The Nanny Diaries

This is cleverly presented as an anthropologist's report on the strange tribe of people who inhabit New York City's Upper East Side. To preserve professional anonymity, we know the people only as "X." They are described by a recent college graduate, whose mother sacrificed to make her degree possible, after she fails at her very first job. In order to make ends meet, when a misunderstanding in Central Park causes a desperate matron to think she is a nanny, she decides to take a chance and be one for a year...much to her best friend's dismay.

Directed by real-life husband and wife Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, this 2007 PG-13 outing boasts attractive people in legendary up-scale settings and see the reality behind the doormen and limos.

They are:
  • Scarlett Johansson ("Her") is Annie the nanny, eager to do a good job, but horrified by what she learns about the "natives" and their offspring. As her disenchantment grows, she tells herself that cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead didn't abandon her studies every time she contracted malaria.
  • Laura Linney ("The Big C") is Mrs. X, a brittle, anxious wife and mother, striving to get her toddler enrolled in an exclusive day care while preserving her marriage to a phenomenally successful businessman.
  • Paul Giamatti ("The Amazing Spider-Man 2") is Mr. X, an arm's-length husband and father. He has "merger deals" in Chicago which require his presence, even though his little boy is starved for his love and attention.
  • Chris Evans ("The Avengers") is Harvard Hottie (so-named by our dazzled anthropologist to preserve his anonymity) who first sees her with her peddle-pushers at half mast as she tries in vain to control her defiant little charge.
  • Nicholas Art ("Taking Chance") is Grayer, the lonesome little boy who becomes attached to his nanny for lack of anyone else.
  • Donna Murphy (Lots of TV) is Annie's mother Judy. Lucky for everyone involved, she is a capable and willing nurse!
There are many survival techniques used by the natives: the Nanny Cam in a teddy bear being one of them; arrogance and presumption being two more. Annie learned far more than she expected in this little field trip!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a preview:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


The U.K. and Ireland submitted this enigmatic piece to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. It features an eager young musician who is invited to play keyboard for an eccentric band after their current key- boardist tries to commit suicide.

We were assaulted with atonal squeaks and squawks, directionless chords on a guitar, listless vocals with meaningless words, plus depressing behavior for no good reason, for about 85 minutes. I detected about 5 minutes of plot, followed by 5 minutes of appreciation for a brilliant job by an actor! That grand total of 95 minutes, however, wasn't enough to make the movie worthwhile...

I suffered with:
  • Domhnall Gleeson ("About Time") as Jon, a keen young musician anxious to write for the new group but totally bewildered by their lack of musicality. Plus they burn through all of his savings.
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal ("White House Down") is Clara, their lead vocalist and an expressionless conundrum. She seems to be sleepwalking most of the time, except when she is flying into a fit and slapping folks.
  • Michael Fassbender ("12 Years a Slave") is our eponymous Frank, who perpetually wears a big round pink plastic bubble with a face painted on it. He supposedly sings, but neither the words nor the tune are ever recognizable. Frank is a complete mystery to Jon... and me...
The climax of the story is supposed to be the band's appearance in Austin at the SXSW Arts Festival, but I had become so weary by then, I hadn't invested much hope...

It is important to acknowledge the excellence of Fassbender's work; he is completely believable in this role, as is he playing the young Magneto in the "X-Men" series, a Peter O'Toole lookalike robot in "Prometheus," and a depraved slave owner in "12 Years a Slave." Kudos, Mr. F!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
See what you think:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


The November Man

Here we have a good old-fashioned action movie, set in scenic European cities, with plenty of vehicular mayhem, gunfire, fisticuffs and blowie uppie stuff. It has loyalties, betrayals, lost loves, found loves, a child in jeopardy and people to root for. What more could we want?

Directed by Roger Donaldson ("The Bank Job") it features:
  • Pierce Brosnan ("Love is All You Need") Devereaux is a former CIA agent asked to come back for a personal job... Is it just me, or has Brosnan improved with age?
  • Luke Bracey ("G.I. Joe: Retaliation") Mason is an agent who works with Devereaux. Based on the number of projects in production, it looks like I'm not the only one to see the potential in this Australian import!
  • Olga Kurylenko ("Oblivion") Alice seems to be swept into a situation that is waaay over her head.
  • Amila Terzimehic (this Streisand look-alike is a Bosnian gymnast) Alexa is focused, lethal and lithe.
There is something about an international cast that appeals to me. Brosnan was born in Ireland; Donaldson and Bracey are both from Australia; Kurylenko, the Ukraine; Terzimehic, Bosnia. There are many others in the cast, very few of whom are from the United States. In my opinion, film is an international endeavor and I appreciate it.

Expect some profanity, a pair of (not too) sweaty bodies, a suggested rape, lots of violence and an involving story. Our screening audience was impressed.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a teaser:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


Romance & Cigarettes

Brace yourself! This hard R-rated romp from 2005 is almost impossible to categorize. Is it a comedy? Is it a romance? Is it a musical? Is it a farce? By the time you see Christopher Walken sing "Delilah" beneath the window of his lost love, it no longer matters. When the Coen brothers produce a quirky movie, you KNOW the soundtrack will be memorable.

Art house favorite John Turturro ("Fading Gigolo") both wrote and directed this goofy little thing (IMDb calls it "down-and-dirty") and look who he enlisted to help:
  • James Gandolfini ("Enough Said") is Nick, an unfaithful husband, sorta repentant, but still tempted. He's cheating on...
  • Susan Sarandon ("Tammy") Yeah... Can you believe it? She is Kitty, his beleaguered wife, trying to understand him.
  • Kate Winslet ("Divergent") Once you see TULA, you understand. You have NEVER seen Winslet so outrageously seductive and wild (or heard such a potty mouth!).
  • Elaine Stritch ("30 Rock") is Nick's mother who...Oh you know Stritch. She's unique all over again.
  • Steve Buscemi ("Boardwalk Empire") is one of Nick's co-workers. Their chats during their lunch breaks, perched on the structural steel of a new high rise, are unforgettable peeks into his X-rated brain.
Of course we have an assortment of daughters, their boyfriends and all the conflict THAT engenders, plus some fellows circling Kitty, hoping that she'll pull the plug on her marriage.

This was recommended to me by the Swedish branch of JayFlix. Thanks folks. I have this DVD in my personal collection, otherwise no one would believe me!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a sample:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


The Expendables 3

How did director Patrick Hughes ("Signs") summon such a list? Talk about calling up all the old war horses. I haven't seen such an array of hair pieces since the French Revolution. In my opinion, screenwriter Stallone ("Homefront") has generously handed this movie to Antonio Banderas, whose non-stop chatter steals every scene he's in, e.g., (to Luna with an optimistic leer) "Wanna hold my gun?"

A hi-tech prison break in the opening scene establishes the whiz-bang skills of our testosterone-laden team; I missed much of the macho bantering because of late arrivals climbing over me, one flashing a cell phone to signal her date, who also had to climb over me. Grrr....

At least the movie was a LOT of fun. Just look at this cast!
  • Sylvester Stallone ("Grudge Match") Barney Ross is the team leader for a group of men who are considered expendable by the CIA. They do the dirty work, so he has blood on his hands.
  • Jason Statham ("Parker") Lee Christmas always flies in the right seat and flings insults at his boss.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger ("Sabotage") Trench is back, big grin, big cigar and big gun!
  • Dolph Lundgren ("Universal Soldier") What's that gizmo on Gunner's wrist? Some sort of gadget for kids?
  • Wesley Snipes ("Blade") The outrageously staged prison break during the opening scenes were for Doc; he has been in prison ...for tax evasion...
  • Mel Gibson ("Machete Kills") Stonebanks is a CIA black-ops agent gone rogue. This makes him a foe worthy of our team's best effort.
  • Harrison Ford ("Ender's Game") Drummer is the boss, even when they don't agree with him...
  • Kelsey Grammer ("Think Like a Man Too") Bonaparte helps Barney assemble a new team when the old one shows its age.
  • Antonio Banderas ("Ruby Sparks") Galgo is funny from the first moment he opens his machine-gun mouth, and he REALLY needs the job!
  • Ronda Rousey ("Fast & Furious 7"- 2015) This MMA champ has some great lines and Luna gets to mix it up with dozens of bad guys.
  • Glen Powell ("Sex Ed") Thorn is a techie, which is not to say he can't handle firearms...
  • Kellan Lutz ("The Twilight Saga") Parkour? Motorcycles? Smilee can't decide which he prefers.
And I've left out quite a few actors. Should I elaborate on a plot? Nah... probably not. Suffice it to say, this is PG-13, so the language is (sorta) mild and there is not one kiss, but you should expect endless fisticuffs, continual gunfire and a LOT of blowie uppie stuff! BTW, the "Colonel Bogey March" is whistled in the trailer because the words to this old standby from the U.K. are NOT PG!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
This shows you what to expect:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


The Hundred-Foot Journey

When a film is in the capable hands of Swedish director Lasse Hallström ("Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" and "Chocolat") we can sit back, relax, and enjoy the show, based on a novel by Richard C. Morais and produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey. After an agitated beginning in which the mother is burned to death in an attack by vandals in Mumbai, we end up with her surviving family in a bucolic countryside in the south of France where we know we will enjoy a (sorta predictable) happy ending.

To add to our enjoyment, Helen Mirren gets to play a snooty dame! Located in Tarn-et-Garonne, France, she has a classic one-star Michelin restaurant right across the street (only 100 feet) from that upstart, family-run Indian establishment... Immigrants, no less...! After starting off on the wrong foot, things go from bad to worse, as the two irascible proprietors sabotage each other at every turn: One will buy up all the necessary ingredients from the local market that the other needs for that night's menu.

We see:
  • Helen Mirren ("Red 2") Madam Mallory is the demanding restaurateur who is determined to earn a second Michelin star (a world-wide rating system for restaurants).
  • Om Puri ("The Reluctant Fundamentalist") Papa Kadam is unwilling to knuckle under. Not only does he insist on his right to play his music (LOUD) in his establishment, he wants the freedom to barter the price of everything!
  • Rohan Chand ("Bad Words") We meet darling Young Hassan Haji in the thriving family Mumbai restaurant. He already has finely tuned taste buds, so after that disastrous fire, he grows up to be...
  • Manish Dayal ("Switched at Birth") Hassan Haji, the audacious son of that curmudgeon. He has had a knack for cooking all of his life and it just takes one omelet for Madam Mallory to see his potential.
  • Charlotte Le Bon ("Mood Indigo") is the exquisite Marguerite, a sous chef in Madam Mallory's kitchen, with an ambition to do better. She is sweet and generous to a family that could use a little help.
In this PG-rated dramedy, expect no gunshots, no sweaty bodies, little or no profanity and no vehicular mayhem. The most violent thing is the fire at the beginning. Of course this is a feel-good film, so everyone has to learn a lesson or two, cultures must quit clashing, recipes must be blended and customers must be fed. The screening crowd applauded this one.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Take a little taste:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


Guardians of the Galaxy

What a pleasure it is to write this review. I attended the first showing (not a press screening) at a Friday matinee, and the theater in downtown Seattle was PACKED. (People have to pay for parking down here!) Director James Gunn ("Slither") has a nice feel for humor. When I saw that this science fiction action adventure would feature a machine-gun toting raccoon, I knew I would have fun; I just didn't realize how much! I heard the audience laugh out loud more often than I have heard in the movies in a long time!

Screenwriters James Gunn and Nichole Perlman have given us a great PG-13 script based on comic books by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, so this is a different type of Marvel superhero film (but Stan Lee makes his requisite cameo!). For example, one of the characters described tough guys, "Like Bonnie and Clyde, Billy the Kid, John Stamos..."

Chris Pratt has been on my radar since the 2002-2006 "Everwood," so watching his gradual rise has been very satisfying. Besides, he's from Lake Stevens, Washington and his wife is from this neck of the woods, too. Way to go! In fact, many of the actors in this one have registered with me. In this review, I've listed an early work for each actor that I personally have seen.

Between live action and voices, here are a few we appreciate:
  • Chris Pratt ("What's Your Number?") Peter Quill/Star Lord steals an orb which of course turns out to be the cause célèbre for the entire film. So now he's really in for it! BTW, he speaks Terran, e.g., "Dude," and "Bro" but eventually he has his heroic moment and it works out well.
  • Lee Pace ("The Fall") Ronan the Accuser is hot on the trail of the fellow who stole that orb and wants it so he can rule the universe.
  • Zoë Saldana ("Centerstage") Gamora comes to Peter's rescue AFTER she tries to kill him in an early, funny battle of gadgets. He tells her the folktale of a god on Terra named Kevin Bacon who taught earthlings how to dance; his religion was called "Foot- loose." She rejects his dance lessons, calling them "pelvic sorcery."
  • Bradley Cooper ("New York, I Love You") Rocket Raccoon steals the movie. Between the dialogue, the vocal work and the wonder- ful animation, there is not a weak element to this character. He is selfish, smart and supremely confident. He doesn't like to share.... AND he is easily exasperated.
  • Vin Diesel ("Find Me Guilty") Groot always joins the conversation but all he ever says is, "I am Groot." Rocket is his only friend and Groot is a steadfast friend in return.
  • Dave Bautista ("Riddick") Strongman Drax claims he is so fast he can catch a metaphor before it goes over his head.
The sound track is worthy of mention because we are hearing music from a mix tape our hero's dying mother gave him on Earth before he was kidnapped into space 20 years ago. He's been living outside the law ever since, he flies sort of a Millennium Falcon type ship. The CGI is necessary to the plot, as is all the blowie uppie stuff. At least these elements are broken up with funny moments.

Some scenes are really touching, many lines are very funny, the plot is (barely) solid enough, and the audience went home happily entertained. We got our money's worth and that's what it's all about.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Take a peek:
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Mood Indigo

"L'écume des jours" (English captions), launched the first movie of the first day of press screenings for the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival, our 40th Anniversary. It was submitted by France. Now in August 2014, it goes into general release. (Some of you saw this review in May.)

As soon as this sprightly, whimsical, fantastical bit of fluff hit the screen, I could see the deft, Oscar-winning touch of Michel Gondry ("The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") and knew we were in for a wild ride. He says "This story is true from beginning to end; I know because I wrote it myself." Computer Generated Imaging was invented for artists like Gondry and he puts it to highly visual use. (Watch the doorbell!) Then he enhances it with the music of Duke Ellington; what a great combination.

He worked with:
  • Audrey Tautou ("Amélie") as Chloé, the darling woman our hero meets at a party.
  • Romain Duris ("The Beat That My Heart Skipped") is our hero Colin, generous, witty, considerate and totally in love.
  • Omar Sy ("The Intouchables") is Nicholas, a master chef, scholar, dancer, man about town and Colin's loyal butler/cook.
  • Gad Elmaleh ("The Valet") is Chick, a fellow who has a fixation on Jean-Sol Partre, a (very) thinly disguised version of Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, so (to me) the psycho-babble is hilarious.
The production design team had a field day: I can't begin to describe the Rube Goldberg devices that surround us. You honestly have to see it to believe it. We sit there in wonderment: How did they do THAT? And the actors are so matter-of-fact about their tools, meals, vehicles, etc., that I found myself wishing I had been on the set as they filmed this one.

The story does take a darker turn when our sweet young thing is diagnosed with a water lily in her lung (trust me); then the production becomes dark, cobwebs begin to cover items and we are pulled into an emotional investment, as well. I liked this one. This was a great beginning for 2014 SIFF.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a bit to sample:
* * * * * * * * * * * *