flickfever's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson's new movie showcases impeccable set design, perfectly manicured dialog and a sweet confection of sights and sounds--not to mention the brilliant ensemble cast. It's probably Anderson's most fully-realized picture, from the inception of its plot to the self-referential pastiche of its production values. Ralph Fiennes gives a wonderfully varied and nuanced performance that is both polished and giddy. The absurd humor that is Wes Anderson's trademark lends itself to one of his funniest, most heartfelt and emotionally-tinged narratives. Simply put, it's A must-see!

Copying Beethoven, (Klang der Stille)

I was lucky enough to watch this movie way back in the summer (it just recently became available for review on Flixster.) The cut I saw was allegedly a "rough-cut" that would require some more editing and tinkering-with (depending on audience input and feedback.) I must say, though, that the version we all saw way back in June seemed very much complete and painted a splendid picture of a film that was well-developed, cast and directed. Ed Harris gave a brilliant performance as the troubled composer.

The film may be seen as rehash (how many Beethoven films can there be?, etc.), but Harris' performance alone is what solidifies this movie as and makes it stand out from, say, Immortal Beloved; in which Gary Oldham's portrayal was a bit more off-putting and creepy. Diane Kruger also gives a noteworthy performance as Beethoven's composing assistant. She brings a resilience to a character that shouldn't even exist, given the sexist divisions and gender role issues that existed in that era.

The film is shot beautifully and its cinematography is brilliant. The art direction gushes with lush sets and decor and the score is very much appropriate for a movie in which a score should not overpower the music that its subject matter is directly dealing with (in this case Beethoven's own compositions.) Ed Harris definitely deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (although it probably won't happen.) Definitely catch it if you can. It's worth searching for it.

Mozart's Sister

I loved every minute of this romantic portrayal of one history's lesser-known geniuses. The film poses lots of questions about the origin of talent; the will to fight in its defense; and the way your talent is perceived because of your gender. A great performance by capable youth Marie Féret, in the title role.

Beastly
Beastly(2011)

The movie title also serves as synopsis and adjective to describe everything about it (from the acting to the script to the direction, etc.) Ghastly would have been ever more appropriate.

San Francisco

This is a pretty remarkable achievement as far as disaster films are concerned. It actually has an engaging story that doesn't necessarily revolve around the Great Quake of 1906, yet it feels urgent and ominous as the events that you watch all lead up to that inevitable climax. Also, the special effects are pretty amazing considering that this film was made a mere 30 years after the real-life events it's depicting. Definitely worth a watch!

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Overall, a better film that The Girl Who Played with Fire. But not as good as the original, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Still, it was a tense psychological/courtroom thriller. A satisfying conclusion to the Millennium trilogy. Now, let's see what Fincher does with the American version.

How to Train Your Dragon

It doesn't stand a chance against Toy Story 3; but this is still a great movie with excellent animation and a good story. The lead voice actor was grossly miscast; but, other than that, it's a keeper.

Restrepo
Restrepo(2010)

Catching up on the Oscar-nominated documentaries--this one was surprisingly good. I typically have no patience when watching war documentaries (hard for me to empathize). But this one was heartfelt and poignant without being (too) patronizing or (blatantly) constructed to emotionally manipulate the viewer (for the most part).

Animal Kingdom
½

A gritty drama from Australia, Animal Kingdom depicts a family of thugs and drug dealers upheld by a brutal matriarch. Its built-in tension and Oscar-worthy performances had me at the edge of my seat.

Gnomeo and Juliet

An unabashed film for toddlers; Gnomeo & Juliet is as cute as can be despite its rehashed source material and its paper-thin, "re-imagined" plot. Garden gnomes are definitely cute and this movie provides good entertainment if you're in the mood for ridiculous silliness and some classic Elton John tunes.

The Eagle
The Eagle(2011)

When you don't have a big budget to spend on epic battle sequences, special effects or on a cast of A-list stars, you really have to tell a good story. The Eagle delivers with a tale of a soldier and a slave who must rely on one another in order to survive and restore their individual honor. Epic history viewed from an intimate lens. Beautiful cinematography--and Channing Tatum--to boot.

I Am Number Four

Great movie! Much better than expected. Great special effects; a decent story and above-average acting from a cast of relative unknowns make it surprisingly entertaining.

Biutiful
Biutiful(2010)

This movie is definitely not for everybody. It's an absorbing tale of a father's undying love for his kids in the face of unsurmountable obstacles and a fractured way of life. The movie will suck you up until you're dry, but it will, surely, give you lots and lots to talk--and think--about. That is, of course, assuming you made it through the film at all.

Rabbit Hole
Rabbit Hole(2010)

Despite its touchy subject matter (about a couple who lose their son), this movie had a lot of positivity, wit and charm buit into it. The delicate shards of humor that linger just under the surface make you almost feel guilty for smiling and just about laughing. Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest give sobering performances that ground this movie in a realm of reality and not fantasy (as the film's title suggests.) The metaphors that the movie evokes, however, are obvious, yet very poignant.

Country Strong
½

Gwyneth Paltrow can definitely sing. It seems that this movie is more of a vehicle to showcase her vocal talents; as opposed to those of her acting. Plot-wise, this is definitely a retread of last year's far-superior Crazy Heart. Except Country Strong is artificial, saccharine and over-the-top. Not once did I feel a shred of sympathy for Paltow's character (a washed-up country singer recovering from a career-crippling addiction to alcohol.) Maybe the real-life coverage of countless celebrities who have gone through this familiar story has desensitized me; but I felt that, by the end of the film, none of the characters had really learned anything or changed for the better. Not that that's always a requirement for a satisfying ending. Still, the way in which the audience is blatantly manipulated with soap-opera theatrics is too much to handle. For a film that is meant to get us to cheer along with a song in our hearts, it ultimately delivers nothing more than a killer soundtrack. Skip the movie, download the songs!

Blue Valentine

This movie was a draining exercise in dramatic cinema. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling have a lot to carry on their shoulders--and they pull it off with flying colors. These two characters are filled with so much pain and angst; but their subtle performances point to what is burrowed beneath the surface in each of them, waiting to explode. I loved the structure of the film (the way it vascillated back and forth from past to present. It was gripping to see the slow descent for each character. I loved how the movie played out so that, whether you're seeing these characters at their lowest or at their highest points, it always displays the way any relationship can turn out or tranform into. It wasn't schmaltzy or melodramatic (which I commend it for); and it definitely was NOT worthy of its original NC-17 rating. It goes to show how out-of-touch the MPAA really is.

The Ruling Class
½

I was surprised by how thrown-together this movie seems to be. It is definitely ambitious in its biting social commentary; but, in the end, it ends up falling victim to its own outlandish charm. What starts off as a funny and searing look at British artistocracy quicky spirals into an acid-trip of a movie that is as discombobulated as it is filled with acting talent that is severely misused. Mind-blowing potential; mind-numbing payoff.

La Nana (The Maid)
½

I loved this satirical look at the class system in Latin-American culture (in this instance: Chile)! But, under the surface of an obvious social commentary lies a tender story of a woman who is adamantly entrenched in her role as a no-nonsense housekeeper when what she really needs is, quite simply, a helping hand in her own life.

Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work

This is a sad, yet enlightening view into the life of one misunderstood woman! It's hilarious, pathetic and so entertaining all at the same time. I've never been a fan of Joan Rivers; but this piece of work has allowed me to see her in a whole new light.

The Fighter
The Fighter(2010)

This film is...yes, I'll say it: a K.O.! Amazing cinema verite style that gets you right in the ring with the boxers it depicts. Plus, amazing performances all around from every single cast member. Stand-outs are Melissa Leo as an overbearing mother; and Christian Bale as a lost soul of a brother to our protagonist. If the Oscars were being handed out tomorrow, Bale would be a very happy winner! He's going to get it!

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
½

This was truly so much better than its predecessor, "Prince Caspian." Not as good as "Lion, Witch & Wardrobe" though. Good cinematography and a cool sea serpent sequence. Also, I am so happy that, along with Disney's departure from the franchise, absent is Caspian's atrocious pseudo-Spanish accent that marred the second film for me. It's too bad that this improvement in the third movie creates such a pronounced inconsistency between both films. Maybe I'm just being nit-picky.

Ondine
Ondine(2010)

A subtle, beautifully touching film that isn't what you would expect. It has great performances and a solid script. Also, the score is one of my favorite parts about this movie--both gentle and whimsical with the right dosages of each.

The Red Shoes

A great ballet film from the past that is a wonderful companion piece to a great ballet film of the present, 'Black Swan'. 'The Red Shoes' explores some parallel themes; including the lust for perfection and the betrayal against one's mind in order achieve it. The cinematography is breathtakingly beautiful and its technicolor execution is marvelous. A 10-minute long ballet sequence is a joy to watch...

True Grit
True Grit(2010)

This remake was true to the original--but also built upon it for a new gereration of film-goer. If the film had been as sanitized as the original 60s version, it would have come off as hokey and uninspired. Instead, the Coens have injected the familiar revenge tale with their familiar, er, grittiness and brooding tone. Its action is grounded in reality.

The film's cinematography is rich and beautiful. Its screenplay is well-written with honest and real dialog. Its performances are fantastic. Jeff Bridges shines as the troubled marshal contracted to exact a young girl's revenge. The girl, Hailee Steinfeld, is a revelation!

Good Morning President (Gutmoning peurejideonteu)
½

A really funny, touching and introspective film about Korean politics. It manages to tell three distinct stories without having the film delve into disparity.

Paranormal Activity 2

More of the same in this sequel. Plot-wise, it's actually quite clever how they've managed to tie both movies together.

Hereafter
Hereafter(2010)
½

I was a little let-down. That rarely happens with me.

A Prophet (Un prophete)
½

A Prophet paints a searing picture of brutal French prison life. With a film as visceral as this, it's a wonder how anyone could get through watching it. And that's just it...you can't look away! Not even despite your incessant desire to do so. You are precluded to avert your gaze because the movie is so enthralling.

It's a film that works on many levels. As a thriller, it is filled with moments of taut drama and nail-biting suspense. As a criminal study, it avoids all cliché and glamor and delivers an unvarnished, yet honest depiction of hurt, pain and utter hopelessness.

The story follows a young man, incarcerated for a crime that, presumably, doesn't merit his being locked away in one of the harshest prison environment around. His daily routine becomes one for survival at the most primeval level. But, along comes a Corsican kingpin who promises the young ingenue "protection" in exchange for a macabre favor.

Without giving any further plot points away, suffice it to say that the events unfolds quite dramatically from that point on. Friendships and alliances are made and broken and the life of an otherwise "innocent" man is turned into a trivial pursuit for others to gain power and a means to incite fear in others.

Where this film excels in most brilliantly, however, is in its unwillingness to waver in order to make a more pleasant experience for the viewer. If you find yourself feeling disgusted and appalled, that is exactly the intention. If you find that your attention is completely under the spell of the images you're viewing, remember that that is also planned out.

In the end, the movie feels like an epic despite it taking place mostly within the claustrophobic confines of a few prison cells. There are shades of The Godfather and the French Connection mixed in with a more brutal slant on a Bourne film...but it coalesces and melds all those familiar notes into a symphony of bloodiness and great cinematic moments. If you're prepared for a movie that doesn't beat around the bush or sugar-coats, then A Prophet will sear its raw excellence into you as soon as you've allowed yourself to receive that dangerous gift.

Alice in Wonderland

As many have said: Avatar has raised the bar so incredibly high in regards to technical achievement; it's going to take a lot of effort to really surpass that. Sadly, Alice in Wonderland does not achieve that.

What it DOES achieve, however, is to capture the imagination on a more primitive, pre-Avatar way. It is still a competently assembled feast for the eyes and senses. It oozes loads of color, bombast, and unmitigated tackiness; yet apologizes for none of it. In fact, it revels and, dare I say, thrives on the over-the-top concepts it portrays.

It take Lewis Carroll's simple story of a girl in search of something more--and turns that theme on its head. Johnny Depp comes at you with as much subtlety as a beached whale as the Mad Hatter. His portrayal is not only crackerjack, it is completely expected to be so. Can this man do no wrong? Don't answer that, Charlie!

Still, the mere fact that this movie has taken in so much money is testament to the legions of adoring fans who were anxious to eat up and drink up more of Alice. This "re-imagining" breathes new life into an age-old story and caters to those who marvel at the artistry and creativity of Tim Burton.

Despite "introducing" the White Queen; aging Alice to be a young adult; and throwing every cinema trick into the mix, Alice in Wonderland is a magnificent throne for Helena Bonham-Carter to dispense with her denizens' heads--as she is the one actor in this film who manages to steal the show! I guess that answers whether Depp can do no wrong!

Avatar
Avatar(2009)

NOTE: Possible spoilers follow.

Since watching Avatar last night, I've been vacillating my emotional response to it between two primary characteristics. The first one is shock. The movie is electrifying and a shock to the senses in the strictest sense. It is gripping from the very first scene. The film is a rock 'em-sock 'em rollercoaster ride of epic proportions and it never lets up. It most certainly never lets go of the hold it has on your mind and imagination. It's captivating, imaginative and immensely gratifying to behold.

And the second emotion I've been feeling pangs of throughout the night and day is awe. The film is produced to enthrall and amaze. It is imaginatively conceived and brilliantly and masterfully executed. It is, without a doubt, awe-inspiring to know that what you're watching on screen is a whole (brave) new world of cinema as far as science-fiction and fantasy is concerned.

Director James Cameron has constructed a world, so perfectly devised, from scratch and created Pandora. This world is home to the Na'Vi indigenous population--a people who find themselves in the middle of a war brought on by man in order to rape their planet after the "death" of Earth. As "generic" as some people may claim that storyline to be, it is ultimately of zero consequence to this film because the film itself is about so much more than its plot or its dialogue. It is about a revolution taking place both on AND off the screen.

The technical prowess of everyone involved helps make Avatar into an inspired work of computer-geek genius. It is not surprising that a film of this quality would come from a man of such perfectionist stock as is Cameron. The animated wizardry that makes up the bulk of the Avatar visual palette is beyond commendable; it is worthy of as much (if not more) praise as any screenplay, actor or even director (on any recent film) may be entitled to. It is simply brilliant.

Back to its story: it is a perfectly competent story of the crimes that man can perpetrate in order to reach "the better good." It is a morality tale, wrapped in fancy packaging that makes it no less poignant despite its deceptively glossy exterior. It is a cautionary tale of what greed and avarice can lead to and who it can affect. But ultimately it is a story about the good that we can find in one other--with one another. As cliché or unoriginal as that story may be, it is presented here with heartfelt intention and is a message that should never be considered less-than-important simply because it is told over and over.

For all its perceived flaws (of which I could not find one to agree with) Avatar is a gargantuan feat in modern cinema that should live on as a benchmark for future filmmakers. Stylistically, it is like nothing I have ever seen before. Philosophically, it is like something we've ALL seen before (many times over.) And so what? What's wrong with having a titanic-sized fantasy feature a positive, albeit trite, theme? Nothing is wrong with that. And, therefore, nothing is wrong with Avatar.

Quite simply, it is a perfect film. It is, in my opinion, what all movies should aspire to be (in their respective genres, of course.) It is a movie that possesses every single element in order to entertain AND provoke higher thinking for those who care to do it. And for those who don't care to, they should simply be grateful for having been entertained to fullest and leave the pondering and pontificating to those who actually have something good to say--and something good to feel.

It's Complicated
½

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If you know anything about a Nancy Meyers film, you know that it usually deals with middle-aged (or slightly more than middle-aged) crises involving petulant, neurotic, sullen and often desperate (but otherwise successful) women. The males are always portrayed as stereotypical clichés of the Hollywood cardboard cut-out for the philandering, insensitive, egotistical (but otherwise successful) man.

Well, It's Complicated is no different. It continues to implement Meyers' successful formula of characters and situations to achieve an overall winning result. If it ain't broke, I guess she shouldn't have to fix it. What always differentiates her films, however, is the unique slant that her casts bring to their characters (despite those characters being essentially the same ones from the previous film.)

In this one, Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin play estranged spouses who still keep up appearances of being amicable for the sake of their grown children and their established mutual friendships. Their lives criss-cross without any consensual or meaningful contact. Their youngest child is graduating college; so the nest is definitely empty and this, in true Meyers form, makes Streep divorcee character vulnerable.

Well, if there is any predator waiting to pounce, it's Baldwin's conniving, manipulative character. Of course, he's remarried (whereas Streep has not) but he doesn't care. He's grown bored and trapped in a second marriage and preys on Streep vulnerability and what ensues is a hilarious reunion of the bodies that leaves only one of these two feeling copious amounts of guilt and remorse. The other only feels copious amounts of pleasure and ecstasy. Guess which one feels which emotion!

Steve Martin, who plays the middle man in the fiasco, is a well-mannered architect who is working on a project for Streep's character (and who, inevitably, falls for her--causing him to be the fifth wheel.) But he gets caught in the middle of a feud that could result to be worse than the initial divorce and he takes it all in stride.

The film, is definitely flawed and grating at times. Some of the characters decisions and actions are irresponsible, to say the least, and warrant great amounts of anger from the audience instead of the sympathy and laughter that Meyes attempts to elicit. But, inevitably, the movie is rather enjoyable if you know what you're in store for. It's great to see Streep loosening up lately--doing more comedy and musical stuff (which she, of course, is great at.) Baldwin, on the other hand, continues playing the same character he's always played and grown into since his career first started. Martin's talent is really the only that goes to waste on a character that could have been played by any ol' schmo. A great supporting cast including "The Office"'s John Krasinski, is top-notch and delivers a well-rounded cast of family members with enough quirks to supplement the main plot with giddy giggles and fun.

Up in the Air

Losing your job can be a pretty disheartening and life-altering experience. Depending on how invested you may be in your work, of course. Well, Up in the Air is a film that examines the dynamics of said process and the effect that said loss may have on the person being "sacked." The film, on its merits alone, will have you very much interested--and invested! That being said, it will also leave you disheartened and possibly even altered once you've seen it.

Jason Reitman (Juno) directs a film whose biting social commentary is wrapped with giggly gift wrap and risible ribbons and bows. It's really an offering to middle America (the population of which has recently been under attack by a weakened economy and a shrunken workforce-landscape.) But it's not a gift offered as charity or out of pity. It is simply a comment on the current state of things in the lives of millions who have found themselves sitting in a chair hearing dreadful words come from a relative stranger.

Whether those words are "We're letting you go," or "Your position has been eliminated," the effect is always the same. A life has been shattered and the individual doing the shattering is left with the broken pieces. Some of those bearers of bad news will choose to sweep those pieces under the rug and go about their business. Others will step on the rug and be unsettled by the crunching beneath their feet; the echo of their action--despite it merely being their job and duty to have done this terrible thing.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a professional "terminator." He's subcontracted to come in and do the deed that some employers may be too afraid to commit. And he does it by employing the only methods he knows how to: cool and suave professionalism and a proportionate amount of emotional detachment. But this lifestyle of meandering from city to city--being up in the air traveling from business to business, making other people's limbo less of a harsh reality; throwing their own lives up in the air in the process--this lifestyle soon begins to become a shard of harsh reality that he himself becomes afflicted by. His own harsh reality begins to settle in as he realizes that he can dish it but cannot take it.

When his company hires a young, ambitious dilettante (Kendricks) who is bent on revamping the business of firing people, Bingham becomes defiant, yet subtly intrigued to find out what makes such an idealistic mind tick. Meanwhile, he's maintaining a fleeting relationship with another frequent flyer (Farmiga) whom he so happens to come across while on one of his termination excursions. For a guy whose livelihood is dependent on his ability to end things; he's got a lot of flowers in full bloom.

The film's story, in essence, becomes one of a journey--both literally and figuratively. The journey of a man to find what he's truly made of while discovering what the fabric of the working-soon-to-be-work-less country he's traveling through can truly withstand and put up with. In the end, he may find out that one of those two entities may not be able to resist as much indifference and pain--but which is the weaker one? Himself or the workforce he is helping to diminish?

The reason Up in the Air works on so many levels is because, despite its touchy, topical subject matter, it really speaks to the audience watching. It speaks to an audience that may be comprised of people who relate to the movie in more ways than they'd be willing to admit (either because of personal experience or a connection to someone who's been fired.) But the words written in the screenplay, the film's director, and the characters depicted never talk down or condescend to the audience because the film is made with a purpose of uplifting the downtrodden spirits of the viewer. It doesn't do this in any grandiose manner. It does so by being true to a situation that millions are experiencing at once--right now. It does so by being honest and being funny and being human and being true.

While Up in the Air may not be a perfect film that deals with happy-go-lucky themes, it is certainly a touching, reflective movie that doesn't pander to or patronize anybody. Instead, it further instills that the loss of daily purpose or a weekly paycheck does not equal losing your dignity, humanity or even your dreams. Perhaps its merely a wake up call. A call to action.

Me and Orson Welles
½

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Once in a while, there comes a movie that is so endearing, engaging and charming, that you wish everyone you know could see it. Me and Orson Welles is one of those films. It has a romanticized quality about it that speaks to those who like a good period piece and who like seeing good characters do good things in a movie that is--good.

The film itself chronicles a week in the life of a young, aspiring actor (Efron) who, after a chance encounter with the infamous Orson Welles, quickly becomes a part of (if not entangled in) a whirlwind production of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." The film also showcases the madness experienced by everyone involved in the play due to its crazed--and genius--progenitor, legendary male drama queen, Orson Welles (played a revelatory Christian McKay.)

When our naive debutant, Richard, meets the ego-maniacal Welles, he is warned that Orson is full of drama; that he's read and knows "everything": and that he always gets his way. Slowly, but surely, our plucky young protagonist learns that this forewarning is nothing but the truth. As the ruthless and self-centered Welles becomes more deranged in his effort to put a show that will "make them sweat", he alienates his own cast and crew with his melodramatic outburst. However, Welles' short temper and capricious nature is mostly overlooked by his closest colleagues, particularly a young assistant (Danes); who knows that these things must be done in order to get ahead.

Surprisingly, and despite the play-within-the-film's heavy subject matter, the movie has a light disposition about it. The balance of humor and drama that it provides is a very harmonious one and the film ends up having a very feel-good vibe. The ins-and-outs of the theater world in 1930s America is given a royal homage that both glamorizes the art-form of theater and still depicts it with honesty and good intent. Very rarely does it meander into cliché or sappy sentimental territory. It simply is a good story that just happens to be told from the perspective of an idealistic 17-year old boy...who just happened to spend a week with Orson Welles.

It goes to show that a small, little film like this can truly be a diamond in the rough. A diamond that may go unnoticed or unseen, but doesn't lose its shine despite that few are witness to its greatness. Zac Efron can actually act..Christian McKay is Orson Welles. Claire Danes is in top form. The movie is simply a gem and deserves to be seen by everyone I know. Truly.

Invictus
Invictus(2009)

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Clint Eastwood has certainly been busy since his quasi-retirement began a few years ago. Although his unwillingness to appear on camera was stunted by last year's Gran Torino, his efforts as director have definitely been the stand-out achievement of his career over the last decade. His recent films, which include Million Dollar Baby, Changeling, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima all dealt with topics as varied as his own acting resumé. But whether it was a film about war veterans; a period piece involving a suburban mother; or the tale of a would-be legendary female boxer, his films all speak to the core of who Clint Eastwood is--a great filmmaker.

With Invictus, Eastwood continues to ride the wave of cinematic creativity by which he seems to be driven. Not only is this story based on the real-life events of Nelson Mandela and the struggle of South Africa's rugby team circa 1995--it's also an intimate look at the issues that polarized that nation before, during and since that time. The social commentary is definitely present, but, like with most of Eastwood's films, it's presented in a more subtle, intimate manner.

Whether the film is dealing with the racism experienced after the end of Apartheid; or the poverty of South African living in district villages, Eastwood is careful never to clobber the audience with a "message" or a moral lesson. Instead, he focuses on filling the film the right ingredients in order to both entertain and intellectually stimulate the person watching any of his films.

First ingredient: the script. The writing in this film is understated, yet gripping. It is constructed with delicate care in order to never pander to an audience that may or may not be aware of the past events of South Africa. It is a screenplay that is rather inwardly-focused and lacks the "epic" scope of a political drama or a traditional biopic. Instead of dwelling on the issues, the screenplay focuses on the individuals who were behind the history.

Second ingredient: the cast. Those individuals had to take a great script and breathe life into characters that would carry the entire moral message of this film on their backs. In what is easily one of the best performances of the year, Morgan Freeman delivers a knock-out impression (but also a stunning portrayal) of Nelson Mandela (the formerly-imprisoned President of South Africa.) Freeman brings more to the role than a superficial "rags-to-riches" synopsis would suggest. He brings depth to a character that most Americans know very little about--other than the what is known about his rise to power.

Everyone is aware of the main events that took place during the time period depicted in the film. That is why I love the fact that the film itself spends very little time explaining that; and instead focuses on what it meant for the people involved. Matt Damon, playing the nation's rugby team captain, does a fine job portraying the man who is assigned (by the President, no less) to win the world cup. This was to be done in an effort to unite a divided nation who shared an interest in the sport. It was to be a political maneuver that would pay in spades.

But whether the team succeeds or not, the idea behind this assignment is that everyone must look past the things that are behind us and look forward to a future where the past no longer exists. It's really a great message for a movie to have and to not shove down your throat. It's a matter of having great writing, acting and directing ir order to make you learn a lesson without even being aware of it at first.

The Princess and the Frog

It is really a great feeling to see a film made using tradition, hand-drawn animation. Not only is it now considered nostalgic, it also should be considered human. That's not to denigrate the efforts of thousands of humans who are behind computer-animated fare that has become so popular over the last decade. After all, it's not like those computers are animating on their own.

But there's something about seeing a two-dimensional, hand-crafted film that is pure magic. So is The Princess and the Frog--a return to form for the Disney company that is welcome and long-overdue. It's also a first for the Disney company as they are introducing their first African-American princess to the world. That is also worth mentioning because they've not merely done so to placate rumor or to be politically correct. They've actually crafted a story that is worth telling from this perspective and is delivered with conviction and lots of lightheartedness.

The film itself is a visual feast--even for the computer-friendly eye. It is a story that is skewed slightly from the traditional story of the princess who must kiss a frog in order to find her true love. This Disney musical puts its slant on things by bringing the princess to the other side in order to not only find her true love--but to find herself as well.

The musical score, punctuated by Randy Newman's quirky and fun-loving lyrics is a perfect fit for a movie taking place in the South. The bayou plays an important role in this film as it is the primary backdrop for most of the action--and the jazz-infused music and songs are nothing less than a perfect fit because of Newman's affinity for slinky melody and toe-tapping rhythm.

I'd go as far as saying that this movie will be competing with another Disney production (albeit through Pixar studios) in Up for the best animated picture Oscar. Winning may be another matter entirely--but it would be great to see this beautiful film be acknowledged not only because it is a return to a dying format; but because it is actually a worthy opponent to the glossy, eye-popping fare out there right now.

From the songs, to the story and the voice acting--this film is well-crafted and executed. The fact that John Lasseter (Pixar's lead) is behind the production is evident. Although, if I had one thing to say to him, it would be this: "Although I like what you've done with The Princess and the Frog, it would be nice to have a film feature a girl as the main character--and have her NOT be a princess. Just a regular girl." But maybe that's wishful thinking. Still, I am happy with what we've been offered with this latest Disney fairytale.

The Road
The Road(2009)

In a post-apocalyptic world, I imagine there would be little joy or happiness to be found. The world would be bleak and unforgiving on those who survived (assuming any survivors would remain.) The bond between family would be reinforced; but it would also hang on a fragile thread. In essence, the world as we know it would end for everyone--including those who still live.

The Road is the latest film in a string of these post-doomsday features that present this pessimistic premise as a plausibility. The difference with this movie is that it does not, in any way, rely on computer-generated imagery; gimmicks or visual tricks; and definitely not on any sort of world-wide, slice-of-life showcases. It follows the life of, primarily, two characters willing themselves to survive in a world that really isn't worth living in anymore.

Viggo Mortensen plays the dismayed father of a young boy with his he travels. After the unnamed catastrophe that ensued and ended their world, they must move out of their home due to predatory, mercenary-type humans that have lost their humanity and are out to hunt and harvest others as food and prey. They travel along a road, which sometimes leads them into more trouble and obstacles than if they'd stayed off the path.

The movie is really an examination of the way we, as humankind, would react or would descend into barbarism if this scenario were a real-life one. All semblance of dignity would be lost or overshadowed by a voracious, primal urge and instinct to survive at all costs. Some good would still remain (as is encountered in a few characters along this road the two travel.) But much more peril and fright would have to be experienced in order to reach any sort of rewarding conclusion.

The film itself is much too stark in tone for the casual viewer. But for those who are a bit more patient with pacing and who aren't expecting an action-esque, Will Smithified version of the apocalypse, this movie might deliver some genuine nuggets of realism and cinematic resonance. In the end, the brilliant performances by the film's two main actors, despite their greatness, isn't enough to lift this movie from the low valley of misery and loathing it has created for itself. There is simply not enough hope to look forward to or be rewarded with during the entire story arc of this film.

The Messenger

Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news. Being a messenger with foreboding details has, historically, been a bad position to hold and a job that has always been relegated to those at the bottom of the food chain. But that is exactly what The Messenger revolves around. It is a slow-blooming movie about the work that military officers must do in order to bring news of soldiers' deaths to their families.

Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton star in this sobering film about the intricacies and interactions between two officers who are tasked with delivering the news to several families throughout their region. One of those parties being Morton's character (who's had her military husband killed in action.)

Foster plays the young, brooding soldier who sees his new duty as a way for life to kick him while he's down. After immeasurable pain suffered during his deployment, he sees this as a punishment or the military's way of pussyfooting and patronizing him for his injuries and his subsequent withdrawn personality. When he is partnered with a senior officer, played by Harrelson (who seems to be quite sure of himself and confident in his responsibility to teach his new pupil) Foster's character slowly begins to come out of his shell.

In a muted portrayal, Foster almost seems miscast and a bad actor near the beginning of the film. But, slowly, you realize that this is a man who has a lot of contentious issues that make up his short past. He has been forced to deal with much more "brutality" than delivering news of dead soldiers. But once he sees the way his new job affects the people he's visiting, he begins to see things more clearly and with a slightly more grown-up perspective.

Morton, as the sullen housewife, is brilliant to behold. Her quietly nuanced performance gives her star quality (and Oscar buzz) as well as brings depth to a character that could have been incredible one-dimensional had it been portrayed by a less-skilled actor. Her heart breaking turn as the grieving mother and wife with a new outlook on life is quite a revelation to watch (even if you don't realize its revelatory quality at first.)

Essentially, the movie ends up being a blip on the cinematic radar this year. But it isn't for lack of having a great script, apt actors or a skillful director. It simply is too small a film (in scope and execution) to be able to compete with some of the more rambunctious or polished fare like The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air. Still, it is a movie worth seeking out and watching if only for the fact that it seems to have been made with heart and with a resonance that really is worth exploring for the patient, dedicated viewer.

Leap Year
Leap Year(2010)

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Leap Year is the kind of film that makes for a very sweet, and rather entertaining 90 minutes...but not much else. It isn't profound or even half-way thought-out. Its script is competent, but nowhere near as endearing as it ought to be. Its cast is surprisingly adept to playing their roles, but none really shine or dazzle. The movie, in short, is just okay.

Amy Adams is trying her hand in the rom-com genre after veering off course with last year's Doubt. Well, now she is back in full force, playing the usual plucky, happy-go-lucky ingenue who doesn't know how good she has it; but ends up learning that lesson in the end. She is probably the best part of a movie that ends up meandering into insipid territory after its flimsy holiday-themed concept begins to wear thin.

In Leap Year, Adams plays a successful careerist who, seemingly, has everything she needs or in line to achieve it; including a wonderful fiance. But things turn when he must go to Ireland for a conference and she must stay home at a moment in time when she expected to have been proposed to for marriage. Well, she decides to take things into her own hands when she learns of an Irish tradition that entails women being allowed to propose to their men on leap day (every four years.)

The roles are set to be reversed, as Adams' character makes her way to Ireland; with a few snags along the way. One of those snags being her chance encounter with a charming and handsome Inn owner (played admirably by Matthew Goode.) When this meeting becomes more than just platonic, that's when things get a little bit more interesting (though no less predictable.)

It seems that, more than an diseased screenplay or a bad director, this movie suffers from having a disparate editor. The pacing and sequencing of the film is somewhat troubling as, sometimes, cuts are made in the most awkward of places (often making jokes and would-be quirky dialogue fall flat.) The choppiness of the film makes it somewhat less funny--and more serious. But instead of "serious" meaning "meaningful", it simply borders on "tedious" and even "boring."

The movie just ends up feeling rushed; despite its superficial charms. A good cast is almost wasted on a bastardized storyline that could have been more cleverly plotted out. And, the fact that this movie is being released in January 2010 (a non-leap month in a non-leap year) makes it more puzzling still.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

In what is becoming the year's most talked-about film, one can't help but feel sucker-punched by the breadth and scope of this little gem. The range of emotion one goes through while watching the harrowing events that transpire on the screen is staggering. The very essence of crude filmmaking is displayed here as Lee Daniels (the film's director) takes us on a no-holds-barred journey through the life and times of a victim of life's most unimaginable cruelties.

Precious Jones, our protagonist, is a 16-year old Harlem dweller who lives in an abusive home with two children of her own. Illiterate and a self-proclaimed good-for-nothing, Precious dreams of a better life. Through her terrible trials and tribulations, she manages to elude all sort of literal, physical pain through her self-imposed reassurance of a better life--through daydreaming.

If one must go through life pushing ahead by means of lurid daydreams; then life itself (the reality of life) must be one hellish nightmare. And, for Precious, it is one. Not only must she learn to overcome her environmental limitations (barbaric parents, ignorant peers and low self-esteem), but she must learn to look for the good in herself that others are so willing to push deeper inside of her.

Filling the immense shoes of this character is a courageous Gabourney "Gabby" Sidibe. The 26-year old first-time actress is a diametrical, polar opposite to the character she portrays. Bubbly and sprightly, the New York native is but a sharp and genuine shard of raw talent that makes you wonder, "Where did this girl come from?" She is simply an awe-inspiring sight to behold on the big screen. She delivers a performance that is exhilarating, guttural and gut-wrenching; yet subtly tender and heart-warming.

Infamous comedienne, Mo'nique, also renders one of the most harrowing performances seen in a long while on film. Her gutsy portrayal of a ghastly mother is one for the ages. Her dark take on urban attitude is spot-on and brings great believability to a character that--portrayed by a more polished actress--may have come off a patronizing, unconvincing and--ultimately--unsubstantial and unwarranted. But the funny lady-turned-uncanny dramatic actress delivers the goods from the start and through her knot-in-the-throat, heart-breaking self-defense toward the film's end.

he entire movie is a dramatic conflict--and the film itself serves an unapologetic commentary on life's hardships; life's triumphs; life's lessons and its rewards. It speaks to the fact that life is multi-faceted--even if it's mostly a bleak, cruel universe that must be inhabited by bleak, cruel characters.

The implication is that black is never truly black--but a murky mix of dark hues that combine to paint a bleaker picture. But, if the bigger picture is pushed aside, one can see the brighter fragments of hope, love and redemption displayed on a canvas that had seemed shredded with the pain of the people who'd created it. There's beauty in the most obscure of places--and finding the precious bits of beauty lodged within those abysses can reap fruitful benefits for even the most down-trodden, hopeless individuals.

Expect Precious to sweep at the Oscars next year (at least as far as nominations are concerned) and become the film on everybody's lips.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wes Anderson is known for turning in brilliantly original films with a quirky predilection for whimsy. Fantastic Mr. Fox is no exception. In fact, it may very well become the new rule as to what you can expect from such a brilliant director.

This delightful little movie about a fox and his family is really a work of art. The source material (a book by Roald Dahl) is breathtakingly original to begin with. But when married with Anderson's affinity for cerebral, intelligent execution, it makes for a very moving and thought-provoking visit to the theater.

That's not to say that because this movie is slightly more intellectually-elevated, it is inaccessible to kids or their parents. It is simply an observation of mine that movies aimed at kids don't have to be kiddy--and they don't have to wander into obscenity in order to make them more appealing to adults. This movie marries the concept of enjoyability for all ages without the trapping of pop-culture referencing or lightly-veiled sexual innuendo at every corner to make things enjoyable for the young-at-heart.

The fact that the film is executed employing the technique of stop-animation is also an odd, yet brilliantly justified decision by Anderson. Although this technique is not new by any means, it really suits Anderson's visual style very well; giving it an antique, contemporary--yet inherently vintage visual palette.

When the Foxes have to move from one underground dwelling to another because of the factory and farm owners above ground, this makes for a journey that is both unusual for the characters involved and unusually entertaining for the audience witnessing it with popcorn in one had and a soda cup in another.

It is not without its share of pitfalls and limitations. But these are due primarily to the medium in which the film was created--not with any innate defects produced by the story, the script, cinematography or even the cast (led by George Clooney and Meryl Streep.

It really goes to show that a good story can go a long way. And it doesn't take high-tech, glossy computer imagery or a big budget to create a film that is breathtakingly beautiful in all respects. Mr. Fox (20th Century, that is) knows just how to make a movie that shines despite its lack of shiny 21-century flair!

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

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Who knew that, off the heels of a cinematic mediocrity known as Twilight, its sequel would rise as the phoenix to save the franchise? I certainly didn't. But that exactly what I felt as I was watching The Twilight Saga: New Moon. It is a movie that, indeed, is better that its predecessor...in every way imaginable.

Now, I haven't read any of the books; therefore my opinion is not in correlation to any comparison between the literary material and the final films. I just find that the first film was incredibly over-hyped and didn't really live up to any sort of expectation a non-book-reader could have had. And I really had no expectations this second time around either. But I guess that's when you end up being surprised.

From ever vantage point, New Moon is superior to Twilight. Cinematography alone accounts for the overall and striking visual contrast. This new movie is at the helm of a new director; the oddly appropriate Chris Weitz--who has dabbled in the genres of both teen pop culture phenomena (American Pie) and special effects-heavy, prestige literary adaptation (The Golden Compass). With New Moon, Mr. Weitz is able to forge his talents for both of those genres and meld them into this cohesive, valiant effort to bring more gravitas (visual and otherwise) to a franchise that ran the risk of falling into pre-teen Olsen twin region of entertainment value.

Still, that's not to say this movie is for everybody. There is still an incredibly sullen, angsty tone and themes of affliction that can only be told through the stunted vocabulary of a teenager. But that is inherent to the story itself (the books on which this film is based) and not a representation of the directors intended vision.

It's probable that more people unfamiliar with the books would be apt to like this movie over the first simply because it takes a story, familiar to millions, and gives it a sort of separate life. The movie breathes on its own (with it own) visual style, brilliant--if sparsely-used--special effects and script that, although still weak in parts, is incredibly more complex and substantial this time around.

Still, at the end of the night, you'll still be watching a teen-romance novel brought to life. Like Twilight, this movie is neither a true vampire movie or a werewolf movie. It is a glorified romance novel brought to life. And with its trappings, it still manages to entertain.

The performances by all its young actors are nothing to balk at--but nothing to write home about either. The young cast is sufficiently competent and comfortable with their roles this second time around. They seem poised to be able to handle whatever challenges this story may bring to their respective characters and I, for one, am eager to find out what future exploits are in store.

And as certain people would say (and I would tend to agree): "The guys are hot, too!"

When in Rome
When in Rome(2010)

When in Rome is a harmless romp of fun dedicated, mainly, to the woman with an affinity for fantastical romance. The plot of young urbanite (played by the perky Kristen Bell) who is married to her job and lacks in the love department has been done a thousand times before. And, although this movie really doesn't bring anything new to the table in terms of that tired theme; it does provide its young, capable actress with a vehicle film from which to spring forward.

When her sister decides to marry in Rome, our no-nonsense protagonist must fly to her side in a display of familial support. Along the way comes a dashing young man (Josh Duhamel) who sweeps her off her feet. Sadly, she takes him for a player who isn't interhttp://www.weebly.com/weebly/main.php#ested in her and whom she wouldn't be interested in either--if only for the fact that she confuses him for a cheat.

Next comes the fantasy: an Italian wishing-well legend of the urban kind. It is said that if coins are taken out of this fountain, the owner's of said coin will fall in love with you and track you down to show you their love. Contrived? Yes. Potentially hilarious? Yes. Did they pull it off? Not really.

There were some sweet, quirky moments throughout the film. But overall, it ended up feeling just a little too muddled and uninspired. With comedic talents that include Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite); Danny DeVito and Will Arnett ("Arrested Development"), you would think that the comedy and hilarity would gush from the screen--but, while funny at times, it really didn't gush. It was a good cast that was mis-used on a shaky premise. Perhaps the movie seemed better on paper.

When in Rome definitely has room for improvement. But seeing as a movie is never a work in progress (but already a completed piece of art) there isn't much left to say about this particular piece. Its potential was great and it could've been a cleverly inspired romantic comedy--but it ultimately fell victim to the trappings of genre clichés and gimmicks. So, if you ever find yourself in Rome--just enjoy the sights instead.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Nicolas Cage has become an actor that can pick and choose projects at his discretion. And, granted, sometimes his choices are inspired (Adaptation.); and sometimes they're of the pandering kind, (National Treasure 1 & 2). But sometimes, he makes a choice that is so off-the-charts that you're left wondering, "What the hell was he thinking?"

This update of the Harvey Keitel-vehicle Bad Lieutenant starts off with great promise. Set against the backdrop of a post-Katrina-battered New Orleans is a great glimpse into a city battered not only by nature, but by the remnants of and rampant violence that existed before the hurricane, and that lingered long afterward.

Unfortunately, our little lieutenant is the epitome of corruption himself. He's a man without scruples who, addicted to most drugs known to man, must take on every criminal in town--just so he can score more crack for himself. He takes on hookers--after he's taken them for himself. He helps fight corruption--after he's made his own back-end deals. He is a hero in the eyes of the community and his department despite the fact that he may very well be high on heroin during his own induction ceremony at City Hall.

There is a big pile of plots and themes that are presented. Some interesting; others not so much. It makes you wish the director would pick a direction and steer you into it. But it doesn't happen. The film is a disjointed jumble of crime-drama clichés from the corrupted cops, to the reformed alcoholics, to the hooker with a heart of gold that our protagonist frequents.

While this is a far cry from Leaving Las Vegas, it makes you wonder what this film would have been like if it had actually been set on The Strip. I, for one, don't think it would have been any better if it had had the same crew and cast involved. The faults can be traced back to the film's uninspired screenplay and the gross underuse and mishandling of its cast. Val Kilmer is a total waste in a role (as the lieutenants partner) that is neither redeeming nor necessary.

And speaking of redemption: there isn't anything that redeems our potty-mouthed, relentlessly ruthless, crack-addicted main character. There is no shred of empathy-inducing characteristics that he possesses. And, just as you realize that this guy is actually the film's villain and he deserves what he has coming--it never comes for him. Ironically--maybe cynically--I think this is the only thing this film got right in depicting: you can do all sorts of bad, bad things and still get away with it.

I mean, this movie did get made after all. So, that must prove my point.

Planet 51
Planet 51(2009)
½

With the proliferation of computer-animated fare becoming more incessant lately, it becomes more difficult with each release to pick-out the good ones, from the mediocre ones. Of course, Pixar seems to have a perceived lock on overall quality of animation and storytelling. But with a curve and standard set so high, it makes it a bit unfair for every other animated movie to be pit against the likes of the Disney mammoth.

So, along comes an independent-film-equivalent to a heftily-budgeted computer animated film: Planet 51. This movie, in now way, pretends to be on the same level as a Pixar show, or even a Dreamworks' Shrek feature (although their choice of making their own characters green and eerily similar to a certain ogre is purely coincidental). The film is filled with enough cleverness and pop culture referencing to make it stand-out as a moderately unique flick.

With voice talent like Dwayne Johnson, Justin Long and Jessica Biel, the movie already feels a little substandard. But its strengths aren't really related to the voice cast. Its primary strength lies in the story itself: a planet of aliens who live similarly like humans on Earth are invaded by an alien unto them: a human astronaut. It's a cute little role reversal that leaves lots of room for some wacky gags and inside jokes and lightly-veiled commentary about the human race for everyone to enjoy.

The fact that these aliens live like humans creates a genius parallel to our world (circa 1950s America) in which we can see ourselves portrayed. Along comes this man from space who poses a threat to the standard way of living. But, in the end, the movie teaches a lesson about the importance of being different and embracing it. And the importance of working alongside somebody who is different for the greater good.

Planet 51 may not be the glossy, cohesive behemoth of a movie that comes with months-worth of buzz or a cast of legendary actors. But it definitely provides a fun alternative to such fare with an original funny bone of its own.

2012
2012(2009)

German-born director Roland Emmerich knows how to make a disaster movie. With Independence Day he showed us a world where aliens attack. In The Day After Tomorrow he displayed what happens after global warming takes the world as its victim. In 2012, Mr. Emmerich takes on the Mayan calendar prophecy of the world's end at the end of said year.

With a premise as unlikely to happen as Charlie Chaplin returning from the grave--this movie is chock-full of hilarious disparity and preposterous premises. The entire earth's crust displacing and shifting like loose skin on bone? I know, ridiculous! But what the movie lacks in the realm of far-fetched realism; it makes up for making those far-fetched disasters look really amazing.

The plot here, as with most disaster epics, is wire-thin. But where it really gets punched up is with its special effects. Although not technically a summer release, this movie is definitely intended for those summer blockbuster crowds. It's filled to brim with popcorn-flick antics like amazing chase sequences and giddy, cheesy dialogue.

But if you put those deficiencies aside, the movie is quite an enjoyable experience. And it is, indeed, a feast for the eyes to see the demise of Los Angeles in an earthquake of biblical proportions. It's also a stitch to see Yosemite become the gargantuan ecological equivalent of a teen's face exploding with acne. A latter storyline involving a tie-in with the bible most famous and industrious senior citizen, Noah, can be seen coming from a mile away--but it still serves its purpose

All in all, I'd have to recommend this movie based on it technical merits alone. The cast of characters are harmless enough and none of them are grating or annoying to the point where you'd actually want to see them die. Of course, some of them do anyway--but you won't feel too heavily invested in their lives to care. You'll just be prone to munching on your popcorn as the Himalayas get knocked-down a few pegs--and the rest of humanity learns its lesson.

The Men Who Stare at Goats
½

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The idea of psychic soldier sounds incredibly fascinating despite its ridiculousness. But in The Men Who Stare at Goats that ludicrous premise (or promise) is a thing of urban legend-cum-real-life-events. The clandestine program to program certain clairvoyance-gifted young men depicted in this film is not a far cry from the actual programs that must've been in existence (and the cause of internal ridicule) in our arms forces' past.

Ewan McGregor plays an American journalist bent on shaking off the remnants of a marriage gone wrong by actually doing something with his life. Therefore, he thinks of going to Iraq in the first weeks of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. There he meets a wacked-out George Clooney (who is still recovering from his days as a psychic soldier from the Vietnam era.)

What turns into a goal for a story about Iraq, turns into a search for the truth behind what is knows as "The Men Who Stare at Goats." Clooney's character proclaims that he and his colleagues were able to stop a goat's heart by staring at it (long enough) and that he possesses many other mind-control devices within his own mind. And that if the enemy (the soviets, Iraqis or whomever) were to find out about them--well, it would be the end of...the program.

Sounds funny, right? Kind of? A little? Maybe not. The movie falls under the wretched spell of it brilliant casting (which also includes Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey) and muddles any semblance of gravitas with a plot so convoluted, complex and downright confusing that you'll be lost before you know it. It's not so much that the machinations of the characters are too difficult to keep up with. It's the fact that I couldn't care less about them.

Their lives weren't that interesting and their military goals weren't compelling enough to merit an entire movie being made about them. Some quirky little episodes ensue (Clooney's wreckless "cloud-bursting" strands them in the desert) but, overall, the movie ends up feeling like an empty vehicle to display shiny, high paid actors like Space, Clooney and McGregor.

Perhaps the concept of this movie was brilliant. I can't tell. But the execution of the film itself was dull and abrasive. It really said nothing new about the military now and it said nothing amusing about the military then. It seemed a little self-serving and inaccessible for the general population. Of course, I am not a pot-smoking hippie now and I certainly wasn't around when most young Americans were either. So, maybe I'm just out of touch.

The Blind Side

The Blind Side is a truly inspirational, true story that leaps from the real-life annals of its history onto the big screen with effortlessness and comfortable familiarity. It is a film that we've seen in one plot form or another, but somehow feels genuine and poignant despite it familiar trappings. Even though it's a movie that's been "done-to-death," this one is different.

Sandra Bullock delivers one of her best performances as a southern belle who is determined to improve the life of a down-on-his-luck, black teenager. The boy (played by Quinton Aaron) strikes a chord with his subtly diffused performance as the displaced fellow from the wrong side of the tracks who is caught between two worlds.

The story of a man rising from the ashes of a broken home; non-existent childhood and illiteracy is truly inspirational. But it is the help of Sandra Bullocks character that all of this is made possible. It is because of the spunky, relentlessly no-nonsense approach of this woman that this young man is able to achieve what he never thought possible. And, after he becomes a real part of her family, everything is within reach--and he's grateful.

The dynamic of the family and Michael (the boy) is one that is so great to watch. It's truly a joy to see people embracing someone so different from themselves and taking them in without question as to their background or color. It is inconsequential to them and all that matters is helping out another individual in need--whether that poor, homeless boy had been black or white.

Eventually, the success of Michael as a high school football star and a college-bound student is a remarkable story. The boy ultimately finds it within himself to persevere not because someone is forcing him to; but because he finally realize the value of his life and discovers what having dignity truly represents.

Of course, there are occasional sappy moments; saccharine dialogue and predictable black vs. white encounters and snide, snappy, bitchy episodes with Bullock's character. But, ultimately, the movie moves along quite well; provides more than enough humor mixed with enough heart to make for a more than satisfying time at the movies.

The Fourth Kind
½

If The Fourth Kind supposed to make you believe in aliens or, at least, make you re-evaluate your beliefs, let me tell you: it probably won't. Even though it's being marketed as "based on the actual case studies," the movie ends up feeling more phony than anything concocted in fiction could have ever felt.

When a group of Nome, Alaska residents begin to encounter strange dreams and eerie night-time episodes of sleeplessness and feeling a presence in the room a Dr. Abigail Tyler (psychologist) begins to sniff around. She thinks, of course, that these strange occurrences have something to do with her own husbands mysterious death some time before. He had been investigating similar, paranormal events in the small frigid community before his demise.

When things begin getting tragic in Nome, Tyler is forced to reconsider what may be happening to the residents. She must hastily acknowledge that the only explanation is that someone or something is controlling the events. When she decided to videotape some of the patient sessions, that when things start to get really bad.

And I mean that in more ways than one. Not only to the events in the plot become more strange and mysterious--but that's when the movie itself begins to dwindle. The gimmick of this film is that the "real-life" evidence recorded by the "real" Dr. Tyler is interpolated throughout the film with the dramatized version of those events. Often, you get split screens with both the real footage and the phony footage. The phony footage being (in my opinion) the real-life videotapes.

It all seems beyond the realm of belief, even for a film that is science fiction. But if anything is supposed to be grounded in fact, it's that this movie would have been better being either all "real-life" or all dramatized. The whole splitting your attention for credibility's sake makes it all too distracting and not engaging enough. It's too much of a ploy to manipulate your discretion and ability to discern fact from fiction.

In the end, all you really end up witnessing is a bunch of static on a videotape. It really proves nothing more than you already may or may not have believed. If anything it cements the skeptics' opinion even more and clouds the murky faith of the believers even more. It really proves nothing or has anything new to say in terms of alien science fiction film.

If the fourth kind of alien contact is abduction, then the fifth kind must be boredom.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant
½

In yet another adaptation from book to film come Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant. If you haven't noticed that we're living in a current vampire craze, you must be living under a rock--or perhaps in a coffin of your own. Although, The Vampire's Assistant is, thankfully, a movie about blood-suckers geared toward the thumb-sucker crowd.As two best friends are forced to be "secret" best friends due to ridiculous societal pressure, the ties that bond are strained between the two young boys. Steve is, decidedly, a "bad boy" who comes from a broken home and revels in acting irresponsibly. Ultimately, though, he has a heart of gold and should be deemed to be harmless and misunderstood. On the other hand, you have Darren; a straight-laced boy who comes from a well-to-do family and well-bred background with nothing really going for him except for what his parents expect of him--which is a lot.When they fatefully come across a flying invitation to a freak show circus; the two boys are enthralled to break the rules and attend the midnight event. So they do. And what they find is a truly freakish collection of exhibits that includes a real-life lizard boy (Patrick Fugit); a rib-less man (Orlando Jones) and a beautiful bearded lady (Salma Hayek) among others.But the real star of the show is John C. Reilly, who proves again just what a versatile actor he really is. He inhabits the role of Larten Crepsley, the #1 vampire of the cirque du freak. His abilities as vampire supreme are unmatched except by those evil vampires he is against. The clan that feeds off of people for the pleasure of it instead of for sustenance. Darren is forced to become a "half-vampire" in order to protect his friend Steve--who has gone to the dark side.Although the vampire elements are decidedly dialed-down for this teen-geared movie; the thrills are still in full force. The story is full of quirky gags and whimsical little pockets of delightful humor, camp, art direction and dialogue. And, even though this film is Twilight-for-the-guys; it's really a lot better than Twilight by dint of this movie's self-awareness and intentional camp. Twilight actually thinks it's a great vampire film. The Vampire's Assistant doesn't care if it or not.

Disney's A Christmas Carol

When a story such as "A Christmas Carol" is so widely known and regarded, it can be difficult to retell it in a way that can recapture the imagination and wonderment of an audience. Luckily, Robert Zemeckis' latest incarnation, Disney's A Christmas Carol, succeeds magnificently. And it does so not only by the merit of its original source material (the brilliant story by Charles Dickens.) It triumphs so magically by dint of its eye-popping, dazzling execution.

What this story may lack in its "failure" to modernize the story or provide quirky, fluffy pop culture relevance; it makes up for by being an honest-to-goodness, faithful adaptation of a familiar story that doesn't need modern tidings. The story was written as a depiction of Victorian life in England during the 19th century--and it mirrors today's economic world stage so much so, that any more modern-day tie-ins than that would have been superfluous. After all, what good would it do to tell a Bernie Madeoff joke in a movie that takes place in the 1800s? Even with Jim Carrey as the star, it would seem rather ridiculous to see it in this film--and even more ludicrous for audience to expect such an incontinent misgiving.

The sheer amount of visual delights are too many to count or even remember individually. What imprints most in the mind of the viewer when watching this movie is that these are a collection of images that will not be soon forgotten. If the medium of film is one in which to tell a story you must show your story, then this story is told in a cinematic language lined with opulent velvet. Style is never placed over substance; but there's enough style to fill the stockings of a nation.

Jim Carrey is in fine form (primarily) as a voice actor. Never before have his over-the-top thespian skills or his predilection for the idiotic been more in check and subdued than in this holiday feast of a film. Carrey brings significant amounts of gravitas to a film that could have meandered into kiddy nothingness. Instead, Carrey brings enough quirky humor to his "acting," but manages to dial down the heightened comedy for a more nuanced performance--adding another dimension to his presence in the film.

And if another dimension is to be commended, it certainly is the third dimension which Zemeckis ingeniously chose to include in the production. The 3D, stop-motion animation has never looked better. Of course, there are certain technical hurdles that have not been fully eradicated since the likes of The Polar Express and Beowolf. But overall, this movie is boundlessly more sophisticated than its dwarfed predecessors in that the technology has advanced to proportions of unreal realism. What once seemed like eerie, hollowed-out versions of human expressions is now (for the most part) like looking into an eerie menagerie of mirrors pointed at real life.

At times, the mood is brooding and much too frightening for children under the age of eight--possibly even ten. But, then again, what good is a story that's supposed to teach children valuable lessons if it cannot strike some sort of fear in that child that will make the lesson much more poignant? Although quite thunderous, the sounds, sights and sentiments showcased in the film are meant to signify much more than mere entertainment.

It goes without saying that this film is a visual masterpiece; and that it has, once again, raised the bar for the standard at which animation of this class should be produced. And all the acting talent, random access memory and money couldn't supercede what's at the heart of the experience when you step into the theater to watch this film: the amazing story of Ebenezer Scrooge; his cursed greedy soul and the redemption he must learn to attain. That's more than a lump of coal at the heart of it--that's box office (and awards) gold.

Amelia
Amelia(2009)

When it comes to biopics, the audience is always teetering on a fine line between learning the facts and being entertained. Usually, by their inherent nature of being fact-based stories, biographical adaptations can succumb to this and either tell a very informative story or completely ignore the history and present a dazzling piece of entertainment. Very rarely does a movie come along where you get a balanced dose of both history and "popcorn" value. Sadly, Amelia isn't one of those rare exceptions.

Although the life of Amelia Earhart (especially the events leading up to her death--or disappearance) is widely regarded, it has never been fully or richly adapted to the screen the way the current Mira Nair-directed film attempts to do. Unfortunately, the movie suffers from having an A-list actress filling some very big shoes--and doing a fine job at it. But the movie really offers no other novelty than the fact that it's being made about 70 years after the events have transpired.

Sure, the movie is visually stunning and a joy to watch because of its attention to detail; the period clothes, mannerisms and the archival footage used. But the movie really doesn't present anything new or that you didn't already learn in your fourth-grade history class. It simply wraps up the Earhart drama into a tidy little box and puts a big pretty bow on it.

Since most people already know the outcome of this film, it would have been nice if there had been more of a conflict presented in the film. Perhaps more of the terrifying final dialogue between Earhart's lost plane and flight command on the ground where she was to have landed. Instead, we are dealt a melodramatic love-triangle plot between Earhart, her husband and her flight consultant which was really not an interesting way to pass the time between watching Amelia fli high.

Overall, the movie was not atrocious (as some of the critics have proclaimed.) The movie is quiant, well-produced and very appealing to those who consider themselves aficionados to Earhart's cause or of aviation in general. But what should have been an epic tale of adventure and high-flying emotions, instead, treads familiar water and flies the turbulent skies of familiarity because of its conventional point-of-view and predictable romantic skew.

Astro Boy (AstroBoy)

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If you're a fan of sleek computer animated fare the likes of which Pixar is known for: spot-on casting; impeccable animation; and a powerful, nearly perfect plot--then you've come to see the wrong movie. Astro Boy is nowhere near the level of a Pixar film, but you already knew that. Just look at the film's trailer and yuo will notice the more crude style of animation and the atypical voice cast including--Nic Cage?

But, then again, it's never Astro Boy's intention to compete with its upper crust superiors. It simply exists to appease the appetite of fanboys who have been following the Astro Boy saga for decades. It is a film tailor-made for people who appreciate nostalgia over substance--and even over style. That's not to say that this movie is bad, by any stretch.

After a brush with tragedy, Astro Boy is reconstructed and shaped to be a stronger, more agile version of a boy whose father is blindly seeking to replace. But soon, things take a turn into the fantastical realm of adventure as the boy finds out that he's capable of being much more than just a "good boy." He can fly, scale building and use his jet propulsion to ward off the enemy (in this case voiced by a malevolent version of Donal Sutherland.)

The movie is campy; not very well-animated and still a pleasure to watch. It's not really important in which medium the story is told--but that it's being told to begin with. And, although the story may be somewhat predictable and done a million times before, the film is evidently a labor of love by those who were dedicated to its creation. It's nothing to be ashamed of by any means.

So, while some fans may not appreciate its levels of execution, the die-hards will surely feel appeased and may even go as far as saying they enjoyed it. I have never really been a fan; but I found myself having a good time (once I got over any preconceived notions of what I was going to watch.) It's good family fun with a nod to the kids who grew up wondering what it would be like to be a boy with such power. To those who may still be wondering, all you have to do is step into the world of Astro Boy and find out for youself.

New York, I Love You
½

Rather than watch a movie and experience one director's cinematic rhapsody, with New York, I Love You, what you get is the same experience--only multiplied.

A series of short films interpolated into one "cohesive" story of interweaving plots; shared characters and overlapping time lines is essentially what this film is all about. The gimmick worked for its similarly concocted predecessor, Paris, je t'aime (Paris, I Love You.)

The eclectic cast including Natalie Portman (who doubles as actress in one segment and director of a second splice in which she doesn't act); Mira Nair, Ethan Hawke, Chris Cooper, Robin Wright (-Penn), and Julie Christie and many many more.

Essentially, at the heart of the film, is a hodge-podge outpouring of sympathy and--yes--love for a city which we've seen represented in film far too many times to count. But, somehow, this disparate collection of shorts seems well-meaning and innocuous despite its inherent art-house pretenses. It really doesn't feel like an art-house snob-fest--although some segments are more dense and inaccessible than others (the Julie Christie segment being the overstated example.) This is counter-balanced by other segments that snappy, quick-witted and a joy to watch (the Ethan Hawke segment being the underrated gem.)

As stories of lovers, fighters, hookers, teenagers, Jews, Indians and other ethnic, relgious and cultural subgenres paint the canvas on film, the film feels more than a little disjointed. It really doesn't blend well enough to be called a one-shot, straight forward piece--but the films aren't suffiently displayed as independent, stand-alone short film to merit being called "short films."

In the end, however, I did find the concept of it all very endearing and, dare I say, rather engaging. Even with its faults (and there were a few), the film felt genuine in its depiction of everyday life in a metropolis so filled with wandering souls in search of connecting. New York, I Love You turns out to be a touching, albeit messy ode to a city that wouldn't have you worship at its feet in any other way.

Where the Wild Things Are

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In keeping with the trend of literary updates; adaptations and "re-imaginings," the film Where the Wild Things Are ran the risk of being just another dime-a-dozen book-to-film creation. Fortunately, the book one which this film is based had 40+ years of giddy anticipation from its devoted legion of fans.

This film, based on the acclaim children's book by Maurice Sendak, extrapolates upon the book's mere ten sentences and creates a visual masterpiece that is both entertaining and artistically impressive. From start to finish, the movie drips rich droplets of golden art direction; cinematography and and costume design.

The whimsical story of a boy with a wild imagination is a familiar concept in literature and an even more similar idea when it comes to film geared for children. However, this movie--with it's darker tone and, at times, more complex digressions into psychology--is decidedly more for adults than it is for kids. And that's a good thing, considering that the adults this movie is made for are the kids who grew up fearful of but eventually being enamoured by the ideals of this delightful story.

It goes without saying that this movie will strike a chord with most of the adult-viewing audience simply because of the fact that they grew up reading the book. But what really makes for an emotional connection is how filled with subtle nuance and brilliant acting it is. Newcomer Max Record (who, appropriately, plays Max) is a joy to watch and is the embodiment of dwarfed masculinity in a child--a concept that any kid growing up thinking he was a cowboy or king can relate to.

Supporting, almost cameo-like performances by Katherine Keener and Mark Ruffalo provide the film with a grounded sense of hominess and comfort. The soft, yellow glow of the lighting invites memories of a childhood where one might have grown up in a warm house on a rainy day. The petty, yet inextricable behavior displayed by the child protagonist is a striking reminder of the struggle for an identity that we all grow up longing to overcome.

Essentially, as you follow Max along his journey of self-discovery from a cozy, almost stifling home into the vastness of where the wild things are, you realize that self-discovery is overrated. Sometimes what is needed is discovering that knowing and loving those around you--no matter what--will ultimately lead you to knowing and loving your inmost truth.

From Mexico with Love

Over the years, the story of the victimized illegal immigrant has been told countless times. The struggles and trials of a seemingly innocent people are always played out to manipulate an audience into feeling empathy toward their plight despite their getting themselves into it.

From Mexico with Love is a story that is no different in what it depicts--and even less different in how it makes you feel. At times, there are nuggets of poignancy as we see the rise of a young farm worker in Texas; from mere seasonal picker to a bona fide boxing star (in his own right.)

Overall, however, the plot lacks scope and ends up feeling too inwardly focused. What the film is trying to be is a mock-up of a Rocky sequel gone south of the border, but it ends up feeling like watching two kids playing boxers in their backyard.

Other questions of morality and family values come to the surface. The ruthless American farm owner (stereotypical as the Mexicans portrayed in the film) aims to thwart the hopes and dreams of our little Ricky--eh, Rocky--character. Some insipid romantic antics are thrown in as a desperate attempt at inciting some sort of connection to the female audience; but that ends up feeling forced and, ultimately, ends up being unnecessary.

If the tribulations of a people are to be taken seriously by outsiders who may already have a skewed opinion on the matter then movies like this one definitely do not help the cause. But, as far as entertainment goes, this movie meets the demands of an audience who may just be into seeing a pretty boy overcome obstacles and "better" himself. Through boxing. If the stereotypical glove fits...

Paranormal Activity

In today's saturated media age; with the advent of YouTube and Facebook and our relative ease of connectivity to one another, it's rare for a movie to garner so much word-of-mouth buzz. And positive word-of-mouth at that. It's even more rare that that should happen because of society's increasingly skeptical attitude toward almost everything nowadays.

But, thankfully, Paranormal Activity is a film that lives up to all the hype. Of course, that is an incredibly subjective statement, but this is also a review of the film--one of the most subjective things you can write as it relates to the very subjective art of cinema itself. But let me tell you: I was glued to my seat and perspiring heavily!

Not only does this movie succeed where its predecessors, The Blair Witch Project and White Noise failed. It surpasses any level of comparison between those previous films and elevates itself unto a genre of its own. A truly frightening film.

As we follow the daily lives of a young suburban couple, we come to find out that one of them is haunted by some sort of a "presence." This entity has been following our protagonist for the better part of their life and doesn't seem to want to leave. Everything has remained rather harmless up to this point; only some nightmares and some strange sounds have been manifesting themselves as evidence of paranormal activity. So, they decide to videotape their lives in order to see what they can see.

And what they see (and what the audience sees) is incredibly startling.The mere fact that there isn't a blood-thirsty boogeyman or a nefarious monster hunting after these two lovers is incredibly refreshing. And the fact that so much is left to one's imagination is also an brave and inspired risk the filmmakers took. In today's horror market, it would seem that the gore-for-gore's-sake mentality has taken over. But this little film-that-could provides much needed relief to a genre that has been pelted to death by so many clichés and re-hashed ideas.

Of course, some will not be affected by this film in the least. But if you are the least bit succeptible to feeling creeped out, watch this movie. You will definitely have an eerie sense of abysmal fear when you return home and you'll want to check under your bed and in your closet for anything that's been turned or may be lurking within the darkness. Or maybe you'll go home and sleep like a baby without a shred of trepidation. But I think not. Whether you're too proud to admit it, Paranormal Activity will definitely possess you with some semblance of fear. That's as subjective as it gets, really. But it's also as much of a promise as I can guarantee.

Capitalism: A Love Story
½

What would a Michael Moore film be like without a slanted point of view? Without a one-sided dialogue that tells the story primarily from one perspective? You'd have a PBS documentary, I imagine. Well this is not the kind of film you watch if you want a "fair and balanced" take on things. Of course, media outlets that have to disclaim that they're "fair and balanced" usually aren't anyway. But that's another story.

This, however, is the a love story. A story about America and its love of money. Its love of affluence without thought as to how it's achieved. It's a love story that borders on lust story about America's incessant hubris and the people we step on in order to get what we've been brought up to believe is our natural-born right to attain. It's the story of capitalism. And its a love story of the ill-fated kind...

Michael Moore has never been known for delivering an objective documentary; and Capitalism is definitely no exception to that fact. However, whether you agree with his opinion or not, he does have a very manipulative way at getting you to reconsider your own. Whether or not you choose to alter your mindset is ultimately not his goal--probably. But at least a dialogue is started and people start talking about his ideology.

With his latest project, Moore finds himself in the midst of a country in financial turmoil. A housing market gone bust and the bubble in which citizens saw their American dream exist suddenly burst into nondescript residue. Of course, it's never pleasant to see people suffer on film what so many in the audience have actually experienced: repossessed homes, liquidated funds and being part of a system where we were told that everything would be okay--and it suddenly isn't.

But Moore has a funny way at pointing out the truth in all the crises. He finds humanity in every single topic he's discussion; putting a face (a real human face) to match the hopeless situation he's presenting. He introduces us to people who are just like us and have gone through the same madness we've all had a taste of. Whether a person who was laid-off due to being employed at a so-called "recession-proof" bank or a lost their home to unscrupulous bank executives who scoop up your house as they fly by on their golden parachutes.

Ultimately, this movie is about finding a commonality with others. It's about knowing that system is flawed and that it's up to us to fix it. And, as flawed as a Michael Moore documentary about our capitalistic shortcomings may be, at least he gets people some more information than the nightly news is willing to provide.

Bright Star
Bright Star(2009)

There are times in life when love simply takes over. It takes over logic and reason. It supersedes any sort of common sense or social stature. And there are times in cinema when the portrayal of such romance goes off without a hitch. And Bright Star is one of those instances.

The tale of Victorian poet John Keats and his lover Fanny Brawne may not be exactly that of Romeo and Juliet; but its merit as a heartbreaking love affair is no less poignant because of its relative obscurity to modern-day audiences. The love that touches both of these real-life characters seeps from the page of the script onto the celluloid that we see flickering in the movie theater and into our own consciousness like an arrow through the heart.

In an age where social status and cold civility (if not sterility) was the norm, the lovers Keats and Brawne meet as next-door neighbors. John Keats is a renowned, albeit penniless poet who has just released a new book of verse. Fanny Brawne is a feisty, progressive lover of fashion and design who is independent of her own gilded cage and her social station--however more elevated from Keats's it may seem to be.

So, already we get a sense of the stars being crossed as these lovers begin to position their burgeoning feelings for one another on their constellation of hope. The world continues to revolve around them as if they themselves were the star hanging in space and their love were the flame that threatened to make that star die off in supernova.

A tale of the plight of love that's too far ahead of its time, Bright Star is filled to the brim with fanciful (yet never pretentious) acting and dialogue that is both beautiful and romantic. The film, by the very nature of its subject matter and the fateful events that transpire, borders on melodrama; but it never dials in the sorrowful violins as a manipulative method to extract tears. It does so in a genuine fashion that is both universal and heartbreaking.

In the midst of a brilliant film with a brilliant cast, costumes and a cacophony of credibility for its depiction of an era long gone shines Abby Cornish. The actress playing one half of this ill-fated duo is a revelation and a joy to watch. Her skill as as a subtle interpreter of grace and petulant feminism is in full display and virtually eclipses all performances in the film. She burns into the back of your mind the way that our dying, bright star called the Sun does when you look directly at it. It's no wonder why the film's namesake poem (a Keats composition) was written about Fanny Brawne. And the title is an appropriate adjective for Ms. Cornish herself.

Zombieland
Zombieland(2009)

Nowadays, using zombies in movies as a scare tactic has lost some of its shock value. Of course, there is the occasional legitimately scary zombie flick (28 Days Later.) But, overall, the genre has been abused to death and revived one too many times in order to remain effective in its goal to scare. So, what's the next step for the zombie genre? Parody!

The culture is ripe for parody and, recently, movies like Shaun of the Dead and, now, Zombieland are employing the quirks of the living dead concept to their advantage in order to make people laugh. Where was a biting British comedy, Zombieland is a biting American one.

From the opening credits sequence, you get the point that what you're watching is definitely a balls-out joke of a movie that isn't taking itself too seriously. Of course, they would run the risk of falling into B-movie territory; but somehow, it doesn't seem that way. The movie is fresh and funny and satirical all at once. It provides enough relevance for the die-hard zombie fans as well as enough deprecation for those who may be inclined to despising the genre for various reasons.

One of those reasons is the brilliant and witty script. The cast (including a never-better Woody Harrelson) is top-notch and worthy of praise. The fact remains that even with a brilliant script; knowing that this movie is intended to be parody could have skewed one's perception and could have made the film seem cheap and uninspired. But rather than being insipid, the movie is vibrantly trendy while leaving its stamp on a cliché genre of film.

Some of the gore in the movie is hilarious to watch--as opposed to cringe-inducing. Some of the acting is better than most Academy Award nominees--including that of Harrelson and Little Miss Sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin. Oh wait--she is an Academy Award nominee. You see what I mean? And the visual signature is almost literally seared into the film as cleverly-placed subtitles are placed throughout the film. These visual aides are not a hinderence or crutch for the film but, rather, a truly inspired technique employed to enhance the entertainment value of an alread entertaining film.

You'll probably die a little from laughing so hard while watching this movie. But don't fret. It's a zombie movie, after all. So that just means you'll jolt back to life in no time--hungry for more.

Law Abiding Citizen
½

Law Abiding Citizen is a film that disguises itself as a domestic thriller, but doubles (triples, and quadruples) as a crime film; a straight action caper; a Saw-esque gore fest and a study in vengeance-fueled psychosis. It really is pretty well-rounded. It even throws in a few gratuitous shots of a half-naked Gerard Butler for the ladies (and some men.)

What starts off as a typical, dime-a-dozen plot of a father who loses everything turns into a taut thriller filled with great action sequences, visual effects and a splash of serial killer flare. A movie only a bad-ass of Butler's caliber could pull off. He was Leonides in 300 after all. Nobody messes with him.

In this one, however, he plays an ex-CIA operative who knows his way around the legal system and who's made a living by killing people without a trace. Well, this will come in handy when it comes to avenging the brutal death of his wife and daughter.

The plot and its series of events aren't nearly as important as watching the way in which this desperate man will execute them (pun intended.) Jamie Foxx plays a sly lawyer--hungry for a D.A. position--who is in charge of Butler's case and lets it slip through the bureaucratic cracks. Well, there will be hell to pay for that for Foxx's character and many others.

The thing about this movie is that you really have to suspend your disbelief. Of course none of the stuff that happens in this movie could ever happen in real life. So don't go in there thinking that you're going to get some cheap CSI-type procedural (although that show isn't known for its realism either.)

It's a movie that's been done a million times before (from Charles Bronson, o Steven Segal to Mel Gibson and back.) But it's definitely a movie that uses that familiar plot and delivers excitement through its outlandish methods of getting back at the perpetrators of harm and mayhem. It's not always the bad guys who wreak havoc on a city and its desciplinarians. Sometimes it takes a good old law-abiding citizen to show just how badly the system needs a shakedown.

Pandorum
Pandorum(2009)

Pandorum is a movie that takes place in a distant future; when mankind has exhausted its time on a single planet and vowed to conquer the rest of the universe with its advanced technology. This movie takes that concept and flings you right in the middle of a mysterious series of events that begin to unfold from the film's very first scene.

As an astronaut wakes up from cryogenic slumber, his world is turned upside down when his memory begins to fail him as to who he is and what he's doing there. As it turns out, he has been asleep for quite some time and is on a rotating schedule with other crew members to man the mission to a far-off world over extended periods of time (the years it would take to reach the final destination.) Well, low and behold, nobody is around to greet him and things start to get nasty from that point on.

As the man tries to cope readjusting, he comes across a commander who seems to be going through the same delirious side effects of a mental condition known as--you guessed it--pandorum. If the crew members can stave off the ffects of this degenerative condition and stay alive long enough to seek the truth of their mission, they will be more than okay. Oh yeah, and did I mention that something is on the ship--impeding their happy-go-lucky way to finish their task. Something nasty has mutated and is now hunting them down.

The movie is pretty sleek in visual aesthetic for being an "indie" with a meager budget. The cast, including Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster is not stellar--but the actors do a fine job at maintaining a sense of gravitas in a genre flick that could have become very stale. A decent script is probably the reason why the film really never fell flat.

Stylistically, the film portrays a far-future so interesting--even though the entire movie takes place aboard the one ship. It is in classic sci-fi fashion (like its predecessors Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey) that Pandorum takes the vastness of space and makes you feel confined and claustrophobic. It is with these techniques and a visual flare that the movie rises above its deficiencies.

With a bunch of cool lighting effects (black lights and neon) the movie gains its visual signature and stands out as a cool-looking flick. The monsters that linger within the ships bowels are strikingly reminiscent of those in the spelunker's nightmare, The Descent. Only these guys are equiped with bad-ass laser guns.

Overall, the movie is worthy of being seen...preferrably in theaters; but otherwise watch it on a big screen.

The Invention of Lying

How do you go about getting your way--or making your way--in a world where fiction or lying (even white lies) are non-existent? In The Invention of Lying, that question seems to be the prevailing theme. Of course, things in our world are made so much more simple by the act of telling "harmless" fibs and bending the truth in order to benefit from said acts.

It would be a lie to say that this film is without its fair share of imperfections. Of course, the plot plays out more like a gimmick to keep you engaged than it does an inspired concept. But, with Ricky Gervais (who created the story) that's usually what you get. And that's not a bad thing. Usually, his films (like last year's Ghost Town) and his television work ("The Office," "Extras") is built on a whimsical foundation in order to layer on the subtext and the sardonic, acerbic wit and the biting social commentary.

With "Lying," he goes out of his way to make a joke out of our preconceptions about one another. The fact that humans can be so frivolous and superficial is an instant delight to watch being parodied on screen.

But then, as the film progresses and the first lie in invented, we see that what's at the heart of the matter is how hypocritical humans are and how we're so blinded by certain truths and so eager to be self-righteous about other supposed truths--or lies--depending on which side of the fence you happen to be on.

Eventually, what you get is a delightful movie that entertains and tugs at your socially-conscious sleeve. If you happen to be against any sort of blasphemous or slanted view on what life means, this movie is definitely not for you. If you have a semblance of a sense of humor then, by all means, enjoy the film for what it's worth. It's not cinema worthy of elevating the human spirit to heights never before explored. It's simply a sarcastic comedy about the way we choose to perceive one another and the way we choose to live our lives.

P.S. If you're expecting to see the great cast of actors (Rob Lowe, Jennifer Garner, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill) employed to a great capacity, you will be disappointed. With the exception of Garner, who plays a snobbish, albeit honest woman, the cast appears more as a courtesy or favor to Gervais. His projects usually garner the right kind of critical acclaim and, more than doing Gervais a favor, the actors seem to be in the movie in order to their own careers a favor--by starring in a film with a perceived prestige factor such as this one.

Repo
Repo(2012)

Repo tells the story of two low-level car repossession agents. One is a slacker of the ultimate grade--married to a redneck party girl; the other is a tender-hearted pretty boy who is, amusingly, unlucky at love. And he's also the manager of a small apartment complex.

When times are tough for the protagonists -- and they are from the start -- they decide to embark on a plan that is both potentially life-changing and, most definitely, half-baked. They will take back--read "steal"--every car they've ever repossessed and sell it for a profit. But when the finding inside one of those cars turns out to be a large sum of money, they face consequences that are both hilarious and somewhat contrived.

The love lives of our buddies are sprinkled in throughout the movie for romance's sake. The plots are neither romantic, nor are they compelling. There is a wacky waitress who is a con-woman and tries to come between one of the pair of lovers because the other friend is jealous that he's losing his best buddy.

Ultimately, the movie ends up feeling a bit disjointed due to its lack of focus. The themes peppered throughout the film are as unsettling, varied and mismatched as the shoe selection at a thrift store. You don't know whether you're watching a heist caper, a buddy comedy, a romantic chick-flick or a really bad film. You simply can't decide how to categorize it; because it happens to be all of those things and yet none of them all at once.

It's really tough to recommend a movie such as this one because, although I liked it overall, I can definitely see it possesses MAJOR flaws and may not suit the liking of most people. But, it was innocuous and fun while it lasted. Even if you end up with an uneasy or unfulfilled movie-going experience. At least you chuckled a few times and smiled--which is probably more than you would've done if you hadn't seen it.

Prince of Broadway
½

Prince of Broadway tells the story of a "street rat" named Lucky. He's from Ghana and is living, illegally, in New York City and participating in the lucrative (for the wholesaler, not the street vendor), illegal, industry of selling counterfeit fashion merchandise.

Along the way, we see how depressed his lifestyle is. He lives in squalor in a dilapidated studio apartment in Harlem. He has a nice girlfriend who, for some reason, stands by this loser despite his being irresponsible, vulgar and an all-around uneducated macho pig.

Well, along the way comes a little boy to change Lucky's life forever. One of Lucky's former flings drops by and demands that he take some responsibility for his half of the creature. Not surprisingly, Lucky is dumbfounded and tries to evade his duties as father. But he is forced to live the the child as his mother has all but left the little one at the mercy of this stunted adult.

After a while, Lucky's incessant denial to own up to his responsibility as father and contributing adult gets a little old. His reluctance to accept the child and his negligence is a little hard to watch as the little one gets tossed around like a rag doll with no regard to his own feelings. In essence, what are supposed to come off as endearing, funny little moments come off as annoying and unbearable to endure when it's at the expense of a defenseless toddler.

But, I guess the message of this film is to depict that "upstanding" individuals such as Lucky and his uncouth clan of friends and former lovers actually exist. The stunted development of a child into adulthood is a theme that is prevalent to the point of having it clobber you on the head. The incessant belligerence of the main character antagonizes him to the point where you wish he would actually get shot or run over by a bus or something--but, in all likelihood (and in accordance to his display of negligence) it would be his son who would undoubtedly suffer such a gross fate.

Deadland
Deadland(2008)

Deadland is proof that you don't need a big budget in order to tell a compelling post-apocalyptic tale. Sure, special effects may help depict the terror that will undo the world, but if it's a post-apocalyptic tale you're telling, the emphasis should be about what happens after the destruction. And this movie does so very well.

Don't be fooled by its shoe-string budget or cast of unknown actors. The movie is full to the brim with great action, suspense and drama. The story of a man in search for his long-lost wife after the seeming decimation of society is a classic tale of overcoming adversity.

This determined man must cross not only a desolate and unforgiving terrain; but also the encounter the vicious people that a shell-shocked world has produced. No zombies in this movie--although an allusion or two is made through the mysterious virus--the threat is more of, well, threat than it actually is a manifestation on film. The danger or humans becoming animals is always in the back of everyone's mind and a quest to find a cure must also be completed.

The lack of visual trickery makes this film all the more satisfying. It is a gritty, and thus more realistic portrayal of events. After all, when the world ends, there won't be high-tech bedazzlement and computer gadgetry to help us fend off the end times--there would just be people trying to survive and this is the very simple story of just that.

You'd be hard pressed to find this movie playing at any movie theater. It has been released only as far as the limited festival schedule it's on has permitted. But if you ever come across it in the video store or elsewhere, it's definitely worth giving it a try.

P.S. This movie is not, in any way, related to Zombieland. Just throught I'd clear that up.

Cruzando
Cruzando(2009)

Over the years, stories of border crossings and immigrant dreams of a better life have become increasingly popular. But they certainly have not become a dime-a-dozen. Their messages of hope in the face of insurmountable adversity is ever-present and ever-relevant in a world where living among and toleratig people different from ourselves is the norm.

Cruzando is a film that explores the relatively sweeter side of coming to America. This is in contrast to recent fare lilke the brutally arresting Sin Nombre which explores the darker, deadlier side of the danger Central American immigrants face. In Cruzando provides a balanced look at a very specific reason for which someone would choose (or be forced) to visit the U.S.

Meme is a young man who has grown up without his father. His vague recollections of time spent with the man are just that: vague. He knows that his father left to make a better life for himself--but Meme was forgotten along the way. Flash forward a couple of decades and his father now facing execution in a Texas prison. Word get to Meme; and he is forced to make a life-changing decision.

The catch is that Meme is now facing fatherhood himself. He must decide whether witnessing the death of the man who abandoned him is more important that being present for the birth of the son he is now abandoning. What ensues is a harrowing tale determination, the will to persevere and friendship--as Meme brings his best pal Diego along for moral support (and comic relief for the audience.)

Cruzando ultimately feels a litte bit empty as it lacks a well-known cast and a broader, more epic scope. But the story itself is one that should be played intimately--and in that regard, the film succeeds briliantly. It showcases the hardships faced by the less-fortunate immigrants without implying that these are hardships which the immigrants are too cowardly to own-up to. Eventually, the man's decision is redeemed by a return to what is truly important to all of us. Home.

Adventures of Power
½

Adventures of Power
In Adventures of Power our protagonist, Power, teeters between silly Napoleo Dynamite-like impersonation and seriously comedic acting--the kind seen in a Wes Anderson project. The effect of it all is that the film is, at once, fun and funny but, on the other hand, thoughtful and sweet. It marries the two worlds of silliness and poignancy effortlessly.

Taking place in a small industrial town, the film centers around a lovable, albeit slovenly, loser with a heart of gold who refuses to grow up. His one and only goal, obsession and purpose in life is to play the drums. If you find that to be disheartening, here's the kicker: it's air drums!

While the world is his cymbal, that instrument is rejecting his stick with a loud screech. Power is misunderstood and ignored by most of the people who surround him in his Texas hometown. After some exploratory roughing-up in a Mexican border town, he realizes his true calling is on the opposite end of the country--in glorious New Jersey.

If the premise sounds like a gimmick, it is. There's nothing that Power won't do or any length he won't go to in order to show the world what he's made of.

Adrien Grenier (of "Entourage" fame) makes a fun appearance as Power's boyhood nemesis who secretly shares Power passion for air-drumming despite his rich tycoon father having bought him his way into his very own "legitimate" Country-Emo band--where he plays the real drums.

In the end, both men are forced to face off in a battle of the air drums on an implausibly televised national competiton. By that time, Power has united with a rag-tag set of misfit "drummers" and become friends with them; he's found a girl who sees him as more than just a pathetic loser and hear's his heart beat in more ways than one. Despite all this hokeyness and unabashed fluff, the movie ends up feeling like a triumph in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. It is unashamed of its sentimentality and never takes itself too seriously.

Inglourious Basterds

What do you get when you put Quentin Tarantino and Nazi Germany together? Will you get an epic story of redemption or a classic retelling of a familial story with lots of strings, tear-jerker moments and happy endings? Hell no! Your final product will inevitably be what Tarantino serves up in Inglourious Basterds: a riotous, unashamedly politically--and historically--incorrect version of events. But you'll have a hell of a time watching a history so alternate; so ridiculously twisted that a part of you will actually be hoping that things could be so fantastically awesome in real life. Payback never tasted this good!In Nazi-occupied Paris, many things are the way we've come to know them from our old textbooks: German patrols were branched throughout the land and injustice was the name the game. Jews and other so-called degenerates were being rounded up by the train-ful and people were being silenced throughout the whole of Europe.But in Tarantino's Nazi-occupied Paris, a band of "inglourious basterds" (a small group of rogue American soldiers)are hunting down the self-righteous Aryan scum and giving them a taste of their own medicine. This tiny crew of savage beasts are making quite a dent on the German military and their reputations precede them. Their acts of retribution against evil are the topics of tavern-conversation and the words on everyone's lips. Each one has even acquired a nickname worthy of any folkloric or mythical figure.Their visceral hunger for revenge is portrayed on film quite graphically and with great zest. This is completely thanks to Tarantino's unmatched eye for seeing things from a place so honest it becomes heightened. The events that transpire in this movie are reflections of what many people wish could have actually happened but are too PC to admit to. Tarantino is unapologetic in his stance as a Nazi hater and goes as far as likening them to savage Indians on a murderous spree--the likes of which America's own pioneers had to face on the landscape as they made their way across the U.S. plains. Let's just say that scalping is back in style...Brad Pitt does a fine job as the leader of this rag-tag team of murderous bastards. His all-American image is perfect for this character yet it is slightly tarnished by the appearance that this guy's been in one-too-many fights and has been all but killed in the process. He's suave and collected; but also vicious and a hell-raiser. In short, he's an American. And his partners are made of the same fabric as he.If you're going for a history lesson, skip this altogether. If you're going for a kick-ass Tarantino experience, watch this repeatedly. If you're on the fence about it, make up your mind quickly before you're too late to form an opinion about the movie one way or the other--because this movie is definitely worth having an opinion about. That's true whether you end up loving it or hating it.

The Final Destination

In a franchise that was starting to see its potent thrill factor wane in recent years, we get what is presumed to be the "final" chapter. Of course, in Hollywood, a final movie in a series is as sure as a diva retiring from the stage. But, if we are to believe this is the final film in the "quad"rilogy, it's quite a disappointment.Not that the previous three films were anything to regard as high drama or a fine collection of American cinema, but this last movie has really nothing going for it except for one thing. And this thing is what saves the flick from complete disaster...it's in 3-D.And, the fact that these movies are built around gruesome death sequences and elaborate set-ups, executions and payoff, the 3-D format is essential to your enjoyment of this chiller.Of course, you know the formula: hot teen with a premonition saves friends from certain death only to have death certainly knock them off one-by-one anyway. It's definitely nothing you'd be upset with me for spoiling (unless you've been living under a rock the last 10 years and aren't aware of the 'Destination' movies and its gimmicky plots.) But what makes this installment stand apart from its preceding trilogy is that the 3-D delivers on its promise to make you jump and flinch.I wouldn't recommend seeing this film in 2-D unless you're a die-hard fan of the films. But if you're even a bit hesitant to see it because of its storytelling (and acting) pitfalls, I'd say see it in the version that'll require you to wear stylish glasses. It's definitely worth the extra fee to see bodies suffer unimaginable trauma in the third dimension.

Big Fan
Big Fan(2009)
½

Big Fan is a great example of the quintessential dark comedy: bleak in its depiction of humor; satirical in its commentary and sardonically irreverent and unapologetic in its execution and portrayals.

Patton Oswalt delivers a knock-out performance as a more-than-dedicated and loyal-to-the-death fan of the New York Giants. His adoring admiration for the teams quarterback is nothing less than completely blind and unabashed idolatry. But Paul (Oswalt) is a fan like no other. When people say they are the "biggest fan," they're just blowing bubbles. When Paul says it, he means it.

Of course, forget about the fact that he's 36 and still lives with his mother. Forget the fact that he has a Napoleon Dynamite/Pedro relationship with his equally slackerish best friend. And you can definitely forget that he spends his every waking (and working) minute preparing slams, comebacks and editorial comments for a late-night sports radio talkshow. A job he should be getting paid for but which he's more than glad to contribute toward if only for the mere fact of being validated by a complete stranger.

But when Paul gets a chance to receive validation from the person who matters the most to him: Giants quarterback, he goes on a sad quest in stalker mode to get an autograph, a handshake--anything at all. When things go sour and the quarterback suspects him of being an obsessed fan, things get nasty for Paul and his life is changed forever.

Though he's pressued to take certain measures to have justice be served, Paul must find it within himself to either bring down the idol he worships or lift his team toward glory. The choices he make are astonishing and it goes to show how much fans around the world are willing to endure from the people they idolize and look up to.

Oswalt is very captivating in his portrayal of the loyal fan from hell. He is has an endearing aspect that brings shades of humanity to an otherwise detestable and irritating character. He is a revelation in the role and I am hopeful that he will receive an Oscar nomination for best actor. Also, the script deserves a mention in the original screenplay category simply based on the fact that it manages to deliver laugh, suspense and an overall feeling of sad and reluctant sympathy for the messed-up characters we see on the screen. I'm definitely a big fan of this one.

The Burning Plain
½

In The Burning Plain, the intersecting lives of multiple characters come crashing into one story that is both gripping and incredibly layered. Until just recently, movies that skip back and forth between multiple stories were deemed to be avant garde and confusing. But with the advent and popularity of films like Memento and Crash, this method of storytelling is no longer so polarizing.

Still, the story may confuse some because it is multi-tiered and is told from different perspectives at varying times in the characters lives. But if you find yourself engrossed with the first story, everything else will fall into place and you'll find that you've been following the story without any problems.

The story itself is a richly textured one. It concerns a woman named Sylvia (Theron) who is on the verge of a mid-life crisis because of a traumatic childhood event concerning her family--more specifically, her mother (Basinger.) When Sylvia is confronted with the product of her mistake in the form of a daughter, she must come to terms with her past and the errors of her ways.

Essentially, the movie explores the delicate line on which people walk throughout their whole lives in order to avoid being hurt. There comes a point in everybody's life when one must choose to keep running from the things that cause us pain or confront them head-on and suffer the consequences and/or reap the benefits.

The film slowly unravels itself unto its audience, ultimately leaving the viewer greatly satisfied at the way the character have chosen to play out their roles in the story. The acting by Theron and Basinger is stellar as the sullen pair of women that anchor what could have been a chaotic film. Their performances are the root of the film's extrapolating branches and all the fruits that those branches bear are a direct result from the seeds that they sow with every nuance and subtle revelation in their performances.

Hopefully, the efforts of Theron, Basigner and director Guillermo Arriaga won't go unnoticed come awards season. The Burning Plain is definitely one of the best of the year so far and, although somewhat understated and slightly depressing, it is a brilliant little gem that deserves to be discovered and admired by many.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
½

As far as book-to-film adaptations go, I wouldn't know how to classify Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs since I haven't read the book. But, apparently, the film veers off significantly from the charm and appeal of the popular children's upon which it's based. To literature purists, this may be a slap in the face, but to an unaware film watcher, the movie will more than make up for its literary deficiencies by way of the film's own charm and appeal.

The story is a "cute" one of a boy who is ostracized because of his intellect and affinity for inventing seemingly useless creations. But when he's grown, the boy becomes an amateur scientist who, although still with a chip on his shoulder, has not given up on his dream to invent the machine that will feed his community and lift it from its current depression.

One thing leads to another and his machine not only works--but goes haywire. A feisty weather reporter comes into the mix to be witness to the strange phenomena of incredible, edible food falling from the big blue sky. A nasty mayor is greedily and gluttonously after the machine's power and a the boy's father is a pessimist who fails to see eye-to-eye with his inventor son. Oh yeah, and the community continues to look down on our protagonist by dint of his wacky reputation and slacker style.

While the story provides food-for-thought and its animation is a visual feast, overall, the movie ends up leaving the audience with an empty stomach in terms of a moral lessons to be learned. Sure, the intrinsic showcase of "believe-in-yourself" attitude is evident; but it would have been nice if all this food had served a better purpose than to benefit the town alone. Perhaps, a "feed-the-starving-world" approach would have been a better angle. That would've given the film a more urgent message to young kids (who will definitely be watching and could have been impressed upon by this film.)

Even without the gravitas or social commentary that WALL-E or 9 possessed, "Cloudy" still provides plenty of entertainment value to gorge on and a hearty serving of life lessons to digest.

Sorority Row
Sorority Row(2009)

Sorority Row is a movie that knows exactly whom they're appealing to and what kind of film it has to be in order to succeed in its quest to appeal. It's a mottled mess of slasher-film clichés and campy, catty dialogue with less-than-star-making performances by a disposable cast. But it succeeds in hitting its mark so much more than most movies.

There is plenty of flesh being flashed around as the young "sisters" go around partying like it's 1999. That's exactly the way this film's plot plays out, too; like a slasher revival from the late 90s that was kick-started by Wes Craven's Scream. This new collegiate blood-fest is essentially the retarded sister engendered by the formula (the whodunnit gore-fest) that Craven's film reintroduced to hormonal teenagers over 10 years ago.

The revelation at the climax is a little bit of a let-down as you find out who's been doing all the hacking, but all the action leading up to it is well-worth the disappointment you may or may not feel by the end of the film. The methods employed to kill off over-sexed characters in this flick are definitely worthy of a creativity award. And that alone is reward enough for the patient movie watcher.

Additionally, Carrie Fisher turns in a kick-ass performance as a no-nonsense bitch of a house mother. Don't mess with this bitch, or else. But go ahead and see this bitch of a movie! Maybe you'll even learn a thing or two to use as a retort the next time you encounter a slutty sorority sister with an attitude problem.

Whiteout
Whiteout(2009)

Maybe Whiteout is the name of this movie not because of any preternatural killer in the ice (as the film's trailers would lead you to believe.) Maybe they used that word to describe this movie because that's exactly what they used on the script to blot out as much sense as possible. Maybe whiteout is what was slathered on the screenplay and what caused this movie to have so many, many plot holes and inconsistencies.

I usually don't dwell too much on a movie's plausibility. I like suspending my disbelief even if it makes me a more gullible viewer. But this movie takes the cake...

In Antarctica (allegedly the coldest most isolated place on Earth) there is a full-on crew of dozens of people wintering on the continent doing who-knows-what. Some people are randomly studying ice-core samples; some people are looking for meteorite fragments; others are U.S. Marshals taking care of misdemeanors -- on the coldest, most isolated place on the planet. I imagine there are a lot of ice-core samples and meteorites to find...but misdemeanors?

I guess that was the only way to explain why someone with such authority would be caught in a place like the South Pole. Feel the ice starting to crack beneath your feet? Well, I won't bore you with any more details about this incredibly bland film. Suffice it say, the frail ice does break and you fall right through it into freezing water without reward of warmth of comfort.

The movie's premise (at least the way it was marketed) led one to believe that it was to be a supernatural thriller. Well, I don't think it's a spoiler if I tell you that it's not. The threat is very human (and in turn) very ordinary, common, anticlimactic and NOT interesting. Any semblance of intrigue, suspense or drama is strictly because you've come in expecting to watch a movie that wasn't made.

That's not to say that everything about this was bad. Just the script. Which, to a purist, would mean that everything was bad. Kate Beckinsale is completely competent an actress in a role that doesn't require much acting. But she must not have read the script before accepting the role. Likewise, everyone else involved in the movie is quite fine, but nothing more.

The whole thing ends up lacking something. Perhaps it's the lack of main characters; or the puny threat that these characters face, but the movie leaves you feeling very unsatisfied and unfulfilled. Like you just spend 90 minutes expecting to be kept warm from the minus 60-degree weather, but all you got was a pair of ear muffs. Whiteout definitely deserves to be tuned out.

9
9(2009)
½

Normally, when I think of animated film in America, I think of bright, glossy, happy-go-lucky "kiddie" fare the likes of a Pixar movie (Up, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles.) Sure, there may be adult themes, jokes or allegory presented in these movies. There may even be an insidious villain or a pragmatic moral to be learned from these features. But, in general, the movies are made with children in mind.

That may very well also be the case with 9. But this animated feature stands-out in that, perhaps, instead of simply entertaining the children, its focus in on scaring the crap out of them as well.

In a post-apocalyptic world, where humans have concocted their own demise through the over-development of and blind reliance on technology, there survives a small population of nine "stitchpunks." These little creatures -- made of burlap sacks, pillowcases and additional odds-and-ends -- are humanity's last hope. Inside of them, they carry the remaining vestiges of a human race long-since annihiliated by machine.

This is probably what the people over at Terminator: Salvation were hoping their movie was going to be like. But, alas, 9 improved upon their premise and succeeding at developing it into a story that is engaging, poignant, and thrilling. It does, indeed, teach a valuable lesson to both the adults watching and the children who are brave enough to weather the dark storyline.

In the end, of course, there remains a silver lining in a cloud-filled sky and hope, as we've come to learn, is always the last human trait to be wiped away from existence.

9 manages to be a story for both children and adults without pandering to either age subset. The voice talent is stellar and the action sequences are brilliantly plotted and executed. The animation itself is a feast to the eyes, despite what you initially might regard as a bland, mono-chromatic landscapes of brown shades. But where the films lacks color in sight, it paints a grim, disturbing yet ultimately uplifting picture with its inherent optimism about the heights our world can head into after its fallen on its head.

Be cautious when watching this film. Don't expect the usual trappings of adorable talking dogs, fishes or humans with super-human powers. Don't expect to a bright palette of color bursting in every frame. Don't expect a lively cast of characters or a mindless plot. Expect more depth, more to think about; more to chew on; more than just a kid's movie. And expect this movie to steal the big prize from Up come next awards season.

Cold Souls
Cold Souls(2009)

Cold Souls is a very polarizing picture. It definitely will not be for everybody and that should go without saying about most movies. The film starts off with an interesting premise: human souls can be removed from the body and stored away or sold/exchanged for other, better souls. The only problem is that this "premise" ends up being more of a gimmick. A trick to get you to watch, but fails to deliver its promise of quirkiness, charm or even intelligence.

Once the soul is extracted, the people don't seem to display any different characteristics than before. Their dreams become clouded with phantom memories of their new souls' previous owner. Paul Giamatti is in Uncle Vanya. You can store your soul in New Jersey and avoid sales tax. Russia is somehow (or typically) involved in black market shenanigans. The movie essentially throws too much out at the audience and never really forms itself into a cohesive, jointed motion picture. It strives to be something between Woody Allen's Sleeper and Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but fails miserably at it. It tries to hide under the mask of randomness for randomness' sake, but it all feels very calculated.

Basically, there are funny moments; poignant situations; philosophical ruminations; religious paradigms; paradoxical questions of ethics and much, much more. But when it comes right down to it, you don't know where to focus your attention and you don't know how to feel about the characters because you don't know what kind of film you're watching. Are you supposed to be laughing? Crying? Feeling sorry? Feeling hungry?

The movie definitely has redeeming qualities--however few they may be. Paul Giamatti is a great actor and he does his best with a character in a movie that he probably didn't know was going to end up feeling so cold. His performance is as not nearly as multi-faceted as the film itself; but it is much more interesting than the film itself. If you're a fan of Mr.Giamatti (who plays himself in the film, by the way) then see the movie. If not, then don't.

You won't miss out on much.

Play The Game
½

Play the Game is the type of movie for which you don't know what to expect. Very little publicity, a shaky premise about a grandfather-grandson relationship that seems implausible, and a cast that isn't quite a stellar -- or even a recognizable -- amalgamation of talent.

David (Paul Mitchell) is a ladies' man of the most arrogant and calculating kind. When he comes across a girl he can't have so easily (Sokoloff), he goes into panic mode because his usual tricks aren't working. Meanwhile, his grandfather (Andy Griffith) is the lonely old man at the retirement home who is, as opposed to his grandchild, a wallflower in search of companionship.

Now, each man (grandson/grand father) must help the other in order to help themselves achieve their goals of securing themselves a woman to be with. As it turns out, though, in playing the dangerous game of love, their roles suddenly become reversed and one is looking for long-term love, while the other is miraculously in need of instant gratification. You guess what happens next...

The movie starts off quite shakily because of its preposterous plot and initial devises which are used to induce humor (including a horribly un-funny scene with grandpa at the club.) But the movie, slowly, manages to lose its uneasiness as the script begins to deliver some tender and genuinely funny moments via its patriarchal character; grandpa Andy Griffith.

The film's execution is rather crude and choppy, and its soundtrack is incredibly sappy (with cues being brought in after almost every line of dialogue.) These erroroneous decisions often make the film seem like an after-school special or made-for-television movie that's supposed to teach you the value of family and being "tight."

The film manages to overcome its sappy trappings thanks, single-handedly, to Andy Griffith and his earnest and endearing performance as the meek old man-turned sex maniac.

Additionally, a plot twist seemingly thrown in during the final minutes was cute and made for a slightly interesting revisiting of earlier events that had transpired in the film; but was ultimately unnesessary. It really didn't pay off, considering the movie was one whose self-awareness was already well pronounced and still failed to completely rise above its own attempt at wittiness. Kudos for Griffith, though!

Extract
Extract(2009)
½

How does Mike Judge follow-up his immensely popular (especially among cult-followers) Office Space and the little-seen (even among cult-followers) Idiocracy? With a gamble known as Extract.

In the ten years since Office Space -- a comedy about the working class pencil-pusher -- Judge has done little film work as a director. But with Extract, he returns to his "working class" roots. This time, he depicts a couple days in the life of a straight-laced extract flavoring factory owner and his motley crew of dysfunctional workers.

What ensues is a very adult-oriented accident that should make every male in the audience cringe and tighten his thighs together. This moment is really the heart of the film's trailer. But what comes next is really the heart of the movie itself...

A beautiful and suspiciously interested temp is hired on to work at the extract factory. She is played by the beautiful and suspiciously interesting Mila Kunis. She has ulterior motives, of course, and begins to wreak major havoc on the sensibilities of all co-workers including a horned-up, perverted floor manager; a pot-head slacker who's in a blasphemous band; and a couple of chatty-Cathys who never seem to get anything done because of their incessant complaining about others never getting anything done.

Jason Bateman plays the straight-man to the hilarity that ensues all around him and the outlandish characters that fill in his colorful cast of co-workers, friends and companions. Bateman stands his ground as a brilliant subtle comedian who doesn't need to take physical humor cues from the likes of Jack Black or Jim Carrey in order to be absolutely sad and drop-dead funny at the same time.

As Bateman's character tries to hold his company together and afloat in a seemingly impossible situation, he is thrown off track by a less-than-trustworthy Ben Affleck and a developing affection for the new temp. This interaction leads to Bateman making another adult-oriented mistake that turns his little existence upside down.

What I liked about this movie is that, while the movie looked to be like a non-stop pothead fest, it turned out to be a movie about the consequences that stem from a decision that is poorly thought out. One moment (as they say) can change your life forever. And that is what happens in this quirky comedy on so many levels--literal and figurative.

What you are to take away -- or "extract" -- from the moral lessons laid out before you is really irrelevant. After all, you don't go to the movies to learn your values from them, or do you? If you're looking for unadulterated fun -- as in fun not diluted with extraneous matter -- then a full dose of Extract is what this doctor orders for you.

Bakjwi (Thirst)
½

After a failed medical experiment (presumably for the good of mankind,) a young Catholic priest is subjected to the evils of the underworld. This is a premise that is meant to elicit the kind of curiosity that will keep you intrigued to find out more. And, for the most part, my attention was captured during the entire length of this Korean-vampire flick.

What starts out as an exercise in standard vampire metamorphosis, turns out to be a bizarre series of events that unfolds in front your very eyes and you can't look away despite its unconventional approach at the vampire genre. It's not that the movie is bizarre in a bad way. It's just that it is so unorthodox in its execution and in its plot, that it unsettles the unprepared viewer.

As I had never seen a Park Chan-wook film before, I was one of those viewers who didn't know what to expect aside from what I'd seen in the film's trailer. Let's just say that the clip really under-sells this film. Or, depending on your point of view, oversells it. It's definitely not for everybody.

The film definitely turns from typical vampire flick into a meditation into the essence of evil, love and the battle for maintaining a balance between this world and the netherworld that eludes us. What does being evil truly mean? And what about those who would, seemingly, be impervious to such evil infiltrating their soul? What happens when someone who is supposed to fend off the malevolent forces in the world is precisely the person who fall victim to its seducing allure?

This movie really has so many layers; but its brutish style and storytelling may put some people off. For me, it works. After all, the characters in this film technically cease to be human at one point or another, so it would be foolish for us, the audience, to continue expecting them to behave rationally and within the realm of expected behavior.

When you're going through hell as a living entity on Earth, what awaits you in the actual eternal pit of doom? Or does this mythical burning soul orgy actually exist? As one of our protagonist ponders, maybe "when you're dead, you're dead." But if you're part of the walking dead, this point of view seems rather skewed, no?

And what of love? Or, as depicted in this movie, lust? Is that an evil greater than that of being consumed by a wicked force of the undead? Which deed is more lascivious and worthy of eternal damnation? The act of taking life to sustain your own appetite for blood? Or laying in the arms of a person who's all wrong for you and whom you're doomed to be in love--lust--with?

Essentially, this movie brings up a lot of valid moral and spiritual implications (if you care to watch the film from a strictly philosophical stance.) But if you're looking for a straight vampire fright, this movie provides plenty of goosebump-inducing moments (i.e. a brilliant subplot of spousal drowning,) as well as quirky humor that you'd only find in a foreign-language film (which this movie is, in case I didn't mention that or in case you failed to surmise it from my review.)

And from a cinema enthusiasts side of it, the technical aspects of this movie are nothing to sneeze at. The cinematography is breath-taking and all-too-real. Especially in instances where the reality becomes torrid fantasy. It isn't a day-and-night switchover, despite the night-only shenanigans our vampires get into.

Anonyma - Eine Frau in Berlin (A Woman in Berlin)

With the recent success of The Reade, the notion of a German woman receiving empathy from an audience is kind of the hot issue. Especially if that German woman is portrayed to be, or have been, a Nazi sympathizer. Well, enter A Woman in Berlin.

In this real-life story (inspired by the anonymous writings of a journalist woman who lived in the conquered city of Belin during the final stages of the war,) is a true work of art and storytelling. It's inspired and striking all at once. No screenwriter, however clever or prominent, could have ever been able to come up with a story so divisive and emotionally manipulative. No, only real life could have concocted such a miserably cold and true depiction of event rarely portrayed in film.

Our anonymous woman takes us on a journey through her world, and the world of those remaining in Berlin during the end of Hitler's Germany. In essence, we see that the remaining civilians (comprised primarily of seniors, young children and the so-called "weaker" sex) were victimized brutally by the invading (or should it read: liberating) forces of the Red Army (Russia.) Furthermore, it is with brilliant efficacy that our anonymous writer conveys that is was these women who were the remaining soldier's on the front lines of Germany's scarred urban battlefields.

We meet our protagonist in an era before the height of war. We meet her in a time in history where we may presume her to be a sympathizer of hate and prejudice. She is vibrant and idealistic about the future of her country, blindly subscribing to manipulative ideas and philosophies that were shrouded in a blanket of national pride.

Flash forward to a time where misery prevails and the tables are turned. Many themes are evident in this film and is reveals and unravels itself slowly, yet efficiently -- like the speed at which a woman sheepishly undresses for her male predator moments before her body's inevitable ravaging.

Obviously, the plight of women is magnificently portrayed in this film. More specifically: the dismal day-to-day living of the German women who were to be punished for the wrong-doings of their country's leaders, none of whom they'd ever met.

Defenseless and battered, the women must fend for themselves as their remaining men find themselves spirited away to Siberia or worse for the crimes that their father have committed. It is with great success that other shades are painted around what is considered to be right and wrong in times of war.

The are a myriad moral subtexts to be gathered. Namely, who is the liberator and what does liberating mean? How do you avoid succumbing to the thirst with which revenge nags? What lines must be crossed or avoided in order to keep yourself from becoming the very essence of the hate you've hoped to extinguish?

Ultimately, as we learn from our anonymous heroine, such judgments are irrelevant when your only goal in life is to remain attached to life itself. Your perception of the world and its concepts can never remain in your mind unscathed or unblemished. That way of seeing the world will always be altered and affected by the events that transpire in it. Therefore, the way you love; the way you fight; the way you live will never be the same again.

Funny People
Funny People(2009)
½

It's funny how a movie entitled, Funny People turns out to be something more poignant than what you'd expect. Take, for example, the casting. Seth Rogen: funny! Leslie Mann: funny! Adam Sandler: funny! These assessments are definitely relative and subjective; but these actors are definitely not know for their serious chops; therefore, they must be funny.

Well, that's all well and good, but this movie takes unexpected turns into dramatic territory that tinge the goings on with a bittersweet melancholy that is rarely seen in most major studio "comedy" releases.

Judd Apatow, writer of hits Superbad and The 40-Year Old Virgin is definitely taking a departure from his usual teen-angsty, sardonic, sex-encrusted films and has adopted a more effective, "grown-up", sex-ecrusted film style that actually works better than you'd think. Sure, it's different and sometimes you don't know whether to laugh or feel a slap of sadness for what you're watching unfold on the screen. But when you're meant to laugh for sure, you definitely know it.

Adam Sandler plays serious as a comedian who receives rather annoying news from his doctors. His life is turned upside down and he must learn to cope with his newfound short-term prospects in the only way a stand-up comedian can: by deflecting. Eventually he may find himself in a better place; or perhaps he may find himself as being a better man. What's really important is to watch the quirky events around him unfold delicately and somewhat awkwardly.

The last third of the film definitely drags a bit with a miscast Eric Bana playing an Australian hubby with a mean streak. The domesticated, soap-like melodrama that is written for Leslie Mann could definitely have done with humor, if not less screentime. But, eventually, it also adds to fact that we're watching a comedy unlike anything we've seen come from either of these actors and/or the films creator.

Overall, I'd recommend seeing this movie if only for the fact that it is interesting to see actors who live so one-dimensionally in most people's mind--and watch them as they try to branch out and maybe falter a bit. The good that comes from the bad is that they get right back up and brush themselves off as if nothing had happened. The movie is by no means unfunny, but your definition of what should make you laugh may change a bit for you--as it does for the funny people in the film itself.

A Perfect Getaway

In the world of thrillers, you always know there's a good chance of there being a twist. These things are preordained, you see. From a screenwriter's point of view, there has to be some sort of loop you have to be thrown through in order to feel like you've invested yourself in a movie--hence feeling like you need a return on your investment.

In A Perfect Getaway, the screenwriter -- or "screenplay writer" (as referred to in the film itself) -- tries too hard to impress. The "twist" isn't that twisted or inspired. You kind of see it coming and you'd think that, for something so evident, it would be more creative, but it's not.

The movie itself is too self-aware and uses contrived movie jargon which, in and of itself, feels terribly out-of-place in a plot that takes place on one of the most beautiful places on earth: Hawaii. It's like watching a movie made by a film student who's all-too eager to throw everything he's learned into one project and show off to his peers that he can regurgitate information (even if it isn't pertinent.) It's like a magician showing the secrets behind his trick before you've even asked him how it's done.

The first, "twist-less" half of the movie is rather intriguing and mysterious. We meet a young couple on their honeymoon. They come across some shady characters and some events transpire that really tend to grip you and your attention. But then the twist comes--and it all goes downhill from there.

For one thing, the revelation comes too soon in the film. Then, it seems like a sloppy mess is trying to be cleaned up by adding never-before-seen footage that would conveniently fit into the gaping crevasse of any potential plot hole. Well, there are plenty of such holes in the movie regardless of the tidy tying up of any proverbial "loose ends."

The cast, comprised of capable, if not good, actors like Steve Zahn and Timothy Olyphant, are totally wated in roles that make them seem like idiots for not steering away from such a bad script. Milla Jovovich, who has some pretty decent acting chops (not great, just decent) is another wasted talent in a film that turned out to be slightly more than mediocre.

Not to mention the cinematography goes from ordinary to sudden MTV-music video from one moment to the other. I guess if you add shaky camera techniques and three-way split-screens, you can distract the audience from noticing how crummy your movie just became.

Well, my dear screenplay writer, you need a better story.

The Time Traveler's Wife
½

This movie lived up to my every expectation. It was sappy, melodramatic, romantic and intriguing all at once. It's not often that I build expectations for a movie; much less hold the film up said potential prejudices. But this movie looked to be a very syrupy dose of romance tinged with bittersweet longing for an intangible loved one.

They lay it on thick from the get-go when there is a devastating loss that someone suffers. The theme of love and loss is weaved throughout the story as Henry (Eric Bana) is forced to weave himself in and out of his own life (past, present and future) and inextricably remain unscathed by the fact that no amount of time travel can, will or ought to change the course of his history.

Claire (Rachel McAdams) is said time traveler's wife and plays this role with such candid effervescence, that you can't help but long to be in her shoes--despite her own plight (which you see unfolding before your very own eyes.)

The film's "predictability," if any, can be attributed to the fact that there is plenty of foreshadowing and clues strewn about the plot, not because it is necessarily a shallow film with no intrigue. There is enough of that to spare. But the little gem uncovers itself from the rough in a manner that lets you know that there isn't a twist to expect; there isn't a puzzle to solve or a timeline to keep track of. The only thing you should be aware of is that lump in your throat and the film makes no apologies for putting that lump where it's meant to be.

I'd have to say that this was one satisfying little movie to watch. Not because of any grandeur or gravitas it may or may not have been aiming for. But because of the way it caused me to react personally.

There are many circumstances, events and characters to which and whom I was able to relate--and that is, for me, the most important part of a film--no matter how sentimental that film may be. Sentiments are meant to be felt, not shunned away from. I like my romance films to be chock-full of sentiment. The kind of emotions that persist and tug at you without avail--unlike our protagonist who will travel back and forth until the end of time...

Spread
Spread(2009)

Where do I begin with this one? There so much to speak of for a movie that had so little to say. Shall we start with the horrible premise? The horrible dialogue? The horrible acting? Or the horrible everything else?

Let's put it this way...I walked out. I never walk out of a movie ("never" = "hardly ever.") The plot was "spread" so thinly on a wafer-thin canvas. There was no drama to speak of; no characters to empathize with; no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Basically, we have Ashton Kutcher solidifying his status as worst actor of all time--seriously, he's worse than Hayden Christiansen. And the "acting" should have come easily for him in the role; since he's practically playing himself: a good-looking (debatable), charming (even more debatable) womanizer who has a predilection for loosening up already loose 40-somethings in order to gain prominence in society. Does the name "Demi" ring a bell, anyone?

Even with the real-life parallels, Kutcher blows it so badly that every scene in which he appears (which is sadly EVERY scene) is atrocious. And don't get me started on the horrible narration he provides.

The story arc for these characters were non-existent. Pretty people behaving badly has been done so many other times--and so much better than this tripe. Why would I want to go and see beautiful people getting themselves into the worst situations and not learning anything from it? Oh, that's right. I didn't sit through the whole thing, so technically I don't know if lessons were learned in the end. But let me tell you...it didn't look promising.

The movie was a complete waste of celluloid and I fear that my review of it may be an even worse waste of time and cyber real estate. I shouldn't even finish this review at all. Just spread the word: this movie is unfulfilling, vapid and incomple--

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
½

You live in Temecula, California. Your marriage is "dead" and your used car lot is in shambles. What do you do? You call Don Ready; because, although he isn't able to relocate you or fix your broken marriage (and your late-night male-craving-induced cruising that caused it,) he does "move cars, motherf*cker!"

From the creators of Talladega Nights and Step Brothers (yes, that means Adam McKay and Will Ferrell,) comes a new slant on the used-car salesman. This movie is essentially for auto salespeople what Waiting... was for restaurant workers and what Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was for newscasters across the country: it's a skewed, graphic and ludicrous depiction of a class of worker that is prone to ignorant stereotyping to begin with. Well, The Goods intends to demystify the car seller and create an even harsher and more pronounced parody to laugh at.

Jeremy Piven (of "Entourage" fame) is back playing his usual cocky, self-righteous, smart-ass characterization of a grown-up, albeit stunted, fratboy. In this movie, however, he just happens to be an overzealous, patriotic, strip-bar-loving, alcoholic car mover who can sell any car to anyone. Is there any other kind of dealer?!?

The script can sometimes spill into patronizingly atrocious dialogue of the kind that tries too hard to pull a laugh (like teeth at the dentist.) But ultimately it is the performances by the supporting players that brings it all into one cohesive ensemble piece that shoots darts of comedy into the audience at a breakneck speed. Most notably, it's the performances by James Brolin as an ambiguously gay straight man; and a riotous turn by Kathryn Hahn as a semi-pedophile closer (whose carpet matches the drapes, by the way,) and what you've got is comedy gold.

As if that weren't enough, we get some more gold nuggets with a cameo by a certain curly-haired producer-funnyman and a backpack full of accessories that are never to be mentioned in the same breath with "Abraham Lincoln." A hilarious, potty-mouth set of angels that sing dirty gospel verses is also a highlight to look forward to.

All-in-all, this movie wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. Considering that we live in a culture where gas is pricey (to say the least) and where our junkyards are filled with "clunkers," this movie couldn't be more topical. But, ultimately, that isn't what it's all about. It's just about having a good time for a few hours with characters as irreverent as those you'd wish would actually approach you at a real-life car dealership. Maybe then, they'd get you to buy something. But in case you're ever on the flip side of the coin and you have wheels to get rid of, call Don Ready. Because he "moves cars, motherf*cker!"

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
½

Back in the day, G.I. Joe was nothing more than a glorified commercial for the U.S. military put in the guise of Saturday morning cartoons. In 2009, the film adaptation of the popular series and Hasbro action figures is exactly what its predecessor was all along: a glorified commercial for the U.S. military put in the guise of Saturday morning matinée at the cinema.

What sets this movie apart from its "cheesy" progenitor is that it keeps the cheese, shtick, and camp but seriously upgrades the entertainment value through enhanced visual effects. From the director who brought you the first two 'Mummy' reimaginings comes this sleek look into the covert division of rogue heroes knows as "Joes."

That's pretty much where the positivity ends with the movie. For, although it was jam-packed with glossy visual sequences and some kick-ass martial arts combat, the movie lacks in every other aspect what it makes up in popcorn-flick viability. And that's exactly as it should be.

The "love story" that lingers on the fringes of the plot is watered-down, at most! It's objectification of women (particularly the Sienna Miller character) is typical of a movie that is made by men and for men. The comic relief is provided by Marlon Wayans in predictable and measured doses so as to not upstage the "star-making" presence of Channing Tatum and his stunning physique.

Ultimately, though, the lack of gravitas in a film so blatantly frivolous and patronizing is expected. People go to see a movie like this for the exact reasons it was made: fun, fun and more mindless fun. There's no profound or meaningful message included for anyone except for those who take their patriotism all-too seriously (and who need a Hollywood action film to validate it.)

I had fun, I enjoyed it and I left the theater completely unchanged or unfazed by anything I may or may not have learned. In fact, I may have lost a few neurons along with my two hours...but I didn't lose my sense of humor. I certainly didn't lose anything that would prevent me from recommending this film strictly for its platonic merits. Who knows; it may have even deepened my superficial attraction to Mr. Tatum himself.

Julie & Julia

The life of Julia Child was one of excellence and great virtue. Her culinary prowess was surpassed only by her exuberant personality and charm. In each of her recipes lay a great deal of personal touch that could any bland dish turn into a grandiose masterpiece if only for the fact that the great Mrs. Child created it.

In the new movie, Julie & Julia, the life of Julia Child is portrayed of one of contentment. But, also, it was with a splinter of curiosity lodged into her hands that she finally discovered the path which she was to follow. From studying a Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to writing her signature book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia was a woman who would stop at nothing to achieve her goal of being someone and helping those who did not have help to cook a meal.

Flash forward half a century later and we meet Julie Powell; a mid-level pencil-pusher working at a job she hates and other people hate her for working. The only remedy Julie can find for relief to her listless existence is cooking, blogging and--eventually--blogging about cooking. Her passion for Julia Child her method of cooking inspires Powell to venture into territory that would require her to finally accomplish something in her life filled with unfinished business.

The stories of these two women, though parted by more than 50 years, share such striking parallels that it makes you wonder how much fictionalization took place in the process of making this film. But, ultimately, the film flows beautifully between the two plots and eventually merge to become one story with a tenderhearted final chapter that brings things in perspective for all characters involved.

Meryl Streep has turned in yet another fine and Oscar-worthy performance as Child. Amy Adams, on the other, suffers from playing a lesser-known character who is contemporary and, quite possibly, less likely to receive empathy from an audience. I, however, felt that Adams gave a great, nuanced performance that showcased her sensibility to play her usually sweet character with an edge. The similarities between the two women make for great drama for both actresses playing those women and also forge an indelible on-screen alliance the likes of which haven't been seen since last year's Doubt. (Just kidding.)

Even though Adams and Streep share not a single scene in this film, the composition of the movie is so great that it's almost as though they'd shared EVERY scene. Both women are relatable in their trials; their convictions of character; and in their respective joie-de-vivre.

Certainly this movie will make you hunger for more than just food. It will likely inspire you to learn more about Julia Child and Julie Powell. Maybe it'll inspire some to take up blogging or cooking--or both. Whatever it inspires you to do, make sure you do it with good company and with good food. Bon appetit.

Adam
Adam(2009)

Adam is a film that tries to make you relate and empathize with its characters so much that eventually you do. Of course, the premise is ripe for empathy: a young, socially-inept, reclusive Asberger's Syndrome-sufferer falls for a young, socially-savvy, extroverted Asberger's Syndrome-NON-sufferer. He's a child in a man's body and she's a woman who teaches and writes for children.

It may sound somewhat contrived; and to a certain degree it is. But what ensues is a heartwarming story of love told from the perspective of a couple that really has nothing going for it from the beginning. The chances of its survival are slim to none. With a father who is over-bearing in his opinion of Adam (Hugh Dancy), Beth (Rose Byrne) must learn to cope with outside forces that attempt to interfere with her looking past her own prejudices and preconceived notions about Adam in order to ultimately love him.

What is the hardest for these characters, however, is the lack of emotional involvement that Adam himself seems to display. Of course, there is really no way for Adam to know what others are feeling for him unless they tell him. But Adam himself--despite his inherent bluntness and straightforwardness, lacks the ability to be completely honest himself.

There are themes of love and loss woven throughout the entire film that will strike a chord with many people who have dealt with a challenging relationship. It will also resound with those who have ever felt for someone in need and tried to help them in order to discover something new about the world.

Whether you wind up learning about the way the big bang works or the rate at which the universe is expanding isn't what matters. What's important is that you learn that two beings who seem inexplicably incompatible can sometimes converge--nay--collide and create a spark so fervent that it will resonate throughout the remainder of their lives. Sometimes a little bit of love is all that's needed to halt the velocity of the ever-expanding universe and bring it back together.

The Cove
The Cove(2009)

Forget about Ethan Hunt. Forget about Jason Bourne. You can even forget about James Bond. The name you really need to remember is Ric O'Barry. In The Cove, O'Barry--a former dolphin trainer and technical adviser for hit television show "Flipper"--orchestrates one of the most brazen and dangerous missions I've ever seen on film. And it just so happens to be a real-life mission. No fiction here, people.

This documentary about the plight of dolphins in Japan and around the world plays out like a spy caper than it does a straight-to-DVD sequel to The Little Mermaid. There are thrills and suspense splashing at every corner and you will be genuinely gripped to learn what happens next.

The premise is simple enough: dolphins must be rescued from a secret cove in Taiji, Japan that could spell doom for the creatures and disaster for the sleepy village dwellers if the world were to find out about the goings-on at said cove. The plot unfolds at pace that makes you wonder if you're actually watching a documentary. It's so jammed with information about the events that transpire but it has tremendous entertainment value due to the structure of the film and the way said events are edited together.

The logistics of the operation to uncover the secret and catch people in a lie are put together better than any plot devised by the likes of Danny Ocean (from Ocean's 11.)

Some of the footage in this film is quite graphic; but by no means is it gratuitous. And, for the sake of getting its point across, the film does a great job at presenting a wake-up call that is alarming enough to incite true and genuine emotion from the audience; emotions that go beyond feeling literal disgust from viewing harsh images and transcend to feeling collective disgust against those who are perpetrating such injustice against a species of defenseless creatures. If the information in this is presented to us, and ignorance ceases to be a pretext for our apathy, what will be our excuse for inaction after watching this film? Watch this film and you'll understand what you need to do.

Ponyo
Ponyo(2009)

How refreshing it is to see that "traditional," 2-D animation is still alive and well. And not only that; but that it is being used to create such beautiful films as those of Studio Ghibli in Japan. Hayao Miyazaki (creator of fine works like Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle,) certainly knows the value of telling a good story with nothing more than a pencil and paper. Ponyo is his latest masterpiece.

In a world where studios like Pixar have deforested the hand-drawn landscape of animation and erected sleek, glossy pictures made by computers, it is a breath of fresh air--or a gulp of fresh water--to watch the story of a little goldfish who longs to be human. Memories of Disney's The Little Mermaid will surely fill your head with that plot description--and it rightfully should. After all, this Japanese film is being presented by none other than the American-based giant itself.

Disney Animation (now run by, ironically enough, Pixar's John Lasseter) is distributing Ponyo to American audiences with a newly-dubbed version that will unincumber U.S. audience with those pesky subtitles. After all, who wouldn't rather have the voice talents of Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Betty While fill their heads with wonderment to accompany the stunning imagery of this beautiful motion picture.

It is with motion that Miyazaki paints his picture. Over 180,000 individual cells were hand-drawn and photographed to create this arresting work of art. However, it is evident that hard work isn't the only thing at work here. A child-like imagination is the foremost ingredient presented in this visual feast. An imaginative storyline is hard to come by these days, but with a burst of color and subtext about man's footprint in nature, it is Miyazaki who nurtures Ponyo's environmental message ever so gentlyso that it becomes all too important for anybody to ignore but subtle enough for most to look past it and enjoy the goings-on.

It was a great privelege to have seen this movie during Comic-Con this year and to have a film I'd so eagerly been anticipating be introduced by its legendary creator, Miyazaki, himself. The insight he conveyed to the audience about his intentions for Ponyo was enlightening and it inspires everyone to spark their imagination and to just start "thinking, thinking, and thinking."

The little goldfish's adventure to change the life of a little boy and the world itself is so much more poignant when you realize that this is a film for children of ALL ages! Because it's in the mind of a child that a story with so much wonder can sustain itself as plausible and have its inherent message of coexistence with and love of nature become attainable.

District 9
District 9(2009)
½

District 9 presents a new, remarkable spin on the classic tale of alien invasion. Instead of rehashing tired story lines of whether aliens are friendly or hostile; or whether they hold the secret of the origins of the universe; or whether they've come to harvest our planet, this Peter Jackson production takes a sharp turn into territory rarely visited by science fiction--a story about the humanity of extraterrestrials.

That may seem like a paradox at first glance, but it isn't. What if a race more advanced than ours--or simply alien to our own--were to become "stranded" on our planet like a band of pirates who become marooned on a deserted island. Does the fact that they are misunderstood beings make them any less human? What makes a human HUMAN? What makes one race superior to another? Is it appearance, social status, or species? These are only but a few of the themes that this brilliant new film touches upon.

Of course, there is plenty of action and suspenseful moments entwined with biting satire about species-relations that mimic our earlier--and current--trepidations about race-relations. The fact that this gigantic spacecraft has failed to plant itself over a major "advanced, developed" city like New York, Los Angeles, London or Paris is a slap in the face of moviegoers who see America or Europe as the center of the universe.

Instead, they come to South Africa-- a country on a continent so emaciated with strife, disease, hunger and ignorance--that it makes the commentary all the more powerful in its striking dissonance. The battle between man and alien will not be fought with weaponry--unless human have anything to say about that. It is a fight that must be fought with intellect and compassion for those who are different that ourselves, without patronizing, discriminating or taking their displacement and vulnerability as a sign of weakness.

A battle does ensue between those who would be against a mixing of ideologies between the human race and the non-human race. But when things become a bit tangled between a few characters, suddenly the tables are turned and people are turned against one another--as well as against the aliens. It is a movie jam-packed with so much to say and so many cool ways to say it.

Definite compliments are due for the incredible cinematography implemented to tell a story so complex. There is over 30 years of history as well as the current unfolding events that must be told and the first-time director at the helm does a brilliant job of keeping things in line and making sense. The visual effects are top-notch and unlike anything you've seen for a movie about outer-space visitors told from a more conventional point of view. You'll be amazed that this film has a message, yet has extremely high entertainment value as well. And there's a giant visual goody bag from which it draws amazing effects to rival the likes of giant blockbusters like Transformers and Iron Man.

District 9 is not a movie that will please everyone. To some, it may seem to be too preachy. To others, it will seem as if the action wasn't sufficient. But to everybody it will definitely strike as a film that is unlike anything they've seen in quite a while. And that they're likely to see in a quite a while longer after that--unless, of course, there is a District 10.

Gigantic
Gigantic(2009)
½

Gigantic was a movie with gigantic potential. As it turns out, it results in a gigantic, fragmented, albeit beautiful mess of a movie.

As a first feature, I wasn't anticipating much. But this movie lacked focus. It had a lot of things going for it:

Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, Ed Asner and John Goodman. Sounds great, right? Stay with me...

A young mattress salesman is in the process of adopting a Chinese baby. Sounds intriguing, right? Okay, stick around...

Zooey Deschanel plays her zany self again as Dano's would-be lover. Brilliant, I love Zooey. This is cool, right?

Wrong.

First-time writer/director Matt Aselton delivers a valiant effort but (like many first features) the scribes ideas are all thrown out on the page at once and they never really gel into a cohesive work.

Throw in some wacky goofs, Ed Asner's brilliantly kooky performance, some genuinely touching moments of dialogue and acting by a great cast and you would've had an excellent.

That's why I say this movie was fragmented. There were slivers of genius, but it never came together.

A recurring gag with a homeless person was confusing for most of the audience even though I felt it was more open to interpretation and I came to my own conclusions about the significance of this plot device.

All in all, I have to say that I liked the movie and I will reluctantly recommend it. It definitely wasn't a horrible movie by any stretch of the imagination. It was just missing focus and a clear vision. Everyone involved in the film was excellent and the acting was top-notch. It's just that their characters and their respective struggles came off as a bit in a vignette as opposed to being part of a fully-realized feature film.

X-Men Origins - Wolverine

Three words: waste! of! time!

Star Trek
Star Trek(2009)

The summer has officially arrived with Star Trek.

This movies was completely action=packed and will delight both action/sci-fi enthusiasts as well as the most ardent Trekkies.

Let me tell you: I had no idea what Star Trek was all about and I was mesmerized by this movie. It had amazing special effects; great eye-candy casting; brilliant art direction/cinematography and set design.

One scene; a space/sky diving sequence, was particularly spectacular and pretty adrenaline-inducing. Very exciting, indeed.

Of course, it also had one of my favorite elements to make a good movie: an engaging, well-written script. It was witty in all the right parts and touching where it needed to be.

Although the movie pays honorable tribute to the campy 1960s series it is based on, it never delves into camp territory itself. It has just the right blend of humor, action, romance and all the things George Lucas wishes he could throw together and make work in one of his Star Wars prequel trilogies.

Some gimmicky casting (Eric Bana and Winony Ryder) actually pays off: the cast works so well together and moves the plot along without becoming too much of a character vehicle. You get little snippets and back stories here and there--but the exposition is kept to a minimum and JJ Abrams delivers a non-stop, heart-pounding feast.

Completely satisfying! Those fans of the show will not be disappointed as much of the film's spirit is still evident in this reboot. Some of the same dialogue is used, the score is epically quirky (think Mambo-inspired drumming.) And it all works out in the end. The players never set a goal to imitate the original cast--but comparisons will abound nonetheless.

It's been a long time since I've been this exhilarated at the movies--and I pray it won't be too long before it happens again. Sequel, anyone? I'm officially a 'Trek' fan from now on!

Lokas
Lokas(2007)

This Mexican film is a brilliant little gem of a comedy that makes you feel fluttery and enthralled by its quirky characters and wacky plot twists.

Although "The Birdcage-esque," this movie is a lot more heartfelt and genuine than the American re-make of a great French film with gay themes.

Charly must flee from Mexico with his son, Pedro, in order to escape impending leg-breaking due to a dirty business deal he was a part of. But in returning to Chile to meet his long-estranged father, Charly (a downright homophobe) is forced to come to terms with discovering that his long-lost father is more a fairy than he finds agreeable--and is living with his lover, no less.

Of course, some gay-fish-out-of-water comedy ensues and the plot is thickened a little when Charly meets a woman named Liliana. He then is forced to pretend to be gay himself in order to make a good living working at a gay bar--called Lokas.

But despite its borderline stereotypical plot, at the core, the relationship between Charly and his son is what is the glue of the film. It also points out how important it is to have family--no matter how different they may be or how uniquely their predilections may stand.

Lokas is definitely worth your while if you're in the film festival circuit--and it's most definitely worth looking for on DVD once--if ever--it is released.

Desierto Adentro
½

This movie is a poetic allegory that makes you think hard about the meaning and strength of your faith in the face of a terrible circumstance.

How would you seek penance for a terrible deed committed? Would you seek to repair it, ignore it, or obsess over seeking forgiveness?

These are some of the questions raised in this harrowing tale of a man who is forced to protect his family from a cursed past he has built as a foundation for a shaky future with them. Is there really such a thing as self-fulfilling prophecy? How far should a man go to try avoiding what is inevitably written in the storybook of his own life?

With a family that comprises eight children, this man must starts a new life in the Mexican desert in order to escape his sinful past. But the memories of his misfortune will continue to haunt him--as well as his children--for the rest of his life.

Desierto Adentro really makes you examine what it means seek redemption. It is an indictment on the hypocrisy of a faith that would have you commit countless more sins in order to mend the original sin committed.

This is definitely a heavy movie with lots of heavy themes and ideologies and philosophies. It is not for the casual movie-goer who does not want a learning experience--or at least a thinking one.

Alien Trespass

I loved this romp so much. It really takes very little to keep me entertained when it comes to tongue-in-cheek comedies. This is definitely one of the most cheesy, corny, stupid, oddball spoofs I've seen. But it revels in its satirical disposition and never, ever takes itself seriously enough to expect the audience to be seriously taken by its antics.

The cast is brilliant and the plot is ingenious in carrying the old 50s and 60s fear of all things alien, monstrous and goofy. Things that go bump in the night aren't necessarily scary--and that's the fun you get when watching Alien Trespass.

It's an unabashed wreck and it wants the audience to take the leap of faith necessary to enjoy a movie like this. With its fake newsreel at the beginning, it successfully sets the tone for what's to come and it makes you feel like you're watching a midnight showing of a shitty movie--even though you're watching that shitty movie at three o'clock in the afternoon.

Never under-estimate kitsch or schlock. This movie has plenty of both to keep you from snoozing and to make you swoon for more.

Knowing
Knowing(2009)
½

In the realm of the sci-fi/disaster flick, this movie is a complete knockout!

I was expecting nothing more than a National Treasure rehash with Nic Cage playing the same character--except without the patriotic overtones. Instead, I got a complete slap in the face with a film so eager to please the suspense nut as well as the science fiction enthusiast. Add a little numerology for gimmick's sake and sprinkle a bit of religious undertones and douse it with a little bit of philosophy--and you've got a movie to jam-packed with something for everybody.

Of course, the movie's tone shifts relentlessly because of all those volatile ingredients. But what you end up with is not a mash of crud--but an explosive attack on the senses.

The special effects that depict certain "disasters" are some of the best I've ever seen. The seamless execution of these visual illusions are as breathtaking as those found in a full-fledged summer blockbuster. Instead, we get an early spring dynamite stick that threatens the world it inhabits with its doomsday prophecy--as well as the audience it aims to entertain with compelling storytelling that (although not for everyone) is enough to keep me engaged thoroughly.

It's not the most high-brow entertainment out there. It's a glorified popcorn flick that has the goods to give you something to think about after the butter has rushed from your head back to your gut.

Duplicity
Duplicity(2009)

This is one of those movies that is made for the simple reason of catering to the quirks and personalities of its actors. Here we have Julia Roberts playing the same role she always plays (feisty ball-buster) and Clive Owen playing the same role he always plays (suave super-spy.)

You'd think you'd get tired of it all after two hours of watching them nag each other and make-up by kissing and presumably hopping back onto their sweaty bed. But something about their chemistry seems to work. And, although you know it's been assembled and distributed to you by a major motion picture studio in order to make beaucoup bucks, somehow, it still feels genuine and honest.

Of course, there's nothing genuine and honest about the characters these two are playing. They are, after all, spies working for opposing sides of their proverbial spectrum. There are so many twists, turns and angles thrown at you--that it comes as no surprise to you when there's a semblance of a surprise at the end of the movie.

It almost seems unnecessary to have so much going on for a story that could've been told a lot more simply. But somehow, I didn't mind the fact the movie's plot was completely out of the realm of any possible reality and that it was unabashedly contrived and convoluted (on purpose) to confuse the viewer. Maybe I'm just dense--but I don't think so.

Think of it as Ocean's 11 meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It's fun; confusing, superficial, bloated and charming all at once. Although the individual dosages of each of those ingredients may vary
and settle wrong with you--it's still worth a try. I wouldn't necessarily recommend you see this on the big screen though. It seems more suited for the DVD viewing on a rainy day or a night in.

As a side note: along with Watchmen, Duplicty has the distinction (in my mind) of having some of the most entertaining opening credits sequences so far this year. Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson are a riot--literally.

Sin Nombre
Sin Nombre(2009)

Sin Nombre is a heavy, hard-hitting dramatic thriller that breathes new life into the age-old cinematic representation of illegal immigrants and their plight. This movie is jam-packed with so much tension, suspense, visceral visuals, down-to-earth acting and memorable moments--you'll agree that this is what movie-making is all about.

A novice director and a relatively unknown cast actually help this movie detach itself from the cliches that an immigrant's story comes attached with.

This story combines not only the plot of a journey to a better land by a few--but intermingles a noir-styled revenge/manhunt storyline in the mix and you've got a brilliant movie.

A mixed-up teen named Willy is anxious to escape his life of crime while another teen named Sayra is en route to a better life in New Jersey from Honduras. A life-changing event will bring them together and they will have to travel atop a freight train (like many other immigrants) in order for them both to escape their pasts and their deeds.

The movie is a top-notch thriller and a balanced representation of what it's like to be an immigrant--and how the perils of crossing the American border is the least of these people's concerns. There are a million obstacles that they must overcome on their arduous journey across numerous borders (literal and figurative) and throughout a landscape that is fraught with predators of all sorts--including those who hunger for blood and revenge.

This was a great film to behold and it kept me more than engaged. I was on the edge of my seat watching the exploits of these vividly colorful characters--and truly empathizing with them.

The cinematography is slightly reminiscent of City of God (partly because it was the same cinematographer as the television series based on that Mireilles film.) And every shot was beautifully composed and executed. Not bad for a film shot in just six weeks with a limited budget; no storyboards and a cast comprised of mostly untrained actors and extras--by a newbie director.

Stellet Licht (Silent Light)

This film is nothing short of a masterpiece. Be forewarned, however, that this movie (like most "masterpieces") isn't for everybody.

That being said, I think this movie is brilliant food for thought; it's film for thought, actually. I love when a film, such as this one, has something to say--but DOESN'T say it. It is so full of subtext and symbolism that (like a good book) it requires the viewer to delegate what matters and how it matters. Every one takes something unique from this film.

The story of a modest Mennonite man living in rural Mexico with his wife and children-- in doubt over his behavior and the way said behavior affects his faith is simple enough. And, on the surface, there doesn't seem to be much going on in the film. Suddenly (or, at last) a secret is revealed and this secret is what the whole foundation of this film (and this man's existence) lies upon.

Reductive film-goers will argue that this movie could be an hour shorter and more fast-paced. I tend to disagree, mostly because that kind of person (of whom I know one or two) is the kind that will deem a movie to be "bad" simply based on its length.

If you are a patient viewer who enjoys to be immersed in a cinematic landscape that is alien to your own, then this movie is definitely for you.

Granted, the film IS "slow" as molasses in parts--but it never meanders into pointlessness or self-indulgence by the director. The shots are composed the way they are for a reason and for complete effect.

Previous efforts by director Carlos Reygadas include Japon and Battle in Heaven. So, there's a fair share of provocative controversy that comes attached to each of his projects--and Silent Light is no different.

You'll find this film to be, at least, an interesting exercise in cinematography and symbolic composition.

From its paradoxical title (Silent Light) to its surrealistic resurrection scene, this movie will leave you mesmerized--and highly rewarded if you've afforded it the chance to move you.

Fuera de Carta (Chef's Special)

Think of it as the Spanish and Gay equivalent of Mostly Martha or No Reservations. Same plot, same twists and turns--just in Spanish and with a gay protagonist.

However, this movie does enjoy having a lighter structure and more droll situations.

Javier Camara (you'll remember him as the male nurse in Almodovar's 'Talk to Her') is outrageously funny without being too over-the-top. His performance is engaging and nuanced enough to provide diversion to the audience as well as depth to a character that could've become very boring and one-dimensional had it been played by an inferior actor.

I got to see this last night at the San Diego Latino Film Festival. It's definitely worth the extra effort trying to find a theater near you that may be playing this--or waiting for the DVD.

Sunshine Cleaning
½

This movie definitely has the potential to be this year's "little movie that could." Like Little Miss Sunshine, Waitress and Juno before it, this little gem of a movie definitely has the charm, heart and talent behind it to give it hope for awards recognition.

Amy Adams delivers a very subtly understated performance--and decidedly, that's a stretch for Adams because she is hardly ever subtle in any of her films. She plays a wide-eyed single mother who is desperate to select a path in life--if only one were to open up for her.

The relationships she has with her sister, son and father are very touching and make for some heart-warming and funny moments.

The chemistry displayed with Emily Blunt (her sister in the film) is crucial for the movie to work, since it's both the girls who carry the movie--along with a dirty mattress and bio-hazardous materials.

They are forensic maids; cleaning up crime scenes after the bodies and deceased have been dispensed. They move in and try to make a quick buck by being the friendly neighborhood splattered brains cleaner-uppers.

It's really a light movie that could have run the risk of failing at charming the audience since it--superficially--shoots darker undertone at the viewer.

It is ultimately a story that everybody can relate to in that every one feels hopeless at times. Every one feels the need to lie to oneself from time to time in order to keep from falling apart. And, even in the darkest hour, everybody has at least one person in their family that they can turn to for unconditional love, support and...sunshine.

Monsters vs. Aliens
½

What an adorable movie. Of course, it wasn't as heartbreaking as WALL-E or as endearing as Bolt...but Monsters vs. Aliens has its own attributes that make it an exciting movie all on its own.

First off, there's the 3D aspect. With the novelty of the 3D resurgence wearing off now, it's great to see that it's definitely not wearing thin. As seen with last month's release of Coraline, movie studios are taking advantage of the 3D medium instead of using it as a mere gimmick to attract viewers. They're actually taking advantage of the technology to make beautiful films that don't saturate you with POPPING OUT, SPILLING or BULGING characters and goofs.

The second thing this movie has going for it is its stong, talented voice actors. Reese Witherspoon is perfectly cast as the bride-done-wrong-by-a-crashing-meteor. She is peppy where pep is called for and really sweet and endearing where the emotion is cued up. Seth Rogen as B.O.B. is another standout. Hugh Laurie, Keifer Sutherland and Will Arnett and The Office's Rainn Wilson as Galaxar are other voices that will be familiar to those who follow.

The effects in this film are brilliant. The colors, the action sequences and slapstick humor--are all great fun for the kids and the visuals should amaze adults enough to keep them engaged as well. A cool sequence throughout San Francisco serves as a great tour for those tourists who haven't visited the city by the bay.

In the end, the movie ends up being 90-some minuted of pure magic and the little nod to Shrek as referenced on the Generals uniform is a kick to see throughout the film. Definitely a solid 8/10.

Watchmen
Watchmen(2009)

This movie is the damn nearest thing to a masterpiece as I've seen a "comic book" movie be. The true masterpiece was The Dark Knight--but Watchmen comes a very close second place. Possibly even tying for the top spot.

Being completely unfamiliar with the storyline and characters, I came into this movie with no expectations other than the ones I'd built up from watching bits and pieces of TV promos.

Let me tell you: it was amazing. The plot, the characters, the script, the special effects, the action sequences, the philosophical and political implications; EVERYTHING about it worked to create a sweeping epic as I've never seen a superhero movie try to take on in the past.

Of course, the more hype there is surrounding a movie, the more people's expectations seem to rise into the unreasonable territory. But I can safely say that this movie will dazzle, tickle your intellect and cause you to think.

From the opening credits sequence to the desolation of a Martian terrain to the streets of a distopian New York City--the art direction and cinematography in this movie are brilliantly executed. Zach Snyder really has an eye for aesthetics (as evidenced by his turn directing 300.) But this movie brings more character development and introspection than 300 would ever be able to offer.

Many may be put off by the film's length, back-and-forth editing, and its pacing at times is steady and unusually calmed for a "superhero flick." But the rewards are plentiful--and you'll be glad you stuck around for the whole thing.

Standout performances are turned in by Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earl Hailey. But it's Hailey's performance that takes the cake--and you'll know why once his story takes him to prison.

This film is both sexually and violently graphic. But, considering it's based on a graphic novel, I would say that's pretty appropriate. This movie is definitely graphic and it's definitely novel. A welcome change of pace in a stagnating superhero genre.

Thanks Mr. Nolan--and thank you, too, Mr. Snyder.

Doubt
Doubt(2008)

Doubt is a film that is based on a play by the same name. Having seen the play myself, I can say the movie sticks pretty close to the source material, but transcends it and the cinematic adaptation is the better for being on the big screen.

This successful adaptation from stage to film is due, solely, to the fact that the playwright both wrote the screenplay and directed the film himself. So, no one else could be blamed for the film's minor pitfalls and no one else exalted for its overwhelming amount of triumphs.

One of those triumphs is the excellent casting and performance of Meryl Streep. Her portrayal of a nun bent of ousting a little-liked priest from her parish is both bone-chilling and blood-boiling all at once.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing said priest, does a fine job (as usual) and makes the role seem more human and accessible than it ever did on stage.

Amy Adams is up to her usual naive, doe-eye portrayals as a nun caught-up between what it right and what is wrong. The difference this time is that her awe-shucks, innocent safety-blanket style of acting is actually appropriate for this role and never feels forced (unlike her turns in Catch Me If You Can or Enchanted.)

Viola Davis delivers a heart-breaking performance. She transforms a rather tiny role (less than 10 whole minutes of screen time) into a gargantuan knot in your throat. You heart will go out for her and her plight.

The cinematography is so exquisite and refined that you'd think you watching a film made in Europe. The gothic-like art direction and costumes are reminiscent of something out of a Hugo novel or out of a Salem witch trial--which is actually a relevant event to liken this movie to since it more-or-less deals with a witch hunt of of the holy sort. And what witch hunt isn't of a holy sort?!?!

Behind only The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and ahead of The Dark Knight, this is--without a doubt--one of the best film's of the year for me.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

I thought this movie was a lot better than the trailers made it out to seem. However, I have not seen the original on which this film is based--so I have nothing to use as a reference. But I'm not usually one to compare new theatrical fare with their respective cinematic predecessors anyway.

The film was engaging enough for me to recommend it; but don't go expecting The Matrix because Keanu Reeves or Independence Day because it deals with an alien invasion--or has Will Smith's son in it. This film is neither--and it doesn't really strive to be.

The movie almost feels like a throw-back to simpler alien movies (probably a nod to the original flick and not a lack of imagination.) It's actually pretty refreshing to see a movie that isn't so reliant on HEAVY effects and actions sequences. Instead, this movie feels more intimate due the storyline involving an uneasy relationship between a mother (Connelly) and her step son (Smith.)

Generally speaking, the movie COULD have done with a bit more action; but it gave the right amount of it and some of the sequences were pretty breath-taking (in a retro sort of way.) Definitely not the worst sci-fi flick I've seen.

The Tale of Despereaux

Here's a "kiddie" movie that is meant to be a little more and actually succeed at it. And it does so without resorting to gross-out humor to appeal to children or adult innuendo to appeal to adults. Instead, it does so through employing pure charm and an unadulterated measure of the cuteness factor.

Like Curious George did a few years back, The Tale of Despereaux brings to life one of the most beloved critters from literature.

The imagery is stylistically beautiful to watch and every shot drips with a syrupy quality and color palette that you won't be able to deny loving every minute of the movie based on that quality alone.

The story becomes dense in parts and may be a bit confusing or hard-to-follow for the younger viewers; but they'll be enthralled with the colors and Despereaux's adorable demeanor that they won't notice.

A fairy tale is a hard genre to make seem fresh nowadays with the post-Shrek aftermath. But this film brings something new to the table--old-fashioned feel-goodness.

Frost/Nixon
Frost/Nixon(2008)

Before seeing the movie, I thought Sean Penn would be accepting the Oscar on February 22nd. Now, I've reconsidered my position and am individually campaigning for Frank Langella.

His portrayal of Richard Nixon in what could've been a boring documentary-style drama, instead is the centerpiece of a movie so filled with drama and suspense that, although you know how it ends, you still can't help but feel caught up in the tumult of the era as if they were current events.

And Langella, quite frankly, steals the show. It's on his shoulders that the bulk of the movie's gravitas is carried. His experience in theater serves as a sturdy support for his talents and a platform for his work on a film so great as this one.

As a period piece, the film is visually up-to-par thanks to Ron Howard's excellent direction and cinematography that oozes style AND substance.

As a drama, the film is brilliant due to its magnificent script and the real-life subject matter that provides the bulk of the plot to begin with.

As a document of events passed, the film is an excellent history lesson without ever feeling like one.

Other performances from Michael Sheen and Sam Rockwell are admirable and add to the overall experience of watching something with lots of thought behind it. But it's Langella who single-handedly slaps the audience across the face with his assaulting portrayal of a president so ruthless and intelligent.

Frost/Nixon is an awards-hopeful that actually deserves the hype it seeks. But watch it because it's a great movie--not because of its awards potential--however great that potential may be.

Take Out
Take Out(2004)

Stay away from this movie at all costs. There is absolutely no redeeming quality this film possesses. It's repetitive, slow-paced and very dull. What could've been an interesting character study of illegal immigrants and their integration into the American society, instead, turned into a ho-hum attempt at creating a slice-of-life picture that makes you want to slice your wrists instead. "Tedious" would be a step-up for this. "Boring" is more like it.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I wish there were more stars to bestow upon this film. It is truly a modern masterpiece and easily the best film of the year (that I've seen.)

Everything about this movie was engaging and enthralling. The story of a man who ages in reverse might seen like a gimmick that might grow old half-way through the movie after the novelty has worn off. But, what happens is the complete opposite.

Where most movies tend to sag (plot-wise) this film continues to extrapolate on its theme of time, loss and fresh starts.

The execution by director David Fincher is both ambitious and rewarding. Every shot in this film is exquisitely photographed and brilliantly transports you and your imagination not only to a different time--but to a different world where this allegory takes place.

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett both give beyond-stellar performances. Though, the real stars of this film are its cinematographer and it's make-up artists. Watch the film and you'll know why.

I can definitely understand why critics labeled this movie "the one to beat" after having seen only 20 minutes of footage. Though the finished product is close to three hours long, it never dragged (at least for me) and it always kept my mind going with how joyful an experience I was having while watching it--and how I was unlikely to see anything better for a long, long time.

Most people will complain about being three LONG hours older at the end of this film--but they'll do so not because they actually hate the movie (though they might say that.) They'll say it to be clever and come up with a snappy headline that'll sell more papers or get more blog hits.

This is, by far, David Fincher and Brad Pitt's best film together--and, likely, their best individual work.

The story is epic in scale, heart-warming in its plot and dialogue; and it's mesmerizing in execution. A movie pretty damn near perfect!

Let the Right One In

Skip Twilight and see the movie that it aspires to be...

Let the Right One In is a brilliant, touching, and scary movie in the right dosage of each.

The heart-warming love story between two kids is at the center of the movie--and this film, above all, should be regarded as a love story between two friends.

As a suspense thriller, the chills are few and far between--but they are placed in the right spots and are effective in frightening without the old make-you-jump gimmick used to death in American films.

As a straight drama--this movie works well in that the child actors are very adept to their craft and know how to convey the innocence of childhood without compromising it with winks at the camera or your typical brand of self-aware child-actor cuteness,

All-in-all, this movie was nearly perfect. Slow in parts--but done so for dramatic effect. If you think you've seen it all when it comes to vampire flicks and you've just about shut them out of your life--watch this movie. It's definitely the right one--so let it in.

Twilight
Twilight(2008)

Completely over-hyped movie...

As a romance, it wasn't very romantic. As a suspense piece, it wasn't very suspenseful. As a vampire flick, it broke some of the most important tenets of vampire-hood. Diamond skin in the sun?!?! Come on!!!

Maybe I'm out-of-touch because I'm not a 14-year old girl--but I know a bad movie when I see one.

P.S. This has some of cheesiest dialogue I've ever heard in a movie: "You're like my own personal brand of heroin" takes the cake.

Australia
Australia(2008)
½

A near-perfect movie of epic proportions. This is what Pearl Harbor attempted to be. But it needed a director with more substance...

Baz Luhrman does a brilliant job not only making this picture look beautiful--but with making mean something. It's not just showcasing beautiful locales--but showing how the terrain can be a backdrop for something more than just "pretty."

The action comes late in the movie--but the romance and the story of aboriginals in Australia serves as a great theme for the movie overall.

The performances by both Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman are some of the best in their careers and this is Luhrman's most complete-feeling film.

Definitely check it out. Its run time might be off-putting, but it's definitely worth it if you put off feeling trepidation over watching a movie based solely on how long it is.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas)
½

This was what I call a "family-friendly" Holocaust story. If there is such a twisted thing, this was definitely it.

But don't get me wrong. The movie was touching and heart-warming; but it is not for those war movie junkies who are into facts and realism in a film's depiction of the horrible events during WWII.

This movie tells the story of two boys on opposite sides of life. One Jewish, one Arian. They are both innocent, despite the world events that point to them being enemies.

It is this innocence that makes me label this movie "family-friendly." The director made sure to never get too graphic in depicting certain events or focusing too much on the atrocities that took place.

Instead, the focus is on Bruno and the friendship he forges with a little Jewish boy on the other side of a fence. One boy is free and the other is not. But their bond unbinds both of them and lets them love one another blindly.

Although this story is fictitious and out of the realm of possibility--it is told from the perspective of children (with all the trappings of innocence and naivety that comes with that.) So, just suspend your disbelief and enjoy this as a fable or an allegory. Something that is not true--but teaches a moral.

I.O.U.S.A.
I.O.U.S.A.(2008)
½

This documentary is very good at breaking things down for the layman who knows our economy is broken--but doesn't understand the specifics.

I knew that we were in a bad state, but never knew how bad things really were. This movie shows you a lot of numbers, figures, graphs and pie charts--as well as plenty of interview footage with some of the most prominent experts and people directly involved. It is shocking to see the staggering figures on the screen and learn that things are still not over.

Of course--it's not all doom and gloom. There is ultimately hope for a fix in the bleeding treasury. And, as the movie points out, it's up to the individual citizen to curb our own selfish spending and elect leader who will act.

Many may be put off by the presentation (which is more facts than it is entertainment) but this is a documentary that every American citizen should watch before going on shopping sprees at Neiman-Marcus.

Rachel Getting Married

Jonathan Demme is a master director who realizes what he must do to transport people to a certain time or place--or event. With this feature, he creates a brilliant home-movie atmosphere for the audience to immerse themselves in. A somewhat shoddy, shaky, documentary-style may not be for everybody (or those who suffer from motion sickness.) But, trust me, this is not Cloverfield or Blair Witch Project. It simply showcases the events that transpire as if you're watching an intimate home movie.

And the events that transpire are dramatic, indeed.

With a Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns home from a stint in rehab, the family (who's in the middle of planning Kym's older sister's wedding) isn't prepared to deal with the black sheep of the family during the white dove's wedding plans.

Hathaway gives her most impressive performance to date as a broken, fragile and selfish Kym. There is so much going on in this girl's head that you both pity her and wish she were dead.

Rosemarie DeWitt is brilliant as Rachel as she manages to both be supportive of her sister while feeling the sting of having attention taken away from her and her special day.

Debra Winger is also a great addiction--er, addition-- to the cast as the estranged mother who must reconnect with her family for a day while all of this drama is taking place.

Some of the scenes linger and meander into "drawn-out" territory (especially the toasts during a rehearsal dinner and the reception's dance sequences.) But, other than that, this movie is a great document of what the American family is like when in distress and a state of arrested development.

Do not miss Rachel Getting Married.

Happy-Go-Lucky
½

Sally Hawkins is a revelation in this film. Whether you appreciate people with endless pep or optimism, you'll definitely appreciate the performance that this great actress gives as a --you guessed it--happy-go-lucky woman who's bothered by nothing and by no one.

What works for me about this movie is that no matter how "bad" things get for her, Hawkin's character never once hides behind her bright view of the world to delude herself into a false reality. It's not so much that she hasn't matured or is avoiding to deal with things, as much as it is about her showing who she really is and how messed up everyone around can be--and expects her to be as well.

This is definitely a Best-Acrtress award contender. I find that even though it's a comedy, Hawkins gives a very impressive performance that can stand against the likes of Angelina Jolie or Anne Hathaway this year.

P.S. The driving instructor, Scott, will make you both laugh and be very afraid all at once.

City of Ember

Sure, the whole "underground civilization with none of the inhabitants knowing about the outside world" premise may be a little old by now. But this movie managed to endear me and intrigue me enough to recommend it. There are some amazing special effects, great acting from a bright young cast (including Atonement's Saoirse Ronan --doing a spot-on American accent) and an understated, yet deliciously enjoyable turn by Bill Murray; and a great overall concept of a city reliant on light to survive.

Also, the movie is geared more to the teen market. It's not raucous or flashy. It's very traditional in its art direction and makes for an aesthetically titillating experience. There are a few surprises in terms of creatures and cool gadgets seen in the flick.

The movie is definitely more substantial than a 3-D attraction like Journey to the Center of the Earth. But it, sadly, never manages to lift off much higher than that. It's caught somewhere between 'Journey' and 'The Golden Compass' (another movie that is beautiful and had great potential to be a hit franchise.) That still doesn't make it a train wreck.

Overall, very good time had. I just wish the film had been marketed better in the U.S. It definitely had the potential for being a hit amongst its demographic.

W.
W.(2008)
½

This movie is ultimately an unnecessary ode to the worst president of the United States. It never justifies its need to have been made; but it was better than what I was expecting.

This is mainly due to the brilliant cast and its dead-on interpretations of the real-life people they are playing. At the top of the list is Josh Brolin whom, at first, wouldn't seem like a good choice to play Bush. On the whole, he looks nothing like the President. But in this movie he manages to be convincing enough that by the end of the movie, you're doing double-takes to make sure it actually isn't the president.

Richard Dreyfuss is spot-on as Cheney and Thandie Newton is even better--if a bit like a characature--as Condoleeza Rice.

My two gripes about this movie were, one: the few instances where dialog from some of Bush's speeches (in which he sounds utterly moronic) are put into dialog that is out-of-context in the movie. It felt forced hearing him say his "fool me once" tirade at a lunch meeting when that's not where he originally said it. Another point that gets me was the overall production.

Considering that this film is directed by THE Oliver Stone, the project (like his previous turn in World Trade Center) felt pedestrian. It literally seemed too ordinary a film--like it could've been directed by a nobody-newcomer director. It had no visual flair or an ounce of controversy. This is, I think, attributed with the fact that Stone has, as of late, been a afflicted with a serious case of politeness and not wanting to offend anyone. In doing so, his latest films have suffered despite their potential for incendiary buzz.

Ping Pong Playa
½

It's the Chinese Napoleon Dynamite!!! Except this one trades in tether-ball for ping pong (or the more "politically-correct" term: table tennis.)

The movie was a lot more funny than Napoleon was at first viewing. This is the story of a dweeb loser who is Chinese but thinks he is black.

If you think you've seen this stereotype many times before, you're right. But never will you see it be so funny and refreshing. Not to mention, endearing.

There are tons of funny situations involving a fat kid, a duo of ambiguously gay ping pong rivals, and a tight pair of shorts. This is a great romp for anyone looking for a great laugh. Nothing serious here--just a helluva good time.

Ji jie hao (Assembly)

A brilliant movie coming from China. It's to the Chinese civil war what Saving Private Ryan was for World War II in terms of gritty cinematography, a story of heroism and perseverance as well as brilliant acting and scoring.

The movie is a class-act enterprise and you find yourself so enthralled by every minute of it. From beginning to end, the film is beautiful to watch and sumptuous in its design. The ambitious project pays off in more than just grandeur. The story at the core is one of utter redemption and a fight for more than land or a belief system. It's ultimately about the fight for what's right and for justice in the eyes of future generations.

Really a must-see.

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale

Christ--I thought this might be bad! But I was obviously wrong! It was far worse than "bad!"

Disaster Movie

A disaster, indeed. The only redeeming qualities in this movie were Nicole Parker as Giselle from Enchanted and Crista Flannigan as Juno.

If you must watch it, wait 'til the DVD.

Brideshead Revisited

This was a stand-out film in terms of production value. The story is all-too-familiar for those who are acquainted with the characters from the PBS series...but the lush production mounted and filmed is worth the trip to the cinema.

Much like last year's Atonement, Brideshead Revisited relies heavily on its countryside palacial scope of its setting. Sumptuous cinematography, costume design and lighting all make for a very beautiful picture.

On the acting side, all are respectable--but it's Emma Thompson who really stands out as the iron-fisted matron of Brideshead. Her disdain oozes with every back-handed compliment or shred of seemingly civil dialogue spoken by her character.

The story of unrequited love-lost is classic and plays out like a typical Merchant Ivory epic--although this technically isn't one.

Definitely worth seeing on the big screen. A solid period piece despite its sad attempt to market it as something more contemporary and along the lines of a cheesy sequel to Cruel Intentions. That it is, most definitely, not.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
½

Different locale, different gal, different morale!

It's just not the same without Egypt and Rachel Weisz. And, although the addition if the yetti is very welcome--if slightly over-the-top; at least it I can safely say that it could've been a lot worse. But I sure hope this is the end of series.

Swing Vote
Swing Vote(2008)

A better-than-expected political satire with true heart and genuine emotion attached.

It's really great to see Kevin Costner acting in roles that don't require any sort of grandiose scope or reach. It's nice to see him playing an everyman in every sense of the word.

In this one, he plays the drunken, party-boy-who-refused-to-grow-up part to the hilt. But he's got a daughter to worry about and he soon finds himself worrying about lots more things thanks to her and her mischief.

The issues that this film brings up are really resonant in America and its methods of electing officials. The circus that surrounds an election has a way of swaying public opinion in ways that this film points out very clearly--and tries to address from the perspective of a single, loser-of-a-voter.

Definitely check this out before the elections. Surely--and sadly-- not enough people will see it and it may even be out on DVD by then.

The Dark Knight

It's going to be so difficult to say things that haven't already been written about this movie. But here goes:

Heath Ledger steals the show in this brilliant second installment to the Batman franchise reboot. The performance given by Ledger is one for the ages and he truly defines the movie by creating one of the most menacing and haunting villains in a long, long time. I'd go as fas as saying he's the absolute best screen villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

His brooding persona seeps with disdain, anarchy and utter contempt for humanity and emotion--he really makes an indelible impression on your psyche.

I had a terrifying nightmare which included Ledger's Joker weeks ago--I can only imagine what kind of sickness my mind will concoct during my slumber hours now that I've seen the movie in its entirety.

Another show-stealer here (and a high recommendation for your maximum enjoyment) is the IMAX format. If you can see it in IMAX, DO IT!!!

The six sequences that were shot in TRUE IMAX format are absolutely breath-taking in their scope and magnitude. From the heart-pounding opening sequence in a bank to the blood-curdling climax on Gotham's streets, IMAX is The Dark Knight's new best friend. Forget his batmobile or his re-designed batsuit or his brand-new batbike. It's IMAX that is really Batman's newest and most-kickass gadget. The picture is beautiful, the action is insane and the bombastic surround-soundtrack will leave your guts in a posthumous state of vibration with every bullet shot and leap taken.

Speaking of posthumous (and things others have already written about) I'll have to add my vote with those who are predicting an Oscar nomination for Ledger. His work here is simply BRILLIANT (regardless of whether he's dead or not and regardless of whether this is a genre film or not.) His magnificent work deserves to be recognized.

As for the rest of the cast; it's also top-notch. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a welcome addition to the cast after a rather insipid and uninspired turn by Katie Holmes felt out of place in the last film. In this film, she brings a little more realism to the role of Rachel Dawes and rounds-out the character a little bit more instead of resorting to clichés and damsel-in-distress stereotypes.

Christian Bale is a fine example of stoicism and how to use a super-husky voice. It works okay and there's nothing really to say about Batman himself--other than he's up to his usual shenanigans in this new movie that, although named The Dark Knight, isn't really about him as much as it is about its villains.

Which leads me to Aaron Eckhart. I truly feel bad for the man who will be referred to as the "other" villain in Dark Knight. You'd think that after Ledger's sizable screen time and psychological torture on the audience there would no more room for another villain. But, as Harvey Dent, Eckhart is a great addition to the ensemble. And it will actually work to his benefit to be known as the "other" villain because it really goes with the duplicitous nature of the villain he becomes anyway. He tells the other side of the story (so to speak) and makes for an interesting relief when Ledger's mind-games become a little too cruel.

I'd also like to mention that I loved how they expanded Gary Oldman's role as Lietuenant Gordon. And his promotion to Commissioner was thought out in a very ingenious manner. Oldman really brings gravitas to a role that would be very one-dimension if played by a less-talented actor. It goes to show how perfect the casting of these films truly is.

Overall, this movie is amazing in all its aspects. Cinematography is the best I've seen in any action film since 300 and the acting is at the caliber of any arthouse drama. The action sequences are brilliantly choreographed and photographed. The soundtrack is underscored and very subtle.

I'd have to say that, along with WALL*E and The Visitor; The Dark Knight enters the trio of best films I've seen this year. Truly awe-inspiring.

Get Smart
Get Smart(2008)

Here's a movie "remake" that succeeds in updating on its predecessor's concept while remaining true to its original spirit. That's something that the makers of Bewitched or Charlie's Angels failed to do. This film, however, is fun, light, silly and sophisticated in many aspects.

It modernizes the idea of a bumbling fool who is part of an elite crop of agents who are meant to protect the public from eminent danger. The film does so in a manner so full of contemporary energy and vintage froth all at once. It never once compromises the integrity of the quirky 1960s series.

Much of that success is greatly attributed to film's superb casting--particularly that of Steve Carrell as Max Smart and Anne Hathaway as Agent 99.

These two are perfect for the roles of diametrically opposed (yet somehow seductively attracted) agents on a mission to save the world from impending doom.

The chemistry is definitely there. The script is amazingly fresh and excellently written. It exudes the old-school comedy of the original show while adapting the jokes to be relevant to modern-day audiences--sprinkling a few, innocuous pop culture references and dousing the frame with greatly composited shots; master effects and action sequences--as well as top-notch dialogue and side-splitting physical humor that is always "intelligent" and rarely gross.

Definitely the SMARTest mainstream comedy to come along since Borat.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

This movie is a super timely indictment on the steroid use that has become rampant in America. What makes an American hero? What makes a hero get to his/her position? Must you be strong? Can you be that way without abusing or cheating? And if everyone is cheating to get there, is it really cheating at all?

These are some of the questions posed and answered in this movie. I found it to be very a insightful and in-depth commentary on something we've all heard sound-bites of on the news. It's really an important film to see--no matter if you're an athlete or a politician or anybody at all with dreams of a better life. What will you do to get there and how will you deal with the consequences of your decisions and actions?

What I like about this film is that, on the surface, it's a movie about steroid use; but it quickly unveils the deeper metaphor that the urge to succeed will cause people to do almost anything in any aspect of life to get to the summit.

The documentary is also very good at showing both sides of the story: those who are against "enhancement" and those who are in favor of it. Since the director himself is caught in the middle of both worlds, it's only appropriate and fair that he tell both sides of the story.

The film itself is very entertaining. It plays out with a Michael Moore-esque affinity for humor, sarcasm and exposing the truth then slinging it in the faces of those caught backtracking in a lie or a ridiculous comment--rendering them speechless.

If you like documentaries that are entertaining and have an important message, definitely check this one out.

The Strangers
½

As far as scary movies go, there are differing opinions on what should be held as a standard of excellence. Of course this is subjective, but I think that The Strangers meets what I believe to be my own standard of excellence.

This movie excels in that it doesn't pander to the gore-junkies by fulfilling their bloodlust with relentless slashing and decapitations. It doesn't bombard your ears with an obnoxious score of strings and deep drums. It doesn't even have that many "jump" moments.

This film simply relies on the fact that this could happen to anyone and it can happen very matter-of-factly. Without warning; without reason; with no help in sight. It creates a very helpless situation which turns into a very hopeless one very quickly.

The masked "strangers" are creepy enough to be likened to their close horror-movie ancestors like Michael Myers . But it's when they speak (and they do) that you're really chilled to the bone and you start to think that this could actually happen to anyone.

Of course--don't go believing that this is really, truly a real story. It's not. It's only loosely based on events that happened much, much earlier in time. If that helps to ease your mind, then so be it. If not, then the movie will have succeeded in doing its job--scaring you to death.

Not the best I've seen--but better than most of the wrecks out there.

The Fall
The Fall(2006)

The is, by far, the best film I've seen this year so far. Everything from the production design to the script, acting and costumes is nothing short of breath-taking.

But, as beautiful as the film is to watch--which it is--little Catinca Untaru will steal your heart from the moment she first appears onscreen.

Tarsem does a brilliant job--as expected-- with this film (which was shot in 18 countries.) The scenery is beautiful; art direction and cinematography are as insanely picturesque as they were in his previous major release, The Cell.

However, unlike The Cell, which suffered from a painfully dark and sinister tone; The Fall is light and flowery. It's a fantasy as seen through the eyes of a child and a storyteller. The concept is simple, yet complex. The human mind and imagination is boundless and therein lies the complexity. Tarsem does the best he can to showcase just how far-fetched things can be if you only dare to think them up.

It's also a great morality tale on the duality of reality versus fantasy. Also, it goes to show how a simple daydream can have the power to heal your broken body and your broken spirit simultaneously.

Don't be discouraged by the lulls in continuity. The visuals should fill in the gaps wherever there may be a shortfall--no pun intended. Or maybe so.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
½

This film was well worth the wait--at least it was for me. Being a fan of the original series; the 19-year wait was a great way to anticipate a great fourth installment.

The way the story was "updated" was very clever and natural. Moving the story forward in the film the same amount of time as in real life was a no-brainer. And having the movie set in the 1950s lends itself to a fresh approach and new villains and complications.

Gone are the Nazis (replaced by the Soviets.) Gone is World War II (replaced by the Cold War.) Gone is the lore of Europe and its ancient relics (replaced by 1950s folklore of space and South America.)

Without giving too much away; all I can say is that the film feels very much a part of the series and doesn't rely to heavily on improved technology to make the film's effects seem out-of-place. It's a movie that runs seamlessly with the first three flicks.

Harrison Ford looks amazingly young for his age and so does the rest of the "returning" cast. Shia LeBeouf is a very welcome addition to the series' ensemble in that he brings charisma and humor to the films without overpowering Indy's character or without supplying too many annoyances.

Cate Blanchett is pitch-perfect as the villainess (an element sorely lacking in the first three films--the Nazi backstabber from 'Crusade' could hardly be considered a bona-fide villain.) Blanchett brings gravitas to her character without taking it too seriously. She is brilliant and malevolent--as it should be.

Overall, the story was great update. It treated the passage of time between the third and fourth film very well. It even parodied itself with inside jokes about Indy's age, etc. Yet it didn't feel too self-aware or self-conscious.

Go watch it! It's great fun and a cool summer, popcorn diversion.

La Zona
La Zona(2007)

This film was an excellent selection playing at this year's San Diego Latino Film Festival. I doubt if it will receive any sort of promotion or theatrical release in America, but it should.

This is the story of a blocked-off community in the heart of Mexico City. The gated neighborhood is called La Zona and it is a sole entity in the eyes of the city. The residents of this zone have made a pact with the city to be left alone and live in peace. They abide by their own rules and have their own committee which mimics a sort of small-scale government.

However, one night--a breach in security allows for three outsiders to intrude the zone and a manhunt is soon in place to find the men who pose a threat to the safety and security of their idealistic village.

The film is magnificent in its message and social commentary. The performances of every member of the cast were brilliant and brought such gravitas to a project that had potential based on its story; but really needed good actors to carry it through.

The film relies on world-events to make its point loud and clear. It evokes a plethora of emotions in the audience and makes for a really entertaining time--plus it brings a refreshing look at the way we see one another in the world--whether its people living across the street or across an ocean.

Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!

Watching this movie, during the opening credits, I wondered to myself: why didn't they make the first two Seuss adaptations --Grinch and Cat/Hat-- animated features?

The original material really lends itself to the medium of animation (naturally--they were illustrated books.) But in making them live-action movies, the first two adaptations were surprisingly life-less and devoid of any true emotions. They lacked what the original books were all about: heart.

Instead, the films were made to be actor's films--showing off the high-payed actors who were hired to be their over-the-top selves on screen.

But where Jim Carrey and Mike Myers failed in the live-action films, Horton Hears A Who triumphantly succeeds in.

This movie was so enjoyable and so fun to watch because you weren't concerned with seeing an actor playing a literary classic character. You were just enthralled by the colorful visuals, the incredible art palette painted by the gifted animators and being taken in by the story and its characters.

The movie (like the book) has a great message of empowerment and esteem. It relies on the story and character development instead of relying on over-the-top actors and hefty make-up sessions.

This is what all future Seuss adaptations should be like. A classic.

10,000 B.C.
10,000 B.C.(2008)

This film turned out to be a huge load of crap. I am never so adamantly against any movie I watch. I usually try to find the positive in everything. But this one had so little, that it'll take me strength to muster up a shortlist. Here it is:

There were good special effects (they should've been used more often and in longer sequences.) There was good cinematography and art direction. That's it.

The storyline was incredibly weak (mainly due to the fact that the film focused more on a tepid romance instead of man's survival against nature.) Also, the film featured too much of a conflict involving man against man (something that's been done in every other movie.) But in this movie, it should've been more about man's survival against the elements.

Other than that, the film was blandly Hollywood-ized and made into a two-hour pretty people fest. Pearly-white teeth; perfectly waxed eyebrows; professionally-styled dreadlocks...it was all a little to distracting.

I'm usually willing to suspend my disbelief; but that was impossible to do with this film; which was so adamant about making the film realistic in any respect.

College Road Trip

This movie was light and funny. Plus it had a great message and showcased a black family in a light that is inspiring and doesn't rely on the wicked stereotypes that make a black comedy "successful" a la Big Momma's House, etc.

The film relies heavily on slapstick humor and physical gags--but that is what this movie should be. It works for what it's worth and makes for a good 90 minute romp and diversion.

The Counterfeiters
½

This movie is on par with the likes of Schindler's List or Sophie's Choice in terms of Holocaust awareness and the profound nature of its message. However, where this film differs is in its methods to bring an aging theme such new life.

This films tells the story of a group of concentration camp prisoners rallied by the Nazis to work for the German government. Their skills as printers, graphic designers, paper specialists, etc. have made these men indispensable to the Nazis (at least for a short time.)

Where the conflict lies is when an idealist Jew refuses to cooperate and threatens to undermine the entire operation--thus, putting all his partners' lives at risk.

The movie is quite entertaining and grazes on light-heartedness despite its heavy and bogging subject matter. The movie could've dragged and been utterly depressing; but the script chooses to focus more on dark humor and handles the more heavy stuff with brilliance and taste.

This film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film at this year's ceremony (2008.) It is deservedly rewarded and I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to see it. I know many never will get to.

Cidade dos Homens (City of Men)
½

City of Men (the sequel to City of God) manages to be a great deal better than its predecessor. This movie, like the previous, continues the theme of showing the hard life that kids have growing up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. But where this films surpasses the first is in its portrayal of a more human characters.

In City of God, the boys were ruthless, soulless killers. In City of Men, although still ruthless, cold-blooded killers, they are portrayed with a little bit more humanity. They are more well-rounded characters with a backstory that makes them relatable and, in some ways, worthy of sympathy.

Usually, I hate movies that are tinged with such violent tones and themes, but this managed to keep me hooked and caring for the characters whose lives I was watching unfold before me. The most poignant thing about it was knowing that, although fictional in plot, the stories seen onscreen must certainly happen in real life--and that makes the film transcend gratuitous violence status.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
½

I love anything having to do or taking place in the Art Deco period. The architecture, the decor, the music, the way-of-life; the forms of speech and the general opulence of the era. Therefore, my loving this film might be based solely on that aesthetic principle.

This film certainly has all of those pretty things to look at and listen to; but it also is anchored by a sweet story of success and perseverance; as well as by two brilliant actresses in Frances McDormand and Amy Adams.

Adams is back in her usually-plucky demeanor. An American actress living in London at the expense of the men her beauty has racked-up for her. Her effervescence on-screen is unrivaled by any other currently relevant actress in this type of role. She just glows and keeps you captivated by her bubbly speeches and her distorted view of reality.

McDormand, on the other hand, delivers a heartfelt performance as down-on-her-luck Miss Pettigrew (a governess) who's out to become something more in pre-war England.

Like Adams' character, Miss Pettigrew wants people to play by her rules instead of having it be the other way around. McDormand's subtle assertiveness compliments Adams' ditzy out-of-touch persona and makes the film a balanced piece in which the supporting characters can really shine.

There is plenty to be enjoyed in this movie; including a pleasant rags-to-riches story that never gets old; no matter how many times or in how many ways it's told. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day will have you living (and laughing) for a good 90 minutes of your night.

Never Back Down
½

This movie exceeded my very low expectations in every aspect. Going in, I was dreading (but secretly looking forward to) this movie being nothing more than a hot meat showcase. And in that regard, it was.

But after the veneer of showing off hot guys and their ripped abs, the movie turned out to be not-so bad overall. It had a decent script that was low on the cheesy made-up teen colloquialisms and slang and actually delivered on a level deeper than kids dying for prom night to arrive.

Sure, it's a pretty shallow movie as a whole, but the acting was pretty good and the trite dialogue was kept to a minimum. Where the good stuff came in was with the more adult performances; cemented by Djimon Hounsou as a broken-spirited leader and Sean Faris' interacting with his mother. Those scenes were really deep, considering how superficial the film was.

The fight sequences themselves were amazingly choreographed and filmed. The use of slow motion and digital effects added a slickness to the film and made it pretty interesting to watch once the throbbing pecs and sweaty thighs got old.

But then again--those things never get old for me.

Penelope
Penelope(2006)

This is one of those movies that is often referred to as "cute." The interesting thing about that is that this movie is actually worthy of that label. It IS cute. Genuinely cute.

After being shelved for over two years, the fairy tale of the snouty beauty arrives and is the most endearing film of the year so far.

Christina Ricci is pitch-perfect as the sullen girl who is forced to live cursed and tucked away behind a wall. Her potential admirers are brought in conveyor-belt style to meet her and are as promptly compelled to jam out of sight--at the sight of Penelope.

Catherine O'Hara is hilarious as the detached, hyper-emotive mother who claims to want the best for her daughter--but couldn't care less about her.

James McAvoy plays a decent leading man and Reese Witherspoon plays an awkward background player.

Despite its shortcomings, Penelope succeeds at delivering an unpdated fairytale without overdoses of schmatlz or drippy sentimentality.

Vantage Point
½

Of course a movie such as this one is going to ripe for dissection and plot-hole finding; but you can't watch this movie with the intention to knock it down on that basis. It's a movie that is completely reliant on the hope that the audience will suspend their disbelief for the entire run and not try to figure out how this is possible and that is not possible.

The film opens with a sequence of life-changing events that is seen through one perspective and, throughout the film, that same sequence is revisited using different perspectives.

This was made pretty obvious by the way the movie was marketed...but beneath that gimmick lies a pretty good story that keeps you guessing until the very end.

The performances are as good as they can be for a movie of this genre-bending format. There's action, intrigue and, inherently, politcal and social commentaries. But the movie never takes itself too seriously despite its subject matter.

Its main purpose is to be mindless entertainment on the grand scale--complete with a killer car chase sequence that rips and roars through the streets of Spain.

Again, it's not high-drama or even a fantastic thriller--but it's good enough and the formula will have you hooked until the very end--after the initial annoyance of re-tracing has subsided.

Caramel
Caramel(2008)
½

This film paints a beautiful picture of life for women in Lebanon. The movie is devoid of bombs, terrorists, military and any of the usual suspects in movies that take place in countries such as Lebanon.

Instead, the film explores the trials and tribulations of five women who are connected by the work they share in a beauty salon. The bond they've created is a net of trust they can be assured of when it comes to confiding in one another.

Whether it be troubles with men; troubles with customers; troubles with dealing with aging; or anything else--these women are strong characters that exude a feminist aura that is all-but absent from the portrait the American media is willing to present us with.

This movie is a small, foreign-language gem that deals with women; is directed by a woman; but is no way a chick flick. It showcases the way of life in a country that I knew nothing about except for what I see in the news--and it's beautiful to see life being lived to the fullest by the inhabitants of a region with such a bad reputation.

In Bruges
In Bruges(2008)

This movie is one of the funniest, blackest comedies I've seen in a long time. Some may question the acting abilities of Colin Farrell; but in this flick, he's exceptionally well-cast as a cynically bored hitman sent to Bruges to wait-out his next assignment.

Along with him comes his best pal and partner in crime (played by Brendan Gleeson.) Together, they explore the sights of the little-known Belgian city and Gleeson's character tries to cheer Farrell's character up despite his pessimistic approach to being in a city where there's nothing to do except be a tourist.

Soon, the assignment is delivered by head hitman in suburban father disguise (played by Ralph Fiennes.) But the assignment is delivered to Gleeson's character instead and this causes a rift (so to speak) between the two pals.

The humor is very dark and biting. The acting is top-notch and the setting is really a sight to see (if you like Medieval European cities.) It's a movie that has all the elements of good entertainment: humor, suspense, a great script and an actual plot that doesn't pander to or belittle the audience and still manages to entertain and be worthy of being recommended. Highly!

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep
½

On the surface, The Water Horse may seem like trite, sentimental Disney-like crap along the lines of Free Willy or Homeward Bound. But this movie really surprised me with its depth and utter charm and heart without the schmaltz of a lesser film.

I think the trick is that this film is, not only set, but is produced in Europe. They somehow have an affinity for making superior films where American cinema would opt for formula and safe gimmicks.

Sure, this movie has its share of gag-inducing "boy-meets-creature-and-become-inseperable" moments; but the film doesn't dwell on the emotion too much.

The film is boued by solid performances by Emily Watson as a heartbroken widow; Ben Chaplin as a war hero; and David Morrissey as a domineering general whose heart is ultimately in the right place. Alex Etel is also great as the young boy whose father-figure complex is a tough subject for such a young actor to take on. His subtlety during flashback scenes is amazing and he captures the longing a child might feel for a long-lost parent.

But the star in this sweet creature-feature is the water horse himself. Named Crusoe, his development is amazing to watch (from egg-hatched, to cute mongrel, to regal king of his domain in the loch.

The CGI is pretty good for a movie with this small a budget. The interaction between young Angus (Etel) and Crusoe is seamless and, although not perfect, is good enough to create the illusion and possibly make you believe that this story could have possibly taken place in our reality.

There is a pretty brilliant subplot that involves impending attack from Nazi forces via submarines. This storyline really lends itself to the plot of the movie beautifully and, without it, the movie would drag and have nowhere to go but out to sea.

All in all, the film was pretty enjoyable. It has its share of touching, "aww" moments mixed with great visuals, a solid period piece tone and rock-solid acting.

Ultimately, the film's lesson is that of being happy with what you've got and stop longing for what you've lost. There is always beauty in pain and something precious and new always hatches from the shell of something that's been lost forever. [10JAN08]

There Will Be Blood

This movie was really perfect in every way. I'm a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan and his direction of this film is the best I've seen from him. Daniel Day-Lewis is the perfect actor for the role of the ball-busting oil tycoon who will stop at nothing (and I do mean NOTHING) to get what he wants.

However, the real breakout of this film is Paul Dano. His turn as an evangelical preacher in rural California is mesmorizing (almost as much as Day-Lewis' portrayal.)

These are two men who are basically propagating a different version of the same thing. To Dano's character--Eli--God is the almighty one we've come to know. To Day-Lewis' character--Plainview--God is oil. This is his religion and both are ambitious enough to go to extreme lengths to spread the word of their respective gospels to as many people as possible. Eli preaches to a traditional congregation of people in search for their souls. Plainview preaches to a congregation of villagers and farmers who must be convinced that drilling their land will be the best for their families and communities. Neither man's task is easy. Whether it be converting sinners' souls or skeptic minds--they'll do whatever it takes to add another notch on their proverbial belts.

The film's score is chilling and reminiscent of a Kubrick film. The descent into madness of both these men is captured purely and unflinchingly in Anderson's brilliant script (based on Upton Sinclair's "Oil!")

This movie has become one of my favorites of the last year and I hope it receives the accolades it deserves. More importantly, I hope that it receives the publicity it deserves because people should see this movie. People who love film and who love character pieces and showcases should not miss this epic masterpiece. [07JAN08]

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

This is a classic film that hardly anybody knows about (like most classic films nowadays.)

Gregory Peck stars as a family man whose luck is down despite having a loveley wife and three incredibly loving children. Their middle-class lifestyle is becoming stifling in the years following WWII, and his wife's pressure for having "more" is making him eager for a change.

What follows is a series of hurdles that Gregory must pass in order to become fulfilled. He begins work as a public relations executive for a New York television network. His ideas a fresh and innovative and catch the attention of the station's owner and head honcho--a merciless, yet somehow kind-hearted--Fredric March.

Peck ideals are put to the test as he must soon choose between his opportunities for advancement at work and his opportunities for a normal life at home.

Thrown in here is a subplot of Peck's tortured past as a WWII vet. His night of passion with an Italian beauty and the resulting child that would later come to haunt him and his marriage. His choices aren't easy ones, but this movie has so much heart and style that it makes everything seem so easy compared to problems we deal with today.

Definitely watch this if you're a Peck fan. And it's worthy of your time if you like classic movies in general.

The Orphanage

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The cinematography was excellent and the performances by its lead actors were great; particularly that of its leading lady, Belen Rueda. She was pitch-perfect as the vulnerable mother whose past is directly and hauntingly connected to the place where she's presently setting up her own family.

Turns out: their new house is the orphanage in which she grew up. Her husband and young son seem to be happy in the new home, but somehow she--Laura--seems to be coming undone at the seems. Her digression into mental oblivion continues as strange happenings in the house ultimately lead to the disappearance of her own boy.

From this moment on, the search for her son is on and time is running out. But first she must reconcile with her past and the demons that haunt her memory.

Guillermo Del Toro (of Pan's Labyrinth fame) is behind the helm as a producer; but it's almost as if he'd directed the film himself. The movie is rich with fine details in art direction and cinematography that directly parallel literary elements that exist in the scrip and the film's storyline.

The opening credits sequence is pretty creative and innovative. The film's pacing is perfect. Suspense is built-up through exposition and glimpses of other-worldly beings (including a chilling boy with a sack-mask.) The movie's climax is prefaced by a spine-tingling sequence involving a game of red light/ green light.

Ultimately, despite its moments of "gore" and utter and genuine horror, the film has a surprisingly uplifting, if not happy, ending. I think any fan of supernatural thrillers will be pleased to the maximum. Definitely worth seeing as it will be a contender for Best Foreign Film at this year's Academy Awards. [03JAN08]

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

This movie was excellent. Everything about it drips and oozes a masterwork that could only be assembled by the likes of Tim Burton.

With the help of the quintessential Burton actor, Johnny Depp and the effervescent, plucky presence of Ms. Burton herself (Helena Bonham Carter), this movie delivers all the goods you'd come to expect.

The story of the murderous barber set out for revenge is one that I found quite intriguing, despite it's lack of appeal on paper. The songs were excellently written and composed (although you won't find soaring, bringing-down-the-house numbers like in Chicago or Dreamgirls.)

The art direction, cinematography, costumes and makeup were one-of-a-kind to Burton's familiar style. A fantasy sequence where Carter's character daydreams about a perfect life is merit for Burton to win the Best Director Oscar in itself. The movie is photographed beautifully and, although the canvas on which it paints is a bleek and stonewashed one, the picture it paints is a vivid and sumptuous masterpiece that is eager to delight and tickle just about anyone's fancy.

Some segments of the film are explicit in their depiction of murder and gore. But that shouldn't stop anyone from seeing the movie. The acting, singing and direction should make up for any squeem-inducing moments. The visual palette should delight most. The songs should appease the most ardent musical lover. The story should satisfy most pundits who worry about plot and character arcs.

And Johnny Depp continues to deliver performances to be remembered. He continues to prove that he is a chamillion and can take on any part and excel at it.

This film should definitely not be missed. Also, Sacha Baron Cohen (of Borat fame) is a stand-out in a supporting role as Pirelli the barber. He is a riot and a perfect choice for the role.

The Great Debaters
½

I can definitely see why this film is one of the seven included in the Golden Globes' Best Picture category this year. It's got all the winning ingredients: a great cast, a great story, script and director. But along with those ingredients comes a formula.

In this case, that formula is taking a group of oppressed and enlightening them through education and inspiring the audience through this once-oppressed group's triumph over adversity.

Denzel Washington does an amazing job both on and off-camera. His skill as a filmmaker is just as good as his skill as an actor--and this movie is very much an actor's movie. It caters to the cast delving into their performance and creating a powerful emotion bond with the audience through their character and their character's troubles.

This film works well as a period piece of one of the darkest times in American history (for Whites it was the Depression--for Blacks, it was the Depression AND being Blacks.)

The themes of segregation, racism, philosophy, enlightenment and civil disobedience permeate throughout and leave you feeling good when the outcome is revealed. It's essentially a feel-good movie (but one that tends to delve into sentimentality and preachiness a bit too often for effect.)

The film will likely pick-up some Oscar nominations, but it is unlikely to win any BIG awards due to the films innocent and naive approach to such hefty subjects. In short, the film feels ever-so-slightly more substantial than, say, Remember the Titans. Both great movies in their own right...but just not GREAT enough. Therefore, I leave half a star to attest for the films shortcomings (which are few and far between, but present nonetheless.)

Youth Without Youth

As far as existential, deeply profound and artistic films go--this one's got it all! I'll admit that Coppola's first film in 10 years is more like a David Lynch film--only in how out-of-reach it will be for most viewers; how inaccessible it is and how hard to understand it seems to be. In short, the film will seem like pretentious, high-brow, arthouse crap to most people who aren't in the mood for something that requires more thinking than watching a Will Ferrell movie.

The story of a man whose life (present and future) is changed by a sudden and striking event, leaves more questions than answers--but then again, film is supposed to that. There are soooo many themes running throughout this film (life, death, war, dream-states, time-travel, metaphoric transgression and the duality of man with his conscience--among others.)

This film is truly a genre-bending romp and follows no preordained Hollywood formula (from its relatively unknown cast to its allegorical cinematography and symbolic art direction) the movie reveals one riddle after another and feeds us only scraps of truth (without truth) and fragments of answers (without answers.)

I heard a woman after our screening complain that Coppola went from The Godfather--to this! The movie was obviously not meant for her. This movie is more along the lines of a Lynch, Aronofsky, or a Fellini film--highly cerebral and requiring a great amount from the audience.

Though the slow pace and confusing storylines may make the movie seem like it's robbed some of you of your own youth, give this a chance if you like to be challenged at the megaplex. Although, this movie--you'll be lucky to find playing anywhere at all.

If you're interested in seeing the film, get to the theater as quickly as possible because this movie is likely to be a complete failure at the box office and will not play very long--if at all.

That being said, I loved the film for myself. I don't know how much I could recommend it to others, but selfishly, the movie was made for someone like me. I like to think and re-think meaning and purpose of a film instead of simply sitting in a theater waiting to be "entertained." I like to learn and knowledge is something that this film provides in heaps and loads.

There is an abundance of intellectual wealth that somoene could gain from experiencing this film. Even though I couldn't recommend the film itself (despite my enjoyment of it) I am always eager to recommend a new, unique and challenging experience for moviegoers like myself. If the proverbial shoe fits...

I Am Legend
I Am Legend(2007)

Comparisons between Tom Hanks and Will Smith might surface now that Smith has a vehicle movie to carry on his own two shoulders. The difference, and improvement, between the two is that Smith's movie is pure entertainment, whereas Hanks' Cast Away was an over-the-top plea for another Academy Award.

I Am Legend starts off incredibly strong and only gets better as the film progresses.
As a fan of the last remake of the novel "The Omega Man" I thought that "Legend" took the best parts of that movie and included some new tricks to make it an out-an-out heart-pounder that does not relent from the moment it starts.

The initial shots of Smith cruising through a deserted NYC are visually striking in their technical superbness and excellent execution. Time Square turned into a wasteland where nature has taken the asphalt jungle and made it a jungle of conventional sorts--where lions roam to hunt and prey on deer! It's incredibly awe-inspiring that such a cliché situation can be executed so beautifully with the use of computer graphics and a little imagination.

And when it comes to computer graphics, I must commend the bringing to life of the monsters (or hyper-human zombies) that are left over from the apocalyptic mutation of cancer's cure. These animals have lost all semblance to human behavior and nature has taken them back as well. Six times stronger than Smith would ever dream of being, these freaks of nature climb walls, jump a dozen yards at a time, have fangs the size of Jupiter and don't care to hear about Smith's cure for their boo-boo.

At times the creatures seem a little too perfect in their computer-generated prowess. But it goes without saying that despite their moving too fast and too precisely through the streets and through the buildings, they still strike an incredible amount of fear into anyone wondering how they can be stopped.

Ultimately, the movie (like its preceding source material) turns into an existential commentary about the God's presence (or absence) and about ultimate sacrifices.

Religious symbolism notwithstanding, the movie works well as a thriller; a horror film; a zombie genre flick; an action pic with lots of cool sequences and choreography and a star showcase for one of today's most versatile and talented actors--Mr. Smith.

P.S. I Love You
½

As far as romantic comedies go, this one was a very, very good one. It has an amazing cast in Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Kathy Bates and the supporting cast of Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon and Harry Connick Jr.

The comedy aspect makes for a very droll sitcom-like atmosphere that's shrill, fluffy and a good change of pace for the rather serious material the film deals with.

Loss is a major theme of the movie and learning to let go of something is a goal that Swank's character is forced to do; but not without a little pre-planned fun.

The tale tends to go in circles at some points (when you wish Swank's Holly would just get over it and move on already.) But a great subplot with Connick Jr. makes for an interesting (and ultimately satisfying) happy ending for our Holly. And not happy in the way you'd think.

The movie, although somewhat redundant at times, moves along rather briskly and effortlessly from one time period to another and back again.

There are great performances by Swank, Butler and Bates. And Kudrow is a hoot as a macho-man in a woman's body.

In a season filled with stuffy, over-the-top Awards movies, it's nice to take a break and see a movie that, although dealing with serious themes, doesn't take itself too seriously. It doesn't show shame for dabbling in sentimentality or the occasional cliché now and again.

If you're a fan of Swank, the hunky Butler, or romance, laughter and tears--see this movie.

P.S.
As a side note, Nellie McKay (a great singer-songwriter of the cabaret persuasion) makes her film debut in this as Swank's younger sister. She's so luminescent and her every scene drips with a spritely effeversence that makes me tingle. And she sings the title song on the soundtrack.

Atonement
Atonement(2007)

Atonement is a rich, visually-striking, masterpiece period piece. It brings the best of films in the style of Merchant Ivory: romance, jealousy, deceit, an epic time scale and unrequited, impossible love.

Keira Knightley and James McAvoy command the screen with their performances as Cecilia and Robbie; star-crossed lovers who, despite sharing an unorthodox affection for one another, are giving in to their feelings with no regard to convention or status of class.

However, their love affair comes across an impetuous and immature snag--Cecilia's sister Bioney. The 13-year old girl with a mad crush on her sister's admirer commits a grave error in judgement and makes for a chain of events that unfold in the course of a day and change the lives of these three characters forever.

An epic journey for reunion begins without notice and love lost becomes love longed-for once again. Physical seperation and distance of the two lovers creates a rift and familial seperation between the two sisters.

World War II commences and those two torn hearts become even more distant; but their longing to find one another always exists and remains as strong as the night when Robbie was taken away--when Cecilia made him vow to "come back to her."

The dramatic and woeful circumstances that ensue leave you feeling as heartbroken as Cecilia and Robbie and as full of remorse as Bioney--as if you'd committed her crime along with her.

And in a sense, you have. The director should be commended by his stylistic approach to letting you see the events as they transpired from Bioney's confused and slanted perspective; as well as from a standard cinematic point of view. It's not rearly as repetitious as you'd imagine to see scenes repeat themselves. Since they're told from different sides, they are different scenes entirely and it makes you understand how clouded a young girl's mind can become when faced with such alien subjects.

The cinematography and art direction are absolutely lush and make you feel like a criminal every time you look away. And you won't be looking away at your watch either, because, despite its lengthy running time, the movie is so engrossing and so well-written and well-paced, that you don't even notice you've been involved in these people's lives for so long.

This movie DOES require you to make an investment of your time, your imagination and your heart so as to be able to feel what everyone on screen is feeling.

Expect this film to pick-up a slew of Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. These would include Adapted Screenplay, Score (for a magnificently-themed score that touches on the fact that this is a story that is being told through the writing--typewriting-- of a woman riddled with guilt;) and Best Picture--as well as Best Actress for Knightley and Best Director for Joe Wright.

Vanessa Redgrave also makes an impressive turn as an aged and still-remorseful Bioney. Her regret will never be quelled and her atonement is all she has to offer those whom she hurt and whose lives she changed forever.

Starting Out in the Evening

This movie has everything that I love in a movie: an air-tight, engaging and excellently-written script; cream-of-the crop actors (talent-wise, not tabloid-wise) who really grip you with their intensity and utter devotion to the characters they are playing; and a director who really knows what the film they're making is all about and what it should mean to the people who are watching it.

Lauren Amborse (one of my favorites--of Six Feet Under fame) is a true revelation as an ambitious grad-student who is completely enamored with the world of literature and its escapist qualities. She is so in love with words that she is also in love with the man responsible for writing some of her favorite "works of art."

This man would be Anthony Langella's character (and out-of-touch; hiding in the darkness, forgotten writer who is working on his latest (and presumably his last) great novel. Still, something is keeping him from completing his work of art (10 years in the making) and he's not sure why he's unable to just hammer it out and finish it. This is when Ambrose's character comes in and "shakes things up" for an old writer who has little chance at ever being published again and therefore, being forgotten for all time with no legacy to leave behind.

Lili Taylor is outstanding as the writer's daughter. Her subplot storyline of feeling neglected by the men in her life (her father included) is heart-breaking and tender as well. It really shows you that this film is really a character showcase and it allows its actors to really sink their teeth and completely embody the characters they portray.

There is so much hurt and joy and learning that words can cause and there is a way of using words to shield ourselves from the things we want protection from. But ultimately, the truth about the way we work and why we do the things we do comes to light and slaps some sense into us.

We need words to slap us into believing in ourselves again. We need words to know how we truly feel about one another. We need words to live. We needs words to survive in a world where words are not spoken in order to spare someone's feelings or to strip someone from feeling anything altogether. Words give us our dignity--and when, for example, a writer runs out of words, sometims what's needed is somone to give that person the will (no matter how late in life; no matter how late in the evening of your existence) to speak words once more.

Alvin and the Chipmunks

When I first saw the poster for this film (with hooded-out Chipmunks--wearing hoodies and looking like they're from the hood--I thought to myself: "Oh, no! The Chipmunks have gone ghetto!)

Fortunately, I decided to watch the movie anyway (despite Jason Lee's ugly close-up mug on the poster--which was removed for subsequent poster releases.)

It wasn't what I expected at all. The films gets off to an endearing start and makes you pine for the days of 1980s cartoons. The singing (in signature Chipmunk, high-pitched fashion) reminds you that the Chipmunks will live on forever--as long as there are voice modulators and children to drag their parents to the theaters or to the TV set.

That said, the movie IS quite infantile in its approach. It really doesn't have the asides and inside-jokes that are meant for adults. The movie caters to children and children alone--and it may strike a chord with those big children who may never have grown up (or completely detached from their childhood cartoon memories--from the 60s.)

Still, the movie works as an "aww shucks" piece that is completely cute and heart-warming in that childlike-reminiscent sense of the word.

About the ghetto approach (for some reason the producers must think that urban-gear makes the movie more modern.) This was a mistake in marketing but it works well in the film because it's part of the storyline about these rodents selling out to the commercialized music business world we live in today. They start singing about wanting a Hoola-Hoop and end up singing about having it made with an Escalade.

However, they learn their lesson and revert to their innocent selves by the film's end--and all kids learn a valuable lesson in the wake of all this Chipmunk madness.

Cute and cuddly, indeed.

The Golden Compass

This movie was so enjoyable (and such a pleasant surprise) that I've gone out and bought the book and am now enthralled with the reading it.) It's rare for me to give in to such commercialized co-opping. But I realize how the book will fill in the gaps of an already kick-ass movie.

Nicole Kidman looks radiant and amazingly awe-inspiring in this adaptaion. Her beauty should not be taken for virtue and her kind face should be carefully examined to get to a deeper, darker secret within her.

This is only one part of a dense and complex storyline that comes encrusted with elaborate mythology about alternate universes; out-of-this-world interpretations about sin, murder, conscience, the sould and the human spirit; as well as amazing visuals that dazzle and delight at every turn.

One stand-out sequence in this top-notch effects film is when two goliath polar rulers go at it for ultimate domination of their kingdom. Enough said about that.

The movie dwells on it's title a bit too much (taking too much time--too often--to focus on what our protagoist can see in the Golden Compass itself.) But other than that, it's really a knock-out film that is superficially geared toward children; but deals with incredibly adult themes and situations.

The fact that the original novel was written by an avowed Atheist should have absolutely nothing to do with your enjoyment of this film. Plenty of Jewish-themed films have been made by Jews (Schindler's List); plenty of Christian-films have been made by Christians (Passion of the Christ); and still, those movies have been enjoyed by plenty more people than those for which the film was made and targeted too.

Likewise, whether you're religious or anti-religion (and whether you want to read that antagonism of ideals into this film) it should not matter. The films stands on it's own due to a great story, awesome special effects and a truly original take on the fantasy genre. Definitely worth seeing--for all the reasons you may have heard around the watercooler--whether good reasons or otherwise.

I'm Not There

I'll say that this movie was excellent, despite my unwillingness to enjoy it. I've never really been a Bob Dylan fan (partly due to the fact that I've found him to be "before my time.") But I've always found his music inaccessable and unrelating to my own experiences.

But all that aside, the movie turned out to be a great experience and I found my self tapping my foot through some of the musical numbers and really enjoying most of the performances.

Cate Blanchett is the stand-out among a cast of 7 or 8 who play different versions of Mr. Dylan. Richard Gere is the worst version (as a mythological cowboy--whose storyline seems somehow amiss and out-of-place in the otherwise fantastic plot.)

The director, Todd Haynes, takes extraordinary liberties with the material and creates a world full of surrealism and fancy. There's lots to digest and process in terms of symbolism, metaphors and pop-cultural refrences--particularly if you're not familiar with the era in which Dylan arrived at and enjoyed his success.

Ultimately, the story turns out to be one that most people can relate to (even if that's not always the case with Bob's music.) That is, that no matter how much you think you know yourself (or don't care to know yourself) there is always someone out there who has a perception of you that you must always live up to (whether you know it or not.) And you run the risk of losing it all (reputation, money, fame) if you fail to acknowledge that your image is being created for you--in the mind of those who look up to you; and your life is being written for you-- by those who most care for you.

Other stand-outs include Heathe Ledger as a younger Dylan and Michelle Williams as a Warhol-reminiscent shop girl who's out to please and tease Mr. Dylan. It's Blanchett, however, who will garner most of the attention for a performance given.

In the end, this movie creates a darker cloud around the mystery that is Bob Dylan. You should not watch this movie if you want a biography. The myth of Dylan deepens as you "find out more about him." If that doesn't make any sense, then that's what the movie felt like. Still, it was amazing to know that Dylan approved this (his only approval of a "bio-pic.) And with good reason. It stands to show that Dylan doesn't want you to know how he really works--and even though there's 8 version of him on the screen--he's still really nowhere to be found in any of them.

Reservation Road

This movie was so well-done. Not like a steak, but like a movie that satisfies like one. It was filled with suspense, great acting and a great script that highlighted a dilema that anybody could easily find themselves in.

Imagine having to live with the guilt of committing a crime and never facing the charge. Never exposing yourself for fear of destroying your life. What runs through your mind?

Imagine being on the receiving end and losing something that's irreplaceable as well as losing faith in the people around you who are supposed to help. What do you do? Do you take the law into your own hands? Do you forgive and forget?

These are a few of the points this movie touches upon--as well as the way people deal with guilt and with grief. A life-changing event can really put your priorities in line--even though it may already be too late for that. It helps you re-examine yourself and where you stand in life.

Overall, the movie had outstanding performances by Mark Ruffalo and Joaquin Phoenix. Both of them exude their emotions with minimal effort and really make you sympathize with both their characters.

Jennifer Connelly does a fine job playing a supportive, dutiful supporting character that carries both gravitas and subtle tenderness--even when your heart is breaking for her during her outburts of raw guilt and regret.

Reservation Road deserves your attention not only because it is a great movie with great performances, but because it works well on many levels. It works as a thriller. It works as a drama. It works as a social commentary. It works well as a showcase for acting and lends itself to great dialogue and screenwriting. I'd also be a fool if I failed to mention that the movie delivers a remarkable and a surprisingly "edge-of-your-seat" kind of climax.

Definitely check it out.

Charlie Bartlett

I can honestly say this is my favorite movie of 2007 (so far.) It's a great story of a boy who, essentially, is in search of validation and fitting-in.

The premise may seem all-too-familiar at first, but after the initial Rushmore similarities during the prologue are presented, they're also dissolved. The movie immediately turns into something entirely different and, may I dare say: original.

The need for social acceptance is the quinessential theme of this film; with Bartlett (Yelchin) and Principal Gardner (Downey, Jr.)--two diametrically opposite characters--seeking the same thing! This proves the films universal appeal. It's really a dark statement on the state of the sheep in the meadow.

There's something completely sobering about seeing kids getting doped up in order to fit in. But that's sort of how our society works nowadays.

This movie has it all: a great script; funny and clever dialogue and comedy; poignant and tender moments of romance between Bartlett and his girlfriend Susan; as well as understanted moments of subtle dramatic tides between Bartlett and his eccentric mother (Hope Davis.)

Expect this movie to pluck some Oscar nominations--particularly in the screenplay category.

But don't be surprised if the title character merits its actor, Anton Yelchin, a nomination for Best Actor as well. It's a long-shot; but it would definitely be a deserved accolade of attention and popularity...which is all Charlie Bartlett would ever want anyway!

Hairspray
Hairspray(2007)

Now, I've never seen the original John Waters film or the Broadway musical on which this third adaptation is based; but I will say that I feel fortunate to have been left-out.

I enjoyed this movie so thoroughly that I can't imagine myself enjoying any more if I HAD seen the original. Maybe I liked it so much BECAUSE of my lack of a reference point.

Needless to say, the movie was awesome. The music and lyrics were fantastic and brought so much fun and effervescence to the screen that you just wanted to jump right in and start shimmying and shaking your fat-ass. Excuse me! MY fat-ass!

It's so great to see Michelle Pfeiffer back on the big screen and looking so beautiful--and singing again.

Queen Latifah and Christopher Walken deliver some poignant performances and add humor and heart to an already sweet story.

The supporting cast of youngsters, including Amanda Bynes and Zac Efron, is all well-cast and well-suited for this sugary confection of a film.

Even hunky James Marsden seems to fit right in and consumes every moment of screen-time he has with his boyish charm and squeeky-clean delivery of every line and musical note.

John Travolta as a woman wasn't nearly as annoying or distracting as I thought it would be. His transformation is truly incredible and he embodies the character of Edna whole-heartedly. And that's a big body to embody.

But the real strength of this film (regardless of whose picture is bigger on the poster) is newcomer Nikki Blonsky. Her Tracy Turnblad turns the blandest moment into a firecracker that pops and dazzles. You can't stop rooting for her from the very beginning and her charming portrayal of the ultimate "loser" is endearing and even inspiring.

Granted, this movie is a complete fantasy and, in turn, the themes of racism and discrimination are presented a little too light-heartedly. But in the end, you realize that this is just a musical based on a campy movie and that it's meant to be nothing more than silly fun.

This movie is guaranteed to spray a smile on your face and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand stiff with every laugh-inducing musical number and sequence. And you won't need any hairspray for that.

Joshua
Joshua(2007)

This movie was a completely chilling experience. It was a shock to find myself be so surprised by a movie for which I had little to no expectations.

I thought that maybe this would be a re-hash of the age-old creepy boy story: the Omen, meets The Ring meets Birth. But no. It was a completely new and, altogether, original take on the familiar premise.

The story isn't so much about a deranged boy and his desire to wreak havoc; it's about a boy's desire to be loved. Take that desire and turn it into an obsession and you've got Joshua.

I won't divulge much else about the story. But, suffice it to say, it's a very good film. The script is amazing and the score will haunt you and send shivers down your spine.

The performance turned in by little Jacob Kogan is a knockout. It is a much more well-rounded and "human" approach to a character that has been played by seemingly mute child actors who must rely solely on their off-putting appearance in order to scare. In this movie, the very essence of who this little man is is why the movie is so haunting and permeating.

Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga also bring gravitas to the film and brilliance to roles that could've also fallen in the same category of hapless victim (from movies like The Omen.)

This movie manages to bring something new to the table and keeps you on the edge of your seat--all at once.

A Mighty Heart

Angelina Jolie is the heart and soul of this movie. Despite its touchy subject matter and political implications, the movie is essentially about a woman trying to cope with the drama that surrounds her. This drama would become one that unfolded before the world and caused a major uproar in 2002.

Although you know what happens in the movie (from hearing about Daniel Pearl on the news, etc.) you still feel surprised and you still find yourself at the edge of your seat as the story unravels.

Jolie delivers one of the best performances of her career in this beautifully executed film (no pun intended.) She shines where she should shine in a brilliant turn as a wife stuck in a foreign land with a problem that no wife should have to face.

I'll be shocked if this performance doesn't earn her another Oscar nomination--this time for Best Actress.

The film itself, Jolie not withstanding, is also a high quality piece in all respects. Its script is magnificent and the directions (from its tender moments of subtle pans; to the turbulent grittiness of its shaky trills) the movie is great to watch as well. There's never a dull moment.

Watch for Jolie's breakdown scene. It is truly harrowing and will make that evanescent lump in your throat lodge itself there for the rest of the movie.

La Vie en Rose (La Mome)

This is the first GREAT movie I've seen this year. By GREAT, I refer to the kind of movie that could be up for awards at the end of the year. Granted, it's a foreign film but it still mertis the accolades that it has received and will most certainly receive in the coming months.

Marion Cotillard gives a knock-out performance of a real-life character--an uncanny portrayal along the lines of Jamie Foxx's Ray or Charlize Theron's Aileen Wournos.

She embodies the great French songstress Edith Piaf as we follow the life and times (hard times) of the artiste.

I'm telling you all now: if nothing else, Marion Cotillard WILL receive an Oscar Nomination for Best Actress--hands down! She might even win.

Waitress
Waitress(2007)

It's sad that a movie as sweet and heartwarming as this could be enveloped in such tragedy. During the post-production stage of this film, Adrienne Shelly (the films writer, director and member of the cast) was murdered in her New York apartment.

This film goes to show that Shelly definitely had the talent (both on and off the screen) to become a very successful filmmaker/actress.

The story of a newly-pregnant mother (Keri Russell) trapped in an unhappy marriage is so tenderly developed via a great script.

The performances by all actors are stupendous. It was a hoot to see Andy Griffith playing the grumpy town patriarch.

Russell, Shelly and Curb Your Enthusiasm's Cheryl Hines comprise the trio of waitresses whose exploits in the pie diner are cause for lots of laughs and touching scenarios.

Nathan Fillion does a fine job as Dr. Pometor (the man who is willing to drop everything to rescue Russell from her dreary marriage.)

The soundtrack is drenched with sweetness. The chimes and twinkle instruments it employs flutter into your ear as the sugary confections onscreen fill your mind with thoughts of nostalgia or at least a sense of wonderment.

There's nothing really extraordinary about this film--other than it striking an emotional chord and filling you with a little bit of joy. It's really what a feel-good movie should be like. Don't expect anything too deep or too serious. Instead settle for a light, fluffy pastiche that will leave you very satisfied and eager for another slice.

Love in the Time of Cholera

I was fortunate enough to see a test screening of this film last night. I was not familiar with the novel on which the movie is based, but I knew enough about the story to intrigue me into seeing it.

I was very disappointed. Granted, the print we saw wasn't the final version and they wanted our opinions as to how the movie could be improved.

First of all, the story has a lot of potential. It deals with the love that exists between a pair of lovers who cannot be together for the majority of their lives. They meet and part; meet and part for a period of over 50 years.

Florentino (Javier Bardem) must learn to cope with his unrequited love for Fermina. Along the way, he finds solace in sexual pleasure as a substitute for love--until it becomes an obsession (almost like a disease itself.)

All in all, the film was okay and the metaphoric juxtaposition of love set in a time of death and illness goes to show how damaging being love can really be. Love isn't always a good thing to feel.

The execution of the director was poor. The editing was choppy and slow-paced all at once.

It was hard to sympathize with the main character because of his many faults. But I guess that can be attributed to plot of the novel and not necessarily reflects the quality of the film. If the source material is flawed, the film can't fix it.

Overall, the movie was fair enough to watch--but not engaging enough to captivate me and hold my interest.

I must say that Catalina Sandino Moreno excels in her role as promiscuous (borderline slutty) cousin to the female lead. For this being only her third English-speaking role--she's really showing she can command the scenes she is in.

Unless they do a major revamp on this flick, stay away. John Leguizamo is horribly cast as Fermina's father and the movie reminds me too much of The Painted Veil (a far superior, similarly-themed film.)

Grindhouse
Grindhouse(2007)

This movie (or set of movies) was amazing. The throwback to the old, cheesy, goofy and silly days of cinema is hysterical.

The first film, Planet Terror (by Robert Rodriguez) is fast-paced and pumped full of energy and hyper-active visuals and action. It combines elements of zombie movies with campy art direction, cinematography and acting--as well as Rose McGowan donning a "killer" appendage.

The second movie, Death Proof (by Quentin Tarantino) is my favorite. It is chock-full of suspense and drama (as well as campy acting and dialog.) It's not just a scary slice of celluloid about helpless victims being taunted by a menace of the road. It's so much more. It's a film about getting even.

Both films work very well together and share a cohesive theme. They provide a perfect balance in visual style, mood and setting. However, it's very interesting to see both storylines over-lapping (ever so slightly) at times. Some of the same characters bleed over to the second film. It's interesting how disjointed and different these two films are from one another and yet they still feel like they are complimentary and they mesh to create a singular movie-going experience for the viewer.

Add a few cheese-oid movie trailers for films as preposterous-looking as they are preposterous-sounding: Don't; Thanksgiving (a spoof of John Carpenter's Halloween); and Werewolf Women of the SS.

It goes without saying that you have to be an avid fan of these two filmmakers' work in order to appreciate this movie. If you're not a fan, then you've got to be open to experiencing something completely different and unexpected.

The film (as a whole) runs a bit long and the second feature gets-off to a slow start (thanks to Tarantino's infatuation with drawn-out dialog blocks.) But otherwise, it's well worth your money and your time to catch the double-feature at the Grindhouse.

Are We Done Yet?

The one question I kept asking myself during the entire movie: ARE WE DONE YET?

Reign Over Me
½

A very compelling story with amazing acting and great direction and script.

The story is univeral in its appeal and its relatability. It deals with lost souls in a large city (where you wouldn't think a single person could feel lonely.) It deals with elements of loss, pain and grief and the way different people cope with those events and emotions.

Adam Sandler gives one of the best performances of his career (for a dramatic role.) His tortured character is at a stand-still emotionally and has built-up walls so strong and tall that even his best friend couldn't break through them.

Don Cheadle, as said best friend, does a great job as the perfect husband who must choose between family and friends and standing up for himself in an unforgiving and cold work environment.

Mike Binder, who's fast becoming one of my favorite writer/directors, does a great job in shaping the plot through the use of great dialogue and subtext; as well as showcasing New York City via surprisingly refreshing methods.

That being said, it's also good to mention that this movie isn't meant for everybody. It's quite a sad story with some borderline depressing themes. But it has a good mix of heart, drama and comedic one-liners sprinkled throughout, that almost anybody should be able to enjoy (or at least) appreciate this film.

Blades of Glory

This is a great comedy. It has all the ingredients for a fluffy, frivolous and fiendishly funny movie that will leave you aching for more belly laughs and gasping for air. Maybe I'm over-selling it, but I thoroughly enjoyed Will Ferrell and his antics as well as Jon Heder's ambiguously gay and man-boyish charm.

The film is meant to be a complete genre farce. This movie is to ice skating what Zoolander is to male-modeling. In fact, during the first 15 minutes of the film, this one reminded me of Zoolander (almost a little too much.)

The story line was even similar (two competitors against one another and they finally reconcile their differences and work together to defeat a new opponent.)

The gags are as goofy as you'd expect and the inherent homo-eroticism only adds to the awkwardness that you're supposed to feel (and laugh about.)

The script is solid (much better than recent Ferrell disappointments--like Bewitched) and the direction was perfectly balanced between subtle nuance and blatant camp.

Amy Poehler and Will Arnett (the briefly-married couple from Arrested Development) share the screen once again in hefty supporting roles for which they excel.

Be prepared to either love or hate this flick. I loved it. I was in a great mood and was open to the most stupid kind of humor possible. This movie definitely delivered that...but it managed to bring slightly more to it that air-filled superficial slapstick. I laughed my ass off from beginning to end.

The Lookout
The Lookout(2007)

This movie was a pretty solid thriller. It had a good blend of suspense, drama and action. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a troubled young man with torturous memories of the past. After an accident changes him forever, he must learn to adapt to his environment from the basic tasks (like distinguishing a tomato from a lemon.)

His internal problems soon become the vulnerability a group of thugs are looking to take advantage of.

There is very good acting and a great script with fabulous dialog and interaction between characters.

The cinematography is outstanding and adds a slight tinge of noir. The direction is really good and the mood is set appropriately throughout the film. The setting, the camera angles and the pacing of the film all help it pull you through the storyline and help you come out intrigued and, ultimately, entertained.

Jeff Daniels gives a fine performance as Gordon-Levitt's equally-unbalanced friend and roommate; while Isla Fisher also does a good job with the disappointingly small and insignificant part she's relegated to play.

I wouldn't say this movie will have you at the edge of your seat--but it won't bore you either. It's really worthy of your time and consideration.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters
½

This movie was freaking hilarious. But I imagine it would've been much funnier if I watched the show or were a stoner (I've done neither.)

Still, the randomness and obscene nature of the movie are what make it so vulgarly outlandish and genuinely humorous. Of course, this won't be everybody's cup-of-tea. But if you're familiar with Adult Swim's line-up or this show in particular, you'll like it.

If you're not familiar at all with the show, watch it anyway and give it a shot. Chances are you'll at least giggle a bit here and there (and that's more than you can say you do at MOST comedies these days!)

The animation is poorly executed and the quality of the writing could be better. But like I alluded to before-- this is college-age, stoner humor and you will probably have to be buzzed to get the full effect.

Our screening tonight was put on by the pedantic peddlers of shallowness at MySpace. Our screening had a co-creator and Dana Snyder (an voice actor from the film) as special guests. I got a goody-bag with a t-shirt and some Meatwad socks! That was the icing on the cake and guaranteed that I'd give the movie at least 3 stars! But I give it half-a-star more because I actually think it deserves better than average.

The Namesake
The Namesake(2006)

This is probably the first GREAT movie I have seen this year. Sure, 300 was awesome! But it was because that's in a league of its own. This movie, however, really grabs you from the start.

The story takes place over the course of nearly 30 years and is filled with lessons along the way. The canvas is tinged with shades of tradition, pride, discovery and tragedy. But mostly, it is filled with a realness that seeps through and leaves you feeling like you've peered into the lives of a family.

Gogol is a young man with an identity crisis. His name has been the reason he's been taunted and teased his whole life in American. His parents, both traditional Indians, must choose between raising a child the way they were brought up in India or let their son be "free" to become whatever he chooses.

Along the way, there are pitfalls in Gogol's life and mistakes that must be mended. Ultimately, though, he realizes that home is where the heart is (no matter how far away home may be,) and that sometimes you've got to hold on to the memory of being in a place where there was no where further to go.

This was a great movie about retracing your steps in your family lineage and finding out who you really are and where you came from. What's the story behind a name and what's the reasoning for the choice made along the way.

The movie is beautifully crafted by Mira Nair (who is one of my favorite directors.) Her previous work on Monsoon Wedding and (most notably--and most recently) Vanity Fair is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the depth that a woman's perspective can bring to a story such as this one. The movie is filled with poignant moments of truth, courage and brutal honesty.

The acting performances were all top-notch. Standing out are those of Kal Penn as the troubled Gogol and Irrfan Khan as his sullen, but resigned, mother. This one should not be missed!

The Last Mimzy

This movie was very heart-warming and cute. It does run the risk of coming off as nauseating or even preachy, but that's just a chance you take with any movie.

The acting was good and the script was solid (but some cheesy dialogue here and there is present in almost every movie out there.)

The story is basically reduced to these two unsuspecting children who come across a life-changing box with hidden treasures inside. Unbeknown to them, they hold the key to unlocking its mystery and saving the earth within themselves.

It's all a bit too much to take in. You really have to suspend your disbelief and go along with it. Don't take the flick too seriously. It delves into themes such as environmentalism, science-fiction, fantasy and sibling rivalry. But overall it's a pretty well-crafted performances and well-thought-out directing.

The computer graphics were also very good. Top-notch for this kind of film. It created the right blend between the real world and the fantasy elements mixed within it.

On a side note (and not that this has anything to do with the quality of the film, but...) Timothy Hutton's hair plugs looked horrendous. He looked like a sad cross between Tim Allen and Kevin Kline. And those two aren't the best people to be compared to. I think he was grossly miscast. Not because his appearance was an abomination, but because his acting was as well.

Shortbus
Shortbus(2006)

When I saw this movie, I knew that it had to do with people in New York exploring their sex lives. I knew that the movie was somewhat graphic in its depiction of said sex lives-- but what I saw in Shortbus was so much more than that. This movie is one of the best films of last year, despite its touchy subject matter and its graphic display of concepts and ideas by a great director (John Cameron Mitchell).

At first glance, this film may seem to be a porno disguised as a legitimate film. But that's the point it's making. What is the difference between this and something subversive? Who designates what is subversive and what is acceptable. More importantly, this film explores so much more that's brewing beneath the surface of a sexually graphic exterior. Why do people act-out through sex? Sex elicits attention. Giving something attention means giving it power. Therefore, sex equals power.

But how is this power used? Can it be misused? To abuse a partner emotionally? To neglect the needs your body is asking you to fulfill? To satisfy yourself in more than sexual ways? To make a human connection for once in your life? These are all themes that this film explores and once you've gotten over the novelty of the excessive nudity and non-simulated sex, you get to the heart of a truly touching story about people trying to get by and survive in an unforgiving city-- an unforgiving world.

Starter for 10

This movie was definitely a starter for 10, but it stalled out at about number 7. An average fair when it comes to British romantic comedies. There really wasn't anything original or terribly creative about the film's plot, style or general concept...but it was light and enjoyable enough to merit three stars.

The acting was great and the dialogue engaging. The characters were pretty well-fleshed-out.

Basically, the story of a young man with a passion for knowledge loses his bearings when getting into a prestigious university that's out of his league. There, he meets people who aren't a thing like him and begins to grow apart from the friends he knew back home.

The film explores many subjects: loss of a loved one; first true love; ethics in competition and even a bit of a social commentary pertaining to Britain's class structure in the mid-80s. It's all a bit too much for such a light film.

But, having said that, I still recommend it as a fluffy piece for a rainy day or a second date (when watching just an average date movie won't hurt your chances of making a good first impression.)

300
300(2007)
½

300 is bound to be a cult classic for many years to come. This movie drips with style and its visuals permeate through the screen and the images sear themselves onto your memory banks like Katie to Tom.

The story, which deals with the great battle of Spartans against Persians and ignited the will of Greece to form the world's first democracy, is epic in scope and vision. But it's Frank Miller's imagination that makes the story soar. The hightened reality that is presented makes for a rip-roaring romp that is jam-packed with action from start to finish. Not a moment lets up. There are no breathers or dull, slow-paced filler. That's what an action movie should be like. Non-stop action.

There is plenty of gore and blood for those sadists out there. But the movie is a wonder to behold; both because of the computer-generated effects as well as for the buffed-up Spartan soldiers. "We're in for a wild night" is an understatement.

Plus, the transformation of Gerard Butler into a brutish, savage Spartan is quite impressive; considering we last saw him as a sissy Opera-singing phantom with low self-esteem. I'm glad he traded in the black satin Phantom cape for the red woolen Spartan one. And what a difference a goatee and a six-pack can make!

Zodiac
Zodiac(2007)

This movie is so haunting and eerie from the moment it starts. David Fincher brings his signature noir directorial stylings as he did in Se7en and Panic Room; and he creates a period thriller of the best kind: one based on a true story.

The mood and pacing of this film is great if you're into being intrigued by a captivating script and understated, but brilliant acting. The musical score adds a bone-chilling resonance to the events that transpired in the late 60s through 70s. It's spurts of piano that sounds a bit off-key makes for spine-tingling moments when the tension has mounted enough to make you feel like you're watching a horror film.

Of course, I'm just a sissy and really get scared when it comes to psychological thrillers. These are the films that creep me out the most and really haunt me after seeing them.

The quality of the film is great from start to finish. The acting, the direction and music are the best parts. But the fact that this story is real makes it that much more terrifying.

It may run a bit long for some peoples' taste, but the pacing is just right and if you let yourself become engrossed, the time goes by rather quickly. Plus, they're covering 20+ years...so they have to do it justice. Great view!

Blood Diamond

When I first saw the trailer for this film, I thought, "Oh no! It's Leonardo DiCaprio trying to do accents again!!!" After his abomination of a performance in Gangs of New York, I thought Leo should never do accents ever again--especially Irish ones. In Blood Diamond, he follows my advice--sort of. He trades in the Irish dialect for the South African one. He does a lot better. But that's not the only good thing about this movie. It is a genuinely suspenseful and taut thriller of importance to those who have suffered the cruelties of way for precious diamonds and for those people who have been ignorant of the facts behind their precious engagement rings.

The struggle that local Africans must go through in the Sierra Leone at the time of revolution is devastating. Thousands and thousands of refugees are murdered if they refuse to be enslaved to a cause that is being fueled and funded by Westerners who want the best diamonds for the jewelry enterprises. It's a sad story; but one that definitely needs to be told. And this one is told in a manner that entertains at the same (as opposed to just preaching.)

The film benefits from superb acting by DiCaprio as a conflicted anti-hero and diamond smuggler, Jennifer Connelly as a somewhat naive and hungry reporter and Djimon Hounsou as the farmer who becomes entangled in the senselessness of a war that has nothing to do with him--until something he loves is taken from him. The movie has a fabulous script that really captures the life-or-death urgency of the situation without clobbering you with it or driving a stake through your heart.

The Architect
½

This movie was one of those films that came and went. Nobody probably saw it--and that's a shame! Granted, the suburban family drama has been done-to-death ever since the mesmerizing American Beauty (and no other suburban drama could live up to it--except for Little Children) but this movie is a valiant effort in this genre. It has undertones of the struggle that children of a dysfunctional family have to put up. Worrying about pimples before prom isn't good enough for films like this. You have to be sexually confused, insecure about your breasts and worried that your dad is "perving" on you. As for the parents themselves, Isabella Rossellini plays the sullen, emotionally-unbalanced housewife to a tee. She is great. And Anthony LaPaglia--as the architect you has to deal with the crumbling infrastructure of his household along with the crumbling structure he built for low-income families--is understated and captivating in his performance.

The film has a solid script and some arresting social commentaries to convey. It just feels a little watered-down and I think that comes from having only a handful of characters. It feels more like something that could've been a better stage play; rather than a feature-length film. Still, the movie is worth watching; if you can catch it on DVD in the coming months! It's nice to see little gems that never see the light of day or people may or may not have ever heard about.

On a side note, I happened to see this movie at a theatre that used a BlueRay DVD player. Let me say that this technology is mind-blowing. It's a shame this movie wasn't a special-effects flick because the visuals would've been out of this world. It is the most crystal clear image of film I have ever seen. No pixelation, no blurriness or scratches to worry about. Pure digital heaven.

The Holiday
The Holiday(2006)
½

Nancy Meyer's new film is a gem to behold. Sure, it's a feel-good chick flick that will put many people off with its unrealistic portrayal of real-life, contemporary people. But a feel-good chick flick is supposed to be fake and phony and glossy and superficially delectable. Besides, this movie is out for the holidays and is supposed to be regarded as the dishes you have: full of empty calories, sugar and fat. Not nutritious but still fun to have and enjoy. Nancy Meyer's knows how to make a sugary film that's chock-full of sap and clichés. She knows who her audience is and knows how to please them and cater to their sweet-toothed appetites. This movie is the perfect antidote to the serious flicks out there trying to vie for Oscar gold.

Kate Winslet is the highlight of this movie. It really is her movie (even though she's only part of an ensemble that consists of Jude Law, Jack Black and an ever-so annoying Cameron Diaz.) Winslet's portrayal of a hapless, love-lorn Briton who is pushed aside by her unrequited love is heart-breaking. Of course, you're not supposed to believe that someone as beautiful as Winslet or as sweet as her character can't find true love. But you go along for the ride anyway. She ends up swapping homes with Diaz's character for the holiday. There's really nothing much more to the story than that. Diaz moves into stuffy cottage in England's countryside while Winslet enjoys the amenities of a palacial mansion in Beverly Hills. They each meet men with whom to spend time with and they may even fall in love.

Of course, there is nothing being spoiled by my saying that this movie will have a happy ending and that all characters will find their way by the time you leave the theater. You know where the story is going far before it gets there and you still enjoy it because the performances are so good and story is so feel-good. Jack Black delivers one of his best (and relaxed) performances as a film composer who has a thing for British strangers staying in his friend's home. Jude Law plays the emotionally vulnerable guy who falls in love with the emotionally frantic Diaz. Go see this movie and you'll be glad you did. You won't have the guilt involved with drinking excessive amounts of eggnog or eating lots of fruit cake.

Déjà Vu
Déjà Vu(2006)

I was pleasantly surprise with Deja Vu. This movie turned-out to be something completely different from what I was thinking it would be. At first viewing of the trailer, I thought the movie would be another unoriginal thriller like the kind Denzel Washington has become so good at making. Don't get me wrong--he's great in anything he makes, but everything he makes isn't great. But this movie was different. It was smart and original and it was really suspenseful. It had a little bit of everything: romance, action, mystery and even a science fiction theme. Still, it manages to put everything together in a way that (although may be predicable to some) was very intriguing to me.

Taking a bit from Tom Cruise's Minority Report and mixing the action and suspense of Washington thrillers like Man On Fire or Inside Man, this movie takes off right from the start and doesn't let you go until the rip-roaring climax. Washington's detective character must solve a mass-murder attack before it even happens. The catch is: he knows how it happens and he knows what time it occurs but must find the person responsible before it happens again. In the meantime, he must also find out what a young woman's relation to the event is. Through a little bit of high-tech espionage, he will soon be on his way to uncovering truths and piecing together clues and scraps of information.

The movie, directed by Tony Scott, is in line with his other projects (Domino and Man On Fire.) He has such a distinct visual style and it shows in this movie. The script is solid (although the story is very far-fetched and unrealistic many times.) But then again, what sci-fi crime thriller wouldn't have a far-fetched plot. You're not supposed to believe any of this stuff would actually happen in real life. And it's useless trying to make sense of the logistics of the scientific investigating that goes on. That's not the point of this movie. You should just strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. It's not up to you to try to solve the mystery. That's what Washington is for. That's what Washington is for. Ooh...deja vu.

Let's Go to Prison

I was expecting so much with this movie. After seeing Will Arnett's talent on the bitingly original and terribly overlooked television show Arrested Development; I thought this movie (who's theme SEEMED similar to AD's) would be much better than it turned out to be. Now, in no way is the film bad because of Arnett or any of the other actors. They all do a great job at conveying the angst and humor in being locked-up (and the situations that ensue.) But this movie suffered from a terrible director (who didn't take advantage of the actors' talent) and shoddy editing team that made the movie seem too long, choppy, disjointed and--plain boring.

The movie would've been a great idea for a short or even a television pilot. But not a movie. There wasn't enough of a story to stretch out into the 80-something minutes this movie was. By the time the end comes, you're thinking that it was about an hour too long. Most of the film (which was meant to be a satire of the prison system) is laugh-less and moves at a pace that doesn't allow for character development or even sequence development.

All in all, I would say: rent this movie and check it out for yourself. But I wouldn't even go that far. I found it to be a waste of time and felt sorry for the actors (especially for Will Arnett) for having wasted their time and talents on a such a worthless project such as this one. Better luck next time, Will. Skip prison--Let's Go See Something Else!

Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny
½

Jack Black is the driving force in this movie. It helps that Paul Gass (his partner in crime) also has some comedic chops and a funny physique (not unlike Black's.) This movie is one that you'll either love or hate. This is not only because of Jack Black (an actor you either love or hate) but because of the subject matter. The movie has such foul language and scenarios. It has crude sequences of nonsensical, silly jokes that would degrade any person's intellect (if they weren't aware of this movie's low-brow intentions.) Still, the movie is very enjoyable because it is essentially a movie about finding yourself and following your dreams. No matter how ridiculous or far-fetched those dreams may be; or how insanely stupid you have to be to take the road less traveled to get there. The movie is uproarious when it should be and is heartfelt where it needs to be.

It doesn't take itself too seriously and that is what makes is so good. When you have a 30-foot Satan battling-it-out with Black and Gass at the end of the film, you know you're not watching something that is supposed to be utterly stupid. When Black is on a high and has a mushroom hallucination in the park; you go along for the colorful and trippy ride because it's fun to watch. Once you've let go of your "this is stupid" mentality; you really start to enjoy the stupidity displayed on-screen. Still, from the movie's beginning (where a young Black rebels against his strict upbringing) to the movie's final Satanic battle-- you're left feeling hyped and pumped-up.

There is excellent music by Tenacious D (Black and Gass) that laces things-up throughout the flick. It really helps bring that rock edge that the movie's acting performances are injected with to the viewer's ears. It is a good compliment to the wacky visuals and the outrageous storyline. Black's comedic and musical prowess is in full display and the film is a perfect showcase for his talent. If you're a fan of Black, then it goes without saying that you'll love this movie. If you're iffy about Black and his sense of style of humor, then skip this one and watch The Holiday instead. He's much more subdued in that one. Still, this movie ROCKED!!!

For Your Consideration

This movie had everything going for it: a great concept; a great cast; and a brilliant director (Christopher Guest.) Unfortunately, something went wrong with this installment of the mockumentary-style series of movies Guest has become known for creating. This film had lots of potential with its skewering-Hollywood theme but somehow came up short and ended-up re-using lots of clichés and tired inside jokes that we've seen before in movies like Get Shorty. Fortunately, though, the movie isn't a complete disaster. This is due to the always-brilliant performances the ensemble cast manages to deliver. The highlight of such performances comes from the incredibly talented and disgustingly underrated Catherine O'Hara. She shines and brings life into this rather dull satire.

O'Hara's performance isn't the only one who shines though. Parker Posey and Jennifer Coolidge also outdo their previous forays in a Guest film and snatch up some of the movie's most memorable lines and moments. The movie is not horrible. It does have it's moments of laughter and genuine comedy--but they are few and far between. Compared to a movie like Best In Show or This Is Spinal Tap, this isn't Guests best work. I think that is due, in part, to the fact that his movie strays from the mockumentary style and has more of a developed scripted format. It's not as improvised as the other films appeared to be. Still, I would recommend the movie based on O'Hara alone and the fact that had this movie gotten better audience reception (like Best In Show), she would definitely be up for an Oscar. Or at least a Golden Globe.

The Fountain
The Fountain(2006)

The Fountain is a film that's nothing less than mesmerizing. Whether you like fantasy, science fiction, romance, adventure or philosophy and meta-physics; there's bound to be something for everyone in this film. It's true that the film--conceived by Pi and Requiem for a Dream genius Darren Aronofsky--drags in its pacing and fails to give because of its rigid and stiff structure. But this is to be regarded as a high-art art film. Not just your typical film with a message. This is truly a transcendent film, if you lend yourself to the transcendence and the experience of being taken away for an hour or two. Taken away completely! In that sense, Aronofsky succeeds with flying and orbiting golden colors.

This is definitely not a film for everyone. As the long story of its casting and production will indicate, not many people had the patience to make the film (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were originally slated to star in a much more grandiose version two years ago.) Even fewer people will have the patience to sit through it. But for those who do...good for you. The cinematography is absolutely breath-taking. The story, which takes place over a 1,000-year span is a marvel to try to piece together (although it's uncertain whether piecing them together is necessary.) The concept itself lends itself to beautiful imagery and ideas that I've never seen in a film before. The tree of life is represented in a completely new fashion. The constellations are given new life in the viewer's imagination as the stars that comprise it slowly die.

There is so much richness and detail that must be paid attention...but a review can only be so long. I highly recommend this movie for anyone who is feeling in a very generous mood and who is engulfed in a bubble of open-mindedness. Warning you that this film is "different" would be understating the sentiment. But it is different. And that is DEFINITELY an understatement. But different very often means good-- at least it does in my book.

Fast Food Nation

Fast Food Nation could have been a good movie if it had focused more on its satirical edge than trying to make a social statement through blatant one-sided storytelling. Don't get me wrong, the message is an important one to take with you: be careful what you eat and why you're eating it. Think of the repercussions of your actions, etc. But the movie fails miserably at conveying this message in an original and entertaining fashion. Sure, the storyline, albeit thin and told over and over again, is compelling and intriguing enough to captivate most viewers who don't know any better. But otherwise, the film falls flat into the empty pool of its grandiose intentions.

Some dark comedy elements are evident beneath the bloody surface and should have been given more attention. Some of the performances--particularly Catalina Sandino Moreno as a hapless migrant meat-packing worker and Bobby Cannavale as her unscrupulous American half-breed boss--are stand-outs in a cast that is comprised of lesser talent and blipping cameos by the likes of Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and even Avril Lavigne. The movie basically tries too hard to be "cool" in its divulging its message, but can't get off the ground. By the time the end of the film comes around, you've seen enough suffering by illegal immigrants and cows and not enough suffering by the corporation that's enabling the hurt.

The movie tries to tell people: STAY AWAY FROM FAST FOOD. I try to tell people: STAY AWAY FROM FAST FOOD NATION. Watch Super Size Me instead.

Volver
Volver(2006)

Pedro Almodovar is one of the most brilliant directors alive today. Regardless of language or nationality, his films transcend all of that and compel you to engross yourself in the pastiche he's created on film and has tried to pass off as real-life. Of course, everything is a heightened reality in an Almodovar film. Simple plot twists turn into preposterous contrivencies. Comedy turns into ridiculous silliness. And drama and intrigue are relegated to being melodrama. But it always works for Almodovar and his films end up being so damn addictive that you can't just see any of his movies only once. Volver is no different.

In this one, Penelope Cruz plays a mother who turns herself into a single-mother. She is dealing with the death of her mother -- as is her teen-aged daughter and younger sister -- and must learn how to keep her family together in the face of this tragedy (as well as another tragedy that ensues.) But her world is turned upside down when he mother returns from the grave and forces those she left behind to re-examine their lives and the paths they've chosen.

Give this film a chance. Sure, it's foreign, has subtitles and has a fruity color palette and totally gay art direction. But who cares. The movie is so deliciously deviant and is chock-full of cheesy cinematic confections to fill your little heart until it explodes all over the screen. The we'd have to mop up the blood.

Babel
Babel(2006)

Can we say Best Picture?!?! This movie -- with its intricate plot-twisting and storyline weaving -- will undoubtedly be a heavy-hitter and popular contender for the Best Picture prize at this year's Academy Awards. And with good cause! This movie is so damn good from start to finish and Iñarritu (the film's director) has created a contemporary masterpiece of taut drama that corresponds with the theme of human behavior and connectivity. We are all connected -- no matter how far apart we are from one another -- and this film illustrates that idea magnificently.

Brad Pitt delivers his best performance to date as one half of a grieving American couple who decide to get away for a vacation, but must endure more grief along the way before returning home. There are primarily three story lines (one taking place in Morocco, one in the US/Mexico border and another in Japan.) You'd think they would have nothing in common, but you'd be wrong. Of course, with movies this grand and epic in scope there is always the risk of falling through some cracks and being labeled "unrealistic" or "far-fetched." But there's lots of crap out there that qualifies as unrealistic and is half as good as Babel.

Iñarritu is a master of storytelling and his gritty and urgent cinematography only emphasizes and highlights his talents and his intentions for the viewer. Definitely catch this movie and you'll know what all the babble is about!

Happy Feet
Happy Feet(2006)

This movie has got to be one of the cutest, most heart-warming films out there right now. The animation is incredibly photo-realistic and the storyline lends itself to some clever use of the penguin-anthropomorphizing that didn't work so well for Disney's Cars. After all, talking penguins is much less creepy than cars with big mouths and eyes on them. All that aside, Happy Feet is a genuinely fun adventure that is meant to be a "family" draw, but ends-up being a delight to viewers of all ages.

Of course, some of the humor may be childish and the ideals that the film tries to push onto the viewer -- particularly in the last 15 minutes -- may be somewhat preachy and rehashed. But ultimately, this movie ends up feeling light and breezy and you end up tapping your feet along with Mumble (our protagonist.) The story of the ugly ducking, fish-out-of-water, outsider with a heart of gold element is always a feel-good item and Happy Feet works its magic wonderfully when it comes to this.

Some very good casting, including Nicole Kidman, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Elijah Wood and Robin Williams makes for a very entertaining 2-hours. But the most spectacular thing to take away from a movie like this is the sheer technical prowess that was employed to develop what you are watching. The film's incredibly brilliant visuals and sequences will leave you mesmerized and will cause you want more. That's a happy feat hardly any film is brave enough to attempt. This one tries...and succeeds.

A Good Year
A Good Year(2006)

Stay away from this movie at all costs. A Good Year is a not-so-good film. Russell Crows is severely miscast as a "charming" guy who is chasing after young tail and thinks he has everything in the world because he's rich and ends up finding out that he's been as empty as a wine bottle after Sunday brunch. He is forced to re-examine his life and his priorities when his uncle (who owns a chateau in Provence suddenly dies.) We, however, are forced to care for a character that is, in essence, an asshole.

This movie may have worked if anybody else but Crowe had been cast. It also would've worked if anyone else but Ridley Scott had directed the piece of crap. Scott is stylistically at a loss in this flick, using filters, slow-motion, fast-motion, corny innuendo and retarded dialogue as methods to entertain you with something other than what he's good at presenting (Gladiators in the Colosseum.) Definitely a stinker of a film with no redeeming qualities other than the brilliant flashbacks featuring the great Albert Finney and Freddy Highmore.

Stranger Than Fiction

Will Ferrell's dramatic turn in Stranger Than Fiction can be compared to Jim Carrey's similar metamorphosis from slap-sticker to leading man in The Truman Show. The character Ferrell plays, like Carrey's in Truman, is a character filled with such flaws and quirks, that it is perfectly acceptable for them to add their own spunk, wit and exaggerated expressions to an otherwise straightforward depiction of a man. Here, Ferrel plays Harold Crick, an OCD guy who's a character in the novel of a brilliant, but troubled, author played by the brilliant, and untroubled, Emma Thompson.

The plot delivers some inherent laughs and warm-hearted moments. Particularly in scenes where Crick is finding his way though a strange thing called love (with Maggie Gyllenhaal's character.) The questions of whether man is in control of his own destiny about in this feature and are all answered in the usual ways. But this movie has so much more going for it. So much more subtext and brilliance in the casting of the characters, the quality of the script, the genius behind its directors vision and his methods of shooting and photographing a film that could've been very bland.

All in all, this movie is one of the best films I've seen all year. Of course, it's not Shakespeare or Aristotle in philosophy. It's not Scorsese or Coppola in direction, but it's definitely worthy of high-praise; considering it could've been terribly corny and over-the-top give Ferrell's previous work. But here, he is restrained and knows when to pull back. Strange, isn't it?

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
½

I had no idea what to expect when I saw this movie. I was expecting something funny (of course.) I was expecting something bitingly satirical (maybe.) I was expecting the funniest movie I've ever seen in my life (definitely not!) But that's exactly what I got. This movie is, by far, the funniest movie I've ever seen. Of course, I couldn't say it's the funniest ever made because I haven't seen everything out there. But it's too good to pass-up because of what you might've heard or who might've been offended.

This movie's main character, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, is an equal-opportunity offender. You'll be offended; your friend will be offended, your mother most definitely will be offended...but you'll all be laughing your asses off. If you only see one movie this entire year, it should be this one. It has so much to say if you're looking for social commentary. It has nothing to say if you're not looking for social commentary. Either way, it's a hoot and a movie that should be watched immediately.

Some parts of the movie are scripted, some are not. Some scripted parts are obvious, others are not. But that's not what this movie is all about. It's about letting yourself have a good time and going along for the ride with Borat and Azamat (his wacky and gross manager.) High five!

Dreamgirls
Dreamgirls(2006)

This is another one of those films whose "rough-cut" I was lucky enough to watch in July. Let me just say one thing: Jennifer Hudson will win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. If she doesn't, then she will have been snubbed big time (or a much, much better performance by a superior actress will have come around by then.) Eddie Murphy also delivers what is, arguably, the best performance of his career. He is likely to be nominated as well, come Oscar time.

The film in itself is based on the wildly popular Broadway show by the same name. It has a tremendous cult following, and that alone should help this film version grow legs and become an instant hit at the box office. Not to mention its being helmed by living legend Bill Condon (the mind behind Chicago). The cinematography is so dazzling and will leave you breathless at times. The subject this film deals with (60s doo-wop and 70s disco) lends itself beautifully to being photographed in ways that are spectacular.

Afterall, it is all about entertainment when it comes to movie-musicals. Forget about the plots being contrived (or too thin). Forget about some acting performances falling flat at times. Forget about anachronisms and suspend your disbelief. This movie is all about the music. And there's plenty of it...and it's all sung amazingly. The story is also very uplifting and by the end of the show, you'll be left feeling uplifted.

The Prestige
The Prestige(2006)

Christopher Nolan's latest effort puts this brilliant filmmaker in an interesting position. He's so diverse in his film choices and his stylistic representations of film, that's it's hard to put your finger on his trademark or his signature. But maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that's what makes his films so good to watch and so enjoyable to sit through. The Prestige was no exception to that statement. It was great.

The story revolves around two long-time friends and magicians. Played by Hugh Jackman and a superbly-cast (and Nolan favorite) Christian Bale, these two friends become quarraling foes due to some unforseen events that occur. Too bad magicians aren't fortune tellers in order to predict their grim futures. The story allows for some clever trickery (as would be expected) and some ingenious plot-twisting that will have you guessing all the way to the end.

The cinematography and art direction are magnificent. The plot (although very contrived and somewhat too-tidily resolved in the end) is good enough to engage any viewer willing to sit through a period-piece and silly enough to not give anyone too much of a headache when trying to piece it all together. Bale's performance is a stand-out among great performances delivered by the like of Jackman, Michael Cane and Scarlett Johansson.

Catch a Fire
Catch a Fire(2006)

This movie was definitely a good political thriller. Tim Robbins gives one of the best performances of his career as the hard and harsh leader of a covert pack of terrorist investigators working for the CIA in Africa. When an attack is performed at a local village's power plant, the buzz of rebel terrorist automatically makes every black man and woman a suspect in the "white-controlled" plant surroundings.

Derek Luke is prime suspect number one due to his foreman position; but he, of course, has nothing to do with it. The audience knows it, but the powerfully corrupt CIA operatives go to extreme lengths to prove him wrong. In the process, innocents suffer, reputations and lives are shattered and lost and the promise of a better future remains the motivation for overcoming hatred and being able to forgive.

The story is a typical cat-and-mouse-prove-my-innocence-at-all-costs kind of stroyline, but it works because it's based on a true story. The events that transpired during Apartheid in Africa during these turbulent years is genuinely and nakedly represented on film. The outpouring of resentment from the native Africans against the intruding white Africaners permeates every scene of the film. Definitely catch this fire-- at least on DVD.

Marie Antoinette

Sofia Coppola's third effort behind the camera solidifies her status as the poster girl for lonely girl movies. She likes to tell the story of tortured female souls stuck in a time or place where they don't belong. She did so in The Virgin Suicides with suburban life as setting; expounded upon that theme with Lost in Translation. This time, she sets the royal court of France and the Versailles palace as her locale for despair in a young woman's heart .

Although some choices by Coppola (the music, the intentional anachronisms and even modern-day slang) may seem unorthodox to the average viewer, the movie works. Coppola implements these techniques to delve deeper into the psyche of a frivolous, young ruler who ruled in frivolous, old times. The point is that it doesn't matter what space in time these characters occupy; they would always act the same way.

Overall, the movie gleams copiously with lavish sets, costumes and decor. The film shimmers with the delightfully spry performance given by the great Kirsten Dunst. Her acting is both subtle and full of angst and brims with nuance. She handles herself very well in front of the camera; just as Coppola does so behind it. The script is enjoyable and appropriate for a "post-modern" period-piece.

Flags of Our Fathers
½

Clint Eastwood tries too hard to be Steven Spielberg in his latest movie. Flags of our Fathers is a masterpiece of recent cinema and its depiction of war and the effects on soldiers and the collective consciousness of a nation; but the film itself feels so generic in style and in visual dramatis that it falls flat and Eastwood fades-out as its creator.

That's not to say this film is bad; because it is isn't. But coming from such a skilled and experienced man as Eastwood, I was expecting a lot more. There are, however, some decent performances by Ryan Phillippe and some of the supporting cast including Jesse Bradford, but the cast of unknowns could have been greatly improved and therefore enhanced the quality of the picture.

The battle sequences (shot in Iceland) are magnificent and are drenched with as much jarring emotion as they are with sandy blood; but again, with Eastwood behind the camera, I wasn't expecting to see a Spielberg film in disguise.

The Grudge 2
The Grudge 2(2006)

This time around, Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn) is sent to Japan to retrieve her sister Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in the aftermath of the fire Karen started to burn down the house. Upon her arrival in Tokyo, Aubrey is out-of-place (much like Karen was in the first film) and this helps build the suspense of not knowing what to expect in a foreign land.

Soon after her arrival, and the schoolgirl antics that bring the Grudge back to the U.S., it's up to Aubrey to find a way to stop the grudge from spreading and build a wall for the rage to slam against and subside for good.

The movie is a good sequel; delving into the back-story of the inhabitants of the house before they died-- the way the woman with pasty skin and too-black hair got her start as a sort of sin-eater. It's all very elaborate and necessary in order to expand on the too-familiar characters and thrills that are to be expected after seeing the first film.

The movie keeps its original cinematography, pace and structure thanks to it having its original director at the helm. It really is noticable how much this guy puts into his movies.

At times, the acting is a bit trite and over-the-top (particularly in Tamblyn's drawn-out and abundant close-ups of her looking constipated) but I guess if you'd seen a ghost or two, you wouldn't be able go number two either!

The Queen
The Queen(2006)

In Helen Mirren's second turn as an Elizabeth of Royal blood (her first was in the critically-acclaimed HBO mini-series Elizabeth I) the British actress is the embodiment of Queen Elizabeth II. She IS the queen and she strives to bring new life to the often demonized mock ruler of Britain. From its opening scenes until its closing sequence, Mirren is a tour-de-force of wit, sarcasm, subtelty and compromise. She is willing to completely strip herself of any pretense in order to get the character right.

The script is magnificent; as the story focuses on a week of the Queen's life in the aftermath of Princess Diana's sudden and tragic death across the channel. It's a great film because it points out the dicotomy of a family in "grief" and wanting to keep the observances quiet; and a nation in "mourning" that wants it's "leader" to make some sort of appearance, statement or otherwise acknowledge the incident altogether. She does so; after being pressured by her advisors and the brand-new Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair ( played excellently by Michael Sheen).

She is a traditional woman living in a modern and ever-changing Britain. Her world is turned upside-down in a matter of days and it is up to her; and her alone, to restore peace at the flower-covered gates of Buckingham Palace-- and she does so with every-so-much grace and civility!

Infamous
Infamous(2006)
½

You would think there would be nothing left to say about Truman Capote after last year's film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman-- but there is. Although Infamous delves into the same slice of Capote's life as the earlier film did, this version is much lighter and easier on the heart strings than Capote was. This is partly due to the fact that the script approaches the story from a much more lighthearted point of view; focusing on Truman's social humming bird skills and on his frivolous (if not dim-witted) elitist friends.

Also, Toby Jones plays Truman Capote much more sensibly and with a sprite that was lacking in Hoffman's portrayal of the tortured author. Sandra Bullock takes over Harper Lee's character and brings a renewed effervescence to its core and nature. One of the murderers is portrayed; more effectively, by the brooding Daniel Craig (who makes a much better criminal than he does Bond-like hero.)

All in all, the movie is a rehash but brings out some interesting points and sheds new light and perspectives on them. It plunges further into Capote's tribulation with wanting to mix fact with reality in order to create a story that, ultimately, he found more appealing and worthy of his audience's attention. Watch the movie if you want, but don't compare it to anything else out there that may resemble it.

The Last King of Scotland

When I saw the trailer for this movie (just the trailer), I said to myself, "Self; Forrest Whitaker is going to win the Oscar for Best Actor next February.) I told myself it was too early to come to that conclusion and that I should give the season a little bit of a chance to actually get started in order for me to start making such grandiose predictions. But then I saw the movie and my decision was final: Forrest Whitaker is going to win the Oscar for Best Actor next February.

His portrayal of Ugandan leader (and tyrant) Idi Amin is flawless. Although the character itself is full of flaws (as any mass muderer would prove) Whitaker is not afraid to show his ugly side; both emotional and physical. He plays the part with such visceral carnality that it's almost unsettling and revolting. But then he turns on the charm and lets us know that Amin was a leader both loved and hated by his people-- and why.

McAvoy plays a naive doctor who quickly become chummy with the militant ruler and is sucked into the drama and turmoil that begins to enshroud the country. Gillian Anderson does a fine job in a small, but lovely, supporting role as the voice of truth and conscience and balance to McAvoy's ambitious and ignorant character. Definitely check it out to see for yourself why Whitaker will be reading his acceptance speech on the Kodak Theatre stage this Winter.

The Departed
The Departed(2006)

This is Martin Scorsese' return to form-- as far as crime dramas are concerned. And, boy, does he come back with a bang! The movie is non-stop action and drama the whole time. You definitely don't want to get up for popcorn or even a potty break because you'll miss too much of this rich, epic and uproarious mobster saga. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Whalbeg and Jack Nicholson star as mobsters and cops (which is which--who knows!!!) who must find out each other's identity and weed-out the enemy from within their own organizations.

The plot gets terribly confusing and twisted if you're not paying attention and then ending will seem to be a let down only to those who weren't following along. The performances by these actors are classic and DiCaprio and Nicholson deserve to have their names read at 5:30am for Oscar nominations. But the true hero of this film is the man behind the camera. Scorsese delivers a picture that is so meticulously crafted and engineered to make you jump and jolt in your seat from the action, the language, the tension and the overall great entertainment you'll be rewarded with by watching this film.

It's definitely not for the faint of heart or for the conservative viewer. Strap on the seatbelt and let yourself be driven away by this film. Trust me, no effort will be necessary on your part.

Jet Li's Fearless (Huo Yuan Jia) (Legend of a Fighter)
½

Jet Li's "retirement" from martial arts films could not have come with a better movie than Fearless. This film is a truly wonderful experience and a visual masterpiece. The story of battling for honor and a past long lost is always familiar to these kinds of films, but Fearless delves a bit further into those themes than any martial arts film I've ever seen. Jet Li's portrayal is wrenching and triumphant, but ultimately (as is usually the case) also very tragic.

Still, the film gushes with amazing cinematography and lush set design that will have you glued to your seat. The art direction and even the language translation is poetic and wonderfully compliments the story and the brilliant acting and directing.

The Science of Sleep

If you saw The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you're going to love this movie. Of course, there are no Jim Carrey eccentricities or lines written by Spotless Mind's writers, but the director remains the same and his vision is undying and impressive nevertheless.

Michele Gondry has sculpted a wonderful fantasy taking place far away from America (in Paris) but further away yet from Paris (the mind.) The Science of Sleep takes place in that far corner of the imagination where nothing is too far to touch and hold and play with and break and fix again and make it into something completely different than it was originally.

Gael Garcia Bernal is perfect as the creator of these dreams and visions. His unrequited love for his next door neighbor are the cause for his wild mental escapades and convulsive brain farts that smell of psychadelic rainbows, floating cotton clouds and stitched-up horses and underwater flying to a remnant of memory with broken records on the ground.

That's the kind of loopy cerebral weaving Gondry was going for with this film. It's not enough to have nothing in this world when you can have so much more in your dreams. You can have anything you want when you fall asleep and you can have everything you want when you wake up. But it's much harder to attain when you're walking around; fully conscious.

The Guardian
The Guardian(2006)

Kevin Costner's career should've ended about 10 years ago when he released Waterworld. Unfortunately it did not, but it's also sad to think that if it had ended, he never would've made The Guardian-- a surprisingly good movie with a decent story and acting from himself and Ashton Kutcher.

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate Costner, but I feel his characters are always a bit over-the-top, cocky and rather bland and annoying. Those characteristics pretty much apply to this movie too, but in this movie, that's what his character is supposed to be.

Overall, the movie explored some cool themes about camiradery and friendship and the ties that bind, etc. It
delved into the bonds that last a lifetime and inspire us to do what we do and keep plugging away-- even in the
face of adversity and hardship. A few more cliché's would've made this film unbearable, but I was in a very forgiving
mood when I saw this movie. You should be too-- otherwise you might be prone to hating it and cursing me for
recommending it.

Confetti
Confetti(2006)
½

This is definitely one of the funniest movies I've seen all year. The style is Best in Show and A Mighty Wind; except it's made by Brits and is sometimes more outrageous and comically unpredictable.

The film follows three couples in London who are in the process of getting married. Confetti magazine (a bridal
mag) wants to pay for their weddings...if they can come up with the most creative concept.

So, we meet a couple who wants a Broadway Melody-wedding; a couple who would adore a tennis-themed party; and another couple who want to be married in the nude (they're naturists.)

What follows is a series of events that are both outrageous and extraordinary all at once. The performances are top-notch and delivered with such deadpan reassurance, that you wonder how these people got through the scenes with a straight face.

Definitely check this one out on DVD (as I'm sure it's already gone from theatres.) And don't miss-out on one of
the funniest comedies of the year.

Feast
Feast(2006)

I guess this was the last hurdle in the Project Greenlight track and field marathon. And it shows. The movie is
horrible (not horrifying-- horrible.) The acting is atrocious and the directing is basically non-existent. Whoever wrote this script should never have been "greenlit" and the should have been shot in the head. Maybe that would've
made for a scarier--or at least more entertaining--film.

My Man Godfrey

A classic screwball comedy from the 1930s, this one star William Powell and Carole Lombard. At the height of the Depression, this film became as much a social commentary picture about the division of classes in America as it did a divine comedy about the division of classes in America; and how it ultimately doesn't matter how much money you've got in your pocket in order for love to flourish.

The Royal Tenenbaums

Wes Anderson is at his best here with a pitch-perfect ensemble cast and an awesomely funny script. The quirky Tenenbaum family is relatable to everybody and the dynamic between the cast and director is evident as the quality of the acting and art direction prove that. A must-see!

Sunset Boulevard

Gloria Swanson is magnificent as the silent-era film star who can't let go of her glorious past. It's a great piece of classic Hollywood drama that highlights Hollywood itself and its damaging effects on the psyche of those who are a part of it.

Dick
Dick(1999)

It's so clever and funny. A comedy with a brain. The more you know about Watergate, the more you'll enjoy this movie. Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams are perfect as the brainless teenages behind the greatest political scandal of modern times.

Mrs. Miniver
Mrs. Miniver(1942)

In my opinion, this movie is the best portrayal of family drama relating to World War II that came out of that era (while the war was still going on). It is a document of history as well as a great film. Greer Garson is a class-act in this one. This film definitely deserved its Best Picture Oscar.

Mulholland Drive

David Lynch does it again with this twisted tale of Hollywood dreaming and idealism gone wrong. You have to be a Lynch fan to appreciate the movie. If you're not, you have to watch with an open mind and be ready to be made to think. A fantastic job on Naomi Watts' part, too.

It Happened One Night

Claudette Colbert's famous hitch-hiking (and skirt-hiking) scene is one of the most classic scenes in cinema, but this movie is better than that. The acting is great, the script is great, the direction is great. It's a giddy comedy that stays with you long after you've seen it and makes you want to watch it over and over again.

Wait Until Dark

Audrey Hepburn is awesome as the heroine (no pun intended). The mystery and suspense build to a riveting climax that (tame by today's standards) is still filled with extraordinary amounts of drama and tension. I was in this play in high school and have loved the movie ever since.

Gattaca
Gattaca(1997)

The not-too-distant future is creepy, yet elegant and refined. The concept is great and the art direction is classic. It sticks with your for a long time because it's the classic Hollywood look with a modern-day twist.

Girl With a Pearl Earring

This film is based on one of my favorite pieces of art by my favorite painter, Vermeer. There is so much detail placed in this fictional account of what could have inspired the classic 17th century painting. It's all completely plausible and it makes for a beautiful drama and an intimate, breezy and enjoyably period piece. Scarlett Johansson's performance is beautifully understated, but incredibly effective and is her best performance to date. See it now.

Brokeback Mountain

The movie that should have won Best Picture! Oh well. At least we know it deserved it over Crash. Michelle Williams will break your heart as hers breaks in the film. The film is directed with such poetry by Ang Lee and moves you to the point of feeling the anguish and relishing the idyllic setting.

Find Me Guilty

I never thought I'd say this, but Vin Diesel can act. I mean, it's not an oscar-worthy performance, but he can sure act! This movie find his character, Jackie Dinorsio, in a huge case against him and he decides to defend himself. He's a quirky, loud-mouthed, sleezy gangster who is defending himself in a criminal case and does it so well and with a great deal of humor. The movie gets a bit tedious at the end, but it's a good payoff and I congratulate Mr. Diesel for finally being able to enunciate his lines.

Jackass: Number Two
½

It's business as usual for the guys of Jackass. The stunts in this movie go from hilarious to disgusting in a matter of seconds and I'm glad I saw it for free.

There is an abundance of outrageously funny stunts with bulls and the guys trying to evade them. There are also some cool ones with rockets and the guys being launched off into the oblivion of a lake.

However, the pranks on Bam's parents are tired and unoriginal. Bam's mom is obviously on the payroll, as her "acting surprised" at every nonsensical act comes off as phony and unfunny. The movie could've definitely done without the family pranks.

What is touted as "the best prank in the entire movie" comes late in the film and is amusing-- at best.

Don't get me wrong-- the movie IS funny. But it is more repugnant most of the time. The abundance of fart, vomit and defication humor makes the truly funny physical pranks seem out-of-place.

Still, the movie is a good piece of number two!

All The King's Men

It's Oscar time! Sean Penn is a shoe-in for the Best Actor category and will be the one to beat this season. Of course, the season is just started and there are many other performances to see and expect. But Penn gives a tour-de-force turn as Louisiana governor Willie Stark.

Starks charisma and political fortitude is exuded seamlessly by Penn's adeptness to portray him as a humas with slightly superhuman powers of persuasion. He is an everyman who rallies the people of the small southern state and commands the voting public to give him a landslide victory.

Through all of this, though, there are powers greater than Stark who are (and have been) plotting and arranging a way to overthrow everything Stark has worked for while reaping the benefits.

The cinematography is classic. Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson and Anthony Hopkins round-out this top-notch ensemble cast to deliver a pitch-perfect motion picture that has all the elements to make it a winner: a smart script, stellar acting, impeccable directing and a cast and crew that is to die for. Definitely check this one out.

NOTE: The pace of this film may be deemed rather slow and streched-out, but it is crucial in order to let the plot develop and the character arc to unfold. It pays-off in the end.

Haven
Haven(2006)
½

This movie may feel a little scatter-brained and all-over-the-place at first glance. But it is actually a really smart caper film with a romantic Romeo & Juliet theme subtely sprinkled throughout.

The cinematography is excellent (reminiscent of a Tony Scott film) and brings gritty realism to the story of forbidden love, deceith, drugs and money laundering on a beautiful, yet dangerous island.

What is meant to be regarded as a "haven" is, in many ways, the most dangerous and seedy place you can imagine.

There are some decent performances by a noticably young Orlando Bloom and Zoe Saldana; as well as an okay job done by a not-so-okay actor by the name of Bill Paxton ( I really can't stand the guy.)

The storyline reminds me a bit of Traffic and the film has that Soderbergh-ian style. The heights that these characters will go to in order to get what they want is impressive and disturbing all at once.

And if you found my review of the plot somewhat vague, then you should DEFINITELY go see the movie to find out what the hell I'm talking about.

Hollywoodland
½

I think it's safe to say that this movie is the first major contender for the Academy Awards. The film is so rich in striking visuals and profound writing as well as in detailed sets, cinematography and art direction. And that's not even touching on the fine acting by the likes of Adrien Brody and Diane Lane. I am predicting Oscar nominations for Brody in the Best Actor category and Lane for Supporting Actress.

The story follows the investigation that takes place after the apparent suicide of real-life actor George Reeves; and which is conducted by a low-level, barely-employed P.I., played by Brody. Along the way, Brody discovers the seedy side of the Hollywood lifestyle and uncovers possible plots of deceit, romantic trysts and keeping up appearances in the face of a scorned (and possibly suspect) ex-lover or two.

The tension is great, but not over-the-top. The films score is classicl as it pertains to the period of jazzy saxophone as a lead instrument. The cinematography is mesmerizing and a feast for any buff or fan of a good Hollywood period drama.

Go out and see this movie and find out what happens. Find out whether there is more than meets the eye.

Roman Holiday

I cannot say enough good things about anything Audrey Hepburn is in. This movie is no exception to that. Roman Holiday is effervescent with charm, good writing, good acting, good directing, good costumes and great settings!

The story finds Princess Ann of Englandon a goodwill tour through Europe. Finally, while in Rome, she's had enough of her strict entourage and demanding schedule and decides to take to the streets in a display of defiance and sheer rebellion. Along the way, she meets dashing Gregory Peck who plays a hapless American journalist who could make a pretty penny off the story of the renegade princess.

What ensues is a comedic story that bubbles with giddiness and tender-hearted moments. Audrey Hepburn delivers a performance (her first in a major motion picture) that makes you think, "That girl deserved that Oscar!"

William Wyler's directing and cinematography are superb; as are Edith Head's costumes. Definitely, a must-see classic filled with tons of memorable moments that will call you to watch the movie over and over again!

Trust the Man

This is a movie that you could be a lot better than it is. But before you dismiss it as another piece of crap, you realize that it isn't meant to be taken so seriously. You see the movie for what it is: a romantic comedy about upscale New Yorkers who have difficulty coping with their love lives. Sure, the premise may lack orginality, but the actors bring heart and depth to characters that would, otherwise, be considered shallow, selfish and superficial. David Duchovny and Julianne Moore (my favorite) star as a sex-starved-stay-at-home-dad and a pre-meno-pausal actress, respectively. Their marriage is in shambles and needs a face lift (to which Moore's character suggests injecting with Botox). Maggie Gyllenhaal and Billy Crudup co-star as the younger couple with similar problems. Crudup plays the insecure, conflict-avoiding slacker who isn't ready to commit to Gyllenhaal's demands for a family of their own. The plot is somewhat predictable and is sprinkled with cheese here and there. But depending on your tastes in dairy products, that could be a good thing. The melo-dramatic storyline is offset by some pretty hilarious pranks (inluding Duchovny's subtle humor and sexual antics) and juxtaposed with some crass humor that are likely to summon some chuckles and even some whole-hearted belly laughs. The movie is smarter than it seems; has an amazing cast and oozes with good intention. Trust me on that!

Viva Las Vegas

A wildly-entertaining little flick featuring some amazing high-energy song and dance numbers by legends Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret. The story is weak and predictable, the pace is fast and rushed but the mood of this film is the reason to watch it. It will put you in such a hyper-active, dance your socks off, rompy mood that you'll want to watch it over and over again! The colorful pastiche that it creates with its visuals is also a defining statement this movie makes. This is Hollywood schtick of the '60s at its best. It's deliciously tacky but ultimately a fun piece of escapist cinema. A great little gem.

Invincible
Invincible(2006)

Just when you think you've seen everything in the tired sports movie genre, along comes Invincible. This movie really touches on an emotional level without resorting to heart-string-plucking or trite sentimentality. That doesn't mean the movie is devoid of inspirational moments, but when they do come-- they seem genuine and from the heart (as opposed as concocted by a desperate studio in need of a feel-good hit). Basically, it's what you'd expect a Disney-released movie to be...and more. Mark Wahlberg gives a stirring performance as the real-life bartender-turned-NFL-pro-player! His ambition is slightly beneath his rugged and coy exterior and is brimming and waiting to explode. When it does, the movie really picks up on inspiring vignettes without being clichéd or hoky. The cinematography is superb as exemplified by it's opulent and abundant slow-motion set-ups, 1970s period-setting yellow filter and the all-around AWESOME soundtrack which adds that much more nostalgia to the flick. This movie is definitely a must-see. It's a good-- true-- story and has magnificent acting by Wahlberg and Greg Kinnear; as well as ingenious directing by Ericson Core. NOTE: If you think the title sucks, think about it this way: the guy's name is Vince. Get it? InVINCEible!!!

Idlewild
Idlewild(2006)

This movie was a trip to sit through. It was so magical at times, so dull at times and overall...very pretty good. The visual appeal was what first drew me into this picture and got me excited about seeing it. In that regard, it delivers. Its cinematography and direction cues are masterful and are a testament of Bryan Barber's prowess behind the camera and editing board. The storyline, however, left a lot to be desired; as did the script, the acting and...(drumroll)....the music. The movie was more whimsical than musical. With its cute talking flask and the brilliant dancing notes on paper, the movie had lots of "cute" elements but no real substance. If you would just sit through the movie and watch it with the sound off...it probably would've been a much more rewarding experience. Don't get me wrong-- the film isn't bad. But it isn't good. It feels disjointed from the beginning. The meshing of musical genres with the visual style of the period is somewhat unsettling. The juxtapositiong of sound over visual is not a good tool to implement. Of course, it's OutKast and I should've expected it from them. But I expected much better....BECAUSE it was OutKast. A good effort, but not good enough.

Material Girls

STAY AWAY FROM THIS MOVIE! It was such a waste of time. Nothing redeeming about it whatsoever-- not even Anjelica Huston. What was SHE thinking? She must've been on crack. Seriously: I want my money back-- and I saw it for free!!!!!!!!!!!! The acting was atrocious, the script (or lack thereof) was pitiful at best and the cinematography (if you can call it that) was amateurish and cheesy at best. The Duff sisters need to dump their cute pair schtick (it didn't work for the Olsen twins-- and they're twins)...what makes them think it would work for them. Hilary also needs to dump her agent and get herself a pair of reading glasses for the the next script she reads.

The Illusionist
½

This movie is a stand-out in a year that has already seen some very good movies-- in my opinion. The cinematography is the first and most important example of excellence I can bring up for this movie. It's simply brilliant. It suits the period perfectly and compliments the way the story is told and the situations in which the characters find themselves. With allegorical elements and allusions (not illusions) to fairy tale romance and chivalry-tinged moral stories like Arthur and Excalibur, the movie is rich with such details in script as well as a stunning visual pallette. Paul Giamatti is outstanding as the bumbling Inspector Uhl who is smarter than expected and Ed Norton delivers with his performance as the intorverted, subtle and always surprising Illusionist. The ending may be a clever one, but may not seem so original to the avid twist-ending enthusiast. Still, the movie shimmers with glowing light cast upon it by its outstanding art direction, rich and livid performances, brilliant sephia-toned, old photo-like cinematography and a musical score by Philip Glass that is both haunting and whimsical in its eloquence. Definitely a must see. Jessica Biel does a pretty decent British accent (even though the movie takes place in Vienna-- you know how that goes.)

World Trade Center

I was a bit apprehensive about seeing this movie because I thought that Oliver Stone would sensationalize the events of this tragic day and piss-off a lot of people. Here, Stone skips the conspiracy theories and opts to go with an emotional approach. Of course, there will be some die-hard fans who'll be pissed-off anyway because they won't get their fair share of historical distortion, violence and gore. But this movie deals with a touchy subject and Stone tackles it head on without disappointing. The focus is on the story of two port authority officers who become trapped in the rubble in the hours following the collapse of the twin towers. The story focuses on them and on their wives. Stone knows how to bring out the best in his actors and wrings-out the most out of the script he works with. The screenplay is excellent and really connects emotionally. Maybe this is because it was written by a female. Who knows. It seems to me that it would be a different film entirely had it been written by a man. Maybe not a better film...and for that we should be grateful. Many will say this movie comes too soon, but better it be now (recent) and better it be made by a director and cast who understand the impact this day had on the people who will be viewing the movie. The film is not as emotionally draining as you might expect.

The Night Listener

This movie is too good to be passed-up. Of course, it will be overlooked because of its limited budget and distribution. The story, based on true events, starts with Williams as Gabriel Noone; a writer/radio host who delights his fans with stories of mystery, psychological wrangling and deceit. To his surprise, Gabriel has a 14-year-old admirer who happens to be too sick to meet him. The boy has been abused and is troubled as he is learning to adjust to his new life with his foster mom and a ravagin disease that is taking a toll on him. But soon the lines begind to blur as to what is really going on and what Gabriel, a lonely soul, is willing to make-up in order to fill in the gaps of his story. Toni Collette delivers another great performance as Donna and Robin Williams continues to prove his dramatic acting chops as the gay wordsmith. Rory Culkin also continues his winning streak of performances as the young boy Pete. Definitely get to the theaters and support this little film if you get the chance. The subject matter makes it very dark and hard to swallow...but it is well worth it because it is excellently written and directed.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

A classic romance comes once in a generation. In my opinion, Breakfast At Tiffany's is the film romance of the 1960s. Audrey Hepburn shines with her charm and charisma. It burns the celluloid and sears into your mind whenever she utters a line or throws a glance at the camera. Her poise and acting prowess are unmatched by any other female performer of her cannon of acting. She is one-of-a-kind. George Peppard also delivers an amazing and heart-warming performance as Paul; the enigmatic and relentless suitor of this wild thing. The score, made famous by Henry Mancini and his song 'Moon River' is a classic amongst movie scores (one of my favorites of all time) and really complements the movie superbly. But the real star of this film, a star far superior than even Ms. Hepburn is Breakfast's magnificent screenplay and the original material it is based on. This is a testament to how great a writer Truman Capote was; a writer who inspired a great movie about the highs and lows to which love will elevate or drag us to. It's nothing to be rich if you don't have love. Love is the greatest treasure of all and it lives within each and every one of us. Let us stop being caged by our own fear of ourself and let ourselves feel love and be free forever.

The Petrified Forest

It's so true when people say that they don't make movies like these anymore. First of all, the script to this moral story is exemplary and almost poetic. The film has been adapted from a stage play an feels very much like one onscreen. I personally like this. The cinematography is superb and the performances by younger Bogart and an even younger Better Davis are top-notch. But the crux of the film lies in Leslie Howard's performance as the drifter. The story is that of a drifter who comes into a dusty old cafe in the middle of the Southwest desert. The land is desolate and devoid of any human life except for this small pit stop. There, this drifter meets Gabrielle and she proceeds to fall in love with him. What follows is a conflict of interest when they are held against their wills in this cafe by a group of bandits lead by Bogart's character. The ending will leave some of you stunned but the message is that of finding beauty in the most unlikely places; finding beauty in tragedy, in isolation and in a place as desolate as the petrified forest. Love can exist anywhere, as long as there are two hearts to carry it. It doesn't have to exist in "romantic" places like Paris or Normandie, it can flourish in a dusty old cafe in the middle of nowhere!

The Descent
The Descent(2006)

At first I thought this movie was going to be like that crappy flick THE CAVE that came out last year. But it was much better than that. This story-- of 6 close girlfriends going off on an expedition to an uncharted cave-- is much better onscreen than it sounds in writing. The tone is set through a backstory for the main character that, although may come off as a hoky attempt for sentimentality, still works and creates sympathy for the main character who has just gone through grief and loss. This also helps to pose the question of whether what she imagines in the cave is real or not. I'm reading WAY too much into the movie (as I always do) but it's only to provide more insight into this surprisingly chilling and genuinely scary flick. It's not just some rock-em-shock-em slasher...the creatures in this movie are truly disgusting and appear often enough to dispell them from the cheesy, one-thrill-at-a-time category and put them into the sear-into-your-brain-and-haunt-you-for-a-night-or-two eschelon of frightening monsters. Defintiely worth a viewing-- if only for the fact that there IS a lot of gore and blood. In my opinion, however, the plot-- although thin at times-- provides enough substance and subtext to make it worth watching and enjoying.

John Tucker Must Die

This movie was just what I had expected. A mediocre little teen chick flick. Don't get me wrong-- it works very well for its intended market (girls, aged 13-17) but otherwise falls flat on its beautifully polished and manicured face and cute, supple, perfectly-tanned bubble ass! The main draw to this movie is Jesse Metcalfe and his AMAZING physical feautres. This is practically the only thing that kept me in the theatre. The story of girls seeking revenge on their boyfriend is unoriginal, rehashed and so full of high school clichés that you'd think you were watching a sequel the Not Another Teen Movie spoof. In short, if you really feel you must watch this movie, wait until its on DVD-- unless you want to see Metcalfe's torso in gigantic proportions on the big screen! Then maybe it would be worth it. Otherwise, check out the local bars if you want to see pretty 30-somethings.

Rent
Rent(2005)
½

Having seen the stage production on which this film was based just a few weeks ago, I have to say this adaptation is a nearly perfect one. The only thing that keeps me from giving it 5 stars is the exclusion of a few pivotal songs that were in the stage version. Another reason is Chris Columbus' idiotic decision to set this in 1989. It makes for anachronysms that shouldn't be. Otherwise, this film is a faithful adaptation and is worthy of much more acclaim than it actually received. Here, you have most of the original stage cast making their film debuts. Some may look and sound a bit older than the roles they're playing, but I wouldn't want it any other way. The original cast is perfect and it's only fitting that they reprise their respective roles for this tribute film. Rosario Dawson is a perfect choice to play the role of Mimi; the hooker with a heart of gold. The cast is top-notch and the directing is rather good too. An AMAZING soundtrack; particularly Dawson's numbers. The girl can sing. If you're not familiar with the show, be aware that nearly 100% of it is sung and there is very little dialogue. So, there you have it. Go out and RENT this movie today!

The Ant Bully

This movie was so much better than I had expected. After seeing Dreamworks' Antz a few years ago, I thought this movie was going to be a rehash of a not-so-good movie. But it was a lot better. The story is so much more inspired and creative. The animation (as is typical of anything being produced nowadays) was amazing and the sequences were expertly and beautifully art directed. With an Antz inclination and a plot that slants toward the Honey, I Shrunk The Kids side, this movie brings adventure to what could've been a very insipid look at ants and their anthropomorphic attriibutes and lifestyle. Lucas Nickle is very endearing as the 10-year-old bully who is bullied himself. The story ends up being one of friendship and understanding the differences between each other and the similarities we share. The moral ends up being one of forgiveness and working with those who torment you. Themes of forgiveness and absolution (for lack of calling it "redemption") abound. Definitely watch this movie if you're into cute stuff with a cute message.

Scoop
Scoop(2006)

A very funny, quirky comedy. Of course, Woody Allen would never make just any ordinary murder thriller with romance and jokes! He delivers a movie so full of nuance and comedic subtelty that, at first viewing, the film may seem a bit elementary in its approach. But of course, there's nothing simple about Allen's films. They are jam-packed with so much subtext and eccentricities and that's what I've come to love in his films. Scarlett Johansson is perfect in this comedic role and proves her vesatility as an actress by bringing a certain degree of naivete and nerotic carefreeness to the character of Sandra/Jade. She is a lot smarter than she lets on and her slyly innocent sensibility will help her catch the "tarot muderer." It's refreshing to see Hugh Jackman play a character other than Wolverine. It's almost unsettling to see his more slender physique strut about the screen without having to chop someone's head off. Woody Allen's performance is pure genius as the bumbling fool and magician Splendini. Definitely watch this movie if you're into Woody Allen films. They always take a few more brain cells to digest the plots and sometimes contrived dialogue...but the payoff is great. NOTE: It's also very refreshing to see Ian McShane -- of Deadwood fame -- perform without resorting to the use of the word "cocksucker."

Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic
½

Hilarious stand-up comidenne. This movie will make you laugh until your sides are about to split. The combination of stand-up and interlaced vignettes and musical numbers add a great element to this one-woman show. The subject matter ranges from the religious to the sexual and racist then back again. But through everything, the material is deliciously offensive and uproariously funny and methodical. None of it is an accident. Sarah Silverman is one of the funniest women in showbiz and she knows it. The bit with the bottled water is classic and don't forget to stick around at the end to see her understudy entertain the crowd. This is one of the most offensive films you will ever see-- in my opinion! And that's not a bad thing at all. It's beautiful because Sarah is an equal opportunity offender. Great view!

The Dying Gaul
½

This movie, based on the New York City-produced play, is taut and very well put together. It follows the story of Robert, a screenwriter trying to get his controversial, gay-themed script produced. Jeffrey is the executive who promises Robert he'll make the film if Robert decides to make some major changes to the script; changes that will test Robert's moral integrity. Jeffrey's wife Elaine, played by Patricia Clarkson, is a former writer herself and is struggling to maintain in her stale and monotonous marriage with Jeffrey. What follows is a story of seduction, deception and reflection on past tragedy. The story turns somewhat predictable and you see the ending coming from a mile away. But the good thing about this film is its life imitates art theme and the many angles you can see these characters from. Their story will compel you and Craig Lucas' script and directing will draw you into the world these these characters live in. The score for this film is very unusual and quite interesting. The cinematography is excellent, including the pool scenes and the silhouette office scenes.

Monster House

This movie was just what I expected and a lot more. First of all, the movie is intended for children. It's a fairly run-of-the-mill plot about a haunted house. But the backstory is cute and the dialogue lends itself to a few adult-oriented puns and implications here and there-- so as to not make the film unbearable for more mature audiences. Still the action and pacing is strong enough to make this movie enjoyable to any person at any age. Now-- the main reason to see this film is its techincal achievement. The magic is truly inspired in the way these characters are animated and the way the shots are set up, art directed and "photographed." Based on the beautiful and nearly flawless animation alone, I'm willing to place this film amongst the top contenders for Best Animated Feature come Oscar-time. It will probably even win that race. That's just my opinion. Watch the movie yourself and then decide to agree or disagree with me.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend
½

My Super Ex-Girlfriend is one of those movies you won't enjoy if you wait until you rent it. You'll feel like you've been ripped-off of your $4 and that you've lost all faith in Ivan Reitman. But trust me, you'll like the movie a lot more if you see it in the theaters with a large crowd who's into it. The movie itself isn't so bad. It does teeter on the ridiculous and absurd, but come on-- it's a superhero romantic comedy. What do you expect. The visual effects in this movie are also semi-amateurish but they work in the realm of the characters and the world Reitman has created. There are moments of cheesiness and overswelled musical score that feels out of place for a movie that's supposed to be this light. But Reitman is known for overswelling his music to oversell his films if they are lacking in the script department. Very good performance by Uma Thurman as the neurotic girlfriend with a BIG secret. Luke Wilson is lovable and perfect for the role of Sauders. There are moments of genuine laughter; like during a "sex scene" that had me in stitches. The movie is a popcorn flick that's targeted at women-- mostly. Just watch the damn thing and enjoy it. It could've been a lot worse-- it could've been a Supergirl sequel.

Mrs. Henderson Presents

Most films that take place during World War II always seem to deal with the same themes: love, loss, tragedy and compassion. That gets old. Mrs. Henderson Presents deals with those themes but does so in a very fun and subtle way. Mrs. Henderson has recently lost her husband and inherits a great amount of money. Being rich already, she must find a way to occupy her time and her spare change. She decided to purchase and run a theatre. Well, WWII drags the entire country down to its knees and Mrs. Henderson must find a way to uplift its people. The sweetness of this movie is palpable and the performances by Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins are simply beautiful. The movie's lighthearted approach to the war theme is the right approach to take and make this film that much more effective and connective. NOTE: Male & female frontal nudity throughout. Not that I mind-- but you might.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
½

This movie is, arguable, Ang Lee's best effort. The fact that this movie received so much attention and garnered such a vast amount of accolades has to say something about the quality of the story and the brilliant effort put forth by the actors, producers, crew and the director himself. THe visuals in this film are stunning from start to finish. The flying battle sequences are one-of-kind in THIS film despite their subsequent parody and bastardization by every other film involving martial arts-like battle sequences. The grace with which these characters move about the night sky is very telling of the Chinese culture and its principles of discipline, love and courage. The film's cinematography is superb and the art direction and costumes are also top-notch. Movies that followed; like Hero, House of Flying Daggers, etc., are all very good in their own right, but they all seem to follow the Crouching Tiger formula. And it's a good formula to follow. I highly recommend this film. NOTE: If you don't mind subtitles, watch it with subtitles. It's much better. The English dubbing, although some of the best dubbing I've seen, always takes away from the director's vision and intention for the film.

Deep Impact
Deep Impact(1998)

A sentimental doomsday movie?!? Coming right up! Although the movie touts the tagline "Hope Survives," one thing is for sure-- lucid moviewatching does not. The special effects (when they are FINALLY employed) are pretty good for a disaster flick. But the melodramatic story dealing with a broken father-daughter relationship, a seemingly illegal marriage between minors, and a black president played awkwardly by Morgan Freeman seems a little bit too contrived and unrealistic-- even for a popcorn flick. Now, with movies like this, you have to check your brain at the door because of the implausible plot points, etc. But the fact remains that Mimi Leder (the female director) tries to cram a perfect, optimistic world down your throat only to see it destroyed; and that seems to me like someone's trying to hard for an emotional connection with the audience. In short, watch the movie if you're easily entertained (which I tend to be) and if you're in the mood for cheesy storylines, characters and dialogue. The visual payoff is rewarding though. It could've been a lot worse...

Touch of Pink

What do you get when you're gay AND you come from a culture that ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT ALLOW IT?!?!? You create an imaginary friend who's a lot like a classic movie star from Hollywood's golden age so that he may give you advice as to what to do. This movie is soooo cute. It's basically the same storyline as Bend It Like Beckham, except there's no soccer and the main character in this movie is a gay man who likes playing with a different sort of balls. Alim must hide the fact that he's gay to his mother, a stereotypically conservative Indian woman who is coming to visit him. The comedy that ensues is somewhat predictable but also very funny and endearing. Kyle MacLachlan is superb as the Spirit of Cary Grant and is probably one of his better performances in recent memory! Except for his role in Showgirls, of course! Kidding. Watch this movie. It'll make you laugh-- or at least chuckle and relax.

Lady in the Water

Do you know what your purpose is in this life? Lady In The Water touches upon these themes in a subtle way. The bedtime story that Shyamalan tells us is a decidedly innocent and arguably common one. The moral is so basic, that it will lead you to believe the movie perhaps has no substance. But it does.
Shyamalan is master of setting up his story, his characters and their specific traits. Then wraps everything up rather neatly. From the opening moments of the film; when an allusion is made to a creature from hell, the tone of the film is set through this foreshadowing. Like all fables and tales of allegory, there are obstacles to overcome, but the balance is always maintained. Bryce Dallas Howard continues her dazzling trajectory as a rising star in the role of Story. Giamatti is at the center of the storm and must be able to see through the murky waters of his own past to recognize how much he is capable of accomplishing. As for the ending? Aside from delving slightly into the sentimental, most know how a fairy tale ends (that's for you to figure out). But I will say this-- not too many fairy tales end with a twist...and Lady In The Water is no different in that regard. So don't expect one.

Hulk
Hulk(2003)

OKAY, OKAY! This movie was really long and it tended to delve into the mind of Bruce Banner just a little too much! But that's a good thing in a comic-book adaptation. Particularly one like The Hulk, who just so happens to merit such psycho-analyzing. Ang Lee brings so much emotion to an emotionally-charged character who happens to be super human. These emotions themselves become super human and hence are magified to the point of creating supernova-like plasmic explosions! Ha! But seriously, the love story between Bruce and Betty (???) is rich and compelling. The special effects (although scantly provided) are very well-done and the story (although a bit dry and drawn-out) is still relatable and causes you to empatize. Especially the father-son broken relationship. Daddy was such a turd! Turning your mutant poodle on your own son! Bastard!

The Talented Mr. Ripley
½

A surprisingly elegant film that happens to be a thriller too! This story follows Mr. Ripley's exploits in romantic Italy. Matt Damon gives Ripley lovelorn, clumsy and naive characteristics, but he's really not as stupid as he wants you to think he is. His methods of persuasion and deflection are classic psychological-thriller material and take you on a ride of deceit along with Tom Ripley. The scenery and cinematography are top-notch. It plays out much like a Hitchcock film set in Europe. There are some really understated performances by Gwyneth Paltrow (who had just come off of winning her Oscar for Shakespeare In Love) and by Philip Seymour Hoffman; in a small, but pivotal role. This was the first movie I ever saw Jude Law in and I was quite impressed with him as well. I hadn't been a Matt Damon fan before this film, but he is the perfect choice for the quiet, almost stealthily sly Tom Ripley.

Bring It On
Bring It On(2000)
½

For a teen movie, this one is a keeper! I think I like it most because it transcends the conventional teen movie plot (yes-- a teen movie can transcend something). It's not so much that this movie is so different from the rest...it's just that it actually deals with something other than pretty kids with problems trying to get a date for the prom while backstabbing each other. Now, there are the usual teen flick suspects in this movie: pretty kids with problems, bitchy dialogue and catfights. But there is NO PROM and for that I am soooooooooo grateful. The cheer sequences are pretty impressive and the final "battle" is the film's highlight. The opening dream sequence is quite interesting and brings just a bit more visual depth to a pretty shallow-themed movie. The racial tension is also a good point to bring up in how this movie differs from its fluffy counterpats. Seeing the Toros battle the Clovers makes it that much more interesting because you know it's a black versus white thing just as much as it is about two sqauds trying to rip each other apart. But don't take that as social commentary. Good view if you're in a silly, upbeat mood.

The Village
The Village(2004)
½

Say whatever you wanna say about the ending...but this movie shocked me! I was so pleased with this film. The music, the cinematography, the somewhat awkward, yet very romantic dialogue made this movie so much more than the horror/thriller/slasher people were expecting. It's very unfortunate that a movie studio has to butcher the vision of a filmmaker by marketing the movie as something it's not. I think that's why a lot of people were utterly disappointed with this film. Granted, the ending was not as imaginative as some of Shyamalan's previous work-- but then again, nothing can or ever will be. The Sixth Sense is the movie he will always have to live up to (in terms of expectations) and he's never going to be at that level again. Plus, I don't think he would want to be. I think from now on, people just have to take each of his movies for what they are and not compare to anything else. I found enough redeeming qualities within the film to make it a great experience for me. If you go into this movie looking for more than just thrills and a kick-ass twist ending, you might enjoy it more than you think-- in my opinion.

Silver City
Silver City(2004)
½

When watching this film and you see the great Chris Cooper playing a dim-witted politician, you won't be able to help relating it to real life. But this movie goes beyond satirising our incompetent President, it goes beyond just dark humor...it's making a social statement on different levels. The environmental issue is brought up; as well as ethics and corrupt campaign processes, feelings toward undocumented individuals as well as family dysfuntion issues. The great ensemble cast helps bring many different opinions into perspective through different characters who go through different things and are all at different stages of their respective emotional and spiritual breakdowns. At first view, the movie might seem pointless and contrived, but give it a second chance or at least let it sink in for a day or two before you decide that it sucked for you! Daryl Hannah delivers a very understated, yet very fuc&ed-up performance! That's a good thing for her!

Little Miss Sunshine

There are two kinds of movies in this world: winners and losers. Little Miss Sunshine is a winner all the way! With shades of last year's The Squid and the Whale and a less-campy National Lampoon's Vacation plotline, this movie shines, shines, shines with vibrant performances by Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear and Steve Carrell (in a suprising performance with a dramatic sensibility). Alan Arkin also delivers another great performance as Olive's grandfather. But the true shining star of this gem is litte miss sunshine herself; Olive (played by Abigail Breslin). Her performance goes beyond the cuteness you might associate with a little child actress in a movie about a beauty pageant. But like so many movies, this film is more about the journey-- literally. The family that Olive belongs to is the definition of dysfunction, but she is the example of normalcy and spriteness that makes you feel tingly inside. I can't express how much I liked this movie. Watch it as soon as you can. It will likely pick up some Indie Spirit awards for screenplay, director and maybe even some acting nods. The screenplay is definitely Oscar-worthy!

Ponette
Ponette(1996)

A truly touching movie with brilliant acting by some of the most talented young actors I've ever seen. At the time this French film was produced, its protagonist was played by a 4-year old actress who carries this film on her small shoulders and carries it extremely well and better than most adult actors can only dream of carrying a film. The story is of an extremely sad nature and is very telling of how amazing these tiny thespians really are. To be able to act in a drama that deals with loss and tragedy and demands them to express a great amount of emotion not only showcases talent, but sucks you into the lives of these characters and makes you feel what they feel. By empathizing with a little thing like Ponette, you really feel for her and root for her until the very end. NOTE: French with English subtitles.

An American Haunting

A great cast but a weak movie. It really had potential to become the next Exorcism of Emily Rose-- which is exactly why it came and went. It tried too hard to capitalize on something novel that had made money one year prior. Too bad. Sissy Spacek and Donal Sutherland must have been desperate for work or they had horrible editors on this film. Sometimes actors think they're taking part in something great until they see the final product and the way it was put together by the editing team. But regardless of that, this movie tried too hard to be scary and tried too hard to deliver a social commentary at its ending. A valiant effort though. It's hard to make a truly scary period piece.

Signs
Signs(2002)

A very good follow-up to the oft-forgotten and overlooked Unbreakable. Mel Gibson delivers one of his best dramatic performances in this flick-- a truly understated performance (by Gibson's previous standards). Shyamalan does a great job at taking certain mythology withing the American psyche and extrapolating it into something that's complexly derived and devised. He delivers a movie that is more than a clever twist ending (there really isn't a "twist" so much as a revelation). This movie is more about a good script, great atmosphere by setting and pacing as well as knock-out performances by Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin and little Abigail Breslin as Bo. Shyamalan also has a knack for finding real high-quality new talent. This precocious little girl is bound to be the next big child actor in Hollywood. Look for her next in Little Miss Sunshine!

The Nightmare Before Christmas

This movie is a multi-format masterpiece. It is a great animated film; it's a wonderful musical; it is a beautiful love story and is an amazing technical achievement. The Christmas/Halloween theme really does not make it a Christmas or Halloween movie. It's just a beautiful film that you can watch over and over again throughout the year. Christmas in July, anyone? Danny Elfman composes some of his best music for this film and the voice performances are inspired and magical. One of my favorites of all time-- I highly recommend this movie. NOTE: This film is actually not directed by Tim Burton, but his style and creative force is so obviously behind it. Selick (the director) does an amazing job at creating what Burton has in mind and bringing it magically to life.

Food of Love
Food of Love(2003)

This movie had to be the dullest piece-of-crap I've ever seen. Wait-- that would be Gods and Generals. But this would be high up there on my list of crappy movies. It has nothing to do with it being gay-themed (I loved Brokeback Mountain and Touch of Pink). It's just that the script is a thin shroud for a softcore gay porn flick. It is truly horrendous and there's no character development at all. The lead is a page turner for a pianist or something. That's it. No cinematography to redeem it (good cinematography can actually make a really shitty movie good enough for me to like), and there's no great performances by females (which is usually the case and only saving grace for actresses in gay men movies). Stay away from this atrocious production. Don't even watch it out of morbid curiosity.

Waking Life
Waking Life(2001)

Trippy movie. You have to be in a philosophical mood to watch this. The themes and social issues that this movie bring up are really hard-to follow if you're watching this movie just to be entertained. You have to se this movie if you're in the mood for thinking. The animation technique (rotoscoping) is something that adds to a really ordinary plot and makes the movie that much more interesting and captivating. I doubt if this movie weren't animated the way it is, it would not have captivated me for as long as the movie was. Trippy, trippy! NOTE: "Trippy" does NOT mean "bad."

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Can you say CAMP?!?!? This movie is the definition of 1980s camp horror/comedy. It's Elvira, come on! That said, it was one of my favorite films growing up. It was so pathetically idiotic that it was actually good. Elvira gets herself into situations that are classic and her cheesy one-liners are things only Elvira would say and things only a moron would laugh at! So, be a moron for 90 minutes and let go! As you follow Elvira exploits in a small, quaint town (where she is so out-of-place) you find yourself laughing (or at least chuckling) at her (not with her) and rooting for her and goofball, horny teenager followers. The mystical theme to this movie and the whole curse element is inconsequential, but adds to the preposterous plot. A classic!

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

After The Royal Tenenbaums, I was expecting something equally irreverent and quirky. Instead I found The Life Aquatic! That's not to say anything bad about this movie. It is still very humorous and has great performances by a wonderful ensemble cast-- but don't expect a Royal Tenenbaum's sequel. For those of you who haven't seen Royal, watch this movie first and enjoy it. It will make you laugh (if you're into very dry humor and sarcasm; as well as quirky, offbeat and often vague humor) and it will also make you cry (if you allow yourself to become involved with these characters. It really is an uplifting movie about the bonds between friends (just like Royal was about the bonds between family).

Cold Creek Manor

This movie proved to be a major box-office dissapointment, but I thought it was better than that. I admit, it's a pretty "ordinary" thriller and there really isn't anything special, but it held my attention for two hours and actually entertained me. Plus, Stephen Dorff's physique is likely to entertain anyone remotely into that kind of thing. The plot is a bit done and predictable, but it still sets a great mood and has potent atmosphere through setting and character development. A solid script but a not-so-solid plot.

Coyote Ugly
Coyote Ugly(2000)

I don't care what anyone says, this movie was pretty damn entertaining. And not just because of the hot girls (trust me, I'm not into that). This movie is one of my most guilty pleasures and it's because it's so damn unrealistic and idealistic about succeeding in the music business. I love it because it's so delusionally positive and upbeat. A good romp if you're feeling depressed and into watching good Hollywood fluff. NOTE: Highlights will always include any scene in which the Coyote girls are dancing on the bar. And the bra exchange too!

The Terminal
The Terminal(2004)
½

Had any other director made this film, I would deem it an excellent effort. But coming from Steven Spielberg, you expect a heck of a lot better than this. It's a great story of a man who is lost in a foreign world and must learn to make friends and build bridges in order to get back to his comfort zone. Hanks delivers one of his weakest performances to date as a man from a made-up country with a really bad accent. His naive sensibility comes off as phony and his melodramatic panic episodes come off as fake and over-acted. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Diego Luna are about the only highlights in this film (in terms of performances). Like I said, not a bad film...unless you realize it's made by Spielberg. For a better, more finely-crafted Hanks-Spielberg collaboration, watch Catch Me If You Can.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

This movie was a knock-out directorial debut by Tommy Lee Jones. The story is one of immense importance, on both an emotional level and a politcal one. It humanizes these "illegals" and the problem a face and a heart! It speaks on the power of friendship, the power of prejudice and the power of believing in a dream to become somebody or accomplish something worthwhile. Melquiades wanted to achieve something great and Pete Perkins helps him along the way. NOTE: There may be a few extended graphic elements in this movie, but don't close your eyes or think it's gross because that's the exact problem this movie addresses-- wanting to look the other way instead of facing truths.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

I had read the book (on which this film is based) a few years back and thought it should be made into a movie. Well, it actually had been made into a f ilm. Now that I've finally seen it, it goes to show how powerful this story is. Set during the communist re-education period of China's histroy, the uplifting, emotional power of forbidden music, forbidden books and forbidden love are timeless and are so poetic in this adaptation. It proves that artistic and creative thinking cannot be supressed and are the great and noble characteristics that make up the human spirit. It also helps that the author of the book (largely autobiographical) is also the film's director. NOTE: Chinese, with English subtitles.

Spirited Away

An animation classic-- at least it is in my opinion. The story of a young girl caught between two worlds is so magical and creative. The execution is excellent and the english-translation is seemless and very well-done. It definitely deserved all the attention it got and the awards it received and was nominated for.

A Scanner Darkly

A seriously twisted look into the mind of a drug addict and the people they surround themselves with. Think of this movie as SPUN with a sci-fi, big-brother theme and cool overlaid animation. Robert Downey Jr. is excellent as is Woody Harrelson. A visual feast, the movie also serves as biting and sobering (no pun intended) social commentary. The plot can be a little hard-to-follow at times and the dialogue may be a bit convoluted and superfluous, but whatever! It's existential Linklater at his best! See this movie now!

Running Scared
½

A gritty thriller that can be placed in the cannon of explicity graphic and violent films. Paul Walker stars as Joew Gazelle, a gangster who's in trouble with his boss when he loses a gun that a murder was comitted with. The opening scene is classic and the subplot with his wife is spine-tingling.

Forbidden Homework

I remember seeing this movie about 10 years ago on television in Mexico while on vacation with my family. Watch it and you'll see why I think it's such a good movie. It is shot more like a play (it may have been a stage production before it was a movie). The movie itself caused a lot of controversy in Mexico when it was released. And the ending--talk about a twist. But don't worry-- they're not ghosts!

The Contender

An exhilerating thriller/drama with a knock-out performance by Joan Allen. This movie touches on many important societal issues, including the corruption that comes with power and the double-standards in society regarding gender. This is one of my favorite political thrillers ever because it has a message and is executed very well-- and delivers all the goods. Definitely a must-see!

The Pink Panther

Nobody can compare to the great Peter Sellers, but Steve Martin does a pretty good job filling in those large shoes. The movie is light enough to be funny and doesn't take itself too seriously...ever! The only drawback is that Beyoncé is in this. She is probably one of the reasons I hate Goldmember. She basically plays the same character in this one. Other than that, this movie is "not-so-bad."

Monsters, Inc.
½

This movie was so damn cute. I love the ending. The sequence with all the doors is such a complicated and excellently executed one that it will have in awe the whole time you're watching. Pure Disney/Pixar magic.

You, Me and Dupree

A very funny movie. Here you have Owen Wilson playing the same character he always plays, but he's so good at it. Kate Hudson is adorable as the ever-patient Molly. Michael Douglas must be desperate for work-- but he could be doing a lot worse because this movie really wasn't so bad. It relies heavily on Wilson's aptitude for physical humor and quirky antics and behavior. I enjoyed it very much.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
½

This movie is so much better the original-- and then some! The script may not have been as solid as the first Pirates, but the visual FX are crazy and the scenery and cinematography are excellent. A bit long? I think not! Not long enough-- particularly when you want the last scene to keep going.

Anchorman - The Legend Of Ron Burgundy

At first, I hated this movie and thought that Will Ferrell dilevered a weak performance. But, after repeate viewings, I realize I was wrong. This movie is so stupid, it's good. Will Ferrell's performance is over-the-top on purpose and serves the character just right. The bickering between his character, Ron Burgundy and Christina Applegate's character is hilarious and makes for some great situations. The ending could have been better...but that's just my opinion.

Cruel Intentions
½

Think Dangerous Liasons with sexy "teenagers" and bitchy dialogue. This film is a teen movie classic!

The Four Feathers
½

This movie was very much overlooked when it was released in 2002. The cast is excellent (even Kate Hudson is better than I expected for a rare appearance in a period piece), the cinematography is amazing and it does the original film justice. In the age of the Hollywood remake, it's rare when a new version can do an old version justice. Definitely a good view if you are in the mood for a period drama involving a love triangle.

City by the Sea
½

This movie is proof that Robert De Niro can be in mediocre movies. Forget about Showtime-- that was MEANT to be mediocre...this movie wasn't. Although the suspense and acting are good, the plot is all-too-familiar and the story moves in a more-than-predictable direction. Too bad Frances McDormand is in this too-- she's usually much better than this.

Ghost World
Ghost World(2001)

A very quirky and dark look into the collective mind of two adolescent girls. Their trials and tribulations are comedic and bizarre all at once. The way they toy with the emotions of others is typical of girls this age but it seems to be more cruel than usual because of the humor they find in manipulating others. Thora Birch is excellent in this role as is Steve Buscemi.

Forces of Nature
½

I remember being dazzled by the slow-motion sequence toward the end of the movie. This was back in high school-- but the scene still sticks in my mind. The movie is your typical romantic comedy but it has a supernatural/esoteric twist that makes it unique amongst the cannon of forgettable romances of the late 90s. Bullock is as cute as ever...and so is Affleck.

Gods and Generals

THE-WORST-MOVIE-EVER! So long, so boring and bad CG battle sequences. Every-other word is "God" and there's a prayer every five minutes. Oh yeah-- and it's so long.

Stuck on You
Stuck on You(2003)
½

The Farrelly Bros. did an amazing job on Something About Mary. Sadly, all of their films will be compared to that one and none will measure up to it. The movie is cute-- it works, but it's not great. Cher could've done without this dud in her resumé, but maybe SHE contributed to the movie's dudity herself.

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man

This documentary on Leonard Cohen is a very good analysis of who this singer/songwriter/poet really is. It showcases many great performances of Cohen's songs by many of today's alternative artists. Some highlights include "If It Be Your Will" by Antony and "Halleluijah" by Rufus and Martha Wainwright; as well as a rendition of "I'm Your Man" at the end of the movie by Leonard Cohen himself (accompanied by U2.) Watch if you like great songwriting and the man behind a great song.

Collateral
Collateral(2004)

Tom Cruise with gray hair? Hmmm! That shouldn't detract you from enjoying this really good action thriller. Cruise's performance as the hitman from hell is his best since Magnolia and Interview With The Vampire before that. Jamie Foxx as the innocent cab driver is also one of his better career moves.

Igby Goes Down

This film has amazing performances by all of the ensemble cast. Even Amanda Peet isn't half bad in this one! Igby (as played by Culkin) is a completely relatable character, but at the same time you don't feel TOO sorry for him. Susan Sarandon gives a good, brief performance. It's family drama where there shouldn't be any. Spoiled rich kids with problems. It makes for a biting dark comedy and social commentary.

Constantine
Constantine(2005)

This movie is pretty good. The story is awesome! The effects are awesome! Rachel Weisz's performance is awesome! The only thing that hinders me from giving this film a higher rating is Keanu Reeves' atrocious performance. As usual, Reeves chews up and spits out his lines with his pseudo-surfer accent that makes me cringe. At least he's not doing period pieces anymore!

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

Another great Julianne Moore performance in a another film that sort of came-and-went! As a contest-enterer and occasional prizewinner myself, I can identify completely with Moore's character in this film. It also touches on lots of family themes: responsibility, hope for a better future and being able to provide for a large family despite being a housewife and having a bi-polar husband. This movie will really inspire some and even make you shed a tear or two. Oh yeah-- and it's all based on a true story!

Catch Me If You Can
½

A departure for Steven Spielberg. That's actually a good thing. This movie is actually quite light in tone and you'll enjoy it very much if you like DiCaprio and Hanks. They both deliver really solid performances in this flick and the art direction is brilliant as Spielberg attempts to capture the essence of the 1960s/1970s. It's all hightened really, what with the glossy look of the film, but it's a very entertaining caper. A true game of cat-and-mouse. Oh yeah-- this one's based on a true story too!

Russian Ark
Russian Ark(2002)

This movie is a marvel to watch. Touted as being shot in one take, this film travels across hundreds of years of Russian history in the Hermitage. It's an amazing spectacle, what with carefully choreographed sequences and dazzling set and costume design. Definitely a must-see! The movie is in Russian with English subtitles.

The Rules of Attraction
½

The teen/college-age theme is taken a step further in this gem. It's much more than a superficial keg party, football team or prom-themed youth movie. It deals with the angst of youth in a more mature way than in most films that portray this segment of society.The way the film is shot suggests hints of a Tarantino influence and the split shot is cool watch. You'll know which one I'm talking about when you see.

What Lies Beneath

In the great style of Hitchcock, Robert Zemeckis directs a great suspense/thiller. There is so much pent-up tension that is built by the atmosphere of the setting, the atmosphere of the the house and the atmosphere of this seemingly perfect couple. Michelle Pfeiffer is great in this film.

The Wedding Singer
½

One of the very few Adam Sandler movies I like. I usually find him rather annoying, but somehow in this movie, I don't. The movie is quirky and the 1980s setting makes for some funny scenes. As Sandler's character becomes more and more pathetic, his antics at work become more and more irreverent and hilarious.

Grand Hotel
Grand Hotel(1932)

One of the greatest "classic" films of all time. This movie has an AMAZING ensemble cast, but the movie belongs to Greta Garbo. She steals it (as she tends to do in most of her films.) It has a dazzling script and is pure Golden-Age Hollywood glory stamped onto celluloid.

Far From Heaven
½

If Julianne Moore hadn't been nominated for her performance in The Hours the same year she was nominated for this movie, she would've won for Far From Heaven. This movie deals with so much more than suburban life in the 50s. It touches on subjects that were considered taboo in that era-- namely, the themes on gays and racial issues. At first glance Moore's performance is flighty and superficial but you can really see the depth in her talent if you look beyond the surface. Great performance by Dennis Quaid as well.

The Greatest Game Ever Played
½

You'd think a movie about golf would be really boring, right? Well, don't worry-- this isn't Kevin Costner's Tin Cup! It's a Disney movie-- so right off the bat, you have to be into that. It's very uplifting, very positive and has a great score!

Stay
Stay(2005)

A really great, twisted film that was overlooked last year. If you like movies with twists and turns, stay for this one. If not, don't bother. Naomi Watts is great-- as always!

Double Indemnity

A classic noir film. This is probably my FAVORITE film noir movie. It has a classic script (they don't write dialogue like this anymore) and Billy Wilder's directing is top-notch. The plot is cliché by today's standards, but the suspense will grip you if you just indulge yourself a bit and let yourself go for a ride.

The Incredibles

Walking out of the theater, I heard some dumb broad say about this movie, "That would never happen in real life!" She was dead serious. I thought things like what she said were never uttered in real life. I guess I was wrong. This movie is classic!

Titanic
Titanic(1997)

Overrated, yes. But I'm obsessed with anything to do with Titanic and I thought the movie was excellent despite it's very unrealistic lovestory. I'm always willing to overlook unrealistic scenarios when watching FICTION onscreen.

Legally Blonde 2 - Red, White & Blonde

Wow. What a disappointment. The first one wasn't much to begin with-- so where does that leave this one?!? At least Reese got $15M. I lost 2 hours of my life.

Unbreakable
Unbreakable(2000)

If you don't like slow-paced films, don't watch this movie. If you're expecting another shock-'em ending like in Sixth Sense, don't watch this movie. If you love character development and amazing direction & cinematography, WATCH THIS MOVIE. And for those of you who can appreciate a mild pay-off, you'll really enjoy this one's "twist" ending as well. After giving it some thought, this movie turns out to be about something completely different than you think when you first watch it. It's the beginning of something greater.

The Weather Man
½

Many people hated this movie, but I loved it because of Nicolas Cage. He is one of the most consistenly great actors of recent times (in my opinion) and he only gets better with each film. With this one, he is perfect in the role of the insecure, detached, why-me weatherman Dave Spritz. He is so pathertic you'll want to throw him off a bridge. But that will also make you root for him even more as he begins to stand up for himself.

The Pianist
The Pianist(2002)
½

This is a film worth remembering to watch once or twice a year...just to keep you from being vicious to others! Unlike a certain Spielberg film that deals with a list...this Polanski masterpiece is even more touching and meaningful because Polanski went through these events first-hand as a child. Say whatever you want about Mr. Polanski, but his personal life has nothing to do with how magnificent his films are. This is one of his finest.

Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist(2005)
½

A better-than-expected adaptation of the classic Dickens novel. Roman Polanski does a great job at bringing new life into this story. Although you may know all about the plot and characters from previous adaptations (nothing much is changed in this version), at least watch this film for the amazing cinematography and art direction.

Legally Blonde

Very cute. It's so cheery and so damn bubbly, you can't help but start rooting for this based-on-heightened-reality heroine. And Bruiser is so adorable.

Van Helsing
Van Helsing(2004)

I don't care what anyone says about Hugh Jackman's beautifully coifed hair-do or Kate Beckinsale's OBVIOUSLY fake vampire teeth-- I LIKED THIS MOVIE. It's not as bad as you'd expect and it's a lot better than you might think. And FYI-- I'd be more worried about Kate's OBVIOUSLY fake accent in this one.

Peaceful Warrior

A very touching movie-- if you don't mind a little preachiness and a little cheese. Get that out of the way and what you're left with is a truly uplifting story that might even inspire you a bit.

Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom)

I'd like to thank my friend Crystal for exposing me to THE strangest movie I've ever seen. I'm not saying it's horrible (I'm sure there's worse), but it was pretty bad nonetheless. It is excessively graphic and drives its point across in excess...right through your tongue, in fact!

Pride and Prejudice
½

A sweeping romance that I got caught-up in. I didn't know how well YET ANOTHER remake of this story would fare...but it was made quite well and I enjoyed it very much. Keira Knightley gives her best performance (so far.)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
½

They keep telling me the original is a lot better-- but I don't listen to that nonsense. I just appreciate movies for what they are and I don't try to compare them to anything else! This movie was scary to me. But, if it helps you decide...it doesn't take much to scare me.

Down With Love
½

Such a funny little movie. It's so kitschy, corny and irreverently sweet that you'll love the toothache it causes you. You have to be in a silly mood to watch this...otherwise you'll hate it.

The Boys from Brazil

Just like Denzel in Training Day, Gregory Peck leaves behind his goody-goody image and plays consumate evil as the Nazi doctor from hell. The concept of this movie is also very, very creepy. I won't give anything away. Just watch it!

Training Day
Training Day(2001)
½

Denzel Washington throws his "goody-two-shoes" image out the door in this one. He become pure evil as the crooked cop from hell! Definitely a good view!

Napoleon Dynamite

Terribly overrated, terribly overacted, terribly cheesy BUT ALSO terribly FUNNY! Just pull the stick out and enjoy this movie!

Titus
Titus(1999)
½

A very strange adaptation of one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays. Anthony Hopkins is great and Taymor's direction is beautiful...the opening scene is classic.

Frida
Frida(2002)

In a perfect world, Salma Hayek should've gotten an Academy Award for her performance as the Mexican painter. But, living in a flawed world, you will still appreciate the courage it took to play such a strong woman and the art direction is simply exquisite.

Romeo + Juliet

A very unique adaptation (as only Baz Luhrman can do) of the play. This is visually rich and very entertaining despite the modern setting and the old english.

Romeo and Juliet

A classic adaptation of the beloved Shakespeare play. This one is one of my faves of all time-- not quite top 10 material though.

Cold Mountain
½

An effective civil-war drama with Renee Zellweger's best performance to date. She deserved that Oscar and seeing play Ruby only reaffirms that she's more than just a pretty face. Well, maybe pretty isn't the right word.

The Cooler
The Cooler(2003)
½

A heart-felt drama about a loser who helps make other losers. But what he realizes is that he's not such a loser afterall. William H. Macy is superb and Maria Bello is enchanting.

Pleasantville
½

This movie is so funny and has an important message. One of my favorite movies to watch over and over again. Great ensemble cast!

Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair(2004)
½

This movie was nearly perfect. Reese Witherspoon should have been nominated for an Oscar for this performance. It was also one of those movies that came and went thanks to the brilliant marketing people at the production company.