Monday, September 29, 2008

Miracle At St. Anna


When I first heard that Spike Lee had a World War II movie coming out, it was framed in a very negative spotlight. Lee had the audacity to attack Clint Eastwood, a Hollywood icon, for his lack of black soldiers portrayed in Eastwood's own World War II film, Flags of Our Fathers. I thought it was tasteless for Lee to make a charged political statement in order to promote his film. In fact, my initial repulsion almost caused me to miss the best new war film I have seen this year. It is unfortunate that Spike Lee exploited the race issue to promote his film because I fear a great many people may opt to miss this film that may have otherwise gone to see it. Especially given some of the negative reviews that this film seems to be amassing.

I enjoy war films. I like the older films like Kelly's Heroes and the newer epics like Schindler's List, Flags of Our Fathers, Platoon, Saving Private Ryan and Red Badge of Courage. The genre provides plenty of opportunities to evoke a range of emotions from the audience. Miracle at St. Anna had the feel of some of the older war movies. The pacing was slow at times, but there was a slowly building crescendo. There were some peaks and valleys in the action, but the pacing was sometimes off. The ending was less memorable than most other films in this category but I enjoyed the flow of the film in spite of the erratic pacing.

Miracle at St. Anna tells the story of the Buffalo Soldiers in World War II. Four soldiers in Italy end up behind German lines. Through a series of odd events, the soldiers are separated and later reunited along with a young Italian boy who rarely speaks. The soldiers end up taking cover in an Italian village while they attempt to get their radio operating in order to regain communication with the rest of their Company. The American Forces in Italy need to verify some intelligence regarding a Germany counterstrike and find a stroke of luck when the Buffalo Soldiers contact them from behind the lines. The soldiers are ordered to capture a German soldier so he can be interrogated regarding the planned offensive. A group of Italian Partisans show up in the village with a captured German whom the young boy recognizes (along with one of the Partisans). The village ends up overrun by German forces and only one soldier survives after learning the secrets of the sleeping man...the name given to the protector of the mountains. The plot is intricate with a great deal of twisting and turning and flashbacks within flashbacks. The transition between eras can make your head spin, but this device works adequately in telling the story.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Bordertown


Bordertown is a fictional story based on actual events in Juarez, Mexico. The movie chronicles the detestable situation in Juarez that started in 1993, involving hundreds of unsolved murders. The victims of these murders were predominantly young females. The movie does an excellent job of telling a compelling story without coming off as preachy or propaganda. Although the ties to NAFTA are tenuous, the story does explore several explanations for these still unsolved murders.

The writing in this movie was exceptional. The plot revolves around actual events, inserting characters into a despicable set of circumstances evolving in Juarez, Mexico. The story involves a reporter who reluctantly agrees to investigate the unsolved murders in Juarez in exchange for an opportunity to be assigned as head of the Foreign Affairs Desk at her newspaper. She is a prize-winning journalist who returns to her own Spanish roots becoming drawn deeply into the story of suffering and fear. She teams up with a local journalist with whom she used to work. Politics, money and NAFTA play a heavy role in determining the direction of the movie which center on a young female survivor who can identify her attackers. Her story is compelling…will it ever be told?

The dialogue in Bordertown flowed smoothly and was easy to believe. Although the circumstances were sometimes convenient, they did not detract from the story. The characters were very well developed and captured my attention. I was rapt with the suspense as the layers of this story were slowly peeled away to reveal the sick under-belly of corruption and greed that caused the Governments of the United States and Mexico to “look the other way” while terrible events unraveled. The connection to NAFTA was weak considering the murders began before NAFTA was ever signed into law. The corruption angle would have been better served if it didn’t involve such ominous allegations. However, the political undercurrent in the story was integrated into the script in such a way as to create an appearance of entertainment and not preachiness. There were also some indications that snuff films were part of the issue causing the deaths. This aspect was never really explored.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Journey To The End Of The Night


Brendan Fraser recently starred in a movie titled Journey to the Center of the Earth which was based on a Jules Vernes novel (resulting in a 1959 screenplay). In contrast, Journey to the End of the Night was written by a novice writer (Eric Eason) with very little screen writing under his belt. Brendan Fraser has always struck me as a rather Disney sort of actor. I was caught somewhat off-guard by the subject matter of this film based on many of Fraser’s past endeavors. Especially considering that this film was produced by Fraser. It was interesting watching Fraser in this type of movie, but also somewhat disconcerting.

Journey to the End of the Night tells the story of a father and son in Sao Palo, Brazil. The father (Sinatra, played by Scott Glenn) owns a brothel where he raises his son Paul (Brendan Fraser) in the finest of pimping traditions. Paul is a divisive calculating fellow who intends to steal a large sum of money from his father so he can take his girl away from the squalor of their life in Brazil. As the movie progresses, we learn that Paul’s girl is Sinatra’s wife…an interesting factor that complicates matters. The individual who is supposed to complete a major financial transaction for the father dies while having sex with a she-male prostitute, leaving them without a go-between to close the deal. A dishwasher in the brothel (Wemba Eko…played by Mos Def) happens to be Nigerian and speaks the language necessary for business to resume. Wemba encounters difficulties in completing his task and a ripple effect changes the dynamics between Paul and Sinatra leading to the crossing of paths of many characters introduced throughout the script. The ending is a bit predictable, but not entirely formulaic.

The writing for this screenplay is a mixed bag. We are introduced to a variety of characters, many of whom have interesting quirks that provide dimension to the characters. The dialogue is gritty and believable, although the delivery is sometimes a bit forced. The plot is thin with a few minor sub-plots thrown in that make the movie more interesting. The writing was not a complete wash, but the entire premise of the story seemed a bit weak. The concept was not as thought provoking as it could have been given this cast of characters and the direction of the film could have provided different avenues that I would have liked to seen explored. In the end, I thought that the screenplay was okay, delivering good characters in a structured plot that required a bit of willful suspension of disbelief.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

7 Days To Live


I have seen several suspense films recently and most of them seem to have failed miserably. Films with low budgets don’t bother me as long as they tell a good story. After watching 7Days to Live I feel like maybe there is still hope for the horror/suspense genre. Every movie can’t be The Sixth Sense or any other Shamalayan film. However, 7 Days to Live is an excellent story that managed to hold my attention and deliver a decent amount of suspense. It was formulaic in some aspects and maybe a tad bit predictable, but well done. The budget seems to have been a bit better than some of the other drivel I have subjected myself to recently.



The plot of this film surrounds an old abandoned house that has memories. Amityville Horror might be the first film that comes to mind…but there have been a host of others. What you do with those memories is another thing entirely. 7 Days to Live is not in the same ballpark with Amityville Horror, but in my opinion exceeds some of the other haunted house films (with large budgets) I have seen. Following the death of their son, a couple relocates to the country to recover. The father is a writer who has a best seller…the change of locale may be the inspiration he needs to get over the hump and write his next book. They purchase a house which has been vacant for twenty-three years…it was the site of a murder in 1976, but nobody bothers to tell them this fact. Small personality changes start appearing in both characters leading you to wonder what the source of their shifting moods might be. It requires a steadfast commitment to ignore the illusion they are witnessing to save themselves from the spirits of the house.



The plot is interesting even if it has been done different ways in the past. The story evolves slowly, even thought we experience a “countdown” from very early in the film. The countdown and mood changes add to the suspense factor. The suspense of this movie is created by the writing more so than the visual effects. The dialogue is interesting, especially because this is a British film. The dialogue inserts language I am unfamiliar with at times, which adds to my own curiosity regarding this movie. The exchanges between the characters are mostly believable, although there were a couple of conversations that I thought were a bit forced. The characters are well developed and provided enough dimension to connect with the audience. I actually cared about the characters and the outcome of this movie, which is a crap shoot for me when it comes to this genre. Some of these films kill the characters off before you ever get a chance to know them. This film does an excellent job of introducing the characters and developing them along the plot line.



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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Warriors of Terra


What do you get when a bunch of Animal Rights Activists attempt to free lab animals from a high tech laboratory? What happens when the Activists aren’t even old enough to shave? You end up with a hot mess…that’s what happens. The story looks like it was written by people with less life experience than the youngsters who star in this forgettable film. From top to bottom, Warriors of Terra is a useless film that will do little more than waste your time.

Every plot should have an element of believability. This film starts with a premise that could possibly work and then gerrymanders any probability out of the story. Beyond the many flaws in the writing, the characters are inconsistent (their traits are either flat or change without explanation), the dialogue is immature and the underlying premise is stretched as far as it can possibly be stretched. In short, the writing provided a faulty foundation for the rest of the movie to build upon.

Warriors of Terra tells the story of a group of Animal Rights activists who decide to infiltrate a high tech research lab and free the poor lab rats. This extremely (we are led to believe) high tech laboratory that is based in a large complex is protected by two minimum-wage security guards. That is difficult enough to believe on the surface, especially with the secrets allegedly being guarded within. The back-story picks up as we go along…with a disenfranchised young lady who “only wants daddy to notice her.” Her father happens to be the researcher who developed the biggest secret hidden within the complex.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Unearthed


I watched Unearthed last night. I am not exactly certain what appealed to me about this movie, but I actually enjoyed it in a morbid sort of way. The dialogue wasn’t very good and the plot wasn’t very convincing. However, there was just enough cinematic quality to hold my attention. This is the sort of movie that creates enough suspense to keep you interested in spite of the many flaws throughout the film.



Unearthed drops the audience into the middle of a story. We are introduced to the interim Sheriff, a young female who seems to enjoy stiff screwdrivers or what ever other alcohol avails itself to her at any given moment. We find through a rather vague story line and series of flashbacks that Sheriff Annie Flynn (Emmanuelle Vaugier) was involved in some type of incident that resulted in the death of a young Indian girl. That back-story is never really explained, but might have something to do with the drinking issue. The Sheriff responds to a series of strange inter-connected incidents that include a semi-truck accident, dead livestock and an Archaeological dig site. Because the semi-truck contained fuel for the only filling station in miles, several strangers end up stranded at the small service station. These individuals end up fighting for their lives against an alien intruder that feasts on humans.



The plot here is rather simple. It is a typical adrenaline inducing story with very little substance. The dialogue is tired and not very convincing. The characters come from interesting backgrounds but are not very well developed. There is a rather lame attempt to bring dimension to a few of the characters, but it has the flat disconnected feel of most horror films of this genre. The characters really don’t stick around long enough for the audience to connect. I thought that opportunities were missed to develop a couple of key characters that may have added to the drama. One character in particular, Grandpa (Russell Means) has the potential to connect with the audience but isn’t given enough time or believability to get it done. In the end, we have a cast of characters who cannot deliver much because the writing is simply tepid. The suspense is created out of the situations, which don’t always make sense. It seems like the actions these characters took were forced by the writers and not natural actions, in order to set up events the way the writers wanted them choreographed. In short, the entire exercise seemed manufactured.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Burn After Reading


The Coen Brothers have done it again. I thought they lost their touch after watching The Lady Killers a few years back. It didn't have the same rugged appeal to me as movies like O Brother, Where Art Thou and Fargo. Then they rebounded with No Country For Old Men which I thought was one of the best movies of 2007. With Burn After Reading, we get a star-studded cast to complement superb writing.

After watching trailers for Burn After Reading, I was fairly certain that I would go to see it at the theater. The trailers looked good, but in the end, really didn't do the movie justice. The Coen Brothers own quirky. But quirky films that are well written appeal to me. This film combined the best elements of quirky comedy with excellent dialogue, characters that have dimension that connects with the audience and sub-plots that keep you meandering along a path that you know will eventually take you somewhere. In the end, it turns out the journey was the story, quirks and all. The spinning of this yarn is exceptional. You care about the characters which makes it all the more difficult to lose a couple of them along the way.

In order to deliver on such an interesting script, the Coen Brothers brought in some of the best talent in Hollywood. If you liked Frances McDormand in Fargo and Blood Simple, I can assure you she delivers the same idiosyncratic performance as the characters she has played in the past. Her ability to create characters that are unusual but believable (because they live next door to you) is definitely an asset to this film. She is the true star here...among some of the brightest tinseltown has to offer. Her character Linda Litzke finds herself thrust into the middle of a story of espinoage and CIA secrets...and sees an opportunity to get some cosmetic enhancement through the money she can make with the sensitive information that has come into her possession. The cosmetic enhancements being an end to achieving the happiness that every forty-something (or more) woman should be entitled to...the kind that surpasses the whackos you meet using the internet dating services (which she does). It provides a great platform for the rest of the script to navigate around.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Silence Becomes You


I am sometimes amazed at my morbid curiosity when it comes to watching bad cinema. It is like watching a train wreck. You don’t exactly know why you stay tuned in…but you have to see how things turn out. I guess that would be my assessment of Silence Becomes You. Touted as a Psychological Thriller, Silence Becomes You uses a combination of color, lighting and visual effects to assist in telling a story. If only the story were worth telling.

The plot here is fairly simple. Two sisters who live together in an old house (that has its own memories) share an uncanny extra-sensory connection with each other. They hatch a plot, which is alluded to in the dialogue, to bring home a stranger so one of the girls can become pregnant and have a baby. A subject is chosen at a bar and is seduced back to the house, where he is introduced to the bizarre world that these sisters have created. Everything in conversation with these girls is a tagline borrowed from one of their father’s books (There father was a published psychologist and experimenter in the paranormal). In the process of hatching this plot a love story evolves. The story creates friction between the sisters leading to their eventual exploration of separation. The story is a meandering tale that never really connected with me.

The visual ploys were often distracting although sometimes interesting. The dialogue was sparse and often difficult to hear or understand. What dialogue existed in this movie was simplistic and unbelievable. If you allow yourself to accept the premise of the film, you are still stuck with weak dialogue and characters which are not very believable. The predictability factor in this film was fairly high considering it is presented as a psychological thriller. There are no surprises. In fact, there really aren’t any major plot twists. This story is a fairly simple straight-forward plot that gets lost in the story-telling. A bit more character development and some decent plot twists would have made this film far more entertaining. There exist allusions to a spooky past that I thought would play out somehow, but they were simply inserted to add a haunting quality to the film. They were the primary source from which I thought the ending would spring. In the end, it was simply a frivolous diversion.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Mist


As always, Stephen King is a master story teller. This story adapts well to the big screen. The story departs from your normal hollywood fare, keeping things interesting, keeping you guessing, and ultimately causing deep though-provoking ideas, rather than a feel-good ending.

The camera angles are very interesting in this movie. You sometimes feel as if you are moving among the characters in the story. The video is not over-stabilized, giving movement a more realistic feel. The special effects in this movie are appropriate without being overdone. The gore is gory but not unbearable in the least. The characters that are animated in this movie are not overdone.

The characters in this story were from a variety of backgrounds. Some were strong characters, while other characters you "know in passing." The casting was effective in finding good strong characters to carry the movie along. The plot contains many smaller sub-plots containing challenging issues requiring believability. The study of human behavior in this film relies heavily on the casting. The casting effectively delivered on this premise.

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Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium


Looking at the advertisements for Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, you get the idea that you are in for great fun. I can't really dispute that this movie had some fun scenes, but overall, it lacked more than it delivered.

This looked like a fun movie to take my nine-year-old son to, and I believe he probably really enjoyed it. I took a much more objective view toward this movie. The movie is about a magical toy store where the toys seem to come to life. The story is alive and is an extension of the title character. The title character is dying, and with him the store. He wants to leave the store to his young benefactor, but there are issues that must be resolved. In the meantime, the store dies and must be brought back to life. Can they do it? Watch and see.

Let me start with the pro's...Mogorium delivered a story using color as a major story line. The wardrobe uses color to show changes in character attitudes, and the set itself loses color almost entirely at one point. The use of color in combination with black and white creates some interesting effects, and it is very artistically done. Sometimes subtle, sometimes too obvious to miss.

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Alvin And The Chipmunks


My son has been bugging me to go see the Chipmunks Movie, which I have not yet seen a trailer for. I was caught a little off guard to see Jason Lee (My Name is Earl) pop up on the big screen at the beginning of the movie. Yes, Earl...er, I mean Lee plays the lead human role of Dave Seville. He seems to have a knack for lovable goofball roles. In Alvin and the Chipmunks he delivers as expected.

For me, the biggest test of human/animation films is the believability. I must say that the movie Hulk was way overdone. The animation was not believable, which really ruined the film for me. An example of interaction between humans and animation that I thought worked well were the Scooby Doo movies. The interaction between Shaggy and Scooby in those movies was classic. I watched closely throughout this movie to see the chipmunks in direct interaction with humans. These moments were truly believable. Without being over the top, the animation was detailed, interactive, and seamless. This film almost seeks opportunities for the animation to come into direct contact to challenge the skills of the animators. I must say that they did an exceptional job.

The plot is simple. A villainous, get-rich-at-anybody's expense corporate-user type (played by David Cross) gives the chipmunks anything they want in order to exploit them. David Cross is an exceptional villain. He's your run of the mill bad guy opportunist. He plays the role with a slickness that makes his character (although one dimensional) likeably detestable. The goofy I-don't-want-to-be-a-family Seville gets frustrated and sends the chipmunks off with the bad guy. The bad guy loses, the good guy wins. The rest is details. I hate giving away the plot of a movie to someone who hasn't seen it yet, so I will leave it at that, but this movie is extremely predictable, so the plot is almost secondary. The fun is in the watching.

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I Am Legend


Before I get started, let me say that 1) I did not read the book, so there will not be any comparisons between the book and the movie, 2) I did not see the movie from 1997, so those comparisons will not be made, and 3) I will not reveal any major plot details about the movie...concentrating instead on other aspects of the movie. This review will reveal minor plot details.

I'm not exactly sure how one of the only survivors of this plague just happens to be Dr Neville (played by Will Smith). Dr Neville is a military scientist whose responsibility lies in finding a cure for a human induced plague. Now, he gives the statistics...90 percent of all humans who came in contact with the plague died from it outright. Nine percent of the humans who came in contact with the plague became something quite different from human, feasting on the one percent who were immune. I think those statistics are pretty close to the ones he quoted in the movie. He could not have been immune because of a serum, because he spends the movie trying to find the cure...that means that, as fate would have it, he was one of the one percent who was immune (not statistically impossible), and managed to keep from getting himself eaten. Okay, I'll buy off on it, I like Sci-Fi. But it does require a little bit of humoring.

I'm going to start with the special effects, because they were done well. Anyone familiar with New York City (Manhattan) will be pleasantly surprised to see it convincingly transformed into a human-less world. I don't know exactly how they did it, but they did a phenomenal job. They incorporated many known landmarks, and managed to keep them familiar, but without habitation, and signs of aging. I guess in this age of technology, that may not have been a difficult feat, but I have to say that they did a good job. I bought off on it being New York, five years in the future. The creatures are very convincing, and are scary without being completely inhuman. The intellect of these creatures comes through in some of the scenes.

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National Treasure 2


I can't really say that I'm a great Nicholas Cage fan (can anyone say ConAir? However, he has made a couple of movies that I enjoy. The first National Treasure was fun and different, if not shallow and predictable. However, it was a first take at the idea. That idea is played out. Book of Secrets is really just a weak rehash of the original movie. I would recommend waiting to see this one when it comes out on DVD. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't a must-see movie, either.

I'm not going to give away the plot...it's pretty simple and easy to figure out anyway. In a nutshell, Cage is back as one man in a long line of "protectors" of America's secrets. In this movie, he must restore honor to his family name after evidence surfaces that his grandfather was involved in the plot to assassinate Lincoln. The plot was weak, as it is in most action movies. This plot tries to be intricate and interesting, but really lacks any kind of depth. Additionally, the characters are very one-dimensional, making the plot even harder to swallow. I wish they would have kept this secret.

It's hard to attack the acting when you are dealing with undeveloped characters and story line. I would say that the acting was actually pretty good given what the actors and actresses had to deal with. Again, not being a big fan of Nicholas Cage, I have to say that his acting was pretty much what I expected. Not bad. Not terrific. I think I would believe this movie more with a Harrison Ford, and a little more conflict. Justin Bartha plays Cage's lovable sidekick, who is forever (at least almost forever) lost in the shadow of the hero of the story. Diane Kruger plays the jilted love interest who rekindles their love story through the trials and tribulations of the latest hunt. Cage's pretend father, Jon Voight (an exceptional actor) plays out the same jilted love-story-with-a-happy-ending subplot with Cage's pretend mother Helen Mirren. The acting wasn't really that bad...good actors, bad writing.

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No Country For Old Men


While watching No Country For Old Men I was reminded of those dreams where you are being chased, but you can't run. The harder you try to run, it seems the slower you go...and the whole time your blood is pumping. That's about the best way I can describe this film. It doesn't necessarily move fast...it sort of drops you into the middle of a story that has already started evolving and ambles toward a conclusion that leaves you almost as perplexed as the beginning. Yet the entire easy paced ride keeps your blood pumping. There is something to be said for cinema that can keep you pumped without the constant motion that some films seem to thrive on.

I'm going to start with the casting, because the Coen brothers film really relies on strong acting to pull this one off. They did a tremendous job of casting this film. Tommy Lee Jones is the perennial good guy, sprouting up in films with uncanny regularity. He is the kind of guy that you can instantly accept as a hero...and his part in this film was actually minor. Javier Bardem was brilliantly cast in the bad-guy role. He is a creepy dude in this film and utterly believable. I would hate to meet him in a sun-lit room filled with people, nevermind a dark alley. I saw Josh Brolin recently in American Gangster and thought he did a decent job. In that film he played a bad guy. In No Country he plays a role that is somewhere in between. He sells the part, and does a great job of taking us along with him on a trip that belongs primarily to him. The other supporting cast were selected well, but none necessarily worthy of mentioning specifically.

Recreating 1980...This film is set in 1980. Exactly 1980. There were a few references that made me scratch my head, so I checked them out. One was a reference to getting money from an ATM Machine. My bank didn't have an ATM Machine in 1980...I googled it and found that ATMs were introduced in the late 1970s, so this fact checked out. Overall, the clothing and hairstyles had a very 1980 feel. 1980 was sort of an odd time period, somewhere between the Disco era and that 80s look that some of us are trying to forget (knit ties, parachute pants, Michael Jackson zipper leather coats...need I say more?) The costume people did an excellent job of recreating 1980. I didn't notice any clothing that seemed out of period in this film.

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Mr. Brooks


The idea really isn’t new. A prominent member of society has a secret dark side…a secret that would stun the populace if they ever found out. That’s the story of Mr. Brooks. Man of the Year by day, Serial Killer (with Multiple Personality Disorder) by night. Using the multiple personality angle allows for interesting writing and discourse with a character who is obviously at odds with himself, in a visible struggle against his strong desire to kill. It was an artistically brilliant idea to demonstrate the struggle in a visual way (although you might argue that this has been done before). It still works very well in this film, and allows the writers to thoroughly develop the main character.

The acting in this film is superb. I am not much of a Kevin Costner fan…and I can’t stand Demi Moore. However, Costner is brilliant in his role as Mr. Brooks. Demi Moore’s character is a little more one dimensional and predictable than Costner’s, but I must admit that she made the most of the part. Dane Cook plays a lackey role in this film, and does an adequate job of being a loser. There is one scene where he is confronted by Demi Moore’s cop character, while holding some incriminating photographs in an envelope in his hand. I thought he pulled this scene off convincingly, given all of the things that were going on in the film at that particular time. William Hurt is Costner’s alter-ego, and does a good job of setting up Costner’s struggle. There wasn’t a lot that could be done with this character, since he is the antagonist. I felt as though his performance allowed Costner to be at his best. Danielle Panabake plays Costner’s daughter, and has a minimal part in the film. She brings a certain tension to the screen, despite having lines that are mostly bland (intentionally). She does a good job of creating an undercurrent, and allowing you to know that something isn’t as it seems. She also gets to scare the heck out of you near the end of the film.

The camera work in this film is interesting. It is not amazing, but there are some scenes devoid of color that create additional suspense, as well as vivid daylight scenes that somewhat compliment the mood of the main character. When Costner is on the prowl, the dim lighting and almost black and white feel create a suspenseful atmosphere, while other times you feel that you are with the character in broad daylight and have nothing to fear. It’s almost like the darkness is when you have to fear him. Unlike Panabaker’s character who doesn’t need darkness to strike fear into your heart. She creates an uneasiness anytime she’s in the frame. The isn’t much in the way of heavy action sequences.

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When Zachary Beaver Came To Town


When Zachary Beaver Came to Town is a heart-wrenching feel good movie that covers some very difficult topics. This movie does not shy away from topics that provoke strong feelings. The story revolves around the child actors who deliver excellent performances that do the exceptional writing justice.

The Plot contains many sub-plots and storylines that keep the movie moving along. Even the detail to microscopic sub-plots, such as: "Why does the town drunk drink so much?" These small details throughout the movie add depth to the interesting cast of characters. The plot might be your typical "child hero" type plot, but it is not simplistic. The tough topics that they tackle in this movie contain themes that most child films would not go after. This movie is based on the book by Kimberly Willis Holt, adapted to screenplay by John Schultz. The success of this movie relies heavily on the writing, which is nothing short of phenomenal. Kimberly Willis Holt won the 1999 National Book award for fiction for this book.

The Casting and Acting support the superb writing. Jonathan Lipnicki is cast as Toby Wilson who struggles both with and against his best friend Cal, played by Cody Linley. They have a tremendous conflict near the end of the film that I won't discuss for the sake of not revealing major details. They also work together to help another child the same age as them, who is a sideshow act. He is touted as the world's largest boy. This part is played by Sasha Neulinger, who was young Hal in the movie Shallow Hal. These young actors get into and out of trouble together throughout this movie. They have good chemistry. The only weak point in the casting is Cody Linley, who I feel overplays his part a little bit a few times during this movie. That should probably be expected considering the subject matter which must be hard for a twelve year old to grasp.

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Waterhorse: Legend Of The Deep


I took my nine-year-old son to see Water Horse: Legend of the Deep today. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. Although the movie was very predictable, there were also some suspenseful scenes that were fun and intense, to offset the obvious outcome. I agree with my son on this one. It was basically a very good family film.

This film may be considered a period piece although the movie is a story being told by an old man (whose identity isn't revealed until the very end...but you already know who he is). Within the story, there are flashback sequences, which really creates three periods, as opposed to a single period. However, the majority of the film takes place in Scotland during World War II. The attention to detail was adequate to transport you back in time. The costumes, vehicles, scenery and dialogue all support the period exceptionally.

The casting in this film also intrigued me. I did not know a lot of the actors, other than Brian Cox, who plays the role of the storyteller. Cox was a regular for a period of time on HBO's Deadwood series. The female lead in this movie is played by Emily Watson. What intrigued me is that there was an element of a love story to this film (albeit an unresolved love story). Emily Watson is an attractive lady, but she doesn't exude that cookie cutter beauty that Hollywood seems enamored with. Instead, she portrays an inner beauty that isn't muffled by exotic looks or "enhanced" body parts. There is nothing like watching a period piece starring an actor or actress who has had obvious plastic surgery.

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Akeelah And The Bee


In a nutshell, Akeelah and the Bee is the story of a young girl who struggles against all odds to win a series of spelling bees. The premise of this story makes it sound like a snoozer. It is anything but. This movie is a moving portrait of interwoven lives and the classic American concept of rooting for the underdog. The way in which this movie delivers that message makes it a classic, that should be a part of everyone's video library.

The Casting in this movie is phenomenal. I have been a Laurence Fishburne fan for many years. He has done dozens of films, but my all time favorite was his 1992 film Deep Cover. Laurence Fishburne plays the role of mentor to a young inner city girl, Akeelah (played by Keke Palmer). The chemistry between these two actors was amazingly beautiful. The tempo of this movie relies on their believability as they both exorcise their demons. I was a little bit distracted by Akeelah's principal, played by Curtis Armstrong. He delivered his role flawlessly, but I can't picture him as any other character than "Booger" in the 1984 hit Revenge of the Nerds. Armstrong has done dozens of movies since Nerds, but I can't shake the images of him picking his nose. The Crab Man from My Name is Earl also makes a small appearance in this film, playing a lovable street hood. That was a bit of a stretch for me, too.

The screenplay for Akeelah and the Bee manages to take a mundane competition that borders on being marginal at best and make it into an interesting film. The writing creates depth to the characters beyond the chemistry that they create with their acting. Strong dialogue and difficult interactions that don't feel strained show the complexity of the characters, and that as characters, they are not simply committed to the end product of the film, but have their own purpose in life. Akeelah's mother was played exceptionally by Angela Bassett. Her character is complex, yet it seemed that her character was just a bit unbelievable. This was more a product of the situations created by the writing than by her acting, which was spot on.

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The Longest Yard


I first took my son to see this movie when it was playing at the movie theater. If I hadn't endured enough torture the first time around, he had to own this movie on DVD when it came out, too! The first time I saw this movie was enough for me. I guess the slapstick aspects of this movie appeals to kids.

Let me start with a caveat. I have seen a few movies where Adam Sandler has made me laugh genuine laughs. I thought he was excellent in Big Daddy, and I loved The Wedding Singer for the nostalgia. But I have also seen him bomb like a B-2 (Hopefully nobody reading this remembers Going Overboard)! Sandler co-stars with Chris Rock who gets on my nerves. I really don't find him very funny most of the time, and his humor grates on me. He has a very big fan base, which really makes me scratch my head sometimes. Burt Reynolds is cast in a small role in this movie, which I feel was nothing more than an attempt to lend legitimacy to this otherwise horrid movie.

Whenever you do a "re-make," there are going to be the obvious comparisons to the original. I saw the original, and remembered liking the original, but don't remember enough about the movie to make accurate comparisons. However, the original, however good or bad it may be, will always be the original. For a re-make to be good, it has to exceed the original, and I can guarantee that this movie did not exceed the original.

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Cloverfield


Blair Witch Project...This movie is filmed using the same first-person camcorder effect as The Blair Witch Project. Some viewers or critics may see this as innovative. First of all, it's been done. Secondly, the constant motion made my stomach turn. This movie was very difficult to watch on the big screen. It may play much better on the small screen. I felt like I was in a motion simulator game for an hour and a half. My stomach physically hurt for about an hour after I left the theater. The first person perspective is very limiting, which means the writers had to work harder to conform to the limited perspective. Which brings me to my next point...

The dialogue in this movie was adequate. I wouldn't say that the writing was exceptional, other than to give kudos to the writer's for being able to create a story line, provide background and identify all of the characters, all from the first person perspective of a camcorder. At times, it felt as though that is exactly what they were doing. You could actually see into the writer's mind... "Hmmmm, how can we introduce the viewer to the guy holding the camera? How can we give the background between the main character and the ex-girlfriend? How can we show things outside of the direct perspective of the camera? (Hint: Show what they are watching on television). The writers handled this pretty good, but you could tell that they were trying to fill in blanks in the story from time to time with contrived writing.

As I was being introduced to the characters in this movie, I noted that I didn't recognize any of them straight out. However, some of them looked vaguely familiar. Without giving away their individual roles, they included: The main character Rob is played by Michael Stahl-David (The Black Donnelly's), the female lead Lily played by Jessica Lucas (The Covenant and She's the Man), Marlena played by Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls and Orange County), Hud played by T.J. Miller (who has been in a few episodes of Carpoolers). These were the main characters in this movie. Mike Vogel also plays Jason Hawkins, Rob's brother. The acting was decent considering the limited framework of this film. However, I wasn't convinced in many of the scenes where total chaos ruled. There was sort of a surreal indifference to the things going on around them. Part of that can also be attributed to the writing.

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Meet The Spartans


If you go into a spoof movie with high expectations. Shame on you. You are bound to be disappointed. My son wanted to see this movie, so I agreed, going in with low expectations. I was still disappointed. There were very few redeeming moments in this film that relied heavily on fart, poop and vomit jokes and sheer vulgarity.

I am going to start with the writing because the writing alone destroyed any hope that this movie had of succeeding. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it was written by a couple of eighth graders. The movie basically follows the plot of 300, but incorporates spoofs from several other recent movies, as well as borrowing heavily from pop culture in general. The writing was very tedious and tried too hard to incorporate too much stuff that just didn't fit. Additionally, there is only so much a person can take of fart and poop gags. There were three scenes of scrambled up-skirt shots, which were somewhat gratuitous. I take that back, they were completely gratuitous.

When you have an actor cast to play a real person that they don't look anything like, it can be a problem. There are those rare people (Rich Little comes to mind) that are so exceptional at their impersonations, that any physical dissimilarity becomes secondary. The actor cast in the lead role, Sean McGuire, actually looked a lot like the main character Leonidis from 300. The character similarities pretty much stopped there. Carmen Electra is Carmen Electra...she's hot, which is about all her role was cast to be. Ken Davitian was intolerable as Xerxes, probably more because of the writing than his acting. Jim Piddock was cast as Simon Cowell and did a hideous job of that role. Crista Flanagan did okay as an Ugly Betty look-alike. The only redeeming performance was from Nicole Parker who played multiple roles. Her Paula Abdul didn't look very good, but the mannerism were (as Simon might say) Spot On. She also played Britney, Paris Hilton and Ellen DeGeneres. Her Ellen was actually pretty decent. Overall, the acting was almost as depressing as the writing.

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The Bucket List


I am going to start this review out with it's strongest facet. This movie had a decent plot, but the real vehicle for this movie was unbelievable dialogue. The strength of the writing is the ability to create a set of circumstances and interaction to make a rather unbelievable story palatable. The writer/director, Justin Zachman, has written and directed a couple of other films, which I have not seen. I'm surprised at this, because Zachman's screenplay is profound and touching without being labored or sappy. That's a rare quality in films that deal with strong topics like death. The use of offbeat humor and intelligent discourse keep this movie from bogging down with the wait of pity and self-loathing. The movie also leaves some questions unanswered, which is good. The closure that you get from this movie involves the main characters and the unanswered questions are secondary to the film. One of the most well written movies I have seen in a long time.

I talk about the strength of the writing as superior to the acting. Part of my reasoning lies in the fact that I expect strong performances from actors like Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Either one of these actors can carry a film by themselves. However, the chemistry between these two actors was exceptional. The supporting cast also delivered strong performances, particularly Beverly Todd who plays the wife of Freeman's character. Her part really played heavily into the believability of the overall concept of the film. She was solid in her performance.

What Is A Bucket List?
A Bucket List is a list of things you want to do before you die (kick the bucket). This movie examines the relationship between two men who are diagnosed with only months to live, as they check things off the list before they die. In the process, they learn things about themselves they didn't know and heal past mistakes.

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The Eye


I didn't intend to see this film after watching trailers for in the theater. However, after reading mike.holmes review of the movie. His review caused me to reconsider my original perceptions. I do not feel like I wasted my afternoon, nor did I waste the matinee ticket price. NOTE: This review will reveal minor details about the plot.

I'm starting with the special effects because they are interesting without being excessive. The aspect of this movie that reminds me of The Grudge is the use of stop and go filmography the way it was used in that movie. This film is a remake of a Chinese film of the same name. This film definitely maintains the feel of the Asian thriller. Many of the camera angles also reflected the Asian feel. Some of the scenes involved spill over between two different "realities." These scenes were very interesting utilizing special effects that were believable to create seamless scenes. There were some explosion scenes and some fire scenes that were extremely well done. One scene involves an explosion witnessed at eye level...hauntingly well done. The use of glass and fire and slow motion create great suspense.

The plot of this movie is a bit formulaic. Without giving away the actual plot, this film uses a formula reminiscent of The Sixth Sense which was original when it was first done. However, the plot doesn't try to mimic The Sixth Sensem, relying on it's own storyline. The story also reminded me a little bit of Stephen King's Insomnia. The ultimate concept at work here lies in the need to quiet the agony of the spirit of a deceased person. What makes this film work is excellent writing that avoids the pitfalls of becoming completely formulaic. Although the concepts lean a bit that direction, the writing brings a new concept to the idea and explores some different angles that haven't been done in any major films that I have seen. The dialogue is well done. There are a few points that are a bit labored in the dialogue (getting a therapist to believe you're not crazy). However, the dialogue overall was believable.

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Last King Of Scotland


When The Last King of Scotland came out in theaters last year, I wanted to see it. Somehow I missed it while it was in theaters and sort of forgot about it. I finally watched the movie tonight and thoroughly enjoyed it. I never understood the title until watching the movie. It seems that Idi Amin felt oppressed by the British and maybe identified with the Scottish (or maybe his Scottish Doctor had a great influence on him, and the rest is poetic license). This review will not reveal any major plot details.

I don't comment on the soundtrack of a movie very often. In fact, the soundtrack is often secondary to me. However, with this movie being a period piece (based in the early 1970's) the soundtrack was more noticeable. The music was an eclectic combination of African music and 1970's pop and rock music. There was an interesting lounge version of Bobby McGee that I actually liked. The music blended well with the movie themes.

Uganda in the 1970's...It is hard for me to comment on how well Director Kevin MacDonald recreated Uganda in the 1970's. I have never been to Uganda, never mind commenting on that specific point in time. What I can comment on is the authenticity of photographs I have seen of Idi Amin and my own memories of the 1970s here in the United States. Based on this limited reference, I would say that MacDonald did an excellent job. One scene that caught my eye had a cigarette advertisement on the wall, a small detail, but something you really don't see anymore. The music played well into recreating the 1970's as did the non-African wardrobe. There were a lot of earth tones (brown being a prevalent color in the wardrobe). The outfits had the cut and style of the 1970's adding more credence to the film.

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Pathfinder


I was a bit bored this evening so I checked out the On Demand movies on HBO. I saw an interesting sounding movie called Pathfinder that sounded like it had potential. I hit play and settled in to be entertained. The movie really wasn't bad. I didn't pay anything extra for it and still watched it from beginning to end. The good outweighed the bad in this movie so I would recommend it, but not highly. NOTE: This review will reveal minor details about the plot.

The writing left a little bit to be desired. When you have a Native American film, there is a tendency to add a little bit of Indian Wisdom, which can be a bit cliche. The screenplay was written by Laeta Kalogridis who writes for The Bionic Women. The writing was always smooth, and was predictable. The tidbits of wisdom were sometimes campy. Take for instance this exchange (which I will paraphrase since I don't remember the exact words): "There are two wolves fighting in your heart, one is hate and the other is love"..."Which one wins?"..."The one that you feed the most." Not bad writing, just cliche.

I drew the comparison of A Man Called Horse and Conan the Barbarian because I had to. This story is based on a Barbarian Viking child being left behind in the New World after a vicious attack on the native people. The child is taken in as one of the tribe (A Man Called Horse) and raised as a Native American. The concept actually works, even if it is not totally believable. It's fantasy, so you are allowed to enjoy the entertainment without picking everything apart. There were some obvious errors in the movie, but overall the concept worked for me.

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Bridge To Terabithia


Bridge to Terabithia is an excellent movie based on the Newberry Award winning children's book of the same name, written by Katherine Paterson. It was adapted to the screen by Jeff Stockwell and David Paterson. I'm not sure what the relationship between David and Katherine Paterson is. NOTE: This review will reveal only minor details about the plot.

Let me start by stating that I have never read the book that this movie is based on. However, This book won the Newbery Medal in 1978. The Newbery Medal is about the highest literary award that a children's book can receive. So this book was obviously of high quality. The writing must have adapted well to the screen play, because the dialogue and rhythm of this movie flowed freely. The writing was exceptional. The storyline itself reminded me in many ways of My Girl, the McCauley Culkin movie about the child that dies of bee stings. The mood of the two movies seemed similar, although the stories were very different.

Josh Hutcherson (who recently appeared in Firehouse Dog) played the lead role of Jesse. His acting was spot on. His co-lead was played by Anna Sophia Robb (the little girl from Because of Winn Dixie). The chemistry between these two actors seemed genuine. They both delivered phenomenal performances beyond their years. Dealing with subject matter that included interacting with imaginary creatures and ultimately dealing with difficult subject matter is not always an easy task. They handled these various situations flawlessly delivering excellent performances. The rest of the supporting cast were secondary to the story being told, but supported the story adequately.

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Smokin' Aces


Once again I found myself surfing my On Demand choices when I came across Smokin' Aces. I vaguely remembered the trailers for this film when it was in theaters last year and thought it looked interesting. With nothing better to do, I figured I'd spend an hour and a half seeing what this movie was all about. Note: This review will reveal minor details about the plot.

The end game in this movie is a bit predictable. However, getting there is the challenge. There are so many plot lines and bizarre dialogue that the movie will keep your head spinning. There were zany exchanges between some of the characters that I found humorous in an odd way. I actually thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue in this movie. It was not very traditional, but it was refreshing in a strange sort of way. The plot might be compared to Pulp Fiction in some respects, but another movie that popped into my mind while watching this film was It's a Mad, Mad World. Kudos to Joe Carnahan for keeping the dialogue interesting.

All I can say is this...if you want action, you've got it. There is so much movement in this film that you really have to pay attention to keep up. Many different characters start out on different paths to the same destination and cross at varying intervals. The exchanges that occur during these intersections are interesting. It had to be difficult to keep up with what which characters knew at any given time in the film, in order to have those characters react appropriately to what they were perceiving. If that sounds confusing, you can get a glimpse into what the writers had to deal with in keeping track of their own characters. The action was non-stop.

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Number 23


While deciding what to watch on On Demand, I came across a really good selection. A few of my choices were about to expire, so I decided to go with The Number 23 over a couple of movies that I wanted to see more. When this movie came out in the theater I was planning to see it. However, it was panned pretty bad, so I figured I would wait until it came out on video. That was probably a wise choice. The movie is not as bad as critics made it sound, but it probably wasn’t worth the price of a couple tickets. Note: This review will contain no more than minor details regarding the plot.

The Number 23 is a suspenseful movie that really keeps you guessing. The movie plods along, sometimes slowly, as it builds the suspense. I was a little concerned near the beginning of the film, but as the movie progressed it picked up a little bit of steam. The flow of the movie was smooth even though it was bogged down at the beginning, and tied together the plot nicely at the end. I was pleasantly surprised with this movie in totality.

The Number 23
In a nutshell, without revealing any plot details, this movie centers around a man’s obsession with the number 23. When you watch this film you may be amazed at how many concrete examples of the number 23 exist. One interesting one related to this film: The Director Joel Schumacher was involved in twenty-two film projects prior to this one. Making this one, literally, Number 23.

As I mentioned, the pace and dialogue were a bit slow near the beginning of the film. I don’t know if that was intentional, so I will chalk it up to artistic expression. However, I think they should have increased the pace of things just a little bit at the beginning of the film. The dialogue was sharp and interesting, and not a lot of words were wasted. Some of the examples that were given in support of the premise of the film were a stretch, but there were numerous examples that supported the theory that this film is based upon. I was actually very surprised at the breadth of examples that were provided. A great deal of research went into this part of the film and it showed. The dialogue was rich yet natural. There was enough ambiguity to keep you guessing at the outcome. The storyline was actually brilliant. I liked the concept. It wasn’t entirely fresh, but it was a unique take on story telling. I enjoyed the writing immensely. The writer, Fernley Phillips, was also a co-producer on this film.

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Perfect Creature


I think I covered just about everything in the title. This movie was an eclectic combination of ideas. This movie takes place in an alternate universe where vampires and humans exist in a symbiotic relationship. The delicate balance is shattered leading to a suspenseful trip through a pretend world. Note: This review will reveal only minor details concerning the plot.

This film was written and directed by Glenn Standring. This is the only film from this writer/director that I have seen. He has only been involved in a couple of other films, but has won one award and been nominated for a couple of others. The dialogue in this movie has a British tilt. The writing does not bog down and there are not a lot of wasted words. The writing is exceptional for a film that moves along rather slowly. The pace of this film tends to be slow, but that is not uncommon with vampire films.

Creating An Alternate Universe...If you are allowed to create a vampire movie based in an alternate reality, where do you go with it? Vampire movies have a Gothic flavor, so there should be a bit of Goth. But how would another world progress differently from our own? This was a concept explored in the television series Sliders. I always enjoyed that series. What we end up with is a world where vampires emerged and brought cures to illness. They are a Priesthood, a Brotherhood, that protects humankind in exchange for blood offerings. So what does a world like this look like? Perfect Creature does a phenomenal job of creating a slum based in a time frame that would mirror our own early 1900's, but with advanced technology. But the technology looks like it is from the early 1900s. It is an odd amalgam of various eras combined into a single time period. It is hard to explain what this world looks like, but imagine everything you own currently being possible 100 years ago, but designed with the look of that time period. That is what this movie looks like. It is visually intriguing and is done tastefully and in great detail. This film is supposed to be set in an alternate New Zealand in the 1960's, but borrows heavily from many eras.

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Fountain


While deciding which movie to watch tonight, I came across The Fountain, which I do not remember seeing previews for. This movie was written and directed by Darren Aronofsky who was well known for two previous films, Pi and Requiem For A Dream. I saw Pi, but didn’t care very much for that movie. I heard a lot of good reviews regarding Requiem For A Dream but have not seen that movie yet. I recognized Hugh Jackman’s name on the credits, so I figured I would check this movie out. I had no idea that I had missed one of the best movies of 2006. This is definitely not a Mass Appeal movie, but I enjoyed it immensely. Note: This movie will reveal only minor details regarding the plot.

This movie was well written. It is filled with parallels, symbolism and excellent dialogue. The pace of the movie is intentionally slow, but not boring for one who is paying attention. There is a lot going on in this movie, bouncing back and forth through time. The parallels between the events in different eras are sometimes subtle. The symbolism is often written into the dialogue, but can also be found in the richly choreographed visual effects. I can say that I was not a fan of Darren Aronofsky prior to watching this film. I will be watching for his next one, though.

This movie is a science fiction adventure that takes place in three different time periods. The movie tells a single story that emerges simultaneous in the three eras. The stories do not all end the same. The plot covers a lot of deep issues regarding life and death and afterlife. Ultimately it is about separation, reunion and finally communion.

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Jumper


The concept of teleporting seemed appealing to me, a huge fan of Heros. When I saw Doug Liman was Directing this film, I figured it had to be good. After all, Liman Directed The Bourne Ultimatum. I was sorely disappointed in this film. They squandered infinite potential on a wishy-washy story with bland characters that were easily forgotten. I won't give it a recommendation, either. It's strictly a push for me. NOTE: This review will reveal minor details regarding plot.

I wish I had read the 1992 book by Steven Gould, that this movie was based on. I imagine that the book was far better than the screenplay. My biggest problem with the writing is that there was absolutely no character development. It seems like they glossed over interpersonal relationships for flash and bang. That was a huge mistake. If you don't care about the characters in a movie, how are you supposed to care where the movie is going? In this case, the movie went nowhere. These characters were about the most one-dimensional characters I can recall seeing. I really didn't care which, if any of them, were killed off in a movie. And that includes the main character. He's a thief and he discards his relationships easily. When the characters are not believable, nothing else works. A little bit of character development may have saved this movie. A few of the "twists" in this movie were weak, too.

The acting wasn't really bad. But how should I rate the acting given the fact that I didn't care for the characters they played? Even the best actor can't overcome a weak script. This script was water-thin. The cast had Samuel L. Jackson playing the Arch-Villain. It should have been destined to be good. Now Jackson is certainly a seasoned veteran actor. I'm surprised he didn't run when he read the script. Jackson was actually good, even if the material didn't showcase his abilities. Hayden Christensen just wasn't believable to me in the lead role in this movie. I don't really think it was his acting though. I don't believe he would have made it into the Star Wars movies if he didn't have talent. Rachel Bilson was simply forgettable. There were no redeeming qualities in her performance. I think the cast might have gotten better marks if they had something to work with, but they didn't. I can't help that any of them chose to do this movie. They were all mediocre at best.

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The Spiderwick Chronicles


I took my son to see the Spiderwick Chronicles today. The movie started out with a Nickelodean acknowledgement, which sort of made me worried. I wasn't sure if that meant that it was going to be a silly movie, which would describe many of the other movies I have seen that Nickelodean was involved with. This movie was well done. NOTE: This review will reveal minor details regarding the plot.

The first thing I noticed about this movie was the rich dialogue. Although the plot has been done over and over again in different teen genres, the writing in this film was sharp. The dialogue didn't get too bogged down in drama, concentrating instead on weaving a fascinating story of fantasy, filled with fanciful figures that foment the imagination. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and felt that there could not be much improvement in this area.

I did not realize that Nick Nolte played the ogre in this film until I looked up the movie afterwards. I thought he looked familiar. The ogre is pretty much animated in most of the movie, so there wasn't much acting required. Nick Nolte was a believable bad guy when he was in human form...but then again...he IS Nick Nolte. Freddie Highmore from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory plays a troublesome hero that was well developed (if not cliche) in this film. He was a likable character, and his acting was spot on. The best part of the acting for me was the interaction with the animation, which always seems to me to be a tough concept. Do I believe the creatures are there with this actor? That is the question. In this film, the answer was a resounding yes. The animation adequately blended with the actors. These actors did an exceptional job selling the animation.

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American Gangster


I have waited over a month since seeing American Gangster to write my review. The movie was an exceptionally well produced movie. I wanted to give myself time to write a review that would be fair to the cinematic aspects of the movie in spite of the short-comings in the truthfulness of this film. I will rate this movie purely on it's cinematic qualities, but will get on my soapbox to set the record straight. This film was fundamentally unfair and untruthful in respect to the allegedly factual statement at the end of the movie regarding the prosecution of 3/4 of the NY DEA following Frank Lucas' arrest. That statement is purely a lie and Universal Studios will probably find themselves in a class action lawsuit to defend against the defamation of hundreds of brave men who served the city of New York and the United States during the investigation of Frank Lucas. First, about the film...

Although several fabrications were woven into this story to make for good cinema, the dialogue in this movie was exceptional. It was a gripping story that was captivating and interesting. The fact that it is based on true events makes it even more interesting. I should note that the movie failed in accurately portraying the role NYC DEA played in prosecuting Lucas over a year before New Jersey ever got a chance at prosecution. Additionally, Lucas wife was assaulted in the movie, during a search of the house, where money was allegedly stolen during the course of the search. The assault and theft never happened. In Lucas deposition to the US Attorney's Office following his arrest, he stated that the money in his house was a weekend's take and thought that half a million dollars sounded about right. The statement at the end of the movie about 3/4 of the NY DEA being indicted following Lucas' arrest was also false. In a movie based on factual events, I expect a little bit of drama. But a written statement at the end of the movie is not taken as drama, but fact. Universal Studios should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for this unwarranted defamation of the honorable men and women of the NYPD and DEA.

Now that I'm off my soapbox, I would like to comment on the all star cast. Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington in a movie directed by Ridley Scott. Wow. The exceptional acting that you would expect from a group like this is exactly what is delivered. Throw in Josh Brolin, Cuba Gooding Jr., Ted Levine and others, and you have a phenomenal group of actors who contributed to a flawless piece of drama. (Flawless in the sense of the acting). This was one of the best movies of 2007, largely due to the acting.

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Lars And The Real Girl


There is a scene in this movie...a funeral for a pretend person, where I got choked up. I hardly ever get choked up at a movie. Okay, once in a while. But a pretend funeral? You have to buy into this movie to enjoy it. I bought in hook, line and sinker. A phenomenal story about what happens when a community joins together to help a young man heal. It is quirky, touching and amazing. I don't know if I am capable of putting together the words to adequately describe the offbeat but fantastic drama that is called Lars and the Real Girl. NOTE: This review will only reveal minor details regarding the plot.

This movie has phenomenal writing. Nancy Oliver is the screenwriter who delivered a script that was rich in dialogue and emotionally gripping. The saga moves at a snail's pace at times, but the writing is exceptional. The characters are fully developed creating a bond with the audience that is almost surreal. Only an exceptional writer could cause an emotional response from her audience at the funeral of a sex doll. DOLL...literally sex doll, the kind you order in the mail or buy at an adult novelty store. Yes, if you enjoy this movie, you will be moved by the funeral. Don't say I didn't warn you. I believed the characters and I believed the dialogue. More importantly, I cared about the characters. These are all testaments to good writing.

I recently watched Fracture which also starred Ryan Gosling. This was the first movie I remember seeing Gosling in, and I have to say that was very impressed. He plays a very difficult role to sell to an audience, but he conveys his pain and turmoil quietly and effectively. I predict that Gosling will have a very rewarding career ahead of him. He nearly carried this film himself. This movie also showcased the talents of Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, and Kelli Garner. The cast delivered strong performances that combined with great writing to create a widely overlooked classic. This movie was quirky and different, but it should become a classic.

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Fracture


I rented Fracture the other night. I recently watched Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl and felt that he was exceptional in that movie. Now having seen two of his movies, I am certain that he is destined for a rewarding career in Hollywood. Fracture takes us on a psychological ride inside the head of Hannibal Lecter...no wait, that's another movie. Ah yes, Ted Crawford, another calculating madman played by the notoriously devilish and extremely talented Anthony Hopkins. NOTE: This review will only reveal minor details regarding the plot of this movie.

The concept of this movie is interesting. I don't know that it's realistic that an individual could so accurately predict his opponent's every movement the way Ted Crawford does in this movie, but it is a Psychological Thriller...so I'll give them that. The dialogue in this movie is spot on. The characters are well-developed, if not just a little bit predictable. The story line seems predictable but offers a few twists and turns along the way. The totality of the writing is solid, but not without flaws. Some of the writing requires a little bit of willful suspension of disbelief to use a Hillaryism.

As I mentioned earlier, Ryan Gosling is a surprisingly talented up and comer. He delivered another great performance in a role completely different from his last. It is refreshing to see a talented actor doing something entirely different to avoid getting type-cast. Anthony Hopkins on the other hand played the character he plays best. The cold, calculating murder-prone madman that he made famous as Hannibal Lecter. In this film, Hopkins delivers the goods as usual. His character makes you want to like him and hate him at the same time. David Strathairn, Billy Burke, Rosamund Pike, Embeth Davidtz, Cliff Curtis, Fiona Shaw, Xander Berkeley and Joe Spano all deliver strong performances in support of our two main characters. The acting was spot on.

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The Return


I was sitting on the couch browsing the movies available On Demand and thought that The Return looked interesting. I didn't bother checking Epinions for reviews before starting this movie. It didn't cost anything, so I guess I didn't really consider it an investment. However, I did invest 85 minutes in this film. I don't think I'm getting any return on my investment. I am going to give this movie a slightly higher rating than the other reviews on Epinions. This movie is stuck at a solid ONE star...I will break from the crowd and give it two. I thought about turning it off, but something kept me watching...I guess it was good enough to finish...or maybe it was just morbid curiosity.

As I mentioned in the opening...this movie was a psychological thriller that offered no new twists. It was a basic psychological thriller. No frills attached. I was hoping that some interesting twist was right around the corner but it was so predictable it was scary (the predictability, not the movie). The movie was written by Adam Sussman who is now working on the television series Night Stalker. (NOTE TO SELF: Do not watch the television series Night Stalker). The dialogue wasn't necessarily bad, but there really wasn't much dialogue to be had. Most of the film was visual, and for 85 minutes (which is a fairly short movie) it felt like three hours. This movie moved slow. This could have been an HBO short and still covered the same amount of ground. The writing was horrible.

Ahhh, A bright point. Sarah Michelle Gellar. She has been in many, many movies, but I liked her best in the Scooby Doo films. What the heck was she thinking when she opted to do this film? She was good in this movie, but it was just so slow. She really didn't have much of an opportunity to showcase her talents. Peter O'Brien appears to have starred in many Australian films, but none that I have seen. His performance was okay, nothing to brag about. How does Sam Shepherd go from The Notebook to Bandidas and this piece of crap? His talented was completely wasted on this film. His role was very limited, but what we saw of him was solid. The rest of the cast have resumes, but none of them were worth mentioning. They all had limited roles playing characters that I really didn't care about.

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Astronaut Farmer


I wanted to see Astronaut Farmer while it was in the theaters. Somehow, I managed to miss it, which is unusual considering I see at least one movie per week at the theater (I took in two last weekend). I'm not a huge fan of Billy Bob Thornton, some of his roles just don't impress me. However, I thought this was one of his best movies. The concept of a private citizen obsessed with space flight to the point of (literally) mortgaging the farm provides an excellent opportunity to examine the interpersonal relationships of family and the effects of outside pressures on the family. This movie ventured into new territory, which I enjoyed. It's always nice to get something fresh out of Hollywood.

This movie was written by Mark and Michael Polish. They have written and directed a couple of movies that I am unfamiliar with. I am going to put them on my "to-do list" based on the success of this movie. I thought the dialogue was believable and sincere and the plot well thought out. The characters were well developed and I found that I cared about this experiment in ingenuity and determination. I wasn't really sure where this movie was going after a failed launch followed by an opportunity for financial stability. There was a telling moment at the bank, an exchange between the Astronaut Farmer's wife and the Banker when you realize the movie is going another direction. The pace was smooth allowing events to unfold in a manner that creates a little bit of suspense. I thought the writing was brilliant.

Billy Bob Thornton has had some forgettable performances. He has also had some amazing ones (Slingblade comes to mind). In this movie, I felt Thornton was at his best. He was believable as a determined, if not slightly deranged, former Air Force Pilot. He sold the role and convinced me to believe a rather tall tale. Virgina Madsen plays Thornton's wife, delivering an awesome performance. She had to convince us that she would allow her children to stop going to school, allow her husband to mortgage everything they have, and still stand behind him. The strength of her acting helped sell this otherwise tough concept. Max Theriot played a great supporting role as Thornton's son in the movie. Too bad he followed up such a strong role with a minor role in the mediocre Jumper which was recently released. Bruce Willis had a bit role in this movie and didn't really have an effect on the overall story telling. The rest of the cast were strong in supporting roles leading to a story that I was able to follow without completely feeling like I was giving up my ability to reason.

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The Guardian


I rented this movie a several weeks ago. This was another film that I intended to see, but never had the chance to catch it while it was still in the theater. Some of the scenes looked like they may have been very impressive on the big screen, so I hate that I missed it while it was in the theater. However, this movie apparently translated well to DVD. The special effects were still exceptional even on regular television.

This movie was writer Ron L. Brinherhoff's second screenplay. The dialogue in this movie was great. The plot was structured well and fairly believable. There were some details in this movie that felt constructed for the purpose of adding drama. There was a bar scene that surpassed any attempt at logic. That scene would have had a very different outcome in real life. I accept that as artistic license, but that one scene would have been better if it were left on the cutting room floor. The characters were fairly well developed, although there were a couple that were shallow. The writer did a good job of connecting the audience to the main character which was essential with a story line like this. The writing was probably the weakest part of this film for me, but was still very solid.

This plot has been done many times in many different genres. It's a story of heroism and duty. Films like this set themselves apart in the telling of the story. If I were to compare it to another movie, I must suggest that the plot was similar in some respects to Armageddon. We have an aging main character who has devoted his life to saving people lost at sea. His long record of achievement isn't lost on his superiors. His achievements are known throughout the Coast Guard. He spends some time training new recruits but ultimately ends up back "in the game." There are smaller sub-plots that add dimension to the movie, and the ending shall be left to the viewer. I'm not one for spoilers.

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Flushed Away


I wasn't really sure what to expect from Flushed Away. I expect a lot from the people at Dreamworks. The last movie I can remember similar to this one was Wallace and Grommit, which was referenced in this movie. I wasn't very impressed with Wallace and Grommit although I enjoyed the animation. This movie was slightly better. Both movies are geared toward younger audiences. However, many movies aimed at younger audiences are equally fun for adults. A movie like Spiderwick Chronicles can appeal to younger audiences and still captivate the adults who accompany the target audience.

This movie was written by a group of writers. This collaborative effort produced decent dialogue dotted with puns. The writing was designed to target a younger audience and was dumbed down at times to the point of being a bit tedious. The dialogue was decent, but used devices like toilet humor to get laughs. Okay, the toilet is part of the movie...I get it. There are a lot of visual gags in this movie incorporated into the storyline. These gags aren't really funny unless you are eight. They way overdid the getting hit in the crotch idea. There were some decent visual gags.

The plot in this movie isn't unlike that of many other animated films. It follows the travails of a rat who gets flushed into the sewer system and tries to find his way home. Only home isn't where he thinks it is (metaphorically speaking). He finds his way home only to return to the underworld to save the day. The plot is weak and predictable, but the fun of animation isn't always in the plot.

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V For Vendetta


When I first saw the trailers for V For Vendetta in the movie theaters, I thought it was a Superhero movie. I like my movies about Superheros, so I intended on catching this on the big screen. I missed this movie while it was in theaters and ended up watching it on Cable. This movie was nothing that I expected. That isn't an indictment of the movie, I just wasn't expecting this type of film. The movie sort of reminded me of the Big Brother of George Orwell's 1984 with a touch of the French Resistance. This movie takes place in a future where, like 1984 the Government controls far too much. Curfews and strict government control does not lead to Revolution. So how does one start a Revolution? That is the question that this movie will answer. The movie is an interesting tale of rebellion and empowerment against corrupt government, it's a love story of sorts, and it's a story about family. I have not read the book, so no comparisons will be made to that effect.

This movie had a pace that was herky jerky. There were some very slow scenes and there were decent action sequences. The plot was interesting and well developed and the dialogue was extremely rich. The dialogue in this film was the strongest quality I found. While watching this film, I mused that it would make a great stage play and could easily be adapted to that purpose. The characters in this movie started out shallow for the purpose of creating the vehicle through which the story would unfold. As the movie progresses it reveals a greater depth of character. In the end, I cared about these characters which is a testament to strong writing.

This movie showcases Natalie Portman, who I thought was mediocre in Mr. Magorium's Magic Emporium. However, this could have been due to the weak writing on that movie. She was exceptional in this one. We don't get to see much of Hugo Weaving, who hides behind a mask throughout the movie. That may be good, because without the mask I might have confused him for Mr. Smith of The Matrix, a role that he will forever be known for. The rest of the cast included John Hurt, Stephen Fry, Ben Miles, Roger Allam, John Standing, Eddie Marsan, Clive Ashborn, Sinead Cusack and Tim Piggot-Smith. The cast delivered exceptional performances, but the height of the drama were the exchanges between Portman and Weaving who delivered their performances flawlessly. The movie had a very theatrical feel, which may be over the top for some viewers, but I felt the peformances were natural even with the stage type feel that this movie conveyed.

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