Warm Bodies

Seattle's Isaac Marion (self-published "Where Are They Now") wrote the book on which this goofy (and unconventional) romantic comedy (with ZOMBIES?!) is based. Director Jonathan Levine ("50/50") did the honors at the helm.

Despite a pretty standard opening with the walking dead lurching through a demolished city looking (and finding!) humans on which to munch, this gradually evolves into a laugh-out-loud comedy and a sweet romance. You'll just have to trust me! (The tag line is: Cold Body, Warm Heart.)

We see:
  • Nicholas Hoult ("About a Boy") is R, for lack of a better name; he just can't remember... He seems to have the right instincts (I want to protect her, not eat her), but is extremely confused (How do you talk to a girl?).
  • Teresa Palmer ("I Am Number Four") is Julie. Their balcony scene made me wonder if his full name was Romeo. This actress bears an uncanny resemblance to a blonde Kristen Stewart.
  • John Malkovich ("RED") is Julie's father, General Grigio, who heads the human defense forces in their walled fortress, fighting those zombies and skeletors.
  • Dave Franco ("21 Jump Street") is Perry, one of the armed defenders of the besieged humans. Yes, he's James Franco's younger (handsomer) brother.
  • Analeigh Tipton ("Crazy, Stupid, Love") is Nora, Julie's friend. She offers her cosmetics when they try to disguise our hero as a human, not a corpse. She says, "I know it's hard to get a boy- friend, what with the apocalypse and all, but..."
  • Rob Corddry (Lots of TV) is M, R's best friend, if there even IS such a thing in the zombie world.
All of us were involved in this upbeat comedy from the very beginning. We were surprised the first time we laughed because of the dystopian setting, but got the hang of it very quickly. (BTW, I have read NO state- ment from the author that he was inspired by Romeo and Juliet, but we can easily supply the links, e.g, R = Romeo. Julie = Juliet. M = Mercutio. etc., etc.)

Expect a circumspect courtship, lots of gunshots and blood, very little vehicular mayhem or profanity and NO blowie uppie stuff.

Just suspend disbelief and have a good time!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a preview:
* * * * * * * * * * * *



Here we have a professional thief with a code of ethics, left for dead by his colleagues (minus his share of the take), and now he's MAD. (It's not the money, it's the principal!) This is a series of heists, each one planned to the nth degree and carried out with cold-blooded precision.

This R-rated thriller only pauses occasionally to introduce another character and maybe have a few laughs. We dash from a state fair (where our hero is a priest!), to Florida where he poses as a wealthy Ecuadorean-born Texan. You're gonna have to trust me on that! There are also some nice scenes with a farm couple and with a hospital patient.

We see:
  • Jason Statham ("Safe") Guess who plays the title role? Yup. He is beaten, shot, stabbed, and choked, but this dependable old Timex just keeps on ticking...
  • Jennifer Lopez ("The Back-up Plan") seems to be in this just to provide occasional squeals of fear, tears of frustration over her recent divorce and groans of exasperation about her soap opera-watching mom. She's actually not too bad this time.
  • Patti LuPone ("30 Rock" on TV) almost steals the show in her few scenes. Between her and her darling little dog (maybe a Papillon?) she makes us laugh out loud!
  • Michael Chiklis ("Vegas" on TV) is the head thug who betrays our hero. This guy is mean!
  • Nick Nolte ("Gangster Squad") is a quasi father-in-law. No, our hero isn't married, but almost!
  • Emma Booth ("The Boys are Back") is resourceful and loving as the nurse/lover our hero seems to need on a semi-regular basis.
  • Bobby Canavale ("Boardwalk Empire" on TV) is the sweet Palm Beach cop who has it bad for Ms. Lopez.
With Jennifer Lopez in the cast, we KNOW they will exploit her physical attributes... smile ...which they DO! In addition, expect lots of gunfire, ferocious fisticuffs, stabbings, blood, blood and blood. We always know how a Jason Statham movie will end, but it's always lots of fun getting there. They have a particularly good fight choreographer in this one; the fights are remarkable.

Don't leave too soon. We thoroughly enjoyed the afterthoughts.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a link to a preview:
* * * * * * * * * * * *



Here is a cast to die for, who play characters in a home for retired opera singers and musicians; they getting ready for their annual gala in cele- bration of Verdi's birthday. But there is a "spanner (wrench) in the works" when a former diva arrives, in the person of Maggie Smith. Based on the play by Ronald Harwood and directed by first-timer Dustin Hoffman, this delicious PG-13 comedy bathes us in classical music, witty dialogue and a lovely setting. In fact the opening credits include some of the finest editing I've had the pleasure to enjoy in recent years. Kudos to Barney Pilling for the film editing; Ben Smith for the art direction; and Dustin Hoffman for respecting the music.

The world of opera is a relatively small one, so it is no surprise that a few of these divas and divos have a shared "history," and therein lies our tale.

Let's look at some of this wonderful cast:
  • Maggie Smith ("Downton Abbey") is Jean, who always had at least 12 curtain calls but hasn't been in the spotlight for far too long!
  • Michael Gambon ("Harry Potter") is Cedric, in charge of the star-studded gala, with a towering ego of his own.
  • Billy Connolly ("Brave") is Wilf, proof positive that an old horn dog never stops sniffing around.
  • Tom Courtenay ("Gambit") is Reggie, a kind, considerate fellow who is still nursing a broken heart.
  • Pauline Collins ("You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger") is Cissy, the sweet busybody who can't think of one bad thing to say about anyone.
Just a couple of important tips: 1) If you have any hearing problems, either see this in a theater that features closed captions, or wait for the DVD so you can turn on the subtitles. 2) Be sure to stay through the final credits because Mr Hoffman has generously included the faces of many of the performers, along with a head shot of that same performer during his or her heyday. What a beautiful finale!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I'll bet you'd like to see a preview:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


A Royal Affair

"En Kongelig affaere" is an R-rated Danish/Swedish production (it opened in March, 2012 in Denmark) based on a novel by Bodil Steensen- Leth. The story is about King Christian VII, an insane king of Denmark, whose young wife falls in love with the royal physician. Pretty tawdry stuff, huh?

That's what the over-simplified publicity says. I say that this multi-layered historical drama is absolutely wonderful from beginning to end and it makes us want to re-examine what the history books have said. Every character is fully developed, the costumes and locations are carefully reproduced and the story is based on real people, for better or for worse.

It stars:
  • Alicia Vikander ("Anna Karenina") as the young queen Caroline Mathilde, a member of the British royal family, wed to a Danish king and forever exiled from her homeland. Her situation is little better than slavery, her duty is to bear a heir, nothing more. Her beloved books are sent back to England because the censors don't approve. The camera LOVES this young woman's face!
  • Mads Mikkelsen ("After the Wedding") as the German-born physician Johann Friedrich Struensee, a reform-minded Free Thinker, who is opposed to serfdom (which is another word for slavery), eager to tax the rich to pay for orphanages, rid the streets of sewage, and vaccinate the general population against smallpox (radical ideas, indeed). This fine actor had us on the edge of our seats!
  • Mikkel Boe Følsgaard (Lots of Danish TV) is wonderful as King Christian VII, selfish, immature, spontaneous, easily misled and cruelly managed by his self-serving council. As he starts to authorize the reforms suggested by his physician, the privy council fights back. This actor makes us wonder how crazy the king really was...
This mixture of Danish, Swedish, French and German (yes, captions) has a voiceover reading a letter from the banished Queen to her children, one of whom, history tells us, is the future King Frederich VI, who trans- formed Denmark into a modern country.

Seattle is a movie-going town, but even I was surprised by the standing- room only crowd in one of the last local theaters where it is playing. I guess the folks who missed it will have to see it on DVD. Of course it being nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 2013 Oscars didn't hurt, either.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a link to a trailer:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


The Last Stand

"Governator Ah'-nuld" is back. This R-rated action flick is targeted strictly for the fans of R-rated action flicks; I was surprised to discover that I am one of them! This fast-paced bullet-riddled comedy is entertaining from the first frame. I've never laughed through a bloody shoot-out before but our screening audience had a great time. Korean director Jee-woon Kim ("The Good, the Bad and the Weird") brings chop-socky experience and a great sense of humor to the screen with non-stop, cliché-ridden energy.

All the humor is character driven, so let's talk about the characters:
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger ("The Expendables") is a weary sheriff in a little bitty (fictitious) Arizona border town, just putting in his time until retirement. He saw enough action in Los Angeles and was tired of blood, so he has moved here to relax.
  • Luis Guzman ("Journey 2: The Mysterious Island") is his chief deputy. He's not a coward, but he IS a realist, so when they hear that a high-powered jefe from a drug cartel is headed their way, he's thinking maybe they could look the other way "for just a little while..."
  • Zach Gilford ("Crazy Kind of Love") is one of our hero's hapless deputies. The first thing he does is break his nose while target shooting because he doesn't expect a high-caliber pistol to kick.
  • Jaimie Alexander ("Thor") is another deputy, scared spitless, but she's game.
  • Johnny Knoxville (Lots of TV) is one of the local yokels who volunteers to help our hero; but this gun lover INSISTS on being deputized. I laughed at his metal military helmet dangling on a rope as he is helped to cover.
  • Eduardo Noriega ("Blackthorn") is that aforementioned jefe, skillfully driving a singularly designed Corvette muscle car. He is smart, tough and determined.
  • Forest Whitaker ("Repo Men") is with the FBI; the stunningly clever jailbreak happens on his watch and he WILL bring back his prisoner, the most wanted drug kingpin in the Western hemi- sphere.
  • Genesis Rodriguez ("Casa de mi Padre") is a lovely FBI agent taken hostage by that nasty escapee.
We have many memorable thugs, a wonderful assortment of towns- people (some of whom have great reasons to stay in the diner), muscle cars, great use of a corn field, unlimited firepower, lots of blood, several humorous through lines that pop up at just the right moment, one little kiss and some appropriate profanity. I'm putting this one in my Guilty Pleasures file.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a preview:
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Broken City

A former cop with the New York City Police Department had been double-crossed and framed; seven years later he is hired by the mayor to track a (possibly) unfaithful wife.... Why does this sound so familiar?

...Sigh...There is nothing new in this l-o-n-g (109 minutes) R-rated action-filled mess. Dirty cops, corrupt politicians, unfaithful wives, deadbeat customers, you know the drill. My biggest problem was finding someone I could root for! Maybe that darling secretary? Maybe the lover?

I watched:
  • Mark Wahlberg ("The Fighter") is Billy. We want to root for him, but we can't forget those first scenes.
  • Russell Crowe ("Les Misérables") is Mayor Hostetler. His phony smile can't disguise that little twitch under his left eye when he is tense.
  • Jeffrey Wright ("Source Code") is Police Commissioner Fairbanks, who has me confused: is he clean or is he dirty?
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones ("Rock of Ages") is Cathleen, the Mayor's wife. Is she or isn't she faithful?
  • Kyle Chandler ("Zero Dark Thirty") is Paul, a political operative who is, believe it or not, the most decent guy in the whole movie.
  • Alona Tal (Lots of TV) is Katy, Billy's Girl Friday in his private detective business. She's sweet and resourceful.
Expect gunshots, fisticuffs, vehicular mayhem and LOTS of talk, which, I was surprised to note, includes very little profanity. The R rating seems to be due to the violence of some of those fist fights and the cold- blooded gunshots when victims are already down. On the other hand, it strikes me as funny that everyone is constantly drinking but absolutely no one smokes.

All in all, I didn't find this movie very involving; most of the characters seemed to be at arms-length. The talky script is Brian Tucker's first time out, so next time Mr. T. try the less-is-more rule and use two words instead of twenty, okay? Especially when you have them speak sotto voce and many of us in the audience can't make out most of that blasted dialogue.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a preview:
* * * * * * * * * * * *



Director Dan Ireland ("Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont," co-founder of Seattle International Film Festival) uses a story by E. L. Doctorow ("Rag- time") to bring us a fifteen-year-old girl who marries a boy to get away from an abusive foster home. Problem is, she jumps from the frying pan into the fire.

Over the next ten years, we encounter:
  • Jessica Chastain (Winner of 2008 Golden Space Needle for Best Actress, SIFF) as our eponymous heroine. This actress ages from age 15 to 25 and plays everything from a high school student to a pole dancer in a strip joint; from a Tulsa housewife to a glamorous redhead kept by a Vegas kingpin. This is a dream role for any actress and Chastain is amazing.
  • Zeb Newman (lots of TV) is her gawky first husband; he is the frying pan...
  • Dermot Mulroney ("The Wedding Date") is Uncle Phil; he is the fire (see above).
  • Frances Fisher (Lots of TV) works in a mental hospital (don't ask!).
  • Rupert Friend ("Pride and Prejudice" - 2005) is another husband, a randy musician with a tattoo parlor.
  • Chazz Palminteri ("Modern Family") lives in a Las Vegas pent- house.
  • Michael Vartan ("Rogue") is her wealthy Tulsa husband. He doesn't want to know a thing about her past....until he does....
This is an R-rated study of a resilient little gal who is the epitome of grit and determination, AND she washes up nice! This film was made in 2008, so even though I saw it at a theatrical press screening this week, it is already in on-line catalogs, and might be available on Netflix or in your local library.

This review was first posted 11/5/10 and I've been following Jessica Chastain's career ever since. She's phenominal.


Gangster Squad

This is a violent, bloody R-rated territorial squabble set in the late 1940s between the Los Angeles Police Department and the Mickey Cohen/Bugsy Siegel East Coast Mob. This humor-laced (and bullet-ridden) outing pits East Coast gangsters against...hmm... not really a Dirty Dozen, more like a Slightly Soiled Six-Pack, of cops who have been anonymously recruited to run organized crime out of Los Angeles.

This is a highly fictionalized story inspired by real events. We see:
  • Sean Penn ("Milk") is Mickey Cohen, a former professional boxer with a nasty temper, brutal and merciless. I must say, Penn has become a caricature of himself....and he has NEVER learned to enunciate!
  • Nick Nolte ("Warrior") is Police Chief Parker, the guy determined to keep Cohen and his cohorts from setting up shop in LA.
  • Josh Brolin ("W.") is Sgt. John O'Mara, an Army vet, now a cop for the LAPD. He is hand-picked for the job, and he in turn hand picks his own squad (with some help from his wife).
  • Ryan Gosling ("Drive") is Sgt. Jerry Wooters, who first declines the "honor" of serving on the team, but then he gets mad... (with the Hollywoodland real estate development sign shining in the back- ground.)
  • Emma Stone ("The Amazing Spider-Man") is Grace, a favorite of Cohen's; Sgt. Wooters likes her, too.... Vintage clothing looks good on this gal!
  • Robert Patrick ("Trouble With the Curve") is Max, otherwise known by this little gang as "Hopalong" because a six-gun is his weapon of choice.
  • Michael Peña ("End of Watch") is Navidad, who nominates him- self to join up when Max is recruited.
  • Giovanni Ribisi ("Avatar") is Conway, a technician who is invited into the project because he understands telecommunications...and our geek accepts because he would like to be a hero to his son.
  • Anthony Mackie ("The Hurt Locker") is Coleman, the only law in his tough neighborhood. He just wants to stay OUT of Burbank!
  • Yvette Tucker ("Me Again") does a perfectly splendid turn as Carmen Miranda, complete with a towering headgear of fruit, singing at Slapsy Maxie's nightclub during a raid.
This shoot-em-up is almost non-stop gunfire interspersed with blowie uppie stuff. There isn't as much profanity as usual, but the vehicular mayhem is fun with those big old 1940s cars swaying and lumbering around corners.

Be sure to suspend disbelief, but be prepared to laugh more often than you might expect. Despite all the blood and gore, the screening audience was entertained, and that's what it's all about, ...isn't it? ...I guess?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a preview:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


The Impossible

I just watched a 12-year-old boy become a man. After 114 grueling minutes of calamity piled upon disaster followed by tragedy, I got a lump in my throat along with the rest of the audience as we saw a dauntless family do its best to cope with a vacation gone very, very wrong. "Lo imposible" is based on a book by María Belón which in turn was in- spired by true events that occurred during the catastrophic tsunami that devastated southeast Asia in 2004.

We follow:
  • Naomi Watts ("J. Edgar") is María, a physician who has suspended her career to raise a family.
  • Ewan McGregor ("Salmon Fishing in the Yemen") is Henry, her husband, who has concerns about his job but most particularly whether or not he re-set the house alarm when they left for their vacation.
  • Tom Holland (voice:"The Secret World of Arrietty") is Lucas, a mildly rebellious tween but a good kid. Once he and his badly injured mother are stranded in the bewildering detritus of the tsunami, he is the stronger and the healthier of the two. He never hesitates.
  • Samuel Joslin (in his first movie role) is Thomas, the tyke charged with the responsibility to watch over his even littler brother. He is truly alarmed and his scene with his father is brilliant.
  • Oaklee Pendergast ("EastEnders") is Simon, the little brother who really has to pee!
Much has been made over the myopia of Western Europeans making a movie that features a white family in the midst of a tragedy that killed over 200,000 (mostly local) people. I could argue that these locals are portrayed in the very best light: they instantly spring to the aid of any and everyone, are kind, considerate and life-saving whenever possible.

Director Juan Antonio Bayona ("The Orphanage") has created a master- piece that is surely the envy of directors who specialize in disaster films. The scope of this one is astonishing. I have no idea how much of it is Computer Generated Imaging, how much is from news clips and how much was staged, but suffice it to say, it is truly impressive. First the tsunami itself, then the ravaged land with the villagers who immediately come to help, the field hospitals that are quickly set up and the emer- gency care that is mobilized, are mind-boggling. All combine to make me proud that I'm a human being.

As expected, the adults in this film are terrific, but the children are exceptional! The PG-13 rating is for the intensity of the suffering and the scope of the tsunami. A loving family is what we are there to see and we get to see it!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a preview:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


Zero Dark Thirty

About halfway through the filming of her military thriller about the CIA's hunt for terrorists, Academy Award winning Director Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker") was stunned to learn that Osama bin Laden had been located and killed. She immediately suspended her project and Mark Boal ("The Hurt Locker") began rewriting the script.

Amid accusations that she (possibly) was given access to secret material, she shot and released this astonishing piece of R-rated film-making with blinding speed. Of course we already know how it ends, but it's a nail- biter just the same. And it IS based on real people; they even remem- bered to include the Malinois dog (a slightly smaller version of a German Shepherd).

We see:
  • Jessica Chastain ("The Help") is the driven CIA agent who refuses to cut herself or anyone else any slack. She got this job right out of high school and it's the only life she knows. (You should hear how she describes herself!)
  • Mark Strong ("The Guard") practically steals this film from the top-billed stars. This British-born actor never ceases to amaze me: this time he's CIA (American!) and grabs our focus any time he's on camera.
  • Jason Clarke ("Lawless") is the CIA fellow tasked with the inter- rogation of prisoners. This Australian bloke will always work because he speaks American like a native.
  • Joel Edgerton ("Kinky Boots") is part of the Navy SEAL team and he believes in our heroine's "gut." Edgerton is another Aussie.
  • Chris Pratt ("Money Ball") brings his trademark genial likability to his role as part of the SEAL team. So much of their raid has them swathed in night-vision goggles and all the paraphernalia they need that they are virtually unrecognizable, but I knew his voice.
  • Reda Kateb ("Three Worlds") is the operative who is subjected to water-boarding. The scene wasn't as horrific as I had feared, although I certainly wouldn't want it done to ME!
  • Kyle Chandler ("Super 8") is our heroine's boss in Afghanistan. To him, she is a major pain because she doesn't know how to quit.
  • Jennifer Ehle ("Contagion") is her only friend in the CIA. As a rule, Ms. Ehle speaks flawless American but one scene shocked me because there was NO attempt to disguise her British pronuncia- tion. Hmmm.... I guess this was made in a rush...
It's amazing how iconic a simple, three-story white building in Abbotta- bad, Pakistan has become. We all recognize it instantly! And the claustro- phobic scenes inside are grim. Expect bits of humor, no sweaty bodies, plenty of gunfire and (remember we are dealing with suicide bombers!) lots of blowie uppie stuff.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Take a peek at a preview:
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Promised Land

Cheap, clean energy is the Holy Grail of our time. No matter what method is used, there will always be a downside. Here we have a couple of Hollywood actors airing their own one-dimensional point of view about natural gas and fracking in a twisty and not-very-subtle manner, although it is painfully obvious that they are trying to be "fair."

I feel their condescension and that makes me hostile, so instead, let's discuss who's in this thing:
  • Matt Damon ("Contagion") works for the natural gas company. His job is to convince the local farmers to give permission for his company to drill for natural gas. He's just a little naïve.
  • John Krasinski ("Big Miracle") is the environmentalist sent to stir things up with the local townspeople. This guy is slick.
  • Frances McDormand ("Moonrise Kingdom") is Damon's sidekick. Both of them demonstrate terrific selling techniques and sign up the locals as fast as they can. She just needs the job so she can regain custody of her son.
  • Rosemary DeWitt ("Your Sister's Sister") is a local elementary school teacher who just happens to be celebrating her birthday. ...smile...
  • Hal Holbrook ("Lincoln") is a local high-school teacher; problem is, he is brilliantly qualified to discuss the issue of fracking, but smart enough to avoid being abrasive.
  • Titus Welliver ("Argo") runs the local service station/snack bar which advertises: Gas, Guns, Guitars and Groceries. This is to show us how backward this town is....
Mr. Damon says they want this movie to "start a conversation" about fracking and natural gas production, but I'd prefer to talk about this: Please, please, have actors carry hot coffee in those cardboard cups they flail around. They would quickly learn that no one could EVER carry coffee like they do without hurting themselves and everyone within a four-foot radius.

Gus Van Sant ("Good Will Hunting") directed this R-rated movie, with the script written by Damon and Krasinski, who also produced. These are a couple of decent fellows who at least put their money where their mouths are. Thanks guys.

I'd like to point out that this conversation is already well under way. There are a few of us in this country who are already critically aware of the pros and cons and will find our way without being gulled into your conversation. Sorry...
* * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a link to a preview:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


Undertaking Betty

Time to trot out another old, old favorite. Here's the cast: Brenda Blethyn, Naomi Watts, Christopher Walken and Alfred Molina. That's just for starters. This nifty little British comedy came to me as a result of a tip from a JayFlix friend in Sweden. This review was first issued in December, 2006.

Our eponymous "Betty" played by Brenda Blethyn ("Little Voice" and "Saving Grace") has been unhappily married for 30 years to a corrupt, unfaithful town councilman. Naomi Watts ("Mulholland Drive" and "King Kong") is his slutty girlfriend. Alfred Molina ("Chocolat" and "Spider- man II") is "Plots," one of the two undertakers in this little Welch hamlet. Walken ("Man on Fire" and "Wedding Crashers") is the competing undertaker who is trying to build his undertaking business by providing "'Fantasy Funerals' to put the 'fun' back in funeral."

Plots has been in love with Betty since their elementary school days. Finally they devise a plot to fake her death so they can run away together, but the competitors want to find out how she was embalmed to achieve such a lifelike appearance.

This is a farcical little gem that includes fantasy dance sequences (with GREAT editing!) and is just silly fun.

I have no idea if it is available on NetFlix, but if it isn't, check with your local library. You might be surprised. This is NOT great art, nor will you find any car chases, blowie uppie stuff, gun fights, or sweaty bodies. If you can bear up under that level of deprivation, this just might be the film for you.

Here is what one of my on-line catalogs said: Delightfully offbeat romantic comedy about a Welsh funeral director (Alfred Molina) who reconnects with his lifelong crush (Brenda Blethyn) when her mother-in-law dies. Finally ready to tell her how he feels, all Molina has to do is convince Blethyn to ditch her philandering husband so they can fake her death and run off to a Pacific island. With Christopher Walken, Naomi Watts, Robert Pugh, and Jerry Springer as himself. AKA: "Plots with a View." 88 min.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a link to a trailer:
* * * * * * * * * * * *