when she is downsized instead.

After a diligent job search, she is hired as executive producer at a fourth-place network, to bring her youthful energy to Daybreak, its moribund morning talk show.

Cue the cast:
  • Harrison Ford ("Indiana Jones," I thru IV) in full curmudgeon mode, is a much-honored newsman, now in semi-retirement since his show was canceled, but, per his contract, still on the payroll. This new gal wants to insult his integrity by having him demean himself by reporting trivial topics to trivial audiences.
  • Diane Keaton ("Mad Money") has been a co-host of Daybreak for many years, watching randy co-hosts and ambitious executive producers come and go. One important thing though, she really wants to see the show succeed and is, as she puts it, "A ROCK!"
  • Jeff Goldblum ("The Switch") is the laid-back executive who takes a chance on our heroine...sorta....
  • Patrick Wilson ("The A-Team") is the local dreamboat. Turns out he worked for Ford's character in the past and has the scars to prove it!
  • Matt Malloy ("The Bounty Hunter") is Daybreak's game utility man. Wait until you see him on the carnival ride; our screening audience loved his adventures.
My favorite scene was our gal's first organizational meeting at her new job. She talksthisfast and you'll love the looks on the faces of her skeptical new team before they hit her with a barrage of questions. Her response is worth the price of admission.

My second favorite scene was when Ford's character predictably goes on a bender and she tracks him down; he is drinking with an incredible group of well-known newscasters. We just hooted as we recognized face after face! (Maybe that was a spoiler...sorry...)

McAdams spends a lot of time sprinting up and down cluttered network hallways, New York City streets and Central Park in spike heels; she's a tireless dynamo. This little frolic is predictable but fun and the audience laughed out loud a remarkable number of times. That in itself is a treat!


Due Date

To me, this movie epitomizes the word "conflicted." To watch Robert Downey Jr. is to watch a thoroughbred in its prime. On the other hand, Zach Galifianakis.... What can I say? My distaste for this guy over-shadows every scene he inhabits. The characters he chooses to portray are invariably selfish, immature, impractical, impetuous and repugnant ...almost impossible for me to watch. Of course if you want to know how I REALLY feel about him, you'll have wait until I make up my mind.

This is a classic road picture with a couple of wildly disparate characters enmeshed in a frantic dash from Atlanta to the West Coast...think "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." Although this is primarily a two-person flick, we see:
  • Robert Downey Jr. ("Iron Man") is an architect who has to arrive in time to lend his support to his wife, played by...
  • Michelle Monaghan ("Eagle Eye") for a scheduled C-section which will deliver their first child.
  • Gus Galifianakis ("The Hangover") is the fly in the ointment, a would-be actor on his way to Hollywood, whose drug use causes confusion, pain, inconvenience and otherwise makes their cross-country trek a living hell.
  • Juliette Lewis ("Conviction") is the drug dealer on their first detour.
  • Danny McBride ("Tropic Thunder") runs a storefront check-cashing enterprise.
  • Jamie Foxx ("The Soloist") is Downey's successful friend who finally steps in and makes the last leg of their journey possible.
  • A coffee can of human ashes. Yeah, that's what I said!
Even with Downey in the lead (he gets handsomer and more appealing with every appearance), the absurd plot sinks further and further into parody. Cartoonish car wrecks; amazingly impossible stunt driving; physical mayhem which leaves Downey's character with a bloody nose, a broken arm, cracked ribs and multiple bruises; an ugly masturbating dog (yeah, you read that right!); compounded with supposedly funny drug use, just don't do it for me.

I love road pictures, I love Robert Downey Jr., and I love comedies, but this one I just can't love!


Once again, we are warned, "Be careful what you wish for..."

Ever since his misbegotten childhood, Megamind, voiced by Will Ferrell ("The Other Guys"), has been a super-villain. His arch enemy, Metro Man, voiced by Brad Pitt ("Burn After Reading"), fights for Truth, Justice, and... Oh, you know....

These two mighty foes have battled for years, neither able to win a decisive victory over the other. One of their sources of contention is spunky television newscaster, Roxanne Richey, voiced by Tina Fey ("Date Night") who is totally fearless.... Well, maybe spiders..... She is ably assisted by her long-time cameraman Tighten, voiced by Jonah Hill ("Cyrus"), who is packing a huge adolescent crush on her.

To my surprise, this turned out to be a romance. I expected a morality tale, this movie is, after all, designed for children, but I enjoyed many delicious bits of humor aimed directly at us adults (mispronounced words and clever names for secondary characters), plus it was fun to watch the dawning of affection between two of the characters. Megamind learns it's hard to be Evil without having Good for balance; Roxanne learns that she sorta DOES judge a book by its cover; Metro Man learns he really DOES have a destiny.

Two things struck me:
  1. DreamWorks does spectacularly good animation: reflections in windows, ripples on water and Roxanne's hair blowing in the wind are the first three examples that come to mind.
  2. My companion and I agree that we like Will Ferrell and Jonah Hill much better when we don't have to SEE them. They both do a terrific job as voices. I wonder if it is Ferrell who does that great send-up of Brando.
Philippe Denis ("Shrek") is the visual effects supervisor and deserves special mention for the quality of his work.

Other than a fire alarm which caused the multiplex to be evacuated, a pleasant time was had by all.