Movie Reviews
by Bonnie Steiger


Please read my reviews at local and national. Included there will be the full reviews, trailers and slide shows. I hope you enjoy this site.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who
Out the Window and Disappeared
Man From Reno
Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter
National Gallery
The Zero Theorem
The Last of Robin Hood
Venus In Fur
Third Person
The Dance of Reality
The Double
The German Doctor
Goodbye World
Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?
Sunshine Jr.
Kill Your Darlings
Museum Hours
Blue Jasmine
Behind the Candelabra
At Any Price
Let My People Go!
From Up On Poppy Hill
ohn Dies At The End
California Solo
Waiting for Lightening
This Must Be The Place
The Lonliest Planet
Simon and the Oaks

Stars in Shorts
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
HelloI Must Be Going
White Lies
Robot & Frank
The Mystery of Belle Isle
Nobody Else But You
I Wish

The Perfect Family
Cabin in the Woods

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
HelloI Must Be Going
White Lies
Robot & Frank
The Mystery of Belle Isle
Nobody Else But You
I Wish

The Perfect Family
Cabin in the Woods

Thin Ice

The Iron Lady

We Bought a Zoo

Click here for all my local reviews, and here for my National reviews with trailer and slide show on
Also, peruse all my earlier movie reviews in the Archives

Boulevard (2015)
Director: Dito Montiel
Writer: Douglas Soesbe
Cast: Robin Williams, Bob Odenkirk, Kathy Baker, Roberto Aguire, Eleonore Hendricks, Giles Matthey, J. Karen Thomas
Time: 90 min
Rating: R

The films Robin Williams completed before his death beside Boulevard include, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, A Merry Friggin' Christmas, and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, but these films have already been released. Remaining unrelesed is Absolutely Anything, and Williams only contributes his voice, which in his case is not necessarily a small contribution. Case in point Aladdin. But after this last project, there will be no more new opporunities to relish the talents of Robin Williams. That alone is enough reason to see Boulevard.

Robin Williams in his last audio/visual role.

The subject matter of Boulevard seems almost outdated at this point. A married man of advanced years finally deals with his homosexuality. Most recently, this was addressed in Beginners (2010), in which Christopher Plummer finally tells his son he is gay and has a lover. With shows like HBO's much acclaimed Transparent, with Bruce Jenner at age 66 becoming Caitlyn on national television and press, with Miley Cyrus kissing a girl and liking it, it's absolutely archaic to have any attitude other than accepting and embracing toward anyone's sexuality, dress or hormore preference.

But Williams' Nolan Mack has remained closeted until, by chance, he drives on a street he didn't know and he meets a young man. Unfortunately, Mack has denied his true self for so long, he is not sexually available, and the young, street-wise man is not emotionally available. These factors inevitably lead to obsession and desperation. It's a sad story about a man in a prison of his own making who may just have a chance at breaking out of it. But nothing is easy.

It's painful to watch Williams in this drama, specially so since it's his last appearance, and he is completely convincing in the part - lonely, sexually repressed, inately guilty and ashamed, his true self hidden behind a socially acceptable persona. A final goodbye to Robin Williams.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2015)
Writer: (screenplay), (screenplay) f rom the novel by Jonas Jonasson
Cast: , , ,
Time: 114 min.
Swedish with English subtitles

If a man lives a hundred years, he is bound to witness history happening, not just a moment like a walk on the moon or the assassination of a President or the Berlin Wall knocked down -- the veritable passage of history. And if this hundred year old person is depicted in film, he will doubtless rub shoulders with some very famous history makers. That is why it's always interesting to watch such a person's life, even if fictional, unfold on the screen. Opportunities for humorous confrontations and anecdotes are endless.

Though they see the world changing before them in paradigm shifting ways, they're too close to notice the big picture. They're just surviving the tides and eddies of establishment after establishment. Noteworthy examples are: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman 1974), Little Big Man (1970), Forest Gump (1994), Orlando (1992),

So it is with Allan Karlson (played by Robert Gustafsson). Shortly before his orphanhood in adolescence, his mother told him, 'What is, is.' She also wisely told him, decades before Nike copyrighted the phrase, 'Just do it!' Both observations left Allan with a nonchalant attitude and ability to just roll with it. And thus starts his picaresque journey, sometimes making decision as to his course of action, mostly following opportunities as they presented themselves.

Without giving too much away, Allan on his hundredth birthday climbs out the first floor window of his nursing home and starts his very eventful next journey. Through flashbacks, we watch his careers seamlessly move from the Spanish Civil War soldier to a team member of the Manhattan Project during World War II to befriending Einstein (Herbert, not Albert, to international intrigue and more. He may be blasé about it all, but his confrontations with people of historic note are the highlight of the film.

Old man, new friend and collateral damage on the tracks.

There must be some underlying message to this film. If so, none were driven home. Maybe it's that we should never underestimate the face value of old people we meet. There is much more to them than meets the eye. r am I project this tried and true message. Or maybe it's that some people have good genes and are lucky - the survivors -- and don't gain anymore wisdom than the rest of us. It would be for each audience to judge. It is of note that the author of this story was nowhere near a hundred years old when he wrote the novel on which this film is based..

Man From Reno (2015)
Writer: Dave Boyle, Joel Clark, Michael Lerma
Cast: , , , , , and my friend
Time: 110 min.

It's an veritable invasion of unfulfilled, Japanese women to America. First, last week Kumiko trekked to Nebraska from Tokyo to find her fortune in 'Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter.' This week Aki (Ayakoi Fujitani) comes to San Francisco for salvation and peace of mind, but instead gets involved in a sinister murder mystery, suspiciously coincidentally since she is a murder mystery writer. The screenwriters must have been inspired by Agatha Christie's missing 11 days back in 1926. Aki's huge fan base is wondering what happened to her, having disappeared in the middle of a book promotion tour. One more Japanese woman protagonist coming to America, and it's officially a genre.

I'm a sucker for movies shot in San Francisco. I'm constantly trying to figure out where the scenes are shot. For instance, I've loved the Hotel Majestic in lower Pacific Heights for years, enjoying the fine cuisine of the restaurant and interviewing at least one celebrity in the well-appointed, Edwardian, raised lobby off the front desk. I have enjoyed the atmosphere and adornments of Vesuvio Bar in North Beach, sometimes to my detriment. I even fondly remember the office building on California Street posing as a hospital where I once temped. I don't remember one shot of the Golden Gate Bridge -- a first for films shot in this fair city.

This is a film pas noir or presque noir or film lumière in that every scene, except the opening, takes place during the daytime. To get the noir quality, almost all the color was drained from the footage to make it close to black and white, the characters are ominous and threatening, the plot convoluted. Perhaps the plot was just a teensy bit too convoluted for me. The multitude of Japanese names, with them changing throughout the film, the red herrings and dead ends, and far too many unanswered questions, led to my dismay and confusion. The ultimate question is -- does this story actually make sense, and even if does, is it satisfactorily concluded? Since I possibly blinked during the film, I may have missed some vital piece of information, through no fault of the director.

Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter
Director: David Zellner
Writers: The Zellner Brothers
Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, plus more
Rated: Not yet.
Time: 105 min.

A delusional woman (Rinko Kikuchi), so out of touch with society she can barely speak, finds hope and inspiration in a cache of money she saw buried in the snow in her old VHS copy of the movie 'Fargo.' She's rerun the tape so often it's barely viewable, but she's able to make a treasure map from certain landmarks so she can find the money. Her technique for making the map is as inaccurate and irrational as her belief that the treasure is real.

We see her isolation is of her own making, if one can say she is responsible at all for her actions. Trying to survive in her mental state and within the Japanese culture of sexism and ageism is more than she can bare.

One day, Kumiko gives up her beloved rabbit -- a perfect pet for such a shy, vulnerable, quiet woman -- a veritable spirit-animal version of herself -- and goes on her picaresque journey. From the crowded, gray megalopolis of Tokyo to the forbidding, vast, empty reaches of wintry Nebraska, she encounters many friendly, helpful strangers who only want her to abandon her quest. But she is determined.

The cinematography is breathtaking, the subject matter laughable, yet haunting. But forgive me for being too American to keep my finger off the fast forward button while watching the film on a DVD screener. I don't believe I lost any of the intended emotional content by watching her move slowly in half the time. This could have easily been a 40 minute film rather than the whole 105 minutes. And certainly, had I been in a theater rather than the comfort of my home and my remote, I wouldn't have left based on the tempo of the film. Don't stay away due to my resorting to my itchy finger. I can still picture Kumiko trudging through the snow into the sunset, unshaken, indomitable, unfazed by nature itself.

National Gallery (2014)
Time: 181 min.

It's difficult, expensive and time consuming to visit major world capitols and museum hunt, so films like 'National Gallery' give the second best opportunity to enjoy great works of art. The big screen and cutting edge cinematic technology may even improve upon the experience of standing in crowds of onlookers to catch a glimpse of the masterpieces. It would even be a great idea to produce a whole series of films or at least home watching opportunities on one's 60"+ high definition screens of complete tours of museums.

In 'National Gallery,' listening to the docents and lecturers expound upon particular art pieces, their places in history and the back stories of the artists added to the overall experience. Director Wiseman obviously wants to make more than a moving catalog of the art displayed in the National Gallery, but also to expose the inner workings of a great museum showing how each employee and volunteer contributes to this herculean effort. This whole film is a definite must see for anyone contemplating a career in museums from Director to Curator to Publicist to Restorer to Docent to Guard.

I could have missed the business meetings with the Board of Directors on how to advertise, how to fundraiser, how to attract more patrons. Yes, this is essential to the running of a museum, but the financial decision-making of this echelon of museum staff couldn't be more boring, except to another Board member. On the other hand, the painstaking craft of restoring works of art is fascinating, and the various decisions that have to be made in that account: how much is too much repainting, what about the art hidden below the top layer of a painting, etc.

It's a long movie at 3 hours, but still not an overlong visit to a museum. More paintings could have been viewed in the time allotted were it not for the meetings the audience was forced to attend in monochrome offices. And one might have appreciated a wider range of art represented, but the National Gallery only collects European art from the Middle Ages through the 19th Century. Still. I'm sure even the extent of those paintings were not exhausted by the film.

The Zero Theorem (2014)
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writer: Pat Rushkin
Cast: , , , David Thewlis, Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, Lucas Hedges
Time: 107 min.
Rating: R


Qohen Leth wants somebody to tell him the meaning of life, the purpose of his life. He lives in a chapel he bought cheap and sets up his home office there -- the alter is his desk. His job -- seems to be playing a mathematical video game in which he is trying to reach the number zero -- which translates into nothing;l the ultimate outcome is there is no reason, no purpose to anything. Kind of vague, but it's a metaphor and you just have to go with it.

Though the gray buildings are decaying and flaking into rubble and dust, the streets are covered with brightlky colored neon, plasma and print advertising, so things look cheerful.

We seem to be visiting Terry Gilliam's world of commercialism, conformity and individual alienation again. I would have bet the farm that Gilliam not only directed, but wrote 'The Zero Theorem,' with Tom Stoppard, as he did with 'Brazil' almost 30 years ago.. And I'd be homeless for it. But perhaps a dozen years of rewrites on Pat Rushkin's original script contributed to Gilliam's stamp on the final film.

Here are some comparisons between the two films that led me astray:
One lonely man, the best computer whiz in his place of employment, which is supervised by an ineffectual man who depends on our protagonist, is looking for a deeper meaning to life.

He imagines himself flying with the woman he wants very much to love him, but his suprhuman abilities and his lover are only illusions.

A sole expert (the plumber in 'Brazil' and the young computer whiz in 'The Zero Theorem') help with our hero's' faulty technology and try to adjust his philosophic outlook. Women play almost no significant roll in this dystopia other than the one love/sex object. In Brazil, the self-absorbed mother tries to keep her son on course; in Zero Theorem, it's his wacky psychiatrist.

Most obvious are the set designs if both films -- whether the films take place in the future or now is irrelevant. The problems with society are reflected in the sets by the encroaching technology and receding human contact, the control of government and/or corporation, the passivity of the populace. It's metallic, dark, unclean, decaying - a blend of 'Metropolis' (1927) and 'Blade Runner' (1982).

Not that I'm running down the similarities -- I applaud them. I consider 'Brazil' one of the finest movies ever made, and at the time, starkly original. It's great to have an encore. This new generation can enjoy and cogitate

on the themes presented in this updated version. The computer monitors, instead of being retro in 1985's ;'Brazil,' are 20 minutes into the future in 'The Zero Theorem.' The other worlds Qohen Lath escapes to are engined by cyber technology and leads him to a black hole; whereas Sam Lowry only dreamed of being a winged, silver armored knight coming to the rescue. Times change, but concepts explored by both film do not. Make it a double feature and watch both, downloading, Netflixing or however 'Brazil' on the same day you see 'The Zero Theorem.'

The Last of Robin Hood (2014)
Director/Writer: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon, Dakota Fanning, Matt Kane
Time: 90 min.
Rating: R

First, let me say it's always a pleasure to watch Kevin Kline perform. From his award-winning 'A Fish Called Wanda' (1988), to his moving 'Sophie's Choice' ( 1982), to his recent work in 'Queen to Play' (2009) and 'Darling Companion' (2012). Now he embodies Errol Flynn in 'The Last of Robin Hood.' His natural warmth and humor give an authenticity to all the characters he plays, in comedies and dramas, from young, handsome pirate to freedom fighter to aging male escort.

I even accept his appearance in '...Robin Hood.' Handsome as he is, he's no match for Flynn in his youth, but Flynn's heavy drinking and other bad habits sought revenge on his face at a very early age. Kline, now 67 years old, can play the 50 year old Flynn. But I found something sorely missing in this film. I just can't believe the biggest rogue of Hollywood's golden age would be so tame, even shortly before his death. I read 'My Wicked, Wicked Ways,' Flynn's autobiography, years ago and, if the book actually reflected his later years, he was still cavorting with the best of them, possibly the best among them all. I can't see him calmly with drink in hand, retelling a story of pranks long past. He was still a larger-than-life character till the end.

Of course, his penchant for very young woman would not abate with age. But it was difficult to see why he was so smitten with one of then-15-year-old Beverly Aadland. Sure, she was pretty, but so dull! Dakota Fanning played her from naive, to hurt with the loss of innocence to adoring partner with a range of 1 to 3 out of 10. Flynn was still adored and could have continued to look out his office window and pick out the young beauties he wanted to share his bed. I don't buy that he would actually stop with such a tame, dull girl.

Thrown into the bargain was Beverly's meddling mother, Florence, played with subtle desperation, and master skills in manipulation, while still overwhelmed by the attentions and lavish lifestyle thrown upon her and her nubile daughter by Flynn. Susan Sarandon was the spark, neigh, fire, in this film. One always flinched when she entered a scene. What did she want now -- from her daughter, Flynn, press, biographer? And how would she twist the situation to get it? Sarandon played no stereotypical Hollywood mother and was full of surprises.

I hate for people to remember Flynn by the characterization made in this film, charming as Kline is. I remember reading about Flynn flying with a buddy in a single-engine prop, thermos full of vodka (his favorite drink only because it passed for water when checked by authorities if they didn't taste it), land in his favorite spot, Jamaica, where he often stayed, without Beverly. The name of Errol, and feminine offshoots of Errol, carried by many of the Jamaican children of that period, attest to his love of adventure till the very end, the rapscallion.

From Wikipedia: 'When she complained to Errol that he was paying all his attention to the book ('My Wicked Wicked, Ways' with a co-writer while in Jamaica) and little to her, Errol responded to her complaint 'That's right! I'm paying a helluva lot of attention to my book! Twenty-four hours a day and I'm going to keep on!'' Not the response of the lovelorn, aging has been to the last great love of his life.

Venus in Fur (2014)
Director: Roman Polanski
Writer: David Ives (play), Roman Polanski (screenplay)
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner
Time: 96 min.

Director Roman Polanski has picked for his latest project a small film taken from the stage play of the same name, 'Venus in Fur.' It takes place on one set, a theatre stage - with only a momentary look at the street outside the theater - and with only two actors. The director of the play, Thomas (Mathieu Amalric of 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' (2007)), has finished a very disappointing audition session and is about to leave the theater when Vanda enters. She's late, she's wet from a shower outside, she's unprepared, boisterous, gum chewing, borish. But as the film progresses, we find her in complete control of herself and Thomas

as well. The play withion the film concerns a sado-masochistic relationship which takes place in the 1840's at a health spa. The film itself delves into issues of sexism, S&M and retribution. It's a 'Fifty Shades of Grey' and forgotten 'Story of O' (1954) for the 19th Century. And to a degree. it's interesting to see the psycho-drama evolve. Small cast films and plays are usually psycho-dramas because there isn't much else to do but toy with each other's mind under those artistic constraints.

Ironically, Vanda, who is recognized by Thomas as superb actress. is an emotional and creative dynamo as a person, but a dismal disappointment to me while in audition mode as the monotone, in-control Lady, coincidentally also named Vanda (first hint something more is going on). Emmanuel le Seigneur (Frantic (1988)) superbly plays Vanda (the actress who is auditioning). But to bring Vanda, the play's character, to life she simply drains any spark of vitality and interest from the character.

As for Thomas, it is painfully obvious that he is playing Roman Polanski himself. His physical appearance is a dead ringer for Polanski -- hardly a casting accident. And Seigner has been Mrs. Polanski for the last 25 years. These connections, as well as the intimate nature of the film, makes is a rather uncomfortable family affair to watcy.

Seigner as auditioneer and Amalric as director

I'm not sure whom this film's audience would be. It is not a date movie, certainly not a family movie, chick flick or testosterone directed. Maybe intellectuals and cineasts will appreciate it's subtleties and nuances. It could just be an acquired taste or for its originally intended audience, theater-goers.

Third Person (2014)
Director / Writer: Paul Haggis
Cast: , , , Olivia Wilde, James Franco, Maria Bello, Moran Atias, Kim Basinger
Time: 137 min.
Rating: R

I GOT it, but I can't tell 'cause that would be a spoiler. I would think everyone who saw the film would get it, but it seems some reviewers didn't. I'm sure a friend will tell them ... eventually. Just know as you want 'Third Person' there is something to get. And I noticed in the trailer, it's given away in a nanosecond shot. Albeit to say, three stories couldn't be more related than these.

A recently separated (from wife Kim Basinger) writer (Liam Neeson) rents a hotel room in Paris to concentrate on his next novel, but is interrupted by his needy, neurotic lover (Olivia Wilde). A clothing design thief (Darien Brody) in Rome meets a Gypsy woman (Moran Atias) and tries to help her get her daughter back from a cutthroat

smuggler. A divorced woman (Mila Kunis) desperately tries to get her chaotic life in order so she can resume visitation rights to her son from her artist husband (James Franco). All three protagonists have split from their partner, each has a child. They are trying to find redemption, trying to regain trust, and continue to lie for convenience sake or even survival. But these facts are only the trappings of what they all have in common.

The title of the film may be referring to the child in each of these group's lives, or the new partner (for Liam, Adrien, and James' characters) they have found, or Third Person perspective as in first person (I), Second Person (you), Third Person (he, she, it) as a perspective in literature. All the characters in this film have been damaged and are struggling to find their way. They are compelling empathetic, moving. Performances by all the actors are convincing. Especially surprising and moving was Mila Kunis as the frenetic, irresponsible ex-soap star, now maid, unable to find the track, let alone get on it. All the characters have painful secrets; her's was the most difficult to admit to herself and heal from.

I would eagerly watch 'Third Person' and second and even third time just to unravel any connections and probe nuances I may have missed on first viewing.

Borgman (Netherlands) (2014)
Cast: , , , , ,
Dutch with English subtitles
Time: 113 min.

This film is being promoted as a dark comedy. I don't see it that way and I don't believe I am deficit in funny bone matter. I never once even smiled, let alone laughed. I more aptly described it as absurdist. And this is based on there being no sense or motivation or logic in the main character's and his cohorts' cold-blooded deeds. That is not to say the film lacks cohesiveness, though it may be short in purpose. It's fascinating and horrifying to watch these people go about 'their business.'

Borgman (first name Camiel, which means one who sees God and is supposedly one of the angels who expelled Adam and Eve from the Grarden of Eden) seems like an enhanced, anthropomorphized demon or imp, rising from the woods undergrowth, though the opening quote of the film, “And they descended upon the earth to strengthen their ranks,” would suggest he came from the opposite direction. He is the most amoral character I've ever met in cinema, acting without an inkling of emotion or even purpose (other than desiring a bath). I have never thought of evil (or evil incarnate) as being without a goal like collecting souls or even deriving pleasure in doing evil. There doesn't even seem to be a mischievous component. One has to guess or just give up on finding a reason for Borgman's actions since we never do find one in the course of the film. I see no comparison in earthly, under-earthly or heavenly beings.

Yes, I am miffed, but there is something to be said about our protagonists -- certainly there is food for thought. Also intriguing is the wife/mother of the household in which Borgman and his crew reside. Actually, she seems a much more enigmatic and empathetic character. If, indeed, it has to do with the family's children, I still don't accept it. What's so terrible about their lives, what's better about being with Borgman?. Since this was not the first house Borgman stopped at to ask for a bath, it is purely accidental that he ended up in this household at all. And what's with the two greyhounds? If you can give a cohesive account of what is happening and why, please let me know. Many have tried - from the religious pre-apocalyptic to class war. I'm not satisfied with either. I may just have to put this film in the category of David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks' (1970) woman with her pet log and moosehead on the bank's conference table -- just f---ing with our heads for lack of skill in construction.

The Dance of Reality (Chile) (2014)
Director/Writer: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Cast: , , , , ,
Music: Adan Jodorowsky
Costume Design: Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky
Spanish with English subtitles
Time: 130 min.
Rating: No US Rating, but nudity and violence

Jodorowsky is an autobiographical filmmaker, more so than most, including Federico Fellini. . Not only does he work through his childhood problems, but he corrects them. Case in point, his first cult classic, ' El Topo' (1970). The film starts with the famous shot of a black-clad gunslinger on horseback with his 6 year old, naked son riding behind him. They then proceed to bury the boy's first toy and a photo of his mother. 'Now you are a man.' A rather early bar mitzvah, but perhaps necessary in the forbidding environment they find themselves in. This film depicts the father, played by Jodorowsky, as a stern, unfeeling patriarch who only wants his son to be as tough as he is. The young son is play by Jodorowsky's son Brontis. But in an effort to rewrite the past, writer/director/actor Jodorowsky then leads the father character on a mystical, transformative journey from which he emerges a loving, compassionate man who apologizes to his now adult son.

It seems Jodorowsky needs this retelling of his personal emotionally hardships again in his latest film, the first in 23 years, 'The Dance of Reality'. As a Chilean Jew of Ukrainian immigrants, Jodorowsky hits closer to the reality of his situation in this film. He shows the alienation caused by being a foreigner and a Jew, especially during World War II, distant in geography, but close in terms of Nazi sympathy and antisemitism. Also, instead of dad being a gunslinger, he is a shopkeeper and admirer of Stalin, as was Jodorowsky's father. This time Jodorowsky's son Brontis, now a middle aged

man plays dad. In the film, young Jodorowsky has a more painful time at home than in the rough streets of the small, desert-edge town of Tocopilla. And again, dad is forced into a harrowing journey, often difficult to watch, of self-discovery. Jodorowsky's final dig at his father, through filmic karma, is that once dad has reached a realization of his transgressions to family and society, he is crippled by guilt and self-recriminations.

Jodorowsky, though admitting the film's autobiographical roots, denies it is a psychological catharsis. Okay, have it your way. What's important to the audience is not so much Jodorowsky's personal healing as the other-worldly, fantasmigorical and lyrical quality of the film. Books have been written on how to deconstruct the symbolism of his films. There will be books to follow this film as well. The production quality is stunning, as are the images created by Jodorowsky's fertile imagination. The requisite care giving female midget, amputees, and beach dwelling mystic are included, as well as the brutish, evil townspeople, the Anarchist (played by son Adan Jodorowsky, who also supplied the film's music), and the Theosophist (played by son Axel Jodorowsky). By the way, wife Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky designed the costumes. Jodorowsky himself appears as the young boy's spirit guide.

While showing the underside of humanity with all its boils and pimples, 'The Dance of Reality' far outweighs the dark side with the love and kindness also to be found within the same streets.

The Double (2014)
Writers: , Avi Korine, (novel)
Cast: , , , , , ,
Time: 93 min.
Rating: R

One of the first things said by doppelganger James (a proactive and charismatic Eisenberg) to our sorrowful protagonist, also James (a shy, retiring and passive Eisenberg), upon their meeting is 'You're in my place.' And he didn't just mean a seat in an otherwise empty subway car. In all stories about Doppelganger (not just identical copies of a person, but with more energetic personalities and in all ways superior), the new copy deserves the life of the original more than said original does. The improved James later comments, 'No offense, but you're pretty unnoticeable, a non-person.' This idea goes back to Dostoevsky's original story, and many people's nightmares. In many doppelganger stories of literature, film and television, the original character simply fades into non-existence. Not quite so in this film adaptation.

The setting is also akin to the alienated, dark, dystopian world of governmental clerkdom of the novel, as also seen in Kafka's 'The Trial' (1962), and Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil' (1985). Perhaps life isn't worth living in such a world or perhaps Darwin's 'survival of the fittest' plays a key factor to James' fates.

'The Double' is obviously a philosophical piece wrapped in an entertaining performance by its actors, of course, most notably Jesse Eisenberg, playing both James convincingly and equally empathetically. Till this point, the undefeated champ of dual roles has been Jeremy Irons in 'Dead Ringers' (1988), interpreting the true story of the Marcus Brothers, twin gynecologists with a penchant for the macabre. Technologically, both films are flawless in rendering the twins interacting. It would seem no improvements since 1988 were necessary in perfecting this complicated feat.

Ultimately, the point is -- one must earn the right to live by ... living fully. If you hide in the shadows, take no chances, make no mark, you deserve to disappear into the ether. And no one will even miss you or notice you're gone.

Jesse Eisenberg as both James -- at a loss.

The German Doctor (2014)
(Subtitles in German and Spanish)
Director/Writer: Based on my novel Wakolda by Puemzo
Cast: , , , , ,
Time: 93 min.
Rating: PG-13

How could anyone not know that any German doctor in South America in the years following World War II is Josef Mengele, the doctor who experimented on Jews in Auschwitz during the Holocaust in his quest to eugenically control the population after the hoped-for successful culmination of the War? It seems "the Argentinean government opened its doors to so many Nazis, even making a law to allow them the use of their real names, while entire towns were openly friendly to welcoming them." (Lucia Puenzo) So, it seems, they did know.

Mengele cannot resist the child, perfect in every way but her height.

In this true story, one family, not Nazi sympathizers as many were, cautiously admits him into their home. The family opens a hotel and the Doctor wants to be their first guest, cash in advance. Daughter Lilith is far too small for her age. The Doctor says he can treat her to rapidly increase her height. Father Enzo is a doll maker, creating one unique and beautiful doll at a time. The Doctor invests in Enzo's endeavor, employing a factory to pump out uniform replicas at a staggering rate. Eva, the mother, is pregnant with twins and has a history of miscarriage and premature birth -- it's good to have a Doctor nearby. Or is it?

Shot in Patagonia, the beautiful countryside looks Alpine and serene. But the juxtaposition of the distant snow topped mountains, placid lakes and pastoral lawns to the evil that lurks just beneath the surface is stark. Other parallels that cannot be missed include a Nazi-hunter who is, like Lilith, far too small, and the assembly-line of uniformed dolls re-iterate Mengele's ultimate goal of Aryan perfection.

The film probes the choice between individuality and the quest for uniform perfection, and the temptation to make a deal with the devil (even if it is to help one's own children). From 'Marathon Man' (1976), ' Boys From Brazil' (1978), 'Music Box' (1989), 'Apt Pupil' (1998), and 'The Stranger' (1946), to 'This Must Be The Place' (2011), the after-effects of the Holocaust's war criminals still reverberate. It is a relief that 69 years have passed since the end of the war. It is highly improbable that any war criminals are still alive, and if they were, dispatching them at this point would only be a blessing for them in their advanced decrepitude. The era of Nazi hunting may be over, but the family in 'The German Doctor' artifully and emotionally returns us to that painful time. We along with them make the choices of conscience, exigency, familial love. Also, lest we forget....

Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden
Directors: Danya Goldfine, Dan Geller
Writer: Dany Goldfine, Dan Geller, Celeste Schaefer Snyder
Cast: Voices of Cate Blanchett, Sebastian Koch, Thomas Kretschmann, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen, Josh Radnor, Gustaf Skarsgård
Time: 120 min

This is a documentary with the pathos and tension of a drama. It has the obligatory talking head interviews, archival photos and film clips, but woven in for dramatic effect are the voices of actors reading letters and journal entries by the central characters, new HD footage, and the plot and editing style of a taut mystery.

Just the word Galapagos conjures images of Darwin strolling among giant turtles, iguanas and finches -- not just fascinated by the diversity of traits within the species among the cluster of islands, but catapulted into the Theory of Evolution, almost against his religious will. I had always thought, and it was confirmed by documentaries about the Galapagos, that people, other than a few scientists and environmentalists, were not allowed to live on the islands which were to remain uneffected by humanity. This is not true. 'The Galapagos Affair' delves into the history of people trying to make homes on two of the islands, Floreana and Santa Cruz, especially Floreana where the mystery still persists.

Can one find Paradise on earth or is it doomed to be spoiled by the very presence of the humans themselves who sought peace and solitude? Are we 'built with war in us', even if there are only six other people sharing the island? And what about these windswept, arid, and sparse islamds would encourage settlement of any kind? Many of these questions are answered, but not all, which leads to the haunting and uneasy feeling one takes away from the film.

Dore Strauch and Heinz Wittmer

Heinz Wittmer wanted nothing more to do with civilization. He couldn't have found a more remoted and forbidding place than the Galapagos, having read a small book about it. He would live off the land and write his philosophical treatise, actually, for all civilization to see -- hypocritical or not is for the viewer to judge. He brought with him his mistress and started building a shelter and a garden. Other people who got wind of their adventure, also came to the island, disrupting his peace, if, indeed, he had found it, and causing strife among the total population of eight.

Goodbye World (2014)
Writers: ,
Cast: , , , Mark Webber, Kerry Bishe, , , , ,
Time: 101 min.

Coincidentally, the world is thrown into chaos just as several people arrive at their friends' home in the Northern California countryside for an 8 year college reunion. There has been a cyber attack on the United States' power grid, ending power, communications, and Internet -- life as we know it. At the same time, bombs have exploded on major freeways, stopping movement of food and all supplies from ships to stores via trucking.

Luckily, the eight graduates showed up just in time for the retreat. These late 20-somethings are guests of their friends James and Laura, and child Hannah, who cashed in their previous home and business and retreated to the clean, simple life, complete with solar panels, organic garden, water well, and a nicely stocked shed including refrigerated medicine, canned foods and choice wines. No better place to ride out the apocalypse. Honestly, this film is a very positive recommendation for doomsday preppers, minus the military aspect.

The members of this coterie have diverged since their graduation, from the hosts natural livers to government insider, to corporate yuppies, to hacker, to ex-con/activist/lecturer.

Well, it doesn't take long for an escalation in tensions, within the small group and from encroaching outside threats. How will our diverse band deal with these pressures and threats?

"Goodbye World" is a blend of "Return of the Secaucus Seven," "The Big Chill," and any number of end-of-the-world films, such as "This is the End," which are all better films, each in their own way. We seem to waste a lot of time with old, petty bitterness and arguments while strategies for survival should be addressed -- or maybe that's the point. Still tedious, though. Performances are perfunctory and of the small indie school of acting. But there is the idea that our social system and even survival are very precariously balanced and can come crashing down with a few errant keystrokes by one bored, irresponsible computer geek. So, we might think about a few acres in the hills -- just in case. I've already got my Swiss army knife.

Nice vantage point to the end...

way. We seem to waste a lot of time with old, petty bitterness and arguments while strategies for survival should be addressed -- or maybe that's the point. Still tedious, though. Performances are perfunctory and of the small indie school of acting. But there is the idea that our social system and even survival are very precariously balanced and can come crashing down with a few errant keystrokes by one bored, irresponsible computer geek. So, we might think about a few acres in the hills -- just in case. I've already got my Swiss army knife.

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (2013)
Director / Writer: Michel Gondry
Cast: Noam Chompsky, Michel Gondry
Animation: Michel Gondry, Valerie Pirson, Timothee Lemoline
Time: 88 min.
English with English supertitles

As for great minds of the 20th Century, and into the 21st, Noam Chompsky must place near the top of this very short list. Originally educated as a linguist, his interests and expertise grew to encompass subjects as far reaching as philosophy, education, politics, terrorism and the humanities. And his ability to see the connections among them has brought him to the forefront of modern thought and commentary.

Michel Gondry, whose previous works include 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' (2004), written by the always off-kilter yet piercingly perceptive , 'The Science of Sleep' (2006), and 'The Green Hornet' (2011), attempts to interview Chompsky and co-create the animation that interprets Chompsky's responses.

The film is almost completely animated, with an occasional window insert of Chompsky's face or a few photographs from his personal history. It's frenetic, busy and incessant, though very pretty to watch. But the visuals distract from the powerful, yet simply-put concepts Chompsky addresses, and is a counterpoint to his slow thoughtful pace. The questions come so quickly that Chompsky has very little opportunity to fully delve into the subjects. The interview turns out to be a request for sound bites rather than fully developed explanations.

Where's Noam?

Consider Manufacturing Consent (1992) in which Noam Chompsky (with comments by many other authorities in the field) takes 167 minutes to investigate one issue: the power of newspaper advertisers to control the press, and ramifications therefrom. From the local supermarket or department store to multinational corporations, the threat of pulling ads from papers, radio and television stations, dictate the political bias as well as which stories don't get published because they may reflect negatively on the advertiser or its interests. Chompsky even discusses the role of free press and its impact. I was on the edge of my seat for the whole length of the film. Today, twenty plus years later, the only difference is the addition of the internet as a new media for dissemination of news (or publicity or opinions dressed as news), and dependability of information from 'reputable news sources' and blogs. This is a film that is still relevant.

In '... Consent,' just one issue took 2 3/4 hours of information and explanation to fully relate to the audience. So, in '... Happy.' brief answers from Chompsky on concepts such as children's education, religion, the development of language, and the plethora of topics Gondry tosses at him is really nothing more than a tease with very little value. I'd like to hear the complete, unedited footage from the several interviews Gondry had with Chompsky, though several questions were just an insult to Chompsky's genius intellect: 'What do you think of my girlfriend's belief in astrology?' Really? One of the greatest minds of our times responding to your gripe with your girlfriend's belief? I would love, instead, to see a multi-part series of conversations, one topic per episode hosted by someone like Bill Moyers. Anything less is a waste of all our time since the thrust of Chompsky's arguments, based on his multi-disciplinary, vast knowledge, is shortchanging the impact of his ideas. The result of such a series could easily be as, if not more, profitable to the public than the similar series with Joseph Campbell.

Gondry is simply not up to the task; he as much as admits it in the many monologues he inserts into the film about himself and his inability to pose a cogent question and/or understand Chompsky's response (due to Gondry's obvious desire to elicit a particular response, repeatedly posing the same question until he gives up).

Most annoying is his extremely unintelligible French accent. Being aware of this problem, he adds script supertitles (on the top of the screen) which are almost equally hard to read while one tries to absorb the images and understand the tortured English.

For lovers of animation, this film will be entertaining while possibly piquing your interest in some of the subjects touched upon in the ambient background soundtrack. Please internet search Chompsky and pursue his highly accessible genius. In '... Happy,' it is merely suggested.

Sunlight Jr. (2013)
Director / Writer:
Cast: , , , Tess Harper
Time: 95 min.

Minimum wage and disability payments don't make it. And 'Sunlight Jr.' is an example of just that. A hard working man (Matt Dillon) who was crippled by an industrial accident and a bright young woman (Naomi Watts) with ambition to improve herself are condemned to living in a motel and supplementing their meager income with the out-of-date food from the grocery store where she is employed. Some people who were unhappy with this film say there is no arc to it -- a beginning, middle and end. I see a beginning to the film where the protagonists have each other, their love, and their attempts to better themselves. I see promise. I see their hopes thwarted by the economics and culture of a rapidly growing poor class in America. That's the story and the arc, as realistic and with undramatic plot twists as it may be.

I don't want to sound too political, but I believe screenwriter/director Collyer intends to inspire political debate on this issue -- I might add, as our prosperous senators and representatives have decided to lower food stamp payments -- hitting, of course, the lowest income people in America. Under these conditions, could you see Melissa (Naomi Watts) having any other choice, but the one she tearfully took? And aren't our Republican majority representatives doing all they can to take that option from her?
To be fair, both Justin and Melissa might have worked the system a bit better -- legally and within their rights. There might have been free health care at a city clinic or hospital, there could have been more programs for both of them to get into, she may have been able to get on welfare. But the allegory still holds -- times are bad and getting worse, and the best of us is only a paycheck away.
Matt Dillon (as the paraplegic Richie) has been in a similar film position before. In The Saint of Fort Washington ( 1993), he plays a disabled (this time mentally) young man who's governmental catch 22 lands him on the street, in dangerous shelters, and eventually a potter's grave.
It's a tribute to their talents that both Watts and Dillon, two of the beautiful, successful people of Hollywood, are completely convincing as the struggling, back-up-against-the-wall 'white trash' tragedies of our time. There but for fortune.

Richie (Dillon) and Meliossa (Watts) just trying to get by.

Kill Your Darlings (2013)
Writers: ,
Cast: , , , Jack Huston, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Cross, Elizabeth Olsen
Time: 104 minutes
Rating: R

A mother's worst nightmare! Her obedient, intelligent, loving, devoted son goes off to college and falls into all the horrific traps that represent the worst of the college experience: drinking, taking a plethora of drugs, all night parties, new and forbidden sexual practices, cutting classes, eventually dropping out, and consorting with a criminal, neigh, a murderer!

I am describing the experiences of young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe). His freshman experiences are only coming to light again after a 70 year dormancy, due largely to the murderer's express wishes (of course), and are certainly worth the retelling. The 1940's, post-war New York, saw the beginnings of the beat genera-

Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) blood brothering Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) .

tion -- poets and writers were pushing the boundaries of acceptable thinking and writing. Ginsberg happened to fall in with a crowd that pretty much started this movement and carried him along until he became an equal in this emerging force. His cohorts, William R. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) were inspired by the philosophical dialogue of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) and the forceful urgings of one Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). Carr was a privileged, egotistical, manipulative puppet master when it came to Ginsberg who found Carr charismatic and ... hot. Carr demanded new ideas, mottos, poetry from Ginsberg to prove his worth, though Carr himself never wrote

a word or accomplished a thing in his life but murdering his ex-lover/stalker. Though Carr is depicted disparagingly, to say the least, if he had done nothing but spur Ginsberg on to become the icon he truly became, Carr did enough (well, not when it comes to his gruesome act of murder, but to his treatment of Ginsberg).

Radcliffe gave a sensitive performance as a kind of Alice in New York/Wonderland who still must deal with his dependant, mentally unstable mother, and must also quickly grow up in this new environment. His accent is perfect American, not stilted New Jersey, Ginsberg's home, but newscaster-speak. When I met Ginsberg at one of his many college speaking engagements, he did have close to a newscaster flat accent, with just the slightest tinge of New York. Ironic how this Columbia University drop out was embraced by schools of higher learning all over the world -- well deserved and no hard feelings. But we can expect more American accenting from Radcliffe in the future. His next venture is Horns with that now familiar American voice.

I have to point out Michael C. Hall's outstanding performance -- so convincing as Kamerer, I did not recognize him. I am a big fan of his from his dead-on performances (pun intended) in Dexter and Six Feet Under, I am more than familiar with his name, face, voice. I was even struggling while watching "KYD" to place him, but I couldn't. And I don't believe it was just the red beard that discombobulated me. The Hall that I knew was no were to be found.

Museum Hours (2013)
In English and German with English subtitles
Director / Writer: Jem Cohen
Cast: Mary Margaret O'Hara, Bobby Sommer, Ela Piplits
Time: 106 min.

If you've traveled alone, in Europe. in the winter, and you're strapped for money, you probably sought refuge in museums. I did, and I know pretty much how Mary (Mary Margaret O'Hara) felt roaming the lonely, yet artistically rich rooms. Mary was summoned to Vienna by a hospital staff person -- her cousin was in a coma and Mary was the only relative they found. So, Mary visits the still woman, talks to her, sings to her, quietly sits with her. Otherwise, she reflects upon the great works lining the walls of the Kunsthistorisches (art history) Art Museum. Fortunately, she is befriended by museum guard Johann (Bobby Sommer) who not only points out specific works within the museum, but also takes her to the sites around town and nearby. He gets as much out of her company as she does his, and he enjoys revisiting tourist sites he hadn't seen in years.

Most importantly, perhaps even more than these two people themselves, is the art, especially the works of Bruegel. The question is asked, 'Can a painting be timeless,' and director Cohen astutely answers it with his own artistic comparison of Bruegel's great works and the people of Vienna today. We watch the elders slowly brave the cold with their shopping bags as the wend their ways home through the colorless streets; children skateboard in a light snow; ancient buildings are repaired against the ravages of time. The similarities are striking. We are in art -- either 500 years ago at the hands of the great masters or today through the camera by such artist/filmmakers as Jem Cohen. It is merely to be appreciated. Museum patrons, and the film's audience, are even given the treat of a docent (Ela Piplits) tour enriching the experience of viewing a painting by pointing out details, Breugel's possible intent, and suggesting we formulate our own interpretations.

'Museum Hours' is a languidly paced appreciation of one museum and the art it contains. The protagonists are us, the experienced museum goer, the refuge seeker, taking the time to look closely at the details, stepping back to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the experience. We are offered all the different ages of art, from prehistoric fish amulets to the modern contemporary. We should all slow down when we walk through museums, and we should practice by going to 'Museum Hours.'

Bobby Sommer as Johann the museum guard
enveloped in art and loving it.

Adore (2013)
Director: Anne Fontaine
Writer: Screenplay by Christopher Hampton from the novella by Doris Lessing
Cast: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville, Sophie Lowe, Jessica Tovey, Gary Sweet, Ben Mendelsohn
110 min.
Rating: R

Oh, to live on a hill overlooking a calm, azure sea with never a storm, a foul wind, or other than cotton ball clouds; to have a body of a teenager, well one's own body and one's lover's, as well. Oh. the privacy, the erotic pleasure, the passion and commitment of an adoring lover. For 110 minutes all we middle-aged women who live in the real world can enjoy just that.

The plot seems like a momentary erotic fantasy of Doris Lessing's fertile imagination, which was then extrapolated upon by Christopher Hampton to give it some sense of how this fantasy could actually happen in the real world and what the short range and long range outcomes could be. Since this idealistic dream of older women is happening to two best friends at the same time, we get to follow two possible timelines, several years long (though it doesn't show on either of their faces or bodies).

Two mothers, two sons, and an unconventional pairing,
Watts, Frecheville,Wright, and Samuel.

Lil and Roz have been next door neighbors and best friends in an idyllic beach town in Australia all their lives. They both married, had one son each, one being widowed, the other married, but always at her side for support. Their sons grew up, both mothers noticing while watching them surfing one day: "Did we do that?" "Must have." "They're like young gods." Humm. Seems their sons were thinking the same juicy thoughts of their respective mother's friend. This was not just a cougar meeting a younger man, not just an older woman having an affair with a friend's son; but a relationship so close as to be considered surrogate incest since both mothers raised their sons as closely as one family. And both mothers admit, "We crossed the line."

Though sensitively executed by director Anne Fontaine, using the brilliant talents of Wright and Watts to the optimum effect, I still felt manipulated by this tawdry tale, much as I expect "50 Shades of Gray" will do when it is released. Of course, "Adore" allows much easier access to fantasy role playing since it is about women of the audience's age. Perhaps it really is no more than just a middle-aged woman's wisp of a sexy and socially unacceptable whimsy and should be accepted for that and enjoyed. Certainly, it is a daydream revenge directed towards all men who leave their first wives for trophies, and then some. No need to worry that viewers will act upon their urges; it's not so easy if you don't look like Wright or Watts, and unfortunately, so few of us have withstood the rigors of age the way they have. By the way, what is the characters' secret for keeping their skin flawless and unaffected by sun damage after a lifetime of daily sunbathing? Now, there's the fantasy!

Blue Jasmine (2013)
Writer / Director: Woody Allen
Cast: , , Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tammy Blanchard
Time: 98 min.
Rating: PG-13

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) was once one of the beautiful people. Married to Hal (Alec Baldwin), whose business dealings were far too complicated for Jasmine to take an interest in, she would simply sign where he told her to and enjoy the benefits of his astute financial mind. The beach house in the Hamptons, the vast Manhattan apartment, the parties, the benefits, the like-minded friends. She was self-assured, loved, pampered and seemingly secure. That is until, first, there was far too much evidence of Hal's sexual dallances for Jasmine to continue to ignore, and, second, Hal was arrested and imprisoned for illegal financial dealings. Jasmine herself only barely escaped jail time as well by being stripped of all her wealth.

Jasmine is now forced to move in with her sister (not biological; both daughters were adopted) and try to deal with her fall from grace as gracefully as possible. The constant flashbacks to her former life shows how difficult it is for her to let go of the old lifestyle which she constantly compares to her new

indignity; she now temporarily lives at 305 South Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, with Ginger (Sally Hawkins) -- who readily admits she doesn't have the 'good genes' her sister Jasmine has -- and her two annoying sons. Not to be dismissed is Ginger's boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), who resents Jasmine moving in just when he was about to himself.

First of all, it's great getting Woody Allen's perspective on San Francisco. I'm sure all Bay Area audiences will feel a bit insulted by his view that going from the Sound to the Bay is a step down, though he did find a few spots in Tiburon equally classy. Otherwise, Chinatown, Crissy Field and The Ramp restaurant along Mission Rock at 16th Street were backdrops for the more pleblian tastes.

Now, this is not just a woman's movie, it's a change-of-life woman's movie, not only because of Jasmine's age (mid-40's which Blanchett unflinchingly and more than honestly reveals), but also because of the cataclysmic changes in her long-comfortable life. Jasmine always felt privileged, even before marrying Hal, but that only added to the problems of her adjusting to her penniless, friendless, unemployed, almost unemployable and highly stressed new persona. Jasmine is having a nervous breakdown, but she still has to function -- deal with her own situation, deal with her relationship with her sister, deal with men as a newly single woman.

Blanchett's performance is riveting, and even though Jasmine is essentially an unsympathetic character, we all want to help her, suggest options, stop her from making terrible mistakes, want her to succeed. Kudos to Blanchett for pulling it off. And though I resent that Allen only offers men as the solution to her problems rather than her own inner resources, I can certainly understand it in this situation. Jasmine never had to develop or rely on her own resources, and she just doesn't know how, even though she tries.


Jasmine (Blanchett) on a double date with sister Ginger
(Sally Hawkins), her boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and set up Eddie (Max Casella) in San Francisco's Chinatown.

But most interesting to me is 'the tragic flaw in her character that made her the instrument of her own demise,' which Allen refers to as something other than her habit of looking the other way or her inability to deal with her new situation. It is well worth the wait to find out near the end of the film what this flaw is and how it brought about her downfall from grace.

I was involved, concerned and trapped in Jasmine's predicament from her first obnoxious appearance in first class accommodations to her last moment sitting on a bench in South Park, 'trapped and lost and alone,' as Blanchett herself describes her. There but for fortune, a cautionary tale to us all.

Behind the Candelabra
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Richard LaGravenese from the book by Alex Thorleifson
Cast: Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Rob Low, Debbie Reynolds, Dan Aykroyd, Scott Bakula, Paul Reiser
Time: 118 min.

What is an autobiographical novel (from which this film is based)? In this case, Scott Thorson, the subject of the film (along with older lover Liberace) tells all, or at least all the unflattering and inflammatory details of Liberace and their five year relationship. I suppose adding the word 'novel' keeps him out of court with the Estate of Liberace. Therefore, I take this unflattering rendition of the legendary entertainer with a whole shaker of salt. Of course, it could all be true... Also, it seems Thorson painted himself rather nicely. By the end of the film, I truly believe this guy don't fart, never picked his nose or even had to clip his toenails. Know what I mean? Admittedly, though through Thorson's perspective, this film doesn't hold back on his own addiction, which started when a Dr. Feelgood (mesmerizing eye performance by Rob Lowe) prescribes weight loss pills and medication for his recovery from plastic surgery to make young Thorson look more like Liberace. It then grew to coke and whatever else... Ah, but those scenes just turned into wrenching and award-worthy performances by Damon, ultimately causing the audience to sympathize with poor Thorson.

Liberace (Douglas) and Scott Thorson enjoying the good times.

Too bad this film wasn't made twenty years ago or more, even a decade before director Soderbergh first tantalized Michael Douglas with the idea of making it. Then the actors would have been closer to the actual ages of the subjects at the time of the film. Thorson was a teenager when he first met Liberace who was a fatherly age at the time, not grandfatherly. Whereas, Damon is 43 and Douglas is 68. Still, though a big stretch in casting, both their acting abilities more than made up for the age differences. Damon's Thorson's initial naivety and growing dissatisfaction with is privileged life, and Douglas' Liberace's bald slimy bravado drove the film. I'll take them now playing their juniors rather than not at all.

They were both so engrossing, one playing outrageous bravado while the other internalizes and slowly boils till erupting, that they even dwarfed their surroundings, described as palatial kitch. I felt I was in a nightmare of endless Marriott Hotel lobbies, with marble floors, greek column (ionic), chandeliers, nick nacks, and more Bavarian crystal than there is left in Bavaria itself. Plus a household background soundtrack of several small barking dogs just added to the nervous distraction of the situation (nice touch).

The visual overload of Liberace's home might have been enough to keep the audience misled from the action were it not for the talent of the costars. Kudos to Damon especially for his controlled, explosive and overall riveting performance. And special notice to Douglas for putting it all in the line. In the recent past, Douglas would boast of his fit, young physique for his age, still wearing the same size clothes as he did for 'Streets of San Francisco,' still able to perform in a shirtless love scene. He was almost unseemly in his boasting. For 'Candelabra,' he bared himself naked, and it was not a pretty site; actually he was scary. That took courage and there should be an award for that alone. And his resemblance to Liberace was eerie.

Don't want to skip Debbie Reynolds' small but unforgettable role as the Eastern European immigrant mother of Liberace; a master of complaint and subtle accusation. She has moved onto a new stage of her career and I eagerly look forward to seeing more of her in the future.

One other issue most be addressed. Back before the AIDS epidemic, the press, comedians, the whole entertainment industry kept silent about gay celebrities. It was a subject that was never hinted at in the gossip columns nor joked about in public. Everybody knew who the gay entertainers were, but didn't deny them work for it. Everybody knew about Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, Randolf Scott, Liberace, but left it alone. That's why Liberace and the other could earn a living being appealing to middle American housewives who still don't know that Johnny Mathis is gay. I'm just saying, I'm sure living a public life and a private life is a real hardship that no one should have to endure, but Clay Akis not being ridiculed and laughed at because he won't put the rumors and jokes to rest is just nasty. It shouldn't be an issue. Ricky Martin should come out if he likes when he likes, and not before. I just miss the old days when press and the entertainment industry left it alone.

At Any Price (2013)
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Writer: Ramin Bahrani from a book by Hallie Elizabeth Newton
Cast: Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, Kim Dickens, Maika Monroe, Chelcie Ross
Time: 105 min.
Rating: R

Two kinds of movies I just don't like: movies about farmers and movies about car racing. I thought I would be in real trouble with this one. But I stayed and watched, firstly because of Zac Efron's piercing, brooding eyes. One might first think 'At Any Price' is about young Dean (for James, perhaps...) Whipple's (Efron) growing pains away from the family tradition of farming and into the spotlight as a racing car champ.

Secondly because there was still much in this film worth watching in an agro-economic-social context. We eventually realize that Efron's career choices are mostly a subplot, a sexy enticement for the younger audience, and the real heart of the film is about modern farming and how it can rot the very soul and probably destroy farming in America. It's fascinating, yet

frustrating, to see how farming has changed in our Brave New World. The issue is not Industrial Farm Complexes; families own the ever growing farms in this film. There are no foreclosures or auctions that were so popular in 1980's agrarian films. The issue is how farms grow food. It is noted that instead of rotating crops to maintain the health of the soil, an old and reliable agricultural standby, there are new and exciting artificial fertilizers to allow farmers to grow their favorite cash crop, corn indefinitely. (Really?) The abused fields are also still nonchalantly being sprayed with pesticides. But the main issue being dealt with by our protagonists and fellow farmers is genetically engineered seed and the politics behind it. Should I have noticed that there are no animals anywhere on any farm? Talk about single crop farming!

It's all so deceptive because on the surface, the farmlands are beautiful and serene, and the corn is actually as high as an elephant's eye, even though the story takes place in Iowa. Yet, seething below this postcard perfect surface is deceit and immorality of the highest level. The film seems to be about farming issues for about two-thirds of the way, but don't leave early if you're an urban sophisticate who shops at Whole Foods and has no interest in farming or Zac's character development or sexual antics, or Dennis Quaid's either, for that matter. The last third of the film goes in an unexpected direction which changes the whole outlook of all the main characters. Unfortunately, a plot device or two (like what was that hammer doing there?!) must be overlooked to continue appreciating the predicaments Quaid and Efron must address. I finally begin feeling deeply for Quaid, if not Efron, even with his searing eyes, and sincerely hope Monsanto is blown up and there is no option but to go green -- for Quaid's sake, for all the farmers' sakes, for our sake...

Efron and Quaid sharing family joy.

Let My People Go! (2013)
Director: Mikael Buch
Writer: Mikael Buch, Christophe Honore
Cast: Nicolas Maury, Carmen Maura, Jean-Francois Stevenin, Amira Casar, Clement Sibony, Jarkko Niemi, Jean-Luc Bideau
Time: 88 min.

Perhaps LMPG!, Michael Buch's semi-autobiographical tale, starts out as a color saturated, simplistic fairy tale set in the Finnish woods and perhaps it continues from there to a Parisian Jewish situation comedy, but along the way, more authentic feelings are revealed which transcend either stereotype.

Ruben, a French Jewish gay man is living the idyllic life as a mailman with the love of his life, Teemu. An incident occurs which throws Ruben into turmoil, say even hysteria. When he reports back to Teemu what has happened, Teemu not only doesn't console or

Neither rain nor sleet, but an angry boyfriend...

support Ruben, he calls him a liar and casts him out of paradise. There is no alternative for Ruben but to go home to Paris to his family and lick his wounds. It doesn't take long to realize that Ruben isn't the only one in his family to be going through a crisis. Dad, sister, and brother all thrust their problems upon poor Ruben's narrow shoulders, while mother insists all people are gay until they find the right one to live with and have children with, perpetuating the Jewish population. Other hi jinx ensue, like a respected businessman who can't keep his hands off Ruben much to his chagrin, and a forest ranger who 'rescues' Teemu in the woods while trying to find stars through the dense forest canopy in a drunken reverie.

It's all in good fun while issues of Jewish identity, infidelity, and mixed religious marriage are probed. Homosexuality is the least controversial and easily accepted issue within the family, though lack of trust in the leads' relationship causes the break-up and ensuing storyline. It would seem religion, sexual orientation, nationality, and culture are of little consequence in matters of the heart.

Renoir (2013)
Writer: (screenplay), (based on work by)
Cast: , , , Time: 111 min.
Rating: R

it's 1915 France and World War I is making a soggy, trench filled, barbed wired criss-crossed, killing field of this country far to its North, but not here. August Renoir (Michel Bouquet) continues to paint in his studio and the surrounding forest and lakes of his Cagnes, French Riviera, home. No matter what direction one looks or how far from his home one might wander, the environs are perfect for the lazy, bucolic, gentle paintings he creates. One last inclusion must be the women who inhabit the canvases. Yes, his entourage of house employees who cook, clean, wash his body, change the bandages of his arthritis-ravaged hands also bathe and picnic

for Renoir to record, one painful, impressionistic brushstroke at a time. Ah, but the muse, the inspiration who keeps him at his eisel, is the iconic redhead with the perfectly orbed breasts amd flawless peach skin, Andrée Heuschling or Dido (Chrita Theret). Thus, we have so many more works of art than might have been made by this septagenerian who at this time in his life suffered so much for his art.

Renoir had three sons at the time, and two of then were mature enough to go to war, and get wounded. His son Jean (Vincent Rottiers) returns home to recuperate and perhaps even mend the troubled relationship with his father. Soon, Dido becomes Jean's inspiration as well.

'Renoir' is biographical in the most languid and sumptuous way. Much can be gleaned by the few words spoken. Renoir senior can get much meaning across to his son or his model with very lfe words. For those of you who hate subtitles, this shouldn't pose too much of an obstacle to enjoying and understanding the film. Also, one must adjust to the timing and lack of fast action. Traditional European films appreciate 'real time,' and how long it actually takes to squeeze paint onto a pallet, to lift a cup, to carry a man in a wheelchair across a stream. Get used to it, feel it and the sun on your face as well as the charming ladies enjoying their picnic on the edge of the pond. Take your time.

Impressionism comes to life in this film.

There still is plot besides beautiful scenery. Jean is healing well and wants to continue to serve his country, both August and Didie try to convince him to stay, by offering fatherly love and by posing he start a career as a film writer/director with her as the star of his films (though other sources give this honor to someone of another name). History shows that this latter path was finally taken after the war and Jean Renoir is still considered one of the greats of cinematic history.

Mental (2013)
Writer / Director: PJ
Cast: Toni Collette, Liev Schreiber, Anthony LaPaglia, Rebecca Gibney, Liev Schreiber, Sam Clark
Time: 116 min.

'Everybody is crazy,' is the motto for 'Mental.' Shaz (Toni Collette) believes it's her destiny to become the lynchpin of a family of females who all believe they suffer from one kind or another of insanity. Mother Shirley (Rebecca Gibney) escapes the heartache and disappointment of being the cause of her family's dysfunctionality by believing she is Maria Von Trapp singing 'The Hills Are Alive,' in her suburban home's backyard. Each of her 5 daughters suffers a variety of aberrations from paranoia to schizophrenia to just plain unruliness. Dad himself (Anthony LaPaglia) says, 'If anyone else is going into the loony bin, it

Exuberant and mega-talented Toni Collette

will be me.' Chaz herself, may be the possible salvation for the family or just the perpetrator of a con for her own eccentric purpose. Yes, she, too, exhibits some rather outrageous behaviors herself. And not to confine the eccentricities to the one household, it would seem everyone in this film has fallen way off the deep end.

The film tends to be chaotic, noisy, frenetic. And with little concern for foreign markets, the Australian accents are so thick and the dialogue so fast that much is lost in lack of translation. And the men with Australian connections drop their American accents for the film. Contrary to popular belief, Anthony LaPaglia is a native of South Australia. Liev Schreiber, born in San Francisco, only got as close to Australia as Canada where he was raised.  I'm sure he got some very intimate accent training from love Naomi Watts.  Both men did such a good job preparing their accents for they film, I couldn't understand much of what they were saying either.

Still, it was obvious that the whole case of characters are all in pain and there are laughs to be had at their expense. Almost balancing out the film's simplistic view of insanity are some brief, powerful, touching moments of authentic serious soul searching, and a few shocking surprises. Collette, as usually, is in control -- of the family, of the town, of the film. Her range is dark and threatening to compassionate and wise to frail and damaged, all with accompanying transforming looks which is only due in part to make-up. She is always a wonder to watch. Overall, be prepared for a bumpy ride.

From Up On Poppy Hill (2013)
Director: , Gary Rydstrom for American version
Writer: (original story), (screenplay)
Cast: voices of , , , Gillian Anderson, Beau Bridges, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bruce Dern
Time: 91 min.
Rating: PG

We again go to the beautiful Asian landscapes we have found so appealing and mystical in Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli's previous films, such as Howl's Moving Castle (2004) and Spirited Away (2001). This time, instead of Hayao Miyazaki directing, son Goro helms this film. Again, there is budding love between two children, as in the previously mentioned films. This time, the children have reached adolescence, yet still not old enough for this unnerving secret they have discovered. As

informative as "...Poppy Hill" is about Japan in the early 1960's, with the Summer Olympics heralding in a modern era for the post World War II nation, and the clash of philosophies with those who wish to hold onto tradition, and as elucidating as it is about social norms among school. age boys and girls at that time, I would not recommend this film to children. There just might be too many uncomfortable questions to deal with and your children probably wouldn't understand the answers anyway.

Sadly, there is no magic in "...Poppy Hill,' but instead the melancholy of parental loss and the ensuing loss of identity, and the blush of first love, with some of the most confusing and forbidden of feelings. "...Poppy Hill is poetic and romantic -- in the larger sense of a sea captain who doesn't return from his Korean War duty and his daughter who raises signal flags each morning to make his return trip more easy. It's romantic in the relationship between the two main characters. It's romantic in the very pastel colors of the sea and verdant hills that encompass the story. Yet, I bristled at the life this girl was subjected to, as were her two heroine predecessors in the above mentioned films. Are there no child labor laws in Japan? What's with the writers/directors/production company of these films always subjecting young girls to the lowliest of female roles -- unappreciated household drudgery. Girls, throw your mops and Ginsu knives away in protest. It's time for a new image in Japanese animation.

Shun and Umi desperaterly search for an answer...

John Dies At The End (2013)
Director/Writer: Don Coscarelli
Story: David Wong
Cast: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Bark Lee, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Fabianne Therese
Time: 99 min.

John long before the end not live

This film has got it all, including Bark Lee,
the heroic dog.

Is it just a bad trip caused by a new drug named 'soy sauce' or did the improbable duo of David and John actually find a portal to a parallel universe, propelled by the drug, and stop an invasion that would have ended life as we know it here? Really, I don't know. Please see this film and get back to me on it. Maybe, if you happen upon a Chinese restaurant, pour some soy sauce into the palm of your hand and it sprouts insect legs, swallow it. You, too, may get to the other earth just in time to stop another attempt.

I tend to believe it is true since the author of the book from which Director Don Coscarelli wrote the screenplay, David Wong, also gave his moniker to the hero. Just makes sense, One thing is for sure, either writer Wong (whose book I have not yet read) is not only macabre, but also extremely witty and funny, but Coscarelli (who also directed and screen-wrote Bubba Ho Tep and all 4 Phantasms) infused 'John Dies...' with the same qualities that are a trademark of his work. But for sure, this film was fun --not just for teens who like sci fi horror, but for anyone, due to the fast paced action, smart dialogue and mostly visually exciting effects, if not always convincing. I would even watch it again to catch up on the jokes and references that might have flown past, not that I'm slow, but the actors do not club one over the head with the jokes. It's all part of the dry, hip delivery.

California Solo (2013)
Director/Writer: Marshall Lewy
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Alexia Rasmussen, Kathleen Wilhoite, A. Martinez, Danny Masterson, Michael Des Barres
Time: 94 min.

Is there life after rock stardom, the excitement, the parties, the sex, drugs and rock n' roll? 'California Solo' explores just that question. And ultimately, the answer has to be, yes, but not much. There just might be too much in the way of fame, money and excitement to ever really get over. Ah, but all that recklessness has consequences and even burying oneself in a farm can't stop the guilt and the pain, though copious amounts of alcohol does numb it all a bit.

Lachlan MacAldonich's (Carlyle) career ended abruptly when his brother, the real power behind the rock band he was in, tragically died. Lachlan just didn't want to go back to Scotland and face the music (pun intended), so he got his green card and dug his heels into the rich American dirt, managing an organic farm. All seemed copasetic until he was arrested for a DUI (I'm sure long overdue based

on his habitual drinking), and a small infraction many years before involving marijuana rose to the surface, threatening his equilibrium in the U.S.

Though a nice enough guy, Lachlan is an obvious magnate for trouble and someone I would avoid if I met him at a Farmer's Market. There is really nothing compelling about this character, though I have been a fan of Carlyle's since he first terrified me in 'Trainspotting' (1996) and endeared himself to me in 'The Full Monty' (1997). 'California Solo' doesn't offer him the acting challenges these previous roles did, or maybe he just makes it look so easy. If you're a fan, you have to watch his multi-layered and fascinating work on 'Once Upon a Time' (on Sunday nights). From a Golum-like character, dangerous and slimy, to a heartbroken father, husband and lover -- both are convincing and hypnotic. He's the best thing in the show.

One problem I had with the film was Carlyle's Scottish brogue which was so thick as to be often incomprehensible. You would think after the many years the character of Lachlan has spent in the U.S., he might have smoothed it out a bit. In 'Once Upon A Time', as both Mr. Gold and Rumplestiltskin, his accent is different for each character, and even in different stages of development of one character, but always clearly understood. So Lachlan's accent was a director or actor's choice. I'm sure many of us lost our way through some of the plot due to it.

Carlyle as ex-rocker Lachlan MacAldonich back on the farm.

Funny how Sean Penn recently played a has-been rock star in "This Must Be The Place" (2012), as an American immigrating to Ireland to avoid taxes while Carlyle embraces the U.S.; the difference being money, of which Lachlan has none. Is this the beginning of a new genre of 'old rock stars - where are they and what are they doing now'? Time will tell.

Deadfall (2012)
Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Writer: Zach Dean
Cast: Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Charlie Hunnam, Sissy Spacek, Kris Kristofferson, Treat Williams, Kate Mara
Time: 95 min.
Rating: R

Addison (Eric Bana) and his sister Liza (Olivia Wilde) are on the run after a successful casino robbery, but things go awry and they have to split up in the harsh Michigan winter, hopefully to hook up again shortly. On their separate ways, they meet up with surprisingly many people considering the white-out conditions in this back woods locale, some of who die, one who falls in love, all dramatically effected by their encounters with the siblings. The violence escalates while their back stories become revealed.

Bana and Wilde try to survive the elements and the circumstances.

'Deadfall' harkens back to the 1940's movies about crooks who hole up in a remote home and hold hostage a family while figuring out an escape. We quickly figure out that the denouement will eventually take place when the errant ex-con son, Jay (Charlie Hunnam) comes home to his parents (Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson) with his newfound love; her murderous brother busting up the reunion. It's the getting-there that binds us to our seats. We are chilled by the Michigan winter elements, we are shocked by the cold-blooded killings, we are confounded by the many indications of humanity, kindness, regret and apology that color all the characters. Still, many issues brought forth at the beginning of the film do not get resolved at the end. Either it's left for the audience to remember to tie up the ends for themselves or the writer simply ran out of ink.

The moral is chose your parents wisely -- the long-term effects of the wrong ones are lethal. And even then, a moral, healthy, loving outcome may still not be assured. In many respects, the story may not offer any new directions, but the execution is stark, powerful and adroit.

Waiting for Lightening
Director: Jacob Rosenberg
Writer: Bret Anthony Johnston
Cast: Friends and family of Danny Way
Time: 92 min.
Rating: PG-13

It would be incorrect to call this film inspiring. It is clear that no one will or should be inspired to follow in Danny Way's footsteps for no one could. Only Danny could do what he has persevered all his life to do. One might say Danny was born to be a skateboarder and to accomplish what no one else has dared to do. But he wasn't born to skateboard like no other. He was born to keep at it till he could. You could fill a web
site or a large portion of YouTube with all his failures, mishaps and injuries. These clips would literally look like thousands of others. But Danny kept at it till he got it right. Then

he kept at it till he could go further and higher. If you only saw his successes, you would be convinced that Danny was superhuman, and he might well be, but 'Waiting for Lightening,' shows what it takes to be superhuman. His tenacity is his gift.

The film starts with Danny's crew arranging to build a 60+ foot high ramp, with an almost vertical descent, to fling Danny across the Great Wall of China to another smaller ramp awaiting him on the other side. Though the words were never spoken in the film, Danny was pulling a stunt the likes of Evel Knievel's and elevating the sport of skateboarding to a new, unattainable level -- for anyone but Danny, and the film makes us wait to see if even he could do it. In the interim, till the execution of this epic feat, friends, associates and family of Danny Way describe, through interview and archival footage, Danny's unusual and often painful childhood, his unstoppable attitude towards skateboarding (considering he was the youngest and smallest at the famous Del Mar skate park and he felt he had to keep up with the bigger, more experienced kids), his triumphs and defeats.

Even for those who are not skateboarding enthusiasts, Danny's exceptional accomplishments will maintain viewer interest. And since that segment of the audience will be introduced to Danny for the first time, they won't know the outcome of his Great Wall experience till the end of the film, which will certainly add to the drama.

This Must Be The Place (2012)
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Writer: Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello
Cast: Sean Penn, Frances Mc Dormand, Judd Hirsch, Eve Hewson, Kerry Condon, Harry Dean Stanton, Joyce Van Patten, David Byrne, Olwen Fouéré
Time: 118 min.

I was compelled to drop my jaw in shock and breathe a sigh of relief at the same time at the first glimpse of Sean Penn in the role of Cheyenne in 'This Must Be The Place.' (He really looks a lot worse in the film than in the film posters, and I didn't have the benefit of seeing them first anyway. It is so out of Penn's comfort zone of characters who are usually angry or terrified, violent, pent up and volatile, that the change in character had to have required nothing less than surrender on his part. Ergo my relief. This great departure for Penn out of his typical repertoire of characters is much more to my liking, being a viewer who prefers non-violence With at least some leanings towards Ozzie Osborne, Penn's Cheyenne is a retired goth rock star (with age turning his appearance into the grotesque), living in an Irish estate for tax purposes, filling his days with a teen goth friend (Eve Hewson) in a local mall and nights

Penn as Cheyenne holding his ground among the mall shoppers.

with his fire fighter wife (Frances McDormand). Watching the juxtaposition of aging rock star Cheyenne playing the country squire in a sleepy suburb was more than pleasant for me. But he is bored, and propitiously, his father dies and he returns to New York for the funeral. He also takes up his father's mantle as Nazi war criminal hunter, probably more for the adventure of it than a sense of justice. So, we hit the road into the heartland of America seeking the miscreant.

This film looks like a cross between a David Byrne music video and the film 'True Stories' (1986) (Byrne acts and sings in this film), and a Fellini movie (an obvious influence of writer director Sorrentino), and is thoroughly enchanting. There should be another word for a film that doesn't take itself seriously, but doesn't make the audience laugh out loud. Dramady isn't quite right. Absurdist comes closer. The film deals with retired goth rock stars (absurd already), a failed father-son relationship (no laughing matter, even though the dialogue toys with the absurdity of their relationship), and Nazi hunting, which at this late date also verges on the absurd. And keep in mind it's about revenge for a humiliation, not starvation, gassing or any of the other horrendous atrocities perpetrated upon the Jews by the Nazis. Well, that struck me as odd.

In the face of Cheyenne's ridiculous appearance and quirky dialogue, there is a lot of heart in our hero and most of the other characters. Cheyenne truly loves his wife. He is humble, sympathetic, and open to the characters he meets in his journey to understanding much more than he bargained for. A truly touching film.

The Lonliest Planet (2012)
Director: Julia Loktey
Writers: Julia Loktey from Tom Bissell's short story
Cast: Hani Furstenberg, Gael García Bernal and Bidzina Gujabidze
Time: 113 min

And they're walking and they're walking and they're walking. A young, engaged couple that obviously likes to travel in the rough has hired a guide to hike the lonely backlands of Georgia, Eastern Europe. And they're walking. They talk a bit, mostly around the campfire at night as they drink. During their trek, the guide alerts them to flora and fauna, tells an occasional bad joke, but mostly they just walk. I haven't seen so much walking since 'Gerry' (2002) in which two friends get lost in the desert and walk. Both films subtly show how the characters' mettles are tested.

There's almost no action (a quick confrontation with three other hikers in this otherwise lifeless landscape, a fall in a little creek), but endless movement - walking. The scenery is drained of color, overcast and bleak; the trek is monotonous. The conversation between the protagonists was as dull as the surroundings. This film's intent is only to show the subtle changes in character and relationships due to the magnified importance of interactions in this otherwise isolated environment. After watching this film, you'll crave a cruise aboard a luxury liner with tantalizing food, shuffleboard, Cruise Director Julie's suggestions for fun things to do, lots of new people to meet, and a bath. But still, your thoughts might just return to the reflex response of one of the the young hikers (Gael Garcia Bernal), and how the other two respond wordlessly to him. A thought provoking film on the nature of character.

Bernal, Gujabidze and Furstenberg in their element.

Simon and the Oaks (2012)
Director: Lisa Ohlin
Writer: Marnie Blok and Lisa Ohlin from the book by Marianne Fredriksson
Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Helen Sjöholm, Jan Josef Liefers, Stefan Gödicke, Karl Linnertorp, Jonatan S. Wächter, Karl Martin Eriksson, Erica Löfgren, Katharina Schüttler
Time: 122 min.
Swedish with English subtitles

Life in neutral Sweden during World War II was not without its problems. The fear of Nazi invasion was real. Consider Germany's invasion of Poland even after signing a non-aggression pact with England. Also, both of Sweden's neighbors to the East and West, Norway and Finland, had been occupied by the Axis powers. There were concerns that the Nazis were accumulating a list of Jews for speedy roundup if and when they took over Sweden. So, we follow two young boys in their precarious positions.

A mother's love

Simon just doesn't fit in and doesn't know why. He has no friends, except the exceptional Oak tree (which seems to respond to his emotions with flutters, calling up the wind and clouds to echo Simon's thoughts). And his working class parents don't understand his intellectual aspirations and desire to go to a good school rather than learn his dad's trade. Simon meets Isak, the son of a Jewish immigrant from Germany, and becomes exposed to the art, music and books he has only previously dreamed of. The two children's families merge due to circumstances (Isak's mother having to leave home and Isak moving in with Simon's family) and lifelong relationships develop, with twists and turns that are unexpected and challenging. But the end of the war does not end this story -- with Simon still making revelations and adjusting to family relationships.

Not a holocaust film, taking place in the lovely, unscathed Swedish countryside and charming city of Gothenburg, but a study into Jewish identity and complex family ties, both lasting and broken. We have seen coming-of-age-during-the-war films before, but 'Simon...' does have a new perspective, tenderly rendered for the screen from the novel by Marianne Fredriksson. Jonatan S. Wächter's performance as young Simon is touching and relatable. The rest of the families' characters movingly depict their social status, emotional responses to the actions of their loved ones, and underlying fears due to war.

After School Special

Friend Requet Pending

Not Your Time



Stars in Shorts (2012)

Following the highly successful showings of its annual Oscar® Nominated Short Films, ShortsHD now presents STARS IN SHORTS, a celebrity-packed release of short movies featuring some of the world's most recognized and celebrated stars. The program is a tour de force of award winning talent including Colin Firth, Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley, Julia Stiles, Wes Bentley, Jason Alexander, Lily Tomlin and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Prepare to laugh out loud, to be shocked and to love the endearingly quirky as they bring you some of your favorite stars as you've never seen them before.

The seven short movies showcased in ShortsHD™'s Stars in Shorts include:

•             The Procession - Lily Tomlin seems to have a very fresh, new face in this short film, almost unrecognizable, but oh so lovely. She plays a mother to Jessie Tyler Ferguson's son, both going to the funeral of a girl who was a friend of Lily's daughter, but whom neither Lily nor Jessie had ever met. So, no emotional investment there. After the funeral, t hey get stuck in the car procession to the cemetery and stop at a red light. Now, the half of the procession behind them is following them and they don't know where they're going. This could happen to anyone, so we can all relate. But their emotionally roller coaster ride as they hunt for the burial site is something only these two comedians can pull off.

•             Steve - Colin Firth portrays an unusually needy neighbor to an exasperated Keira Knightley and a preoccupied Tom Mison in this intriguing and quirky movie. WIth each of Firth's unnecessary visits to his neighbors, the emotional ante is upped and his mesmerizing acting skill rivets the audience. Fifteen minutes is all it takes to get the whole story and thrill at the interplay of these characters.

•             Sexting - Julia Stiles gives a standout performance as a young woman fed up with her relationship with a married man in this Neil LaBute-directed comedy. I could see the payoff as soon as Stiles sat down at the cafe where a woman was sitting and drinking some iced tea. Still, a monologue of over 7 minutes, with the actress looking straight into the camera, is a thing to behold. Stiles pulled it off with a combination of whimsy and control.

•             Not Your Time - Jason Alexander is an aspiring Hollywood screenwriter at the end of his rope in this engaging musical comedy. We watch Sid Rosenthal as a child about to have a colitis operation, then inspired by Sammy Davis, Jr., in 'Golden Boy' on Broadway, through his musical comedy education to his disappointments in the real world of Hollywood, till he decides to put an end to it, all to a fun soundtrack, eight dancers and one singer in the style of 'All That Jazz' (1979).

•             Prodigal - Starring Kenneth Branagh, Travis Crim (also writer) and Jennifer Morrison. Parents of a paranormal child enact a dangerous plan to free her from the frightening grip of a clandestine organization in this suspense-filled sci-fi thriller. Another take on the protect-the-gifted-child-from-scientific-research genre. It could have even been shorter than the 25 minute running time, with its over long scene with Branagh discussing the child's future with her father, but the payoff 17 minutes in is worth the wait.

•             After School Special - Starring Wes Bentley, Sarah Paulson and written by Neil LaBute. A man and a woman have an awkward encounter at an indoor playground. I'm waiting to see if the stranger really has a child with him or if he's a stalker. But LaBute, ever since his debut film 'In The Company of Men' (1997), has always been full of surprises and shocks. He leaves us with a big 'Huh!?' at the end of this 9 minute story. Yes, it has a beginning, middle and end, with lots to think about after.

•             Friend Request Pending - Judi Dench captures your heart while trying to navigate the complicated landscape of internet dating; with Tom Hiddleston. If two 16 year old valley girls had played the parts of Judi Dench and Penny Rider, the dialogue would be the same. This is the influence social media has on all, horny teens to senior ladies living in the British countryside. And these actresses ring as true in their performances as anyone looking for love on the net. LOL.


The Procession

Diana Vreeland:
The Eye Has to Travel
Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Co-Directors and Editors: Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Frederic Tcheng
Writer: Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Frederic Tcheng
Time: 77 min.
Rating: PG-13

Now I know what a fashion editor does, or should do! I was only acquainted with this profession from Absolutely Fabulous (1994 - 2012). Patsy Stone, who got her job by sleeping with the publisher, would stop by the publishing house for a few short minutes every few weeks, be told by her idiot subordinates things like, 'shoes,' 'eyes.', 'jewelry,' 'violet,' to which she would nod and leave, taking several bottles of champagne with her. Perhaps at one time it was like that, but not since DV. Diana Vreeland, editor of Harper's Bazaar and then Vogue for over 40 years, did so much more. She believed not to 'give them what they want, but to 'give them what they don't know they want yet.' She elevated fashion photography to art with the use and support of photographers like Avedon and fashion spreads shot all

Now I know what a fashion editor does, or should do! I was only acquainted with this profession from Absolutely Fabulous (1994 - 2012). Patsy Stone, who got her job by sleeping with the publisher, would stop by the publishing house for a few short minutes every few weeks, be told by her idiot subordinates things like, 'shoes,' 'eyes.', 'jewelry,' 'violet,' to which she would nod and leave, taking several bottles of champagne with her. Perhaps at one time it was like that, but not since DV. Diana Vreeland, editor of Harper's Bazaar and then Vogue for over 40 years, did so much more. She believed not to 'give them what they want, but to 'give them what they don't know they want yet.' She elevated fashion photography to art with the use and support of photographers like Avedon and fashion spreads shot all over the world. She popularized the bikini and blue jeans. She discovered talent like Lauren Bacall and Twiggy. She included insightful articles on politics, art, the club scene, music and society, weaving them all together. And she did more, all for the first time for someone in her position at a fashion magazine. Interestingly, even though she had a face that would sink ships rather than launch them, she surrounded herself with beautiful women, showing only self-confidence and even delight. Her mother called her the ugly duckling, which may have caused her aversion to talking about family, even her own husband and children. Her British upbringing, though born in France, may have also contributed to her stiff upper lip.

Though based on her audio-taped interviews with George Plimpton in preparation for her memoir, the movie, made by granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, is rich with archival footage of her video and filmed interviews, stock footage depicting her comments, and so much fashion -- from the La Belle Epoque, through the 50's

Vreeland and model du jour.

and 60's, to her death in 1989, at which time she was creating spectacular fashion exhibitions as consultant to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The film is so beautiful to look at that even if one has no interest in fashion or the magazines that promote it -- and there are a few of us out there -- her eccentric personality and her influence on fashion and, dare I say, culture is of more than enough to rivet even the stained bathrobe and frayed pajama set.

Hello I Must Be Going (2012)
Director: Todd Louiso
Writer: Sarah Koskoff
Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner, Christopher Abbott, John Rubinstein, Dan Futterman, Julie White
Time: 95 min.
Rating: R

It is very possible that the best cure for the deep, dark depression that follows a divorce is another man. But it seems there may be complications if your lover is 16 years your junior and you have moved back in with your parents. This is the predicament in which Amy (Melanie Lynskey) finds herself. Amy didn't see this divorce coming, so the impact on many levels was even more severe. And her mother (Blythe Danner), who spends

Melanie Koskoff as Amy and Christopher Abbot as Jeremy
working on her problems.

money faster than her father (John Rubinstein) can earn it, complicates matters further. Personally, I'm all for soothing emotional pain with a new guy. It may not solve everything, but

feels good to be wanted, even loved, again. Jeremy (Christopher Abbott) at least was able to get her out of her room and a listless 2 months of moping.

One can empathize with Amy, but only so far. Though Melanie Lynskey (star of the powerful and brilliant 'Heavenly Creatures' (1994) who should have gotten a lot more work than she has) tugs at the audience some, it's really not that interesting watching a depressed person. In contrast, 2010's 'A Little Help' doesn't allow recently betrayed and then widowed Laura (Jenna Fisher) the luxury of staying in her parent's palatial home brooding because she is heaped with problem after problem she must deal with. Her series of problems are both heartbreaking and humorous at the same time. Nonetheless, Amy's sexual trysts in 'Hello...' with eye-candy Jeremy does much to compensate her lack of impetus. This is a light movie that plays with the emotional problems of divorce, unlike the more probing and satisfying 'An Unmarried Woman' (1978). Still, it amuses and titillates.

Little White Lies (Les Petits Mouchoirs) (2012)
In French with English subtitles
Director: Guillaume Canet
Writer: Guillaume Canet
Cast: François Cluzet, Marion Cotillard, Benoît Magimel, Gilles Lellouche, Jean Dujardin, Laurent Lafitte, Valérie Bonneton
Time: 154 min.

The most disappointing thing about this film is that Jean Dujardin has such a a small part in it. I was so looking forward to seeing more of him since 'The Artist' (Academy Award ® for best actor in 2011). Ever since I first saw him in 'OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies' (2006), I was smitten not only by his matinee idol good looks, but his humor, charm and acting skills. His name prominently placed in advertising for 'Little White Lies' margins on misrepresentation.

The remaining performers do a very good job of interpreting 'The Big Chill' (1983) for the French in the 21st Century. They all drink constantly and think it's cool because it's at a table with French bread and brie. There is a lot less smoking than usual for French films, and one character is even trying to stop (a small step forward even though he cheats). The subject has been broached. The French have discovered that smoking is unhealthy and they're beginning to care. All the characters have their unique flaws, make their confessions either among all the group or in quiet one-on-one discussions. They range in ages from mid-30's to 57, from wealthy hotel owner to ... well, many never say, but probably comfortable. They all enjoy the same things -- drinking wine, eating well, vacationing in summer by the sea, but all French do. I wonder what brought this particular group together and what glue holds them for decades.

Oh, yes, their little white lies. The dishonesties are really inconsequential, more like little privacies than lies. Any more honesty and the gathering would be a group therapy session. In actuality, the issue in 'Little White Lies' has little to do with lies and wholly with loyalty. If a friend of yours, a really close friend, a friend as close as family, maybe even closer, is in the hospital with life threatening injuries, would you go on vacation? And there's the crux of the issue. Truth is, the group's impending vacation promises to be

Right Cotillard (with her bottle) and friends enjoy their vacation.

gloriously wonderful -- at a coastal spot with modern-rustic accommodations, the biggest speedboat in the area, pristine beaches, and good food. Of course, one can always expect occasional arguments, innuendos, and attacks in such close company, but they are very good friends. All in all, it's a vacation not to be missed.

Robot & Frank(2012)
Director: Jake Schreier
Writer: C.D. Ford
Cast: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Peter Sarsgaard, Jeremy Sisto, Jeremy Strong
Time: 90 min.
Rating: PG-13

Twenty minutes into the proverbial future, what better way to keep an aging mind active and alert than to plan jewelry heists? And what better partner in crime than a robot who won't allow the caper to transpire till the plan is foolproof? So Frank (Frank Langella) convinces his Robot who is actually programmed to be an in-home health care worker to go along with his plan. Frank is given Robot by his son Hunter (James Marsden) so he won't have to visit as frequently and Frank will get the supervision he needs. He geta a whole lot more. Now Frank can pursue his old career as a second story man. What Frank doesn't realize is he also gets a friend and a damned good housekeeper/cook.

Langella, Robot and Tykler deciding the future.


It's always good to see a film that addresses the problems of the over 50 crowd -- perhaps not topics for blockbusters, but the AARP crowd does have some financial punch. The topic of old age, ensuing brain dysfunction, family responsibilities, and even a bit of romance are all handled sensitively, humorously, realistically, and entertainingly. Supporting cast of son (Marsden), daughter (Liv Tyler), ageless beauty and romantic interest librarian (Susan Sarandon), the investigating Sheriff (Jeremy Sisto), the theft victim (Jeremy Strong) and Peter Sarsgaard (as Robot's voice) give Frank the platform from which to show his varying mental acuity and growing humanity. Moral: sometimes all we need is a robot who is programmed to care to stave off loneliness and decrepitude. 'Robot & Frank' is so charming even youth and dating couples will be entertained by it.

Alps (2011)
Director: Yorgos (Giorgos) Lanthimos
Writer: Yorgos (Giorgos) Lanthimos, Efthymis FilippouStavros Psyllakis, Aris Sertalis, Johnny Vekris, Aruabe Labed, Aggeliki Papoulia
Greek with English subtitles
Time: 93 min.

Unsettling, slow paced, enigmatic, Alps is about four people leading their seemingly ordinary lives. There are a gymnast and her coach, a paramedic and a nurse. I remember the film being in black and white even though it is in color. The characters are so deadpan in their performances, and even more so when acting for other people, that they seem to be living in the Theater of the Absurd. It takes some time to understand their connection with each other, but eventually
heir disparate story

lines do inevitably connect. Even then there are unanswered questions. They call their group Alps because 'The Alps can stand in for any mountain (being the tallest), but nothing can stand in for the Alps.' Is it absurdist humor that the Himalayas are actually the tallest mountain range, with Everest being the tallest mountain, not, as the group believes, Mount Blanc, which is the 11th tallest?

If you can deal with the very lethargic action (even the gymnast is too uninspired to perform her routine) and the monotone acting, the pay off may be worth it. The underlying basis for the group's existence is very unique, and a new idea in film is hard to find and should be appreciated. I wish I saw more of their performances for their clients and less of sitting about with glazed expressions. This is a very 'foreign' film in that it expects patience and intelligence, and you have to read subtitles. There is a lot to think about. Leave time in your schedule for coffee and discussion after the film to really get your money's worth. And you might ponder the significance of your mug.

The Magic of Belle Isle (2012)
Director: Rob Reiner
Writer: Rob Reiner
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Virginia Madsen, Madeline Carroll, Emma Fuhrmann, Nicolette Pierini, Kenan Thompson, Fred Willard
Time: 109 min.
Rating: PG

A suicidal, disabled, curmudgeon, Monte Wildhorn (Morgan Freeman), moves to Belle Isle for the summer, hopefully to succumb to alcohol poisoning. But it would seem that his impenetrable armour is rather thin and he succumbs to the charms and warmth of the island in very short order. In particular, he is captured by the beautiful woman *(Virginia Madsen) and her three daughters who live next door. In short order, he is adding to the feel-good vibes that abound by helping those who may need a bit of fine tuning to their psyches.

There didn't seem to be much of a challenge to melt this cold hearted, Western genre writer who has been out of print and out of hope since his wife died several years before. Director/writer Rob Reiner has been inching toward the line of schmaltz throughout much of his career. Exceptions to his softer side have drawn him back from

Freeman and Madsen under the island's spell.

this perilous trench. Films such as 'Misery,' 'A Few Good Men,' and 'Ghosts of Mississippi' have added to his reputation as a fine director, building him more than just a legacy of fatuous romances like 'Alex & Emma,' and 'The American President.' But he has crossed the line with 'The Magic of Belle Isle.' It is relentlessly feel-good to the point of vapid. For instance, when the mandatory conflict has to make an appearance, it's just

lame. The aspiring-writer, middle child is angry with him why? Please. Too contrived and non-sensical. The same child's goal for the summer, when finally culminated, seems quickly executed and ultimately disappointing. And I certainly don't mind a movie without bad guys, but each of the community's tenants is more bland, sweet and uninteresting than the next. Even the wacky Fred Willard needs only to phone in his performance. At least Reiner stopped short of having the neighborhood welcome wagon deliver sugar cookies and homemade jam to protagonist Wildhorn's (Freeman) door -- but he was handed an invitation to a wake, a neighbor's sudden death being an excuse for a garden party.

Yet, many may succumb to this beautiful, peaceful, safe landscape; to the charms of Morgan Freeman and his lulling voice; to the calm, maternal sway of Virginia Madsen; and to the adorable,faultless children who worm their way into WIldhorn's heart. For me, a three course meal of desert, desert and desert leaves me and my sweet tooth pleased, though unsatisfied. I didn't really mind waiting through the whole film for something substantial to happen, but it didn't.

Nobody Else But You (Poupoudiou)
Director: Gerald Hustache-Mathieu
Writera: Gerald Hustache-Mathieu, Juliette Sales
Cast: Jean-Paul Rouve, Sophie Quinton,Guillaume Gouix, Arsinee Khanjian
Time: 102 min.
In French with subtitles

David Rousseau (Jean-Paul Rouve), a best-selling murder mystery writer, is suffering from writer's block. He finds inspiration for his next novel in the apparent suicide of a local celebrity, Candice Lecouer (Sophie Quinton), who had performed in cheese commercials and did the TV weather report. Her body was found in a 'no man's land,' covered in snow in the woods between Switzerland and France for which neither country's police department claims jurisdiction, ergo no investigation into the circumstances of her death. Rousseau becomes obsessed with finding out the true story and giving voice to this unfortunate beauty.

Though advertised as a French noir thriller comedy. I found it to be more quirky and mysterious than thrilling and comedic. Novelist Rousseau is very likeable and a bit off kilter, but there are no outright laughs in the film. It's a sentimental rerun of the life of Candice as told through her journals, a life so akin to that of Marilyn Monroe that reincarnation is suggested -- along with numerology and other super natural influences. If Marilyn did live again as Candice, it would seem she learned nothing from the pitfalls of her previous life, reenacting to a lesser degree her initial experiences. Therefore, the mystery is not difficult to solve if one remembers Monroe's life at all. Still, this sentimental reflection on the inevitable tragedy of an iconic sex symbol is involving and entertaining. There's lots of male frontal nudity in blasé, non-sexual situations, and some provocative female partial (mostly) nudity. The concept of a love between two people who never met in life is poignant and oh so romantic. Good date movie.

Jean-Paul Rouve and Sophie Quinton as the perfect couple who never met.

I Wish (2012)
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Koki Maeda, Ohshiro Maeda, Ryoga Hayashi, Cara Uchida, Kanna Hashimoto, Rento Isobe, Hoshinosuke Yoshinaga
Time: 128 min.
Rating: PG

Early in this film, we get to follow these two brothers, living in different cities due to their parents' separation, go to their respective schools. Jeez, I couldn't get over it. No bullying, no cliques, children even support each other emotionally, and their friendships are not based on age, size, gender or family situation. They all respect each other and their elders. I must have heard heartfelt 'thank you's 20 times during their adventures. The children can walk to and from school alone without fear. Now, since the first child appeared on a milk container in the U.S., we have all been living in fear of child abduction, as well as the escalating brutal and psychological rampage of school bullies which now demands the attention and intercession of the federal government. Juvenile delinquency and drop out statistics are frightening. but it would seem in this Japanese child-drama, the only problem facing our heros is the active volcano spewing ash in one of the brothers' city. Could it be true or is this just the romantic idealization of youth by writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda?

Actual brothers, Koki and Ohshiro Maeda
convincing as separated brothers reunited to make a wish.

But there's more. There's even a story. Twelve year old Koichi hears on the news that high speed trains will soon connect his city in the South with the city his younger brother, Ryu, lives in with their father in the North. He has also heard a rumor that when and where two high speed trains pass each other, wishes can be made. Koichi would really like to reunite his family so he is intent on figuring out the train schedule and appearing at the right spot to wish for familial reunification. And there lies the plot that drives 'I

Wish,' though one is not really needed. I was blissfully engrossed in just the daily activities of these children. Following these two brothers in their respective cities, with their friends, with their parents and grandparents, taking in their lives in suburban Japan, would have been enough for me. Just watching Koichi sweeping the volcanic dust from his bedroom floor before going to school and asking his classmates why everyone hasn't moved away is performed and asked much as any other child might put his dirty clothes in a hamper and ask if the other kids do it thenselves or their mothers do it for them, except for a slight undertone of anxiety in Koichi's voice. The subtlety of a child's response to living on the most active corner of the Ring of Fire is touching, though easily missed.

Equally provocative is 8 year old Ryu's talk with his father. 'Since you and mom split, I've put up with a lot.' Both children do have a lot to deal with, but do so in a surprisingly mature and well-adjusted manner. They both meet at the appointed train station at the appointed time, but both bring supportive friends with them, whom, by the way, they support in return. What great kids, all. The film morphs into a Japanese 'Stand By Me,' and the differences are eye-opening. The assembled children literally stop to admire the flowers on their way to find an appropriate vantage point from which to watch the trains and make their wishes. I love these children, I want all their wishes to come true, I want Japan to heal from its overwhelming wounds.

Elles (2012)
Director: Malgoska Szumowska
Writer: Malgoska Szumowska, Tine Byrckel
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Anaïs Demoustier, Joanna Kulig, Louis-Do De Lencquesaing
Time: 96 min.
Rating: NC-17

With the publication of E.L. James' '50 Shades of Grey,' middle aged housewives have rekindled an interest in all things sexual. Seems that every generation of complacent women have to be stimulated anew. I remember the furor over Pauline Reage's 'The Story of O,' back in 1981. Grace Metalious' 'Payton Place' back in 1964 inspired a TV series which introduced Mia Farrow and Ryan O'Neal. How come women keep forgetting about the joys of sex? This question is addressed in 'Elles.' 'Elles' takes advantage of this new erotic fervor. And it may just give some insight into the problem of women forgetting about sex. We've been told many times marriage and motherhood are sexually soporifics, but it's time for this generation to

wake up. Anne (Juliette Binoche) might never have noticed the lack of passion in her life were it not for an article she is researching for Elle magazine on female college students resorting to prostitution to get by. Through her long and intimate interviews with two young women, her own routine lifestyle and lack of passion become obvious to her. Her days are filled with housecleaning, cooking, tending to her two sons (the elder a stoned, insulting truant; the younger, addicted to video games), entertaining for her husband's business dinner parties. Being a good wife entails looking presentable for the guests, not espousing feminism, and not complaining to him. Anne gets as titillated as she hopes her readers will be by the details of the lifestyles of these young student/prostitutes and becomes dissatisfied with her lackluster life.

Other issues addressed are how girls so often have to resort to prostitution because of a failure of the educational system to support them. And why is it this is not a problem for boys? I also noticed that all the women in the film are smoking, with only a rare appearance of a cigarette from men. A big change in 'Elles' is that the women do comment on how smoking is a bad habit they should stop. This is a new step in the right direction, though far too small. And the old standby of French cinema is still going strong --beautiful young women having sex with old, ugly men. The NC-17

Binoche listens to a John's phone message on Demoustier's phone.

rating is well deserved -- lots of sex, no love or even romance. But that is what Anne's article is about. Is it empowering or are these young women kidding themselves? Still, they not only continue their studies, but also live in beautiful apartments and want for nothing. Anne's deepest and unspoken query is -- is there a way to invigorate a passionless marriage or is it doomed? There may or may not be answers in this film, but it's riveting finding out. Get the pun?

The Perfect Family (2012)
Director: Anne Renton
Writer: Claire B. Riley, Paula Goldberg
Cast: Kathleen Turner, Emily Deschanel, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Peña, Richard Chamberlain, Michael McGrady, Shannon Cochran, Angelique Cabral
Time: 84 min
Rating: PG-13

Claire (Kathleen Turner) has devoted her life wholehearted to the Catholic church and her family, in that order. So, her excitement is understandable when she is nominated by Monsignor Murphy (Richard Chamberlain) for the Catholic Woman of the Year Award. (There actually is such a thing.) The prize, even above the honor, includes absolution of all sins by the Archbishop of Dublin. It seems the Medieval practice of indulgences still exist -- in competition if not sale. Claire's motivation to win is the first hint of a mystery in her

Kathleen Turner as a matriarch who must adjust.

past. But a meeting with her family by Church officials is necessary to see she is, indeed, above reproach. There's the rub. This disturbance of still waters forces Claire to confront all she has denied to herself for years: her deeply flawed marriage to husband Frank (Jason Ritter), her daughter's (Emily Deschanel) Lesbianism and pregnancy; her son's loveless marriage and betrayal, and even her own maternal abilities. She now has to rethink her own statement, "I don't have to think. I'm a Catholic." A bit facile, perhaps, but appropriate in this context.

This film is almost in the category of Women's Cable Channel fare except for the far above LMN, LIFETIME, B standard acting by definitely A Class Turner ('Crimes of Passion' 1984, 'Body Heat' 1981). It's also a pleasure to see Emily Deschanel in a more human vehicle than the scientific minded 'Bones'. And I never miss an opportunity to see Richard Chamberlain ('Dr. Kildare' [I am that old] and 'Thornbirds') on screen. The issues covered here are already well trod in many other film and television projects: a woman adapting to a modern world and it's new sense of morality. 'The Perfect Family' just more strongly pits her religious mores against her family.

Headhunters (Hodejegerne) (2012)
Director: Morten Tyldum
Writer: Jo Nesbo, novelist; Lars Gudmestad, Ulf Ryberg
Cast: Aksel Hennie, Synnøve Macody Lund, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Julie Òlgaard
Time: 100 min.
Rating: R

Roger (Aksel Hennie) is 5' 6" tall, and freely admits (as narrator of the film if not among his associates) he overcompensates for this shortcoming by showering his wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), a statuesque Nordic goddess, with vasts amounts of money. Though a successful corporate headhunter, he must supplement his earnings to maintain a lavish lifestyle with art theft. One source of his art theft victims is the high ranking corporate leaders he interviews in his daytime professional life with subtle questions like, 'Do you have any valuable art work at home?' 'Do you have a dog, maid, children, wife at home during the day?' And how very convenient that his wife is entrenched

in the art world as a gallery owner with many contacts among private collectors. The most recent mark Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) not only owns a believed-to-be-lost Rubens, but is looking for a new executive position. How coincidental, how convenient. Clas was a man-tracking expert as a mercenary, afterwards turning this same skill to industry. If Roger had just taken better heed of Clas when he explained his tracking technology expertise besides the location of the artwork, he could have saved himself a lot of pain. This film might seem to have too many plot coincidences, but really, it works. All the pieces can be swallowed with no gagging or choking at all. It even adds to the satisfaction.

Seems Europeans, in this case, Norwegians, take their thrillers and heist movies a lot more seriously than Americans do. 'Tower Heist' (2011), as an example, may have had an intricate robbery plot, but it was entrenched in good vibe humor. And this is generally true within the genre. 'Headhunters' turns deadly serious in relating the consequences of Roger's acts, leading him and the audience down a darker and darker path which seems inevitably to doom him (much like 'The Double Hour' (Italian - 2009, and 'The Robber' German, 2010). In 'Headhunters,' Stakes become higher than even the value of the priceless art,

Diminuative Aksel Hennie as Roger Brown
makes some quick decisions.

characters take on unexpected roles, twists and turns in the plot become more and more complex and unexpected. Be prepared to think and watch closely. I may have even spotted a flaw or two in the storyline, but I am sworn to silence. See if you can find them. 'Headhunters' is thoroughly engrossing, fast paces, smart and satisfying.

Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Producer: Joss Whedon
Director: Drew Goddard
Writers: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anne Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Brian White, Amy Acker, Tom Lenk
Time: 105 mih.
Rating: R

I hate horror / slasher movies ... usually. But I always expect the unexpected, the funny, the smart from Joss Whedon who produced and co-wrote this film with director Drew Goddard. Something unusual and rewarding has got to happen in this film other than just gratuitous bloodshed. And it does. But that's for you to find out. Sure, there's the requisite odd number of victims: the slut, the virgin-ish, the jock, the intellectual and the fifth wheel dude. Yes, they go

A hapless bunch of familiar figures ready for the picking... off.

for a fun weekend. And yes, there is lots of gore, screaming, to a cabin in the woods and running from monstrous, driven killers. So, for those of you who get off on watching perfectly nice young people getting slaughtered, you will be appeased.

But for those of you who want more -- interesting plot, chilling storyline, thrilling cinematography, dark humor, unexpected turns that seem to finally make sense to this whole genre of bloodletting, you will be more than satisfied. Now we know exactly why they always split up to search out escape routes or find a lost fellow victim. You will want more when the film is over. Perhaps Whedon will make this film a TV series, as he did with 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' (movie in 1992, TV show starting in 1997), then make a spin off as he did with 'Angel' (1999). Joss, just continue to feed our appetite for that crazy thing you do. Also, it was heartwarming to see some of the alumni again, like Tom Lenk (Buffy) and Amy Acker (Angel). Brings back good memories.

Apart (2012)
Director: Aaron Rottinghaus
Writer: Aaron Rottinghaus, Josh Danziger
Cast: Josh Danziger, Olesya Rulin, Bruce McGill, Joey Lauren Adams
Time: 85 min.
Rating: R

If you loved 'Donnie Darko' (2001), you'll like 'Apart.' These two films have a lot in common. First, there's more than a passing resemblance between the two protagonists, Josh Danziger and Jake Gyllenhaal, who play troubled teens trying to make sense of their surroundings. They both have small, delicate girlfriends who are deadly somber and share a special bond with them. Both films are dark, reality-bending, psychological thrillers with a doomed love between the leads. 'Apart' introduces a new concept to the genre - 'induced delusional disorder,' which allows a schizophrenic to share a delusion with another person till it becomes a reality. Though confusing at first, it eventually makes sense (well, movie sense). These wacky, star-crossed kids aren't making bad things happen either with or without their volition; they foresee bloody accidents. Could be worse. No blame, no guilt. It's just really hard to have a nice time at a party when dark flashes of blood oozing friends keep interrupting the dance.

The story goes Noah wakes up after a 2 year coma, remembering the fire that disabled him and took his father's life, but not much else. His brother tries to keep him from finding out too much about his past while his psychiatrist tries to get him to remember. I don't think they're at odds with each other so much as first time writer/director Rottinghaus and first time writer-star Danziger weren't disciplined enough to work around the contradiction. Also, if you don't want someone to find out about someone else in his past, don't save photos of the person you don't want him to remember. Stuff like that, and I mean weak plot points, really irk me. In any case, Noah pursues his past and finds his forbidden love only to re-start old problems. Well, it isn't 'Donnie Darko,' but what is? It is a good attempt, though a bit slow in places, at what made 'Darko' a cult classic. And there just aren't enough thought-provoking, quirky, even spooky, though not in the ghostly sense, films out there. I kept wanting to revisit the 6 foot tall rabbit and the old lady who each day crossed the road to check her mailbox, but house fires, dripping blood from unnoticed wounds and a little girl whispering, 'Can you see it?' will do.

Josh Danziger and Olesya Rulin figure it all out.

Delicacy (La Délicatesse) (2012)
Director: David Foenkinos, Stéphane Foenkinos
Writer: David Foenkinos - novelo and screenplay
Cast: Audrey Tautou, François Damiens, Bruno Todeschini, Mélanie Bernier, Joséphine de Meaux, Pio Marmaï
Time: 108 min.
Rating: PG-13

Natalie (Audrey Tautou) lost the love of her life, husband François (Pio Marmai) in an accident and has since been emotionally shut down. She goes about her business as an executive in a Swedish company based in Paris, spurning the attentions of her boss or anyone else who might be attracted to her beauty. One day, three years after her husband's death, Natalie simply walks up to one of her staff and passionately kisses him. Perhaps her libido had reached the breaking point, perhaps she sensed his vulnerability or that besides being her underling at work, naturally shy and rather unattractive, he had the rare quality of being a good man -- a rare quality indeed

Damiens - well within the range of normal.

And thus their rocky relationship begins. I was a bit miffed that her friends and associates were stunned that she would spend any time at all with such an 'ugly' man. First of all, I've seen a lot of French films and the majority of women are gorgeous, intelligent, composed and successful. Often, their only flaw is being emotional slaves to men. And almost all of these men are outright, drag down, ugly. This is nothing new in French film. François Damiens, playing the hapless Markus, is a damned site more attractive, younger, taller than most of them. He does, though, suffer from patchy baldness which some may consider umforgivable. Secondly, not only weak willed French women, but many women all over the world are attracted to unattractive men. Check out some of the most beautiful

Hollywood stars who marry outside their profession. Their husbands are often doctors and businessmen who aren't big on the looks department. There are many reasons why this occurs, albeit to say, it happens all the time. So, I felt it was a weak point in 'Delicacy''s script to push the Quasimodo / Esmeralda or Beauty and the Beast storyline.

That Markus had a lower position in the company and earned less than Natalie seems to me to be less of an issue than it was to Natalie's colleagues and friends. It didn't seem to matter that her handsome husband didn't have a job at all. And are the French really that class conscious? I wonder.

As for Natalie being tooooooo beautiful for anyone to resist and God's gift to anyone who might be loved by her -- Audrey Tautou is cute, adorable, attractive, but miscast as the exceptional beauty everyone in the film saw her to be.

It would have been quite enough to watch this shy, working class guy wear away the grieving widow's armor and warm her heart again. His wonder at having been picked out by Natalie for an unprovoked

Tautou pretty in pink.

kiss, his elation, his patience, even his impatience with her, his unassuming pride and self-respect, his chivalry all made him the perfect man to bring Natalie back to the world of the living and the loving. She inadvertently chose well, though she resisted, denied and balked at the prospect of loving again. This is a charming romance which I don't see as a comedy, as advertised. It is tender and thoughtful, if not a bit misguided.

By the way, I love Natalie's black and pink top, but really, she wore it three days which included many, many scenes. Shame of a French woman for having such a small wardrobe!

Thin Ice (2012)
Director: Jill Sprecher
Writer: Jill Sprecher, Karen Sprecher
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Billy Crudup, Alan Arkin, James Detmar, David Harbour, Lea Thompson
Time: 97 min.
Rating: R

'What starts out looking like an easy score can end up being anything but simple.' So says, Mickey Prohaska, Wisconsin insurance salesman (Greg Kinnear), referring to some money he didn't make. Far from it, what seems like a little switcheroo between an antique, $25,000, German violin and a new, Chinese made, worthless violin becomee more and more difficult, more and more convoluted, and more and more scary for Mickey. Hip deep in debt and sinking fast, Mickey sees this small deception on one of his insurance customers, aged farmer Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin) too tempting to pass up. Being deficit in morals throughout

this story, Mickey becomes vulnerable to temptation, leading him to being complicit in a murder. Sure, he's scared and wants out, but he's in too deep.

This was a fun film with lots of unexpected plot twists and a totally surprise ending. Billy Crudup as the psychopathic locksmith was over the top scary. Alan Arkin's 'Fargo' accent was subtle enough not to laugh at, but allowed the audience to enjoy his down home character innocently fiddling with his yet-unknown-to-him fortune. And Greg Kinnear is at his best as the out-of-his-depth, swindling everyman. The plan for illegal gains that seems to fall in the protagonist's lap, plus the wintry environment, remind us of 'Fargo' (1996) and 'A Simple Plan' (1998), both superior films. But 'Thin Ice' has a simple charm and can stand on its own.

W.E. (2012)
Director: Madonna
Writer: Madonna and Alek Keshishian
Cast: Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D'Arcy, Oscar Isaac, Richard Coyle, David Haybour, James Fox, Judy Parfitt, Haluk Bilginer, Natalie Dormer, Laurence Fox
Time: 119 min.
Rating: R

The material girl herself investigates what she believes to be the greatest romance of them all -- that between Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII. And how better to do that than to focus on the scandalous couple's extravagant possessions? The plot device is that Harrod's Mohamed Al-Fayed, with his own unfortunate connections to the Royal Family, is auctioning off the estate of Wallis and Edward; the preview of the articles up for auction is the platform from which one of Wallis' obsessed, unhappy and unfulfilled woman fans fantasizes the couple living with and casually using said items.

As with films divided between two times in history and two sets of characters -- usually one historic and the other modern and trying to make sense of the historic, much like the far superior 'Julie & Julia' (2009) -- only one, and usually the historic, is interesting. In 'J&J', the present day Julie (whose name is much like her obsession, Julia), is weak willed, confused, insecure and annoying. So is Wally, who's named after Wallis herself. Her story of being married to an unfaithful and abusive man holds no new insights. Therefore, we're left with Madonna's interpretation of W(allis) and E(dward)'s relationship. Madonna insists, through Wally's deluded insights, that the couple was not actually involved or committed to the Nazi regime. Wally argues in one scene, 'It's only a rumor.' Really! Check out Edward VIII the Traitor King, for example, for the other side of this no-proof argument. Later in the film, during World War II, Edward is frustrated that he is not allowed back to England to help his countrymen during the conflict. What is left out of this interpretation of Edward's patriotism is that Hitler was grooming Edward to be figurehead puppet King once the war was over in Hitler's favor.

Madonna insists on turning W. and E. into a simplistic and idealized couple who gave up everything for love -- to live out their lives in opulence and extravagance in some of the most beautiful locales around the world. Thankfully, Wallis was able to keep her Cartier jewel encrusted crucifixes (always seemed like an oxymoron to me -- bejeweled symbol of Christ's slow, painful death) Edward had specially made for her. You don't get hard facts like that in most romanticized Hollywood biopics. Little does this film depict the British government latching onto this romance as an excuse to get the king out of his seat of power due to his

Exiles Wallis (Andrea Risenborough) and Edward (James D'Arcy)
making the best of it on the French Riviera.

Nazi leanings. And poor Bertie, the future King George VI of England, compassionately and heroically depicted in 'The King's Speech' (2010), comes off as nothing more than a stuttering, spineless, fool. Enjoy this superficial, flowery fairy tale for what it is, especially the dance sequence which seems choreographed for a music video. You can't find archival footage of those kinds of moments -- for good reason.

The Iron Lady (2011)
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Writer: Abi Morgan
Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant, Susan Brown, Iain Glen, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd, Anthony Head
Time: 105 min.
Rating: PG-13

As for the creation of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979 - 1990) for the screen, Meryl Streep has surpassed her well-earned reputation for being one of the best actors of all time. She is so submersed in the stuffy, conservative politician, her own features are all but lost. Yes, advances in make-up technology help the still-beautiful Streep to convince the audience she is a dottering octogenarian at one stage of the film and a stern, middle-aged British political leader at another. But more than looking like the character, Streep seems to have channeled Thatcher. Look at that face in the accompanying photo. There is no Streep aquiline nose, larger and more curved than Thatcher's. The voice has no familiar intonations of Streep. All of the actress is supplanted by the character. It's spooky. So, just watching the actress perform is mesmerizing.

Meryl Streep gives unforgiving leer to Anthony Head.

As to the content of the film, the story of a young, working class woman's rise to the heights of British power -- though I see it happening, I don't understand how it happens. Thatcher is dismissed by her fellow politicians from her teen years onward to her acceptance of the post of Prime Minister. How she got there, for other

women to follow or for the audience to be able to root for her, is vague and undefined. She did get a helmet-like hairdo and lowered her voice an octave, as her team of two political cohorts suggested, but is that all it really took? Also, back in the decade of her power, I remember clearly she was intensely disliked by the British public. Even the archival footage shown in the film reflects a real hatred for her most of the time. Yet she kept winning elections.

Unfortunately, as mesmerizing as Streep is, Thatcher on screen, as in life, is unsympathetic, even in her brain-addled old age in conversations with her long-deceased husband. I think it's a thankless job playing Thatcher and no one could have done it better.

We Bought a Zoo (2011)
Director: Cameron Crowe
Writer: Aline Brosh McKenna, Cameron Crowe from the book by Benjamin Mee
Cast: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Angus Macfadyen, Elle Fanning, Patrick Fugit, John Michael Higgins
Time: 124 min.
Rating: PG

We seem to be having a rash of widower movies lately (Descendants (2011), Grace is Gone (2007) ignored by award shows, but as moving and worthy, if not more so, than Descendants) TV's The Mentalist and Castle). This widower, Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) finds it difficult to move forward with his life after the death of his perfect wife. Buying a house and zoo on a large plot of idyllic countryside seems to be an inspiring place for him and his two children to get a start fresh.

The pressure is if the Mee family doesn't buy this ramshackled, destitute enterprise, all the animals 'will be gone,' meaning killed. Though based on a true story, we all must suspend our disbelief in this regard since we all know when a zoo closes, the animals are relocated to other zoos. Also, we never really get a complete tour of the grounds and inhabitants, but throughout the film, we see soulful close ups of an endless array of creatures, more than even on-board Noah's Ark, certainly more than could be maintained by a small staff in a home-run zoo (Mee's actual zoo holds 200). No matter. The important thing is that being in the presence of animals is healing and joyous. Helping them to have perfect homes, though not actually the wild, is spiritually enriching. And, damned, they're all so cute!

Of course, Benjamin, his embittered son Dylan (Colin Ford), and angelic daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), have to go through their individual stages of grief, helped by conservative, dream-dashing brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) and what seems like Snow White and 7 Seven Dwarves -- Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) and the rest of the zoo staff. Kelly is supposed to be a woman who has no social skills and is. therefore, alone. This, of course, makes her available for Benjamin. But I do find this casting choice a stretch for the voluptuous, outgoing Johansson. Perhaps a better choice would have been Kristen Wiig, Chloe Sevigny or Zooey Deschanel, all capable of playing awkward and under socialized, and are of a more appropriate age.

This is one of those films I swallow whole, being an avid (rabid) animal lover fortunately allowed to have one small dog in the middle of the city, but who dreams of living among and improving the plight of animals. The last film that affected me similarly was 'Hotel for Dogs' (2009), also ridiculously rated PG. Check that review.

Johansson and Damon survey his domain.

'We Bought a Zoo' is a feel good fantasy which came true for author / zookeeper, Benjamin Mee (in a much larger scale than depicted here). If you're not able to buy your own zoo, you can volunteer at one or pursue a career in environmentalism or animal husbandry or zoo keeping, or just sign petitions, and you might just be able to be open yourself to a new love, help your children find happiness and emotional stability, and find material for your own memoir.

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