It's hard to believe this fast-paced, sometimes gut-wrenching look at the Children's Protective Service agency in Paris, is a scripted film! All of the performances are so realistic and every moment of the action on screen seems so authentic, it's no wonder it won the Jury Prize at Cannes. This powerhouse film is part of the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival and it pulls NO punches in the gritty, repugnant work these law-enforcement people must do.

In addition, it makes crystal clear the cumulative effect this kind of work has on the workers! No one can be confronted with homelessness, incest, rape, child abuse and other horrors, day after day without having emo- tional scars. These affect their marriages, their families and their friend- ships. We see infidelity, anorexia, divorce, shattered nerves and suicide while we watch the activities they use to try to decompress. (One of them is a really GOOD dancer!)

Conversely, they can't help but see the wacky thought processes of some of their clients: A teenage girl who was caught orally "servicing" a teenage boy, explained that he had her cell phone and she was earning it back. One of the law-enforcement agents asked what she would do if it was a laptop! It turns out that she was working her way through the whole gang of boys because "It's a SmartPhone!" Whereupon some the agents got such a bad case of the giggles they had to leave the room, while the girl can't see what's so funny.

Please take a look at this trailer (English captions) and see if you don't agree that this looks more like a documentary than a scripted film!
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Here is a link to the trailer:
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Fat Kid Rules the World

This 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry filmed in Seattle was one of those cliché-ridden projects that ultimately works, simply because clichés usually work. Besides, comedies always sweeten the pill.

We have a dorky geek who doesn't fit in at school. He lives with his widowed father and a younger brother; he does some on-line gaming, but is pretty much a loner. After some relentless bullying at school, he decides to end it all and steps out in front of a bus, only to be saved by a scrawny homeless guy who is clearly a master manipulator.

Here are the central characters:
  • Jacob Wysocki ("Bath Boys Comedy") is Troy, and yes, he's fat! Lucky for all concerned, despite his girth, he's pretty smart and is blessed with an active imagination.
  • Billy Campbell ("Ghost Town") is Dad, and a perfectly splendid one he is, too! Every thing this former Marine did as a parent made me like him more! He's a policeman who is doing a terrific job raising his two motherless boys.
  • Matt O'Leary ("Brick") is Marcus, the greasy-haired sociopath who latches onto Troy. We can see his faults, and are understandably concerned for our youthful hero. But by the time we see him per- form a concert in a hospital gown (and NO, there is nothing under that gaping back!), we start to think there might be hope.
  • Dylan Arnold ("Shortcomings") is Dayle, Troy's younger brother. He mostly observes all the drama swirling around and keeps a watchful eye on his brother.
I liked how even the scuzzy teenage boys automatically respected that father! He commanded respect without being a bully. BTW, whoever did the costumes for this project deserves special mention: everyone's clothes were perfect for each character and Marcus wears the world's most tattered t-shirt!

Someone asked me why they used a kid that was so fat. I posited that it's because there is no "Fat" advocacy group yet. It's still socially acceptable to scorn the overweight. That theory is as good as any.....


What a way to kick off the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival, with a film about an Argentinian futbol star who wins the heart of a Danish sports agent...much to the dismay of her devastated husband. He cries "Foul!" but she wants those divorce papers signed ASAP; so he locks up his Copenhagen wine shop, grabs their 16-year-old son and they dash off to Buenos Aires to try to talk her out of it.

This delightful comedy has so much to recommend it I will only mention a few things:
  • The hilarious diatribe against marriage is a terrific monologue delivered by a bearded six-times-divorced vintner.
  • That irascible maid is a widow: Her husband died in a Tango accident!
  • Although English seems to be the lingua franca for everyone, the actors move painlessly between Spanish, English and Danish. I feel so inadequate....
  • The soccer star who is engaged to our hero's wife is an ingenuous cutie. He is always upbeat, open-hearted and an amazing athlete. Oh, and he is quite often naked! No frontal nudity, only bactal. ...smile... And on him, it looks good. (I just made up that word.)
Everyone grows on you. There are no bad guys (even the muggers are polite) and we have a couple of favorites to root for. That's all I want from a film. Ole!


The Pirates: Band of Misfits

PG is a rating (Parental Guidance for rude humor and mild violence) that relies on parents to provide common sense. The audience yesterday included a couple of two-year-old toddlers whose attention spans were equal to a pair of goldfish! One started crying because she was bored, then started screaming in the lobby because she didn't want to leave, so they came back in. The little boy was playing hide-and-go-seek in the rows (this was an early afternoon screening with very few people in the audience), but his dad wanted to stay long enough to see the happy ending.

And those were the highlights!

Despite the much-lauded voice skills of Hugh Grant, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Al Roker, Anton Yelchin and Brendan Gleeson, I found this to be garbled, a little too adult, and con- fusing. By "too adult" I mean most of the dialogue went over the heads of the children ("brine-soaked rapscallion") and the characters' names were strictly for adults: along with Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria, we have Albino Pirate, The Pirate with Gout, The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate, The Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens, The Pirate With a Scarf, etc., etc., etc.

Claymation movies are always impressive because so much can be done by the artists who create them. But for me, I have to disagree with other reviewers (and ten year olds) who loved this one...

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Here's a sample in a trailer:
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By the way, the name of this movie is really "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" but Google doesn't like some punctuation marks in titles!


A Separation

This Oscar-winning (Best Foreign Film) drama from Iran is every bit as good as one of you JayFlix folks insisted it was! Persistence pays (AND backing a highly acclaimed film). Thanks for all those reminders. Part of what makes this so convincing is the unfamiliarity of the faces, but the rest is excellent direction, wonderful acting and an unpredictable story.

An elderly man is slowly sinking into the oblivion of Alzheimer's while his over-wrought son tries to provide care for him, hold a job, be an involved parent for his only child and, in his spare time, save his marriage. His wife has worked diligently to get visas so she, her husband and their daughter can leave Iran. The husband is adamantly opposed; he can't leave while his father (who no longer recognizes him) needs his help. The central issue is his father's disease and its disastrous effects on his family. It doesn't matter if we are in Tehran or Toledo, the ripple effects of Alzheimer's are the same.

Here are the players:
  • Peyman Moadi ("About Elly") Nader is dynamic, impatient, arbi- trary and loving. He cannot yield one iota, for fear he will lose everything. He feels his pride, his honor and his duty are in jeopardy, so nothing must interfere: not a wife, not a caretaker, not a daughter.
  • Leila Hatami ("The Deserted Station") Simin is smart, deter- mined and organized; she is the wife who wants a better life else- where. Even though she can't say so out loud, she is stifled by her world and doesn't want her daughter to grow up in it.
  • Sareh Bayat ("Devil's Take") Razieh is devout, obedient and desperate. She has been hired secretly (she is a woman) to care for the Alzheimer's patient. When he soils himself she has to call a Muslim help line to see if it is a sin for her to clean him up with no male in attendance.
  • Shahab Hosseini ("Final Whistle") Hodjat is the furious husband of the caretaker; she failed to get his permission before going to work. His rage fuels the last half of this film.
  • Sarina Farhadi in her screen debut, is Termeh, the teenage daughter who is caught in the tug-of-war between her parents.
I found the legal battles to be extremely interesting. All the parties convene in an office with what appears to be a magistrate. Each person presents his or her side of the story, amid interruptions and distractions from others, and the official tries to ascertain the truth. The part I really liked: NO LAWYERS! What an interesting concept.

It is the caretaker's deeply held religious conviction that provides the turning point on which all the other issues hinge.
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This trailer has closed captions:
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Another cerebral outing for our favorite action hero. Not to worry, the plot won't tax your brain. An eleven-year-old Chinese girl knows a secret numerical code, which means EVERYONE wants her. Someone has to keep her safe from the New York City Police Department, a Chinese tong and the Russian mob. Our hero, a former undercover cop, doesn't even know her, he was planning to commit suicide when he spotted her in a subway station trying to elude pursuers.

Written and directed by Boaz Yakin, who is all over the map with projects from the ridiculous to the sublime ("Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" and "Remember the Titans"), this one is mindless and hyper-kinetic. There is so much deadly gunfire it became boring, but some of the actors piqued our interest:
  • Jason Statham rules action movies! Between "Transporter" and "Crank" he practically invented his style of super-deadly, super-violent martial arts. Not bad for a former model.
  • Catherine Chan, in her screen debut, sounds convincingly smart (she plays a genius) and speaks Chinese like a trouper!
  • Chris Sarandon ("Fright Night" 2011 and 1985), this guy still looks good. In this one he's the Mayor with an elegant penthouse and long-range plans to keep it. He knows things that most people don't even know they don't know.
  • Anson Mount ("Straw Dogs") is someone to watch! He's gorgeous when he has a shave and a haircut. His head-shot is skuzzy, but here.... Yum! He's a henchman in this one...
  • James Hong ("Junk" and lots of TV) is a Minneapolis-born char- acter actor. This time he's the Godfather of the Chinese tong.
  • Reggie Lee ("Crazy, Stupid, Love") is another familiar Asian face. In this one, he's the guy who pretends to care for the little girl to gain her trust.
And we haven't even touched on the actors in the Russian mob or the NYPD!

Suffice it to say, this R-rated actioner has non-stop gunfire, ridiculous vehicular mayhem, cartoony fisticuffs and countless pursuits. There was very little profanity and no nudity, but deaths by the score, all of which required suspension of disbelief. ...it's a guy thing...

Near the end, mention is made of someone moving to Seattle, where you will find "trees and s**t." Our screening audience really liked THAT.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Here's a review I never dreamed I would write, for three good reasons: 1) I don't like blood sports. 2) I avoid sports clichés. 3) I'm not fond of Nick Nolte. I don't think I would have liked this 2011 movie quite so much if I hadn't watched the extras on the DVD. They provided some insight for a rabid MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) non-fan (ME!), which helped get me past the blood and the pain those folks inflict on one another and try to understand the underlying skills. Sorta like football: Two teams of over- grown hulks pummeling each other into hamburger, but there IS skill involved, right?

Sooooo... Bottom line: 1) I still don't like blood sports. 2) Clichés become clichés because on a very basic level, they work. 3) I still don't like Nick Nolte. But that wrenching final match stayed with me long enough to warrant a review. (I watch a lot of movies I don't review.)

We have a pair of brothers. When they were children, one split with Mom when her marriage broke up, the other stayed with their alcoholic father. Neither had an easy time of it. Now, one is a returning Marine vet, the other is a Physics teacher with a wife and children. Through a series of clichés, they end up back in the MME cage, fighting their way toward the championship. By the time they have come this far, we want BOTH of them to win!

We have:
  • Nick Nolte ("Three Fugitives") Let's get him out of the way first. He hits all his marks and delivers the goods, I just don't like the goods he delivers. You know, the contrite former alcoholic who is really, really sorry. I agree with his sons: Talk is cheap, but the damage is done. We can't un-ring the bell here, Dad!
  • Tom Hardy ("This Means War") is the former Marine. The American accent used by this British-born bloke convinced me he was from Pittsburgh! His war veteran bristles with hostility and rage: perfect for the MMA cage!
  • Joel Edgerton ("Kinky Boots") no trace of Down Under in this guy's American accent either! His character is a sweet, much-loved high-school teacher with a loyal wife and two adored little girls.
  • Jennifer Morrison ("Star Trek" 2009) is that loyal wife. She understands the very real danger her husband is exposed to and does NOT want another ride in an ambulance!
  • Frank Grillo ("The Grey") is a long-time family friend and coach who knows the family dynamics at play here. He has a good reason why Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" is the entrance music for his fighter.
There is a lot of showmanship involved in MMA matches and this movie manages to capture it. Luckily the matches only bookend the REAL issues at stake here and both of the lead actors are skilled enough to capture our attention and our allegiance, to the point that we actually CARE what happens in the cage.

It was that last round that got me!
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Here is a link to a preview:
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December Boys

One of you JayFlix folks suggested I watch this 2007 Australian DVD about four boys in an outback orphanage. The bond they have in common is their birthday: these four chaps are all born in December. As a special treat this year, they are given a holiday at the beach by an older couple. When one of the boys overhears a conversation, he thinks one of them will be chosen for adoption. This rumor creates rivalry among the group and causes a rift that threatens to destroy their friendship.

As a rule, when a movie is made in another country, we are more likely to suspend disbelief and be convinced of its authenticity because the faces aren't familiar. This film is no different. These four boys, along with the capable supporting cast, are utterly convincing:
  • Daniel Radcliff ("Harry Potter") as Maps, is the oldest. He has no desire to be adopted, as he'll be eighteen in a couple of years and be on his own. His mission is to protect the younger boys and deal with that pretty young woman in a neighbouring cabin. (Thus that hickey on his neck!)
  • Lee Cormie ("Darkness Falls") is Misty, the bespectacled boy who starts the rumor. He is determined to be the one chosen by that childless couple!
  • Christian Byers ("The Tree") is Sparks, equally determined to be adopted. You'll love how he got his nickname!
  • James Fraser ("Sleeping Beauty" 2011) is Spit, and yeah...he does!
  • Jack Thompson ("Australia") is mostly wasted as the generous elderly fellow who offers the boys a nice summer vacation.
  • Teresa Palmer ("I Am Number Four") is the lovely wench behind Maps' hickey!
This is the perfect time to remind you that, despite his youth, Daniel Radcliff was a successful working actor BEFORE Harry Potter, and he will continue as one long after the final frame of that franchise.

The orphanage is NOT depicted as a torture chamber staffed by wicked nuns. Instead it is treated in an even-handed way as a pleasant, albeit sterile, home for boys. The nuns are understanding and supportive, while the priest lays a lascivious hand on nary a one of them! What a relief!
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This link takes you to a preview:
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The Lucky One

If you're in the mood for an estrogen-soaked outing, you might try this little weeper, another Nicholas Sparks ("The Last Song") novel...you know, all swoony... with bayous. They contrived a "Notebook"-type scene in a shower stall instead of a rainstorm, but Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling will never be Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams! They might be as pretty, but these PG-13 love scenes are endless! Where is the fast-forward on my remote when I need it!

If you've seen the trailers, you know we start in a war zone with Zac, a corporal in a Marine platoon that is ambushed. By the time the dust settles, he is resting beside the rubble and sees something glint in the sunlight. As he goes over to pick up a snapshot of a pretty woman, a mortar hits right where he had been; the photo literally saves his life. He doesn't know who dropped it and has a devil of a time trying to figure out who the pretty woman is so he can thank her.

Here is the attractive cast:
  • Zac Efron ("17 Again") as our hero Logan, tracks down the mysterious lovely young woman from that photo. Efron is still trying to reboot his career after the "High School Musical" franchise. His movies are squeaky clean and he is nicely buffed, but his love scenes don't generate much heat; he can only look sincere and earnest for so long....
  • Taylor Schilling ("Atlas Shrugged, Part I") as Beth, a divorced mother who runs a professional dog training facility and boarding kennel with her grandmother. She is troubled by the rumor that her brother was killed by friendly fire.
  • Blythe Danner ("What's Your Number") as Ellie, the wise and witty grandmother. She hires Logan over Beth's objections, then smiles as our two leads predictably fall in love.
  • Jay R. Ferguson (Lots of TV) is Keith, a small-town cop who shares custody of their boy with Beth, but suffers from an overdose of testosterone.
Director Scott Hicks ("No Reservations") has captured the challenges of post-war adjustment by showing our hero's reaction to video games and unexpected situations without making them the central theme of the movie. I appreciate that: it's believable without being melodramatic.

As our hero decompresses, we get snippets of a bucolic rural life being lived at a slower pace. There is a sweet scene in a church where Logan, at the piano, accompanies a little boy playing a violin, in a simple rendition of "In the Garden."

The screening audience left with smiles on their faces.
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Think Like a Man

It's always fun so see the tables turned on connivers! Advertised like a Chick Flick, I was delighted to hear the most uproarious laughter was coming from the many men in the audience. This predictable, crowd-pleasing comedy is based on thrice-married Steve Harvey's best-selling book "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy and Commitment."

After scenes which establish five male stereotypes: Dreamer, Player, Commitment Phobe, Mama's Boy, and Divorcé, we then meet their female counterparts: Career Woman, Twice-burned Single, Wanna-be Wife, Single Mom, and Divorcée. These women discover Mr. Harvey's best seller which gives them insight into how men think. They quickly modify their behavior, which enables them to ensnare their guys. This works fine until the men tumble to the scheme and decide to fight fire with fire.

You should recognize many of these names:
  • Steve Harvey ("Madea Goes to Jail") plays himself, a successful self-help author.
  • Michael Ealy ("For Colored Girls") is an oft-employed dreamer. He's between jobs right now...
  • Taraji P. Henson ("Larry Crowne") is the career woman. She wants a résumé along with long-term goals from any prospective date.
  • Romany Malco ("A Little Bit of Heaven") is a smooth operator. It's fun to watch this guy in action.
  • Meagan Good ("Jumping the Broom") is ready to try the ninety- day trial period...IF she can last that long!
  • Jerry Ferrera ("Entourage") is an overgrown boy. Why give up that old couch and those video games when he has such a nice woman to support him?
  • Gabrielle Union ("Good Deeds") has lived with her guy for years; she really wants to get married.
  • Terrence Jenkins ("Burlesque") knows his mother will look out for him. She makes sure he doesn't date anyone who might not measure up to HER standards.
  • Regina Hall ("Death at a Funeral") already has ONE boy to raise, she doesn't need a second one.
  • Kevin Hart ("Exit Strategy") is the divorcé. He knows three rings: An engagement ring, a wedding ring, and suffer ring.
  • Wendy Williams (lots of TV) has all three of those rings (see above).
Attractive stars, an intriguing premise and a funny script make for a rollicking PG-13 skirmish in the battle of the sexes.
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Let's address an important issue. The MPAA "R" rating on this film (for six F-words spewed by school children in hate-filled diatribes) would have made it impossible for school children to see the tragic results of their venom. Filmmakers Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen hoped to create a teaching moment and generate public outrage about unchecked bullying which turns schools into torture chambers for the underdogs who are targeted. Make no mistake, bullying has gone on since time eternal, but the vile that erupts from today's bullies is an eye-opener (those notorious F-words are the least of it!).

Hollywood's movie rating board consistently yields to the deep pockets of the big studios; allowing students to attend violent, bloody, profane films, because they are blockbusters, while this worthwhile little documentary lacks those big deep pockets...more bullying?

This time the little guy fought back. Instead of releasing this film unrated, which would have forced theater owners to treat it like a PG-17, canny Distributor Harvey Weinstein and theater owners have negotiated a truce with the MPAA, removed a token offensive word or two and the film will be treated like a PG-13!

I beg anyone in the education system to PLEASE watch this movie. I realize that bullying is as old as time. I was stoned on my way home from school after our family moved to a new town, so I know from personal experience what it feels like. However, I was never subjected to the unrelenting humiliation children experience today. If you can watch how his classmates treat "Fish Face" and not cringe, you have a heart of stone. And in my opinion, that sheriff who arrested the anguished girl with the gun was probably the biggest bully on the playground when HE was a boy! We examine the lives of five victims, two of whom are already dead, suicides as a result of bullying.

Most of us have personally been confronted by the issue: many of us were bullied; many of us were witnesses; few escaped unscathed. To me, the most unsettling thing was to see (and hear) just how truly vile the school children are in today's schools. And our screening audience groaned aloud as we watched inept teachers and principals sweep it under the rug.

Yes, yes. I am aware of the "helicopter parents," who hover over their darlings, aided and abetted by lawyers, always trolling for lawsuits. This system has stripped bus drivers of the authority to eject a bully from a bus and turned school administrators into wimps.

In my opinion, schools should teach children to automatically shun a bully, making it clear that his behavior is neither acceptable nor admired. If a bully doesn't have an audience, he will probably lose his motivation to dominate a classmate. The BULLY should be the pariah in school, not the poor kid who has always been the target. And yes, I've left parents out of the equation. If they were doing a decent job, bullying wouldn't exist!

My thanks to Harvey Weinstein for standing his ground. Now please do your part and see this film.
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Luc Besson ("The Professional") is known internationally as a masterful screenwriter, director and producer of witty, gritty action flicks. As a result, this Besson-written and produced PG-13 film is specifically for fans of witty gritty action flicks! We see non-stop action with no sweaty bodies, no profanity, lots of grit, gunfire and blowie uppie stuff, and as for wit... the flimsy plot is laughable.

As expected in a Besson flick, we are quickly thrown into a (CGI) action-filled opening sequence in an unnamed city; the remainder of the witty gritty action takes place in a high-security prison facility orbiting Earth. Prisoners are placed in stasis and "stored" for the duration of their sentences. Problem is, they are hard-core offenders and the lengthy suspended animation tends to cause mental disorders. This means by the time they revolt and take over the prison, most of them are bonkers.

These witty, gritty folks try to make it happen:
  • Guy Pearce ("The King's Speech") is witty as Snow, wrongfully convicted of espionage, sent to retrieve information about a mysterious briefcase which seems to contain something impor- tant. Some of his terse one- and two-word responses made me laugh out loud.
  • Vincent Regan ("Snow White and the Huntsman") is gritty as Alex, leader of the prison rebellion. He is NOT witty.
  • Maggie Grace ("Knight and Day") is pretty as Emilie, a doctor trying to investigate the effects of stasis on the prisoners; she is taken hostage. Oh, she is also the daughter of the President.
  • Joseph Gilgun (Lots of TV) is downright sh**ty as Hydell, nutso brother of the rebels' leader. His creepy behavior even upsets the revolting prisoners!
Much of the action consists of running through dark metallic corridors, dodging bullets, ducking through airlocks, and climbing up ductwork. It gives us ample time to admire Guy Pearce's newly bulked-up body; it makes him look like one of the Wahlbergs. Not a bad thing...

Did I mention there is a LOT of action? And wit? And grit?

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Please forgive the ad before the trailer:
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