Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eavesdropper: Patient 14 (2004)

Eavesdropper--most interesting characterThis is the worst movie I’ve seen in a long time. Awful acting, no genuine affinity between characters and a convoluted storyline round out the problems in this cinematic mess.

Liza (Lucy Jenner) loses her hearing during a tragic shooting. Her life downward spirals and she ends up in a homeless shelter. She regains her hearing through an experimental government study and scores the ability to “hear” what people are thinking. At the same time, the other study participants are losing their minds and committing suicide.

A story where you can “hear” what the people around you have cooking in their inner monologues sounds intriguing, but not here. Liza attracts the attentions of Grant (John J. York), the shelter social worker. They’d developed a friendship before she got her hearing back. Now, she can “hear” how much he likes her. There are laughable moments in what are meant to be serious scenes.

When CIA operative Aiden (Costas Mandylor) gets Liza work (“listening” to a serial killer to learn where his victims are buried and negotiating in a school hostage situation), the movie teases you into thinking it’s about to become interesting, but again, no.

Liza is overwhelmed by all the voices. She and Grant start dating. Grant looks like an ‘80s country star and his inner monologue reveals he’s not bright. Aiden looks straight out of American Psycho. Aiden gives Liza silver earrings that “block” her ability to hear the mind talk of others. This provides Liza great relief. Grant has no idea about the effect of these earrings; he gets jealous and gives her a pair and they are hideous.

The plot includes every tangled-up detail that only adds to the distance between you and this joke. The acting is so affected and over the top, I cannot recommend Eavesdropper under any circumstances. I want my 95 minutes back.

Writer/Director: Andrew Bakalar

Country: USA

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 95 minutes

Scale: 1

Rabbit Hole (2010)

Rabbit HoleRabbit Hole is another movie about death (but with a sense of humor). It tells the story of a what happens to a happily married couple when their young son dies.

Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are keeping a normal front but in the safety of their own home, things aren’t good. Controlled Becca is trying to find ways to ease the pain of losing her son. Howie’s desire to move on with their lives unnerves her. They try a grief group but that further divides them. Becca s mom, Nat (Dianne Wiest), annoys her daughter. Becca avoids her former friends. It isn’t until she finds comfort with the most unlikely of allies, Jason (Miles Teller), that she begins to her transformation.

The surprise is how well they filmmakers constructed this story about death. Kidman is excellent. Becca is so unlikeable from the start, even knowing what we know about her situation. Then, she begins to blossom and we reluctantly release the empathy.

Kidman was nominated for heaps of awards for her role. Rabbit Hole is based on a play by David Lindsay-Abaire. See it.

Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Country: USA

Genre: Drama

Run time: 129 minutes

Scale: 3.5

El Secreto de sus ojos (2009) (The Secret in Their Eyes)

El Secreto revisits a crime against the backdrop of an unanswered love situation from decades earlier.el-secreto-de-sus-ojos

Retired investigator Benjamín Esposito (the terrific Ricardo Darín) starts writing a book about the most memorable unsolved crime of his career—the rape and murder of Liliana Coloto. This project also gives divorced Esposito a chance to reconnect with his former colleague and department lead Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a woman he’s been in love with for years.

Told in flashbacks alternating with present, the film does well aging the characters so you aren’t distracted when switching from past to present. As Benjamín revisits the case facts and re-interviews those closest to the victim, he hits upon new leads that will bring him back to that troubled time. We also learn about his life and struggles and also the tragedies he experienced during the original Coloto investigation.

El Secreto hooks you from the beginning and doesn’t let you go until the end. Benjamín smolders on-screen and the chemistry between him and Irene is palpable. My only issue is that I thought the makeup on the aged Ricardo Morales, Liliana’s widow, wasn’t as good as that of the others. The ending is mostly surprising.

Adapted from the novel “La pregunta de sus ojos,” by Eduardo Sacheri, El secreto de sus ojos won the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Co-writer/Director: Juan José Campanella

Country: Argentina

Genre: Drama/Thriller

Run time: 129 minutes

Scale: 4

Footloose (2011)

footlooseSurrounded by teenagers slumped in their seats, making out and giggling, I sat in the nearly full small Mt. Vernon theater.

I remember little from the original except its intensity juxtaposed with manic dancing. This remake is predictable but it possesses an entertaining pulse. The male lead (played originally by Kevin Bacon) has charisma as does his wing-man.

When tragedy strikes small town Bomont, Texas, the city council enact a public dancing ban. The Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) is particular adamant as his son was one of the teenagers killed in the accident (the accident being the catalyst for the ban). This leaves his daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough), crushed—she’s lost her brother and can no longer dance. The teens in Bomont are mental about public dancing—in parking lots and abandoned buildings. Good-girl-on-strike Ariel lies and gets what she wants. When Boston boy Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) relocates to the small town after his mother’s death, he rebels against the Draconian rules, causing ire and decent in the Rev’s home. He sparks her interest but it won’t be that easy. He wants her, she’s dating the dumb rich hothead. (You know where this goes.)

Ren’s sidekicks, Willard (Miles Teller) and Woody (Ser'Darius Blain), are noteworthy secondary characters, especially Willard—he’s hilarious as the cowboy lacking the two-step gene.

Andie MacDowell as Vi Moore has a small role as the reverend’s wife who comes through for Ariel; I couldn’t take my eyes off her forehead, between her brows where a peculiar bumpy area looked like Botox gone wrong.

Footloose redux is fluffy and predictable, but if you have been stricken by the dance craze gripping our nation, you might be tapping your toes here.

Co-writer/Director: Craig Brewer

Country: USA

Genre: Drama

Run time: 113 minutes

Scale: 2.75

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Okuribito (Departures) (2008)


An unemployed cellist stumbles upon a new career. Departures might makes you cry one minute and laugh the next. It shows how a man  be opposed to an idea only to discover it’s exactly what he needs.

Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) dreams of being a renown cellist but is dashed when his orchestra disbands. He’s left unemployed and in debt on his world-class cello. On a lark, he suggests to his wife, Mika (Ryôko Hirosue), that they move from Tokyo back to his hometown; where his mother passed on and left him the family home two years prior. Mika is on board and they start over.

He finds a cryptic help-wanted ad, applies and is hired on instinct. As an encoffiner, he prepares dead bodies for burial. Daigo faces many obstacles—the job isn’t easy, you can never predict death and he is shamed for his profession (so much so he doesn’t confess his job to Mike right away). Eccentric Ikuei (Tsutomu Yamazaki), Daigo’s boss and mentor becomes a father figure and through him, we learn Daigo has complicated feelings toward his own father.

The burial ritual is lovely. The body is cleansed and dressed and the family bids farewell. The survivors’ reactions reveal the conflicted relationships, complex issues and unresolved feelings left in the wake of death.

Departures is a serious (and comedic) movie about death, finding your path and excelling despite the pitfalls you encounter. It won many awards including the Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 2009.

Director: Yôjirô Takita

Country: Japan

Genre: Drama

Run time: 130 minutes

Scale: 5

Savor Seattle Pike Place Market Food & Cultural Tour

I love getting lost in my city. An excellent time to embark on this is with out-of-town visitors. I recently entertained such visitors from the fair city of Chicago. When Stacey mentioned the Savor Seattle tour with nine stops in and around the Pike Place Market, I was sold.

We met the tour at the Starbucks facing the market at 1st and Pine. Tour guides Brett (two T’s, no N) and Mark welcomed us and had us make introductions and mention our favorite food.

Daily Dozen Donut CoThe tour began at the Daily Dozen Donut Company.

These pint-sized delights are bagged and still warm as each one hits your palate. If you haven’t yet tried—make the trip.

Next stop was Market Spice. If you need spice in your life, get yours here. When you buy your spices off the grocery store shelves, you don’t know how long they have sat. In some cases, it’s years. This means you aren’t getting the full-on flavor boost of freshly collected and ground spices. Market Spice offers a massive variety of spices, tea and coffee at competitive prices. And, they have teas to sample.

If there is one place out-of-towners must see, it’s the fish mongers at Pike Place Fish. (Some 40-somethings may remember the Levi’s commercial that featured the fish throwing at Pike Place.) If you are a college kid visiting Seattle to attend the Huskies v. Arizona game and you get a chance to throw a fish, such as this young Arizonian did, you get into the spirit (he caught it too):



At Frank’s Produce, we sampled apples and pears. Brett taught us to select the perfect eggplant—look for the male—the one with the round Brett of Savor Seattle dissecting eggplant sciencebellybutton versus the line. (The eggplant with the line is the female and contains more seeds.)

We stopped at Pike Place Chowder where the clam chowder and seafood bisque were so amazing that they’ve been inducted into the Hall of Fame. If you like cherries—dried, chocolate-covered, in salsa and jams—Chukar Cherries does it all and they do it naturally. At Beecher’s Homemade Cheese, we savored Gouda, Cheddar and the creamiest award-winning Macaroni and Cheese that even Oprah chose as one of her Favorite Things of 2010. Mac and cheese doesn’t ring my bell, but I licked the cup when I was done with my sample. At Piroshky, Piroshky, we sampled a meat and a sweet piroshky. The savory was my preference; I bartered the other one for another meat despite being stuffed. That didn’t stop me from eating the crab cakes at Etta’s Seafood Restaurant, our last stop. Tom Douglas is a culinary genius.

This tour is a winner for tourists as well as Seattle residents. Brett and Mark were excellent hosts, even if Brett was upset at being upstaged by the warbler during the Piroshky, Piroshky stop.

The Warbler

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Jimmy Fallon Busts a Move as Justin Bieber Performing “(It’s Not My) Baby”

jimmy-fallonI keep hearing about Jimmy Fallon and his talent as an impersonator.
The SNL alumnus has been resilient—his show continues on its strong simmer for nearly three years since inception. As you will see, he can dance, he can sing, he can take the piss.
After watching this parody, I have fallen. Drink the Kool-Aid and join Club Fallon with me. You don’t really have to drink it…just watch the video.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Christine's Nightmare in Drag Me to HellNo one does camp like Sam Raimi. Drag Me to Hell is his return to horror and he orchestrates it with relish. The movie is outrageously over the top—equally frightening, disgusting, shocking and hilarious. He works a been-there-done-that plot into an edge-of-your-seat thriller, an homage to horror movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Ambitious loan officer Christine (Alison Lohman) is vying for the assistant manager position at her bank. When a desperate Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver) requests a loan extension, boss-man Mr. Jacks(David Paymer) advises Christine to use her judgment. Not wanting to appear soft, she denies the request. Ganush begs but is escorted from the bank. She casts a vicious spell on Christine. Now, Christine has three days to right her wrong or she will be dragged to hell.

The plot isn’t unique but the special effects make you squirm and gag. There are maggots, flies and the spilling of gross mystery fluids. The disturbing sounds of creaking, squishing and clanging haunt you. Even the daytime scenes are intense. The fright levels build at each scene as the malevolent lamia spirit stalks Christine.

Lohman’s Christine is brilliantly cast—vulnerably innocent, yet able to carry out terrible deeds. She transforms from a woman working on her diction to one who digs up graves in record speed. Her most memorable line in response to the medium’s suggestion she make a blood sacrifice to appease the spirit, a small chicken perhaps:

“I’m a vegetarian. I volunteer at the puppy shelter, for Christ’s sake.”

You will agonize each time the lamia comes for Christine because it feels like it’s coming for you. The ending is a visual coup.

Co-writer/Director: Sam Raimi

Country: USA

Genre: Horror

Run time: 99 minutes

Scale: 4