The Wolf of Wall Street

This R-rated tribal rite of passage shows the un-annointed how the rapacious "real" men of Wall Street behave when they smell blood. My biggest problem (and I have a couple) was my repugnance at watching the unbridled adolescent behavior of allegedly grown men who no longer have limits set by parents, teachers, police or good manners. (BTW, this script contains a record-setting total of 506 "F" bombs.)

Martin Scorsese has worked successfully with Leonardo DiCaprio before ("Shutter Island" and "The Departed"). It's time for someone to have the courage to tell the biggest gorilla in the Hollywood jungle that he needs an EDITOR! This 180-minute film is too long by half. I easily could have edited some of those motivational talks, the drug sessions, the bacchanals and the orgies without damaging the story one iota. Bottom line: this is basically a 90-minute cautionary tale about ego, drugs and power based on Jordan Belfort's autobiographical "The Wolf of Wall Street." The main points don't need to be hammered home with endless, repetitious (and boring) scenes.

We see:
  • Matthew McConnaughey ("The Lincoln Lawyer") does a brief scene at the beginning that sets a standard for our hero to admire.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio ("J. Edgar") as Jordan Belfort, our titular "Wolf," who unflinchingly shows us the downside of drug use: the bloodshot eyes, the drooling, the crawling, the garbled speech and the repulsive behavior which evolve when there are no limits.
  • Jonah Hill ("Moneyball") is his sidekick, long on ambition and short on common sense.
  • Margot Robbie ("Love Actually") is our hero's second wife, gorgeous, smart and trying to make a life.
  • Jean Dujardin ("The Artist") is a French-speaking Swiss banker who holds American "scum" in contempt.
  • Joanna Lumley ("Absolutely Fabulous") is Aunt Emma, a Brit who is more than willing to help hide those ill-gotten gains in a Swiss bank.
  • Kyle Chandler ("Super Eight") is a tenacious FBI man who should not be underestimated.
We are dealing with top-notch talent and a compelling story, but personally, I am going to a pleasant little dramedy later today to cleanse my palate. ...smile...
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Here is a sample:
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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

This was one of the first humorous grown-up stories I "imprinted" on when I was a child. Up until then, I thought I was the only one who could go off on wild adventures without ever leaving the house. Author James Thurber showed me otherwise.

Our day-dreaming Caspar Milquetoast imagines PG-rated heroic actions, brilliant strategies and a love story for the ages in order to escape the boredom of the job he has held for sixteen years. Writer Steve Conrad ("The Pursuit of Happyness") has wisely set his story in a current corporate down-sizing situation, fraught with job loss and grief for a magazine that will no longer have a print edition (Life Magazine). The organization taking over is staffed by heartless suits who only see numbers, not the real people who had made the magazine a success.

We watch:
  • Ben Stiller ("Arrested Development") as our eponymous hero who "spaces out" occasionally. His humdrum job is in the basement of the Time-Life building. He has a passport but he has never gone anywhere.
  • Kathryn Hahn ("We're the Millers") is his sister who wants to audition for Rizzo in an off-off Broadway production of "Grease."
  • Kristen Wiig ("Saturday Night Live") has just been hired at the same magazine; she has a three-legged dog and a two-legged son.
  • Adam Scott ("Parks and Recreation") plays the new broom that is going to sweep everything clean. He is cold, demanding and has no clue about the history of the company he's helping take over.
  • Shirley MacLaine ("Downton Abbey") is Walter's sweet mom, being moved (with a piano that is waaaay too big) to an assisted living facility.
  • Patton Oswalt ("Young Adult") works at the computer-dating service where Walter is a subscriber; he wants our hero to have a more interesting résumé.
It has long been a Hollywood dream to commit this fantasy-laced story to film (the one with Danny Kaye really doesn't count). Now with unfettered Computer Generated Imaging, director Ben Stiller has finally achieved the dream. I would point out however, that the best parts are the "plain" scenes, the red car on a lonely road, the skate boarder going down that long hill, the runner crossing the bridge, those are remarkable scenes that have stayed in my head long after the happy ending. Oh... And the volcano!

Yup, we have people to root for, with no gunfire, no vehicular mayhem, no profanity, no blowie uppie stuff and no sweaty bodies; just Entertainment (capital "E").
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Watch his imagination take over!
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Writer/director Spike Jonze (with a post-production boost from Steven Soderbergh) directs this sweetly weird but much-acclaimed story about a lonely writer in the process of a divorce, who buys a new operating system which provides him with an electronic companion. The more he talks with the OS, the smarter it gets. This unique and unpredictable film holds our attention from the very beginning.

We see (and hear):
  • Joaquin Phoenix ("Walk the Line") stars as Theodore, the mildly depressed fellow with the new operating system; he selects a female voice and names it "Samantha." I've never seen Phoenix laugh so freely.
  • Amy Adams ("Man of Steel") brings us Amy, a friend in his residential tower who is married to a control freak.
  • Rooney Mara ("The Social Network") is his soon-to-be ex. All they have to do is sign the divorce papers but they have never discussed what went wrong.
  • Olivia Wilde ("Butter") plays the charming blind date who doesn't want to be a flash in the pan. She would really like a relationship.
  • Scarlett Johansson ("Don Jon") voices Samantha, the irresistibly sweet and funny OS, who becomes the light of his life.
  • Chris Pratt ("Delivery Man") is Paul, totally happy to go on a double date, even though his friend Theodore is dating an operating system.
This has been nominated for three Golden Globes, so let me add my own comments: the editing is brilliant. Subtle expressions which flit across Phoenix's face, reflect his reactions to Samantha's voice as she speaks. There are many long, long takes of just his face and voice reacting to Samantha. You will NOT be bored unless you have a hearing problem, in which case either go to a theater with closed captions or wait for the DVD. By the way, in another auditorium (same complex) the next day, I saw previews for this one and could hear every single word. Maybe it was the copy we saw at the screening. Hmmm....

Shot in Shanghai and Los Angeles, augmented by some green screen work, this gives us a frightening peek at the not-too-distant future, with everyone totally involved with his or her hand-held electronic device; there is no human interaction on the street, in the train or at the desk. Scary.... (Have you walked down the street lately?)
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Here is a preview:
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American Hustle

First we see: "Some of this really happened." And it's true. This chaotic R-rated mess was inspired by the late 70s Abscam mess which involved the FBI, the Mafia, a Middle Eastern Sheik and many elected officials. I never got it straight when it was happening and I scarcely did much better today.

Nominated for seven (7!) Golden Globes: Best Picture - Comedy or Musical; Best Actor and Actress; Best Supporting Actor and Actress; Best Director and Best Screenplay; I would suggest they also include Best Hair. In my opinion this one is head and shoulders above many other high-profile films because it's so much fun! Director David O. Russell ("The Fighter") keeps things humming along and draws extremely natural performances from his cast.

We enjoyed:
  • Christian Bale ("The Dark Knight") as Irving (the names have been changed to protect the innocent), a two-bit flim-flam man lured into an entrapment scheme by an ambitious FBI agent. This time Bale is a stooped, paunchy, married schlub with the most tortured toupee and cockamamie comb-over I have ever seen.
  • Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook") is his wife Rosalyn, who knows Irving has a mistress but can't see why that should have any effect on their marriage. He has adopted her son and doesn't want to lose him. Her hairdo is a stylist's combo of "Big Hair" and "Outrageous Hair." She HATES that new-fangled "science oven" (microwave) because she ignored the warning and tried to heat a foil container. Eek!
  • Amy Adams ("Her") is Sidney, Irving's partner in crime, both in and out of bed. Sometimes she's British, sometimes she's from Albuquerque. We see a LOT of Sidney in this one (double-sided tape prevents many wardrobe malfunctions)! She spends a lot of time with her hair in huge rollers.
  • Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover") is Richie, the manic FBI man. He moves the outlandish plot forward by sheer force of will and is unforgettable with his hair in those teeny permanent wave rollers. Cooper and Adams generate some real sexual heat in this one. Whew!
  • Michael Peña ("End of Watch") is Paco, a Hispanic from California recruited to play the Sheik. His hair is covered by a pseudo white cloth with a black band to make him look Middle Eastern.
  • Jeremy Renner ("The Town") is the Mayor. He is the only (sorta) "Good Guy" in the bunch, with a glamorous wife and five children, all of whom he adores. Check out his heroic pompadour!
ALL of the fashions, men's and women's are to die for. Sometimes I lost track of the story, I was so taken by the clothes!

...and the music! Kudos to Susan Jacobs for assembling the wonderful sound track: Everything from Duke Ellington and Steely Dan to "Yellow Brick Road" and "Live and Let Die." Loved it!
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Take a peek:
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Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen brothers are geniuses (genii?) who knew there was a movie star lurking out there, tragically overlooked. Their Oscar-winning music arranger T-Bone Burnett ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?") was a sure- fire gold-plated winner. With numerous nominations and wins for this film at festivals in Europe, and the Gran Prix (Audience Award) at Cannes under their belt, it was time to bring this baby home. And what have they done with all this bounty? They consigned Garrett Hedlund to a bit part as a chain-smoking driver! I was soooo looking forward to hearing this gifted guy sing again. To me, HE is the one tragically overlooked. Aarghhh!

The story is a week in the life of a folk singer striving for a breakthrough in 1961 Greenwich Village, at a time when folk music is in decline.

The cast:
  • Oscar Isaac ("Won't Back Down") is the Coen's "discovery." This fellow has worked third-tier roles for years. If he is just learning to sing and play guitar, why learn to do it with his eyes closed? I find it mannered and annoying!
  • Carey Mulligan ("Never Let Me Go") is the lovely singer every- one wants (and gets!).
  • John Goodman ("Trouble With the Curve") is a jazz musician who derides folk music while nurturing his own demons.
  • Garrett Hedlund ("Country Strong") is totally, utterly wasted here. There must be more to this choice than I have been able to find. This talented singer/actor could easily have replaced any of the other singers in this cast!
  • Justin Timberlake ("Runner Runner") is here for two songs and does them well. If only the rest of the film had such entertaining music.
  • Stark Sands (Lots of TV) impressed me with his sweet ingenuous character. A Tony-nominated performer ("Kinky Boots" and "Journey's End"), he has been in musicals since high school.
This R-rated drama/musical has lots of profanity, discussions about abortions, adult language and an irritating "hero" who is adrift. T-Bone Burnett mounts the music with his usual verve and uncanny ear, but... sigh....  I hesitate to disclose what little story there is, because anything I say would be a spoiler.

Oh well, the 60s are nicely re-imagined: the vintage cars, the S&H Green Stamps, the clothes and the furniture. See? I can find things that I like. Oh! ...and the cat! (Which the Coens admitted they put in because there wasn't much story.)
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Here is a sample:
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When a JayFlix.net participant tells me to see a movie, I usually do! This time is no different, and, as usual, I'm really glad I did. (And the Golden Globes agreed with five nominations.) In my personal experience, I have... TWICE... heard that someone had won a sweepstakes, only to discover that it was early onset senile dementia or in the other case, Alzheimer's. This is what we suspect when our elderly hero sets out for Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his million dollars. Problem is, he no longer has a working vehicle, nor does he have a driver's license, so he's walking...from Montana. His son is pulled into the story by his besieged wife.

Full disclosure, I spent my early years on a farm in South Dakota, so the production design, the clothes, the speech patterns, the scenery, the pace, the people, and the small faded towns of Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska evoked fond memories. (No, I didn't have an unhappy childhood, sorry...)

We watch:
  • Bruce Dern ("Madison") is the booze-addled curmudgeon who wants his million dollars. Dern has worked for decades before landing this role of a lifetime. He won "Best Actor" at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival for this performance.
  • Will Forte ("Saturday Night Live") is his unfortunate son, unable to talk his father out of that haywire obsession.
  • June Squibb ("About Schmidt") is the wife with a tongue like barbed wire. She has lashed her husband for decades until he rarely hears a word she says.
  • Bob Odenkirk (Lots of TV) is the "good" son who has landed a job as a television newscaster. When he gets into a fight he shouts, "Don't hit the face!"
  • Stacy Keach (Lots of television) is a former business partner who sees this unexpected windfall as a way to get some money from our hero.
It's difficult to realize that all those authentic relatives and neighbors are actors! Director Alexander Payne ("Sideways") has evoked astonishingly pure performances, bona fide settings, and credible situations. This tiny little R-rated domestic dramedy is no more than a tempest in a teapot, but we come to care a great deal about what happens to these people.

Payne doesn't often make movies, but when he does....Oh My!
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See for yourself:
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Saving Mr. Banks

Doesn't Tom Hanks ever just sit down and relax? After the grueling "Captain Phillips," what does he do for an encore? He gives us Walt Disney (with a regulation mustache) during the time he clashes with P.L. Travers, the feisty woman who wrote "Mary Poppins." (I never heard about that, did you? Evidently this battle was waged over a 20-year period, as their respective fortunes waxed and waned.)

The doughty author is an unbending, sharp-tongued shrew who flings insults with arrogant abandon but expects to be treated with deference and respect. "I am Mrs. Travers, NOT Pamela!" She intimidates everyone she encounters and marches out of meetings without compunction. The pears in her complimentary fruit basket at the Beverly Hills hotel are lobbed off the balcony. Her outrageous demands are legendary: "There will be no RED in this film!"

We follow:
  • Tom Hanks ("Cloud Atlas") as Walt Disney, beset by a cantankerous dame who will not trust him to do justice to her beloved character. It takes his insight and shared memories of mutually unlovable fathers that allows him to finally make a tiny dent in her armor.
  • Emma Thompson ("Nanny McPhee") is P.L. Travers who swears she will make sure her creation is treated with reverence. To her, Disney is the personification of a Hollywood machine that will mangle her magical nanny beyond recognition. (He first proposed an animated version.)
  • Annie Rose Buckley ("Home and Away") is Ginty, the name her doting father called our author when she was a child in Australia. We see numerous flashbacks that illustrate her hardscrabble childhood.
  • Colin Farrell ("Dead Man Down") is Travers Goff, her beloved banker father who colors her childhood with his affection and his drunkenness. Farrell continues to dazzle me with his range and skill! He even makes his drunken character lovable.
  • Ruth Wilson ("Luther") is Margaret, our author's long-suffering mother, living at the lonely end of the railroad line in Australia.
  • Rachel Griffiths ("Brothers & Sisters") is Aunt Ellie, umbrella and bottomless carpetbag in hand, come to that miserable house to help sort out the struggling family. The moment we see her rigid silhouette at the front door, we KNOW who inspired Mary Poppins!
  • Paul Giamatti ("Romeo and Juliet") is Ralph, the first American to face Travers' withering scorn; he is her limo driver. She isn't impressed by California; when she sniffs the air, he tells her she is smelling jasmine, she thinks it "smells of chlorine and sweat!"
"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" is hidden from Mrs. Travers because she won't tolerate nonsense. Disney's talented but thoroughly cowed songwriters (played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) are out- witted, out-foxed and out-maneuvered by this wily, determined, and exasperating woman.

The screening audience often laughed at her acerbic (PG-13) wit. Me, not so much; I missed a lot because of the soundtrack. I found myself longing for closed captions; I know I'll love my DVD when it becomes available.

Oh! Mr. Banks is the children's father in "Mary Poppins." He's a banker. Did you remember that?
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Would you like to see a preview?
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Love Actually

This feel-good holiday classic was written and directed by Richard Curtis ("Notting Hill") who realized that all of the phone calls during 9/11 were to express love to family and friends, not to settle anything petty. This led him to develop his screenplay and give us this much-loved film about eight couples and what constitutes love among them.

His roster includes:
  • Bill Nighy ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Billy Mack, a wacked-out pop star who promises to perform nude if his fans come through. Every scene with him is brilliant.
  • Gregor Fisher ("The Merchant of Venice") is Joe, Billy Mack's frantic manager.
  • Liam Neeson ("Non-Stop") is Daniel, a bereaved widower who now has to worry about his little son's heart (the kid is lovesick).
  • Thomas Brodie-Sangster ("The Maze Runner") is Sam, that motherless little boy with heart trouble.
  • Keira Knightley ("Bend it Like Beckham") Juliet is a giddy bride who wants to see the pictures their wedding photographer took of the happy event.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Kinky Boots") is Peter, the happy groom.
  • Andrew Lincoln ("The Walking Dead") is Mark, their unhappy photographer with a wrenching secret.
  • Emma Thompson ("Sense and Sensibility") Karen has been happily married to Harry for a long time. She has never had any reason for doubts.
  • Alan Rickman ("Truly, Madly, Deeply") Harry has been married for more than seven years, but the seven-year-itch has started to trouble him.
  • Hugh Grant ("Notting Hill") The Prime Minister has a visit from the American President to worry about.
  • Martine McCutchen (Lots of TV) Natalie serves the tea at #10 Downing Street.
  • Billy Bob Thornton ("The Judge") is President of the United States.
I could go on and on because there are so many enchanting stories. Be warned though, one of the couples are actors in porno films. Actually they are so "ho-hum" about it, we feel that way, too. This lovely mess defies description so take a look at the trailer.
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Here is a small but wonderful sample:
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You may ask what is Judi Dench up to this time? I wonder if this wonderful actress ever dreamed her career would continue to soar into her golden years. I hasten to add that everything you have heard in praise of this film is richly deserved. This is a road picture without the outrageous calamities that usually beset players in this genre; it is a gentle comedy without demeaning any of the characters; and it is also a very effective drama about a young mother and her long-lost child.

This PG-13, pleasantly scripted dramedy was co-written by Jeff Coke (Lots of TV) and Steve Coogan himself, based on the book "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee" by Martin Sixsmith. You will see no sweaty bodies (except when Philomena gives birth), hear no gunshots, and see no vehicular mayhem. What a relief!

We have:
  • Judi Dench ("Skyfall") is Philomena Lee. Many decades ago, as a pregnant teenager abolished to a convent, she was forced to give up her out-of-wedlock boy as penance. She has searched for him for a long, long time. This woman is not worldly, but she IS wise...
  • Steve Coogan ("What Maisie Knew") is Martin Sixsmith, a jaded journalist who suffers from a mild case of depression; he did after all, just lose his job. When he is first approached about this story, his reaction is strictly negative. "Human Interest Stories" are NOT his cup of tea! This may be the first time I've found this actor appealing.
  • Anna Maxwell Martin ("North and South") is Jane, Philomena's daughter who is convinced her mother deserves to know what happened to her little boy after he was taken from her. Jane is the one who approaches the journalist...
The facts, as they are uncovered, are NOT kind to the Catholic Church, nor to the people who administer the penances for their parishioners. In recent years, much has been disclosed about the treatment of young girls and orphans in Ireland, courtesy of the Church, so there is no big surprise here. This simply puts a face on two of its victims.

The home movies that appear throughout seem so authentic, it's hard to know if they are real or not. I can't find anything that tells me, so I think this is simply an extremely sophisticated blend of fact and fiction. Kudos to the artists who put this together!
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Here is a preview:
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According to English journalist Christopher Booker, there are only seven basic plots, but screenwriter Sylvester Stallone ("Rambo" and "Rocky") uses my favorite one (Overcoming the Monster). He gives us someone to root for and then puts that individual in jeopardy.

After establishing our hero's credibility as an undercover agent for an alphabet soup of agencies, this non-stop actioner gets started with a simple little case of grade-school bullying which results in a fist fight; the families quickly escalate the situation and from there on, the action rarely lets up.

We watch:
  • Jason Statham ("The Transporter") A mystified local cop thinks maybe Phil Broker is in the Witness Protection Program...or something. He clearly is NOT a run-of-the-mill local yokel in the small Southern hamlet where he and his daughter have settled.
  • Izabela Vidovic (Lots of TV) is his daughter Maddy, who, miracle of miracles, does NOT trip and fall when being chased, is resourceful and clever, and knows how to stick up for herself.
  • James Franco ("Oz the Great and Powerful") is Gator, a down- home bad boy with a hi-tech meth lab that will be his ticket to the big time.
  • Kate Bosworth ("Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!") is his sister, furious over that playground incident and dead set on revenge.
  • Wynona Ryder ("The Iceman") is Sheryl Mott, a foul-mouthed barmaid; she delivers a file to a powerful man who needs it then watches the whole violent catastrophe unfold.
This has a richly deserved R rating, so expect lots of profanity, broken bones and torture, many intervals of gunfire and drug use along with some highly satisfying blowie uppie stuff. However, I hope you noticed that I said in the first paragraph "Overcoming the Monster" so that means a happy ending! Whew...
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Black Nativity

"I would rather be a lamppost in Harlem than the Governor of Georgia." This is a famous quote from Langston Hughes (1902-1967), who was part of the Harlem Renaissance that began in the early 1920s. His classic play, "Black Nativity," appears on American stages each holiday season, so it's time an updated musical version is offered on film.

We have a fatherless boy sent by his destitute mother in Baltimore to stay with her estranged parents in Harlem until she finds a new job and another place to live. He is confused and angry; plus his backpack is stolen just minutes after he gets off the bus in New York City.

Here is some of the cast:
  • Jacob Latimore (Lots of TV) is Langston, bewildered by the rift between his mother and his grandfather. No one will tell him why they aren't speaking, so all he wants is to go back to Baltimore and try to help his mom.
  • Forest Whitaker ("The Butler") is Langston's grandfather, the Reverend Cornell, a dedicated minister and loving husband, but inflexible where his daughter is concerned.
  • Angela Bassett ("American Horror Story") is the lovely and wise Aretha Cobbs. Langston says, "I don't even know what I'm supposed to call you. Should I call you Grandma?"
  • Jennifer Hudson ("Winnie Mandela") is Langston's single mother, out of options and desperate to protect her son, even though she will NOT accept any help from her family. That inflexible apple didn't fall very far from that inflexible tree....
  • Vondie Curtis-Hall (Lots of TV) is the pawnbroker our young hero visits in a naïve attempt to raise money for his mother.
  • Tyrese Gibson ("Fast Five") is a spooky guy who just seems to keep showing up in that Harlem neighborhood.
This PG-rated musical features a wide range of selections, from original ballads and traditional hymns to rap, so it has something for everyone. The finale is the Christmas nativity presented in Reverend Cornell's Harlem church, so it's seasonal as well.
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Please watch this preview:
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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Admit it. Some of you have been waiting for this one. I know I have. If you saw "The Hunger Games," you will remember that in this battle to the death, our two representatives from District 12 had to pretend to be in love in order to get sponsors to provide some much-needed supplies necessary for their survival (and victory). Now the Panem government wants to see them marry to prove that it wasn't a hoax.

The problem is, The Capitol senses a rebellion brewing and thinks our heroine may be the inspiration, so they announce The Quarter Quell which will pit contestants drawn from previous winners. She is certain to have her name drawn as she is the only female winner from District 12 in the past quarter century. So much for that "lifetime of plenty" she was promised.

Some of these are returnees from the first episode:
  • Jennifer Lawrence (Oscar for "Silver Linings Playbook") is back as Katniss, the role model I wish tweens would emulate: Her first instinct always is to help; she is genuine; she's smart; she's resourceful; AND she has become the unwitting symbol of rebellion in Panem.
  • Josh Hutcherson ("Red Dawn") is Peeta, her partner, and, to make their story look real, her fiance. This guy is steadfast, strong and soooo much in love with her....
  • Liam Hemsworth ("The Last Song")  is Gale, her hunting buddy, still working in the mine back in District 12, taking care of her mother and sister and trying to ignore the publicity about Katniss and Peeta's pending nuptials.
  • Sam Claflin ("Snow White and the Huntsman") is Finnick, one of the other contestants. Is he an ally they can trust or is he an enemy who will stab them in the back?
  • Lenny Kravitz ("Precious") is the wonderful Cinna, the designer who created the marvelous dress that launched Katniss as the Girl on Fire. This year's design is even more provocative. Wait until you see it!
  • Donald Sutherland ("The Hunger Games") returns as President Snow, walking a fine line between assassinating Katniss outright (which might inflame the rebels) and trying to outwit her (which he's fairly confident he can do).
  • Stanley Tucci ("Jack the Giant Slayer") once again is the perfect television host: smarmy, overly enthusiastic and completely despicable.
  • Elizabeth Banks ("Pitch Perfect") This time her Effie Trinket seems to have grown a heart. Whew!
  • Woody Harrelson ("Seven Psychopaths") still is Haymitch (and he still drinks too much). He's the only former winner of the Hunger Games from District 12 still alive, so he serves as mentor to our two contestants.
This is a battle of wits, guts and gumption. It is PG-13 because of the grisly idea behind the games, although we rarely see blood. There is a sprinkle of profanity but it is warranted when used. We mostly see resourceful (and loyal) young adults in a battle for their lives. They remind each other, "Remember who the enemy is."

This is exciting, involving and we have a LOT of people to root for. I haven't named all the principal characters in this 146-minute epic, but I must warn you, there are no dull spots when you can take a quick break, so do NOT drink too many liquids!

I'm looking forward to the third (and fourth) episodes. "Mockingjay," Suzanne Collins' final book in this trilogy has been split into two $creenplay$.

SIDE NOTE: I got a kick out of keeping track of the number of arrows in Katniss's quiver. Sometimes it would be down to three, then, amazingly, a dozen or so...
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Here is the preview:
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Delivery Man

Maybe I'm a purist... but at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival, we soooo loved "Starbuck," the French Canadian original of this movie, that we were pretty hostile when we heard about a remake. This time we are in luck. Writer/director Ken Scott ("Starbuck" ...smile...) used Martin Petit's original screenplay as his source, so we know this beloved script is in good hands, AND they didn't exaggerate or overplay anything as so often happens in American remakes. Whew!

Briefly, a young man made over 500 anonymous donations to a sperm bank a couple of decades ago because he was paid for each deposit (wait until you figure out how he used the money). Then, through a technical bungle, his were the only donations used for a year. Now, 142 of his offspring have filed a class action lawsuit to identify their father, who had used the name "Starbuck" for anonymity.

Here is the cast:
  • Vince Vaughn ("Couples' Retreat") David really needed the money back when he lived next door to the sperm bank, now he's a delivery man for his father's butcher shop, kinda going nowhere, but happily content and blithely unaware of that former bungle.
  • Chris Pratt ("Zero Dark Thirty") is Brett, our hero's best friend. He washed out of legal practice but wants to defend David and help him maintain his anonymity. Since the news hit the tabloids about that notorious lawsuit, Starbuck has become a punch line!
  • Cobie Smulders ("Safe Haven") is Emma, the woman in his life. Now that our cop is pregnant, Officer Emma is having second thoughts about David's ability to be a good father. She thinks she might be better off going it alone.
This has a very, very large cast: we meet David's father and two married brothers, and then, when he takes a peek in the envelope that identifies the parties to the lawsuit, we meet a number of those offspring. The casting director for this one did a great job!

Rated PG-13, we see absolutely no sweaty bodies, hear no gunshots, endure no vehicular mayhem and suffer through no blowie uppie stuff. (See my original review of "Starbuck" for other comments and observations.)

This film is absurd, heartwarming, funny and great entertainment. I am so relieved they kept the original Canadian team and didn't screw this up. The only weak link is the casting of Vince Vaughn. ...sigh...
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Here is a link to a preview:
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The Best Man Holiday

So this fellow had written a fictitious book inspired by events in his own life... When the old group gathered for a wedding, friends questioned how much of that book was really fiction and how much was actual fact. Oops! That was the premise of "The Best Man" in 1999. Now we have a sequel which takes place 15 years later. And yes, the plot has thickened ...but those old hurts still haven't gone away.

Our little bunch has never been so witty or so appealing; the dialogue is racy, raunchy and very, very funny (the delighted audience laughed out loud over and over again). Religion unabashedly plays a big part in the plot and it is used with NO irony or derision, so we see successful middle- class families who attend church, pray together, and raise polite well- mannered children who sing religious songs at family gatherings. This is a feel-good movie with a huge principal cast, so I must limit this to just a few.

They are:
  • Taye Diggs ("Baggage Claim") is Harper, that selfsame author, back on the prowl again in quest of a topic for a new book. Since his first book's middling success, he seems to be in a sophomore slump. (He was The Best Man 15 years ago.)
  • Sanaa Lathan ("The Cleveland Show") is his wife Robyn, finally due to have a baby (Harper has a low sperm count); problem is, it's breach so she's scheduled for a C-section right after the holidays.
  • Morris Chestnut ("Ladder 49") is Lance, our Alpha dog: a pro football player, a devoted husband, and a loving father of four (he was the groom 15 years ago). Mr. Chestnut says he doesn't take his shirt off in every film, but I am happy to report that in this one he DOES!
  • Monica Calhoun (Lots of TV) is Mia, Lance's adored wife and mother to his four children. (She was the bride 15 years ago.) In that crucial football game she watches with her youngsters, we see something that resembles a rugby scrum rather than a traditional football play.
  • Terrence Howard ("Prisoners") is Quentin, a successful but wayward friend who is always in the middle of everything. I have never seen Mr. Howard so funny!
  • Nia Long ("House of Lies") is an executive with a successful book publishing company. She wants her author to write a biography of a football player who just happens to be a personal friend.
This R-rated outing contains sexual situations (not all the characters are devoted Christians) but stresses the importance of friendship, loyalty and trust. Expect plenty of profanity, lots of anatomical discussions, a girl fight, plus a time to laugh and a time to weep.

All in all, this is a nice emotional workout for everyone; that's why movies are made, isn't it? Kudos to writer/director Malcolm D Lee ("Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins"). A happy and enthusiastic screening audience exited the theater Tuesday night.
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Here is a preview:
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Thor: The Dark World

How do you spell sensory overload? Too, too much! Computer Generated Imaging is fine if it augments a good story, but there was so much CGI in this mess that the uninitiated (ME!) couldn't decipher the plot. Of course there are the good guys and the bad guys, but sometimes even the good guys were sorta bad. And some of the bad guys were even worse!

Clearly, I am NOT a member of the target audience for this one, so a lot of it went over my head. From the conversations overheard in the lobby as we exited the screening, the best-informed audience members were the ones who had read the graphic novels.

Directed by Alan Taylor ("Game of Thrones"), this jumbled slugfest had endless blowie uppie stuff, dismemberments to spare, plus thunderbolts, space ships and family tiffs among immortals. (Only two chaste little kisses though; it is, after all, PG-13.)

Here we go again!
  • Chris Hemsworth ("Rush") is Thor, back to save the universe.
  • Natalie Portman ("The Other Boleyn Girl") returns as Jane Foster, the scientist he left behind...once.
  • Tom Hiddleston ("The Avengers") is resurrected as Loki, the bad brother nobody likes! Remember what The Hulk did to him? We LOVED that!
  • Stellan Skarsgård ("Romeo and Juliet") is back as Dr. Eric Selvig, the man we first see running naked on a TV news broadcast. His lecture on the convergence of the planets is received by a singularly bored class ...of senior citizens.
  • Idris Elba ("Prometheus" and "Luther") is Heimdall again, I'm glad he is on our side!
  • Zachary Levi ("Tangled" and "Chuck") is the third spear carrier from the left...smile...
  • Ray Stevenson ("Rome") is Thor's right-hand man.
  • Kat Dennings ("Thor") is back as Darcy, who provides the too- scarce comic relief. I found myself looking forward to anything with her in it because I could relax a bit and laugh.
A word to the wise: The patented Marvel Comics "teaser" comes just before the closing credits, but if you are patient and sit through an endless scroll of technicians involved in this project, there is a second teaser!
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Here is the International Trailer:
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Ender's Game

I've been waiting for this one since I read the book in 1985! To me, the casting is perfect and the ambitious production values match the book's phenomenal success. If you've read it you know this is Nirvana for a lover of computer generated imaging: Space ships, free-floating trainees in a gravity-free environment, a decimated planet, futuristic living quarters, the list goes on and on.

Ender is so called because in this future world, families are only permitted two children: He is a third, AND he is gifted. This has not slipped by the powers that be, because they need a gifted new tactician to help them destroy their sworn enemy.

We see:
  • Harrison Ford ("Indiana Jones" and "42") is Colonel Graff, absolutely determined to annihilate the enemy, once and for all; collateral damage can go to blue blazes. Once again, Ford has to earn his salary: He is saddled with a few bits of really lame dialogue.
  • Asa Butterfield ("Boy in the Striped Pajamas" and "Hugo") is our eponymous hero: intelligent, ethical and focused. He has to straddle the gap between the teenage world of bullying and the adult world of interplanetary warfare. This talented kid must have a terrific agent!
  • Viola Davis ("The Help" and "Prisoners") is Major Gwen Anderson, the only heart in a heartless situation. This actress always impresses me; there is a moment as she leaves a room... BRILLIANT!
  • Hailee Steinfeld ("True Grit" and "Romeo and Juliet") is Ender's friend Petra, she's there for him when he's assigned to a hostile classroom. Petra is a better role for Steinfeld than Juliet.
  • Ben Kingsley ("Hugo" and "Iron Man 3") is Mazer Rackham, a seasoned fighter drafted to coach our youngster in the ways of the enemy. Why did they choose this accent for this character? ...hmmm...
Rated PG-13, youngsters can see other youngsters fight an intergalactic battle (the rest of us will suspend disbelief). To me, all the CGI in the world is no substitute for a good story. Here, courtesy of writer/director Gavin Hood ("X-Men Origins: Wolverine"), we have a really good story, albeit a bit far-fetched, so the CGI works just fine for me. The cinematography by Donald McAlpine offers everything from battling spaceships to Butterfield's eyelashes.

I'm ready for the obvious sequel.
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Here is a sample:
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About Time

From Richard Curtis, the creative soul who gave us "Notting Hill" and "Love Actually," we have an R-rated romantic comedy that satisfies our need for the occasional outing that features unabashedly happy families, solid marriages and well-loved children. Plus, it boasts the most hilarious wedding reception I think I've ever seen.

A young man inherits a family trait that allows him to replay key moments in time and change them to his advantage. We start to chortle whenever he says "Would you please excuse me for a moment?"

It features:
  • Domhnall Gleeson ("Anna Karenina") is Tim, the fellow who can manipulate time, but who can't foretell some of the results. You can see the warm intelligence in his eyes.
  • Rachel McAdams ("The Vow") is Mary, the appealing object of his affections. This Canadian actress is no stranger to relationships with time travelers ("The Time Traveler's Wife"); but we laugh when her Mary insists she won't take off her panties for Scotland! (You'll love that scene.)
  • Bill Nighy ("Blow Dry") is Bill's father. Dad is a cautious veteran of this phenomenon. This character is droll, wise, and a great father.
  • Lindsay Duncan (LOTS of British TV) Her sweetly ferocious Mum fooled me. I actually thought I was watching the French actress Julie Delpy!
  • Lydia Wilson (British TV) is Kit Kat, Tim's rambunctious sister who causes a LOT of turmoil.
  • Mitchell Mullen ("RED 2") is Mary's father, Fitz, who is mentally out to lunch much of the time.
The plot becomes fairly complex so it can become a challenge to follow if you have any hearing problems because much of it is either murmured or whispered. The script is witty and warm but there were times I needed captions; I know I'll LOVE my DVD! Yes, I'll own this one.
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Here is a preview:
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12 Years a Slave

Let's get this out of the way first: Chiwetel Ejiofor is pronounced "Chew-eh-tell Edge-ee-oh-for." You will hear it many times during the awards season.

Based on his book written in 1854, this best seller told how Solomon Northup, born a free (educated) black man in New York, was abducted in Washington DC, sold into slavery and his travails that followed. For one thing, he had to conceal his literacy or be killed. The screenplay is by John Ridley ("Red Tails"), with the much-acclaimed Steve McQueen ("Shame") as director.

We have always heard that power corrupts. I would argue that it's the ABUSE of power that is so corrosive, not the power itself. In my opinion, that is what is illustrated here.

Look at the cast:
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Salt") is brilliant as Solomon Northup, the fellow whose misfortunes we must watch. This actor, born in England to Nigerian parents, is a terrific chameleon, a master of dialects, and a clever fellow who sang "These Boots are Made for Walkin' " as a fetching drag queen in "Kinky Boots." I'm a big fan.
  • Lupita Nyong'o (some TV) is Patsey, a fellow slave, subjected to every demeaning scheme her cruel owners can devise.
  • Quvenzhané Wallis ("Beasts of the Southern Wild") is Northup's daughter Margaret. Her name is pronounced "Qua-ven-zhah-nay."
  • Michael Fassbender ("Prometheus") is excellent as Edwin Epps, a slave owner. He illustrates the dehumanizing effects that slavery has on both slaves and their owners. This German-born actor has worked non stop in America in both movies and television since he first appeared in 2001.
  • Sarah Paulson (Lots of TV) is his wife, who is every bit as cruel in her own sweet genteel way as her loathsome husband.
This has a huge cast, and we see an interesting series of cameos which feature Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard, and Paul Dano, to name a few.

This is 134 loooong R-rated minutes, with only two teeny scraps of humor, some nudity and far too many bloody whippings. I reached horror overload about halfway in: I saw enough lashings, beatings, hangings, rapes and humiliations to last me a lifetime.

This movie is very capably done, both Fassbender and Ejiofor should be short-listed for Academy nominations, but the script itself was a bit of overkill. Sometimes too much brutality is just too much, the audience gets numb. Be warned....
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Last Vegas

What a cast! And directed by Jon Turteltaub ("National Treasure" and "While You Were Sleeping"). How can we lose? Well....

Three old buddies want to throw a bachelor party for their last single pal, so off to Vegas they go! This geriatric PG-13 fling looks at what happens in Vegas and what probably should have stayed there. Too many bikinis, too many gyrating bottoms, too many prostate jokes, too many strobe lights, and too many silicone bosoms, but the strength of a long-time friendship ultimately endures.

Look at this outdated Rat Pack and their cohorts:
  • Robert De Niro ("The Family") is Paddy, a guy who is still in mourning for his wife. This pugnacious guy can really hold a grudge...
  • Morgan Freeman ("Oblivion") Archie has packed his pill case and has programmed his cell phone to remind him to take his meds.
  • Michael Douglas ("Behind the Candelabra") is Billy with the fake tan and the fake hair, never married, never really wanted to... ...except that once....
  • Kevin Kline ("Darling Companion") when Sam is given a Get Out of Jail Free card from his wife, opportunities beckon.
  • Mary Steenburgen ("30 Rock") if Diana ever makes it big in show biz, she will be the first to be surprised.
  • Romany Malco (lots of TV) Lonnie will always cater the best party for the biggest tipper.
  • Jerry Ferrara ("Think Like a Man") Dean really blew it, so our heroes make him think he has offended the Mob!
Eventually this bawdy and profane outing began to wear on me. I'm not a big fan of insult humor or the ogling of young bodies, so despite laughing out loud a few times, I found myself wondering what Dan Fogelman ("Crazy, Stupid, Love") had in mind when he wrote the script: Comedy? Drama? Social commentary on aging? Hmmm....

This is a pleasant way to spend 105 minutes, but you won't remember much about it in a couple of days.
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Here is a preview:
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We are in a small town in Iowa to witness the finals in the annual butter-carving contest. The perennial winner has agreed not to compete in the future, so his ambitious wife has stepped up to the plate for next year's competition. In the meantime we have a newcomer, a little girl who has discovered her own talent; her adoptive parents are totally supportive. (She hasn't unpacked her suitcase yet, because of her past history as a foster child.)

The culture in small-town Iowa is naturally the butt of a lot of jokes from sophisticated Hollywood, but my favorite character is the car dealer who agrees to help that ambitious wife sabotage that little girl's entry. As I watched, I kept thinking he reminded me of Hugh Jackman....

Here are some of the players:
  • Ty Burrell ("Modern Family") is that talented (but now retired) sculptor. He hasn't been entirely faithful to...
  • Jennifer Garner ("The Invention of Lying") his wife who intended to use his string of victories to generate a political career.
  • Yara Shahidi (Lots of TV) is that talented newcomer to the butter-sculpting community.
  • Alicia Silverstone (Lots of TV) is her adoring new mother, happy to adopt such a beautiful little girl and help her express her inner sculptor.
  • Rob Corddry ("Warm Bodies") is her new daddy, supportive and proud of his bright little girl.
  • Olivia Wilde ("Rush") is the stripper who had a fling with the butter-carving champion. She tells the little girl she works at Barnes & Noble.
  • ...and Hugh Jackman ("Wolverine") speaks pure Midwestern American. Whatta guy! His prayers to Jesus are heartfelt and very, very funny.
This R-rated outing (language and sexual situations) is sappy and predictable, but who cares; it's heartwarming and satisfying.
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Here is a preview:
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The Fifth Estate

When I first read of WikiLeaks, my initial impression of Julian Assange was that he was an egotistical jerk. Because this R-rated, dramatized account of this cultural phenomenon is from the perspective of his former collaborator Daniel Berg, I found no reason to change my mind. In May, 2013, I reviewed a so-so documentary on the same topic, "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks" but I will say in its defense, it didn't have a spooky Benedict Cumberbatch doing his chilly portrayal of Assange.

Depending on your point of view, this audacious hacker and his army of anonymous volunteers exposed states' secrets and confidential files that jeopardized agents and shocked the world, therefore he is either a hero or a villain.

  • Benedict Cumberbatch ("Sherlock") is Julian Assange, a fellow who keeps offering different reasons why his hair is white. In my opinion, this thorny fellow may have a touch of Aspergers.
  • Daniel Brühl ("Rush") is Daniel Berg, an acolyte and eventually a skeptic who believes in Assange's original premise of total trans- parency for governments.
  • David Thewlis ("War Horse") is Nick Davies with The Guardian. He speaks for all of us when he questions the morality of the press exposing undercover agents and their families to reprisals.
  • Peter Capaldi ("In the Loop") is the voice for print journalism, he expresses the clash between ethics and the need for profit.
  • Dan Stevens ("Downton Abbey") is another member of the press. His admiration for Assange begins to falter.
  • Anthony Mackie ("Runner Runner") is one of the confounded U.S. officials. The sheer numbers of WikiLeaks' Internet activity boggles his brain.
This one went up in my estimation when I learned that Assange HATES it! He is, as of this writing (October, 2013), still hiding in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

I didn't particularly like the script, it was too contrived and could have been far more thought provoking, but Cumberbatch gave me the willies and Laura Linney along with Stanley Tucci added class to the mix! If you didn't see the documentary, this will at least get you up to speed.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Machete Kills

Another audacious chapter in Robert Rodriquez's ridiculous, profane, gory franchise. Make no mistake, this R-rated blood-splattered slaughter- fest had us hooting with laughter from the first "Coming Attractions." This is about Mexican drug cartels, double agents, the CIA and the President of the United States. Oh...and one muy feo hombre who has done it all. (Watch this ugly man's eyes when they hang him!)

These folks clearly were having a blast:
  • Danny Trejo ("Machete") The invincible Machete "don't tweet!"
  • Jessica Alba ("Sin City") Sartana is there when he needs her.
  • Michelle Rodriguez ("Fast & Furious") Luz still runs a taco stand.
  • Amber Heard ("The Rum Diary") is Miss San Antonio.
  • Sofia Vergara (Lots of TV) is Desdemona, a madam to die for.
  • Mel Gibson ("Tim") Luz sees the end of the world and hates it.
  • Alexa Vega ("Spy Kids") is KillJoy; her name says it all.
  • Demian Bichir ("The Bridge") is Mendez, BOTH of them!
  • Walt Goggins ("Justified") is La Camaleón 1
  • Cuba Gooding Jr ("Don Jon") is La Camaleón 2
  • Lady Gaga (some TV) is La Camaleón 3
  • Antonio Banderas ("Desperado") is La Camaleón 4 (great chuntaros!)
  • Carlos Estevez aka Charlie Sheen ("Anger Management") Mr. President needs help from our hero.
There is no way to justify the glee with which our screening audience greeted each politically incorrect, grisly scene. Absurd action piled upon absurd action, no nudity, lots of bloody fisticuffs and senseless gunfire, but Machete's weapon of choice? Yup, you guessed it...a machete. All that blowie uppie stuff is still for sissies!
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Here is a sample:
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Captain Phillips

Now THIS is what film-making is all about! With Paul Greengrass ("United 93" and the "Bourne" franchise) at the helm, we can expect a PG-13, white-knuckle ride. We see the massive US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama container ship taken over by four scrawny machine-gun-toting pirates in a puny little boat off the coast of Somalia in 2009, the first American ship hijacked in two hundred years.

The script by Billy Ray ("The Hunger Games") is based on (Captain) Richard Phillips book, "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea" which depicts these events from his personal experience.

Although we are already familiar with the situation from 2009 news accounts, we see the wildly contrasting lives of our principals: the high- tech environment enjoyed by modern maritime workers, as opposed to the starkly marginal survival of the Somalis who are ordered to "Go get us some money!" I was fascinated by the ubiquity of khat, the mildly addictive African narcotic used in Muslim countries because alcohol is forbidden. Chewing a khat leaf dulls the appetite, which makes life there a bit more endurable.

We have:
  • Tom Hanks ("Cloud Atlas") as our eponymous (and resourceful) hero, a fellow who insists he is anything BUT a hero. He says, "You just do what you have to do." ...but he does PLENTY, under extremely trying circumstances!
  • Barkhad Abdi in his first film role, plays Muse ("Moo say'"), the Somali captain of a primitive pirate boat, audacious and wily. After he collects his ransom, his ultimate goal is "to go to America."
  • Faysal Ahmed is Najee, a tall, gun-waving Somali who becomes increasingly frenzied as the full might and power of the United States military (WITH Navy SEALS!) surrounds their tiny lifeboat. Besides, they have chewed the last of their khat.
There were many wonderful characters but I won't devote any more space to them. Instead, I urge you to see the film and tell me if you agree that the last ten minutes should earn Mr. Hanks another Oscar.

Kudos for top-flight sound, photography, art direction, set design, script, and acting. I almost succumbed to the "Stockholm Syndrome," but I was really impressed by this one!
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This will give you some idea:
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Romeo and Juliet

This particular play is not in my top ten of William Shakespeare's tragedies, so I was encouraged to see that Julian Fellows ("Downton Abbey") tinkered with the script. It didn't hurt. In fact with one minor tweak, he made it a bit more accessible for today's audience.

As you already know, these teenage lovers are from families who are sworn enemies, but they hope their marriage might start to mend the rift. The Montagues and the Capulets are forerunners of the Hatfields and the McCoys.

We see:
  • Douglas Booth ("Pillars of the Earth") as Romeo, whose rash response to his friend's death launches this tragedy, is dismayed to realize that his name automatically makes him an enemy of her family. "What's in a name? A rose by any other name..."
  • Hailee Steinfeld ("True Grit") as Juliet, the distaff side of our star-crossed duo. They have precious few moments together: "Anon, nurse! Anon!" (Let's hope she learns how to enunciate before she makes another film.)
  • Christian Cooke (lots of TV) is Mercutio, whose death has to be so wrenching we understand how Romeo feels. This is a vital role!
  • Damian Lewis ("Homeland") is Lord Capulet, determined to keep his precious daughter out of Romeo's hot hands. (Get a load of his haircut.)
  • Stellan Skarsgård ("The Avengers") is the Prince of Verona. A wise ruler, indeed!
  • Paul Giamatti ("Sideways") is The Priest, our enabler who wants to see these sweet lovers in each other's arms. His is far and away the best depiction of this role I have ever seen, and I've seen this many times!
  • Leslie Manville ("Cranford") is The Nurse, another enabler who loves her young charge so much she only wants to see her happy! What a concept...
  • Kodi Smit-McPhee ("The Road") is Benvolio, the sweet well- intentioned young fellow who rushes off to bear those ill-fated tidings to Romeo. Just remember: "The road to hell is paved...."
I have several observations: 1) It's always risky to cast a hero who is prettier than the heroine. He looks like John the Baptist by Caravaggio. 2) The locations in Italy (Mantua, Veneto, Lazio, Verona and Rome) are amazing, although some of the sets are NOT. 3) Giamatti has set a new standard with his portrayal of The Priest, particularly when he slaps our hero. 4) You do NOT gallop a horse on cobblestones. Watch Romeo's horse slip as it comes around the corner. Yikes!

This PG-13 film is done with loving respect for the language (yes, you will hear some of the original iambic pentameter), and no lack of talent. Expect lots of swordplay but no profanity, nudity or blowie uppie stuff. Impressive.
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Here is a teaser:
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Runner Runner

Director Brad Furman, who also directed the excellent "Lincoln Lawyer" left me feeling a bit disappointed. Maybe it was his casting choices; I'm not sure. This is an R-rated flick about gambling and as we know, "the house" always wins.

We watch:
  • Ben Affleck ("Argo") as Ivan Block, a sly entrepreneur who runs "the house" offshore. He is charming and ruthless. He has two hobbies: sailing his yacht and feeding his pet alligators.
  • Justin Timberlake ("Trouble With the Curve") is Richie Furst, a clever on-line gambler who spots some cheating on Block's web- site. He knows a gambler who owns "the house" has no need to cheat, so tracks down Block to let him know one of his employees has tweaked the program.
  • Gemma Arterton ("Quantum of Solace") is set decoration for most of this 91-minute crime drama, although she does play a key role...eventually...
  • Anthony Mackie ("Pain and Gain") is FBI Agent Shavers, an ambitious but frustrated fellow who has no jurisdiction on the Caribbean island where most of the action takes place.
  • John Heard (Lots of TV) is our hero's father, an inveterate gambler who becomes a pawn in Block's chess game.
This one had me covering my eyes because I remembered the blatant foreshadowing. Expect lots of profanity, some gunfire and fisticuffs but no blowie uppie stuff. In my opinion, Timberlake will have to keep looking for a vehicle that will make him look good....
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Take a peek:
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I've been reading about this one for quite some time, so I've been eager to see if it's the real deal. Two Oscar winners in a two-person film should be impressive.

Directed by three-time Oscar nominee Alfonso Cuarón ("Children of Men") with a script by Mr. Cuarón and his son Jonás, this PG-13 science fiction thriller takes us to outer space where a medical engineer and an astronaut become untethered from their crippled space shuttle.

Drama ensues....
  • Sandra Bullock ("The Heat") in the role of a lifetime, is a brand new technician with only six months of training under her belt. As the publicity says, she has recently lost a child and is trying to cope with her grief. Her language still reverts to her life with a youngster, e.g., when confronted by some confusing options, she automatically says, "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe..."
  • George Clooney ("The Descendants") is the flight commander. He is a major chatterbox: funny, informed, and very smart. He consistently uses humor to diffuse the situation. I still want to know what happened in New Orleans at the Mardi Gras!
I didn't like our heroine's little squawks of terror, but my biggest problem is with credibility: that Russian Soyuz station is within visual range, as is the one from India. On the other hand, the special effects that illustrate the lack of gravity are exceptional. Objects which float away or drift into view remind us what a boon gravity is for us and why zero gravity is such a challenge. I tend to find films of this nature unsettling, and this one is certainly no different. BTW, that parachute was a nightmare!
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Here is a sneak peek:
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The first movie Ron Howard ever directed was "Grand Theft Auto." Since then, he has built a storied, award-winning career; now he has come full circle to another auto-racing film. This biography is based on the true story of an Austrian Formula One champion and his British arch rival. I found it thrilling, involving and highly entertaining.

We see:
  • Daniel Brühl ("Ladies in Lavender") as three-time Formula One champ Niki Lauda, a buttoned-down technocrat, friendless and charmless, but a brilliant analyst who understands all the elements of racing: the track, the engine, the body, the weight, and above all, the competition.
  • Chris Hemsworth ("Thor") as handsome James Hunt, exuding the joie de vivre of international success. He revels in the booze, the drugs and the women that go along with fame and is always the darling of the press because he is so quotable.
  • Olivia Wilde ("The Change-Up") as Suzy Miller, soon to be the famous supermodel Suzy Hunt, who swans into Hunt's life and quickly marries him, much to their mutual regret.
  • Alexandra Maria Lara ("Imagine") is Marlene, who marries Lauda almost on a whim, but who remains as his staunchest friend and ally.
Howard gives us a soundtrack that shakes the theater as those powerful engines roar into life, but never neglects the dialogue: We hear every single spoken word in a script where much of the fun is what our two rivals say to (and about) each other. Each has driven the other to excel and their top-notch competition brings up the game for both, so they come to realize they need one another. Lauda says, "I learn far more from my enemies than from my friends."

We already know from reading about this film, that neither one dies in any of the horrific crashes we see, so this isn't a spoiler, but I found comfort knowing in advance that despite treacherous rainstorms and challenging race tracks, these guys still will be with us in the final frame. I always want someone to root for!

In this R-rated story, expect nudity, alcohol, drugs, profanity, excitement and a lot of humor.
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Take a quick look:
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Don Jon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to grow as an artist. In this R-rated comedy (that he wrote and directed) he addresses some contemporary issues. The ubiquity of pornography has had a major impact on the dating game. Young men learn self-satisfaction and little else, while young women seek their own (maybe not sexual) self-satisfaction from other sources, e.g., chick flicks and shopping.

Several things jumped out at me: 1) The dialog coach was brilliant. Everyone in the cast had perfect Jersey accents, including the unique inflections. 2) Scarlett Johansson was amazing; she is the ultimate actress. 3) Do all Catholics keep score each week so their confessions are accurate? If so, why does the penance never vary?

Take a look at these players:
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Premium Rush") is the legendary horndog who comes to realize that his expectations for a partner are unrealistic because they are based on porno films. BTW, his weekly routine always includes church on Sunday (and that itemized confession).
  • Scarlett Johansson ("The Avengers") plays the woman of his dreams. This gum-popping blonde even gets him to buy curtain rods.
  • Julianne Moore ("What Maisie Knew") attends our hero's adult education class; every young man should have a classmate like her.
  • Tony Danza (Lots of TV) is terrific as Don Jon's father, but he will make you groan when you see his response to his son's date.
  • Glenne Headly ("Kit Kittredge: An American Girl") makes a pasta dish for Sunday dinner every week. She looks like a grand- mother but has no grandchildren to show for it!
  • Brie Larson ("21 Jump Street") is our hero's texting sister who finally opens her mouth and speaks!
Be warned that this is about pornography, so it includes a LOT of very naughty film clips; it is about young, single men in the dating game, so it includes a LOT of profanity; it is about growing up, so it includes a LOT of confusion and humor.

The theater was packed with young adult couples. I hope they learned something! Because I'm not a young adult, I found the script a bit over- simplified, but Gordon-Levitt is well-intended, so I give him points. And I LOVED the don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-them uncredited cameos by famous contemporaries who obviously got a big kick out of helping their friend.
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Take a look:
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Behind the Candelabra

Michael Douglas does ("Lee") Liberace in this made-for-TV movie about his relationship with his hapless companion, Scott Thorson, played by Matt Damon. We get to ogle the lavish lifestyle of an icon who was "out" in plain sight, his wardrobe, his candelabra, and his baroque furnishings. In those days, fans just thought he was "artistic."

Although the wigs helped Douglas' depiction, I was more impressed by his take on that distinctive voice. And we couldn't help but feel sorry for his naïve houseboy as Liberace played Svengali, subjecting his current heartthrob to diets, pills, jewelry and plastic surgery.

Rob Lowe does a great job as the doctor who lures our gullible young chap into the prescription drug scene, while Cheyenne Jackson is very funny as the houseboy replaced by Scott Thorson.

Although Scott Bakula was listed as one of the players, I saw no evidence of Mr. B. in the story until someone explained that I had been watching Mr. Bakula but was completely fooled by his performance (and his mustache). He looked like Sonny Bono of Sonny and Cher fame. Wow!

Douglas won an 2013 Emmy for his portrayal.


Instructions Not Included

"No se Aceptan Devoluciones" (English captions) is rapidly becoming a phenomenon: By its second week, it is currently the tenth highest-grossing foreign film in U.S. history and on track for third place. (NOTE: By December, 2013, this has become the highest-grossing Spanish language film in American history.)

Directed by Mexican superstar Eugenio Derbez, who also co-wrote the screenplay, this hits all its marks: It's heart-warming, funny, and has an adorable little girl as the central issue. This has been a labor of love for Mr. Derbez: It took him twelve long years to raise the money to create this film and distribute it in los Estados Unidos.

Please enjoy:
  • Eugenio Derbez ("Under the Same Moon") is a happy playboy in Acapulco when a former fling dumps their baby girl in his lap; he didn't know she was pregnant, nor did he know how to change a diaper. Six years later, after struggling to pay the bills, he has become a top stuntman in Hollywood. You'll smile at their father/ daughter pajamas; in fact you'll think he is perhaps a bit too indulgent.
  • Loreto Peralto in her film debut, is the surprise package. She has become her father's on-set coach and taught him how to be a worthwhile adult, even as he has supported and loved her. Listen to her switch between Spanish and English as she negotiates his pay raises.
  • Jessica Lindsey ("Now You See Me") resurfaces and jeopardizes the life our hero has built with his wise and much-loved daughter. There are a few surprises with her, too.
Everything in this sweet but salty personal project is painted with broad strokes, there is NO subtlety here. Our hero's fears are represented by wolves, whether it's his fear of commitment or fear of heights, he sees wolves! Problem is, the pleasure of watching these characters lulls you into a false sense of security, then the story sneaks up on your blind side.

Find a theater in your area where you can see this one...please! I own this DVD!
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This excellent preview has captions:
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This is a wrenching plot because we don't know WHO to suspect. We share the anguish of the parents whose daughters have gone missing and the woman whose nephew is suspected of taking them. At one point I thought I had seen so many MacGuffins I could open a shop, but then, Lo and Behold, each of those little devices became big ones, so pay attention!

With a script by Aaron Guzikowski ("Contraband") and directed by Canadian Denis Villeneuve ("Incendies"), we are wrung out by the frantic action and the heartfelt misery that unfolds before our unwilling eyes. The most outstanding features are the authentic family interactions and the locations. (Personally, I would have changed some of the dialogue and completely eliminated one "Gotcha" moment.)

Here is the sterling cast:
  • Hugh Jackman ("Wolverine") is Keller Dover, a building contractor who lives with his wife and two children in a pleasant middle-class neighborhood. It is his frantic quest to find his daughter that is central to the plot. He says, "Pray for the best, prepare for the worst."
  • Maria Bello ("The Company Men") is Keller's wife, Grace. As one empty day follows another, she begins to lose hope.
  • Jake Gyllenhaal ("Source Code") is Detective Loki, a weary, relentless investigator who hasn't lost a case yet. The girls' parents are frustrated by his unhurried pace.
  • Viola Davis ("The Help") is Nancy Birch, mother of the second missing girl. She has to examine her own principles and humanity when confronted by the evidence.
  • Terrance Howard ("Red Tails") is her husband Franklin, Keller's unwilling collaborator.
  • Melissa Leo ("The Fighter") is Holly Jones, a resourceful widow who has raised her mentally impaired nephew.
  • Paul Dano ("Ruby Sparks") is her nephew Alex. He has the mental age of a ten year old.
Three things I should mention: 1) This takes place in a chilly, damp locale; wear a sweater. 2) This runs 153 minutes; limit your liquids. 3) This is an R-rated thriller; expect explosive action and a LOT of profanity.

BTW, this is another top-notch production that includes Mark Wahlburg as an executive producer. He's one guy who used his time in prison to good effect.
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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The Family

Here's a new twist on an old situation. A family linked to the Mob is placed in the Witness Protection Program, but they have been re-re-relocated and now they are in Normandy! Do you want to know why? Because these folks play hard ball and they don't have much patience. You see, old habits die hard and some neighbors can be down-right annoying!

In my personal opinion, a mob film directed by Luc Besson ("Leon: The Professional") is interchangeable with one directed by Martin Scorsese ("GoodFellas"). They both "pop" characters with an off-handed thugishness that is extremely violent and disturbing. And they are both top-notch action directors.

We actually CARE about:
  • Robert De Niro ("Meet the Parents") is Fred Blake/Giovanni Manzoni, a capo who ran his old neighborhood with an iron fist until he ratted out his old pals. He has a way of rationalizing everything he has done and seems to have no guilt.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer ("Married to the Mob") is his wife Maggie. Pfeiffer is priceless in this role, her Jersey accent is noticeable but not forced. Her byplay with De Niro looks like they are a long-time happily married couple, but when she gets mad... Oh! My! Dear!
  • Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln") is Robert Stansfield, the poor Fed who is saddled with the responsibility of trying to keep the strong-willed Blake/Manzoni family safe and out of harm's way.
  • Dianna Agron ("Burlesque") is Belle, their gorgeous daughter who has learned how to survive in a variety of situations, schools and countries. She likes peanut butter and is the perfect older sister, too!
  • John D'Leo ("Wanderlust") is Warren, small for his age, and a natural target for bullies in the new school. He is resourceful, revengeful, and methodical...probably not a good idea in school....
This R-rated comedy/drama/thriller generated a few white knuckles, let me tell you! There is plenty of comedy mixed in, but believe me, it's very dark comedy. We learn that when a gun is pointed at someone, that person will probably die. And a gun isn't the only method used to dispatch victims, just the least horrific. Our screening audience loved those profane teenagers, and applauded when things went their way. We left the theater exhausted.
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Take a look:
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The Decoy Bride

This one caught my eye only because I am a fan of David Tennant ("Blackpool") so it really was a pig in a poke. What I bought was actually a lovely little romantic comedy that has some of the wittiest dialogue I've had the pleasure to hear, no bad guys, and several people to root for.

We are on a remote island in the Hebrides (off the coast of Scotland) where an internationally known movie star is trying to get married without the army of paparazzi who relentlessly hound her tracks. Her publicist and her staff have scouted out a castle on this particular island based on her favorite book written by her fiancé (he sorta cheated when he wrote that book). They need a decoy to lure the photographers off the scent.

Here are some of the actors:
  • Alice Eve ("Star Trek into Darkness") is that famous actress. Not only is she famous, she's beautiful, kind, clever and smart.
  • David Tennant ("Dr. Who") is the author of her favorite book. He now has writer's block but is utterly agog over his lovely fiancée.
  • Kelly MacDonald ("Boardwalk Empire") is a local girl come home to lick her wounds. She had followed a musician to London but discovered she still has a knack for finding guys who have a fear of commitment.
Our actress's staff decides to do a faux wedding to throw the paparazzi off track. They offer our local girl a LOT of cash; it's tempting because her terminally ill mother wants to see the world before she dies.

This is a cheery little film with charming people, an off-beat hamlet, eccentric locals and lovely scenery. It's sweetly predictable and I'm soooo glad!

IMPORTANT NOTE: A JayFlix person told me he found this in Sweden under "The Other Bride."
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Here is a preview:
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First I want to talk about baseline tolerance. You know how some people have to put on more cologne each day just so they can smell it, while the rest of us gag? That is baseline tolerance.

Now let's talk about Computer Generated Imaging: Starting with the 1973 Yul Brynner oater "Westworld" and decades later "Avatar" in 2009, we have seen so much CGI, we gag. Hollywood can't seem to smell it yet and I admit some of it is dazzling, but how about a good script? Lots of cologne can't mask a failure to bathe, nor can lots of CGI mask a lame script. Which brings me to this third installment of a third Vin Diesel franchise ("Fast and Furious" and "xXx" are two others); it has brilliant CGI but some of the dialog made me wonder how the actors kept a straight face...

Here they are:
  • Vin Diesel ("The Pacifier") is Riddick, the legendary loner who sets his own broken leg (don't ask).
  • Karl Urban ("RED") in a 30-second bait and switch. Do NOT go if you are expecting to see Mr. U. in an actual role...
  • Jordi Mollà ("Knight and Day") is Santana, the bounty hunter. To him, Riddick is worth more dead than alive.
  • Matt Nable ("Killer Elite") is Boss Johns, seeking Riddick to learn more about his son's death.
The story? Left for dead on a sun-baked planet, our hero fights against all odds and plots revenge. That pretty much covers it.

This has some of the best CGI work I have seen to date, the production design is wonderful, the photography is masterful, the story is basic but involving, and like other Diesel outings, includes an anti-drug bit. On the other hand, the R-rated plot is rudimentary, the comedy is crude, the fight scenes are endless, and one of the monsters eats its own entrails. Fan boys loved the action, while I admired the CGI. Yup, I said it!
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Here is a trailer (note the canine sidekick):
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Hmmm... A young American woman is so obsessed with Jane Austen that she has decorated her bedroom with a life-size image of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice," plus she has doilies, pillows, flowers, ribbons, dolls, and other frilly, girly stuff right out of Austen's books. In this PG-13 cringe-worthy calamity, our fixated sweet thing finds a British theme tour devoted to All Things Austen, so thither she goes! In my personal opinion, this dame has a screw loose.

Writer/director Jerusha Hess ("Napoleon Dynamite") has assembled a sterling cast (numerous awards and honors), then subjected them (and us) to this lame offering.

I blushed for:
  • Keri Russell ("August Rush") is Jane, ready to spend her life savings just to experience a Jane Austen moment. Problem is, she can't afford the premium tour, so is assigned a small room in the servants' wing at Pemberly.
  • JJ Feild ("Northanger Abbey") is Mr. Henry Nobley, who immediately starts giving off antagonistic vibes to our heroine (hint, hint). As you can see, Mr. F. already has credibility in an Austen story.
  • Jennifer Coolidge (Lots of TV) is Miss Elizabeth Charming, a daffy, obscenely rich guest at Pemberly. Not even Coolidge with her considerable talent could save this thing.
  • Jane Seymour ("The Family Tree") is Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the proprietress of this ridiculous venture. She hasn't a benevolent bone in her body.
  • Bret McKenzie (TV series "Flight of the Conchords") is Martin, the handsome stable hand who offers Jane a friendly shoulder.
  • Ricky Whittle (Lots of TV) looks for all the world like the guy in the Old Spice commercial; this strapping fellow rips off his shirt at the slightest provocation...and we're glad he does...small blessings. ...smile...
Did I rate it? Yes - WSF (Worst So Far, which I've only used one other time this year) based on script, plot, acting and production design. I realize that all the stuffed chickens, peacocks, lambs, etc., were supposed to look phony, but these were insultingly so! I hated the fake birth of the colt and I cringed at the awkward references to "Emma," "Persuasion," "Sense & Sensibility," etc., etc., etc...

The young, estrogen-stoked women in the screening audience were vocal and upbeat throughout this ordeal; they applauded (!) at the end, while I apologized to my companions for subjecting them to this travesty. I enjoy Chick Flicks, but this one is in a league of its own. YOYO (You're On Your Own)
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Closed Circuit

In London there are about 500,000 closed circuit cameras monitoring people's activities. This is a result of the terrorist bombings by the IRA in years past, but they are essential in today's tense climate. Inspired by actual events, our film opens with a fictional bombing in a crowded marketplace as viewed by a number of these ubiquitous cameras.

With a tightly crafted screenplay by Steven Knight ("Amazing Grace") and capably led by award-winning director John Crowley ("Boy A") this cynical view of international terrorism left me so paranoid I suspected every person on screen with the possible exception of the Queen.

Here are the players:
  • Eric Bana ("Munich") is a divorced barrister assigned to take over a case from a colleague who has committed suicide.
  • Rebecca Hall ("Iron Man 3") has been assigned the defense of the accused terrorist. BTW, she's the worst thing that ever happened to our divorced barrister.
  • Ciarán Hinds ("In Bruges") is a reassuring sounding board for our hero, who has become more and more alarmed as he delves ever deeper into the case.
  • Jim Broadbent ("Cloud Atlas") is the Attorney General who reassures us that everything the government does MUST be transparent to its citizens; THAT is how a democracy WORKS.
  • Julia Stiles ("The Silver Linings Playbook") is an American journalist who began digging into the case long before our hero, so she is very well informed.
  • Denis Moschitto (Lots of TV) is the accused terrorist. Problem is, for some reason the case is so sensitive he isn't allowed to see the charges against him. He is profane, angry and frightened. (And his son is in jeopardy!)
Because so much of this plot revolves around the monitoring devices, we feel that everyone is under surveillance but no one is safe. This R-rated thriller is exciting, tense, and funny in places but has no sweaty bodies or gunshots. You'll come out jarred by a couple of plot holes, but in my opinion Bana can carry any movie.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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In a World...

This one shocked me. I was expecting a documentary about voice-over artists but instead was treated to an R-rated Woody Allen'esque comedy with confused young singles, unfaithful marrieds and jealous parents. And yes, I confess I was a bit let down.

Here's the cast:
  • Lake Bell ("No Strings Attached") is an unemployed voice artist who teaches wannabes. She doesn't have very good manners and I had to agree with her father when he asked her to move out on her own.
  • Michaela Watkins (Lots of TV) is our gal's sister, happily married but just a bit bored. Now she has her sister under foot!
  • Rob Corddry ("Warm Bodies") is one of the two characters I actually liked. He is our heroine's patient (and forgiving) brother-in-law.
  • Fred Melamed (Lots of TV) is our heroine's father, a renowned voice artist who is slated to receive a "Life-Time Achievement Award" for his work. He is absolutely positive there is no place for female voices in his profession.
  • Alexandra Holden (Lots of TV) everyone should have a step- mother like this one!
  • Demetri Martin ("Contagion") plays a sound engineer who believes in our gal's voice. He is the second likable character.
  • Ken Marino ("We're the Millers") is a successful voice artist who is prepared to accept the torch from the retiring king; he presents the "Life-Time Achievement Award" to his former competitor.
  • Geena Davis ("The Long Kiss Goodnight") in a surprise cameo, has a surprise disclosure for our gal.
Of course we are treated to the dulcet tones of the pros (some of them in a steam bath). There are cameos by many major voice artists...even an archival bit that features the legendary Don LaFontaine.

I still wanted a documentary...sigh...
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Here is a preview:
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The World's End

A Simon Pegg/Nick Frost movie is sorta like an R-rated Snickers Bar. It's sweet, nutty, simplistic, a little silly and has a gooey center. Remember "Hot Fuzz?" It's the same sort of wildly implausible script, funny (and profane) dialogue, plus LOTS of action!  You know, mayhem in the men's room and brawling in the bar plus a smidgen of sci fi in the mix. You wouldn't believe it if I told you, so....

Back when they were young bucks, our gang was going to do the "Golden Mile," i.e., do twelve pubs and drink a pint in each one, ending their epic pub crawl at a place called "The World's End." Back in the day ...they failed: they got too drunk and the evening fizzled before they made the full tour.

Let's watch:
  • Simon Pegg ("Run, Fatboy, Run") doesn't think it's too late to try again. He's the spark plug for the group and will NOT take no for an answer. I've never seen Pegg so enthusiastic and macho.
  • Nick Frost ("Shaun of the Dead") absolutely does NOT want to join the old gang. He still has scars from that first round decades ago.
  • Martin Freeman ("The Hobbit" he's Bilbo Baggins) refuses to hear of his sister's exploits with his chums when they were all teens.
  • Paddy Considine ("The Bourne Ultimatum") never dared tell that girl long ago how he felt about her.
  • Eddie Marsan ("Sherlock Holmes") works at his father's car dealership and never got over being bullied in school.
  • Rosamund Pike ("Jack Reacher") is that much-admired girl from long ago, all grown up and even better than before. I've never seen this actress do knock-down comedy before!
  • David Bradley ("Captain America") is a key character in the town where our heroes go for their reunion. This actor is in EVERY- THING! "Harry Potter," "Game of Thrones," "Broadchurch," "Reckless," "World Without End," it goes on and on....
Because this script suffers from second-act problems, Director Edgar Wright ("Scott Pilgrim vs the World") has ramped up the action to overload, so my attention wandered, but I adore Simon Pegg in anything. And this does end with a big grin!
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Here is a sample:
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The Grandmaster

Make no mistake, when a film is directed by Wong Kar Wai ("2041"), it will be artistic no matter what audience expectations may be. Naturally he includes martial arts, but as we already know, most martial art films depend heavily on visual and audio editing. Remember "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" with the gravity-defying action? There is a bit of that here as well, but the visual editing is perfection: each scene is framed with loving care and a careful eye.

The film is loaded with Eastern aphorisms which floated in one ear and out the other, although I liked the one about two martial elements: horizontal and vertical. If you are vertical at the end of a bout... you won. Even I can understand THAT one!

Along with the visual excellence I always expect from this director, I had the pleasure of watching two of my favorite Asian actors:
  • Tony Leung ("In the Mood for Love") is Ip Man, our martial arts master who, after tragedy and fundamental changes in his life, eventually ends up in Hong Kong and establishes the school where Bruce Lee trains.
  • Ziyi Zhang ("Memoirs of a Geisha") is Gong Er, the gifted daughter of a martial arts grandmaster; she had the misfortune to be born female. She is the master of a specialized school of martial arts but swears to never disclose her secrets.
If you have been lucky enough to see "In the Mood for Love" you know not to expect gunshots or sweaty bodies but you also know there will be an achingly poignant love story. The sound track has a touch of western music that we recognize, plus some eastern pieces, as well.

We see two star-crossed lovers as they and their families are caught up in the invasion of China by the Japanese, WW II and a sea change in the way Hong Kong is governed. We see starvation and cruelty, elegance and beauty, i.e., the full panoply of Far Eastern history in the mid-1900s.

And those actors are STILL two of my favorites!
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Here is a preview:
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