This page contains reviews of films seen during the months of April to June 2011


“The Adjustment Bureau”-This film has great shots of New York and very nice cinematography by John Toll; as well as a few humorous early scenes of Matt Damon’s character, David Norris, a U.S. Senatorial candidate in New York, interacting with real celebrities, such as Mayor Bloomberg and Jon Stewart. And it has an unusual romantic opening in which Norris meets dancer Elise (Emily Blunt) in the Waldorf Hotel men’s room. The two even have a little chemistry in that first scene, but despite the supposed deep love the characters feel for each other, the chemistry quickly evaporates and Damon and Blunt seem to be simply going through the motions in this silly sci-fi/supernatural tale about men with hats who, under the direction of the “Chairman,” control the events of everyday life. John Slattery (“Mad Men”) appears as Richardson, whose job it is to make sure that Norris’ (political) life goes as planned (all the way to you know where), and that means that he must not interact with Elise, the woman he loves. But there’s also Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) who finds himself sympathetic to Norris and Elise and who throws a wrench into the works. “The Adjustment Bureau” provides little or no surprises. In fact, the secret behind all the mysterious action is revealed early in the film and the rest is not much more than a chase through lots of doors and around the streets and buildings of Manhattan. For a travelog, it’s not bad. For a worthwhile thriller, forget it. C+ (6/26/11)


“Unknown”-Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) arrives in Berlin with his wife, Elizabeth (January Jones), to make a presentation at a major conference. They arrive at their hotel where his wife begins to check in, but Harris realizes he left an important briefcase loaded with passports and other ID at the airport, hails a taxi driven by Gina (Diane Kruger), and asks to return to the airport. But a serious accident intervenes and Dr. Harris wakes up four days later in a hospital wondering why his wife hasn’t visited him. When he ultimately arrives at the hotel and confronts Elizabeth, she denies knowing him and tells him that her husband, Dr. Martin Harris, is another man (played by Aidan Quinn). And so the mystery begins. In typical thriller fashion Harris discovers that machine-gun toting men are after him. He gets just the help he needs from a nurse, with information to contact a former Stasi agent (the Swiss actor, Bruno Ganz) for help. And let’s not forget Gina, now out of a taxi driving job, who somehow believes Harris’ story and winds up as his partner in attempting to discover just what’s going on and stay alive in the process. Not a bad premise. Certainly mysterious. And the film ends with a decent and unexpected twist. I admit I didn’t see it coming, but the trip there is a little convoluted and foggy. There are characters (think of the nurse) whose involvement is unclear. And a few holes are left unfilled. But ultimately “Unknown” is not a bad thriller. Let’s say better than mediocre for the sake of its clever surprise ending. Others of note in the cast are Frank Langella as one of Dr. Harris’ colleagues and Sebastian Koch (“The Lives of Others”) as a scientist making a major presentation at the conference. B (6/25/11)


“Carancho”-This very dark film from Argentinian director Pablo Trapero reminded me of David Cronenberg’s 1996 film “Crash.” It seems to be addressing a social problem that’s native to the country of origin and not particularly significant here. Roberto Darin (“The Secret in Their Eyes”) is Sosa, an unlicensed lawyer who spends his time ambulance-chasing on behalf of a mysterious “foundation” which ultimately steals most of the insurance money from the accidents. The word “carancho” refers to a bird of prey, and Sosa fits the bill. But it also seems that although he’s doing what he’s doing out of necessity rather than choice, he never seems to have much regret, even when he sets up a fake accident and causes the death of a friend. At the heart of the film is Sosa’s relationship with a young attractive and drug-addicted EMT doctor, Luján (Martina Gusman). It seems that whenever Luján’s ambulance arrives at the scene of an accident, Sosa is already there, and he begins to hit on her. She’s initially hesitant, but nevertheless Sosa drags her into a relationship which ultimately descends into a form of violent hell. “Carancho” is hardly a pleasant viewing experience. But the cast does a fine job and if you like dark films (both in subject and photography) about disturbing issues, this film’s for you. Otherwise, forget it. (In Spanish with English subtitles) B (6/24/11)


“The Concert”-In 1980, as the story goes, Brezhnev destroyed the career of conductor Andrey Filipov (Aleksey Guskov) because he had hired Jews to play in his orchestra. Now, 30 years later, and working as a cleaning man for the Bolshoi Orchestra, Filipov intercepts an invitation for the Bolshoi to perform in Paris and decides to gather his old musicians to substitute for the real orchestra in order to play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, the music they were performing when the KGB stopped them in the middle of a concert. But Filipov, for very good reasons that will come out at the end, also demands that the violin soloist be Anne-Marie Jacquet (Mélanie Laurent), a leading French soloist.”The Concert” is a comedy and a romance. The comedy, unfortunately, is overdone and tends toward silliness. The idea that a group of musicians could be brought together after many years of not playing and suddenly perform, sans rehearsal, in a concert hall is a little too much, especially when they arrive in Paris and immediately disperse to enjoy the pleasures of the city. But this is a fantasy and led by the wonderful Dimitri Nazarov as Sasha Abramovich Grossman, Filipov’s cellist, and through the aid of the very KGB official, Ivan Gavrilov (Valeri Barinov), who destroyed the orchestra in the first place (he was “just following orders”). somehow they manage to come together and perform brilliantly at the end. The romance in this tale is not the usual kind, but rather about a passion for music, friendship, and loyalty, especially for those who were wronged by the hateful Soviet leadership. And there is, of course, the secret about Anne-Marie Jacquet to be revealed at the very end, the mystery which is at the heart of Filipov’s driven soul. Notable in this regard in the cast is Miou-Miou as Anne-Marie’s agent and friend, Guylène de La Rivière, who has kept Anne-Marie’s secret over the years. If we put the silliness aside, “The Concert” is inspiring, especially when the Tchaikovsky is played lovingly and beautifully at the end. (In Russian and French with English subtitles) B+ (6/18/11)


“The Housemaid”-This Korean remake of a 1960 film fails in a variety of ways. It seems intent on being a chiller or sorts, but although the characters are chilly, instead it is pointless and unbelievable. “The Housemaid” opens with a scene of a busy cityscape in the midst of which is Lee Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon), a young attractive restaurant worker who witnesses a young woman’s suicidal jump from a building. The film then moves on to Lee Eun-yi’s hiring by an older woman, Miss Cho (Yoon Yeo-jeong), as the housemaid/nanny of a very wealthy couple who have a young daughter and are expecting twins. Eun-yi seems to fit in just fine and she likes the couple’s young daughter. But when the husband (Lee Jung-Jae), a slick handsome man who can play Beethoven on the piano with the best of them, forces himself sexually on Eun-yi, she puts up resistance, joining the fun even though she admits she’s terrified. After a couple of soft-core scenes, the film takes a strange turn. Miss Cho meets with a new seemingly diabolical character and they seem to know, even before Eun-yi, that Eun-yi is pregnant. But “The Housemaid” descends into a tacky tale of silliness as the family members and Eun-yi plot their next (somewhat violent) actions, revolving around the family’s belief that Eun-yi will be intent on blackmailing the family due to her pregnancy by the head of the household, and Eun-yi’s growing desire for revenge after she is injured in a fall and forced into an abortion. It occurred to me that some of the weaknesses in the plot could be due to poor title translations from Korean into English, but the story really is undone by a dubious and nasty ending, only to be followed by what seemed to me to be an empty dreamlike sequence. (In Korean with English subtitles). C (6/17/11)


“Another Year”-Mike Leigh, one of the finest directors working today, makes serious and thoughtful movies: stories about the experiences and emotions of common people, such as “Secrets and Lies,” “Vera Drake,” and “Happy-Go-Lucky.” They are not always easy to watch but they always provide insight into the vagaries of life. His films are never commonplace, often contain a great deal of ad-libbed but completely appropriate and insightful dialogue, and contain intriguing characters, especially in view of the brilliant acting qualities of his cast (virtually a repertory group of actors who appear regularly in his films). In “Another Year,” Leigh tells the story of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a rather content older middle-aged London couple who seem to be surrounded by people not quite as satisified with life as they are. Tom is a geologist and Gerri is a mental health counselor, and their favorite activity is working in a community garden, growing vegetables. “Another Year” does exactly what its title implies: telling us the story of a year in the lives of these characters, in four Acts coinciding with the seasons from Spring to Winter. Among Tom and Gerri’s friends and relatives are Mary (Lesley Manville), an insecure single woman who works with Gerri and who appears to be a regular invitee to their home. Mary is nervous and lonely, has a fantasy crush on Tom and Gerri’s 30-year-old son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), and begins to deteriorate mentally when she finds that Joe has found a girlfriend, Katie (Karina Fernandez). Watching Mary in Tom and Gerri’s home, one wonders how they could possibly tolerate her presence, until the stress of her behavior begins to appear in Act 4, Winter. Then there is Ken (Peter Wight), an old friend of Tom’s who also suffers from loneliness and a little too much boozing, and who hits on Mary. But Mary, who eagerly seeks companionship from the least likely, is repelled because Ken’s looks have seriously deteriorated over the years. Finally, there is Ronnie (David Bradley), Tom’s brother, who in mostly stunned silence is facing a new way of life after the sudden death of his wife. Lesley Manville provides a brilliant performance as the distressed, almost hysterical Mary, a woman who allows an impossible fantasy to affect her relationship with Tom and Gerri. Also of note in the cast is Martin Savage (who debuted as George Grossmith in “Topsy-Turvy”) as Ronnie’s angry son, Carl, who couldn’t even make it to his mother’s funeral on time, and the wonderful Imelda Staunton (“Vera Drake”) in a brief role as a seriously depressed woman being counseled by Gerri. “Another Year” is not the kind of feel-good movie that makes you tingly at the end. Instead, it is painful and sad, but it raises all kinds of questions about the difficulties of daily life and how people cope, or don’t. A (6/11/11)


“True Grit”-Brought to us by the Coen Brothers (“No Country for Old Men” and “Fargo”), this western has an old-fashioned feel and provides some fun simply because cowboy films today are the rare exception rather than the rule. With cowboys, bad guys, six guns and rifles, and a young heroine, “True Grit,” is beautifully photographed in Texas and New Mexico by the great Roger Deakins. It quickly introduces us to 14-year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a young woman with self-confidence beyond her years, who wants to avenge the murder of her father by one of his employees, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She hires a down-at-the-heels U.S. marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), who looks like he couldn’t catch anything. But before we know it, Mattie, Rooster, and a Texas Ranger, LeBeouf (Matt Damon), are over the river and into Indian territory in search of Chaney. A good setup, but what comes next deteriorates into just a lot of shooting, killing, and hot air. Jeff Bridges, who won an Oscar the year before, overplays the Cogburn role to the point that one can barely understand what he’s muttering. He looks more like someone who’s more likely to fall off his horse than catch the “bad guy.” Matt Damon provides a humorous performance as LeBeouf, trying to hold up the reputation of the Texas Rangers. But the surprise of the film is young Hailee Steinfeld, a revelation as Mattie, the incredibly tough and confident young woman seeking justice. Never for a minute do you doubt Mattie’s dedication to bringing in Tom Chaney. B (6/10/11)


“The Illusionist”-An animated film for adults, “The Illusionist” is the tale of a tall, somewhat reserved and gawky magician in the late 1950s whose job prospects are becoming very limited, especially with the emergence of rock and roll bands. He winds up in Edinburgh, Scotland, which is portrayed as a lovely city of breathtaking scenery, but not necessarily friendly to entertainment acts which have lost their lustre. Based on a story by Jacques Tati (Tatischeff) (“Mr. Hulot’s Holiday), who died in 1982, and developed by writer/composer/director Sylvain Chomet (“The Triplets of Belleville”), the story follows Tatischeff, the illusionist, as he travels from place to place with his rabbit. In one small town, he happens upon a young woman, Alice, who attaches herself to him and follows him to Edinburgh. “The Illusionist” is ultimately a poignant, and somewhat sad tale of loneliness and the search for meaning. While Tatischeff gives Alice objects like shoes and a dress, he doesn’t know how to relate well to others except when pulling his rabbit from a hat or some other object from out of the blue. Some have seen a positive message by the ending of the film, but to me it was a “downer,” portraying a man so insensitive that he could abandon everything he loved or could potentially love, leaving behind a note which undermines his very existence. An intriguing and unusual film, it’s worth a viewing for its lovely animation and imaginative theme. The film has little dialogue. One recognizes an occasional phrase, but whatever conversations occur are mostly, and obviously intentionally, gibberish. B+ (5/27/11)


“Inside Job”-Years ago, when I worked for a federal regulatory agency, I learned that regulation came about to control “cutthroat competition.” In other words, the human race is loaded with corruption and greed and it needs to be controlled. So, while I was working there in the 1970s, virtually everyone, even Ralph Nader, thought it would be a good idea to deregulate because the open market is good and somehow people had suddenly become honest (incidentally, the free market only works in a perfect world). And so they deregulated the airline industry, and then the trucking industry and the railroads, and eventually they got around to the world of finance. Oh, the Depression hadn’t really happened and all those controls on the world of banks, brokers, etc., weren’t really necessary. Let all those MBAs be brilliant, and let the mortgage companies sell the mortgages and let the brokers create derivatives. Let there be no motivation to be cautious about the economic consequences. Let the twisted minds of Wall Street come up with a zillion ways to enrich themselves with millions and billions and rob the American public blind. And, by the way, almost destroy the economy. This brilliant film, “Inside Job,” made by Charles Ferguson, deservedly won the Oscar for best documentary because it tells the story of this astonishing greed and corruption in crisp and clear detail (and incidentally it is beautifully photographed). With narration by Matt Damon, the filmmakers take us through the steps that led to the 2008 disaster that almost undermined our entire society. And, even more astonishingly, shows us that nothing really has changed. While most of this financial mess was the idea of the Reagan and Bush Republicans, the Democrats played their part and some of the people responsible for the disaster became President Obama’s economics team. Some of the most fascinating and sickening moments in this film are interviews with people once in power who obviously were arrogant enough to think they could snow the interviewers, but froze when faced with real questions or even admitted to their astounding ignorance and stupidity of the very world they were supposed to be dealing with. The arrogance of money and greed literally drips off the screen, especially those interviewees who claim to see nothing wrong in what anybody did. And it proves that even regulation can be worthless if most of the people doing the regulating are from the very corrupt world being regulated. But even more interesting are the people responsible for the disaster who refused to be interviewed for the film and Mr. Ferguson lets us know exactly who they are. It’s a cliché to say, but this should be required viewing for the education of the American public. It’s a shame that such an insightful and important film is made, wins an Oscar, and moves on with little apparent effect. If you want to know just how the rich, greedy, and corrupt really run this country and the world, run to see this film. You may be sick and nauseous after seeing, it. But you won’t be sorry. By the way, someone in the film sums up the story with a new name for our country. He calls it “Wall Street America.” A (5/20/11)


“Unstoppable”-The script of this powerful action film begins with a mild effort to make it seem relevant to issues of the day such as marital problems, jobs, unions, and security. Eventually it also touches on the issue of corporate avarice. But ultimately “Unstoppable” is the story of a very dangerous runaway train and the men who risk their lives to stop it. It all begins in a rail yard in Pennsylvania where Dewey (Ethan Suplee), a vapid engineer, gets out of the moving cab of a long freight train loaded with cars carrying toxic chemicals, in order to throw a switch. Unfortunately, the engine controls jump to full power and Dewey can’t get back on. The train, initially thought to be a “coaster,” is operating on its own at full speed as it heads for heavily populated areas, including an elevated curve where it is almost guaranteed to derail, explode, and create a disaster of immense proportions. Filmed vividly with a great sense of authenticity in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, “Unstoppable” is an intensely exciting film, led by the likes of Connie (Rosario Dawson), the rail official trying to figure out how to stop this monstrosity without the aid of corporate officials more interested in the bottom line; Frank (Denzel Washington), the engineer of another freight train on the same track heading towards the runaway; and Will (Chris Pine), the conductor of Frank’s train, who rides in the cab with him. In the midst of the thrill-a-minute excitement, there is also a buddy story of sorts: how Frank and Will, initially at odds, come together for their own and the public good. Denzel Washington is playing a part he’s played many times before, but he is, as always, a genuinely powerful movie star presence. Chris Pine (“Star Trek’) is a pleasant surprise as a relatively new rail worker with marital problems who finds himself contemplating heroic deeds. One thing, however, stands out: the rail sequences are thrilling and intense, literally guaranteed to put you on the edge of your seat. This is one of those films that will make you ask over and over: how did they do that? B+ (5/13/11)


“White Material”-Director and co-writer Claire Denis grew up in part in Africa, including in Cameroon where this film was made. Her first major film was “Chocolate” (1988) which centered around the colonialism in Cameroon. The African country at the heart of the film is never named, but it is a land of French-speaking people, including a few remaining whites who operate what appears to be a down-at-the-heels coffee plantation despite a civil war that is getting very close to home. Isabelle Huppert plays Maria Vial, a white woman who is desperate to keep operating her plantation while most of her employees are leaving for their own safety. Huppert, an old pro at films about white women in a world of African colonialism (“Coup De Tourchon”), portrays Vial as utterly driven and obsessed, ignoring the reality of the murderous dangers from the battles between government forces and local rebels that are all around her. “White Material” is a dreary, depressing and confusing tale which includes scenes jumping back and forth in time with little logic. We get only a few hints about the identities and characters of the main participants, as there is little character development to make us care about these people who choose to ignore reality and stay and suffer in an intolerable situation. There is Maria’s aimless and ultimately crazed son Manuel (Nicholas Duvauchelle) who thinks he can fit in among the rebels despite having just been humiliated by a pair of young gun and spear-toting blacks, her ex-husband André (Christopher Lambert), and her father-in-law (Michel Subor). And then there are the black characters, including The Boxer (an injured rebel leader trying to survive at Maria’s plantation), played with dignity by Isaach De Bankolé, who starred in “Chocolate”, and Cherif (William Nadylam), a local government leader. My lasting impression of this film will be of an emaciated woman running from place to place while obsessively believing she can still harvest the coffee beans and utterly ignoring the reality of the dangers around her. While local blacks are being murdered left and right, she seems to go without physical harm just so the story can continue. When the film ended, I was frankly relieved. What was Claire Denis trying to tell us? Something we didn’t already know about human obsessions, madness and violence? Not that I could tell. (In French with English subtitles) C+ (4/30/11)


“127 Hours”-This is the tale of a biker/mountain climber/hiker from Colorado named Aron Ralston who, one day in April 2003, went hiking/climbing in caverns in Utah, didn’t bother to tell anyone where he was going, and found himself trapped when a boulder landed on his right arm. And there he stayed for five days until he found the courage and strength to cut off the lower part of his arm. Even then it seems he would never have made it out (as he was bleeding and dehydrated) without the luck of running into a family, hiking in the canyonlands, who called for help. James Franco plays Ralston and he’s essentially the entire film, except for brief appearances by Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn as two hikers he meets and parts with just before his accident. I have to admit that I couldn’t quite imagine how the filmmakers would handle this unpleasant situation, and now I know--it’s just over 90 minutes concentrating on a man experiencing a living nightmare. James Franco is strangely exhilarating as the self-confident Ralston who has got himself into a horrifying pickle and does just about everything he can think of to pass the hours and try to escape, including filming himself with a video camera. In the process we see Ralston’s thoughts and hallucinations leading up to the moment when he makes his fateful decision to remove much of his forearm with a blunt knife. “127 Hours” has its virtues (namely, James Franco's amazing performance), but it isn’t for the faint of heart. B+ (4/27/11)


“Black Swan”-Natalie Portman won an Oscar for this dreadful performance! She shows no depth, has virtually the same expression on her face throughout, and overacts to the nth degree as a young ballet dancer, Nina Sayers, who is growing more and more mentally disturbed. That the director of the dance company, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), chooses her as the star of a new production of Swan Lake is inexplicable as Nina looks like a stiff throughout (until the rather strange ending of the film). Natalie Portman received plaudits for her ballet-dancing efforts (although whether she actually did the performance has been in question), but the reality is that Nina never looks comfortable in the rehearsal hall, and certainly does not provide performances/rehearsals that would have won her such a major part. Mila Kunis, on the other hand, gives an interesting and intriguing performance as Lily, the new dancer in the company who may or may not be attempting to undermine Nina in order to get the starring role. Barbara Hershey, looking unnaturally puffy in the face, is Nina’s painfully overbearing mother who, cliché, cliché, gave up her own ballet career to have Nina and is now pushing her (over the edge) to do what she couldn’t do. I doubt if director Darren Aronofsky (who seems to have a penchant for films, such as “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream,” and “The Fountain,” which are likely to make his audience squirm) would call it this, but “Black Swan” is ultimately a horror film. C (4/24/11)


“The King’s Speech”-I have a special relationship with this film as I was a stutterer in my teens and early 20s. The result is that I could relate to every moment of angst felt by Bertie, the Duke of York/King George VI (Colin Firth), when he had to speak, especially in public. This beautifully made film, directed by Tom Hooper and with a scintillating and sympathetic script by another former stutterer, David Seidler, deserves all of the plaudits it has received. Telling the story of the Duke, the second son of King George V (Michael Gambon), and his on-again, off-again efforts to overcome a severe stutter, “The King’s Speech” introduces us to a group of fascinating characters played by a cast of superb actors. Colin Firth is brilliant as Bertie, a man who has been placed, by accident of birth, in a position ultimately requiring him to speak to and inspire his country during one of the worst moments of the 20th Century (World War II). But the Duke of York has been beaten down mentally by his overwhelming father and his small-minded brother, David (Guy Pearce), who was to become King Edward VIII, only to abdicate the throne so that he could marry “the woman I love,” the American two-time divorcee, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best). The result is a sense of inferiority and a terrible stutter, making public speaking a nightmare. Helena Bonham-Carter is absolutely wonderful as the down-to-earth and charming Elizabeth, the Duke’s wife and the mother of Princesses Elizabeth (the current British Queen) and Margaret. And then there is the brilliant performance by Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the eccentric Australian speech therapist called upon by Elizabeth to help her husband. Logue suffers many indignities in the process but manages ultimately to win Bertie’s confidence with his technique of building self-confidence with relaxation. This group of actors alone would be enough, but the film is stocked with an amazing supporting cast, including Derek Jacobi as the arrogant Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang; Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill; Anthony Andrews as Stanley Baldwin; Jennifer Ehle as Mrs. Logue; Claire Bloom as Queen Mary, Bertie’s mother; and Michael Gambon as George V. If you haven’t already seen it, don’t miss it. A (4/22/11)


“Hereafter”-Considering its silly subject, this film is not terrible. It was directed by Clint Eastwood, has a thrillingly horrifying tsunami scene at the start, and a very nice performance by the lovely Cécile De France (“Avenue Montaigne”). The film centers around three characters. De France is Marie Lelay, a French news reporter who almost dies in the tsunami and believes she had visions of the “afterlife” during her ordeal. Matt Damon is George Lonegan, an American with psychic powers that could have made him rich. But he found them distasteful and has tried to abandoned them. The problem is that every time he touches someone he sees their dead relatives. And the third is young Marcus (Frankie/George McLaren), whose identical twin, Jason, is the victim of a terrible accident in London. Marcus wears Jason’s hat, and although he seems troubled to the outside world, all he wants is to talk again to his dead brother. Needless to say, all come together in the end in a coincidence as unlikely as the film’s theme. “Hereafter” is ultimately done in by the preposterous nature of its theme which makes it difficult to take it seriously unless one truly believes in an afterlife. (With some parts in French with English subtitles) C+ (4/17/11)


“Fair Game”-This is a disheartening film for those who truly believe in the honesty of American leaders. Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are powerful as Valerie Plame, CIA agent, and her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who got caught up in the Bush Administration’s maneuvering to establish a story to tell the American public that would justify going to war with Saddam Hussein. As portrayed here, Plame was a very effective CIA agent, who happened to provide minor support for a plan by the Office of the Vice President to send her husband to the African country of Niger to investigate a story that a large amount of yellowcake uranium had been sold to Iraq. Despite Wilson’s conclusion that no such sale occurred or could have occurred, President Bush, as we all know, told the public a little fib to make it seem that the shock and awe invasion of Iraq was justified. Wilson, being a man of integrity, published an op-ed article in the NY Times denouncing the president’s version. As a result, someone in the Administration decided to throw Plame under the bus in retaliation. Outing a CIA operative is apparently a violation of a federal criminal statute, but only Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief-of-staff, was prosecuted and convicted, only to have his sentence commuted by Bush. “Fair Game” provides the details that the public may not have understood while these events were ongoing. Plame and Wilson struggle with the pressures brought on by her exposure, including death threats and horrifying insults from right-wing talking heads. The film makes it quite clear that you just don’t go up against a White House of the sort run by Bush and Cheney and expect to win. Lucky for them, Plame and Wilson’s marriage survived and they apparently now live quietly, or at least more quietly, in beautiful Santa Fe, NM. B+ (4/16/11)


“Let Me In”-Have you seen the 2008 Swedish original, “Let the Right One In?” If so, you don’t have to bother with this 2010 American version. It’s pretty much the same film with a few minor differences. “Let Me In” seems a pretty decent copy of “Let the Right One In,” although the screenwriter/director, Matt Reeves, gives the distinct impression on the DVD that he made his film directly after consulting with the author of the original novel, John Ajvide Lindqvist. I heard no reference to the original film. Funny that this film looks so much like the Swedish film, even though the American version is said to take place in frigid and dark Los Alamos, NM, rather than in a small frigid and dark Swedish village. The cast is fine. Chloe Grace Moretz, a young lady of obvious talent, is touching as Abby, the rather miserable vampire, 12 years old “more or less.” And young Australian actor, Kodi Smit-McPhee, is quite good as young Owen, who is bullied at school but learns a few things from his bloodsucking friend. Lindqvist’s story is unusual for a vampire tale, in that there are no romantic vampires. Abby is clearly “living” a rotten existence, moving from place to place with a helper (in this case played by the wonderful Richard Jenkins, who is wasted in the part), and sleeping during the day in a darkened bathroom covered by blankets. In the long run, you can pick one film version or the other. It won’t make much difference, although I prefer the Swedish version for its originality. B (4/10/11)


“Made in Dagenham”-In a time when labor unions and the rights of women are under attack, “Made in Dagenham” is an appropriate true-life story to tell to help counter the bunk that comes from the pro-corporation bullies of the right. With the encouragement of union official Albert Passingham (Bob Hoskins), the “machinists” (all female sewing machine operators) of the Ford Dagenham plant in Britain in 1968, decide to strike when they are downgraded from semi-skilled to unskilled. Almost accidentally, Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins), becomes the leader of the strikers and eventually turns the strike into a demand for equal pay for women. That this has a distinct adverse affect on her and her family, including her husband (Daniel Mays), who also works at the plant, becomes painfully obvious, especially as the Ford executives, notoriously anti-union at the time, show no signs of letting down. But with the surprising support of the wife (Rosamund Pike) of one of the Ford executives (Rupert Graves), and British minister Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson), Rita O’Grady’s leadership ultimately plays a small but significant role in the battle for women’s rights. “Made in Dagenham” is an important story, and the script does the best it can to create drama (including the side story of the tragedy that comes to striker Connie (Geraldine James) and the portrayal of the self-importance of some union officials). But ultimately the film, despite a good story and a very good cast, just doesn’t rise to greatness. Despite this, the film is definitely worth watching. B+ (4/9/11)


“A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop”-Director Zhang Yimou has made some brilliant films, including the luminous “Raise the Red Lantern,” “Hero,” and the popular “House of Flying Daggers.” What inspired a man of such talents to make this vacuous film is beyond me. Essentially, a remake of the Coen Brothers’ “Blood Simple,” their earliest and possibly worst effort, Zhang’s film, with magnificent cinematography and colorful costumes, tells the story of an ancient Chinese noodle merchant in a small village adjacent to the desert, who plots with a local policeman to kill his wife and her lover, one of his employees. Needless to say, just about everything goes wrong. With murders, burial attempts in the desert, images of dead people arising, and characters scampering in and out of the merchant’s home and surrounding buildings as they try to break into the merchant’s safe, “A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop” seems amusing until one realizes that the whole thing is a violent slapstick mess without any sympathetic characters. An attempt at humor (most of the characters are exaggerated as bumbling fools) falls flat. Unlike most of Zhang Yimou’s films, I recommend that this one be on your must miss list. (In Mandarin with English subtitles) C- (4/5/11)

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