Sunday, June 15, 2014


Rated: PG-13

Stars: Clive Owen,  Juliette Binoche,  Amy Brenneman,  Valerie Tian

Director: Fred Schepisi

Genre: Romantic Drama

Opposites attract. That's been the theme of many a romantic comedy since time immemorial. In Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) and Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) we have two sharply delineated characters as different as words and pictures. 

Marcus is a poet of some note who teaches at an elite New England prep school. He's passionate about  trying to instill an appreciation for literature in his students, many of whom are only familiar with the printed word in the form of text messages (smart phones in a dumbed-down America).

Delsanto is the aloof art teacher who snubs Jack's playful advances at every turn, but she is just as passionate in the classroom about trying to light a fire under the butts of her students. 

Will the passion that flames in their hearts for words and pictures eventually translate into the burning hots for each other? You wouldn't think so. Jack is a raging alcoholic. Plus he's clumsy when he's staggering around. Just when Delsanto is beginning to let her guard down, he crashes into her precious work-in-progress and ruins it. Talk about being on somebody's shit list!  Even more annoying to a woman, I would think, is that the guy never takes his glasses off--even in bed! 

Can such obstacles be overcome?  Will Obama and Putin ever get chummy again?  Getting there is half the fun. In Words And Pictures it's most of the fun, as their on-again off-again romance plays out against the backdrop of a spirited and often poignant competition between their students to prove which is more relevant--art or literature?

Grade:  B +


This film is a little gem. It panders to both the undying romantic in all of us, as well as those with intellectual aspirations. Which does hold more weight? Words? Or art. It's enough to make even the most bored preppy take more of an interest in his scruffy professor's thesis. But even if this movie had turned out to be a dud, I would've gone and seen it. Why? Long before Words And Pictures came out, a friend of mine in Vancouver, BC told me that her boyfriend's cabin was being rented by the production company filming this movie. (I believe she quoted $1500 per day?) She even got to meet Clive Owen who, she said, was quite charming and self-effacing. As I watched him tear the place apart in a drunken rage, breaking a table and destroying numerous book shelves, I winced, praying that the damage to my friend's boyfriend's cabin was minimal.

Back to the business of reviewing this film. If I wanted to be picky, I might take issue with the speed in which Owen's character, a serious alcoholic, sobered up. We see him attend one AA meeting and, voila, he's making amends all over the place. And then there's a subplot involving a snarky boy named Swint (played well by Adam diMarco) whose obsessive infatuation for a another student turns nasty. I felt it was totally unnecessary. But the final scene – where brilliant quotes are used to describe certain paintings – made me want to wind the film back so I could write them down. The point being that words enhance art and visa versa.

One last kudo for Bruce Davison. He has a small part but plays it to affable perfection. For me, Davison is an actor who deserves far more accolades than he's gotten. So far, anyway. (Anybody remember him in Longtime Companion for which he won a Golden Globe?)

Grade: A – 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Rated : R

Stars: Seth Macfarlane,  Charlize Theron,  Neil Patrick Harris,  Amanda Seyfried,  Liam Neeson,  Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman

Director: Seth MacFarlane

Genre: Comedy/Western

If the image of Neil Patrick Harris developing sudden gastrointestinal problems, grabbing a stranger's hat and taking a dump in it right in the middle of the street doesn't tickle your funny bone, then you probably are not cut out for this rootin' tootin' tale of the west that comes from the  flipped-out imagination of Seth MacFarlane, creator of South Park, Family Guy, and the movie Ted.

It's like watching an episode of Family Guy in an old west setting with a potpourri (poopourri?) of similarly outlandish sight gags and politically incorrect stuff that wouldn't fly on TV, but it's all brilliantly done--and whether or not this type of effrontery to the let's pretend "sensitivity" of modern times is your cup of tea, you have to admire the creativity and the pure adolescent joy with which MacFarlane and company have gone about their business in A Million Ways To Die In The West. 

There is so much to like about this movie. From the opening theme, which evokes a Bonanza kind of nostalgia for the old westerns, to a really trippy mushroom induced CGI sequence, to the surprising sweetness of a boy-girl romance that's interwoven between all the gags. 

With a big name ensemble cast, who were all good sports to have signed onto such a project, undoubtedly knowing that A Million Ways To Die In The West was going to take a lot of hits from sourpuss reviewers.



(I guess Tim liked it.) And so did I. In a big way! It's this generation's answer to Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. Of course, I've already encountered some negative flak from certain film buffs I know. But I say, "Suck it up and enjoy!" Okay. Maybe there's a bit of overkill with the bean-farting jokes and the pratfalls. But this is a film that I challenge anyone feeling in a bad mood to go and see. You won't feel in a bad mood afterwards, I guarantee it.

What is most endearing is Seth MacFarlane's character. He really nails guys' insecurities in a very original way. (Remember Ted and how real the relationship was between Mark Whalberg's character and his teddy bear?) This guy, whose name Albert is klutzy-sounding to begin with, can't do anything right. Which is a clever way to entice viewers' sympathy. In fact, nobody can do anything right in this film which is why it's so much fun.

Tim has already mentioned the musical score (by Joel McNeely). But I'd like to add that it sets the perfect tone for A Million Ways To Die... before the first undoing is undone.
You can tell that the actors really enjoyed themselves: Liam Neeson as Clinch, the fastest gun in the west; Giovanni Ribisi as Edward, a lovesick puppy, trying desperately not to consummate his relationship with the town whore until they are officially wed; big-eyed Amanda Seyfried as Louise, who dumps Farmer Albert in favor of mustachioed Neil Patrick Harris. The biggest compliment I can pay this film is that I definitely want to see it again. And again. And again...

Grade: A +