Mirror Mirror

"Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away...." How many times will they remake "Snow White" and when will we tire of seeing it? At least this time it's billed as "The untold adventures..." and is from the queen's point of view.

In this version, our evil queen is played by a wry, dry Julia Roberts, who is clearly having the time of her life, so let's get ready for a new wrinkle on an old story. Her acerbic digressions are a hoot as this is a far more adult (and more comic) take.

This cast promises more than a light touch of comedy:
  • Julia Roberts ("Larry Crowne") is a four-times-married widow who instantly sees potential in the handsome prince who comes adventuring into her poverty-stricken realm. In order to throw a party for him, she raises taxes.
  • Lily Collins ("Priest") is our orphaned Snow White, slated for an early death in the forest as soon as the queen realizes the threat from her burgeoning beauty. Collins has the eyebrows of a young Elizabeth Taylor.
  • Armie Hammer ("J. Edgar") is very funny as the dauntless prince. He is handsome, sincere and quite charming. He keeps losing all but his skivvies to the dwarfs and has to beg for pants. Wait until you see his tooth sparkle just before he is given the love potion.
  • Nathan Lane ("Modern Family") is the queen's minion. He is the unwilling bearer of all the bad tidings, e.g., when taxes are raised, and when Snow White is found to be alive after all.
  • Sean Bean ("Game of Thrones") as the king, long thought dead.
  • Mare Winningham (LOTS of TV) as the scullery maid who is loyal to Snow White and her long-absent father.
Snow White doesn't have good or bad things just happen to her. She has to toil, study, practice and fight, for what she values. I liked seeing her apply herself with a goal in mind; so even though small children were a bit bored, the lessons for their older siblings were good ones. The adult one-liners that made all of us laugh went over the tots' heads, but the lengthy CGI-loaded fight scenes (with G-rated monsters) were tedious for ALL of us.
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21 Jump Street

Now THIS is for a targeted audience! I had to admire how cannily screen- writers Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall tailored their script with the right language (profane), situations (interfering parents), and embarrassments left over from adolescence (prom dates and bad grades) for the 17/30-year-old ticket buyer. No wonder it has made so much money. Smart guys!

We have two buddies, totally different, both of whom make it through the Police Academy, only to botch their first big arrest. Consequently, they are assigned to an angry sergeant who is stuck in a Korean Church (at 21 Jump Street) and sent undercover to a local high school to find the distributor of a lethal drug that is making its way into the teenage culture. Unfortunately, this means they have to live at home again.

Part of the joke is that former jock Tatum is mistakenly assigned to the brainy classes, while poor pudgy Hill is sent to the track team. Another joke is several setups for blowie uppie stuff that simply do NOT explode. Our heroes are confused because they were counting on explosions. Of course the party when the parents leave town is predictably lewd and destructive. Even Mom's Kokopelli jug from Sedona bit the dust!

These guys gave it their all:
  • Channing Tatum ("The Vow"), demonstrating hitherto unknown comedy chops. Who knew? (He's the jock.)
  • Jonah Hill ("Moneyball"), more slender now than he has ever been, his character has a real problem shooting a gun. (He's NOT the jock.)
  • Ice Cube ("Rampart"), is the astonishingly profane (and furious) sergeant.
  • Dave Franco ("Fright Night"), is a politically correct environmen- talist who is scared to death of going to prison. ("Do you know how they treat handsome guys like me in there?!")
  • Peter DeLuise ("21 Jump Street" 1987) is an undercover cop.
  • Johnny Depp ("21 Jump Street" 1987) is another undercover cop.
Yes, you saw that right. Both "21 Jump Street" (1987) veterans Depp and DeLuise are (eventually) hilarious in their undercover roles!

Even thought this wasn't my cup of tea, I tip my hat to the folks that targeted their audience and scored a bullseye!
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The Kid With a Bike

"Le gamin au vélo," an unrated drama from Belgium (English subtitles), is about an eleven-year old boy, abandoned by his father at a local youth farm (orphanage). Nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes, it is also winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes (2011), Best Screen- writer at the European Film Awards and Best Director at the Flaiano Inter- national Prizes. I noticed in particular how few cuts there were in each scene. Amazing!

We watch our determined young protagonist break away from his keepers and set out in quest of his absent father AND his missing bicycle. His journey crosses the path of a town hairdresser who for some never-disclosed reason, agrees to foster him on weekends; an act of kindness she quickly comes to regret. This boy is hurt, defiant, and rebellious. He is convinced his father would never leave him, nor would he take away his bike, so the only way for our little guy to learn this sad lesson is in a face-to-face confrontation.

This cast is excellent, these two leads in particular:
  • Thomas Doret (impressive in his first role) is Cyril, frightened and bewildered by his father's selfish actions. This kid is always run- ning, pedaling, climbing or fighting. At times he is so stubborn I want to shake him!
  • Cécile De France ("Avenue Montaigne") is Samantha, the ultra-patient hairdresser, willing to stand by our little rascal, even when he isn't very lovable. She is barely strong enough to cope with our wiry rebel.
As the story unfolds, we in the Seattle International Film Festival audience never move. We see things about other characters that our young hero is too immature to understand, so we hold our collective breath. We see that the good people are really good, while the bad people are equally bad, and we keep our fingers crossed for this confused youngster as he works his way through his pain.

As the film ends I feel good about Man's humanity to Man.
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Casa de mi Padre

It's time for another embarrassing admission: I love Mexican telenovelas! That being said, Will Ferrell's Spanish in "My Father's House" is just bad enough that I can almost understand it, and trust me: I do NOT speak Spanish, so the captions are a treat.

This delightful spoof takes itself seriously every single second of its running time, which always adds to the fun. Even when the badly made fake white puma laughed sardonically, I bought every moment; and I loved the horseback riding on stuffed animals with a fan blowing their hair. Any time our three heroes are riding in the pickup, the same scene goes by the "windows" and you can practically see the wires holding up the bushes. Rough scene shifts and laughably poor continuity were fun all the way, e.g., our hero has a roll-your-own cigarette in his mouth, dribbling tobacco down his shirt front. In the next camera angle...no cigarette. Then from another view, there is the cigarette again!

Will Ferrell is the estupido second son of a successful Mexican rancher. All the dialogue is in Spanish with the exception of a creepy American DEA officer who speaks a clumsy combination. This cast is terrific:
  • Will Ferrell ("The Other Guys") is Armando, a well-meaning but clumsy hombre who will never measure up to his padre's expectations. He is still a virgin because the "right woman" hasn't come along. I think his chances would improve if he could only learn how to roll his own cigarettes!
  • Genesis Rodriguez ("Man on a Ledge") Sonia seems to be the "right woman" despite the fact that she is engaged to Armando's brother and appears to be connected to drug lords. In keeping with the telenovela tradition, she sings at the end!
  • Diego Luna ("Y tu mamá también") Raul is Papa's favorite. Little does the old man suspect that his son's obvious succe$$ is NOT based on livestock!
  • Gael Garcia Bernal ("Letters to Juliet") is an especially great "bad guy!" He lights two Canadian Slim cigarettes and smokes them alternately with either hand. He wears white cowboy boots that are waaaay too long, and is obviously having a blast! Actually, a sharp-eyed Amazon.com reader enlightened me: Those white boots are not too big for him. They are what they call chutaros and they are made that way. Some are a lot longer than the ones we see here.
There is a hilarious scene where two Mexicans are discussing the drug trade. The "Narco" rationalizes that he isn't selling drugs to Mexicans, just fat, stupid Americanos. I was delighted with the equal time granted to the Gringos before the film ended!

The sound track is loaded with referential, mariachi-tinged música that adds to the fun. The men's trio "No Se" ("I Don't Know") was a delight. There is a sample of it in this preview.
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The Hunger Games

This PG-13 movie, based on the best-selling Young Adult novel by Suz- anne Collins, describes a not-too-distant future when teenagers selected by lottery are sent to an isolated area to fight to the death on live television. The last one standing will enjoy freedom from hunger for his or her loved ones. To me, this theme is absolutely off-putting, but the book itself isn't as bloody or as sensational as I had feared. Whew!

My favorite part is how they skewer Reality Shows! Stanley Tucci is absolutely spot on as the master of ceremonies: complete with fluffed hair, ridiculous makeup, phony smile and over-the-top enthusiasm.

Based on this first one's phenomenal success, a franchise is in the works for these actors:
  • Jennifer Lawrence ("Like Crazy") as Katniss, our resourceful hero- ine, already familiar with survival skills because that's how she keeps food (illegally) on the table for her widowed mother and frail little sister.
  • Josh Hutcherson ("The Kids are All Right") as Peeta, one side of what will be an eternal triangle; the two masculine sides are very different, but each is appealing in his own way. This sweet young baker slips our heroine an occasional loaf of burnt bread for her hungry family and has packed a torch for her most of their lives.
  • Liam Hemsworth ("The Last Song") is Gale, an outdoorsy guy, handsome, kind, and very much in love with our heroine; he looks out for her mother and sister when she leaves.
  • Willow Shields (TV) is Primrose, that frail sister whose name is drawn in the lottery. (Shades of Shirley Jackson's classic short story "The Lottery.") It's her big sister Katniss who leaps to her defense and volunteers to take her place.
  • Woody Harrelson ("Rampart") is Haymitch, the only previous winner from District 12. He's a drunk and is supposed to mentor our two teenagers. He knows they must land some sponsors in order to get much-needed emergency supplies during the games.
  • Lenny Kravitz ("Precious") is Cinna, the creative genius who designs our heroine's "Dress of Fire." His kindness offers the first glimmer of hope our heroine can see.
  • Stanley Tucci ("Margin Call") is Flickerman, that annoying, insincere master-of-ceremonies.
  • Donald Sutherland ("Horrible Bosses") is President of Panem, the dystopian country created by a global conflict. He is irked by the games and is cooking up some new trouble for our star- crossed characters in the sequel.
Director Gary Ross ("Seabiscuit") is a terrific director. I lost my way a couple of times (maybe I don't remember the book correctly), but this film kept me involved every minute. In keeping with her persona, our heroine rarely smiles, is intense, focused, and clearly uncomfortable during her public appearances. Her forced smile is perfect and she does 95% of this film without a trace of makeup. She doesn't stumble in the woods, instinctively comes to the rescue of others, and is a crack shot with a bow and arrow.

What a welcome change from the self-centered, foul-mouthed floozies who prance across our modern silver screens. Here is a heroine worthy of admiration for today's teenagers!
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Sound of Noise

This audacious 2011 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Sweden/France is just now enjoying a limited opening in the United States. I first reviewed it June 04, 2011 and want to emphasize: It is amazingly well edited! Metronomes figure heavily in the plot and everything is on the beat...scene changes, white lines on the highway, breathing apparatuses, electrical blackouts...you name it, it is on the beat and it is impressive!

This is a mash-up of symphonic music, a police procedural, creative percussions, performance art and a love story. Plus, it's funny. It took me totally by surprise but pleasantly so.

A young performance artist assembles a group of five anarchist/percus- sionists to expand on a comic cocktail derived from an earlier work: One Apartment and Six Drummers. The plan is to "take this city by storm!"

It's completely unbelievable and endlessly entertaining.


Jeff Who Lives At Home

Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass ("Cyrus") wrote and directed this family dramedy about a house-bound, pot-smoking slacker, dispatched by his mother to buy some glue for a little home repair. Instead, he thinks the universe has told him "Kevin" because of a mis-dialed call, so he gets side tracked. In very short order, he connects with his abrasive and egotistical brother who seems to make large purchases he can't afford in order to validate his existence.
  • Jason Segel ("The Muppets") is a pasty, pudgy, overgrown pot- head, who watches Mel Gibson's movie, "Signs," over and over, reading more into it with each viewing. This sweet-natured harm- less guy is seriously woo woo. Maybe too much dope?
  • Ed Helms ("Cedar Rapids") is the obnoxious spend-thrift brother. We wonder, has his exasperated wife started an affair? We almost hope she has!
  • Judy Greer ("The Descendants") is Helm's wife. Is she or isn't she having a fling?
  • Susan Sarandon ("Enchanted") is Mom. She's been a single mother for a long time, so along with a case of terminal lone- liness, now she's worried about BOTH of her sons!
  • Rae Dawn Chong ("Cyrus") works with Mom and wants to cheer her up.
I went to this screening with no preconceived notions; upon exiting I told the publicist that this was a little tempest in a very little (R-rated) teapot. Expect LOTS of profanity, mild fisticuffs (Jeff is a pacifist), some drug use and a bit of vehicular mayhem.

This one won't set the world on fire.
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Friends With Kids

Actor/Director Jennifer Westfield ("Kissing Jessica Stein") teams up with her (then) significant other, producer Jon Hamm (the two were childless by choice), to offer this wry observation about "Love, Happiness and Kids (pick two)."

Our main characters have been life-long platonic friends who chum around with two other couples just entering their child-bearing years. As babies arrive, our two watch the romance go out of those relationships. They both agree that they would like to have a child, but don't want to jeopardize any potential romance. The solution, as they see it, is to con- ceive a child together, cope with the baby's early demanding year or two as a team, but continue their quest to find their one true love...Yeah, right!

We see:
  • Jennifer Westfield (lots of TV) is our practical heroine. A good friend, a delightful companion and a great mother, so why complicate things?
  • Adam Scott ("Parks and Recreation") is her baby's proud daddy. He willingly shares the parental duties, including night feedings and diapers, and falls head-over-heels in love with his brand-new son.
  • Jon Hamm ("Mad Men") is the friend who asks the question, "How are you going to explain this to your son when he gets older? This isn't a puppy, it's a LIFE!"
  • Kristen Wiig ("Bridesmaids") loved the romantic part of first love; this next part...not so much.
  • Maya Rudolph ("Grown Ups") is determined to find "Mr. Right" for her friend. Besides, she wants everyone in the same boat, i.e., with husbands and children.
  • Chris O'Dowd ("Bridesmaids") bemoans the lack of conjugal sex after a few years of marriage. He suggests a man should marry someone he really LIKES!
  • Megan Fox ("Jonah Hex") is the paragon our hero meets in the park. She's a dancer (limber) and doesn't want children (avail- able), so what's the problem?
  • Edward Burns ("Man on a Ledge") couldn't be more perfect: Tall, Handsome, Smart, Romantic, Considerate...the list goes on and on...and on...and on...
Make no mistake, this is a Chick Flick and fairly predictable, but it's a romance, not a romantic comedy. The difference is that they have the nerve to ask what comes after the heady glow of hot sex looses its heat? And believe me, they each find hot sex!

Despite its R rating, there are no sweaty bodies, no gunshots, no vehi- cular mayhem and no blowie uppie stuff. You will, however, hear lots of profanity and, once again, be treated to very anatomical discussions.
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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

The Yemen river is in the country of Yemen, which occupies the south-western corner of the Arabian Peninsula. As we know, that middle-eastern area is hot and dry. In this Lasse Hallstrom-directed dramedy, an oil-billionaire sheik from Yemen owns several estates in Scotland and has developed a fondness for fly fishing. He dreams of a way to bring the sport to his homeland and at the same time encourage his fellow coun- trymen to upgrade their way of life with an improved water supply.

We loved this cast (mostly) from the UK:
  • Emily Blunt ("The Devil Wears Prada") is the first person contacted by the sheik. Her job is to research the practicality of the idea and make a recommendation. To complicate matters, her fiancé is soon reported missing in (military) action in Afghanistan.
  • Ewan McGregor ("Beginners") is a mid-level bureaucrat with a touch of Asperger's who loves fly fishing on weekends. When approached about the feasibility of this experiment, he makes outlandish demands, assuming that the cost will deter these foolish people. He is struck dumb when his demands are met, e.g., the engineers who designed the Three Gorges Dam in China.
  • Kristen Scott Thomas ("Nowhere Boy") is a blunt, plain-spoken government official who can see the public relations advantages for news from the Mid-east that doesn't include body bags or the escalating price of petrol. She is hilarious in this (initially) pre- posterous plot and provides many laugh-out-loud moments. You will LOVE her e-mails!
  • Amr Waked ("The Father and the Foreigner") is the fabulously wealthy sheik with the dream. It's obvious that he is intelligent and has already studied the situation. When our troubled heroine denies she is anxious, he says, "I have too many wives not to know when a woman is upset!" We can see why this actor is a heartthrob in his native Egypt.
  • Tom Mison ("One Day") is our heroine's fiancé, loving, considerate AND handsome!
I haven't read Paul Torday's novel on which this film is based, but I know salmon are anadromous, so I immediately felt migration to salt water would be too hot and arduous, consequently I had reservations about feasibility. On the other hand, this film had far more comedy than we expected and was far more touching as well, so eventually it didn't matter. I even got goosebumps when that fish turned around and started upstream.

Nice surprise!
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