Movie Review Archieves
by Bonnie Steiger

I have received requests by many readers to post my old reviews. So, here they are in chronological order.
First, here's a list of all the titles in order, then the reviews below.

And please read my most recent film reviews at for local films and events,
and for my movie reviews on a national site.

The Square
Prodigal Son
The Yellow Handkerchief
Terribly Happy
Last Chance Harvey
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
The Duchess
Hamlet 2
Tropic Thunder
Vicky Christina Barcelona
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Me and Orson Wells
Chelsea on the Rocks
Cloud 9
Play the Game
Ocean of Pearls
Downloading Nancy
Little Ashes
Hellboy II
Incredible Hulk
Dalai Lama Renaissance
Speed Racer
Then She Found Me
My Blueberry Nights
Ms. Pettigrew Lives for the Day
Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden
Vantage Point
The Other Boleyn Girl
Definitely, Maybe
Big Man Japan
Forbidden Lies$
Run, Fat Boy, Run
The World Unseen
Married Life
Romulus, My Father
Under the Same Moon
The Counterfeiters
Les Témoins (The Witnesses)
Charlie Bartlett
Cassandra's Dream
Grace is Gone
Alice's House
I Am Legend
Youth Without Youth
The Golden Compass
The Kit Runner
Man in the Chair
I'm Not There
Love in the Time of Cholera
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Lions for Lambs
Bee Movie
Gone, Baby, Gone
Lars and the Real Girl
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Rails &Ties
Things We Lost In The Fire
My Kid Could Paint That
The Brave One
The Jane Austen Book Club
Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains
Starting Out in the Evening
Resurrecting the Champ
Rocket Science
The Bourne Ultimatum
2 Days in Paris
No Regret
The Hottest State
Live-In Maid
The Ten
Becoming Jane
The Nanny Diaries
In The Shadow of the Moon
The Hunting Party
No Reservations

Goya’s Ghost
Evan Almighty
Black Sheep
These Foolish Things
Ten Canoes
Stephanie Daley
Crazy Love
Fay Grim
Georgia Rule
Adam’s Apples
The Flying Scotsman
The Valet
Red Road
Aqua Teen Hunger Force
The TV Set
The Wind that Shakes the Barley
First Snow
The Page Turner
Beowulf & Grindek
An Unfinished Life
StarWars Episode III
Mean Creek
Vanity Fair
ACP: Alien v. Predator
Head in the Clouds
Shaun of the Dead
Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer
Lost in Translation
Bubba Hi-Tep
The Hulk
Secondhand Lions
The Station Agent
Bad Santa
Love Actually
Intolerable Cruelty
Lara Craft - Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life
Beyond Borders
Veronica Guerin
School of Rock
Scary Movie 3
Anything Else
In This World
Mambo Italiano
Owning Mahiwny
The Core
Shanghai Knights
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas
Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony
The Recruit
My Sister Maria
The Quiet American
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
Standard Time
The Holurs
The Embalmer
Jet Lat
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys
Bourne Identity
Hollywood Endings
Changing Lanes
I Am Sam
The Sum of All Fears
Bad Company
Donnie Darko
Autumn Spring
Lawless Sring
Winged Migration
Nowhere in Africa
The Lady and the Duke
Dog Days
Human Nature


The Square (2008)
Director: Nash Edgerton
Writers: Joel Edgerton, Matthew Dabner
Cast: David Roberts, Claire van der Boom, Joel Edgerton, Anthony Hayes, Lisa Bailey, Lucy Bell
Producer: Louise Smith
Rated: 105 min.
Time: R


van der Boom and Roberts plot their future.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave.... It all started out so simply – married construction manager, Raymond (David Roberts), is having an affair with married hairdresser Carla (Claire van der Boom). They might have talked about running away together before, but didn’t expect anything to come of it until one day Carla says her husband, Smithy (Anthony Hayes), is hiding a bag full of illicitly gained money in the house which she and Raymond should steal to run away and finally start their new lives together. All they have to do is burn down the house so Smithy thinks the money was destroyed in the fire. No one gets hurt and they’ll be together. Thus starts a tail of ever increasing mis-steps, violence, guilt and paranoia. The film is spellbinding in its intricate plot, including several red herrings which are just a natural part of the story, but not intrinsic to the denouement. You’ll have to wait till the end to figure out what didn’t matter. All the way to the surprising outcome – the myriad plot twists, various strings laying around to be tripped over, ever growing number of suspicious characters – finally, every detail is accounted for and makes sense.

I was breathless – remembering the same thrilling experience when I first saw “Blood Simple” (1984) by the Cohen Brothers. This time, brothers Edgerton, with the original story by Joel and direction by Nash, take another stab at good, working class people swayed by passion and an opportunity to escape with their pockets full leave a trail of mayhem and murder behind them.

The brothers, barely a year and a half apart in age, have been working in films all their adult lives, mainly Joel as an actor and Nash as a stunt man. Both have directed, written and produced various projects, and both have worked together in the past. But this combination of Nash writing, and Joel directing and acting, is a stunning accomplishment. Both leads, David Roberts and Claire van der Boom, though familiar to Australian film and TV audiences, are new to the international scene. Their performances in The Square, subtle, understated, yet powerful, should lead to brilliant careers. I certainly hope to see more of Edgerton films as well as their talented case in the future.


Prodigal Sons (2008)
Director: Kimberly Reed
Time: 87 min.

You can’t make up this stuff! That’s why documentaries were invented – because if you saw a narrative movie with a similar plot line, you’d say, “This is ridiculous – too far fetched to be believed. Stop it, already.” Prodigal Sons, though starting out as a documentary about a son who decides to return to hometown Montana for the 20 year high school reunion, has so many extreme and unexpected twists and turns to it – from the introduction of high school football hero, Paul McKerrow, the prodigal “son” returning home as a women, filmmaker Kimberly Reed, and all the background that goes along with having made that decision, to adoptive older brother Marc who not only has childhood jealousy issues and a history of mental problems due to a severe accident that necessitated the removal of a chunk of his brain, to the discovery of Marc’s world famous birth parents, to youngest son, Todd, being a gay architect who pretty much opted out of the family dynamics, to all the subtleties and nuances of all three siblings and their mother interacting – you just wouldn’t buy it as a movie. It really had to be true to be believed. And it is artfully documented by filmmaker Kim Reed and cinematographer John Keitel over the course of several years.

Mom, son Marc and filmmaker Kimberly Reed

And what I found most fascinating was that this was an ideal family situation to start. Mom was a school teacher, dad was a doctor -- affluent, comfortable, loving, supportive and intelligent people in a community that boasted the Montana “big sky” and a population that is, if not sophisticated, open and accepting. Golden boy Paul, football co-captain who was vied for as date to the school proms, felt uncomfortable in his body, though attracted to the opposite sex. Yet, there was no mother who dressed him in girl’s clothing, nor an absentee or overly strict dad, nor any other obvious environmental factor which might cause stress, discomfort or a sense of ambiguity. Whatever social reasons one might attribute to digression from the “norm” of gender identity, none where there. Nor did these parents exert pressure on

their adoptive son, Marc, to meet the standards set by them or their birth sons. Though Marc felt humiliated by the successes of the others in his family, they felt only love and acceptance for him. There are no roots of evil, no school kids chasing any of the sons home, throwing rocks or taunting; no bully; no conflict. Only genetics and accidents of birth, and one grisly car accident, can be responsible for the tensions, unfulfilled hopes and dysfunction in this household.One might ask, “When do you decide to stop shooting a family documentary that takes place in real time (meaning you have no idea what the end is while you’re shooting)?” This film may show – when the viewers’ consciousness won’t accept any more. Maybe in a few years, we’ll get a follow-up film to bring us up to speed on the convoluted and ever dramatic and interesting lives of the McKerrow family. But by the time this film ends, one’s head is reeling.

This is a documentary about a better than typical American family growing up and living in a better than typical American town dealing with the problems they had no part in creating – good people, great kids, spectacular environment, yet social and psychological upheavals. We get insightful perspectives on all the issues a transgender person confronts, as well as those of the adoptive child – with the very special circumstances of mental disorders and an outrageously famous birth family. And let’s not forget how the rest of the family copes with this soup


The Yellow Handkerchief (2008)
Director: Udayan Prasad
Cast: William Hurt, Maria Bello, Kristen Stewart, Eddie Redmayne, Kaori Momoi
Writers: Pete Hamill (story) and Erin Dignam (screenplay)
Time: 102 min.
Rated: PG13

Three strangers end up in the same car for several days, going south on a path parallel to the Mississippi river. None would admit to making a conscious decision to share each other’s company, or even having ever made an important decision in their lives. All are sad, lonely, outsiders who have no destination or are afraid to admit to themselves they do. One is 15 year old Martine (Kristen Stewart) who gets in the car to make her boyfriend, her father, anyone worry about where she may have gone off to. One is an awkward young man who calls himself a Native American Indian, Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), who feels he just has to see more, as his native spirit demands. One is ex-con Brett (William Hurt),

Hurt in the backseat, Stewart riding shotgun, Redmayne driving

just out of prison and wondering if he even has a home to go to. Since Brett is the oldest, and since he let it be known he had been in prison, the other two are most curious about his background and listen to his story as they travel towards the Gulf.

While these misfits travel and listen, and view through Brett’s mind’s eye the memory of his life with his one love (Maria Bello), they all go through a learning experience and grow into more self-confident, mature, individuals who become more capable of loving and being loved. With little to no sentimentality and a simple, human story, we take this thoughtful, slow paced ride to the next part of their lives. I hate to divulge more of this story, but prefer you take a seat in the back of Gordy’s convertible with them. Be patient with Gordy’s nerdish bravado, with Martine’s sullen unhappiness, and with the languid unfolding of Brett’s relationship with May. Please don’t be as resistant as they are to accepting each other. Let them take their own sweet time in opening up and revealing themselves. Enjoy the ride.


Terribly Happy (2008)
Director: Henrik Ruben Genz
Writers: Henrik Ruben Genz, Dunja Gry Jensen from the novel by Erlang Jepsen
Producers: Tina Dalhoff, Thomas Gammeltoft
Cast: Jakob Cedergren, Lene Maria Christensen, Kim Bodnia, Lars Brygmann, Mathilde Maack
Time: 90 min.

A disgruntled and unhappy cop from a capitol city is transferred to a small, peaceful, crime free town near the edge of nowhere. There is no explanation for the absence of the previous police presence. At least one person in town has disappeared and nobody seems to care. It is a difficult adjustment from cosmopolitan to village sensibilities for the cop. Sound like a description of “Hot Fuzz”, the fast paced, hysterical crime comedy of 2007?

Bully Kim Bodnia rounds off with Marshall Jakob Cedergren

Terribly Happy couldn’t be a more diametrically opposed cop-out-of-water film. Where all the inhabitants of Hot Fuzz’s village were sociable, polite and charming, the denizens of Terribly Happy’s outpost are moody, taciturn and almost hostile. Whereas British citizens are dropping like flies in a summer evening’s electric fly zapper, one must be very patient to find any crime at all in this Danish psychological thriller. The Nordic femme fatale, Ingerlise (Lene Maria Christensen) is the brunt of regular beatings by her husband and town bully, Jorgen (Kim Bodnia), but she won’t file a report so Marshall Robert Hanson (Jakob Cedergren) can’t take legal action. Ingerlise, as a very desperate housewife, and Marshall Bob get as hot and heavy as any comparable scene from The Postman Always Rings Twice (the steamier 1981 version). The tension builds until a shot out, not shoot out, in the local bodega between the Sheriff (I mean Marshall) and cowboy Jorgen (decked out in cowboy hat and bolo tie) where the audience loses count of beers and shots downed between the two battling testosterone sacks.

As dark and tense as the film gets, surprising incidents give us the relief we all need – a cat talking, a bicycle found in a bog, the town whore housecleaning when nobody’s around. The pace of the film is European just right – there’s time for the tension to build, but the story never slows down. I’m sure there will be an American remake on the horizon. When a foreign country gets it right, Hollywood surely follows with it’s version which is never as good as the original. Suffer the subtitles and see it. These people don’t waste words and there’s no problem keeping up with the text.

Last Chance Harvey (2008)
Writer/Director: Joel Hopkins
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Eileen Atkins, Kathy Baker, Liane Balaban, James Brolin, Richard Schiff, Tim Howard
Rated: PG13 for language
92 min.

It's one thing to be an outsider. You're looking from the outside to where people are enjoying themselves, having good conversations, good relationships, a good time. Okay, it's kind of sad being alone and watching from a distance. But being inside and not being a part of a social occasion is hell. Good people around you, even trying to engage you, but you just don't belong, you are not a part of this group in find yourself in -- that's hell!Kate Walker (Emma Thompson) is on a blind date with an obviously younger man. They awkwardly try to carry on a conversation. He's a nice guy; nothing's wrong, it's just not right. Then friends of his run into him at the bar and join them.

Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson at the wedding reception
after finally selecting the little black cocktail dress.

Kate can find no way to fit in, even though the young group tries to include her. She is just not part of their social set, their time and place. Oh, the pain.But that is nothing to Harvey Shine's (Dustin Hoffman) experience. First, he comes to London to go to his daughter's wedding. His ex-wife (Kathy Baker) has rented a house for the whole wedding party -- except him. So, he's alone in the hotel. At the dinner the night before the wedding, he has to listen to the stories of the whole family's fun in Italy the year before. He's seated at the end of the table furthest away from bride and groom. He is obviously not a part of this family. His daughter even tells him she'd like to be given away by her step father (James Brolin) than him since stepdad has become such an integral part of her family. Harvey is redundant and superfluous. Feels like all eyes are on him while at the same time no one looks at him or acknowledges his existence. I feel for this guy; I've been there.

These two lost souls meet and Harvey quickly recognizes there is hope and potential joy with this new woman. He doggedly, more puppyishly, pursues her. There is quiet peace and acceptance between them, there is redemption for them, after a few rough spots there is the promise of happiness.

There are some typically Hollywood weak spots I wish weren't in the film, like the dress shopping montage. May I never have to watch another dress shopping or audition or walking on the beach and being in love montages again as long as I live! A wedding reception continues far too long while waiting for Dustin to reach the conclusion -- with Emma's help -- to return to it (this time was wasted in part with the shopping montage). We can all pretty much tell the guy sitting next to us what will happen in each succeeding scene. Don't bother; he knows, too. But it's a warm film about mature people who are trying desperately to keep on keeping on. I'm glad for both of them that they are no longer desperate, but happy.Nice to see Eileen Atkins playing Emma's mother. It's great casting since they look so much alike, even though Phyllidia Law, also a wonderful actress, is her actual mother and played her mom in "Winter People" (1997). Also nice to see that even though Emma couldn't relate to her young blind date and was able to more easily accept a much older Dustin (ah, such is our culture...), Eileen hints at a relationship with a much younger next-door neighbor.


A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2007)
Director/Producer: Wayne Wang
Writer: Yiyun Li
Cast: Henry O, Faye Yu, Vida Ghahremani, Pasha Lychnikoff
Not yet rated, but harmless
83 minutes

What we suspected about Asians, you know, the stereotype of being inscrutable -- meaning silent, reserved, mysterious, internal, uncommunicative -- is true, even among themselves. They are brought up in homes where their parents don’t discuss, argue, show emotion. So, they follow suit. This is the story of Yilan (Faye Hu), a transplanted Chinese women, who feels she can’t communicate in her own language.

When her dad (Henry O) comes to visit after her move to America 12 years earlier, she finds it impossible to talk to him, to explain why her marriage failed, to tell him about her resentments about his absentee fatherhood, to let him in on the life she is now leading. Honestly, this doesn’t make for very exciting film viewing. Father and daughter say little to each other. His questions are evaded, answers being terse or completely absent. She feels the need to escape his prodding and leaves him alone in her apartment a lot -- to go to work in a Law School Library where, since he is not a student or employee, he is not granted entrance; to the movies where she sits alone rather than stay home and talk with him. He looks out the window of her nondescript apartment, reads the newspaper, cooks, listens to Mormon proselytizers, takes walks to the park where he converses in broken English/Chinese/Farsi with a kindly, older, Iranian woman.

We have to be very patient with this film; we have to slow way down; we have to listen intently. The pay off is small, if you consider it a payoff at all. Yilan may never be able to express herself or get out of her little Chinese box. “If you grew up in a language in which you never learned to express your feelings, it would be easier to talk in an new language. It makes you a new person.” But still, even in English, she may never be happy -- her dad’s major concern. He may never be able to truly communicate with his daughter in any language.

The damage done by the Chinese social order going back to the Cultural Revolution of 1948 may have not only damaged that generation but the ones that followed. A minor infraction at work, followed by unsubstantiated gossip, cost him his career and dignity. The cover-up and lies and silence at home followed, and the next generation thought this simply is how life is. It’s a glum, sad, quite tale without a Hollywood ending, but perhaps a whimper of acceptance between them.

The Duchess
Director: Saul Dibb
Writers: Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen, Saul Dibb
from the book “Georgiana, Duchess of
Devonshire,” by Amanda Foreman
Cast: Keira Knightly, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, Aidan McArdle
Executive Producers: Amanda Foreman, Carolyn Marks Blackwood, Francoise Ivenel, Christine, Langan, Cameron McCracken, David M. Thompson
Rated: PG13
110 min.

The parallels are so numerous that one might wonder -- is this a thinly veiled historic perspective to the life of Princess Diana and Prince Charles or rather a British cultural phenomenon that begs repetition?Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightly) is young, well bred (meaning brought up to be a wife any nobleman would be proud of), beautiful, intelligent. There is no infertility in her family’s women. Same is true of Diana Spencer. Both women were several years younger than their husbands (Keira to Ralph - 23 years), (Di to Charles - 13 years) (Georgiana to William - 9 years). Okay, a little perspective into Hollywood casting. Neither Georgiana nor Diana were loved by their husbands who felt pressured to produce a male heir. Both men found it difficult to be warm and caring. In more than one scene the Duke states he was not raised to show emotion. Biographies of Charles show that raising children in Buckingham Palace was done more by nannies than the stalwart, stone faced Elizabeth II. Both husbands loved older, matronly women. Lady Elizabeth, the Duke’s mistress came from a similar situation. Her husband had many mistresses, and worse, beat her, refused to divorce her and kept her children when she left him. What is it with Englishmen? Is it considered unmanly to love one’s wife? Bess had 3 sons, which made her more attractive to the Duke, though her sons would never he his heirs. Still, breeding sons was a quality in women he admired. It has been said, though not kindly, that Charles found in Camilla the mother he never had - which solves that mystery. Georgiana was famous for her fashion sense and was a trend setter, explaining to her husband in one of their very brief and infrequent discussions that men have many outlets for their creativity, women only have hats and dresses. Remember the recent auction of some of Diana’s gowns -- many of which will end up in museums? Georgiana entered the political arena, supporting candidates of the Wig Party who were proponents of enlarging the freedoms of men, though slowly over time and not to all. Perhaps this was selfish of her, hoping to someday have the personal and political freedoms that men enjoyed. She campaigned much as celebrities do now, introducing candidates, rousing the crowds, associating her popularity with politicians. Diana was the first in her situation to demand a divorce, and her political activism (for one, to get rid of land mines) continues to this day beyond her death.Both were Spencers -- Diana being a member of the same family. Couldn’t she see this coming? The very tag line to the film is “There were three people in her marriage,” a direct quote from Princess Diana given in her famous TV interview after her divorce.

Yes, the institution of divorce was available to men at the time. King Henry VIII started a new religion in England just for that purpose -- because he wanted current mistresses to replace his perfectly good wives and the populace was getting tired of all the beheadings of former wives. Check out “The Other Boleyn Girl” (2008), with a very similar story: nobleman (this time the king of England) doesn’t love his wife, is very cold and taciturn with her, and has, not only mistress after mistress, but loves them all more than her. Divorce is not an option in this film, unfortunately for his then-wife, Ann Boleyn, but comes later in his life. “A Man For All Seasons” (1967) tackles that issue Academy awardingly®.

Though divorce was on the books at the time of “The Duchess” (1780's), women had no power, especially against one of the most powerful men in England at the time. Willing to give up her title, her vast fortune, and her reputation to get out of her loveless marriage which she had to share with her husband’s mistress so she could pursue her own relationship with another man -- Charles Gray, the 2nd Earl of Gray (not the tea) who later became Prime Minister -- she was not willing to give up her children or be responsible for the end of Gray’s career.

Through Keira Knightly’s controlled performance, we see the cage that society and her marriage has built. Though gilded, it is suffocating, humiliating, cold and frustrating. Unable to show her anger, knowing reprisals could even worsen her situation, her despair is palpable. Fiennes, as the emotionally bankrupt Duke, has a much easier job. Stone faced, cool and controlled, a man who needs prove nothing except he can sire a son, he rules the household quietly and with authority. We never get a glimpse into his inner soul, if he has one -- perhaps being a product of centuries of inbreeding, his has shriveled and died.

The locations, the clothes, the hair, the hats -- all over-the-top magnificent. The issue: life at the top is still hell if you’re not loved -- oh, so true. It’s unfortunate that William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire, never knew the words -- amicable divorce. He kept Georgiana for years for no reason at all when others close to their social standing were divorcing. I could easily envision shared custody with no insult impugned on his reputation. Hell, we did see it with Charles and Di. It is wonderful that Di did have the opportunity to live her life without Charles. No matter how much the paparazzi impinged on her privacy, she was love and lauded by the public for her charitable and political works, her grace and good taste. Too bad Georgiana didn’t get that opportunity.

Here’s the irony -- both her daughters of this union married and left heirs, whereas the Duke, the all so imperative heir to the estate and title of the 6th Duke of Cavendish, never married or had children.

Also, let us hope Wikipedia is correct in suggesting the Duke, his Duchess and his Mistress all lived in a satisfying manage a trois for the duration of the multifaceted relationship and that the film is incorrect on that point.

Traitor (2008)
Writer/Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Cast: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels, Neal McDonough
Rated: PG13
1hr 50 min

“Traitor” is a propaganda piece directed to all Muslims who would be persuaded by terrorist insurgents through the use of intentional misinterpretation of the Koran and the promise of an afterlife with 27 virgins to follow said insurgents’ orders to the death, literally, while said insurgents live the high life eating pork and drinking champagne. Hope it works.

This is a view of terrorism from the other side. Don Cheadle plays a stone-faced, Muslim, bomb expert, Samir Horn, whose father was a Sudanese and mother a Chicagoan, educated in the US and US military, and helping a terrorist cell that travels the world arranging for and committing acts of terrorism. Is he still a CIA operative, has he gone over to the other side? His reasoning and beliefs leave us guessing. I have to admit, I felt a little uneasy rooting for our hero as he blows up an American Embassy and develops ingenious plans for killing hundreds of people. Yet, I couldn’t wish him dead at the hands of FBI agent FBI Agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) either. Maybe Clayton could convince him to change his ways, maybe something, but I didn’t know what.

This film is in no way a “Bourne” tail-catcher. It is a serious film addressing an insurmountable problem. How do we keep up with terrorists and stop them before they succeed in their many small and large deadly acts - a car bomb, a 9/11? In “Traitor,” nobody is flying from roof to roof. crashing through windows without a scratch, no one has seeming superpowers to endlessly karate fight and dodge bullets. This film tries to be realistic in its approach to the issues. It’s interesting to see

how Moslems are recruited -- in much the same way the poor and destitute are always manipulated -- with weak logic, with scapegoats, with promises that could obviously never be fulfilled, with snake oil salesman smooth talk. And it works. And considering the racial profiling taking place in this country and around the world, it’s amazing that not all Moslems fall to the dark side.

For the young, there are lots of bombs going off, lots of tension and close calls, great locations. For the women, Pearce has buffed up for the roll and, though never shirtless, is looking very Brad Pitt-ish. For the students of political science and current events, this could be an eye-opening view of the inner workings of a terrorist cell and the attempts made by the U.S. government to combat them.

Hamlet 2
Director: Andrew Fleming
Writers: Andrew Fleming and Pam Brady
Cast: Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Shue, Joseph Julian Soria, Skylar Astin, Phoebe Strole, Melonie Diaz, David Arquette, Marshall Bell, Amy Poehler
Rated: R
92 minutes

If you’ve ever read or seen Hamlet, you know that at the end of the play, all the major characters and most of the minor ones are dead. So, there is already a joke in the title. I expected some really funny plays on the play in this film. Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan), high school drama teacher and failed actor, believes in second chances (and wishes he had a few). He believes that if Hamlet had had some therapy, nobody would have had to die. He wants to take Hamlet back in a time machine, escorted by Jesus, to make things right. Since he can’t have second chances in his life, this is the best he can do. So he writes a play for his drama class to perform.

Things are a bit more complicated than that, though. His wife, Brie (Catherine Keener) is at best disdainful of her husband; the school principal is cutting drama from the curriculum so after this term Dana is out; and his students, having no other options, are stuck in his drama class against their will and better judgment.

Looks like all the elements are there for a really funny film, but, unfortunately, director Andrew Fleming with his co-writer Pam Brady, turned this film into what looks like a lower cost and less talent-filled High School Musical. The play within the movie takes more chances (the police and fire department are called to the performance to stop it, but am ACLU lawyer [Amy Poehler] keeps them at bay) with numbers like Fucked in the Face and Rock Me,

Sexy Jesus. The movie takes chances like Dana wearing caftans so his balls can stay cool and he can impregnate his wife, only to inadvertently display his genitalia (I love that word). So much potentially good stuff, but somehow the jokes are too few and far between, the dancers and singers aren’t that talented, and the movie drags. Okay, Dana is not a good roller skater, but how many times must I watch him skate terribly? His marriage is bad, but I figured out the result long before the payoff. He isn’t an inspirational teacher, like in “Dead Poets Society” or “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Yes, true, nor an inspirational actor in an inspiration, funny or enjoyable film. Sorry, I really wanted to like this one.

Tropic Thunder (2008)
Director: Ben Stiller
Writers: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, and Ethan Cohen
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr., Jack Black, Jay Baruchel, Brandon T. Jackson, Steven Coogan, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise, Brandon Soo Hoo, Nick Nolte
Rated: R
Time: 2:35

I was blown away! I was expecting laughs and probably lots of low brow antics, but nothing like this. I was just going to girder my loins, sit through it like a trooper and enjoy the few jokes that weren’t based on the bathroom or human bodily functions. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was really funny and not crass. Don’t worry, 17 year old boys and those who think like them. You’ll still love it.

The plot is much more complicated and interesting than one might expect from the commercials and trailer. Egocentric, pampered actors in a Vietnam War action movie on location in the jungle get kidnapped. That doesn’t begin to tell all the facets and turns in their adventure -- and that’s not even correct.

It’s a spoof on Hollywood actors and their inflated sense of self-importance. Yes, but the subtlety and on-point satire of the humor is so many levels above Stiller’s previous works -- no jessum in the hair this time. And only one tiny fart. Stiller and Thoreux have matured into fine satiric writers.

Okay, the R word. Please, we can say retarded. It’s in the dictionary. The child’s pajamas were treated to retard flames. It means arrested, delayed, hampered, impeded, slowed down. It was an accepted medical term until nasty, little children in the school yard started using it as an insult. May more words go out of favor the same way, for instance -- bff. “You’ve got a bff, you’ve got a bff.” “Who’s your bff now, baby?” “Your mother is a bff!” See how easy it is.

First of all, the remarks made about retards were made to insult the speakers themselves and their insensitivity. Secondly, all of us, no matter what group, minority, disability we may have, should maintain a sense of humor about ourselves or we become pathetic. At least assess the context before getting insulted. I’m a Jew who has withstood the most foul, hateful language aimed against Jews by Nazis in movies since the subject was first broached (in TV reruns for the older films, of course). It was obvious the Nazis were the bad guys, not the Jews. I was offended by history and Nazis, not the actors, writers or film makers. This goes for all films exposing anti-Semitism or films with remarks made by anti-Semitic characters. Thirdly, the person who “portrayed” the retard was only revealing his poor acting skills. He was the brunt of jokes in the film, not the person he was trying to portray. Remember, as stated in the film, to do the job well, you will awards. He just didn’t and didn’t.

And sure, Robert Downey, Jr., was hysterical and point on as an Australian, multi-Oscar™ winning thespian playing a black soldier. Yeah, Downey is great. Okay. BUT Tom Cruise (unseen in the trailer or poster) is brilliant -- not because of his rampage, his diabolic manipulations of a situation, or even his “I’m on top, rich and getting richer” dance (all amazing), but because of a momentary gaze, eyes wide, mouth stuffed with a huge cigar, body frozen while assessing the situation and formulating a plan. Just one momentary gaze. It hushed the whole audience of raucous, over stimulated, sugar enriched, target audience members. I was impressed with all the actors, well, except Ben Stiller. He’s still doing the “comedy” acting schtick and it was funny. All the others, though, were really doing their characters, and doing them well. He had enough to do already, anyway and writer, director, producer. And Jack Black did tone it down a bit, but he was playing an over-the-top movie star famous for being able to fart on cue. How serious can he be?

There are lots of references to other films which are fun to find. Of course, Apocalypse Now. It’s hard to separate any war film from images of Apocalypse Now, but a few do stand out as specifically its own. Platoon. I found one for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I’m not a war movie fan and probably missed lots. See what else you can pick out.

Stiller has matured and his sense of humor, writing and directing skills were worth waiting for. This is one of the very few films I’d like to have a copy of for my archives.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Writer/Director: Woody Allen
Producer: Letty Aronson
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson,
Javier Bardem, ubiquitious Patricia Clarkson
Rated: PG-13
96 min.

I liked this movie. How strange. My reactions to Woody Allen films since the one I liked, "What's Up, Tiger Lily," have ranged from dislike to abhorrence and having to leave the theater. Almost always, we watch Allen play out his fantasy of beautiful woman loving him (of course, they have to be very neurotic). His absolute lowest attempt at fulfilling this fantasy was "Deconstructing Harry," in which countless beautiful, classy, educated women are angry at him for their past relationships with him (there he's playing out his Mia nightmare). After hearing him hiss "Jew bitch" one too many times (and once is enough), I walked out. He has also had the good sense in his last few romantic comedies to place younger, more attractive men in his role. But by this time, the jokes were older and lamer than Henny Youngman's and the stuttering by all major characters was beyond annoying.

But now there's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." On the face of it, the plot seems too far fetched to accept: a suave artist (Javier Bardem - looking the handsomest he's ever been) approaches two young women (Rebecca Hall [with the morals of a Victorian and engaged] and Scarlett Johansson [looking for sexual adventures] in a restaurant in Barcelona and asks them to fly with him to a quaint village for a weekend of fun, sex, good wine and good food. They go. Eventually, he not only beds them, but his ex-wife (Penelope Cruz) returns to join the melange. Sure, typical Allen fantasy, but the situations are plausible based on characterizations, plot and dialogue. I accepted the various couplings, the emotional responses they have to each other, the outcomes. It's a tribute to Allen that he was able to still fulfill his imaginary sex life with a film that has something to say about relationships in a compassionate, delicate and human way. This is not so much a comedy as a romp -- a summer away from responsibilities and moral codes in the most beautiful city in Spain (though some might say Catalan is not really a part of Spain. Please!).

Ladies, be warned. If you go with a date to this film, he'll be asking you to bring your bff along or he'll want to meet up with her afterwards for good food, wine.....

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)
Director: Rob Cohen
Cast: Brendan Frasier, Maria Bello, Luke Ford, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, John Hannah, Isabelle Leong
Time: 111 minutes

My eyes were tacked to the screen the full 111 minutes. The breathtaking special effects were believable, or a tribute to the army of special effects crew who helped us suspended our disbelief. The action barely stopped for a breath, and it hardly repeated itself. You know what I mean -- high speed karate fight after fight, or beating up monster after monster. The variety and range of action never let the audience drift off into a hypnotic trance of flashing colors and repetitive violence.

Brendan Fraser is being forced to age quickly. In his first Mummy jaunt, only 9 years ago, he’s a bachelor. Two years later, he’s the father of 8 year old Alex. And now son Alex is a college dropout (played by 27 year old Luke Ford) who goes off on his own archeological adventures -- this time excavating the first Emperor of China and his terra cotta army. Did the producers really need a younger, new heartthrob to attract the female audience? Perhaps they wanted to parallel Indiana Jones even closer by adding a young son who will carry on the family tradition. Hmmmmm. I think it’s a bit premature. Brendan still looks fine to me. And, dash it all, after his obviously spending countless hours in the gym getting in shape for this film, we only see him shirtless for less than a minute. I’m ready for him to get back in the jungle for another George, in a loincloth for a full 90 minutes. His body is, too.

Maria Bello was unrecognizable as herself, perhaps because she was supposed to convince us she was the same love interest/wife from the first two Mummy installments (previously Rachel Weisz). It has to have been Weisz’s choice not to do a third installment because she was great in the part and would never intentionally be left out of the third go. Though I love Bello in all her previous works, like “The Jane Austen Book Club” and “A History of Violence,” Weisz was missed. I found Bello weak in the part and floundering. She started out a country socialite reading her adventure “novel” to a ladies group, more interested in writing then getting “inspired” with her gorgeous husband, if you know what I mean. She was effete, in a word. Whereas, Weisz was strong, in charge, an expert in her field of Egyptology, and a doer. Sure, a lot of this was due to the script, but this woman was a far cry from the previous action heroine.

Now, here’s a thought. Much of the film takes place in the “western edge of China.” They travel to the Himalayas, they seek out Shangri La, and yet, no mention of Tibet. The word is never spoken. The young, politically ignorant, Mummy-targeted audience may not notice this, but how can anyone aware of the 1951 invasion of Tibet by China and the unending struggle of the Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, to get their homeland back, not see this glaring omission? Seems the Chinese army cooperated in the production of the film and was able to erase Tibet’s existence -- in this production at least. Still, it was nice to see lots of Chinese soldiers -- bent on world domination and the end of freedom getting their just deserts at the hands of the ghostly skeletons of previous victims. That is very un-Buddhist of me. Sorry.

This is a blockbuster you can enjoy for its timeless adventurous and humorous quality. It is not dark. It is a simple story (with complicated effects) of good versus evil, not troubled and dark versus diabolical and pathological. The worst emotional angst in this film is Dad Fraser feeling he was a bit remiss in being a good parent. And jokes are even made about this. The situation is easily cured by the two mowing down hundreds of ceramic solders with a variety of heavy arms -- true bonding.

People bounce back after what would otherwise be bone breaking smashes against walls and falls off high speed carts carrying exploding fireworks. They are live action cartoons who barely bleed. Nothing historical will be learned in The Mummy (though much is described on the website linked above). This is definitely a case of style over substance -- and I love it.


Me and Orson Wells (2008)
Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Robert Kaplow (novel), Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo (screenplay)
Cast: Zac Efron, Christian McKay, Claire Danes, Ben Chaplin, Zoe Kazan, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly, James Tupper, Leo Bill, Al Weaver, Simon Lee Phillips, Simon Nehan
Rated: PG-13
Time: 113 min.

Wonder what it was like being in the presence of or working with Orson Welles? Do you even know who Orson Welles is? “Me and Orson Welles” is a unique opportunity to get up close to one of the most iconic, unabashedly outspoken, creative and original film and theater artists America has possibly yet produced. Back in 1937, in the depths of the Depression, before his Halloween radio production of “War of the Worlds” that threw the East Coast of the United States into a panic, before “Citizen Kane,” which at the same time brought Welles to international fame and almost doomed his budding career, Wells directed and starred in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”. In this story, which is mostly true, a young boy recounts playing a small part in the play and being introduced to the “theater”, theater people, and Orson Welles.

Zac Efron drumming for Christian McKay

It is easy to suspend one’s disbelief because the actor playing Welles is making his first appearance in a feature film, and though he doesn’t think so, he is a dead ringer for the young Welles. Not only does Christian McKaylook eerily similar to Welles, but he brought his basso voice down a few notches and even got the reverb right. And the overpowering character of Welles is recreated perfectly. I really felt in the presence of Welles. Director Richard Linklater even admits he would have chucked the whole project, after buying the rights to Robert Kaplow’s novel, investing most of his own money and finding investors for the balance of the project, securing all other cast and crew, if he had not found McKay in a production of “Rosebud,” of all plays, in a 50 seat theater on off Broadway. Not only lucky for Linklater and lucky for McKay because his career has taken one giant forward step, but also for the audience, either those who come to see the adorable Zac Efron (High School Musical) or those who admired Welles and want to bask in the genius’ light once again.

It would be enough to just spend a little short of 2 hours in his simulated proximity, but the film is also engaging and entertaining. Though shot in a small theater on the Isle of Man (that’s between England and Ireland, if you didn’t know) and London studios, the theater is very close to the same size and look as the original Comedy Theatre on 41st Street and Broadway. The cast of characters are as engaging and eccentric as those of an Agatha Christie mystery set in an island mansion. Better yet, all the characters were real members of Welles’ ensemble: Joseph Cotton. George Courlouris, John Houseman, and the rest of the Mercury Players. And controlling, manipulating and inspiring them all – Orson Welles.


Chelsea on the Rocks (2008)
Director: Abel Ferrara
Producer: Jen Gatien
Time: 88 min.
Rated: R

For those of you unfamiliar with New York City or not in the art or rock music fields, you may not know about the Chelsea Hotel. For years it has been considered a dive with a great artistic tradition in the Chelsea area of Manhattan (perhaps named after the hotel itself, or vice versa). It boasts, besides some of the great emerging artists of New York; multi-day parties of drunken and drugged revelry; many deaths, some accidental, some not; and a quixotic manager who wouldn't charge some and gouged others.

Even as a resident of New York, I wanted to spend one night at the Chelsea, but didn't have the nerve or the need. I only lived a few blocks away anyway. I was on 24th and 2nd; the Chelsea was 23rd and 7th. Typical for New York, the crossroads of the world, and the Chelsea being a hub within that hub, I was walking past the Chelsea one day and some men called out to me by name. They were a Belgium dance performance group I had interviewed for my San Francisco TV show earlier that year. Years later, another friend of mine, a research scientist from Santa Rosa, CA, working in England, invited me for lunch while she was staying over. Producer Jen Gatien was living in the Chelsea Hotel when rumors of the change of management started to swirl around its hallways. She then decided to document the hotel's illustrious reputation and coming changes, enrolling her father's long time friend, filmmaker Abel Ferrar to direct.More than historic documentary, the film is actually a recordation of what the Chelsea has been recently, and includes interviews with many of it's tenants and a look at its changes from a residency/day hotel for artists of all ilks, whether they could pay or not, to a boutique hotel with rates starting at $225 all way up to the best and most expensive any hotel can rival. You can learn a lot

In all her glory.

more about the hotel from Wikipedia or the film's website ( But the filmmaker, Abel Ferrare, the long time residents, and those who hold dear the traditions of the Chelsea, warts and all, want to yell and scream about what a great place the Chelsea once was and what it's turned into under the new regime.

I certainly don't mind what was covered in this doc, even though the transitions to dramatizations were sometimes confusing, even though there were no names of people speaking printed on the bottom of the screen, even though Abel Ferrara constantly speaks off camera, injecting annoying monosyllabics and useless comments. I would have liked more information about the history of the hotel, integrating more of its illustrious guests and the impact each made upon the other. We never heard from the new management of the hotel either. Was this because they had no comment or Ferrara decided what this documentary should impart? Though all documentaries do have a perspective and agenda, "Chelsea on the Rocks" is decidedly partial, giving only a partial story and a partial perspective. I have no doubt the new management is only out to make a profit at the cost of the artist community and the legacy promulgated by the hotel's manager for the past 50 years, Stanley Bard, but one can juxtapose another documentary, "Crude," which extensively interviews Exxon's spokespersons regarding poisonous crude oil pollution in Ecuador to bring into clarity what liars and ruthless environmental killers they are. Ferrara should have trusted that, given the opportunity, the new management of the Chelsea Hotel would have condemned themselves as well.

Since "Chelsea on the Rocks" is the only film out there about the Chelsea Hotel, once a frightening hell and artistic haven at the same time, now completely sanitized, sterilized and depersonalized, you really ought to see what's left of it.

Cloud 9 (Walke Neun) (2008)
Director: Andreas Dresin
Writers: Andreas Dresin, Jörg Hauschild, Laila Stieler, Cooky Ziesche
Cast: Ursula Werner, Horst Rehberg, Horst Westphal, Steffi Kühnert
Time: 98 min.
German with English subtitles

Inga (Ursula Werner) delivers a pair of pants she has altered for a customer (Horst Rehberg) to his home. He's surprised she came all this way to deliver the pants. Though a happily married woman, she smiles coquettishly. I swear I can see her eyelashes flutter. He can't help but pick up on her obvious, adolescent flirting and responds accordingly. Within minutes, they are undressing and are in the throes of passion, nakedly writhing, intimately touching, reaching climax together, relaxing in each other's arms. Now, here's the kicker. Inga is 67 years old and Werner is 76.

Ursula Werner and Horst Rehberg -- afterglow

The plot to me is married old woman meets old man, they fall in love, ecstasy and guilt follow. Really not much of a plot. Nonetheless, I am fascinated because: first of all, this is not an attractive woman. Even in her prime, she could only have been considered plain, and I love honing in on the lives of real people, especially older women, the most undeserved in the film world. The recently released "Seraphina," explored the true life of an unattractive, overweight, silent, hardworking woman who happened to be a very talented artist. In that review I admitted I was disappointed to find she was exceptional in some way and that made her biopic valid. I wanted the typical life of a woman, not particularly beautiful, talented, gifted or extraordinary, but a woman like most of us in this aging world population. Voila, or should I say, Ach de lieber, here is Inga.

Secondly, the subtlety of the script explores in small nuances and suggestions the life and character of Inga and her men. Her husband was her second. If you do the math, Inga was 37 when they married. What happened to the first husband? I assume he died because we see her daughter (Steffi Kühnert) from her first marriage and there is no mention of the adult child's father. We explore Inga's feelings about being in love, passionately, again after all this time and the resulting confusion about her relationships with her lover and her husband. Though we explore the many ramifications of her adultery, very little is suggested about the issue of age. How long will she have with her new man if she stays with him? Should she give up all she has for this probably brief relationship? How does she justify her actions to her husband? How does he react?And the reason all of these psychological facets of Inga's relationships are so fascinating is because Ursula Werner is a consummate actress. Very often people are awed by great acting. Meryl Streep gets all her accents right from "Sophie's Choice"'s Polish to "Doubt"'s Rosie O'Donnell Long Islandese. We watch the twitch of her brow inflected at just the right moment in the dialogue, her gestures, her intonations. Not to take away from Ms. Streep, as I never would, Werner's talent can slip right past you. You don't watch the actress work in scenes from erotic euphoria to annoyance to guilt to joy; you live it with the character. She is flawless in embodying her character and we are carried with her on her emotional roller coaster.

It's good to see old people living their lives; to note that emotionally they're the same as ours. They are not necessarily wiser than the next guy, or crotchety, or Alzheimic, or simplistic. They are what we are; the whole wide range of people they were in their youths. It's good to know that. It's good to see people live out their lives, meet challenges, make choices -- and they don't have to look like Katherine Heigl as the girl who can't get a date. They look like real people and live real lives. Hey, Americans, we can take it. Aren't we all a little bored with the pretty people imitating us unconvincingly, pathetically, insultingly. Inga looking at herself naked in a mirror may not be a pretty sight, her close-ups may be unsympathetic, but we are all mature enough to appreciate her life and join her in it for an hour and a half.


Play the Game (2008)
Writer/Director: Marc Feinberg
Cast: Paul Campbell, Andy Griffith, Marla Sokoloff, Liz Sheridan, Doris Roberts, Clint Howard
Rated: PG-13
Time: 105 min.

Young grandson, David (Paul Campbell, the new “Knight Rider” and “Battlestar Galactica”), wants to help his 84 year old grandfather, Joe (Andy Griffith, “Matlock” and “Mayberry, R.F.D.”), out of his suicidal funk. Joe just can’t find the strength to live without his wife/companion/one true love. Even though she made him promise on her death bed that he would look for companionship, he just hasn’t been able to do it. David decides to inspire Grandpa with his sure fire techniques for playing the game, and if not find love and companionship, at least have some fun and a zest for living again. At the same time, after years of womanizing, David has met the woman he believes is his true companion (Maria Sokoloff) and pursues her -- disastrously using his otherwise successful tricks.

So goes the plot of “Play the Game.” For it to be effective, this generational comedy must contrast the lifestyles of these two men. David is a player who knows how to make women believe they are picking him up, then bed them and politely move on. Grandpa Joe has only had one women in his life -- his wife. I find it interesting that every generation believes it has invented the pleasures and diversity of sex. The flappers of the Roaring 20's did. The more independent self-sufficient women of World War II America did while their husbands and beaus were

experiencing love and war in Europe and the Pacific Islands. Perhaps Americans forgot about sex during the prosperous and family-oriented 50's. My generation brought love, acid and peace into the mix. And who can forget the 1970's with its discos, Club 54, video porn, and wife swapping? Need I go on? Every generation knows about sex from Henry VIII, Casanova, Don Juan, the Kama Sutra and “The Joy of Sex,” to the age of Viagra. So, Grandpa’s naivety is a comic device that only diverges from reality for laughs at his generation’s expense.

On the other hand, Grandpa has a few really wise words to impart to his more experienced grandson. Regarding the woman who is one’s true companion -- you’ll know it the moment you meet her or when she leaves. The seesawing between the two approaches to love also is a source of higher comedy which I found much more interesting. Grandpa can teach as much to David about the heart as David can to Grandpa about manipulation.

We see both grandfather and grandson fumble through all kinds of relationship obstacles -- some amusing, some poignant. Grandpa woos Liz Sheridan (“Seinfeld”) followed by Doris Roberts (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), with a period of playboy antics in between. Grandson David has an even rougher time succeeding in his quest for the “one,” (Marla Sokoloff).

Of interesting note: Clint Howard plays David’s father, a cold, wife-deserting, used car sales manager. Here’s the amusing connection -- besides being a well known Hollywood staple for the last 45 years, from child actor to father of the lead, he is also Ron Howard’s brother who played Andy Griffith’s son in “The Andy Griffith Show.” Clint himself was a guest on the show five times. Clint and Andy didn’t share any scenes in “Play the Game,” but I’m sure they spent some time reminiscing about the old days. I love the nursing home/condo in which Grandpa Joe resides. He has total independence, respect, privacy, gorgeous accommodations and the administration does not frown on intimate relationships or interfere in them. I want to go there when my time comes, if such a place exists.

This film may not appeal to the younger crowd because it can’t compete with the over-the-top antics of films like “The Hangover,” and others of that genre. But Grandpa Joe’s generation may really appreciate the representation of their situation in life, if they’re not insulted by some of the moments.


Ocean of Pearls (2008)
Director: Sarab S. Neelam
Screenwriter: V. Prasad
Story: Sarab S. Neelam and V. Prasad
Cast: Omid Abtahi, Heather McComb, Ron Canada, Navi Rawat, Dennis Haskins
Rated: PG-13
Time: 97 min

Director/co-writer/producer and medical doctor, Sarab S. Neelam is a Sikh born in Toronto and now working in Detroit. He wanted to bring his story to the screen, the story of being raised a Sikh in Canada, thousands of miles away from his native Sikh culture in India, and then the leap to the United States and it's pressures to assimilate.

Back for a visit after having moved to Detroit -- with Dad, Mom, Fiance.
Our hero has already changed and fiance sees it.

Dr. Amrit Singh (Omid Abtahi), a surgeon specializing in organ transplants, is offered a dream job in Detroit, heading the whole transplant wing of a major hospital, getting millions of dollars in research money, choosing his own staff -- so "Ocean of Pearls" goes. To accept this job, he must leave the Sikh religious and cultural womb of Toronto, his family and his fiancé. He doesn't hesitate, asking his fiancé to consider moving there as well. As always, he dutifully wears his turban, never cutting his hair and beard, as God intended, though the beard does look suspiciously short for a man his age. Never mind. Being a Sikh anywhere has its drawbacks. In India during the partition in 1947, Muslims set about trying to exterminated the whole sect. In the 1960's, the Hindus were in conflict with them. In Canada, the taunts of school children and bullies as well as the profiling by airport personnel is a constant cross to bear (pardon my mixing of religious metaphors). But the pressures of conformity to attain success in the United States, even if one's goals are altruistic and humanitarian, seem insurmountable.

We follow Dr. Singh through his crises of doubt, his disappointments with his work and life in the U.S., the various temptations in personal relationships and disobedience to the tenets of his faith, his confusion about his own identity. He's really a good guy, very empathetic, and being handsome doesn't hurt in our desire to root for him. Actually, our hopes for him reflect more about who we are as immigrant children, grand children or great grandchildren than the merits of his choice one way or the other. Meaning, we either want him to assimilate or remain true to his heritage -- as we have.

I myself descend from a faith that was targeted for genocide, I faced prejudice and bigotry, I welcomed acceptance and acculturation at the cost of religious practice and tradition. I am a product of the great melting pot. This may or may not be our protagonist's choice. It might be interesting for you to take this journey with him and see if you are in agreement with him or not in his ultimate choice


Séraphine (2008)
Director: Martin Provost
Co-Writers; Martin Provost, Marc Abdelnoir
Cast: Yolande Moreau, Ulrich Tukur, Anne Bennent
Producers: Milena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto
Time: 125 minutes
French with English subtitles

This is the fictionalized story of a fat, middle aged, unattractive woman who works hard for a living doing manual labor. Really! I'm hooked. I want to watch this and discover what makes her film-worthy. What is her inner life? What secrets does she hold?Séraphine Louis lived from 1864 to 1942, most of her life as a servant, launderess, and maid. She came from the lowest class in her town of Senlis, France, and was treated accordingly -- with disdain if at all. When not working, she spent her little free time painting flowers in her small rented room. She said she was told by the angels to paint. So, there is already an inkling of insanity in her behavior when the film starts, shortly before World War I. A well known German art collector and critic rents a house in the countryside near her and she is hired to keep the place clean. Purely by accident, he sees her work and recognizes its merit.

Séraphine (Yolande Moreau) is finally appreciated
for her work by art critic (Ulrich Tukur)

One could possibly say Séraphine was a victim of poor timing. Already close to 50 years old, her talent is discovered shortly before WWI by a German who must flee the country for his life. He all but forgets her after the war when his sister runs into her work in a small Senlis art show and reminds him of his previous high hopes for Séraphine. He encourages Séraphine to continue her art and give up the drudgery of manual labor, and becomes her patron. But before she can achieve the fame she deserves, the 1939 economic crash throws not only the U.S., but Europe and most of the world into crisis. There's not much art buying during the Great Depression. During the course of her life, especially after she becomes recognized as an artist, she slowly and gently drifts into insanity. I question: was it artistic recognition that effected her mind, or to put it another way, did her ego literally get the better of her mind; did intense exposure to oil paints in her unventilated room cause brain damages (many say Van Gogh was effected by too much chromium yellow fumes); did the pressures of her upbringing as a have-not cause irreparable damage to her psyche at an early age; did accumulated disappointment in her personal life and artistic career push her over the edge? All are possibilities. None are explored other than to present the circumstances of her life. I have to say I was almost disappointed to see she had a genius for something -- a talent that made her special. I really wanted to explore the life of an ordinary, not-attractive, older woman who, due her culture and circumstances, had no hope of reprieve from drudgery and ultimately a lonely death. I empathized with her. I wanted to love her for who she was -- an overlooked and forgotten human being who by accident of birth suffered poverty and isolation. But no, just another brilliant artist who should have received recognition for her paintings.

Still, it's wonderful to finally discover Séraphine Louis and to enjoy her beautiful, vibrant, "insect like", moving flowers. How does a culture or a world democratize art so it can be seen by the world, artists can receive the acclaim they deserve whether they are male or female, critically acclaimed or not, with the appropriate background and education or not? Silly me -- the Internet, of course. I would be remiss if I didn't direct you all to my sister's website: . It just so happens, I personally know and am blood related to an artist with the genius and vision on par with Séraphine Louis, if I say so myself. How could you not take a peek at her etchings?


$9.99 (2008)
Director/Co-writer: Tatia Rosenthal
Co-writer: Etgar Keret from his short story
Puppetmaster: Phillip Beadsmoore
Cast of Voices: Geoffrey Rush, Samuel Johnson, Claudia Karvan, Ben Mendelsohn, Leon Ford, Barry Otto, Leeanna Walsman, Henry Nixon
Time: 78 minutes
Rated: R

In this stop-motion animated feature from Israel (director-co-writer and writer) and Australia (production), we delve into the lives of several tenants of a building: the father of two adult sons whose wife left him, the old widower, the child who longs for a soccer hero action figure, the super model, the pregnant teacher and her Lebowski-like boyfriend, and other assorted characters including an angel who doesn't seem to have much purpose on earth other than bumming yet another cigarette and a

A homeless angel gets his cup of coffee from old widower.

dollar for a cup of coffee. Though only silicon puppets who suffer the limitations of stop-reposition-shoot, stop-reposition-shoot machinations, these characters do come to life because of the sensitive script and masterful voices, as well as top of the line animators. (On a petty note, all the figures' mouth shapes really annoyed me, even distracted me. I don't get what the director was going for.) The characters' problems are real, their feelings authentic; some solve them, others can't or won't. As for the title, $9.99 is the cost of a book which delineates the meaning of life. One of the characters buys and reads it, but his only comment while chuckling over the book was, "Aha, there are really 6 meanings of life." Rather cryptic, but little more was said about the book or it's contents. One point that may have been made by the film, and I'm only guessing, is that you might find the meaning of life in any book, even in one that describes how to swim like a dolphin. This is not a heavy handed or moralistic treatise on how to live one's life, but a glimpse into the lives of people just like us, people we know or are or love or overlook.

This is a poignant, tender, philosophical film that doesn't get soppy or corny. It's not for children since the angel is foul mouthed and there are a couple of nude sex scenes -- an animation frontier already crossed by "Team America: World Police" (2004) as well as the underground Barbie and Ken porn video made some years earlier. By the way, I couldn't find that film on IMDb.



Downloading Nancy (2008)
Director: Johan Renck
Writers: Pamela Cuming, Lee Ross
Cast: Maria Bello, Jason Patric, Rufus Sewell, Amy Brenneman
Time: 102 min.


Sometimes people are so damaged by their childhood experiences of sexual and emotional brutality that there's just no healing, there's no way to be among the living, there's only constant suffering and dreams of release to whatever the afterlife may bring. Christian heaven -- that may be too wonderful to hope for. Buddhist nothingness -- a welcome blessing. Having another chance through reincarnation is too scary -- "can't do this again."

A tender moment between Jason Patric and Maria Bello

So, don't misinterpret the title, "Downloading Nancy," as some cutesy, lite comedy about a computer generated girl or a dating service that brings our hero and heroine together. Nancy (Maria Bello), a self-mutilating, depressed married woman who only gets criticism and icy chills from her husband (Rufus Sewell), finds a chat room companion (Jason Patric) who is an ideal mate. He will sympathize with her, hurt her, kill her.

We also sympathize with Nancy. She's a lovely woman who not only couldn't defend herself against her uncle as a child nor convince her punishing mother she was telling the truth about him (all told to us by Nancy, relieving us of having to watch it in flashbacks), but her ensuing lack of self-esteem and inability to trust and love leads her to an unfulfilling marriage in which there is no sanctuary. We want her to heal, be well, learn to trust again. We place ourselves inside her therapist (Amy Bremmerman), trying so hard to be supportive and patient, to say the right things that will make Nancy realize that there is life after abuse.

We watch her and her husband have dinner at home, go to a business event, to go sleep. They have nothing to say to each other. Whatever has deteriorated their relationship over the years, it's work is done. Only polite bitterness and angst ridden outbursts are left. We meet her computer date and follow them through their evening together, hoping his common views, passion, compassion, respect will save her. We are on the edge through every moment of their time together. Will he hurt her, kill her, bring her back from her destitution to a desire to live? Though outwardly a quite film, my heart pounds through all of it. A point is reached where some of you give up on Nancy, others hope against hope she can get on a path to recovery. Then the film takes a sharp turn and the two men in Nancy's life, her husband a lover, confront each other. But it's not so much a thriller at this point as a psychological confrontation -- the "normal" husband who has no more patience or love for his wife opposing the "S/M sicko" who only wants to satisfy Nancy (and his own dark needs). Yes, this is a depressing movie. Why go see it? Americans like to escape at the movies, see mindless drivel, slapstick antics, cartoon-like violence, big orange explosions. I can only say this story is a realistic depiction of the suffering caused by abuse, and may strike a cord with many who suffer and those who love them. The cast, Bello, Sewell and Patric, are all consummate actors who handle this very difficult material with multi-layered subtlety.

It's obvious that both a woman and a man had to have written this film to get the perspectives of the characters so right on. I wouldn't have been surprised if Pamela Cuming and Lee Ross had gone through similar experiences. But, as the press notes explain, "both survived successful careers in front of audiences -- Cuming as an actor and playwright and Lee as a clown with Cirque du Soliel." They must have plumbed depths other than their own, and I'm relieved for them. And need I say the film is directed by a Swede, Johan Renck who enjoys a worldwide, very successful career in commercials and music clips, this being his feature film debut? This is a powerful, insightful, compassionate view of a suicidal woman. Enter at your own risk.


Departures (2008)
Director: Yojiro Takita
Writer: Kundo Koyama
Cast: Masahiro Motoki, Tzutomu Yamazaki, Ryoko Hirosue, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Kimiko Yo, Takashi Sasano

After having seen every episode of Six Feet Under and CSI, as well as the first season of Dexter, I didn’t think there was much more I could glean from a film about dealing with the dead. Sure, we’re taken to several body preparations, where, as customary in Japan, the family and friends witness the ritualistic ablutions, as opposed to the private, tile roomed basement of the American mortuary which includes embalming. And in a social context, people are even more uncomfortable being around a mortician in Japan than they are in the U.S. Our hero’s wife leaves him because of the stigma associated with preparing the dead. But this is more a story of a cellist who gives up his music career, moves back to his deceased mother’s town and house and takes the very well paying though highly distressing job.

Apprentice watches Mentor undress, wash and redress
a body in preparation for it's Departure without seeing any
skin and in front of assembled family and friends.

When our hero, Daigo (played by Masahiro Motoki), was 6 years old, his father abandoned him and his mother. It’s not so much that he never got over it as he wrote the man off and has continued on with his life. He’s married to a very sweet, patient and loving wife. Though the symphony he worked with was dissolved, he and his wife are making a go of it in his hometown with his new career which he tries to hide from her. His boss is the inscrutable Asian, wise and philosophical, saying little, imparting much (he’d make Pat Morita in his “Karate Kid” role proud). But over the course of his adjusting to his new career path, we question just how much his childhood may actually be effecting his present life.

This is a lovely film, verging on the overly sentimental -- a flock of swans punctuates the schmaltz. I’m a total sap for cello solos and there are a few very moving ones. Reverence for the dead, displayed in its various forms, plucks at our compassion and own sense of mortality. Bring a hankie -- one should suffice.

Changes from my previous experience with Japanese movies: The young couple’s apartment in Tokyo is spacious and well accoutered. How refreshing after all the shoe box, not to be confused with boot box, living spaces seen in most Japanese films. Their bed is above the floor, and includes a big mattress, fluffy pillows and voluminous comforter. The Japanese gave us the futon, a lumpy, heavy bed bug haven as revenge for losing WWII, but at least now they’re enjoying a good night’s sleep. By the way, I never saw a futon in a Japanese film. They usually sleep on straw mats with a sheet of rice paper covering their bodies, and a 2 x 4 under their heads. Ouch! And I’m not talking just historical Japanese films, but contemporary ones. In the office scenes, the secretary drinks tea English style with cup (with handle) and saucer and a strainer for the tea leaves. Now I know Japanese culture is dead. Incidentally, our mortician prepared bodies in pretty much the same way for all of his clients even though they practiced a variety of religions. Nice touch.


Little Ashes (2008)
Director: Paul Morrison
Writer, Co-Producer: Phillippa Goslett

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Javier Beltran, Matthew McNulty, Marina Gatell

I pride myself on having a lot of general knowledge. Like a textbook Gemini (if you can call a book on astrology a text book), I dabble and flit around lots of subjects, not specializing in anything. I am very familiar with Salvador Dali, his melted watch surrealism, his maternal relationship with his wife, his party-going in the 60’s in New York where I’d often ran into him. I know Garcia Lorca’s plays and fastidiously read through them looking for audition monologues I might use (never did; they were too depressing). I watched Luis Bunuel’s films, cut goat’s eye, cockroach sandwich and all. Yet I didn’t realize they all knew each other, went to art school together, and had evolving, tumultuous relationships. It was very elucidating and interesting learning about their relationships to each other and to their times in Spain. All three are formulating their art through painting, filmmaking and literature, tempered by each other’s influence, which runs the gamut from intellectual discourse through sexual passion, as well as their social environment, which includes social repression and the impending Spanish Civil War. Each takes a different path. This is not only historically informative, but beautifully shot and sensitively acted. I have to admit, I was not too happy seeing the civil war that decimated the population and ended in totalitarianism for the next 50 years depicted as a struggle for homosexual liberation. Yes, it was that, but so much more. The view was myopic and unbalanced. It is also very difficult to have a flowing, coherent film when covering a large time span. It often tends to turn

Even in 1922 Spain, life was
a Ralph Lauren ad.

significant moments into tableaus, sacrificing a flowing story line for salient moments which may even seem out of context. Unfortunately, I found much of this film jarring in its selection of what the writer and director decided where the brief moments to focus in on. And some scenes were just simply jarring. We see a tragedy taking place in the countryside, then jump to a bar in the city where friends are laughing and drinking, back to the countryside to see more of the tragedy, back to the bar where the friends are listening to a news report of the tragedy. They stand up, make a toast and cry. Huh?

“Little Ashes” hones in on three gifted men’s relationships, two of whom are lovers. They are historic figures tangled in dangerous political times. The choices they make in the face of political and social pressures inform us of who they are as men and well as artists. This is a flawed film with high artistic and biographic aspiration.


Blindness (2008)
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writers: Jose Saramago, Don McKellar
Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal, Yusuki Iseya, Don McKellar, Yoshino Kimura, Maury Chaykin

We don't know why certain people go blind, why everything goes white instead of black, the cause, the possible cures. That could have been interesting, like the original "Andromeda Strain"'s (1971, not 2008) search for a cure for an alien viral infection that might have decimated the earth. We don't learn about the development of cultures outside of the mainstream, as we did in "Lord of the Flies" (1963 and 1990). We empathize with the quarantined prisoners in A Block, but lack the true pathos inspired by so many Holocaust films, including "Schindler's List" (1993) or "Triumph of the Spirit" (1989). What

we have here is a situation in which people can either be good and helpful and cooperative or abusive and brutal. Yeah, I already knew that. Though the blind see white in this film, it is dark from the get go and only gets darker. The first person who goes blind is robbed by a passer-by, the government corals the blind only to treat them like diseased jetsam. I don't get it. What's the point? It's a "what if this happened?" movie without a pay off. There aren't even any good tips for survival except if you're in a blind world, it's good to have sight.

Of course, the whole cast does a great job with good dialogue. The small scene-to-scene moments are truthful and poignant. The larger picture of there-really-is-no-picture doesn't effect their skills. But you still walk out of the theater at the end saying "What was that?"


Elegy (2008)
Director: Isabel Coixet
Writer: Nicholas Meyer from the novel, “The Dying Animal”, by Philip Roth
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson, Dennis Hopper, Peter Sarsgaard
Rated: R
Running time: 108 minutes

“Elegy” traces the life cycle of a romance between an old, emotionally stunted college professor/cultural critic and a beautiful, young, intelligent woman. Okay, I’m bristling with irritation already.

Why does she do it? We don’t get too many answers to that question. Is it because he can give her a better grade? No. Since the establishment of sexual harassment laws, he knows better than to offer grades for favors. Instead, he throws a party in his apartment each year at end of term to make his selection among the coeds. And she is an A student anyway. Professors always pick A students to lessen their guilt. Is it because he’s handsome? A flat no to that! I don’t mean to insult Ben Kingsley, one of the finest actors of our time, just the character he portrays, David Kepesh. Kepesh covets his bit of fame, regularly appearing on TV talk shows, espousing the merits of living free, never marrying, and enjoying sex sans commitment with many partners. I always find such men unattractive. By the way, Kingsley also plays a dirty, old man in “The Wackness,” picking up teens and getting them drunk, screwing his gorgeous, much younger wife, played by Famke Janssen, and smoking dope incessantly. This is quite a year for Mr. Kingsley.

Kepesh is an unsympathetic, dispassionate man. The film is all about his perspective, his longings, his excuses, paranoia, jealousy, and many failings. Instead of a respectful study of an aging intellectual, this could be director Isabel Coixet's subtle revenge on the whole myth of older man/younger woman societal acceptability. It could be a warning to young, beautiful coeds across the country, and even the world, to not waste their time with losers wrapped in stately robes who promise intellectual and experiential rewards if the nubiles just quietly lay down. Then again, we might be able to find, very deeply rooted within him, the humanity and compassion he has found so inconvenient throughout most of his life.

Not that I didn’t indulge in my youth. My professors were in their 40's, not 60's, were chairman of the department; they introduced me to their friends, and I them to mine. One even offered to take me to Africa on a field study as an assistant, and secured my position in graduate school, both of which I politely declined. But we never loved each other; we enjoyed and respected each other. There may be a place for such men in a young woman's life. They’re a growing experience, not a life choice.

There is an honesty to this film that can only put Kingsley’s character in a bad light. We understand his motivations, his desperation, his neuroses. Yet, we remain firmly unsympathetic as long as he maintains his distance from other human beings. I was even unsatisfied with his relationship with the mature and sophisticated Patricia Clarkson character, Carolyn, a former student and now a successful businesswoman, who comfortably fits Kepesh into her life. They were much more equals and closer in age, but it is suggested that he taught her too well how to conduct a relationship -- all emotion was absent from their intimacy, leaving only convenient sex.

Speaking of sex, Cruz is naked for a lot of the movie, so get ready for the DVD, young men. And old men, you may feel you get some justification for your May December relationships, and you get to see Cruz naked a lot. So, this film should be a hit with you, too. Ladies, young and older (there are no old women), this is still a tender story of lovers, no matter their age difference, as well as observations of male friendship and father-son relationships. There should be a lot to talk about over wine after the film.

Still, I'm angry. When women who are 30 years or even 5 years older than their lovers aren’t called cougars, I’ll calm down. When there are as many older women/younger men in films as the reverse, especially without commentary or judgment, I’ll calm down.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Co-Story, Screenplay, Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Co-Story: Mike Mignola
Cast: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Ann Walton, Jeffrey Tambor, John Hurt
1 hour 50 minutes
PG 13

Talk about being a minority; just as Kermit complained "it's not easy being green," it's even harder being red. And really, that's a major theme in this film. Unlike the mutants in X-Men, Hellboy and his cohort Abe, can't pass. When you see them on the street, you know they're there and you'd probably think they shouldn't be. And even if they're saving humanity from underworldly beings hell bent on eradicating from this tortured earth the ravages of wasteful, greedy, selfish mankind, not only is there no thanks, but they're subjected to outright antagonism. This time, Red is asked to make a choice -- beings like him who fester under the east end of the Brooklyn Bridge and Northern Ireland or the people who throw rocks at him. Hmmmm.

The film starts with a flashback to Hellboy's youth with John Hurt as Father telling his boy a story. The tale, and the whole film, written by del Toro and Mignola (Hellboy comic book creator), is comparable to any of Tolkein's in atmosphere, creatures, and scope. It is the basis of the present day plot: the elf king's peace treaty with humans that has lasted thousands of years will be broken by his princely son and the golden army of giant, indestructible, mechanical soldiers will end humanity. Hellboy to the rescue! Aided by his girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and water creature Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), and possibly hindered by CIA Agent Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) and supervisor Johann Krauss (two s's, like SS), Red (Ron Perlman) is conflicted about destroying these creatures who are more akin to him than his allies are.

The creatures created by de Toro are obviously cousins to those we met in Pan's Labyrinth - the elves (made-up actors), the tooth fairies (his beloved insects), and the assorted monsters, goblins and inhabitants of a long ago world which didn't disappear, but only went underground). There is so much low tech fighting between all sorts of assorted creatures, but always including Red, that I became burnt out by the cartoonish violence, even the high speed sword aikido moves by Prince Nuada. Solutions to what seemed doomed situations were ingenious and unexpected, though.

Ultimately, the winning charm and humor of Hellboy himself is what makes this cartoon-character-come-to-the-screen a superior offering in the genre. I admit it, I love Hellboy. He's masculine in the most essential ways. If you met him at a party, his first topic of conversation would be the route you took to get to there. He wants to watch his ball game on TV on Sunday. He enjoys a good cigar. And he doesn't understand why his girlfriend is angry at him, but he does know that asking is the wrong thing to do. And let us not forget his impressive, ochre, etched physique. Hellboy is such a guy! Where Superman is an alien posing as a patriotic American, Batman and Ironman are far to cosmopolitan and rich, the Hulk is a scientist with lofty thoughts and ideals, Hellboy is blue collar to the core. He solves problems with a big fist and a bigger gun with coke bottle sized bullets. There's nothing elegant about his solutions, just forceful, and he yells at his combatants like misbehaved dogs: "Now, stay down!" Between the beauty of the sets, the fascinating, otherworldly characters and the down home suburban attitude of our hero, I'm ready for Hellboy III. Bring it on!

Hancock (2008)
Director: Peter Berg
Writers: Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan
Cast: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman
Rated: PG13
92 min.

Hancock is a perfect name for a man suffering from amnesia. The nurse at the hospital where he was treated for a cracked skull and the ensuing amnesia asks him to put his John Hancock on the release papers and that’s just what he does -- a refreshing change from Doe. The odd thing about this Hancock is that the amnesia started 80 years ago and he hasn’t aged a day in all that time, and he can fly, and nothing can penetrate his skin, and he’s very strong.

This is a new and original take on the superhero, in this case, reluctant, anti-social and alcoholic. And he makes an awful mess when he goes about saving people in his usual booze-addled way. L.A. city government is thinking the cost is too high for the lives he saves - torn up streets, severely damaged skyscrapers, dozens of cars, many police vehicles, totaled. Hancock may only be liked by the few individuals he saves and hated by tax payers, police, politicians and the felons he apprehends.

I would have liked to understand why this gifted man stooped to the alcoholic depths to which he succumbed, but that’s asking too much of an action flick. It’s enough that he feels isolated due to his amnesia and super powers. Actually, Wolverine from “The X-Men” also suffers from amnesia and is anti-social. So, perhaps Hancock is not so unique. Except he’s black.

Years ago, Robert Townsend of “Hollywood Shuffle” fame once told me he was very disappointed because there were no black superheros. A black superhero would be a giant step in a more equally represented society and give a solid role model to black children. There was Damon Wayans “Blankman,” and in 1993, Robert Townsend fulfilled his dream by writing, directing and starring in “Meteorman.” There’s also Halle Berry’s Storm in “The X-Men” series -- strong, independent, fighting for right, but with the smallest part and no storyline of her own.

Now the biggest summer blockbuster star, Will Smith, gets the budget necessary to bring a black superhero to the fore. The world will finalize recognize, appreciate and add to the pantheon of superheros a black man! Hallelujah and amen.

Just having Will Smith portray the superhero in a megabuck summer blockbuster gives a bit of immortality to Hancock. Hancock will not soon be forgotten as were his brother predecessors. Probably only “Wild, Wild West,” out of all Will Smith films will be forgotten. Not a bad record. So, now Robert Townsend can rest easy. Sure, Hancock is a social misfit, blunderer and loser at the beginning of the film, but you must surmise he will do himself proud by the end. It is a Hollywood film.

What makes this superhero different from all the other superheros is not that he is black, as discussed above, but that he is a street drunk and a__hole (we are told many times) who lives in a double wide out in the desert (no fortress of solitude). I was a little uneasy with this interpretation of what a black superhero would be. Is this veracity in film, ethnic imperative, bias by the screenwriters, or reflection of our culture? Maybe I shouldn’t delve too deep into the superficial subtext and just enjoy the film.

I hate to give away any more of the plot than what’s shown in the previews and commercials. I was very surprised by the turn of events in the film and wouldn’t want to ruin it for you. Suffice it to say Academy Award winner Charlize Theron is not about to just play the wife of the guy who befriends Hancock and tries to straighten him out. Her career is still big enough to warrant serious plot play, and she does get second billing in the credits. So, do not dismiss her. Hint, hint.

Wanted (2008)
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Writer: Chris Morgan
Cast: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp

The release of this film couldn’t have been more poorly timed. Now that the federal government is confirming everybody’s right to own a gun, James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie are making guns look indispensable to being cool and having a good time. McAvoy’s character can finally leave his deadening office job to be trained in assassinhood - which includes constant beatings, wax baths, and shooting curved trajectories around carcasses.

Other than the joy of shooting people through the head (either entry or exit through the forehead with accompanying slow-mo spatter), there is no point to this film. It is mean and violent in its relentless slaughter of people for no apparent reason -- the assassins (a cool term for serial killers) vow to remain ignorant to why victims are chosen - obediently taking instructions from the warp and woof of cloth - or Morgan Freeman, the man who interprets it.

We get to see Jolie eat several times, which is refreshing. And her lips have obviously been given a rest from constant injections from the level of overripe cherries about to burst to looking almost like those of a normal human being. Again, refreshing. She stares and smiles knowingly, and drapes herself over car hoods and subway roofs to get a better shot at renegade killers (as opposed to obedient killers). The shame of it is that when Jolie makes a good film, like “A Mighty Heart,” nobody goes to see it. Who can blame her for at least making money as a star in lieu of receiving recognition for being a great actress?

Still, this film will strike a cord for addicted violent video gamers, mercenaries, would-be serial killers, and .... serial killers. And since the film was shot mostly in Eastern Europe, “no animals were harmed in the making of this film” is not mandatory or adhered to. No film is worth abusing even one rat, especially this film. There were cut aways between shots of the rats running around with little bombs attached to them and the explosions, but still, this film isn’t worth it.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Director: Louis LeTerrier

Writers: Zak Pen, Edward Norton from the Marvel comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth, Ty Burrell
Rated: PG13

The Hulk, either incredible or prosaic, is all about anger, rage and violence. That’s it. That’s what the audience, rich in testosterone, is lining up to see. Bruce Banner hiding out in Brazil and studying local marshall arts and diaphragm breathing to control his anger is going to get nowhere in his attempt to stop his “incidents” of hulkiness. If it did help him control is anger, rage and violence, you’d be watching an American version of “Dalai Lama Renaissance.” Also, there is absolutely no point in fettering the movie with plot. So, here’s the plot: The U.S. Army is going after Bruce Banner who is hiding from it. The extended plot would add the line: One of the soldiers wants some of the juice Hulk is on and gets it.

The contrast between the Hulk and his non-pumped counterpart is brought into sharper relief than ever. Edward Norton is truly the guy the other guys kick sand in the face of (pardon my grammar). Actually, so is his nemesis, Emil Bronsky played buy ever-so-slight-of-stature Tim Roth. No Eric Bana this time, just one slap in the face away from becoming the Hulk; even Bana’s facial features were still distinct in the green giant.

Now, the change from nerd to super hero makes one completely unrecognizable from the other. The secret formula which went awry in the original experiment is becoming more obvious in nature. It could be nothing but radiated steroids - huge muscles, anger, lack of judgment. All the telltale signs of steroid abuse (or roid rage) are evident. And it makes me kind of sad that this super hero who will capture the minds, hearts and dollars of our youth for the next few weeks is a once-intelligent, sensitive scientist who has turned into a mindless brute with a syringe full of drugs. Not so different from almost all of today’s heroes in the sports fields. Check out “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” for the lowdown on the prevalence of steroids in all sports.

Some standout scenes: a tender moment between the Hulk and his gal, Betty Ross, played by Liv Tyler, reminiscent of the mountain top eerie scene in all the “King Kong”s; a Dr. Frankenstein moment, complete with monster strapped on table, lots of scientific equipment with widgets and dials, raving scientist, and the added attraction of Liv jumping on the monster for a ride while screaming instructions to the monster to focus and to the doctor to inject more drugs. This was perhaps my favorite moment in the film. The scene where the Hulk confronts the Army on a college campus (symbolic significance?) harks back to the 50's when little toy tanks bombarded the various vintage monsters with bullets, then bigger bullets, then little bombs, then bigger bombs, then super weapons. Some things never change and perhaps shouldn’t. If the latest generation hasn’t seen the Japanese Godzilla films or the American radiated ants, spiders, or giant woman movies of the 50's, they will find this fresh and fun. The denouement is just a bout from WWF. Like many other scenes in this film, it is far to violent for children. Making the veins swell, the skin go taut, red/green and shiny with the strain and pain of the fight, only adds to the overall effect. The boys in the audience were silent and rapt in the agonizing battle. This is a true indication that The Hulk hits the mark. Know what you’re in for - just lots of violence. Have fun.

Dalai Lama Renaissance (2008)
Producer/Director: Khashyar Darvich
81 minutes

On the face of it, this is a documentary about a group of 40 innovative Western thinkers who come together under the banner of Synthesis to help the Dalai Lama solve the problems of the world. Really! And who are these people? Having seen this film, I still don’t know who they are. Sure, their names come up on the bottom third of the screen and probably a lot of people in their fields know and respect them, but in their positions today in world society, can they even influence those who have power? We have the publisher of Yes! magazine, not Time magazine. We have a theoretical scientist who is not Stephen Hawking or anyone who has won a Nobel prize. I was hoping to see a CEO who has turned green after a trip to the Arctic and has seen the error of his ways. Maybe a political advisor who has the ear of powerful public figures… But no. Even if this group came up with some good ideas, they couldn’t possibly effect change. And that is what bothers me about all Think Tanks. I’m sure all the world’s ills have been put to bed in theory, but people in power don’t want to hear about it and certainly won’t act upon them.

This brings me to my next point - hubris. Not to disparage this group of notable thinkers, and I say this with compassion. The idea is that when 40 really smart people from various disciplines like eastern and western religious studies, biology, philosophy, publishing, writing, etc., get together, their total will be greater than the sum of their parts. To imagine that any 40 people can solve the world’s problems in 5 days is, I repeat, hubris. Instead, we get to watch “big egos as fragile as egg shells.” By the end of the first day, they’re arguing over the hierarchy of the group and the structure and format imposed by the facilitators. It seems the loudest contributors get the most said. By the way, no one has yet to mention what the problems specifically are or what the questions should be answered. I never heard the words: greenhouse effect, totalitarianism, hunger, disease, greed. Days pass in varying degrees of conflict. When they get tired of talking about solutions to problems they haven’t yet defined, they argue over who gets to talk directly with the Dalai Lama. After all, they’ve all come a long way and don’t want to leave without at least voice-to-voice contact with His Holiness.

Fortunately, during these long, tedious conflicts, we get to hear wonderful Tibetan music, see traditional dances, wallow in the gorgeous vistas of this area, and familiarize ourselves with the culture of this exiled population.

Okay, finally there’s a meeting with the Synthesis group and the Dalai Lama. A couple of proposals are made: let’s boycott all Chinese products until Tibet is back in the hands of the Tibetans; let’s all fight evil in the world with the Dalai Lama as our leader. Let me just say, till this point, I was a little concerned about His Holiness. Everybody was commenting on how he is a great man, perhaps the true reincarnation of the XIII Dalai Lama and all those who preceded him, a true spiritual leader. And we get some archival footage of Himself going back to childhood, his escape from Tibet during the Chinese invasion in 1959, and his appearances throughout the world since. But what I saw in this film was a modest, “simple monk,” as he calls himself, who seemed to laugh far too much and perhaps inappropriately.

So, you think I myself have the hubris to criticize the XIV Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people? Perhaps you think I have given away too much about the film? No, no, little grasshopper. The Dalai Lama is, I believe, the true incarnation of the Laughing Buddha. He doesn’t care what this group, or any of the other groups he has invited to Dharamsala in Northern India under the pretext of asking for advice, has to say. They couldn’t be more incorrect, and he knew they would be. They all have been. They should have known it was a trick when he asked them to help solve the problems of the world. Sure sounds as vague, as all-encompassing and as unanswerable as “What is the mean of life, the universe and everything?” I have no doubt that His Holiness is a fan of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Obviously, what drives these Synthesis people is their egos and not their common sense or smarts.

He brings them to his eerie in the Himalayans to have an audience with him so that he may speak to them. Narrator Harrison Ford gives us the clue with this quote: “Every man wants to change the world, but no man wants to change himself.” And that is what this enlightening film is about. Of course, the Dalai Lama (which means Ocean of Wisdom) laughs all the time -- he is the trickster. You go pay to see this movie and be graced by an audience with His Holiness, and like all who have come to him to offer their wisdom, carry away his, instead. Spread his words. He already has the answers. After all, he is the Bodhisattva of Compassion and he won the Nobel Prize for Peace. Who would know better how to solve the world’s problems?

Note: This film is narrated by Harrison Ford. I couldn’t help but notice the conspicuous absence of Richard Gere. What could this mean?

Speed Racer (2008)
Directors/Writers: Larry Wachowski, Andy Wachowski
Cast Emile Hirsch, Susan Sarandon, John Goodman, Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox, Hiroyuki Sanada (more)
Running Time 129 minutes
Rating PG - for sequences of action, some violence and language

Let’s not bother talking about a plot. Who cares? There’s some strife, there are several bad guys who keep the hero and his family hopping, and there are races and races and races. Yes, the effects are spectacular and the actors fit into the background seamlessly. The races are so fast, I can’t tell what’s happening, but Speed Racer’s car is the only white one, so it’s easy to keep track of it.

Please please -- don’t try this at home or in real life. These races are more like demolition derbies, with constant crashes, and lots of dead drivers, though we never seen any. They blow up, they are pushed off cliffs, they simply disappear! And the turns are so acute and numerous that the cars skid sideways more than they drive head first. Nobody’s watching out for rule infractions like James-Bondesque propellers coming out of wheels to shred opponents tires. Cars even pop up into the air with hydraulic pumps so they can avoid some of the crashes and stay in the race. It kind of brings out my old lady instincts and I worry about the testosterone-filled boys with driver’s licenses still warm from the printers taking their dad’s cars out for a spin a la Speed.

The acting, rightfully, is at about the same level as the original kids’ Saturday morning cartoon. Nice to see Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), John Goodman (Barton Fink), Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking), and Christina Ricci (Monster), but it’s obvious they are all overqualified and wasted on this special effects extravaganza. They must have been tempted by really big bucks (resistance to temptation of really big bucks being the moral of the film). Oh, the irony. It’s not as if it’s fun making believe your driving real fast or watching someone driving real fast in a green room. But admittedly, it sure was fun to watch.

Then She Found Me (2008)
Director: Helen Hunt
Writers: Helen Hunt, Victor Levin, Alice Arlen
Cast: Helen Hunt, Matthew Broderick, Colin Firth, Bette Midler, Ben Shankman, Salman Rushdie
Time: 100 min.
Rated: R

There is always the risk when delving into the lives of women that the stories turn into soap operas or Lifetime movies. Once-prime-time stars and starlets past their primes find the only work now available involves plots in which, without warning, a husband leaves, almost always for a younger woman (though not in this case), our heroine can’t have a child or looses one, she finds her birth parent and has to adjust to this new personality she feels ambivalent towards, a new and perfect man intrudes upon her misery with passionate and politically correct, if not unconditional, love. So, I sat in the theater, arms folded across my chest, chin thrust forward with an attitude of “do better than that or go directly to cable!”

What saves this film is really good portrayals by all the stars of charming personalities who are intelligent and witty. This is not a roller coaster ride, but a jaunt, a stroll, if you please, through a portion of a very nice lady’s life. Stability crumbles with painful disappointments and exhilarating new opportunities. This is how life goes, usually not all within a few short weeks, but movies tend to condense experiences. I care about April, played by Helen Hunt. I’m

glad her husband, Ben, played by Matthew Broderick, leaves her because his body is soft and he’s whiney. Also, if he didn’t, we’d be stuck with a sitcom very reminiscent of “Mad About You.” I like Frank, the love interest played by Colin Firth, who can smell abandonment and zooms in on April the very first time he sees her after her husband leaves her. He also has very broad shoulders. I presume he saw her every day he dropped his children off at school and neither he nor she had ever noticed each other before. And the inimitable Bette Midler as Bernice, the daytime talk show host and April’s birth mother swooping once she knows April’s adoptive mother has died, is insufferable and exciting. She is the energy in the film. It was enjoyable to be with them for 100 minutes. It was safe and even relaxing to spy on April’s life.

Helen Hunt, always the love interest, the lead’s understanding help mate, the mother of the exception child, the constant and common sense of so many films in the last decade, has finally taken the reigns of her career now that she is of a certain age. She directs, co-produces, writes the screenplay for “Then She Found Me,” based on the novel by Elinor Lipman, and stars as a 21st Century Pauline, facing the perils so many women of our generation have to deal with: abandonment, the desire to have a child, mid-life dating, adoption and reconciliation with parents. There are no great insights here, no edge-of-your-seat moments, no guffaws, one tear (on my part).

This is the fodder of “women’s networks,” minus the disease, abusive husband, kidnappings, and revenge. This film is not out to do anything but show the daily occurrences in the life of an ordinary woman, a kindergarten teacher trying to have a family. The question is: is this an entertaining gimps or a boring rehash of what we all already know? Don’t believe Leonard Maltin who says men will like this movie. Don’t drag them kicking and screaming into the theater. Go with your girlfriends.

Note: I like the use of religion in this film. April was adopted into a practicing Jewish home and carries on the traditions of prayer, Shabbat and other religious observances. She’s not orthodox, she’s not kosher, but she doesn’t forget God in her daily life. So, now I know adoption is sufficient for conversion. Will she raise her child in the same faith?
Another Note speaking of religion: Nice to see Salman Rushdie playing the obstetrician / fertility specialist. How liberating not to be on a religious fanatic’s death list and being able to widen his career choices.

My Blueberry Nights (2008)
Director: Kar-Wai Wong
Writers: Kar-Wai Wong, Lawrence Block
Cast: Norah Jones, Jude Law, David Strathairn, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz
90 minutes
Rate: PG13

Love hurts -- in each person a different way. Blueberry Nights tenderly and respectfully explores the many forms taken by broken hearts. A young woman finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her; she goes to their favorite cafe where he’s seen on a surveillance tape dining with a new love. She adds her keys to a fishbowl of keys on the café counter, all waiting to be taken back, but only left behind like the people they represent. The cafe owner patiently waits for his love to return. When asked why he doesn’t search for her, he says, “My mother taught me that if I ever get lost I should stay where I am and I’ll be found again.” A cop drinks to forget, always promising this is his last night of drunkenness. A gambling woman can’t forgive her father even when she’s told he’s dying.

And what does it take for these shattered, damaged, love sick, people to start again, if they can at all? Some take a road trip, some love again, some can’t. All these characters are noble in their own ways, all tragic, and some hopeful. Cold hearted as I am -- dare I say it -- I felt their pain. No, I can’t say it. I empathized! Yet, I was not depressed by this exploration of losers at love. I felt sublimely touched.

Great performances by David Straithern and Natalie Portman. Solid performances by Jude Law and Norah Jones in her first film role. Rachel Weisz showed a whole new level of acting in her career -- intense and seductive.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Writers: David Magee, Simon Beaufoy
Cast: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Lee Pace, Ciaran Hinds Shirley Henderson, Mark Strong
Rated: PG13

I’ve thought a lot about why I enjoyed this film so much and yet was so terribly disappointed by “These Foolish Things,” which came out earlier last here. They’re both about a young girl coming to London to become a stage star. They both take place very shortly before WWII begins. Both girls have three suitors and must choose one. But the differences are even more telling than the similarities.

“TFT” takes itself seriously in recreating a genre that was romantic and entertaining 60 years ago, loosing all freshness in the rehashing. “MP” fondly revisits the genre with wit and a unique British aplomb. Where Zoe Tapper’s young girl in “TFT” is sincere, virginal, and droll, Amy Adams’ ingénue is feisty, sexually indiscriminate, bubbly and contrite. You’d be hard put to separate them by physical appearance in a line up, but happy to spend some time with frenetic Amy while finding Zoe soporific.

Seeing Adams draped in a towel like Venus on the Halfshell by Botticelli, with accompanying seascape as the mural on her bathroom wall is priceless. Amy telling Miss Pettigrew she simply can’t turn away the next suitor coming to her door because it’s his apartment is riotous and unexpected. And Shirley Henderson as the vituperous (literally) fashion designer with a voice that hisses more than speaks is mesmerizing.

Least we forget, Frances McDormand, as the straight-laced nanny who keeps loosing her jobs because she can’t abide the habits of her charges’ parents’, is the true centerpiece of the film. McDormand plays Pettigrew as a quiet, downtrodden, hard on her luck, out of work woman who desperately needs to eat something. She takes the job of a social secretary for Amy Adams’ Delysia Lafosse and in one day of employment she has more life changing and appearance changing experiences, more fun and deepest lows of her life. And through it all, she never loses her composure. We are fortunate to take this wild ride with her.

I have the sneaking suspicion that costume designer Michael O’Connor was rummaging around a schlock shop in London and found a treasure trove of circa 1930 ladies under garments. Upon his showing the underwear to writers David Magee and Simon Beaufoy, they were inspired to write the screenplay for the movie. It just seems like the core, or whalebone, of the film upon which all else is draped. References to “unmentionables” are spiced throughout -- we even go to a ladies foundation fashion show. Lafosse constantly shows off her underclothes between the many wardrobe changes. Cieran Hinds, who plays a bra designer, says he much prefers the honesty of men’s haberdashery! What fun!


Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? ( 2008)
Directed by Morgan Spurlock
Cameraman: Daniel Marracino
90 min.
Rated: PG

Think Spurlock is going to find Osama when all the resources of the United States couldn’t (that is, if they really wanted to)? Think he’d live to tell the tale? Duh. This film turns out to be a travelogue through several countries in the East. I have to admit, I am confused about which East. I think everybody agrees that the Far East includes China, Japan, Mongolia and Korea. When I was in school what is now called the Middle East was the Near East. I guess it’s moved further away now. He goes to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel/Palestine, Morocco, and Jordan, all what I learned back in the day were Near East countries. All these countries are significant in Bin Laden’s past. Spurlock even explores the caves of Afghanistan and treks into Pakistan, which all fingers point (literally) to as the final destination. By the way, I learned the Middle East was Pakistan, India, Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Burma, and Biafra. Check a map.

The cinematography was stunning, especially considering it was all done by one journalistic-type cameraman, Daniel Marracino. I’m sure he never forgot that Spurlock, while in terrorist training before leaving on his bounty-hunting tour ($25 million for Bin Laden dead or alive ) was taught to say in Farsi, “Don’t kill me. Kill the cameraman!”

Along the way, Spurlock interviews many Muslims, all intelligent, charming, calm, lucid. Some are poverty stricken, some middle class, some educators and some government representatives. He approaches people on the street and makes appointments with officials None are suicide bombers, none call him heathen infidel and attack him with a saber. Almost all say they hate the government of the United States, but they don’t hate the people. Occasionally, we get the anti-American viewpoint, in response to which Spurlock looks pensive and contrite. Almost all reassure us viewers that they’re good people, just like us, who want to live in peace, who pray to the same God as Christians and Jews, who interpret the Koran as a peace loving doctrine that preaches love of ALL people as the children of God. I believe we got the majority opinion, if not representatives of the terrorist side. I couldn’t help wonder what was left on the cutting room floor.

If this film takes the pressure off Muslims in this country while seeking true solutions to the conflict, it’s more than done its job. Spurlock keeps the tempo fast and the jaunt fun and positive. You can’t ask more of one lone hero.


Vantage Point (2008)
Director: Pete Travis
Writer: Barry L. Levy
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Zoe Saldana

The President of the United States (William Hurt), or POTUS (first heard in the first episode of “The West Wing”), attends a meeting of Western and Arab nation heads of state whose goal is to put an end to terrorism. A public meeting takes place in a large square in Salamanca, Spain. How could terrorists not make a point of targeting this event? The President is shot, a thud is heard in the distance, and then a bomb goes off in the square. Chaos ensues. This is the opening scene of “Vantage Point.” Then the scene is rewound and played again, this time instead of from the perspective of the network television director (Sigourney Weaver) situated in van just outside the square, to that of Secret Service Agent (Dennis Quaid). This film plays much like an episode of “24" constantly being rewound, each time from a different player’s perspective, each time delving deeper into the workings of the conspiracy, each time going a bit further into the future to see what happens after the initial event.

It all matches up; it all makes sense. I’m sure this was a very difficult feat for an American production in which details that make a plot coherent are usually sacrificed during the constant rewrites and acquiescences to demands of various producers and stars during shooting. The only thing that didn’t make sense, an obvious requirement of all big budget action thrillers, was the long, long, long car chase scene. Must have taken at least 10 minutes because it felt like 20. And wuss that I am, I was concerned about bystanders getting hurt through all of it. At the end of the chase, we find via an aerial shot, that the whole chase took about 3 blocks.

For the actionophiles out there, this will more than satisfy -- it’s fast and bloody. Or if you like to think during a film, it’s interesting to see the different levels of the plot unfold, to watch characters who seemed good turn evil and who seemed evil turn good - or both reveal their true allegiances. That any of the characters have a past or are family or relationships is just icing on the cake. Who cares? This is an action driven Rubik’s cube and the little colored pieces are flashing before our eyes. We’re busy. The camera moves won’t make you nauseous even though much of it is from the perspective of tourist Forest Whitaker’s little camera and news cameramen running for their lives. What did make me nauseous was the final low angel shot of Quaid looking so noble and patriotic - smarmy. And from now on, we’ll all look at our President at public functions differently and much more closely.

A few questions I wouldn’t mind having answered after you’ve seen the film:
Why did that guy talk to Whitaker in the plaza?
Why didn’t the NSA always believe the President appearing in a public square during an anti-terrorist meeting of heads of state was a high risk situation?
Why did the terrorists do what they did to the president (can’t say -- that would be giving it away)?

The Other Boleyn Girl
Director: Justin Chadwick
Writer: Peter Morgan
From the book by Philippa Gregory
Cast Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Kriston Scott Thomas
Rated: PG

I checked with Wikipedia to see how much author Philippa Gregory had played with history for her book “The Other Boleyn Girl”. I had never heard of Ann Boleyn’s sister Mary before. I had heard of Henry VIII’s second wife who, like his first wife, could not bear him a son even though her offspring would eventually become Elizabeth I, whose films credits far exceed even Abraham Lincoln’s (and I’m not referring to cameo appearances, but real lead roles). I knew that to be able to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, he had to break with the Church of Rome and create a new religion, the Church of England, which came in handy later on. I knew Ann was beheaded on trumped up charges of treason so he could get rid of her and move on to his next bride, Jane Seymour, still hoping for a male heir.

This much historic background made watching these characters interplay on a vivid canvas more interesting and involving. But Wikipedia said Mary Boleyn’s affair was over long before her son from her marriage was born. So, it seems that competition between sisters is more metaphorical than actual. Still, it was intriguing watching the two loving sisters being jockeyed by their father and uncle to fill the void in Henry’s life when he found out his wife “no longer bled,” meaning she was past child bearing age. These girls were thrust into the political turmoil of life at the castle, being taken, one eagerly, the other with some resistance, from their idyllic country home, to strut before the king like cats in heat. The tides of the king’s affections were as changing and almost as often as the tides at the seashore. With his favor could come honor, title, lands and great accommodations at the castle; when angered, all could be lost, even one’s head. So, the stakes were high.

This is a tale about the lack of power among women (at least till the next generation of Elizabeth’s rule - well, she ruled, but I don’t think she gave any rights to women in her reign) and how those who overstep invisible lines are punished. This is a tale about parents using their children to jockey for more favorable positions in the mercurial atmosphere of the halls of power. This is a story about two late Medieval sisters obeying their parents and the king, trying to maintain their status and perhaps even advance to the detriment of their relationships with each other and the people they loved.

We don’t get to see the world of politics and the affairs of royalty in the international arena as we had in Cate Blanchett’s and other’s renditions of Elizabeth. This is the girls’ perspective of life in the royal court. Also, I believe the British Empire surged in size and complexity with the discovery of the Americas and world exploration that started in 1942 and increased in the late 16th Century, after Henry and during Elizabeth’s reign.

Portman and Johansson played the English sisters (both with just passing English accents), but powerfully and convincingly. Eric Bana played the easily the most attractive Henry, who actually was a glutton and died of a burst stomach, looking much more like Charles Laughton (see “The Private Life of Henry VIII” 1933). Bana sure made it more believable that the sisters would betray each other for his love. I also now more clearly understand the accusation of treason and Anne’s motivations behind her actions.

This is a sexy, lavish, interesting and insightful look into the lives of royalty and their hangers on. It’s subtle; only a woman could have described the changes in heart and actions that take place in these sisters -- between them and towards the king, and by the way, the frustration of their mother (played by Kirsten Scott Thomas) with no power to stop the oncoming tragedy.

Definitely, Maybe (2008)
Director/Writer: Adam Brooks
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Isla Fisher, Derek Luke, Abigail Breslin, Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks

Rated: PG13

I was uncomfortable watching “Definitely, Maybe,” but couldn’t exactly put my finger on what was troubling me. Then it hit me -- every child wants to believe that (in this case) her parents were made for each other, were deeply in love, and she was the product of this perfect union. They may not be able to verbalize it this clearly, but everybody wants his/her parents to have been made for each other. It is difficult enough dealing with the conflict between this idea and one’s parents divorcing, but “Definitely, Maybe”’s premise really throws a neurotic-producing wrench into the work.

When Abigail Breslin as the daughter asks her dad, played by Ryan Reynolds, to tell her how he and her mom got to be married, hoping telling the story will rekindle his love for her mom, she gets (what would be for me) the most devastating news imaginable. Dad was in love with three women and he retells these relationships to his daughter, leaving out only the sex. And she can’t even guess which one turns out to be her mom. Seems none of his descriptions of the women he would select a wife from (and eventually divorce) are recognizable to Abigail. What would a therapist think of all this? What will the repercussions to the child be? I can see her as an adult refusing to marry some guy who really loves her, telling him that if not him, someone else. It doesn’t matter. Relationships are so transient, interchangeable, ultimately doomed. Hell, my parents loved each other from the moment their eyes met on Rockaway Beach Boardwalk till the day they died and I feel the same way as this imaginary, neurotically tortured soul. This kid hasn’t got a chance.

Fathers, be warned. Never do this to your child. Never tell her you loved other women just as much, maybe more, than her mother. That’s just plain stupid. But to director/writer Adam Brooks’ credit, he made the three women interesting. No real stereotypes, though verging on them: one is the hometown girl who was engaged to dad before he left home to build a career in politics; one was the left wing, independent thinking, best friend; one was the liberated, career minded journalist, respectively Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, and Rachel Weisz. We follow all three relationships over several years, waxing and waning and ending. It’s amazing he got married at all.

It has a glossy, superficial feel typical of Hollywood films. Once Abigail realizes dad really did make a detour marrying mom, she is upset for a moment instead of needing therapy 3 times a week for the rest of her life. Emotional levels never exceed 6 out of 10, not even when dad goes through a rough patch in which he grows a 5 o’clock shadow. It’s all easily digestible, making it a nice Valentine’s Day date flick.

There is an honestly about people falling in love more than once before finding the spouse or the one. We really never see it in the movies, and this perspective is refreshing. How many of us have ended up with the one we started with (outside of Mormons and Amish)? And it’s true that even after finding the spouse, over 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Kind of takes the significance out of falling in love -- and nice attempting to show it in a film. But don’t show it to you children!


Big Man Japan (2007)
Director/co-writer: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Co-writer: Mitsuyoshi Takasu
Cast: Hitashi Matsumoto, Riki Takeuchi, Ua, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Haruka Unabara, Takayuki Haranishi
Rated: PG 13
Time: 113 minutes

Of course, "Big Man Japan" will be compared to "Hancock," the Will Smith vehicle about a socially inept, reluctant and ostracized super hero. Daisato, who comes from a line of super heroes, he being the sixth, does not enjoy the renown, adoration or wealth that his forebears did. It is suggested the line began due to the radiation from the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We don't really learn why Daisato is so scorned. I'm sure all super heroes fighting monsters in Japan racked up as much collateral damage as Daisato does. But these days, the populace is fed up with the mess, the loss of wild birds, and the havoc caused when Daisato does his government sanction and paid job.

Technology takes a giant leap back for fun, sentimentality, tradition?

What's interesting about "Big Man Japan"'s approach is it uses the mockumentary format, which even includes archival footage. An off-camera voice tentatively asks questions of the hero who looks more like a dejected, homeless man. He answers slowly, carefully, and often only revealing part truths if any at all. While he is interviewed, rocks from angry neighbors crash through the windows of his less than modest abode. He doesn't even notice since he is so used to the abuse by the public. If he is not considered an unwanted pariah, he is anonymous. The local chef where Daisato eats 3 times a week doesn't even know who he is. The people on the street who are asked their opinion of him are very convincingly realistic and all their responses about him are negative. It's the authenticity and realism of this "documentary" that adds so much humor to it. It's dry, straightforward and hysterical. His family life; his relationship with his employer, the Department of Defense; his tribulations with his agent and her insistence he wear brand names for advertising revenue; his childhood -- all are explored. We sympathize, but we can't help laughing.

The most fun in the film is watching Daisato battle the myriad of monstrous creatures. With advances in special effects technology, those fights in the obvious cardboard skyscraper sets of urban Japan are no longer confined to men in rubber outfits of T-Rexs or gorillas. The threatening creatures and Daisato himself are computer creations of humorous imagination though the sets are still as flimsy and fake as ever -- this time intentional since they are software created. In one scene Daisato picks up a truck and throws it at a monster. It sounds like a plastic toy. I assume this is a sentimental tribute to the traditional monster movies of Japan which started with the best, "Godzilla."

Still, much of the film is very, very slow -- from Daisato's speech which belies how rarely he converses with anyone to his walking down the street to get to his house or a power station to get charged up for a battle. The electrical charges change him from a meek, mild mannered, middle-aged man to a multi-storied tall, pudgy, stick wielding protector of Japan. Also, the last 20 minutes of the film make absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. Why introduce characters that aren't supposed to exist anymore per earlier discussion in the film? And the long, drawn out bickering through the credits was repetitious and annoying. If you do see "Big Man Japan," know that there is nothing worth waiting for during or after the credits. It will just ruin the good feelings you may have for the film.

Forbidden Lie$
Documentarian: Anna Broinowski
Subject: Norma Khouri
104 minutes
Not rated but a couple of curse words and a little fake blood. Deal with it.

Going into see "Forbidden Lies," I expected another "Shattered Glass" story, and I love a good expose of journalists, biographers, reporters and their ilk being revealed as frauds. A film about either fabricating a story from whole cloth or embellishing to the point of loosing sight of the truth in toto and being found out is always good fun. Take last year's "The Hoax", for instance. Actually, that didn't seem very good sport since it was too easy to out Clifford Irving as a liar regarding his "authorized" biography of Howard Hughes; Hughes was still alive and all he had to do, and did do, was call the publisher and say he didn't authorize diddly.

Not only does the documentary "Forbidden Lies" enumerate countless (oxymoron) lies in the book "Forbidden Love," written by Norma Khouri, but juxtaposes countless interviews of Khouri with other journalists and relevant individuals who counter her every assertion.

Then we find out this is happening concurrently. Khouri is still defending her book after its being exposed. Does she really have a friend, any friend, in Lebanon who in 1997 or 2001 or at any time was killed by her brother or her father by gun or knife in an honor crime (one in which the honor of a family is defended) for having a non-Moslem boyfriend? Khouri's made a fortune from this best seller which has been translated into 17 languages. She says she has donated large sums to non-profits which are fighting for the rights of women in Lebanon. She says the money and fame are only secondary to getting the word out about the vast numbers of women being killed in Lebanon in honor killings each year. No non-profit organizations could be found that received any money from her.

Okay, she stands up to the onslaught of criticism, even taking lie detector tests. She does not retreat. "I am telling the truth," she avers and holds her ground. The 73 factual errors and her responses to attacks are fascinating, and forming an opinion of her veracity is not so easy. The question becomes how far from the facts can an author stray before the work becomes fiction? For example, if I wrote a book about my grandfather leaving Russia before the onslaught of the pogroms by the Bolsheviks -- his "Painted Bird" journey at the age of 14 from Odessa to Bremen, including the people who helped him, the people who betrayed him, stole from him, beat him -- my only actually knowing there was a pogrom and doing some research about the extant facts, would that be a biography or a fictional excursion into a time and place using my grandfather's name? Oh, I'd also have to change his name to protect relatives still living in Russia. Food for thought.

But the real kick in the head is where the investigation leads. I wouldn't take the delicious shock away from the future audience by even suggesting where it will go, but go it does until we almost loose sight of the causal book itself. Filmmaker Broinowski obviously takes more pleasure in revealing the onion layers of facts than forming an opinion and trying to foist it on the audience. Just know that the description of the film I give is only half of what is revealed about Khouri and her life. Hold onto your seat; it's going to be a bumpy rid.

Flawless (2007)
Director: Michael Radford
Writer: Edward A. Anderson
Cast: Demi Moore, Michael Caine, Lambert Wilson, Joss Ackland
Rated: PG13

All you corporate heads, let this be a warning to you. Don't mess with the lady. The glass ceiling that limits the potential of women in the work place can cut you in the ass. As they say, "We're not going to take it any more!"

And here lies the backbone of the plot of Flawless. It's the early 60's, and Llaura Quinn (Demi Moore) is a loyal, talented and hard working employee of Royal Diamond, thinly veiled cover for De Beers. She has been skipped for promotion several times only because she's a woman, with lesser men taking the prize. Her ideas for company policy are so good, they have to fire her since only upper management should know them. She's even being blackballed from any company that has ever done business with Royal Diamond. Well, backed against the wall as she is, she has no alternative but to rob them of a few well-chosen diamonds and make a life for herself elsewhere. She reluctantly agrees to help Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine), a janitor in the building who as devised a working plan for the heist.

There are requisite plot twists, tense moments of near exposure, a suave, a cunning insurance detective, and a lots of the unexpected turns, emotional and well as plot. Interestingly, the background tension is caused by protests by the public condemning the company for the exploitation of African miners, blood diamonds, inhumane conditions, monopolism, backroom deals with the Russians and even control of the British monarchy.

Obviously, times haven't changed. De Beers still controls the artificial price and sales of all diamond in the world. Queen Elizabeth still only wears diamonds in public, having stored her rubies, emeralds, sapphires and other colored stones in a closet per agreement. Third world peoples who mine and cut diamonds are still being exploited. And women still don't earn as much as men for the same jobs nor proportionately hold high level jobs. Perhaps another heist is in the coming.

Run, Fatboy, Run (2007)
Director: David Schwimmer
Screenplay: Simon Pegg and Michael Ian Black
Cast: Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton, Hank Azaria, Dylan Moran, Harish Patel
Rated: PG13

Just yesterday I was having a discussion with Kevin Robinson, the executive director of Medium Rare, about actors, and all people for that matter, who come from mixed racial families including Black, but identify with only the Black community. Kevin suggested that as a persecuted minority, Blacks are always looking for "brothers and sisters." True, but I also suggested that the white majority would segregate and/or identify people as Black if they had any Black blood in them, and to continue to identify oneself as Black with only partial Black heritage was to continue this racist practice.

Case in point: When Halle Berry won the Academy Award for "Monsters Ball," she held the Oscar high above her head and claimed this was for all black women. Quick cut to her white mother in the audience. I couldn't help but feel bad for her mother, nullified as a contributor to the talent, beauty and whole person Halle Berry is on International television to an audience of one billion. To ignore that she is half white is to not only be proud of being an African American, but also to submit to the guidelines drawn by plantation owners 300 years ago who would deny the kinship of their slave-mothered children.

Here's where I'm going -- "Run, Fatboy, Run" costars Thandie Newton (whose previous works include "Jefferson in Paris" in which she played Thomas Jefferson's slave mistress who bore him several children whom Jefferson freed after his death though did not publicly claim them as his children) as Libby, a pregnant woman left at the alter by Dennis, a slightly overweight and out of shape Fatboy played by Simon Pegg. In the wedding party are her Black mother, White father and white cousin. We skip to 5 years later and see Libby with her 5 year old son, apparently White. There is no mention of race, mixed marriages, social implications... nothing. This movie has absolutely nothing to do with inter-racial couples, their offspring and social ramifications of such. The characters just have that background. What a wonderful breath of fresh, unfettered air!

The movie is about Dennis, spurred on by Libby's relationship with a new man, successful, confident and loving Whit, played by Hank Azaria, to try to finally become responsible and hopefully get Libby back. The ultimate test is a running marathon between Dennis and Whit, and 10,000 others, along the Thames in London. Ergo, Dennis has to get in shape to run. David Schwimmer of TV's "Friends" fame does a very convincing job of capturing the flavor and humor of British comedies. I wouldn't have guessed a Yank, and a New York actor, yet, had directed. The movie is humorous, though not as hysterical as "Shaun of the Dead" (2004) or "Hot Fuzz" (2007), but it's hard to imagine what could be. All three films star and are co-written by Simon Pegg -- obviously a filmic power to be reckoned with. Perhaps zombies flicks ("Shaun") and murder mysteries ("Hot Fuzz") can follow more plot twists and turns than romantic comedies, but I found "Run, Fatboy, Run" pretty predictable, though the characters, especially Dennis, endearing. Special kudos to Dylan Moran as Gordon, Dennis' best friend and Libby's cousin. His performance as the gambling, womanizing rogue was in perfect counterpoint to Dennis' cloddish sincerity.


Timecrimes (2007)
Writer/Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Cast: Karra Elejalde, Barbara Goenaga, Nacho Vigalondo, Candela Fernandez.

The Spanish tend to make thought provoking, interesting, mature films. On the face of it, “Timecrimes” is such a film. A man returns to his charming, bucolic home and his loving wife after doing some nursery shopping for the garden. Life is relaxing, uncomplicated; he’s probably retired or on vacation and using the time to unwind and catch up with home projects like his wife’s gardening. While she’s away shopping for tonight’s dinner, he spies a pair of tits through his binoculars off in the wooded distance. Oh, boy. A man, binoculars and tits. We’re in trouble. His brain has now fallen below his waist and no good can come of it. His adventure down the rabbit hole includes a time machine and one thoughtless mistake after another -- until I’m about to scream “Somebody shoot this guy and end this film now!”In his relentless effort to undo the harm he’s done, he just keeps stepping on his own dick -- so to speak. I don’t understand why he does much of the things he does. Could it be a case of sheer stupidity on the part of the screenwriter to propel the plot -- the lowest form of writing usually accepted and expected in horror screamers about campers and angry spirits who seek revenge? Has the exalted Spanish filmmaking community sunken this low?

Karra Elejalde being helped out of the woods
by Barbara Goenaga only to return again .

And yet, the film looks so good, the acting so professional, the cinematography so moody and accurate for the subject matter. What an unsettling combination of bad script choices with all the other factors that make for a good film. I am so confused, but I refuse to be fooled! “Timecrimes” is an exercise in frustration for the viewer -- the main character doing incredibly thoughtless, stupid things for no apparent reason and compounding the stupidity with every opportunity to right them by going back in time. The moral of the story is -- if you nave the opportunity to go back in time, don’t! You’ll just fuck it up no matter how smart you are. Or maybe going back in time effects your brain and makes you a moron. Or maybe writing a movie about going back in time makes you a moron. Somebody stop me!


The World Unseen (2007)
Director: Shamim Sarif
Writer (novel and screenplay): Shamim Sarif
Cast: Lisa Ray, Sheetal Sheth, Parin, Dabas, Nandana Sen, Grethe Fox, David Dennis, Bernard White, Colin Moss, Amber Rose, Revah
Time: 1:34

All the elements are there: conflicts between races in Apartheid South Africa, Lesbian intolerance, domestic violence, and finding the courage to stand up to all those negative forces. And yet, I found the film unusually un-compelling. The lead actresses are very attractive and do a pretty good job, as do the supporting players. The black silent partner in the restaurant business is sympathetic, the policeman is even humanized though still committed to doing his sworn job, the husband acts out of desperation to keep his family together. So, the characters are not just cookie-cut-outs of recognizable stereotypes. Why didn’t I feel for these people, these situations?

Sheetal Sheth and Lisa Ray cruising.

Miriam (Lisa Ray) owns a popular bar/restaurant in a small township in South Africa. She is strong and independent, even though the Indian population in South Africa is not embraced by the white, Apartheid government. She meets Amina (Sheetal Sheth) who, with her husband (Parvin Dabas) and children, has just moved to the township for her husband’s new job. Amina, also Indian, is a dutiful, though unimpassioned and unhappy, wife, but she quietly accepts her place in life, as all good Indian women must. Between the police being very suspicious of Miriam’s black handyman, secretly and unlawfully a partner in the restaurant; the growing intimacy between Miriam and Amina, the reaction of Amina’s husband and the community to their relationship – I should care. Again, I don’t.

Perhaps it’s because: (1) since Apartheid has ended in South Africa, I no longer invest the same level of emotion I once did to that intolerable situation; (2) the community’s transition to acceptance of this new kind of relationship is far too easy, so

potential drama is defected; (3) I’ve seen this same situation before far too many times in Gay and Lesbian films throughout the years. New location, same story. Girl meets girl, girl shows girl she’s really gay, girl must break with established social order to find happiness. (4) And I don’t think the script demands the emotional depth and intensity to carry me. Jeez, nobody’s burning up in kitchen flames of passion and sacrifice to love as did the lovers in “Fire.” Nobody’ is confined to a prison within a town by a river as was the very same :Lisa Ray in “Water.” The stakes are lower, the tone is milder, the world – South Africa during Apartheid – is still more tolerant and open than India for women to this day.

To be fair, this film is still a thick cut above most of the low-budget indie Lesbian films I see at festivals. It is multi-layered with social and personal problems rarely attempted in the usual fare. The actors are real professionals with long IMDb pages attesting to their abilities. The cinematography makes the audience feel a part of the scene; we are living among the townspeople, we form opinions based on our neighbors’ actions. In time, I hope to see Shamim Sarif go further out on the limbs of the precarious life Indian Lesbians must traverse and bring us truly emotionally fulfilling books and films.


Married Life (2007)
Director: Ira Sachs
Writers: Ira Sachs, Oren Moverman
Cast Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel McAdams, David Wenham

How little we know about the ones we love. In this post WWII suburban American, environment, long time married couple Harry and Pat seem to know nothing about each others true feelings and hidden lives. Harry (Chris Cooper) is deeply in love with a younger woman, Kay (Rachel Adams), but fears if he tried to divorce Pat (Patricia Clarkson), it would destroy her. Pat also has a younger lover (David Wenham) who truly makes her happy in a way Harry never could, but she knows Harry needs her. Let us not forget that Harry and Pat are a loving couple who are respectful of, and have deep feelings for, each other.

How do they resolve their problems? Pat will keep her relationship a secret and just continue as she is -- secretly meeting her lover and being a good wife to Harry. Harry will save the pain and suffering Pat would face without him and poison her. Hmmmm. Dare I say typical gender solutions? By the way, I’m not giving anything away; the movie trailer says it all.

Add to the mix their best friend, Richard (Pierce Brosnan) who, though he’s been close to the couple for years, he is immediately taken by young Kay and forgoes any sense of loyalty to his friends to get her. Through “good advice”, “helpful, selfless acts” and maneuvering, he makes sure he gets what he wants. And even Kay, Harry’s naive, smitten lover, deceives and disappoints. Keep in mind, these are civilized, upper middle class, well adjusted, people who never raise their voices, and always try to be on the other person’s side on every issue.

This would be a very funny film, if it weren’t directed in a suspenseful, straight-faced manner. That is consummate dry wit. It’s brilliant! I will never trust anyone again because “Married Life” makes it clear to me that everybody lies so convincingly, everybody’s out for him or her self, and will say and do what’s necessary to spare the feelings of others while getting what he or she wants. Still, all the characters were so charming, genuine and good-intentioned, you have to love them all and hope that in the end, they’re all happy - the whole deceiving, murderous, manipulative, adulterous lot of them. It couldn’t have been easy for this wonderful cast to play such low characters while maintaining the audience’s favor. Kudos to all of them.

Honeydripper (2007)
Writer / Director: John Sayles
Cast: Danny Glover, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Yaya DaCosta, Charles S. Dutton, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Gary Clark,. Jr., Mable John, Stacey Keach, Mary Steenburgen.
Rated: PG 13

Sayles has done it again -- writing about times and places of which he has no direct knowledge and doing it convincingly and compassionately. Back in 1983, Sayles looked into the heart of a Lesbian who finally understands and accepts herself and changes her life accordingly, decades before Lesbianism in films was accepted and certainly before the girl-on-girl kiss was mandatory, as it seems to be now. He also delved into Harlem and it’s day-to-day life, ironically through the eyes of an alien, in “Brother from Another Planet,” in 1984. Topics that have interested him have included government corruption in an industrial city, women seeking babies to adopt in Mexico, a doctor traveling through a revolutionary-torn country of no specific name (Spanish language film), exploring the Irish myth of seal people, giant albino alligators in the sewer system of New York City, the 1919 World Series Black Sox scandal, coal mining unionization, and many more diverse themes. He was even one of the screen writers on “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” His genre is all genres, and all with impeccable scripts (Sayles won the MacArthur Fellowship Foundation [genius award] in 1983) and sensitive, actorly directing.

“Honeydripper” is no exception. I get the feeling that this is a very respectful look into a community from the outside. Even if I didn’t know a white man wrote and directed this film, I would think an outsider had made it: maybe because the true anger by blacks towards whites isn’t there or the gritty approach taken by most black directors is softened and takes on a my lyrical quality.

Taking place in post-World War II rural Alabama, Tyrone Purvis (Danny Glover) has a scheme to get his club back in the black. He hires a famous black rock ‘n roll guitarist/singer, Guitar Sam, and advertises the engagement with flyers all over town. The celebrity doesn’t show, so Purvis takes a young boy who has a homemade guitar out of the police-enforced cotton picking gang and has him perform. 

Sayles explores the issue of self-respect for the black man in the south. Not only does Purvis not want to give up his business and find some other kind of job, but he wants to earn at least as much as his wife who is a housekeeper. The pressures on the “independent black man” of this era is also made clear: the club’s building owner wants to take the building back from Purvis who is delinquent in his rent, the corrupt sheriff (Stacey Keach) feels a deep-seated animosity toward Purvis particularly because he is relatively independent, credit is not extended to a black club proprietor and his business is in jeopardy as a result. Still, this is a positive, almost caper-like film in which there is always a way with ingenuity, if not faith. And as for faith, Purvis’ wife Delilah, played by Lisa Gay Hamilton, is going through a crisis of it. After years of tent revivals and a variety of religions, she still hasn’t been moved by the Lord, to her own chagrin. Seems belief in God isn’t enough in that culture and she is deficit which causes her tremendous distress.

This film is also about a change in the music of that time -- from blues to rock ‘n roll. It shows how hard it is for some to make the transition and the sense of loss the replacement of blues brings to the classic performers of that former time. But rock n’ roll can not be denied. All of the music is great and I’d certainly want the CD from the film.

Romulus, My Father (2007)
Director: Richard Roxburgh
Writer: Nick Drake from Raimond Gaita’s memoir
Cast: Eric Bana, Franka Potente, Marton Csokas, Russell Dykstra, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jacek Koman
Rated: R

This is the true story of a man’s memories of his father, Romulus (Eric Bana), a quiet, strong, gentle man. We are shown glimpses of their lives together during young Raimond’s (Kodi Smith-McPhee) childhood in the backland, if not the outback, of Australia, outside Melbourne, in the 1960's. They eat their breakfast, Romulus refilling Raimond’s glass of milk and silently smiling as the boy forces it down, a trip to town, work on the homestead. These are short memories, as much about the sky and season as about the exchange between father and son, as memories often are. There is almost no dialogue because their lives are sincere, straightforward and uncomplicated... until absent mom, Christina (Franka Potenta), comes back for a visit. Her restless spirit forces her to leave, her love for her family brings her back, and this yo yo effect is even harder on Romulus than it is on Raimond. His calm swings to depression, his silence deepens, his mood darkens.

This quiet, beautifully shot and poignant film gets to the heart of a father-son relationship, their unspoken love, their steadfast routine, and their need to cope with the disruptive influence of a woman who is, herself, a tortured soul.

Eric Bana, Kodi Smit-McPhee and , Franka Potente, as well as the supporting cast, all communicate their deepest feelings to us and each other with no wasted energy, saving it all for their labors in this dry and unforgiving land. We feel no less for them for their taciturn nature and empathize with all of them -- there are no evildoers or selfish villains. They’re all just doing the best they can -- trying to find some kind of happiness and equanimity.

Surely, director Richard Roxburgh’s background as an actor had a lot to do with his choices for these characters’ behavior. This is Roxburgh’s first directing gig, having spent the last two decades acting in such films as “Oscar and Lucinda” (one of my all time favorites), “Mission Impossible”, “Van Helsing” and “Moulin Rough.” As they say in acting class, “less is more,” and it couldn’t be more true here.

This is also a tale about immigrants. Romulus is Yugoslavian and his wife, Christine is German. Romulus is called Jack, the default Australian name, by neighbors because Romulus is too difficult. There seems to be no problems with prejudice in this film, just loneliness and a sense of abandonment, a “being far from home” feeling which comes from giving up the extended family for opportunity in a new land and trying desperately to hold on to the nuclear family while re-establishing oneself on the other side of the world.


Under the Same Moon (2007)
Director: Patricia Riggen
Writer: Liviah Villalobos
Cast: Kate Del Castillo, Adrian Alonso,
Rated: PG 13

This is a picaresque tale of a 9 year old boy boldly going out into a dangerous world on a quest. His mother snuck into the United States 4 years earlier to build a better life and eventually have her son join her. It’s taken longer than she thought. In the meantime, her son, Carloads, living with her mother, longs to be with her again. When grandma dies, Carloads packs up and crosses the border in search of his mother, Rosario. This is not a Tijuana to L.A. jaunt, but across the Rio Grande into Texas, then the long desert highway crossing to Los Angeles. Along the way, he meets many people, some dangerous, some kind, some who would like to be left alone. All tell him he should go to the police so he can be deported safely home. He is adamant in his determination to find his mother.

Meanwhile Rosario wonders if she’s made a mistake in leaving Carlitos, and often resolves to return home to him and give up her dream of their being reunited in California.

Will Carlitos make it to California unharmed? We are reminded of the trafficking of children as sex slaves and see him narrowly escape that fate. Coincidentally, Kate Del Castillo who plays Rosario, played the evil trafficker of young flesh in the recent film, “Trade.” This time she is on the other side of the issue.

Will he go hungry? Will he loose track of his goal in the company of good people, with a regular job and food in his stomach? Will he and his mother ever meet again? It was a joy watching the very talented Adrian Alonso as Carlitos traverse the obstacles with intelligence, determination and plain old adorableness. Hope to see him in many films to come.

It is interesting to see the female perspective of illegal immigration, as shown by writer Liviah Villalobos and director Patricia Riggen, but this would not be considered a “woman’s film” unless you read the credits carefully. As hard as it is for the migrant workers avoiding insecticide and evading the INS, it is just as hard for the maids, babysitters and seamstresses to get a foothold in a new country. This story is sensitively written, directed and portrayed. It’s no “El Norte” in the pain and suffering experienced by the desperate and abject, but perhaps more indelible as the immigrant experience we happily settled citizens can empathize with.

The U.S. as a land of opportunity doesn’t seem so golden in this film. One is led to wonder if Rosario ever should have left her family behind just to become a maid and dressmaker for a meager living. Life doesn’t seem that much better for her north of the border. But really, the question is -- should she sacrifice being with her family to get a start in a country where one can grow? This is not specifically addressed in the film, only the hardships of families being separated and trying to regroup in the hopes of finding a place where opportunities exist. That the United States offers a future for immigrants is a given. That’s why they come here, not to get on welfare or to steal jobs. That’s why all of my grandparents came here -- to work, to have their children educated and do better than they themselves have done. “Under the Same Moon” puts human faces on immigrants in this election year. I would welcome Rosario and Carlitos to my home, my grandparents’ adopted country.


The Counterfeiters (2007)
Director/writer: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Cast: Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Devid Striesow, Dolores Chaplin, August Zirner, Marie Bäumer
98 minutes
Rated R
Academy Award nominee for best foreign language film

Another holocaust film, you say? You don't need to preach to the choir (to mix religious metaphors), I'm convinced it happened and it was truly horrible, you say? Why see another one, you ask?

It's true, all but the most rigid of Nazi-sympathizing, sociopaths are convinced that the holocaust did happen. This film is not about confirming that the holocaust is actually history. It intentionally does not describe conditions for all concentration camp victims. Instead, it is the retelling of a little known, fascinating story of a group of pre-war printers, artists and counterfeiters who were recruited from the camps to a special unit. The Germans wanted to destroy the economies of their enemies by flooding the markets with counterfeit English pounds and American dollars, so even in defeat, they would find some victory. The counterfeiters were kept in clean barracks with individual beds and linens, washing facilities, piped in classical music, water and regular meals, and a ping pong table. They were even given monthly festive nights to party and entertain themselves.

Yes, this truly happened. And they did eventually produce pound and dollar plates -- too late in the war to harm the economies of the Allies.

Issues of the counterfeiters' guilt for not only surviving the camps, but flourishing in them, and the moral conflict of helping the Nazis and hurting the Allies to keep themselves alive are explored. How does one enjoy a game of ping pong when on the other side of a wooden wall, a man is shot for running to slowly in shoes he's forced to wear that are too small for him? The soldier is reprimanded loud enough for the counterfeiters to hear for shooting the man in front of the wall possibly harming his precious workers on the other side.

The extreme situations endured in the concentration camps have become the means of exploring the humanity and moral dilemmas of it's victims and supporters. Schindler tries to save victims by getting them out of the camp and putting them to work in his munitions factory in "Schindler's List"; a Greek Jewish Olympic boxer, Salamo Arouch, spars with the Nazis in the camps in "Triumph of the Spirit"; violinist, Fania Fenelon, entertains the troops in Auschwitz in "Playing for Time"; Salomon Perel passes for an Aryan boy for most of the war and finally ends up in the camp in "Europa, Europa," Max Rosenberg has to relive the death of his wife Helen as a witness in a trial to convict a murderous labor camp commandant in "Max and Helen." And these are just a few of the true stories. These films are not just about the horrors of the concentration camps, but stories of the people who filled them, each different and meaningful. Over time, I hope there are 8 million more films about this subject in its various aspects.

An interesting note: Director/writer Stefan Ruzowitzky's grandparents were Nazis during the war.

Les Témoins (The Witnesses) (2007)
Director: André Téchiné
Writers: André Téchiné, Laurent Guyot, Viviane Zingg
Cast:: Michel Blanc, Emmanuelle Beart, Sami Bouajila, Julie Depardieu, Johan Libereau, Constance Dollé
Time: 1 hr. 52 min.

It’s a sad story, and one we have all become familiar with since the AIDS epidemic. Young, gay man contracts HIV, and how it effects his friends and lovers. This film takes place in France in the early 80's, when AIDS was just becoming known and feared. Director/co-writer André Téchiné says that there weren’t many films about this subject made in France and he wanted to revisit that time. He also felt he “escaped” his destiny. Perhaps that’s why the film is named Witnesses. Each of the characters could have been infected and not just bystanders.

In “Les Témoins” (The Witnesses), we see a circle of people who are effected by the AIDS epidemic, either by having contracted the disease or by caring about a victim. I use the word victim because if someone is hurt or killed through no fault of his/her own, that person is a victim. And if others who act in the same or similar ways are not infected, that’s luck and makes the other more a victim. We will never understand why some succumbed and others didn’t. We can only feel compassion and try to help those who were stricken.

But we know all this. Téchiné believes not enough has been said about this time. He says there is no “AIDS” genre. But I say there is. The plot and even many of the characters are all too familiar. If one wants to make a film about AIDS, time, energy, money and creative juices may be better spent in reminding the public that the epidemic is still a threat, that people still contract it and that the now-available treatments are not cures. I don’t need to see again how it was 20 years ago. I need an update, I want to be warned, and I want to be reminded it is not over yet.

Still, interesting points in “The Witnesses” are that Paris seemed to be very un-homophobic. There was no big to-do when a gay man was introduced to a typical middle class hetero couple. Everyone seemed to be comfortable hanging out together in their country home: gay, straight, female, male. The only bastion of macho homophobia was the police force. Also, North African people seemed to be accepted with nonchalance and only a subtle undercurrent of bias (or was it a trace of paranoia?). Couples changed partners, experimented, discussed their relationships, stood by each other. It was interesting to see the combinations of couples, the acceptance of individuality, the mutual respect.

The central character, Manu, played by John Libéreau, seemed rather stereotypical though very empathetic, The other characters were more complex and watching their responses to each other and subsequent evolution was interesting.

Still, we haven’t seen a film about people affected with HIV/AIDS that takes place in the present and since everything I know is from movies and TV (as it probably is for many of us), I would like an update, emotional, social and scientific.

Charlie Bartlett (2007)
Director: John Poll
Writer: Gustin Nash
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr., Hope Davis, Kat Dennings, Tyler Hilton, Jake Epstein
Time: 97 minutes
Rated: R

Charlie Bartlett has problems, the most significant of which is he craves being popular -- neigh, the most popular boy in school, adored by all. Because Charlie is smart and resourceful, his dream (literally) comes true.

I realized while watching this film that boy popularity and girl popularity are very different. When a girl is popular, she becomes unattainable, except to a very small clique of the most popular girls the jocks. When Charlie becomes popular, everybody says hello to him, shakes his hand, asks his advice, confides in him. I would never want to be a popular girl because then my social circle would be confined to 2 or 3 other girls and I’d have to have sex with most of the meaty goons or they’d say rude things about me on the Internet and I’d be ruined. I, myself, was the best known person in high school, not to be confused with popular, but that’s another movie.

Oh, why is Charlie Bartlett’s desire to be popular a problem, you may ask. Because he gets in trouble trying to make the masses of high school students happy. Charlie is amoral. He doesn’t realize that dispensing advice in the boys room, using stalls as psychiatrist’s chair and patients’ couch, dispensing psychogenic drugs to alter mood, relieve tension and anxiety, help sleep, etc., could have dangerous repercussions, besides being illegal. He really believes he is as capable as a trained psychiatrist (having several stereotypical idiot, drug dispensing psychiatrists on retainer for home visits only fuels this misconception). He really doesn’t realize he is dangerous. He just wants to make friends.

Nonetheless, I much prefer him to Ferris of “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off,” who thumbs his nose at authority, enjoys making the principal upset, needs to prove he is outside the petty rules others must live by. Sure, he’s got spirit and cunning, but no compassion. Ferris is smug. More recently, Reece Daniel

Thompson played stuttering, insecure and easily fooled Hal Hefner in “Rocket Science.” He was the most empathetic of the group and dispelled, if only temporarily, the notion of debate clubs being anything other than kids blathering as quickly as possible to make intellectual points in competition.

But as for high school aged characters that leave an indelible impression, the undisputed champion is Harold from the classic “Harold and Maude.” “Charlie Bartlett” wants to remind of us the iconic outsider, Harold -- living in opulent wealth with out-of-touch single mom, dressing in blazer and slacks (which Charlie eventually sheds), being an outsider (which Charlie overcomes). Cat Stevens’ “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out” is sung at the piano by protagonist and girlfriend again as it was originally, though now the obstacle between the couples’ happiness is not an age difference of over 50 years, but that the teenage girl’s dad is the high school principal. Okay, not too original, but student/therapist and boy popularity are interesting concepts explored in “Charlie Bartlett.”

I like Charlie, charmingly played by Anton Yelchin. He has good intentions, he’s smart, and he’s interestingly flawed. He’s not at all realistic, but the best high school film characters aren’t. (I can’t fit Napoleon Dynamite into this discussion -- that’s a whole other distinct genre.) Maybe the best thing about Charlie Bartlett is that he makes me want to revisit “Harold and Maude.”

Cassandra’s Dream (2007)
Writer/Director: Woody Allen
Cast Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, Tom Wilkinson, Sally Hawkins, Hayley Atwell
Time: 108 minutes
Rated: P#-13

The two brothers in this film just want to spend time with their girls on their boat (named Cassandra’s Dream). That’s heaven to them, but their individual flaws make this simple life unattainable. Terry (Colin Farrell) has a gambling problem and debts to pay to guys who intend to break his knee caps if he doesn’t. Ian (Ewen McGregor) has expensive taste in women and can’t keep up the facade of a big time entrepreneur in the hotel and entertainment business without more funds. He’s not opposed to exaggerating his finances and lifestyle to keep his beautiful actress girlfriend interested. Rich Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) can solve their problems with one simple act. If they kill the guy who is going to inform the authorities about his illegal dealings -- which would cost him his wealth and freedom -- he’ll pay them handsomely. The brothers are shocked and repulsed at the prospect of killing. Eventually though, they agree and the deed is done.

The point of this film is that life has value, even a stranger’s life, even if your future happiness and security depends on destroying it. Once one has killed, one can never go back; innocence is lost and the price is far to high.

I like the message. It’s too easily forgotten in this age of hit men, assassin, crime and senseless death fare glutting the multiplexes these days. As a sidebar, I love the Coen Brothers, but hate “No Country for Old Men.” The story line is incredibly facile: a guy finds lots of drugs and money at the site of a drug deal gone bad, takes the money and runs, psychopath tracks him down to get the money, killing everyone in his path. I guess it was fun for the audience to watch Prince Valiant coiffed Bardem kill and kill and kill again. This was the simplest plot the Coens have ever come up with; too bad the public lauds it. Please compare “No Country…” to “Blood Simple” or “The Man Who Wasn’t There” or “Miller’s Crossing” for true thriller writing and directing skill.

But back to “Cassandra’s Dream” -- I like that life matters. I like people being reminded of that. There are several directors other than Woody Allen who have tackled this subject, most recently master director Sidney Lumet made “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (2007), starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman (whom I consider the greatest living actor) and Ethan Hawke, similarly, as two brothers who for financial reasons are responsible for a death, this time of their mother. Hawke can not adjust to being a killer, or even complicit in a killing, while Hoffman knows one just has to suck it up and move on.

You can see the similarity between films. The difference is the superior writing skill of Kelly Masterson and far superior directing skill of Sidney Lumet, both far surpassing Woody Allen’s. Allen has been rehashing his own scripts for the last several years and hasn’t come up with an original regret-about-murder plot since “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989) (repeated in 2005's “Match Point”). And Allen has never been known as an actor’s director. McGregor and Farrell are fine actors. (Just take at look at “Phone Booth” to be blown away by Farrell’s performance.) But they seem uninspired and labored in this film. Whereas, you can always depend on Hoffman (Philip Seymour, that is) to give powerful, outstanding performances. And Hawke does his finest work to date in “Devil...” There really is no comparison. To empathize with a murderer, you really have to see “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” and wait for future performances by Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell to enjoy their actorly skills.

Grace Is Gone (2007)
Director/Writer: James C. Strouse
Cast: John Cusack, Shelan O'Keefe, Gracie Bednarczyk (Mary Kay Place and Marisa Tomei drop in mini cameos)

Honestly, I was more interested in and intrigued by Grace than the rest of the family who are intentionally drawn as just everyday, common, run of the mill, people. Think about Grace for a moment. She's been in the Army a long time. Her oldest daughter is 12 and Grace was already in the army when she met her husband-to-be. Is she a lifer, a career soldier? She's still only a sergeant; higher ranked soldiers don't get killed. We all know that. So, the Army has not been particularly good to her. She has decided to stay in the army for at least 13 years, taking pregnancy leaves, going back on duty, spend many tours in Iraq. She has not been disillusioned by this war even though we have numerous films detailing how American soldiers in Iraq find their tours there ineffectual, imperialistic, unnecessary. Or they are methodically turned into immoral monsters, whether accidentally or purposefully (for example "The Valley of Elah"). Keep in mind, everything I know is from the movies and science programs on cable.

We can tell by her wholesome, lovely face in the one photograph we see of her and by the intelligent, caring voice in the phone message which opens the film and her recorder message we hear repeatedly in the film that Grace is not desperate to earn a living off the military. She is capable, sane, loving and warm. She doesn't even have to work since her husband makes enough money already. What makes Grace decide to do what she does? Is it patriotism? There is an obvious lack on jingoistic artifacts in the house: no flag, no framed medal-- just a yellow ribbon decal on the bumper of the family car. Grace is silent on the subject of her motivation for going army.

And why did Grace marry Stanley Phillips (John Cusack) who, to Cusack's consummate acting skill, looks like a dork, walks like a dork, and sounds like a dork? What did Grace see in him that we don't?

As the film starts, Stanley is a gung-ho manager of a Home Depot-type warehouse store and a stern, yet quiet, disciplinarian to his two daughters -- not much fun to be around, not one to spur on an intellectual conversation, not one to confide in. Upon being told of his wife's death, and after quietly suffering for a day, he puts himself back together before his daughters get home from school and decides to show them a good time, a time free from discipline, worries, grief, before their childhoods are over. He doesn't tell them their mother has died, but instead takes them cross country by car to Enchanted Gardens Theme Park. His transformation into a softer, gentler, more compassionate father in preparation for the ultimate pain of their daughters learning of their mother's death is what this film is about.

Still, I keep thinking about the absent Grace. Is she a patriot who left her family, whether she lives or dies, to be road kill half a world away? Did she realize she was sacrificing her family as well as herself when she decided to stay in the military? Did she just want the benefits government work offers? What motivated her? Grace, explain yourself!

Alice’s House (A Casa de Alice) (2007)
Director: Chico Teixeira
Writers: Chico Teixeira, Julio Pessoa, Sabina Anzuategui, Marcelo Gomes
Cast: Carla Ribas, Vinicius Zinn, Ricardo Vilaça, Felipe Massuia, Berta Zemel, Zécarlos Machado (more)

Alice is a working mother and wife. She lives with her mother (who cleans, cooks, and keeps the home in perfect running order while listening to talk radio), her husband (who spends his days gambling and his night womanizing), and her three sons (who argue among themselves and watch a lot of television). Alice is a manicurist whose life has fallen into a dull routine.

When the possibility of romance and escape from this rut appears, she doesn’t hesitate. Even a work friend comments that her life resembles a soap opera - low drama. There’s no political intrigue, social upheavals, war, crime, or any other “important” issue in this film -- just the life of a typical woman in a typical city with a typical family. It could have been played more dramatically; the elements are there, but the point is this is how life is for the vast majority of people. We all get bored with our lives and we all just keep on keeping on. It could take place anywhere; this film takes place in Brazil. Differences include the more widespread acceptance of superstitions: don’t walk under a ladder, use love potions, defer always to your horoscope. Also, if Alice (played by Carla Ribas) is indicative of the culture of Rio, women are still emotionally subjugated to the old world values of marriage. I wouldn’t put up with that lazy, demanding, cheating loser of a husband (Zécarlos Machado) for a moment. Alice doesn’t toss him out on his ear. Cultural or individual choice -- it would be a real plot flaw in an American movie.

By honing in on this unspectacular family, we get to live the lives of these people, feel their fears, frustrations, temporary exhilaration and anguish. These people reflect our concerns: grandmother going blind and worrying about being put in a retirement home; Alice devastated by her husband’s infidelity and elated by her lover’s attentions, and her sons trying to find their places in life.

Maybe you don’t need to go there. You have your own lives and they probably aren’t that different from Alice’s family’s. Maybe you want to compare and contrast. Maybe you want to empathize. It’s frighteningly accurate -- right down to the television being left on when no one’s in the room.


Juno (2007)
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons
Writer: Diablo Cody
PG 13

When I was invited to see “Juno” and I read the description of it, I thought, “Why go to the movies to see typical Lifetime Network fare about a pregnant teenager who gives her baby up for adoption? What’s all the noise about on this film?” I suspected it was more than just that when I checked out the cast for this film. Allison Janney (sure, she does the Kaiser commercials voice and “Sicko” made that HMOs transgressions clear), J.K. Simmons (loved him in “First Snow” and he’s the psychiatrist on “Law & Order,” therefore, not your typical After School Special actor), Jennifer Garner (Super hero, super spy, and Ben’s wife doesn’t need a project sermonizing about the dangers of sex before marriage), and Jason Bateman, too big time for that kind of teen melodrama since “Mr. Magorium’s....”. They knew something I didn’t.

So, I went to see it against my uninformed judgment. If you get over fact that this really smart, savvy, even jaded teen would have unprotected sex in the first place, and the abortion clinic is not even remotely portrayed honestly, you get a very interesting, humorous and touching view of a teenager’s experience of pregnancy with all its social complications. It is not more authentic or honest than the women’s channels TV movie fare, but it’s is smarter, hipper. It’s all in the script, and you can assume that a writer named Diablo Cody wouldn’t pump out pap.

The plot isn’t new, but the delivery by these talented actors of bright; dialogue with subtle clues to people’s true underlying intentions. It's worth the 92 minute investment. Juno (named after Zeus’ wife and not the city in Alaska), played by very talented newcomer Ellen Page, decides to have sex with her long time friend and kinda boyfriend Paulie, played by Michael Cera. She gets pregnant. An insensitive, mouth-pierced and over made-up receptionist at the Woman’s Clinic who offers raspberry flavored condoms turns Juno off, so she decides to have the baby and give it to a really good couple to raise. She goes to the Penny Saver and finds the perfect couple, Vanessa and Mark Loring, played by Jennifer Garner and Justin Bateman. We watch her interact with her family, school mates, boyfriend and perspective parents of her baby. We watch her grow physically and emotionally. This is not a “Napoleon Dynamite” view of teen pregnancy, but it has some of the elements, so it will be a fun take on the situation. Maybe high schoolers will go see the film (you know they never tune into Lifetime) and as a result be more careful. As they say, if it saves one girl from an unwanted pregnancy... You know the rest.
Note: this is the first movie that opens with animation credits that I wasn’t painfully disappointed in.

I Am Legend (2007)
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Will Smith, Abbey, Alice Braga, Dash Mihok, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith, Charlie Tahan
Writers: Mark Protosevich, Akiva Goldsman
Rating PG-13 - for intense sequences of action and violence

Here’s a paradox --- how can you be a legend if you’re the last “uninfected person” on earth and there’s no one left to talk about you? I believe fear of being the last person on earth is genetically primal; we’ve all had nightmares about it. I thought my childhood dream of being alone in the city was caused by the Cold War. By the way, I didn’t mind that much. I got to drive a city bus. There is always something to make us fear the end of the world or more specifically, of being left alone on it -- from the Cold War to a meteor to the Taliban poisoning the water or using a virus to a bomb from North Korea or Iran or Libya. In “I Am Legend,” doctors of the near future create a cure for cancer which backfires and turns people into rabid, violent, non-thinking animals. Solution: more FDA trials before it’s released to the public. Oh, this is too easy.

In any case, this is not a new plot idea in film. “I Am Legend” is a remake of “The Omega Man” (1971), starring Charlton Heston, which was based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 science fiction novel, “I Am Legend.” Heston’s deserted L.A. is a far cry from today’s version with spectacular visuals of Manhattan overrun with wild grasses, herds of deer, and abandoned cars chocking the streets. Heston’s home was much better fortified, though, and his protection against the mutated population more ingenious. Smith’s survivor, like his house, is more vulnerable. He has a harder time maintaining his sanity and dealing with loneliness. Note: Smith has this penchant for getting into huge Hollywood blockbusters that still afford him a character with enough emotional range to be considered for awards. Where Heston was the stoic survivalist, Smith is getting worn down and almost suicidal. Heston would never have memorized large sections of cartoon dialogue. Smith deadpans his lip-synching of “Shrek,” a highlight of the film. Credit for maintain Smith’s sanity must be given to his constant companion Sam (Abbey), the German Shepherd, I expect since Sam was such a great dog in this film, many will consider buying a German Shepherd as a family pet. I beg you, please, no pet stores or breeders. There are many, many German Shepherds available for adoption at shelters and rescues. Just check

“The Omega Man” was not the original source of this story of survival and isolation. In 1964, Vincent Price played the same part in the first adaptation of Matheson’s book, this time titled, “The Last Man on Earth” (1964). Price plays the doctor who is immune to the plague that turns people into bloodthirsty zombies (four years before George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”). He is insane with grief and loneliness, killing zombies during the day, hiding in a house with only boards on the windows at night.

What makes these men (this man) a legend is that the potential for an antidote to the virus, the possibility of human life returning and continuing on Earth is in this doctor’s hands. You may say, “but this time, the hero, the man who saves human life on earth, is black. That is progress.” Well, not exactly. Back in 1959, Harry Belafonte starred in “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil” (from the novel, “The Purple Cloud,” by M.P. Shiel) in which his character is a miner who is trapped by a small cave-in during an atomic holocaust. When he digs himself out, he finds himself alone. In Manhattan, where filming could only take place the first 2 hours of daylight each morning to effect the post-apocalyptic look, he eventually finds Swedish beauty Inger Stevens (inciting the Flesh) and Mel Ferrer (the Devil). This film (years before the civil rights movement) had hero Belafonte battle racist villain Ferrer to the death, thus leaving him and Stevens to repopulate the world. Believe it! 2000's all Caucasian cast in “The Last Man” echo that plot with a comedy bent.

“The Quiet Earth” (1985) seems to be a melding of the virus-gone-wrong and the two-men-one-woman plots. In “Where Have All the People Gone” (1974), with Peter Graves and some other name actors, solar flares are responsible for turning the world’s population to white powder. Two valley girls, as well as one Native American and a bunch of mad scientists, survive the devastating effects of the tale of Haley’s comet passing through Earth in “Night of the Comet” (1984), while the rest of the world’s population turns to red dust or zombies. And still in post-production is an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s (author of the original Frankenstein) 1826 novel, “The Last Man,” about a Russian biological weapon which cases smallpox in 98% of the worlds population.

So, why see “I Am Legend” with so much already said on the subject and more always coming down the pike? The special effects are an optic playground: destroyed bridges, wildlife taking over the silent city, very convincing and frightening mutants. The tightly edited action is heart stopping. The tension is palpable. Smith’s performance evokes heartfelt sympathy. We never suspend our disbelief enough to believe the film for a second, and that’s a good thing. May it never happen. But we do enjoy the roller coaster ride through a lonely and dangerous planet.


Youth Without Youth (2007)
Writer/Director: Francis Ford Coppola
From the Novela by Mircea Eliade
Cast Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Bruno Ganz, Andre Hennicke, Marcel Iures
Running Time 124 minutes
Rating R - for some sexuality, nudity and a brief disturbing image (horse being experimented on – oh, how I hate that!)

Seventy year old Professor Dominic Matei is just about to commit suicide when he is struck by lightening. Instead of the death he hoped for, he gets a new lease on life, and youth. His body's clock is turned back a good 40 years; he even develops a new set of teeth and some special powers, but this is no science fiction work. It plays out more dark and foreboding, an historical plot with sinister Nazi spies, doctors who experiment with large doses of electricity, sub-plots and subterfuges.

Matei, played by Tim Roth, now renewed and young, longs to continue his research into the origins of language and to finish his definitive work on the topic, a daunting task. His sudden rejuvenation not only includes a full head of hair and fresh teeth, but an increased capacity for learning, psycho kinetic power (strangely, used only once), and the appearance of a double only he can see who offers life saving advice and an alternative perspective to his problems. The woman Matei loved and lost in his youth, Laura (played by Alexandra Maria Lara), is somehow reincarnated and returned to him as Veronica. He first meets her and gives her directions on the road. Later, he finds her speaking Sanskrit in a cave higher up on the road. They and a linguist go to India to confirm many of her Sanskrit statements, proving her transmigration of soul from ancient Rupini to Veronica.

Matei and Veronica return to Europe and live together. Each night in her sleep, Veronica continues to speak in earlier and earlier languages. Bringing Matei closer to the resolution of his work, she is also dangerously affected by this talent. Should he finish his work, finally arriving at the first language, at the cost of her life?

Coppola may have bitten off more than he can chew bringing to the screen this novella by Mircea Eliade which spans over 30 years in a most idiosyncratic and confusing way. It becomes a mish mash of genres, filmic looks, plot devices and detours which include supernatural power, all without an overriding theme we can hold onto while traversing the darker side of the Eastern European mind. It seems Matei is the victim of higher fates, tugging him this way and that, confusing him and us while leading him to an unknown purpose. And I don't think I am able to forgive Coppola for a scene in which Laura, upon arriving at a lovely villa in Malta, asks Matei, "What is that bird over there?" and he responds, "Oh, that's a Maltese falcon." Is that cheap shot an indication of the flippant nature of this film? Are we supposed to be counting the references to literature and having a laugh? Gogol's doppelganger, Kafka's justifiable paranoia about an oppressive government, Chandler's Mediterranean bird of pray, Dennis Potter's "The Singing Detective"'s lover turned spy or enemy provocateur met on the street being killed? The significance of the three roses are completely lost on me. And what else?

I'm sure much could be written about Coppola's investigation of effects of the passage of time on one's body and soul, the necessity of fulfillment in one's life, the independent life of the alter ego each of us talks to in our thoughts. Much could be said about his choices of filmic styles for the different episodes of the protagonist's life in different countries at different times. Some might complain about the overpowering 1940's style music score. What I loved most about this film was the credits -- as in pre-"Star War" times, credits were brief and at the beginning of films, with a simple "The End" or "Fin" at the end.

Coppola states he wanted to make a small budget, personal film. I find it amazing that on a small budget, whatever that might be, it still looked like a glossy, big budget film. As a simple audience member, though, I felt I had to keep changing gears, not because world events are passing by at a quickening pace and the face of Europe is changing during these tumultuous times, but because the film didn't make up it's mind as to what and why it was.

The Golden Compass (2007)
Directors: Chris Weitz, Robert Shaye
Writers: Chris Weitz, Tobias Emmerich, Paul Weitz
Cast Nicole Kidman, Dakota Blue Richards, Sam Elliott, Eva Green, Daniel Craig, Tom Courtenay

I have heard a rumor that a faction of Christians is in an uproar about “The Golden Compass.” Seems it’s sacrilegious, it’s heretical, it’s poisoning the souls of children! It’s ridiculous.

We have all been raised with fairy tales, witches, wizards, goblins, monsters (in the closet and under the bed), imaginary friends, Santa Claus (yes, he is imaginary and that’s just as good as real), Easter Rabbit, cartoons in which animals speak, and on and on. Are these particular Christians upset because a girl child instead of a boy child has the key to saving the future from total mind control and a soulless existence for the particular parallel universe depicted in “The Golden Compass”? Are the only myths and unsubstantiated legends supposed to come from the bible? Should Aesop’s Fables, Bullfinch’s Mythology, Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, fairy tales from Asia and Africa, sagas and myths from Scandinavia be banned? Isn’t it humiliating enough that this country which is supposed to be the most universally educated and scientifically advanced is still arguing in court if the first chapter of the bible should to be taught alongside the science of evolution -- in state funded schools?

I refuse to turn back the clock to the 13th Century in which Torquemada burned women at the stake for practicing herbal medicine, where Jews and Moslems were banished from Christian countries and their thriving business taken over the uneducated lackeys of the church, where all people were forbidden from asking questions that only science, free spirit and imagination could answer.

I refuse to allow religious censors to dictate what is taught in schools and seen in films and heard in music and played in video games and painted and written and spoken. All of us, especially Christians, must put a stop to this fanatical wave, this very small minority who would do to the United States what the Taliban and Al Quida has done to the Near and Middle East. Don’t let them take away our freedom of thought, our imagination our choices.

Actually, they sound very much like the villains in “The Golden Compass.” Young Lara (played by Dakota Blue Richards) is a rather unruly girl in private school. Her uncle, Lord Asriel (Dennis Craig) (does the name sound uncomfortably too much like Israel for the right wing faction?) is a scientist who explores the far north to find a why to communicate with life on other planets. I think. I have to admit, there’s a whole lot in this story I don’t understand, like the significance of the “dust” or how the golden compass in the hands of the one who has been foretold (does the right wing rankle at it being a girl) can save the universe. Seems we have to wait for the sequel to get a real payoff. Okay, I’ll go see the sequel because the movie is very beautiful, the child, though fiercely independent, is very endearing. I have found that historically boys in fairy tales are kind, moral, brave and resourceful, like Harry Potter. The girls tend to be very annoying, like Sally Salt in Terry Gilliam’s “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” (1988). To continue with the story -- the administrators of this planet want to scientifically remove the soul from all the children so they will be unthinking and obedient. (Now, does this hit too close to home for the squawking right wing who doesn’t want you to see this film?)

Lara is taken from the school by Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) for her own nefarious purpose. Lara escapes and goes on a perilous journey to save her uncle from an impending assassination, her friends from loosing their souls, and the whole universe from mind control. She finds friends and supporters along the way, a giant polar bear, cowboy-aeronaut Sam Elliot, and a flock of witches. Is she successful, does freedom of mind vanquish those who wish to control us, I mean them? See the film, if only to squash those who wouldn’t let you if they could.

The Kite Runner (2007)
Director: Marc Foster
Screenplay: David Benioff
Novel: Khaled Hosseini
Cast: Zekeria Ebrahimi, Amah Khan Mahmidzada, Khalid Abdallah, Homayan Ershadi, Shaun Taub, Nabi Tanha, Ali Dinesh, Said, Taghmaoui, Atossa Leoni
PG 13
128 min.

I feel like I've seen three movies in one sitting, each taking its time to tell a multi-layered, realistic story.
First, the childhood friends Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi), a wealthy businessman's son (Amah Khan Mahmidzada), and Hassan, the businessman's servant's son. I get a good feel for life in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the 1970's, neither communistic, with free trade and a static class structure, nor fundamentalist Muslim, with the odd drink and cigar enjoyed after dinner or at parties (which include women in Western attire dancing with guys who may not even be their husbands). I am more than a little irked that Amir reads stories to Hassan who is illiterate. No universal education and it seems friends don't share the secrets of the written word with the less fortunate servant class. Very telling. Actually the story is about the difference, not so much in economic and social class, as in moral structure. Hassan stands up for himself, his friend, and what is right. Amir not only runs from confrontation, but becomes devious to hide this shameful fact.

Still, I am dazzled by the biggest event in the village, the annual kite contest in which kite strings are somehow treated to be able to cut the strings of neighboring kites. Either the last kite flying or the one with the most cuttings is the winner. The kite runner goes after the cut kites and keeps them as spoils of war. This is the most obvious section of the film that showed Dreamworks' funding. It is not a western film by any means, though much of it is in English for a wider audience, but with lots of American money behind it, the kites fly high and widely and we get bird's eye tracking views of the action. The kite competition may be the least realistic part of the film -- slight nudges of the wrist get the kites attacking, circling and liberating opposing kites in an intricate and unfathomable dance.

The second section of this film concerns the escape by Amir and his father from Kabul to America due to the start of the Russian invasion. Being a very successful capitalist and outspoken opponent of Communism, Amir's father has become an enemy of the state. Crossing the dangerous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is perilous enough, but Amir's father standing up to a Russian soldier at gunpoint whose requested payment for allowing a truck full of immigrants to pass is the rape of a woman, is another example of courage lacking in his son. Penniless, the two start a new life in the Bay Area. The price for freedom (and life) is all the worldly accouterments that success had once bestowed on this pair. Dad now works in a gas station, Amir (as an adult - Khalid Abdallah) is a struggling student aspiring to become a novelist. He falls in love, marries, becomes a successful writer. Life is good as is a view of San Francisco in the background.

Here we learn of the struggles faced by immigrant populations -- regaining economic equilibrium is left to the next generation, maintaining one's culture far from home is an upward battle, adapting to a new culture is difficult and humiliating, especially in one's own home. Note: always take a bit of soil with you when you leave your homeland -- not to remember, but to literally feel your roots in your hands.

Time has passed; Amir and his wife are celebrating the publication of his book. His spacious apartment has a panoramic view, probably from twin peaks south to the bay and Bayshore. Not my favorite, but better than what's out my window. Then comes the phone call from Hassan's father. Amir, still privileged and protected, must go to one of the most dangerous places on Earth. He takes on the task, showing courage for the first time in his life, to find, rescue and return to America with Hassan's son.

Where was this shot? Who played the Taliban soldiers who use people who look at them directly for target practice, who stone women to death at half time of a soccer match, who have turned their country into a cold, sterile desert? It is hard to believe that people want so much control and power that they will leave nothing in their paths.

As an aside, I also never understood the villains in the James Bond movies who want to destroy the world. What's left to have power over? Who pays you tribute if you destroy everyone and everything? Ultimately, what do they get out of it? The Taliban, at least in this movie, are no less extreme and confounding.

This film is based on a novel by a Muslim, Khaled Hosseini, which brings veracity to the work. It is interpreted by David Benioff in his adaptation for the screen, interpreted again by director Marc Foster, and backed by lots of American money. Yet, I believe it. I believe the life I see in 1970's and 2000 Kabul. It may be for others with more knowledge and experience of the times and place to judge its authenticity, But it is ultimately a story of a boy finally taking responsibility and finding the moral fiber to do so. And that is universal, a facet of the human condition, and a piece of great storytelling.

Man in The Chair (2007)
Director: Michael Schroeder
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Michael Angarano, M. Emmet Walsh, Robert Wagner, Tracey Walter, Joshua Boyd
Rated: PG-13 for language and thematic elements (
does that mean children should not be exposed to the problems of the elderly?)

There is one segment of the population that is marginalized even further off the page than women and people of color. This segment is forgotten, deprived, sent to institutions where they are abused, maltreated, and left to die, abandoned even by their own children and certainly by society. They are the aged. Even in the best of circumstances, they may have their senior communities and full medical coverage, but they have no place in society and their vast experience and wisdom is wasted. Unused, it atrophies, which is a tragedy for all of us. In "Man in The Chair," a young boy, as troubled and unhappy as he is, cannot ignore this silenced population once he is made aware of it, and is moved to action.

Cameron Kincaid (played by Michael Angarano) , who regularly skips school and is out on parole from joy riding a stolen car among other assorted infringements of the law, can't help but notice an old man, Flash (played by Christopher Plummer), in movie theater. Flash shouts at the screen, making his vast, insider knowledge of films known through his angry rantings. Cameron, coincidentally, not only loves films, but wants to make a film as a school project which may lead to a full scholarship to college. He dreams of someday being the man in the director's chair. So, Kincaid follows Flash out of the theater, stalks him, and finally approaches him, asking for his help in making the film. Curmudgeon Flash finally agrees under relentless pressure and payoffs of cigars and Wild Turkey. Flash introduces Cameron to his neighbors in the Motion Picture Retirement Home. An assortment of talent and Academy award winners who quietly pass their days in front of the TV are roused from their dormancy and excitedly prepare for the project. Cameron's subject matter quickly changes from skateboards and motorcycles to an exposé on conditions in the vast majority of senior institutions.

Plummer is, as always, a joy to watch, through his angry, drunken, insults and frustration at being jettisoned by society as dead weight only because he's old in a youth worshiping society which is only magnified by Hollywood standards. Ironically, Plummer himself is flourishing in his maturity in his profession and family life. It's good to be successful. But for each Plummer, there are hundreds of other actors who languish in dark shadows, as most senior citizens do.

Would all youth be as aware of this situation, compassionate, and honoring of the elder as Michael Angarano's Cameron. Cameron is our eyes and ears as we become aware that the family problems we face may only be in part the fault of others, but more importantly, the situations of, in this case, the elderly are far worse and hopeless. This message seemed to me to be made far too blatant, preachy and even pedantic. I forgive director Schroeder for this lack of subtlety -- perhaps a digression into the documentary realm which mirrors Cameron's filmmaking journey. Cameron even brings the message home in promising his mother he will always take care of her -- perhaps the most important message in the film. We do not lapse into despair because of the fine acting by Plummer, Angarano, E. Emmet Walsh (as Academy Award winning playwright alone and numbed by his destitution) and the others in this first rate cast, the integrity of the characters they play, and hope given by the youthful protagonist.

In "Man in This Chair," we all face our futures -- abandonment by family, institutionalization, squalor, and defeat. Baby boomers, beware and plan ahead! From our parents' disposal to our own is only a few brief years.

I’m Not There (2007)
Director: Todd Haynes
Screenwriter: Todd Haynes and Oren Overman
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger - all as Bob Dylan; Kris Kristofferson, Julianne Moore, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michelle Williams, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood and many more
Rated R

“I’m Not There” is a pastiche of Todd Haynes and co-writer Oren Moverman’s selected highlights of Bob Dylan’s life. They are ramblings and artistic interpretations of his life from his early years to the 1970's.. Though Dylan was never a black boy (Marcus Carl Franklin) of 11 riding the train cars and singing about the Great Depression to the hobos he met, Haynes gives him this persona. The child is devoted to Woody Guthrie and sits by his bedside in the hospital as he lays dying. This is a reference to Dylan’s mentorship by Woody which led to his folk sound. I suppose Haynes sees the youth’s inner soul as this black child. Interesting and daring.

Then Dylan develops into an intense and committed folk singer (Christian Bale) named Jack. This may be a reference to Rambling Jack Elliot who was Guthrie’s actual protégé and whose career was eclipsed by Dylan’s more successful run for fame. In this film the Jack character, after an existential breakdown, becomes a minister. I could watch and listen to Bale interpret Dylan till the sun goes down. But no mention of the controversy around Dylan’s donation of several million dollars to Israel.

When Dylan later goes electric, Haynes emphasizes the controversy that ensues: has Dylan betrayed his folk/protesting following? I don’t remember that issue. “I Ain’t Gonna Work on Maggie’s Farm No More” was as protesty as “The Times They Are a Changing.” The new sound sold more than he old one, so, obviously, more people liked it than didn’t. We are taken through his nihilistic period, has movie star period (?), his old man in the mountains with his dog and horse period (I suppose yet to come).

I should say no more about the many short stories that are “I’m Not There.” Obviously, Haynes took great care and imaginative pleasure in using Dylan as the skeleton which he dressed in many fine coats. He may be missing his pants, meaning the story is aggrandizing, incomplete and to my recollection inaccurate. Trying to make all the characters fit into one actual person is not the aim of this film and would only lead to frustration on the part of the audience. Just relax and enjoy the music, the wonderful performances, and Heath Ledger in a towel. If you’re trying to see his penis, you’ll have to wait for the DVD to put it on freeze frame.

Love in the Time of Cholera (2007)
Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Benjamin Bratt, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Hector Elizondo, Liev Schreiber
Screenwriter: Ron Harwood from the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Rated R for lots of breasts

“Love in the Time of Cholera” takes great care to look and feel like the novel by Marquez, and I greatly appreciate that because I love the book. It is tropical, densely foliated, hot, and misty. The mountains are dangerous precipices, the rivers white and unpredictable. Yet civilization near the end of the 19th Century is valiantly trying to tame this rugged and inhospitable place. For modern society to make its mark, the most formal of etiquette must be followed. Victoria rules Britannia and the standards of civilization in Colombia, South America, on the edge of the jungle, should be no less stringent than those in London or Madrid. Men wear white, three-piece suits, ladies are covered in lace from chin to ankle and strict rules of courtship must be followed. Cholera seems to be the only natural occurrence that truly effects this population of transplanted Spaniards, and reminds the populace that it is truly far from home.

In this setting, Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem) courts Fermina Daza (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) with a series of love letters. She responds and avers her love for him as well. Her dad (John Leguizamo) is adamant that she marry better than a mere telegraph clerk and takes her to her cousin deep in the jungle for a year. Florentino is more than heartbroken; he is devastated, inconsolable, crushed. Though he vows fidelity to his beloved Fermina, he finds that sex with other willing partners, lessens the pain, if not the ardor he feels for her. And he is in a lot of pain. Upon her return, she runs into him in the marketplace and realizes, quite suddenly and irrevocable, that her love for him was a mistake and he is nothing more than a shadow. Off she goes to live her life without him and with barely a memory of him. She marries, very well, in fact, to Dr. Juvinal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt), has a child, and lives out her life as any married woman of high social standing would. Florentino waits. He will increase his stature in society so he can be a good match for Fermina when the time finally comes that they can be together again -- when her husband dies. And he waits. And he waits.

At first, upon reading the book and again upon seeing the film, I wondered what changed Fermina’s mind about Florentino. I have since figured it out. The guy is creepy. As I have done many times before, I have selected the guy we’re not supposed to be rooting for. While others may be emotionally supporting Florentino because his love is so pure and he is a good man, and because he gets most of the screen time, I am glad she marries Dr. Urbino. Sure, he’s not perfect, but he’s not creepy, and he does really love her and he does provide very well for her. I’m always finding the guy we supposedly don’t want the female lead to marry the guy I would choose.

This film (as the book) is elevated above mere melodrama because of the parallels between society and nature, the conflicts between love and culture, the tenacity of the heart. The language is also beautiful, and the backdrop provocative and wild. I am able to visit the land of “Fitzcarraldo” (1982) again, but in more amicable company. As for the concept of lifelong love overcoming obstacles of family and time, we can also visit or revisit “Like Water for Chocolate” (1992), a novel (with recipes) and film, which takes place in the rough and revolutionary Mexico. There are several parallels between “Chocolate” and “Cholera”, including a similar ending in the novels, though the film version of “Cholera” has taken a different road. Perhaps there is an iconic myth about this particular situation in Latin culture. I am happy to take this foray into this romantic idea of unrequited, eternal love in the tropical wilds of a yet untamed country.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (2007)
Writer/Director: Zach Helm
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Jason Bateman
Rated: G

On the one hand, Mr. Magorium's just fun. I'm a kid again in a toy store, and the toys play back!. Plot is intentionally thin: Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman), magical magistrate of his self-named toy store, feels it's time to move on. So, he hires an accountant (Jason Bateman) to clean up his paperwork thus making transition of the business to his store manager (Natalie Portman) easier. A 9 year old boy (Zach Mills), who has socialization problems, also works at the store. I ponder child labor laws. But lest we forget, children also take over the running of businesses (or the same business) in both "Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" (1971) and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (2005). This is obviously some wish fulfillment on the part of children everywhere and completely acceptable in G rated films.
On the other hand, all the characters seemed distant. Mr. Magorium never really exposes his mystery (perhaps as he shouldn't), but I would have enjoyed the tales he could have told rather than watching slinkies, paper airplanes and bouncy balls as much as I did. And there didn't seem much of a payoff regarding Portman's classical music composing aspirations and Mills' inability to make friends. Bateman did loosen up from accountant (mutant) to human.

The store, large as it is for a real boutique toy store (though not as spacious as FAO Schwartz or Toys ‘R Us), seemed claustrophobic as a movie set. Remember Robin Williams' factory in "Toys" (1992) Now, there was a place a kid could play. True, it wasn't a store, but magic could have made Magorium's store bigger than it was and I could have felt more comfortable in the surroundings.

As for moral of the story, I was hoping it could be skipped in just this one film. It really wasn't necessary, and it really didn't make much sense. I can't get into it or I'd ruin the film for all you fun loving potential viewers. I felt it was tacked on as a requirement of all children's movies. But dare I say what I wanted? I wanted a grand piano rolled into the Emporium and original music filling every nook and cranny. Don't expect it. That's only what I wanted.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium does make me wax nostalgic, though, for the times when toys were not outsourced to China where life is obviously cheap and lead paint, date rape drugs coating beads, and little accessory pieces that clog the throat are a part of the manufacturing process.

Lions for Lambs (2007)
Director: Robert Redford
Cast: Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Michael Pena, Andrew Garfield, Derek Luke
Writer: Matthew Michael Carnahan
Rated R
88 minutes

This is a very glossy, huge budgeted, Liberal Democratic, blatant, propaganda film. That’s all right with me; I’m a liberal Democrat and the more in our party the better. I feel it is absolutely correct and only call it propaganda because it’s intention is to sway public opinion, in this case, against Republicans and the war (in Iraq, Afghanistan, soon Iraq, and any place else the right wing can make a profit).

The film is split into three segments. First there’s the reporter (Meryl Streep) invited to have a private, one-hour interview with the Congressman (Tom Cruise) who is the shining new hope of the Republican Party . He wants her to know, and to tell the public, that a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan has been put into action, a strategy for finally winning. “We will do what it takes.” This sends a chill down the reporter’s back. They parley and toss ideas back and forth for a third of the film, segmented and interspersed with the other two episodes which are taking place in the same time frame. “What about diplom...?” He never lets her finish a sentence, jumping in with aggressive lines such as, “Diplomacy doesn’t stop terrorists. Do you want to stop terrorists? This is a yes or no answer.” Well, you know, the same fear rhetoric we’ve been hearing since we were told Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Meryl even quotes the Who’s, “We won’t be fooled again” (“Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss”) in response to Cruise’s stance on the war.

\The next part of the film takes place in a California college. Robert Redford, as the professor, has a meeting with a student (played by Andrew Garfield) who has lost interest in his political science class. This is the most simplistic and obvious of the three stories. The student doesn’t believe he can make a difference, so he’s just going to enjoy the good life his parents have been able to provide for him in this free democratic society even though they resent that he’s having such a good time. Redford wants him to take action, make a difference, lick envelopes, attend a march, even if it doesn’t make a difference. Listening to this, I’m flashing back to the 60's, and I do mean flashing back. This line of thinking has been crammed down students’ throats for the past 45 years, uninterrupted. Maybe the younger members of the theater audience haven’t heard it yet. Okay, if one person is changed by a film, it’s worth it, but it’s no picnic for me to have to listen to it again even if I agree, and I do. No artful new perspectives, no brilliant dialogue, even though it’s obvious that the actors both think it is.

The last part is the action. Two soldiers (both men of color – Derek Luke, Michael Pena) in Afghanistan are followed from the meeting with the officers in the big tent where they learn of their next assignment (please excuse my lack of military jargon), their flight in the helicopter to the snow capped mountains and their subsequent actions. This brings into sharp relief what the others in the film are talking about, what’s at stake, what happens to our boys (no female soldiers in this film). The distance between Afghanistan and Washington/California, the cold, terrifying, embattled isolation of those mountains, compared to the offices, both grand and cramped, both including hot coffee, brings harsh reality to what decision makers actually do to our boys in the name of freedom.

“Lions to Lambs” is a forthright study from many perspectives of the war in the Middle East: the Republican Senator (obviously the bad guy), the reporter (trying to balance her ethics with her job), the professor (effete but hopeful the next generation will stop the madness), the student (waffling between comfort and commitment), the soldiers (the very foundation of American democracy and the fodder of war).

The question is -- can we get Republicans into the theater to get the message? And a further, more important question -- will they be effected by what they see? I haven’t seen it happen yet -- policy change because of a movie. Well, maybe Gore did have some effect. But still, no electric cars on the road, Bush and Chaney still in office, war still going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and, without doubt, soon in Iran. Please, prove me wrong.


Bee Movie (2007)
Dir: Steve Hickner & Simon J. Smith
Cast: Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warbuton, John Goodman, Barry Levinson, Oprah Winfrey, Chris Rock, Kathy Bates, Alan Arkin, Larry King, Sting, Ray Liotta, Megan Mullally, Rip Torn
Writers: Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten, Barry Marder, Andy Robin
Rated: PG

I keep forgetting when I go see animation targeted for children that the intended audience hasn't see all the movies I have. It's the first time for them -- seeing an insect who doesn't fit in, who wants to adventure and explore the world outside its home. They haven't seen "Antz," in which Z, Woody Allen's character, a little ant who wants out of the daily rut of the hill goes into the world at large. And let's not forget Little Nemo who was tempted to go beyond the limits of the seaweed patch set by his dad. There are others from which Bee Movie gets at least some inspiration, but it's a new combination of characters and plot lines that will seem fresh and fun to its young audience.

Seinfeld's bee, Barry B. Benson, has just graduated from bee college. He and his friend, Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick), are about to choose their lifelong careers. LIFELONG! He had no idea that he would be stuck in the same job "till he dies" (which seems a lot worse than "for the rest of his life"). So, out he goes with the dashing pollen collectors to interact with the world outside the hive. In the course of his extra-hival exploration, he makes friends with a florist (Rene Zellweger), uncovers bee injustice and fights it. If there is a moral to this story, it's not so much follow your urge to explore and expand your horizons as it is don't mess with the natural order! I was a bit taken aback by this revelation. Maybe if the kids take it to heart, they won't be so difficult to control. Hmmmm.

I found the visuals interesting and beautiful. The humor is really for children with only a couple of jokes that adults would appreciate. Those jokes and the suggestion of smoking in one scene got the film a PG rating. Watch out, kids! This film may be dangerous to your moral fiber!

I suppose since it takes so long to produce an animated feature, the real world bee problem hadn't happened yet. A point of the film -- bees are vital to life on earth -- is now reflected in our agricultural crisis. The bees are gone. They're not dead; just gone. No piles of bee carcases have been found, but the hives all over the U.S. are just about empty. Nobody knows why. I can't help but be reminded of Douglas Adams' fourth book in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish." In this book, all the dolphins have disappeared from the planet because they know that the Earth will soon be destroyed. They had tried to relay the message to humans by a complicated trick involving jumping out of the water, going through a fire lighted hoop, making three somersaults on the way back to the water while squeaking wildly. People didn't understand the meaning of this dance; the dolphins gave up and left before it was too late. Will there be time to make a film about what the bees are actually doing?

Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Amy Ryan, Amy Madigan
Writers: Ben Affleck, Aaron Stockard

Taut, tense, rapid fire action describes this thriller about a missing 4 year old girl from the blue collar, Dorchester area of Boston. The Afflecks are on their home turf and probably know all the extras personally, maybe even went to school with them. There is an authenticity about the setting, a familiarity that makes this neighborhood more than a backdrop. It's a motivation, a cause.

Unfortunately, usually when a child is kidnapped, a pedophile is responsible, the child is never returned, and the best that can be hoped for is eventually finding the body and the family having some closure. Not so simple and direct in this case. In "Gone, Baby, Gone," the focus of the investigation, first by the police (represented by Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris) and then a private investigator (Casey Affleck), takes many twists and turns. Of course, the mother is the first suspect. Then, does she have a boyfriend? Does anyone want to hurt the mother through the abduction of the child? And the list of suspects grows. The very underbelly of the city is exposed in the deepening search for the child. I will say no more about the plot. It's a powerful story that sadly too many people have had first hand knowledge of.

Casey Affleck plays the subdued, yet unstoppable PI. He walks quietly and carries a little gun, and when situations become unbearably frightening (at least to me), he either stands his ground or runs into the fray instead of running away. Ed Harris, as the tough, veteran cop, inspires respect and doubt at the same time. And Morgan Freeman is the same dependable Morgan Freeman we have grown to depend on. Even though the unevenly distributed, mumbled Boston accent caused a few problems, I was able to catch up on the story without too many problems.

I have to admit, I don’t see directing when I watch a film. Directing is constantly making choices on how each word is delivered, what angle the shot should be , and a million other details in the architecture of the whole film. If all the pieces don’t fit together, the building will fall. I say this building stands strong and all the plumbing works. Well, there may be a crack in the foundation. I can imagine a group of people who have just left the theater after seeing “Gone Baby Gone” going to a café to discuss it and at least some of them will be very angry or disappointed with the error. Ben Affleck as director and co-writer must have caught the booboo, but chose not to amend it or couldn’t see a way around it. Otherwise, he certainly kept the audience on the edge for the whole film – and that’s why we go to the theater. Well, one of the reasons.

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner
Writer: Nancy Oliver

It ain't never going to happen -- a guy introduces his plastic, inflatable girlfriend to his brother and sister-in-law, to the community, to the pastor, and they all accept her, even warmly integrate her into their little society. No one makes a tasteless remark, no one says "get that sex toy outta here!" There are no thoughtless characters, no bad guys. As I say, ain't gonna happen.

Well, let's just accept that it does in the little Minnesota town. Lars is much like his environment: isolated, cold, lonely. He goes from his office job to his finished garage room and sits in the dark, with as little contact as possible with anyone else. His sister-in-law keeps inviting him over to the main house for dinner, breakfast, move in, just don't be alone in that garage room. He's not budging. But one day he buys a sex doll, only it's not for sex. She is his companion, his girlfriend, and he believes she's a real, live girl.

His family and the whole town accept his delusion and play along -- because they're good Nordic stock, it's winter, he's a member of the community, and therefore, they support him. That alone is enough of a message for a film. The town M.D. (Patricia Clarkson) also has a degree in psychology and while she gives Bianca treatments for low blood pressure, she listens and talks with Lars. We slowly understand why Bianca is just the right emotional speed for Lars. And we watch him develop because of his loving relationship with her.

This is a very intriguing film -- psychologically and emotionally. Kudos to Ryan Gosling for yet another riveting performance. I completely accept this man's sense of fulfillment and joy at having finally hooked up with someone he can share his childhood memories with, sing to, introduce to the neighbors and fellow workers. His very relationship with Bianca gives him the confidence to go to a party, bowl with co-workers, hang out with a new friend, do all the things he didn't even know he was missing in his life prior to Bianca. She was the crutch to give him the practice tools to enter society, to rise above his bereft past, to start living.

I found it fascinating that this film was written by a woman, Nancy Oliver. But it makes sense: a woman could see the other values of purchasing a friend to stave off the dismal loneliness of a north country winter, or to fall pray to a fetish, like a collection of action figures, a teddy bear, any number of things that our society will accept and compare it to an adult plastic/imaginary friend. Whereas, most guys can only see an inflatable doll as a sex partner who never talks back. Oliver even makes Bianca talk back to Lars. I can certainly see how this play write and TV writer whose recent credits include co-producer, story editor, and writer for HBO's "Six Feet Under," could conceive of such a subtle and complex relationship.

I rate this film P for Poignant. While you watch, try to control your nervous twitters. You may not be able to forget that Bianca's a sex doll, but Lars doesn't think of her that way, and if you keep laughing, you'll miss the important stuff.

Weirdsville (2007)
Director: Allan Moyle
Cast Scott Speedman, Wes Bentley, Taryn Manning, Greg Bryk, Matt Frewer, Dax Ravina
Writer: William Wennekers
90 minutes
Rated: R

This is a rollicking caper/druggie flick that made me laugh out loud on several occasions. The two protagonists are stoners in the suburbs of a wintry Canadian city called Weedsville. They get in trouble, they try to get out of it, everything they do is stupid -- to be expected -- they're stoned. For example, the movie starts out with the two leads Royce (Wes Bentley) and Dexter (Scott Speedman) freaking out because Royce's girlfriend, played by Taryn Manning, overdoses and is dead. They can't call the police or bring her to the hospital because questions would arise -- like where did she get the drugs. Here's where she got the drugs: Royce owes his dealer a lot of money and he can't pay it back. Either he takes more of the dealer's drugs and sells it for him or both his legs will be broken. And that's where she got the drugs. That's one stupid dealer. A short drive outside of town and they're in the wilds of Canada, Canada as far as the eye can see, Canada forever. But instead of burying her anywhere out there, they decide to bury here in the basement of the drive-in movie concession/office building where Royce once had a job. Not smart. As they're digging a hole in the basement, a bunch of Satanic cultists enter, headed by the manager of the drive-in to perform some rituals. Thus the chase begins: the Satanists must catch the guys before they expose them, the guys must run from both the Satanists and the drug dealer. And it gets more complicated. But I leave that for you to unravel.

This film is lightening fast and makes sense if you get into that dysfunctional, drugged groove. Matt Frewer (Max Headroom -- do you remember?) has a small part, and I always treasure the moments I find him, like in the TV show, "Eureka."

I did find a small part of my brain chanting throughout the film, "Get off drugs. Just say no." And perhaps that's not in the spirit of the film, but that's how I root for these likeable, good hearted, misguided dudes. I'm sure a large segment of the audience will just be rooting for them.

Sleuth (2007)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Michael Caine, Jude Law
Screenplay: Harold Pinter
Produced by Jude Law, Kenneth Branagh, etc.
86 minutes
Rated: R

Okay, picture this: I offer you this deal. You steal a million dollars' worth of my family jewels. I get the insurance money and I know a fence who will give you $800,000 for the jewels because you will also steal the papers of authenticity and he can sell it at full price for a profit. Would you do it? If you did, you'd be an idiot. Those papers only confirm the identity of stolen jewels! And that's one of the first premises of "Sleuth", as proposal by Michael Caine, the cuckolded husband, to wife's new lover, played by Jude Law. This is a psychological game rewritten from Anthony Shaffer's original Broadway play by Pulitzer prize winner Harold Pinter. I have to admit, this incredibly weak plot point means a lot to me. I go to a potboiler to be boiled and this script barely sizzles. Sure, it's witty, face paced, tricky, but it doesn't hold up for me.

Caine's Andrew Wyke is a successful mystery writer who confronts Law's Milo Tindle, a struggling actor or hairdresser or part time driver (one of several salutes to "Alfie" whom both Caine and Law played at their appropriate ages). Instead of expressing his rage or just taking out a gun and shooting Milo, Andrew engages him in dangerous mind games. Milo can give as well as be can take, and thus we see the interplay in wit, daring and heightening levels testosterone.

And yet, because the brilliant dialogue is an acting exercise for the characters (if not the actors), it looses intrinsic importance. What they say really doesn't matter since we quickly catch on that they're lying, and both seem to be extremely gullible.

The set is a 17th Century mansion in the English countryside, gutted and turned into a sterile, gray, electronically controlled museum. Walls slide open with the press of a tiny remote control, lights turn from disco ball gyrations to browbeating interrogation bulbs, colors subtly change, moods are easily altered. Modern sculptures resemble mechanisms of torture. Everything is uncomfortable, uninviting.

This film is based on a stage play which often leads to claustrophobia among viewers. The two actors walk from room to room often for no apparent reason other to keep the audience from crawling the metaphoric walls. We breathe deeply when we take a little excursion outside the house to say hello at the door or move a ladder. Then back inside to see which man wins the pissing contest: the experienced crime writer on his home turf or the young, handsome, underrated dark horse. These guys are put through they're paces and we are often surprised. The 1972 version of "Sleuth," starring Laurence Olivier as the husband and Michael Caine as the young lover was on TV a few days ago. But all the press info on the new film said the scripts are so different, the 2007 version is really a new film. We'll I recognized it. There were differences, but it is the same film. The '72 house is full of antique mechanical toys, the '07 house has toys of an electronic nature which controls surveillance and lighting. The third act has a different bent on the deep-seated fears of the characters. I preferred the ending of the '72 version. It closes the circle nicely. I think it's only fair when one watches the remake, to pay homage to the original by renting and viewing. After all, it was good enough to make again.


Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Cast Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Rhys Ifans, Samantha Morton, Abbie Cornish
Writers: William Nicholson, Michael Hirst

What a wonderful film to watch. As much as "Sleuth" mesmerizes its audience with set design, "Elizabeth" dazzles the audience with costume - one gorgeous gown after another, resplendent with wigs, jewelry and almost Kabuki makeup. And oh my, I will never forget her most royally sexy suit of armor. I'm sure that would get any soldier's blood boiling. We are even allowed to enter ER's closet, an endless room in which gown after gown on headless forms and covered with gossamer stand at attention, awaiting the Queen's bidding. The fashion show was worth the price of admission.

Needless to say, Blanchett is magnificent as Elizabeth. The supporting cast of Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen seem to be unchallenged. The cinematography and direction of this second historical drama starring Blanchett and directed by Kapur is so stylized -- with bird's eye views of the royal court so high as to diminish the people below to rats in a maze, intentional out-of-focus shots, strange inserts of 360 x 4 tracking shots of mannequin-like Elizabeth, obviously unrealistic shots of the Spanish Armada engaging the paltry British Navy in a pool churned and fanned to approximate the stormy English Channel -- that it eroded my ability to suspend my disbelief. I'm not sure what the intention was for these artistic techniques, but I felt it diminished and diverted the retelling of Elizabeth's finest moment and Cate's powerful performance. This is a rare look at a woman leading one of the most powerful countries in the Western world (not to be repeated till Margaret Thatcher -- yes, there were other queens, such as Victoria, but that pesky Parliament took away most of her power), challenged strangely enough by any Queen, Mary of Scotland, for her throne, staving off the Catholic nation of Spain which considered her godless since she was Protestant, and dealing with her one large population of Catholics.

There is a church in San Francisco that has developed its own new pantheon of saints. The first among of them in Elizabeth the First because she refused to persecute the Catholics in her nation and even declared that religion in England was a personal choice and would not be interfered with by government. This was a unique perspective, especially in the times of the Inquisition.

In "Elizabeth: The Golden Era," we get a glimpse into the woman who would lead her nation to greatness, devote her life to her nation at the expense of personal love, family, even an heir to the throne. It would be interesting if Blanchett would continue in her role as Elizabeth to foster British Imperialism through continued expeditions by Raleigh and Drake, whom we only catch a quick glimpse of in this film, encourage the arts (support of Shakespeare), and battle the French and Spanish to keep England free. Rumor is that director Kapur wants to do it. These three films alone would be an honorable lifetime's work for Cate.

Rails & Ties (2007)
Director: Allison Eastwood
Cast: Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Bacon, Miles Heizer
Screenplay: Mickey Levy
PG 13

This film made it abundantly clear to me that a husband and wife do not a family make. Take Tom and Magen Stark. Megan (played by Marcia Gay Harden) has lost her fight against cancer; she wants to go to San Francisco before she dies. Yes, I can understand that. Her husband Tom (played by Kevin Bacon), like many men confronted by a wife's illness and impending death, withdraws emotional and literally. He continues to work as an engineer on a passenger train. This takes him away for days at a time, precious days away from his wife. As fate would have it, a suicidal woman parks her car on the tracks, her son Davey (played by Miles Heizer) barely escaping her fate as Tom runs the car down. As Tom is forced to take leave while awaiting a hearing reviewing his actions, Davey finds his way to Tom's house to confront his mother's killer. And thus a family is created!

The pieces seem to fit together: a couple strained to breaking point by a woman's impending death and a husband's emotional inability to cope with it; a child finally finding a stable, sane, loving environment. The changes among all three are instantaneous. Perhaps too facile, but I accept it because there just isn't time to take slow, progressive steps toward "family." One moment Magen is in remission; the next she's metastasized. One moment Tom is happily leading his Coastal Starlight from SoCal to Seattle, the next, a dead woman lies on the tracks and his career makes an unexpected stop. One moment a boy is trying desperately to take care of his "sick" mom, the next she tries to get him to take two pills that will make him happy and takes him to see the train go by.

And I realized the difference between drama and melodrama -- I cry when confronted with the human condition; I watch stoically when it's unconvincing, over the top, unrealistic, melo. I truly felt for Megan's impending death and for the pain it will cause the two men in her life. I was even hoping for a miraculous recovery -- go, white blood cells, go.

Of course, credit must be given first to Mickey Levy. This first time produced screenwriter was inspired while riding a train to do a story about people who run trains. This led her to extensive research which made her crisscross the country. The resulting information was as much about the heart of the engineer as technical facts. Kudos also to first time director Alison Eastwood, daughter of Clint. One could say she had the advantages of living in a filmmaking world -- her father's business, and having an in when she started her career as an actress -- but she also used good judgment in making choices that would shape this first project: go wide screen to capture the impact of the train, though its time on screen was short. It was vital as the instrument which propelled the plot and as a symbol of awe-inspiring adoration among train enthusiasts, riders and watchers. (Also check out The Station Agent for more love of trains.) She chooses to rehearse very little because of her desire to keep the performances spontaneous. She selected first time film actor Miles Heizer for this very demanding part because she felt he was someone she wanted to spend the next 6 to 8 weeks with. One more Eastwood advantage was having her father's associates jump on board to work with her on this film. Still quality will out, and I feel the quality is here. And of course, compliments to the people we see on screen: Marcia Gay Harden looking at her mastectomy scar and breaking down alone in the bathroom-- I'm emotionally there with her (as a real women who empathize with the 1 out of 9 women she represents); Kevin Bacon finding refuge in the garage alone with his model train set, quietly trying to hold himself together; Miles Heizer, with the confidence of an old pro, going from obedient son to troubled foster kid to angry and outraged boy looking for answers, to panic stricken, god fearing child who feels responsible for the deaths of everyone he loves. Not bad for the first time or any time.

I recently reviewed "Things We Lost in the Fire" (below), about the death of a parent/spouse which had all the right elements and then some, but it left me cold. "Rails & Ties," a much smaller, more modest film, keeps me feeling and thinking long after the theater lights have gone on. The delicate combination of factors that makes a film speak to an audience is tenuous and often, unfortunately, unaccountably missing. In "Rails & Ties," I felt it; in "Things We Lost in the Fire," I didn't. It would be interesting to find out how others compare and contrast the two.

Things We Lost In The Fire (2007)
Director Susanne Bier
Writer Executive Producer Allan Loeb
Cast: Halle Berry, Bannock Del Toro, David Duchovny, Alexis Llewellyn , Micah Berry

Story: Brian and Audrey Burke (played by David Duchovny and Halle Berry) are married with two children. They live very comfortably in their Architectural Digest-y home in the woody suburbs somewhere in Washington State. They have their ups and downs - approaches to child rearing being one, but most divisive his Duchovny's long time friendship with Jerry Sunborne (played by Benicio Del Toro), childhood friend, lawyer, then down-and-out junkie. Duchovny never gives up on his friend; Berry never accepts this dangerous relationship. Duchovny dies while being a good Samaritan and, of course, his family is in the throes of grief. Berry approaches Del Toro and asks him to move in. We are never told why. Perhaps because he was her husband's best friend and there is some lingering aura of Duchovny about him, perhaps because she wants to make amends for her enmity towards him, perhaps because she can't bare to be alone. He tries valiantly to be a help to her and her children.

Here's my problem -- I overdosed on meaningful close-ups. Oh, so many meaningful close-ups - of eyes, of ears, of toes, of hands. Then the meaningful shower scenes. Nothing gratuitous - in the sense of nudity, at least. Just trying to wash away the pain, forget, find solace in water running down one's face -- whatever. Way too many showers. If the meaningful close-ups and showers, significant shots of objects and symbolic references were deleted, there'd be about 45 minutes of movie left -- enough for a one-hour special on Lifetime or Oxygen. Also, they distracted me from feeling for the characters. I could watch from an emotional distance and note how beautiful Berry is (not to take away from her acting); how gorgeous the house is; how absolutely perfect the children look and behave; how in a certain light and tilt of the head, Del Toro looks very much like James Dean. I was interrupted too often by beauty shots to feel for the characters.

Director Susanne Bier has been gathering international acclaim since her graduation film from National Film School of Denmark in 1987 to her biggest hit in 2006, "After the Wedding" which was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Academy Award. She is becoming a master (I will never use the word mistress) of the subtlety of complex human interactions. I don't know if she got carried away with the technical possibilities of making her first American film or if this heady ride just got away from her -- in terms of the dazzling visuals. She did pay a tribute to her Dogma roots by allowing the only music in the film to come out of Del Toro's headphones. How far away Dogma seems from this film otherwise.

However, I will watch anything with Benicio Del Toro in it. He doesn't work enough and I don't know if it's his decision or the powers-that-be, but I won't miss his wonderful performances in anything. And as for type-casting, he seems to have been born to play a junkie whether he takes drugs or not, and that's none of my business. I am convinced by his very face from the get go. His suffering, his compassion, his yearning, be it for drugs or a second, third or fourth chance -- I am mesmerized by him.

As for the duel themes of grieving by wife Berry at the loss of husband David Duchovny and addiction by Del Toro, I don't think we covered any new ground here, and based on other films (everything I know is from the movies), I don't think it was very accurate. As for the overall theme upon which the title is based -- Things We Lost In The Fire -- that possessions don't matter as long as you have the people you love, well, Aunt Bessie told me that when I was a child, and I'm sure all of you had someone tell you the same thing. We've seen news footage of Katrina victims and those of other disasters say, "I didn't lose my family and that's all that matters."

One little aside, and the importance of it is that it is just an aside in the film, is that Berry (half black) and Duchovny (white) are a married couple with two children, and no reference to race appears in the film at all. We see a funeral with both races mingling without friction. We see a white woman (Duchovny's mother) sedated on a bed which she shares with grieving Berry and her daughter. Race is not an issue in this film. May the trend continue.

So what you can expect to come away from this film with is memories of how incredibly beautiful Hale Berry is, and boy, can she cry; how magnetic Benicio Tel Toro is; and messages you've heard before and should remember.

My Kid Could Paint That (2007)
by Amir Bar-Lev
The Olmstead Family, art critics, reporters, friends
85 min
PG 13 (don't know why)

This is a story about the Olmstead family in Binghamton, New York. Dad Mark is a manager in a factory, mom Laura is a dental assistant, they're two small children are well behaved, happy and well adjusted. And one of those children, 4 year old Marla, is a world-famous, sought-after, modern artist.

60 Minutes did a story on the family. What idiot goes on a show that is famous for digging up scams, scandals and controversy? Of course, the successful career of Marla is brought into doubt when a camera, with consent of parents, spies Marla painting a picture, and dad's voice off-camera is heard saying "How about more red there," and similar coaching statements. A psychiatrist says "This child is not a prodigy" and the painting produced on camera does not compare with her other works. Again, if dad indeed did coach Marla during the whole course of her career: (1) why do it with a sound-camera from a national network show recording?; (2) is suggesting a bit of red enough to constitute manipulation and fraud?

That is the most significant issue brought up in "My Kid Could Paint That." Oh, how we all do love an exposé. Did Mark intervene, and if so, how much: suggestions, demands, even painting the works himself? The art supplies were there for him originally, and Marla bugged him so much, that he thought letting her paint to shut her up was better than just sitting her down in front of the TV.

More interesting are: if a 4 year old could paint works of modern art on par with those hanging in MOMA, the validity of modern art and the prices these works get at auction are seriously brought into question. Also, what price fame on children? Mom tearfully apologizes for bringing both positive and negative exposure to her children. Actually, I see no harmful effects of the negative exposure regarding the scandal of artistic interference on Marla. I'm sure it doesn't matter to her if her art sells or not or how many talk shows she's on. She doesn't know people are sending hate emails to her parents. She doesn't know that the authenticity of her art is in question. And from what we see on camera, both children are loved and respected at home.

Another issue is how good PR effects the reputation of an artist and the value of the art produced. Too bad Vincent only had Theo repping him. If a story of insanity, obsessive love of a cousin rebuffed, going from the coal mines of Holland to the cafés of Paris, taking in a prostitute and her child, oh, any story with a good hook appeared in the Arts section of the New York Times, it could have made Van Gogh rich in his time and maybe saved his life. A small town's reporter's human interest story about a 4 year old's hobby of oil painting with a few photos caught the eye of the Times and the snowball started rolling down the mountain.

What was not brought up at all in the film is that this child is a girl, and in the world of art, woman are still less than second rate citizens. I wonder if Marla's brother Zane took up the brush instead of her, would his pieces fetch twice the price of hers or if one is pre-pubescent, does gender not matter in the art world?

Hey, while we're talking about it -- what is a pretty picture, let alone art, let alone great art? Interesting discussions among experts and collectors really don't answer any questions, but the debate is interesting. One thing for sure, if you have a videotape of a child painting a canvas and you then buy the said canvas, you can be sure she did it and it will be worth more than her others. You can check out her art yourself at Like it over the sofa or on the refrigerator?

The Brave One (2007)
Director: Neil Jordan
Writers: Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor, Cynthia Mort
Cast: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews, Mary Steenburgen
Rated R

There have been lots of vigilante films in the past, but never with a woman as the vigilante. Yes, women have been driven to kill -- for personal or family reasons: retribution for rape or abuse of oneself or rape or murder of one's child, but never just to rid the streets of bad guys, any bad guys. Julia Roberts' screen persona kills her abusive husband in self-defense after an almost-perfectly planned escape from him in "Sleeping With The Enemy." Jennifer Lopez's battered wife trains for the moment of truth so she can ultimately be free of her abusive husband. Sally Field's character devises the perfect plan for killing the rapist-murderer of her daughter in "Eye For An Eye," and does get away with it. Then again, there are sweet little old maiden aunts Abby and Martha Brewster in "Arsenic And Old Lace," who do lonely old men the favor of sending them on to a better world, but they were homicidal maniacs. Not quite the same thing.

I can't think of a film in which a woman avenges the death of her mate. And here it is. Is this a new high or low for women in film? Is it a product of a new respect for the strength of women or a new fear or backlash? This is a question for others with a loftier view to answer. Still, interesting to ponder.

I did find the evolution of this vigilante, Erica Bain, played by Jodie Foster, very interesting and sympathetic. The story goes -- she and her fiancé are walking the dog one night in Central Park. She obviously has no fear of the city to do something that reckless. They are accosted, both being beaten so severely, the fiance is dead and Jodie spends the next several months recovering in the hospital. She has become another person, one who is always fearful, almost becoming agoraphobic, one whose life has become meaningless and empty. Eventually, she wants to start again and go back to work. Her fear is too intense and she arms herself with a gun to be able to face the mean streets. The progression of violence from self-defense, to having a choice (flee or fight), to looking for trouble is truly fascinating and Foster executes the arc with mastery.

My problem with this taught thriller is there aren't supposed to be any cheap plot devices or nonsensical motivations, and there are. Neil Jordan directed. The man who wrote and directed "Mona Lisa" and "The Crying Game" and "End of the Affair" and "Breakfast on Pluto" knows better than to allow these problems in a script. Well... I did always know the chick in the bar was really a guy in "The Crying Game." Didn't you? Being an American film and his being English can't be it. He's made big budget, American films before: "In Dreams," "Interview with the Vampire." They didn't resort to clumsy plot development (even though I still believe Tom Cruise was miscast as LeStat).

For instance, how do we get Foster's Erica Bain to meet and psychologically spar with good cop, Detective Mercer, played by Terrence Howard? Looks like the writers and Neil Jordan ran out of ideas. After one of her killings, she returns to the scene of the crime and stands under a klieg (I mean street) light, drawing Howard's attention to her, and they start up a conversation. Ridiculous. You say, "But criminals often return to the scene of their crimes." She hadn't before and she didn't after, and nothing in the story refers to her having any need to return to the scene of her crimes for any reason. Soon as it happened, I was pissed, my very soul screaming PLOT DEVICE! It's such an otherwise well crafted film with great acting and sensitivity by its players. Why resort to this? And there's another blaring plot device. Can you catch it? Be sharp. It's stupid and necessary to keep the story moving.

So, what's to stop us all from carrying a gun and protecting ourselves? Once Bain got her neat 9 mm, it seemed absolutely necessary for survival, at least in New York City. Should we all tote? More than the possibility of being caught, it's the toll on our souls that keeps most of us honest. Is she actually "The Brave One" or a soulless killer, hopelessly damaged by her horrible experiences? Should she get away with it? Well, all of us in the theater sure felt good when the bad guys got what was coming to them.

The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)
Directed and screenwriter: Robin Swicord
From the book by Karen Joy Fowler
Cast:Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Maggie Grace, Jimmy Smits, Hugh Dancy, Lynn Redgrave

I have often said that all life's lessons can be found in The Simpsons. Just watch enough episodes, and you'll find it. It seems all life's lessons are also found in the 6 novels written by Jane Austen. Who knew? Well, those who have read them did, so it would seem.

The Jane Austen Book Club is a collection of women: the 6-time married woman of the world (Kathy Baker), the woman recently abandoned by her husband (Amy Brenneman), her Lesbian daughter (Maggie Grace), the worldly, fiercely independent woman ( Maria Bello), the prudish, unhappily married French teacher steaming with pent up desire (Emily Blunt), and a guy who just wants to be close to one of them and is willing to switch from sci fi to Victoriana for her (Hugh Dancy).

It's very amusing to see how each woman espouses parallels in her own life (emotional and de facto) in each of the Austen books, never conscious of these parallels, just admiring Austen's genius for recognizing the "woman's condition". Unexpressed passion, loneliness, love lost, propriety in a culture, limitations set upon women in that culture, games played between the sexes, women at different ages and their place in society, etc. It's all there, right in the books. Meanwhile these women and this man, try to maneuver through their own thorny path to love and happiness.

It's a great cast, all giving fine performances. It's a pleasure to know all of them as an unrecognized member of the Club which the audience becomes. These woman also like each other, a wonderful benefit of our new liberated age in which women are not always competing for men because their very existence depends on it. I like them all, they all like each other -- except for the uptight French teacher (uptight and

French are a contradiction in terms, therefore, the inner tension). She was superior and insulting, and not much fun to be around. But she finally sees, or reads, the light and starts using the mantra "What would Jane do?" to lead her to enlightenment.

I can't help wondering if there could be a Dostoevsky Book Club or a Baldwin Book Club or a Bronte Book Club that could as easily be used for any group of people to recognize their own relationship problems. Is Jane just a platform by which these people can recognize and express their own situations?

And it was wonderful to see people reading. In a culture that no longer allows for people reading, I don't think the general public knows exactly how, when and where to do it. There's always a game or a soap or a reality show on TV, or the kids to take care of or errands to run. This film shows people reading, only reading, not multitasking, not even listening to music or walking on a treadmill at the same time. Just reading. And they look like they're enjoying it, are engrossed, even transported. It didn't seem to hurt at all. Brava! Let's all pick up a book and read. Let's not wait for it to come out on film. Oh, by the way, "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Marquez is in production right now. Can't wait.

Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains (2007)
Directed by Jonathan Demme

I have to admit, the phrase "Man from Plains" sounds a little too John Wayne-ish to me. Sure, he talks about how his farm has been in his family for generations and a core part of his identity is his land, and he understands that sense of identity in people all over the world (and in this film specifically the Palestinians). But "Man from Plains" is a bit to dramatic for my tastes. Surely, just saying "Jimmy Carter" should be enough to evoke an image of the man. After all, he was our President and not that long ago. He was the man who got all the hostages out of Iran (the first modern act of terrorism against the U.S.) without starting a war, bombing, bloodshed, getting rich with reconstruction costs and very little actual reconstruction. He was the man who, after 6000 years of enmity, brought peace to the Egyptian-Israeli conflict. For his efforts, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. It was truly amazing to see the news footage of Sadat and Bagien hugging each other, with Carter watching on. Even though both leaders were assassinated, peace between those countries lasts to this day. He was the man who started Habitat for Humanity, picking up a hammer and building houses with other volunteers all over the world for those without homes due to poverty or catastrophe. He is the man behind the Carter Center, an organization bringing together representatives from countries in conflict, helping in resolving those conflicts, waging peace, and actually making a difference.

In this film, directed by Jonathan Demme, Carter is on a publicity tour for his controversial book, Palestine Peace, not Apartheid -- This is not making friends for him among the Israelis and their supporters. It's amazing to watch him field questions from talk show hosts and reporters, many of them hostile. He calmly explains the well researched situation in Palestine and the Palestinians' loss of human rights. He is not anti-Israeli, as the medallion he could wear around his neck given to him from the King of Sweden can attest. He is pro humanity in a worldwide sense, without regard to lobbyists, political pressures, status of ex-president. He wants peace without sacrificing human dignity and he has stood up for that since his political life began.

I think it's important to see this very entertaining film, to not forget that there was once a time when political figures' moral stature was not in question. Yes, he "lusted after women," but never cheated on his wife. He found solutions without invasion. He never used fear tactics to sway his constituents, but pride in the tenets of democracy (not jingoism). His presidential administration (which is only slightly touched upon in this documentary) was rife with problems: a Congressional majority of Republicans who thwarted most of his initiatives, increasing tensions in the middle east, oil shortages, etc. And he couldn't win a second term. But let us not forget what integrity is in politics. Don't worry: it's fast paced, and really interesting. You will enjoy it.


Starting Out In The Evening (2007)
Directed by Andrew Wagner
Screenplay: Fred Parnes & Andrew Wagner
From the novel by Brian Morton
Cast: Frank Langella, Lili Taylor, Lauren Ambrose, Adrian Lester
111 minutes

I recently saw Resurrecting the Champ, review below, which depicts a man's descent from almost winning the world boxing championship to being a homeless, friendless, abused, unhealthy wreck of his former self. Starting Out In The Evening is another study on an aging man's loss. In this case, Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella) is a retired professor and writer of four once well-known novels. His works are being forgotten; within another generation, they will be completely lost since they are already out of print. In a scene that takes place at a book opening party, a publisher vaguely recalls his works and refers to the group of writers with which he was identified as those white men in suits who go to bed early. And indeed, even though long retired, he still wears a suit and tie, and now out of necessity rather than habit, he goes to bed early.

A young graduate student, Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose), has read his books. She was particularly moved by his first two, soft and sympathetic, lyrical and romantic, and she wants to write her master's thesis on his oeuvre, as it were. He allows her into his home to interview him, but their several-months-long relationship turns personal, even invasive, probing his innermost feelings, and it even turns romantic. Oh, a young woman's lust for the young hero of the books that have moved her most, even "change her life" -- only she meets him 30 years after his youth has left him. Besides her own youthful exuberance in meeting her literary hero, she is manipulative and dangles the carrot of renewed fame before him. "When my thesis is published, there will be renewed interest in your books and they will be republished." So, he continues to meet with her, continues to write his next novel, 10 years in the making, and continues to age.

He also has a daughter (Lili Taylor) who has successfully overcome her resentment over her father's absence during her formative years, locked away in his study writing his books. But she hasn't found it as easy to resign herself to never having children because her boyfriend is adamant on the subject. Her biological time clock is not only ticking, the alarm is sounding and a choice has to be made.

It was wonderful listening to very smart people talk to each other. They don't use particularly big words, they just use words to their best advantage. They say what they mean, and so much more. It was calming, visiting the Upper West Side of New York, the area set aside for writers, intellectuals, college professors and journalists. The book-lined walls, overstuffed chairs made for long hours of quiet reading, contemplation and listening to pre-19 Century classic music, the telling wine red walls, all created a safe, uterine environment where people speak softly and don't waste words on chatter.

Leonard Schiller is not angry or desperate because his books, his life's work, will soon be lost. Even the book he is in the process of writing suffers a dismal future. "I have followed my characters for 10 years, and they don't do anything interesting." Also, his genetic line will be over with his daughter since she will likely not have children. Leonard Schiller is resigned. He does seem to accept going out with a whimper rather than a bang. He does accept his fate.

Should I feel any worse for either of these two men: Schiller the white man who had a successful career that died before he did; or Bob Satterfield (Samuel L. Jackson) in Resurrecting the Champ, the African-American almost-champ reduced to eating out of dumpsters and getting pummeled on a regular basis by college kids with too much testosterone and too little morals?

What a stupid question! Why did I even ask it? Of course, all our hearts should go out to Satterfield and everyone else in this most marginalized, distressed and dangerous situation. We should be outraged that people can be sloughed off and abandoned in this society -- though it seems we've become complacent. Might have something to do with this administration. If there is a contest -- what movies should we see based on the need of the characters -- then Resurrecting the Champ wins hands down. But film isn't only about the most extreme situations, the most needy people, the most beautiful people, the most dangerous people, etc. It is, and should be, about the human condition in all its ramifications -- from an ex-boxer's lonely life on the street to an old writer's relationship with his daughter -- both contemplating their mortality. There are valid humanities in both, and we need to be reminded of them. I found Schiller's experiences as valid as Satterfield's, the lessons to be learned as enriching, the similarities between them more striking than their differences.

Resurrecting the Champ (2007)
Director: Rod Lurie
Writers: Michael Bortman, Allison Burnett
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett, Kathryn Morris, Rachel Nichols, David Paymer, Terri Hatcher, Alan Alda, Peter Coyote
Running Time: 111 minutes

If you think you'd enjoy a film about a young, handsome, up-and-coming sports journalist who catches a lucky break which enables him to turn around a stalled career only to confront a conflict of conscious, this film is for you. Josh Hartnett is to Resurrecting the Champ what Tom Cruise was to Jerry Maguire. He does a more than adequate job -- I watched closely this time to see if he could act or was only a pretty boy who could do a passable job. And I love that he's deeply in love with a woman a good 4 years old than him and at a higher position in the newspaper where they both work. And it's not an issue in the film. Brava.

If that's all you want from this film, then you'll get it, but you will be blown away by how much more you're going to get! Turns out Hartnett's lucky break is running into Samuel L. Jackson. Ours, too, because you won't see a better performance this year, or any other year. Jackson plays a homeless bum, at first glance, who turns out to be an ex-prize fighter who came very close to being the Champ. Jackson finds within himself not only the gentle falsetto of an ancient Mike Tyson and the bouncy feint and rebound walk of a Mohammad Ali in his prime, but a sharp wit and seasoned storyteller peppered with the moments of brain-damaged, spacy gazes. This man is in his 70's, maybe 80's, having been in his prime in 1954 and even extreme close-ups on Jackson's aged, weathered and bruised face can only be partially attributed to the latest advances in special effects make-up. This is more than an outstanding performance, not only for all the characteristics combined to make the man, but the total is so much more than the sum of its parts. He is a sorrowful, yet proud man, humorous, gentle, astute, and empathetic. I may not want to stand close to him -- I can even smell his performance -- but my heart goes out to him. I want to help him, I want to believe him.

And that's just what Hartnett does. He believes Jackson who tells the tale of his prizefighting career. Having gotten close to the title, but loosing his chance at the title, having become a superior fighter in the Midwest where the competition is less experienced, having been conned by his manager and left penniless and half blind, having deserted his wife and son, having ended up on the street near the arena where he was once famous. Hartnett writes his story which ends up on the cover of the magazine section of the Sunday paper. Hartnett is riding high as his career skyrockets, but what of the fallout? What did Josh turn a blind eye to?

This is not a story of the sport of prize fighting, even though the ugly facts of how the business abuses its champions -- through dishonest practices and through just the hard knocks and health problems these champions receive. Mohammed Ali is only the most famous of the victims of being battered for years, even though he won the fights. It's about fathers wanting the respect of their sons (as much as sons want the respect of their fathers); it's about seeing more than just what one wants to see and doing the right thing; it's about honesty versus a more personal truth.

p.s. Keep an eye out for Peter Coyote's short scene as an old fight manager. Unrecognizable, brilliant, best of his career.
p.p.s Who says a woman can't write a sports story? Allison Burnett co-wrote with Michael Bortman. It would be interesting to see how they worked together. Did they divvy up the fight story and the love story, the action and the moral questions? Hmmm.

Stardust (2007)
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman from the book by Neil Gaimen
Cast: Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller, Peter O'Toole, Rupert Everett

So, which plot shall it be for this latest, big budget, special effect, fantasy? A young man adventuring to unknown lands to bring back proof to the fickle village beauty that his love is true? Shall three princes seek out an amulet which bestows the kingdom upon the first among them to find it? Shall an evil, aging Witch, hunt down a lovely young girl who can make said Witch and her two sisters young and beautiful again? All fairytale staples.

Stardust seamlessly weaves all the plots together. It's fast paced without being frenetic. The special effects are beautiful to watch -- from the opening shot of the moon, it's reflection traveling down an observatory telescope, to the eye of a 19th Century astronomer, through to an ancient wall that separates the world familiar to humans and that of witches and fantasy. The landscape is not so majestic as that of Middle Earth, but more familiar as an extension of the English countryside, only it's culture and physical laws are governed by fairytale logic.

Young Tristan (Charlie Cox), whose background is a mystery, is smitten by Victoria (Sienna Miller). She only sees him as a shop boy. They spot a falling star and Tristan vows to find that star and bring it back to prove his love. Meanwhile, but moments earlier, far away in the kingdom of Stormhold, the King (Peter O'Toole), lies on his deathbed and tells his 3, no 4, no 3, remaining sons that the one who captures the red stone amulet will be heir to the thrown. He releases the stone, with chain, in a pretty garish setting, from around his throat and it flies into the sky, colliding with a star. In a spectacular supernova, both rush back to earth, creating a really cool crater. At another part of the kingdom, three haggard old witches see the star falling. One of them, Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) must go and retrieve the star, which/who is now in the form of a young girl, Yvaine (Claire Danes), bring her back, take out her heart, eat it, and become young again. See how nicely this all weaves together. Of course, we all know how it will work out, but the journey is truly entertaining.

Michelle Pfeiffer is still the most gorgeous women... anywhere, anytime. Do I praise her too highly? It's just my opinion. She is radiant and timeless. To her credit, she allows the makeup department to wreck havoc on her. She starts out old and ugly. Uses up the last bit of star juice left from the witches last victim so she has the strength to hunt down the new fallen star. Each use of magic takes away a bit of that newfound youth and supple skin. It really is awful to watch Pfeiffer wither, especially on wide screen. I winced at every age spot on her hand

There is a lot of humor in this film, not all understandable by children, but very much appreciated by us adults. One might even categorize this film as a fantasy/comedy based on the generous use of humor throughout. Other mature content include a one night stand encounter, sacrificial animals just off screen with guts dangling from fingers, fratricide, animal mauling, suggestions of rape, disfigured ghosts. This might disturb the young ones, but it's great fun for us. Ergo the PG-13 rating.

Another highlight is Robert De Niro as a captain of a flying ship that captures lightening. Commerce in lightening is strictly illegal which makes him and his crew pirates of the high .... sky. He lends a hand and some wardrobe to our hero and heroine after having plucked them from a cloud. I'm always uncomfortable with De Niro being funny, but I'll let it go this time. He is written well and mugging is acceptable in these circumstances.

Claire Danes is the star and plays it with enough moxie, sensibility and gentility to be a real personality and one we root for. Too often in movies, I don't see why two people fall in love with each other, other than they're the only ones there. Here, I see the chemistry, the appeal, and the love growing between her Yvaine and Tristan. It makes heart sense, if you know what I mean.

Peter O'Toole even showed up as the dying king of Stormhold and played it with as much verve and professionalism as for any king written by Shakespeare. What a treat!

Here's a hint about overall film quality -- if a production can get big name stars to attach themselves, then something's got to be really good about. Of course, this doesn't guarantee a great film, but for De Niro, Pfeiffer and O'Toole to cross genres, it's got to have something going for it. For instance, Sean Connery was happy to work for a relative unknown Terry Gilliam for his fantasy "Time Bandits" based on the script. John Cusack signed on to work in the ghostly horror flick, "1408," so you could bet it wouldn't be typical schlock.

If you like fantasy, romance, soft action -- meaning no blood (a 93 year old man karate chopping a young man and sending him home is a violent highlight) -- Stardust is a great excursion.

Rocket Science (2007)
Writer/Director: Jeffrey Blitz+
Cast: Reece Daniel Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Nicholas D'Agosto, Vincent Piazza, Margo Martindale, Aaron Yoo, Josh Kay, Stephen Park

I have to say it -- this is not another teen movie. There are no cliques, no football team, no cheerleaders, no singled-out nerds, no bullies, no massacres, no Heathers. In "Rocket Science" we get down to true struggles teens have to face. How do you overcome your embarrassment if you stutter, or even overcome your stutter? How do you deal with an intimidating brother who is, at the same time, a thief and obsessive compulsive -- "Don't mess with the things I steal!" How do you roll with your mother and father breaking up, and a Korean small claims judge and his son moving in? To complicate things even more, one day, on the school bus, our protagonist, Hal Hefner (Reece Daniel Thompson) is approached by a girl who is in the debating team. She convinces him to join the team. Hal can barely say N n n no no no. He's the guy who can't even say "pizza" on the lunch line and always gets the "general fish." She says "Deformed people are the best, maybe it's because they have a deeper resource of anger," and she can see the spark of intelligence behind his eyes.

What would you do? If you believe the line Hollywood movies sell you, you'd buy her story, join the debating team, do the best you could, and, of course, win the State Debating Cup and become a high school hero. Ah, but this is an independent film. So, your choices are not so easy.

This is not a gritty drama, not a raucous comedy, though it has an abundance of dry wit delivered with deadpan seriousness. The director, Jeffrey Blitz, is having a go at his first narrative feature after having received critical and box office praise for his documentary about elementary school spelling bees, "Spellbound." There are a lot of similarities between theses subject matters. Both spelling bees and debates require keen minds, endless practice and research, have heated competitions, and are just about useless in real life. Just like knowing how to spell a word used by mining engineers in Northumberland, compressing 8 minutes of discussion about a topic into 10 seconds is utterly useless. Check out the upcoming Presidential debates - the candidates talk like actors, convince, lie about the issues, lie about their opponents, smile, tell jokes, and don't sweat. These children are taught to research the subject and use cogent argument, and talk so quickly that no one listening can keep up with what they're saying. Blitz loves to explore useless talents for very smart children.

Back to our story. Hal, barely able to communicate, small, coming from a recently broken home, living with a disturbed brother (Vincent Piazza), is already disadvantaged. And he is asked by school debate celebrity, Ginny (Anna Kendrick), to overcome literally everything in one school season -- possibly to win her heart and the cup.

After having worked with his speech therapist -- who really specializes ADT -- including deep breathing exercises, whispering, using accents, and singing, he is no closer to the voice locked inside his head. My heart went out to him. I wracked my brain to come up with a solution for him. Sure I thought of sex; it was touched upon, but still was not the panacea.

Kudos to Reece Daniel Thompson for pulling off a very difficult stutter, and to all the actors inhabiting a slightly absurd, deadpan world with believability. From our frustrated hero to the coldest and most manipulating of the characters, we are offered insights into the problematic vagaries of life -- hey, it shouldn't be as difficult as rocket science.


The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Tony Gilroy, George Nolfi
Cast: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Joan Allen, Edgar Ramirez, David Strathairn, Albert Finney, Paddy Considine

I like action movies as much as the next girl. I like really fast, dizzyingly quick cut, fist fights. I like chases over roofs and guys jumping from rooftop to rooftop and through windows. I like watching Matt Damon driving a small motorcycle up a wall. I like to see lots of exotic backdrops like Madrid, Paris, Moscow, Tangiers, New York City, I like car chases and crashes, really nasty crashes, unbelievably violent crashes. And I love to see Bourne walk out of the torn metal remains of the car with a couple of scratches on his face. My stomach can handle the jumpy camera during quiet conversations just so the sense of action is uninterrupted when the obligatory plot is explained - sort of. Hell, why let a plot get in the way?

Bourne still hasn't regained his memory, although he has flashes of white hallways, Albert Finney, having his head bagged, and taking a forced dip. Bourne still wants to find out who he really is and why the CIA wants to kill him. He slowly finds out -- over the course of unnecessary meetings with people who are surveilled by the CIA who are trying to catch up with him to kill him. Walls of screens in CIA headquarters light up with shots from cameras tied in directly from every surveillance camera in the world, sound pumps in from invisible mics planted all over the world. Agents appear within seconds, ready to kill this guy, but willing to kill anyone he's contacting.

Why? Don't ask. This is an American action movie and we're here for the ACTION. I bet absolutely no one who sees "The Bourne Ultimatum" gives a hoot why anything is happening, just as long as it keeps happening. And it happens, and happens and happens -- a solid 111 minutes of action. Does Bourne know anything more about himself by the end of the film? Yes, a bit, but who cares!


2 Days in Paris (2007)
Written, directed, co-produced (with Christophe Mazodier, Ulf Israel, et seq.), original music, edited by & starring Julie Delpy
Also starring Adam Goldberg and Marie Pillet, Albert Delpy
Running time: 96 minutes.

After having seen "Interview" and "Trees Lounge," vanity productions by Steve Buscemi, and several other stars' self-made vehicles, I felt Julie Delpy, the true owner of this film, has shown commendable restraint. She even gives her co-star, Adam Goldberg, top credit. It's not about her in a room with her boyfriend, duking it out for 90 minutes. There are no deep, existential conflicts, nor is this film an outright tribute to Delpy's beauty and talent. And though it's advertised as a culture conflict about an American guy dealing with language problems and cultural differences in Paris among is girlfriends parents and friends, I found it much more a problem of a guy dealing with his girlfriend's ex-boyfriends who may want her back and her parents possibly laughing at him in French to his face.

This rather dysfunctional couple is stopping in Paris, Delpy's protagonist Marion's hometown, for the weekend on their way home to New York from a vacation in Greece. Goldberg, as her boyfriend Jack, continues to play his most familiar character: snide, neurotic, angry, sharp tongued, acidic and morose. What is hard to comprehend is why Marion likes Jack, let alone has been living with him for two years. Actually, this film could just as easily have been called "2 Years with Jack."

As happens when one visits home, one runs into many old friends and ex-boyfriends. Confronted by the old gang, not only does Marion start to wonder if she has made the right decision being with her American boyfriend, but he wonders if she is a world class slut who wonders if she made the right decision being with

him. Interesting, if depressing situation. She seems rather unsympathetic to him in his disadvantageous position, even callous. But one must remember, for the past 2 years Marion has been an French woman in New York. I wonder if she confronted the same problems in New York, especially when she first moved there and her English may not have been so good, or when she first got involved with Jack and ran into his exes. No mention is made of that.

Their constant bickering seems well established and we can assume that's how they always behave together, and I keep feeling it would be best for both of them to break up and get on with their lives with more compatible mates. That has little to do with nationality. Also, I've never seen arguing couples defuse and get on to the next subject as easily as Marion and Jack, as if the issues weren't important, only the bouts of anger and misunderstanding. It is said a movie fails if the audience feels no compassion for its protagonists. I did -- I desperately wanted them to break up and end the suffering, perhaps mine. Of course, that's not the "movie" approach, that's not the popular belief about how movies should proceed with plots, but come on -- don't couples' therapists ever say, "You two really don't have a chance. Let it go."?

Delpy's true life parents, Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy, are outrageous, yet believable at the same time. Mom's extreme emotional moods and Dad's anger at cars that are parked on the sidewalk and jubilation at the butcher's stalls at the marketplace may have been formative causes of their daughter's character and later choice in men. Just guessing. These real life parents brought all the sparkle, energy and humor to the film. They both have acting careers going back over 30 years in France. Young Julie's talent was genetically unavoidable, yet strangely, she doesn't look like either of them. She is gorgeous (not to say her parents weren't attractive in their youth), Paris is gorgeous, Goldberg acts himself proud.

As to Delpy's skills are a director, producer, editor, I can't say. I'm just a typical viewer and don't know how to separate one from the other skill. As a whole, it was a story about two lovers trying to make it work in difficult circumstances (being more about staying with the parents and confronting old loves than cultural differences). Visually, it's always pleasant taking strolls with film characters through the streets of Paris, even though to me one Bar Tabac looks pretty much like another. We seemed to get stuck in the middle of the film for a long time with examples of Marion's ex-lovers wanting her back (careful, ego) and Jack getting more and more pissed off. We seem to have too many examples of Marion's socially motivated anger with cab drivers and others, and each one took a little too long. But I think Delpy struck home when it came to insecurities, jealousy and regret in relationships.

As for her music score -- I can't remember it. And that's a good sign since music in films should add to the mode and carry it along without being overbearing and obvious. As for her being one of the producers of the film, success. The film is now playing.


No Regret (Huhwihaji anha - Korean) (2006)
Director/Writer: Hee-il Lee-song
Cast: Han-Lee, Young-hoon Lee, Hyeon-cheol Jo, Dong
Rated: R
113 minutes

Any denizen of LGBT film festivals or those who seek out gay films have seen it several times before -- gay Asian guy in love with another guy is still forced by his parents to marry some poor, unknowing girl for appearances. We've also seen many films on male prostitution. It's possible that the Korean public is not as familiar with these themes as the larger population, so why not one more take on them? And this is certainly a strong contender for best in its sub-genre.

Song Jae-min (Han Lee) is a successful businessman from a prominent family who falls hard for, first, his limo driver, Su-min (Young-hoon Lee), whom he meets again the next day at Su-min's day job in the factory Son Jae-min's father owns, and then again at a male brothel where Su-min also works. This has to be kismet. Can't get him out of his face, can't get him out of his mind.

I have often wondered why any two people fall in love with each other in films other than to propel the plot. I don't get why Song Jae-min is obsessed with Su-min, who is a surly dude and not any more attractive than any of the other boys for hire. Maybe it's a Korean thing. Anyway, Su-min is not allowing himself to fall for Song Jae-min. Between the difference in their socioeconomic status, education,career paths, and prevailing feelings toward gays in Korean society, Su-min knows any relationship with Song Jae-min is doomed. There are a lot of issues in this film which keep the audience's interest high. It's interesting that the large influx of men from the country to Seoul can expect the only jobs available to them (especially in which they can earn a living wage) is prostitution. Hearing the other working boys' stories, one feels sympathetic toward these victims of a class/education caste system. There seems to be no social mobility, with education being out of the reach of rural or working class people. It's pretty much the same all over when it comes to gays coming out, though. We in San Francisco forget that most of the world still won't accept homosexuality -- from family, to employment, to legal rights. If you want to see the worst cases of bigotry against homosexuals, check out "Jihad for Love," which is a documentary that explores the legal repercussions of being gay in Muslim countries. The Koreans have got it easy.

The plot of "No Regret" is not completely predictable. The denouement is thrilling, unexpected, and more than satisfying. It would be interesting to see how the Koreans respond to this film; where are they in the homosexual-acceptance scale? Since "The Host," a couple of years ago, I'm taking Korean cinema much more seriously. They have learned how to use techniques the masters developed in New Age French Cinema, they have developed a mature sense of plot and character, and they take chances. More, please.

Penelope (2006)
Director: Mark Palansky
Writer: Leslie Caveny
Cast: Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Catherine O'Hara, Reese Witherspoon, Peter Dinklage, Richard E. Grant
Rated: PG

Another example of the New Age Fairy Tale, complete with witch, family curse, gothic mansion, blue bloods and an otherwise beautiful, young girl cast under a disfiguring spell.

And it’s not modern just because it takes place today, but because the damsel is neither in a coma nor being helped by dwarfs (or dwarves, as the case may be). As a matter of fact, little person, Peter Dinklage is a vengeful paparazzi out to expose her rather than break the spell for her.

Since birth, Penelope (Christina Ricci) has been under a spell. Her ancestor impregnated a servant, but his family convinced him not to marry her. She committed suicide and her mother cursed the family -- all girl children will be horribly ugly. For all the generations since, the family has produced boys until Penelope, luckily avoiding the spell. But now Penelope needs to break the spell, which demands that someone of her ilk must love her despite her deformity (which can’t be corrected by rhinoplasty, by the way). So, Penelope is hidden away from the public, interviewing young blue blood males through a one way mirror, hoping to find a man who will marry her and render her beautiful. After years of fruitless interviews through a one way mirror, culminating in her in-person appearance and the suitors fleeing, Penelope, tired of hiding from the paparazzi and being cooped up in the mansion, flees her protective cocoon and faces the world.

We find out that no matter how grotesque the deformity, the public gets used to it and even embraces the oddity. Remember, even the Elephant Man held salon in his hospital room without narry a whimper from his newfound elite friends. Penelope has freed herself, and even with the deformity, she has a good life. She doesn’t need a man to transform her into a beauty. Hallelujah! This had to have been written by a woman -- Leslie Caveny in her first feature film gig after over a decade of producing and writing for TV, most notably for “Everybody Loves Raymond”? Not that I’m a ferocious feminist, but it’s nice to see women solving their problems and being independent. Of course, this is not the first of its kind. There have been several retellings of Cinderella, including “Elle Enchanted” and most recently, “Enchanted,” all with stronger women who didn’t wait around the knight to save her. And it’s not in the least less romantic. Also, Reese Witherspoon flexed her feminine muscle and co-producer (with 12 other producers) this film. Go girl.

Now, tell me if I’m wrong, but I believe that over the course of the film, Penelope’s deformity was ever so slightly altered to make it less ugly. Or was I getting use d to it?

Dedication (2006)
Director/Co-writer: Justin Theroux
Co-writer: David Bromberg
Cast: Billy Crudup, Mandy Moore, Tom Wilkinson, Dianne Wiest, Bob Balaban, Martin Freeman
111 minutes

Henry Roth (Billy Crudup) is a children's book writer. His partner-illustrator of the books and only friend, Rudy Holt (Tom Wilkinson) dies, Henry is assigned a new illustrator, Lucy Riley (Mandy Moore) for his next book. With Rudy gone, the plot becomes boy meets girl, boy looses girl, boy gets girl back. This is not a film about plot. For instance, it may be irony that this children's book writer is a dark, brooding character with as many phobias and compulsive behaviors as TV's Monk, but we never see him come up with any ideas for children's books. The film opens with him and Holt in a porn theater so Rudy, not Henry, can find inspiration. What did he expect to find there but a beaver as a new character? What about port had inspired him for previous books? I found this plot device lame. Please, beaver! Throughout the film, Henry never writes a word or has any ideas for the book, unlike another agonized children's book writer, Jeff Bridges in "The Door in the Floor." For months, Bridges removes and inserts a proposition into his story dozens of times till he's sure he's got it just right. Every word counts. Henry is the opposite -- he has no words at all. And I have no reason to believe he ever did. Both are characters I wouldn't want to babysit any kid of mine.

Later, when boy looses girl, the cause is money. Hello, she was hired to draw for him. Hello again, he's getting paid even more than she is. And ultimate hokey hello, she donates all the money to charity. Looks like screenwriter David Bromberg was lacking in imagination when it came to causes for breakups. And oh, the pebble! The significance of the pebble! The unique, one of a kind, looks-like-a-little-creature-is-trapped-inside pebble! The I-threw-it-away,- I'll-find-it-again-to-win-her-back pebble. The desperation of this screenwriter to find a symbol of love and dedication! I'll say no more about the pebble. And if I've said too much about the plot, no matter. That's not why one should see this film.

This movie is about characters, the agony of the hurt mind, it's healing process. the need for connection, for love. The dialogue is brilliant. The performances by all were riveting. Crudup, even playing a cold, insulting, child-frightening (he tells one autograph seeking recent adoptee, "There is no Santa and beaver is another word for vagina."), still has me on his side. And how does Mandy Moore go from "Georgia

Rule", bubble gum, pop singing, goody two shoes, to a very convincing actress? I had to drop all my previous vitriol for her. Even her name rankled me -- before this film.

The cause of all Henry's psychological problems is his mother. What she did to him is alluded to several times, but she is never seen in flashback, and details about her are never given. I found that interesting. But Lucy's mom (Dianne Wiest) is a living nightmare. In turn, she is a loving supporting mother, writing a check to help out her daughter; then she suddenly takes back the check, tears it up, tearfully saying her daughter must leave the nest, then angrily sneers that Lucy has to pay the rent or get out. She then smiles warmly and offers to help her find another apartment where she'll have to pay less than she is paying now to her mom! One wonders how Lucy survived. Wiest was terrifying in her mercurial performance. I even want to see this film again. The conversations with the dead, deadbeat need to sleep with heavy books on one's chest, Seuss like illustrations, search for inspiration and inner workings of the world of publishing were all worth the price of admission.

Outsourced (2006)
Directed by John Jeffcoat
Written by George Wing & John Jeffcoat
Cast: Josh Hamilton, Ayesha Dharker, Larry Pine, Asif Basra, Matt Smith
103 minutes

This controversial premise makes it difficult for the audience to take a side on the issue of outsourcing: companies moving manufacturing, customer service, telephone sales and support overseas. Want that statue of a bald eagle and American Flag, but refuse to buy one produced in China and sold by phone by a subcontinent Indian? Then pay $220 more for one made here and sold from a website based in the U.S. Feel bad for American workers put out of work by outsourcing? Then watch the Indians (from India) loose their jobs to the Chinese. We might be witnessing the evolution of business. It might just be that the standard of living, unions and minimum wage, and availability of education in the U.S., coupled with vast populations in third world countries that are ready and willing to work for what we consider low wages makes unskilled labor unaffordable here anymore. Any kid in the U.S. who thinks he or she can survive. without a high school diploma, no, a college degree is in for a brutal shock. You'll notice that the staff at fast food restaurants are all teens. Where do they go at age 20? Don't ask. But the salary offered to the Indian cast of "Outsourced" makes lifelong dreams come true. And since American businessmen are the bosses, they don't see any social problem with promoting women. So, Indian women can have opportunities for independence unheard of before outsourcing. I think this film is telling us we're just going to have to flow with it. There's no going back. When I call Dell's tech rep, I will just have to ask him to keep repeating himself until I understand him, be his accent Chinese, Indian, Mexican, or Filipino. So goes our global village.
And while we learn to accept outsourcing, we get a love story, or something like it, and a fish-out-if-water story. Todd Anderson (played by Josh Hamilton) not only loses his job as manager of a customer call center in Seattle, he has to train his replacement in India if he wants to keep his stock options, pension and a bunch of other parting goodies. Obviously, poor Josh has never seen any foreign films, never bought imported fruit, and knows absolutely nothing about culture outside of Seattle. I'm saying it's laid on a little thick. He doesn't know that family is important in India and adult children don't move out until they're married. He's never eaten a mango! Never heard of arranged marriages. While in India getting the call center up to speed with those wacky, eccentrically foreign and naive Indians, he not only learns about a foreign culture, he learns how to accept differences between people and the value of those differences. He also practices a little Kama Sutra with Asha, his prize employee (played by Ayesha Dharker). All the children are beggars, all the cab drivers argue and bargain, all the older women want to feed and marry off Todd. Writer George Wing and writer/director John Jeffcoat could have delved a little deeper into the subtleties of the Indian culture. Still, a cute story with a very relevant issue. Didn't get to see the beautiful India in this film, but a truer, more haphazardly industrialized one, overpopulated and chaotic. The visuals are actually much more intriguing and thought provoking than the dialogue.

The Hottest State (2006)
Written / Directed by Ethan Hawke
From the book by Ethan Hawke
Cast: Mark Webber, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Laura Linney, Ethan Hawke, Michelle Williams, Sonia Braga

The film begs the questions: Why do people fall in love with each other, why do they either fall out of love or become broken hearted when it ends? The answers are only subtly implied, I would imagine because there really are no answers, certainly none that would apply from one relationship to the next. William (Mark Webber) falls hard for Sara (Catalina Sandino Moreno). Even she repeatedly asks him why since she thinks she is just a boring, unexceptional person. We do get a hint because when we first meet our protagonists and they meet each other, they are in a bar and William suddenly ignores the woman he's with (Michelle Williams) (later we find out she's his ex-girlfriend) to chat up Sara. I found this incredibly rude and an indication of his character; but it was a red herring. Sara is earnest, direct, warm, honest and pretty. In contrast, we later find ex-girlfriend Samantha is catty, manipulative, opportunistic, superficial and really hot. Okay, between the two woman, it makes sense for William to prefer Sara. Why would Sara fall for William? He's persistent, yet patient with her, brings her gifts, truly courts her and eventually wears down her resistance.

Why does she break up with him? Ah, this does display Hawke's writing and directing skill. Was she too happy on their vacation and feared it would or wouldn't last? Did she have her fill of him? Did she never really love him and wanted more "space"? Her motives and feelings are intentionally vague, as are all women’s from a man's perspective, as this film is.

Why is he in such pain, so heartbroken, when she dumps him? Again ah, might have something to do with his feeling dumped by his father (Hawke) at a tender age). His mother (Laura Linney) does her best to explain to him that he's going suffer in his life, hopefully several times so he can get some perspective. Suck it up and get on with it. She is also busy with her own affairs.

There are a couple of incredibly moving moments: one when William calls and leaves messages -- 4 in a row -- to Sara, begging her to call, insulting her, begging her to call. It's pathetic and clearly shows his erosion into -- maybe a becoming stalker, maybe a man ruined beyond repair. The other scene -- between Hawke and Webber, father and son -- in which William finally releases his bitterness and hurt because his father stopped corresponding with him and did not fulfill his promise to take him into his home at the age of 12 -- and Hawke's passive, apologetic response displayed acting ability I didn't know Hawke possessed.

Okay, I didn't know Hawke possessed any particularly striking talents. I was ready to poo poo this movie because I got personal. I didn't like him for cheating on his wife, Uma Thurmin, and causing the break up of their family. I had to let that go while watching this film because it's just damned good. Maybe he's publicly displaying his karma -- "Sure, I screwed up my relationship with Uma, but I've been screwed in the past." No excuse, but the tenderness and insight into the heart of a young man reduced to near-insanity by the pain of losing his love got to me.

And I don't see this as a vanity production, which I've discussed in films below, like "Interview," This film, and I'm sure it's predecessor book, show serious intent in creating something other than a platform for a man's ego. It is serious writing, screen writing and filmmaking. This project seems more important to Hawke than an egotistical need to show off skills not seen in works controlled by others.

Mind you, I don't understand the goings-on within this relationship, the motivations, the actions. But how can one understand these things in other people? I accepted their honesty. Last year, "Flannel Pajamas" also tracked the relationship of a young New York couple. The acting was admirable, the writing seemed very representative of the problems and language used in real relationships, but it just didn't wring true to me and I just didn't care much about the characters. "The Hottest State" gives a much more accurate and emotionally charged course of a doomed love affair. I don't know if we can sidestep any pitfalls in our relationships because we've seen this film, but we can sure feel for the characters, neither of them the bad guys, both of them struggling to find their own ways.

Chalk (2006)
Director, Co-Writer: Mike Akel
Cast: Chris Mass, Troy Schremmer, Jeff Guerrero, Shannon Haragan, Janelle Schremmer,

What we get to see here are personality clashes, an unfulfilled romance, inept teachers. There were a few funny lines and situations, but compared to your typical, run-of-the-mill, garden variety mockumentary, there's not a whole lot to laugh at or to appreciate in the satire of in this film. Droll is being kind.

What Chalk doesn't address: violence; drugs; sex and STDs; low pay; political backstabbing; poor food in the cafeteria and vending machines causing childhood obesity; poor grades throughout the nation, especially compared to foreign countries and especially Japan; administration at odds with teaching staff; teachers forced to teach subjects in which they know nothing (my art teaching sister was forced to teach math -- a true injustice to her students). What, nothing funny there, nothing relevant, nothing to satirize?

All the main characters are young and white. A few very short scenes take place in the teachers' lounge where teachers of various ages and ethnicities make brief comments.

This film did very well at Cinequest, Florida Film Festival, IFF Boston, Gen Art Film Festival, Jacksonville Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Festival -- which goes to show, seeing olive leaf branches and the word Winner in the print ads and on the commercials, does not mean a film is good. Conspicuously absent are recognizable festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Sundance (which I tend to distrust), SF International or any other festival whose name we recognize. Bottom line: not enough yuck for the buck.

Delirious (2006)
Writer / Director Tom DiCillo
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Alison Lohman, Gina Gershon

What do you think of if I say "a movie written and directed by Tom DiCillo and starring Steve Buscemi"? Of course, "Living in Oblivion," one of the greatest ironic, funny and smart exposés of the world of independent filmmaking. Now, what other satiric mountains can they climb, what untapped subculture to scrutinize with a wry, witty and scathing eye? This time, "Delirious" probes the world of celebrity and the paparazzi. Buscemi is a near-do-well paparazzi photographer (just wait till he makes the rounds with his portfolio and starts getting the classy assignments). DiCillo must have written "Delirious" with Buscemi in mind; clearly, no one else could have taken on this role as brilliantly, frenetically, and with as much dry humor as Buscemi. DiCillo's writing is hysterically smart; Buscemi's delivery is seriously neurotic. His character is completely unaware that what he is saying is ironic and self-contradictory.

The difference between brilliance and vanity is clearly seen if you contrast "Delirious" with "Interview." Buscemi wanted a role counter to his best abilities. He wanted to play a serious, dramatic role in which he intrigues a beautiful woman. That's "Interview," and he had to write and direct it himself because nobody else would ever waste him in that kind of part. DiCillo fully utilizes Buscemi's talents in "Delirious." Sorry, Steve, no intellectual and romantic confrontations for you. Your fate lies elsewhere.

It's hard to make a paparazzi the protagonist of a film and expect the audience to sympathize. Added to the low life character of the job, the individual is also selfish, self-deceptive, manipulative, angry and overall a not-too-attractive person. But Buscemi takes you inside the tormented mind of the man (Les) who has little talent, no breaks, and way too much smarts. He has to justify his failures to himself; he has to keep on keeping on.

He meets up with a street urchin named Toby (Michael Pitt) and takes him in. Toby sleeps in Les' closet and gets fed, and in return he becomes Les' assistant. The fates look favorably on Toby and wondrous opportunities open up for him, like sunshine breaking through the clouds after a storm. Toby drifts from opportunity to opportunity, never blowing it because he is essentially good and considerate. Les' fury and anguish build with the recognition of every grace bestowed to Toby while he, Les, continues to trog in the gutter living from hand to mouth with no glimmer of hope on the horizon.

All this takes place in Tribeca and Soho in Southern Manhattan, the latest hot spot for artists, celebrities and up-and-comers. We see into the pampered lives of celebrities and the worker bees who exist only to fulfill every wish these brats come up with. Still we feel a slight bit of sympathy for the plight of the young, beautiful, and rich. Well, very little, actually, but we do. We drift with Toby from a sidewalk encounter with a celebrity needing a bit of a rescue, to backstage parties, to the bedroom of the same young, gorgeous Britany-of-the-moment celebrity, to moving in with a big time casting director, to reality show fame to being the object of paparazzi himself. And we watch Les slide deeper and deeper into jealousy, despair and revenge.

If any of you are interested in the world of celebrity, gossip, star making, young hunks - male and female, and, of course, the consummate comedic skills of Steve Buscemi, you can't miss "Delirious."

Live-In Maid (Cama Adentro) (2004)
Writer/director: Jorge Gaggero
Cast: Norma Aleandro, Norma Argentina, Marcos Mundstock, Raul Panguinao
In Spanish with English subtitles
83 min.

I could never have a live-in maid -- seeing me sit around playing with my computer, brushing my dog, watching TV, while she worked. Even when I have someone come in to help around the apartment, I tend to work with her or at least look busy. Cleaning up after myself is not below me; it's part of my philosophy, and that follows right into recycling and guardianship of the planet. But some women see having a maid, especially a live-in maid, a badge of superiority -- both financial and social. And Beba, the lady-of-a-certain-age in "Live-In Maid", is the epitome of upper class attitude. But coming with that sense of upper class noblesse oblige, comes total dependency on the serving class. Poor Beba can't even apply a Band-Aid by herself. Comes a reversal of fortune, through divorce and a downswing in the Argentine economy, Beba finds herself forced to sell cosmetics shop-to-shop and door-to-door. She hocks her valuable possessions to maintain her apartment, but she can no longer afford to pay her maid of 28 years, Dora.

Dora has put up with this situation because of a misplaced sense of loyalty or because she believes if she leaves, she won't get the back pay she's owed. I believe she also feels that Beba has become her responsibility and is dependent on her for the most basic needs. But as Beba's debt to Dora mounts, even the small acts of friendship -- like taking Dora to a salon for a hair style or applying cosmetic mud to her face as a beauty treatment -- can't compensate for the humiliations Dora must face on a daily basis.

I am so relieved when Dora walks out -- to reign in her lazy husband, to get work finished on the house she has been building, and to get another job, preferably not as a live-in maid. As for Beba, let her live in a home with dirty windows till she figures out how to clean them, let her get a better paying job, let the fates have her. As much as I may feel for her and her situation, how can I pity her for being in the same situation as the rest of us -- having to take care of herself?

It is interesting to see how Beba and Dora deal with their new situations and how their decades old commitment to each other finds resolution. This movie is almost as slow as real time, so take your time in watching it. The changes to the characters are subtle. And take your time with the subject matter. Perhaps we don't have to deal with the problems of mistress-maid relationships, but we do have to deal with relationships and this one really isn't so different.


The Ten (2007)
Directed by David Wain
Written by Ken Marino & David Wain
Cast:Paul Rudd, Famke Janssen, Adam Brody, Winona Ryder, Jessica Alba, Ken Marino, Ron Silver, Gretchen Mol, A.D. Miles, Justin Theroux, Liev Schreiber, Oliver Platt.

What a wacky, raunchy, insightful piece of work. Maybe in my old age I'm becoming a prude, maybe I always was, or maybe this stuff is just over the top -- I was squirming in my seat, but laughed instead of left because it all meant something. I'm not saying the shocking raunch had to be in the film for it to get its ideas across. I'm saying I accepted it because it paid back. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall of the meetings Wain and Marino had with some very big Hollywood stars to convince them to be in this film.

Ah, here's a question that has precious little to do with the film -- why are there 10 Commandments, but only 7 deadly sins? Wasn't God serious about the Commandments or could you weigh them and make your own decisions?

Actually, that is what the film is about. "The 10" Commandments and crossing them or not. So, a writer, Jeff Reigert, played by Paul Rudd, introduces the audience to the ten stories that will depict an odd view of dealing with each of the Commandments. Many of the characters flit from one story to another though it's not actually a repertory type format. For instance (and there are far to many plot lines to give you even a hit of them all), a man , Adam Brody, jumps out of a plane forgetting his parachute. He survives, buried chest deep into the ground. A doctor, Ken Marino (also co-writer and co-producer), declares that if the man is released from the tight soil, he will die. We then proceed to see the unsuccessful parachuter live his life semi-subterraneanly. The doctor appears in a later episode, or Commandment allegory. He has left a sharp medical instrument in a patient. He thinks it's hysterical. It's "a goof." She dies. He's defense continues to be, "It was a goof." Lief Schreiber is the investigating police officer who gives the doctor the third degree. The doctor is eventually convicted of murder and goes to jail. He is later seen in a third episode in prison dealing with covet thy neighbor's wife. I can say no more about that. Lief Schreiber latter re-appears in an episode

of coveting thy neighbors goods wherein he competes with his neighbor for possessing the most MRI machines. One must really suspend one's disbelief to get the full effect. Flow with it, let the stories and the absurdities lead you to religious philosophy worth living by. Really. This is a trip and I want to see it again.

Becoming Jane (2007)
Director: Julian Jarrold
Cast: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Maggie Smith, Laurence Fox
Writers: Sarah Williams, Kevin Hood

This is a film not taken from a book written by Jane Austin; it is taken from Jane Austin's life. Does this mean we have finally filmed all Austin's books twice or more already? Would she were more prolific....

Oh, it's not a terrible movie because it's not written by Austen. We have all the elements that make a good Jane Austin film: the poetic, witty language; the pretty, overly smart, young girl; the bucolic countryside dabbled with stately mansions; the empire costumes; the romance. But this is a perfect example of how people and events left to their own devices never turn out as perfectly as when constructed by a brilliant mind. Jane Austen's writing is better constructed then her life. We see the characters in their true life forms whom she would later perfect. She knew better than to leave them helter skelter, undirected, unruly. She condensed and refined the characters she knew in life and constructed clearer and more satisfying stories from them. That is not to say that "Becoming Jane" is the absolute biographical truth about Miss Austen's life. I truly hope not. But it is meant as an interpretation of her life and the inspiration for her novels.

Let us not forget that in her times (late 18th, early 19th Centuries), women were not expected to write, nay, even read novels. They were not expected to work or earn money, except as governesses or prostitutes (both equally disrespected). Marrying, and hopefully marrying well, and then breeding, were all that could be hoped for in a woman's life. The rules of etiquette and the class system were sometimes insurmountable barriers to even these goals. In this climate, Jane Austen became a prolific, highly respected and affluent writer, and she didn't resort to a masculine nom de plume-- all this within her very brief life of 42 years. All women writers owe her a debt of gratitude.

In tribute to Miss Austen, I suggest you rent some of her best recreations on the screen: My favorite is "Pride and Prejudice" (1940), starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. But have a look at her list of credits and take your pick.
Because of "Becoming Jane," we now know how very personal these stories are to her.

After the first 15 minutes' of keeping close check of Yank Anne Hathaway's British accent (good enough), I settled back and played the gaming of finding characters in Jane's life that later became characters in her novels, and how they were combined and changed. I felt frustration, longing, joy and sadness with her; ergo, Hathaway did a good job. And as often happens, I disagreed with Miss Austen's choices. More than once, I have felt women in movies make the obvious choices, but not ones I personally would have found most satisfying. I felt lanky Laurence Fox, playing Mr. Wisley would have been a perfect match: his love for Jane, his perhaps drawn-out good looks, his inheritance, his manners. Heroines never go for that type. Where's the drama in that? Too bad she didn't have my taste. Then again, she might not have been driven to write her novels had she been a happy, secure wife.

The Nanny Diaries (2007)
Written / Directed by Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Nicholas Reese Art, Paul Giamatti, Alicia Keys, Chris Evans
Running Time 105 minutes
Rated: PG-13

I feel we are not only 2 pay checks away from being on the street, but we're also only 2 pay checks from the Upper East Side. One invention out of a garage, one screenplay sales, being runner up on American Idol, giving a blow job to Hugh Grant. It's American and it's not just about 15 minutes of fame. It's about wealth. And Americans don't care about how old one's money is. I would go to Park Avenue parties as a teenager and no one checked my lineage at the door. Even J.K. Rowling only had to write a few brilliant books to be richer than the Queen, and she's certainly not banned from any country club due to the green-ness of her wealth. And she's English -- where the cast system still holds strong.

The premise of The Nanny Diaries is that wealth is a different, foreign, unattainable culture. Perhaps the wealthy have attitude since they've got "it" and the rest of us don't. And there might be a bit of insecurity about losing "it." But my dad , a butcher by trade, read the newspaper at the breakfast table, just like Mr. X (played by Paul Giamatti, who has warmed our hearts in many films as a blue collar kind 'a guy, but who is a born blue blood). See, it goes both ways. Though the press notes declare that Mrs. X (Laura Linney, awarded many times for her performances as middle class wives) was born from money, but not having read the press notes, the audience could have just as easily believed she married up. And as for the Nanny herself, played by Scarlett Johansson, she probably looks and behaves much like the Sarah Lawrence girls; she just needs better shoes. I refuse to believe there is a class structure in America 'cause passage is too easily bought through it. As for people of color, it is touched upon in passing when one nanny tells our Nanny that she came to America for a better life for her child. For years she's been raising someone else's kid and neglecting her own. And the faces of nannies at a collective meeting with parents shows their fear, sense of subservience and hopelessness. I carry their expressions with me long after the sight gags in The Nanny Diaries are forgotten.

This Nanny is not so different from the nanny in Uptown Girls -- unequipped to work at any other job; hardly able to work as a nanny; dealing with a spoiled, angry, neglected child; taking endless orders from the self-absorbed, busy yet jobless and also unloved mother. Both nannies take their charges around beautiful, exciting and perfectly weathered New York City and develop deep friendships with their respective kids. Both hate to leave their charges to the cold, empty environment afforded by their own families. Both learn from their experiences and become directed, happy, fulfilled adults. I guess life used to be harder, and cinematically more interesting. Can we ever forget Jane Eyre -- growing up in a brutal orphanage, taking care of a precious little girl who wakes her on her first morning in the country estate with a music box and a little ballerina dance? The drama, turmoil, dark histories of both main characters swept us up in their forbidden love. And more recently The Governess, starring Minnie Driver, told a tale of a Jewish woman in late 19th Century England who had to hide her identity and earn money to support her family when her father dies. Again, we meet the family of the manor: a loveless marriage between a frail wife and a husband who tinkers with the new invention of photography. The children in this story are almost inconsequential. Minnie becomes the husband's assistant in his photographic experiments and eventually his lover, all the time hiding her true identity.

Meanwhile, in The Nanny Diaries, Scarlett's biggest problem while working for the X's is hiding the Harvard Hunk of a boyfriend who lives a few stories above in the same building, and hiding the fact from her mother that she's not really working for a financial institution. The stakes have gotten lower. Love is easier to find and keep. Decisions are easier to make. Outcomes are less drastic. This is much more realistic for today's world and much more relatable, but I personally miss the wind swept moors, the mad wife in the tower, the fire that destroys the Manor.

I just didn't have the same problems Nanny had upon graduating. She didn't want to commit to a job in a cubicle and wear a suit and she didn't know what else to do. Neither did I -- so I just bummed around Europe for a few years. Here's a tie-in to the movie and my real life. I was once arrested in France for shoplifting. I told the police that I was doing an anthropological study on the hitch hiking culture in Europe and did what that culture does to survive. They laughed and let me go! The Nanny and I used our anthropology degrees very differently. Now, given the choice: French jail = being a Nanny..... I'll have to think about that.


In The Shadow of the Moon (2007)
Presented by Ron Howard
Directed by David Sington
Interviewed: Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Gene Cernan, Mike Collins, Charlie Duke, Jim Lovell, Edgar Mitchell, Harrison Schmitt, Dave Scott, John Young
Running Time: 95 minutes
Rated: PG

We've all but forgotten that men walked on the moon. It's been over a generation and in that time people assume it's no big deal to walk on the moon, we just don't do it now -- budgetary concerns, other priorities, no more space race, etc. Been there, done that. But oh what a time that was. In the midst of the Viet Nam war and the strongest dissent against the government since the revolutionary war, a promise made by President Kennedy shortly before his assassination was kept. A man will walk on the moon before the end of this decade - the 60's.

"In the Shadow of the Moon" reminds us of the men who boarded those tin cigars, guided by computers a fraction as powerful as any laptop you can buy on craigslist today for under $200 and the best minds of our generation lined up in front of screens in Dallas. These astronauts themselves were unaware of what the right stuff was, but they truly had it. "We weren't afraid, but we were concerned." Hell, I was afraid just watching the old newsreel of the first 3 men climbing aboard -- to fly to the moon. So easy to say now. So unbelievable then.

Ten astronauts are interviewed, interspersed with film footage that has been remastered and brightened up, much of it never having been seen before. And we are allowed to relive their experiences of 38 years before. Aldrin, Bean, Cernan, Collins, Duke, Lovell, Mitchell, Schmitt, Scott and Young, all from various Apollo Missions, comment upon the moment to moment progress of their missions, from their involvement in the plans and development of the rockets (remember the argument for the window in "The Right Stuff"), to the strength of the vibrations upon take off and the pendulum rocking caused by the gimbaled engines always seeking equilibrium. They discuss their feelings of guilt about being taken out of the war, their war, to become heroes in the public's mind, a moniker they felt they didn't deserve. One even comments about how he stopped for a moment on the ladder down to the moon from the module -- to pee (of course, inside his spacesuit into the appropriate apparatus) before stepping on the ground. And we get to watch that footage as he relates the experience. Another highlight includes the nail biting footage of the lunar module hooking up with the mother rocket for the trip home. Without perfect timing for this rendezvous that even the astronauts were in awe of, the moon walkers would still be there. A message of grief for their loss was even written for Nixon to read in that contingency -- and we hear it. Many of these men now speak of the spiritual, not necessarily religious, changes they have undergone since their experiences off-planet. These men are all soft spoken, self effacing, humorous, sharp, and very clean older gentlemen. And after relating their experiences and accomplishments in unadorned and humble language, we see what the right stuff is. It's a combination of bravery, razor sharp mindedness, resourcefulness, selflessness. Well, that's also a definition of hero.
"In the Shadow of the Moon" is fascinating, entertaining, eye opening, and will put all doubts of the authenticity of the moon walks to rest. We should all remember our greatest accomplishment, we should teach our children, and we can have fun at the same time.


The Hunting Party (2007)
Written and Directed by Richard Shepard
Cast: Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, James Brolin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ljubomir Kerekes
Running Time103 minutes

I’ve never liked movies that take actual events and throw fictitious stories over them. Take “Pearl Harbor,” for instance. I couldn’t care less about a made-up romance between fictional characters during the day that will live in infamy. It seems in very poor taste and I’d much rather be a fly on the wall of the oval office the few days preceding the attack. That’s much better filmmaking.

In “Hunting Party,” the genocide of Moslems in early 1980's Bosnia is a backdrop for a dramatic vehicle for Richard Gere and Terrence Howard. Is there no decency in Hollywood? Rhetorical question. The story goes - war correspondent Gere and partner cameraman Howard have seen it all, been to wars all over the world, capturing for their reports bloodshed, death, and destruction, and enjoying every minute of it. Bullets fly all around them; Howard has even caught a few in his time.

During one news report, though, in Sarajevo, Gere suffers a breakdown, gets emotional, offends the UN, the Dutch and the TV network, and is duly fired. In the intervening 5 years, the war in Bosnia is over, Gere’s career is over, and he lives from hand to mouth, selling stories to any TV station that will give him a few hundred bucks each. Meanwhile Howard gets a cushy job in the network studio, covering the Anchorman and traveling in style to shoot “safe” stories. Gere and Howard meet up in Sarajevo for the 5th anniversary of peace in the Balkans and Gere convinces Howard to come with him to find the biggest war criminal of that war, a butcher who is hiding in the mountains and neither the UN, the Hague, the CIA nor any other organization or individual has been able to get near.

The absurd proposition in this film is that deals were made with ethnic cleansing Hitlers of the former Yugoslavia -- if they just step down and end the bloodshed quietly, they will not be apprehended and brought to justice. And that is why it was so easy for these reporters to find this one particular “hunted war criminal”; he’s not that hard to find, the authorities just weren’t looking for him. Yeah, sure, right, ahuh.

So, I’m moved by Richard Gere agonizing over his fall from network grace, hustling his associates to do his bidding, fast talking his way out of dangerous situations, reliving his loss of love, holding fast to the idea that he can and will find this killer, even facing death with nobility/fear/anguish. Terrence Howard also gives a fine performance as the sidekick who has moved on and up, but who can’t help but get his hands dirty again even in the face of insurmountable obstacles. The story line zigzags through the many leads and misleads to the goal of finding their pray, including trips to the mountains and encounters with volatile black-market racketeers.

Still, I’m festering about the fictitious plot taking advantage of the grief of a nation. We get to the tumultuous finale, the great reveal, the satisfying resolution. The credits roll, and the postscript on the screen says this was a true story, or precisely “While this picture is suggested by actual events, this motion picture is in its entirety a work of fiction. All character names have been invented, all characters have been composited or invented, and incidents have all been fictionalized.” But based on a true story! Scott Anderson wrote an article for Esquire magazine, “What I Did On My Summer Vacation,” about his and 4 other journalists’ decision, after a night of drinking and reminiscing, to capture war criminal Radovan Karadicz. The CIA intervened -- on whose behalf is not clear.

So, the USA, through the CIA, sells out again, and so cheaply. Would it have been so difficult to have captured the war criminals at the end of the conflict and brought them to justice? If the CIA chose to just let them off is it because it was in sympathy with the eradication of the Moslems in Eastern Europe? At least at the end of World War II, German war criminals were saved from the war crimes trials because their brilliant scientific minds were critical to the Cold War effort - the post war brain drain. There is no such excuse for the Serbs who wholesale slaughtered Moslems.

Okay, now here’s a question -- do films have any effect on the public other than entertainment? If “Hunting Party”’s theme is indeed true --that the CIA is protecting genocidal war criminals in the mountains of Bosnia -- will it have any effect on policy, will the killers be rounded up now that we know? Will, at least, investigations be initiated to see if this film does have credence? Do we as audience members have to demand it? Do you, as Americans contending with terrorist attacks at home and a Moslem war abroad, care? Does even writer/producer Richard Shepard care beyond “The Hunting Party” being a really cool story worth making into a movie?


No Reservations (2007)
Director: Scott Hicks
Writers: Sandra Nettelbeck, Carol Fuchs
Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patrician Clarkson, Bob Balanan, Jenny Wade

Right off the bat, the restaurant in which Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the chef would be shut down immediately by the Board of Health. No chef hats! Well, the three black guys who do most of the cooking up against the back wall behind an array of tables and shelves wear what we call in the trade Schemata, tightly tied scarves. And the fast paced chefery they execute seems so akin to tap dancing that it conjures memories of the black tap dance routines of black troupes which punctuated the old Hollywood romantic musicals of the 1940's. Okay, I was feeling a bit uncomfortable. But at least Catherine and Aaron looked good without those silly stovepipe white chapeaus which are mandatory in the real world. Yes, I was waiting to hear complaints from the patrons of hair in their soup.

Well, this is Hollywood doing what it does best: take one of the 27 stories (you know there are only 27 stories) and rewrite it for a new audience. No this is not a rehash (food pun) of 1997's "Baby Boom" in which Diane Keaton, a driven businesswoman who has no time for men takes in her orphaned niece, falls for the local vet (Sam Shepherd who looks like Aaron Eckhart's long lost father -- right down to the cleft chins), and learns how to live a complete life, including love, family and work. This movie is about a chef!

Little points:
As beautiful as Zeta-Jones is, really, only Abigail Breslin can suffer those telescopic close ups. It really takes 11 year old skin to pull it off. And kudos for crying on cue with a camera inches from her face. I hope she wasn't told her dog had just died.
Speaking of dogs, I noticed dogs in every street scene. Since the plot was so predictable, I drifted and started checking to see if the same dogs were used for more than one scene each, guessing their breeds, wondering if they got paid scale for their extra work, etc. It's always refreshing to see dogs in movies. Too bad none of them talked.
Foie Gras alert: One reference to how ducks are force fed and abused to produce foie gras (pate). Of course, the cook who brought it up was immediately shushed by Zeta-Jones, but it did get in.
And more food for thought: When a character (honestly I forget which one) is asked about the 3 secrets of French cooking, the response is Butter, Butter, Butter. Okay, the French don't have a particularly high rate of obesity or heart problems, but give Americans the American size dishes of French cuisine, and they do. Butter, butter, butter, indeed.
You'll learn more about cooking and enjoy a more interesting film if you watch "Like Water for Chocolate" or "Big Night."
And if you're going to blindfold a woman and feed her, you better meet the standards of 9 1/2 weeks or just drop the scene. Why remind us of daring screen writing? Writers loose points, not for plagiarizing, but for not plagiarizing well.

BUT, as far as Hollywood Romantic Dramadies (HRD) go, if you like that sort of thing, you will like "No Reservations." It's got the aunt/orphan play montage and a couple of other montages as well. It's got likeable and attractive characters; even though Eckhart borders on obnoxious at the beginning, he softens over the course (little pun) of the film. We are comfortable with this genre; we know what to expect; we root for the lovers even though we know it's not necessary. Everything will work out just fine. We are entertained. "No Reservations" delivers. As for the obligatory rating: 9 if you like HRDs; 2 if you don't. What I like is of no consequence to you, right?


Interview (2007)
Director:Steve Buscemi
Cast Steve Buscemi, Sienna Miller
Writers: Steve Buscemi, David Schechter

Read the credits: directed by, written by and starring the same guy. Already I know this vanity piece is going to be about how seductive and intelligent this person is. Am I wrong? Buscemi did this once before: "Trees Lounge" (1996), written, directed and starring Steve. A very young girl must have him, I say, must have him! She finally grapples him to the floor and smothers him with wanton passion. Oh, please! I hate it when actors' fantasies of romantic appeal are played out on the screen -- at their expense-- monetarily and critically. We all love Steve as the quirky misfit that he is. Check out all his credits on He is solidly embedded in American film legend, from Ghost World to Fargo, from Reservoir Dogs to Miller's Crossing. Steve, you don't have to prove yourself -- and you'll never convince me you're a romantic lead. I just found "Interview" uncomfortable. First, he's trying so hard to prove he is sophisticated (international war correspondent by the name of Pierre Peders, ugh!). Second, I know eventually he's going to kiss Sienna Miller. Again Ugh. Third, two-people-in-a-room dramas are to stagey, no matter how big the loft. We know we have to run the emotional gamut in 90 minutes. Let's see those changes of beat, improv work, goals of the scene, etc. So actors workshop.

Oh, did I mention Sienna is half Steve's age? What if Sienna were 50 and Steve 26?

Moliere (2007)
Directed by Laurent Tirard
Cast: Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, Laura Morante, Edouard Baer, Ludivine Sagnier

Summer isn't just for blockbusters. Films not dependent on special effects, either car crashes and mayhem, cartoon characters or magic, yet lush, funny, informative, historic and charming are out there. You might enter the theater thinking Moliere is the name of a magical place, amulet, or wizard and, though miffed by the experience, come out a couple of hours later, not unhappy, even exhilarated. You may not be familiar with the greatest French humorous playwright, actor and dramatist, but you will be enriched by catching up.

I was first introduced to Moliere back in 1978 with the 4 hour and 20 minute version (40 minutes longer for the French TV version) which explored Moliere's whole life. There was even an intermission during the film to stretch one's leg and buy more refreshments. I dreaded going, but once entranced by Philippe Caubere's performance, or was it Moliere's life and the world he lived in?, I was hooked for the duration.

I was looking forward to the same experience this time; Moliere had such an extraordinary life. In this 2007 version, we get to see only one summer that changed Moliere's direction -- from ambitions of being a great dramatic actor to changing the face of theater in France at the time (the mid-1700 Century). He was inspired that fateful summer to follow his true natural gifts in comedy. Theater still reverberates with his impact to this day.

Moliere (Romain Duris) has been thrown in debtors' prison. He's a failure thus far in his career as a dramatic actor. A potential patron , M. Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini), offers to pay his debts and secure his release from prison on condition Moliere teach him, Jourdain, everything he, Moliere, knows about theater. Jourdain, though married to the beautiful and bright Elimire (Laura Morante), loves Célimène (Ludivine Sagnier), a young, beautiful, fashionable holder of salons at her estate. With trepidation and only longing to get back to Paris and his acting troupe, Moliere has no choice but to go with Jourdain to his sprawling country estate and teach this talentless buffoon the art of theater. Thus begins Moliere's journey into self-awareness, love and loss -- it's really quite funny.

Don't be put off if you don't know anything about Moliere or 17th Century France. You don't have to to appreciate, enjoy and laugh at Moliere's antics and genius. The 1978 version is available on video. It's very likely you'll want to see his whole life after you've shared this summer with him.

Goya's Ghosts (2006)
Directed by Milos Forman
Produced by Saul Zantz
Written by Milos Forman and Jean-Claude Carriere
Cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Natalie Portman, Javier Bardem, Randy Quaid

This is not so much a biography of Goya, one of the greatest artists of his time, but a reflection of the turbulent times in which he lived. He is a viewer, a role he takes as artist painting the influential people who pay his fees and the people and places he encounters, and as a man personally unaffected by the Inquisition, the French army "liberating" the Spanish people (actually subjugating them to the will of the new French order), and the Spanish populace fighting back for their true independence.

In this film, Goya (Stellan Skarsgard) has painted the portrait of a lovely young girl (Natalie Portman), the daughter of an affluent merchant. The Catholic Church, incensed by the rhetoric of a priest (Javier Bardem), re-instigates the most brutal tactics of the Inquisition which over the years had become milder and less threatening. Spies are sent out to find heretics and Jews among the good Christians. Portman is arrested because one evening in an inn she refuses to eat pork. It is suspected that she follows the tenants of the religion of her great grandmother, a Jew and a family secret Portman didn't even know about.

Goya does what he can to help this lovely, innocent, young girl by talking to a powerful Priest (Bardem) whom Goya is painting. And so a trail of events begin. Through the last gasps of the Inquisition and it's victims, the scourge of the French army trampling through Spain and leaving a trail of death behind it, and the chaos that follows, Goya often thinks of the young girl, continues painting and eventually has another opportunity to help her.

Okay, what do Americans know of European history? Don't tell me it doesn't effect our lives. It's knowledge, and if movies are the only opportunity to see an exciting, dreadful, colorful piece of history revealed, I say take advantage of it. Director Forman gave us Amadeus and many other looks into the histories, recent and remote, which do, in perhaps minute ways, effect our lives and contribute to who we are. Sure, it's an interpretation by the writer and director, but so are textbooks, based on the political times in which they are written and the political bent of the authors.

Don't take your kids to this one. We are talking about the Inquisition, a Catholic means of eliminating anyone who chooses to think differently or who was seen as a threat, through torture, terrorism and genocide.

The price of admission is worth the credit sequence alone at the end of the film in which the audience can gaze upon the great works of Goya enlarged to the size of a movie screen. Lucious!

Sicko (2007)
Made by Michael Moore
Produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein

We all already know about the Managed Health Care system in America. Privately owned, these businesses make profits by denying medical care, and if the customer/patient dies, there's no one left to complain about it. This documentary is not about the poor, the disenfranchised, the illegal aliens, the homeless. It's about the great middle class of the United States who carry health insurance.

The interviews of family members who have lost loved ones solely due to HMO denial is heartbreaking. The interviews of the ill, including heroes of 9/11, who are denied care through loopholes or just outright hubris is infuriating. The lies perpetrated by the health insurance corporations and our trusted government about socialized medicine as it exists in other industrialized, Western nations is simply beyond the pale.

We follow U.S. citizens getting treatment and medicine in Canada, England, France and even Cuba, with little or no cost, with the primary concern being the health of the patient, with no interference by any money-earning body. Okay, I got the feeling that much of the Cuban segment was staged and rife with propaganda, but that the care and the system of medical treatment was authentic.

So, do documentaries make a difference? Overwhelmingly, NO! If Bush was re-elected after Fahrenheit 9/11, then nobody changes his or her mind based on facts being uncovered. And it's not because Bush supporters didn't see the film; Moore had free screenings throughout Texas. People don't change their minds or their core values, based on movies. Do documentaries only preach to the choir -- in this case, even if our lives depend on it? Is it possible that parents of young men and women were still willing to send their children off to Iraq after having seen Fahrenheit 9/11? Yes, they did and do. You can say the vote was rigged in Florida. Yes, but Florida was only one state. Republicans all over the country still voted for him. You might say that the youth of America, mostly Democratic, don't vote. Yes, even after seeing Fahrenheit 9/11. Moore didn't get them to the polls.

So, what's the point? Why bother? We already knew HMOs kill Americans. We know the Republicans like it that way. Nixon instigated the wholesale support of HMOs in American in the 1970's, after he was re-elected after being exposed as a thief and a crook in the Watergate debacle. Those of us who are "protected" by HMOs know how frustrating it is to receive health care. Now Moore lays it all out, with comparisons of other country's solutions. What do we do about it?

Perhaps people do rally when they are awoken by a film. New legislation has passed locally to curb global warming. I heard in the news this morning that $25 million (a paltry sum compared to offense spending in Iraq) will be spent on research regarding clean vegetable-based fuel. How much did that have to do with Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth"?

Our documentarians in the role of watchdogs must be heeded. Who else is unbiased. As showed in "Manufacturing Consent," Noam Chompsky exposed the influence, nay, control of press and TV news by multi-national corporations controlled by a small, powerful minority. And let us not forget to be wary of documentarians -- trust no one, but act against tyranny.

PS - When going to foreign countries with national health, Moore was the only obese one seen in hospitals, restaurants, streets, anywhere. Michael, please take better care of yourself.

Evan Almighty (2007)
Director: Tom Shadyac
Cast: Steve Carrell, Morgan Freeman, Lauren Graham, John Goodman

You're going to laugh, but I was apprehensive throughout the film because I know the original Noah story: everybody and all the animals except the occupants of the ark drown. Really, I was feeling bad. How could a comedy wipe out all life on earth except for Steve Carrell, his family and the pairs of animals on board?

Okay, this is a new slant on an old allegory. Just wanted you to know, we're not going to die. And interestingly, the evil guy, a typical Hollywood plot device played by John Goodman, is not in the least bit an exaggeration of the real thing. Evil is incarnate in the U.S. Senate, as I'm sure it is everywhere. I had to chuckle about that.

The film is a pleasure to watch. It's great to see the ark being constructed on the field behind Evan's house. I love watching the animals: some helping out building, some patiently waiting to embark, some guarding the parameter from press, police, bulldozers and neighbors. And the anticipated "flood" was worth the wait.

I don't even want to research how they did it. I don't want to divulge the magic. For this one, I am completely suspending my disbelief. God got it right this time: just make a point, don't eradicate!

And in the spirit of the film, go to the website linked to "Evan Almighty," above, and make a $5 donation to plant a tree and add your name to the DVD. Not quite in stone, but it's only $5. It would be nice to replenish the forest for all the wood used in this film - which, by the way, was recycled.

Black Sheep (2006)
Written & Directed by Jonathan King
Starring: Nathan Meister, Danielle Mason, Peter Feeney, Tammy Davis, Oliver Driver, Glenis Levestam, Tandi Wright

Imagine you're taking a walk in the idyllic, rolling, green, Middle Earth hills of New Zealand. From over a rise you see hundreds of sheep -- coming at you teeth first! Bloodthirsty, mutant, vengeful sheep. Bhah. As the tagline speaks: "There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand ... and they're pissed off!"

You could choose the high road and see "Black Sheep" as a philosophical and actual battle between scientific experimentation and stewardship of our planet and nature. Or you can see "Black Sheep" as a rollicking splatter fest where the evil-doers get their just desserts, or, in fact, are the sheep's dessert. There are a few well-trained sheep (King used the same trainers who wrangled the sheep in "Babe.") as well as many animatronics, which cause the placid herd of 1000 sheep to acquire an ominous aire as they prance along the pristine fields of Wellington, NZ.

Though massively bloody, gutsy and messy, not realistic enough to cause an upset stomach, but plenty of belly laughs -- if there's too methane escaping from the audience -- could be fatal.

P.S. Don't forget to boycott Australian sheep wool because of the brutal sheering practices that cause unnecessary pain and death to a very large percentage of the stock. Really don't know about the status of N.Z. with animal protection organizations. Something to look into. But, according to the press notes for this film "no sheep were harmed in the making of 'Black Sheep'."

1408 (2007)
Director: Mikael Håfström
Cast: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack,
Tony Shalhoub

I don't like violent films. There, I said it. I never, almost never, go to films where hands come out of walls to strangle unsuspecting bimbos, campers get slashed, travelers with broken down cars get dismembered, motel occupants are tortured, mutilated, humiliated, tormented and then they die. Just not my cup of tea. It's mean spirited and depressing, and I question viewers who enjoy watching others' torment.

\But that is not what 1408 is about. In the vein of "The Twilight Zone," and gothic tales of paranormal activity or ghosts, or the mind playing tricks, or the effect of drugs, we watch John Cusack visit a purported evil room to find there is no exit.

Cool and jaded, writer Mike Enslin (John Cusack) insists on spending the night in a hotel room in which scores of people have died. He writes books about hotel rooms, inns, caves, anyplace a ghost has been sited.. Here I get a little confused. I thought he made them sound scary in his books and people buy the books to be scared, even though he has never --before room 1408 -- had a paranormal experience. I read, though, that he writes bestsellers that discredit paranormal events. Who would buy a book that says there's nothing there?

In any case, boy, did Cusack work. He is in every scene, traversing every emotion, sweating, freezing, walking the ledge, bleeding, pounding the walls, and confronting his own ghosts. Reaching his fear limit, he tries to leave the room, but at every turn he is thwarted. How can he ever escape? Is he doomed to eternity in the dreaded room 1408? I wanted to know, I tried to think of ways of escape that might work. I wasn't resourceful enough. Could you?

These Foolish Things (2006)
Directed by Julia Taylor-Stanley who adapted the novel “There's a Porpoise Close Behind Us” by Noel Langley, a leading novelist and screenwriter in the 30's and 40's.
Cast: Zoe Tapper, David Leon, Andrew Lincoln, Terence Stamp, Angelica Houston, Lauren Bacall, Joss Ackland

Taken from a novel written in the 1940's and directed in the style of a romantic, showbiz film of those days, These Foolish Things is as close as you're going to get to that bygone era of an aspiring, young girl confronted by two loves and trying to build a career in pre-war London. Ah, yes, we've seen it all before. This is not an updated version with either present-day sensibilities or a kitsch point of view. This is not a satiric take off and it adds nothing new to an antiquated genre. It's just a rehash - naive country girl goes to London to seek a career in theater; meets a budding playwright, gets a plumb role in a play, falls in love with yet another guy, the war starts. The one added element is all the gay characters are evil, conniving, manipulative, and dangerous. I've never seen one group of characters in a film drawn, across-the-board, so negatively, except perhaps the Japanese and Germans in World War II films. I have to admit, I was taken aback.

The one interesting thing about the film was Terence Stamp's character -- built upon a Jeeves model of the superior servant, Stamp's manservant Baker is in control, omniscient, has obviously had a rich and dark background and is in his position as underling only due to birth and not capabilities or perhaps to protect his employers. One is not sure. He is a mystery. I only perked up from my slumped position in the theater chair when he was on the screen. Thanks, Terry.


Vitus (2006)
Directed by Fredi M. Murer
Cast: Teo Gheorghiu, Julika Jenkins, Urs Jucker and Bruno Ganz
Swiss official 2006 Academy Awards entry

This is not a coming of age story. Vitus is a man very early in the film, long before he physically becomes an adult. He executes Byzantine plots involving making a fortune, learning to fly, taking the pressure of his concert piano career and aspirations, even pursuing the girl he wants to eventually marry. He figures it all out by himself and lets no one in on his plans.

Vitus is not a sweet or charming boy. He's too busy taking care of business. I might have been curious as to what his goals were and how he was going to achieve them, but I didn't like the boy, I didn't feel for the boy, and, therefore, ultimately, wasn't rooting for him.

Maybe all the hours of practicing the piano, the lack the company of children his own age, his inability to have a warm relationship with his parents due to their problems, dad --financial, mom -- over protective of her gifted son, caused his stolid demeanor. Only with his eccentric grandfather could be feel like a child.

Vitus was played by real life piano prodigy Teo Gheorghiu. You can't help but enjoy his virtuosity on the piano, and you may be fascinated by his behavior. Vitus is an unusual boy who creates unusual situations well beyond a child's capabilities.

Ten Canoes (2006)
Directed by Rolf de Heer
Cast Crusoe Kurddal, Jamie Gulpilil, David Gulpilil, Richard Birrinbirrin, Peter Minygululu, Frances Djulibing

The story starts with an Aboriginal narrator explaining to the audience that the tale he is about to tell is very, very old; so old... You want to yell to the screen "How old is it?" Then he proceeds to tell a present day story in which the very old story is told. Funny thing is both stories look like they could have taken place at the same time. Nothing has changed since very, very, VERY long ago. And that's the joke -- the story is timeless, the life of the Aborigines in Australia is unchanged -- if left to their own devices. There are the city Aborigines, the country Aborigines who trade and interact with the immerges, and there are the outback Aborigines whose lives haven't changed since time began for them in their land. And the land, beautifully shot, seems devoid of sustenance, yet the hunters find a vast harvest hidden in the brush, the swamps, the very trees.

The story is filled with humor and the human condition. It tells of laws that go beyond tribe or community, just because it's the right way to live and everybody lives by them or know they must pay. We see how they live off the parched, unforgiving land. If you remember back to "Walkabout," the white Hansel and Gretel children who were left to die by their mad father would not have survived except for the intervention of an young Aborigine boy who was on his adult trek through the desert. If you haven't seen this one, it's a must.

The story in Ten Canoes is for you to unveil and enjoy -- to ponder and retell to your children.

Stephanie Daley (2006)
Writer/director: Hilary Brougher
Starring: Amber Tamblyn, Tilda Swinton, Timothy Hutton
Executive Produced: Tilda Swinton

It just breaks your heart that in our modern world, children, though they think they mature earlier, actually are not at all prepared for parenthood by the time they reach puberty. As this film demonstrates, sex education in school is little help, discussing sex with one's parents is not an option, and the more religious the community, the more fearful and unprepared the youth. So, when Stephanie Daley (played by Amber Tamblyn) has her first and only sexual experience, she doesn't realize or denies to herself that she is actually pregnant. When she delivers her baby in a bathroom during a school ski field trip, she ends up in the hospital, the baby is found dead, and questions have to be answered. The Court assigns Lydie Crane (played by Tilda Swinton), a forensic psychologist, to interview Stephanie and give her opinion as to Stephanie's sanity, ability to know right from wrong when she killed her newborn, according to evidence at the scene. By the way Tilda is pregnant during these interviews, having already suffered one still birth.

Maybe this is a date movie, maybe young couples should subject themselves to this young, innocent girl's experiences. It's not a cautionary tale. There is no blatant moral message, perhaps none at all. But you feel deeply and compassionately (or you're made of stone) for both women dealing with their fertility. And I promise you, you will squirm.

As for symbolism, the underlying puzzle of a film, can someone tell me the significance of the cats: a pale one for the psychologist, a dark on for Stephanie, and a white one at the fateful party? Also, deers, deers, deers: walking around the outside of the house, dead on the road, struck by a car.


Flanders (2006)
A film by Bruno Dumont
Cast: Adelaide Leroux, Samuel Boidin, Henri Cretel

A horse gets killed in this film. Either those two bullets were real or that's a damned fine equine actor. And since this is a foreign film and there are no laws or organizations protecting animals outside of the United States, I have to ask myself was his death worth this film. Without hesitation - No! Then again, no film is. It looked as if a small herd of horses were made available to the filmmaker and he couldn't pass them up. The French army is in some nameless desert fighting some unspecified arab enemy in this present day film. The rest of the army rides jeeps and tanks, leaving behind 5 soldiers on horseback. They enter a village and a sniper shoots the horse. The rider runs for cover, feels bad for the horse in agony and shoots him dead.

I wouldn't like any film that slaughters animals for effect, but this one has no merits beyond cinematography, in any case. The French countryside, through it's seasons, is still and painterly. The desert is inviting in its vastness and mutability6.

The film starts in Flanders, France, yet I feel I have entered one of Bruegel's Medieval Dutch scenes in which uneducated and boorish peasants plow and party, both in instinctual actions. The inhabitants here barely speak, don't show any emotion, have sex much as the farm animals do, and barely take note of the passing seasons. Andre loves Barbe. She may be a nymphomaniac, but there aren't enough men in the film to confirm this. He goes off to war in the desert and fights a generic war. She is bored to distraction.

Yes, war is horrible. This film also graphically shows that soldiers, simply due to their circumstances, become monsters who rape and murder indiscriminately. Unfortunately, we already know this. But I never felt less for any film soldier and feel even less for Barbe, the girl left behind with too few activities.

Pierrepoint - The Last Hangman (2005)
Directed by Adrian Shergold
Starring: Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson, Eddie Marsan

An executioner has to be in moral conflict about his profession unless he is actually a serial killer and enjoys what he does. In this biopic, Pierrepoint, with no apparent predilection for murder, has found a moral high ground: In his pursuance of human executions, he has become the best hangman in England, meaning the whole process takes as little as 12 seconds, the hanging itself about 1 second, and is as painless as possible, breaking the 2nd and 3rd vertebras instantly. He believes no matter what the condemned's crimes, the execution itself is payment for the crime and the condemned should be treated with respect before and after the execution. Pierrepoint comes from a family of executioners, his father and uncle having held the jobs before him. He did take some pride in being called the very best in his profession, and at the close of World War II, was even called upon by Lord Montbatton himself to exercise his skill on over 45 Nazi war criminals. Unfortunately, this high profile exploit shattered his anonymity. This notoriety was uncomfortable, but acceptable at first since everyone was happy to meet the man who dispatched these horrible war criminals and the violent killers in England, but the tide of public opinion regarding capital punishment eventually changed and Pierrepoint was the brunt of personal attack, which led him to rethink his career choice.

Pierrepoint was by nature and soft spoken, even tempered, gentleman. Spall's performance is understated, even though the fire was there when needed. It was hypnotic watching him. The executions was abrupt and humane; something any adult audience member could deal with, well, anyone who knew he/she had chosen to watch a film about executions. Slasher/horror film aficionados will be disappointed.

Georgia Rule (2007)
Directed by Garry Marshall
Starring Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman, Lindsay Lohan

I was expecting to hate this Hollywood production about rebellious, uncontrollable daughters and how the power of motherhood and grandmotherhood heals. Haven't we all seen this too many times before? What could possibly hold my interest? I'm not a snob; I've just seen too many films to be satisfied with pap.

Felicity Huffman brings her daughter Lindsay Lohan to her mother Jane Fonda for the summer. Felicity can't deal with Lindsay's sex, drugs, car crashes and insolence. Okay, type casting. Felicity also has issues with her mother, and would rather not waste any time at mom's place, thus the problems are multi-generational.

But the issue is not so simple: do you believe what your problem child tells you? And it had me going. I went back and forth with it a few times. It really could have gone either way. There are cases on record that have gone both ways. Of course, to be a good Hollywood movie, it would only go one way, but I was able to forget that for a while and stay involved with the plot instead of going outside it.

Lindsay really does a good job. I always forget that she is more than a red carpet manikin and paparazzi/gossip maven. Felicity was lovely. I tried to find the garish, vulnerable transvestite from Transamerica, but she was completely gone, a beautiful , sexy woman in her place. Jane did her thing, though I was confused about the inner life of her character. She's hard, she uncomfortable; she's religious when it comes to the name of our Lord in vein, drinking and smoking, like a good Mormon, but does not exude a religious person's demeanor. I was not convinced. Her name goes first in the credits, but the core of the story is really about Felicity and Lindsay; Jane is more of a lackluster facilitator.

I did learn that Mormon girls are unattractive and boring, especially compared to scantily clad, San Francisco suntanned Lohan. Okay, writer Mark Andrus stacked the decked in typical Hollywood fashion. The one Mormon boy in town is hot, pure, and tempted out of 20 years of religious training by Lindsay's wiles. Now, will she wait for him for 2 years while he fulfills his missionary obligation to the church? Can't wait for the sequel!

Supporting cast includes stereotyped country vet/doctor Dermut Mulroney. And poor Carey Elwes hasn't played a good guy since Princess Bride. But at least in this film, he doesn't have to wear tights.

Crazy Love (2007)
Directed by Dan Klores
About Burt and Linda Pugach

Okay, all the reviewers are giving the shocking facts away. Burt and Linda were interviewed on the Today Show with excerpts from the film making all the issues clear.

Burt fell hard for Linda back in 1959, but he was married and Linda dumped him when it was clear to her that he wasn't going to get a divorce. She even got engaged to another man -- who introduced her to his parents. Burt hired a couple of guys to go to Linda's house and throw lye in her face. Linda lost almost all her vision and was horribly scared. She called herself damaged goods and lived a reclusive life. Burt got 30 years in Attica, but got off after 12 because he started sending money to Linda, at her request, and the parole board wanted him to continue. He pled his undying love for Linda and proposed to her on a TV show since he was not allowed to approach her. She accepted! They've been married for the last 33 years and are on the TV talk show circuit again.

I am so sorry you couldn't get to see this film before you knew anything about these people. I was floored, flabbergasted and blown away by both their behavior. You won't be. You know what to expect. But we may never comprehend the workings of these two minds. Jimmy Breslin called Burt the craziest man outside a mental institution. But says he knows what he did was terrible, but his whole life was falling apart at the time (besides Linda dumping him, his wife gave birth to a severely retarded and disabled child, and Burt was fighting to save his license to practice law). He just wasn't himself. I can almost understand Linda. Burt was the only man who would have her, he could provide for her, he deeply loved her. I, personally, would rather kill him and spend the rest of my life in prison or have it ended by lethal injection.

But the unraveling of the tumultuous relationship between Burt and Linda defies everything I thought I knew about human nature. There is no similarity between these people and, say, Joey Buttafuoco and Amy Fisher -- crass, uneducated, white trash. Burt is a Jewish lawyer, an ambulance chaser who might have crossed the legal line in his dealings, though he doesn't believe so. Linda, is also Jewish, smart, level headed, a good girl, though beautiful and sought after. You listen to Burt explain what he did and why; he seems calm, intelligent, reasonable -- until you realize he has to be unhinged. You listen to Linda, rightfully bitter and angry, and your heart goes out to her. Yet, her decision is beyond comprehension. Oddly, through the roller coaster ride of their relationship, much is really pretty funny.

Hollywood couldn't get away with such an absurd script. But Burt and Linda don't see anything that strange about it.

The question posed is what if a woman acquiesced to her stalker? Wish I could say more. Questions have been gnawing at me since I saw Crazy Love. This is a good film to discuss in a diner after viewing -- not to argue, but to explore.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters (2007)
Written & Directed by Dave Willis, Matt Maiellaro, Jay Wade Edwards

This is not a film about a hungry wet teens. It's something else, in every sense of the word. This cartoon makes South Park look like kids' Saturday morning kids' fare. It took a while for the plot to kick in, which was kind of painful for me. But eventually I found a story line: a lump of meat, a drink in a plastic cup with cover and straw and a serving of fries (the crime fighting Aqua Teen Hunger Force) are looking for a missing piece of exercise equipment that looks like a perverted Nautilus machine, Others also want to find the errant part (the Plutonians and the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past) to get the equipment in working order for their own nefarious ends. It's messy, it's often uchey, but after a while, it was fun. Spanning the planet, space and time, it is action packed, fast paced, imaginative, colorful, and the speech is clear, unlike South Park's character's. Lots of violence, very little harm done. Based on the Adult Swim series.

Fay Grim (2006)
Written, directed, co-produced, edited by Hal Hartley
Starring Parker Posey, Jeff Goldblum, James Urbaniak, Liam Aiken, Thomas Jay Ryan

Hal Hartley is an independent filmmaker, and as such, is most interested in small, human stories, as reflected in his previous films. Even "Henry Fool" (1998)," to which "Fay Grim" is a sequel, is a small, slice of life, though an odd one. Hartley brought back the cast of "Henry Fool," plus some notable additions to follow up on the story.

Fay Grim was married to Henry Fool, but in this sequel, she is a single mother, having been left by Henry 7 years earlier. She has adjusted to her life without him and doesn't want him back even if he were to return.

Enter the CIA in the person of Jeff Goldblum, searching for Henry's "confessions," hand written, lined note books which enumerate the various international plots to which he was a party, spanning Nicaragua, Israel, France, Germany and the Middle East. At first, I believe it's just Henry's insane bravado and tall tails. But it seems spies from all over the world are hunting for the notebooks. Goldblum enlists Posey (Fay) to help retrieve some of the notebooks, and off she goes from Queens, NY, to Europe and beyond, getting more embroiled in espionage in the attempt to reunite with Henry again.

The humor, like the Hartley acting style, is dry. But every now and then it hits me how really funny all these goings-on are. A suburban New York mother takes on the roll of superspy and out-wits the many enemies she encounters without any change to her character or demeanor. Everybody should rent "Henry Fool" first so you don't fall behind.

Jindabyne (2006)
Directed by Ray Lawrence
Written bv Beatrix Christian from a short story by Raymond Carver
Starring Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne

Here's the whole story: four guys go fishing way out in the wilderness. It's a long hike to get there and it's a beautiful place with great fishing. Shortly after they arrive, they find the dead body of a young girl floating in the river. As a group, they decide to tie her to a tree so she doesn't float downstream to the rapids and continue their weekend of fishing, calling the police as soon as they get to where their cell phone gets reception on the way home. Once home, one of the fisherman's wives goes through an existential crisis - who or what is her husband to have done that. He doesn't see the harm; the girl was already dead, though on a deeper level surely something must be going on in his soul. She feels compelled to go to the girl's funeral. On the way she seems to be threatened by a driver in a truck. Nothing happens. She goes home and tries to deal emotionally with the situation -- choices have to be made.

End of story.

But not so in the film adaptation of this Raymond Carver short story. I found everything else superfluous, unnecessary and tedious. I don't need to see the girl before she died, I don't need to see her family and hear a song she wrote at the funeral, I don't need to see how the town reacts to the fishermen's lack of conscious or responsibility. I don't need to see anymore of the killer. This is not a murder thriller; it's a morality play. I've got it all in that nutshell: it's powerful, poignant and thought provoking.

I believe people who haven't read the short story will still find the 2 hours plus packed with redundancy and slush. But if you go, look for the kernel that is a thought provoking story - it's all about men being men, setting aside their morality, compassion, logic -- to go fishing.


The Flying Scotsman (2006)
Directed by: Douglas Mackinnon
Cast: Jonny Lee-Miller, Billy Boyd, Brian Cox, and Laura Fraser

This is the true story of record breaking, Scottish cyclist, Graeme Obree (Jonny Lee-Miller). He also designed his own racing bicycle from spare parts, even from his clothes dryer. The World Cycling Federation, headed by a cold, soft spoken German, didn't take kindly to his knock at the bicycle manufacturing industry and kept changing the rules, moment by moment, to disqualify his bike and his riding technique. As if this weren't enough, Obree suffers from depression, not enough to keep him from racing, but enough to take him to the very brink. With the support of his wife (Laura Fraser) and his best friend/manager (Billy Boyd), and a Minister with an available workshop in which to build his bike (Brian Cox), with fortitude and determination, with sheer will power, Obree wins and wins again.

Inspirational, well, yes. Corney, close, not not really. His pain is internalized, quiet and his own. His drive -- in the workshop, on the track, and in dealing with the system that wants to keep him down -- is indomitable. Interestingly, the cause of his depression is solely based on his childhood repeated traumatic confrontations with school bullies. The solution to his regularly humiliations was escaping on his bike. Psychoanalysis is the cure. No chemical imbalances, no drug therapy.

Of course, parallels could be made between Obree's mental challenges and those of John Nash (Russell Crowe) in "A Beautiful Mind," another biopic. Psychosis is always more colorful than depression, filling the mind and the screen with new and outrageous characters and challenges. Obree is a stoic athlete, but we do get to see some exciting competition against the clock on the track, we do feel the pressure and loneliness of a long distance biker. My heart went out to Jonny Lee-Miller's Obree. He had no easy task: portraying a silent man's depression (not very action filled), being thwarted at every turn, being pushed to his physical limits, being haunted by past humiliations and insecurities. His portrayal was subtle and strong, like Pnree's biking. Obree's accomplishments, even minus depression, are legendary.

Disappearances (2006)
Screenplay and directed by Jay Craven
from the novel by Howard Frank Mosher
Starring Kris Kristofferson, Charlie McDermott, Genevieve Bujold, Gary Farmer, Lothaire Bluteau, Heather Rae

"Disappearances" is very reminiscent to me of Jim Jarmusch's 1995 "Dead Man," starring Johnny Depp. First, the environment is almost identical -- dry between-season woods and rivers - the west (end of the train tracks) in Dead Man, the Vermont/ Canadian border (Northeast Kingdom) during Prohibition1930's. And both feature Gary Farmer as the Indian with superior sense. Both films have an eerie, super-real quality to them.

Kristofferson plays Quebec Bill Bonhomme (French for good man). He's charming, roguish, adventurous, and a reformed booze runner who misses the business, especially since a rain making accident burned up his barn and hay provisions for his animals. He decides to take up an offer to cross the border into Canada and run 20 cases of whiskey back south. He truly hungers for the excitement, even though greed is his excuse for going on, and on, and on, well beyond what a reasonable man would do, especially as the whiskey dwindles by case and by bottle, till the only reason he continues is ... well, you figure it out. I think that's just the man he is.

He decides to take his son with him on what he believes will be a routine pick up, canoeing across the divide and cash in. It turns out to be a bumbling, harrowing and dangerous trek on which the boy faces things no one should.

The man they steal the booze from, Carcajou, played by Lothaire Bluteau, is more myth than flesh, Quebec Bill's sister,Cordelia, played by Genevieve Bujold, though alive, transports herself, disappears, reappears and gives vital advice to Quebec Bill's son, Wild Bill, played by Charlie McDermott, a more reasonable young man a father couldn't be more proud of.

Constant contradictions, tales of disappearances, Aesop-like morality and unstoppable enemies, a drunk monk, a runaway train, a foreboding white owl commenting silently on events -- all make Disappearances a calm, quiet, gentle ride, but looking back at where you've been, it's exhausting, violent, and action packed.


The Valet (2006)
Written and directed by Francis Veber
Starring Gad Elmaleh, Daniel Auteuil, Kirstin Scott Thomas, Alice Taglioni, Richard Berry

A rich industrialist is carrying on an extramarital affair with a super model. He doesn't want his wife to know, not because he loves her or doesn't want to hurt her, but because she controls 60% of the business and he's penniless without her. One day a paparazzo catches the elicit couple on the street together. The photo hits the paper and the wife confronts the husband with the proof. He says he doesn't know the woman; she must be with the man right behind them, who is actually a Valet. The wife is no fool and plans to hire a detective to watch the model and the Valet to confirm or deny that they actually are a couple. The husband convinces his lover super model and the Valet to participate in the hoax. Thus are thrown together a gorgeous, famous, super rich super model and the humble, working class Valet into a Byzantine comedy of missed opportunities and misguided detectives, window curtains and poetry.

It's supposed to be an outlandish idea that these two people could actually be in love. But to me the casting fails, and thereby, the plot fails miserably because I can't accept that this beautiful, young, independent, rich woman would ever be at all interested in that smarmy, old fart, the industrialist. It is still the old think of France culture that a woman wants a rich, powerful industrialist to provide and protect. This woman doesn't need provision or protection. So, I don't buy it. I even think the Valet is attractive in a young Price Charles kind of way.

If you can get over the 1050's premise and enjoy the story, it's charming, funny, and full of high fashion and romance.

Diggers (2006)
Directed by Katherine Dieckmann
Starring: Paul Rudd, Lauren Ambrose, Ron Eldard, Josh Hamilton, Ken Marino, Sarah Paulson

Diggers refers to clam diggers off the waters of Long Island Sound. This is yet another industry shifting from the individuals to the huge corporation, yet another transition from earning a living by one's own labor, in this case going out in a little boat and scraping the marshy sea flats for clams, to becoming another cog in the wheel, either for the Man who now owns the marsh or finding another way to earn a buck after generations of clamming.

We meet four digger friends and other members of this small, tight-knit community on "the island." They are all trying desperately to go on in the face of change, support their families or just maintain the lives they have always known.

These are all good guys, good people. We like them all even though they run the gamut from confused and lonely, to womanizer, to angry husband, to doper. We love the lives they lead: living in a tree lined, Victorian housed, quaint town, going out clamming each day in the serene waters surrounded by wafting reeds, drenched in sunlight. They have a few drinks together, they commensurate, the argue. Even the rain is gentle and children play quietly in it. I could live this life. Let me at it before it's gone. Just don't make me eat raw clams.

Red Road (2006)
Directed / co-written by Andrea Arnold
Starring Kate Dickie and Tony Curran

Here's a new take on Big Brother watching you. With the proliferation of police observation cameras on streets in big cities throughout the world, many of us are concerned about loosing our privacy, our civil liberties, and even our freedom. The first stage of government control is surveillance.

In Red Road, the all-seeing eyes are managed by clerks trying to protect stray girls on the streets in dangerous neighborhoods or calling an ambulance if they spot a victim. The tapes are put in a closet, most likely never to be seen again. The CCTV agent here happens to spot a man she just can't take her eyes off of. She is adept at flicking the control panel buttons to be able to continue surveillance from camera to camera across large stretches of Glasgow, Scotland, her arena of operations.

In her off hours, she can accidentally run into him at a cafe, crash his party, be at the same pub he's at. She can start a relationship with him. Is advanced police technology creating a group of voyeurs and stalkers? Living in her cold, black and white world, once removed from reality by banks of TV monitors, was depressing and claustrophobic. I felt for her even though she's not one to let others into her dark, empty world. We eventually learn her motives and her own painful past. There are enough hints, but I was surprised by the turn of events.

The TV Set (2006)
Written & directed by Jack Kasdan
Starring David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver, Ioan Gruffudd, Judy Greer, Fran Kranz, Lindsay Sloane, Justine Bateman

This is another look inside the cut-throat, manipulative, lowest common denominator mentality of the television industry. More smarmy and less cruel than"Network," but just as devastating to the creative spirit. Since "Network," the quality of network television has only gone down. Now, though there are the glowing beacons on intelligence and art on cable TV, sandwiched between reality, DIY, religious, shopping, and sports programming.

I think the only thing the general public will learn from this film, if it gets it at all, is that the lowest common denominator is lower than it's ever been, embarrassing low, frighteningly low -- and it's the general public's fault. Anyone who takes any pleasure in a reality show .... I better not go there.

So, David Duchovny plays Mike Klein, a television writer who has submitted a script to the network for pilot season -- a time in L.A. when pilots for new shows are produced and the network executives decide if any of them will ever make it to television. His script is accepted, on condition and condition. He relents to be able to support his pregnant wife, played by Justine Bateman and their young child. Sigourney Weaver,

playing an executive, wields her power subtly, while making philosophical statements that show her clearly to be deficit of human emotion, taste, compassion. She can only think in the numbers, ratings of TV shows, and what it takes to get them. And the easiest way is to dumb it down. By the time the pilot is finished and accepted into the fall line up, Klein is a broken man, physically and emotionally.

Lots of funny scenes, on the mark insights about television and society today. Please don't hold it against David Duchovny that he has only been in flop films since he left X-Files. Think of him as the obnoxious, sexually charged young man in 'New Year's Day," and the partying lover turned responsible reborn husband in "The Rapture."

The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)
Directed by Ken Loach
Starring Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney

The British are sending the "Black and Tan" squads over to Ireland to block its bid for independence. Those English goons are nasty, violent, enraged and trigger happy, as well as gun butt happy and any-other-weapon-you-can-find happy. Hard to believe they're the same countrymen as in all the other British films we have seen and enjoyed, the dramas the comedies, the slices of life that represent the different facets of the human condition throughout British history to the present.

But I believe people change to tyrannical monsters when they try to control other countries, all people. The Spanish of Almovadore films are the descendants of the Conquistadors who decimated the populations of South and Central America in the 16th Century. The Dutch -- harmful, nasty? Ridiculous! Yet, when I lived in the Dutch Antilles, the Dutch were not appreciated for forcing these Caribbean people to only speak Dutch in the classroom, and trying to obliterate local culture in any number of ways. The populace cheered when the French left Guiana. The same is true for all countries occupied by imperialists - they just turn oppressive. They have to. They're the minority reaping the rewards in a country where their only advantage is force..Get my drift?

Interestingly, in The Wind... not only do the Irish guerrilla armies fight for independence, but the course of politics forces them to compromise or not, break into factions, fight each other -- and brother even fights brother, all to the benefit of the imperialist.

This is a gritty primer on how to enlist, train and fight guerrilla-style, with the political arguments to navigate along the way. It is a stark juxtaposition to place warfare in these lush, verdant Irish exteriors. The battles take place in pubs, streets, dales and glens.

On the other hand, it was great seeing Cillian Murphy playing a rugged, though intellectual, freedom fighter after his stint as the transvestite wisp in "Breakfast in Pluto".

The Page Turner (2006)
Directed by Denis Dercourt
Cast: Deborah Francois, Catherine Frot, Pascal Greggory and Julie Richalet

A little girl, Melanie, takes her Conservatory entrance exam. She is playing the piano beautifully, but is thrown off when the chairwoman of the jury, herself a renown pianist, signs an autograph during the recital, breaking Melanie's concentration. The child is totally flummoxed, cannot continue, leaves the room, gives up the piano forever and dedicates her life to revenge.

Suspenseful? I was not suspended. Obviously, she was going to do "bad seed"-like damage to the unsuspecting woman; how and when could have been interesting, but was a bit too easy for our protagonist. Things fell into place for Melanie when ten years later she decides to act. She gets a job as an intern in the chairwoman's husband's law firm. He just happens to need an au pair for his son just when her interncy ends. His wife just happens to need a page turner for her piano recitals. I won't tell you more, but it's as predictable as watching one row of dominos fall.

All the characters are stoic, never moving any muscles in their faces. The culprit didn't even have to plan her revenge; she just fall into it, invited.

The classical piano soundtrack was lovely, the house in the country idyllic. Yes, but as an American, I just wanted to scream - Wake up! Laugh, cry, hit someone!

Adam's Apples (2005)
Written/directed by Ander Thomas Jensen
Starring Ulrich Thomsen and Mads Mikkelsen

Remember the story of Lot in the Bible? Poor lot was tested by God, loosing his family, his possession, his farm animals, and his health. Perhaps this film should have been called Lot's Apples because it's more about the Minister of a small country church in Denmark and the trials he is forced to endure rather than the ex-con who is sent to the church which acts as a half-way house.

Adam (played by Ulrich Thomsen) is a Neo-Nazi skin head who thinks of himself as evil personified and intends to do his time at the church, fulfilling his duties, and then getting out to again wreck havoc with his cohorts. Upon Adam's arrival, the Minister, Ivan (played by Mads Mikkelsen) suggests Adam have a goal to help him in his adjustment from prison life to freedom. Adam sarcastically says he wants to bake an apple pie, having noted Ivan's pride of his apple-laden tree in the church yard.

We expect to see Ivan work his subtle, religious wonders on Adam, making him an upright, God-fearing contributor to society. What we find is that Ivan has had a horrible life, ridden with suffering, pain, loss of loved ones, and much more. Actually, he has withstood so much pain, he has blotted out most of it. He lives in denial, blaming the Devil for the unfortunate happenings in his life that he is willing to concede to. Let me remind you this is a comedy, black, subtle and yet outrageous.

I am tempted to list the blights set upon poor Ivan, but that would be ruining the fun. He is unflinching, literally, and indomitable. Mads Mikkelsen, playing Ivan the Minister, is a Mahatma Gandhi (hinted at by his bare, spindly legs in shorts for most of the film) gone a bit mad. Mikkelsen recently starred in "After the Wedding," another Danish film also written by the prolific Ander Thomas Jensen, about a charity worker in India who returns to Denmark to negotiate funding for his worthy projects with a rich industrialist, only to find the industrialist's wife is his ex-love and he has a grown daughter. This is another film worthy of your interest. Mikkelsen also played the villain in "Casino Royale." Busy man, great talent.

The rest of the cast of "Adam's Apples" also does a fine job. Ulrich Thomsen as the Neo-Nazi scared me, and his subtle arc was very believable. The other ex-cons who inhabit the church include Nicolas Bro as Gunnar, the alcoholic, chubby former tennis pro, sex addict; and Ali Kazim as Khalid, the Arab immigrant who regularly robs gas stations as a political statement and to get enough money to go home. Whether Ivan's ministrations had any effect on these guys is also in question. Nobody attends his sermons but this wards and an old man who lives in guilt due to his collaboration with Nazis during the war by helping in the concentration camps. And a woman (Paprika Steen) asks for counseling regarding her pregnancy, as if a minister could vary in his advice on this topic. It's a motley crew with no sense of camaraderie and perhaps no spiritual growth or ability to live in society. Perhaps Ivan the Minister's work is futile, perhaps not.

First Snow (2005)
Directed by Mark Fergus (also co-writer)
Starring Guy Pearse, JK Simmons, Piper Perabo, William Fichtner, Shea Whigham

Don't go to fortune tellers. You don't want to know when you die. This whole idea of taking advantage of that knowledge and getting your things in order -- well, do it now and don't worry about when you're going to die. Tell everybody you love them, if you do, and live each day fully.

See what happens if you know. Watch Guy Pearse try to avoid his impending death by trying to outwit or second guess fate. He drives himself crazy, literally.

I believe a thriller is taught when I see no other action to be taken than what the protagonist has done. I think I would have done the same things Jimmy Starks, played by Guy Pearse, does in this film. Is my health going to be the cause of my demise? I'll quit smoking and eat well. No, I see more a dangerous culprit. I can smoke again and out-stalk my probable stalker. And so it goes, sucking our hero -- if you can call this slick, ambitious, small-time salesman -- into a pit of paranoia.

The ultimate question we take away is -- Is our fate written and can we change it? What a fun ride, a little icy, a little fast, a little dark!

Beowulf & Grendel (2005)
Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson
Starring: Gerard Butler, Ingvar Sigurdosson, Stellan Skarsgard, Sarah Polley.

I never read the epic poem "Beowulf" the first major literary work in English, but I did read "Grendel" by John Gardner several times. I love being in that time and place - medieval Nordic landscapes, including a few long boats; men drinking lots of beer and fighting in chain mail with broad swords. The film "Beowulf & Grendel," as the name implies, gives equal time to both stories - Beowulf's tale of his heroic slaughter of a monster who terrorized a Danish kingdom, and Grendel's narration of his anguish dealing with humans who only wanted to kill him and made him blind with rage. "Beowulf & Grendel" makes both more compassionate, humorous and tragic, doing both the epic poem and the modern novel proud.

Not only is it a battle between the old monsters and the new humans, but between the old religion of Nordic Gods and the new religion of Christianity. It's an interesting parallel in which I always seem to be rooting for the loosing teams.

And I'll watch any movie shot in Iceland.

My gripe: Beowulf's Gerard Butler's extreme Scottish accent and Sarah Polley's most unflattering, dead Canadian voice. Did this partial cast of Scandinavians exhaust the talent pool? Were there no more actors in all of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Finland who could handle the task? I'd even settle for a Dutchman. Though both Butler and Polley did fine jobs of acting, were there none others to do it in a realistic accent? Couldn't Polley and Butler make an effort with an accent coach? It was just too jarring for me to have to listen to them in their out-of-place and out-of -time voices, especially Polley's -- 1000 years before there existed such an accent. And didn't she have an English accent as the child star of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen back in 1988?

An Unfinished Life (2005)
Starting Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman,
Jennifer Lopez, Becca Gardner
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom

First - Robert Redford has stopped using the fog filter to make himself look young. He is now officially old and I personally breathe a sign of relief. I have been uncomfortable since "Havana" when, not only did Bob use a fog filter so dense you could hardly see him, but his lovely co-star, Lina Olin didn't. They looked like they were in two different movies as the camera switched from one close up to the other. I was embarrassed for Bob. Then in "The Horse Whisperer," seems like that part of the country was always in a fog. Gratefully, these days are over.

Casting: Obviously, when Jennifer Lopez was cast, she was hot and the producer were nervous about Redford not using his fog filter. Miscast, I guess. Also even Redford without fog and Morgan Freeman are both too young and virile for their parts. I read the book, "An Unfinished Life" just last week, and Hollywood gave the guys a makeover.

This is a story about two old men, committed to each other since their tour of duty in the Korean War. The white guy lost his beloved son in a car crash 10 years earlier (his wife leaving him shortly after that), the black guy was mauled by a bear, horribly scarred and left in relentless pain. The white guy's daughter-in-law, who was the driver in the car crash that killed his son, having no other place to go to regroup after leaving her last woman-abusing boyfriend, arrives at the men's ranch with her 11 year old daughter. This is the book, told from the young girl's perspective. We learn through her perceptive on the actions taking place around her and understand her often fearful and innocent inner life. We empathize with the black man; his pain is palpable, his courage, wisdom and humor heroic.

It's always fun to see how a film diverges from a book. In the film, the men are younger and there is no reference to their background together: from whence their loyalty and mutual respect comes. We no longer know the inner life of the child. Without it, she is just a quiet kid and very uninspired. The film version of the daughter-in-law/mother is still Jennifer Lopez: tough, independent, even sassy. This woman is nothing like the beautiful, vulnerable, low-self-esteem ridden, guilty, confused character in the book who gets most of her direction from her daughter.

Here's a telling change. In the book, the old white guy feels he must intercede for a waitress in a diner when two young drunks start harassing her. He knows he will get the crap beaten out of him because he's old and weak. But he noticed a friend of his, a big, strong, football player type, in the restaurant and knows the guy will back him if it comes to a fight. The footballer does just that and the drunks back down. In the film, Redford beats the crap out of the two young bucks before they can lift a fist. I found that pathetic -- Redford, even without the fog filter, a rootin tootin hero who can beat anyone in the place. The book's old man was much braver and smarter and more interesting.

Morgan Freeman is still the same Morgan Freeman we all know and love since "Driving Miss Daisy." He never changes. Oh, he was a drug dealing pimp in the old days, but Hollywood doesn't do that anymore -- not with it's real actors. We can always depend on Morgan. Actually, we don't even have to see him; we already know who he is and what he'll do.

Damn, I'm being negative. Let's back off a little bit. "An Unfinished Life" is still a good movie. The subtlety may be gone, but the basic story is still good, the acting is good (no awards here), and the Wyoming country is beautiful. If you're over 20 (mentally) and miss going to a movie to see a story with character (characters with wrinkles), this is certainly worth a matinee, especially with senior discount. The old codgers still have reason to live. They are bright, funny, courageous, compassionate. Nice role models. And if you don't want to bother, you can always rent "Secondhand Lions," with Michael Caine and Robert Duval, Haley Joel Osment. This story of two old men on a farm is much more interesting.

Star Wars Episode III (2005)

The most interesting things about Star Wars III:

1. Even in a galaxy far, far away, birth control is still hit and miss.
2. Jedi prefer fighting on ledges very high up.
3. As evil men become more evil, their accents change from English to Russian.
4. Jedi are a boring bunch of bureaucrats, except:
5. Yoda who fights like the evil rabbit in Monty Python's Holy Grail, and
6. Obi who finally shows a bit of a sense of humor, and that wasn't easy with the dialogue he had to work with.
7. I still don't know what Padme sees in Anaken except he's the only young guy in the universe.
8. As always, those robot warriors are a flimsy waste of precious mineral resources.
9. Robots like General Grievous (and his merry band of officers: Agonize, Serious, Grave and Grumpy) are vulnerable to respiratory disease. I guess that's why he wears a coat.
10. R2D2 used to be able to levitate.
11. City traffic congestion exists in this not so different galaxy far away. But it's on multi level air space.
12. All planets other than ours have a much better sense of interior decorating.
13. War is beautiful - beautiful machines and robots and wookies on lots of different planets with different terrains. Pretty laser lights and blasts and multicolored explosions. I don't care who wins. Just let the fireworks continue -- till we run out of one or two sides of the warring factions. Then they can wait till the next generation grows up and start all over again. Too bad Lucas isn't going to continue with episodes 7, 8 and 9. I could watch the whole thing over again with Luke and Leah and Han's kids. And I mean the same thing all over again, like I, II and III is the same war of IV, V and IV, but with the latest special effects. I'm sure someone else will make more scifi movies with the next generation of boxes and buttons to show war among the stars. There's no copyright on space war movies and our young boys of all ages can't get enough of it. Seems there's nothing out there in the deeper recesses of the universe but a lot of politicians and soldiers, a couple of princesses and billions, no trillions, of victims. One more of these space war movies, and I'm rooting for the speedy contraction of the universe back to the original one dram of matter/energy. I've had it with the limited imagination of life forms real and imagined.

Let me just add, III was better than I and II. These fine actors, all, were finally allowed out of the confines of their cardboard cutout characters and given a little leeway to express a couple of emotions -- absent in I and II. The plot was more understandable, meaning I knew who Lucas intended the good and the bad guys to be. There were more locations (computer backdrops), fewer ridiculous costumes, better furniture, and a couple more minority actors. I even saw one female Jedi. Thanks, George.

Mean Creek (2004)
Written and Directed by Jacob Estes
Cast: Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck, Carly Schroeder

"Mean Creek" is very reminiscent"River's Edge." And like "River's Edge," it is chockaful of incredible teenage actors performing a taught script. I like it when people are forced into situations that the viewers themselves can't find a way out of. There were a couple of turning points where things could have been different, but I empathize with the characters and understand their choices. We'll be seeing a lot more of this talented crew and Jacob Estes.

Paperclips (2004)
Directed by Elliot Berlin and Joe Fab

Paperclips is a documentary about the middle school students in a very small town in West Tennessee. Their principal and teachers want the students to have a project that enlarges their understanding of the world and what goes on outside the protection of a democracy, a loving family, and a sheltered valley. They start the Holocaust project and teach the children about Hitler and genocide. The project grows, gets international attention and the whole town changes attitudes. Mind you, these people were not a bunch of cross-burning rednecks. They are god fearing, family centered, good people. And yet, the experience of delving into the depths of the Holocaust with their children -- listening to survivors speaking at their church and school, receiving mail and good wishes for survivors and their children, and even children of Germans who lived at that time who offer apologies, to the donations of the very paperclips that symbolize all those who perished in the death camps - changes them in ways they didn't imagine. I get a chill thinking about it now.

Vanity Fair
Director: Mira Nair
Writer: Mark Skeet, Julian Fellowes, Matthew Faulk
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, James Purefoy, Jonathan Rhys-Myers, Romola Garai, Gabriel Byrne, Eileen Atkins

The Director, Mira Nair, is Indian and she ingratiated India into this Victorian parlour drama to such an extent that the audience was laughing at all her references, which, by the way, aren't in the book. Reese Witherspoon hasn't made a decent movie since "Highway" and "Election" (both must-see's) and couldn't carry this one off. Just because Merchant, an Indian, can produce and Ivory, the American Jew, can direct Victorian films better than anyone else, doesn't mean the franchise can be passed on to another Indian or, it seems to date, anyone else. Mira Nair still has much to do in Indian cinema, like forever banishing Ballywood to obscurity and replacing it with quality Indian films such as Salaam Bombay and Monsoon Wedding. I'm not saying she's not allowed to ever venture outside ethnic Indian themes, but please don't infuse them into non-Indian classic literature. Also tackling Victorian culture is no easy feat. Most have failed (e.g., Masterrace Theater which turned these classics into soap operas). Vanity Fair a clumsy, uncomfortable, unconvincing film. It fails where these closer to Nair's home and heart were subtle, expressive and moving.

AVP: Alien v. Predator
Directed by Paul Anderson
Starring Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen

When the film ended, I heard the reviewer behind me say to his buddy that the film was better than he expected. I turned around and said, "Don't be fooled. The plot made no sense at all." And I gave him examples. He said, "You think too much." I said if you have to stop thinking so as not to be a spoil sport because the plot makes no sense, what you have left is a lot of killing of people, predators and aliens in cutting edge CG on pretty CG sets. You got exactly what you expected and not a bit more. He grudgingly agreed.

Head in the Clouds
Directed by John Duigan.
Starring Charlize Theron, Penelope Cruz and Stuart Townsend

This is very amateurish attempt at a grand life story which spans a time period rich with history similar in genre to "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Razor's Edge." Admittedly, it's a very difficult genre and this film would not be the first to fail in its attempt. It does fail miserably. We pass through tableaus, each disconnected from the other to show the times and the lead character's sense of abandon. The film starts with a young girl getting her fortune read. The fortuneteller tells her she will die at age 34. This bit of information is all she needs to lead a life of selfish hedonism, a philosophy of "live for the moment for at 34 I die.". When I was 19, I, too, had my fortune read by a New Yorker I knew. He said I'd be dead by 45. Like any wise shopper, I decided to get my future read by someone else. I was in Europe that summer and had my fortune read again in England as well as in Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, they both said I'd be dead at 45. And they weren't told about the previous prediction. Seems I have a misinformed wrinkle in my palm.

The film moves through the1920's in Cambridge and Paris, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II, with Charlize and her friends and lovers, making decisions about how to conduct their lives; Charlize opts for the Anais Nin road to self-fulfillment; her best friends/lovers take the nobler path.

I couldn't help comparing the Charlize Theron character, a beautiful heiress, to Paris Hilton. Now, if Paris had depth, imagination, charm, and wit, perhaps here would be some commonality, but I was only left with looks and stylish clothes. They don't make heiresses like they used to, at least according to "Head in the Clouds."

Shaun of the Dead
Starring Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Nicola Cunningham
Directed by Edgar Wright

"Shaun" is truly hysterically funny. What if you didn't notice that almost all the people around you were zombies because they pretty much were before this mysterious plague started? Life is so humdrum and rote, people don't seem very different and you don't notice what's going on around you because you, too, are a creature of habit, rut, doldrums, and are half in a daze.

Eventually our hero realizes what's going on and tries to survive while helping other non-zombies. The choreography rivals the Buster best of Keaton and early Jackie Chan. This will ignite a new rash of zombie movies.

Starring John C. Reilly, Diego Luna, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Directed by Gregory Jacobs

I will eagerly go to see anything with John C. Reilly in it. Not only is he an ultimate actor, but he only selects interesting projects because he respects his craft. It's a scam artist movie. And all good scam movies have intricate plots that ultimately make perfect sense and have a surprising payoff. "Criminal" is not the first of its kind, but it does pay off. Trust it.

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer
Director: Nick Broomfield

There is a new trend now in filmmaking: make a narrative, make a documentary, make an episode for cable TV, flood the public with information, information, information, compare and contrast. Teena Brandon / Brandon Teena enjoyed the same posthumous attention in 1999's "Boys Don't Cry," the 1993 documentary re-released in 2000, "The Teena Brandon Story" and a 1992 American Justice episode updated in 2000, "Life and Death of Teena Brandon." Is it overkill (pardon the pun), is it sweeping exploitation, or is it an interesting phenomenon in which we can see how far drama departs from documentary reality?

Nick Broomfield, director of this documentary, had the opportunity to interview Aileen on numerous occasions. Therefore, the main thrust is on her character and personality, or their disintegration over the years of her incarceration. Her background is quickly covered, unlike the lengthy coverage in the Biography episode in A&E. Aileen in all her fictional and factual personas is unsympathetic. Sure, she was abused, unloved, neglected from early childhood, left to fend for herself in a literally cold and ugly world from the time she was 13. But we just don't like her. She's abrasive and unattractive. At best, we sympathize with her plight and realize children's early years form the good or evil they will become and commit in their adulthood. We even realize that Aileen was so emotionally disturbed that she could not make any other choice but to kill 7 men -- for the cash, possibly in self-defense, due to the lifelong abuse she suffered at the hands of men, including her grandfather.

If you were moved by "Monster," and want to know more about Aileen, you can meet her as first-hand as is now possibly, through Broomfield's documentary. If you really want to get close to this wretched, delusional, lost child grown into murderer.

Lost in Translation
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson and Giovanni Ribisi
Written/Directed by Sophia Coppola

I now respect Sophia Coppola, not even begrudgingly, and that's a tribute to her. She has always lived under the cloud of criticism regarding nepotism and undeserved opportunities, the most glaring being a key role in Godfather III. Francis' excuse of there not being any other actress in America who could jump into the role on a moment's notice after Winona Rider bowed out created a furor of, "Oh, really!" And since Sophia couldn't carry the ball on that occasion, she was hailed as "Daddy's little failure," and at a very early age she had an awful lot of reputation building to do.

"Virgin Suicides" simply wasn't enough to dig her out of that hole. At that point in her career, she had to be brilliant, not just good. And I say any director who can make Bill Murray control his tendency to be an obnoxious, over-acting, unlikable character deserves the huge ladder that "Lost in Translation" has given her. Bill has finally grown up and shown a side of himself deserving of compassion.

In "Lost in Translation," Murray plays a famous actor who goes to Tokyo to do some very well paid whiskey commercials. He's tired, his relationships with his wife and children are tenuous and alienated, and he's embarrassed by the vapid nature of the work he's about to do. He's already a stranger in his own home; in Japan, his alienation turns bleak. From the physical disparity in size between him and the Japanese, to their culture of formality compared to his casual, dry humored character, to the language barrier, as well as the huge and imposing city itself with a reputation for being unadvisable to foreigners, Murray's character's alienation takes on black proportions.

Scarlett Johansson's character feels much of the same alienation and loneliness that Murray's does. Though she's young, pretty, married to a caring husband, she, too, is lost and alone in this huge, imposing city. While her husband, played by Giovanni Rabisi, is busy in his successful career as a rock photographer, she spends her days looking out her skyscraper hotel window wondering what to do with herself, that day and with the rest of her life. A recent grad in philosophy, she's just figuring out that there are no job listings for philosophers in her hometown paper. Her self-doubts and doubts about her marriage drive her to the hotel bar where she runs into Murray, and over a period of days, their friendship blossoms.

Yes, she's young and pretty; yes, he's old and rich and famous. But it's not about that. It's about two lost souls lost in an imposing foreign city, lost in their different phases of life, finding solace and friendship for just a few days. And Sophia was able to make it real for us, the audience, through the little, even minute, details, the smallest touches, the wry smiles, the littlest inflections in speech, that express their relationship. Sophia, where did this come from, this subtle, perceptive, mature observation of human nature? Congratulations. You've earned your own name, Sophia Coppola, writer-director.

Bubba Ho-Tep
Starring: Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis
Writer/Director/Producer: Don Coscarelli

All speculation can be put to rest. We now know with total certainty what happened to Elvis Presley. He was sick of his over-indulgent lifestyle, loaded with sycophants, fatty food and loneliness since his divorce from Pricilla. So, he found the best Elvis impersonator out there and traded lives with him. He thought it would be temporary, but the contract between them burned up when his trailer caught fire in a barbecue accident and then the pretender died from well documented excesses. Elvis continued as his own impersonator in obscurity and eventually ended up in an old age home in East Texas. And here the story begins, including flashbacks.

Very ingenious and amusing. The plot continues with completely unexpected turns into Egyptian history, a lost mummy hungering for easy pray, living scarabs as big as New York City rats, and a feeble, ooooold Bruce Campbell topping all the other special effects in this movie. And considering the painfully close close-ups, kudos to KNB EFX Group for the watermark in wrinkles, sagging skin, and nose hairs. I could smell Bruce as the 70 year old king. And Campbell did an laudable job of "being" an old, weak hipped, flatulent codger. This must be the finest acting I've ever seen on his part (which includes the "Evil Dead" trilogy and TV's "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr."

This film tends to be a little slow in places, but, hey, everything is slow in a nursing home. I could almost envision Bubba eventually playing on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (if it hadn't gone the way of the Voyager into the great black unknown), but it's way too good. A lesser writer, director, producer than Don Coscarelli would have had to make it.

The Hulk (2003)
Director: Ang Lee
Writers :Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Cast: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Paul Kersey

He's bigger, he's madder, he's .... better. And his dad, played by Nick Nolte, is Shakespearian in stature, intensity and grand performance. I guess the writer felt that just being radiated wasn't enough to cause the transformation of mild manned (to the point of internalizing all emotion) Bruce Banner into the raging hellion he becomes. Interestingly, added is the father-scientist who experiments on his own body in the same exact field Bruce is later to devote himself as well. Then dad impregnates mom. And thus is born Bruce, upon conception half way to transformation. His fate is sealed - a very tragic Greek touch. Even Dad can't change it. And dad tries, only adding tinder to the younger Banner's already flammable constitution. This complex psychological viewpoint adds dimensions that were never reached in comic books or TV show. By the way, keep you eyes open for a split second cameo of Lou Ferrigno near the beginning of the film. I wish he had a larger part. Ah well.
I like that director Lee (no relation to Stan) wanted to give depth, psychological drama and maturity to this super hero genre.

The movie starts off slowly and dawdles too long. I kept thinking -- come on, irradiate him already! The love story between Bruce and his co-scientist, played by Jennifer Connelly, was poignant and delicate. Kids won't be embarrassed by "kissing." Maybe sexual frustration added to Banner's outbursts and transfiguration. Couldn't have helped.

But when the green juices start flowing and things finally start to happen, we are in for a treat. Of course, the biggest worry was that since the Hulk is completely computer generated, will we believe him. Well, it didn't take me too long to suspend my disbelief and go with it. Perhaps, if this film were made 5 or even 2 years from now, and technology progressed even further, the Hulk would have been more humanly convincing. But he's here now and

Complaints by a fellow reviewer:

Q: How could Bruce not have remembered his childhood? He was 4 years old when blah blah blah happened?
A: Suppressed memories. Bruce did a perfect job of not remembering his painful past. To confirm this, in one scene he is asked, "Don't you want to know who your parents were?" Bruce replies that they're dead and it doesn't matter. Obvious conscious excuse for subconscious desire to protect himself from his painful past. Works for me.
Q: How could so many people be knocked around by the Hulk and not die?
A: Have you forgotten all your children's TV shows, like Superman, where good guys don't kill; they just "subdue" others. Remember the TV Hulk? He didn't hurt anyone. We can't conflicting our allegiance to the ambiguous hero by putting blood on his hands. But Vallejo Street in San Francisco certainly suffered by the Hulk's wrath.
My own complaint: What the hell happens at the denouement of the film? For those of you who are satisfied with action, special effects and pretty colors, you may not notice, and that's fine. But why Hulk and Dad do what they do at the end of the film is a little beyond my powers of reasoning. Let me know if it makes sense to you. Don't be general; be specific. I need the details explained.

Other little things: I really like that Bruce's mom and his true love are obviously the same type. I'm a believer in the adage that men really want to marry a girl like their mom. And it's very interesting since, on a conscious level, Bruce doesn't remember his mother.
There are subtle and fast moving tributes to other great movie heroes: King Kong, etc. Look for them.
I couldn't help thinking of how Jennifer Connolly looked in "Rocketeer": a bit plump. No, less than plump, human and beautiful. Now, she has succumbed to the pressure of Hollywood and is a typical movie star rail. Her eyebrows were frighteningly wooly in "Secret City," perfect in "A Beautiful Mind," and now she's slipping back to the broader, yet controlled eyebrow look.

And did Tom Cruise turn down this part, so they resorted to Bana. Was the Hulk's look already etched in stone (or computer bits) and they had to go with that look?
And Nick Nolte looked just like he did in his mug shot after being arrested for driving under the influence, to which he pleaded no contest, except his hair is more puffy straggly instead of flat straggly. You gotta laugh.
I am just so glad to see Sam Elliot - the even more underrated actor than Jeff Bridges. Well, he may not be as talented as Bridges, but he also gets a fraction of the work Bridges gets.


Secondhand Lions (2003)
Starring: Michael Caine, Robert Duval, Haley Joel Osment
Writer/Director: Tim McCanlies

I believe some critics/reviewers have misunderstood a very simple fact that have led them to give some searing reviews. They say this movie is so simplistic, it's stupid. They say these characters are unbelievable and over broad. What they have missed is that this story is told from the perspective of a child who loved and was awed by his two great uncles, a child who had been living a life too real for his liking which included a mother who always lied to him and even deserted him. Also, when the child grows up, he's a cartoonist - one who uses vivid primary colors and cartoon images to relate to his audience these larger than life men, his great uncles. So, they shot at traveling salesmen to scare them away, always wore the same dirty clothes, shot fish in the pond, but most importantly accepted a child into their homes and told him wondrous stories about their adventurous youth. And the stories they told were even bigger than the story the child tells about them as old men. I was happy watching Duval's character's exploits in the French Foreign Legion, his falling in love with an Arabian princess, fighting her intended, a fierce and underhanded villain of a sheik, their fight in the torture room and escape into freedom and love. I miss the stories I didn't hear, too tame for a young boys ears, of Caine's character being a guide for white hunters in deepest, darkest Africa. And what of the other stories that were not alluded to? I spent the rest of the evening thinking about what they might be like. I love that once the old men were convinced to spend their money and enjoy it, they bought an old lion they could hunt and kill on their farm, but instead allowed the lion to live in the small corn field, the closet thing to a jungle she had ever known. Okay, so Caine hasn't mastered the Texas accent. Remember, he's the man who broke the accent bar in England 40 years ago by becoming a star who had a Cockney accent instead of King's English. He got over his Cockney for this film and delivered a rather flat American if not regionally correct. So, guys, get over it! It's about exaggerated characters who bring joy, love and security to a child. It's about old men finding a reason to live beyond their extraordinary youth.By the way Osment has developed one adorable tush.


The Station Agent (2003)
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale
Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy

You have to have a heart of stone to not like this film. And that's not to say it's sappy or melodramatic. But it is a little story about lost souls who find themselves through friendship with others. It's a story about people who would prefer to be alone and lonely rather than to be hurt any more by other people. Fin (Dinklage) is a little person and has given up on people after a lifetime of the gawking and insults of a world of strangers. Olivia (Clarkson) lost her son to a monkey bar accident ("I just turned away for a moment," as if watching her son fall would have saved him) and lost her husband to the rift that so often occurs after such a tragedy. Joe (Cannavale) is just bored out of his mind while temporarily running his sick father's roach coach, and hungers for conversation, companionship and fun. Why he parks in a desolate area of a rural New Jersey town is not known, but fortunately for him and all our players it is near the abandoned train station recently inherited and inhabited by Fin.So the story begins. Though the story is about Fin, the active protagonist is Joe -- constantly knocking on Fin's door and offering a cafe con leche, asking if he can go for a walk with Fin, driving the food van while Fin videotapes a moving train, cooking dinner for his new friends and totally ingratiating himself with them. Against Fin's adamant opposition, he now has friends -- and he's better off for it. So, is Olivia, and so is Joe (though only Joe knew he would be). Fin is the hermit interrupted, Olivia is the lost soul, and Joe is the avatar. He is truly the free spirit who finds joy in the simplest of earthly pleasures -- kicking a soccer ball, cooking a dinner for friends, having a conversation or just sitting quietly with one. I love these people. And I agree with the women who fall under Fin's spell. His dark, brooding, mysterious intelligence more than compensates for his stature.


Bad Santa (2003)
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, John Ritter, Bernie Mac
Director:Terry Zaigoff
Executive produced by the Coen Brothers
Written by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

This Santa would make Ebenezer Scrooge blush. Neither had the Christmas spirit, but Ebenezer never said worse than "Bah, humbug," and didn't do worse than keep Cratchet till 5 pm on Christmas eve. You have to go a lot further than that these days, when an opera about Jerry Springer's show is a success on the West End in London and South Park is a hit cartoon. This shopping mall Santa, played by Billy Bob Thornton, is an alcoholic who came from an abusive home. The only thing his daddy taught him was how to crack a safe. He regularly comes to work sopping drunk His violent stupors lead him to punch out the papier mache reindeer for looking at him crooked, and hurl vulgarities and curses at the children on the Santa waiting to line. Once he's seated on his thrown, with the help of his partner in the diminutive form of Santa's Elf, played by Tony Cox, he proceeds to piss himself into a puddle on the throne and red carpeted floor. And we all can't help but laugh, over and over, at the endless vulgarities and profanities for the full 91 minutes. We just can't get over it. And on top of all the site gags, including tossing children off his lap, throwing beer bottles into windshields and screwing a barmaid in a hot tub while still in red suite, as well as other un-Santa-like behaviors, there is a plot. And even the story is funny. The era of "Miracle on 34th Street" is over. Our innocence is over. Christmas spirit has to come in another package with a different moral - the reluctant Santa who just wants to spend his ill earned money drinking at a beach bar in Florida till the next Santa-hiring season finds his match in an obese boy who injuries himself while whittling a present for Santa - a brown pickle. Did I mention South Park?Also, another fond farewell to John Ritter. Seems it did a lot of work shortly before his untimely death. I appreciate him more now than ever before. His store manager, prudish, reticent and shy, was wonderful.


Love Actually (2003)
Cast : Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Laura Linney, Bill Nighy, Rowan Atkinson, Martine McCutcheon, Keira Knightley
Written & directed by Richard Curtis

I started feeling all teary eyed during the introduction - a montage of people greeting, hugging, kissing and crying at an airport. This is obviously hidden camera footage. It's authentic and honest. And yes, love is actually everywhere. Hugh Grant's voice over declares that as far as he knows, all the cell phone conversations by people in the plane that crashed in the woods on September 11th, 2001, and from people in the Twin Towers were about love, not hate, revenge or anger. Love.Okay, I am set up. So now, lay it on me. I get smatterings of love in many of its forms. A widower's loss, his stepson's angst with his first love, two porn actors anticipating their first "real" kiss, a woman's discovery of her husband's betrayal, a Prime Minister trying to belay a relationship with his very attractive kitchen assistant, a man's passion for his best friend's perfect bride, a man slowly discovering his deep emotion for his non-English speaking housekeeper, an aging rock star finally recognizing his platonic love for his fat ugly manager, and I think most sad - a woman who must forego the culmination of a 2 year crush on a co-worker because of her consuming commitment to her mentally ill brother. This smorgasbord is very appetizing, but doesn't fill the stomach. Each of these stories could have been fleshed out (pardon the pun) and made into a TV movie length, if not feature, film. I was a bit confused by all the interconnections between the characters. I was left dangling with a couple of the relationships. Things had to be too neatly tied up for the finale. But this was a noble, large scale effort which I much appreciated. They call it a comedy because there are lots of funny lines, but love can be a heartbreaking matter.Note: The American President makes an appearance as Billy Bob Thornton and he is not welcome. Is this the opinion of the writer director or are we finding out something about the temper of the English after America's heavy handedness these last few years? Billy Bob is a powerful, yet slimy character, who expects full cooperation and is willing to give nothing in return. When the Prime Minister stands up to him, his whole staff cheers. Should we expect a new wave of British opposition in the future?' Another Note: Life sure is simple at 10 Downing Street. Sure can't compare with the West Wing. The PM has a house staff of about 5, and a secretary. When he goes out, he is accompanied by a chauffeur and another guy who can sing Christmas Carols very well. When dealing with matters of state, the PM is usually sitting alone with a couple of papers under his scrutiny and he's constantly interrupted by tea and crumpet breaks. How quaint. Speaking of Christmas: This movie has nothing to do with it. It just takes place the two months preceding Christmas to its Eve.


Elf (2003)
Starring: Will Farrell, Edward Asner, Bob Newhart, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen
Directed by Jon Favreau
Written by David Berenbaum

This is a new Christmas story - orphan boy grows up among Santa's elves. Yes, it is another "fish out of water" story and reminded me a lot of Steve Martin's "The Jerk," about an orphan boy believing he's black because he's raised by a loving family of rural African Americans, but this time it's about Christmas and life in Santa's workshop. The special effects are intentionally retro: a reminder of the old TV cartoon "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." The animal inhabitants of the North Pole could have been lifted right from those 50's stop action holiday specials. The Elf-Human interaction effects were humorous in their simplicity. I could have stayed at the North Pole for the whole 90 minutes. But, alas, the action moves to New York as Farrell seeks out his birth father, who is on the "naughty" list. Oh, no!It's all about innocence, and innocence tainted by the big bad City and it's harsh, hard core people. Or are the people changed by the more powerful innocence and belief in the Christmas spirit? Ho hummm. I guess it's good for children to get the message. Parents don't tell it anymore, if they ever did. Peter Dinklage has one wonderful scene which alone may be worth the price of admission. See "Station Agent," below.


Seabiscuit (2003)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Tobey McGuire, Chris Cooper, William H. Macy
Written & Directed by Gary Ross

If this weren't a true story, I would have to say "Seabiscuit" was an extreme example of melodramatic, corny, American underdog-ism. But it is based on fact. It really did happen that way: a small horse -- abused and neglected for his first three years of his life; nurtured by a trainer who was a cowboy displaced by the urbanization of America; ridden by a victim of the Great Depression, left behind by his parents, too large to be a jockey, too small to win in a fight; and bought by an opportunist whose son had died driving the family truck when left alone and whose grief stricken wife deserted him -- becomes the symbol for the down-trodden, little guy and wins against all odds. And I love the insertion of newsreel footage describing the time and place in which this story is set -- America from the turn of the 19th century and through the worst economic times to have ever hit this country. Since schools, especially in California, turn out children who literally know nothing, I expect all learning will happen with exposure to films and television. All the kids who come to see Seabiscuit will leave with a greater understanding of this particular chunk of history. This is no distortion of history to fit patly into some romantic plot. This is history, and the story of this unlikely champion is an integral part of it. I love William H. Macy's portrayal of the zany sports radio announcer. He is our Greek Chorus, our commentator, our Shakespearian comic relief. His Spike Jones' paced, point-on running views, with accompanying sound effects, keep the audience laughing and the plot moving.Just a few thoughts about the movie everyone else will be talking about and using a lot of superlatives -- stuff like Oscar worthy, brilliant, heart wrenching blah blah blah.


Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
Cast: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Billy Bob Thornton, Geoffrey Rush
A Coen Brothers film

These brothers are ruined when you give them too much money. Usually, their plots are so tight, not only does every move by every character make perfect sense, but they had no alternative but to do exactly what they do, much like a Greek tragedy. From "Blood Simple" to "The Man Who Wasn't There," their plots are flawless. True, they were murder mysteries and "Intolerable Cruelty" is a romantic comedy. And as far as big budget Hollywood romantic comedies go, it's a little bit funnier and a little bit smarter. But there's certainly no genius here, and why else go to a Coen Brothers film? I hoped against hope that the commercials for this movie simply weren't showing brilliant plot intricacies and wry wit. Nope. The commercials tell you exactly what to expect: a tooth-vein divorce lawyer confronting his karma in the body of Mrs. Douglas. Even the plot twist/trick was obvious. Want to see a typical "man-woman adversaries, man-woman fall in love" movie? Go ahead, see if I care. I'm waiting for their next low budget flick.


Lara Croft - Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life (2003)
Starring Angelina Jolie
Directed by Jan De Bont

Lara has matured since her first cinematic exploit. Before, she was capital "A" Attitude. She was hot, she was cool, she was the badest, she was the best. She knew it, She flouted it. This time, she is much more serious, even angry. Her friends have been killed, her orb (the one she was in the process of stealing) has been stolen from her, the world may be at the edge of doom. She certainly doesn't need the Queen's permission or request to do what has to be done. Save the world, girl! Lara now hugs the people she likes with the same sincerity Princess Di did to the inhabitants of mined 3rd world countries. She's a more compassion hero. And did she get the rogue traitor out of prison because she really needed his help, or because she loves him despite him having done her wrong? She's a conflicted and vulnerable hero. And when tempted by the ultimate prize, does she waver in the least towards the dark side? No, of course. She's a moral hero. I appreciate that the screenwriter, Dean Georgaris, with story by Steven D. De Souza nd James V. Hart, went to the trouble of giving us a character with more depth, and a plot that made more sense than most splashy adventure epics. After all, almost nobody who goes to see a Lara Croft film cares. They want the action, the effects, the exotic backdrops. And they have it in this film. It really was a eye feast to travel to all the locals, by motorcycle, the latest in military aircraft, under water and even in a flying squirrel outfit for gliding among the skyscrapers of Hong Kong. This is the first film in a long time that made the locations attractive enough to make me want to see them first hand (or first eye). I hope it wasn't all special effects. I hope the world is still that beautiful.In any case, all the effects were pretty seamless, except for the creatures that appear out of the trees in an ancient gorge in Africa and suck up soldiers. Sure, it was a Hollywood set, but still interesting to look at and the creatures were very effective.


Bugs! (2003)
Starring: Hierodula and Papilio
Presentation Sponsor: Terminix

Nature is beautiful and horrible. In the Borneo rain forest and identically dressed sets in London, we are introduced to an array of monstrous aliens, including an exoskeletal, stilt walking carnivore (Hierodula the mantid) and a bulbous, slithery leaf eater who miraculously change into graceful, winged nectar sipper (Papilio the caterpillar-butterfly, and a plethora of creatures in between. Take a minute creature and blow it up into 8 story tall, 3-D detail and you have the makings of a really scary picture. Add the tearing off of heads and sucking of vital fluids through the neck hole and I see nightmares. Do not bring in candy and popcorn for this film. I was off food after seeing a 30 foot tall grasshopper gingerly rip apart a fly for his daily meal. On the other hand, every muscle in my body was tensed during his mating scene with a seemingly passive female grasshopper. Did he stroke her back with his antennae pleasingly enough to keep her from eating his head after she was properly fertilized? Oh, the anxiety! And be prepared for a spider dangling precariously over your head. Terminix proudly displays its name in the opening credits. I wondered at first if this was a joke; was the word misspelled, should Terminix be spelled with an e instead of one of the i's? No. Terminix, the world's largest pest control company, his proudly put its name on this very insect-sympathetic film. Seems Terminix believes bugs are good - just not in your house. The urban part of this message is not conveyed in the film since all 40 minutes takes place in the jungle. Could there be a backlash to the wholesale slaughter of citified insect life? Perhaps humane traps will come into style, especially under pressure by children. "Dad, let's take a ride to the country today and release the roaches." I personally always carry spiders on a piece of newspaper to the nearest window. After all, they eat bugs. I've been playing hide and seek with a small spider who lives in the lobby light over the mailboxes. He's usually dangling from the light when I check my mail. I blow a gentle breeze his way and say hello, and he scrambles up to his house inside the fixture. I just figure at that time of day people are coming home and checking their mail. He's safer back in his cubby hole than out scaring the tenants. I support any film with the message that all life on earth has its place and is needed to fill it. Of course, "Bugs!" didn't mention mosquito's, lice and cockroaches. I have to admit, I'm not on the fence about them.


Elephant (2003)
A film by Gus Van Sant
Executive Produced by Diane Keaton

The blurbs say that reputable periodicals extol this film as "Exhilarating," "Tender, fiercely intelligent, achingly beautiful," "Fearless," "Spellbinding," Mesmerizing," and more.What film were they watching? Over half the film is the camera following students, one at a time, walking through the vast, almost empty hallways and grounds of a modern, suburban high school. Over 50% of the film is silent walking. What have I learned about these students, what have I felt? Over 50%! There are some very short dialogues: 3 girls (all could be named Heather) moaning and bitching. One boy wants his girlfriend to set up his three friends with her three friends, obviously for sex. One boy takes photos, develops and prints them. We never see the pictures. There's more, but I palpitate just thinking about these "exciting and revealing" scenes.Then there's the boy and his friend who are going to pull a Columbine. What have I learned about them? One gets paper spit on him in science class, he plays the piano poorly and has a friend who plays a video game of shooting boys on an empty field, much like he will in school the next day.This is the "exhilarating" film everyone is lauding, but me. All I understand now is how to buy a gun (they show the web site) and kill lots of people. The biggest chunk of dialogue is explaining the plan of attack. This is a primer for future disgruntled high school mass murderers. I don't know anything more about the lives of the victims or killers or what were the causes that led to this tragedy. Even the name of the film is as deep and meaningful as a game of "Where's Waldo?". "Elephant" is a gratuitous blood bath, devoid of understanding and aimed at gratifying sociopaths.


Beyond Borders (2003)
Starring Angelina Jolie & Clive Owen
Directed by Martin Campbell
Written by Caspian Tredwell-Owen

A lesser reviewer than myself my not have the courage to criticize a picture that is so overwhelmingly politically correct, a film which unflinchingly, almost sadistically, demonstrates with searing honesty (and I do believe it) the brutal, horrible, and inhumane conditions people and nature together impose on their fellow man, a film that, in its commercials, suggests Academy Award buzz because of the intense performances (with welling, moist eyes for almost all scenes) of both its stars. Let me just describe one scene and you be the judge. Angelina, a wealthy, pale skinned, coifed, perfumed American walks into Clive's operating room during an operation. This takes place in a desert refugee encampment in Ethiopia where dozens die each day of starvation and disease, if not gunfire by either rebels or government soldiers. This camp can only support human life for 3 more days unless more funding can be found and the well being dug outside the makeshift operating room springs water. The patient being operated on is awake; one of the nurses drips of Fanta soda into her mouth and swats flies off her open incision and face. The operating team wear no gloves nor masks. So, Angelina walks in and asks in a defiant, yet compassionate tone, "Can't you give her something for the pain?" Duh!? The lesson here is - if it's a melodramatic, soppy, poorly written, typical romance, even in a backdrop of vitally important social issues, don't fall for it. The bar was raised by films like "The Year of Living Dangerously," and "The Quite American," both love stories amid the ruins of political intrigue and populace unrest. "The Killing Fields," on a plane far above the bar, eliminated all the comforts of love (both for the protagonist as well as the audience) and kept to the greater story. It also made someone directly effected by political conditions, a Cambodian played by Haing S. Ngor, the co-star who solos through half the film. I could go on comparing good movies to "Beyond Borders," but that would become a critical study perhaps of interest only to film students. Even the "important" stuff in this film has the subtlety of a social studies film produced by the United Nations. Sure, my eyes were opened to the pain and suffering taking place in the world, but did a pretty girl with lipstick halfway up between her lips and nose and a hunky guy have to lure me into the theater and preach to me as if I were to blame?


Veronica Guerin (2003)
Starring Cate Blanchett
Directed by Joel Schumacher

Veronica Guerin never got any honest answers in an interview, she never uncovered any facts or proof of wrongdoing, and the only tips she got were from the police. And from those, she wove stories of crime that, if they paralleled true occurrences at all, were only coincidental. Yet Veronica wrote articles about the raging drug problem in Ireland and specifically in her hometown. She had to use gang nicknames since she couldn't use real names because she could not back up her statements. Veronica Guerin wouldn't have been able to hold a job in any U.S. newspaper; even the Washington Post's writers use more facts when they fabricate their stories. Veronica Guerin was naive and smug. She would walk up to dangerous criminals and ask, "Where do you get your money?" She couldn't possibly have expected a civil, let alone honest, answer. I was amazed at the simplicity and directness of her questions. Of course, they would lead nowhere except more violence. I was raised on "All the President's Men," and I found Veronica's un professionalism and wheel spinning infuriating. Good intentions and anger about a situation isn't enough in the world of investigative journalism. But Veronica Guerin had an audience. Besides her widely distributed newspaper articles, she visited many talk shows and became quite a celebrity in Ireland. So, in actuality (and this is based on a true story), Veronica Guerin did a lot more good dead than alive. Once Veronica Guerin became a martyr to the drug related crime syndicate, drug lords and common thugs who ran the streets and businesses of Ireland, the people rose up and demanded change. The laws that were enacted in response to this public outcry would be stricken down as unconstitutional in America. They ran something like, "If you are suspected of being involved with illegal drugs, the government can take all your money and assets." Seems neither law enforcement nor investigative reporters can really get the goods on the bad guys in Ireland.


School of Rock (2003)
Starring: Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Mike White

I love rock, but not enough to go to a concert, buy a CD, or listen to it in the radio. You couldn't really call me a fan. I'm not a child, nor do I have any, and I'm not a teacher. So, not much about me relates to this film. And yet, I loved this movie! Jack Black, as a faux substitute teacher in a prep school filled with obedient, intelligent children, finds his potential replacement band when he overhears the students in music class. Fortunately, he knew enough about music to put the cellist on bass guitar and the kids on triangle on drums. To make his band not only musically adept, but cool enough, to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands promoted by a local radio station, he teaches them how to stand cool, how to pull the drum sticks from behind the shirt neck, how to swing the arm for the appropriate guitar chord la Pete Townsend, etc. He blows the cool out of the rock mystique by teaching it. And after a couple of weeks, the kids are even cooler than true the rock band members they meet. It doesn't hurt that the jokes are really funny and the music Rocks. The passion for music and the joy of making it is the lesson. And let us know forget -- you don't need drugs to be a rocker. Yeah. Rock music liberates these children. Each musician works as a team member to make something bigger than just his/her one instrument. And it doesn't matter if you were a dork. Music makes you cool, and that's all that matters. EXCEPT why didn't you let the bass player have a solo?Also: Let us all take note of, writer/actor Mike White, the spooky Buck of "Chuck and Buck." Deserving of budding cult status, not only for C&B, but writer of .. well, so much youth-oriented stuff that I don't feel like listing it all. Go to, put in his name and check it out.


Dopamine (2003)
Starring: John Livingston, Sabrina Lloyd, Bruno Campus
Directed by Mark Decena
Written by Mark Decena and Timothy Breitbach

Rand, a computer software developer, believes what his father taught him: love is nothing more than the release of particular chemicals in the presence of pheromones from the opposite sex. Perhaps dad is bitter because his true love of over 35 years, his wife, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and has forgotten him. Perhaps dad doesn't love his wife anymore because she's sick. It's never made clear. But Rand is a sweet, cuddly, otherwise-romantic young guy. He is obviously smitten by a schoolteacher who uses terms like "the escalator of anger" and the "talking stick" and other new age teaching techniques (I immediately disliked her). For the rest of the film they skirt around this issues of Love versus Dopamine. They both obviously want to be together. Couldn't he just say, "I dopamine you" and be done with it?I wonder if all San Francisco Bay Area filmmakers feel it is incumbent upon them to use computer graphics, cyber thoughts and new age speak in their films, as representatives of Silicon Valley to the rest of the world. One first thinks of Leeson's "Conceiving Ada" and "Teknolust," among others.But Dopamine is a sweet love story nonetheless. The characters are likeable if not love (or dopamineable). And it's always fun to spot all the locations here in San Francisco.Also, this is one of four films chosen by the Sundance Film Series. "Mission: to support the work of independent artists and offer opportunities for audiences to discover their work." So Bob Redford is a great supporter of this film, along with "In This World" (reviewed below), "The Other Side of the Bed," and "Die Mommie Die."


Scary Movie 3 (2003)
Cast: Anna Faris, Charlie Sheen, Denise Richards, Eddie Griffin, Queen Latifah, Pamela Anderson, Jenny McCarthy, Leslie Nielsen, Simon Rex, Jeremy Pivan, Camryn Manheim, Regina Hall, Anthony Anderson, George Carlin, Fat Joe, Simon Cowell, and more.
Director: David Zucker

Who needs a review of Scary Movie 3? You've seen 1 and 2, you've seen the commercials. It is what it is. Don't waste my time. I've got to go change my panties from laughing so much. Fun thing to do: make a list of all the different movies that are spoofed. Compare notes with friends later.


Anything Else (2003)
Starring: Jason Biggs, Christina Ricci, Woody Allen
Written/Directed by Woody Allen

So, what's new? Same old tired plot: neurotic stutterer can't keep a hold of neurotic bitch. But now that Woody is too old to play the poor, tortured writer protagonist, he trains another Jewish guy to stutter and has him play it, in this case, Jason Biggs. He doesn't slouch, he's taller, he doesn't even wear glasses. So, this is a new plateau for Woody Allen. Otherwise, we saw this in Annie Hall, Manhattan and all his other films. Perhaps some have a bit more plot, but the relationship is always the same. So are the jokes. I chuckled twice, certainly not worth the price of admission. In my case, not worth the time spent in the screening room.As an aside, I'd just like to say thanks to J.D. Salinger, not only for "Catcher in the Rye" and "Frannie and Zooey" and "9 Short Stories," but because he stopped when he had nothing more to say. Are you listening, Woody?


Luther (2003)
Cast : Joseph Fiennes, Peter Ustinov, Alfred Molina
Director: Eric Till
Writers: Camille Thompsson & Bart Gavigan

I once had a good friend, named Cindy who as a child regularly went to Sunday school and church. One day she says to me the origin of all the different Christian religions is the Apostles, each creating one. I asked, "Did they teach you that at Sunday School?" "Well, no," she replied, "I just know that." "What did they teach you in Sunday School?" Oh, the regular stuff: sins and repentance and stuff like that." Very nice, indeed. And did you know that Martin Luther King, Jr. was named after somebody else, both first and middle names? Must be an important guy. If you don't know and you call yourself a follower of any of the Christian faiths, you might want to check out this film. It's not really for children, though, because it is a bit confusing. But simply put for those of you who don't know. Martin Luther was a monk and a doctor of theology who was very upset with some of the practices of the Catholic Church, from his homeland in Germany all the way up to the Vatican, and throughout Europe in the 16th Century. Practices like indulgences (pay your way in a heavenly future or a dead relative's way now out of purgatory and into heaven), worship of relics (body parts allegedly from Jesus, Mary and any number of Apostles and Saints; there were several hands attributed to John the Baptist in Germany alone), priests conducting their services in Latin instead of a language understood by the parishioners, the Bible not being allowed to be translated into vernacular or published, all incensed Luther. In response to these infuriating practices, Luther wrote his "95 Theses" and nailed them to the church door. Well, all hell broke loose. If you're going to see the reactionary bloodbath Mel Gibson has produced, see a film with more historic value, and more importantly, a film about a man who believed Jesus' tenants of love and compassion and put himself on the line to restore these principals to the church. Gibson would have you go back to the good old days of the Inquisition, another of Luther's pet peeves.


In This World (2003)
Cast: Jamal Udin Torabi and Enay Yatullah
Director: Michael Winterbottom

It's never easy being an immigrant. But coming from a refugee camp in Pakistan near the Afghan border and having to take a series of busses, make a long trek across a desert and over a ridge of snow covered mountains, hide under a truckload of chickens, huddle in a dark shipping container perched on a truck and then in a ship hoping the air doesn't run out -- now, that's hard. We follow a young man, Enayat, and his cousin, Jamal, still a child, on this journey to England and opportunity. Enayat's father couldn't afford to get them to the U.S., so he settled on London. He also didn't have enough money for them to fly, so they had to take many small overland and over water steps to reach their destination, hoping that every part of their trip was supervised by an honest man who would neither rob them, kill them, nor turn them over to the authorities. Many have died in the same attempt. My heart goes out to them and all who wish to live better lives. This is not a documentary, but a re-enactment with untrained actors found on location in Pakistan. This is as real as it gets and still within the control of a director. Their journey is fraught with danger, anxiety, long periods of waiting, short periods of panic. Friends are made along the way, never to be seen again. All I can say is -- be grateful for your American Express card.


Mambo Italiano (2003)
Starring: Luke Kirby, Peter Miller, Paul Sorvino, Ginette Reno, Claudia Ferri
Director - Co-Screenwriter: Emile Gaudreault
Writer - Co-Screenwriter: Steve Gallucio

Well, maybe it's because it's a Canadian film about an Italian family that it seems outdated to me. Coming out of the closet. Please. The closet door's been open since Stonewall and I've heard it all before. How do I tell my parents? What about my co-workers? How will society accept me? Et cetera. Also boy meets boy, boy looses boy, boy gets another boy (as opposed to boy meets girl, boy looses girl, boy gets girl back) is all used up, effete, passe, so over for gay film plots. Use of comedy? Nothing new there either, especially since in "Mambo Italiano" the jokes are predictable, old and not very funny. Argument that since gays have such a small slice of the film production pie, they deserve to make lots of movies even if most are rehashes of previous films? Maybe there's an audience for rehashes, but I'd really like to see films about gays that deal with issues other than coming out. You're out already. Now what? The playing field has already been opened by films like "Philadelphia" and Canada's own "Lilies." Let's see more quality films dealing with issues beyond the closet door and, may I add, boy-meets-boy-boy -looses-boy-boy-finds-new-boy." "Mambo Italian" is an unoffensive (except perhaps for the stereotypical, superficial portrayal of Italians), sweet little film that just doesn't give me anything to chew on.


Holes (2003)
Starring: Shia LaBoeuf, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voigt, Patricia Arquette, Tim Blake Nelson, Eartha Kitt, Henry Winkler
Directed by Andrew Davis
From the book "Holes," by Louis Sachar

This was so much more than I expected from this a "G" rated children's movie. It's about a boy, but it's also about smelly shoes, buried treasure, a hill that looks like God's thumb hidden deep in the desert, a four-generation curse, a bandit of the Old West who robs, kills and then kisses her victims. It's also about onions and peaches, poisonous lizards, and a juvenile delinquent camp where the boys are forced to dig holes in the desert, one a day, 5 feet in diameter by 5 feet deep. All the characters are interrelated not only in the present, but also between the different time periods covered in this story. This is a complicated story, interwoven among four generations and four families. There's a love story between the Western School Marm and the black onion merchant, the quest of a young, handsome Rumanian man to marry the girl of his heart by going to a witch for advice and raising a pig on mountain stream water, and the ambition of an inventor to develop a powder to get rid of foot odor. Yet, this is not a disjointed, silly exercise in mayhem and illogic. All the pieces fit together with Swiss watch precision. This jigsaw puzzle finally ends in a landscape of harsh desert beauty. I feel the compelling force of fate driving this story. A curse must be ended; it wills itself to end and designs a Goldberg-inspired mechanistic plot to accomplish this. It's a wonderful ride, full of surprises and inescapable eventualities. I could watch this one again just to enjoy all the pieces falling into place.

Owning Mahowny
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, John Hurt
Directed by Richard Kwietniowski
Based on the book "Stung," by Gary Ross
Based on a true story

One can never find fault the performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He is always right on point with the character he portrays. His performances are empathetic and subtle, yet powerful. Unfortunately, he often chooses characters who are in pain. Or perhaps, based on his physiognomy, that's all he's offered. Still, it's always worth the price of admission to watch him perform if you simply want to see great acting - or "the human condition" writ large. And he has been in enough films already to show that he's not just playing himself or one character ad infinitum.Well, he's suffering again. In this film, Hoffman plays a mild mannered assistant bank manager who is able, through intelligence and luck, to bilk the bank out of millions to feed his gambling habit. Truly an addict, he doesn't do it to impress, to enjoy the rich lifestyle of the high roller, to buy things he wants, to get the girl (whom he already has). He can't help it; he simply has to gamble. He is a moral man who, if he allowed himself to reflect on his actions, would find himself and his actions reprehensible. And we, the viewers, take his rollercoaster financial ride with him. It is so clear to us he should stop, when he starts taking money from the bank or at the point where he has won enough to pay back the bank and fulfill any monetary ambitions he might have. We nearly stand up and yell at the screen, "Stop now and take the money,"at any other number of points along his tortuous path. He doesn't stop. He can't.Does it matter that this is taken from a true story? In this case, I think not. He may be smarter than the average gambling addict, but his actions are those of thousands of his kind throughout this country. We have watched the addiction at work, much as we did in "Trainspotting," for heroin, "The Days of Wine and Roses," for alcohol, and "Drugstore Cowboy," for pills. It's sad and one always pays the price.There is no such thing as a free lunch. The house makes the rules and the rules make gamblers losers. Will "Owning Mahowny" help curb the tide of gambling addiction in this country, given the burgeoning number of casinos, not only in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, but in Indian reservations in every state in the country? It just might encourage it. We know where he went wrong. We could walk away from the table with a wheelbarrow full of chips. We would really enjoy the comps, the luxury accommodations, gourmet meals, limos that pick us up at the airport and other types of personal care. We know better than Mahowny. Hell, even the lackey who was assigned to carry a bucket of hot ribs for Mahowny for whenever his appetite piqued, knew better. We got it made.

Director: Rob Marshall
Cast : Rene Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly

In Chicago, we are taken into a world were all women are compelled to kill their men -- because their husbands cheat on them, their husbands think they are cheating on them, their lovers are cheating on them while they themselves cheat on their husbands. Between "Chicago," "The Hours," (review following), and "Personal Velocity," what is happening to women in films these days? Where are my role models, my pillars of strength, my heroines?

Zellweger and Jones have both killed, the former her lover, the latter her husband and sister caught in flagrante. And all they have to do is come up with enough money to buy the best criminal lawyer in town. He's never lost a capital case against a woman. And all he has to do is keep their names in the press and garner public sympathy. This is the world of Chicago. And it's a beautiful world, full of brightly colored costumes, scantily clad leggy women, and big production numbers. It's a world where justice can be manipulated through the press (not unlike our own). And it's a very entertaining place to visit. Jones and Zellweger can really belt out a song. I do miss Bridget Jones' voluptuousness; Zellweger lost far too much weight to fill her sexy little costume. Gere carried two numbers with aplomb. Reilly (you may remember him as the cop from "Magnolia" and can see him again in "The Hours") was moving in his Emmett Kelly sad clown rendition of "Mr. Cellophane," with an unexpectedly melodic voice. This movie is like pastry -- so much fun to eat up, but with very little nutritional value. So what. Splurge.|


The Core (2003)
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Hillary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, D.J. Qualls, Tcheky Karyo, Richard Jenkins, Bruce Greenwood and Alfre Woodard.
Director: Jon Amiel
Writers: Cooper Layne and John Rogers

My God, the world is going to be destroyed... again. Not by a meteor or comet, not by megasunami, alien invasion, World War III, the apocalypse, or even other dimensional demons or the devil. The Earth's core has stopped spinning. Cool! I give points for originality, and for enough scientific backup to give us some really interesting examples of the results of this phenomenon, including half of San Francisco burning to a crisp, Golden Gate Bridge and all. Also, it's not easy to show an inner earth craft built like a segmented worm gliding through the molten core. Not only would an outside viewer be unable to see through the opaque lava, but the same lava would obstruct any view from the inside of the vehicle out. To the credit of the special effects team, we see some interesting core-scapes, scientifically correct or not. For example, imagine a geode (a hollow rock with crystals growing on the inside) as big as a small domed city. Lovely. Of course, it still would difficult to sit through a lifeless, humorless script with only pretty graphics to engage us. But the dialogue offers a steady stream of solid one liners and satiric social commentary. The cast, a fine bunch of Class A actors who obviously couldn't refuse the money, make the best of a Hollywood end-of-the-world, special effects driven blockbuster hopeful. All the stars built their careers on small, independent, character driven, quality films. Now they can earn the big bucks for a job that might be physically taxing, but certainly doesn't break a sense-memory sweat. Films like "In the Company of Men," "Boys Don't Cry," "Cider House Rules," "The Big Night," The Bear," "The Sweet Hereafter," and "Crosscreek," were the incubators of the talent represented in "The Core." Hopefully, these very talented actors haven't priced themselves out of the strong films that brought them to this point in their careers.

And let us not overlook director Jon Amiel. An English Literature graduate from Cambridge University, England, he directed one of the most, in my estimation, incredible, breakthrough TV series, "The Singing Detective." Okay, he's assimilated now, to America, and specifically Hollywood, but some of those smarts, wit and timing remain.

This is a big, loud, colorful, film, with enough realistic destruction to get the blood slushing through the veins, yet it causes enough involvement to make you want not too much of mother earth destroyed. We wish these terranauts a successful mission.


Shanghai Knights (2003)
Cast : Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Aidan Gillen, Fann Wong, Donnie Yen
Director: David Dobkin

This was really a lot of fun. It's fast paced, funny and the action sequences were gold Jackie Chan choreography. We never got stuck in one place or bogged down in a plot snag, but the plot was above the norm for action comedies and the locations were all necessary for the plot. Chan has stayed in Nevada as the town's sheriff (end of Shanghai Noon) until he gets a letter from his sister that his father, keeper of the Imperial Seal, has been killed. She has already gone to London in pursuit of the killer. Jackie goes to New York to retrieve his money, gained at the end of "Shanghai Noon." Owen Wilson has been investing it wisely for Jackie. Except -- when Jackie meets up with Owen in New York, he finds the money is gone, but Owen will stand by his side in his struggle for redemption, honor and revenge. So the adventure begins. We get two evil villains, both hungry for power and status on either side of the planet, but banding together in an expedient pact. Hey, but you don't care about the plot. The action is terrific. Lots of fight scenes, he doesn't kill anyone, he even looses a couple of fights and gets help from Wilson or Fann. Imaginative use of umbrellas, antique vases, and ladders.

I remember the good old days when we cinemaphiles would go to the foreign festival and watch Chan in his early Shanghai films. His were the first that combined comedy and karate, and he was great then. He would direct, star, choreograph, edit and even sing the opening song. Talk about auteur. We would go to marathon screens of several movies at a time. We would set our alarms to the middle of the night to catch one of his films on a local UHF station. A decade ago a film was made about his life as a child student in the Chinese Opera. Very big in the festival circuit and HUGE in China. We were the ones who gave him cult status in America. And when he finally took the plunge to fulfill his dream of American stardom, his movies lost their spark and he was chewed up in the Hollywood movie machine. It's taken him a long time to get it right, but this movie really sparkles. It even has fireworks. I'm so glad he hadn't gotten too old to do those amazing stunts before he left his mark in America.


Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)
Directed by Tim Johnson and Patrick Gilmore
Screenplay by John Logan

I am so confused. Sinbad is rooted in Arabic legend, but we are taken on adventures originally experienced by the Greek Odysseus (Ulysses for those who prefer his Latin name) and confronted by Greek Goddess Eris and her constellations of starry monsters. It is a mishmash of more familiar and well worn myths, and very little of the recorded voyages of this mythical rogue. Well, most recreations of Greek and Arabic myths, going back to 1930's Hollywood movies, Harryhausen's life action myths, and up to Disney's more recent retellings, all drift far from the original legends. And it has to be intentional. These myths are in paperback and available at any bookstore or library. So, I suggest that if we're going to introduce kids to these stories, read them to them in the full, exciting originals.Enough literary snobbery. Next complaint -- I've been spoiled and can't go back to painted flat characters after having experienced 3D computer animation, such as Shrek and Nemo, let alone true 3D, with headsets in the IMAX theater environment. I want my cartoon characters to look contoured and shaded and textured. See the difference between the poster of Sinbad (above right). It's 3D. But the picture below is representative of the film, flat and solid colored. The poster lies and I want more. The backgrounds did reflect more recent techniques in animation. The sea was great. It might have even been tampered live action film. There may have also been a bit of rotoscoping in other places. So, I was teased by the backgrounds and disappointed by the character animation.Nonetheless, the unfolding of the adventure, the fast paced action sequences, the surprises, all kept me riveted to my seat, eating popcorn way too fast. All the children in the audience were engrossed and never made a peep. Bless them. In addition to lifting rather indiscriminately from the public domain of Bullfinch's pantheon of mythological adventures, a lot of new bits were added that surprised and enchanted.


Levity (2003)
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Kirsten Dunst, Morgan Freeman
Director/Writer: Ed Solomon

Maybe I'm being particularly dense or unimaginative, but I don't get why this film is named "Levity." It starts out with Billy Bob in front of a parole board in prison saying he doesn't want to be set free because he'll never be able to pay for the crime he committed. What I find particularly stupid was a member of the board's response -- "What makes you think you have any say in this?" Well, that's why he attends the hearing -- to voice his views. Albeit the convict usually doesn't want to stay in prison. So, the guy committed murder, a robbery gone terribly wrong, and he certainly is remorseful. After several years of incarceration, he's released. Sounds like a cheerful story? Well, this is how the film begins and it only goes down hill from there. Everybody he meets is likewise depressed; the world is grimy and ugly, and only getting worse, and nothing ever makes him feel better about himself or the world he lives in. Date movie? I think not. Well acted? We all know Billy Bob is a very good actor, as are Holly Hunter, Morgan Freeman and Kirsten Dunst. But I don't want to join in any of those characters' lives. Having already done so, I'm no wiser for it. There are no great messages imparted, no new concepts, nothing to take with us when I leave the theater except a great ennui and a prescription for Prozac. The poster to your left offers a "parable of forgiveness and redemption." Maybe it's referring to the sequel, not this film.Billy Bob, you should have sworn off playing released convicted killers with "Slingblade." How about everyone who is tempted to see "Levity," rent "Slingblade" again instead. Time much better spent.

Amandla! A Revolution In Four-Part Harmony (2003)
Director/Writer: Lee Hirsch
By guest reviewer Rod Laughridge

It's been said that one of the responsibilities of a musician is to provide the soundtrack for the revolution. Amandla! shows just how that was done to maximum effect and the rousing affect it had (and still does) on its listeners. Amandla - which means power - gives just that to the victims and revolutionaries of South Africa's racist apartheid state. Interspersed with archival and newscast footage of interviews, performances, and uprisings, many of which ended with violent clashes with riot-geared police, from the not-so-well-known here (Vyusi Mahlasela, Sibongile Khumalo) to South African musicians who have attained worldwide stature, such as Hugh Masekela, and Mother Africa herself, Miriam Makeba, the film constantly lets us in on the insights, horror, passion and hope that the musicians were experiencing and the populous was using to draw momentum to their purpose and mission. You're taken into the lives of those who lived and lost loved ones, yet were moved by the visceral reaction their music inspired in them with the power to move them toward their own self-determination, while invoking confusion and outright fear in the government forces. Amandla! takes us through each decade of apartheid rule and the music and songs that kept the movement going, explaining the background of each genre and why such powerful music fueled continued resistance. It culminates with Toyi Toyi, an alternating hop/dance step combined with powerful chants that confused and intimidated the government security forces and which played a major role in igniting the push in the late 80's that finally led to the crumbling of the apartheid state. Amandla! Shows the power of music to mobilize, enhance and strengthen the spirit and purpose of the revolution.


The Recruit
Cast: Al Pacino, Colin Farrell, Bridget Moynahan
Director: Roger Donaldson

Many movie makers still think they have to give audiences a moral or philosophical reason for seeing their work beyond the pure adrenaline rush of an action thriller. In "The Recruit," we are told we will learn the workings of the most secretive of governmental agencies - the CIA. We will become an educated viewer. Sure. We reviewers have an advantage -- we get the press notes and read that we still won't learn how civilians are recruited or trained, where that training takes place, or once trained, the kind of work these recruits do. Actually, all we're given is the recreation of the lobby and a couple of rooms of the CIA building in Washington. I expected no more. So, taken from that point, we have a pure fiction thriller. And in this fiction, the training of CIA recruits necessitates creating scenarios that the recruits think are real so they can be given tools to use in the field, and are tested for their worth as agents. The trouble with too much deceit, lies, role playing, etc., is that at the end of the film not knowing anything about the plot at all. What really happened? What was a learning exercise? It turns into a series of acting exercises, not only for the actors, but for the characters themselves. Be prepared to be confused. You may like that intellectual state. One thing I found interesting was the many references to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and his works. A dreaded computer virus (every thriller needs one) is called Ice 9 ( from Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle"). Farrell even reads the book and tells Moynahan the book is weird. In a poignant moment between the Pacino and Farrell, Pacino tells his novice that being an agent is a business of lies and deceit. You are not a bad person no matter what role you must take on for the job. You are who you decide to be. This philosophy is directly and obviously (to Vonnegut aficionados) contra to the basic premise of Vonnegut's "Player Piano," which is -- You are what you pretend to be. The plot of "The Recruit" confirms this view of Vonnegut's. Then there's the breakfast scene where our young recruit says, "this is a Breakfast of Champions," a la Vonnegut's book of the same title. If you find any more Vonnegut references please e-mail me and I'll add it to this list. Thanks. Enjoy.


My Sister Maria (2002)
A film by Maximilian Schell
Starring Maria Schell

What a vicious, degrading attack is this "My Sister Maria." Obviously, Maximilian Schell, director, writer, producer, holds one huge grudge against his sister, Maria Schell, and this was his opportunity to take revenge publicly while making himself look like her savior and guardian angel. One walks out of the theater wondering what could she ever have done to him to instill such hatred?

Was it that Maria was a huge star in Europe, not having felt comfortable in Hollywood? She did work in Hollywood for a while, co-starring with the likes of Marlon Brando, Yul Brynner, Gary Cooper and Glen Ford, but missed her homeland too much to continue her American career. Couldn't Max get over his older sister's success even though he won the Oscar for best actor himself? Obviously not.

Max "recreates" or invents scenes depicting Maria's life today while interspersing moments from her films. He constantly compares her old, wrinkled face today with that of the young Maria, the star, the effervescent actress whose range of emotions in these very short clips outstrip anything I've seen Max himself do in his acting career. It is true, I couldn't find the young Maria in the face of the old Maria. There is even a middle aged Maria clip which can almost bridge the years between, but not quite. It's as if young Maria didn't turn into old Maria, but was replaced by her. And for that I am truly sad.

Sadder still is director Max's manipulation of Maria to tell his story, his point of view, in his "recreated" scenes.
Despicable things Max has Maria do:
I imagine that off camera, Max directs his sister:
"Okay, Maria. This is take one. Just say as I told you."
Maria flat on her back in bed barely able to hold the telephone receiver: "Hello. I'd like to buy the chandelier I just saw on TV. ... No, the big one, not the little one. No, I want two big chandeliers."
"Okay, Maria. You were great. Now, here's the next scene we rehearsed. Call your son on the phone. Sound very sad."
Maria again on the phone: "Hello. I just wanted to say goodbye. We're all going to die. The meteorite is crashing to earth now and we only have a few minutes left. I love you. son. Goodbye."
Son, irritated and disgusted: "Mom, it's 4 o'clock in the morning. You're just watching a movie on TV, not the news. It's not real." Is this really her son? How did Max convince him to publicly ridicule her as well?
(And here's the really sickening part. Maria is watching "Deep Impact," in which Max has a small role. We see Max standing on the beach with Tia Leone about to be swept away by a mega-sunami. He tenderly holds his daughter in the last seconds of their lives. What crass self-promotion. Well, the whole of "My Sister Maria" is, actually.

"Okay, my sweet Maria. Now you're walking down the snowy path near your home with the help of a friend. When I give the signal, crumple to the ground in a heap and have her awkwardly help you up and take you home. Action!"

"Maria, that was great. Now you're walking on the path by yourself. You think you can do it. You want to be independent, but you can't. You're old. You're weak. You're incapable. I know you can do this in one take. Fall to the snowy ground and lie totally incapacitated. Wait for the close up on your frightened, pathetic face. Action!"

"Okay, Maria. When I ask you which you liked better, being single or being married, say you liked being single more. ‘Why did you marry twice then,' I ask. You say, ‘Because I thought it would be better when I was married.' I say, ‘Was it?' ‘You say, ‘No. Stupid, huh?' Action."

Vicious things Max gets others to do:
He has his wife, Natasha, at least 20 years younger than him, go to Maria's bedside. Maria smiles while Natasha says how much she loves Maria, like a soul sister. Natasha then describes a dream she had in which Maria says she loves her as well, even though at one time Maria offered to pay off Natasha to leave Max alone and disappear!
Is this Max's script writing? Is it Natasha's dream? Is it true or another nasty bit of creative spleen-venting on Max's part? It is surely Max's expression of his deep seated hostility to his sister to even bring it up in such a back handed slap -- I love you even though you tried to destroy my relationship with Max.

The most frightening and obvious attack on his sister is what looks like a dream sequence. Maria. now able to walk some distance unaided, goes to the Schell ancestral home and starts playing with matches in an attempt to light a fire in the stove. She starts and fire, not even noticing the flames licking up her clothes. Soon the whole house is engulfed in flames. We see Max running desperately though the snow covered forest trying to reach the burning house. Max, what are you thinking? Now accusing the dottering, senile Maria of burning down the house -- in a dream!

Yes, through it all, Max is the hero. When he depicts Maria being in debt because of extravagant spending -- she had 3 TVS in her bedroom (not even HDTV, not plasma) and not much else. Her house and possessions are about to go into auction to pay her debts. Max gives up one of his beloved Rothko paintings to raise the funds to save her home. He has to pay 8 million -- what we are not told: dollars, marks, euros? Seems Maria owns three very expensive TVS. Yes, you are a very good brother. It is so good of you to air all the "failures" (as you call them in the press notes) of Maria's career. I watched the film carefully and didn't see any failures, Max. I did see her birthday in these same notes. I didn't see yours even in the biography section of the notes.

Very little is said of her career, her personal life, her successes. The film shows fast clips of many of her films, but spends most of its time in long reenactments of her condition now - senile and weak, yet spoiled and dangerous to herself.

The bottom line is it's very clear to the audience, if not Max -- this is a sinister, textbook example of one sibling's hatred towards another. Max's subconscious (if it is actually subconscious rather than just very poor judgment) attacks on Maria while inflating his own ego is distasteful and even shocking. By the way, Max, how much of the profits of "My Sister Maria" goes to your star?

The Quiet American (2002)
Starring: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen
Directed by Phillip Noyce

This film is in the vein of "The Year of Living Dangerously": the intrigue, mystery and explosive politics of a land and culture so very foreign and distant from that of Western Society that it becomes unfathomable. We never fully understand all that goes on behind the scenes. We don't know who to trust and who truly understands the very complicated situation that was Viet Nam in the 1950's, shortly before the French give up its imperialist hold on Viet Nam in the Indochina War, only for the U.S. to take up where they left off,
But far more interesting than the history of this era is the two-fold irony of this character driven film. It's fair to say Brendan Fraser, as the Quiet American himself, is killed, since his dead body is identified in the first scene. The rest of the film is the unfolding of events that lead to his death. First, we have the love triangle between Fraser and Caine, as the worn out British correspondent, and their mutual love interest Do Thi Hai Yen. Though Caine is the protagonist of the film as its narrator and point view, I feel, ultimately, he is the villain, not only within the love story, but in unwittingly deciding the ultimate fate of Viet Nam itself.
Dare I say more about the plot? Read on at your own peril.
Both Fraser and Caine love Yen and both have an opportunity to eliminate the other. Fraser proves himself above taking that action. He even puts himself in peril to protect Caine. Thus, he is the nobler man. Then, Fraser has a dream of bringing to Viet Nam a third faction: not the imperialist, be it French or otherwise, not the Communist, but a local hero, one who would rouse the people to seek self-government without outside influence (though in this story, the U.S. would advise and supply money). As Fraser says to Caine upon his protests at Fraser's actions, "You don't see the bigger picture," and Caine admits he does not. At the end of the film, I wondered what would have happened if Fraser had not died, if he had brought his dream to fruition. Would the Viet Nam war have been averted? Would Viet Nam today be an independent, communist-free country (and would that be a good thing)? And on a smaller scale, would Yen have faired better?
Or maybe I'm completely wrong. Maybe Fraser's character's life or death would not have effected the tide of history. Maybe Caine was right to stop an American who was willing to make small sacrifices for a greater good -- always a moral dilemma. Maybe Caine was the best choice for Yen. You go see it and give me your thoughts. By the way, I hate to see Branden Fraser die. What a nice guy. Could he finally develop into the James Stewart of his generation? As in almost all of his films, he has a dance scene. This is the first one where he can't dance. Interesting how he is coupled with great British actors for his serious films -- lest we forget "Gods and Monsters" with Ian McKellan. He can certainly keep up. But Branden, please be more discriminating about your comedies.


He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (2002)
Starring Audrey Tautou, Samuel Le Bihan
Directed & written by Laetitia Colombani

This is going to have to be short. Once can't say much about this film without giving it away. But I think I can say this much without writer/first-time-feature director Colombani killing me. First, I am sick to death of French films about beautiful, strong, intelligent, charming women who fall desperately in love with ugly jerks. It's infuriating and, if true, I still don't want to be subjected to it film after film. This film starts out the same way -- lovely, young artist in love with a married cardiologist. (Ah, a doctor of the heart. I get it.) For a French man, he's not that bad looking. They're usually real dorks. She tells her friends that he promises to leave his wife. He stands her up for their vacation in Italy. She cries herself to sleep. Oh, please!But I stop right here. This is not a typical French film. I have seen it's like in American cinema, but I won't be specific. I must add I am infuriated by the plot being propelled a number of times by the stupidity of the characters, both major and minor. Otherwise, it is an interesting, exciting and mostly intelligently crafted film. The two perspectives of the actions is well crafted.


Standard Time (2002)
Cast: Isabel Rose, Andrew McCarthy, Cameron Bancroft & Eartha Kitt
Director: Robert Cary
Writer: Isabel Rose & Robert Cary

This is obviously a vanity piece. That means Isabel Rose and Robert Cary wrote a vehicle to make Isable a star. She didn't win any audition. Even in the movie itself, she complains of never winning an audition. There's a reason for this. Ms. Rose has a talent for sucking all emotion out of any song she sings. And again, she points this out in the screenplay. In one scene, her piano teacher, played by Andrew McCarthy, explains that she doesn't feel the songs she sings. He has her sing "I can't give you anything but love," again to a different piano arrangement. The arrangement is more emotive, but her performance is exactly the same. She also chooses songs that only a real pro could give feeling to: Didn't Betty Boop sing, "I can't give you anything but love," in her 30's cartoons? She also wows her semi-comatose audience with an uninspired rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Please, only Billy Holiday or Edith Piaf or Ella Fitzgerald or Barbra Streisand couldn't do anything with this material.But enough of the flat, uninspired music. The plot -- ho hum. This woman is loved by, it seems, all men who meet her. Why, I couldn't tell you. There's no spark in either the character or the actress. Dressing in vintage clothing does not the character make. Her problem is to chose the right man. Sorry, I think she choose the wrong one, but I usually do in this oft repeated plot.Oh, I should stop. I sound like a real bitch tearing apart this hard working, self-promoting actress-singer. I wasn't roused to vehemence by her performance. I just wasn't roused at all.It was nice to see Andrew McCarthy developing some character in his face. I always found him putty-like in his Hughes films. He's getting a "look" now. But the director killed any hope of his getting good reviews for his work here because of making him futz with his baseball cap for all of the film. It irritated the heroine, it irritated me, especially since he has one really wonderful shock of hair. Isabel Rose also had great hair. I was reminded of the Breck commercials every time she would pluck one pin from her hair and an avalanche of tresses would fall in perfect unison onto her shoulders. She spun once too often for her to seem unconscious of the effect on her swirling hair. But still, lovely hair, both of them, actually all of them, including Cameron Bancroft.Little Note: There's a room with a view of the World Trade Center, and it still disturbs me. It always will. I was mesmerized by the window in that room. I just wanted to keep looking out that window. I wanted to see the Towers again. The goings on the room were insignificant. I didn't care. I just wanted to look out the window and see the Towers again.It sure took a long time to get from shooting the film to distribution.

The Hours (2002)
Director: Stephen Daldry
Screenplay by David Hare
Based on the novel by Michael Cunningham
Cast : Merrill Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Toni Collette, Jeff Daniels, John C. Reilly, Miranda Richardson

Once I overcame my contact depression from this film, I was able to ponder the meaning, the purpose, the moral of it. I'm still pondering. I learned precious little about Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman in disguising prosthetic makeup), except she was suicidal, didn't like living in the country, and wrote Mrs. Dalloway. Now, from here am I to assume because she put pen to paper in the 1920's, another woman (Julianne Moore) in the 1950's will also be a suicidal party giver? And what significance am I to make of the connection between that woman destined to possibly repeat Woolf's tragedy and her son contracting AIDS some 30 years later? And his best friend/previous lover (?) (Merrill Streep) also likes to throw parties a la Mrs. Dalloway. Yes, so what's the connection? Are we being told that the lot of women is to be fatally depressed party givers? Couldn't one really chalk up most of these characters to a chemical imbalance that an anti-depressant could remedy? I never really understand why these women are so sad, depressed, suicidal. Perhaps more exploration into any one of them rather than similarities among the three would be more rewarding to the viewer. I can't help but see obvious parallels between "The Hours" and "Tom & Viv," 1994, starring Willem DaFoe and Miranda Richardson. I was rapt by Miranda Richardson's performance in this biographical story of T.S. Elliot's wife, her mental problems, probably caused by a hormonal imbalance, and her relationship with her husband. In "Tom & Viv" I could empathize with her suffering and Elliot's exacerbation of her condition. I am not made of stone, nor unsympathetic to the subtler emotions of women. I am one. But I wasn't allowed inside the psyches of the three women of "The Hours," just their outward actions. I understood Viv. That's the difference. The Hours bit off more than it could chew, even though the performances of Streep, Moore and Kidman were, as expected, razor sharp. I can't say I "enjoyed" their performances. That would be heartless sport. But I couldn't empathize with them either. I left the theater depressed and confused.

The Embalmer (2002)
Cast : Ernesto Mahieux, Valerio Foglia Manzillo, Elsabetta Rocchetti
Director: Matteo Carrone

In Italian with English subtitlesEarly on in the film, we get to see the embalmer and his assistant at work. Not pleasant, but all the animals are already dead. They are preserving them for posterity, for loved ones to cherish, for display in restaurant parking lots.This very little man -- I don't think he's a midget, but very small since his proportions seem more like Danny DeVito's than the star of "Station Agent," above, Peter Dinklage. But he sure is small. He spots a gorgeous hunk at the zoo with his girlfriend and her son. He zeros in, like the predators around him, or maybe he's not a hunter, but a scavenger like the vulture watching over his conversation with said hunk. And if he's a scavenger, what does that make the hunk? Within moments, the young boy senses this guy is not to be trusted and leaves, but the hunk, played by Italian model Valerio Foglia Manzillo, gets sucked in by what I and the child consider a dangerous come-on. But the hunk bites, takes the small man's card and promises to visit his embalmer's workplace because he "loves animals." Is the entire plot of this film based on the hunk's completely vapid mind, or is he intentionally not noticing the obvious to take advantage of what opportunities may lie in his path? That's the only way I can continue taking an interest in this film. The embalmer is such a slimeball who obviously wants to have sex with the hunk, but cannot say so directly because the hunk is so obviously hetero. He offers him a huge salary to work as his assistant/student. He takes him on trips for work which the hunk must remain blind to (a little help with the local Mafia in transporting drugs in cadavers). He sets up sexual four somes to catch a feel, or maybe more during drunken parties. He tries to tempt the hunk away from his new girlfriend. And hunk is always on the edge. Does he go for the money and adventure or does he go for his love and their future child, with a more commonplace, even bleak, future? This boy waffles. Whoever talks to him last is the one who convinces him to follow. I find him infuriating -- in his innocence, his inability or unwillingness to see the obvious and allow people to be hurt because of it.Mahieux as the embalmer is powerful in his role: slimey-charming, manipulative, dangerous, pathetic. He is a man who has earned some portion of respect for his fine work. Seems being small is not an issue in this film, as it was in the "Station Agent." We can only assume that being small has contributed to the kind of man he has become, but no obvious causation is to be found. Manzillo as the hunk is beautiful and doesn't have to do anything. Maybe in future films he'll have an opportunity to prove himself as an actor. He re, he is only eye candy who reacts to nothing in this film.The locals in this film are bleak, cold, isolated and alien. Take a beautiful Italian coast, mar it with an old community of buildings, empty and deserted, so empty even ghosts don't inhabit it, add a new series of high rise block buildings which are also deserted -- that's the backdrop. This is another example of how man has ruined place. And the characters roaming around it look like post-apocalyptic survivors. It is easy to see why everyone is so hungry: the embalmer for companionship, the hunk for a better future, the girlfriend for love. And it seems impossible to find any of these things in this wasteland.

Jet Lag
Cast : Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno
Director:Danièle Thompson
Writers:Christopher Thompson and Danièle Thompson Here is something we already knew, but is brought romantically and humorously to the fore. People can't really understand or appreciate one another until their guard is down and they truly are themselves. Blind dates or even dating is an artificial situation where we're on our best behavior, or what we believe "the other" thinks is the right behavior. I myself never knew what I was getting into in a relationship till we cohabited for around two years. But Juliette and Jean, in Jet Lag, have only one night. Maybe not even that. Events throw them together in a Paris airport. He's going to his ex's mother's funeral in a desperate to get the ex back. She is flying to Mexico to take a job as a cosmetologist at a resort spa and flee from her violent boyfriend. Neither have the least interest in each other when circumstances throw them together. The surroundings are metallic and cold, spacious, modern and filled with hundreds of people all on their way somewhere.

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast : Andy Serkis and Brad Dourif, besides the regulars: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortenson, Ian McKellen, etc., etc.

It doesn't seem fair that you're allowed to just walk into the theater and watch the Lord of the Rings. You've been cheated. If you just took the time to read these books, you'd get the whole, rich, complicated, mythic story. It's not hard reading; it's engrossing and transporting. Many have recently bought the books just so they could fully enjoy the films, and they're right to do so. As soon as the end credits were rolling on the screen, reviewers around me were asking each other and me -- "What two towers?" Well, there's the one in which the gray haired, evil wizard, Saruman, oversees the mud army. The other tower is always in flames and surrounded by the high wall. That's Sauron's tower. These reviewers didn't read the books. I have to admit, there were times when I needed a map. Groups of good guys are travel on their appointed rounds: Frodo and Sam are trying to get to Sauron's castle to destroy the ring in it's great furnace where it was originally forged. Gollum joins them (helping or hindering?).Aragorn (man), Legolas (elf) and Gimli (dwarf) are trying to rescue Merry and Pippin (hobbits) who were captured by the muddy warriors at the end of "The Fellowship of the Rings."Merry and Pippin escape the mud soldiers, wander into the Ent forest and watch the battle that beings the war for Middle Earth.Still, I'd get a bit lost. At one point, Frodo and his entourage are at the very walls of Sauron's fortress. He turns around to access the fortress at a different location and ends up at the battlefield between the Two Towers, I believe. That's the long way around to get into the fortress he was standing right in front of.But here's the most exciting thing about this episode in the trilogy: Gollum and Wormtongue. As you know, if you read the books, Gollum was the previous owner of the ring. He had it so long and was so effected by its power, he is barely recognizable as a human anymore. Andy Serkis plays Gollum. Originally, he was asked to play the voice of Gollum only. But he wore a white body suit and went out on location to be there for the other actors in his scenes. His performance was so powerful that the physical features, movements and persona of Gollum were then fashioned after Serkis and his performance. Gollum is torn between right and wrong - greed and helping to save Middle Earth. He is so split, that he becomes schizophrenic. Gollum's performance is the most moving, artful and riveting among all the actors in this film. Not to take away from the others, but Gollum's role was the most challenging and Serkis really flew with it.Also, Wormtongue, played by Brad Dourif (one of my long time favorites), was truly Shakespearean in character. Dourif would be a magnificent Richard III, actually he was Richard III in this film. He is the sickly, manipulative, wizardish counsel with a hint of a hump on his back and a limp, who sways the King of Rohan until he becomes a wizened, empty shell of his former self who mouths the words Wormtongue feeds him. The interplay between these two characters was eerie. Also the scene between Wormtongue and the King's niece, Eowyn, seemed to be lifted directly from King Richard III, Act I, Scene II. Here, Richard woes Lady Ann at the funeral of her husband, whom she knows Richard killed. He is smarmy, unctuous and deadly dangerous, the personification of a prime minister with his own agenda. Give me a good villain any time, and "The Two Towers" gives us two, not counting Saruman and Sauron. I can't wait for the third installment; we haven't met Sauron yet.


Cast: Al Pacino, Rachel Roberts, Winona Ryder, Jay Mohr, Kathleen Keener
Director: Andrew Niccol

The ultimate film director's dream - an actress he can completely control, an actress who makes NO demands, does exactly as she's told and turns in an Academy Award Winning performance. Al Pacino, playing a washed-up director, only kept afloat by his very successful producer ex-wife, is handed a small drive with the software for him to develop his star, Simone, short for Simulation One. This 21st Century upgrade of "Max Headroom" is perfect in every way and becomes a huge success. Brittany who? The fun in this film is all the very elegantly and wittily crafted irony of the Hollywood system, from the size of trailers for the stars to paparazzi's extreme behavior to the cult and worship of celebrity. But it does to be seem a familiar story of getting what you wish for mixed with Pygmalion (My Fair Lady if you don't have a background in the classics). Still, it maintains some subtlety (unusual for a Hollywood film) and keeps the story moving. Simone herself is not, to me, worthy of cult status. But then again, neither was Madonna or Brittany Spears. Does Simone have some special allure because she is an invention of the male mind? I'm just going to accept her mass appeal as a plot device, as many details are in this film. Sometimes you just have to flow with it. I might even watch this film a second time to make sure I got all the inside jokes. It was fun.


Directed by Neil LaBute
Starring: Gwenyth Paltrow, Jennifer Ehle, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam
Adapted from A.S. Byatt's 1990 novel,"Possession" by David Henry Hwang and Neil LaBute

Quite a change for Neil LaBute after his two male bashing films, "In the Company of Men," and "Your Friends and Neighbors." Since I interviewed him for his first film, a little, low budget independent shot entirely in his hometown in Michigan, he has made the leap into substantial budget, star-attracting films, without losing any content or control. Congratulations, Neil. I have to admit, I'm at a disadvantage with this film. I read the book, all 555 pages of it, and giggled out loud several times, not because it's funny, but because uncovering all the levels, the nuances, the philosophies, the parallels between the two stories was such a kick. While watching the film, I wondered if anyone who hadn't read the book could understand the film. Some characters are deleted (good choice - the "girlfriend" and "American women's studies professor" were superflous, "Mrs. Ash" might be a little more important). We merely outline instead of fully drraw others -- who add so much to the story. We edit scenes to the point of tableau, vital characters in the book, background and overall beauty of the experience. Can the non-readers follow? I wish I could erase my memory of the book for the viewing of the film. What I saw was an interesting story of an American literary researcher, Roland Michell, specializing in the works and life of poet Randolp Henry Ash. (When reading the book, I didn't know if Ash was actually an obscure poet. Websites revealed he was fictitious, but widely studied because of the success of the book.) Michell stumbles upon, and steals, a previously undiscovered unsent letter from Ash to a mysterious woman, obviously his lover. From this point, clue after clue leads Michell to Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow) who is an expert on Victorian poet(ess) Cristabel LaMotte, and to the indisputable proof that the two Victorians had been lovers. Perhaps non-readers will find this sufficient. I loved the book's meticulous unfolding of clues, many of them overlooked for the film, the question of morals in not divulging information as it is found to the literary community at large, the need to "possess" the secret and writings that would eventually lead to publication of this astounding discovery and make a name for oneself, the obsession historians who devote their lives to the minutia of others' past careers and lives at the expense of their own. I was fascinated by the many voices author Byatt was able to conjure up for the many letter and journal writers, the present and past descriptions, and even the difference between two Victorian's poetry: the protagonists' pure pleasure of discovering something that no one else knows and keeping it for themselves: the major thrust of a intimate relationship which leads to love and life fulfillment being the sharing of this secret with one other person. The kick at the end of film and book is clearly understood in both, but has so much more impact in the book. Perhaps the translation of the book to mass media would have been better served by a cable mini-series of about 4 or 6 hours. I find the edited version unsatisfying after having tasted of the full, multi-course meal. Is "Possession"worth going to see? I really don't know - I read the book.

Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Kiernan Culkin, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jena Malone, Jodie Foster
Co-Produced by Jodie Foster
Directed by Peter Care

I only have nice things to say about this film. It's rare that I like a film. I'm picky. But at least I warn you. And I don't tell you stupid things like "Don't See This Movie' or "I loved it as much as 'Singing in the Rain,'" or wiggle my thumb up or down. I simply tell you what I saw in it and if I liked what I saw or not. I don't know why people write reviews other than for earning a living by criticizing others. Nobody really cares what reviewers say. If you like Matt Damon, you don't care if I say he's got a face that seemed to be stuck in a vice at birth or his movie is crap. Not that I'd say such things. You like action, you like Matt, you're going to see "The Bourne Identity." But I can tell you a bit of what happened and some background stuff like his co-star was in "Run, Lona Run," and you might really enjoy seeing that film even though Hollywood didn't spend megabucks on special effects for it. Hollywood didn't do anything for it. But I digress.
"Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys" is not about priests destroying the lives of children through sexual abuse or rape. Other films have been made about that topic years ago. I sat through them and winced and cried. They were films based on fact, news stories, court records. How neatly the world ignored all the cases for so many years. No good Christian would subject his/her children to the Catholic Church anymore. The problem is not solved. The clergy obviously doesn't care about the safety or welfare of your children. Do not mistake God for a building and a corporation's employees. Take your children to a forest and talk about the great works of whomever you'd like to give credit. But I digress again.

You might say you've seen it all before. A bunch of friends in Catholic School, hanging out, drawing cartoons, thinking about girls, getting into trouble for excitment and to get back at the oppressive nun who runs the school. Sure, but you've seen karate movies, action flicks, boy meets girl romances, big ship sinking epics, guys in trenches and helicopters shooting at each other movies. Take another look at "coming of age." There's an authentic and honest emotional depth to this one. This is not a kids' film. I suppose it's for the same audience that made "Stand By Me" a hit. And for the adolescent still surviving in you who needs real excitement and action, there is a lot of colorful super hero animation.

Jodie Foster, as Sister Assumpta, is not the worst nun I've ever seen in film. She doesn't abuse, lock kids in closets, howl to the Lord to damn these evil boys. She is not one dimensional, though close because she is being seen from the boys' perspective.But being a nun with a peg leg and trying to keep hormone-raging boys in line, studying and following the path of the Bible is not an easy job. She doesn't deserve the wrath of youth, but youth must express wrath. That's part of growing up and she's stuck with the brunt of their anger. So unfolds the story of the Alter Boys. They plan revenge, they dream of sexual fulfillment, they fantasize brilliant animation and we feel for them every step of the way. The boys are just as good as the "Stand By Me" quartet, though the film really centers on two instead of all four. Hopefully, Emile Hirsch will have as promissing a career as River Phoenix and avoid the pitfalls Phoenix didn't. He is certainly as talented and charismatic. Foster gives her all, notwithstand she co-produced this film and will earn a fraction of her normal asking price. She believes in the project and backs it with her best shot at being a nun. And it's always a joy to watch Vincent D'Onofrio. It took me less time to recognize him this go round. He is so consummate an actor, he changes so drastically from role to role, part of the fun is finding him in a film in which he's billed. Check out his filmogrophy at, rent those films and be in awe of his versatility and choice of varied parts and films.

Bourne Identity (2002)
Starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper
Based on the Novel by Robert Ludlum
Directed by Doug Liman

I loved the car chase, and I'm a woman. I loved it because the lead vehicle was a mini, the lowest tech, smallest four wheeler allowed on the roads of Europe and not much more powerful than a golf cart. Double O7, it certainly takes a lot of expensive, shiney, high tech equipment to get you out of harm's way. Bourne just needs a bit of scrap metal and internal combustion. I also loved that Bourne road a dead body down a 10 story stair well to cushion the fall while escaping the bad guys, and was able to shoot one on them hiding on a stairway as he plummeted past. Actually, it was has always been a fantasy of mine -- to ride a dead body to to protect me from the ravages of gravity. Something wrong with that?

So, Bourne was an assassin (or was he?) trained by a secret splinter section within, and unknown to, the CIA. Already I have my doubts. The CIA doesn't know that assassination is a protocol within its organization? Not only do we all know it is (going back to Lumumba and Castro [successful and failed attempts, respectively], but we saw it in Damon's buddy's summer movie. If you didn't already see the film, Affleck's "The Sum of All Fears," shows it is de rigeur within the CIA. And everything I know I learned from movies. You, too. So, it's really confusing when two movies in the same summer starring best friends contradict each other. I go with Affleck because (1) he is cuter and taller (sorry Matt), but also (2) because it's a much more realistic and swallow-able story. While Americans deal with the threat of terrorism on a very personal basis each day, we really have very little sympathy for one guy who needs to find out his identity. The stakes are higher, ergo a bigger movie, ergo must be correct.

I agree with Bourne when he says, "I don't want to find out who I am anymore." Me, neither. During the course of the film, he didn't endear himself to me. He plays so stoic, there was nothing for me to grab onto emotionally. I wonder what his "romantic" interest found appealing about him, other than the danger and action, which made her throw up and scream that she couldn't take it any more. So, conflicted, would you say? But I do love watching Franka Potente -- for no other reason that I will always be her fan because of her tremendous role in "Run, Lola, Run." Now, there is one unforgettable movie. Rent now! Everything will be, and has been so far, down hill for her. She's already done the best. As for doing the worst -- what a thankless role for Julia Stiles, as Nicolette. While the headquarters of this secret splinter group of the CIA boasts wall-to-wall technology, it seems the boss, Chris Cooper, gets all the usable information from Nicolette, who sites in a garotte room in a tenament in Paris listening to the police radio band and forwarding the information to Cooper. It reminded me of the French underground depicted in WW II movies. Again, everything I know is from the movies. This poor woman, a fine actress with a great career ahead of her, spends almost all of the film in this minor part -- earphones on head listening to the radio or calling Cooper with the latest bulletin. Quel triste! Chris Cooper -- Another guy who brings me back to better movies: Foremost, "Lone Star" and "Matewan"; by John Sayles and "Pieces of Gold" by Nancy Kelly. All three more interesting and memorable stories than "Bourne Identity."

As I was saying, Bourne opens the film floating unconscious in the Meditteranean with a beeper light calling a fishing boat's attention to him. The captain uses and pocket knife to pluck two bullets out of Bourne's back, about 1/2" deep. Gun must have been low in air pressure. Bourne remembers everything he's ever learned, on a very physical and as-needed basis. But he can't remember whom he is. One must wonder -- two superficial bullets and a fall off a yacht about 10 feet causes this type of brain damage? It took me about a week to guess that maybe it was part of his programming/training that if he was unsuccessful in his mission, he would forget his identity so he couldn't tell. But then -- the CIA splinter group didn't realize he was amnesic. So, I have to say -- Whaaa?

The film continues in this vein -- Whaaa after Whaa until I run out of Whaas. I started to daydream about the films the "Bourne" co-stars reminded me of and thus passed the time. This is just another summer moneymaker. Go ahead and play into their hands: give them your money and say how dreamy Damon looked or how cool the car chase was. Our economy is built on such things. It took a lot of people to make this movie and they all made good money. And they spend, and thus the economy revitalizes. It will do well in foreign markets where the subtitles are incorrect and nobody even notices. There are a lot of bright orange colors and some speeded-up-film karate moves. Fun will be had by those whose demands are little.

Diorector: Gary Fleder
Writer: Scott Rosenberg from a short story by Philip K. Kick
Cast: Gary Sinise, Madaline Stowe, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tony Shaloub

I had very little expectation going into this film. And yet, I was sorely disappointed. Sure, I was glad Gary Sinise finally got a starring role in a major motion picture (read: lots of budget for cast and advertising), something we all knew he wanted and felt he deserved. Sinise is an "intelligent" actor, one who has spent a lot of time in theater and sought interesting and challenging roles. So, I expected a bit of thought in the sccript and some interesting work from Sinise. Nope. Within the first 10 minutes I'm bristling over the bar for the lowest common denominator (stupidest person who might pay up $10 to see this film) getting even lower.

After some Sinise/Madeleine Stowe romantic sex (meaning very dark room, no body parts, smiling faces), the idyllic couple go to their respective offices. Sinise gets waylaid by the government agent, Vincent D'Onofrio. He is injected with some psychogenic concoction that keeps him flashing for the next hour (our time). Next, he is strapped to a chair where D'Onofrio babbles him to distraction. He is then to be gutted like a carp because D'Onofrio knows Sinise is only a replica of himself and is carrying a bomb in his chest. Nothing Sinise says can change his mind. This is not an interrogation. It's only a plot device. Why drug him? Why wait for him to wake up? Why explain the situation? Why show Sinise a scarey movie? Why move him from the chair to the death slab instead of installing him there in the first place? Why Why Why? And that's just the first 10 minutes of the film. In any case, the big question in this film is -- is he or isn't he the imposter carrying the big bomb internallyh? Well, much as we areall suppossed to like our hero and want to see him get out of this fine mess, if he is the bomb-carrying imposter, we can expect some very splashy pyrotechniques somewhere along the way. Will the audience get it's payoff or do we save the hero? At this point, I would invite you to the back room to discuss the end of the movie, but not this time. It's just not worth it. Only more mish-mash ensues. The plot becomes incomprehensible, muddled and ridiculous. Or is it just me. Was everything explained when I crunched down on a Milk Dud. Did somebody whisper or mumble something that, in a word, made sense of the whole story? Not likely.It did take me a long time till I realized the dialogue was infantile and just plain bad, or maybe it just got worse near the end. The sets and effects were very pretty sci-fi, with a cool domed city and your obligatory have-nots living in ruins outside the dome. I had hoped to see some fine acting from D'Onofrio, but he just didn't have a chance with this script. And it was really a waste of time for Elizabeth Pena for such a snippet of work as the non-doctor trying to save the lives of all the forgotten ones in the underground makeshift hospital. There always is one. Ditto for Leslie Crouse, recently of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She isn't even really there, but on a TV news spot watched by our loving heros.My one little chuckle came when D'Onofrio admits he killed ten real people by mistake in his search for imposters, but he's saved 10,000 because of the imposters he's found. Not as good a record as Harrison Ford's in Bladerunner." Perhaps we should watch a classic again and skip "Imposter."


Hollywood Endings
Writer / director / star: Woody Allen

Co:starring: Tea Leoni, Bob Dorian, Ivan Martin, Gregg Edelman, George Hamilton It would be over-intellectualizing to discuss the plot lines, motivations, character development, underlying themes, or anything other than site gags and one liners in "Hollywood Endings." So, the question becomes -- are there enough yucks in this film to warrant the cost of admission? The answer is no. And those in the film were tired, hackneyed, old, and unoriginal. Strangely, Tea Leoni, playing Woody's ex-wife and a good 35 years his junior, got some of the best quips. And she delivered then like a true comic pro -- understated and with a conversational, matter-of-fact delivery -- far preferably to Allen's stuttering, repetitious, cliched delivery. For years, fans have been asking Allen to go back to making the comedies with which he started his film career. We find out he just can't deliver. Be careful what you ask for. Woody's not funny anymore. My recommendation is rent "Noises Off" (1992) to see an hysterically funny comedy about the behind the scenes of a theater production. This is not exactly on point since Hollywood Endings is about filmmaking. But "Noises Off" is so good and got just about no publicity when it came out, that it's worth digging up. The ensemble cast was stellar: Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, Carol Burnett, Nicole Sheridan. Okay, here's one also not quite on point - "Waiting for Oblivion," about the trials of independent filmmaking, starring Steve Buscemi.

Changing Lanes
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson & Ben Affleck
Directed by Roger Michelle
Story by Chap Taylor
Screenplay by Chap Taylor & Michael TolkinIt's not often that Hollywood comes out with a thought provoking, intellectually exciting film. So, this was a rare treat for me. Strangely, my friend said at the end of "Changing Lanes," "Boy, that was a depressing film." Well, what's wrong with me. I was tingling with excitment because of all the new ideas I had found in this film. I was literally smiling by the end of the film because this well crafted, tight morality play pulled all the pieces together and made sense -- plot wise and ethically. It even had a Hollywood happy ending. I'm not giving anything away. All Hollywood movies have happy endings.Take two good men. They're upright, hard working, and want to do the right thing. Put them in a pressure cooker and leave the lid loose. Pop. One minor error, compounded by one inconsideration, and a chain of events which cannot be stopped or even slowed down starts rolling downhill uncontrollably, inexhorably increasing in momentum. Oh, they both think they're in control, but the pressure they allowed themselves to be subjected to has got the better of them. They are compromised. They have become unstable. And they both completely unravel.What I love about this film is these men's actions are constantly being reviewed. They know what they're doing is wrong. They are contrite after every move they make. They desperately want to make amends. But there is no going back and no undoing what is done. Both characters are compelling -- how can you root for one of them when you like them both and they're both in the wrong? The dialogue is spare -- only what's absolutely necessary is said. The contrast in racial, economic and social lives is clear and honest, yet not simplistic. Okay, it is a bit obvious, but I forgive them. Then I started to question -- If this is a morality play, which it obviously is, what is the moral? Is it that being good just isn't enough? Is it that letting go is the only way to find peace? Is it that foregiveness is the only answer? Is it that an unreflected life is no life at all? YES! And if you go see this film and don't get it, you're just waiting for the next act of violence and this finely crafted script complimented by superb acting is just wated on you.


I Am Sam (2002)
Starring: Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dakota Fanning, Dianne Weist.
Director-Producer-Co-Screenwriter: Jessie NelsonWhat's the big issue here? So, Sean Penn (Sam Dawson) has the intelligence of a 7 year old. Now that his daughter is 7, he might not be able to bring her up properly. Hold it! He kept her alive and well for the first sevens years of her life, the most difficult time to survive. By seven, she is healthy, going to school, bright, untroubled, and even charming. From that point on, it's easy. Remember Freud - The first 6 years are the most important. Didn't Dr. Spock say the same thing? The antagonists in this film say, "How can he teach his child anything if she's smarter than him?" How many of you out there, raise your hands, had your parents help you with your homework? How many were told about the birds and the bees, smoking, drugs, anything at all. How many of you were given lessons in ethics, politics, compassion, again, anything at all? How many of you KNEW you were smarter than your parents, and at what age? Did you care? Did you need them to be smarter than you? Of course, it would have made a lot more sense if Penn had to go to court to keep his child as soon as the child's mother walked out on them both -- which was on the way out of the hospital shortly after delivery. The beauty of having an "intelligence impared", yet ever so wise parent, is that there's a lot of mutual respect, emotional support, and self-reliance on the child's part. This is where the soppy, emotional-button-pushing, and predictable part of the film comes into play. This really isn't an "issue" film at all. It's a look at a father-daughter relationship. Let us all learn from it. As the sages onces said, "All you need is love," and a neighbor who knows babies should be fed every two hours and the complete schedule of Nickelodeon.
As a post-script, I just can't get over how incredibly beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer is. As a straight woman, I must just sit back and look at her like a piece of art. It's wonderful that she's staying as perfect as she was ten years ago. I ask no questions. I don't want her beauty to dim. And Sean, also a pleasure to see him act, not as an overage punk, angry and dangerous, but manageable. I would really like to see a new category for awards - the mentally disabled award. The acting isn't necessarily harder, just different, and all too many awards go to actors who play it sick: Dustin Hoffman (who obviously found it hard to leave Rainman behind when accepting his Oscar), Sally Field for Sybil (the Emmy that brought back a career), Anthony Hopkins for Silence of the Lambs. Let's us not underestimate the actor who recreates a life so convincingly that it doesn't look like work

Bad Company (2002)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock

The Sum of All Fears is in the vein of "Seven Days in May" brought to 21st century sensibilities. The stakes are real -- and high. "Bad Company"
is just another Hollywood action comedy. It is a painful example of casting based on box office and star availability alone. Chris Rock could never
be taken for a cool, sophisticated secret agent, not with his baby face. Anthony Hopkins is forced to punch out a bad guy in the back seat of a
speeding car. I was afraid he's had a heart attack. He's a subordinate in the CIA who regularly espouses his patriotism. At his age and with
his reverberating Shakspearian voice, even extreme suspension of disblief cannot cover this awful casting choice. Both Hopkins and Chris Rock are
painfully wrong for these roles, and the lack of chemistry between the two leaves a gaping hole in the emotional life of the film.

On the other hand, the relationship between Freeman and Affleck seems authentic. Freeman's elder stateman and main support to the president has taken Affleck's Ryan under his wing and into his confidence. He is the mentor to the protege and there is a genuine respect and warmth between them. The plot is so plausible that the film has become "controversial." Should a film about terrorism so soon after September 11th be shown? Notice this is not a question brought up for "Bad Company,: though the subject matter is identical - a small atom bomb being detonated on American soil and the good old guy, young guy team up to stop it. That is a question I feel no need to deal with. It is life as we now know it. It is the culture we live in. So sorry. So sad. But how the two films deal with it is the difference between staring doom straight in the face and having a chuckle watching the same tried and tired, comfortable ploys used yet again. I can unserstand people not wanting to go through the fear and sense of loss in "The Sum of All Fears;" I can't understand anybody sitting through the same-old-same-old of "Bad Company." Perhaps this is what is meant by "young audience" appeal. Young people haven't seen all the movies that came before "Bad Company" that did all the same stuff.


Donnie Darko (2001)
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Patrick Swayze and Noah Wyle.
Written & Directed by Richard Kelly

This is a movie that doesn't talk down to its audience, doesn't simplify its very complicated plot, and takes chances in logic and physics. I'd like to see it again to see how all the pieces fit together. There have been enough time-distortion films now to call it a genre. "Butterfly Effect" was simplistic in comparison and did star a typical Hollywood pretty boy with dubious talent, but it offered insights into how the future changes based on choices made in the past. The Simpsons tackled the same problem when Homer tried to fix his broken toaster and created a time machine. When he went back to the Jurassic period he tried not to alter anything, but he is a clumsy man and each time he came back to the present, he found disturbing alterations. He kept returning to the past, slightly earlier each time, to try to correct his mistakes, but his presence alone was enough to drastically alter his present life. He finally settled for a present in which donuts existed even though his family members flicked their frog -like tongues to catch flies for dinner. Donnie plays with time, too. He is a noble character who wants to do as little harm as possible.

Autumn Spring (2001)
Starring: Vlastimil Brodsky, Stella Zazvorkova, Stanislay Zindulka
Directed by Vladimir Michalek
Written by Jiri Hubac

Ah, the golden years, spent ... How does one spend one's golden years? Fanda wants to continue having fun, which includes stunts like viewing mansions, including free limo from the train station and French cuisine for lunch supplied by the real estate company, and acting like a Metropolitan Opera House impresario with an attitude. He also generously gives his meager pension to those who need it more and steals kisses from young girls while impersonating the Subway Police. He's having a great time with his friend and accomplice, Eda. His wife, Emilie, though, spends all her time and money preparing for her death: cleaning the grave site, collecting death notices in order to write her own with some expertise, packing away the clothes she wants to be buried in. She even wants to give her son her apartment so he can get his second wife out of his apartment and he can live in peace with his third. Emilie is eager to be put in a nursing home and out of the way so life can go on without her. So, who's the crazy one?This is the kind of movie that Europeans are so good at and Hollywood just doesn't have the finesse to execute. It's a little story, without sex, drugs, an accompanying CD, explosions, or heavy handed moral message. It's just a little film that shows people dealing with the last few days, weeks, or even years of their lives. Life fully, live well.

Lawless Heart (2001)
Directors/Writers:Tom Hunsinger & Neil Hunter
Cast: Tom Hollander, Bill Nighy, Douglas Henshall

This is a very heartwarming look into the lives of ordinary people living in a small town in England. We open at the funeral of a man drowned in a boating accident. From this event, tentacles of plot and character spread to those important and not so important in his life: his lover, his sister, a favorite cousin, and the people who interact with them. It is interesting to see the different perspective of the same events. We are each of us the protagonist of our own story, but our narrow view of the people who fill our lives is far from the gestalt, the whole picture. I walk away from this film considering that people who barely effect my life are also stars of their lives, which to them are as important as mine is to me. They are as multidimensional as me -- never the perfect hero or villain. Our perspective of these characters are constantly changing as we see them from different characters' perspective. At first, we are quick to judge the actions of the characters as they deal with love, marriage, fidelity, money, mourning, lost opportunities. Later, we wish the best to all in "Lawless Heart," and wish they had given us more time with them and the other characters we only briefly met. Their seacoast village is beautiful, even if their clubs are provincial. I could take walks with them, have lunch in a little cafe with them or breakfast in their kitchens whenever they might invite me. I like these people, flawed, haunted, desperately trying to find some equilibrium and serenity. These are good people going through what we all go through, and doing it with grace and intelligence.


Winged Migration (2001)
Documentarian: Jacques Perrin

Firstly, Jacques Perrin followed a rather unique path to his present occupation. He moved into documentary filmmaking from having been a star in France and internationally for such films as "Cinema Paradiso," "The Young Girls of Rochefort," and "Z," and highly respected for producing such films as "Black and White in Color" and again "Z" among others. He became fascinated with wildlife and nature and pursued his passion with the production of "Le Peuple Singe" (monkeys), "Microcosmos" (insects), and "Himalaya." This film is so much more than merely following various birds on their migration, some of them up to thousands of miles, criss-crossing the globe. I quote from the press notes: "Five teams (more than 450 people, including 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers) were necessary to follow a variety of bird migrations through forty countries and seven continents. The film covers landscapes that range from the Eiffel Tower and Monument Valley to the remote reaches of the Arctic and the Amazon. All manner of man-made machines were employed, including planes, gliders, helicopters, and balloons, and numerous innovative techniques and ingeniously designed cameras were utilized to allow the filmmakers to fly alongside, above, below and in front of their subjects. The result is a film of staggering beauty that opens one's eyes to the ineffable wonders of the natural world."Perhaps my pessimism is getting the better of me, but with the collapse of the natural world taking place at an unstoppable rate, these birds, their migrations and the landscapes below them may be irretrievably lost. All that may remain of these creatures' way of life may soon be only this film. I was so swept away by this brilliantly visual world, yet so close to tears at the same time for the sense of impending loss.Was I being overemotional? Simply contact any wildlife non-profit (politically unaffiliated) organization and collect some facts. I won't burden you here. This is a movie review page. But I couldn't help but be reminded of the scene in "Solant Green," where Edward G. Robinson submits himself for euthanasia. He is laid down in a room where he will soon die. It contains a large screen and a surround sound audio system. He listens to, I believe, the Brandenburg Concerto while he sees films of nature and wildlife -- all extinct on the planet, including clean air, blue skies, forests, beaches, wildlife, soaring birds. These were images that had been forgotten by humanity in the futuristic world of "Solant Green." Not a big fan of this film, yet not ignorant of the course of world degradation, I'm glad that Perrin made this film - an archive of life, possibly an historic record.And another thing -- there's a scene where a flock flies over awaiting hunters. Perrin's cinematographers were right there with the hunters, set to catch the slaughter. Many were killed. Yo, Perrin, you had the birds killed for dramatic effect? You couldn't do that if you were filming in the U.S. We have laws against killing for the sake of movie making. What was the point? Seems the birds' only predator was man; you not only showed us that, but you became the culprit. Some very large demerits for you.


Nowhere in Africa
A film by Caroline Link
Based on the novel by Stefani Zweig
Starring Juliane Kohler, Merab Ninidze, Matthias Habich, Sidede Onyulo, Karoline Eckertz and Lea Kurka
Academy Award Winner: Best Foreign Film.

I can certainly understand people not wanting to go through another cinematic experience of the Holocaust. Even if "The Pianist" is directed by Roman Polanski, we know that as fine as the film may be, it's going to hurt to watch. I gave myself permission not to see "The Pianist.: Instead, I viewed "Nowhere In Africa," a German film about one Jewish family that had the foresight to leave Germany in 1938 to live in Africa. Most Americans believe that the Jews immigrated only to the U.S. to escape the Nazis. If more of you went to the Jewish Film Festival, you'd know that the Diaspora truly means the dispersal throughout the world of the Jewish people. This story investigates the lives of Jews in Africa. The film is long, running 138 minutes. But don't squirm. This particular family spent 12 years out of their homeland. Their adjustment to such a diametrically opposed culture is fascinating. Of course, the child is the most flexible and quickly forgets what Germany looks like and how snow feels to the touch. Her father, once a lawyer, becomes a farmer hired by others to keep their livestock or care for their fields. The mother, once a spoiled, privileged young woman in the hub of world culture, found it most difficult to adjust, and yet, eventually, most difficult to leave her new home. For those of you who find it too difficult to watch the horrors of the Nazi regime or have already paid your dues, check out these fascinating people making their new lives outside Germany.

The Lady and the Duke
Directed by Eric Rohmer
S tarring Lucy Russell and Jean-Claude Dreyfus
Written by Grace Elliott (memoir "Ma vie sous la révolution") and Eric Rohmer (adaptation)
French with English subtitles

To coin a phrase from the classic Saturday Night Live, "the poor misguided slut." Here we have this English Francophile (who, before the story begins, has left her husband to have an affair with the Prince of Wales, has a daughter by him, then takes up with the Duke (cousin of King Louie), which relationship defuses into friendship). She feels a deep sense of loyalty and love for King Louie XVI and Queen Marie, whom she calls "a well bred woman who never said a bad word about you" (the Duke). She spends 129 minutes of our time trying to convince this audience that the Revolution will never succeed. Really. There are so many levels in which this film doesn't work, this being the first, and only one in which it does. Later. "The Lady and the Duke" is a film based on the memoris of Lady Grace Elliott -- Journal of My Life During the French Revolution. But the lady
almost never leaves her, or someone else's, salon. Tableau after tableau, conversation after conversation. There really wasn't much more a lady could do back then. Of course, Madam Dufarge saw a lot more action, even while she was knitting, and she never missed a stitch. Ladies are consigned to pretty drawing rooms talking about the world outside. Her forays outside the drawing room were minimal and terrifying to her -- understandably since the French revolution was one of the wildest abandonments and blood lust since the Rape of the Sabine Women. Lady Grace's active role in this film and in the revolution was discourse, endless discourse.And since the French Revolution was one of the most complicated wars -- with so many revolutions and counter revolutions, changes in allegiances, factions and subfactions, back stabbing, subterfuge, plots and counterplots, that it made 20th Century Chinese history a romp through the children's section of history in the library -- that if you didn't already have a strong grasp of French history, none of this would make any sense at all. After the screening, a friend in the ladies room asked me "Wasn't Robespierre the character in the Bugs Bunny cartoons?" Probably not an uncommon response upon seeing this film.What's good, even incredible, about this film are the special effects used in the exteriors. We are drawn into what appear to be live works of art of 18th
Century French streets and landscapes. Artist Jean-Baptist Marot painted these backgrounds based on documentary research, working from pictures, engravings and even street maps of the period. But just to keep us breathless and daunted by the vistas, flocks of birds languidly fly by in the distance and folk stroll on far away hills or butcher fellow Frenchmen on streets high up on the screen above any perspective line formally used for matte paintings. I love it when I can still say, "How'd they do that?" Coupled with the trompe d'oile walls of the claustrophobic interiors, the painstakingly detailed sets and costumes - right down to the skivvies, I was kept amused during all the uninteresting dialogues about the benefits of being a Royalist (a system of extreme class disparity and exploitation) and the Revolution (gangs of bloodthirsty, uneducated, unwashed masses easily swayed by any guy on a street corner with a rousing message consisting of catch phrases in a loud voice)/Want to know more about the French revolution as depicted cinemaand even have some fun? Rent "Marat Sade." The full name is "The persecution and assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as performed by the inmates of the asylum of Charenton under the diretion of the Marquis de Sade," original play written by Peter Weiss. The Marquis de Sade (admit it -- you know all to well who he was, and you might have seen the film about his incarceration last year starring Jeffrey Rush) is condemned to a mental asylum. While an inmate he writes and directs a play for the amusement of the institution's officials, their families and other dignataries, and performed by the inmates of the asylum. It's a musical. You'll like it. Or in a more serious vein, you could try "Danton" very on point to "The Lady and the Duke," in that it's about an aristocrat trying to get out of France before his head winds up in a basket.


Dog Days (Hundstage) (2001)
A film by Ulrich Seidle

Dog Days introduces us to a bunch of Germans dealing with an extremely hot heat wave. Does that make them the despicable, unlikeable, violent, misogynists and masochists they are on screen? We visit several unrelated people going about their daily lives. I don't even want to get into what each of them is doing or why. They're an ugly lot of people, both physically and emotionally, who I can't believe would be worth spending time with even in a cool autumn breeze. If I met any of them in a party or walking down the street, I would not only not suggest lunch some time, but I would leave the premises before they did. Why spend time in a darkened theater with them?

Elling (2001)
Directed by Petter Naess
Starring: Per Christian Ellefsen and Sven Nordin

I've got this friend who was brought up on Hollywood movies. He really didn't know anything about foreign films. Unfortunate. He didn't grow
up in the 60's when the United States was being bombarded and very much influenced by European and Japanese film. (It would take a couple of more
decades before South America and China were seen as filmmaking artists.) Of course, the "world" of film was always available at international film festivals, but such a small percentage of people go to them and the films are shown once and then disappear. I would sneak into the city with my high school girlfriend and go to the Thalia, 8th Street Cinema, or any number of other theaters that catered to the more sophisticated and adventurous tastes this brave new generation. Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa, Godard, etc., took us out of our hometowns and let us live lives of people thousands of miles away; l,ive those lives because those films were based in the psychology of individuals dealing with the human condition, not superheros, heros or slapstick comics, but people. These were simple, tragic or heartwarming, stories about people. I'm glad to see the tradition continues -- this time from Norway in the form of "Elling." They're just a couple of guys. One may have been terribly abused or neglicted by his mother in his formative years. The other, Elling, was far too attached to his. I don't understand why the film wasn't named "Elling and Kjell Bjarne" since it is equally about both of them. Well, now that I look at it written, I do understand. In any case, they both end up in a mental institution where they become roommates, and, reluctantly, friends. When they are considered well enough to try to function in the real world on their own, they are given an apartment together, with a social worker keeping tabs and nudging them onward.

Their progress towards sanity, self-reliance, and dealing with the world and its inhabitants is believable and, to me, joyous. I found these two damaged
men courageous. To answer the phone, take a walk, shop at the store around the corner, talk to a neighbor, argue, demand what one wants, defer to
another and forgive, to become a friend and finally to express oneself in poetry and figure out a comfortable way to disseminate it -- these were excursions I was happy to be a witness to. I and my friend watched two guys gain strength, recover, enjoy life. All we had to do to pay for this adventure was read subtitles, and they were men of few words. Easy and very rewarding.

Human Nature
Starring Patricia Arquette, Tim Robbins, Rhys Ifans
Directed by Michel Gondry.

Written by Charlie KaufmanI lt uncomfortable watching this film. Not because there were so many instances of below-the-camera-line masturbation, not because the jokes often fell flat, certainly because Patricia Arquette broke into song, but most importantly because the spark of -- what shall I call it? -- joie de vivre, human condition, good writing, just wasn't there. It just didn't ring true as an allegory of nature (Arquette living in the wild because she feels she cannot be accepted) versus nurture (Robbins whose childhood consisted of enforced manners and etiquette at the cost of love). It skirted the real emotions and issues because both the writer and director probably felt real issues and humor couldn't be mixed in the same film. So very wrong. I suggest a look at "Amelie," the French comedy now playing at a local Landmark theater. Amelie had a difficult childhood as well. Touched by her doctor father only once a year for anr yearly physical examination, not only was she deprived of physical affection, but because this annual event was so important to her, her heart rate was excessively high during these examinations. Dad and Mom, believing Amelie to have a dangerous heart condition, took her out of school and isolated her for her entire childhood. As an adult, yes, she was unusual and her relationship with her father was strained. But her dealings with the world around her were humorous, touching, and heartfelt. She is feeling her way as an unprepared adult in friendships and love. It is a reflection of the problems even we more fortunate children can relate to and enjoy watching. If you must see "Human Nature," you owe it to yourself to see "Amelie."


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