Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

You know the story of the spy pulled out of retirement to take just one more case? Well this story's been pulled back out of retirement. Yes, you read that right. The original version of John le Carré's durable thriller was first aired as a miniseries in 1979. It was so highly acclaimed they decided to do it all over again! After all, every intelligence agency has a time when it suspects it is harboring a double agent.

Here they have trotted out the best workhorses in British cinema. This 127-minute R-rated remake of the Alec Guinness classic, boasts:
  • John Hurt ("Immortals") as Control, positive there is a mole at the highest level of MI6 and determined to root him out.
  • Gary Oldman ("Red Riding Hood") is George Smiley, pulled out of retirement and saddled with the task. Oldman is wonderful, you can see that his character is contemplative, strong, self contained and loyal. When his knees sag right at the end, it IS meaningful!
  • Mark Strong ("The Guard") as Jim Prideaux, an operative sent back to Hungary to help Control uncover the mole. In my opinion, Strong's character has the most impact.
  • Toby Jones ("My Week With Marilyn") as Percy Alleline, a fiery Scotsman who is one of the suspects.
  • Tom Hardy ("Inception") as Ricki Tarr, who gives a potential informer more value than she warrants, to her great peril!
  • Kathy Burke (lots of TV) as Connie Sachs, sort of the mother hen of the agency. She has the funniest line!
  • Colin Firth ("The King's Speech") as Bill Hayden; when his character is happy, Firth twinkles.
  • Ciarán Hinds ("The Debt") is mostly wasted as Roy Bland, one of Control's espionage suspects.
  • David Dencik ("War Horse") is Toby Esterhase, the prime suspect in their search for the mole.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch ("Atonement") as Peter Guillam, the agent with the most to do. He stays busy throughout this entire film!
  • Sveltlana Khodchenkova ("Rzhevskiy protiv Napoleona") is heartbreaking as Irena, the desperate informer who is so badly oversold!
...to name just a few.

This offers moments for many actors to shine, particularly Mark Strong, Colin Firth and Gary Oldman. Everyone else is great, but these three.... Oh my....

A word to the wise, this is mainly a talking heads-type film, so if hearing dialogue is a challenge, wait for the DVD with closed captions, or opt for a theater that provides them.

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATION: I saw this at a $6.00 Tuesday special (AMC theater). There was scarcely an empty seat in the place and that was for the second matinee of the day. As Hollywood cries the blues about the drop in audience numbers, maybe they should re-examine their prices. Hundreds of $6.00 tickets total waaaay more revenue than thirty or forty $10.00 ones. AND we were buying popcorn, which is where the profits are for theaters. Would someone please tell the suits to WAKE UP!
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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We Bought a Zoo

Director Cameron Crowe ("Say Anything"- my favorite!) is back. After (in my opinion) a couple of misfires, "Elizabethtown" and "Vanilla Sky," he seems to be hitting his stride again.

This two-hour (123 minutes) PG dramedy is based on a true story which, according to information provided before the closing credits, continues even today. A grieving widower quits his San Diego-based job, packs up his two children and moves them to a privately owned wild animal park in Southern California. He risks his retirement funds and all of his savings in the hopes that a complete change of scene will help him rebuild his life and the lives of his children.

Lucky for our city guy, this animal preserve already has a small but efficient staff, so he isn't completely at sea, but pretty close! His main challenge is his disaffected son, who was expelled from his last school for his art work (wait until you see it!). One of the best scenes is the fight between father and son; they each give as good as they get and I'm reminded again what a fine actor Damon is.

This pleasant outing boasts a terrific cast:
  • Matt Damon ("True Grit" - he was the stalwart Ranger) is our hero, embarking on a new adventure.
  • Scarlett Johansson ("The Other Boleyn Girl" - she was Anne Boleyn's sister) is the experienced zoologist.
  • Thomas Haden Church ("Sideways" - he was the wayward bridegroom) is our hero's brother, who has launched a few (mis)adventures of his own.
  • Patrick Fugit ("Almost Famous" - he was the writer for Rolling Stone) is the worker with the (capuchin) monkey on his back.
  • John Michael Higgins ("Bad Teacher" - he was the flummoxed principal) is the villain, a government inspector determined to find enough flaws that the park can't open.
  • Elle Fanning ("Super 8" - she was the girl old enough to drive) quickly gets a crush on the teenage son.
  • Colin Ford (lots of TV) is that teenager, angry, suspicious and eager to move back into the city.
Johansson makes a credible zoologist and the first big fight they have is over her determination to put down a sick animal while he, not realizing he is subconsciously substituting the sick tiger for his sick wife, keeps pleading for her to allow it to stay alive just a little longer.

Love the gal at Home Depot. I very much appreciated that these were NOT animatronic animals! Sweet ending, too.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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War Horse

Stephen Spielberg never hesitates to use every device in his filmmaker's bag of tricks: He uses a terrific children's novel written by much-heralded author Michael Morpurgo, about a boy who enlists in the British Army after his beloved horse is appropriated for the WWI cavalry.

Spielberg unabashedly makes mincemeat of our feelings, with lovely pastoral scenes, a darling colt, trench warfare, gut-wrenching battles, injured horses being shot, a truly upsetting scene with a horse hopelessly enmeshed in a snarl of barbed wire, outrageous coincidences, a happy ending with profiles silhouetted against a sunset...oh, you know, the whole spectrum of emotions. What a workout!

My biggest problem is that I have lived on a farm, so once again the city slickers strike out:
  • They don't understand contour farming, so rain washes the crop downhill.
  • They don't know that a healthy horse sleeps standing up.
  • A horse won't step up and say, "Use me! My friend's leg is hurt!"
  • WWI quartermasters turned dead horses over to the cooks! They didn't toss their carcasses into a pit.
  • You really cannot get two grown horses into an upstairs farm- house bedroom. NOTE: One of my JayFlix colleagues says it IS possible but she won't tell me how she knows....
Okay, I got that off my chest, so let me emphasize that our downtown Seattle audience applauded this film. It is beautifully shot, well acted and I am, once again, in awe of Spielberg as a filmmaker! The authentic feel of 1916 England, the hard-scrabble farm, the Devonshire landscape, the muddy battlefield, all transported us to another time and place. I really could NOT tell where the computer generated images left off and where it was real boots-on-the-ground.

This 143-minute film works very well for city folks and the PG-13 script shields us from too much blood. We only HEAR those horses being shot and newcomer Jeremy Irvine makes a wonderful film debut. Of course he is ably supported by Peter Mullan ("Boy A") and Emily Watson ("Miss Potter") as his parents.

I hope the horse is nominated for Best Horse at the Academy Awards this year. He deserves it!
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Here is a link to a preview:
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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

You KNEW I'd be a hard sell on this American retread, but the word "gratuitous" quickly came to mind. I'll be the first to acknowledge that David Fincher ("Zodiac") is a brilliant director, but when a book is already universally known and the original movie is effectively done, why pad a perfectly adequate story with blatant foreshadowing, gratuitous characters and unnecessary violence? This thing runs for 158 minutes and inserts new scenes that are inconsistent with Stieg Larsson's iconic originals!

My defense shields came up during the over-wrought title sequence, but they came down a bit when the film actually began because I AM fond of the story. It has interesting characters, plenty of action, and a plot that is just complicated enough to keep us engaged. After all, how many stories involve a 40-year-old murder?

Let's start with the cast:
  • Daniel Craig ("Defiance"), it took courage to accept a role when the standard has already been set by Michael Nyqvist. Craig's work already stands alone: He is a terrific James Bond and has enjoyed wide-ranging roles over an impressive number of years. Here, his journalist, Mikael Blomkvist is hired by an industrialist to investigate the death/disappearance of his beloved niece 40 years ago. We love Craig, so we won't hold this against him.
  • Rooney Mara ("The Social Network") was determined to make this work. She got piercings, worked out and shaved off her eyebrows. THAT should prove her dedication to her art! Taking over the iconic role of social misfit Liz Salander from Noomie Rapace took guts, and it's clear that she did exactly as Fincher directed her to do. ...sigh....
  • Christopher Plummer ("Beginners") has the aristocratic panache necessary to portray an elderly industrialist. His wry descriptions of his relatives bring humor to a pretty desolate picture of the dysfunctional Vanger family.
  • Stellan Skarsgård ("Thor") is a prominent member of that dysfunctional family....
  • Robin Wright ("The Conspirator") is perfect as Erika Berger, Mikael's long-time (married) lover and co-publisher of their Millennium magazine.
It's a sad commentary that this movie is even necessary. Are Americans so illiterate that we can't even manage to read captions? Are we so jaded that we must have an already action-filled story ramped up to this degree? With an R rating, expect nudity, rape, violence, and blowie uppie stuff.

Now let me try to be fair: I'm going to guess that "...Tattoo" virgins, who haven't a clue what to expect, will be thrilled and surprised. They will never guess that a much better version exists. I guess that's why this was made in the first place, huh? Well, who am I to say....?

Just let me do some editing, okay? Please?
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This preview runs 3.5 minutes:
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The Adventures of Tintin

Director Steven Spielberg, a long-time fan of this series of Belgian children's comic books by Georges Remi under the pen name of Hergé, directs this PG-rated motion-capture film. Spielberg uses his long-time musical collaborator John Williams ("Indiana Jones"), who adds his signature sound to enhance the non-stop action which features our intrepid investigative reporter Tintin, and Snowy, his faithful fox terrier.

We hear the voices of:
  • Daniel Craig ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), the sinister Mr. Sakharine who tries to buy the Unicorn, a model ship that has a direct connection to the mystery of a lost treasure.
  • Jamie Bell ("Defiance") is the titular hero of this series. At first I thought he might be too old for the part, but the character lives alone and supports himself at the newspaper, so I guess 25-year- old Jamie is just right.
  • Simon Pegg ("Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol") and his sidekick Nick Frost ("Hot Fuzz") voice Inspectors Thompson and Thomson, a pair of stumble-bums who are trying to catch a pickpocket.
  • Andy Serkis ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes") plays Captain Haddock and his ancestor Sir Francis Haddock, whose family has first rights to the Unicorn.
...to name just a few....

My childhood was completely "Tintin"-less, so some of the affection others brought to the experience was lacking. I found the script to be too chaotic, too confusing, too crammed with fisticuffs, gunfights, chases, and general mayhem. I was surprised when our hero instantly resorted to a handgun in this politically correct day and age.

On the other hand, I was dazzled by the acting! Yes, I know, this is NOT live action, but the emotions and the animated speech were impressive. In addition, there was always authentic business going on behind, or off to the side of our principal characters. The dog behaved in a very dog- like manner and some of the people on the street were a hoot! Watch for that old woman whaling away at the fellow with her umbrella.

In addition, the artistry of the animators deserves special mention. Mirrored reflections viewed through glass have their own unique challenges; you will often see glare from a pretend camera lens that gives the impression that this movie was filmed instead of created digitally. Such finesse!

I appreciated the artistry but hit chaotic-action overload halfway through.
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Irina Palm

Your first hint about this one is that you have to be over 21 to register for the trailer.

That being said, I want to recommend a film that I saw at the Sedona Film Festival a couple of years ago. An entry from the U.K., it was a major hit with our screening audience and I have loaned out my DVD countless times; I have heard nothing but praise for it in response.

It features a former vocalist on the music scene a few decades ago, Marianne Faithfull. If her name rings a bell, you are the perfect age to see this movie.

She depicts a meek widow whose grandson is very ill. There is a chance to save his life if the family can manage to raise air fare to Sidney, Australia. They have already spent everything they have on the boy's care and have nothing left to sell, pawn or barter. Our widow has already sold her house but is determined to find a way to help her grandson.

She discovers that a "woman of a certain age" with no experience and no marketable skills isn't very likely to find a job, but in Soho, she sees a "Help Wanted" sign in the window of a sex shop. Upon inquiring, she learns they are looking for a hostess but she's too old. Then someone gets the bright idea to hire her to provide a standard service (hand jobs) where she stays out of sight. She finds the whole idea shocking, but she's desperate enough that she screws her courage to a sticking place and takes the job.

Turns out she has a real knack and becomes not only popular, but fairly successful. To her great relief, she is now in a position to get an advance on her salary and pay for her son and his family to go to Australia.

Of course, her son wants to know where she got all that money. Therein lies the tale...

Suffice it to say, this is cleverly photographed, wonderfully scripted and beautifully acted. It is so satisfying to see this meek woman become very matter-of-fact about her job, develop a sense of self worth, stand her ground against the sanctimonious biddies in her neighborhood and forge a loving relationship with her daughter-in-law.

You will enjoy this one more if you can locate a DVD with subtitles. Mine doesn't have them, but I caught a scene on television the other day and it had closed captions, so watch for it.

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You have to be 17 or older to register for this preview:
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Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

This PG-13 money-printing franchise is back again. Do you know why? Because Producers J.J. Abrams and Tom Cruise are two smart fellows with a lot of clout who look for: a great director; a great script; and a great cast.

The great director is Brad Bird ("The Incredibles") who is directing his first non-animated feature. The stunts are so hair raising it might have been easier on my nerves if they HAD been animated! Particularly scaling that skyscraper in Dubai... Whew!

The great script by television scriptwriters Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, starts in Budapest where the IMF is implicated in a bombing. This means our doughty team must first clear their names. That takes them to Moscow where they learn there is also the threat of nuclear war.... So off to Mumbai... Oh, you know. Cruise is an international star and his movies always take us all over the world. That's part of the fun.

And here is a small part of that great cast:
  • Tom Cruise ("Valkyrie") continues to be an enigma to me. For such a high-profile celebrity, I don't really know much about him. He gives each movie everything he's got and we always get our money's worth.
  • Tom Wilkinson ("The Debt") is a highly capable actor who works all the time in a variety of accents. This is an A-List Actor (capital "A") who hasn't a shred of scandal associated with his name.
  • Jeremy Renner ("The Hurt Locker") is a great example of an actor who conveys energy, intelligence and subtext. He ain't purdy, but he's effective. I hope he becomes a permanent member of the IMF team: he brings both gravitas and humanity.
  • Paula Patton ("Precious") surprised me as an action star. Who knew?
  • Simon Pegg ("Star Trek") is hilarious! He never disappoints me; he is so perfect here I hope to see him bring this character back a third time in the inevitable next episode.
  • Ving Rhames ("Mission Impossible" franchise) made a cameo appearance and an affectionate murmur swept the audience.
  • Anil Kapoor ("Slumdog Millionaire") can play smarmy very nicely. Remember him as the M.C. in Slumdog?
  • Michael Nyqvist ("The Millennium Trilogy") is an experienced multi-lingual Swede who is equally comfortable in heroic or villainous roles.
You may have noticed I haven't discussed the role each actor plays in the plot. Come on... In a Tom Cruise movie is a plot important? As you might expect, there is never a dull moment. Fans know they can rely on a Cruise movie for non-stop action and breath-taking stunts. But a plot? Not so much. All I can say is that we had tons of fun watching this action fest and appreciated some poignant moments as well.

Gunshots, vehicular mayhem, brawls, riots, and blowie uppie stuff, no profanity and they all kept their clothes on. This one should be a big hit.
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This trailer is 2:31 minutes long:
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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Ham and eggs, salt and pepper, Holmes and Watson. Some things just naturally go together. Yes, our intrepid tag team is back to a sooty, soiled London, with ever more outrageous plots and counter-plots, wry asides, hairbreadth escapes and goofy disguises. Once again we see Holmes' slow-motion mental preview for the next bout of fisticuffs before we see it unfold with blinding speed, exactly as planned.

This time Professor Moriarty makes his debut in this series, so we're talking world domination here, not just Jolly Old England. Naturally we recognize faces from the 2009 film and the audience laughs when they appear.

Once again Guy Ritchie ("Sherlock Holmes") directs:
  • Robert Downey Jr ("Iron Man") returns as our dauntless detective, doing his darnedest to derail that infernal wedding! (...and save the world.)
  • Jude Law ("Hugo") is, once again, his faithful sidekick, Dr. John Watson, who is Holmes' equal in every way, it's just that he wants to get married.
  • Noomie Rapace ("The Millennium Trilogy") introduces Sim, an ingenious fortune-telling gypsy, trying to locate her brother.
  • Rachel McAdams ("Midnight in Paris") returns as Irene Adler, an important woman in Holmes' life.
  • Jared Harris ("The Ward") is Professor Moriarty, one of fiction's best nemeses. He and Holmes share a mutual admiration for each other that adds to the fun.
Sometimes things just get too, too cute, and the "bromance" between Holmes and Watson has them dancing together, almost kissing, and Holmes is clearly jealous when faced with the idea of Watson getting married. How would Sir Arthur Conan Doyle feel about this? I'm just sayin'...

Personally, I appreciate the women in this series: they don't trip while running in the forest or need a strong man to save them, we find them serious, resourceful and focused. Of course with this being a Guy Ritchie film, they also know martial arts!

Remember, we're talking world domination, so you may expect gunshots and some blowie uppie stuff; for the most part, this 129-minute PG-13 comedy keeps us entertained and we never have to cover our eyes. Whew!

But this is another one where you absolutely MUST suspend disbelief! That's elementary, my dear....smile...

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This preview is a little over 2 minutes:
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Young Adult

From the creative team of director Jason Reitman ("Thank You for Smoking") and writer Diablo Cody ("Juno"), we have a dramedy about a writer of Young Adult fiction who returns to her home town in hopes she can re-ignite some heat with an old flame. Unfortunately for our recently divorced heroine, he is happily married.
  • Charlize Theron ("Hancock") fearless as always, is willing to play a defective beauty, damaged by adulation in high school and deluded about her place in the world. BTW, she still drives a Mini-Cooper like she did in "The Italian Job!"
  • Patrick Wilson ("Morning Glory") finally plays a happy, normal husband and father. I applauded his character from the moment I first saw him; what a switch from "The A-Team."
  • Patton Oswalt (Lots of TV and a voice in "Ratatouille") certainly deserves star billing in this one! His character was beaten and mutilated in high school, supposedly a hate crime against a gay. When it turns out he isn't gay, the episode is all but forgotten, except ...oops... he is still crippled and mutilated.... This dis- illusioned guy is the only one who sees the situation clearly!
  • Elizabeth Reaser (the "Twilight" franchise) is the target of our heroine's rancor because she is married to that old flame.
  • Colette Wolfe ("Hot Tub Time Machine") has the most pivotal character. It is the interaction with this sweet gal that helps us gauge the depth of our heroine's epiphany and possible recovery.
This edgy R-rated film features a cute Pomeranian dog, wonderful acting, lots of humor, lots of alcohol, and one scene which comes thisclose to nudity. No gunshots, car chases or blowie uppie stuff, but it's no walk in the park, either.
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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New Year's Eve

Director Garry Marshall ("Pretty Woman") is helming another PG-13 ensemble cattle call similar to "Love Actually," "Valentine's Day," and "New York, I Love You." You know, a film where widely disparate vignettes with a huge ensemble, end up somehow becoming a (sort of) cohesive story.

Just look at this cast!
  • Ashton Kutcher ("Friends With Benefits") cynically views New Year's Eve as "Amateur Night."
  • Zac Efron ("The Lucky One") is a resourceful bicycle messenger hired for the day by a client.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer ("Hairspray") hires that messenger boy; she has a bucket list.
  • Jon Bon Jovi ("Cry Wolf") has never been more appealing.
  • Katherine Heigl ("Life As We Know It") slaps Jon Bon Jovi... TWICE!
  • Sofia Vergara ("The Smurfs") does NOT slap Jon Bon Jovi.
  • Jessica Biel ("Valentine's Day") is really funny in the delivery room.
  • Carla Gugino ("Elektra Luxx") is the doctor delivering Jessica Biel's baby.
  • Sarah Jessica Parker ("Smart People") is a single mom with trust issues.
  • Abigail Breslin ("Janie Jones") is the teenager whose mom doesn't trust her.
  • Josh Duhamel ("Ramona and Beezus") wrecks his car but MUST be in town by midnight.
  • Lea Michelle ("Glee") gets trapped on an elevator with Ashton Kutcher. (I loathe her over-stylized singing!)
  • Robert De Niro ("Limitless") wants to see the ball drop on New Year's Eve one more time before he dies.
  • Hilary Swank ("Conviction") is stuck holding the ball if the mech- anism in Times Square isn't fixed by midnight.
  • Ludacris ("Tropic Thunder") is an understanding New York City cop.
  • Hector Elizondo ("Princess Diaries") makes his mandatory appearance in yet another Garry Marshall film. This time I think he's Russian....
  • Ryan Seacrest (Himself) does a great sendup of himself as the host of the Times Square celebration and kvetches that "things never went wrong for Dick Clark!"
...and this list of actors barely scratches the surface.

This has become quite the fad in Hollywood these days with scores of "name brands" doing cameos in a demonstration of fun and solidarity. As a professional audience member, I admit that I get a big kick out of identifying all those familiar faces and I'm willing to fill in the blanks for the myriad stories that are alluded to but never resolved...but it IS a fad.

Despite the total lack of car chases, gunshots, sweaty bodies or blowie uppie stuff, the audience energy was waaaay up after this screening; that means they liked it!
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Shall We Kiss?

"Un baiser s'il vous plaît" is the most un-pornographic pornography I have ever seen. (Of course I categorically deny ever having seen ANY!)

When I get a foreign DVD from the City Library (with English captions) it can sometimes be a surprise, and this one certainly was! I had confused it with a boring and trivial French entry to the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival. I have never been happier to be wrong.

This delightful French comedy had me giggling from the get-go! Two best friends have to deal with the guy's mental and emotional problems. Of course, we, in the audience, because we are all-seeing and all-knowing, realize that his major problem is that he loves HER! She, naturally, is oblivious.

We see:
  • Virginie Ledoyen ("The Valet") is a good friend just trying to help....
  • Emmanuel Mouret ("L'art d'aimer") is the besotted sad sack we are rooting for...
  • Julie Gayet ("L'art de séduirer") is a sort of Scheherezade telling a story that bedazzles, bewitches and delays....
  • Michael Cohen ("Rebirth") just tries to keep it real...
Interspersed with snippets from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and well-known classical bits of Shubert, there is humor to spare and plenty of people to like. Quotes like: "How can I hope for world peace with immoral women like me in it?" and "Maybe it's people like me who stop civilizations from growing in harmony." We know these are good people if they can think thoughts as fine as these!

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Here is a link to a trailer:
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