Yellow Submarine

  Yellow Submarine
  The Beatles
  5 out of 5 stars
  Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

Yellow Submarine has resurfaced on DVD and Blue Ray disc. Meticulously restored frame-by-frame, the revamped version is a magical mystery tour for the eyes. The colors pop with the brilliance of a good acid trip. The Pepperland landscape is a playful rainbow of textures in constant motion where vacuum-mouthed monsters suck up the scenery, electric fish play and a yellow submarine can fly.

For those who've never taken a ride in the Yellow Submarine, the bulk of the story is set in Pepperland, a colorful fantasyland where the residents wile away the hours playing music. Their idyllic existence is shattered when their nasty neighbors, the Blue Meanies attack. They're led by a shrill-voiced chief badly in need of Ritalin who asks the leading question "Are you blue-ish?" (Watch out if you're not!) 

The Blue Meanies drain the color from the landscape and seal the citizens in a sound proof bubble that keeps them from playing their beloved music. Just before he's bonked into immobility by the Apple Bonkers (some of the Blue Meanies many outlandish henchmen) the Mayor sends old Fred off in a Yellow Submarine to find someone who can free them from the Blue Meanies oppression. Fred ends up in Liverpool, where he enlists the help of the Beatles. It's no small coincidence the Beatles look like the members of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pepperland's most revered heroes. As they make their way back to Pepperland, Fred and the Fab Four navigate the submarine through a wondrous and treacherous ocean. They travel back and forth in time, encountering exotic monsters and meeting the "Nowhere Man," Jeremy Boob. Their mission, to defeat the Blue Meanies and their minions, and to restore music and color to Pepperland and show their foes that "All You Need is Love," is the type of imaginative daydream we all aspire to have.

To be honest, the Beatles had little to do with the film. Yellow Submarine was created by art director Heinz Edelman, director George Dunning and an army of more than 200 artists, animators and writers who knew how to do justice to the Fab Four's image. The Beatles hated the corny cartoon series shown in America produced by Al Bordax so much they refused to give their permission to release it in England and feared Yellow Submarine would be more of the same. They were also still smarting from the relentless thumbs down drubbing critics had given their self-produced Magical Mystery Tour TV special. The group agreed to lend their name to Yellow Submarine in order to fulfill a contractual obligation, but remained so skeptical about the project they didn't even provide their own voices and didn't agree to make an appearance in the flesh until the film was nearly finished. So Yellow Submarine is a lot like the Beatle cartoon series engineered by Al Bordax - fake. But it's done in the spirit of Hard Day's Night and Help -- and we all know how good those flicks were. 

Having the Beatles' music on hand is like having them there anyway. Five new songs were written for the film: Paul's peppy "All Together Now," George's transcendental "It's All Too Much" and "Only a Northern Song," and John's snarky "Hey Bulldog" and "Baby You're a Rich Man" (which ended up on "Magical Mystery Tour" soundtrack.) The group cherry picked a virtual album's worth of greatest hits to flesh out the Peter Max-like pop art imagery, including "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," "When I'm Sixty-Four," "Nowhere Man," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "All You Need is Love." Through the music you get a glimpse at their personalities - John's cynicism barks loud and clear in "Hey Bulldog"; Ringo's carefree charm comes across in the title track; George's mysticism weaves its spell in "It's All Too Much" and Paul the prodigy is on display in "Eleanor Rigby".

Extra Meat for Your Sub

Yellow Sub's extra features are ship shape - including commentary by producer John Coates, who reveals the difficulty of finding an actor suitable to play George Harrison. (Peter Batten, the first actor to voice George, turned out to be a deserter from the British Army and was arrested midway through the production.)

"Mod Odyssey the Making of..." delves into the film's assortment of outrageous satirical creatures and who or what they represent. Other treats include storyboard sequences, original pencil drawings and photos from the Fab Four's visit to the animation studio in November 1967.

Interviews with members of the cast and the production team are rife with insider information. John Clive, who voiced John Lennon, chokes back his emotions as he relates the story of spending fifteen minutes on the phone with his seven year-old daughter (who'd heard about John Lennon's murder) that although John was dead that didn't mean he was dead too. John Stokes, the film's animation director, talks about bringing his daughter to the premiere and his less than favorable impression of John. George was the only Beatle who acknowledged his daughter and her giddy admiration for the "quiet Beatle" made her think "the sun shone out of his bottom." 

Yellow Submarine was written from a child's innocent point of view, but c'mon, this is the Beatles. Everything they did appealed to everyone, from kids who were teething to seniors without teeth and Yellow Submarine is no exception. All aboard!

Our Idiot Brother

  Our Idiot Brother
  Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel
  3 out of 5 stars
  Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

I consider myself fortunate to be an only child. After viewing "Our Idiot Brother" my opinion hasn't changed - if I want in fighting I'll go to work. But if you want an amusing, light comedy about sibling civil war with feel-good life lessons -- brothers and sisters this is it. 

Paul Rudd plays Ned Rockliffe, a crunchy granola organic farmer who makes the mistake of getting coerced into offering a lid of smokeable Mother Nature to an undercover cop. After paying his debt to society, Ned returns to the farm to discover his girlfriend Janet has shacked up with a sedate stoner named Billy. Worse, Janet intends to keep Ned from the real love of his life -- his dog Willie Nelson. With no place to live, Ned bounces between the homes of his three sisters, inadvertently leaving their love lives in ruin. Each sister entrusts Ned with a secret they don't want their significant others to know, which is like asking a six year-old full of sugar to go to Disneyland and not get on any of the rides. 

 Naturally, the three sisters' lives and personalities are radically different. (It would be a bore if they weren't.) High maintenance Miranda (energetic Elizabeth Banks) is an ambitious, career-minded writer at Vanity Fair looking to break out of writing blurbs about cosmetics and get into feature writing. She's gets nowhere in her attempt to unearth the pile of dirt high society entrepreneur Lady Arabella is hiding until Ned connects with Lady M and gets her to spill her potentially Pulitzer Prize winning secrets. But will the confidential information Miranda pulls out of Ned help or ruin her career? And when Ned reveals Miranda's critical remarks about her neighbor boyfriend Jeremy, will Jeremy write off their relationship?

Emily Mortimer plays middle daughter Liz, a drained, dull, dutiful spouse who's unflinchingly loyal to her English horn dog husband Dylan (snobby Steve Coogan). Dylan's filming a documentary about a Russian ballerina and is putting in plenty of late night hours. Liz flinches, and then some, when Ned informs her that Dylan's interviewing the ballerina in the nude. 

Youngest daughter Natalie (a typical zooey Zooey Deschanel) is directionless, free-spirited and confused, a bad stand up comic who lives with more roommates than she can count, including her lesbian lover Cindy (an unrecognizable Rashida Jones). Natalie takes an interest in the artist she's posing for and soon finds herself unable to tell Cindy she's pregnant; Ned takes care of that while on a mission with Cindy to "free Willy" (Nelson), turning Natalie's life into bi-sexual bizarro world.

Rudd has the quintessential sensitive post-Woodstock man-child portrayal down pat. He's so trusting he asks a sketchy looking dude on a train to hold his money for him -and in one of the film's more amusing moments, he gets it back. Rudd is seldom given anything knee-slapping hilarious to say, but his naivety and gentle nature will keep you hoping he can unravel the mess he's made of his sister's lives and that he'll at least get visitation rights for his four-legged friend, Willie Nelson.

T.J. Miller is comedically clueless as Billy, who's even more of a laid-back loser than Ned. As Janet, Ned's ex-girlfriend, dog-knapping Katherine Hahn expertly hides behind her New Age nuances while mistreating Ned like a woman scorned. Veteran actress Shirley Knight makes the most of her scant screen time as the clan's wine-loving, good-intentioned mom: "You know Neddy, I love you, even though you've never had a real job and no grandchildren... and that business with the police."

The surprise is Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton's kid, Rashida Jones, who plays Cindy, Natalie's lesbian lover. Arguably the most glamorous actress in the cast, Jones goes against type. She wears thick glasses, no make up and a wardrobe straight from L.L. Bean, and successfully rides an emotional roller coaster, going from spunky to love struck to veins-in-the-neck popping jealous. 

The cast displays easygoing charm in the extras, which include a "Making of..." feature. Elizabeth Banks says she took the role of Miranda because the script mirrored her own life; she comes from a family of sisters and is considered "the glam girl living in the city." Rudd exposes director Jessie Peretz's famous past (he was the original bassist in the Lemonheads) and reveals the name of Peretz's well-known babysitter that watched the moon landing with him.

There's a preponderance of wobbly Willie Nelson tunes, but even his mumbled country clunkers can't dampen the storyline's feel good mood. 

You don't have to have a brother with bad timing or be a horticultural hippie to appreciate Ned's naïve wisdom. While "Brother" isn't for Rhodes scholars, only an idiot would dismiss its easy going charm.

The Company Men

  The Company Men
 Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Chris Cooper
  4.4 out of 5 stars
  Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

If the plot to "The Company Men" seems familiar, it's because it's a reflection of the new American Dream, or should I say the new American nightmare. 

 In the past five years or so thousands of Americans, including yours truly, have been crushed under the unforgiving wheels of corporate downsizing. In "The Company Men" unsuspecting, unprepared Bobby Walker (an effective Ben Affleck), a sales hot shot with shipping superstars GTX is one of the latest of many employees to feel the cold steel of the corporate axe. 

Pretty soon Bobby has "company" at the unemployment center where former six figure execs, secretaries and engineers play card games on laptops to pass the time. Layoffs make their way up the food chain, claiming Phil Woodward (captivating Chris Cooper), a sixty-year old middle-manager who knows his age is a major stumbling block to his ever landing another job. GTS' Vice President, Gene McClary (a terrific Tommy Lee Jones), who founded the company with CEO James Salinger (cool, calculating Craig T. Nelson), wants to save his people as much as the company. He fights against additional layoffs and tries to help Bobby and Phil. When Salinger fires McClary, McClary has enough money to stave off any immediate financial crisis, but finds his own career adrift as he faces the prospect of having no prospects. 

 I felt pangs of familiarity watching Affleck's descent into a financial fiasco because I've been there. It begins with anger...How could they fire me? Then shifts to denial... I'll get another job in three minutes, three months tops -- so why should I watch my spending? Then as three months turned into a year, I cringed watching Bobby fighting self-doubt and the crippling feeling of helplessness as hundreds of his resumes disappeared into the internet ether and went unanswered. Reliving the moment through Bobby when all self-esteem and dignity finally drained from my psyche and I was ready to join the countless unemployed who'd given up looking for jobs, I pulled for him, hoping he could find a position that would allow him to at least get a foot back on the corporate ladder, because if he could rebound, well then maybe I could too.

Moments of close to the bone reality abound in "The Company Men": Bobby looking down on his blue collar brother-in-law Jack Dolan (a properly weathered Kevin Costner), only to wind up groveling to him for work; McClary sleeping with the human resources executioner Sally Wilcox (a bit too mellow Maria Bello), only to find out she's gutting his department; and Phil's exasperation when he's told he's too overqualified to deliver pizzas.

Cheers to Ben Affleck's for his portrayal of Bobby Walker. At first you'll rejoice watching a corporate fat cat getting his comeuppance, but as he struggles to hang onto his worth as a husband, father and human being you'll cheer, and any actor who can make you do that is worth watching. 

Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper are all purpose actors who can make you believe they're living their roles. Jones excels playing outdoorsy cowboys and Cooper cleans up playing quirky, emotionally cool characters. Having Jones portray the number two man at a billion dollar corporation is a stretch on paper but not on the screen, especially when Jones lets his expressions or the tone of his voice convey McClary's guilt and frustration. 

Cooper's hangdog visage, jittery attitude, wavering loyalty and black cloud creakiness mark his character as the least likely to adjust to going from the penthouse to the outhouse. You can sense Phil's fate as he slides into a whiskey glass for comfort or throws rocks at the corporate headquarters' windows, but Cooper rises through his telegraphed storyline, delivering his lines like a tired racehorse who knows he's on his way to the glue factory: "You know the worst part? The world didn't stop. The newspapers came every morning, automatic sprinkler shuts off at six and the guy next door still washes his car every Sunday. My life ended and nobody cared."

As Maggie Walker, Bobby's wife, Rosemarie DeWitt takes a cliché, the stand-by-her-man spouse, and turns her character into a memorable, watchable force of nature. Maggie recognizes Bobby's stages of denial and becomes his rock, taking on extra hours at work, balancing the family budget, cutting back on luxuries - bye, bye Porsche, let's take a mulligan on that golf membership and let's think about moving in with your Mom and Dad. Maggie injects Bobby with confidence and faith without having to grandstand or make flowery speeches accompanied by orchestras; she's real, as is the chemistry between them. DeWitt is de-lightful. Her only demerit is her amateurish "pock-da-cah" Boston accent, which appears and fades seemingly at will. 

I've been waiting for Kevin Costner to make amends for "Waterworld," "The Postman" and his disappointing account of Wyatt Earp's adventures that seemed to last longer than Earp's eighty years. The role of Jack Dolan, Bobby's beefy, blustery brother-in-law gives him a chance to minimize the damage. Costner is comfortable playing a dumb-as-a-ten-penny nail, classless contractor who hides his concern for Bobby behind callous comments about his carpentry. A future as a character actor awaits you, Kev.

If there's a villain in the piece it's Craig T. Nelson's Salinger. Salinger offers up the same blameless excuses every short-sighted boss trying to save their own keister uses to justify wiping out people's lives: "Hey they got a paycheck," or "We had to make sacrifices to save the company." Nelson's character isn't heartless, just clueless, even throwing McClary, his ex-college roommate and best friend under the bus. He's a corporate version of Don Corleone -- its nuthin' personal, "just business."

Company Expands With Extras

The value of "The Company Men" is enhanced by commentary from director John Wells, deleted scenes, an alternate ending and a "making of" documentary, featuring factoids from Wells and the cast. Affleck has plenty effect in his segments, praising his co-stars. Talking about Cooper, he says, "He's never forced, he's honest as an actor and a person." He beams proudly over DeWitt's portrayal of Maggie: "She brings a natural ease and grace to the role". He's also at ease as the film's philosopher, stating: "Being laid off is like being killed," and "What do you do when everything you relied that tells you you were someone important gets taken away from you?"  

May you never have to keep company with men or women fighting off their creditors or fighting each other for menial tasks offering minimum wage. For those of us that have, "The Company Men" is an all too accurate portrayal of our lives as financial and emotional piñatas.

For those of you still able to make your mortgage payments, send your kids to private school or drive a non-smoke belching car with fewer than 100,000 miles on it, let "The Company of Men" serve as a warning. Embrace it, learn from it and keep an eye out, because something might be gaining on you - you could be next. 


  Keena Ferguson, Kathryn Taylor
  1 out of 5 stars
  Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

"ConSINsual's" tag line is "Some doors were never meant to be opened..." Well, some movies were never meant to be filmed.

It's obvious from the get that the main characters, Terrance and Angel Moore, have no business being together for anything other than a cage match. Terrance is a whiny weakling and Angel is a bitchy hellcat. The only thing they have in common is they both get their jollies role playing.

One night a masked intruder breaks into the Moore's abode while the couple is coupling. Terrance leaves Angel in the clutches of the intruder and runs away like Michael Jackson with his Jheri curls on fire. Angel brains the intruder with a bottle, escaping further anatomical invasion. As you can imagine, Angel isn't impressed with her husband's show of cowardice.

Worried that his marriage may be falling apart (ya think?) Terrance listens to the advice of Angel's sister, Jazzmine, a successful and seemingly wise lawyer. Jazzmine tells Terrance to take what he wants - to seize the moment, and, if necessary, Angel. Our not so bright Lothario takes this to mean he can reignite the passion in his marriage by restaging the attack - only this time he'll play the role of the intruder. Terrance grabs Angel, pulls her to the floor and misinterprets her passionate screams as an open invitation to continue. (Which of course it isn't.) Humiliated and angry, Angel goes to the police and Terrance is brought up on rape charges.

At this point you would think a major apology or a loving selfless act by Terrance would somehow repair the damage - and indeed, Angel, on the advice of Jazzmine - drops the charges. But these are some seriously damaged, sinful folk which means there's no guarantee there'll be a happy ending.

One of "ConSINsual's" most blatant problems is the cast, which is wholly inexperienced --and it shows. Keena Ferguson, who plays the morally corrupt, success-driven Angel, has a few scant credits that include Bridesmaid #2 in an episode of "Two and a Half Men" called "Rough Night in Hump Junction." She's hardly the type of siren men, women or aliens would lust after - there are three noticeable divots on the side of her face, she's shaped like an "S" and she telegraphs every stare and sneer. It's much harder to play sexy if you ain't. Carnival looks aside, she's saddled playing a character that's controlling, hateful and impossible to root for, not a quality you want your leading lady to display in abundance.

Siaka Massaquoi (Terrance) is a dead ringer for frog-eyed actor Omar Epps. Too bad he doesn't have Epps' agent. Massaquoi's biggest role prior to Terrance was "bartender." His character is so spineless you won't care if he redeems himself, although he does have the ability to cry on cue.

Kathryn J. Taylor's character of Jazzmine is a classic example of a stereotype meets overly ambitious actor, with the subsequent fallout causing the character to go from cunning to koo koo. A twist in script requires Jazzmine to degenerate from intelligent to perverse to controlling to sadistic. It's too much of a leap and takes the jazz out of Jazzmine. When the reason for her personality shift is revealed you'll still ask yourself why a successful, intelligent, relatively sane person would start acting like the spawn of Ma Barker.

In most films these days there's a character Spike Lee refers to as "the magic Negro." This particular black character is usually the main character's friend, neighbor or co-worker and helps enlighten him or her through their homespun wisdom or a magnificent act of kindness. In black entertainment films the tables are reversed, so you get the obligatory white angel. In this case the faithful best friend is blondie licious Tara, played by Alexis Zibolis. Zibolis seems to be playing an actual person rather than an oversexed cliché. She actually has a resume, having previously played characters with names rather than titles. She appeared in several low-budget sci-fi thrillers including "Plaguers" and "The Blackout," which, compared to the other actors, is like having been in "Gone With the Wind."

Ironically, Zibolis, who can actually shoot a gun, doesn't wield one in the film. Zibolis and Bryan Keith (who plays Terrance's Neanderthal-minded friend, Dillon)  are the only ones who seem to have read the script beforehand and tried to figure out how to leave an impression, good or bad, on the screen.

There are many sins -- gluttony, avarice, coveting thy neighbor's wife and murder. "ConSINsual" tries to incorporate all the sins of the flesh into 98 minutes and makes as much sense as locking a sex offender in a room full of virgins and telling him to play nice. "ConSINsual" is a potentially titillating concept gone awry -- and that's its biggest sin. 

Truth in Numbers

  Truth in Numbers
  Everything, According to Wikipedia
  4 out of 5 stars
  Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

"Truth in Numbers" documents the creation and subsequent world-wide popularity of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia maintained by the people for the people.

"Truth in Numbers" is a well balanced, entertaining insider's look at how a bomb turned into a not-for-profit phenom. The most compelling "character" is Wikipedia's founder, Jim Wales, an energetic cross between a Keebler elf and confidence man H.B. Barnum. He's equal parts dreamer, entrepreneur and huckster and comes off as one those starry-eyed optimists who walks along the street and discovers that the piece of paper stick to his shoe is a hundred dollar bill.

Among the many under the radar facts divulged about Wikipedia is its origin. Wales started, a search engine for porn actresses in 1996 before establishing "Nupedia," the daddy of Wikipedia. Nupedia floundered because of an exhaustive seven step approval process designed to authenticate every article. The combination of a lack of advertising and the collapse of the community forced Wales to open his new creation, Wikipedia, up to the public.

Wikipedia's enthusiastic and dedicated supporters include Ismail Serageldin (Director of the Bibliotheca in Alexandria), who notes that Wikipedia couldn't exist without the new technology: "It is a child of this century." Wikipedia's most ardent fans (and we hear and see from many of them) are the geeks, brainiacs and exceptional young minds in places like Seoul, Arizona, India and Germany who have ample time on their hands to contribute to the site. Some come across as Wales' acolytes - they're so convinced they're helping to educate people around the globe that their blind dedication would scare Jim "drink the Kool-Aid" Jones.

What saves "Truth in Numbers" from being an infomercial is the balance between Wikipedia's disciples and its detractors, the majority of whom are scholars, writers, former politicians and public figures wronged by inaccurate information.

Wikipedia's chief critic and the villain of the piece is Andrew Keen, a writer and critic whose stuffy British accent makes him sound like a snobby fussbudget. But Keen makes some valid points, including the fact that there are no mediators to settle disputes between contributors and no experts to validate facts. No one is steering the ship or protecting the public from misinformation. (Having signed on to correct several bogus facts about my favorite group, Traffic, I can attest that some of Wikipedia's articles are as reliable as Thomas Dewey guaranteeing a victory over Harry Truman.)

Keen seems to be smarting from the pasting he's gotten in public debates with Wales, who's  far less educated but more charismatic and street smart. Of Wales he says: "He's a self-acclaimed entrepreneur, not an intellectual, not a political activist, but he hasn't made a penny from it. It's kind of like having the winning lottery ticket and realizing you can't cash it." Keen is clearly out for blood when he adds, "Wales has said 'I trust a high school kid as much as a Harvard professor.' This is a ludicrous thing to say."

Journalist/writer and former Robert Kennedy aide John Seigenthaler, Sr., echoes Keen's sentiments. Seigenthaler was defamed by Wikipedia in 2005 when a contributor claimed he set up Kennedy's assassination. Still smarting from the incident and Wales' denial of accountability, Seigenthaler says of Wikipedia, "It's like a buzz bomb. Somebody sends it up in the air. If it explodes somewhere you can't say 'Oh, I'm not responsible.'"

Wikipedia has given every person with access to a computer the ability to shape (or misshape) history. As Stephen Colbert says, "Wikipedia is the first place I look for knowledge, or when I want to create some." Whether you're a scholar or you just play one on T.V., "Truth in Numbers" is worth looking up.


  Alice Krige, Ella Ramanqwane, Ella Ramanqwane
  4 out of 5 stars
  Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

"Skin" is the true story of Sandra Laing, a young girl caught up in a maelstrom of racial intolerance. If you're going to release a film about prejudice and racial injustice, why not set it in South Africa, the cradle of bigotry and narrow-mindedness?

"Skin" follows Sandra journey from childhood to motherhood, from segregation to emancipation. There's a huge twist - Sandra's parents, store owners Abraham (Sam Neil) and Sanny (Alice Krige) are white. Sandra was born with the features and coloring of a black girl and in the mid 1960s in South Africa that meant she was subject to the laws of Apartheid, the stringent equivalent of segregation in the U.S.. No one believes Sandra is the couple's biological daughter, and to make matters worse she's been raised believing she's white, which guarantees her life is going to be a solitary hell.

When Sandra attends a white boarding school the principal makes it his mission to have her expelled, even though her birth certificate says she's white. The scene in which a doctor sticks a pencil in Sandra's hair to prove it's kinky and then glimpses at her butt to confirm her black features is both telling and repulsive.

Sandra is reclassified as black and is expelled from school. Abraham fights in the courts to have her re-reclassified as white. Media and political pressure builds, forcing changes in the law. Sandra is classified white again, which elevates her social status, but doesn't cure her insecurities or isolation.

Now 17, Sandra catches the eye of Petrus, a black man who sells produce to her father. Against her parent's wishes, she falls in love with him. ("Dead and buried," Abraham says to Petrus. "That's what you'll be if you come near my family or property again.") When Abraham threatens to disown Sandy if she disobeys him, she runs away with Petrus. Sandra's sense of self and well-being grows while she lives with Petrus and his family in a black community, but she longs to reconcile with her parents.

Sam Neil is superb portraying a father who is both contrary and contradictory. In order to get his daughter designated white, he takes her case all the way to the Supreme Court, yet he calls his employees "kaffers" (the equivalent of the N word in Afrikaner) and shoots to kill when he aims his pistol at Petrus. The viewer gets the feeling that Abraham isn't fighting the good fight for his daughter - he's fighting for himself, for his pride and his reputation. He loves daughter, as long as she abides by his rules and lives her life the way he wants her to. He turns his back on her and makes his position clear to Sanny when he realizes she met with Sandra and her family behind his back: "If I ever find them here I will kill them...and then myself." Neil is tender, torn, protective, rash, loving and angry and gives a wonderfully rounded performance, including a spot on Afrikaner accent that would fool Pieter Botha.

Ella Ramanqwane is a moppet revelation as young Sandra. She captures Sandra's innocence, confusion and sadness, particularly in the scene where she's embarrassed and whipped in front of her classmates. She out performs Sophie Okonedo, who portrays Sandra as a teenager and an adult -- and that's no easy feat given Okonedo's past Oscar nomination for "Hotel Rwanda."

Okenedo is a bit too old to pull off the wide-eyed innocent teen phase of Sandra's life, but shines as Sandra's conflicted and eventually emotionally emancipated older self.

Alice Krige gives a career performance as Sanny, Sandra's sympathetic and loving mother. Krige grew up in South Africa and her pre and post Apartheid guilt seeps into her character's Mother Theresa personality. Sanny draws the line at Sandra dating Petrus (as her emphatic slap across the chops proves), but unlike her husband, her reaction isn't out of embarrassment or her fear that Sandra's breaking the law - she's more worried about the personal hardship Sandra will face if she falls in love with a black man. 

Extra Skin

"Skin" has many enlightening extras, including interviews, a script development workshop, a behind the scenes featurette, deleted scenes and outtakes that show the seriousness of the subject matter didn't completely dampen the actors' ability to laugh at themselves.  

Director Anthony Fabian's reasons for making "Skin" go beyond the typical goals of box office success or Oscar worthiness: "It's an important film because many people have already started to forget what Apartheid was." Sam Neill's understanding of his character's character (or lack thereof) is in part responsible for his outstanding performance: "(Abraham) is a man of his time and place. That doesn't excuse any of it, but explains it. Explaining and excusing are two different things."

The most touching interview is with the real life Sandra Laing, who is obviously still affected by what she went through as a child and mother.

You have to have a thick skin in order to wade through all the misery, bullying and degradation Sandra endures, and if "Skin" makes you feel uncomfortable, well then maybe that's not such a bad thing after all.



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