Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's Complicated

I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time.

This is a brilliant and bitter-sweet look at love and marriage, divorce and children, longing for what was and the reality of time’s flow taking us to new places, by choice and by circumstance, both sad and hopeful.

Hats off to Nancy Meyers for putting this remarkable ensemble of actors and themes together – it’s a testimony to her considerable skill as writer and director.

If you like Meryl Streep, you’ll love her here; she’s at the top of her acting game and brings pathos and yearning and sorrow and anger to life.

Her ex, played by Alec Baldwin, brings to the screen all the characteristics that make men loveable and deeply irritating.

A special word about John Krasinski who’s the oldest daughter’s fiancĂ© (Harley) – his sense of comedic/dramatic timing is impeccable; he is the role, and the role is him. We will see a lot of him in the future.

The three children are done well: Hunter Parrish (Luke, who’s just graduated from college), Caitlin Fitzgerald (Lauren, the oldest engaged to Harley ) and Zoe Kazan (Gabby, just off to College), capture the rueful longings for a whole family, yet the bitter realization that time moves us along to other places, and life does go on.

The lonely guy roll is played well by Steve Martin, though I felt it took awhile for him to find his pace … hard to tell what scenes were shot when, but in the end, I think he captures the essence of his persona.

The family dynamics are powerfully presented – a family who is finally getting used to the divorce, and then having it all disrupted when mom and dad get hooked up again, at least, for a fling! “The affair” brings to the screen some of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen – Alec Baldwin is brings his aging self to life for us, as does Streep; the body isn’t what it used to be, but the soul remains and so do the memories.

But there’s no going back home.

And dad, who left mom for a younger woman, and is now going to fertility clinics and looking at preschools even when his last daughter is off to college.

As you can see, the themes are rich and poignant, but the comedy, so well done, keeps the film well-paced and easy to watch, even as one’s heart is wrenched a time or two.

I suppose one could wait for Netflix on this one, but why wait. It’s a terrific evening for adults who have lived long enough to know that “it’s complicated.”

Thumbs up on this one!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


“Avatar” is a remarkable film, with incredible special effects, great acting and a tremendously relevant and painful story.

Somewhat on the size and scale of “Lord of the Rings,” with its own native language and vast struggles of good and evil, it’s not quite as sophisticated or as subtle, but don’t take this as a criticism of “Avatar,” but only as praise for Peter Jackson’s “Rings” trilogy.

And speaking of Jackson, “Avatar” is the movie his “District Nine” tried to be. Hats off to James Cameron for a stunning piece of work, and if you can, see it in 3D, though, thankfully, the 3D stuff enhances the story rather than the story being a vehicle for 3D (as was Brendan Fraser in last year’s "Adventure at the Center of the Earth").

The blend of animation and live acting is seamless, and these days, the audience demands nothing less. Expensive? For sure, but there's no going back, and Cameron's "Avatar" has upped the bar considerably.

If you like big stories, we have it here.
If you like special effects, it’s all here.
If you like solid acting, you’ll be pleased.

First up, Sam Worthington plays Jake Sully a wheelchair-bound marine who accepts a deep-space assignment on Pandora where human beings are engaged in precious ore mining, with only one problem: the natives’ home sits right on top of the mother lode.

So, what’s a stock-holding enterprise to do? Well, as one line goes, “If someone is sitting on something you want, make them your enemy.” The story "enjoys" two bad guys - first, the manager, who sees only the bottom line, played ably by Giovanni Ribisi whose character possesses a cruel innocence, a cruelty of distance, cold and determined to promote the company's purpose. I found myself recalling Paul Reiser's Carter Burke in the 1986 "Aliens" (another James Cameron spectacular effort).

The second bad guy is all hands-on - Colonel Miles Quaritch played spot-on by Stephen Lang, all muscle and a lot of brain to boot - and the man loves war. He can hardly wait to pull the trigger on these savages.

The company has been creating avatars - bodies that look like the natives, but also possess the DNA of the person who's thoughts will animate the avatar via thought-projection machinery - the human lays in a bed of high-tech bells and whistles in base-camp, safe from the hostile atmosphere of Pandora, while the avatar can explore and engage the natives.

Jake's avatar is assigned to reach the natives with a simple message: leave or be destroyed. But Sully is no mean-spirited man; he's a solder, of course, all the way, but in time, his encounters with the Na'vi and their ways opens his mind and heart to the beauty and the value of their ways. We witness his transformation from a marine hired by the company to a man who sees the world through other eyes. As he grows in understanding and love, Sully realizes the crime in which he's involved. By way of comparison, who can forget a similar transformation in Kevin Costner's "Dances with Wolves" (1990)?

Sully is found in the wilderness by Neytiri wonderfully voiced by Zoe Saldana of "Star Trek" fame. Her animated character is remarkable, and you can guess where it all goes. She takes him under her wing to teach him the lore and wisdom of her people. Her contempt for Sully and his guns is magnificent. In her eyes, he's only a child who knows nothing. And she's right.

If there’s one criticism, and it’s slight, the story is so painfully obvious, cleverly mixing, however, multiple stories with a singular theme: the white man’s burden (to liberate the savage from his world) and colonial pillaging of the native environment for gain, backed up by a vastly superior firepower.

Aside from this simple caveat, the story grabbed me powerfully. I felt the pathos of Sully and Dr. Grace Augustine played skillfully by Sigourney Weaver (who can forget her in the "Alien" series?) who's education and personality are filled with sympathy for the natives. 

James Cameron and crew create an alternative universe to play out the stories of our world – the large-scale stories of war and colonialization and the intimate stories of love, jealousy, hope and courage.

A rare combination of high action and a deeply moral story. For those who are not into action and violence, well, there’s plenty of it, but it’s choreographed carefully for the sake of the story.

Clearly intended to lay the foundation of a sequel, “Avatar” really works.

Don’t wait for Netflix on this one – it’s a must see.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"The Blindside"

Everything that could have gone wrong with this film DIDN'T!

Everything needed for a solid story happened.

Great script, great casting, great acting ... and Sandra Bullock, as the quintessential Wealthy Southern-Republican-NRA Mom packing heat, is at the top of her game - Wow! This, and her earlier gig in "The Proposal," puts her on top of the A-List.

Having lived in some of the southern regions of this nation (not quite so far south as the film), I've known a few White Protestant Women of Wealth who run their world quite handily, thank you, and a few who have an extraordinary heart to balance out what would otherwise be a temptation to pride and cruelty.

This is a story about grace.

I found myself struggling to keep back tears any number of times ... sort of like hearing beautiful music, something in this story reached pretty deep into my soul.

And what's not to love about Ms. Bullock? Shall I use the word Hot?

All around her, a great cast - her husband (Tim McGraw), who "owns hundreds of Taco Bells," is bemused and engaged by his wife's compassion, and they decide to put up the money. There can be no love without cost; no love without advocacy, and this couple pays the price and goes to bat for a young man named Michael Oher (powerfully portrayed by Quinton Aaron) who's quiet depth speaks volumes with few words - there's an ocean of hope and pain within his character, and Sandra Bullock's Leigh Anne Touhy touches it and brings it healing.

At its worst, someone might suggest that a Black Man's hope is to find a generous White Woman.

I was very impressed by how the story looked at them as people first, and then dealt with the sociology of poverty ... the economic divide that pits us against one another. Of course, race is an issue, and that was heard in Leigh Anne's wealthy friends eating in an expensive restaurant - this brief scene was well-scripted and edited.

Throughout the film: the dogged determination of one family to help a young man! And the young man's slow entry into that family's love. Not many families are in a position to give so much. But one life saved will save many others. There are incredibly generous people and may their tribe increase. We hear horror stories about the rich and the famous all the time, and it's great to hear a story of wealth being used so powerfully to save a young man.

The Tuohys are religious as is found only in the South, but the story wisely omits the usual shlock or bitterness associated with faith; this is a religious family who takes seriously the compassion of the gospel, even when friends raise their eyebrows. This family took some chances, had the money to back it up, and they did it. Not every story turns out quite so well, but it does a heart good to see one that does. We all need this kind of encouragement to keep on keepin' on!

A rising star for sure, the younger brother played with "leave it to Beaver" freshness and a dash of Wall Street savvy, by Jae Head. We'll be seeing a lot of him.

For college football fans, a lot of real coaches show up here - enjoy! It's a lot of fun, and they're all pretty decent actors - one learns that while coaching, I suppose!

Worth seeing?

Absolutely, and don't wait for Netflix on this one ... grab someone you love, get some popcorn and enjoy a major-release film with a real message about hope.

Friday, December 4, 2009

New Moom

I loved the first one - a solid-message story ... a tightly-told tale.

But this go-around, hmmm.

The film began chaotically for me - like, what the heck is this? But pulled itself together at the mid-way point. If I had read the books, would it have made any difference? Even the teen girls in the audience seemed less excitable than the first. Maybe they're just a year older.

The acting caught my attention in the first one, but, here, it seemed too patterned and predictable, with one notable exception: Taylor Lautner, who brings a smoldering, intelligent, passion to this role. Here's an actor we'll be seeing again and again. And for those of you who are into buff, you'll enjoy seeing his wolf-buddies who are never cold in the NW climate of chill and rain, so we see a lot of six-packs and pecs.

The special effects of the wolves is about 80% - I've seen better, but it tells the tale well - a conflict, now governed by a truce, between vampires (Edward) and wolves (Jacob), both of whom love Bella and are, in turn, loved by her. The love-triangle is pulled off rather well, with some decent twists and turns.

If there's a message here, it's likely this: Who am I? For all three central characters, Edward, Jacob and Bella, it's the pressing question, and wisely the story reminds us all that the question is answered primarily in relationship. No one can go off into a corner and figure it out, though a little corner-time is always needed. But in our love and fear of others, we find the depths of our character and define our identity through an ever-changing landscape.

Clearly a teen movie, but with questions that bedevil us throughout life.

The plot wasn't as tightly presented as it was in the first film - this is always the plight of the second film in a trilogy ... rarely can the middle (muddle) be told with the clarity of introduction or finale.

And speaking of finale, I wonder just how many films are in the works. The next one, "Eclipse," is pretty much in the can for next year.

Worth seeing? I think so, and certainly in a theater for the special effects.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

End of the World Films

"2012" - a visual-effects masterpiece, and "The Road," a sort of a "Heart of Darkness" journey, take us to a time when the world is either collapsing ("2012) or has already collapsed (The Road".

The first of these is a visual delight, though the storyline is grim: an unusually heavy burst of solar flares is bombarding the earth with neutrons, heating up the earth's core like a grapefruit in a microwave, destabilizing the earth's crust, sending continents crashing around the glove, with Randy's Donut sign careening down the street (just blocks from where I live) and finally tipping the whole of Los Angeles into the Pacific Ocean.

It's a typical disaster film, with the best, yet, CG images. Typical though it is, it's one to see in the theaters - on a big screen. Though the story has a few improbabilities, and a fledgling pilot who's way-too skilled to be flying a twin-engine plane through the collapsing buildings of downtown LA, the story rightly asks the core question: when things are going to hell in a hand-basket, how will we respond? Some respond cruelly, others with grace. I guess we already know that, don't we? But it's always worth pondering.

Sub themes: money can buy you time, sometimes. Sacrifice is noble. Love might even
win out. But millions will die, as only a few can be saved.

Plot-wise, a slightly unexpected ending as to how some are saved.

Acting is mostly good with a talented cast. At one point, during a rather lengthy philosophical ramble, my son said, "Okay, enough talk; I wanna see more buildings toppling over."


"The Road" is unrelenting grimness - clouds and rain, cold and damp, as a father and son struggle to survive in a world gone mad. We're never told what happened or why, but most of humanity is dead, and most of the survivors have turned to cannibalism.

The little boy says to the Dad, We’re the good guys, aren’t we?

Dad says, Yes we are, because we carry the fire, here, in our hearts.

Will we ever eat people? the little boy asks.

Never, says the father.

One can always hope.

With virtually no special effects, this film is all about acting, and Viggo Mortensen (Dad) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (son) portray the quintessential father/son relationship - of the father's unyielding loyalty to the boy, and the boy's unquestioning (?) trust of the father's love and care.

As a metaphor of life, cannibalism is clearly the way of the capitalism - we exist for one another's appetites, and only the brave refuse to succumb, taking a chance of starving to death rather than engage in cannibalism. It takes enormous commitment to remain good.

Sadly, as powerful as is the acting, it lacked, for me, that needed emotional edge that captures the heart and makes the viewer care. I watched it, but I didn't participate in it deeply enough. Maybe it was just me. Maybe the script. Maybe the directing.

But I wanted the love of the father and the son to pull me in, and it didn't.

The bad guys are really bad, but aside from a few moments of terror, the movie mostly plods along with a strange and ill-fitting cameo by Robert Duvall, and an even stranger encounter with a thief who ends up buck naked.

All-in-all, a good story in a film that didn't quite hit the bulls-eye. Worth seeing? Sure, but wait for Netflix.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Visually fun, this adaptation of Maurice Sendak's children's story.

With a good message, though slightly dark.

Will children enjoy it? Will children understand it?

Not sure!

Let me know.

The film tracks a child (Max Records) out of control, whose world, if you will, is all about him. Things are tough for the boy in a home unsettled by divorce and the usual suspects. But with a deeply loving mother (Catherine Keener). Yet the boy is hateful and mean: "Feed me woman!" he says defiantly to his Mom one evening, as she's trying to entertain a male guest. Are we dealing here with a parable?

Running away from home (every child's spiteful dream, "I'll show you!), the child finds a small boat and sets out across the sea, until coming upon a strange land where the wild things are - is this the child's own soul meeting him?

The Wild Things are wonderfully crafted - a blend of Jim Henson's Creature Shop puppet magic and computer animation. And their voices - so profoundly out of sync with their visual qualities - lends a wonderful sense of delight to the story.

But Wild things are wild things, and they threaten to eat him. Yet the boy's defiance and quick-footed creativity serve him well, at least for awhile. Rather than eat him, they make him king (what every willful child desires; what all of us desire?), and, at first, good things, but in the end, things fall apart, or are destroyed.

Willfulness is always destructive. Period!

The boy learns these hard lessons, and finds love once again in the wild things of his life. The Wild Things are wild - that's the point - they try to love the boy, the boy tries to love them, they try to love one another. But love, for them, for us, is hard. Yet not beyond our reach! Love will never make the Wild Things cease, but love manages and finds a way to live with the Wild Things.

The boy returns home to find a loving mother waiting anxiously for him, who has always loved him, and now back home, we hope: the child will love his mother in her life as it is, for that's all we can do, and that's all that's needed - to love one another as we love ourselves in the reality of our lives, just as they are, mixed up and uncertain.

That's the message.

A good one for all of us.

Monday, October 5, 2009


The Founding Mothers and Fathers of our nation were wary of banks and landed interests. Why?

Because they knew all too well the corruption of Europe – the divine right of kings, the poor houses and the generally abysmal conditions of life for most, except the gentry who lived off the land they owned by rank and title and on the backs of their peasants.

Our Founding Mothers and Fathers sought to create real democracy, wherein everyone, created equally by God, was entitled to a piece of the pie. Of course, some would always have a larger piece, but not the whole damn thing.

What we have today is a far cry from the democracy envisioned by those who laid the foundations of our land. What we have today is a plutocracy, an oligarchy, run and ruined by the wealthy 1 percent who have manipulated the markets, gained control of the financial engines of government and thus powerfully influence both courts and legislatures.

It’s a horrific picture, when one dares to look at it for what it really is, rather than through the rose colored glasses the wealthy have shoved onto our faces, the hope that we, too, could, one day, be wealthy – the power of the American Dream. But that’s the point – it’s just a dream, and though millions toil away trying to reach it, and millions pretend they have, borrowing themselves silly on credit, which, of course, the big boys have arranged, only to further deepen our debt and enslave us further – just like the peasants of old. And if that’s shocking, check out – one of the slimiest devices ever invented – tens of thousands workers worth more to their company when dead than alive.

Where’s a prophet when profits become obscene?

Where’s a prophet when religion fails to offer anything but salve to the conscience and a narcotic to the mind?

Here comes an ungainly figure, with rumbled clothing and baseball hat, a man from Flint, Michigan – reared in the heartland of the FDR middle class, knowing full well how men like his father built this great nation, with the help of FDR, unions and a government that knew how to tackle the big boys and put them in their place.

Michael Moore, standing in front of the AIG building in Manhattan with a bullhorn making a citizen's arrest, wrapping crime-scene tape around a Wall Street skyscraper ... searching out the crimes of the wealthy against our nation (click HERE for a trailer).

Oh, how the big boys hate all of this, and they’ve spent billions to undo the social victories of FDR (check out his Second Bill of Rights), emasculate the middle class and bust the unions, all the while blaming the unions for high costs of production, while they suck off millions for themselves, lay off workers, shutter plants, outsource manufacturing – because the wealthy couldn’t care less where a product is made nor the worker who makes it. And who needs the middle class? Not the wealthy, that’s for sure.

See Michael Moore’s “Capitalism” – and America, let’s grow up to be the nation envisioned by our Founding Mothers and Fathers, let’s take a second look at FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, and if you happen to be a Christian, or something akin thereto, take a look at the Bible again – and ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” when it comes to Bank of America and all the rest of the boardroom scoundrels who’ve pillaged the land and looted the public treasury, laughing all the way to the bank and sneering at the rest of us from their position of privilege?

Wake up America!

This is a serious business, because there are domestic enemies plotting even now to undo our Democracy. No, not the guy with the beard, but the smiling dolt with the spray-on tan and the pink tie, the head of Countrywide. And the goons and gargoyles of big biz who have bowed the knee to Mammon and sold their soul to the Devil. And their political toadies who manipulate the laws and the purveyors of cheap big-box religion who soothe the soul of the people with spiritual nostrums about heaven and self-improvement nonsense, lest The People wake up and see the horror.

Am I wrong?

Hope so, and then who cares?

But what if I’m right, and what if Michael Moore is the Prophet of our time, calling attention to the moral breakdown at the highest levels of our society?

You see, it's not the poor guy on the corner or the young girl selling herself; it's not gays and lesbians and doctors who do abortions. No, they’re not the problem.

The hyper-wealthy are the problem.

They’ve always been the problem.

And as long as good government comes to the side of The People and balances out the power of the wealthy, we all have a chance, even the wealthy.

Yes, even the wealthy, who, if left alone, devour themselves, right along with all the rest of us. They need as much protection from themselves as The People need protection from them!

So, who needs FDR’s vision? And Michael Moore’s penetrating analysis of society? We all do, but it’s up to The People to raise a cry for justice.

If you see only one film this year, see Michael Moore’s “Capitalism.” Because he's a man who truly loves America!

The Informant

Steven Soderberg has pulled off a remarkable feat – telling a serious story from a comedic point of view, using Marvin Hamlisch music as a comedic device overlay for a sad and pathetic story – greed run amok in ADM and the tangled, fanciful dreams of a schizophrenic executive who wants to bring ADM down while scamming the company of millions.

Based upon the incredible book by the New York Times writer, Kurt Eichenwald, the story unfolds as if it were a novel. It’s hard to believe that the goons at the top could be so craven, so greedy, so far removed from real life, ensconced in their Midwest empire, cheating every American, 5 cents at a pop, for every bottle of Coke and every Chicken McNugget … as suppliers of fructose (corn-based sweetener) and Lysine, a growth hormone essential to meat production.

Getting back to the Hamlisch music, which is brilliant, reminded me of “The Sting.” The folks who saw it with me felt as if the music were an artificial overlay. One said, “I think they finished the film and weren’t satisfied – so they pasted the music on top of it.”

For me, it fit Soderberg’s experimental style. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film where music played such an important role – more than supporting the story, but actually telling a counterpoint story – as we watch bunch of buffoons parade around as if they were important, when, in fact, they’re only clowns, albeit a bloodthirsty crew.

I thought it a brilliant casting coup to have Tom Smothers portray Dwayne Andreas, head of ADM. Though but a cameo roll, it captured much of the story for me – the whole ADM world – full of small self-important, entitled, men clowning around; the tragedy of it all - they had neither the moral nor intellectual stature to see themselves for what they were.

Profits and profits alone motivated them. And together with their worldwide competitors, they set about fixing prices, artificially allotting production quotas and setting price to boost their profits on the backs of working men and women around the world.

By the way, the ADM story is perfectly counterpointed in Michael Moore’s latest, “Capitalism.”

Matt Damon captures the insane mindset of Mark Whitacre who wanted to expose ADM for some weird amalgam of moral sensitivity, greed and an ambitious dream to be the heroic savior, and eventual head, of ADM.

Lucas McHugh Carroll brilliantly captures the naivetĂ© of Whitacre’s Midwest wife – a decent sort of woman, but unable to push her way through the tangled web of wealth and comfort. She defends her husband to the end.

One of the saddest pieces of the story (both the book and the film) is how the ADM sharks (attorneys) set out to destroy the case by going after the FBI agents driving the investigation – one of whom is played by Scott Bakula who carefully captures this earnest young agent with a keen sense of justice and doing it right. But in a world of sharks, even the good are eaten alive.

As part of the shifting landscape in America, as we discover how evil the world created by Reagan and deregulation, how the big boys have looted the economy and pillaged the public good, “The Informant” tells one critical piece of the story. That all of this stuff could happen in America boggles the mind, but the America we know today is a far cry from the America envisioned by the Founding Mothers and Fathers, and a million miles away from the social victories won by FDR for The People, yes, the People.

Worth seeing?

For sure! But if you want to wait for Netflix, go ahead.


It’s a lot of fun, and I love Woody Harrelson in his devil-may-care, toughg-guy role as one of the few human beings alive who isn’t interested in eating another human being; what he craves above all else is Twinkies, and, excuse me, Snowballs won’t do – he doesn’t like coconut – it’s not the flavor, just the texture.

The second role goes to Jesse Eisenberg who does his usual, but brilliant, young Woody Allen fussbudget, angst-driven nerd who survives with a long list of rules, such as “double tap” (you’ll have to see the movie) and “never be a hero.”

Their counterpart is played well by Emma Stone and Abigail Bresslin as two clever, survival-bent sisters, on their way to a west coast amusement park rumored to be free of zombies. While Harrelson plays by his brawn, Eisenberg by his caution, the girls play by their wits and take advantage of male gullibility (sorry guys, that’s the way it is).

In such a world, there can be no intimacy: so names are never used (with one exception in a rare tender moment), so they’re named after their hometowns, or destinations or whatever: Tallahassee (Harrelson), Columbus (Eisenberg), Little Rock (Breslin) and Wichita (Stone). 

The zombies, shades of every Fifties B movie, are ravenously hungry for human flesh – aren’t they all? And though overwhelming in numbers, they’re easy to kill because of their obsession. Hmmm.

This is, in many respects, your typical road movie, within an apocalyptic world. Will they or won’t they? While the two teams seek to undo one another at first, there grows a grudging realization that they might just do better working together.

The film ends at the amusement park amid a pile of dead zombies, and this reflection from Columbus, “If you don’t have friends, you might as well be a zombie.”

For me, the story is a parable of America – have we become a nation of zombies, devouring one another to satisfy an unending ravenous appetite? Has fear taken such a hold that intimacy is impossible? That names, real names, no longer count? And is there a place free of zombies? A safe place for us?

Technically, the film is well done! What can I say. Of course, it’s a B movie, so don’t press it on details (such as, if the world is now filled with zombies, how can the power grid still be working to light the amusement park and run the rides?)

Sure, it’s light entertainment, but it’s fun to watch with a lot of laughs.

See it in the theater? Yeah, I think so.

And be careful of the zombies – they’ll eat ya’ alive!

Saturday, September 19, 2009


A strange film to review.

I liked the story, and it had me most of the time.

It's a simple whodunit with some good twists and turns, a lot of good acting, and special effects.

The story unfolds in Antarctica as a massive winter storm closes in, forcing the evacuation of the entire base. But two days prior to evacuation, a body is found on the ice in the middle of nowhere.

So out goes Federal Marshal Carrie Stetko (Kate Bekinsale) to investigate. The body's a mess, with a hastily sutured leg wound and an ice pick wound to the chest. What was the guy doing out here? And why?

Very quickly, things unravel, and off we go on a pretty good adventure with a lot of chilling (literally) special effects - the deep freeze of Antarctica as the storm closes in. All set to go home before the long dark night, Marshal Stetko stays behind to finish the job. With her, the good doctor John Fury, done well by Tom Skerritt. And one other guy, a slightly suspicious U.N. operative done menacingly by Gabriel Macht. And their pilot, Delfy, played rather well by Columbus Short.

I was bothered by one glaring directorial (Dominic Sena) decision - the two people with me also spotted it, and all of us agreed: it clearly distracted us and detracted from the overall impact of what otherwise is a pretty good detective story. The issue? No face masks in the bitter winter storms with temperatures 40 and 50 below with murderous winds. Yes, they had goggles and all the necessary protective clothing, but no face masks; the simple truth: exposed flesh, at those temperatures and with those brutal winds, would freeze in a minute or less.

As my son put it, the director choose to let us keep seeing the beautiful face of Kate Bekinsale, sans eyes, of course, and a beautiful face it is, and a good actor she be!

Both Marshal Stetko and the U.N. operative are in Antarctica for rehab, of sorts. While we never learn his story, we get to see Marshal Stetko's story in a series of flashbacks - does this device work? Sort of, and maybe just too much of it, but it does tell her story.

As the story unfolds, we begin to see just how good the marshal is - she's putting it all together, and then, just to confirm her analysis, the director actually let's us see that part of the story, so we are dealing here with multiple stories unfolding for the audience.

I can't say this is entirely satisfying, but the overall feel of the film was engaging and quite entertaining with enough twists and turns, spills and thrills, frozen bodies and an amputation scene, to keep my interest and have me gripping my seat now and then.

Worth seeing?

Sure, why not?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Public Enemies - video vs. film

Check out this fascinating article on Mann's "Public Enemies" - shot in video rather than film. Frank Beaver, film historian and critic and professor of film and video studies and of communication (University of Michigan) offers a technical review of the media chosen by Mann. The traditional difference between emulsion film and video seems to have been conquered by Mann.

Click HERE to read more.

Friday, September 4, 2009

District Nine

The story is fascinating … but the film fails the story!
Frankly, Enemy Mine (1985) did it better, because it did it on a smaller scale.
Peter Jackson’s latest effort, perhaps unconsciously driven by the vistas of “Lord of the Rings” and his stellar reputation, tries to be too big.
It’s hard for me to put into words – as if it were a bowl of vegetable beef soup, with all the right ingredients, but no salt, no seasoning – bland, tasteless. I don’t know what’s missing, but it left me rather cold. It was fascinating to watch, to be sure, but the technique, I think, that of “documentary” – with folks looking right into the camera at times, as they go about the work at hand – never engaged me. In other words, I didn’t care about characters, though the story is clearly a powerful tale of discrimination and we treat “aliens.”
Special effects are astounding, music is terrific, and Sharlto Copley (Wikus Van De Merwe), the “star” (in quotes, because here’s a man who effectively portrays a bureaucrat put into a high-powered position because of his influential father-in-law) is incredibly effective. He’s the perfect nerd trying to be tough, evicting the aliens from District Nine, the classic wimp backed up by guns, to be relocated some 200 miles further away from Johannesburg.
The aliens have been there for 20 years, sequestered, as in Apartheid, after their ship was disabled and they sought refuge here. These intelligent aliens, to our eyes, strange, if not repulsive, are relegated to a slum, and there they live, barely surviving, some of whom are subject to bizarre medical experiments and constant harassment.
During the eviction process, Wikus is exposed to a strange bio-fluid that’s taken years for an alien to create with cobbled parts and old computers – as it turns out, it’s the needed fuel to fire up the command module long buried beneath the slums, to return to the mother ship hovering and unmoving over Johannesburg from the day it arrived.
Within hours, Wikus begins to develop extreme symptoms – apparently alien DNA in the fluid is transforming him into an alien, first growing a hand that can fire alien weapons, a feat that weapons’ developers had been trying to accomplish for 20 years. In other words, Wikus is now worth billions.
But in a feat of strength, he escapes and flees to District Nine.
I won’t tell you the rest of the story – yes, the movie is worth seeing – as the story unfolds, we see what happens when race turns on race – hatred and fear, exploitation and black-marketing, and, as always, it’s the children who suffer.
A story for our times, indeed, but the film fails to deliver the requisite emotion, tension, hope and fear, that such stories inherently hold.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Reviewed by Michelle Welker Scott

Throughout the past five episodes of the Harry Potter series, the young wizarding student has battled evil in the form of basilisks, abusive family members, giant spiders, corrupt authority figures, and – most importantly – He Who Shall Not Be Named.

But in each of these movies, Harry has been an innocent. He’s dispensed his share of violence, of course, and he’s been forced to make many tough decisions, but through it all, he’s maintained a sort of blamelessness. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, however, Harry becomes less of a victim and more of an instigator. And like Adam and Eve, Harry learns that sometimes good and evil are so closely intertwined that it can be impossible for us mortals to know the difference. If the entire Harry Potter series embodies a coming of age story, The Half-Blood Prince is the pinnacle of Harry’s journey into adulthood.

Not everyone would call this movie a success.

The plot winds around more than the hallways at the Ministry of Magic; even the well-initiated can get lost. But in all fairness, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was a book with a story line so labyrinthine that it could hardly be encompassed by a movie. Even so, the film falls short. Despite the fact that this is one of the better directed pictures of the series (surpassed only by Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), it is still less than a success.
Yet, the movie has its moments.

The humor here is wonderful, revolving around those episodes of teenage angst that plague, or have plagued, all of us. Love is in the air. There are giddy crushes and love triangles; secret admirers and jealousy. Hogwarts is one festering bed of hormones, yet there is nothing lurid or prurient about these encounters; the movie maintains a very sweet and innocent tone. Another bright spot is that director David Yates took great pains to let the teenagers act like, well, teenagers. In this movie, Hogwarts seems more like your local high school and less like the stuffy, too-good-to-be-true, British boarding school. It’s a more real Hogwarts. One that you or your offspring might actually attend.

The most wrenching scene comes when Harry must accompany the headmaster, Dumbledore, on his quest to find a horcrux (an object of dark magic). Before setting off on the journey, Harry swears that he will do whatever the headmaster asks of him, no matter how terrible, and when put to the test, Harry fulfills his obligation.

But his actions come at a great personal cost. In one of the finest bits of acting that the Harry Potter movies have to offer, Harry coaxes, bullies, and eventually forces his beloved teacher to drink every drop of a vile potion in order for the two of them to access the horcrux. It’s a gruesome scene. Perhaps too ghastly for younger viewers. But the book never shied way from depicting the terrible power of evil, and – to its credit – neither does the movie.

The ending will come as a surprise, or not, depending on how well you know the series. Unfortunately, like the rest of the movie, the final scene suffers from an overload of images. Instead of reacting to what is happening on the screen, the audience is scratching its head and asking, ‘huh?’

The Half-Blood Prince is a movie rife with controversy. Devotes of the books argue that the movie takes too many liberties and leaves out too many details. Movie viewers who are unfamiliar with J. K. Rowling’s original series find it confusing and clumsy. But, despite its faults, the book’s spirit still shines through.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Julie and Julia


That’s it … that’s what good cooking is all about, along with fearlessness, and that’s what Julie learned from Julia, among many other things, as Julie cooked her way through Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) and blogged her way through a personal challenge: to do everyone of Child’s 524 recipes in 365 days, along with her government job and a husband who loves her cooking.

The story comes to light when her blog is discovered by New York Times’ food critic, Amada Hesser, August, 2003, and the rest is history.

The story is delightful, and I found the film wonderfully entertaining with plenty of good laughs and the sheer delight of good cooking, though this is NOT a film about cooking. This is a story about two strong, creative women, and the men who love them.

Technically, it’s a fine film: well-scripted and well-acted, with well-chosen music to highlight Paris in the late Fifties and the Queens in the early Nineties.

It was obvious that the actors were enjoying one another and feeling the intensity of story – Julia and Paul in McCarthy-era Paris and Julie and Eric felt in their tiny Queens second-floor apartment above a pizzeria.

I appreciated the references to Senator McCarthy, as Paul Child was “called home” at one point, hoping for a promotion, only to be grilled by a trio of lawyers with a stack of papers on a bare table in a windowless room. In that sad and twisted era (also shown well by Julia’s wealthy Pasadena father who loved McCarthy), Paul Child was just one more suspected Commie-pinko rat who might even be H o m o s e x u a l … what with so many Americans flirting with fascism these days (yes, that’s what the far right is all about), this sub-text story within the story helps us think a bit about such things, without any “preaching” or “moralizing.” Just tell the story, and Nora Ephron’s film does that very well.

Cleared of all charges and sent back to Paris, the film continues about Julia’s efforts, along with her Parisian teachers and friends, to publish a French cookbook for American women who “are servantless” – “Is that a word?” Julia muses; “Well, it is now!

Several reviews have panned Amy Adams (Julie Powell), suggesting that she's overwhelmed by the bright light of Streep’s incomparable acting. NOT AT ALL! Ms. Adams more than holds her own.

I love Meryl Streep, and though I sometimes feel her acting to be, not only overwhelming in its power, but sometimes over the top as well, there was none of that here. Streep captures the essence of Child and holds her energy in check, creating a wonderfully nuanced portrait of a rather simple and boisterous person, tall and witty, slightly out of place in the Fifties and Sixties.

Adams, on the other hand, captures Julie Powell’s Nineties life exceedingly well, bringing to the role her slightly sweet, slightly sour, slightly ironic, personality. Don’t let appearances fool you – her character's not to be trifled with.

And for once, we have a film that shows good marriages – sure, the stresses and strains of life make for powerful drama and even humor, and, yes, many a marriage does go on the rocks. But a film like this helps us all understand that goodness and kindness go a long way, and that, even today, it’s possible to have a good marriage, making room for one another in a slightly self-indulgent era of delayed adolescence, encouraging one another to explore interests and dreams, and sometimes just putting up with one another. Yet, in truth, the contemporary marriage failed; Ms. Powell had an affair and the marriage has sense ended. Yet the film's message remains; it's possible to pull off a marriage, but one has to do so as Julia cooked, with lots of and fearlessness, and who cares if something falls on the floor - pick it up and continue; you're the only one who has to know.

The respective husbands, Paul Child (Stanley Tucci) and Eric Powell (Chris Messina) bring off their roles superbly – they are decent men.

Hats off to Nora Ephron for bringing this part of the story home – no preaching, no moral heavy-handedness … just a good story revolving some very decent people who know how to love and support one another.

And is it true? The best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? I suspect it's true for all of us.

So put away the margarine (a terrible invention against body and soul) and bring out the butter (and I recommend Plugra). Near the end of the film, Julie and Eric visit the Smithsonian where Julia’s kitchen is on permanent display, and by a portrait of Julia, Julie leaves a package of first-rate butter.

This is a film worth seeing, right now.

Enjoy it’s lip-smacking delight, as Paul and Julia enjoyed their first meal in Paris, and then go home and start cooking!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

G.I. Joe: the Rise of Cobra

After so many years, and all those TV cartoons, we finally have a real Joe movie.

Saw it with my son at Paramount - he's a Joe fan, and website manager, so he was invited to a special screening in the Executive Screening Room at Paramount - about 25 folks sitting comfortably in big red leather chairs ... and he invited his Pop to go along - a pretty good deal.

I loved it, but my son's review is worth the read - click HERE for it.

He critiques it from a fan-boy's point of view, and then the movie itself.

Enjoy the review, and enjoy the movie.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Hurt Locker

Aren't we all supposed to love our work?

Haven't we all been regaled by preachers and teachers: "Love what you do, and do what you love" "Find a job you love, and then do it with all your heart"?

What happens if you're a professional soldier?

A specialist in disarming bombs? The infamous IEDs of Iraq?

Staff Sergeant William  James (Jeremy Renner) is just such a man. Living on the edge 24/7 - a bag full of bomb pieces - timers, fuses, wiring harnesses - puzzle pieces, souveniers, from earlier assignments - the man is a genius with an uncanny curiosity and confidence. He loves his work, putting himself in harm's way time and again. His own bomb squad is skeptical - is Sergeant James hotdogging it? Putting himself, his team, at risk, with his feats of daring-do?

While on patrol in the bleak countryside of Iraq, the unit comes under sniper fire. Quickly taking cover, and taking a few hits, the unit digs in and begins to look for the source of the sniper fire. They quickly discover a small block building hundreds of yards removed, and now begins a cat and mouse game.

Sergeant James is on the binnoculors - a unit member with a 50 caliber sniper rifle with scope begins to track the snipers - one in the building, the other on the roof. A long hot waiting game begins. The weapon jams; there's blood all over the magazines taken from a fallen comrad. With a measured determination, a strangely detached approach - a job has to be - the Sergeant takes charge of cleaning the magazine.

Loaded and ready, the enemy located, the weapon is fired.

Sergeant James, "You're high and to the left." Adjustments are made - and the first kill of the day is made. More waiting. It's hot - dessert dust coating everything. And then another kill - the final kill of the day, or is it? They wait, and finally Sergeant James says, "We can go home now."

As the days of his tour wind down, we want this incredible specialist do his job - his unit pull together and weather the various storms of the soul.

In one of the most powerful moments of the film, an Iraqi citizen approaches a check point with his arms up, shouting - "I have a bomb strapped to me." And not just strapped, but locked with heavy padlocks - the man is clearly a sacrifical lamb.

The sergeant, dressed in a heavy bomb suit, approaches and calms the man - succeeds in cutting off one of several padlocks, but the whole cage-like affair is just too much. The timing mechanism, a cheap watch, is ticking down. Trying furiously to disarm the bomb, Sergeant James has no more time left in the tangled web of wires. He looks at the man, tells him there's no more time, turns and hurriedly walks away.

With great editing, we watch the Sargeant, from a variety of views, lumber away to safety, while the Iraqi, resigned to his fate, falls to his knees, hands outstretched, praying, the camera on his face - we're there.

In a moment, the man disappears in a violent explosion ... a sad, heart-wrenching moment, but just another moment in this incredible job.

Sergeant James loves his work.

The film shifts to the Sergeant back home, tour ended - with a woman he loves - in a grocery store. She's doing the shopping, but she's asked him to get some cereal, and there he stands, with his empty shopping cart, all alone in the cereal aisle, 10,000 boxes from which to choose - frustrated and bewildered, he finally grabs a box of anything. From the streets and deserts of Iraq to the cereal aisle.

In a few weeks, he says, "They need bomb disposal people." He returns for another year of duty, to the helter-skelter world of Iraq, to this land of adreniline-pumping, death- defying, winning and losing, blood and guts, world of the professional.

 The final scene - dressed in his bomb suit, he's walking down a deserted street toward a bomb - he's alone. A man with job to do. A job he loves.

Without being political, this film successfully explores the world of the professional soldier and what it's like to love a dangerous, violent, job.

The film, lovingly, gives us an insight into the strange world of men and women asked to kill or be killed - living with death, with blood on their hands, metaphorically, and literally, as they cradle a dying comrade in their arms.

The grocery store cereal aisle is as befuddling to them as the streets of Bagdhad would be to us.

I came away from this film with a greater love for the professional army we've created over the years - these people are precious. They are doing a job we've asked them to do, and many of them do what we all try to to do - behind the desk, at the assembly line, wherever - to do what we love, and to love what we do.

And if the news is accurate, we're not doing enough to honor them - forget the schmaltz of parades and medals - I'm talking about taking care of their families back home, for one thing: that housing and medical care for spouses and children would never be a question. That proper armament and everything they need is readily available. That we understand their role and how hard, if not impossible it is for them, to re-enter a civilian world.

We have created a professional army. We have asked them to do a terrible job, and like human beings anywhere, and Americans especially, they love what they do, and they do what they love.

No wonder the suicide rate is so high. The cereal aisile is a dangerous place, a strange and forboding zone in which the professional soldier feels trapped and alone. He's not qualitifed for cereal; he is qualified, more than qualified, to join his unit in war - to face the enemy the politicians have created, and to love what he does and do what he loves.

Can we ask of them anything more?

And can we not do better by all of them?

This is a powerful film with a message about our professional army.

Hats off to Kathryn Bigelow (director) for bringing this fine piece of film-making to the screen. Without romance or schlock, without glorifying anything, she tells a basic story of a man who loves his work!

See it when you can!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Public Enemies

Something is wrong with this film.

It doesn't work very well for me.

Technically, everything is here, and it's all good ... but put it all together, and it's a ho hum film.

I think too much was attempted - it's tough to do a bio-pic - how do you reveal a huge characters like Dillinger and Purvis?

Johnny Depp, of course, as Dillinger ... but the portrait is flawed - too nice a guy - the reality: Dillinger was a killer. I think Depp is a terrific actor, but something didn't click here. The cold-blooded character of a killer didn't emerge. Sure, Dillinger might have been a nice guy now and then, but the raging fires of a troubled childhood and a life of prison and crime never emerges. This is not a role to be played with the elan of "Pirates of the Carribean." Perhaps a bit too cavalier.

Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis, the man who "gets his man" does a far better job then he did in "Terminator." Cool, calm, collected, relentless, and maybe that's the issue for the whole film - just too cool! Bale reminded me of Robert Stack - cool and calculating. A good role for Bale, but again, the characterization lacked fire - Stack had it, so did Kevin Kostner playing Elliot Ness in "The Untouchables." Is this lack of fire a question for the director?

The love between Dillinger and Billie Frechette  (Marion Cotillard) is muted ... somehow or other, the desperation of two lovers in a losing game of life never makes it to the surface - there's no fire, no passion, not even any good old fashioned lust. In every relationship, something is at stake - something vital, powerful, even crazy. But what's at stake here? Was Bille trying to escape a life of being a coat-check girl? Was Dillinger looking for true love? None of that emerges. It's like, okay, so what? Who cares?

As I watched the story unfold, I wasn't rooting for anyone ... too little was at stake.

I think of Ron Howard's "Apollo13" - we all knew how it was going to end, but as the story unfolded, Howard had us all on the edge of our seats. We all suspected that maybe there'd be another ending.

We all know how it's going to end for Dillinger, but no seat-suspense here. No suspicion of another story. No hope that maybe Dillinger and Billie will find true love after all.

As for movie-going enjoyment, can't beat old cars careening through a city, bad guys and good guys standing on the running boards, trench coats streaming, firing away with a Thompson machine gun.

The music is terrific ... I think ... and maybe that's a good sign - I felt the music, as good film music should be.

The sound is awesome - the harsh crash of big caliber weapons ... the sound of prison doors closing ... assorted thuds and bumps ...

The period is beautifully captured  ... but even here, everything seems too stylistic, too clean, more Disneyland than real. I wanted more grit, smoke and dirt; this needed to be a dark film, searchings of the soul - anger, power, hatred - everything here just too cool.   

Clearly, some Oscars here for Michael Mann in terms of technique - maybe sound, maybe music, maybe costuming, but not Best Picture, and I doubt if any of the actors will even be nominated ... but, then, who knows.

The line-up of actors is impressive - how much did Mann pay for this stable?

But the story didn't cut it.

Is this one to see in the theater?

If you're looking for a movie to fill in the gaps, sure.

But otherwise, get it on Netflix.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I saw it in IMAX - up close and personal.

As for story, well, not as tight as the first one.

This film is all about the special effects, and they are amazing. If you want to see robots fighting, this is the one for you.

Music, sound, editing - it's all done superbly.

Acting in this one wasn't as vibrant at the first, either, but it'll do. I thoroughly enjoy LBeouf - there's a marvelous understatement to his acting - he exudes a sort of "common guy" demeanor, but with an edge of passion - he's fiercely loyal and willing to go the extra mile.

Is this one to see in the theater?

If you like action, special effects, you bet - a good rousing night at the movies! See it now, and see in IMAX if you can.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Food, Inc

What has happened to America's food supply?

It's been fast-fooded and corporatized, with decisions made in board rooms on the 20th floor in a building a 1000 miles away from the chickens and pigs and cows and grains that form the foundation of our diet.

There was a time when meat processing jobs were mostly union, and good jobs they were, equivalent to the auto industry.

But along came the fast food concept - workers hired on the cheap, no unions, trained to do one monotonous task, like putting pickles on the bun, with a demand for huge amounts of beef that all tastes the same.

The meat processing unions were busted a long time ago, and wages fell. Butchering is no longer an art; it's just a factory job now, with tens of thousands of immigrant laborers hired, many of them "illegals". There are now only 16 slaughter houses in the United States; in one of them alone, 32,000 hogs a day are killed.

To satisfy the public, raids are conducted late at night in trailer parks near the slaughter houses. Ten, fifteen immigrants are rounded up and deported. But does anyone go after the corporations?

Did you know that it's a crime to have a beef about beef? Remember the trial of Oprah Winfrey? She won it, but the laws remain on the books. If you publicly have a beef with beef, you could be sued.

Some of the most carefully guarded secrets in America - the giant feed lots wherein cattle stand ankle deep in manure infected with e-coli. Where chickens by the millions are raised in darkness, never seeing the light of day, growing so fast with hormones, their legs can't support them.

And all that e-coli stuff - a cow's gut is made for grass, not corn. Corn, with all of its sugars, breeds e-coli, and it spreads and it spreads and it spreads. And rather than treat the cause, science and technology have now produced an ammonia-treated beef additive to counteract e-coli bacteria, and we're eating it now. 

Corn, which is subsidized by our taxes, is cheaper to raise than its cost.

Cheap American corn, underwritten by our tax dollars, has put a million Mexican farmers out of work, and millions more around the world, putting billions more into a very few pockets.

Here in America, a farmer can no longer save seed for the next year, something farmers have done forever. Because Monsanto has had laws passed making seed-saving a copyright infringement in the last 15 years. Monsanto owns the seed, the DNA design. Even if a farmer uses non-Monsanto seed, if a neighboring Monsanto pollen enters the field, it's copyright infringement, and the farmer can be sued. Yes, it's all legal!

And on and on it goes.

Teddy Roosevelt broke up the beef trust.

But like some ugly wart on the bottom of the foot, the beef trust has grown back, with more chemicals and garbage in the American food chain.

Our children are suffering. We all are.

Obesity and diabetes.

Why should broccoli and carrots cost more than beef? Because we underwrite beef and corn with our taxes.

Everywhere they can, the four giant corporations who control America's food supply do everything they can to put independent growers and producers out of business.

It's a terrible thing. The government seems helpless. The American people are addicted to fast food. The only folks who seem to be doing anything are the unions, and it's time for Americans to realize that unions have done more than anything to keep the workplace safe and blow the whistle on corporate greed.

But like a junkie on the street corner, as long as we can fire up the barbie and have our beef, we close our eyes to the horror of what we're eating, and the human tragedy unfolding across the land and the world, not to mention the inhumane treatment of all the animals. And, as one of the farmers said, "If you begin to treat your animals as a product, you begin treat people in the same way."

Hats off to Michael Pollan ("In Defense of Food) and Eric Schlosser for bringing us this important and rarely heard story.

P.S. check out this New York Times review.

The Proposal

A perfect film, if there can be one. All the elements fit, and fit very well.

First of all, Sandra Bullock has mastered the craft - from the lift of an eyebrow to a catch in her voice, I've never seen anyone with a better sense of timing - the little bits and pieces that add up to a huge screen impression, without being overblown.

Ms. Bulluck plays Margaret Tate, a Canadian immigrant at the top of her profession - a book editor in New York City. There's only one small problem: before her immigration status was resolved, she headed overseas to secure a client, and now immigration officials are deporting her!

Into the office walks her secretary, Andrew Paxton, played ever so well by Ryan Reynolds, her faithful gofur with his own ambitions to be a writer. He's worked, or perhaps slaved, three years for her.

And now when she's about at the end of her career here, headed back to Toronto, unable to work for an American company, she says, "We're getting married."

Immigration jumps on this quickly - if there's any fraud here, it's deportation forever, and jail time for her guy. "Have you told your parents yet?" the sneaky immigration official asks. "I don't have any parents," says Margaret. "But we're going to tell his parents this weekend."

"And where do they live?"

"And where do they live?" says Margaret.

"Sitka. Sitka, Alaska," says Andrew.

Here is where Ms. Bullock offers one of the great moments of film: "Ahhh -las-ka?" with a slight catchin the voice. How she did it, I don't know. But it was one of those remarkable cinematic moments for me.

Bullock and Reynolds are the perfect match, playing skillfully off of each other. He's the nice guy from Alaska; she's the conniving crawl-to-the-top-at-any-price corporate slug. He's at home in a boat; she can't swim. Getting off the plane in Alaska, she's dressed to the nines, as if she were headed to a New York City cocktail party.

And it only gets better - off to Alaska they go to meet his wealthy and powerful family, with one ditzy grandmother played by Betty White. Ditzy or not, she knows a whole lot about life and love.

Andrew's Mom, done by one of my all-time fav actors, Mary Steenburgen, brings a gentle and loving presence to the screen. Her husband, Mr. Paxton, who owns the town, and wants Andrew to return home and take up the reigns of the family business, is done really well by Craig T. Nelson. He captures the character of a man used to getting his way, a man who never has to apologize, a man who believes that his wealth and position confirm his self-opinion - he's right about everything.

Along the way, Oscar Nunez, who's a waiter at the party, a male-stripper and the grocery story manager - he's a hoot, so watch for his performance.

At the heart of the story, Margaret Tate's loss of family and the promise of finding family again.

In one of the most touching moments of the film, she weeps, "I've forgotten what it's like to have a family."

And Andrew, with a family, strong and loving, trying to work out his love for the father, and what the father's love means for him.

The ending?

Oh, you'll have to see it.

Be sure to stay for the credits.

For the guys, don't worry - this isn't a chick flic ... this is a story, this is a film, worth seeing and enjoying, with lots of hearty laughter all along the way.

Hats of the director, Ann Fletcher, who put this one together.

This is one to see in the theater, soon!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Up - Reviewed by Michele Welker Scott

In America’s can-do, make-it-happen-at-any-cost culture, failure is not considered an option. Only the weak surrender; or so we’re lead to believe. But as Walt Disney/Pixar’s latest movie Up shows, sometimes giving up takes more courage than hanging on.

Up tells the story of two men who have spent their lives striving for a dream. One, dashing explorer Charles Muntz , has circled the globe making amazing scientific discoveries. But when a terrible rumor tarnishes his reputation, Muntz is determined to clear the shadow from his name. The other, Carl Fredrickson, has spent his life dreaming of adventure. But while he’s longed to go exploring, somehow life has always gotten in the way.

Both men are determined to live out their dreams, but only one is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish them.

Although children will enjoy the silly antics of the animals and giggle over the humorous dialogue of the talking dogs, Up is ultimately a grownup’s film. Just as The Incredibles dealt with middle-aged angst in the form of aging superheroes, Up tackles the even tougher issues: the anguish of childlessness, the wearying grind of daily life, and the grief and loneliness that follow the death of a spouse or the abandonment of a parent.

Death and abandonment are not new topics to Disney films, of course. In The Lion King, little Simba’s father is murdered; and in Toy Story, Woody the cowboy purposely turns his back on Buzz Lightyear, letting the space ranger fall into the hands of the bully next door. But the tragedies in Up hit much closer to home, and – as a result – closer to the heart as well. The first twenty minutes of this movie are, at times, almost too painful to watch.

But the movie, however sad, does not wallow in its troubles. As with any Disney film, there are moments of pure magic .

The scene in which Mr. Fredrickson releases of his attic full of balloons and sends his house soaring above the city is filled with such beauty and child-like wonder that it outshines any children’s movie I’ve seen in a very long time. Russell, the earnest chubby-cheeked Wilderness Scout, also has his share of humorous moments. And the dim-witted but pure-hearted Dug the talking dog is as endearing a character as Jiminy Cricket. No, Up may be an adult’s movie, but there is just enough laughter and zaniness to make the even the youngest viewers love it as well. And the nostalgic touch of nineteen-forties style adventure will make audiences of any age enjoy it.

The crowning achievement of this movie, however, is not the silliness, but its affirmation of selflessness and sacrifice. The movies tells us that giving up on ambition is not cowardly; in fact, it may be the most heroic thing a person can do.

For when it comes to dreams, sometimes it’s necessary to let go of one in order to be free to grab onto another.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Uh-uh. No salvation here!

So much to hope for, so little to experience.

At least for me ...

The first three quarters of the film were just there, on the screen in front of me ... I was an unmoved observer of some fascinating special effects and a lot of lack-luster acting (more about that later) and a story in search of a point.

Toward the end, I found myself getting pulled in, and, then, just like that, what with the silly heart-transplant, it lost me again - clearly, it tried to capture the mystery, if you will, of a robot giving its life for the human - we've seen it before in the series, but in this episode, it was only schlock ...

Visually, the film was filled with bits and pieces from Hollywood's best - the motorcycle jump from Steve MeQueen's "The Great Escape" - some "Road Warrior"- "Mad Max" images - Sauron's Orc factories from "Lord of the Rings" - but it felt like a bad pastiche ... nothing fit, nothing flowed, going nowhere fast.

I came to this movie with high expectations - I like Bale; he's been one of my favorites since "Empire of the Sun" - his performance in "The Dark Knight" was stunning, but here, I never once got a sense that he had his heart in it - is this an issue with the story, the director, the process? I don't know; all I know is that it didn't work.

Moon Bloodgood, the scientist, seemed more like a fifth wheel than anything else. I think she's a good actor, but here, again, nothing seemed to fit - a good idea that didn't bake long enough, like a chocolate cake taken out of the oven too soon - as it cools, it falls, and that's exactly what "Terminator Salvation" did.

With one exception - Sam Worthington as the cyborg ... his was a thoughtful performance - you could see the inner pondering: "Who am I? What am I?"

I'll give it an A for special effects - a great cyborg motorcycle and some monstrously huge fighting machines ... but without a story, without a reason, it was like watching a museum piece - interesting, but when are we going to eat?

Worth seeing?

Only on Netflix.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Angels and Demons

I had a tough time with this movie, trying to decide if I liked it or not.

It has a frantic pace to it - cardinals are dying and Rome itself is threatened with a massive explosion fueled by anti-matter stolen from a research facility in Switzerland - the project overseen by a scientist who's also a priest, or is it the other way around - hmmm.

Tom Hanks as the inveterate symbologist, Robert Langdon, teams up with scientist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) to search out the villains, supposedly some underground gang of mad scientists who despise the church and seek vengeance for the manner in which the church rejected science and killed its proponents, a group called The Illuminati.

Much ado about nothing kept coming to mind - a highly stylized plot in which Landgon proves to be the Sherlock Holmes of old poetry and ancient symbols. His partner, Vetra, is clearly Dr. Watson - a decent sort of sidekick with an occasional insight. If the Holmes/Watson thing was intentional, I can only think of the many Holmes movies done over the years that highlighted the power of the rational mind to observe and discern. Is this Dan Brown's intent? I believe it is, but the movie hardly brings it off with the kind of drama seen in Sherlock Holmes.

The "bad guy" here (don't read any further if you haven't seen it yet) is played somewhat masterfully by Ewan McGregor ... it seems that his character, Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, is the adopted son of the pope recently deceased, and, as we find out through "masterful sleuthing," murdered nefariously with an overdose of medication. Hmmm.

The plot tries for some twists and turns, but mostly fails. At the end, a twist that I found to be the creation of the filmmaker rather than the story itself. In other words, the wool was pulled over my eyes (though a friend of mine nailed the bad guy early on) by either Dan Brown (I've not read the book) or by Ron Howard.

I found myself bored with 90% of it - without the great music by Hans Zimmer, and it's really great, the film would have been flat as Hanks' acting here. Sorry about that. I really like Tom Hanks, but neither he nor his Watson sidekick seem to have their hearts into this, which is a more problem of the story itself than anything else.

Hanks doesn't have to work here - it all just unfolds with brief moments of thought - "hmmm, let's think for a moment - ah, yes - this is it - the next clue, the next church, the next cardinal to die, will be found here - gimme a map of Rome - yup, I need it now ... " and off they run, helter-skelter through the busy streets of Rome crowded with pilgrims awaiting the white smoke.

One of my favorite actors, Armin Mueller-Stahl, plays Cardinal Strauss - for me, the best of the roles here - ambiguous and cautious, a man of great power - is he one of the bad guys?

As for storyline and great thoughts, the film pretty much fails. With one little exception; at the end, Cardinal Strauss muses: "Religion is flawed because man is flawed." Well, okay. But what else is new?

The film ended with a new pope, and Langdon and Vetra properly subdued - Vetra wearing traditional head veil and Langdon with a bow of the head before the new pope steps out onto the balcony - well, granted, Langdon saved the new pope from drowning in a Rome fountain. Ironically, Langdon has to done dry clothing, and so wears a priest's suit and shirt, sans the white collar insert. At one point, it's observed, "It looks good on you."

At this point the story shift from drama to piety - was this a nod of the head, so to speak, to religious sensibilities? That rationality (Langdon) and science (Vetra) grudgingly submit to the mystery and majesty of the Roman Church? I think a good many Catholics will thrill with the ending, as the new pope steps out onto the balcony to the ecstatic throngs in St. Peter's Square. It would seem here that the Church proves victorious in the end.

Clearly, the church struggles between truth and tradition - that much is clear. Perhaps there can be no truth without tradition, but tradition can also be a destroyer of truth, even as truth can destroy tradition, and when both are bloodied in the battle, what's been accomplished?

Okay, enough.

Acting flat. Story shallow. Music great.

Worth seeing?

You could probably wait for Netflix on this one.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Star Trek

See it!

Concept, direction, music, script, actors - A+ and then some. J.J. Abrams and everyone else involved offer us a film that couldn't have been better!

You'll love it, it's a ride, it's for the fans, and their number is legion.

Even someone who has not followed the series will enjoy the energy, the pace, the story: the terrific way the characters are introduced.

I first saw it Thursday night, before it's theatrical release, at the Paramount Studio Theater - a huge placed filled to capacity - a fun audience, of course; all enthused, and who wouldn't be?

I saw it again the following Monday and loved it just as much, and found bits and pieces that I had missed the first time around.

I'll likely see it one more time ... it's absolutely, for me, thrilling!