2 Days in New York

Just when you think that your newly blended family has all the lumps worked out, along come the in-laws to add to the mix. Julie Delpy (the writer) has given Julie Delpy (the director) a chaotic script for Julie Delpy (the actress) to deliver. By the way, Delpy's American accent is remark- able. Good for her!

These folks are part of the chaos:
  • Julia Delpy ("Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset," and "Two Days in Paris") Marion has finally married her love interest in this one. Her character is a photographer planning her first big exhibit, enjoying married bliss and raising her little boy and her husband's little girl.
  • Chris Rock ("Everybody Hates Chris") displays the perfect blend of exasperation, shock and confusion as his character, Mingus, a writer and radio talk host, is confronted with his wife's turbulent family. His only confidant is a life-size cardboard cutout of Presi- dent Obama. Mingus is patient, logical, forgiving and flexible...to a degree... But he doesn't speak French.
  • Albert Delpy ("Before Sunset") risks typecasting. He has played Julia's father numerous times. I'm being facetious, he has worked non-stop since 1970.
  • Alexia Landreau ("Two Days in Paris") returns as Marion's exhibitionist sister, who brought along their father and a current boyfriend, much to her sister's chagrin. She is a child psycholo- gist. Eek!
  • Alex Nahon ("Two Days in Paris") is Manu, the fellow who is currently dating the sister but who evidently has a history with Marion. He is the house guest from Hell!
  • Kate Burton ("Liberal Arts") has a delicious bit as a neighbor who shares the elevator with our heroine.
At times all the confusion, with people talking over one another, some in French, some in English, became a little hard to take, but there are no bad guys, no gunshots, no vehicular mayhem, and much to Mingus's chagrin, (because of all those house guests), no sweaty bodies...smile...
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Three Depression-era Bondurant brothers in Virginia – who just happen to be bootleggers – contend with competition and crooked cops. With R-rated action and brutal people, this one made me hide my eyes more than a few times....things are far more intense for me when I know in advance that a story is based on real life.
  • Jason Clarke ("Zero Dark Thirty") is Howard Bondurant, the oldest brother; just don't make him mad!
  • Tom Hardy ("Warrior") is Forrest Bondurant, the indestructible one; his brushes with death are the stuff of local legend.
  • Shia LaBeouf ("Transformers") is Jack Bondurant, the reckless youngest brother, always in need of a helping hand from his older siblings.
  • Dane DeHaan ("In Treatment") is Cricket, the sweet friend who suffered from rickets as a child, but is a great tinkerer!
  • Guy Pearce ("Lockdown") is Charlie Rakes, the vain, over- cologned federal officer.
  • Jessica Chastain ("Coriolanus") is Maggie Beauford, Forrest's love interest... When I admired Ms. Chastain in 2008 for her work in "Jolene," little did I realize the magnitude of her impending success. She works harder, in a wider variety of roles and more consistently than anyone else I can think of.
  • Mia Wasikowska ("Jane Eyre") looking for all the world like a Vermeer painting, is the preacher's daughter who catches young Jack's eye. Her preacher/father does NOT like him!
We watch the arc of the Bondurant family's success in the late 20s and early 30s and see the impact of federal authorities who have been sent there to clear out the moonshiners. The locals are merely intimidated by- standers, but when the chips are down, it's clear where their loyalties are.

Car lovers will LOVE all those period automobiles; one even runs on moonshine!
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Here is a clip from the movie:
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Hope Springs

Alexander Pope said, "Hope springs eternal in the human breast," and this movie proves it. We join a long-time married couple (30 years) who trudge along experiencing the dreaded dailiness of a long-time relation- ship: he has a routine, comfortable job, while she casually takes expert care of their home. Problem is, the spark is gone; in fact, there is scarcely an ember.
  • Meryl Streep ("It's Complicated"), once again demonstrating her quirky, methody style of acting, is utterly convincing as the deeply unhappy but nonconfrontational wife. Her hesitations are as eloquent as her words.
  • Tommy Lee Jones ("The Company Men") does most of the heavy lifting because he has the most to lose. His curmudgeonly character is understandably reluctant, nay, opposed, to couple's therapy, which she has suddenly and unaccountably (in his opinion) embraced.
  • Steve Carell ("Date Night") is the New-England based therapist with "Charlatan" practically plastered on his forehead. It is a tribute to Mr. C's skill as an actor that we (along with our favorite curmudgeon) slowly come to accept him as a legitimate healer who genuinely cares for his patients.
Two things occurred to me: 1) These terrific actors made it painfully obvious how difficult it is to discuss personal things after a long non- personal interval. 2) You can NOT lay a raw piece of bacon and break an egg into a frying pan simultaneously and expect them to be ready to eat at the same time. (Look at the preview!)

This movie made me acutely uncomfortable at times; other times it verged on bawdy, but it is always undeniably true to the human con- dition. For that I give it points, although I only rarely enjoyed it. (I liked her trip to the bookstore where she bought "Sex For Gay Men" because she knew she needed some pointers.)
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Watch this preview and decide for yourself:
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Premium Rush

Bicycle messengers are a breed apart, particularly when plying their trade in the Big Apple! The stunt riding we see in this action flick is probably not much different from their daily death-defying duties. In this one, a messenger must get across town in a short time, so we ride along as he zips through traffic, across parks, and through stores, all the while trying to elude some guy in a silver sedan who is determined to intercept him.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Inception") is the Energizer Bunny, hired at 5:30 PM to deliver a "Premium Rush" envelope to Chinatown by 7:00 PM; he was requested by name. This film runs 91 minutes so we watch this in "real" time.
  • Dania Ramirez ("American Reunion") is his undecided girlfriend whose roommate kicks her out. She too is a bike messenger.
  • Wolé Parks (lots of TV) is the gleeful competitor, not only for our hero's acclaim in the bike messenger community, but also for that lovely girlfriend.
  • Jamie Chung ("Sucker Punch") is an inscrutable Asian whose hard-earned money is at stake. She hired our hero.
  • Michael Shannon ("Take Shelter") is a relentless NYPD cop with a gambling problem.
  • Christopher Place (stunts in films like "The Lucky One," "Safe," and "The Dark Knight Rises") is the dauntless NYPD bike cop who gives our hero a run for his money. This guy is so dedicated we can't help but (sorta) root for him.
There are very few interludes where we can take a breather: We see countless accidents where a cyclist goes head over heels through the air after being hit by taxis, car doors, garbage cans, bikes and other hazards of the trade. We come to fear that scary cop in the sedan as he pursues our hero. We very much appreciate the goose-bump moment near the end when the bike messengers rally their forces, and naturally everyone likes a happy ending.

This PG-13 outing has very little profanity, no blowie uppie stuff, a couple of gunshots, some violence and oodles of vehicular (mostly bicycle) may- hem. I enjoyed it.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Celeste and Jesse Forever

Can a couple remain friends while they are divorcing? Our eponymous lovers have been a couple for so long and are so compatible, not even a pending divorce can interrupt their constant joking, role playing and bawdy horseplay. They are best friends. This unpredictable and intel- ligent R-rated script, written by Harvard graduate Rashida Jones and Trinity College graduate Will McCormack, doesn't whitewash any of the characters. In fact, Celeste is the most flawed character in the film!

We see:
  • Rashida Jones ("Parks and Recreation") is Celeste, a whip-smart ad agency executive, stuck with an unwanted contract to promote The Next Lady Gaga, much to her chagrin! She and her best friend/husband of six years are separated, but she's "doing GREAT!"
  • Andy Samberg ("Friends With Benefits") is Jesse, her slacker husband. He's an artist who can't seem to meet any deadlines and is currently renting a mother-in-law apartment from his soon-to-be ex.
  • Rebecca Dayan ("Limitless") is Veronica, the gorgeous but unexpected element who appears out of nowhere and sparks a crisis. Even though we may want to, we can't seem to make her the villain.
  • Chris Messina ("Like Crazy") is Paul, a nice fellow who signed up for yoga because he wanted to meet women.
  • Ari Traynor ("What's Your Number") is Beth, the patient best friend who can only watch in baffled frustration as her chum has a meltdown.
  • Eric Christian Olsen (Lots of TV) is Tucker, the fourth member of their constant foursome, who finds the antics of his separated friends to be disconcerting.
  • Emma Roberts ("It's Kind of a Funny Story") is Riley, the tween diva who is petulant, spoiled, vain and desperate. She's the one destined to be "The Next Lady Gaga!"
  • Elijah Wood ("Lord of the Rings") is Celeste's boss, who counsels her to "get out there and start dating again!" (Well...maybe not those exact words...)
  • Will McCormack (Lots of TV) is Skillz, the drug dealer who naturally manages to maintain a friendship with both friends.
Expect drug use and profanity, but no sweaty bodies, car chases, gun- shots or blowie uppie stuff. The lovely Ms. Jones (who, by the way, is the daughter of Peggy Lipton and Quincy Jones) is a capable and appealing actress, and everyone else does a fine job, too!

Idle speculation: Is Hollywood trying to tell us that being a slacker is normal for young men?
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Hit and Run

Have you ever watched a movie in which all the characters sounded a little too erudite? Everyone in this goofy thing sounds as though he or she is a college-educated sociologist with a bit of new-age jargon thrown in. It was nice to hear, but I had to wonder if that was the intention of screenwriter Dax Shepard ("Brother's Justice") or if he lacks the skill to write more varied and authentic dialogue.

This is a high-octane road race between a wide variety of muscle cars, custom-built race cars and one sturdy SUV, all because a former getaway driver (for bank robbers) who is in the Witness Protection Program, has promised to drive his sweetheart to a job interview 600 miles away, and nothing, not her ex-boyfriend, not his former gang members, not his dad, not a U.S. Marshall, not even his girlfriend's change of heart, can stop him.

We see:
  • Kristen Bell ("Big Miracle") specializes in conflict resolution. She has a great job opportunity IF she can get to her Los Angeles interview in time. She thinks her boyfriend witnessed a crime.
  • Dax Shepard ("When in Rome") admitted to his girlfriend he was in the Witness Protection Program, but he failed to mention that he was an accomplice in those crimes.
  • Bradley Cooper ("Limitless") spent some painful time in jail because our hero ratted him out. Now he's mad! (But he loves dogs and doesn't want to see them fed inferior dog food.)
  • Joy Bryant ("Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins"), our hero's former girlfriend, is part of that bank-robbing gang, AND she's a pretty fair shot!
  • Beau Bridges ("The Descendants") is our hero's father. The two of them used to race custom-built cars.
  • Tom Arnold ("Madea's Witness Protection") is the U.S. Marshall determined to protect his witness. This character could give the U.S. Marshall Service a bad name!
  • John Duff ("The Game Plan") is the body builder in the clichéd tank top who buys cheap dog food for his pit bull.
In this R-rated comedy, expect constant profanity, some nudity, no blowie uppie stuff, a few gunshots and a LOT of vehicular mayhem. Expect a couple of surprise cameos at the end...and stay for the credits.
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Killer Joe

Tracy Letts' brilliant black stage comedy has been made darker, bloodier and not quite so funny in this NC-17 collaboration with director William Friedkin. I loved the devastatingly funny and audacious stage play but found myself uncomfortable with a number of scenes in the movie. Why is it necessary to ramp up the sex, violence and gore for movies? In my opinion, overkill is overrated.

The movie is extremely well-acted, so I can't complain about this sterling cast:
  • Matthew McConaughey ("Magic Mike") continues to grow as an actor. As Joe, the cop who takes "side jobs," he is chillingly effective, particularly as you notice his courtly manners, good grammar and icy no-nonsense style.
  • Emile Hirsch ("Savages") is Chris, the dumb cluck who owes more debts than he can ever repay. His reaction goes from petulance to panic. It's his solution, an insurance scam, that starts things rolling. Hirsch gets better and better.
  • Juno Temple ("The Dark Knight Rises") is Dottie, the brain-damaged young woman who serves as the family's "retainer" for her brother's deal. There is never a moment when we doubt her intellectual limitations, and she makes a good tuna casserole.
  • Thomas Hayden Church ("We Bought a Zoo"), sporting the world's scraggliest beard, is Ansel, the cuckold father of Dottie and Chris. He is so bewildered and terrorized he can't even help himself!
  • Gina Gershon ("How to Make it in America") is Sharla, Ansel's faithless wife.
As was true in the stage play, the most effective elements in this story are the ones we DON'T see, which is why I am so disappointed by all of the things we DO see: Lots of violent beatings, gun play, and prolonged sexual innuendo.

Sorry, but I can't recommend this one.
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. Maybe our young hero should read Sir Walter Scott before much more time passes. He never learns!

Here we have another PG-rated outing for this popular series based on the graphic novels for children. Our Wimpy Kid, Greg, is as full of bluster as ever, bragging, bluffing and stretching the truth, always trying to impress his classmates, his family, and most importantly, Holly, the girl he has a crush on. This time, he has all summer to get himself in trouble. He wants to play video games but his father wants him to "frolic" outside for three months.

We watch:
  • Zachary Gordon ("Diary....") as Greg, the much put-upon kid whose diary provides the narrative for this series. I would emphasize though, that most of Greg's problems are self-inflicted.
  • Robert Capron ("Diary...") is his sweet, sheltered friend Rowley, or should I say Partner in Crime? Problem is, Rowley's family belongs to the Country Club...and so does the girl of Greg's dreams.
  • Steve Zahn ("Diary...") is our Wimpy Kid's dad, Frank, still trying to cope with an elusive son, trying to bond with him and trying to feel proud. Maybe get him a dog?
  • Devon Bostick ("Diary...") is his brother Rodrick, still evil, be- deviling his little brother and demonstrating all the sensitivity of a jackhammer. Watch what happens when he fakes drowning.
  • Rachel Harris ("Diary...") is his mother Susan, always willing to work things out; but "Little Women" for her son's book club? Seriously?
  • Payton List ("Diary...") is Holly, the surprisingly patient blonde who has won our Wimpy Kid's heart. She is upbeat, flexible and generous.
There were no children in our screening audience, but I suspect they would have enjoyed the chaos at the campground and the pandemonium at the party. Father and son bonded over that roast beef that had been mangled by the dog, but I didn't like watching the family eat it after- wards.

The most off-color thing in the entire movie was when we KNEW what those children were doing in the swimming pool. I guess they hadn't been instructed to use the toilet before entering the pool area. ...sigh...
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Red Lights

Paranormal activity...aren't people getting tired of this yet? ...sigh... Actually, with such a top-notch cast, this actually IS a cut above your average run-of-the-mill R-rated spook show.

I was impressed by:
  • Sigourney Weaver ("Rampart") as Professor Margaret Matheson, a prominent investigator of paranormal phenomena; she teaches students how to spot a phony.
  • Robert De Niro ("Machete") is Simon Silver, a world-renowned psychic who retired years ago, after the death (by natural causes) of an outspoken critic. Silver is making a comeback.
  • Cillian Murphy ("Red Eye") is Tom Buckley, a physicist who has attached himself to Professor Matheson in single-minded deter- mination to debunk paranormal activities.
  • Joely Richardson ("Anonymous") is an acolyte of Silver's, who travels with him and assists with his comeback campaign.
  • Toby Jones ("Captain America") is Paul Shackleton, one of Professor Matheson's colleagues. He wants to prove or disprove once and for all, whether or not paranormal activities are real.
  • Elizabeth Olsen ("Liberal Arts") is Sally Owen, one of Professor Matheson's eager students.
Cillian Murphy continues to impress me. This time he speaks "American" (as does Toby Jones), and his character is earnest, smart, resourceful and determined. There are many layers to each character, which only serve to enrich the story and hold our interest. There is no doubt that we are seeing paranormal activities, but where do they come from and why? I loved the line, "Never mind. It's just a bird," when for some reason, yet another bird smashes to its death against a window.

There is an inchoate sense of impending doom that I found disconcerting. For my taste, there were far too many "GOTCHA!" moments but at least we weren't left with any questions. And that's a GOOD thing!
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