Cowboys and Aliens

When I see nine (9!) screen-writers, it makes me nervous, but DREAM- WORKS pulls it off. Of course with Jon Favreau ("Iron Man") directing, how could they miss?

We have a cast full of Alpha males, snorting and stomping; mind- boggling amounts of Computer Generated blowie uppie stuff; and all the standard Western clichés.

Here is part of our cast of hundreds:
  • Harrison Ford ("Indiana Jones" franchise) in full curmudgeon mode, is Woodrow Dolarhyde, the classic successful rancher with a bunch of ranch hands who look like henchmen, a worthless son, and most of the funny lines.
  • Daniel Craig ("James Bond" franchise) is Jake Lonergan, a stony- faced lonesome stranger who is suffering from amnesia, an over- dose of testosterone, and a checkered past. Oh...and he has this odd gizmo attached to his wrist...
  • Olivia Wilde ("House") is Ella Swenson, our third blue-eyed lead, who plays another lonesome stranger; this gal seems to have information the rest of them need.
  • Paul Dano ("There Will be Blood") is Percy, Dolarhyde's craven son: spoiled, impetuous and greedy. He's a showoff, too.
  • Adam Beach ("Combat Hospital") is Cal Colorado, the half-breed who works for Dolarhyde; he always wanted to fight alongside his boss. He serves as a translator for the Native Americans who show up.
  • Keith Carradine ("The Family Tree") is John Taggart, the besieged sheriff. His first contact with the aliens is up close and personal.
  • Sam Rockwell ("Moon") is Doc, the peaceful bartender. His wife is one of the first abductees so he HAS to learn how to shoot a gun! Rockwell always improves the quality of a cast.
In the Family of Man, you can always expect a few squabbles, but when a stranger turns up in the neighborhood, isn't it time to stick together?

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The Smurfs

Did you know that Smurfs are three apples high? I didn't, but I do now...

This clever mashup of cartoons, live action and animatronics makes an entertaining 86 minutes of PG action.

We start in a colorful cartoon village populated by blue Smurfs, but six of them are quickly thrown into New York City's Central Park by an evil wizard. Like classic stories from The Odyssey to The Wizard of Oz, our story is all about our six intrepid travelers trying to get back home.

Here is the cast:
  • Hank Azaria (movies, TV, Broadway) is the evil wizard. This multi-talented guy finally gets a showcase! You'll love the way this character runs!
  • Neil Patrick Harris ("Beastly") is an advertising executive with a pregnant wife; he is trying to develop a new ad campaign for a demanding client. Harris is one of our most charismatic actors working: he is always convincing and likable.
  • Sofia Vergara ("Modern Family") is that demanding client. Will someone get the courage to tell actors that their teeth are too white?
  • Jayma Mays ("Glee") is the pregnant wife who discovers a Smurf in her toilet.
  • Tim Gunn ("Project Runway") is part of the client's entourage; his appearance was greeted by a stir of affection from the adults in our screening audience.
  • The wizard's orange tabby isn't listed in the cast so I have to assume it is totally animatronic. If so, it is scary but brilliant!
The voices of the Smurfs were provided by a "name" cast, but their diction and delivery left a lot to be desired, so I won't go into that here.

Our little gang can only get back home once in a blue moon, so of course that rare event is the crux of the story. The children in the audience were well behaved, so I have to assume they followed the story. There was enough excitement to keep them entertained, e.g., the little Smurfs crossing a busy street, being chased by that scary cat, being chased by a dog, being chased by the wizard through an FAO Schwarz toy store, and riding in a subway.

I came away impressed by both Azaria and Harris, plus I always like a happy ending.

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Crazy, Stupid, Love

Dan Fogleman ("Tangled" and "Cars 2") has written another terrific PG-13 script! I was surprised at every turn and as the various elements began to take shape, I was surprised all over again, up to and including the wild but satisfying climax.

A long-time married couple splits because the wife has a fling with a co-worker. A babysitter gets a crush on an older man. A successful Lothario coaches a divorcé in clothes, hair, shoes, and pickup techniques. A law student expects a marriage proposal when she graduates. A 13-year-old boy falls for a 17-year-old girl.

Every cast member is appealing:
  • Steve Carroll ("Date Night") plays a decent, devoted, heart-broken divorcé who loves his family and is totally at sea by himself. He becomes a 'stealth gardener' as he sneaks in at night and does yard work for his ex-wife.
  • Julianne Moore ("The Kids are All Right") is that faithless wife.
  • Ryan Gosling ("Blue Valentine") is a successful young man about town, full of advice and smooth talk. I have never seen him more appealing or funny.
  • Emma Stone ("Easy A") has a surprise awaiting her when she graduates from law school.
  • Josh Groban ("Chess") delivers the surprise.
  • Kevin Bacon ("X-Men: First Class") has a pivotal part in that aforementioned climax.
  • Marisa Tomei ("The Lincoln Lawyer") is a lonely gal looking to be picked up by an awkward divorcé.
The screening audience was delighted: one (sorta) car chase, no gun- shots, no sweaty bodies and no blowie uppie stuff; just people being people, warts and all!

Yes, we liked it a LOT.

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Captain America: The First Avenger

Remember that 97-pound weakling who always gets sand kicked in his face? Well, in this movie scientists change him into a big manly man because he respects strength, unlike guys who have always been strong. We see that our hero may be scrawny, but he's brave, patriotic and tenacious..the very traits those scientists are looking for.

It's a challenge to find a politically correct villain, so Nazis, lacking their own anti-defamation league, are a handy target for this Marvel Comics- based 3D CGI fest. Get ready for storm troopers, vintage warfare, Stealth bombers (?!) and LOTS of blowie uppie stuff.

Let's look at the troops:
  • Chris Evans ("The Nanny Diaries" the Harvard Hottie) seems so darned LIKABLE! He is a perfect Captain America, object of derision, exploitation and ultimately, adulation.
  • Hayley Atwell ("The Duchess" the Other Woman) can run with WWII troops and shoot a machine gun without wearing a helmet, which would muss her hair.
  • Tommy Lee Jones ("The Company Men" the crabby guy) is a skeptical Army top kick with all the funny lines.
  • Stanley Tucci ("Burlesque" Cher's loyal sidekick) is the wise scientist who selects our 97-pound weakling.
  • Derek Luke ("Antwone Fisher" he was Antwone) is one of our hero's loyal cadre of troopers.
  • Samuel L. Jackson ("Thor" he was the surprise cameo at the end) is once again the surprise cameo at the end.
  • Dominic Cooper ("Mamma Mia!" he was the callow bridegroom) his character founded Stark Enterprises: he's Iron Man's father!
  • Hugo Weaving ("The Matrix" the villain) is, once again, a dastardly power monger who even out-Hitlers Hitler.
  • Toby Jones ("Infamous" he was Truman Capote) is the villain's toady.
I was impressed by the seamless CGI integration of our hero's head on a puny adolescent body at the beginning of the film. The story is involving but not complicated; the language is PG-13 and often funny; there are no sweaty bodies or car chases; but I only ducked once, so to me, the 3D is optional.

I enjoy seeing characters from other Marvel Comics who appear here, and the final scene is a blatant setup for the next chapter of this fledgling franchise.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Yes folks, this marvelous, record-breaking franchise has come thundering to a close; we have watched three little kids grow up on screen. Over the past ten years the students at Hogwarts (not just Harry, Hermione and Ron) have grown past adolescence and into young adulthood. We have admired some of the finest actors available in the UK who have agreed to appear in these movies in a wonderful spirit of unanimity (the list is endless). We have appreciated the discriminating eye of author J.K. Rowling who provided watchful oversight on each and every movie in this series.

This is a big, handsome film that hits all its marks:
  • Astounding production values - Money clearly is no object.
  • Wonderful actors - Not just our three protagonists, but every single actor on screen.
  • Great pacing - Sometimes exciting, sometimes poignant, sometimes romantic, sometimes funny.
My favorite scenes in this one?
  • Maggie Smith striding out to defy a challenger with her wand.
  • Helen Bonham-Carter playing Hermione playing Bellatrix Lastrange in an early scene.
  • The lengthy series of flashbacks that reminded us of the complex issues that surround this marvelous creation and clarify some that (to me) were a bit fuzzy in my mind.
  • The weary determination of the janitor, confronted by mountains of rubble after the final, cataclysmic battle at Hogwarts. He picks up one brick, sighs, and starts sweeping...
Daniel Radcliff (Harry) is an experienced, capable actor, a young man who has appeared in the West End and on Broadway several times and in a variety of movie roles. I know he will continue acting. Rupert Grint (Ron) is another hard-working professional actor, with several other movies already pending. Emma Watson (Hermione) is juggling college with modeling and acting but I hope she finishes her higher education. She's a brainy and beautiful young woman.

Am I a fan? You bet!

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Winnie the Pooh

I thought Sterling Holloway, the unmistakable voice of "Winnie the Pooh," was dead. This Disney legend's iconic sound is unforgettable to folks like me who grew up hearing him as the Cheshire Cat in "Alice in Wonderland" and other classic films. How did they find such a perfect match?

Professional voice actor Jim Cummings releases his inner Sterling Holloway to voice Pooh, while his interpretation of Tigger is something else entirely. Voice actors are amazing!

Two elements of this film jumped out at me:

  1. The hand-drawn art has the same familiar technique and color as the illustrations in the original A.A. Milne books: line drawings, unsophisticated shading, almost impressionistic trees and tree trunks.

  2. We NEVER forget this story is from a book. We refer back to the pages over and over. At times letters become elements of the story, providing our denizens of Hundred Acre Wood with inter- active tools, e.g., at one time they stack them up to provide a ladder out of a hole in which everyone is trapped.

The humor is strictly geared for children: static electricity from a balloon had the little 'uns in the audience giggling delightedly. I will admit that I giggled too, when I heard the familiar "Oh bother!"

Of course all our old friends are here: Kanga and Roo, Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, Christopher Robin, the irrepressible Tigger and the doleful Eeyore. Pooh's tummy growls most convincingly in his unending search for "Huny."

It might be fun to refresh your child's experience with Pooh and his friends by a quick read before attending the film. There are many Winnie the Pooh books out there and like the 68-minute film, they are all gently entertaining.

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At least the ad before this preview is short:
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Horrible Bosses

If you've seen the ads, you know that three put-upon schlubs, in a moment of despair, conspire to kill the evil bosses who are making their lives unbearable. Of course, with Seth Gordon ("Four Christmases") directing, this could either be very funny...or not... Happily, our screening audience laughed out loud a LOT.

Okay, everybody and his uncle is in this well-acted enterprise:
  • Jason Bateman ("The Switch") is Hollywood's utility man these days. Here, he is the hapless victim of a cruel boss; his only hope is...dare I say it? Bateman always brings sanity to crazy plots like this, his sensible demeanor provides the perfect contrast to the frantic behavior of his castmates.
  • Kevin Spacey ("Casino Jack") personifies one of the "Horrible Bosses" in which he reprises his nasty role from "Swimming With Sharks." This time Bateman is the poor target in his sights.
  • Jason Sudeikis ("Hall Pass") is our second put-upon guy, a dedicated skirt chaser, always on the lookout for his next conquest; but he loves his boss...until events conspire and a coke-head son takes over.
  • Colin Ferrell ("Crazy Heart") is the coke head. This Irishman is a terrific actor; he is fearless and willing to play anything. We were impressed by his balding, pot-bellied portrayal of a total jerk.
  • Charlie Day ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia") completes our set. Of the three schlubs, he is the major loose cannon.
  • Jennifer Aniston ("Just Go With It") is his horrible boss. Out of everyone in this project, I didn't like her or her repulsive character...waaaay too over the top.
  • Ioan Gruffudd ("Amazing Grace") is the first professional they hire. He specializes in "wet work" (they found him on Craig's List).
  • Jamie Foxx ("Due Date") is our trio's "consultant." When he speaks, they cluster together like a little clutch of chicks hearing words of wisdom from a wise mother hen.
There is something very funny about watching rank amateurs try to do something that scares them spitless; we can relate because these are basically decent (but desperate) fellows.

Be prepared for raunchy language, a brief car chase and a couple of isolated gunshots, but brace yourself for an in-your-face primer on sexual harassment in the workplace!


If Cupid isn't around when you need him, who ya gonna call? A zoo full of animals, that's who. We are talking about a Zookeeper surrounded by animatronic animals who become life coaches trying to help their favorite human win the woman of his dreams.

We watch:
  • Kevin James ("Grown Ups") is the oafish but good-hearted fellow who has been rejected and humiliated by...
  • Leslie Bibb ("Iron Man 2"), who is self-centered and heartless, unlike...
  • Rosario Dawson ("Eagle Eye"), who we instantly see is the perfect match.
  • Ken Jeong ("The Hangover") mostly repeats the repulsive jokes that we expect from him, while...
  • Donnie Wahlberg (lots of TV) is the villain.
This one is mostly for Kevin James fans. Not having ever watched "The King of Queens" on TV, I'm not one of them. I don't dislike him, but was startled by the moderate success of his earlier movies "The Dilemma" and "Mall Cop."

This PG movie is probably best seen by 12-year-old tweens, although they may find some of the relationship stuff a bit tedious. Of course the message is "Be true to yourself," so it's mostly harmless.

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Please forgive the brief ad before the preview:
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Larry Crowne

My goodness! No nudity, no profanity, no car chases, no fisticuffs, no blowie uppie stuff... What makes Tom Hanks think there is a market for something this bland? The audience response, that's what!

Mr. H. wrote, directed and starred in this sweet romance for people of a certain age. The story reflects today's economy, e.g., our hero is down- sized from a big-box store because he has no college degree and the powers that be use that as a handy way to sort the wheat from the chaff. Of course he is in shock but immediately wades into job search mode...to no avail. His banker refuses (now!) to discuss re-finance because he is unemployed. Eventually he decides to enroll at a nearby community college and get some higher-education credentials.

Let's meet the cast:
  • Tom Hanks ("Toy Story 3") is our hero, completely out of touch with the younger generation. His tucked-in knit shirts are a dead giveaway and he doesn't know how to send text messages on his cell phone. The price of gas convinces him to buy a motor scooter as his principal mode of transportation. It's fun to watch him evolve.
  • Julia Roberts ("Eat Pray Love") teaches speech at the local com- munity college. She is unhappily married to an unemployed porn addict, bored with her job and inching her way toward alcoholism. This is the second time Roberts has been cast with Hanks ("Charlie Wilson's War"), and they clearly relish this reunion as they scoot around town together.
  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw (lots of TV) is the fellow student who takes our hero under her wing, showing him how to dress, how to text and how to fit in with the other students.
  • Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") is Julia's layabout husband, proud of his porn addiction because he's "a MAN!"
  • George Takei ("Star Trek") is a professor of Economics, who HATES cell phones in his class!
  • Cedric the Entertainer ("Cadillac Records") is our hero's next- door neighbor, whose sole livelihood is a perpetual garage sale every weekend. You will enjoy his price negotiations.
  • Taraji P. Henson ("The Karate Kid" - 2010) is the distaff side of that perpetual garage sale.
  • Rita Wilson ("It's Complicated") is the bank officer who thinks a "complimentary cup of coffee" will dull any pain caused by her bank's policies.
The most unlikely part of the plot is the whole-hearted acceptance of this over-the-hill dork by a hip (but drug-free!), gang of cyclists. At least he learns how to text! And he teaches Julia how to program her car's GPS so she doesn't have to sing I'm Called Little Buttercup from HMS Pinafore to drown out that irritating "...Recalculating..."

It's nice to see that Hanks collaborated on the screenplay with Nia Vardalos ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding") because he and his wife Rita Wilson have been fans ever since they discovered her off-off Broadway show many years ago; they produced her movie in 2002. In my opinion, one of the reasons Tom Hanks has such staying power in Hollywood is his willingness to diversify, while keeping friends along the way.
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