Friday, January 30, 2009



Michelle Williams: twenty-something-year-old Wendy Carroll
Lucy: her travelling companion, a golden retriever
Walter Dalton: security guard for Walgreens Pharmacy
Will Patton: Bill, an auto repair shop owner

This is a modest low-budget film that will appeal to adult audiences. Several things set this apart from other movies about regular people caught up in life’s circumstances:
1. The acting by Williams is so natural and down-to-earth and her appearance is completely in character.
2. Although unhurried the slow pacing fits the situation and needs not go any faster.
3. There is no soundtrack to evoke our emotions, relying instead on the story itself which is straight forward and uncomplicated.

for language.

• After being woken up Wendy opens the car window just partway. When she gets out of the car, the window is almost completely down.
• She is given a form to sign with a State of Washington letterhead although she hasn’t left Portland Oregon.
• Keeping track of her expenses she records the towing cost to be $50 whereas she was told it would be $30.


Romantic comedy

Siobhan Fallon Hogan: Blanche Gunderson, Secretary with Munch Inc.
Renée Zellweger: Lucy Hill, corporate executive
Harry Connick Jr.: the local union representative Ted Mitchell
J.K. Simmons: Plant Foreman Stu Kopenhafer

Too often romantic-comedies lack both elements; this is no exception. In addition it is saddled with so many worn-out clichés it almost begs description.

Suspension of disbelief and low expectations are essential to see this one through.

for brief strong language.

• As the “scrappers” sit around a table what looks like a large magnifying glass changes position from one shot to the next without anyone touching it.
• While having dinner at Blanche’s house, Lucy’s wine glass in front of her is half empty until she picks it up and now it’s almost full to the top.
• Ted stops on the highway with only the truck’s headlights on, gets out and when he returns the truck has backed up by itself and also turned on the big lights used when snow plowing.
• With the point of view over Lucy’s shoulder as she leans against the door frame while speaking with Ted we see her reaction to something. When the camera angle reverts to the position behind her she has conveniently slipped around the corner so we get an unobstructed view of Ted.
• The ADR while Ted and Lucy are going out hunting crows is poorly done. Ted's words are not in synchrony with the movement of his mouth.
• Lucy walks about the production floor area without a hairnet, a serious breach of regulations in any food processing plant.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


In French with English subtitles
Original title: Entre les murs

François Bégaudeau: François Marin, 30-something-year-old teacher of French literature
Jean-Michel Simonet: the school principal
Rachel Régulier: Khoumba, one of the bright students
Esméralda Ouertani: outspoken Sandra
Wei Huang: Chinese immigrant Wei
Franck Keïta: Souleymane, from the former French African colony of Mali
and some 20 others

Making use of the cinéma vérité style of filmmaking using hand held cameras the movie seems like a documentary. Virtually all the action is confined to just one classroom of a junior high school in Paris. Following the high energy discussions of these students often results in the speaker being only partially visible which adds to the sense of reality. And there does not seem to be any script per se. Neither is there any apparent costuming: everyone dresses in non-descript well-worn everyday-type of clothing which looks authentic and has that natural look about it.

Some of the dialogue is lost in translation such as when one of the students writes out the conjugated form of the imperfect subjunctive tense and her classmates make verbal jokes of what she’s written. But that does not diminish the overall feeling of being a “fly on the wall” observing a real-life class of 13 and 14-year-old students over the course of one school year.

for language.

Thursday, January 22, 2009



Kate Hudson: 26-year-old lawyer Liv
Anne Hathaway: her best friend Emma, a grade school teacher
Candice Bergen: Marion, a famous wedding planner
Steve Howey: Liv’s fiancé Daniel
Chris Pratt: Emma’s fiancé Fletcher
Bryan Greenberg: Liv’s brother Nate

Unless you meet the criteria of the target audience, you best stay away. Geared to those young women who hope one day to get married to a "handsome prince", it will win no awards. Certainly not for acting as both principals are forced to act in a childish manner, yelling at one another to make themselves better understood. They come across as crass young adults rather than the professionals they contend to be.

Just about everybody in the movie seems to be playing this with a “tongue-in-cheek” attitude and not taking it very seriously at all. Nor should we.

for suggestive content, language and some rude behavior.

• The bride at the Plaza Hotel is holding her flute champagne glass in one hand and her bouquet in the other while berating her best friends (nice way to start to start a movie hey?) She then turns to throw the bouquet but poof! no encumbrance of any glass: it has disappeared.
• While sitting on the sofa with Fletcher, Emma has one leg folded under her, then it is outstretched and finally curled beneath her all without once getting up.
• They girls are told the next available date for a wedding at this location is Saturday June 5, 2012. June 5, 2012 will be a Tuesday.
• Fletcher is about to go to the gym and puts on his hoodie. While talking with Emma the collar has a mind of its own from one shot to another: sometimes laying flat but more often sticking up on the right hand side all rumpled.

Not my usual choice of movie I agree but I was intrigued having been a professional wedding photographers for some years and was curious to see how things have changed since then. I should have stayed home and read a book instead.


War drama
Based on a true story
Some dialogue in Russian and Polish with English subtitles.

On August 23, 1939 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany. On September 1, 1939 the Germans invaded Poland from the west and two weeks later the Red Army invaded from the east. The Soviet government annexed the territory and declared that the 13 million Polish living there were now Soviet citizens of the newly expanded Belorussia.

Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union that commenced on June 22, 1941. Over 4 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR including newly occupied territories along a 1,800 mile front. Within days the 2nd Panzer group met its principal objective, the taking of Minsk, the capital city of Belorussia. The Nazis immediately implemented their genocidal policies.

Liev Schreiber: Alexander Zisel "Zus” Bielski
Jamie Bell: his younger brother Asael
Daniel Craig: their older brother 35-year-old Tuvia
Mia Wasikowska: one of the refugees 20-something-year-old Chaya
Alexa Davalos: Lilka, another camp refugee

By choosing a dramatic beginning rather than a more prosaic approach it takes some time to figure out what is going on unless you are very familiar with World War II history (or get to read the Background notes above). A brief on-screen one-liner indicating the name of the forest area is totally inadequate. Unless it is a well-known historical event the producers need to set the scene, to give us the big picture so we can then appreciate what is going on.

The second problem is a question of running time: it does not require 2 hours and 17 minutes to tell this story. A big chunk of time is spent showing the repetitive process of having to relocate from one area to another, setting up a new camp, getting settled in then starting the process over. Once is enough.

It’s too bad because it is a story worth telling. The acting is uniformly excellent and the overall look of the movie convincing enough.

for violence and brief language.

• To deal with the outbreak of typhus a small group sets out to find some Ampicillin. Trouble is this drug was not developed until 1961, some 20 years after these events took place.
• As Tuvia and Isaac emerge from the forest the turret of the German tank begins turning towards them. After a brief shot of their reaction the scene shifts again to the tank only to show that the turret has reverted to the starting position and once more begins to traverse in the direction of its target.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Original title: Vals im Bashir
In Hebrew with English subtitles

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) is an umbrella organization of all Palestinian resistance groups opposed to the Israeli state.

The Sabra and Shitila refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut are the two largest in Lebanon with approximately 12,000 people in each.

In the spring of 1982 Yasser Arafat (Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee and Commander in Chief of all PLO military forces) was instrumental in having a base set up in Southern Lebanon. From there the PLO fired Katyusha rockets at civilian targets in Israel's northern Galilee region.

On June 6, 1982 Israel Defense Forces under the direction of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon invaded southern Lebanon. Israel's publicly stated objective was to push PLO forces back 40 kilometers to the north. Tyre and Sidon, major cities in the region, were heavily damaged and the Lebanese capital Beirut was shelled for ten weeks.

On August 23, 1982 Bashir Gemayel was elected president of Lebanon. Although he did not cooperate with the Israelis publicly, his long history of alleged collaboration with Israel counted against him in the eyes of many Lebanese Muslims.

On September 14, 1982 nine days before he was due to take office, Gemayel was assassinated.

Ari Folman, former Israeli soldier
Boaz Rein-Buskila, Ronny Dayag and Shmuel Frenkel old Army buddies
Ori Sivan, a psychiatrist
Ron Ben-Yishai, a war correspondent

In an effort to find out what really happened during his tour of duty as a soldier in the war with Lebanon, Ari Folman interviewed those who were there too. He has chosen to tell his story using animation, not of the cartoon variety but the more realistic sort. In so doing he easily incorporates dream sequences that prompted him to begin this odyssey in the first place.

for some disturbing images of atrocities, strong violence, brief nudity and a scene of graphic sexual content.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Original title: Caos Calmo
In Italian with English subtitles

Nanni Moretti: Pietro Paladin, a successful executive
Blu Yoshimi Di Martino: his 10-year old daughter Claudia
plus others no doubt

For reasons known only to him after Pietro drops Claudia off at school he calls his secretary to tell her he’s not coming in to work. Instead he says he wants to wait in the park opposite the school to be there when she comes out.
On day two he calls his secretary again and once more spends a boring day in the park.
On day three when he calls his secretary I got up and left. Enough is enough.

for brief nudity.

I was not the first to walk out: I hung in for 35 minutes while four people preceeded me out leaving just a handful in the theatre after I was gone.


Romantic comedy

Dustin Hoffman: Harvey Shine, a writer of TV commercial jingles
Emma Thompson: Kate Walker, a survey-taker at Heathrow airport
Eileen Atkins: Kate’s mother Maggie
Liane Balaban: Harvey’s daughter Susie

If you’re only going to see one romantic comedy this year, make it this one. For starters we get to see two seasoned actors at their very best in this charming story geared to the adult audience. The unspoken dialogue is right on and the editing keeps the whole thing moving at a good clip.

for brief strong language.

• While flying economy to London, Harvey is served a drink in a real glass. These have been outlawed since 9\11 as a potential dangerous weapon.
• During his ride in a cab Harvey’s on his cell phone calling his boss. Through the back window we can see a red bus that jumps from moment to next sometimes being back some distance to just behind the cab and once just about to pass it.
• On her way out Kate butters a piece of toast and begins eating it then she turns to hug her mother and magically the toast has disappeared.
• Although he has yet to get his boarding pass, Harvey makes a call from gate B24 departure lounge, a huge breach of security in an airport.

Stick around when the end-credits begin to roll to get a “postscript”.

Monday, January 12, 2009



The Hmong (or Mong) are an ethnic group from the mountainous regions of southeast Asia of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. They fought as American allies during the Vietnam War. Consequently a great number resettled in the United States when hostilities ceased. It was not until 1980 that entire families were allowed entry into the country thus becoming the second wave of Hmong immigrants. Today, approximately 270,000 Hmong people live in the USA.

Clint Eastwood: 70-something-year-old Walt Kowalski
Christopher Carley: parish priest Father Janovich
Bee Vang: Walt’s 16-year-old neighbour Thao
Ahney Her: Thao’s older sister Sue
John Carroll Lynch: Walt’s Italian barber Martin
Brian Haley: Walt’s oldest son Mitch
Geraldine Hughes: Mitch’s wife Karen

We’ve all met one: a grumpy, grouchy, old man seemingly with a chip on his shoulder. That pretty well describes Walt who creates problems for himself and his neighbours. There is a ring of truth about his situation, sometimes humorous but often it is not.

With all the racial slurs it’s possible some viewers will take offense. I’m sure Walt could care less.

for language (swearing and racial epithets) and some violence.

• While cruising down the street rival gangs of Latinos and Hmogs stop to exchange some words. In the distance behind the two cars another one is approaching. The camera angle cuts briefly to catch the response of the Latinos and back again. The distant car has simply disappeared in that two second interval.
• Walt calls his son Martin and after a brief conversation he hangs up and all we hear is the dial tone. But when a call is terminated the line simply goes dead; we would hear nothing. The dial tone is heard before dialling.
• I don’t know for sure but I doubt the US army allows discharged veterans to keep their rifles.
• As Walt drives down the street he sees a commotion among a group of people but is too far away to hear what is being said yet when he gets out of his pickup he admonishes one of them for having used the term “bro”.
• Justifying to Daisy his smoking while having a bath Walt says “it’s the first time I’ve smoked in the house” which is untrue because he was smoking in the living room when the priest came to call.

Saturday, January 10, 2009



Devon Gearhart: 10-year-old Chris Marino
Marcia Gay Harden: his mother Mary, a fledging artist
Joe Pantoliano: his father John, a carpenter
Sophia Bairley: Dawn, one of Chris’ schoolmates

Having a parent requiring medical attention is a difficult situation to cope with. By not dwelling too much on that situation though the film becomes something else: the coming-of-age of a pre-adolescent. It’s a shame the writing is lacking because there are some really good performances here.

for mature thematic elements.

• After a school yard fight Chris has a band-aid over his left eye. It moves around from one shot to the next.
• While talking with his boss John’s sunglasses are in his shirt pocket. They move about without being touched.



Leonardo DiCaprio: 23-year old? Frank Wheeler
Kate Winslet: April, an aspiring actress
Kathy Bates: real estate agent Helen Givings
Zoe Kazan: Maureen, secretary with Knox Business Machines
Michael Shannon: Helen’s son John
David Harbour: Shep Campbell, the Wheeler’s next door neighbour
Kathryn Hahn: Shep’s wife Milly

Set in the 1950’s when divorce and non-conformity were not really an option,
the believable dialogue and superb acting made me cringe as I watched this film about a disintegrating relationship. It is not for everyone, lacking as it does hardly any respite from the arguments and bitterness between the two main characters.

Although the performances of Winslet and DiCaprio are among their very best several supporting actors (Kazan and Shannon) are no slouches either.

The camera work is beautifully done (as we have come to expect from Roger Deakins), the costuming and sets convincingly real and the original score appropriate.

for language and some sexual content.

Shep puts on his pyjama tops without taking time to straighten out the collar which is flipped up. He then approaches Milly, leans down behind her but somehow the collar has fixed itself and is lying flat as it should be.

Apparently this is the first time Winslet has worked with her husband of four years Sam Mendes, the Director.

Monday, January 5, 2009

2008 TOP TEN + 2

It’s been a good year (movie wise that is) so the Top Ten list has been expanded a bit….

Animated cartoon
A combination of a well-written story, superb CGI and great voice talent makes this a real winner. Some of the jokes are the “laugh-out-loud” sort plus there are many amusing moments.
Particularly important for the wee ones with their short attention span, there is very little down time with the action pretty well non-stop. I don’t know if it will become a Disney Classic but it’s a charmer on its own.

Terrific acting with Ben Kingsley and Penélope Cruz at their very best, a solid story beautifully shot with a musical score of classical music this one will win some awards. Casting is bang on (except for Peter Sarsqaard) and with time given to develop the character of each it’s easy to understand the issues they have to deal with.

Based on a true story
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 by Michael Sheen and Frank Langella 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.

Musical comedy
Anyone who has ever hummed one of the ABBA’s big hits will revel in hearing them sung amid the glorious setting of a lovely Greek island. Someone has wisely chosen to not change the musical arrangement from the original hits so they sound right. The additional songs first heard during the stage performance fit in beautifully, not surprising given that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus collaborated to write them. Unlike some musicals where the songs seem to come from out of nowhere, these all meld in as part of the story narrative. Given that the main reason everyone shows up is to celebrate a marriage, it is not surprising there’s a lot of joy and happiness throughout the movie. And some funny bits along the way. Although Meryl Streep started her career as a singer, I cannot recall any previous role in which she sang. Consequently her singing talent came to me as a surprise. Perhaps you could quibble about the cast selection, that there are younger actors\actresses around, that there are better singers. Fine. But that doesn’t take away from the fact the ones in the movie do a heckuva job and that’s enough for me. The dance numbers are well staged with unbounded energy, the costumes are great, the acting uniformly excellent. In short, it’s a must-see movie and a lot of fun. By the way it’s rare that I go to see a movie for a second time. This is one of them.

Political drama
Based on a true story
The rise of Harvey Milk to a position of importance is adeptly played out making use of flashbacks as he dictates his memoir. Sean Penn and Josh 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.

With some Hindi dialogue and English subtitles
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

“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 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 Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette) and a the sound track is a joy to hear.

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, 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.

Terrific acting is but one of the things that sets this movie apart. The low-key, unhurried pace is another but the main thing is the story about random encounters and the impact they can have on our lives. Taking a simpler approach to story telling, there are no flashbacks, no parallel developments, in fact none of the more sophisticated filming techniques seen so often. By contrast the director takes an unusual approach like showing a discussion being held behind closed doors without our hearing what is being said or having people speaking in a language other than English without subtitles being shown on the screen. He relies on the fact we are smart enough to figure it out ourselves. How refreshing. Oh by the way: did I mention the superb acting?

Original title: Le Monde selon Monsanto
Written and directed by French journalist and filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin her passion for the subject is probably the reason why it runs a little too long. More than a few interviews are shown in their entirety whereas some editing would have made the point more effectively. Also far too much time is devoted to watching her Google for information on her computer. However the film is notable in that it brings to light the underhanded tactics used by Monsanto to stifle concerns about their products and how it has resorted to misleading advertising, concealing scientific information and offering bribes to influential government officials. And the implication of one company controlling the sale of all seeds in the world boggles the mind. That’s scary!

Wartime drama
Based on a true story
With all around solid performances (especially by Tom Cruise) 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 villains during World War II.

There are few movies that disappoint because the end credits appear. This is one of them. During the course of almost two hours we get to know various members of the chorus and can relate to them almost like old friends. Although the average age of the choir members is eighty, they sure don’t act it. This feel-good documentary tracks their efforts under the direction of Bob Sillman, their youthful music director, (he’s just a kid of 53), during a six week period in preparation for the annual show in their hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts.


This thought-provoking movie is characterized by exceptionally strong performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. 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.

Original title: Vier Minuten
In German with English subtitles
This is one terrific movie combining a well-constructed character study with exceptionally good acting. Movies about relationships too often are so predictable; this one is not. Music is central to the story: there is lots of it including many original pieces along with those composed by Schumann. Despite the fact some of the flashbacks are a bit confusing this shortcoming does not significantly alter the overall story line. The cinemaphotography is top notch and the editing bang on.

War drama
Seen from the perspective of a naive young boy, the Holocaust is a much different historical event. Once you get over the fact that they speak English rather than German, the story unfolds at a rather measured pace. There are really good performances from both young lads and Bruno’s mother (Vera Farmiga) in particular. Beautiful cinematography and attention to detail add to the visual experience.

Every once in a while there is a movie that gets it all right. Such is the case with this one. Two absolutely brilliant performances (Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano) are framed in beautifully shot majestic scenes of the undeveloped western United States. Production design (the overall look of the movie including costumes, sets etc.) is outstanding and the musical score is just perfect albeit not your usual sound track. Although it runs for two hours and thirty-eight minutes it is not excruciatingly long: it takes that much time to cover some 30 years and needs the unhurried pace to allow for adequate character development. In a word, it is just the right length.


Crime comedy
Promoted as a “comedy thriller” it is anything but. There are several mildly amusing moments amidst a proliferation of swear words and there is absolutely nothing thrilling about it. Makes you wonder if it’s the same movie they are talking about than the one I saw? The musical score is mostly heavy thumping bombastic percussion and often totally out of sync with what we see. Maybe we are supposed to see the humour in that? There are some viewers who will be offended to see the machine Harry has invented. That kind of thing belongs in a pornographic movie not one for general audiences.

Animated action\adventure
The principal character 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.

Animated cartoon
Expectations not met makes for an unhappy experience.
Pixar’s track record of producing entertaining state-of-the-art animated CGI cartoons led me to believe this would be one more to add to the list of Knick Knack (the animated short film about the snowman trapped in a snow globe), Toy Story (the first ever first fully computer-generated feature film with Buzz and Woody), Finding Nemo (my all-time favourite with Marlin, Nemo and Dory), Ratatouille (with Remy and Linguini) and Cars.
Such is not the case.
The first half-hour is depressing with monochromatic browns of a world we would rather not see populated only by a robot going through his repetitive daily manoeuvres whose only buddy is a cockroach. Although the animators have attempted to “humanise” WOOD-E with expressive “eyes” and limited (very limited) vocal expressions I found it impossible to feel for this mechanical thing. So his dire situation left me entirely unmoved and consequently of little interest.
When EVE comes on the scene things liven up a bit and there are a couple of funny moments, even some tender ones. But that doesn’t last long as we are transported to another world where the producers hammer home their second strong message (about the consequences of a pampered life; their first was about the effects of over consumption) but it goes on far too long. It would be fine if these sequences were novel or funny, but they are neither. In fact there is not one really humorous moment during the entire film.
One thing needs be said though: the technical aspects are simply amazing not only in terms of the images but the sound. However that alone is not reason enough to sit through almost two hours of filmmaking.