This page contains reviews of films seen during the months of July to September 2011


"Bridesmaids”- There was a time when movie comedies were sophisticated and genuinely funny without a need for bathroom or sexual humor. People did funny things and said funny things about life and human situations and foibles, but it didn’t make you want to run to the bathroom to throw up. Films like “Some Like it Hot,” the films of Woody Allen (think “Manhattan” and “Annie Hall”), Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles,” the incredible comedies of Peter Sellers (“I’m All Right Jack,” “The Pink Panther,” and “Dr. Strangelove,” for example) and Alex Guinness (“The Lavender Hill Mob” and “Kind Hearts and Coronets” just to name two). Modern movie humor unfortunately has left all that behind. Today’s comedies are raunchy, distasteful films about stupid people doing stupid things in inappropriate situations and places. “Bridesmaids” is about Annie (Kristen Wiig), an attractive but horribly insecure young woman whose best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), is getting married. The more Lillian pays attention to Annie’s rival for “best friend,” the wealthy and pompous Helen (Rose Byrne), the more Annie falls apart. That’s the premise and it’s not a bad one. It could even have turned into an intelligent, sophisticated comedy. But, no, it had to have utterly distasteful scenes such as the one in which the women, visiting a bridal shop, start having digestive difficulties with rather revolting consequences. Seeing one of the characters, Megan (Melissa McCarthy), lift up her skirt and sit in a sink because a toilet was unavailable is simply not my idea of comedy. And then there’s the airplane scene in which Annie misbehaves to the nth degree, creating havoc on the plane in a manner that would get most people locked up with the key thrown away. In an age of fear of flying, that’s not my idea of “funny”! “Bridesmaids” turns the typical wedding party buddy film around. Instead of a bunch of oafish guys, it’s a bunch of oafish women. I will say this, Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy stand out. I’d like to see them do some real tasteful feature-length comedy. It can be done, but is the 21st century movie-viewing public up to it? C+ (9/25/11)


“In a Better World”-This is an emotion-wrenching Danish film about bullies, revenge, and fathers and sons. And just to make it more interesting, the film, directed beautifully by Susanne Bier (“After the Wedding” and “Things We Lost in the Fire”), takes place both in Copenhagen and in an oppressed African country (the African portions were filmed in Kenya). Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) is a schoolboy who has just returned to Denmark from England after his mother has died. He is full of anger and hatred for his father, Claus (Ulrich Thomsen), whom he blames for his mother’s death from cancer. When he gets to school he befriends young Elias (Markus Rygaard) who is being mistreated by a school bully, and ultimately commits a shocking act of violence against the bully. Meanwhile, Elias is caught in the middle of a marital separation between his parents (both doctors), Marianne (Trini Dyrholm) and Anton (Mikael Persbrandt). Anton is away in Africa a good deal of the time treating people who are suffering the ravages of poverty and brutality (creating further issues about dealing with bullies--in this case murderous ones, and having to treat them medically). When Anton, who is Swedish, is back in Copenhagen and is punched and slapped by a verbally abusive Dane after breaking up a fight between their two young sons in a playground, and fails to retaliate, Christian, who was present with Elias, starts contemplating a violent plan of revenge against the man which will have significant consequences. “In a Better World,” which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, is loaded with moral issues. Have you ever been bullied in your life? If not, did you ever contemplate how you would react to such abuse? Even though slightly over the top, this is the kind of film that will make you breathe hard and think for a long time about how living so often exposes people to bullies of one sort or another. And, of course, about the choices one has in dealing with such people. The cast is outstanding. Although parts of the film are in English, it is primarily in Danish, Swedish, and Arabic with English subtitles). A- (9/23/11)


“Hanna”-This is a thriller without much of a thrill. Unless one recognizes that the film’s young star, Saoirse Ronan, is eerily lovely to look at while she is bashing her enemies. Eric Bana (“Munich”) plays Erik, a man training his teenage daughter, Hanna (Ronan), to be a killer in the frozen forests of the north in preparation for an ultimate battle to the death with an agent, Marissa (Cate Blanchett, in possibly the worst performance of her career). Erik finally sends Hanna off and she proceeds to get caught, escape a facility after mistakenly thinking she has killed Marissa, and traipse around north Africa and western Europe battling the still-living Marissa and her rather pathetic bunch of thugs. But even these battles are not up to the usual thriller standards, while we’re distracted by an innocuous concoction of characters, including a family traveling in an RV (the mother, who doesn’t believe in makeup, is played by Olivia Williams). My biggest problem with this film is that the background story is never made clear. Oh, yes, we learn a secret about Hanna, her murdered mother, and eventually about Erik and Marissa, but it’s a gigantic ho-hum and the details to support the characters' motivations are sadly lacking. The film has a loud electronic score from a group called The Chemical Brothers. My reaction at the conclusion of this film was “much ado about nothing.” C (9/6/11)


“The Conspirator”-This is an admirable attempt by director Robert Redford to tell the story of the trial of Mary Surratt in 1865 for conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. The film produces two very contrasting technical reactions. The costumes and sets are out of this world. If you want to feel and see what it was like to be in Washington, DC, in 1865, this is your film. On the other hand, the cinematography is a big mistake. It was intended to resemble washed out photos from the 19th century and to demonstrate the darkness that resulted from the lack of electric lights in that time, but is very difficult to view. Scenes seem far too light, occasionally far too dark, or simply much too blurry. I’m a great believer in clarity in cinematography. In 1865, the scenes were clear to those who observed them. Why not allow the audience to see clearly as well? As for the story, “The Conspirator” provides interesting similarities to American governmental policy following September 11, 2001. Here, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (an excellent performance by Kevin Kline), decides that the accused assassination conspirators are not entitled to a jury trial by their peers and must be tried by a military tribunal with virtually none of the usual Constitutional rights associated with criminal trials. He wants to put an end to the suffering of the American public and to get the accused hanged and buried as fast as possible. Robin Wright is touching as Mary Surratt, who seems more interested in protecting her somewhat guilty son, John (who has disappeared), than protecting herself. Although she originally hires Sen. Reverdy Johnson of Maryland (Tom Wilkinson), he passes off the defense to a young lawyer and war hero, Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy). Aiken is highly skeptical of Surratt’s innocence, and he realizes that defending her could harm his own career, but he responds with outrage to the obvious charade of a trial under the direction of Stanton and his prosecutor/lackey, Joseph Holt (Danny Huston). Robert Redford has provided an intelligent historical drama about an important event in American history with which few Americans are likely familiar. The supporting cast is good although occasionally some of the acting goes awry. Of note are Evan Rachel Wood as Mary’s daughter, Anna Surratt; Justin Long as Aiken’s friend, Nicholas Baker; and Colm Meaney as General Hunter, the head of the military commission trying Mary Surratt and a man portrayed as eager to keep the defense at bay. B+ (9/5/11)


“Wild Grass”-Vivid colors. An excellent cast. And a surrealistic story. All from the hands of director Alain Resnais, an octogenarian known for his 1960s French new wave classics, “Last Year at Marienbad” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour.” Resnais’ much younger significant other, Sabine Azéma, is a red-headed dentist named Marguerite Muir who seems to have difficulty easing her patients’ pain upon drilling. One day while out impulse shopping for shoes, her handbag is snatched. Georges Palet (André Dussollier of “Micmacs”) later finds her wallet and airplane pilot’s license in a parking lot and intends to return it in person but seems to have difficulty making the right move. He chooses to pass it on to the police (in the form of Mathieu Amalric). After Marguerite recovers the wallet and license, she calls Georges to thank him and there begins a highly unusual obsessive attraction which takes place literally in front of Georges’ younger and apparently unconcerned wife, Suzanne (Anne Consigny of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”). That Georges also flirts with Marguerite’s dentist friend Josepha (Emmanuelle Devos of “Coco Before Chanel”), seems not to bother Suzanne at all. In fact, Georges seems to have something that attracts all women, but he seems alternately desirous and repelled. “Wild Grass” is a bizarre romantic comedy of sorts loaded with symbolism; a meditation on reality and on the nature of physical attraction (Dussollier was 63 and looked it when the film was made; Consigny 46, looking more like she was in her 30s--she seemed more like his daughter in the early stages of the film; and Sabine Azéma, whose off-kilter sensibilities reminded me of Diane Keaton in a Woody Allen film, was close to 60 although looking younger). “Wild Grass” is easy to watch because it moves along at a rapid pace and the themes are handled lightly but surely. Although the ending is a little vague, as one would expect of a film by Alain Resnais, the viewer is likely to be able to guess what happened. But don’t miss the unexpected quote from a child that comes at the very end. (In French with English subtitles.) B+ (9/3/11)


“Of Gods and Men”-Based on the true-life events that occurred at the Tibhirine Trappist Monastery in Algeria in 1996, this well-made and thoughtful film introduces us to a group of French monks who are living in the midst of an Algerian civil war and fearing for their lives. “Of Gods and Men” lets us see what daily life is like for these men as they go through their days, chanting, praying, cutting wood, planting, cleaning, eating, and interacting with the local townspeople, all Muslims. One, Luc (the excellent Michael Lonsdale), is a doctor who treats the locals with whatever medicines he has available. When Muslim terrorists, who have already murdered a group of Croatians nearby, arrive, demanding medicine and treatment for some of their fallen, the monks realize that they have to make a decision as to whether or not to stay at the monastery or return to safety in France. Needless to say, this raises issues about the very essence of life as a monk. All of the actors portraying the monks do a fine job, but notable, besides Michael Lonsdale, is Lambert Wilson as Christian, the head of the monastery. “Of Gods and Men” is a classic European film: not a lot of action, but well made and loaded with thoughtful dialogue. (In French and Arabic, with English subtitles) B+ (8/20/11)


“Glorious 39”-Directed by Stephen Poliakoff (who hadn’t made a feature film in many years and I’d never heard of the ones he did make), “Glorious 39” is hardly that. The film begins in recent times as we see a young man visit two older men (Christopher Lee and Corin Redgrave) and ask them to tell him the story of a relative, Anne Keyes. The story they tell is that of the upper class Keyes family in England in 1939. Anne (Romola Garai), the oldest (and adopted) daughter, an actress full of pizzazz, is surrounded by her relatives who appear to love and adore her: her father, Sir Alexander (Bill Nighy), a member of parliament; her two spunky siblings, Ralph (Eddie Redmayne) and Celia (Juno Temple), a group of cousins, and one aunt, Elizabeth (Julie Christie), who all live in beautiful English manors. When the family entertains, the talk turns to the question of whether the British will likely be fighting a war against the Nazis. One day, Anne finds some mysterious recordings in a family barn and is told they are being stored there by a mysterious secret agent, Mr. Balcombe (Jeremy Northam). Then, when the very outspoken anti-Nazi and pro-war MP, Hector Haldane (David Tennant of “Doctor Who” fame), is found dead, allegedly of a suicide, Anne begins to suspect that something is not right. “Glorious 39” develops very slowly and had potential as a thriller, but the film takes a wrong turn, changing into a virtual gothic horror story in the second half. Beware, lots of pets die and Anne gets locked up! We also find, surprise surprise, that many of the characters are not what they seemed to be. The plot, sadly, becomes unlikely and rather dreary. The film contains a mild surprise at the end as we return to the boy and two older men, but it’s not enough to make up for the ridiculous script and story. The cast, including Hugh Bonneville (as an actor friend of Anne's), is this film’s only virtue. C- (8/19/11)


“Life During Wartime”-Back in 1999, I reviewed, unhappily, Todd Solondz’s “Happiness,” a black comedy that was about a disturbed and miserable family and the disturbed and miserable people around them in New Jersey. At the time, I described Todd Solondz’s outlook on life, based on the film, as “bitter.” In “Life During Wartime,” Solondz has, surprise, made an excellent and much less bitter “sequel” of sorts about the same characters. This time his film raises issues about life and family reminiscent of the recent outstanding Coen Brothers’ film “A Serious Man.” There are still three sisters in a Jewish family, led by the matriarch Mona (Renee Taylor). Joy (Shirley Henderson) seems lost, especially in her rotten marriage with the very fickle Allen (Michael Kenneth Williams) and her relationship with the ghost of Andy, an ex-boyfriend (Paul Reubens) who committed suicide. Trish (Allison Janney), has moved to Florida with her three kids and has done just about everything to forget that her husband Bill (Ciaran Hinds), has been serving time as a pedophile. Bill, however, is just about to get out of prison in New Jersey. And then there’s Helen (Ally Sheedy), the self-centered and hyper Hollywood-based sister, who obviously is beyond embarrassed by her family and never forgets to let them know it. In the midst of all this is Harvey Wiener (Michael Lerner) who thinks he can develop a relationship with the damaged Trish and her children. This time Solondz explores the depths these people have suffered and their survivability with an excellent script and outstanding cinematography (and even a little touch of “Fiddler on the Roof” in the musical background). The entire cast is wonderful and it should be noted that the great Charlotte Rampling also appears in a hotel bar pickup scene with Bill as a very desperate and cynical woman. Also outstanding in this film is young Dylan Riley Snyder as Timmy, Trish’s very curious son who is about to become a “man” at his Bar Mitzvah, but who is deeply troubled by his father’s wretched crimes. A- (8/14/11)


“Potiche”-If one watches enough French films, one would definitely get the impression that Gerard Depardieu is in all of them. The man never stops. And, really, it’s about time he let some other actors play these roles. And here he appears with another slightly less overdone megastar of the French cinema, Catherine Deneuve. Ms. Deneuve is Suzanne Pujol, a trophy wife (“potiche”), married to the hard-nosed and hard-hearted Robert Pujol (Frabrice Luchini, who usually plays more mellow and humorous characters). Robert runs Suzanne’s late father’s umbrella factory as she spends her time exercising and doing domestic duties. “Potiche” is something of a parody early on. In one scene, Ms. Deneuve, while out jogging, interacts with animals in a scene reminiscent of a Walt Disney cartoon. But when Robert suffers a heart attack during a strike at the factory, Suzanne takes over, negotiates with the union and the Communist mayor and MP, Maurice Babin (Mr. Depardieu), and gets things moving smoothly. By this time, the film has become something of a feminist tract which ends with a rather uncomfortable musical scene that had to be inspired by Catherine Deneuve’s long ago performance with her sister (the late Francoise Dorleac) in the musical “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (umbrellas, anyone?). The problem with “Potiche,” is that it doesn’t really know what it is and where it should be going. As great as Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve have been over the years, a director like Francois Ozon (“Swimming Pool”) should have treated himself to some new stars. (In French with English subtitles). C+ (8/7/11)


"The Sicilian Girl”-Based on real events which occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s, “The Sicilian Girl” tells the story of a young girl in Sicily who sees her adored and respected father (and later her brother) murdered by the mafia. Played by Miriana Faja as a young girl and by Veronica D’Agostino as a 17-year old, Rita Mancuso learns to hate the gangsters that populate her home in Sicily, even though she knows in her heart that her father and brother were just as guilty as their assassins. Fearing for her life, she contacts a prosecutor (Gerard Jugnot) and offers to be a witness against her hometown Sicilian mafia, led by Don Salvo (Mario Pupella). Although obviously not the most experienced actress, Veronica D’Agostino does a relatively good job of conveying the anger and fear that surrounds this young woman who is essentially friendless (even her mother will barely talk to her) as she faces the threat of death from mafia vengeance. Gerard Jugnot (“The Chorus”) is effective as a prosecutor who realizes that he is endangering his own life as well as Rita’s. Despite a few wrong turns, such as Rita’s unlikely flirtation with a young boy in Rome, “The Sicilian Girl” gives a rather startling picture of the power of the mafia in Sicily. (In Italian with English subtitles). B+ (7/30/11)


“Source Code”-I like a good sci-fi thriller, and am willing to suspend belief in how things really work if the film is written well and follows its own alternate reality rules. The problem with “Source Code” is that the premise is full of holes to begin with and even then it fails to follow its own rules. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an American soldier who has been fighting in Afghanistan but suddenly wakes up and finds himself in the body of another man sitting across from the lovely and charming Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) on a train heading into downtown Chicago. When the train explodes killing all aboard, Stevens discovers that he is in some kind of capsule, talking to a communications specialist, Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). Seems he is in Source Code and has the assignment of entering the body of Christina’s friend and fellow passenger, Sean Fentress, for the last eight minutes of Fentress’ brain functioning in order to find out who caused the explosion and avoid an even worse attack (a dirty bomb) on Chicago. When Stevens begins to ask questions about why he’s there and what he’s doing, Goodwin and her boss, Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), look uncomfortable and unwilling to give a clear answer. Ultimately, though, after several trips back to the train to relive the ever-changing events leading up to the explosion, Stevens learns how Source Code works, and the truth about his own situation and what’s been happening on the train. I’ll leave the plot at that, but suffice it to say that after Rutledge explains how Source Code works, Stevens resolves to ignore the explanation and go even further. Since the explanation for Source Code and Stevens' own status is already ultra sci-fi and not exactly easy to accept, the final scenes, which contradict the Source Code rules and poke all sorts of holes in the basic premise in order to achieve an acceptable Hollywood ending, become almost laughable. C+ (7/29/11)


“Limitless”-Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a divorced, depressed, down-at-the-heels writer who has just lost his girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish). One day he runs into his former brother-in-law (Johnny Whitworth) who gives him a pill that allows Eddie to utilize 100 percent of his brain. While he’s on the pill, Eddie can do almost anything, including making large sums of money in the stock market. And when he finds himself with a large stash of these miraculous pills, Eddie’s future seems set. Even his old girlfriend, Lindy, returns. But, of course, in films like this nothing is quite so simple. Eddie finds himself up and down, learning secrets about the pills he’d rather not discover, and battling others who seem to be on to him and his secret. Among these foes are Gennady (Andrew Howard), a hood who had loaned Eddie a large sum and now wants a stash of the miraculous medication; a mysterious man in a tan coat with a knife who chases Eddie around (Tomas Arana); and the super-wealthy and powerful Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) who tries to put Eddie’s super-brain to work in business. The situation had potential as a sci-fi thriller, but unfortunately the film is simply not that exciting and the climax is, frankly, ho-hum. I’m a little mystified at Bradley Cooper’s success. He doesn’t exactly have the kind of star quality that would make you want to root for him. Abbie Cornish is pleasant but mostly wasted in this film. Robert De Niro is, well, Robert De Niro. Andrew Howard is effective but predictable as a thug. I can’t recommend this film even as mindless entertainment. C- (7/24/11)


“Wild Target”-Starring Bill Nighy (“Pirate Radio”) and the very appealing Emily Blunt (“The Adjustment Bureau”), this British comedy gets off to a good start and then fizzles. Blunt plays Rose, a con-artist who manages to convince the wealthy Ferguson (Rupert Everett) to buy a “Rembrandt.” But no sooner is she out the door than Ferguson realizes he’s been had and decides to hire a hit man to take care of good old Rose. The hit man hired is the quiet and unassuming Victor Maynard, played with wonderful calm by Bill Nighy. Maynard is a pro who learned from his father and lives with his supportive mother, Louisa (the delightful Eileen Atkins), who keeps a loving scrapbook about Victor’s murders. Victor kills with such ease it looks almost like his hits are afterthoughts; that is, until he meets the lovely and sexy Rose and things get complicated. And then Victor becomes as much a target of a newly hired and sadistic hit man, Hector Dixon (Martin Freeman), as is Rose. Nighy and Blunt play this funny situation with a combination of subtlety and slapstick, and take it about as far as it’ll go. Unfortunately, the script runs out of steam somewhere in the middle as Victor, Rose, and Tony (Rupert Grint of "Harry Potter" fame), who has been brought along for the ride, await the arrival of Dixon. Grint has a couple of scenes sitting in a bathtub smoking, and leading the confused Victor to some “stimulating” thoughts. It’s scenes like this that throw this film completely out of kilter. C+ (7/22/11)


“The Lincoln Lawyer”-Based on the novel by Michael Connelly, “The Lincoln Lawyer” takes us into the nitty-gritty world of criminal justice in Los Angeles. Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is a tough, self-confident defense attorney (divorced but still in love with his ex-wife, Maggie McPherson, a prosecutor, played by Marisa Tomei), who works out of the back seat of his Lincoln. One day, he finds himself conned into taking the case of an upper class young man, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), the son of a real estate broker (Frances Fisher), who is accused of severely beating a young prostitute, Reggie Campo (Margarita Levieva). But it isn’t long before Mickey and his investigator, his good friend Frank Levin (William H. Macy), realize that there is more going on here than meets the eye and that he is being manipulated by his own client. “The Lincoln Lawyer” is well paced with a story that doesn’t knock you over the head with complications. The film doesn’t take us to Hollywood or Beverly Hills but rather to the more middle and lower class regions that make up the vast majority of this widespread but always cinematically interesting city. Matthew McConaughey does a fine job as the clever but slightly conniving Haller, and Marisa Tomei is, as always, charming in a relatively small part as the ex-wife who seems to be around Mickey more than one would expect for an ex. The casting department has done well. William H. Macy is perfect as the somewhat rumpled, but ill-fated Levin; Shea Wigham (HBO's “Boardwalk Empire”) does a delightful job as Corliss, a snitch with a sense of humor; John Leguizamo is just right as Val Valenzuela, a bail bondsman who plays a big part in Haller’s entry into the Roulet case; Michael Peña is effective as a former client of Haller’s serving life at San Quentin for a crime he insists he did not commit; Josh Lucas plays the stiff prosecutor, Ted Minton; and Emmy winner Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) appears as a curious detective who learns the truth from Mickey's subtle behavior. Although the ending is not as slick and sophisticated as the rest of the film,”The Lincoln Lawyer” is worth the while of anyone who enjoys this genre. B+ (7/17/11)


“Mao’s Last Dancer”-Directed by Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy”), this film tells the true-life tale of a young boy taken from his peasant family in Qingdao by the Communist Chinese to be trained at Madame Mao’s ballet school in Beijing in the early 1970s, only to find himself dancing with the Houston Ballet in the early 1980s. Although sent to the US as an exchange student who is to return to China after three months, Li Cunxin (Chi Cao) falls for a young American ballet dancer, Elizabeth Mackey (Amanda Schull), and the trouble begins when he decides to marry Elizabeth and stay in the US. Needless to say, the Chinese government is not happy. “Mao’s Last Dancer” is an uneven film, with somewhat jarring jumps back and forth between the hardships of Li’s rural childhood in China (Li’s mother, Niang, is played nicely by Joan Chen) and the contrasts of his visit to modern, urban and free Houston, under the tutelage of the Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood). Although the dancing is beautifully performed (by Chi Cao, the Australian Ballet and the Sydney Dance Company), the acting is less than scintillating. Worse, the film pushes every emotional button possible turning the story at the end into a virtual tear jerker. Still, this film, based on Li Cunxin’s own book, provides some insight into the life of Chinese Communist peasants and what happens when a person raised in the travails of utter poverty under a totalitarian state suddenly finds himself exposed to an entirely different kind of life in the west and especially one that allows him artistic freedom. The cast includes dancer Camilla Vergotis as Mary McKendry, the ballerina who ultimately changed Li’s life; Kyle MacLachlan as Charles Foster, a Houston immigration attorney; and veteran Australian actor Jack Thompson as Judge Woodrow Seals. (Large portions of the film are in Mandarin with English subtitles) B- (7/15/11)


“13 Assassins”-It is the 1830s, approaching the end of the Samurai era, and the Shogun is still running Japan. Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) is the Shogun’s half brother and a possible heir to the throne. He also happens to be an arrogant, sadistic torturer and killer. A Japanese lord has just committed harakiri (ritual suicide) in protest. In classic-era Japanese style, Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira), an advisor to the Shogun, with great cunning and craft gives Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho), a Samurai with a great reputation for completing an assignment, the job of assassinating Lord Naritsugu. Knowing that he and his men will probably die in the effort, Shimada gathers a group of Samurai assassins as they plot Naritsugu’s demise. The first half of this film has little action. We watch the interactions of the various parties, always subtle, never obvious (except for the pathetic uncontrollable Naritsugu). But then comes the planned battle and it is a sight to see. Twelve Samurai and one hunter they’ve picked up in the mountains versus 200 soldiers/Samurai guarding Naritsugu. The battle goes on for 50 minutes resulting in the deaths of most of the characters. Many features of this filmed battle are quite unique and surprising, although the swordplay becomes a little repetitive after awhile. Overall, though, “13 Assassins” is a very good addition to the Japanese Samurai film genre. (In Japanese with English subtitles) B+ (7/7/11)


“The Company Men”-This timely film addresses the current state of the economy in which people who have been loyal to a firm for many years are fired, without warning, while the CEOs' incomes continue to grow. Ben Affleck is Robert Walker, a corporate executive who thinks he has the world at his fingertips, until one day he walks into his office only to find that he has to clear out immediately, having been fired by Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello), on behalf of the CEO, James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson). When Walker runs to see his mentor, Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), Salinger’s closest friend, he finds McClary is out of town and out of the loop. “The Company Men” takes us into the world of the now “damaged” execs (as they are viewed by potential employers). Walker doesn’t want to believe that he and his family are in trouble, but he’s fortunate to have a supportive, intelligent wife, Maggie (played with great warmth by Rosemarie Dewitt). Others soon follow in Walker’s footsteps, including the tragic Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper). When Walker finds himself having to do what he sees as menial construction work for his hated blue collar brother-in-law, Jack Dolan (Kevin Kostner), and his family finds themselves out of their lovely home and living with parents, you feel the anguish that so many Americans have experienced when treated like trash by corporations after being loyal for many years. Ben Affleck does a fine job as Walker, a man who learns a lot in this painful process. Tommy Lee Jones offers a sympathetic corporate character who cares, at least to some extent, about his employees, while Craig T. Nelson is the more likely cold-blooded CEO more interested in his cash assets than the humans who have provided him with those assets. I also should note a nice performance by Eamonn Walker, as Danny, another out-of-work man who befriends Walker and ultimately gains employment in the process. B+ (7/3/11)


“Barney’s Version”-Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti), a Canadian Jewish TV producer whose cynicism is reflected in the title of his company, Totally Unnecessary Productions, is a curmudgeon who has had a rocky up-and-down life with a history of three marriages and even an accusation of murder. “Barney’s Version” lets Barney be Barney to tell us in his own way the story of his first two disastrous marriages (the ill-fated wife #1, Clara, played by Rachelle Lefevre, and wife #2--who is simply known as the 2nd Mrs. P, played by Minnie Driver), and even how he met and amazingly fell for the lovely wife # 3, Miriam (Rosamund Pike), at his second wedding. “Barney’s Version” is a humorous, slice-of-Canadian Jewish-life tale full of pathos, that moves the characters over approximately 30 years. Barney is a pushy, insecure, but sincere man, with an alcohol problem, who just doesn’t know how to stay out of romantic and sometimes other kinds of trouble. The film makes it clear just how he messes up even his glorious third marriage to the woman he really loves and who loves him, and how, due in part to excessive drinking, he is being hounded by a Montreal detective (Mark Addy) for the disappearance and possible shooting of his good friend, Boogie (Scott Speedman). The cast is first-rate. Paul Giamatti, as always, is right on in this type of role. Rosamund Pike, a British beauty, is very appealing and provides an easy-going and intelligent performance as the woman who is romantically pursued by Barney literally from the very moment of his marriage to the 2nd Mrs. P. Dustin Hoffman, in one of his best supporting performances in a long time, is Barney’s loving ex-cop father, Izzy, and Bruce Greenwood enters the fray as Blair, the handsome and romantically threatening neighbor. “Barney’s Version” also contains an attention-getting performance by young Anna Hopkins as Barney's grown-up and supportive daughter, Kate, and Dustin’s son, Jake Hoffman, appears as Kate’s brother, Michael. Although the film takes somewhat of a maudlin turn at the end, I liked it because of the wonderful characters, the humor, and the pathos, none of which is surprising since it comes from the pen of Mordechai Richler ("The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz"), an outstanding novelist whose books center on Jewish life in Montreal. B+ (7/1/11)

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