Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Romantic comedy

Meryl Streep: Jane Adler, owner of a bistro bakery
Alec Baldwin: her ex-husband Jake, an attorney
Lake Bell: Jake’s wife Agness
Zoe Kazan: Jane’s youngest daughter Gabby
Hunter Parrish: Jane’s son Luke
Caitlin Fitzgerald: Jane’s oldest daughter Lauren
John Krasinski: Jane’s future son-in-law Harley
Steve Martin: Adam, an architect

This fast-paced comedy has some great lines and several amusing situations bound to provoke outright laughter from many viewers.

It is very entertaining film largely because of three seasoned thespians including Alec Baldwin in one of his best performances ever and Steve Martin showing a side of him not seen often enough. But Meryl Streep tops them both: once more she clearly demonstrates she is one of the very best actresses in movies today, able to handle a wide range of characters and emotions with great confidence and aplomb. That alone is worth the price of admission.

for some drug content and sexuality.

While having a drink at the hotel bar, Jane has her purse directly in front of her so she can keep an eye on it. When the camera position changes to view her from behind the purse without being touched is now close to her right hand so she can easily access it.

Not meant in any way as a criticism but just an observation, the score by Hans Zimmer falls short of what I’ve come to expect from him. In fact, his work pales in comparison to the upbeat music from the ‘60’s. Must have been an off-day.

Sunday, December 27, 2009



Justin Long: voice of Alvin
Matthew Gray Gubler: voice of Simon
Jesse McCartney: voice of Theodore
Zachary Levi: the chipmunk’s guardian Toby
Wendie Malick: School principal Dr. Rubin
Christina Applegate: voice of Brittany
Amy Poehler: voice of Eleanor
Anna Faris: voice of Jeanette
David Cross: music producer Ian Hawk

Clearly the target audience (kids under the age of 7 or so) will enjoy this sequel immensely as evident by the frequent squeals and laughter much in evidence during the presentation I attended. So if you’re with a kid (or are one) this will definitely be a pleasant outing. However for the rest of us it is a bit of a chore having to sit through it.

for a little bit of rude humor.



Robert Downey Jr.: Sherlock Holmes
Jude Law: his faithful sidekick Dr. John Watson, surgeon and war veteran
Mark Strong: Lord Blackwood, practitioner of human sacrifice
Kelly Reilly: Watson’s girlfriend Mary Morstan
and others no doubt

Instead of being the cerebral detective, Sherlock Holmes has been transformed into some sort of action hero like Bruce Lee, an expert in the martial arts quite adept at the brutal, violent pummeling of an opponent. Holmes also comes across as an arrogant slob lacking social graces like any lowly thug.

Purists will feel cheated by this character assassination. Some of them, like me, will walk out.

for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material.

Friday, December 25, 2009


Historical drama
Based on true facts

Born May 24, 1819 in Kensington Palace she was christened Alexandrina (after Emperor Alexander I of Russia) Victoria (after her mother Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg, the Duchess of Kent). Her father Prince Edward, Duke of Kent died quite suddenly when she was only a year old.

Victoria's overbearing mother was extremely protective of the princess and raised her in near isolation under the so called “Kensington System” , an elaborate set of rules and protocols devised by the Duchess and her private secretary to prevent the princess from ever meeting people they deemed undesirable. They wanted to render her weak and utterly dependent upon them. She was not allowed to interact with other children and her sole companion was her spaniel, Dash. She was required to share a bedroom with her mother.

When she was 11, Victoria’s grandfather William IV became the reigning British monarch. Since he had no surviving legitimate children, Victoria became heiress presumptive. If she were to succeed to the throne before her eighteenth birthday her mother would become the Regent, effectively acting as head of state but only if Victoria signed the Regency Order, an Act of Parliament passed when necessary to deal with a specific situation such as this.

Michaela Brooks: 11-year-old Victoria
Miranda Richardson: her mother the Duchess of Kent
Mark Strong: the Duchess’ private secretary and close advisor Sir John Conroy
Jeanette Hain: Victoria’s governess the Baroness Lehzen
Emily Blunt: 17-year-old Princess Victoria
Jim Broadbent: her uncle the aging King William IV
Harriet Walter: his much younger wife Queen Adelaide
Paul Bettany: Victoria’s advisor Lord Melbourne the Whig Prime Minister
Rupert Friend: her first cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg
Michael Maloney: Tory Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel

The discerning viewer with more than a passing interest in the world of British royalty will be rewarded with a well-crafted portrait of the woman who went on to become the longest reigning monarch ever. With excellent acting, beautiful cinemaphotography, a rich soaring score, sumptuous sets and careful attention to period detail we also get some insight to the political manoeuvring of the time.

for some mild sensuality, a scene of violence, brief incidental language and smoking.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


In Spanish with English subtitlte
Original title: Los abrazos rotos

Lluis Homar: blind writer Harry Caine
Blanca Portillo: his production manager, Judit García
Tamar Novas: her son Diego, Harry’s associate
José Luis Gómez: a wealthy Madrid industrialist Ernesto Martel
Penélope Cruz: his secretary Lena
Rubén Ochandiano: Ray X, an aspiring film director

It is overlong and unnecessarily complicated with much screen time devoted to sex. Especially about vampire sex. The scenes from the movie-within-the-movie “Girls and Suitcases” I think are meant to be funny but they are not: instead they are deadly dull and repetitious because we get to see the same scene replayed several times.

Jumping from past to present this flash back and forward technique is used to show the parallel of events in time but results in a confused mess. It is quite a struggle to keep things sorted out; many will think to themselves “why bother?”
Good question.

for sexual content, objectionable language and some drug material.

Mateo takes a photo of a couple on the beach using a Canon EOS 5D camera. That model was only launched in 2005, some 13 years after this beachside photo op took place in 1992.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009



Robert De Niro: recent widower Frank Goode
Kate Beckinsale: his oldest daughter Amy, a partner in a marketing firm
Sam Rockwell: his son Robert, the conductor of symphonic orchestra
Drew Barrymore: his youngest daugter Rosie, a professional dancer

Reaching out to adult children has its challenges and sometimes with surprising results. Nicely paced with decent acting and not a lot of melodrama it also has its comedic moments.

A lot of the "older audience" will be able to relate to many elements of the story and so it is a reflection on life. Overall a nice pleasant diversion but not a “must-see”.

for thematic elements and brief strong language.

• Frank is overwhelmed with the selection of wines. Trouble is these are only available in a licensed Liquor Store since the NY State Liquor Authority allows grocery stores to sell only “wine products” (those that contain less than 6% alcohol by volume) which are typically referred to as wine coolers.
• A woman traveler tells Frank her name is Alice “from the Greek word meaning truth”. In fact it is derived not from Greek but from the Germanic given name Adalheidis meaning “noble type”.
• Robert throws his pack of cigarettes and it lands towards the front of a big box. When he goes to sit down in that spot they have conveniently moved out of the way and now rest further back.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Science fiction
Portions in the Na’vi language with English subtitles

Sam Worthington: former U.S Marine Jake Sully
Joel David Moore: biologist Norm Spellman
Sigourney Weaver: Program Director Dr. Grace Augustine
Stephen Lang: Security Chief Col. Miles Quaritch
Giovanni Ribisi: Senior Administrator Parker Selfridge
Michelle Rodriguez: former U.S Marine pilot Trudy Chacon
Zoe Saldana: Neytiri, a princess of the Na'vi tribe
Wes Studi: Eytukan, King of the Na’vi
C.C.H. Pounder: his wife Queen Mo’at
Laz Alonso: their son Prince Tsu’Tey

Fans of this genre of movie with an abundance of time on their hands will absolutely love it. This is a film of superlatives and excesses:
• photorealistic imagery done in beautiful colours
• beautiful rendering of imaginative creatures
• a good story (although lacking originality)
• intelligent use of 3D to immerse us rather than scare us
• some excellent acting
• and it is loud, very loud; in fact your ears are constantly being assaulted by the intense sound

But the main problem is that it goes on forever and ever; well ok for two hours and 42 minutes. But it seems longer. Especially the final battle. I didn’t time it but after a good 30 minutes I had seen enough and left.

for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.

Avatar: noun
A human mind in an alien body, a representation of a real person in a virtual world.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009



George Clooney: Ryan Bingham, a “Termination Facilitator”
Vera Farmiga: seasoned business traveler Alex Goran
Jason Bateman: Ryan’s boss Craig Gregory
Anna Kendrick: twenty-something new-hire Natalie Keener
Amy Morton: Ryan's older sister Kara
Melanie Lynskey: Ryan's younger sister and bride-to-be Julie
Danny McBride: groom-to-be Jim Miller

This film is somewhat difficult to categorize given that there are elements of a romantic comedy along with some serious drama what with the impact Bingham has on “real people”. Consequently there are some smart witty lines along with some very sombre ones.

Crisp editing keeps things moving at a good clip and there are great performances by all three principals although Clooney is the best: he does not seem to be acting so much as just being himself. The role is tailor-made for him.

for language and some sexual content.



Orson Welles (May 6, 1915 – October 10, 1985) was a self-described “director, producer, actor, impresario, writer, artist, magician, star of stage, screen and radio, and a pretty fair singer”. Noted for his innovative dramatic productions as well as his distinctive voice and personality, Welles is widely acknowledged as one of the most accomplished dramatic artists of the 20th century. He is well-known for radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds which aired on October 30, 1938. Presented as a series of news bulletins interrupting the musical performance the program caused widespread panic as many listeners thought an actual Martian invasion was in progress. His first two films, Citizen Kane (released in 1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), are considered by many as two of the greatest films ever made. His best known television commercial had the memorable tagline "We will sell no wine before its time".

Zac Efron: 17-year-old hopeful thespian Richard Samuels
Zoe Kazan: aspiring author Gretta Adler
Christian McKay: 22-year-old Orson Welles
Claire Danes: 20-year-old Production Assistant Sonja Jones
Eddie Marsan: Producer John Houseman
Kelly Reilly: leading lady Muriel Brassler
Joseph Cotton: leading man James Tupper

This one is for the sophisticated movie-goer, particularly those steeped in the classics and having an interest in one of the great personages of our time. By showing how Welles put together his now-famous stage production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar we also get to see something of the man’s character.

The trouble is a significant amount of screen time is devoted to excerpts of the modern-dress adaptation of the play set in Mussolini's Italy. Unless you are very familiar with the play these scenes are all very confusing. Fans of Shakespeare will love the movie; non fans less so.

for sexual references and smoking.

Monday, December 14, 2009


  • Historical drama
    Based on a true story

    Racial segregation in South Africa began in colonial times but apartheid (the Afrikaans word for separateness) as an official Government policy was introduced following the general election of 1948. New legislation classified inhabitants into four racial groups: black, white, coloured and Indian. Residential areas were segregated by means of forced removals. Education and medical care were also segregated and public services for the other racial groups were inferior to those of whites.

    The African National Congress represented the main opposition to the government during apartheid. Nelson Mandela (born July 18, 1918), a staunch anti-apartheid activist, was the leader of the military wing of the ANC known as Umkhonto we Sizwe (translation: "Spear of the Nation"). In 1962 the South African courts convicted Mandela on charges of sabotage and for plotting to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and subsequently served 27 years in jail, most of it in Robben Island prison.

    A springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) is a medium sized brown and white gazelle that bounds about on the African plains. It is also the name of the South African national rugby team and is a prominent symbol on the team’s green-and-gold uniform. The team was much loved by the ruling Afrikaners but hated by blacks. Although South Africa was instrumental in the creation of the Rugby World Cup competition, the Springboks did not compete in the first two World Cups (in 1987 and in 1991) because of the boycott by some Western nations and sports institutions not wanting to have anything to do with the country in light of its racial policies and oppression of civil rights.

    The game of rugby involves 15 players per side and consists of two 30-minute halves, with a brief half-time break. There are no time-outs, except for an injury. There are no "downs," as in football, nor is a "first down" required to maintain possession. In fact, possession is exchanged often and quickly. There are few long, sustained "drives" toward the goal line. Progress up and down the field is achieved grudgingly, usually in short chunks. The ball may not be passed forward, though it may be kicked forward. Players cannot be tackled unless they possess the ball. Play stops only when there is a rule infringement, or the ball winds up out of bounds, or when a team scores. When play is called because of a penalty the forwards of both teams link arms in what is known as a scrum. Another player rolls the ball into the center of the scrum and when it squirts out play resumes. Scoring is done by grounding the ball in the opposing teams “in-goal area” which is worth 5 points or less frequently by a successful drop kick through the uprights which is worth 3 points.

    Matt Damon: Springboks Team Captain Francois Pienaar
    Morgan Freeman: Nelson Mandela, newly elected President of South Africa
    Tony Kgoroge: Jason Tshabalala, Head of security
    Julian Lewis Jones: Etienne Feyder head of the white Special Ops police
    Adjoa Andoh: Chief of Staff Brenda Mazibuko
    Shakes Myeko: Minister of Sport

    With incredible insight Nelson Mandela knew of a way to unite his shattered country and bring about change. Although the centerpiece of his strategy was the game of rugby, there are other examples of how one person can play a pivotal role in history.

    There are excellent performances all around and some touching moments. Definitely a “feel-good” movie but with several shortcomings starting with hardly anything being said as background material to set the scene and bring us up to speed. Secondly since the game of rugby is such an important part of the story, and takes up a lot of screen time, the basic essentials of the game should have been explained so we can better understand what is going on. As it is fans of the game will be thrilled to see so much of it, non-fans less so.

    for brief strong language.

    During the introduction of the players before the final game, half the field is in shadow. Moments later with play underway the shadow has receded to covering just a small portion of the field, something that would normally take some hours to do.

    Ellis Park Stadium had been expanded to accommodate 60,000 spectators. After the game, President Mandela gets it wrong when he says something to the effect “all 68,000 were anxiously waiting the outcome”.

    Invictus (Latin for unconquerable, undefeated, unvanquished) is the title of a poem by English author W.E. Henley about one's capacity to rise above the myriad impediements life throws at us. A copy of the poem hung on Mandela’s jail wall for 27 years. The first verse reads as follows:
    “Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.”

    In 1993, Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing it with Frederik Willem de Klerk, president of South Africa at the time, in recognition of their efforts towards "the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa."

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Animated romantic comedy

Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm studied law at the University of Marburg in Germany. Inspired by one of their professors they became interested in folklore and primitive literature and began collecting oral renditions and published manuscripts of of folk stories. The two brothers, patriots determined to preserve Germanic folktales, in 1812 published their first volume of fairy tales entitled Tales of Children and the Home telling of life as generations of central Europeans knew it—capricious and often cruel.

Between 1816 and 1818 they published two volumes of German legends and a volume of early literary history. By this time they had gathered an immense collection of stories and the brothers became interested in older languages and their relation to German. Jacob began to specialize in the history and structure of the German language and formulated what is today known as Grimm's Law.

In the meantime seeing how the tales bewitched young readers, the Grimms (and editors aplenty after them), started "fixing" things up a bit. Tales gradually got softer, sweeter and primly moral. The result is today we have such all time favourites as Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella and of course The Frog Prince.

Breanna Brooks: young Charlotte La Bouff
Elizabeth Dampier: her best friend young Tiana
Oprah Winfrey: Tiana’s mother Eudora, a seamstress
Terrence Howard: Tiana’s father James
Anika Noni Rose: 19-year-old Tiana, a waitress and aspiring chef
Bruno Campos: 20-year-old Prince Naveen of Malvonia
Peter Bartlett: his valet Lawrence
Jennifer Cody: 20-something-year-old Charlotte
John Goodman: her wealthy father “Big Daddy”
Keith David: villainious voodoo magician Dr. Facilier
Michael-Leon Wooley: Louis the Alligator
Jim Cummings: Raymond “Ray”, a Cajun firefly
Jenifer Lewis: good voodoo priestess Mama Odie

A modern twist to a classic tale now set in the French Quarter of New Orleans during the American Jazz Era of the 1920’s with the first ever African-American princess. But it is not the simple rendering of a fairytale: with so many musical sequences it feels like a Broadway musical. I’m not suggesting for a moment that the music is not good, because it is, all I’m saying is that it is more like Beauty and the Beast than Snow White. Not bad, just different.

However the story gets a bit complicated (I’ll not say more for fear of giving away anything) so I’m not sure the younger ones in the audience could follow all the nuances. To be honest, I was struggling to keep things sorted out.

What it does have going for it is a host of characters, some of whom are charming and cute. Others are not: the voodoo doctor and the ghostly images of fire-breathing masks and evil spirits may scare some of the little ones. Typical modern day Walt Disney stuff.

Overall it looks gorgeous, is entertaining but not too "preachy": about the only recurrent moral message is that wishing upon a star can only take you so far, that you have to do something yourself to help that wish along. In other words, sometimes you have to dig a little deeper. I’ll keep that in mind.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009



Mike Binder: novelist Sam Shapiro
Robin Wright Penn: mid-40’s Pippa Lee
Alan Arkin: her much older retired publisher husband Herb
Winona Ryder: Sam’s wife Sandra
Blake Lively: the teenaged Pippa Sarkissian
Maria Bello: Pippa’s mother Suky
Robin Weigert: Pippa’s aunt Trish
Julianne Moore: Trish’s photographer roomie Kat
Monica Bellucci: Herb’s first wife Gigi
Ryan McDonald: Pippa and Herb’s lawyer son Ben
Zoe Kazan: their photojournalist daughter Grace
Keanu Reeves: Pippa and Herb’s 35-year-old neighbour Chris

Seamlessly introducing flashbacks is a good way to learn something of Pippa’s earlier life. Amongst several good actors, Robin Wright Penn’s performance really stands out above the rest. Her portrayal of a complex character comes across as real, not only in what she says but with her facial expressions too.

Adequate time is given to flesh out the many characters yet still keeping the run time to a reasonable hour and a half. That in itself is quite a remarkable job.

for sexual content, brief nudity, some drug use and profanity.

The milk carton has a mind of its own: between shots it moves ever so slightly, sometimes aligned with the cereal box, other times not.



Seemingly one of the last holdouts to a totally integrated school is the one in Charleston, Mississippi: the major event of the school year, the Senior Prom, remained divided along racial lines.

Academy Award winning actor, Morgan Freeman, who lived in Charleston years ago got involved and we get to see the results of his efforts. Along the way there are insightful on-screen comments from the school faculty, the students and their parents.


Saturday, December 5, 2009


Crime thriller

Matt Dillon: Chief Officer Michael Cochrane with Eagle Shield Security
Columbus Short: newly hired armored truck guard Ty Hackett
Laurence Fishburne: Baines, one of his hotheaded coworkers
Skeet Ulrich: level-headed Dobbs
Fred Ward: their boss Duncan Ashcroft
Andre Jamal Kinney: Ty’s 14-year-old brother Jimmy
Milo Ventimiglia: Deputy Sheriff Jake Eckehart

As escapist entertainment it certainly works. But it’s best not to have your expectations too high because this caper offers little in the way of originality. The requisite car chases are well executed, the good guy-bad guy setup is there, the explosions loud and flashy.

The whole thing moves along at a good clip because of crisp editing and the thin story line.

for sequences of intense violence, some disturbing images and brief strong language.

• Patrolman Eckehart responds with the police code 10-48 (agent unavailable for assignment…out for coffee or whatever) yet he immediately leaves the hot dog stand and drives off. He should have used 10-4 indicating his intention to respond to the request from dispatch.
• Mike comes out of the factory with his shirttail hanging out on the right hand side and says something to the person in front of him. There is a quick reaction shot while that person responds then immediately back to Mike who in that instant tucked his shirt in and no longer looks unkempt.
• Holding the walkie-talkie as seen from in front of him Ty’s hand encircles it in the usual manner, about the midpoint point. But viewed from behind over his shoulder he’s seen holding it much nearer the top.

The correct term for these type of vehicles is a Cash In Transit armored truck or simply a CIT truck.

Friday, December 4, 2009



Tobey Maguire: United States Marine Captain Sam Cahill
Natalie Portman: his wife Grace
Bailee Madison: their 8-year-old daughter Isabelle
Taylor Grace Geare: her younger 5-year-old sister Maggie
Jake Gyllenhaal: Sam’s younger brother Tommy
Sam Shepard: Sam and Tommy’s dad Hank
Mare Winningham: Sam and Tommy’s mother Elsie
Patrick Flueger: Private Joe Willis
Carey Mulligan: his wife Cassie

This is one terrific movie combining a well-constructed character study with exceptionally fine acting. Movies about war and how it can destroy individuals and relationships are too often so predictable; this one is not. This is riveting stuff.

Oh by the way: did I mention the superb acting?

I’ve not seen better performances from Maguire, Portman and Gyllenhaal. In part because their character demands a wide range of emotion but more so because they are just that good and pulled it off beautifully.

for language and some disturbing violent content.

One of Tommy’s friend, Sweeney, gets paint dumped down the front of his pants. Sometimes they are completely covered from the waist down, at other times two black splotches are evident.


Crime drama

Nicolas Cage: New Orleans police detective Terence “Terry” McDonagh
Val Kilmer: his partner Stevie Pruit
Eva Mendes: Terry’s call-girl lover Frankie
Michael Shannon: Mundt, the police evidence room clerk
Brad Dourif: Terry’s sports bookie Ned
Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner: a drug kingpin known to the police by his Alias/Street Name/Nickname as Big Fate
Tom Bower: Terry’s father Pat
Jennifer Coolidge: Terry’s stepmother Genevieve

Bad cop, good cop? He’s both.

In fact Terence McDonagh is almost a one-man police force in this fast-paced who-dunnit. As usual there are plot twists and turns although things do not always turn out as expected. And sometimes it can become a bit confusing: case in point, somebody wants to extort money from Terry but I’ve no idea why. But that doesn’t matter: keeping focus on the main story line is all that is required.

This has to be Cage’s best performance ever: his character provides him the opportunity to carry off a wide range of emotions reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. That alone is worth the price of admission.

for violence, profanity, sexual situations, nudity and pervasive drug use.

• During an interrogation of a suspected drug dealer the papers on the desk are all nicely aligned. Although no one touches them, when Terry enters the room those on the right are now at an angle.
• Hearing a knock on the door Terry says “Who is it?” but does not get up from the chair yet the door is opened by someone pushing a cart and announcing “room service”. Only housekeeping and the security have master keys to hotel rooms; everyone else must wait to be invited in.
• Whenever Terry has an encounter with the nightclub patrons in the huge parking lot, every one of them is parked in the same space.

In the United States more money is wagered on football than any other sport. In the world of sports betting, a dime equals $1,000. The point spread is a handicap placed on the expected winner of the game. For example if the Lakers are expected to beat the Clippers and the point spread is 6 points, anyone betting on the Lakers will win only if the Lakers beat the Clippers by 7 points or more.

When Terry visits his girlfriend he benefits from the Movie-making Miracle of Available Parking Space which states that "whenever a character needs a parking space, even on the busiest streets in the busiest cities, one is readily available."

As a matter of practice I truncate long movie titles because they run all over the place on my website making it look messy and untidy. Can’t have any of that!

Thursday, December 3, 2009



Viggo Mortensen: the man with no name
Charlize Theron: his wife
Kodi Smit-McPhee: their son
Garret Dillahunt: a gang member
Robert Duvall: an old man
Michael Kenneth Williams: a thief

This story of survival in a post-apocalyptic setting is a rather bleak affair. In no way is it a “feel-good” movie despite the brief flashbacks to an earlier life. It does raise the question about being human but under much different circumstances than today.

The paucity of dialogue provides little opportunity for the cast to do more than slog it out while keeping the emotional level in check.

The running time is almost two hours but doesn’t have to be since there are quite a few scenes that are either repetitive or simply too long. The film editor should have exercised his prerogative and done something about that.

for profanity and violence.