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Neal Vitale Reviews: Dedication

4 stars out of 5

TV and film actor (and nephew of writer Paul) Justin Theroux makes his directorial debut with a clever and quirky romantic comedy. Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, The Good Shepherd) and Tom Wilkinson (In The Bedroom, Shakespeare In Love) are a successful but odd pair, children's book creators inspired by porn films and united in misanthropy and invective. When too much Genoa salami does in Wilkinson, Crudup is left with his neuroses and a looming deadline from his relentless publisher. A strong cast features Mandy Moore (A Walk To Remember), Bob Balaban (A Mighty Wind), and Dianne Wiest (Hannah And Her Sisters), and indie rock trio Deerhoof anchor a terrific soundtrack. Though Theroux's effort ultimately loses a bit of its verve and limps to a predictable ending, Dedication has more than enough positives to put it high on the "to-see" list.

Letters: Lasusa Links, Dan Grobstein File, Wolfe: Back to School

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: Bagdhad Pool an Oasis From the Suffering; The Top 5 worst game-based movies (Poor, Poor Raul Julia); High schooler pulls off ultimate prank vs. rivals watch it here; Family Guy Creator Seth McFarlane addresses Harvard ; (So Does Peter Griffin, and Stewie and Quagmire; N.Z. Burglar Returns Stolen Stuff, Apologizes Profusely; Ditzy Miss South Carolina's Geography Quiz; 'Virgin Chicken' and 'Steamed Crap' Off the Menu in Beijing; Meet the Cheapest Family; Visit the Kinda Mediocre Wall of China

Dan Grobstein File

  • | August 29, 2007
    Edible Films With Superpowers
    Scientists in a handful of labs around the country are coating foods with an invisible film to protect them from mold and pathogens and increase their shelf life.

A regular contributor dropped her back-to-school column in my inbox this week:

Show-And-Tell In Second Grade: A Yiddish version

by Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe

School's open! I retired from teaching high school 16 years ago, but there's still that excitement when I see the school bus picking up the kids that first day of classes. I can actually smell the chalk dust.

I remember the stories that Sam Levenson wrote about his school experiences. His mother "measured time not by seconds, minutes, or hours, but by the milestones and tombstones that marked the road of her life."

When Sam asked his mother, "When was I born?" she replied, "How could I forget? You were born on the night the Titanic sunk."

"When the time came to register us at school, the clerk demanded more exact dates of birth. She refused to write down Mama's 'It was on the third day of Passover.'"

I recently received an e-mail of a story titled, "The Middle Wife." It was written by an anonymous 2nd grade teacher. Here's my Yiddish version. Enjoy!

I have two kids myself, but the best "geburt" (birth) story I know is the one I saw in my own "tsveyter klas" (second grade class) a few years back.

When I was a "kind" (child), I loved show- and-tell. So I always have a few sessions with my "yung" students. It helps them get over shyness and usually show-and-tell is pretty tame. Kids bring in pet turtles, model airplanes, pictures of fish they catch, stuff like that. If they want to "shlep" it in to school and talk about it, they're welcome.

Well, one day this little "meydl" (girl), Erica, a "brilyant," very outgoing kid, takes her turn and waddles up to the front of "der klas" with a pillow stuffed under her "sveter."

She holds up a "fotografye' of an "oyfele" (infant). "This is Luke, my baby 'bruder,' and I'm going to tell you about his 'geboyrn-tog' (birthday)."

"First, Mom and Dad made him as a symbol of their love, and then Dad put a seed in my Mom's stomach, and Luke grew in there. He ate for 'nayn' (9) months through an UMBRELLA CORD.'

She's standing there with her hands on "di kishn" (the pillow), and I'm trying not to laugh and wishing I had my camcorder with me. The kids are watching in amazement.

"Then, about two Saturdays ago, my Mom starts saying and going, 'Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh!" Erica puts a hand behind her back and groans. "She walked around 'dos hoys' (the house) for like an hour, 'Oh, oh oh!' Now this kid is doing a hysterical duck walk and groaning.

"My Dad called the MIDDLE WIFE. She delivers babies, but she doensn't have a sign on 'der oytomobile' like the DOMINO's MAN. They got my Mom to lie down in 'bet' like this." Erica lies down with her back against the wall.

"And then, pop! My Mom had this bag of 'vaser' (water) she kept in there in case he got "dorshtik" (thirsty). And it just blew up and spilled all over the "bet.' This kid has her legs spread with her little hands miming water flowing away. It was too much!

"Then the MIDDLE WIFE starts saying 'push, push,' and 'breathe, breathe.' They started counting, but never even got past "tsen" (10). Then, all of a sudden, out comes my 'bruder.' He was covered in yucky stuff that they all said it was from Mom's PLAY-CENTER, so I don't know WHAT kind of toys are in there...

Then Erica stood "aroyf" (up), took a big theatrical bow and rturned to her "zitsort" (seat). I'm sure I applauded the loudest. Ever since then, when it's show-and-tell day, I bring along my camcorder, just in case another MIDDLE WIFE comes along.


Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of a book titled, "Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction? Yiddish Trivia. Call her at 516-433-5439 to order a copy.

She wishes everyone--teachers and students--a "vunderlekh" (wonderful) school year.

California Vote Grab

I got this from California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres. Feel free to be as angry about it as you wish.

The so-called Republican "Presidential Election Reform Act" proposed for California's June 3, 2008 Primary is like a bad movie sequel and must be defeated!
"Florida, Part Deux" is simply another GOP power grab, expanding on what Republicans did to Al Gore, and to our nation, in 2000 -- only this time, it's happening right in our own backyard.
The Republicans, led by Bush, Cheney and Rove, know that they've done so much damage to this country that the only way they can "win" the White House is by changing the rules.  So they are proposing to break up California's 55 Electoral Votes as a way to supersede the popular vote in our state.
It would be ridiculous for California, the biggest Blue State, to change its Electoral College allocation formula, while the rest of the country, including huge red states like Texas, still has "winner take all."
As Senators Boxer and Feinstein said, "If we want to change the way we elect the president, we should go to a direct national popular vote -- where it would be guaranteed that the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states will win the presidency.  This power grab, orchestrated by the Republicans, is another cynical move to keep the Presidency in Republican control."
The CDP is putting together a campaign to defeat this scheme.
Here's what you need to do:
A. Forward this message to your family, friends and e-mail lists.
B. Educate people so no one is tricked into signing this initiative.
C. Contribute now to stop this attempt to steal the White House again.  The Party must get the word out to voters about the truth behind this so-called Republican "reform."  We need the resources for that statewide effort.
D. Discuss this issue at your local political meetings.
E. Join the fight to make sure California's 55 Electoral Votes are cast for our next Democratic President. Click here to sign up and we will keep you informed, especially when this initiative hits the street.


3.5 starts out of 5

I'll be the first to admit that getting me to cry at a movie, either for joy or sadness, is one of the easiest things in the world to do. Stardust made me cry. Then I cried again when I got home and read this, from the Associated Press:

The other film opening this weekend, Paramount's  Stardust, a  well-reviewed adult fairy tale starring Michelle Pfeiffer, didn't fare as well. It took in $9 million, good enough for fourth place behind ``The Simpsons Movie,'' but not as much as might be expected for a film with a cast that included Robert DeNiro, Peter O'Toole and Claire Danes.

Clearly, America does not care what I think, or can't guess in advance what I'm going to think. Rush Hour III (reviewed below) is clearly a second rate movie in every way. Bu you can summarize it on the back of a business card (heck, on a thimble: Tucker, Chan, Paris), so it cleans up. Well, if word of mouth is really king, Stardust should clean up next weekend. Clever, original, well-written, exciting without being stupid, enobling and uplifting. If it taught you anything about the human condition, or made you think about anything but itself, I would have given it a four star rating. I made the mistake of reading someone else's review first--in this case, the New York Times, and so found myself, throughout the film, thinking how much better the Clare Danes character would have been if she were Gwyneth Paltrow. And DeNiro's whole section of the film, derided as pointless and distracting by the newspaper, actually turned out to be clever, funny, and contributed to the character arc of the two main players.

It's a love story. Shooting stars, it turns out, are really beautiful young women, and the beautiful young man falls in love with her. Alas, it turns out her heart can give you eternal youth, so she's being chased by an old evil witch (played at no-doubt enormous expense for makeup by Michelle Pfeiffer). O'Toole has a cameo and Ian McKellan does the narration. Come on people, this film had better do more than $9 million next weekend. Just because nothing blows up or falls down is not a reason to avoid a summer movie.


Rush Hour

2.5 out of 5 stars

I like Jackie Chan. I have always liked Jackie Chan. I probably always will like Jackie Chan. He was advertised as being in this film, and he was in this film, doing his trademark amazing stunts (I think of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd). Thus it met my expectations. I wasn't expecting much from Chris Tucker, and I didn't get much. As this summer's umpteenth "threequel," it didn't need much selling, nor, apparently, much effort in the writing. The budget, as they say, is all up there on the screen. It must be; they sure didn't spend it on scriptwriters. It would have been more honest to simply present the thing as a series of sketches, excuses for Tucker and Chan to act dumb or Chan to do amazing stunts. I'd have enjoyed it more that way.


[God bless the Internet. I couldn't think of Harold Lloyd's name, so I googled "bespectacled silent film comedian," and up he came. What did we do before it? Also, I had misspelled Gwyneth in the previous review]


4 stars out of 5

I'm not usually offended by bad language, but then I am used to hearing it used in the more normal mode of swearing. This film struck me as very odd (as did Knocked Up, produced by Judd Apatow), because the people in it speak of sexual organs and functions in a frank and off-hand way that I've never heard. Maybe it's a working class thing. This is a fresh take on one of the most overdone tropes in cinema: two guys trying to get laid on a special night (in this case, the night of their last high school party). The thing that allows you to laugh is that these two guys are fundamentally decent. So decent, in fact, that the protagonist, in bed with a ravingly drunk girl, spurns her advances. I have trouble picturing that, but it was woven into a very funny scene. In fact, when you're not squirming, large chunks of this film are laugh-out-loud funny. If you hated Knocked Up, or even just hated the trailers you saw for it, you'll hate this film. Sweet and innocent it is not. But if you can tolerate some raunch in among the humor, give it a try.

Becoming Jane

4 stars out of 5
Alas, I do not know enough of Jane Austen's biography to comment intelligently on the historical accuracy of this film You get 550 hits if you Google "Becoming Jane" "historical accuracy, but the most popular pages seem to suggest "based on real events, but not really a biopic," which matches the producer's stance. Produced for BBC Films, among others, it has that lush British countryside feel we've all come to admire in imported British films. Anne Hathaway manages a passable British accent, and does a fantastic job in the title role. England in the 1790s never looked more enticing. James Cromwell and Maggie Smith also have brief roles, and are still acting up a storm. One inevitably thinks of "Shakespeare in Love," but Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams simply aren't Tom Stoppard. They can reimagine the past, and imbue Jane with an ironic wit, but they don't come close to Christoper Marlowe offering Shakespeare advice in a bar. A very good film, albeit not a great one.

Neal Vitale Reviews: No Reservations

3.5 stars out of 5

This film by Australian director Scott Hicks (Shine, Snow Falling On Cedars) is simple, straightforward, and charming. It is a hybrid romantic comedy/family drama, propelled by the measured chemistry of the two protagonists, Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago, The Legend Of Zorro) and Aaron Eckhart (Thank You For Smoking, Erin Brockovich). Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin and the aging Patricia Clarkson (Good Night, And Good Luck) round out the leads, but don't add much. There is nary a surprise to be found in No Reservations, but the film is eminently enjoyable and pleasant.

Neal Vitale Reviews: The Bourne Ultimatum

4.5 stars out of 5

Paul and I normally don't both review a film unless our views differ significantly (viz O Lucky Man! circa 1973). While it seems we both liked Ultimatum, I think the praise should be a bit more effusive, especially as one contrasts the Bourne trilogy with other films of today's cinema. Simply put, The Bourne Ultimatum is "best of breed" in its genre - smart, taut, driven action that recalls and updates the gritty reality of films like The French Connection or The Parallax View. There is astounding beauty in the highly choreographed chase sequences of Ultimatum. Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93, Blood Sunday) is a devotee of hand-held camerawork - for all of its irritating quality in static shots, it adds an element to the action sequences that is breathtaking. With the Bourne trilogy apparently at an end, and the loose ends of Jason Bourne's life seemingly tied up, I mourn the end of a terrific franchise. (Thankfully, though, this is Hollywood...)