As the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience exited "Stilyagi," ("Hipsters") they all had huge grins on their faces. (I first filed this in June, 2010 and it is just now - late 2011 - being released in the U.S.)

This is a rarity: A Russian musical! (English captions) At the screening Director Valeriy Todorovskiy told us, "at least when I die I can say I have directed ONE musical!" A woman in the audience had been a 20 year old in Moscow during the early 1950s and she told him he got the period and the people's attitudes exactly right.

Apparently at that time some of the Russians in their late teens/early twenties wanted to be like Americans...or at least the way they THOUGHT Americans were. They combed their hair into high pompadours, wore brightly colored clothes, lots of makeup, and danced wildly to Rock and Roll. Naturally the Establishment (Communist) was highly critical. In fact, one of my favorite numbers was a denunciation scene in a classroom setting; I found it a treat to the eye, loved the unique choreography, and the song advanced the story perfectly.

It was fun to recognize one of the streets (photography was negotiated after grueling sessions with the Powers-That-Be in Moscow) which was vacated for a single four-hour period. Three different scenes had to be shot in lightening quick succession while the street was empty. What a feat!

This is a musical, so it's boy meets girl, boy loses girl...oh, you know... There is plenty of music, plenty of humor and even a sweaty body or two... I came out with a huge grin on my face. Spacibo!

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This preview is from the SIFF promo:
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The Descendants

Director Alexander Payne ("Sideways") delivers an R-rated film about family dynamics after a water-skiing accident leaves the mother in a coma. It soon is revealed (as it is in the trailers) that she had been having an affair. Payne orchestrates a beautiful arc from rage and defiance to serenity and acceptance over the course of this 115 minute gem. Every phase of the family's emotional response to events feels natural, normal and real.

Our main character is the trustee for a massive real estate holding which, because of Hawaii's laws, must eventually be dissolved. He thinks he has found a solution, maybe not the best one, but one that will put the issue to rest.

In this very capable cast we see:
  • George Clooney ("The Ides of March") is the fifth-generation Hawaiian land baron whose wife is in the accident; this forces him to reconnect with his two daughters who are semi-strangers. When I watched Clooney clop, clop, clopping down the road in his sandals, running flatfooted like a middle-aged man in a crisis instead of like a movie star, I decided he has earned his stripes as an actor.
  • Patricia Hastie ("Princess Kaiulani") is his philandering wife, now on life support. Her living will specifies "No Life Support," so much of this film anticipates when they have to pull the plug.
  • Shailene Woodley (LOTS of TV) is their defiant eldest daughter; she knows everyone's secrets. She becomes her father's confi- dante and fellow conspirator while at the same time she naturally and believably segues into the role of big sister/mother to her younger sibling. This is a capable young actress whose best claim to fame so far is that she can cry under water!
  • Nick Krause ("ExTerminators") is a young man whose existence was kept a secret from his girlfriend's dad... for good reason! This is no intellectual giant and he tends to blurt out the truth, but as we learn more about him, his insight and his steadfast presence start to gain traction in the family.
  • Amara Miller, in her film debut, is the younger daughter, who wants to get to know her dad. She is just entering her hormonal stage and is painfully aware that she won't have a mother to help her through it. She cries, "Well what about ME?!"
  • Matthew Lillard (LOTS of TV) is the rascal who was getting it on with the philandering wife. He is a Realtor and is on the periphery of a huge deal with Clooney's land trust.
  • Judy Greer ("Love and Other Drugs") is Mrs. Rascal (see above).
  • Robert Forster ("Ghosts of Girlfriends Past") is Clooney's father-in-law who is convinced that his daughter is perfect, so Clooney is to blame. He is burdened with a wife stricken with Alzheimer's, a daughter in a coma and chronic rage.
  • Beau Bridges (LOTS of TV) is a country cousin, eager to see that lucrative land deal go through so he and the rest of the impatient relatives can split their booty.
Payne wants to show us what his cast can do...and he certainly does the job, all the while treating us to a travelogue of Hawaii. A Hawaiian sound- track accompanies us as we fly between islands, see Hawaiian musicians (they can yodel!) and admire picture-postcard scenery.

There is plenty of humor mixed in with the normal dynamics of a family in the throes of a major readjustment. You will see no nudity, no car chases, no gunfire and no blowie uppie stuff; most of the profanity comes from the girls as they test their father's authority. Everything about this film feels authentic, including the blanket-sharing final scene. You WILL like it.

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Here is a link to a preview:
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This is NOT, I repeat, NOT a children's movie! I must emphasize this, as you may have been misled by the PG rating. (The children's book upon which it's based has been fundamentally changed.) This is a wonderful, heartfelt, visual feast, dedicated to cinephiles everywhere! Movie lovers are rapturous over it, while I saw children brought along by well-meaning parents, who were bewildered and bored.

The opening scene is a magnificent, deeply dimensional, 3D shot of a massive clockworks. It segues into traffic headlights encircling the Eiffel Tower and an aerial view of 1930s Paris. From that moment I knew I was in the hands of a master filmmaker! We are behind the scenes (in the walls and attic) of a huge Parisian train station where we see how they maintain the clocks: oiling, winding, repairing and fine-tuning them. It's no wonder the orphan boy charged with these marvels sees the world as a giant clockwork; his entire life centers around oil cans, counterweights, gears, flywheels, and mainsprings.

Director (and Film Historian) Martin Scorsese ("The Departed") brings us this wonderful cast:
  • Asa Butterfield ("The Boy in the Striped Pajamas") is our eponymous hero, striving to unlock the mystery of his father's death. He lives in the walls of the train station, stealing what he needs and living by his wits. He is apprenticed to his drunken uncle, thus he works on the clocks.
  • Jude Law ("Sherlock Holmes") appears briefly as our hero's all- too-soon-dead father, but he was working on an automaton, which Hugo now sees as something he absolutely must complete.
  • Ben Kingsley ("Shutter Island") is Georges Méliès, the center- piece of this tribute to early French cinema. A magician turned cinematographer in 1895, this innovative pioneer was very nearly forgotten despite his almost 500 films made prior to WWI. This homage includes a moment when he is belatedly honored for his contributions.
  • Chloë Grace Moretz ("Diary of a Wimpy Kid") is a girl who joins our young hero on an "adventure!" Her first taste of the cinema is the well-known clip of Harold Lloyd hanging from the face of that clock. This film is checkered with many such classic moments.
  • Helen McCrory ("The Queen") is Jeanne Méliès, wife of Georges. This actress was so convincing as an older woman, I was im- pressed by her makeup when she appeared younger. Silly me!
  • Emil Lager ("Cheerful Weather for the Wedding") fooled us all. We thought he was Johnny Depp, doing a surprise cameo as a guitar player in the train station!
  • Sasha Baron Cohen ("Brüno") is the gendarme determined to catch our boy and send him to an orphanage. Well, catch him he does!
  • Emily Mortimer ("Our Idiot Brother") is a sweet flower vendor in the station. The gendarme gets tongue-tied around her.
  • Christopher Lee ("Season of the Witch") is a librarian who directs our youngsters to books on topics they are researching.
We were pleased to see the emphasis placed on the value of books. Courtesy of excellent 3D, we cringe from a horrific train wreck and struggle with the children as they try to push through a crowded train station. We revel in the discovery and restoration of many of Méliès' well-known film clips and marvel at his ingenuity.

This is an excellent film for film buffs...but not for children!

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Here is a link to a preview:
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The Artist

Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, John Gilbert, Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks are smiling. This audacious film is a silent movie in black and white, with intertitles for dialogue! This PG-13 homage to early Hollywood absolutely proves that Talkies did NOT invent drama, pathos, comedy or romance; we experience all of these and more, yet only hear a handful of words spoken in the entire film. (I just love movies about movies!)

Did you see the "OSS 117" pastiches inspired by the "James Bond" films? If so, you can easily picture the hilarious Jean Dujardin as a 1920s silent screen superstar who goes into a tailspin with the advent of the Talkies. Dujardin is a master of the sendup, the spoof, the satirical take- off on vanity, ego and self-satisfaction, so his parody of Douglas Fair- banks is spot on! As are his versions of Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain," and Fred Astaire in anything with Ginger Rogers. If you doubt me, watch the attached trailer.

In a second viewing, I was even more impressed, look for long single- take scenes: note the one in the star's dressing room when the starlet finds herself alone; watch the lengthy dance sequence a la Astaire, two cuts, MAX! Note the "Hollywoodland" sign on the hillside. That was the original Hollywood sign, it was a real estate advertisement and that was when I knew they would try for verisimilitude. I've ordered the DVD because this can hold up under repeated viewings. In the 84th Annual Academy Awards (in which it won numerous awards) it was revealed that of all the nominated films, this French film is the only one shot entirely in the Hollywood area!

These actors make it work:
  • Jean Dujardin won the Best Actor award at Cannes for this role. He starts out as such a "STAR" that you are surprised when you see a more human side.
  • Bérénice Bejo is transcendent as a spunky Debbie Reynolds-type character in this little show-biz romp. Of course they meet cute and then, shades of "A Star is Born," their lives reverse as her fortunes soar and his plummet.
  • A clever Jack Russell Terrier promptly keels over when a finger is suddenly pointed at him, but runs for help when the house is on fire.
  • Penelope Ann Miller is our hero's disenchanted wife.
  • John Goodman with cigar at full chomp, runs a studio and caters to temperamental stars.
  • James Cromwell is our hero's faithful chauffeur and stalwart friend.
  • Missi Pyle does a blonde bimbo reminiscent of Lina Lamont in "Singin'...," only we never hear this one's voice... Whew!
Writer/Director Michel Hazanavicius has done only French films in the past, but with printed dialogue on those intertitles, this film could be in any language. (Please remember, both "homage" and "cliché" are French!) Our Seattle International Film Festival screening audience could see that most of the words the actors mouthed were English...except that terrific dog...I'm pretty sure he was barking in French.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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My Week With Marilyn

What really happened in 1956 between Sir Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe when they made "The Prince and the Showgirl?" Olivier's assistant, Colin Clark, tells us in this name-dropping drama based on his best-selling autobiographical novel, The Prince, the Showgirl and Me.

Just look at this cast of characters:
  • Michelle Williams ("Blue Valentine") is Marilyn, insecure, intimidated and freshly married to playwright Arthur Miller. The brilliant Williams captures Marilyn's luminosity and tentative mannerisms, she even runs like her! We believe her vulnerability when we gasp at Olivier's thoughtless comment, "You don't HAVE to ACT, just be SEXY!"
  • Kenneth Branaugh ("Valkyrie") is Sir Laurence, who holds "Method" actors in utter contempt. Paula Strasberg, Marilyn's acting coach, makes no attempt to urge her to work on time, and because Olivier is the ultimate professional, it drives him crazy.
  • Eddie Redmayne ("Pillars of the Earth") is Colin Clark, swept off his feet by his needy charge. His character is the heart of the film and Redmayne's youthful naiveté plus a light sprinkling of freckles won me over completely.
  • Emma Watson ("Harry Potter") is Lucy, a lowly employee at Pinewood Studios, who quickly learns she can't compete with an legend.
  • Dominic Cooper ("An Education") is Milton Greene, an American who is frantically, and futilely, trying to run interference for his world-famous client.
  • Judi Dench ("J. Edgar") is Dame Sybil Thorndike, gracious, kind and thoughtful. Dench very nearly steals this film from a roomful of scene-stealing professionals.
  • Toby Jones ("Harry Potter") is Arthur Jacobs, another American character. Jones, Dougray Scott, Dominic Cooper and Michelle Williams put on and take off accents like I change my socks. They are amazing!
  • Julia Ormond ("Temple Grandin") is Vivien Leigh, painfully aware of Olivier's school-boy crush on Monroe, but gracious to her, nonetheless.
  • Dougray Scott ("There Be Dragons") completely disappears into his role as Arthur Miller, who quickly learns the price of his new bride's fame. He promptly decamps for New York.
Even though this R-rated film has a bit of tasteful nudity, we see no sweaty bodies, no gunshots, no car chases, no blowie uppie stuff, and only sporadic profanity. It has LOTS of super-close closeups, as a camera lovingly examines all those attractive faces.

We enjoy the music of 1956 with Dean Martin and Nat King Cole, plus Marilyn, who sings Heat Wave, That Old Black Magic, and a few more. Our screening audience applauded.

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Here is a two-minute preview:
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The Muppets

They're baaack! This is proof positive that a die-hard fan can resuscitate a moribund (look it up!) franchise. Furthermore, Disney and an amazing array of guest stars pitch in.

All the familiar Muppets are here, plus this core cast of "live" actors:
  • Jason Segal ("Bad Teacher") is switching gears from his usual R-rated fare. He is also the aforementioned die-hard fan behind this project. Coincidentally, Jason PLAYS a fan, too!
  • Amy Adams ("Enchanted") is a little less enchanting in this one because her character feels neglected. Her fiancé spends too much time hanging out with his Muppet friend...but at least Amy does get to sing!
  • Chris Cooper ("The Company Men") is Tex Richman (Rich Man, get it?) another bad guy to add to his impressive roster of bad guys. Ready for a shock? This guy can RAP!
  • Rashida Jones ("The Good Year") is the television producer who will help The Muppets if they can get a celebrity host. This plot device goes right over the heads of the children, while the adults laugh at the impressive roster of celebrities who make cameo appearances.
  • Alan Arkin ("City Island") is the first celebrity of dozens! From Mickey Rooney and Whoopi Goldberg to Selina Gomez and Sarah Silverman, the list is endless. You never know who might be running theater lights or answering phones!
The major problem for the tykes in the audience was the gloomy story: The Muppets haven't done any new movies in years so they have found menial or demeaning jobs; their derelict theater is being torn down by a double-dealing oilman; Miss Piggy has left the country; and no one is motivated to stage a telethon to save the theater.

They finally DID get around to singing The Rainbow Connection, but by then many of the little 'uns had been taken home, so their parents (who probably grew up with "The Muppets" movies) missed it. Adults who knew The Muppets LOVED seeing and hearing all their old friends again. The tots? Not so much.

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Here is a link to a very clever preview:
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J. Edgar

Obviously I haven't seen all the films that will be up for Academy Awards this year, but I predict Leonardo DiCaprio will be a major contender for Best Actor. He is astonishing; his makeup and his physical characteristics age so realistically, they make other actors look weak by comparison (except Naomi Watts).

This film explores the life of J. Edgar Hoover, the iconic powerhouse of the FBI as we know it today; he was a respected (and feared) law enforcement officer but also a closeted gay man. Director Clint Eastwood ("Gran Torino") takes on the issues of patriotism, homosexuality and duplicity in this lengthy but engrossing study of a complex man, (cross-dressing) warts and all.

This is a small part of a HUGE cast:
  • Leonardo DiCaprio ("Inception") is J. Edgar, obsessed with secrets: uncovering other people's while concealing his own. He served his country through eight presidents and three wars.
  • Armey Hammer (the Winklevoss twins in "The Social Network") is Clyde Tolson, Hoover's long-time companion. We watch them age together, but Hammer's makeup could be better.
  • Naomi Watts ("Eastern Promises") is Helen Gandy, Hoover's personal secretary, loyal from the beginning of his storied career to the bitter, paper-shredding end.
  • Judi Dench ("Jane Eyre") is J. Edgar's mother, Annie, who would rather see her son dead than a homosexual (or as she put it, "a daffodil").
  • Jeffrey Donovan ("Burn Notice") is Robert Kennedy, Hoover's boss when Kennedy was Attorney General. Donovan doesn't LOOK much like him but he certainly sounds right!
  • Josh Lucas ("The Lincoln Lawyer") is Charles Lindberg, father of that little kidnapped boy, grieving, self-contained and furious.
Director Eastwood gives credit where credit is due. Hoover was an innovator: he initiated the Lindberg law that makes kidnapping a federal offense; he made forensics a science to be used in law enforcement; and he established a central file for fingerprints. But we also see Hoover's need for fame, e.g., falsely taking credit for arrests, sponsoring comic books that extol his heroism, and grabbing headlines for his beloved FBI.

It's fun to recognize many famous names from the almost five decades of Hoover's public service: Ginger Rogers, Shirley Temple, Richard Nixon, Emma Goldman, Bruno Hauptmann, I could go on and on.

Expect a few gunshots, one R-rated kiss, no car chases and one bombing. Most of the profanity comes from Richard Nixon!
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Here is a 2.5 minute preview:
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Jack and Jill

Adam Sandler thinks if audiences buy tickets to see him in movies, twice as many will buy tickets if he plays twins! Of course, now MY problem is doubled. To my astonishment, Sandler can call ANYONE and have him/her show up in his movies, which can be very, very funny. On the other hand he persists in icky humor which I can't recommend (fart jokes anyone?) and, as usual, his product placement is too, too obvious.

Let's start with some of the cast:
  • Adam Sandler ("Grown Ups") is Jack, a happily married husband and father who does not want his twin sister to visit.
  • Adam Sandler ("Funny People") is Jill, Jack's passive-aggressive twin who does not want go back to the Bronx!
  • Katie Holmes ("The Kennedys") is Jack's wife who is beginning to understand why Jack is reluctant to have Jill visit.
  • Al Pacino ("The Son of No One") is himself, who is enthusias- tically stalking Jill! Pacino is hilarious; he sings and dances in a Dunkin Donut commercial that is to die for. In addition, he does Lear, Richard III and Don Quixote!
That's not all. You will see David Spade, Dana Carvey, Corbin Bleu, Alan Covert, Johnny Depp, John McEnroe, Christie Brinkley, Shaquille O'Neal, Neil Diamond, Regis Philbin, Gad Elmaleh, Drew Carey, Tim Meadows, Nick Swardson, Bruce Jenner, the guest list goes on and on. I'll bet you recognize at least two or three of these names, don't you?

In addition to that, during the opening and the closing credits, there are interviews with identical twins that are both interesting and very funny! Not one person left the theater during the closing credits!

I guess you have to take the bad with the good. If you can tolerate Sandler's patented groaners, then you'll have a chance to laugh out loud at the more entertaining stuff. That's what movies are, right? Entertainment?
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Here's a link to a 2.5 minute preview:
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Like Crazy

Do you know what happens when a young British visitor's visa expires? Nothing! No one at the Consulate gives a rip that she fell in love while she was here. This means an intercontinental relationship that is fraught ...you know... This leaves us, the audience, to sit and watch paint dry.

Granted, the actors are very, very good and the camera loves their faces, but the pace is excruciating and much of the dialogue is mur- mured, whispered, or muffled. Of course, people don't enunciate during sex, so I can see why the critics love this thing, but our screening audience was NOT impressed.

This award-winning film (Best Picture and Best Actress at Sundance) features:
  • Anton Yelchin ("Star Trek" he was the young Chekov) is the passive (American) object of two women's affections. It looks like he could be happy with either one. Yelchin is a wonderful actor and he was the main reason I went to see this film.
  • Felicity Jones (Lots of BBC television) is the impetuous (British) spark plug who initiates most of the churn in the erstwhile lovers' off-again on-again relationships. I finally became impatient with her whims.
  • Jennifer Lawrence ("Winter's Bone") is the American coworker who steps into the breach. I couldn't help but root for her.
  • Charlie Bewley (the "Twilight" franchise) is the hottie in London who borrows a kitchen appliance from his neighbor. I couldn't tell what it was and couldn't make it out from their conversation. Maybe a waffle iron?
Once again, I have to admit I am not an artiste, nor are my tastes artistic. Maybe I'm just easily bored... My primary concern was, Who paid for all those airline tickets?

I'm glad I didn't spend my discretionary money on a ticket for this PG-13 snooze.

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Here is a preview:
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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

I call this delightful little piece, "Eleven Stalks of Corn." It was created by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice for a boys' school many many years ago and is as corny as they come. It is a humorous re-telling of the Old Testament story of Joseph and his eleven envious brothers who sell him (thanks to his coat of many colors) into slavery in Egypt. Because it is both funny and heart-warming, it has been in production ever since. I watch my well-worn DVD on a regular basis.

Part of the appeal for the many Joseph productions is the wide variety of music they offer: from a Country-Western hoedown ("One More Angel in Heaven"); to a French Apache-dance lament ("Zose Canaan Days..."); and a howlingly funny "Grovel Grovel" when the brothers are literally brought to their knees. I particularly like the Island-flavored Calypso "Oh No!" when youngest brother Benjamin is falsely accused of stealing a goblet.

Although I've seen this on stage in Portland (Oregon), Baltimore (Maryland) and London (England), and in Washington State: Olympia, Everett, Bellevue, Seattle and Gig Harbor, my favorite production is the 1999 filmed version which stars:
  • Donny Osmond (lots of TV) in the title role, who hit the gym before he agreed to star in this show because he spends a lot of time in a loincloth! (Looks pretty good, too!)
  • Richard Attenborough ("Hamlet") is Joseph's grief-stricken father Jacob, aka Israel. Joseph was his favorite because he reminded him of Rachel, his favorite wife...sigh...
  • Maria Friedman (lots of TV) is the narrator with cast-iron vocal chords. This is always a pivotal role in the stage productions because the story is so important and the contralto range is so demanding.
  • Joan Collins (lots of TV) is Potiphar's wife. Sadly, her phony attempt to seduce Joseph doesn't add much to a Rudy Vallee-tinged 1920s production number.
  • Robert Torti (lots of TV) is Elvis/Pharaoh (who had been having those bad dreams). "Stone the Crows!"
You'll get a kick out of the anachronistic touches, e.g., a Polaroid camera in ancient Egypt, sunglasses in the Sinai, reference to a pyramid scheme, the go-go dancers, fish-net hose on a dancer in Canaan, a French chef serves Pharaoh. Please watch it!
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See if you agree:
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Tower Heist

Talk about timely! One of the most critical elements of a successful plot is for the reader/audience to feel vindicated or avenged. This satisfying romp is for the people whose finances took a hit from the notorious felon Bernie Madoff. All of his victims should attend this film because they want to see a heartless crook get his comeuppance!

This is a low-tech version of "Ocean's 11," with another likable cast, a loathable villain, and a laudable cause. A wealthy shyster has squan- dered and lost billions, including the pension plan for the hard-working staff in The Tower, his ultra-elegant, supremely secure high-rise. It's fun to watch some earnest amateurs try to get their pensions back!

Here is the gold-plated cast:
  • Eddie Murphy ("Chicago") has to be bailed out of jail; none of our heroes knows how to steal, so they need his professional advice.
  • Ben Stiller ("Tropic Thunder") is the extraordinarily efficient manager of The Tower, organized, resourceful and loyal. It's that loyalty that drives him to even the score.
  • Matthew Broderick ("The Producers") is a trader who just lost everything: his wife, his kids, his job, and now his home...but he sure has a knack for numbers!
  • Michael Peña ("Crash") is a former Burger King counter man; he has just been hired to run an elevator in The Tower.
  • Alan Alda ("Flash of Genius") is the penthouse-dwelling scumbag behind the Ponzi scheme.
  • Casey Affleck ("Ocean's" franchise) cares more about the pending birth of his first child than he does about planning a robbery.
  • Téa Leoni ("Ghost Town") is a smart FBI agent who has nothing but contempt for the crook who just might be getting away with it.
  • Gabourney Sidibe ("Precious") is an immigrant from Jamaica. Her papa was a locksmith, so she learned the trade...
  • Stephen Henderson ("The Good Heart") is the long-time doorman who gives us a face and a heart which represent all the powerless victims of Wall Street.
Combine a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, a cute little Brussels Griffon looking for a doggy treat, a funny script, great pacing, plus appealing stars, and you have an entertaining 104 minutes. No sweaty bodies, no profanity that I recall, only one (accidental but important!) gunshot, one fairly humorous vehicular chase and no blowie uppie stuff. A good PG-13 time is had by all!

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Here is a link to a preview:
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