Friday, March 28, 2008


Stop-loss - the involuntary extension of a service member’s enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond the normal end of service. The film tells us more than 650,000 troops have been sent to Iraq and roughly one-eighth of that number have been stop-lossed, or forced to return to duty past the time of their enlistment.

We begin in Iraq with the unit under the command of Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) which includes his boyhood best friend Steve (Channing Tatum) and the somewhat unstable Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Just before shipping home the unit is caught in an ambush which takes the lives of their friends. On returning home the threesome are regarded as heroes, but Tommy and and Steve struggle with the readjustment. Brandon is just happy to be home and free of the army, that is until his C.O. (Timothy Olyphant) informs him he has been stop-lossed and will be returning to Iraq for another tour.

Brandon doesn’t take the news well and flees the scene, going AWOL and enlisting the help of Steve’s fiancée (Abbie Cornish) to help he get to Washington D.C. and discuss things with Senator Worrell (Josef Sommer).

There are several things the movie does well. The camaraderie of the unit is terrific as are the varied issues each member deals with during his struggle to readjust to being home.

Early on the scenes of the unit in Iraq and their encounter and ambush by insurgents is exceptionally well shot and managed. I’ve seen actors and directors who have done hundreds of scenes such as this struggle, and it’s a credit to director Kimberly Peirce, not known for this type of film, to do such a marvelous job here.

Phillipe is well-cast and carries the crux of a life-changing decision and its consequences throughout the entire film with aplomb. Along with Tatum and Gordon-Levitt the threesome provide specific, but never over-the-top, reactions to the violence they have lived through. These are real people with serious problems that can’t be settled with simple solutions.

If I have one major problem with the film it’s derived from one of it’s strengths. The life-altering choices it deals with, and the mental instability issues with each of these men, which you could easily spend an entire television season on, are a little too neatly resolved for my taste with an ending that seems a bit rushed. The film also meanders a bit as it becomes a road movie and a possible love story, before remembering to get back to the original story it wants to tell.

Although the film meanders a bit in places it does a remarkably good job at analyzing the limited choices those like Brandon find themselves forced to consider. Here’s a film which shows immense respect for soldiers and care for the effects of war. At the same time the film captures the confusion and uncertainty of the troops understanding their duty, but unsure about the conflict they find themselves a part of.

I have some problems with the film’s ending, but where all the choices are hard it is grudgingly reached and should spark some much needed discussion about duty and honor not only to your country but to your own beliefs as well. I will say, even with the issues I had with the film, it’s is well made and deals with its subject in an intelligent way. The film invites, even demands, you to think about these issues in detail and examine not only the choices of the characters but your own beliefs as well. I’ve spent more time thinking about this film than any other so far this year, and I can’t think of a higher compliment to give.


“In Vegas you can become anyone you want.”

The movie centers around Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a promising mathematican at MIT who has been accepted to Harvard Medical School but lacks the funds to enroll.

Ben is approached by one of his professors (Kevin Spacey) and offered a unique opportunity to join a team of talented students (Kate Bosworth, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira, Jacob Pitts) who count cards in Vegas during the weekend. At first Ben refuses the offer, but the temptation is strong, especially when the girl he has lusted over for months, Jill (Bosworth), begs him to join the team. And after all Ben can always stop after he earns enough for school. Yeah, right.

When the film deals with temptation, it works amazingly well. Ben is thrust into a world, despite his intelligence and talent, he is ill-prepared for. He becomes disconnected from his best friends (Josh Gad, Sam Golzari), lies to his mother (Helen Carey), and becomes completely infatuated with winning and the new lifestyle which comes with it.

The film also includes a side plot about an old school security guard (Laurence Fishburne) employed to keep card counters out of the casinos, and his dislike for counters.

The set-up of the con, is much more interesting than the actually play, which really is nothing more than turning over cards and watching stacks grow. It’s much more fun to see the team plan out and explain the con to Ben, or count their money afterwards, than to watch them actually play blackjack.

Also an issue for me was the humor, especially early on, found in many scenes which seemed oddly out of place. The film includes many one-liners followed by beats of silence. These, I assume, are in place to allow the audience to laugh, the trouble is they just aren’t funny and seem better placed for two-drumbeats and the crashing of a symbol on a late, late, late night talk show.

When the film sticks to the basic tale of temptation and consequences it works well. There are a few plot twist late in the film which you should see coming, and you wonder, honestly, how one of the characters, all of whom are presented as highly intelligent, could possibly miss them. And even if it doesn’t give you much more information about blackjack or counting cards than what you entered the theater with, it’s still an enjoyable ride.

Run, Fatboy, Run

“He runs marathons.”

Dennis (Simon Pegg) is a loser. He spends his days working as a mall security guard and his nights alone in his crappy basement apartment being scolded by his landlord Mr. Ghoshdashtidar (Harish Patel) and his buxom daughter (India de Beaufort).

It wasn’t always this way, however. Dennis was once engaged to the beautiful and caring Libby (Thandie Newton), that is until he ran from their wedding leaving her pregnant and alone at the altar.

Years later Dennis, still not over Libby, faces her new boyfriend (Hank Azaria), a succcessful business man who seems both his ex and his son (Matthew Fenton) are starting to fall for. To prove himself to Libby, Dennis signs-up for the charity marathon and attempt to beat Whit and win back his family.

The cast is pretty good across the board, and that’s a good thing because the writing leaves something to be desired. Still, you really have to wonder about casting Simon Pegg, who is not fat, in the title role here. I guess the title “Run, Jerkface, Run” didn’t have the same ring to it.

Pegg, despite being the wrong physical type for the role, does carry it, even through its more crazy moments. It’s the film’s paint-by-number plot and forced cheap jokes which keep getting in the way. And it’s too bad because somewhere deep down there’s a good film bursting to get out.

At the beginning of the film Dennis is a jerk, but still a loving father and mostly nice guy. Whit however is more successful, more athletic, more caring, and more altruistic. What is Dennis to do against such a man? A smarter film might have focused on Dennis finding a new way to become part of his son’s life or become friends with his ex, or simply growing up and bettering himself. Unable to find a way to deal with these issues logically the film falls back on the tired cliché of making Whit a closet Jekyll and Hyde bastard who completely changes when, and only because, the plot asks him to.

Also troubling are all the forced “laughs” throughout the film. It’s almost as if someone told the writers they needed a joke every six pages to keep the audience’s attention - whether the plot called for one or not. And so we end up with scenes including one character (Dylan Moran) taking a bath in Whit’s apartment during a dinner party, or Dennis bursting a puss-filled blister all over his friend’s face. What do these events, and the numerous others like them, have to do with the story and furthering the plot? Absolutely none, which is exactly the amount of humor they add to the film.

Run, Fatboy, Run doesn’t start off as a predictable average romantic comedy, but it sure races it’s way into becoming one. I won’t tell you not to see it, but with the amount of talent it wastes I simply can’t recommend the film.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Top 5 Gambling Films

Today we look at five films which deal with gambling, betting, and hustling.

Here are the five (okay six, I cheated a little) which we chose. The list is a bit eccletic to mix in various types of gambling movies. There are actually quite a few out there that could have made the cut, but these are the five we decided to go with.

*Editor’s Note - As we just reviewed Rounders (read that review) it was left off the list.

Casino - I almost didn’t include this film, but how could I keep it off the list? Martin Scorsese directs this tale of a Vegas Casino run by a moneymaker (Robert De Niro) and owned by the mob. De Niro is terrific as is Joe Pesci as the violently sadistic Nicky. Even Sharon Stone comes off well, so you know this must be a pretty good film! At three-hours I still think it’s a bit too long, but it’s well worth taking a bet on if you haven’t seen it.

The Cooler - This strange little film is about a cooler, a jinx, hired by a casino to break the luck of gamblers winning too much at the tables. William H. Macy stars the unlucky loser Bernie and Maria Bello plays a love interest who changes Bernie’s luck, but may cost him his job and possibly even more. A memorable film.

The Hustler & The Color of Money - In The Hustler a young pool player known as Fast Eddie Money (Paul Newman) competes to win a high-stakes match against the champ (Jackie Gleason). 25 years later Newman would resurrect the character for the sequel,The Color of Money, as Fast Eddie tries to teach a young hot shot (Tom Cruise) the ins-and-outs of hustling. Both are very good, and the second (which won Newman an Oscar) is underrated. (read The Color of Money review).

Let it Ride - Speaking of underrated films, Richard Dreyfuss stars as a cabbie and lifetime loser who has one day at the track where he just can’t seem to lose. The entire film takes place in one day and is filled to the brim with characters (David Johansen, Teri Garr, Jennifer Tily, David Schramm, Cynthia Nixon, and Robert Coltrane). It may not be the best film on this list, but it’s the most fun!

The Sting - Seven Academy Awards, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, andCharles Durning. What more could you want? Redford and Newman star as partners out to take down a rich high-stakes gambler (Shaw). Currently rated #93 on IMDB’s Top 250 Films.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


“We can’t run from who we are. Our destiny chooses us.”

Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is a struggling law student; he’s also a world class poker player, who, in the film’s opening scene, loses all his money in a high stakes game.

Nine-months later Mike has renounced gambling and made up with his girlfriend (Gretchen Mol). He works a part time delivery job and works towards a law degree. Life is hard, but good, though he still misses the game and the thrill of playing.

When Mike’s best friend Worm (Edward Norton) is released from prison with a substantial mark to be paid off Mike finds himself pulled back to the tables.

The story is presented from Mike’s perspective with commentary, which comes and goes, giving us a glimpse into the world of professional gambling and his own views on life. The story feels authentic and real; at no time does the film cop-out with huge twists or unlikely hands.

Damon and Norton are terrific as the leads of the piece and could easily carry it on their own, but that would mean we would miss out on the other characters the script offers. The film surrounds the pair with talented actors including John Turturro, Famke Janssen,Martin Landau, and John Malkovich.

Although the film centers around gambling, specifically poker, and the cost and consequences of winning, losing, and cheating, the film is also a smart look at how a person’s past remains part of them forever. Anyone has has given up a hobby, vice, sport, or activity, can relate to the issues Damon’s character struggles with throughout the film. As can anyone who’s had a friend from your old life reappear only to cramp your new one. The film includes a nice scene between Mike and his professor (Landau) discussing how we are granted certain skills which should not be ignored. The film’s philosophy about gambling isn’t simple. The game itself isn’t good or bad, it’s merely open for those talented enough to use it for their own ends.

There are too many other great moments to list here but I will include the mention of the bookend scenes with Mike’s heads-up play against KGB (Malkovich) which provide opportunities for each actor to shine, and the scene where the regulars all show up in Atlantic City at the same table to fleece the weekend gamblers which, for me, provides some of the funniest moments of the film.

The one-disc Collector’s Edition DVD is well stocked with extras. Included are two commentaries, the first from director John Dahl, Edward Norton, and writers David Levien and Brian Koppelman, and the second, from World Series of Poker winners Johnny Chan (who has a small cameo in the film), Phil Helmuth, Chris Moneymaker, and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, which looks at the realism of the poker scenes throughout the film. Also included is a simple Texas Hold ‘Em game called “Heads Up Hold ‘Em,” a behind the scenes featurette on the film, a featurette on professional poker, and separate poker tips from the professionals I mentioned above. Overall, a very nice group of special features.

Rounders is the type of film I forget how good it is until I watch it again. From the look and style, to the dialogue, to the compelling performances, moments, and scenes, the film is a winner. Is it a tad too pat or clichéd in it’s structure? Does it glorify gambling a little too much? Perhaps, as our hero does rediscover his game, and the love he has for it, but remember this is a sports film where the guy loses the girl, loses his job, and loses his best friend, (plus gets the ever-living snot beaten out of him). So it’s not exactly your typical happy Hollywood ending. It’s an easy recommendation for me to make and a hard standard for future films dealing with similar issues to live up to. The extras presented on this DVD are nice, but the real reward is the film itself, which definitely deserves a look.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Drillbit Taylor

“You look like a professor of faggotology.”

The film stars Nate Hartley and Troy Gentile as lovable losers and incoming freshman. I probably don’t need to tell you the rest of the plot, but here goes.

The pair, along with a tag-a-along nerd pal (David Dorfman), on arriving at school the first day, instantly become the new objects of ridicule and torture for the sadistic school bully (Alex Frost) and his wacky pal (Josh Peck) who physically assault them on school property, try to run them down with their car, and make serious threats against their lives.

Sadly it seems the movie takes place in South Park, Colorado since every adult is a complete moron. Complaints to the principal (Stephen Root) and to parents lead to only shrugs and laughs.

In order to protect themselves the boys hire a homeless veteran (Owen Wilson) to be their bodyguard. Trouble is he’s more interested in mooching of the kids and scoring with a nymphomaniac teacher (Leslie Mann) than actually helping them.

There are also subplots involving a young girl (Valerie Tian, the cute Asian girl outside the abortion clinic in Juno) who one of our nerds has a crush on, and a plot between Drillbit and his homeless friends to rob the kid’s houses, for their own good (don’t ask).

The film is high school 101. You know everything that’s going to happen well before it makes it’s way into onto the screen. Drillbit will screw the kids over in hilarious ways before learning to accept and care for them, he’ll eventually screw-up and get caught, but make amends, the kids will learn to deal with their own problems, and the bully will get what’s coming to him. Nothing new here.

The film does contain some funny moments, and others that would work better if they didn’t seem quite so obvious. I couldn’t help but ponder that if this material had been done either as a stark drama, or as a dark comedy (what if these kids really hired a guy to kill the bully?) there would be a much bigger payoff.

I’m also a little tired of these cliched adults who see and do nothing because the plot calls for them to be beyond braindead. Everyone accepts Drillbit as a substitute because he carries a mug? The principal doesn’t think Filkins is dangerous because he simply denies the incidents? Didn’t anyone see the run over people’s yards trying to run them over after school? How about the entire hall full of witnesses for his other “pranks?” How about punching out a substitute teacher on school property? You’d think any number of these incidents would be enough to take the situation seriously. Especially in this litigious, not to mention post-Columbine, world we live in.

Drillbit Taylor isn’t necessarily a bad film, but I can’t bring myself to recommend it either. Much like it’s hero it is simply misguided and incredibly lazy. Still it provides a some funny moments and for those looking for a film that asks nothing more of an audience to show up and laugh at nerds and root for bullies getting what’s coming to them you could probably do worse than this film. Or you could save yourself a few bucks and rent Superbad (also produced by Judd Apatow and co-written by Seth Rogen) and have a slightly better experience.


“I’m pretending not to hate my life.”

Joleen (Charlize Theron) is a mess. She can’t raise her daughter Tara (AnnaSophia Robb) and has just been evicted. Unable to deal with the harsh realities of her life, she pawns off her daughter on her only slightly more stable brother James (Nick Stahl), and takes off (for most of the film’s running time), without saying goodbye, with promises to return after she hits it big.

Trouble is James is almost as big a screw-up as his sister and promptly loses both his apartment and his job. Tara is shipped off to Social Services and James goes off to live in a friend’s (Woody Harrelson) basement.

By this point your obviously wondering what the point of the film is. I was too. In fact after watching the entire thing I’m still unsure.

Unable to abandon Tara as her mother did James kidnaps her and takes her on a road trip back home to the farm where he and Joleen were raised. There Tara meets her grandfather (Dennis Hopper) who, let’s just say doesn’t stand a good chance at winning grandfather of the year.

There are several pieces here including some very good performances across the board and some memorable moments (my favorite includes a swimming pool and a pair of skates). The trouble is, much like James himself, the movie seems to be sleepwalking through much of its running time. All these separate strands are never woven together, instead the film becomes more and more depressing leaving the plot a tangled mess.

The film, in it’s own odd way, does present a somewhat happy ending, but it doesn’t answer any questions or provide any clue about what will happen to these characters in the future. In fact the plot leaves almost everyone back in the same dire straights which they started the film. Maybe they are a little wiser, but that’s debatable.

Other than providing an opportunity for a group of actors to work on their craft I’m just not sure why this film was made. There is no point, no moral, no revelations, truth, or message to be found here (other than the fact that life sucks most of the time, except for brutal and pseudo-happy endings). I expected more.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Never Back Down

“Win, lose, it makes no difference. This is my fight; everyone’s got one.”

Ripping off the plot of The Karate Kid the film focuses on a high school student in a new school trying to fit in only to get bullied by the local martial arts stud (Cam Gigandet). Jake (Sean Faris) is an angry young man who blames himself for the death of his father (Steve Zurk), and although he is never looking for a fight, somehow one always manages to find him.

Jake makes the move with his little brother (Wyatt Smith) and mother (Leslie Hope) who disappears for large stretches of the film only to show up to treat her son like shit, until, of course, the plot calls for her to gain insight and understanding and support him in his big moment.

Daniel-Son, I mean Jake, receives a beatdown at the hands of the cocky Ryan (Gigandet) who is the highest rated fighter in the local underground martial arts fighting scene. Jake is given renewed hope by his pal Max (Evan Peters) who finds him a guru (Djimon Hounsou, in a not half-bad Mr. Miyagi impersonation) to teach him some new moves.

Of course, after much screwing up and soul searching, Jake learns more from just marital arts fighting from his teacher (what a shock!), and becomes a better man winning the heart of his rival’s former girlfriend (Amber Heard) and even choosing to leave fighting behind. But wait, you can’t end the movie without a showdown with the baddie and so Jake earns a chance to get it on with Chong Li, I mean William Zabka, I mean Ryan, at the latest underground tournament.

This film doesn’t have a single original idea. Not one. It borrows it’s main plot from The Karate Kid mixing in a little martial arts tournament revenge theme ala Bloodsport, but that’s not enough. It also steals scenes, in shockingly obvious ways, from Rocky III (Rocky and Apollo’s run on the beach), Raiders of the Lost Ark (Indy shooting the show-off swordsman), and countless others. And for those who love a good 80’s montage, you may have found your favorite film ever.

Aside from blatant plagiarism the film has a mind boggling number of issues. First is the cast itself. You have to wonder about the casting of Gigandet for the role of a high school student (he looks like a guy in his mid-thirties). If you wanted an old guy to play the Zabka role, why not just get Zabka himself? But at least Gigandet is competent to play the bland movie baddie. Faris, who was obviously cast for for his likeness to a young Tom Cruise (more so than say acting or fighting talent) broods for so much of the film I began to believe he might be a vampire with a soul.

Out of everyone here only Heard comes off okay, though she’s not asked to do much other than look photogenic for the camera and show concern from time to time. The film’s best scene involves her on all fours on top of our hero with the camera strategically placed to look down her top. This ain’t high art folks.

Of course the writing is so bad, even with top-named actors, it’s hard to foresee anyone pulling this off. Here are some examples of the film’s dialogue (all delivered with a straight face):

“Now for the bad news. It’s gotta’ end with you lookin’ like a bitch.”
“The only time you’re happy is when you’re hurting people.”
“Ryan, he’s got crazy skills.”
“What it comes down to, you’re either backing out or you’re getting in.”

Of course compared to the plot the dialogue almost sounds good. Jake is a jerk who always makes the wrong move until the plot needs him to do something else for a change. There’s nothing in his character worth cheering for, and we spend most of our time wondering why Baja (Heard) is attracted to him. Of course she’s no prize herself as she’s the one who set him up for his first beatdown and then blames him for being upset with her. Quite a catch, but hey, she looks great in a bikini! Maybe they are a perfect pair after all.

This is the kind of film Mystery Science Theater 3000 was invented for. Exceptionally bad from the first shot to the film’s inexplicable epilogue (which will leave you either strangling the person next to you or rolling in the aisles) this is a film so awful it has to be seen to be believed. And the film never seems to consider that these characters are all supposedly minors participating in their own fight club. You didn’t have an issue with this MPAA? I’m not saying you might not have some fun laughing at this turkey, but you might want to find a theater with a bar, just in case.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

“We have to keep in mind that it’s not just about the numbers of people who died; it’s also the manner which many of these victims met their deaths. “
Iris Chang

To tell the story a group of actors is assembled together. Each is assigned a role and will read the letters, diaries, journal entries, and accounts of that person which are then intercut with real footage of Nanking. This unusual set-up takes a little to get used to, but by the time the historical context is covered and the film moves into the gory and ghastly details of the Rape of Nanking you have forgotten the actors and are completely immersed in this horrific tale.

Nanking was the Chinese capitol in 1937 when the Japanese army invaded the country and took control of the city. The occupation of Nanking lasted for more than six weeks and visited such atrocities on the civilian population it has been named the Nanking Massacre and The Rape of Nanking. A small group of missionaries from foreign countries including America and Germany created a safety zone in the city for refugees and survivors. Two of the most active leaders of this group were John Rabe (Jurgen Prochnow), a German and member of the Nazi party, and Minnie Vautrin (Mariel Hemingway), an American and the head of the Ginling Girls College, who took every action they could to save as many lives as possible. This action saved the lives of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Chinese and also allowed a unique historical perspective from these outsiders to witness what followed.

What they saw will sicken and sadden you. Mass executions of civilians by bayonet and machine gun, arson and destruction of the city, looting and theft, and rape of women, children, the elderly, and even the dead, became a nightmarish reality from which many never awakened.

The footage shot, hidden and later smuggled out of the city is as frightening and saddening as anything you’ve seen, but these images pale in comparison to the real horrors which come from the witness accounts where no cameras were present. Told by a group of actors (Hugo Armstrong, Rosalind Chao, Stephen Dorff, Woody Harrelson, Mark Valley, and others) this is a tale that many would rather ignore, but it’s a tale which demands to be told.

The Diagnosis
Because of the film’s subject matter it drifts close at times to a propaganda film, but does a fair job of keeping a historical perspective, and given the events of the time that is no easy task. It is estimated that more than 200,000 were killed in the Nanking Massacre and over 20,000 women were raped during the short siege. Because news in and out of the zone was so well controlled many Japanese, even after seeing the footage shot in Nanking, refuse to believe the level of atrocity committed. The film retells a dark history many would like to be forgotten, but it’s also a cautionary tale of what damage can be done by the unchecked aggression by an unsupervised army in a foreign land with too much time on their hands. The film earns its R-rating with disturbing images and even more horrific tales, but for those able to sit through it I would recommend it highly, especially given the state of the world in which we now live.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Bank Job

“We’re not bank robbers.”
“Maybe that’s why we could get away with it.”

Terry (Jason Stratham) and his small-time crook pals (Daniel Mays, Michael Jibson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Alki David, James Faulkner) are offered a chance at the biggest score of their lives by one of Terry’s old flames, Martine (Safron Burrows).

Trouble is they only know have the half the story. Martine is actually working for MI5 (British Intelligence) who desperately need some damaging photographs from a safety deposit box owned by a black militant (Peter De Jersey) who is using them to blackmail the government.

Tim (Richard Lintern) is given the assignment of capturing the damaging material without using any company resources, as the government can not be tied to the operation if all goes wrong. He blackmails Martine into getting her friends to do the job.

The job is further complicated by a pornographer (David Suchet) whose ledger of police payoffs is also hidden among the treasures the team lifts from the bank.

The heist plot of the film works quite well, as does the insecurity of Terry’s wife (Kasey Baterip) and his daughters fearing for Terry’s safety and disapproval of his reuniting with Martine. However the film also burdens the story with unnecessary and distracting subplots which keep getting in the way. One involves the dealings of Michael X (De Jersey), another involves an undercover agent (Hattie Morahan) working to infiltrate his cult, and another involves a madam (Sharon Maughan) whose box contained potentially damaging pictures of Lord Drysdale (Rupert Drysdale) and other members of the government.

When the film sticks to the heist, and the complications which arise directly from the undertaking it works very well. How the thieves are initially discovered is an interesting twist, as is the power the danger they put themselves in and the unknown power they achieve after completing the robbery.

The Bank Job is loosely based on ther real Baker Street robbery, also know as the Walkie-Talkie robbery, which occured in 1971, involved levels of national security which caused the events to be immediately hushed up in the press, and remains unsolved to this day. How much truth this film this film contains versus the amount of ficition and guesswork is anyone’s guess, though it seems, to me, to rely greatly on the later. Though, if you are looking for historical accuracy theatrical films are rarely your best bet. In reality four men were charged with the crime though the undisclosed amount stolen (because many of those with safety deposit boxes refused to identify what was taken) was never recovered.

Whether truth or fiction, the film works either way. I love heist filcks and although The Bank Job is certainly a flawed film and could have used at least one more rewrite, there’s still a large part of the movie that works. You can find two-thirds of a really good movie here, and if you can make it through the rest, without losing interest, I think you’ll have a good time.

Miss Pettigew Lives for a Day

“I, for one, am not running around town with Oliver Twist’s mom.”

Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams) is a lounge singer and aspiring actress. She’s sweet, lovable, and willing to use her sexual wiles to make her dreams come true. As the film opens Delysia is dating three men: the owner of the club where she works (Mark Strong) who provides her with a luxurious apartment, a young Broadway producer (Tom Payne) who is casting a coveted role, and Michael (Lee Pace), a penniless piano player and the love of her young life.

Into this juggling act arrives Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), an out of work governess unable to find work. Taking the job as Delysia’s social secretary under less than reputable circumstances, Mrs. Pettigrew becomes the friend and older sister Delysia so needs.

There’s not much to the plot other than misunderstandings and white lies. Almost everyone here could do what the script calls for in their sleep. McDormand is the star of the piece. Adams is sweet as the lovable mixed-up tart. And everyone else is mostly forgettable.

Aside from Delysia’s confused relationships there is also a subplot about a tenuous romance between Delysia’s devious best friend (Shirley Henderson) and a fashion designer (Ciarán Hinds) who seems to have much more in common with Miss Pettigrew than his intended. I don’t really need to tell you how the film ends, do I?

Like Mrs. Henderson Presents (but not as good) the story is set in London during WWII. Occasionally sirens bring dread of things to come, but in this film this is as close to reality as the story ever gets.

There’s a running gag throughout the film, which takes place, mostly, in a single day, about Mrs. Pettigrew’s inability to sit down and eat. It’s a fine gag, although the payoff isn’t as good as I expected. This inability to not quite live up to the promise of the piece, never delivering more than is expected (and sometimes far less) is the film’s major failing.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is everything you expect, and nothing more. The cast is charming, and the story is predictable. For those needing a 92 minute escape into a movie which doesn’t ask much of the audience (or the actors) here’s the movie for you.