Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Rated: R

Stars: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassell, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Genre: Psychological drama

A promising young ballerina on an irrational quest for perfection inexorably descends into fantasy and madness in Black Swan. And who or what is responsible for Nina's (Natalie Portman) tenuous hold on reality? Is it her manipulative, controlling mother(Barbara Hershey) ; the demands of a highly competitive (and cutthroat) profession that eats 'em up and spits 'em out with no remorse; or could it just be the silliness of dancing in that punishing and unnatural way that drives young women crazy?

We see every shift on Ms. Portman's emotionally expressive face--and that's because the camera is IN her face for most of the dancing shots, so as not to show the footwork of an actress who obviously is not a professional ballerina, though she did have some extensive training in preparation for the role. It always irks me a bit when you see the star in the close ups and then the stand in doing the more complicated moves when the camera pulls back, and it's really transparent that this is what is occurring.

But other than the aforementioned little bugaboo, Black Swan--billed as a "psycho-sexual thriller"-- is one that will keep you on your toes throughout. Is it a psychological drama? Horror flick? Erotic thriller? Hallucinatory fantasy? It's all that and a bag of chips, and a near masterpiece to boot.

Portman gives a heady performance as the driven, tightly wound Nina. Other notable renderings come from: Mila Kunis, as Nina's sexually provocative rival and nemesis. Vincent Cassell--the smoldering, unorthodox ballet director (he uses sexual harassment to motivate his dancers to "loosen up"). Barbara Hershey as Nina's creepy, controlling stage mother. And Winona Ryder as an aging star who is involuntarily being put out to pasture.

Director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) knows how to ratchet up the intensity increment by increment, leading to a fervent climax the likes of which you normally aren't going to experience in a movie theatre (unless you're Pee Wee Herman, of course!) A film that gives new meaning to the phrase: DAMN...MY FEET ARE KILLING ME!

Grade: A-

Monday, December 27, 2010


Rated: R

Stars: Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Genre: Drama

Rife with poignant moments and superb performances, Mother and Child follows the interconnected lives of three women: The middle-aged Karen, (Annette Bening) who bore a child at the age of 14 and gave it up for adoption; Her child as an adult, Elizabeth, (Naomi Watts); and Lucy, (Kerry Washington) a young woman anxious to adopt a child.

Annette Bening--who remains one of our most talented actresses--shines as a moody, difficult woman, haunted by her decision lo these many years. Naomi Watts has always been an "anything goes" film presence, (see Mullholland Drive) and she's still willing to bare a lot more than her soul. Her portrayal of a promiscuous, emotionally numb young woman is spot on.

What can sometimes be the emotionally devastating effects of the adoption game may be a bit overplayed here, but Mother and Child is a film with its heart in the right place.

Grade: B +


Stars: Cameron Diaz, Ewan McGregor, Holly Hunter, Delroy Lindo
Director: Danny Boyle
Genre: Dark Comedy

Holly Hunter steals the show as a gun-toting, tobacco juice spitting emissary from heaven who, along with her sidekick, (Delroy Lindo) is on a mission to unite two unlikely bedfellows (Cameron Diaz and Ewan McGregor) in true romance.

Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) demonstrated his directorial prowess early on in this quirky, high energy romp that seeks to answer the question: IS LOVE MERELY AN EMOTIONAL ADAPTATION TO A PHYSICAL NECESSITY?

Retro Grade: B

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Now playing at home:THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE (Rated R)

STARS: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist

DIRECTOR: Daniel Alfredson

GENRE: mystery/suspense/thriller

(Two versions on the DVD--In Swedish with subtitles, and dubbed in English version)

Noomi Rapace returns as Lisbeth Salander--the chain-smoking, bisexual computer hacker and butt-kicker in the second installment of Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy: The Girl Who Played With Fire.

This time she's being framed for a triple murder--yes, this is a girl who just can't seem to stay out of trouble. We instinctively feel that she didn't do it, because her former investigative journalism partner , Mikael Blomkvist, (Michael Nyqvist) believes in her innocence, and WE believe that he is an all around good guy, dedicated to journalistic ethics and bringing out the truth. (This you will know from seeing the first film: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, also reviewed here. See "Dragon" first, so that certain things about this film will fall into place easier for you.)

But anti-hero that she is, I found myself wondering if the numerous plot twists and turns of this movie (like the first one) might somehow snake back on themselves and point the finger at her anyway, as her prints are on the murder weapon, after all! And she spent time in the looney bin as well...all grist for the police to try to build a case against her. It all ties in with a sex trafficking ring about to be exposed by Blomkvist's publication, Millenium, and the subsequent outing of some high profile dudes who are involved. It's a race against time for Salander to try to clear her name, while Blomkvist goes after the real bad guys-- and there are some intriguing ones, straight out of the old James Bond movies.

Perhaps due to a switch in directors, (Niels Arden Oplev directed "Dragon," while Daniel Alfredson was at the helm for this one)I found The Girl Who Played With Fire to have more of a brooding tone to it than the first film--and I like brooding a know, when there's a break in the action and one of the main characters is lost in contemplation about her plight, sitting in front of a picture window with a gorgeous view, while some appropriately brooding (defined as to dwell gloomily on a subject) music plays, thanks to Jacob Groth's appealing soundtrack.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is gritty and dark (almost TOO dark--for my tastes-- during some of the sex scenes involving Salander and her female friend...hey, turn up the lights!). But it held my interest, with the expected surprises along the way, (expect the unexpected) leading to a web of corruption and intrigue...kinda like the election we just had here in America!

Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist are two fine actors--and they didn't disappoint here--setting the stage for the third leg of the trilogy: The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010


5 stars=Excellent/Outstanding

4 stars= Really Good

3 stars= Worth considering

2 stars=Kinda Sucks

1 star=Stinks To High Heaven (take out the garbage!)


Films listed alphabetically--*asterisk beside title indicates full movie review exists in the archives of Timmy's Noodle. Click on the title to see the review.


A Man And A Woman (French/romance)
And Now Ladies And Gentlemen (French/romance)
And Now My Love (French/romance)
Babel (drama)
Beyond Rangoon (political drama)
The April Fools (comedy)
*The Artist (Comedy/drama)
*Carnage (dark comedy)
Chinatown (classic/mystery)
*Circumstance (Drama)
*Crazy, Stupid, Love (romantic comedy)
Duck, You Sucker! (classic/spaghetti western)
The Fighter (drama)
The French Lieutenant's Woman (romantic drama)
Garden State (comedy)
The Graduate (classic/drama)
Groundhog Day (comedy)
Havana (drama)
Heaven Can Wait (classic/comedy)
*Horrible Bosses (dark comedy)
Last Tango In Paris (drama)
Live For Life (French/romantic drama)
Love Me If You Dare (French/drama)
Lost In Translation (drama)
Love Actually (romantic comedy)
Love Affair-- 1994 version (romance)
Lust, Caution (Chinese/drama)
The Magus (classic/mystery)
Margaret (drama)
Midnight Cowboy (classic/drama)
One Eyed Jacks (classic/western)
The Shining (horror)
*Submarine (dark comedy)
Swept Away--original 1974 version (Italian/romance)
Three Days Of The Condor (espionage)
*Young Adult (Dark comedy/drama)
*Zombieland (horror/dark comedy)

The Accidental Tourist (drama)
All The Real Girls (drama)
*Amelia (drama)
*The American (thriller)
American Pie (coming of age comedy)
Angel-A (French/drama)
Arthur (comedy)
A Serious Man (comedy)
Big (comedy)
*Beyond Rangoon (Action/adventure)
Black Book (Dutch/drama)
*Black Swan (psychological/erotic thriller)
*Blue Valentine (drama)
Body Heat (thriller)
The Bridge (documentary)
Bridget Jones Diary (romantic comedy)
Buffalo '66 (dark comedy)
*Broken Embraces (Spanish/drama)
The Cabin In The Woods (horror)
*Capitalism, A Love Story (documentary)
Carnal Knowledge (classic/drama)
*Cedar Rapids (comedy)
Cinema Paradiso (Italian/drama)
A Clockwork Orange (classic/indescribable!)
Closer (romantic drama)
*Cowboys & Aliens (western/action-adventure/sci-fi)
Crash (drama)
*Crazy Heart (drama)
The Crook (French/thriller)
*District 9 (sci-fi-fantasy)
Duel (classic/mystery)
*Earth (documentary)
Enemy Of The State (thriller)
The Exorcist (horror)
The Family Stone (comedy)
5o First Dates (romantic comedy)
Food, Inc. (documentary)
Five Easy Pieces (classic/drama)
Foul Play (comedy)
*Friends With Kids (romantic drama)
*Funny People (comedy)
*Gigantic (comedy)
*The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Swedish/thriller)
God Bless America (Dark Comedy)
*Going The Distance (romantic comedy)
The Heartbreak Kid--original version (comedy)
*I Am (documentary)
*I Am Love (drama)
I Am Number Four (sci-fi/action/drama)
*The Ides of March (drama)
Klute (classic/drama)
*Kick-Ass (action/dark comedy)
*Knowing (action/adventure)
The Last Picture Show (classic/drama)
Laura (classic/mystery)
Les Uns Et Les Autres (French/drama)
Like Stars On Earth (India/musical)
*The Lincoln Lawyer (drama/mystery-thriller)
*Midnight In Paris (romantic comedy)
The Mirror Has Two Faces (drama)
Moonstruck (romance)
My Dinner With Andre (drama)
My Name Is Nobody (spaghetti western)
*The Notebook (romance)
Notting Hill (romantic comedy)
North By Northwest (classic/thriller)
Once (indie/musical)
The Painted Veil (drama)
Paris (French/drama)
Paris Je T'Aime (French/romance)
Paris, Texas (drama)
*Passengers (drama)
Phenomenon (drama)
*Pirate Radio (comedy)
Play Misty For Me (thriller)
*Precious (drama)
*The Proposal (romantic comedy)
Rebbeca (classic/thriller)
Rab Ne Bana Di Jo Di (India/romance)
*The Reader (drama)
Reign Over Me (drama)
Starman (Sci-fi/fantasy)
The Secret In Their Eyes (Spanish/drama)
Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World (drama/dark comedy)
Serendipity (romantic comedy)
Shortbus (drama)
*Shutter Island (thriller)
Sidewalls (romantic drama)
Sideways (comedy)
*Synedoche, New York (dark comedy)
*Take Shelter (drama)
Taking Woodstock (HIPPIES!)
10 (romantic comedy)
*Tetro (drama)
*The Tourist (romantic thriller)
*Terminator Salvation (sci-fi/action adventure)
*Transformers 2-Revenge Of The Fallen (sci-fi/action adventure)
*Transsiberian (thriller)
The Truth About Cats And Dogs (comedy)
The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (drama)
*Up In The Air (drama)
V For Vendetta (sci-fi/fantasy)
Walkabout (classic/drama)
Waltz With Bashir (documentary)
Whatever Works (comedy)
*The Wrestler (drama)


*A Perfect Getaway (thriller)
A Single Man (drama)
A Life Less Ordinary (comedy)
About A Boy (comedy)
Across The Hall (thriller)
*Adventureland (coming of age drama)
Altered States (sci-fi)
*All About Steve (romantic comedy)
American Beauty (drama)
American Pie Presents: The Book Of Love (comedy)
*American Reunion
An Education (drama)
An Examined Life (documentary)
*Angels and Demons (thriller)
As Good As It Gets (comedy)
Away We Go (comedy)
Annie Hall (comedy)
Before Sunrise (romance)
The Badge (crime thriller)
The Beguiled (classic/drama)
The Big Chill (classic/drama)
Being John Malkovich (comedy)
Big Daddy (comedy)
Bread And Tulips (Italian/romantic comedy)
*Breezy (romantic drama)
Blue Velvet (mystery)
Boys Don't Cry (drama)
*Bridesmaids (comedy)
Big Miracle (drama)
Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (romantic comedy)
Broken Flowers (indie/drama)
Bullitt (classic/action)
The Burning Plain (drama)
The Brown Bunny (indie/art house)
Butterflies Are Free (classic/romance)
*Chloe (thriller)
Cop Out (action comedy)
The Cry Of The Owl (thriller)
The Cutting Edge (drama)
*Date Night (comedy)
The Day Of The Jackal (classic/thriller)
Don't Look Down (Spanish/romance)
The Dreamers (drama)
Duplicity (thriller)
Easier With Practice (indie/ drama)
Edge Of Darkness (thriller)
*Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (drama)
Fargo (drama)
Feast Of Love (drama)
*Forgetting Sarah Marshall (romantic comedy)
*Frozen River (drama)
*Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (romantic comedy)
*Gone (thriller)
The Good Life (indie/drama)
Good Night And Good Luck (drama)
Greenberg (drama)
Hannah And Her Sisters (comedy)
Happy Accidents (comedy)
Hitch (romance)
*I Love You, Man (comedy)
In The Cut (thriller/Meg Ryan nekkid!)
*Inception (sci-fi/thriller)
*In Time
Kids (drama)
La Bonne Annee (French/comedy)
The Lake House (romance)
Lake Tahoe (Spanish/drama)
The Last Days Of Disco (indie/drama)
The Last House On The Left--updated version (horror)
The Last King Of Scotland (drama)
Leap Year (comedy)
Les Miserables (French/drama)
The Limits Of Control (thriller)
Manhattan (comedy)
*Margot At The Wedding (Indie/dark comedy)
Match Point (drama)
*Melancholia (sci-fi/fantasy)
Meet The Fockers (comedy)
Moon (sci-fi thriller)
The Mystery Of Pittsburgh (drama)
Marathon Man (classic/thriller)
*My Life In Ruins (comedy)
The Myth Of The American Sleepover(drama)
New York, I Love You (drama)
The Night Porter (drama)
Nothing Like The Holidays (comedy)
Once Upon A Time In Rio (Spanish/drama)
Ondine (fantasy/drama)
Out Of Africa(classic/drama)
*Peacock (drama)
*Powder Blue (drama)
The Prince Of Tides (drama)
*Revolutionary Road (drama)ad
*The Rum Diary (action-adventure/comedy)
*17 Again (comedy)
*Sex And The City--The Movie (comedy)
Shrink (indie/drama)
The Sixth Sense (thriller)
Sin Nombre (Spanish/drama)
Solitary Man (drama)
*Splice (sci-fi/thrilleer)
*Spread (comedy)
Stealing Beauty (romantic comedy)
*Surrogates (sci-fi/fantasy)
Swimming Pool (British/thriller)
Table For Three (comedy)
*The Town(action/thriller)
Taxi Driver (drama)
The Trouble With Romance (indie/comedy)
Two For The Road (classic/romance)
Vanilla Sky (thriller)
Westworld (classic/thriller)
What Happens In Vegas (comedy)
What Women Want (romantic comedy)
The Women (comedy)
*Yes Man (romantic comedy)
Y Tu Mama Tambien (Spanish/drama)


Abduction (action-adventure)
The Answer Man (comedy)
Bizarre (horror)
Claire's Knee (French/arthouse)
Elegy (drama)
Frontier Of Dawn (French/romance)
Into Temptation(drama)
I Know Who Killed Me (thriller)
*Gran Torino (drama)
*Harry Brown (thriller)
*The Hunger Games (action/adventure)
*Knight And Day (Action/adventure)
Leaving Barstow (drama)
*Legion (thriller)
Mama Mia! (musical)
Medicine For Melancholy (drama)
The Merry Gentleman (drama)
Miss Congeniality (comedy)
Mulholland Drive (drama)
*New Years Eve (romantic comedy)
Night Train (thriller)
Pandorum (sci-fi/fantasy)
The Passion Of The Christ (drama)
*Seven Pounds (drama)
Shuttle (thriller)
Sister Act (comedy)
*Star Trek (sci-fi/fantasy)
Sweet Home Alabama (comedy)
Twister (action/adventure)
*2012 (action/adventure)
*The Ugly Truth (romantic comedy)
Water Lilies (French/romance)
*Wendy And Lucy (drama)
*Whiteout (thriller)
The Wicker Tree (horror)

1 Star

Coyote Ugly (drama/the title speaks for itself)
The Killer Inside Me (drama/the stupidest ending ever committed to film)
Mondo Cane (ritual animal slaughter/ the worst movie I've ever seen)
Lying (drama/this sucks, no lie)
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed And Fabulous (comedy/everybody involved mailed it in)
Solaris (sci-fi/fantasy/ just lousy in a general way)
Touched (drama/can't remember anything else about it, luckily)
*When In Rome (romantic comedy/silly, unoriginal, not funny)
The Weather Underground (jumbled, incoherent mess)
*Salt (action/thriller/ ridiculous, superhuman stunts "performed" by Angelina Jolie that could only be done by Superman on a good day)

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Stars: Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Christina Applegate, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jim Gaffigan

Director: Nanette Burnstein

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Going the distance means doing whatever it takes in order to accomplish your goal--such as when you're in your car and you urgently need to find a restroom--sometimes going miles out of your way as a result of this desperate need. Going The Distance is a romantic comedy about the desperate need of long-distance lovers to be together.

Erin (Drew Barrymore) is an intern with a New York city newspaper. Garrett (Justin Long) works in the record industry. They meet at a bar and subsequently develop a love relationship. (Because everybody knows that a bar is the kind of place where you'll meet that quality person you'll want to spend the rest of your life with!) But Erin is moving back to San Francisco to go to college, leaving Garrett to pine away for her in New York.

The long-distance relationship begins, and when Garrett flies out to the west coast, he meets Erin's sister, Corrine, (Christina Applegate) and her dimwit hubby, Phil, (Jim Gaffigan) neither of whom are especially enamored with him. But love survives, and Erin finds herself back in New York, trying to get it on in Garret's bedroom while his whacked-out roommate is orchestrating the couple's tryst by playing what he considers appropriate theme music through the wall.

But distance eventually puts a strain on any relationship, and things begin to sour when the lovers face the reality that one of them will have to give up his or her life as it is and move to where the other resides.

Going The Distance has lots going for it--including a great supporting cast. Garrett's buddies (Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) are creatively foul-mouthed and goofy, and a good share of the laughs in this film come as a result of their antics. On the distaff side, Christina Applegate is refreshingly lewd in her sisterly banter with Erin ( always nice to see an actress you've originally noticed in some inane TV sitcom completely shedding that image and just letting the gutter talk fly). In fact, once or twice I found myself thinking WHOA--did they REALLY say that? The dialogue (crisp, but seldom clean) hits new heights for an R-rated film on the potty-mouth meter.

The pacing of Going The Distance is euphoria inducing, buoyed by a lilting soundtrack that features one of my all-time favorite songs: "Don't Get Me Wrong" by the Pretenders--and, perhaps, the best editing job I've seen. It moves seamlessly from scene to scene with a homogeneous momentum. (Eat, Pray, Love film editor, take note!)

A bit where Garrett goes to one of those spray-on tan places in preparation for his trip to the west coast--fumbling about inside the cubicle, holding onto his privates, (for some odd reason...why shouldn't they be tan too?) and getting sprayed in the eye, induces a laugh-and shake-your-head-at-the-same-time reaction. An awkward attempt at long-distance phone sex is silly-- but funny/silly--compounding the sense of frustration the lovers feel about their predicament.

Romantic comedy equals formulaic plot, but I was enjoying this movie to the point of where I didn't think much about making any big deductions for that.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Now playing at home: HARRY BROWN (Rated R)

Stars: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Charlie Creed-Miles, Ben Drew

Director: Daniel Barber

Genre: Action/Thriller

Not far back I wrote that Michael Caine was one of a select group of actors that I would go to watch, even if his movie sucked. I've followed up on that statement by viewing Harry Brown, a film as violent, cynical, and mean as they come.

Caine plays Harry Brown, an elderly widower and ex-marine. When his old compadre Leonard (David Bradley) is slain by young London street thugs, he turns into a British version of Clint Eastwood's vengeful character of Walt in Gran Torino, with a little Dirty Harry mixed in. Harry goes on a vigilante rampage --trying to find the punk who did the deed--blowing away anyone who gets in his way. The once mild-mannered pensioner becomes as cold-blooded as his adversaries, and that's the tragedy of the eye-for-an-eye ethos--it brings everyone down to a sub-human level.

Caine is superb in his portrayal of a man who slowly (and chillingly) morphs from average, look-the-other-way citizen into a calculating and relentless force to be reckoned with, despite his advanced age. The drug-addicted low lifes he's dealing with put the sadistic delinquents from A Clockwork Orange to shame. They rule the streets, as the police are portrayed as lamebrained, wimpy, and ineffective-- the one exception being the talented Emily Mortimer in an understated performance as the police detective who begins to sniff Harry out when the bodies start piling up.

Harry Brown will appeal to the vigilante justice crowd--feeding into the frustration ordinary folks feel about a world seemingly out of control (an erroneous perception fueled by the media).

Technically, the film is well done, but there is no subtlety in its uncompromising message. Dirty Harry did it with more panache, and the old spaghetti westerns did it with more style and imagination.


Friday, September 3, 2010


Stars: George Clooney, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido, Johan Leysen

Director: Anton Corbijn

Genre: Thriller

Not your normal Hollywood fare, The American grabs hold of you with one of the most startling opening scenes you're ever likely to see. And then the movie becomes brooding and introspective, but we've been put on notice of the kind of thing that can--and will be expected--to happen again. We're just waiting to see who, how, what, when and where.

George Clooney is Jack, a hired assassin. We don't know who he's working for, other than the weathered dude (Johan Leysen) who gives him instructions over the phone. Other assassins are after him, trying to knock him off before he can knock them off--kinda like the old Mad Magazine's Spy Vs Spy. We don't know who they're working for either...CIA? KGB? Or just some murderous SOB? This uncertainty has the effect of bringing all events into the immediacy of the NOW--which is where, ideally, life should be lived anyway. Every small thing that happens is magnified in significance, and with all those shadowy folks out gunning for him, Jack is naturally a little paranoid. So just sitting down for a cup of coffee with someone has him second guessing himself--as well as the person he's with--his finger constantly poised upon the trigger.

After the opening incident, which occurs in the snowy white Swedish countryside, Jack is instructed to hole up in a small Italian village. There, he is to deliver a custom made weapon to a mysterious female hit woman named Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). We don't know who she'll be targeting, but it's going to make a big splash in the newspapers.

Jack is befriended by a local priest, Father Benedetto, (Paolo Bonacelli) who senses that the American is up to something, and talks to him about sin. But the hired gunman is a cold, hard customer...until he gets involved with a beautiful prostitute named Clara, (Violante Placido) who wants to have more than a business relationship with him. (After all--it IS George Clooney!) Jack discovers that his conscience--deeply buried--is still alive in there somewhere, and decides he wants to get out of the killing game and start a normal life with Clara. BUT--with the kind of karma he has incurred for himself, will it be too late?

The American has a traditional plot, but refreshingly so. You don't need a scorecard to follow it, like a lot of thrillers these days (Inception, for example) that leave you scratching your head, wondering if they made it so complicated because they wanted you to come back and pony up your money a second or third time, just to try to figure it out.

The scenery is pleasant to the eye--not the least of which is the oft-naked Violante Placido as Jack's love interest.

If you're the type of moviegoer who needs to have everything spelled out at the end with a neat little bow on top, you'll be displeased. But if you can take the larger view and grasp that The American is about "sin" on a universal scale--and that all those tidy little details would be superfluous, I think you'll come away satisfied.

And if you're the ruthless sort yourself--not an assassin, but a business person, let's say--who tries to screw your customers by running TV commercials with a lot of unreadable fine print at the bottom of the screen that contradicts everything that's coming out of your mouth--you may find yourself reassessing your skulduggery, and developing perhaps a tiny speck of conscience, after viewing this film.


Monday, August 16, 2010


Stars: Julia Roberts, Richard Jenkins, James Franco, Viola Davis, Billy Crudup, Javier Bardem
Director: Ryan Murphy
Genre: Adventure/drama

Ryan Murphy directs Julia Roberts and a capable cast in the screen adaptation of author Elizabeth Gilbert's 2006 bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love--wherein the writer sets off on a year long quest to find enlightenment, romance, and great Italian pizza.

Bored with her marriage to Steve, (Billy Crudup) Liz files for divorce and takes up with a young actor (James Franco) who whets her appetite for spirituality--unwittingly sewing the seeds of his own demise with the flighty wordsmith--who seems to burn out quickly on guys who really care for her.
So she's off to Italy, where she'll engage in philosophical discourse with her new acquaintances while stuffing her face a lot; then to India where she hangs out in an ashram, looking like she's always feeling slightly out of her depth; and finally to Bali, to soak up wisdom from a toothless medicine man and get involved with a Brazilian dude--another nebulous relationship--because she's never quite sure about anything.

And now to my biggest pet-peeve about films that are adapted from nonfiction: The central character is always played by someone who is noticeably better looking than the real person. (Unless it's like, Ernest Borgnine.) So that is the first thing that gets fictionalized when a nonfiction book hits the silver screen. Liz Gilbert is a reasonably attractive woman, but she's no Julia Roberts. However, when I read the book some years back, I got the distinct impression that the author thought of herself as being this super hot chick, so she must have figured the selection of Ms. Roberts to play her was spot on.

Richard Jenkins' performance as the down-home Texas dude who befriends Liz at the ashram in India, dispensing nuggets of wisdom as he deals with the spectre of his own past, is already being touted as Oscar worthy, and I agree. And Javier Bardem as Felipe, Gilbert's love interest in the latter part of the film, is an affable presence, and sure-fire swoon material for this chik-flick's primary audience--though I think that Eat, Pray, Love does have broader appeal than that--if for no other reason than there's been a ton of hype about it, and guys will inevitably get dragged into the theatre at the behest of their girlfriends and spouses.

Now, how shall I describe the soundtrack? Well, it's one of the most curious, surprising, delightful, and baffling amalgamations of sound accompanying a major film in recent memory. From breezy samba rhythms, to Sly and the Family Stone, Kool and the Gang, Neil Young, and something that nearly made me fall out of my seat...a piece lifted right from Gato Barbieri's exquisite soundtrack from Last Tango In Paris. Never have I seen such a blatant recycling of something so wholly identifiable--for all time--with one particular movie, and a classic at that. I was delighted, (to hear it) yet cringing at the same time, as the melody that originally accompanied graceful tango dancers gliding across the floor was now being set to the image of Julia Roberts stuffing her face with pizza! BALLSY--I'll give them credit for that.

There's gorgeous cinematography--which you might expect considering the locales they had to work with--but Eat, Pray, Love suffers from some choppy editing. Had some of those scenic shots been held just a second or two longer, it would have given the film more of a seamless feel. As it is, it looks like the editor was rushing to finish. (The movie runs about two and a half hours.)
Non-fiction brought to the screen often feels rather plotless--we're so conditioned to those traditional story arcs--but there is growth and transformation here, so if you've got the time and the bucks to spend a year galavanting about the globe, you too may gain some insight into who you are. But unless you can write a blockbuster bestseller about your experiences, that may be a jobless schmuck who is flat broke.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Now playing at home: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Rated R)

Stars: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Genre: Mystery/Suspense Drama

(In Swedish with English subtitles)

Two strange bedfellows--middle-aged journalist Mikael Blomkvist, (Michael Nyqvist) and a young computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) --team up to solve a forty year old mystery: The disappearance of a teenage girl, presumed murdered, from a gathering of greedy, self-serving family members, each of them now under suspicion. Adapted from the late Stieg Larsson's blockbuster novel, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a twisting and twisted tale of intrigue and suspense.

Blomkvist is hired by Henrik Vanger, (Sven-Bertil Taube) of the aforementioned clan, to delve into the disappearance of his neice, Harriet, which has haunted him lo these many years. Salander is drawn to Blomkvist by his well publicized (but questionable) conviction for libel. Lisbeth is 24--a pierced, tattooed, black leather clad, sulking enigma who works as a researcher for a private security firm.

We do know that Lisbeth's dark past includes confinement to a mental institution. She's now on probation for an unspecified crime that will be revealed near the end of the film. She isn't crazy about men, and if anything could serve to reinforce that particular prejudice, it's her probation officer--a brutal rapist who is the embodiment of institutional subjugation and cruelty the world over.

But then there is Blomkvist, and how interesting would a pair of coed sleuths be if they didn't develop the hots for each other? We follow their collaboration with fascination, as they navigate a maze of clues, red herrings, dead ends, mysterious Nazi connections, a serial killer on the loose, staring death in the face--and, of course, making some hot monkey love along the way!

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is gritty, graphic, and gorgeously filmed (in its images of the Swedish countryside) . It's not for those with tender sensibilities.

And Noomi Rapace is an actress to watch. That she was willing to get "down and dirty" for this role shows me that she is dedicated to her craft and willing to do whatever it takes to bring stark realism to a scene. But as her star rises, will she be like most actresses when they make it big--unwilling to revisit some of the darker places that got them there to begin with, just because they no longer have to? Hope not!

I'm now looking forward to the sequel: The Girl Who Played With Fire. It's the next installment of Steig Larsson's "Millenium" trilogy--with Rapace and Nyqvist reprising their roles as the intrepid investigators from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Now playing at home: CHLOE (Rated R)

Stars: Julianne Moore, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson

Director: Atom Egoyan

Genre: Erotic Thriller

Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried hook up in a steamy lesbian scene in director Atom Egoyan's Chloe. Moore has played some lesbian/bi-sexual roles before--though I don't know that she's ever come out and said ""I'm bi-sexual." It doesn't make a hill of pinto beans to me--but what gets me is actresses who are doing all this graphic stuff with other women on film, and then try to tell you they are straight--and that it's just part of the story, and they are making "sacrifices for their art." Like Cameron Diaz, who said: "If I'm going to be with a woman sexually, it doesn't make me a lesbian." No, it doesn't, Cameron. But bare minimum, it makes you bi-sexual.

Hey, if I'm an actor and I do a bunch of movies where I play a guy who likes asparagus, in scenes that require me to chow down on oodles of it...I wouldn't have taken on those roles if I really DIDN'T like asparagus! I"d spit that stuff right back in yo face!

Be whatever you want to be, (and be all you CAN be) but just don't insult my intelligence about it, is all I'm sayin.


Julianne Moore is Catherine, a gynecologist who suspects her professor husband, David, (Liam Neeson) of cheating on her. She runs into Chloe, (Amanda Seyfried) a beautiful young call-girl, in a public restroom, and later gets the idea to hire the tart to approach her hubby and see if he will take the bait. When the two women subsequently meet to compare notes, Catherine finds herself getting aroused by Chloe's lurid descriptions of the things she's been doing with the doc's husband. Is Catherine living vicariously through the young temptress, thinking about the things she and David used to do together, but don't seem to have the time or the inclination for anymore? Or is there more to it than that? Well, yes there the women become intimate with each other.

When Catherine must ultimately end the affair, Chloe crosses over into Fatal Attraction territory, as the scarlet woman spurned begins to find ways to ingratiate herself into Catherine's family. There's a twist at the end that I saw coming rather early on, and that you may catch onto as well if you're paying attention during the opening scene of the movie, and putting two and two together from there. The character of David is really window dressing here, as Chloe is all about the repressed desires of two women from disparate backgrounds finding common ground through their sexuality.

Michael Danna's brooding soundtrack is psychological thriller appropriate.

Temptation often leads us into sticky situations, from which we must try to extract ourselves--as best we can--hoping we haven't triggered the kind of karma that will come back to bite us on the butt...but that is often just what it does.


Friday, July 16, 2010


Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Tom Beringer

Director: Christopher Nolan

Genre: Action, Sci-fi thriller

Inception feels like it was adapted from a long and complicated novel--though it was, in fact, concocted inside the brain of Christopher Nolan, (Memento) who wrote, produced, and directed the film. Anyhoo, screen adaptations of long and complicated novels often have that feeling of being condensed and compacted--where each plot twist is given only sketchy attention because we have to move along at lightning speed and try to get all those myriad elements in during the allotted time--in this case, creating a two and a half hour, mile-a-minute thriller that's a real challenge to follow.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Cobb, a guy who can enter someone else's dream and either extract information, or plant a seed in that person's mind that can trigger a change in his behavior in the real world. Cobb is hired by an Asian businessman (Ken Watanabe) to screw with the head of a dead rival's son, (Cillian Murphy) to implant the idea to disband his father's empire, and thus save the world from more corporate consolidation.

A subplot involves Cobb's deceased wife, (Marion Cotillard) with whom he has some major unresolved issues. She keeps showing up in the dreams, distracting him from his mission and potentially throwing a monkey wrench into the whole operation.

Inception's real fascination is its dream within a dream within a dream dreaminess, (ahem) and the fantasy--one that I suspect most of us have had--of forsaking "reality" to reside exclusively in the dream world.

While the film tries to present itself as a psychological thriller, its real appeal is going to be to action fans who revel in shoot-em-up and crap exploding all over the place. And even though the action is highly imaginative, with wowie-zowie special effects, (Paris folding in on itself, and other mind-bending images) the wild action is taken to the extent of overkill, and I found myself getting numbed out and just kind of bored with it after a while.

Hans Zimmer's soundtrack is one of the best things about Inception, but unfortunately, it's ceaselessly loud and overbearing. On top of that, there are times when you really can't make out what the actors are saying, and that's a bummer in a movie that needs your total unblinking concentration, or you are lost in a maze of WHA- WHA HAPPEN?.

Final analysis: Just like my geeky cousin Marvin, Inception has a lot of warts, but shows flashes of brilliance.