Price Check

I'll bet you never wondered what goes on behind the scenes in your local supermarket: why items are placed where they are, what equipment is used for the checkers, when specials are planned and how careers are made or ruined based on the success or failure of these decisions.

Screening audiences attending this 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from the USA will never wonder; we got to watch these corporate shenanigans in living color!

We saw:
  • Parker Posey ("Inside Out") is a recently hired dynamo brought in to re-energize this mid-size supermarket chain. Her take-no-prisoners style is immediately obvious when she fires a high-timer unjustly, simply so she can re-invest his significant salary on promotional material.
  • Eric Mabius (Lots of TV) is a frustrated music industry profes- sional, temporarily (he hopes) side-tracked into supermarket management. He is seduced by the siren song of success, with a salary increase and unexpected temptation. All his boss wants in return (she says) is his loyalty.
  • Annie Parisse ("The Amazing Spider-Man") is our hero's wife, proud of his work ethic and really proud of his promotion! She even might be willing to overlook a thing or two....
  • Cheyenne Jackson ("Lola Versus") is a man from that dynamo's past, who has nothing nice to say about her! He stands his ground with her though, which is more than most men.
  • Julia Bray (Lots of TV) is quite the surprise. Downtrodden, over- looked and derided, she suddenly finds her inner loyal employee and delivers a great motivational speech.
As a veteran of the corporate world, I felt the discussions around the planning table had a ring of authenticity, although the percent increase they are discussing sounds waaaay out of line for the grocery business! Safeway and Kroegers should be so lucky!
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Anna Karenina

It's time to revisit Leo Tolstoy's classic tragedy once more. We are in the late nineteenth century Russian high society, but this time Tom Stoppard ("Shakespeare in Love") did the script and his theatrical roots are evident from the first moment, as we watch a curtain rise to reveal a stage. From then on, we move from theater to house to theater to street, etc., etc... It is a bit disorienting at the beginning, but once we adjust our expectations, it works very, very well. The actors' movements are sometimes balletic, sometimes comedic and sometimes simply theatrical, but director Joe Wright ("Atonement") never loses control.

We see:
  • Keira Knightley ("Pride and Prejudice" 2005) is Princess Anna, sweet and unspoiled...but untested. She loves her son and never questions her wealth or doubts her position in society.
  • Jude Law ("Sherlock Holmes") is Prince Karenin, Anna's husband, a cool and distant man who has absolute trust in his wife.
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson ("Nowhere Boy") is Count Vronsky, the pretty nobleman who spots Anna and is determined to win her.
  • Kelly Macdonald ("Gosford Park") is Dolly, Anna's sister-in-law. She is such an open, loving woman, our hearts go out to her whenever she is on screen.
  • Matthew Macfadyen ("Death at a Funeral" 2007) is Oblonsky, Anna's brother. He provides the comic relief. It's a marvelous trick the way his minions change his jackets; we see it a number of times and it never fails to amuse.
  • Alicia Vikander ("A Royal Affair") is Kitty, the darling young woman who first falls for Count Vronsky.
  • David Wilmot ("The Guard") is Nikolai, Oblonsky's love-struck brother who adores Kitty from afar. Tolstoy uses this farmer to examine the pre-Bolshevek Revolutionary relationship between the peasants and the nobles.
This is a lush production with gorgeous costumes, amazing hair styles and a peek at the privileges enjoyed by the aristocracy. The Russians emulated the French, so the children were taught French, while the clothing and furniture echoed those of Paris.

This R-rated film runs over two hours and is filled with endless close-ups that examine Knightley's face, hands, hair, eyes, lips, etc. I saw more than I needed during the love scenes: I still think some things are best left to our imagination (saliva anyone?).
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Life of Pi

There are times I am out of step with popular trends: I was urged to read Yann Martel's enormously popular novel while it was on the best-seller list. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I did not like it, in fact I disliked it! To me, the story of an Indian boy who is shipwrecked, adrift with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger in a lifeboat is a bit much.

With the astonishing Ang Lee as the director ("The Wedding Banquet," "Sense and Sensibility," "Brokeback Mountain," "Hulk," and "The Ice Storm"), things started looking up. As you can see from a sampling of his work, this much-acclaimed artist never stays with one genre, never copies other filmmakers and never plays it safe. He rarely makes a PG film and I think this is his first 3D project. At this point, Ang Lee can take his place with James Cameron ("Avatar") and Martin Scorsese ("Hugo") as a director who understands the capabilities of 3D.

He did wonders with his cast:
  • Suraj Sharma (in his first film role!) is Pi, an adventurous, inquis- itive youngster. He has settled on being a vegetarian Hindu Muslim who embraces Catholic guilt, studies the Jewish Kabbalah, and wants to be baptized. He is convinced that religion is a big house with many rooms.
  • Irrfan Khan ("Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Amazing Spider- Man") is the adult Pi, who tells his spellbinding tale to a would-be author.
  • Rafe Spall ("Prometheus") is our incredulous listener, The Writer, who speaks for us as he expresses all the confusion, dismay and doubt that we in the audience naturally feel.
  • The tiger who plays Richard Parker is a seamless combination of real life and computer generated images. Brilliant!
3D is rarely used this well. The opening credit sequence that takes us through a small municipal zoo in India is a marvel, and the scenes in clear water are breathtaking: you can't tell water from air, so things seem to be floating above the earth. Kudos to Cinematographer Claudio Miranda for the dazzling effects! (We LOVED the flying fish!)

The continuity is consistently good: as time goes by in the lifeboat, our hero and our tiger are visibly thinner, the tiger's teeth become greenish and both of them have dry unhealthy hair. The shipwreck is tough to see, but we don't have to watch carnivores kill their lunch, and when Pi finally brains a fish, he weeps and apologizes to it. Don't bring toddlers, but from ten years old and up, I think a child can handle it.

In my opinion, this was much better than the book! (But I still hate the island! You'll see what I mean.)
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Rise of the Guardians

Animation by DreamWorks, voices by celebrities, familiar characters from our childhood, can this one miss? An evil spirit called "Pitch" comes to destroy the hopes, dreams and imaginations of the children on our earth, so the Immortal Guardians spring to their defense. A battle ensues.....

The children will see:
  • Jack Frost (Chris Pine) who has no memory of a childhood, a family or a past. He refuses to be Guardian because no one believes in him.
  • E. Aster Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman) is an Australian rabbit, complete with boomerang. "I'm NOT a kangaroo, Mate!"
  • North (Alec Baldwin) is a Slavic Santa with a core made of wide-eyed awe. "Now vee get down to zee tacks of brrrrrass!"
  • Tooth (Isla Fisher) is a darling fairy who starts to lose her ability to fly as fewer children believe in her. "Don't forget to floss!"
  • Pitch (Jude Law) is the Boogyman. He rounds up Nightmares to promote fear; he's tired of "hiding under beds and in closets!"
  • Little Boy (Stuart Allen) has an unshakable belief in the Easter Bunny. Animation was never better than during his scene in the bedroom with Jack Frost.
  • Little Girl (Isabella Blake-Thomas) slips down the rabbit hole by mistake. Her innocence inspires the Guardians.
  • Sandman is mute, so no voice artist is listed here. He's a mighty Guardian though!
These Guardians of our childhood can exist only so long as children believe in them. It is that belief that the forces of evil intend to attack.

Despite the PG rating, some of those "forces" seem dark indeed! The Nightmares are fearsome and seem to be carnivores. Maybe children are tougher than they used to be, but you'd better sit close! Some of the dialogue had the adults chuckling while it went right over the children's heads. For example, when all the Guardians dash around retrieving baby teeth from under pillows to help the Tooth Fairy, they forget to leave quarters. In the next scene they are at a coin changing machine in a laundromat. We laughed out loud!

Oh! I almost forgot: Happy ending, folks!
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Red Dawn

A recharged, re-energized, (and reee-diculous) PG-13 reprise of the 1984 star-making classic, this time with more, more, more (guns, blood and explosions)! We have a gang of Spokane, Washington high-school class- mates (The Wolverines) who take it upon themselves to save their country from a scourge of......North Koreans, who have the technical know-how to get past the US Navy, the US Air Force, the US Army and (some of) the US Marines. One of the teenagers has a big brother who is a Marine; he conducts a brief training class for this handful of fugitives, on guns, knives, martial arts, explosives and other survival skills. Yeah, riiight!

Opening shots feature news clips of President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton and familiar faces from the networks, all trying to placate an increasingly alarmed citizenry. This is supposed to provide authenticity.

These are the current players:
  • Chris Hemsworth ("Thor") in Patrick Swayze's old role of Jed, Marine military skills instructor and miracle worker.
  • Josh Hutcherson ("The Hunger Games") is the new C.Thomas Howell as Robert, the geek who understands electronics and becomes the explosives expert (Spoiler Alert! He drinks the blood).
  • Josh Peck ("Drillbit Taylor" but mostly voice work) has Charlie Sheen's old role: Matt, irresponsible, impulsive and rebellious.
  • Conner Cruise ("Seven Pounds") is Daryl, the role formerly played by Darren Dalton. Yes, Conner is Tom's son. His character has the most wrenching twist.
  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan ("The Courier") is one of the Marines who comes to the Wolverine's camp looking for help (!?!). This was formerly played by Powers Boothe.
  • Adrianne Palicki ("Elektra Lux" and lots of TV) has Jennifer Gray's old role of Toni.
  • Isabel Lucas ("Immortals") is the new Lea Thompson as Erica.
I could go on, but you get the idea. The less well-known the actor, the more likely he or she is to die early.

Expect endless scenes of urban warfare, with vehicular mayhem, fire- fights and blowie uppie stuff. The young men in the (target) audience were enthralled, the rest of us...not so much.

This is actually an argument against gun control: a well-armed populace doesn't take foreign domination laying down!
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Silver Linings Playbook

On temporary leave from a mental institution, our bi-polar hero is frantic to reconcile with his ex, but his parents, who have signed for custody and are on the hook for his behavior, are understandably worried. Partic- ularly when he seems to be interacting with a troubled young widow who is no more predictable than he.

In this engaging dramedy, we see a plot painted with broad strokes, but delivered by a cast capable of great skill and subtlety:
  • Bradley Cooper ("The Words") is Pat, absolutely convinced that only one "incident" caused his problem and it can easily be explained. Of course what he views as "normal" might be the issue here...that plus the restraining order his ex-wife has filed.
  • Jennifer Lawrence ("The Hunger Games") is Tiffany, a recent acquaintance with a questionable past, but it too, can easily be explained. She's still working her way toward "normal."
  • Robert De Niro ("Limitless") is Pat Sr., a cantankerous, con- trolling, obsessive compulsive, who wants to open a restaurant, but is willing to wager that his son won't let him down. From him we get a lot of insight into the family dynamics and what is considered "normal."
  • Jacki Weaver ("The Five-Year Engagement") is Delores, the long-suffering wife and mother of our two favorite odd-balls. Chaos is "normal" for her.
  • Anupam Kher ("Bend it Like Beckham") is Dr. Cliff Patel, our hero's therapist...  and a sports fan! He's still trying to define "normal."
  • Chris Tucker (the "Rush Hour" franchise) is Danny, escape artist par excellence! He met our hero in the mental institution; Danny may be crazy, but he's not dumb!
It is disconcerting to see a person deliberately refuse his medications, so I had a lot of misgivings about a movie that seems to endorse that be- havior. On the other hand, we could see that the OCD apple didn't fall very far from the tree. I can only say that our hero's mother deserves to have her ample chest covered with medals!

In this R-rated film, expect lots of profanity, a glimpse of (maybe) nudity, no sweaty bodies, no gunshots and no blowie uppie stuff (except tem- pers, e.g., watch our hero when he finishes Ernest Hemingway's A Fare- well to Arms!). Also expect to have people to root for, and an improbable bet that features a point spread.

Let me add that this movie includes the most memorable "lift" since "Dirty Dancing."
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Chasing Ice

This documentary from the USA about global warming was presented at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival (this review was first posted on June 5, 2012). It features intrepid National Geographic photographer James Balog, who has created an ingenious method for measuring climate change as it effects glaciers: 25 time-lapse cameras set up in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Montana. After some arduous treks into harsh remote areas, Balog and his stalwart team of assistants anchored the cameras, set the timers and went back to civilization.

They made beginners' mistakes: they had used faulty timers and had totally underestimated the violence of nature. Cameras were smashed by falling rocks and lens covers were sand blasted. After weeping bitter tears over their failures, they gamely redesigned their cameras and started again. This time they recovered remarkable visual records of the glaciers and their ever-changing size.

I had some problems with this beautifully shot film: It is alarmist to the point of absurdity. For example, it uses clips from Katrina and, what seemed to me, the recent Japanese tsunami, neither of which were related to global warming. I recognize why they would want to use artistic license to make a point, but at risk of losing credibility? Besides, they were preaching to the choir.

Balog's mission is to provide evidence of global warming. Okay.... Now what?

For an exciting and energizing version of this same issue which also includes clips about possible solutions, please find Bjørn Lomborg's upbeat 2010 documentary, "Cool It." This one introduces us to brilliant minds who are already addressing the problem and researching ways to mitigate it.

For absolutely spectacular photography, see "Chasing Ice." For ideas and solutions, see "Cool It."



M made a decision in the past that hurt someone? Yes, and that tough call complicates matters for MI6; even James Bond's loyalty is put to the test. However, with world class villains (and his own death) to contend with, there isn't a moment to reflect on her misdeeds.

Director Sam Mendes ("Revolutionary Road") is working for the first time with the Broccoli family, who has owned this Bond franchise for 50 years. There is no doubt Mendes knows exactly what the fans expect, he delivers non-stop action, wonderful reminders of past Bond films, lots of gunfire and fisticuffs, plus oodles of blowie uppie stuff!

We recognize the regulars, but watch for some new ones, too:
  • Daniel Craig ("Defiance") is back as Bond, resurrected from the dead and furious that M gave the order to shoot him (he heard her in his ear bud). Now he must cope with a damaged body that doesn't do quite what he wants.
  • Judi Dench ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") is still M, beleaguered, bedeviled and besieged. Of course, her quips are almost as funny as Bond's.
  • Ben Whishaw ("Cloud Atlas") is the callow youth who personifies this generation of technophiles. Yup, to Bond's dismay, this mop- headed geek is our new Q and we love him from the get-go!
  • Naomie Harris ("Mandala, Long Walk to Freedom") is Bond's sidekick in the opening scenes in Istanbul. Wait until you hear her last name!
  • Javier Barden ("Biutiful") seems to have SUCH fun playing villains; this flaxen-haired bad guy is almost as persistent as our hero; he just doesn't know when to quit! Revenge is a powerful motivator.
This popular franchise illustrates what we mean when we say "sensory overload." It isn't necessary to suspend disbelief in these things because we know as we walk in the door that we will be bombarded with PG-13 cartoony violence, hair's-breath escapes and quippy dialogue. It's what we want, it's what we pay for and it's what we get!

With this one, I confess I was shaken, not stirred.
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A Late Quartet

We know immediately that we are in the hands of skilled professionals: the camera work, the music, and the acting leave very little room for improvement. We open in the midst of a chamber music concert, as we watch four stringed instruments play Beethoven's Opus 131 in C-sharp Minor. This group of musicians has performed together for over 20 years, so it is a finely tuned instrument, tightly bound together by a common love of music and shared lives. As a result, anything that affects one, immediately reverberates through all.

In my opinion, the conflicts that arise in this R-rated drama are long overdue, so they aren't a surprise. In fact, seeing the top-notch acting wasn't a surprise either, given this cast.

Here are the principal players:
  • Christopher Walken ("Seven Psychopaths") is the cello player whose situation sparks the drama. We really appreciate how he copes with his news.
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Moneyball") is the second violin whose behavior sparks another drama; but he's really, really sorry!
  • Mark Ivanir ("Big Miracle" he was the Russian ship captain) is the first violin whose unrelenting precision has made this quartet the cohesive success it is today.
  • Catherine Keener ("Please Give") is plays the viola, lending its mellow voice and her strong but mellow personality to the group.
  • Imogene Poots ("Jane Eyre" 2011) is the daughter of two of our players and the lover of a third. Talk about rebellion!
I loved the snowy serenity of a wintry Central Park in New York City, the familiar lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other well-known locales. I also loved the rich helpings of classical music and an insider's view of the rivalry, egos, and jealousy that would be inevitable in such a long-standing association. In my own, rather biased experience (I played viola), I found it to be more fun to PLAY chamber music than LISTEN to it.

Expect some nudity and profanity, no gunshots, vehicular mayhem or blowie uppie stuff, lots of classical music and a slightly abrupt but poignant ending.
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Do you think political wheeling and dealing is a recent development? Think again! This peek into the sausage factory we call Washington D.C. makes crystal clear why it is vital for Abraham Lincoln to wrangle passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (which frees the slaves) BEFORE the Confederate States surrender, end the American Civil War and rejoin the Union.

The Republicans in the Senate have already passed it, so now it's up to the House to ratify it and send it to the President for his signature. The battle for votes is between the staunch Segregationists (the Democrats) and the Abolitionists (the Republicans), with three Stooges, ...er... three legislative "whips" who apply Republican pressure to achieve that critical two-thirds majority vote.

Even though we all know the 13th Amendment passed, it is still fascinating to see what kind of skulduggery was involved in its passage. (Did I mention sausage factory? C'mon, do we really want to SEE what goes into sausage?) Be warned, there are a LOT of speeches, but Lincoln keeps interjecting his little anecdotes and homilies, so that breaks things up as we go. And we see him apply pressure, authorize patronage jobs, and pay out-and-out bribes because he knows the world is watching. It's fun to realize that the telegraph is the e-mail of its time.

As to the cast, when Director Steven Spielberg makes a call, Hollywood answers. This is the most astonishing collection of A-List actors I have seen since the golden days of MGM:
  • Daniel Day-Lewis ("Nine") uses Lincoln's high voice and rare wit and there are times his makeup is excellent, however at other times he looks very, very tall but not consistently. I'm always fascinated by Day-Lewis's nose: when he faces south, his nose faces southwest.
  • David Strathairn ("Alphas") is Secretary of State William Seward, Lincoln's right-hand man: pragmatic, intelligent and loyal.
  • Tommy Lee Jones ("Hope Springs") portrays Representative Thaddeus Stevens, an uncompromising Abolitionist leading the Republican charge against slavery. He may have to modify his totalitarian views in order to get the necessary numbers on his side.
  • James Spader ("Boston Legal") has a great time bringing comic relief as one of the three lobbyist/connivers who will stoop to anything to help Lincoln pass that amendment.
  • John Hawkes ("The Sessions") is, as always, completely convincing as one of the three rascals who perches in the House of Representatives' gallery, tracking votes.
  • Tim Blake Nelson ("Big Miracle") is the third arm-twister, helping to bring pressure to bear for President Lincoln's ground-breaking 13th Amendment.
  • Jackie Earle Haley ("Dark Shadows") We see that Representative (from the South) Alexander Stephens has traveled north to end the war, but he is stunned to be stonewalled.
  • Lee Pace ("The Fall") finally has a role to fit his enormous talent: Representative Fernando Wood is an eloquent Democrat who makes several heart-felt pleas in support of slavery.
  • Jared Harris ("Mad Men") plays General Ulysses S. Grant, strategizing with the President to end this hellish war but only AFTER the amendment passes. Lincoln explains the legalities involved, he is, after all, a lawyer.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Premium Rush") is our hero's son Robert Todd Lincoln, who is determined to drop out of law school and enlist in the Union army; Mom and Dad don't agree.
  • Hal Holbrook ("Water For Elephants") is Francis Preston Blair (as in Blair House) who makes a trip down south to offer a truce.
  • David Oyelowo ("The Help") is an educated corporal in an all-black battalion fighting for the North...AND his freedom.
  • Sally Field ("The Amazing Spider-Man") is Mary Todd Lincoln, trying to cope with the death of a son and chronic depression.
  • Gloria Reuben ("Law & Order") is Elizabeth Keckley, a boon companion and loyal employee of Mary Todd Lincoln.
  • S. Epatha Merkerson ("Law & Order") plays Lydia Smith, who makes a surprise appearance right near the end.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. You will recognize face after face as battles are waged, both in the smoke-filled chambers of Congress and on the muddy Civil War battlefields. A lot of the legal "action" involves the intricacies of Roberts Rules of Order. The two-week delay during the struggle for passage of the amendment and the surrender of the Confederacy is a heart-breaker for Lincoln, because he knows Americans on both sides are dying every day.

By the way (Spoiler Alert!), despite Screenwriter Tony Kushner's best efforts, Lincoln's personal story does not have a happy ending. Maybe I should warn you....
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The Details

The Devil is in the details, right? This highly entertaining 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from the USA shows us how innocuous little events can accumulate until we see catastrophic results. Director Jacob Aaron Estes ("Mean Creek") shows a deft hand with black humor; he makes us laugh even as we cringe. This review was first released to a small group of people in June, 2012, so a few of you have seen this before.

We start with a successful Seattle pediatrician having his backyard sodded. The workmen leave and our hero and his wife rejoice in their lovely new lawn. When they get up in the morning they discover that a greedy raccoon, in quest of all those newly imported earthworms, has wreaked havoc out there. So begins our story....

The players:
  • Tobey Maguire ("Life of Pi") is the would-be raccoon killer. As he becomes more fixated on this duel to the death, his methods also escalate.
  • Elizabeth Banks ("The Hunger Games") is the baffled wife. She doesn't see the raccoon as such a major problem.
  • Laura Linney ("The Big C") is spectacular as a peculiar neighbor. She has lots of pets, a cluttered home and big hair. Her father died when she was a child and her mother explained, "Not all the doctors made A's in medical school."
  • Dennis Haysbert ("LUV") is a basketball-playing chum of our hero; he is burdened with bad kidneys and bad teeth.
  • Ray Liotta ("Killing Them Softly") is interested in a business partnership with our hero.
  • Kerry Washington ("Ray") is our hero's therapist...and trouble.
Our environmentally sensitive family drives a gas-sipping vehicle and recycles. They want to remodel their house but hit a bureaucratic road- block. That, plus the raccoon, starts our hero on a swift downward spiral.

This delightful dramedy was shot in Seattle, Kirkland and Redmond. You've gotta see it to believe it!
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Have you ever wondered if you really have to fasten your seat belt on an airliner? This film will leave NO doubt! We open with scenes that provide background for a subsequent, harrowing, plane crash. Director Robert Zemeckis ("Cast Away") knows how to set the stage.

After the astonishing but miraculous crash of an airliner, bits of distur- bing information begin to surface about the brilliant pilot whose amazing skills dazzled the experts. Was he drunk? Was that cocaine in his blood? Watch the attorney for the pilots' union as he tries to formulate our hero's defense.

Here is the high-flying cast:
  • Denzel Washington ("Safe House") This guy is clear about one thing: He is NOT an alcoholic! We see why flying is in his blood. He's a better pilot while impaired, than most other pilots at their very best. Yes, he's arrogant, but to quote Dizzy Dean, "If you can do it, it ain't braggin'.
  • Tamara Tunie ("Law & Order, SVU") Here we see a truly heroic flight attendant in action. Wow!
  • Don Cheadle ("The Guard") This is how attorneys strategize. We may not respect his methods, but even though we know better, we still root for the defendant, so we appreciate how this guy thinks.
  • John Goodman ("Argus") practically steals the show as a skilled purveyor of controlled substances and pharmaceuticals. His name is "on the list."
  • Kelly Reilly ("Sherlock Holmes") looks like a young Dianne Keaton in her portrayal of a down-on-her-luck sometime actress who tries to hold onto a few standards for herself.
  • Bruce Greenwood ("Super 8") is always a good utility man; this time he is our hero's last friend.
As a private pilot, I am unfamiliar with the instrument panel in an airliner, but I could certainly relate to issues as they came up. When the rudder, elevator and flaps malfunctioned, my heart was pounding along with everyone else's. Brace yourself for lots of nudity, profanity, drug use, and an extended, very effective scene with an airliner in distress. Whew!
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The Sessions

How do you lose your virginity if you have been confined to an iron lung most of your life? A couple of years ago, I had some lively discussions on this topic with one of my JayFlix friends, a health-care professional who was attending a young quadriplegic. Now this film-festival favorite addresses the question, only this man isn't paralyzed with no physical sensations, instead he is a polio survivor confined to an iron lung since childhood. Furthermore, he is a witty, well-educated and frustrated adult.

Based on the real-life story of Mark O'Brien (1949-1999), a Berkeley poet and journalist, he was the first severely disabled student to graduate from college, earning a bachelor's degree in 1982, and acceptance to a post graduate program. His inspiring story has been told once before in a documentary film, "Breathing Lessons," directed by Jessica Yu. It won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 1997. This version is written and directed by the acclaimed Ben Lewin, himself a polio survivor who requires crutches.

We watch:
  • John Hawkes ("Contagion") is brilliant as Mark O'Brien, who wryly tells his priest he wants to experience sex before his "Use-By date" expires. Hawkes is an amazing chameleon who transforms himself from film to film, each time I am stunned to discover who I have just watched. There is some well-deserved Oscar buzz about this film.
  • Helen Hunt ("As Good as it Gets") is Cheryl Cohen Greene, a professional therapist hired to provide basic instruction in human sexuality. Her therapy is bluntly anatomical and unembarrassed while at the same time, extremely sensitive and insightful. His responses are usually humorous and disarming. Hunt is fearless but convincing, and is beautifully naked a lot of the time.
  • William H. Macy ("The Lincoln Lawyer") is Father Brendon, our hero's priest, who fears he might have unleashed some major sinning by counseling his parishioner to "Go for it!" This priest spent his childhood on a farm, so his observations are very forthright and practical.
This film proves two points:
  1. Our biggest sex organ is between our ears;
  2. One of the most seductive things about another person may be an ability to make us laugh. O'Brien, when asked if he is religious, replies, "Of course I am! I've gotta have someone to blame!"
There are many happy spots in this inspiring piece and as we exited the theater, we were subdued but satisfied...smile....
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