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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Machine Gun Preacher

This is a tough film to sell because our "Machine Gun Preacher" was a violent person in the opening scenes. I know there are many movie goers who would be inspired by this film but they will have to endure that first half hour. I guess you can't see what our hero has become until you see what he has been, so this R-rated film contains gunfire, disturbing images, drug use and lots of profanity.

Real-life Sam Childers served as the consultant, which is a fictionalized account of his headstrong, passionate and unusual life. Childers was a biker, a felon, and a drug-dealing addict who became a Christian cru- sader dedicated to saving hundreds of children in the Sudan who, if they were lucky enough to survive, have been handed AK 47s and forced to serve as soldiers. His mission to save children is no longer limited to one country. He has centers in several African countries, plus in the United States. (Google Sam Childers) I hasten to emphasize, Childers' endeavors are humanitarian, NOT religious. He says, "You don't ask a hungry child who he worships."

These actors portray real people:
  • Gerard Butler ("Phantom of the Opera") is Childers. Butler does a masterful job showing us the arc of Sam's early violent life followed by his conversion to Christ, and then his rage at the treatment of the children in the Sudan.
  • Michelle Monaghan ("Source Code") plays his wife, a former stripper named Lynn, who, in my opinion, is truly Sam's anchor. Without Lynn's tough love and staunch support, his efforts would have collapsed long ago.
  • Kathy Baker ("Seven Days in Utopia") is Daisy, the ever-lovin' Mama who swapped the gun in Sam's belt for a Bible....
  • Michael Shannon ("Revolutionary Road") is Donnie, the ne'er-do-well brother who can't seem to get his bearings. This Oscar-nominated actor is so good it's spooky.
Director Marc Forster ("The Kite Runner") knows how to work with children so we know this inspiring story is in good hands. Script writer Jason Keller spent a year traveling with Childers and accumulating stories from his legendary life. This script compresses about 30 exciting years into a two-hour movie.

In the Q & A after the screening, it was obvious that not only is Sam articulate and passionate about his work, but scriptwriter Keller too, has become evangelistic about helping the innocent victims of this senseless slaughter.

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This trailer starts after a brief ad.
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A comedy about cancer? Truth IS stranger than fiction because this dramedy is a fictionalized account of what happened to writer Will Reiser ("Red State Diaries") and his best friend Seth Rogen ("Knocked Up") when Reiser was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago (he was 24 at the time). He immediately saw friends and acquaintances fall away because they were uncomfortable around a person who had been given a 50% chance of survival. His best friend Seth Rogen (here called Kyle) had a different reaction: He said if it was a casino, 50/50 would be GREAT odds! And he encouraged head shaving; he thought it might be a great way to pick up women.

This was a big hit (standing ovation) at the Toronto Film Festival and now we see why. Here is the wonderful cast:
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Inception") is utterly convincing as a writer blindsided by illness, who has to suffer the discomfort of chums, lose a girlfriend and witness his mother's pain (his father has Alzheimer's). His black humor is familiar to me: my son David was stricken by a malignancy which he did NOT survive, but he always kept his sense of humor, so this rings true to me.
  • Seth Rogen ("Pineapple Express") brings his trademark raunchy mouth and attitude to this story, but when I remember his real role in the actual story, I am willing to overlook a LOT! This was a true test of friendship and he passed with flying colors. (You WILL get a lump in your throat.)
  • Anna Kendrick ("Up in the Air") dithers so beautifully! She is a neophyte counselor whose job is to help cancer patients adjust to their situation. Our hero is polite, but not very compliant.....
  • Bryce Dallas Howard ("The Help") is once again cast in an unsympathetic role. This time she is the erstwhile girlfriend who bails at the first hint of a fatal illness.
  • Anjelica Huston ("When in Rome") is our hero's mother who has a LOT on her plate: a son with a poor chance of survival and a husband with Alzheimer's. By the way, I'd like to tip my hat to Anjelica; she looks "real." No pillow lips; no stringy, scrawny body; no tilted tweaked eyes. From ALL of us: Thank you, Anjelica!
  • Serge Houde ("The Kennedys") never says a word. He conveys perfectly the gentle silence of an Alzheimer's patient.
  • Philip Baker Hall ("All Good Things") has chemo on the same schedule as our hero. Hall and another chum always bring pot brownies (Medical Marijuana) to these sessions and our Three Musketeers share them with contented smiles.
  • Matt Frewer ("Eureka") is the third Musketeer, happily chowing down on those brownies as they chat away the hours of treatment.
Our screening audience included a group of cancer survivors and people from oncology centers with a Q & A session after the screening.

I was happy to see a rescue greyhound incorporated into the story. Castoffs from the dog tracks are a separate tragedy being played out every day and we come to love the gentle giant "Skeletor." Even though he isn't central to the plot, he is fed properly, walked regularly and has his own cushioned bed, which is essential for a bony dog.

By the way, Reiser is in his eighth year of remission. If he makes ten, he will be considered a survivor!

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This is one of the very first movies I was ever motivated to buy. A stylish 1981 French art-house classic, "Diva" was considered a flop until it was "discovered" in Seattle, and after a notable run of almost a year, the distributor re-released it. That time it made its mark and won four Césars (French Academy Awards) in 1982. Now it has been released again so we can upgrade our cherished copies to a newly remastered DVD.

The bone of contention in this thriller is an audio cassette. Problem is, there are TWO of them, each is being sought for its content:
  1. A bootlegged recording of an American diva, made by an enamored mail courier during a concert which featured an aria from "La Wally" as its centerpiece.
  2. An exposé of the police department from a murdered prostitute who had hidden her tape in his messenger's bag on our young hero's parked mobilette.
We enjoy unforgettable characters:
  • A moped-mounted messenger boy, played by Frédéric Andréi, who lives alone above an abandoned automotive garage complete with winches, an elevator shaft, mechanic's tools and assorted paraphernalia. He has no idea who is chasing him or why. All he knows is that he has a HUGE crush on that lovely opera star.
  • An eccentric Diva (she has never allowed her voice to be recorded), played by American Wilhelmina Wiggins, who lives in a swanky hotel surrounded by attentive servants, luxurious clothes, delicious food and elegant furnishings.
  • An enigmatic character who lives in a huge semi-empty ware- house with a Vietnamese refugee girl who uses roller skates to get around their "house."
  • A pair of Taiwanese businessmen who want to duplicate the opera singer's tape and sell it worldwide (there are no copyright agree- ments between France and Taiwan).
  • Two hired thugs who must find and destroy the police department exposé before corruption is uncovered at the highest levels.
During the course of this exciting film, we dash through the Parisian underground, race up narrow alleys, flee across parks, plunge into a pinball arcade (remember, this was made 30 years ago), and end up in a lighthouse.

You will hear a gorgeous award-winning soundtrack (Promenade Senti- mentale comes to mind), enjoy fleeting glimpses of well-known Parisian landmarks, admire an intricately clever script, and you will come to love both our darling messenger boy and the lovely opera singer.

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In professional sports, the most important game to win is the last one. I didn't know that, but as soon as I heard it, it made sense. This slow- moving but engaging sports film shows us how the Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane cobbled together a low-budget baseball team based on statistical analysis rather than star quality.
  • Brad Pitt ("Burn After Reading") is Billy Beane, always eating hamburgers, burritos, or peanuts; chewing tobacco and spitting; or drinking coffee and/or beer. Pitt's characters tend to focus on their mouths and this guy is no different. We see LOTS of lingering shots of him driving, thinking, eating, exercising, talking on the phone and listening. If you're a Brad Pitt fan, this movie is for YOU.
  • Jonah Hill ("Get Him to the Greek") is Peter Brand, the statistician who transforms professional baseball. His logic is sound and Beane very quickly comes to rely on his analyses.
  • Robin Wright ("State of Play") is Sharon, Beane's former wife. Her scene is brief and she's still lovely.
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Charlie Wilson's War") is Art Howe, the coach who defies Beane and continues to play the men he wants, until Beane is forced to fire them so Art is left with no alternative!
  • Chris Pratt ("Everwood") is Scott Hatteberg, a former pitcher reassigned to first base...to his everlasting terror....
With a script by Steven Zaillian ("The Interpreter") and Aaron Sorkin ("The Social Network"), based on Michael Lewis' book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, this seems almost like a documentary, with reel clips from real games, jerky camera work and muddy dialogue, but an undeniably authentic feel. We always cheer the come-from-behind underdogs and relish hard-won victories. In addition, we are reminded that this is based on real life.

This one is for sports fans, baseball fans, and Brad Pitt fans, and that ain't all bad!

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Killer Elite

"Based on a true story..." Really?! No wonder the British government is reluctant to respond to any inquiries triggered by this book by Ranulph Fiennes! It was kinda neat to see THEM looking for plausible deniability this time instead of the United States.

In a cast loaded with tough guys, these three are the toughest:
  • Jason Statham ("Transporter" franchise) plays a former member of Britain's Elite Special Air Service who is forced out of retirement by the kidnapping of his mentor, played by....
  • Robert De Niro ("Limitless") who has been captured by a sheik who will only release him after he has evidence which proves the deaths of the operatives who killed three of his sons.
  • Clive Owen ("Duplicity") is another former Elite Special Air Ser- vice veteran who is employed by a secret cabal known as "The Feather." His job is threefold: 1) Protect those targeted operatives. 2) Dispose of the guys trying to kill them. 3) Take the fall if any- thing goes bad.
Statham's character just wants to retire to a quiet little place in the Out- back; after a traumatic job, he's done killing. Even though he's sick of violence, he refuses to leave his mentor in the lurch. It's interesting to see him work around the issue as the story progresses. I'm always surprised when characters are surprised by betrayals, double dealings and duplicity.

This is R-rated, so expect over-the-top fisticuffs, vehicular mayhem, LOTS of gunfire, a flash of nudity and surprising restraint with profanity. There is some blowie uppie stuff, but Statham's movies usually focus more on character than on violence...smile...

But I did learn something new: "MFWIC" and you have to buy a ticket to see what it means...Ha!

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This 2011 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Iran (English captions) starts slowly but gains momentum and ultimately becomes extremely interesting and involving. I can see why this R-rated film won the 2011 Sundance Audience Award.

It features two young Iranian women whose rebellious and experimental friendship evolves into a sexual one. The brother of one is just out of drug rehab and has undergone a paradigm shift in his philosophy; he now embraces a far more fundamentalist version of the family's religion.

We watch him pressure his wealthy family into a more rigorously religious lifestyle, while at the same time arranging to marry his sister's alluring young lover.

This film contrasts the hedonistic night life of the affluent young adults in Tehran with the actions of the "Morality Police" and their brutality. Given this tension, maybe the Arab Spring of 2011 wasn't too surprising.

I found this film both fascinating and chilling.

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This ultra-violent actioner kept me guessing: What would be the next weapon of choice? Baseball bat? Chop sticks? Shotgun? Claw hammer? Straight razor? Dinner fork? The options were endless and all lethal.

Based on the book by James Sallis and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, this 100-minute film could have been 20 minutes shorter. There are too many affectionate shots of Ryan Gosling's profile (and his long eye- lashes) in endless drives on anonymous California streets. Okay, okay. I admit it's artistic, and it really DID set a mood that lingered....
  • Ryan Gosling ("Crazy, Stupid, Love") is a mechanic and a movie stunt driver by day and a freelance getaway driver by night. A contract is put out on our taciturn hero after a heist goes bad.
  • Carey Mulligan ("Never Let Me Go") is his neighbor. She works in a diner and is raising her little boy alone because her husband is serving time in jail.
  • Bryan Cranston ("Larry Crowne") is Gosling's employer. He customizes cars and books jobs for his crackerjack employee.
  • Albert Brooks ("The In-Laws") is a crime lord who wants to enter Gosling in a high-stakes road race.
  • Ron Perlman ("Hellboy") is the crook who puts out the contract on Gosling, along with that pretty neighbor and her son.
  • Christina Hendricks ("Mad Men") is a stripper planted by the mob for that bad heist.
Expect nudity, profanity, vehicular mayhem, gunshots, plus a shocking amount of blood. No sweaty bodies or blowie uppie stuff, just blood, blood, blood...and one really good elevator kiss....sigh...

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United 93

Of the four passenger jets hijacked on 9/11, United Flight 93 is the only one that didn't reach its target. This was due to the heroism of its passengers who learned about the other hijackings and the hits to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon via phone calls to loved ones after their own plane was commandeered. When they realized that they were to be used as a bomb, they took matters into their own hands. The events depicted are drawn from numerous phone calls made to friends, families and associates during the hijacking.

As a former pilot, I personally prefer the footage that shows the con- fusion, the consternation, and ultimately the incredulity of the stunned people who manned the control towers, the flight service centers and the FAA, along with the U.S. military. Amid mounting chaos, those guys managed to land every commercial aircraft in United States airspace (approximately 4200) in just under three hours, an unprecedented action done with blinding speed and total safety. The hijacked planes had their transponders turned off so any plane still in the air would be an enemy.

From the extras on the DVD, I know the actors actually called upon the families of the victims they would portray, to see their homes, meet their families and hear their voices from phone messages left just before they died. As a result, the actors are consistently authentic in their portrayals. In addition, a number of the air traffic control officials who were on duty that morning portray themselves in the film.

I had avoided seeing this when it was first released, but Seattle stage actor Cheyenne Jackson was cast as Mark Bingham, one of the heroic passengers, so naturally I wanted to see "our guy" on the silver screen.

I'm glad I did.
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Anjaana Anjaani

The Seattle library had this 2010 DVD which brought me Bollywood at its most colorfully clichéd best! (With closed captions in English.) Two would- be suicides meet on the Washington bridge in New York City where their hastily laid plans go awry: hers because of a failed love affair, and his because of the recent stock market crash. After numerous failed attempts, they grant themselves twenty days to do their own version of a Bucket List before their final exit on New Year's Eve.

This combines a coast-to-coast road trip from New York to San Francisco in a red Ford Falcon convertible, with delightfully absurd Bollywood-type production numbers in New York, Las Vegas and various points in between.

I enjoyed:
  • Priyanka Chopra ("Dostana" and dozens of other films in the past nine years) who joins ranks with Ashwarya Rai and Freida Pinto as yet another gorgeous Bollywood actress.
  • Ranbir Kapoor ("Raajneeti") who, BTW, does some of his finest work with his shirt off. Fourth-generation Bollywood royality, this hard-working professional also directs.
There is great humor, a chaste love story (they hardly even KISS in Bollywood films!), and a sweet, funny (non) love affair. It's gaudy, light-hearted and just a tad worldly. Plus it includes the most absurd marriage proposal I've ever seen.

Yeah, I liked it.



Matt Damon ("True Grit") has become our dependable, durable Mr. Everyman in American film. He seems like such a mainstream guy, plainspoken and sincere, that we identify with him. This movie is a good example: Here, his wife returns home from Asia with a tell-tale cough, and before you know it, not only is she dead, but to his stunned disbelief, so is their little boy. She is the first victim of a epidemic that quickly evolves into a world-scale pandemic and we are at Damon's bewildered side every step of the way.

Here is the star-studded cast:
  • Gwyneth Paltrow ("Country Strong") is the wife who returns from Asia and then dies. This is not a spoiler, if you have seen any of the trailers on television, you already know this. (Her autopsy is a shocker, though!)
  • Matt Damon ("Ocean's" and "Bourne" franchises) is her husband. His character represents us and our point of view as his world deteriorates and anarchy sets in. His main focus becomes to protect his remaining child.
  • Lawrence Fishburne ("Thurgood") is with the CDC (Center for Disease Control), trying to contain the hysteria and lawlessness that seem inevitable in a crisis such as this.
  • Kate Winslet ("The Reader"), also with the CDC, organizes the mind-boggling logistics of setting up triage facilities and treatment centers in metropolitan sports arenas.
  • Jude Law ("Sherlock Holmes") is a contemporary blogger who sees a conspiracy behind every government action and has the reach, courtesy of the Internet, to make life miserable for the besieged agencies trying to get a handle on the problem.
  • Marion Cotillard ("Midnight in Paris") is with WHO (World Health Organization), sent to Asia where she tries to ascertain the origin of this menace.
  • Jennifer Ehle ("The King's Speech") is a research scientist desperate to find a shortcut in a frantic race for a vaccine.
Director Steven Soderbergh ("The Informant!") brings us an action-thriller without profanity, car chases, sweaty bodies or blowie uppie stuff, and it has only four gunshots (next door). We see decent, well-meaning folks who put their lives on the line as they try to save others. We see how bureaucracy can help and how it can hinder, plus we see the effects of rumors and unbridled panic on a terrified population.

This movie is exciting, involving and, thanks to Matt Damon, relatable.

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After the brief ad...a trailer:
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The Whale

Narrated by Canadian Ryan Reynolds and executive produced by his (then) wife Scarlett Johansson, this documentary celebrates four years in the life of "Luna," a baby killer whale separated from his pod in scenic Nootka Sound, along the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

Because whales are social creatures, Luna seeks the company of humans to replace his original pod. Naturally, the humans are charmed by his actions and many are interviewed for this film.

Of course it is inevitable that bureaucracy will rear its ugly head when a popular orca like Luna is involved, consequently the massive shifts in his interactions with people are recorded for posterity: Sometimes he's petted and acknowledged, other times people aren't even allowed to make eye contact with him. Naturally he is confused and frustrated. Every human that comes in contact with this eager youngster has his best interests at heart, the major question is: What is best for Luna?

This documentary is involving, judiciously edited (the First Nation canoe is paddled to the same beat as their tom toms which echo from the preceding scene), gorgeously filmed in a beautiful setting and liberally sprinkled with bits of humor. The directing team of Suzanne Chisolm and Michael Parfit attended the Seattle International Film Festival screening and participated in a Q&A afterwards.

My companion and I came out baffled by the actions of the humans. I think you too, will wonder why they don't lead this lonely orphan out to his pod when it migrates into nearby waters.

If you are an animal lover, this film is for you.

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Here is a link to a trailer:


The Hedgehog

"Happy families are all alike..." mutters a short, ugly, overweight concierge to herself. We are in an upscale Parisian apartment building.

"...every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," responds a new tenant, a wealthy Japanese widower, who is there to pick up his keys. Much to her surprise, he has recognized Leo Tolstoy's first line in the classic novel Anna Karenina.

Thus opens "Le hérisson" (Yes, there are English captions) in which we quickly become acquainted with an overindulged but deeply bored 11- year-old girl who is carefully planning her suicide for her 12th birthday. We watch this precocious youngster videotape her older sister, her successful father and her chronically depressed mother in their daily lives. We hear her commentary which provides a cynical voiceover for her home movies. Our resourceful little heroine has been studiously stockpiling antidepressants pilfered from her mother for over a year, careful to avoid suspicion.

We also observe the concierge going about her daily tasks, focused, humorless, conscientious and solitary. When the girl finally befriends the woman, she asks why she never sees her smile. The reply: there are certain expectations placed on concierges in Paris: they should be short, ugly and overweight. But we know this one has a special secret: her cherished library.

When the new Japanese tenant discovers that the concierge's cat is named "Leo," he gives her a gift: a leather-bound first edition of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. And so our story begins....

This film is beautifully cast, lovingly photographed, and carefully scripted. No blowie uppie stuff, no sweaty bodies, no car chases or gunshots, but instead a delicately tentative courtship and a teenage girl's coming of age. This was the first selection I saw in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award.

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The Debt

This one is a dandy! Wonderful cast, wonderful script and a completely unpredictable plot.

We run on two tracks throughout this film, the first track is 1997 when the daughter of one of our leads publishes a book based on the 1966 adven- tures of her mother and two fellow Mossad operatives as they track down a heinous Nazi war criminal. Those earlier events constitute the second track. The three former agents are shocked to discover that the man they supposedly killed in 1966 is still alive and scheduled to talk with a journalist in Kiev.

A script this complex requires a capable director, and John Maddox ("Shakespeare in Love") is our man. In addition, he has this wonderful cast:
  • Jessica Chastain ("The Help") is Rachel-1966, a young widow recruited by Mossad to find and capture the criminal. Watch her steel herself to cope with that evil doctor, with her legs suspended in a gynecologist's stirrups!
  • Helen Mirren ("Red") is Rachel-1997, scarred from her horrific experience, emotionally and physically. Her battle is up close and personal, and we are with her every nail-biting inch of the way.
  • Sam Worthington ("Avatar") is David-1966, determined to avenge his family by exposing the doctor and his crimes to the world.
  • Ciarán Hinds ("The Eclipse") is David-1997, haunted by his abandonment of Mossad, his lost love, and most of all, by his lie.
  • Marton Csokas ("The Bourne Supremacy") is Stephan-1966, smooth, focused, talented and unwilling to admit defeat.
  • Tom Wilkinson ("The Ghost Writer") is Stephan-1997, now wheelchair bound, but still a leader and still unwilling to yield.
When I first felt confused, I tried to dismiss it, but as the story unfolded, I thought back and suddenly it made sense. When you compare the hand- to-hand combat in this film to the over-the-top fisticuffs we usually see, we are reminded of the humanity of the people we see on the screen. This makes the story far more involving than cartoonish mayhem.

PLUS: No one conveys vulnerability and pain better than Worthington. Each time I see him I think, "That last time must have been just a fluke," but then he gets me again!

Don't miss this one.

PS: I DO have a quibble. Both Hinds and Wilkinson are capable actors, so why not have each one depict the character who, physically, is a better match with the younger version? For example, Wilkinson and Worthington both have singularly round heads, while Hinds and Csokas are taller, darker and more angular. This would have been a more realistic pairing.

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Friends With Benefits

This crass, predictable, romantic "comedy" could have been much better.

Why you might ask?
  • Because it has good bones: Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor") and Patricia Clarkson ("The Station Agent") are both in it and those two bring a lot of talent and experience to the table.
  • Because it has two likable leads: Justin Timberlake ("The Social Network") and Mila Kunis ("Black Swan") have proven box-office appeal AND I appreciate both stars' support of our military.
Why was I disappointed?
  • Because it didn't have to be so tawdry. This thing is just short of pornographic in the way our two lovers establish their "benefits." I realize this reflects contemporary morés, but come on... must things be so blatant? The movie actually gets a little better as the story unfolds.
  • Because a romantic comedy is supposed to be clichéd, but this one actually made me cringe!
It's too late to warn you to stay away, it has already made millions. I guess there's just no accounting for some peoples' taste....sigh...

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