Year Director Running Time MPAA Rating Title Comments
2010 Ethan Coen + Joel Coen 110 PG-13 True Grit It’s hard to decide between this remake and the classic John Wayne original (1969). Obviously, Wayne, is probably the main reason to see that one. But I think the new one is probably funnier and has the advantage of no Glen Campbell. The new actress, Hailee Steinfeld, who plays the girl, Mattie Ross, is very well suited to the role; I'm sure you'll enjoy her performance. And the John Wayne role, "Rooster Cogburn" is played by Jeff Bridges. If you're not familiar with the story, in 1880, Mattie hires Rooster Cogburn to track down the man who murdered her father. She chose him because she had heard he was a man with true grit. A new ending has been added which I didn’t think worked all that well, but it wasn’t so awful as to not recommend the movie.
2010 Tom Hooper 118 R The King’s Speech A brilliant comedy based on a little known bit of British history (at least outside of Britain that is). Colin Firth stars as King George VI (father of Queen Elizabeth II). When circumstances unexpectedly handed him the crown, he was terrified because he knew that public speaking would be next to impossible due to his stutter. He secretly starts visiting speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and the rest is history. The King's wife, Queen Elizabeth I, is played by Helena Bonham Carter. Highly recommended.
2008 Tomas Alfredson 115 R Let the Right One In Swedish: “Lät den Rätte Komma In.” You probably don’t associate the Swedish film industry with vampire movies, but that is what this is. And a very good one at that. If you think all vampire movies are alike, you haven’t seen this one. Oh, sure, it has its share of clichés that are part of the traditional vampire lore, but what makes this stand out is the story. The central character is a 12 year old boy, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), whose parents are separated or divorced. At school he frequently suffers at the hands of a small group of bullies. But everything changes when a strange girl his age, Eli (Lina Leandersson), moves into the apartment next door. At the same time, the town starts to experience a string of unexplained murders. It’s not for the squeamish of course, as there are some fairly graphic killings depicted, but if you’re prepared to expect that sort of thing in a vampire movie then you should enjoy this. Atypical for a foreign DVD, this one includes an English audio track, so you can skip the subtitles if you prefer. However, I did notice there are some differences between the English dubbing and the English subtitles. But I have no idea which of the two is a more accurate translation of the Swedish. One thing you miss out on by listening to the English track rather than reading the subtitles with Swedish audio, is a scene where the boy is reading newspapers (silently) and the subtitles translate the headlines, which is something you don’t get if you are using the dubbed English without subtitles. Of course if you have a subtitles button on your remote you could temporarily switch the subtitles on during that scene. I don’t go out of my way to find vampire movies, but this one is worth stepping outside your usual preferences (again, assuming you are prepared for the blood). This film was remade in 2010 as “Let Me In” (a British & American production), which I will review later for comparison.
1965 Sergio Leone 129 R For a Few Dollars More Italian: "Per qualche dollaro in più" (but with dialog in English). This is the middle film in the “spaghetti western” trilogy starring Clint Eastwood. Much longer than the first one (”A Fistful of Dollars,” 1964), but not as long as the third one. The setting of this one is circa 1890, and so actually takes place before the previous film. Once again Eastwood plays “the man with no name” but this time he is playing a more honest game of bounty hunting. When he discovers that Col. Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) is competing with him for the same bounty, they decide to team up and agree to split the reward. It’s good Clint Eastwood action, though I think it is the weakest of the three films, mostly because it runs too long for the story it is trying to tell.
2011 George Nolfi 106 PG-13 The Adjustment Bureau A romantic fantasy that falls flat. It’s the kind of movie where, if you’ve seen the trailer, you don’t really need to see the movie. The premise is that there is a written master plan which defines your destiny and if random chance causes you to stray from the plan, a group of men in hats, The Adjustment Bureau, will make any alterations necessary to the world to steer you back on the path to your destiny. When David Norris (Matt Damon) meets and falls in love with Elise (Emily Blunt), the Bureau attempts to prevent David from ever seeing Elise again, because that is not part of the plan. And when David accidentally discovers the existence of the Bureau, he becomes even more motivated to keep seeing Elise, no matter what obstacles they place in his way. There isn’t much spark in the romance or the story. Oh, and by the way, some people are classifying this film as Science Fiction, but I disagree. I never got the impression that the mysterious powers wielded by The Adjustment Bureau had any basis in science or advanced technology.
1994 Tom Shadyac 87 PG-13 Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Jim Carrey stars as a very effective but socially bizarre private detective, specializing in recovery of lost or stolen animals. Carrey’s exaggerated style of physical comedy isn’t for everyone, but if you do like it, you’ll probably enjoy this. He certainly has made better films since then, but there is plenty of insanity here to please most Carrey fans. His imitation of a slow-motion instant replay is hysterical and of course I appreciated his quotations from “Star Trek” (those of you who have see his film, “The Cable Guy” (1996) may recall his references to “Star Trek” there also). The main event of this film is Ace’s assignment to track down a stolen dolphin, which happens to be the mascot of the Miami Dolphins football team. Sharing the screen with Carrey are actresses Courteney Cox as Melissa Robinson and Sean Young as Lt. Lois Einhorn.
2009 Anne Fletcher 108 PG-13 The Proposal I very much enjoyed this romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock. It might not be her best comedy and it is a bit predictable at times. She stars opposite Ryan Reynolds and with additional cast members Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson and Betty White. Sandra and Ryan play Margaret Tate and Andrew Paxton, who both work at the same New York publishing company. Specifically, Margaret is Andrew's boss. They have a history of not liking each other but their ambitions in the business have allowed them to tolerate each other while on the job. But Margaret is actually a Canadian citizen and her visa just expired. Threatened with deportation and the loss of her job, she blackmails Andrew into marrying her. So the main plot is their plan to get married and stay one step ahead of Immigration Services (who naturally frowns on this type of sham marriage). And most of the action takes place during their visit to his parents in Sitka, Alaska. Betty White is wonderful, though perhaps a bit goofy, as his grandmother. Do not stop watching when the end credits roll, because the movie isn't over yet; there are additional scenes during the credits. If you miss those, you haven't seen the movie. I was surprised to learn afterwards that none of it was filmed in Alaska. That’s special effects for you.
2011 Jonathan Liebesman 116 PG-13 Battle: Los Angeles A very intense nonstop action film about a war between humans and alien invaders set, obviously, in the Los Angeles area, though the implication is that many cities around the globe are under simultaneous attack. The level of intensity reminded me of “Black Hawk Down” (2001), but I do feel that “Battle” does a better job of character development. Much of the story conforms to the stereotypical alien invasion (or disaster movie) formula and so in that regard is not terribly original. I found it to be too much action and not enough story.
2011 Francis Lawrence 120 PG-13 Water for Elephants A romantic drama set during the Great Depression. Jacob (Robert Pattinson), a veterinary student at Cornell, is forced by circumstance to literally run away with the circus in order to find work. There he meets Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the lovely wife of August (Christoph Waltz) the ringmaster. The circus is in financial trouble but hopes rise when they acquire an elephant and Marlena learns to ride her in the show. No surprise that August becomes jealous whenever he sees Jacob and Marlena together. It’s a fairly average love-triangle story, though Waltz was quite good as the jealous husband.
2011 Brad Furman 118 R The Lincoln Lawyer An excellent courtroom drama starring Matthew McConaughey as Mick Haller, a criminal defense lawyer whose office is his Lincoln Town Car. Mick takes on the case of Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), accused of sexual assault, but soon discovers some disturbing facts in the case. Now he must pull out all his tricks of the trade to stay ahead of the game. Marisa Tomei stars as Mick’s ex-wife and William H. Macy plays his chief investigator. An exceptional performance by McConaughey and a great cast all around. Contains some violence and strong language but I would put it at the “low end” of the R-rating category.
2010 Oliver Stone 133 PG-13 Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Twenty-four years later, I have very little recollection of the original "Wall Street" (1987). That was before I started writing reviews and so all I am left with is a vague sense that I wasn’t impressed. Perhaps I’ll rent it and see if my perspective has changed. But as for the sequel, I can report that I liked it. Obviously, my expectations were low, but I thought it was a very well done dramatization of the meltdown of the financial markets in 2008. Of course all the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Michael Douglas returns as Gordon Gekko, having served his time for the crimes committed in the first film. Not even his daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), was there to meet him when he got out of prison. She doesn’t want anything to do with him, but curiously is romantically involved with a young man who works on Wall Street: Jake (Shia LaBeouf). I won’t go into details but obviously all of them are impacted by the crashing market and do what they can to make the best of it. Given that this was directed by Oliver Stone, I won’t vouch for how accurately the financial crisis is portrayed in the film, but based on his commentary, it sounds like he did consult with people who “were there.” And I would also add, in case you’re wondering, if you never even saw the first film, the sequel stands on its own. The film features a strong supporting cast which includes Frank Langella, Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach and Susan Sarandon.
2011 Duncan Jones 93 PG-13 Source Code A very good science fiction thriller that puts a new twist on the old time travel plot device. Except that they try to explain it as something other than time travel and I agree that it is different from your normal expectations. It is difficult to grasp the “theory” that the premise is based on, but in implementation it involves an experimental government program that can “transport” the subject into the body of another person who was present at the scene of a recent crime and for eight minutes, has the opportunity to use that person’s body to try to unravel the details that would make it possible identify and capture the criminal. Does that make any sense? Perhaps not, so don’t bend your brain too much trying to rationalize it, just enjoy the action (and there’s a bit of romance as well). It does remind me somewhat of the plot devices in such TV series as “Quantum Leap” (1989-1993) and “Seven Days” (1998-2001) and yet is decidedly different from both. You could even say it borrows a bit from “Groundhog Day” (1993) and “Run Lola Run” (1998). It takes place in Chicago and so includes some beautiful fly-over shots of the city. Chicago has rarely looked so good on film. The “time traveler” is played by Jake Gyllenhaal and the attractive woman he meets is played by Michelle Monaghan, whom you may have seen in "Gone Baby Gone" (2007) or "The Bourne Supremacy" (2004). Speaking of “Quantum Leap,” I didn’t realize until afterwards that its star, Scott Bakula, can be heard in this film as the voice of the father of Gyllenhaal’s character.
2007 James C. Strouse 85 PG-13 Grace is Gone John Cusack plays Stanley Phillips, a typical suburban family man with two daughters, Heidi (Shélan O'Keefe) and Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk). What's not typical is that his wife is overseas in military service. When a Casualty Notification team arrives at their house to tell Stanley that his wife was killed in action, he makes the unusual decision not to tell his girls. Instead he takes them on a spontaneous road trip to visit an amusement park they've always dreamed about. The suspense grows of course as you wonder how long he can keep them from finding out. It's a short and simple story but nicely done. The two young actresses were well cast and Cusack gives a very good performance as a man struggling with an impossible situation.
2011 Kenneth Branagh 114 PG-13 Thor A big action superhero film about Thor, the Norse god of thunder. It is, however, very overrated. The characters and story are based on the Marvel Comics interpretation of Norse Mythology. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lives in the realm, Asgard, and is the son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Odin banishes Thor to Earth (in present day) minus his super powers, though he remains a humanoid of great strength. On Earth, he encounters scientist, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her companions, Erik (Stellan Skarsgård) and Darcy (Kat Dennings), who assist him in his quest to recover his hammer and return to Asgard. Although there is much raucous action driven by special effects, I was not impressed with the acting or the writing (a disappointment, given that it was co-written by J. Michael Straczynski). Or maybe I’m just not part of the target audience. At the theater I saw it in “3D” but I was even less impressed with that element of the production. If you think this is your kind of film, save your money and attend the “flat” version. Also, if you do watch this film, you might want to stay through the end credits because they are followed by a brief scene which is apparently a link to another Marvel Comics film slated to be released in 2012, “The Avengers,” which will feature not only Thor, but Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Captain America and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
2010 Lucy Walker 89 PG Countdown to Zero A very informative and downright scary documentary about the threat of nuclear destruction (not necessarily by war). The potential for the use of these weapons by intention (e.g., terrorism), accident or error is discussed. It is shocking to learn about the many close calls that have occurred, most of which I had never heard of. Both historic and recent interviews are included, such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, Pervez Musharraf and Valerie Plame Wilson. This is recommended viewing for everyone. I should mention that the director does have an agenda here, which is to promote the reduction of all nuclear stockpiles to zero. While obviously a desirable goal, it is difficult to be optimistic about ever getting there.
2009 Lixin Fan 90 NR Last Train Home Chinese documentary: “Gui Tu Jie Che.” This film examines the life of the Chinese migrant worker. It claims there are 130 million of them, which amounts to about 10% of the entire population of China. Every Chinese New Year, they all travel en masse from the cities to their rural homes, overwhelming the transportation systems of the country. Over a period of about 2-1/2 years, we witness the experience through the eyes of a single family where the mother and father were forced to leave their children with the grandparents to work in a clothing factory 1200 miles away. Then their oldest daughter, who has always resented them for leaving, quits high school to do the same. The scenes of the huge crowds at the train stations are unbelievable. There is very little dialog and no narration, but it is in Chinese so you will need to turn on the subtitles. Although not officially rated, if it weren’t for the daughter’s cursing outburst, it could easily be rated ‘G’. An excellent insight into present day Chinese culture.
2010 Nigel Cole 113 R Made in Dagenham A very good British drama based on real events that took place in Dagenham, England, in 1968. It was a turning point in the struggle for women’s equality. The Ford Motor Company had a plant there which employed over 55,000 workers, but only 187 were women. The women made the seat covers for the cars. They went on strike to seek equal pay with the men and to be recognized as skilled labor. In the film, the leader of the movement, Rita, is played by Sally Hawkins and the shop floor manager is played by Bob Hoskins. Also featured is Miranda Richardson as Barbara Castle, British Secretary of State under Harold Wilson. It’s sort of a British “Norma Rae” (1979), which was also based on a true story that took place several years after the events in Dagenham. Whereas the Norma Rae character was based on a specific real life woman, the character of Rita is actually a composite of women who were part of the movement. The film is very effective in recreating a 1968 atmosphere. Is it better than “Norma Rae”? Probably not, but if you like a good “underdog” story (especially a true one), this should fit the bill. I should mention that even though this is obviously in English, you may find it useful to turn on the English subtitles so you can understand the wide range of regional accents, as well as dialog that occurs during relatively noisy scenes. The ‘R’ rating is primarily for occasional strong language.
2008 Darren Aronofsky 109 R The Wrestler Mickey Rourke plays "Randy 'The Ram' Robinson," a professional wrestler who was at the top of his game 20 years ago but now is limited to small time venues on weekends. On the advice of his doctor he retires but discovers that is not the life for him and attempts a comeback. Along the way he tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter and tries to win the affections of his favorite stripper at the local night spot, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). It is a very strong dramatic performance by Rourke that is the heart of this movie. It's not really about the wrestling, though they do feature a few intense matches to set the tone. That "sport" isn't my kind of entertainment, though I do recall watching a tamer form of it on TV as a kid (the name Vern Gagne comes to mind). But again, what makes this a good dramatic film is the character that Rourke has created. Keep in mind that there is some strong R-rated content here, with language, nudity and drugs, and some pretty graphic wrestling violence. Within that framework it is a good show. And in spite of the “down and out” theme of Rourke’s character, there are some great moments of humor, most notably the scene when he gets a job at the deli counter of a grocery store.
2011 Jodie Foster 91 PG-13 The Beaver I enjoyed this family drama in spite of its offbeat premise. The whole idea of a grown man talking through a puppet may seem a bit silly but in fact this story is actually more serious than you might expect. Mel Gibson plays Walter Black and director Jodie Foster plays his wife, Meredith. They have two sons, Riley, in elementary school and Porter, in high school. Walter is suffering from severe depression that gets so bad that he moves out of the house. But one day he finds a discarded beaver puppet that suddenly becomes a way for him to communicate with his family. At the same time, in a very well crafted subplot, Porter, who is desperately trying to avoid becoming his father, becomes involved with his school’s valedictorian who just happens to also be the most beautiful girl in his class, Norah (Jennifer Lawrence). Jodie Foster does a nice job of directing herself while keeping the focus on her costars. Mel Gibson is still a great actor in spite of his highly public personal problems. The rest of the cast is very good also. Let me reemphasize that this is not a comedy, but a drama about a difficult subject.
2010 Werner Herzog 90 G Cave of Forgotten Dreams A fascinating documentary about prehistoric cave paintings discovered in southern France in 1994. The cave is named Chauvet, after its discoverer, Jean-Marie Chauvet. Some of the paintings are over 30,000 years old and are unique in that they are in pristine condition. Thousands of years ago a landslide closed the natural entrance to the cave, hiding its secrets from modern man, until now. Access to the cave is tightly controlled and this placed limitations on equipment and personnel that were permitted. In spite of this, they were able to film the visits to the cave in 3D; this is one case where that definitely enhanced the experience. The paintings themselves are on irregular rock walls, so the 3D perspective brings the experience of viewing them to life in a way that a strictly flat image could not. The interior of the cave itself is also beautiful to behold in 3D. Many of the paintings exhibit an astonishing degree of artistic skill. These are not crude outlines or stick figures. And they also reveal the existence of animals of that time which are no longer found in that part of the world or which are extinct.
2009 Aaron Schneider 103 PG-13 Get Low A curious period drama with a wry sense of humor, set in Tennessee in the 1930s. Robert Duvall stars as Felix Bush, a man of mystery who has holed up in the woods as a hermit for forty years. The townspeople have heard many rumors about him but nobody seems to really know the truth. He decides to throw a funeral party for himself, while still alive, so he can hear people tell all the stories they’ve heard about him. Supposedly this story was inspired by an actual case of such a “living funeral” which attracted about 10,000 people, but being a low budget film they were only able to round up about 800 extras for the party scene. Bill Murray stars as Frank Quinn, the local undertaker, hired by Felix to arrange the big event. Also featured is Sissy Spacek as Mattie, a woman from Felix’s past. Murray’s quiet comic delivery is a great counterpart to Duvall’s “crazy old man.” If you like Duvall and Murray, I’m sure you will enjoy the combination. I certainly won’t give away what the old man’s guilty secret is, but my only complaint about the film is that when you finally find out what it is, it somehow doesn’t have the impact you thought it would.
2009 Stéphane Brizé 100 NR Mademoiselle Chambon A French drama about a married man who has an affair with his son’s school teacher (the title character). The relationship between the two is almost painfully slow to develop. I usually have a pretty good attention span but this affair was so low key and so little happened for so long it became quite frustrating to watch. It’s romantic but in a much more subtle way than your typical Hollywood romance. Well acted but it will definitely try your patience, so I can’t get too enthusiastic about it. It’s hard to say who will like it and who will be bored.
2006 Pierre Salvadori 106 PG-13 Priceless French: “Hors de Prix.” A light romantic comedy with some fun plot twists. The beautiful Audrey Tautou, who is best known for “Amélie” (2001), stars as Irene, a woman whose only goal in life is to marry rich. When she mistakes a hotel employee (Gad Elmaleh) for a wealthy prospect, he can’t help being attracted and so plays along with the mistake. Although the deception is soon uncovered, he continues to pursue her even as she moves on to her next “victim.” An engaging story with two stars who work very well together.
2005 John Madden 100 PG-13 Proof An occasionally confusing drama about a woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) whose recently deceased father (Anthony Hopkins) was a brilliant mathematician who suffered from some type of dementia in his final years. Paltrow’s character worries that a similar fate may be in store for her. The film bounces back and forth between a few years before he died and just after, and this is where some of the confusion can arise. Also involved in the story is her sister, Claire (Hope Davis), who wants her to move back to New York with her. And a former student of her father, Harold Dobbs (Jake Gyllenhaal). After the story gets past the funeral, the main focus of attention is one of her father’s notebooks, which may or may not contain a proof of a never before solved problem in mathematics. I have to say that for a long time it seemed like the story was going nowhere. You have to try and decide if she really is losing her mind or if she is just terrified that she will. It’s an OK drama but I was slightly disappointed.
2006 Bill Condon 130 PG-13 Dreamgirls A very good musical, set in the 1960s-1970s and is based on the 1981 Broadway musical of the same name. The majority of the songs are taken directly from the Broadway show. This fictional account of R&B musicians tells the story of a three-woman act that calls themselves the “Dreamettes.” They are trying to get noticed and are spotted by manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx), who teams them up with his star, James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy - in a rare serious role, which received a nomination for best supporting actor). The story follows the ups and downs of their careers through two decades. Although fictional, some of the other acts seen in the film do slightly resemble real groups such as the Jackson Five. Great songs and choreography and even the editing is noteworthy. Also features Danny Glover, Beyoncé Knowles & Jennifer Hudson (won best supporting actress). The film also picked up three Golden Globes and a Grammy.
2003 Nathaniel Kahn 116 NR My Architect A very interesting documentary about a famous architect you may have never heard of; I certainly never heard of him. But like Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis I. Kahn was controversial and had a complicated family life. The director is his only son and the film is not so much about the architecture as it is about the son’s journey to discover the father he barely knew. Louis Kahn had three families, only one legitimized by marriage, and Nathaniel was one of the children whose mother was not Louis’ wife. Kahn’s completed buildings span the globe. They may not all be masterpieces, but some of them include some amazing spaces both interior and exterior. He did not live to see the completion of his final creation, the National Assembly Building in Bangladesh, which is quite impressive. The director interviews his family members and architects who knew Louis. Certainly if you have an interest in architecture you will want to see this film, but it is hardly a requirement. It is a good story about a son who discovers who his father was and reconnects with his extended family.
2010 Clint Eastwood 129 PG-13 Hereafter This is a most unusual departure for director Clint Eastwood. It is not the type of story you have come to expect from him and it may disappoint on that basis alone. But even if somebody else had directed, it is not all that impressive. The themes involved in the story are death, near-death, the afterlife and the paranormal. As I said, not your typical Clint Eastwood. The structure of the story is the type where you are introduced to a number of totally unrelated persons and follow their lives until some point where they all intersect. In Paris, there is Marie (Cécile De France), who is a TV news reporter and an author. In San Francisco, you have George (Matt Damon), who is a psychic (in the context of this story he is authentic). And in London, you have twin boys, Marcus and Jason (Frankie & George McLaren) with an irresponsible mother. Their separate paranormal experiences are what put them on the path to convergence. Of the three subplots, the one involving the twins is probably the most compelling. But overall it is not terribly original in its exploration of the paranormal universe.
2011 J. J. Abrams 111 PG-13 Super 8 An exciting science fiction action film that has some of the same feel as parts of “Close Encounters,” “E. T.” and even “Jurassic Park” (which is no surprise with Steven Spielberg as one of the producers). The story is set in 1979 in the small town of Lillian, Ohio, where a group of high school kids are attempting to make a zombie movie with a Super 8 film camera. While filming one of the scenes, a train derails in front of them and their camera unintentionally records the disaster. In the aftermath of the train wreck, very strange things start to happen in town, such as all the dogs go missing and assorted bizarre thefts. The Air Force moves in on the scene and there you have your typical government conspiracy element (think “Area 51”). In the midst of all this confusion, the kids continue to film more scenes for their movie and, this is very important, during the end credits you will see their completed zombie movie, so don’t walk out when the credits roll! Although their little film is obviously intended to be an amateur production it is really quite funny. The story also includes a romantic subplot between one of the boys making the film and the sole female actor they “employed.” There are plenty of great special effects, though I thought that they went overboard with the train wreck. The amount of destruction that resulted just didn’t seem believable given the cause of the derailment. Otherwise it is a fun summer action film.
2005 Woody Allen 124 R Match Point A cleverly conceived drama filled with romance, sex, infidelity and mystery. It may be Woody Allen but it is not a comedy, nor does he appear in it. It probably could have been cut a bit shorter, as it does take a while for things to come to a boil. But there is a moment, and I’m sure you’ll spot it, when the central character makes a crucial decision without speaking a word. It’s an amazing moment because you haven’t a clue what that decision is yet, but now you’re hooked to find out. And what a decision it turns out to be! Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a former tennis pro who gets a job as a tennis instructor at an exclusive club in London. He begins to socialize with a wealthy student, Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) and becomes romantically involved with Tom's sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer). But everything changes when he meets Tom's fiancée, Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson). He lusts for Nola even after marrying Chloe. The tension builds as you wonder how long Chris can juggle his two women and stay out of trouble. The way the story ends is quite amazing. Definitely one of Woody Allen’s better films. In fact I have to say, that except for his typical use of old prerecorded music rather than an original score, it did not feel like a Woody Allen movie, which in my opinion, is rare for him, and may make it accessible to a wider audience.
2001 Santosh Sivan 169 R Asoka An epic spectacle of love and war set in the 3rd Century BC, in India. This is a Hindi film, so you will need to turn on the subtitles. The title is pronounced “Ashoka” (with a long ‘o’) and is sometimes spelled that way, though the actors in the film sound like they are dropping the final ‘a’. And on the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) it is listed as “Ashoka the Great.” The film is an historical drama based on legends of the real Emperor Ashoka, who ruled the ancient kingdom of Magadha. He ruled for the Maurya dynasty from about 269 BC to 232 BC and after a particularly bloody war with the neighboring kingdom of Kalinga, abandoned war and promoted Buddhism. In fact he is credited with raising Buddhism from a minor Indian sect to a major religion. In the story created here, Ashoka (Shah Rukh Khan) is exiled from Magadha by his mother to save his life from his half-brother who wants to be the next king. In exile he meets and falls in love with a beautiful princess, Kaurwaki (Kareena Kapoor), who is in hiding from assassins from her kingdom of Kalinga. The film covers the period from Ashoka’s childhood up to the end of the great war between Magadha and Kalinga in which 100,000 were killed. The battle on film is quite impressive. As is typical of “Bollywood” films, the drama is periodically interrupted by song and dance numbers, in this case, five times, so on average, only once every half hour. It helps to have some appreciation of Indian music to enjoy this. You will no doubt observe that the songs are lip-synched with no attempt to disguise that fact. I for one thought this to be a very beautiful production and enjoyed both the songs and the story, in spite of its great length. The ‘R’ rating is primarily for violent combat and war sequences, though creative framing and editing places most of the actual bloodshed just out of view. I don’t believe there is a single curse word (unless it was omitted from the subtitles) nor any sex or nudity. Trivia: Emperor Ashoka is remembered to this day on the current flag of India, in the form of a symbol known as the "Ashoka Chakra" (a wheel with 24 spokes).
2011 Woody Allen 94 PG-13 Midnight in Paris I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked this new romantic comedy from Woody Allen. Woody writes and directs but stays behind the camera in this one. Owen Wilson stars as Gil, a struggling novelist, vacationing in Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. Gil keeps waxing nostalgic for Paris in the 1920s (especially if it is raining) and in a plot straight out of “The Twilight Zone,” one night at the stroke of midnight, he finds himself partying with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Cole Porter. This apparent time travel experience seems very real to him and he starts falling in love with Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a friend of Pablo Picasso and other great artists of that era. Ironically he learns that Adriana also longs for the past, but for her that means the 1890s. I don’t claim to be any expert on art history or literature, but what little I do know did add to my enjoyment of the humor and magic of this fantasy. The film is definitely an advertisement for Paris, a city which Allen loves, second only to New York. The opening five minutes just takes you all around the city, showing you all the major sights. Which was a good idea by the director, since nearly half of the remainder of the film takes place after dark. I’ve only been in Paris for literally half a day, but this film definitely makes me want to go back for more.
2009 Jacques Perrin + Jacques Cluzaud 84 G Oceans A beautiful science documentary about life in the sea. Only slightly longer than your typical nature program on public television, this film, narrated by Pierce Brosnan, takes you around the globe, revealing fascinating creatures and fascinating behaviors. It also contains environmental messages, pointing out the various threats to sea life from human activity. As many programs of this type as I’ve seen, it still managed to surprise me at times with creatures I’d not seen before. During the end credits you will see brief clips showing the underwater photographers in action.
2010 Charles Ferguson 108 PG-13 Inside Job An excellent, though blood-pressure-raising documentary about the collapse of the financial markets in 2008. Naturally, many important players in the crisis refused to be interviewed for this film. And some of those who did submit to interviews definitely came across as very evasive characters. Anyone who believes deregulation is a good thing, either hasn’t seen this film or doesn’t understand the causes of the financial crisis. Of course the crisis wasn’t as simple as all that, but lack of suitable regulations and failure to enforce existing regulations were a big part of what happened. And this film lays it all out pretty clearly and points its fingers at the “bad guys.” Good choice of narrator with Matt Damon.
2011 Jon Favreau 118 PG-13 Cowboys & Aliens Cowboys, outlaws and native Americans are forced to join forces to battle against vicious aliens who have abducted their kin. What’s unique about this story is that it is set in the old American West (1875, New Mexico Territory), long before the culture of UFO sightings, science fiction and even before anything more technologically advanced than guns and rifles. So these people have no idea what has hit them. Daniel Craig stars as a man who apparently has just experienced something traumatic, but is suffering from amnesia and doesn’t even know who he is. He also has no explanation for the appearance of a strange “bracelet” on his left wrist, which proves to be a powerful weapon. The cast also includes Harrison Ford, as Woodrow Dolarhyde, a wealthy cattle rancher, and Olivia Wilde as Ella, a mysterious woman who takes a special interest in Daniel Craig. The only problem is, the story isn’t all that interesting, and ends up being somewhat predictable (with one notable exception I won’t reveal). Plenty of explosive action and the alien creatures are quite scary, but that isn’t enough to hold the production together.
2010 Anton Corbijn 105 R The American George Clooney is “Jack” and sometimes “Edward” (but we’re not talking split personalities here). He is quiet, mysterious and lonely. But he has a job to do and takes most of the movie completing one particular assignment, while constantly looking over his shoulder. With minimal dialog and not much action, he demonstrates that he is an expert in his field. A field that often places him in grave danger. The film reveals very little about Jack, who is first seen in Sweden and then for the rest of the film, in Italy. He gets instructions by phone from a man named Pavel (Johan Leysen), but we never learn who Pavel is or what organization he represents. Jack’s client, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), is equally mysterious, but proves she too knows her job well. Along the way he becomes very friendly with his favorite prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido). The end of the story does not come completely by surprise and provides at least a partial explanation for all that went before, but still leaves some key questions unanswered. I did however discover later, that my understanding of the ending was wrong; it is an easy mistake to make, but I can’t say anything more without spoiling it. But if you think you may have also misunderstood, check out the “FAQ” section on the web page for this title at www.imdb.com . Because the story develops so slowly and is more visual than most films (like a silent movie), it can be frustrating to watch and somewhat unfulfilling at its end. But if you are patient, you may find that the journey is more meaningful than the destination. Rated ‘R’ for some violence and nudity. Regarding the DVD itself, watch it on the largest TV possible, because the film includes occasional subtitles that appear over the picture for foreign language dialog, but are in an extremely small font and don’t always contrast well with the background.
2008 Gabriele Muccino 123 PG-13 Seven Pounds Will Smith stars in this unusual and moving drama which is difficult to describe without giving away too much of the plot. Even the title I dare not explain. We see him as a man who likes to help people, but if he discovers them lacking in good qualities, he denies them his kindness. But we also see a man who has nightmares about something traumatic in his past. We are puzzled by many of his actions and unsure of his motives towards these people who are initially strangers to him. But little by little his past is revealed and by the end we understand his motives but are also shocked and amazed by the actions he has taken. It is a very different sort of character for Will Smith and he fills the role very well. I can also tell you that it is a love story. He falls in love with one of the people he tries to help, Emily (Rosario Dawson). Probably the second most recognizable actor in this film is Woody Harrelson, as Ezra. It is a small role but is also very different in his career. And there are also many other good supporting roles. As confusing as the story was at times, I did like this movie, but I did read one amateur review that gave me pause. The story treats an important social issue in a way that some may find inappropriate and while it would be a spoiler to explain that further, I personally did not have that reaction. I would hope that this film does not encourage impressionable people to do anything rash, but many films glorify or reward behavior most of us would never consider, so I don’t think it would be fair to single this one out on that account.
2007 Nacho Vigalondo 92 R Timecrimes Spanish: “Los Cronocrímenes.” If you enjoy time travel movies with mind bending paradoxes, you will almost certainly enjoy this bit of science fiction from Spain. The DVD has a dubbed English track if you don’t like subtitles. What makes this a bit different from most time travel stories, is that the main character, Héctor (Karra Elejalde), travels only about a half a day into the past. Needless to say this creates confusion for Héctor and the audience, but it is fun trying to keep track of the paradoxes.
2010 Randall Wallace 123 PG Secretariat A very pleasing dramatic recreation of the story of the amazing racehorse, Secretariat. The film enters the story in 1969, when Secretariat (also known as “Big Red”) was still in his mother’s womb, and concludes with the winning of the U.S. Triple Crown at Belmont in 1973. The horse’s owner, Penny Chenery Tweedy is played by Diane Lane and the horse's trainer, Lucien Laurin, is played by John Malkovich. The real Penny makes a cameo appearance at one of the races (and in case you miss it, they point it out during the end credits). Other fine supporting performances are given by Margo Martindale, Fred Dalton Thompson, James Cromwell and Scott Glenn. Even though you know the horse is a winner, they’ve done a very nice job of telling the story without getting sidetracked by irrelevant subplots. It’s a well chosen cast and a screenplay that succeeds without any violence, sex or drugs.
2010 John Cameron Mitchell 91 PG-13 Rabbit Hole Becca (Nicole Kidman) and her husband, Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are a couple who are dealing with the loss of their child just eight months prior. And to make the family even more tragic, Becca also lost her brother some years before, so her mother (Dianne Wiest) is feeling the same type of loss but from a greater distance. Becca and Howie are dealing with their loss in different ways but the way she achieves some sort of resolution is quite unique. I won’t explain it, but it does tie in with the film’s title. Obviously this is a sad story but if you’re up for a good serious drama, this one is worth watching.
2002 Tim Story 102 PG-13 Barbershop A mildly amusing comedy set in a barbershop on the south side of Chicago. Calvin (Ice Cube), the owner, is in trouble financially and sells the shop to a loan shark but then changes his mind, realizing that the shop, a long time family owned business, is an important social institution of the neighborhood. But the loan shark won’t reverse the sale. At the same time, there is a subplot involving two inept thieves who steal an ATM machine and spend the entire duration of the movie trying to break it open. Technically I guess the profanity fits within the PG-13 guidelines, but they do get away with the N-word now and then, which apparently is OK if the speaker is black (with the exception of one white actor whose character thinks he’s black, it is an all-black cast). The humor struck me as somewhat lacking in originality.
2006 Lasse Hallström 116 R The Hoax This film is loosely based on the crazy but true story of how writer Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) sold a fake autobiography of billionaire, Howard Hughes, to his publisher, in the 1970s. I’m sure some of the details were altered for entertainment value but Clifford really did convince McGraw-Hill that he was getting his material directly from Howard Hughes. However, the film did not please the real Clifford Irving, who has said it is “a hoax about a hoax.” It turns out that he was assisted in this madness by his wife, Edith (Marcia Gay Harden) and another author, Richard Suskind (Alfred Molina). Clifford was apparently a skilled forger, as he was able to fool experts regarding Mr. Hughes’ handwriting. After serving time for this fraud, Clifford wrote a book, “The Hoax,” which is partly the basis of this screenplay. If the real Clifford Irving’s comments are to be believed, the characters in the film are nothing like their real-life counterparts. It’s a fairly engaging drama but not great. And don’t be fooled by anything you read that describes it as a comedy (it tries to be at times, but I don’t remember laughing).
1992 John Carpenter 99 PG-13 Memoirs of an Invisible Man I would classify this as a science fiction romantic comedy. Chevy Chase has had his ups and downs, but I think he was a good choice to portray a man caught in the unique position of being invisible. This is not the “Vacation”-movie Chevy Chase. Here he takes his comedy more seriously and is funny without being a bufoon. As Nick Halloway, he finds himself the victim of an “industrial accident” at some sort of research facility. Nick and parts of the research building become invisible and suddenly government agents are out to capture him for use as an invisible spy. The romantic subplot has him falling in love with Alice Monroe (Darryl Hannah), a woman he meets shortly before the accident. I have to say I enjoyed this more than I had expected. With the help of special effects, they created some very clever sight gags associated with Nick’s invisibility. And Nick proved to be quite clever about avoiding discovery, once he got used to the idea of being invisible. Given the “rules of invisibility” as implied by this story, being invisible does have its downside. For example, the only clothes he could wear without being seen was the outfit he had on during the accident. It’s a humorous exploration of a science fiction theme that has not been used very often, but is handled quite well here.
2007 Woody Allen 108 PG-13 Cassandra’s Dream Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell) are close brothers from a working class family in England. Both have dreams of a better life and the first thing they do is to buy a sailboat and christen it "Cassandra's Dream." And they enjoy trying to impress their girlfriends with their future plans. But when Terry gets into deep financial trouble, the brothers seek help from their Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson). They are shocked, however, when they learn what he wants in return. This is a very good crime thriller. Woody Allen directs only, he's not in it, and if you didn't know it, you probably wouldn't think it was one of his films (except for the fact that in recent years he has been making more films that are like that). It is a well written plot and the lead actors are very good. I happen to be a fan of composer, Philip Glass, and his original score is a good fit to the mood of this film.
2003 Jean-Paul Rappeneau 115 PG-13 Bon Voyage Since the title is not unique, I will emphasize that this is the "Bon Voyage" directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau (interestingly, even Alfred Hitchcock made a film with this title, which was a short propaganda film, also set in World War II). The language of this film is French (the DVD has English subtitles but no English audio track). In this film you will find a complex plot with many characters and subplots to keep track of in this romantic comedy set in the historical context of the German occupation of France. The story spans 1939-1942 and begins in Paris where the first character, a movie actress, is introduced: Viviane Denvers (Isabelle Adjani). She and many other Parisians soon find themselves fleeing from the approaching German Army. They all head for Bordeaux, with new characters added to the mix along the way. In Bordeaux, all the main characters cross paths again in a very chaotic city overwhelmed by the influx of refugees from the north. Eventually the separate subplots merge, involving the actress, her old boyfriend (Grégori Derangère), a professor of physics and his beautiful young assistant (Virginie Ledoyen), a journalist, the French Interior Minister (Gérard Depardieu) and others. Because of the historical setting, a number of interesting details are based on actual events, but otherwise it is an entirely fictional screenplay, inspired by the director's memories of this period from his childhood. The director went out of his way to find hotels and other buildings to film in that were from that period, and in some cases, actually were sites where important events took place, thus adding to the authenticity of the film's atmosphere. A very well paced story that should keep you interested right to the end.
2002 Aleksandr Rogozhkin 103 PG-13 The Cuckoo Russian: "Kukushka." A fascinating wartime drama set in a remote area near the border of northern Finland and northwest Russia. It’s right at the end of the “Continuation War” between the Finns and the Soviets. An abandoned Finnish soldier (Ville Haapasalo) and a wounded Soviet Captain (Viktor Bychkov) find themselves the benefactors of a kind Lapp (Saami) woman (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), who herself has lost her husband to war. None of them can understand each other's languages and therein lies the drama and the humor. Juuso is definitely the star of the show with a tremendously expressive performance as she cares for these men and seems to understand them better than they understand her, in spite of the language difference. Unless you understand all three languages, plus a little German, you will need the subtitles (no English soundtrack on the DVD). Highly recommended.
2005 Stephen Frears 103 R Mrs. Henderson Presents Mrs. Henderson (Judi Dench) is a wealthy London socialite, who has just lost her husband in the year 1937. She attempts to find a hobby to fill her time now but finds little satisfaction until she chances upon a boarded up theatre in London’s West End. She buys the theatre and hires Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to put together a show, granting him, at his insistence, full artistic license. When the crowds run thin after an initial success, Mrs. Henderson tells Van Damm to add nude women to the show. The only problem being that the law will not permit such nudity on the stage unless the women don’t move. So they find creative ways to comply with regulations and the new show is a hit. Needless to say, there is a great deal of nudity in this movie, both male and female, though mostly female. And occasionally Mrs. Henderson uses some shocking language. All in good fun for a great comedy. Even when Germany bombs London, the show must go on. The Windmill Theatre, as it was called, was a real theater and the screenplay is based on a book by Sheila Van Damm, daughter of the real Vivian Van Damm, who had inherited the theatre when the real Mrs. Henderson died in 1944. Judi Dench was nominated for Best Actress for this role.
2011 Rupert Wyatt 105 PG-13 Rise of the Planet of the Apes A surprisingly good addition to the “Planet of the Apes” series of films that began in 1968. While the previous film in 2001 was a remake of the first film, this new movie can be looked at as being a prequel to the original story, to explain how the apes took over the planet in the first place. However, if you are familiar with the other films in the series, you may recall that an alternate explanation (by way of a time paradox) was provided in “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972). So in that sense, the new movie is a remake of “Conquest” but without the paradox. The lead ape character in the new film is likewise named Caesar, though his origins are entirely different from the storyline of “Conquest.” The new story involves scientist Will Rodman (James Franco), who is using apes to test a cure for Alzheimer's disease. The experimental drug (technically a virus) has unexpected side effects in “Caesar” and therein lies the seed of the new screenplay. The special effects used to create all the apes in the film are quite impressive. You never feel like you’re watching a man in a suit (unlike the other films in the series). The film also features John Lithgow as Will’s father. If you’re a fan of the original 1968 film, pay attention for at least a dozen references to that film, though many are quite subtle; I only spotted four of them. Also, do not walk out when the end credits start to roll because an important part of the story continues during the first minute or so of the credits. It’s an exciting and well made action thriller.
2010 Darren Aronofsky 108 R Black Swan This was just too dark and depressing. I’m not a fan of ballet, but that isn’t the problem. I didn’t care about any of the characters. And the surprise ending just wasn’t worth what it took to get there. Natalie Portman stars as ballerina Nina Sayers. She has been given the starring role in a new production of “Swan Lake” but she keeps having hallucinations that get more and more bizarre as rehearsals proceed. Nina lives with her mother (Barbara Hershey), a former ballerina, who is also pretty messed up. The R-rated content of the film is pretty strong stuff. Graphic violence, sex (including a surprisingly graphic lesbian sex scene), drug usage and profanity. Portman won the Oscar for her performance but in this case I was not able to fully appreciate what she did.
2010 David O. Russell 115 R The Fighter A very good drama which tells the real life story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his older half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Both were boxers from Lowell, Massachusetts, and as the film begins, Dicky is retired but wants to help his younger sibling win a title match. The difficulty was that after ending his boxing career, Dicky became a drug addict and instead of helping Micky, he ended up making things worse. Their manager-mother Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) tries to keep control of things but it isn't easy when Micky's new girlfriend (Amy Adams) starts interfering with Alice's plans for Micky's future. As I said, it is based on a true story of these brothers and the relationships within their large family (the brothers had seven sisters). Obviously the film includes some realistic boxing matches, but it is the drama within the family that drives the story. They run pretty fast and loose with the profanity, but it is not really out of place in this situation. Very good acting performances, resulting in two Academy Awards: Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, plus a nomination for Amy Adams.
2008 Kelly Reichardt 80 R Wendy and Lucy A somewhat sad but very compelling drama about a young woman, Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams), who is trying to make her way from Indiana to Alaska to find work. Her only companion is her dog, Lucy. And with a limited budget, she is literally living in her car. But somewhere in Oregon her car breaks down. So most of the film is about her experiences while stuck in this one unnamed town (it was filmed in and around Portland). You probably won’t recognize any of the actors, which is just as well, because I think a big-name star would have been distracting. In addition to being a relatively short film, there is very little dialog, though apparently there was just enough incidental profanity to qualify for an ‘R’ rating, but apart from that it is more like a PG movie. I guess you could call this a “sleeper” since it is not well known but I strongly recommend it. But, just to be clear, this is not an action film and is slow paced compared to most films. Michelle Williams’ acting is definitely what makes this story work.
2011 Sebastian Gutierrez 79 NR Girl Walks Into a Bar This film is unique in that it is the first feature film made directly for distribution over the Internet. So don’t go looking for it on DVD, just logon to YouTube. I was impressed that for such a project they were able to obtain the services of actors such as Danny DeVito, Gil Bellows, Carla Gugino and Josh Hartnett. The story begins with the title event and proceeds to introduce the audience to a series of characters meeting in various bars over the course of one long night. As each new scene introduces new characters, they at first seem to have no connection with each other but eventually the various threads are tied together. For a movie that is free to view, it’s not bad and in fact the opening episode is really very good and funny. It is a dialog-driven screenplay and most of the dialog is quite good and at times very witty. It shows what can be done these days on a very low budget. The filmmakers used a standard issue Canon 7D camera and it was shot in only eleven days.. I’m not sure what MPAA rating this would get if it had been released in theaters, but PG-13 at least. It does contain sexually suggestive language but no violence. There is a funny nude scene but black bars censor the “naughty bits.” To watch it go to www.youtube.com/user/ShangrilaEnt or www.youtube.com/watch?v=7D4yQPQfFQM . There are four brief commercial interruptions plus one ad before and after the film.
2010 Joseph Kosinski

Tron Legacy For me, this sequel to “TRON” (1982) was a complete waste of time. Confusing and pointless; bad acting and writing. Although it is a live action film, it is so dependent on special effects that it is often more like an animated feature. I saw the original movie but I don’t remember it very well. The special effects in use then were probably more impressive at the time than the effects in this new film are today. Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner star as older versions of their characters from the original film. And via special effects, Bridges also appears as his younger self from 1982. Produced in 3D, but I only saw it in 2D on the DVD.
2010 Matt Reeves 116 R Let Me In This is a British & American remake of the Swedish vampire movie, “Let the Right One In” (2008). It is a very accurate remake in the sense that nearly every plot point from the original film is recreated here. The only notable changes are the characters’ names and the location is New Mexico rather than Sweden. Having seen the original I was incapable of being surprised by anything that happened in the remake, especially since almost nothing was changed in the story (though one important detail was omitted in the remake and one very clever addition was made). But having seen both versions now I do think the original Swedish film is better. But if you like vampire movies and don’t mind the blood, you may still find the remake entertaining if you haven’t seen the original (as a reminder, you can watch the original in dubbed English if you don’t like subtitles). The story is about a 12 year old boy, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), whose parents are separated. At school he frequently suffers at the hands of a small group of bullies. But everything changes when a strange girl his age, Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), moves into the apartment next door. At the same time, the town starts to experience a string of unexplained murders. It’s every bit as R-rated as the original so expect graphic violence (though I would say the Swedish version is a bit more graphic). I reviewed the original film earlier this year so you should find that review near the beginning of my 2011 film reviews.
2010 Christopher Morris 101 R Four Lions An extreme example of black humor which is likely to create very mixed feelings as to whether or not one should be laughing. It’s about a small group of British Muslims who want to follow in the footsteps of Al-Qaeda but are so stupid that they do everything wrong. That’s right, it’s a comedy about suicide bombers. Their moronic escapades are at times very funny but, again, it may prove to be guilty laughter. Rated ‘R’ for profanity and violence. Occasional subtitles for Arabic and other languages spoken.
2005 James Ivory 135 PG-13 The White Countess A very intriguing romance in a historical setting. The year is 1936 and the place is Shanghai, China. It is the period of the conflict between China and Japan. A blind American diplomat, Todd Jackson (Ralph Fiennes), dreams of establishing his own bar in Shanghai if he ever gets lucky with his money. After a chance meeting with the Russian Countess Sofia Belinskya (Natasha Richardson), he realizes that she would be the perfect “centerpiece” for his future establishment. A year later his dream comes true. Along the way a mysterious Japanese friend (Hiroyuki Sanada) of Mr. Jackson assists him in populating his bar with just the right clients to create a sense of political tension that Jackson felt was missing from his otherwise perfect bar. But soon, as in “Casablanca” (1942), the external political situation imposes itself on this otherwise ideal setting. Filmed in Shanghai, it also stars Vanessa Redgrave and Lynn Redgrave. The director, James Ivory, is also known for "The Remains of the Day" (1993), "Howards End" (1992) and "A Room with a View" (1985), so he has a pretty good resumé. While I can't promise that you will find this film as good as those, I do recommend it, especially if you liked those other films. It is also worth noting that the writer, Kazuo Ishiguro, was also the author of the novel on which "The Remains of the Day" was based. Ralph Fiennes isn’t always the greatest romantic lead, but I do think he did a good job playing the blind man.
2010 Richard J. Lewis 134 R Barney’s Version At first I had mixed feelings as I watched this romantic comedy, but the plot developed so far beyond where I first thought it was going that by the end I was quite impressed by the overall result. In point of fact, there is probably more serious drama here than comedy, but it is certainly not without a laugh now and then. It tells the story of Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti), a television producer at "Totally Unnecessary Productions" -- the name pretty much says it all regarding that part of his life. But the main story is about the ups and downs of his love life, which involves a succession of troubled marriages. The actresses playing these wives, in sequence are, Rachelle Lefevre, Minnie Driver and Rosamund Pike. Dustin Hoffman stars as Barney's father. While Barney may not be the sort of person you would really want to know, his undying love for his third wife is what keeps him going and Giamatti's performance reveals Barney as a most passionate man. Pike's performance as the third wife is also impressive. And it’s pretty hard to go wrong with Dustin Hoffman. The 'R' rating is for quite a bit of profanity and a little bit of nudity.
2008 Sam Mendes 119 R Revolutionary Road An often intense drama about a young married couple in the 1950s, struggling to achieve success and happiness in suburban Connecticut. The story moves surprisingly quickly at first, omitting obvious parts of the story that most movies would show you. It starts with Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) meeting April (Kate Winslet) at a party and suddenly one minute later you see them already married. And then, strangely, it goes another 23 minutes before you see that they have two school age children, at which point you realize that the jump cut from the party was a seven year jump. DiCaprio and Winslet are both very good as you might expect (Kate won a Golden Globe), but there are also some very good supporting roles that really make the film that much more entertaining. There's Kathy Bates as Helen Givings, their real estate agent, who finds the new house for them on Revolutionary Road. Kathryn Hahn and David Harbour as their neighbors, Milly & Shep Campbell. Zoe Kazan as Maureen Grube, a secretary at Frank's office. And Michael Shannon as a wonderful comic relief character, John Givings, the mentally unstable son of Kathy Bates' character (which got him a nomination at the Academy Awards). There is a lot of tension between Frank and April as they confront decisions about how they want their future to play out. You may cringe at times when they fight, but it is a powerful domestic story which descends into tragedy. It is based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Richard Yates (I haven’t read it but I’ve heard a lot of praise for it). There is one unusual detail about Frank’s character that I noticed, which is that he only calls his wife by her name, April; never “honey” or any other term of endearment. I’m not sure if that came from the book or not, but it did strike me as odd. The sets and costuming create a very good sense of the 1950s in America. Although the ‘R’ rating is for profanity and sex, it is pretty mild by today’s standards. If you’re looking for a good strong drama, check this one out.
2003 Richard Donner 115 PG-13 Timeline I recently read the novel by Michael Crichton and thought it might make a good movie. But then I discovered somebody had already made one and that it had not been well received. Well, I decided to watch the DVD anyway just to see what they had done with the story. And what they did was to leave a lot of it out and change the ending slightly. The main thread of it, about rescuing an archaeology professor trapped by a time machine in 14th century France, remains mostly intact, but many details are missing, so compared to the novel, it seems rushed. So it is difficult for me to have the same perspective on this movie as someone who has not read the book and doesn't have the same expectations. They also made significant changes to some of the characters, for example, “Chris” in the book is one of the professor’s graduate students but the movie transforms him into the professor’s son. No major stars were cast, though Gerard Butler who plays the Andre Marek character is now becoming more well known. The action sequences were fairly exciting, especially the big battle scene at La Roque castle. So if you haven’t read the book you might enjoy it but reading the novel will prove much more rewarding.
2010 Spencer Susser 106 R Hesher You might find this title filed under “Comedy” but “Bizarre Drama” might be more accurate. But be forewarned that this film contains everything that the “R” rating can give you: sex, violence, drug usage and some very profane and offensive dialog. In fact (and this is quite unusual) even the menu screen of the DVD is slightly offensive. “Hesher” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the name of one of the main characters and is definitely the most outrageous. I would describe him as a homeless anarchist. But the central character of the story is “T.J.” (Devin Brochu), a young teenager who has just lost his mother in a car crash and in his grief has developed a strong emotional attachment to the remains of the family car. T.J. and his father (Rainn Wilson) have moved in with the slightly foggy grandmother (Piper Laurie). After a chance encounter between T.J. and Hesher at a construction site, Hesher, through intimidation and cunning, takes up residence in T.J.’s home under the presumption of being a friend of T.J. Incredibly, the father and grandmother accept this premise in spite of the obvious absurdity. A romantic interest for T.J. is also introduced in the role of Nicole (Natalie Portman). She is much taller than T.J. and in real life, Portman was 28 when the filming took place, but I think you are supposed to believe that Nicole is only a few years older than T.J. (or maybe a large age gap was intended just to make the relationship more unusual). So, all that said, the main plot involves the ways in which Hesher interferes with T.J.’s life during this period of bereavement . Again, I will emphasize that there is much in this film that you may find offensive and revolting. It is, on the other hand, an extremely original story brought to life with great acting and direction, so those who are immune to the negatives may be well entertained (certainly no one will be bored). On the bright side, the ending is both hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.
2011 Joe Johnston 124 PG-13 Captain America: The First Avenger A very well made comic book hero movie, which tells the origins story of “Captain America.” I am not at all familiar with the comic book version of this character, but this screenplay tells you everything you need to know. It tells the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a young man of small stature who, more than anything, wants to serve the United States in the armed services, during World War II. But after being rejected for service several times, a little known unit, the “Strategic Scientific Reserve,” recruits him for an experimental program. Steve emerges from this experiment with the strength of several men. Eventually he is sent to Europe where he engages against a German unit known as “Hydra,” which is headed by Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). There is lots of action and some impressively designed sets and gadgetry; occasionally you may be reminded of scenes from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981). The film also stars Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. It might be a coincidence but I was amused when I observed that the “Johann Schmidt” character is played by the same actor who was “Agent Smith” in the “Matrix” trilogy, since “Schmidt” is the German equivalent of “Smith.” Be sure to sit through the end credits because there are extra scenes afterwards that serve as a preview of the sequel to this film, “The Avengers,” currently slated for release in May, 2012. This is definitely one of the better films of this genre.
2010 Mark Romanek 104 R Never Let Me Go This British film is a love story, but the context in which the romance develops is a world of dark secrets, and is in fact quite bizarre and shocking. The truth about the world in which these young lovers live is revealed slowly and sometimes subtly. In spite of the fact that the story appears to be set in the recent past (1978-1994), when you learn the truth you will realize it is an “alternate reality” with a hint of science fiction just beneath the surface. Although the love story itself is quite good, it is a difficult film to recommend, because as you begin to understand the role these young people play in this parallel universe, you may find it quite disturbing from a morality perspective. As for the ‘R’ rating, there is no violence or profanity, just some fairly tame scenes of nudity and sex. Each of the main characters is played by a child actor and later by an adult, but here I will only name the adult actors. The narrator and central character of the film is "Kathy H." played by Carey Mulligan, whom you may remember from "An Education" (2009). She recounts her life in sequential flashbacks beginning with boarding school and continuing through early adulthood. Her love interest is Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and her best friend is Ruth (Keira Knightley). It is a quiet, slowly paced drama, so an attention span is required. The liner notes on the DVD cover give away some of the secrets I’m not revealing here, so if you feel you need to know more before watching it, just read that. Again, the romantic elements are very good, as is the acting, but you may find the world they live in a bit too weird.
2010 Tony Goldwyn 107 R Conviction Since “innocent man in prison” isn’t exactly a new plot for a movie, I approached this film with somewhat low expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good it is. It is based on the true case of Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell), convicted of murder in 1983 in Massachusetts. Kenny and his sister, Betty Anne (Hilary Swank), were very close as children, and she never for a moment believed he was guilty. And so strong were her convictions that she went to law school to become a lawyer, in hopes of then being able to find a way to prove Kenny was innocent. Also featured is Minnie Driver, as Betty Anne's friend and law school classmate, Abra Rice; Juliette Lewis as one of Kenny's former girlfriends, Roseanna Perry; and Peter Gallagher as Barry Scheck, the attorney who founded "Innocence Project." It has some great acting performances, supported by well written dialog. There is a fair amount of profanity now and then, plus a few disturbing images of the crime scene at the very beginning of the film, so it probably ranks toward the low end of the “R” rating level. On the DVD there is a good interview between the director and the real Betty Anne Waters.
2010 James Wan 104 PG-13 Insidious What starts out as a very scary “haunted house” movie degenerates into a cheap imitation of “Poltergeist” (1982). They were doing so well right through the séance scene, which was quite impressive, but after that it wasn’t so scary. The story is about Renai and Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) and their three young children. They have just moved into a large old house but they soon move out after Renai is scared out of her wits one too many times. Except that the "problem" moves with them. Josh's mother (Barbara Hershey) knows a paranormal expert (Lin Shaye) and she and her crew are invited to the new house to evaluate the spooky happenings. So if you don’t mind that only the first half is good and scary, you might enjoy this if you like horror movies. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
2000 Wong Kar-Wai 98 PG In the Mood for Love Chinese: “Fa yeung nin wa.” A poetic tale of love and secrets. Set in Hong Kong, 1962. On the same day and within minutes of one another, Mr. & Mrs. Chan rent a room from Mrs. Suen and Mr. & Mrs. Chow rent a room from the Koo family down the hall. We soon realize that Mrs. Chow and Mr. Chan are always away and in fact they are never seen on screen. Meanwhile Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) strike up a casual relationship as they discover common interests. There may be love developing between them but on screen it is very subdued, never even a kiss. However, the ending gives a hint that more may have been going on off screen, and it is an unusual ending for a romantic story, certainly very unlike most American romantic films. Though much of it is filmed in dimly lit claustrophobic apartments and offices or at night, the photography is striking, and the wardrobe department added to the imagery by giving Maggie Cheung a uniquely patterned dress for every scene. The few scenes outside on the street seem to suggest they are in a very “dead” part of town, as there is never anyone else on the street. Another unusual factor is the musical soundtrack, which includes three songs performed by Nat King Cole, sung in Spanish, no less. It is a very moody film that doesn’t waste dialog explaining everything, so you have to read between the lines. You will also have to read subtitles unless you understand Cantonese, Shanghainese and French. I enjoyed this for its unusual style and imagery and if you are prepared for the cultural differences and the non-Hollywood story, you may like it as well.
2011 Terrence Malick 139 PG-13 The Tree of Life A popular expression these days for creative thinking is “think outside the box.” This movie is definitely outside the box. It is a very difficult film to understand and to explain, and as such, will leave many viewers scratching their heads while others might even feel lifted spiritually by the experience. It is a very unusual approach to story telling. It contains much symbolism that will mean different things to different people. The core of the movie is a story about a couple (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) raising their three boys in a small Texas town in the 1950s, with the main focus being the relationship between the oldest boy and his father. That much is pretty straight forward and actually makes for a very good film by itself (Pitt’s performance was award-worthy), but it is the sections of the film which serve as prelude and postlude to the main story, which create much of the mystery and confusion. I knew nothing about the film at the start and afterwards read a variety of reviews and then watched it again. I still haven't grasped all of it, but here is what I think is going on, though you may very well see it differently. Most of the film consists of the dreams and flashbacks of the mother and of Jack, the oldest son, from the perspective of his adult self (Sean Penn). One unusual feature of the film is that Jack is the only person ever addressed by name, and that only happens 115 minutes into the movie. For the rest of the family you have to consult the end credits, where you learn that they are the O'Brien family. It can be very unsettling to watch a film for so long without knowing any of the characters' names. So it is Mrs. O'Brien whose flashbacks we see at the beginning of the film,which include an episode showing her as a child and then as an adult, about 22 years into her marriage when she learns one of her sons has died. Then there is a jump to the future where you first see the adult Jack (though you don't know his name at that point) and now he is dreaming about the loss of his younger brother all those years ago. Then, as they say, the story goes off the deep end. You now get what has the look and feel of a PBS nature documentary, minus the narration, which runs about fifteen minutes. My interpretation is that it represents the birth of the universe and planet Earth. It is a visually stunning sequence, which in part may remind some viewers of "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), an impression aided by the fact that the same visual effects artist, Douglas Trumbull, worked on both films. This sequence includes a brief segment about the time of the dinosaurs, which is an outstanding piece of lifelike animation. After adult Jack has another brief dream, you finally get to the longest part of the film which covers the life of this family from just before Jack is born, to a time when Jack is a teenager. Another unusual feature of this movie is the dialogue. Much of it is not conversational, but rather the inner thoughts or whisperings of the characters. You get the sense you are watching a set of home movies from different times in the life of the O'Brien family. There is no plot; you're just watching them live and watching the boys grow up. This phase of the movie reaches a climax and then you are back to dreams of adult Jack and another "universe" sequence which may represent the end of life on Earth. Jack's final dream is a real puzzler, but if you accept it as a dream then it doesn't have to follow logically from the rest of the story. My mistake on the first viewing was trying to make literal sense out of the ending. It is a beautifully photographed film and some scenes present an extremely joyous blend of images and classical music. I'm sure some of you will love it and some will be bored silly, but I urge you to watch it at least twice before rendering a verdict.
2011 Brett Ratner 104 PG-13 Tower Heist An entertaining action comedy that has its story roots in “Robin Hood” and the recent Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme scandal. Alan Alda stars as Arthur Shaw, a very wealthy investor who owns a very exclusive condominium tower in New York City and lives in the top floor penthouse, complete with rooftop pool. The building manager, Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), learns that Mr. Shaw has been charged with investment fraud and that amongst the victims are the entire staff of the building. Josh proceeds to assemble a team from these victims, including a recently evicted resident of the building, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick). The plan is to rob Mr. Shaw of his presumed secret stash of cash. Josh’s only problem is that he needs an experienced criminal on the team and so he brings in a small time thief he only has a passing acquaintance with, "Slide" (Eddie Murphy). Some of the things they do are somewhat silly and other things they manage to accomplish are inexplicable, but I did get a lot of laughs out of this against-all-odds heist. The film also stars a favorite of mine, Téa Leoni as FBI Special Agent Claire Denham, who's also a love interest for Josh (Stiller is one of my least favorite actors). This probably wasn’t the best cast they could have assembled but it was fun to see Eddie Murphy again.
2011 Seth Gordon 98 R Horrible Bosses This is a very funny comedy, but I’ll warn you that it contains some pretty serious profanity and some of the things the characters say and do are likely to be offensive and downright disgusting to some viewers (including me). The plot has its origins in Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” (1951), but ramps it up to a three-way arrangement and of course changes Hitchcock’s serious psychotic theme into a “stupid criminal” story. Three friends, Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), work at different companies, but each has his own reasons for hating his boss. Nick's boss, Mr. Harken (Kevin Spacey), is a clock watcher, Dale's boss, Julie (Jennifer Aniston -- very attractive as a brunette dentist) is sexually harassing him very aggressively, and Kurt's boss, Bobby (Colin Ferrell - I did not even recognize him in this role) is just a spoiled brat who recently inherited his father's company. The three men plot to kill each other's bosses and seek the assistance from a man they meet in a seedy part of town (Jamie Foxx). Much stupidity ensues. I won’t reveal all the crazy things that go wrong with their plan, but the result is quite funny.
2010 Ben Affleck 125 R The Town This is an excellent “cops and robbers” action film, though it is admittedly very violent and heavy on the profanity, but that goes with the territory. The town they’re talking about is Charlestown, a neighborhood of Boston. Director, Ben Affleck, also co-wrote the screenplay and fills the lead acting role as “Doug MacRay.” Doug is a member of a gang that robs banks and armored trucks and they really know the ins and outs of “the business.” Following a hold-up that didn’t go quite as planned, Doug decides he needs to keep close tabs on one of the witnesses, Clarire (Rebecca Hall), who was a manager at the bank. He does this by striking up a friendship with her, but discovers he likes her. So you’ve got a little romance going there to counterpoint the violence of his gang. Two other actors here you may have heard of are Pete Postlethwaite as "Fergie" and the always reliable Chris Cooper as Doug's father. If you accept the type of movie this is, I don’t think you can go wrong here. I can’t think of one thing that is wrong with it. Solid entertainment. Note: this review is based on the theatrical version of the film, but some DVDs include an extended version that is about 25 minutes longer.
2010 Gilles Paquet-Brenner 102 PG-13 Sarah’s Key French: "Elle s'appelait Sarah." An excellent drama based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, which in turn, was inspired by history: the arrests of thousands of Jews in Paris (by the French Police), in July 1942. "Sarah" (Mélusine Mayance) is a young girl whose family is amongst those sent off to a concentration camp. Her story alternates with the 21st Century story of Julia (Kristin Scott Thomas), a journalist writing a story about those events in Paris, and discovers her husband's family has a personal connection to them. Over the course of the film the two stories merge as the past catches up with the present. Interestingly, about six months before "Sarah's Key" was first shown, another French film, "La Rafle" (The Round Up) was released, which was also about the same historical events of 1942, though not based on de Rosnay's novel. The difference is that de Rosnay’s characters were completely fictional but "La Rafle" included characters based on real people. You will need to turn on the subtitles since most of the dialogue is in French with occasional English, Italian, German and Yiddish. Highly recommended.
2011 Glenn Ficarra + John Requa 118 PG-13 Crazy, Stupid, Love. Yes, this is crazy, sometimes stupid and it is about love. But it starts right out the gate with a divorce. Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) have been married about 25 years but she asks for the divorce and admits to an affair with a guy at her office, David (Kevin Bacon). So Cal attempts to reenter the dating scene but is so clueless about it that a total stranger, Jacob (Ryan Gosling), takes pity on him and shows him how to pick up women. At the same time, there are other romances brewing. These involve Cal's son Robbie, the babysitter, a school teacher (Marisa Tomei), and finally, Hannah (Emma Stone), a young law student, but I won't reveal who's involved with whom. They postpone most of the big laughs until the second hour of the movie, so if the first hour seems a bit dry, that’s the way it is. But there are some great surprises and laughs in that second half. One thing that put me off a little was an unusual number of very obvious product placements. You will see or hear a lot of well known brands mentioned throughout the film. It’s a common practice to fund a movie but it is definitely more noticeable here (at least nine brands). Some of the humor is off-color but not too extreme under the PG-13 limitations, though some still may find it offensive. The same applies to a sight gag involving nudity. It wasn’t uniformly funny as I indicated, but I think the payoffs at the end are probably worth waiting for. Most of the acting performances are very good, especially the child actors, but Kevin Bacon was a dud. I also thought that Liza Lapira, who plays a small role as one of Hannah’s friends, delivered some very good lines. An above average romantic comedy.
2011 Joe Wright 111 PG-13 Hanna A somewhat overrated action thriller that takes you from the high arctic wilderness of Finland, to Morocco to Germany (but I will give them credit for filming on location in those countries). The CIA has lost track of a former agent (Eric Bana) and his 16-year old daughter, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan). The chase is on when Hanna intentionally reveals their location by radio beacon, but the CIA is only able to capture Hanna. She escapes and attempts to reach a prearranged rendezvous with her father, with the CIA bearing down on both of them. It’s not so easy, because Hanna’s father has trained her well. She is a deadly assassin with a secret which she only learns herself late in the story. Cate Blanchett stars as Marissa, the CIA agent who is in charge of eliminating Hanna and her father, to protect the CIA’s secrets. I think this is a movie that wanted to be something like "La Femme Nikita" (1990) or one of the "Bourne" movies, but with a much younger hero. Unfortunately the plot is weak and contains some details that just don't make sense. I'm sure even the younger audience this was probably intended for would spot those flaws.
2011 Thomas McCarthy 106 R Win Win This is a wonderful dramatic comedy with a refreshingly original story. But it’s a shame they forced it to get an ‘R’ rating for language because there is really nothing else about it that would justify an ‘R’. And the story didn’t really need that level of profanity. But if you’re willing to overlook the extra S* and F* words, you’re in for a treat. Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a small town lawyer, whose practice is experiencing a bit of a slump. He also works evenings as a wrestling coach at the local high school, a task he shares with “Vig” (Jeffrey Tambor). At work he takes on a client, Leo (Burt Young) who is a senior citizen bordering on dementia. Nobody can locate his only known relative, his daughter, so the court agrees to let Mike become his guardian. Since Leo can't really live alone anymore, Mike puts him in a senior care facility. But things get complicated when Leo's missing relatives start showing up.
2011 Martin Scorsese 126 PG Hugo This movie is a love letter to the pioneers of film making and to the magic of the movies themselves. A delightful story about the orphan son of a clock repairman, who discovers a secret hidden in a mechanical man, an “automaton,” that his father (Jude Law) had been attempting to repair before he died. The setting is Paris, France, about 1930. The young boy, Hugo (Asa Butterfield), lives behind the walls of a train station and works to keep all the station’s clocks working, as his father and uncle did before him. An old shopkeeper in the station (Ben Kingsley) accuses Hugo of theft and confiscates the boy’s prize possession, a small notebook containing drawings of the mechanical man. In the process of trying to get it back, he makes friends with the shopkeeper’s goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), and the process of discovery begins. Another important character is the Station Inspector (head of security) played by Sacha Baron Cohen (I should point out that although some of Sacha’s previous film roles have been quite repulsive, here he is perfectly decent). The film was made with the 3D process, and this is one case where I do recommend attending a 3D showing if available. But I’m sure you will find it a visual delight even in traditional 2D. A good time will be had by all.
2009 Marc Webb 95 PG-13 (500) Days of Summer This is a fun, light hearted romantic comedy, with a very unique way of telling the story. “Summer” it turns out is the name of the young lady in this romance, played by Zooey Deschanel. And the “(500)” is the number of days from the start to the end of this story, specifically, from January 8, 2006 to May 23, 2007. The catch is that the film bounces around somewhat randomly amongst those 500 days, but every time they jump to a different day in story, they display the number of the day, e.g., “(154).” It would certainly be very confusing otherwise. And, no, they don’t show every single day. Summer meets Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) when she is hired at the greeting card company where he is a verse writer. Eventually they start dating but, and here’s the second “catch,” she informs him that she doesn’t want a boyfriend, but she’s happy to be “just friends.” This is perfectly in keeping with the warning you get at the opening of the film, to the effect that this is not a love story. Tom might beg to differ, but judge for yourself. A secondary character in the film who is very entertaining is Rachel (Chloë Grace Moretz), Tom's wise-beyond-her-years little sister, who frequently gives him dating advice. I won’t give away the ending but I will say that I got a big laugh from the very last word of the last line. It struck me as being the punch line to the whole movie.
2011 Jesse Peretz 90 R Our Idiot Brother This is a bad movie. I don’t know what made me think it was going to be any good. It is pretty lame. It tells the story of Ned (Paul Rudd), who is something along the lines of a hippie and is prone to poor judgement. He tries to live off the kindness of his three sisters, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) and Liz (Emily Mortimer), but he is such a nuisance that they eventually turn him away. He also keeps pestering his ex-girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) to get his dog back. It's a comedy but not very funny, sometimes becoming crude, and offensive. Don’t waste your time.
2011 Greg Mottola 104 R Paul A hilarious science fiction comedy. Two science fiction nerds (or “geeks” if you prefer) from England, Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost), are touring the USA, starting in San Diego, at the Comic-Con convention (by the way, Pegg & Frost also wrote the screenplay). From there they drive their huge RV to Nevada, where they cross paths with a space alien who looks surprisingly like the classic cliché of a short skinny creature with an almond-shaped head. This alien calls himself "Paul" and speaks perfect English (”Paul” is voiced by Seth Rogen). It’s really amazing now days how the visual effects people are able to insert totally computer-generated beings into a live action film and have them look so real. Paul joins Graeme and Clive on their journey. But Federal Agents who have known about Paul for years, are hot on the trail. One of the things that made this movie fun for me, personally, was that most of the places that these two blokes visit on their tour of the western states, are places I’ve been on some of my own road trips and for the very same reasons they went there, due to the association of said places with science fiction movies, TV series and UFO lore in general. Yes, I am indeed a science fiction nerd just like them. I won’t name the places because that would spoil the fun for those of you who are likely to understand their significance. Nor will I name certain famous people who also appear in the film. Another plus for science fiction fans are the many references to other science fiction movies. The only thing that some viewers might have a problem with is the frequent use of profanity, though it is almost entirely used in a humorous vein (but not without the potential to offend). I must say I heard unique combinations of swear words I’ve never heard before! And that basically is the reason for the ‘R’ rating. So if any of this sounds like it might appeal to you, you will probably love it. I did. Don’t stop watching when the end credits roll because the story continues during the credits. The DVD also has a second version of the movie that runs about five minutes longer, which doesn’t change the story in any way, just adds a few seconds here and there to a number of scenes.
2011 Bennett Miller 133 PG-13 Moneyball A very good dramatization of the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Piit), Gemeral Manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. And specifically during their 2002 season. Pitt’s performance is what carries the show. I don’t follow baseball, otherwise I’d probably already know this story, but it was still interesting, particularly since I can appreciate the mathematical reasoning behind Beane’s approach to assembling a team (but don’t get the mistaken notion that this movie is about statistics). The film shows how he hired an assistant, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who had a degree in economics from Yale, and who firmly believed that a winning team could be built based on statistics rather than emotions. I have since learned that this approach goes by the technical name of "sabermetrics." I also now know that “Peter Brand” was not the guy’s real name and so Peter is what they call a “composite character.” The film also features Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the Athletics' manager, Art Howe, who definitely did not agree with Beane’s decisions. It’s a good character driven drama and I’m sure if you are a baseball fan, you will enjoy it even more.
2010 Kelly Reichardt 102 PG Meek’s Cutoff A small group of pioneers are crossing the West in covered wagons in 1845, by taking a short cut off the Oregon Trail. It’s pretty desolate territory. Their guide is Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), and they’re starting to question whether he knows where they’re going. Water is scarce. Along the way they capture a lone Native American (Rod Rondeaux), but they’re not sure what to do with him. Meek was in fact a real historic figure and the story is loosely based on one of his journeys. It is a very quiet movie. Not your typical western. There are no towns, no saloon fights, very little dialogue and a very small cast (nine). The opening is nearly silent, as not a word is spoken during the first seven minutes. It may be the most realistic depiction of the covered wagon days. The night scenes in particular were realistically dark, unlike most night scenes in other movies. They convey very well the feelings of fear and doubt and uncertainty about what they are doing and whether they will survive. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I am almost certain it is nothing you are expecting. Beautifully photographed in an unforgiving landscape. It’s a movie that makes you feel like you are there, silently observing them as they pass by in their quest for a new place to call home. Perhaps too slow paced or minimalist for some viewers, but if you are prepared for that I think you will enjoy it. Just a brief comment about the DVD. You may be surprised to find that this recent release is not a widescreen or “letterbox” presentation. It was actually filmed in a format (1.37:1) which is only fractionally wider than the now obsolete “SD” (standard definition) television screens. So if you still have one of those old sets, the picture will fill the screen, but your HDTV might stretch or crop the image depending on your setup.
2011 Tate Taylor 146 PG-13 The Help Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett, this excellent comedy-drama, set in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960s, tells the story of a young white woman, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone), who dared to write a book about the lives of the black maids in Jackson, from their point of view. At first, the maids were afraid to tell their stories, but over time, Skeeter was able to interview enough of them to satisfy her publisher. The film focuses on the women of Jackson, and gives you a look at the shocking attitudes they had towards their maids and black people in general. That might not sound like a comedy, but believe me, there is some pretty funny stuff here. All excellent performances, though most of the actresses are unfamiliar to me, with the exception of Miss Stone, Mary Steenburgen and Sissy Spacek. It may be a long movie but it never felt that way, thanks to a great story and interesting, believable characters. It does contain a little bit of profanity, within the PG-13 limits, but one such scene is also rather revolting conceptually, though still funny if you overcome the shock.
2011 Steven Soderbergh 106 PG-13 Contagion A star-studded disaster movie in which a mysterious new virus rapidly becomes a global epidemic. Not much in the way of surprises here. The CDC scrambles to develop a vaccine. Riots and looting spread in major cities. Opportunists promote questionable remedies over the Internet. The major cities highlighted include Minneapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, Hong Kong and San Francisco. The high profile actors include Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Elliott Gould and Sanjay Gupta (as himself). It’s a fairly decent drama but often predictable and hardly the most thrilling virus movie out there.
2011 Clint Eastwood 137 R J. Edgar It’s a bit long, but is nevertheless an engaging biographical drama on the life of former FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a strong portrayal of Hoover at different ages, obviously going through major changes in aging makeup (which suffers from being too obvious). The story is told through flashbacks, with the "present" timeframe being the last few years of his life, as he dictates a somewhat distorted autobiography to one of his agents acting as typist. A long section of the screenplay is devoted to his investigation of the Lindbergh kidnapping and subsequent prosecution of Bruno Hauptmann (Damon Herriman). I was unaware of all the innovations he brought to the agency and so in that regard it was quite educational. Of course, the film also explores his private life, including his strongly dominant mother (Judi Dench) and his alleged homosexual relationship with Assistant Director Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). The ‘R’ rating is for occasional profanity. I think the filmmakers tried to make this historically accurate, but clearly some of the “behind closed doors” scenes not in the public record, are purely speculative. I would say it was good but not great, though worth seeing if you have any interest in this part of American history.