Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

You know the story of the spy pulled out of retirement to take just one more case? Well this story's been pulled back out of retirement. Yes, you read that right. The original version of John le Carré's durable thriller was first aired as a miniseries in 1979. It was so highly acclaimed they decided to do it all over again! After all, every intelligence agency has a time when it suspects it is harboring a double agent.

Here they have trotted out the best workhorses in British cinema. This 127-minute R-rated remake of the Alec Guinness classic, boasts:
  • John Hurt ("Immortals") as Control, positive there is a mole at the highest level of MI6 and determined to root him out.
  • Gary Oldman ("Red Riding Hood") is George Smiley, pulled out of retirement and saddled with the task. Oldman is wonderful, you can see that his character is contemplative, strong, self contained and loyal. When his knees sag right at the end, it IS meaningful!
  • Mark Strong ("The Guard") as Jim Prideaux, an operative sent back to Hungary to help Control uncover the mole. In my opinion, Strong's character has the most impact.
  • Toby Jones ("My Week With Marilyn") as Percy Alleline, a fiery Scotsman who is one of the suspects.
  • Tom Hardy ("Inception") as Ricki Tarr, who gives a potential informer more value than she warrants, to her great peril!
  • Kathy Burke (lots of TV) as Connie Sachs, sort of the mother hen of the agency. She has the funniest line!
  • Colin Firth ("The King's Speech") as Bill Hayden; when his character is happy, Firth twinkles.
  • Ciarán Hinds ("The Debt") is mostly wasted as Roy Bland, one of Control's espionage suspects.
  • David Dencik ("War Horse") is Toby Esterhase, the prime suspect in their search for the mole.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch ("Atonement") as Peter Guillam, the agent with the most to do. He stays busy throughout this entire film!
  • Sveltlana Khodchenkova ("Rzhevskiy protiv Napoleona") is heartbreaking as Irena, the desperate informer who is so badly oversold!
...to name just a few.

This offers moments for many actors to shine, particularly Mark Strong, Colin Firth and Gary Oldman. Everyone else is great, but these three.... Oh my....

A word to the wise, this is mainly a talking heads-type film, so if hearing dialogue is a challenge, wait for the DVD with closed captions, or opt for a theater that provides them.

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATION: I saw this at a $6.00 Tuesday special (AMC theater). There was scarcely an empty seat in the place and that was for the second matinee of the day. As Hollywood cries the blues about the drop in audience numbers, maybe they should re-examine their prices. Hundreds of $6.00 tickets total waaaay more revenue than thirty or forty $10.00 ones. AND we were buying popcorn, which is where the profits are for theaters. Would someone please tell the suits to WAKE UP!
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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We Bought a Zoo

Director Cameron Crowe ("Say Anything"- my favorite!) is back. After (in my opinion) a couple of misfires, "Elizabethtown" and "Vanilla Sky," he seems to be hitting his stride again.

This two-hour (123 minutes) PG dramedy is based on a true story which, according to information provided before the closing credits, continues even today. A grieving widower quits his San Diego-based job, packs up his two children and moves them to a privately owned wild animal park in Southern California. He risks his retirement funds and all of his savings in the hopes that a complete change of scene will help him rebuild his life and the lives of his children.

Lucky for our city guy, this animal preserve already has a small but efficient staff, so he isn't completely at sea, but pretty close! His main challenge is his disaffected son, who was expelled from his last school for his art work (wait until you see it!). One of the best scenes is the fight between father and son; they each give as good as they get and I'm reminded again what a fine actor Damon is.

This pleasant outing boasts a terrific cast:
  • Matt Damon ("True Grit" - he was the stalwart Ranger) is our hero, embarking on a new adventure.
  • Scarlett Johansson ("The Other Boleyn Girl" - she was Anne Boleyn's sister) is the experienced zoologist.
  • Thomas Haden Church ("Sideways" - he was the wayward bridegroom) is our hero's brother, who has launched a few (mis)adventures of his own.
  • Patrick Fugit ("Almost Famous" - he was the writer for Rolling Stone) is the worker with the (capuchin) monkey on his back.
  • John Michael Higgins ("Bad Teacher" - he was the flummoxed principal) is the villain, a government inspector determined to find enough flaws that the park can't open.
  • Elle Fanning ("Super 8" - she was the girl old enough to drive) quickly gets a crush on the teenage son.
  • Colin Ford (lots of TV) is that teenager, angry, suspicious and eager to move back into the city.
Johansson makes a credible zoologist and the first big fight they have is over her determination to put down a sick animal while he, not realizing he is subconsciously substituting the sick tiger for his sick wife, keeps pleading for her to allow it to stay alive just a little longer.

Love the gal at Home Depot. I very much appreciated that these were NOT animatronic animals! Sweet ending, too.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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War Horse

Stephen Spielberg never hesitates to use every device in his filmmaker's bag of tricks: He uses a terrific children's novel written by much-heralded author Michael Morpurgo, about a boy who enlists in the British Army after his beloved horse is appropriated for the WWI cavalry.

Spielberg unabashedly makes mincemeat of our feelings, with lovely pastoral scenes, a darling colt, trench warfare, gut-wrenching battles, injured horses being shot, a truly upsetting scene with a horse hopelessly enmeshed in a snarl of barbed wire, outrageous coincidences, a happy ending with profiles silhouetted against a sunset...oh, you know, the whole spectrum of emotions. What a workout!

My biggest problem is that I have lived on a farm, so once again the city slickers strike out:
  • They don't understand contour farming, so rain washes the crop downhill.
  • They don't know that a healthy horse sleeps standing up.
  • A horse won't step up and say, "Use me! My friend's leg is hurt!"
  • WWI quartermasters turned dead horses over to the cooks! They didn't toss their carcasses into a pit.
  • You really cannot get two grown horses into an upstairs farm- house bedroom. NOTE: One of my JayFlix colleagues says it IS possible but she won't tell me how she knows....
Okay, I got that off my chest, so let me emphasize that our downtown Seattle audience applauded this film. It is beautifully shot, well acted and I am, once again, in awe of Spielberg as a filmmaker! The authentic feel of 1916 England, the hard-scrabble farm, the Devonshire landscape, the muddy battlefield, all transported us to another time and place. I really could NOT tell where the computer generated images left off and where it was real boots-on-the-ground.

This 143-minute film works very well for city folks and the PG-13 script shields us from too much blood. We only HEAR those horses being shot and newcomer Jeremy Irvine makes a wonderful film debut. Of course he is ably supported by Peter Mullan ("Boy A") and Emily Watson ("Miss Potter") as his parents.

I hope the horse is nominated for Best Horse at the Academy Awards this year. He deserves it!
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Here is a link to a preview:
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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

You KNEW I'd be a hard sell on this American retread, but the word "gratuitous" quickly came to mind. I'll be the first to acknowledge that David Fincher ("Zodiac") is a brilliant director, but when a book is already universally known and the original movie is effectively done, why pad a perfectly adequate story with blatant foreshadowing, gratuitous characters and unnecessary violence? This thing runs for 158 minutes and inserts new scenes that are inconsistent with Stieg Larsson's iconic originals!

My defense shields came up during the over-wrought title sequence, but they came down a bit when the film actually began because I AM fond of the story. It has interesting characters, plenty of action, and a plot that is just complicated enough to keep us engaged. After all, how many stories involve a 40-year-old murder?

Let's start with the cast:
  • Daniel Craig ("Defiance"), it took courage to accept a role when the standard has already been set by Michael Nyqvist. Craig's work already stands alone: He is a terrific James Bond and has enjoyed wide-ranging roles over an impressive number of years. Here, his journalist, Mikael Blomkvist is hired by an industrialist to investigate the death/disappearance of his beloved niece 40 years ago. We love Craig, so we won't hold this against him.
  • Rooney Mara ("The Social Network") was determined to make this work. She got piercings, worked out and shaved off her eyebrows. THAT should prove her dedication to her art! Taking over the iconic role of social misfit Liz Salander from Noomie Rapace took guts, and it's clear that she did exactly as Fincher directed her to do. ...sigh....
  • Christopher Plummer ("Beginners") has the aristocratic panache necessary to portray an elderly industrialist. His wry descriptions of his relatives bring humor to a pretty desolate picture of the dysfunctional Vanger family.
  • Stellan Skarsgård ("Thor") is a prominent member of that dysfunctional family....
  • Robin Wright ("The Conspirator") is perfect as Erika Berger, Mikael's long-time (married) lover and co-publisher of their Millennium magazine.
It's a sad commentary that this movie is even necessary. Are Americans so illiterate that we can't even manage to read captions? Are we so jaded that we must have an already action-filled story ramped up to this degree? With an R rating, expect nudity, rape, violence, and blowie uppie stuff.

Now let me try to be fair: I'm going to guess that "...Tattoo" virgins, who haven't a clue what to expect, will be thrilled and surprised. They will never guess that a much better version exists. I guess that's why this was made in the first place, huh? Well, who am I to say....?

Just let me do some editing, okay? Please?
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This preview runs 3.5 minutes:
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The Adventures of Tintin

Director Steven Spielberg, a long-time fan of this series of Belgian children's comic books by Georges Remi under the pen name of Hergé, directs this PG-rated motion-capture film. Spielberg uses his long-time musical collaborator John Williams ("Indiana Jones"), who adds his signature sound to enhance the non-stop action which features our intrepid investigative reporter Tintin, and Snowy, his faithful fox terrier.

We hear the voices of:
  • Daniel Craig ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), the sinister Mr. Sakharine who tries to buy the Unicorn, a model ship that has a direct connection to the mystery of a lost treasure.
  • Jamie Bell ("Defiance") is the titular hero of this series. At first I thought he might be too old for the part, but the character lives alone and supports himself at the newspaper, so I guess 25-year- old Jamie is just right.
  • Simon Pegg ("Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol") and his sidekick Nick Frost ("Hot Fuzz") voice Inspectors Thompson and Thomson, a pair of stumble-bums who are trying to catch a pickpocket.
  • Andy Serkis ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes") plays Captain Haddock and his ancestor Sir Francis Haddock, whose family has first rights to the Unicorn.
...to name just a few....

My childhood was completely "Tintin"-less, so some of the affection others brought to the experience was lacking. I found the script to be too chaotic, too confusing, too crammed with fisticuffs, gunfights, chases, and general mayhem. I was surprised when our hero instantly resorted to a handgun in this politically correct day and age.

On the other hand, I was dazzled by the acting! Yes, I know, this is NOT live action, but the emotions and the animated speech were impressive. In addition, there was always authentic business going on behind, or off to the side of our principal characters. The dog behaved in a very dog- like manner and some of the people on the street were a hoot! Watch for that old woman whaling away at the fellow with her umbrella.

In addition, the artistry of the animators deserves special mention. Mirrored reflections viewed through glass have their own unique challenges; you will often see glare from a pretend camera lens that gives the impression that this movie was filmed instead of created digitally. Such finesse!

I appreciated the artistry but hit chaotic-action overload halfway through.
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Irina Palm

Your first hint about this one is that you have to be over 21 to register for the trailer.

That being said, I want to recommend a film that I saw at the Sedona Film Festival a couple of years ago. An entry from the U.K., it was a major hit with our screening audience and I have loaned out my DVD countless times; I have heard nothing but praise for it in response.

It features a former vocalist on the music scene a few decades ago, Marianne Faithfull. If her name rings a bell, you are the perfect age to see this movie.

She depicts a meek widow whose grandson is very ill. There is a chance to save his life if the family can manage to raise air fare to Sidney, Australia. They have already spent everything they have on the boy's care and have nothing left to sell, pawn or barter. Our widow has already sold her house but is determined to find a way to help her grandson.

She discovers that a "woman of a certain age" with no experience and no marketable skills isn't very likely to find a job, but in Soho, she sees a "Help Wanted" sign in the window of a sex shop. Upon inquiring, she learns they are looking for a hostess but she's too old. Then someone gets the bright idea to hire her to provide a standard service (hand jobs) where she stays out of sight. She finds the whole idea shocking, but she's desperate enough that she screws her courage to a sticking place and takes the job.

Turns out she has a real knack and becomes not only popular, but fairly successful. To her great relief, she is now in a position to get an advance on her salary and pay for her son and his family to go to Australia.

Of course, her son wants to know where she got all that money. Therein lies the tale...

Suffice it to say, this is cleverly photographed, wonderfully scripted and beautifully acted. It is so satisfying to see this meek woman become very matter-of-fact about her job, develop a sense of self worth, stand her ground against the sanctimonious biddies in her neighborhood and forge a loving relationship with her daughter-in-law.

You will enjoy this one more if you can locate a DVD with subtitles. Mine doesn't have them, but I caught a scene on television the other day and it had closed captions, so watch for it.

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You have to be 17 or older to register for this preview:
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Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

This PG-13 money-printing franchise is back again. Do you know why? Because Producers J.J. Abrams and Tom Cruise are two smart fellows with a lot of clout who look for: a great director; a great script; and a great cast.

The great director is Brad Bird ("The Incredibles") who is directing his first non-animated feature. The stunts are so hair raising it might have been easier on my nerves if they HAD been animated! Particularly scaling that skyscraper in Dubai... Whew!

The great script by television scriptwriters Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, starts in Budapest where the IMF is implicated in a bombing. This means our doughty team must first clear their names. That takes them to Moscow where they learn there is also the threat of nuclear war.... So off to Mumbai... Oh, you know. Cruise is an international star and his movies always take us all over the world. That's part of the fun.

And here is a small part of that great cast:
  • Tom Cruise ("Valkyrie") continues to be an enigma to me. For such a high-profile celebrity, I don't really know much about him. He gives each movie everything he's got and we always get our money's worth.
  • Tom Wilkinson ("The Debt") is a highly capable actor who works all the time in a variety of accents. This is an A-List Actor (capital "A") who hasn't a shred of scandal associated with his name.
  • Jeremy Renner ("The Hurt Locker") is a great example of an actor who conveys energy, intelligence and subtext. He ain't purdy, but he's effective. I hope he becomes a permanent member of the IMF team: he brings both gravitas and humanity.
  • Paula Patton ("Precious") surprised me as an action star. Who knew?
  • Simon Pegg ("Star Trek") is hilarious! He never disappoints me; he is so perfect here I hope to see him bring this character back a third time in the inevitable next episode.
  • Ving Rhames ("Mission Impossible" franchise) made a cameo appearance and an affectionate murmur swept the audience.
  • Anil Kapoor ("Slumdog Millionaire") can play smarmy very nicely. Remember him as the M.C. in Slumdog?
  • Michael Nyqvist ("The Millennium Trilogy") is an experienced multi-lingual Swede who is equally comfortable in heroic or villainous roles.
You may have noticed I haven't discussed the role each actor plays in the plot. Come on... In a Tom Cruise movie is a plot important? As you might expect, there is never a dull moment. Fans know they can rely on a Cruise movie for non-stop action and breath-taking stunts. But a plot? Not so much. All I can say is that we had tons of fun watching this action fest and appreciated some poignant moments as well.

Gunshots, vehicular mayhem, brawls, riots, and blowie uppie stuff, no profanity and they all kept their clothes on. This one should be a big hit.
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This trailer is 2:31 minutes long:
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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Ham and eggs, salt and pepper, Holmes and Watson. Some things just naturally go together. Yes, our intrepid tag team is back to a sooty, soiled London, with ever more outrageous plots and counter-plots, wry asides, hairbreadth escapes and goofy disguises. Once again we see Holmes' slow-motion mental preview for the next bout of fisticuffs before we see it unfold with blinding speed, exactly as planned.

This time Professor Moriarty makes his debut in this series, so we're talking world domination here, not just Jolly Old England. Naturally we recognize faces from the 2009 film and the audience laughs when they appear.

Once again Guy Ritchie ("Sherlock Holmes") directs:
  • Robert Downey Jr ("Iron Man") returns as our dauntless detective, doing his darnedest to derail that infernal wedding! (...and save the world.)
  • Jude Law ("Hugo") is, once again, his faithful sidekick, Dr. John Watson, who is Holmes' equal in every way, it's just that he wants to get married.
  • Noomie Rapace ("The Millennium Trilogy") introduces Sim, an ingenious fortune-telling gypsy, trying to locate her brother.
  • Rachel McAdams ("Midnight in Paris") returns as Irene Adler, an important woman in Holmes' life.
  • Jared Harris ("The Ward") is Professor Moriarty, one of fiction's best nemeses. He and Holmes share a mutual admiration for each other that adds to the fun.
Sometimes things just get too, too cute, and the "bromance" between Holmes and Watson has them dancing together, almost kissing, and Holmes is clearly jealous when faced with the idea of Watson getting married. How would Sir Arthur Conan Doyle feel about this? I'm just sayin'...

Personally, I appreciate the women in this series: they don't trip while running in the forest or need a strong man to save them, we find them serious, resourceful and focused. Of course with this being a Guy Ritchie film, they also know martial arts!

Remember, we're talking world domination, so you may expect gunshots and some blowie uppie stuff; for the most part, this 129-minute PG-13 comedy keeps us entertained and we never have to cover our eyes. Whew!

But this is another one where you absolutely MUST suspend disbelief! That's elementary, my dear....smile...

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This preview is a little over 2 minutes:
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Young Adult

From the creative team of director Jason Reitman ("Thank You for Smoking") and writer Diablo Cody ("Juno"), we have a dramedy about a writer of Young Adult fiction who returns to her home town in hopes she can re-ignite some heat with an old flame. Unfortunately for our recently divorced heroine, he is happily married.
  • Charlize Theron ("Hancock") fearless as always, is willing to play a defective beauty, damaged by adulation in high school and deluded about her place in the world. BTW, she still drives a Mini-Cooper like she did in "The Italian Job!"
  • Patrick Wilson ("Morning Glory") finally plays a happy, normal husband and father. I applauded his character from the moment I first saw him; what a switch from "The A-Team."
  • Patton Oswalt (Lots of TV and a voice in "Ratatouille") certainly deserves star billing in this one! His character was beaten and mutilated in high school, supposedly a hate crime against a gay. When it turns out he isn't gay, the episode is all but forgotten, except ...oops... he is still crippled and mutilated.... This dis- illusioned guy is the only one who sees the situation clearly!
  • Elizabeth Reaser (the "Twilight" franchise) is the target of our heroine's rancor because she is married to that old flame.
  • Colette Wolfe ("Hot Tub Time Machine") has the most pivotal character. It is the interaction with this sweet gal that helps us gauge the depth of our heroine's epiphany and possible recovery.
This edgy R-rated film features a cute Pomeranian dog, wonderful acting, lots of humor, lots of alcohol, and one scene which comes thisclose to nudity. No gunshots, car chases or blowie uppie stuff, but it's no walk in the park, either.
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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New Year's Eve

Director Garry Marshall ("Pretty Woman") is helming another PG-13 ensemble cattle call similar to "Love Actually," "Valentine's Day," and "New York, I Love You." You know, a film where widely disparate vignettes with a huge ensemble, end up somehow becoming a (sort of) cohesive story.

Just look at this cast!
  • Ashton Kutcher ("Friends With Benefits") cynically views New Year's Eve as "Amateur Night."
  • Zac Efron ("The Lucky One") is a resourceful bicycle messenger hired for the day by a client.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer ("Hairspray") hires that messenger boy; she has a bucket list.
  • Jon Bon Jovi ("Cry Wolf") has never been more appealing.
  • Katherine Heigl ("Life As We Know It") slaps Jon Bon Jovi... TWICE!
  • Sofia Vergara ("The Smurfs") does NOT slap Jon Bon Jovi.
  • Jessica Biel ("Valentine's Day") is really funny in the delivery room.
  • Carla Gugino ("Elektra Luxx") is the doctor delivering Jessica Biel's baby.
  • Sarah Jessica Parker ("Smart People") is a single mom with trust issues.
  • Abigail Breslin ("Janie Jones") is the teenager whose mom doesn't trust her.
  • Josh Duhamel ("Ramona and Beezus") wrecks his car but MUST be in town by midnight.
  • Lea Michelle ("Glee") gets trapped on an elevator with Ashton Kutcher. (I loathe her over-stylized singing!)
  • Robert De Niro ("Limitless") wants to see the ball drop on New Year's Eve one more time before he dies.
  • Hilary Swank ("Conviction") is stuck holding the ball if the mech- anism in Times Square isn't fixed by midnight.
  • Ludacris ("Tropic Thunder") is an understanding New York City cop.
  • Hector Elizondo ("Princess Diaries") makes his mandatory appearance in yet another Garry Marshall film. This time I think he's Russian....
  • Ryan Seacrest (Himself) does a great sendup of himself as the host of the Times Square celebration and kvetches that "things never went wrong for Dick Clark!"
...and this list of actors barely scratches the surface.

This has become quite the fad in Hollywood these days with scores of "name brands" doing cameos in a demonstration of fun and solidarity. As a professional audience member, I admit that I get a big kick out of identifying all those familiar faces and I'm willing to fill in the blanks for the myriad stories that are alluded to but never resolved...but it IS a fad.

Despite the total lack of car chases, gunshots, sweaty bodies or blowie uppie stuff, the audience energy was waaaay up after this screening; that means they liked it!
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Shall We Kiss?

"Un baiser s'il vous plaît" is the most un-pornographic pornography I have ever seen. (Of course I categorically deny ever having seen ANY!)

When I get a foreign DVD from the City Library (with English captions) it can sometimes be a surprise, and this one certainly was! I had confused it with a boring and trivial French entry to the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival. I have never been happier to be wrong.

This delightful French comedy had me giggling from the get-go! Two best friends have to deal with the guy's mental and emotional problems. Of course, we, in the audience, because we are all-seeing and all-knowing, realize that his major problem is that he loves HER! She, naturally, is oblivious.

We see:
  • Virginie Ledoyen ("The Valet") is a good friend just trying to help....
  • Emmanuel Mouret ("L'art d'aimer") is the besotted sad sack we are rooting for...
  • Julie Gayet ("L'art de séduirer") is a sort of Scheherezade telling a story that bedazzles, bewitches and delays....
  • Michael Cohen ("Rebirth") just tries to keep it real...
Interspersed with snippets from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and well-known classical bits of Shubert, there is humor to spare and plenty of people to like. Quotes like: "How can I hope for world peace with immoral women like me in it?" and "Maybe it's people like me who stop civilizations from growing in harmony." We know these are good people if they can think thoughts as fine as these!

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Here is a link to a trailer:
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As the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience exited "Stilyagi," ("Hipsters") they all had huge grins on their faces. (I first filed this in June, 2010 and it is just now - late 2011 - being released in the U.S.)

This is a rarity: A Russian musical! (English captions) At the screening Director Valeriy Todorovskiy told us, "at least when I die I can say I have directed ONE musical!" A woman in the audience had been a 20 year old in Moscow during the early 1950s and she told him he got the period and the people's attitudes exactly right.

Apparently at that time some of the Russians in their late teens/early twenties wanted to be like Americans...or at least the way they THOUGHT Americans were. They combed their hair into high pompadours, wore brightly colored clothes, lots of makeup, and danced wildly to Rock and Roll. Naturally the Establishment (Communist) was highly critical. In fact, one of my favorite numbers was a denunciation scene in a classroom setting; I found it a treat to the eye, loved the unique choreography, and the song advanced the story perfectly.

It was fun to recognize one of the streets (photography was negotiated after grueling sessions with the Powers-That-Be in Moscow) which was vacated for a single four-hour period. Three different scenes had to be shot in lightening quick succession while the street was empty. What a feat!

This is a musical, so it's boy meets girl, boy loses girl...oh, you know... There is plenty of music, plenty of humor and even a sweaty body or two... I came out with a huge grin on my face. Spacibo!

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This preview is from the SIFF promo:
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The Descendants

Director Alexander Payne ("Sideways") delivers an R-rated film about family dynamics after a water-skiing accident leaves the mother in a coma. It soon is revealed (as it is in the trailers) that she had been having an affair. Payne orchestrates a beautiful arc from rage and defiance to serenity and acceptance over the course of this 115 minute gem. Every phase of the family's emotional response to events feels natural, normal and real.

Our main character is the trustee for a massive real estate holding which, because of Hawaii's laws, must eventually be dissolved. He thinks he has found a solution, maybe not the best one, but one that will put the issue to rest.

In this very capable cast we see:
  • George Clooney ("The Ides of March") is the fifth-generation Hawaiian land baron whose wife is in the accident; this forces him to reconnect with his two daughters who are semi-strangers. When I watched Clooney clop, clop, clopping down the road in his sandals, running flatfooted like a middle-aged man in a crisis instead of like a movie star, I decided he has earned his stripes as an actor.
  • Patricia Hastie ("Princess Kaiulani") is his philandering wife, now on life support. Her living will specifies "No Life Support," so much of this film anticipates when they have to pull the plug.
  • Shailene Woodley (LOTS of TV) is their defiant eldest daughter; she knows everyone's secrets. She becomes her father's confi- dante and fellow conspirator while at the same time she naturally and believably segues into the role of big sister/mother to her younger sibling. This is a capable young actress whose best claim to fame so far is that she can cry under water!
  • Nick Krause ("ExTerminators") is a young man whose existence was kept a secret from his girlfriend's dad... for good reason! This is no intellectual giant and he tends to blurt out the truth, but as we learn more about him, his insight and his steadfast presence start to gain traction in the family.
  • Amara Miller, in her film debut, is the younger daughter, who wants to get to know her dad. She is just entering her hormonal stage and is painfully aware that she won't have a mother to help her through it. She cries, "Well what about ME?!"
  • Matthew Lillard (LOTS of TV) is the rascal who was getting it on with the philandering wife. He is a Realtor and is on the periphery of a huge deal with Clooney's land trust.
  • Judy Greer ("Love and Other Drugs") is Mrs. Rascal (see above).
  • Robert Forster ("Ghosts of Girlfriends Past") is Clooney's father-in-law who is convinced that his daughter is perfect, so Clooney is to blame. He is burdened with a wife stricken with Alzheimer's, a daughter in a coma and chronic rage.
  • Beau Bridges (LOTS of TV) is a country cousin, eager to see that lucrative land deal go through so he and the rest of the impatient relatives can split their booty.
Payne wants to show us what his cast can do...and he certainly does the job, all the while treating us to a travelogue of Hawaii. A Hawaiian sound- track accompanies us as we fly between islands, see Hawaiian musicians (they can yodel!) and admire picture-postcard scenery.

There is plenty of humor mixed in with the normal dynamics of a family in the throes of a major readjustment. You will see no nudity, no car chases, no gunfire and no blowie uppie stuff; most of the profanity comes from the girls as they test their father's authority. Everything about this film feels authentic, including the blanket-sharing final scene. You WILL like it.

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This is NOT, I repeat, NOT a children's movie! I must emphasize this, as you may have been misled by the PG rating. (The children's book upon which it's based has been fundamentally changed.) This is a wonderful, heartfelt, visual feast, dedicated to cinephiles everywhere! Movie lovers are rapturous over it, while I saw children brought along by well-meaning parents, who were bewildered and bored.

The opening scene is a magnificent, deeply dimensional, 3D shot of a massive clockworks. It segues into traffic headlights encircling the Eiffel Tower and an aerial view of 1930s Paris. From that moment I knew I was in the hands of a master filmmaker! We are behind the scenes (in the walls and attic) of a huge Parisian train station where we see how they maintain the clocks: oiling, winding, repairing and fine-tuning them. It's no wonder the orphan boy charged with these marvels sees the world as a giant clockwork; his entire life centers around oil cans, counterweights, gears, flywheels, and mainsprings.

Director (and Film Historian) Martin Scorsese ("The Departed") brings us this wonderful cast:
  • Asa Butterfield ("The Boy in the Striped Pajamas") is our eponymous hero, striving to unlock the mystery of his father's death. He lives in the walls of the train station, stealing what he needs and living by his wits. He is apprenticed to his drunken uncle, thus he works on the clocks.
  • Jude Law ("Sherlock Holmes") appears briefly as our hero's all- too-soon-dead father, but he was working on an automaton, which Hugo now sees as something he absolutely must complete.
  • Ben Kingsley ("Shutter Island") is Georges Méliès, the center- piece of this tribute to early French cinema. A magician turned cinematographer in 1895, this innovative pioneer was very nearly forgotten despite his almost 500 films made prior to WWI. This homage includes a moment when he is belatedly honored for his contributions.
  • Chloë Grace Moretz ("Diary of a Wimpy Kid") is a girl who joins our young hero on an "adventure!" Her first taste of the cinema is the well-known clip of Harold Lloyd hanging from the face of that clock. This film is checkered with many such classic moments.
  • Helen McCrory ("The Queen") is Jeanne Méliès, wife of Georges. This actress was so convincing as an older woman, I was im- pressed by her makeup when she appeared younger. Silly me!
  • Emil Lager ("Cheerful Weather for the Wedding") fooled us all. We thought he was Johnny Depp, doing a surprise cameo as a guitar player in the train station!
  • Sasha Baron Cohen ("Brüno") is the gendarme determined to catch our boy and send him to an orphanage. Well, catch him he does!
  • Emily Mortimer ("Our Idiot Brother") is a sweet flower vendor in the station. The gendarme gets tongue-tied around her.
  • Christopher Lee ("Season of the Witch") is a librarian who directs our youngsters to books on topics they are researching.
We were pleased to see the emphasis placed on the value of books. Courtesy of excellent 3D, we cringe from a horrific train wreck and struggle with the children as they try to push through a crowded train station. We revel in the discovery and restoration of many of Méliès' well-known film clips and marvel at his ingenuity.

This is an excellent film for film buffs...but not for children!

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The Artist

Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, John Gilbert, Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks are smiling. This audacious film is a silent movie in black and white, with intertitles for dialogue! This PG-13 homage to early Hollywood absolutely proves that Talkies did NOT invent drama, pathos, comedy or romance; we experience all of these and more, yet only hear a handful of words spoken in the entire film. (I just love movies about movies!)

Did you see the "OSS 117" pastiches inspired by the "James Bond" films? If so, you can easily picture the hilarious Jean Dujardin as a 1920s silent screen superstar who goes into a tailspin with the advent of the Talkies. Dujardin is a master of the sendup, the spoof, the satirical take- off on vanity, ego and self-satisfaction, so his parody of Douglas Fair- banks is spot on! As are his versions of Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain," and Fred Astaire in anything with Ginger Rogers. If you doubt me, watch the attached trailer.

In a second viewing, I was even more impressed, look for long single- take scenes: note the one in the star's dressing room when the starlet finds herself alone; watch the lengthy dance sequence a la Astaire, two cuts, MAX! Note the "Hollywoodland" sign on the hillside. That was the original Hollywood sign, it was a real estate advertisement and that was when I knew they would try for verisimilitude. I've ordered the DVD because this can hold up under repeated viewings. In the 84th Annual Academy Awards (in which it won numerous awards) it was revealed that of all the nominated films, this French film is the only one shot entirely in the Hollywood area!

These actors make it work:
  • Jean Dujardin won the Best Actor award at Cannes for this role. He starts out as such a "STAR" that you are surprised when you see a more human side.
  • Bérénice Bejo is transcendent as a spunky Debbie Reynolds-type character in this little show-biz romp. Of course they meet cute and then, shades of "A Star is Born," their lives reverse as her fortunes soar and his plummet.
  • A clever Jack Russell Terrier promptly keels over when a finger is suddenly pointed at him, but runs for help when the house is on fire.
  • Penelope Ann Miller is our hero's disenchanted wife.
  • John Goodman with cigar at full chomp, runs a studio and caters to temperamental stars.
  • James Cromwell is our hero's faithful chauffeur and stalwart friend.
  • Missi Pyle does a blonde bimbo reminiscent of Lina Lamont in "Singin'...," only we never hear this one's voice... Whew!
Writer/Director Michel Hazanavicius has done only French films in the past, but with printed dialogue on those intertitles, this film could be in any language. (Please remember, both "homage" and "cliché" are French!) Our Seattle International Film Festival screening audience could see that most of the words the actors mouthed were English...except that terrific dog...I'm pretty sure he was barking in French.
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My Week With Marilyn

What really happened in 1956 between Sir Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe when they made "The Prince and the Showgirl?" Olivier's assistant, Colin Clark, tells us in this name-dropping drama based on his best-selling autobiographical novel, The Prince, the Showgirl and Me.

Just look at this cast of characters:
  • Michelle Williams ("Blue Valentine") is Marilyn, insecure, intimidated and freshly married to playwright Arthur Miller. The brilliant Williams captures Marilyn's luminosity and tentative mannerisms, she even runs like her! We believe her vulnerability when we gasp at Olivier's thoughtless comment, "You don't HAVE to ACT, just be SEXY!"
  • Kenneth Branaugh ("Valkyrie") is Sir Laurence, who holds "Method" actors in utter contempt. Paula Strasberg, Marilyn's acting coach, makes no attempt to urge her to work on time, and because Olivier is the ultimate professional, it drives him crazy.
  • Eddie Redmayne ("Pillars of the Earth") is Colin Clark, swept off his feet by his needy charge. His character is the heart of the film and Redmayne's youthful naiveté plus a light sprinkling of freckles won me over completely.
  • Emma Watson ("Harry Potter") is Lucy, a lowly employee at Pinewood Studios, who quickly learns she can't compete with an legend.
  • Dominic Cooper ("An Education") is Milton Greene, an American who is frantically, and futilely, trying to run interference for his world-famous client.
  • Judi Dench ("J. Edgar") is Dame Sybil Thorndike, gracious, kind and thoughtful. Dench very nearly steals this film from a roomful of scene-stealing professionals.
  • Toby Jones ("Harry Potter") is Arthur Jacobs, another American character. Jones, Dougray Scott, Dominic Cooper and Michelle Williams put on and take off accents like I change my socks. They are amazing!
  • Julia Ormond ("Temple Grandin") is Vivien Leigh, painfully aware of Olivier's school-boy crush on Monroe, but gracious to her, nonetheless.
  • Dougray Scott ("There Be Dragons") completely disappears into his role as Arthur Miller, who quickly learns the price of his new bride's fame. He promptly decamps for New York.
Even though this R-rated film has a bit of tasteful nudity, we see no sweaty bodies, no gunshots, no car chases, no blowie uppie stuff, and only sporadic profanity. It has LOTS of super-close closeups, as a camera lovingly examines all those attractive faces.

We enjoy the music of 1956 with Dean Martin and Nat King Cole, plus Marilyn, who sings Heat Wave, That Old Black Magic, and a few more. Our screening audience applauded.

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The Muppets

They're baaack! This is proof positive that a die-hard fan can resuscitate a moribund (look it up!) franchise. Furthermore, Disney and an amazing array of guest stars pitch in.

All the familiar Muppets are here, plus this core cast of "live" actors:
  • Jason Segal ("Bad Teacher") is switching gears from his usual R-rated fare. He is also the aforementioned die-hard fan behind this project. Coincidentally, Jason PLAYS a fan, too!
  • Amy Adams ("Enchanted") is a little less enchanting in this one because her character feels neglected. Her fiancé spends too much time hanging out with his Muppet friend...but at least Amy does get to sing!
  • Chris Cooper ("The Company Men") is Tex Richman (Rich Man, get it?) another bad guy to add to his impressive roster of bad guys. Ready for a shock? This guy can RAP!
  • Rashida Jones ("The Good Year") is the television producer who will help The Muppets if they can get a celebrity host. This plot device goes right over the heads of the children, while the adults laugh at the impressive roster of celebrities who make cameo appearances.
  • Alan Arkin ("City Island") is the first celebrity of dozens! From Mickey Rooney and Whoopi Goldberg to Selina Gomez and Sarah Silverman, the list is endless. You never know who might be running theater lights or answering phones!
The major problem for the tykes in the audience was the gloomy story: The Muppets haven't done any new movies in years so they have found menial or demeaning jobs; their derelict theater is being torn down by a double-dealing oilman; Miss Piggy has left the country; and no one is motivated to stage a telethon to save the theater.

They finally DID get around to singing The Rainbow Connection, but by then many of the little 'uns had been taken home, so their parents (who probably grew up with "The Muppets" movies) missed it. Adults who knew The Muppets LOVED seeing and hearing all their old friends again. The tots? Not so much.

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J. Edgar

Obviously I haven't seen all the films that will be up for Academy Awards this year, but I predict Leonardo DiCaprio will be a major contender for Best Actor. He is astonishing; his makeup and his physical characteristics age so realistically, they make other actors look weak by comparison (except Naomi Watts).

This film explores the life of J. Edgar Hoover, the iconic powerhouse of the FBI as we know it today; he was a respected (and feared) law enforcement officer but also a closeted gay man. Director Clint Eastwood ("Gran Torino") takes on the issues of patriotism, homosexuality and duplicity in this lengthy but engrossing study of a complex man, (cross-dressing) warts and all.

This is a small part of a HUGE cast:
  • Leonardo DiCaprio ("Inception") is J. Edgar, obsessed with secrets: uncovering other people's while concealing his own. He served his country through eight presidents and three wars.
  • Armey Hammer (the Winklevoss twins in "The Social Network") is Clyde Tolson, Hoover's long-time companion. We watch them age together, but Hammer's makeup could be better.
  • Naomi Watts ("Eastern Promises") is Helen Gandy, Hoover's personal secretary, loyal from the beginning of his storied career to the bitter, paper-shredding end.
  • Judi Dench ("Jane Eyre") is J. Edgar's mother, Annie, who would rather see her son dead than a homosexual (or as she put it, "a daffodil").
  • Jeffrey Donovan ("Burn Notice") is Robert Kennedy, Hoover's boss when Kennedy was Attorney General. Donovan doesn't LOOK much like him but he certainly sounds right!
  • Josh Lucas ("The Lincoln Lawyer") is Charles Lindberg, father of that little kidnapped boy, grieving, self-contained and furious.
Director Eastwood gives credit where credit is due. Hoover was an innovator: he initiated the Lindberg law that makes kidnapping a federal offense; he made forensics a science to be used in law enforcement; and he established a central file for fingerprints. But we also see Hoover's need for fame, e.g., falsely taking credit for arrests, sponsoring comic books that extol his heroism, and grabbing headlines for his beloved FBI.

It's fun to recognize many famous names from the almost five decades of Hoover's public service: Ginger Rogers, Shirley Temple, Richard Nixon, Emma Goldman, Bruno Hauptmann, I could go on and on.

Expect a few gunshots, one R-rated kiss, no car chases and one bombing. Most of the profanity comes from Richard Nixon!
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Jack and Jill

Adam Sandler thinks if audiences buy tickets to see him in movies, twice as many will buy tickets if he plays twins! Of course, now MY problem is doubled. To my astonishment, Sandler can call ANYONE and have him/her show up in his movies, which can be very, very funny. On the other hand he persists in icky humor which I can't recommend (fart jokes anyone?) and, as usual, his product placement is too, too obvious.

Let's start with some of the cast:
  • Adam Sandler ("Grown Ups") is Jack, a happily married husband and father who does not want his twin sister to visit.
  • Adam Sandler ("Funny People") is Jill, Jack's passive-aggressive twin who does not want go back to the Bronx!
  • Katie Holmes ("The Kennedys") is Jack's wife who is beginning to understand why Jack is reluctant to have Jill visit.
  • Al Pacino ("The Son of No One") is himself, who is enthusias- tically stalking Jill! Pacino is hilarious; he sings and dances in a Dunkin Donut commercial that is to die for. In addition, he does Lear, Richard III and Don Quixote!
That's not all. You will see David Spade, Dana Carvey, Corbin Bleu, Alan Covert, Johnny Depp, John McEnroe, Christie Brinkley, Shaquille O'Neal, Neil Diamond, Regis Philbin, Gad Elmaleh, Drew Carey, Tim Meadows, Nick Swardson, Bruce Jenner, the guest list goes on and on. I'll bet you recognize at least two or three of these names, don't you?

In addition to that, during the opening and the closing credits, there are interviews with identical twins that are both interesting and very funny! Not one person left the theater during the closing credits!

I guess you have to take the bad with the good. If you can tolerate Sandler's patented groaners, then you'll have a chance to laugh out loud at the more entertaining stuff. That's what movies are, right? Entertainment?
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Like Crazy

Do you know what happens when a young British visitor's visa expires? Nothing! No one at the Consulate gives a rip that she fell in love while she was here. This means an intercontinental relationship that is fraught ...you know... This leaves us, the audience, to sit and watch paint dry.

Granted, the actors are very, very good and the camera loves their faces, but the pace is excruciating and much of the dialogue is mur- mured, whispered, or muffled. Of course, people don't enunciate during sex, so I can see why the critics love this thing, but our screening audience was NOT impressed.

This award-winning film (Best Picture and Best Actress at Sundance) features:
  • Anton Yelchin ("Star Trek" he was the young Chekov) is the passive (American) object of two women's affections. It looks like he could be happy with either one. Yelchin is a wonderful actor and he was the main reason I went to see this film.
  • Felicity Jones (Lots of BBC television) is the impetuous (British) spark plug who initiates most of the churn in the erstwhile lovers' off-again on-again relationships. I finally became impatient with her whims.
  • Jennifer Lawrence ("Winter's Bone") is the American coworker who steps into the breach. I couldn't help but root for her.
  • Charlie Bewley (the "Twilight" franchise) is the hottie in London who borrows a kitchen appliance from his neighbor. I couldn't tell what it was and couldn't make it out from their conversation. Maybe a waffle iron?
Once again, I have to admit I am not an artiste, nor are my tastes artistic. Maybe I'm just easily bored... My primary concern was, Who paid for all those airline tickets?

I'm glad I didn't spend my discretionary money on a ticket for this PG-13 snooze.

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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

I call this delightful little piece, "Eleven Stalks of Corn." It was created by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice for a boys' school many many years ago and is as corny as they come. It is a humorous re-telling of the Old Testament story of Joseph and his eleven envious brothers who sell him (thanks to his coat of many colors) into slavery in Egypt. Because it is both funny and heart-warming, it has been in production ever since. I watch my well-worn DVD on a regular basis.

Part of the appeal for the many Joseph productions is the wide variety of music they offer: from a Country-Western hoedown ("One More Angel in Heaven"); to a French Apache-dance lament ("Zose Canaan Days..."); and a howlingly funny "Grovel Grovel" when the brothers are literally brought to their knees. I particularly like the Island-flavored Calypso "Oh No!" when youngest brother Benjamin is falsely accused of stealing a goblet.

Although I've seen this on stage in Portland (Oregon), Baltimore (Maryland) and London (England), and in Washington State: Olympia, Everett, Bellevue, Seattle and Gig Harbor, my favorite production is the 1999 filmed version which stars:
  • Donny Osmond (lots of TV) in the title role, who hit the gym before he agreed to star in this show because he spends a lot of time in a loincloth! (Looks pretty good, too!)
  • Richard Attenborough ("Hamlet") is Joseph's grief-stricken father Jacob, aka Israel. Joseph was his favorite because he reminded him of Rachel, his favorite wife...sigh...
  • Maria Friedman (lots of TV) is the narrator with cast-iron vocal chords. This is always a pivotal role in the stage productions because the story is so important and the contralto range is so demanding.
  • Joan Collins (lots of TV) is Potiphar's wife. Sadly, her phony attempt to seduce Joseph doesn't add much to a Rudy Vallee-tinged 1920s production number.
  • Robert Torti (lots of TV) is Elvis/Pharaoh (who had been having those bad dreams). "Stone the Crows!"
You'll get a kick out of the anachronistic touches, e.g., a Polaroid camera in ancient Egypt, sunglasses in the Sinai, reference to a pyramid scheme, the go-go dancers, fish-net hose on a dancer in Canaan, a French chef serves Pharaoh. Please watch it!
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Tower Heist

Talk about timely! One of the most critical elements of a successful plot is for the reader/audience to feel vindicated or avenged. This satisfying romp is for the people whose finances took a hit from the notorious felon Bernie Madoff. All of his victims should attend this film because they want to see a heartless crook get his comeuppance!

This is a low-tech version of "Ocean's 11," with another likable cast, a loathable villain, and a laudable cause. A wealthy shyster has squan- dered and lost billions, including the pension plan for the hard-working staff in The Tower, his ultra-elegant, supremely secure high-rise. It's fun to watch some earnest amateurs try to get their pensions back!

Here is the gold-plated cast:
  • Eddie Murphy ("Chicago") has to be bailed out of jail; none of our heroes knows how to steal, so they need his professional advice.
  • Ben Stiller ("Tropic Thunder") is the extraordinarily efficient manager of The Tower, organized, resourceful and loyal. It's that loyalty that drives him to even the score.
  • Matthew Broderick ("The Producers") is a trader who just lost everything: his wife, his kids, his job, and now his home...but he sure has a knack for numbers!
  • Michael Peña ("Crash") is a former Burger King counter man; he has just been hired to run an elevator in The Tower.
  • Alan Alda ("Flash of Genius") is the penthouse-dwelling scumbag behind the Ponzi scheme.
  • Casey Affleck ("Ocean's" franchise) cares more about the pending birth of his first child than he does about planning a robbery.
  • Téa Leoni ("Ghost Town") is a smart FBI agent who has nothing but contempt for the crook who just might be getting away with it.
  • Gabourney Sidibe ("Precious") is an immigrant from Jamaica. Her papa was a locksmith, so she learned the trade...
  • Stephen Henderson ("The Good Heart") is the long-time doorman who gives us a face and a heart which represent all the powerless victims of Wall Street.
Combine a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, a cute little Brussels Griffon looking for a doggy treat, a funny script, great pacing, plus appealing stars, and you have an entertaining 104 minutes. No sweaty bodies, no profanity that I recall, only one (accidental but important!) gunshot, one fairly humorous vehicular chase and no blowie uppie stuff. A good PG-13 time is had by all!

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First I'd like to talk about Rhys Ifans. This Welshman has been skirting the edge of the A-List since 1991, working non-stop in an amazing variety of roles. You may recognize him from a few I selected out of 82 roles:
  • Steadfast Dobbin in "Vanity Fair."
  • Goofy idler in "Danny Deckchair."
  • Flatmate from Hell in "Notting Hill."
  • Evil conniver in "Nanny McFee Returns."
  • Narrator in "Exit Through the Gift Shop."
That being said, now we can talk about "Anonymous" in which he plays Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford, whose name you may not instantly recognize, but who has long been rumored to be the "real" writer behind William Shakespeare and his singular career. Of course this is the age of deconstruction, so we watch while writer John Orloff ("A Mighty Heart") systematically dismantles English History, along with the reputations of Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Oxford.

This big budget extravaganza made me squirm because along with a terrific cast from the U.K., it boasts infidelity, incest, plagiarism, impiety and profoundly re-writes history. Of course I would have wasted 35 years worth of tickets to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival if I didn't recognize the delicious scraps they tossed our way. We see links to Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, and Richard III through either situations or dialog. We think, "Aha! Hamlet! That drapery will be called an arras and Pelonious gets stabbed there!" or "A hunchback? Of course, Richard III!" Snippets from well-loved plays are done with great relish and I liked seeing three men play the witches in Macbeth. At least that rang true...

Of course there's plenty of humor, Shakespeare is depicted as a country bumpkin who can read but not write. Because he is an actor, he hams up his curtain calls and starts to suffer from delusions of adequacy. There are so many reasons this plot doesn't hold water, I won't bore you with any more of it. Suffice it to say, palace intrigue isn't for the faint of heart and there were some mighty tough courtiers in those days!

This DID whet my appetite; now I can hardly wait for Henry V in Ashland, Oregon next year; I already have my ticket!

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The Rum Diary

Johnny Depp continues his fascination with Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. This time he plays a fictitious character created when Thompson was a 19-year-old unpublished writer; forty years later, Thompson dusted off the manuscript and published the book. Screen- writer/Director Bruce Robinson ("Jennifer 8") takes us on a rum-soaked trip to Puerto Rico, but he can't camouflage Thompson's adolescent point of view. Instead of a colorful rustic life, adults see squalor; instead of love at first sight, adults see promiscuity; and we no longer view heavy drinking and chain smoking as comical. I don't recall hearing any laughter at this R-rated comedy.

Depp's character gets a job as a reporter at a failing newspaper in San Juan. He must push his way through a rioting mob of workers who were fired two weeks earlier because they were replaced by automation. That is the last logical chain of events we see.
  • Johnny Depp ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas") is our bleary- eyed reporter, who staggers from one ill-advised adventure to another, cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other, still searching for his own unique journalistic "voice."
  • Michael Rispoli ("While You Were Sleeping") is the newspaper photographer who befriends our hero and becomes a drinking buddy/sidekick/roommate.
  • Aaron Eckhart ("Rabbit Hole") is an evil developer, rich and greedy, selfish and racist, with great cars, a beautiful house and beach-front property.
  • Richard Jenkins ("Dear John") is another expatriate at the news- paper. He has sold out to the conformist establishment and has a perfectly dreadful toupee.
  • Giovanni Ribisi ("Avatar") is somehow associated with the news- paper. He wears a ragged overcoat, is skinny, dirty and drunk. He also is a Nazi.
  • Amber Heard ("Drive Angry") is a slutty blonde who looks like a wannabe Scarlett Johansson. Her fictitious character marries the fictitious writer in a fictitious postscript to the fictitious story.
Rispoli, Eckhart, Jenkins and Ribisi are all extremely capable actors. In my opinion, their talents are wasted... Not only is Depp an extremely capable actor, he can actually unsnap a bra with one hand; I doubt if THAT talent is wasted!

Until his suicide in 2005, Hunter S. Thompson spent his iconoclastic life under the influence of mind-altering chemicals. He was expelled, kicked out, let go, discharged and fired from an astonishing number of jobs. He never struck me as the sort of person I'd like to know. And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, should irritate all the Hunter S. Thompson fans! You know who you are....
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In Time

Recently I've read a couple of references that say, in so many words, that Death is a GIFT. Without it, we wouldn't value Life. This was upper- most in my mind as I watched this film.

This Sci-Fi outing is about a time in the near future when people no longer grow old. In order to avoid overpopulation, they only age for 25 years, then a countdown begins to measure one remaining year. During that time, they must resort to other means if they are to extend their lives one second beyond that year. Additional time has become a luxury they must purchase, and time is also THE unit of commerce. Platitudes take on a different significance here: "Don't waste my time," and "Do you have a minute?" are loaded with subtext! Everything from bus fares to phone fees, garments to groceries, are paid for by units of precious time. Yes, Time IS Money!

To me, the concept for this film is far more intriguing than the actors:
  • Justin Timberlake ("Friends With Benefits") is as capable as any of the fuzzy-faced young actors decorating the screen these days. His character pulls a man from certain death only to discover that the man is very, very old and no longer wants any more time. He had been courting death!
  • Olivia Wilde ("Cowboys and Aliens") is Timberlake's mother. The audience actually laughed; but to be fair, we hadn't yet grasped this film's concept of eternal youth. You see, when you buy time, you don't age. This means, NO one looks over 25 years old.
  • Matt Bomer ("White Collar") is the weary old man. He's had more than enough time and just wants to stop. Because time is such a valuable commodity, this is a concept others find difficult to accept.
  • Cillian Murphy ("Red Eye") is a Time Keeper; he punishes people who steal time. Murphy is the stand-out actor in this piece: His American accent is flawless, his face is interesting, and he is a confident, versatile guy. (Although I've yet to see him in a musical!)
  • Amanda Seyfried ("Big Love") is the daughter of a fabulously wealthy man; she looks exactly the same age as her mother and grandmother. She is tired of being protected and coddled, so being taking hostage by our hero isn't all that bad!
  • Vincent Kartheiser ("Mad Men") is that fabulously wealthy man, with eons secured in his vault, and armies of bodyguards to make sure he has all the time in the world.
If I had a choice, I'd see this in a theater with Closed Captions or wait for the DVD. I was forced to have this film explained to me after we left the theater because I couldn't hear a blasted thing! As I've said before, this is a choice made by the sound designer and is neither a limitation of my hearing nor of today's technology. I'll leave it at that.

This PG-13 film has vehicular mayhem and many gunshots, but no nudity or profanity. The blowie uppie stuff is restricted to one car crash but it doesn't lend much excitement. ...Yawn....

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Puss in Boots

In DreamWorks' animated "Shrek" franchise, the unexpected popularity of "Puss in Boots" was a welcome surprise. Instead of merely a walk-on, the producers could smell a profitable spin-off, so here is the prequel which tells us how it all began. Because this is produced by DreamWorks, we enjoy an entertaining PG-13 story, terrific production values and an audience pleaser from the get-go. The 3D effects are nicely done, almost worth the extra cost.

Our little orphaned Puss, in order to help his adopted mother, sets off on a quest to find the goose that laid the golden egg. Actually he's after some magic beans... Or... Oh rats! It's too complicated to go into here, but suffice it to say, our favorite gato hits a few snags along the way.

Of course, we have a lot of amigos to help:
  • Antonio Banderas ("Haywire") is our eponymous orange tabby, resourceful, macho and (trying to be) trustworthy.
  • Salma Hayek ("Grown Ups") is Kitty Softpaws (she's been de-clawed), a tough but oh so gentle, little gray and white pussycat. She's also a bit of a flirt.
  • Zach Galifianakis ("Due Date") is Humpty Dumpty; with friends like this, who needs... Oh, you know... (...but I liked that ingenuous little sprinkle of freckles...)
  • Billy Bob Thornton ("Faster") is Jack (of Jack and Jill notoriety). This dastardly duo blasts around the frontier in a wagon pulled by a team of javalinas.
  • Amy Sedaris (lots of TV) is Jill, Jack's better (?!) half. They are after the goose that laid the golden egg (see above).
I loved the Latino-flavored soundtrack, the flamenco dances, the swash-buckling sword fights, the dash across open country from a cat's-eye level, and, above all, being amazed by the subtle nuances displayed on each character's face. Today's animators are brilliant, they know how to capture emotion, speech, and movement, all true to each personality.

Children will get a big kick out of the story and the action, while adults will appreciate the artistry and the humor. ¡El gato con botas es gran diversión!

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The Three Musketeers

When did you imprint on this story? Do you have a favorite film version? I am positive it will NOT be this one! This pathetic waste of disposable income has only a nodding acquaintance with the classic swashbuckler by Alexandre Dumas. Okay, okay, their names, their king's name and their plumed hats...but that's IT!

The sad thing is, each actor in this excellent cast can point with pride to a far superior film; in fact, just to be mean, I will cite at least one good project beside each person's name...to his everlasting shame! I feel spiteful because I deliberately overlooked this would-be comedy's bad reviews and paid to see some of my favorites:
  • Matthew Macfadyen ("Pillars of the Earth") is Athos, who has become a broken-hearted, broken-down booze hound.
  • Luke Evans ("Robin Hood") is Aramis, seriously considering renewing his vows and returning to the Church.
  • Ray Stevenson ("Rome") is Porthos, reduced to living off his many lady friends.
  • Logan Lerman ("3:10 to Yuma") is D'Artagnan, rambunctious and foolish.
  • Orlando Bloom ("Troy") is the Duke of Buckingham, a sworn enemy of King Louis, whom our Musketeers are sworn to defend.
  • Mads Mikkelsen ("Casino Royale") is Rochefort, who owes an apology to D'Artagnon's horse.
  • Christoph Waltz (Academy Award for "Inglorious Basterds") is Richelieu, intent on gaining full control of the throne.
  • Freddie Fox (lots of TV) is King Louis XIII of France, a twit terrified that he will be caught wearing a color that has gone out of style.
Flying airships and Gatling guns, absurd sword fights and overuse of C.G.I., plus anachronistic humor, e.g., D'Artagnon gets a ticket from a gendarme for failure to clean up after his horse, when it poops on the street...in 1626! C'mon...Poop jokes to spice up a PG-13 movie!

Had enough? Me too!
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Margin Call

Here we have a timely R-rated thriller that takes place in an investment bank (which shall remain nameless) on Day One of our latest financial disaster. We start with a downsizing: an employee is walked to a glass-enclosed office and heartlessly "let go," in full view of his coworkers. As Security escorts him to the elevator with his pathetic banker's box of personal items, he hands a zip drive to a young colleague with the admonition: "I was working on this and you need to finish it. Be careful."

By the time the young fellow completes the equations and realizes the magnitude of the situation, we are off and running. Of course with 20/20 hindsight, we know exactly how big and how brutal it was, what we only suspected was the extent of protection enjoyed by a self-serving top echelon of officers. Their "take-home pay" is mind-boggling.

Investment banking is still mostly a guy thing: look at the cast:
  • Kevin Spacey ("Horrible Bosses") is a long-term employee, a company man who weeps first for his dying dog and then for his beleaguered company.
  • Paul Bettany ("The Young Victoria") is a mid-level manager, a survivor who knows when to escalate a problem.
  • Zachary Quinto ("Star Trek") is the former engineer turned risk analyst who is handed that zip drive by his exiting boss.
  • Stanley Tucci ("Captain America") is the first man out the door. I loved his story about the impact of a bridge he built across a river in the mid-West before he came to New York.
  • Simon Baker ("The Mentalist") is a shrewd operator who shaves before a 3:00 AM Executive Board meeting.
  • Jeremy Irons ("Appaloosa") is the CEO who sees this as just another bump in the road.
  • Penn Badgley ("Easy A") is a recently hired employee who sobs in a mens' room stall.
  • Demi Moore ("Another Happy Day") tried to warn the officers a year earlier and is now told to keep her mouth shut.
It was a subdued screening audience that exited the theater. We have all felt the impact of that period of insanity and greed, so it's time to put faces on the villains. No gunshots, no car chases, no blowie uppie stuff, just self-serving people oblivious to their impact on the economy, and too arrogant to clean up their own toxic mess of derivatives. The R-rating is due to the profanity-laced language used by these fine folks.

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The Big Year

For many people, birding (not "bird-watching!") is more than just a hobby; in many instances, it's an obsession. This sweet, low-key film looks at three birders, each vying for the title of "Champ." There is an annual contest to honor the individual who has spotted the most species in a year; and to those who compete, that total represents the acme of birding.

This gentle little film has much to recommend it, namely great scenery and interesting locales, from Attu Island, Alaska, to Atlanta, Georgia, we scoot all over the country, pretending we are in Arizona, California, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Maine, etc., etc., etc. Better than that, we see and hear about a marvelous assortment of birds: from the Golden Plover, the king of migratory birds; to the Great Snowy Owl, elusive and majestic.

One of our characters can identify bird calls, so we hear many of those, too, and the final credits share screen space with an amazing stream of photos, each bird group is identified. I found it interesting to see how well-established birding destinations are geared for an annual influx of singularly focused individuals, binoculars in hand, eagerly logging each sighting.

Here is a partial cast of the birders:
  • Steve Martin ("It's Complicated") is a wealthy businessman, trying to retire so he has more time to devote to his hobby.
  • Owen Wilson ("Midnight in Paris") is the top birder, the guy everyone wants to beat. He is obsessed with retaining his title, to the detriment of a personal life.
  • Jack Black ("Bernie"), less annoying than usual, plays a cash- strapped wannabe champ, trying to cope with money problems, keep his job, and challenge the top guy.
  • Rashida Jones ("Our Idiot Brother") is another birder who under- stands her fellow hobbyists' compulsions.
These are a few of the supporting cast members:
  • JoBeth Williams (LOTS of TV since "American Dreamer") is Steve Martin's wife, patient, understanding and happy to support his interests.
  • Rosamond Pike ("Barney's Version") is Wilson's third wife, determined to have a child and break through his passion for birds.
  • Dianne Wiest ("Rabbit Hole") is Jack Black's mother, doubling as his travel agent and his bank when his finances get rocky.
  • Brian Dennehy ("The Next Three Days") is Black's father, bewildered by his son's passionate enthusiasm for birds.
  • Anjelica Houston ("50/50") steals the show again, this time as the proprietor of a tour boat in Alaska, who doesn't like Wilson's character very much.
This story hinges on friendship, honor, loyalty, familial love, aging, and setting priorities. No profanity, no sweaty bodies, no gunshots, no blowie uppie stuff or vehicular mayhem. Just some fairly nice people for whom we come to care, plus that terrific scenery and those wonderful birds, which are worth the price of admission. No wonder it's rated PG!

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Did you see the 1984 original? If so, you will recall that this film launched Kevin Bacon's career. Now let's see if this sweet-spirited version (which duplicates many of the original scenes verbatim!) will do the same for our new Ren McCormack. Judging by the energy level of the screening audience as we exited the theater, I think it might.
  • Kenny Wormald ("Center Stage: Turn It Up") is Ren, who, after his mother died, was transplanted from Boston to this podunk town out in the hinterlands of Texas, where his love of dancing hits a stone wall. Wormald is a former backup dancer for Justin Timberlake, who recommended him for this role. Good call, Justin!
  • Dennis Quaid ("Vantage Point") is Reverend Moore, the grieving minister who had a town ordinance passed that outlawed dancing three years ago after five teenagers were killed, including his boy.
  • Julianne Hough ("Dancing With the Stars") is Ariel, the minister's daughter, rebellious and in pain because her father's sole focus is on his dead son and not on his living daughter.
  • Andie MacDowell ("Groundhog Day") is Vi, the minister's wife. Her job is to referee the battles between her husband and their daughter and to provide another point of view when it's needed ...which is fairly often.
  • Ray McKinnon ("The Blind Side") surprised me as Ren's Uncle Wes, because this gawky hick turned out to be fair, supportive and wise. I'm always shocked when I have to revise my expectations of a character that are based on a few prejudices of my own.
  • Miles Teller is a revelation! That sad, bewildered teenager from "Rabbit Hole" is the guy Ren and his nieces teach to dance. He's funny and (eventually) he really dances in a highly entertaining montage; I always like to watch someone master a new skill.
Of course you have the usual coterie of chums and high-school faculty, plus members of that well-meaning town council, so there are many capable actors who get to strut their stuff. The line dancing is enjoyable, but the grudge race using school buses left me cold.

I'm glad the film starts with that horrific wreck, it's a great illustration of the hazards of drinking and driving! I appreciate the clean-shaven look of the principal players–only the bad guys are scruffy. This version, like the first, does NOT devolve into an anti-religious screed, but instead respects the convictions of the principals, e.g., Ren uses the Old Testament in his petition to the city council.

This film is PG-13, so you'll hear a smattering of profanity and see the promise of nudity, but not the real thing. No gunshots or blowie uppie stuff, but you DO see what a reckless wench Ariel has become. Don't hate me Kevin Bacon, but given the athleticism of today's dancers, I like this one better than yours.

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What's Your Number?

Why must contemporary comedies be so anatomical? Truth be told, I liked this one much better than "Bridesmaids" because this heroine isn't self-centered, destructive or mean. She reads a random article in a magazine and discovers that she is at the upper end of the "average number of lovers" an American woman has before she marries.

She panics and decides to mend her ways: She will NOT have sex with anyone unless he's "The One!" In order to keep her total down, she decides to re-visit old lovers and see if any of them have improved with age. In the meantime, the neighbor from across the hall scampers over wearing a hand towel and asks to hide in her place until his one-night- stand leaves. He is afraid the gal might want a "relationship!"

The neighbor's a semi-employed musician and our heroine is a just-fired marketing rep. She makes a list and hires him to track down her former lovers while she helps her younger sister with her impending wedding.

Now we can review the cast:
  • Anna Faris ("House Bunny") is Ally, unemployed, panicky, afraid her eggs might be getting stale, and looking for a way to just be herself. Faris is a wonderful comic and needs a better movie.
  • Chris Evans ("Captain America") is Colin, the hottie from across the hall. BTW, he looks GOOD in a hand towel! Evans makes me feel optimistic about the future of American Cinema...smile...
  • Blythe Danner ("Paul") is Ava, Ally's mother, anxious for both of her daughters to be married to acceptable (i.e., $ucce$$ful) young men. Danner has been working non-stop; there is evidently a market out there for actresses "of a certain age." And experience counts: Watch her flip her hair!
  • Ed Begley Jr. (LOTS of TV) is Ally's divorced dad, invited to the wedding AND he's bringing his new love to "share his happiness," which he tweets to the world!
  • Heather Burns ("Miss Congeniality") is Eileen, part of our gal's posse and also one of the bridesmaids. I included her because she's the best "wingman" in the business!
  • Chris Pratt ("Moneyball") is Disgusting Donald, typical of the former lovers dredged up from that infamous list.
Of course we know where this is going; it is, after all, a Chick Flick. In my opinion, our two leads are more appealing than anyone we've seen on screen since Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan in "Drive." This little R-rated comedy hits all its clichés and I left feeling good, if only they weren't so specific about body parts!


The Ides of March

This is a blockbuster film with a blockbuster cast and a blockbuster topic, which is timely and fairly realistic. We see a charismatic candidate in the presidential primary in Ohio and we get to watch the jockeying for position among his staff, his supporters and his potential endorsers. We're looking at a highly principled contender with a staff that's deter- mined to win at any cost, so of course it becomes a question of idealism vs pragmatism. Don't forget, contemporary politics is a blood sport!

A budget this big can afford this cast:
  • George Clooney ("Up in the Air") is our candidate, perfectly clad, perfectly coiffed, with a perfect family and a finely tuned platform; slick, sincere and electable.
  • Ryan Gosling ("Drive") is an up-and-coming campaign professional who makes a tough job look easy. He can resist the siren song of headhunters because he believes in his candidate.
  • Paul Giamatti ("Win Win") is the wily campaign manager for the loyal opposition, who understands that sometimes it's easier to give voters a reason to vote against a candidate.
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Moneyball") runs the show for our candidate. He's been in the business a long time and understands the value of loyalty.
  • Marisa Tomei ("Crazy, Stupid, Love") is a political hack for the New York Times. She has sources that would make any politician weep, but her hair looks like straw!
  • Jeffrey Wright ("Source Code") commands a huge block of Ohio delegates but he wants the promise of a Cabinet post before he will endorse anybody!
  • Evan Rachel Wood ("The Wrestler") interns for the candidate and his staff: she runs for coffee, delivers hard copy to meetings and generally provides a multitude of services. BTW, they need real coffee in those containers; the actors don't handle them realisti- cally!
We see the usual strategy meetings punctuated by the usual profanity but this well-crafted drama is highly watchable and entertaining all the way. I'm sure the R-rating is mostly due to language. Just remember, watching how a politician gets elected is similar to visiting a sausage factory, we really do NOT want to know what goes into it.

Bottom line: It's fun to see George Clooney, who worked on the screen- play and also directed, use this forum as a soapbox for his own personal agenda. Good luck with that, George.

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Real Steel

Executive Producer Steven Spielberg ("Super 8") LOVES movies about children who eventually "make nice" with their parents; this one does it particularly well. In addition, Spielberg and Director Shawn Levy ("Date Night") like characters who redeem themselves, and this film does THAT nicely, too.

Our story takes place in the near future and involves a ne'er-do-well father who abandoned his wife when their child was born eleven years earlier. He was a wannabe prize fighter and despite an ability to take a licking and keep on ticking, too many defeats have reduced him to promoting a fighting robot (!?) For my taste, I don't like to see people pummel one another, so at least with robots, there is no blood...well maybe a little transmission fluid here and there, but at least no humans are harmed. Whew!

Here are a few of the actors in this appealing cast:
  • Hugh Jackman ("X Men: Wolverine") is a fast-talking charmer who just isn't very prudent. Jackman brings tons of energy, charisma and humor to this role. Yeah, he takes his shirt off... ...more than once. Plus, it's fun to watch him fall for his son.
  • Dakota Goyo ("Thor") is the much-loved boy who comes upon a discarded robot and talks his skeptical dad into helping him refurbish it. He also knows when to tell Dad to shape up and use some common sense!
  • Evangeline Lilly ("Lost") runs her deceased father's robot repair shop. She too, tries to talk common sense into our hero ...and she sure likes his headstrong little boy.
  • Anthony Mackie ("The Adjustment Bureau") is the local bookie/ deal maker. He tries to be a friend to our impetuous hero but it isn't always easy!
  • Hope Davis ("The Family Tree") is the little boy's wealthy aunt who has successfully sued for custody after her sister died.
  • James Rebhorn ("White Collar") is her wealthy husband who is willing to pay a bribe to make sure there will be no challenge in the custody issue.
Despite the metallic mayhem of robots pounding on each other, this PG-13 story is heartwarming and we were pleased to see the bad guys were only mildly bad and got some well-deserved comeuppance. We saw a few bits of profanity, no nudity, no sweaty bodies, no car chases and no blowie uppie stuff. Just robots beating the tar out of one another and families learning how to get along. WBC Super Middleweight Champ Sugar Ray Leonard was a technical consultant on this project; he gave each of the robots a particular fighting style and personality.

We were surprised at this film's refusal to villainize the usual suspects, and yes, we too, enjoy redemption, plus that nice, soggy, happy ending.

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Thunder Soul

This PG documentary is a wonderful reminder of the indelible impact a dedicated teacher can have on the lives of students. We follow the reunion of Houston's acclaimed Kashmere High School Stage Band, that had swept the state in the early 1970s with their powerhouse funk music. They come to pay tribute to their music teacher Conrad Johnson ("Prof"), who had left a professional career in music because he met the woman of his dreams and focused instead on her, then their children, and his high school band in Houston, Texas. Until the day she died, his world stopped when she walked into a room. His band LOVED her!

The band was the first all-black stage band ever to reach national competition and with "Prof" at the helm, they developed huge Afros, tight choreography, original funk, and, to the dismay of the conflicted judges, a dazzling style. ("And the winner is..." ...long pause... ...then a mumbled whisper... "...Kashmere...") Because that competition was held in Alabama during Governor Wallace's militant segregationist days, they were understandably anxious to collect their trophy and get outta town!

They were invited to play all over the country, so they were constantly raising funds for travel expenses. A trip to Europe almost eluded them until the State of Texas gave them a check to cover a shortfall. The Governor of Texas called them "Our ambassadors!" "Prof" trained them from the get-go to watch their language, their dress and their deportment because he felt they represented their people. So it was fitting that Texas send students who were specifically trained to be ambassadors.

The success of the band was infectious, and Kashmere High started to generate winning sports teams, vocal groups, scholarship winners, and became a beacon of Black Pride in the city. Students from other parts of town smuggled themselves into classes and hoped not to be caught.

Clips of the reunion are mixed in throughout the entire film so we follow the band members as high school musicians and then, 35 years later, as giddy middle-agers, some of whom hadn't touched their horns since graduation. The first few rehearsals are pretty rocky but they reserve our view of the "real" concert for the night their beloved 92-year-old teacher checks out of the hospital and comes to the event.

Expect lots of humor, many great reminiscences, a few tears and some mighty high spirits.

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Tucker and Dale vs Evil

Here is "Shaun of the Dead" meets "Deliverance" on "Spring Break." Billed as a redneck horror comedy, this gore fest was cheered from the get-go by our screening audience. (There was no official release date, so I've been watching for it to come out for over a year.)

These eponymous hayseeds are our heroes! Tucker is played by Alan Tudyk ("Firefly," "Death at a Funeral" 2007, and "21 Days"), who continues to impress me with his range. Tucker owns a summer cabin out in the woods and is going to treat his lifelong buddy Dale to a little get-away time. That it's a falling-down shack, doesn't faze either of these two up-beat optimists.

Dale is played by Canadian Tyler Labine, who has been working non-stop for almost two decades. In my opinion, the vastly overrated Zach Galifianakis had better watch his back. Not only is Labine a far superior actor, he is also sorta appealing in his own burly way.

Of course we have the standard college-age gang of geeky young men accompanied by a gaggle of gorgeous nymphettes, heading to the woods for a beer-logged spring break. They encounter a couple of good-spirited bumpkins in a pickup truck who they see as a "Deliverance"-type menace because their ringleader tells them so.

The lead nymphette is played by Katrina Bowden, who MIGHT be able to break the mold, but she looks pretty much like a stereotypical blonde actress who was lucky to be cast in a sympathetic role...this time... She'd better stick to television comedy ("30 Rock").

Be prepared for violence: Chain saws, wood chippers, hatchets, guns, and blowie uppie stuff. One guy even runs with a sharp stick! We LOVED it! But it really IS a redneck horror comedy with a ridiculous plot, so be warned...
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