'Avatar' - With Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez. Written and directed by James Cameron. Plot Intro: A valuable substance is found on a remote planet inhabited by an indigenous population. The company mining the ore will stop at nothing to get it. Review: The film relates to the empire expansion of the world powers during the history of the world. It portrays the arrogance and greed of humanity, something that I think still plagues the relationships of people around the world. There was some predictability in the script, but I think all screenplays are predictable in one way or another. And there were parts of the script that were different from any film I've ever seen. I won't say that it is the best film ever, but it is very good, and it is a "must-see". I saw the 3D version of the film, but I think the film would look just as good in 2D. Amazing and beautiful graphics and special effects. A feast for the eyes. This is one film you should to see in the theater at least once. "Avatar" should have won a lot of awards. Rating:
'Blind Side' - With Sondra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron. Plot Intro: A homeless teenager is encountered on the side of the road by a family who gives him shelter and helps him in school. Though he never played a down of American Football, he dominates at the high school level, receives a scholarship to a major university, and is drafted in the first round of the NFL draft in 2009. Review: Based on the true story of Michael Oher who plays for the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL. Rating:
'Bride Wars' - Comedy with Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway, Candice Bergen. Plot Intro: Best friends become engaged at the same time, and they accidentally book the same building for their wedding on the same day. Neither wants to give in. Review: Mildly entertaining. Rating:'Capitalism: A Love Story' - By Michael Moore. Plot Intro: Michael Moore examines the morality of the capitalist system. Review: Highly Recommended. Moore looks at the capitalist system back to the Great Depression through the Savings & Loan debacle to the current financial troubles. Not exactly sure about the story of corporations insuring low-level employees. Rating:
'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs' - Animated feature with Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Mr. T, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Al Roker, Lauren Graham. Plot Intro: A young inventor creates a machine that turns water into food. Chaos abounds. Review: The film was never entertaining for me. Not sure why it is entertaining for anyone. Rating:
'Coraline' - Animated feature written and directed by Henry Sellick. Based on the book by Neil Gaiman. With Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman. Plot Intro: A family moves to the country, and the girl has trouble adjusting. She begins having adventures in another world where the people have buttons for eyes. Review: Clever story. Great animation. Rating:
'Crazy Heart' - With Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Plot Intro: A country music artist, who is on the downside of his career, gives an interview to a young writer. He develops a relationship with her that is short-lived. He begins to look back at his life. Review: Academy Awards went to Bridges (Leading Actor) and to the composers of "The Weary Kind". An Academy Award Nomination went to Gyllenhaal (Actress in Supporting Role). Rating:
'(500) Days of Summer' - With Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel. Plot Intro: A guy named Tom, one who believes there is only one right one for him, meets a girl named Summer who isn't sure that real love exists. Review: The film isn't chronological. It skips around from the beginning to near the end, and then it skips around in the middle until it finishes at the end - the 500th day. Deschanel is always good, and Gordon-Levitt was excellent. There are parts of the script that really annoyed me - in particular how Summer treated Tom, but I think it was the way life goes many times. People aren't always considerate, and others are taken in by fairy tale ideas. Rating:
'Ghosts of Girlfriends Past' - Romantic comedy with Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Robert Forster, Anne Archer, Emma Stone. Plot Intro: A womanizer is taken around by the ghosts of girlfriends past, present and future. The purpose is to teach him where he's going wrong when it comes to the opposite sex. Review: If you like McConaughey, you'll probably like this film. I like him, but it wasn't enough for me. Rating:
'Ghostwriter' - With Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor. Directed by Roman Polanski. Plot Intro: A young writer is hired to help a retired British politician write his memoirs. His predecessor died in mysterious circumstances. Review: I wondered where the film was going for the first part of the film, but about that point it began to grow on me. Rating:
'The Hangover' - With Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Tyson. Plot Intro: Four men go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party ("cause that's what guys do"). Everything starts OK, but the next morning, one of them is missing, one has a missing tooth, and there is a tiger in the bathroom. What happened? Review: The kind of comedy that has been made for the last 10 years or so. What I would call "absurdist" or "gross-out" humor. Not many laugh-out-loud moments. Rating:
'Harry Brown' - With Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer. Plot Intro: A gang of kids are terrorizing a neighborhood in England. They kill an elderly friend of a former marine. The former marine decides to do something about it. Review: Might not be as good as "A Shock to the System", but it may be fun to watch if you are in the right mood. Neighborhoods should be more civilized than the one in the film. The film contains some graphic violence and some graphic sex and language. Rating:'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' - Fantasy with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Alan Rickman (Prof. Severus Snape), Michael Gambon (Prof. Albus Dumbledore), Maggie Smith (Prof. Minerva McGonagall), Jim Broadbent (Prof. Horace Slughorn), Tom Fenton (Draco Malfoy), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange). Based on the book by J. K. Rowling. Plot Intro: Harry sets out on a quest with Dumbledore for the key to defeating Voldemort. Review: The majority of the story was put into the movie. But the acting was very good, and the special effects were very good -- as usual. There were differences, of course, but the movie has the look and feel of how it felt when I read the book.
Here are some notable differences:
Omission: The book opens with Dumbledore coming to the Dursley's, but that was left out of the movie. In the book, Harry and Dumbledore apparate to Slughorns house from the street outside of the Dursleys.
Omission: The apparating classes were left out. I had been looking forward to it.
Omission: The relationship between Ron's brother, Bill, and Fleur Delacour. Included in this would be the reaction of Mrs. Weasley, Hermione, and Ginny to Fleur.
Change: In the book, Harry was petrified by a silent curse done by Dumbledore -- after which he sat there on the tower with his invisibility cloak over him while Dumbledore was attacked. In the movie, Harry was in the next level down. The Harry Potter of the book would never have sat by while Dumbledore was in danger. The movie made him look tentative and cowardly. This is a major change.
Change: In the movie, Harry and Dumbledore apparate to and from Hogwarts. But the book makes it very plain that they needed to apparate from Hogsmeade to the cave, and then apparate from the cave to Hogsmeade. In the book, Dumbledore and Harry use broomsticks to get back to Hogwarts.
Change: In the book, Harry is the one who apparates both Dumbledore and himself after the confrontation in the cave to Hogsmeade.
Change: One of the changes I noticed was that in the movie Luna found Harry in the train rather than Tonks. This is probably minor in the grand scheme.
Change: In the movie, Harry picks up the locket from the bowl. In the book, Dumbledore does.
Change: The Patil twins were not Indian in the 6th movie.
Addition: The scene where Harry and Ginny chase the Death Eaters from the Weasley house was not in the book.
Addition: The destruction of the Weasley house. Did not really add anything to the story that was formulated by Rowling. The Weasley house is still standing at the beginning of the Deathly Hallows, the seventh book, when Ron's brother gets married.
The HP Lexicon - some interesting reading if you are a Harry Potter fan.
'The Informant!' - With Matt Damon, Melanie Lynskey, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Tony Hale, Ann Cusack, Patton Oswalt, Dick Smothers. Plot Intro: An executive in an agri-business firm is afraid of being investigated for being involved in a price-fixing scheme, so he becomes a cooperating witness with the FBI. Things kind of get out of hand. Review: The film is, on the face of it, somewhat hard to believe -- if it isn't for the fact that it is to a large degree based on a true story. The film shows the growing chaos swirling a character who may have his own motives for his actions -- actions that may not be the smartest when looked at in the glare of reality. Matt Damon is great, as are Bakula, Lynskey, McHale, and Hale. Not really a bad performance. Rating:
'Inglourious Basterds' - With Brad Pitt, BJ Novak. Written and directed by Quintin Tarantino. Plot Intro: A small group of Jewish soldiers are dropped behind enemy lines in World War 2, and they create chaos. Review: Advertised as a comedy (a dark comedy), the film has few scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny. Brad Pitt has some humorous lines here and there, but if you view the film for the first time, it is best to view the movie as a somewhat quirky and violent war movie. The final scene bears some resemblance to "The Dirty Dozen". There are several scenes that are much too long, so a little more editing would have been good. No nudity, but plenty of violence and coarse language. Since I was expecting a comedy, I may need to view the film at least once more to gain a better appreciation. I recommend the movie with the above cautions. Rating:
'The Invention of Lying' - With Ricky Gervais, Rob Lowe, Jennifer Garner, Jeffrey Tambor, Tina Fey, Fionnula Flanagan, John Hodgman, Nathan Corddry, Jason Bateman, Christopher Guest, Edward Norton. Plot Intro: In a world where no one lies, a man discovers how to lie. He discovers the benefits and disadvantages of lying. Review: Advertised as a comedy. I came away wondering if that was the intent of the writer and director. I thoroughly enjoyed his film "Ghost Town", so I was expecting another comedy. If the film was intended as a comedy, it isn't very funny. But maybe Gervais intended this film to be his "Truman Show" (Carrey) or "Stranger Than Fiction" (Ferrel). If that is the intent, it didn't work on that level for me. The character played by Gervais also goes through a "religious" transformation where he comes up with many of the ideas of what heaven or hell would be like, and what God is like -- according to the Christian tradition and many other religions. The movie almost became a modern explanation for how religious traditions started. I did enjoy seeing many of the actors. Rating:'It's Complicated' - With Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson, Nora Dunn. Plot Intro: A middle-aged woman who isn't feeling wanted. Then she goes to the anniversary party of some old friends where she meets her ex-husband. He isn't happy at home, so he begins to pursue her again. One thing leads to another. Review: When I think of 'It's Complicated', I also think of 'Something's Gotta Give' (2003) - a middle-aged woman romance. A good rental. Rating:
'Julie and Julia' - With Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci. Directed by Nora Ephron. Based on the book by Julie Powell. Plot Intro: A young woman decides to create a blog on which she will record her attempt to cook all of the recipes on Julia Child's book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". Review: Excellent. Meryl Streep was amazing, and Amy Adams was very good. Both should be nominated for Academy Awards. Thoroughly enjoyable. Highly recommended. The special features on the Blu-ray DVD are great. Rating:
'The Maiden Heist' - With Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman, William H Macy, Marcia Gaye Harden. Plot Intro: Three art museum security guards have become obsessed with some of the art, but they find that their favorite pieces were sold to a museum in Denmark. They come up with a plan. Review: I enjoy Walken's performance in just about every film he's in, and Macy is a well-regarded actor - as is Freeman. Freeman played a character who was against the usual type he plays. Not sure it was successful. Rating:
'The Men Who Stare At Goats' - With George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Stephen Root. Plot Intro: The military starts research in psychic warfare. A reporter does research into that effort and the people involved. Review: Humorous story of events that are claimed to be partly-to-mostly true. Clooney, McGregor, Spacy, and Bridges are excellent. The rest of the cast are also very good. Rating:
'Monsters vs Aliens' - Animated feature with Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Kiefer Sutherland, Stephen Colbert, Paul Rudd, Jeffrey Tambor, Amy Poehler, Ed Helms, Renée Zellweger. Plot Intro: Monsters fight to protect the planet from aliens. Review: I saw the 3D version of the film. The 3D effects were cool. It has some funny moments. Rating:'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian' - With Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson, Hank Azaria, Robin Williams, Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais. AKA "Night at the Museum 2". Plot Intro: The tablet is taken to the Smithsonian, and Larry Daley has to get it back. Review: Some good special effects, though the script leaves a lot to be desired. I think Amy Adams was mis-cast. Rating:
'Outlander' - Sci-Fi. Plot Intro: A space ship crashes in Scandinavia in the 3rd Century A.D. It inadvertently brings an alien creature. One of the human-like occupants organizes the local inhabitants to hunt down and destroy the creature. Review: Kind of an odd mix of sci-fi set into a time period not normally used for this kind of film. Rating:'Paul Blart: Mall Cop' - With Kevin James, Keir O'Donnell, Jayma Mays, Shirley Knight. Plot Intro: A gang of thieves take over a mall, and Paul Blart, a mall cop, is locked in the mall with them. Review: A little bit of humor, action, and romance. A touch of 'Die Hard'. Rating:
'Pirate Radio' - Comedy with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Chris O'Dowd, Kenneth Brannagh, Emma Thompson. Plot Intro: Set in the 1960s. The BBC does not broadcast any contemporary music at a time when rock n roll was in a golden era. A radio station fills the gap from a ship anchored in international waters off the coast of Britain. Review: Great music highlights the film. Some scenes of questionable morality (including a near rape) may offend many. Rating:
'The Proposal' - With Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T Nelson, Betty White, Oscar Nuñez, Aasif Mandvi, Michael Nouri. Plot Intro: An executive editor has her visa denied and is about to be deported when she decides to marry her personal assistant. Review: The age difference between Bullock and Reynolds is somewhat apparent, and this kind of film has been made many times. Even though the screenplay isn't very good (particularly how the resolution of the story is arrived at), the reason to watch the film is to see the actors. Bullock is good, as is Reynolds. White and Nuñez steal the movie. Rating:
'Sherlock Holmes' - With Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Based on the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Plot Intro: Holmes has to fight against a man who supposedly came back to life and has plans to destroy the British government. Review: A weird script that bears no resemblance to any Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There are rumors that Ritchie is considering filming a sequel. I think that people who saw this movie in the theatre were going because they liked Downey. Not all of them will want to see a sequel after seeing this film. Rating:
'Star Trek' - With Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, John Cho. Plot Intro: James T. Kirk becomes captain of the Enterprise during a critical attack on the Federation by the Romulans. Review: The beginning of a new series. Admittedly, I was never able to get into the Star Trek TV series or the movie series. The preview looked pretty good, and I thought that they might have energized the Star Trek movie series like the latest Batman movies did for that series. The special effects are good. They use shaky camera photography at inappropriate times. I thought the story could have been better. My sister is a Star Trek fan, and she loved the film. Rating:
'The Time Traveler's Wife' - Romantic drama with Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Ron Livingston. Plot Intro: The trials and tribulations of a woman who loves a man who is a time-traveler. Review: The film jumps around chronologically. At times the McAdams character is a little girl, at times the Bana character is a boy. Most of the time the film follows the chronology of the McAdams character. It settles down after she begins to have pregnancies. My main problem with the film is that the film makes no sense. The McAdams character lives in different places throughout her life, and yet the Bana character is able to find her every time. The film lost me when he engineered a state lottery win. Rating:
'Up' - Pixar animated feature with Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Delroy Lindo, John Ratzenberger. Plot Intro: An elderly man loses a case in court and decides to go to South America and take his house with him. Review: Very entertaining throughout. Great humor. Sometimes the color was amazing. I saw this in 3D, and the 3D effects were much better than when I saw "Monsters and Aliens." I was sitting closer to the screen for "Up", so I don't know if that was the reason for the difference or if Disney/Pixar can do 3D better. Rating:
'Up in the Air' - Drama with George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, Anna Kendrick, JK Simmons. Plot Intro: A company offers the service of handling layoffs of other companies. One of their star workers meets an attractive woman, and they begin an affair. In the meantime, a young woman is hired by his company. She has a lot of ideas about how to make their process less costly and more efficient. He takes her on a road trip to set her straight. Review: The movie came out at a time of economic downturn in the world, and it hits the nail on the head when it deals with how people would react to news they had just lost their job. Many of the main actors seem a little monotone (Clooney and Kendrick in particular), but that becomes less of an issue as the layoffs and the road trip continue. Rating:
'Zombieland' - With Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Amber Heard, Bill Murray, Abigail Breslin. Plot Intro: The zombie bug has taken over America, and the non-zombies try to survive. Review: A humorous horror movie. Some of the dialogue is pretty funny, and the list of rules is great. Rating:
'Baby Mama' - Comedy with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, Steve Martin, Sigourney Weaver. Plot Intro: A woman feels her body's clock is ticking. She hires a woman to be her surrogate. Review: I like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler a lot, but this material could be better. Greg Kinnear excels in this kind of character. I enjoyed watching him. The movie is full of caricatures and two-dimensional characters. Rating:
'Bolt' - Animated feature with John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Malcolm McDowell, James Lipton. Plot Intro: A dog who thinks he has super-powers is accidentally shipped across the country and finds himself on the streets of New York City. He must make his way back to California to save his human girl. Review: Very good film. Rhino, the hamster, and the pigeons are very funny. Rating:'The Dark Knight' - Also known as "Batman: The Dark Knight". With Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Anthony Michael Hall. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Plot Intro: Batman fights the mafia, the Joker, and Two Face, but he also has to deal with a public that's had enough of his efforts. Review: Another good effort in the Batman series. Christian Bale is great, though I think they could have toned down his gravelly voice a bit. Heath Ledger is amazing. If you went to the film and didn't know he was playing the Joker, I don't think you would be able to say who the actor was. Ledger inhabits the character. You have to wonder what he would have done if he hadn't died. This performance would have launched him to the top echelon of actors. He was nominated for many awards, and he won quite a few. Rating:
'Drillbit Taylor' - With Owen Wilson, Leslie Mann, Stephen Root. Plot Intro: Three kids hire a bodyguard to protect them against two bullies in high school. Review: Wilson is likeable, but this is not a very good film. Have to say that it's mostly for teens Rating:
'The Forbidden Kingdom' - With Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano, Yifei Liu, Bingbing Li. Plot Intro: A young man finds a staff in the back room of a local store, and he is eventually transported to a Chinese kingdom where he has to return the staff to its rightful owner. Review: I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Jackie and Jet are great, and Angarano holds his own. Yifei Liu is beautiful. The photography and the martial arts choreography were very good. It kind of looked like they were setting it up for a sequel that would star Angarano. Rating:
'Frost/Nixon' - With Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt. Directed by Ron Howard. Plot Intro: David Frost sees the report that Richard Nixon resigned, and he decides to approach Nixon for an interview. Then he has to figure out how to finance it and broadcast it. Review: Excellent portrayal of the challenges Frost had to overcome. Sheen and Langella are great. One thing crossed my mind at the end of the film. At least Nixon admitted and apologized. Rating:'Ghost Town' - With Ricky Gervais, Téa Leoni, Greg Kinnear, Aasif Mandvi, Alan Ruck, Michael-Leon Wooley, Dana Ivey, Billy Campbell, Kristen Wiig. Plot Intro: A dentist goes in for a routine colonoscopy. When he comes out he finds he is seeing dead people, and he finds out that he had been dead for about seven minutes during the procedure. He becomes the Dr. Doolittle to the dead. Review: A light romantic comedy. Gervais is very funny. Kinnear and Leoni are very good, as are Mandvi and Wooley. The scene in the closet between Gervais, Wiig, and Wooley is extremely humorous. Rating:
'Gran Torino' - With Clint Eastwood. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Plot Intro: After burying his wife, an old man finds that he is alone in a neighborhood full of people of Asian ethnic groups. There are some gang problems in his neighborhood, but if he went 2-3 blocks one way there would be Hispanic gangs, and if he went 2-3 blocks another way there would be black gangs. He catches the neighbor boy trying to steal his 1972 Gran Torino, and he ends up befriending the family. Review: Very good film. The ending surprised me, but it had its own logic. Rating:
'Hancock' - With Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman. Plot Intro: A drunk superhero is a menace to the city of Los Angeles. A public relations expert tries to help him with his image. Review: The film was kind of quirky, and it seemed to be going somewhere until the Charlize Theron character was a superhero too. Then it just got weird and spun out of control. Bateman is very funny at times, and Theron is very good at the beginning. After she becomes super, the film goes more into cliche mode. Rating:
'HottieBoombaLottie' - With Seth Packard, Shay Williamson, Matthew Webb, Lauren McKnight. Plot Intro: An extremely awkward high school kid has a crush on a Sweet girl, but he finds out he's competing with his brother (and others) for her affections. Review: Has a "Napoleon Dynamite" feel. Rating:'Hellboy 2 - The Golden Army' - With Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, John Hurt. Directed by Guillermo del Toro Plot Intro: Hellboy has to stop an army that cannot be defeated. Review: It was obvious that the director tried to top the first film. The special effects are great, but the action is so frantic at time you can't actually see what is happening. They spent so much on the special effects, but there were times when they were fighting and the monsters were just a blur. Rating:
'Horton Hears A Who' - Animated featue with Jim Carrey, Steven Carell, Carol Burnett, Seth Rogen, Isla Fisher, Jonah Hill, Jaime Pressly, Amy Poehler, Charles Osgood. Plot Intro: Horton the elephant hears a call for help from Whoville. He makes it his mission to find a place for the speck on which Whoville exists. Review: Cute. Mostly for kids. Rating:'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' - With Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Kate Blanchett, Shia LeBeouf, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent. Directed by Stephen Spielberg. Plot Intro: Jones finds himself under suspicion of the US government, and he becomes embroiled in trying to rescue a young man's mother from those who have kidnapped her. Part of the solution to all of it is to find out what to do with a crystal skull. Review: A lot of fun. May be better than Indiana 2 and 3. Of course, most of it is just fantasy. Rating:
'Iron Man' - With Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard. Directed by Jon Favreau. Plot Intro: An arms merchant is captured by Muslim extremists in Afghanistan. He builds an iron suit in order to escape. When he gets back to his home he begins building a more technologically advanced version. Review: I like Downey. Even though he mumbles a little, and even though he might talk too much, I didn't think that he took away too much from the film. His humor adds more to the movie than it takes away. The special effects of the suit and what it is like inside it are excellent. I'm not sure how anyone could control flight when there are rockets on the bottom of the feet and in the palms of the hands. Just moving one hand a little wrong would send the person in a direction that was unanticipated. If you think of golf, a sport which professionals practice hour after hour. In order to hit the ball where it is desired, all of the muscles have to be under a certain amount of control. There isn't anyone in the sport who can get every shot perfect. So unless the computer is completely controlling Downey's character's whole body, something I'm not sure that the film was implying, I don't see how he could quickly learn how to control his movement. Rating:
'Kung Fu Panda' - Animated feature with Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu. Plot Intro: A clumsy, over-weight panda is chosen as the next Dragon Warrior. Review: Rather humorous animated feature. Kids may like it. Rating:
'Leatherheads' - With George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Root. Directed by George Clooney. Plot Intro: It is 1925. The National Football League is struggling. Review: A fun movie. Rating:'Madagascar - Escape 2 Africa' - Animated feature with Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer, David Schwimmer, Andy Richter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jada Pinkett Smith, Alec Baldwin, Will.i.am. Plot Intro: The animals fly from Madagascar to Africa. Alex is reunited with his mother and father. Review: A little better than the first one. Rating:
'Marley & Me' - With Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Kathleen Turner. Plot Intro: In lieu of a kid, a new couple adopts a yellow labrador puppy. The dog is too big and strong and stubborn when it is no longer a puppy - but while it is still young. Cannot be trained. Eventually it slows down. Review: A touching film for people who have had pets who die during their childhood. It is remarkable to me that dogs have the capability of focusing totally (most of the time) on the people they live with (used to be called "owners"), and they can wiggle their way into your hearts in a way that other pets don't try to do. The film is funny at times. For some reason, I did not get emotionally invested in the film. The dog was too destructive when it was young for me to think it was cute. It was nice that the older version of the dog waited at the bus stop for the kids, but there weren't too many of those scenes. The dog reminded me of the one in "Funny Farm" which just ran and ran - and was out of control. Rating:
'Pineapple Express' - With Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Craig Robinson, Kevin Corrigan, Ed Begley Jr, Amber Heard, Nora Dunn. Plot Intro: A legal process server witnesses a murder by a drug boss and a policewoman. He ends up on the run along with the dope dealer who sold him some marijuana - a brand called "Pineapple Express". He is so successful at eluding everyone that the drug dealer begins to wonder what kind of person he actually is. Review: Kind of wild, laugh out loud funny at times. I enjoyed the film most of the time. Rating:'Quantum of Solace' - With Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Gemma Arterton. Directed by Marc Forster. Plot Intro: Bond tries to find out who the evil world-wide organization is -- and what their latest scheme is. Review: Bond 23. Another very good Daniel Craig Bond movie. Frenetic pace at times. Rating:
'Religulous' - With Bill Maher. Plot Intro: Documentary. Bill Maher attempts to have intelligent conversations with people who are devoted to several different religions. Review: Very interesting conversations. Amazing to see how dangerous religion is. Rating:
'Slumdog Millionaire' - Directed by Danny Boyle. With Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor. Plot Intro: After a riot which ended in the death of their mother, two boys befriend an orphaned girl. The movie follows the lives of the boys in order to show how he knew the answers to the questions on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." Review: Great film. Certainly deserves the nomination it got for best picture of 2008. The movie is an amazing portrayal of one of the largest slums in the world. The film does show some incidents of torture, though the editing minimizes what the viewer actually sees. Not recommended for young children. Rating:
'Taken' - Action Drama with Liam Neeson. Plot Intro: The daughter of a former espionage agent is kidnapped in Paris and sold as a slave. He does everything he can to rescue her. Review: Much of the action in this stretches credibility, but Neeson's intensity and the staging of the fights makes up for any issues with the story. Rating:'Transporter 3' - Action Drama with Jason Statham, Natalya Rudakova, François Berléand. Plot Intro: The Transporter is coerced into taking a young woman to a meeting in the Ukraine. She's a target of a second group. Review: I enjoy Jason Statham movies. Rating:
'Twilight' - With Kristen Steward, Robert Pattinson, Sarah Clarke, Billy Burke, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene. Plot Intro: A northwest US high school girl lives in an area that is often covered in fog and mist, and mysterious characters live in the area. She falls in love with a guy in her class who is one of those mysterious people. Review: An effective combination of love story and light horror. Vampires and werewolves are inserted into a normal high school love story setting. The vampire characteristics are basically a metaphor for the sometimes extreme affects of hormones in the male teenager. I haven't read the books, and I didn't know what to expect. I didn't expect much, so I was surprised that I like it. Rating:
'WALL-E' - Animated feature from Pixar. With Jeff Garlin, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver, John Ratzenberger. Plot Intro: A robot that is programmed to clean up earth becomes a hero in space. Review: Another very good movie from Pixar/Disney. I still think that Monsters, Inc. was the best, but "WALL-E" is very good. Rating:
'You Don't Mess With The Zohan' - With Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rob Schneider, Lainie Kazan, Kevin Nealon, Charlotte Rae, Chris Rock, Shelley Berman, Mariah Carey, John McEnroe. Plot Intro: An Israeli secret agent fakes his death and goes to New York City in order to become a hairdresser, but he can't shake his past. Review: I found the first two-thirds of this film to be very funny. I had to cover my eyes a few times when the movie crossed a line for me. There was a large crowd in the theater, and they were all laughing through most of the movie. Of course, most comedies have to tie things up in the last third, and they can end up being too silly to be funny. I would recommend this film, though it may not be to everyone's taste. Rating:
'3:10 to Yuma' - With Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Peter Fonda, Gretchen Mol. Plot Intro: A gang leader is caught in a small town. His gang tries to set him loose. Review: Remake of the 1957 film. Very good, but the ending is a little hard to understand. It would make sense if Ben Wade knew the farmer's wife, but the film isn't very clear about that. Rating:
'Alvin and the Chipmunks' - With Jason Lee, David Cross. Plot Intro: A struggling songwriter meets three chipmunks who change his life. Review: I like Jason Lee. The film is entertaining most of the time. Rating:
'Blades of Glory' - Comedy with Will Ferrell, Jon Hedder, Jenna Fischer, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Craig T Nelson, Rob Corddry. Plot Intro: Two men skaters are banned from mens single skating. Five years later they join together for pairs skating. Review: Some humorous moments - including the final event. Fischer is good at playing a sweet character. But the movie is kind of uneven. Rating:'Bourne Ultimatum' - With Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Stathairn, Scott Glenn, Joan Allen, Albert Finney. Directed by Paul Greengrass. Based on the book by Robert Ludlum. Plot Intro: Jason Bourne regains enough of his memory to know how he became Jason Bourne. Review: The story, the action, and the acting are great, but the technique of filming takes away from the enjoyment of watching the film. The director is enamored of the shaky, handheld camera method of filming. I guess he thinks that this will add an edginess and drama to the film. It just makes it hard to watch. Many of the scenes end up being blurred and out of focus -- even when there is very little action. It may be that the proponents of this kind of filming also want to replicate how we see things in real life. I've been thinking about this, especially after viewing this film -- since the shakiness was so extreme. When I'm sitting or standing still, nothing that I'm looking at is shaking. My suggestion is that it would be better for the handheld camera work to be used when people are on the go or when there is fighting. They should give viewers a break during the parts of the film where people are just sitting there talking. I actually got quite sick during the film, which may have occurred since I sat closer to the screen than I could have. I'm sure that watching it on the big screen made the affect worse, and when I watch the DVD I will not have the same effect on a smaller screen. Rating:
'The Bucket List' - With Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes, Rob Morrow. Plot Intro: A billionaire finds out he has months to live. While he gets his initial treatment he shares a room with another man who has a similar prognosis. Though their backgrounds are vastly different, they becomes friends. They decide to make a list of things they want to do before they die. Review: Not the best movie for Nicholson or Freeman, but it is fun to watch. Rating:
'Dan In Real Life' - Romantic comedy with Steven Carrell, Juliette Binoche, Dianne Wiest, John Mahoney. Plot Intro: Dan's wife died suddenly four years before the film starts. He is left to be a single parent of three girls of slightly different personalities. He takes his family to his parents' house for a holiday where he meets his brother's girlfriend. Review: Very very good film. Well written. Steven Carell and Juliette Binoche are great. The rest of the cast are very good, too. Rating:
'Death at a Funeral' - Comedy with Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Andy Nyman, Daisy Donovan, Alan Tudyk, Jane Asher, Rupert Graves, Peter Egan, Peter Dinklage. Plot Intro: A family wants to have a respectful viewing at their home of their recently deceased father. It doesn't quite go as planned. Review: Later remade (in 2010). This version is much much better. Macfadyen actually acts like he's affected by all the goings on, and that adds depth to the film. Rating:
'Enchanted' - Romantic Musical-Comedy-Drama with Amy Adams, Susan Sarandon, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Idina Menzel, Timothy Spall. Plot Intro: A beautiful princess is sent to New York City by an evil queen after her step-son falls in love with the princess.. Review: Another Disney musical for kids. Some funny moments, some good singing. Rating:'Ghost Rider' - With Nicolas Cage, Peter Fonda, Donal Logue, Eva Mendes, Sam Elliott. Plot Intro: A teenager makes a deal with Mephistopheles to save his father, and years later he is called upon to fight a fallen angel who wants to create hell on earth. Review: This film had one of the best trailers I've ever seen. I had seen it on the internet maybe 9 months before I saw the film. I have to say that the film is not quite that good. The special effects are great. Many times films are the most interesting in the first half when they are setting up the character and his relationships with the other characters. That is what happens in "Ghost Rider." The film is a little too melodramatic, especially when it comes to some of the lines that Nicolas Cage's character says. But I still found the movie entertaining. Rating:
'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' - Fantasy with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Alan Rickman (Professor Snape), Imelda Staunton (Prof. Dolores Umbridge), Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore), Maggie Smith (Prof. Minerva McGonagall), Brendon Gleeson (Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), Tom Fenton (Draco Malfoy), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Emma Thompson (Prof. Sybil Trelawney), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange). Based on the book by J. K. Rowling. Plot Intro: Harry is having dreams about a door, one that he feels he has to open up. The Ministry of Magic is telling people that Harry is just an attention-seeking teenager, and no one has to worry about whether Voldemort is back. The Ministry of Magic places a new Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher in Hogwarts. And Dumbledore ignores him and refuses to be in the same room with him alone. Review: The computer graphics, the art design, and the costume design are very good. I don't want to sound like I'm complaining, but the books are two or three times better than the movies. The movies abbreviate everything a little bit too much (maybe they should get someone from Reader's Digest to do it). Too much is left out, and much that is left in is changed almost beyond recognition. The movies are probably enjoyable to those who haven't read the book or have short memories. Maybe my problem is that I read the books again before the movies come out. Rating:
The HP Lexicon - some interesting reading if you are a Harry Potter fan.
'Hot Fuzz' - Satire with Simon Pegg, Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent. Plot Intro: A member of the British police force in London is sent to a small village with a very low crime rate, because he is causing the crime rate to be so low in London that the authorities are concerned for their jobs. Review: The build up to the end is a little slow, but it is still entertaining. The finale is great. Loads of fun. Rating:
Follow-up to "Shaun of the Dead" (2004)
'The Jane Austen Book Club' - With Maria Bello, Amy Brenneman, Emily Blunt, Kathy Baker, Jimmy Smits. Plot Intro: Five women and one man create a book club where they will read through the Jane Austen novels and meet together to discuss them. During that time, each of them have to deal with personal relationship issues, and the situations seem to resemble some of the plot lines of the Austen books. Review: If you like the books, you'd probably be interested in the movie. The actors do a good job, and all of them were fun to watch. Rating:
'Just My Luck' - With Lindsay Lohan. Plot Intro: A lucky young woman kisses an unlucky young man. She becomes unlucky, and he becomes lucky. She tracks him down in order to make the switch again. Review: Mostly for Lohan fans and pre-teens. Rating:
'The Kite Runner' - Directed by Marc Forster. Based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini. Plot Intro: Two boys grow up together in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion, but one is the son of the servant and the other is the son of the estate owner. Review: Very good film that shows how free and beautiful Afghanistan was before the invasion and the Taliban takeover. Then it shows the level to which the country fell under the Taliban. Many locations, many languages. Recommended. Rating:
'Lars and the Real Girl' - Drama with Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, Patricia Clarkson. Plot Intro: A troubled young man is living in his brother's garage. Their mother died when he was a boy. It left them with a depressed father. The older brother left, because he couldn't take the depressed atmosphere. But that meant that the young boy was left alone. After the young boy grows up and moves into the garage, he is disturbed by his brother's wife being pregnant - feathing that she will die like his mother. He is constantly pressured by people to date different young girls. Instead he orders a blow up doll, and treats her like a real girl. Review: I was put off by the movie at first, but at times I laughed out loud, and I was moved by the end of the film. The film is a portrayal of the journey of a troubled young man toward something approaching normalcy. It was touching that a whole town came together and worked to show how they valued the young man - even accepting his girlfriend as real. The main actors in the cast are very good. The script which portrays a building relationship between Gosling and Clarkson, and then Gosling and Garner, is well done. If you haven't seen this film yet and are tempted to, you will see that the transition occurs when Lars receives the "real girl." Rating:'Live Free or Die Hard' - With Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Justin Long, Maggie Q. Also known as Die Hard 4. Plot Intro: John McClane tries to stop a plot to rip off billions of dollars and destroy the United States. Review: Excellent film, even after the long break after Die Hard 3. Bruce is great, and Justin Long shows that he has a natural ability to lighten things up. Olyphant and Maggie Q are great villains. Much better than Die Hard 2. Rating:
'Mongol' Plot Intro: The rise of the great Genghis Khan. Review: Excellent portrayal of what may be the story of Genghis Khan's early life. I don't know anything about Mongolian history, so I don't know about the accuracy of the film, but it is a very good film and very interesting to watch. Rating:'Mr. Bean's Holiday' - Comedy with Rowan Atkinson, Willem Dafoe, Emma de Caunes, Max Baldry. Plot Intro: Mr. Bean wins a trip to Cannes. On his way to the beach, he leaves destruction in his wake. Review: A little slow in the beginning, but when the Mr. Bean and the boy (played by Baldry) become friends, the movie becomes a lot of fun. Atkinson has some good moments, and the ending is very sweet. Rating:
'Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium' - With Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Jason Bateman. Plot Intro: A magical toy store owner declares that he is retiring, and the store starts having problems. Review: A children's film. Children will probably like it more than adults will. I thought it was good but not great. The special effects were good but not great. Portman seems a little stiff, but that's how she was in the Star Wars films. She was better in "V for Vendetta". Rating:
'Music and Lyrics' - With Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Kristen Johnston. Plot Intro: A pop music star from the 1980s is asked by a current mega pop music star to write her a song. He and his manager see this as a way to resurrect his career, but the problem is that he was the music part of the old group and his one-time writing partner was the lyrics part. He finds out that his new plant-waterer is a natural, and he coerces her to help him write the song. They only have one week. Review: Another Hugh Grant light romantic comedy. He is really good at this kind of film, even though I understand that he hates to do movies. He is still making the rounds of actresses. I had the feeling while watching the movie that Barrymore wasn't up to the task of this kind of script. Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts did really well when teamed up with him. Rating:
'No Country For Old Men' - Thriller with Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrelson, Stephen Root, Tess Harper. Written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. Plot Intro: A drug deal in 1980s southern Texas goes bad. There are dead bodies all around, and a man who is out hunting finds the scene -- with a satchel of money. He tries to lay low, but a killer finds out who he is and begins tracking him down. The local sheriff is left to find the trail of dead bodies. Review: Won Best Picture Oscar for 2007. The Coen Brothers won Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Javier Bardem won the Best Supporting Actor oscar. Rating:
'No Reservations' - Romantic comedy with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson, Bob Balaban. Plot Intro: A woman who owns her own restaurant must change gears to take care of her niece after her mother's death. Review: Kind of formulaic with Zeta-Jones working too hard, having to make adjustments to raise a kid, and becoming attracted to her sous chef. But the actors are all easy to watch. Rating:'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End' - With Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Jonathan Pryce. Plot Intro: Everyone's after the heart of Davy Jones again. Review: One of Depp's iconic characters. Knightley's and Bloom's last 'Pirates' film. Rating:
'Ratatouille' - A Pixar animated comedy with Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Peter O'Toole, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, John Ratzenberger. Plot Intro: A rat finds out that his nose is special. He can determine what ingredients were used in a recipe. He can smell rat poison from a distance. He gets separated from his family, and he ends up near a famous restaurant in Paris. He can't resist going into the restaurant's kitchen. Review: The animation on the film is remarkable, and the writing is clever. However, the film is slow in parts, and the storyline is one that is questionable. The storyline contains a lot of cooking and some food critics -- things that I thought would make no sense to the children unless they were 8 or 10, and watching hundreds of rats cook in a kitchen is difficult for adults. There were parents with their kids all around us, and all I could think of during the show was, "What are the kids thinking? How many of them understand how awful it is to have rats in a kitchen?" Having those kinds of thoughts go through my head took away from the enjoyment of the film. When we were viewing the film, there didn't seem to be a whole lot of laughs, though it was entertaining to the adults I was with. I'm giving the film 3 stars, but for a long time I was torn between 3 and 2.5 stars. Rating:'Spider-Man 3' - Comic book Fantasy with Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Thomas Hayden Church, James Franco, Topher Grace, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Elizabeth Banks, Cliff Robertson, Bryce Dallas Howard. Directed by Sam Raimi. Plot Intro: Peter Parker wants to ask Mary Jane to marry him, but he doesn't know the trouble she's going through, because he is constantly dealing with the New Goblin and Sandman. So she becomes disillusioned with him, and lets him know that all of the popularity is going to his head. Then a third super-villain appears -- Venom, and Spider-man has his hands full. Review: The villains are very good. The New Goblin's paraphernalia are very good. Sandman and Venom are very good. All of the special effects are excellent. Except for a couple scenes, it looks like Kirsten Dunst never smiles -- which tones down her attractiveness. The counterpart played by Bryce Dallas Howard is very attractive. Topher is very good. My only negative comment is that parts of the movie are slow. Rating:
'War' - Drama with Jason Statham, Jet Li, Nadine Velazquez. Plot Intro: An assassin resurfaces to cause problems between some games on the West Coast. An FBI agent seeks him to avenge the death of his partner. Review: Statham and Jet Li. Lots of shooting. Lots of fighting. Rating:
'Zodiac' - Thriller with Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Chloë Sevigny. Directed by David Fincher Plot Intro: A serial killer terrorizes the San Francisco area. The police have a few suspects, but one stands out. The murders become an obsession for a reporter and a political cartoonist on the San Francisco Chronicle. Review: Based on the book which was written by the political cartoonist. The story draws you in. The whole cast is excellent -- especially Ruffalo. Rating:
'Akeelah and the Bee' - With Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, Keke Palmer, Curtis Armstrong, Eddie Steeples. Plot Intro: An eleven year old girl in South Los Angeles, being raised by her widowed mother, is noticed for her ability to spell. She is chosen by her principle to get tutored for the Spelling Bee. She becomes an important representative of her community. Review: Uplifting story of a girl who struggles to be in the Spelling Bee. Good acting by the young actors, and Fishburne and Bassett are very good. Rating:
'American Dreamz' - With Hugh Grant, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid, William Dafoe, Jennifer Coolidge, Marsha Gay Harden. Plot Intro: A president — who hails from Texas and whose father was president before him — realizes that he needs to improve his popularity, and he and his advisors agree that he can be a guest judge on American Dreamz. Review: The American Dreamz show is meant to refer to American Idol, the Hugh Grant character is meant to relate to Simon Cowell, and the president is meant to make people think of George Bush. The book starts out very slow. It picks up when the events get to the actual American Dreamz competition, but the ending lacks any punch. Dennis Quaid is very good. There isn't enough of Grant being Cowell. Mandy Moore is fine. The Muslims are all very humorous, especially the three in LA and the Bin Laden character who parrot the party line, but they end up getting wrapped up in the American Dreamz show. Rating:'Azur et Asmar: The Princes' Quest' - AKA "Azur and Asmar". Animated fantasy. By Michel Ocelot. Plot Intro: A woman from north Africa serves as a nanny and raises a young European boy along wher her son. She tells them stories of a fairy who is being held captive by a djinn. When the two boys are still young, the father of the European boy throws out the nanny and her son. When his son grows up, he is still obsessed by the story of the fairy. He begins a quest. Review: Highly recommended. Actually, I can't recommend it highly enough. The animation is like nothing I've ever seen. The colors are so intense, it would be a great experience to view it with the sound muted - but the story is engaging. The graphics are extremely detailed. I can't imagine how long it took to draw some of the animation panels. I find it hard to convey the beauty. This is one film I would give 5 stars out of 4 if I could. Some of the scenes are shockingly brilliant. I have to say that I thought that the film really got more intense after the European boy made it to North Africa.
Ocelot has created other interesting films: "Kirikou and the Sorceress" and "Princes and Princesses" are two that I've seen. (I haven't seen them all Films by Michel Ocelot.) "Azur and Asmar" is the best of those I've seen. A "don't miss". Rating:
'Cars' - Pixar animated feature with Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, Katherine Helmond, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton, Bob Costas, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Mario Andretti. Plot Intro: A cocky young race car has some lessons to learn, and he starts by getting lost on the interstate. Review: Very entertaining movie. The graphics are great. Rating:
'Casino Royale' - With Daniel Craig, Judi Dench. Plot Intro: Bond must beat Le Chiffre at cards in order to prevent about $150 million from going to terrorists and those behind them. Review: Bond 22. "Casino Royale" is somewhat based on the first Bond novel by Ian Fleming. It may be the best James Bond film of the series, and Daniel Craig matches Sean Connery in quality and beats Connery in intensity. The film is well-written and well-filmed, and the cast is great. Highly recommended. Rating:
'The Da Vinci Code' - With Tom Hanks, Ian McKellen, Audrey Tautou, Alfred Molina, Jürgen Prochnow. Directed by Ron Howard. Based on the best-selling novel by Dan Brown. AKA "The DaVinci Code." Plot Intro: An old man is killed at the Louvre in Paris. A college professor, who specializes in religious symbology, works with his granddaughter — while fleeing the police and a religious fanatic — to solve his murder and to discover what he died protecting. Review: I thought the movie did an admirable job of attempting to bring the story in the book to the big screen. The use of special effects was very effective in forwarding the story through flashbacks. Audrey Tautou, Tom Hanks, and Ian McKellen were great. There some differences with the book. I plan on reading the book again after the DVD comes out, but here is a partial list:
The movie says that the old gentleman who was killed at the Louvre was not Sophie's grandfather, but in the book he was her grandfather.
I don't remember there being conflict between the head of the French police investigation and his assistant as it is portrayed in the movie.
In the book there were two puzzle boxes known as cryptexes, while in the movie there was only one.
When Sophie gets to Scotland in the book, she finds out that she still has a brother and a grandmother. In the movie, the brother was killed in the automobile accident that killed her parents.
If you are interested in reading further on this subject, you can search out books by Laurence Gardner and Michael Baigent. Rating:
'Deck the Halls' - With Matthew Broderick, Danny DeVito, Kristin Davis. Directed by John Whitesell. Plot Intro: A new neighbor moves in, and his plans for his house to be seen from space start to cause problems for the neighborhood. Review: Not very memorable. Rating:
'The Departed' - With Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon. Plot Intro: A cop working undercover for a mafioso has to help the police find out who is working undercover for the mafioso on the police force. Review: Very good film. Won Academy Award for Best Movie in 2006. All the actors do great. The film was based on a 2002 foreign film called "Infernal Affairs". Please be aware that the language can be very offensive. Rating:
'Dreamgirls' - With Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Beyoncé Knowles, Jennifer Hudson. AKA "Dream Girls". Plot Intro: Three girls want to make the big time as a singing group. They start as backup singers, and then they launch out on their own. Review: Based on the Broadway play. Some good vocals. Rating:Review of 'El Laberinto del Fauno', 'Pan's Labyrinth' (2006)
'Eragon' - With Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Rachel Weisz, Robert Carlyle, Edward Speleers. Based on the book by Christopher Paolini. Plot Intro: A teenaged boy discovers a stone and takes it home. He realizes that it is a dragon egg, and he becomes a dragon rider. Review: Based on the first novel by Christopher Paolini who wrote the book soon after his high school graduation at the age of 15. The special effects are excellent, and the acting is very good. The movie is obviously a setup for a series. Rating:
'Failure to Launch' - With Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Bates, Terry Bradshaw, Zooey Deschanel. Plot Intro: Parents hire a woman to giver their 30-something son some incentive to move out of their house. Review: The plot is forced. It is the kind of thing that would probably never happen. The studios continue to throw various combinations of male and female leads together in different romantic situations. It is rare that two stars play opposite each other in a series of films (like Tracy-Hepburn or Powell-Loy), but that's kind of how it's been from the beginning. The most recent couple that has done several films together was Hanks and Ryan. Anyway, this film is relatively harmless, and the leads and supporting players are fun to watch. It's not "Gone with the Wind", but that's not what it's intended to be. I laughed enough to make the film worth going to see. Just be warned about Bradshaw's naked room. Rating:'Flags of Our Fathers' - Directed by Clint Eastwood. With Robert Patrick, Neal McDonough, Judith Ivey. Plot Intro: The Marines land on Iwo Jima, and the Japanese are waiting for them. The movie follows the story of what happened to the men who were in the famous photograph of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. Review: A companion film to "Letters from Iwo Jima." Excellent film. Highly recommended. Rating:
'Flushed Away' - Animated film with Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellan, Jean Reno, David Suchet. Plot Intro: A pet rat is flushed down a toilet into the sewer system while his family is away on vacation, and he asks an underground rat to help him get back home. Review: Very entertaining. Very good graphics. The voices chosen for the parts were perfect. Jean Reno does a kind of Maurice Chevalier impersonation. A very humorous film from the makers of Wallace and Gromit. Rating:
'The Flying Scotsman' - Drama with Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Boyd, Brian Cox. Plot Intro: A cyclist from Scotland develops a new bike and a new technique of riding which he uses to set some records. However, the governing body bans his bike and his technique. Review: Based on the true story of Graeme Obree, a world record setting cyclist. It seems that the governing body is more interested in stopping improvements in bikes and riding techniques - when they should be trying to come to grips with drugs and other unethical techniques. Rating:
'The Good Shepherd' - With Matt Damon, Robert DeNiro, Angelina Jolie, John Turturro, Alec Baldwin, Michael Gambon, William Hurt, Joe Pesci, Billy Crudup, Timothy Hutton, Eddie Redmayne. Plot Intro: A man who is good at keep secrets and want to serve his country works in the US intelligence community from before World War II through several decades. It has affects on his marriage and on his relationship with his son. Review: I thought the movie was interesting in parts. Damon is good, and Redmayne has some good scenes as Damon's son. The rest of the cast is good. Jolie didn't seem to fit her part (not sure why -- just an impression). The film seemed too long. It was also hard to follow (I recently watched it on a very small screen), since the story jumped back and forth in time and the text that indicated the date was hard to read. I think that films are using the technique of jumping around a little too often. There was what I thought was an inconsistency in Damon's character. He continues to maintain that no one can be trusted (something his told very early in his career), but he is trapped in a couple affairs that are set up to destroy him. You would think that a smart intelligence officer would be able to avoid these things. Rating:
'The Holiday' - With Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach, Edward Burns. Written and directed by Nancy Meyers. Plot Intro: Two women swap houses at the holidays in order to get away from personal situations. Review: Jude Law, Eli Wallach, and Jack Black are very good in the film. The girls who play Jude Law's daughters are fun to watch. Rating:
'Hoot' - With Luke Wilson, Logan Lerman, Brie Larson, Clark Gregg, Robert Wagner, Jimmy Buffett. Plot Intro: Kids try to save burrowing owls from being killed by real estate developers in Florida. Review: Based on a book by Carl Hiaasen. Geared towards young teenagers. The storyline isn't quite consistent. Rating:
'Invincible' - With Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Nouri. Plot Intro: A 30-year old bar tender tries out for the Philadelphia Eagles in an open tryout in 1976. Review: Based on the true story of Vincent Papale who played three years for the Philadelphia Eagles, from 1976 to 1978. He is still the oldest non-kicking rookie that ever played in the NFL. The movie is very good. Mark Wahlberg is excellent, as is Elizabeth Banks and Greg Kinnear. The screenwriter did make some changes to the story, but the movie is still very good. Rating:
'Keeping Up With The Steins' - With Jeremy Piven, Jami Gertz, Garry Marshall, Doris Roberts, Darryl Hannah. Plot Intro: A Jewish boy, whose Bar Mitzvah is approaching, has to deal with his father (Jeremy Piven) who is very competitive with another father who just gave a Bar Mitzvah celebration for his son that cost half a million. He also has to deal with his father's issues with the grandfather (Garry Marshall). Review: The film starts out very funny. You may need to understand a little about Jewish culture in order to get some of the early jokes, but, as the movie progresses, it turns into a coming of age or personal growth/journey story for both the father and son. And that's OK. Jeremy Piven is great in other films as the sidekick, but here it seemed like the director needed to work a little harder than he did to try to get a better performance from Jeremy in certain scenes. Jami Gertz and Garry Marshall were very good. Doris Roberts and Darryl Hannah were fine. Rating:'El Laberinto del Fauno' - Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro. AKA "Pan's Labyrinth". Plot Intro: A girl's mother marries an officer in a fascist regime. She is told by a fauna that she is a princess, and he gives her three tasks to complete before the full moon. Review: Excellent special effects. Some very graphic violent scenes. The film isn't for children. It's a melding of fantasy and political imagery. Rating:
'The Last King of Scotland' - Drama with Forrest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Gillian Anderson, Kerry Washington, David Oyelowo. Based on the novel by Giles Foden. Plot Intro: A young doctor from Scotland spins a globe. His finger lands on Uganda, so he flies to the country and volunteers at the rural medical center. He catches the eye of the new president, Idi Amin, and Idi Amin's third wife catches his eye. Review: Whitaker gives a tour de force performance, winning a Best Actor Oscar. McAvoy is excellent as well. Many of the incidents are based on interviews of one or more poeple who were there, but McAvoy's character did not exist. Over 300,000 people were murdered during the Idi Amin regime. Rating:'Letters From Iwo Jima' - Directed by Clint Eastwood. With . In Japanese with subtitles. Plot Intro: The Marines land on Iwo Jima, and the Japanese are waiting for them. The movie follows the story of several of the Japanese soldiers who defended what had always been Japanese soil. Review: Companion film to "Flags of Our Fathers". Both were filmed at the same time. Excellent film. Highly recommended. Rating:
'Miss Potter' - With Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Emily Watson, Lloyd Owen. Directed by Chris Noonan. Plot Intro: Beatrix Potter wants to publish one of her stories, and she meets Norman Warne. Review: Excellent movie based on the true story of Beatrix Potter, the author of The Tales of Peter Rabbit. Rating:
'My Super-Ex Girlfriend' - With Uma Thurman, Luke Wilson, Anna Faris, Rainn Wilson, Eddie Izzard, Wanda Sykes. Plot Intro: A guy starts dating a girl, and then he finds out his girlfriend has super powers. The problem is that he really loves someone else. How can he break it off without things getting "broken off"? Review: For Uma Thurman fans. Kind of silly. Rating:'Night at the Museum' - With Ben Stiller, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Carla Gugino, Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Anne Meara, Paul Rudd, Kim Raver. Plot Intro: The American Museum of Natural History is laying off its elderly group of security guard in a cost cutting move, and they are hiring a jobless, divorced entrepreneur (Stiller). Odd things happen on his first night at the museum. Review: Good family fun. I saw this in a packed theater filled with families, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. It has special effects that reminded me of "Jumanji". It's not "Gone with the Wind", but it's fun to watch. Rating:
'Open Season' - Animated feature with Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Gary Sinise, Debra Messing, Billy Connolly, Jon Favreau, Jane Krakowski, Patrick Warburton. Plot Intro: A bear raised from a cub and used as part of an entertainment show, ends up in the wild during hunting season. Review: Not sure why this film was made. The actors must have just been cashing in. The idea that a bear raised in captivity could survive after being released is pretty ludicrous. Rating:Review of 'Pan's Labyrinth', 'El Laberinto del Fauno' (2006)
'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest' - With Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Pryce. Plot Intro: Jack Sparrow has to fight against pirates who have become undead. Review: . Rating:
'A Prairie Home Companion' - With Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, John C. Reilly, Kevin Kline, Virginia Madsen, Maya Rudolph. Written by Garrison Keillor. Directed by Robert Altman. Plot Intro: It is the last show of "A Prairie Home Companion." The station where the show originates was bought by a Texas millionaire who thinks that the day of old fashioned radio is gone. Review: I catch Keillor's radio show from time to time. I am always impressed by his ability to smoothly navigate his way through the show. His voice is so resonant and perfect for radio. Watching this movie gave me the same feeling I get when I listen to the radio show. The movie navigated its way through the back stage and on stage events with the same efficiency, and there was always Keillor's voice. Harrelson, Reilly, Streep, and Tomlin do great -- especially Streep who showed she has a very good singing voice. The Kline and Madsen characters are the weakest ones in the movie. Altman's direction is expert to accomplish this, and the script is wonderful. Rating:
'The Prestige' - With Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johannson. Written by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Novel by Christopher Priest. Plot Intro: Two magicians begin their careers working together for another magician, but they compete for the rest of their lives after they go off on their own. Review:"The Prestige" almost a science fiction movie as much as a suspense movie. The movie has a good group of stars, and the acting was good. The artistic and production design and costumes are very good. However, I am only giving this movie a mediocre review. You definitely have to suspend your skepticism in order to make sense of this film. The machine that Jackman's character uses is not believable, and the final twist at the end was just too much. Rating:
'The Pursuit of Happyness' - With Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandie Newton, Dan Castellaneta. Plot Intro: A man in San Francisco is just trying to make ends meet by selling a product few people want, and he decides to try to become a stock broker, even though he only has a high school diploma. His marriage falls apart, and he is homeless part of the time. He pesters the head of human resources and shows he is more intelligent than his resume portrays him. He is given a chance, and in spite of all the challenges he perseveres. Review: Based on a true story. Very moving at the end. Will Smith and Jaden Smith are excellent! I highly recommend this film. Rating:
'Stranger Than Fiction' - With Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tom Hulce. Plot Intro: An IRS agent finds out that his life is being narrated by the author of a work of fiction, and his fate doesn't seem to be in his own hands. Review: Excellent film. Very interesting graphics. It was interesting to note where there was a comparison between the square and the round, between the drab and the colorful. Rating:'X-Men: The Last Stand' - AKA "X-Men 3" or "X3". With Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Rebecca Romijn, Anna Paquin, Keley Grammer. Plot Intro: The father of a mutant develops a "cure" for all mutants. He offers it to the government, and this triggers all out war with the mutants. Review: Special effects are good, and the story is pretty good. Some of the mutants lose their power, and some of them die -- but then, maybe not. Rating:
'Batman Begins' - With Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman. Directed by Christopher Nolan who is best known for his films "Memento" and "Insomnia". Plot Intro: The story of how Batman was created and what happened when he faced his first evil foe. Review: This film is the 2005 addition to the Batman franchise. The claim of the filmmaker is that this version of Batman comes closer to the comic book version. (If I remember right, this was the claim of Tim Burton's version as well.) I've never read the Batman comic books, so I don't know if this movie is closer to the original concept. I'm not really sure why there is the emphasis on going back to the original concept of comic book heroes, since comic book characters evolve over time as the authors develop the character and new authors take over. Though I guess the point is that it would be good for movies and TV shows to at least come close to a character at some point in its evolution. The other side is that a film could actually add to the evolution.
The first half of the film is somewhat of a retelling of how Batman was created, since the first Batman goes over the same material (the killing of his parents, for instance) — except that in "Batman Begins" Batman learns a lot of martial arts, and much of it is told in flashback. The art direction and the production design of the first Batman film were better than in "Batman Begins." Or maybe it is just that Tim Burton's film is easier to look at. Everything in "Batman Returns" looked gray and filthy, which I guess means that it looked like a real city. The fighting is too blurry, too much motion of the camera (I can take that kind of camera work only in small doses) to emphasize the violence. At times you couldn't see anything that was going on as the whole screen would degenerate into one big blur.
Christian Bale is good as Batman. He has a enough dark seriousness to give the portrayal some weight. Katie Holmes (love Katie Holmes) was very good. I haven't seen everything she's done, but my impression is that this may be her first totally adult part (late 20s rather than the college age or younger characters I've seen her do). Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are always fun to watch.
The Neeson character isn't at the same level as Nicholson's Joker. The Joker was in Batman's face throughout the Tim Burton film. In "Batman Begins" there are three evil men, and it is only in the last half hour that Batman has to face his real nemesis. So Neeson's character isn't really able to build to the same level. At times Neeson seemed to represent the extremes of a religious movement that would want to raze a city if it became too evil (thinking they were instruments of God). At other times the character had elements of the extremes of the environmental movement that would want to raze a city if it became a blight on the planet environmentally. Most of the emphasis was on morality, since Bruce Wayne was always saying that Gotham could be "saved." In this way, the film may convey subliminal messages about real-life activists.
"Batman Begins" leaves at a point where the Joker character is introduced at the end as a setup for the sequel. Rating:
'Be Cool' - With John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Steven Tyler, Cedric the Entertainer, Robert Pastorelli, The Rock, Danny DeVito, Harvey Keitel. Based on the book by Elmore Leonard. Plot Intro: Chili Palmer becomes bored with the movie industry, so he gets involved in the music industry. He finds that it's almost has hard as working in the mafia. Review: Basically a sequel to "Get Shorty", one of my favorite films. I've been an Elmore Leonard fan for quite a while, but I have to say that I haven't had the time to read the book. I was very excited when "Get Shorty" came out, and it lived up to the advertisements and promotions. When I saw the advertisements for "Be Cool", I thought it would be a movie that didn't measure up to the previous film. The casting just didn't fit an Elmore Leonard book (for example, Cedric the Entertainer). I finally got around to seeing it, and I was pretty much right. The first half of the film is somewhat entertaining. However, after a while the parallels between the plot of this film and the plot of "Get Shorty" reached a tipping point where I started to wonder if the screenwriter(s) (or the author of the book) had run out of ideas. It is one thing to try to show that the two industries (film and music) have similar problems, but it is another to overuse the technique by stealing plot devices over and over again from the first film. The scene where Travolta and Thurman dance is, of course, another scene related to another movie ("Pulp Fiction"). It was like the filmmakers were winking at the audience and saying, "Look how cute this is. We must be really clever to refer to a really cool film." I never winked back. One more scene piled onto the other scenes that were similar to other movies. The Rock was great in the whole film. I was very surprised and impressed with how well he could get into the part. It wasn't that long ago that he was a professional wrestler, and while there admittedly is some acting in that "sport", The Rock must have taken a crash course in acting, and he must have a natural ability to pick up all of the required techniques. Steve Tyler may be one of the better actors that is also a rock singer, but that doesn't mean he is a good actor. I thought that Vince Vaughn's effort was frenetic and out of place. Of course, John Travolta was cool, but he needs to find another good film or his career will dwindle away. Overall, a slightly above average effort. Rating:
'Broken Flowers' - With Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Julie Delpy. Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Plot Intro: A bachelor gets a letter supposedly from a former flame who says that her son has is trying to find his real father. His neighbor, a wannabe detective, encourages him to make a list of the women he had a relationship with that year, and then the neighbor gets him to take a trip and visit each of the four women. Review: Entertaining. Bill is a genius at portraying a lot of internal thoughts with a slight move of the face. He gets to see how his life might have been if he had stayed with each of the women. All he ends up with is a black eye and a constant paranoia about each man in their late teens, early twenties. Is this the one? The thing I don't get is that if the kid was trying to find him at his house, why didn't he just stay home? Rating:
'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' - With Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Christopher Lee, David Kelly. Directed by Tim Burton. Based on the book by Raould Dahl.
Plot Intro: A boy dreams of finding the golden ticket by which he can meet the famous Willy Wonka. Review: A little darker than the original film. Fun to watch. I like this one better than the original. Johnny Depp makes me laugh. Rating:
'Cinderella Man' - With Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, Paul Giamatti. Directed by Ron Howard. Plot Intro: A Depression Era fighter, who has lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929, tries to get extra money to keep his family together by picking up fights. He ends up with a shot for the heavyweight title. Review: Based on the true story of James J. "Jimmy" Braddock who fought Max Baer for the heavyweight title and was called the Cinderella Man by Damon Runyon. This is a wonderful film. The fights are filmed and edited in such a way that the action looks very real. This is not a film for people who are squeamish about violent boxing. Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, and Paul Giamatti were excellent — as always. The whole film is excellent. It's the best film I've seen this year. Rating:
'Corpse Bride' - With Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Tracy Ullman, Albert Finney, Christopher Lee. Written by Tim Burton. Co-directed by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson. Plot Intro: A young groom-to-be accidentally becomes engaged to the corpse of a woman who was murdered and is under a curse. Review: Great animation. The voicing/dubbing of the characters is excellent. Rating:
'Dukes of Hazzard' - Comedy with Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Jessica Simpson, James Roday, Burt Reynolds, Willie Nelson, Lynda Carter, David Koechner. Plot Intro: Boss Hogg schemes to take the Duke family farm. The Duke boys have to flee the police in order save the farm. Review: A fluff piece that may be entertaining for many. Simpson may be at her prettiest. Rating:
'The Fantastic Four' - Comic book hero/Sci-fi/Fantasy with Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans, Kerry Washington. Plot Intro: Five astronauts are exposed to a cosmic storm which changes them into various superheroes. On of them turns to the dark side, and the other four have to combat him. Review: The different superpowers are interesting, and the special effects are good. Rating:
'40 Year Old Virgin' - With Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd. Plot Intro: A 40 year old man's friends find out that he is a virgin, and they try to train him for dealing with the opposite sex. Review: Some of this movie is fun to watch. Carell and Keener are great, and Carell's friends have their moments. However, the language and some of the subject matter are very adult-oriented and may not be for everyone's taste. Rating:
'Good Night and Good Luck' - With David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels, George Clooney. Directed by George Clooney. Written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Plot Intro: A senator who is crossing the line of the Bill of Rights is exposed by a news investigation. Review: A dramatization of the exposing of the methods of the Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy by Edward R. Murrow on his show on CBS. The film shows what pressures were placed on CBS, and what it was like to live at a time when innocent people were implicated by hearsay and innuendo. There is a large presence of the military and loyalty oaths. Fear was everywhere. The film is effective, well-written, and well-directed. The film was nominated for the 2005 Best Film Academy Award. David Strathairn was nominated for Best Actor, George Clooney was nominated for Best Director, and the script was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. The film was also nominated for cinematography and art direction. The Bill of Rights protects rights that we should be willing to defend with everything we have. Rating:
'Guess Who' - With Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher. Plot Intro: Successful African-American parents have raised their daughter to not take the color of skin into account when determining the value of a person, but they have to push that philosophy to another level when she brings home a young white securities broker to meet them. They would have less to object about except that he quit his job and hasn't told her yet. Review: Not really a re-make of the 1967 classic "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner". It covers some of the same ground and yet tries to update the material with some humor. This film tries to have it both ways. It tries to be very funny while at the same time it tries to deal with some serious issues (albeit in a less serious way than the original "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"). Most of the funny parts of the film were revealed in the previews or commercials that did not give any indication that the film would attempt to turn serious. When the film did turn serious, it seemed to ring false — mostly because they kept the reason Ashton's character lost his job a secret until the very end. I have only seen the film once, but the film might be more poignant and meaningful when viewed a second time, since the viewer will know at that time what Ashton's character is keeping secret and how it impacts on the rest of the film — even though the viewer will then know the punchlines of most of the humorous scenes. Rating:'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' - Fantasy with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman (Professor Snape), Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore), Maggie Smith (Prof. Minerva McGonagall), Brendon Gleeson (Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), Tom Fenton (Draco Malfoy), Miranda Richardson (Rita Skeeter), Timothy Spall (Peter "Wormtail" Pettigrew). Based on the book by J. K. Rowling. Directed by Mike Newell. Plot Intro: Harry is entered into the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and he has to compete with three other students who are 3 years older than him, two of whom are from other wizarding schools. Review: The fourth entry in the Harry Potter movie series and the one which strayed further from the book than the previous three movies did. In general, I thought that they did well to put all of the story that they did into a single movie that was around 2.5 hours, but I was somewhat disappointed by how much was left out. The parts of the book that were done were done well. The film felt kind of rushed to me. The three main actors were better in this film, and this was the best that Michael Gambon has done. Gambon shows that he will make a fine Dumbledore for as long as Dumbledore lasts. Harry's dragon is pretty cool, but the scene was changed. These are only some of the positives. Of course, the graphics, special effects, set design, etc. were excellent. HP4 is the second longest book in the series, and there is a lot of repetition and belaboring of points in the book, but I found that many things that I thought were important and related to other parts of the story were left out or breezed over. Each book is a transitional book to the next, and some of the things that they left out will make transition to the next film a little more difficult — especially for those who only see the movies and never read the books. Below is a list of the things that were missing or changed. By making the list, I am not implying that all of them should have been in the movie. I've attempted to indicate which ones I would like to have seen.
The HP Lexicon - some interesting reading if you are a Harry Potter fan.
'A Lot Like Love' - Romantic comedy with Ashton Kutcher, Amanda Peet. Plot Intro: Two people meet at an airport, become members of the 'mile-high club', and meet every now and then for the next eight years. Review: Might be an attempt to recreate 'Sleepless in Seattle', 'Serendipity', or 'When Harry Met Sally'. Both Peet and Kutcher are likeable, and they seem to have a connection on screen, but there was something missing for me. Rating:'Madagascar' - Animated feature with Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter. Plot Intro: Alex, a lion cub, is captured when he wanders off of a nature preserve, and he ends up in a zoo in New York City. His friend, the zebra, decides to have a night out from the zoo, and Alex attempts to "save" him. They are recaptured and sent out on a ship, but the crates holding them fall overboard. They float to Madagascar. Review: A simple film. Good for kids. Rating:
'The March of the Penguins' - AKA "La Marche de l'empereur". Documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman. Plot Intro: The emperor penguins fight to have their species survive. Review: "The March of the Penguins" is an amazing film. Not only are the images powerful, but the editing is expertly done. The DVD has an excellent feature on the way the movie was filmed. When they speak of the temperatures in the middle of the winter going down to 80 degrees below zero, and when you realize that these men were living on the Antarctica and hiking from their camp to the nesting area of the penguins, you have to marvel that the film ever was able to be accomplished. The only fault with the film is that it seems too short. Rating:'Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous' - Comedy drama with Sandra Bullock, Regina King, William Shatner, Ernie Hudson, Treat Williams. Plot Intro: The FBI agent who saved a beauty queen is now too recognizable to go undercover any more. She has written a book, so she is sent by the FBI on a book tour. However the beauty queen is kidnapped for ransom, and she sets out to find her - and the kidnappers. Review: Bullock is so likeable that she helps the film. Her character's antagonistic relationship with King's character is so extreme that it seems hard to believe that it turns around so fast. Maybe they could have toned it down a little at the beginning. It's a good rental. Rating:
'Mr. & Mrs. Smith' - With Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn. Plot Intro: Two people meet in South America, fall in love, and get married. Each of them keeps a secret from the other: they are hired killers. Review: Brad and Angelina look like they are having fun. Watching it isn't quite as much fun though. Rating:'Nanny McPhee' - With Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Kelly Mcdonald, Angela Lansbury, Imelda Staunton. Screenplay by Emma Thompson. Plot Intro: A single father is about to be put out of his house by his own aunt, and he has a terrible time getting his children under control. No one in the local area will agree to work as nanny in his house. A rather ugly woman appears on his doorstep to be the nanny. Review: A good children's film. Based on the "Nurse Matilda" books. Rating:
'Pride & Prejudice' - With Keira Knightley, Donald Sutherland, Matthew MacFadyen. Based on the book by Jane Austen. Plot Intro: A spirited girl is turned off by a rigid rich man, but then she realizes that she loves him. Review: May be the tenth version of "Pride and Prejudice" brought to film or TV, but this is a very entertaining version. Knightley and MacFadyen were great, as was Donald Sutherland and the rest of the cast. Rating:
'Robots' - With Robin Williams, Halle Berry, Terry Bradshaw, Jim Broadbent, Mel Brooks, Amanda Bynes, Jennifer Coolidge. Plot Intro: Robots in a robot-world are required to upgrade or they face being recycled. A young robot organizes a resistance. Review: The graphics are good. The writing could be a little better. Rating:
'Rumor Has It ... ' - Romantic comedy with Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Costner, Shirley MacLaine, Mark Ruffalo, Mena Suvari. Written by Ted Griffin. Directed by Rob Reiner. Plot Intro: The movie takes place in the early 1990s. A woman (Aniston) finds out the the book and the movie called "The Graduate" is based on some events in her family's history. Then she decides to meet the man at the center of it all to find out if he is her father. In the end, she finds out that she has more in common with her mother than she thought. Review: Good romantic comedy with a novel premise. The film is more of a story of a personal of a woman and her attempt to find out more about her mother who died when she was very young. Aniston, Costner, MacLaine, and Ruffalo are very good, and Suvari has some good scenes especially towards the end. Some may be turned off by the fact that three generations of women end up in bed with the same man. If you are one of these, you probably won't want to see this film. My only question is why would she take his word for anything? Why wouldn't see ask for a genetic test? Rating:'Star Wars: Episode III - The Revenge of the Sith' - Science Fiction with Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Frank Oz. Plot Intro: Anakin is turned to the dark side. Obi-Wan attempts to turn him back. Review: A very good movie to close out the series. Rating:
'Sin City' - Violent drama with Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Alexis Bledel, Rosario Dawson, Michael Clarke Duncan, Benicio Del Toro. Plot Intro: A cop tries to save a pre-teen girl from a demented criminal, and the story gets more violent and more shocking from there. Review: Very violent film that apparently has the mission of shocking its audience to the point where they walk out of the theater. Rating:
'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants' - With Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, America Ferrera, Blake Lively. Plot Intro: Four girls have known each other since childhood. They walk into a store and find a pair of jeans that look good on all of them - a small miracle. They decide to share the pants by mailing it to each other during the next summer. Review: Touching film with some uneven acting. Based on a best-selling book by Ann Brashares. Rating:
'Syriana' - With George Clooney, Matt Damon, William Hurt, Angelina Jolie, Christopher Plummer, Chris Cooper, Amanda Peet, Robert Foxworthy. Plot Intro: A CIA agent and an oil industry analyst get in the middle of US desires to manipulate the accession to the throne of an Arab kingdom. Review: Excellent. Clooney deserved his Oscar. There were some stories that said that the film was hard to understand. I watched the interview of Clooney on the Special Features. After that, I found the story easy to follow. Rating:
'Thank You For Smoking' - With Aaron Eckhart, William H. Macy, Maria Bello, David Koechner, Robert Duvall, Katie Holmes, Rob Lowe, Dennis Miller, Joan Lunden, Kim Dickens. Screenplay and direction by Jason Reitman. Based on the book by Christopher Buckley. Plot Intro: A tobacco lobbyist has to deal with the antagonism of a Senator, the press, and the public. He also has to deal with his ex-wife, her new husband, and his son who is growing up. Review: Excellent satire about a public relations lobbyist and the techniques he used to turn an argument back on the ones who are politically correct. Similar to what politicians do today in the political debate. Rating:
'Transporter 2' - With Jason Statham, François Berléand, Alessandro Gassman, Amber Valletta, Matthew Modine. Plot Intro: The Transporter works temporarily to protect a young boy who becomes a target of a drug cartel. Review: Another very good Statham film. Cartoony action sequences didn't prevent me from enjoying it. Rating:
'V for Vendetta' - With Hugo Weaving, John Hurt, Natalie Portman, Stephen Fry, Stephen Rea. Written by the Wachowski brothers. Plot Intro: A man who was tortured by representatives of the government seeks revenge on all of those involved in the plot that ended in the overthrow of true democracy. Review: The events of the film takes place in 2020. A crisis was engineered by certain people who wanted to take over the government. They created a virus for which they had the only antidote/cure, and they released it on their own people. Then they took over the media and controlled the citizens through intimidation and false information. The result was that those involved grew extremely rich and powerful.
Some will see links between what happens in the film to what is happening today. They may have a point, since governments more and more are attempting to feed their propaganda and misinformation through the media, developing a spin for all of the events that occur to place any opposition in a negative light, creating crises or taking advantage of real ones in order to sow fear, complacency, and dependency on the government to the point where governments are able to listen in on private phone conversations and search offices and homes without a warrant — all because of the claim that the country is supposedly at war. The movie, however, is based on a book that was written during the Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan administrations, but these kinds of political movements come and go all of the time, so the movie could apply to many different eras in human history. "V" says at one point that people shouldn't be afraid of their government, but the government should be afraid of its people. That is a good point of view. Sometimes governments do not seem to have the proper respect for their people or for the democratic institutions they are supposed to be protecting. Those in power seem to act more like those institutions are a burden, and they keep their actions secret from their own people.
Though the film is made by Wachowski brothers, the same group that made "Matrix" and its sequels, it does not have the same power of the initial Matrix film — or even the second one. (Not many films will be able to match that one.) Natalie Portman does a great job — much better than in the Star Wars films where apparently she was not allowed to really act. Hugo Weaving does an amazing job even though his face is never revealed from behind the Guy Fawkes mask that he is required to wear. Stephen Rea is excellent as the intrepid detective. I recommend the film. Rating:'Wallace and Gromit and the Were-rabbit' - Animated comedy. Plot Intro: Wallace and Gromit's new business venture is ridding their community of rabbits which are preying on vegetables that were being grown by gardeners for the local vegetable competition. However, they refuse to kill the rabbits, and this leads to nothing but trouble. Review: A good movie-length version of the Wallace and Gromit clamation cartoons that are favorites worldwide, the ones who also made "Chicken Run". There are some good laughs for the kids and for the adults as well. I love the Wallace and Gromit shorts. At times, though, the movie felt like it was a little stretched out. The tightness of the stories involved in the short versions such as "The Wrong Trousers" (which I think is the best of the three) — or like "Chicken Run," for that matter — didn't seem to be there. The film may seem better after multiple viewings, especially after you catch all of the jokes. I'm sure that the "Making of" special feature on the DVD will be very interesting. I'm looking forward to that. Rating:
'War of the Worlds' - Sci-Fi with Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto. Plot Intro: The Earth is invaded by creatures who want our planet. Review: The acting is very good, and the special effects are well-done. Some of the old plot is re-thought. There is no mention of the invaders being from Mars, for instance. Rating:
'Wedding Crashers' - With Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Christopher Walken, Rachel McAdams, Jane Seymour, Dwight Yoakim, Will Ferrell, Isla Fisher. Plot Intro: Two men have the hobby of attending weddings uninvited. They attend one of the oldest daughter of a member of the US Cabinet. They get involved with his two daughters. Review: Humorous and mostly fun. Vaughn, Wilson, and Fisher are great, and Rachel McAdams does very well. Christopher Walken is great as the father. Rating:
'Wedding Date' - With Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney, Amy Adams, Holland Taylor. Plot Intro: A woman hires an escort to her sister's wedding where her ex-fiance will be the best man. Review: I like the main stars, but the whole movie wasn't very interesting. Very similar to other scripts. Rating:'xXx: State of the Union' - With Ice Cube, Samuel L Jackson, Willem Dafoe. AKA 'xXx 2'. Plot Intro: The Secretary of Defense plots to overthrow the US government and become president. Review: Lots of money spent on a fluff piece. Not much to it. Some good action sequences, shooting scenes, and fancy driving. Rating:
'Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy' - Comedy with Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, David Koechner, Fred Willard, Seth Rogen, Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Tim Robbins. Plot Intro: Ron Burgundy is living a dream in San Diego until the world changes and a woman is hired to be a full-time reporter and then co-anchor. Review: Written with that silly kind of humor. You kind o fhave to be in the right mood. Rating:
'Around the World in 80 Days' - With Jackie Chan, Jim Broadbent. Plot Intro: A British inventor makes a bet that he can make it around the world in 80 days. The people who make the bet with him attempt to sabotage him. At the same time, a gang is after one of his sidekicks. Review: I didn't like the original too much, and this version made no improvement. Even Jackie Chan's fighting wasn't that great. Rating:
'The Aviator' - With Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Cate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Plot Intro: A boy who grew up in Texas, during times of yellow fever and other diseases, moves to California, becomes a movie producer, the owner of TWA, and an airplane designer. Then he takes on the U.S. government and wins. Review: Excellent movie. DiCaprio and Blanchett are very good. Beckinsale is beautiful as always. Probably should have received the Best Picture Oscar. Rating:'Bourne Supremacy' - With Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Julia Stiles. Plot Intro: Jason Bourne is in India with his girlfriend, but he realizes that he is being followed. In Berlin, his fingerprint is being left in order to frame him for the murder of some agents. Bourne tried to flee, but he realizes that he has to find out the reason why he is being followed and why he is being framed. Review: Excellent film with some very good action sequences. I thought that the interplay between Bourne (Damon) and the girl (Potente) added a nuance that gave the first film a little more of a human touch. The characters became more fleshed out. Rating:
'Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason' - Romantic comedy with Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Gemma Jones, Jim Broadbent. Plot Intro: Bridget is continually sabotaged by her insecurities after finding out that Darcy's co-worker is perfect for him. Review: If you liked the first film, you may like the sequel. Rating:My review of 'Bridget Jones's Diary' (2000)
'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' - Romantic drama with Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst. Plot Intro: A sad lonely young man finds out that his sad young girlfriend had him erased from her memory with a new procedure. He decides to have her erased from his memory, but when the procedure starts he realizes he wants to keep the memories. He tries to hide her somewhere in an unrelated memory. Review: . Rating:'Fahrenheit 9/11' - Produced, written, and directed by Michael Moore. Plot Intro: The film analyzes events surrounding the 2000 election, the actions of the Bush administration, the events surrounding the career of George W. Bush, and the relationship of the Bush family to the Saudis and particularly to the Bin Laden family. Review: An important film, and I recommend that everyone see it before Election Day. Moore is as much a satirist as he is a documentarian. He doesn't necessarily prove anything, but his film is chock full of documentation and film footage to prove most of his points. His film raises enough questions that it really makes you wonder what's been going on and what the real goals of the far right-wing of the Republican party are. Recently a book was published that attempts to savage Michael Moore. (The same thing is happening to many of the spokespeople on both sides of the political spectrum.) If you feel good about what is going on because a book came out and criticized Moore, then you are allowing yourself to be blinded. When it is apparent that members of an administration deceive the public into a war and then the administration breaks other laws in order to spy on its own citizens, those who support that administration must be willing to set aside their party affiliations and think of what is good for the country and for democracy. It is important to remember that there are good people in both parties who are patriotic and want the best for the country. It is also important to remember that not everything that an administration does is good or bad just because of their party affiliation. At some point we have to remember that we are Americans first. Rating:
'50 First Dates' - Romantic comedy with Drew Barrymore, Adam Sandler, and Rob Schneider. Plot Intro: . A guy happens to meet a girl with short-term memory loss. She can't remember anything that happened the previous day. He falls in love with her, but he has to make her fall in love with him every day. Review: The film teams up Sandler and Barrymore who had been successful in "Wedding Singer" (1998). The beginning of the film, the part where all the women are talking about Adam Sandler's character, is pretty funny. After that I lost interest. Barrymore was almost as sweet as can be, it was hard to relate to Sandler's character. Rating:
My review of The Wedding Singer (1998)
'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' - Fantasy with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman (Professor Snape), Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), David Thewlis (Professor Lupin), Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew). Based on the book by J. K. Rowling. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Plot Intro: Harry is spending the summer with the Dursleys when they are visited by Mr. Dursley's sister — a woman who has never had any love for Harry. After quite a fight, Harry runs away with all his possessions, is picked up by a sorcerers' bus, and is taken to Diagon Alley. On the way, he finds out that Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban Prison, and in Diagon Alley he finds out that Sirius Black is out to kill him. Review: An excellent film. The first Harry Potter film that is not just for children. Buckbeak, the Hippogriff, is great. It was amazing every time he was on screen. The werewolf at the end was just as good. I had never thought of what a werewolf could look like, but the werewolf in the film seemed to make sense. The new Dumbledore, Michael Gambon, did a good job. I kind of missed Richard Harris, however. Harris had a great way of talking to Harry. Maybe the difference was that Gambon's version didn't really get that kind of scene with Harry in this film. Oldman was also good, but there seemed to be something missing from his scenes towards the end. Needless to say, they left a lot of things out of the original story to make the film (maybe a little too much) — though, if you take the film's version of the story on its own, it hangs together with its own logic. If you like the Harry Potter films and you haven't read the books yet, what are you waiting for? The books are twice as good as the films. Rating:
The HP Lexicon - some interesting reading if you are a Harry Potter fan.
'Hellboy' - With Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, Ruppert Evans, Jeffrey Tambor. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Plot Intro: A creature who came through a portal becomes an agent of the government, and he is a hero who protects us all. Review: I really like this film. Perlman and Blair are great. Rating:
'Hero' - Martial arts film with Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Donnie Yen. Also known as "Ying xiong". Directed by Zhang Yimou. Plot Intro: A man removes all the assassins who could kill the only ruler who could unit China into one nation. Review: "Hero" was released in China a couple years before it was released in the US.
The film is excellent. The photography is breath-taking. The fighting is reminiscent of the fighting in "Crouching Tiger" (2000). Scenes are filmed with certain colors as dominant. This raises the artistic level of the film above most martial arts films. I liked "Crouching Tiger" a little better. The romantic storyline added a more human element in "Crouching Tiger". That is mostly absent, or at the very least it is de-emphasized, in "Hero". Also Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Phat are so good, and Zhang Ziyi has a better part and really adds to the film. Rating:
'House of Flying Daggers' - Martial arts film with Zhang Ziyi. Directed by Zhang Yimou and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Also known as "Ambush From Ten Directions", "Lovers", "Shi Mian Mai Fu". Plot Intro: The government is trying to find out who is the new leader of an insurrection group, the Flying Daggers. They capture a woman who is supposed to be the blind daughter of the former leader of the group. A government agent springs her from jail, and then he follows her in the hopes of finding out where the group is. Review: I went to see what I thought would be a martial arts film, but what I found was a chick-flick. I'm calling "House of Flying Daggers" a chick-flick, because when a film has a woman who has two death scenes in the arms of her lover, it is definitely a chick-flick. I don't mind many movies that can be termed as "chick-flicks", so that is not my point. I don't mean to offend anyone, and I can watch a lot of films (as my reviews attest), but this film really struck me as a poor attempt. I've seen "Crouching Tiger", and I think it is one of the best films of that year. I've seen "Hero", and it was very good — though not as good as "Crouching Tiger". The difference is that the other two films had a well-written story and fighting scenes. "Crouching Tiger" is the best, because it has a story that holds together. As you may know, all three films have some kind of romance, and there are things that happen in each that go beyond the bounds of physics. But "Flying Daggers" has knives that are thrown that suddenly stop spinning, or they act like a boomerang and change direction. It is one thing for people to defy the laws of physics. That can be "excused" by saying that they were utilizing some special abilities after years of training. But for inanimate objects to suddenly change direction of stop spinning was more than I could take. The fighting in "Crouching Tiger" was better choreographed. In "Flying Daggers" sometimes all of the opponents strike at once, but somehow none of the blows land. By the end of the film I wanted every character to die. Die, Die, Die. That might have made it worth going. That didn't happen either. Rating:
See my review of "Hero" (2004)
'Howl's Moving Castle' - Animated feature with Christian Bale, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner. By Miyazaki Hayao. Plot Intro: A wizard who is under a curse attempts to escape from the attempts of a ruler and a couple witches to find him. He is befriended by an old woman who is really a young woman under a curse. Review: The film was originally voiced in Japanese. The above list of actors are in the English-language version. The story is at times interesting and at other times odd. Rating:
'The Incredibles' - Animated feature with Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee. Plot Intro: Superheroes have to hide their identity due to a series of unfortunate events. They are gradually being eliminated by a madman, so the superheroes have to save themselves and the world. Review: The movie has elements in it from "X-Men", since the talent of each superhero is key to a victory. When the characters work as a team, the combination of their talents is hard to beat. Holly Hunter is perfect as the up-tight mother, and Craig T. Nelson offers a very good mix to his voice of depression or bravado. Rating:
My review of X-Men (2000)
'The Ladykillers' - With Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, George Wallace. Plot Intro: A man moves into an old southern woman's house. He's the head of a gang, the brains behind a heist of money from a local casino. But then the old woman finds out about their theft. Review: This is a remake of the 1955 classic with Alec Guinnes and Peter Sellers. This version is not very good. I'd recommend that you find the 1955 version. Rating:
'Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' - With Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Angelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bud Cort, Michael Gambon. Directed by Wes Anderson. Plot Intro: An oceanographer loses his long-time partner to the jaguar shark. Like a modern-day Captain Ahab, he vows revenge. In the process he has to deal with his ex-wife, her former boyfriend, his supposed estrange son, and a pregnant reporter. Review: Very clever movie, one which must be watched and listened to closely in order to get the real feel for what is going on. Everything is just slightly off. The dialogue is slightly off, the ship is less than what you'd expect for a Cousteau-like person, and the sealife has been manipulated graphically to be completely unique. Bill Murray cracks me up in just about all of his films, and Owen Wilson can do the same thing with his ever-smiling delivery. Rating:
'Mean Girls' - With Lindsey Lohan, Tina Fey, Rachel McAdams, Ana Gasteyer, Tim Meadows, Amy Poehler. Screenplay by Tina Fey. Based on the book by Rosalind Wiseman. Plot Intro: The new girl of the junior class in high school has to deal with a clique of snobbish girls. Review: The first half to two-thirds is very good and enjoyable to watch. It slows down a little after that. The ending is better than expected. Rating:'Meet the Fockers' - With Ben Stiller, Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Terri Polo, Owen Wilson, Shelley Berman. Plot Intro: Jack and Pam are planning to get married, and they are trying to keep her pregnancy under wraps. Pam and her parents go to visit Jack's parents. Review: The plot sets up conflict between Stiller, DeNiro, and Hoffman. Kind of forced. Rating:
'Melinda and Melinda' - With Wallace Shawn, Radha Mitchell, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloë Sevigny, Will Ferrell, Amanda Peet, Steve Carell. Written and directed by Woody Allen. Plot Intro: Two playwrights argue whether live can be viewed as a tragedy or a comedy. A woman's predicament is portrayed two ways. Review: Entertaining and clever. Fun to watch. Sometimes I could almost hear Woody's voice as people delivered their lines. It's an argument that will continue. Are we drawn to tragedies, because life is basically tragic? Or are we drawn to comedy, because life is tragic? Rating:
'Napoleon Dynamite' - Comedy (?). Plot Intro: A nerdy high school student finds new friends and helps one of them run for class president. Review: Not worth your time. While the actor who plays the title character may be the quintessential movie nerd, there is nothing funny about anything he does. His friends are not interesting, and uncle is somewhere between creepy and slimy. Don't be deceived by the advertising which implies that the film is full of laugh-out-loud scenes. I didn't see anything funny at all at any point. The only people who are attracted to this film are those who need to feel superior to the nerds. I'm giving this film no stars. Rating:'Ocean's Twelve' - With Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, Elliott Gould, Bernie Mac, and Catherine Zeta Jones. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Plot Intro: The con-artist gets out of prison again. This time the Ocean's Eleven are under pressure to pay back to the casino all the money plus interest. They cannot work in the states, so they fly to Italy where they are pursued by a detective (Jones) and in competition with another expert burglar. Review: Similar to the first movie, but a little more confusing. It may benefit from multiple viewings. But the reason to view the picture is to see all of these great personalities together on the screen together. Rating:
'The Passion of the Christ' - Directed by Mel Gibson. Plot Intro: Jesus prays in the Garden, and he gets arrested, tortured, executed, and buried. But does it end there? Review: "The Passion of the Christ" is the somewhat controversial film about the Passion of Jesus Christ. I have to say that this is an extremely violent film. If you saw the torture of Mel Gibson's character William Wallace in the movie "Braveheart", you can multiply that violence by a factor of a hundred. Those who have weak constitutions or dislike violence should not subject themselves to "The Passion of the Christ" without some precautions — like sitting in an aisle seat, not eating any food for a while before going to the presentation, or waiting for the DVD and watching it in multiple sessions. I am not exaggerating about this. While the film is horrific, it is also very moving. It may be the closest representation to what is portrayed in the Gospels — even though it may not come close to what Jesus actually went through. This version of the Passion will be the most-watched portrayal of the story of any of the others. Rating:'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl' - With Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Pryce. Plot Intro: Jack Sparrow must find the heart of Davy Jones. Review: One of the iconic Johnny Depp characters. Fun to watch. First of the series. Rating:
'The Polar Express' - With Tom Hanks, Michael Jeter, Peter Scolari. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Plot Intro: A boy who is beginning to doubt about the existence of Santa gets on a magical train to the north pole. Review: Would probably be entertaining for children. Rating:
'Ray' - With Jamie Foxx and Regina King. Directed by Taylor Hackford. Plot Intro: A boy who lost his sight at a young age grows up to become one of the most successful recording artists of all time. Review: Excellent movie. Jamie Foxx is amazing. He played the piano for the part, and I believe that he did his own singing. The film shows Ray's fight against drug abuse and some of his other problems, but the film is uplifting overall since he conquered all of his handicaps and personal problems. Rating:'Shaun of the Dead' - With Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran. Plot Intro: A guy who isn't living up to his potential and who still lives with his college buddies, is having some relationship issues with his girlfriend. But then the dead become zombies, and everything works out. Review: Pretty funny zombie movie. Well written. Well researched. Good use of popular music. Rating:
'Shop Girl' - With Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman. Screenplay by Steve Martin. Based on the novel by Steve Martin. Plot Intro: A young woman is befriended by a middle-aged gentleman at the store where she works. Review: An interesting story about a man who never seems to be able to get involved emotionally with anyone. The voice-overs by Martin could be better. Rating:'Shrek 2' - Animated film voiced by Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese. Sequel to "Shrek" (2001). Plot Intro: Shrek and his bride, Princess Fiona, are just married and are beginning to settle down to married life when they get an invitation to come to Fiona's parents' house. It's downhill from there. Review: Very good film. There were times when the quality of the animation was near reality quality. There may be a little too many references to other movies. The natural next step for the series is for Fiona to be pregnant. Rating:
'Sideways' - With Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh. Plot Intro: A man is about to get married in San Diego, so he and his friend, the best man, travel to Napa Valley in northern California to do a wine tasting tour. The best man sees this as a chance to have one last week of friendly bonding, but the groom-to-be sees it as his last chance to have a fling. Review: A good portion of the film deals with the four principle actors, and the acting is very good from all of them. The beginning of the film is pretty funny. It's kind of an odd-couple on wheels with a wine tasting every now and then. Giamatti's character puts so much into his wine tasting that he comes off as a pompous intellectual. He is a depressed, beaten-down man who is uncomfortable around women, partly because he is recently divorced. The bridegroom-to-be, Thomas Hayden Church, comes off looking like a buffoon. For example, he goes to a wine-tasting while chewing gum. The second half of the film degenerates further and further into absurdity and becomes somewhat depressing. There is an attempt at about 30 seconds of a "good ending," but that is left up in the air. Rating:'Spider-Man 2' - With Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Cliff Robertson. Plot Intro: Spider-Man faces another nemesis and has to save his aunt and M.J. Review: Extremely good movie. Much better than the original — and the original was very good. "Spider-Man 2" is the best super-hero movie that I've ever seen. Excellent. Rating:
'Super Size Me' - With Morgan Spurlock. Plot Intro: A man eats three meals each day for 30 days at McDonalds. He orders the super-sized meal whenever the person asks him if he wants to "super-size that." And he is monitored by a doctor and worried over by his vegan-girlfriend. Review: Excellent. The affects on his body and the scientific details that Spurlock offers in the film make you wonder why anyone would eat fast food. Rating:
'Team America: World Police' Plot Intro: An actor is recruited to fight a plot to take over the world. Review: Contains gross language, gross scenes, sexually explicit scenes. Not for everyone. Rating:
'Terminal' - With Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Plot Intro: A man gets off of a plane and finds out that his country no longer exists and his passport is no longer valid. He is left in limbo at the airport between two countries. Review: Somewhat entertaining. The remarkable thing about the film is the set which was totally constructed from scratch. Rating:
'The Village' - With William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Plot Intro: The settlers in a village have set up a perimeter against monsters which live in the surrounding woods and are attracted by the color red. Review: Another Shyamalan movie with a twist at the very end. The acting and the soundtrack make it an effective movie. Rating:
'Walking Tall' - With Chris "The Rock" Johnson, Neal McDonough, Johnny Knoxville. Plot Intro: Arriving in his home town, a former U.S. soldier finds corruption and crime. He is elected as sheriff, and then he begins to clean up the town. Review: Remake of the 1973 film with Joe Don Baker, which was based on the real life of Buford Pusser, a sheriff of a small town in Tennessee. It takes a while to get to the point where he runs for sheriff, and then the film deals mostly with the personal threats to himself and his family. Rating:
'Welcome to Mooseport' - With Gene Hackman, Ray Romano, Marcia Gay Harden, Maura Tierney, Christine Baranski, Fred Savage, and Rip Torn. Directed by Donald Petrie. Plot Intro: A former president (Hackman), after two terms in office during which he was divorced by his wife (Baranski), moves to his summer home in Mooseport. He asks a young veterinarian to dinner without knowing that she is the girlfriend of the local hardware man. She accepts his invitation in spite of the objections of her boyfriend. Meanwhile, the town leaders have a problem that there is an impending mayoral election with no candidates. The ex-president agrees to run, but, because of his interest in the veterinarian, the hardware man decides to run, too. The rest involves debates and golf. Review: Somewhat entertaining. Ray Romano is a favorite of mine, and this part fits him like a glove. Gene Hackman is good — as always. But it is Christine Baranski who steals every scene she's in. She provides the film with a needed amount of humor. Wait for the video. Rating:
'Bad Santa' - With Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham, Tony Cox, John Ritter. Plot Intro: A thief and his partner pose as Santa and his elf in order to rob stores in a mall. Then they move to Phoenix and try it again. Review: . Rating:
'Big Fish' - Fantasy comedy with Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup, Danny DeVito, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi. Plot Intro: A man is married and working in Paris. His wife is expecting. He gets news from his mother that his father, who he hasn't talked to in years, has just had a stroke. He flies home and tries to get his father to speak to him without all the fanciful stories that his father told him — and everyone else — when he was a kid. But are those stories complete lies? Review: Excellent. I enjoyed the whole film, but there were times when I wasn't sure my wife would enjoy it. I guess that means that some people may not like this film as much as others. The film is entertaining throughout, and some scenes are laugh-out-loud funny. There are some special effects
that are truly amazing. Rating:
'The Cooler' - With William H. Macy, Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin, Ron Livingston. Plot Intro: A man known for cooling down lucky streaks at a casino - he begins to lose his cooling when he has a lucky streak with a fellow employee. Review: Macy, Bello, and Baldwin are very good. This film contains nudity and violence. Rating:
'Elf' - With Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Mary Steenburgen, Ed Asner, Zooey Daschanel, John Favreau. Directed by John Favreau. Plot Intro: An orphaned baby is accidentally taken by Santa Claus to the North Pole where he is named Buddy and raised by Papa Elf. Eventually he finds out that he is human and leaves the elves to find his father. He finds his father and attempts to re-connect. Review: I saw this film with, as you may imagine, a large audience that included many children. I laughed very hard through almost all of the film. It is a cute Christmas story with its heart in the right place. We laughed about many of the scenes all the way home. The film is as good as "The Santa Clause" — maybe better. It will become a modern holiday classic. Ferrell has just the right touch of naive child-like innocence, and he gives a great performance — just right for the script. I highly recommend this film. Both adults and children will find it very entertaining. (I have been going back and forth on the rating for this film between three stars and three-and-a-half stars.) Rating:
'The Fog of War' - Documentary. AKA "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the life of Robert S. McNamara." Intro: Robert S. McNamara, former Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, discusses the major lessons he learned during his life. Review: The film won Best Feature Length Documentary for the year 2003. I thought it started a little slow, but maybe that was because I expected the whole film to be about Vietnam. McNamara discusses his childhood, his involvement in World War II, and his career at the Ford Motor Company. Then he talks about Vietnam. He talks about his relationship with Kennedy and Johnson, both very different. But he balks at talking about certain things involved with Vietnam, things he considers to be controversial, things that would dredge up more controversy or start a discussion that would not fit within the parameters of the film. I highly recommend this film. Rating:'Gods and Generals' - Civil War drama written and directed by Ron Maxwell. Based on the historical novel by Jeff Shaara. With Robert Duvall, Jeff Daniels, Mira Sorvino, Stephen Lang, Bruce Boxleitner. Plot Intro: Lincoln calls for troops from Virginia, which is the catalyst of driving Virginia into the Confederacy. Fathers and brothers or brothers and sisters choose different sides of the conflict. Hero figures arise during the conflict — mostly in the south. "Stonewall" Jackson is shot and dies. Review: It was difficult to sit through the film, partly because of its length (3 hours and 43 minutes plus a 10 minutes intermission) and partly because of the emphasis placed on "Stonewall" Jackson and prayers and speeches. The first third of the film deals with "Stonewall" Jackson 90% of the time. Chamberlain from Maine is the other main character. The movie as a whole deals with these two men about 90% of the time. Lincoln is mentioned during the film maybe twice; Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, is not mentioned at all; Lee is barely in the film. (I was expecting Robert Duvall's portrayal of Lee to be excellent, since I consider him to be a very good actor. But I was disappointed. His portrayal verges on a walk-through. He has little impact on the film, and he doesn't really seem to get into the part.) There is little of Longstreet and no McClellan. The majority of the movie's emphasis was on the South, and the film was basically from a Southern point of view. (The film almost seems to portray the "tragedy" of the south's loss of the war — similar to the feeling you get from "Gone With The Wind.") Very little time was given to the Northern forces. There are far too many prayers and speeches. Granted that the period was one of great emphasis on religion and "Stonewall" Jackson was an extremely religious man, but the point was made after the second or third prayer by Jackson. It became very annoying by the sixth or seventh prayer or Bible reading. I almost walked out during the scene where Jackson and a slave take turns praying. At one point Chamberlain makes a very long speech about Julius Caesar before his division marched up the hill at Fredericksburg. I'm not sure anyone in the audience knew how it fit into what was going on (which, to me, is a sign of poor screenwriting or editing). The movie only covered The First Battle of Manassas, Fredericksburg, and The Wilderness. Antietam, the bloodiest day in U.S. history, was dropped. The DVD release is supposed to be over 6 hours long. Hopefully, Antietam will be added back in. Unfortunately, I'm sure that more prayers and speeches will be added also. Ted Turner invested a lot of money into the films "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals", and it is unfortunate that the final film "Last Full Measure" may never get made. Rating:
'Holes' - With Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voigt, Patricia Arquette. Plot Intro: In spite of being innocent, a boy is sent to a remote desert area to a teenage boy work camp where each boy is required to dig a hole six feet across and six feet deep. The camp warden is using the boys to search for treasure. Review: "Holes" is geared toward young teenagers and pre-teens. I found it somewhat entertaining. It would be good family fun if you are watching it with kids. Rating:
'Identity' - With John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, Alfred Molina, Jake Busey, Rebecca DeMornay. Plot Intro: Ten people end up at a remote motel, and murders begin to take place. In the meantime, there is a man who is being treated for multiple personalities. Review: This is a film with a creative twist. I didn't like the ending though. I thought it was pretty stupid for the doctor to open the screen in the vehicle. It would have been a better ending for everyone in the audience to know that the man with multiple personalities is still a killer. It is better for the audience to wonder at the end what would happen. I don't recommend this film for everyone. Rating:'Johnny English' - With Rowan Atkinson, Natalie Imbruglia, Ben Miller, John Malkovich. Plot Intro: All of the agents of MI7 are killed at the funeral of Agent 1. The only one left is Johnny English who must foil a plot to take the British throne. Review: Atkinson is very funny as an over-confident, bungling secret agent. The ending is kind of over the top, but I can't help but laugh at Atkinson's antics. Kind of silly, but, to paraphrase the character in another movie, it's a good kind of silly. Rating:
'Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life' - With Angelina Jolie. Plot Intro: Lara tries to prevent the opening of Pandora's Box. Review: If you like Angelina, you'll probably like this film. Rating:'Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King' - Fantasy epic with Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortenson, Sean Astin, John-Rhys Davies, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Hugo Weaving. Directed by Peter Jackson. Plot Intro: Sauron launches his attack on Minas Tirith. Aragorn gathers his ghost army. Theoden musters the Rohirrim. Frodo and Sam make their way through Mordor to attempt to destroy the Ring. And then there's Gollum. Loose ends are tied up. Review: I had a similar reaction to "The Return of the King" that I did to the other two films. There were many visuals that were stunning. I'm not sure whether anyone could have done a better job bringing the visual splendor of Tolkien's world to the screen. Then there were other parts of the film where it was hard to watch. The extremely quick editing/cutting and the extreme close-ups in combination with the quick edits made it hard to follow the action. Sometimes filmmakers will do that during extremely violent scenes. I'm sure that was Jackson's intent. But since the battle scenes were so long and violent, after a while the film just looked kind of blurry. There were scenes that I wished had been lengthened, because the visuals were great. However, there were scenes that seemed to drag on and on. Many of the scenes-that-dragged were the scenes that had been added to the story. I'm sure that the intent was to make the scenes more dramatic, but I remember thinking many times during the film, "Get on with it." The pacing of the film seemed erratic. Overall though, the movie was very good.
It may be the best of the three. Though there are differences between the book and movie — both major and minor, I would be willing to see it again. Rating:
'Lost in Translation' - With Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Plot Intro: Two lonely people, one a middle-aged married man and a very young married woman, meet in Tokyo, Japan. Review: "Lost in Translation" is a very sweet film where two people become close friends in spite of the age difference. There is love scene between the two, but they become very close. The film ends with a mystery. What did Bill Murray whisper into Scarlett Johansson's ear? I'm sure we'll never know. Rating:
'Love Actually' - Holiday romance with Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Martin Freeman, Alan Rickman, Billy Bob Thornton, Rowan Atkinson, January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert, Claudia Schiffer, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards. Plot Intro: Several couples deal with romantic situations as they approach the holidays at the end of the year. Review: A gathering of many stars into one film with many stories. This is the kind of film that you either like or you don't. Some nudity. Rating:
'Master and Commander - The Far Side of the World' - With Russell Crowe. Written and directed by Peter Weir. Based on the novels by Patrick O'Brian. Plot Intro: In 1805, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars between Britain and France, a British ship receives orders to chase a French frigate-privateer from off of the coast of Brazil, around the Cape of Magellan, to the Galapagos Islands. Their first encounter proves that the French ship is bigger, faster, better armed, contains guns that have a longer range. Yet the action between the two ships continues. Review: Excellent film. Nominated for best film Oscar. Crowe should have received another Oscar nomination. Highly recommended. Rating:
'Matchstick Men' - Suspense Crime Drama with Nicholas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman. Directed by Ridley Scott. Book by Eric Garcia. Screenplay by Nicholas Griffin. Plot Intro: A con artist meets a girl who claims to be his daughter. Review: All of the principal actors are great in the film, but the film never really caught on for me. I was able to predict the ending about a third of the way through. But I have the ability to pick out what is going on in TV mystery shows ("Cold Case", "Touching Evil", etc.) very early on — sometimes even during the first scene before the shows opening title. So I wasn't too disappointed when I figured it out so far ahead. It was interesting to see how they manipulated the script in order to get there. If you like Nicholas Cage and if you like crime/con-artist drama, you will probably like "Matchstick Men." I liked "Adaptation" — another Cage film — better. Rating:'Matrix Reloaded' - AKA "Matrix 2." With Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith. Plot Intro: Neo has become a super-being in the Matrix. The machines begin to drill down into the earth toward Zion in order to destroy the human rebellion. Neo and his crew must find the "Keymaker" in order to have a chance to save them all. Review: Wow! From the beginning of the film to the end, I never lost the feeling that it was the coolest film that had ever been made. I remember being wowed by the Gandalf vs. Balrog fight at the beginning of TTT, but that film didn't live up to the beginning. Matrix Reloaded is great all the way through. I can't wait for the DVD and the 3rd film! The film is definitely a must-see-in-theater kind of film. The MPAA rating: The love scenes between Neo and Trinity are of the adult variety. No nudity, but there are definitely enough things going on to let you know what is happening. And the violence of the fighting may have put it over the line. And the original film, the first of the series, was rated R — probably for the violence. The love scenes: They are more adult than anything that Lucas or Spielberg would ever do. By that I mean that there is more believability and heat between the actors. The relationship between the Queen Amidala and Anakin seems to be more of a Junior High-young love level. I can't see Natalie Portman ever being able to do what Carrie-Anne Moss can do on the screen. And Keanu Reeves is certainly more mature than the guy who plays Anakin. The talking: I heard one reviewer say that this is the most talky action film he had ever seen. The first film was very talky, and I don't think that the ratio of talking was any different from the first. They scattered the talking and the action (and the love scenes) in such a way that nothing was emphasized at the expense of another. It all worked together. The fighting: Excel-lent! As good or better than the first film. Plot twists: There are enough of them that some people may have a hard time adjusting to the changes. After the first film and through more than half of the second, everyone has been assuming that the Matrix (and Neo himself) fit into the story in a certain way. Suddenly all of those assumptions are destroyed. But I thought it was pretty cool.
Things that were great:
The twin albinos
The Agent Smiths
The battle of the Agent Smiths against Neo
The battle on the expressway
The battle in the foyer of one of the houses
Neo and the machine sentinels
The Oracle, the Archetype, etc.
How Neo saves Trinity's life.
I even liked the Keymaster. The crowd laughed a few times because of him.
My review of "The Matrix" (1999) - the film that started it all
'Matrix Revolutions' - AKA "Matrix 3." With Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith. Plot Intro: The machines continue to drill down into the earth toward Zion in order to destroy the human rebellion. Neo and the humans must save all of free mankind and maybe free all of those humans enslaved by the machines. Review: (If you want to read spoilers, then proceed.)
I was disappointed by the third film.
The first part of the film was too talky.
The defense of Zion, the fights with Smith, and Neo's meeting with the Deus Ex Machina were all good.
I was not aware that the actress who played the Oracle had died after the making of the second film. The new actress was not as good in the part, and something seemed to be missing from the film because of it. The new actress became a distraction.
I wasn't impressed by the fight in the night club in the beginning.
The fight scenes were cut and edited much more than those of the first two films, and there was too much close-up photography. If you examine the fight scenes in the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", you will notice that the filming was was from a distance, and there were not as many cuts to the scenes. It has some of the best fight scenes ever filmed. The first and second Matrix movies had more editing and cutting than "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Yet the movies were still excellent, because you could still follow the action since the editing didn't become too frenetic. "Matrix Revolutions" crosses the line into being overly edited, and much of the action ends up in close-ups that make it all too hard to follow.
The film needed more footage cut in certain scenes. It took too long for Neo and Trinity to figure out that Agent Smith had taken over the stowaway's body, and it took too long for Trinity to say good bye to Neo.
I was disappointed by the death of Trinity and her death scene.
The ending was very unsatisfying. It left it open for another sequel, but there are unresolved issues. What happens to Neo at the end when he is carted off by the machines after his final fight with Smith? The humans celebrate at the end because they feel that they had won some victory, but what about all the copper-top-battery-humans that are still connected to the Matrix? They are dealt with in a cryptic one-sentence statement made by the Architect to the Oracle at the end of the film. And there are blue skies above the Oracle at the end, but that is in the Matrix, isn't it? Are the blue skies supposed to indicate a good ending? The music seemed to imply that was the intent. But virtually nothing changed in the real world. I don't think the reason for Neo doing what he did at the end is adequately explained.
It would be extremely depressing if Zion and the human resistance was just another part of the Matrix.
A friend of my suggested the following: Why didn't the machines just leave the humans alone and use milk cows for the same purpose? Cows are much more docile, and they have a higher body temperature for the production of energy. Just a suggestion.
As I walked out of the theater, I came to the conclusion that the first movie of the trilogy is better — maybe the best of the three. My acceptance of the second film and my criticism of the third film is not based on the length of wait for each film — that is, that I accepted the second film due to a wait and thought the third was not as good because of a lack of wait. It is based on the content of what was delivered. However, the difference in quality may be due in another way to the shortness of time between the second and third films. The filmmakers did not take enough time to make sure that the pacing was right. Rating:
My review of "The Matrix" (1999) - the film that started it all
'The Medallion' - Fantasy adventure with Jackie Chan, Lee Evans, Claire Forlani, Julian Sands. Plot Intro: An evil man and his gang kidnap a boy in Hong Kong, because whoever controls the boy and the medallion his has will have powers. Review: Very silly and somewhat annoying. It seems that Chan should be involved in better films. Rating:'A Mighty Wind' - Directed by Christopher Guest. Written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy. With Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Paul Dooley, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr., Parker Posey. Plot Intro: A promoter of folk music dies, and his son brings together all the old folk music acts for a tribute concert on live TV. Review: Very very funny. Very entertaining — even on DVD. Parts of the film were done ad lib (not sure what percentage). The music in the film was written for the film. Better than "Best of Show" or "This is Spinal Tap". Highly recommended. Rating:
'School of Rock' - With Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Sarah Silverman. Directed by Richard Linklater. Plot Intro: An out-of-work rock band member poses as his friend, a substitute teacher, in order to get enough money to pay his rent. He also wants to win the prize at a Battle of the Bands, so he enlists his students to learn to become a rock band. Review: A little too long, since it seemed like they went over the same plot point more than once. Many of the children aren't very good actors. I believe that they actually played their instruments. Some of the guitar and drum work is pretty impressive. Jack Black is funny often enough that I kept with the film until the concert at the end. Rating:
'Secondhand Lions' - With Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, Haley Joel Osment, Keira Sedgwick, Josh Lucas. Written and directed by Tim McCanlies. Plot Intro: A teenaged boy is left with his two uncles. He is on the cusp of being full-grown, and yet he is still very impressionable. His two uncles tell him stories of their lives. The boy makes friends with the dogs, the pig, and with a pet lion that was delivered. Review: Robert Duvall is excellent, as usual. Caine is very good, and it is fascinating to hear him talk with a Texas accent. Haley has his moments, but he isn't quite the same as when he was in "Sixth Sense" where he was such a natural. Some of it is the fact that he is growing into his adult form. Recommended. Rating:
'Shanghai Knights' - With Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. Plot Intro: The father of the Shanghai Kid is killed, and the royal seal of China is stolen and taken to England. The Kid hunts down his former partner, Roy O'Bannon, in order to get his share of the money recovered when they rescued the princess (in the first movie). Roy and he make it to England where they meet the Kid's sister. The three of them attempt to get the seal back and save the royal family of England. In the process, they meet Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Jack the Ripper. Review: Not quite as good as the first. It is easy to see the effects of a big budget on this film. Still, it is humorous and entertaining. Recommended, if you are in the mood for a light film. Rating:'Something's Gotta Give' - Romance with Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Amanda Peet, Keanu Reeves,
Frances McDormand. Plot Intro: A woman goes to her summer home with her sister, but she finds a man without pants in her kitchen. While she is calling the police, he explains that he is dating her daughter. Right then, her daughter comes out of the next room. The mother is shocked, because he is older herself. Then the older gentleman has a heart attack and needs to recuperate in her summer home. One thing leads to another. Review: Excellent, highly recommended. The transition from Nicholson and Keaton disliking each other to where they love each other is believable. Keaton is wonderful, and Jack is Jack. Peet is one of my favorite actresses, and Reeves is great as the laid-back doctor who every woman on the screen wants. Rating:
'Les Triplettes De Belleville' - French animated feature. AKA "Belleville Rendez-Vous", "The Triplets of Belleville". Plot Intro: A grandmother raises her grandson to be a competitor in the Tour de France. He and two other riders are kidnapped and forced to ride in a fake race for the entertainment of gamblers in a large city. The grandmother follows the kidnappers and attempts his rescue with the Triplets of Belleville. Review: Though this is a French film, it is not subtitled or dubbed. There is very little dialogue, and the dialogue that is in the film is easy to figure out. The style of the animation and drawing is unique, and a French style can be discerned. The story is cute at times, boring at times, and somewhat disgusting at times. I'm not sure what children will think of it, so you may want to view the film before showing it to children. Rating:
'Under the Tuscan Sun' - Romance with Diane Lane. Based on Frances Mayes's book. Plot Intro: A woman in her 40s who is a professor of literature and writes book reviews finds out that her husband has been having an affair. In an attempt to adjust and deal with the pain she's feeling, she takes a trip to Italy. During a tour of Tuscany, she finds an old run-down villa for sale and impulsively buys it. Review: Very good film with some beautiful fly-by photography. Diane Lane is always believable — at least in every one of her films that I've seen. Rating:'X2 - X-Men United' - With Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Kelly Hu, Brian Cox. Plot Intro: A mutant attempts to kill the President, and the government begins the process of destroying all mutants. Review: This film is a sequel to the movie "X-Men" (2000). The second film is better than the first. There are more characters who have mutant talents, and the way these characters interact is very creative. The special effects are very good. It is worth seeing in the theaters, if you can. It will probably translate well to video/DVD. The end of the movie definitely sets up for a sequel. I understand that there are four movies planned in the series. Rating:
'About A Boy' - With Hugh Grant and Toni Collette. Plot Intro: A man feels that he can live his life without any commitments, but he gets involved with the son of single mother. Review: Humorous, touching. Highly recommended. Rating:
'About Schmidt' - Bleak comedy with Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Kathy Bates, Dermott Mulroney. Plot Intro: A man in Omaha, Nebraska retires and tries to adjust to his new life. The problem is that 24 hours of his wife is too much for him — and vice versa. Within a few days she dies. Then he has to interact with his daughter who moved to Denver to get away from him, since he was too involved in work to really get close to anyone. She is engaged to be married to a guy who is employment challenged. He has to drive to Denver for the wedding. He is a lonely, angry man who has to put on a good face for his family and possible in-laws — just like he did day after day at work. Review: Bleak comedy, a character study. Nicholson delivers a subdued performance. It is so well done that he becomes both a sympathetic and pathetic character. Though it can still be considered a comedy, there are very few times of laughter. Recommended, if you're up for it. I finished reading the book recently. Both the book and the screenplay were written by the same author, but the book and the movie bear little resemblance to each other. Other than Schmidt being a retired widower with a daughter who has no love for him, everything is different. Even the character's first name is different. The book could be viewed as a middle-aged man's fantasy where young women frequently throw themselves at an elderly widower -- events which, to me, lack basis in reality. I would liked to have seen a movie version of the book, though the anti-Semitism of the main character, Schmidt, may have presented a problem. Rating:
'Adaptation' - With Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper. Plot Intro: A reporter for the New Yorker magazine goes to Florida to interview an orchid poacher, writes an article for the magazine, and expands it into a book. A successful, neurotic screenwriter agrees to adapt it for a movie. The book is not adaptable. His twin brother though becomes a successful screenwriter and attempts to help adapt the orchid book. Trouble follows. Review: The movie is at times very humorous and at times very suspenseful. Recommended. Rating:'Analyze That' - Comedy with Robert DeNiro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow. Directed by Harold Ramis. Plot Intro: Attempts are made on the life of a Mafioso while he is in prison. He fakes mental illness to get released into the custody of his shrink. Chaos ensues. Review: This movie is a sequel to the 1999 hit "Analyze This." While I found the first film to be very humorous, I found very little to be funny in "Analyze That." During the first half of the film I felt like I was being assaulted by four-letter words. DeNiro's character was very humorous in the first film, since he was playing a "fish-out-of-water" kind of person — a mobster who had issues. In the sequel, his character is not dealing with psychological issues, but instead he is exposing himself to Crystal's family, avoiding getting killed, and doing other cliche Mafioso-type activities. The "making of" documentary in the Special Features had clips of the film that seemed to be funnier in the documentary than when they were edited into the actual film. When they appeared in the film, they seemed to fall flat. The acting of DeNiro and Crystal seemed forced — as if they were working real hard to make bad material appear to be funny. Lisa Kudrow is the only one who comes out of the film looking good. She is great as Crystal's wife. Rating:
'Bourne Identity' - Spy thriller with Matt Damon, Frank Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen. Plot Intro: An unconscious man is discovered floating in the storm-tossed Mediterranean with two bullets in his back. During his search for his identity he is chased by the police and he barely escapes attempts on his life. Review: This is the best espionage-type movie that I've seen in a long time. Matt Damon is very convincing. Highly recommended. Rating:
'Bowling for Columbine' - Documentary by Michael Moore. With Charlton Heston. Intro: Michael Moore interviews people to find out why Americans are so violent. Review: This film won the Best Feature Length Documentary Oscar for the year 2002. The impression I had before viewing this film was that the film was an attack on the NRA. To a certain extent it does deal with the gun culture of the United States. However, the film transitions into a comparison between the American culture and that of other nations, and it attempts to come up with an answer to the question of why the differences exist. I know that many people may be hesitant to watch this film because of Moore's speech at the Academy Awards. I was somewhat hesitant, too, but out of curiosity I started watching it and found it to be very stimulating and thought provoking. I highly recommend it. Rating:
'Catch Me If You Can' - With Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks. Plot Intro: A teenage boy (DiCaprio) idolizes his father. But his father begins to go through difficulties with the IRS, and his parents divorce. The teenager runs away and turns to crime to get the money to live on his own. After a while, the FBI takes notice of him. Review: Based on a true story. The re-enacted scene where he appears on "To Tell The Truth" is fact. The episode was aired on the Game show cable network. A very humorous movie. Excellent film throughout. Highly recommended. I recently read the book on which the film is based, and after a while it is hard to believe that the story is true. One thing that struck me in the book was that he gave the dimensions of the prison cell he was in after he was arrested in France. He says that he could not lay down, because the cell was shorter than he was tall. But if you take the dimensions and calculate the diagonal for the cell, you would know that he could have laid down diagonally. Anyone who is that uncomfortable in a small cell would have figured it out. So things just didn't add up to me. But the movie is entertaining. Kind of a fantasy. Rating:
'Chicago' - Musical with Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellwegger, Queen Latifah, John C Reilly, Taye Diggs, Lucy Liu, Christine Baranski. Plot Intro: Murder in Chicago — and all that jazz. A woman dreams about being on the stage of a jazz club. Review: Based on a Bob Fosse stage musical. The film won Best Picture Academy Award for 2002. Zeta-Jones won Academy Award for Supporting Actress. The film also won for editing, costume design, art direction, sound. I am not into musicals too much, but I found it to be entertaining. I will always think that "The Pianist" was the best picture of the year. Rating:
'Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood' - Dramedy with Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Ashley Judd, James Garner, Maggie Smith, Fionnula Flanagan (best known for "Waking Ned Divine"). Plot Intro: Mothers have daughters who have daughters. Each instills something in the other, which can be good or bad/painful. This is basically the story of a girl (Judd) who never is able to deal with a devastating loss and the effects this has on her children (Bullock being one). Review: The movie has a great list of actors. I like all of these actors, so the movie should be good — right? I came away thinking that it could have been better. First, the story is funny at times, and it is painful at times. The painful parts (which involved alcoholism, drug abuse, and child abuse) overpowered the humorous parts. The movie will be especially painful for people who have experienced any level of physical or emotional abuse during childhood. Second, the film glosses over how hard it is to deal with very painful childhood memories. Most people would not respond the same way as Bullock's character who is able to forgive all after finding out that her most painful memories are due to her mother's alcoholism and a prescription given her by a quack. Discovering explanations for painful childhood memories doesn't make them any less painful. It is true that one part of the maturing process is dealing with all the painful memories of childhood that can occur when one is relatively young, or it may never occur. Maybe that is the point of the film. Third, the film is supposed to be about characters who live or lived in the south. The southern accent isn't too hard for many actors to carry off. Sandra Bullock doesn't try to sound like she is from the south even though she was supposed to be born-and-raised there. And two of the actors are from the British Isles (Smith and Flanagan). Their southern accents do not sound quite right. Weren't there good southern actresses available? Fourth, the story is about Judd/Burstyn and her friends as they grow up and have children. Judd/Burstyn and her friends are there throughout the film, but the only child who is present at the end of the film is Bullock. Her sister and brother are gone as well as the children of the other women. No explanation is given. Fifth, the men in the film are not real characters. Their only purpose is to be those who withstand the alcoholic women's storms of anger. Rating:'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' - Fantasy with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Kenneth Branagh, Shirley Henderson. Plot Intro: The second film based on the acclaimed popular series by J.K. Rowlings. Harry is warned by a "helpful" house elf that he should not go back to Hogwarts this year. Harry does any. Someone opens the Chamber of Secrets and releases the monster within. Review: The second Harry Potter movie was excellent. It made up for any problems that the first movie had. The acting of the children was better. There was more and better special effects. The movie stayed very close to the book. Whatever differences there were did not take away from the main points of the story. At times it seemed that the screenwriters and director were packing into a very short period what must have taken Rowlings many many pages. The only complaint possible (maybe) is that the film is very long (160 minutes or so). The ending after the monster is killed definitely could be more concise. This brings up the point that the movie is much darker and scarier than the first one. The action in the last part may be too much for small children. One thing of note: "[T]he Chamber of Secrets" is probably the last film of Richard Harris who was great as Professor Dumbledore. His death is a sad loss. One final comment: It is a wonderful thing to be able to see the Harry Potter series and the Tolkien trilogy brought to life. It could not have been possible to a large extent without computerized special effects. Rating:
The HP Lexicon - some interesting reading if you are a Harry Potter fan.
'Hart's War' - Drama with Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell, Terence Howard. Plot Intro: Two downed American Tuskegee airman are brought to a WW2 POW camp. One is killed by guards, and the other is accused of killing a racist POW. Review: Lots of twists and turns in this WW2 fictional story. Kind of a detective story in a POW camp. Rating:
'Hollywood Ending' - Comedy written and directed by Woody Allen. With Woody Allen, Téa Leoni, Treat Williams, George Hamilton, Debra Messing, Tiffany Thiessen. Plot Intro: A director — who is hard to work with and has worn out his welcome with most studios — is forced to direct commercials. Then he gets a break to direct a major film in New York City. The problem is that he has to work with his ex-wife and her new fiancé. Review: I have seen most of Woody Allen's films. I like some better than others. This film is somewhere in the middle. I have mixed reactions. Woody Allen movies always have some good lines, and this one is no exception. There are lines that made me laugh out loud. However, if the Allen is attempting to skewer studio-types, he is only partially successful. And if he is attempting to make a romantic comedy, it is an awkward one. One of the parts of the movie that bothered me was the way Allen attempts to act blind. I understand that it would be difficult for blind people to look another person in the eye, but the whole reason for have a sense of hearing and the use of two ears is the ability of the brain to determine a direction from which a sound is coming. In one scene, for example, Allen is sitting about three feet from someone who is talking to him, and Allen turns his head 90 degrees from the person talking. The person was so close, he should have been able to feel their breath. All I could do was groan. At least Allen should have pointed his eyes in the general direction. This may be a small thing to some people, but the humor of the whole movie turns on whether Woody's blindness is believable. As the movie dragged on, it became more of an issue. If you are a huge Woody Allen fan, you may enjoy the film. Rating:
'Ice Age' - With Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Jack Black, Cedric the Entertainer, Jane Krakowski. Plot Intro: Sabertooth tigers want revenge on a tribe of humans. In the process, a baby gets separated from its family. It is found by a mammoth and his "sidekick", a sloth. Can they protect the baby from the vengeful tigers? Review: Cute in parts. There is very little plot. I have heard that it is very entertaining for children. I have yet to talk to an adult who truly liked it. Mostly, they were glad that the kids liked it and were kept busy for around two hours. The waterfall is particularly well animated. Rating:
'In America' - Drama. Plot Intro: An Irish family moves to New York City. Review: Excellent film. The first half is not quite as strong as the second half, but if you stay with it, you will be rewarded. The ending is great. The two girls steal the film. Rating:
'Lilo & Stitch' - With Tia Carrere, Ving Rhames, David Ogden Stiers, Jason Scott Lee. Plot Intro: A small creature, the result of genetic engineering by an alien scientist, escapes to earth. It is designed to destroy everything it contacts. It poses as a pet dog in order to avoid capture by aliens searching for it. Review: An entertaining story. Children will probably like it. Not one of Disney's greatest. Rating:'Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers' - Fantasy epic with Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortenson, Sean Astin, John-Rhys Davies, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Hugo Weaving. Directed by Peter Jackson. Plot Intro: The Company has been split up. Gandalf continues his fight with the Balrog. Merry and Pippin were captured and carried by an orc troop toward Orthanc and Saruman. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli begin their pursuit of the orcs. Frodo and Sam begin their journey toward Mordor. Many adventures and dangers are ahead of all of them. Review: When I left the theater, I was never so torn about a movie as I was about this one. I was wowed at the beginning of the film by the final battle between Gandalf and the Balrog. It was very exciting to think that the movie could possibly be that quality all the way through. It was soon after that that I wanted to scream at the screen, "Why can't you just stick to the book?" I don't remember what it was, since there were so many places. There were scenes that were the best possible Tolkien adaptations, then there were others that were acceptable, and then there were the rest.
I was especially annoyed by all of the Arwen portion of the film. There was just too much Arwen, and what they added did not relate to anything that Tolkien wrote — unless you count the appendices. If the screenwriters had not increased Arwen's part in the film, there might have been time to portray more of the actual story. In order to add the romance to the film, the screenwriters took parts of appendices and added it to the films. Tolkien had the opportunity to include that story line to the main part of his book, but he placed it in the appendices. This indicates to me that he felt that the readers could follow the story without that information. That is what I found when I read the book. I didn't read the appendices until the second or third time I read "The Lord of the Rings." In order to really understand the Aragorn-Arwen relationship, you would have to delve into the history of the elves, look at the Luthien and Beren story, maybe look at how the wife of Elrond died, describe how Aragorn was raised. The Aragorn-Arwen relationship wasn't necessary for the understanding of the basic story in the movies.
It is interesting to compare the LotR movies with Harry Potter. Personally, I feel that the Harry Potter movies have been great, the changes they have made to the story are reasonable. One reason is that J.K. Rowling was involved in approving the scripts. She had to in order for all of the movies to work together while at the same time not ruining plans she had in future books. That was smart. On the other hand, we have the mess that is LotR. Where was the Tolkien family or their representatives? Were they happy just to have received the money? Did they trust Peter Jackson too much?
My point is that the film should have been more like the book. What is frustrating about the film series is that the filmmakers are putting forth such a quality effort and spending hundreds of millions of dollars. And what do we get? Some good costumes, some good special effects, some good visuals and scenery. But we don't exactly get what millions of Tolkien fans wanted. And when will anyone else put forth the attempt to make one more faithful to the book? Certainly not in our lifetime — if ever. I don't argue with the fact that they needed to cut corners in the story in order to get each film to around 3 hours. But there were a lot of things added to the story — especially in the second movie — that are unnecessary to the story. When those parts came up, all I could think was that I was going to be in the theater for over 3 hours, and much of it were things that weren't in the book and were unnecessary to the story. I guess I got my hopes up after the initial scene with Gandalf and the Balrog. It was a roller coaster ride after that. By the end I was somewhat depressed and more than a little scared about what they might do in the third movie. It looks like what Tolkien fans most feared has come upon them. The extended version: The extended version DVD of the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, went a long way to correct some of the errors that were made in the theatrical release version of the film. The reason for this is that the problems with the first movie were ones of omission. The extended version DVD of the second movie, The Two Towers, cannot possibly correct the problems of the theatrical version, since the problems of the second movie were not of omission. They moved Frodo to Osgiliath, had him almost give the Ring to a Nazgul, changed the very nature of Faramir. These problems cannot be fixed by adding scenes that had been cut out of the movie in order to make it three hours long for the theatrical release. But I have to say that the Extended Edition is a little easier to watch. Maybe part of
the reason for this is that it is on a smaller screen. In the theater, the viewer is assaulted with extremely close headshots. There is one of Arwen, her head being 15-20 feet high, with the wind blowing in her hair that lasts an annoyingly long time. That scene isn't quite as annoying on a smaller screen. The Movie Dragged: The film dragged getting to the Helm's Deep battle. It took almost 1.5 hours from the time Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli arrived at Edoras to where the orcs even approached Helms Deep. (I timed it.) I don't think it would take that much time to read it. I thought there was too much spent on Theoden's character wondering what he should do, etc.
There were parts of the movie where I thought that it dragged. Several times the thought came to my mind that scenes would have been better if they had been shortened and edited better. I think I had the same reaction to "The Fellowship of the Ring." The parts of the movie that I liked*: Gandalf's battle with the Balrog, Gollum, The capital of Rohan, Grima/Wormtongue, The gates of Mordor, Helm's Deep, Treebeard and the Ents, The attack on Isengard, The flying Nazgul (just as I imagined them), The costumes, scenery, photography.
* - Not all of the parts that I liked were exactly like in the book, but they were creative and entertaining. The parts I didn't like were things that crossed "the line" for me. Parts of the film I hated: (1) All of the Arwen stuff:
The length of time spent on Arwen nearly drove me crazy. I think I've made my thoughts clear
on this point. (2) All the extreme close-ups but especially the close-up of Liv Tyler crying
-- with the wind blowing in her hair. Besides the fact that it was unnecessary, I thought it was too long and kind of weird.
(3) The conversation between Elrond and Arwen. This scene is barely mentioned in Tolkien's third book. It was altogether too long in the second movie.
(4) The way Faramir was portrayed (his desire for the Ring is not in the book). This may be the worst travesty of the movie.
(5) The telepathic conversation between Elrond and Galadriel. Rating: Related Links:
'Men In Black II' - With Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Lara Flynn Boyle, Rip Torn, Rosario Dawson. AKA "MIIB". Plot Intro: An alien is after the a light that was hidden on Earth. The alien disguises herself as a lingerie model. The MIB crew have to try to foil her plot. Review: As good as the first movie. Rating:
"Men In Black" (1997).
'Minority Report' - Science fiction mystery thriller action picture directed by Stephen Spielberg. With Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Neal McDonough. Plot Intro: Three people are found who have a high level of precognition (ESP). They are used in a program to eliminate murder in Washington, DC, and those who run the program have the goal of taking the program national. One of the pre-crime cops (Tom Cruise) is said to be about to murder a man. The problem is that he has never met his supposed victim. Then he discovers that he has been set up. Review: The story is a little hard to get into at first. One problem is that the scenic design is so futuristic that it is at times hard to get a handle on what you are seeing. (Seeing the film a second time may help.) But by the second half of the film when Tom Cruise is on the run, the drama (and my interest) build. Not as "dark" as "Blade Runner." Spielberg keeps attempting to make a film that isn't consistent with the upbeat, positive of his earlier films. (During some of the hype for "A.I.", he said that he was trying to make the film darker.) "Minority Report" may be his darkest. He deserves a lot of credit for creating a world that is so futuristic. I sure would like to have one of those cars! I have several questions though. Would society ever get to the point where they would purposely lock people away who had not committed a crime? Wouldn't there be a lawyer somewhere who would try to get the precogs released in order to give them a better life? I mean, what kind of life are they living, laying in a pool all the time? Rating:
'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' - Comedy with Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Lainie Kazan, Michael Constantine, Joey Fatone. Written by Nia Vardalos. Plot Intro: A youngish Greek woman finally breaks free from the limitations placed on her by her family and her culture. She meets a non-Greek high school teacher, falls in love, and introduces him to her family. They get married. Review: Heart-warming fluff of a movie that lovingly pokes fun at all our families, which are manically different in their own ways. Recommended. Rating:
'The Pianist' - Directed by Roman Polanski. With Adrien Brody. Plot Intro: A Jewish pianist, the best pianist of Poland and maybe the world, is forced to attempt to survive during the German occupation of Warsaw, Poland as well as their retreat. Review: This is the best movie of 2002 that I've seen. It is very moving, and it is extremely well-done. At times you have to wonder how they did everything. The movie includes extreme violence and horrific scenes. It is based on the true story of the pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman who died at the age of 88 in the year 2000 after authoring a book that related the story. Well worth the effort to view it. Should have won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was probably hurt by Roman Polanski's personal problems. Rating:
'Punch-Drunk Love' - With Adam Sandler, Emily Watson. Plot Intro: A man who has problems relating to people goes through various problems. Review: To tell you the truth, I did not see the whole picture. I sat through the first half. I waited and waited for the story to make sense. I gave up and walked out. It's the only movie I have ever asked for my money back. Any film that takes more than half of its length to make any sense is not good filmmaking (IMHO). This may be the worst movie I've ever seen — aside from "The Blair Witch Project." Rating:'Santa Clause 2 - The Mrs. Clause' - Holiday fantasy-comedy with Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold. Plot Intro: Santa cannot stay Santa unless there is a Mrs Clause because of the "Mrs. Clause." At the same time Santa needs to find out why his son is becoming a juvenile delinquent. In order to find a Mrs. Claus and help his son, he has to be away from the North Pole, so his closest assistants create a replica, but the substitute creates more problems. Review: Not any where near as good as the original. The plastic substitute Santa is very strange and will scare young children. The love story isn't convincing. The movie isn't as well written as the original, which was charming in its cleverness. The sequel must have been written by other people, because there is very little that is clever. Rating:
'Signs' - With Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Plot Intro: Crop circles are being created around the world. They are the precursors of an invading force. Review: This may be one of the most over-hyped movies. It is certainly one that used deceptive advertising. The advertising implied to me that it would be a huge budget science fiction thriller. But it is more of a character study in the context of some science fiction. I have been increasingly puzzled by Shyamalan. "Sixth Sense" was an excellent film, and it became a sleeper hit. "Unbreakable" was very good, but it didn't measure up to "Sixth Sense". If "Signs" is any indication, the quality of this ideas and screenplays is continuing to decline since the peak of "Sixth Sense." It may be that Shyamalan will never again have a film as good as his first blockbuster hit. Yet we can always expect each one to be heavily advertised as a film by the director of "The Sixth Sense" with the implication that it will be as good or better. Rating:
'Spider-Man 2' - With Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, Cliff Robertson. Plot Intro: A nerdy kid is bitten by a genetically engineered spider, and his DNA is altered. He becomes a super-hero who defends the city against The Green Goblin. Review: A great action picture. Probably the best action picture of the year. Rating:
'Star Wars Episode II - Attack of The Clones' - With Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits. Plot Intro: A young Jedi knight, Anakin Skywalker, fights the contraints of his tutor, because he thinks he knows what is right and doesn't need someone always looking over his shoulder. He ends up annihilating a group of men in order to save his mother and falling in love with the former Queen. In the meantime, his tutor, Obi-wan Kenobi, tracks down the clones and discovers a plot against the Republic. Review: Excellent special effects are dragged down by a love story that is clumsily written and filmed. The best thing about the film is the fight between Yoda and Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus (Christopher Lee). Natalie Portman seems to have no ability to show emotion. She is the equivalent of a crash-test dummy in this film. However, since she has shown acting ability in other films such as "Beautiful Girls", this may be a choice of George Lucas. If so, it was a terrible choice. Rating:
'Sweet Home Alabama' - With Reese Witherspoon. Plot Intro: A clothing designer gets engaged, but she has to go to Alabama to take care of a little thing - she's already married, and she's having trouble getting her husband to agree to a divorce. Review: Lost interest in this film pretty early, since the story was poor, the main star/character couldn't carry the story by herself, and none of the supporting characters were likeable. Rating:'The Transporter' - Action drama with Jason Statham, Qi Shu, François Berléand. Plot Intro: A man makes a living transporting items from one place to another. He is hired to transport an item which turns out to be a young Chinese woman. Review: This was the first Jason Statham film I ever saw. I was very impressed by how good it was. It's like he's born to this kind of part Excellent film. Fun to watch. Rating:
'Whale Rider' Plot Intro: A young Maori girl, whose twin brother died at birth, tries to become the person her grandfather expected her brother to be. Review: Excellent film. Well worth watching. Rating:'xXx' - With Vin Diesel, Samuel L Jackson, Asia Argento, Marton Csokas. Plot Intro: An x-games type becomes a secret agent to stop a plot that threatens the world. He's sent undercover without training to contact an organization that detects military trained agents and kills them. Review: May be attempting to be like an American James Bond with a world threatening plot. Some good action sequences. Rating:
'Amelie' - Romantic fantasy with Audrey Tautou. French with subtitles. Plot Intro: A woman realizes that she has the power to make several people happy. She goes to work, and along the way she discovers love for herself. Review: Excellent film. I thought it was one of the best films of the year. It has some "Ally McBeal" type special effects. But it is a sweet film, and I highly recommend it. Rating:
'America's Sweethearts' - Romantic comedy with John Cusack, Billy Crystal, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Seth Green, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Walken. Plot Intro: A husband and wife movie team came together again for another romantic drama. By the end of the film, the real-life romance is over. After filming is finished, the two are coerced into going on a pre-release tour with their assistants and publicity agents. They are hounded by a large number of reporters. Review: Fluff. Entertaining if you have nothing else to watch. Zeta-Jones is beautiful. Roberts and Crystal are good. The climax is pretty funny. Rating:
'A Beautiful Mind' - Drama with Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris. Directed by Ron Howard. Plot Intro: A brilliant mathematics professor works through schizophrenia. Review: Great film. Won Academy Award for Best Picture. Ron Howard won for Best Director, and Jennifer Connelly won for Best Supporting Actress. Rating:
'Behind Enemy Lines' - Drama with Gene Hackman, Owen Wilson, Gabriel Macht. Plot Intro: A US Navy pilot is shot down behind enemy lines in Bosnia. Review: I had always heard that this film was based on a true story, since there was a US pilot who was shot down and rescued by the Marines. But it turns out that the film is very loosely based on the event. The pilot filed a lawsuit against the filmmakers, taking exception to some of the parts of the film. The film has good action as long as you keep in mind that only the core event of a pilot being shot down is based on fact. Rating:'Bridget Jones's Diary' - Comedy with Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth. Plot Intro: A frumpy, slightly overweight office girl quits her job after a failed affair. She gets another job as a news reporter, and she falls in love with a very handsome man. Review: Based on the best-selling novel that was based on the 19th century novel "Pride and Prejudice." Zellweger gained quite a few pounds for the part. Very entertaining. Rating:
'The Curse of the Jade Scorpion' - Comedy with Woody Allen, Helen Hunt, Elizabeth Berkley. Written and directed by Woody Allen. Plot Intro: An insurance investigator has to clear himself of a jewel theft. Review: A lame comedy, not well acted, not well written. Rating:
'Dogtown and the Z-boys' - Documentary. Narrated by Sean Penn. Plot Intro: A group of kids take skateboarding to a new level. Review: Fascinating film about a group of kids who gravitate to surfing and a local surf shop. Then during a drought, they learn new ways of using a skateboard in empty backyard pools. The film is helped by a great use of the soundtrack. Rating:
'Donnie Darko' - With Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross. Written and directed by Richard Kelly. Plot Intro: A high school student is visited by a man in a 6 foot rabbit suit who says that the world will end in 28 days and some odd hours. Review: A cult hit, the film "Donnie Darko" was released in 2001 just before the 9-11 attacks. It was pulled from the theaters in the U.S. It has gained a cult following and is very popular in England. I first became aware of it after seeing a commercial for a computer game which used a song from the movie. I looked into where the song came from and tracked it down to the soundtrack of "Donnie Darko". I bought the Director's Cut and viewed the movie twice -- once on its own and once with the director's commentary, and I watched all of the Special Features. "Donnie Darko" is certainly intriguing, and it can be comfusing. It could be interpreted as a dream that Donnie had one night, or it could be interpreted as the impressions of a kid who is going into schizophrenia, or it could be interpreted as a heroic story of a teenager who saved the world. The director wrote it as the latter, but he says that the film can be interpreted legitimately in multiple ways. The theory about the heroic interpretation hinges on two things. First, the idea of time travel through worm holes, and, second, the idea of tangential universes. I think it will benefit from multiple viewings. This film may not be for everyone. Rating:
'Gosford Park' - Mystery drama with Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Kristen Scott Thomas, Stephen Fry. Directed by Robert Altman. Plot Intro: A boorish owner of an estate in England is murdered. There are multiple suspects. Review: Well-done, though the story is somewhat confusing. Interesting study of early 20th century British society. Rating:'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' - aka "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" - Fantasy with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane. Plot Intro: An attempt on the life of a baby results in the death of the attacker. The baby grows and later finds out that he has powers and his parents were wizards and were killed. He begins attending a school for wizards and encounters trouble. Review: Excellent attempt to translate the highly successful book into a movie. There are some changes to the story, but the book is followed relatively faithfully. Very entertaining — though Radcliffe is not up to playing the lead. I would highly recommend the book as well. The book is titled "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" in Britain. The film was written and made using that term. Certain lines had to be looped over to make the American version. Rating:
The HP Lexicon - some interesting reading if you are a Harry Potter fan.
'Heartbreakers' - Comedy with Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liotta, Jason Lee, Anne Bancroft, Gene Hackman, Nora Dunn. Plot Intro: Two women go around trying to scam rich men. Review: Entertaining comedy. Good performances throughout. Rating:
'Iron Monkey' - Martial arts film. AKA "Siunin Wong Fei-hung tsi titmalau". Directed by Woo-ping Yuen. Chinese with English subtitles. Plot Intro: A doctor fights corrupt officials as a masked hero. The officials attempt to hunt him down. Review: Re-release of a 1993 movie. Excellent fight scenes.
May be a remake of an 1977 film called "Iron Monkey". I haven't seen the 1977 film, but you can buy the widescreen version. Rating:'Jurassic Park III' - Science Fiction thriller with Sam Neill, William H Macy, Téa Leoni, Laura Dern, Michael Jeter. Plot Intro: A kid is missing on an island filled with dinosaurs. His parents attempt to find him. They trick a scientist in to assist them. Review: Excellent special effects. The story is somewhat lacking in logic. How could a young teenager survive as long as he did? Why do they make the decisions they do? Why is everyone so stupid? Rating:
'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider' - With Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight, Daniel Craig. Plot Intro: People are searching for two pieces of an ancient stone artifact that will allow them to control time. Lara Croft is intent on being first to find it. Review: Loosely based on a video game. If you like Jolie, you may like this movie. Rating:
'Legally Blonde' - Comedy with Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson. Plot Intro: A sorority girl wants to prove herself at Harvard. Review: Humorous. Witherspoon is great in the part. Followed by a sequel, "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde". Rating:'Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring' - Fantasy with Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortenson, Sean Astin, John-Rhys Davies, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Hugo Weaving. Plot Intro: It is discovered that the one Ring of power has been in the possession of a hobbit. The task before the Fellowship of the Ring is to destroy it. They have to somehow avoid the horde of the minions of the Lord of the Ring. Review: Based on the best-selling book by J.R.R. Tolkien. Excellent set design and special effects are all but offset by what is done to the well-known story. The emphasis on Arwen (played by Liv Tyler) is totally unnecessary. If they were interested in increasing female viewers, having Tyler's role increased would not have any effect. Women will go see the film because they are interested in the book or they are on a date with someone who is. What is so disappointing is that this may be the last time that the book will be dramatized, and it is done by a group of people who either have no respect for the story or possibly do not know it as well as they should. I found the extended version of the DVD to be a little more palatable. Rating:
'Monsters, Inc.' - Pixar animated comedy feature with John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Jennifer Tilly, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, John Ratzenberger. Plot Intro: A little girl is loose in Monster City. Two monsters try to get back in her bedroom before anyone gets hurt. Review: Maybe the best film of 2001. Excellent. I could watch this film over and over again and still see something new and be entertained every time. Rating:
'Ocean's Eleven' - With Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, Elliott Gould, Bernie Mac. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Plot Intro: A con-artist gets out of prison and recruits a group of ten guys to rob a casino where his ex-wife happens to work. Review: Fun movie. The plot is a little sketchy. The story is edited together with a lot of flashbacks, which sometimes make the story a little confusing. But the reason to view the picture is to see all of these great personalities together on the screen together. Followed by the sequel, "Ocean's Twelve". Rating:
'The Royal Tenenbaums' - Comedy with Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin. Written Wes Anderson and Luke Wilson. Directed by Wes Anderson. Plot Intro: Three geniuses grow up long after their father has abandoned them to be raised alone by the mother. He reappears, claiming he is dying, and wants to be allowed to be involved with his family again. Review: The cast seems to have fun with a weird script. The weirdness of the script should be no surprise, since it is written by the same screenwriters who wrote "Rushmore." Rating:
'Saving Silverman' - With Jason Biggs, Steve Zahn, Joe Black, and Amanda Peet. Plot Intro: A guy decides he is going to marry a girl who his friends feel is totally wrong for him. They decide to kidnap the girl. Nothing but trouble follows. Review: Love Amanda Peet. Didn't particularly like this movie. Rating:
'Serendipity' - Romantic comedy with John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Piven, Molly Shannon. Plot Intro: Two people meet and hit it off, but they get separated. Years later, they make serious attempts to find each other — even though they are engaged to different people. Review: Excellent film. Fun to watch. Cusack may be getting too old for believable romances with women in their early 20s. Kate Beckinsale is beautiful. Rating:
'Shaolin Soccer' - AKA "Siu lam juk kau." Plot Intro: A has-been football/soccer athelete becomes the coach of a group of down-and-out Shaolin martial arts students. They enter a tournament and come up against the team of the coach's old nemesis. Review: Kind of slow at times. Somewhat entertaining. The final showdown is a real kick. Rating:'Shrek' - Animated comedy with Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow. Plot Intro: An ogre wants to be left alone, but he is forced to rescue a princess in order to get some peace and quiet. Review: Excellent animated feature that received the first Animated Feature Academy Award. I still think that Monsters, Inc. was better. Followed by the sequel, "Shrek 2". Rating:
'Almost Famous' - Biographical comedy with Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Paquin. Written and directed by Cameron Crowe. Plot Intro: A kid wants to break into the music industry as a reporter for "Rolling Stone". He has to deal with an uncooperative band and a rowdy group of roadies who call themselves "Band-Aids". Review: Very good film. Based on the experiences of Cameron Crowe. Kate Hudson is excellent, as are Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, and Frances McDormand. Hoffman is great, as usual. Rating:'Best in Show' - Comedy with Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Catherine O'Hara, Michael McKean. Written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy. Directed by Christopher Guest. Plot Intro: A mockumentary about the behind-the-scenes going on of a major dog show. Review: Somewhat humorous. Rating:
'Cast Away' - Drama with Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Plot Intro: A FedEx worker catches a company plane, but the plane crashes and he attempts to survive and get back to his loving wife. Review: Very good film if you can take the period where Hanks is stranded on the island. I found that it wasn't as annoying as other did. Rating:'Chicken Run' - Comedy with Mel Gibson and Miranda Richardson. Plot Intro: A farmer's wife is plotting to switch from having an egg farm to making and marketing chicken pies. The chickens, aided by a "flying" rooster (Gibson), organize and plot their escape. Review: This film is a feature length comedy from Aardman Studios, the same people who did all of the "Wallace and Gromit" shorts that won Oscar after Oscar. (If you haven't seen the Wallace and Gromit shorts, seek them out. "Grand Day Out," "The Wrong Trousers," and "Close Shave.") All I can say is that the film is a work of genius. Very funny. One of the best films of the year. It should have been nominated for the Oscar. Rating:
'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' - Martial arts-romance with Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang. Directed by Ang Lee. AKA "Wo Hu Zang Long". Plot Intro: A swordsman wants to retire and settle down with the love of his life. He gives his sword, "The Green Destiny," for safe-keeping. The sword is stolen. Then the sword is given back. Then the sword is stolen again. Then the sword is acquired back again. Review: This film is Ang Lee's attempt to bring the Chinese wu xia tradition to a big-budget film. And he succeeds in every possible way. (The wu xia, or "martial chivalry," tradition is China's central heroic myth. They involve "knights errant" or righteous sword-fighters who carry disciplined perfection in the martial arts into the realm of magic, focusing their chi so ferociously that they can leap tall buildings.) There are breath-taking fight scenes along with breath-taking scenery filmed in many parts of China. Entwined in the story are two love stories. The fight scenes are choreographed by Yuen Wo-ping who was involved in all of the fight scenes in the move "Matrix." Rating:
'Drunken Master' - Martial Arts film starring Jackie Chan. AKA "The Legend of Drunken Master." Plot Intro: A practitioner of drunken boxing takes on antiquity smugglers. Review: Jackie Chan movies are always a treat. This one is a rare treat. The fighting sequences are amazing. This is really a sequel to the 1978 breakthrough film of Jackie Chan - Drunken Master. Rating:
'Duets' - With Gwyneth Paltrow, Huey Lewis, Paul Giamatti, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Michael Bublé. Plot Intro: A series of stories each centered around two people. Some karaoke. Review: Lots of bad lip-syncing and lots of bad acting on top of a bad script. Rating:
'Erin Brockovich' - Drama with Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Marg Helgenberger. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Plot Intro: An unemployed mother gets a job working for a local lawyer and then stumbles on a major environmental case. Review: Very good. Julia Roberts received her Academy Award for her performance. Several others in the film were nominated. Based on a true story. Rating:
'Family Man' - Romantic fantasy with Nicholas Cage, Téa Leoni, and Don Cheadle. Plot Intro: A man who seems to have the world by the tail is given the opportunity to find out what it would have been like if he had chosen a different path. Review: This film is another in a long line of films that explore the on-going question everyone has: Where would I be if I had made different choices or things had been different. When watching the film, I found references to films such as "It's a Wonderful Life," "A Christmas Carol," and "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" (the latter being remade as "Heaven Can Wait"). By this, I don't want to give the impression that the film is not good. The film covered this territory with enough new nuances that it is worth the look. All of the performances were very effective and at times touching. This is Téa Leoni's best film performance. Rating:
'Fantasia 2000' - Animated. Review: "Fantasia 2000" is a collection of classical musical pieces to which cartoons of fantasy have been set. It is similar in concept to the original "Fantasia." If you liked the first "Fantasia," you'll like this updated version. It features stars such as Steve Martin, James Earl Jones, Bette Midler, Penn & Teller, and musicians such as Itzhak Perlman. Includes the popular Magician's Apprentice" from the original "Fantasia." Children love the cartoons with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. We could hear little voices throughout the theatre yelling, "Mickey!!" Rating:
'Frequency' - Fantasy mystery thriller with Dennis Quaid, James Caviezel. Plot Intro: A fireman discovers that he can somehow talk to his father over the space of a 30 year gap using his father's old ham radio. Review: Excellent film. Dennis Quaid is great. Well-written. The whole story is well thought out in relation to a time continuum. Highly recommended. Rating:
'Galaxy Quest' - Comedy with Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver. Plot Intro: The crew of a science fiction TV show are mistaken for the real thing by a group of aliens that are being attacked by a very aggressive group of aliens. Review: Very humorous. Many times it is laugh out loud funny. Very well done for what it is attempting to do. The special effects are very good, too. The film was released in December, 1999, but the DVD was released in the summer of 2000. So I have the review in the sections for 1999 and 2000. Rating:
'Ghost World' - With Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi. Plot Intro: A high school girl strikes up a relationship with a middle-aged man. Review: Birch and Buscemi are very good. Johansson plays a secondary character. Rating:
'Gladiator' - Drama. Plot Intro: A trusted general of Marcus Aurelius is accused of treason when Marcus Aurelius dies. He plots his revenge. Review: Great action picture. A little short on historical truth. For example, no one in the second century would have considered going back to the Republic. It just wasn't possible any more. Received Academy Award for Best Picture. Rating:
'High Fidelity' - Comedy with John Cusack, Iben Hijejle, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins, Catherine Zeta Jones. Plot Intro: A late 20ish man (John Cusack) is walked out on by his girlfriend (Hijejle). This causes him to do a lot of soul searching, since every girl with which he has had a relationship has walked out on him. Review: The film is humorous — not hilarious. It is a thinking man's comedy. The monologues in which John Cusack talks to the audience (i.e., the camera) are believable. They help illuminate the psyche of this type of man. He has to come to terms with the life he has dealt himself. (Hijejle is the correct spelling.) Rating:'Meet The Parents' - Comedy starring Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller. Plot Intro: A nurse in Chicago goes to meet his girlfriend's father who he thinks is a retired horticulturalist. He finds out that the father is a retired CIA lie detector expert. Review: This may be the funniest movie of the year 2000. Ben Stiller shows true genius in this film, and Robert DeNiro is always excellent. The initial dinner scene and the race through town are two of the funniest scenes I have watched in a long time. Followed by the sequel, "Meet the Fockers". Rating:
'Memento' - Mystery drama with Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Jorja Fox. Written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Plot Intro: A man who suffers from short-term memory loss attempts to find the killer of his wife. Review: Excellent. The format of the film is not chronological, but it is edited in reverse. Yet the film seems to hold together and have more meaning when watched multiple times. Highly recommended. Rating:'Miss Congeniality' - Comedy with Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt, Candice Bergin, William Shatner. Plot Intro: A threat against a beauty pageant is discovered. The only way to protect the contestants and find out who is behind the threat is to have an FBI agent go undercover as a contestant. The only problem is that the person chosen is severely lacking in social graces. Review: Humorous and fun to watch. Sandra Bullock is always a delight in these kinds of comedies. She is great at physical comedy. Candice Bergen is great, and William Shatner is a scream. Followed by the sequel, "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous". Rating:
'My Dog Skip' - Drama with Frankie Muniz, Kevin Bacon, Diane Lane, Luke Wilson. Plot Intro: A boy wants a dog. After a little discussion between his parents, he get permission to have one. It changes his life. Review: Very good film. All of the performances are very good — particularly the dog who is a relative of the dog on the TV series "Fraser". It is always a marvel to see what they can train animals to do. Rating:'Nutty Professor II: The Klumps' - Comedy with Eddie Murphy and Janet Jackson. Plot Intro: Professor Klump must deal with Buddy Love again. Buddy tries to steal a valuable formula while the professor is distracted by Janet Jackson. Review: Eddie Murphy is amazing. But there is a little too much bathroom humor (which seems to be in every film he has control over recently). Rating:
'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' - With George Clooney, John Turturro, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Charles Durning, Michael Badalucco, Stephen Root. Plot Intro: Based on the legend of Ulysses, three escaped convicts attempt to make their way back home to a buried treasure. They go through a series of adventures, and they are constantly tracked down by lawmen with the aid of the smell of Ulysses's pomade. Review: Entertaining with a unique blend of music. George Clooney is great in the film. Rating:
'The Perfect Storm' - Drama with George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, John C Reilly, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Karen Allen. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen Plot Intro: Pressured by his boss to have more fish, a fishing boat captain takes his crew out to a place in the Atlantic Ocean that is targeted by "a perfect storm". Review: Some parts of the story were based on true events. Others were fictionalized, because nobody knows what happened on that fishing boat. The film is a tribute to the people who work in one of the most dangerous occupations. Rating:
'Pollock' - Drama with Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Jennifer Connelly, Bud Cort, Val Kilmer, Amy Madigan, Jeffrey Tambor. Plot Intro: Jackson Pollock struggles with his art and his alcoholism and his wife and with his desire for fame. Review: Kind of depressing. Portrayal of a man who had emotional issues that caused him to spiral downward. Harris and Harden are very good. I have a hard time appreciating art like Pollock's though. Rating:'Princes and Princesses' - Animated feature by Michel Ocelot. AKA "Princes et Princesses". Plot Intro: A father and two children dramatize six stories about love. Review: The film is done in a silhouette animations style. This film is by the same filmmaker who made "Azur et Asmar". "Princes and Princesses" is not quite as good. A good rental. Rating:
'Remember The Titans' - Sports drama with Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Ethan Suplee, Hayden Panettiere. Plot Intro: A white high school and an African-American high school are combined in a Southern US city. An African-American coach is chosen to head up the coaching staff. He has to mold a group of coaches and player, men who don't trust each other, into a team. Review: Based on the true story of events in 1971. Very good movie. Washington and Patton are great, as is Panettiere. All the players on the team are great. The reenactment of football plays could have been better. Rating:
'Return to Me' - Romance with Minnie Driver and David Duchovny. Plot Intro: A successful architect loses his wife in an automobile accident. Her heart is transplanted into a woman that he eventually falls in love with. Review: Touching, enjoyable. Duchovny is surprising, and Driver is very good (as always). Rating:
'Shanghai Noon' - Western comedy with Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, and Lucy Liu. Plot Intro: A Chinese princess (Liu) is kidnapped for ransom. Members of the Imperial Guard are assigned to take the ransom to the appointed place and bring the princess back. Along the way one of the Guards is separated and meets a bandit who helps him recover the princess. Review: What can I say? I like almost all Jackie Chan movies. He is very entertaining. Owen Wilson is very, very good. His lines are well written. Rating:
'State and Main' - Comedy with Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker. Written and directed by David Mamet. Plot Intro: A film crew arrives in a small New England (after they were chased out of another) in order to film "The Old Mill" only to find out that the town's old mill burned down years ago. The question is, "Does a movie that is called 'The Old Mill' have to have an old mill in it?" Review: Somewhat humorous attempt to show what the process of making a film is all about. Hoffman is good as the screenwriter, and Macy is OK as the director. Alec Baldwin is always good. Rating:
'The Tao of Steve' - Romantic comedy. Plot Intro: A former big-man-on-campus" has become an obese, chain-smoking, pot-smoking, alcoholic, part-time day care worker (but can still get just about any girl he wants) meets his match in a former fellow philosophy student who was one of his "conquests." Review: Based on the experience of one of the screenwriters. Humorous fluff; fun to watch. Shows some insights into human nature. Rating:
'Titan A.E.' - Animated Sci-Fi. Plot Intro: The earth has been destroyed ("A.E." means "after earth"). A young human is chased around the universe, because he holds the key to a re-emergence of mankind. Review: An impressive attempt to bring a Star Wars-type story to the screen in animated form. The story is rather juvenile, so it will appeal to young teenagers more. Rating:
'U-571' - War drama with Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Jon Bon Jovi. Plot Intro: In World War 2, a navy crew attempt capture a German U-boat, and then they have to survive. Review: Very good action picture based somewhat on events that occurred in World War 2. Contrary to information on the special features of the DVD, there were actually three U-boats were actually captured in WW2. The U-110 was captured on May 19, 1941 by a British naval team and then scuttled. It was actually U-110 on which the Enigma machine was recovered. The U-505 was captured on June 4, 1944 by an American naval team. It is on display in Chicago. The U-570 was captured by a British team on August 27, 1941. The movie was probably a melding of all of the details of each of the three with the addition of "Hunt For Red October" kind of danger for the crew that took over the U-boat. Since the group that recovered the Enigma machine was British, the movie probably should have portrayed the team as British. Rating:'Unbreakable' - Drama with Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Plot Intro: A man is the only survivor of a train wreck and discovers that he may have special powers. Review: The advertisements for the film implied that "Unbreakable" was as good or better than "The Sixth Sense", which was also by Shyamalan. People who went with that kind of anticipation were disappointed, since the film, though it is good, is not of the quality of "The Sixth Sense." I think that this will be a continuing problem with Shyamalan films. Shyamalan will probably never equal the quality of "The Sixth Sense", but the studio will over-hype his films as being as good or better than his early blockbuster. In my opinion, "The Sixth Sense" was his peak. "Unbreakable" was not quite as good as "The Sixth Sense", and "Signs" was not nearly as good as "Unbreakable." There is a downward trend in the quality of his script ideas and of the films he creates. I have heard that it is possible that there will be a sequel to "Unbreakable."
Since I wrote this review I have watched "Unbreakable" on DVD a few times along with the special features. After watching the special features, I have come to understand the film more. I like it more now than when I first saw it. The explanations in the special features really helped. Rating:
'What Women Want' - Romantic comedy/fantasy with Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, and Marisa Tomei. Plot Intro: A male-chauvinist-pig ad executive uses newly acquired reading-of-female-minds ability in order to get career advancement — until he falls in love with his boss. Review: At times very funny. It is interesting to listen to which parts are laughed at by women and which parts are laughed at by the audience as a whole. But you can see what is coming in the predictable last act. To paraphrase Popeye: This movie is what it is. Rating:
'The Whole Nine Yards' - Comedy with Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry, Michael Clarke Duncan, Roseanna Arquette, Amanda Peet, Natasha Henstridge, Kevin Pollack. Plot Intro: A Montreal dentist discovers that his neighbor is a Chicago hitman. Review: Excellent! Bruce Willis is great. However, the main reason to watch the film is Amanda Peet. She steals just about every scene she is in. Her performance is so good that she should have been nominated for an Academy Award. I'm usually rolling on the floor laughing when she first meets Bruce Willis's character. This is one film that I could watch over and over again. It may be the funniest film of the year. Followed by the sequel, "The Whole Ten Yards." Please note that there is some nudity. Rating:
'Wonder Boys' - Comedy-drama with Michael Douglas, Toby Maguire, Robert Downey Jr., Frances McDormand, Katie Holms, Rip Torn. Based on the Michael Chabon novel. Plot Intro: A professor is trying to write a novel that will be a follow-up to a well-received novel he wrote and published years before. He befriends a student at the college who turns up to have a natural gift for telling stories in print. Review: Somewhat of a comedy. More of a character study. I did not find the film or the story to be that interesting. Rating:'X-Men' - Fantasy with Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, and Anna Paquin. Plot Intro: When man evolves to a higher level, it leads to a tale of prejudice, conflict, and intrigue. Some of the "mutants" plot to avenge themselves on the leaders of the world. Another group of "mutants" attempt to prevent the catastrophe. Review: Based on a series of comic books. From the director of "Seven." Loaded with special effects. Slow in the beginning as the screenplay tries to bring everyone up to speed with the X-Men story. The action sequences and special effects are very well done. Might strike many people as weird. Rating: