This is 40

So this is what happens AFTER the "Happily Ever After." It's by Judd Apatow, so we know it will be an R-rated comedy and probably feature some of his repertory gang. It will be anatomical and will feature the dilemmas of adulthood (now that Apatow is an adult). Furthermore, it will center around a relationship in a marriage that has endured for over 10 years (like Apatow's).

Yup, here they are:
  • Paul Rudd ("The Perks of Being a Wallflower") Apatow LOVES this guy and uses him all the time...for good reason. Rudd is capable, funny and easy on the eye. Pete is suffering just a bit from the dreaded dailiness of a stable marriage.
  • Leslie Mann ("17 Again") Mom (Debby) is played by Mrs. Apatow, but before you are too critical of nepotism, please note that she is really attractive AND talented! In fact, this is a perfect showcase for her camera-friendly looks and her adept, straightforward acting.
  • Jason Segel ("Bad Teacher") is Debby's personal trainer.
  • Megan Fox ("Friends With Kids") works in Debby's boutique and has a little side business as well.
  • Melissa McCarthy ("Identity Thief") would have stolen this movie if she had been given any more scenes. She's the irate mother of a teenager.
  • Maude Apatow ("Funny People") is a big surprise. She plays Pete and Debby's teenage daughter and Maude is by now, an accom- plished actress. (She's been in a couple of her dad's movies.) This talented apple didn't fall very far from the tree.
Of course we see issues with parents that color the relationships our characters have with each other. And we see some hide-your-eyes shots of mammograms, pelvic and prostate exams, and other things best left off the screen.

A couple of sub-plots were necessary to fill out the story, but this looks like an honest depiction of an intelligent marriage, warts and all. I was not transported with gales of laughter, but I DID laugh.
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Les Misérables

"Do You Hear the People Sing?" Yes, we do! And the Oscar buzz has become a roar, with American Anne Hathaway's name on the tip of everyone's tongue! British director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech") takes a legendary story and brings the (stage) musical version to the screen for the first time. He has a massive cast of talented performers and neither time nor space allow me to dwell on more than a few. Let me warn you however: if you don't like musicals, there are only one or two words actually spoken, everything else is sung.

The battles in this PG-13 story are no more than minor skirmishes in the all-over scheme of the French Revolution, but the fatalities are just as dead, nonetheless.

A couple of doughty actors from Down Under head this cast:
  • Hugh Jackman ("Real Steel") is Jean Valjean, the fellow who stole a loaf of bread for his starving little sister and as a result, spent many years behind bars. (Victor Hugo, like his contemporary Charles Dickens, born 10 years later, was a social reformer.) Mr. Jackman has been embraced by the Broadway crowd and is an established musical star. When he rescues little Cosette from the rapacious couple who have been her caretakers, he sings "Suddenly," the only original song written for this movie.
  • Russell Crowe ("A Beautiful Mind") is Javert, the steadfast policeman determined to uphold the law after Valjean breaks parole. Until recently Mr. Crowe had his own musical group, "30 Odd Foot of Grunts" with which he performed when not acting or living on his cattle station in the Outback. Usually Javert is played by a powerful baritone and although Crowe gives it his all, this just isn't his type of music.
  • Anne Hathaway ("The Dark Knight Rises") is Fantine, the desperate woman who sells her hair to wig-makers in order to feed her daughter Cosette. We've never known Ms. Hathaway to sing professionally before, but she doesn't embarrass herself; "I Dreamed a Dream" is filmed "live" and is heartfelt and personal.
  • Samantha Barks ("Les Misérables in Concert: the 25th Anniversary") is the adult version of Éponine, the heartbreakingly loyal young woman who loves the rebel Marius. It is immediately obvious that Barks is a stage-trained musical performer however her death-scene "A Little Fall of Rain" is poignant but almost whispered.
  • Amanda Seyfreid ("Gone") is the young adult Cosette, taken under Jean Valjean's powerful wing with no hint remaining of her mother's sacrifice. Seyfreid was formerly in "Mamma Mia!" Enough said about her.
  • Eddie Redmayne ("My Week With Marilyn") is the rebel Marius, who is head-over-heels in love with Cosette. Redmayne's work has been (mostly) with BBC-type miniseries ("The Pillars of the Earth" and "Tess of the D'Urbervilles") but no musicals. He sings "Red and Black," remember that one?
  • Colm Wilkinson ("Evita" on stage) is the priest who saves Valjean when he steals the silver at the beginning, and he is there to usher him into Heaven at the end. I loved this perfect touch, as he was the ultimate Jean Valjean on stage. I have the DVD of the 25th Anniversary Concert and he is thrilling! I'm glad they asked him to appear here.
This story covers a generation and has so many layers you may be tempted to see it again just to master the wonderful plot. Unless, of course, you read Victor Hugo's book, first published in 1862. I know I did...about a century later...smile...

I'm sorry the production design people chose to ramp up the disgusting bits and the fright wigs. There really is no need for this over-the-top assault, the story can stand on its own without sensationalism. Tsk, tsk....

FOOTNOTE: Hathaway DID win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role.
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Here is a link to a preview so you can see what the buzz is all about:
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Bagdad Cafe

This unpredictable PG-rated comedy begins with a stout German couple making a "pit stop" in the middle of the Mojave desert. Before the scene ends, he has deserted her, leaving her there in a wool suit and indoor shoes, with a suitcase and a long dusty highway stretched out ahead.

Now we switch to the frazzled proprietor of a gas station/motel/diner who is reminded again that her worthless husband is just that: Worthless! This gal is perpetually provoked; by her forgetful husband, her piano-playing son, and her popular (with the boys) teenage daughter.

When our overheated frau trudges into the motel office, our story begins.

We see:
  • Marianne Sägebrecht (Lots of German TV) is Jasmin, scrupulously tidy, extremely polite and at her wit's end. She has traveler's checks, so she can pay for her room...but her husband left her with HIS suitcase, not hers, so she has no clothes after all.
  • CCH Pounder ("NCIS: New Orleans") is Brenda, taxed beyond bearing by all who surround her. She is exasperated, furious and sad. She thinks her son's piano playing "sounds like a sewing machine!" Watch when Jasmin cleans up her motel office without permission!
  • Jack Palance ("City Slickers") Rudy is a retired Hollywood set decorator. He lives in a nearby travel trailer and dabbles in oils as a hobby; he won't rest until he paints Jasmin.
When Brenda discovers unexplained menswear in Jasmin's room, she leaves her vacuum cleaner and rushes to the office to call the Sheriff. He can't find any reason to arrest Jasmin, so leaves her there, to Brenda's dismay.

You will watch Jasmin teach herself to do magic tricks (there was a box with instructions in her husband's suitcase); you will enjoy the evolution of her portraits by Rudy; and you will worry when Jasmin's tourist visa runs out.

Expect some mild nudity, no profanity, no gunshots, no vehicular mayhem and no blowie uppie stuff; you'll see subtle comedy, warm humanity and just plain fun! I'm sad to say there are no closed captions, so be warned...
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No trailer (except on the DVD), sorry.
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Beasts of the Southern Wild

There was something about the publicity for this film that convinced me that I really would NOT like to see it. Then all the endorsements started: raves from critics, professionals and even friends, so I yielded and ordered the DVD from the city library.

This is about six-year-old Hushpuppy confronted by global warming, a terminally ill father and the dangers of a marginal existence in the Louisiana bayous.

Now don't let me dissuade you if you want to watch a feral child:
  • co-exist near her father (who is clearly a drunken nut case, e.g., he goes out and shoots his rifle at a hurricane and comes back puffed up with pride for his actions);
  • heat her food on a gas burner which she lights with a welding torch (and burns down her mobile home);
  • evade her father when he becomes abusive;
  • refuse to evacuate when a hurricane is forecast;
  • live in a muddy, filthy, primitive environment where most of the adults are chronically drunk;
...then by all means, rent the DVD and help yourself.

This child attends a little school in which she learns about the prehistoric aurochs which had once roamed the planet. Of course when she imagines them, they are a gigantic blend of reality and myth: wild hogs with horns, which are much, much taller than she. She provides the voiceover, repeating her own childish interpretation of lessons learned in the classroom, from rumor, and courtesy of wise elderly folk.

The performance drawn from the little girl who plays the lead is remark- able, but the environment is so repugnant, I had trouble watching. I'm not sure the purpose of this film...maybe so we could feel superior and all-knowing? Maybe so we could feel sorry for her? (She wouldn't want THAT!) Maybe to sell us a ticket to a movie theater? There were no lessons to be learned, no beauty to be appreciated and no wisdom to be shared. In my opinion: YUCK!

I'm glad there is no charge to obtain a DVD from our library.

This should generate a lot of blow-back from my JayFlix.net group. ...smile...
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Take a peek at the preview:
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Jack Reacher

During a recent coast-to-coast flight, I read my first book by Lee Child ("Jack Reacher: One Shot") and was pleasantly surprised (my reading is usually non-fiction these days). Of course I smiled when I realized that Tom Cruise would be playing a 6'5" former military investigator, but he plays TALL! As is always the case, two characters were melded into one, two characters disappeared altogether and I was surprised by the dump trucks, but the movie is (almost) as diverting as the book.

In this PG-13 action-filled thriller, a sniper kills five people and escapes. Based on forensic evidence at the scene, police track down the shooter, arrest him and obtain a signed confession in record time. Problem is, he says "Get Jack Reacher" right after he signs his confession. No one has heard of the guy.

Let's take a look at this cast:
  • Tom Cruise ("Mission Impossible") is our eponymous anti-hero, a loner, very smart, a man who is arrested only when he wants to be; but he's beginning to think this case looks a little too perfect.
  • Rosamund Pike ("The Big Year") is a newly graduated attorney who has taken a hopeless case that appears to be open and shut. She just wants to keep him off Death Row.
  • Richard Jenkins ("Liberal Arts") is the District Attorney whose daughter has taken this case over his objections; he intends to wrap it up right away.
  • David Oyelowo ("The Help") is the Police Commissioner who is only too happy to close a case this quickly...and with incontrovertible evidence. (His name is pronounced "O-Yellow.")
  • Alexia Fast ("Blackbird") is the sweetie sent to seduce our skeptical hero.
  • Joseph Sikora ("Safe") is the trained military sniper accused of shooting five random victims. 
  • Lee Childs (Author) is the Desk Sergeant; a sharp-eyed JayFlix person spotted him making his debut cameo appearance.
The tag line is "Six shots. Five dead." So expect wit, fisticuffs, cold- blooded brutality, vehicular mayhem and lots of gunfire but no blowie uppie stuff or sweaty bodies. In other words, this is a movie made for a target audience who wants action and entertainment. And that's what we get!
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Here's what Lee Child has to say about Cruise playing Reacher:
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Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away

Talk about Systems Overload. And in 3D!

This G-rated fantasy can save you a fortune in tickets because it has excerpts from five or six spectacular Las Vegas shows, and you know how much THEY cost! Among them we see selections that feature Beatles music, Elvis music, a water ballet, and some extremely athletic work that looks like it's drawn from a Chinese opera (or at least like the one I saw at the opera house here in Seattle).

This show features a flimsy plot built around a sweet attraction between a lovely young French-looking woman (Erica Linz) and a strapping young fellow (Igor Zaripov) who looks Russian.

You can expect:
  • Astonishing aerial work (I expected applause like Seattle's Teatro Zinzanni);
  • Cleverly choreographed synchronized swimming (a salute to Esther Williams);
  • An engaging little tricycle that leads our heroine from place to place;
  • Rubber-boned gymnasts (you have to see them to believe them);
  • Athletic martial arts (Jackie Chan trained in Chinese opera as a child);
  • Gigantic crustaceans and centipedes in a menacing dance;
  • A Spiderman-themed bit on trampolines;
  • Mind-boggling special effects with flowing curtains and streaming sand;
  • A lovely aerial pas de deux for the finale.
This is a visual feast with unbelievable athletes in outrageous costumes showing us their amazing stuff. Not much plot, but we don't go to Cirque du Soleil for plots! We go to be dazzled and we are! This one is almost worth the extra for the 3D.

It's comforting to see all the safety lines on the amazing rigging for these shows. This would mean full employment for every theatrical rigger in Las Vegas. Many of you watch the spectacle; I watch the logistics. Wow!
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Here is a link to a preview:
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The Guilt Trip

Road Trip/Guilt Trip.  Hmmm.... Are we talking about some kind of mother here? Actually it was a lengthy product placement ad for GAP, M&Ms, Costco, and K-Mart among other brands, but who's counting? Mom thinks her son should be married, he thinks she should start dating again. One thing leads to another and he ends up inviting her to join him on a trip across the country.

Our hero is a scientist who has developed an ecologically pure cleaning product. Problem is, he is a scientist, not a promoter, so he has set out on a coast-to-coast road trip in a last-ditch effort to meet various buyers for chain stores. What HE finds exciting, his would-be buyers find boring, so he's not doing very well. In the meantime, his mother is a parody of a stereotype, which becomes very wearisome very quickly; it's no wonder he won't take her advice.

We watch:
  • Seth Rogan ("50/50") is our inventor about to attempt a chance of a lifetime. All of his savings and inheritance are at stake here.
  • Barbra Streisand ("Little Fockers") is a house-bound "woman of a certain age" who jumps at the chance to join her son in a cross-country road trip. It's far more liberating than she expects.
  • Brett Cullen ("Red Dawn") is the dashing executive who provides table-side moral support to our gal as she tries to eat a four- pound steak (so it's free) in Texas.
This is a road picture that has funny moments or it is a comedy about a road trip, either way, we were mildly amused, but that's about it. The stereotypical Jewish mother is waaay overdone and when her exas- perated son finally yells at her to "Shut UP!" we couldn't help but agree.  ...sigh...

By the way, don't be in a rush to exit the theatre, most of the fun was in the outtakes during the final credits.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Any Day Now

This one blind-sided many of the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival audience members. Our SIFF program description was cogent, but many of us jumped to unwarranted conclusions. (This was first reviewed in June, 2012.)

Suffice it to say, this poignant drama is brilliantly acted and the script perfectly captures the dilemma of gays who wanted to adopt children back "in the day..." We see a female impersonator who lives across the hall from a drug addict. When she is arrested, he steps in and shelters her teenage son, who has Down's Syndrome. Thus begins our story....

We see:
  • Alan Cumming ("Burlesque"), who gets to display his entertainer chops in this perfectly suited role. His character has met a lawyer who happens to work in the District Attorney's office, so when Child Protection Services takes away the boy, our hero needs help and that's who he calls.
  • Garret Dillahunt ("Killing Them Softly") is our closeted lawyer. After he successfully sues for custody, he and the impersonator become so deeply involved in the boy's life they create their own family.
  • Isaac Leyva (in his first movie role) is the boy who is central to this story. His would-be dads get him glasses, help him with his schoolwork, take him Trick or Treating, and generally give him the home he's never had.
  • Chris Mulkey (Lots of TV) is the District Attorney who realizes one of his lawyers is in the closet, so he promptly fires him!
  • Frances Fisher ("Jolene") is the judge who conducts the custody hearing.
This one is involving, interesting, unpredictable, and from a clothing standpoint, a trip down the Memory Lane of Men's Fashions. ...smile...
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Hyde Park on Hudson

It's a pretty sad commentary when I find the highlight of a film is whether or not the King of England will have the courage to take that first bite of an American hot dog. We are in 1939, Roosevelt is America's long-time President and Bertie is England's new king (his brother recently abdicated to "...marry the woman I love..."). The king and queen have come to seek support from America in their struggle against Nazi Germany.

A sixth cousin of FDR becomes embroiled in the presidential household because she and her widowed aunt live near the president's mother in upstate New York; he takes a shine to her while on vacation from the White House. This movie is based on a suitcase filled with thousands of intimate pictures and correspondence found under her bed after she died in 1991. She was a few months shy of 100 years old.

This is a great cast but I couldn't make out what they were saying:
  • Bill Murray ("Moonrise Kindom") is FDR, cigarette holder at a jaunty angle, trusting the media to suppress any mention of his polio, his paralyzed legs or his proclivity for women who are not his wife.
  • Laura Linney ("The Details") is Daisy, that aforementioned cousin, born Margaret Suckley. This is strictly an unglamorous role with no makeup, no brassiere, dowdy shoes and shapeless clothes. Daisy is sweet, naïve, and a most unlikely addition to FDR's harem.
  • Samuel West ("Notting Hill") is Bertie, played last year by Colin Firth in "The King's Speech." This is a sympathetic role and West does it very well.
  • Olivia Colman ("The Iron Lady") is Elizabeth, shocked by the provincial attitudes they encounter in "The Colonies," certain that Americans hate them and dreading that notorious hot dog...But the Queen Mum's good manners prevail!
I would be remiss, if I didn't mention the photography and production design. Some of the locations are remarkable, particularly a truly impressive field of clover in full bloom and a bucolic drive in the countryside. The vintage cars, clothes and manners are impeccably reproduced, along with FDR's relationship with the obedient press, who would await his permission before taking any photos. Daisy herself took one of the rare pictures of him in his wheelchair.

A caveat however: if you have even slight hearing problems, attend a theater with Closed Captions or wait for the DVD so you can play it with subtitles. I know there was humor because a couple of the people in the packed theater chortled. ...sigh...
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears

"Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears" has been around since it won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1981. I ordered my copy from Kino Video, a New York company that specializes in restoration and distribution of old films, foreign films, and art films. If you see this as one of the available titles in your rental listings, I highly recommend it.

You will be treated to a story of three young Russian women who have come to Moscow to seek their fortunes. Each has her own distinctive personality and a game plan for her own future. They are roommates in a dormitory, they work, study and meet prospective mates. Each takes a totally separate path, each with varying degrees of success.

One is quite the conniver and because of one of her more complicated schemes, two of them take irrevocable detours in their plans. The conniver is almost the comic relief, as she never changes and, because this movie is character driven, you will smile to see her, years later, still in there swinging, no matter what difficulties life has thrown her way.

The joy of this movie is watching 20 years pass; admiring the skill of the actors who age appropriately, with visible changes in how they walk, stand and sit, what they wear, their hair styles, etc. The men grow bald, the women gain weight, children are born, hopes are dashed, com- promises are made, in general, life has happened. This is life in Russia: the housing, the food, the clothing, the factories, the trains and the subways. Because you will not recognize one face, you will be con- vinced that you are seeing that person...in real life! No one has a new dress for each situation. You are seeing REAL life.

You become deeply involved in one woman's life and you cheer her from the sidelines; the way she has struggled for some degree of success; the way she has raised her child; her attempts to have relationships; all the time maintaining her friendship with the other two women who are living out their own choices. One with a "country boy" and the conniver with a hockey star. Ironically, the most successful one suddenly discovers that her success has become a liability...therein lies the last quarter of the film.

This was recommended by my Swedish friend and I am very grateful to him. I know some of you have already seen this, but I very much enjoyed a second viewing after my own DVD arrived. You might too...

Great English captions; no blowie uppie stuff....

This review was first published April 11, 2007.