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Movie Ratings and Reviews

The Brave One

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]THE BRAVE ONE[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Neil Jordan[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/warner_brothers/the_brave_one/_group_photos/jodie_foster11.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 122 minutes, Warner Bros. [/center]
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[center]In a fall season already loaded with violence, vengeance, and anger, you'd think that there would be at least one or two to tackle these topics on a more serious note than films like [i]Death Sentence [/i]or [i]Shoot 'Em Up[/i]. Thankfully, seasoned director Neil Jordan has presented us with a film similar to these recent others, but only at the surface, called [i]The Brave One[/i]. In his quest to make a serious film about one's sudden tranformation into a violent figure after a devastating incident happens to someone close to them, Jordan first does a good thing by setting the cast in the right direction, with Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard in the lead roles. Another thing that a proven filmmaker like Jordan brings to this type of story is balance, and the knowledge that although there certainly will be a violent killing spree, to not put it on high entertainment display, but rather the psychological end of things must be focused on. There are not intense sequences of prolonged bloodbaths like the films mentioned before. Instead, [i]The Brave One [/i]takes us inside the head of the main character as she reluctantly, but inevitably, dissolves into another human being altogether. [/center]
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[center]It is already well known from the advertisements so I know I'm not giving anything away when I mention that, in the film, Foster's character loses her fiancee, and a lot of herself, in a brutal beating in New York City's Central Park. It is in the opening fifteen minutes or so of the film, the parts where we attempt to get to know her realtionship with her fiancee well, that the movie had me a little worried. I was greatly anticipating that Jordan would certainly be the one to bring a little logic to the whole revenge genre that seems to have revived itself here in 2007, but during the opening portions of this film I found it to be rushed, with hardly any time to actually care for these people before they become victim to something incredibly senseless. These opening minutes were so problematic that I even thought Jordan's directing was a little on the uneven side. I guess it's at the point when Foster is released from the hospital, or maybe when we are introduced to Terrence Howard's detective character that the movie really finds a way to capitalize fully on what it's trying to accomplish. Major kudos have to go to the two leads here, who take the two roles, which have an interesting relationship set up already, and make them very memorable. [/center]
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[center]The reason this movie works well is because Foster and Howard are so deep inside what they're doing, so involved, that they never give them or even the movie itself a chance to step outside the realm of a sense of reality. Jordan pulls himself together after a little stumble in the introductory minutes and manages to create a strong picture that we come to find is not so much about revenge, but one's realization that they are slowly becoming a shadow of their former self. The cinematography by Phillippe Rousselot, is slick and imaginative at times, and the music score, by Dario Marionelli, is solid and fits just right. The movie has a couple of mishaps, both in the beginning and in what seems to be a spruced-up finale for Hollywood purposes, but [i]The Brave One [/i]is a strong film nonetheless. [/center]

Mr. Woodcock
Mr. Woodcock(2007)

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]MR. WOODCOCK[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Craig Gillespie[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/new_line_cinema/mr__woodcock/billy_bob_thornton/woodcock2.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]PG-13, 87 minutes, New Line[/center]

[center]I don't think I could ever get tired of Billy Bob Thornton digging into his [i]Bad Santa[/i]-bag of tricks to create similar characters full of relentlessly ruthless humor, and even though that's what he's done a couple of times since making that hilarious Terry Zwigoff film in 2003, it just hasn't quite worked. No matter how good Thornton is in a film, and he has shown that he is never capable of being anything but magnificent, there's no denying that the material has to be up to par with the performance. That obviously has not happened for him in a comedy since [i]Bad Santa[/i], with the first piece of mediocrity being last year's [i]School For Scoundrels[/i], and now it's Craig Gillespie's long-delayed release, [i]Mr. Woodcock[/i]. [/center]

[center]The film is about a sinister physical education teacher, Thornton's Mr. Woodcock, who devastates his adolescent students' self esteem as a personal hobby. One of those students, John Farley, has grown up to become the successful author of a self-help book, mostly fueled by the actions of Mr. Woodcock thirteen years earlier. Seann William Scott plays Farley, who is coming back to his Nebraska home for the first time in a very long while, and to accept the town-honored "Corn Cob Key". So the table is set for some major confrontation to begin, again, with Woodcock and Farley when he finds out that Woodcock is dating his mother. It is extremely important to a physical comedy like this to have a good-guy lead opposite Thornton that can hold his own ground, and although Seann William Scott had shown promise early in his career, has done nothing to capitalize on it since the [i]American Pie [/i]series ended. Here he cannot do anything to generate good laughs, and especially in the scenes without Thornton is where he fizzles out to a tremendous degree. Susan Sarandon is shamefully underused and dimly written as Farley's mom, and another good talent is wasted. [/center]

[center]There are a few situations that worked some laughs out of me in [i]Mr. Woodcock[/i], and all of them being when Thornton was able to let loose on his own. Unfortunately there is a far too small amount of times when the great actor gets to dominate key scenes in the film, and instead the movie becomes Scott's, which is its downfall. Amy Poehler does some fill-in supporting work and is just so Poehler-ish. I've been amused by the actress at times in other things she's done, but she never really seems to break out the same old character shell she has been playing since her career began, which is the loud-mouthed and egotistical bitch from hell that won't take no for an answer. In this film, she does it again and is only funny about half the time...just like everything and everyone else, except for Thornton obviously, who never reverts away from his scornful demeanor, even when everything else in the movie does. That is the only thing that can save this movie from total disaster. Instead, it's just a plain ol' bad movie. [/center]

28 Weeks Later...
½

[center][size=6][font=Garamond]28 WEEKS LATER[/font][/center]
[center][/size]director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/fox_atomic/28_weeks_later/rose_byrne/28weeks1.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 101 minutes, Fox Atomic[/center]

[center]It was when thinking about the truly creeped-out brilliance that comes out of nowhere in the follow-up to [i]28 Days Later[/i] that persuaded me to create the successful sequels list that has preceeded this review. It is not often when a sequel gets things right enough to be worthy of being put alongside its predecessor, and it's even more rare when it can overcome the expectations, and [i]28 Weeks Later [/i]does it with a cast and crew that in no way resembles the first installment. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's vision brings an extremely frightening feel to this film that highly-touted Danny Boyle couldn't quite deliver in the first. He proves to be just what the series needed, elevating it into the top tier of zombie pictures, and becomes so effective that it actually makes the [i]Later [/i]seem better upon reflection. [/center]

[center]It can go without saying, but I will do it anyway. The film takes place 28 weeks after the first film left off, this time venturing inside London, where the U.S. Army is planning to make a small portion of the city and make it a place where the survivors of the first virus can start over anew. Every person is sort of shipped in like packages to the city, everyone tested to see if they are okay to live and start a new civilization, and there are high hopes and almost positive feelings that the virus is now 100% gone. The only trouble is, there wouldn't be a movie without this being entirely un-true. Robert Carlyle plays a father of two who barely escaped the clutches of the first virus, as shown in a genuinely terrifying opening sequence that had me cringing in angst, something I rarely ever do while watching a film. He makes it back to London and meets up with his two children, but has to inform them that their mother had been taken. But when she is miraculously found and taken in to be treated by a medical expert, played terrifically by Rose Byrne, it seems as though she is immune to the virus and could serve as some sort of cure to the epidemic. She is, obviously, the complete opposite, and when her family is told that she is being held in a military-held hospital, her husband quickly makes it there to see if it could possibly be true, seeing as he saw her being torn apart in front of his own eyes 28 weeks earlier. What ensues next will catapult another rage, this time creating a chaos that makes the first film seem like nearly nothing. [/center]

[center]Everything about this film is done just right, from the direction to the musical score to the cinematography, lighting, and even the terrific cast. Jeremy Renner plays the one soldier who is willing to think outside the box and help a group of scattered civilians, including Carlyle's children and Rose Byrne's character, get out of the city. There is terror lurking around every corner, just as there always is in zombie flicks, but this film really had me clutching the edge of my cup-holder throughout. There is enough story, blood and gore, taut direction, etc. to make every type of fan happy in this film. I don't think I've ever been this caught off guard by a sequel, and mainly because my expectations were little to none for a film with a cast and crew plate swiped completely clean. It is impressive, disturbing, harrowing, and just about any other creepy adjective out there. With another viewing I could easily see myself upping the rating to masterpiece level, especially in the horror genre. [/center]

Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End
½

[center][size=5][u]PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN[/u][/size][/center]
[center][size=5]AT WORLD'S END[/size][/center]
[center]director: Gore Verbinski[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/walt_disney/pirates_of_the_caribbean__at_world_s_end/_group_photos/keira_knightley6.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]PG-13, 165 minutes, Walt Disney[/center]
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[center]It said a lot of director Gore Verbinski's talents when he managed to base an entire summer blockbuster on an amusement park ride, and make it entertaining, with 2003's [i]Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl[/i]. It could easily have been subtitled "The Mr. Depp Showcase" as well, seeing as he was almost the entire reason that film succeeded. The wildy popular box-office raking that spanned that entire summer for the film made it very clear that one day we would see an inevitable sequel. Verbinski once again stepped into the chair, as well as everyone in the original cast, for 2006's [i]Dead Man's Chest[/i], an unnecessary, but once again, surprisingly effective sequel based on one fact and one fact alone - that Depp decided to make the Jack Sparrow show a double-dose of energy and one-liner heaven. It was a miracle that both the first and second films in a franchise that already reached 5 hours, and about Disney-fied Pirates, could be so watchable. But the big Hollywood companies, always licking their chops when they see a treasure chest of summer money in front of them just had to go forward with yet another installment, this time calling it [i]At World's End[/i].[/center]
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[center]As with nearly every sequel produced these days, everything in the further installments strives to be bigger, badder, and longer. After seeing this third film I cannot argue that it isn't every one of these aspects, just not in a good way. In fact, [i]At World's End [/i]tries to force so many of these new and improved things that it loses focus quickly, gets lost in the numerous new characters, and just spirals into one chaotic mess of a movie. The complaints can be drawn from anywhere for the film, and I must say that it had to be coming sooner or later, because to take a mediocre idea and try to stretch it out over 8 hours and 3 films is a death wish. Even with the good I found in the first two films, I still hadn't set any kind of standard for the third film, and therefore none of its awful qualities are a disappointment, but rather expected. There a lot of things happening in [i]At World's End[/i], and right from the start, but nothing that ever captured me like I was captured before. I was saddened to see that Depp was taken away as the main focus this time around, which is asking for major trouble, in favor of Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom with far more significant roles. Needless to say, I have never been a fan of the two and they simply cannot carry a movie by themselves. They need to be supporting players to survive at any length or they will end up under the microscope for their failure to lead the way.[/center]
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[center]The movie ultimately suffers most for its overload of things happening all at once, and it constantly does this for its entire, achingly long 2 hour and 45-minute running time. It was clearly evident that it didn't need to be this long, and a quick dissection of the overblown, messy and intelligence-insulting final act of action could have saved a good 25 minutes right there. There are far too many things wrong with this movie, which should be the final act but we all know won't be, because it is making more money than ever. A few years down the road audiences everywhere will be treated yet again to the adventures of Depp and...well, really nobody else - again. When that time comes I will finally come to my senses and hold off on a theater visit. [/center]

Death Proof
Death Proof(2007)

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]DEATH PROOF[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Quentin Tarantino[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/dimension_films/grindhouse/_group_photos/rosario_dawson12.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 90 minutes, Dimension[/center]

[center]If Robert Rodriguez's opening half of [i]Grindhouse[/i], [i]Planet Terror[/i], was a film that paid homage to classic zombie films by imitating them, then Tarantino's closing half, [i]Death Proof[/i], is paying homage to various classic B-movies by respecting the general outline of things, but creating an entirely original world from that point on. Tarantino is one of only a handful of filmmakers that, even after they've established brilliance and set such a high standard for their films to come, can continue to impress his audience beyond belief. [/center]

[center]The director is having an incredible amount of fun in this film, maybe the most he's ever had as he casts the lion's portion of [i]Death Proof[/i]'s lineup to women. There are eight to be precise - Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jordan Ladd, Sydney Poitier, Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, and Zoe Bell. He dedicates the first half of his movie to letting us get inside the conversations of each one of these girls, who are all given unique characteristics in a script that is full of everything we'd expect from Tarantino, and more...if that's possible. He even goes as far as re-creating one of his own sequences - the revolving shot of the diner conversation from [i]Reservoir Dogs[/i], and it is pure fun to watch. The film slowly shows us that "These 8 Women Are About To Meet 1 Diabolical Man!" as the amusing tagline proclaims, and he is in the form of one Kurt Russell as the mysterious figure, Stuntman Mike. There a number of memorable sequences involving Russell and, in particularly, Vanessa Ferlito that can go down as new high points in the filmmaker's career. [/center]

[center]The whole experience that is getting to witness [i]Death Proof [/i]unfold almost seems like a dream, and even after I was back home from the theater and thinking about it all it just didn't seem real to me. Tarantino has managed to again create a piece of cinema that is so singularly his own vision even though it owes so much to films of the past, like the chase classic [i]Vanishing Point[/i] as mentioned in the movie itself. Perhaps he has managed to be more effective than almost every director in the last 15 years because he is nothing more than a fan of all types of film, a student of watching and appreciating. [i]Death Proof [/i]is certainly a product of a seasoned movie-knowledge man trying to etch his place alongside the film's he loves. [/center]

Planet Terror (Grindhouse Presents: Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror)
½

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]PLANET TERROR[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Robert Rodriguez[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/dimension_films/grindhouse/freddy_rodriguez/planet2.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 90 minutes, Dimension [/center]

[center]Okay, so I'm only five months behind on my thoughts about the Rodriguez/Tarantino double-feature experiment, [i]Grindhouse[/i], which is something I am most ashamed of doing and am glad to finally be discussing it. I think the only way that the project can be reviewed is in two separate reviews for each respectable director's own additions to the grand scheme of things, and one must start with part one of the [i]Grindhouse[/i], which would be Robert Rodriguez's walking dead infestation trip, [i]Planet Terror[/i]. [/center]

[center]Both Rodriguez and Tarantino do right by getting their point so straight-forwardly across from the git-go that it does everything but smack you in the face with it. With Rodriguez's film, he is doing nothing more than giving us a gore-filled piece of entertainment. He certainly cannot be worried aout adding anything fresh or new to the zombie genre, because if he is, there is nothing to find here and [i]Planet Terror [/i]could be seen as a failure. Looking at it that way will be trouble for any viewer who chooses to do so, but I'm sure most who watch the film will not have this problem and will easily find themselves entertained, because it is a piece of pure, vile entertainment. Freddy Rodriguez and Rose McGowan head the cast of people running and shooting and dismembering, and they do one hell of a dynamite job. But the main reason that this film does enough to never get boring - other than the endless blood and guts flying everywhere - is the storyline involving Marley Shelton and Josh Brolin. Rodriguez used Ms. Shelton for the opening seconds of [i]Sin City [/i]a couple years back, and he does the right thing by casting her in a bigger, more important role here where she excels into the best thing about the entire movie. Brolin also gives a nice, unexpected turn as her significant other who just so happens to be a psychotic surgeon. [/center]

[center]All in all, [i]Planet Terror [/i]succeeds in becoming the "hold nothing back" opening film of the double-billed [i]Grindhouse[/i], setting us up and easing us into a second feature that will hold enough new ideas and takes on a classic genre for ten films combined. It's all one big playground for Rodriguez, and while his time on the slides, monkey bars, and merry-go-round lasts, it is fun. [/center]

I Think I Love My Wife
½

[center][font=Garamond][size=5]I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Chris Rock [/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/fox_searchlight/i_think_i_love_my_wife/_group_photos/chris_rock9.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 94 minutes, Fox Searchlight [/center]

[center]There have been quite the number of remakes this year, and maybe it's just because I have reviewed a few lately that makes me think there have been more than in year's past. Regardless of if 2007 has been a hefty remake year or not, there's no doubting that there has been one too many to come our way lately, proving once again that Hollywood is losing more and more original minds as the years turn into decades flying by. This time the remake is an American version of the French film released in 1972, by the name of [i]Chloe in the Afternoon[/i]. The remake's title is more American-ish (for lack of a better word), with star/co-writer/director, Chris Rock naming it [i]I Think I Love My Wife[/i]. I suppose a good review would include some knowledge about the original film for which this version is taking blueprints from, but I've not taken the time or effort to get out and and see [i]Chloe[/i]...the dumb American that I am. I will say one premature thing - I can guarantee that it is better than [i]I Think I Love My Wife[/i], but what original isn't superior? [/center]

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[center]Chris Rock plays the lead role of the seemingly happily married but ultimately bored business man, Richard Cooper, in a normal Rock-like performance, except without a bunch of the tenacity that makes him so funny in his unique way. I assume he is playing the role of Cooper so he can lay back and let the comedy flow from other areas in the film. The trouble with that chance is, nothing else really steps up to the plate and hits a comic home run. There are times when characters and situations go for extra bases, but they never cross home plate. Cooper is not a man to seek out ways to start making his life more exciting for his standards, but when it comes to him in the form of Nikki Tru, a woman from his past that persistently begins to taunt him, he slowly flirts with the thought that has lingered. It is obvious that the pieces are all there for the film to make a complete and together puzzle that could be a winning comedy, and I'm sure it works well in [i]Chloe[/i], but Rock's uneven adaptation with Louis C.K. (who he also wrote [i]Head of State [/i]with) and his unsure-of-himself direction just never become something more focused. [/center]

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[center]The film doesn't go without some nice assets, with the most noticeable one being the performance by Kerry Washington as Nikki. She has sort of silently been making supporting characters more memorable than they probably were on paper for the last few years now, and here she is just great in the role. Although underused, Steve Buscemi is his usual effective self as Cooper's adultery-addicted business partner, who constantly gives him hypocritical advice about what to do with the situation. The film so frequently starts a key sequence with promise, but most of the project seems like it needs an oil change, or maybe didn't even need to be made at all. Once again, I find myself wondering why another remake is put through a production, when I already know the answer. There aren't enough new thoughts floating around. [/center]

The Number 23

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]THE NUMBER 23[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Joel Shumacher[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/new_line_cinema/the_number_23/jim_carrey/number7.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 98 minutes, New Line[/center]

[center]I am finally writing about Joel Shumacher's [i]The Number 23[/i], and nearly two months after I watched it. The best way I can describe its effect on me is that I remember everything about the film, it's just that nothing sticks out in my mind and stays with me. There was certainly nothing about it that was as awful as most of the reviews released when the film came out, but it ultimately just falls short of being an altogether effective thriller. That's another thing - the movie is simply a psychological thriller, and not a horror film, as the advertisements clearly were trying to state. I would call the movie disappointing had it not exceeded my epxectations, because I thought it would be completely laughable with its bogus premise. [/center]
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[center]Jim Carrey continues to explore new acting challenges here as Walter Sparrow, a normal man that catches animals for a living and leads a life that is bordering on dull, even if he's happily married and has a teenage son. His days get considerably more eventful when his wife gives him a book that she thinks he would be into, called [i]The Number 23[/i], all about how a man, Detective Fingerling, is constantly drawn back the number and links it with anything and everything in his life. Of course, Sparrow begins to see these connections in his own life, and as the book goes on, becomes more and more enthralled and himself obsessed, and becomes convinced that he [i]is [/i]the character of Fingerling in the book, and must find the author before he, and possibly his family, are doomed. Yes, the whole idea is insane and implausible to deluxe proportions, but don't we need these kind of things in cinema every once in a while? After all, why are there are movies if we cannot imagine? Still, that doesn't mean the film has an excuse for doing some of the dumb things it does. Carrey and Virginia Madsen are very good here and drive forward, even through the muddy waters of the screenplay, and make the movie worth watching all the way through. [/center]
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[center]Joel Schumacher is a director that just a few years ago I had no interest in. I had given him many chances in the past, with films like [i]The Lost Boys [/i](which I sadly might be the only person that didn't like), [i]Flatliners[/i], [i]Dying Young[/i], [i]8MM[/i], and "those" two [i]Batman [/i]films. Then, just about the time [i]Phone Booth [/i]came to theaters I dove back into his filmography and have been a fan ever since. I have came to my senses when it comes to Schumacher, and fully after discovering the likes of [i]Tigerland[/i], [i]Veronica Guerin[/i], and the aformentioned [i]Photo Booth[/i]. Adding those to the films that I've liked of his in the past, namely [i]Falling Down [/i]and [i]A Time To Kill[/i], it equals out to just as many recommendable films as so-so ones. [i]The Number 23 [/i]is a film that stands more toward decent than bad in his filmography, and definitely holds its own visual style and is impressively directed by the filmmaker. [/center]

2 Days in Paris

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]2 DAYS IN PARIS[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Julie Delpy[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/samuel_goldwyn_films/2_days_in_paris/_group_photos/julie_delpy5.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 94 minutes, Samuel Goldwyn[/center]

[center]I haven't reviewed a directorial debut by an already seasoned actress in a long time before this day, yet here I find myself writing about two back to back. It took a little while longer for Julie Delpy than say, Sarah Polley, to convince a studio that she could write and direct her own film and make it appeal to more than one type of audience. I'm sure what finally sealed the deal for her was being nominated for the original screenplay Oscar a couple of years, along with Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke for [i]Before Sunset[/i]. If not, it had to play a major part in giving her a shot at creating something herself. I'm not sure if this film, called [i]2 Days in Paris [/i]and starring herself and another Linklater-used actor and altogether big-headed role player, Adam Goldberg, will particularly find more of an audience outside of those who are comfortable with Delpy's original thinking, but I found it to be majorly entertaining. [/center]

[center]The point in this film, I assume, is to not try to be innovative with the setup, because there have already been enough culture-clash romances in recent years alone. I think Delpy knows not to try and pry open anything on the outer core of what it's essentially about, but only to tell a story of two people now together for enough time to start thinking about long-term, permanent commitments, being put through a seemingly harmless trip through one's hometown of Paris, 2 days before going back to the place they call home in New York. They are Marion and Jack, and throughout the film's timeframe of 48 hours, they visit her parents and travel in and out of the streets of Paris. It is in various confrontations with significant people from Marion's past, among other various disasters, that there relationship will truly be tested. I might be getting a little away from telling what the film is trying to be as far as genre, because despite what I've written here previously, the movie is certainly a comedy, and uproarious quite frequently. [/center]

[center]There are definitely moments in this film that tinker with tearing apart at the seams, but that's simply normal for a first-time filmmaker. What's key in the film is that Delpy manages to right the ship and create something that she can be proud of, and I hope she is, because it is purely, indepently hers all the way, and has all the great attributes from what we've known her by as an actress all these years. The supporting cast is headed by Delpy's real mother and father, Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet, who provide great, memorable humor in numerous sequences. What ultimately makes the film really worth more than what one wouyld expect is the performance by Godlberg, who has played the ego-tripping character so many times that the casting choice seemed like it could doom the film. But here he is so charmingly arrogant and has a terrific role written by Delpy that he finally hits the right notes with a role that he's done what seems like a dozen times already in his career. The two share a chemistry I didn't expect and it helped it's outcome greatly. [i]2 Days in Paris [/i]ends up extremely likeable and should give Ms. Delpy her freedom should she choose to continue down the path of writer and director in the future. [/center]

Away From Her

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]AWAY FROM HER[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Sarah Polley[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/lions_gate_films/away_from_her/_group_photos/julie_christie1.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]PG-13, 110 minutes, Lions Gate[/center]

[center]At the ripe old age of 28, actress Sarah Polley has already developed an intriguing resume of film work, which was catapulted by the likes of Atom Egoyan. The solid filmmaker serves as an executive producer on the Canadian-born Polley's directorial debut, [i]Away From Her[/i], which she also adapted the screenplay for based on Alice Munro's short story, [i]The Bear Came Over the Mountain[/i]. Although I really shouldn't have been surprised by the brilliance of her work behind the camera in this film, I very much was for some reason. I guess it must've been because it was her first time and I didn't have a set of expectations for an end result. Her collaboration with cinematographer Luc Montpellier is a thing of beauty from the opening moments on through this achingly authentic love story.[/center]

[center]Legendary actress Julie Christie, who recently worked with Polley on the film [i]A Secret Life of Words[/i], gives a startling performance as Fiona, a woman who has been married to husband, Grant, for 45 years. He is played by Gordon Pinsent, another native of Canada, in a performance that is going to be one of the most overlooked of the year. They seem to have lived the most perfect of lives, and happily together, with nothing to separate them from each other as they inch toward the winter of their existence. But the slow emergence of a disease that scarily resembles Alzheimer's starts to seep into Fiona's every day routines, the two are forced to face the fact that they will soon be far less than old companions. Polley's film is a true original among love stories, as nothing has ever been handled quite like she does, treating the subject matter with great care, never reducing it to a level of cheap self-sympathy or trying to forcefully induce tears from its audience. Instead, the film displays how Alzheimer's, in Fiona and Grant's case, can cause inward feelings to crack the surface, and things that seemed to be taken to the grave of these lover's now have to be dealt with. [/center]

[center]This year has brought us two very unique films about love, both at the very opposite stages of the feeling. In John Carney's [i]Once[/i], the main characters share the mutual feeling in an unexpected encounter, and for the first time. Here, Fiona and Grant are faced with the unbearable conclusion of having to let go of what they could never possibly do. It almost seems like the people in [i]Once [/i]could easily be Fiona and Grant later on in their lives, which is such an odd but fascinating connection between two wonders of cinema. In an even further comparison to the two is the fact that the tiny little hairs on my arms and face were raised by both pictures, and genuine tears were poured from my eyes because the people in these films are experiencing deeply felt emotions that rarely exist in movies today. [/center]

Lucky You
Lucky You(2007)
½

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]LUCKY YOU[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Curtis Hanson[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/warner_brothers/lucky_you/_group_photos/drew_barrymore1.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]PG-13, 124 minutes, Warner Bros. [/center]

[center]Ever since the flurry of coverage that high stakes card games have received on television, there seems to be more and more flashy sequences in films regarding stand-offs on Hold 'Em tables, most of them giving too much away to the audience and taking away any element of surprise. That Curtis Hanson's new film, [i]Lucky You[/i], manages to stay away from this bad habit is a decision I respected highly while watching the movie, which is one giant, risky card hand of life, love and the ever-consuming game of poker. [/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]Eric Bana is quietly terrific in the film as Huck, the man who lets it all hang out on the table but has little effort or respectable feelings for others in his social life. He is so involved inside the greens of the poker platform, that when the woman who can save his life and sweep him away from all this comes along, he merely sees her as a way to take advantage of another's wallet once his is bare. It's not as though he wants to be this way to Billie, the charming and naive brunette with a heart of pure gold...he just can't put the brakes on his irratic gambling behavior. It's never about the money for Huck, or even about making sure he pays back money to whomever he owes it to. He gambles, and continuously, because it is his lifeline. Billie is played by the easy to love Drew Barrymore, who doesn't have the ability to be terrible or even so-so in a role, and here she fits in like a glove to her character. The two play off each other extremely well and ultimately are the one reason [i]Lucky You [/i]is saved from its flaws that become more apparent as the film stretches out over a length that it didn't need to reach. [/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]Robert Duvall is also in the film, as Huck's father, another poker enthusiast that let the game drive himself away from everything in his life as well. He is always an effective actor in pretty much everything he's done, but I can't help but think that Duvall has become a bit repetetive in his later years. Maybe it's the type of roles he's been taking, or it could be just that he has become more and more stiff and has the same demeanor, almost like he's not even acting. Whatever it is, in this film he just doesn't fit right, and it might not be his fault. I can understand why the movie has received more mediocre reviews than anything, because to add on to the misfires I've pointed out earlier, Hanson seems to be off his game a little behind the camera as well, and at times the film drags and just sits still. However, through all of these things, the movie survived and really stuck with me to the end, which really says a lot about the presence of Bana and Barrymore. He is one of the most underrated actors working today, and she is quickly becoming one of the elite actresses of her generation. Together they are a winning hand. [/center]

3:10 to Yuma
3:10 to Yuma(2007)

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]3:10 TO YUMA[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: James Mangold[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/lions_gate_films/3_10_to_yuma/_group_photos/russell_crowe1.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 117 minutes, Lions Gate[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]James Mangold could never be accused of not rotating his filmmaking wheels with each project, and now over a decade into his career he has shifted to the western. It is strange that he has created his first true masterpiece with a remake of the 1957 film, [i]3:10 To Yuma[/i], which was based on a short story by the then young pup by the name of Elmore Leonard. Mangold has made some flawed but decent films ([i]Cop Land[/i], [i]Girl,Interrupted[/i]), and others that are quite good ([i]Kate & Leopold[/i], [i]Identity[/i]), plus a couple that have been close to greatness ([i]Heavy [/i]and [i]Walk the Line[/i]), but it is with this renewed version of a film that I've heard (haven't yet seen it) is a classic of its time that the director has sharpened all the rough edges and has everything working right. [/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]I'm going to lay off a little on speaking of the film's excellent performances from the two leads, because we've come to expect greatness every time out from Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Instead, I must talk about what drives this from from frame one and on, and that's the outstanding pacing set up by Mangold, his cinematographer, the terrific Phedon Papamichael, and the editor, Michael McCusker. They do an outstanding job of pulling the audience into the dillemma that is Dan Evans' (Bale) life right away, and they don't let go until the credits roll. Unlike the last remake I reviewed, which was Rob Zombie's version of [i]Halloween[/i], this film actually shows us why it is the right film to reconstruct at a time like this. There are many perfect reasons to bring [i]3:10 To Yuma[/i] to this generation's audiences, with one big one being that most people really aren't going to remember the original, or most have never heard of it due to its production exactly fifty years ago. But what makes this remake such a dynamite one is the chance for an amazing stage to be set for talents like Crowe and Bale, who play these roles to the highest level imaginable. I believe that as a complete actor, Bale is in a league that only a handful of others out there can even come close to in this generation, but Crowe is the one who elevates this film to higher grounds. [/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]Crowe is equal parts evil yet nearly likable as the ruthless thief and killer Ben Wade, who is finally caught and taken into holding after 22 robberies. Evans, striving for money so his family can continue to love on their land even after the railroads come in, takes the offer of being one of the few men to escort Wade to contention and on a 3:10 train to Yuma prison. The journey taken in this film is ultimately a conscious one between these two completely opposite men, and even in scenes without words they speak very loudly within their eyes. I expect Mangold's film to be one of those rare films that can connect to just aout every type of moviegoer, with its authentic western feel, it's hefty amount of gunfights and chases, and the addition of the aformentioned emotionall battles. I definitely expected to like this film very much, because Mangold always seems to consistently make a good film. Now I have proof that he can actually create a masterwork. [/center]

Halloween
Halloween(2007)

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]HALLOWEEN[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Rob Zombie[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/dimension_films/halloween/_group_photos/sheri_moon2.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 109 minutes, MGM/Dimension[/center]

[center]It's strange, but I've slowly been taken into an almost anticipation mode for a film directed by Rob Zombie, which is a state I never would've thought to be in a few years ago when he made his debut with [i]House of 1,000 Corpses[/i]. I never saw that film, but some more than convincing reviews led me to check out his second feature, [i]The Devil's Rejects[/i], on video. I came out of that film an optimistic fan of Zombie's direction, but it didn't push me enough to want to see his previous effort. I was, however, sort of excited to see what he would do with John Carpenter's masterpiece of horror, [i]Halloween[/i]. There had been talks when in advance of the release that he was going to add an entirely new take on the emergence of Michael Meyers' evil, which could easily be as awful as good, but it definitely got my attention.[/center]

[center]Zombie's film is separated into two parts, giving the entire first half time to completely play out a newly realized transformation into evil, while at the same time respecting Carpenter's original vision. The directing is very well done and is definitely the best of any installment since the classic, but that's really not saying much. Zombie kept me in tune and focused throughout the first half of the film, from the killing of his own family to the incarceration and counselling under Dr. Loomis, fifteen years before he becomes a full-fledged senseless murderer. Malcolm McDowell plays this remade Loomis very effectively, and Sheri Moon is good as the Meyers mother. The film does a good enough job with its newly created parts in the opening half that if they just did a decent job closing it out, it would've been worth giving a positive review, but trouble steps in when the film jumps ahead 15 years later, and not just for the victims about to be brutally murdered. No, [i]Halloween[/i]'s audience is in trouble, too, for little do we know that we're about to see an almost step by step re-creation of the original from this point on. [/center]

[center]I found it oddly boring after such a surprisingly capable opening that Zombie would be so cookie cutter when the trail leads back to Haddonfield and in search of Lori Strode. I realize that a remake is a remake, and a lot of the sequences are going to be either extremely reminiscent or even exactly the same, but the hammer that the director laid down in the first half, claiming to make this one his own unique vision of the film, is never seen in the second portion. What sets in, sadly, is repetition, and the murders become showcased instead of what happens next to the madness. Most horror fans are going to praise the film, because it's got what every lame slasher flick does, and then some. It's too bad for me, though, as I'm not looking for countless bashings, slashings, and stabbings. In the end, I only have myself to blame for even walking into a film like this and expecting to think. [/center]

Shoot 'Em Up
Shoot 'Em Up(2007)
½

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]SHOOT 'EM UP[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Michael Davis[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/new_line_cinema/shoot__em_up/_group_photos/clive_owen2.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 87 minutes, New Line [/center]

[center]A lot of problems can develop if a film never really knows what it wants to be, if it walks a tightrope over a handful of genres and emotions. There seems to be dozens and dozens of action films that are borderline implausible, but then attempt to add some serious levels of human emotion that take its audience outside of the fun circle. Writer, director, and apparent comic action enthusiast, Michael Davis, has none of the issues I just mentioned with his film [i]Shoot 'Em Up[/i]. This is an action film and a comedy, a sort of live action, rude and demented version of a showdown between Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, in this case being Mr. Smith and Mr. Hertz. [/center]

[center]Clive Owen is spot-on and handles the offbeat stuff well as Mr. Smith, who gets himself involved with the wrong people one night, after coming to the aid of a pregnant woman being chased by a hefty amount of gunmen. In this opening scene, Owen takes a firearm from the woman, slips, slides and shoots down all of the useless henchman, all while delivering a baby. And this is only the beginning of the absurdity, albeit sublime absurdity, of [i]Shoot 'Em Up[/i]. It's a film that by the end you could call a classic of its rare genre. Paul Giamatti plays the Fudd-like Mr. Hertz, and my oh my is he as remarkable as we've come to expect him in everything. He has a strange, psychotic sort of sense of humor, and an insane and ingenious way of tracking Mr. Smith. He always manages to locate him and the baby and the hooker who tags along (played by Monica Bellucci perfectly), but we all know that Bugs never gets caught, just cornered. [/center]

[center]This film is a triumph, a project that aims at going over-the-top of over-the-top, and scores. Everything, from the plot to the acting to the chaotically orchestrated, cartoonish gunfight scenes, are all labored over so much in an effort to make it seem like it wasn't. I won't go into any more detail about the little things that make each scene so memorable and unique, because I can't. To do that would be criminal to your first viewing of the film. It's the most fun I've had in the theater with a film like it, probably ever, and that makes it an instant classic of its kind. [/center]

Alpha Dog
Alpha Dog(2007)

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]ALPHA DOG[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Nick Cassavetes[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/universal_pictures/alpha_dog/_group_photos/emile_hirsch1.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 117 minutes, Universal[/center]


[center]In Nick Cassavetes latest film, the true-crime picture called [i]Alpha Dog[/i], the characters at the center of the film, all in their late-teens to early twenties, do hardly anything without thinking first. There are countless scenes of drinking, yelling, cursing, fighting, etc., and some have lashed out on it for having to much of this, calling that it's downfall. Drawing from a real-life case that's still open, Cassavetes really has no choice but to include these endless acts of stupidity, to beat it into the audience's head time after time, because it's what these people do. To fully become enveloped in the senseless minds of these young people and be prepared for a climax of almost unbelievable proportions, this must happen. So although it can be tedious, and especially within the first hour of the film, the repetition is necessary. [/center]

[center]Bruce Willis and Cassavetes-favorite Harry Dean Stanton play the father and grandfather of a young drug-lord prodigy, played Emile Hirsch, who just so happens to be mentored by the two men. The youngster becomes big-headed and thinks he can rough-up pretty much anybody that steps in his way, and when he is owed money by a strung out character played by Ben Foster, he spontaneously decides to kidnap his 15 year-old brother as collateral when he sees him on the side of the road. The amazingly talented Anton Yelchin gives the best performance of the movie as the kidnap victim who comes of age under their possession, amidst late-night parties and encounters with numerous girls. Justin Timberlake proves he definitely has acting chops as Hirsch's dimwitted but good-intentioned sidekick, who is really the kid's only hope of getting out of the whole ordeal alive when it all spirals out of control. Cassavetes, who has this year been joined by sister Zoe as another of legendary filmmaker John's offspring getting into the business, does a very nice job directing the movie, which is sort of like ajumbling act with all of the titles and dates informing us of exact places and occurences. He has already developed a nice pedigree of films, from the nice debut, [i]Unhook the Stars[/i], to the outstanding sophomore effort from a script by his father, [i]She's So Lovely[/i], and to the huge success [i]The Notebook[/i]. He is proving to be a diverse director and I'm always excited for what we'll see from him next. [/center]

[center]The film is effective at times but ultimately suffers from an overdrawn finale, as it gets into years down the road and interviews with the parents reflecting. There is particularly an almost laughable sequence with Sharon Stone's character that was simply not necessary. Perhaps, with a capable ending to flesh it out nicely[i], Alpha Dog [/i]could have been a good film. Instead, it's just hanging between recommendable and deniable. [/center]

Live Free or Die Hard
½

[center][font=Garamond][size=5]LIVE FREE or DIE HARD[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Len Wiseman[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/twentieth_century_fox/live_free_or_die_hard/_group_photos/bruce_willis6.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]PG-13, 130 minutes, 20th Century Fox[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]Toward the middle of this summer I reviewed Mikael Hafstrom's [i]1408[/i], and in that review I mentioned that it was one of two films that had me intitially worried because of the potentially devastating PG-13 rating that it carried. If you read that one then you obviously would know that it came out unscathed and washed my worries away in an instant. The other film that was part of the late-June releases that had me irritated the most because it was going to be tamed down was [i]Live Free or Die Hard[/i], the return of John McClane that has finally come after 12 years. A wait this long for one of the angriest, most foul-mouthed detectives in action film history, which now finds him middle-aged, should be a welcome into an even more irate individual. He is now fully separated from his wife and his daughter, although sharing many of his characteristics, wants almost nothing to do with him. [/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]The movie has been well received and welcome back with happy arms by critics and fans alike, so why do I have such a gloomy rating for this fourth installment of [i]Die Hard[/i]. Well, there are many reasons, but the one I was afraid of still stands out like a sore - no, severed - thumb. There are plenty of action franchises where you can squeak by with a PG-13 rating on a later installment after starting it out in previous films with harder stuff, but for [i]Diea Hard[/i] it was the wrong move altogether. My only guess for this happening was to gobble up more box-office bucks from the velcro wallets of pre-pubescent teenagers who've probably only previously seen hard-ass McClane edited for television, where Yippy-Ki-Yay followed by a quick mute is incorporated. And it's not only the four letter word that is deprived from [i]Live Free or Die Hard[/i], it is McClane's trademark sturdiness and aspirin-on-hand demeanor. Here he is toned down to extremes, almost like what he would look like if directed by a "movie-mom". [/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]The movie, although filled with some nice bits of innovative action scenes, would have disappointed even with a desired R rating, and that's because of the lame villain. There is nothing intimidating about a supreme hacker that stands inside a technology temple ordering various nerds around for over two hours. Timothy Olyphant was a decent choice for the villain and is a very capable actor, there is just nothing for him to do, and when he and McClane finally meet up in the end, the stand-off is abrupt and dull. The film is never gritty and is way too slick, directed by [i]Underworld[/i]'s Len Wiseman, who would fit in nicely on board some other ship but just doesn't work here. Justing Long is surprisingly energetic and gets some nice laughs as McClane's newest sidekick, but other than that the movie just hangs out to dry. [/center]

Transformers
Transformers(2007)

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]TRANSFORMERS[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Michael Bay[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/paramount_pictures/transformers/_group_photos/josh_duhamel11.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]PG-13, 144 minutes, Paramount[/center]

[center]Michael Bay's films, whether they be the good ([i]The Rock, The Island[/i]), the bad ([i]Bad Boys II) [/i]or the ugly ([i]Armageddon, Pearl Harbor[/i]), have always suffered from lack of extra time in the cutting room, and repetition. This all remains in tact with the latest summer blockbuster in the Bay arsenal, a big screen version of [i]Transformers [/i]that nerds everywhere saw numerous times this past summer. It is big, flashy, dimwitted and overreaching all at the same time, yet I still found myself anticipating something different with this film for Bay. I guess that I thought he would capitalize on the nice effort he had in 2005 with [i]The Island [/i]to create what would be sort of a winning streak, but I should be ashamed of myself for having that much faith in the director who is a detriment to himself. [/center]

[center]It is one thing to make a bad film, but to make a disappointing one is ten times more of a let down, and especially when it comes to a big, sprawling American blockbuster that has been hyped for over a year. Bay seemed to e sort of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde director for [i]Transformers[/i], starting off the film with all the bad habits we've become all too familiar with in his career. For the first 45 minutes to an hour, the movie, although state-of-the-art visually is forgettable and without entertainment, in my opinion. Then, in a bizarre turn when Sam Witwicky is introduced to Megatron and his clan, the film develops a sly sense of humor and is enjoyable. For about 30 minutes the movie is like another small film inside the whole thing, and I found myself feeling like I wanted to feel with it - like a kid again. Shia LaBeouf is tremendous in the scenes when he brings the transformers to his suburban home and tries to hide them from his parents. The young actor is a natural, and it might be best displayed here in this film, showing that he can still be good even in a less than capable film. Those 30 good minutes are too short-lived, though, and the dream quickly washes away in time for the final hour to bombard us with endlessly tedious cinematography and transformation after transformation, etc. I'm a fan of action films, and even when the action is abundant I can handle it, but there has to be some variety to the various sequences. Here we just have a ton of repetetive morphings and bashings and lame supporting military characters that get to yell and look masucline and fire their machine guns and still, through it all, manage to be neat and cute. [/center]

[center]Even for Bay and his track record, this film is ultimately a disappointment. It is one because he showed, in the middle portion, that there is a piece of entertainment lost somewhere on the cutting room floor. There is just no reason that this one couldn't be cut at least 25 minutes or more. At the end of it all, as I reflect on the film and the career of the wildly successful filmmaker, I am constantly drawn back to one quote.[/center]

[center][i]"Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?" -[/i]Trey Parker[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]Well, because we keep going to them, Trey. [/center]

Once
Once(2007)

[center][font=Garamond][size=7]once[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: John Carney[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/fox_searchlight/once/_group_photos/marketa_irglova4.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 88 minutes, Fox Searchlight[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]Over the last decade or so, and especially in the recent years, it seems to me that the label "independent", whether it be through cinema or music or whatever, has lost its meaning in the majority of work released. When true independents revolutionized their labors of love in the early '70's, like Cassavetes and others, every inch of the arduent process was treated with the utmost care and by a select few. Now there are a handful of "independent" films being released every week, and although there are still some out there that have maintained what it truly means to go through an entire process of creating something on your own, I think most of the work has taken it for granted. It seems to now be a trend - even in cinema - like barb wire tattoos, little mini-mohawks, or luau things hanging from the rearview mirror. It just makes it harder to uncover some of the real independent pieces when they're mixed in with hundreds of other phonies each year. That is, unless they are bright and shining standouts that cannot be missed even if you were trying. [/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]John Carney's [i]Once [/i]is a revelation, a real and true and honest independent film that transcends the musical genre, creating on a small-scaled budget what American blockbusters couldn't accomplish with their outrageous sums of money. The film's premise is as simple as one can be as it follows a man who fixes vacuums, writes songs and plays them on the streets of Dublin, Ireland. There, one night, is where he meets a woman who just so happens to need a sweeper-fixing. Later she invites him into a music shop, where the owner allows her, a classically trained musician, to play the piano once a week. For the next few days, through nothing but songwriting, emotions held in on both ends will come tumbling out in ways rarely dealt with in cinema. There are no American ways of storytelling here, none of the insane coincidences or fairy tale-like conclusions. [i]Once [/i]is just as real as a film can get, although it never feels like you're watching a movie. [/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova play the leads, both extremely talented musicians in real life, with such ease that it almost seems like they're living it. Carney's filmmaking is flawless, letting the situations and songs take deep breaths and play out in full, and even though the film hits a small 88 minutes, it is just right. I've never seen a film about musicians and songwriting feel this organic, like the songs are really being fleshed out and performed for the first time, right in front of your eyes. I am amazed that Amanda and I received another chance to see it with its re-release at a theater close by, and now the soundtrack, which I had been listening to a couple of weeks before seeing the movie, means a lot more to me and is one of my cherished discs in the collection. Carney's film is a true wonder, a standout among a few very good films released this summer. [/center]

Death Sentence
½

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]DEATH SENTENCE[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: James Wan[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/twentieth_century_fox/death_sentence/_group_photos/matthew_o_leary6.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 110 minutes, 20th Century Fox[/center]

[center]Yesterday I found myself in the right frame of mind to tolerate an insane level of violent absurdity, so I got just what I was after in [i]Death Sentence[/i], a revenge flick helmed by James Wan, the director of such easy to pass up horror films, like [i]Saw [/i]and [i]Dead Silence[/i]. Nothing the filmmaker has done in the past has made me even remotely interested in giving him a shot, but I had a gut feeling that his style of directing would be oddly right for the subject matter brought to the plate in this movie. Plus it had an extremely good lead in Kevin Bacon to run the show on screen, and that guy is certainly on a hot streak when it comes to picking diverse roles. [/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]Bacon plays Nick Hume, the senior VP of a major corporation, who has a loving wife and two sons, the first-born of whom seems to get extra-special treatment because of the fact. The filmmakers do not waste any time when it comes to ramming us with devastation, as Hume's oldest son is the victim of a gang initiation murder at a gas station in the heart of the darkness of the city. As expected, much angst and depression ensues inside the Hume home, but it's not to be taken too seriously or at the level of human drama, especially if you're planning on being entertained the rest of the way. Wan makes the family tragedy and Hume's personal grief a platform for vengeful acts of stylized action sequences and dismemberment, which works surprisingly well. There are at least three or four scenes in the film that are just not exactly like anything we've ever seen in the genre, although we know the setting, but Wan's mechanics are very fresh and he pumps some major adrenaline into this, which almost comes off as a graphic novel of some sort. Bacon is giving his all in each and every scene throughout [i]Death Sentence[/i], and combined with terrific, menacing villain performances from Garrett Hedlund and John Goodman, this is one blood bath that is worth recommending. [/center]

Steel Toes
Steel Toes(2007)
½

[center][font=Garamond][size=7]STEEL TOES[/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: David Gow[/center]
[center][img]http://www.jccdallas.org/clientuploads/Cultural/2007_Film_Festival/Steel_toes_00021.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 90 minutes, Galafilm[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]This little known, very low-budget film which I assume has made itself available on video based mostly on the fact that David Strathairn is the lead actor, went beyond my expectations once I let it sink in a bit. [i]Steel Toes [/i]focuses on a topic that is certainly not new in independent cinema - the modern-day Nazi clashing, then ultimately reconciling with the people that they were indoctrinated to hate, it's just that with each new film on the subject, they do it in a slightly different way. In this movie, a young skinhead named Mike Downey is to be put on trial after the senseless murder of an East Indian man. In the several months before his court date he will have several meetings with the attorney placed on the case - a hard-nosed, intelligent man named Daniel Dunkleman. In their first acquaintance with one another, the attorney asks the arrogant kid what kind of name Dunkleman is, and he responds with "I know it's not an Irish one". The man immediately reveals that he is a Jew, and offers Downey a chance to opt out of their pairing right off the bat, but their journey is only beginning.[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]The opening scene of this movie had me not wanting to even watch the rest of the film at the time, with the one violent sequence photographed and edited so poorly and at the level of trashy television that it nearly had me shut it off. But after those first three minutes, thankfully the movie does almost a complete 180 into a thoughtful and smart picture with one hell of a fantastic performance by Strathairn as Dunkleman, and he is matched well enough by Andrew Walker as Downey to make it effective in its key situations. Dunkleman is constantly challenging the thought process of Downey, digging deep into his psyche to uncover the human emotions that exist in every human being before they are taught and transformed in their own individual ways. What's most impressive about this tiny gem is that, as it nears the conclusion it only becomes more powerful, never losing its faith or grip. There are things that obviously prevent [i]Steel Toes [/i]from becoming a simply great film, but the fact that it reaches the level of good is an accomplishment that deserves recognition. [/center]

Ocean's Thirteen
½

[center][font=Garamond][size=6]OCEAN'S THIRTEEN[/size][/font][/center]
[center][font=Garamond]director: Steven Soderbergh[/font][/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/warner_brothers/ocean_s_thirteen/_group_photos/brad_pitt26.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]PG-13, 116 minutes, Warner Bros.[/center]


[center]It obviously must be a ton of fun to bring the [i]Ocean's [/i]crew back for more heist action, but this third go-round really seemed like one final attempt to end things on a right note, to fix the errors made in [i]Twelve[/i]. It's strange, but I can almost sense it in the actor's moods, especially Clooney's, that they thought they could do better. Maybe it's just my own opinion taking over, because I was rather let down by the first sequel and thought they almost completely disregarded Mr. Ocean himself and focused far too much on the Pitt/Zeta-Jones portion. So when rumblings rolled around that [i]Thirteen [/i]was officially being produced, I was equally thrilled as bored by the fact. As it got closer to this summer and the arrival of the film, I grew more excited and wanted to give the franchise a chance to redeem itself. In addition, they recruited Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin, which doesn't hurt at all.[/center]

Once again this film, like the two others before it, opened to relatively good critical acclaim, with most shouting out solid entertainment but nothing outstanding to offer. For me, I wasn't going to be impressed the actor's just showing up this time - they would have to incorporate a lot more of Clooney's Ocean, develop at least a decent heist, and, most importantly, have a better villain than in the previous sequel. So wouldn't you think they would have that covered simply by Pacino taking the part and running with it? I certainly would put all my money down on him, but the part is underwritten and they made him just plain dumb - something that a character of this stature, the crooked billionaire casino owner and supposed mastermind, cannot possibly be. For the second straight time Soderbergh and company have made a polished, gorgeous looking film, but failed to pay enough attention to actually creating a complete and fun caper send-off. Adding even more characters also plays a detriment to many other roles, namely pretty much everyone but Clooney, Pitt, and Damon. With all of the names involved, this one suckered me into a theater screening yet again, but the end result is shamefully one to catch on video if at all.

Resurrecting the Champ
½

[center][font=Garamond][size=6][b]RESURRECTING THE CHAMP[/b][/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Rod Lurie[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/yari_film/resurrecting_the_champ/_group_photos/dakota_goyo4.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]PG-13, 111 minutes, Yari/Phoenix[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]At the beginning of this decade, director Rod Lurie released back-to-back films in 2000/2001, the sure-fire debut [i]The Contender[/i], and a solid drama with a good cast called [i]The Last Castle[/i]. Wherever he has been over the last six years, I must say that I am glad to see him back in the director's seat for [i]Resurrecting the Champ[/i], a film based on an article written by Eric Kernan Jr., a columnist for the Denver Times that was better known for his dad's famous broadcasting accomplishments than his own work. Josh Hartnett plays the struggling writer, who is looking for a big breakthrough story to catapult him into something bigger, if for nothing else than to capture the recognition to become a better role model for his son than his father was to him. By a stroke of luck, he stumbles into a late-night encounter on the streets with a homeless man beaten to the ground. Old and war-torn, with his face displaying indentations galore, the man takes some money from Kernan and the two seem to then head in another direction, but Kernan must know why the old man keeps reffering to himself as "The Champ". It seems that he is, in fact, Battlin' Bob Satterfield, the boxing legend who some 40 years ago nearly reached the title of #1 in the world. Believed by pretty much everyone to be dead for decades, Kernan sees this as his own "title shot" to journalist stardom, so he becomes inseparable with the man to get his story. [/center]
[center] [/center]

[center]Samuel L. Jackson is simply great as "The Champ" as he effortlessly plays a character over twenty years his age with genuine talent, as he always brings to anything he's doing. He and Hartnett work with each other well, and although the film hits some low times with bits of sidetrack sappiness, it is mostly strong because of the lead performances, plus Alan Alda and Kathryn Morris fit in nicely to their roles. Lurie once again shows he can direct a film with a good amount of both swift movement and moments to let it breathe. I was with these characters all the way, even if not at the level I was expecting. In the end, I found myself entertained and very relieved it didn't bow out in the conclusion and go places it seemed like it could have. It's definitely not worthy of the sub-par reviews and poor box-office numbers it has received so far. [/center]

Superbad
Superbad(2007)

[center][font=Garamond][size=6][b]SUPERBAD[/b][/size][/font][/center]
[center][font=Garamond]director: Greg Mottola[/font][/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/columbia_pictures/superbad/_group_photos/michael_cera6.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 114 minutes, Columbia[/center]


[center]Although [i]Knocked Up [/i]was nearly reason enough for me to label writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg this generation's savior of the [i]great [/i]comedy, I eventually had to hold myself back and realize that it was, in fact, just ONE movie. So I waited until mid-August to dive into their second screenplay-turned movie, a film that they based on some of their own high school trials and tribulations, [i]Superbad[/i]. Was this going to be a case of a couple of writers losing a step after what could have been a beginner's luck screenplay the first time around? No, absolutely not, and I never had that question in mind. This film actually seems even more authentic in its teenage dialogue, and contrastingly bogus is it's plot, which dances around through so many atrocities in one 24-hour period, aiming at creating nothing but chaotic fun and delivering every step of the way.[/center]


[center]Unlike so many films of its kind, [i]Superbad [/i]is raunchy with a purpose, impolite but with heart, and humbly innapropriate. Rogen and Goldberg have scored mightily again, and though I didn't need to test this one out with repeated viewings, I saw it three times anyway because there is simply nothing better than it on screens right now...and especially on the comedic end. Beyond the outstanding script is the insanely perfect casting of the film, with Jonah Hill and Michael Cera at the forefront, never missing a beat as a cinematic re-incarnation of Rogen and Goldberg's high school-selves. Hill has had a few chances to break in with humurous supporting roles in the past, but here he kicks it into high gear delivering line after line with ease, and Cera matches him as the perfect couterpart throughout. Add to the table a breakout debut by Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fogell, AKA McLovin (enough said), and Rogen and Bill Hader as fumbling police officers, and this is yet another amazing and, by the end, masterpiece of a film. I am now officially labeling those two fellas the comic geniuses of our generation, and cannot wait for their next film, a stoner buddy film that will definitely not be your run-of-the-mill take on the genre, because David Gordon Green happens to be directing. A match made in heaven. [/center]

Knocked Up
Knocked Up(2007)

[center][i]*If I am going to acutally start proving to all the amount of movies I've seen so far this year, then I guess I need to just make these catch-up reviews short and sweet...[/i][/center]
[center] [/center]

[center] [font=Garamond][size=6][b]KNOCKED UP[/b][/size][/font][/center]
[center][font=Garamond]director: Judd Apatow[/font][/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/universal_pictures/knocked_up/_group_photos/seth_rogen13.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 129 minutes, Universal[/center]


[center]When Seth Rogen first came to worldwide attention in [i]The 40-Year-Old Virgin[/i] as a very memorable supporting character, it was clear that he could be funny, but at the time I had no idea that (and I'm pretty sure hardly anybody else did) he was capable of creating not only good comic screenplays, but instant classics. His first-time script, co-written with inseparable buddy Evan Goldberg was the now well-known, [i]Knocked Up[/i]. In an instant, a split-second it seemed, Rogen transformed into both hot-item leading comedic man and elite screenwriter for the genre, and it's all deserving once you witness the outcome of this almost unbelievably great film. This is only one film yes, but I put it to the tough test of multiple viewings back in June when it was released and it came out better with each look, making Rogen and Goldberg serious candidates for this generation's much-needed comedy masterminds. Their ultimate test would be the next movie, and luckily it would come as quickly as two and a half months later with [i]Superbad[/i]. Thoughts on that film are next. [/center]

The Bourne Ultimatum

[center][font=Garamond][size=5][b]THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM[/b][/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Paul Greengrass[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/universal_pictures/the_bourne_ultimatum/matt_damon/bourne12.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]PG-13, 113 minutes, Universal[/center]


[center]Whether it happened by plan or merely coincidence, the summer of 2007 has officially become the season of the "three-quel", and what's worse is that it has failed miserably with nearly all of them - until early August's arrival of [i]The Bourne Ultimatum[/i]. For an entire week after coming out of my first viewing of director Paul Greengrass' kinetic thrill ride, I tried to think of another film of this kind to even come close to matching the relentless energy that makes it literally seem like a half an hour experience. I came up with nothing. Nothing I have ever seen can even touch [i]The Bourne Ultimatum[/i]'s masterful and embracingly swift pace as it snatches up its viewer for a 113-minute long chase that, if you're not watching closely, could pass you by in the smallest of seconds. [/center]

[center]Matt Damon reprises his role of Jason Bourne for a supposed third and final time in a series of films that started off okay, got real better with a change of director, then ultimately became a top tier action franchise in this decade. Bourne is inching closer and closer to the truth of his transformation several years earlier as he moves faster than ever and dodges twice as many foes as before. Damon is quietly brilliant this time around, meeting every gargantuan physical match that comes his way and speaking volumes with only facial expressions. After helping the franchise at a very high level in [i]Supremacy [/i]by incorporating a handheld style, Greengrass comes back for more and is even further polished with the now trademark techniques. Yes, Damon is the star, but once you get inside [i]Ultimatum[/i] it becomes crystal clear that it is equally Greengrass' playground as well. The editing, musical score, and aformentioned cinematography are spot-on and hugely effective all the way through as they never let up for a second. [/center]

[center]What also makes the film improve on the promise of [i]Supremacy [/i]and become an essential action thriller is its constant reminder that the chase is what's important, not the end result. I was never really concerned about the eventual scene that would reveal Bourne's identity and clear his vengeful mind forever, I was just caught up in the moment all the way through. Another thing about this third film is the strong supporting cast additions, like David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, and Paddy Considine. These are all very fine actors that fill out an already good cast and make this the best set of performers this franchise has seen yet. I say yet because it once again leaves the audience with the possibility to drive the story on more, but it's also a perfect place to lay Bourne's character to rest and finish with a great trilogy. We will all have our opinions about that, and mine is to just call it quits while you're miles ahead of most action films. We shall see, but one thing's for sure - this is one outstanding and fiery experience. [/center]

1408
1408(2007)
½

[center][font=Garamond][size=7]1408[/size][/font][/center]
[center][font=Garamond]director: Mikael Hafstrom[/font][/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/dimension_films/1408/john_cusack/1408_1.jpg[/img][/center]
[center][font=Garamond]PG-13, 94 minutes, Dimension [/font][/center]

There were two movies released in late June that I was worried about after being given a PG-13 rating, and the Stephen King short story-based [i]1408 [/i]came first. Although my level of concern over the ratings of the two films was there, I was much more worried about it for the next movie I'll be talking about than this one, but nonethless, I still had it in the back of my mind that a psychological/horror film couldn't possibly work without being R rated. This was an extremely foolish thought, and I realized this about fifteen minutes into [i]1408[/i], Mikael Hafstrom's intense and amazingly effective adaptation from a novelist that I have always found myself hard to like. I guess it must've been the dozens that turned into hundreds of laughable and inexplicably popular slasher films over the last decade that led me astray from the genre, forcing me to write off and stereotype pretty much everything released on the horror end. I forgot that American cinema could still offer a good thrill without any sort of bloodshed and mass-murdering mayhem, but rather with only a well-written internal fight inside of a confused man - and a commanding performance by a brilliant actor.

As Mike Enslin, the character who never has a moment away from what's happening, John Cusack makes this movie work almost single-handedly, saving it from potential embarrassment had it been placed in the hands of another star, and gives what is remarkably, one of the best and most demanding performances of his career. I had to add in the [i]almost [/i]up there because the film surprisingly works on more cylinders than one. Coming off of a potential-filled but ultimately disappointing work from 2005 called [i]Derailed[/i], Hafstrom brings an up close and personal style of claustrophobic directing to the film that, combined with Cusack's outstanding work, makes venturing into [i]1408 [/i]a welcomed uneasy visit. The pacing is done with great and seemingly extensive laboring, giving the audience just the right amount of time out of the room in the beginning to fully prepare us for what's ahead. To make a film that spends the bulk of its time inside a hotel room work, and work to effectively keep even the most casual American movie fan attentive and enthralled, is a rare achievement today. Samuel L. Jackson does wonders with the small time he has as the Dolphin Hotel manager, and the visuals are fascinating throughout, especially the aformentioned techniques by Hafstrom and his cinematographer. But I'm sure all who sees it and likes it will admit that it all boils down to the performance of the lead, and Cusack is dominant here in the best sense of the term. Once again he pads the case I've been making for years now - that he is the best actor working today. [i]1408 [/i]is a film that caught me off guard because it exceeded my expectations as a film in whole, and that makes for a great summer thriller.

Ratatouille
Ratatouille(2007)

[center][font=Garamond][size=6][b]RATATOUILLE[/b][/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Brad Bird[/center]
[center][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/walt_disney/ratatouille/_group_photos/lou_romano18.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]G, 110 minutes, Disney/Pixar[/center]

[left]It's always taken the most brilliant marriage of dialogue and storyline to draw me completely into an animated feature, which is for whatever reason the genre that I am most stubborn with. The computer generated giants of Pixar have consistently managed to slowly turn me around to the animated bandwagon a nearly every time they release a film, with the exception of [i]A Bug's Life [/i]and [i]Cars[/i]. What I think was an extremely key and arguably the most important decision the company ever made, was to grab onto the genius behind [i]The Iron Giant, [/i]animator-producer-writer-director, Brad Bird. With the release of 2004's vastly entertaining [i]The Incredibles, [/i]and now this summer's awe-inspiring [i]Ratatouille[/i], I can firmly declare that Bird is the sole reason that I am more of an animated fan. [/left]

[left]I'm not sure if there's ever been a more effective film of its kind to appeal to every single age group that would step into a theater than [i]Ratatouille.[/i] The film follows a gourmet-minded rat named Remy, who after discovering that he'd been living in the sewers under Paris and beneath his favorite restaurant nonetheless, makes an actual effort to become a chef. A chance encounter between Remy and Linguini, the restaurant's garbage boy, turns into an understanding between the two that, if they sharpen the edges, can fulfill each other's wishes. Bird's imagination in his past two features was limitless, and here in [i]Ratatouille [/i]he has taken the child inside him to new hieghts. The film is filled with beautiful animation, wonderful development, an equally funny and inspiring storyline, and outstanding voicework. As the canniving new owner of the restaurant Ian Holm voices Skinner, an extremely small but pushy parasite. It's perfection, and just might be the best voice work in animation history. Voicing the other villain of the film, a deathly-illustrated food critic that single-handedly shuts down restaurants with his negative articles, is Peter O'Toole in a fabuluous addition. Others in the film, like Patton Oswalt as Remy, Brad Garrett as Gusteau, and Janeane Garofalo as Colette, are individuals whom I've never really been fond of in live action pieces yet excel here at a high level. Everyone does a fabulous job because they are given fabulous material, and it all results in the best film to be released this summer. [/left]

Klute
Klute(1971)
½

[center][font=Garamond][size=6][b]KLUTE[/b][/size][/font][/center]
[center]director: Alan J. Pakula[/center]
[center][img]http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/48/48_images/klute1_head1.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 114 minutes, Warner Bros. [/center]

The premise to Alan J. Pakula's 1971 thriller, [i]Klute[/i] holds nothing different to it than what we're used to seeing inside the genre. A mysterious investigation of a missing man leads a quiet, inexperienced private detective into the heart of New York City to dig deeper than the police were willing to a year earlier. It's personal for him because the man missing was his best friend, so he instantly transforms himself into a clue-sniffing, calm sleuth looking for answers from the one link that's on record - Bree Daniels. She's a longtime call girl who is doing anything she can to look for something else for income so she doesn't have to be drawn back into the deceptive and draining world that is slowly ruining her life. So what makes this film such a terrific one is not the originality of the happenings in the film, but the creation of these two main characters, first from the screenwriters giving them an existence and then ultimately to Jane Fonda as Bree and Donal Sutherland as John Klute, playing them out with brilliance.

In what would be the most important role in Fonda's then-young career that helped her leap into major stardom, and deservedly so, she is fantastic as Daniels, without a doubt. What seems to be virtually forgotten is the equally amazing performance of the title character himself, played by Sutherland. I have not yet been witness to a private eye figure quite like John Klute in the portion of cinema I've viewed, and I also don't think I've seen Sutherland better either. They are two lost souls in completely different ways and it will be through the chase of a lurking psychopath that leaves strange, late night phone calls to Bree's number that will bring the two together and make them realize just how much they need each other to fulfill their lives. The performances are flawless and the movie itself is ultimately very near to it, making the right choices as the movie heads toward a conclusion, opting to deal with the internal connection between Bree and Klute rather than countless sequences of the murderer plotting another victim. The cinematography is dark and impressive, Roy Scheider is great in a supporting role as a demanding pimp, and Pakula brings taut direction to the table to make this a worthwhile thriller.

Reign Over Me

[center][font=Garamond][size=5]reign over me[/size][/font][/center]
[center][img]http://i47.photobucket.com/albums/f165/neckbracesub/5.jpg[/img][/center]
[center][size=1]R, 128 minutes, Sony/Columbia[/size] [/center]

[left][color=#666666][font=Garamond]Mike Binder, the multi-talented actor/writer/director who finally followed through in full with the greatness I knew he had in him with 2005's fantastic film, [i][font=Garamond]The Upside of Anger[/font][/i], now brings us a project filled with all the chance to be something profoundly special. [i][font=Garamond]Reign Over Me [/font][/i]is the first film I can think of to come along about the penetrating [i][font=Garamond]after[/font][/i]-effects of the events of 9/11 on the soul of family immediately involved. It's very simple at the surface - two men who used to know each other very well in dental college meet again for the first time since one of them crept away from the entire world's contact upon losing his wife and children on one of the planes. They had always been very different from each other, even as roommates in the past, but were still a natural fit for best friends. Don Cheadle is Alan, the seemingly together one of the two, who still continues his dental career nearly two decades later and with a full family. As we meet Adam Sandler?s character, Charlie, he is in the furthest stage of personal breakdown and without the career and family that his once friend still possesses. Binder does a nice job of giving good breathing time in the beginning stages of the film before Alan and Charlie finally do make contact, making us learn a lot about Alan before we are thrust into the complicated world that is Charlie?s denial of the devastating reality. [/font][/color][/left]

[left][color=#666666][font=Garamond]Several months before this film was set to release I had it at the very top of my spring 2007 list, hoping that it would build on the brilliance of the director?s last film and introduce a very intriguing and moving way of telling a 9/11 story, without ever actually being [i]about [/i]the day. I saw it on its second day of release back in late March, and throughout the film I found myself going through a mixed bag of feelings. There were moments of this movie that I was genuinely drawn into, but most of the time I noticed that I was almost forcing myself to be affected by the entire experience, when the truth was that it?s all extremely uneven. Now that I am finally writing my thoughts on the movie nearly two months later and with a good amount of time to fully take in the film without a comparison to [i]The Upside of Anger[/i]?s perfection, I really have almost zero imprints of any kind of beautiful moments in [i]Reign Over Me[/i]. There is no question that this is a decent film, but for the subject matter it is trying to tackle and the human emotions involved, it comes out as simply a half-success. I must give it a step above the five rating, however, which is a testament to the terrific lead performances by these two men, who give themselves entirely to the promising project. It?s just too bad that it had to fall short altogether. [/font][/color][/left]

Disturbia
Disturbia(2007)

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/dreamworks_skg/disturbia/disturbia_posterbig.jpg[/img]

PG-13, 104 minutes, Paramount

Upon getting a preview inside the crack's of D.J. Caruso's new film, [i]Disturbia[/i], all initial thoughts inside my head were that it would obviously have nothing new or fresh to offer to the suspense genre. Just in the flashes of scenes you get to witness from the trailer could cause one to flag it as ripping off certain key characteristics from a number of other films like it. Yet I think this movie has come around at a perfect time in my movie-admiring life, because I am starting to turn the corner with my thoughts toward Caruso as a filmmaker, who I once had damned for eternity for making the absolutely awful, [i]Taking Lives[/i]. I had also seen another of his films, one from 2002 called [i]The Salton Sea[/i], which had promise but failed to execute as his television-minded direction shined through too much. However, his previous film from 2005, the extremely well acted [i]Two For the Money[/i], was very well done and saw him shed some of those nasty habits from his previous work. So I was ready to see what he throw at us next, and even though [i]Disturbia [/i]was not going to bring anything new to the plate, it wasn't like it had to to be a piece of entertainment. It just had to stay away from too many laughable moments.

What also helped in the decision from skepticism to anticipation for the film was the casting of Shia LeBeouf, who in my opinion is another young actor that can stand next to Joseph Gordon-Levitt as dudes who just can't miss right now. In other words - you've just gotta see anything they do at the moment. As Gordon-Levitt has been with pretty much every movie he's done of late, LaBeouf is so dynamite in [i]Disturbia [/i]that he becomes a sole reason (if you're looking for one) to pay the price of admission and take the ride. As the troubled teenager, Kale, who falls under house arrest due to irratic behavior following his father's death, LeBeouf almost never leaves the screen all the way through, which proves to be essential because he constantly levels things out when it wants to go in the wrong direction. There are a few other so-called "main" characters in the film, but sadly they are never given full meaning or enough screen time to make a difference to the audience. There is Kale's single mother, played by the terrific but underused Carrie-Anne Moss. It's a good role for her to play, but only if it had some weight to it. Any actress could've been picked for this part and done it for what it is, and even though she is sort of wasted, it was nice to see her around again. When Kale begins his boredom-effected spying on the neighborhood through the various windows of his home, he eventually gains two accomplices, both who are cookie cutter Hollywood creations. One is the obnoxious, nerdy friend that is used as nothing but a henchmen who can succumb to being "axed" at any time, and the other is the classic "girl next door", who is definitely not cast based on her acting abilities. Aaron Yoo and Sarah Roemer play these two parts in a way that isn't good nor bad, just adequately, which is the only way how.

As they continue to stakeout the block and point their sights specifically on a strange individual named Turner, they frequently find odd behavior during long nights that Kale is determined to link to a serial killer from Texas who is in hiding. David Morse plays the next-door neighbor with an effective bland scowl that he effortlessly displays, and although he also doesn't receive much time on screen, it ultimately works at more of an advantage for [i]Disturbia[/i] and its intentions. The reason the film works and manages to overcome some seriously skiddish sequences, is that it's always operating inside the head of Kale as he gets deeper into his determination to prove something that may just be all an elaborate, imaginary creation he unkowingly molded from his isolation. It all begins and ends with LaBeouf's performance here, and it overcomes to make the film an entertaining watch.

Breach
Breach(2007)

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/universal_pictures/breach/breach_posterbig.jpg[/img]

PG-13, 110 minutes, Universal

Taking the true story of deception even further than his first feature, [i]Shattered Glass[/i], co-writer/director Billy Ray lets us inside the assignment that took down the seemingly impenetrable agent Robert Hanssen, who was selling secrets to Soviet counterparts for nearly three decades. Chris Cooper plays Hanssen in a performance that is absolutely the reason to go see [i]Breach [/i]on the big screen, because without him in this role there's no question it would lose quite a bit of its punch. Ryan Phillippe delivers a very fine performance as Eric O'Neill, a confident FBI youngster on the fast-track to becoming an agent. He receives the assignment to record every single bit of information he can find about Hanssen through his every day encounters with him. This is a task that at first seems like a throw-away assignment he feels he was put on and is preventing him from doing something important.

There are always two lives we find in films like this, where we watch the main character become immersed in the job while also finding a way to keep it confidential from everyone outside, even his wife. The scenes between Cooper and Phillippe are especially well written and played out, and because these parts apply the biggest chunk of the story it ultimately becomes effective. What doesn't ever quite feel right are the sequences of O'Neill's home life between he and his wife, played by Caroline Dhavernas in a role that is dying for some more to work with. The strain that is inevitably put on her knowing that Eric is hiding something, is just missing something that adds a sense of realism to the emotions. Dhavernas is definitely an actress with potential, but the role she's given here doesn't let us truly see what she's got. Luckily, the movie ventures off into the souls of the two main character's and their time together, bonding in ways almost no one has ever bonded with Hanssen. Most of the film is exectued with great tension, and it's fascinating to watch Cooper at work.

[b]actors[/b]
Chris Cooper
Ryan Phillippe
Laura Linney
Caroline Dhavernas
Dennis Haysbert
Gary Cole
Kathleen Quinlan
Bruce Davison
[b]writers[/b]
Adam Mazer
William Rotko
Billy Ray
[b]director[/b]
Billy Ray

The Astronaut Farmer

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/warner_brothers/the_astronaut_farmer/theastronautfarmer_posterbig.jpg[/img]

PG, 102 minutes, Warner Bros.

There will always be the obvious comparisons to filmmakers like David Lynch and the Coens when speaking of the work of Michael and Mark Polish, the twin brothers who have given us such fresh pieces as [i]Twin Falls Idaho [/i]and [i]Northfork[/i]. In their latest they are reaching out to a more wide audience, offering up people of all ages to participate in a story that truly never falters from the first and foremost - the childhood dream. [i]The Astronaut Farmer [/i]finds Billy Bob Thornton perfectly cast as Texas rancher Charlie Farmer, who also happens to have major crudentials in space engineering. In the years since he retired from NASA to return home due to the death of his father, Charlie has slowly been constructing a rocket ship inside his barn and will, no matter what and with total disregard for doubters, put his lifelong dream into flight.

The movie opens with a strangely beautiful image of a man riding a horse to gather a stray cattle on his land, but in full astronaut gear. The Polish brothers have made a trademark style with their use of landscapes as a major character in their films, and here there is so much to look at in wonder. There are moments in the movie that do seem a little uneven in the editing, maybe a little rushed at certain times as well, but it's not enough to take my focus away from what it grabbed me onto. As it continues inside the surroundings of the desolate town in which they live and the outside world begins to barge in after the media finds out about his plans to make an unidentified liftoff, the Polish's and Thornton never make Farmer question or even rethink the danger he may put his family through shall he fail. Everyone is there to remind him of the logical thoughts a grown person would have on the subject, but his dreaming child is still inside of him, and that the movie is solely and plainly so straight forward about that being the driving force is why I refuse to let the small flaws stand in my way of giving it a good review.

Another thing I really look forward to in a Polish film is the out of place humor that ultimately becomes perfectly in place, if that even makes any sense. The FBI agents in the movie are like cartoon characters in a way, always lining up in perfect rows with their cars and following suit with their formation. The two agents we get a little time with are extremely funny, played by Jon Gries and co-writer Mark Polish. The family is played by Virginia Madsen, Max Thierot, and Jasper and Logan Polish, daughters of the filmmakers. Madsen is an extremely good actress, and most of the time she can pass by with this character by talent alone, but there are times when even the stillness that is the writing of the wife brims through even that. It is newcomer Thierot who delivers a memorable role as the loyal son who stands as the right hand man in Farmer's architecture and altogether masterplan. By the final closing minutes, I was left with a genuine feeling, and as I walked out of the theater I knew I'd experienced something that just doesn't come around as often as it should. I'm writing this review only nine days after the film was released nationally and already its showtimes and screens are diminishing. That is something we should be ashamed of, especially when movies like [i]Wild Hogs [/i]and other pieces of excrement are making massive sums of money.

[b]actors[/b]
Billy Bob Thornton
Virginia Madsen
Bruce Dern
Max Thierot
Tim Blake Neslon
J.K. Simmons
Jon Gries
Mark Polish
Richard Edson
Bruce Willis
[b]writers [/b]
Mark Polish
Michael Polish
[b]director[/b]
Michael Polish

Zodiac
Zodiac(2007)

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/paramount_pictures/zodiac/zodiacposterbig.jpg[/img]

R, 156 minutes, Warner/Paramount

The return of David Fincher after a five year absence between films finds him delivering on the promise that he could make a true masterpiece. I know there are a lot of people who have already hailed the director as a genius and labeled at least two of his films perfect, and althoughI definitely have enjoyed watching his career to this point I wouldn't call anything previous to [i]Zodiac[/i] a purely perfect work. There are dozens and dozens of reasons to why I think this film marks his towering achievement so far, but mostly the credit has to go toward his complete dedication to making the movie not about the grisly murders, shocking images, or showdown between cop and killer. No, this film is simply about a number of men who hand over their lives to an obsessive investigation. Of these numerous men spanning over the entire state of California, the film mainly focuses on three. There is an honorable investigator for the San Fransisco Police named Dave Tousky, a manic and boozing reporter for the Chronicle named Paul Avery, and a cartoonist working for the same paper named Robert Graysmith. Playing these characters are three of the best in the business today, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., and Jake Gyllenhaal. They are just fantastic in this film.

The film is based on actual files starting from the late '60's and ranging to this day about the murderer that calls himself the Zodiac. Fincher does an admirable job of giving the first 1/3 of the film to displaying some of the actions of the killer first hand, but as it goes along we find that the movie is not going to follow the same path as virtually every other serial killer film has. There is a considerable amount of time given to each of the main character's obsession with this investigation, and it will test their patience and strength. Who can go on the longest? Who can continue to let it eat away at their lives? I have never seen a film invite its viewer in on an investigation so deeply as [i]Zodiac [/i]does, letting us participate in the uncovering, putting every tiny detail out for us to toy with in our heads as well. I watched this on opening night, and again the next day for a matinee, and I have to say that I sort of feel like these characters do toward the film as they do for the Zodiac. It has absorbed almost every thought in my head this weekend, mostly finding me marvelling at the fact that Fincher has given us something that is so meditative and labored over for all the right reasons, paying off so well but ultimately splitting his previous fans in half. It's just my opinion, but I think some of the fans of his more "mind-blowing", complicated, and bloody work are going to write this one off.

They will also be disappointed that there is no major surprise ending with an explosive finish, just a silent, appropriately haunting close that literally left me in awe - hair-raising awe I might add. The supporting performances are in abundance here and among the standouts are Anthony Edwards as Tousky's equally obessive partner, and John Carroll Lynch as a suspect in the case. The screenplay is crisp, smart and extremely fast-paced, and combined with Fincher's amazing direction and the awesome Harris Savides cinematography, it makes the film's 2 hour and 36 minute running time flesh out nicely. The three leads could never be given enough acclaim. Downey is playing a role only he could do, and he's great as Avery. Gyllenhaal makes a nice turn as the goody goody, harmless cartoonist who gives himself to the case just as much or even more than Tousky. The young actor has already taken in very diverse characters in his fairly short career to this point. But it is Ruffalo, in my opinion, who steals the entire show with a performance that flips your normal movie police investigator upside down, with great odd humor and an energy that always radiates. He's always been one of my favorites since I saw [i]You Can Count On Me[/i], and this film further cements that case. The movie is well worth the wait for the filmmaker and mature in its development. Go see it.

[b]actors[/b]
Jake Gyllenhaal
Mark Ruffalo
Robert Downey, Jr.
Anthony Edwards
Chloe Sevigny
Elias Koteas
Donal Logue
Philip Baker Hall
John Carroll Lynch
Dermot Mulroney
Brian Cox
Zach Grenier
Adam Goldberg
James LeGros
Charles Fleischer
John Getz
Clea Duvall
[b]based on the book by[/b]
Robert Graysmith
[b]written by[/b]
James Vanderbilt
[b]directed by [/b]
David Fincher

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/first_look/a_guide_to_recognizing_your_saints/aguidetorecognizingyoursaints_bigposter.jpg[/img]

R, 98 minutes, First Look

There really aren't too many films based on real happenings that come across as being entirely true, and for reasonable dramatic purposes, I know. But as I was watching Dito Montiel's account of his teenage life in 1980's Queens, [i]A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints[/i], I got a sense that everything depicted throughout was as authentic, and true, as it could be. That is why the movie ultimately overcomes some of its failed attempts at originality in its overall moviemaking, because it's just real, and that deserves a round of applause by itself. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it's got nothing else to offer other than organic roots in the screenplay, because although I said some of the aspects of the process fall into the depths of repetition and hardcore New York-life cliches, there are many things about it all that are deeply moving.

Robert Downey, Jr. plays Dito Montiel in present-day as he is reciting excerpts from his book, [i]A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints[/i], about his troubled times some twenty years earlier in Astoria, Queens. Most of the film spends time telling this story, with Shia LaBeouf playing the teenage Montiel in a breakout from Disney-related performances. Like we see in countless other films based on the rough lives people live in the underbellies of New York, there is one character that grows fed up with the violent and dangerous lifestyle and strives for any type of exit. Montiel is this person in this film, but I never thought about the whole cliche with this sort of thing while I was watching the movie, and because it sucked me in with its gritty and yes, I will say it again, truthful tones to everything.

Chazz Palminteri and Dianne Wiest play the parents who are both very different but essentially the same in that they will never step outside of the small world they live in. Palminteri was terrific and right for the part, even if he's once again playing that familiar character we're used to seeing him play. It was good to see Wiest again, who has aged dramatically since I last saw her. Powerful characters are everywhere in the movie and are played well by Channing Tatum, Melonie Diaz, and Rosario Dawson. I have a strong feeling that if the movie's core wasn't so truthful and almost at a documentary tone, then I wouldn't care for these characters, and I definitely would have pointed and exposed some of the flaws it certainly has. In the final moments of the movie it sadly seems rushed a little, closing out abruptly and without fleshing out the characters in their later lives as they come to brush the past away for good. This is why I'm going with a less than fantastic rating, but [i]A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints[/i] is still a very good film.

[b]actors[/b]
Robert Downey, Jr.
Shia LaBeouf
Channing Tatum
Chazz Palminteri
Rosario Dawson
Dianne Wiest
Melonie Diaz
Anthony de Sando
Eric Roberts
[b]writer and director[/b]
Dito Montiel

Down to the Bone

[img]http://www.paramount.co.nz/films/down_to_the_bone/poster01-small.jpg[/img]

R, 104 minutes, Laemmle/Zeller

There are two amazing things about the extremely independent film, [i]Down to the Bone[/i]. The first is a given - there is an uncannily brilliant, breakout performance by Vera Farmiga as an unhappy wife and mother with a dangerous drug addiction. Secondly, and perhaps even more important and impressive, is that co-writer/director Debra Granik portrays this world, which has been analyzed in cinema in all facets and budgets, about as best as I've ever seen. She gives Farmiga even further reason to astonish us with a screenplay that was labored over for many years, the hard work paying off in a big way. There is never a moment in the movie that makes the subject and surrounding come off as sugarcoated, it's played firmly in all ways and just works so well.

In nearly every way, this film is something of a mate with Glenn Gordon Caron's film from the late 80's, [i]Clean and Sober[/i]. In that movie, which is one of my all-time favorites, Michael Keaton gives what I think is the most flawless performance in movie history covering addiction, just one of the most flawless performances ever, period. Farmiga's performance in this film constantly reminded me of Keaton's, and it doesn't stop there with the similarities. The two screenplays both did what I think has got to be more of an accurate thing when trying to tell as real a rehabilitation story that can be - they spent much more time outside of the treatment facilities and most with the person battling themselves, learning from their own soul. This film was shot with what looks to be the barest of luxuries, making this one a true independent. It's a film that never takes a turn that leads you places most of its kind do, and the ending, which is abrupt, is properly so. This one is a masterpiece.

[b]actors[/b]
Vera Farmiga
Hugh Dillon
Clint Jordan
[b]writers[/b]
Debra Granik
Richard Lieske
[b]director[/b]
Debra Granik

The Prestige
The Prestige(2006)

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/touchstone_pictures/the_prestige/theprestige_bigreleaseposter.jpg[/img]

PG-13, 128 minutes, Warner Bros.

It's only natural to follow a review for [i]The Illusionist [/i]with some thoughts on Christopher Nolan's [i]The Prestige[/i], the film of magic that followed only two months after Neil Burger's in theaters last year. It's understandable that these two movies would be constantly compared to each other, and mostly because at their outer surface they deal with trickery, and after what seemed like a very long time without a film like them to be released, it's strange they were so close to each other. But after seeing both of these movies, I don't see many similarities between them after it's all uncovered. There's no doubting that Nolan's film is more focused on baffling its audience than Burger's, this one geared toward the endless rivalry between two very different types of magicians.

Hugh Jackman continued his tear through leading roles in 2006 as Robert Angier, a magician looking to cash in on the recent popularity of the craft in early 1900's London. Coming up at the same time, and first being tightly knit with Angier, is Alfred Borden, another magician with an obvious gift for deception. He is always one step ahead of Angier in his delivery and pretty much all aspects of his tricks, and when they break apart and become rivals, Angier will become obsessed with trying to match his counterpart. The intense rivalry is always fun to take part in, and Nolan's direction is terrific. The cinematography by Wally Pfister, is used as what becomes another technique in the trick of the whole process, being so amazing to look at that, at times, we're losing track of what we're supposed to be keeping our eye on. Michael Caine, as the mentor to Angier throughout the film, is so good in this movie and perfectly cast. I never wanted to see him off the screen. Like [i]The Illusionist[/i], this movie also has a woman that comes between the two men, but in this film she never seems like she's more than a part of the trick. Scarlett Johansson is quite good in the role, but I didn't invest in her character like I did Jessica Biel's in Burger's film.

There's no question that I enjoyed this movie to great heights, but not as much as its "magic" counterpart released just weeks before. I think the main reason was because in [i]The Prestige [/i]it never felt like the characters actually existed, like they were only pawns in a game of another world. I felt for the people involved in [i]The Illusionist[/i], and when it came to the end, as I've said before, I was far more intrigued by their own well-being than the mastery of the final twist. Nolan's film has a ton of tricks to dish out, and although it is only just over 2 hours, it still feels overplayed by the time it hits you. Nevertheless, this cannot take away the fact that it does leave you pondering, and waiting for an encore viewing.

[b]actors[/b]
Hugh Jackman
Christian Bale
Scarlett Johansson
Michael Caine
David Bowie
Andy Serkis
Piper Perabo
[b]based on the novel by[/b]
Christopher Priest II
[b]screenplay adapted by[/b]
Christopher Nolan
Jonathan Nolan
[b]directed by[/b]
Christopher Nolan

The Illusionist
½

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/yari_film/the_illusionist/_group_photos/edward_norton1.jpg[/img]

PG-13, 109 minutes, Yari Film Group

One of the disappointing things I did all last year was decline on a chance to see Neil Burger's [i]The Illusionist[/i] in the theater, for films like this that deal with trickery and promise to be grand, should be seen on a grand scale. After seeing this one on its video release I feel like I betrayed the picture because I did make a visit to the other fall release with magical proportions, [i]The Prestige[/i]. They are both very effective but in entirely different ways, at least that's how I saw it. As it follows Edward Norton in a fantastic performance as Eisenheim The Illusionist, I was not really looking to figure out or unscramble possible solutions to how I was being tricked, but rather I was just involved with him on an emotional level as a vulnerable human being.

What impacted me the most in the long run for the film is how it took the time to deliver the full scope of Eisenheim, from his youth all the way to the point he is at when we find Norton playing him. At conflicts with the world around him for being something the world has never seen, possibly something other than a human in most people's eyes, we are introduced to the Chief Inspector Uhl who, although very fascinated and curious of the talents of Eisenheim, must try and penetrate deep into an investigation on just how he illudes. Paul Giamatti gives another brilliant performance and really makes Uhl the most watchable character in the movie, tetering between both sides of the case, ultimately becoming the main force that drives the success of the film. He is investigating for the awful, overzealous Crown Prince Leopold, who wants Eisenheim arrested for no reason other than he can't figure him out. Rufus Sewell is terrific in this role and makes Leopold more deceitful and atrocious than the script probably even called for, which works wonders for the part. The two men will inevitably reach a dangerous crashing point when one woman is in the middle. She is Sophie von Teschen, royalty that has always been in Eishenheim's memory since childhood. By the end and its supposed big surprise, I wasn't really let down by the fact that it didn't pack a major punch because I was so relieved for the soul of the characters that it made me happy.

[b]actors[/b]
Edward Norton
Paul Giamatti
Jessica Biel
Rufus Sewell
Eddie Marsan
Jake Wood
[b]based on the short story by[/b]
Steven Millhauser
[b]writer and director[/b]
Neil Burger

Jesus Camp
Jesus Camp(2006)
½

[img]http://www.consolationchamps.com/pics/jesuscamp.jpg[/img]

PG-13, 84 minutes, Magnolia

One of the most relevant, frightening, and ultimately compelling documentaries of 2006, [i]Jesus Camp [/i]follows evangelical pastor Becky Fischer as she is set to assemble the new "God's army" at the annual "Kids on Fire" summer camp in Devils Lake, North Dakota. It is shocking to find that a story like this is true, that children as young as kindergartners are not preached about God to, but indoctrinated into thinking for other minds than their own, unkowingly being morphed into a political soldier, almost like a faithful robot state is manipulated in them at the earliest age possible. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady have put themselves deep inside this world and have done a remarkably ambitious thing by following through with the evolution of the project.

The film shows us many children become entranced throughout the movie, but there are three kids who we get to know a little more of through interviews that really did shock me, and by nothing more than hearing what they had to say and believe at such an early age. I believe that in cinema there is nothing more scary than the truth. There can be clown killers, slahers down a dark alley or whatnot, but they do not compare to what Fischer and seemingly many others across the country are forming as each day passes in real life. This is one of the hardest documentaries I've ever had to watch, but in the end I'm extremely thankful it exists, deserving of its nomination.

[b]directors[/b]
Heidi Ewing
Rachel Grady

Hollywoodland
½

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/focus_features/hollywoodland/hollywoodland_bigfinalposter.jpg[/img]

R, 127 minutes, Focus

Screenwriter Paul Bernbaum might have been thinking a little bit about films like [i]Chinatown [/i]and [i]L.A. Confidential [/i]when he was writing the biopic/mystery/period piece, [i]Hollywoodland[/i], but the movie is also so much its own nice piece of work that borrowing some tones from those great movies doesn't ever seem like a steal, but rather a nice touch. What this film also has going for it is an intriguing [i]true [/i]story, one that involves one private investigator's drive to spark controversy in Hollywood and give his career a personal boost by insisting that TV's [i]Superman [/i]star George Reeves did not commit suicide, but was murdered. This is an extremely ambitious move for a first-time film from Allen Coulter, whose only previous directing experience was from television shows like [i]The Sopranos[/i] and so on. He pulls through quite nicely and gets the most from the story and especially the actors.

In a film filled with great performances and even a bit of a nice comeback for Ben Affleck as he's perfectly cast for Reeves, it is Adrien Brody as the anxious, completely Jake Gittes-like investigator named Louis Simo, that steals the show with every scene he occupies. With his character and look, at first thought it would seem like Brody wouldn't be that right of a choice for the role, but he does fantastic work here and lets all doubt go within the first few seconds he takes a hold of Simo. There are many other fine performances from the likes of Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Molly Parker, Kathleen Robertson, Brad Henke, and more. As Simo continues to dig deeper into the case, at first for himself and his star-power only, we get some nice scenarios inside his mind on how the believed murder could've went down. This is a very well done period film with some top-notch cinematography and lighting to complement the strong writing and acting.

[b]actors[/b]
Adrien Brody
Ben Affleck
Diane Lane
Bob Hoskins
Molly Parker
Robin Tunney
Kathleen Robertson
Brad Henke
Larry Cedar
Lois Smith
Dash Mihok
Joe Spano
[b]writer[/b]
Paul Bernbaum
[b]director[/b]
Allen Coulter

Apocalypto
Apocalypto(2006)

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/buena_vista/apocalypto/apocalyptobig.jpg[/img]

R, 139 minutes, Touchstone

I don't recall ever going through an emotional experience that reaches so many different levels quite like I did earlier today with Mel Gibson's [i]Apocalypto[/i]. It is a work of daring straight-forwardness in its depiction of the brutal way of life in the time when the Mayan civilazation was heading towards inevitable destruction. It has garnered some controversy for its ruthlessness, but I think most of it comes from it simply being directed by Gibson, because anything he does from this point on in his career will be labeled controversial by some. Yes the film is violent, but at its core and underneath the harsh reality of the setting of the time, he ultimately focuses on the unbreakable power of faith, the bond of family, and the refusal to believe that your territory is no longer yours.

Rudy Youngblood plays Jaguar Paw, a young Mayan we follow from happy times in his village, to massacres and hardships of the unspeakable kind to, in a stirring twist of fate, a man with an opportunity to overcome all fears and start again with his wife and children. Gibson has fashioned a truly amazing film that tests its audience, but rightly so. During the film I was so entranced by the feelings it had me swayed into, from happiness, to devastation, to complete hurt as the utter danger that existed in this world was brought to life. I knew I loved the movie immediately, but it wasn't until I pondered deeply about the entire experience as a whole a few hours later that I believed it to be a masterwork.

[b]actors[/b]
Rudy Youngblood
Dalia Hernandez
Jonathan Brewer
Morris Birdyellowhead
[b]writers[/b]
Mel Gibson
Farhad Sifinia
[b]director[/b]
Mel Gibson

Quinceañera
Quinceañera(2006)

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/sony_pictures_classics/quinceanera/quinceaneraposterbig.jpg[/img]

R, 91 minutes, Sony Pictures Classics

English co-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland were living in Echo Park, Los Angeles a few years ago when their Spanish neighbors asked them to videotape a traditional Quinceanera celebration. What us Americans would simply call a girl's 15th birthday, they take it much more seriously,. because it is the official time the individual becomes a woman. The two men had no clue how these ceremonies were handled, but after they experienced it all on that day, they appreciated it and knew they could make something worth telling on film. What they have delivered is one of the best coming-of-age movies this decade has offered us and in a very original way, especially to most audiences in the U.S.

Emily Rios plays Magdalena, a young girl who is feeling the pressure of her Quinceanera as it approaches, all the while trying to figure out how to grow up and experiment with sexuality. Although she has never had sex with her semi-boyfriend, Herman, she is starting to show, as if she's pregnant. When the inescapable evidence starts to show from her tummy, it undoubtedly sparks a separation of feelings inside her family. Feeling outcast when the news comes out, she flees to her caring grandfather's home, who seems like the only person who doesn't judge in her family. There she lives with him and her cousin, Carlos, who has major problems of his own. There is a never an obvious step taken with the construction of [i]Quinceanera[/i], and its balance between Magdalena and Carlos' stories as they come together in the end is fascinating. Everything about this film is done so strong and well that I recommend it on the highest level and cannot wait to see it again.

[b]actors[/b]
Emily Rios
Jesse Garcia
Chalo Gonzalez
J.R. Cruz
[b]writers and directors[/b]
Richard Glatzer
Wash Westmoreland

The Science of Sleep

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/warner_independent/the_science_of_sleep/thescienceofsleep_bigreleaseposter.jpg[/img]

R, 106 minutes, Warner Independent

There is no doubting that now legendary music video director Michel Gondry has one of the most impressive imaginations in all the world, and he even made that into a good transition into film with second feature, [i]Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind[/i]. Almost everything he does manages to put his audience in a dream-like state, so there was great anticipation for his latest movie, one only he could really pull off, [i]The Science of Sleep[/i]. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Stephane, a young man who makes a visit back to his mother's home of Paris after his father has died of cancer in Mexico. He is promised a good job when he arrives, only to find out that it is with a boring calendar-making business. Immediately turned off by the fact that he chose to come back and having no real reason to stay, he then meets Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a woman living across the hall. She's so close to him, yet even as they begin to know each other they are so far apart with their feelings for each other.

His mother recalling his strange dreamy trances that have occured since the age of six, he resorts to this state exclusively now at this point in his life to find the answers to being with Stephanie, and enhance the dull world around him. The set design and appreciation for every single inch of creation that goes into the dreams of the movie are outstanding and trademark Gondry. It's like a culmination of all the things he's done to this point on his career made into one giant piece of art. Yet there are still a lot of things missing to make [i]The Science of Sleep [/i]become fully realized and effective in my opinion. This time Gondry is also the writer of the film, which is based on similar images he has seen his entire dream life. I believe that he has some things to work on as a screenwriter, this one being very spotty and stalled at times, even with the great vibrancy of each setting. His direction can be fully complemented with a great script, like Kaufman's in the previous film, and I imagine one day he himself can create something grand with the pen, he just missed here. However, I still have to recommend this one.

[b]actors[/b]
Gael Garcia Bernal
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Alain Chabat
Miou-Miou
Pierre Vaneck
Emma de Caunes
[b]writer and director[/b]
Michel Gondry

Trust the Man
½

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/fox_searchlight/trust_the_man/_group_photos/billy_crudup4.jpg[/img]

R, 100 minutes, Fox Searchlight

I was prepared to be lenient with my viewing of the romantic comedy [i]Trust the Man[/i], to try and look toward the acting of the four leads over focusing on the repetetive situations and relationships that involve love triangles in New York City (like we've never seen that). The thing about this movie, written and directed by Bart Freundlich, is that it recognizes it's going in the same direction as dozens of other films like it, but it has great fun knowing that it had the fortune of these sort of actors signing on to play it out. Throughout the first 2/3 of the movie there are some idiotic choices here and there that go too far with slapstick, humorless comedy, but there are plenty of bright spots that come about from the spontaneous actions of all the leads.

Julianne Moore and David Duchovny are terrific together as a married couple who are finding themselves increasingly drawn apart. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Billy Crudup play the other pair, a couple who have been together for seven years but are not yet married and have no kids, this because of one side of the relationship's denial. These four characters are blueprints of what we're used to seeing in New York relationship films, but that's nto really a knock on the film for being unoriginal or anything, because I can assume there are many people like this that exist. For about 85 minutes of the running time in [i]Trust the Man[/i], I can honestly say that enjoyed myself, because it was playful in a really humurous way, especially in the performances by Duchovny and Crudup. I also respected some of the writing, which was serious at times, and not laughable at being so. But it does fall apart, and tragically so, in the final act, the inevitable happy ending which wouldn't be so unwelcomed had they not made it so cartoonish. I was taken by surprise that I didn't hate the movie within the first few minutes, but my initial prediction did manage to come back to me by the end. There is a moment in the movie when the two men meet in a cafe early in the morning and reflect on their selfish decisions after being kicked to the curb by the women, that if you see it, I think you'll agree would have been an ending worthy of a good rating for the movie. Sadly, there are fifteen more minutes after that.

[b]actors[/b]
David Duchovny
Julianne Moore
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Billy Crudup
Eva Mendes
James Legros
Garry Shandling
Ellen Barkin
Bob Balaban
Glenn Fitzgerald
[b]writer and director[/b]
Bart Freundlich

Catch a Fire
Catch a Fire(2006)

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/focus_features/catch_a_fire/_group_photos/derek_luke1.jpg[/img]

PG-13, 97 minutes, Focus

It's strange to me that just when director Phillip Noyce started to let the Hollywood spy/action films of his earlier career go by, like [i]Patriot Games [/i]and [i]clear and Present Danger [/i]and opt for important independent works, he has been lost in the mix every time. When he released two films back in 2002, [i]Rabbit-Proof Fence [/i]and [i]The Quiet American[/i], they both received high acclaim but, other than Caine's performance in the latter, were virtually forgotten. Even with great reviews his work cannot seem to get out there as much as it needs to, so when he released his latest strong piece of work, [i]Catch A Fire[/i], and to undeserving lousy criticism, I knew it would be near impossible to see it in theaters. It was more than impossible, playing for about six days in only one or two screens around here, so I waited for the video.

Derek Luke has officially broken the barrier from promising talent that sprouted from [i]Antwone Fisher [/i]and sports films like [i]Friday Night Lights [/i]and [i]Glory Road[/i], to a strong actor. His first terrific performance in my opinion was in David Mamet's [i]Spartan[/i], and here he gives his best yet as Patrick Chamusso, an African oil worker and soccer coach who is wrongly accused of terrorism, but after being jailed and seeing the darkest side of things, he does all he needs to fight for freedom. Tim Robbins is outstanding as Nic Vos, a calm but bull-headed policeman who forces himself into the Chamusso's lives in search of the truth. Noyce does a fantastic job of showing the family lives of both sides here, from Chamusso to Vos, and their many strange encounters. It is another important and true story Noyce has went through great strain preparing for us to see, and it works here, even if it's not on masterful levels. Definitely not deserving of the neglection. See it.

[b]actors[/b]
Derek Luke
Tim Robbins
Bonnie Mbuli
Michelle Burgers
Mncedisi Shabangu
Terry Pheto
[b]written by[/b]
Shawn Slovo
[b]directed by[/b]
Phillip Noyce

The Lost City

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/magnolia/the_lost_city/andy_garcia/lostcity_poster.jpg[/img]

PG-13, 143 minutes, Magnolia

Andy Garcia's extremely long work in progress, [i]The Lost City[/i] is a tribute to his birthplace of Havana, Cuba, and to the strong music background the surroundings are seeping with. The hard work of over sixteen years from early stages of development to the actual filming, editing and release of the movie is all sprawled out and in mostly well-done form, with some dragging and other tiny flaws, but I ultimately came out with such an amount of respect for Garcia to follow through with his labor of love. It's set in the late 50's as Castro begins to take over, and the effect it has on a family who has flourished in the city but are becoming more and more torn apart from the tragic events of it all, especially the brothers. Garcia plays one of the brothers, a successful nightclub owner, who increasingly has thoughts about fleeing to America to escape the danger, even if it means parting from those he is closest to.

Nearly every second of this rather long film is loaded with Cuban rhythms that the actor/director knows down to the very bone, and just by realizing this love as I was viewing it I could excuse the fact that most of the sequences are stretched out. The movie definitely has some harsh moments because it cannot escape displaying them during the terrible era its set in, btu that's not what it's [i]about[/i] in the end. Garcia's movie finds beuaty in every corner of the Cuban world, even at its darkest times, and it's something I highly recommend viewing. There are great performances in the movie from supporters like Ines Sastre, Dustin Hoffman, Richard Bradford, Nestor Carbonell, and more. What I could never quite understand is the addition of a character known only as The Writer, a man who seems totally out of place and played by Bill Murray in what is a strangely written role. Though there never is a real explanation for his involvement in these peoples' lives, I did enjoy watching him. There are a number of flaws you could pick out and gripe about, but if you have any kind of heart you will discard most all of them and fall in love with this movie.

[b]actors[/b]
Andy Garcia
Ines Sastre
Bill Murray
Richard Bradford
Nestor Carbonell
Dustin Hoffman
William Marquez
Enrique Murciano
Elizabeth Pena
Tomas Milian
[b]based on the novel by[/b]
Guillermo Cabrera Infante
[b]screenplay adapted by[/b]
Guillermo Cabrera Infante
[b]director[/b]
Andy Garcia

The Night Listener
½

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/miramax_films/the_night_listener/thenightlistener_bigposter.jpg[/img]

R, 81 minutes, Miramax

One of the very few thrillers released in the last decade that deserves to be labeled Hitchcock-esque, Patrick Stettner's [i]The Night Listener [/i]is a silently devastating psychological journey with Robin Williams finding his way back into the type of role that brings out the real talent in him. He plays Gabriel Noone, a late night radio show host that delivers nationally famous tales that are basically sugarcoated and tweaked versions of things that actually occur in his life. He is extremely successful, which goes without saying, but we are introduced to him at a standstill in his career, at a place where he needs to live apart from the show. This is caused mainly from his crumbling relationship with Jess, his much younger partner who Gabriel fell in love with nearly a decade earlier as he became solely involved in assisting him in surviving the AIDS disease. Bobby Cannavale is very good in this role in really the first thing I've seen him in since [i]The Station Agent[/i], although I'm almost possitive he's done a couple since. Another thing that will further put him off of wanting to continue the show is the seemingly innocent but ultimately questionable relationship he develops, at first over the phone, with a devoted listener. I do not want to go into any more from here.

Stettner in only his second feature film proves to have all the right moves when the story makes its major turns. Taken from the novel of the same name written by Armistead Maupin, which is also based on real events, the film manages to be an actually skin-deep creepy and uncomfortable movie in the right, most authentic ways - without blatent horror-like violence and psychotic chase sequences, as so many popular "thrillers" are doing today. Rory Culkin, who I feel is the best actor of his generation and will continue to astonish us in the decades to come delivers a fine supporting performance here. Sandra Oh and Joe Morton are also good in very small roles, and we also find the very busy Toni Collette being fantastic as always. 2006 was a great year for her, and her performance here shows another side of the actress we're not used to seeing. But it's Williams' show here all the way through as he gives more proof to why his dramatic career is far more impressive than his paycheck comedy one. It's a brave performance, and his best since [i]One Hour Photo[/i], maybe even better. This is a terrific film and a great watch if you've only got a short time to squeeze one in.

[b]actors[/b]
Robin Williams
Toni Collette
Bobby Cannavale
Sandra Oh
Joe Morton
Rory Culkin
[b]based on the novel by[/b]
Armistead Maupin
[b]screenplay adapted by[/b]
Armistead Maupin
Terry Anderson
Patrick Stettner
[b]director[/b]
Patrick Stettner

The Libertine
½

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/weinstein_company/the_libertine/_group_photos/samantha_morton2.jpg[/img]

R, 130 minutes, Weinstein

In the opening monologue of Laurence Dunmore's directorial debut, [i]The Libertine[/i], Johnny Depp's Earl of Rochester warns us of what we're about to get ourselves into. It is a grim and foggy tale that will introduce unpleasant people and unpleasant situations, then keep its promise by making them remain unpleasant, or spiral them into downright ruthless throughout. He is a 17th century poet who lives a life of nothing but alcohol and many women, and maybe a controversial play here and there that will be cause enough for King Charles II (John Malkovich) to banish him from the land. The direction, lighting, makeup, score and cinematography have done a remarkale job at catering to the promises of the Earl's monologue, by creating a world that is in the slightest blink unlike any movie of its kind. The camera is always at least mildly in movement, effectively adding to tht e already uneasy haze the movie has you in because you've chosen to watch it.

I love pretty much everything about the creation of [i]The Libertine[/i], and don't really understand the numerous negative reviews. There are dozens of movies set in this time that are all clones upon clones of each other, and here comes one that dares to be different and ugly in its entirety, layering itself with so much obsession and darkness yet Depp somehow manages to make us care for the character as much as hate him. It's his best performance in a very long time and sadly is his most overlooked of all the roles he's had of late. Samantha Morton and Malkovich are also fascinating to watch and are perfectly cast, and Stephen Jeffrey's script, which is also based on his own play, is brilliant.

[b]actors[/b]
Johnny Depp
Samantha Morton
John Malkovich
Tom Hollander
Stanley Townsend
Paul Ritter
Rosamund Pike
Frencesca Annis
[b]writer[/b]
Stephen Jeffrey (based on his play)
[b]director[/b]
Laurence Dunmore

For Your Consideration
½

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/warner_independent/for_your_consideration/foryourconsideration_bigreleaseposter.jpg[/img]

PG-13, 86 minutes, Warner Independent

At the surface it would seem like [i]For Your Consideration [/i]would be the usual Christopher Guest mockumentary, an intelligent romp that further proves he and co-writer Eugene Levy's immense talent for making us laugh in unexpected places. In actuality, it is just that, but also has a strange sadness at its core that finds its audience at a suprising state toward the conclusion. All the usuals show up once again to carry the film, which is a fine step back into solid comedic filmmaking for Guest after [i]A Mighty Wind [/i]was a misfire in my opinion. This time around he and Levy write in the direction of mocking Hollywood frequent insanity and the media's overblown emphasis on the importance of the Oscars, among many other things. Catherine O'Hara has received all the glowing compliments across the critical world, and rightly so, for she is the standout in a movie filled with great actors doing their usual great and hilarious things with Guest's guidance. She plays an actress who tries to pretend she doesn't care about the rumors that she's a lock for a nomination for her role in "Home For Purim". The satirical madness that goes into just the scenes of them on the set of the movie is great to watch in itself.

The results on the comedic end are what we really have come to expect at this point in Guest's career. There are a series of consistently funny tidbits played out nicely by such performers as Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Bob Balaban, Fred Willard, Jane Lynch, Harry Shearer, Ricky Gervais, and a whole lot more. I think there will be a lot of people who will be critical of the lack of uproariously funny moments in the movie, about how they don't match up to his previous work in the slightest. I would agree that there are definitely not as many extremely humurous moments in [i]For Your Consideration [/i]as [i]Waiting For Guffman[/i], or [i]Best in Show[/i], but that's not a bad thing in my opinion because this is a different kind of movie. What's really impressive about the movie is where it leaves us in the end, at a sort of abrupt but appropriately so finale that let me sigh with relief knowing that Guest is not out to keep repeating the same movie with a different setting every time. I admire this one.

[b]actors[/b]
Catherine O'Hara
Harry Shearer
Michael McKean
Bob Balaban
Fred Willard
Jane Lynch
Parker Posey
Michael Hitchcock
Christopher Guest
Eugene Levy
Ed Begley, Jr.
Jennifer Coolidge
Ricky Gervais
Larry Miller
Paul Dooley
Sandra Oh
Mary McCormack
[b]writers[/b]
Christopher Guest
Eugene Levy
[b]director[/b]
Christopher Guest

Sorry, Haters
½

[img]http://www.jamesbowman.net/images/publications/photos/1694/sorryhaters.jpg[/img]

R, 83 minutes, IFC

In what was hands down the most underrated and overlooked performance of 2006, Robin Wright Penn plays a woman named Philly in [i]Sorry, Haters[/i] who is so wired and driven by holding on to past devastations that she has turned into dozens of different people in one. Abdel Kechiche gives a brave and nervous performance as Ashade, a Syrian man who drives a cab in New York City and humbly lives to help those he loves. He has been paying for a lot of his sister-in-law's fees as she remains a single mother in America. That is until they finally see her husband, Ashade's brother, released from the custody of US intelligence after he was grabbed at an airport for reasons not clear, other than he was a "terrorist figure" in our post-9/11 world. On a night that will seem to change his life for the better, he picks up Philly on a curb and chauffers her around for hours, catering to her strange obsessions for following a family that she seems to have a link to. Keeping his interest and patience to not ditch her on the side of the road, Philly suggests that she is a producer on many television programs, including the much popular [i]Sorry, Haters[/i], and that she has enough power and connections to find a way to reunite him with his brother. What happens from there on out I cannot uncover here, but you must see this movie now.

Penn has been one of the most underappreciated actresses of her time, without a doubt. Here she gives what may be the best of her career to this point, definitely deserving of high honors. It's the only female performance of the year that even comes close to matching the power of Mirren's Queen Elizabeth II portrayal. Writer/director Jeff Stanzler has constructed a tale that will definitely spark debates if the movie were to ever find a larger audience someday, which I desperately hope it will. The movie made me anxious and clutching my seat the entire time, and by the end I was left speechless.

[b]actors[/b]
Robin Wright Penn
Abdel Kechiche
Sandra Oh
Elodie Bouchez
Assif Mandavi
[b]writer and director[/b]
Jeff Stanzler

L'Enfant
L'Enfant(2006)

[img]http://images.apple.com/moviesxml/s/sony/posters/lenfantthechild_l200603171455.jpg[/img]

R, 96 minutes, Sony Pictures Classics

The cover and artwork sprawled across the poster for Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's [i]L'enfant[/i] would induce an initial reaction of love from those who've never seen or heard anything about it, which is really not a false feeling as I think about it after seeing the film. The French filmmakers have done a masterful job that was deserving of the Cannes honors it received, challenging the viewer to try and live inside the lives of these seemingly awful human beings.

Bruno is a lifelong thief, played by Jeremie Renier, who says "work is for fuckers". A week ago he had a baby with his girlfriend, Sonia, who is played by Deborah Francois in an amazing portrayal of a woman consumed by confusion. He was not there for the birth because he had better things to do, like he always does, meeting with with his pre-teen henchmen that steal and give the money to him with a small cut for themselves. He doesn't meet their son, named Jimmy, until a week later and doesn't take the time to notice his face or even hold him because he's about to make some cash that he'll be certain to spend before the night's end. It seems like Bruno and Sonia are in love, but the affection comes from her and her alone, at least outwardly. They are a couple who, when we first meet them seem like careless teenagers trapped in older bodies as they constantly waltz around like kids who cut class for the day. They buy random material things and are in total denial of the responsibility that will soon catch up to them - parenthood. Bruno does a lot of cruel and idiotic things, none worse than selling their child to the black market, all to have a little spending cash for the night. Sparking Sonia to go into shock when he tells her of his actions only after Jimmy is gone, Bruno attempts to take back the child and resurrect their relationship. Every direction the takes is completely unconventional and quietly powerful, with some of the most impressive moments I've ever seen in film. The directors dare to take time with important scenes of the small bits of normal life that are rarely seen in the majority of movies. I had such a high respect and fascination for their many choices to keep the camera rolling in certain sequences, especially when we find Bruno waiting in a hallway as someone is making an exchange with the money for the baby.

You will constantly shift the place you want your feelings to be for these characters, and with Bruno in particular. The Dardenne's have also written the screenplay, which is a monster rollercoaster of emotions going up and down. Not many films would even consider leaving out any kind of music or score for their entirety, but in [i]L'enfant [/i]that's what we find. The characters and situations in this film are so astonishing on every level that you never really notice the silence until it ends and the credits roll.

[b]actors[/b]
Jeremie Renier
Deborah Francois
Jeremie Segard
[b]writer and directors[/b]
Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Luc Dardenne

Wassup Rockers

[img]http://www.advitamdistribution.com/img/film/67/aff_wassup.jpg[/img]

R, 111 minutes, First Look

The unsettling but usually brilliant director Larry Clark continues his ventures into the troubled teenage mind with [i]Wassup Rockers[/i]. This one feels similar to his breakout film, [i]Kids [/i]in some ways, but for the most part we're looking at a calmer, more innocent direction here. It follows a group of Latino skateboarders who live in the most violent, poverty-striken, virtually parentless homes of South Central Los Angeles. The film exists almost entirely over a one day period in which the group decides to make mischief as they ditch school to set across the way into unwanted territory - the Hills. Just as he did in the aformentioned [i]Kids[/i], Clark has gathered a group consisted of unknown and inexperienced actors thrust them into tough roles. There are vintage scenes of groups gathered as they explore sexual escapades unkown to their naive minds. He has a lot of fun setting up situations where these characters deliberately seek trouble. There are great amounts of time given to oth humore and seriousness in the film, and it's all timed very well.

If you're able to become fully involved in a Larry Clark film, then you can find a lot of realistic and natural things in what he is trying to put on display. Like with the casting of these young leads, led by the terrific Jonathan Velasquez, that have obviously never set foot in front of a camera and tried to act before. It definitely works better in achieving a sense of realism, because the conversations never feel rehearsed and have the real bumps of life and all. If you're not letting yourself inside the filmmakers' efforts like this, and [i]Kids[/i], you'll concentrate on the inexperience of the actors too much. Although this one is not exactly on the level of brilliance as [i]Kids[/i], it is still very impactful as a coming-of-age picture and really opens up a new side of Clark.

[b]actors[/b]
Jonathan Velasquez
Francisco Pedrasa
Milton Velasquez
Yunior Unualdo Panameno
Eddie Velasquez
Luis Rojas-Salgado
Carlos Velasco
Iris Zelaya
Ashley Maldonado
Laura Cellner
Jessica Steinbaum
[b]writers [/b]
Larry Clark
Matthew Frost
[b]director[/b]
Larry Clark

Down in the Valley
½

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/thinkfilm/down_in_the_valley/downinthevalley_bigposter.jpg[/img]

R, 114 minutes, ThinkFilm

There are an ungodly amount of independent films that have been released just within the last few years that have dealt with dangerous individuals that suffer from a split personality or something similar to that kind of madness. Most of them have become predictable, and we can always assume a slow build-up that ultimately leads to a violence-filled, eruptive climax. This is what some, not all of independent films like to lean towards like its the new trend or something, and most of them are notorious for including at least one instance that brings forward an act of cruelty so "shocking" that it unsettles the viewer to new heights. I'm not saying some haven't been able to pull this off effectiely, but too many films have completely wasted good setups with too much focus on the shock value of such sequences, ultimately destroying the experience as a whole for me. David Jacobson's [i]Down in the Valley [/i]goes right down that same path, and it's unfortunate because I wanted to like the movie throughout.

Edward Norton plays a strange cowboy figure that looks out of place in every way when he enters California on foot and begins to work at an old-fashioned service station. Not too far away lives a family that is left in shambles emotionally, consisting of a brother and sister who parent themselves because their estranged father is distant and helpless in knowing how to raise children, something the mother did exclusively when she was alive. The ever-improving Evan Rachel Wood plays the daughter, who has only kept from ridding herself from the area and her outburst-prone dad, is to care for her brother. David Morse is the dad and Rory Culkin is the brother, both giving fine performances and doing their best at acting over a wandering third act. The movie is not without some beautiful moments, though, like a well-done first encounter between Norton and Morse at the family's home just a day after Norton's cowboy started a romantic relationship with Morse's much younger, teenage daughter. The dialogue between the two men in this scene is odd, but in a good way, setting up later meetings that remain effective, until their final showdown that is borderline ridiculous. Norton and Wood share a good chemistry in their occasionally challenging scenes together, but Jacobson's script begins to repeat and prolong unnecessarily. Like in a scene where the two go out and dancing and meet in a giant traffic jame where Norton is drunkenly expressing how better ranch life is. This could have been an effective scene, but with a combination of irritating editing and some strange cinematography, it lasts too long and becomes stale. This is what happens all too much in the film, almost like we're watching a collection of deleted scenes that would exist on the special features on a better cut of the film.

Half of [i]Down in the Valley [/i]is a real solid experience with great performances, and especially from the giant that is Norton, whose brilliance always seems effortless. He is also producer on this one, investing himself deeply within the project and I could understand why, because the characters are very interesting and had a lot of potential. Hopefully he got the outcome he wanted, but for me the end product left a little something to be desired and had me wishing for an entirely new approach to the final thirty minutes. It is worth a watch I think, because it has a lot of appeal and I can see some really liking it. I just wish I could have.

[b]actors[/b]
Edward Norton
Evan Rachel Wood
David Morse
Rory Culkin
Bruce Dern
John Diehl
[b]writer and director[/b]
David Jacobson

The Wicker Man
½

[img]http://www.hillcity-comics.com/poster_archive/poster259.JPG[/img]
1973 version: 88 minutes, Anchor Bay

[img]http://biograf.filmland.dk/graphics/pictures/5044_full.jpg[/img]
2006 version: 102 minutes, Millennium

Remakes in Hollywood almost always spell disaster, and especially when it comes to the horror/psychological thriller genre. Still, even knowing that I was most likely setting myself up for disappointment, I had a decent amount of anticipation for talented writer/director Neil LaBute's adaptation of Robin Hardy's [i]The Wicker Man[/i]. Taking on the challenge of playing Seargent Howie, the officer who is unknowingly entering himself into a manipulative island while obsessing over a missing persons case, is Nicolas Cage, who seems like a good choice to team with LaBute. That is until you actually see the film. Right from the stunningly laughable opening sequence that features un-LaBute like everything, from uneven editing to baffling overuse of idiotic camera tricks and transitions. I know it's a type of film he's not used to making, but in nearly every facet of the creation here it seems as though he's crumbled down to the level of Hollywood repetition and got in line. As far as Cage's performance - he never seems like he feels comfortable settling in and really gives his first bad performance in a while. I am a major fan of the actor and believe he's given some of the best performances over the lastg few years, but he's just not right for this part. In his defense, I don't think anybody would pull this part off with a screenplay like this remake has.

I thought waiting for the video release of this movie would be a better way to see it because I could bypass the PG-13 theatrical version in favor of the unrated cut. I usually despise unrated versions of movies because most are pointless and just another way to seel a film, but with [i]The Wicker Man, [/i]I thought for sure they would use the extra freedom to incorporate some key elements from the original. There is absolutely nothing more impressive in that version when comparing it to the theatrical cut except a better use of knowing where to end the film, which takes it to the level of really bad movie instead of atrocious. There are new ventures taken and tested in this remake, as all do more and more these days, and none of them made out for the better. Ellen Burstyn gets the most stupid role of her career as she takes on the role Christopher Lee played so brilliantly, Lord Summersisle, but here she is Sister Summersisle and the role has been drained of anything creepy and just makes us laugh. There is also a worthless performance by Leelee Sobieski that, if you see it, will nearly make you want to rip apart your own television. So I guess for the safety and future of your household electronic items, just pass on this one. LaBute has made a fool of himself with this remake, which leaves all of the genuinely creepy stuff that made Anthony Shaffer's original screenplay, out.

[b]actors[/b]
Nicolas Cage
Ellen Burstyn
Kate Beehan
Frances Conroy
Molly Parker
Leelee Sobieski
Diane Delano
[b]based on the 1973 film written by[/b]
Anthony Shaffer
[b]screenplay adapted by[/b]
Neil LaBute
[b]directed by[/b]
Neil LaBute

The Wicker Man
½

[img]http://www.hillcity-comics.com/poster_archive/poster259.JPG[/img]
1973 version: 88 minutes, Anchor Bay

[img]http://biograf.filmland.dk/graphics/pictures/5044_full.jpg[/img]
2006 version: 102 minutes, Millennium

Remakes in Hollywood almost always spell disaster, and especially when it comes to the horror/psychological thriller genre. Still, even knowing that I was most likely setting myself up for disappointment, I had a decent amount of anticipation for talented writer/director Neil LaBute's adaptation of Robin Hardy's [i]The Wicker Man[/i]. Taking on the challenge of playing Seargent Howie, the officer who is unknowingly entering himself into a manipulative island while obsessing over a missing persons case, is Nicolas Cage, who seems like a good choice to team with LaBute. That is until you actually see the film. Right from the stunningly laughable opening sequence that features un-LaBute like everything, from uneven editing to baffling overuse of idiotic camera tricks and transitions. I know it's a type of film he's not used to making, but in nearly every facet of the creation here it seems as though he's crumbled down to the level of Hollywood repetition and got in line. As far as Cage's performance - he never seems like he feels comfortable settling in and really gives his first bad performance in a while. I am a major fan of the actor and believe he's given some of the best performances over the lastg few years, but he's just not right for this part. In his defense, I don't think anybody would pull this part off with a screenplay like this remake has.

I thought waiting for the video release of this movie would be a better way to see it because I could bypass the PG-13 theatrical version in favor of the unrated cut. I usually despise unrated versions of movies because most are pointless and just another way to seel a film, but with [i]The Wicker Man, [/i]I thought for sure they would use the extra freedom to incorporate some key elements from the original. There is absolutely nothing more impressive in that version when comparing it to the theatrical cut except a better use of knowing where to end the film, which takes it to the level of really bad movie instead of atrocious. There are new ventures taken and tested in this remake, as all do more and more these days, and none of them made out for the better. Ellen Burstyn gets the most stupid role of her career as she takes on the role Christopher Lee played so brilliantly, Lord Summersisle, but here she is Sister Summersisle and the role has been drained of anything creepy and just makes us laugh. There is also a worthless performance by Leelee Sobieski that, if you see it, will nearly make you want to rip apart your own television. So I guess for the safety and future of your household electronic items, just pass on this one. LaBute has made a fool of himself with this remake, which leaves all of the genuinely creepy stuff that made Anthony Shaffer's original screenplay, out.

[b]actors[/b]
Nicolas Cage
Ellen Burstyn
Kate Beehan
Frances Conroy
Molly Parker
Leelee Sobieski
Diane Delano
[b]based on the 1973 film written by[/b]
Anthony Shaffer
[b]screenplay adapted by[/b]
Neil LaBute
[b]directed by[/b]
Neil LaBute

The Queen
The Queen(2006)

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/miramax_films/the_queen/helen_mirren/thequeen_onesheet.jpg[/img]

PG-13, 103 minutes, Miramax

There's something great to be said about director Stephen Frears' talent when his film is equally as impressive in every frame as the tour de force performance of its lead. Focusing on the complicated time for Queen Elizabeth II immediately following the death of Princess Diana, Frears and Helen Mirren's [i]The Queen [/i]is definitely one of the powerhouse cinematic experiences of 2006. I don't care if you like the film or not, there should be no question about the outstanding performance of Mirren here, making it no contest for all best actress awards. Her flawless portrayal of the royal figure in a time of personal crumble as she jousts with Tony Blair and mass public opinion over the arrangements of Diana's funeral, is never anything but real. That is what makes this movie outstanding. It never feels like any of these actors are playing a part, actually becoming their respected individuals. And Frears has constructed the movie in an authentic a way as possible, weaving major amounts of real footage inside the rest of the picture. His direction is good enough to garner much acclaim.

Michael Sheen plays the new prime minister Blair with a great sense of how to play the part, caught between thinking for himself and being pressured into doing what many others want him to do. James Cromwell and other fine actors contribute very well in a film that never falls short of greatness.

[b]actors[/b]
Helen Mirren
Michael Sheen
James Cromwell
Sylvia Syms
Helen McCrory
Alex Jennings
Roger Allam
[b]writer[/b]
Peter Morgan
[b]director[/b]
Stephen Frears

The Kid & I
The Kid & I(2005)
½

[img]http://media.movieweb.com/news/11.2005/kidni.jpg[/img][url="http://www.cinemablend.com/news/posterplex/kid&i.jpg"][/url]

PG-13, 93 minutes, InterVideo

What a strange, surprisingly uplifting experience I found myself having with the most unlikely comedy of 2006, [i]The Kid & I[/i], penned by Tom Arnold and directed by the corny but sometimes effectively playful Penelope Spheeris in her best work since [i]Wayne's World[/i]. Arnold has always been a hit or miss guy as an actor, with most of his projects coming out on the miss side. As the writer for this movie he does create some entertaining bits, especially by taking the chance to make fun of himself and his career time and time again, which is an effective way to generate laughs. What's most surprising about the movie, however, is how much genuine affection it shows for its main characters. Arnold plays a failed actor who is on the verge of a suicide attempt when he finds out he'll get another shot at writing and acting in a major Hollywood film. What he doesn't know is that he'll have no say in how things are arranged and created. He will be forced to act alongside a mentally handicapped teenage boy (Eric Gores) in an action film that humurously resembles the kid's faforite movie ever, [i]True Lies[/i].

The supporting cast all do a good job not taking their roles too seriously, including Linda Hamilton, Henry Winkler, Joe Mantegna, Shannon Elizabeth, and the scene-stealing Richard Edson. [i]The Kid & I [/i]is not a movie that I'm giving a good rating because it's well made, for that it is certainly not. Nonetheless, as it progresses toward a climax I couldn't help but be taken in by its large and caring heart. This is one of those majorly flawed but lovable comedies that I couldn't find myself disliking if I tried. Kudos to Arnold, who is making a molding at least a decent career later on his life.

[b]actors[/b]
Tom Arnold
Eric Gores
Richard Edson
Joe Mantegna
Linda Hamilton
Shannon Elizabeth
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Jamie Lee Curtis
Shaquille O'Neal
Penelope Spheeris
[b]written by[/b]
Tom Arnold
[b]directed by[/b]
Penelope Spheeris

Stranger Than Fiction
½

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/columbia_pictures/stranger_than_fiction/strangerthanfiction_bigearlyposter.jpg[/img]

PG-13, 113 minutes, Columbia

Marc Forster, the director of such terrific films as [i]Monster's Ball [/i]and [i]Stay[/i], delivers another fine film that adds a new level of diversity to his already impressive filmography. In last year's [i]Winter Passing[/i], beloved comic Will Ferrell took a good step forward in his acting career in a role that saw him restrained a bit, giving us a new side of the actor. Now, as the "real fictional" character, Harold Crick, Ferrell further extends his promise from [i]Winter Passing[/i]'s performance and molds together a pitch-perfect, mundane portrayal. Forster takes this endlessly imaginative story about a famous novelist (Emma Thompson) who is stuck finding a way to end her latest story about an IRS auditor that has his bland daily life fully routined and on the brink of insanity. The trouble for this character is that he doesn't only exist in the story, but in real life as an actual person - Crick. As he begins to hear the narration from the story, which is his life as its being written, Ferrell never overplays it like we're used to seeing him do, and finds all the right notes to make it work.

This is definitely one of the most surprising films of 2006, and simply because they actually pulled off making this puzzle of a story into a very, very good movie. Forster offers up a major amount of energy and interesting visual stuff that keep the movie alive all the way through. There are many memorable moments in Zach Helm's screenplay, mostly in the times when we find Ferrell and the awesome Maggie Gyllenhaal sharing scenes in the bakery shop and beyond. There are two of the best sequences from the movies all year in this film. One involves cookies and the other is when we see Ferrell play a song for her. It's a near-perfect comedy that I'm officially giving a 9.5 rating. I had a little trouble getting used to Queen Latifah and her character, and I don't know if I just dislike her too much as an actress or it just wasn't a necessary character no matter who played it. I'll never know that for sure. That is just a small criticism and doesn't stop this from being a successfully ambitious piece of entertainment. Thompson and Dustin Hoffman also do great work here.

[b]actors[/b]
Will Ferrell
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Emma Thompson
Dustin Hoffman
Queen Latifah
[b]written by[/b]
Zach Helm
[b]directed by[/b]
Marc Forster

Blood Diamond

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/warner_brothers/blood_diamond/blooddiamondteaser.jpg[/img]

R, 143 minutes, Warner Bros.

There wasn't a single moment of Edward Zwick's [i]Blood Diamond [/i]in which I wasn't mesmerized, whether it be as an important message drama or an action/adventure spectacle. Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Honsou play two men who share nothing in common except for two things - they are both African, and they are both eagerly searching for a rare pink diamond to change their lives. DiCaprio is the Zimbabwe descendent Danny Archer, a deeply disturbed ex-mercenary who will stop at nothing to fulfill his greedy desires. He will make an effort to take advantage of Solomon Vandy (Honsou), a humble fisherman who looks to go back to the place he buried the stone, rescue his family from incarceration and take them to a richer life. What results from Archer and Vandy's connection and quest for alternate reasons is weaved together by unbelievable direction and fascinating performances.

I can't really explain how this movie manages to be so chaotically masterful while at the same time being so obviously Hollywood-made. I suppose much of the credit has to go to Zwick, who has already sharpened his skill of the wartime adventure in films past, and to a fine-tip point. Here he makes what I think is his best film yet, and it doesn't hurt that he gets career-best work from the powerful Honsou, who may be the most innocent-faced actor working today. Jennifer Connelly, as a journalist documenting the civil war in Sierra Leone and the emerging story that Archer begins to unfold, is very good as always. There are quiety haunting scenes of silence between her and Honsou that are just beautiful to experience in a movie theater. What's most impressive, though, is DiCaprio as Archer, giving his all to this character in one of his best performances. I think he is the most dedicated actor around right now and is truly amazing in this role, turning all the right ways with what has to be one of the toughest accents for an American performer to lay down. I haven't got a chance to witness the proposed greatness that is Forest Whitaker's performance in [i]The Last King of Scotland[/i], so right now my choice for best actor will be here for DiCaprio. Most would crumble under the pressure of the accent alone or come off laughable at best, but he prevails powerfully...and so does this great film.

[b]actors[/b]
Leonardo DiCaprio
Jennifer Connelly
Djimon Honsou
Arnold Vosloo
Michael Sheen
Stephen Collins
[b]writers[/b]
Charles Leavitt
Charlie Mitchell
Edward Zwick
Marshall Herskovitz
[b]director[/b]
Edward Zwick

All The King's Men
½

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/columbia_pictures/all_the_king_s_men/allthekingsmen_bigreleaseposter.jpg[/img]

PG-13, 128 minutes, Columbia

I don't know if I can ever recall a time when a movie's theatrical release was delayed for a lengthy period of time, and that proving to ultimately be a benefit for the success of the movie. It just never does anything but spell danger for a major Hollywood production, even with a promising cast and crew to be put on hold, and especially for nearly a year like Steve Zaillian's remake of [i]All the King's Men[/i]. After seeing this achingly disappointing piece of work, one has to believe that the delay was spent trying to correct problems already made for themselves, but sadly only making it worse in the process. Wouldn't it be nice if a director could just completely call off a release in an effort to keep a decent filmography intact? But it just doesn't work that way in Hollywood.

I don't even have to mention the amazing amount of talent that this film brings to the table, we all know that. What must be mentioned is the waste of it all, as these fine performers prance around haplessly in a film that goes haywire in all facets of the prodcution. It thinks it's more operatic than it really is, from Penn's overreaching performance (although he does the best he can with this silly adaptation) to the constantly king-sized score, composed all too wrong by the usually great James Horner. It's funny that the same man that did this score, one of the year's worst in my opinion, did my favorite one last year in [i]The New World[/i]. There is not a single actor in the movie that can tear through their dull roles and at least shine a bit. Not even the great Kate Winslet or Anthony Hopkins do anything worth making the effort to see. It's definitely not their fault, it's Zaillian's, who also adapts Robert Warren Penn's novel. He is normally a focused writer/director, and his [i]Searching For Bobby Fischer [/i]will always be a personal favorite of mine, but here it all goes wrong, and really from the opening seconds on. Getting the worst of the worst roles is Mark Ruffalo, who being one of my favorite actors out there, it really hurt seeing him in. It also hurts thinking that these great actors will never get that time back to make something more worthwhile. They only got older. What a let down this one is.

[b]actors[/b]
Sean Penn
Jude Law
Kate Winslet
Anthony Hopkins
James Gandolfini
Patricia Clarkson
Mark Ruffalo
Jackie Earle Haley
Kathy Baker
Frederic Forrest
Kevin Dunn
[b]based on the novel by[/b]
Robert Warren Penn
[b]screenplay adapted by[/b]
Steve Zaillian
[b]director [/b]
Steve Zaillian

Casino Royale
½

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/mgm/casino_royale/daniel_craig/royale_earlyposter.jpg[/img]

PG-13, 144 minutes, Columbia

Martin Campbell's second shot at directing a 007 film gives the franchise a much needed shot of adrenaline as they reach back into Ian Fleming's story that started it all, [i]Casino Royale[/i]. Campbell is directing the second Bond film in which he debuts a new actor to play the well-known role. He introduced Pierce Brosnan to the world in 1995's [i]Goldeneye[/i], giving the actor a good start with the character but unfortuantely, he continued to dive downward in the years to follow. Now, as we find Bond in the early stages of his career, one where he is still a possible victim to personal feelings over 00 obligations, Daniel Craig steps up to the plate. I have not seen all of the films in the franchise, and simply because they are all too much alike for my taste, whether it be Connery, Moore, Dalton, or Brosnan. Even without full knowledge of every single entry I'd still lay all of my money with Craig and [i]Casino Royale [/i]for the best to ever be created. This is a majorly entertaining action/adventure achievement, all the while managing to be smart and even somewhat realistic at times.

Craig knows just how to take on Bond, with just the right notes for all the characteristics. He quickly erased my concern that they may have made a mistake by not going with Clive Owen. In a terrific piece of casting we have Eva Green as the latest "Bond Girl", although she doesn't really fit the term based on ones from the past. She is endlessly feisty as well as smart, mentally jousting Bond at every turn. The action scenes are brilliantly done and are of great abundance, both in quantity and length in some cases, but it was all welcomed here. Judi Dench continues to keep going with her Moneypenny role, although in this prequel she is simply known as M. The various villains are all very good this time around, and we even find Jeffrey Wright in the mix, who always manages to be entertaining. It was the best popcorn movie of the summer and definitely went past all expectations. Hopefully it can only get better for Craig in the 007's to come.

[b]actors[/b]
Daniel Craig
Eva Green
Judi Dench
Mads Mikkelsen
Jeffrey Wright
Simon Abkarian
Giancarlo Giannini
Caterina Murino
[b]based on the novel by[/b]
Ian Fleming
[b]screenplay adapted by[/b]
Paul Haggis
Neal Purvis
Robert Wade
[b]director[/b]
Martin Campbell

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/twentieth_century_fox/borat/sacha_baron_cohen/borat_poster2.jpg[/img]

R, 84 minutes, 20th Century Fox

I won't be long with this review because I am so very far behind with it, and pretty much everyone in the world is familiar with [i]Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan [/i]by now. In the few weeks coming up to the release of this film I had no knowledge of the character or even anything from Sascha Baron Cohen's comedic arsenal, so I was really not understanding all of the anticipation and 5-star recognition it was garnering. I had only seen the trailer, that was it, and based on that I had not much interest in going to see it. To me it just looked like another dull comedy with no brains and a lot of physical, mindless humor. in the middle of November, just after the giant crowds going to see it were dying down, I gave it chance. Turns out that it definitely has a lot of mindless physical humor, but it's all made funny by the genius premise and Cohen himself as Borat. There is nothing that this movie does not live up to, and that's saying a lot. Like, it's time to call this a comedic masterpiece. One of the funniest movies ever. Great success!

[b]actors[/b]
Sascha Baron Cohen
Ken Davitian
Luenell
Pamela Anderson
[b]writers[/b]
Sascha Baron Cohen
Anthony Hines
Peter Baynham
Dan Mazer
[b]director[/b]
Larry Charles

The Pursuit of Happyness

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/columbia_pictures/the_pursuit_of_happyness/will_smith/thepursuitofhappyness_poster.jpg[/img]

PG-13, 117 minutes, Columbia

It's sort of odd that shortly after reviewing [i]Sherrybaby,[/i] I am coming across another film that doesn't seem to have a lot in common with that one, yet strangely does if you look closer. It's not necessarily on the plot end of things, although they both deal with major personal struggle, but there are huge similarities with the ultimate success of each film. It begins and ends with the towering performances, and here Will Smith is always above [i]The Pursuit of Happyness [/i]in power, making the movie such a great experience with a performance that is genuine and authentic. This true story is told through a series of separated sections that Smith narrates like he's reading straight from the biography from Chris Gardner, the Californian, struggling businessman who would never give up in his pursuit of [i]Happyness[/i] for his family's future. The screenplay, written by Steve Conrad, is sometimes corny in the narration and in little bits throughout, but after all it's a Hollywood production no matter what we think.

With the help of Smith's grand portrayal of this amazing man there are plenty of reasons to get involved with this survival story and forget some of the flaws. Yes there are downer happenings after downer happenings as the film moves along, and a lot of the criticisms I've read on the film have accused it of trying way too hard to jerk a tear from its audience with the constant failure. This never got to me with the movie, because there really were not many good things to happen to Garnder in real life during this stretch of time, and I was anticipating that going in. Smith's son Jaden plays his son in the movie and gives a better than expected performance, and Thandie Newton shows good work as the mostly bitter wife who feels like she's carrying all the load. It's a film with some obvious flaws, but they are once again outweighed by the brighter sides it possesses, fronted by Smith's performance. And it's all capped off with a wonderful little bit in the final shot of the movie that was just cool to see.

[b]actors[/b]
Will Smith
Thandie Newton
Jaden Smith
Brian Howe
James Karen
Kurt Fuller
[b]writer [/b]
Steve Conrad
[b]director[/b]
Gabriele Muccino

The Good Shepherd
½

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/universal_pictures/the_good_shepherd/thegoodshepherd_bigreleaseposter.jpg[/img]

R, 167 minutes, Universal

You have to give most of the credit as to why [i]The Good Shepherd [/i]works to Matt Damon, who takes on a performance that exists through so many layers of life and emotional plains, both internally and externally, in a movie that jumps around far too much and never really keeps things afloat. With all of the jumbled ways Eric Roth's script elects to take us on in DeNiro's film, which nearly tops three hours, I found a lot of things I just didn't like, yet was interested all the way through. This has to go back to Damon's performance, which is so good I think it's nomination worthy. There is a lot to handle for DeNiro and Roth in this picture, what with the birth of the CIA and all, and to see them actually have a film put together is a major accomplishment in its own right. What's most impressive about the film is the evolution of Damon's character on both sides of his life, as an obsessive agent and as a man struggling to keep a family.

What works best in the movie are quiet scenes where we get inside Damon's innerworkings as he slowly crumbles inside. The sequences with his family as they grow mostly without him in the 20-years plus span incorporated were the most effective to me. Angelina Jolie never really gets enough time to be on screen as his wife, but she does a decent enough job with what she's got. The film is filled to the brim with supporting players that make up one of the best casts of the year, with particularly good stuff from Billy Crudup and Michael Gambon. One thing that I must mention before I finish is how much Damon continues to be ignored by award givers year after year. This year especially has aggravated me because he has given two performances of the highest power, both in this and in Scorsese's [i]The [/i]Departed, and he's been the best in both. He's only been nominated for [i]Good Will Hunting [/i]in his career, and that's a shame. I was certainly involved in this story, but throughout it all I came across a little too many irritating distractions that have caused me to only like this film rather than love it.

[b]actors[/b]
Matt Damon
Angelina Jolie
John Turturro
William Hurt
Alec Baldwin
Robert DeNiro
Billy Crudup
Tammy Blanchard
Michael Gambon
Gabriel Macht
Timothy Hutton
Joe Pesci
[b]writer[/b]
Eric Roth
[b]director[/b]
Robert DeNiro

Sherrybaby
Sherrybaby(2006)

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/ifc_films/sherrybaby/maggie_gyllenhaal/sherrybaby_poster.jpg[/img]

R, 96 minutes, IFC

Simply by viewing the trailer or even small clips of [i]Sherrybaby, [/i]it's easy to tell that this is one of those tailor-made and obvious nomination-worthy performances from everywhere across the board by Maggie Gyllenhaal. There have been a number of movies like this in the last few years, where we find a female performance sort of rise above the movie itself, but only a a select few have actually added strong storytelling and filmmaking to go along with it. I don't care how fantastic a performance is, it never will make me elevate the rating for a movie unless the movie itself is up to the task. Laurie Collyer's film has moments that shine and manage to remain at the level of greatness that is Gyllenhaal's reckless-but-trying performance, but most of the time it is just at the level of a good movie. But good enough to pack enough of an emotional punch and go along for the ride with Maggie driving...so I liked it, and quite a bit.

What I liked most, I think, is the fact that they never went through a hefy amount of time in the film dedicated to Sherry surrendering back into the drug world. It's almost completely non-existent as we find a person trying to replace selfishness as hard as she can and become familiar with the daughter she left behind when she went to prison. Teaming with her again as her brother caught between his wife and his sister is Brad William Henke, who also played her brother in [i]World Trade Center[/i]. There are also very good supporting performances from Giancarlo Esposito and especially Danny Trejo, who plays another ex-addict gripping onto life in a role close to real life for him. Collyer writing and directing is good enough to set the stage for Gyllenhaal, who really is a full-fledged movie star.

[b]actors[/b]
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Brad William Henke
Danny Trejo
Giancarlo Esposito
Sam Bottoms
Bridget Barkan
Ryan Simpkins
[b]writer and director[/b]
Laurie Collyer

Little Children

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/new_line_cinema/little_children/littlechildren_bigposter.jpg[/img]

R, 137 minutes, New Line

Todd Field had spent quite a while being a terrific sort of "under the radar" actor with small to medium parts in a lot of good films. He was most notably good in [i]Walking and Talking[/i], [i]Broken Vessels[/i], and [i]Eyes Wide Shut[/i]. Then, in 2001, he ventured into directing and ended up creating what is definitely one of the ten best films of this decade, [i]In the Bedroom[/i]. His sense for silent, emotional power behind the camera was like that of a seasoned veteran, and I could not wait to see what he brought to us next. After successfully adapting one great writer's story (Andre Dubus) in his debut, he is taking a shot at yet another terrific mind in Tom Perrotta, whose novel [i]Little Children [/i]offers an even stranger look at suburbia than his [i]Election[/i]. The seriousness in his work is perfectly suited for a director like Field, but Perrotta's stuff is far more about the comic absurdity. With that being said, I think Alexander Payne was perfect for adapting [i]Election[/i], and Field, although possessing masterful skills is simply never quite right for [i]Little Children[/i].

There are moments in this film, mostly the wonderful cinematography, that brought back fond memories of the great [i]In the Bedroom[/i], but when this adaptation starts to get going as a disturbing drama there are short stints of attempts at humor that didn't connect with me. Then when it tries to get back into straight-faced sequences I couldn't sink in and forget about it. There are just a few things like this that have forced me to give it a way lower rating than I ever expected to give it. Kate Winslet is a one-of-a-kind talent and masters her role in this film. She definitely deserves a nomination. Patrick Wilson, who is emerging this year with this and [i]Hard Candy[/i], is nearly just as great as he faces off with both Winslet and Jennifer Connelly. I wishI could have found a way to like this because I absolutely love Field as a filmmaker, but there were just a few too many missteps holding the door shut.

[b]actors[/b]
Kate Winslet
Patrick Wilson
Jennifer Connelly
Noah Emmerich
Jackie Earle Haley
Jane Adams
Trini Alvarado
Mary B. McCann
Raymond J. Barry
[b]based on the novel by[/b]
Tom Perrotta
[b]screenplay adapted by[/b]
Tom Perrotta
Todd Field
[b]director[/b]
Todd Field

Children of Men

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/universal_pictures/children_of_men/childrenofmen_bigearlyposter.jpg[/img]

R, 114 minutes, Universal

As if he wasn't one of the most diverse filmmakers in the world before his latest film, the stunning and uncannily brilliant [i]Children of Men[/i], Alfonso Cuaron can now be permanently stamped (at least in my book) as one of the 10 most original and essential directors working today. I know this has been said numerous times for a lot of films every year, but really, from the first moment this movie captivated me and never let go. It only grabbed onto me tighter as the story went on and stayed with me long after it was over. Clive Owen is perfectly cast in another dynamite performance as Theo, a man whose life reflects the world around him as it falls apart and has nothing good to look forward to. There are no more women able to reproduce anymore and the only area in the world that still stands on its feet, albeit with a major hobble, is England. A strange visit from his wife of a long time before (with whom they shared a child) will spark a sudden change inside that makes him find a sense of care he didn't know still beat deep down.

Cuaron directs with gloomy precision with some of the most memorable sequences of the decade in cinema. Michael Caine provides a step into humor with his performance as the only person Theo can truly trust, and Julianne Moore is the best she's been in a long while as the ex-wife. Throw in Danny Huston, Chiwetel Ejiofor as a greedy savage, and Claire-Hope Ashitey as the woman who becomes pregnant without explanation, but giving hope to a future, and you have help in creating one of the finest thrillers I've ever seen. It's great to see a film like [i]Children of Men [/i]receive major distribution in theaters across the land. Go see it.

[b]actors[/b]
Clive Owen
Claire-Hope Ashitey
Julianne Moore
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Michael Caine
Charlie Hunnam
Pam Ferris
Danny Huston
Peter Mullan
[b]based on the novel by[/b]
P.D. James
[b]screenplay adapted by[/b]
P.D. James
Timothy J. Sexton
Paul Chart
Hawk Ostby
Mark Fergus
Alfonso Cuaron
David Arata
[b]directed by[/b]
Alfonso Cuaron

Volver
Volver(2006)

[img]http://images.apple.com/moviesxml/s/sony/posters/volver_l200607141658.jpg[/img]

R, 121 minutes, Spain
Sony Pictures Classics

Pedro Almodovar's extreme interest in the female character is not so much an obsession as it is a fluid understanding, probably the most accurate and affectionate someone could ever manage who is not a woman themselves. The filmmaker has made a career out of handing beautiful and original parts to actresses, a lot of the time making Penelope Cruz the main focus. It's sad, but I must admit that to this point I have only viewed this, half of [i]Talk To Her[/i], and bits of [i]Bad Education [/i]and [i]All About My Mother[/i]. That is all I have seen to this point of Almodovar's work. I will definitely get working on that, because he is a brilliant director and I want to see everything he's done. Cruz gives the best performance of her career to this point in a performance so well played and so strangely concocted in the screenplay that it deserves nominations across the board. Almodovar blends the fantasy storyline of a mother's ghost [i]Coming Back (Volver), [/i]looking to bandage past wounds between her two very different daughters, and does it with all the right notes. In the hands of virtually every American filmmaker this would turn into an end product that would become laughable, I'm certain of that. Instead, Almodovar constructs a sublime masterpiece. It's strange, surreal, wonderful, engaging...it's deserving of any complement one can conjure.

[b]actors[/b]
Penelope Cruz
Carmen Maura
Lola Deunas
Yohana Cobo
Blanca Portillo
[b]writer and director[/b]
Pedro Almodovar

Lonesome Jim
Lonesome Jim(2006)
½

[center][img]http://i47.photobucket.com/albums/f165/neckbracesub/leftside-1.jpg[/img][/center]
[center][color=darkgreen][b]R, 87 minutes, IFC Films[/b][/color][/center]
[center][b][color=#006400][/color][/b] [/center]

[center][color=darkgreen][b]actors[/b][/color][/center]
[center]Casey Affleck[/center]
[center]Liv Tyler[/center]
[center]Mary Kay Place[/center]
[center]Seymour Cassel[/center]
[center]Kevin Corrigan[/center]
[center]Mark Boone Junior[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center][color=darkgreen][b]writer [/b][/color][/center]
[center]James C. Strouse[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center][color=darkgreen][b]director[/b][/color][/center]
[center]Steve Buscemi[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center][size=6][color=darkgreen]As a director[/color][/size], Steve Buscemi is extremely interested in focusing on the lives of people who are at a standstill, pondering the reason they were ever put on this earth in the first place. His directorial debut came in 1997 with the outstanding and enormously underappreciated [i]Trees Lounge[/i]. He wrote and also starred in that one, giving one of his all-time best performances as a loner who is literally drinking his life away. In his new film, [i]Lonesome Jim[/i], Casey Affleck plays the title character, who is not unlike that of Buscemi's in [i]Trees Lounge[/i], just at an earlier point in his life. [/center]
[center] [/center]

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[center] [/center]

[center]It is an absolute last resort for Jim to even think about making a visit back home to Indiana, but he has run out of money in Manhattan and is on the bus back to that very place. He is always down whenever we see him, as if he's never smiled or experienced a terrific moment in his 27 years of existence. The writing is what has to be considered first when speaking of this film's success, presenting an extreme mix of emotions with each character. There is an amazing focus on both the humor and sadness in the lives of everyone in [i]Lonesome Jim[/i], and writer James C. Strouse seems to have based at least a portion of it on his actual exepriences. Buscemi has went the way of digital video for this one and it works wonderfully, which is set in not only the writer's hometown of Goshen, but also his actual childhood home, which serves as the main home of the movie. The realism displayed here is achingly real all the way through. Mary Kay Place gives a performance that only she could do to perfection as the "always on the bright side" mother, with Seymour Cassel (also seen in [i]Trees Lounge[/i]) as her husband. It is obvious from within the first few seconds that Jim comes into contact with them that he wants to do nothing more than take advantage of them for a while, then get the hell out of their lives for another lengthy period of time. Kevin Corrigan plays the older brother, who is divorced with two daughters and still living with his parents. He also coaches a local youth girl's basketball team that has never managed to score a single point. Corrigan is the type of comic actor that never misses a beat with his timing and manneurisms, always providing us with a reason to laugh. In what is sort of a pre-midlife crisis, it will take an effort from the most unlikely of people, occurences, and areas for Jim to discover that there are reasons to live and maybe even be happy during it all. In a terrific scenes from all aspects of filmmaking, we find Jim at a bar as meets Anika, a vibrant and humble nurse. It is a scene that made me smile all the way through, showcasing the screenwriter's immense talent and the actors' brilliant abilities. [/center]
[center] [/center]

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[center] [/center]

[center]In what is arguably his best role yet, Buscemi-pal Mark Boone Junior is Jim's uncle; a childish, drug happy thief who goes by the name of Evil. He is an actor that I have always looked forward to seeing from one project to the next, but especially in Buscemi's pictures. He has received the most significant roles of his career under Buscemi's direction. There is such a real feeling to everything incorporated in this movie, and being from Indiana myself I had an even deeper respect for its depiction of the small town, which was pinpointed accurately. Strong directing, great writing and terrific performances all around, especially from the ever impressive Affleck make [i]Lonesome Jim [/i]woth the swift viewing, and many more. [/center]

Babel
Babel(2006)
½

[center][img]http://i47.photobucket.com/albums/f165/neckbracesub/babel_posterbig.jpg[/img][url="http://i47.photobucket.com/albums/f165/neckbracesub/babel_posterbig.jpg?t=1163885415"][/url][/center]
[center]R, 142 minutes, Paramount Vantage[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center][b]actors[/b][/center]
[center]Brad Pitt[/center]
[center]Cate Blanchett[/center]
[center]Gael Garcia Bernal[/center]
[center]Rinko Kikuchi[/center]
[center]Koji Yakusho[/center]
[center]Adriana Barazza[/center]
[center]Elle Fanning[/center]
[center]Nathan Gamble[/center]
[center]Said Tarchani[/center]
[center]Boubker Ait El Caid[/center]
[center]Mohamed Akhzam[/center]
[center]Clifton Collins Jr. [/center]
[center]Michael Pena[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center][b]writer[/b][/center]
[center]Guillermo Arriaga[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center][b]director[/b][/center]
[center]Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu[/center]
[center] [/center]

[center][size=6]Only three films[/size] into his directorial career and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu has already dared to complete an enormous interlocking trilogy. It begain in 2001 with [i]Amores Perros[/i], the terrific debut that relied on good critical feedack alone to gain recognition in the U.S., for it had no major stars and was filmed entirely in Mexico. That film would not only catapult the career of Innaritu but also its writer, Guillermo Arriaga, and star Gael Garcia Bernal. With the acclaim the film received, Innaritu had access to a list of American actors probably dying to work with him for his next project, with Sean Penn emerging as the choice for [i]21 Grams[/i]. He also brought to the table talents like Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts, Melissa Leo, and Charlotte Gainsbourg, so there's no need to mention that it features amazingly textured performances. But with the strong standard already set by its predecessor, I came out of [i]Grams [/i]feeling like a little something was left out. Nevertheless, it was still a solid film that packed a major emotional, depressing punch. Now, five years since it all began it is now ending with [i]Babel[/i], an even bigger, more wider task of mutli-cultural differences that Innaritu and Arriaga have set for themselves. [/center]
[center] [/center]

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[center]What proves to be a major factor in preventing [i]Babel [/i]from becoming a great piece of work is a mistake occuring right from the first few minutes, where we are thrust into the lives of an American couple on a tour bus traveling through the Moroccan desert. They are played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in roles that are played wonderfully but not fleshed out in the screenwriting. They are married and have two children and as we are introduced to them they are in the middle of a relationship crisis, constantly at each others throats with hurtful banter. I had a problem with being forced to suddenly care for these people immediately, without any knowledge of the good times in their relationship over the years prior, especially since we find her being shot by a mysterious bullet that slices its way through the bus window while she naps. It is literally within the first five minutes of knowing them that this life-changing incident occurs, leaving me in a state of really confused feelings for what was going on. I realize that maybe Innaritu was looking to go at it this way to be unconventional in the storytelling, but it just didn't work for me, and sadly so, because most everything else along the way, the events that are sparked by this shooting, are marvelously done. Arriaga's pen is always fascinating, and here he captures the effect American media has on certain situations that tower over all other countries. There are a number of other involving situations that link to the shooting, and none better than that of a Japanese dysfunctional family that consists of only a father and daughter after the mother died a tragic death sometime ago. The performance of the movie is by far that of Rinko Kikuchi's, who as a young teenage girl suffering from deaf ears explores the uncovering of sexual activities as a way of coping with her mother's death combined with a complete distance from her father. [/center]
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[center]It is a sad thing to see such a small amount of time on screen in the advertisements for the Japanese side of the story, because I found it to be the most meaningful and meatiest part. Kikucho's countless struggles with adolescence are handled with great humanity and grit by Innaritu and Arriaga. On another side of the spectrum we are following the illegal Mexican immigrant babysitter of the Americans' children, played by Adriana Barazza. She is left in a tough spot when finding out of the shooting of the mother, because she is supposed to be at her son's wedding across the border in one day but cannot get someone else to care for the kids. She decides to take them with her to Mexico, and along the path, which we can tell will only lead to bad happenings, we see her uneven nephew jump into the picture. Bernal plays this character with a nice amount of energy and arrogance, finding the right notes to make him memorable. Back in the Moroccan desert there stands a family that lives in a small hut and get by with the slightest number of things. There are some incidents that occur within a decision made by the father in the opening seconds that lead to the undercurrent of events jumpstarting the weaving lives, but I will stop with the specifics here. It is impossible not to be at least somewhat caught up in the film, even if you absolutely hate it. I was definitely not one who hated it, so I was a little more than a tiny bit into the interlocking storylines, but as with the slipping of power from [i]Perros [/i]to [i]Grams[/i], I also have to admit that it slips even a bit more from [i]Grams [/i]to [i]Babel[/i]. Pitt and Blanchett are plastered all over the posters and ads for the film and in a way to obviously get people into the seats, but their characters really go nowhere in the film and left me feeling dry after nearly 2 1/2 hours. There are a number of montage sequences set to a slumber Mexican guitar score throughout the movie, with most of them feeling way too long and repetitive, worthy of snipping down considerably. This film could have easily been an 8 had it cut itself down to the two hour range. It will find its fair share of lovers and haters, and I'm sure it will get some of those who are between the two extremes. I know I'm in that area. [/center]

Half Nelson
Half Nelson(2006)

[center][img]http://i47.photobucket.com/albums/f165/neckbracesub/HalfNelsonposter.jpg[/img][/center]
[center]R, 106 minutes, ThinkFilm[/center]

[center][b]actors[/b][/center]
[center]Ryan Gosling / Shareeka Epps / Anthony Mackie / Karen Chilton[/center]
[center]Tina Holmes / Jay O. Sanders / Deborah Rush / Nicole Vicius[/center]
[center][b]writers[/b][/center]
[center]Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden[/center]
[center][b]director[/b][/center]
[center]Ryan Fleck[/center]

[center][size=6]If we're really lucky[/size], every year we will be blessed with getting the chance to uncover a first-time independent gem from a new filmmaker, sometimes even a handful. This year the one that stands above all has got to be Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's [i]Half Nelson[/i], a remarkable achievement that is really unlike anything I've ever seen. Digging much deeper and ridding itself of easy pitfall cliches that come with the dozens of other "white teacher in an all black school" films, it features awe-inspiring writing, editing, music, direction and, above all, performances. When Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt appeared together in 2002's [i]Murder By Numbers[/i], they already had a couple of promising performances under their belt. At the time I had a gut feeling that it would be these two actors in a two man race in the years to follow for best young performer in all of American cinema. To no surprise, I was right, but it wasn't until this year with Gosling's performance in this film that I could finally choose between the two. He is the single most breathtaking young actor working today, and one of the most elite overall for that matter. [/center]

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[center]In the opening moments of the film we are introduced to Gosling's Dan Dunne, sitting stone-faced under his cocaine dusted coffee table, presumably somewhere around the early hours of the morning just before the break of day. For the regular crack addict not having any care for time passing would be feasable, but Dan has to be teaching a bunch of junior high schoolers in a few hours. He is good at his job, with both he and his students enjoying learning things from each other. He relies on the teaching and basketball coaching he also participates in to give him a constant reason to want to wake up daily, with the rest of his life basically in a downward spiral. At this point in his life he seems to the be the only addict left in his former group of friends, who all successfully went through a clean-out stage. Even his previous, very close girlfriend went through rehab and is at the point of engagement with another man. But Dan cannot quit the drugs, he can only quit the people and places around him. He is almost like a walking zombie, except for the in the classroom, where he is alive and attempts to seriously give his students something worthwhile to think about every day, with a total disregard for the drone-style publich school system. It is here that he develops an interesting relationship with his quiet 14 year-old student, a girl named Dre. Newcomer Shareeka Epps is on the money with her portrayal of the observant, wise beyond her years young girl, who, with a brother in prison and a mother never around is left to grow up herself, but still looking to latch on to someone for guidance. This inescapable adolescent need brings about a stunningly well-written triangle that finds two men battling for influential custody of Dre's coming-of-age days. [/center]

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[center]There is Frank, a drug dealer who is calling to all of Dre's needs because he feels he owes very much to her family, and rightly so as you'll discover when you take the time to watch [i]Half Nelson[/i]. With several encounters that include almost no dialogue, just looks that speak thousands of words, Dan and Dre slowly find themselves latching onto each other for a way to learn how to be a good person in life. As their lives go on and Frank and Dan feel more obligated to possess a father figure to Dre, so unfolds a poignant, often devastatingly real account of self discovery, looking in a child's eyes for an answer. Anothony Mackie is the one and only right choice for Frank, giving a performance of great power and filled with denial. Gosling has given the performance of a lifetime and the man is only 25. It will be a treat to witness what he does over the next few decades. What's most unbelievable is that int he middle of all of this greatness lies Shareeka Epps, a young girl who has never set foot in front of a film camera, yet stands her ground with dignity and grace. Amazing in all facets of filmmaking, including the editing, also done by Anna Boden. I can't forget to mention the poundingly perfect score by Broken Social Scene. I am obsessed with this picture. [/center]

The Last Kiss
½

[center][b][size=6][color=cyan][font=Courier New][color=deepskyblue][img]http://i47.photobucket.com/albums/f165/neckbracesub/LastKiss.jpg[/img][/color][/font][/color][/size][/b][/center]
[center][color=lemonchiffon]R, 115 minutes, Warner Bros. Pictures[/color][/center]

[center][b][color=deepskyblue]actors[/color][/b][/center]
[center][color=#fffacd]Zach Braff / Jacinda Barrett / Rachel Bilson / Casey Affleck[/color][/center]
[center][color=#fffacd]Blythe Danner / Tom Wilkinson / Michael Weston / Eric Christian Olsen[/color][/center]
[center][b][color=deepskyblue]writer[/color][/b][/center]
[center][color=#fffacd]Paul Haggis[/color][/center]
[center][color=#fffacd]adapted from the screenplay [i]L'Ultimo Bacio[/i] by Gabriele Muccino[/color][/center]
[center][b][color=deepskyblue]director[/color][/b][/center]
[center][color=#fffacd]Tony Goldwyn[/color][/center]

[center][color=#fffacd][size=6][color=deepskyblue]In nearly all cases[/color][/size] with American remakes of foreign films, by the time they're over I always think to myself that the original version is probably better or is better if I've already seen it. It really doesn't matter if the American version is extremely good in its own right, the original always seems to be that much better. That being said - if the Italian film which Tony Goldwyn's [i]The Last Kiss [/i]is based upon also follows this theory, then it must be a perfect piece of work. Goldwyn and Paul Haggis, who seems to have his name on everything right now, have done a marvelous job at constructing a realistic relationship film, which is almost like a second coming-of-age story for a group of men on the verge of thirty. [/color][/center]

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[center][color=#fffacd]Zach Braff will be seriously considered for one of the best actors of the year on my lists later on for his performance here, which is a huge step in the right direction for his acting career. He plays Michael, a man who is seemingly the happiest a guy could ever be, with a close-knit group of friends that developed in preschool, and a loving fiancee, played strongly by Jacinda Barrett. They are financially secure, her parents love him, and they know they want to live their lives out in the same place. Or do they? No, more accurately...does he? Feelings are creeping up to Michael as he nears thirty, mainly caused by his general surroundings that have for many years felt jusr right but have recently started to suffocate him. He is pressured to marry and have children daily, and it's made into pressure as opposed to a lovingly mutual feeling because he has a strange urge to hold onto his youth. Although he loves the person he is with beyond even his own belief, he begins to pursue his irritating desire while attending a wedding, when a treehouse encounter with a college student ignites a questionable choice. Rachel Bilson, an [i]OC [/i]favorite, plays Kim the college student in a performance that she nails down perfectly. The scenes between her and Braff are extremely real as they contrast off of each other, especially in a couple of late night car sequences.[/color][/center]

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[color=#fffacd][center]What convinced me about Goldwyn's movie to give it such a high, near-perfect review is how much it offers on all ends. There is a good amount of dirty and wholehearted comedy inside, plus it's filled with purely real moments. That is why I could let some of the corny bits with the sidekick friends escape my thoughts quickly, because the situations Michael gets himself into are never handled with a movie-like mind. What I'm trying to say is that this never really feels like a movie, not even when it starts to try to be one, because the real moments step in and quickly erase a chance of letting the audience think that what their watching is not really happening. Casey Affleck does a great job, showing once again why he's one of the most overlooked actors around. His story is a nice little add on and becomes more than I thought it would be as it comes to a conclusion. The relationship between Barrett's parents, played by Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson, also adds a level of realism and never steps away from that. When watching their aging marriage begin to crumble it began to help me notice a little easier how this is based on an Italian film. These characters and situations seemed to be made up so much easier in foreign cinema, and they fit the mold entirely in [i]The Last Kiss[/i]. Kudos to Goldwyn, Haggis, Braff and co. for effectively translating this one to American movies.[/color][/center]

Flags of Our Fathers
½

As an artist in cinema, whether it be as an actor, composer, producer or director, the 76 year-old Clint Eastwood has always been one of the best in the business. What's amazing to see, however, is how his directing career has evolved from very good into legendary, and all of this has just happened in the last few years. Now, it wasn't nominated for any awards and was pretty much forgotten by the time it was released, but I'm going to name his 2002 film [i]Blood Work [/i]the start of the fascinating turn for Eastwood, one where we found him on an untouchable streak and really which we are still witnessing him on to this day, with his fourth film in five years. All of them are extremely impressive, with two of them flat-out masterworks. With his latest film, an adaptation of the Iwo Jima novel [i]Flags of Our Fathers[/i], we once again see him treaded new ground as a filmmaker, tackling a WWII topic.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/dreamworks_skg/flags_of_our_fathers/_group_photos/kirk_b_r__woller8.jpg[/img]

With all of the war films we've already seen and with the majority of them covering WWII, if a new one is going to catch interest I think it has to be more than just what we assume. Within seconds of Eastwood's picture it is evident that we're going to be put through something very worth our time, a rewarding experience that proposes a different outlook on why soldiers are thrust into a horrifying experience. It's a great study of what a fine line it is to cross from one ordinary man living a nightmare into a world class hero, even if you didn't want to be. It asks the question of who the real heroes are anyway, and how can we know if they're made up by the media or not? Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach and Jesse Bradford play three soldiers, two of whom never fired a gun, who stumble into a situation that labels them heroes, and all because of a picture. A misunderstood picture, to say the least. Shifting through horrific battle flashbacks and the startling reality of a political world where the three are controlled like marionettes to push war bonds, Eastwood does an effective job of making the two worlds seem strangely similar. The snapshot of the raising of the flag atop Iwo Jima pictures numerous men, three of men supposedly being these soldiers. What we come to find as the movie progesses is an entirely different story behind the creation of that photograph, and what spirals from the misconception is taken to drastic heights by the powers that be.

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The moments that struck me the best were the ones off the battlefield, finding these men coping with the situation in their own very different ways. Adam Beach, who plays a Native American soldier, has the bulkiest portion of all the actors, and it's easy to see why. In that time he not only had to deal with the evil images of war, but also severe racism, even as a so-called "hero". Beach does a good job with a tough character, shifting from moods and sometimes in an instant. Who most impressed me in the film were, though, were Phillippe and Bradford, who both have done the best in their careers to this point. This was something I had never seen Bradford do and it was quite hard to get used to, but he settled in and turns in a fine performance, very right for the part. Phillippe has been slowly giving better and better performances over the last few years, and here he finds all the right notes as a medic who is sort of in a lost state when he comes home, and although he's obviously opposed to what they're making him and the other two do, he knows there is no way he can stop it. He does such a great job here, so good in fact that looking back I wish his screen time was stretched out longer. There are times in Paul Haggis and William Broyles Jr.'s script that it seems like they are focusing too much on Beach's character and shy away from the others. Still, the irritations are very limited with [i]Flags of Our Fathers[/i], a terrific film that is far more than another tired document of the fight on a battlefield, and was closer than I thought it would be to becoming the director's third straight work of perfection.

Marie Antoinette

I can officially give out the award for most wrongly bashed and/or misunderstood film of the year to Sofia Coppola's exquisite [i]Marie Antoinette[/i], which is as rebellious as its trapped but endlessly gleeful protagonist. I will never be able to understand why there have been so many people turned off by this film, and simply because of its incorporation of contemporary pop songs laced through key moments of the heiress' short life. Why does it have to be this way? Why can't a film like this one, which for once dares to offer more of what we're not used to seeing (and have never seen for that matter) be heralded for both its attempt at originality, and more for its accomplishment of that task. This is an ultimate motion picture experience and even though I can just sense it will be left in the ditch as far as any type of recognition on all ends of film are concerned, maybe it's something Coppola envisioned anyway, secretly desiring it to come and go, like Antoinette herself did...with only the ones that care to take the time and appreciate it all left to be fully rewarded.

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The ravings could start anywhere for a film as sublime as this, but I must first give my kudos to the actress who I can now call a talent, Kirsten Dunst. I have not found a way to really like any role she's taken to this point, but the closest I've came is in Coppola's debut film, [i]The Virgin Suicides[/i], and Michel Gondry's [i]Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind[/i]. She was almost good in those two films, but there has always been something about her that I just couldn't grab on to. That is until now. Dunst is absolutely fascinating from the first frame on, never waiving an ounce of focus throughout the picture. She is believable as a 14-year old, lost Austrian girl who is trotted to France and put in as pressure-filled a situation as there could be in that time, marrying Louis XVI and being expected to carry on a long line of royalty in the future. There is nothing she can do to let her adolescence flow in a normal way, even if it means wanting to keep her faithful old dog. She is in a world that has incarcerated her and she can do nothing to try and pop her way out of the bubble, so she simply decides to live in it as best as she can. This is what Coppola's film is about, and nothing more. It is not a history lesson on the trials and tribulations of what it was like to be a ruler, it's more like an ultimate attempt at coming-of-age in a time and place and situation that does everything in its power to prevent you from doing it yourself. It's only three films into her directing career and Coppola has already become a master, at least in my opinion. Working with nearly all of the same people that she has in the past, it is obvious that she gets the best out of her surrounding partners, a lot of it having to do with mutual feelings toward whatever their working on, friendship, and more with each passing project. Always there to do a great job is the director of photography, Lance Acord, who brings to life Coppola's vision in a major way in every single second of every frame. Together with the unbelievable set and costume design, the cinematography makes for some of the most wonderful images ever put to the screen. That is something everyone should agree with whether they like the film as a whole or not.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/columbia_pictures/marie_antoinette/jason_schwartzman/marieantoinette1.jpg[/img]

It was only a matter of time before we were going to see Coppola's cousin, Jason Schwartzman, appear in one of her films. The wait is very much worth it here, where we find him flawlessly playing the part of the naive and sexually uptight Louis XVI. This actor has slowly been developing from a good one to a great one, slipping into roles that fit him more and more as the years go on. In the many scenes where we find the young married couple trying to produce another generation to the French legacy in their heavily guarded bed, their is an amazing mixture of poignancy and humor. The two lead actors play their parts perfectly, both deserving of nominations. The focus on the vulnerability sparked by their youth is uncanny, especially in the bedroom scenes for Schwartzman, and in every scene for Dunst. There are supporters who liven it up as well, like Rose Byrne as Antoinette's vibrant equal who is at her side on her many rambunctious escapades. She handles the part brilliantly, taking certain scenes and running with them, really making the most of her small role. The always fun to watch Asia Argento plays the part of Rip Torn's Louis VX's mistress, and these two are very amusing together. Argento in particular is extremely good in another of the film's modest roles, with vintage, snappy moments that she's so accustomed to delivering. Among the others along the way is the great Danny Huston as Antoinette's brother, who has the smallest of small roles but makes himself memorable. There is also Judy Davis just being her good old self, Molly Shannon in something worthwhile for a change, and the always lovable actors who appear together quite a bit in films, Shirley Henderson and Steve Coogan, with Henderson as humurous as always. Coogan, however, is as restrained as he's ever been, playing the go-between, sort of messenger that converses with everyone involved. The whole experience with[i] Marie Antoinette[/i] is flawless, a wonder for the eyes, ears, and mind. I felt like a more complete person after seeing this film, like I had been blessed with getting the chance to see a work of art like it in a theater setup. It goes without saying, but this is one of the year's best.

Twelve and Holding
½

In writer/director Michael Cuesta's feature debut, [i]L.I.E.[/i], he established a strong interest in the innerworkings of the young, troubled teenage mind. The result from that was a disturbing but effective piece of work, and proved that the filmmaker was headed in the right direction to one day make something brilliant. It has taken nearly five years, but his sophomore effort entitled [i]12 and Holding [/i]has made its way onto the screen. In it, we find more of the same focus as he previously released in [i]L.I.E.[/i], yet with much more meditation and recognition toward every character and their feelings. Although I can sense that it will never receive the attention it deserves, this is one of the most heartbreaking, real, and original films of the year.

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The screenplay for this film is the key to its amazing realism, working better and better as the movie goes along further. Conor Donovan, Zoe Weizenbaum and Jesse Camacho are unbelievably good as they take on three of the most challenging children's roles I've ever seen. The three twelve year-olds are in a year of their lives that is supposed to offer some of the most memorably happy times of a person's life, yet they are about to find out that they will be tested in a way no child should ever be. Donovan plays a dual role as twin brothers, one who is outspoken and one who hides behind a hockey mask, mostly to make his giant red birthmark elusive to those around him. Weizenbaum and Camacho are basically the only two friends the twins have, and all four of them are bullied constantly, making them revert back to their treehouse fort frequently. After a devastating accident leaves one of the children murdered, it leaves the three remaining friends at a puzzling stage in their young minds, causing them to mature much faster than they ever expected to. Cuesta's direction is terrific here, continuing with the handheld style he started with in [i]L.I.E.[/i], but the writing is what is clearly different from the two projects. In this film there are directions taken that I neevr really saw coming, the kind that took me off guard by fascinating and slightly disturbing me in a non-offensive way. As Cuesta leads each of these three children on a path all their own he always keeps us on edge, really feeling for the choices they make. Their are moments in this film that manage to be both frightening and poignant equally, and on such an everyday human level. There are really strong performances by some of the supporting adults, including Linus Roache and Anabella Sciorra, but most notably from Jeremy Renner, who really proves strong in one of the closing moments, making it one of the best scenes of the year. What ultimately makes the film work tremendously well is the three child actors handling the screenplay as good as they did. It's not that these people are accomplished, well-trained actors, but they're real, and in a film like this it totally hit home for me.

The Departed
The Departed(2006)

The world's most brilliant filmmaker has delivered yet another mob-based picture that, like [i]Goodfellas[/i], has the undeniable velocity of a bullet from a gun and makes a 150-minute running time seem like a breeze for the audience. I'm not saying this is a better film than the 1990 landmark masterpiece, because no mafia movie can touch it in my opinion, but I think it's fair to say that Scorsese has never gotten this perfect of an entire ensemble performance in his illustrious career. There are a ton of organized crime films in the world, but anytime Mr. Scorsese delves into the genre he manages to make it seem original and fresh. For the first time in the legendary director's career he has put together a film that will appeal to nearly every type of moviegoer in the world, weaving a cast to die for and getting the best out of every one of them, making the material, which is based on the Hong Kong thriller [i]Internal Affairs[/i], just that much better.

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There are director's who remake a film in cookie cutter fashion, piecing it together like a carbon copy of the movie its based on, and then there are people like Scorsese, who take the material and use it as an outline for what is inside their own head. What he and writer William Monahan have done here is create a beautifully grim gem, transporting the story into the Irish-laden streets of Boston, giving the city its first legitimately great mob picture. From the opening seconds the tone and rhythm is set, seeing Scorsese having the most no boundaries fun he's had in quite some time. At the center of the story are Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, two Massachusetts police officers who are each intertwined with the law and the violent crime world, headed by Jack Nicholson's Frank Costello. Seeing these three actors is reason enough to see the movie, even if the material wasn't outstanding. Longtime friends but first time collaborators, Scorsese and Nicholson have made the wait well worth it, with each of their ideas for the mob boss meshing together for one extremely wild antagonist, even if it is Nicholson being Nicholson. I'd rather not get into the story because there have been hundreds of reviews of the film already that provide that well enough. Scorsese has always managed to get the best out of his actors, and even with brilliant performances like DeNiro's in both [i]Taxi Driver [/i]and [i]Raging Bull[/i], the biggest star of his films always ends up being his kinetic direction. I feel that the closest the acting has ever came to overcoming the direction in his movies is here in [i]The Departed[/i], with DiCaprio, Damon, and Vera Farmiga standing out. For me it was Matt Damon that really showed career-best stuff in a role like he's never played before. He is so focused and so deep into his character, who had to be the most fun to play of all of them, that he really doesn't seem like he's acting. The same goes for DiCaprio at the other end of the spectrum, who has in the last few years become Scorsese's new DeNiro, appearing in his third straight film by the director. He embodies this role in a flawless peformance, nearly topping his Howard Hughes portrayal two years ago.

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In one of the most uncanny supporting casts ever assembled, Farmiga is at the front with an amazingly layered performance that should finally get her some recognition. She is one of the most talented young actresses working today and stands her ground well in a film that is so male dominant. Another I must talk a little about is the amazing and underrated English actor Ray Winstone, playing Costello's right hand man named French, a cold-blooded killer. He adds a certain tenacity to this role that I don't think anyone else could've done right and makes the character much more memorable than it could have been. Other than that, we also have Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Kevin Corrigan, and Anthony Anderson adding to the chaos and all perfectly cast. There is much fun to be had here, a little bit of everything involved. It offers everything you'd expect from a Scorsese mob movie and more, like an unsual amount of humor. It's not one I'd put in a top five for the director's resume, but it sure is an unstoppable force of nature and one of the standouts among the movies of the year. Another masterpiece from the master.

Thank You for Smoking
½

Even without ever reading the highly acclaimed novel by which [i]Thank You For Smoking[/i] is based, it is still easy to tell that it must have been a tough task to adapt a work like it to film. In fact, it has been widely stated since its publication in that it would be a virtually impossible feat to accomplish, at least in a successful manner. The millions who loved Christopher Buckley's book and were a part of those in doubt should be insanely surprised and relieved when they see Jason Reitman's terrific and fast-paced adaptation.

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Aaron Eckhart gets a role that highlights his talents better than anything he's yet to receive outside of a Neil LaBute project. He is a smooth talking tobacco lobbyist and part of the M.O.D. (Merchants of Death) Squad, who have frequent dinner meetings. Along with the alcohol and firearm lobbysists, he sits and discusses with them, in unrelenting and biting satire, who takes the most lives. Maria Bello and David Koechner play the other two and blend so effortlessly well with Eckhart in their short time together. Reitman, who is the son of the once-great comedy director Ivan, does an amazing job piecing all of this madness together in an entertaining way. It's truly a brilliant achievement, made all the more impressive because it's his first feature. The cast in the film is as charmingly scattered as the film itself, ranging from actors like Robert Duvall, Sam Elliott and William H. Macy, to Rob Lowe, Katie Holmes and Cameron Bright. It is an interesting mix of talents that all prove to be great choices. What's most fascinating about the movie is how it manages to squeeze a mammoth load of material into a fairly short movie, yet it never seems like it leaves something left to be said. The pace of the film is fiery fast and established immediately, right from the wonderfully imagined and expertly designed opening credits. It is a satire that has the right amount of energy to become a great satire, never questioning the risks it's taking, just taking them. Eckhart is the driving force that steers each and every moment of the movie, giving an award-worthy performance. I must say, this could end up topping his unbelievable performance in [i]In the Company of Men[/i]. I don't know, maybe I'll make that decision when I enjoy a second viewing of this after buying the DVD.

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I went into this film not knowing what to expect, initially leaning towards the possibility of being disappointed based on the trailer. I nearly missed out on this one in theaters due to my thoughts from the preview alone, something I just need to make sure I don't do ever again. The next project Jason Reitman takes part in will be anticipated very highly after seeing such a brilliant debut as [i]Thank You For Smoking[/i]. It's one of the most delightful surprises of 2006.

American Gun
American Gun(2006)
½

Writer/director Aric Avelino has delivered a hidden little gem of a movie from this year that has been created in the same as [i]Crash[/i]. This is a movie that before watching I thought might be an almost documentary-style history lesson that would try to teach us how many deaths are caused by guns, but it's so much more toned down and simpler than that, which is what makes [i]American Gun [/i]a great piece of work. With the help of an impressive ensemble cast and a strong screenplay, this has become arguably the best of the virtually unkown films to be released so far in 2006.

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Avelino dismisses the possibility of lecturing his audience with statistics and chooses to simply map out a story of different families across the country that are affected by dangerous decisions made by those around them with firearms. In Oregon, Illinois, and Virginia we are introduced to a variety of teenagers and their parents, as well as a principal and police officer, to witness how their lives are made both difficult and confusing by the ever-expanding emergence of guns. Forest Whitaker is tremendous as a Chicago high school principal who might be trying a little too hard to crack down on the violence within the area, and to the extent where he begins to neglect his family at home. In Virginia we are thrust into the life of a college student, plyed by Linda Cardellini. She is sort of there reluctantly, not wanting to break the family member's streak of attending the same university and working at her grandfather's gun store. Donald Sutherland plays the lifelong gun store owner who is concerned with his granddaughter's feelings about following the family blueprint. There is a fantastic, almost unnerving moment in Cardellini's story as she wtinesses a horrible act of drunken college partying and later goes to a firing range in fear for future protection. In the most heartbreaking and brilliant portion of filmmaking in the movie, we are sent to Oregon and into the home of a mother whose son committed an act of school violence three years earlier, taking his own life in the process. Marcia Gay Harden gives one of her most powerful performances (she hasn't been this good since [i]Pollock[/i]) as this mother as she juggles through being a single parent, enduring harrassments from the community, bombardments from the media, and trying to make it the best it possibly can be for her remaining son. Chris Marquette plays the son, who has to adjust from private school to attending the public school where the tragedy occured, a place where he is very unwelcomed by most. This young actor is terrific in the part and I will keep an eye out for his future performances.

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Also adding to the intriguing points of view on display in the film is an Oregon police officer who showed up after the school's killings and has been left with much of the blame. Tony Goldwyn steps into this role and plays it very believably and with a lot of packed in emotion. This is a film that I think will find a great audience in the coming months and even years on video, and what a shame it was to never really get some sort of adequate theatrical release. Rounding out the cast with good performances in small roles are Nikki Reed, Amanda Seyfried, Arlen Escarpeta, and Schuyler Fisk. [i]American Gun [/i]is a rather important achievement in recent American filmmaking.

The Sentinel
The Sentinel(2006)

If you're going to continue to use the same old routines for Hollywood thrillers, and with the same actors (who are really aging by the way) then you've really got to add something fun to the mix. Earlier this year we saw Harrison Ford retread the same "normal man turned courageous hero" action-thriller with [i]Firewall[/i], but it was easy enough to sit through just once because Ford continues to be charismatic, plus they found an adequate antagonist in Paul Bettany to play the part. He did a good enough job to help movie mildly succeed (despite a laughable final act) as a time passing entertainment. What we get with the latest "race against time to prove innocence and save the president" movie, [i]The Sentinel[/i], is Michael Douglas prancing around for nearly two hours, and that's about it.

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Douglas plays a decorated secret service agent who has helped protect president after president for decades, but things are about to get a little hectic when someone frames him, which starts him on the run with his fellow colleagues tracking him down. It is believed that he is planning to assassinate the president and he is the only one who can clear his name, except for the first lady, with whom he's having an affair. Kim Basinger adds another boring and neglected performance to her resume as the president's wife, so helpless and in need of more worthwhile activity and dialogue that you almost start to feel sorry for her half way through. Kiefer Sutherland is the most watchable actor in the movie because he handles the role of "former friend now forced to take suspect down at any cost" very well, as he should with many years of practice along this line from television. He is partnered up with a newcomer to the force, played better than expected by Eva Longoria. Director Clark Johnson ([i]S.W.A.T.[/i]) attempts to establish his own style throughout the film, but most of his techniques come off as irritating and lifeless to me, especially the familiar montages of mysterious graphics as transitions usually seen in thrillers like this. There are obviously a lot of problems with [i]The Sentinel[/i], the main one being its failure to grab us from the start and give us a reason to want to participate. The best film of this kind in the last couple of decades has to be Wolfgang Petersen's [i]In the Line of Fire[/i], and because the showdown between good and evil in that film was tremendously constructed on all accounts. In this movie there are bad guys, but we never get the access we want within their operation. I know it's supposed to be a guess for the audience on who the actual person framing him is, but [i]The Sentinel[/i] really is in desperate need of an exciting opposition and it never has anything to show for it.

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In the end, all I can say in favor of the movie is that it does have some decent sequences about half way through, but they quickly fade off in time to make way for a pretty terrible conclusion. Douglas is decent enough here, but he cannot overshadow the countless errors...not even a bit. I also have to not that the score, composed by Christophe Beck, is just not in the right movie or something. No, I think it's simply bad and doesn't need to be in any movie. Anyway, the film is not the worst you can find, but it's definitely an entirely excusable piece of work.

Little Miss Sunshine

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes is the word that kept popping into my head while watching [i]Little Miss Sunshine[/i], and it still is as I write this review. Yes! Thank you Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris for creating such crisp and enjoyably mundane characters, all who receive the same amount of care and attention in the script than the next. The glowing revies for this film that have come all across the board are entirely deserved, and it is the best film of its kind since Alexander Payne's [i]Sideways[/i]. The husband and wife filmmaking team has successfully made a movie that is both a laugh-out-loud comedy and serious character stufy in equal lengths. There is enough wit and smarts in the writing in just one fourth of the screenplay that towers above anything else released in the summer of 2006.

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Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette are the head of the family that make dysfunction seem like a light term. He is an obsessive career motivator that is too busy judging other's decisions that he doesn't take the time to step back and notice how boring and idiotic he seems. She is just a wife and mother that is trying her best to keep everything patched up and moving along. Their children are played wonderfully by Paul Dano and newcomer Abigail Breslin. He is a teenager who reads Nietzche and has made a vow to be silent (completely) until he leaves his family to become an Air Force pilot. She is a vibrant spot of the family, the only one still possessing that rare happiness that comes so easily when you're little. She has her hopes set on winning the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant in California. She practices her routine with her grandfather, an old man shacked up with the family because he was kicked out of an assisted living facility due to outrageous behavior. Alan Arkin is arguably the funniest he's ever been (and certainly his best since [i]Slums of Beverly Hills[/i]) and provides sustained hilarity in his frequent outbursts, but is sweet and essential in his personal encounters with his granddaughter. To make matters even more dysfunctional, Steve Carrell's Frank enters the household. He is Collette's brother, a suicidal, ex-highly regarded scholar who clashes with the whole outfit and arrive just in time to tag along on their trip to the pageant. There is an amazingly executed and labored-over screenplay at work here, one to sit back and marvel at really as it blends an opening and closing act perfectly with its road trip body.

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Everyone in the film is perfectly cast, and these writer/directors have not missed a beat with [i]Little Miss Sunshine[/i]. I know I haven't had this much fun in a movie theater all year, not knowing what the people will do at any given turn of the bright yellow van. I must also compliment the film's composers, Mychael Danna and Devotchka, for creating some of the most unique and best fitting scores since Michael Andrews' [i]Me and You and Everyone We Know[/i]. Something that also must be noted is the beautiful cinematography by Tim Suhrstedt, who shoots this film in the best way it could've been, constantly testing different views and outlooks to make scenes even more great to witness, especially with some of the scenery on their various pit stops around California. Dayton and Faris have made one of the most easily loved movies this decade has offered us. It was a treat to experience this perfect comedy on the big screen.

Don't Come Knocking
½

Director Wim Wenders and actor/writer Sam Shepard have already established a great chemistry with their outstanding film [i]Paris, Texas[/i], which was released in 1984. It took tenty-two years to collaborate again, now with a film called [i]Don't Come Knocking[/i]. There are some comparisons you could make between the two movies, most notably the wonderful landscapes and trademark lighting Wenders plants on his work. Past that, however, the two movies couldn't be more apart in storytelling focus, with this one getting real disappointing as it reaches its most important sequences.

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This time Shepard has written the main role with himself in mind. He is a once-successful Western film actor who continues to give it a go but has no desire to do it anymore, losing popularity due to drunken rampages and such. While on location in the middle of production on his latest film, he retreats the set, off into the vast area of the nation's west end. The crew involved in the movie become aware of his sudden departure shortly after and must call on a tracer from the insurance company which holds a bond on the movie to track him down and force him to finish. This man is played by Tim Roth in what is the most satisfying performance and really worthwhile role in the movie. Shepard has a sudden desire to reconnect with his aging mom who he hasn't talked to in nearly 30 years, mostly because he was lost in a haze of womanizing, excessive gambling and alcoholism...well known to his mother due to media scavenging. The legendary Eva Marie Saint plays this part with an outlook of a loyal mother's sincerity and sweetness over judgement and hatred over the past. Although she hasn't seen him in three decades, she still protects and hides him when Roth's character pops up. The first half of [i]Don't Come Knocking [/i]is quite effective in setting up a lost man's story as he manages to resurrect certain things before the winter season of his life begins. But when he makes his way toward the tiny town where his ex-wife lives, the film starts to fall apart into a jumbled mess. As Shepard's script gets to this point, where he begins to meet people either after a long period of time or for the very first time, the situations feel like they lack realism within the human emotions. In the case of him crossing paths with his ex-wife, I think it's not half bad because Jessica Lange shares a great presence with Shepard. However, when he encounters his angry, wannabe poet/musician son, things are disastrous, both with their relationship and with the ultimate demise of the film's chances of becoming good. If these two people have not even known of each other until now, then these reactions on display here feel dull and misfired in the writing and on the acting end with it comes to Gabriel Mann's performance as the son. He has been good in such recent films as [i]The Bourne Supremacy [/i]and [i]Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist[/i], but he misses on virtually all accounts here and is quite wrong for the part.

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Another part of the story that is set up well is Sarah Polley as a woman carrying her mother's ashes in search for her father whose she's never met. This man just so happens to be Shepard, and their encounter is not so badly done when it happens, but the problem with this part lies within the fleshing out of their relationship as it goes on, leaving an empty feeling when the movie ends. I also had trouble with Fairuza Balk's character as Mann's sort of goth groupie girlfriend. It's the most pointless creation in Shepard's screenplay, plus it just seems like I've seen her in roles like this before. There are some nice things to say about the film, but far too many to quarrel over. Countless missteps in the latter half cause [i]Don't Come Knocking [/i]to fall.

Brick
Brick(2006)
½

[font='Book Antiqua'][color=lemonchiffon]First of all, I must take this leadoff sentence opportunity to completely bash my state of Indiana and its independent theaters for promising to release Rian Johnson?s [i]Brick [/i]on numerous occasions, but failing every time. The first-time writer/director has given us a much needed burst of total originality to the screen, successfully following through on an attempt to incorporate a nostalgic noir-feel to a present-day high school setting. Had I got to see this in a pristine, silver screen atmosphere, I probably would?ve been even more mesmerized than I was while watching it in my bedroom, which was to a high degree. [/color][/font]

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[color=lemonchiffon][font='Book Antiqua']There is a rebellious energy to this film that surrounds every detail of it, from the writing to the acting and to the amazingly ambitious cinematography. Joseph Gordon-Levitt adds another impressive notch on his recently bulked-up role choices as Brendan, the high school alternative to Jack Nicholson?s Detective Gittes from [/font][i][font='Book Antiqua']Chinatown[/font][/i][i][font='Book Antiqua']. [/font][/i][font='Book Antiqua']He knows his area and the people who reside in it better than anyone around, but he?s going to have to dig even deeper than what he?s got to find out who has murdered his ex-girlfriend. Johnson populates this mystery with an abundance of characters, most who have their own little noir-style nicknames, including ?The Brain?, a kid who hangs around on the outskirts of the school but is somehow a know-it-all, always there to give Brendan the inside info. He will have to uncover mounds upon mounds of leads, this giving us the chance to come in contact with a ton of memorable people and performances. There are entirely normal names for the female characters in the film (Laura, Emily, and Kara) but as we cross paths with the corrupt world even further, where principals are like mafia bosses, the males are often always known by their aliases. Noah Fleiss, who I always remember from [i]Josh and S.A.M., [/i]plays ?Tug?, a body-building, vintage car driving bully who provides physical persuasion at any cost. He works for ?The Pin?, the local drug runner who is, as classically portrayed in all noir films, elusive and mysterious. He is played by Lukas Haas in another underrated performance for him. The story flies up, down, left and right and does manage to easily lose its viewer at times. I?ll admit that I had no clue of what pieces to put together at certain points in the film. But even while the story drifts out of focus, Johnson always keeps things quirky and just so admirable on the originality end of things that I did not tend to care. [/font][/color]

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[font='Book Antiqua'][color=#000000][color=lemonchiffon]Gordon-Levitt had such a challenging role to take on last year in the amazingly powerful [i]Mysterious Skin[/i], and he pulled through in a big way. It seemed as though he could never receive something as hard-pressed as that role. To my complete surprise, it is only one year later and he has took on another intense character and made him his own little masterpiece. This is a performance that I think should take home some nice independent nominations and even awards for Gordon-Levitt, an actor that should now be considered at the forefront of the young ones out there, alongside Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt, the two that come to mind immediately. [i]Brick [/i]is a fascinating film that doesn?t need to fluently piece everything together to be called a very solid achievement. Johnson has given us reason to etch him in on the directors-to-watch list, nearly creating a masterpiece.[/color] [/color][/font]

Strangers with Candy

[font=Book Antiqua][color=lemonchiffon]I have to believe that the majority of people going to see the film prequel of [i]Strangers with Candy [/i]were dedicated fans of the television show that aired on Comedy Central some years ago. There are numerous reviews I?ve read from fans like this who have called it a disappointment that didn?t live up to what they anticipated. I did see a tiny bit of the show, and although I knew it had potential to be very funny I wasn?t what you?d call a fan. To me it felt like a show that needed no restrictions, the chance to be flat-out vulgar; something that HBO could?ve done for it when it ran. Maybe this is why I was anticipating the film version a lot more than I expected. Maybe it?s because I was never a die hard fan that knew every episode and character by heart that I thought this movie was extremely funny. Whatever it is, I am grateful for a comedy like this to roll around at the time it did. [/color][/font]
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[font=Book Antiqua][color=lemonchiffon]It took no time at all for the film to make me literally roll with laughter as we jump into Jerri Blank?s world. She?s a 45-year old ex-con/junkie/whore, which right away tells us that a feature-length R-rated film can open up a flood gate of comic opportunities that television just couldn?t provide on inappropriate levels. Amy Sedaris is perfect as Blank, as one would expect from playing the character for so many years, never missing a beat with the odd mannerisms and careless criticisms of those she has something against. The screenplay was co-written by her alongside co-stars Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello, the latter of whom is also the creator. We are introduced to the story as Jerri is making the first visit back to her childhood since running away in her teens. Residing there is her stepmother, stepbrother and her father as he lies in a coma. Oh yeah, and the local butcher is there, staying all too often and known as the ?meat man?, consoling Jerri?s stepmother in the most curious of ways. Ian Holm plays the comatose dad in a role that hardly calls for any speaking or movement and is totally not right for an actor of his brilliance, yet that part of the reason it?s so funny. In an effort to get him to snap out of his coma, Jerri wants to go back to high school and actually make it through this time, giving him no choice but to awake because of the pure joy he would discover from his dedicated little daughter. It is a breath of fresh air in the midst of a polluted comedy summer, supplying laughs upon laughs at every turn. Colbert and Dinello are very, very funny as science and art teachers who are going through trouble in their relationship, seeing if it can stand the test of time and adversity. Greg Holliman plays the insanely oddball Principal Blackman and steals just about every scene he shows up in. There is also an impressive list of well known names on the supporting end of things here, like Dan Hedaya, Allison Janney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristen Johnston, and Justin Theroux. Janney and Hoffman in particular add great bits of humor in their short-lived sequences. [/color][/font]
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[font=Book Antiqua][color=#000000][color=lemonchiffon]This is just a good little comedic diamond in the rough, one that this summer so desperately needed. I?m pretty sure that even if I was completely familiar with the television series, this movie would still seem pretty damn funny. [i]Strangers with Candy [/i]takes advantage of its unlocked chains and takes us to a land of periodically grotesque humor. It?s the type of film I want in my collection, to throw in at those moments when you just want to watch something off the wall.[/color] [/color][/font]

Miami Vice
Miami Vice(2006)

[color=lemonchiffon][font=Book Antiqua]Shortly after Michael Mann made his feature-film debut in 1981 with the terrific and underrated crime film, [i]Thief[/i], he sky-rocketed his career forward with an executive producing credit on the hit television series [/font][i][font=Book Antiqua]Miami[/font][/i][i][font=Book Antiqua] Vice. [/font][/i][font=Book Antiqua]Since that time, he has used that success to slowly establish himself as one of the most original and exciting filmmakers working, this fully coming into realization with the 1995 unveiling of the crime masterpiece, [i]Heat[/i]. Nearly twenty years after the [i]Miami Vice [/i]series called it, he has brought it back to life in movie form and planting two of the world?s most popular actors at the forefront. If anyone else was going to try and remake this into a film it would become a laughable idea, but Mann knows this material to the bone and better than anyone I imagine, plus he?s at the top of the tier when it comes to action filmmakers.[/font][/color]
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[font=Book Antiqua][color=lemonchiffon]There is a big change to the world 80?s TV lovers were used to of Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, as we find Mann wasting no time to plunge us into their newly acquired, dark and more gritty environment, otherwise known as present-day Miami. The opening sequence is spectacular, all you?d want from a summer action movie, and filmed in a very similar way to Mann?s last film, [i]Collateral[/i]. In fact, the entire movie is created with a style Mann has been perfecting throughout each of his films over the last 25 years. It?s like a fun little field day project for him between more serious films, one where he can incorporate a mixture of styles inside one gigantic ride. Farrell is pretty much right on with Crockett, even down to the sly tone that his voice throws in at times. As his partner, Tubbs, Foxx gives another terrific performance in a Mann film, the last time being in [i]Collateral[/i], which was such a great performance that I would put it over even his portrayal of Ray Charles. The editing and cinematography are all as you?d expect them to be in a Mann movie, top-notch, never leaving a dull moment every step of the way. The technique of constantly rifling through different film stock and even crossing over to digital at times perfectly suits the undercover, drug-riddled world that these cops have immersed themselves into. They must prove themselves legitimate drug runners in order to work for a high powered trafficker, and then ultimately topple his organization down. They deal almost exclusively with Isabella; the trafficker?s half Cuban, half Chinese wife who Crockett immediately has his eye on, which can lead to a variety of bad conclusions for the undercover duo. The film does have its moments of pure absurdity, but it?s definitely allowed here because it is a summer popcorn film. It never overreaches with its playfulness and also doesn?t try to be more serious than it should. Mann introduces us with a nice dose of action, goes into the middle of the film with some real nice mental showdowns and dangerous romantic encounters, then finishes with a big bang. [/color][/font]

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[font=Book Antiqua][color=#000000][color=lemonchiffon]Gong Li plays Isabella in a strong performance that in every way can make a case for most impressive in the film. Her relationship with Crockett evolves into something that is always intriguing because they play the parts with fire. Barry Shabaka Henley is also in the film, playing the officer in charge of the duo and giving a very good supporting performance. He was the best of the actors with tiny parts in [i]Collateral[/i], getting to shine in my favorite scene of the movie - the one in the jazz club where he has a cool Miles Davis tale. I never had a lot of knowledge about the original television series that was [i]Miami Vice[/i] only that it was brought to us in the heart of a decade with mostly horrific music, thus cueing the part where I bring up Phil Collins doing the sound tracking. It just didn?t appeal to me. Then again, nearly nothing involving television ever has. But Mann has morphed this into one big action event of a movie, packing in some of the best bits of violence we?ve seen in a good while.[/color] [/color][/font]

World Trade Center
½

[font=Times New Roman][color=#000000][font=Times New Roman][font=Book Antiqua][color=lemonchiffon]When the first film focusing around the events of 9/11, [i]United 93[/i],was released, it brought with it a mountain?s worth of controversy and skepticism on how it would portray such a tragedy. There was also the question of whether or not it was the right time to begin unleashing films about this to audiences across the world. Is it too soon? Paul Greengrass?s movie was an exercise in great, masterful and respectful filmmaking, telling a straight forward tale of ordinary lives suddenly being put to the test. I was doubtful about seeing a film like this but I did eventually walk into it, which I am very happy I did. [i]United 93 [/i]showed that there is a way to rightfully go about putting a true and tragic event to the screen, and after seeing it I had no doubt that it was definitely the right time to make it. Only four and a half months later and at the tail end of the summer comes the second film of the year about the day, Oliver Stone?s [i]World Trade Center[/i]. The controversial talk is still here, although it has died down fairly well after Greengrass?s film took the heaviest load off, but with this being the first Hollywood-sized, big budget telling of 9/11, the majority of the controversy and questioning should lie with this film, in my opinion. [/color][/font]
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[font=Book Antiqua][color=lemonchiffon]The film?s opening sequence contains some of the most quietly powerful moments of any movie so far this year. Stone gives us time to see the city of New York in the last moments before the towers fell, and with wonderfully constructed cinematography. There is something very frightening about knowing what is going to happen in movies, and here it hits you deep and hard from the very beginning and it?s very easy to care for the people involved. The first half of the film focuses entirely on port authority police officers, run by Nicolas Cage?s John McLoughlin, as their seemingly normal morning turns into chaos that they will soon be put in the middle of. The screenplay feels a little shallow and un-fleshed out on occasion, but the constant reminder that these people actually went through all of this quickly overshadowed any small criticisms I had with the forced melodrama. There are astoundingly detailed re-creations of the towers through nearly flawless special effects, with up-close and lengthy and frequent encounters with the replicated architecture that is most impressive. There are a few officers that the movie stays with in the beginning alongside Cage, but there are only two others that remain for a longer period of time, this after the annihilation takes hold, leaving them motionless under the rubble in the elevator shaft. Michael Pena and Jay Hernandez play the other officers stuck with John, everyone giving fine performances that draw straight from interviews with the real people. Pena first broke through with a terrific performance in [i]Crash[/i], and here, as Will Jemeno he will become widely known and appreciated for his talent. While Jemeno and McLoughlin attempt to encourage each other to stay awake ? and alive, we become familiar with their most intimate feelings as they share each other?s family with one another. At this point Stone is attempting to bring in the outside perspective to the table, a mixture of the officers in the rubble and their families observations and worries, which ultimately become doubts of survival. Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal are both marvelous as the wives of each of the men, both with large families at their side experiencing it with them.[/color][/font]
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[font=Book Antiqua][color=lemonchiffon]One would expect an Oliver Stone version of 9/11 to be full of controversial and stunning directions that would divide the audience into lovers and haters. However, what happens here is completely surprising as we find the director taking the most conventional route you could possibly take when telling this story. It is a film that focuses entirely on an uplifting spirit and courage that a tragedy like this can suddenly place inside someone, even if they never knew it was there. With the thousands of deaths and horribly wrong things that happened that day, it could be very easy for a film like this to beat us down with frightening circumstances, but [i]World Trade Center [/i]knows we?re already too familiar with that. The movie knows it has to lay out the terrifying events as it trudges along and the men involved go through nearly unbearable pain and suffering, but it doesn?t leave us on a heartbreaking note, but rather builds to a comfortably heroic conclusion. Not nearly as brilliant and powerful as [i]United 93 [/i]and nowhere near a great film, but definitely one to admire. Although this is a different, lighter Stone, it?s a welcome one in my opinion.[/color][/font]
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A Scanner Darkly

With the great success writer/director Richard Linklater had with 2001's visually groundbreaking [i]Waking Life[/i], it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before he'd venture back into that style of animation. Just five years and four films later he has made it back that way, with a shift from the dreamscape world to a land troubled set in the nearing future. An environment created from the pen of science fiction mastermind, Philip K. Dick.

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Adapting an extremely complex story like this has to be a majorly though task, even for a talented writer like Linklater. He managed to keep the screenwriting job despite many other names legitimately considered, investing himself deeply and entirely to the project. The process within the storytelling differs in a lot of ways from [i]Waking Life[/i], as it rightly should, but there are a few similar sequences that involve confusion between real life and the illusion. Keanu Reeves is terrific as Bob Arctor, a man who lives dangerously on both sides of the law and doesn't know exactly who to trust in the world surrounding him, both personally and globally. The world has hit a state where the majority of the population stands right where the government constructed them to be - pharmaceutically controlled and clueless, without question of what's headed toward them. Arctor becomes targeted for thorough investigation because he might know a little more than necessary, a threat to think and maybe even make level-headed, unconventional, rebellious decisions against the system. This is due to the fact that he's recently passed on a few doses of the required medication here and there. Things get really interesting when we find out that at he is assigned to track and observe - himself. This is possible because as an agent at the workplace he is always wearing a "scramble suit", shifting his identities constantly by the split-seconds. It doesn't take long for the enviornment to entirely take hold of us, and when it starts to tighten its grip as the story rolls along, everything becomes more and more unpredictable and hard to keep up with. This is not a bad thing at all in a film like this because we're meant to be in the same state as Arctor. There were times in the movie when I found myself scurrying words and possibilites inside my head looking for directions it could all go, and after a while it's all sort of maddening. Things really clicked at the right times for me while watching [i]A Scanner Darkly[/i], the haziness and strange undertones at their climax for Arctor exactly when I was. There is a particular scene about 2/3 of the way in when Arctor has a thought ramble off inside his head that we get invited in on.

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Inside the world surrounding the protagonist are an eclectic mix of paranoid characters with talented actors playing them out. Winona Ryder plays his girlfriend, who appears in limited, strange time and slowly becomes more and more questionable and mysterious. Woody Harrelson and Rory Cochrane are two of Arctor's friends who are always around and completely mind-trasnformed due to various drugging, both legally and illegally. Naling his role to perfection is the always impressive Robert Downey Jr. as a motormouth who thinks he has the inside track on everything relevant. When he begins to act as an informant against Arctor behind his back, things are taken up a notch. Downey is fantastic here at blending humor and biting tenacity into his character. Overall this is a terrific piece of futuristic sotrytelling, even if it never quite reaches the masterful level of [i]Waking Life[/i].

You, Me and Dupree

When you've grown to love actors to a certain height it's almost like you'll see anything they take part in, regardless of the storyline and such. That was the case with Owen Wilson and [i]You, Me and Dupree[/i], a comedy with much talent on hand to perform but turns out to be not only awful, but agonizingly so. It's hard to believe that an actor like Matt Dillon would sign on to partake in a film this plastic in its relationship depictions, and what's worse is that he receives the most boring and neglected part of them all. At least he's getting the large paycheck so later he can go on to star in promising low budget films, like [i]Fac*tot*um[/i], based on based on the writings of Charles Bukowski and co-starring Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei.

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Somewhere beneath the heaping load of garbage that is the finished product of the movie is a premise and setup that is promising for a comedy. This is why Owen Wilson came on as producer as well, at least that's what I'm assuming. I mean, the people involved here cannot be pleased with what has become of it all, as it is almost entirely unfunny and without entertainment. Wilson is Dupree, a longtime friend of Dillon's character who appears as the best man at his wedding. It's the first time he's seen him in years and the two have grown completely different in their lifestyles. This could open up a flood door of comedic possibilites, but the movie has such a fake feeling to it in all aspects of its creation that I couldn't even think about letting it amuse me. The biggest problem lies within the script, which was written by first-timer Michael LeSieur. The relationship between Dillon and Kate Hudson as newlyweds is scripted so poorly and without full attention, making the actors look like cue card-reading soap opera performers. It even goes so far off the hill that it even makes Wilson unfunny, and quite frequently. The only instances where he is genuinely humurous is when he obviously rides off into improvisational territory. Bringing in a credible veteran like Michael Douglas to play the overbearing, intimidating father of the bride was ridiculous and insulting to someone of his stature. His role is mindless and lost and he even comes off as less than mediocre, his career crying in a dark alley for something intriguing to come along. Other details in the production that are executed without legitimate care are the nagging score and soundtrack selections, the camerawork, and even the editing seems like it was all made for television. Hudson has the talent her mother had at this age, but she has not capitalized on it with justifies roles the way Goldie did year after year for a good stretch of time. She is stil looking for a fantastic role that could at least be half as good as Penny Lane, and it's looking quite ugly in the process.

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Directors Joe and Anthony Russo failed miserably at mapping out a legitimate background for the talent given to operate around, but they've succeeded at making the worst film so far this year, at least from what I've seen. A year after Vince Vaughn and Wilson teamed together for the undoubtedly funny [i]Wedding Crashers [/i]they separate to produce and star in their own films, both coming out on the losing end. Maybe they should call each other up again in the near future, or they could reach back to their good old pals (Jon Favreau/Wes Anderson) to write and direct something meaty for them and save their careers for another few years.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
½

When the first film in this series was released in 2003 it came as a complete surprise that it was actually an enjoyable ride. How could a film based on an amusement park ride possibly form itself into something worth seeing? The answer was very simple - Johnny Depp. His effortless portrayal of the two-timing and clumsy pirate Jack Sparrow was nearly all the reason the film worked...while getting a little help from Geoffrey Rush as a great counterpart. Depp was able to be so effective and lovable because he received all control to construct Sparrow from scratch himself, down to the Keith Richards inspiration which he so expertly incorporated. That I approved of the film was an accomplishment enough for director Gore Verbinski and friends, but it was still full of flaws, most notably its unnecessarily long running time. Yes, I liked it but was not going to beg for a sequel - let alone two.

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Three years later it was because of Depp and my recent elevation in fondness for Verbinski as a filmmaker that had me ready to see [i]Dead Man's Chest[/i]. Before his more recent efforts I had never liked anything the director had done, absolutely hating both [i]The Mexican [/i]and [i]The Ring[/i]. But when last year's film [i]The Weather Man [/i]blew me away, I became aware that there was a Verbinski I liked, one with a sharp eye for production details and a strong calling for diversity. I was happy to see him back to helm the [i]Pirates [/i]series, returning to add some of the dark and gloomy touches established originally. Still it was Depp who remained the marquee reason to jump back in for a ride, and from the moment he makes his terrific arrival at sea he's off and running again. As you'd expect from a summer blockbuster sequel, the movie attempts to one-up its predecessor on the adventure and running time end of things, and succeeds in both rings. There are sequences in this film that can rightfully own the term "non-stop action" as they seem to literally never end, but I strangely didn't want them to anyway. Surprisingly, I have less to quarrel about here than with the first one. There are many of the same flaws in this installment, but they have improved on some key ones. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are two actors that I've never particularly cared for, although Bloom did exceptionally well in Ridley Scott's [i]Kingdom of Heaven[/i]. In this film, however, they do a fairly good job and have started to shift my feelings about each of them. I was also worried that the villain wouldn't compare to the gruelling excitement of Rush's in the original, but they laid that doubt to waste with an amazingly detailed, tentacle equipped, oozing cretin.

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Some have said that even Depp fails this time around because he piles on an overload of wisecracks that would make even his performance in [i]The Curse of the Black Pearl [/i]seem like it was limited. I think you can never have enough antics from Sparrow, for it is the reason the majority of us are sitting in the audience anyway. With so many sequels plummeting to the ground floor it is nice to see one following up on the promise that it will entertain twice as much as before. I can't say I really approve of a third film and they really could've ended with two, but I know I'll be there to see how it all ends.

The Devil Wears Prada

I think there has never been a better or more diverse actress on the planet than Meryl Streep, who was the majority of the reason why I saw [i]The Devil Wears Prada[/i]. Well, that and I was doing Amanda a favor by attending. Don't get me wrong, I had nothing against the movie before I went in and most certainly didn't have it labeled as a "chick flick" like some. It's a title I think is worthless, totally inappropriate and shouldn't ever had been created. A movie is a movie and every one of them will get a clean slate chance should I catch a viewing. To be truthful, I kind of had hope that the film would be, if nothing else, an entertainment. I was ready to see the up-and-coming promise of Anne Hathaway cross paths with the legendary Streep, and in the process maybe get a good dose of Stanley Tucci.

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The main problem with the film, other than its painfully boring and predictable outline of a story, is that it resorts to irresponsible montages numerous times to move the story and main character's life along, which in turns robs the audience of any essential participation in development. It is based on the national bestelling novel of the same name which was written by Lauren Weisberger, which I haven't read. If the movie is at all faithful to the book then I think I'll make sure to steer clear of it based on director David Frankel's effort here. The sequences that exist outside of the fashion industry and focus on the personal lives of the characters are the poorest of the poor in the movie, incorporating nothing that even comes close to real human emotion. The direction is achingly bad at times and both the music and the editing of the music is some of the worst and most irritating I've ever witnessed in any film. There is enough of it for a dozen other full-length features. The acting is, without a doubt, the only thing to admire here. Hathaway proves to be a worthy choice for the main roleas she continue to improve on her abilities. Streep's apearances in the film are frequent but short-lived for the most part, and although we see her a lot she never receives enough time (or quality material) to flesh out her character. The most interesting and humurous character in the movie is Stanley Tucci's as a long-time fashion expert looking for his big break. When it's all said and done it is he who gives the most complete performance. Still, it is hard to comprehend why an actor of Tucci's talent would sign on for something this unsuited for him. Needless to say, the same pondering goes for Streep also.

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It's too bad that a better version of these characters with just minor retouches couldn't have found its way onto paper, because there is certainly enjoyable entertainment somewhere deep inside here. The best thing I can say about this movie is that there are definitely some worse options at the multiplex right now, so if you happen to see this one and come out disappointed just remember that you could've been a lot more angry had you made a handful of other decisions.

Monster House

As we continue to tumble through a ridiculously mediocre summer at the movies, it is sort of surprising to find that the majority of the gems are of the animated fashion. Earlier on I was pleasantly surprised to find [i]Over the Hedge[/i] achieving much more than it had the right to, but I really didn't think I'd end up seeing a second animated film to be overwhelmed by, at least until next year. Enter first-time director Gil Kennan's wonderfully imaginative [i]Monster House[/i], the most PERFECT Halloween movie for kids of about 8 years and older. Not only is this the ideal choice for a Halloween gathering, I'd have to give it a high spot on the best animated films ever.

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This one was originally meant to become a live action feature but was later transformed into stunning animation by way of Robert Zemeckis' Image Movers, the company that you might recall bringing us [i]The Polar Express [/i]two years ago. Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment also came aboard and a nicely put together group of voices pitched in to create what is the biggest thrill ride of anything you'll find this summer...and by far. I have already been to see this movie twice and each time I have noticed small toddlers everywhere in the audience. This certainly is a very bad choice for parents to make for this one, because from the opening sequence on there are some moments that will frighten the young ones. For children of about eight and above, however, this will be a major treat and a must. Plus, for the first time in a long while it is truthful to state that parents will not be bored when they are dragged to this movie. In fact, they could very well be more involved in it than their kids. The writing in the film is extremely smart in its humor, with a steady amount of interesting supporting characters to go along with the three main kids. Lending voices to small parts are Jason Lee, Kevin James, Jon Heder, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, and Nick Cannon as a bumbling, Barney Fife-like, clueless cop who has never seen a sliver of real work. With the three main kids, voiced by Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner, and Spencer Locke, we have the classic hero, his sidekick, and the girl torn between them both. DJ and Chowder are the two lifelong friends with the challenge of puberty in front of them, while the emergence of Jenny tests their friendship. It's a very cliched situation, but [i]Monster House [/i]plays on it in a very humurous and original way, resulting in hardly any moments without something to laugh or grin at.

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All of the strengths of the writing and casting is ultimately just a nice bonus to the real star of the movie - the animation, which is endlessly brilliant. The construction of the house is in-depth and fascinating, as well as its resident, a torn up, internally emotional old man voiced to perfection by Steve Buscemi. With laughs and adventure around every turn plus a nice little hidden secret to uncover, [i]Monster House[/i] has been the best film of the summer and is certainly one of the greatest movies so far this year.

Click
Click(2006)
½

I have given up on Adam Sandler many times over the last few years, only to give him another chance shortly thereafter. I had vowed never to see another idiotic comedy of his after putting myself through stuff like [i]Little Nicky [/i]and [i]Mr. Deeds[/i], but then he transformed himself ever so slightly for [i]Punch-Drunk Love[/i], and thanks to Paul Thomas Anderson I was ready to relook the actor. Immediately after that I saw [i]Anger Management[/i], which intrigued me because I thought it could be somewhat worth seeing if Jack Nicholson was signed on. Alas, it was another pile of rubbish straight from the same bin as [i]The Waterboy [/i]and such. Later he appeared in James L. Brooks' [i]Spanglish[/i], a film that had ambitions but couldn't quite follow through with them but Sandler managed to come out extremely convincing. Once again I was ready to climb aboard his bandwagon, begging him to make more decent and rewarding choices like that in his immediate future. But the truth that I have to face is that the physically crude comedies will forever be in his blood, for they are what got to him to where he is now in his flourishing career. I always knew that but have tried to deny it, and I also knew that [i]Click [/i]would certainly have to be another entry to the mindless list. To this day I still do not know what drove me to purchasing a ticket for it.

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When Sandler ventures back into these dumb comedies, he also loves re-teaming with certain directors who have helped him create some of his past trash. This time it's Frank Coraci who gets the callback, who you might recall directing [i]The Wedding Singer [/i]nearly a decade ago. That film was one of only a small number of Sandler comedies that tried to incoporate a large amount of heart, attempting to appeal to a bigger audience by trying at some tearjerking scenes. After seeing [i]Click [/i]it's understandable why he'd want Coraci to take the job, because it also wants to warm the heart and at times, especially toward the climax, downright dramatic. Sandler plays an architect (which is funny in itself) who spends too much time at work and not enough with his family. Even with an insanely different profession than all of his other characters in comedies past, Sandler is still as obnoxious and rude as ever but still manages to be likable and mildly humurous in some moments. The rest of the cast, however, is extremely dull and quite unfunny. Kate Beckinsale gives her worst performance yet as Sandler's wife in a performance that serves no purpose on a human level. Nearly every time we see her, she's either prancing around in her underwear or just hanging around in the background, but either way she never reaches anything over standard Hollywood eye candy. She is stuck in a role that has no developing value and is just there. The basis for the whole thing revolves around Sandler coming across a magical remote from a strange character in the back of a Bed Bath & Beyond. He is played by Christopher Walken, who we find for what seems like the hundredth time playing a bit role in a mindless comedy. I hate to say it, but Walken is starting to become quite boring. He needs a meaty role with some real writing, and fast.

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The remote lets him analyze his past and control anything in his future, which isn't necessarily a bad idea to draw upon but it's all ruined here and deemed pointless from the very beginning. People are once again getting bashed and beaten and whatever else you're used to seeing from the nearly dozen comedies he's already came out with. But what makes [i]Click [/i]one of the worst films in Sandler's filmography isn't the expectedly insulting humor, but the drastically bad third act, where we are forced into a complete transformation of moods. The biggest laughs in this film come when it tries to become dramatic, which is definitely not a good thing.

Scoop
Scoop(2006)
½

We can all admit that Woody Allen has lost a step over the last few years, but I don't think it should mean everything he does now is automatically ruled out. The only film of his that was universally loved in nearly the last two decades was last year's splendid [i]Match Point[/i], which had such a strong impact that even the new age Allen haters approved. I think there are a good amount of people who always expect another [i]Annie Hall [/i]or [i]Crimes and Misdemeanors [/i]every time out, which will always lead to a disappointing feeling. I have always been able to find something intriguing in all of Allen's work and although it's certainly true that he has tended to recycle things from the past more and more in his recent comedies, I was very much into [i]Scoop[/i].

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Continuing his collaboration with Scarlett Johansson and with the British backdrop, Allen offers up another comedy/murder mystery that is not in the same league as [i]Manhattan Murder Mystery[/i],but better than [i]The Curse of the Jade Scorpion[/i]. An interesting thing incorporated here is the addition of another character that mirrors him other than the one he plays himself. Johansson and Allen are fantastic in their many scenes side by side in this film, both showcasing the same classic manneurisms we're usually used to seeing in only one character a film. She plays a student journalist who is visited by the spirit of a recently deceased reporter who gives her the scoop of the decade, and all while in a magician's box during a trick. Ian McShane plays the reporter, who has learned the identity of the elusive tarot card killer - the only problem is that he's dead and on the way to total darkness with a boat ride navigated by the grim reaper himself. Allen is funnier than he has been in quite a while as the magician whose routine never change, and since he is the only person other than Johansson's character to come in contact with the spirit of the reporter, they team together to try and take down the murderer. Trouble is, they're going after Peter Lyman, who happens to be the son of a well respected lord. Helping the film out immensely is the casting of Hugh Jackman as Lyman, who plays the character with great ease and a lot of fun as he shifts from one mood to the next. The pleasure I got out of the film was enjoying the situations the characters get themselves into and how they attempt to weasel their way out of them. The performances in the film are all very good as they showcase great comic timing. The chemistry between the three leads is high, with Johansson shining the brightest on all accounts. At this point in her young but already impressive career she has split her audience, and I can't see this performance winning over her haters, but I'll think they will begin to come around sooner or later.

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I'm sure that most are rejoicing because Allen has called [i]Scoop [/i]his final comedy as he ventures toward other territory, but I don't think any step he has taken so far in his career should be frowned upon. Here is another solid entry into the legend's filmography, and if it is indeed his last comedy hurrah it is fine to end with.

The Break-Up
The Break-Up(2006)
½

Vince Vaughn has established himself as one of the premier comic actors in the world who can take control of any moment in a film by himself. I suppose the fast few years of Hollywood comedies he had success with led up to him receiving a hefty amount of control over [i]The Break-Up[/i], a film that he stars top billing, co-produces, and which even stemmed from an idea he drew up personally. Aside from Vaughn running the show there are a ton of reasons to anticipate seeing this film, because it looks to have something to entertain everyone. With a supporting cast that includes Jennifer Aniston, Joey Lauren Adams, Vincent D'Onofrio, Judy Davis, Cole Hauser, and even a [i]Swingers[/i]/[i]Made [/i]reunion with Jon Favreau, it would seem like a surefire winning comedy would develop. But as much as I like Vaughn and his ability to effectively rant his way through one hilarious scene after the other, there still has to be somewhat of a solid foundation to hold it together. Sadly, [i]The Break-Up [/i]doesn't use what it's been given the right way.

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The movie is directed by Peyton Reed, who broke out in a big way with the cheeleader comedy [i]Bring It On[/i], a film that I wouldn't say I liked but was much better than I expected it to be. I didn't become a fan of his until 2003 when he directed the wonderfully realized [i]Down With Love[/i], with Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger. There was a certain energy brought to that movie that really radiated through everyone involved, making it one of the best romantic comedies of recent years. I became excited to see what he might bring to his next film as the director, because with [i]Down With Love [/i]he seemed to control a great flow. But [i]The Break-Up [/i]doesn't take long to start disappointing, in fact, it does it right as we approach the opening credits. I know the film's biggest focus is supposed to be on the fueding, fighting and battling, but shouldn't we get at least 20-30 minutes of stuff when they're happily getting along? Maybe I'm just asking for too much, but I think it would benefit the film if we cared about their relationship before being plunged into the chaos. All we see of them getting along in their relationship is a photo montage that breezes along during the opening credits. This is a major mistake that the film pretty much never recovers from. After being so devastated by that I really had a hard time investing myself in the movie, therefore the laughs were at a minimum. Sure Vaughn is funny and at times flat-out hilarious, but he can only do so much for a film that amputated a major and necessary limb.

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As a result of getting no glimpse at their lives before the break up, we get a full-length movie that is filled far over the brim with nearly nothing but boring and unwanted nagging and relentless arguing. It is a shame that a film with promise like this one has to waste its talented actors so disappointingly. Vaughn and Aniston show that if in another, more smart and witty comedy, they could shine together. As for the rest of the cast, it seems as though they've been vastly underused. Joey Lauren Adams and D'Onofrio are two very interesting actors, yet in this film they receive parts not worthy of their talent or time. Reed really misfired with [i]The Break-Up[/i], but it's not without some laughs, courtesy of Vaughn and a few shining moments with old pal Favreau.

The Proposition

Singer. Songwriter. Musician. Film composer. Nick Cave has been doing what he does best for a very long time now, and he looks to master the craft of yet another title - screenwriter. In a recent interview with IFC, Cave noted that it was much easier for him to write a film as opposed to a song, and simply because you get 90-120 minutes to work with instead of 3-4. I can't say I'm an avid collector of Cave's music, but I've heard my fair share of his discography and it is all fantastic and unlike anything I've ever heard before. With his first attempt at writing a screenplay in 18 years (the first being 1988's [i]Ghosts...of the Civil War[/i]) Cave has created a world that draws us in in a way not unlike the effect his music has on us. It is a work of unique power, almost seeming effortless in its brilliance as it etches a spot beside [i]The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada [/i]as the films that have reinvented the Western genre.

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There is a Captain who aims to bring peace and civilization to his area, and in order to do this he must capture a gang of Irish brothers who are known to have raped and killed well known women of the town. We meet this man, Captain Stanley, who is played by Ray Winstone in a performance deserving of limitless acclaim, immediately after he traps 2/3 of the Irish gang known as the Burns brothers. The only trouble is that Arthur, the legitimately dangerous and psychotic of the three is nowhere to be found, leading Stanley to make a decision that will put his reputation and ultimately life on the line. He offers up [i]The Proposition[/i]. He will hold the Mickey, the youngest brother captive in a cell while at the same time releasing the middle one, Charlie into the open and free land. Charlie will have until Christmas to save his innocent and harmless younger brother's life, but in return he must bring Stanley the dead body of Arthur. It is the only possible way Stanley knows to go about resolving his dilemma, but should any of the townfolk come to find that he released Charlie the consequences would be staggering and an uproar would bleed across the local land. Cave and director John Hillcoat (who also directed [i]Ghosts...of the Civil War[/i]) have developed a new kind of Western storytelling and atmosphere, something that is nearly impossible but I've seend one with great triumph twice now in the past six months. There is a staggering, almost hellacious tint coated on the images in the film, with the land taking its toll on the characters of the film. From the opening sequence it is established that Cave has warned the audience of what they're about to embark on, a rude and cruel journey that will take no prisoners and grant no sympathy. There is violence in the film that will seal the fact that [i]The Proposition [/i]will only have a selective audience, but for those who can live through extremes and experience the film, chances are you'll come out mesmerized.

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The music score in the film, as you would expect coming from Cave, plays a key role in announcing a new voice in the Western genre. He has created it with the help of his friend and long time collaborator, Warren Ellis. It is a score that is never just pieces of music that rests in the background to lightly enhance scenes, but is actually a character in the movie. Everything on the filmmaking side of the film works to the greatest of its abilities, making this a wonderfully vile piece of art. Then there are the performances, which make the film even better than great as we find each and every actor involved investing all they have into their characters. One of the greatest things about Cave's script is that it provides numerous roles that are unlike anything these actors, or really any actors have played before. As Charlie Burns, Guy Pearce turns in a quietly haunting performance, finding all the right notes of a middle brother who is actually in the middle of a moral transition. On either side of him are two brothers who could not possibly be any different. Richard Wilson plays Mickey, the youngest of the three who had the bad luck of being born a Burns so he is automatically labeled a rapist and murderer, something he could most definitely never become and you'd know it within one second of meeting him. Then you have Arthur, who is played by Danny Huston in a remarkably gruesome performance as one of the most purely insane characters ever depicted in the movies. What is perhaps the most impressive thing about the film, though, is the great depth given to Captain Stanley's side of the story that is developing at the same time Charlie is making his treck across the Australian Outback. Winstone gives the best performance by an actor I've seen so far this year, giving Stanley many layers as he fights with illness and the the thoughts of a better life for him and his wife. She is played by the always great Emily Watson who is, well, great in the film. Rounding out an already amazing cast is John Hurt as a anciently old bounty hunter with a knack for going on drunken lectures with strangers. Simply put, [i]The Proposition [/i]must be one of the best films of the year, I'm sure of it...and it'll be there throughout the course of 2006.

Art School Confidential
½

The first time Terry Zwigoff decided to direct a film based on the comic works of Daniel Clowes, it resulted in what is still one of the most unique films of this decade, [i]Ghost World[/i]. His style of filmmaking went hand-in-hand with the unsual world in which Clowes lets his mind flow. Since making that masterpiece he has went on to direct the insulting - but hysterically so - [i]Bad Santa[/i]. Now, just five years after adapting a Clowes work, he is at it again with [i]Art School Confidential[/i]. This piece really seems like an entire story has stemmed from the art class Illeana Douglas taught in [i]Ghost World[/i], only this time the teacher is John Malkovich and the outcasted student is not Thora Birch, but Max Minghella.

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You'd think there would be nothing less than magic occurring again with these strange but wonderful artists collaborating, but from the opening scene of the movie its evident that something just isn't clicking this time, at least not fully. The atmosphere is still vintage Clowes and the characters seem to be as intriguing as they were in the past effort for the most, but Zwigoff is sort of lost, retreating to a different style behind the camera. The best way I can describe his approach at presenting Clowes' screenplay this time around is that he has leaned toward more of a [i]Bad Santa[/i]-like zaniness, and it doesn't fit quite right with a film like this. He has started to venture off into an almost purely comedic tone, nearly animated in its efforts. I actually found myself wincing a few times, wondering where the strange but poignant [i]Crumb [/i]and [i]Ghost World[/i]-era Zwigoff had gone, and would he ever return? Alright, maybe I should quit with the bashings and speak about the stuff I liked, which ultimately outweighed the stuff I didn't. Minghella plays Jerome, an artist with actual potential who earns the right to attend the most heralded school in the country, only to quickly find out that the majority's perception of art is preposterous and nothing like this. For instance, his teacher became largely acclaimed for sketching pictures of triangles, all of which are the same but viewed by the public as each brilliant in their own right. The teacher is played by the actor of a thousand diversities, John Malkovich. Along with his presence, Zwigoff has employed a number of other screen veterans for [i]Art School Confidential[/i], including Anjelica Huston and Steve Buscemi, who lend their time to a couple of small portions of the film. Jim Broadbent is also on board, leaving a lasting imprint as a rude, drunken man who resides in a rundown apartment complex with nothing but booze delivered frequently from one of Jerome's classmates. This is the most interesting character created by Clowes in [i]Art School Confidential[/i], as he could either be a villain or a muse...or is he both?

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The plot presents what proves to be too much for such a small running time, and Zwigoff clearly struggles at finding a way to direct it all cooperatively. Some things are meshing while others remain out of place, rusty and left to rot, but Clowes still manages to pump enough bits of clever comedy in the movie, constantly making me smirk at his stabs at what the majority of the world considers "art". Overall I'd say the movie succeeds as a comedy for a single viewing, but I'm going to be cautious the next time Zwigoff preps a new film, because he seems to be heading in a direction that would have no bright conclusion should he continue down the path.

The Lake House
½

For some reason Amanda and I decided on the mystical melodrama, [i]The Lake House[/i] for our latest theater venture, but I really have no answer why. For the weeks leading up to the film's release I cannot recall the number of times we saw the trailer, each time laughing more at the preposterous pitch of the premise, which is based on a 2000 Korean film entitled [i]Siworae[/i]. The whole idea of trying to pace out a feature-length film about two people connecting through time-traveling letters two years apart just seemed like it couldn't be done without holes galore. But this kind of thinking, one where we want all logic at all times, just shouldn't be taken with you if you see the movie, for you will spend all of your time spouting off sarcastic smirks at the ridiculous turns around every corner.Early on in the picture I noticed myself doing that, but as it went along I learned to rest my brain and give [i]The Lake House [/i]a chance to win me over on the entertainment and chemistry level.

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Keanu Reeves plays an architect named Alex living in 2004 and Sandra Bullock is Kate, a doctor existing in 2006. As the story begins we see Kate departing from her stay at an enchanting lake house. She leaves a letter in the mailbox noted to whoever may stay their next, stating her new address in case she needs any of her mail forwarded to her should it happen to be sent there. At the same time, except two years earlier, we meet Alex as he is beginning his stay at the lake house in an effort to renovate it to its full potential. He receives the letter and from then on, after a little reality check and persuasion from both sides, a weird, time-traveling, sort of pen pal relationship blossoms. Now, as I previously said, it took me some time to get used to the entire fantasy part of the story and know that I was actually watching a piece of cinema, where anything should be able to happen if one is prepared to let it. I think what also held me up in the beginning stages was the teaming of Reeves and Bullock, two actors that I don't really care for but can be good at times. I liked their first time together in a film, but that was in the action-thriller [i]Speed[/i], so it was a little easier for them to get by because that was a movie not relying on great chemistry of the lead actors. Now here they meet again, and twelve years later, for a project that rests entirely in their hands, living or dying on the effect of their performances. It took me no time, and surprisingly so, to get involved in Bullock's performance. She is undoubtedly good in the role of Kate and leaves no trace of the usual characterizations from her other films, which she also managed to do in [i]Crash[/i]. As the architect, Reeves is very up and down in this film. He is one of the strangest actors to ever grace the screen in my opinion, having the ability to be both good and awfully bad at the same time. Here there are times when he is very effective, but he just cannot go the whole film without some nearly laughable moments in which he obviously has a tough time performing. There are at least two instances, extremely important and dramatic ones, that he damages. Still, when Reeves and Bullock share the screen the movie actually shows great hope, it's just too bad there wasn't enough of that.

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Giving the movie some more hope are performances by two outstanding actors, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Christopher Plummer. Aghdashloo is tremendously right for her part as Kate's co-worker in the hospital, and she makes you want her around for more screen time. Plummer, who is always good no matter what the film is, plays Alex's distant and cold architect father. Reeves gives some of his best stuff when he acts in scenes with Plummer, who makes everyone around him better. The relationship between these two (and also the brother played Ebon Moss-Bachrach) adds a much needed layer to the story. What I most respected about [i]The Lake House[/i] was the genuine wholesome feeling it radiates with throughout. It represents a dying genre of movies, and no I'm not talking about the cheesy romantic melodrama - we all know there are plenty of those. I'm talking about the kind of love story that doesn't have a single speck of anything even remotely detrimental to the eyes or ears of any human being. Sometimes I am just in the mood for a step backward from the gruesome, rude, and unneeded mechanisms of modern cinema. And like the film Reeves starred in over ten years ago, [i]A Walk in the Clouds[/i], this deserves some merit for at least coming out with an authentically good feeling.

United 93
United 93(2006)

Five years really isn't a very long time, especially if we're talking about asking moviegoers to recover from the after effects of a tragedy like 9/11 and watch a film about it. When I first saw the ads emerging for [i]United 93[/i] earlier this year I had it in my mind that I wasn't going to see the movie. That decision wasn't because I couldn't handle watching a film depicting the events of that day, it's just that didn't want to be fed some Hollywood pumped-up version that would be made with no purpose other than to cash in at the box-office. The trailer for the movie had me at a loss for thoughts. I didn't know what director Paul Greengrass' outline for the film would focus on, and because no one really knows just what exactly happened that day, I feared that it could very well create its own fictional events and heroes and enemies. A few days before its release I began to debate about seeing it on opening day. The critics reviews were marvelous, but I really didn't know if I could rely on those for a film based on an event like this, and simply because there could easily be ravings all around even if the movie was bad, with reviewers everywhere feeling like they have to rate it high or they'd be considered a "terrorist". I'm just saying you never know, especially with the country the way it is today. One thing that always stuck inside my head before seeing it was the movie's unconventional casting method, where not a single name is household or even vaguely familiar. This sort of idea is essentially behind every aspect of the creation of the movie, where everything is done the only way it rightfully could've been. It is straight forward, without unneeded back stories of countless characters, fictionalized situations to jerk the tears, accusations or finger-pointings, and so on.

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Greengrass, whose previous films include [i]Bloody Sunday [/i]and [i]The Bourne Supremacy[/i], directs in a style that is not unlike those two, but with a great, endless care for observation. It is one of the most entrancing and powerful movies I have ever seen, seeming like the closest thing we'll ever see to a documented account of the real human fears that struck all involved that day, from both sides. The camerawork should take home a heavy load of awards. The film is called [i]United 93[/i], and that's exactly what it is about and nothing else. It's not even necessarily a movie about September 11th, but an observation of the last moments in the lives of everyone involved on board that plane. I think it is a very sad thing that this film did not do all that well at the box-office. The numbers for the movie do not reflect numbers that I think should appear in the country that something like this tragedy occured in. Maybe it is due to the fact that most people just aren't ready for to be reminded on film of the horrific morning, which I can totally understand if that's the case. But somewhere in the back of my mind I'm always thinking about the possibility that the casting turned off American moviegoers. If it's true that the majority of us really need a Cruise, Cage, or Travolta on top of a film about 9/11 just to go see it, then I am deeply saddened. We shall find out in August, when Oliver Stone's big-time Hollywood epic, [i]World Trade Center[/i], is released. It stars Nicolas Cage.

Friends With Money

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener's films always feature a number of women at the forefront, searching for a way to live and breathe cooperatively with the people that surround them. I saw her first film [i]Walking and Talking [/i]a few years back, not knowing what to expect from a new director, and ended up satisfied. By the time I left the theater in 2002 after a viewing of her second feature, [i]Lovely and Amazing[/i], she instantly achieved major status for filmmaking in my book. So, with no real room for improvement or impression-making after already establishing that she could create a masterpiece, we'd expect nothing less than greatness with her third feature, [i]Friends With Money[/i]. Anything less would be considered a disappointment. If looked at in the persepective then the movie would be a letdown, but that doesn't mean it's not a very good film nonethelss...which it is.

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Jennifer Aniston gets her most interesting role since [i]The Good Girl [/i]here, playing the outcast in her group of yuppie friends. She is the only one who isn't married or wealthy, but does that really make her a failure? To her friends it does, as we find them at frequent dinner parties criticizing her both directly and indirectly. This is really the main occupation of all the women, gossipping for the sake of gossipping and never leaving a moment vacant for analyzation of their own lives, which just might need a bit of fixing up, too. Her friends are played by Holofcener-regular Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, and Joan Cusack in roles that are all different but equal at the same time. Their characters are all written with what seems like the same actors in mind, playing to their manneurisms and actions, but the parts are sort of on a ladder of likability when it comes to the writing. Keener stands at the top, with a part that is focused on extremely well and acted with her usual effortless feistiness and radiance all at once. But this is the only one of the three friends that is a fully realized and fleshed out character, with McDormand in the middle and Cusack at the bottom, getting a role that doesn't ever bust out of its box to let breathe. McDormand is cranky toward everything and everyone she comes into contact with, a role we've seen her in numerous times over the years so we know she can do that well. She is married to a man who everyone sees is homosexual but her, and as the movie goes on it is he who is dealt with more in the screenplay and sort of overshadows her character immensely.

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The best couple of the film by far is Keener and Jason Isaacs. They play screenwriting partners who have lost the love in their relationship completely, which can be credited to many things, but mostly to the choice of sharing the same profession, making it nearly impossible for each to escape the other's company. The three friends in the film all have what at the surface seems like a perfect life, featuring security both domestically and financially. So why doesn't Aniston's character want to follow in their footsteps? Because she sees what we get to see - the rock bottom core of their [i]actual [/i]lives. Holofcener once again does a good job of incorporating comedy into story with not a lot to smile about. And although she doesn't quite hit the bullseye as far as carefully treading ground to reach a purely wonderful conclusion as she did in [i]Lovely and Amazing[/i], the ride taken throughout [i]Friends With Money [/i]still proves to be quality stuff from the director.

American Dreamz

Paul Weitz has done a pretty great job at keeping his comedic mind intact after helming numerous Hollywood projects, with most of them turning out solid. He's part of a rare group of individuals who've managed to think freely and semi-independently with big budgets weighing on them. What's even more stunning is that it seems like by the end of each film they've still got what was in their mind in the first place up on the finished product, free of at least some unwanted corruption. With his latest work, [i]American Dreamz[/i], he is offering up a limit pusher that will really test audiences as he deals with relevant topics of today. One of those obviously being the political system, and the other the undeniable power of reality television. Why [i]American Idol [/i]is a relevant topic in this country I do not know, but it has managed to become such a phenomenon that it has reach an idiotic point.

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I wish I could say that Weitz's film goes so far over-the-top in its depictions of people reducing themselves to new and ultimate lows of human behavior when they're reality time slot approaches the tube, or maybe even when they think they too could be "the next big thing with a hip record deal", but I don't think it strecthes a bit. Hugh Grant plays a version of Simon Cowell and Dennis Quaid plays our President, and it's bold the way these roles are written to be pretty much [i]exactly [/i]like the actual people in every way. These two actors, among others in the film, have already worked with Weitz in the past and it proves to be an essential ingredient to making the performances work to their best ability, for they're automatically comfortable and know what each other is thinking. Grant in particular should be hugging the writer/director daily, for he is the single reason the actor has gotten any type of great role and something other than what we're used to seeing from him in every other movie. With that being said, this is his best performance since [i]About A Boy[/i], and I bet you can guess who directed that one. We are introduced to the President shortly after his re-election, and on a day that he picks up the newspaper and decides to read it. He wants to do some actual thinking for a change, and all by himself is the key. This sudden choice to find things out for himself sparks a tiny little rebellious attitude, one where he locks the door to his room and refuses to come out and talk to the public. This causes havoc in the White House, which puts major stress on a Dick Chaney-clone VP, played with all the right notes by Willem Dafoe. After weeks of attempts at persuading him to show his face again by both the VP and first lady (played perfectly by Marcia Gay Harden), they finally find the perfect thing to do - offer the President to make a special guest on his favorite show, [i]American Dreamz[/i]. This will work out to unstoppable heights for both the approval ratings and television ratings if staged well, but will the President let his newly found mind get in the way of the scheme?

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The screenplay, which is also written by Weitz, is ambitious to even think about writing. The final outcome of the movie does have its bumps along the way and it often finds itself a little messy and maybe too many things are happening for one film, but the risk alone is worth mounds of respect for. He also does a superb job of casting all around, even in the tiniest of roles. He finds a way to use Mandy Moore in the right way, much like it was done correctly in [i]Saved![/i], by giving her a prissy little girl who lives in her own self-indulgent world to go off with, and she does an admirable job. I loved the frank depictions of the "real" characters and its suggestions of the resemblance in power both the President and [i]American Idol[/i] have on this country, with the latter almost coming out on top as an unstoppable juggernaut, spawning countless other shows of the same kind. It is a film that goes with a daring idea and results in a very good film, but not a fantastic one. But for it to even achieve what it has done is satisfying enough and should've garnered much more of an audience than its $7 million box-office numbers show.

Lucky Number Slevin

In their first collaboration, actor Josh Hartnett and director Paul McGuigan managed to pull off an effective remake in [i]Wicker Park[/i], something that didn't seem possible if you were making predictions based on the movie's advertisements. They must have formed a fast and healthy working relationship, because just two years later they're together again to bring us a strange little move called [i]Lucky Number Slevin[/i]. Hartnett's personal friend, Jason Smilovic wrote the screenplay and milked the actor's popularity to leak it into the hands of McGuigan, and that's where the young man's screenwriting career officially took off. It's yet another script filled with countless twists and turns and turns and twists, and that's just by the middle of the film, leaving much more time for even more twists, turns, and so on, making it difficult for a film to be any sort of plausible upon conclusion. On top of that, we've got McGuigan trying to tinker with many different styles of filmmaking to deal with. Needless to say, [i]Lucky Number Slevin[/i] can be fairly irritating at times. But it does feature a stellar set of actors, giving me reason enough to have some respect for it.

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It is in the beginning stages of the film that it really never finds a steady enough focal point to move it along in a smooth and understandable-enough manner. We are guided through the whole setup and on occasional stops throughout the movie by a mysterious hitman who always seems to be in the middle of everything that's happening at all times. Bruce Willis, who has been incredibly busy as of late, plays this character with a strong, silent presence in another likable performance. Nearly all of the mistakes the movie makes occur during the first act, where we see a whole lot of fast, jumble shots, mostly of flashback sequences. I admired the attempt McGuigan made at directing the film in a new and fresh way, but he tends to get a little too caught up in camera trickery, among other things. It's easier to focus on these little mistakes early on in the film because there really aren't any of the premier performers on the cast list around to overshadow the flaws. It is not until about thirty minutes in that they all come together and everything becomes more entertaining, making these small mistakes more easily excusable. Hartnett is Slevin, who is a nobody that seems to have clumsily fell into a bad situation of mistaken identity, making him owe major sums of money to both sides of the organized crime families of the area. Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley play each kingpin in two very well created roles which are made into very entertaining characters by the two masters. Freeman has broken free of his standard good-natured role for the first time in what seems like forever, and it's welcome here, while Kinglsey just continues to show how effortless it is for him to tackle anything proposed to him.

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As the story continues and the film begins to approach its payoff (or should I say payoffs) it never really gave me a cause to either hate it or love it. I think the mixture of the nearly dreadful beginning and the fairly impressive second half left me with the neutral feeling I have now. [i]Lucky Number Slevin [/i]is simply neither something to avoid or to recommend, which ultimately will work in its favor on DVD I think. I must give the film a rating more on the good side than bad because even though I can't say I'm a fan of the movie, it really does entertain more often than not. It definitely is one to give a shot on video as opposed to theaters, with the performers rising above the scattered script for the most part.

A Prairie Home Companion

Filmmaking legend Robert Altman continues to find new ways to amaze us which he has done for five solid decades now with his most recent masterwork, [i]A Prairie Home Companion[/i]. This joyous piece of work was brought to us from the endlessly entertaining and thoughtful mind of Garrison Keillor, whose screenplay was taken from his past thirty years of running a radio program of the same name. From the very beginning moments of the film and on through the body and even after leaving the theater and moving on with my day, I marveled in my head numerous times over the brilliance Keillor possesses in all aspects of spinning purely delightful and real moments. He is as imaginative, funny, and whimsical as anyone I can think of in the entertainment world and I have great jealousy for those who have known of and followed him for the past thirty years.

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We become acquainted withy the outfit of the whole shebang by Guy Noir, a private eye who for the last six years has resorted to serving duty as head of security for the [i]Prairie [/i]show, and simply because there was a shortage of adultery occurences. Noir, who is molded into an actual person for the movie as opposed to mere mentions of him existing on the radio show, is played by Kevin Kline in his most top form comedic performance since [i]A Fish Called Wanda[/i]. From his narrative introduction in a small diner called Mickey's, we are taken to our humble abode for most of the film, the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. And on its last night standing nonetheless. After five decades of weekly broadcasts and also many years of being the only source of life left in the nostalgic period of musical performance, [i]Prairie [/i]has been bought out and the Fitzgerald will soon be turned into a parking lot. As he does better than anyone, Altman observantly directs a world packed with a constant flow of people, all getting equal attention from the master, and all the while making it look so effortless. With Keillor's pitch-perfect, script he is off and running into the hustle and bustle of a back stage atmosphere, which is made all the more hectic because of each person's thoughts of the end nearing in the back of their heads. Among the musicians set to perform are Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson, two singing sisters played by Meryl Streep and Altman-familiar-face Lily Tomlin in maybe the single greatest piece of passionate teamwork acting I've ever seen. Streep once again illuminates and turns in an award-worthy performance, making it just that much easier to call her the greatest actress ever. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly had me never wanting them to leave the screen as Dusty and Lefty, two country twangers with a mischievous side to their lyrics. There is also an intriguing old-timer named Chuck Akers (played by LQ Jones) who appears and becomes one of the many gems in Keillor's mixed bag of wonderful storytelling.

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This film really is a shining light that clearly stands out in the mostly dimmed down movies to be released so far this year. It is a gift to audiences everywhere that Keillor's precious and fragile world was given to Altman, and when they take off together there is never a moment left without magic or significance. There are so many more things that I could attempt to break into about the film's countless delightful moments, and characters that I haven't even got around to speaking of, but it must be left to you to uncover it all. I just do not see how anyone would consider this anything less than a cause for celebration. For your own good, please go experience [i]A Prairie Home Companion[/i].

Mission: Impossible III

I am a fan of Brian DePalma's effort in the [i]Mission: Impossible [/i]series, but after viewing the John Woo directed sequel I fell off the franchise's bandwagon. His style of filmmaking, in many ways like Michael Bay's, becomes tiresome and irritating in its constant revolving and scattering. At that time, which was in 2000, I was highly angered with the disappointment of [i]MI:2 [/i]and vowed repeatedly to never give another one a chance should it ever be released. Well, it's been quite a long time since then and I've had the opportunity to get over the one mistake and give Cruise and company another shot. So on opening day I was there with a slate wiped clean of all Woo [i]Mission [/i]memories. Since that day I've been back to see it twice more. I think it's safe to say that I enjoyed this one.

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Being the absolute television hater that I am, I had trouble feeling comfortable with the fact that the director hired for [i]MI:III [/i]was J.J. Abrams, someone with no film experience. Although I am not a fan of either DePalma or Woo, they were qualified to helm their installments. Abrams has so far only been responsible for everything television, most acclaimed are his direction on shows like [i]Alias [/i]and [i]Lost[/i], two programs I have absolutely zero interest in. Maybe I'm being too overly harsh on Abrams, because after all, I've only seen commercials for both of those shows and never watched even a second of a real episode. No, I think my skepticism is fine, because in my opinion, if you've seen one television suspense show you've seen them all. Even with Abrams on board, though, I was still ready to give the franchise another go. The best thing they've done with the third [i]Mission [/i]is created everything fresh, without any sort of link or obligation to the past films, making it its own movie. I know that may seem like a totally irresponsible thing to do and with most sequels it would be, but here the screenwriters do extremely well by retreating and constructing a no boundaries action juggernaut. The only thing that's familiar from the other films is the relationship between Ethan Hunt and the Ving Rhames character, heading the missions. Abrams quickly washed away my worries and does a really good job at fashioning an all-out entertaining popcorn movie. His mixture of hand-held and sometimes calm camerawork proves to be the most impressive filmmaking techniques the [i]Mission [/i]movies have seen thus far, proving a rookie can outperform two veteran directors of suspense.

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The casting this time around is the most diverse and talented of the trilogy by far, throwing in the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman as the terrific villain, Billy Crudup, Johnathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, Simon Pegg, and Laurence Fishburne. Most of these names (excluding Fishburne of course) would be very low on at least my list of action movie actors, but seeing them all mixed in here and with fun roles all around is actually perfect. Cruise is once again stellar as Hunt, and still without the need of a stunt double for 99% of the time. He and Abrams have pumped new blood into the franchise, making the third one the best of the bunch and one of the most flat-out fun action movies in recent memory. The only setback of the film is the misfiring of the sentimental scenes between Cruise and Michelle Monaghan, which are usually disruptive to the overall flow of the movie and are just played out awkwardly. Plus, like any summer blockbuster, theyr'e not without some laughable sequences tossed in. Overall, Abrams is very skilled at directing films in this genre, and maybe he needs to stick with action and action alone.

V for Vendetta
½

I am a big fan of surprises. Here we have a move that I had absolutely no anticipation of seeing, yet ended up enjoying, when a week earlier I saw film in [i]Inside Man[/i] that I was eager to see, but was disappointed. These kind of instances pop up with great frequency in the early stages of each Hollywood year, and this one, which occured during the closing out of March, really caught me off guard. Most of the reason I had little anticipation to see [i]V for Vendetta [/i]was because I had no previous knowledge of the source material, being the graphic novel penned by Alan Moore. All I had to influence me was the advertisements - once again - which didn't persuade me in the slightest. I thought it would be a film to pass up for sure, with the ads seeming to portray another braindead action film piled with endless, slo-mo, cookie cutter fight scenes, and featuring a protagonist that for the unkowing viewer would be nothing more than another mysteriously caped guy with an idiotic mask. I am overjoyed, however, that I didn't let these ads stop me from seeing it in theaters.

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Andy and Larry Wachowski have made their entire living for the past decade on everything [i]The Matrix[/i], and this marks their first time back involved in the creation of something non-Neo since. They have taken the task of adapting Moore's piece into a Hollywood-sized film and have done a fantastic job. When Robert Rodriguez adapted Frank Miller's [i]Sin City[/i] into a film last year, I also had no idea of that material prior as well, but was very grateful to have known great storytelling like that existed. This is what the Wachowski brothers and director James McTiegue have done with [i]Vendetta[/i], distributing an important, really different way of making a point through a higher and more commercial venue. There are some people who just aren't into dissecting the world of graphic novels, me being one of them. But sometimes, and I'm grateful when it comes along, the unique ones are brought to screenwriters and filmmakers attention and they make it their mission to let it be known to the world and beyond. This is a beautiful thing. The idea behind this film is such an intriguing, unconventional and thought-provoking one that it almost seems unreal that it's displayed in a genre like this, but it proves to be a genius way to make these thoughts projected universally.

[i]"People should not be afraid their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." - V[/i]

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Natalie Portman takes on what is really a demanding and challenging role, and it can only be appreciated fully if you see the entire movie. She showed a good step forward in maturity with her role in [i]Closer[/i], and it is in this film that she has given her first outstanding performance. In a film filled with powerful presence and a unique story that relies heavily on "actions" more than action, it is Portman who, in the end, will be the deciding factor of the movie's success or failure. She is absolutely incredible in this film and really deserves much acclaim for her performance as Evey. Wachowski favorite Hugo Weaving plays the masked V, a character that quickly gained my respect, erasing all skepticism the trailer planted in my head. What is really fascinating about the storytelling is the amount of time it spends on developing not only Evey and V, but also Finch, a detective on their trail played by the limitless Stephen Rea. There is not enough good that can be said about Rea in really every performance he's ever given, and here it is no exception as he is perfectly cast in what is already an interesting character, but is taken to a new level by the actor. At 131 mintes, [i]V for Vendetta [/i]never made me watch the clock and wait for an end. It makes you think and keeps you entertained, something that cannot be said for most Hollywood movies released in the present time.

Over the Hedge

I wouldn't say that I'm not a fan of animated movies, it's just that I get tired of giving them chances in theaters, and I think mostly because I've had such bad luck with the ones I've chosen over the last few years. I don't have many animated movies reviewed on here because there are so many released every month/year that I don't know which ones to see. The critics' reviews aren't very reliable to go by when deciding to see a film of this genre, so its basically just based on the feeling I get from the trailers. I usually only get around to seeing one, maybe two each year on the big screen, and over the last five years I can only remember loving a couple. So far this year there has only been one trailer that's got my animated anticipation stirring, and that would be from the always intriguing Pixar, with [i]Cars[/i]. As far as [i]Over the Hedge [/i]is concerned, I didn't really care for the trailer, although I liked the idea of bringing in Bruce Willis, Steve Carrell, Nick Nolte, Allison Janney, and Thomas Haden Church in for voice work. It can't be said that I had a desire to see this film, but after an absolutley atrocious experience we had with [i]Poseidon[/i], anything else would've been better. This was just the closest door to the one we walked out of.

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From the smile-inducing opening scene on, [i]Over the Hedge [/i]is a terrific animated film that is very smart with its humor at times, making it easy for the adults to participate. Bruce Willis does a great job and has an evident amount of fun voicing R.J. the raccoon, who has an addiction to any sort of leftover junk food from trash bins. So much of an addiction that it gets him in serious trouble after he attempts to steal some from Vincent, a grumpy old bear. Nick Nolte could seem like an odd choice but proves to be natural for the part of Vincent with grisly voice. His mission is to recover all of Vincent's belongings (including the red wagon) before he wakes up from a little hibernation, or he'll turn into food for the big fella. This takes R.J. on a journey through the treacherous lawns of suburbia, featuring encounters with new friends, automobiles, humans, and eventually a pest control villain. What I like a lot about the film is how it manages to add every sort of animal that we're all used to seeing as roadkill or flashing eyes in the headlights amidst the thick brush as lovable characters with feelings. It also has some great wit and tricks that come out of nowhere from the screenplay, and especially when they hit suburbia.

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In the main plot of the movie we're seeing the old Woody vs. Buzz Lightyear routine that we've become quite familiar with over the last decade. This time the battle for leader is between R.J. and a turtle named Verne. The similarities between this and [i]Toy Story [/i]on this subject go further than just the movie. In both films the two characters are voiced by both a major movie star and an actor who had most of his success from television. Hanks and Allen, and now Willis and Garry Shandling. The collaboration worked better in [i]Toy Story, [/i]and for many reasons, but mostly because Allen was perfect for Buzz, and Shandling just doesn't ever seem to click into the role Verne. He's actually the only voice in the movie that doesn't sound like he's giving his all. There are few times that I would ever walk into a movie I had no desire to see, and even fewer that I've come out of happy when doing so. At the end of the day, [i]Poseidon [/i]being absolute garbage was not all a bad thing because I never would've thought of giving [i]Over the Hedge [/i]a chance without that. This is a major delight and one of the few recommendable films to kick off the summer.

Inside Man
Inside Man(2006)
½

As I sit here and write a review for Spike Lee's latest film, [i]Inside Man[/i], I realize that I have a lot of catching up to do...and not only with the nearly double-digit movies I'm behind on for theater viewings, but also in my head. I have to take some steps backward in my mind to critique this film, the one that started my ever-annoying writeless streak all the way back on March 24th when seeing it on opening day. Luckily I was given a very good memory, and not even the dozens of movies I've seen since then could fog it up.

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Back sometime in the early stages of March I posted a list of my most anticipated movies of the spring. Being a pretty big Spike Lee fan and of really every actor involved in this film, it ranked high on that list. The promise of the people taking part in the movie and the strong effect of the trailer had me there on opening day, as noted before. I knew that on a box-office level it would be totally new territory for a film helmed by Lee, and that's almost all due to the casting of his frequent leading man Denzel Washington, but also adding Jodie Foster and the high-rising Clive Owen to the mix wouldn't hurt. Another element that had never been a part of his films is a big time Hollywood name on the producer list. Yes, Brian Grazer came aboard and Universal has distributed the movie. So I came into an opening day theater at a Spike Lee movie and its a crowd bigger than the last three of his I've seen combined on the big screen. Maybe this was the time he started to reach out to an even bigger audience with a commercial success. Immediately as the film opened I just sensed a small disappointment arising. There were the usual elements of his films there, like the way he appreciates the city of New York to the fullest with his towering shots, but there's also a feeling of something else that constantly holds the movie and its director back from beginning to end. There's no complaining here for any of the performers. Washington delivers as always, Owen is commanding, and Foster does what she does. Still, the screenplay faults them to a point and there characters take a step in the wrong direction as the movie goes along. Supporting players, like Chiwetel Ejiofor and Christopher Plummer, eventually become more interesting and fun to watch than the main leads. Something else that bothered me was the uneven cinematography by Matthew Libatique, which is at some times the standard for a Lee film, but mostly is all over the place and unsettling, especially when you're looking for the kind of brilliance that the filmmaker has established for over two decades now.


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Another thing that I thought the movie did wrong was try to incorporate some comic relief bits here and there. I mean, I think it could have been done, but the instances where it's brought up are untimely and mess with the suspenseful effects at important times. I also thought that the entire story with Washington's wife was a distraction and not given enough time to breathe, therefore making the final scene of the movie a forgettable one, not to mention leaving me on a sour note as I departed the theater. I'm very happy that the movie has done well at the box-office, even if I thought it was a misfire for Lee. It's great to see him succeed commercially on a level like this, knowing that he'll have another chance soon (between independent films, of course) and will come back with a fantastic picture.

Poseidon
Poseidon(2006)

Coming off a viewing of Wolfgang Petersen's second straight horrible movie, I was beginning to wonder if I'd been drugged by someone and forced to buy tickets for this piece of trash. Thinking about that possibility, I really wish that was my excuse, but it's not. No, the truth is that I was once again fooled by a theatrical trailer. For some reason, the images in the trailer for [i]Poseidon[/i] misguided me into thinking it looked promising, and seeing it again after watching the movie, it still is a good trailer...far better than the movie itself. The people at Warner Bros. hired a tricky little editor to piece together a preview with the least amount of dialogue and the largest collection of the best looking CGI shots from the film, leaving the terrible stuff for the ones who actually take the time to watch the entire movie. It is by the far the best fraud performance of any trailer this year, but at least not too many people have fallen victim to it.

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I have countless complaints, but I'll keep those to a minimum and make this review a lot shorter than it could be. First and foremost is the gigantic failure of a screenplay this movie possesses. The introductions to each character are boring and uninformative, the conversations feel unreal, and the actors, every single one of them, seem like they're reading cue cards attached to the boom mics or something. There is absolutely no time spent on letting the audience care for the people before disaster strikes, and by 15 minutes in we're already shoved into chaos. By this time I found myself watching a movie as opposed to experiencing one, which is so desperately what I wanted to be doing at a film like this. Secondly, it has to be noted that Petersen has officially injured his storied filmmaking career by having his name atop the creation list of this film, which is arugably the worst remake ever. And whats worse is that he knows, possibly more than any other director, how to manage making a water film work. Apart from the movie's unnecessary rush to get to the action, its supporting cast behind Josh Lucas and Kurt Russell is for the most part, helpless, but also just plain not good as stand alone performances. One to note in particular is Emmy Rossum, who is WAY overrated as an actress and manages to take part in a blockbuster that's even worse than [i]The Day After Tomorrow[/i], which she also gave a lackluster performance in. There are way too many side characters introduced for a movie that can't even focus enough to fill us in on its leads. I don't have a thing positive to say about this movie, but I stil feel reluctant to give it a big zero score. There's just something especially horrifying about that dreadful rating that only certain movies have the power to achieve, and although this one is awful, it's just not ZERO awful. Another reason why I wouldn't feel right rating it rock bottom is because Amanda and I didn't stick around for the end of the movie. Yes, it's that bad. At least I can't ever call [i]Troy [/i]Petersen's worst movie ever again.

X2: X-Men United

By the time Bryan Singer's second go 'round with this franchise, [i]X-Men United [/i]was released, I was partially excited to see how he continued the series as I enjoyed the first installment quite well. [i]X2[/i] was received extremely well both critically and commercially and miles above its predecessor, and although I mildly enjoyed it, I must admit that it was nowhere near the original. At this point a big damper was put on the series and the anticipation was not going to be there should a third one emerge. A few years and a new director later, we are introduced to [i]X-Men: The Last Stand[/i], helmed by Brett Ratner, a rather strange and shaky choice for the third time around.

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I can't really explain what made me get out there and see this one on opening weekend, because it definitely wasn't out of great need sparked by anticipation. I guess a portion of the choice could be credited to the title of the film, which hints at the possibility of it being the final installment. If that was going to be the case then I thought I could give it a good enough chance on the big screen, because it it all ended in three then it could possibly pull off a semi-successful series of films without becoming all-out boring and repetitive. Other than a pretty dull introduction involving early stages of a couple of important mutant's lives, there proves to be no reason to bash Ratner's effort here as he takes over the [i]X-Men [/i]world. He does as good a job as he can at balancing screen time for each character, all the while having to juggle about a dozen new ones into the mix. But, keeping true to the growing use of CGI in superhero movies, [i]The Last Stand [/i]is an insane overload of animated people, places, and things that not even its first two predecessors combined could come close to. The premise behind this film is obviously designed from the thought of incorporating endless effects, which at certain points become just too much and ultimately plastic looking. As Jean Grey is resurrected early on in the film she becomes an asset to both good and evil, and throughout the movie she contributes in large amounts to each side. This results in Famke Janssen getting her face and body computer generated, and most of the time looking extremely fake when she gets in her irratic moods. With as many characters as the [i]X-Men [/i]movies throw at an audience, it's hard for me to enjoy them when they continue to focus on effects much more than the development of the mutants - both new and old.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/twentieth_century_fox/x_men__the_last_stand/_group_photos/famke_janssen13.jpg[/img]

I understand the need for effects, but there has to be a line drawn, and the [i]X-Men [/i]movies are continuing to abuse them more and more and it's killing the franchise for me. However, I can't say that I wasn't at least a little entertained with [i]The Last Stand[/i]. Hugh Jackman is still highly likable as Wolverine, and Ian McKellan comes back strong again as Magneto. There are some actors that only stick around in their familiar role for a very small amount of time in this one, I'm sure written that way to accomodate their personal schedules, but they're really not missed anyway. What's most disappointing is that the title seems to have deceived its audience. There are many things that happen throughout the film that would seemingly make [i]The Last Stand [/i]the natural choice to lay the series to rest, but as it closes there is the ever famous wide opening for another installment. That would definitely be a major mistake, but as long as the franchise is breaking out at the box-office, Hollywood will give us [i]X-Men[/i] movies and all others like it by the handful each summer.

X-Men: The Last Stand

By the time Bryan Singer's second go 'round with this franchise, [i]X-Men United [/i]was released, I was partially excited to see how he continued the series as I enjoyed the first installment quite well. [i]X2[/i] was received extremely well both critically and commercially and miles above its predecessor, and although I mildly enjoyed it, I must admit that it was nowhere near the original. At this point a big damper was put on the series and the anticipation was not going to be there should a third one emerge. A few years and a new director later, we are introduced to [i]X-Men: The Last Stand[/i], helmed by Brett Ratner, a rather strange and shaky choice for the third time around.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/twentieth_century_fox/x_men_3/_group_photos/hugh_jackman1.jpg[/img]

I can't really explain what made me get out there and see this one on opening weekend, because it definitely wasn't out of great need sparked by anticipation. I guess a portion of the choice could be credited to the title of the film, which hints at the possibility of it being the final installment. If that was going to be the case then I thought I could give it a good enough chance on the big screen, because it it all ended in three then it could possibly pull off a semi-successful series of films without becoming all-out boring and repetitive. Other than a pretty dull introduction involving early stages of a couple of important mutant's lives, there proves to be no reason to bash Ratner's effort here as he takes over the [i]X-Men [/i]world. He does as good a job as he can at balancing screen time for each character, all the while having to juggle about a dozen new ones into the mix. But, keeping true to the growing use of CGI in superhero movies, [i]The Last Stand [/i]is an insane overload of animated people, places, and things that not even its first two predecessors combined could come close to. The premise behind this film is obviously designed from the thought of incorporating endless effects, which at certain points become just too much and ultimately plastic looking. As Jean Grey is resurrected early on in the film she becomes an asset to both good and evil, and throughout the movie she contributes in large amounts to each side. This results in Famke Janssen getting her face and body computer generated, and most of the time looking extremely fake when she gets in her irratic moods. With as many characters as the [i]X-Men [/i]movies throw at an audience, it's hard for me to enjoy them when they continue to focus on effects much more than the development of the mutants - both new and old.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/twentieth_century_fox/x_men__the_last_stand/_group_photos/famke_janssen13.jpg[/img]

I understand the need for effects, but there has to be a line drawn, and the [i]X-Men [/i]movies are continuing to abuse them more and more and it's killing the franchise for me. However, I can't say that I wasn't at least a little entertained with [i]The Last Stand[/i]. Hugh Jackman is still highly likable as Wolverine, and Ian McKellan comes back strong again as Magneto. There are some actors that only stick around in their familiar role for a very small amount of time in this one, I'm sure written that way to accomodate their personal schedules, but they're really not missed anyway. What's most disappointing is that the title seems to have deceived its audience. There are many things that happen throughout the film that would seemingly make [i]The Last Stand [/i]the natural choice to lay the series to rest, but as it closes there is the ever famous wide opening for another installment. That would definitely be a major mistake, but as long as the franchise is breaking out at the box-office, Hollywood will give us [i]X-Men[/i] movies and all others like it by the handful each summer.

X-Men
X-Men(2000)

By the time Bryan Singer's second go 'round with this franchise, [i]X-Men United [/i]was released, I was partially excited to see how he continued the series as I enjoyed the first installment quite well. [i]X2[/i] was received extremely well both critically and commercially and miles above its predecessor, and although I mildly enjoyed it, I must admit that it was nowhere near the original. At this point a big damper was put on the series and the anticipation was not going to be there should a third one emerge. A few years and a new director later, we are introduced to [i]X-Men: The Last Stand[/i], helmed by Brett Ratner, a rather strange and shaky choice for the third time around.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/twentieth_century_fox/x_men_3/_group_photos/hugh_jackman1.jpg[/img]

I can't really explain what made me get out there and see this one on opening weekend, because it definitely wasn't out of great need sparked by anticipation. I guess a portion of the choice could be credited to the title of the film, which hints at the possibility of it being the final installment. If that was going to be the case then I thought I could give it a good enough chance on the big screen, because it it all ended in three then it could possibly pull off a semi-successful series of films without becoming all-out boring and repetitive. Other than a pretty dull introduction involving early stages of a couple of important mutant's lives, there proves to be no reason to bash Ratner's effort here as he takes over the [i]X-Men [/i]world. He does as good a job as he can at balancing screen time for each character, all the while having to juggle about a dozen new ones into the mix. But, keeping true to the growing use of CGI in superhero movies, [i]The Last Stand [/i]is an insane overload of animated people, places, and things that not even its first two predecessors combined could come close to. The premise behind this film is obviously designed from the thought of incorporating endless effects, which at certain points become just too much and ultimately plastic looking. As Jean Grey is resurrected early on in the film she becomes an asset to both good and evil, and throughout the movie she contributes in large amounts to each side. This results in Famke Janssen getting her face and body computer generated, and most of the time looking extremely fake when she gets in her irratic moods. With as many characters as the [i]X-Men [/i]movies throw at an audience, it's hard for me to enjoy them when they continue to focus on effects much more than the development of the mutants - both new and old.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/twentieth_century_fox/x_men__the_last_stand/_group_photos/famke_janssen13.jpg[/img]

I understand the need for effects, but there has to be a line drawn, and the [i]X-Men [/i]movies are continuing to abuse them more and more and it's killing the franchise for me. However, I can't say that I wasn't at least a little entertained with [i]The Last Stand[/i]. Hugh Jackman is still highly likable as Wolverine, and Ian McKellan comes back strong again as Magneto. There are some actors that only stick around in their familiar role for a very small amount of time in this one, I'm sure written that way to accomodate their personal schedules, but they're really not missed anyway. What's most disappointing is that the title seems to have deceived its audience. There are many things that happen throughout the film that would seemingly make [i]The Last Stand [/i]the natural choice to lay the series to rest, but as it closes there is the ever famous wide opening for another installment. That would definitely be a major mistake, but as long as the franchise is breaking out at the box-office, Hollywood will give us [i]X-Men[/i] movies and all others like it by the handful each summer.

Game 6
Game 6(2005)
½

[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua]As much as I love Michael Keaton, I have to admit that over the last few years I have gathered much doubt to whether or not he'd finally grab another role suited for his major talent. I'm talking [i][font=Book Antiqua]leading [/font][/i]role, something that could match up (or even come close to) his unbelievable performance in [i][font=Book Antiqua]Clean and Sober[/font][/i]. His last decent performance was in Tarantino's [i][font=Book Antiqua]Jackie Brown[/font][/i], but even that was a barely noticeable role and was nine years ago. Since that time he has popped up in only a few films amidst a long absence, which he said occured because of a "lack of new things to tackle". I understand looking for different types of characters to play, but it's just odd to me that he would reach back into the field with choices like [i][font=Book Antiqua]Jack Frost[/font][/i], [i][font=Book Antiqua]White Noise[/font][/i], and [i][font=Book Antiqua]Herbie: Fully Loaded[/font][/i]. It has hurt me to see him degraded to such nonsense for so long, and like I said, I almost started to give up on him. Thankfully, Michael Hoffman came along and just in time to offer Keaton a meaty, layered role that challenges him. [/font][/color]
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[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua][img]http://media.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/photo/2006/03/23/PH2006032301774.jpg[/img][/font][/color]
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[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua]He plays Nicky Rogan, a playwright who hasn't seen acclaim in more than a decade but hopes to revive his career with his latest effort on Broadway, a deeply personal piece called "Sidewalks". Unfortunately for Rogan, the time of the year isn't right, at least for him to make the new play his biggest concern. The film takes place all in one day. October 25, 1986 to be exact. It was a day known all too well by Boston Red Sox fans - a day of dread. They were to play against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium in [i]Game 6[/i] of the World Series, and already with a 3-2 series lead...but Rogan, being a true die hard Sox fan, knows nothing is a certainty with this team no matter how much of a lead they have. Hoffman and acclaimed writer Don Delillo take a great approach to a setup that at first seems like something run-of-the-mill or plain and slowly takes the viewer on a unique ride that mixes genres smoothly. Supporting Keaton along the way are a mixture of seasoned actors and virtyally unseen faces. Bebe Neuwirth and Catherine O'Hara are the two women in Rogan's life, and even though they are in only one scene each they deliver memorable performances. Griffin Dunne (who also shares a producing credit with Amy Robinson) pitches in as well with a nice little comic role as a retired playwright whose career - and life - was ruined by one review and one review only. The critic who gave the review is Steven Schwimmer, a person who is widely known for shorting the lifetime of Broadway runnings. He is played by an actor who has been popping up everywhere lately, Robert Downey Jr. This is a great bit of casting, as Downey proves to be a natural fit for Schwimmer, who spends all of his non-writing time couped up in an address-less loft doing his best to keep away from rising number of angry playwrights whose careers he's evaporated. [/font][/color]
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[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua]As the day slowly starts dimming down and approaching dusk, Rogan not only has [i]Game 6 [/i]to worry about, but also his play's life, which hangs in the balance and in the hands of one man's opinion only. There are major turns in the tone and mood of the film when it approaches its final act that make it a wonderful little gem of an independent work, and it all relies on Keaton to carry the load...which he does with an effortless ease. Nicky Rogan is such an interesting and complex character and I'm glad that the job went to Keaton to play the part. Why this one didn't make it out to more theaters than it did is pretty much insulting if you ask me, but hopefully it can find a good life on DVD. [/font][/color]

Neil Young: Heart of Gold

Acclaimed filmmaker Jonathan Demme appreciates musicians and their art to the highest degree, and although he is best known for movies like [i]The Silence of the Lambs [/i]and [i]Philadelphia[/i], his passion for creating cinematic companion pieces to music he loves goes further back and stands above all other entries in his filmography. That proclamation is most certainly cemented with his latest venture into the concert film, the moving and respectful [i]Neil Young: Heart of Gold[/i].

[img]http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/j/msnbc/Components/Photos/060207/060207_neilyoung_hmed_2p.hmedium.jpg[/img]

Just knowing the story behind the creation of Young's latest album, [i]Prairie Wind[/i], could sadden one beyond belief. His father died in early 2005 after suffering through dementia for a long period of time, and just two months later Young himself had a potentially fatal brain anuerysm. In the first few minutes of [i]Heart of Gold[/i] we are told through interviews with friends, family, and the legend himself that the process of writing and recording [i]Prairie Wind [/i]began just after he suffered the devastating blow. In the two weeks he had before his major surgery, which he really didn't know if he'd come out alive or not, he started to let the important people in his life hear his appreciation for their comfort and time. With all of these things in mind while listening to [i]Prairie Wind[/i], it's easy to call the record his most beautiful work ever. Demme steps in to document Young's first performance of these deeply personal songs in front of an audience, and in no better place than Nashville, Tennesse at the Ryman Auditorium. The interviews are kept to a minimum and within minutes the concert begins, where we are treated to a 9 song set from [i]Prairie Wind[/i], followed by a slew of classics. From the very start until the finale of this concert film, we are spared the usual "enhacements" that many films of this kind like to pour on its audience. I'm talking about feverish camera movements both throughout the crowd and on stage, various toyings with lousy transitions, pointless shots of handpicked audience members, etc. What Demme does here is stand back and let Young and his supporting cast old many tell the story. He is respectful enough to photograph the event with an honest eye and almost never ventures away from Young's face. What is the most refreshing thing about [i]Heart of Gold[/i], however, is that Demme doesn't cut up the performances. Each and every song is let play out and as a strong fan I was very pleased when I saw this happen. This is a beautiful film, one where you're involved fully throughout, and even into its closing credits where we find Young in the empty auditorium, perhaps after the show, and quietly performs one of his first songs, "The Old Laughing Lady". This is Demme's most honorable job as a filmmaker, offering a worthy and respectful account of a musical legend's reminiscing. This is one I'll make a point to not forget once the end of the year comes around.

Running Scared

In the last few months I had seen trailers and ads for [i]Running Scared [/i]continue to pop up everywhere, none of them grabbing my attention or persuade me in the slightest way to see it in theaters. I just couldn't tear the thought of it looking more like a video game than a movie out of my head. A few days before its opening on February 24th I came across the cast and crew listings and for the first time I discovered that it was written and directed by Wayne Kramer, whose last film, [i]The Cooler[/i], I was a big fan of. Around that time I was also just coming off of another Paul Walker performance, in the Disney film [i]Eight Below[/i] in which he was surprisingly decent - something he hasn't been in a very long time. The rest of the cast seemed filled with mostly unkown names, but Vera Farmiga, Cameron Bright, and Chazz Palminteri are all great actors in my opinion. So [i]Running Scared [/i]stayed on my mind, and in the last weekend of February I ended up seeing it, making it an unpredictable Paul Walker month. A place I never thought I'd be at 2 weeks earlier.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/new_line_cinema/running_scared/_group_photos/paul_walker6.jpg[/img]

After seeing Kramer's film I found that my initial video game assumption was pretty much a solid predictment. The movie is like a gigantic silo loaded to the brim with every kind of filthy, violent, and criminal guilty pleasure one would look for in a first-person shooter game. Triggered by its know-no-limits, bloody shoot out in its opening sequence, it proceeds to pounce along at a breakneck pace for just over two hours. With that being said, I found Kramer's movie to be somewhat addicting in certain long stretches and I almost ended up really liking something that also has so much to loathe. I must quickly note that Walker handles his role (and his New York accent) well, and if he continues on with this streak of actual acting then I might come to like him as a performer. The rest of the cast does a fine job, but they really don't get a chance to let their performances breathe among the bullets whizzing by and the pools of blood flowing everywhere. No, the only performance that really matters here is that of Kramer, and as both writer and director.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/new_line_cinema/running_scared/_group_photos/cameron_bright3.jpg[/img]

The problem that ultimately prevents me from rating the movie higher is that Kramer has overloaded the emphasis on his visual direction and didn't put enough time in on his other duty, the screenwriting. As the story goes along there are incidents that he gets his characters into that are really laughable and stupid, even for a movie with a premise like [i]Running Scared[/i]. The showdown in the hockey rink in toward the end really sticks out, and it's really too bad because he sets up most of the events well to get to that point. I must finish without bashing the film, though, because the fact that I am standing at a 6/10 is phenomenal to me and a big achievement for this movie. One actor worth mentioning above all others is Farmiga, who plays Walker's confident wife can be forceful is needed. Although I didn't like the film, I have to say that it's sad it did so poorly at the box-office, and it's gotta be loads better than some of the successful films at the moment (like maybe [i]Date Movie, Madea's Family Reunion [/i]or [i]Ultraviolet[/i]). I'd definitely recommend a DVD viewing if you're looking for this sort of entertainment.

16 Blocks
16 Blocks(2006)

Director Richard Donner has been on both sides of the outcomes of thrillers. He has experienced great success with films such as [i]Superman[/i] and [i]Lethal Weapon, [/i]but in his later years has delivered less than exciting movies, like [i]Assassins [/i]and [i]Timeline[/i]. Throughout the last 15 years he has had the good fortune of being able to fall back on Gibson, Glover and company to save his career with sequels to the [i]Lethal Weapon [/i]movies. Although they continue to considerably drop down in effectiveness with each installment, and mostly due to their focus on comedy over seriousness, I still have found myself enjoying them all, and mostly because I just need to see these guys back together again. The ads for his newest film, [i]16 Blocks[/i], showed more promise than everything he's done in the last 12 years combined. Yes, Bruce Willis is playing a cop yet again, but he looked different and the role seemed to be interesting this time. Plus, the pairing with the talented Mos Def and the addition of the always good David Morse made this a must for me.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/warner_brothers/16_blocks/_group_photos/bruce_willis6.jpg[/img]

I must say that after such an extremely long drought I didn't think Donner would ever return to fine form, but from the opening scene on he sets the tone and with his two stars rides off into a fun, fast-paced, real-time thriller. For playing a cop again, Willis really knows how to dodge playing the [i]same [/i]cop as everything else he's done and gives one of his best performances here. He is Jack Moseley, a detective who drives away everyone closest to him, is drunk around the clock, and declares that "life is too long". After already being on the job without sleep for 24 hours he is assigned with the seemingly throw-away task of driving a petty criminal to the courthouse before 10 a.m. Dante Smith, a.k.a. Mos Def, plays this criminal named Eddie Bunker. For a prisoner he is lively and extremely talkative, conversing with eveyone in his sight, s when Moseley and Bunker meet it's the ultimate in opposites. What the detective doesn't know is that going 16 blocks in 2 hours will be harder than he thinks with this prisoner on board, for many crooked cops are out for his blood before he has a chance to testify against them. Jack's hangover is about to be the least of his pains.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/warner_brothers/16_blocks/_group_photos/bruce_willis3.jpg[/img]

This film is directed with style a that I thought Donner had completely abandoned and I'm glad to see back. Sure the film has it's share of preposterous close calls and such, but in a film this entertaining it's almost all overshadowed. Morse, who plays the villain with a deviant look and tenacity is a great counterpart to Willis and their scenes together are quite enveloping. I was hooked on the story throughout, waiting to see what was going to happen next. Movies like this are constantly bashed by critics and really before they're even given a chance, and most of the time because it's "just another buddy crime thriller". Yes, there are countless movies that pair up stars in situations that are almost impossible to get out of and they do succeed, but we don't need to ask ourselves how it could possibly happen, we just need to be entertained. Based on the level of entertainment, [i]16 Blocks [/i]is a definite recommendation.

Dave Chappelle's Block Party
½

There aren't enough movies (let alone documentaries) that set out to do nothing but put a smile on the viewer's face [i]AND[/i] achieve that task to the highest degree, but when Dave Chappelle decided to ask Michel Gondry to have a camera on hand to film his secretive block party/concert in September of 2004, they ended up giving audiences just that. Chappelle is a real human celebrity, one who has never acted higher than anyone else on the planet because he is wealthier than most, and in this documentary we get to see him use his good fortunes to just make people feel good, plus put together a dream list of musicians he has admired for many years. As have I. The lineup of performers in this film features some familiar faces in hip-hop (Kanye West, The Fugees, Common, Mos Def, The Roots) and some that have been kept out of the mainstream spotlight for a lot of reasons, mostly for speaking their minds in a little harsher way than radio seems to tolerate (Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Cody Chestnutt). What's amazing about a gathering like this and the film that documents it is we get to find out just how much all of these artists are alike and are still bonded tightly, no matter what the differences are in their stardom.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/rogue_pictures/dave_chappelle_s_block_party/dave_chappelle/blockparty2.jpg[/img]

It's great to see Gondry break into a full length documentary centering around music, the place he broke into filmmaking with innovative videos, most commercially for the White Stripes songs "Fell in Love With A Girl" and The Hardest Button to Button". His direction is in many ways similar to that in his last film, the universally loved [i]Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind[/i], and you can tell how much he appreciates the soul of the performances and relishes the opportunity to capture a small explosion of an event. The film is edited in a sort of scattered manner, inviting us in and out of the block party and constantly taking us back in time to the preparation of the event, as well as little comedic moments that are filled to the brim with classic Chappelle timing. This is an important film to see right now, and for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it just makes you feel good the whole way through. I had an enormously great time with it because it brought back old feelings, like when I used to listen to Mos Def and Talib Kweli's collaborative project Black Star over and over and over again with Tony Marshall in his banged up Dodge Shadow. Seeing those two performing together on a stage full of passionate musicians and to a crowd full of respectful people was breathtaking. Other great things that I found myself unexpectedly revisiting were Dead Prez performing the masterpiece song, "Hip-Hop", and Eryka Badu and The Roots reaching back to their better days with "You Got Me". Everything just works right in this movie and in the end it ultimately reaches the level of something higher than just a film. It feels way to real, and perhaps even more real than even a documentary. It just feels like you're right there participating.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Throughout Tommy Lee Jones's acting career he's had his fair share of ups and downs, at least in my opinion. It seems like for every great performance he's put in there has been a dreadful choice that immediately follows, which is why I've never fully grown to love him as an actor...just certain performances. When I heard he was to unveil his directorial debut, [i]The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada[/i], I was a little skeptical. But that was before I heard anything about the details of what and who was also involved. After learning that it was scripted by Guillermo Arriaga ([i]Amores Perros[/i], [i]21 Grams[/i]) and featured actors like Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakam, January Jones, and Melissa Leo in addition Jones in the starring role, I developed huge anticipation. I was even more ready for it to open in my area after the movie recieved Best Actor (Jones) and Best Screenplay (Arriaga) at Cannes. Last Friday I finally had the chance to see it and with the feeling that maybe I made my Fergy Film Awards nominees and winners a week too soon. I definitely made my nominees and winners a week too soon.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/sony_pictures_classics/the_three_burials_of_melquiades_estrada/_group_photos/tommy_lee_jones2.jpg[/img]

It's obvious with both [i]Amores Perros [/i]and [i]21 Grams [/i]that Arriaga is a master at fluidly and convincingly telling stories that could easily be so confusing, and he once again approaches the mystery of [i]Melquiades Estrada [/i]in the same jumbled style, but with perfect, pinpoint precision. What makes this screenplay stand higher than his other work is the supreme effort and respect Jones adds to the project as actor, co-producer, and director. This is the first Arriaga script over the last four projects that was not directed by Alejandro Gonzalez-Innaritu, who is a very fine director and delivered worthy end products to accompany the stories handed, but he proves to be second to Jones' surprisingly brilliant craftmanship. Each shot, each music cue, each cut is closely observed and analyzed by the filmmaker in an effort to create the most perfect pairing with an unbelievably flawless screenplay. Everything in the movie - it's directing, acting, writing, editing, cinematography, is worth the highest nods and acclaim. Jones plays a Texan cowboy who we find in complete isolation in the present time due to the loss of his best friend, Melquiades Estrada. We also get to see him in terrifically constructed and placed flashback scenes at a time when he was a happy man, ranching alongside Estrada, who is doing his best to dodge Border Patrol. The film has a mountain full of deeply thought out characters, all who are played with brutal honesty by talented, underrated actors. Barry Pepper, January Jones, and Dwight Yoakam stand out among the supporters, while Julio Cedillo also deserves some recognition for his truthful, innocent portrayal of Estrada.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/sony_pictures_classics/the_three_burials_of_melquiades_estrada/tommy_lee_jones/3burials2.jpg[/img]

Jones and Arriaga take us certain places unlike any other film has ever managed to. While [i]The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada [/i]marches along its unpredictable and harsh path, it seems as though death or the feeling of being stuck and standing still surrounds everyone in the film, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel as long as you're treading ground, and no matter how long each person exists in the world they are always finding new things about themselves and the people around them. This is a film that I am very fortunate to have experienced on such a scale as the big screen and one I will own and cherish when it hits video. Tommy Lee Jones is now automatically graduating to the higher tier of American performers with this stunning directorial debut and the best performance of his career. Look for a few changes in the Fergy nominees and winners.

Quick Change
Quick Change(1990)

One of the dozens of films I have been eagerly awaiting to get DVD treatment finally did on February 14th, the virtually forgotten and wildly underrated Bill Murray comedy, [i]Quick Change[/i]. I remember seeing this as a young kid shortly after it was released in 1990 and instantly fell in love with it. I have no idea why this had to be one of the Murray films to fall under the radar, because it's got so many classic moments of spontaneous comic outbursts from the funniest man to ever walk the planet.

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What's even more heartbreaking about the film's failure to find a bigger audience is that it was a very important step for Murray and his involvement in the creation of a film. He not only starred, but was the co-producer, but what is most impressive is that he co-directed the movie with the writer of the film, Howard Franklin. From the opening seconds until the final frame of the movie it is entirely evident that Murray had his hands firmly grasped on each aspect of [i]Quick Change[/i]. In its opening setup it cleverly spoofs Sidney Lumet's brilliant [i]Dog Day Afternoon[/i], as we find Murray dressed as a clown, drawing a crowd of police and curious bystanders outstide a bank as he holds hostages inside. The movie is funny throughout its fast-moving 88 minutes, and features really humurous and energetic performances from Geena Davis, Randy Quaid, and Jason Robards. There is also a tremendous supporting cast that includes some actors who were just breaking into the field at the time. Among these performers are Tony Shalhoub, Stanley Tucci, Phil Hartman, Jamey Sheridan, Victor Argo, Phillip Bosco, and Kurtwood Smith. This is a criminally underappreciated comedy and really a small gem to sit back and respect for an hour and a half...it deserves it.

Eight Below
Eight Below(2006)
½

When the first couple months of each year roll around and you've already seen the award-winning films that run over from the year before, you're sort of thrusted into predicaments week after week, and especially in February. Every February I end up seeing movies I never dreamed I would in theaters. I guess the appropriate thing to do would be to just not go, stay home and watch something great...but I just can't settle for that. I live for the movie theater. It's the greatest, most exhilarating experience I'll ever want to take, and thousands of times over. Last week the films I saw myself going into were [i]Firewall [/i]and [i]The Pink Panther[/i], and both were as predicted. This week I went to something that never held my interest in its advertisements, plus it was produced by the ever-predictable Disney and stars Paul Walker, an actor who I've always disliked, mainly due to the fact that he seems like he's reading straight from whatever script he's given.

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[i]Eight Below [/i]is yet another triumphant true tale brought to life by Walt Disney Pictures, but this time they do some things right. First off, choosing Frank Marshall to direct was a very important step in adding real drama to this arctic survival story. He's experienced in creating harsh environments like this, as he had shown us about 15 years ago in [i]Alive[/i]. He succeeds in a surprisingly effective way in making this a serious drama, especially in the later scenes. The choice of making the dogs the lead actors and main focus as the story reaches its climax proves to be the main reason the film achieves what it does, being a much better Disney film than the last handful to a dozen released. It was good to see dogs without CGI talking mouths spouting off one-liners in a family film for once. These eight dogs are real characters that we find ourselves caring deeply for along the tough path they take and in a baffling and unbelievable amount of time. This film had its chance of becoming not only good, but really good, but its supporting human performances and writing for them display classic Disney hokiness (Is that even a word? I don't care.) that you really wish could've been absent this time around. The most frustrating part is the romantic tension between Walker's character and actress Moon Bloodgood that we must participate in throughout the entire thing. It's rather annoying to keep being thrust into this relationship, and especially when it both distracts from a more important happening and presents an inevitable reconciliation we know is coming.

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Well, in the end I must say that maybe that's too much to ask for in a Disney film. After all, [i]Eight Below [/i]really is a wonder as a production from this studio because it steers clear of at least a few of the filmmaking techniques that make their films so repetitive and dull. There are two good supporting performances, one by Jason Biggs in a comic relief role, and the other by reliable Bruce Greenwood as a scientist searching for a small sample of a meteor. Also, Walker really seemed genuine in some of the scenes in this film, although not totally, but it still makes this one of his best performances yet easily.

Something New
½

There have been other films in the past that have explored the effect society and close surroundings have on interracial relationships, but I can't really remember one that has dealt with it in as lighthearted a way as [i]Something New[/i], a romantic comedy that is never too preachy or one-sided and is just a good time.

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It was hours before the Andrew Bird concert in Bloomington a couple of weeks ago and we were deciding what movie to check out. Since we had already seen all of the terrific films that are still playing from 2005, there really wasn't much to choose from. With a little persuasion from Amanda and my little brother, Tony, I gave in to seeing this movie, which I had small desire to see at first. It took a few minutes to actually let myself settle into the film, to get used to its strange editing style and sometimes odd camerawork, but it became really easy to enjoy [i]Something New [/i]with Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker as the leads. Lathan was born to play a character like this, and it's demanding to greath heights as she boards a ship full of the entire spectrum of personalities and emotions. She and Baker are terrific individually in scenes, but when they are put together, and fortunately it'sa lot of the time, they are amazingly perfect. They are the sole reason I was so compelled with the things that go on in the movie, and without them I felt lost and most certainly wouldn't have liked the film. The supporting cast do a good job, it's just that I was less interested in them and pined for Lathan and Baker to return whenever they were gone.

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There are moments in this film that I found less than great, but there are only few. I expected to see another dull romantic comedy with nothing fresh to add to the genre, but I was pleasantly surprised and often moved by its authentic and human feel. Sure, by the end everything goes as always planned in the audience's head, but what's important to note is that the journey to the conclusion was a little different than expected, and that's really a refreshing thing to see in a romantic film like this.

The Pink Panther
½

I only vaguely remember the original Clousseau and his antics as played by Peter Sellers, so I didn't take knowledge of that into the remake starring Steve Martin. A lot of the terrible reviews, and there are many, were terrible because the person reviewing had accused Martin of imitating Sellers' Clousseau instead of creating his own version. That was not something I was prepared to worry about, and mainly because I didn't have a strong enough recollection of the original, but even if I did I would disregard it and just try and let Martin entertain.

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A remake of something like [i]The Pink Panther [/i]would've been quickly wiped off my films to see list if Martin wasn't plastered on the starring bill, as well as a few other credible talents, including Kevin Kline, Emily Mortimer, and Jean Reno, as well as a clever cameo from Clive Owen. With these names you wouldn't think that this would be something to fail, that it would at least be a good piece of humurous entertainment. Then again, for every good name involved there are disappointing ones to match up with them. First off, the choice of Shawn Levy as director, one of two directors who Martin has collaborated with more than once in the last 5 years, Adam Shankman being the other. Together, Levy (who also helmed [i]Cheaper by the [/i]Dozen) and Shankman ([i]Bringing Down the House, Cheaper by the Dozen [/i]2) have been quietly doing their best to make us all forget the Martin of old with their idiotic, physical humore before intelligent humor routines. But the biggest blame has to finally go to Martin, who I have let off the hook for a couple of films, but now I just have to wonder if this is what he's settling for for the later stages of his illustrious career. At least his own [i]Shopgirl[/i], which was made with great patience and seriousness amidst its witty comedy by Anand Tucker, was left open in the middle of his recent disasters.

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I'm not sure if [i]The Pink Panther [/i]is a complete disaster...no, I wouldn't call it a complete disaster. It's really got some big laughs, mostly in the first half of the film when we're not expecting some of the gags (which do come too often and repeated toward the end) and because Martin wrote a draft of the screenplay, as did Len Blum (who also wrote drafts for [i]Private Parts [/i]and [i]Stripes[/i]. It's entirely evident that Martin did at least some of the writing here, and a seemingly high amount of improvisation...and it works for a while, but the boring direction and achingly dumb final plot points make this a pretty passable movie. Almost the entire cast does a fine job with their roles, and especially Emily Mortimer as the secretary and Jean Reno as Clousseau's partner. I am convinced that it is in no way possible for Mortimer to be even mediocre in a film. She's fantastic. Adding Beyonce Knowles was nothing but a nice chance to grab another type of audience into the theaters, which did in fact help [i]The Pink Panther [/i]in snatching the #1 spot last weekend. I was surprised that another idiotic horror film didn't take the crown...but it was very close.

Firewall
Firewall(2006)

There's always been a certain quality Harrison Ford possesses as an actor, such a profoundly likeable one as a surviving hero, the everyman who reaches physical and mental heights he never thought possible, and all triggered by his love for his family. Maybe I keep going back to seeing him in roles like this because he's done such a great job with them in the past, and it's just really hard not to like it over and over again no matter how many times you see it. Even Ford, whose been doing this kind of stuff for decades now, has the look on his face like he is irritated by the repetition, yet takes a hold of the roles and embraces his master touch. For [i]Firewall[/i], which frankly looked like one to check out when it hit video in a few months, I was not only persuaded by Ford alone, but also an impressive supporting list of actors, and, most of all, the lack of other good prospects released around this time. So, with all knowledge ahead of time that this was to be no thriller with smarts and definitely no new things to add to the genre, I wiped it all away and traded it for good ol' entertainment.

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In order to give Ford another stab at playing a new version of America's favorite hero in another film there really only needs to be slight differences, and most of it is in the character's profession. This time around he plays the VP of security for a major bank in Seattle, making him the main target for information from everyone, including potential heist organizers. Enter the bad guys, headed by the brilliant Paul Bettany as Cox, the calm but deadly villain with a seemingly fool-proof plan, that's if Ford doesn't outsmart him in the end! Who will win this battle?!?!?! Well, on one hand, Bettany's set off the classic scheme of trapping Ford's family and added bribery into the mix, but then again, Ford is Ford, and he's got something up his sleeve - and I'd almost bet all-in on that. What he does have up his sleeve in [i]Firewall [/i]is far too implausible to mention, even if I was going to give away plot points.

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Still, the end product is something that manages to provide entertainment for most of the ride, which is due to the great pairing of the good and bad leads and other fine performers. Ford's family is played by the wonderful Virginia Madsen (even in a nearly lame role like this), and the daughter and son, played by [i]Mean Creek[/i]'s Carly Schroeder and [i]Hostage[/i]'s Jimmy Bennett. These young actors are extremely promising talents, but their roles in this film have given them nothing to show us how they've excelled already at such ages. Who does get a meaty role, at least compared to her previous roles, is Mary Lynn Rajskub as Ford's faithful secretary. Rajskub shines in just about everything she does, and here she gets a chance to show a wider audience just how terrific she is, and a lot of times without saying a word. There were also some small but strong performances by three veterans - Alan Arkin, Robert Forster, and Robert Patrick, which definitely helps us overlook some of the preposterous sequences in the movie. This is really not one I can say to get out there and see, but if you're like me and have to be in the theater every weekend, then [i]Firewall [/i]just might be the best bet this weekend, which shows just how dull the first couple of months each year can be on the big screen.

Fun With Dick and Jane

There is always something that draws me to a Jim Carrey screwball comedy when I see the trailer, just something that persuades me into entering the theater for a try...and nearly every time I am left with a slap in my own face for wasting my time yet again. I think this happens because I have such a strong liking for his dramatic acting that I would see the guy in anything. Too bad he does these type of movies more often that serious ones.

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I have never seen the original version of this film with Peter Segal and Jane Fonda and I just don't have the desire to go out and grab it anytime soon either, although it must be better than this remake. The main idea of the story is well known I'm sure, a classic riches to rags to revenge tale. It actually proposes a nice setup in the beginning stages of the movie, and Carrey and Tea Leoni do well and are very humurous early on. I know this kind of film is supposed to be cheesy and mindless, but I had to draw on a line somewhere. When this film hits the half-way point and the couple are forced to retreat to burglary and other criminal acts to get back on their feet, it all falls apart and into the bin of idiotic comedy rubbish, filled with zany gags that involve fake moustaches and presidential masks.

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Even though the supporting cast are given roles that are pretty much achingly dumb, some of the performers shine through it with comic timing. Like Richard Jenkins - the wonderful and underrated Reichard Jenkins - who is very funny in his role of two faces. Alec Baldwin has a small role as the villain and he plays it with an non-and-off southern accent, and even though he brightens up some spots his character is just dull and he is no match. Rack this one up as another dismal venture for Carrey into the genre that made him into a star. Hey, he's gotta keep pleasing the [i]Ace Ventura [/i]fans.

Pretty Persuasion
½

Every year there are more and more small independent movies that do nothing but try to make the audience feel weird for two hours and forget about any kind of real story. The happenings and characters in [i]Pretty Persuasion [/i]are just boring and flat, and precisely because their words and manneurisms have the stench of an awful, arrogant screenplay written all over them.

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Evan Rachel Wood stars as Kimberly, a Bevery Hills teenager who will stop at nothing to get everything she wants. Along her journey to manipulate everyone around her and become famous, nothing really interesting happens. We are constantly being introduced to new characters, all who have poorly written parts. Luckily, for clueless first-time film director Marcos Siega, somehow good actors signed on to act out this disaster. Wood is really gifted and although her character is a hybrid of countless other nasty movie bad girls, she is effective. Among the supporters are James Woods, Jaime King, Selma Blair, Ron Livingston, Jane Krakowski, Michael Hitchcock, and Stark Sands. Siega has been a long-time music video director, and I really think that he needs to stick with that line of work, because at least then sitting through horrible pieces of work would only take 3-5 minutes instead of 110. The main target for blame has got to be newcomer Skander Halim, whose focus on offensive, pointless incidents needs to retreat to actual thinking and development.

The Aristocrats
½

I remember when this started at a small art cinema in my area and played for six days in the middle of 2005, I read the lineup of comedians who appear. Out of the 100 people listed I was only a fan of a handful of them, so I passed and waited for DVD. While [i]The Aristocrats[/i] often generates laughs, I really see no reason why it's a full-length documentary.

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Centering around the most infamous and used joke in the history of comedians routines, the film frantically moves about in an attempt to pack in 100 different interpretations in 80+ minutes. There are many things wrong with the filmmaking in [i]The Aristocrats, [/i]most notably with the camerawork and editing, which juggle through countless split-second long shots and never give time or steadiness to the creation. There are numerous individuals who tell this joke with a strangely likable, obscene sense of humor and they constantly prevent you from wanting to hit the stop button, but by the end the annoyance of the film's production and the unnecessary length overshadow all else. Worthy of mentioning for their performances here are Steven Wright, Jon Stewart, George Carlin, Sarah Silverman, Lewis Black, Richard Lewis, and Kevin Nealon. Others who come off surprisingly hilarious and who I'd never thought I'd admit it are Bob Saget, Gilbert Gottfried, Paul Reiser, and even the miserable Howie Mandel is funny. If you see the movie and discover the content of the joke then you'll find that it's pretty impossible not to be funny with the material already provided. Still, this is just not the type of stuff for a full-length picture.

Rumor Has It
Rumor Has It(2005)
½

There are really two Rob Reiner's, the filmmaker then and the filmmaker now. The only difference between the two is that the one then had original, exciting ideas flowing endlessly with each project, and the Reiner now can't even buy one. Now, for the first time in 10 years, a little bit of the then Reiner has taken hold for [i]Rumor Has It...[/i], a film with an intriguing and fresh take on the romantic comedy.

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Jennifer Aniston continues to bury her [i]Friends [/i]image to prove herself as a legitimate film actress as Sarah Huttinger, a woman who has always had a lingering feeling that the women in her family just might have been the ones who inspired the love triangle that filled out both the novel and movie, [i]The Graduate[/i]. As she makes a trip back home to Pasadena with her fiancee for her sister's wedding, she'll be forced to dig deep and to the answer on whether or not the rumor is true. Mark Ruffalo plays her fiancee in yet another likable performance from one of the most easily likable actors working today. He and Aniston share very good chemistry. The story is handled rather good by Reiner, and even if the slacking filmmaker of the last ten years does show up now and again in certain sequences, it's still a major improvement. The screenplay doesn't quite make it to the top tier of greatness and there's many flaws, but the strong acting by everyone hide most of them. Supporting players such as Shirley Maclaine, Richard Jenkins, and Mena Suvari make this worth the time. Maclaine and Jenkins have had their best year's in quite some time, and Jenkins probably having his best ever. The only annoying supporting performance is by Kathy Bates, but luckily its really just a cameo.

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What slightly hurts the movie is the amount of time it takes for Costner to appear, because when he does he absolutely steals every scene he's a part of. He also shares a good romantic and comedic timing chemistry with Ansiton that is effective. Overall, Aniston does a solid job despite some irritating bits of acting here and there, plus the narration in the movie from her just sounds too scripted and doesn't fell like she's just talking. I don't have much to complain about though, especially when it's Reiner's first good movie since [i]The American President[/i] in 1995.

Cheaper by the Dozen 2
½

A couple of years ago Amanda and I went to see Steve Martin in the remake of [i]Cheaper by the Dozen[/i]. Before we went I couldn't really pin down why I chose to, other than I just like to try and sit back and let a stupid but lovable family film entertain me for a while. As it ended I wasn't disappointed nor surprised, I just got what I expected. On Christmas Eve of 2005 we found ourselves heading back into the story of this family for [i]Cheaper by the Dozen 2[/i], and once again we had no explanation for why we were doing such a seemingly wasteful thing.

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What comes standard for every sequel are new characters, and in this one there are many of them in addition to the already zillion members of the Baker family. In an attempt to revive the bondage of his entire family, Tom Baker (Martin) persuades them all to attend a week at the old summer camp house they used to frequently visit. There we are introduced to the Murtaugh family, prime residents and owners of nearly all property in the area. Jimmy Murtaugh, the head of the family, is played by Eugene Levy in a role still finds him flexing the same comedic muscles we're used to from the actor. He really needs to find something that gives him more depth and range, but he's still effective here, and especially when paired with Martin. Like the Baker's, the Murtaugh's have an insane amount of children, though not a dozen, and Jimmy also has a wife (played by Carmen Electra in a role that actually is suited for her) that's much younger that he is. Having this many characters with big roles would almost certainly fail a movie and lose our concentration, but [i]Cheaper by the Dozen 2 [/i]comes out better than expected, and only because they chose to set the entire thing at a summer camp. Yes, this type of movie's been made a million times over, but with this many people in a movie a summer camp setting helps everyone spread out and the movie can be tolerated.

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There's no way I can say that I went to see both [i]Cheaper by the Dozen[/i]'s because I just want to see a family film every so often. The only real reason is because I have a huge respect for Steve Martin and will see just about anything he does, with the strong exception of [i]Bringing Down the House[/i], the only movie which I shake my head as to why he would participate in such a travesty. I have a major disliking for Queen Latifah. I just don't see the talent there. Although I got what I expected from the first movie, I was surprised a little from its sequel because it's a better movie. Martin and Bonnie Hunt are perfectly cast and do a good job at making the picture watchable, and there are a handful of kids in the movie who are talented, though not Hillary Duff, Piper Perabo, or Tom Welling, who are oddly the oldest of the kids. There are too many moments of complete cheesiness, which forces me to rate these lower than I could have, but as family films they are better than most that pop in and out of theaters these days.

Hostel
Hostel(2006)
½

It's been well over a decade since Quentin Tarantino gave us the mega-success that is [i]Pulp Fiction[/i], which was without question the most influential movie of the 90's. Now he has a major amount of power in the world of cinema and can hand pick whatever nerdy type of project he seeks out and slap his name on the executive producer credit, therefore almost gauranteeing the movie a spot atop the box-office in its opening run. I think this happened with [i]Hero [/i]a couple of years ago because many fans were misled, thinking he was the actual director of the project when it says "Quentin Tarantino presents", and I could understand the confusion if you're not the type to actually keep up on cast and crew information. Nevertheless, the marketing plan is insanely effective. There aren't many filmmakers that can just plaster their name on posters, TV spots and trailers and have that be the sole reason the movie is a money making success.

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The latest project he's grabbed hold onto and babied is the youg and cocky Eli Roth's [i]Hostel[/i], a horror movie that is just ruined by the dreadfulness of its first half, which lasts way too long. I really don't feel like spending much time talking about the story, and for two reasons. One - because I'm sure by now you're all pretty much knowledgable of the premise, at least vaguely. And two - because there really isn't much to speak about. Three men are backpacking to various countries across the world and are led to a Slovakian city by a geeky fellow's promise that in the area there is a hostel full of beautiful women who love American tourists. I must say, Roth has some skill at directing the horror aspects of the movie, but other than the opening credit sequence, the horror doesn't emerge until at least 45 minutes into the movie, probably more. Instead, in these 45 minutes or more we get endless sequences which degrade women and insult its audience (at least I was insulted), and make us wonder just why we gave the thought of a movie like this maybe being different than other mindless horror films with gratuitous sex and gore. The fact that the movie does manage to deliver an exciting final act really is more frustrating after reflection, because it doesn't even matter after nearly 2/3 of the film was dreadful. Yes, Tarantino is a brilliant moviemaker, but let's not forget that when it comes to his taste in films, he is still a major nerd.

Match Point
Match Point(2005)

I almost feel like I'm developing a disease, one where I cannot rate any movie under a 10 as of late, but the fact is that every movie I've seen to close out 2005 has either been a masterpiece or close to one. I have just been mesmerized by dozens of the films of last year and very happy with dozens more. Woody Allen's annual entry for the year is a film that most have called a new direction for the brilliant filmmaker, a "return to fine form", and in just the right time. I think I agree with the return to fine form part, and I'll say what's been repeat by many already - this is his best film since [i]Crimes and Misdemeanors[/i], and possibly even better than that (though I wouldn't say better then the one right before that, [i]Another Woman[/i]). I can't say I agree with most other statements about the film.

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Although Allen has retreated from the New York City backdrop completely for the first time in his career and added a Hitchcockian construction for [i]Match Point[/i], I really can't find much else different than his work in the past. The main ingredients from the Woody psyche are still here - the yuppie dinner parties, the operas, and most of all, infidelity. That is a word that has become synonymous with a Woody Allen picture, and in [i]Match Point [/i]it has never been more powerful or more influential on the decisions and outcome of his character's lives. Johnathan Rhys-Myers plays the lead role and takes total command of every scene in the film, taking what Allen writes for him and molding the character into one of the most interesting ever to grace the screen. It's great to see Rhys-Myers grab onto an opportunity like this one, which was due for him after a string of fantastic supporting performances in the last few years. Emily Mortimer - the fantastic, luminous Emily Mortimer - finds the object of her affection in his character, and he bites into marriage simply because her father is wealthy beyond imagination. Her brother is played by Matthew Goode in a breakout role, and he plans to marry an aspiring American actress who recognizes her sexuality very openly. Scarlett Johansson plays this character in a performance that should silence some of the people who said she hasn't done anything great yet.

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Of course, Rhys-Myers' character seeks the sexual stimulance in his life elsewhere, which he makes sure he finds in Johansson's character. This is all very familiar territory in Allen's films, but here he builds it with more seriousness, stepping it all up a bit, creating more tension and really taking hold of his own operatic, beautiful mess. In its final act is where the new Allen approaches us, where we are introduced to the chaotic side where infidelity just might have lost its power to something else. [i]Match Point [/i]is a masterpiece from a mastermind that's worth dropping everything and going to see.

Bubble
Bubble(2006)

[size=2]Steven Soderbergh has been a visionary filmmaker from the second he landed in the world of cinema with [i]Sex, Lies, and Videotape[/i] and has continued to stretch boundaries since, even when he's made a break into more big budget projects. Fresh off the box-office success of the star studded [i]Ocean's Twelve[/i], the director could pretty much do whatever he wanted, so he goes in a direction few others would dare. With his new film [i]Bubble[/i], he not only introduces a risky way of casting and photographing but also tests an exhilarating, groundbreaking way of distributing new material. Collaborating with Magnolia Pictures, 29/29 Entertainment and HDnet films, Soderbergh, along with producers Todd Wagner and the multi-professioned Mark Cuban, are giving the viewer many options to how they want to see movies. [i]Bubble[/i] is the first to test this venture, which simultaneously opened in select Landmark Theaters and on HDnet movies on January 27 and will see its official DVD release tomorrow, just four days later. [/size]

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The cast is filled out with real people, not actors, playing out real experiences in small town Ohio where the main source of employment is a doll factory. There are really three main characters - Martha, Kyle, and Rose. They are played with sincerity by Debbie Doebereiner, Dustin James Ashley, and Misty Dawn Wilkins. Soderbergh directs the town and these characters with a quiet brilliance, and with an entirely new way of realizing thigns, at least cinematically. He, along with writer Coleman Hough, have brought real life to the screen, which normal moviegoers are going to loathe if they have less than large patience. I truly think this is the most haunting and most piercingly accurate portrayal of the repetitious hole thousands of small town people lock themselves into. [i]Bubble [/i]looks each and every conventional way of creating a film in the face and just walks away, making for what I believe to be Soderbergh's best film yet.

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For Soderbergh and the good people behind Landmark to propose something like this is incredibly amazing news, and what's even better news is that the director has signed on to do 5 more with this distribution. For those of you who are thinking that it would be much easier to just wait for DVD and skip a theater visit, I must say that [i]Bubble [/i]is an awe-inspiring event and definitely one to experience on the big screen if it's at all possible. Although, the beauty of this groundbreaking experience is that the film is widely available in every possible way immediately...made all the better because it's worth going otu of your way to see.

Havoc
Havoc(2005)
½

The recent talk about Joseph Gordon-Levitt has reminded me of [i]Havoc[/i], a film that went straight to video which I'll try and speak a little about now. Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan attempts to delve into the world of Californian rich teenagers who think they are on top of any type of world, including the dark south central area of the state, where they get themselves into inevitably terrifying incidents.

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Veteran documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple directs this film, and in a style in no way different from non-fiction, intense, shaky camerawork that comes with the genre she's so familiar with. Among the suburban teenagers who form their own, tangible and plastic gangs are Anne Hathaway and Bijou Phillips, who give effective performances. Hathaway probably comes off as more great in her role simply because she's doing something totally different than we've ever seen her, and as far as Phillips is concerned, we've seen her like this in just about everything she's done and I'm convinced she's that rebellious and full of trouble in real life. The rest of the cast on the rich kid side is equally full of good talent and disappointing actors. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a character that is so idiotic and poorly developed that we never really get to see his talent (which we know he has) shine. Actors like Shiri Appleby and Mike Vogel have interesting characters but never bring enough to the table to make them great, and Matt O'Leary, previously seen giving an incredible performance in Bill Paxton's [i]Frailty[/i], does what he can but ultimately fails to make his character worthwhile, an outcast among other suburbanites who always has a camera glued to his hand in hopes of making a documentary. I am sick and tired of characters like that in movies. On the other side of the city there is really only one actor that gets a significant role, and that's Freddy Rodriguez who does a good job and has some nice chemistry with Hathaway. As far as the adults in the film go, they don't really show up much, and appropriately for the story, but why have actors like Laura San Giacomo and Michael Biehn in the roles? It just seemed like a waste.

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[i]Havoc [/i]consistently fails at capitalizing on some setups that promise an effective outcome throughout. I can't say this is a good film, but it's important for Hathaway because it is the first link for her that helps her approach real acting, and it has now blossomed into more with her recent role in [i]Brokeback Mountain[/i]. Gaghan brings an interesting, important premise to the film but it just never fully grabs the viewer, at least in my opinion, and by the end I really didn't care what happened.

Mysterious Skin
½

When I saw [i]The Doom Generation [/i]some years ago I clearly remember being insulted by every moment of it, hating writer/director Gregg Araki for wasting my time and for creating something that was really nothing, just solely for shock-value...rubbish. He has made a few other films, among them I've only seen a few minutes of 1997's [i]Nowhere[/i], another dull and unimpressive picture aiming at the same sort of reaction as his other effort. I haven't given Araki's work any more chances since, and it wasn't until his latest film, [i]Mysterious Skin [/i]came out in mid-2005 that I even knew his was still making movies. I immediately dismissed the thought of even seeing the movie, but after a few months of gradually hearing praises upon praises, I started to ponder maybe looking into it some more. I saw it in November, shortyl after its DVD release. This was one of the most surprisingly powerful films of last year.

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Joseph-Gordon Levitt has been emerging in last couple of years in a lot of troubled teenager roles, but it is in [i]Mysterious Skin [/i]where he finds the one he can embody fully, and he gives a truly fantastic and courageous performance. He plays a teenage hustler who came to be what he is from a devastating incident when he was younger. Brady Corbet, who has been in [i]Thirteen [/i]and [i]Thunderbirds [/i]before this, gets his first legitimately terrific role and runs with it well. He plays a teenager that from an early age felt linked to Alien life and constantly believes that UFO's have landed on earth. These two characters are beautifully constructed by Gregg Araki, who finally finds an affectively emotional way to tell a story AND continue with his frank way of displaying horrific, scarring human behavior. Some of the supporting cast includes Michelle Trachtenberg in a very different role than we're used to seeing her, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Richard Riehle, and Elisabeth Shue. This lineup of actors really come together and take their roles in with perfection, also helping Araki to finally give us something not only worthwhile but amazing.

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"Disturbing" is a word that has become glued to everything Araki has made so far in his career, and I'm sure it will continue to turn out that way. I just hope he takes off from here and goes along the path of strong writing and directing like what he's shown in [i]Mysterious Skin[/i], which was oh so close to a masterpiece. I cannot wait to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the upcoming noir film, [i]Brick[/i]. He could evolve into a premier talent.

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
½

Albert Brooks is one of those comedians that can make you laugh even when there's not much there, like in some movies he has only acted in rather than have a part in the writing or directing. He has made some movies that could never have been enjoyable at least worth a look (like [i]My First Mister[/i]) just because he has that dry, humurous face and good comic timing. When he gets around to actually writing and directing, this is when you know you're guaranteed to have an interesting, original story to go along with his brilliant acting qualities.

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In his latest film Brooks stretches to new depths, playing himself. In the film he is at the point of his career where he can no longer get acting gigs, which leads to a very funny opening sequence where he is auditioning for Penny Marshall to get a role in a remake of a Jimmy Stewart movie, playing Stewart's character. Soon after we find him receiving a piece of mail from the White House asking him to fly out as soon as possible. The U.S. government is tired of using fighting tactics to solve conflicts with other countries, and after failing to get a hold of many other prefferable comedians for their new plan they ultimately settle on Brooks, who seems like the only one that responded to the letter. They explain that "because the President has such a great sense of humor" (insert baffled look on Brooks' face) they want to try and better relations with the Muslim people by making them laugh. So after letting the fact that it is an actual task asked of him sink in, Brooks is on a flight to India accompanied by two bored government agents (played well by John Carroll Lynch and Jon Tenney). He must come back in a month with 500 or more pages focusing on what makes the Muslims laugh.

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The setup for this film, his first time back in the writing/directing saddle in 6 years, looks as though the audience should be in for a tremendous, laugh-a-second comedy. That's not quite what we get, but there is enough humor in this film to recommend seeing it, without a doubt, because you'll always get quality from an Albert Brooks penned film. Sheetal Sheth, who plays Brooks' handpicked assistant for the journey, is extremely good in this movie. I wouldn't be surprised if she started to pop up in many films to come.

Brokeback Mountain

When Ang Lee is set to unveil a new film, it is not only eagerly anticipated but a cause for celebration. In his career he has managed to become one of the most successfully diverse filmmakers, pouring his heart into whatever the project might be. His film from 1997 about dysfuntion among rich, bored, and unloved families, [i]The Ice Storm, [/i]has always had a spot on my 10 favorite movies list. His work has been regarded as magnificent over the years, but he has never taken part in anything considered controversial until now. Annie Proulx's short story entitled [i]Brokeback Mountain [/i]was adapted into a screnplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana some years ago, and since then numerous filmmakers have looked and passed on it, simply because they didn't want to get their names involved in a heated controversy. I saw this film nearly three weeks ago as I'm writing this review, and since then it has won a lot of awards, including at the recent Golden Globes where it took home Best Song, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. This has obviously created an even larger target on the film. I, for one really don't understand the reactions and believe that most of the hateful comments or jokes on the movie have been made by people who haven't even seen it. These are the ones who call it a "gay cowboy" movie. For those of us who've seen it, which has grown to an insanely big number since its awards were handed out, we know it's one of the most beautiful love stories ever filmed.

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Heath Ledger gives his first truly great performance as ranch-hand Ennis Del Mar and Jake Gyllenhaal adds another reason why we should all be considering him one of the most gifted young actors ever as rodeo cowboy Jack Twist. The film finds these two men at a young age in the summer of 1963 in Wyoming as they take a sheepherding job that no one else had even bothered to apply for. Throughout the season they slowly become comfortable with each other's personalities and bond to an extreme level, sharing a feeling unlike some people get to in their lifetime. Amidst the seclusion of Brokeback Mountain, Ennis and Jack stumbled into a situation that neither of them could've unexpected, but how do they continue knowing each other when summer ends, and especially in the place and time they live in. Ang Lee courageously adapts the story on his own breathtaking pallette and treats their lives and dillemmas with such respect that it is hard not to keep from crying throughout. To see soulmates kept apart by the judgements of society is the most heartbreaking thing when it's made with this much emotion and appreciation for subject matter. As the film continues into almost two decades of their lives, we are introduced to more characters, including the women each of them marry eventually, played by Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway. Williams has been quietly proving herself to be a legitimate talent and in my opinion has had the most impressive career after that idiotic television show which I don't need to mention. Hathaway had a breakout year in 2005, and when I say breakout I mean breaking out of the Disney mold, starring in [i]Havoc [/i]and now this, giving a good performance.

[img]http://www.cinemablend.com/images/news/1579/_1126584076.jpg[/img]

Everything works beautifully in this movie, and I can't say I'm surprised. I am happy that many other filmmakers passed on [i]Brokeback Mountain [/i]before Lee found it, because I don't think others would have shown this much respect for Proulx's material, which would've made this an embarassing project. Another thing that is just pitch perfect is the western sound of the score, performed by Gustavo Santaolalla. The them for the movie, mainly occupied by numerous acoustics, lingers in my head all of the time. This is an important movie and I really think one that can make a difference in helping silence a lot of prejudice and controversy. One of the most fascinating films of 2005.

Syriana
Syriana(2005)

Over the last month and a half I have deserted the task of finishing reviews for dozens of movies, but none have waited longer to be written than Stephen Gaghan's [i]Syriana[/i]. It has been six weeks since I first saw the film and a second viewing came on New Year's day. For most movies, a gap between starting a review like this would be dreadful, with many important sequences already escaping my head, but I won't have any problem like that with this one. It stays with you, and frame by frame after two viewings especially.

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Gaghan's award-winning screenplay for Steven Soderbergh's powerful film from 2000, [i]Traffic[/i], was excellent and fascinating, so as far as penning a script for something like [i]Syriana[/i], there wasn't anything to worry about. It was his choice to also direct that left me a little doubtful, and only because his directorial debut three years earlier in the disastrous thriller [i]Abandon[/i], fell flat on its face. It only took seconds into [i]Syriana [/i]for all of my doubts to wash away, and so much so that I really believe Gaghan did a far superior job here than Soderbergh for [i]Traffic[/i]. The source for the movie's events come from a book written by former CIA agent Robert Baer, who George Clooney brilliantly plays in the film, but by the name Bob Barnes. To try and run down the outlook of the story and give an explanation would be pointless, because I really don't think there is one certain thing it's getting at. This is a movie that is smarter than anyone watching it, and leaves all of us spinning our own web of conclusions. There are times when you might think the movie is naming its arch enemies or taking sides, but if you think this then you must not be letting the movie progress, for if you do so then you'll find that it's not pointing fingers but observing each side of all governments and displaying the similarities of corruption all around.

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What added another level of brilliance was the addition of the three main characters' personal lives. These people are Barnes, Bryan Woodman (played by Matt Damon), and Bennett Miller, who is played in another diverse performance by Jeffrey Wright. These three men are delved into so precisely and on every type of professional and human level that we start to care for them despite the decisions they make. The cast recruited in [i]Syriana[/i] was hands down the most impressive of 2005, ranging from well known to overlooked talents, and from all points of the world. Among them are Christopher Plummer, Tim Blake Nelson, Alexander Siddig, Amanda Peet, Chris Cooper, William Hurt, Max Minghella and Nicky Henson. I am ashamed at myself for avoiding my review until now. This is a mesmerizing film.

The New World

Finally one of the most anticipated movies of 2005 comes to the big screen, Terrence Malick's fourth piece of artwork, [i]The New World[/i]. In a time when Hollywood box-office smahes are almost entirely idiotic projects that make me often embarrassed to be an American, here stands this film in the middle of them all at gigantic multi-plexes across the country. That is what came to mind even before entering the theater for this movie, just how does a film like this get a wide open venue? I'm sure it has much to do with the casting of popular Colin Farrell, who has scored enough hits under his belt to help something with real cinematic value get deserved recognition.

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We all are familiar with at least one of the numerous movie versions of the mythical relationship between Captain John Smith and Princess Pocahontas that have been unveiled, but this is the one that reaches far beyond just their journey together, and Malick decides to take a path unlike any of us have ever quite seen before. First and foremost, I must mention the brilliant collaborating Malick has done with composer James Horner, who delivers the strongest outing of his career and from the minute the film opens it is well known that there hasn't been a score this powerful that fit its film this perfectly in quite some time. What has always been awe-inspiring in Malick's films, although, is his balance between score and silence, which is most important in a film like this. I have read reviews by critics who think he is the most irritating and boring director simply because he chooses to let his stories breathe and meditate, and for these people I must assume that they are either the "action-a-minute" type of moviegoer, or they are simply on the outside looking in as opposed to letting themselves become enveloped in his films. Those who appreciate great cinema will most definitely fall in love with his films, and with [i]The New World [/i]he has come dangerously close to topping his greatest achievement, [i]Days of Heaven[/i]. The performances by the cast are evidence of performers identifying with the emotional core and appreciating what they are a part of. Farrell's quiet turn as John Smith is heartbreakingly brilliant and the best work he has done so far in his impressive career. There are supporting performances from the always amazing Christopher Plummer and by Christian Bale as John Rolfe, the tobacco farmer who becomes involved in the young Princess' life later on. There are even small cameos from familiar faces that are showing up for the sheer privilege of being in a Malick film, even if it's only for a few seconds. I saw Ben Chaplin in a role with no dialogue and a few short shots, who worked with the director in [i]The Thin Red Line[/i], and there was also Noah Taylor in a fine minute or two.

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I think I can predict the future, and it saddens me to think that it will hold no recognition for [i]The New World [/i]come nomination time. Seven years ago [i]The Thin Red Line[/i] was fortunate enough to garner 7 nominations, but without even 1 win. I know that in today's Oscar world, which is all about popularity and such, that getting nominated or even winning really isn't all that much of an honor, but it is powerful films like this that come along every year that make one want to stand up and shout on behalf of its brilliance. Oh, Award Givers, please recognize this movie! This is one of the few movies that has made me cry often, really throughout the entire journey. I saw this movie twice over the weekend and I expect I will have to see it on the big screen at least one more time, for I haven't been this floored by a motion picture in at least two years, since [i]Lost in Translation[/i].

Glory Road
Glory Road(2006)

I've decided to start my catching up on reviews with Disney's latest true story underdog sports film, [i]Glory Road[/i], and I don't really know why, but at least I'm typing again. If it wasn't for the casting of Josh Lucas in his very first commanding lead role then I'm sure I would have passed this movie up in theaters, but seeing as how I'm a big fan of Lucas's talents I was easily sold, although I wasn't expecting much.

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Every once in a while prodcuer Jerry Bruckheimer likes to put up large sums of money for films that DO NOT include explosions, of course this doesn't happen that often. When he does venture away from action flicks it usually results toward crowd-pleasing sports collaborations with the people at Walt Disney Pictures. They scored a gigantic hit a few years ago with [i]Remember the Titans[/i] and with [i]Glory Road [/i]it looks like they're aiming at the same success. I saw this film at a sneak preview screening almost 2 weeks ago now, and I remember thinking to myself how bad this would do at the box-office simply because it had no big name like Denzel to back it up. As I type this review [i]Glory Road [/i]stands at the top of the money making films in theaters, which really does surprise me, but I also tend to forget that Disney is powerful. Anyway, about the movie a little bit more. Lucas plays Don Haskins, a former high school girl's basketball coach who takes a job at the small University of Texas Western and in his first years wins the national chamionship, and with an all African-American starting lineup - the first in NCAA history.

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There are many things that echo just about every other sports film ever made, but we can't really hold that against [i]Glory Road[/i], because what else can you really do after a while? What's really the problem with this film is its failure to dig deeper inside the human emotions of each of the main characters, especially Haskins. It's no doubt that Lucas is the star of the film, but it still feels like he is being deprived of screen time here, which ultimately takes away from Lucas' performance. Had he had a better screenplay behind him his performance could've been tremendous, instead it's just good, and solely based on his talents alone. The main player on the team, Bobby Joe Hill, is played by Derek Luke, and even though he takes the role and does a great job with it the fact is that we've already seen him do something exactly like this, and in a much better movie, Peter Berg's [i]Friday Night Lights[/i]. I think it's time for Luke to start branching out into more roles like his in David Mamet's underrated [i]Spartan[/i]. There are many faults the film possesses, but a lot of them are minor and in the end it's still enjoyable enough to mildly recommend, at least for the impact this team had on NCAA sports.

King Kong
King Kong(2005)
½

I know very little to nothing about the previous Hollywood versions of [i]King Kong[/i], but I'm sure one really doesn't need to know much to have a voice in the argument on whether or not it was a good idea to remake the story yet again. There's no question that it was a very good choice to go ahead with this new take on the classic tale, because it's been nearly 30 years since the last one and much more could be created in today's cinema, namely breathtaking visual effects.

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Naomi Watts is the latest Ann Darrow, object of both man and beast's affection. The man is acclaimed but penniless playwright Jack Driscoll (played by Adrien Brody), who has reluctantly taken a job writing a Hollywood movie which is being illegally produced by Carl Denham. Jack Black plays the movie producer, and although most have said he doesn't fit in the part and was an unusual choice based on past actors that have played him, I think he handles the role quite well. The first act of the movie has been widely accused of being sluggish, but I think that reaction comes from people who are just too anxious to see Kong early on. Peter Jackson and his usual writing partners Philippa Boyens and Fran Marsh make the great of letting us get to know the humans, and most importantly the bond between Darrow and Driscoll, before thrusting us into the heart of the jungle. More than an hour passes before the infamous ape even shows his face on screen, which really does pay off in then end.

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For Jackson, I really believe that this is the first outstanding job he has delivered as a director. His passion for this story makes him a perfect choice to remake it, and nearly all of his techniques for the vision to create his own, distinctive installment work well. There is only one tiny problem I found in the film, which I had to see a second time just to make sure if it was keeping me from rating the movie perfect. As he has used in nearly all of his films, Jackson periodically inserts strange and annoying effects on slow motion sequences that really don't work and take away from the experience. I don't think I've ever seen anything so distracting in a great movie such as this, and although it's such a tiny mishap, it shows up one too many times and really does take the masterpiece right out of the movie. In the scenes with the Skull Island tribe in particular, this technique is heavily used. Still, about 99% of this movie is enthralling, epic, mesmerizing, and truly unlike anything you'll ever see. This is an amazing film that is definitely one to discover on a screen as big as [i]King Kong [/i]himself.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic

When I heard that Sarah Silverman was releasing a film I immediately started to anticipate it coming to my area, because I think she's one of the funniest people out there. She is slightly insane, which is what separates the mediocre comics from the great ones, and she flat out just doesn't care who she ends up offending. To see a full length movie in theaters featuring Silverman ranting in a stand-up routine was something I thought would be priceless. [i]Jesus is Magic [/i]is its name, and although it manages to clock in at barely 70 minutes, it somehow manages to outstay its welcome.

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I don't know why Silverman, who wrote the screenplay, thought it would be funny to add cheesy musical numbers that pop in throughout. In the opening minutes of the film she dives into one about the journey of finding some standout female star to appear in the film, which inevitably ends up turning into a little tune dedicated to her infatuation with herself. This is an idea that probably seemed funny when she was writing it, but it's just plain awful seeing the end product. There are almost no lyrics to the songs in the film that are funny, except for a pointless but humurous sequence involving a nursing home and maybe a few other tidbits that last for only a split second. What's funniest, and especially in the first half of the film, is her stand-up act, where she continues to be one of the funniest and most daring performers around. Unfortunately, there are 2 things that have prevented me from recommending [i]Jesus is Magic[/i], which I so desperately want to do. First off, the musical numbers take up too much time and steal from the stand-up sequences, and in a 70 minute movie that doesn't leave much for quality parts. Secondly, and most surprising, in the final act of the stand-up she begins to venture off into territory with most of the jokes that really become kind of insulting and slightly annoying rather than humurous.

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It saddens me to give this a negative review, but the truth is that it is poorly made and she began to tire me as the movie approached the end. When you're feeling like that during a film it doesn't matter if it's 70 minutes or 170 minutes - it's all the same hellacious length to try and sit through.
Even if there is a hilarious Bob Odenkirk cameo.

The Squid and the Whale

[font=Arial]It is evident through almost every single aspect of writer/director Noah Baumbach's techniques in [i]The Squid and The Whale [/i]that he has been heavily influenced by Wes Anderson after teaming with him for the screenplay to [i]The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou[/i]. Most everything seems derived from some form of Anderson's past work, from the quirky dialogue to the careful choice of music to the extremely disturbed, but often funny characters. Yes, he has learned much from the great director, but he doesn't use that knowledge to simply go off and mimic his every move and create a boring replica. Although there are sprinkles of the Anderson style, [i]The Squid and The Whale [/i]is very much Baumbach's very own, distinctive film that could match up well with anything Anderson has done. [/font]

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[font=Arial]Bernie (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) play a couple of New York, intellectual authors who are at the end of their marriage after 17 years. When they first married, Bernie was the successful writer and she had never even taken the profession into consideration. With the inspiration from Bernie's brilliance and good fortunes, Joan decides to try and write. At the time they choose to separate almost 2 decades later, it is Joan who is the successfully published author and Bernie who is struggling to get by as teaching brings in the only income. Their two sons are Walter and Frank, played by Jesse Eisenberg and newcomer Owen Kline (Kevin and Phoebe's son) in two outstanding performances. Coming from a divorced family himself, Baumbach does a fantastic job at showing how, in most cases, the children start to become the parents in joint custody as opposed to the other way around. The screenplay doesn't dumb down the situations or lighten up the inevitable altercations, plus it realistically portrays the effect separation has on kids at such awkward ages. Frank is greatly affected by the entire thing and is really forced to guide himself through the approaching stage that is puberty. Competition for favorites is something that is very alive in a lot of joint custody cases, I'm sure, as it was with my parents. Baumbach applies a heavy amount of this with the parents. Bernie is a cynical, self-complementing person who likes to rub this off on Walter as much as he can, which works to such a great extent that he begins to openly hate his mother. These kind of things never worked on Frank, who seems to drift toward his mother more. [/font]

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[font=Arial]This movie hit very deep with me and struck so many familiar chords that I was literally blown away. Baumbach's has improved so much as a writer and director since his debut[i]Kicking and Screaming [/i]in 1995 that it's almost unreal. Jeff Daniels has never been better and deserves nominations across the board, and the rest of the cast is just amazing. Also adding some good performances are Anna Paquin as Bernie's student with seductive strategies (even though she's done this type of thing 80 times now) and William Baldwin, who is hilarious as a burn out tennis instructor who takes a liking to . This is one of the best and most faithful portraits of a family's interactions after destruction...thus, one of the best films of the year.[/font]

Bee Season
Bee Season(2005)
½

[font=Arial]Scott McGehee and David Siegel's [i]The Deep End [/i]was a very interesting little thriller from 2001 that sort of came and went without ever really garnering much attention. Tilda Swinton and Goran Vijsnic were outstanding in the film and deliver underrated performances in an underrated film. That is the only thing I've seen from the co-directors until I went to check out the much anticipated [i]Bee Season[/i], in which they tackle a story that would on the surface seem like the challenge of winning a national spelling bee, but that's simply a small part of what's really going on in this intriguing movie.[/font]

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[font=Arial][font=Arial]Richard Gere is an actor who has done his fair share of misfires and laughable movies, and for that he is never seriously considered by most as a talented actor. I think he is an extremely gifted performer, and because of those horrible films in which he so often participates in, many forget about movies like [i]Days of Heaven [/i]or [i]Primal Fear [/i]where he has been brilliant. In this film he receives such an interesting and layered character that is well suited for him. It is really strange also, because in a very odd way, this character, who obsesses over the Jewish myth of Kabala, is in no way different from Jeff Daniels' in [i]The Squid and The Whale[/i]. If you've seen both then maybe you know what I'm getting at, or whenever you manage to check them out I'd like to see if you share that opinion. Juliette Binoche plays Gere's wife in the film, who over the years has become more and more enveloped in an insane, secret act due to her husband's obsession with work and distance from her emotionally. This is a great performance from an actress with an already huge list of great performances, and in this she is just right for the part. Newcomers Max Minghella and Flora Cross, who look exactly like children Gere and Binoche would have if they really were together, are the emotional core of the film. Minghella, who can also be seen in a cameo in [i]Syriana, [/i]is strong as a young man in his late high school stages who has been pushed away from his father's beliefs simply by how much he puts them first, even ahead of his family. This causes him to search for the right type of spiritual journey for him to go on, which is influenced by a girl he meets, played by Kate Bosworth in a fine little supporting performance. [/font]

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[font=Arial][font=Arial]What's really amazing in a film filled with amazing aspects is Flora Cross's challenging and outstanding performance as a girl who finally gets attention from her dad when she wins numerous spelling bees. There hasn't been nor will there ever be many debut performances as good as this one, and that's mainly due to the fact that these type of young actors just don't receive this smart of a role in the beginning. Ms. Cross should stick around for a long, long time. I went into [i]Bee Season [/i]expecting something really special, and what I ultimately got was that and more - an unexpectedly thought provoking and even haunting piece of work.[/font][/font]
[/font]

11:14
11:14(2003)

First seen in 2003 at the Toronto International Film Festival, [i]11:14 [/i]has just gotten its U.S. release earlier this year, and straight to video I might add...a place it belongs. Writer/director Craig Marcks attempts to create a night marred with unfortunate coincidences, and just because it has been released in the same year as Paul Haggis's [i]Crash[/i], it is being compared. [i]11:14 [/i]doesn't even deserve to be spouted out in the same breath or mentioned anywhere near the vacinity of [i]Crash[/i], and for many reasons. The main one that comes to mind is that Haggis had the skills and effective writing to go hand in hand with the talented ensemble he had the good graces of receiving, and Marcks, he just doesn't...at all.

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There is such a been there, done that vibe seeping through every inch of this movie that it nearly made me sick. First off, I must complain about the opening credits. I understand that because of the amount of time the characters spend winding through the same streets of the city you prefer to incorporate overhead shots of the road as the credits rolled by, but it's all completely amateur the way it's done here. They don't just simply film some shots of the road, but computer generate them. And not only that, but the credits sort of rev up like automobiles and skid through intersections, all the while some extremely hokey music rumbles on. From the opening minute of this movie I knew I would hate it. Credits aren't supposed to make any difference in the overall opinion of a film, are they? Here they do, and what unfolds in the next 85 minutes doesn't improve on that disgusting opening much at all. Countless characters populate Marck's story which puts them all in worst-of-the-worst circumstances that coincidentally occur at 11:14 p.m. Rachel Leigh Cook, Shawn Hatosy, Patrick Swayze, Barbara Hershey, Hilary Swank, Colin Hanks, Ben Foster, Stark Sands, Clark Gregg, and Henry Thomas are the main actors playing these people. Swank, an actress of terrific range, also has a producing credit on the film, which is mind-boggling to me. She must be the reason all of these actors wanted to join in on this horrible piece of work, or maybe it's something that just seemed good on paper.

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I won't get into the story, but I will say that it has one too many deaths or brushes with death, some really bad, failed attempts at insulting dark comedy, and unrealistic behavior after the experience of tragic events. Films of coincidence, good or bad, have preposterous storylines...it's just that the one's that are good make us focus on the incredible performances, strong screenplay, or taut direction. They invite the audience in with the skills to overshadow such implausible occurences with oustanding filmmaking, like [i]Crash[/i], or the ultimate example, [i]Magnolia[/i]. Marcks's film fails to become effectively gripping on every level that I got fully bored with it, ultimately doing what was the only thing to do left, picking apart the endlessly stupid coincidences that happen at [i]11:14[/i]. I want to make note that my 2/10 rating is more generous than I wanted to be, but some of the performances, particularly by Swank and Swayze, are good no matter how much the filmmaker tries to toy with their characters.

March of the Penguins

I have heard too many people complain that [i]March of the Penguins [/i]is hard to sit through unless you're a fan of these birds, but that is just an awful thing to say in my opinion. There is much to savor here and it goes way beyond penguins. Anyone who cares for cinema will respect the road traveled by the filmmakers to give the world this story. It's one of the most beautifully shot and most courageous love stories of the past few years, and having Morgan Freeman narrate you through it all doesn't hurt either. The man could do the same thing millions of times (which he kind of already has) and still manage to come off as outstanding.

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Director Luc Jacquet practically mimics the emperor penguins way of living in order to capture their 9-month cycle of reproduction. What an interesting documentary to come across the table, one that goes way beyond those on the Discovery Channel, telling us the entire story of just how dangerous it is for them to bring new life into their world. At 80 minutes on the nose it tells the amazing story in just the right time, moving at a surprisingly great pace. There must certainly be a place for this film plastered on numerous award statuettes. I don't want to get into their unbelievable journey because, for those who also have no clue about emperor penguins, it must be seen without any knowledge. Also, for those who think they would be bored and pass the movie up on the shelves at the rental store - if you like documentaries then there is no way you should neglect thios. It's one of the elite in the genre all year, just behind [i]Murderball [/i]and the great [i]Grizzly Man[/i].

Off the Map
Off the Map(2003)
½

I saw [i]Off the Map [/i]in August earlier this year and I liked it, yet it escaped my mind for some reason. It wasn't until I saw [i]Yes [/i]recently and thought of Joan Allen's amazing year that I was reminded of it again. This was the performance sandwiched between her's in [i]The Upside of Anger [/i]and [i]Yes[/i], and it deserves no less respect compared. Allen has been one of the best actresses in the last 10 years, but in 2005 she is making a strong case for being called upon as the best.

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Regularly an actor and a fantastic one at that, Campbell Scott occasionally will venture off and produce, write, and direct as well. He made his directorial debut along with Stanley Tucci in the mid-90's with [i]Big Night[/i], one of the most wonderful and entertaining films I have ever seen. Here he brings us an intriguing, offbeat tale of a family living in the vast lands of New Mexico, shut out from all regular human activities. As we meet them they are at a strange time in their lives. Allen is Arlene, who is married to Charley, played by Sam Elliott. Charley is in a state of deeply strong depression and never speaks a word to anyone at any time. Arlene must put almost all of the weight of running the family and their ranch on her back, with some help from George (J.K. Simmons), a kind man who has always helped them and is considered family. Newcomer Valentina de Angelis plays their only daughter, Bo, who is at the age in her life when children are most curious and hungry to do more than what they're doing, and especially when you're never around any type of public like herself. Their life would seem to be heading into darker territory when they are visited by an IRS agent who has come to audit them for bringing in an income of less than $5,000 a year for numerous years in a row. Jim True-Frost, who reunites with Campbell Scott after acting alongside him in Cameron Crowe's [i]Singles[/i], gives his most complex and human performance as he becomes enthralled by the family's way of life and slowly learns to become a part of it all. This is a strange, strange film, but it works in a way. Scott works with his actors well and Joan Ackermann's screenplay lets the characters breath and watches each one develop. Although there are some things in the film that really struck me as odd and in a distracting way, it is definitely a good piece of work, but one that could have been excellent. Still, I feel stupid for forgetting to comment about my opinions of [i]Off the Map[/i], because it didn't deserve that kind of treatment, especially Allen, who should really be considered for 3 nominations.

Heights
Heights(2005)
½

Here comes another addition to this year's interlocking stories films, Chris Terrio's [i]Heights[/i], set in the most popular backdrop for these type of troubled human beings, New York City. The ensemble put together in this film all do their part and deliver good performances and Terrio has some strong points as a filmmaker, but at this point, when we've seen one too many of these kind of films and really need something refreshing inside if it's going to work, it deflates.

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Elizabeth Banks and James Marsden play a couple who are on the verge of marriage and are extremely happy, or so it seems. Glenn Close is as memorable as she's been in a while as Banks' mother, an Oscar-winning actress whose face is plastered across Broadway billboards all around. It is nice to see Banks, an actress who has been giving some great supporting performances for a few years now, receive this type of starring role. In her scenes with Marsden she is very strong, as is he, sharing equal chemistry and tension. Other cast members are Eric Bogosian, Matthew Davis, John Light, and even musician Rufus Wainwright in a small role. Jesse Bradford does the best work of his young career so far, and even if he plays a dull character, the one who is the link between everyone involved. It's his second appearance in an ensemble film with mildly similar points of views, the first being Don Roos' [i]Happy Endings[/i]. Oddly enough, it was in that film which he was less effective as an actor, but it was the better movie.

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The reason most of these kind of films don't end up meshing together for a solid outcome is that they don't make us care for each end of everyone involved by the final act. Terrio tries to rush by with some of these character's lives and never lets us get inside of their emotions, and it doesn't help that it's all finished by around 95 minutes. There are moments where he uses split-screen, but it's all just way too tired in my opinion and I was not into that idea. The talent of these great actors can only make these people temporarily interesting before the screenplay must take over and sharpen their edges. There is a lot here to admire, however, and it's definitely not a terrible piece of work. Terrio is still a director we should keep an eye out for in the future.

Crónicas
Crónicas(2005)

Sebastian Cordero's [i]Cronicas [/i]is a film that I think should have been distributed to a wider range of screens when it made its theatrical run, because it touches down on the important topic of the questionable truthfulness of TV journalism. Making less than $300,000 at the box-office, it quickly made its way to video and will now hopefully find the audience it deserves.

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John Leguizamo can be a fantastic actor when he's not doing idiotic comedies or television projects. In 1999, when he turned in a brilliant and underrated performance in Spike Lee's [i]Summer of Sam[/i], I hoped he would get on a streak of challenging roles like that one, but he sort of just shifted from the lame to the mediocre for a few years. Cordero provides Leguizamo the dramatic character he desperately needed in Manola Bonilla, a self-indulgent reporter for a famous tabloid televison show. He has been in the always hot and humid Ecuador village, Babahoyo investigating the elusive child murder who is only known as "The Monster". The direction by Cordero is effectively claustrophobic, and especially during the opening sequence where we find a man named Vinicio who may be on either side of the human spectrum, a loving family man who has just been unlucky, or "The Monster" himself. What's great about the film is that it never tries to answer any questions ahead of time simply for the audience themselves. We never know anything that Bonilla doesn't, and with each move he makes we are making it with him.

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He slowly becomes more and more obsessed with the story, and at first it's simply because he is hungry for the most exposure he can get for himself. But as he digs deeper and uncovers more confusing secrets that lead him to draw up several different conclusions, he changes as a human being, and becomes emotionally attached. Leguizamo is outstanding in this movie and although the filmmaking is rather solid it is him who takes it to the level it's at. There are times when the film slips a little and prevents itself from becoming something plain fantastic, but the suspense is always there, remaining tight and interesting us until the final frame. Check this one out if you get the chance.

Yes
Yes(2005)
½

There is no question after watching just one scene in [i]Yes [/i]that Sally Potter is a breathtaking filmmaker, with a visual sense unlike anyone else out there. This is one of the most purely unique movies of 2005, with a fine performance from the actress of the year, Joan Allen, among others. Sadly though, for as many positive things the movie possesses it also holds many negative setbacks, which causes the film to take a nose dive. It's really disappointing that this ended up happening, too, because there is a masterpiece hidden somewhere inside of it.

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Shirley Henderson plays a housekeeper who ever so often brings the audience up to date on the dysfunctions of the married couple she works for. They are played by Allen and the wonderfully talented Sam Neill. They share few words and sometime go days without seeing each other. Him seemingly already finding his way into other women's lives, she eventually becomes frustrated and finds herself falling into a relationship with an intriguing chef, who is played by Simon Abkarian in a terrific performance. The movie has so much that is constructed with such an amazing sense of filmmaking, with Potter sketching around a wide pallette of techniques. The opening 15 minutes had me so pleasantly overjoyed that I thought I was in for a masterwork...then the screenplay starts to take us on an interesting, but ultimately distracting journey.

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Potter's script is written in a rhythm that could very well be our modern day Shakespeare, and as the movie inches closer and closer to its climax, it puts such a weight on the viewer, demanding so much. It's almost as if Potter's film is overly original. The hardest thing I've had to do all year is give [i]Yes [/i]a bad review, because this is an amazing piece of work. Although I cannot give it a positive score, I can say that I would recommend it for those who are looking for something wholly fresh. Also, this is the kind of film I'd love to discuss with others about.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
½

I am not a Tim Burton fan. There I said it, got it out of the way to begin with. I know there are Burton worshipers lurking around every corner who would strangle me for that comment, but everyone's entitled to their own opinion, right? To be a fan of a director I think you must like at least half of their work, if not more. I have only admired two of his films in the past - [i]Ed Wood [/i]and [i]Sleepy Hollow[/i], plus there were portions of [i]Big Fish [/i]that I enjoyed. Regardless of my feelings for his work, I am still strongly against remaking [i]Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory [/i]no matter what filmmaker were to take hold of the project. To me, this is a pointless idea because the original is such a timeless classic, so there is simply no need for another version. It's really as useless as if someone were to remake [i]The Wizard of Oz[/i]. It's all about cashing in at the box-office. Nevertheless, I tossed those feelings aside and watched Burton's interpretation.

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Most of what Burton is famous for is his unusual set designs and visual effects, which I've only been astounded by on rare occasions. In this film there is plenty to feast your eyes upon, and although most would assume that the most awe-inspiring creations lie in the factory, I was taken by something else - the Bucket residence. Charlie's poor home is wonderfully designed and was the most impressive piece of set decoration in my opinion. After that almost everything resorts to distracting and hokey CGI. Noah Taylor and Burton regular, Helena Bonham Carterplay Charlie's parents and are well cast in the roles, giving good performances as they always do. In fact, pretty much all the performances in the film are just fine, and especially from Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. When this movie was released in theaters and receiving stellar reviews, almost everyone was leaving Depp's performance out of the positive crtiquing, calling him "scarily miscast" and whatnot. I understand that he looks like an eery tranvestite and the choice of design for everything about Wonka was maddening, but that doesn't affect his performance in any way. Depp is insanely funny at times and plays the part the exact opposite of Gene Wilder some 34 years ago. This Wonka is scared and intimidated by the children instead of scaring and intimidating them. The screenplay by [i]Big Fish [/i]adaptor John August has some odd and humurous moments that depp works with well, but the new twists thrown in, involving Wonka's upbringing, really aren't that appealing...and maybe I coldn't get into it because I just get irritated by the way Burton makes films and tries to be weird.

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I came very close to rating this film in the 6 area, which is a place that I never thought I'd come close to considering. For that, I was impressed beyond what I thought I would be, because there are some sequences that are very interesting in this [i]Factory[/i]. In the end, however, the genius of the original masterpiece still stands in the way, reminding me that there is just no need for something like this. Plus, there was just way too many computer generated seuqneces, and the new Umpa Lumpa's and their musical numbers were plain awful.

Bottle Rocket

JyakAnorondak's recent review of Wes Anderson's debut film, [i]Bottle Rocket[/i] brought back fond memories of when I wore out my original VHS copy about 7 years ago. It's the sort of film that holds up with each viewing and no matter stage of my life I find myself in I will always love it. There are maybe only a handful of other comedies that even come close to competing with this one for funniest movie ever in my opinion. I have always said this in the past - it's not Anderson's best film, but it is his funniest. The performance by Owen Wilson should be in consideration for top 10 funniest of all-time. I would like to thank JyakAnorondak for posting that review and reminding me that I need to pay my tributes to it and watch it again for the first time in nearly a year. It was hard choosing just one quote from the movie, and I avoided using the infamous "They'll never catch me....because I'm fucking innocent." one. I'll leave that to Yum-Yum. After a long, hard search, I decided to go with numerous ones that deserve to be displayed.

1.) "One morning, over at Elizabeth's beach house, she asked me if I'd rather go water-skiing or lay out. And I realized that not only did I not want to answer THAT question, but I never wanted to answer another water-sports question, or see any of these people again for the rest of my life." - Anthony (Luke Wilson)


2.) FUTUREMAN: (picks up a leaf from the pool) What the fuck is this?

Throws the leaf on the ground next to Dignan. Dignan picks it up, looks at it, and pauses.

DIGNAN: [i]It's a leaf[/i].


3.) ANTHONY: Grace thinks I'm a failure.

DIGNAN: What? What has she ever accomplished in her life that's so great?!?


I feel so disappointed in myself that I would forget to watch one of the most essential classics from my youth that I am even dedicating the title of my journal to the film, for now. Oh yeah, I also wanted to mention the rumor that's been going around for years now that [i]Bottle Rocket [/i]is going to get Criterion Collection treatment, which would mean all of Anderson's film would be graced by the label. I really hope this happens, because a movie like this needs to have featured-up discs. Plus, I'm anxious to see the short film Anderson and Wilson made at Texas University that this was based on.

The Devil's Rejects
½

Rewind just a few months ago when [i]The Devil's Rejects [/i]was released in theaters and I would've told you there was no way in hell I would ever give a movie directed by Rob Zombie a chance. Well, I rented the film last week, the unrated director's cut, which made me feel like I actually was in hell for nearly 2 hours...which is not a bash, but a compliment to this sadistic yet addictive creation.

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[left] [/left]

[left]I had heard so many negative things about Zombie's debut film, [i]House of 1,000 Corpses, [/i]that I made sure to stay away from it and prevent myself from wasting my time with another mindless horror movie. So upon this movie's release, which is a sequel to [i]House[/i], I thought for sure there would be the same type of reactions...but they were the exact opposite. For the most part[i], The Devil's Rejects[/i] was praised by both critcs and audiences, but I was still shying away from a theater visit on this one. So I kept it in the back of my mind and waited for the DVD release, and now I find myself sitting here typing that Rob Zombie is a really strong filmmaker. It is his direction that fuels every bit of this movie as he uses interesting editing techniques while harking back to the horror films of old. The film displays a trio of murderers as protagonists, played by Sid Haig, Bill Moseley and Sheri Moon Zombie. Throughout the film they are attempting to hide out in vast desert areas from the police, and along their way taking hostages, torturing, and murdering. There is really no way that I can explain why I like this film, because it's all really grotesque and sickening. What I think makes the film good is the screenplay's sarcastic tone, which was also written by Zombie. There are moments of humor that come at some really awkward, maddening moments, and it ultimately ended up striking me as fascinating. [/left]
[left] [/left]

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[left] [/left]

[left]William Forsythe gives the best performance of the movie as the sheriff who takes single-handed charge of the manhunt for the killers, which promises a finale filled with blood, sweat, and guts. It's definitely not a film for people easily offended or of weak stomach, and you kind of have to leave all sanity out of the picture to enjoy [i]The Devil's Rejects[/i], but it really is one oddly fun piece of work. [/left]

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
½

I have always been sort of put off by animated films, and not only lately but even in my childhood. I never watched any cartoons when I was younger other than [i]Ghostbusters [/i]and [i]Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles[/i], and even with both of those I preffered the live action movies first. So, sadly to say, I've missed out on an abundance of animated films in the past. Well, it's not really that sad I guess, because most animated films that I do end up seeing are just junk anyway and make me happy I don't make too much of an effort to see as many as I can. But then, every once in a while, there are some wonderful ones, and Nick Park has been responsible for two of them. His 2000 release, [i]Chicken Run[/i] made me believe in the animated film again, and now he brings us [i]Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.[/i]

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These two characters have been around for many years and are beloved by millions, but this is their first ever feature film, not to mention my introduction to them. Going into this movie I had no idea what to expect, but I was constantly assured by Amanda that they were amazingly classic characters. She was very, very right. Wallace and Gromit are the 2 greatest and most lovable animated figures I have had the chance to witness. Park co-directed [i]Chicken Run [/i]with Peter Lord, and here he co-directs with Steve Box, who was an animator on [i]Chicken Run[/i]. What makes these characters so amazing is not only how they're animated (which is unique), but how the writers put them in situations that force the audience to know that each of them need one another just as much as the other. Pater Sallis is the voice of Wallace, and Gromit, as everyone knows, is a silent K-9 Good Samaritan. I find it amazing that an animated character that never even speaks can be the most delightful ever created. Helena Bonham Carter voices Wallace's love interest, and Ralph Fiennes is very funny as the villain. I don't really have much else to say other than [i]Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit [/i]is fantastic.

Prime
Prime(2005)
½

Perhaps more than any other genre in cinema it is the romantic comedy that is hardest to bring an original approach to. Each year there are dozens and dozens of these type of films released, most of them being dull and repetetive with even the few good ones not really showing us anything new. Yes, it's long past the time to expect something fresh from romantic comedies, because if we did we would witness major letdown after major letdown. Instead, we must excuse some of the inevitable plot points and put all the weight on the energy of the script, and above all, the performances. If you go into Ben Younger's [i]Prime [/i]with this state of mind then there is absolutely no way you wouldn't enjoy it.

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Uma Thurman is delightful as Rafi, a newly divorced 37 year-old who never had children with her husband, although she desperately wanted to. From the very first scene we are introduced to her in a session with her therapist, Lisa, who is played by Meryl Streep. Lisa's encourages Rafi to date just days after her divorce, which as I'm sure most of you know by now leads her to quickly dive into a relationship with David, a 24 year-old painter who could almost be her son. He isn't, but he is Lisa's kid, which is unkown by all three as the relationship begins. It is a surprising joy to see a least a little originality seep into the screenplay, which was also written by Younger. It has been 5 years since Younger has made his directorial debut, the smart and sophisticated [i]Boiler Room[/i], and I must say that this wasn't the sort of project I expected to come next, but with him at the helm it escapes becoming just another romantic comedy. The therapy session scenes with Streep and Thurman are very entertaining as they share good chemistry. Streep in particular is uproarious at times. The really amazing thing to see was the performance from Bryan Greenberg as David. He receives such a challenging role which includes stepping up to the plate with the female veterans, and I think he gives the best performance of the film. The only other movie he's been in before this was last year's [i]The Perfect Score[/i], which I didn't bother to see. Much of the film focuses on the relationship between Rafi and David, and it works to a great extent through the unlimited chemistry shared between the two as actors.

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My official review for this film is a 7.5 and I almost want to go to a solid 8, because Younger shies away from giving us the typical type of Hollywood ending. I saw this film on its opening weekend in late October, and I am disappointed in myself for not writing this review around then, because it's almost gone from every theater now. I guess I'll have to settle with telling you all to make an effort to rent [i]Prime [/i]when it comes to DVD in a couple of months, especially if you're in need of a good romantic comedy with enjoyable performances.

Robots
Robots(2005)

I am very careful with which animated films I make an effort to see, because these days almost all of them end up disappointing me. Chris Wedge's previous film, [i]Ice Age[/i], had some interesting voice work and a fun character to begin the film, the acorn chasing squirrel, but other than that it just wasn't impressive. There have only been maybe a handful of animated films in the past 10 years that I have loved. I guess I'm just picky when it comes to these sort of things. Wedge's new film is [i]Robots, [/i]and it has enough imagination and superb voice work to help me erase my mind of his previous mediocrity.

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I regret never seeing this on the big screen, because [i]Robots [/i]has a ton of energy and innovation around every turn. "The Great" Ewan McGregor is the voice of Rodney, a young robot who comes from a family that has never left their little town. But Rodney has bigger ideas. He is an aspiring inventor and becomes the first in his family to venture off and show his plans to Big Weld, the owner of the largest robot part company in the world. When he gets to the city he finds that an evildoer named Ratchet (voiced with liveliness by Greg Kinnear) has Big Weld secretly incarcerated and takes charge of the company, planning to do away with spare parts, which would diminish all robots who can't pay for newer chrome bodies. The characters are almost all interesting and well written and the voices are perfectly cast. Playing Rodney's parents are Stanley Tucci and Diane Wiest. The bad guys in the movie are hilariously clumsy, led by Kinnear and also featuring Paul Giamatti and Jim Broadbent. Robin Williams is doing what he does best, talking 1,000 miles a second as Fender, the robot who is constantly missing parts. Completing the list of stars lending their voices are Halle Berry, Mel Brooks, Amanda Bynes, James Earl Jones, Dan Hedaya, Drew Carey, Natasha Lyonne, Jennifer Coolidge, Jay Leno, Stephen Tobolowsky, Al Roker, Paula Abdul, Terry Bradshaw, and even Wedge himself. This is a surprising animated wonder that actually has something fresh and fun to add to a genre that just seems to repeat itself most of the time.

Happy Endings

The multi-layered and interlocking stories films are becoming more and more popular to release, with at least a handful to emerge each year. Writer/director Don Roos ([i]The Opposite of Sex[/i], [i]Bounce[/i]) has dared to fashion one of his own, but with a distinctive style. He tells the stories of about 10 dfferent people with an interesting text narrative that graces the screen throughout. This proves to be both unique and yet sometimes irritating. That is strangely how the film turned out as well, intriguing but just short of capitalizing on all the promising setups.

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Lisa Kudrow is at the core of the story as Mamie, a lost and wandering soul who has so many complications that I won't even start to get into them. I really don't want to dive into any part of the story at all, I'll only say that it is a very ambitious effort and definitely worth taking a look at. Roos has proved to be very good for Kudrow's film career by giving her roles that challenger her to widen her range and help the world realize that she isn't always going to be Phoebe from [i]Friends[/i]. It's surprising to see that 4 out of the 6 cast members of that show have branched off this year into legitimate acting territory. The cast in this film are a very mixed up variety of talents, consisting of actors that I have liked in past work and others that I have hated, yet they all seem to come together well...except for Laura Dern. I have always had something against Dern's acting, and it gets to me even more with her because she is widely praised for her performances. Luckily, she doesn't have much screen time in this film and can't hurt it too much. Giving fantastic performances are Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Ritter, Steve Coogan, David Sutcliffe, Jason Ritter, and surprisingly Tom Arnold. Jesse Bradford was great at times but occasionally went a little too over the top with his character, and Bobby Canavale is sort of cheesy in his performance as the Spanish massaging womanizer.

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There are many moments of terrific wit and wild humor that Roos constructs, but the entire movie is never molded together in a comfortable way. I am still going to recommend to everyone that they get out and rent this film, because I'd liked to hear others thoughts and it's definitely worth seeing once. There is much to like here.

Zathura
Zathura(2005)
½

Although Jon Favreau appeared in some early 90's films such as [i]Rudy [/i]and [i]Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle[/i], everyone knows that his real lift-off came when he penned the screenplay for the now cult classic comedy, [i]Swingers[/i], in which he also gave an outstanding lead performance. Since then he has lended his acting talents to a steady flow of both small and big films, has begun a successful directing career, and launched an interesting series for IFC called [i]Dinner For Five[/i]. His directorial debut came in 2001 with the film [i]Made, [/i]which could easily be called a sequel to [i]Swingers[/i] only this time he and Vaughn are two screwballs who crash into the mob. It was a fantastically funny film with another witty screenplay from Favreau and I anticipated his next film. That film was surprisingly the lighthearted Holiday comedy from 2003, [i]Elf. [/i]The story of that movie seemed intriguing and it could have been a great comedy, but they made the mistake of casting Will Ferrell as the lead. I am simply not a fan of Ferrell's version of humor and he never changes from film to film, so having him in every scene of [i]Elf [/i]just forced me to dislike the thing, even if Zooey Deschanel was absolutely great in it. Favreau's sudden burst toward a lighter, more children-targeted film was due to his own experience as a father. He made [i]Elf [/i]because he wanted a movie his kids could watch and enjoy. The movie was a smash success and it seemed like most people enjoyed, and even though I couldn't find the heart to, I am glad he is making a good living and would be able to have the freedom to take on pretty mich any project he'd want to next. Surprising me again was his choice for his next movie, another PG-rated and lighter project from the creator of [i]Jumanji[/i], called [i]Zathura[/i]. This time around he gets it all just right.

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Amanda and I always talk about how disappointing it is that there are really no classic kids movies that get made anymore. It just feels like it's been a really long time since something has been flat-out fun and adventurous. Favreau answered our wishes with this space adventure that features effective performances from not only the older characters, but the two young lead actors Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo. Hutcherson plays Walter, the jealous older brother who says his parents divorced because his younger brother, Danny exists. Tim Robbins plays their dad and has some really terrific scenes early on opposite them. He leaves them alone to be superivsed by their older sister, Lisa for a few hours and as you would expect, the chaos unfolds. Like [i]Jumanji [/i]in every way except that this time the film is completely lovable and even smart in its writing, [i]Zathura [/i]is the best children's film to come along all year...and I know this phrase has been used with almost every film like this by at least one critic each time, but it truly is for people of all ages. Favreau makes sure that there is something for everyone inserted in this movie.

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Hutcherson is better than I thought he would be as Walter, but it is Bobo who takes hold of the movie as little Danny. This is his second film appearance, the first being in last year's promising but ultimately disappointing [i]Around the Bend[/i]. He has improved hugely in just one year and I hope he continues to act for years and even decades to come. As for the supporting cast, they only add to the fun. Kristen Stewart is perfectly cast as Lisa. I predict that she will be one of the premier actresses out there in the coming years, if only she can get the right parts. She has already been effective in films like [i]Panic Room[/i], [i]Catch That Kid[/i], and[i] Undertow[/i]. Dax Shepard plays a siginificant part with a good amount of energy, and Frank Oz lends his voice to the hilarious, malfunctioning robot of the film. This is an amazing surprise and a classic children's adventure that blows Joe Johnston's adaptation of [i]Jumanji [/i]out of the water. Favreau's kids have something to cherish.

The Ice Harvest
½

Harold Ramis has become a legend in comedy over the last 30 years, writing for such classics as [i]National Lampoon's Animal House[/i], [i]Caddyshack[/i], [i]Stripes[/i], [i]Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day[/i], and [i]Analyze This[/i]. As a director his filmography has seen its fair share of ups and downs, and when the downs come they come hard. I'm talking about films like [i]Multiplicity[/i], [i]Bedazzled[/i], and the misfire sequel to [i]Analyze This[/i], [i]Analyze That[/i]. As a writer he has experienced healthy streaks of great films, but as a director he hasn't been able to make two good films in a row, unless you would consider [i]Caddyshack[/i] followed by [i]National Lampoon's Vacation [/i]a streak, but I've always had something against Chevy Chase (except in [i]Fletch[/i]), so the latter of those two I'm not every fond of. Now he brings us [i]The Ice Harvest[/i], his first good film in six years.

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Of course the film is good - John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, and Connie Nielsen are in it, and when these kind of actors are involved in a movie it's always a given that the performances will be strong which always guarantees at least one reason to see whatever they're doing. Cusack plays Charlie Arglist, a lawyer for the mob who teams up with a man named Vic Cavanaugh (Thornton) to steal $2 million and change from mob boss Bill Guerrard, played by Randy Quaid. When we are introduced to these characters they have already successfully robbed Guerrard and must simply survive one night in Wichita, Kansas to get away with it. Problem is, Arglist was the brains of the heist and heist alone, it's after everything is over and keeping his cool that he has a problem with. This is where Cavanaugh takes over - he's got the guts that Arglist doesn't. So Cavanaugh takes the money in his possession and the madness begins. The film gets off to a disappointingly slow start and really doesn't fully pick itself up until nearly half way through, which is a big shame, because it only gets better and better as it approaches the conclusion.

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Oliver Platt does some of his best comedic work in a while as Charlie's drunken friend. In only a limited amount of screen time he generates some of the biggest laughs in the movie and works perfectly alongside Cusack. In fact, every single actor other than Cusack receives a very small amount of time, but it doesn't hurt the film in my opinion. Once again it is he who, at the center of it all, makes the movie enjoyable even in its slumming moments. He is the only actor in the world who could make Charlie Arglist, a man who is gullible to the whole operation and doing so many wrong things in the span of one Christmas Eve, seem so harmless by the end. He is an actor with unbelievable range and performs with such an effortless ease at whatever task he is given. He is [i]The Ice Harvest. [/i]I think this is a strong step forward for Ramis as a director, even if it's not a great film. It takes what he was getting at with [i]Analyze This [/i]a little further - the dark comedy. [i]Analyze [/i]was a dark comedy but the mobster characters in it were so cartoonish that we were never actually scared of them. In this film, almost every character in the film is evil and everyone betrays one another at every turn, and even though we know there is a goofy layer behind it all, there are some scenes of real, brutal violence. It's sad, but of all the films released this Thanksgiving, I can easily see this one doing the worst at the box-office, yet it is the most worthwhile one of the bunch, I'm sure.

Walk the Line
½

Johnny Cash was one of the few musicians who rose above simply being labeled as a country singer, and he was also one of the few who stayed around an entire life span, performing until his very last breath. When I heard that there was a Hollywood production being made about his early years leading up to his marriage with June Carter, I was equally excited and worried. You always have to be worried about Hollywood's renditions of legendary individuals lives, whether they'll be truthful and won't set any boundaries, which they almost always do. In James Mangold's [i]Walk the Line[/i], there was one limit already set upon it that I saw even before going into the theater...the PG-13 rating. For all of the downs that Cash went through in these stages of his life, most notably the pill-popping, it just seemed wrong to limit a film's depiction of these events. Still, there was a chance for the filmmakers and actors to overcome that hump and make a solid film. They have certainly done that.

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Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny Cash in one of the most focused performances I have ever seen. He is dominating in every way in this role, from the late teenage years of his life, to the singing and playing, and even throughout the prolonged drug addiction. Phoenix is the only actor who can rival Philip Seymour Hoffman's [i]Capote [/i]for the trophy this year, and it seems like he will have the edge simply because it is a popular film and made in Hollywood. Reese Witherspoon as June Carter gets a role that quickly made me forgive and forget her recent mishaps and consider her an elite actress. There are countless concert scenes in this film, and Phoenix and Witherspoon sing and play every little bit of them all, and considering how dead-on they portray the legendary couple's voices, it's an unbelievable achievement. Mangold is a director with a filmography that I have felt split on, but there is no question that he is diverse, and I respect him for that. His breakthrough was 1997's [i]Copland[/i] and since he has made the decent but overrated [i]Girl, Interrupted[/i], the romantic comedy that had a few delights, [i]Kate & Leopold[/i], and the surprisingly effective thriller, [i]Identity[/i]. All of these films are completely different and even if I didn't like some of them they did display a promising director's eye. He proves to be a good choice for [i]Walk the Line [/i]as he directs with a strong sense of storytelling.

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It's really a fantastic and impressive thing to see a movie about Johnny Cash not fail to deliver, and it's really due almost entirely to the two lead performances, because they majorly took my mind off of some things that I very well could've focused on. This is an almost perfect film, but as I start to think about it again, that PG-13 rating will forever nag me. The dark moments in this film had to be much more dark in Cash's autobiography. Another thing that kept me from a 10/10 was the closing. The movie's length is 2 hours and 15 minutes, but I felt like [i]Walk the Line [/i]could have easily done well by approaching nearly 3 hours. The final scene kind of seemed to rush toward a conclusion without really appropriately doing what all was just witnessed full justice. This is a really great movie, though, and a near masterpiece is an insanely good achievement. This is one that is very much deserving of a view in theaters by anyone. These performances must be seen to be believed.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I have never been one to go insane over the release of films that involve wizardy and potions and whatnot, but on occasion I can be caught up in one or two ever so often, being moved by the brilliance of it. In the case of the [i]Harry Potter [/i]movies, I have quietly been starting to enjoy them more and more. I did not like [i]Sorcerer's Stone [/i]at all, was surprised by the improvement that [i]Chamber of Secrets [/i]brought, and was blown away by Alfonso Cuaron's helming of [i]The Prisoner of Azkaban[/i]. After Chris Columbus left I think the series had improved instantly, but knowing that Cuaron was to do only one of the films I became skeptical again. I have liked some of Mike Newell's films, like [i]Donnie Brasco [/i]and [i]Pushing Tin[/i], but is he right for something like this? After seeing the 4th installment, [i]The Goblet of Fire[/i], I think the answer is both yes and no.

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Reasons Newell is a good choice for director is that he is a seasoned veteran, and as Richard Roeper put it on he and Ebert's last broadcast, he's British. It's the first time in the series that the films have received a filmmaker true to the origins of it all. In that respect he seems like a perfect fit. The bad thing about this installment is that it's got tons more computer generated things, so much that it looks like it has more than all 3 first films combined. For a director like Newell it just doesn't seem right to have almost an entire film full of often fake-looking sequences where even the people are CG. I realize that with a film filled with dragons, wizardy, and whimsical events would need a healthy dose of computer generation, but there seems to be way too many parts in the film that feature this when it is really not needed. Nonetheless, Newell still does a good job with his structure of shots and has a great familiarity of the situations. I have never read any of the books, but from what I hear it seems that [i]The Goblet of Fire [/i]is arguably the most exciting one. I have seen all of the films, however, and I can confidently say that it is most definitely not the most exciting one, but it could have been.

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As most of the world knows by now, this time around Harry is mysteriously entered into the Triwizard Tournament although he is three years younger than the age required. It's a setup that promises action galore, with scarier images and gangly creatures, and it does deliver these things, but not at the level I thought it would. One thing that has always bothered me is the acting of Emma Watson as Hermione, and in the beginning I was a bit lenient due to her inexperience and young age. In [i]The Prisoner of Azkaban [/i]she didn't seem all that bad and it looked like she would only improve in the films to come. I was let down in a gigantic way with her performance in this one, and it's not only with her I complain this time around, either. Daniel Radcliffe for the first time seemed sort of dull as Potter, and in the installment where he faces puberty and the constant thoughts of girls it was really untimely to come as a letdown. The only one who remains entertaining among the young ones is Rupert Grint as Ron, who is always fun to watch and who I always want to see more of. Another problem I had was the short screen time of some of the great adult characters, like Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, and Robbie Coltrane. Maybe they are left out of the novel and it's just the way it had to be, but I missed these people! One great bit of casting is Brendan Gleeson as the the new teacher, Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody who keeps a close, zoomed-in eye on things involving Potter. Gleeson is always great and here he is one of the standouts in an ensemble that's almost completely dull. Michael Gambon returns for the second time as Dumbledore, but he also doesn't seem as effective as he was in [i]Prisoner. [/i]

There are a lot of disappointments that come with the absence of Alfonso Cuaron in my opinion. I feel that he not only had the right style for the films but also coached the actors like no one else has been able to do so far. I cannot be too harsh on [i]The Goblet of Fire[/i], because even though it is a step down from the previous installment it still delivers some great moments and the series continues to dominate Peter Jackson's [i]Lord of the Rings[/i].

Elizabethtown

[font=Palatino Linotype][color=black]For the better part of two years now I have known that Cameron Crowe's next film would be [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Elizabethtown[/font][/i], so it has been that long that I have been greatly anticipating the release. Initially it was to be put out in the summer of this year before being stapled in a fall spot, obviously to possibly gain Oscar buzz. Crowe has 5 films prior to this under his directing belt and I have admired each of them, some more and some less, but all have been good filmmaking. In my opinion he has directed 3 of the greatest films in each of the last 3 decades. His directorial debut [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Say Anything... [/font][/i]is far and away one of the 10 best of the 80s, featuring what is probably the strongest and most unique writing in the teen romance genre ever. In the 90s he managed to direct only two films, 1992's overlooked film [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Singles [/font][/i]and the one that put him on the map, 1996's [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Jerry Maguire[/font][/i]. The latter of those two has become one of the most popular romantic films ever since its release, and rightly so in my opinion. Once again Crowe lifts the material with his words, creating some of the most memorable and quoted instances in cinema history. It won only one Oscar, for Cuba Gooding, Jr.'s supporting role as self-centered wide receiver Rod Tidwell, but it also featured outstanding performances from the always underrated Tom Cruise and properly introduced the world to Renee Zellweger. I have seen [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Jerry Maguire[/font][/i] more than a dozens times since 1996 and there is never a time when I am less affected by any aspect of it. He started off this decade by creating what I have always called the greatest piece of filmmaking I have ever seen, 2000's [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Almost Famous[/font][/i]. I am in love with that film, plain and simple. It only took one year to return, this time with a remake of Alejandro Amenabar's [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Open Your Eyes[/font][/i], retitled as [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Vanilla Sky[/font][/i]. It is a film that has its flaws, like almost every remake does, but as it reaches its final act it becomes a potent piece of moviemaking. So, what I was trying to get at in a nutshell is that Cameron Crowe is a good director and a FANTASTIC writer, and after seeing 5 films created by him I come to expect nothing but brilliance with everything that follows. [/color][/font]
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[color=black][font=Palatino Linotype]From the second [/font][i][font=Palatino Linotype]Elizabethtown[/font][/i][font=Palatino Linotype]opens it just doesn?t[i] feel[/i] like a Cameron Crowe movie and I?ll just come right out and say it even though I?m not happy to ? it never really does throughout the entire thing. Orlando Bloom plays Drew Baylor, a young man who we are introduced to at the worst moment of his life after he causes the shoe company he works for to lose nearly a billion dollars due to his failed invention. Nothing seems to go right for Drew, so he decides to end his life in a fairly original way?but home is calling. He must go back to [/font][font=Palatino Linotype]Elizabethtown[/font][font=Palatino Linotype], [/font][font=Palatino Linotype]Kentucky[/font][font=Palatino Linotype] to sort out funeral arrangements for his father. This means facing a bunch of people who are seemingly strangers, but are family. I am posting this review over a month after its release and I saw it back then on its opening day. So many others have reviewed it by now so I?ll leave out the elaborate plot points that we?re all already familiar with. I have avoided writing this review for so long because I have been so highly, highly disappointed in this film, and for a Cameron Crowe admirer like myself, this is devastation. Almost everything seems wrong in this film. I must give respect to Bloom for finally taking a role that doesn?t include barring a weapon, but he just doesn?t become Drew Baylor. There are moments where he is effective but then there are achingly bad moments. Dunst, an actress who I have always thought of as overrated is very overrated in this film as the energetic love interest with a Southern accent that is there at times and lost at others As for the rest of the cast ? they are all very skilled actors, ranging from veterans Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, and Bruce McGill to the younger Paul Schneider, Judy Greer, and Jessica Biel. Crowe even manages to add some musicians to the cast as he always seems to do with My Morning Jacket as the fictional band Ruckus and even Loudon Wainwright [/font][font=Palatino Linotype]III[/font][font=Palatino Linotype] gets a nice little part in there. Trouble is, most of these actors are underused, especially Sarandon and McGill. [/font][font=Palatino Linotype]Baldwin[/font][font=Palatino Linotype] gets a role that doesn?t suit an actor of his talent, Greer is way over the top, and [/font][font=Palatino Linotype]Biel[/font][font=Palatino Linotype] is one of the worst actresses in the world today. It?s only [i]All the Real [/i]Girls? Schneider who turns in a vibrant performance here. [/font][/color]
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[color=black][font=Palatino Linotype]What is most disappointing in a film filled with disappointments? That?s a hard question to answer, because there are 3 or 4 things that could vie for first place in that category. First of all, I must bring up the editing, which was done by Crowe film newcomers Mark Livolsi and David Moritz. It is rambunctious and jumpy and a big mess most of the time. There are scenes in this film that made me disgusted and desperately wanting to deny that it was a Cameron Crowe film, most notably the long cell phone conversation scene. Another huge disappointment, and for the very first time in his films, was the placement of music. There are some terrific songs in the movie and some really bad songs, but that?s not my complaint ? it?s the way he used them. In films in the past music has always been equally as effective as any other aspect of a Crowe film, and in this film it is absolutely vital to its success. There are only a handful of times that music actually works where it is placed, but mostly it is jumbled around and sounds like a last minute throw-in, especially in the road trip finale scenes. What must take the prize for biggest disappointment, though, is the mediocrity of the writing. The idea at the surface of the story seemed truthful and full of real human instances, but what Crowe creates in the film is nowhere near that. He seems to be trying to re-create characters he has brought to life in the past. Drew Baylor echoes Jerry Maguire way too much and Dunst?s character was an attempt to bring back many of the aspects of [/font][font=Palatino Linotype]Penny Lane[/font][font=Palatino Linotype], at least in my opinion. It?s sad to see a film this bad from a filmmaker this good, and in a year full of surprisingly great films it?s odd to see the one I most anticipated disappoint me the highest. [/font][/color]

Shopgirl
Shopgirl(2005)

Years ago when reading Steve Martin's novel [i]Shopgirl, [/i]I remember immediately thinking about how long it would take for it to one day become a film, because I knew it just had to be inevitable. Then I remember imagining the day I would eventually see it come around my town, and if it were even half as good as the book than it would be something to savor. That much awaited day was yesterday.

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This is the first of Martin's novels to be adapted to film and his first screenwriting effort since 1999's [i]Bowfinger[/i]. It is literally a breath of fresh air to be witness to such a smart and intriguingly different take on the romantic film. The [i]Shopgirl [/i]is Mirabelle and she is played by Claire Danes in the most impressive performance of her career to this point. I had never been a fan of her work before last year, but since she took the role opposite Billy Crudup in the ambitiously acted and underseen [i]Stage Beauty [/i]it seemed like she could be taking a step in the right direction, maybe maturing as an actress. In this film she confirms that step and is in full bloom in a role that is beautifully crafted by the genius Martin. Mirabelle is a quiet little girl from Vermont who somehow lost herself as a glove selling clerk at Saks Fifth Avenue in Los Angeles. Her only friend is her cat and every night is spent either lying on her couch and drinking wine, or drawing portraits which she creates about every six weeks. Almost simultaneously, however, two men of very different lifestyles enter into her life. First is Jeremy, who is a twenty-something but has the almost permanent tendency of evoking the manners and actions of a twenty-month old infant. He is played by the perfectly cast Jason Schwartzman in a performance that features the usual Schwartzman-like energy, just another step up from that even. The other man who comes in and virtually shoves Jeremy right out of the picture is Ray, a wealthy bachelor who likes to "woo" women in with his material things but when they get too close he doesn't know how to handle it.

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To watch the usual romantic comedy unfold in today's American cinema is usually predictable. We expect the get-together, the moving in, the second thoughts, the separation, the anxiety, the depression, and then, the climax where the two meet in a setting that is too unbelievable and preposterous for even the most naive of viewers to reconcile and live happily ever after. Martin has been a master of comedy writing in movies for about 30 years now, but [i]Shopgirl [/i]marks a new point in his career. This is a more meditative and serious view at the way the majority of relationships like this might realistically unfold. He understands the movie life from the real life, and he inserts all the true things from real life and transforms this movie's life into real life. I don't know what I'm getting at really, I just wanted to say that this movie is real and beautiful and mesmerizing on so many levels, first and foremost being Martin's true story.

Adding to the greatness of this film is the original direction from Anand Tucker, whose last film was 1998's [i]Hilary and Jackie[/i]. He moves around like he's paying rightful homage to Martin as he effectively makes the film unfold like a good book. The music also enhances the movie, scored by Barrington Pheloung (who also worked on [i]Hilary and Jackie[/i]) and weaved into something that evokes the old-time classics. You never really want it to quit, and it almost never does throughout the entire film, but when it does it's substituted with some more outstanding music. Mark Kozelek, formerly of the band Red House Painters and now Sun Kil Moon has a strong supporting role as Luther, the lead singer of The Hot Tears. Jeremy, who designs the artwork displayed on the amplifiers that the band uses, goes on a tour with them and unexpectedly gets a lesson in romantic maturity from Luther. The music played by the band in the film is stuff from Sun Kil Moon's 2003 album, [i]Ghosts of the Great Highway[/i], which is a fantastic record and arguably the best thing Kozelek has written and recorded yet. There is a particular scene later in the film with Danes and Martin in New York when their song "Carry Me Ohio" comes in that is one of the most memorable scenes of any film this year.

This is a perceptive film that only someone like Steve Martin could create, and in a time when films like this follow the same dull path it's great to see one venture off into new territory. That is why this film is pushed up to the level of perfection in my opinion.

Jarhead
Jarhead(2005)

[b]"Each war is different. Each war is the same." [/b]-Swoff

Sam Mendes continues his streak of diversity with his third film as director, the Desert Storm-era war film, [i]Jarhead[/i]. It is based on a novel written by Anthony Swofford, who writes of his actual experiences in the Marines. Jake Gyllenhaal is outstanding as Swofford in the second of three highly regarded films he will star in this year, preceeded by John Madden's [i]Proof with[/i] Ang Lee's [i]Brokeback Mountain [/i]to follow. [i]Proof[/i] was one of the few films I wanted to see that slipped by my theater visits somehow, so the only performance from him that I've witnessed so far this year is in [i]Jarhead[/i], but it's easy to judge only by this daring role alone that it is Gyllenhaal's complete breakout year. He had gained a major following for taking the lead role in the now cult classic [i]Donnie Darko [/i]back in 2001, but this is the official breakout time for him. He is absolutely fantastic in this movie.

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There are more and more movies being adapted from novels as of late, but there are not so many from those that actually feel like you're reading while you're watching. The majority of the time there will be narration in adapted films, but it's not alwayts effective. Luckily, Gyllenhaal's narration is effective and entertaining and exciting and appropriately done here. It really sort of irritated me in the ads for the film when it introduced the cast with only two actors - Jake Gyllenhaal and "Academy Award Winner" Jamie Foxx. There is absolutely no mention of Peter Sarsgaard in the TV spots and very little of him in the actual trailers, yet when you see the film you'll come to find that he is very significant and proves to be a large part of the story. As he has been doing quite frequently the last few years, Sarsgaard once again gives a powerful performance as Troy, who becomes closest to Anthony and would have no life if it weren't for the Marines and war. Filling out the rest of the cast are skilled actors with both big and extremely small roles. Lucas Black, who has been riding Billy Bob Thornton's back for years, starting in [i]Sling Blade [/i]and going through [i]All the Pretty Horses [/i]and then last year's [i]Friday Night Lights[/i], gets a fairly large role as a Texan who fully recognizes the corruption of everything but still decides to stick himself in the middle of it all. Chris Cooper returns to work for Sam Mendes after [i]American Beauty [/i]for a very small role as the ultimate war-minded commanding soldier. He only has two small scenes but he controls them. Another veteran actor, Dennis Haysbert, lends his talent here but in very, very limited time and words as an arrogant, higher officer.

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Mendes tells this hypmotic tale with an uneasy, shaky feel that sprinkles in a mix of almost every emotion imaginable. [i]Jarhead [/i]is a rollercoaster ride through the darkness that is not just being a part of war, but [i]realizing [/i]it. With dark comedy very reminiscent of his debut film spotted in at a frequent pace, this is a unique and new perspective on the war film genre that has seemed to be running out of gas lately. My only real complaint about the film, which is also what kept me from rating it higher, is the lack of showing us the life after leaving the Marines for Anthony. There is only a handful of minutes at the most toward the end that quickly display each character's places after leaving. This is still an effective way to get across the point and I understand that it isn't entirely necessary to go into detail about the every day things that one goes through after experiencing war, but I guess I just felt like I needed that from [i]Jarhead[/i]. Or at least more than it was giving me. Nonetheless, this is still a very odd, original, entertaining, and appropriate film to go and see right now.

(8.5 officially)

Good Night, And Good Luck

George Clooney has had to do more proving of himself than most performers do in their careers. First he had to prove to the world that he could make the legitimate transfer from gigantic television star to full-fledged and serious film actor. I think he has rightly accomplished that feat with flying colors. Most thought he wouldn't make a great filmmaker either, and when he made his directorial debut with [i]Confessions of a Dangerous Mind[/i] he silenced a few of those negative minds. Now he has unleashed his second film as helmer, the story of CBS broadcast journalist Ed Murrow's attempt to bring down Senator Joseph McCarthy.

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Clooney gives the talented actor David Strathairn his first real commanding chance at a film, and it proves to be so good that one could argue a nomination for the man. Using all real archive footage from McCarthy's side of the televised back and forth battles, Clooney creates a portrait that has really never been seen in American cinema - honest and truthful journalism...and at its finest. He also lends his acting chops to the movie as Fred Friendly in one of the best performances of the film filled with so many fine actors. Among them is Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson as a married couplewho are tyring to keep their restricted working relationship a secret. Also in the film is Jeff Daniels, Ray Wise, and Frank Langella in a great performance. This is a masterful piece of storytelling with direction that displays Clooney at his highest abilities. He directs this film in a quiet fashion, letting the real footage speak for itself without altering the truth or trying to point fingers. The black and white photography is done with great smoothness by the veteran Robert Elswit, and the great editor Stephen Mirrione does some fine work as well. The filmmaking here is award worthy, and really should get Clooney some overdue nominations that I felt he has deserved for numerous other films. The direction in the film moves so effortlessly and has such a quiet, yet controlling stronghold on its audience. Clooney's father was a broadcaster, and spending his childhood on sets like this obviously doesn't hurt in his knowledge when taking on a project like this. This topic is brave and timely, and in Clooney's hands it faithfully - and comfortably rests.

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I know this is like the 50th time I've said this lately, but this is one of the best films of the year. [i]Good Night, and Good Luck. [/i]is the film that will set straight and shut the mouths of all those out there who have doubted Clooney's talents as a filmmaker. This is something everyone should see, and hopefully we'll hear its name in a few months come award time.

North Country

Lately I have reviewed a few films that featured first-time directors making landmark debuts, which in turn has forced me to plce their names on the list of people to watch out for. A couple of years ago, filmmaker Niki Caro emerged with the quietly powerful film [i]Whale Rider[/i]. She was immediately placed on the list. Now she returns for her much anticipated sophomore effort called [i]North Country[/i], her second straight movie to garner award talk.

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Charlize Theron proves to us that [i]Monster [/i]wasn't going to be her one and only stint at respectable and challenging role choices, unlike Halle Berry after winning for [i]Monster's Ball[/i]. She plays Josey Ames, a single mother of two who moves to Minnesota and in with her parents temporarily in an effort to rid herself of her latest abusive boyfriend. Her parents are played by Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins. Spacek does a marvelous job as she always does, but has very limited time here, and it makes one very sad to have so little Sissy. Jenkins, an actor who is best known for his numerous collaborations with the Coen brothers has never really received a role with this much weight and significance to a film. He openly disapproves of everything his daughter has done, is doing, and will ever do in the future...which is take a job at the very same place he has worked for decades - the mostly male populated mine. She is one of only a handful of women who work at the mine, among them is only one who is immune to the taunts and the harrassment from the men, Glory (played by Frances McDormand). I am sure most of you know that this is based on the true story of the first ever successful sexual harrassment case in the United States, so I'll leave out the details of what happens throughout the main body of this film. Needless to say, she and her fellow female co-workers endure countless acts of devious harrassment, and Josey is the only one who was willing to take a stand for them. Among the other cast of characters is Sean Bean as one of the only respectful males in the town, Glory's husband. His role is quite small but he is very impressive, once again reaching out into territory unlike we're used to seeing him battle. Woody Harrelson turns in his best performance since [i]The Hi-Lo Country[/i] as Bill, a New York lawyer who returns to the town where he once was regarded a hockey legend, and later ends up representing Josey.

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Caro directs the film with great passion and combined with the superb acting this makes for a really strong movie, yet I felt it could have benefited from cutting some scenes. I understand the incidents that occured at the mine were awful and tough to take in, but I think they just reveal way to much in this film. There are numerous scenes that are almost unbearable to watch and I think the poiint that they're trying to make could have been gotten across without beating the audience down with these seemingly endless incidents. Also, I think the closing of the film was stretched out to an almost pointless juncture. Enough with the negative thoughts - [i]North Country [/i]is still a solid film.

Junebug
Junebug(2005)

The events that take place in this film are set in a small North Carolina town, but these kinds of people and these judgemental lifestyles are certainly everywhere in this country. First-time director Phil Morrison and first-time screenwriter Angus MacLachlan have a real understanding of small town functions, and they collaborate to form the refreshingly pure film, [i]Junebug[/i].

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In performances that will become two of this year's most underrated are Embeth Davidtz as Madeleine and Alessandro Nivola as George. She is a city girl art dealer and he is a small town man, and soon after meeting at an a fine art auction they marry. When she suddenly finds herself making an emergency visit to North Carolina to critique the work of a painter with strange inspirations, George tags along and suggests that she meet his family. It is only on the ride to North Carolina that they first get the look on their faces, the one where the contemplation begins on whether or not they are "fools who rushed in". The true test for the longevity of their relationship will begin and go under massive evaluation throughout this trip, which is sort of a reunion for George. From the moment we are introduced to the family it is flawless storytelling and understanding. This is the greatest study of small town life ever created. The parents are played with a genuine sense by Scott Wilson and Celia Weston, the brother by Benjamin McKenzie, and his wife by the energetic Amy Adams. The music is very fitting and was done by the band Yo La Tengo, who I have been meaning to check out for years now but just haven't gottena round to doing it. Adter hearing their score, which is extremely original, I will definitely check more of their stuff out. One of the most magnificent parts of the film is the editing, which was done by Joe Klotz. There are moments of complete, meditative silence that help us become more involved in the landscapes of the town and the empty feelings of the outsiders coming to visit, and Klotz's beautfiul editing often takes us from that and shoves us right back into their lives again for another act. It's one of the 5 best editing jobs of the year and totally distinctive. Angus MacLachlan's screenplay is deserving of many awards across the board for best debut as he gets everything pitch perfect. From not only the dialogue does he master, but also the everyday rituals, the stubbornness about something so tiny, and the assumptions. I'm talking about the assumptions that people who've never left their small town their entire lives make about the people who have come to visit - or suddenly "intrude" into their lives. Morrison is another director this year with a fantastic debut, the second best behind Bennett Miller's [i]Capote[/i], which means he's yet another to add to the list to watch out for.

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Coming from a place all too similar to the one depicted in [i]Junebug[/i], I must say that it affected me on a very high level. To see someone make a film so realistic and straight forward about this lifestyle was a truly unique experience. What's even more impressive is that they didn't cave in toward the end and deliver a phony ending. It's a film with no flaws whatsoever.

Oh yeah, and one thing that was totally cool to see was a cameo from one of my favorite musicians, Will Oldham. MacLachlan even wrote in some lines for him and he did a very good job. I would like to see him in a bigger role sometime in the future.

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist

In honor of this ghoulish day I shall post the obvious...

It is very rare to come across a horror film that focuses its time on the things that actual scare and intimidate us rather than gratuitously delivering endless blood and gore. It should go without saying that the majority of moviegoers prefer the latter of those two styles of horror filmmaking, which is why 95% of these films released every year are absolutely pointless and not worth my time. In the span of one year there have been 3 films involving exorcism. The first was Renny Harlin's version of the prequel to [i]The Exorcist[/i], called [i]Exorcist: The Beginning[/i]. I never bothered seeing this film because the ads and the feedback and the director are all rock bottom bad. The next film involved with demon possession was this year's fairly effective [i]The Exorcism of Emily Rose[/i], which I gave a 6/10. I would have gone one or two points higher had the actual exorcism scenes been as effective as the dramatic portion of the film. Now we have the legendary screenwriter of Scorsese films like [i]Taxi Driver [/i]and [i]Raging Bull [/i]who is also the director of such great films as [i]American Gigolo [/i]and [i]Affliction [/i]to create the third and hopefully final film we'll see about exorcism for quite some time. His name as I'm sure you know is Paul Schrader and this is the REAL prequel that actually deserves to be compared to the William Friedkin classic.

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[i]Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist[/i] is the kind of film this dead genre really needs at a time like this, because it spends two hours meditating on the haunting subject of demon possession that eats away at its target, almost never displaying any kind of violence, although there is plenty of it...it's just that you can't see it, you have to feel it. Stellan Skarsgard plays Lankester Merrin, a disturbed man who has virtually given up on priesthood and makes his way to a desolate area in British East Africa in the 1940's to toy around with archaeology. The priest of the area is played by the young actor Gabriel Mann in an emotional performance. When Merrin uncovers an old holy temple that also carries a doorway underground that is the evil equivalent to its head, strange feelings begin to emerge and, slowly, Merrin begins to unravel, as well as the residents of the small village. Schrader is the reason the film makes itself rise above the rest of these films and becomes the first since the original 32 years ago to work on an inner level. There is an enormous amount of intelligence to [i]Dominion [/i]that is almost unreal, simply because I'm not used to seeing it in American cinema through this type of film.

If you want a film to get inside of your head instead of ripping your inside's out this Halloween, then this is the one to see.

The Weather Man
½

It's good to know that director Gore Verbinski made the good natured decision to reach out and do something different between the creation of his [i]Pirates of the Caribbean [/i]Hollywood spectacles that will soon be a full trilogy. I've never felt great about any of his work in the past, from his children's film [i]Mouse Hunt [/i]to his unbelievably overrated thriller [i]The Ring[/i] and also his stint into romantic comedy territory, [i]The Mexican[/i]. The only thing I've mildly liked from him so far was [i]Pirates[/i], and only mildly, but I made the mistake of seeing it more than once, which made me like it less. One good thing I can say that has came from his filmography so far is diversity. With only a few films so far Verbinski has managed to dive into a lot of different genres, and with [i]The Weather Man [/i]he's in new territory again. He has made his first great movie.

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Nicolas Cage continues his flawless streak of taking risks and scoring with them, and strictly through his meditation on each character he plays. Like the film he starred in earlier this year, Andrew Niccol's [i]Lord of War[/i], the movie is counting on his performance to either fail or succeed. In both films he envelops himself into a character that just wouldn't be as interesting had he not played them. Cage is the kind of actor who throughout his career does the frequent action or family oriented film, which cause artsy or indie lovers to bash him for the rest of his choices. I think he's one of the geatest actors cinema has ever seen, and in the last few years has completely sealed my opinion on that. I think he has the right to occasionally do the mindless Bruckheimer collaboration if he wants to. I'll allow it, because I know that for every one film like that he does three or four films like the one I'm reviewing now. He plays weather man David Spritz, one of the most classically lost human beings seen in recent movies. He has almost no connection with himself or anyone else in his life anymore, and the only thing working is his job. He is the most successful weather man in Chicago, and he doesn't even have a degree in meteorology, because "It's just wind" and no one can predict it. His ailing father is played by Michael Caine and is perfectly cast, giving another great performance. I've never even thought about it until seeing them side by side in a movie, but Cage and Caine look an awful lot like a real father/son combo. Hope Davis is always wonderful and here she plays David's ex-wife who houses their two kids, played by [i]About A Boy[/i]'s Nicholas Hoult and newcomer Gemmenne de la Pena.

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The screenplay by Steve Conrad is quirky and intriguing as it rotates between depression and comedy and sometimes depressing comedy at once. The cinematographer is Phedon Papamichael, who I last saw at work in Alexander Payne's [i]Sideways[/i]. He has an uncanny knack for photographing nature in a way that it almost seems like a character in the movie itself. Verbinski's direction is dark and smooth and at times surprisingly imaginative and even fun. It is ultimately Cage's movie, who is yet again the commander of another picture. He's an amazing actor that always holds my attention.

Thumbsucker
Thumbsucker(2005)
½

To call this Mike Mills's directorial debut would really be wrong, becuase for years he has been mastering the art of the music video for numerous artists, most notably the French duo, Air. They even have a song called "Mike Mills" from their 2004 record, [i]Talkie Walkie[/i]. He even has a nifty little short film on his filmography called [i]Paperboys[/i]. All of this has been practice, sharpening some edges to one day carefully make his way to the feature film area. This is, more appropriately, Mike Mills's feature film directorial debut, and having known all of his previous talent I was expecting a strong outcome for [i]Thumbsucker[/i]. It is a work of vibrant originality.

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First thing's first - the [i]Thumbsucker[/i]. Lou Pucci plays the main character in a performance that will be remembered in years to come as the start of a strong actor's career. The wonderful combination of Tilda Swinton and Vincent D'Onofrio play his lost parents, and are amazing to watch. Swinton shares one of the producing credits of the film, and I have no doubt that she had much input on the casting of the [i]Thumbsucker[/i]. Pucci looks like he came from Swinton's womb, that's how much these two resemble each other, and it's not only in looks, but manneurisms...everything is identical. What's nice to see in such a small independent film like this is some big name actors stepping out to be a part. I first must mention Keanu Reeves when this topic is brought up. Over the years he has been labeled by many as a terrible actor by many, but I think it's just that he hasn't gotten a good amount of parts that are "right" for him. He gets that in this film, and it's the first that fits him perfectly and challenges his talents since Sam Raimi's [i]The Gift[/i]. He plays a dentist who gives sage-like advice to certain patients at times he thinks it's necessary. He's really never been funnier and I doubt will be ever again. Vince Vaughn also jumps aboard as Pucci's debate teacher, and he finally gets a role that branches out to something other than his usual motormouth. Stepping in for a very small part is Benjamin Bratt, an actor who is having a year that is making me learnto respect him more. Rounding out the cast is Kelli Garner who plays the object of Pucci's affection. I was glad to see her get another siginificant role again, something that hasn't been around for her since Larry Clark's 2001 masterpiece, [i]Bully. [/i]Yes,the cast is absolutely perfect in this one.

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Mike Mills also adapts Walter Kirn's novel into the screenplay that's a wonderfully offbeat and original take on teen angst. What ultimately makes the film in its own place is the direction from Mike Mills and his outstanding knowledge of how to use music. Here he has the operatic sounds of the odd little band The Polyphonic Spree performing most of the music, which scores the movie very well. He also adds a few select originals and covers from one of my favorites, Elliott Smith. "Let's Get Lost" is just perfect for the movie. Mike Mills has done a great job playing out the story in a fast-paced and beautiful style, and his succeeds at making his feature film directorial debut one to remember. He will definitely be around for quite some time.

Capote
Capote(2005)

Anyone who has even seen only a half second clip in the ads for [i]Capote [/i]would know that Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a brilliant peformance. For those who have already had the privilege of seeing the film in its entirety, they now know that it's much more than brilliant, it's towering. It is the single standout performance by anyone this year, and by far, which is saying quite a lot considering the fairly impressive 2005 we've had and will coninue to have. No, no one will contend, not even closely (at least on my list), but will the award givers unanimously agree?

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Hoffman's portrayal as the multi-layered, innovative author Turman Capote left me speechless from the very second he graced the screen and for hours after the film was over, and I'm happy to find that there are very few others in the world who don't share that opinion. Now that his widespread praise has brought well deserved attention to him, I'm hoping it will open up people's eyes to the countless other things about the picture that are created with passionate, delicate precision. Equally as astonishing as Hoffman's performance is Bennett Miller's behind the camera, who makes (which is hard to believe) his directorial debut. This year has brought forth some carefully created films for first-timer's, including Phil Morrison's [i]Junebug [/i]and Mike Mills's [i]Thumbsucker[/i], among others. Above all of these stands Miller's film, which looks like it was made by a master with an old, seasoned hand with about 10 previous films on his resume. The direction both reminds us of the feel of certain old mysteries as well as creates its own, distinctive enclosure. I fear that Miller could easily be overlooked due to the large attention toward the movie's star, but if the right eyes are observing then they will see that this is one that has skills nearly every other film released this year possesses. The cinematographer is Adam Kimmel, whose previous work includes numerous Ted Demme collaborations, most notably [i]Beautiful Girls[/i], plus he lent his camerawork to the fanatastic movie, [i]Jesus' Son[/i]. Here he does his best work yet, creating a haunting companion piece to the period of time when Capote was engrossed on his follow-up to [i]Breakfast at Tiffany's[/i], [i]In Cold Blood[/i].

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Opposite Hoffman is a stellar supporting cast, including Catherine Keener as [i]To Kill A Mockingbird [/i]author Harper Lee in another effective performance. Chris Cooper has a small but important role as the police chief in charge of everything and is amazing as always. Bruce Greenwood is very good in his limited time, and Clifton Collins, Jr. finally gets a role that is big enough display his full acting abilities. He plays Perry, one of the 2 inmates charged for the brutal murder of a Kansas family in the late 1950's. Miller's timely direction and the career crowning performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman compliment each other in the highest way, and as we watch Capote dig deeper into the incident and get closer to Perry and venture off into dangerous teritory, we are mesmerized. I guess I should say that "I" am mesmerized, I would just find it hard to believe that someone would not be extremely affected by this film. There is a haunting, poetic quality to it that few other films I've ever seen have matched.

Murderball
Murderball(2005)
½

At its surface, [i]Murderball [/i]seems like a documentary made to properly introduce the world to a sport that has been around for many years now, wheelchair rugby. It definitely does that, but what makes this film from simply a good one into a great one is the fact that, at its core, is really not even about the sport. It's about hope, redemption, and realizing that quadraplegic life really doesn't have to be any different from the ones the able-bodied live.

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This is the to be the final entry in the "series of way, way overdue reviews", and what's odd is that it's the most overdue of them all. It's been months since I've seen this film and I've viewed dozens upon dozens more since, so there is not a lot that's really fresh in my mind anymore, so little will be said. The film is directed by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro, who do an amazing job at digging into the core of some of the key individuals of the sport's lives. The person at the forefront of significance to the game and the film is Mark Zupan, one of the most fierce competitors I've ever had the chance to find out about. He is sort of the equivalent of Michael Jordan to wheelchair rugby and has led the team Olympic team to many gold medals. One of the most impressive aspects about the filmmaking here is the energy and innovation of the editing, which is really masterfully constructed here by Conor O'Neill and Geoffrey Richman. Together they weave the story at an almost feverish pace that at times can make your head spin, but it fits the theme of the film perfectly. This is a film that deals with harsh realities and a rollercoaster of emotions that all culminate and find comfort in a miracle creation called [i]Murderball[/i]. I found myself completely caught up in these people's lives. 2005 has been a rather satisfying year for unique and worthwhile documentaries.

Two for the Money

I am extremely glad that I didn't let the ads and trailers make me stay away from catching [i]Two for the Money [/i]on the big screen, because it is a real treat to witness these talented actors let it rip together. In the entire month of September, every time I went to the theater it seemed like I ended up seeing the same dull trailer for this movie. It looked as though it would be yet another "rags to riches to rags" story that would offer no new insight or fresh happenings to separate itself from the thousands of others exactly like it. Then the reviews came, and most of them were awful and harsh...but this is not always a bad thing, because a lot of times the general consensus of critics worldwide beat down some films that turn out to be outstanding. After a couple of weeks into its release I started to reconsider seeing it. The final straw in helping my decision was the thought that even if the direction and script were bad the acting would be stellar. So I initially went for Pacino, McConaughey, and Russo, who I haven't seen perform in many a moon.

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McConaughey is Brandon Lang, a once great college football player whose professional dreams went to dust after a knee injury. 6 years later, while he is still attempting to land a spot on an NFL team, he has a job with a 900-number business and doesn't even make enough money to live on his own. One thing the injury couldn't take away from him is his knowledge of the game, inside and out. He uses that knowledge to predict winners each week and help gamblers make money, it's just that he doesn't make enough for himself - that is until he gets a call from Walter Abrams and is shipped from Vegas to New York City. Pacino is unbelievably eccentric and commanding as Walter, the head of the world's biggest betting information business, and the minute he is introduced to Brandon he makes him ultimate project. Pairing these two actors together proves to be a rather nice mix of talents, and it doesn't hurt one bit that the screenplay and direction rises to the occasion and uncovers incidents on a smart level, something I didn't think I'd have the pleasure of witnessing after experiencing the misleading ads. Rene Russo does some of her best work as Walter's wife, Toni, the neutral being in his life who is always there to bring him down to the ground and remind him that he's human.

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D.J. Caruso is the director whose previous work has included 2002's [i]The Salton Sea[/i], a film that had great performances from Val Kilmer and Vincent D'Onofrio but failed as a whole in my opinion, and most recently the horrible thriller [i]Taking Lives[/i], a film that appeared very high on my 10 worst of 2004 list. I was very impressed to find that the direction in [i]Two for the Money [/i]had such skill to it given the fact that I have never been fond of his work before. What's even more important to note is the screenwriting, which was done by Dan Gilroy, it's got such smarts to it and when Pacino is spouting out the lines they are made that much more profound. When it all comes down to it, though, it's the actors who make this a great piece of entertainment. This should not be forgotten when thinking about Pacino's all-time best performances someday down the road, maybe even one of his 10 greatest. This is his best work since he delivered a powerful performance in Michael Mann's masterpiece, [i]The Insider[/i]. Matthew McConaughey has quietly been putting out great performances in the past few years, and they'd be more noticed if he didn't do the frequent terrible films (like maybe [i]The Wedding Planner [/i]or [i]How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days[/i]). Here he is great opposite Pacino, holding it down with him punch after puunch. Rene Russo,who not only does a great acting job also has an executive producer credit. As the film reaches its climax, she gets more powerful and brilliant. This is a surprisingly great film that is much better than the reviews are displaying.

Palindromes
Palindromes(2004)
½

You may like his work or hate it, but one thing you could never do is label writer/director Todd Solondz unoriginal. Since his tiny little masterpiece [i]Welcome to the Dollhouse [/i]came to our presence 10 years ago he has continued to take us on strange, uncomfortable, yet compelling and hilarious journeys through his mind. His newest offering is argueably his most odd and definitely the most complex, a story of a girl in desperate search of the opportunity to bring a life into this world, [i]Palindromes[/i].

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Her name is Aviva and she is played by seven different actors of all shapes, sizes, ages, and even genders. As the film opens we are reunited with the family from [i]Welcome to the Dollhouse[/i], as Mark Weiner is giving a speech in front of his sister Dawn's coffin. This is an extremely imperative part of the film, a sequence that never left my head throughout the entire film. As we are thrown into Aviva's story we find out immediately that, even at young age, she fears her destiny is too much like Dawn's. Ellen Barkin and Richard Masur play Aviva's disturbed parents. Barkin gives one of her finest performances in a role that has great demands and is quite challenging. It's something not very many actresses could pull off well. Soon into Aviva's life the issue of abortion emerges in the film, and Solondz finds himself squandering in controversial territory yet again. I've seen the film twice now and I think that Solondz is not creating a commentary to debate on the subject of abortion. The film is definitely not picking apart whether it's morally right or wrong. No, abortion is merely just a character in the film like everyone else, but I'm sure Solondz's hate mail box has never been bigger. There's no doubt that the images displayed on screen in the director's movies can make anyone feel uncomfortable, but it's always strangley entrancing. [i]Palindromes [/i]is the like the scariest fairy tale of all-time. It's another oddly amazing film from Solondz, where he once again induces laughs out of his audience in the most unusual of places.

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The seven actors who play Aviva are all fantastic, and what's impressive about that is that only on of them have lengthy experience in acting. I'm talking about the impeccably talented Jennifer Jason Leigh, who appears toward the end in the most interesting time of Aviva's story. Her performance is small but absolutely flawless and exciting to watch. There are five other girls and even one boy that resembles a tomboy-ish girl who create this wonderful and harmless human being stuck in the middle of the claustrophobic and devious cave that is Solondz's mind. I must also not forget to mention Matthew Faber, who reprises his as Mark Weiner in what is my favorite character of the film. He is very good in this film and proves to be courageous in taking the role again. Supposedly Heather Matarazzo, who played Dawn Weiner 10 years ago was completely against reprising that role, so it resulted in death - which also resulted in giving [i]Palindromes [/i]another brilliant layer. Solondz even opens the film with a title that pays homage to his first creation by noting "for Dawn Weiner".

The Island
The Island(2005)
½

Why I haven't given up on seeing Michael Bay films in theaters yet I'm not quite sure, especially after the utter disasters his [i]Armageddon[/i], [i]Pearl Harbor, [/i]and [i]Bad Boys II [/i]were. I guess my defense for seeing [i]The Island [/i]on the big screen is the casting of "The Great" Ewan McGregor and the always intriguing Scarlett Johansson as the leads. I am happy to say that this is the first time in over a decade that Bay's style actually fits a film well, and it results in a good sci-fi film with a solid adventure portion that does its job of entertaining quite well.

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This is a film with thwo 1-hour halves, the first being a classic science fiction study and the second an all-out adventure battle for the ages. A lot of people have said that the film ruins what it builds up in the smart first half by resorting to endless action in the end, and they may be right, but I think they're also asking for too much. I mean, this is a Michael Bay picture we're dealing with here, we really shouldn't be asking for more than we can realistically receive. Both halves are equally satisyfing to a point in my opinion, and for a late July release this proves to be the perfect summer movie. McGregor is always perfect and here he doesn't give us any reason to think differently as he carries the weight of the film on his back. Johansson is an actress who has received equal praisings and bashings from moviegoers in the last few years. I'm on the side who finds her unique, having loved her since her wonderful and official inroduction to us all in [i]Manny & Lo [/i]nearly 10 years ago. Since then she has been putting together a mostly delightful filmography with bunches of diverse roles, and here she adds another one where she is treading over new ground. A Michael Bay regular is the seasoned veteran Steve Buscemi, who pumps some life into a character that played by any other actor would've been forgettable. Also found here is Sean Bean, who is once again playing a cold-hearted villain, but he's always effective, and in a year that features him broadening his range in lighter turns in [i]Flightplan [/i]and [i]North Country, [/i]we can tolerate another nemesis role. Michael Clarke Duncan gets a surprisingly small role for a major actor like him, but it's important to the movie and he plays it well.

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A big problem that seems to inevitably come with every Bay spectacle is the addition of pointless comic relief bit characters, and in [i]The Island [/i]there are plenty of them which I'm sure I don't need to pinpoint in this review...they'll stand out. For the most part, however, I was absolutely impressed with the fact that Michael Bay had finally made something that is at least worth seeing. Because it was directed by him the movie is more of an achievement, because he has sort of crawled out of the gutter, at least for a while.

Stay
Stay(2005)

Every so often there is a film that comes along that immediately makes you think that it's definitely one that everyone will either entirely love or completely hate. Marc Forster's thriller, [i]Stay [/i]fully deserves to fall into that category in my opinion. To call this piece of work "mind-bending" wouldn't even do it right justice, because it does that and more. Forster's first two films, the 2001 masterpiece [i]Monster's Ball [/i]and last year's lovable [i]Finding Neverland [/i]both ran the road to the Oscars, but there will be no such recognition for the director's latest effort. This is obviously due to the fact that [i]Stay [/i]is stuck inside a genre that normally features mindlessly idiotic films. It's too bad, really, beause this is the best and most brilliant work from him yet.

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The plot of this movie is a great reminder of how to review films not only like this, but all films in general. I started to think about what to include about certain details at first, but that's just no the way. I find myself going into that direction too much when what a review should really do is just voice an opinion, likes or dislikes, with as little plot information as possible. Besides, even trying to explain what unfolds in this movie would be useless, for each and every person who sees it will have their own, new conclusion to it all. That's one of the most ingenious things about [i]Stay[/i], a movie with layers upon layers and jumps a corner just when you think you might understand it. What I think will be the deciding factor in the division of moviegoers' likes or dislikes
will be how much patience each individual has. Ewan McGregor, no wait, let me correct that - "The Great" Ewan McGregor plays a psychiatrist. The always impressive Ryan Gosling plays a troubled young man who is his patient. Forster directs the film with an equally distorted vision of what's reality and what's not as the screenplay brings, which was written David Benioff. Throughout the film we are taken through a double riddle with these two main characters who seem to have similarities or are the same person or have been connected in some way at some time...nothing's really sure. Forster's camera manipulation is what makes the film so unique in each frame of the movie, always tricking the audience.

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Naomi Watts is terrific as McGregor's self-depricating artist girlfriend, and the master Bob Hoskins turns in a tiny little performance as someone who may or may not be many things, one being Gosling's father. Watching a film with a premise like this in today's American cinema would initially seem like an insult to our intelligence and a major redundant headache, but Forster, his cast, and writer Benioff bring something refreshingly amazing to that table. This is a masterpiece of psychological filmmaking and one of my favorite films of the year.

A History of Violence
½

Without the direction of David Cronenberg, [i]A History of Violence [/i]would have most likely been just another addition in the long running series of "dark past returning" films, but he is here and works his unusual touch again to create a film unlike any other of its kind.

Viggo Mortensen does the best and most courageous work of his career as Tom Stall, a cafe owner in a fictional Indiana town called Millbrook who seems like the most humble family man the world has ever known. Maria Bello is fantastic as always as Tom's wife. They have two children, one in high school and the other in elementary. Cronenberg does a masterful job of giving significant time letting us settle in with these people in the beginning stages, and by the time the tables are turned upside down in the middle of the film we are fully involved with every move. After Tom prevents a robbery and possible murders in his cafe he becomes a celebrity, both locally and nationally. This event brings his whereabouts to the attention of some people who have been in search of him for many years. In a matter of days after a group of suspicious men make their uninvited way into the small town, confronting Tom. These men are led by mangled-face Carl Fogerty who is played by Ed Harris in another haunting creation. Fogerty immediately begins to harass Tom and linger around his household. He insists that Tom is not the small town man he says he is, but a man named Joey Cusack who is from Philadelphia and is "so good at killing people". As it becomes more and more evident that these men are not going to leave until they get what they want, Maria Bello becomes more and more important to the movie's success. As Tom's wife she plays the role with such realism and has great abilities. This is a greatly written character, one who doesn't stand and shiver but stands in the face of evil in the name of her family.

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There are many things to praise about the film, but the greatest aspect to mention is the surprising layers it has and the amount of contemplating it displays about the domination of violence not only in the plot but in the entire world. It is a timely film and its strong, brutal violence depicted unlike any film we've seen is not insulting - it's frank, something we need. This just might be Cronenberg's most engrossing work.

In Her Shoes
In Her Shoes(2005)
½

There are many things to admire about director Curtis Hanson, my personal favorite being his hunger for diversity, even if some projects fail. Toward the beginning of his career he seemed to be emerging as strictly a thriller-type moviemaker, creating such films as [i]Bad Influence [/i]and [i]The Hand That Rocks the Cradle[/i], but his filmography since then has developed into one of the most respected in cinema. The first Hanson film I fully enjoyed was 1994's [i]The River Wild[/i], featuring a terrific lineup of actors headed by Meryl Streep then rounded off nicely with Kevin Bacon, John C. Reilly, Benjamin Bratt, the then popular Joseph Mazzello, and David Straitharn, who would also be seen in Hanson's next and most heralded film, [i]L.A. Confidential[/i]. Nothing much needs to be said about the award-winning masterpiece that the film is, because it's already been said hundreds of times over the last 8 years. In my opinion, he made his greatest achievement not with [i]L.A., [/i]but his next film, [i]Wonder Boys[/i]. Steve Kloves's screenplay is one of the best I've ever had the fortune to see play out on screen in one of my favorites movies of all-time. Michael Douglas never really started proving himself as an actor with range until this one was unveiled. From there Hanson went into more untreaded waters, at least for his particular filmography, by taking on Eminem for [i]8 Mile[/i]. It was Hanson's presence that proved to elevate the film and give it some class, and it resulted in something to cherish as opposed to something to place in the bottom of our trash bins. Something tells me that Jim Sheridan will do the same later on this year with 50 Cent in [i]Get Rich or Die Tryin'[/i]. We shall see. So that is where his body of work stands now, and as his latest film is set to be released this coming friday, whether you like it or not - it is yet another one to add to the Hanson diversity lineup.

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The film is based on a novel by Jennifer Weiner of the same name in which two completely opposite sisters scatter around in their lives, constantly coming together and, in the blink of an eye, being torn apart. Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette are cast as the siblings, and by the looks of them it is perfect. They completely pass for sisters, mostly because of the similarities in the face structures. Other than that, however, I don't think it ever fully works, and not in a chemistry sort of way. There are three parts that must all be equally convincing in order for this film to work, and although film picks itself up as it goes along, there was just no hope for the first act. Diaz is an actress that I have never fully respected, although there have been the occasional exceptions ([i]There's Something About Mary[/i], [i]Being John Malkovich[/i]). She is just another in a long line of actors that I feel have been handed roles and recognition and awards not based on acting abilities, but looks. In this role she is given a major task, to develop from one person to another and portray each of them effectively. In the first act, where she is basically either having sex or being drunk or both, she just never comes off as realistic. Toni Collette, who plays the successful lawyer, slightly overweight and self conscious, babysitting sister, is almost always terrific in everything she's in. Here she is miles above Diaz, and especially in the first act, but she too is somewhat ineffective at times. I think the screenplay, which was adapted by [i]Erin Brockovich [/i]writer Susannah Grant, has way too many unnecessary instances and puts the actors in odd situations at least as far as outbursts and certain mannerisms are concerned.

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The second act of the film in which the sisters are separated and new characters emerge, shows some light and bears down a little. Hanson's direction is the work of a great mind, going handheld most of the way. It is about half of the way through this long running movie that we are introduced to the most interesting character, the grandmother neither of the sisters new existed played by the fabulous Shirley Maclaine in a performance that literally swoops down and saves the movie. Oddly enough it is the portion of the movie that separates Diaz and Collette that is the backbone of [i]In Her Shoes. [/i]It is strong to Hanson-heights in the middle, making you wonder why it couldn't have been throughout it all. Being a Hanson made movie it definitely displays many reasons to go out and give it a chance, but it is not nearly as effective as I imagined it would end up being. Maclaine is so good in this that she deserves some nomination consideration, at least at this point in the year.

Flightplan
Flightplan(2005)
½

Another movie that featured a trailer that didn't make it seem like anything special is Robert Schwentke's [i]Flightplan[/i], the rarest of thrillers in cinema today - the kind that just keeps getting better and better until it finally explodes into a completely worthwhile experience. When you finish watching this film, whether you like it or not, there's no doubting that we've got a fresh new visionary in Schwentke, who gets his American film debut having two German films under his belt.
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The reason the risk was taken to even give the movie a chance in theaters was not only the choice of Jodie Foster in the lead, but also because of her pairing with the versatile Peter Sarsgaard, who continues to chug along little to small films at a steady pace. Foster has in the last decade or so been very conservative, showing up in a film about every 3 years. She did have an extremely small role in last year's [i]A Very Long Engagement[/i], another film full of life from Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Her last major role was in David Fincher's [i]Panic Room[/i], from 2002. After seeing [i]Flightplan [/i]one cannot help but suggest comparisons between it and [i]Panic Room[/i]. In both, Foster plays a wealthy, intelligent womanwhp spends most of the time confined to a limited area in the most frightening of circumstances, reaching into her bag of tricks to uncover the end of a dark tunnel of evil. Fincher's film featured his usual brilliant camerawork and darkly wonderful set design, but surprisingly features a weak screenplay that just derailed the overall success of the movie in my opinion. It was still a worthy thriller held together by the always reliable Foster, plus I must give respect to Forest Whitaker who plays the "kind giant" like no one else. Schwentke directs [i]Flightplan[/i] like a veteran, with echoes of Hitchcock. He has a unique eye and a sneaky demeanor as it unfolds and ends up being more impressive than Fincher's effort with [i]Panic Room[/i]. Plus, with an extremely unpredictable plot that's executed with pinpoint precision that the actors play out beautifully, this stands to be one of the biggest surprises, as far as thrillers go, of the decade.

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Foster is outstanding in every frame of the movie in what I feel is her best performance in many years. There are not many actresses that can come off as real as her, just dropping into each character she embodies with ease. Working alongside Sarsgaard, who gives an unforgettable performance, she seems even better. Watching these two play off of each other is a joy. Sean bean, who we're used to seeing as a ruthless person, plays the level headed captain of the 747 airplane. I don't remember Bean ever receiving a role this greatly suited to his talents, and he ends up delivering his best performance. Amazingly enough, in a film filled with terrific acting, it is the tense and intelligent screenplay by Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray combined with the awe-inspiring direction from Robert Schwentke that make the film fly. It's a true original.

War of the Worlds

[color=lemonchiffon][color=red][color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua][color=lemonchiffon]Steven Spielberg has an uncanny knack for putting his characters and audience in horrifying situations involving[/color] [color=lemonchiffon]some sort of creature or creatures as they attempt to do away with any human that stands in their way. Some of the stories he tackles would seem stupid or impossible to make effective when it's just an idea presented at first, but as we have all been witnessing since the release of [i][font=Book Antiqua]Jaws [/font][/i]30 years ago, most of the time he has a magic touch that has transformed simple instances into extraordinary ones. Despite what a lot of people have had to say about his newest film [i][font=Book Antiqua]War of the Worlds - [/font][/i]this is another thrilling spectacle along the same lines as [i][font=Book Antiqua]Jaws [/font][/i]and [i]Jurassic Park.[/i][/color][/font][/color][/color][/color]

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[color=lemonchiffon][color=lemonchiffon][font=Book Antiqua]Based on the novel which is over 100 years old and a remake of the first film version that is now over 50 years of age, it tells the story of an alien invasion on Earth, which I'm sure I don't need to elaborate on any further. Cruise is Ray Ferrier, a dock worker in the [/font][font=Book Antiqua]Garden [/font][font=Book Antiqua]State[/font][/color][font=Book Antiqua][color=lemonchiffon] who has a terrible relationship with seemingly everyone who is supposed to be closest to him. This would be his teenage son Robbie and 10 year old daughter Rachel, played by Justin Chatwin and the ever popular Dakota Fanning in two great performances. Miranda Otto plays Ray's ex-wife, Mary Ann who is dropping the kids off with Ray while her and her new husband, Tim make a trip to her parent's house in Boston. Soon after, the chaos plunges in and doesn?t let up for nearly the entire length of the movie. The special effects in this movie are some of the greatest we?ve ever seen, as Spielberg creates, inch by inch, a completely no holds barred, terrifying trip through Earth?s possible doom.[/color][/font][/color]

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[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua][color=lemonchiffon]I saw this on its opening day and came out with a feeling of total exhilaration, thinking I had just seen another Spielberg adventure masterpiece. In the few days that followed I saw the film twice more, each time seeing the film differently. As I write this review it has been nearly three months since I have viewed the film, so it has obviously sunk in my head well. That?s what I want it to seem like, the perfect excuse for being 90 days absent on my opinion, but that?s not it at all ? I just couldn?t find the words back in late June and soon spaced the thought of ever completing it. With the re-emergence of thoughts about this film that came all of the sudden, I now think more of the flaws than the terrific aspects of [i]War of the Worlds[/i]. There are many things that are floppy and the events in the closing sequences just do not satisfy, but, in the end, when weighing in the good and the bad, one thing still remains ? a healthy amount of entertainment. Spielberg aims for nothing but that very thing this time around, something he hasn?t done strictly in a long time. He has succeeded again. [/color][/font][/color]

Layer Cake
Layer Cake(2005)

[size=3][font=Times New Roman][color=lemonchiffon]It?s obvious when watching Matthew Vaughn?s directorial debut, [i]Layer Cake [/i]that he took a few notes from Guy Ritchie?s style when serving as a producer for his films [i]Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels [/i]and [i]Snatch. [/i]I have never been the biggest fan of Ritchie?s and in fact, I?ve never really been a fan at all, but I do admire his flair and believe that one day he could make a great film. Vaughn has adopted Ritchie?s good techniques and left out the sour ones, placing his own style in, and it proves to be very effective. After just one film Vaughn has done something Ritchie has yet to do ? create a [i]solid[/i] mob/caper/comedy film. [/color][/font][/size]


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[font=Times New Roman][size=3][color=lemonchiffon]Daniel Craig plays the main character in the film, known only as XXXX[i]. [/i]Craig is an insanely talented British actor who has been around for while and is just recently seeing recognition here in the States. In the last two years he has delivered fine performances in both Roger Michell directed films [i]The Mother [/i][i]and [/i][i]Enduring Love[/i][i], and in this film he does everything that?s needed and more. It?s his energy and playfulness, along with Vaughn?s direction, that breathe life into every snippet of the movie. What Vaughn has managed to do better than Ritchie is capitalize on the setup he displays to his audience in the first half of his film. In other words ? he follows through with efficiency, never losing our attention. That?s what my biggest problem with Ritchie has been so far in his career, I just never manage to care much by the end. In [/i][i]Layer Cake [/i]I was captivated entirely as the film moves so swiftly it takes complete attention to run along its side at a solid and steady motion. [/color][/size][/font]


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[size=3][font=Times New Roman][color=lemonchiffon]The addition of one of the liveliest supporting casts of the year featuring the always fantastic Colm Meaney and Michael Gambon among many others only gives more good marks to this directorial debut. Sienna Miller, most recently seen in the remake of [i]Alfie [/i]alongside Jude Law in a great performance, is once again very good here. Although not even nearly approaching perfection, [i]this is a strong effort by a filmmaker to watch. Vaughn just might do a terrific job with the next [/i][i]X-Men[/i][i] film. [/i][/color][/font][/size]

Wedding Crashers

There's no doubt that Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn have extremely strong acting abilities, which only so often stray away from comedy. Wilson gave an incredible performance in Hampton Fancher's thriller [i]The Minus Man, [/i]and Vaughn, although stringing only comic roles of late, has been outstanding in past dramatic roles in films like [i]Return to Paradise [/i]and [i]The Cell[/i]. Neither of them have done much of the serious side for a long time, unless you want to count Vaughn's appearance in the straight-to-video [i]The Prime Gig,[/i] alongside Ed Harris in a mediocre film at best. Instead, these two have been throwing out what they're known best for by the handful - comedies. With the talent these guys possess it's sad that they haven't been in enough quality films of late. I'm not a fan of mindless physical and crude humor that doesn't involve a storyline, so pretty much everything Vaughn has done recently (yes, that's you [i]Old School [/i]and [i]Dodgeball[/i]) I have disliked. Wilson has made his share of terrible comedies as well, most notably the horrendous [i]I Spy [/i]and the shameful adaptation of Elmore Leonard's [i]The Big Bounce[/i]. He has managed to pull himself together a few times to make good films, like any time he collaborates with Wes Anderson or the two [i]Shanghai [/i]films he did with Jackie Chan, both surprisingly good. Coming into 2005, however, it was fair to say that both Wilson and Vaughn needed a major comedy to bring them back to the frontline, so they joined up for David Dobkin's [i]Wedding Crashers[/i].

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In this film audiences got what they needed in the middle of the summer - a riotous and fun time. It's as plain and simple as that. Dobkin has already worked with both of the actors, first with Vaughn in his directorial debut from 1998, [i]Clay Pigeons, [/i]and in 2003 he directed Wilson in [i]Shanghai Knights. [/i]It's a very important thing to be easy going and familiar with a director when making a film like this, at least in my opinion, and it shows throughout each scene here. It's great to see so much freedom give to Wilson and Vaughn, who are unbelievably funny and a priceless pair. The fact that this is an anything goes type of raunchy comedy is exactly why it works on every level humurously. Vaughn hasn't received a role to show off his motormouth abilities this good since Jon Favreau wrote [i]Swingers [/i]and then resurrected the same type of character in [i]Made[/i]. The screenwriting in [i]Wedding Crashers[/i], by Steve Faber and Bob Fisher, is never relevant in making the film work, because it's all about hopping on the two man show bandwagon of the leads, who in most cases seem like theyre improvising, anyway. There are many supporting players who pop up here and there as the movie progresses, and most of them are pointless (the gay, distant, artisitic brother), over-the-top (zany, country club boyfriend competing with Wilson for the girl), and underused (Christopher Walken). There are many things about the film that reall do not work, but then again, they're all small and minor. It is, after all, Wilson and Vaughn's movie, and they make it fly even with many flaws standing in their way.

An Unfinished Life
½

Director Lasse Hallstrom hasn't had a great film since his wonderful adaptation of John Irving's [i]The Cider House Rules[/i]. It's been six years and and three films since. The decent but overrated [i]Chocolat [/i]in 2000, the dull drama from 2001, [i]The Shipping News[/i], which failed to deliver, and now his new one which has been on Miramax's shelves for two years, [i]An Unfinished Life[/i].

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The film stars screen legends Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman as Einar and Mitch, two lonely men who live in a desolate farm area in Wyoming. They've both been scarred, but in different ways. Einar is a bitter man who still hasn't let go of the past. His son was killed in a car wreck in which his son's wife, Jean, was driving. She survives, and in the 12 years since it has happened has always been blamed for it by Einar. Jean is played by Jennifer Lopez who gives a surprisingly convincing performance and holds her own very well with the seasoned veterans. Freeman, once again playing the familiar wise and kind character, has been actually scarred from a bear mauling. He is in an almost immoble state and needs assistance for everything he does. Becca Gardner, a 15 year old newcomer who was 12 at the time the movie was in production, gives a worthy performance as far as child actors are concerned. She is Griff, Jean's daughter that was born only a few months after the car accident, and as the movie opens we see the two escaping the clutches of Jean's newest abusive boyfriend. Her only thought of a place to go for safety is back to Wyoming, which means the first confrontation with Einar in 12 years, not to mention the first time he'll know his granddaughter exists.

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The film is filled with hidden emotions that are forced to come forward by the re-emergance of certain figures. But there is still something that lingers throughout [i]An Unfinished Life [/i]that keeps it from developing into a great film. The fact that we've seen pretty much everything that's involved here doesn't help it's cause, but that doesn't hurt it so much as to give it a bad review. Even though we're in familiar territory, the actors keep the ship afloat with amazing performances. Hallstrom is still in search of another great movie, but at least he's done his best work in 6 years.

Just Like Heaven
½

When reviewing most romantic comedies these days, and especially the ones that deal with incidents involving the supernatural or all other impossible storylines, you must rule out the focus on logic. Movies like this are meant to do only one thing - entertain, and the only way they work is through the chemistry between the leads. So all critiquing should be directed toward these people. In this case we have Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo.

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Witherspoon plays a workaholic doctor who has no personal life at all, and one day she gets in an automobile accident and it seems as though she dies. Ruffalo plays a widower who has spent the last two years of his life with nothing but alcohol to keep him company. He movies in to the apartment which she occupied before the accident happened. All of her things are still in place as he begins to live there. He is a depressed and lazy man who quickly makes a mess of the place, which upsets the neat freak person that she is. So her spirit enters to make him clean the place up and get out of her apartment. Ruffalo is the only person that can see her as this ghostly figure. As the movie plays out there are many moments that I thought to myself that could've been better, but Witherspoon and Ruffalo are marvelous on screen as a pair. The plot is very laughable but the key is that they make you fall into the story and go along with everything becauase they are so lovable.

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This is director Mark Waters' third film in as many years, starting with the surprisingly worthy remake of [i]Freaky Friday[/i] and followed up by the amazingly witty comedy [i]Mean Girls. [/i]He has a good talent for directing a film like this and proves to be right for the job. Witherspoon, who has latched on to romantic comedies for the last few years does her best work in a long time. Ruffalo, an actor who has been steadily giving great performances since his amazing debut in [i]You Can Count On Me[/i] is outstanding alongside Witherspoon and in my opinion makes the film work as much as it does. His role is much more challenging than that of hers because most of the time he is either talking to nothing or is actually being embodied by the spirit. His career has only spanned 5 years as of now and he has already managed to be more diverse than almost any actor out there. What can you say with a movie like [i]Just Like Heaven[/i] other than the setup is preposterous but it's made into one good time by the actors. Donal Logue from [i]The Tao of Steve [/i]also has a few chances to shine as Ruffalo's psychiatrist friend.

Lord of War
Lord of War(2005)
½

[color=#ffff99][font=Palatino Linotype]Those who managed to make it to the theater this past weekend to see [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Lord of War [/font][/i]can correct me if I'm wrong, but I highly doubt they would disagree with my opinion that while the movie has frequent moments of humor it is definitely NOT a comedy. So why are the TV spots including only the funny tidbits, thus making it seem like a film that is merely playing around with the subject of arms dealing? Advertising for films has become weaker and more misleading over the years, and most of the time has been directly responsible for them doing so poorly at the box-office. I can see it happening with this film, and if it does then Nicolas Cage will be in familiar territory. He gave a brilliant performance in [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Matchstick Men [/font][/i]two years ago and the entire film was ultimately perfect (Ridley Scott's best in my opinion), but it did pitiful in theaters. It seems that if he is not collaborating with Bruckheimer then he doesn't have a smash hit. There had to be plenty of people who wrote this film off of their "to see" lists based on the ads, and I know one of them (Eve, please give it a try...you just might like it). I know I have stressed this is in the past and I never like being repetetive, but please disregard the horrendous promotion for this movie and see it, I strongly feel that you will come to find that there is nothing quite like Andrew Niccol's [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Lord of War[/font][/i]. [/font][/color]
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[color=#ffff99][font=Palatino Linotype][color=#ffff99][font=Palatino Linotype]Some prefer Cage's younger years to his career now, and some vice versa. I have enjoyed nearly everything from top to bottom, and even the bad films he has participated in he has never given a dull performance. If i had to choose which era of his career I prefer most then it would definitely be the current one, which in my opinion started with [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Leaving Las Vegas [/font][/i]and continues to roll on. Here he plays Yuri Orlov, a man who is considerably the most successful arms dealer the world has ever known. In a screenplay that ranges for more than a 20 year span and starting at a fairly early point in Yuri's life, Cage never seems too young or too old, no matter what age he is playing. Andrew Niccol first brought us one of the best sci-fi films of the 90's, [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Gattaca[/font][/i], a major achievement in many ways, mostly of originality. He later went on to write another amazingly original film, the Peter Weir directed [i][font=Palatino Linotype]The Truman Show[/font][/i]. His sophomore effort as a director was 2002's [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Simone[/font][/i], a film starring Al Pacino and Catherine Keener and featuring a storyline that could've been brilliant, it just wasn't executed appropriately. Whether his films are good or bad, there is no arguing that he is an original, a rare breed of filmmaker, and [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Lord of War [/font][/i]just might be his most original film yet. Here we have a movie that isn't an action movie that features gunrunners, but a movie that strcitly about the profession, completely dissecting each and every aspect of the job. As the film closes it says it's based on actual events, and I'm not sure exactly how much of Yuri Orlov is true or if he's based on one person or a combination of many arms dealers. One thing is for sure, though, after experiencing it - non-fiction is always more intriguing than anything screenwriters can imagine. Cage is, once again, a force to be reckoned with and, once again, creates one of the most interesting characters we've ever seen. It saddens me that this isn't the type of film to receive any respect come nomination time, at least for Cage's performance. [/font][/color]
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[color=#ffff99][font=Palatino Linotype][color=#ffff99][font=Palatino Linotype]In addition to Cage's powerhouse portrayal and Niccol's stylish and fresh direction, the supporting cast is stellar. Jared Leto plays his younger brother Vitaly and a lot of time for him on screen is spent drugged out of his mind, and he reminds us just how good he is at portraying drug addiciton ([i][font=Palatino Linotype]Requiem[/font][/i], anyone?). Bridget Moynahan plays his wife who never knows about his profession to the fullest and doesn't really want to in a performance that gives me more hope than she can improve on her acting chops. I have hated Moynahan in the two previous films she did, [i][font=Palatino Linotype]The Recruit [/font][/i]and [i][font=Palatino Linotype]I, Robot[/font][/i]. Here she still needs fixing but she is strong at times, showing some light ahead. Eamonn Walker is a terrific African actor and he steals a couple significant scenes in the film as Andre Baptiste. Ian Holm is also here in another great supporting performance to lay alongside dozens more for him as a competing gunrunner to Yuri. Rounding this bunch out is Ethan Hawke who is reteaming with Niccol for the first time since [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Gattaca[/font][/i]. He plays an Interpol agent that is constantly on Yuri's tail, looking for answers, but in a legitimate way. He has played the "honest cop" two or three other times, most notably in [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Training Day [/font][/i]and also in the remake of [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Assault on Precint 13[/font][/i], plus techincally in [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Taking Lives. [/font][/i]He is sort of wearing this character out, but he's so damn effective each and every time (except [i][font=Palatino Linotype]Taking Lives[/font][/i], one of 2004's worst films).[/font][/color][/font][/color]
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[color=#ffff99][font=Palatino Linotype]This is a fantastic movie that I loved so much I saw twice over the weekend. The second time I went was mostly because I craved it again but partly to analyze and ponder on whether or not it is a full fledged masterpiece. It is so very close, but in the end I give this a 9.5 officialy, and respectively. [/font][/color][/font][/color]

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
½

[font=Garamond][size=3][color=lemonchiffon]I have always been a fan of Doug Liman?s direction, but his transfer over to big budget Hollywood movies, [i]The Bourne Identity[/i], was a let down in my opinion. There were all the elements there to make a great action film but I just wasn?t impressed with a lot of things about it. Nevertheless, that film was a huge success and gave him the opportunity to direct another big budget movie, this time working with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for [i]Mr. & Mrs. Smith[/i]. [/color][/size][/font]

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[font=Garamond][size=3][color=lemonchiffon]I must say, seeing the trailer for this movie had me extremely skeptical about even giving it a chance in theaters, but I went anyway because of my faith in Liman and knowing that trailers often mislead. The film obviously relies solely on the chemistry between Pitt and Jolie, and from the very beginning they put all of my worries to rest. Pitt has always been a great talent giving outstanding performances in such films as the underrated [i]Kalifornia[/i], [i]Sleepers,[/i] [i]12 Monkeys[/i], and for Fincher in both [i]Seven [/i]and [i]Fight Club[/i]. On the other hand, Jolie I have disliked in most of her roles and the only performance I liked was in [i]Pushing Tin[/i]. There is just something about this actress, maybe the fact that most of her roles are to show off her lips and body more than acting, that I have never liked. Here she displays real acting talent as she and Pitt get to completely goof off in one of the funniest and most entertaining movies in ages. They play two contract killers who keep this profession a secret from each other, acting as a ?normal? American couple at home. Soon the secret will begin to unravel as they are assigned to take out each other. [/color][/size][/font]

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[color=lemonchiffon][font=Garamond][size=3]The screenplay is surprisingly humorous at a frequent pace and the action in the film is constant and full of energy. Vince Vaughn teams up again with Liman in a role that is sort of a branch off of his character in [i]Swingers[/i], except this time he?s a hit man who lives at home with his mom. I don?t think it?s possible for Vaughn to not be funny, and in the limited time he?s on screen it is priceless. For the movie to succeed this much humorously was a gigantic surprise, considering I wasn?t ready to give this movie even a small chance to begin with. Liman quickly gets back into the swing of things with [i]Mr. & Mrs. Smith[/i]. [/size][/font][/color]

The Longest Yard
½

[size=3][font=Times New Roman][color=lemonchiffon]For over a decade now, Adam Sandler has been participating in mostly mindless comedy films that for some reason have struck a chord with audiences everywhere. I have hated some of these films ([i]The Waterboy, Little Nicky[/i], [i]Anger Management[/i]), mildly disliked some ([i]Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer[/i]) and some have managed to get on my good side, like [i]50 First Dates [/i]and one of my all-time biggest guilty pleasures, [i]Billy Madison[/i]. Lately Sandler has started to grow up in a sense, and even in his trademark humor films. In [i]50 First Dates [/i]he actually had a character that we could care about instead of see as a complete ass that mumbles, and we?ve also found out that he has great range, from P.T. Anderson?s brilliant [i]Punch-Drunk Love[/i] and James L. Brooks? mediocre film [i]Spanglish [/i]in which he gives a fantastic performance. His newest comedy looked to be another along the lines of what got him to where he is now, a re-teaming with [i]Anger Management [/i]director Peter Segal for the remake of the prison football film, [i]The Longest Yard. [/i][/color][/font][/size]

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[font=Times New Roman][size=3][color=lemonchiffon]Sandler plays the character that Burt Reynolds made famous, the washed up and drunken man who was once a star NFL quarterback until he was banned from the game for betting. In the beginning sequences we are in familiar territory as we see the same Sandler we?re used to, stumbling around and giving that well known laugh dozens of times?but for some reason I found him and the film itself amusing this time around and pretty much all the way through. I?m sure you all know the main idea of the story already ? he goes to prison and there he is forced to start up a football team of inmates to compete against the powerhouse of the guards, who the majority of are played by professional wrestlers. Surprising enough it was only in the beginning stages of the movie that Sandler?s character comes across as an idiot, and as the movie goes on he molds into a smart and likeable guy. Chris Rock can do nothing but help a movie when he is in it, even if he doesn?t say a word he seems to be funny. Here, alongside Sandler he is as funny as ever, with each line coming out of his mouth generating laughs. There are many supporting players, some of them scoring (James Cromwell, Michael Irvin, surprisingly Nelly) and some of them falling flat (like Reynolds hopping on board as a mysterious football legend, it just wasn?t needed) but for the most part everyone works. [/color][/size][/font]

[size=3][font=Times New Roman][color=lemonchiffon]Yes there are some of the usual mindless things we?re used to seeing from movies like this, but there is also real comedy in this movie and it ends up being one giant piece of entertainment. I never would?ve imagined that I?d see this 3 times on the big screen, but I did. I was that entertained.[/color][/font][/size]

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Do we really need to see another horror film involving exorcisms? In fact, have we really needed all of the others that came out after William Friedkin's 1973 masterwork, [i]The Exorcist[/i]? My answer would be no, not at all, because those movies have all suffered and newer ones will continue to suffer because they'll always have the original to be compared with, and that automatically makes at least my outlook on it a step lower. Hollywood has always had a strange urge to bombard us with preposterous horror movies, but this year we're seeing almost double the amount, most of them dumbed down and lightened up with a PG-13 rating so the box-office can cash in with the kiddies. This film is no exception to the new PG-13 scheme, which is one reason it fails to deliver in the scare factor. One thing the rating doesn't prevent the movie from doing great is the coutroom drama sequences, which save the movie from becoming a disaster.

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Had it not been for the strong casting in this movie I never would have given it a chance, and especially in theaters. Like the thriller [i]Dark Water [/i]from earlier this summer which featured four great acting talents in Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, and Pete Posthlethwaite, this film also features four great actors that simply forced me to pay the ticket price (matinee, of course). Laura Linney is one of the finest actresses today, but although this is her first horror film, she has played an attorney similar to this before. It was her smaller role in [i]Primal Fear [/i]that seemed to stick out when watching her in the opening sequences here, as if this is a chance to further that character's story in a vague way. She is enticed into taking a case she doesn't want, which is to defend a priest who is accused of negligant homicide after an exorcism fails on 19 year old Emily Rose. How is she enticed? She is offered a long awaited and deserved full partnership and her "name on an office door", as she demands it. Tom Wilkinson plays the priest in role that suits him very well, and he and Linney share great chemistry on screen, doing their best to keep our attention on great acting instead of an up and down screenplay.

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Campbell Scott is the prosecuting attorney in another fine performance by one of the world's most underrated actors. The movie is told almost entirely in the coutroom, and as the witnesses tell their stories we are plunged into flashbacks that chronicle Emily's helpless consumption into evil. This is where the movie goes wrong, not in the actual idea of doing flashbacks, but the entire approach to the demonic control portion - the real reason people go see the movie and why other so its kind always start at #1 in the box office. Emily is played by newcomer Jennifer Carpenter in a performance that is gaining much praise everywhere, but I simply was not taken in by her portrayal of the good girl gone bad. She was extremely unconvincing to me throughout mostly all of her scenes in my opinion, and that kind of ruined the horror aspect of the film. Luckily, though, [i]The Exorcism of Emily Rose [/i]keeps over half of itself inside Linney's mind and in the coutroom, which is all done really well. It doesn't exactly work as a horror film, but the terrific acting makes it a worthwhile drama for at least one view. Oh, and it was great to see Shoreh Aghdashloo from [i]House of Sand and Fog [/i]in a film again.

Last Days
Last Days(2005)

If patience must be one of the viewer's strong points when watching the last film I reviewed, which was Jim Jarmusch's [i]Broken Flowers[/i], then completely dedicated and respectful patience must be brought forward to fully appreciate the brilliance of recent Gus Van Sant films. 2002's [i]Gerry [/i]and 2003's [i]Elephant [/i]are both good films if viewed the appropriate way. Now Van Sant returns with another film created with the same approach as the previous two, [i]Last Days[/i].

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The title of the movie refers to the last days of a famous musician's battle with drug addiction. Michael Pitt plays this character named Blake who has an uncanny resemblance to the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. The movie notes in the end credits that although the film is loosely based on the death of Cobain, all the characters are fictional. In [i]Gerry[/i], Van Sant executed with cinematographer Harris Savides the creation of observant and uninterrupted shots. In [i]Elephant [/i]they furthered that style and it resulted in a masterpiece and one of my 3 favorite films of 2003. From the opening shot of [i]Last Days[/i] in which we find Blake struggling to wander through a forest and head toward a river, I was even more taken in by the beauty of the camerawork and direction. This is a film that is not unlike Jarmusch's [i]Broken Flowers[/i], at least in its execution. There are many supporting players in both films, but none of them grace the screen for a long amount of time, and it's entirely necessary for it to be this way. As Jarmusch and Murray made us feel like we were Don, Van Sant and Pitt put us inside Blake's head completely. As we further into the journey and mumble and strum a guitar for our only escape and run from contact, we notice that we [i]are [/i]Blake throughout the course of the film. At least that's what I got out of the whole experience. Never have I seen a film about the toll of fame that has the character not leaving life in a ball of flame, but so distantly, walking and mumbling and walking and mumbling until he walks and mumbles no more. It's as though Blake was a ghost before he was even dead.

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This is an achievement that I don't think can be matched this year, although I won't set that statement in stone, simply because we still have Cameron Crowe's [i]Elizabethtown [/i]and many others to see. Gus Van Sant is an ambitious filmmaker that has always kept everything in his creations raw and realistic. His [i]Last Days [/i]is very respectful of Cobain and is not only the best film of 2005 right now, but the best of his career. It's very odd to me that in the same weekend I saw career-crowning films from two master directors that got their start in the '80s.

Broken Flowers

Writer/director Jim Jarmusch has dealt with lonely and lost souls quite frequently throughout his career, which has recently climbed over the 20 year mark. His first two films, 1984's [i]Stanger Than Paradise [/i]and 1986's [i]Down By Law [/i]have always been my favorites from him at depicting depressed and distant human beings. His filmography since then has been solid, ranging from [i]Mystery Train [/i]to [i]Dead Man [/i]to his most overlooked film [i]Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai, [/i]but I still hadn't been as awestruck by anything as much as the first two. Now, however, with the release of his new film [i]Broken Flowers[/i], Jarmusch has not only made it back to classic form but has constructed the triumph of his career to this point.

There's no doubt that Jarmusch wrote the main character with the one and only Bill Murray in mind to play it. His name is Don Johnston, a loner who in his 50's remains a "bachelor" as he likes to call it, sitting stone faced on his couch in his empty home, day after day. He is a man that has made love to countless women but has never been [i]in [/i]love with any of them. Julie Delpy plays the latest woman in Don's life, who we find out is dumping him in the opening moments. She claims she does not want to be stuck with an "over-the-hill Don Juan" anymore. She leaves, and at the same time a mysterious letter comes into Don's life, which he doesn't bother opening - that is until he makes his way to his Ethiopian neighbor's house. At this point I had shrugged off the fact that his name is Don and he is considered a Don Juan as a coincidence, but as soon as we are introduced to the internet-curious neighbor, Winston, then I began to see the film as somewhat of a fairy tale.

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Johnston is a fairly wealthy man that has made his income by hitting it big in the computer business, but you'd never know he knew anything about the technology unless he told you. He doesn't even own a computer. Winston (played with amazing energy by Jeffrey Wright) on the other hand, spends all of his free time, which couldn't be much with 3 jobs and 5 kids, on the computer. So when Don opens up the anonymous letter on pink stationery in Winston's presence, reading it out loud, they both become aware that one of Don's past lover's has been raising a son that seems to his for 19 years. I'm sure most of you all know by the trailer and other reviews alone what the story spirals into after this. Winston, obsessed with becoming a modern day Sherlock Holmes of sorts, gathers information of 4 of Don's former flames on the internet and presents the idea to him of going on a road trip to "catch up" with them and in the process find clues to the letter origin. Don makes note of how idiotic this idea is many times to Winston, but what Don is on the outside is much different than the inside. Deep inside Don is as anxious as Winston to see what's going on in his life...so he embarks on the quest, which so resembles a classic fairy tale in my opinion.

The casting of Murray is absolutely essential for this part and critical if the movie's poetic success, especially throughout the encounters with the women. I don't want to go any further into detail because that would be unnecessary and cruel to your overall experience should you decide to see it. Some people have complained that the four women didn't get enough time on screen to sink into our skin, but they're missing the brilliance of Jarmusch's writing here. In each encounter Don feels the need to exit early, whether it be through awkwardness or the feeling of being threatened or through actual violence, and he does a terrific job of making the audience feel like we [i]are [/i]him. It only improves on the film as a whole by keeping Don at the forefront at all times and constantly rotating different people around him for small amounts of time.

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There are laughs in the film that ever so often come and go, but there is little to smile about in [i]Broken Flowers[/i]. Don is one of the saddest characters the cinema has given us, and even as we come to a close with his story there doesn't seem to be light ahead for him. Some will without a doubt compare this performance to the one in [i]Lost in Translation[/i], but the similarities between Bob and Don are small and thin. Don is a completely helpless person when it comes to connecting with any other human being in the world, and maybe even himself. I have also read that some think Murray is becoming typecast as the older, sad and somber but quirky character, but I disagree. There are new dimensions to each person he embodies and every role he has done since [i]Rushmore [/i]he has slowly perfected the deadpan agony with wide range. I'm sure he adds a little of himself into his roles, but that shouldn't count against him. That's just what every great actor does. Another nomination should blossom for Murray in the masterpiece [i]Broken Flowers[/i].

The Constant Gardener

There are really only a limited number of filmmakers that direct each of their creations with the utmost originality and flair, and there are even fewer who are so fantastic at it that no matter what talented actor is on screen, they just don't compare to the power of the filmmaking. In [i]The Constant Gardener[/i], Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz give amazing performances (two of their best, actually) but unlike most amazing performances, they aren't the movie. Each aspect of the process of creating the film are weaved together to become equally responsible for creating such a masterpiece.

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Fernando Meirelles burst on to the scene with the masterwork (to say the least) [i]City of God [/i]in 2003, a film that I didn't think he could ever come close to topping or even equalling. He directs this film in such an organic fashion, with Africa looking like I imagine Africa would look like. He obviously does not tinker with sets or the construction of sets, because it is evident that everything is [i]real[/i], which what makes Meirelles such an ambitious maverick. I have never read John Le Carre's novel which this is based on, but after seeing the film there is no doubt that it has to be one of the greatest corrupt government books of our time. So much happens in the film, which ultimately has three separate and equally powerful acts, and everything in it is always one step ahead of its audience. I have been leaning towards telling nothing of the plot in my reviews lately, and I think I'll stick with that routine here.

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Fiennes continues to deliver diverse performances in his career, and here he plays someone unlike anything we've ever seen him play. He is Justin, a rarity among movie characters, simply because he is altogether a kind human being through and through. A kind human being that just can't seem to find complete truthfulness from anyone, even his wife. Weisz is his wife, Tessa, a person unlike Justin in every way. But they love each other, or does he love her only? I found myself filing through many incidents and posing many questions in my head during this film, just hoping that it would bring answers to the table in the end. I'ts really hard to write about a movie like this without revealing much of the plot, so I have to find a finishing point here somewhere.

Fernando Meirelles is the first director to come along since Scorsese that evokes many filmmaking tricks from him. It is eerie how much these two directors are alike, but at the same time possessing their own styles. Please see this movie, I guarantee you will come out astonished. This is the best film so far this year.

Grizzly Man
Grizzly Man(2005)

It seems that every year now there is one documentary amidst the trillion others that get released that sets itself apart. Last year it was Johnathan Caouette's beautiful [i]Tarnation[/i]. What made that one different was the approach. Everything about it was so unconventional, so heart-wrenching, that it was even more real than non-fiction. This year the Werner Herzog film [i]Grizzly Man [/i]is the stand out in my opinion, simply because it creates a new approach to the creation of the documentary.

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The term [i]Grizzly Man[/i] used in the title is not simply labeling the subject Timothy Treadwell as a person that has an interest in grizzly bears. No, it's not that at all. He considered himself a part of the grizzly community in Alaska, the place he called home for 13 straight summers from 1991-2003. During those summers he had video cameras with him at all times and an endless supply of batteries to give them life. He saw himself as not only a bear, but protector of the bears from possible poachers and such. In the over 100 hours of video he filmed we get to know not only Treadwell but each of the bears, which he named, individually. He had become a celebrity of sorts for the odd profession he embarked on, reaching the level of getting asked to visit David Letterman. There is an excerpt from his talk with Letterman in this movie that is chilling to watch, as he makes a joke that maybe one day the world will turn the news on and Treadwell will have been eaten alive. The crowd is uproarious with laughter, and only Treadwell is left stone-faced. In the summer of 2003 that very thing happened.

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Herzog does so much more than just collect the footage Treadwell filmed and weave it together into a simple documentary. That is only half of the film. The other half, which constantly intersects with Treadwell's footage, is Herzog's attempt to uncover all aspects of his life and the creation of a collage of different opinions about his ventures from people of all types. The surviving friends and family of this interesting person must be very grateful that a filmmaker like Herzog took on this project, because he treats it all with the utmost respect.

November
November(2005)
½

Greg Harrison's follow-up to his debut which I have never seen, [i]Groove[/i], is a film that manages to simultaneously impress and disappoint. [i]November [/i]stars Courtney Cox-Arquette in her first truly great and commanding performance as a college photography teacher who is caught inside a rubix cube of terrifying incidents, some of which are real and some are not.

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The idea of the film is extremely ambitious and the first half of the film make it all intriguing and interesting to look at as we hang on the edge of our seat. Cox-Arquette has proven herself as a legitimate actress here as Sophie, occupying screen space for nearly 100% of the time. The supporting cast is led by the wonderfully talented James LeGros, who has been giving solid performances for over 15 years now. I have been a fan of his ever since seeing him in the great [i]Drugstore Cowboy[/i]. The editing in the film is a major reason why it starts to develop a distinctive look, which Harrison is also responsible for. There are some jaw-dropping sequences created from the cutting room floor that are beautiful pieces of artwork in themselves. This is the first film made under the [i]InDigEnt [/i]movie studio I have seen since Richard Linklater's digital film,[i] Tape[/i]. The choice to do this film digitally was a very wise one and works well for the storyline, which frequently jumps back to familiar incidents already visited once or twice.

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By the end of the film I got an awkward empty feeling, one that I was really hoping wouldn't surface. The odd thing about [i]November [/i]is the equal amount of both good and bad its 73 minute running time does for it. The pace of the movie is kept very well and the extremely short time doesn't ever seem wrong, but it just never explains itself good enough, which makes one wish for maybe 10 to even 20 more minutes of breathing time. One thing that I thought was kind of pointless was the casting of veteran actress Anne Archer as Sophie's mother. The role is so tiny (maybe 5 minutes total) and features only a handful of lines, so getting a name like Archer to do something so belittling just didn't seem right, but whatever. She does fine with part. I am writing this review a full day after seeing the movie, and afer letting some of my thoughts sink in I have come to a fitting conclusion. Despite the film's flaws and setbacks in its final act, the originality it creates in the beginning stages still stands out most. There is no question that this is a film, it just could have been a fantastic one.

The 40 Year Old Virgin

The trailers and advertisements suggested [i]The 40-Year-Old Virgin [/i]as a film that would seem to try and live off of one joke, only to lose steam within the first ten minutes. Nothing hyped me up to see this movie in any way, but I still went. My feelings about Steve Carrell as a comedian before seeing this were very mixed. I had enjoyed some of his creations on the frequently funny [i]The Daily Show[/i], but since his departure from that I have disliked everything he's participated in. Now I am severely close to hailing the man as a comedic genius. Well, maybe he's not there yet, but his new film is definitely an amazing and surprising step toward genius status.

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Carrell and co-writer/director Judd Apatow (who also helped pen [i]Anchorman[/i]) have taken a storyline that could very well have been disastrous had they not handled it so amazingly careful. There are a healthy amount of rude and raunchy jokes in this film, but none of them seem mindless, and there is an equal blend of both that and a surprising sense of reality and human emotion stuffed in. The way Carrell plays the 40 year-old virgin, Andy, is remarkable, because he always keeps him believable and never goes over the top while still managing to be hilarious beyond imagination. The great thing about the script is the amount of time they give numerous characters to breathe and develop. You have three of Andy's co-workers played Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, and Romany Malco, who are all on a mission to get him laid, but they are each all so troubled in their own lives sexually that they are the last people on earth that should be giving advice about anything to anyone. All three of these characters have their own hilarious mannerisms and way of going about things, which makes them all interesting and equally funny. Then you have the love interest, played by the great Catherine Keener. Her character is very important to the movie and is a big reason why it all becomes separated from most comedies out there. She is funny, emotional, and very realistic in the way she brings the character to life, and watching her together with Carrell on screen turns out to be a surprising delight.

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I truly believe that [i]The 40-Year-Old Virgin [/i]is a masterpiece in its own respective genre, and hopefully it could be seen that way in the years or even decades to come. The biggest reason it reaches this plateau, I think, is because it achieves far more than one might expect. The movie taps at the funny bone [i]and [/i]hits the viewer on deeper, more intelligent levels most comedies compared to it could never dream of reaching.

Red Eye
Red Eye(2005)

[left]This is the first Wes Craven film in an extremely long amount of time that I actually found myself mildly anticipating, and it was all due to the choices in casting the leads. Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy have been on the rise for the past couple of years delivering terrific performance after terrific performance, so getting a chance to see them carry a film together sounded exciting.[/left]
[left] [/left]

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A movie like this is designed and executed with only one target in mind - entertainment. Craven gets it all right in [i]Red Eye [/i]as he swiftly moves it along, never letting the suspense let up even a tiny bit. The film doesn't even reach 90 minutes, which works out fantastically for the scheme of things. The best thing about the film is that it completely relies on McAdams and Murphy, who have all the weight on their shoulders. The supporting cast is comprised of classically unskilled B-movie actors, which only spotlights the brilliance of the leads even more. Craven's direction is also impressive and slick, and it constantly shows evidence of an individuall who is extremely seasoned when it comes to unveiling thrills. I have disliked almost everything in the director's body of work (with the exception of [i]The Last House on the Left[/i]) but it still does not mean that he isn't fully experienced in the suspense department.

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The performances are the make or break reason to see the movie, and they MAKE it in [i]Red Eye[/i]. McAdams and Murphy are dynamite together in a movie that is so damn tense and entertaining that it could very well be regarded as a classic B-movie thriller. On a final note, I must say that the importance of having a director like Cravenin the driver's seat is essential. He makes these great actors form great characters, and the combination between the three talents result in a gem.

Four Brothers

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Earlier today on my favorite directors list at #92 I said that Christopher Guest was the master of the "mockumentary" and no one could touch him when it came to perfecting that genre. John Singleton is another filmmaker that has perfected a certain kind of film that he sort of began with [i]Boyz n the Hood[/i]. I don't really know what name to pin the genre with, so I guess it might as well be the "Singleton" one. There is just something about his gangster movies that are so dinstinctive and evidently his creation. [i]Four Brothers [/i]is another addition to that genre.

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This is a fresh take on the gangster picture, one with a healthy amount of humor to go along with the devastation and heartbreak. The performances by these four adopted siblings are all given good time to develop and each are just as interesting as the next. Singelton does a fantastic job of balancing the character study with the action, never overblowing the movie with more of one or the other. Mark Wahlberg, who in a way actually grew up in a lifestyle similar to his character in the movie, was born to play the role of Bobby, the oldest of the Mercer's. He's the one who doesn't mess around when he's looking for the muderer of his mother. Tyrese Gibson, who gave his first strong performance in Singleton's [i]Baby Boy[/i], is great again as second brother-in-command, Angel.

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Andre Benjamin is going to be a fine actor, and what he demonstrates here is a complex and brilliant performance. He plays the most intriguing of all the brothers, Jeremiah, who has some deep secrets that one will uncover. Garrett Hedlund is the baby of the crew, Jack. He rounds out the main cast with a fine performance. Hedlund has been in only two films before this, [i]Troy [/i](which I absolutely hate) and [i]Friday Night Lights [/i](which I love). With each passing film he receives more meaty and important roles, and [i]Four Brothers [/i]should give him many more to come.

The supporting cast is something to cherish as well. Among them is the actor of the moment, Terrence Howard, in another great performance as Green, one of Detroit's seemingly last clean cops. Also giving great performances are Chiwetel Ojifor, Barry Shabaka Henley, Josh Charles, Sofia Vergara, and Fionnula Flanagan. These actors combined with the fast-paced and electric direction from Singleton make this one of your best tickets in theaters right now.

The Great Raid

With solid film after solid film, director John Dahl has quickly become one of the best and most dependable of directors working today, so whenever he is set to release another I am there, whether I know anything about the film or not. The best thing about Dahl is that with each passing film he manages to take on an entirely new approach, both with the content and with the visual flow of it all. He has done it again with a war film based on the true events spanning over a few days in Januray 1945 toward the end of WWII.

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[i]The Great Raid [/i]is something totally fresh that brings something new to the table of war films. Yes, it is set during WWII, but it's not just another movie about the same old thing, it's about something worth knowing about. Benjamin Bratt and James Franco play the commanding soldiers of the 6th Ranger Battalion, who set out on the most daring rescue mission this country has ever known. They must rescue 500 American soldiers who have been held captive in a Japanese POW camp for three years. Dahl does a terrific job of keeping the story entertaining and at a high energy by telling all sides of the story. He intersects between the 6th Ranger Battalion, the prisoners at the camp (led by Joseph Fiennes in another great performance), and also gives a generous amount of time to Connie Nielsen, who plays Margaret Utinsky, a woman that aids in the smuggling of medicine to the POW camp, and the love interest of Fiennes character.

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Nielsen is an amazingly talented actress and Dahl respects that in [i]The Great Raid[/i], giving her much time to display her abilities. His pacing in the film is what makes it all work. Throughout the first 3/4 of the movie we get the pleasure of having three great films inside of one, and during the final act they all weave together tremendously. Aside from Nielsen, it is Franco who also dominates in the film as he continues to pile on convincing performance after convincing performance. I have always seen it in him, but it is in this film that it comes out even more. I'm talking about Franco's uncanny resemblance to James Dean. Franco possesses everything needed to be a great actor, and I think we shall see him on film for decades to come. Overall, I would give this film an 8.5, almost a 9. It is another strong film from one of the best filmmakers out there now.

Tarnation
Tarnation(2004)

This is one of the best and most stunning movies you will ever see. I don't know if even saying that can do Jonathan Caouette's documentary [i]Tarnation [/i]justice. The minute I set my eyes on this film, from beginning to end, I was hypnotized. I found myself going through as many different emotions as one could go through when watching an enthralling piece of work such as this. There have only been a handful or less of movies that have affected me the way [i]Tarnation [/i]has. This is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.

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Caouette began documenting his every day life in Houston, Texas starting in 1984 at the age of 11. He never had a father to guide him and his mother Renee is unable to have custody of him due to her constant stays in hospitals. She has been receiving shock treatments since she fell off of a roof when she was a child. The treatments were never needed, but her parents had demanded to have them done, and after a while there was no stopping permanent damage. Jonathan was left in the hands of his grandparents. In a kaleidescopic view of pure filmmaking, Caouette bravely collects every disturbing incident of his adolescent life, from still shots to super 8 videos and short films to 80's pop culture, and weaves together what is equally the most terrifying and ingenious work ever. He must learn to grow up himself, with a little help from his close friends who introduce him to punk rock, underground movies, and companionship. Jonathan is homosexual, and he mentions in the movie that he didn't just decide to be gay, he was just born that way.

[img]http://im1.shutterfly.com/procserv/47b5d622b3127cce9303e33be99d00000016108AaNGThi3ZuE[/img]

As we follow Jonathan through his turbulent teenage years and live inside of his nightmares, we are relieved to make it out alive with him and develop the freedo to move from Houston to New York City. The second half of this film sheds some hope for a better future as he reconnects with his mother and begins to maybe even conjure a meeting for the first time with his father, Steve. When we see Jonathan happy in the film, which is very rare, it is an amazing thing that brings a smile to the viewer's face, hoping that maybe one day he can just always have it plastered there. That this is a real person's life is entirely devastating. This person is just now beginning to actually live a life now at the age of 32. To see Jonathan even come out of what we see him go through is amazing enough.

[img]http://im1.shutterfly.com/procserv/47b5d622b3127cce9303e339e99f00000016108AaNGThi3ZuE[/img]

The entire process of how this project came together is mind-boggling and unebelievable. Caouette is one of the most courageous indivduals I have ever heard of, and watching this film is not like watching a movie. I hope only the best for this man and his life and everyone around him. If any of you get the chance to see this I hope that when you finish it and get back to doing things in your life you will not write it off in the back of your mind. It's hard not to care for someone like Jonathan after seeing such a powerful truth displayed in front of your eyes. Not a day will go by when I won't think about what he might be doing at the exact moment, or how he is faring. This is a movie that I would make dozens of copies of and send them out to anyone who was willing to simply give an address. That is how powerful [i]Tarnation [/i]is.

Dear Frankie
Dear Frankie(2005)
½

When I made the choice to see Danny Boyle's [i]Millions [/i]earlier this year it meant that I had to pass up the chance of seeing another film I very much wanted to see, [i]Dear Frankie[/i]. I think the fact that [i]Millions [/i]was receiving acclaim across the board was what convinced me to choose that over the other. I was severely disappointed in [i]Millions[/i], mostly because it was being marketed as a delightful family film, which it was at times, but there were moments in the movie that would absolutely frighten young children. Danny Boyle is a director that I have little respect for. I cannot believe I passed up the chance to see [i]Dear Frankie[/i], the far better movie that is a genuinely heartfelt film that all ages can savor.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/miramax_films/dear_frankie/_group_photos/emily_mortimer3.jpg[/img]

Emily Mortimer continues to prove herself as one of the best actresses in cinema today. Her body of work just in the last 3 years includes great performances in the films [i]Lovely and Amazing, A Foreign Affair, Young Adam, [/i]and [i]Bright Young Things[/i]. In this film she delivers yet another endearing performance as Lizzie, a single mother who has created a fictional history of her husband to make her deaf son Frankie believe that his father still keeps in contact and the only reason he hasn't been with them is because he has been at sea on a ship called the HMS Accra. She writes him letters every week and Frankie always responds. They move from city to city and never stay in one place to long, because Lizzie doesn't ever want Frankie's father to find them. When Frankie finds out that the HMS Accra is an actual ship, he learns that it is to dock in their hometown in the near future. To make sure her plan stays intact, Lizzie offers money to a stranger (played wonderfully by Gerard Butler) to pose as Frankie's dad for a day.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/miramax_films/dear_frankie/_group_photos/emily_mortimer1.jpg[/img]

This sets off a remarkably happy yet painful collection of events that make up the second half of the film. I don't want to go into anything else the movie holds inside of it, just please go rent it or something. There aren't too many more film that have the harmlessness [i]Dear Frankie [/i]possesses anymore. It is a film to cherish, a timeless piece.

Me and You and Everyone We Know

This is the kind of film that catches its audience off guard, making us think far more than ancticipated and about things that we might never have thought about had it not been for its existence. Some will try their best to get out of it what they can (which I think I finally have, to the fullest), while others will despise it for the wrong reasons and misjudge its deep and meaningful tones as comedy (like many people that attended my screening). Whatever we all feel like doing after leaving Miranda July's [i]Me and You and Everyone We Know[/i], whether it be praise it or hate it, there is no arguing that it affects us all.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/ifc_films/me_and_you_and_everyone_we_know/miranda_july/meandyou1.jpg[/img]

There is really no way to justify the movie's greatness in a bunch of words that attempt to pass themselves off as a review, because the impact it had on me didn't make me feel like going out and reviewing it. I just felt like displaying my undying appreciation for its creation. This film is like a rubix cube of emotions, secrets, and human denial that will forever remain an unsolced mystery. July has written, directed, and starred in the film, giving three wonderful performances that are all highest honor worthy. This is one of the most insightful, heartbreaking, quirky, fascinating, and true motion pictures that will ever grace the screen. As I was watching all of these characters that revolve around the same space and share the same land boundary, I was moved, but it wasn't until after the film was over and even 24 hours later that it all severely affected me. There are many things to take in and analyze in this film, and I could easily understand how one could come out disgusted or offended by the film and nothing more, but it's saying something more than the people who feel like this are wanting to hear. This is a film that you first must be willing to let sink into your inner soul before you can fully appreciate it.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/ifc_films/me_and_you_and_everyone_we_know/john_hawkes/meandyou1.jpg[/img]

Every character in the film are all the most interesting I've seen on screen this year and an actor who has delivered some great supporting performances for a long time, John Hawkes, gets a chance at a bigger, more siginificant part, and handles it extremely well. Everyone in it, whether it be the small players or the people who have never acted before are all intriguing, and it's all because of one impressively real screenplay, written by July. I don't know of many other movies that have treated the cases of longing for love at all ages the way [i]Me and You and Everyone We Know [/i]does. Earlier on I mentioned the fact that you have to let the movie sink in to let it affect you properly, but now that I think about it I say scratch that thought. If you aren't pounced on by the powerful impact the movie hits you with within a day or so after seeing it, then it is simply not a movie for you. And it's not a movie that will make you like it more upon a second viewing. You either hate this film or adore it, it is not for everyone - just as the people in the movie are not meant to mesh well with anyone but themselves and everyone else they know. If I had to go back to the beginning of the summer and be offered only a single ticket to the movies all season, this would be the one and only choice.

Must Love Dogs
½

[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua][font=Verdana][size=2]After you grow to love an actor, you tend to anticipate whatever they might be in next, even if you question the quality of it. Knowing that [i][font=Book Antiqua]Must Love Dogs [/font][/i]could've very well been awful, I was still overly excited to see John Cusack back in action again. My favorite actor hasn't been on screen since the fall of 2003 with the mildly disappointing [font=Verdana][i][font=Book Antiqua]Runaway Jury[/font][/i], and hasn't had a great film since 2002's [i][font=Book Antiqua]Max[/font][/i], something you all should see. Anyway, I knew this wasn't going to be the movie to be his next great one, but the fact that he was just finally back was enough cause for celebration.[/font][/size][/font] [/font][/color]

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/warner_brothers/must_love_dogs/diane_lane/dogs3.jpg[/img]

Diane Lane is often a skilled actress and here she has fun with the part, although at times she is very weak in the role. But, when she pairs up on screen with Cusack they share a good chemistry that I only wish director Gary David Goldberg would have given more attention to. Goldberg also wrote the screenplay which is adapted from the best-selling novel, written by author Claire Cook. The famously used (and quite frequently true) term "the book's better than the movie" must surely be mentioned again here. I have never read Cook's novel, but I'm sure it's miles above Goldberg's screen adaptation. The dialogue and coincidences and cliches in the screenplay are all mostly boring and forgettable, yet somehow I found myself enjoying this little movie. Lane is a kindergarten teacher and a recent divorcee who begins to date again because her pushy sister (played by Elizabeth Perkins in another Elizabeth Perkins-ish role) sets up a profile for her on numerous internet dating sites. This leads to dozens of dates which fail, and most of them painfully unfunny as they happen on screen. She doesn't even own a dog, but her sister establishes on the site that the man must love them. So when she offers to meet Jake (Cusack) in the park, they both bring dogs which aren't even theirs.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/warner_brothers/must_love_dogs/_group_photos/diane_lane1.jpg[/img]

This is the point of the movie where it really began for me. When Lane is oppostie Cusack she finally feels comfortably good in the movie. This scene is the most enjoyable and well acted portion, because it just feels genuine, like they're improvising it all. Watching Cusack act is like a gift, because he does everything so effortlessly, or so it seems. When there are several people in a scene my eyes on always on him, because even if he's not talking he is always acting. He is a master at what he does, and here is another reason why in this film. He single handedly makes the film and everyone around him in it better. It's just that Goldberg didn't use him to the fullest. Instead, we are introduced to many other characters with more screen time, like Lane's other romantic interest, the father of one of her students. Dermot Mulroney plays this part and does it well, but I just didn't agree with the fact that his screen time is almost equal to Cusack's, who is supposed to be developed and the audience more familiar with. Another part which didn't quite work for me was the outrageousness of Lane's family, particularly her siblings. Elizabeth Perkins can be likeable and gets some good laughs, but she has played this part too many times and after the first few one-liners it gets miserably unfunny. Veteran actor Chistopher Plummer plays Lane's widowed father who begins to date numerous women, including one who has went through close to 10 husbands, played by Stockard Channing. Plummer succeeds in making his character enjoyable, but Channing cannot do anything to save her completely stupid one from becoming unbelievable.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/warner_brothers/must_love_dogs/christopher_plummer/dogs1.jpg[/img]

It's a terrible thing to discover a dillemma like [i]Must Love Dogs [/i]presents itself with. There are an equal amount of good and bad aspects it possesses, and without an actor like Cusack it would sink into the unknown. Luckily for Gary David Goldberg & company, they have him to hold the fort down as best as possible. You [i]Must Love Cusack [/i]to appreciate this film in any way.

Hustle & Flow
½

Some great actors who have been supporting for years do not get the respect they deserve until they receive a dominating presence role. One exception to that rule would be Steve Buscemi, who has gained popularity by showing up in just about every kind of movie ever made in both independent and blockbuster atmospheres. One actor who has been around for quite some time now and is limitly mentioned is Terrence Howard, the star of Craig Brewster's amazing new film [i]Hustle & Flow[/i].

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/paramount_classics/hustle___flow/_group_photos/terrence_dashon_howard12.jpg[/img]

The first time I was properly introduced to the talented Howard was 10 years ago, in the Hughes Brothers' underrated sophomore film [i]Dead Presidents[/i]. His role wasn't large, but he made it memorable. The first time I was mesmerized by his acting was in Malcolm D. Lee's criminally underseen film from 1999, [i]The Best Man[/i]. Since then he has given great supporting roles in [i]Hart's War, Ray, [/i]and [i]Cras[/i]h. Now the name Terrence Howard will be released from the obscure pile when people discover the pimp/hustler/aspiring musician DJay in [i]Hustle & Flow[/i].

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/paramount_classics/hustle___flow/terrence_dashon_howard/hustle1.jpg[/img]

The film won mutliple awards at this year's Sundance Film Festival, which is the main reason for it's release in a wide amount of theaters, I'm sure. I really hope a lot of people will get out there and see this film, because it's a gem to uncover. From start to finish, the movie is flowing with energy all around. The cinematography is engaging right off, the direction is well thought out, the supporting cast behind Howard are all top-notch, and above all, the sound engineering blew me away. Most of this movie is loud and blaring with the sounds of beats, whether they be inside DJay's head or in the recording room with Key (played by Anthony Anderson in his first legitimately great performance) and Shelby (DJ Qualls). What is most awe-inspiring about the film, though, is the times when there is silence. The hair from my arms and face literally raised during a few sequences scattered throughout the film, and at times when everything was completely silent. There is just something about utter silence in an effective film, it just enhances it in places.

[img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/paramount_classics/hustle___flow/_group_photos/anthony_anderson14.jpg[/img]

The movie has three distinctive acts inside of it, and I was surprised at the level of which all of them worked. Upon entering the theater I really didn't know what to expect. I thought I was going to see a good film, but didn't really think of being as blown away as I was. This is just a near perfect movie that is many things at once. It's heartbreaking, depressing, amusing, insightful, and most of all, inspiring.

The Bad News Bears
½

[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua](I thought I'd liven my reviews up with some pictures, since that's what everyone seems to be doing these days)[/font][/color]

[img]http://www.privateradio.org/blog/i/pop/badnewsbears.jpg[/img]

[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua]I have been a major fan of the original Bad News Bears for a very long time. In my opinion it is one of the most groundbreaking comedies ever, it just knew no boundaries and took zero prisoners. It was rude beyond limits, and in that era films involving children were exactly the opposite. Walter Matthau's performance as Coach Buttermaker was always his career best, not to mention one of the greatest comedic turns of all-time. When the first talks of a remake came to the surface my initial reaction was sort of negative, but then came the names involved. First off is the director chosen - Mr. Richard Linklater, one of the most inventive and insightful filmmakers out there, and one who has lately become very diverse. For 15 years now he has been creating films, mostly independent, that stimulate the mind ([i][font=Book Antiqua]Slacker, Waking Life, Tape), [/font][/i]tug at the funny bone [i][font=Book Antiqua](Dazed and Confused, Suburbia, School of Rock[/font][/i]), and just plain amaze ([i][font=Book Antiqua]Before Sunrise, Before Sunset[/font][/i]). He is one of my 10 favorite writer/directors and most definitely one of the hardest working, considering that after his film [i][font=Book Antiqua][url="http://www.apple.com/trailers/warner_independent_pictures/a_scanner_darkly.html"][color=#800080]A Scanner Darkly[/color][/url] [/font][/i](another film that is animated [i][font=Book Antiqua]Waking Life-[/font][/i]style, but based on a sci-fi novel from Philip K. Dick) releases early next year he will total 5 movies in the last 5 years. [/font][/color]

[font=Book Antiqua][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/paramount_pictures/bad_news_bears/_group_photos/billy_bob_thornton3.jpg[/img][/font]

[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua]One thing that would either make or break the film's chances before even filming a scene was the casting of Morris Buttermaker, a character that only a handful or less of actors today could tackle. Luckily, when a movie is in the hands of great talent like Linklater then there is no room for worrying. Billy Bob Thornton was the perfect choice and he knew it. So, how well does Thornton handle the part? He does what he always does - controls, but this time even the best he can do doesn't salvage a disappointing script filled with a surprising amount of essential incidents that were great in the original left untold. The biggest problem the remake has, and it's a big one, is the casting of the children. Although Walter Matthau was absolutely perfect in the original he didn't do it all himself. The supporting cast of kids, led by the terrific Tatum O'Neal, were full of energy and genuinely mischievous. These new ones are plain awful at times, some are trying way too hard and others aren't even trying at all. The white-haired brat shortstop, Tanner was an important character to get right in the remake, but he ends up being the most poorly adapted one of the bunch. I can go on and on about the children casting mishaps the film injected itself with, but that would a waste of a few hours of my time.[/font][/color]

[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua]Billy Bob Thornton is the one and only reason to see this movie. I was majorly disappointed because you expect so much more out of a filmmaker with the brilliance of Richard Linklater, but maybe this just wasn't a movie to remake. It's just good enough to sit through one viewing, but sadly there is no reason to imprint these [i]Bad News Bears [/i]into your memory for a revisiting. One last note - Greg Kinnear and Marcia Gay Harden, two very good actors, are way too underused in the film to even mention in this review. It's almost like they were never even there at all, especially in Harden's case. [/font][/color]

Bad News Bears

[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua](I thought I'd liven my reviews up with some pictures, since that's what everyone seems to be doing these days)[/font][/color]

[img]http://www.privateradio.org/blog/i/pop/badnewsbears.jpg[/img]

[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua]I have been a major fan of the original Bad News Bears for a very long time. In my opinion it is one of the most groundbreaking comedies ever, it just knew no boundaries and took zero prisoners. It was rude beyond limits, and in that era films involving children were exactly the opposite. Walter Matthau's performance as Coach Buttermaker was always his career best, not to mention one of the greatest comedic turns of all-time. When the first talks of a remake came to the surface my initial reaction was sort of negative, but then came the names involved. First off is the director chosen - Mr. Richard Linklater, one of the most inventive and insightful filmmakers out there, and one who has lately become very diverse. For 15 years now he has been creating films, mostly independent, that stimulate the mind ([i][font=Book Antiqua]Slacker, Waking Life, Tape), [/font][/i]tug at the funny bone [i][font=Book Antiqua](Dazed and Confused, Suburbia, School of Rock[/font][/i]), and just plain amaze ([i][font=Book Antiqua]Before Sunrise, Before Sunset[/font][/i]). He is one of my 10 favorite writer/directors and most definitely one of the hardest working, considering that after his film [i][font=Book Antiqua][url="http://www.apple.com/trailers/warner_independent_pictures/a_scanner_darkly.html"][color=#800080]A Scanner Darkly[/color][/url] [/font][/i](another film that is animated [i][font=Book Antiqua]Waking Life-[/font][/i]style, but based on a sci-fi novel from Philip K. Dick) releases early next year he will total 5 movies in the last 5 years. [/font][/color]

[font=Book Antiqua][img]http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/paramount_pictures/bad_news_bears/_group_photos/billy_bob_thornton3.jpg[/img][/font]

[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua]One thing that would either make or break the film's chances before even filming a scene was the casting of Morris Buttermaker, a character that only a handful or less of actors today could tackle. Luckily, when a movie is in the hands of great talent like Linklater then there is no room for worrying. Billy Bob Thornton was the perfect choice and he knew it. So, how well does Thornton handle the part? He does what he always does - controls, but this time even the best he can do doesn't salvage a disappointing script filled with a surprising amount of essential incidents that were great in the original left untold. The biggest problem the remake has, and it's a big one, is the casting of the children. Although Walter Matthau was absolutely perfect in the original he didn't do it all himself. The supporting cast of kids, led by the terrific Tatum O'Neal, were full of energy and genuinely mischievous. These new ones are plain awful at times, some are trying way too hard and others aren't even trying at all. The white-haired brat shortstop, Tanner was an important character to get right in the remake, but he ends up being the most poorly adapted one of the bunch. I can go on and on about the children casting mishaps the film injected itself with, but that would a waste of a few hours of my time.[/font][/color]

[color=#cccccc][font=Book Antiqua]Billy Bob Thornton is the one and only reason to see this movie. I was majorly disappointed because you expect so much more out of a filmmaker with the brilliance of Richard Linklater, but maybe this just wasn't a movie to remake. It's just good enough to sit through one viewing, but sadly there is no reason to imprint these [i]Bad News Bears [/i]into your memory for a revisiting. One last note - Greg Kinnear and Marcia Gay Harden, two very good actors, are way too underused in the film to even mention in this review. It's almost like they were never even there at all, especially in Harden's case. [/font][/color]

Dark Water
Dark Water(2005)

I had much more reservation than anticipation about seeing Walter Salles' remake of the 2002 Japanese horror film [i]Dark Water[/i], but now after taking the risk I can gladly announce that it was well worth it. The biggest reason for selling my persuasion of giving the movie a chance was the terrific actors involved. I've gotten to a point with certain people, like Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, and Tim Roth where I can just feel comfortable viewing about anything they're involved in. These 3 certainly fall in the category of dedicated actors who rely on quality of script above quantity of salary.

For close to a year up until I saw the film on its opening day release July 8th there has been a trailer displayed in theaters. I imagine that I've seen it close to 25 times, and like most trailers it made the film seem good and bad in parts. There is simply no way one can criticize a film based on its trailer. I almost wish there none at all, because they definitely aren't a good medium for choosing whether to see a film or not. So, after 10 months or so of seeing the exact same preview for the movie it finally came and I gave it a look.

I have never seen the original Japanese film this is based on, in fact I had never knew it existed until the release of the remake. The heroine, played by Connelly in another deep performance is a far more interesting and developed character than that of Naomi Watts' in [i]The Ring[/i], which was also remade from a Japanese horror film from the same director as [i]Dark Water[/i]. Connelly and Watts are very similar actresses in my opinion, but Watts just didn't fit right in the horror genre, whereas Connelly is absolutely perfect for this role. She has embodied every character I've ever seen her portray, and here she proves it once again and carries every scene of the movie. Salles' direction is so effective at times that it becomes rather frightening, and when combined with the equally handheld and steady cinematography by Affonso Beato this forms into a quality thriller that is worth every penny. What truly makes the film better than average, though is the addition of seasoned veterans John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, and Pete Poslethwaite. These three are just doing what they always do - deliver electric performances, elevating the film. The child actress, Ariel Gade, who plays Connelly's daughter is also very impressive in a very demanding and challenging role. This was a fresh surprise and a far cry better than the horror films it is compared with.

Land of the Dead

This film is sort of like a breath of fresh air, or an antidote for that matter. Audiences have been poisoned with a slew of mindless horror films for the longest time without ever having an actual story driven one. It took legendary filmmaker George A. Romero making a return to bring back some sort of respect and brains to the genre. I can't remember the last time I went to the theater in anticipation of a horror movie, but I was extremely excited for this. It has been exactly 20 years since Romero made [i]Day of the Dead[/i], which was originally supposed to be the final in the series, beginnig with [i]Night of the Living Dead [/i]and sandwiched with the best of them all, [i]Dawn of the Dead[/i], one of the greatest horror films ever. I'm sure that the thought of having an actual budget and newfound makeup techniques, not to mention a good set of actors this time around had to convince him to return with ease.

Every horror movie has the blood and the gore, just as [i]Land of the Dead[/i] does, and plenty of it. What sets apart the few great ones from the thousands of shitty ones is the writing. Romero once again does the screenplay and brings to the table an entirely different persepctive. This time the zombies are slowly becoming capable of functioning and almost thinking for themselves. This is inspired by a very unique zombie that goes by the name "Big Daddy", as told by the name tag on his auto detailing jumpsuit. The city in the film is lived in by three kinds of people. There are the zombies, or "walkers" as the humans like to call them. There are the people fortunate (or rich) enough to occupy a spot inside Fiddler's Green, the only working building in the city controlled by the corrupt Mr. Kaufman. Then there are the people who are less fortunate who roam the streets as they constantly fight off the walkers as they just try to get by every day. Simon Baker plays Riley, a leader among most of these people who is in the final days of living this life as he is looking for a way out, possibly toward Canada. A mangled face man named Charlie is always by his side with a good eye for sniping and last minute savings of Riley. One of the most interesting characters is Cholo, played brilliantly by John Leguizamo. Cholo is second in command just under Riley. He is rebellious and greedy and in dealings with Mr. Kaufman in an effort to get a spot inside Fiddler's Green. Asia Argento plays the mandatory gun toting love interest in the film, but she plays it very well.

Simon Baker does a nice job with the main role, but Hopper and Leguizamo steal the show performance-wise. The real power of the film comes from Romero's strong sense of making a setup like this work in a way no other horror filmmaker ever has. He is the only director that should ever be given the chance to create a zombie spectacle. This is another great horror film to add to his list, and one he severely needed for the reviving of his career. Let's hope this isn't the final act in the ongoing series he has created.

Bewitched
Bewitched(2005)

[font=Book Antiqua][color=silver]Friday night was supposed to be one spent at the Arts theater, where Amanda and I would see either the Israeli film [i][font=Book Antiqua]Walk on Water[/font][/i] or the documentary [i][font=Book Antiqua]Mad Hot Ballroom[/font][/i]. For some reason it took a drastic turn toward the big theater and we ended up seeing a movie we didn't even think looked any good at all, [i][font=Book Antiqua]Bewitched[/font][/i]. The thought of remaking television shows into movies is just bad, as last year's dismal [i][font=Book Antiqua]Starsky and Hutch [/font][/i]proved, but something still made me enough interested in this film to make me pay an enormous amount of money for the ticket price. I went into it with little hope, wondering why I still give my money to films starring Will Ferrell, who has never been different in role after role. He's way too over the top and is desperate for the audience's attention. So why did I see this movie, you ask? Two words - Kidman and Caine. [/color][/font]
[color=silver] [/color]
[color=silver][font=Book Antiqua]Veteran sister writers Nora and Delia Ephron have constructed a mediocre at best screenplay that would've been played out extremely awful had it not been for the wonderful performance by the always surprising Nicole Kidman. I'm sure you already know well enough the "new spin" they are trying to bring to the table with the story, because every time you have went to the theater for the last month a trailer for the film has been displayed. Kidman is Isabel, a real witch who is trying to develop a normal human life - minus the spells and such. Because she wiggles her nose with an uncanny resemblance to the actress who played Samantha in the original [i][font=Book Antiqua]Bewitched[/font][/i], she catches the eye of downhill celebrity Jack Wyatt, played by Ferrell. He begs her to join the cast so she can be a pawn in his game of trying to regain status as one of the richest and most sought after actors in [/font][font=Book Antiqua]Hollywood[/font][font=Book Antiqua]. As a nobody she seems to be perfect for the plan, so she doesn?t steal any of his spotlight. I think you have a good idea what goes on from here. Hexes and potions and spells are in abundance, but surprisingly I had a pretty good time with the film. Michael Caine plays Isabel?s womanizing witch father in another vibrant performance. As for the rest of the supporting cast, most of them are just there but we don?t notice, except for the consistently terrific Jason Schwartzman as Jack?s manager. Every time he?s on screen in this or any movie he?s in he always gets my attention. If only he had a bigger and more significant part written for him, it would have done so much more for the film?s comedic value. Kristin Chenoweth as Isabel?s energetic neighbor also got a few laughs here and there. Pairing her and Schwartzman together toward the end was a great idea. I think they should have given some more time for conversation between the two. [/font][/color]
[color=silver] [/color]
[font=Book Antiqua][color=silver]As for Will Ferrell ? I just can?t get around to liking this man?s sense of humor. I will say that I had a good time with his character in a few key sequences of the film, but he ultimately remains the same old, tired and overreaching funny man?and that?s what ends up killing the film?s chances of becoming a recommendable piece of work. That and the final sequences that involve him and another actor which sense of humor is almost identical, Steve Carrell, degrade the quality of it all. There is a likeable comedy inside the film for about 3/4 of the way, but it all spirals downward in the final stages. However, I am rating this way higher than I ever thought I would, and the credit lies heavily in the hands of the magnificent Nicole Kidman, among others. [/color][/font]

Batman Begins

I'll get this off of my chest right off the bat - no superhero movie that has been made or will be made can even come close to even applying for a position in the same league as Christopher Nolan's [i]Batman Begins[/i]. The effort and understanding he and co-writer David S. Goyer share for every inch of the surroundings and characters is enormous beyond comprehension. Last year Sam Raimi did a much needed thing and resurrected his [i]Spider-Man [/i]series by digging deeper into both sides of his hero. I thought Raimi did a terrific job, but it almost seems like an amateur effort when compared to Nolan's piece of perfection. This is the best film of the year as of now, and I can say with a good amount of confidence that it's one of the most patient, incisive and fascinating films I have ever seen.

It's 16 years after the movie franchise began for the Caped Crusader and we have seen 4 films, which started mediocre at best and gradually got worse and worse. There are many people who enjoyed Burton's first two installments, and I would definitely agree that they are far and away better than Schumacher's, but I still don't consider them to be satisfying. Keaton was a great choice to play Wayne back then, but his great performance, along with Nicholson's, was overshadowed by a lack of character study. It's been 8 years since the plain awful [i]Batman and Robin, [/i]the film that I thought for sure would have once and for all laid to rest the franchise, but Wanrer Bros. have suprised us all by returning and becoming courageous. I'm sure there were dozens of big named, successful Hollywood directors that were on the list to take charge of the next film, yet the studio took a risk on a director who has only independent success to this point. Nolan's debut was the film [i]Following[/i], which very few saw until the enormous following he gained from his sophomore mystery, [i]Memento[/i]. His last movie was a remake of the foreign film [i]Insomnia[/i], and although I really liked [i]Memento [/i]I thought this was his most impressive work yet. Whatever gave WB the idea to take a risk on this kind of director is unexpectedly amazing. With Nolan in the driver's seat it also provoked another brave risk, the casting of another person with quite the independent following, Christian Bale. He has always been an actor known to dig deeper than deep in his roles. His performance in [i]American Psycho [/i]ignited a strange mix of insanity and humor as he took the film to new heights, and his recent drastic turn in [i]The Machinist[/i] was brilliant buch beyond the fact that he lost an extreme amount of weight. He immerses himself with his characters, so as a choice for Wayne he fits like a bat glove.

Nolan has made this a blockbuster of the rarest kind - one that enforces strong storytelling above overloaded CGI. Finally the complete explanation for how and why Wayne developed into Batman is revealed, and in the only way it should be - with intelligence and patience. This film is 2 hours and 20 minutes respectively, a length that for other films of this kind would be considered too long, but at the end of [i]Batman Begins [/i]I was begging for it to continue to ramble on. Luckily for a few bucks I can just go see it again, which I plan on doing tonight.

Another strong point in a film filled with nothing but srong points is the cast. There are two interesting turns by veteran actors Liam Neeson and Gary Oldman. For the most part we have watched Neeson play likeable people on screen, while Oldman has played mostly ruthless or mean spirited characters. In this film Neeson takes a villainous seat for a change while Oldman portrays a good natured cop. Katie Holmes, who has been quietly delivering great performance after great performance in an effort to prove herself as a legitimate actress over teen TV star is well cast here as Rachel, Wayne's childhood friend who gradually becomes more distant from him as they grow older. Michael Caine is a no-brainer choice for Alfred, and he does what is expected from him. I can't imagine anyone else in the part. Morgan Freeman has never been any less than good, and here as Wayne's sort of "arsenal" expert he has a fun time. Two performances I think should get some solid recognition are from the underrated Tom Wilkinson and the talented Cillian Murphy, who we should see a lot more of soon. Wilkinson, who has only received great acclaim for his amazing performance in [i]In the Bedroom[/i] is outstanding as Gotham's crime boss. Murphy, an actor that I have hoped would continue to receive a steady flow of good roles plays Dr. Crane in one of the scene stealing performance of the film. This actor is definitely one to watch out for. Most will remember him giving a strong performance in Danny Boyle's mediocre film [i]28 Days Later[/i], but his performances in [i]Girl With a Pearl Earring [/i]and definitely [i]Intermission [/i]are the ones to admire most. Also giving good small performances are Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, and Mark Boone Junior who was also in Nolan's [i]Memento[/i].

One of the biggest stars of the movie however is the surroundings, both Gotham and elsewhere. The locations chosen in the early scenes are beautiful yet rightfully dreary. I assume there was some CGI that helped build the dark look of Nolan's Gotham, but it's never cartoonish. The city feels like an actual one that you could travel to at this moment. This is the first superhero movie that truly never feels like its happening in another world. This is as real as a movie in this genre can get. This is a masterpiece of the highest honor.

Cinderella Man
½

I have noticed a lot of people completely bashing the career of director Ron Howard, but I don't exactly understand why. Sure he's had his fair share of duds ([i]Willow, Far and Away, EdTV, The Grinch, The Missing[/i]) but he has also done what some directors never get the privilege to do, which is make a couple masterpieces here and there. His first and still his best in my opinion is the film [i]Parenthood[/i], a Steve Martin driven comedy/drama that has sadly been underappreciated for over 15 years now. Then came the Oscar success with [i]Apollo 13[/i], and along with it came more and more people accusing him of making films like this and [i]A Beautiful Mind [/i](both amazing) simply to produce "Oscar bait". I don't understand why making films this insightful and brilliant has managed to get him such a bad name with numerous moviegoers across the land. So of course his next film, also about a real life person, boxer James J. Braddock is going to take a beating by some.

[i]Cinderella Man [/i]is the second movie in six months to be wrongly labeled as a boxing movie. Sure it has more to do with boxing than Eastwood's [i]Million Dollar Baby[/i], but Howard's film still stands to be more about unity among family than anything else. Crowe plays Braddock in another magnificent portrayal that should get him some more nominations across the board. He hasn't been on screen since 2003's amazing [i]Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, [/i]and the near 2 year wait is well worth it. The amount of patience and hard work this man possesses as an actor is evident when watching every film he is in. He conquers each and every scene he's in here so much that it's overwhelming. Renee Zellweger grabs onto the role of Braddock's wife with such an ease, and she handles her scenes alongside Crowe beautifully. Although Paul Giamatti has received a little more respect the last two years with [i]American Splendor [/i]and [i]Sideways[/i], he is still the most underrated actor in the world. In this film he plays Braddock's longtime friend and manager Joe Gould, and steals many scenes throughout. It sad, but I believe this will be the movie to bring him his first Oscar nomination after deserving two in the last two years.

By the end of the film I found myself totally immersed by every aspect, but mostly by Howard's strong direction. The final fight Braddock faces against deadly Max Baer (played with a menacing amount of fire by Craig Bierko) is the best and most intense I've seen directed since Scorsese directed Jake Lamotta's final fall against Sugar Ray Leonard in [i]Raging Bull[/i]. I'm not comparing these two films in any way, only the two particular fight scenes. In no way does Howard's film even come close to the involving masterpiece that Scorsese built, but [i]Cinderella Man [/i]is still a great, great film that shouldn't get lost in the summertime come end of the year.

Enduring Love

[font=Book Antiqua][color=white]When director Roger Michell released [i][font=Book Antiqua]Changing Lanes [/font][/i]in 2002 I was completely surprised and in a sense blown away by the attention and involvement to its main characters. That film established Michell as a filmmaker to keep your eye on, and since then he has made a picture a year. In 2003 he directed [i][font=Book Antiqua]The Mother[/font][/i], a film that I have finally tracked down at an obscure video store and will be watching very soon. Yesterday I watched the film he released last year, called [i][font=Book Antiqua]Enduring Love. [/font][/i][/color][/font]
[i][font=Book Antiqua][/font][/i]
[font=Book Antiqua][color=white]The film centers around three main characters - a loving couple played by Daniel Craig and Samantha Morton, and a mysterious man with long, fringy hair played by Rhys Ifans. The couple is sharing a peaceful picnic in a vast land of green as the film opens, but shortly after the incident that is the driving force behind everything that happens throughout occurs. A hot air balloon begins to fall to the ground. A child is in it. Joe (Craig) begins to run after it and grabs onto the ropes. Another man breaks quickly from his car and runs to help from the road. There are two others who also appear almost out of nowhere to grab on and add weight. Michell directs this scene in such a unique and tense way, putting you right in the middle of everything. It feels like you're holding on to the balloon as well. As they begin to notice that they cannot prevent it from elevating again, one by one they let go before its too high. Only one man keeps a hold. Shortly after the remaining men on the ground are standing by a body that is turned inside out from the impact of a long fall. Joe stands stunned next to the man, and a man who we later find out is named Jed (Ifans) accompanies him. Jed begs Joe to not walk away from the body without kneeling down and praying first. But Joe is not that type of person as he states repeatedly. Jed continues to agitate Joe and goes to the point of putting all the guilt of the death on him alone, making him think he let go before anyone else. Joe kneels down and they pray together as everyone watches. This is a moment Joe will not be able to forget for a long time even if he wanted to, because he will soon find out Jed?s obsession with him.[/color][/font]

[font=Book Antiqua][color=white]I know I basically just described the entire first ten minutes of the movie, but believe me, I haven?t given anything away. It?s a setup that must be told. This is a movie that could have easily been caught in the stalker movie clichés in numerous sequences, but I felt that Michell did a great job of creating a uniquely haunting environment and in some key scenes constructs a new directing style all his own. As the story continues to unfold it gets only better. Throughout the first half of the film I knew I liked it, but I never felt like going above a 7 rating, but the final stretch works very well and is startling to a point. The acting elevates it all too as you might have suspected. Daniel Craig (who also stars in my next Michell viewing, [i]The Mother[/i]) takes a challenging role and pulls it off with great nervousness and intensity. Samantha Morton plays his girlfriend Claire in another cruise control role. It just seems like every performance she delivers is with such ease. She is a natural. The Rhys Ifans character is a huge key to making the film work. The psychotic stalker in film?s like this are always the key. The actor playing them could make them unbelievably laughable or genuinely mad. I don?t think I?ve seen Ifans better than he is as Jed. As good as Craig and Morton were in the film, he is even better. To take a film like [i]Enduring Love [/i]and make it work is an achievement to behold as a director, and Roger Michell does it. [/color][/font]

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
½

By now I'm sure this film has been reviewed by everyone on the galaxy, so I have no desire to write out a long and tiring critique explaining certain sequences and incidents in the film which all already have full grasp on anyway. I only wish to quickly point out my likes and dislikes of the film and the prequels in general.

The idea of creating the three prequels 2 decades after the originals were released seemed extremely intriguing in 1999 when [i]The Phantom Menace[/i] was set to be unveiled to audiences across the world. It was like, "Just think what kind of environment Lucas could create with newer technology and gigantic budgets!". Disappointment beyond comprehension would soon follow. [i]Episode I [/i]was a dismally embarrasing film that featured only a couple of shining sequences and only 2 strong performances - Liam Neeson as Qui Gon Jinn and Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi. Other than that the casting choices were horribly misjudged and when combined with a preference for overused CGI and dialogue that is targeted for audiences ranging from ages 2-5, it all went downhill rather swiftly. And it only got worse.

I thought that Lucas would have learned from some of his mistakes in [i]Episode I[/i], I mean at least a few of them - most notably the casting of Anakin Skywalker. Jake Lloyd was rock bottom bad as young Anakin and some of the lines he spouts out are almost insulting our intelligence as we watch...but I was willing to let this pass considering he was only a child actor, and how many outstanding little ones can you find. So, in 2002 I was still excited to see the follow up, [i]Attack of the Clones[/i], but I was a little skeptical about the choice of Hayden Christensen to play Anakin. At that time the only film I had seen him in was Irwin Winkler's [i]Life as a House[/i], in which he gives a overreaching and unconvincing performance. His performance in [i]Attack of the Clones [/i]is one of the many, many, many devastating problems of the film. I don't even want to get into how much I hate this film. I hate this film. I hate this film. One for each time I saw it.

After that all of my hope was gone and a great idea and empire was ruined. There was no way that Lucas could salvage the mess he had made, even if the remaining episode would turn out to be a masterpiece. Between the release of [i]Attack of the Clones [/i]and [i]Revenge of the Sith [/i]Lucas also finally released the original films on DVD, which also turned out to be a colossal embarassment because he released them in only the "enhanced" CGI versions. This man's obsession with the computer generated world has clouded his mind much like the Sith attempt to infiltrate Jedi's minds. The convenience of having this new technology for the prequels has made Lucas into an evil, evil filmmaker. He has put all aspects of moviemaking other than CGI on the backburner, thus resulting in tragedy. To not have the originals released in their ORIGINAL presentation is depriving audiences of what they came to love. It is ridiculous.

By the time May 18 rolled around I had no high expectations for the end result of the saga, but I, like nearly everyone else in the world, had to see [i]Revenge of the Sith. [/i]Everything that was wrong with the previous two films was still evident in [i]Sith[/i]. The dialogue, especially between Anakin and Padme was dull and dumb. Natalie Portman, who has been fairly good in a lot of films ([i]Beautiful Girls[/i], [i]Closer[/i]) is helplessly awful in episodes I-III, and she progressively becomes worse and worse as it all hums along. McGregor is brilliant yet again as Kenobi, Ian McDiarmid is effective as Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine, and the CGI Yoda finally seems realistic. There were times in the first 60 - 90 minutes of the film when I thought it would finally break the ugliness and bring back fond memories of old, but for each promising moment there was a achingly stupid sequence to match it. Half way through the midnight showing I found myself totally uninterested in seeing everything link together. I was disappointed that I would want to feel this unexcited. In 1999 I never would have guessed in a million years that I would be as highly embarassed as I was at this moment six years later. As the movie came to a close I had no real feelings about the film, I just knew I didn't like it all that much. There was no doubt that it was far better than the previous two, but I knew it didn't do it's job of effectively linking it all together on an emotional level.

I saw it a second time on Sunday.

I disliked the same things I did the first time I saw the film, but I was more involved and focused on my viewing this time around. The casting of Christensen will always be the sharpest sword in the heart for the destruction of these films, because although the dialogue is 99% bad, if an actor is at least somewhat effective he can pull it off and make everything more interesting (McGregor). My complaints about the picture were less this time and my only big concern that still remains is that which I just explained. There is a moment late in this film that grabbed me and kept me there for a good 30 minutes after. When Anakin begins to fully turn to darkness and up until the end of the main duel. I found myself attached the film at this time and for the first time I felt like they were doing something that they hadn't done since 1983, which was create real emotion. I credit 99% of this film's mild success to aformentioned Ewan McGregor, the only actor to be steadily amazing in the prequel trilogy. In the final scene that Anakin, Kenobi, and Padme share together on screen he somehow holds it together in a real human way, even as the dialogue remains elementary. As the double duels between Anakin/Obi Wan and Yoda/Sidious were intertwining, I was finally compelled by the lightsaber fights. There are countless lightsaber duels in this film, but only these in the end were engaging in my opinion. As the fight comes to and end and we find out just how Kenobi defeats Skywalker, it is truly classicly done. Sadly to say that after that, my entrancement was over and the film went back into mediocrity.

[i]Revenge of the Sith [/i]is not the masterpiece it should have been and the prequel trilogy should ultimately be seen as a failure, but it's nice to see Lucas get his head together brilliantly for at least a portion of the sendoff.
Well, so much for the "quick and simple" review that I was hoping to construct.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

By now I'm sure this film has been reviewed by everyone on the galaxy, so I have no desire to write out a long and tiring critique explaining certain sequences and incidents in the film which all already have full grasp on anyway. I only wish to quickly point out my likes and dislikes of the film and the prequels in general.

The idea of creating the three prequels 2 decades after the originals were released seemed extremely intriguing in 1999 when [i]The Phantom Menace[/i] was set to be unveiled to audiences across the world. It was like, "Just think what kind of environment Lucas could create with newer technology and gigantic budgets!". Disappointment beyond comprehension would soon follow. [i]Episode I [/i]was a dismally embarrasing film that featured only a couple of shining sequences and only 2 strong performances - Liam Neeson as Qui Gon Jinn and Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi. Other than that the casting choices were horribly misjudged and when combined with a preference for overused CGI and dialogue that is targeted for audiences ranging from ages 2-5, it all went downhill rather swiftly. And it only got worse.

I thought that Lucas would have learned from some of his mistakes in [i]Episode I[/i], I mean at least a few of them - most notably the casting of Anakin Skywalker. Jake Lloyd was rock bottom bad as young Anakin and some of the lines he spouts out are almost insulting our intelligence as we watch...but I was willing to let this pass considering he was only a child actor, and how many outstanding little ones can you find. So, in 2002 I was still excited to see the follow up, [i]Attack of the Clones[/i], but I was a little skeptical about the choice of Hayden Christensen to play Anakin. At that time the only film I had seen him in was Irwin Winkler's [i]Life as a House[/i], in which he gives a overreaching and unconvincing performance. His performance in [i]Attack of the Clones [/i]is one of the many, many, many devastating problems of the film. I don't even want to get into how much I hate this film. I hate this film. I hate this film. One for each time I saw it.

After that all of my hope was gone and a great idea and empire was ruined. There was no way that Lucas could salvage the mess he had made, even if the remaining episode would turn out to be a masterpiece. Between the release of [i]Attack of the Clones [/i]and [i]Revenge of the Sith [/i]Lucas also finally released the original films on DVD, which also turned out to be a colossal embarassment because he released them in only the "enhanced" CGI versions. This man's obsession with the computer generated world has clouded his mind much like the Sith attempt to infiltrate Jedi's minds. The convenience of having this new technology for the prequels has made Lucas into an evil, evil filmmaker. He has put all aspects of moviemaking other than CGI on the backburner, thus resulting in tragedy. To not have the originals released in their ORIGINAL presentation is depriving audiences of what they came to love. It is ridiculous.

By the time May 18 rolled around I had no high expectations for the end result of the saga, but I, like nearly everyone else in the world, had to see [i]Revenge of the Sith. [/i]Everything that was wrong with the previous two films was still evident in [i]Sith[/i]. The dialogue, especially between Anakin and Padme was dull and dumb. Natalie Portman, who has been fairly good in a lot of films ([i]Beautiful Girls[/i], [i]Closer[/i]) is helplessly awful in episodes I-III, and she progressively becomes worse and worse as it all hums along. McGregor is brilliant yet again as Kenobi, Ian McDiarmid is effective as Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine, and the CGI Yoda finally seems realistic. There were times in the first 60 - 90 minutes of the film when I thought it would finally break the ugliness and bring back fond memories of old, but for each promising moment there was a achingly stupid sequence to match it. Half way through the midnight showing I found myself totally uninterested in seeing everything link together. I was disappointed that I would want to feel this unexcited. In 1999 I never would have guessed in a million years that I would be as highly embarassed as I was at this moment six years later. As the movie came to a close I had no real feelings about the film, I just knew I didn't like it all that much. There was no doubt that it was far better than the previous two, but I knew it didn't do it's job of effectively linking it all together on an emotional level.

I saw it a second time on Sunday.

I disliked the same things I did the first time I saw the film, but I was more involved and focused on my viewing this time around. The casting of Christensen will always be the sharpest sword in the heart for the destruction of these films, because although the dialogue is 99% bad, if an actor is at least somewhat effective he can pull it off and make everything more interesting (McGregor). My complaints about the picture were less this time and my only big concern that still remains is that which I just explained. There is a moment late in this film that grabbed me and kept me there for a good 30 minutes after. When Anakin begins to fully turn to darkness and up until the end of the main duel. I found myself attached the film at this time and for the first time I felt like they were doing something that they hadn't done since 1983, which was create real emotion. I credit 99% of this film's mild success to aformentioned Ewan McGregor, the only actor to be steadily amazing in the prequel trilogy. In the final scene that Anakin, Kenobi, and Padme share together on screen he somehow holds it together in a real human way, even as the dialogue remains elementary. As the double duels between Anakin/Obi Wan and Yoda/Sidious were intertwining, I was finally compelled by the lightsaber fights. There are countless lightsaber duels in this film, but only these in the end were engaging in my opinion. As the fight comes to and end and we find out just how Kenobi defeats Skywalker, it is truly classicly done. Sadly to say that after that, my entrancement was over and the film went back into mediocrity.

[i]Revenge of the Sith [/i]is not the masterpiece it should have been and the prequel trilogy should ultimately be seen as a failure, but it's nice to see Lucas get his head together brilliantly for at least a portion of the sendoff.
Well, so much for the "quick and simple" review that I was hoping to construct.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

By now I'm sure this film has been reviewed by everyone on the galaxy, so I have no desire to write out a long and tiring critique explaining certain sequences and incidents in the film which all already have full grasp on anyway. I only wish to quickly point out my likes and dislikes of the film and the prequels in general.

The idea of creating the three prequels 2 decades after the originals were released seemed extremely intriguing in 1999 when [i]The Phantom Menace[/i] was set to be unveiled to audiences across the world. It was like, "Just think what kind of environment Lucas could create with newer technology and gigantic budgets!". Disappointment beyond comprehension would soon follow. [i]Episode I [/i]was a dismally embarrasing film that featured only a couple of shining sequences and only 2 strong performances - Liam Neeson as Qui Gon Jinn and Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi. Other than that the casting choices were horribly misjudged and when combined with a preference for overused CGI and dialogue that is targeted for audiences ranging from ages 2-5, it all went downhill rather swiftly. And it only got worse.

I thought that Lucas would have learned from some of his mistakes in [i]Episode I[/i], I mean at least a few of them - most notably the casting of Anakin Skywalker. Jake Lloyd was rock bottom bad as young Anakin and some of the lines he spouts out are almost insulting our intelligence as we watch...but I was willing to let this pass considering he was only a child actor, and how many outstanding little ones can you find. So, in 2002 I was still excited to see the follow up, [i]Attack of the Clones[/i], but I was a little skeptical about the choice of Hayden Christensen to play Anakin. At that time the only film I had seen him in was Irwin Winkler's [i]Life as a House[/i], in which he gives a overreaching and unconvincing performance. His performance in [i]Attack of the Clones [/i]is one of the many, many, many devastating problems of the film. I don't even want to get into how much I hate this film. I hate this film. I hate this film. One for each time I saw it.

After that all of my hope was gone and a great idea and empire was ruined. There was no way that Lucas could salvage the mess he had made, even if the remaining episode would turn out to be a masterpiece. Between the release of [i]Attack of the Clones [/i]and [i]Revenge of the Sith [/i]Lucas also finally released the original films on DVD, which also turned out to be a colossal embarassment because he released them in only the "enhanced" CGI versions. This man's obsession with the computer generated world has clouded his mind much like the Sith attempt to infiltrate Jedi's minds. The convenience of having this new technology for the prequels has made Lucas into an evil, evil filmmaker. He has put all aspects of moviemaking other than CGI on the backburner, thus resulting in tragedy. To not have the originals released in their ORIGINAL presentation is depriving audiences of what they came to love. It is ridiculous.

By the time May 18 rolled around I had no high expectations for the end result of the saga, but I, like nearly everyone else in the world, had to see [i]Revenge of the Sith. [/i]Everything that was wrong with the previous two films was still evident in [i]Sith[/i]. The dialogue, especially between Anakin and Padme was dull and dumb. Natalie Portman, who has been fairly good in a lot of films ([i]Beautiful Girls[/i], [i]Closer[/i]) is helplessly awful in episodes I-III, and she progressively becomes worse and worse as it all hums along. McGregor is brilliant yet again as Kenobi, Ian McDiarmid is effective as Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine, and the CGI Yoda finally seems realistic. There were times in the first 60 - 90 minutes of the film when I thought it would finally break the ugliness and bring back fond memories of old, but for each promising moment there was a achingly stupid sequence to match it. Half way through the midnight showing I found myself totally uninterested in seeing everything link together. I was disappointed that I would want to feel this unexcited. In 1999 I never would have guessed in a million years that I would be as highly embarassed as I was at this moment six years later. As the movie came to a close I had no real feelings about the film, I just knew I didn't like it all that much. There was no doubt that it was far better than the previous two, but I knew it didn't do it's job of effectively linking it all together on an emotional level.

I saw it a second time on Sunday.

I disliked the same things I did the first time I saw the film, but I was more involved and focused on my viewing this time around. The casting of Christensen will always be the sharpest sword in the heart for the destruction of these films, because although the dialogue is 99% bad, if an actor is at least somewhat effective he can pull it off and make everything more interesting (McGregor). My complaints about the picture were less this time and my only big concern that still remains is that which I just explained. There is a moment late in this film that grabbed me and kept me there for a good 30 minutes after. When Anakin begins to fully turn to darkness and up until the end of the main duel. I found myself attached the film at this time and for the first time I felt like they were doing something that they hadn't done since 1983, which was create real emotion. I credit 99% of this film's mild success to aformentioned Ewan McGregor, the only actor to be steadily amazing in the prequel trilogy. In the final scene that Anakin, Kenobi, and Padme share together on screen he somehow holds it together in a real human way, even as the dialogue remains elementary. As the double duels between Anakin/Obi Wan and Yoda/Sidious were intertwining, I was finally compelled by the lightsaber fights. There are countless lightsaber duels in this film, but only these in the end were engaging in my opinion. As the fight comes to and end and we find out just how Kenobi defeats Skywalker, it is truly classicly done. Sadly to say that after that, my entrancement was over and the film went back into mediocrity.

[i]Revenge of the Sith [/i]is not the masterpiece it should have been and the prequel trilogy should ultimately be seen as a failure, but it's nice to see Lucas get his head together brilliantly for at least a portion of the sendoff.
Well, so much for the "quick and simple" review that I was hoping to construct.

The Yes Men
The Yes Men(2004)

When documentary filmmakers Chris Smith and Sarah Price got full access into the life of the eccentric Mark Borchardt as he went on a lengthy and tiring quest to make a feature length horror film, the result was one of my favorite films (not only documentaries) ever, [i]American Movie[/i]. Since the release of that movie in 1999 they had been hard at work exploring the world of two interesting individuals. Their names are Mike Binanno and Andy Bichlbaum, or [i]The Yes Men[/i]. To fully explain or appreciate what these men do, it truly "must be seen to be believed" as Roger Ebert proclaims.

[i]"With 'The Yes Men' we are calling that basic idea "identity correction". These things that are not really presenting things honestly or that hide something about their nature that's really scary, we want to bring that out, we want to show that, we want to demonstrate that. Like for the World Trade Orginazation...we think that they are doing all these terrible things that are hurting people and they're saying the exact opposite. So we're interested in stealing their identity in the same way an identity thief steals to engage in criminal practices. We target people we see as criminals and we steal their identity to try make them honest, or to try to present a more honest face...we try to create public spectacles that in some kind of poetic way reveals something about our culture that's profoundly a problem." [/i]- Mike

So, in a series of ingenious and uproariously funny spoofs, Mike and Andy make their way from country to country acting as high members of the WTO as they give preposterous speeches to baffled audiences. Yes, this truly is a movie that must be seen to be believed and cherished, and it's not only funny but extremely important. No more words for this one - just get out there and see it!

Kicking & Screaming
½

I am not, nor have I ever been a fan of Will Ferrell's approach to comedy. I think it is overreaching about 95% of the time and with each passing film he doesn't attempt to change it up, so he has become repetetive. But this is just my opinion, and as for the millions upon million of others who appear to get a big kick out of Ferrell - well, they're very lucky. Over the last 2 years or so (I guess it all starting with [i]Old School[/i]) his career has ballooned into that of one of America's leading comedic actors. Other than Jude Law I think Ferrell has starred in the most films over the last 18 months, and he also has [i]Bewitched, Winter Passing, [/i]and even a small role in [i]Wedding Crashers [/i]coming soon, plus more than a handful of projects in the works. His latest is a tiny departure from what he is normally doing of late, but when I say "tiny" departure I truly mean it. [i]Kicking and Screaming [/i]is only a little different from Ferrell's previous work because it is kinder and gentler - a family film. That is the only difference, because Ferrell's attitudes, actions, and mannuerisms remain the exact same.

I credit the fact that this weekend was slow for releases as my excuse for seeing this film, but I must say that I laughed more than I assumed I would. Ferrell plays a vitamin shop owner named Phil, a man who couldn't be any more different than his dad. Robert Duvall plays Phil's dad, Buck, in a wired performance from beginning to end. He is very competitive and the coach of a boy's soccer team called the Gladiators in which Phil's son is on but never plays because Buck is all about winning. Phil has never been one to stand up to his father, but he becomes courageous for some odd reason out of nowhere and decides to coach the Tigers after Buck trades Phil's son to them so he can "get more playing time". Phil has never had any idea of how sports are handled, and when he begins to gather the team for practices there are some funny moments presented, and Ferrell is at times genuinely funny. Afer he begins to panic and realizes that he can't coach the team, the movie takes a much needed turn and adds a terrific character - Mike Ditka. Ditka is Buck's arch nemesis neighbor who has dispised him since the day they met, and Phil knows that, so he asks him to become "assistant" manager. These are some of the only scenes in which Ferrell shines, and when he asks a football hall of famer to become his "assistant" manager his sports knowledge ignorance is uproariously funny.

The fact that they got Mike Ditka to play himself and agreeing to assistant coach a youth soccer team offers up enough likeable instances to excuse some of the extremely apparent recyclings of the film's plot. There is not one little bit of this film that we haven't seen in countless other children sports comedies. A lot of critics are comparing this to the great Michael Ritchie film from 1976 [i]The Bad News Bears[/i], but I think there are others that it mirrors far more...it's just that they weren't well received, and rightly so. I'm talking about the poorly made films [i]Little Giants [/i]and [i]The Big Green[/i]. It is heartbreaking to see [i]Kicking and Screaming [/i]follow the diagrams of these film so directly, because having Robert Duvall and Mike Ditka's surprising role it had a genuine chance, unlike [i]Giants [/i]and [i]Green[/i]. There are moments in this film, especially one toward the end in the final game that made me cringe with disgust of familiarity to other films. If you've seen [i]The Mighty Ducks [/i]then chances are you'll know what sequence I'm talking about.

There are laughs in the beginning somewhat and in the middle of the film they come quite frequently, but as the cliches begin to pile on by the millions toward the end not even Duvall, Ditka, and an only 75% annoying Will Ferrell this time around can salvage [i]Kicking and Screaming[/i].

P.S.
P.S.(2004)

Writer/director Dylan Kidd debuted with the impressive film [i]Roger Dodger [/i]in 2002, a film that was fueled by a brilliant performance from Campbell Scott. I was eagerly anticipating his next project, whatever it would be. The film is called [i]P.S. [/i]and it never came to theaters around here, so I was deprived the chance and had to wait for the few months until it saw a DVD release. The film hit rental shelves on February 8, but I still couldn't find it. A lot of video stores in my area don't carry this movie, so I had to skip down to another town just to get the chance to finally see it. Yesterday I did see Kidd's follow-up to [i]Roger Dodger[/i], and I was very impressed.

Laura Linney showed us that she could control a movie when she gave an amazing performance in 2000's [i]You Can Count On Me[/i], and this is really the first time since then that she has received the lead role, and she controls again. There are not many actresses out there better at realistically portraying deeply troubled and confusing characters. In this film she plays Louise, a woman nearing 40 who works at the admissions office of Columbia Fine Arts University. She is a successful woman but is still empty inside and is surrounded by people who only make her feel more and more lost. There is her ex-husband (Gabriel Byrne) that she still meets with frequently just to have a friend and someone to talk to. There is also Missy, her best friend from high school (Marcia Gay Harden) who constantly wishes she were still 22 and living in the past. Louise's mother is never open to sharing a real relationship with her, but is to her recovering drug addict brother Sammy, played by Paul Rudd.

She is looking for something to give her life more meaning, and after a conversation on the telephone with Missy about having an affair with a younger man, Louise takes it in serious consideration. As she is filing through names applying for admission at the office she notices a man named F. Scott Feinstandt. A man she and Missy fought for back in high school was named Scott Feinstandt and he was a painter - F. Scott's application is for painting. She is in a state of shock and is brought back to old memories, but it couldn't be the same person because he died over 20 years ago. Louise sets up an interview with him and when he walks through the door she immediately sees a resemblance and strangely feels the desire to seduce him. She is convinced that he is a reincarnation of her high school lover. Shortly after they begin a relationship that is one of the most odd I've ever seen in film. F. Scott is played by the rising actor Topher Grace in a strong performance. Last year he starred in this and [i]In Good Company[/i] for which he was noticed more due to its popularity. I think his performance here is much more of a breakthrough than in [i]Company[/i] and should be remembered and respected more. Linney and Grace's scenes are unsettling and a lot of times manipulative to the audience, but in a good way. We never really know what either of them are truly getting at with their actions until the end. This is a fascinating piece of work by a director who has two solid films under his belt now. Let's hope Dylan Kidd stays in this business for a long time.

Kingdom of Heaven
½

When Ridley Scott created [i]Gladiator [/i]I was only 16 years old. I Loved it the first time I saw it. A couple of years down the road I watched it again with an entirely different view of the cinematic world. I liked it much, much less that time around. Now I can safely and permanently say that my opinion on the film is that of mediocrity. It's not a terrible film, but it's most definitely not a great one and is extremely overrated and undeserving of the high acclaim it received...most notably the best picture honor. In a year that featured such masterpieces as [i]Almost Famous[/i], [i]High Fidelity[/i], [i]Amores Perros[/i], [i]George Washington[/i], [i]Requiem for a Dream[/i], [i]You Can Count On Me[/i], [i]Traffic[/i], and [i]Wonder Boys[/i], it was sad to see highest praise go to such a bland epic.

After wasting my money on the insanely disappointing and idiotic Wolfgang Peteresen epic [i]Troy, [/i]I was prepared to deny every film of this kind (at least in theaters) for a very long time. I let Oliver Stone's [i]Alexander [/i]pass through without giving it a chance, and after seeing the trailer for [i]Kingdom of Heaven[/i] I thought for sure that I wasn't going to see it either. As I thought about it more and more I realized that really the only strong reason I was denying seeing this film was the choice of Orlando Bloom as the lead. I don't know if anyone else thinks he is untalented and repetetive, but I am kind of getting sick of him taking roles that feature him sporting weapons of all kinds. That was the only thing other than my oath to myself to deny films of this kind in theaters for a while. On Saturday I broke that oath and took a chance, and I'm extremely happy I did.

First thing's first - Orlando Bloom has finally found a genuine and human role. Yes, this is at the surface yet another physical role in which he is a brave knight, but there is a deeply felt amount of human morailty here. Scott's vision is masterfully photographed by cinematographer John Mathieson among the backdrop of Jerusalem in the late 12th Century. Giving unbelievable performances in this film are Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Ghassan Massoud, Brendan Gleeson, and Edward Norton. Eva Green, an actress who's work has long-lived on the stage plays the King's sister who is soon to be heir to the throne. She made her debut last year in one of my 10 favorites of 2004, [i]The Dreamers[/i]. She is a remarkable actress and hopefully this role will get her the notice she deserves. Ridley Scott is a director that I have never really been a fan of, but I've never hated him. The only film before this one that I have extremely liked from him was 2003's [i]Matchstick Men. [/i]Here he makes a film that is far and away the better film than [i]Gladiator[/i]. In that film he established that he knew how to create an epic film of this sort to entertain, but in [i]Kingdom of Heaven [/i]he combines entertainment with knowledge of character. William Monahan's screenplay is absolutley brilliant and elevates this to make it the best film of its kind since Gibson's [i]Braveheart[/i].

Crash
Crash(2004)

There are few films like Paul Haggis' [i]Crash[/i]. I'm talking about the kind of film that speaks so loudly without really saying a lot. I've been thinking about the effect the movie had on me since I walked out of it late Friday night. I have also been thinking a lot about how to even begin constructing a review of the film. I decided that a film like this doesn't deserve a review, because reviews are basically critiques. I don't feel the need to criticize this film because it really never felt like a movie to me. All I can say is that this is most definitely one of the best movies to come out of Hollywood in years, and whether you like it or hate it there is one thing for sure - you will be affected by it and want to talk to someone about it.

Haggis, a writer for television for some 30 odd years before taking a stab at cinema and powerfully adapting the screenplay for Clint Eastwood's [i]Million Dollar Baby[/i] weaves a tale of emotions to such a masterful extent that it is hard to believe it's his directorial debut. A huge cast of characters ranging from all races and financial areas are set in front of the harsh background that is Los Angeles. There is a way to strongly hate and strongly sympathize for each character through all of their twists and turns. This is an ensemble filled with the most unusual but perfectly orchestrated choices ranging from big name stars like Sandra Bullock and Brandan Fraser to those who have had talent for years but are just now receiving respect and fame (think Don Cheadle). Going into the film I had no idea what to expect from the story or the actors other than the ones I have always liked, like Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard, and Larenz Tate. Haggis has such a strong sense of making his characters real just seconds after we meet them. He is sort of a magician with the pen and makes us forget that it's just a movie, forcing us to care for each and every one of these people, whether they're good or bad or just simply victims of manipulation.

A big surprise in this film is Chris Bridges, otherwise known as "Ludacris". He really proved himself as a legitimate actor in this film, giving a deep and personal performance in a film filled with such roles. Not a person in this is left without development or feeling, and at a film clocking in at just around 100 minutes that is extraordinary. My favorites in the film are Matt Dillon as a longtime member of the LAPD who has been raised around racism, Terrence Howard as a successful African-American who is constantly brought back to his fear of standing up for himself in racial situations, and Don Cheadle as an FBI agent who kind of intersects with each and every character throughout. Cheadle is also a producer on the film and it is very obvious how bad he wanted this movie widely seen. Sandra Bullock gets big respect from me for taking on such a role like this, and with her name on the cast list the film will be allowed a chance in big multiplex theaters as well as the little ones in the coming weeks.

This is a film that will without a doubt hit a nerve with many people, and maybe some in a bad way. I can see people walking out of the film halfway through because the movie never holds back, and to succeed as a true and accurate film it can't. I hope people can stick with [i]Crash [/i]until the end, because it most definitely is not a film to bash and point out differences among races, it's a film that unifies all. It's a beautiful piece of work that maybe only comes along once a generation. There have been comparisons to [i]Magnolia [/i]here, but I think that is suggested wrongly. Sure both films deal with awe-inpiring coincidence, but the core of each couldn't be any more different. A more accurate comparison would be to Lawrence Kasdan's amazing film [i]Grand Canyon [/i]15 years ago.

Millions
Millions(2005)

This is an imaginatory film from the imagination of director Danny Boyle, who brings us the most lighthearted film of his career after creating such films as [i]Trainspotting[/i], [i]The Beach[/i], [i]A Life Less Ordinary[/i], and [i]28 Days Later[/i]. Yes this is definitely a work of originality from Boyle, but the film never grabbed on to me in the ways I had anticipated it doing, and calling it the most lighthearted film of his career still doesn't mean its a nice little movie...and especially not a nice little family movie as it's being advertised. I walked into the theater expecting to see a film that people of any age could see and enjoy, and there were certainly people of all ages in the audience ranging from 5 to 80 when Amanda and I attended. This is not a family film. There are certain scenes that combine his gritty and ugly directing from [i]28 Days Later [/i]with some eerie music score that would terrify small children.

Yes there are certain elements in this movie that propose a great film for all ages, especially the innocent do-gooder story of the main character Damien, played by Alexander Nathan Etel in an impressive performance. I see this great idea being played out by Boyle as Damien's imagination meetings with history's legendary saints from different eras occur, making Damien to act good after he finds a bag full of 265,000 British pounds. But even after promising setup after promising setup take place, the film fails to follow through with its magical quality that so many critics have said drives the film. The music (when it's not being insanely scary) is overpowering in scenes when it shouldn't be, and at times it's a sort of rave/dance club style that belongs in another movie. I think music is a very important element that can either enhance a scene or even an entire film's greatness or contribute to the decline of the film. In the case of [i]Millions[/i], the music is definitely one of the contributing factors to the movie's failure.

As the movie rolls along and Damien conflicts with his older brother on whether or not to give the money to charities and homeless or invest for themselves, I wanted to be fully invloved but the movie just never let me in the door all the way. It was like I had my arms open and Boyle's film constantly reached its hand out to grab me but we never hugged. I liked some of the film but hated more, especially the build up to the conclusion as a robber seeks the bag of money that Damien took from a moving train, and here he thought it came from God all this time. The approach to the scenes with the chase and confrontation between Damien and the robber were completely done in the most wrong way in my opinion because this is being marketed as a a magical and vibrant family film. In a lot of these scenes Boyle brings back elements of all his earlier works, even down to the editing. It's got some stuff that will most likely give the children who see it nightmares after they experience it. Boyle is not the right person to make a film like [i]Millions[/i], so it becomes a promising idea that falls flat on its face.

Criminal
Criminal(2004)

I have never seen the Argentine film [i]Nine Queens[/i] which this is based on, and that's probably a good thing because something tells me I would dislike this remake even more. The opening setup is very interesting as we are introduced to the two main characters. One is a novice thief played by rising young actor Diego Luna ([i]Y Tu Mama Tambien, Open Range[/i]) in a great performance, and the other is an arrogant hot shot con man played by the always great John C. Reilly in his first real headlining role. Their relationship in this film is what makes this movie mildly watchable up until the over-the-top and idiotic conclusion that just made me gasp in rage after seeing a good setup the first 70 minutes.

Yes, the final 15 to 20 minutes of this 87 minute film blows any chance of the film receiving a solid 7 or maybe even a mild 8. Anyway, I'll talk about what was good about [i]Criminal[/i] and what halted it at a 6, stopping it from going lower. John C. Reilly is doing everything he can to entertain here, and for the most part he can make the audience forget about the so-so plot and focus on his energetic take on this lively and devious character. Diego Luna as I said before gives a brilliant performance as the student of Reilly's throughout one day that features a series of small cons and slowly begins to unveil a huge heist in the making. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Reilly's sister who wants no part of him as she has been the victim of his schemes for many years. This is a role that she handles well of course, but it's not an interesting character at all, and putting a great actress like this in the part doesn't work in my opinion. Still, these three work very well together and make it a fun ride for aobut 3/4 of the movie, but then it all comes tumbling down. There have been enough con movies by now that the audience is almost always expecting not just one simple con, but con conning con. It's a tired routine and in this film it's extremely laughable and by movie's end I was disappointed to huge heights.

Another thing I was torn between liking and disliking was the direction from Gregpry Jacobs. The handheld style was effective and is a good choice for a sly and fast paced film like [i]Criminal[/i], but there were many other choices made that just didn't work. One of these choices that stood out more than all others was the choice of music during some scenes that would've been so much more interesting without any at all, and a lot of times the music seemed like it was modeled after a Steven Soderbergh film. It's just a sad thing when a movie like this doesn't work, but the actors make it mildly enetertaining.

The Interpreter

Sydney Pollack always gets the best out of his actors, and his new film [i]The Interpreter [/i]is certainly of no exception. The director returns to the mystery/suspense genre for the first time since creating the intelligently woven thriller [i]The Firm [/i]in 1993. Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn make an interesting pair as two people who have more in common than what is shown at the surface.

Kidman is Silvia Broome, an African-born U.N. translator who speaks a rare dialect only few others can understand. After a late night entrance to grab some belongings she hears a whisper in a headphone set. It is in this rare language only her and a minimal amount of others can interpret. The next day she reports to the police what she thinks she heard - a death threat to an African head of state that is to appear at the U.N. in the next few days. Secret Service agent Tobin Keller (Penn) is assigned to the case, and as he investigates further he finds that his primary suspect is Broome herself. This is truly a classy and nail-biting thriller directed with the highest amount of precision and sophistication by Pollack, but what transforms this film from a good to great one is the relationship between Broome and Keller. Their conversations are unsettling and odd as they constantly pick apart each other and point out their different points of views. The great thing about these two characters is that they never become involved romantically during the tense and terrifying events that take place, even though we see that they are attracted to each other. It's a realistic view on what one would truly think would happen in a state of crisis like this. Finally, a plot that sticks to what's real and doesn't have a gratuitous sex scene displaying characters that have somehow forgotten that they're being targeted by assassins.

The combination of Kidman's brilliant performance, Penn's quiet but powerful presence and Pollack's old fashioned directing make [i]The Interpreter [/i]a great ride. One thing I forgot to mention that I didn't really agree with was the casting of Catherine Keener as Keller's partner. She is a fantastic actress but this role just isn't right for her. I think she deserved a lot more than she was given as this character seemed like another reincarnation of the one-liner spouting sidekick.

Kung Fu Hustle
½

About 25 minutes into this movie Amanda leaned over and whispered in my ear "Watching this movie makes me feel like I'm on drugs". One wonders if producer/writer/director/actor Stephen Chow was hooked on some kind of hallucinatory device while creating [i]Kung Fu Hustle[/i]. Whatever inspired him to create this piece of work is insanely unique and makes for a one-of-a-kind and satisfying experience at the movies.

Just being in a movie theater watching any film whether it be good or bad makes you feel like you're in a different world. The surroundings you are put in for the 2 hours or so you're planted in a seat inside the theater is a breathtaking experience that almost everyone wants to embark on numerous times. Now if the film projected onto the screen is something as energetic, engaging, bizarre and outrageous as Stephen Chow's latest brainchild, you're going to be lifted off into an entirely new cinematic world and won't come back down until long after you've left and driven away from the theater. This film is full of some of the most smartly idiotic (does that even make sense?) sequences I've ever seen. Chow has created a world that could in so many ways be turned into a forgettable failed comedy, but he hits all the right notes. The screenplay is filled with dazzling bits of hilarity, and the actors are all giddy and up for the preposterous tasks with which Chow presents to them.

What makes the movie work so well in my opinion is the cartoonish effect to everything. Everything that happens and every character involved reminded me of the classic Warner cartoons where there is all of this violence being inflicted upon them but they always seem to emerge unharmed. The CGI in the film is the driving force behind [i]Kung Fu Hustle[/i]. At time it looks extremely real but for most of the film it maintains its cartoonish qualities and elevates the humor making this not just a good comedy but a great one.

Guess Who
Guess Who(2005)
½

I'm not sure if I can explain why I even went to see this movie in theaters. I am not a fan of anything Ashton Kutcher has done so far in his career and I just don't agree with the fact that he's considered a comic leading actor these days. There are a dozen or more other reasons why this movie should've been forgotten until I wandered across it in 6 months or so on video store shelves. There was only 1 reason that the thought of seeing it even crossed my mind more than once - Bernie Mac. A couple years ago if his name was mentioned I would have immediately categorized him in the same breath as the other so called "kings of comedy" with terrible film careers, if you can call them that. To this day I still don't have any clue why Cedric The Entertainer is a mega star. Anyway, the truth is that Bernie Mac has quielty been growing on me. He was hilarious in both the mediocre [i]Head of State [/i]and the outstanding [i]Bad Santa [/i](which will always be Terry Zwigoff's only commercial success) and last year he provided a controlling comedic performance in [i]Mr. 3000 [/i]that made the movie enjoyable. So when [i]Guess Who [/i]started playing for one week only at a one screen little town theater about 15 minutes away from me I thought I'd give it a try.

Okay, a quickie straight to the point. Remaking [i]Guess Who's Coming To Dinner [/i]and reversing the races is an intersting idea, but this film just doesn't handle it well. Hollywood takes hold of good ideas and wrings out all the genuine moments and replaces them with fake feelings, over-sentimental mixes of music, horrible casting choices and physical humor. When I say horrible casting choices I don't mean Mac or Kutcher, they fit fine in their roles with Mac giving another performace that stands out. This is the first time I have even slightly liked Kutcher, this due to the fact that he's not his usual outrageous self as he plays a calm and collected character for the most part. Kutcher's fiancee in the film is played by Zoe Saldana, a newcoming actress which I have only seen in the disappointing Spielberg film [i]The Terminal[/i]. Saldana fails in this part miserably in a combination of both terrible acting and terrible dialogue. Every time she not only speaks but graces the screen with her presence and lets facial expressions go she never seems more than soap opera material.

If the film would have been executed more precisely and involving more human emotion mized with the humor than it could've made a big statement about how far we haven't really came around racial issues. Yes the film has its share of good laughs and Mac and Kutcher work well together, but it never offers what it should and falls into the big hole of films soon forgotten with hundreds, even thousands of others to keep it company. Maybe they should've just based it off the classic board game and left it at that.

Big Night
Big Night(1996)

Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci are two of America's most brilliant and underrated actors, and now after seeing their film[i] Big Night [/i]I have found that they are also two amazingly gifted writer/directors. This is one of the most enjoyable, smart, funny, endearing and insightful films I have ever seen.

Released in 1996, the movie follows two Italian brothers who move to America in the 1950's to open an authentic Italian cuisine restauran called Paradise. Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub play the two brothers named Secondo and Primo to utter perfection in a film filled with countless performances to rave about. Secondo is the financial handler of the business while Primo is responsible for the greatest Italian food on earth. The film opens throwing us right into the middle of a predicament for them as they are about to cave in from no business. They have until the end of the month to pay what needs to be paid or they will be forced to close and move to Rome and work under their Uncle at his restaurant. Secondo is forced to ask a canniving and rich owner of a place called Red Sauce for a loan, but he refuses. Ian Holm plays this man in one of his most underrated performances. It is insane how good he is at developing a flawless Italian accent. Although he won't lend him the money he does offer Secondo a big chance - to prepare a dinner party for a large amount of people, including a famous musician named Louis Primo who he ensures will attend.

So begins the preparation for the [i]Big Night[/i] and a large cast of characters begin to emerge, each of them as colorful and interesting as the next. Minnie Driver and Isabella Rosselini are wonderful as the two women in Secondo's life, Allison Janney is rightly cast as a flower shop owner who takes a liking to Primo. Marc Anthony is a quiet waiter who observes everything in the shadows at Paradise, and even Campbell Scott provides a hilarious performance as a Cadillac dealer with a big ego and a wrist injury he knows nothing about. As the big event unfolds Tucci and Scott direct with an energy that is constantly demanding the audience's attention. The preparation and presentation of the food is so elaborate and glorious that it makes you wish you were at the table waiting to be served. You can almost taste everything right off the screen. You simply cannot stop watching, and after it's over you just might want to see it again shortly after. A big part why this film was lifted from greatness to masterpiece is the final poetic sequence that is without dialogue but speaks so loudly in emotion. It's an amazing movie that should be considered a classic as years and decades pass.

Outbreak
Outbreak(1995)

Dustin Hoffman gives an extremely powerful performance in Wolfgang Petersen's strong thriller [i]Outbreak[/i]. I first saw this film when it was released about 10 years ago, and now I've recently revisited it having forgotten most of the film. To this day the movie still holds its effectiveness and stands as one of the most uderrated thrillers of the 90's.

Hoffman is Colonel Sam Daniels, a rebellious army virologist who will let no one and nothing get in his way when he believes his is right. In this case he must stop the spread of a virus in a small California town caused from an animal smuggled here from there jungles of Zaire. Rene Russo plays Sam's ex-wife Robbie, who is also heavilyknowledgeable in the same field. She is perfect for the role and works well with Hoffman throughout. She hasn't worked much of late, and when does show up every once in a while it's almost always in forgettably bad movies (hence the names [i]Buddy[/i], [i]Showtime, [/i]and [i]Big Trouble[/i]). The last great movie she has participated in is [i]Ransom[/i], which was 9 years ago. Seeing her outstanding performance in this film made me remember how great she can be. Others giving good supporting performances are Morgan Freeman as a General who is torn between following orders he knows to be wrong and helping an old friend do what's right, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. ans an inexperienced but determined virologist willing to do whatever he can for Colonel Daniels. Donald Sutherland plays General McClintock, a devious man who is in full favor of fire bombing the 2,600 people in the town to prevent the virus from spreading across the country. Also adding to the pack is Kevin Spacey as a semi-cocky but brilliant colleague of Daniels and crew, and J.T. Walsh in a nice little cameo.

The 90's were a strong time for Wolgang Petersen and this is one of his best efforts as a director. Lately he has lost his touch making the mediocre film [i]The Perfect Storm [/i]and then creating one of the biggest letdowns ever, [i]Troy[/i]. But great films like [i]In the Line of Fire[/i], [i]Outbreak[/i], and even [i]Air Force One [/i]considered assure audiences that he does possess talent beyond words when it comes to constructing a great suspense thriller. Maybe in the near future that talent will start to emerge again. It's an 8, but a strong one and very close to becoming a 9.

The Jimmy Show
½

Frank Whaley is a good actor and he showed great promise in his first writing and directing effort [i]Joe the King, [/i]a good film that could've been great. His follow-up however is sadly a dull failure. It's called [i]The Jimmy Show [/i]and once again he brings great promise to the project both with the story and the cast. Whaley plays the lead character Jimmy, a strange man that seems to not know how to be a normal human being. Carla Gugino gives an effective performance as Jimmy's wife and Ethan Hawke is also good as Jimmy's burn out co-worker at a supermarket.

The sad part about the film failing is that it shouldn't have. Whaley is a convincing director and has great knowledge of the process, but his writing needs severe reworking as it almost never feels realistic. His performance as Jimmy showcases the gifts he has as an actor, but the character is just uninteresting and bland. Ethan Hawke is one of my favorite actor/ novelist/writer /directors out there, he has talents beyond comprehension, but he's wasted here. One gets the feeling that he's just doing a favor for a good friend and repaying Whaley for starring in his debut film [i]Chelsea Walls[/i]. That is a far superior work than [i]The Jimmy Show [/i]and I recommend spending your time on that if you're torn between the two. This is just an unfinished piece of work that could have went somewhere. I hope Whaley can rebound if he attempts to write and direct again.

Sahara
Sahara(2005)
½

Hokey is the word that comes to mind when watching or even thinking about the newest Hollywood action-adventure film [i]Sahara, [/i]the first film of its kind this year starting out early as we gear up for summer. I have never picked up a Clive Cussler novel on which this movie is based on and I'm sure that's a good thing if I planned on coming out of the movie satisfied. Apparently Cussler has been 100% against Breck Eisner's adaptation, and without even reading a single word of the book I can obviously tell why. This is an action-a-second film with an exhausting use of classic rock as a soundtrack and features just about every close call action cliche that exists. So why did I rate this movie a 7 you ask? Well I guess I just fell for it all and was actually quite caught up in the entertainment value, as dumb as it was.

I don't feel like saying too much about this film because I think it's pretty self explanatory knowing that movies like this are released just about every month now. Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn are two giddy treasure hunters who, just as in they're in the middle of an exhibition to uncover a century and a half old fighter ship meet a doctor who is investigating a deadly plague. They begin to help her as she digs deeper and becomes targeted by higher and deadlier powers, and so the action begins...and goes on....and on...and on. There are about 3 or 4 diffrent times when I thought the movie was going to end and usually I'd be totally irritated by this, but the movie strangely had me anticiapting more. The doctor is played by the talented Penelope Cruz who does the best she can with the role. It's an interesting casting choice and I think is a big reason my interest for the movie elevated throughout watching it.

There are countless action sequences that don't really offer anything new like we've never seen before, but there's just something about them that I thought was intriguing. Maybe part of it is the way the actors are playing the parts, they're just going with the flow and having fun. McConaughey, who also shares an executive producer credit on the film, is effective in the lead even if he does look like a toy model that you'd see displayed on the wall at your local Kohl's. Zahn is also extremely likable in a role that he's done time and time again, the sidekick comic relief buddy. I say if it's inevitable that a character like this is going to be in these movies then they might as well be played by Steve Zahn, an actor who generates laughs even if most of the setups are lame. Other nice performances by actors in tiny roles are William H. Macy and Delroy Lindo. I must say that this was a surprising entertainment piece that really shouldn't have been as fun as it was, but it pulled it off in my opinion. Leave all logic at home before going to see [i]Sahara [/i]and you should find yourself satisfied by the end.

Melinda and Melinda

Woody Allen's new film begins with four people at dinner in New York City. One of the people at the table is a comedy writer, another a drama, and the other two are simply good friends who offer truthful criticisms and opinions amidst the constant arguing over which genre is more appealing to audiences. From this conversation the story unravels as two stories featuring the same woman named Melinda, one a tragedy and one a comedy. The two have a lot more in common than most would think. It's a creative and unique setup and when it all starts to play out alongside Allen's beautiful vision of New York City filled with the strangest of characters, the end result is his best film in a long time.

The usual packaged ensemble Allen brings is here again, and it's overflowing with great performances in the best outing by his cast since [i]Deconstructing Harry[/i]. Radha Mitchell leads them all in a vibrant and controlling dual role as Melinda and Melinda. She coasts through both the tragedy and the comedy with such ease that it's almost unreal. In both stories she interrupts a dinner party in progress. In the comedy we are introduced to a married couple played by Amanda Peet and Will Ferrell. She's a budding filmmaker and he is a struggling actor who can only nab commercial voiceover work. Ferrell is the obvious Woody Allen of the film, and I must say for the most part he does a pretty decent job, that is when he's not being the usual over the top Will Ferrell. When he is settled down, especially in his scenes with Mitchell, he hits every note right. Melinda lives in an apartment across the hall from them and soon becomes good friends with Ferrell's character.

The tragedy portion of the film is the biggest part why [i]Melinda and Melinda [/i]is getting bashed by critics, but I think it's the spark behind the film's success. It is in this part of the film that we get the most interesting and troubled Melinda (Mitchell is much, much better here) and a more involving story with deeper meaning. There is a devastatingly different married couple played with brilliance by Chloe Sevigny and Johnny Lee Miller, and another distant-beneath-the-surface couple with a third child on the way played by Josh Brolin and Brooke Smith. Melinda infiltrates these people's lives at an inconvenient time and severely shakes things up. Another key character is Ellis Moonsong, a piano player/composer who makes things a little more complicated. Chiwetel Ejiofor from [i]Dirty Pretty Things [/i]plays this part to perfection and in the scenes between him, Mitchell and Sevigny we get to feast on the combination of Allen's words and brilliant acting. These three characters are at the heart of the film as they drive the tragedy. I am extremely happy that Allen decided to make the serious portion of the movie more of the focus point because he proves once again that when he ventures off into drama he is just as thought provoking and brilliant as ever.

Certain sequences of this film brought back fond memories of [i]Another Woman[/i], like the scene in the dark bistro with Mitchell, Sevigny, and Ejiofor. This might not be touching on all new ground for Allen, but why does that have to be a disadvantage or a setback when criticizing it. It's a brilliant piece of work that at numerous times brings back the classic Allen of old and is definitely his best offering so far this decade.

Fever Pitch
Fever Pitch(2005)
½

The Farrelly Brothers are sort of experts of crude comedy now after over a decade of releasing such films, some of them great ([i]Kingpin[/i], [i]There's Something About Mary[/i], [i]Shallow Hal[/i]), some of them decent ([i]Dumb & Dumber[/i], [i]Stuck On You[/i]), and some of them just plain bad ([i]Me, Myself, & Irene[/i], [i]Osmosis Jones[/i]). They have also participated as producers on failed comedies like [i]Outside Providence [/i]and [i]Say It Isn't So[/i]. It's fair to say that they've had their share of highs and lows in the comedy filmmaking world, but when they hit their highs it's a magnificent thing, and their new film [i]Fever Pitch [/i]is as close as they've come to perfection.

Based on the novel from the extremely talented novelist Nick Hornby ([i]High Fidelity [/i]and [i]About A Boy[/i]), this film is sort of picking up where [i]Shallow Hal [/i]left off as far as paving a new path for the Farrelly brothers. What I'm trying to say is that [i]Shallow Hal [/i]was virtually the first time they started to venture out into the more affectionate side of the situations and characters, and it proved to be a good thing. That film most definitely had its fair share of crude humor that got the Farrelly's their trademark, but the surprising amount of compassion and human emotion between Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltro's characters made the film a step above a lot of comedies in 2001. Then they went off and did the average but enjoyable film [i]Stuck On You[/i], but it wasn't exactly hitting new areas and expanding their game. At that point I was kind of disappointed with the Farrelly brothers and kind of thought they would just fall off the radar never to capitalize on the effect [i]Shallow Hal [/i]started. Then they made the uncommonly great decision of adapting Nick Hornby's novel [i]Fever Pitch [/i]into their next film. Not many writers understand the complication of relationships between men and women better than Hornby, and he is just what the Farrelly's needed to step in the right direction.

The novel involves soccer but the Farrelly's took on the challenging task of creating it around the world of baseball and the Boston Red Sox. The script is delightful and the comic bits all ring beautifully, but most importantly the love story is realistic and truthful and perfectly played by Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. These are the kind of roles Drew Barrymore shines and fits comfortably in and as for Fallon, its his big chance to break away from the recent disaster [i]Taxi[/i] and the consistently terrible [i]Saturday Night Live [/i]for which his fame is responsible. He is the drving force of the film, both comically and heartfelt. I thought he would be good in this role but he went far beyond my expectations, giving a performance that is extremely human. This film could be accused of having a lot of romantic comedy cliched moments, but in all truth the way it leads to all of these moments is so original and enjoyable and wonderful that we feel for these characters and would believe they would do such unbelievable things. A lot of these kind of films try to create an attraction between two characters without getting to know them first and are so unrealistic that we don't get lost in it - we know we're watching a movie. The great romantic comedies spend serious amount of time through the ups and downs of these people's lives and get us so involved that we forget that it's a movie and gladly become a part of their existence. This is a magnificent movie that I saw twice this weekend just to make sure it would hold up. I want to see it many more times.

Why this movie got more bad reviews than good is insane to me. Adding the Boston Red Sox story to it all just adds another great thing to it and ultimately gives the film countless qualities that would appeal to all types of audiences. Something tells me the Farrelly brothers will lose a lot of fans. People will accuse them of going soft or things like that, but I think they've matured to new heights and made their best film yet.

2 Days in the Valley
½

This is the second film I have seen from director John Herzfeld, the first was the thriller [i]15 Minutes[/i], a movie that had potential but was wasted away inside poor camerawork, distracting music choices, and many more flaws. It's the strangest thing with his work, I always seem to be drawn in from the beginning and am throughout, but by the end I just simply don't like what I just saw all that much. He's got talent and he expresses it in these two movies, but not fully. He needs to know when to leave some things out and put other things in its place. He also needs to use the talented actors he is so privilege to get in his films more often. When it comes to [i]2 Days in the Valley[/i] he gets a big ensemble cast of characters, but poorly misuses a couple of them and sticks with the uninteresting stories longer than with the interesting ones.

This twisted puzzle of a movie has 10 main characters, all who will intersect with each other by the end. We get to know two hit men (James Spader and Danny Aiello), a heartbroken olympic track runner (Teri Hatcher), a snobby rich man and his assistant (Peter Horton and Glenne Headly), a nurse (Marsha Mason), a suicidal failed filmmaker (Paul Mazursky), a woman linked to one of the hit men (Charlize Theron), and two cops (Eric Stoltz and Jeff Daniels). I'll leave all other details of the story out of this review and just focus on my reaction to the film. There are so many moments in this movie that made me almost want to stop it and go do something more worth my time, but just as that would happen there would be great moments of worthy comedic value. There is a good story here with some extremely unique and interesting characters, like James Spader's Lee, a hit man that is obsessed with the importance of a sixty second period of time. He is an awesome actor who has given some of really memorable performances, and here he becomes of the standouts again. I didn't really have any problem with the casting of the film, but I found a huge one with the absence of one of the characters for vital parts of the movie. Jeff Daniels plays a troubled cop who is angry with everyone around him and is known for violent outrages. Herzfeld does a good job developing a story for this character, and then right when we're beginning to get to know him he never comes back. I was waiting and waiting for Daniels to return but he's not even in the final half hour of this film. That's where this one goes toward rotten, in the final stretch.

If they would have made some different decisions as the movie came to its climax, like what I've already talked about plus some other things that he did wrong with [i]15 Minutes [/i]as well, this could have been a nice little recommendation. Herzfeld has a curse, he just doesn't know how to fully take advantage of his potential and the potential of everyone around him.

Payback
Payback(1999)
½

There's something unbelievably preposterous about the incidents that happen in a lot of revenge movies, and [i]Payback [/i]is no exception. The characters are cartoonish and the traps they lead themselves into are nearly laughable, and the way things are handled by people are completely urealistic. So why do I like this movie? Because writer/director Brian Helgeland (scripted [i]L.A. Confidential [/i]and [i]Mystic River[/i]) does what needs to be done, he never lets the movie or any of his characters take themselves seriously. This is meant as a pure entertainment piece and it sure does entertain, mainly because they get Mel Gibson in the driver's seat. It's like he was born to play this kind of role and if anyone else tried to do it then it would be an automatic failure.

The tagline is enough to know that its a popcorn movie, "Get ready to root for the bad guy". Gibson is that bad guy named Porter, a sort of good bad guy among bad bad guys as he makes enemies in almost every walk of criminal life...all for a lowsy $130,000. Wait, I'm sorry - it's only $70,000. Porter can't stand it when people don't listen to him. Yes it's only $70,000 that he is out to retrieve from the person who stole it from him, an idiotic thug named Val who also put two bullets in Porter's back. They thought he died, obviously they should have made sure. So he begins an onslaught of revenge that will make him the target of not only Val again, but an Asian gang, some crooked cops, and the mob. The movie scrapes along at a fast and fun pace that is contantly introducing new characters and becoming increasingly addictive until the final satisfing climax. Filling out the supporting cast of 99% cruel and dispicable people is Gregg Henry, Bill Duke, Kris Kristofferson, James Coburn, William Devane, Deborah Kara Unger, David Paymer, and Lucy Liu. The only character that could even be considered a good guy is Maria Bello's. She gives a great performance as a prostitute that Porter used to drive around to different jobs.

This is an ultimate showcase for Mel Gibson and he takes the role and runs with it as fast as he can making this movie a solid piece of action entertainment that has a screenplay full of effective comic tidbits. It's always nice to have a movie like this sitting around for that time when you just don't want to do anything but be entertained.

2 Brothers & a Bride
½

The title of this film as I watched it the other day read [i]2 Brothers & a Bride[/i], but since the pressing of that DVD apparently the title has changed to [i]A Foreign Affair[/i]. I know the name of a movie has absolutely no effect on one's judgement of a film in general, but if I was simply reviewing between these two titles then I'd say they made a greater and more ideal choice with [i]A Foreign Affair[/i]. The new title after seeing the movie just fits better and more comfortably, just as the film itself fits in my underrated movies category.

Tim Blake Nelson and David Arquette play Jake and Josh, two small town farmer brothers who are hit with the loss of their aging mother at the beginning of the film. This is more than just a sad experience for them, more than just the loss of a close relative...this is a life emergency. Their mother took care of every single thing in their lives but farming. She cleaned their clothes and cooked their home cooked meals each day. Jake and Josh cannot go on living unless they have a home cooked dinner every night, so Jake makes a trip to the local library and, with the help of the librarian, logs on to the internet for the first time in his life (or at least it seems like it). He finds a site that displays Russian women that apparently wish to marry American men, and before either of them know it they're in St. Petersburg on a 14 day trip to find a bride. That's singular, not plural. They just want [i]one[/i] bride and only to cook and clean. In exchange she shall receive American citizenship.

Tim Blake Nelson's Jake is very uptight and by the book to every girl he meets and makes it clear what he wants. David Arquette's Josh is reluctant to even go on this trip at first, but once he is there he finds that women all around desire him, which is something he's never experienced before. He becomes a changed man very quickly and he and his brother become more distant at a fast rate. The character in the center of this all is Angela, a journalist who is filming a documentary about the mail order bride phenomenon. She is not from Russia but knows the language fluently, and after some convincing she gets permission to follow Jake around with the camera and also act as a translator for him. Angela is played by Emily Mortimer, one of the most underrated actresses working today. I am extremely excited about the upcoming film she stars in called [i]Dear Frankie[/i], and her past work in [i]Lovely & Amazing[/i], [i]Young Adam[/i], and [i]Bright Young Things [/i]is marvelous. Here she creates a powerful and memorably human character, and her scenes shared with Tim Blake Nelson are enchanting. Their relationship is well conceived by writer Geert Heetebrij and their attraction for each other is unlikely, even to each other.

This is a nice little gem of a movie that deserves to be uncovered by more audiences. Nelson and Arquette both have executive producer credits on this film, which I assume gave it much more of a chance to get out there than it could've had. There is a giant amount of smarts inserted in this tiny low budget movie.

The Upside of Anger

I have been giving many movies a perfect 10 lately and this movie is certainly another one deserving of that rating. As I have been looking through many different journals and reading many different reviews over the past few months I've noticed that a 10 rating in most cases is extremely rare, at least compared to the abundance on my journal. I guess I'm a little different in that case. If I love a movie I give it a perfect rating, and I love lot of movies. I think that perfection is not rare and can come along 20 to 25 times a year or even more. [i]Sin City [/i]is a film filled with so much originality and gruesome life that it's a perfect 10 simply for its style and diversity, but it's not the type of 10 to make it on my best list at the end of the year. Now [i]The Upside of Anger[/i] most definitely is the type of film to make it there. It's a masterpiece on all levels and one of the best films I've seen this entire decade.

Mike Binder writes, directs, and acts in one of the most masterfully complete screenplays I've ever had the chance to witness be played out. Joan Allen and Kevin Costner both have never dug deeper or been more convincing in two award worthy portrayals of confused alcoholics at mid-life crisis. I have been starting and stopping and starting and stopping and starting to write a review for this movie ever since I saw it on Saturday. Amanda and I were so effected by this film that after the matinee showing we went to get something to eat and then went back to the theater for an evening showing. Joan Allen plays this role that in other hands could be hateful and nothing more, but she somehow gets your sympathy even through her terrible actions. Costner is the same way as he reminds the world just how amazing an actor he is, if he gets the right role. These are two of my favorite characters in all of movies and the actors portraying them create likeable unlikeables in a film that will make you laugh, cry and care for everyone involved. Playing the four daughters of Allen are Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, Erika Christensen, and Evan Rachel Wood. They all hold their ground very well in roles that don't get neglected as they all are very well developed. Standing out among the daughters are Keri Russell and Evan Rachel Wood who proves herself a legitimate actress for the first time as she bounces back from the overrated and horrible disaster that was [i]Thirteen[/i]. Russell is most effective at times when she isn't even talking but observing her mother's off the wall actions with various facial expressions.

I had a lot of trouble writing this review because I kept wanting to try and inculde some of the story, but that was all wrong. I just want to encourage people to get out and see [i]The Upside of Anger [/i]by praising it, not explaining. I have no doubt in my mind that not many movies will come close to touching this throughout the year. It stands as best of the year so far for me, and although there is always the chance of it being knocked from the top, I can guarantee this - it will always hold a place in the 10 best of 2005. Just knowing where it will be in those 10 will be interesting to see as the year unfolds. If Allen is not remembered come nomination time then it will be one of the most insane overlookings ever.

Me Without You

[font=Book Antiqua][color=white]Michelle Williams and Anna Friel play Holly and Marina, two people who are so different in numerous ways and would have never become friends if it weren't for the fact that they grew up next door to each other...but that's what happened, so they're inseparable from the beginning. This is the third of three films I watched yesterday, and the best of them, so I thought I'd write about it first since it's the freshest in my mind. [/color][/font]
[font=Book Antiqua][/font]
[color=white][font=Book Antiqua]Sandra Goldbacher directs and co-writes [i][font=Book Antiqua]Me Without You[/font][/i], a refreshingly smart and original take on the journey of a winding friendship between two girls that grow into women together on the outskirts of [/font][font=Book Antiqua]London[/font][font=Book Antiqua]. The film follows these two and their families from 1973 all the way until 2001, making for one bumpy ride throughout. Holly and Marina share everything, even if they disagree on most of what they?re sharing. As the film opens we are thrown into their already tight bond at around the end of their elementary school years. Holly is quiet and keeps to herself around everyone except [/font][font=Book Antiqua]Marina[/font][font=Book Antiqua], including her parents who seem to have more of an approving for Marina rather than their own daughter. When they hang out they hang out at [/font][font=Book Antiqua]Marina[/font][font=Book Antiqua]?s house always, because her mother enforces no laws of any kind and has virtually no mature parenting manners, and her father is constantly gone for many days or even weeks at a time. Holly begins to develop a childhood obsession for [/font][font=Book Antiqua]Marina[/font][font=Book Antiqua]?s older brother, Nat, one that is so strong it never fully evaporates even as she ages. As the film chugs along years ahead at a time it touches down on important eras of the girl?s lives. The essential years in high school when friends from an earlier age begin to realize differences in each other are depicted extremely well by both the film and its actors. Then the film moves along into the early 80?s as Holly and [/font][font=Book Antiqua]Marina[/font][font=Book Antiqua] begin college. It is in these times that the relationship becomes even more complicated when they both fall for their teacher, Daniel (played by Kyle McLachlan in a great performance). Holly is attracted to Daniel for many reasons, while [/font][font=Book Antiqua]Marina[/font][font=Book Antiqua] wants him simply because Holly does. What results from this conflict is the inevitable and their friendship takes another beating, and it continues to take more and more throughout the years. So why do these people continue to stay friends? Because if they?re going to be hurt it might as well be from each other rather than from someone else, right? This is one of the strangest and most heartbreaking and most wonderful odd relationships I?ve seen in film. [/font][/color]

[color=white][font=Times New Roman]Michelle Williams is quietly commanding in the film and Anna Friel is a force to be reckoned with as they give performances that are severely underrated. Oliver Milburn shows big promise as Nat, and Trudie Styler is convincing as Marina?s troubled mother. The screenplay is strong and weaves through nearly 30 years with a telling, swift motion as the film clocks in at exactly 100 minutes. Williams is the core of the film?s success and gives a performance that is another brilliant one to add to her growing list to admire. She was terrific in [i]The Station Agent [/i]and convincing in the less than convincing film [i]The United States of Leland[/i]. I guess the girls from [i]Dawson?s Creek [/i]decided to take their acting careers seriously way more than the boys. Katie Holmes has faired the best since then, creating great characters in [i]The Ice Storm[/i], Go, [i]Wonder Boys[/i], [i]The Gift,[/i] and [i]Pieces of April[/i]. Although everyone from that television show has done their share of bad things, it?s nice to see at least Holmes and Williams breaking out into the occasional independent film showing us what they can do if given good material. Hopefully there are more films that equal the effectiveness of [i]Me Without You [/i]in Williams? future. [/font][/color]

Sin City
Sin City(2005)

I have mounds upon mounds of respect for Robert Rodriguez, one of the most hardworking filmmakers in all of the world. His talent in the digital world of cinema is ubelievable and limitless and he's shown that already even before the release of [i]Sin City[/i], it's just that now he'll finally get the recognition he deserves for it, because this technique is put into full swing when he creates a film version of Frank Miller's devious world. Making this movie had to be like one big, long field trip for Rodriguez. Never has mayhem been so damn entertaining or awe inspiring.

I have never read Miller's graphic novels but I can imagine I got a full and exact feel of what they're like after seeing this movie. Rodriguez, in the many interviews he has done already has proclaimed that this is not Robert Rodriguez's [i]Sin City[/i], it's Frank Miller's. This is not a comic made into a film, it's a film made into a comic. He accomplishes that seemingly impossible feat with explosive genius in every frame. With some insertion of the actual drawings into the film along the way we get a good glimpse at just how accurate and faithful the movie is to its medium. Even down to casting, it's all pitch perfect. The three main characters in the three main stories (as if you didn't know already, I'm sure) are Hartigan, Marv, and Dwight. They are played by Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, and Clive Owen in performances that are so full of gloomy energy that they just add to the already giant blaze of a fire the film started. Filling in the gigantic cast is Jessica Alba, Benicio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Nick Stahl, Elijah Wood, Michael Madsen, Rosario Dawson, Powers Boothe, Michael Clarke Duncan, Carla Gugino, Josh Hartnett, Marley Shelton, Devon Aoki, Alexis Bledel, Jaime King, Rutger Hauer, Makenzie Vega, Nicky Katt, and even a brilliant cameo from Frank Miller himself. The entire cast is having probably more fun in their roles that nobody but the people involved in the making of the movie could comprehend. Being called and asked to play a role in something like this must be the biggest privilege an actor could get, and a decision to turn it down (which I'm sure didn't happen once) would be idiotic. I loved almost every actor for their roles except for Rosario Dawson as the prostitute gang leader and Jesssica Alba as Nancy, Hartigan's only reason for still wanting to live. I thought Alba was decent at times, but could've done so much better. She's obviously cast more for her looks than her acting skills. As far as Dawson goes, I must say that this is the only thing I hated about the movie. She just didn't do it for me and I couldn't get into her character because I thought she absolutely atrocious in the part. It still doesn't take anything away from the movie, which is a breakthrough and a masterpiece.

Since the early 90's people had been thinking about adapting Miller's novels into film, but he's always been reluctant to let it happen. I am glad that Rodriguez had the confidence and dedication to constantly irritate Miller until he agreed to see a test of what he could create. Now Miller says it's like a dream come true on screen for him. I'm sure I'll be seeing [i]Sin City [/i]again very soon where it's meant to be seen - on the big screen.

Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy

I was tryting to think of some movies to add to my overrated movies list because it's been at a standstill for quite some time now. It's been harder than I thought to think of some films that have received acclaim that I didn't agree with. Today I remembered some obvious ones and I'm going to shortly write about each of them now. This is dangerous territory that I predict will attract some hatred toward me.

The success both critically and commerically of Peter Jackson's [i]Lord of the Rings [/i]trilogy is way, way overblown and undeserved. Is it a terrible set of films, no, but it most definitely is not award-winning in my opinion. Yes the story is classic and the time spent working on the look of everything is greatly admired here, but there are several aspects of this film that would've been handled much better in the hands of another filmmaker. Jackson's directing is at times very effective, but when it's bad it's extremely bad. The camerawork in these films is insanely irritating in times of battle and in its endless revolving area shots it becomes untolerable. The choice of some of the effects and lenses made to warp the look a little is an unnecessary add and in my opinion hurt the films. Also, the adaptation of the book to screenplay seems like it got a little taken hold of by Hollywood, especially in certain lines of the always annoying Gimli and frequently of Legolas. Another bad choice was some of the casting done, most notably that of the utterly terrible Orlando Bloom, who can't seem to go on set of any film without a weapon (that is until Cameron Crowe finally made him lose all sharp objects for the upcoming [i]Elizabethtown[/i]). Again, these are just my opinions so if there are any die hard LOTR fans reading this then please take that as a note...I don't want to receive any death threats or anything. I guess I just didn't become fully entranced in the wonder that is this trilogy like millions upon millions of others did. This isn't a slashing of the films, because I honestly think they are somewhat good, it's just a statement that the awards (especially the sweep of the Oscars last year) and the universal acclaim are overblown. Peter Jackson's [i]Lord of the Rings [/i]trilogy is overrated.