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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Trouble With the Curve

Certain sounds evoke my childhood: the crack of a bat that says a ball is headed for the back fence; the thud of a catcher's mitt when a baseball smacks dead center; the jeers of fans who heckle the players from the bleachers; the cry of a peanut vendor peddling his wares. Add to that the solid click of a cue ball struck with authority and the ubiquitous ping of a cellphone to announce a new text message, and we have the perfect soundtrack for this film.

Here's one movie Clint Eastwood didn't direct; instead Robert Lorenz is at the helm, but he's worked with Eastwood as First Assistant Director many times. Producer Eastwood plays an aging baseball scout with failing eye- sight whose sports-minded daughter invites herself along on one last recruiting trip. Problem is, she is up for partner at the law firm in the city where she works, and her curmudgeonly dad doesn't want her wasting her valuable time on him. In fact, he doesn't want to admit he has a problem.

Here are:
  • Clint Eastwood ("Gran Torino") is Gus; if you have ever doubted Mr. E's ability as an actor, pay close attention as he does a single- take closeup, singing "You Are My Sunshine" a cappella....
  • Amy Adams ("The Fighter") is Mickey (named after her dad's favorite baseball player), who is determined to break through her father's wall of isolation.
  • John Goodman ("The Artist") is Pete, a long-time loyal friend. He sees through the smokescreen and knows when his pal needs help.
  • Justin Timberlake ("In Time") is Johnny, the would-be pitcher who blew his arm, but still looks to Gus for fatherly support and ad- vice.
  • Jay Galloway (in his first film) is Rigo, the peanut vendor.
  • Joe Massingill ("Glee") is Bo Gentry, baseball's next great hope. If you doubt it, just ask him!
Talent scouts in the baseball world inhabit their own little society: they grouse, gamble and gossip as they travel from one little dirt-water town to the next, watching high-school boys do their darndest to be the next super-star. This little gang has a great time as each tries to out-insult the other, but this doesn't keep the film from being entertaining and satis- fying. Clichés? You bet. But remember: they WORK.

Be prepared for PG-13 profanity, a car wreck, no gunshots or blowie uppie stuff, some nice surprises, and a LOT of entertaining baseball trivia.
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Keep the Lights On

It was a sparse crowd on this, the first screening of the second day in the fourth week of our regular four-day week of press screenings at the 38th Seattle International Film Festival. (This was first posted on May 22nd, 2012)

This 2012 entry from the USA portrays a decade-long relationship between two young men, one of whom is a documentary film maker working on the life of Avery Willard (always work with what you know!). The other man is a successful lawyer.

We see:
  • Thure Lindhardt ("Into the Wild") as Erik the documentarian, a young Dane living the gay life in New York City and enjoying a solid friendship with Claire while staying in touch with his sister Karen.
  • Zachary Booth ("Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist") as Paul, the closeted attorney who meets our hero and launches into an intense affair with him.
  • Julianne Nicholson ("Shadows and Lies") is Claire, Erik's best friend. Her biological clock is ticking and she considers having a baby with him. He's a bit shocked!
This relationship hits a lot of the standard marks, first flush of passion, the changing situations with friends, careers, jealousy, side interests, drugs, alcohol, rehab, relapse, reconciliation, etc., etc.... Nothing new under the sun, but realistically handled, particularly Erik's concern about Paul's drug use.

Because this spans over a decade, we get to watch the changing furni- ture, wallpaper, computers and phones, while realizing that the people aren't changing all that much. This is unpredictable but formulaic (does that make sense?).
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Step Up to the Plate

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this four-hour home-movie marathon only lasted 90 minutes. (I first posted this review on May 16, 2012.)

This is about a Master Chef who is trying to prepare himself mentally to turn over his successful empire to his equally successful son. They have very different styles: the dad is a nit picker (which is why he became a Master Chef in the first place) and the son always looks concerned. Not worried, but concerned. Maybe I was the only one bored at this 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from France, but I found myself clutching at straws.

Here are a few straws:
  • I love some of the photography; particularly exteriors, interiors and landscapes when they are monochromatic and serene! There is one shot of an empty commercial kitchen, all shiny and still, that is exceptional.
  • The colors in some of the foods are terrific: brilliant green sauces, gray-green mold on the cheeses, almost black blackberry jelly. They use pansies, squash, avocado, and far too many more eso- teric edibles to name. I like it when they use interesting colors.
  • The mother makes a very insightful comment: It's easier to climb to the top, than to stay there.
  • It's interesting to see how much stoop labor is involved in being a master chef. They don't put those crates of vegetables up where you can reach them, you have to bend over!
  • A couple of things made me smile: The chef licks his fingers, reaches down and moves an article of food, then realizes he is on camera; when Grandpa is buzzing his grandchildren around in a little runabout, the seat belts are tucked to the side, ignored and unused.
  • The direction of a swipe of a spoon on a plate requires a near summit conference to reach accord. Each condiment is spooned, dribbled, swiped, piled or dotted onto the plate. Once the decision is finalized, each serving must conform to the chef's diagram!
All in all, this felt like a bunch of esoteric claptrap to me...other than the photography. (Not the family hikes, the walk through the old family barn, the early morning jogs of father and son, the taste test of that Japanese creation, etc., etc., etc. ...yawn...) At least it was in French, and English subtitles were very welcome! I'm not sure I wanted to taste some of those creations...



We see high-stakes finance in the hedge-fund world (they don't make anything, they just move money around) where a phenomenally successful trader makes a BIG mistake; he's in the middle of a multi-faceted negotiation, so it couldn't happen at a worse time. He asks for help from a most unlikely ally, then they are BOTH on a slippery slope.

The word "trust" is used repeatedly, but over the long haul, only one person is actually trustworthy. Kudos to young writer/director Nicholas Jarecki ("The Outsider") for the way he played this one! He allowed little itchy bits of doubt to creep in....

Every one of these folks has an important role:
  • Richard Gere ("Chicago") Robert Miller explores the fine line between getting rich and getting caught. His billionaire is a bit disconnected from our world: "What's an Applebees?"
  • Susan Sarandon ("The Lovely Bones") Ellen Miller tries to keep the home fires burning, the charities funded, and the children happy. Sometimes that isn't as easy as it sounds.
  • Brit Marling ("The Company You Keep") Brooke Miller is the daughter who is a chip off the old block, i.e., she's really, really smart! Almost too smart....
  • Laetitia Casta ("Do Not Disturb") Julie Cote is a struggling artist who can use a helping hand as she launches a career in her adopted city.
  • Tim Roth ("Lie to Me") Michael Bryer is an ambitious and tenacious detective who WILL get a conviction, no matter what!
  • Nate Parker ("Red Tails") Jimmy Grant is a former felon who doesn't exactly fit in: He's "real."
There are numerous attorneys, prosecutors, auditors, and business associates, plus chauffeurs, servants, in-laws and social contacts, all of whom add to this high-stakes poker game. Bluff, raise and draw!

It's interesting to watch a self-indulgent man who is intrinsically dis- honest, and realize that secretly, we still want to see him win; it must be our loyalty to Richard Gere, the actor. But after we watched all the self- centered, ambitious people in this story, when the "good guy" finally caught a little break, the audience actually applauded. That made me feel good; I always want someone (decent!) to root for.

In this R-rated thriller, expect drug use, profanity and one startling car wreck.

There is early Oscar buzz for Gere, but I think that might be a little optimistic.
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Liberal Arts

Now THIS is one to watch for! It is witty, intelligent, well-acted, adult, textured and beautifully acted, with a gorgeous soundtrack. Our 2012 Seattle International Film Festival audience could scarcely contain our- selves as we exited the theater. We had watched decent people trying to cope with the vagaries of growing up, each at his or her own pace, with his or her own degree of success. This was first posted on May 15th, 2012.

Let's look at some of these nice people:
  • Josh Radnor ("How I Met Your Mother") is Jesse, an Admissions officer for a New York City school, called to give a speech for a former professor who is retiring at his old alma mater. He is a bookworm who says a dual English/History degree should make a graduate fully unemployable. He meets a couple of undergrads while visiting his old campus.
  • Elizabeth Olsen ("Martha Marcy May Marlene") is Zibby, a young woman wise for her years but who views a relationship with our hero as a possible short-cut to maturity. She gives him a mix-tape filled with works by dead white males, i.e., European composers Wagner, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi and Shubert. That is his FIRST surprise from her! She is smart, decent and has great insight. And she LOVES "snail mail."
  • John Magaro ("My Soul to Take") is Dean, the other student our hero meets on campus. This guy hates hyperbole and is termi- nally depressed! He keeps re-reading a book written by an author who killed himself. He's attending college because he got a "full ride" scholarship and his single mom is "soooo proud!"
  • Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor") is Peter Hoberg, the professor trying to make the difficult transition to retirement.
  • Allison Janney ("The Help") is Judith Fairfield, the acerbic profes- sor who helped our hero learn to love dead white males (in this case the Romantic poets). She thinks he has a "gooey heart!"
  • Elizabeth Reaser (the "Twilight" trilogy) is Ana, who works in a bookstore. She notices he reads dead white males, authors who shall remain nameless.
  • Zac Efron ("The Lucky One") is Nat, who may or may not exist....
Writer/director Josh Radnor ("Happythankyoumoreplease") has a great future ahead. He doesn't talk down to his audience, his characters are literate, witty, decent and earnest. The soundtrack is absolutely wonder- ful and Radnor's bittersweet views on aging and age differences are very realistic. We laughed at his stunned reaction to a "Vampire" trilogy. This is top notch!


Hello I Must Be Going

This is pretty standard romantic comedy fare for the 2012 Seattle Inter- national Film Festival; the most amusing part was the May/December romance (well, not really December...) which features a (sorta) older woman and a younger man. This was first reviewed 05-23-12.

A recent divorcée has to move back home because her husband wanted the divorce and she has never held a job. Now she is caught in a spiral of embarrassment, ennui, and agoraphobia. Her well-meaning parents are anxious for her to get out and start to take an interest in life: she hasn't left the house for three months. They decide to throw a party for one of Dad's clients to pave the way for his possible retirement, while at the same time, to motivate their daughter to change out of her old t-shirt and meet some new people.

We meet:
  • Melanie Lynskey ("Ever After") is Amy, sorely in need of an anti- depressant; she mixes her metaphors and says, "I had the rug pulled over my eyes."
  • Blythe Danner ("The Lucky One") is Ruth, her mother, who reads Dr. Seuss to her grandchildren and longs to have some "alone time" with her husband on a lengthy cruise.
  • Christopher Abbot ("Martha Marcy May Marlene") is Jeremy, the best anti-depressant our heroine ever tried! He tells his mother he is gay so she will quit trying to set up blind dates.
  • John Rubinstein (Lots of TV) is Stan, who really IS reluctant to retire and Gallivant the Globe with his wife.
  • Julie White ("Inside Out") is Gwen, the former classmate who never knew our heroine existed, but now she's in her face.
We sometimes forget that it might not be all that great to be nineteen again, particularly when the woman you love views you as a boy toy.

I liked the soundtrack which included "Oh the fox went out on a chilly night, prayed to the moon to give him light, He'd many a mile to go that night, before he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o...."


The Words

Hmmm.... A thought-provoking adult film for grown-ups. Whatever will they think of next? You'll want to pay close attention, because even the intricately plotted back story has a back story, which is appropriate because this is a movie about writers. It's fascinating to watch it unfold.

Not only do directors Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman play minor characters in this movie, they also share screen-writing honors. In it, a striving author is confronted with fame and fortune after a manuscript he claims as his own enjoys mammoth success. Now he has to deal with the potential pain and shame of exposure; this PG-13 drama is inspired by a couple of notorious plagiarism cases in the recent past.

Some of these characters are supposed to be real:
  • Bradley Cooper ("Hit and Run") is Rory, our writer, who may or may not be fictitious.
  • Zoë Saldana ("Columbiana") is Dora, the gal Rory loves and marries.
  • Jeremy Irons ("Margin Call") is The Old Man, who appears in Rory's life, claiming authorship of a long-lost book.
  • Ben Barnes ("Dorian Gray") is The Young Man, a WWII soldier featured in that best-selling book.
  • Nora Arnezeder ("Paris 36") is Celia, the lovely Parisian with whom our WWII hero falls in love.
  • Dennis Quaid ("Footloose") is Clay Hammond, an author who is promoting his book which tells the story of Rory, Dora, Celia, a WWII soldier and an Old Man.
  • Olivia Wilde ("The Change-Up") is Danielle, the doctoral candidate who will be writing her dissertation about Clay Hammond and his fiction.
We left the theater discussing whether or not we had seen a story about a book that is about a book, or.... Hmmm.... When you see it, please let me know what you think. It is beautifully done and everyone does a perfectly splendid job. No gunshots, no vehicular mayhem, no blowie uppie stuff and no sweaty bodies, but we were entertained despite those glaring defects...smile...
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