Goldberg's Movie Reviews

I seem to see a lot of movies (I blame my friend "W") and I like giving my opinion, even if people don't want to hear it. So I decided to rate each movie I see in the theater (and possibly that I rent - we'll see how it goes). I'll give each movie a paragraph review along with a rating from zero to four stars. Therefore, a two-star rating means the movie is average and probably not worth seeing in the theater, while two and a half is above average and probably worth seeing.

You may notice that most of these movies receive positive or at least average reviews. There's a reason for this - unlike real movie critics I get to choose which movies I see and thus can avoid seeing ones I think I won't like or ones I know are stinkers. That is one advantage of having to pay for the movies I watch.


Best movie recently out in theaters: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring
Worst movie recently out in theaters: Little Black Book

Movies Reviewed
(in order listed)

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Kung Fu Hustle

The Interpreter

Downfall

Sin City

Little Black Book

Control Room

The Bourne Supremacy

The Clearing

Napolean Dynamite

Anchorman

Baadasssss!

Spider-Man 2

Farenheit 9/11

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring

Dodge Ball

Super Size Me

Word Wars

Touching The Void

The Terminal

Saved!

Coffee and Cigarettes

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The Day After Tomorrow

Shrek 2

Troy

Van Helsing

Mean Girls

Monsieur Ibrahim

Good bye, Lenin

Kill Bill: Vol. 2

Hellboy

The Alamo

The Ladykillers

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Secret Window

Dawn of the Dead

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Starsky & Hutch

The Triplets of Belleville

City of God

The Cooler

Miracle

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Bubba Ho-tep

21 Grams

Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Big Fish

Pieces of April

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Something's Gotta Give

Stuck On You

The Station Agent

The Last Samurai

Bad Santa

Love Actually

Gothika

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

In the Cut

Radio

Mystic River

Runaway Jury

The Rundown

Lost in Translation

Anything Else

Secondhand Lions

Underworld

Matchstick Men

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Dirty Pretty Things

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

*** 1/2

This is one of the most technically well done movies that I've seen in a long time and it helps that it tells a great story as well. It documents the rise and fall of Enron and the people that made it happen. At its heart, it is a story of hubris: Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling thought that they could make money no matter what. The story is filled with drama and tragedy and explains the economic details in a way anyone could understand. The editing is just marvelous and really makes the story come together. I was also impressed by the soundtrack. A fascinating look into how unregulated corruption can run rampant in corporate America - and very enjoyable to watch.


Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

**

As the closer to the new trilogy and to Star Wars movies as a whole, this movie did its job, even though it wasn't anything spectacular. Hayden Christensen still can't act and the dialogue, even though supposedly redone by Tom Stoppard, was still painful at times. What George Lucas showed a glimmer of remembering in this movie was that it was the epic story that drives fan love for Star Wars, not the special effects. So, while he still went effect-crazy in this film, unlike the first two he actually took some time to develop a story. The turning of Anakin Skywalker to the dark side is still pretty sudden and inexplicable, but you can see the seeds of why it would have happened - if only 5 or 10 minutes had been cut from the fight scenes and devoted to this, it would actually be believable. What's most interesting is that this movie gets progressively better as it goes on. The first third is boring and awful, with a lame fight scene and poor story development. In the second third, the story gets better, though the dialgue is still lame. Finally in the last third, the movie becomes genuinely enjoyable with well done fight scenes, good story developments, and enough continuity references to please the fanboys. In the end, the final movie in the trilogy averages out to decent - which makes it far better than either of the first two movies.


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

** 1/2

It is amazing that, in the change from a wonderful book to a largely effect-driven, more sci-fi adventurish, and decidedly less mature movie that a lot of the entertainment remained. In fact, I think it is fair to say that everything in this movie that was still Douglas Adams was funny and enjoyable while everything else was not. Martin Freeman was a great choice as Arthur Dent, and while the rest of the cast are quality actors, I thought they were less successful in their characters (Sam Rockwell didn't work at all for me). There were some significant changes to the plot and they largely didn't work - the whole subplot about the cult leader that lost the election to Zaphod went nowhere and was never even resolved! But where it stuck to the original material, it succeeded well such as the opening number of the dolphins leaving, the effects of the infinite improbability drive, and the entires in the Hitchhiker's Guide. To sum up, while much of the movie is crap, it evens out to an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.


Kung Fu Hustle

** 1/2

That this movie received a wide release while Shaolin Soccer did not is a crying shame. Stephen Chow's previous movie had grace and charm. Yes, it was a silly, over-the-top, slapstick affair, but it was well done. Kung Fu Hustle lacks much of what was good in Shaolin Soccer. Oh, it has cool fight scenes, and some great sight gags, but I certainly didn't smile as much as I did before. It almost felt like the movie was just going through the motions - here are some good guys, here are some bad guys, etc. The plot was meaningless. The characterizations were virtually nonexistant. Because you couldn't identify with anything, only the cool sights held the film together. Still, the movie has style - the critic who said it is a cross between Tarantino and Bugs Bunny was not far off. So, while I came out of the movie feeling entertained, it was a rather hollow entertainment. Honestly, I waffled on whether to give this movie that extra half a star. Perhaps it is in deference to the director's other work that I keep it there.


The Interpreter

* 1/2

I'll give the creators of this film credit for effort. They certainly tried to a make a more cerebral thriller with excellent actors. It's just too bad the writing was so awful. The plot was interesting, though completely implausible. The directing was very good, especially the camera-work which added extra oomph to the tense moment. The acting was admirable - both Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman did the best with what they had. But what they had was really awful dialog and a convoluted, bordering on nonsensical story. By the second half of the movie, things were happening that made almost no sense. The characters were not doing things you would expect any normal person to do. And the semi-romance between Penn and Kidman's characters was so poorly done, I had to close my eyes during one part. Really, the dialogue was that awful, or when it wasn't, it was boring. Some good scenes, and a good effort, but this movie fails to be thrilling.


Downfall

* 1/2

I suppose if you like long, depressing movies with no redeemable characters you might appreciate this movie, but it just didn't do it for me. It was three hours of my life where I learned something, but wasn't really entertained or interested while doing so. Okay, so I enjoyed seeing Hitler go crazy as his world crumbled around him. But I didn't really need to see Eva Braun drink herself through the situation or Mrs. Goebbels murder her children because they wouldn't experience National Socialism. The camerawork was dark and unforgiving throughout and so the whole thing just came off as despicable people doing ugly things and was thoroughly depressing. I'm sure it was a brutally honest portrayal of what actually happened, but I guess that isn't what I wanted so see.


Sin City

***

There is a lot this movie does right. It is one of the most faithful adapatations of a comic book (or graphic novel, if you want to make them sound more refined) to a live action movie that I have seen. Not just because the story is accurate or because the actors are true to those from the stories, but also because it almost looks like a comic book. The cuts, the use of silhouettes, and the camerawork all contribute to the comic book presentation. Not to mention the fact that the film is predominantly in black and white - staying true to both the comic book and the pulp noir films the stories were based on. Some effects don't work so well. They attempt to inject some color into scenes by making, say, a woman's dress and lipstick be the red that they are. While this works very well in the opening scene, it is much weaker when done throughout the rest of the movie. As for the stories themselves, they are faithful to Frank Miller's pulp noir ones from the book. However, the pacing of them is sometimes off. Some scenes, espcially fights can tend to drag because of a seeming desire to show off a technically well done scene. At times it turns into Kill Bill vol. 1's artistically done gore - pretty, but you can only take so much of it before you are ready for something real on the screen. Also, as faithful as the movie was, I think it suffered a bit in the translation, as showing so much more of the fights than the comic panels, made some of Mickey Rourke and Clive Owen's scenes too over-the-top. This is almost a movie you appreciate more for how well it is done than how much you enjoyed it. Almost - then you think back on it and remember that it's pretty damn cool.


Little Black Book

* 1/2

Look, I only saw this movie because it was a free screening, and I definitely did feel embarrassed seeing the demographics of the rest of the audience. But at least it was more interesting than the alternative: watching the Democratic Convention... maybe. I was completely unimpressed by Brittany Murphy's acting in this movie. She had one expression and wore it throughout the entire thing. The story was obvious, somewhat lame, and you should certainly see what's coming at the end. That said, it had some charm. There were funny parts, especially in the middle. Holly Hunter did a great job and her character was probably the most interesting in this - the movie would have been drastically improved by focusing more on her and fleshing out her character. Also, the commentary on reality television and whether it is really more extreme than real life was well handled. This wasn't quite my type of movie, nor would I call it a good movie, but I can see how young women would appreciate this as a movie about female empowerment.


Control Room

*** 1/2

What does it take to make a good documentary? It takes interesting footage and interviews, a compelling story, and a unifying point. Control Room does a good job with all of those. It opens viewer's eyes to Al Jazeera and how they work and you see that they are, more or less, like any other news station. It exposes the fine line between journalism and bias. It shows that real people work at this news station. There are times when the movie loses you - it might slow down or seem to get off track a bit. But the important think is that it lets people like me see things they have never gotten to see before - and does it in an interesting and compelling way.


The Bourne Supremacy

* 1/2

Okay, so I was in a bad mood when I saw this movie and I had to sit in the third row on the left side, so both of those factors definitely could have decreased my enjoyment of this movie. Given that, I found this movie to be on the lamer side of action movies. Oh, it had some good scenes - you were often wondering how Bourne would evade the authorities and stay one step ahead of them. The interactions between Damon and his CIA counterpart were handled quite well. But the story was dumb - it seemed cobbled together just to show off how cool the Jason Bourne character was. It included some gratuitous action scenes and then actually ended 3/4 of the way through the movie and the movie proceeded with a pointless chase scene in Russia. And much of the action scenes (especially the aforementioned chase) were very hard to watch because of the hand-held camera techniques used. Ugh, this movie had its fun moments, but could have been a more solid action movie if they had thought a little more about the story and tried to be less cool in their filming of the action scenes.


The Clearing

** 1/2

One friend coined this movie "A chick flick disguised as a thriller" and he is pretty much correct. What looks to be a suspenseful drama about a man's kidnapping turns into an introspective look at how people deal emotionally with a kidnapping. Helen Mirren, playing the wife who must deal with the disappearance of her husband (and how much he may or may not love her) does as excellent job. Redford too shows his talent by analyzing his life and his feelings. His foil is Willem DaFoe who is less a character than a sounding board for Redford to explore his character. DaFoe's lack of character is ultimately what drags this movie down (such that, at the end, we have little idea why he did things). The fact that so little happened in this movie is also rather lame. Still, it was just enjoyable to see two good actors doing good acting.


Napolean Dynamite

* 1/2

Watch the preview for this movie. It is wonderful and hilarious. Just don't bother seeing the movie as you have to deal with boring, unfunny, and listless story in between those funny parts. I can compare this to Anchorman which was also a stupid comedy featuring a main character making a fool of himself and had very little plot. The difference was the Anchorman featured seasoned comedians who could pull off consistent humor while this movie hits and misses with its jokes. Sometimes it is hilarious, sometimes it merits a smile or a chucks, and often it just makes you shift uncomfortably in your seat, feeling sorry of the character. Because it doesn't have consistent humor, the non-funny parts are really shown for how boring and un-captivating they are. There is no story here about a boy who finds himself and becomes cool in his own way as the preview might suggest. Instead, the movie ends with as little sense as it began and precious little closure. I ended up not laughing enough and being bored too much. Such a disappointment from a great preview.


Anchorman

***

The summer produces a lot of stupid comedies, but occasionally there is a diamond in the rough and I think anchorman may be that movie for this summer. It is consistently funnier than the other stupid comedy I saw - Dodgeball. Will Ferrell is a very funny comedian and brings his stupid white guy humor into the role very well. The problem with this movie is that it feels like the writers came up with a lot of funny scenes and then tried to connect them with some sort of plot. There isn't one. There is very little that is cohesive about this movie, although the progressions do make some sort of sense. Still, I laughed a lot in this movie and very hard at some points. I was rarely bored, as I was usually still mildly amused from the last joke. The last part of the movie wasn't quite as funny, perhaps because it was trying to wrap up a "story" that wasn't really there. Despite any sort of plot and quite a bit of stupidity (Steve Carell's character was over the top at times), I highly enjoyed this movie.


Baadasssss!

***

This movie was a fascinating history lesson in what a man went through to make the first Black power movie. Since Mario van Peebles was playing his father, he clearly put a lot of emotion and heart into this - even though he obviously didn't have the warmest relationship with his father. Anyway, the story was incredibly well-told, the characters were real and sympathetic, and it showed how much a man was willing to go through to make a truly historic movie. What detracted a bit was that this was a pseudo-documentary - that is, it was kind of done in a documentary style, even though everyone in it was an actor. And it was a little weird to have these actors give "interviews" as the real people they were based on would have done in an actual documentary. You didn't know whether the person actually thought that way or whether it was just for show. That aside, this was a top-notch movie, featuring just about everything you could want in a good story.


Spider-Man 2

*** 1/2

What made the first Spider-Man good was that it focused on the human aspects of being a superhero. It faltered in the last half because it lost this aspect. Other superhero movie franchises (Batman) have started strong in this respect, but the later movies just focused on villains. It was with this trepidation that I went to see Spider-Man 2. It surpassed expectations, being better than the first movie and all it had to do was focus on what made Spider-Man such a popular comic when it came out: everyman Peter Parker. Parker questioning whether the superhero life is what he wants when he has to give up so much was gold. This was not a generic action flick, but dealt with themes of responsibility, what it means to be a hero, and being true to yourself. Alfred Molina played a great villain, and was even able to show more than just one dimension to his character. Lest I'm gushing too much (yes, I'm a Spider-Man fanboy), this movie didn't get four stars so here goes: The movie felt like it had a lot of different vibes from realistic, to comic book, to horror which was a little jarring at times. Also, there were several scenes that seemed unnecessary (Osborne's discovery, and the whole "losing his powers" subplot). Still, this movie combined action with interesting characters. It reminded me of would love to be Spider-Man.


Farenheit 9/11

***

Since my politics are pretty far left, I can always appreciate a good Bush-bashing. Still, I have to judge this on whether it worked as a good movie, not whether I agree with its views. On those counts, it was decent. I think with this movie, Michael Moore's documentaries have finally turned into full-blown Op-Ed pieces. Not that documentaries aren't supposed to have a point of view, but the quick cuts, edits, and quotes taken out of context that some criticized Bowling for Columbine for are back in full force. Speaking of his previous movie, this one just doesn't have the coherence of that. It is kind of all over the place, what with random pot-shots at the administration and a discussion of the convoluted Bush/Saudi connection. Not that it didn't have some good funny moments. Ashcroft's crooning and Wolfowitz's grooming have probably been mentioned a lot, but the tribute to Bonanza with Afganistan in the background was priceless. It is in the second half (or last third) of the movie when it comes together and shows the greatness that Moore's first movie, Roger and Me had. It focuses on the war in Iraq and the human consequences. Moore steps back and lets interviews with servicemen and women and the story of a mother in Flint Michigan take center stage. Here, we see not only the human cost of the war (because all wars have human costs), but the questions raised of whether the human costs were worth what we are fighting for. It also has the most hilarious music montage of seen of the theme from Greatest American Hero playing to Bush's landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln and giving his victory speech. Yes, Michael Moore can be an asshole, and yes he only gives one side of an issue, and I have to admit that the first half is, at best, decent. But the last third of the movie was so moving that it was worth the price of admission alone.


Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring

****

This film pretty much kept me enraptured the whole way through. For that reason, it joins the ranks of other four-start films I have seen. What did this film have that caused this feat? Let's start with breathtaking scenery combined with cinematography that only served to make everything more beautiful. But not only was the cinematography beautiful, it also added immensely to the storytelling. And the story was this wonderful Buddhist tale (I think - I'm no expert on Buddhism) that told the story of a man's life and how karma and all those other Eastern things have a profound effect. And did I mention that the actors all did a good job? They had to because the amount of dialogue in the movie could fit on one page. So the characters conveyed a complete range of emotions through looks, facial expressions, and actions. And you could totally understand what it was they meant. Maybe if I knew more about Buddhism, I would see more meaning to this movie, but as is, I find the movie amazing in its simplicity. It tells a touching, emotional story through the visual.


Dodge Ball

**

Ben Stiller has apparently decided that he has no desire to be considered a good comedy actor and instead just wants to make money doing his standard schtick in one dumb comedy after another. Truth be told, I thought he did a better job in this one than in Starsky and Hutch, but he still fails to live up to my expectations for him. Ignoring my Stiller obsession, this was your typical dumb comedy, full of one-liners and embarassment gags. It certainly had its laugh moments, and I nearly fell out of my seat with the German team and its David Hasselhoff worship. However, this movie leaves you unfulfilled. Like eating a doughnut when what you really want is a full dinner. I'm glad I only paid a matinee price for this. If you want to see it, I recommend catching it when it comes on cable.


Super Size Me

*** 1/2

Now here is a documentary with a good message, human interest, and fascinating people and facts. It is really an amazing look into the fast food industry through the eyes of a man that eats nothing but McDonald's for a month. We are at once thrilled by the testimony of doctors, lawyers, those in the school lunch program, and food lobbyists, and then equally enthralled by what is happening to the protagonist's body as he eats nothing but McDonald's food. You can't believe that he won't stop or what is happening to his body (the doctor's surprise at how quickly he is deteriorating and his girlfriend's comment on his change of demeanor and sex drive are particularly effective). Really, the only major downside of this movie is the end, where it changes from an exploratory look at fast food and critical look at how the industry behaves to overt anti-fast food activism which ruins the more subtle message the movie had been building. Still, this movies stays on track and on message for most of it, which makes it one of the most entertaining movies I've seen in awhile.


Word Wars

** 1/2

This movie tried to bill itself both as Spellbound for Scrabble players and as a real-life Best in Show. It was neither and ends up being a mostly interesting documentary on quirky Scrabble players. They definitely picked some good characters to follow on the way to the Scrabble national championships, complete with pathos and personality flaws. But the movely rarely let you get into one character's head before switching over to another. The awkwardness of the relationship between Matt and Marlon could a major interest, but instead was mostly awkward. I think the problem is that this movie didn't really have a message and as such, just jumped around from character to Scrabble trivia. Most was interesting or fun, and often funny. But it felt more like a cobbled-together TV documentary than a movie that people had devoted serious time in their lives to. Entertaining, and if you haven't read Word Freak it gives you a good glimpse into Scrabble culture, but nothing to write home about.


Touching The Void

***

This is truly one of those epic tales of man's will to survive. You really can't believe what these climbers went through in order to survive the ordeal - it is truly mind-blowing. Unfortunately, the way in which it is presented distracts from the tale. The visuals and music are harsh, and not in a way that draws you in, but that makes you want to look away. The fact that it is actors re-enacting the climb is always in the back of your head, and while they needed to do something like that, it is a bit unsettling. Finally, the character of Richard always seems to be smirking in his interviews which completely distracts from the seriousness of the situation. Still, this movie is engrossing and will leave you a bit haunted after words. The story is truly one of the great ones, it is just a shame the telling of it in this movie doesn't quite measure up.


The Terminal

** 1/2

This movie obviously had a great pitch - a foreigner gets trapped in the international terminal of the airport and has to live his life there. It also had some great scenes - Tom Hanks playing matchmaker, the budding relationship with Catherine Zeta Jones. Unfortunately, while this movie had a lot of great ideas, it didn't seem like there was ever time to gel them into a coherent, interesting story. Tom Hanks' character rarely felt quite real (a combination of his always using broken English and seeming too much a country bumpkin) and Stanley Tucci's character was haphazard as the writers obivously couldn't decide how much of a "villain" to make him. The movie was kind of all over the place, with some great symmetry in the Catherine Zeta Jones relationship and some true lack of emotion in the whole reason Hanks' character wanted to go to New York. Basically, the movie was relatively entertaining with some flashes of brilliance. It is a shame, because it is easy to see that it could have been a great movie instead of the passable flick it turned out to be.


Saved!

**

I wanted to love this movie. The preview was hilarious, and how could I not want to watch a film where pretentious fundamentalists are made fun of and tolerance is the message. The problem is that the film runs out of creative steam about half-way through. The pitch is done, everything is set up, and they've done the easy satirical jokes. And right then the movie stalls. It becomes predictable. It is as formulaic as any other high school movie. And they continue to do the same satire of fundamentalist Christians that the audience has already laughed at so now they begin to groan. It is a shame, because Jena Malone does an amazing job and I see good things in her future. Also, Mary-Louise Parker is in this movie and I absolutely love her (plus, there seemed to be enough of a resemblance between her and Malone for me to believe they were mother and daughter). So, while the tolerance message is great and the serving of humble pie to righteous fundamental Christians is also great, this movie just doesn't quite deliver. It is entertaining, but catch it when it comes on cable.


Coffee and Cigarettes

***

It is obvious that the scenes in this movie were lightly scripted, with the actors being allowed to do them and interpret them how they wish. This makes the movie fairly uneven with the good scenes being really great and the bad ones being boring and making you wonder when they'll move on to the next one. Generally this movie is a comedy with the type of humor alternating between bizarre and awkward. Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright start it off with a bizarre bent while the next scene quickly changes it to an awkward one. I find the beginning and end were quite well done and I was often laughing hysterically, while the middle dragged. This type of movie isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoyed the quirky, offbeat, seat-of-the-pants sketches and, overall, found it an enjoyable way to spend the evening.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

***

So, I've only seen the first Harry Potter movie and only read the first book. With that out of the way, this movie is clearly better than the first one. Instead of just being a special-effects extravaganza, this movie has some cinematic direction, emotion, and characterization in it. No doubt, this is due to Alfonso Cuarón's directing which definitely helps to mature Potter. Oh, there are still scenes where you feel the special effects guys are just showing off what they can do, but you feel like Cuarón included them only because he was told he had to, because the other scenes convey so much more. The story is told well-enough and while Ron and Hermione don't get much time, this allows for the other characters to get more fleshed out. This movie is still a bit silly and still a bit formulaic, but there are enough flashes of brilliance to make it an overall fun movie.


The Day After Tomorrow

**

More than just saying that this film didn't suck as much as I thought it would, I can say that there were moments of this film that I genuinely enjoyed. Let's get the bad out of the way first. It bears repeating that what makes disaster movies work is compelling human stories of how people deal with the disaster. This movie didn't have that, instead focusing on Dennis Quaid's idiotic trek to save his son in New York, or his wife's compassion to stay with the cancer-ridden child until the audience got there, or Jake Gyllenhaal's character making moon-eyes at his high school crush and then attempting macho heroics. Yeah, all of that was quite lame and then the final message that made this out to be an activist movie was the most hilarious thing I'd seen since Steven Segal's "Save the Whales" movie. Oh, and finally, I can't forget the ridiculous scene of the cold chasing our heroes until they finally get to safety. That said, there were three things this movie did well: 1) The build-up to the disaster. It is in typical great disaster movie flare with one guy warning of impending doom, but being ignored by everyone around him. And the scene where the weather buoy registers a 13 degree drop in temperature and the guy monitoring is says that it must be a malfunction makes the audience want to scream "No it isn't!" to warn him. 2) The special effects. They are very good and very high quality. You can almost feel the rain, snow, wind, and cold whipping around you. I particularly liked the destruction of Los Angeles. 3) The political commentary. Up until the end, this movie keeps its message and politics relatively subtle, but damn if the Vice President isn't supposed to be Dick Cheney (and the president probably George W.) And the scenes dealing with the reaction of the Latin American nations are also priceless.

I was in the mood to see a good disaster movie and this wasn't it. But, while the $8 I spent to see it was too much, I wasn't upset that I had seen it at all, and that is something at least.


Shrek 2

***

While the story in the first movie was a better one, the humor in this movie was significantly improved and that is why I think this was a better movie. The jokes are less one-liner-ish and less "mature" than the first movie, which makes this one a much more comfortable, enjoyable children's movie. I can't say that there is a lot to this movie in terms of plot or characterization, but it just has some great scenes. Antonio Banderas as Puss-in-Boots is fantastic! The Cops spoof is hilarious! The pop-culture references are so clever! Filled with all this goodness, the laughing and good time you have overshadow the films more shallow elements. Unlike the first one, I'm happy for this to become a children's classic.


Troy

** 1/2

I love the story of the Illiad. It is a classic for good reason. My love of that story probably shades me into a more favorable review of this movie than it deserves. Oh, the actors do a pretty good job. I think Brad Pitt and Eric Bana played their roles well. I wasn't too happy with Brian Cox's Agamenon, but that could have been the story turn as well. Anyway, this movie was, while a decent interpretation of the Illiad, fairly devoid of impact or emotion. The storytelling only took it so far and so, while kind of fun, it was also kind of flat. It entertained me, but that could just be because it reminded me of the story I loved so much.


Van Helsing

*

The one nice thing about bad movies is that the reviews tend to write themselves. In fact, there were plenty of times while watching this one where it was more entertaining to me to think about writing my review than to actually follow the movie. As such, here are all the snippets I came up with for this review:

For a movie that is obivously trying to sell itself on its special effects, it is a problem that the effects in this movie were so bad. Because, taking away good visuals, you are left with the hollow skeleton of reluctant hero, love interest, comic sidekick, and one-dimensional villain.

If you take League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which was a bad movie) and combine it with Underworld (which was, at best, a mediocre movie), you get this thing (which is, again, a bad movie).

There is a scene at the end of this movie where Hugh Jackman is looking toward the sky with a pained look on his face. I can only imagine he is in anguish about why he signed on to do this piece of garbage films. His expression then turns to a smile as he remembers. "Oh yeah, the paycheck!"


Mean Girls

***

When the ticket-taker at the movie theater took the tickets for my two other (male) friends and me, he made fun of us by asking just how old we were exactly. I'm glad I didn't let that deter me, because this was really a good movie. Tina Fey, probably the best thing about Saturday Night Live today, really put her heart into this movie, basing it on a non-fiction how-to book on girls surviving high school. It worked, because the story and people, despite some pretty big suspensions of disbelief required (that whole growing up observing African tribes thing) felt real. On top of that, it was funny. It had good comedy writing and the jokes rarely felt flat. Where it could have been improved is in the somewhat implausible, "everyone works out their differences" ending which had a bit too much after-school special feel to it. Also, the censors are clearly cracking down since the whole Janet Jackson thing and this was one of the tamest PG-13 movies I've ever seen and the lack of more realistic language hurt it in parts. Still, I'd highly recommend this for anyone who wants a good high school life movie. It may be Heathers for the tween crowd, but Heathers was a good movie for all ages to watch and so is this one.


Monsieur Ibrahim

**

The trailers made this movie out to be the sweet tale of a young Jewish boy in France who befriends a Muslim man and the two bond almost as father and son. That's exactly what this movie was -- until the last third. The slow growing of the young man worked well, and the tutelage of Omar Sharif's character was portrayed well (if a tad creepy at times). Perhaps even the "gritty reality" of the young man's life played well off the scenes of revelry and happiness that ensued as he and Sharif's character become good friends. Great, so that all worked fine until the movie completely shifted focus and changed to a different tone entirely. At the end of the movie, you are left wondering what the message of the movie was supposed to be, since the ending is so jarring and different from what it seemed to be leading up to. I hate to say, the ending killed this movie, but it did. I recommend turning off about 75 minutes in. You'll be much happier with it.


Good bye, Lenin

*** 1/2

Mix a son's love and devotion to his mother with social and political upheaval and throw in some I Love Lucy/Three's Company sitcom style moments and you get Good bye, Lenin. This film works on so many levels. For one, it is truly illustrative of what the changes in East Germany must have been like around and after the fall of the Berlin wall. For another, you the emotion between the son and his mother is real and palpable. And for yet another, the comedy (usually) works. Sure, we've all seen this sort of situational comedy before, but the added emotion and realism just seems to make it work. You can suspend your disbelief at these hair-brained schemes and just enjoy the humor of them. It is hard to even mention the flaws in this movie, but it certainly has its moments where it feels obvious and ridiculous. Still, one of the best movies I've seen in awhile.


Kill Bill: Vol. 2

***

In a nutshell, this movie had everything that Volume 1 was missing. While Volume 1 was several scenes of violence and revenge, usually well-choreographed, Volume 2 was full of character development and snappy dialogue. It also had enough violence to be a Tarantino film. In this Volume, we learn of the history behind Bill and The Bride. We see what motivates each of them. We see it with that witty Tarantino dialogue that makes each of his movies such a delight to watch. There was less jumping around in time than the first one and the jumps felt appropriate and added to instead of distracted from what was going on. While there were still points where I lost interest and I was mostly unimpressed with Daryl Hannah, this was an overall fun, intriguing, and thrilling movie.


Hellboy

** 1/2

Comic book adaptations are all the rage recently and Hellboy brings a lesser-known comic to the screen with decent results. Ron Perlman plays the titular character swimmingly, giving great understatement to his lines and actions. If only the rest of the movie were as nice. The plot is silly, though at least internally consistent. The other characters are fairly underdeveloped. The action scenes work pretty well, with good affect and pacing and the humor is appropriate and doesn't distract too much from the movie. This isn't a great film, but it is fun and entertaining, something many comic book adaptations can't live up to.


The Alamo

**

I was looking forward to this movie because I heard it was going to be a realistic portrayal of events at the location that has achieved mythic overtones. It certainly started out that way, with Billy Bob Thornton portraying David Crocket as a washed up Congressman who is tired of being compared to his legend and Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston just trying to make his "business venture" succeed. As the movie progressed, the "e;real" character development was supplanted by the legendary stuff, making the characters lose their meaning almost entirely. This juxtaposition of "what really happend" and the stuff of legends only served to make me lose interest in what was going on as I kept searching for what was really happening. By the end, all I got out off the movie was the facts - something I could have just as easily gotten by watching a History channel documentary.


The Ladykillers

***

I can see why some wouldn't like this movie. It is very deliberate in its humor and delivery - you see the humor coming a mile off and so, when it finally comes, you might be over it already. I thought it worked well. Tom Hanks performance was grating at times, but it was obviously supposed to be. The rest of the cast were the typical Coen brother caricatures, each adding their own spark. You won't be laughing all the time, and there isn't a lot of "depth" to this movie. What it is, is a humorous caper flick, Coen style. That made it fun for me.


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

** 1/2

I though Being John Malkovitch and Adaptation were very good movies, so it was, with this feeling, that I went into the latest Kaufman-written movie... and was sorely disappointed. I didn't think it was bad. There were parts that were very cute and parts that were very intriguing. However, there were also parts that were slow and dragged on. Maybe half of the movie was very good, a quarter was decent, and quarter was boring. And don't get me started on the Tom Wilkinson/Kirsten Dunst thing that seemed to add nothing to the movie. Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, and Mark Ruffalo put in good performances, but the writing and staging of certain scenes just didn't give them room to do much. I sound negative, but this was still an entertaining movie about relationships that will make you ponder after you see it - it just isn't up to the quality of Kaufman's other screenplays.


Secret Window

* 1/2

If you are going to this movie to see Johnny Depp, you probably won't be disappointed. Johnny Depp does a good job in this movie and is, in fact, the best thing about this movie. The story of this film is just plain stupid. It is predictable when it is supposed to be mysterious and it is non-sensical where it is supposed to be understandable. If this movie had anything more to it, I could say more, but it is Johnny Depp and nothing else.


Dawn of the Dead

** 1/2

This is a horror movie that managed to hold my interest throughout. There was just enough set-up to see how everyone became a zombie and the "zombie science" made enough sense. What made this movie was the characters (hell, it was really about the characters). As any good "disaster" film, you have to focus on how the people dealt with the disaster and that is exactly what this movie did. Okay, so there still wasn't much going on in this movie and the people got unforgivably stupid toward the end, but it stayed on track. It's an enjoyable zombie movie.


Girl with a Pearl Earring

***

Here is a movie where the visuals sell it. The costumes, art direction, and cinematography craft this into a beautiful things to behold. At times, it really does feel like you are watching a painting. Though the plot is a bit trite, it is just enough to keep you interested. This film is a feast for the eyes with just enough other structure to keep you mesmerized until the end.


Starsky & Hutch

**

I guess I shouldn't expect much from a movie like this, but I know Ben Stiller is capable of more. So, it was a fun movie. It had some good scenes and some good jokes. But they were like one-liners - good for a chuckle, but no serious laughs. Owen Wilson pretty much carried the movie in one of his best performances. It still wasn't enough to save this paint-by-numbers movie which was only partially successful in capturing the nostalgia of the seventies television series on which it was based. Ben Stiller has become a caricature of himself, playing the "guy in uncomfortable situation" once again. It wasn't until the end and his "Do it" scene that he actually showed what he is capable. I had fun at this movie, but could have found a better use for five dollars.


The Triplets of Belleville

** 1/2

I wanted to love this movie. It had wonderful 2D hand-drawn animation. It had a wonderfully imaginative story - A tale of a boy who wanted to be in the Tour de France who was kidnapped by mobsters wanting to use him for their underground gambling scheme, and his supportive grandmother and loyal dog, who followed him and team up with old nightclub singers to save him. While it was beautiful to watch and the story was fun to follow at first (there is hardly any dialogue), toward the middle the story stopped moving so quickly and I was practically asleep by the "big chase scene" at the end. It seemed like the Writer/Director just decided to show off the art instead of using it to tell a story by that point. Still, this movie was charming in its way, but it was nowhere close to my expectations.


City of God

****

This movie starts off with one of the coolest opening sequences ever and it is a sign of great things to come. This true story of a kid growing up in a ghetto of Rio de Janeiro completely captivated me. The direction and cinematography were amazing throughout. The kids did a great job of showing life in the neighborhood and still behaving as kids were. The story told here was moving, powerful, and best of all authentic.


The Cooler

***

This is a pretty sweet, charming movie about a man who brings bad luck to those around him. William H. Macy and Maria Bello do a fine job, but it is Alec Baldwin who steals the show as the hotel manager resisting the "family-friendly" changes to Vegas. He takes what could be a one-dimensional "mobster" figure and turn him into a mean-spirited, yet tortured soul. You don't come away with a lot from this movie, but it is cute, quirky, fun, and with characters interesting enough to keep you with it until the end.


Miracle

** 1/2

Sports movies are funny things because you go into them knowing exactly how they will turn out. And I don't just mean you know the team will win. You also know that the team will start off as nobodies who everybody writes off and, through hard work and determination will bond together as a team to finally pull off the big win. Given these constraints, there's only so much you can do and this film pretty much does it all. It conveys the feeling of the environment these people were playing in and shows how this was more than a simple hockey game. It shows the coach working and struggling to make the team its best, dealing with pressure from outside. It shows team relationships and character development. It is manipulative, but that doesn't mean that it isn't fairly inspiring and enjoyable. Not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it is about as great as a sports movie can be.


The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

*** 1/2

I am really glad that documentaries are receiving more focus in film today. Maybe I'm just lucky, but the documentaries I see have been very well done, thought-provoking pieces and this one is no exception. The short coup in Venezuela in 2002 against Democratically elected president Hugo Chavez received little attention in the US press, but the method by which it occurred was fascinating - it was a revolution effected more by media than by military. Fortunately, two Irish documentarians were there to capture it. Being there during the coup, the documentary shows the immediacy of the situation - it is almost like watching an action thriller. In fact, the paucity of subject interviews, make it feel like the entire movie is a breaking news story. This movie invites comparison with Michael Moore, currently the most famous political documentarian. Like Moore's recent film, this will get more press for its controversial elements (the film's decidedly pro-Chavez stance) than for its true message - that media wields too much power to be in only a few hands. Unlike Moore's recent effort, this film stays true to its message instead of wandering all over the place (mostly - there's a definite sidetrack on unsubstantiated US/CIA involvement). It is really amazing to see how the privately owned media constantly purveyed the opinion of its few owners and how, once the state-owned station was shut down during the coup, the remaining media controlled information and the public. You do have to realize that you are only getting the pro-Chavez side (having read about this beforehand, I was constantly reminding myself that while Chavez was better than his opposition, he wasn't the saint this movie makes him out to be) and this effort can detract from what is otherwise a great film. The message about the power of media here is not to be missed.


Bubba Ho-tep

***

Will this movie appeal to Bruce Campbell fanboy geeks? Yes, if they are willing to accept a more mature Campbell film (no pun intended). It still has a ridiculous premise and one-liners, but instead of low-budget flash and gore, it has character development. Some of the best parts of the film are Campbell as Elvis musing on his life in a retirement home. This film is the triumph of spirit of an older man that About Schmidt should have been. It is, perhaps, not comic enough (intentionally or otherwise) and, perhaps, too much dragging for a 92-minute film. But come on - it is Elvis and JFK (played wonderfully by Ossie Smith - yes, Ossie Smith) versus the Mummy! And the ability Campbell shows in portraying an aged Elvis that regains his purpose is not to be missed.


21 Grams

*** 1/2

Because the scenes in this movie are shown out of chronological order, for awhile it is a mystery as to what is going on which is somewhat interesting but can also be distracting. However, I think the chronological split works - it gives the film more impact and it serves to group scenes, not by chronology, but by theme. This film has a noir feel to bit, being all about the characters and how they deal with death (whether of those close them, caused by them, of happening to them). Really, it showcases great acting talent and marvelous direction that grip you through the movie until you see how it all comes together in the final resolution. This is one of those movies you think about for long after you've seen it.


Kill Bill: Vol. 1

**

I can't believe how thoroughly disappointed I was by this movie. I enjoyed Quentin's Tarantino's three previous big films. So what was it about this one? One friend put it to me this way: "You know how Quentin Tarantino films are half violence and cursing? Well this one's all violence." Seeing this film makes me realizes that the cursing is where all the really great dialogue and character development are in his movies. This film did have some really good scenes. I particularly liked when Uma Thurman was trying to "wiggle the big toe" and her final confrontation with Lucy Liu was very well done. But there were also plenty of scenes that were mediocre or poor (I was positively bored when Thurman was fighting Liu's minions). Moreover, all the scenes don't come together well. Tarantino shifts us in time and style throughout the scenes and this ends up looking more incoherent than artistic. This film could conceivably be a fun way to spend the night, but I'm glad I only spent $4.50 on it.


Big Fish

***

Full disclosure up front: Stories about father/son relationships get to me. That being said, this was a good movie. It told a charming story of a tall-tale-telling father and the son who resents him. While it started off slow, and unconnected, it gradually came together into a touching movie. It was also quite visually impressive which is to be expected when Tim Burton directs. Ewan McGregor put in a good, if not groundbreaking performance. There really isn't much more to say. This movie was enjoyable.


Pieces of April

***

Note: I saw this movie about two weeks before I'm writing this, so the review may not be as detailed as it could be

This was a charming tale of Thanksgiving with the black sheep of the family. There were lots of great, funny scenes, all done well. Katie Holmes put in a good performance, but Patricia Clarkson as the mother stole the show with Oliver Platt as the father as her great straight man. It was filmed in the style of home movies which could be jarring or annoying at times. It also had it slow moments. In the end, it was an enjoyable, funny, even charming film.


Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

*** 1/2

I was going to make some glib saying how if you look up "epic" in the dictionary, you would see Peter Jackson's picture, but that doesn't really make any sense. Regardless, this movie is just as moving and just as engrossing as the first two. In a true testament to its quality, you don't notice that you've spent three and a half hours of your life until it is over. The one disappointing thing is that this movie isn't quite as high a quality as the previous two (I thought Two Towers was best). The beginning was slightly incoherent. Most problematic, there were so many underdeveloped stories that really should have been cut or developed further. The other movies did a better job of just focusing on a few things, rather than try to incorporate us much as possible from the books. In this movie they included a lot, but gave certain things very little time so it didn't make sense as to why they were there. There are also the "purist" complaints about how they added new story while cutting old stuff, but the only part that really bugged me was how Eowyn was completely ignored at the end. This may have brought the movie down a bit, but it was still very good. It had great action sequences, great characters, and was an exciting, entertaining, and moving closure to the saga.


Something's Gotta Give

** 1/2

Ugh! This movie had me and then lost me. Forget the story - it's sugar factory-produced romantic comedy - the actors are where it's at. Diane Keaton is brilliant. Her lines, expressions, emotions, and actions are delivered with near perfection. Jack Nicholson is similarly on fire (though his isn't quite as bright). The two of them together lead to a lot of great, laugh-out-loud humor, and a great emotional connection between the leads. Heck, Ms. Keaton almost made Keanu Reeves look like he had talent beyond looking cool and saying "Whoa." I was prepared to give this movie a high rating until the third act. (Okay, I don't really know how movies divide themselves into acts, but other fancy reviewers talk about acts and it makes them sound cool - I'm talking about the last 30 minutes.) The movie changed gears and left me in the cold. It was less funny, less interesting, and ignored the Nicholson/Keaton chemistry that had been established. I'm sure some Hollywood executive said "We have to pad this movie out to two hours." Well, Mr. Executive, that padding lost you a half star.


Stuck On You

**

Because one of my friends who was with me enjoyed this movie so much, it made my enjoyment of the movie much greater. But I can't let this color my review of the actual movie which, while not without charm, was largely without substance. Okay, so it's a Farelly brothers movie so their aim isn't too high, but they have There's Something About Mary to live up to. The best part of this movie is the jokes. While I didn't laugh out loud too often, most made me smile. Yes, the premise of conjoined twins and jokes related to that wears thin sometimes, but they also find enough new angles that it isn't too bad. You may as well forget about the plot - outlandish would be an understatement. Damon and Kinnear, though, are having fun with this and pull the jokes off well. I also had fun with this movie - I laughed and, on the whole, enjoyed myself - but the full price admission was only worth it with my friend sitting next to me laughing his head off.


The Station Agent

****

I have been waiting all year for a movie like this. Every element of this movie came together to make this enjoyable. This movie was able to completely draw me into the life of a man who, while just wanting to get away from everyone, ends up forming strong connections. In a turn I haven't seen in many movies recently, scenes are subtle and are allowed to convey emotion through camera shots and small actions and words instead of hitting the viewer over the head with them. Dialogue is kept to a realistic minimum, letting the camera tell a lot of the story. The one flaw with this movie is that there may be too much of these moments, but I was easily able to overlook it. This movie is charming. This movie is touching. This movie spoke to me. Most importantly, this movie is really good.


The Last Samurai

** 1/2

This movie was fun, enjoyable, and yet I find myself dwelling more on the bad than on the good. Let's start with what I liked: Very visually impressive, great battle scenes, and some nice, emotional scenes (particularly the bigger ones). Now, what I didn't like: Tom Cruise's uneven (though, on the whole fine) acting, the mind-numbing length, and, most of the all, the over-hollywoodization of it (which is part of what made the length much more noticable). The movie takes a complex, historical event (the Samurai rebellion) and packages it in a simple good versus bad story. Tom Cruise is the bad white man who repents and stands up for the little guy. Worst of all, there are several scenes (usually the one on one scenes) where Hollywood decides the average viewer isn't even smart enough to realize its message and hits them over the head with what it is trying to say. I enjoyed this movie, but mostly for the pretty pictures and fights. For compelling characters and story, it fell short.


Bad Santa

**

For the first time I reached a somewhat ethical dilemma in writing this review. This is because I could see how some people would like this movie and it was very well done when targetted to them. It was a dark comedy, full of cursing, with Billy Bob Thornton doing excellent in his role as an anti-hero. For me, this movie didn't do much. I liked the comedy for the most part (a little too much reliance on expletive and sex humor). I thought the story was good, though there were plenty of parts where it dragged. Besides Thornton (who should probably be nominated for an Oscar for this movie), Tony Cox did a good job and Brett Kelly was an amazing kid. My main complaints about this movie were that all the scenes didn't quite mesh together (I felt too much time was spent showing just what a "bad guy" Thronton's character was) and that it was too much dark, not enough comedy. I was more depressed than I should have been from this movie and, while a good effort, just didn't do enough for me.


Love Actually

**

After seeing this movie, my sister said "If not for the great people, this movie would be pathetically bad." As is, she deems it 'stupid' and I'm not sure it is much better than that. It starts off fun, showcasing the various stories. In the middle it completely bogs down as it tries to follow way too many storylines. At the end, most of the storylines come together in charming ways that are heartwarming enough to make you smile. Basically, that's the movie. There isn't anything special about it. Some scenes are too over-the-top to be entertaining (and maybe it is just the British humor, but there seemed to be a bit more swearing and sex than was believable). Some are nicely done. None of the stories ever truly develops so all you are left with is storybook "love at first sight" romance. As my sister says, the cast is great - Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Martine McCutcheon all put in fine performances with what little there is to work with. This movie, in a series of vignettes, tries to show that love is indeed in the air - and succeeds about half the time.


Gothika

**

There really isn't a whole lot I can say about this movie. I went to it with very low expectations. It certainly surprised me by holding my interest throughout most of the movie. It still wasn't a very good movie. The story was ridiculous. Trying to figure out how it made sense would only give you a headache. The characters' motivations (and the ghosts' motivations especially) were oftentimes without reason. That it featured actors and actresses with some talent probably helped keep it together (I was particularly fond of Penelope Cruz). It kept up a good pace, with good mood and good camerawork. Most importantly, it did the horror thing pretty well - with appropriate camerawork and music for scenes that were meant to frighten. The movie was dumb, made little sense, but was scary and mostly fun to watch. In short, it was a perfectly average horror/thriller.


Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

***

The Patrick O'Brian novels on which this movie is based are known for their great attention to historical detail and accuracy. The movie does not disappoint on this end, immersing you in the world of naval life and naval battles. And best of all - it makes it seem really cool! The movie had to do a lot, being based on a book in the middle of the series. It had to establish the captain's reputation, the relationship between him and the doctor, and the crew's feelings. This meant the movie was quite long - but that really didn't seem too bad. If anything, it tried to squeeze a little too much in. The plot itself was very simple, but the sub-plots, all of which focused on character interaction, were quite numerous. All of the actors did a fine job - no spectactular performances, but they all conveyed their characters quite well. Like the one book in the series that I'd read (the first one), my problem with this movie was its slowness at times. There would suddenly be incredible attention paid to naval detail and that would distract from whatever was going on with the characters. This uneven pacing prevented me from ever quite being at the edge of my seat. Still, it's a smart, fun, action-adventure and I can't remember the last time I saw one of those.


In the Cut

1/2

I am all for Meg Ryan expanding her horizons. Let her play something other than the funny, upbeat, romantic comedy lead. Just let her do it in something other than this piece of garbage. I do think she did a good job in it. Heck, I think pretty much all the actors did a good job (Kevin Bacon, especially). I just couldn't figure out what the hell they were supposed to be doing. I mean, the movie didn't quite seem like a mystery to me because there were no real clues. It didn't quite seem like a psychological thriller because I couldn't understand the motivations of any of the characters nor relate to them. One could sort of say it was a crime drama but the connection of the crimes to the protagonist was peripheral at best. For the first 15 minutes or so, the movie establish an interesting vibe - a fun feeling for how it would unfold with the interesting camera work and what seemed to be building up to a good story. Then this weird relationship/romance started and there were also these murders and other things happened which just didn't make any sense or have any connection that I could figure out. After a half hour, I was bored and ready for the movie to end. There were people in the theater who walked out at that point. I only wish I had joined them.


Radio

1/2

I'll admit it - I'm a sensitive guy. It is easy for something to tug at my heartstrings and I'm always happy to see a nice, heart-warming story... but this wasn't it. From the previews I didn't expect much, but with a tagline of "His courage made them champions" I did expect some inspiration. What I got was two hours of boredom, interspersed with attempted manipulation, clichéd story, and forced humor. The movie just failed to establish any emotional connection. The plot was formulaic (yes, I know it was inspired by a true story - true stories should still be interesting before being made into a movie.) The emotional moments were too obvious and too overdone. The same also applies to most of the humor. Cuba Gooding, Jr. is no Dustin Hoffman - or even Tom Hanks. He failed in his duty to make Radio a sympathetic character - instead, he was just a caricature. The one thing that made this movie somewhat worth watching was Ed Harris. He was the one character whose emotions were visible, yet still realistic. I felt that he cared, even if the rest of the cast seemed to be going through the motions. Yet for all the talent he showed, he couldn't save this morass. This movie was pablum for the kids. God help the adult that has to see it with them.


Mystic River

*** 1/2

I had absolutely no clue what Mystic River was about from the previews. Yes, I figured it had to do with a death (a murder, perhaps?) but that was it. For those who, like me, want to be enlightened about what this movie with a compelling, yet vague preview is about, I present it to you:

Three friends, as boys, witness one of them being abducted. He is molested and later escapes. As adults, they have grown somewhat apart. They are brought back together by the murder of one's daughter. Another is the cop assigned to the case and the third becomes a prime suspect.
With that out of the way, I can tell you that this is a compelling story and some great acting, along with wondeful direction (I really dug the Boston scenery). It totally drew me in. Sean Penn did a magnificent job - he has certainly put himself in the running for best actor. What does it take for a movie to get four stars from me? It's not that I have to have no complaints about it, but those complaints can't be substantive (Spellbound and Frida are two movies I've seen in the past year that I would give four stars to). This movie was good, really good, but not great. It was ponderous at times (which they tried to distract from with the repeated musical theme). Kevin Bacon's character and his story just weren't developed well (whether this is the fault of the screenplay or the actor or some combination, I can't be sure). The ending was too long and a speech by Laura Linney seemed to come out of nowhere. A quality movie to be sure, but shy of that last half star.


Runaway Jury

***

I must say, this movie managed to surprise me. I went into it thinking that it would just be another 2.5 star enjoying waste of time, but it managed to actually keep my interest throughout. It's a not great movie or a deep movie, or anything special. It's just a well done suspense/thriller with a fun legal aspect. The screenplay is well written so that it's fairly believable and definitely interesting. While Cusack is a little subdued and Hackman is a bit "evil villain", Hoffman puts in an excellent performance. I didn't love it, but I enjoyed it throughout and that's certainly more than I can say for most movies.


The Rundown

** 1/2

This movie is about as formulaic as you can get - and generally that's a good thing. It's a popcorn action-move romp that hits most of the right elements. It's got the cool, bad-ass, main character (The Rock) who is driven by his own needs but deep down possesses a code of honor that makes him a better person. It's got the comic-relief buddy (Seann William Scott) that eventually bonds with the main character. It's got a suitably evil villain (Christopher Walken) who can spout out one-liners with the best of them. And it mixes them all together in a fairly delightful blend. Don't get me wrong, this movie doesn't approach the more entertaining action blockbusters of the summer (The Italian Job and Pirates of the Caribbean). The comic relief is way overdone at parts, there are some important character aspects that aren't explored (just why won't The Rock use guns?), the final battle fell somewhat flat, and there are some noticable editing snafus. Still, the movie entertains with nice action sequences, nice one-liners, and a characters who are more or less understandable. Arnold Schwarzenegger symbolically passes the torch to The Rock with a brief cameo at the beginning in which he says merely "Have fun." With, The Rock's performance, that shouldn't be a problem.


Lost in Translation

*** 1/2

The title for this movie provides one of the most apt descriptions I can give for this movie: Two lost souls drifting through a foreign environment. The two characters, Charlotte and Bob, experience a cavalcade of absurdity until they finally learn to embrace the absurdity and, by doing so, start to find themselves again. This is a poignant character drama done right - you can feel and understand what the protagonists are going through. Sofia Coppola has improved upon her skills shown in The Virgin Suicides and has given a movie that comes together very well. It's not perfect - the movie can be quite uneven, but the unevenness is between fair and great and never strays into the poor. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanson do a great job, Murray in some extremely funny scenes. This movie is certainly oscar-caliber material.


Anything Else

* 1/2

This movie is yet another one of Woody Allen's expository essays on life and love. The twist this time is that Jason Biggs plays Woody Allen (or rather he plays Jerry Falk, the role Allen usually would have taken). Woody Allen takes the supporting role as Falk's friend and mentor (or possibly alter ego). Okay, so now that we've figured out how this was different from every other Woody Allen film in the past ten years, it can continue to be just the same as every other Woody Allen film in the past ten years. A neurotic Jew who can't handle his life has a crazy girlfriend and comedy mixes with philosophy. Biggs seems to grow into his role as a Woody Allen character, visually improving (and getting the tics, hems and haws, and delivery) as the movie goes on though never really drawing the audience in. His co-star, Christina Ricci does an amazing job as the typical maladjusted woman in Allen film. Allen himself and Stockard Channing also perform great supporting roles. While this movie has a few good laughs and some thought-provoking philosophical expostion and Allen's intriguing directorial style, none of those elements come together to form a coherent good movie. Ricci's character is a bit too outrageous, the laughs are a bit too far in between each other, and there's nothing too good to mull over in your head after the movie. The longer I watched this, the more I longed to watch Annie Hall.


Secondhand Lions

** 1/2

Secondhand Lions is an example of a movie where the acting holds it together. Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, and Haley Joel Osment do an amazing job in their roles. Caine and Duvall's emotions are virtually palpable and Osment once again shows that young people can act. If we get beyond the acting, we see that the movie is a bit slow, overly sappy in parts, and (as many recent movies seem) lose quality in the ending. Still, this is one of those children's movies that pulls at the heartstrings. It's sentimental (at times overly so) has a good message and puts a lump in your throat. Though it may be cookie-cutter, there's nothing wrong with eating the cookie that is produced.


Underworld

**

I think the movie can be summed up in one sentence: A Goth's wet dream come true. To be less glib, I had a hard time rating this movie. Part of me was pulled in by the amazing art direction, camera work, and mood the movie sets up, along with some great action scenes. The other part of me cannot, in good conscience, give this movie a good review due to the plot that completely fell apart as they were trying to tie the loose ends together, utter lack of characterization in anyone but the protagonist (and that was nothing to write home about), and boring sections of the movie (including quite a few action sequences). In the first half of the movie, I was finding myself getting into it, digging the Goth feel, accepting Scott Speedman despite him acting exactly like his character in Felicity, and thinking that maybe this movie would impress me after all. Then, in the second half, the movie kind of fell apart. The plot failed to bring all the elements together in an interesting and believable way, a romance was created out of nowhere, and the movie just started to get boring (some derivative, gratuitous action sequences didn't help) and thus I felt it went on too long. Don't get me started on the ending - gee, instead of having any sort of denouement, let's just set up for the sequel. So, though I can't recommend this as a great or even good movie, I did come out of the theater smiling and it did entertain me. Maybe I've got more Goth in me than I'd like to admit.


Matchstick Men

*** 1/2

Maybe it's just because the last movie I saw him in was Adaptation, but I think that Nicholas Cage is a good actor. Regardless, he didn't disappoint in this movie, turning in a great performance as a con-artist who discovers his conscience when he discovers his daughter. Alison Lohman also performed wonderfully. It was paced well and you really got into the characters. My only complaint is the ending - the atmosphere is kind of thrown off and the epilogue is a bit off-kilter. Still, I was quite impressed by this movie. It drew you in, got you going, and pushed just the right buttons.


Once Upon a Time in Mexico

** 1/2

It was fun to watch and had the great Robert Rodriguez style, but Desperado did everything I wanted from this movie better. Once Upon a Time had more of a plot and more characters, but the plot was somewhat hard to follow and there were so many characters that none were developed well and the plot couldn't satisfactorily weave them together. Johnny Depp gave some good performances, but at other times seemed to be going through the motions. It was a fun escape, but could have been much better.


Dirty Pretty Things

*** 1/2

This movie was extremely well done. A look at the life of immigrants (legal and otherwise) and the underclass in London. Wonderful acting (I could almost believe Audrey Tatou was Turkish), great story, compelling characters, and beautiful camera-work just came together to make this movie a treat. At one point it started to drift toward more of a "caper" feel which was slightly jarring and lost it a half star. Otherwise, once of the best movies I've seen this year.