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Don Lee MillerAt the Movies


Christine Collins: Angelina Jolie delivers her latest powerhouse performance as a 1920’s working mother of a 12-year old son who sometimes stays at home alone while Mom does her shift as telephone supervisor on roller-skates. One day, he vanishes. Then, to make matters worse, Los Angeles Police Capt. J.J. Jones: Jeffrey Donovan tries to pass off another boy to her as her son. When she objects, he has her committed to the local nuthouse. Collins has been working with Rev. Brieglev: John Malkovich to unveil the truth; now it’s up to him to try to find her. Chief Davis: Colm Feore further complicates matters. Clint Eastwood directs with his usual brilliance, allowing the true tale to unfold naturally, but with much suspense. Expect Oscar nods to Jolie, Malkovich and Eastwood. Universal 140 min.


In the late 1700’s in Britain,Georgina, the Duchess of Devonshire , known as G., (Keira Knightly) becomes the darling of society with her three-foot high wigs and sumptuous gowns. Her uptight husband (Ralph Fiennes) and her mother, Lady Spencer (Charlotte Rampling) disapprove of her extravagant partying and affairs, especially Charles Grey, a politician who becomes Prime Minister, (Dominic Cooper). The double standard of the time permits the Duke to have a live-in mistress, Bess (Hayley Atwell), which makes life hell for G. with the three of them (anyone come to mind?) at the formal dinner table every meal. When she risks scandal, having a child by Grey, that’s the final straw for the Duke. Saul Dibb directs with a good feel for the period, politics, and G.’s inner turmoil well acted by Knightly. Profanity, nudity. Paramount Vantage-Pathe! 105 min.


North London teacher Poppy: Sally Hawkins, known for being happier than most to the point of exasperation, has close girlfriends and a pregnant sister. Poppy’s relationship with her driving instructor Scott: Eddie Marsan is rather complex. Men come and go in her life; all the while, Poppy is cheerful. This is the breakout performance for Hawkins who will be developing a US following. Mike Leigh’s direction presents his strong points of the avant-garde modern English. Profanity, sexual situations. Miramax 119 min.


In Arizona, the Wildcats rule at East High. Basketball captain, Troy (Zac Efron) loves Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), the most popular senior. Troy and pal, Chad (Corbin Bleu), think and sing a lot about their fears of the future and where college will take them. Outrageous Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) connives for the lead in the spring musical directed by Ms. Darbus (Alyson Reed, seen here in ’87 as Cabaret’s Sally Bowles at the Golden Gate). Geeky Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) writes the colorful musical. Palo Alto native Kenny Ortega directs with more bounce and verve than any musical in the past ten years. Disney 112 min.


Jean-Claude Van Damme, at 47, finds himself in his hometown of Brussels, Belgium awaiting a money transfer from his agent in LA. When he goes to the bank to retrieve it, he becomes a prisoner of bank robbers. He finds that a gun with bullets is not the same as one with blanks. The police want him to be the mouthpiece with the robbers. JCVD shows us a more vulnerable side than we usually see when his parents are brought to the scene. Not really a docudrama, this unique offering will definitely interest all his fans and those looking for a quirky, different film. Profanity, violence. PeachArch/ Gaumont 100 min.


This animated sequel furthers the escapades of Alex the young lion (voice of Ben Stiller) who grows up in the NYC Zoo, Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), Julien the Lemur (Sacha Baron Cohen), and Maurice, his sidekick (Cedric the Entertainer) prepare to leave Madagascar. The penguins “fix” the plane to fly to New York, but it only makes it to the African savannahs where the animals meet defensive Granny, a safari tourist. Most of the humor comes from the penguins and lemurs doing something humorous. Mild crude humor. Disney DreamWorks 89 min.


Less than an hour after Casino Royale ends, Quantum begins with an exciting auto chase in Italy. A more action-oriented James Bond: Daniel Craig pauses in London to confer with M: Judi Dench before heading for Haiti where he meets Bolivian heroine, Camille: Olga Kurylenko and environmental villain Dominic Greene: Mathieu (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) Amalric. Old friend Mathis: Giancarlo Giannini accompanies Bond until they find Felix Leiter: Jeffrey Wright. An airplane dogfight over Bolivia ensues. Mark Forster directs the 22nd Bond film since 1962’s Dr. No; this one falls in the middle of the pack. Action violence non-stop, drinking and smoking, some profanity. MGM Columbia 106 min.


In 1964 South Carolina, those enforcing the newly found freedoms of the law find some of their decisions unpopular. Abusive father T. Ray: Paul Bettany drives his 14-year-old daughter, Lily: Dakota Fanning away from home. She and injured servant girl, Rosaleen: Jennifer Hudson take refuge with August: Queen Latifah, a successful local honey-maker, and her daughters, May (who’s slow but sweet): Sophie Okonedo and tougher June: Alicia Keys. Mild violence, profanity. Fox Searchlight 110 min.


Bella: Kristen Stewart moves from Arizona to live with her sheriff father, Charlie Swan: Billy Burke in fog-shrouded Washington state. Her mysterious chem lab partner, Edward Cullen: Robert Pattinson, saves Bella’s life when an out-of-control car could have crushed her. She falls in love, even after learning he is a vegetarian vampire. His father, Dr. Carlisle Cullen: Peter Facinelli treats her at the hospital. Warning: This very romantic tale has the tweens in the audience squealing audibly whenever Edward appears. With a female director, novelist and screenwriter, it is obviously from the female POV. Cast with beautiful people, no wonder rogue vampires want to feast on them. Action fighting, kissing, some blood, one head twisted. Summit Entertainment 121 min.


Lifelong friends, now roommates with financial problems, Zack: Seth Rogan and Miri: Elizabeth Banks, decide the solution is to make a porn flick. They attend their high school reunion where they hit on people, including Bobby Long: Brandon (Superman Returns) Routh and his gay porn-star lover, Brandon (Justin Long). (That’s an in-joke for director-writer Kevin Smith.) Zack and Miri find real feelings when they have to shoot their lovemaking scene. Smith finds humor, tenderness, and surprises as events unfold. Bubbles: Traci Lords. Profanity (several each minute!), nudity, sexual situations. TWC 102 min.

December 2008


Ed Harris: Virgil Cole (hired as marshal of a New Mexico hamlet by townsman Timothy Spaal to end the reign of cold-blooded killer, rancher Randall Bragg: Jeremy Irons) also directs with a touch of humor, co-produces and co-writes this western, even sings a song during the end credits. His deputy, Everett Hitch: Viggo Mortensen, travels with him everywhere. Allison, a genteel lady (Renee Zellweger) arrives in town and plays folk tunes on piano at the local saloon. There is every reason to believe Virgil swings both ways. Too much time is spent waiting for something to happen; the occasional shootout enlivens activities. Language, violence. New Line 114 min.


A sudden outbreak of white blindness spreads across a U.S. city, attacking Duncan (Mark Ruffalo) but not his wife, (Julianne Moore). All the blind are thrown into detention centers. The Man with the Black Eye Patch (Danny Glover) and others must protect themselves from the evil King of Ward 3 (Gael Garcia Bernal) who has seized all the food and ransoms it first for valuables then for sex. It isn’t long before the blind display filthy and vicious, selfish and violent behavior; viewers cannot help but react to the repellant and very disturbing environment. Director Fernando Meirelles filmed in Canada, Brazil and Uruguay. Language, action violence. DreamWorks/Miramax 120 min.


Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) plays an undercover C.I.A. agent in the Middle East trying to find who’s behind the deadly bombs exploding around the world. Ed Hoffman, a chubby suburban dad (Russell Crowe) working at home in the D.C. burbs via a hands-free cellphone while attending his kid’s soccer game, casually makes life-and-death/torture decisions re his worldwide field operatives. Some answers come from Hani (Mark Strong), the head of Jordanian intelligence, but there’s too much of a muddle with frequently flashed geographic names to identify the locales with single vehicles stirring up dust clouds on desert roads. Ferris and Hoffman actually have three face-to-face meetings during this meandering. Directed/co-produced by Ridley Scott and written without much conviction by William Monahan. Syriana was more compelling. Language, graphic violence. Warner Bros. 126 min.


Shia LeBeouf and Michelle Monaghan both receive mysterious foreboding calls on their cell phones. The female voice gives them seconds to make decisions that will involve explosions, car crashes, the fate of loved ones. Thrown together to save their own lives, they try to outwit the unseen all-knowing technology-assisted protags. Their appointments keep them on the go in fast action sequences throughout the Eastern U.S. in this brilliantly edited techno-thriller. Language, action violence. DreamWorks/ Columbia 108 min.


Mark Wahlberg in the title role is a DEA agent whose family was killed. He joins with Mona: Mila Kunis, a vengeful sister, to bring down those in NYC responsible for the drug enhancing Valkyr. His wife’s boss, Jason: Chris O’Donnell, is forced to reveal what he knows. The Aesir Pharmaceuticals execs, B.B.: Beau Bridges and Nicole: Kate Burton, are more involved than they want to admit. Based on a video game, directed with flair by John Moore and written by Beau Thorne. Some sexuality, drug use, extreme violence. 20th Century Fox 99 min.


Director Spike Lee, convinced that Blacks haven’t been receiving enough screen-time in recent war films, has concentrated his James McBride (novel and screenplay) tale in Tuscany with a black battalion misplacing four of its soldiers behind enemy lines in 1944. The foursome are portrayed by Derek Luke: 2nd Staff Sgt. Aubrey; Michael Ealy: Sgt. Bishop; Laz Alonso: Corp. Hector; and Pvt. 1st Class Sam: Omar Benson Miller. As they befriend the townspeople who hide and feed them, everyone gets acquainted. There’s the wrap-around story of a shooting in a post office with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as reporter Tim Boyle and John Leguizamo as Enrico. Touchstone 160 min.


Nick (Michael Cera: Juno) compiles CDs of music specially for his love, Tris (Alexis Dziena), who has little interest in him until her bgf Norah (Kat Dennings: The House Bunny) realizes she and Nick have the same music tastes. Director Peter Sollett presents one night with New Jersey teenagers falling in and out of love in Manhattan. Lots of laughs. Teen drinking, sexuality, language, crude behavior. Columbia 90 min.


The title is a combination of the words ‘religious’ and ‘ridiculous’. Religulous is directed by Larry (Borat, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld ) Charles, and written by Bill Maher who takes short, quick stabs at all religions, moving on too fast. Maher interviews a broad range of religious leaders and followers around the globe, visiting Scientologists, Protestants in the U.S. Bible Belt, Mormons in Salt Lake City, and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, plus other locations. He attacks Christianity but is softer on Islam. A garrulous rabbi who won’t let Maher get a word in steals the show. Some sexuality, drug use. Lionsgate/Thousand Words 101 min.


Geo. W. Bush (Josh Brolin) meets Laura (Elizabeth Banks) at a barbeque. Barbara Bush (Ellen Burstyn) tries to keep hubby, Geo. H.W. Bush/Poppy (James Cromwell) under control. Barbara to W.: “You’re loud and you’ve got a short fuse.” The inner circle members include Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) , Karl Rove (Toby [infamous as Capote] Jones), Condoleeza (Thandie Newton), Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), and Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), plus there’s Tony Blair (Ioan Gruffudd). Born again religious leader, Earle Hudd: Stacy Keach influences W. The performances that especially deserve Oscar nods are Brolin, Cromwell and Wright. Directed by Oliver Stone and written by Stanley Weiser, they present a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed Bush who can’t hold a job, warts and all so viewers will probably have their earlier opinion reinforced. Language, alcohol abuse, smoking, war images. Lionsgate 129 min.


Movie studio politics for two weeks in the life of veteran producer, Ben: Robert DeNiro include battles with the tough studio chief, Lou: Catherine Keener and actor’s agent Dick: John Turturro. Sean Penn stars in Fiercely, the film Ben is showing at Cannes. Ben’s most recent ex-wife, Kelly: Robin Wright Penn, still has a burning torch despite an affair with Scott: Stanley Tucci. If he’ll shave off a four-month bushy beard, Bruce Willis will star in Ben’s next feature. DeNiro is at the top of his form in this ensemble Hollywood slice-of-life well directed by Barry Levinson and written by Art Linson. Some sexuality, drug use. magnolia 110 min.

November 08


Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest film is not on a par with their award-winning classics. Linda: Frances McDormand and Chad: Brad Pitt work for Ted: Richard Jenkins at Hardbodies gym. Linda wants a body lift that costs $50K that she doesn’t have. When they get hold of an incriminating disc belonging to ex-CIA agent, Osborne: John Malkovich, they set up a blackmail effort. Mrs. Katie Osborne: Tilda Swinton is having an affair with Harry: George Clooney; if it walks, he’s bedding it. JK Simmons, (Juno‘s father) runs the CIA. The audience did laugh three times so I don’t think this qualifies as a comedy. Crude humor, language, violence. Focus 91 min.


For laughs, don’t miss Anna Faris as Shelley, The House Bunny. She’s fabulous!! This is a part Marilyn Monroe would have loved to play. She’s outlived her youth at Hugh Hefner’s mansion and is kicked out. What’s a doll to do? She becomes house mother for a sorority—not just any sorority but the loser one on campus. She teaches the gals (Emma Stone, Kat Denning, Katharine McPhee, and Rumer Willis who are about to lose their house) her make-up tricks and soon they are the most popular on the quad. There has to be a villainess to stir up trouble from a rival frat house, whose mother, Mrs. Hagstrom (Beverly D’Angelo), happens to be on the board of the college. Dean Simmons (Christopher McDonald) has his hands full with her. Columbia 97 min.


For the fans of Crash, here’s another excellent multi-ethnic racial clash pic. Set in an upper class canyon neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley during the Santa Clarita fires, cop Able Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) runs roughshod at work in the hood. When an interracial couple moves next door, he makes life hell for Chris: Patrick Wilson (The Phantom of the Opera) and Lisa: Kerry Washington (Della in Ray). From slashed tires to a floodlight shining into their bedroom, the harassment continues. Able’s kids are nice enough, but afraid of their dad. His fellow cops seem to keep Able at arm’s length. Then there’s the cop party at 3 a.m. with strippers at Able’s! TV’s Justin Chambers (Grey’s Anatomy) and Eva La Rue (CSI: Miami) have minor parts. Violence, language. Sony 125 min.


Tank (Dane Cook) makes a living by taking girls out on a date (paid for by their unappreciated boy friends) and showing them the worst time they have EVER had. His best friend, Dustin (Jason Biggs) doesn’t feel he’s able to get Alexis (Kate Hudson) to commit. He doesn’t expect Alexis and Tank to feel so strongly about each other. Prof. Turner (Alec Baldwin), Tank’s dad, is as much of a skirt-chasing heel as his son. Lots of laughs. Language, bedroom antics. Lionsgate 101 min.

RIGHTEOUSE KILL Turk (Robert DeNiro) and Rooster (Al Pacino), partners in the NYPD Homicide Division with 30 years of experience, are determined to get a serial killer who goes after criminals who have gotten away with rape and murder. The killer leaves a poem on each body, shot at close range. Spider’s (50-Cent [Chris Jackson]) hot nightclub seems to be the center of illegal activity. Karen (Carla Gugino), a CSI who likes her sex rough, is Turk’s girl. When Lt. Hingis (Brian Dennehy) wants detective partners Perez (John Leguizamo) and Riley (Donnie Wahlberg) to bring in the serial killer, they tangle with Turk and Rooster. Jon Avnet directs in lack luster style. Language, action violence, some sexuality, drug use. Overture 100 min.


Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) is in charge of the FBI task force to link Samir Horn (Don Cheadle), devout American Muslim and ex-U.S. Army explosives expert, to bombings around the world. Every four minutes, they’re in a different city across the globe. Clayton questions Horn in Yemen when he arrested with terrorists. When they escape, they take Horn, too. Max (Neal McDonough) connects Horn to explosions in Nice and London. Clayton must find Horn before more lives are lost at his hands in this international conspiracy. Jeff Daniels appears briefly as a CIA agent. Language, violence. Overture Films 113min.


Mary (Meg Ryan/Norma Shearer in the 1939 George Cukor classic) learns from a manicurist (Debi Mazur) that Crystal (Eva Mendes/Joan Crawford) is stealing her husband. Mary’s hair is enough to scare off most men! Mary’s bgf, Sophia (Annette Bening/Rosalind Russell), a women’s magazine editor, fears for her job and being replaced by someone younger. Their gal pal, Edie (Debra Messing) is busy having kids. Jada Pinkett Smith as lesbian Alex is there for all the key scenes. The over-50 set is well represented by Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher and Cloris Leachman. Despite all of Diane English’s effort and colorful fashions, she can’t capture the razor wit of the original and having NYC sidewalk scenes with only women is ludicrous. The DVD of the black-and-white comedy is worth the rental/purchase. Language. Picturehouse 114 min.

October 2008


Bisexual, middle class Londoner Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) accompanies his gay friend, Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw) to his lush country mansion (Brideshead) and becomes entranced with its grandeur. It’s the 1920’s and the Oxford students are carefree. There are several passings on the roadways of Charles and Sebastian’s sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell). Lord Marshmain (Michael Gambon) left controlling wife and mother, embittered Lady Marshmain (Emma Thompson in silver wig) a devout Catholic. Besides England, director Julian Jarrold takes viewers to Venice where Lord M. lives with Cara (Greta Scacchi); Morocco where Sebastian retreats in an alcoholic stupor and the cruise ship where Charles and Julia meet years later when Charles is a famous painter. At times, the compelling drama seems stifling and trying to cram in too much while the acting and scenery arealways top drawer but it’s not the 11 hours of the BBC miniseries. It spans about 25 years, ending in 1946 with Brideshead turned into a temporary military base. Sexual situations, nudity. Miramax 135 min.


The Joker (the late Heath Ledger, brilliant here) has Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City under his evil control. He continues to stay one step ahead of Bruce Wayne-Batman (Christian Bale) and his lady-love, Rachel (the homely Maggie Gyllenhaal). The Good vs. Evil reaches a pinacle when a boatload of “good people” have the bomb detonator for a nearby boatful of villains and vice versa. Then the Joker blows up a hospital in this much more violent sequel. D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) undergoes a hideous transformation to become the homicidal Two Face. IMAX adds nothing special to the big chase scene. Some special effects are as frightening as the gruesome clown imagery. Warner 152 min.


Geophysicist Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) and his 14-year old nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) enlist Islandic guide, Hannah (Anita Briem) in the quest to retrace Jules Verne’s route downward. Who would have thunk they would be chased by dinosaurs and have them nip at one ... in 3-D? Many adventures later and wonderful use of the 3-D, they manage to make their escape to the surface. New Line 92 min.


Daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) of a single mom, Donna (Meryl Streep) delves into Mom’s diary to determine who her father might be, inviting the three possibilities to her upcoming wedding to Skye (Dominic Cooper, The History Boys). American Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Swedish Bill (Stellan Skaarsgaard), and Brit Harry (Colin Firth) arrive at the Greek island simultaneously with Donna’s old musical sidekicks: Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) join the songfest. The production numbers are best when the islanders become the chorus. They all jump into the sea. One cannot help leave the theater smiling and maybe humming. Female sex chatter. Universal 108 min.


Chinese Emperor Han, who built the Great Wall (Jet Li), wants to live forever. Good sorceress Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh) knows the eternal secret but loves General Ming Guo (Russell Wong), unfortunately for him. Zi Juan puts sleep curse on the Emperor and his army. In 1946, adventurer Rick (Brendan Fraser) and his wife, adventure novelist, Evelyn O’Connell (Maria Bello) are entrusted to take a fist-sized jewel to China. It is the key to the reawakening of the emperor and his resurrected hordes. The fight scenes are enhanced by the O’Connell son, Alex (Luke Ford, who at 27 is only 12 years junior to Fraser), and the daughter of Zi Juan and Ming Guo (lovely Isabella Leong). Director Rob Cohen provides special effects, costumes, and fight scenes that are spectacular. The humor throughout adds considerably. Lots of action, smoking, and bodies piling up. Universal 111 min.


This time around our quartet are college students reunited the summer before their sophomore year. Bridget (Blake Lively) participates in an Aztec excavation in Central America but departs to visit her grandmother (Blythe Danner) for some answers. Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) could win awards as The Lousiest video store employee. Carmen (America Ferrera) makes a crummy Shakespearean actress... until opening night. Lena (Alexis Biedel) goes to Greece and the other follow. They all jump into the sea. Oh, yes, they do exchange the well worn pants. Three Ann Brashares’ teen novels condense intoone screenplay filled with pathos as they lead their soap opera lives. 117 min.


Only in a presidential election year could this lightweight comedy weigh in on the comedy scale. Beer-guzzling Bud (Kevin Costner) had promised his daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll) that he would vote. She’s doing a report for her fifth-grade history class in Texico, New Mexico. After the voting machine bungles her/his vote, Bud becomes the deciding vote in the presidenital race between Republican incumbent Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and Democratic challenger (Dennis Hopper). When the candidates, their entourages and media descend upon Texico to woo Bud’s vote, the Frank Capra influence is definitely noticable. Humore eminates from the presidential campaign managers, Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane, and the special commercials zeroing in on Bud’s vote. TV news reporter Paul Patterson is Bud’s love interest. Strong language. Touchstone 100 min.

Sept. 2008


The CHRONICLES of NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN The Pevensie foursome (Peter: the eldest: William Moseley; Susan: Anna Popplewell; Evan: Skandar Keynes; and youngest, Lucy: Georgie Henley) find themselves transported back to a Narnia that is having a rough era. In Narnian time, 1,300 years have passed while hardly a year has elapsed in the Pevensies’ lives on earth since their coronation in Narnia. An evil Telamarine leader, Miraz: Sergio Castellitto, covets the throne of his nephew, Caspian: Ben Barnes, and plans to murder countless rebellious Narnians. Aslan, the leonine ruler of Narnia, and the wicked White Witch: Tilda Swinton, each have about two minutes of screen time. Following a slow middle hour come battle scenes that stretch on too long. With the help of centaurs, fauns, badgers, oversized mice and other magical critters, Caspian fights Miraz. Director/co-writer Andrew Adamson tries so much harder than in his earlier effort, but proves that more warriors doesn’t necessarily make a better film. Disney-Walden Media 147 min.


THE HAPPENING Wot’s happening? Not much. If the wind blows in New England, you may die in M. Night Shyamalan’s new film with mass suicides and crazy deaths. NYC married couple Mark Wahlberg, a math teacher, and wife, Zooey Deschanel, head for the hills. But it’s not safe there, either. Betty Buckley turns up as a lonely, independent spinster. Violent/disturbing images; brutal deaths. 20th Century Fox 91 min.


THE INCREDIBLE HULK Bruce Banner: Edward Norton labors peacefully in a bottling plant in Brazil, aware that if his blood pressure rises when he gets angry he can turn into the Incredible green Hulk. In the U.S., Betty Ross, his girl friend/lab scientist, played by Liv Tyler, fights to protect and save him. Gen. Ross: William Hurt wants the knowledge of what makes him an angry 15-foot beast to use as a military weapon. Mr. Blue, an eccentric university scientist well played by Tim Blake Nelson, works on a cure. Blonsky: Tim Roth will stop at nothing to destroy the Hulk, even becoming a hideous creature himself. Louise Leterrier directs the engrossing CGI battles as the dueling duo destroy part of Manhattan. Animated violence; tobacco consumption. Universal 114 min.


INDIANA JONES and the Kingdom of the CRYSTAL SKULL A fast introduction when a Nevada nuclear base is invaded in 1957 presents an older Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, years later), a prisoner of Soviet villainess Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) with her steel blue eyes and black bangs and her henchman, Col. Dovchenko (Igor Jijikine) as they seek the Crystal Skull. Soon we meet Mutt (Shia LeBeouf), a motorcycle biker who divides his time between his comb and his switchblade. Mutt shows Prof. Jones a letter from his mother, Marion (Karen Allen), which starts a chase around the campus that ends in Peru. The fine supporting cast features Mac: Ray Winstone, whose allegiances blow with the wind; the college dean: Jim Broadbent; and Prof. Oxley: John Hurt, the crystal skull expert now nutty. The smash-bang finale occurs in the Amazon jungle. Action violence, mild language. Paramount-Lucasfilm 124 min.


IRON MAN Wealthy munitions inventor Tony Stark: Robert Downey Jr., imprisoned in Afghanistan, creates his Iron Man suit of necessity to escape his captors. Back in the States, he finds it’s going to come in handy while fighting off his enemies. His workshop is beneath his cliffside Malibu lair where his assistant, Pepper Potts: Gwyneth Paltrow, keeps the bachelor-industrialist in order. He’s lucky to have a friend, Col. Rhodes: Terence Howard, in the military to cover his back. His mentor Obadiah Stane: Jeff Bridges proves to be a handful. Director Jon Favreau delivers humor, intelligence and plenty of action to make Marvel proud its comic book hero has reached the big screen. Sci-fi action violence. Paramount-Marvel 120 min.


KUNG FU PANDA In this children’s animated flick, a bumbling panda waiter, Po: voice of Jack Black, takes the challenge to become national kung fu champion, Dragon Warrior, of China and save the country from poverty. His red raccoon teacher-Master Shifu: Dustin Hoffman, guides him through the perils of battle with the Furious Five: tigress: Anjelina Jolie, crane: David Cross, mantis: Seth Rogan, viper: Lucy Lui, and monkey: Jackie Chan. Somehow, the story seems fresh, despite the labored fat jokes, and is certainly entertaining. DreamWorks animated 88 min.


MONGOL Between 1172 and 1206, Temudgin, the nine-year old son of a khan grows up to become fair leader of all khans in Mongolia and is named Genghis Khan. His father plans an alliance with another tribe, but his son decides upon a bride, Borte (age ten) from a one-night stop on their journey. After the khan is poisoned, Temudgin is enslaved and forced to wear a neck stock for years. The grown Temudgin, Tadanobu Asano, claims his bride, Khulan Chuluun. His closest friend, Jamukha: Honglei Sun, becomes his most formidable rival. The turbulent equestrian battles are horrific with graphic blood-letting. In contrast, there are intimate love scenes. Directed and co-produced by Sergei Bodrov, the scenery of Mongolia is uniquely beautiful, like no where else in the world. Academy Award 2007 nominee: Best Foreign Language Film. Bloody warfare. Picturehouse (Mongolian with subtitles) 124 min.


SEX AND THE CITY Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and girl friends Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) splash Manhattan four years after the end of the TV series. Carrie plans a BIG wedding to Mr. Big (Chris Noth) at the NYC Main Library. When it doesn’t come off as planned, the girls retreat to the Mexico honeymoon cottage and get tans. Upon returning, Carrie hires a new personal assistant, Louise from St. Louis (Jennifer Hudson: who also sings All Dressed in Love). It’s all the angst and fashions you expect. Samantha is a H’wd. agent for blond Jerry (Jason Lewis) but lives next door to a Latin lover ! (Gilles Marini) and turns 50. Charlotte and hubby adopt then get a surprise. Attorney Miranda splits with Steve (David Eigenberg as the most sympathetic male). Notice how many plot twists revolve around cell phones. Credit writer/director Michael Patrick King for so much fun starring Manhattan. Language, nudity. New Line 145min.


June 2008



Jason Segel not only stars in this hangdog romantic comedy, he also wrote the hilarious screenplay. Further ensuring Peter’s unforgettable: he has three frontal nudity scenes. His girl friend, Kristen Bell as the titled television actress, breaks off their five-year live-in relationship. Peter writes the music for the show but also has been working on a musical Dracula. Trying to forget S.M., he flies to a Hawaiian resort but finds S.M. there with her new British rock singer-lover, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Then the fun starts! Mila Kunis as Rachel, the hotel hospitality clerk, provides Peter with an alternate love interest. The beauty of Hawaii is the perfect setting for this funfest. Nicholas Stoller directs; Judd Apatow is responsible for the astute casting. Nudity, sexual content, language. Universal 113 min.


The beginnings of professional football in 1925 sets the background for this screwball comedy directed by and starring George Clooney. He plays funny, athletic Dodge Connelly, an almost over-the-hill Duluth team captain who finds he has no other profession. Renee Zellweger playing 31-year old fast-talking Chicago Tribune reporter Lexie looks every day of her 39 years. Her editor Harvey (Jack Thompson) pushes her for the real story behind WWI hero Carter the Bullet (John Krasinski: The Office). The escape from the speakeasy and the boxing bouts are especially humorous. The jazz score by Randy Newman keeps the love triangle moving. Language. PG-13. Universal 112 min.

James Horner’s background music sets the tone for this gloomy flashback tale of two best friends, Diana (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maureen (Eva Amurri) as the high school teens who go through a Columbine-like massacre. The audience shares their P.O.V. as the nutjob closes in on them in the girls’ restroom. Troubled art history teacher Diana (Uma Thurman), 15 years later, and Brett Cullen have a young daughter who hides at her girls’ Catholic school. This is the first film by Vadim Perelman, post his exciting 2003 debut, House of Sand and Fog. He intentionally leaves the third act ending vague. magnolia/2929 Productions 105 min. SMART PEOPLE Welcome to suburban Pittsburgh where widower Prof. Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) teaches literature at Carnegie Mellon U. When he is diagnosed with a concussion by former student Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), he can no longer drive. His down-and-out adopted brother Charlie (Thomas Haden Church) moves in to become chauffeur. Daughter Vanessa, Ellen (Juno) Page, supplies ‘You Can’t Read,’ a sellable title for Dad’s book. Over time, Prof. and Dr. learn to love. Noam Murro directs in his auspicious debut. Language, brief teen drug-alcohol use, sexuality. Miramax-Groundswell 94 min.



A day in the life of South Central LA Det. Tom Ludlow, Keanu Reeves, has him drinking vodka on the job from airline-size bottles and being beaten up by a Korean gang who steal his wheels. When he slaughters them while rescuing two imprisoned girls, he’s a hero. Capt. Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker) has memorable lines, like: “Wash your mouth out with buckshot.” Tom and Det. Paul Diskant (Chris Evans) use informant Squiggly (Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles) to get to cop killers. Hugh Laurie (House) portrays the bitter internal affairs chief. Story and shared screenplay by James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential); David Ayer directs with a tight rein. Strong violence, pervasive profanity. Fox Searchlight 107 min. 21 MIT math professor Micky Ross (Kevin Spacey) recruits his six brightest students (including Ben: Jim Sturgess, brother of The Other Boleyn Girl, and Jill: Kate Bosworth) to count cards in Vegas. They fly in for the weekend and rapidly clean out hotel casinos, changing disguises while pocketing millions. The casino headbasher Cole (Laurence Fishburne) is onto them. The cinematography of Vegas is unique and fascinating. The plot goes through a confusing phase but all is clear by the denouement under Robert (Legally Blonde) Luketic’s direction, inspired by a true story. Ultimately, the audience holds the winning hand. Violence, sexual content, partial nudity. Columbia 123 min.



Carlitos’ (Adrián Alonso, Zorro’s son in Legend of Zorro) mother Rosario (Kate del Castillo) moved from Juarez, Mexico to LA four years before. She saves her maid’s salary to send for her son a.s.a.p. When the nine-year-old leaves to join her without her knowledge, he knows he must get there by Sunday when she always phones. Very touching and tender, his vicissitudes make for a fascinating tale directed by Patricia Riggen, guest-starring America (“Ugly Betty”) Ferrara as a student helping Carlitos across the border. Spanish w/subtitles & English. Fox Searchlight 109 min.



When widowed New England economics professor Walter Veil (Richard Jenkins) treks to his Greenwich Village apartment for the first time in months, he is surprised to find it has been sublet to two foreigners, illegally in the U.S. He bonds with Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) over the bongos. When Syrian Tarek is seized and threatened with deportation, Walter comes alive and drops his passive persona. Then Tarek’s mother arrives to further complicate matters. Writer-director Tom McCarthy can be as proud of this constantly surprising and thoughtful film as his first, The Station Agent. Overture Films 103 min.


May Reviews


Former model Martine (Saffron Burrows: Klimt, Enigma) recruits ex-beau Terry (Jason Stratham: Transporter, The Italian Job) to help in a bank vault robbery of jewels, money and porn material that will embarrass royalty. Terry’s now a happily married car dealer with two young daughters. Based on a true London case from 1971, it gets down and dirty when royals may be embarrassed by bare assed film in the vault of revolutionary Michael X. A porn king is portrayed tongue-in-cheek by David Suchet: TV’s Poirot. The torture scenes are really gruesome, but the action never lets up—leaving you breathless at times. Well cast down to the smallest parts and brilliantly directed by Roger Donaldson: No Way Out, The Recruit. Anyone having traveled in London will recognize the subways used. LionsGate/ OMNILAB 110 min.

Horton the Elephant (voiced by Jim Carrey) thunders through the jungle of Nool as other animals clear his path. Horton hears the Mayor (voice of Steve Carell) of Whoville yelp over the arrangements for the village’s centennial celebration. The snooty, petulant Kangaroo (v.o. of Carol Burnett) protests the mayor’s plans. Horton must get the tiny village on a dandelion to safety. Well animated and versed by Seuss couplets. Twentieth Century Fox/Blue Sky 88 min.

After 19 years since his last Olympic tryout, wise-mouth carpenter Jerry (Adam Corolla: TV’s Dancing with the Stars) finds that he’s suddenly under consideration again as a boxer. Heather Juergensen portrays Lindsay, an attorney who’s his romantic love interest. Oswaldo Castillo is introduced as his pudgy friend in his corner of the ring. His sparring partner, Robert Brown (Harold House Moore) levels with him. This little picture of the underdog succeeding will appeal to many. Carolla also wrote the story. International Film Circuit 88min.

London in 1939 wasn’t the best time to lose one’s job, but it happened to the vicar’s daughter, Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) who is outraged by the loose behavior of her employers. She finds work as social secretary to Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams: Enchanted), an actress-singer involved with three men. There’s DL’s pianist Michael (charming Lee Pace: TV’s Pushing Daisies), night club owner Nick (Mark Strong), and son Phil (Tom Payne) of the producer of the play in which DL seeks the lead—the old-fashioned way. Unexpectedly, Miss P. catches the eye of fashion designer Joe (Ciarán Hinds). Focus 93 min.

Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johnannsen) and sister Anne (Natalie Portman) are both pushed by their ambitious father and uncle to win the favor of King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) over his wife, the Spanish Katherine of Aragon, who cannot bear him a son. Mary does, but it’s illegitimate. After 1,000 days as queen Anne connives against both competitors to sire a son with her brother (Jim Sturgess: 21), but loses her head. Whether the historical incidents and chronology are accurate or not, the tale is character-driven—all the while showing off costumes and ancient buildings of the 16th century. The ‘banquet’, minus silverware, and hunting scenes are tough to stomach. Oscar-winner Peter Morgan’s (The Queen) screenplay is directed by newbie Justin Chadwick. Columbia/Focus 110 min.

Carlitos’ (Adrián Alonso) mother Rosario (Kate del Castillo) moved from Juarez, Mexico to LA four years before. She saves her maid’s salary to send for her son a.s.a.p. When the nine-year-old leaves to join her without her knowledge, he knows he must get there by Sunday when she always phones. Very touching and tender, his vicissitudes make for a fascinating tale directed by Patricia Riggen, guest-starring the only known actor, America (“Ugly Betty”) Ferrara as one helping Carlitos across the border. Spanish w/subtitles & English. Fox Searchlight 109 min.


April 2008


Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson are divorcing in the Caribbean after seven years of hunting for a ship sunk in 1725 with millions aboard in a queen’s dowry. KH is working as chef aboard wealthy Brit Donald Sutherland’s yacht when MM finds an identified piece of the treasure. Can they get it before the bad guys, including Ray Winstone (300), do? Can they fall back in love? If you’ve been waiting breathlessly for a film in which MM has his shirt off at least half the time, your wait is over. The comedy-romantic adventure is directed by Andy Tennant. Warner Bros. 113 min.

After the hit of a London priest goes bad and a child is also accidentally killed, the hit men, Ray: Colin Farrell and Ken: Brendan Gleason, are sent to Bruges, Belgium, while things cool off. This comedy travelogue includes the word “fu**ing” about three times in most sentences. Overlooking that, it is a brilliantly written film, directed by Martin McDonagh with a keen eye. Quite violent, there are fascinating chase sequences involving their boss, Harry: Ralph Fiennes. Ray even gets an unusual love interest, Chloe: Clemence Poesy. Look for a major increase in tourism to Bruges. If you only have time for one film this month, this is the one! Focus 105 min.

Hayden Christensen has a good life: a luxury apartment in Manhattan, free instant travel around the world, all the money he can purloin from banks as needed. Suddenly, white-haired Samuel L. Jackson, a Paladin who terminates Jumpers, seeks him out. In his opening scene, SLJ guts a trussed jumper. Young Jaime Bell (Billy Elliot), another jumper, thinks HC will draw too much attention to Jumpers and incur the wrath of SLJ. HC still has a soft spot for his high school girl friend, Rachel Bilson, and flies her to Paris and Rome. Evil SLJ isn’t far behind. This is a better travelogue than fantasy film. The encounters are lots of action, but is that enough? Director Doug Liman also helmed The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Fox/Regency 2 88min.

In his fourth outing as John Rambo, Sylvester Stallone could almost walk through the movie in his sleep—and does. High action, I would be surprised if there are a total of five pages of dialog. SS is talked into taking some missionaries up river in Burma into perilous enemy-held territory. Every explosion features flying limbs and gruesome, moaning dying ‘soldiers’. If one gunshot would do, 40-50 are expended. Focus 93 min.

Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox are among those protecting U.S. President William Hurt at a summit meeting held in Salamanca, Spain. An attempt is made on his life—or is it his body double? Civilian tourist Forest Whitaker films what is happening in the square and the Feds want to see that footage. Sigourney Weaver plays the TV director of the event. The same tale is retold eight times from different points-of-view: the fast-paced editing reveals a few more surprises with each retelling. Columbia/Original Film 90 min.


March 2008


7 Oscar nominations: incl. Best Picture, Sup. Actress: Saoirse Ronan, Original Music Score, Adapted Screenplay….14 BAFTA noms.: incl. Film, British Film, Actor, Actress, Sup. Actress, Director….2008 Golden Globes: won Picture, Drama; Musical Score + 5 noms.…won Venice Film Festival Prize.

James McAvoy and Keira Knightley play lovers of different classes in England in the late 1930s, before and during WWII. Her sister, Saoirse Ronan, at 13 ruins his career with her lies. Years later, she realizes what she misinterpreted. Vanessa Redgrave has a brief but important role. Director Joe (Pride and Prejudice) Wright adapts Ian McEwan’s novel with just the right touches to make it an award-winning drama. Adult situations. 130 min. Focus

Washington, DC Film Critics: Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin…Sup. Actor Oscar nom.: P.S. Hoffman
Texas congressman Tom Hanks is recruited by Houston socialite Julia Roberts, a Christian conservative political donor, to aid the Afghan cause against the Russian communists in the 1980s. Their CIA aide is played by the pompous Philip Seymour Hoffman. Aaron Sorkin’s dialog is rich and deserving of the fine treatment given this comedy by director Mike Nichols, never forgetting to entertain while based on a real slice of U.S. history. Adult situations and some gruesome war images. 98 min. Fox Searchlight-Universal

Best Picture of the Year: Los Angeles Times, New York, Wall St. Journal, Hollywood Reporter…2008 Golden Globe: Director….BAFTA noms.: Adapted Screenplay, Foreign Language Film
Julian (Before Night Falls) Schnabel brilliantly directs this autobiographical tale of Jean-Dominique Bauby, starring Mathieu Amairic as the 43-year old editor of Elle magazine who has lived a high life style with the Rich and Famous. When he becomes paralyzed losing his power of speech while driving his son, Bauby is confined to a hospital on the French coast where he dictates his life story by blinking one eye, letter by letter when his therapist, Marie Josee Croze, or his secretary names it. Well acted and beautifully photographed, this meaningful life is captured on film. In French, with English subtitles. 112 min. Miramax

4 Oscar noms: Picture, Director, Actress: Ellen Page, Original Screenplay…BAFTA noms.: Orig. Scrnply., Rising Star: E. Page…Won Best Actress: Nat’l. Board of Review/Central Ohio/Chicago/Florida (+ Breakout Award)/Phoenix Film Critics Assn….Hollywood Film Festival (+ Breakthrough Actress of Year)
High students Page (Juno) and Michael Cera fool around in a chair and she winds up preggers. She sees an ad in the Penny Saver placed by a couple who want to adopt. Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman seem like the perfect couple, at first. Diablo Cody’s humorous script and Jason Reitman’s masterful direction provide an entertainment worth your time. Alison Janney portrays Juno’s stepmother and J.K. Simmons is crusty as the dad. Ellen Page is a real find and is already getting awards for this role. 92 min. Fox Searchlight.

Academy Award nominations: Actress: Laura Linney; Original Screenplay: Tamara Jenkins
Estranged New York siblings, Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, head to Arizona to deal with their father, Philip Bosco, whose dementia has worsened. They bring him back to Prof. Hoffman’s upstate NY city to have him cared for in a senior home, but Bosco barely cooperates, causing problems. Linney again turns in a glowing character as the troubled wannabe playwright. Jenkins’ funny, tart script captures all the right nuances of the Alzheimer’s and the anxieties of dealing with it from the family’s point-of-view. 113 min. Fox Searchlight


2008 Golden Globes: Best Picture: Musical or Comedy; Actor: M/C: Johnny Depp…National Board of Review: Best Director: Tim Burton
Who better to adapt Stephen Sondheim’s bloody tale of a barber in London who slits throats than director Tim Burton? Johnny Depp is a perfect choice for the lead, singing on screen for the first time, looking horrific with white skin from years in prison and a streak of white through his black hair, dark circles around his eyes. Helena Bonham Carter fares less well as Mrs. Lovett, who sells meat pies made from the corpses. The atmosphere created of foggy, deadly 1800’s London has Jack the Ripper around the next corner in this quite scary musical. Graphic bloody violence. 116 min. DreamWorks-Warner Bros.


Entertainment Weekly, New York Times, National Society of Film Critics, Newsday: Best Movie of the Year…2008 Golden Globe: Actor, Drama: Daniel Day-Lewis…Best Actor: D D-L: SAG Award; Chicago (+ 5 noms.)/Dallas/ Florida/Kansas City/Phoenix/Los Angeles (+ Picture, Director, Prod’n. Design)/National (+ Film, Dir., Cine.) New York (vv+ Cine.) /Southeastern Film Critics Assn. Awards.
Day-Lewis chooses his scripts carefully, few qualify. In this film, he embodies Daniel Plainview, an impassioned oil man in 1898 Texas who beats in heads with a golf club or a bowling ball, whatever’s handy. He takes the infant son left behind after an oil well accident and uses the kid to enhance his persona with investors. Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) doubles up as two brothers, one who sells the whereabouts of the oil to Daniel, the other a megalomaniacal evangelist. Fine support is supplied by Ciaran Hinds as Daniel’s assistant and Kevin J. O’Connor as Henry, “a long-lost brother”. Paul Thomas Anderson intelligently directs his own screenplay adapted from Upton Sinclair‘s Oil with firm control. 158 min. Miramax-Paramount Vantage


February 2008




In the late 1960’s the drug lord of Harlem (Clarence Williams III) dies. Childless, he leaves the business to his savvy driver, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), who establishes a direct link to the Vietnamese supplier. About the same time, an honest Jersey cop, Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), turns in a million-dollar drug bust, causing him to be an outcast who has to work out of his home. When Lucas takes his bride, Miss Puerto Rico, to the Frazier-Ali fight wearing a full-length chinchilla coat and hat, he comes under Roberts’ radar, whose mission in life becomes to take Lucas down. Lucas’s tiff with a tough dishonest cop (Josh Brolin) doesn’t help. Lucas’s mother’s (Ruby Dee) mansion is torn apart, looking for his stash. This true story over a decade relates the parallel lives of Lucas and Roberts until they finally meet when the Vietnam War is over and the pipeline via false-bottomed coffins of GIs is broken. There’s violence, pervasive drug content, and language aplenty, plus the nude (so they can’t steal samples) asian women who package Blue Magic. Under Ridley Scott’s brilliant direction and Steve Zaillan’s s cript, this is one of the outstanding films of the year, especially Denzel’s princely right on performance. Universal 157 min.


Senator Tom Cruise regales TV reporter Meryl Streep with what’s going on in Afghanistan. Calif. prof Robert Redford (who also directed) tries to bring out the promise and potential of student Andrew Garfield. On the front, Peter Berg sends paratroopers Michael Pen~a, Derek Luke, others over enemy-held territory. Pen~a and Luke bail out onto a snowy plateau. A little action takes place there. Then, everybody talks! And talks!! Lots of arguing going on here. The excellent performances barely save this engaging debate on current politics with script-heavy and stagnant drama. MGM/UA 105m


Quiet country sheriff Tommy Lee Jones is suddenly faced with a cold-blooded serial killer (Xavier Bardem) whose victims have no bullet holes. It all revolves around drugs and money smuggled into Texas. Bardem is armed with a compressed air gun meant to kill cattle. Lawman Josh Brolin is on the money trail. Joel and Ethan Coen have created a suspenseful masterpiece. The decade’s most horrific villain may be around for a sequel since the end is wide open with two major and two minor characters left alive. Plenty of Oscar buzz. Miramax 120 min.


Orphan Freddie Highmore‘s tremendous faith tells him that his parents are alive and he can reach them through his music. He was the product of a one-night stand between concert cellist Keri Russell and Irish rock leadman, Jonathan Rhys Myers. She is told by her dying father, William Sadler, that he has lied to her for 13 years that her son is dead. While music prodigy Highmore searches for his parents, Myers seeks Russell with only a Polaroid taken by his bandmate (Moonlight’s Alex O’Laughlin). Fagin-like Robin Williams almost throws everything off kilter. Get out the handkerchiefs for this charming tale, mostly well-acted and written plus some saccharine, with sophomore direction by Kirsten Sheridan that culminates at a Julliard concert in Central Park. Warner Bros. 113 min.

Harry (voice of Jerry Seinfeld, also co-writing and producing) has reached that day in a bee’s life when he must decide upon a career. His best friend Adam (v.o. Matthew Broderick) encourages him to take a usual job. Bratty Harry revolts and goes outside the hive where he meets Vanessa, a human florist (v.o. Renee Zellweger), and he disobeys the first rule: “No talking to humans”. We enter into The Graduate/Mrs. Robinson phase when she saves his life. Together, they mount a class action legal suit against the honey bottlers as this animated tale takes on ecological tooth. Intricate drawing, humor, and interesting twists envelop all ages. Other voices: John Goodman, Chris Rock. Paramount/DreamWorks 90 min.

With a few minutes at the outset and two at the end animated, director Kevin Lima brings to life a Cinderella-Snow White witty musical comedy of a fair maiden banished to Manhattan via an evil spell from Queen Susan Sarandon. Her son, the prince (James Marsden) follows his true love Amy Adams (Junebug) to Times Square. One light bulb short of bright, he somehow manages to track her to the single father, Patrick Dempsey, who has rescued her. Amy bonds with his winsome daughter in this perfect delightful holiday romp for everyone. With Timothy Spall, Idina Menzel. Walt Disney 108 min.

Mr. Magorium owns a magical toy shop in NYC. That he is 243 years old and is tiring is significant. Unfortunately for all concerned, Dustin Hoffman plays him with the energy of one 243 years old. His assistant to whom he is leaving the shop, peppy Natalie Portman (an aspiring classical composer), almost makes up for his lethargy. Enter dull Jason Bateman, the accountant, but no love interest develops. Nine-year old Zach Mills builds Abe Lincoln with Lincoln logs and helps inspire the store to return to its usual perk. This holiday delight was written and directed by Zach Helm. Twentieth Century Fox 109 min.


December 2007



Elizabeth - the Golden Age
As Elizabeth I, Cate Blanchett displays more than 20 opulent gowns (though I understand there is some question as to the authenticity of the period Tudor vs. Elizabethan) as well as a bare backside. (She was actually 52 when these incidents occurred, not 38, Blanchett’s age, as presented.) The “meet cute” of Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) with Elizabeth is the cape-on-the-puddle incident so Her Highness won’t dampen her dainty feet (questionable whether it ever happened). The Protestant vs. Catholic turmoil introduces the foe, Philip, King of Spain, as a bowlegged twit. Forests are decimated to furnish lumber for the ships of the Spanish Armada, a fleet that owed its defeat to a horrendous storm from God. Less so from the outnumbered strategically torched British ships sailed into the anchored Spanish Armada or the physical efforts of Sir (by this time) Walter. He comes off as the sole hero of the battle in director Shekar Kapur’s rewrite of history. Elizabeth watches in armor, astride her white stallion, with her red wig ablowing in the wind. (Earlier, she was riding sidesaddle in a most ladylike position.) Raleigh’s love interest is Elizabeth’s main lady in waiting-confidant, played by lovely Aussie Abbie Cornish. It seems strange that in the room where the monks’ robes are dyed red there is a hangman’s noose! Overall, the film is visually stunning...but if one were to read an historical account of the period, numerous snags would be exposed. 115 min. Universal.

In the Valley of Elah
Tommy Lee Jones portrays Hank Deerfield, retired Vietnam vet, who takes on his old Army base, Fort Rudd, New Mexico, to find his missing soldier son, alive or dead. His wife, Susan Sarandon, stays home in Tennessee. Deerfield gets stonewalled by his base contacts, Jason Patrick (as the assigned liaison) and his son’s military companions on the night of his death. Director-writer Paul (Crash) Haggis provides singular assistance to Deerfield in single mom police detective, Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron). As he comes to realize what the war in Iraq is doing to a generation of young men, the insensitivity that it is causing, and the inhumanity to others that so many willingly assume. In the Valley of Elah is a must-see, either at the theaters or on DVD when Warner Bros. releases it. Don’t be surprised when, on January 22nd, Oscar nominations are announced and the Best Actor category names include Tommy Lee Jones. The most telling scene of Deerfield’s anal personality occurs when, after cutting himself shaving, he tears off one sheet of toilet tissue, removes a square inch from a corner, and applies it to the small cut. The ensemble gives him outstanding support.

The Kingdom
FBI special agent Jamie Foxx champions a team of agents entering Saudi Arabia seeking the madmen behind a terrorist attack on a crowded schoolyard in an American oil-company compound where employees and their families live. Given only five days to conclude their investigation, they are restricted by the local US diplomat (Jeremy Piven) who would just as soon they would disappear. Skilled-at-explosives Chris Cooper, forensics professional Jennifer Garner, and intelligence analyst Jason Bateman comprise the kick-ass team in director Peter Berg’s geopolitical thriller.Culture clashes, lots of explosions, and hand-held camerawork highlight the tight script by Matthew Michael Carnahan with fine support from the Arab actors. 110 min. Universal.


November 2007