Water For Elephants

Have I aged so much that smoldering good looks no longer warm the cockles of my heart? I guess so, at least if that's what Robert Pattinson ("Twilight") is selling. On the other hand the guy seems to be a good sport, e.g., he lets his fellow actors throw pies in his face and generally harass his character when he joins a third-rate traveling circus during this depression-era romance.

I was actually more impressed with the quality of a co-star's work: Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds") is absolutely convincing as the owner/manager of that aforementioned circus. His character seems to swing from magnanimous to sadistic, generous to mean. Consequently his wife, played by Reese Wither- spoon ("Penelope"), must walk a fine line that encourages his affections and calms his rages.

This inevitable romantic triangle is almost upstaged by the wonderful elephant Rosie, played by elephant Tai in her screen debut. A couple blink-and-you'll-miss-'em actors zipped across the screen, James Frain ("Everybody's Fine") and Seattle's John Aylward ("Norman"), while Hal Holbrook ("Flying Lessons") has a substantially larger role, playing Pattinson's character in his old age. (This PG-13 movie is in the form of a flashback.)

In keeping with Sara Gruen's best-selling novel of the same name, this film is beautiful to see, the dusty derelict traveling circus looks authentic and Witherspoon's gowns are slinky and attractive. There were times I was convinced it really was her on that elephant; she claims it was. Good for her!

The budget for this project doesn't approach that of Cecil B. DeMille's "Greatest Show on Earth," so we don't have the scope, but it's still interesting to watch how a circus big top was raised and lowered back "in the day." I was glad none of the characters were trapeze artists, those routines always make my hands sweat! Whew!

No profanity, no sweaty bodies, no car chases, no blowie uppie stuff and only one gunshot, which made every single one of us wince.

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Evidently blue macaws are an endangered species. Did you know that? I didn't, but our sweet animated story hinges on that little-known fact.

We begin in the South American jungle 20 years ago when we see a baby blue macaw fall from his nest before he is fully fledged. From that experience, Blu is convinced that he can't fly. He doesn't understand that he was simply too young when he was captured and smuggled to Minnesota, where happily, he became the friend and confidant of a little girl who grows into a young woman who runs a book store. They are inseparable.

Enter the villain! A well-meaning young man comes into the bookstore and spies Blu. He instantly understands how vital this young male blue macaw is for the continuation of the species. He tries to talk the reluctant young woman into taking Blu to Brazil, where Jewel, a young female blue macaw, has been captured.

Through a series of events, we now watch our hapless characters end up, against their better judgment, in Brazil with Jewel. Naturally it is time for Carnivale in Rio de Janeiro, which provides the animators with many colorful and tuneful opportunities to strut their stuff.

There are dastardly villains (smugglers of exotic pets) and evil marmo- sets; a samba-flavored Carnival parade; a pair of very dim thugs, one of whom delighted the youngsters in the audience because he doesn't understand "Rock, Paper, Scissors" and is constantly cheated; plus a very relatable crisis of confidence because our earth-bound hero still believes he can't fly. (Remember "Dumbo" and his magic feather?)

The two blue macaws are capably voiced by Anne Hathaway ("Love and Other Drugs") and Jesse Eisenberg ("The Social Network"), while the rest of the star-studded cast is also excellent. I won't list them here but they're terrific.

Other than the three-year-old girl in my row (why do parents constantly misjudge their children's ability to comprehend a basic story line, even though it is PG?), the children six years old and up had a great time. I enjoy watching an audience enjoy itself.



We start out with a 16-year-old girl raised in semi-solitude above the Arctic Circle and rigorously trained to be the perfect assassin, who is suddenly in a flight for her life from a ruthless intelligence agent. She has no idea why she is being pursued.
  • Saoirse Ronan ("The Lovely Bones") is Hanna, a highly skilled huntress who can field-dress a caribou, speak many languages, and has endless facts and figures at the tip of her tongue. Problem is, because she has lived in such primitive conditions, she is intrigued by something as simple as a light switch. By the way, she pronounces her name "Sur shuh."
  • Eric Bana ("The Time Traveler's Wife") has been teaching his rigorous CIA skills to this girl her entire life. He has made her a survivalist, a crack shot and a cold-blooded killer. Okay, okay, I suppose she does lack a bit when it comes to an emotional side.
  • Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth") is the ruthless intelligence agent. No one can play ruthless quite so ruthlessly...
  • Tom Hollander ("The Soloist") is one of her CIA operatives. He obviously takes pleasure in his job, in fact, he whistles while he works.
This thriller is notable to me for the body count, not just random bodies but individuals the director makes sure we know...and the blithe attitudes of their killers. For this reason, I find that aspect of this movie repugnant.

Once again, my second complaint is the sound. After we left the theater, I had to ask who said what to whom and where did Hanna come from. I would blame my hearing if I didn't attend other movies where the sound is crystal clear; which tells me that the bottom-of-the-rain-barrel murmur is a sound engineer's choice, not a technical limitation. If you have ANY trouble with movie soundtracks, wait for the DVD with closed captions. ...sigh...

Kill the Irishman

This is a tough review to write because I can't identify the potential audience for this terrific real-life drama about Danny Greene, a tough Irish longshoreman in Cleveland who gets involved in union issues, union politics, and from there, organized crime. As a result, he becomes some- what of a folk hero. We see what happened in Cleveland in the 70s as various factions declared all-out war on each other.

I was enthusiastic about this screening based on the cast:
  • Ray Stevenson (he was the Centurion's strapping big sidekick in "Rome") is Danny Greene, a high-school dropout but voracious reader who brings both book smarts and street smarts to the table. This Irish-born actor has it ALL!
  • Val Kilmer ("Hardwired") is a Cleveland detective who went to school with Danny. Their paths continue to cross after they are grown. His character didn't show me much, but his voice-over is excellent!
  • Vincent D'Onofrio ("Law & Order: Criminal Intent") is part of the Cleveland mob, eager to climb the ladder and convinced Danny can help him do it.
  • Christopher Walken ("Hairspray") teaches Danny you never go into business using your own money.
Because this is based on real life, we see actual newsreels as the violence escalates; be prepared for LOTS of blowie uppie stuff!

As a side note, I suspect anyone familiar with Cleveland will realize that Detroit was used as a stand-in! ...smile...

Your Highness

Okaaaay... Let's pretend Mel Brooks decided to do a raunchy R-Rated comedy with an unlimited budget and some very capable Computer Generated Imaging experts. His dialog would be, as usual, anachronistic, with slang from today's streets used in this medieval tale; and this is the cast he would assemble:
  • James Franco ("127 Hours") is pitch perfect as Fabious, an ingenuous open-hearted lug, the epitomé of the dauntless son any proud king would have inherit his throne: handsome, strong and brave.
  • Zooey Deschanel ("Yes Man") swoons her way back into captivity as Belladonna, the virginal prisoner of a lascivious evil wizard.
  • Danny McBride ("Tropic Thunder") sets new lows as Thadeous, the cowardly low-life slacker prince who resents his high-achieving brother.
  • Natalie Portman ("Black Swan") proves she earned that Oscar! Her warrior Isabel says the most outrageous things with absolute conviction...and a straight face!
  • Toby Stevens ("Infamous") is one of the wizard's henchmen.
  • Damien Lewis ("The Baker") is Boremont, an iron-fisted member of Prince Fabious's cohort.
  • Charles Dance ("Going Postal") is Talious, the king who never hesitates to show favoritism for his high-achieving, fabulous son.
  • Rasmus Hardiker ("ShakespeaRe-Told") is Courtney, the much put-upon but resilient and faithful lackey of the slacker prince.
We're talking raunchy, lewd, bawdy, risqué, profane, foul-mouthed, vulgar, in atrocious taste and downright deplorable. Of course, I know some of you will find these to be great reasons to rush right down to your neighborhood multiplex and get in line...or not...

The screening audience loved the nudity; all the action; the sword-, fist-, and spear-fights. They even liked the references to drug use and giggled about the sheep. Yup, another movie designed for a specific target audience that hits the bull's eye!

Did I laugh? I plead the Fifth.


In this pallid and unnecessarily raunchy remake of the 1981 classic, we see some new actors replace the originals (I almost said "the old ones"). The story is unchanged: a wealthy drunk stands to be disinherited if he doesn't marry the woman his family has chosen, so of course, the woman he falls for, falls short.
  • Russell Brand ("Get Him to the Greek") replaces Dudley Moore as our eponymous hero. Actually, he doesn't replace him, he is merely cast in that role.
  • Helen Mirren ("Red"). If anyone is up to the task of filling Sir John Gielgud's shoes as Hobson, it would be Dame Helen.
  • Greta Gerwig ("No Strings Attached") has the formidable job of taking the place of Liza Minnelli, as the girlfriend who just doesn't measure up. But she does sorta grow on you.
  • Luis Guzman ("The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3") is a chauffeur and backup man.
  • Jennifer Garner ("Juno") is the fiercely determined fiancée endorsed by his mother.
To me, it seemed as though they were striving for "wacky," but the word "tepid" kept coming to mind. Of course the glamorous settings and the privileges and trappings of wealth are always fun, but this just seemed strained.

Some of the dialogue might have been witty, but we couldn't make it out. I might check the DVD out of the library when it becomes available...if I'm motivated enough... after all, it IS predictable...ish.


Patrik Age 1.5

My DVD finally came in at the Seattle Library and am I glad! My thanks to the Swedish branch of JayFlix for this great tip.

This charming Swedish film (English captions) brings us an authentic gay couple, stable, married and ready to start a family. They jump through all the bureaucratic hoops and are finally notified that their child is ready: his name is Patrik and he is 1.5 years old. They expect Social Services to bring the tyke to their house - the nursery is painted, the crib is draped in netting, there is a rocking horse and an upholstered chair, plus a closed-circuit baby monitor.

Instead, a 15-year-old rebel shows up on their doorstep, his age was a typo. Patrik has been shoved around the foster-care circuit for 10 years, so he is angry and defiant. Furthermore, he has no use for "homos!"

This is only the tip of the iceberg as we watch a richly textured story unfold, with half a dozen really nice people (and a few not quite so nice) try their best to sort out the bungle and make some sense out of this poor kid's life.

The Swedish cast is excellent and I liked the Dolly Parton music, too!


Win Win

Here is a grownup movie about grownup issues with grownups we can root for. What a concept!

These are the actors and their characters:
  • Paul Giamatti ("John Adams") is a struggling attorney who moon- lights as a coach for a mediocre high school wrestling team; he loves his family but is desperate for some way to pay his bills.
  • Amy Ryan ("Green Zone") has just enough spark and spunk to be interesting; a hard-working wife and mother, she has a strong sense of decency and fair play.
  • Alex Shaffer is the troubled teenager who abruptly lands in their life; he is polite, considerate, and a GREAT wrestler.
  • Bobby Cannavale ("The Station Agent") is an ebullient friend who needs a new activity to distract him from his divorce.
  • Burt Young ("New York, I Love You") is the elderly widower whose future touches everyone: his attorney, his grandson and his errant daughter.
  • Melanie Linskey ("The Informant!") is our young wrestler's mom, just out of rehab and looking for another new start.
  • Margo Martindale ("Secretariat") is Mom's lawyer, who can smell skulduggery a mile off.
We see temptation rear its ugly head for our hero and we empathize with the boy who is sick and tired of hearing adults say, "I'm sorry." We understand everyone's dilemma and keep rooting for the "good guys" anyway.

There is mild profanity, no car chases, no gunshots, no blowie uppie stuff. This is a satisfying little film, especially when we catch a fleeting glimpse of a teeny smile flitter across our young wrestler's face.

Okay, okay. Not every person we root for is a grownup.

Source Code

This mind-bending drama is gripping, puzzling, thrilling, sometimes funny, and completely comprehensible. Director Duncan Jones, who enthralled me with "Moon" a few years ago, worked with science fiction writer Ben Ripley to give us decent people to care about, a "Groundhog Day" type plot and a frantic race against the clock (the same eight minutes, over and over!).

The opening credits are wonderful aerial shots of Chicago and the surrounding countryside. I don't think I have ever been treated to such beautiful views of that area before. I was almost reluctant to join this cast:
  • Jake Gyllenhaal ("Love and Other Drugs") plays a wounded helicopter pilot who wakes up on a train conversing with a young woman who seems to know him. He is disoriented, upset and angry...until the train blows up, killing everyone on board.
  • Michelle Monaghan ("Eagle Eye") is the pleasant young woman who wants to establish a meeting of the minds with this guy who can't seem to focus...the first time...or the second...
  • Vera Farmiga ("Up in the Air") plays an officer assigned to work with our hero on the Source Code, a military experiment which captures the last eight minutes of a person's brain waves.
  • Jeffrey Wright ("Cadillac Records") is the brilliant scientist who has developed this secret process as a possible way to prevent terrorist attacks.
In my opinion, Mr. Gyllenhaal can now be viewed as a real actor. Based on this outing and a couple of his previous ones, I am prepared to over- look some of his more egregious appearances ("Prince of Persia" any- one?). His character's wrenching telephone call to his father settled it for me. Whew!

Be prepared for frantic action, no profanity, no sweaty bodies and LOTS of blowie uppie stuff! Oh, and remember to suspend disbelief.