This is 40

So this is what happens AFTER the "Happily Ever After." It's by Judd Apatow, so we know it will be an R-rated comedy and probably feature some of his repertory gang. It will be anatomical and will feature the dilemmas of adulthood (now that Apatow is an adult). Furthermore, it will center around a relationship in a marriage that has endured for over 10 years (like Apatow's).

Yup, here they are:
  • Paul Rudd ("The Perks of Being a Wallflower") Apatow LOVES this guy and uses him all the time...for good reason. Rudd is capable, funny and easy on the eye. Pete is suffering just a bit from the dreaded dailiness of a stable marriage.
  • Leslie Mann ("17 Again") Mom (Debby) is played by Mrs. Apatow, but before you are too critical of nepotism, please note that she is really attractive AND talented! In fact, this is a perfect showcase for her camera-friendly looks and her adept, straightforward acting.
  • Jason Segel ("Bad Teacher") is Debby's personal trainer.
  • Megan Fox ("Friends With Kids") works in Debby's boutique and has a little side business as well.
  • Melissa McCarthy ("Identity Thief") would have stolen this movie if she had been given any more scenes. She's the irate mother of a teenager.
  • Maude Apatow ("Funny People") is a big surprise. She plays Pete and Debby's teenage daughter and Maude is by now, an accom- plished actress. (She's been in a couple of her dad's movies.) This talented apple didn't fall very far from the tree.
Of course we see issues with parents that color the relationships our characters have with each other. And we see some hide-your-eyes shots of mammograms, pelvic and prostate exams, and other things best left off the screen.

A couple of sub-plots were necessary to fill out the story, but this looks like an honest depiction of an intelligent marriage, warts and all. I was not transported with gales of laughter, but I DID laugh.
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Les Misérables

"Do You Hear the People Sing?" Yes, we do! And the Oscar buzz has become a roar, with American Anne Hathaway's name on the tip of everyone's tongue! British director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech") takes a legendary story and brings the (stage) musical version to the screen for the first time. He has a massive cast of talented performers and neither time nor space allow me to dwell on more than a few. Let me warn you however: if you don't like musicals, there are only one or two words actually spoken, everything else is sung.

The battles in this PG-13 story are no more than minor skirmishes in the all-over scheme of the French Revolution, but the fatalities are just as dead, nonetheless.

A couple of doughty actors from Down Under head this cast:
  • Hugh Jackman ("Real Steel") is Jean Valjean, the fellow who stole a loaf of bread for his starving little sister and as a result, spent many years behind bars. (Victor Hugo, like his contemporary Charles Dickens, born 10 years later, was a social reformer.) Mr. Jackman has been embraced by the Broadway crowd and is an established musical star. When he rescues little Cosette from the rapacious couple who have been her caretakers, he sings "Suddenly," the only original song written for this movie.
  • Russell Crowe ("A Beautiful Mind") is Javert, the steadfast policeman determined to uphold the law after Valjean breaks parole. Until recently Mr. Crowe had his own musical group, "30 Odd Foot of Grunts" with which he performed when not acting or living on his cattle station in the Outback. Usually Javert is played by a powerful baritone and although Crowe gives it his all, this just isn't his type of music.
  • Anne Hathaway ("The Dark Knight Rises") is Fantine, the desperate woman who sells her hair to wig-makers in order to feed her daughter Cosette. We've never known Ms. Hathaway to sing professionally before, but she doesn't embarrass herself; "I Dreamed a Dream" is filmed "live" and is heartfelt and personal.
  • Samantha Barks ("Les Misérables in Concert: the 25th Anniversary") is the adult version of Éponine, the heartbreakingly loyal young woman who loves the rebel Marius. It is immediately obvious that Barks is a stage-trained musical performer however her death-scene "A Little Fall of Rain" is poignant but almost whispered.
  • Amanda Seyfreid ("Gone") is the young adult Cosette, taken under Jean Valjean's powerful wing with no hint remaining of her mother's sacrifice. Seyfreid was formerly in "Mamma Mia!" Enough said about her.
  • Eddie Redmayne ("My Week With Marilyn") is the rebel Marius, who is head-over-heels in love with Cosette. Redmayne's work has been (mostly) with BBC-type miniseries ("The Pillars of the Earth" and "Tess of the D'Urbervilles") but no musicals. He sings "Red and Black," remember that one?
  • Colm Wilkinson ("Evita" on stage) is the priest who saves Valjean when he steals the silver at the beginning, and he is there to usher him into Heaven at the end. I loved this perfect touch, as he was the ultimate Jean Valjean on stage. I have the DVD of the 25th Anniversary Concert and he is thrilling! I'm glad they asked him to appear here.
This story covers a generation and has so many layers you may be tempted to see it again just to master the wonderful plot. Unless, of course, you read Victor Hugo's book, first published in 1862. I know I did...about a century later...smile...

I'm sorry the production design people chose to ramp up the disgusting bits and the fright wigs. There really is no need for this over-the-top assault, the story can stand on its own without sensationalism. Tsk, tsk....

FOOTNOTE: Hathaway DID win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role.
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Here is a link to a preview so you can see what the buzz is all about:
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Bagdad Cafe

This unpredictable PG-rated comedy begins with a stout German couple making a "pit stop" in the middle of the Mojave desert. Before the scene ends, he has deserted her, leaving her there in a wool suit and indoor shoes, with a suitcase and a long dusty highway stretched out ahead.

Now we switch to the frazzled proprietor of a gas station/motel/diner who is reminded again that her worthless husband is just that: Worthless! This gal is perpetually provoked; by her forgetful husband, her piano-playing son, and her popular (with the boys) teenage daughter.

When our overheated frau trudges into the motel office, our story begins.

We see:
  • Marianne Sägebrecht (Lots of German TV) is Jasmin, scrupulously tidy, extremely polite and at her wit's end. She has traveler's checks, so she can pay for her room...but her husband left her with HIS suitcase, not hers, so she has no clothes after all.
  • CCH Pounder ("NCIS: New Orleans") is Brenda, taxed beyond bearing by all who surround her. She is exasperated, furious and sad. She thinks her son's piano playing "sounds like a sewing machine!" Watch when Jasmin cleans up her motel office without permission!
  • Jack Palance ("City Slickers") Rudy is a retired Hollywood set decorator. He lives in a nearby travel trailer and dabbles in oils as a hobby; he won't rest until he paints Jasmin.
When Brenda discovers unexplained menswear in Jasmin's room, she leaves her vacuum cleaner and rushes to the office to call the Sheriff. He can't find any reason to arrest Jasmin, so leaves her there, to Brenda's dismay.

You will watch Jasmin teach herself to do magic tricks (there was a box with instructions in her husband's suitcase); you will enjoy the evolution of her portraits by Rudy; and you will worry when Jasmin's tourist visa runs out.

Expect some mild nudity, no profanity, no gunshots, no vehicular mayhem and no blowie uppie stuff; you'll see subtle comedy, warm humanity and just plain fun! I'm sad to say there are no closed captions, so be warned...
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No trailer (except on the DVD), sorry.
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Beasts of the Southern Wild

There was something about the publicity for this film that convinced me that I really would NOT like to see it. Then all the endorsements started: raves from critics, professionals and even friends, so I yielded and ordered the DVD from the city library.

This is about six-year-old Hushpuppy confronted by global warming, a terminally ill father and the dangers of a marginal existence in the Louisiana bayous.

Now don't let me dissuade you if you want to watch a feral child:
  • co-exist near her father (who is clearly a drunken nut case, e.g., he goes out and shoots his rifle at a hurricane and comes back puffed up with pride for his actions);
  • heat her food on a gas burner which she lights with a welding torch (and burns down her mobile home);
  • evade her father when he becomes abusive;
  • refuse to evacuate when a hurricane is forecast;
  • live in a muddy, filthy, primitive environment where most of the adults are chronically drunk;
...then by all means, rent the DVD and help yourself.

This child attends a little school in which she learns about the prehistoric aurochs which had once roamed the planet. Of course when she imagines them, they are a gigantic blend of reality and myth: wild hogs with horns, which are much, much taller than she. She provides the voiceover, repeating her own childish interpretation of lessons learned in the classroom, from rumor, and courtesy of wise elderly folk.

The performance drawn from the little girl who plays the lead is remark- able, but the environment is so repugnant, I had trouble watching. I'm not sure the purpose of this film...maybe so we could feel superior and all-knowing? Maybe so we could feel sorry for her? (She wouldn't want THAT!) Maybe to sell us a ticket to a movie theater? There were no lessons to be learned, no beauty to be appreciated and no wisdom to be shared. In my opinion: YUCK!

I'm glad there is no charge to obtain a DVD from our library.

This should generate a lot of blow-back from my JayFlix.net group. ...smile...
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Take a peek at the preview:
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Jack Reacher

During a recent coast-to-coast flight, I read my first book by Lee Child ("Jack Reacher: One Shot") and was pleasantly surprised (my reading is usually non-fiction these days). Of course I smiled when I realized that Tom Cruise would be playing a 6'5" former military investigator, but he plays TALL! As is always the case, two characters were melded into one, two characters disappeared altogether and I was surprised by the dump trucks, but the movie is (almost) as diverting as the book.

In this PG-13 action-filled thriller, a sniper kills five people and escapes. Based on forensic evidence at the scene, police track down the shooter, arrest him and obtain a signed confession in record time. Problem is, he says "Get Jack Reacher" right after he signs his confession. No one has heard of the guy.

Let's take a look at this cast:
  • Tom Cruise ("Mission Impossible") is our eponymous anti-hero, a loner, very smart, a man who is arrested only when he wants to be; but he's beginning to think this case looks a little too perfect.
  • Rosamund Pike ("The Big Year") is a newly graduated attorney who has taken a hopeless case that appears to be open and shut. She just wants to keep him off Death Row.
  • Richard Jenkins ("Liberal Arts") is the District Attorney whose daughter has taken this case over his objections; he intends to wrap it up right away.
  • David Oyelowo ("The Help") is the Police Commissioner who is only too happy to close a case this quickly...and with incontrovertible evidence. (His name is pronounced "O-Yellow.")
  • Alexia Fast ("Blackbird") is the sweetie sent to seduce our skeptical hero.
  • Joseph Sikora ("Safe") is the trained military sniper accused of shooting five random victims. 
  • Lee Childs (Author) is the Desk Sergeant; a sharp-eyed JayFlix person spotted him making his debut cameo appearance.
The tag line is "Six shots. Five dead." So expect wit, fisticuffs, cold- blooded brutality, vehicular mayhem and lots of gunfire but no blowie uppie stuff or sweaty bodies. In other words, this is a movie made for a target audience who wants action and entertainment. And that's what we get!
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Here's what Lee Child has to say about Cruise playing Reacher:
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Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away

Talk about Systems Overload. And in 3D!

This G-rated fantasy can save you a fortune in tickets because it has excerpts from five or six spectacular Las Vegas shows, and you know how much THEY cost! Among them we see selections that feature Beatles music, Elvis music, a water ballet, and some extremely athletic work that looks like it's drawn from a Chinese opera (or at least like the one I saw at the opera house here in Seattle).

This show features a flimsy plot built around a sweet attraction between a lovely young French-looking woman (Erica Linz) and a strapping young fellow (Igor Zaripov) who looks Russian.

You can expect:
  • Astonishing aerial work (I expected applause like Seattle's Teatro Zinzanni);
  • Cleverly choreographed synchronized swimming (a salute to Esther Williams);
  • An engaging little tricycle that leads our heroine from place to place;
  • Rubber-boned gymnasts (you have to see them to believe them);
  • Athletic martial arts (Jackie Chan trained in Chinese opera as a child);
  • Gigantic crustaceans and centipedes in a menacing dance;
  • A Spiderman-themed bit on trampolines;
  • Mind-boggling special effects with flowing curtains and streaming sand;
  • A lovely aerial pas de deux for the finale.
This is a visual feast with unbelievable athletes in outrageous costumes showing us their amazing stuff. Not much plot, but we don't go to Cirque du Soleil for plots! We go to be dazzled and we are! This one is almost worth the extra for the 3D.

It's comforting to see all the safety lines on the amazing rigging for these shows. This would mean full employment for every theatrical rigger in Las Vegas. Many of you watch the spectacle; I watch the logistics. Wow!
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Here is a link to a preview:
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The Guilt Trip

Road Trip/Guilt Trip.  Hmmm.... Are we talking about some kind of mother here? Actually it was a lengthy product placement ad for GAP, M&Ms, Costco, and K-Mart among other brands, but who's counting? Mom thinks her son should be married, he thinks she should start dating again. One thing leads to another and he ends up inviting her to join him on a trip across the country.

Our hero is a scientist who has developed an ecologically pure cleaning product. Problem is, he is a scientist, not a promoter, so he has set out on a coast-to-coast road trip in a last-ditch effort to meet various buyers for chain stores. What HE finds exciting, his would-be buyers find boring, so he's not doing very well. In the meantime, his mother is a parody of a stereotype, which becomes very wearisome very quickly; it's no wonder he won't take her advice.

We watch:
  • Seth Rogan ("50/50") is our inventor about to attempt a chance of a lifetime. All of his savings and inheritance are at stake here.
  • Barbra Streisand ("Little Fockers") is a house-bound "woman of a certain age" who jumps at the chance to join her son in a cross-country road trip. It's far more liberating than she expects.
  • Brett Cullen ("Red Dawn") is the dashing executive who provides table-side moral support to our gal as she tries to eat a four- pound steak (so it's free) in Texas.
This is a road picture that has funny moments or it is a comedy about a road trip, either way, we were mildly amused, but that's about it. The stereotypical Jewish mother is waaay overdone and when her exas- perated son finally yells at her to "Shut UP!" we couldn't help but agree.  ...sigh...

By the way, don't be in a rush to exit the theatre, most of the fun was in the outtakes during the final credits.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Any Day Now

This one blind-sided many of the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival audience members. Our SIFF program description was cogent, but many of us jumped to unwarranted conclusions. (This was first reviewed in June, 2012.)

Suffice it to say, this poignant drama is brilliantly acted and the script perfectly captures the dilemma of gays who wanted to adopt children back "in the day..." We see a female impersonator who lives across the hall from a drug addict. When she is arrested, he steps in and shelters her teenage son, who has Down's Syndrome. Thus begins our story....

We see:
  • Alan Cumming ("Burlesque"), who gets to display his entertainer chops in this perfectly suited role. His character has met a lawyer who happens to work in the District Attorney's office, so when Child Protection Services takes away the boy, our hero needs help and that's who he calls.
  • Garret Dillahunt ("Killing Them Softly") is our closeted lawyer. After he successfully sues for custody, he and the impersonator become so deeply involved in the boy's life they create their own family.
  • Isaac Leyva (in his first movie role) is the boy who is central to this story. His would-be dads get him glasses, help him with his schoolwork, take him Trick or Treating, and generally give him the home he's never had.
  • Chris Mulkey (Lots of TV) is the District Attorney who realizes one of his lawyers is in the closet, so he promptly fires him!
  • Frances Fisher ("Jolene") is the judge who conducts the custody hearing.
This one is involving, interesting, unpredictable, and from a clothing standpoint, a trip down the Memory Lane of Men's Fashions. ...smile...
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Hyde Park on Hudson

It's a pretty sad commentary when I find the highlight of a film is whether or not the King of England will have the courage to take that first bite of an American hot dog. We are in 1939, Roosevelt is America's long-time President and Bertie is England's new king (his brother recently abdicated to "...marry the woman I love..."). The king and queen have come to seek support from America in their struggle against Nazi Germany.

A sixth cousin of FDR becomes embroiled in the presidential household because she and her widowed aunt live near the president's mother in upstate New York; he takes a shine to her while on vacation from the White House. This movie is based on a suitcase filled with thousands of intimate pictures and correspondence found under her bed after she died in 1991. She was a few months shy of 100 years old.

This is a great cast but I couldn't make out what they were saying:
  • Bill Murray ("Moonrise Kindom") is FDR, cigarette holder at a jaunty angle, trusting the media to suppress any mention of his polio, his paralyzed legs or his proclivity for women who are not his wife.
  • Laura Linney ("The Details") is Daisy, that aforementioned cousin, born Margaret Suckley. This is strictly an unglamorous role with no makeup, no brassiere, dowdy shoes and shapeless clothes. Daisy is sweet, naïve, and a most unlikely addition to FDR's harem.
  • Samuel West ("Notting Hill") is Bertie, played last year by Colin Firth in "The King's Speech." This is a sympathetic role and West does it very well.
  • Olivia Colman ("The Iron Lady") is Elizabeth, shocked by the provincial attitudes they encounter in "The Colonies," certain that Americans hate them and dreading that notorious hot dog...But the Queen Mum's good manners prevail!
I would be remiss, if I didn't mention the photography and production design. Some of the locations are remarkable, particularly a truly impressive field of clover in full bloom and a bucolic drive in the countryside. The vintage cars, clothes and manners are impeccably reproduced, along with FDR's relationship with the obedient press, who would await his permission before taking any photos. Daisy herself took one of the rare pictures of him in his wheelchair.

A caveat however: if you have even slight hearing problems, attend a theater with Closed Captions or wait for the DVD so you can play it with subtitles. I know there was humor because a couple of the people in the packed theater chortled. ...sigh...
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears

"Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears" has been around since it won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1981. I ordered my copy from Kino Video, a New York company that specializes in restoration and distribution of old films, foreign films, and art films. If you see this as one of the available titles in your rental listings, I highly recommend it.

You will be treated to a story of three young Russian women who have come to Moscow to seek their fortunes. Each has her own distinctive personality and a game plan for her own future. They are roommates in a dormitory, they work, study and meet prospective mates. Each takes a totally separate path, each with varying degrees of success.

One is quite the conniver and because of one of her more complicated schemes, two of them take irrevocable detours in their plans. The conniver is almost the comic relief, as she never changes and, because this movie is character driven, you will smile to see her, years later, still in there swinging, no matter what difficulties life has thrown her way.

The joy of this movie is watching 20 years pass; admiring the skill of the actors who age appropriately, with visible changes in how they walk, stand and sit, what they wear, their hair styles, etc. The men grow bald, the women gain weight, children are born, hopes are dashed, com- promises are made, in general, life has happened. This is life in Russia: the housing, the food, the clothing, the factories, the trains and the subways. Because you will not recognize one face, you will be con- vinced that you are seeing that person...in real life! No one has a new dress for each situation. You are seeing REAL life.

You become deeply involved in one woman's life and you cheer her from the sidelines; the way she has struggled for some degree of success; the way she has raised her child; her attempts to have relationships; all the time maintaining her friendship with the other two women who are living out their own choices. One with a "country boy" and the conniver with a hockey star. Ironically, the most successful one suddenly discovers that her success has become a liability...therein lies the last quarter of the film.

This was recommended by my Swedish friend and I am very grateful to him. I know some of you have already seen this, but I very much enjoyed a second viewing after my own DVD arrived. You might too...

Great English captions; no blowie uppie stuff....

This review was first published April 11, 2007.


Price Check

I'll bet you never wondered what goes on behind the scenes in your local supermarket: why items are placed where they are, what equipment is used for the checkers, when specials are planned and how careers are made or ruined based on the success or failure of these decisions.

Screening audiences attending this 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from the USA will never wonder; we got to watch these corporate shenanigans in living color!

We saw:
  • Parker Posey ("Inside Out") is a recently hired dynamo brought in to re-energize this mid-size supermarket chain. Her take-no-prisoners style is immediately obvious when she fires a high-timer unjustly, simply so she can re-invest his significant salary on promotional material.
  • Eric Mabius (Lots of TV) is a frustrated music industry profes- sional, temporarily (he hopes) side-tracked into supermarket management. He is seduced by the siren song of success, with a salary increase and unexpected temptation. All his boss wants in return (she says) is his loyalty.
  • Annie Parisse ("The Amazing Spider-Man") is our hero's wife, proud of his work ethic and really proud of his promotion! She even might be willing to overlook a thing or two....
  • Cheyenne Jackson ("Lola Versus") is a man from that dynamo's past, who has nothing nice to say about her! He stands his ground with her though, which is more than most men.
  • Julia Bray (Lots of TV) is quite the surprise. Downtrodden, over- looked and derided, she suddenly finds her inner loyal employee and delivers a great motivational speech.
As a veteran of the corporate world, I felt the discussions around the planning table had a ring of authenticity, although the percent increase they are discussing sounds waaaay out of line for the grocery business! Safeway and Kroegers should be so lucky!
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Here is a link to a clip:
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Anna Karenina

It's time to revisit Leo Tolstoy's classic tragedy once more. We are in the late nineteenth century Russian high society, but this time Tom Stoppard ("Shakespeare in Love") did the script and his theatrical roots are evident from the first moment, as we watch a curtain rise to reveal a stage. From then on, we move from theater to house to theater to street, etc., etc... It is a bit disorienting at the beginning, but once we adjust our expectations, it works very, very well. The actors' movements are sometimes balletic, sometimes comedic and sometimes simply theatrical, but director Joe Wright ("Atonement") never loses control.

We see:
  • Keira Knightley ("Pride and Prejudice" 2005) is Princess Anna, sweet and unspoiled...but untested. She loves her son and never questions her wealth or doubts her position in society.
  • Jude Law ("Sherlock Holmes") is Prince Karenin, Anna's husband, a cool and distant man who has absolute trust in his wife.
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson ("Nowhere Boy") is Count Vronsky, the pretty nobleman who spots Anna and is determined to win her.
  • Kelly Macdonald ("Gosford Park") is Dolly, Anna's sister-in-law. She is such an open, loving woman, our hearts go out to her whenever she is on screen.
  • Matthew Macfadyen ("Death at a Funeral" 2007) is Oblonsky, Anna's brother. He provides the comic relief. It's a marvelous trick the way his minions change his jackets; we see it a number of times and it never fails to amuse.
  • Alicia Vikander ("A Royal Affair") is Kitty, the darling young woman who first falls for Count Vronsky.
  • David Wilmot ("The Guard") is Nikolai, Oblonsky's love-struck brother who adores Kitty from afar. Tolstoy uses this farmer to examine the pre-Bolshevek Revolutionary relationship between the peasants and the nobles.
This is a lush production with gorgeous costumes, amazing hair styles and a peek at the privileges enjoyed by the aristocracy. The Russians emulated the French, so the children were taught French, while the clothing and furniture echoed those of Paris.

This R-rated film runs over two hours and is filled with endless close-ups that examine Knightley's face, hands, hair, eyes, lips, etc. I saw more than I needed during the love scenes: I still think some things are best left to our imagination (saliva anyone?).
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Life of Pi

There are times I am out of step with popular trends: I was urged to read Yann Martel's enormously popular novel while it was on the best-seller list. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I did not like it, in fact I disliked it! To me, the story of an Indian boy who is shipwrecked, adrift with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger in a lifeboat is a bit much.

With the astonishing Ang Lee as the director ("The Wedding Banquet," "Sense and Sensibility," "Brokeback Mountain," "Hulk," and "The Ice Storm"), things started looking up. As you can see from a sampling of his work, this much-acclaimed artist never stays with one genre, never copies other filmmakers and never plays it safe. He rarely makes a PG film and I think this is his first 3D project. At this point, Ang Lee can take his place with James Cameron ("Avatar") and Martin Scorsese ("Hugo") as a director who understands the capabilities of 3D.

He did wonders with his cast:
  • Suraj Sharma (in his first film role!) is Pi, an adventurous, inquis- itive youngster. He has settled on being a vegetarian Hindu Muslim who embraces Catholic guilt, studies the Jewish Kabbalah, and wants to be baptized. He is convinced that religion is a big house with many rooms.
  • Irrfan Khan ("Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Amazing Spider- Man") is the adult Pi, who tells his spellbinding tale to a would-be author.
  • Rafe Spall ("Prometheus") is our incredulous listener, The Writer, who speaks for us as he expresses all the confusion, dismay and doubt that we in the audience naturally feel.
  • The tiger who plays Richard Parker is a seamless combination of real life and computer generated images. Brilliant!
3D is rarely used this well. The opening credit sequence that takes us through a small municipal zoo in India is a marvel, and the scenes in clear water are breathtaking: you can't tell water from air, so things seem to be floating above the earth. Kudos to Cinematographer Claudio Miranda for the dazzling effects! (We LOVED the flying fish!)

The continuity is consistently good: as time goes by in the lifeboat, our hero and our tiger are visibly thinner, the tiger's teeth become greenish and both of them have dry unhealthy hair. The shipwreck is tough to see, but we don't have to watch carnivores kill their lunch, and when Pi finally brains a fish, he weeps and apologizes to it. Don't bring toddlers, but from ten years old and up, I think a child can handle it.

In my opinion, this was much better than the book! (But I still hate the island! You'll see what I mean.)
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Rise of the Guardians

Animation by DreamWorks, voices by celebrities, familiar characters from our childhood, can this one miss? An evil spirit called "Pitch" comes to destroy the hopes, dreams and imaginations of the children on our earth, so the Immortal Guardians spring to their defense. A battle ensues.....

The children will see:
  • Jack Frost (Chris Pine) who has no memory of a childhood, a family or a past. He refuses to be Guardian because no one believes in him.
  • E. Aster Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman) is an Australian rabbit, complete with boomerang. "I'm NOT a kangaroo, Mate!"
  • North (Alec Baldwin) is a Slavic Santa with a core made of wide-eyed awe. "Now vee get down to zee tacks of brrrrrass!"
  • Tooth (Isla Fisher) is a darling fairy who starts to lose her ability to fly as fewer children believe in her. "Don't forget to floss!"
  • Pitch (Jude Law) is the Boogyman. He rounds up Nightmares to promote fear; he's tired of "hiding under beds and in closets!"
  • Little Boy (Stuart Allen) has an unshakable belief in the Easter Bunny. Animation was never better than during his scene in the bedroom with Jack Frost.
  • Little Girl (Isabella Blake-Thomas) slips down the rabbit hole by mistake. Her innocence inspires the Guardians.
  • Sandman is mute, so no voice artist is listed here. He's a mighty Guardian though!
These Guardians of our childhood can exist only so long as children believe in them. It is that belief that the forces of evil intend to attack.

Despite the PG rating, some of those "forces" seem dark indeed! The Nightmares are fearsome and seem to be carnivores. Maybe children are tougher than they used to be, but you'd better sit close! Some of the dialogue had the adults chuckling while it went right over the children's heads. For example, when all the Guardians dash around retrieving baby teeth from under pillows to help the Tooth Fairy, they forget to leave quarters. In the next scene they are at a coin changing machine in a laundromat. We laughed out loud!

Oh! I almost forgot: Happy ending, folks!
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Red Dawn

A recharged, re-energized, (and reee-diculous) PG-13 reprise of the 1984 star-making classic, this time with more, more, more (guns, blood and explosions)! We have a gang of Spokane, Washington high-school class- mates (The Wolverines) who take it upon themselves to save their country from a scourge of......North Koreans, who have the technical know-how to get past the US Navy, the US Air Force, the US Army and (some of) the US Marines. One of the teenagers has a big brother who is a Marine; he conducts a brief training class for this handful of fugitives, on guns, knives, martial arts, explosives and other survival skills. Yeah, riiight!

Opening shots feature news clips of President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton and familiar faces from the networks, all trying to placate an increasingly alarmed citizenry. This is supposed to provide authenticity.

These are the current players:
  • Chris Hemsworth ("Thor") in Patrick Swayze's old role of Jed, Marine military skills instructor and miracle worker.
  • Josh Hutcherson ("The Hunger Games") is the new C.Thomas Howell as Robert, the geek who understands electronics and becomes the explosives expert (Spoiler Alert! He drinks the blood).
  • Josh Peck ("Drillbit Taylor" but mostly voice work) has Charlie Sheen's old role: Matt, irresponsible, impulsive and rebellious.
  • Conner Cruise ("Seven Pounds") is Daryl, the role formerly played by Darren Dalton. Yes, Conner is Tom's son. His character has the most wrenching twist.
  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan ("The Courier") is one of the Marines who comes to the Wolverine's camp looking for help (!?!). This was formerly played by Powers Boothe.
  • Adrianne Palicki ("Elektra Lux" and lots of TV) has Jennifer Gray's old role of Toni.
  • Isabel Lucas ("Immortals") is the new Lea Thompson as Erica.
I could go on, but you get the idea. The less well-known the actor, the more likely he or she is to die early.

Expect endless scenes of urban warfare, with vehicular mayhem, fire- fights and blowie uppie stuff. The young men in the (target) audience were enthralled, the rest of us...not so much.

This is actually an argument against gun control: a well-armed populace doesn't take foreign domination laying down!
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Silver Linings Playbook

On temporary leave from a mental institution, our bi-polar hero is frantic to reconcile with his ex, but his parents, who have signed for custody and are on the hook for his behavior, are understandably worried. Partic- ularly when he seems to be interacting with a troubled young widow who is no more predictable than he.

In this engaging dramedy, we see a plot painted with broad strokes, but delivered by a cast capable of great skill and subtlety:
  • Bradley Cooper ("The Words") is Pat, absolutely convinced that only one "incident" caused his problem and it can easily be explained. Of course what he views as "normal" might be the issue here...that plus the restraining order his ex-wife has filed.
  • Jennifer Lawrence ("The Hunger Games") is Tiffany, a recent acquaintance with a questionable past, but it too, can easily be explained. She's still working her way toward "normal."
  • Robert De Niro ("Limitless") is Pat Sr., a cantankerous, con- trolling, obsessive compulsive, who wants to open a restaurant, but is willing to wager that his son won't let him down. From him we get a lot of insight into the family dynamics and what is considered "normal."
  • Jacki Weaver ("The Five-Year Engagement") is Delores, the long-suffering wife and mother of our two favorite odd-balls. Chaos is "normal" for her.
  • Anupam Kher ("Bend it Like Beckham") is Dr. Cliff Patel, our hero's therapist...  and a sports fan! He's still trying to define "normal."
  • Chris Tucker (the "Rush Hour" franchise) is Danny, escape artist par excellence! He met our hero in the mental institution; Danny may be crazy, but he's not dumb!
It is disconcerting to see a person deliberately refuse his medications, so I had a lot of misgivings about a movie that seems to endorse that be- havior. On the other hand, we could see that the OCD apple didn't fall very far from the tree. I can only say that our hero's mother deserves to have her ample chest covered with medals!

In this R-rated film, expect lots of profanity, a glimpse of (maybe) nudity, no sweaty bodies, no gunshots and no blowie uppie stuff (except tem- pers, e.g., watch our hero when he finishes Ernest Hemingway's A Fare- well to Arms!). Also expect to have people to root for, and an improbable bet that features a point spread.

Let me add that this movie includes the most memorable "lift" since "Dirty Dancing."
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Chasing Ice

This documentary from the USA about global warming was presented at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival (this review was first posted on June 5, 2012). It features intrepid National Geographic photographer James Balog, who has created an ingenious method for measuring climate change as it effects glaciers: 25 time-lapse cameras set up in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Montana. After some arduous treks into harsh remote areas, Balog and his stalwart team of assistants anchored the cameras, set the timers and went back to civilization.

They made beginners' mistakes: they had used faulty timers and had totally underestimated the violence of nature. Cameras were smashed by falling rocks and lens covers were sand blasted. After weeping bitter tears over their failures, they gamely redesigned their cameras and started again. This time they recovered remarkable visual records of the glaciers and their ever-changing size.

I had some problems with this beautifully shot film: It is alarmist to the point of absurdity. For example, it uses clips from Katrina and, what seemed to me, the recent Japanese tsunami, neither of which were related to global warming. I recognize why they would want to use artistic license to make a point, but at risk of losing credibility? Besides, they were preaching to the choir.

Balog's mission is to provide evidence of global warming. Okay.... Now what?

For an exciting and energizing version of this same issue which also includes clips about possible solutions, please find Bjørn Lomborg's upbeat 2010 documentary, "Cool It." This one introduces us to brilliant minds who are already addressing the problem and researching ways to mitigate it.

For absolutely spectacular photography, see "Chasing Ice." For ideas and solutions, see "Cool It."



M made a decision in the past that hurt someone? Yes, and that tough call complicates matters for MI6; even James Bond's loyalty is put to the test. However, with world class villains (and his own death) to contend with, there isn't a moment to reflect on her misdeeds.

Director Sam Mendes ("Revolutionary Road") is working for the first time with the Broccoli family, who has owned this Bond franchise for 50 years. There is no doubt Mendes knows exactly what the fans expect, he delivers non-stop action, wonderful reminders of past Bond films, lots of gunfire and fisticuffs, plus oodles of blowie uppie stuff!

We recognize the regulars, but watch for some new ones, too:
  • Daniel Craig ("Defiance") is back as Bond, resurrected from the dead and furious that M gave the order to shoot him (he heard her in his ear bud). Now he must cope with a damaged body that doesn't do quite what he wants.
  • Judi Dench ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") is still M, beleaguered, bedeviled and besieged. Of course, her quips are almost as funny as Bond's.
  • Ben Whishaw ("Cloud Atlas") is the callow youth who personifies this generation of technophiles. Yup, to Bond's dismay, this mop- headed geek is our new Q and we love him from the get-go!
  • Naomie Harris ("Mandala, Long Walk to Freedom") is Bond's sidekick in the opening scenes in Istanbul. Wait until you hear her last name!
  • Javier Barden ("Biutiful") seems to have SUCH fun playing villains; this flaxen-haired bad guy is almost as persistent as our hero; he just doesn't know when to quit! Revenge is a powerful motivator.
This popular franchise illustrates what we mean when we say "sensory overload." It isn't necessary to suspend disbelief in these things because we know as we walk in the door that we will be bombarded with PG-13 cartoony violence, hair's-breath escapes and quippy dialogue. It's what we want, it's what we pay for and it's what we get!

With this one, I confess I was shaken, not stirred.
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A Late Quartet

We know immediately that we are in the hands of skilled professionals: the camera work, the music, and the acting leave very little room for improvement. We open in the midst of a chamber music concert, as we watch four stringed instruments play Beethoven's Opus 131 in C-sharp Minor. This group of musicians has performed together for over 20 years, so it is a finely tuned instrument, tightly bound together by a common love of music and shared lives. As a result, anything that affects one, immediately reverberates through all.

In my opinion, the conflicts that arise in this R-rated drama are long overdue, so they aren't a surprise. In fact, seeing the top-notch acting wasn't a surprise either, given this cast.

Here are the principal players:
  • Christopher Walken ("Seven Psychopaths") is the cello player whose situation sparks the drama. We really appreciate how he copes with his news.
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Moneyball") is the second violin whose behavior sparks another drama; but he's really, really sorry!
  • Mark Ivanir ("Big Miracle" he was the Russian ship captain) is the first violin whose unrelenting precision has made this quartet the cohesive success it is today.
  • Catherine Keener ("Please Give") is plays the viola, lending its mellow voice and her strong but mellow personality to the group.
  • Imogene Poots ("Jane Eyre" 2011) is the daughter of two of our players and the lover of a third. Talk about rebellion!
I loved the snowy serenity of a wintry Central Park in New York City, the familiar lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other well-known locales. I also loved the rich helpings of classical music and an insider's view of the rivalry, egos, and jealousy that would be inevitable in such a long-standing association. In my own, rather biased experience (I played viola), I found it to be more fun to PLAY chamber music than LISTEN to it.

Expect some nudity and profanity, no gunshots, vehicular mayhem or blowie uppie stuff, lots of classical music and a slightly abrupt but poignant ending.
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Do you think political wheeling and dealing is a recent development? Think again! This peek into the sausage factory we call Washington D.C. makes crystal clear why it is vital for Abraham Lincoln to wrangle passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (which frees the slaves) BEFORE the Confederate States surrender, end the American Civil War and rejoin the Union.

The Republicans in the Senate have already passed it, so now it's up to the House to ratify it and send it to the President for his signature. The battle for votes is between the staunch Segregationists (the Democrats) and the Abolitionists (the Republicans), with three Stooges, ...er... three legislative "whips" who apply Republican pressure to achieve that critical two-thirds majority vote.

Even though we all know the 13th Amendment passed, it is still fascinating to see what kind of skulduggery was involved in its passage. (Did I mention sausage factory? C'mon, do we really want to SEE what goes into sausage?) Be warned, there are a LOT of speeches, but Lincoln keeps interjecting his little anecdotes and homilies, so that breaks things up as we go. And we see him apply pressure, authorize patronage jobs, and pay out-and-out bribes because he knows the world is watching. It's fun to realize that the telegraph is the e-mail of its time.

As to the cast, when Director Steven Spielberg makes a call, Hollywood answers. This is the most astonishing collection of A-List actors I have seen since the golden days of MGM:
  • Daniel Day-Lewis ("Nine") uses Lincoln's high voice and rare wit and there are times his makeup is excellent, however at other times he looks very, very tall but not consistently. I'm always fascinated by Day-Lewis's nose: when he faces south, his nose faces southwest.
  • David Strathairn ("Alphas") is Secretary of State William Seward, Lincoln's right-hand man: pragmatic, intelligent and loyal.
  • Tommy Lee Jones ("Hope Springs") portrays Representative Thaddeus Stevens, an uncompromising Abolitionist leading the Republican charge against slavery. He may have to modify his totalitarian views in order to get the necessary numbers on his side.
  • James Spader ("Boston Legal") has a great time bringing comic relief as one of the three lobbyist/connivers who will stoop to anything to help Lincoln pass that amendment.
  • John Hawkes ("The Sessions") is, as always, completely convincing as one of the three rascals who perches in the House of Representatives' gallery, tracking votes.
  • Tim Blake Nelson ("Big Miracle") is the third arm-twister, helping to bring pressure to bear for President Lincoln's ground-breaking 13th Amendment.
  • Jackie Earle Haley ("Dark Shadows") We see that Representative (from the South) Alexander Stephens has traveled north to end the war, but he is stunned to be stonewalled.
  • Lee Pace ("The Fall") finally has a role to fit his enormous talent: Representative Fernando Wood is an eloquent Democrat who makes several heart-felt pleas in support of slavery.
  • Jared Harris ("Mad Men") plays General Ulysses S. Grant, strategizing with the President to end this hellish war but only AFTER the amendment passes. Lincoln explains the legalities involved, he is, after all, a lawyer.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Premium Rush") is our hero's son Robert Todd Lincoln, who is determined to drop out of law school and enlist in the Union army; Mom and Dad don't agree.
  • Hal Holbrook ("Water For Elephants") is Francis Preston Blair (as in Blair House) who makes a trip down south to offer a truce.
  • David Oyelowo ("The Help") is an educated corporal in an all-black battalion fighting for the North...AND his freedom.
  • Sally Field ("The Amazing Spider-Man") is Mary Todd Lincoln, trying to cope with the death of a son and chronic depression.
  • Gloria Reuben ("Law & Order") is Elizabeth Keckley, a boon companion and loyal employee of Mary Todd Lincoln.
  • S. Epatha Merkerson ("Law & Order") plays Lydia Smith, who makes a surprise appearance right near the end.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. You will recognize face after face as battles are waged, both in the smoke-filled chambers of Congress and on the muddy Civil War battlefields. A lot of the legal "action" involves the intricacies of Roberts Rules of Order. The two-week delay during the struggle for passage of the amendment and the surrender of the Confederacy is a heart-breaker for Lincoln, because he knows Americans on both sides are dying every day.

By the way (Spoiler Alert!), despite Screenwriter Tony Kushner's best efforts, Lincoln's personal story does not have a happy ending. Maybe I should warn you....
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The Details

The Devil is in the details, right? This highly entertaining 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from the USA shows us how innocuous little events can accumulate until we see catastrophic results. Director Jacob Aaron Estes ("Mean Creek") shows a deft hand with black humor; he makes us laugh even as we cringe. This review was first released to a small group of people in June, 2012, so a few of you have seen this before.

We start with a successful Seattle pediatrician having his backyard sodded. The workmen leave and our hero and his wife rejoice in their lovely new lawn. When they get up in the morning they discover that a greedy raccoon, in quest of all those newly imported earthworms, has wreaked havoc out there. So begins our story....

The players:
  • Tobey Maguire ("Life of Pi") is the would-be raccoon killer. As he becomes more fixated on this duel to the death, his methods also escalate.
  • Elizabeth Banks ("The Hunger Games") is the baffled wife. She doesn't see the raccoon as such a major problem.
  • Laura Linney ("The Big C") is spectacular as a peculiar neighbor. She has lots of pets, a cluttered home and big hair. Her father died when she was a child and her mother explained, "Not all the doctors made A's in medical school."
  • Dennis Haysbert ("LUV") is a basketball-playing chum of our hero; he is burdened with bad kidneys and bad teeth.
  • Ray Liotta ("Killing Them Softly") is interested in a business partnership with our hero.
  • Kerry Washington ("Ray") is our hero's therapist...and trouble.
Our environmentally sensitive family drives a gas-sipping vehicle and recycles. They want to remodel their house but hit a bureaucratic road- block. That, plus the raccoon, starts our hero on a swift downward spiral.

This delightful dramedy was shot in Seattle, Kirkland and Redmond. You've gotta see it to believe it!
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Have you ever wondered if you really have to fasten your seat belt on an airliner? This film will leave NO doubt! We open with scenes that provide background for a subsequent, harrowing, plane crash. Director Robert Zemeckis ("Cast Away") knows how to set the stage.

After the astonishing but miraculous crash of an airliner, bits of distur- bing information begin to surface about the brilliant pilot whose amazing skills dazzled the experts. Was he drunk? Was that cocaine in his blood? Watch the attorney for the pilots' union as he tries to formulate our hero's defense.

Here is the high-flying cast:
  • Denzel Washington ("Safe House") This guy is clear about one thing: He is NOT an alcoholic! We see why flying is in his blood. He's a better pilot while impaired, than most other pilots at their very best. Yes, he's arrogant, but to quote Dizzy Dean, "If you can do it, it ain't braggin'.
  • Tamara Tunie ("Law & Order, SVU") Here we see a truly heroic flight attendant in action. Wow!
  • Don Cheadle ("The Guard") This is how attorneys strategize. We may not respect his methods, but even though we know better, we still root for the defendant, so we appreciate how this guy thinks.
  • John Goodman ("Argus") practically steals the show as a skilled purveyor of controlled substances and pharmaceuticals. His name is "on the list."
  • Kelly Reilly ("Sherlock Holmes") looks like a young Dianne Keaton in her portrayal of a down-on-her-luck sometime actress who tries to hold onto a few standards for herself.
  • Bruce Greenwood ("Super 8") is always a good utility man; this time he is our hero's last friend.
As a private pilot, I am unfamiliar with the instrument panel in an airliner, but I could certainly relate to issues as they came up. When the rudder, elevator and flaps malfunctioned, my heart was pounding along with everyone else's. Brace yourself for lots of nudity, profanity, drug use, and an extended, very effective scene with an airliner in distress. Whew!
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The Sessions

How do you lose your virginity if you have been confined to an iron lung most of your life? A couple of years ago, I had some lively discussions on this topic with one of my JayFlix friends, a health-care professional who was attending a young quadriplegic. Now this film-festival favorite addresses the question, only this man isn't paralyzed with no physical sensations, instead he is a polio survivor confined to an iron lung since childhood. Furthermore, he is a witty, well-educated and frustrated adult.

Based on the real-life story of Mark O'Brien (1949-1999), a Berkeley poet and journalist, he was the first severely disabled student to graduate from college, earning a bachelor's degree in 1982, and acceptance to a post graduate program. His inspiring story has been told once before in a documentary film, "Breathing Lessons," directed by Jessica Yu. It won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 1997. This version is written and directed by the acclaimed Ben Lewin, himself a polio survivor who requires crutches.

We watch:
  • John Hawkes ("Contagion") is brilliant as Mark O'Brien, who wryly tells his priest he wants to experience sex before his "Use-By date" expires. Hawkes is an amazing chameleon who transforms himself from film to film, each time I am stunned to discover who I have just watched. There is some well-deserved Oscar buzz about this film.
  • Helen Hunt ("As Good as it Gets") is Cheryl Cohen Greene, a professional therapist hired to provide basic instruction in human sexuality. Her therapy is bluntly anatomical and unembarrassed while at the same time, extremely sensitive and insightful. His responses are usually humorous and disarming. Hunt is fearless but convincing, and is beautifully naked a lot of the time.
  • William H. Macy ("The Lincoln Lawyer") is Father Brendon, our hero's priest, who fears he might have unleashed some major sinning by counseling his parishioner to "Go for it!" This priest spent his childhood on a farm, so his observations are very forthright and practical.
This film proves two points:
  1. Our biggest sex organ is between our ears;
  2. One of the most seductive things about another person may be an ability to make us laugh. O'Brien, when asked if he is religious, replies, "Of course I am! I've gotta have someone to blame!"
There are many happy spots in this inspiring piece and as we exited the theater, we were subdued but satisfied...smile....
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Cloud Atlas

They said this novel by David Mitchell could never be filmed, but the theme is simple: Everything is connected. Of course, these are the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix franchise) and this long-awaited film IS incredibly complicated... but simple: We follow a group of people whose reincarnated lives keep intersecting over the eons; in fact one observes "...when this Mortal Coil becomes a noose..."

This R-rated Sci Fi/Thriller/Romance/Comedy/Drama/Mystery/Actioner takes place in six different time periods and runs for 172 minutes (yes, almost three hours, that's why this review is so long). Each time period is fully realized and the story which unfolds for each era is fully developed. You will never be bored, you will rarely be confused and you will always be impressed. The Wachowskis are capable, confident filmmakers and Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") makes a third scriptwriter and director.

"Cloud Atlas" is a tone poem composed by one man and claimed by another; we see them both. Once we understand that, we can relax and play a game to see who can recognize each actor first. The makeup is brilliant, as a result some actors are really hard to spot! My Academy Award money goes on this gang for Art Direction and Makeup.

Here are some of the featured players:
  • Tom Hanks ("Larry Crowne") clearly relishes his chance to be a homicidal thug, an evil doctor, a gentle scientist, a book editor, a rough-hewn tattooed post-apocalyptic primitive, and a hotel clerk, even though it sometimes took a minute to realize that Mr. H was under that amazing makeup.
  • Halle Berry ("New Year's Eve") rarely masks her beauty. The camera loves her no matter which era she is in, with one major exception: her gnarly old Korean man had me completely fooled.
  • Jim Broadbent ("The Iron Lady") brings his comic chops to at least two of his roles: one is an arrogant composer and the other is a dishonest publisher. In four other eras, his makeup and acting were so good it took awhile to figure out who we were watching.
  • Hugo Weaving ("Captain America") seems to be drawn to das- tardly roles. No matter in which time period we spot him, he's still someone to avoid...including his Nurse Ratched, at the old folks' home.
  • Jim Sturgess ("One Day") plays seven roles, not six. One of his characters provides the nicest romance....
  • Keith David ("Highway") brings gravitas and stature to all four of his roles.
  • David Gyasi ("Red Tails") plays only three characters, but they are pivotal. One in particular, while a rifle is aimed at him, is almost unbearable.
  • Hugh Grant ("About a Boy") romps through his six reincarnations with great zest. His spooky ghoul had me fooled; I didn't recognize him until he was (deservedly) getting his throat cut!
  • Doona Bae ("As One") brings her porcelain beauty to a key role: a reluctant voice for future generations. She disappears into her other five, playing other races and other ages.
This is by no means all the important characters or actors. Suffice it to say, you have to pay attention, but you will be rewarded. To me, the fascinating episode with the cast of Asian look-alike women was the most chilling, although I was suitably incensed by the corporate skulduggery that we could tell had taken place in another one.

Expect profanity (Tom Hank's thug!), nudity, blood, racism, gunfire, shocking violence, a wild Star Wars-type ride on a two-seat jet ski that zips through a futuristic sky, swords, knives, tension, some drug use, lots of comedy and a little romance. Whew!
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Point Blank - 2010

"À bout portant" (English captions) is as exciting as any recent thriller on the screen today. I checked this one out from the city library and you can probably find it through your favorite provider. As we watch, we keep hoping it's predictable (with a happy ending) but there are so many variables, we never relax. There is something about seeing an amateur pulled into a life and death struggle against seasoned professionals that automatically sucks us in.

Writer/director Fred Cavayé ("The Next Three Days") skillfully lays the groundwork as we become involved with a hospital aide studying for his nursing certificate, whose much-adored wife is over seven months pregnant with their first child. Our hero is on duty watching a wounded man under police guard. The man has been stabbed and will require additional medical attention. As the hospital staff is distracted, someone goes in and cuts the respirator hose.

Before you know it, the aide's wife has been abducted and the aide is instructed to bring the patient out of the hospital or they will kill her. Whew!

We see:
  • Gilles Lellouche ("Tell No One") is our frantic hero, completely focused on saving his wife, no matter what. It's refreshing to see a man who loves his wife with no ironic undertones or sarcasm.
  • Roschdy Zem ("The Girl From Monaco") is that wounded patient, desperately in need of medical attention and at the mercy of his nurse/trainee. I am a huge fan of Mr. Zem and am impressed every time I see him.
  • Elena Anaya ("The Skin I Live In") is the frightened mother-to-be who had been ordered bed rest for the rest of her pregnancy. There is very little of THAT for her, so that's something else to worry about!
We have hosts of police personnel, many of whom we come to recog- nize, many hospital folks who find themselves in harm's way, plus lots of gunfire, fisticuffs and foot chases. I'm happy to report that very little requires us to suspend disbelief.

The trailer that has English subtitles requires you to log in, so I'm not including it here.


Alex Cross

Wow! Here's a shocker! A Tyler Perry film which he doesn't write, direct or produce. In this ultra violent, bloody PG-13 rated outing directed by Rob Cohen ("The Fast and the Furious"), Cross is a Detroit police detective hot on the heels of his arch nemesis, a highly skilled assassin who can penetrate the most secure locations and loves to inflict pain. It was immediately obvious to me that the screening audience was miles ahead of me on plot, characters, etc. Later I discovered why: Despite being a regular reader, I'm not a fan of the genre, so I have never read a James Patterson book, consequently I was NOT prepared for the violence, the brutality, or the torture. In fact, I spent a lot of time looking longingly for the EXIT sign.

Let's look at the cast:
  • Tyler Perry (the "Madea" franchise) is our title character, a happily married police detective with a wife, two children and a third one on the way. Would somebody please tell Mr. P. that his teeth have been whitened too much?
  • Edward Burns ("Man on a Ledge") is Tommy Cane, our hero's trusty sidekick.
  • Matthew Fox ("Lost") is Picasso, smart, lean, and very, very mean. Fox went on a strict diet and exercise regimen for this role.
  • Carmen Ejogo ("Away We Go") is our hero's lovely wife, not sure she wants him to take that promotion and move to D.C. She has her own career in Detroit.
  • Cicely Tyson ("The Help") is Nana Mama, always there to tend the children and dispense wisdom.
  • Jean Reno ("Margaret") is Leon Mercier, a financier who plans major developments to help restore Detroit to its former glory.
The film is shot in Detroit and I was fascinated by some of the sights. One of main scenes takes place in a parking garage located on the main floor of the huge, ornate, long-abandoned Michigan Theater. As the gun battle moves upstairs, we are first in the balcony, with a few dusty old seats still sitting there, then up on the catwalk, wondering who would fall to his death first.

It's interesting to notice what constitutes a PG-13 movie these days. I caught only a few swear words and there were scantily clad women but no nudity; on the other hand, we saw non-stop gunfights, torture, car chases, fisticuffs and blowie uppie stuff. I guess that's okay for the kids, huh?

According to James Patterson fans, this is a prequel to an Alex Cross series that takes place in Washington, D.C.; an earlier movie "Kiss The Girls" starred Morgan Freeman as Dr. Alex Cross. Based on the mixed reactions of the screening audience (some self-conscious snickers balanced by a spattering of applause at the end), I think they might hold out for Idris Elba next time....
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Blow Dry

Here's an old (2001) favorite. I won't admit how many times I've watched my DVD, but it's more than four, okay? Your library or some other DVD provider surely must carry something that's this much fun. In my humble opinion, it's an R-rated classic.

The British Hairdressing Finale is going to be held in the little backwater hamlet of Keighley and the mayor is soooo proud. Some of his citizens have had prior experience with this competition:
  • Alan Rickman ("Harry Potter") is a heartbroken man. He was a former hotshot hairdresser competing for the top prize, but now he runs a two-chair barbershop in the same little town as....
  • Natasha Richardson ("Evening"), his former wife. She too, was a finalist "back in the day." Now she runs a beauty shop with her lover....
  • Rachel Griffiths ("Six Feet Under") who had been our hero's hair model until she ran off with his wife during the hairdressing finals a few years back.
  • Josh Hartnett ("Singularity") is the son who stayed with his dad. He does some barbering but his main job is to style the hair of the corpses at the local mortuary.
  • Bill Nighy ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") is our hero's arch rival. He swans into town with his name practically engraved on the top prize. He is insulting, demeaning and overly confident.
  • Rachael Leigh Cook ("The Family Tree") is the daughter of that haughty rival, but she remembers a handsome boy from those competitions a few years ago. He looks mighty appealing....
  • Warren Clarke ("Pale Rider") is the mayor of little Keighley. Watch him evolve as the days pass. Clearly those hairdressers have an effect on him! Do NOT miss the final credits when he lipsynchs to Elvis Presley's "I Just Can't Help Believin'" (This time the girl is gonna stay...).
If you like British humor, you'll probably love this one. The contestants are waaay over the top and the hair styles are to die for! Be sure to spot Hugh Bonneville ("Downton Abbey") as a gay hairdresser. There is more to this than just jokes, though; it is heartwarming, and reminds me why I sorely miss the late Ms. Richardson (who died in a 2009 skiing accident).
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Seven Psychopaths

A murderous gangster's Shih Tzu? Kidnapped? Yup, this bloody R-rated romp is every bit as goofy and violent as it sounds. We see a dognapper return missing pets and collect the rewards while at the same time, help his roommate, an aspiring scriptwriter, with original plot points for his film about "Seven Psychopaths." But there is a notorious serial killer on the loose who only kills bad guys.

This big cast of capable actors includes:
  • Christopher Walken ("Undertaking Betty") who takes care of the dogs until they are returned for the rewards. He wears a cravat, wait until you learn why!
  • Sam Rockwell ("Moon") plays the central character and has never been better. I find this highly capable actor to be talented and watchable.
  • Tom Waits ("The Book of Eli") is a spooky guy who answers a classified ad seeking psychopaths. He certainly fills the bill.
  • Colin Farrell ("In Bruges") has never been more appealing than in this role. He is the struggling scriptwriter: handsome, incredulous, scared to death and often drunk.
  • Woody Harrelson ("The Hunger Games") continues to follow his specialized career path by playing yet another cruel bully. His character is a nasty piece of work and the only life he values is that of his little dog.
  • Zeljko Ivanek ("Argo") is the gangster's sidekick. His open- mouthed amazement is perfect when Walken orders him to "Shoot me!"
  • Gabourey Sidibe ("Tower Heist") is one of the disposable females whose only purpose is to show how heartless the men can be.
Make no mistake...this is absurd but violent. It's like a Cohen brothers' film where we laugh and feel bad about it, but keep right on laughing.

This film about writing a film is entertaining from the get-go, but you have to have a high tolerance for shocking scenes.
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The Paperboy

What happens when a reporter goes back to his hometown to look into an old crime for which a convicted murderer is already on death row? Expect a sweaty, repugnant, suspenseful thriller that features rape, sex, slogging through a swamp, raunchy dialog, rough trade in the gay world, alligator guts being ripped out and fed to the pigs, and a throat being cut. Plus... Not quite so traumatizing... LOTS of scenes with a nicely buffed Zac Efron in his whitey tighties.

  • Nichole Kidman ("Rabbit Hole") sporting an authentic Southern drawl, is Charlotte, the local slut who is attracted to prison pen pals.
  • John Cusack ("The Raven") is Hillary Van Wetter, the convicted killer, a vile disgusting excuse for humanity, but open to share Charlotte's charms.
  • Matthew McConaughey ("Killer Joe") is Ward Jansen, the journalist who has come "home" to look into a possible miscarriage of justice.
  • Zac Efron ("The Lucky One") is Jack, the hormonally charged young man who mostly watches the sordid scene unfold.
  • David Oyelowo ("The Help") is Yardley Acheman, a journalist who prizes being published over being truthful. Plus, it's very hard for a black English citizen to stomach the social attitudes of the late '60s American South.
  • Macy Gray ("For Colored Girls") is Anita, the housemaid who narrates the story.
This R-rated raunch-fest features waaay too much nudity, sex, violence, and profanity. This is exactly the sort of film I avoid and I want to warn you in advance. There is absolutely NO one to root for and the dialog is deucedly difficult to discern.

Writer Peter Dexter ("Mulholland Falls") is more repulsive than usual and producer/director Lee Daniels ("Precious") doesn't pull any punches. By the way, urine IS a recommended emergency treatment for jelly fish stings.

I LOATHED this one....
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Here Comes the Boom

Attention! Kevin James fans (and you are legion): this time he's a high- school biology teacher turned reluctant Mixed Martial Arts contestant in a frantic attempt to raise money for the music program in his financially strapped school. The lesson we take away is the value of perseverance, honesty and hard work.

We see:
  • Kevin James ("Zookeeper") is Scott Voss, a weary, uninspired high-school biology teacher. He was a college wrestler, but now just wants to put in his time. Oh yes, he also lusts after the school nurse. James seems to have successfully made the transition from TV's long-running The King of Queens to a movie career.
  • Salma Hayek ("Savages") is Bella Flores, the school nurse who insists that anyone who courts her shows respect and good manners. I love how she shoves that loudmouth MMA fan at the final bout! Hayek seems to alternate between light-hearted comedies and tough dramas.
  • Henry Winkler ("Royal Pains") is Marty Streb, the gentle music teacher who is devastated to learn that he will be unemployed when his music program is axed. Winkler is enjoying a full, rich actor's life, despite his iconic role years ago as The Fonz.
  • Greg Germann ("Ally McBeal" and lots of TV) is Mr. Belcher, the high-school principal who decides to discontinue the music pro- gram but keep the football team. Germann seems to specialize in characters who are morally compromised.
  • Gary Valentine ("Paul Blart: Mall Cop") is Marty Voss, our hero's brother. His passion is cooking, despite evidence to the contrary.... Mr. Valentine is a stand-up comic who has appeared in a number of Kevin James' projects; they're brothers, so it makes sense.
  • Reggie Lee ("Safe") is Mr. De La Cruz, the father of a high-school musician. He has a restaurant to run and wants his daughter to help. This is a nice change of pace for Mr. Lee: he often plays cold-blooded Asian killers!
  • Joe Rogan is a Mixed Martial Arts commentator and a stand-up comic who holds black belts and other achievements in martial arts, including a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is one of many MMA competitors who appear in this movie.
To me, this film was notable for a couple of moments: 1) During an American studies evening class for immigrants studying for their citizenship, our hero pauses to allow the AA group in an adjacent classroom to complete their prayer; 2) Before his bout, our four guys form a circle, join hands and have a moment of silence. Both of these moments are unusual in their consideration for religious beliefs. I'm not a religious person, but I found on-screen respect for those who are, to be refreshing.

Despite the brutality of MMA bouts, our hero is a decent, kind and mildly selfish fellow, who matures as he embraces a purpose larger than himself. Not a bad thing.... (Spoiler Alert!) We get to enjoy a nice goose- bumpy clichéd happy ending!
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Ben Affleck's reputation as a director continues to rise. This time he has tackled a story based on an amazing true event: The audacious rescue of six Americans who found shelter in the Tehran home of the Canadian Ambassador at the height of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. An out- rageous scheme involving a fake movie with a fake Canadian crew sent to scout fake locations for a fake sci-fi film, "Argo," was cooked up by a CIA disguise and exfiltration specialist, who, by the way, served as a real-life consultant on this R-rated thriller.

These guys make this a nail-biter:
  • Ben Affleck ("The Town") is Tony Mendez, the actual hero of this outlandish story, so unbelievable it has to be true. Affleck almost overdoes the way he underplays his role.
  • Bryan Cranston ("Drive") is Jack O'Donnell, the profane boss back at Langley, trying to bridge the divide between the needs of his agent in the field and the incredulity of his superior officers.
  • Alan Arkin ("City Island") is Lester Siegel, a product of Hollywood: caustic wit, jaundiced world-view, and a world-class BS artist.
  • John Goodman ("The Artist") is make-up expert John Chambers, ever the sarcastic conniver, he is Mendez's link to the make- believe world that is essential to the success of this haywire idea.
  • Victor Garber (LOTS of TV) is Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor who, along with his courageous wife, shelters these terrified refugees week after week. You may be sure the American press remembered to thank Canada for this one!
The cast is full of familiar faces, but the six hostages look distractingly real. Director Affleck's flawless blend of newsreel footage, video clips and staged riots make for a white-knuckle experience. Our exhausted screening audience applauded the end, but stayed for the VERY welcome postscripts about the participants.

This is an excellent film based on a painful time in the recent past that many of us remember very, very well. I found the rioting populace to be particularly upsetting. To me, any gathering of fifty or more people is only half-a-zealot away from being a mob, so Affleck had me right where he wanted me! This one is confidently directed and capably acted; who could ask for anything more!

I hope we hear more about this one when it's time for 2012 Academy Award nominations.
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Pitch Perfect

First I'd like to say I'm a big fan of a cappella music, I love close vocal harmonies and am a long-time admirer of good choreography.  I have followed The Nylons, The House Jacks and Straight, No Chaser for years. This means I went into this one with high expectations. The samples I saw of the competitors were encouraging, the choreography looked inventive and the energy was high.

Why was I disappointed? The choreography for our principals was limited mainly to arms and shoulders, the harmonies were badly lip synched and I object to racial and sexual stereotyping punctuated by on-screen vomiting. Yes, that's what I said. Vomiting. Gallons of disgusting chunky liquid spewing everywhere. And that's the comedy part ...I think....

Nope, this messy regurgitation is NOT "Glee" on the big screen:
  • Anna Kendrick ("50/50") is a rebellious college freshman, anxious to be a professional DJ, much to the dismay of her wealthy father. He intends to hold his support hostage to her obedience.
  • Brittany Snow ("96 Minutes") is the control freak who runs the girls' a cappella group. She's out of fresh ideas but is unable to relinquish her baton. Her unconvincing change of heart is a letdown.
  • Skylar Astin ("Love Written in Blood") is a freshman who spotted our heroine from his taxi on the first day of school; but because of her father's divorce and remarriage, she doesn't trust anyone!
  • Rebel Wilson ("Bridesmaids") is the comic relief because fat is funny! Just ask anyone in Hollywood.
  • Elizabeth Banks ("The Hunger Games") is exploring her inner comedienne again, this time as an on-air commentator, sharing the screen with JMH (see below) as they evaluate the a cappella competition. In college she sang with the Minstrel Cycles (more comedy...sigh...).
  • John Michael Higgins ("We Bought A Zoo") is, once again, willing to play a misogynistic loud mouth who sees only the male groups as serious competitors because girls can't sing bass.
Because of those two great commentators, this came thisclose to being fun. Aarghhh!
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Wuthering Heights

Those three Brontë sisters certainly knew about religious hypocrisy and alcoholism. To judge by their output, those issues hung heavy on their poor heads. Just look at their work:
  • Emily - Wuthering Heights;
  • Charlotte - Jane Eyre;
  • Anne - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
Not one of these is exactly sunshine and lollipops, is it!

This new version written and directed by Andrea Arnold is unrelentingly gloomy with intermittent shocks (killing a sheep in living color, snapping a snared rabbit's neck, hanging a couple of dogs and leaving them strug- gling) mingled with senseless scenes that started for no reason, went nowhere, and then stopped.

If I hadn't read the book, I think I would have been utterly bewildered; as it was, I was just angry. We spent most of the movie on the first third of the book in which we saw Heathcliff as a boy from...maybe the Carib- bean? Cathy is still a brainless self-centered vamp, but she is still just as obsessed with Heathcliff as he with her.

I did NOT like:
  • The dim, hazy production,
  • The unrelenting cruelty,
  • The herky jerky hand-held camera work,
  • The indictment of those villainous Christians,
  • The rainy muddy production,
  • The occasional lag which would prompt bucolic interludes with moths, butterflies, birds, dogs and horses.
Yes, I'm aware that this entry to the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival from the UK, is an artistic work that has won numerous technical awards, but it certainly withered our hearts! (This review was first posted on June 4th, 2012.)
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Take a look at the trailer:
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Taken 2

Remember in "Taken" when Neeson's retired CIA agent rescued his daughter from Albanian white slavers? Well, they're still mad... A father lost six sons and seeks revenge, so he's coming after our hero!

Once again, Liam Neeson is an unlikely action star in this crime drama and once again you will be required to suspend disbelief (and a few laws of physics!) to enjoy it. You'll see non-stop action and will spend each and every one of the 91 minutes running time (...smile...) perched on the edge of your seat as our hero dashes along the grimy hallways, twisting alleyways and crowded souks of Istanbul.

Here are the usual suspects:
  • Liam Neeson ("The Grey") as Bryan Mills, that unstoppable (and SMART!), ex-CIA fellow. We get to see and hear how he thinks and plans. He uses his wits every second of every minute and never loses his cool.
  • Famke Janssen (the ''X-Men" franchise) is Lenore, the ex-wife dealing with a failing second marriage. Maybe she'll accept Bryan's invitation for a nice restful trip to Istanbul.
  • Maggie Grace ("Lockout") is Kim, the daughter who was rescued last time. Now she has failed her driver's test and is dating some guy Dad doesn't like. When the chips are down, though, this apple didn't fall very far from the tree!
  • Rade Serbedzija ("Batman Begins") is the paterfamilias who lost so many sons. Now he stands to lose a few more....
Here is a sample of dialogue (they have just commandeered a cab):
  • Dad Bryan: "DRIVE!"
  • Daughter Kim: "I can't!"
  • Dad: "Can you shoot?"
  • Kim: "No..."
  • Dad: "Then DRIVE!"
Expect over-the-top vehicular mayhem, fisticuffs, gunfire and some blowie uppie stuff. This is PG-13, so I don't recall any profanity and I'm happy to report that torture is only implied. Whew!
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Won't Back Down

Scandalously poor results have caused American schools to become a battleground: Parents are understandably alarmed, educators are besieged, unions are angry and students are caught in the middle. Clearly something needs to change, so when a grassroots effort to make a change begins at a Pittsburgh grade school, all of the reactions are exactly as expected.

Two determined women, both of them mothers of special needs children, take the lead; one is a frustrated teacher and the other a single mother working two jobs to make ends meet. As obstructions to their efforts are launched by the powerful teachers' union, they take their battle to the streets, enlisting parents, children and community leaders. Each has a personal price to pay.

 We see:
  • Viola Davis ("The Help") is a gifted teacher who has been worn down by years of frustration. Her marriage, her son and her job are all in jeopardy.
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal ("Hysteria") is the frantic mother of a dyslexic daughter. This character never walks: she either trots or sprints wherever she goes. She is the spark plug who initiates the notion of an independent school, one which focuses on the students, not the teachers.
  • Rosie Perez (Lots of TV) is a teacher who is angry to think she might lose the security of the union.
  • Holly Hunter ("Saving Grace") is a union official who makes an offer too good to refuse.
  • Oscar Isaac ("The Bourne Legacy") is an involved music teacher who inspires his students and just wants to be left out of the controversy.
  • Ned Eisenberg ("Limitless") leads the teachers' union. He says the union WILL support the students...when the students pay union dues!
Not as scorching as the wonderful 2010 documentary "Waiting For Superman" but with a similar message; while the documentary focused on the problem from a macro perspective, this movie focuses on the micro: one single school. The script for this predictable PG-rated film delivers all the clichés, but is satisfying nonetheless. Yes, clichés work!
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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

What happens when a troubled introvert is "adopted" by a pair of extroverts? This PG-13 film deals with some real issues for adolescents: promiscuity, suicide, bullying, sudden death, homosexuality, drug use, mental illness and first love; all done with a deft touch, a bit of humor and some wry observations. Writer/producer/director Stephen Chbosky (you pronounce it!) wrote the screenplay based on his novel by the same name; clearly he is a young talent to watch!

Here are some of the excellent actors:
  • Logan Lerman (the "Percy Jackson" franchise) is Charlie, dealing with the recent death of a close friend and the accidental death of his favorite aunt when he was little. Our unfortunate hero is a brainy freshman who really does NOT fit in.
  • Emily Watson ("The Ballet Shoes") is Sam, the senior girl who "adopts" Charlie, simply because he is a misfit. She squandered her first year of high school and is trying to reinvent herself and get into college.
  • Ezra Miller ("City Island") is Patrick, the other half of the duo who sweeps our young hero into acceptance and confusion. Patrick's lively intellect masks a broken heart and a genuine concern for his friends.
  • Paul Rudd ("Wanderlust") is Mr. Anderson, the English teacher we all want in our schools. He can spot talent, but also under- stands if his students are reluctant to participate in classroom discussions.
I can't begin to list all of the capable actors in this piece; I can only say there isn't a weak performance. I must caution parents, however, that this is no "Percy Jackson." The subject matter is far more sophisticated than Logan Lerman's fans might expect; please re-read the first para- graph of my review.

Along with some real wit and Emily Watson [Hermione in "Harry Potter"] speaking American, you can expect very little profanity, no sweaty bodies, some drug use, and only allusions to the other issues. The young adults in the screening audience applauded this one!
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Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best

We start with a pair of bickering second-rate musicians playing a dreary venue with scarcely a handful of people in the audience. Their bickering escalates after their appearance and the partnership is dissolved. The depressed partner has a job he loathes in a real estate office and has to leave to play (dressed as a moose) for a little group of mentally chal- lenged youngsters. One of the boys attacks him with a knife and he hits the kid in the face, so he's fired. He also loses the real estate job.

Enter an enthusiastic misfit who has scheduled a tour for his band that also dissolved. He wants to team up with our depressed fellow, go on the tour, and be a professional musician. Awkward....

We see:
  • Ryan O'Nan ("Eat Pray Love") as the hangdog depressive who can only write sad songs because the love of his life dumped him. (O'Nan also wrote the screenplay and directed.)
  • Michael Weston ("Justified") is that ebullient oddball. He lives with his grandfather and owns an impressive array of children's musi- cal toys. Grandpa owns a vintage Jetta.
  • Arielle Kebbel ("Think Like a Man") is a promoter who offers to manage them despite a lame beginning.
  • Andrew McCarthy ("White Collar") is our hero's older brother, an upright family man who doesn't approve of his little brother's bohemian lifestyle.
This had all the trappings of predictability, but then it wasn't.

The energy level of the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience was waaaay up as we exited the theater...and that's a good thing! (This review was first posted on May 21, 2012.)


End of Watch

Cop show? Yup... Clichés? Sorta... Foreshadowing? Definitely! Problem is trying to figure out when to cover one's eyes. Some audience members wanted to cover their ears because of the constant barrage of F-words, others because of the constant barrage of bullets from assault weapons (the NRA might want to screen this one...). The R rating is for extreme violence and language, but this language also captures the bawdy humor in the testosterone-laden police department.

We are in the front seat of a police car as we survey the changing scene in South Central Los Angeles. In the past, there was a fast-food shack on every corner selling chicken, now all you can find are tacos.

Our bilingual cast includes:
  • Jake Gyllenhaal ("Source Code") is Taylor, a cop who might be a little too smart for his own good. He and his buddy make a couple of significant drug busts, even though they are patrol officers. Gyllenhaal continues to impress with his growth as an actor.
  • Michael Peña ("Tower Heist") is Zavala, the cop who has Taylor's back. Peña has an appealing screen presence and works con- stantly.
  • Anna Kendrick ("Up in the Air") is Janet, the Santa Barbara gal who is smart enough to impress Taylor. Kendrick didn't dither like she usually does, but she's effective anyway.
  • Natalie Martinez ("Magic City Memoirs") is Gabby, Zavala's one and only. And anyone can see why! She's lovely, smart and funny.
  • America Ferrera ("Under the Same Moon") is Orozco, another cop who patrols South Central. Ferrera is shows a more adult side in this one.
  • Everton Lawrence ("Black Gold") is a street guy who challenges Zavala, but at the end of the day he keeps his word.
Expect gruesome situations which routinely assault policemen as they go about their jobs. Also be prepared for a LOT of chaotic fights and jerky camera work because much of this is supposedly shot from either a hand-held camera or one clipped to a vest.

Bottom line: I spend my discretionary money on Entertainment. To me, this movie is not entertaining, it's an endurance test. Audience members who like lots of action, gunfire and vehicular mayhem, applaud this much-acclaimed bloodbath. I don't....
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