Seven Days in Utopia

This G-Rated film is targeted specifically for Christian audiences. We are treated to gorgeous Texas landscapes, pleasant Texas drawls and lots of Texas philosophizing. We see a young golfer pop his cork during his debut on the pro circuit. Within a week the film clip is watched by every sports fan in the country and he becomes the laughingstock of pro- fessional golf.

The following week, after a near collision with a bull on a country road, he is taken under the perceptive wing of a local rancher who saw the wreck. During the seven days it takes for his car to be repaired in little podunk Utopia, Texas (which really exists), the older fellow shows our polite young man how to break down the demanding game of golf into manageable chunks. His life lessons range from fly fishing to oil painting, from piloting an airplane to golfing in a thunderstorm. I was reminded of "Wax on... wax off..." in "The Karate Kid."

Here is the cast:
  • Lucas Black ("Get Low") is our golfer, browbeaten by his ambitious father and humiliated by his own loss of control.
  • Robert Duvall ("Crazy Heart") is the rancher/golfing guru, a former championship golfer and reformed drunk. Duvall seems to be echoing his "Tender Mercies" role.
  • Deborah Ann Woll (lots of TV) is the local horse whisperer who helps our hero catch fireflies.
  • Melissa Leo (an Oscar for "The Fighter") runs the local café.
  • Joseph Lyle Taylor ("Justified") is our hero's zealous father, who seems to have had a change of heart by the time his son returns home.
For my taste, things are a little too bland: The whole town attends church, the rodeo is like a box social, even the town roughnecks hug our hero when he leaves. I can appreciate that other folks might want to see this one, because it IS very much a family film. I can only hope they turn out in droves and buy tickets to encourage similar projects. There is a vociferous clamor for movies like this, so I can only say, "Put your money where your mouth is!"

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Chaos Theory

A couple of years ago, a movie called "Chaos Theory" was recom- mended to me but I couldn't find it at the library or in the catalogs. Now that I found this one from Canada, I am having second thoughts because there are at least five movies by that name released since 2000. I can only hope this 2008 release, which stars Ryan Reynolds, is the one my friend had in mind.

Filmed during Reynolds' steady ascent to A-List status, he flawlessly inhabits a character who is more than a little ADD. This guy is a time- management expert who has a successful career as an author and a lecturer. His wife has a more cavalier attitude about time, consequently she causes him to miss his ferry ride, which sets off a series of events which irrevocably change their lives.

Here are the principal players:
  • Ryan Reynolds ("The Proposal" and "Green Lantern") is our overly organized maker of lists. By the time he embraces chaos, he is seriously off track.
  • Emily Mortimer ("Match Point" and "Lars and the Real Girl") is his impatient wife. She would like more spontaneity in their marriage.
  • Stuart Townsend ("The Best Man" and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen") is a long-time friend of both.
  • Matreya Fedor (lots of TV) is their nine-year-old daughter...smile...
By the time our hero buys a shotgun, I was actively involved in this script and had my fingers crossed. There are no bad guys here, although I really WANTED to dislike one or two...for awhile, anyway.

Check out your library or Netflix. This one is pretty good....

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Our Idiot Brother

Bulbs don't come much dimmer than Paul Rudd's character, but he is sweet and totally without guile; consequently he is a social disaster because he tells the truth! This R-rated comedy isn't as racy as other recent Paul Rudd comedies ("I Love You, Man" and "How Do You Know").

In fact, I was impressed by the quality of this outstanding ensemble:
  • Paul Rudd ("Clueless") is the goodhearted catastrophe who talks his way INTO jail. His love for his dog, Willie Nelson, is far greater than his feelings for his former girlfriend.
  • Elizabeth Banks ("The Next Three Days") is his ambitious sister, who doesn't hesitate to break journalistic "off the record" rules.
  • Emily Mortimer ("Shutter Island") is his not-so-ambitious sister, focused on her two children and neglected by her husband.
  • Zooey Deschanel ("Your Highness") is his (mostly) lesbian (sorta pregnant) sister.
  • Rashida Jones ("Cop Out") is her significant other, busy with her legal career but willing to help him get his dog back.
  • Kathryn Hahn ("Revolutionary Road") is an organic farmer who gets into the custody battle over Willie Nelson.
  • Steve Coogan ("The Other Guys") is a philandering brother-in-law who has to be nude while photographing a ballet dancer to help her relax.
  • Hugh Dancy ("The Jane Austen Book Club") throws a monkey wrench (...smile...) into the lesbian relationship. Initially, I mistook him for Justin Timberlake.
It's fun to watch people have their less-than-admirable traits exposed by a guy who is trying as hard as he can to help everyone keep their secrets.

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Okay, Angelina Jolie may just as well hang it up. We have embraced a new, skinny, gorgeous, female action star! Zoë Saldana is ready for her closeup... (Remember her in "Centerstage" as a teenage ballet dancer?)

When Luc Besson ("Taken") writes the screenplay for a movie to be directed by Olivier Megaton ("Transporter 3"), brace yourself for a LOT of action. In my opinion, Besson has created the adult version of Natalie Portman's Leon-trained assassin from "The Professional." Saldana is a capable, athletic gal who can deliver the goods, and the Besson/Megaton team can deliver an audience pleaser.

Here's who they work with:
  • Amandla Stenberg ("The Hunger Games") is perfect as a nine- year-old girl whose parents are killed in Columbia as the film opens. She is the quarry during an exciting chase sequence which starts the action: Leaping off buildings, dashing down alleys, diving into drains... Yup... Parkour... my favorite! This young actress looks like she could grow up to be...
  • Zoë Saldana ("Star Trek"), our heroine, orphaned since childhood, an assassin since adulthood, and still seeking revenge for her parents' murder 19 years ago. She is smart, cold-blooded and has nerves of steel. Her vigilantism won't be done till she kills the kingpin.
  • Michael Vartan ("Jolene") is her lover, an artist who evidently can't afford a razor blade...sigh.
  • Cliff Curtis ("The Last Airbender") is her uncle who gave her a choice when she fled Bogota to Chicago at age nine: Grab a gun and shoot people, or go to school and be really smart about revenge. Guess which she picked?
  • Lennie James ("The Next Three Days") is the FBI agent who identifies the mysterious killer behind the deaths of 23 thugs associated with drugs. His biggest problem seems to be the CIA.
This actioner is exciting, Saldana is perfect, and the movie remains carefully PG-13 (three bits of profanity, we don't see any of the bullets splatter blood, and sex scenes fade out as the guy slips off his t-shirt). There is a LOT of gunfire and some really satisfying blowie uppie stuff.

This is entertaining, but be sure to suspend disbelief!

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This is a challenging review to write because there are absolutely NO surprises. All of the publicity material tells us that Ayrton Senna was a three-time World Champion Formula One race-car driver who died at age 34 ("No fear. No limits. No equal."). What else can a documentary tell us?

Three things stood out for me:
  1. Senna was from a well-to-do Brazilian family, so his storied career was well documented, from his trophy-winning go-kart days up to and including his death. His pit crew would hand him a Brazilian flag to wave during his victory lap, thus insuring his status as a beloved hero for millions of Brazilians.
  2. The arc of the relationship between Senna and his arch rival, Frenchman Alain Prost, also a three-time World Champion. These two highly competitive drivers started as rivals but became teammates. What happened after that, was unexpected.
  3. The problem the professional drivers had with bureaucratic oversight is also well documented. Racing officials arbitrarily removed many of the safety features from those high- performance cars over the drivers' strenuous objections. It took a martyr to prove their point.
It is clear why Senna was so popular in Brazil. Not only was he a proud citizen, but he contributed millions to the poor and was a handsome, well-behaved young man. His victories were a source of great pride to his countrymen and his charities insured his reputation as a generous, almost saintly national icon.

A Formula One driver has a camera mounted over his right shoulder, so we see the real thing! Be prepared for high-speed racetrack film clips, along with horrific crashes. I came out of the screening with great respect for a (to me) formerly unknown, fine young man.

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One Day

This one surprised me. I was expecting "Same Time, Next Year" or "Friends With Benefits," but this film is actually based on a better (best-selling) book: "One Day" by David Nicholls. Of course this is the CliffNotes version, so you purists have been warned.

Two attractive stars head this cast:
  • Jim Sturgess ("Across the Universe") is Dexter, a handsome, wealthy young man, spoiled by his parents and by his quick, early success...which doesn't last... Sturgess is a terrifically appealing star, much enhanced by a tasteful dusting of silver at his temples toward the end of the film.
  • Anne Hathaway ("Valentine's Day") is Emma, a fellow graduate and a bad poet, who is averse to promiscuous young men. Hathaway has grown up on screen and has become a fearless and accomplished actress.
  • Patricia Clarkson ("Station Agent") is Dexter's mother. She is dismayed by his early success and can only pray that his basic goodness will eventually assert itself. Clarkson raises the bar for any cast she joins.
  • Ken Stott ("Casanova") is Dexter's father, a wise, successful man who loves his wife very much.
  • Rafe Spall ("Hot Fuzz") is Ian, the stand-up comic who just isn't very good...but he loves Emma.
Our two would-be lovers meet on St. Swithin's Day over 20 years ago. Despite our expectations, they did sleep together that night, but they did NOT have sex. Instead, they became best friends, with her watching a parade of young women pass through his life, and him watching her cope with dashed hopes for a stellar career as a poet. They come to depend on each other to listen to their woes.

This is a terrific series of vignettes that illustrate the twists and turns people experience: good luck; bad judgment; cheesy apartments; high hopes; low achievements; defeat; compromise. We follow them, touching base with one, the other, or both, on St. Swithin's Day over the next couple of decades. This is an involving film, beautifully shot in lovely locations with capable actors. How can you go wrong?

My own caveat: if you have any trouble hearing, you might want to wait for the DVD, as much of the dialogue is murmured. I could follow the arc of the story, but I missed many little bits of humor.

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Project Nim

As you might suspect, the topic of this United Kingdom documentary at the 2011 Seattle International Film Festival was Nim Chimpsky, the chimpanzee taken from his mother at two weeks and raised as a human child in a family home.

We see a combination of interviews and film clips, interspersed with news stories of the times. Nim spent decades in a variety of environments and it's easier to understand the humans he interacted with if you understand the culture they inhabited.

The individuals being interviewed were surprisingly candid, particularly about the sexual sideshow that had taken place. The project's founder, Herbert Terrace, seemed to have a casting couch that would put movie moguls to shame. His interview reveals him to be oblivious to any possible emotional impact his experiment might have on the chimp, even though the effects are obvious. I guess this cold-hearted guy never had a dog...

Nim's original adoptive "mother" admitted that her husband was the constant target of Nim's pinching, biting and vandalism; Nim clearly wanted him out of the way. As he approached sexual maturity, his strength was a major factor in the unhappy choices made for his future. I can't help but wonder if neutering him might have been more humane.

This film is highly involving: Periodically I cringed from the screen as I saw the way the animals were treated, either through lack of empathy or ignorance. It didn't matter, I cringed anyway.

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The Guard

Where do I begin? Praise is bubbling out of me about every aspect of this film, from the location and the actors, to the script and the dialogue. I will own the DVD so I can use closed captions because some of the brogue escaped me, but what I heard was erudite, wry and very, very funny.

Here is part of the wonderful cast:
  • Brendan Gleeson ("Troy" and "Harry Potter") is our eponymous Guard, a local policeman whose job it is to cope with trivial issues in his little seaside hamlet. He pays more attention to his regularly scheduled visits from prostitutes than rumors of a half-billion pounds worth of drugs. Remembering Gleeson's astonishing single-take monologue from "In Bruges," I already knew he was a great dramatic actor, I just don't remember him in a comedy before.
  • Don Cheadle ("Iron Man 2") is a tightly wound American FBI agent hot on the trail of a huge cocaine shipment rumored to be headed toward Ireland. He is dumbfounded by the provincialism and blatant racism he encounters in this little burg. Hard-working Cheadle appears in family films, comedies and dramas; he always does a terrific job.
  • Fionnula Flanagan ("Kill the Irishman") is our hero's mother, dying of cancer, who just wants to see live music performed one more time. You'll smile. Another multi-talented star, this lovely lass has been working for decades.
  • Mark Strong ("Sherlock Holmes") is a cocaine smuggler/hench- man, who is starting to question if the payoff is worth it. In this cast of multiple threats, Strong stands out: He has played supporting roles in so many A-listed films, I can't begin to name them! Suffice it to say, he plays many nationalities, plays good guys (but mostly bad guys), and shows up in movies all over the world.
The Irish locations are authentic, unique and memorable, while the dialogue is delicious. The characters are unusual: the drug dealers engage in cerebral chats, e.g., how many well-known poets were born in Wales. Naturally the local folks are rustic eccentrics. I'm always surprised when I'm reminded how familiar many Europeans are with American history, e.g. the kind of derringer used to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

Expect profanity, gunshots and some blowie uppie stuff. Brush up your Irish dialect and DO NOT MISS THIS MOVIE! By the way, I'm not alone in this assessment: Leonard Maltin thinks this is "the movie of the summer!"

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30 Minutes or Less

This R (for Raunchy)-rated action/comedy is aimed directly at the 25- year-old male... the sort of guy who might deliver pizzas. If you took out all the f-words from the script, this 83-minute movie might be cut down to "30 Minutes or Less." ...smile...

If you've seen the trailers, you know a pizza-delivery guy gets a bomb strapped to his chest and is ordered to rob a bank and deliver the money to a would-be assassin in order to get the code which disarms it. The results of course, are frantic, foul-mouthed and funny, but I appreciated the way they fought: slaps, pushes, grabs, none of this unrealistic fist-to-the-jawbone stuff that we see so often.

Here are some of the familiar faces:
  • Jesse Eisenberg ("The Social Network") is the hapless delivery guy, who grows more frantic by the minute. He isn't stupid, he has just never had to focus before.
  • Aziz Ansari ("Community") is our hero's best friend, a school teacher whose long-term friendship is really put to the test.
  • Danny McBride ("Your Highness") is a nasty piece of work: a selfish slacker who is impatient for his father to die so he can inherit the money to build a "full service" tanning salon.
  • Fred Ward ("Farewell") is the father of the slacker, a retired military man completely out of patience with his worthless son.
  • Nick Swardson ("Just Go with It") is the slacker's sidekick, an explosives expert and loyal friend.
  • Michael Peña ("The Lincoln Lawyer") is the hired assassin, who bolsters his courage by telling himself "You are a pimp! You are a pimp!"
It was fun to hear the audience of young adults enjoy themselves and it was nice to have a movie with someone to root for. Eisenberg seems to have an engaging sort of persona and we always like him. I laughed out loud when he yelled at a policeman, "You just brought a gun to a bomb fight! Drop your weapon!"

No nudity, but lots of vulgar language and gunshots; very little blowie uppie stuff, although there IS a flamethrower. Proceed at your own risk.

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The Help

I was part of a packed, vocal, enthusiastic screening audience who appreciated every minute of this marvelous snapshot of the segregated 60s in Jackson, Mississippi, when Jim Crow laws were still in effect.

The stories, based on Kathryn Stockett's phenomenally successful (and beloved) novel, are female-centric, as they focus on the relationships among the women, black and white, employee and employer, complete with abuse of power, sincere affection, bitchiness, and well-founded fear. The men in the audience were equally vocal because men in this story are not demonized: Racism and ignorance are the villains here.

The casting is to die for:
  • Viola Davis ("It's Kind of a Funny Story") is Aibileen, the heart, brains and soul of this wonderful story.
  • Emma Stone ("Crazy, Stupid, Love") is Skeeter, the well-meaning young wannabe writer. She is told by her New York publisher to hurry with her book about black domestics working for prominent white families, before "this whole civil-rights thing blows over."
  • Octavia Spencer ("Dinner For Schmucks") is Minny, who has most of the funny lines. I know the word "sassy" is overworked, but this sister is sassy! And in case you read the book, YES, she does bake that pie! (Spencer won an Oscar for this role.)
  • Bryce Dallas Howard ("Hereafter") is Hilly, the witch we love to hate. Her comeuppance can't come any too soon and is greeted with cheers from the audience.
  • Jessica Chastain ("Jolene") is Celia, the lost soul taken under the warm wing of her maid where she learns some necessary survival skills.
  • Allison Janney ("Life During Wartime") is Charlotte, our writer's mother, who has her own heart-breaking story.
  • Sissy Spacek ("Get Low") is Missus Walters, she just wants Ambrosia salad, a bit of sherry and her "soaps." Her glee when her nasty daughter hits a rough patch is infectious.
  • Cicely Tyson ("Why Did I Get Married Too?") is Constantine, the elderly domestic who is wrongfully fired.
  • David Oyelowo ("The Rise of the Planet of the Apes") is Preacher Green, the local neighborhood preacher. This adroit actor was born in the U.K.
I'm frustrated because time and space do not permit me to include all the deserving names. Suffice it to say, the talent in this cast is broad and deep.

This PG-13 film has no profanity; domestic abuse is only implied; and you will see no gunfights, car chases or blowie uppie stuff. Teenagers can learn what our world was like just a few short decades ago. They will be shocked!

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The Change-Up

Let me get this out of the way first, okay? If you go to this vulgar R-Rated (very) adult comedy, you will be subjected to a shocking amount of nudity, flatulence, projectile defecation (yeah, you read that right!) and profanity. If those aren't deal breakers, you will see a terrifically well- directed comedy with appealing stars, a hysterical but heart-warming script and excellent acting.

This was waaay better than I expected.... Primarily because of these actors:
  • Jason Bateman ("Horrible Bosses") is a happily married work- aholic with a wife and three children. He has been determinedly upwardly mobile since childhood but he sometimes covets his bachelor friend's unfettered life.
  • Ryan Reynolds ("The Proposal") is a happily single swinger and (sometimes) actor who lives a life of recreational drugs, drinks and dames. There are times he envies his long-time best friend for his family, job, and stability.
  • Leslie Mann ("Funny People") is the wife who is struggling to accept that she and her family come AFTER her husband's job. Mann does a terrific scene with Reynolds, not realizing she is really talking to her husband.
  • Olivia Wilde ("Cowboys & Aliens") is a recently hired lawyer at Bateman's law firm. She is smart, sexy and single. I think this is Wilde's best movie so far.
  • Alan Arkin ("City Island") is our bachelor's father, getting married ...again... He despairs of his son ever finishing anything he starts, but he loves him anyway.
These fellows make a drunken wish to swap lives and to their dismay, it happens. Each guy frantically tries not to derail his best friend's life, with unexpected results. This movie is predictable in an unpredictable sort of way, but both Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde surprised me with the excel- lence of their work; I already knew Bateman and Reynolds were good.

Brace yourself for Hollywood's ramped-up version of a contemporary comedy...you might enjoy it...

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

This goofy, over-the-top actioner is first of all, enjoyable, and second, a nice improvement in Computer Generated Imaging. Even though we know apes were not used in the making of this film, some of them seem authentic and we certainly feel sympathy and concern for them. The humans are well represented: some are gentle and considerate, while others...not so much...

These humans were not harmed in the making of this film:
  • James Franco ("127 Hours") is a geneticist trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer's, which has struck his father; it's being tested on primates. Franco is an intelligent and humane scientist who hasn't anticipated other humans' errors.
  • John Lithgow ("Leap Year") is his father. I think Lithgow plays his own piano in this one. The guy is amazing.
  • Andy Serkis ("Lord of the Rings") is Caesar, the offspring of an experiment which eventually lands him in a cruelly run shelter for primates. Using Motion Capture technology, Serkis plays non- humans exceedingly well; he was Gollum in the Rings franchise.
  • David Oyelowo ("The Help") runs the corporation that employs Franco.
  • Brian Cox ("Red") manages that cruelly run shelter for primates.
  • Tom Felton ("Harry Potter") provides the cruelty at the shelter.
  • Freida Pinto ("Slumdog Millionaire") is a veterinarian who tends Caesar when he is hurt. She is one of the most beautiful women in movies today.
Once you've suspended disbelief, just relax and enjoy this bit of PG-13 diversion. One caveat: DO NOT LEAVE until you have seen the graphics interspersed with the final credits. They will shed a LOT of light on this movie's title.

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