Friday, September 30, 2011


Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are a couple of actors that I will see anywhere. Rogen is not playing a new character (he plays the same goofy guy in all films), but he plays it so well that he is a joy to watch. These two actors play Kyle and Adam, best friends and co-workers at the Seattle NPR station. Adam is tidy, on time, not much fun and is diagnosed with cancer. Kyle is all party and working as hard as he can to get laid. How these two traverse the messed-up world of cancer treatment and all the difficulties that get thrown in their path is well played. We see some of the over-the-top antics of Kyle and yet don't feel like they are out of place. The friends and interactions all along the way seem plausible and real, giving insight into the struggle of Adam's fight and of those who surround him. Any real portrayal of cancer can't be a comedy, but this is a very well done mixture of light and heavy, leaving us with a sense of hope and faith in our friends.
4 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Queen to Play

Helene is a wife and mother in this French drama who works as a cleaning lady for a local hotel as well as for individuals. When she sees a couple of hotel guests enjoying a game of chess, she finds their enjoyment of the game reveals a romance that is missing in her life. When she discovers that another of her clients (Kevin Kline) also plays, she convinces him to teach her the game. Helene plays with a determination and belief that quality play in and of itself a romantic endeavor. Well played and while not a speedy film, probably like chess the pacing is part of the enjoyment of the experience.
4 stars (out of 5)


John C. Riley plays a guy struggling with his divorce, even though it was seven years ago. He meets Marisa Tomei and they hit off fabuously. The problem is that Tomei has an adult son Cyrus (Jonah Hill) who has never really left the nest. Probably this is a worst case scenario of attachment parenting. Cyrus attached, and neither mother nor son is able to detach. Riley plays the struggling divorcee in a low key Albert Brooks-like performance. Overall, this was a fine film that showed the struggles of 2nd relationships, the complexities of families and the perseverance needed to insure that relationships have a chance. It does all this without falling too far into the day-time TV or Hallmark special genre.
3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, September 23, 2011


Brad Pitt plays the Billy Beane role and Jonah Hill plays Paul DePodesta in this retelling of the behind the scenes events of the Oakland Athletics in the 2001-2002 season. The A's had just lost in game 5 of the ALDS to the Yankee's and their payroll comparison (35 million to 115 million) made it obvious that they were supposed to lose. When A's GM Beane asked the owner for a few more dollars to help retain or replace Giambi and Damon, the answer was an emphatic NO. Enter DePodesta (aka Peter Brand in the film), a Yale educated economics geek and a true believer in Bill James statistical analysis. Beane and Brand work with James statistics to find undervalued players in the league and put together a team on the cheap that can compete with the rich boys... hence the name Moneyball. This is an excellent film that, while being about baseball, is really about politics, economics, competition and desire. Much like Invictus is about rugby, we learn lots about the sport and about the people in the system. A great film.
5 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I liked Jason Statham in The Transporter films and looking forward to Drive this week with Ryan Gosling pushed me to watch this film. You always know what you are going to get with Statham and you are not disappointed here. Hard edged, not quite following the rules and gets the job done. Perhaps the problem with a film like this is that while it is enjoyable for what it is, afterwards I immediately thought "I could probably done something better with my time these last couple of hours". So if you have time to kill...
2 stars (out of 5)

Wild Target

Europe's premier assassin for hire gets an assignment that cannot be completed. Of course this gets him into all kinds of trouble from all kinds of directions, including his own family. Along the way, as his life gets complicated even more by a woman, he begins to question his future, his profession and his ability to have a normal life. This film is not great, but as a slapstick action assassin film, it is passable. I enjoyed most of it, but the fact that I watched it over two days probably suggests how engaging it was. A nice little turn by Ron Weasley as the bumbling apprentice...
3 stars (out of 5)

The Last Airbender

Having not read these books, I am only marginally familar with this storyline. The people of the four regions of the world each have a particular strength and attachment with the fundamental elements of water, air, earth and fire. The leaders of these people are able to command their particular element and are refered to as Benders. One person is able to command all four elements, is refered to as the Avatar and is tasked with maintaining peace among the four peoples. In the past century, the Avatar has been missing and the Fire nation has become the dominant force in the world. In fact, their dominance has led to genocide of the Air nation, and domination of the Earth nation. Into this picture, a boy is awakened who is an Air Bender (the last of course), and presumably the Avatar. With help from his friends, he begins to challenge the domination of the Fire nation. This is a fun film, clearly targeted at the same young age group to which the books were marketed. Well done effects and a nice little story. I really liked the fact that the art of element bending required meditative and precise, dance-like motions. It became a communication with nature rather than a domination, even for the Fire benders. Small touches like this often make the difference between good and cheesy. Here we have good.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Stop. Please. I liked Speed because of the action, the fact that the process was unknown, and the quirky relationship that developed between Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. In Unstoppable, we have the potential for action and drama and have a strong leading man to hold it all together. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. Denzel has a nice smile, but doesn't really hold anything together. The entire story is too plain and doesn't draw you in. A train (full of toxic chemicals by the way) is set on full throttle and hurtling toward Stanton PA without anyone on board. The crazy attempts to stop it don't work, even though they aren't that crazy and are really poorly executed. For example, an attempt to drop a conductor on the engine via helicopter doesn't work because the helicopter must lower a man down via 100 foot cable at high speed. But throughout the film, news helicopters are continuously swarming within 10 feet of the engine without difficulty. Are the news pilots just that much better? It is this example of manufactured drama that is so manufactured that there is no drama which kills any possibility that this will be a good film. In the end, the train gets stopped in the nick of time by Denzel. Sorry if I ruined it for you.
1 star (out of 5)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Higher Ground

Vera Farmiga is fabulous. This film follows Karina (Vera) through her life relationship with religion and God. Through her journey, she encounters phases of contentment, distress, doubt, certainty, confusion and everything in between. The nice thing about this exploration is that as director, Farmiga doesn't exploit the stereotypes of religion that would turn this into a farcical comedy or a roast. Instead we see her real struggle with faith and life as she works to see how the two integrate and inform each other. Interesting, fun, and makes you think. Very well done.
4 stars (out of 5)