Transformers: Dark of the Moon

As expected, this actioner is 99% Special Effects and 1% people and plot. Very simply, the plot exposes the REAL reason President John F. Kennedy declared his intention to "put a man on the moon in this decade." An alien spaceship had crash landed on the dark side of the moon and we wanted to get a look at it before the Russians did.

Once we understood that, we settled in to watch over-the-top Computer Generated Imaging in 3D, and enjoy some familiar and welcome faces:
  • Shia LaBeouf ("Transformers" franchise) returns as Sam Witwicky, friend of Autobots, the "good-guy" transformers, a motormouth go-getter who can't seem to land a "real" job. I liked his job interviews.
  • Josh Duhamel ("Life as We Know It") is back as Lennox, the crackerjack military guy who, when things get rough, backs Witwicky all the way.
  • Tyrese Gibson ("Fast Five") is still our durable Epps, an indispensable sidekick who manages to survive all of the catastrophes thrown at him.
  • John Malkovich ("Red") isn't on screen very long, but a murmur of affection swept through the audience when he first appeared in one of Witwicky's job interviews.
  • Frances McDormand ("Burn After Reading") is Mearing, trying to develop a strategy for the U.S. government in this latest crisis.
  • John Turturro ("Miracle at St. Anna") comes back as Simmons, an expert targeted by the villainous Decepticons, the "bad-guy" transformers.
  • Alan Tudyk ("Tucker and Dale Versus Evil") is Dutch, Simmon's resourceful aide-de-camp.
  • Patrick Dempsey ("Enchanted") brings a nice change of pace to his usual lover-boy persona. Here he is a phenomenally wealthy industrialist with dubious intentions.
Of course we have more: Leonard Nimoy is the voice for Sentinal Prime, while Buzz Aldrin plays himself. Ken Jeong is mostly indecipherable in a quick, tasteless scene, and I disliked the ingénue so much I won't even name her.

The 3D is as expected: we dodged debris during endless scenes filled with blowie uppie stuff and simply took it for granted the rest of the time. There is very little profanity and there are no sweaty bodies or nudity. But next time I'd settle for more plot.
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Cars 2

This is Pixar's most adult animated film to date. Despite seeing it in 3D, little 'uns were bored stiff with endless plot issues surrounding:
  • International espionage
  • Renewable fuel - vs - Big Oil
  • Metric tools - vs - US Customary tools
  • An International Gran Prix auto race
In fact, a surprising number of parents grabbed their restless tots and left the theater.

On the other hand, I got a boot out of our favorite hick, Mater the tow truck, and his bewilderment when confronted by ultra-modern Japanese restrooms. First of all he can't decipher the signs on the doors and guesses the wrong gender, then he is confounded by the hi-tech aspect of the cubicle itself, and you'll laugh out loud when he encounters a bidet! In my opinion, the scenery in Tokyo, London, Paris and Rome is worth the price of admission.

As always with Pixar, the artistry is amazing and the animation is impeccable, it's just that the plot is too complicated for small children. And I was surprised that the race car Lightening McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson, isn't the main character this time: Mater the tow truck, voiced by Larry The Cable Guy, takes center stage. But the friendship between these two unlikely chums remains central to the plot.

Some of our favorite characters from Radiator Springs on old Route 66 take a secondary spot, while new ones from across the pond have most of the action (Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer provide two of the voices). We see lots of gizmos, gadgets and blowie uppie stuff, but I must confess, a couple of times I kinda wished I had left with those little 'uns.

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Bad Teacher

It seems as though I have to accept the new baseline for today's comedies. Once again, I see audiences entertained by profane, selfish slackers whose value system is totally warped. Case in point, our "heroine," the eponymous "Bad Teacher" has only one goal, to get breast implants. She is singularly focused on that, to the exclusion of her job, her coworkers, her students and her (soon-to-be-ex) fiancé. She lies, cheats and steals without compunction...BUT...this movie is actually sorta funny.

These people make it work:
  • Cameron Diaz ("The Green Hornet") brings her long-legged charm to a charmless role; we end up hoping things will work out for her character, even though she is too rude to be sympathetic.
  • Justin Timberlake ("The Social Network") has said in interviews that his is the most unique sex scene in the history of movie-making. I think I agree.
  • John Michael Higgins (LOTS of TV and Christopher Guest's repertory company) brings sympathy and frustration to his role as the dolphin-loving principal of the school that ill-advisedly hired that horrid teacher in the first place.
  • Jason Segel ("I Love You, Man") plays the gym teacher who decides, despite all evidence to the contrary, that our "Bad Teacher" is the one for him.
  • Lucy Punch ("Dinner For Schmucks") has a surprisingly meaty role this time. Her character is one of those sickeningly "cute" teachers who condescends to her students and fellow teachers; they in turn, sneer at her behind her back.
  • Jillian Armenante (Lots of TV) has very little to do as another teacher. I'm just including her because I know how good she can be from her old Annex Theatre days here in Seattle.
Suffice it to say, if you have a high tolerance for risqué jokes and bawdy humor, you'll probably find "Bad Teacher" to be pretty good.

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Super 8

Now THIS is good old-fashioned movie making! Writer/Director J.J. Abrams ("Star Trek") and Producer Steven Spielberg ("Transformers") are the perfect pair to bring us this story. Each was a dedicated film- maker starting in grade school, so this story of four devoted friends striving to make their own home movie rings true.

This wonderful film evokes memories of both 1982's "ET" and 2009's "District 9," as it centers around a stranded alien. It made me think of "Stand By Me" from 1986 because of the boys' friendship. But it had to be made in 2011 in order to create such a spectacular train wreck, which could only be done with today's Computer Generated Imaging!
Let's talk about the cast:
  • Joel Courtney, in his film debut, brings us a motherless boy whose father is also in mourning. Our young hero is making a goofy vampire movie with his chums when they witness a spectacular train wreck. It would be hard to imagine anyone better suited for this role.
  • Riley Griffiths, in another debut performance, is the self-appointed writer/director. This Bellevue-based kid had to gain weight for the role, but is convincingly bossy and opinionated. His chaotic family life provides the comic relief.
  • Kyle Chandler ("Friday Night Lights") is our hero's widowed father, a deputy sheriff who is suspicious about that mysterious train wreck but told to mind his own business, which seems to be keeping his lively boy out of Trouble.
  • Elle Fanning ("Somewhere") is Trouble: with a possessive red- neck father and a previously undiscovered knack for acting, she is a natural to star in the boys' film; plus she's old enough to drive!
  • Noah Emmerich ("White Collar") is the military guy trying to keep the train's cargo under wraps.
By setting the story in 1979, we can enjoy a time before cell phones, a time when the Sony Walkman is an engineering marvel, and everything out of the ordinary can be blamed on those "Ruskies!" I enjoyed goose- bumps when fathers are reunited with their children, and sighed patiently through all of the blowie uppie stuff. Please be advised there is a creepy monster, so this PG13 outing isn't for tykes!

This is a good movie!


Fast Five

It's hard to believe that this is the fifth installment of this series! These guys understand the drill and they don't vary for an instant. You may be sure you will see:
  • Tough dudes
  • Muscle cars
  • Male bonding
  • Family values
  • Villainous villains
  • Great scenery
  • Scanty bikinis
  • Testosterone-laden rivalry
  • Creative heists
  • LOTS of blowie uppie stuff!
Returning once again for this money-making franchise, we see Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang and the rest of the usual suspects. Once again we hear very little profanity and note that Diesel's character is still a devoted Catholic. Yeah, they make it work...

A unexpected new face was Dwayne Johnson ("Faster") who turns up as a relentless federal agent determined to bring our heroes to justice.

These things are just plain fun! It's no wonder this franchise has made so much money over the years. Good for them!

Midnight in Paris

This Parisian travelogue was written and directed by Woody Allen. As has been the case recently, Mr. A. tends to mount his movies in some of Europe's loveliest cities and this one is no different. We have magnificent aerial shots of the City of Lights, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Seine. He also provides lovingly shot strolls in the Tuileries and down the Champs Elysees.

The story? Oh yeah, the story. Well it's a little fantasy about a screen- writer, played by Owen Wilson ("Hall Pass"), who is vacationing in Paris with his fiancée, played by Rachel McAdams ("Morning Glory"), and his future in-laws. He is a frustrated "real" writer and is feeling cornered, trapped and stifled. One magical night he goes for a walk by himself and is transported into the 20s, where, over the course of the next few nights, he meets:
  • F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas
  • Cole Porter
  • Josephine Baker
  • Salvador Dali
  • Henri Matisse
  • T. S. Eliot
  • Paul Gauguin
  • Edgar Degas
  • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (I know, I know, he wasn't in the 20s. Trust me.)
I think you can see that this film is mostly name dropping: Locations, restaurants, people, night clubs and the smug little thrill we get when we KNOW what the future holds for these people, even though they haven't a clue.

I got a kick out of seeing one of my favorite contemporary actors, Gad Elmaleh ("The Valet") as the hapless detective who tries to follow our hero on his nightly meanderings.



What a delightful, interesting, charming documentary. This US entry to the 2011 Seattle International Film Festival has no dull spots, gives us people to admire, and a central character anyone can root for.

"Buck" Brannaman is the real deal, a kid taken from his abusive father and raised by foster parents, he learned how to ride, rope and shoe a horse at an early age. His life story is beautifully encapsulated in this documentary, along with marvelous demonstrations of his prowess with horses.

Robert Redford is interviewed because he had been told that Brannaman was a bona fide "Horse Whisperer." Once he got past his skepticism, he hired Brannaman as a consultant for the movie and even used him as his body double; they have a great anecdote about the experience.

The interviews are funny, touching, informative and engaging. Yes, we really liked this one! (And his foster mother is a kick!)

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