Is it time to remake this one again? With a totally different spin, I guess maybe it is. Now we have Will Gluck ("Easy A") directing from a screen- play he adapted with Aline Brosh McKenna ("The Devil Wears Prada"). The updates actually work quite well and I was pleasantly surprised, as I had my defense shields up.

I'll try to hit the adaptation high points so you don't get seasick when you go!

Here is a sample of the changes:
  • Quvenzhané Wallis (nominated for an Oscar for "Beasts of the Southern Wild") is our dauntless little heroine. This time she's in a foster home, not an orphanage, and she is pretty street smart!
  • Jamie Foxx (won an Oscar for "Ray") Nope, he isn't Daddy Warbucks, this time his character is Will Stacks, a candidate for Mayor of New York. His campaign manager thinks having a cute little girl as an accessory will improve his numbers at the poll.
  • Cameron Diaz ("The Other Woman") is her drunken foster mom, Miss Hannigan, the money-hungry villain of the piece.
  • Rose Byrne ("This is Where I Leave You") Grace works for Mr. Stacks, so she also ends up helping him with the little girl. He knows NOTHING about children and thinks the whole idea is lame.
  • Bobby Cannavale ("Chef") Guy's only goal is for Mr. Stacks to win the election. Nothing else matters.
This PG-13 outing has no profanity, no gunshots, no vehicular mayhem (or just a tiny bit), no blowie uppie stuff and no sweaty bodies. Of course it's always fun to watch a child encounter phenomenal wealth and all its trappings for the first time (we are every bit as curious as Annie). And we see how she got Sandy and his reaction to some of the characters.

I didn't recognize some of the songs, but I saw "Annie" many years ago, so maybe I've forgotten or maybe they are new. I felt that Diaz was too over-the-top; this can be attributed to either the director or the actor... In addition, I did NOT buy into some of the characters' abrupt changes of heart, but that's probably just me. I liked this more than I expected but was glad I used a closed-caption device.
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See the new Freedom Tower in the New York City skyline:
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Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

This final edition of the series is dedicated to both Mickey Rooney (who plays an elderly museum guard) and Robin Williams (Teddy Roosevelt), both of whom are no longer with us. It's a nice way to remember them.

Director Shawn Levy (the two previous chapters of "Night at the Museum") works from a script by Michael Handelman and David Guion who have collaborated before on "Dinner for Schmucks." The main issue in this plot is a potential loss of power from a magical tablet that causes everything in the museum to come alive at night. Our hero has to find an Egyptian pharaoh at the British Museum who knows the secret.

Here is a small part of a HUGE cast:
  • Ben Stiller ("Night at the Museum") is Larry, the museum guard who has cobbled together some semblance of order when the creatures in the museum awaken each night.
  • Ricky Gervais ("The Invention of Lying") Dr. McPhee is fired because he trusted Larry. Now Larry needs a favor....
  • Skyler Gisondo ("The Amazing Spider-Man") Dad wants Nick to go to college. He points out that Nick hasn't even finished his Thank-You notes for his Bar Mitzvah, how can he possibly become a DJ in Ibiza?
  • Owen Wilson ("Night at the Museum") Jedediah is as corn-pone and down-home as ever, but wait until he finds himself in Pompeii!
  • Rebel Wilson ("Pitch Perfect") this British Museum guard is armed with only a claw hammer, but she really MEANS it!
  • Dan Stevens ("Downton Abbey") Dashing Lancelot is upset and confused until he sees "Camelot" on a London theatre marquee. Then he is REALLY confused! (Wait until you see who plays King Arthur.)
  • Ben Kingsley ("Ender's Game") Pharaoh Merenkahre loved the Jews. Larry has to explain that the Jews didn't love him back: They left Egypt.
  • Crystal the Monkey ("Night at the Museum") Unfortunately, Dexter is back; I just don't like this character... His is the only tasteless behavior in this PG movie (see the preview).
  • Dick Van Dyke ("Night at the Museum") Cecil becomes vitally important as the magic begins to wane. Seems he had a past....
This is a CGI lover's paradise. The effects are better and more complex with each chapter. As a rule, I'm not a big fan, but I am impressed! Watch a fist fight tumble into an Escher painting; shades of "Inception!" I also was impressed by Dan Stevens' comedy chops. The guy can be really funny!

There are many subplots for diversion and humor and I enjoyed the familiar cityscapes of London. We saw Trafalgar Square (watch how they divert those lions when they come to life!), the Thames, Parliament, the London Eye, Big Ben, the Gherkin, and the Tower of London, for starters. I want movies to entertain me; I was entertained. I had a good time!
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Here is a preview:
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Big Eyes

Artist Margaret Keene has lived quite the life! First she was an unhappily married mother of one. Next she left her husband and chose to struggle as a single mom, while trying to sell her unusual paintings of big-eyed waifs (it's an acquired taste, if you ask me, but you will recognize them instantly...). Then she met a fellow who began taking credit for her work and developed a HUGE market for it. After that... well. You kinda have to see it, because it unfolds so logically, it just SEEMS outrageous. AND you have to know what society's rules were in the 50s and 60s to understand why things were the way they were.

Director Tim Burton ("Dark Shadows") working from a screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (jointly won a Golden Globe for "The People vs. Larry Flint") gives us a PG-13 movie that has already garnered many award nominations.

Part of the cast:
  • Amy Adams ("American Hustle") Best Actress nomination from the Golden Globes for her portrayal of Margaret Keene, a 50s woman inching her way toward independence. We get to meet the "real" Margaret during the final credits.
  • Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained") This two-time Oscar winner has been nominated for Best Actor by Golden Globes for his spooky interpretation of the con man Walter Keene. This guy is so charming it's easy to see how he became Margaret's second husband, plus we can understand how he segued into the art of deception.
  • Danny Huston ("The Congress") is Dick Nolan, the newspaper man who collaborates with Walter to create a phenomenal fad for those ubiquitous Big-Eyed Waifs.
  • Terence Stamp ("The Art of the Steal") is John Canaday, the art critic who lambastes the fad with all the professional clout he can muster.
  • Krysten Ritter (Lots of TV) is DeeAnn, the friend who tells Margaret some unwelcome truths.
I don't remember any profanity, and certainly no violence or sweaty bodies;  there is no vehicular mayhem or blowie uppie stuff, so I'm not sure why it's PG-13 except for the need to understand the 60s. This is a satisfying, true-life depiction of the evolution of an artist... Oh, and some smoking. Adams and Waltz do most of the heavy lifting and they are both excellent!
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See a sample:
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Into the Woods

"I wish..."

Remember that one? It's the first song that launches this perennial stage musical. I have seen it numerous times, most recently a spectacular version in Ashland, Oregon, staged at the Shakespearean Festival.

Now it passes into the capable hands of Rob Marshall ("Chicago") who is someone we can trust with a well-loved musical. He did it right! The first act evokes familiar childhood stories, "Little Red Riding Hood," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Cinderella," and "Rapunzel," with The Baker and His Wife woven in for continuity. It's constructed as a sort of scavenger hunt. Of course that's the part where they all live "happily ever after." The next section is what happens AFTER the "happily ever after." (Composer Stephen Sondheim MUST be in therapy!)

A stage musical this well known draws out musical theater fans. It was fun to hear the screening audience applaud after a song, much like we would do in "live" theater. The actors not only articulated like stage actors, the sound engineering is terrific! No murmuring, no whispers and no missed dialogue. Whew! This is important because much of the music contains witty lyrics.

Here is part of this huge, capable cast:
  • Lilla Crawford (TV Host) Red Riding Hood skips happily into the woods to Grandmother's house but she's a little bit scared.
  • Johnny Depp ("Lucky Them") The Wolf teaches Red Riding Hood a valuable lesson when he finds her in the woods. "Hello, little girl!"
  • Anna Kendrick ("Pitch Perfect") Cinderella will be just fine, if the birds keep helping her.
  • Christine Baranski ("The Good Wife") Cinderella's Stepmother will go to any lengths to find the perfect husband...for her less- than-perfect daughters.
  • Chris Pine ("Star Trek") Cinderella's Prince is a charming fellow.... He has my favorite punch line.
  • Meryl Streep ("August: Osage County") The Witch is packing a lot of malice and in her mind it's justified. It's not HER fault!
  • Mackenzie Mauzy (Lots of TV) Lonely Rapunzel knows that she wants... something ...and it isn't just visits from her mother, the Witch, so she sings a haunting melody.
  • Billy Magnussen ("Boardwalk Empire") Rapunzel's Prince is in agony when the one thing he wants is the thing he can't have.
  • James Corden ("Begin Again") The Baker wants a son...period! But he's not sure how to be a father. He's not good; he's not bad; he's just nice.
  • Emily Blunt ("Edge of Tomorrow") The Baker's Wife can't understand why she has never had a baby, so she believes The Witch's story. It takes two....
  • Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche in "Les Miserables") is Jack, who traded his beloved Milky White for a handful of beans.
  • Tracey Ullman ("How I Met Your Mother") Jack's Mother is at her wit's end trying to raise such a simple boy.
This two-hour, PG-rated collaboration between Disney, Lucamar and Marc Platt Productions depicts fairy tales, so expect some computer generated imaging but no sweaty bodies or profanity. Each actor has his or her moment in the spotlight and each one shines! It would be impossible to pick a favorite actor, scene, song or situation, although Chris Pine and Emily Blunt are perfectly cast! ...and that waterfall bit is delicious.... ...and Wyatt Smith's editing for "It's Your Fault" is lickety-split... and... Stop me or I'll go on and on and on...

I like the message, "Be careful what you wish for..."
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I know you'll enjoy this trailer:
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The Imitation Game

This is a modern-day tragedy in which we see a brilliant mathematician turned cryptanalyst pitted against "Enigma," wartime Germany's secret code. To further complicate matters, he is a closeted homosexual. In the 40s when this PG-13 drama takes place, society is not as inclusive as it is today (it was a criminal offence) so the pressures on him are devastating.

Most of Graham Moore's PG-13 screenplay (based on Andrew Hodges' book) focuses on the beginnings of the task force that was assembled when Britain's Military Intelligence ascertained how impossible it would be to break the code (it changed daily). Ultimately, the deed was done by half-a-dozen crossword enthusiasts. (I know this sounds facetious but it is a quote.)

Here is part of the brilliant cast:
  • Benedict Cumberbatch ("Sherlock") is astonishing as Alan Turing, the adroit but socially awkward cryptanalyst (a bit of Asperger's perhaps?) who creates this Rube Goldberg device authorized by Churchill himself...to the dismay of the Army officer who debunks it.
  • Keira Knightley ("Laggies") is Joan Clarke, a mathematician whose parents feel working with an all-male crew would be indecorous. She, on the other hand, says a woman in a man's job doesn't have the luxury of being an ass, so she's always charming and kind. She counsels Turing to try making friends with his crew; watch his artless attempt to tell a joke.
  • Mark Strong ("The Guard") Stewart Menzies warns Turing and Clarke that if they divulge anything about their highly secret work, they will be executed for high treason.
  • Matthew Goode ("A Single Man") Hugh Alexander feels Turing needs some social pointers from an expert...and that would be him.
  • Allen Leech ("Downton Abbey") John Cairncross wants to trade secrets because he knows Turing is gay and Turing knows HIS big secret.
The most wrenching time comes after they break the code but can't use their newfound information for fear the Nazis will suspect them and change it. The war continues with the War Offices of Britain and the United States using statistical analysis to ascertain who will live and who will die. They have to limit their counterattacks until they are ready for D-Day and ultimate victory.

comforts a despondent Turing near the end of the film, itemizing the amazing contributions he has made to the free world. It is an impressive list. In the tragic postscripts during the final scroll, we are reminded that the Turing Machines that he created are now known as computers!

BTW, any movie that uses three of the best chameleons working in film today (Strong, Cumberbatch and Goode) will be impressive! This film is garnering awards in numerous film festivals and the acting alone is worth the price of admission. Our screening audience applauded.
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This is the official trailer:
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With a Golden Globes nomination for this role already under her belt, Reese Witherspoon has been doing things right lately. Many other awards are pending from film festivals, etc., for Ms. Witherspoon, Laura Dern and their director, Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée ("Dallas Buyers Club"). The script by Nick Hornby ("About a Boy") is based on Cheryl Strayed's memoir: "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail."

Our distraught heroine sets out on a one-woman 1,100 mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail, through California to Oregon. Her beloved mother has just died and we can see she clearly is overloaded with both camping and emotional baggage. Flashbacks teach us just how wild she has been, AND we learn how she came by that last name. Over the course of the movie she meets people along the way, some generous and kind; others ...not so much. We also see the elements in her life that shaped her and hurt her.

The cast:
  • Reese Witherspoon ("The Good Lie") There's very little Cheryl hasn't done and her psychiatrist can't get her to admit she's sorry.
  • Laura Dern ("The Fault in Our Stars") Bobbi is determined that her children will not have their lives scarred by their drunken, abusive father. She is incorrigibly upbeat...to her daughter's dismay!
  • Keene McRae ("CBGB") Leif refuses to believe his mother might die, as though thinking might make it so.
  • Gaby Hoffman ("Veronica Mars") is Cheryl's best friend, Aimee. Hers is the voice of reason as she watches her friend come undone.
  • There is a wide assortment of men who appear and disappear, both along the trail and in flashbacks. Suffice it to say, Cheryl is seldom alone for very long....
The first I encountered anything like this was when I watched "The Way," with Martin Sheen. If I watch enough of these movies, eventually I will come to understand these "trails." Evidently they are marked out, with rest stations along the way and guest books for hikers to sign (Cheryl's comments generate interest among other hikers). Packages can be sent ahead from friends and family to intercept the trekker with replacement items, such as new boots (from REI), fuel, and/or money. She also receives letters from her ex, for which she is deeply grateful.

This is R-rated and rightly so! Expect drinking, drug use, sex, nudity and a heavy barrage of "F" bombs. I had to remind myself I was really watching Reese Witherspoon pull off that bloody toenail! And take off all those clothes! And topple over with that enormous back pack!

I was glad I had the option of closed captions, as much of the dialogue consists of interior thoughts as she hikes. Eventually she decides she'd rather be a hammer than a nail and the music on the soundtrack echoes her thoughts.
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Here is a preview:
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Top Five

Here we have a show biz movie about show biz. A comedian...actually a stand-up comedian, tries to make it as a serious actor to please his fiancée who stars in a Reality series. Problem is, she wants to broadcast their wedding on her show!

Written and directed by Chris Rock, who won a Hollywood Film Award for Best Comedy Film with this one, this R-rated comedy doesn't cut us any slack when it comes to language or sexual hijinks, but with two such appealing and capable stars, we were with them all the way.

The cast:
  • Chris Rock ("Grown Ups") plays Andre, the (recently) clean and sober star of a serious movie that is tanking at the box office. He begins to doubt if he can be funny when he's sober.
  • Rosario Dawson ("Cesar Chavez") Chelsea Brown is a top-rated reporter for the New Yorker magazine. She wants an interview but Andre has his doubts because her colleague has been trashing his work for years.
  • Gabrielle Union ("Think Like a Man Too") This Reality star is famous for being famous. She is painfully aware that she has nothing else to recommend her. (Sound familiar?)
  • Kevin Hart ("Ride Along") has a great monologue in an opening scene. He says if Andre's new movie doesn't do well, Dancing With the Stars is next!
  • Jerry Seinfeld ("Seinfeld") plays Jerry Seinfeld at Andre's bachelor party.
  • Adam Sandler ("Men, Women and Children") plays Adam Sandler, also at that bachelor party.
  • Whoopi Goldberg (Lots of TV) plays Whoopi Goldberg who brings her stand-up comedy chops to that bachelor party.
There are more familiar faces than we can count, but I was impressed by Rock and Dawson with their skillful "walk and talk" scenes on the streets of New York. They made everything look easy...except double-dutch jump rope. Dawson got in there and did the job; Rock just teased.

In my opinion, the AA recovery program and their commitment to it is done with no snide undertones. It's clear that both characters understand the long-term importance of their behavior. Kudos!
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Here is a preview:
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Horrible Bosses 2

Yup. They're back! And they are raunchier (and to me, funnier) than ever! This R-rated romp has it all: Insane behavior, vehicular mayhem, a few gunshots, many sexual situations, and countless F-bombs (but no sweaty bodies or blowie uppie stuff). This one is directed by Sean Anders ("Sex Drive") based on the screenplay he created with John Morris and a few others.

Although it probably isn't necessary, it helps if you have seen the first film. We remember our bumbling trio of frustrated fellows who first decided to kill their horrible bosses in "Horrible Bosses." Now they want to be self-employed and are looking for an investor who can help launch them into the big time.

The cast:
  • Jason Bateman ("Horrible Bosses") Our patient and loyal hero is still trying to help his friends. Bateman depicts tolerance extremely well.
  • Jason Sudeikis ("Horrible Bosses") He has a will of Jello and can be talked into anything. He fully embraces whichever way the wind blows.
  • Charlie Day ("Horrible Bosses") His baby triplets are the center of his universe, but he has to feed, clothe and house them. For that, he needs money!
  • Jennifer Aniston ("Horrible Bosses") Will that support group dampen this dentist's lascivious nature? Nah... Probably not.
  • Kevin Spacey ("Horrible Bosses") Has time spent in the penitentiary defanged this poisonous viper? You get three guesses...
  • Jamie Foxx ("Horrible Bosses") He's still the go-to guy when our petty criminals need professional advice.
  • Chris Pine ("Star Trek") This manipulative brat thinks the whole world is his plaything. Watch our three bozos try to kidnap him for ransom.
  • Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained") He came penniless to the United States and through hard work and ... Oh, maybe not.... Anyway, he's phenomenally wealthy but he probably is fonder of the ransom money than of his kidnapped son.
In my opinion, Aniston's character is still too over-the-top, and that's in a movie where EVERYONE is over-the-top. I didn't like her any better in this one that I did in the first. I DID however, enjoy the episode that featured the three harebrained guys in that clothes closet with the stolen canister of laughing gas.

This is silly and profane, with anatomical humor and an action-filled climax; I laughed until I embarrassed myself. Don't bother to chide me, I already know better!
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Here is another misguided attempt:
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Force Majeure

We join a Swedish family on a skiing holiday in the French Alps. It's clear that this is a happy bunch, a father, mother, son and daughter. While eating lunch on a scenic balcony, an avalanche suddenly transforms their lives.

Director Ruben Östlund, working from his own script, brings us two hours of R-rated drama, as he explores the dynamics of bravery, sincerity, love and loyalty as they are brought into play by a potential natural disaster. I am in awe as I watch these people switch effortlessly from Swedish to French to English with nary a pause (captions provided when necessary).

We watch:
  • Johannes Kuhnke as the father, Tomas. This is the first vacation he has had in quite awhile. Five whole days...but that avalanche interrupts everything. His first instinct is for survival, to his everlasting regret.
  • Lisa Loven Kongsli is Ebba, the mother. She has been looking forward to this family vacation, but when disaster strikes, her first instinct is to protect her youngsters.
  • Sister and brother Clara and Vincent Wettergren portray sister and brother Vera and Harry. They begin looking askance at their father and worrying about a possible divorce.
  • Kristofer Hivju plays Mats as a classic Viking, he is an old friend of Tomas and sees himself as sensitive and loyal.
  • Fanni Metelius is Fanny who humorously points out the fallacy in Mats' reasoning.
To a non-skiing person, the staggering amount of heavy machinery necessary to maintain a successful ski resort is astonishing. As are the steady booms of cannons which are designed to trigger avalanches during the night and leave the slopes safe for the customers during the day.

Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, and nominated for many other honors, this highly praised film is just opening in the United States. (The original title of this film is "Turist.") In my opinion, the ending will be very gender specific. Each gender will interpret this enigmatic ending in very definite (but different) ways.
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Take a look at the trailer:
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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

This is merely a prelude to the finale of a phenomenal trilogy (Part 2 is in post-production) that has launched many careers. We have watched as our dauntless young heroine was thrust into a life-and-death struggle representing post-apocalyptic District 12 in their notorious annual games; we have watched her retain her humanity despite cruel odds; and we have watched the President of Panem realize that she inadvertently became a symbol of revolution to an enslaved population.

The drama continues... This two-hour, PG-13 actioner is inspired by Suzanne Collins' Young Adult series.  She adapted "Mockingjay" with collaborators Danny Strong ("Lee Daniels' The Butler") and Peter Craig ("The Town") from her book. This episode and its final half in 2015 are both directed by Francis Lawrence ("Hunger Games: Catching Fire"), so we know he understands the big picture. A good thing, too: This is just a glorified preview to the last half, but if each "Hunger Games" outing averages over $650M, stockholders would have a cow if this final book was condensed into a single film.

Here is a small part of a HUGE cast:
  • Donald Sutherland ("Hunger Games") President Snow sees a clear and present danger to Panem's carefully crafted peace...and its name is Katniss Everdeen!
  • Jennifer Lawrence (Oscar for "Silver Linings Playbook") Katniss is overwhelmed by the responsibilities thrust upon her by the desperate people. People want to kiss her, kill her or be her. It's clear that Katniss is a terrible actress when she tries to make inspiring Public Service Announcements for the rebels, but after an attack by government forces she rages, "If we burn, you burn with us!" and she is redeemed.
  • Josh Hutcherson ("Hunger Games") Peeta was trying to protect Katniss because he loved her but something has gone seriously wrong. It is vital that he be rescued from The Capitol immediately.
  • Liam Hemsworth ("Hunger Games") Gale is surviving with his broken heart, knowing Katniss loves him, but not THAT way....
  • Woody Harrelson ("Hunger Games") Haymitch is still trying to coach Katniss, but this situation is new to him, too! And to make things worse, the rebel faction has outlawed alcohol!
  • Willow Shields ("Hunger Games") Primrose can only admire her older sister Katniss, and pray for her safety (and that of her scroungy cat)!
  • Elizabeth Banks ("Hunger Games") Our ever-chirpy and out- rageously overdressed Effie Trinket is back, but this time, she is reduced to wearing dingy turbans! We feel her pain...
  • Stanley Tucci ("Hunger Games") No episode would be complete without the smarmy TV host, Caesar Flickerman. He elicits some upsetting statements from Peeta that are broadcast to the rebels.
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Hunger Games") When Plutarch said, "Everyone can be replaced," it chilled me, but I see that the late Mr. H. will appear in the final film through digital wizardry.
Expect plenty of action, tempered by plenty of humanity: Katniss is reflexively kind and protective. There will be no sweaty bodies, no profanity and only a bit of well-timed blowie uppie stuff. This series has retained its high quality throughout. We expect no less.

Our sold-out opening-weekend crowd at Seattle's newly updated Cinerama theater held quite a surprise for ME: the closed-caption device didn't work! I was, however, treated to outstanding customer service, so there are no hard feelings. I had to see this in another theater, but the excellent sound engineering on this one made me wonder if closed captions were even necessary. Whew!

By the way, the ubiquitous three-fingered salute used by rebels in the "Hunger Games" series has now been outlawed indefinitely by the government of Thailand. Moviegoers are being arrested. Hmmm.... I wonder why?
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Here is a sample of the action:
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The Theory of Everything

At age 21 the legendary Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease similar to ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and given two years to live. As an audience, it is our privilege to watch a brilliant actor inhabit the persona of a brilliant physicist, cosmologist, professor and best-selling author (A Brief History of Time) who is, over 50 miraculous years later (November, 2014), still alive.

Screenwriter Anthony McCarten, working from the book by Hawking's first wife Jane, gives us a PG-13 script in which there are no bad guys, just semi-ordinary people dealing with extraordinary issues. Director James Marsh doesn't shy away from awkward details but conveys the intellect and wit that defines our hero. Our screening audience laughed out loud many times.

We admire:
  • Eddie Redmayne ("Les Miserables") is Stephen Hawking, mildly clumsy at the beginning but we are sad to know he will only become worse. Even with a mechanical voice however, he shares his nicely honed sense of humor.
  • Felicity Jones ("The Amazing Spider-Man 2") is his wife Jane. When she tells her prospective father-in-law that she is a lot tougher than he suspects, we believe her!
  • Emily Watson ("The Book Thief") Aunt Isobel advises an overworked Jane to join the choir, which sounds absolutely absurd!
  • Charlie Cox ("Boardwalk Empire") Jonathan is the choir director.
  • David Thewlis ("War Horse") Professor Sciama becomes one of Hawking's most effective advocates.
In my opinion, the defining moment in the upcoming Oscar race will be when we watch Hawking imagine being whole again. We see Redmayne unfold from his distorted position curled in the wheelchair and in one astonishing take, gradually become straight and tall. He slowly descends the stairs and picks up a pen that has been dropped. No prosthetics; no computer-generated imaging; no camera tricks. Brilliant!
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Here is a sample:
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This is a case where Art imitates Life. During a 2009 comic sketch on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, London-based journalist Maziar Bahari was interviewed by Jason Jones. As part of the gag, Bahari called Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "an idiot" but Iran didn't get the joke. When Newsweek sent him to Tehran to cover the presidential election, he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for 118 days where he was subjected to grueling interrogations. He was suspected of attempting to overthrow the Iranian government.

After he was released, he was interviewed by Jon Stewart because the show had inadvertently caused his imprisonment. They became friends and Stewart makes his screen-writing and directorial debut with this R-rated film based on the book, "Then They Came for Me," co-written by Bahari and Aimee Molloy.

The cast:
  • Gael Garcia Bernal ("Casa de mi Padre") plays Maziar Bahari, astonished by the misunderstanding and unable to explain that neither Italian movies nor the American TV series The Sopranos are pornography. When his jailers declare that Jon Stewart is a spy, he asks, "Why would a spy have a TV show?"
  • Shohreh Aghdashloo ("Grimm") is his mother Moloojoon, who has already lost a husband and a daughter to zealotry. The police are offended because she isn't wearing a head scarf in her own home.
  • Haluk Bilginer ("The Reluctant Fundamentalist") Maziar's deceased father Baba Akbar only appears to him in solitary.
  • Kim Bodnia ("The Bridge") is Rosewater, Maziar's interrogator. We are relieved when our prisoner, to retain his own sanity, starts to create elaborate tales of mythical trips to licentious "New Jersey" for pornographic massages. These "confessions" are irresistible to his tormentor. Our screening audience giggled with glee.
His interrogators are fascinated as they watch him dance to imaginary music while alone in his cell. Of course they are furious when Bahari's girlfriend starts a world-wide media blitz about his illegal confinement. As we know, this ultimately succeeds.

We see beatings and mental torture, but are not subjected to scenes of waterboarding, etc, which have become standard for movies of this ilk. Whew! This is an interesting and dare I say it, entertaining film.
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Here is a preview:
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Big Hero 6

Before I start this review, let me mention "Feast," an animated short that is paired with this main feature. It stars an English bulldog named "Winston" (naturally); we watch him grow from puppy to adult dog, bond with his human and share both food and love. Animation just gets better and more heartwarming all the time! NOTE: This wonderful piece has been nominated for a 2015 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film....and just won!

Our main attraction is about a young science protégé encountering an extremely talented villain who uses the boy's own invention against him! This wonderful PG-rated Disney feature film has the usual array of film stars slumming as voice actors, so I'm going to skip my usual names and their credits. Instead I want to share what I think a child will learn from this film:
  • Sometimes a very smart older brother can trick his even smarter younger brother and the results can be very, very GOOD!
  • It's not that bad to be a geek.
  • It's fun to watch a robot learn to use his brand-new body.
  • Sometimes it takes teamwork to reach a goal.
  • Everyone has a talent to offer.
  • A single-minded robot can be extremely funny.
  • It's easy to get off track and forget your goal.
  • A bad guy may have a good reason to be bad.
This is a Marvel comic flick. We see the origins of various super heroes, we hear very funny character-driven banter between them, with NO insult humor; this is important to me! We see a LOT of vehicular mayhem on San Fransokyo's hilly (and narrow) streets, plus aerial mayhem when the main action starts.

Hiro is an orphan and Baymax the robot's attempts to comfort him when he suffers a loss are sweet and insistent. (Baymax is a Pillsbury Dough- boy-type healthcare provider designed by his older brother.) Our hero's pain is realistic and the animation is brilliant. We screened this in 3-D but I saw no compelling rea$on for the extra expen$e.

Again we had uninformed parents see the word "Disney" and bring toddlers to the theater. Again we had to endure disruptive departures as the little'uns were bored to tears. ...Sigh... The rest of us really enjoyed this one! In fact it has been nominated as Best Animated Feature Film for a 2015 Oscar.
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Here is a peek:
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Earth is becoming uninhabitable so when a mysterious rip in the space- time continuum appears, mankind reaches into space, seeking a new planet to inhabit. This expedition will not "go gentle into that good night..." References to Dylan Thomas' classic are made throughout.

There are reasons why an audience will sit through a 169-minute, PG-13 space-jockey movie. We start with the script, co-written by Christopher Nolan (Oscar nominated for "Inception") and Jonathan Nolan (Oscar nominated for "Memento"). Next is the direction: Christopher Nolan (AFI win for "The Dark Knight Rises"). On the other hand there are reasons why an audience member will fidget: No closed captions and too many essential plot points are murmured. This is important because the plot IS complex and unless you already understand how relativity works in relation to quantum physics...or something... you might be in big trouble. I know I was. ...sigh...

Okay... Let's move on to the stellar cast:
  • Matthew McConaughey (Oscar for "Dallas Buyers Club") Cooper is an explorer investigating what's beyond that worm hole because he doesn't want his children doomed to extinction on Earth.
  • Casey Affleck (Oscar-nominated for "The Assassination of Jesse James...") Tom tries to make his father proud and be a good farmer, but Nature seems to be against him.
  • Mackenzie Foy ("Black Eyed Dog") Young Murph is a precocious little girl and the apple of her proud father's eye. She does NOT want him to go into space!
  • Jessica Chastain (Oscar-nominated for "Zero Dark Thirty") Murph is still angry with her father, but she becomes a scientist anyway.
  • Ellen Burstyn (Oscar for "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore") Old Murph reminds us how important that wristwatch is.
  • Anne Hathaway (Oscar for "Les Miserables") Amelia Brand is a voluntary crew member on that exploratory spaceship. Why?
  • David Gyasi ("Panic") Romilly is the only crew member who dreads when he isn't in suspended animation because he suffers from motion sickness.
  • Michael Caine (Oscar for "The Cider House Rules") Dr. Brand has Plan A ready to go. Plan B will soon follow...he hopes...
  • David Oyelowo (SAG-nominated for "The Butler") is the school principal where Young Murph is having trouble fitting in.
  • John Lithgow (Oscar-nominated for "Terms of Endearment") Donald has always resented his son-in-law's adventurous nature.
The impressive list goes on and on; there are familiar faces everywhere. Suffice it to say, this VERY complex plot and the dazzling special effects finally wore me down. My companion had to explain missing parts of the plot after we left the theater. A sharp-eyed JayFlix colleague spotted this in a national newspaper:
Hollywood, we have a problem: Dialogue is getting harder to hear.
While pursuing their artistic visions, 
some directors are making films with garbled dialogue, 
distracting background chatter and thumping sound effects.
This is a brilliant movie, but sometimes too much of a good thing is just too much... Like the overwhelming music (see above) that made me think of "...the mighty Wurlitzer..." In my opinion, this is a case where Nolan's reach exceeds his grasp, and his disdain for the movie-going, ticket-buying public is on full display.
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Take a look:
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This will be a tough review to write because no matter how I present it, 50% of you will disagree with me. Is Edward Snowden an irresponsible hacker like Julian Assange with WikiLeaks, or is he a patriotic man who is alarmed to see loss of liberties in democratic nations?

This R-rated documentary is narrated by a woman who had begun receiving encrypted emails offering evidence of illegal covert surveillance programs run by government agencies. They were signed "Citizenfour." Five months later she secretly met with him in Hong Kong, along with reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian. She brought her camera....

Here is what jumped out at me:
  • Snowden's sole thrust is exposure of governmental overkill; it is not to divulge secret operations, endanger intelligence agents or become personally famous.
  • During the early part of the filming (in Hong Kong), he was still anonymous. By the time he gave an example of how monitoring can be done on our phone even when it is in the cradle, we could see that he is careful, not paranoid. He unplugged his phone....
  • Back in the United States, his auto pay for his rent stopped working and his girlfriend had five days to move out; utility vans lined the street where she lived.
  • Under the Patriot Act, our government and others like ours, can harvest all communications: this includes phone calls (both landline and cell), E-mails, texts, Tweets, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., etc... Take a look at the enormous new data storage facility under construction in Utah. (BTW: The UK is even more aggressive than the US.)
  • He is angry that Obama made a point of criticizing our government after 9/11, saying that we should never infringe on private citizen's lives unless they were proven security threats, but now, under Obama, surveillance has increased exponentially.
  • As soon as his name was divulged, the government wanted an investigation: NOT to discover why it is monitoring its citizens, but to ascertain WHO LEAKED SNOWDEN'S STORY. He insists that HE is not the story, abuse of power is.
  • The government has a list of over ONE MILLION American citizens who are currently on the Enemy's List. Snowden was shocked.
  • Journalist Glenn Greenwald is at minimum, bilingual. He seems to be sensitive to the security aspects of the project but is also very much an activist when it comes to exposing government surveillance.
This isn't the most thrilling documentary I have ever seen, but it is endlessly fascinating. Director Laura Poitras brings us a personable and intelligent young man who impressed me as a patriot. Plus he looks like one of my relatives who is a former Marine and, I would like to think, brave enough to do something similar.
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Take a look and see what you think:
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Act your age? What a concept! We see a (sorta) happily engaged gal lie to her fiancé so she can hide out for a week with her new-found (and very young) friend. Directed by Seattle's talented Lynn Shelton ("Your Sister's Sister") this charming little R-rated comedy was shot in her home town. The aerial views are particularly appealing.

We see our heroine confronted by evidence that she has grown-up issues in her life, friends getting married, friends having babies, parents hitting a rough patch, a marriage proposal, none of which are welcome from her immature perspective. She WANTS to be stuck in adolescence...

Featured are:
  • Keira Knightley ("Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit") Megan's erratic reaction to the bumps in her personal road show us that she has never developed adult coping skills. Seeing a teenager deal with similar problems is a BIG surprise that offers unexpected insights.
  • Chloë Grace Moretz ("Hugo") Annika is a wise girl; she has been competently raised by her father but still misses her mother. Her issues are the normal ones that teenagers encounter: curfews, boyfriends and a bit of alcohol.
  • Sam Rockwell ("Moon") Craig is an attorney who has a BIG problem with a grown woman having a sleepover with his teenage daughter. He too, has lingering issues as a result of his wife's abandonment.
  • Mark Webber ("Save the Date") Anthony is a younger version of Megan's father: over-indulgent, adoring and eager to be with her. It's his marriage proposal that sends her into a tailspin.
  • Jeff Garlin ("Arrested Development") We only need to see Ed once to understand why Megan is a permanent adolescent. This father is the poster child for over-indulgent parenting.
Shelton has a knack for giving us relatable characters, a reality based script, witty dialogue and (fairly) good, clean fun. We are not subjected to sweaty bodies, gunfire, vehicular mayhem (although a car hits some mailboxes), or blowie uppie stuff. We liked it!
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Take a look:
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Full title: "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" is a dramedy about an over-the-hill actor who once played a movie super- hero only to walk away from fame and fortune. Now he would like to recapture that life by mounting a play on Broadway.  And NO, Michael Keaton ("Batman" 1989) says this is NOT about his own life although he can see why people might think so.

Directed by the audacious Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Biutiful") we are treated to a star-studded cast and a brilliant, R-rated script. Emmanuel Lubezki's camera work deserves special mention: We feel we are watching long single takes with no editing or cutting. It's daring and the actors have to be on their toes. We follow them through the labyrinthine belly of a Broadway theater with twists and turns that lead to dialogue in various dressing rooms, etc., with no sense that the scene has been cut or edited. Very impressive.

We admire:
  • Michael Keaton ("RoboCop" 2014) Riggan has become more and more disconnected from the people around him, namely his ex-wife, his daughter and his current girlfriend. He has a constant voice in his head that we eventually figure out is "Birdman," his alter ego. Keaton is terrific.
  • Emma Stone ("The Help") is his daughter Sam. She is fresh out of rehab so her hold on sobriety is a bit shaky. Her main criticism of her dad is that he always told her she was special. Stone's diatribe is a revelation. She is very, very good!
  • Lindsay Duncan ("Rome") is Tabitha, the theatre critic who vows to "kill your show." Watching Duncan and Keaton go nose to nose was a special treat.
  • Zach Galifianakis ("The Hangover") is his good friend and manager Jake. He sees the situation that evolves as box-office gold.
  • Edward Norton ("Moonrise Kingdom") Mike is a brilliant actor brought in when the male lead is injured just before previews start. Mike will always be authentic while he is on stage. Off stage is a different matter.
  • Naomi Watts ("St. Vincent") Leslie has always wanted to appear on Broadway but when she asks, "Why don't I have any self respect?" Her co-star explains, "It's because you are an actress."
Be prepared for nudity, some profanity, a bit of smoking (both regular and controlled substances) and lengthy scenes with either Norton or Keaton in tighty whities.

I felt that key plot points were telegraphed a bit too broadly, but maybe I just see too many movies. Ya think? I WILL say this turns out to be unpredictable. I kept thinking I knew where it was going, but then....

You should see this before Oscar time so you will know what everyone is talking about. You also should know that the more I think back on this artistic outing, the less I actually like it! The script, the photography and the acting are all top notch, but I didn't LIKE any of the characters.
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Here is a preview:
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John Wick

Our hero retired after a successful career as a legendary hit man, but as a lark, some crooks took every last thing he cared about. Now he's mad!

Co-directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski from an R-rated script by Derek Kolstad ("The Package"), this action/thriller boasts endless gunfire, fisticuffs, martial arts, vehicular mayhem and even some blowie uppie stuff. The script is just witty enough to generate laughter in the screening audience, so everyone went home happy.

We watch:
  • Keanu Reeves ("47 Ronin") is our eponymous hero, mourning his lovely wife and the all-to-brief life they had enjoyed together.
  • Michael Nyqvist ("Disconnect") Viggo has been in business with Wick so he knows what happens when you get on his wrong side.
  • Alfie Allen ("Game of Thrones") Iosef is Viggo's son. He gets on Wick's wrong side!
  • Ian McShane ("Hercules") Winston owns the Continental Hotel. Patrons MUST abide by the house rules or pay the penalty.
  • Willem Dafoe ("The Fault in Our Stars") Marcus is the hit man hired to put an end to all the violence.
  • Lance Reddick ("The Wire") is delicious as the Hotel Manager who combines impeccable manners with wry understatement.
The bad guys are Russian mobsters; the money involved is astronomical; and the violence is endless. Clichés are served up with a straight face (they killed his dog!) and the climactic struggle is (naturally) fought in the rain. To me, this felt more like a cartoon than an actual situation, so I felt free to yawn during the violence and enjoy the humorous bits.
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See what I mean:
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The Good Lie

If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.
~ African proverb ~
Fugitives from the violence that spawned them, we follow three boys and a girl who make an incredible 700-mile trek from the bloodshed in Sudan to the relative safety of a refugee camp. From there, they end up in the United States where cultural shock is inevitable. "Snow?" "Telephone?" "Unmarried women?" Known as "The Lost Boys," they were part of the 3,800 boys and girls brought to the US in the late '90s. (The program was suspended with 9/11.)

Directed by Philippe Falardeau ("Monsieur Lazhar") working with award-winning scriptwriter Margaret Nagle ("Warm Springs"), this PG-13 film is wrenching, entertaining, and hopeful.

We see:
  • Arnold Oceng ("It's a Lot") is Mamere the most ambitious one. He realizes during their seven-year sojourn in the refugee camp that he wants to be a doctor. This actor was born in Uganda and raised in Brixton (England). He's been acting there since 1993.
  • Ger Duany ("Isn't it Delicious") plays Jeremiah, the most religious one: he never loses his Bible. Duany was born in South Sudan and was forced to be a child soldier in the civil war. On his second try, he escaped to Ethiopia when he was 14. He's been in Hollywood since 2004.
  • Emmanuel Jal ("Africa United") is Paul, who rebels against Mamere remaining their chief in Kansas. This actor is another child soldier from southern Sudan who emerged as a hip hop star with an unusual message of reconciliation and peace. You can hear him on the soundtrack, too.
  • Reese Witherspoon ("Wild") joins us about a third of the way into our story; Carrie is the ballsy caseworker who becomes an advocate for our trio. But she first must understand the magnitude of the cultural gap. This is NOT a glamor role for Witherspoon and she carries it off very well.
  • Corey Stoll ("This is Where I Leave You") is Carrie's brother Jack. Together they run an employment agency but he still lives on the family farm. He thinks he might paint the porch but the Sudanese worry that there is no one guarding his cattle from lions there in Kansas.
I must applaud this PG-13 script. It's witty, wise, entertaining and exciting. The bloodshed in Sudan is off screen and hardships endured by the children during the trek are beautifully captured. We learn about a "Good Lie," and enjoy the old joke about why the chicken crossed the road. We come to appreciate the differing points of view between the immigrants and the kind folks in Kansas, and how love of family is universal.

Be sure to stay through the credits because there are postscripts added about these durable people.
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Here is a preview:
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Dear White People

This 2014 Seattle International Film Festival entry from the USA is a social satire about racial issues on a college campus. (This review was sent out to a few JayFlix.net participants in May, 2014.) We focus on two of the houses that provide quarters for some of the students...one is mostly black and the other mostly white. We see undercurrents of race, drugs, intolerance, and sex, and we draw our own conclusions.

The Dean of Students and the President of the University attended school together; one is black and the other white. Appearances to the contrary, they are NOT equal.

Here's the cast:
  • Tyler James Williams (Lots of TV) is Lionel. I listed him first because he ultimately is the catalyst needed to address the issue. We see things through his reporter's eyes. Housing is his first problem...
  • Tessa Thompson (Lots of TV) is Sam, an opinionated talk radio host and student on campus. She runs for president of her house ...and wins!
  • Brandon P. Bell (Lots of TV) is our conformist Troy, son of the Dean and head of his house...but not for long.
  • Kyle Gallner ("Beautiful Creatures") is edgy Kurt, a racist spark plug in his house...AND son of the university president.
  • Dennis Haysbert (Lots of TV) is the Dean. He wants more for his son Troy and is afraid of how he will appear to others.
  • Peter Syvertsen (Lots of TV) is President Hutchinson, proud of Kurt, despite how his son behaves, and is determined to prove his campus is NOT racist.
Justin Simien capably wrote and directed this involving story. The dialogue is almost too erudite, but I understand what he is doing. He makes it clear that intolerance cuts both ways.

I appreciated the soundtrack. Among other pieces, I heard "Rites of Spring," "Afternoon of a Faun," an excerpt from "Carmen" and one that is driving me crazy because I can sing it for you but I can't think of its name!

Oh well....
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Here is a brief preview:
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The United Kingdom submitted this tender drama for the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. (This review was first published in May, 2014.) Recipient of the Cinematography Award at Sundance 2014, we expect excellence...and we get it!

Our central character has been moved to a nursing home by her son.  The "best friend" of her now deceased son hires an interpreter to help her communicate, both with him and with a gentleman who also lives in that retirement home and wants to court her.

Director Hong Khaou brings us:
  • Pei-pei Cheng ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") is Junn, unable to bridge the language barrier without the assistance of an excellent interpreter. She wants her son's ashes!
  • Andrew Leung (some TV) is Kai, the deceased son, whom we meet in numerous flashbacks.
  • Ben Whitshaw ("Cloud Atlas") as Richard, who wants to fulfill the wishes of his dead lover, come out of the closet and make peace with Richard's mother about it.
  • Peter Bowles ("The Bank Job") his Alan needs just a teeny smile and he comes a'courting.
  • Morven Christie (Lots of TV - BBC) is Margaret, the woman who serves as a most welcome interpreter for Junn, Richard and Alan.
We learn many things over the course of this insightful character study: 1) Some things are better left unspoken. 2) Some things are better out in the open. 3) Good and decent folks deserve to be happy.

Although personally I didn't appreciate her style of mothering, I was happy for Junn with that pleasant ending.
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Here is a preview:
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Men, Women & Children

The Internet has changed our lives. This movie explores the many ways it has infiltrated our society, particularly that of teenagers, and their parents' bewildered response. This R-rated (for VERY graphic dialogue) outing is directed by Jason Reitman ("Juno" and "Up in the Air") from a script he co-wrote with Erin Cressida Wilson based on Chad Kultgen's novel by the same name.

It is shocking to my generation to see how "wired" modern life has become, and it is even MORE shocking to peek at someone else's correspondence. We are exposed to snippets of pornography, anorexia, chat rooms, on-line bullying, extramarital adventures and the pain of awkward teenage dating.

Here is a small part of this highly capable cast:
  • Adam Sandler ("Grown Ups") is Don Truby, a father who has his own skill set for on-line contacts. He isn't above looking at his son's computer usage...and then his wife's... Oops!
  • Rosemarie DeWitt ("Kill the Messenger") His wife Helen, is branching out for no good reason except possibly boredom.
  • Jennifer Garner ("Draft Day") Patricia has mastered on-line skills so she can keep track of her daughter's life. There isn't a keystroke or a digital signal that she hasn't compulsively followed. This is a control freak run amok and we pity her poor daughter!
  • Kaitlyn Dever ("Short Term 12") is Brandy; her mother has quickly learned the ropes of on-line networking and the girl has NO privacy.
  • Dennis Haysbert ("Think Like a Man Too") is secretluvur, a chat room identity, who shows up right where he's supposed to.
  • Judy Greer ("Descendents") Donna Clint is developing a new hobby...smile... Problem is, her daughter is underage and she might be breaking the law.
  • Olivia Crocicchia ("Rescue Me") is Hannah Clint, the vain cheerleader who aspires to be on a television reality show.
  • Ansel Elgort ("The Fault in Our Stars") Tim doesn't want to play football this year, which makes him persona non grata at school. He is a fan of Carl Sagan which leads to a big misunderstanding with the school counselor.
  • Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks") as the narrator. Her job is to try to bridge the outer space/Carl Sagan aspect of this film with the personal trials and tribulations of teenagers and their parents.
I'm running out of space and haven't covered all of the fine performers. Each individual has his or her moment to shine and there isn't a weak performance. Bottom line, these are all good kids and the parents are doing the best they can, it's just very complicated in today's digital world.
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Here is a preview:
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St. Vincent

Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy in the same movie? This I've gotta see!

Written and directed by Theodore Melfi, this PG-13 comedy looks at the effects of a divorce on a young boy when his mom moves next door to a curmudgeonly drunk.

Sounds predictable, doesn't it? Well, it IS. But here is the surprise: Along the way we are treated to outstanding performances by all of the primary actors, including the little boy, AND we are entertained.

We watch:
  • Bill Murray ("The Monuments Men") as our eponymous hero, who finds having a child next door is almost diverting, because he can have him help deliver laundry and take him to the race track.
  • Melissa McCarthy ("Identity Thief") Maggie begins to doubt her neighbor, particularly when her son wins a schoolyard fight.
  • Naomi Watts ("The Impossible") Daka never had a daytime job but pole dancing doesn't provide maternity leave.
  • Jaeden Lieberher ("Playing it Cool") Oliver is caught by the class bully and has to learn how to stick up for himself. Plus he figures out what a trifecta pays and Mom is upset to learn he has been in a bar.
  • Chris O'Dowd ("Cuban Fury") Brother Geraghty has Oliver in his classroom. This priest shows great flexibility when it comes to religions and he assigns his students interesting projects.
  • Terrence Howard ("Sabotage") Zucko is Vincent's bookie and Vincent owes him a LOT of money.
There are many noteworthy scenes but it was nice to realize that we are allowed to figure out much of the plot on our own. Expect mild profanity, a schoolyard brawl, a drunken Vincent injuring himself and a poignant history. Our screening audience applauded.

BTW: Be sure to stay during the final credits because Murray entertains us with a garden hose and a Bob Dylan recording.
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Here is the trailer:
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The Book of Life

95 minutes of animated PG fun. Of course, in keeping with today's trends, we have celebrity voices. In my personal opinion, professional voice actors would be a better choice, but who am I to second guess writer/director Jorge R. Gutierrez? (Guillermo del Toro is a producer.)

This is the classic love triangle which starts when the three children are fairly young, then it continues into adulthood. It is set on the classic Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), when families remember loved ones who have gone before.

We recognize the voices of:
  • Zoë Saldana ("Guardians of the Galaxy") is Maria, the lovely young woman who resists getting married just to be married and she doesn't want to become a Flame of Perpetual Purity at the convent. She cares for both of the young men courting her.
  • Diego Luna ("Casa de mi Padre") is our hero, Manolo, torn between his family obligations (bullfighting) and his heart's desire (music)...and of course, Maria! Plus, it's hard to fight bulls if you don't like killing.
  • Channing Tatum ("Magic Mike") Joaquin, is the heartthrob who has a magic jewel which protects him from harm, thus he becomes a legendary soldier, unafraid because he can't be hurt...except maybe by a broken heart if Maria chooses Manolo...
  • Ron Perlman ("Sons of Anarchy") brings his distinctive voice to Xibalba (you say it, I can't), the creature who places a bet on which hombre he thinks Maria will marry.
  • Kate del Castillo ("Under the Same Moon") is La Muerte, the female counterpart to Xibalba. She bets against Xibalba.
  • Ice Cube ("22 Jump Street") is The Candle Maker. His job is to explain our hero's new surroundings and teach him the rules.
  • Placido Domingo ("Dora the Explorer") is Skeleton Jorge, the frustrated (dead) relative who had always wanted to sing opera. We are treated to bits and pieces of well-known arias.
We learn that Mexico is the center of the world (which made Seattle audiences snicker because we KNOW it's really Seattle!), we learn the traditions and the music, plus we see artwork and costumes that are typically Mexican. Children in the screening audience were NOT bored! I was amused by that little pig that always said "Maaa" instead of "Oink" and I liked that Manolo tuned his guitar before he played it. Nice...
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Take a look at "Book..."
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The Judge

When we see Robert Downey Jr. AND Robert Duvall are together in a film, we are ready to be impressed. Directed by David Dobkin ("Shang- hai Knights") from an R-rated screenplay by Bill Debuque and Nick Schenk ("Gran Torino"), we have every right to feel optimistic, because these guys understand family dynamics and the indignities of illness and ageing.

Here are a few of the actors we admire:
  • Robert Downey Jr. ("Iron Man") is Hank Palmer, a successful big-city lawyer returned to his home town to bury his mother. He is called back when his father is arrested for murder, but his client will NOT cooperate.
  • Robert Duvall ("Seven Days in Utopia") is Judge Joseph Palmer, the most cantankerous, arbitrary, curmudgeonly old coot you will ever hope to see! He and his alienated son go at it hammer and tongs!
  • Vera Farmiga ("Up in the Air") is Samantha, the high-school crush who never left town. She has a few surprises up her sleeve, too. And her description of Hank's "verbal diarrhea" is cutting but true.
  • Billy Bob Thornton ("Fargo") is Dwight Dickham, the slick prosecuting attorney who deliberately sought this case because he is holding a grudge.
  • Vincent D'Onofrio ("Law & Order") Glen Palmer is Hank's brother; they share a tragic history.
  • Jeremy Strong ("Parkland") is their third brother, Dale. We can see right away that he is mentally impaired, but he is sweet and loving.
With such sterling performances, there are many entertaining moments, but I particularly like the jury selection based on bumper stickers and the way small-town America is evoked with a simple ride through town.

They say you can't go home again, but our hero just might have to...
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Kill the Messenger

Based on Gary Webb's biographical book "Dark Alliance" and Nick Schou's follow up "Kill the Messenger," this R-rated script by Peter Landesman and Nick Schou is directed by Michael Cuesta ("Homeland").

This involving but harrowing story explains how an illegal cocaine-for- arms deal was cobbled together by the CIA to fund anti-Communist rebels in Nicaragua. Reporter Gary Webb's work threatens to uncover some closely guarded secrets. We soon see how character assassination works as governmental agencies begin to debunk his exposé and deny any connection to drug trafficking.

This gold-star cast includes:
  • Jeremy Renner ("American Hustle") is wonderful as Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Webb, the investigative reporter who is handed a transcript of testimony from a grand jury hearing. He is stunned to see a cover up between cocaine traffickers and governmental agencies; he immediately sets out to discover the truth.
  • Rosemarie DeWitt (The Watch"") is his wife Sue. She has faithfully come with him to California, but there is "too much sun!"
  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("Alex of Venice") plays Anna, Webb's editor. She tries to talk him out of his big story.
  • Michael Sheen ("Admission") brings us Fred Weil, the fellow from the National Security Agency. He cautions our hero, "Some stories are too true to tell!"
  • Ray Liotta (Muppets Most Wanted") John Cullen was deeply involved on both sides of the conspiracy, so he is determined to clear his own conscience.
  • Michael K. Williams ("RoboCop") as Ricky Ross, the jailed cocaine kingpin who is the first to explain to Gary the connection between drugs and the U.S. government.
As you might expect, it's hard to find any good guys as the smear campaign against our hero gains momentum. Please stay for the post script; it's important!
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Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible...

The full name is "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" but I doubt if that will fit on very many marquees.

Based on Judith Viorst's classic book by the same name, we see a wonderful cast bring these beloved characters to life:
  • Ed Oxenbould ("Julian") is our hero Alexander, caught up in his own misery, but eventually he realizes having gum stuck in his hair isn't the worst thing that's happened, he soon notices that he isn't the only one having a bad day...
  • Dylan Minnette ("Prisoners") is his brother Anthony Cooper, who... well... you'll have to see it. (They call him Wreck-it Ralph at school.) Small hint, he has a driver's test today.
  • Kerris Dorsey (Lots of TV) His sister Emily Cooper is scheduled to play Tinkerbell in the school production of Peter Pan today, but she woke up with a bad cold!
  • Jennifer Garner ("Draft Day") is Kelly Cooper, his mother. You should see the typo in the children's book she is publishing!
  • Steve Carell ("The Way, Way Back") is his dad Ben Cooper, who has cheerfully kept the home fires burning since he was downsized, but he has a job interview...and a baby to tend...and a birthday cake to bake... and a son in trouble at school...and a daughter in a play...and his wife may have lost her job.
  • Dick Van Dyke ("Night at the Museum") makes us smile when he shows up ready and willing to read a brand new book to an eager audience... Oops!
  • Megan Mullally (Lots of TV) is Nina, the demanding dame in charge of the publishing house where Kelly works.
  • Jennifer Coolidge ("Austenland") is the driver's license examiner. In my opinion, I think that's a dirty trick that she pulls on Anthony.
  • ...and then there's the alligator....
Well, you'd have to be there. We were in a theater full of little 'uns and not a peep was heard. There is enough silly mayhem on screen to keep them occupied and the adults laugh, too! (I like it when they kick the garbage cans.)

It's Disney, so the Super Coopers MUST prevail and a happy ending is enjoyed by all.
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Here is a preview:
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Drew: The Man Behind the Poster

This documentary now available on DVD is a wonderful testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the value of marching to your own drummer.

Legendary movie-poster artist Drew Struzan was an unwanted baby, an unwanted child and an unwanted student. He says he didn't miss being happy because he didn't know what happiness was supposed to feel like. He was only content when he was able to draw. He drew on toilet paper, the backs of old flyers, and discarded newspapers. He enrolled in art school and was thrown out for failure to pay his tuition. He simply went around to the rear, entered the back door and went on with his studies.

His faltering career was shared by a young woman who flirtatiously lobbed a ping-pong ball at him and never looked back. Decades later, they are still married and now he knows what happiness feels like.

Some of the interviews are with:
  • Dylan Struzan - his wife couldn't trust him with grocery money, he'd buy paint!
  • Christian Struzan - his son is proud of his father's enormous legacy.
  • George Lucas - who has a major collection of his work, including the "Star Wars" series.
  • Harrison Ford - says Drew inspired him to be as good as his posters. "Indiana Jones" was one result.
  • Steven Spielberg - insists Drew's posters make the story better. Just look at "E.T."
  • Guillermo del Toro - loves Drew's ability to simplify. He did the poster for the remake of "The Thing" overnight.
  • Frank Darabont - used Drew for "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile."
  • Steve Guttenberg - says "Police Academy" owes its sequels to Drew.
  • Thomas Jane - Drew tried to teach him how to draw for a movie role but failed miserably.
  • Joanna Cassidy - was surprised by the quality of his "Blade Runner" posters.
  • Alice Cooper - used Drew for an award winning album cover.
  • Thousands of adoring fans at the 2012 Comic-Con in San Diego.
You will be stunned to see how many of his posters are classics. I OWN this DVD!
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This is a great sampler of his work:
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Gone Girl

Did Nick Dunne kill his wife Amy? This unpredictable movie is predictably unpredictable in the most unpredictable way. With a screenplay cleverly crafted by Gillian Flynn, author of the wildly successful novel of the same name, this R-rated mystery/thriller loses none of its gut-wrenching punch. Under the award-winning direction of David Fincher ("The Social Network") this 149-minute story is forthrightly sexual (these ARE consenting adults) and richly earns the rating.

An attractive, happily married wife disappears from her home in a Missouri town; her husband is alarmed and calls the police. The more we see, the less we know. The press is avidly seeking a sensational story and this one seems to fill the bill. To avoid any spoilers, I can say very little more than that.

We watch:
  • Ben Affleck ("Argo") is Nick Dunne, the beleaguered husband trying to find his missing wife. If only he were perfect....
  • Rosamond Pike ("The World's End") is Amy Dunne, our "Gone Girl." Formerly the role model for "Amazing Amy," her parents' successful children's books, she is now finding her own niche.
  • Carrie Coon ("The Leftovers") is terrific as Margo, our hero's twin sister. She is steady, loyal and utterly furious about what she learns when her brother hides out at her place.
  • Kim Dickens ("Sons of Anarchy") is absolutely wonderful as Detective Rhonda Boney, in my opinion the most sane person in the story.
  • Neil Patrick Harris ("How I Met Your Mother") is Desi, the poor little rich boy Amy left behind.
  • Missi Pyle ("The Artist") is spot-on as the blond TV personality who puts her own lurid spin on the story as it unfolds. Hers is a perfect send-up of Nancy Grace of TV tabloid fame.
  • Sela Ward ("House") is the TV journalist who comes in to help.
  • Tyler Perry ("Alex Cross") is Tanner Bolt, a highly successful lawyer who specializes in high-profile, hopeless cases.
Most of the people in the theater had read the book, unlike the young man walking near me as we exited the theater. To say that he was in  shock is an understatement. Be warned....
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Try to get a hint from this trailer:
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The Ref

Every so often one of my JayFlix.net colleagues suggests a movie. This time the colleague was insistent! So I watched it. I have never been disappointed when I get a referral this way and this time certainly is no exception.

This hysterical R-rated comedy boasts a wonderful director, Ted Demme ("Beautiful Girls") and a razor-sharp script based on the story by Marie Weiss ("The Christmas List"). I defy you to find a better cast!

They are:
  • Denis Leary ("Draft Day") Gus is a cat burgler who is cornered into taking his victims hostage. Problem is, it's Christmas and they have dinner guests due to arrive. And that is only for starters!
  • Kevin Spacey ("House of Cards") Lloyd is the exasperated husband who NEVER gets anything right, no matter what he does.
  • Judy Davis ("To Rome With Love") Caroline has put up with Lloyd for many years but she just can't make up her mind when to pull the plug. Besides, holidays are stressful, AND her in-laws hate her, AND her son's in trouble.
  • Robert J. Steinmiller, Jr ("Coyote") Jesse, like children everywhere, is the lightening rod for his parents' marital problems. But he's blackmailing that guy at school, so he has running-away money on hand!
  • Christine Baranski ("The Good Wife") Connie has been sharpening her tongue along with her nails. She's ready for anything...she thinks...
  • Glynis Johns ("While You Were Sleeping") Grandma Rose objects to the language she hears!
This is only part of the cast, we also have more in-laws, a pair of befuddled policemen and Gus's hapless partner-in-crime who is supposed to be providing a getaway car.

You will not believe all the twists and turns (Gus listens to the bickering couple and realizes they sound like his own parents, so he REALLY feels sorry for the boy). Despite the gaily wrapped Christmas gifts and elegant decorations that surround them, it still isn't very surprising that the Spirit of Christmas is sorely lacking, even though Johnny Mathis sings so beautifully.
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This is NOT a preview, but the 97-minute film. You must be 17 or older:
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The Two Faces of January

It was a mob scene at the Egyptian Theatre for this spring afternoon screening of a thriller from the UK/USA for the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. (This review was first published in May, 2014 so some of you have seen it before.) After we were all tucked in, we leaned back to relax and enjoy a capably shot, beautifully cast, big-budget movie that took us to the rocky terrain of Crete, scenic Athens and exciting Istanbul. We are with an embezzler, a con man and a blonde. We know this is gonna be good!

Director Hossein Amini ("Drive"), with his unpredictable script adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel ("The Talented Mr. Ripley"), went first class all the way. It is 1962; we watch a charming tour guide find clever ways to bilk his customers and leave them smiling. We see an obviously wealthy couple enjoying the sights and streets of Athens.

We saw:
  • Viggo Mortensen ("On the Road") Chester has the money and the blonde. He is a heavy drinker, a chain smoker and clearly adores her. He does NOT want to be tracked down by a second-rate skip tracer!
  • Kirsten Dunst ("Melancholia") Colette is in love with her husband and with Greece: she has never been here before and everything is exciting! Even the tour guide....
  • Oscar Isaac ("Inside Llewyn Davis") Rydal is a combination tour guide and flim-flam man; he is multilingual and is the perfect guy to help a tourist out of a tough spot. In my opinion, Isaac has never been more appealing.
I was struck by the incessant smoking and drinking. How soon we forget the way things were in 1962! Another thing that struck me was the ubiquitous Zippo and its endless supply of lighter fluid. I know... Picky....

This story takes a number of unexpected twists and turns, each one more desperate and more involving; it IS Patricia Highsmith after all! However, the denouement is muttered by a dying man and I desperately needed closed captions. As we discussed this film outside the theater afterwards, three of us had three different interpretations, so.. YOYO! (You're On Your Own!)
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This is a good sample:
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Like Father Like Son

"Soshite chichi naru" (English captions) is another one of Hirokazu Koreeda's moving and subtle little dramas. The fascinating and insightful films he writes and directs are honored at film festivals throughout the world.

Here we have a successful businessman who discovers that his biological son was switched at birth and the little boy he has been raising isn't his. Of course the impact of this action not only radiates throughout his family but also that of the parents of the boy he and his wife have been raising.

We watch:
  • Masaharu Fukuyama is Ryota, that proud professional, furious that he is attached to a boy who isn't his own.
  • Machiko Ono is Midori, his brokenhearted wife, who loves the boy anyway.
  • Yoko Maki is Yukari, the carefree fellow who has been raising the wrong son along with his other two children.
  • Riri Furanki is Yudai, his patient wife who loves all the children, no matter whose they might be.
We see the children trying to adjust; the parents trying to make sense of their feelings; the hospital trying to contain the cost of the inevitable lawsuit; the nurse who switched the babies trying to insure eternal life in heaven; and Ryota's parents who watch the whole unpredictable drama.

The more we see, the better we understand why all of the people react the way they do. There are many twists and turns but these are loving, caring people who don't want to hurt the children as they struggle to sort things out.
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Take a look:
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The Maze Runner

We join a bewildered bunch of young men (and one late-arriving young woman) who are stranded in a pleasant glade surrounded by an insurmountable maze. This exhausting first chapter of what is clearly destined to be a series, made me think of William Golding's classic, "Lord of the Flies." I even figured out which one of these lost boys is Piggy!

Based on James Dashner's novel by the same name, this PG-13 Action/ Mystery/Sci Fi adventure is directed by Wes Ball ("Beginners") with a screenplay co-written by Noah Oppenheim and Grant Pierce Myers. We see plenty of Computer Generated Imaging, but no gunshots, no sweaty bodies, no vehicular mayhem and no profanity, however you can expect implied deaths and endless face-to-face battles.

Here are some of the "Gladers":
  • Dylan O'Brien ("The Internship") as Thomas, who lands in this baffling situation with no memory of his life, his skills or even his name. The only thing that sets him apart is his refusal to accept the situation.
  • Aml Ameen ("The Butler") is Alby, the first friendly face our hero sees.
  • Ki Hong Lee (TV guest spots) is Minho, a maze runner who attempts to map the maze and break the code so they can anticipate what changes to expect each day.
  • Blake Cooper (lots of TV) is Chuck, a loyal roommate who immediately becomes our favorite character to root for.
  • Thomas Brodie-Sangster ("Game of Thrones") Newt is smart and even-tempered; he makes the tough decisions.
  • Will Poulter ("We're the Millers") Gally is convinced their system has worked for three years and it should NOT be altered!
We get subliminal hints about what's going on but it isn't until the last big "reveal" that we know we guessed correctly. Problem is, it looks like their troubles are only beginning. The last scene makes that abundantly clear. Aarghhh!
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Take a peek:
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This is Where I Leave You

Because of the trailers and the cast, I have really been looking forward to this one! Like other R-rated comedies, you can expect some bad language, sexual situations and mild drug use, but this isn't director Shawn Levy's ("Date Night") first rodeo. His skill is evident all the way through.

The father of the Altman tribe has died and the family convenes in their home town for the funeral. Dad's last wish was that they sit Shiva (stay under the same roof together) for the full seven days. This is odd because they weren't really observant Jews, but the four adult children and various spouses go along with it.

Here is part of the large cast:
  • Jason Bateman ("Identity Thief") Judd is the most stable sibling. He has a good job, an apartment in the city, a lovely wife and his uncomplicated life is good...until he comes home early one day to surprise her for her birthday.
  • Tina Fey ("30 Rock") Wendy is the only girl, so she pretty much raised her baby brother because Mom was busy writing and selling her book.
  • Adam Driver ("Girls") Phillip is the youngest sibling and a total flake, but it is his sister Wendy's voice he hears in his head. He is heedless, thoughtless and careless...also selfish.
  • Cory Stoll ("The Strain") Paul is the son who stayed; he helped their father at the store. He is decent, responsible, and happily married to a woman who desperately wants a baby.
  • Kathryn Hahn ("Parks & Recreation") Alice will do anything to get pregnant; she's THAT desperate!
  • Rose Byrne ("Neighbors") Penny appears out of nowhere, to Judd's delighted surprise. They knew one another "back in the day" and she still lives in that small town. She thinks "complicated" is interesting.
  • Timothy Olyphant ("Justified") Horry still lives with his mother across the street. He and Wendy share a wrenching history.
  • Jane Fonda ("The Newsroom") Mommy tells all four of her reluctant children they are grounded until they grant their father's final wish.
In my opinion, Tina Fey, Jason Bateman and most particularly Timothy Olyphant are three of the most appealing actors working today. This film gets a bit "talky," but any time any or all three of them appear on screen, I'm happy. I'll own the DVD because much of the dialogue got by me. If you have a hearing problem, try to see it in a theater that is equipped for closed captions. I liked it, anyway.
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Here is one of the previews:
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Hector and the Search for Happiness

A typical psychiatrist, this guy is always searching for happiness. What could have been a soppy, maudlin exercise in mediocrity, is instead an extremely well-acted comedy with more than its share of drama and excitement. Based on Francois Lelord's novel "Le voyage d'Hector ou la recherche de bonheur," this R-rated comedy, co-written and directed by Peter Chelsom (Shall We Dance -2004), includes adventure in exotic places, e.g., China, Tibet, Africa and Los Angeles, plus domestic drama in London; so you'll get your money's worth.

Here is the cast:
  • Simon Pegg ("The World's End") Hector wants to know what makes people happy around the world. He is pretty sure HE isn't, but wants to see what happiness looks like. We start with our hero in his well-ordered home and watch it all come apart.
  • Rosamund Pike ("Jack Reacher") Clara very capably keeps the home fires burning. Isn't that enough to make him happy? Considering what she finds in the sock drawer, maybe not....
  • Stellan Skarsgård ("Thor: The Dark World") Edward says Hector is the last person on earth with whom he would want to spend any time. Watch his face as our clumsy hero takes a seat next to him in First Class!
  • Toni Collette ("Lucky Them") Agnes conveys more with a glance than most actors with pages of dialogue. Yup! Hector is in for a session of TRUTH!
  • Jean Reno ("Alex Cross") Diego tries to dismiss happiness...and our hero ...with prejudice. At least a psychiatrist understands pharmaceuticals.
  • Christopher Plummer ("Elsa and Fred") Popular Professor Coreman TEACHES happiness! With wit, understanding and hi-tech tools.
The travel aspects of this film provide an authentic feel for various parts of the world, even though he stays in touch with that Tibetan monk via Skype! I also enjoyed it when Hector lost patience with his patients. BTW, the diary in which he records his journey is a delight.

There is not a weak actor in this roster, but Collette and Skarsgård deserve special mention. I'd like to remind you that Pegg is versatile and talented, in case you have him typecast as "just" a comic. I always expect his characters to have a sweet center, and Hector delivers.
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This is the international trailer:
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The Skeleton Twins

This award-winning US entry to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival illustrates the long-term effects of toxic parenting. Bellingham (Washington) writer/director Craig Johnson has cleverly assembled a cast of performers known mostly for their comedy chops and put them in a deeply affecting drama...although he never forgets what they can do with a funny situation. (This review was first published in May, 2014.)

We meet a pair of estranged fraternal twins on a day they each decide to end it all. The resulting crisis throws them together for the first time in 10 years.

We watch:
  • Bill Hader ("The Mindy Project") as Milo, a frustrated actor/ writer, who realizes he "peaked" in high school.
  • Kirsten Wiig ("Bridesmaids") as his twin Maggie, a dental technician married to a really nice fellow who is ready to start a family.
  • Luke Wilson ("Henry Poole is Here") is her husband Lance, kind, considerate, thoughtful ...and maybe a bit boring.
  • Ty Burrell ("Muppets Most Wanted") is Rich, a former high school English teacher who has an unfortunate history with Milo.
  • Joanna Gleason ("Last Vegas") is the twins' mother Judy, newly arrived from Sedona with her chakra refreshed; she's ready to embrace the next trendy bit of enlightenment.
We were surprised and impressed by the scope of talent on display. The Wiig/Hader lip-sync bit was a delight and I enjoyed their little fling with the laughing gas from the dentist's office. Those only served to illustrate how well they handled the dramatic scenes. Someone said, "Tragedy is easy, comedy is HARD!" This cast can do both.
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I think you'll agree:
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