Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Movie Rundown 2005

  1. Batman Begins (****) I love this movie. Hats off to Christopher Nolan and David Goyer, who co-scripted, and Nolan, who directed. This is Batman as it's never been told before: dark, scary, complex, character-driven, and brilliantly acted. Imagine that: an intelligent, exciting, and totally entertaining mainstream Hollywood blockbuster that focuses more on story and character than it does on special effects and gee-whiz thrills. Don't get me wrong though. The gee-whiz thrills are there and then some. But what this film does really well is focus on the man behind the mask.
    Christian Bale is wonderful in the role, and I think, the most accomplished actor to take on the part. He invests Bruce Wayne with depth and grace, and when he dons the cape and mask, the voice he uses is like a creature out of hell: it puts the fear in anyone. I really enjoyed the fact that this one focused so much on Batman. All the previous Batman movies were fascinated by the villains. Here, the villains are low-key, believable, and they all take a back seat to Batman.
    Believability is another key element of the film. Nolan and Goyer have done an incredible job of deconstructing the legend and fashioning an origin tale that is both super and yet totally of-this-world. Gotham City is a weird mix of many big cities, and it manages both to be futuristic and utterly modern. The weapons and the Batmobile are all given practical explanations, as are Batman's fighting skills.
    And how about that cast? Michael Caine is awesome as Alfred: funny, wise, and touching when his loyalty to the Wayne family is on display. Morgan Freeman is like the "Q" to Bale's Bond and their scenes together are among the more enjoyable in the movie. I could go on and on. Nobody is overacting here. They're all wonderfully understated.
    This is an excellent set-up for what Nolan and Goyer intend to be a trilogy. Why stop at three? If they are anywhere near as good as this one, audiences are going to be in for a special treat. It's rare that I'll leave a movie, especially one that runs roughly 2.5 hours, wanting to go right back in and see it again. I felt like that after seeing Batman Begins though. I even clapped at the end of it. For me, this is pure moviegoing heaven.
  2. Cinderella Man (****) The previews for Cinderella Man appeared self-important and practically screamed, "Give me an Oscar." Having seen the film, I don't think the movie needs to ask for any Oscars. People are just going to give it some. This is a film that gives both "feel-good" movies and biopics a good name. It is expertly acted, directed, designed, and scripted. I think the strength of the film rests with the story. The life of James J. Braddock is one that I'm sure most people aren't entirely familiar with, but one that is definitely worth portraying on screen. The Great Depression is a period in American life ripe with amazing stories, and Braddock's struggle through it all adds emotion and resonance to his later successes in the ring. As played by Russell Crowe, who apparently can do just about anything, he is a strong and decent man fighting to keep his family together in the midst of overwhelming odds. You can practically feel the movie theater audience rooting for Braddock along with the characters on screen. Ron Howard achieves the seemingly impossible task of filming the boxing scenes in new and exciting ways. After Raging Bull, Rocky, and even the recent Million Dollar Baby, one would think the boxing genre was all washed up. Not if Cinderalla Man has anything to say about it. The script, co-written by A Beautiful Mind's Akiva Goldsman, has an excellent structure and should be used to teach people how to write screenplays. This movie should appeal to just about everyone, and will be a lock for some Oscar nominations come February. Excellent. \
  3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (***) It's rare in a film franchise where the movies keep getting better and better with each installment. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is not only the best Harry Potter film yet, but it's also one of the most imaginative, exciting, and awe-inspiring movies of the year. I was a bit unsure of whether director Mike Newell could pull it off, but after seeing Goblet, he seems like the perfect choice. More than any of the other films, this Harry Potter veers wildly from one genre to the next. It's a thriller, an action-adventure, a coming-of-age drama, and a comedy all at once. It takes someone like Newell who's done good work in a variety of different genres to navigate the piece and establish a coherent tone, and that he does. I think it's a huge accomplishment to have all three actors grow up on film in the way that they have. Both Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint give their best performances to date here. Radcliffe, for all intent and purposes, owns the character of Potter now. Emma Watson is the only actor to digress a little in this one, but it could be the way her character is written. She does nail her one dramatic scene at the Yule Ball though. This film is a lot darker than the previous three. We're finally getting to some real substance with these Potter films, and the appearance of Lord Voldemort near the end is proof of that. The filmmakers nail the end scene with Voldemort and countless others. Brendon Gleeson meshes perfectly with the already fabulous cast, and makes Mad-Eye Moody a wonderfully entertaining character. Goblet of Fire is filmmaking on a grand scale. It aims big, and it delivers big.
  4. Crash (***1/2) Powerful stuff. Written and directed by the Oscar-nominated writer of Million Dollar Baby, Crash is an incisive, heated, and very human drama dealing with race and racism in America. The script bristles with hard-edged truth and three-dimensional characterizations, and is as tightly plotted as a movie can get. It reminded me a lot of Magnolia and Traffic in the way it expertly weaves and ties together different characters and stories. The cast is one of the most diverse of its kind: blacks, whites, asians, persians, and latinos all figure prominently. Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, and Sandra Bullock all do stellar work, as does everyone else. This is one of the best films of its kind. Challenging, entertaining, and unforgettable.
  5. Jarhead (***1/2) The tagline for this movie is "Welcome to the suck," but there's nothing sucky about it. This is an intense, funny, saddening and deeply human character study gussied up as a war movie. Imagine Full Metal Jacket, only better because it's actually just as interesting when the soldiers leave boot camp and head off to the war. I use "war" in a very loose sense of the word given that most of the film is about the downtime leading up to actual combat. Because this is the Gulf War, which was over in just four days, we don't actually get to see much combat. What we do get is a realistic portrayal of the boys and men serving as Marines, who've spent over three years training to kill only to find that killer mentality rendered useless overseas. The performances are outstanding: Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Saarsgard, and Jamie Foxx are all Oscar-worthy. Sam Mendes' direction is nothing short of perfection, and he keeps getting better with each movie. William Broyles, Jr.'s script is simple, direct, and powerful. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is the best I've seen this year. I enjoyed the lack of politics in the movie, though it is definitely anti-war, but then again, every war movie is anti-war. This is a great film. Those who knock it for being all build-up and no payoff either don't understand what the film was attempting or only enjoy seeing combat. This is a different kind of war film, and it's entirely refreshing.
  6. Good Night, and Good Luck. (***1/2) George Clooney's second directorial effort is even better than his last. This is a tightly focused, beautifully shot film. I think when people describe a film as "handsomely" shot, this is what they're talking about. This is one handsome film. The black and white, the constant smoking, and the period decor all contribute to that fact. David Straithairn absolutely nails Edward R. Murrow, and captivates the viewer in every scene he's in, much like the real Murrow did back in the 50's. The movie dramatizes the battle between Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy in an efficient and highly effective manner using a seamless combination of both archival news footage and present-day recreation. The dialogue is crisp and memorable, with Frank Langella having most of the movie's best lines. Though it feels slowly paced on the surface, the movie just zips along and is over before you know it. One of the year's best.
  7. Sin City (***1/2) This will go down as the most faithful adaptation of a comic book/graphic novel to ever hit the screen. As brutal as it is brilliant, the movie is a visual wonder with a script and characters so memorable, they're practically seared into your head. Mickey Rourke gives the performance of his career as Marv, and the rest of the cast is uniformly excellent. Robert Rodriguez' best film yet, and as innovative as the original Matrix in terms of expertly combining story, style, and technology.
  8. Kung Fu Hustle (***1/2) Kung Fu Hustle is many things. It is a rip-roaring action flick, a highly stylized and absurd comedy, a gangster pic, and a live action Looney Tunes cartoon. Its director and star, Stephen Chow, is, in my humble opinion, the best Asian import since Chinese food. His first film to cross over to the U.S., Shaolin Soccer, was a funny and winning little sports/kung fu comedy. With Kung Fu Hustle, Chow has stepped up his game and taken on a more ambititious effort. This movie pulses with the pure, unadulterated joy of putting on a show. The action is absurd, the characters exaggerated, and the storytelling frantic, but the viewer is left grinning ear to ear the entire time. Superb entertainment, in the best sense of the word.
  9. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (***1/2) What an awesome flick. This is a real movie movie. It's self-aware, stylish, and showy. It knows what it is, and boy, does it have fun with the conventions of noir-action-comedy-buddy films. Shane Black, the writer-director, is behind some of the more enjoyable and influential action flicks of the late 80s and 90s. Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight are all his. Here, he has the benefit of working with Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, two actors who give his script the ultimate reading. It's ballsy, hard-boiled, clever writing. Some of the lines are just screamingly funny. Kilmer particularly shines as the gay private detective affectionately called "Gay Perry." A two-bit thief and gay P.I. are not the typical match in these kinds of movies, but Black knows this and has a grand old time shooting holes through what these movies tend to require and what audiences expect. Along with Kung Fu Hustle, this is the most unabashedly exhilarating moviegoing experience of the year so far. Go see this little gem now.
  10. Murderball (***1/2) Awesome documentary. Rich, funny, emotional--there really aren't enough adjectives to describe it. The movie doesn't limit itself to just covering the extreme sport of quad rugby, but rather, it gives us a real-life glimpse of the men in the wheelchairs and their families, thier struggles, their triumphs, and everything in between. There's a lot of good father-son moments in the film that will have a lot of the guys in the audience weeping silently. More significantly, the movie busts through stereotypes and breaks down social barriers, and makes you open your eyes a little. You'd be hard pressed to find a documentary, or even a fictional film, with characters and situations as compelling as those in Murderball. .
  11. Hustle and Flow (***1/2) This is an excellent example of bridging an independent film's sensibilities with a mainstream, feel-good, Rocky-style story. Terrence Howard is amazing as DJay, a pimp with aspirations to be a rap star. The movie plays much better than it sounds, and Howard imbues his character with sympathy and grace. What I like best about the film is the way it maintains a hard edge throughout. You never really know if it's going to end up happy or in a hail of bullets. The musical sequences are exciting, and writer-director Craig Brewer really nails the desperation of DJay and his cohorts, and impressively achieves a stylistic 70s atmosphere. Anthony Anderson and Taryn Manning both deliver knockout supporting performances. Highly recommended.
  12. In Good Company (***1/2) A perfect example of how to make a mainstream, Hollywood comedy. The acting, directing, and writing are all top notch. Topher Grace is fantastic; and his quasi-father/son relationship with Dennis Quaid's character is the heart of the film.
  13. The Upside of Anger (***1/2) Joan Allen and Kevin Costner are absolutely wonderful in this well-written and very funny character-driven drama/comedy. It thankfully doesn't go for the typical tearjerker ending, and actually does something more thoughtful and interesting. Great dialogue, great characters, great acting all around.
  14. The Squid and the Whale (***1/2) Brilliantly written and acted, The Squid and the Whale is one of the better films this year. Writer-director Noah Baumbach mined much of his personal history to give this film so much insight and truth into the effect divorce has on a family. Though the film contains some incredulous indie film "quirks" and leaves the viewer a bit cold, so much is right here. The parents' power struggles over the kids is nicely realized, and a lot of the dialogue is sharp as a knife and can really cut. I'd compare the film to Closer in that regard, where much of the audience is shocked just to hear such vile and poisonous words pour out of the characters mouths. Kudos to Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney for perfectly capturing that New York intelligentsia character dynamic, and to the child actors, particularly Jesse Eisenberg of Roger Dodger, who gives the film it's sole, beating heart. Worth seeing.
  15. Me and You and Everyone We Know (***) An unusual and somewhat brilliant little quirkfest. There are moments in this film that are so funny and so well-constructed that you can't help but be taken in. Give writer/director/star Miranda July credit: she set out to make a movie that interested her and that she thought was funny. That kind of commitment to a unique vision is rare these days. I laughed hard and often during the movie, especially during the movie's standout scene involving two kids in an Internet chat room. It's a scene that tops a similar one between Clive Owen and Jude Law in Closer. Miranda July is a performance artist in real life and it shows. Much of the movie is just a bunch of weird, somewhat disconnected yet funny ideas thrown against a wall to see which ones stick. It doesn't add up to a completely satisfying whole, but you won't forget this movie anytime soon.
  16. Walk the Line (***) Following on the heels of last year's Ray, Walk the Line is another exemplary musical biopic featuring two of what will probably be the most nominated performances this awards season. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are both amazing here, and give some of their finest performances to date. Director James Mangold does a good job of capturing the intensity of Johnny Cash's music and performances, but is also smart enough to focus on the love story between Johnny and June Carter. The love story is what makes this film shine. If not for that, it'd be just another "musician makes good despite daddy issues and a drug addiction" movie. You'll get goose bumps during the climactic engagement scene. And although the viewer knows where the movie's going from a mile away (even those who know diddly about Johnny Cash), it's always entertaining and makes you leave the theater wanting to buy a Johnny Cash album or read more about him.
  17. The Weather Man (***) The Weather Man is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. It is an intelligent, funny, and at times, movingly dramatic film that's made for adults. Few films like this get through the Hollywood pipeline, and when one finally does, we, as audiences should embrace. Nicolas Cage is wonderful as Dave Spritz, a man trying to keep a smile on his face when nothing in his life is worth smiling about. He could give Bill Murray an acting lesson on how to act depressed and downtrodden while still retaining the behavioral aspects of a human being. This is probably director Gore Verbinski's best film. After the splashy, but highly enjoyable, Pirates of the Carribean, he's settled down and here tells the story as simply and stylishly as he can. The city of Chicago is on full display, and it's one of the few films where the weather is such an important and memorable character, which is fitting here given the title of the movie. There are so many great, small moments.
  18. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (***) This is going to be a difficult one to review. Lucas had such an impossible task ahead of him with this third film of the new trilogy. Due to his failures in Episodes I and II, he's left himself with the bulk of the interesting story to tell in under two and a half hours. On top of that, he has to satisfy all the fanboys who've been dreaming of and picturing the events in this film in their mind ever since they saw the original trilogy. Not everyone will be completely satisfied. Heck, I wasn't, but that doesn't diminish Lucas' achievement with this film.
    Yes, okay. Lucas can't write dialogue. This is painfully obvious in any of the scenes between Anakin and Padme. Love stories and real human connections aren't his forte, I guess you could say. And yes, Anakin's conversion to the dark side is rather rushed, but that's because there was just too much damn story to tell. On one hand this is a problem becuase the viewer's left wanting a more satsifying and believable switch to the dark side. But on the other hand, the abundance of story means that this film freakin' moves. Unlike Episodes I and II, which were basically all filler, everything meaningful happens in this one. Once it starts, it never really lets up.
    While I don't think Lucas achieved the "tearjerker" he wanted this film to be, I do think that it's kind of sad when Anakin becomes Lord Vader. All this time I've been wanting him to go bad, and yet, when the moment finally arrives, I found myself wanting him to stay good, to find it in himself to do the right thing.
    If you're a Star Wars fan, you are bound to find something to love in here. From the opening rescue of Chancellor Palpatine, to Obi-Wan's lightsaber duel (of which there are lots of in this film) with the six-limbed General Grievous, to the Anakin-Obi-Wan fight to the finish amidst "liquid hot magma." I'm going to be coming back to this one time and time again. I think that Hayden Christensen gives a much better performance than he did in Episode II. Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan is always a delight. I thought Ian McDiarmid did a superb job as Palpatine, and in sneakily and expertly trying to seduce Anakin to the dark side. I love the lizard that Obi-Wan rides. I love the reveal of Darth Vader at the end. I love R2D2's unexpected acrobatics at the beginning. I love the Wookie planet (though I wish we'd gotten to see more of it). I love Yoda.
    When it comes down to it, I think you have to rank the Star Wars films to get a good sense of where they stand. Time will of course tell, but for me, right now, it goes: Empire, New Hope, Sith, Jedi, Clones, Phantom Menace. While beating Clones and Phantom is no big deal, beating Return of the Jedi sure is. This film is dark, it moves fast, and it's visually amazing. It's not a perfect film, but then again, I don't think it ever could be given what was left to cover after Episodes I and II. I think those who don't like it are either too nitpicky, or are too caught up in their own expectations. For me, Episode III delivers the goods.
  19. Wedding Crashers (***) A breath of fresh air in a summer of remakes and sequels. This is one funny movie. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn play off each other remarkably well. Vaughn is on fire the entire movie. Every joke out of his mouth is a winner, and that guy talks fast. Wilson gets stuck with an obligatory romantic comedy subplot, but he's likeable, as is The Notebook's Rachel McAdams. The movie goes on a little too long, but it has built up so much goodwill in the audience before then that you don't really care. Plus, there's a great cameo in the end. I won't spoil who it is though. Still, this one should make Vaughn the star that Swingers fans always knew he was. Great cast, and lots of laughs. Wedding Crashers is the real comedy deal. A wickedly funny R-rated romp that's as enjoyable for girls as it is for guys.
  20. March of the Penguins (***) Enthralling documentary that offers what I can only assume to be unparalleled access to the lives of penguins. This may sound like some boring nature documentary, but it actually has a weighty narrative thrust to it. It plays more like a thriller in a way, what with the mom and dad penguins fighting the brutish cold for the survival of their babies, and also themselves. It's also quite emotional in places. You really do feel for the penguins, and the toll the weather takes on them. Morgan Freeman does the narration and is his typical soothing self. I didn't know much about penguins going in, but I learned a lot and was entertained at the same time. Many may compare this to the other documentary hit about birds, Winged Migration, but I found March of the Penguins to be a more gripping journey and thus, a better film.
  21. Fever Pitch (***) A solid triple of a movie. Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore are extremely likeable in this fun for both sexes romantic comedy, perhaps the best of its kind since Jerry Maguire. My only big gripe is that the movie didn't make the most of its real-life fairytale ending, what with the Red Sox winning and all. It ended a bit too abruptly, but that's about the only bad thing I can say about it. I'm sure Yankees fans could find more though.
  22. War of the Worlds (***) Steven Spielberg's latest summer blockbuster is a good, sometimes great, sci-fi thrill ride. Boasting the best special effects and sound design of any other movie this year, this is grand, virtuosic filmmaking designed to scare, excite, and tweak the imagination. The movie is pretty relentless after the first ten minutes and doesn't really let up until the end. There are some amazing set pieces in this film, and images that stay with you. The first encounter with the aliens as they rise up from under the ground in massive laser-wielding tentacle ships is awe-inspiring and original. Tom Cruise does fine work as the everyman struggling to save his family. I like how dark this movie gets. For all its popcorn flick worth, it's a pretty dark and somber ride for the most part. It reminded me a lot of Spielberg's own Jurassic Park and The Lost World. The movie has problems in its final third, most glaringly a way too happy ending and some choppy editing. Not a classic, but an enjoyable summer flick. Well worth your $10 bucks. Go see it on a big screen.
  23. Corpse Bride (***) There is much to appreciate about Tim Burton's latest foray into stop motion animation. Like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride is a gorgeous piece of pop art. Even when the story sags, the visuals are marvelous and they keep you enthralled. It's quite a morbid film for the under 10 set, but nothing they couldn't handle. Danny Elfman contributes some memorable songs, and the scenes set in the Land of the Dead are, surprisingly, the lifeblood of the film. I'm a big fan of stop motion animation, and Corpse Bride delivers the goods.
  24. Rock School (***) Highly enjoyable documentary. Almost as entertaining as the Jack Black flick. For some reason, a grown man swearing around children never fails to make me laugh. Stepping into the role of teacher is Paul Green. He's a cocky and camera-loving fool but we like him because he truly seems to have the kids interests at heart and connects to them in ways that other adults never could. My only real complaint is that the film seems to reveal everything up its sleeve in the first hour or so, and tends to sag towards the end. It's kind of a one trick pony, but a good trick nevertheless. Very funny.
  25. The Assassination of Richard Nixon (***) Intense, depressing, and downright scary towards the end, this is a Taxi Driver wannabe that succeeds in large part because of Sean Penn's pitch-perfect performance.
  26. Oldboy (***) A sometimes great, sometimes trashy, but always interesting Korean exploitative flick. The movie has a nice setup for a revenge flick, but goes about it unexpectedly and is often confusing. It ultimately comes together in the end in a mishmash of hypnotism and incest. Not for everyone.
  27. North Country (***) My wife stole my thoughts of this movie for the review on her blog, so forgive me if this sounds a tad too familiar. While watching North Country, you are easily swept up in the story, the characters, and the drama. The acting is fantastic, and Charlize Theron gives another great performance. But it was while watching this movie that I came to the realization just how easy a film it was to make. Anytime a film deals with explosive subject matter, such as racism or, in this case, sexual harassment, the viewer is so easily engaged right from the start. When you have characters who are so wrong and hateable, you can't help but root for our heroine and hope she overcomes the odds and prejudices against her. When I say this is an easy movie to make, I don't mean that exactly. I mean it's an easy movie to like. It's easy for people to label this movie "excellent." The thing is, it's not excellent. North Country devotes too much time in the end to Theron's character sexual history and rape. And when it finally does give you the payoff, it feels cheap and unearned, and yes, a little schmaltzy. Anytime you have people stand up one by one in a courtroom for a cause, you're veering into dangerous territory. Don't get me wrong though: North Country is good. It's worth seeing. But don't be fooled into believing it's a better movie than it actually is just because of the subject matter.
  28. The 40 Year-Old Virgin (***) Likeable, if unremarkable, comedy with a superb lead performance by Steve Carrell. While this movie has its fair share of sex gags, I didn't find them all too original. I enjoyed the personal story of Carrell's Andy, and the way the movie made us care about his character. This is largely due to Carrell's performance. He is so good here. Funny, engaging, and a real person. I know I'm not making this sound like a fitfully funny comedy. Trust me, it is funny. You will laugh in parts. But too many of those laughs feel cheap. Carrell's performance is the real thing. I think the serious side to this movie and its well-intentioned look at mid-life virginity may be why so many other critics are responding so positively to it. This is the kind of flick that I'm sure will improve upon repeat viewings. But it's no Anchorman, or even this summer's Wedding Crashers. Both of those films are funnier, while this one's sweeter, kinder, gentler.
  29. Sky High (***) This movie has kind of slipped under people's radars, and I think that's a shame because it's a terrifically entertaining and clever family film. If I had to describe it, I'd say it's a mix of Harry Potter and John Hughes' movies, but with a comic book motif. Sky High is your typical high school except for the fact that kids with superpowers attend it. The teens are divided into heroes and sidekicks based on their powers, and it's a neat little commentary on the class systems found in today's real high schools. Kurt Russell has a good time as a superhero father who's pretty Incredible. Director Mike Mitchell keeps things lively, and has cast the movie's supporting characters extremely well. Bruce Campbell, Dave Foley, Broken Lizard's Kevin Heffernan, and Wonder Woman's Lynda Carter all give fine, funny performances. The soundtrack is chock full of memorable 80's hits, and there's a lot of teen angst and hormones running amok. If I were an 8 or 9-year old, this would probably be the best movie I've ever seen. As a 26-year old, it's one of the better films I've seen this year.
  30. Pride & Prejudice (***) Pride & Prejudice is as good as I could have hoped it to be. I'm not that into period piece romances, but this one is lively and engaging. It's well-acted and directed with an eye towards modern sensibilities, but nothing that would remove it from the period context. For example, there are some well-staged scenes early on in which the camera just sort of glides through a house as a giant dance party goes on. I thought Keira Knightley was fantastic. This is a great role for her. The biggest surprise for me though was Donald Sutherland. He has the money scene in the end, where he has to juggle sadness with happiness for his daughter, and it's really moving. Judi Dench also turns up and is basically Judi Dench as herself, or as every other character she's played on screen before. It gets a bit old. Luckily though, this is a fresh adaptation of an often adapted book. There is much to admire here, and though I never fell for it completely, I did enjoy it while it lasted, and it leaves a pleasant aftertaste.
  31. Being Julia (***) Technically an '04 movie, but I saw it in '05 so...Annette Bening was nominated for an Oscar for good reason. It's a great role, and the movie clips along at a nice pace, culminating in a clever ending that really pays off.
  32. Downfall (***) Technically flawless, but emotionally uninvolving--not a surprise given it's a film about Hitler. It's like watching Titanic (inevitable disaster) only with characters you don't care about. The last hour is just one suicide after another.
  33. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (***) Admirably freaky flick. It gets under your skin in a way no recent "horror" movie has. True, most of the film is a courtroom drama, but even horror movies have their downtime when they're not trying to scare you, and I found this film's downtime in the courtroom to be completely engrossing. It's a tad corny at times what with Laura Linney and Campbell Scott as opposing attorneys objecting up a storm, but that doesn't detract from the downright haunting scare scenes scattered throughout. After seeing this, I doubt you'll ever get back to sleep should you wake up at 3:00 am one day. The director, Scott Derrickson, is a rookie, and this is a fine film. He also co-wrote the script, which is often literate, and does a fine job of balancing both the faith and medical aspects of the story. The film says quite a lot about faith towards the end, but doesn't come across as one-sided or self-serving. This is an interesting film that's based on a true story. I walked out wanting to learn more about the actual case.
  34. Constantine (***) Oddly paced at times, but always involving, this is one comic book movie with some weighty themes. I enjoyed it: nice set-up and I look forward to any sequels. Keanu Reeves underplays a bit too much, but he's still pretty damn cool.
  35. A History of Violence (***) David Cronenberg's latest has received rave reviews all over the place, and though it's a good film, it's not as fantastic as everyone's making it out to be. For one thing, the tone of the film is all over the place. It's weird, it's funny, it's cheesy--all in alternate measures. Some of it seems intended, but a lot of it feels accidental. The performances are all over the place. While Viggo Mortensen underplays to great effect as the sweet simpleton with a violent past, Maria Bello and the actor who plays his son are, to put it simply, not so good. That being said, there is much to enjoy here. The violence is sudden and grotesque and makes you question how much you should root for the bad guys to "get it." Those bad guys steal the movie. I have never enjoyed a William Hurt performance more than I did in this film. He just nails his few minutes of screen time and creates a highly memorable character. Ed Harris is also good. I like this movie the more I think about it. It's different, which is always appreciated. It's just received a bit too much fanfare accompanying its release. Cinema buffs will enjoy it more than others.
  36. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (***) Douglas Adams's beloved cult novel has finally been adapted into a feature length movie, and for all those fans thinking the filmmakers would screw it up, DON'T PANIC. Adams co-wrote the movie himself, and director Garth Jennings does a fine job of nailing the right absurdly comic tone. Right from the start, the movie establishes itself as an off-kilter comedic joy with a wonderful musical montage called "So long, and thanks for all the fish" involving dolphins, the second-smartest creature in the universe, and their escape from the soon-to-be-destroyed planet Earth. The cast is littered with cool actors, not really "movie stars" in the sense of the word, but cool nevertheless. The Office's Martin Freeman is our Everyman Arthur Dent, Mos Def is Ford, and, in the film's funniest performance, Sam Rockwell is Zaphod, President of the Galaxy. Rockwell is clearly having a grand time here, and it shows. Alan Rickman also lends his immediately recognizable voice to Marvin, the depressed robot. The movie is imaginative and funny throughout, if not "laugh at loud" funny, then at least "put a smile on your face" funny. The visual effects strike the perfect balance between realistic and surreal--the movie is great eye candy. I also enjoyed the fact that the aliens were not CGI-created creatures, but rather, the work of Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Aside from some disjointed editing, scenes kind of stop and start abruptly at times, this is a great adaptation: Star Wars meets Monty Python.
  37. The Island (***) Those in the mood for an exciting, well-paced sci-fi actioner could do worse than Michael Bay's latest. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson star as clones on the run, who escape a very THX 1138/Minority Report existence. The things that happen in this movie could only happen in a Michael Bay movie. When Bay puts his mind to it, he is as good at filming action than anyone else out there. There is a car chase in the middle of the movie that I couldn't help but smile at. The man is just so destructive. The amount of cars and highway totaled just for a few minutes of film is staggering. I also really liked Ewan McGregor's performance. He has some great scenes playing against himself, and the special effects are top notch in this aspect as well. While I don't feel the film is all that original, the score is pretty rancid, and Bay, as per usual, over directs, I really enjoyed it on its own merits. A big, loud, dumb action film.
  38. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (***) Aardman Studios, the creators behind Chicken Run, bring their beloved short film characters to the big screen, and the results are safe, sweet, but satisfying. Claymation, like the stop motion animation of Corpse Bride, is a marvelous and visually dynamic style of animation. The amount of work that goes into a project like this. Well, I can't even begin to think about it. From what I've read this film took five years to make. I wish I could say it was incredible. It's not really. It's cute, and occasionally funny, and there's some great horror send-ups, but you won't be amazed. It's a fine family film, as there are some typically British bawdy jokes throughout. Kids will of course like it, but it lacks the finesse of the Pixar films. Is it wrong to compare the two? Maybe. But still, if you're putting five years of your life into a film, it better be damn good, not just "cute."
  39. Capote (***) I saw this right after Good Night, and Good Luck, and I must say it was a bit of a letdown. Don't get me wrong. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is great. He takes what could have been an annoying, one-note characterization and turns it into something much more complex and interesting. Wish I could say the same for the film. It's slow as molasses at times, and is directed in a drab, lifeless manner. The story also didn't really work for me. Capote's research of his famous book, In Cold Blood, and the murders that inspired it reminded me more of the millions of police and forensic procedurals on television, only this time with someone even more quirkier than Vincent D'Onofrio in Law & Order: Criminal Intent. I hope Hoffman is recognized come Oscar time for his stellar work here and in the past, but the movie isn't anything special. Still, it's better than most things that have come out this year. It's clearly intelligent and insightful. It just doesn't move you.
  40. Ong-Bak (***) One of the better action movies of recent memory, if only for the amazing fighting skills of Tony Jaa. The guy is incredible and does everything without the use of wire work or CGI. You'll leave the theater wanting to kick some ass. No real plot, but then again, the movie doesn't really care. And neither will you..
  41. The Aristocrats (***) Insightful and often funny documentary about one sick joke and the art of telling it. There are over 100 talented comedians involved in the film, and each riffs on the same joke, explains the history behind it, and taps into the same juvenile, scatalogical subject matter. I liked the film, but was a bit disappointed. Perhaps I've lost the ability to be shocked, which I think this film (and the Aristocrats joke) depend on to be truly gut-bustingly funny. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, it all gets a bit too repetitive as well. Another fault I had with the film was that the editing suffered from overkill. I would have liked to see the comedians tell their version of the joke all the way through. Too often, co-directors Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette cut away to others explaining things and commenting on the joke, which kind of interrupts the flow of the joke. This film may not be for everyone, especially those easily offended, but you'll probably find some part of it funny.
  42. Mad Hot Ballroom (***) This is a cute little documentary in the same vein as Spellbound. The movie follows the students at three different schools as they learn ballroom dancing as an extracurricular. Surprisingly, the dance classes help troubled students succeed in school and find guidance. If anything, the film shows that dance has the power to change lives. I enjoyed seeing the kids talk about the opposite sex, and it's fun to watch the kids cheer each other on when one of them does a particularly good dance move. You don't really have to see this one in the theater though. It'd make a nice midweek rental. Breezy entertainment, but nothing special.
  43. Broken Flowers (***) This is a great film that's hurt by a lazy, near catatonic performance by Bill Murray. The supporting cast is fantastic. Jeffrey Wright, Jessica Lange, Sharon Stone, and Frances Conroy all give superb character performances. I must admit though that I'm a bit disturbed by Bill Murray's acting in recent films. I feel like his subtle, less-is-more approach worked for the world weary characters in Rushmore, Lost in Translation, and Life Aquatic, but here, he barely registers as a human being. I didn't buy his performance for a minute. The movie gives us no reason why his character should be so downtrodden and withdrawn, and so it makes no sense why he should be acting that way. Further, he's supposed to be playing this Don Juan with the women, a man of many loves. It's disappointing because it zaps the movie of its otherwise ripe comic energy. Having said that, Broken Flowers does succeed despite Murray's performance, although I would have loved to see what Election/About Schmidt/Sideways director Alexander Payne could do with the material. I especially liked the ambiguous ending.
  44. Four Brothers (***) Solid piece of genre filmmaking by John Singleton, and a better film than the previews would have you believe. It's tough, gritty, and very funny at times. This movie is modeled after those revenge flicks of the 70s. It wastes very little time getting into its story, and although a tad corny at times, proves to be a highly entertaining B-film. Mark Wahlberg and Andre Benjamin are standouts, as is Hustle & Flow's Terrence Howard, in a supporting role. Singleton does funky, bad-ass cinema as well as any other director today. He's also quite good at action scenes. There is a great snowbound car chase in the middle of the film, and an expertly staged shootout towards the end. It may not be the prettiest film to look at (like Singleton's Shaft, it's not that well lit), but it is a fun time at the movies.
  45. Saw II (***) The fact that I liked this movie kind of just throws the whole rules of moviegoing out the window. I pretty much hated the first Saw. Liked the twist at the end, liked the idea behind it, but thought that the execution was piss poor at best. The acting and directing were awful. Then, I hear that Lions Gate had greenlit a sequel that's going to be rushed into theaters in a year. Then come the stupid previews that tout "Featuring a new song by Mudvayne." Could Saw II try any harder to discourage the seasoned filmgoer from attending? Turns out that looks can be deceiving. This is actually an unusually effective horror-thriller. It's reasonably clever, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Donnie Wahlberg is good in the lead role, and the rest of the cast acquit themselves nicely. There is, of course, another twist at the end. This one's not as good, and it kind of ruins anything they can do with future sequels. Given limited expectations, and one's fondness for this type of genre picture, Saw II is a good time at the movies.
  46. Proof (**1/2) Proof is a very good play, but it makes for just a decent movie. Don't get me wrong. The performances are outstanding all around in this one. Gwyneth Paltrow, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hope Davis, and Anthony Hopkins are all stellar. But one can feel them laboring the whole time. This is an actor's showcase. The performances are all hyped up, emotional, and prone to dramatic outbursts. Much of that has to do with the script, which despite director John Madden's attempts to enlarge the scope, is ultimately a chamber piece for the stage. The story is not all that involving blown up on a big screen, and the movie tends to sag after the reveal right before the "intermission." Still, Paltrow should garner some awards consideration, if nothing else.
  47. Lords of Dogtown (**1/2) This movie has more talent behind the cameras than you would think. Although the movie teeters on the edge of just a bunch of kids going around being "extreme," it's saved by Catherine Hardwicke's spectacular directing. She previously directed Thirteen and here, she captures the thrill of skateboarding in its early days by giving you an upfront seat the action, and really nails the 70's atmosphere. Heath Ledger is also fantastic in a supporting role. I liked it, but the movie lost focus when the boys started getting famous. The subject was almost too big for an hour and a half movie. I never got a sense of how their style of skateboarding caught on with the world. Much better than I thought it would be though.
  48. Just Friends (**1/2) This is a dumb movie that is more entertaining than it has any right to be thanks to spot-on comedic performances from Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris, and Chris Marquette. When I saw this movie, I was in the mood for some light fun, and that's exactly what it is. Reynolds is like a younger Jim Carrey in his line delivery and absolutely destroys any fond memories one might have of 1995's "I Swear." I really enjoyed the brotherly moments between Reynolds and Marquette. They basically just slap each other around the whole time, and it gets funnier and funnier as the film progresses. Faris, who's always funny in the Scary Movies, steals every scene she's in as a Britney Spears-type pop star prone to hissing and songwriting. By the time the plot kicks in near the end, you may find yourself growing tired of the film's thin story, but up till then, it's a fun little flick. Definitely worth renting when it comes out on DVD.
  49. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (**1/2) This latest remake/reimagining/redo from Tim Burton is at times a marked improved over the original film, and at others maddeningly uneven and redundant. The direction, the production design, and Danny Elfman's score are all wondrous and fantastically realized. This is a winning team, and one would think that the addition of Johnny Depp would knock this one out of the park. When Depp and Burton have combined in the past, the result has been magic. Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood are the obvious standouts. Here, however, Depp all but sinks the movie with his hammy, unlikeable, and way too self aware performance. Maybe it's the inevitable comparisons to Gene Wilder that do him in. I don't know. It didn't work for me at all. It wasn't in keeping with the rest of the film, especially when Freddy Highmore gives such a sweet, good-natured performance in the title role of Charlie. It's a shame the character of Willy Wonka was so misconstrued here. It's also unfortunate that the movie seems to be obsessed with him, all but forgetting about Charlie along the way. On the plus side, Elfman contributes some nifty, though unintelligible, tunes for the Oompa-loompas, and Burton keeps things wickedly dark and demented at times. Damn you Depp.
  50. Steamboy (**1/2) I haven't seen that much anime in my time, but I found this to be a pretty exciting and kinetic visual moviegoing experience. The plot and the characters are weak, but it's a joy to look at and a thrilling action ride to boot.
  51. Be Cool (**1/2) This movie has been getting a critical pounding and I don't really see why. It's nowhere near as good as Get Shorty, the story's a bit too sloppy and unfocused, but who really expected it to be? I found it funny and entertaining throughout.
  52. Unleashed (**1/2) Jet Li movies generally suck. There. I've gotten it out of the way. Aside from his villainous role in Lethal Weapon 4, I haven't been impressed with anything he's done since (although my friend Zach would disagree--he deemed 2001's Kiss of the Dragon the "kick ass movie of the summer." It wasn't). So I was happy to find that I actually enjoyed his latest in spots. Maybe it's because he stays silent for the most part. Or maybe it's the fact that the filmmakers have surrounded him with fine actors like Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins. Or maybe, and this is probable, it's the way he kicks the ass of everyone in range of him whenever that collar comes off. The beginning of the film is probably the best because it shows Li at full martial arts fury--his style of fighting is animalistic and intense. The movie then goes into redemption mode and moves away from the action. I like that it had higher ambitions, but those ambitions weren't high enough. Li's move from animal to human, from killing machine to family man is not as profound as it should be, and there's the distraction of a really annoying actress who plays the brace-faced stepdaughter of Freeman. Turns out, Unleashed, though decent, is not the kick ass movie of the summer either.
  53. Land of the Dead (**1/2) Director George Romero returns to the genre he practically invented and defined, and the results are mixed. I enjoyed the first half of the film. Much time is spent showing the effect the Zombies have had on our society. It's interesting to see the humans split into different factions: those with money and those without. For many of them, Zombies have become a way of life. They learn to cope with that fact and take advantage of it. For the Zombies, they're growing smarter. They learn. Heck, one of them, affectionately called "Big Daddy," even wields a machine gun and acts as a leader calling on the others to unite. So far, so good. But then, the movie starts to drag. There's action in it, but it's not very exciting. There aren't a lot of scares, so it's not that scary either. In short, the second half of the film just kind of lumbers along like the Zombies themselves. It's all rather predictable and echoes a lot of what we saw in Day of the Dead, only with fewer guts and gore as it appears that Romero was contracted to deliver an R-rating. If you're a fan of these type of movies, you may dig it. All others should avoid.
  54. Lord of War (**1/2) I liked this movie, but I'm not passionate about it. It's an ambitious tale of foreign and domestic gunrunning, and it's shot and edited in the style of Goodfellas. There is an amazing opening credits sequence which traces the life of a bullet, from manufacture to firing. The movie starts off strong for about an hour, and then slowly tends to disinterest you. Nicolas Cage is good, but his character is pretty unlikeable throughout the whole picture, and he doesn't show a lot of emotion on screen. Since his character dominates, as does his voiceover narration, we don't become invested in the highly charged events happening on screen. This could have been a much more powerful film. Instead, it settles for interesting facts, a few nicely filmed moments, and none-too-subtle political statements.
  55. Palindromes (**1/2) Director Todd Solondz's films are not for everyone. He, for some reason or another, has a fascination/fixation with child molestors and pedophiles. Having said that, his latest film is one that sticks with you. It follows the character of Aviva, a teenage girl who more than anything else wants to get pregnant because then she'll always have someone to love. Aviva is played by eight different actresses throughout the course of the movie. On screen, this plays less annoying than it sounds. Solondz's sense of humor, on full display here, is dry and morbid, and definitely odd. There is a scene where a bunch of kids, with physical and/or mental abnormalities, dance and sing a Christian pop tune about Jesus. It is choreographed, and they even wear the little head mics. Part of me wanted to laugh, the other part wanted to cringe. You may feel the same. The themes in this movie are heavy: abortion, religion, identity in America. While I give Solondz credit for tackling them, I didn't come away from the movie quite knowing what he wanted to say exactly. An interesting and entertaining, yet ultimately flawed independent film.
  56. Red Eye (**1/2) This is one tightly constructed little thriller. Boasting not an ounce of fat and clocking in at under an hour and a half, this film moves. Director Wes Craven is a master at this kind of film, and could do it in his sleep. I really like the setup to the film. The trailers give it away that Cillian Murphy's character is a bad guy, but half the fun of the first act is figuring out when he's going to snap. When he finally does, the movie continues to be a suspenseful engrosser, but once that plane lands, all sense of logic and subtlety goes flying out the window, and we're left with what feels like a rushed, unbelievable wrap-up. Another problem I had with the film is that I liked Murphy's character. I wanted him to succeed in what he was doing. Yes, he's a bad guy and we're supposed to root against him, but I think the filmmakers made it tougher to do so by making him such an enjoyable villain. I may be in the minority on that one though. All in all, a decent time at the movies. This one makes for a perfectly fine Friday night rental on DVD.
  57. Feast (**1/2)Having watched the latest installment of Project Greenlight, I had a grand time watching the movie that resulted: Feast. This is your typical horror comedy wherein a group of disparate strangers band together to fight off unknown creatures as they are picked off one at a time. It reminded me a lot of Evil Dead, and I think that's intentional. The best part of the movie is its sense of humor. Nothing is ever taken too seriously. All the creatures are referred to as monsters, and the screenwriters are all to aware of the horror conventions involved in a film like this. They know just when to kill certain characters to upend our expectations. Director John Gulager, who appeared to be a disaster-in-the-making on the t.v. show, acquits himself nicely here. He does a good job with the comedy of the piece and in keeping things moving and intense. The film was shot for a budget of about $3 million, and it shows. The action is too unfocused and sloppy. You don't know what's happening on screen all the time, and characters' deaths are handled too quickly--they suddenly just disappear and you have to assume they're dead. Having said that, it's a fun Friday night flick, and better than most bigger-budgeted horror flicks out there.
  58. Rent (**1/2) I thought I would hate this one. Having never seen Rent on stage nor heard any of its music, I went in with a fresh, if somewhat cynical, mind. After all, my impression of the show was exactly in line with Team America's parody: "Everyone has Aids." Turns out, everyone does. Thankfully, Rent doesn't dwell on that fact (take note Angels in America) and is more concerned with its characters. That's the real strength of both the show and the movie. It has fully realized characters, and quality actors portraying them. This probably works better as a stage show than a movie though. The biggest problem would be the gritty atmosphere and events on screen. When paired with corny electric guitar riffs and wholly "theatrical" singing, it just doesn't mesh well. Rosario Dawson, meanwhile, is fantastic as Mimi. She has a really cool-sounding singing voice and has all the best songs. In fact, Rent itself works best as a one act show. The first act is terrific: tightly focused, great music, wonderful energy. Then everything goes wrong in the second half. The plot kicks in, the songs drop off, and some unfortunate choices from director Chris Columbus rise to the forefront. A lot of this film is laughable and outdated, but credit to the filmmakers and great cast (most of them anyway--Yup, I'm talking to you Adam Pascal) for trying something different.
  59. Shopgirl (**1/2) I'm a big fan of Steve Martin's novella of the same name, but the movie adaptation didn't really cut it. The casting may be spot on, but the script and direction are problematic in more than one way. For one thing, the tone of the movie is a bit all over the map. Many have compared this film to Lost in Translation, but that film more expertly weaved its comic and dramatic strands. Shopgirl is a bit more erratic and amateurish in that regard. I really enjoyed Claire Danes performance. Her character isn't the most engaging, but she's interesting to watch, and more importantly, comes across as a real person. Jason Schwartzman is likeable as the grunge slacker type, and Steve Martin is decent. I don't know what it is about his more dramatic roles, but I find him pretty boring as an actor when he plays it serious. Some comedians can do drama (Jamie Foxx, Robin Williams, Bill Murray), and Steve Martin isn't one of them. Watch out for some truly horrific narration as well. Thankfully, it's only used three or four times, but when it is, the movie suffers. All in all, a mixed bag.
  60. Hostage (**1/2) Exciting movie even though you know where its going the entire time. Nothing you really haven't seen before (especially if you've seen Panic Room), but it's well-executed and Bruce Willis, as usual, keeps it cool.
  61. The Legend of Zorro (**1/2) The Legend of Zorro is your typical sequel. It's bigger, louder, more frenetic, and less clever than the first. But is that so unexpected? As far as sequels go, this one's fine. It makes for a good Saturday afternoon matinee show when it's rainy outside and you've nothing better to do. Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones reprise their roles from the first, and this time they've got a kid along for the ride. The kid is not as annoying as you might think from the trailers, but he' s definitely unnecessary. I don't think Zeta-Jones has looked this good since the first Zorro. Maybe it's the fancy dresses and the bad Spanish accent that make her more beautiful on screen. I don't know. She's great to look at here though. Don't even bother with a plot because there really isn't one. But there is some decent swordplay, and a light-hearted sense of fun on display. The movie is overly long at 2 hours and 10 minutes, and you may get a little tired of it all by the end, plus it has one of the most bombastic and overcooked musical scores in recent memory, and by James Horner, no less. If you enjoyed the first, I would rent this on DVD, but if you didn't see the first or didn't like it, you're not missing anything with this one.
  62. Madagascar (**1/2) Fine family entertainment. The number of pop culture references are thankfully kept to a minimum, and when they are used, they're pretty funny. The animation is stylistically rendered and like most computer animated films, it's a joy to look at. The script is pretty slight, however, and the movie takes about half of its running time to truly get rolling. The celebrity cast does fine vocal work, but it's Da Ali G Show's Sacha Baron Cohen who steals the show. Dreamworks animation is no Pixar, and I don't think this one will appeal beyond the family crowd like Shrek or Finding Nemo did.
  63. The Woodsman (**1/2) Worth seeing for Kevin Bacon's performance, but utterly predictable. The film was exactly what I thought it would be in every way possible--not one surprise.
  64. Assault on Precinct 13 (**1/2) Good pacing, decent acting, and some nifty action scenes only go so far. Not as involving or as interesting as it could have been.
  65. Hitch (**1/2) Will Smith makes a great romantic leading man--its a nice role for him. And for a while, the movie seems to rise above the romantic comedy genre limitations, but soon enough, it descends into cliche, loses sight of what's funny, and grows trite.
  66. High Tension (**1/2) This movie is excellent up until the last fifteen minutes or so. First, let's discuss what it does well. Derivative as it is, it does a good job of nailing the style and tone of those great, low budget 70's thriller-horror flicks like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Duel. The movie is spectacularly intense for most of its running time, and really does live up to its title. Before it gets overly "clever," the story is very simplistic: a crazy trucker kills an entire family, and it's up to one woman to escape from the house and stop him. About that crazy trucker: he's given little MO other than just going around killing young girls' families and then kidnapping the girls, cutting off their heads, and making their decapitated heads give him a blow job. Sick, twisted, and definitely not the PG-13 ghost horror we've been seeing a lot of lately. So up till now, it's a bloody, scary good time. And then....SPOILER ALERT! The movie decides it doesn't want to be a simple, balls to the wall straight up horror flick, and thinks it needs to be about something. So what does it turn to? That's right! The ol' multiple personality twist at the end. Apparently, the crazy trucker is actually the woman he's terrorizing! What a load of crap. This movie was going for ***1/2 stars, and it's lucky to be getting **1/2. For the love of all that is good and pure, STOP with the multiple personality twist endings. We don't need a twist. Just give us some crazy-ass trucker, don't explain why he's so crazy, and just scare us. That's all we need.
  67. Zathura (**1/2) This is a good kids movie. Adults may like it in spurts, but it's mostly for young boys. It's very similar to Jumanji, a book by the same author, but here we have outer space special effects rather than CGI zoo animals on a rampage. I prefer outer space. Director Jon Favreau does an admirable job in the first half of the film by creating a believable brotherly rivalry. It's almost a little too real at times. All that bickering and fighting can get a bit old. It's a fun film though. It moves fast, but can grow pretty repetitive what with the kids pulling a lever, reading a card, and dealing with the ensuing hijinks. Zathura has a good theme that essentially boils down to: "Brothers gotta hug." If you're in touch with the little kid in you, Zathura has plenty to offer. But a more cynical audience may find the movie problematic.
  68. Bride & Prejudice (**1/2) I like what this movie attempted, more than I like the actual result. It's colorful and fun, but miscast in key roles, and it tries a bit too hard: Look everyone: it's Ashanti!
  69. Dark Water (**1/2) Surprisingly not bad. For me, this movie works better as a tense little drama about the struggles of a lower-class, recently divorced family than it does as a supernatural thriller. It's not really that scary or creepy, and the end is a bit sappy and ridiculous. But there is a good stretch of the movie, say an hour or so, where you're just caught up in the trials and tribulations of Jennifer Connelly's character as she and her daughter try to survive in a world that's all but given up on them. The acting in this movie is also above average. Jennifer Connelly is good, but it's the male supporting performances that are a real delight. John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, and Pete Postlewaithe all seem to be having a blast giving truly nuanced and adept character portrayals. When they're on screen, the movie clicks.
  70. Inside Deep Throat (**1/2) Fast, funny, and engaging while you're watching it; but you leave feeling unsatisfied. Pretty predictable for a documentary, and lots of unanswered questions.
  71. Serenity (**1/2) Serenity starts off wonderfully enough. It's interesting, quick-witted, and something you haven't seen before. A space western is a great idea. To do a "horse chase" with spaceships instead of horses is pretty cool. But from there on out, it just becomes another geeky, cliche sci-fi saga. I must admit that I've never seen Firefly, the Joss Whedon show that developed a huge cult following, but this film doesn't make me want to watch it. The characters are mostly flat and uninteresting. Nathan Fillion makes for a fine, Harrison Ford-type leading man, but the rest of the case is utterly forgettable and deserve to stay on a small screen. This is not the kind of movie that reinvents the sci-fi genre. It does some small, interesting things with it, but nothing more.
  72. Millions (**1/2) Although its pretty cool to have Danny Boyle direct a kids flick, the story doesn't serve the visuals all that well. The script doesn't go where it should, and the end result is unsatisfying.
  73. The Interpreter (**1/2) Imagine that: a thriller that's too "intelligent" to actually thrill. There is one effective set piece aboard a bus midway through, but the suspense never really maintains a steady build, and the end is a bit unbelievable. Nicole Kidman is good, but Sean Penn is trapped in a joyless role.
  74. Elizabethtown (**) Cameron Crowe's latest film has been maligned by critics, and I can't say I disagree with them. Crowe is one of today's most talented writer-directors, so to see him stumble so poorly with this one (especially after the mixed bag that was Vanilla Sky) is a sorry sight. Where to begin? How about the casting? Orlando Bloom works as a dramatic actor when he doesn't speak, but he struggles mightily with his American accent, and is horrible at comedy. This movie needed a Topher Grace or a Gyllenhaal. Kirsten Dunst does fine, but her character is really annoying. I don't like Dunst as an actress, so the character just remains annoying. In the hands of a truly likeable actress, say Rachel McAdams, the character's annoyances could become overcome. It's a shame too, because the first half of the film is actually quite decent. There's a great scene at the beginning with Alec Baldwin, a well-handled suicide attempt shortly thereafter, and a nifty wedding party at the hotel Bloom's character stays at. But once you realize that all of the subplots and little stories aren't going to be tied up or even handled appropriately, you become restless. Then there's THE SCENE. This is a scene that will live in infamy as one of the worst I've ever seen. The movie runs spectacularly off the rails during a memorial service for Bloom's dead father. Susan Sarandon's character, the widow, gets up on stage and does stand-up comedy as well as a stupid tap dance that everyone in the crowd on screen laughs, claps, and loves. The audience in the theater is another story. Just when you think it can't get any worse, Free Bird starts to play, the room catches on fire, and you become amazed at just how clueless Crowe is at this point. Then there's a long road trip segment to end the film, and seemingly show off Crowe's idea of a mix tape. Crowe usually has great style in music, but not here. Every song is used to tell you what's happening on screen or how you should think/feel. Crowe needed at least a dozen rewrites on this sucker. I miss the Jerry Maguire days.
  75. The Longest Yard (**1/2) Another in a long line of Hollywood remakes that probably never should have been remade. The Burt Reynolds original was an enjoyable enough sports flick, with a cool story and great lead performance. This remake stars Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, and though it's enjoyable and entertaining for the most part, it certainly isn't anything worth bragging about. The comedy is stale and one-note. Jokes that weren't funny the first time are endlessly repeated. Also, Chris Rock sucks as an actor. He should stick to stand-up. One can't help but imagine what Dave Chappelle would have done with a role like this, and some input in the script. The movie ends up feeling like it's been programmed and test marketed to appeal to as many people as possible. That helps explain why I ended up liking it in spite of my reservations, and yet found it unfulfilling. Like a can of Coke, this one's just empty calories.
  76. The Amityville Horror (**1/2) Despite its absurdity, this gory remake actually does manage to pull off a few scares. The lead performances are generally good, though the script doesn't really do the actors any favors. I'm just thankful it's a straight-up R-rated horror flick that's not a remake of some Japanese film.
  77. Domino (**) Tony Scott, what were you thinking? Granted, Richard Kelly's script is all over the place, and Domino Harvey's life, though sporadically interesting, doesn't really warrant feature film status, but still. Tony Scott single-handedly sinks this movie. Much of the stylistic flourishes he used in Man on Fire are back with a vengeance this time around. Have you seen the preview for this flick? Lots of cuts, slow-mo, and diffused light? Well, the whole movie's like that. 2 hours of non-stop assault on the senses. When the movie does work, it's because a story finally starts to congeal and take center stage. But it's not too long before things go awry. This is a movie that's kind of faux "cool." It boasts great opening credits, and some inspired performances, namely from Christopher Walken, Brian Austin Green, and Ian Ziering. Yup, you read those last two right. The 90210 alums are probably the best thing in this movie. Keira Knightley is fine in the title role, if a little too one note, and Mickey Rourke continues his career upswing as the bounty hunter Ed. You walk out wondering who this movie is designed to please though. I don't know anyone I could or would recommend it to. It's entertaining enough but too much is too much.
  78. Kicking & Screaming (**) Unfortunately, this one's no Anchorman. Will Ferrell is still funny though, and when he goes crazy midway through after drinking too much coffee, the film is at its best. He yells at kids, taunts them by calling them "fart face," pushes kids down, encourages his players to break the other team's clavicles, etc. The rest of the movie plays out like that Rick Moranis-Tom Arnold "classic" of yore, Little Giants. It's a nice family movie, and the soccer games are shot well by director Jesse Dylan (yep, Bob's son). The movie is funny at times and it is entertaining, but the feeling of been there-done that hangs over every scene. This one won't ruin Ferrell's rapidly rising star, but it certainly won't add anything to it. Kids may enjoy it though, and I guess that was the point.
  79. Fantastic Four (**) Stupid and harmless comic book flick that misses the chance to be something more. I think we've been too spoiled by the comic book adaptations as of late: Spider-Man 2, The Incredibles, Sin City, and Batman Begins have all raised the bar so high that it's a bit of a disappointment to watch a film that hearkens back to mid-90's forgettable superhero flicks like The Phantom or The Shadow. While not as appallingly bad as Catwoman, this one's just cheesy and inconsequential. The special effects are really bad, but Jessica Alba may be even worse. The only actor who really nails his character and the tone this movie should have been going for is Chris Evans as the Human Torch. The script is pretty pathetic and at times, even comes close to reaching Batman & Robin levels of garishness. Julian McMahon of Nip/Tuck fame could have been a good villain, but the screenwriters failed to give him any discernible motivation for turning so evil. It seems like they just figured that with an hour and a half gone by, it might make sense to add some external conflict for the characters. I did like that the filmmakers used real makeup and costume effects to create The Thing rather than just go with some CGI creation like they did with the Hulk a few years back. In the end, this isn't really a hateable movie. Just a missed opportunity. A sloppy adaptation. The folks at Marvel and Fox let a potentially great franchise slip right out of their hands.
  80. The Bad News Bears (**) This is sort of a lame duck movie, one that doesn't really have an identifiable audience. It's not crude or funny enough for older teens and adults, and yet, too profane and objectionable for young kids. It all plays like a Bad Santa-lite wannabe. Billy Bob Thornton is good, and he does have some funny lines, but they are few and far between. I think that it's funnier when Billy Bob is cursing and drinking around innocent kids, rather than snotty, bratty little kids who also curse and drink. Without a ton of comedy, what we're left with is a routine sports film, with the Bears overcoming the odds and putting together a successful baseball team. I've never seen the original Bad News Bears with Walter Matthau, but I doubt this one is all that different, or that necessary.
  81. Sahara (**) On the surface, this could have been a great kick start to a new franchise in the vein of Indiana Jones and James Bond. What we're stuck with is seen-it-all-before action, an overly busy plot, and thinly etched characters. Matthew McConnaughy and Steve Zahn are basically playing variations of themselves in an action setting. It all gets routine a little too quick.
  82. Coach Carter (**) A truly deceptive film. You enjoy it for the most part as you're watching it, but then you realize how long the movie is (2.5 hours) and you become frustrated with the fact that you've seen this movie a thousand times already.
  83. Layer Cake (**) Don't be fooled by the ads comparing this to enjoyable flicks like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Although directed by Matthew Vaughn, the producer of those two films and the director of the upcoming third X-Men, it has all of the style but none of the humor. Instead, what we're treated to is another one of those London gangster flicks with tons of double-crosses, wacky character names, etc. The plot was a bit too convoluted for my tastes, and I never really got into it. Great use of music though: upbeat pop tunes often accompany violent on-screen beatings. I just wish it was all fresher...or funnier.
  84. Get Rich or Die Tryin' (**) Get Rich or Die Tryin' aims to be another 8 Mile. It's got a chart-topping rapper acting for the first time in a loosely-based life story, a well-respected director taking the helm (in this case, In America's Jim Sheridan), and a bumpin' soundtrack. But where 8 Mile succeeded in telling its simple, Rocky-style story, Get Rich attempts to do too much, and 50 Cent is no Eminem in the acting department. He's a bit too mumbly and unexpressive. Lucky for him, he's surrounded by top-notch acting talent. Terrence Howard is having an incredible year at the movies, and his role here is no different. In fact, many might compare this film to Howard's own Hustle & Flow from earlier this year. I hate to say it, but Howard made a much more convincing and charismatic rapper than 50 Cent. Ouch. Lost's Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje is also great as the movie's main heavy. Get Rich is violent and entertaining, but, given its meaty subject matter, it fails to connect on any emotional level. Jim Sheridan, an old Irish man, doesn't seem to be the most logical choice for a film like this, but he does a fine, if a bit by-the-numbers, job.
  85. The Brothers Grimm (**) Terry Gilliam's latest film, though visually fantastic, falls flat on its face in the story department and is too crudely put together. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger play the brothers Grimm and their characters are so non-existent that the two actors are interchangeable in their roles. However, the real problem I had with the film is that it's so unfocused. Most of that blame lies with Ehren Kruger's script. The fairy tale elements are not incorporated as well as they should be, and seem haphazardly thrown in without rhyme or reason. Blame should also rest on Gilliam's shoulders. This is most definitely a Gilliam film, and it's always cool to look at, but it's just a mess at times. In the end, a disappointment given the cast and director.
  86. Guess Who (**) Mildly entertaining and amusing without ever being laugh-out-loud funny, and totally inoffensive. The movie is more like a sequel to Meet the Parents than an interesting update on racism and interracial relationships. Bernie Mac is pretty funny but deserves better than this fluff.
  87. Jiminy Glick in Lalawood (**) It is mighty difficult to turn a comedic skit character into the star of his own feature length movie. Many Saturday Night Live characters have tried and failed in the past. Jiminy Glick is no exception. Now, I love Martin Short as Jiminy Glick. When the show was on Comedy Central, I thought it was just about the funniest thing on television. He so inhabits the role and is ridiculously crazy and brilliant at improvisation. When the movie resembles the television show, as in lengthy celebrity interviews with Steve Martin and Kurt Russell, it's great. But it stops the rest of the movie dead in its tracks. That's not such a bad thing, considering the rest of the movie is a weird attempt to make a David Lynch-style murder mystery with Jiminy as the central character. Ambitious and definitely not mainstream, but it doesn't work. Fans of Jiminy may want to check it out, but everyone else should avoid.
  88. An Unfinished Life (**) More like "An Inconsequential Film." I think the movie's plot stopped around the one hour mark and then the filmmakers spent another hour just wasting time. Nothing really happens in this film. Nothing original or interesting that is. Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman give good performances, but they're stuck in a completely middle-of-the-road story. Aside from the actors involved, there is nothing in this film that warrants the big screen treatment. It's pleasant enough to watch I guess. But you watch this just knowing that it was intended for something more than a halfhearted early September release. Dare I say Oscar? This film doesn't stand a chance. Jennifer Lopez is horrifically miscast in a thankless role, a kind of leftover Enough-type character who kicks less ass in the end. The funniest scene has to be the big confrontation between Redford and Lopez in the kitchen. J.Lo starts shouting with a Southern accent, which she previously never had. Comic gold. Older folks may like this film because it's unchallenging and unsurprising. Add to that unworthy.
  89. Mr. & Mrs. Smith (**) Mr. & Mrs. Smith is a star vehicle with an okay premise that wears itself pretty thin over the course of two hours. Brad Pitt is in relaxed, goofy mode here and he's fun to watch. Angelina Jolie, on the other hand, can't do comedy to save her life, and it seems she combed through the script beforehand to make sure everything she did onscreen was tough and "bad ass." She ends up just being a bore. Director Doug Liman keeps things moving admirably, and there's a great knock-down, drag-out fight between the couple in their own home. But the movie doesn't know when to end and keeps going unnecessarily for about a half-hour more after that. The script is pretty inane, with weak banter between the two, and even weaker subplots. I wish the movie were more in line with Vince Vaughn's very funny performance as an assassin who lives with his mom. I would have rather watched a movie about him and Brad Pitt, than I would Brangelina.
  90. Transporter 2 (**) I have never seen the first Transporter, and have to admit, that upon seeing the posters and previews for the sequel, I thought: why? Who even saw Transporter 1? It seemed like the most unnecessary sequel since Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. Turns out that it's exactly what it looked like. The movie is like some stale and warmed over version of Man on Fire, but with the utterly ridiculous action sequences of XXX: State of the Union. That being said this does have the making of a guilty pleasure. One only need look to the climatic scene when Jason Statham, playing the Transporter himself, exits from the cockpit of a plane and tells the main baddie, "Sorry, but this flight's been cancelled." The main baddie then pulls out a gun and replies, "I'm afraid to inform you that you've been cancelled." If you found that funny, this may be for you. I did, and I enjoyed this film on the basest of levels, which I think is all it was aiming for.
  91. Cursed (**) A lazy retread of Scream using werewolves instead of masked killers. The film has numerous problems, none more annoying than the film's PG-13 rating. No gore means no payoff to the scares. The dialogue and characters are pretty low-rent, but director Wes Craven keeps things moving and it's pretty entertaining throughout. Damn that PG-13 rating. I'll have to see the Unrated version on DVD.
  92. Howl's Moving Castle (**) I don't get what the big deal is with Miyazaki animated films. His Spirited Away won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature a few years back, and his current film, Howl's Moving Castle, is drawing equal acclaim. I don't see why. The animation is done in that annoying wide-eyed anime style, and, aside from the moving castle, it's not even fun to look at. The vocal work by Billy Crystal, as the talking fire Calcifer, is distracting, and the story is just not that involving. Clocking in at just over two hours, you may be checking your watch often with this one.
  93. Hide and Seek (**) Spoiler alert: can we just do away with the whole "multiple personality" twist endings? Seen it. Done it. They are no longer surprising, nor effective. Horrible musical score. Some good scares though, albeit cheap ones.
  94. Herbie: Fully Loaded (**) Harmless Disney fluff. Families might enjoy this wacky little throwaway movie, but I don't think it has much appeal beyond that. If anything, it's nice to see Lindsay Lohan looking like a normal girl, and not the skeleton with skin that she is now. Michael Keaton and Matt Dillon are wasted, but at least they got a paycheck. Herbie's CGI contortions are thankfully kept to a minimum. Admittedly, I've never seen any of the other Herbie movies, so I don't know how this one stacks up, but I'm not exactly inspired to go and check them out. I guess if you go see this one, you know what you're getting into.
  95. Doom (**) This Aliens ripoff is unbearably dull for most of its running time. It is only in the last 20 minutes or so when this movie actually picks up steam. Doom is based on the popular video game, which pretty much explains why this movie's no good in the first place. No video game has ever been turned into a good movie, save for the guilty pleasure that is 1995's Mortal Kombat. Doom is no exception. The movie waits way too long to get to the creatures. Why else do we go these kinds of movies? We want to see creatures shot, maimed, and killed in as many different and exciting ways as possible. Instead, Doom gives us characters we could care less about bickering and showboating until they're finally picked off one by one. The Rock is the only true recognizable face in the film, and he has some interesting character development down the stretch, but it's marginal. When the gimmick of the film finally shows up, the first person shooter point of view from the game, the audience is finally engaged and having fun, but it's a case of too little too late I'm afraid.
  96. Melinda and Melinda (**) Woody Allen's newest film has the kernel of a great idea. It's just not carried out all that well. The tragedy and comedy stories are both written and directed the same. It would have been much cooler to differentiate the two a bit more. Will Ferrell is trapped in a Woody Allen impersonation and never really makes the role his own.
  97. Beauty Shop (**) The Barbership franchise appears to have run its course. All the funny parts are in the preview and the movie is so lacking in plot that it barely even functions as a whole. It's just a crudely assembled hodge podge of amusing characters who never really do or say anything worth paying $9 bucks for.
  98. The Jacket (**) Interesting audio and visual techniques at work here, but the film takes about an hour and a half before revealing what is actually going on, and by that time, its a case of too little, too late. Could have been excellent, but settles for substandard.
  99. The Constant Gardener (**) A disappointing follow-up to the brilliant City of God for director Fernado Mirellies. This is a thriller that is too "smart" to actually thrill anyone. Pretentious, overly long, and unacceptably slow-paced, I found this to be one uninvolving movie right from the start. The plot is deceptively complex, but its actually a story that's been told better before. There's a government conspiracy, big pharmaceutical companies involved, and Rachel Weisz plays a mystery woman, whose mystery isn't all that hard to figure out. There's also an ill-advised amount of handheld camera work. Unlike The Bourne Supremacy, which uses the handheld technique to create real excitement, the camera work in The Constant Gardener merely annoys and distracts. Further, some scenes are lit with a green hue for no apparent reason. There's a dinner scene with Ralph Fiennes and Bill Nighy that looks like something out of The Matrix. The critics have been kind to this movie so far. I don't see it. Way overpraised.
  100. Derailed (**) This is one of the dumber thrillers I've had to sit through this year. Sure, it's somewhat entertaining, and it actually manages a decent level of intensity near the end, but logic and intelligence are thrown by the wayside in the process. Jennifer Aniston does a fine job on the surface, but it's really hard to buy her as the femme fatale. Maybe it's all those years of Friends. I hate to hold that against her, but still. She's a bit out of her element here and it shows. Another problem is the character of Vincent Cassel, the blackmailer, rapist, and general "bad guy" of the movie. Cassel plays him to a level of hamminess not seen since Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. He's not scary or intimidating in the slightest. And then there's the script. It's supposed to be clever, but the viewer can see every twist and turn a mile away. Skip it.
  101. Syriana (**) I was expecting great things from this psedo-sequel to Traffic. It juggles multiple characters in the same way, and takes a hard-hitting relevant topic and looks at it from a variety of different angles. Here's the difference: Traffic was entertaining. This movie is just a complete bore. The subject matter is interesting and just screams for better treatment on film. Writer-director Stephen Gaghan is so concerned with tackling issues of oil and terrorism in the middle east that he forgets to humanize any of his characters. They're all vague archetypes, and you don't really feel for any of them or gain any insight into who they are or why they do what they do. The film is majorly lacking in any humanization. Matt Damon's character is the most fleshed out, and even then, you'll find it easy not to care. So much is going on, and the filmmakers don't take any sides, or seemingly have any strong opinions about anything. They just bring a bunch of issues up and then basically tell the audience to "discuss." Just because Syriana is intelligent and ambitious, that doesn't mask it's failures and flaws. Confusing and boring: a lethal combination.
  102. The Devil's Rejects (**) This movie is pretty review-proof. It has a built-in audience, and that's about the only group of people who should see it. Excessive, over-the-top, and downright disturbed at times, this is a bad, bad movie. However, director Rob Zombie does have some talent, and the movie plays well as a comedy, albeit a sick, disgusting one. The plot is ridiculously awful and poorly conceived, and Zombie certainly loves the song "Freebird" given the fact that he subjects his audience to the entire song at the end of the film, thereby prolonging things unnecessarily. I can say this, it's definitely a movie. I don't know what else it is. But it is a movie.
  103. The Dukes of Hazzard (**)(Pointless big-screen remake of the inexplicably beloved 70's television show. This movie just kind of sits there on screen, doing nothing particularly of any interest. It's a lemon. Much has been made of Jessica Simpson's big screen debut. Well, she doesn't embarrass herself, but she's given the same scene to play over and over again, and it's clear that her acting range is about the size of her waist. Johnny Knoxville gives a terrible performance. All he does throughout the whole movie is laugh (fittingly) like a Jackass. For those of you who enjoy a good car chase, a la The Blues Brothers, you might like parts of this movie. The General Lee is filmed lovingly and there are some pretty cool stunts in the film. But it's just so repetitive: a ton of police cars chase the Dukes for about five minutes, the car makes some nifty turns, and then always, ALWAYS must jump off some kind of ramp sitting in the middle of nowhere.
  104. Kingdom of Heaven (**) What a disappointment. Ridley Scott directs with his usual flair for creating beautiful imagery and realistic, fully developed worlds, but that's all this movie has going for it. Orlando Bloom plays Balian, one of the most bland, uninteresting heroic leads in any recent epic to date. There is nothing to him. He's noble. He's decent. He'll put you to sleep. The story is a muddled mess. I didn't know much about the Crusades going into the movie, and I think I know even less coming out of it. Characters come and go without giving the viewer any real sense of who they are, what they stand for, and what they want. Is Jeremy Irons good or bad? Who knows? Further, what was Ridley thinking when he signed on to direct this film? Troy, for all its faults, was entertaining at least and featured a great rivalry between Pitt's Achilles and Bana's Hector. Even Alexander, one of the most bloated and problematic films of last year, was better. Kingdom's biggest weakness? It is boring. Beware of the ads promoting this as the next Gladiator. I hear Ridley has a director's cut that's an hour longer. While I'm sure it adds depth to the characters and avoids some of the choppy editing on display here, I can't possibly imagine trying to sit through this thing again.
  105. XXX: State of the Union (*1/2) The best comedy of the year. Oh wait. It's an action movie. It makes the first XXX look like Die Hard. The action in this movie is so ridiculous and unbelievable. It feels like it's being directed by an eight-year old kid who is high on sugared cereal and has a two second attention span. Completely over the top, especially the car-monorail chase at the end. That being said, you'll laugh your ass off.
  106. Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous (*1/2) It took me a while to work up the strength to sit through this one. The title is pretty repellant. Sandra Bullock coasts on her charm for the first half hour but I quickly lost interest thereafter. This is a completely unnecessary sequel. Bullock's character, Gracie Hart, is not that endearing that we'll just follow her anywhere, especially a lazy female buddy cop film.
  107. Monster-in-Law (*1/2) Okay, first off any movie entitled Monster-in-Law stands no chance of being any good. Second, when is Jennifer Lopez going to stop playing these idealized versions of herself? Her character in this movie is so precocious and babyish. Why couldn't she have played someone with edge? Someone who could stand toe to toe with Jane Fonda? Granted, Fonda overacts greatly here, but I think that's because the script allows for nothing else. The script is the main problem here. There's a kernel of a good, relatable idea--the mother and daughter-in-law scheming against and doing harm to one another. But the movie doesn't do one interesting or original thing with that idea. It is content to just let the lame performances and story just sit there and flounder on screen like a fish out of water. The only comedic saving grace in the movie is Wanda Sykes, as Fonda's weary assistant. I can only guess that all of her (somewhat) funny lines were ad-libbed.
  108. The Wedding Date (*1/2) Recycles every element of the best romantic comedies (Pretty Woman, Four Weddings and a Funeral, My Best Friend's Wedding) and adds up to an unsatisfying whole. Moms and others who aren't too discerning may get some enjoyment out of it. The rest of you should stay away.
  109. Chicken Little (*1/2) This movie will give you a headache. It's so frenetic and rushed, and doesn't slow down for anything. I don't mean that in a good way either. This isn't an exciting movie, it's a hyper one. There's a difference. The filmmakers are so worried about pleasing you every second of the film that they forget to incorporate a story or characters worth caring about. Much has been made of this being Disney's first computer animated film without Pixar. Boy, do they need Pixar. There's no use comparing this film to any of Pixar's because it is so out of that league. Zach Braff is well cast in the title role, and there are some funny film in-jokes in the first two minutes, but after that, you've seen all this movie has to offer. Yes, the animation is great. But where's the story? It's just stupid: half the film is set to cheesy pop songs. I guess the writers were too lazy to actually write anything clever or of substance. Then there's a pointless baseball game that lasts for what feels like 20 minutes of the movie's 79 minute running time. This one's strictly for those viewers who like Teletubbies, and have the attention span to prove it.
  110. Boogeyman (*1/2) Doesn't make a lick of sense. Relies on the "boo" scares way too much and too often instead of establishing mood. Earns one half star, however, for not using an ambiguous ending that gives one last "scare" to the audience.
  111. Bewitched (*1/2) An unfunny mess. When I first heard of writer-director Nora Ephron's gimmick in adapting Bewitched to the big screen, I had hopes of something good. After all, not doing a straight-up big screen remake of the hit '60s comedy seemed the smart thing to do. Like the Brady Bunch movies, I thought this would be a hip, funny spin on a beloved classic. And with stars like Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell involved, how could it not be? Easy apparently. This is a complete waste of talent. The gimmick: Nicole Kidman is a real witch who gets recruited by Ferrell's actor character to co-star with him on a television remake of Bewitched. Get that? Doesn't matter. It's all too convoluted and unfunny for its own good. It goes nowhere and Ferrell kind of just flounders around on screen. On the plus side, this is the most enjoyable Nicole Kidman has been since Moulin Rouge. Although the film is not exactly a gold star on her track record of late, she is immensely likeable and well-cast in the role.
  112. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (*1/2) This is one pathetic attempt to cash in on the success of Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Sure, millions read C.S. Lewis' books of the same name, but they deserved better film treatment than this. The child actors, aside from the little girl playing Lucy, have zero interesting traits. They don't really give off any sense of personality, and so we don't care what happens to them. Even worse are the special effects and entire look of the film. It appears that many scenes were filmed on cheesy soundstages with fake snow. Ugh. The character makeup is awful: extras look like they rushed getting into makeup so they could get to the set on time. Then there's Aslan. The most important CGI element of the film, and it's botched. Aslan better be realistic, and we better care about him. When he dies and is resurrected, it's almost meaningless. An afterthought. And this despite the unusually intense treatment given his death. Tilda Swinton is scary, but good in the role of the big meanie. It's a shame so many people are spending money on this pile of dung. It reminded me of all those dumb Hallmark TV miniseries from the late '90s, like Merlin and Gulliver's Travels. Bad special effects, characters you don't care about, and an excruciating running time of 140 minutes make Narnia one of the biggest misfires of the year. I fear any more Chronicles. But hey, they can't get any worse, can they?
  113. Robots (*1/2) While I appreciate the work and creativity behind the animation, I wish just a tenth of that creativity had gone into the script, the characters, and the vocal casting. This is the worst CGI-animated film yet. Painfully unfunny, even to the kids. Word of mouth should be poor on this one.
  114. Flightplan (*) So Jodie Foster. She does a movie every four years. She probably has some of the best scripts in Hollywood coming her way. And yet, this is what she decides to make? Flightplan is ludicrous "entertainment." Coming off the heels of Foster's last film, Panic Room, this is just a rehash of that with some Turbulance, the dumb Ray Liotta goes crazy on a plane flick from '96, thrown in for good measure. From the previews, you expect Foster's missing girl to be a hoax or figment of her imagination. Turns out the movie doesn't go down that predictable path, but the path it does choose is even dumber, and, if possible, less believable. This is a strictly by-the-numbers thriller that has no reason for being. It is a waste of the talent of all involved.
  115. Elektra (*) Horrible. One would think this would be an easy movie to make. Put Jennifer Garner in red leather, let her kick some ass, use cool camera shots, and draw on the years of comic stories about her to construct a serviceable script. Looks can be deceiving.
  116. White Noise (*) Decent idea for a horror movie, but fails to live up to the promise of its semi-clever preview. More bore than gore. Michael Keaton deserves better than this.
  117. House of Wax (*) Having viewed this film in what can only be described as the best possible state of mind, i.e., filthy, stinking drunk, I can honestly say, well, not much. It is what it appears to be. I knew going in that nothing would happen for about 2/3 of the film's 90 minute running time, and I was right. The movie is content with showing pseudo-Blair Witch camcorder footage of the "stars" gallivanting around in the outdoors for what feels like an eternity. Then a truck comes, and, boy, are its headlights "scary." When those crazy kids finally get to the ghost town with the house of wax, we learn that the house is literally made of wax. Brilliant! In a way, this is pretty clever because it allows for a visually cool action-packed finish where the whole house is melting around the survivors as they try and fend off the killers. But who cares really? All you want to know is: Does Paris Hilton die? I assure you yes. She is impaled through the head with a giant white stick after having scampered around in red underwear. It's the one time this movie actually delivers the goods.
  118. Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (*) Call this taking one for the team. To be honest, I really enjoyed the first Deuce Bigalow. Yes, it's humor was entirely infantile, but there was a sweetness to the movie and it was damn funny at times. Before seeing the sequel, I was a tad wary. I searched high and low for reviews from critics who liked the first Deuce, but couldn't find any. Those critics who hated the first Deuce naturally hated its sequel. Having now seen the sequel, I can give you a fair warning: Stay away. This is a horrible comedy. For one thing, it's not funny. For another, it's a bit too homophobic, despite the abundance of penis jokes throughout. In one scene, Deuce is hired as an escort by a woman with a penis for a nose. Yes, you read that right. A penis for a nose. And when she sneezes in a restaurant, semen flies out of her nose and into people's soup. If you find that funny, by all means, go and check this film out. If you're like the rest of us, again, stay away.
  119. The Fog (*) Ugh. Another week, another pointless remake. I just watched John Carpenter's original a week ago, and I really liked it. It's no Halloween, but it's effectively creepy and makes for a genuinely horrific ghost story with some well-earned scares. The remake is modeled after all the Japanese horror films that have made their way overseas. Like The Ring and The Grudge, it feels the need to explain away the ghosts and focus on the backstory. What those movies and this one don't understand though is if we know all there is to know about the ghosts, they're not that scary. Maggie Grace of t.v.'s Lost takes over the Jaime Lee Curtis role, and she's awful. She can't emote at all, and spends most of the film in a robotic trance. The movie is also plagued by a really annoying pop soundtrack, and is utterly devoid of any scares. The film tries to stand apart from the original, and in doing so, fails completely on every level.
  120. Stealth (*) Inane action flick clearly designed to appeal to those ten year old boys who just got their first X-Box. This movie wastes the talents of all involved, especially Jamie Foxx who is given nothing to do except play the horny flyboy. The movie is basically one long visual effects shot, and a boring one at that. Stealth fighter planes soar through the air at rapid speed, but who cares? The story concerns a Navy experiment with an artificially intelligent plane that goes haywire and starts acting out a la Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The A.I. plane, or EDI as it's called (Extreme Deep Invader) is supposed to be scary and menacing, but for some reason, director Rob Cohen likes to use sub-level, generic Bush/'90s rock tunes as a sort of mood setter whenever the plane goes crazy. It's almost laughable how incompetent this movie is at times. Too bad the movie takes itself so seriously. It actually thinks it has something to say. It doesn't.
  121. Son of the Mask (*) Hard to believe I subjected myself to this. A wretched sequel. It tries to be clever like one of the great Looney Tunes cartoons of old, but is too forced and brain-numbingly unfunny. Plus, the CGI sucks. And to think, the first Mask kind of set the bar a little higher for CGI...
  122. The Pacifier (*) If you've seen the trailer, you know how bad this movie looks. Well, the actual execution is worse. The only redeeming quality, and I mean only, is that there is only one fart in the whole thing. Lots of poop jokes. Just one fart.
  123. Must Love Dogs (*) It's been a while since I've really felt pained in a movie theater before. There are so many annoying, cliche-ridden moments in this cheap, lazy romantic comedy that one starts to lose count. This is the kind of movie that suburban middle-aged women choose as their one movie to see in a theater for the year. They were certainly the audience I was with. Even more saddening, these women know everything that's going to happen. They laugh beforehand when they predict lines and situations outloud, and then laugh again when it actually happens on screen. It's as if they enjoy being fed exactly what they expect. Not me. I hate, hate much of this movie. Precocious kids abound, as do hideous movie moments like a Partridge Family sing-along, and a soundtrack that hits home every thematic point. For example, when Diane Lane finds herself home alone eating ice cream, "Hey there, Lonely Girl" starts to play. How very subtle indeed. Nevertheless, John Cusack and Diane Lane do make an engaging screen couple. When they are both on screen together, the movie actually works. So, in a way, I guess you can say it does what it's supposed to. But still. Painful.
  124. In Her Shoes (*) Clocking in at a completely unnecessary 2 hours and 15 minutes, this movie is pure chick flick hell. A tremendous disappointment given its stellar cast and accomplished director. Although Toni Collette is good, and Cameron Diaz acquits herself nicely, this is a film with little to no story or at all. After the film, I told my wife Julie that there was no plot. She said, yes there is. I said what is it? Her reply? "Sisters." Yup. That's about it. Diaz plays an utterly unlikeable character who is supposedly redeemed in the end by her reading of poetry to a dying old man. What? The movie is stopped dead in its tracks once Diaz moves in with Shirley Maclaine, the grandma she never knew she had. There is no conflict, and nothing of interest. The two get along from the start. Meanwhile, Collette is romancing a nerdy Jewish guy who, in the film's most revolting scene, shows how "liberal" and "open-minded" he is by debating the merits of offense and defense with a group of African-Americans. This is not a film whose story was just screaming to be told on the big screen. I don't know if the novel this film is based on is any better, but it certainly couldn't be any worse.
  125. Alone in the Dark (*) I knew this movie would merit one star before I even saw it. We went for a laugh, and boy, did it deliver. Just look at the beginning: an interminable scrawl giving the backstory w/ narration of the words you're seeing on screen. This is inept, stupifyingly awful filmmaking. The script is a mess. The acting is ghastly--particularly Tara Reid, who mispronounces Newfoundland and is supposed to be playing a genius. How Uwe Boll, the director, gets to make movies for a living is beyond me. One of the worst films I've ever seen.
  126. The Ring Two (*) This one is just as bad as Alone in the Dark, only more insulting because it really thought it was a good film. Naomi Watts completely phones it in, and the movie makes the huge mistake of constructing the entire plot around the goofy looking kid who can't act. A terrible sequel to boot since it throws out everything you liked about The Ring: the world it created, the mood, the rules of the tape; and tries (and fails) to be more of a Sixth Sense-type thriller. Virtually devoid of any scares, and poorly directed.

* Bolded items are worthy of purchase.

10 Comments:

At 5:33 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

WOODSMAN SPOILER ALERT!!!

Overall, I agree that "Woodsman" was predictable. However, the scenes between Bacon and the young girl were more tragic and intense than I expected. I wasn't expecting him to ask the girl to sit on his lap.

Also, I wasn't expecting the movie to end so soon. People started getting up from their seats and I was wondering if something was going on in the theatre. What was it, 85 minutes or something? I can't believe a movie actually stuck to the "Jeff 90 minute" rule.

 
At 2:15 PM, Blogger Jules said...

What about a two word review for White Noise: Shit Noise. Like Shit Sandwich.
Also, I don't think you give enough props to Precinct. I really liked that movie. Maybe I just haven't seen as many of those kinds of movies you have, or maybe I'm just better than you.

 
At 6:51 PM, Blogger iv said...

re: hitch
but there's dancing! oh is there some dancing. i've learned all sorts of great new moves from that wacky kevin james. when i try these out in public, i'm almost sure to land my own leah remini. the q-tip, baby. it's the q-tip.

 
At 9:18 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Hide and Seek (**1/2).

 
At 10:38 AM, Blogger karen said...

update please. entertain me.

 
At 11:53 AM, Blogger KLE said...

Oh come on, Keanu can ONLY underact. That's him acting. He is incapable of over-acting

 
At 11:44 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Interesting. Maybe I shouldn't rush to judgment on "Be Cool."

 
At 1:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

r u the guy i saw playing with himself at the evanston movie theaters? dick.

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

HA! Who was that? Wonderful.

 
At 10:05 PM, Anonymous Your Lonesome Blog said...

I'm so lonely. Update me!

 

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