FLICKS: War for the Planet of the Apes

Posted on 19 July 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


When the original Star Wars was released 40 summers ago, people began looking for deeper meaning in the film. Writer/director George Lucas admitted to be influenced by Professor Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which explores the theory of the “monomyth.” Regardless of culture, the story of the hero is a universal rite of passage. The same thing holds true in a different film, War for the Planet of the Apes, the final part of a trilogy in which we witness the rite of passage for Caesar, an ape who was destined to destroy the world as we know it.

After the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is the charismatic leader of the apes and proud family ape. When the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) raids an ape encampment, Caesar’s wife and child are killed. Caesar plans revenge and the rescue of his surviving son, Cornelius.

With his trusty associates by his side, Caesar pursues his course of action. He is sidetracked by a little orphan girl who cannot speak and bad ape (Steve Zahn), a clumsy chimpanzee who was previously incarcerated in a zoo. Despite his previous military success, Caesar’s quest for vengeance leads the heroic ape into the heart of darkness.

While it would help to see the previously released Planet of the Apes movies, War for the Planet of the Apes works as a standalone drama. The wages of war weigh heavily on Caesar, a heroic protagonist who is unable to find peace for himself. He is a character we have sympathy for, which makes War for the Planet of the Apes such a successfully subversive movie.

While Caesar’s motivation leads to enlightenment, the Colonel’s journey leads to a logical madness. With echoes of Joseph Campbell’s novella Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, this Colonel is both Caesar’s antagonist and alter ego. When both confront one another, the Colonel compares this meeting with the time General Lee met General Grant to close out the American Civil War.

The War for the Planet of the Apes caps off the most intelligent science fiction trilogy of recent years. Using Caesar as our guide, larger issues like genetics, civil liberties and war are examined. The discussions between the Colonel and Caesar are fascinating, but this film has many throwaway moments and Easter eggs that are thought-provoking, but funny also.

Before Star Wars, 20th Century Fox’s most successful science fiction franchise was their five Planet of the Apes films. While pessimistic, these films provided satirical humor about 1960s humanity. With less cartoon humor, the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy is far darker, but it is an entertainingly told story.

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FLICKS: Lost in Paris & Spider-Man: Homecoming

Posted on 12 July 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


Besides being Bastile Day, this Friday, July 14, marks the opening of Lost in Paris, an enchanting romantic comedy that features visual gags inspired by Chaplin, Keaton and Laurel & Hardy. The cinematography echoes La La Land, but makes Paris, the City of Lights, shine while providing a simple sweet-natured story seldom seen on the big screen these days.

Opening and closing the film with a Currier & Ives setting, Lost in Paris introduces us to the headstrong and independent Martha (the late Emmanuelle Riva) and her niece Fiona. Many years later, Fiona (Fiona Gordon) is a librarian in Canada and she receives word that Aunt Martha is in distress in Paris. After crossing the Atlantic Ocean, Fiona gets lost in Paris.

While Martha and Fiona keep missing each other, both women cross paths with Dom, (Dominique Abel, who co-wrote and co-directed with his wife, Fiona Gordon) a hobo who pitches a tent by the River Thames. Through misidentification, miscommunication and with plenty of slapstick, the three protagonists find a resolution when they arrive on the tippy top of the Eiffel Tower.

From beginning to end, Lost in Paris is a delight. Gordon and Abel are a fine team both behind the scene and with onscreen chemistry. Minus big budgeted special effects, this film features theatrical visual gags that would inspire “oohs” and “aahs” with a live audience. It will be remembered as a timeless movie, a modern movie that celebrates its cinematic silent movie past.

With very little surprise, Spider-Man: Homecoming blew up the summer box office last weekend. Having appeared last year in Captain America: Civil War, this new Spider-Man movie features an actor (Tom Holland) who is closer to the age of the teenaged Peter Parker found in the comics. For all of his web-slinging superpowers, creator Stan Lee never lost sight that he was telling the story of a teenager going through his rights of passage.

The film references the original Avengers movie which featured the “Battle of New York” post carnage. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is a sanitation engineer who is originally commissioned to clean up the mess. Prevented by government bureaucrats, Toomes steals the alien refuge and creates his own mercenary business, complete with new technology, and adopts the moniker “the Vulture.”

Spider-Man battles the Vulture on three occasions, with the first two battles being the most thrilling. However Spider-Man: Homecoming is a human story featuring a flawed hero and his antagonist. This is a character-based story that is as unpredictable as human behavior.

This weekend, enjoy both of these entertaining movies.

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FLICKS: Beatriz at Dinner & Baby Driver

Posted on 06 July 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


Previewed at the Sundance Film Festival and hailed as the film of the Trump era, Beatriz at Dinner is being promoted as a satirical dark comedy. Starring Salma Hayek (as the title character) and John Lithgow as (her antagonist) Doug Strutt, Beatriz at Dinner has more sadness than laughs.

Beatriz is a very likeable character. She raises her animals in her small studio apartment and performs massage for terminal Cancer patients and rich people like Kathy (Connie Britton) and Grant (David Warshofsky). When her car stalls, Kathy invites Beatriz to her prearranged dinner party with celebrity mogul, Doug Strutt, a man Beatriz senses that she met before.

Despite some funny one-liners and cultural humor, this film descends into a depressive darkness when one character says, “no matter what they do, everything is dying.” For fans of movies like Melancholia, or stories where dogs, goats and other animals die, then this film is for you.

Film Noir is a cinematic art form that has infiltrated the American Motion Picture industry since the 1940s with films like Double Indemnity and Touch of Evil. The influence of noir can be seen and felt in movies like Planet of the Apes, Blade Runner and Frank Miller’s Sin City.

Baby Driver is a musical comedy noir that is highly entertaining. Baby (Ansel Elgort) has a hearing disability, but is an excellent getaway driver for organized crime master mind Doc (Kevin Spacey). Despite working with multiple scumbags, criminals and sociopaths (played by Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez), Baby is basically a nice guy who cares for his foster father Joseph (CJ Jones), a deaf man in a wheelchair.

Baby develops a conscience when he meets a waitress named Debora (Lily James), who is intrigued by this young man, who constantly wears earphones and listens to music. While the two lovebirds develop a strong connection through music, Baby’s criminal connections threaten to destroy their happiness.

Writer/director Edgar Wright has crafted a fine motion picture that will be studied and analyzed for years. While some critics will say this writer/director is the next Quentin Tarantino, Wright’s influences go historically deeper. Baby Driver features homages to film noir classics like Detour, The Mechanic and Payback.

Like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Baby Driver features a great soundtrack of good songs. Go see Baby Driver.

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FLICKS: Transformers 5: The Last Knight & Filmed in Broward — this weekend at Savor Cinema!

Posted on 29 June 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


In the past decade, we have witnessed five Transformers movies from Paramount pictures, the studio that sold off their Marvel movie franchise to Disney. In the previous four incarnations, I would drag myself into a screening, but would leave pleasantly surprised with having been drawn into this science fiction world of man and machinery symbiosis.

This 5th film, Transformers 5: The Last Knight features nonstop action for the first 40 minutes of the film, takes an exposition break, and then pummels the viewer with another 45 minutes of computer-enhanced special effects that take place on a science fiction dead planet and Stonehenge, England.

The exposition scenes are the most interesting moments in this film. This is the point when major characters come together at an English castle and discuss their hypothesis. It helps that one of these characters is portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins, a newcomer to the franchise. With echoes of a luncheon hosted by his characters from The Remains of the Day and Hannibal, Hopkins listens to (leading man) Mark Wahlberg’s and (young Megan Fox lookalike) Laura Haddock’s plans to save the world.

While the subtext reviews the Arthurian legend of King Arthur, Merlin and The Knights of the Round Table, there are assorted clever details that link the previous four movies to The Last Knight, including a subtle dig to former Transformers leading man Shia LaBeouf (Remember him?) The palace scene also allows a moment of self-deprecation in which Sir Anthony Hopkins delivers an inspirational speech, complete with a soaring musical score.

Besides confronting the end of the world, Transformers 5 deals with Optimus Prime’s identity crisis and Bumblebee’s attempt to find his own voice. (At least this Transformer is wise enough to use John Wayne’s voice when the going gets tough.) Yet, once the good Transformers fight with the bad Transformers, one can hardly differentiate which side one is supposed to cheer for.

Cars 3, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, Wonder Woman and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales are more fun to see on the big screen these days. Also Megan Leavey is pure drama for people who like to laugh, cry and feel patriotic.

As a vacation from computer-enhanced special effects extravaganzas, check out Filmed in Broward at the Savor Cinema in Ft. Lauderdale this weekend. The most recognized features include the Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) presentations of Boyfriend Killer and Girlfriend Killer, both starring actress/producer Barbie Castro and directed by Alyn Darnay. Be on the lookout for films featuring local talent Diana Rice and many others. The screenings are free, but there will be a fee for the parties, receptions and extravaganzas afterward. [On Saturday, July 1, from 9 a.m. to noon, Darnay will be the guest speaker at the Actor’s Cultural Theater (ACT Broward), 10 SW 11 Ave., Ft. Lauderdale. That is a free event in which he will be discussing acting, writing and directing]. For information contact 954-525-FILM or visit www.FLIFF.com.

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FLICKS: The Hero, Cars 3 & Lou

Posted on 22 June 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


Receiving much praise since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, The Hero opens locally in neighborhood theaters. As the ironically-named title character, Sam Elliot has earned his best notices in years as an iconic actor whose career peaked many decades ago. A man out of time, Lee Hayden (Elliot) makes a living doing voice-over for barbecue sauce and spends his free time getting stoned with an old actor friend, Jeremy (Nick Offerman).

Diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, Hayden attempts to make amends with his estranged daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter) and his ex wife, Valarie (Katharine Ross -Sam Elliot’s real life wife). Having burned emotional bridges many years ago, the reconciliations are cold. While toking with Jeremy, Lee makes the acquaintance with Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a stand-up comedian. Through Charlotte, Lee is given one last dose of living fully. While attending an awards banquet, he is given career redemption and, through moments of generosity, the actor becomes a social media sensation again. But, through Charlotte, Lee is given a brutal reminder about his vulnerability and fatality.

The Hero sets false expectations for a Sam Elliot film in which he wears a 10 gallon hat. The title is meant to be ironic. Elliot takes full advantage of his public persona, while revealing painful truths about aging. His voice is as strong as ever, but as the film progresses, the tough-looking cowboy fades into a pot smoking has been. The Hero is hard to watch, but is a truthful statement about a generation of actors whose time has passed them by.

Having not seen the previous Cars movies, I was drawn to Cars 3 on Father’s Day when mainstream critics questioned if this film was meant for children. It does provide enough slapstick to hold a child’s attention, but this new Disney Pixar animated movie has themes and emotional content that relates to middle-aged adults. It is a reminder of Pixar’s award-winning films like Monsters Inc., Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3.

After many successful years on the racing circuit, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is defeated by a younger rival who is faster, stronger and more scientifically aerodynamic. Taking advice from his dearly-departed mentor, Doc Hudson (the late Paul Newman), McQueen trains “old school,” but is forced to work with young Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), a perky trainer with unrealized dreams. Cars 3 has an adult appeal for people who like The Karate Kid, Cinderella Man and Rocky Balboa.

Being a Pixar/Disney release, Cars 3 includes a brilliant short subject film titled Lou. Set in a playground, Lou feels like an Aesop Fable with a subject about bullies and loss. Both Cars 3 and Lou create a life-affirming afternoon at the movies.

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FLICKS: The Mummy, Meagan Leavey & Past Life

Posted on 15 June 2017 by LeslieM

By Cinema Dave


The Mummy’s Tomb starring Lon Chaney Jr. was featured on Svengoolie last Saturday night. Despite being filmed over 75 years ago, there is a creepy charm to this flick that features likeable victims and nightmarish visualization. Much like Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars franchises, Universal Pictures has mined their classic monster domain and has created their own dark universe franchise. The Mummy starring Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe is the first film of a projected series, much like Marvel’s Avengers franchise.

The 2017 The Mummy starts off with good intentions. This new mummy is a female (Sofia Boutella) who has a sibling jealousy with her baby brother. She is buried alive. Five thousand years later, a soldier of fortune named Nick (Tom Cruise) stumbles across the tomb and the evil she-mummy is unleashed in Iraq. The mummy goes to London and Nick meets Henry (Russell Crowe), a curator for all things monsters.

If a monster maven like Guillermo Del Toro had been involved, The Mummy would have been a memorable movie. The best action scenes occur early in the story and the last third of the film drags with repetitive action in the dark. A fight scene between Cruise and Crowe is marred by two other action sequences that occur at the same time. I love my classic monsters, but The Mummy does not jump start Universal Picture’s new universe.

Fortunately, Megan Leavey has finally arrived on the big screen. Based on a true story, New Yorker Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) has an attitude problem. She joins the United States Marines and becomes a Corporal. Having been a K-9 handler for the military police, Megan develops a special relationship with Rex, a dog who also has an attitude problem. The dog and the soldier develop a special relationship.

Rex and Megan go on two tours in Iraq before President George Bush ordered “the surge.” During the second tour, Megan and Rex are injured by an explosive device. Megan is sent home to recover, but Rex continues to serve in the war on terror. Despite having the comforts of home, Megan suffers from PTSD and longs to be reunited with Rex.

Megan Leavey is an emotional roller coaster ride from laughter to tears. Megan is Rex’s master, despite the fact that little Kate Mara could ride Rex like a pony. As the title character, she captures the authenticity of being a soldier. She is a stoic character with strength, but with real vulnerability. Given the audience reaction, Megan Leavey is easily the best movie on the big screen today.

Past Life opens Friday, June 16. Set in 1977, Past Life is directed by Avi Nesher and is based on the story of Israeli composer Ella Milch-Sheriff. It follows the life of her character and that of her sister, a journalist. The siblings uncover secrets about their father during World War II. There may be a Skype Q&A with Milch-Sheriff on Sunday, June 18 at the Living Room Theater, at Florida Atlantic University at 777 Glades Rd. For more information about theater, www.fau.livingroomtheaters.com.

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FLICKS: Wonder Woman & Megan Leavey opens

Posted on 08 June 2017 by LeslieM

The box office records broken by Wonder Woman reveal that many people preferred pure escapism last weekend. The film will be remembered as saving the DC Comic movie franchise, which featured decent box office but lousy critical acclaim, unlike arch rival Marvel’s multiple motion picture box office juggernaut. Wonder Woman has its flaws (mostly an overkill of computerized special effects in a showdown with the master villain that is unnecessary), but the story is good, the lead characters are multidimensional with visual scenes that will invoke an emotional response.

With a nod to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, the new film opens with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) going to work in the Paris Louvre Museum. When a Wayne Enterprises courier gives her a secret briefcase, Diana sees a picture of her alter ego, Wonder Woman, taken a century ago during World War I.

We flashback to Diana’s youth on Themyscira, the home of Amazon female warriors. Diana is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), who shelters her offspring from the darkness of the world. When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands his plane near her home, the Kaiser Germans pursue the aviator. After Diana rescues Steve, the Germans start a battle with the Amazon Women … not a wise move.

Disobeying her mother’s orders, Diana takes Steve to London so that he can report his findings; the Germans have new chemical weapons they want to unleash on the front lines of battle. Being a fish out of water, Diana tries to adjust to the contemporary culture that features high heels, petticoats and slow dancing.

These character-building moments between Diana and Steve are the best parts of Wonder Woman. Director Patty Jenkins slows down the story momentum for these key romantic scenes, which helps build audience empathy for these two people who respect each other. These scenes provide a breather for the audience, which makes some of the action highlights more bearable.

This is Gal Gadot’s movie from start to finish, besides being a beautiful Wonder Woman, she manages to convey both intelligence and naivete. Portraying Steve Trevor as a spy, Chris Pine is able to portray multiple characters while maintaining classic World War I heroism. Given the recent terrorist attacks in Great Britain, Wonder Woman’s last scene closes with an unexpected poignancy.

It is June and the summer Blockbuster season is in full force with good escapist fare like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales and Wonder Woman. Also see a real ‘wonder woman’ in the film Megan Leavey, which opens this weekend starring Kate Mara and Rex the Dog.

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FLICKS: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Posted on 01 June 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


With less than expected box office revenue and mixed reviews from mainstream movie critics, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales still took the box office crown for Memorial Day Weekend. Yet, according to a popular critical website, RottenTomatoes.com, the paying public likes this fifth Pirate movie more than critics getting a free screening.

Dead Men Tell No Tales features a young Henry Turner locating his father, Will Turner, (Orlando Bloom) who is the current cursed Captain of the Flying Dutchman, the ship that ferries souls to Fiddler’s Green. The son claims that if he can locate the Trident of Poseidon, he can free his father from his curse. The barnacle-faced Will Turner rejects such an offer, especially if it means involving Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).

A decade passes and a grown Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is still searching for the Trident of Poseidon. His ship is raided by the ghostly Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a ghost with a score to settle with Captain Jack. A pirate on hard times yet again, Sparrow has become a landlubber with a dry-docked crew. Henry and Jack eventually meet in prison, where they encounter Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario-Davis), an astronomer who is accused of witchcraft.

The plot unfurls like a lapping wave as Jack, Carina and Henry confront Captain Salazar. Eventually, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) enters the scene in search of his own treasure. Along the way, sea battles, sword battles and zombie sharks add spice to this film.

If this is the final Pirates of the Caribbean film, this Disney franchise closes on a high note. While not slowing down story momentum, this fifth installment answers lingering questions from the previous four movies. While the climax bogs down with too much reliance on computerized special effects, there is enough creative visualization in the earlier scenes to hold one’s interest in the movie.

It is the colorful character interactions that drive this motion picture. The bickering between Jack and Barbossa is as refreshing as the new kids, Carina and Henry.

Captain Salazar is the best antagonist since Davy Jones, who makes an effective cameo that might drive a sixth movie, if there is one.

With Baywatch bombing at the box office, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales has proven to be the most sea-worthy movie on the big screen. For those interested in more realistic drama, keep your eyes peeled for Megan Levy, a true story of an American Marine in Iraq who develops a special relationship with a combat dog.

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FLICKS: Alien: Covenant & PBS Memorial Day Concert

Posted on 25 May 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


Prometheus opened five years ago to good box office, but mixed reviews. One of the complaints about the film was that it was teased as an Alien film, but Ridley Scott chose to make a more cerebral science fiction motion picture. Released last weekend, Alien: Covenant is a direct sequel and is at least one or two prequels away from the original 1979 Alien motion picture that starred Sigourney Weaver.

Ironically, Alien: Covenant opens before the events of Prometheus. We see the android David (Michael Fassbender) discussing the meaning of life with his creator, Peter Weyland, (Guy Pearce). The film fast forwards a decade past the events of Prometheus, in which the space ship “Covenant” is journeying to a distant planet for human colonization. Midway through the odyssey, the spaceship is diverted by a distress signal from an unknown planet.

Among the Covenant crewmates is Daniels (Katherine Waterston), a widow with leadership potential and Walter (Fassbender again), a new model android who is new and improved from the old David model. Upon landing on the uncharted tropical planet, two crew members inhale bad spores and begin breeding aliens.

Whereas Prometheus is science-fiction based, Alien: Covenant follows the narrative of doomed horror. When things go from bad to worse, one can count on familiar clichés to kick in. In a 1930s murder mystery, you could count on an electrical storm wiping out a bridge or preventing telephones from working. With modern CGI special effects, the storm prevents spaceships from landing on the planet for a rescue mission.

One special effect worth noting is a simple dialogue scene between David and Walter. Given that the two characters are being played by one actor, Michael Fassbender, this entertaining scene features an interesting discussion about creativity and following programmed orders. Making this scene appear simple, Fassbender deserves award consideration for his hard work. 

Despite usurping Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 from the weekend box office champion perch, don’t expect Alien Covenant to have much legs beyond the July 4th holiday weekend. For the most part, it is an interesting movie. It just feels like déjà vu.

With Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Baywatch opening this weekend, it will be an entertaining weekend at the box office. However, take the time to watch the PBS Memorial Day Concert Sunday evening. The local television news will refer to this weekend as “urban beach weekend,” but most of our neighbors still remember this weekend as Memorial Day weekend. Make sure you thank a veteran this weekend.

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FLICKS: Opening: Chuck, The Wedding Plan & Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent

Posted on 18 May 2017 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano


As predicted, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 dominated the big screen box office. As much as the film is a visual treat on the big screen, it is the 1970s soundtrack that has enhanced the big screen experience. For those that want to continue strolling down Amnesia Lane, Chuck opens tomorrow and features songs frequently played on AM Pop radio.

Liev Schreiber plays Chuck Wepner, a heavyweight fighter who fought Muhammad Ali and lasted 15 rounds. The fight inspired an unknown writer/actor Sylvester Stallone, who wrote his screenplay Rocky in three days.  While he promoted himself as “the real Rocky,” Chuck Wepner’s private life was not as noble as Rocky Balboa’s fictional life.

An old school brawler like Tony Galento, and Jake La Motta, a New Jersey journeyman whose nickname was “the Bayonne Bleeder,” Galento is also a husband with a wandering eye, despite loving his daughter. As his fame grows, so does the temptations of sex, drugs and disco music.

The story of an athlete succumbing to temptation is common. What makes Chuck special is the nostalgia. Growing up, Chuck’s favorite movie was Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight, which starred Anthony Quinn as a fighter who was “…almost the heavyweight champion of the world.” Throughout Chuck, scenes from Requiem are used to accent the similarity between Wepner and Anthony Quinn’s character, Mountain Rivera. There is also a subtle nod to On the Waterfront in which Chuck meets with his brother, John (Michael Rappaport), which echoes the famous scene between Marlon Brando and Rod Stieger. The fine line between fantasy and reality is examined throughout this film.

This theme is never more apparent when Wepner has an audition for Rocky II, which is a disaster. Fortunately, he gets a dose of realty when he takes solace with a bartender named Linda (Naomi Watts), who has both street smarts and can quote Requiem for a Heavyweight verbatim.  Chuck is a worthy diversion.

An Israeli film with English subtitles, The Wedding Plan opens tomorrow.  With only a month’s notice, a groom calls off their marriage plans. Feeling like an old maid at age 32, the bride saves the date and goes on a series of blind dates so she can have a groom on the wedding date. A romantic comedy on one hand, this nearly two-hour movie examines the concept of faith and religious values.  

Last but not least, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent opens tomorrow. Co-produced by CNN, this documentary is about the celebrity chef who created/promoted California cuisine. From his privileged childhood to his Ivy League education, Tower forms alliances with California chefs. It is worth seeing for the visuals alone.

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