[font=Arial][color=DarkRed]The X-Files: I Want to Believe - To all fellow X-Files fans out there, the movie is not nearly as bad as you may have been lead to believe. That said, it's pretty much a so-so standalone episode of the TV show needlessly expanded. And yes, for all concerned fans, Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) kiss on more than one occasion. The plot that reunites the characters is fairly mediocre, something about a ring of mad scientists that want to be a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein. You don't need a two-headed attack dog to know that plot is way too hokey. The most intriguing aspect of the film is a priest (Billy Connolly) who also receives psychic visions, cries tears of blood, and, oh yeah, is a convicted pedophile. Could God be responsible for his special abilities as well as the abhorrent sexual urges? There is so much great conflict and human drama in this character worth examining, so it's a pitiful shame that he just gets shoved off so the third act can concentrate on the lame mad scientists. A majority of the flick occurs in snowy West Virginia, which doesn't translate into anything too special to look at. I'll admit, my rating is inflated because I was an ardent fan of the TV show until the last years when it felt like they weren't even trying any more. If you stripped away my allegiance, I'd say that the second X-Files movie serves little purpose other than to add a tiny coda to a TV show that went off the air in 2002. The characters are worth revisiting, just not in this tepid tale.
Nate's Grade: C+
The Visitor - The follow-up by Thomas McCarthy, the writer/director of the sparkling Station Agent, is an affecting indictment on our nation's immigration policies that manages to say a lot of important things in small touches, ditching histrionic messages. Walter (Richard Jenkins, in a commanding and deeply empathetic performance) discovers a pair of illegal immigrant squatters living in his seldom-used New York City apartment. He strikes up an unlikely friendship that moves in subtle strokes that keeps the movie very character-based. The second half of the film revolves around Walter's attempts to work within the system to free his new friend from detention. I could have spent more time with Walter and Tariq, the Syrian immigrant who teaches Walter how to play the African drum. The Visitor explores a man learning in his autumn years how to reconnect with people, and it has moments of astonishing emotional clarity. McCarthy is a filmmaker that can spin narrative gold from just about anything; The Station Agent had a hot dog vendor, a single mom, and a dwarf. The Visitor is further proof that McCarthy is an extremely talented man who knows how to target and tap the humanity of his unique characters. There are very few moments in this movie that feel false.
Nate's Grade: B+
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - The movie seems to float on the effervescent air of 1930s screwball comedies, and in truth it does possess some of that snappy allure. Francis McDormand travels into the inner circle of the upper social classes in London and befriends a bubbly lounge singer, played by bubbly actress Amy Adams. The film moves at a ridiculously fast pace, sometimes too fast as it tries to pile on complications and setbacks. This day-in-the-life confection is sweet and well natured but rather too digestible. Once the movie is over I do not see myself ever dwelling upon it once again. It's a pleasant and entertaining experience even if it dances right out of your memory.
Nate's Grade: B
Man on Wire - Why? That's likely to be the question on many people's minds when this documentary concludes. Why did effete Frenchman Philippe Petit decide to walk on a tight rope between the World Trade Center towers in 1974? Why devote an entire feature-length documentary to a subject that seems pretty limited? Well, Man on Wire is certainly an engaging film; amusingly, director James Marsh structures the flick like a heist movie, where we watch Petit assemble his team and practice his stunt. There is a sense of beauty watching a man balance on a wire hundreds of feet above the ground. The film also has colorfully French characters to fill in the details on how they pulled off the "artistic crime of the century." Of course any modern art dealing with the World Trade Center is given new meaning, and Man on Wire is aided by added poignancy of watching the building construction and then the daring feats of Petit. I confess, though, that I'm dumbstruck at this movie being declared the finest documentary of 2008. It's a good movie, sure, but not even the fourth best documentary I've seen in a doc-heavy year. The footage of Man on Wire is more amazing than the story behind how it happened.
Nate's Grade: B
Hellboy II: The Golden Army - I hated the first Hellboy, dubbing it the second worst film of 2004. The fact that I enjoyed the sequel is nothing short of shocking. Honestly, I think this mumbo jumbo is easier to swallow when it's more fantasy based than science fiction based. I can accept an alternative magical world filled with elf princes, troll markets, and tiny "tooth fairy" creatures that act like piranhas with wings. Nazis and Zombie Rasputin trying to open a portal to giant squids? What the hell are giant squids going to do against nuclear bombs? I'm sorry, that's powerfully stupid and unacceptable. Hellboy II is even more imaginative and far more enjoyable. Writer/director Guilermo del Toro has refined the world and makes sure his story follows the rules it sets, which means that while the plot gets crazy it doesn't feel cheap. I actually had some fun with Hellboy II and del Toro knocks out some pretty crafty action sequences. As expected, the makeup and creature designs are impeccable, which may explain why I had more fun watching the various magical creatures than following Nazis and slime wolves in the first flick. The lithe Angel of Death is particularly startling, with a head like a fried calzone and eyeballs dotted along expansive bird wings. This is a film that feels much more confident about its identity, thanks in part to getting rid of the rookie main character from the first film and focusing on the big red guy. If del Toro ever makes a third Hellboy film, I can honestly say I'll be highly intrigued to see what weird wonders he cooks up. This statement is astounding considering I felt that there was only one 2004 film worse than the original Hellboy.
Nate's Grade: B[/color][/font]