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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