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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Here is a link to a trailer:
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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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Here is a link to a preview:
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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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Here is a link to a preview:
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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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Here is a link to a preview:
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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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Here is a link to a preview:
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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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Here is a link to a preview:
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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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Here is a link to a preview:
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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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Here is a link to a preview:
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