Wednesday, December 31, 2008



F. Scott Fitzgerald (September 1896 – December 1940) was an American writer of novels and short stories whose works are evocative of the Jazz Age (a term he coined himself). He is widely regarded as one of the twentieth century's greatest writers. The Great Gatsby is probably his best known novel. He wrote dozens of short stories including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which was first published in Colliers Magazine in 1921.

Cate Blanchette: 80-year-old Daisy
Julia Ormond: her 40-something-year-old daughter Caroline
Taraji Henson: Queenie, owner of a nursing home
Mahershalalhashbaz Ali: Queenie’s best friend Tizzy
Spencer Daniels: 12-year-old Benjamin Button
Madisen Beaty: 10-year-old Daisy
Brad Pitt: Benjamin from the age of 16 onwards
Jared Harris: tugboat Captain Mike
Tilda Swinton: Elizabeth Abbott, wife of a British spy
Jason Flemyng: wealthy industrialist Thomas Button

“Once upon a time…”
That would have been a better opening to this fairy tale about a newborn child who looks like a crippled old man and because of reverse-aging will look younger as he gets older.
Using flashbacks from the reading of a journal written by Benjamin, a series of vignettes chronologically follows him as he grows up from the end of World War I to present day. As each one is fairly short there is no boredom factor but because it takes 2 hours and 47 minutes to cover all those years, some may feel the film is too long. I did not even though I am not a big fan of any movie that goes beyond two hours. The movie is very entertaining, even engrossing and has some special effects that are worth the price of admission alone. The acting is uniformly great (especially by Pitt) and the sound track is a joy to hear.

for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking.

The process of an actor re-recording lines they spoke during filming that must be replaced to improve audio quality or reflect dialog changes is called automated dialogue replacement (ADR). If done well this post-production step cannot be detected. Such is not the case when Benjamin is sitting on a little sofa in the living room relating one of his stories.

It is interesting to note that smoking has become one of the factors considered by the MPAA board when assigning ratings to a movie.


Romantic comedy

A covenant is a solemn promise to engage in or refrain from a specified action. In contrast to a contract, it is a one-way agreement whereby the covenanter is the only party bound by the promise.

Jim Carrey: Bank Loan Officer Carl Allen
Rhys Darby: his boss Norman
John Michael Higgins: Nick, a former colleague of Carl
Terence Stamp: motivational speaker Terrence Bundley
Zooey Deschanel: Allison, a girl Carl meets by chance
Bradley Cooper: Car’s best friend Peter

As a comedy it works for me: there are quite a few mildly humorous moments and more than a few “laugh-out-loud” scenes. Even though it’s a bit contrived it’s not ridiculously foolish. And the antics of Jim Carrey are more restrained unlike his earlier movies. Mind you he does act pretty silly sometimes and there are some situations that some viewers would find distasteful.

Regarding the romantic side of things, the people involved actually seem to like one another. How refreshing.

for crude sexual humor, language and brief nudity.

1. Though the open passenger’s window Carl’s buddy wishes him well. Carl immediately drives off but the car window is no longer open.
2. The price of regular gas is posted at $5.23. The highest price ever in Los Angeles was $4.61 a gallon.
3. While having lunch the bottle of hot sauce changes position from one shot to the next without anyone touching it.



Professional wrestling is a non-competitive sport, an athletic performing art containing strong elements of mock combat and theatre. It usually features striking and grappling techniques modeled after other pugilistic styles from around the world. Most wrestlers develop a specialized technique as their “trademark” move.

While each wrestling match is ostensibly a competition of athletics and strategy, the goal of each match from a business standpoint is to excite and entertain the audience. Although the competition is staged, dramatic emphasis is utilized to draw out the most intense reaction from the audience.

Professional wrestling is a billion-dollar industry, drawing revenue from ticket sales, television broadcasts, branded merchandise and home video. It was instrumental in making pay-per-view a viable method of content delivery.

There are three ways to win a match:
By pinfall: a wrestler must pin both his opponent's shoulders against the mat while the referee slaps the mat three times. This is the most common form of defeat.
By submission: a wrestler must make his opponent give up, usually, but not necessarily, by putting him in a submission hold.
By a countout: this happens when a wrestler is out of the ring long enough for the referee to count to ten (or twenty), and thus disqualified.

To satisfy the bloodlust of some fans, a more violent form of the sport is promoted as Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) with the combatants using just about anything to inflict punishment on their opponents such as with thumbtacks, barbed wire, chairs, tables, neon lights, fire and even ladders. It is bloody and brutal.

Mickey Rourke: 50-year-old professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson
Marisa Tomei: his friend Cassidy, a stripper in a local bar
Evan Rachel Wood: Randy’s teenaged daughter Stephanie

Given that this is CZW style wresting the squeamish like me will of necessity have to look away on more than one occasion during the first twenty minutes or so.

What follows is more like a documentary about the world of wrestling than a regular movie with a hand-held camera providing that sense of intimacy with the characters. Although it has a “low budget” look about it that only serves to make it all that more real. And you actually feel for the guy, in large part because the way Rouke handles the role.

for violence, sexuality, some nudity, language and brief drug use.



Ralph Fiennes: 52-year-old attorney Michael Berg
David Kross: as the 15-year-old Michael
Kate Winslet: 36-year-old trolley conductor Hanna Schmitz
Lena Olin: Rose Mather

It is worth going to the movie just to see the wonderful performances by all the principal actors. Kate Winslet in particular does a fantastic job in this thought-provoking film set in Germany in the years following World War II.

At the risk of saying too much I’ll simply point out that some of the issues raised and some of the decisions taken are of themselves worthy of further consideration.

In addition to the fine acting, the cinemaphotography and musical score are first-rate as is the attention to period detail.

“for some scenes of sexuality and nudity.”
This is a bit of an understatement: truth be told, there are quite a few scenes of sexuality. And not just nudity but full-frontal nudity.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Wartime drama
Based on a true story

Adolf Hitler was born in 1889. A decorated veteran of World War I, he joined the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, the Nazi Party, in 1920 and soon became its leader. Following a failed coup he was instrumental in organizing, he wrote Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) while in prison. In 1933 he was named chancellor and quickly established a totalitarian dictatorship. As the Führer and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces he ordered the invasion of Poland in September 1939, the outbreak of World War II. His favourite composer was Richard Wagner who wrote the opera Die Walküre. The most popular piece, the Ride of the Valkyries, is the prelude to Act III.

Hilter conceived the plan named after this opera, called Operation Valkyrie, to have a reserve army that was held back from the front to defend Berlin and himself in case of an Allied assault on the capital.

The largest component of the German armed forces during World War II was the regular army (the Wehrmacht) of 15 million men in three branches: the land forces (Herr), the Navy (Kriegsmarine) and the Air Force (Luftwaffe). Being a member of the Nazi party was not a prerequisite and there were many who found some aspects of the ideology (such as the Final Solution) repugnant.
In 1925 Adolf Hitler formed his own personal bodyguard called the Schutzstaffel (SS) with Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler as its leader. At the outbreak of World War II a combat arm was formed as the Waffen-SS. This all-volunteer army of 600,000 in black uniforms was considered German’s elite land based fighting force. All members of the SS endorsed the Nazi ideology.

Tom Cruise: Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg with the 10th Panzer Division
Kenneth Branagh: Major General Henning von Tresckow, Chief of Staff: Army Group Center
Bill Nighy: General Friedrich Olbricht, Chief of the General Army Office
Terence Stamp: former Colonel General Ludwig Beck
Tom Wilkinson: General Friedrich Fromm, Commander in Chief of the Replacement Army
Eddie Izzard : General Fellgiebe, Communications Officer at the Wolf’s Lair compound

With all around solid performances and great attention to detail, the recounting of an attempt on Hitler’s life is riveting stuff. Although it runs almost two hours, it needs all of that time to recreate the situation and provide enough information so we can understand what was going on.

For some viewers it will be a story retold but to many it will be an eye-opener to learn that not all Germans were bad guys during World War II.

for violence and brief strong language (translation: one instance of the f-word).

Friday, December 26, 2008



Will Smith: Ben Thomas, an IRS agent
Woody Harrelson: Ezra Turmer, a customer service agent
Elpidia Carrillo:Connie, an abused wife
Rosario Dawson: Emily, a young woman with serious medical problems
Michael Ealy: Ben's brother
Barry Pepper: Ben’s best friend Dan

By not revealing Ben’s motives we are left to figure out his unusual behaviour by ourselves. It’s a bit of a guessing game with some clues provided by brief flashbacks from time to time.

Frankly it would have worked much better if we found out right at the beginning what he was up to instead of “oh, that’s what it was all about. Now it makes sense”.

for thematic material, some disturbing content and a scene of sensuality.

The back seat windows in Ben’s car close automatically by themselves when left alone. Not once, but twice. The first time is when Ben drives Emily back from the hospital with her dog Duke in the backseat and both windows open for him. After seeing her to the door as Ben gets back into the car we can see the back window is now closed.

The second time is after they have had a picnic but without the dog so the backseat window behind Ben is only cracked open a couple of inches. But not when he returns to drive off; once more it’s closed right up.

A pound of flesh is slang for “a particularly onerous or unpleasant obligation.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Animated action\adventure

Dustin Hoffman: Roscuro the rat
Kevin Kline: the royal chef André
Matthew Broderick: Despereaux, a cute little mouse
Tracey Ullman: Miggery Sow, a poor orphaned farm girl
Emma Watson: Princess Pea
Sigourney Weaver: the Narrator

Despereaux conveys some very important social values; that it’s not just appearances that are important, one should be courageous and able to forgive. But that is not enough to outweigh the overall tone of despair and doom. Assuming of course the kids can figure it all out as the story is fairly complicated what with the two different worlds with nice guys among the not-so-nice guys and visa versa.

One other thing: the official classification is G but that gives no indication of what’s in the movie. The one I’ve assigned is more appropriate and consistent with other movies of this type. In all likelihood parents of young ones (4 and 5-year olds) might not want to expose their children to these things. And also save themselves a lot of explaining afterwards.

for some mild action and peril, the sudden death of someone, two startlingly scary instances, (one of a skull and another a mean-looking cat) and the expressed desire of some rats wanting to eat the lovely princess.

Perhaps it’s my imagination (or lousy memory?) but Miggery looks very much like Shrek’s wife Princess Fiona. Coincidence? I think not.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Original title: Le Grand Départ
In French with English subtitles

Hélène Bourgeois Leclerc: Nathalie, a 28-year-old artist
Marc Messier: 53-year-old Dr. Jean-Paul (JP) Cardin
Guylaine Tremblay: JP’s wife Céline
Patrick Drolet: their son 18-year-old Guylain
Sophie Desmarais: their daughter 16-year-old Myriam
Rémy Girard: JP’s best friend Dr. Henri Leduc
Diane Lavalee: his wife Pauline

Everything seems so contrived, right from the opening scenes to the final denouement. It comes across more like a TV sit-com than a movie especially the supporting cast of JP’s family and old friends. They are simply too much, too evil or too flaky or too unbelievable. Yeah that’s it: unbelievable.


When visiting Dr. Leduc's home the smoke from the nearby oil refinery chimneys is much in evidence. So is the fact it's just a matte painting because the smoke does not move.


With some Hindi dialogue and English subtitles

Originally called Bombaim by the Portuguese in the 16th century, it was anglicised by the British to Bombay even though it was known as Mumbai or Bambai by the locals. In 1996 the city’s name was officially changed to Mumbai. With a population of 13 million, it is the second most populous city in the world.

1,000 rupees is worth approximately US$20.

Irfan Khan: the Police Inspector
Dev Patel: as the 18 year-old from the slums of Mumbai, Jamal Malik
Anil Kapoor : Prem Kumar, MC of a popular tv game show
Madhur Mittal: Jamil’s older brother Salim
Frieda Pinto: their friend Latika

Some may find the first few minutes a bit disturbing but then it settles down to a pattern of a question posed to Jamal on a game show then a flashback relating to that query.

These snippets of Jamal’s past generally involve his brother and Latika as well. They are not all the same: some are quite funny, others are sad or touching and a few are disturbing enough I had to look away. In each instance the music is an important element in setting the tone and expertly chosen.

Both the editing and the cinematography are very well done. Together they sometimes make the slums of Mumbai look beautiful. Sometimes.

for some violence, disturbing images and language. As far as I’m concerned that classification is too severe as many of the big Hollywood movies have far more of these elements and they only get a PG rating.

At the very beginning there is an on-screen title indicating the year to be 2006 but the huge cheque is dated 2005.

Although the movie shows the real India, stick around while the end credits roll to view the producer’s concession to the very popular Bollywood-type movies.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


In German with English subtitles
Original title: Wolke Neun

Ursula Werner: Inge, a 60-something-year old seamstress
Horst Westphal: one of her clients, 76-year-old Karl
Horst Rehberg: Werner, Inge’s husband of 30 years

Focusing exclusively on the present we never get to know very much about their past so we can only guess what prompts them to do what they do. Werner puts in a terrific heartfelt performance.

Warning: some will find the unabashed sexuality offensive.

for full frontal nudity and lengthy instances of intercourse.



Philip Seymour Hoffman: Father Flynn
Meryl Streep: Mother Superior Sister Aloysius, St. Nicholas’ school principal
Amy Adams : a young nun Sister James
Viola Davis: Donald Miller’s mother

This thought-provoking movie is characterized by exceptionally strong performances by all four principal actors. Although Streep’s role is far more nuanced than the others, it is not necessarily that much better: they are all good.

What they have to say makes for some serious consideration about morality and the truth. Although there are no grand sweeping vistas, I loved the camera work capturing the starkness of the 1960’s catholic school setting.

for thematic material (translation: of no interest to children)

Friday, December 19, 2008


Based on a true story

Yolande Moreau: Séraphine, a poor housekeeper
Ulrich Tukur: German art dealer and critic Wilhelm Uhde
Anne Bennet: his sister Anne-Marie
And others no doubt

The singular most important thing one must have to view this movie is patience. Unfortunately mine ran out after an hour so I never did get to see the ending.

Essentially it evolves at a snail’s pace with a great deal of screen time spent on scenes that add nothing of consequence to the story. Case in point: as shown on the movie poster there is a long tracking shot of Séraphine as she slowly walks up a hill then laboriously climbs up a tree and sits on a branch. This takes about 2 minutes. And what has it to do with the rest of the movie? Nothing!

Do that kind of thing time and again and you wind up with a movie that goes on forever. It’s a shame because it seems it would have turned out to be an interesting story. I’ll never know.



Based on a true story

Phlebitis is an inflammation of a vein, frequently forming blood clots in the deep veins of the legs, a condition known as thrombophlebitis. These clots can travel to the lungs causing a fatal pulmonary embolism.

Michael Sheen: British talk-show host David Frost
Matthew MacFadyen: his producer John Birt
Rebecca Hall: Caroline Cushing, his new found companion
Frank Langella: Richard M. Nixon, the former 37th President of the Unitied States
Kevin Bacon: his Chief of Staff Jack Brennan
Toby Jones: Nixon’s agent Swifty Lazar
Oliver Platt: former National Public Radio bureau chief Bob Zelnick
Sam Rockwell: Watergate historian James Reston Jr.

Although it runs for just over two hours, it doesn’t seem like it: crisp editing, an interesting story that unfolds during the television interviews and two outstanding performances all combine to make time go by too quickly.

Great attention to detail and expert cinematography recreate the time and place beautifully. Music by Hans Zimmer is not one of his best efforts; there is nothing of the calibre he has demonstrated in the past. That is not a criticism, just an observation since that the musical score does not take away from the movie, it simply adds nothing special as his music usually does.

for nudity (a five-second shot of a man running nude towards the ocean and jumping in) and profanity (one singular instance of the vulgar term mother******).

This is one of my classic nitpicks: when the telephone caller (Nixon) hangs up, the person on the end of the line (Frost) hears a dial tone. In reality the dial tone is only heard after picking up the phone before dialling.

The Director Ron Howard has come a long way since starring as Richie Cunniningham in the TV comedy series Happy Days. Not only has he continued as a movie actor, he’s been a producer and director of many movies including Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man and The Da Vinci Code.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Some dialogue in French but no English subtitles

The producers set about to take a look at Montreal in the 50’s and 60’s making use of the archives of the National Film Board of Canada. The result is a series of short stories, snippets of film clips from over 100 documentaries bringing back the sights and sounds of the times, from the mundane city street scenes to performances by Oscar Peterson and Paul Anka to name but a few.

With no commentary to interrupt your train of thought, you are left to make your own.


Most of the people in the movie are angels now, thus the title of the film, the Memory of Angels.


Political drama
Based on a true story

Sean Penn: Harvey Milk, a New Yorker about to turn 40
James Franco: Scott Smith, someone he meets in the subway
Emile Hirsch: street hustler Cleve Jones
Zvi Rosenman: David Goodstein publisher of Advocate, a gay and lesbian magazine
Diego Luna: Jack Lira, one of Harvey’s close friends
Alison Pill: Harvey’s campaign manager Anne Kronenberg
Denis O'Hare: California State Senator John Briggs
Josh Brolin: Dan White, former San Francisco policeman
Victor Garber: San Francisco's Mayor George Moscone

The rise of Harvey Milk to a position of importance is adeptly played out making use of flashbacks as he dictates his memoir. Penn and Brolin give outstanding performances; the supporting cast are almost as good.

The melding of archival film and recreations is done in a manner it’s hard to tell them apart, given the attention to period detail. In fact the entire movie looks and feels so real with the exception of a few minor instances.

for profanity, sexual situations and some violence.

Friday, December 5, 2008



With the return of thousands of military personnel from overseas at the end of World War II, many countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand experienced an unusual spike in birth rates. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the baby boom. The term Baby Boomer is used to describe a person who was born during this post-war period (from 1946 to 1953 or as late as 1964 according to some.)

David M. Walker (born 1951) served as United States Comptroller General from 1998 to 2008 and is now the President and CEO of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Walker has a B.S. in accounting, is a Certified Public Accountant and holds a certificate in Senior Government Management from Harvard University.

Robert L. Bixby is Executive Director of The Concord Coalition, an American nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to fiscal responsibility. He has a bachelor's degree in political science, a master's degree in public administration and a doctorate from George Mason University School of Law. He practiced law and served as the Chief Staff Attorney of the Court of Appeals of Virginia.

Warren Edward Buffett (born 1930) holds a B.A. and Master of Science degree from Columbia University. He is one of the world's most successful investors and the largest shareholder and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. He is currently ranked by Forbes magazine as the second richest man in the world with an estimated net worth of US$46 billion.

Paul Adolph Volcker (born 1927) is an American economist with a M.A. in political economy from Princeton University. He was Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan from August 1979 to August 1987. He is currently chairman-designate of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board under President-elect Barack Obama.

This is a timely documentary about the growing national debt of the United States of America and the impact it will have in the years to come. Making use of animated graphics with archival news footage this slick presentation is far better than the conventional PowerPoint slide show. Without “talking down” to the audience they take the time to explain the basic principals of Macroeconomics 101.

Presented in a cool dispassionate manner without “the sky is falling” rhetoric there is much food for thought and some truly shocking facts not generally that well known.

for some thematic elements.

Thursday, December 4, 2008



Philip Seymour Hoffman: Theater director Caden Cotard
Catherine Keener: his wife Adele
Sadie Goldstein: their 4-year-old daughter Olive
Samantha Morton: Hazel, an employee of the theatre
Hope Davis: Dr. Madeleine Gravis, Caden’s therapist
and no doubt others I didn’t get to see

Let me be perfectly frank with you. I don’t get it.

I tried, believe me I really did by hanging in for an hour before I got up and left totally confused and no longer willing to try figuring it out. I’ll leave that to others.

In the meantime here are a few examples to test your skills.

The movie opens to the sound of the clock radio alarm. Caden is slow to get up, sitting on the edge of the bed listening to the weather forecaster who says it should be a lovely September day. When he gets to the breakfast table and picks up the paper the date is October 15. He then gets dressed and glances once more at the paper and now it’s November 5. He goes to have work done by his dentist and the calendar shows it to be March. OK we got serious time shift so where’s reality in all this? Or is there any?

Hazel sees a house on fire and enters it. She is then given a tour by the real estate agent who points out the salient features of the house while smoke and flame are much in evidence. OK that’s fantasy but what has it got to do with the rest of the story?

Caden answers his daughter’s question about the ugly blotches on his face by telling her it’s an inflammatory skin disorder called sycosis. The scene changes and his skin is perfectly fine. OK that’s a time-shift in the future but we soon find out that Olive has moved to Paris with her mother and Caden no longer has contact with her so how could this take place at all?

for offensive language, some sexual content and nudity.

Synecdoche (pronounced “sin-ECK-de-key”)
a figure of speech by which something is referred to indirectly, either by naming only some part of it (e.g. ‘hands’ for manual labourers) or by naming some more comprehensive entity of which it is a part (e.g. ‘the law’ for a police officer). Usually regarded as a special kind of metonymy, synecdoche occurs frequently in political journalism (e.g.‘Moscow’ for the Russian government) and sports commentary (e.g. ‘Liverpool’ for one of that city's football teams). Some other examples: saying fifty sail for fifty ships, saying society for high society, saying cutthroat for assassin, saying a creature for a man, saying boards for stage.