Rostron2's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Mark K

Super Reviewer

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Movie Ratings and Reviews

The Lone Ranger
½

This film is a blatant attempt at formula popcorn entertainment, but they chose the wrong characters to do it with. The muddled mess that is The Lone Ranger was awkward to watch, awkward in dialogue, and clichéd in almost every way that isn't fun. The trouble is the whole thing is veering from camp to violent so abruptly that you barely have time to see if the characters are reacting the same way you are. They aren't, which is one of the real weaknesses here. They didn't dare go all the way to comedy, but they also don't serve treat any of the messages of injustice, greed, and inhumanity to Native Americans in any purposeful way. In fact, it's almost like the film-makers are reveling in the horrible stereotypes the film represents, (or they themselves were the characters!) and the film completely fails to deconstruct them. The cast is also divided on whether they belong to the campy side, the historical realism region, or the classic western feel, and that's a huge problem. Almost the only character I liked was Silver the horse. He had the clearest objectives of anyone. In fact, he was a whole lot smarter than any of the human characters, and the most heroic. The large and talented supporting cast is largely wasted. What humor can be found in Johnny Depp's crazy Tonto is also largely wasted, because the film is trying to recoup the audience from another stomach-churning uncomfortable moment seconds before. I now realize that Johnny Depp is clever in another way: By always wearing face makeup in his comedic efforts, he doesn't have to really reveal his facial disdain for being in this film. It's amazing how close I called this by my own numbers: 1 point for the trains 1 point for the sum total of talented cast, and a half-point for the action. People that complain that Disney sugar-coats everything have not seen this film. It's the ugly side of Disney's production house, and that's not a good thing for them at all.

The Shawshank Redemption

I don't even remember why we went to see this film in the theaters the first time, except perhaps we liked the stars in it, and it looked like it might be an intelligent film. It wasn't what we expected, but it's an incredible film: intelligent and somewhat old-fashioned. It's a film that we have watched over again several times, and are still amazed at how well done it is. It's well-directed, well-written, well cast, artfully shot (who thought a prison could be interesting as a backdrop!!!); and it has all kinds of metaphors and subtext to engage you beyond the wonderful character studies in the story. (A Steven King short story!)

It's a diverse array of situations that are skillfully blended: From the brutal life behind bars, to the changes that each character goes through during the time line of many years. You are carried along through all of it, and it all makes perfect sense, and seems genuine, even if its a period film. Taken purely as a film about prisoners, it can be difficult to sit through if you're after action. There's lots grittier films and shows about prison life old and new that will do that. It's when you put aside that viewpoint and the need for violence without explanation, and start looking at the larger issues, that's when the movie starts to really shine. You might even feel a kinship, in some ways, with these people's own 'personal prisons'. How do we escape ourselves? What is our humanity when we have none except a system to follow?

It's one of the few films I can think of where a narration (now almost a cliche to hear Morgan Freeman narrate anything) really worked. The narration deepens and enlarges the viewers understanding, and that's a tribute to the thoughtful script that goes along with it.

The performances speak for themselves. Everyone, from lead actors and key characters, to the prison guards and other prisoners, plays their role to perfection. Frank Darabont gives us just enough exposition, and supplements theater with great use of the camera, and vignettes that tell the story. There's not a wasted frame in this film.

Great musical score, too, and a great ending.

It's an experience as much as a movie. It takes you to your own private Zihuantanejo, and if you don't know what that means, you will by the end.

Recommended

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
½

It's nice to go back to Middle Earth. The first installment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit is another film put together with the same care and thought as the Lord of the Rings, but it's a different story, and any comparisons to the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a bit unfair. This is Bilbo's story, and although there are some deviations from Tolkien canon, it remains faithful to the scope and tone of the adventure, while layering on some slightly darker details that neither Bilbo nor his dwarven companions realize. It remains to be seen how successful the tie-ins to the later Fellowship story will be, but as an adventure yarn, very few films can surpass what was done on the screen.

The story remains largely on the scale of Fellowship, with an episodic journey from place to place and peril to peril, just as the book takes us. For movie purposes, this means that action takes the place of exposition in some places, and its all balanced with some very nice right off the page story telling, and even some of the songs made it this time. The Unexpected Party scene is well handled, as is the first meeting with Gandalf, and the whole 'good morning' sequence. The journey itself displays wonderful vistas as always, and little things like the ponies, an the varied and interesting dwarves really balance the picture nicely. Peter Jackson has added some strategic overtones to figuring out the Necromancer's identity, and that the dragon is more of a threat long term. This is from the supplemental material and leftover writings of Tolkien about the Quest for Erebor. Meanwhile on the pure adventure side, there's plenty of action in the mountains, and the CG seems fantastical, but still organic enough to make you wonder. Even those of us that know the story well have to be impressed with the detail. I also liked the Top Chef trolls. Very amusing.

Performances are all wonderful. We don't get a lot of each dwarf, but certainly Thorin (Richard Armitage); Balin (Ken Stott); and Bofur (James Nesbitt) give excellent support to Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Bilbo (Martin Freeman). It's an ensemble piece, and everyone has good moments, even the nice cameos by Galadriel and pre-evil Saruman are showcased. Andy Serkis makes Gollum fascinating to watch once more, and the whole Riddles In The Dark sequence is a standout in a film filled with great moments. Martin Freeman is spot-on as Bilbo. As an actor, Freeman is more comic than hero, but when he says a sincere line, as he does perfectly in some key palces, it comes off beautifully. McKellen is flawless as usual.

Yes, it has some weak points, but they're not all that important. The early inclusion of a nemesis for Thorin is a little much, but it helps the pacing on this film, which is long, and it gives us a needed break from the foot slog that the book details. The tone of the film is necessarily much more whimsical, since this is before Sauron actually announces his return, and before the Ring really makes its presence known. As Tolkien wrote, Bilbo's arrival in the caverns started a small avalanche of happenings that culminate in the later Lord of the Rings story, but Jackson has skillfully kept this in the background. The momentous nature of the Ring has yet to be revealed, and even Bilbo isn't very sure of how it can be used. The humorous tone makes the more dangerous sequences more dire, and the heartfelt moments even better, as when Bilbo pledges to continue with the dwarves to get their homeland back. It's just the tip of the hobbit iceberg that we'll see in the next two films. This is all difficult material to adapt, and Jackson and his team have once again lost nothing of their skill ove the last decade. It shows in every frame.

Lincoln
Lincoln(2012)
½

If you want to know something about a person's life, you need to look at their actions, and what those actions created. This is the way Steven Spielberg has chosen to educate and inform us about probably one of the most iconic figures in US History, or world history for that matter. The study of his final months in office, and the political battle to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery is a brilliant take that give real perspective to history, and here, Spielberg lets the words and actions tell the story. Tony Kushner's play-like script toes the fine line between education and realism in almost perfect ways. Spielberg's restrained direction keep the overall themes in play throughout the long scenes in rooms and Congress. It's a long film, but it draws you in, because it's successful at playing on these themes of fairness, equality, and justice under the law.

The 13th Amendment continued the change that the Constitution started, and a hundred years later, the Equal Rights Act picks up where the the 13th fell short out of the necessity of compromise. The workings of our government are also showed in miniature here, although today, it's much more impersonal. Spielberg hits all these things through his story telling, and the characters are vivid, even if there are a lot of them.

The cast is superb. It feels less like a movie or a documentary, and more as if you are in the room with these men, trying to reason through what to do. It felt like a magic spell had grabbed me and trasported me to those times, yet I could completely relate their story to our government and politics today. A lot of credit will be given, rightly, to Irish-born Daniel Day-Lewis, whose portrayal is pretty flawless, and feels right. His dynamic with his wife, Sally Field, son Robert, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and members of his cabinet (The Team of Rivals) are are well-played, and feel organic to the story. However, it's an ensemble effort to tell an important story well. Here was a cast that understood and valued the story they were telling, and whether they portrayed someone major, or a sideshow to the main event, it's all entertaining and builds upon the last scene with architectural perfection, yet you don't feel much manipulation. There are even moments of folksy humor and irony that are inserted with Spielbergian magic into the story they are relating. It's all necessary, and every frame of film is used to move the story forward.

If you know a lot about the period portrayed, you will appreciate the film on many levels, but even if you don't, it's moral themes come through strongly. I said earlier in this review that this Amendment set the stage for much follow-on legislation, and not just in the United States, but legislation for the moral center that Lincoln talks about across the whole world. History is about perspective, and 'Lincoln' gives us a window into that time, and a chance to look at the moral battles that are taking place today. Recommended.

Yellow Submarine
½

Yellow Submarine is a strange film, no doubt about it. It had a checkered history from the very start, with the Beatles internal problems, lack of money, lack of script, and yet they managed to make a film that's, well, unique. It's almost like opening a time capsule to the era when almost anything that was experimental or different could make it to the screen, and I was glad when I heard that they had shelved plans for a remake in this decade, because it simply would have failed.

As a film, it's a mixture of cultural images from the 1960's, drug culture hangover art, and music from one of the most influential bands of all time. What you get is a strange voyage from grungy 1960's London to the world of Pepperland, which is under siege from the Blue Meanies. You can read the symbolism of who these guys represent many ways. They can be seen as 'the establishment' of pinstriped soulless bankers and accountants, or hawkish, war supporters, or just weird creatures that hate music and art.

Watching the film again now, it still seems relevant. We're still at war with hawkish politics and banks and prejudice and our basic liberties being threatened. It's colorful and the use of the music is kinda cool. Ultimately the forces of good and truth, aided by the Beatles, triumph over the Blue Meanies. You're never really sure what its all about, but its fun to watch.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Brutal and yet strangely compelling, this second make of the European version makes a few changes, but ultimately is about as successful as the first version. The only thing was that the twist wasn't really hard to guess at before the end frames. it has some excellent acting, and the interesting characters of the book. Some of the structural changes bring Sander into the story sooner, and that's of course when the story takes off.

The suspense is well modulated by Fincher, and you do find yourself feeling a bit paranoid by the end. All the performances are top form, and although you can quibble about who plays a better Sander, the effect is the same. It's gritty and unforgiving in its exploration of the dark nature of the story. It was also nice to see Daniel Craig playing a not-so-tough character. The exploitative moments are well-used, and they advance the story rather than detract from it as they might have in lesser hands.

The Mission
The Mission(1986)
½

This movies strength lies in two things: The performances by Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons, and the splendor of the scenery that surrounds the mission in question.

However, the movie lacks the emotional depth of similar 'human condition' stories, and there are some subplots that are never fully explored. It's a good idea: The juxtaposition of 'kindness' with cruelty and barbarism is a plot worth exploring. It's a sad story often repeated in many countries, that religion indeed has the power to uplift people to show the better angels of their nature. However, there's always a cost.

However, most of the indigenous culture with their natural barbarism is a little lost amidst the jungle scenery,. The process of examining their salvation isn't carried all the way through. But bright places remain.

The hidalgo that De Niro portrays is not a nice guy, and conflicted from start (penance) to finish (what really is salvation?). That's what makes for interesting, multi-layered characters. You can predict what's going to happen, but you still try not to believe it, and ultimately you do care.

A slow film, but well-crafted and shot, with another Morricone score that is nicely crafted for mood.

Wreck-it Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph is pure fun, with a lot of clever ideas. You just have to kid of go with it, and not look for deep philosophy here, but oddly, the film does have some. Ralph's journey also doesn't really change who he is, but he changes who his friend are, and he has a nice arc of self-discovery, besides getting into some very interesting situations. The world will basically end if he doesn't succeed, so it also has some real feeling of risk to the adventure.

John C. Reilly is a master of being hang-dog, and he's the perfect voice for Ralph. The intersection of the various game worlds is fun to follow, and the level of detail is amazing, too, depending on the game you're in. I was never a big arcade game player, but I can appreciate the inside jokes and game-culture references, and the characters are all distinct and interesting. Even the good guy gets to continue being good, and Sarah Silverman gets to be kid-profane and amusing at the same time.

There's also the Pixar-like quality to appeal to all ages with this film, and there's heartwarming and charming interactions that elevate the film above what might have been just one big chase. You get the chase, too, but it's not like most chases you'll ever see except in an arcade. The movie is certainly able to stand on its own, but there's so many 'worlds' to explore with this now, I actually wouldn't mind seeing a sequel if a good story with enough at stake could be created.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
½

This movie was a pleasant surprise. I went in not expecting very much, but it had a lot of good gags, was well-paced, and somehow turned a very small book into quite a fun little adventure.

It was very old-fashioned in a way, and the lead characters were very appealing. Kids and adults alike would enjoy this one, and although it fell victim to the hectic chases of most kid films, the film on a whole had a lot of heart to it. There are surprisingly good performances by the voice actors, and the theme of the original story still rings true. It's also a clever poke at the media and fame, in a way that kids can follow.

The animation is kept simple, but its used very well to tell the story, and the falling food is always kind of funny, despite the peril it bring to the little island and its inhabitants. Worth watching, because it has some nice humor in it, and none of it is mean-spirited like some many films are these days.

Skyfall
Skyfall(2012)
½

The venerable Bond franchise chalks up another successful venture with Skyfall, and combines the best of the past, as well as an effective update of Bond for the future. Nothing is better than a trained agent to sort out a mystery, and Bond goes through hell and a half again to try to track down a rogue agent that has stolen a valuable list of high-placed double agents. The movie opens with the usual bang, and this high-energy chase ranks up there with the best of them.

The movie then moves into the research phase, and this gives time for some character introspective. Is Bond archaic? Is he unable to balance his job with loyalty. These themes have always run through the Bond franchise, and Director Mendes hones close to Flemings original ideas yet again, and Daniel Craig turns in another stone-faced, yet internally emotional performance as 007. You almost know what the character will do before he does it, because we know this character so well. We can forgive him some failings, and the fact that he's unused to having to rely on a team to do the work, but he leans forward and does his best and with style.

The female Bond girl this time around isn't a twenty-something supermodel, it's Dame Judy Dench, who adds some wonderful moments with Craig as they work out a complex relationship of 'mother and son' in the service of their country. It's great to watch. In fact, the window-dressing females are distinctly secondary in this film, although Namoie Harris has some nice moments helping Bond. Javier Bardem brings a twisted charisma to his villain. He's got mommy issues of his own, but instead of Bond, who trusts his 'mother'; Bardem takes the dark path of revenge. This makes the whole spy realm seem very realistic, since there's never a clear good and evil in this film, mostly that thin veil of duty that keeps the whole spy circuit from unraveling completely.

Mendes also avoids a lot of traps of action films. The movie has a big opening, and a big ending, but has only spurts of action in between. Some might see this as off-pace, but it makes the later sequences more powerful thana sustained and lengthy series of chases all throughout the film. Yes, there are actions in between the beginning and end, but they have real purpose. It's a strong script, with fine attention to detail, and with a strong cast the result is one of the best Bonds made.

The Iron Lady
½

I give the entire 50% because if anyone else but 'the great chameleon' Meryl Streep had done this film, it would have been unintelligible. The interesting thing about this film is that despite her heroic 'smashing of gender barriers'; the film chooses the odd method of viewing it through her end-of-life dementia haze, which ultimately diminishes her achievements. She was both loved and hated, but she was a pioneer, and the tendency of Hollywood to try to humanize iconic people is in force here, and ultimately ruined the film.

There's just not enough for you to judge who she really was, and why she made the decisions she did, and inspired love/hate amongst friends and opponents. She was the Cold war ally of the US, but it really doesn't touch that to any depth. She presided over turbulent times in the UK, but the resolutions (or lack thereof) are never presented very well. It spends all too little time on the labor vs. conservative/Tory fights, and wavers back and forth between then and now until you just don't care. Family is largely ignored, except for the phantom of her late husband, which becomes almost funny after a while. It might have been nice to see a family dynamic-based view of her, instead of a myopic mess of the end of her life.

Streep does her best with what she has, and the movie is all hers. The rest are just clippings from newspapers, and some vague popular collective memories. I wanted to see something deeper, but didn't get it. I was looking at my watch about half-way through. Never a good sign. Don't look for a balanced or even imbalanced view of Margaret Thatcher, you won't get it.

The Mummy
The Mummy(1932)

Watching this move now as an adult hardly raises any goosebumps, but for its time, it must have had a huge effect on people. We've ratcheted up the horror, pain, and anguish in films so far since then it's really only viewable as a museum piece, but it does have some very interesting moments, and it set the standard for some many sorts of scenes that are commonplace today. The Mummy's hand clutching the papyrus scroll, and then the unfortunate researcher's eyes travel up to what's attached, and so on. There were some film techniques used that still make this a moody, dark, and intense film.

The film's main weakness for me is the rather sappy male lead. Fortunately for the film, it does something very unlike most films of its day: The female lead basically saves herself, instead of the faux Indiana Jones character coming to her rescue. There's also a real aura of sadness and despair beautifully projected by Karloff as the title character. The film drew on the Egyptologist craze after the Carter expeditions, and even the digging scenes are reminiscent of Indiana Jones a half-century later. There's some nice set decoration as well, and it would have been interesting to see what impact it might have had with the flashback scenes in color, had it been made a few years later.

Frankenweenie

Tim Burton got his start at Disney years ago, and this film is based on a project he had on the back burner for years. It was worth the wait. Frankenweenie is an excellent film by Burton and his creative staff, and he returns to the simple, whimsical storytelling that made him famous in the first place. This movie is meticulously crafted, scripted, and voice-acted with nary a wasted frame. There's also plenty to entertain adults or almost any age, as Burton & his cast pay homage to the classic monster films both stylistically, and with many an insider's joke. The characters go through a real story arc, if even if the material is fantastical, and the movie and its characters show real emotional range.

There's also a good message about fear of things we don't understand, and that science without a good purpose can go very, very wrong. Luckily our hero has the good-hearted intent to bring his dog back to life after a tragic accident. From there, things really get rolling when some of Victor's curiously monster-movie drawn friends get involved, with hilarious, and sometimes scary results. The little kids in the theater with us had a lot of cringing moments, and that's because the movie not only generates laughs, but has an excellent pacing and tension that's rarely seen in animated films, and some of it is a bit too intense for those under eight or so. The many nods to classic monster films are subtly imposed, and of course, there's even a homage to the famous burning windmill scene from Frankenstein. It's a formula for success. Recommended.

The Dark Knight Rises
½

Like all of Nolan's films, the third in the Batman trio is high quality in its production, and has a good cast that slips back into their roles easily. I didn't like it as much as the first two, mostly because it felt choppy to me, shifting back and forth in semi-flashback, flashback and present. There was a lot of reliance on comic book levels of disbelief in order for the plot to work. That's the trouble with this one for me. It's portrayed as gritty and realistic, but that doesn't allow for the fantastic elements like trapping an entire police force underground to play out very well. The physics of the bomb didn't really work out very well either for me, but I'm nitpicking now about the reality vs. comic action problem.

That said, it was skillfully done, and looked great. My other issue with this installment is the rather lame villain behind the real villain. However, motivations are always murky in films based on comic books, so I give that all a pass here.

In fact, the release of this movie seemed like it really had been eight years since the whole Joke/Harvey Dent affair, and so that theme played really poorly for me. I guess it would have helped if I was a rabid fan and had reviewed the two prior films prior to seeing this one, and recalled the whole sacrifice of Batman. I think I was just so numbed by the action I forgot that part of the plot that sets up this final installment.

I wasn't really looking forward to seeing Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, but strangely, she was the character with the best motivations for me. Christian Bale growls his way through the film with his usual gusto, and his declining combat skill is painfully shown in his fight with Bane, who's really nothing special. Tom Hardy's mask was a real problem for his form of eloquent yet brutal mercenary, they just didn't dare go to the Darth Vader route where at least you can understand him. Performances were good overall, though. They certainly believed in what was going on. Since there were so many familiar perfomers from other Nolan films like Inception, I sort of zoned out and forgot which movie I was watching when the Zimmer score was at its height. I also still didn't like Maryanne Cotillard in this one either. She's an award-winning actress but these vehicles just don't work for me to see her real skill.

In the end, was I entertained? Yes. Was it a good film? Yes. Could it have been better? Yes. It did seem like there was even more film to see that will show up on the streaming or Blu-Ray editions.

Apollo 13
Apollo 13(1995)

Ron Howard perfectly captures the mood of the time, and even echoes the concerns of today in 'what makes news.' With excellent performances by Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon, and ably assisted by Gary Sinise and a strong Mission Control ensemble, Apollo 13 is remarkable in the way it takes you from the earth, and brings you back home again.

It's a great chapter in the conquest of space, and gives you a deep admiration for the people that worked on these Moon missions, and what a unifying factor they were for a country divided. It's also one of Howard's best efforts in creating tension. You know they're going to get back all right, but the obstacles keep coming, and you really feel the relief when they're safe. An excellent job.

Interesting to note all the actual weightless footage used, courtesy of the training aircraft, and the meticulous detail put into the film. Strange to think how advanced the technology was considered for the time, and how far we've come since then.

Recommended.

Anonymous
Anonymous(2011)

"This is a work of fiction" says the credits; and its more true than any of the facts presented to convince us that its somehow proof of the plays authorship. It's really a think piece that really has too many holes to think about. Told from the Oxfordian point of view on the topic of who was Shakespeare, the film rolls out slickly enough. It has high production values, and a good cast. However, it's not a scholarly, or even accurate approach, which might have served it better. It shows what you can do with facts; and how you can manipulate them to support any theory as well as the next. However, dates, times, and accepted truths are ignored here in favor of a ficitonal story that never quite seems possible.

It also has a narrative with lines that are written only for the purpose of casting doubt on authorship, and these stand out as glaring the deeper into the film you go. It also presents a later-in-life Queen Elizabeth as a befuddled old lecher, which, while bold, has slender evidence to support it. The acting is all right: There's a lot of scenery chewing by the advisors of the Queen, and the muddled political plot founds itself on the modern idea of communication: That information is instant, and that a single peformance of Richard III could somehow support Essex's rebellion. There's also the problem put forth that the Earl of Oxford wrote a bunch of plays all at once with political motivations, and then dribbled them out through Ben Jonson and Shakespeare. While somewhat plausible, this ignores the fact that you can't write political satire into a play when those events that surround what's being satirized haven't even occurred yet! To do that would require a crystal ball. But then, publishing dates are always in question surrounding the plays, so I suppose you can just fit the date to match the facts.

One case in point: The movie purports that the Earl wrote Richard III with an idea that if he had it produced to support a rebellion, it would act like a Twitter-based Internet rebellion right at the precise moment they needed it to. However, it's already established that he wrote it before there was any thought of getting rid of the queen and her hated advisor Robert Cecil. Crystal ball gazing again. The play, it's true, does advocate regicide, and that's what Emmerich is saying. He chooses to forget that the play was about how the Tudors gained power, so it's really pro-Tudor, not anti-Tudor. However, you can fit the facts any way you like. The film was ultimately a huge disappointment, and didn't convince me of anything except that Shakespeare was still brilliant, whoever he was.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Didn't think it was possible to re-create the same formula and yet keep my interest, but this Spiderman was actually as good as the last. With an appealing cast, and a slightly altered focus for the story, the film delivers on the idea of Spider-Man and his origins. The film also looks good, and has some good action sequences, but the strength is really the cast.

Andrew Garfield is a quirky and interesting Peter Parker, and has some nice scenes with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. This duo works well together on screen, and I like that she's more helpful and not just a victim like Kirsten Dunst was. Although Rhys Ifans as Dr. Connors is a bit over the top as Peter's nemesis, he pulls off a decent performance. Peters adoptive Aunt and Uncle have some good moments, and the who 'saving the voice mail from his Uncle' is particularly poignant to our family that had a similar loss. These little details, and some solid direction and logical action sequences make the film work.

Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson has a unique style, and in this latest offering, he hits it right. This comedy of young love and the trials of adolescence even has something to to say about how far we've come since the 1960's in terms of our social standards of acceptance. You could also argue that we haven't really come all that far, and Anderson's clever characterizations hit the truth of their existence throughout the film. It's refreshing to watch a story like this, because it actually does seem plausible, albeit played for dark comedy most of the time.

The kids are both disturbed, and play out their style of disturbed extremely well. Anderson is the master of using deadpan, and this really gives young actors a break from having to portray complex emotions that they simply can't at their age. Take away the deadpan humor, and these people could actually have existed. The bullied Scout from a foster home; the girl entering teenhood without much parental support. The dead-ender adults of the island are certainly realistic enough that it rings true, even through the lens of Anderson. The actors all do well, and they all have nice moments. It's even got a reasonably hopeful ending that things might get better, if only just a little.

It's an acquired taste for this type of film, but the charm factor of Moonrise Kingdom elevates it above the wholly cynical films of Anderson's brilliant career.

Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages(2012)

Rock of Ages is a film that tries very hard to be likeable. The creators did this by casting a lot of familiar faces and putting them into situations that are set-piece by now as far as movie musicals go. The romance between Julianne Hough and Drew Boley never quite gels, though. The peripheral characters steal the show, what show there is. For those of us that are counting, they also put some songs in there that don't belong in 1987, but that's okay, there's plenty of music to listen to, and the musical dance numbers are pretty decent. The show is probbly much more effective live on stage.

Luckily, the cast is appealing, and even Tom Cruise manages to almost make you believe in his crazy rocker side. I say almost. His scenes are so labored, they drag the pace of the film down to 33 RPM, instead of 45 where it out to have been. There's also some character that just don't get full treatment, and they're just there to provide some mild conflict. it also feels way longer than 2 hours. Luckily, there's a bit of humor from Baldwin and Brand (who might have played the Tom Cruise role even more effectively, except that he already did that in his own film) to keep things moving along. Julianne Hough is of course nice to look at, but she doesn't really get into any serious difficulty. There's a lot of subplots, and some funny takes on the emergence of bands and styles, but none of it really does more than set up the next scene.

You might even get a few laughs from the era before the Internet, but they are few and far between. If you're not an audiophile or a musical lover, this retro Glee film isn't all that memorable.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Although thoroughly ridiculous in places, Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter was creative, and different from the usual slasher fare. In fact, since I never see those types of films, it already succeeded in luring me in. (Actually there was nothing else playing that we could see) It has its own style, and has a pretty good story and plot. The combination of fact and fiction strengthens what otherwise might be a completely silly premise. It's pretty skilful in its juggling of reality and fantasy, and its well paced, for the most part.

The actors in this certainly gave life to their characters, and made it seem genuine. The historical sequences with no hint of vampires look pretty good, and although Lincolns' personal life is skated over in favor of very fangworthy vampires, you at least know what's at stake here. There are a few characters that are pretty much window dressing, including a female vampire played by the former supermodel Erin Wasson. Lincoln's enemies are played by regular heavy Rufus Sewell, and also by Marton Csokas. There's even a sidekick who -- strangely -- doesn't get killed. The script haas vast gaps in logic, but that's not important here. The cast believes it, and it's ALMOST credible that they might. More humor might have helped.

The action sequences are inventive, I will give them that, but they dont' really look all that good. They're just fast, so you can't see the bad editing and continuity problems that also plague the film in places. It's bloody, if you like blood, and it's fantasy action if you like defying the laws of gravity in your films. There's some interesting historical footnotes for the history fans, but ultimately, you'll leave the theater saying 'what did I just watch?'

Prometheus
Prometheus(2012)

I really wanted to like this film more than I did. It has all the trappings of a great sci-fi epic, but in the end, it falls victim to the same cheap conventions of the slasher/horror genre. On the positive side, the movie is slickly produced, with terrific visuals, effects, and overall production values typical of a Ridley Scott production team. The pacing is pretty good, and the setup of the whole 'Chariots of the Gods' idea was a good one. Yeah it's science fiction, but they were really stretching reality with the characters and their reactions. No company is going t spend a trillion dollars sending out a scientific expedition with people that can't work together, or even like each other. I don't care if the scenario is unreal, the character need to feel real for audience members to feel any kind of empathy for them as they encounter things and are gruesomely killed in whatever ways the production and writing team can imagine.

Like many of the critics, to me the film left more questions than answers. perhaps that's what they want, but this isn't a TV show like LOST where you can answer some of those questions in a few more episodes. (Writer Damon Lindelof's influence no doubt caused this issue for me) It's simply frustrating at a basic level, and when you violate your own pseudo-science fact within the film, it makes even less sense when you reverse engineer the story they just showed you.

Performances. Nice cast, terrible characters. They make stupid choices, basically don't like or trust each other, so the whole trillion-dollar enterprise is doomed from the start. The fact that they continuously must press the 'certain death' button in their actions is also just plain silly. Hell, the animal characters from Madagascar could have made a better crew. Noomi Rapace does her best to be a level-headed scientist with some kind of belief system. Charlize Theron's character was a bit over the top, although she made the only sensible decision when confronted with one of the crew that's contaminated -- torch him. The rest of the cast tries their best, but they are on a death ride, and we in the audience know it, and oddly, I didn't care. Michael Fassbender gets praise for his 'HAL/Android with an agenda' impression, but he was so predictable it reduced his otherwise fine performance to mere puppetry.

Instead of elevating the Alien franchise, this prequel just fell flat for me. It had lofty ambitions, like human beings, we often fail to live up to them.

Men in Black III
½

We're going back to the start. What made the original Men In Black great has been somewhat recaptured in this cleverly scripted sequel. Once again, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones have great, off beat comic chemistry as they battle extra-terrestrial aliens, with the added fun of seeing a younger, more personable version of K as presented by Josh Brolin. The plot this time is simpler and more streamlined, with a time travel spin that somehow remains interesting: Probably its because we care about the central characters. The movie also has a pretty rapid pace, and I enjoyed the sequences of 1969 where even the aliens look like alien films of the 60's.

The performances by all concerned are as if we never left this alternate universe where aliens walk freely amongst regular humans. Will Smith is his usual self, and the alien baddie is appropriately over-the-top. There's also some excellent whimsical help for J & K as they carry out their investigation provided by an alien named Griffin who can see in multiple time dimensions at once.

Naturally things will turn out all right in the end, but there are some nice touches at the end that actually lend some gravitas to the otherwise comic, campy tone of MIB:3. You can skip the in-between film, and tie the old original with this one almost seamlessly. Entertaining and worth seeing, although once again the 3-D effects are not really necessary.

Snow White and the Huntsman
½

Snow White wants to more than the sum of its parts, but it just never quite gets there. It's beautiful to look at, and there are some good moments in this fantasy adventure, but the story and plot are thin, and under-exploited. There's just a lot of things that weren't carried through. Things are left unexplained, especially characters, we're just forced to make up our own reasons as we go along. It also meanders a bit, like a tour through the magical world we're dropped in, but some of it really doesn't advance the plot. Nothing wrong with the cast, they do their jobs, and I even liked Kristen Stewart as Snow White, but the whole thing could have been better thought out. Hemsworth is the grumpy drunken Hunstman who finds some purpose by helping Snow White, and he does fine as the muscle of the film. Charlize Theron is all right as the evil queen, but she falls victim to the same old villain problem: Motivation needs to be explained better when you put them in a semi-realistic (i.e. non animated) world where things are good and evil, but also shades of gray. There's just little time for developing the dwarves very well, although they come off well enough. The action sequences are pretty decent, and there's good effects throughout. Atwood's costumes are really nice, and the look and feel is high class, but it just needed more depth to break it away from the Grimm fable. The magic is introduced gradually until the full idea of it is realized in the end, and that was a good approach, I just wish they'd done more with it. All in All, this Snow White is entertaining, but like a chocolate, forgotten once consumed.

Dark Shadows
Dark Shadows(2012)

Tim Burton has given us many fascinating and artistic visions in his films over the years, but Dark Shadows isn't one of them. A confused jumble of dark comic attempts at humor, even Johnny Depp can't save this film from the $1.99 rack at the supermarket. Veering from campy to comic to just plain strange, the story is thin, and the acting is uneven with some actors apparently thinking they are in some kind of serious vampire film, and others are just doing this for a paycheck. A truly terrible Eva Green (what the hell happened to this actress?) is the quasi-love/hate interest for Johnny Depp's Barnabas Collins. She vamps her way around the screen, but there's not enough to back up her character's longing. She's just unsympathetic, as are the excess characters in this film portrayed by the other actors. Most just look confused at what they're doing there. There just no way to re-create the camp of the original series, because that generation and ara are long gone from this type of thing. Instead, Burton tries to re-invent it by holding up a mirror to itself. Alas, like poor Barnabas, lost in half-realized jokes, this movie casts no reflection at all.

The Hunger Games
½

Honing fairly close to the popular book series, the movie is good, mostly because of Jennifer Lawrence, who is wholly believable as Katniss Everdeen, however, that's where the casting strength really ended. To me, the movie lacked character development in many of the supporting cast, and although some of them will be more important in later films to come, it's common in book-to-film translations. The Director, Gary Ross, is known for infusing characters with life, so it was a little disappointing. While there are some big names in this film, they have very little to do. Woody Harrelson is a bit out of place here, although I've seen him do serious stuff before. However, he just wasn't unlikeable enough, and the transition from unhelpful to somewhat helpful was too quick. That's the strength of books like this, you can take several chapters to develop character like Haymitch. No such opportunity here. The other Tributes are cutouts, and they step through the other deaths quickly, with the sole exception of Rue. That sequence is well done. The romance (is she or isn't she) section has just enough to make you care what happens.

The film is not really as gory as the books depict, either, obviously to maintain the PG-13 rating and make more money; but its pretty vicious at times. The shaky cam technique didn't really bother me, but it was used to make the deaths difficult to follow, which somewhat cheapens the horrific aspect of the gladiatorial combat its echoes. Once again,it's probably the need to keep the bloodshed down, since the audience is going to range into the young category. It was also a rather shallow treatment of the 'world' of Panem, but the writer was making a statement about a society, not a whole Star Wars universe, so I give them a pass on that. It seems like there was more of the film that just didn't make it to the screen owing to length; but its a fair treatment of a book series that caused even the youngest kids I saw in the theater to be quiet. The message was getting through, I guess: Just how close are we to the world depicted in the series and movie? Surprisingly close. Worth seeing, and it sets up the next two films well.

Titanic
Titanic(1997)
½

It's time to revisit Titanic. So much has been written and debated about this film that I won't attempt to dwell on its obvious weak points, but I will try to sum up my impressions looking back.

First of all, I was knowledgeable about the disaster before this film came out, and had enjoyed other films and documentaries about the sinking. It's a great human drama, and the movie captured that part of it very well, including all the what if's? Taken purely as an adventure/drama, Titanic does well. It's supporting characters are interesting, and the layers of information portrayed on the screen can be peeled back like the layers of an onion. This is what Cameron does: He makes every environment or place or time really come alive. The enormous undertaking of building a replica, and then destroying it, is a staggering achievement. The sinking sequences, especially Jack and Rose's near fatal rush through the rapidly filling corridors, are still breathtaking (literally).

As a romance, it's also well done. Even if Billy Zane now looks a little over the top to me now, it's dramatic license to create an obvious villain. In fact, we need to find someone to blame for all that happens. Some people live well in this film, and some die well, some survive badly, and some die badly. It shows human beings at their best and worst.

When I first saw the film, I was not as impressed b Leonardo's performance, but after viewings in the years since, I've come to appreciate the work he did. He's very consistent, and the little scenes with Kate Winslet are the ones that win me over now, not the dinner party or things like it. Although his character's death came as no surprise, they were able to maintain that tension up until that moment.

The only criticism I have of the film now is the bookend story, with Rose played by Gloria Stewart. I didn't like Bill Paxton even then, although I like him in other things. The whole add-on to the film was unnecessary, in my view. It was done so modern audience had a reference point to draw them in.

The Internet critics that like to bash this film are really just disliking DiCaprio, or Cameron because he's a perfectionist and arrogant, or the romance because, well, they don't like romantic stories in general. Maybe those are valid personal opinions. They have celeb envy or something. I can understand that, but to dismiss a work like this film on the basis of that is narrow. That's like dismissing the entire cast and crew that created a very living and breathing world for 3 hours.

As far as history goes, it's pretty faithful to actual events, and Cameron made some good suppositions where they had no actual eyewitness accounts.

It's one for the classic column.

Mirror Mirror
½

From the first trailer we saw, it just looked like it was trying too hard, and that's exactly what we got: A film that tried too hard to be fun, based on a very old premise. It's not really the casts' fault; they are all nice charismatic screen gems doing some good work amidst the mundane script and scenario. It's a little like Alice in Wonderland was for me. Nothing really wonderful happens, and nothing really new is shown.

It looks expensive, and it manages to hold up the idea of being a film for the young and young at heart. In this fine line between adult and child it does okay, I wasn't bored out of my mind. On the other hand, it just has no sense of urgency, and the Queen's plotting is pretty much a whim of the moment rather than a calculated plan. Some of the cast appear to be acting in a different picture. There's even a Bollywood dance at the end, to make sure everyone knows that it will all be fine now. Certainly Julia Roberts wanted a film her kids can see, but she's too Julia Roberts for the role, or she simply wasn't insane enough. The bright spot actually was that some of the best scenes were actually with the dwarves. They provide a barely acceptable balance of short humor, mixed with some very nice heartfelt scenes with Snow White. In some ways, their sequences were the best thin in it. This one is a wait for streaming or disc in my book.

A Christmas Carol
½

Amongst the many 'classic' adaptations of the famous story, the Alistair Sim is probably the most recognizable of the Christmas Carols over the years. It goes beyond the Dickens story with some new subplots that are often thought to be part of the story. it shows more of Scrooge as a younger man, and his rise in the business.

Some of the characters, such as Scrooge's fiancee are renamed, but the story remains the same, and the Ghost of Christmas Past is returned to the more traditional creature of Dickens story. Also restored are some of the spookier elements of the book, such as the scenes following Scrooge's 'death' that he views, and the sale of his property by the den of thieves.

Sim is effective in his transformation from vicious and miserly to reformed and happy, and its probably on this performance alone that the film has had lasting fame. His delivery of the classic lines before during and after his visits is spot-on, and in my view stage-like but memorable. The other characters also come off well, including the Fezziwigs. Watch for a very young Patrick Macnee (later of The Avengers fame) in the Young Marley flashback.

John Carter
John Carter(2012)

I really don't know what people want to see in a sci-fi adventure these days, because I really enjoyed this film. It had all the elements: Finally an intelligent script with good characters; a deep mythology that could be exploited for the interesting points of the martian cultures; and some good actors that were comfortable with the story.

Let's dispense with the flaws first. The movie could have been a little shorter, and the bookend story probably threw many people of, and might have been handled in a different way. The main plot of the Therns was slow to develop, the whole 'what's at stake' is important; and today's audiences have short attention spans, so that probably hurts the film. The third flaw is the array of characters and cultures, which was a huge job to handle. It was never a problem for Star Wars, but this isn't on that scale, and they did trim the story down quite a bit to accommodate non-book fans.

On the plus side, the actors were well cast. Taylor Kisch looks good in 1880's attire or as a warrior of Mars. He has the props to carry the story, too, and has the range that many actors of his genre don't have. He's well matched against Lynn Collins, who's also interesting to watch. The supporting cast, including the voice casting for the Tharks is all spot on; and the ensemble works well together. Even the villains have the Martian code of honor that is so prevalent in the books. There's also plenty of action: Some of it is set-piece; and some of it is more unusual, and the strange Martian technology on display remains strange throughout the film. You never quite know what sort of thing is going to get pulled out next. For pulp novels, Burroughs gave Mars a pretty rich culture and mythology, and Stanton and crew picked some of the best things to focus on, and this makes it seem less like Star Wars and every other sci-fi genre we've seen. It's also good fun, with some carefully balanced humor injected throughout, yet it never seems forced.

The look and feel of the film is visually impressive, and I didn't see it in 3-D, so I can't say whether that helped the film at all. The creature work was interesting, and Woola was an audience favorite right away; I also liked the Tharks and the way their warrior culture was portrayed. Keeping the Therns mysterious was a good ploy, and undoubtedly they wanted to do more with them in future installments. While violent, it was all violence with a purpose rather than simply destruction like the spate of 'destroy the Earth' films we've had lately; it invites you into a new sort of genre of sci-fi epics and subtly reminds us that Mars is now a dying world; and Jasoom, our own, might be next. Is it perfect? No. Is it worth seeing? Yes.

The Sound of Music

When I watch this film again after the long space of time from my first viewing as a child, I think about how timeless this tale remains. Featuring an incredible cast near the end of the first movie musical era, the story of the Sound of Music may change the amazing story of the Von Trapp's a lot, but its still utterly charming. It has memorable songs, great music, great scenery, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. What more could you want?

The opening shot of maria singing on the mountainside was quite innovative at the time, and you can see the grass blown about by the helicopter camera they used for it, but the film was big and epic as far as musicals go, with a real story under it. Such a good story with such a positive set of messages, it's almost beyond people's reach these days. It makes me smile when I watch it, and watch the care and work that went into making it from the art direction, to the music, to the casting and scenes.It succeeds on many levels where less fanciful films fail today. It creates its own gravitas. It just is.

I'm sure there are people that don't like this film, but I will never understand that. We were all children once, and music and life was simpler. The shadows of the real world (portrayed by the rise of the Nazi movement in the film) have overtaken all of us, I guess. It's nice to look back, and restore some faith. Our family also has a personal connection to the real-life Von Trapps, so it's also part of my bias towards the film, but is that a bad thing? Enjoy this classic, it's one for the ages.

Big Miracle
Big Miracle(2012)
½

With an appealing cast, and an appealing 'save the whales' plot; Big Miracle is a rare film coming out of the movie mill these days: It does exactly what its supposed to. The story a a trio of whales trapped under the ice near Barrow Alaska was pretty big news back in the late 80's; and the docu-drama style works well here. The cast is appealing, and everyone has a chance to shine. It plays the whole story really straight, with a minimum of cheese or drama for the sake of drama, and instead gives us a nice view of people coming together to help the whales.

It has the usual assortment of eco-drama overtones, back in the day when oil exploration was king. However, it was a different time, and they get the tone of the late 80's right in that people had more respect for their government in the waning days of the Cold War. everyone's motives are clearly explained as well, in a straightforward fashion that any youngster could understand, and they film-makers gave the younger audience a child lens to see the story through in the young boy that befriends Jon Krasinski's news reporter. The movie doesn't dwell on relationships or character development much, which ultimately weakens the impact of watching the characters go through the rescue, but it might have also been overdone, which its not. The whole rescue takes place over a very short span of time, so diving into past romances would be a waste of screen time.

There are some genuinely moving moments. That's because it's played straight, and people can indeed get all worked up over whales trapped in the ice. They also don't sugar coat the ending, since it's not a perfect outcome (I'd rather not reveal more)but it's a good lesson for kids and adults alike on doing the right thing. The movie also is leavened with a good dose of humor, as well as reality, and you'd think it might be dull, but it's surprisingly tense and engaging. Overall, an enjoyable, well-meaning film that's well worth your time.

Casablanca
Casablanca(1942)

What more can be said? This film is one of the best romances ever filmed. Great cast, great direction, script, and wonderful mood-setting all combine to bring you a story often imitated, but never duplicated. The juxtaposition of wartime Morocco, the love story of Rick and Ilsa, and the interesting (and conflicted) characters is perfectly executed. This is one to own and say aloud as you watch it: 'They don't make 'em like this any more.'

It's hard to top the charisma and chemistry of this great cast. They work so seamlessly together, and the discipline that they showed in the absolute evenness of the characters across their story arcs and emotional arcs makes it seem very real. Although its a black and white film, you can imagine the scenes and color because there's so much life in the way Curtiz and his team directed and edited this classic. It has the perfect balance of drama, humor, romance and the dark overtone of the war like few films have been able to do in the last 70 years. I can watch it over and over and never get tired of it.

It's also significant in that it perfectly captures the era in which it was made, including the ambivalent feelings of Rick; the patriotic feelings of Victor; and the gray overtones of the residents of the town. Brilliance.

Just one favorite scene of many: The duel of the national anthems.

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1
½

I'll say that I wasn't a fan of the literature to start with. It was dull and toothless as far as vampires were concerned. It's basically a pulp romance with a dose of the supernatural. The problem is that it's not explored to its full extent. There are some very interesting questions about how this romance should or could work at all. However, Meyer isn't a deep writer. Look to Anne Rice for that.

As a film, it's not going to win any awards for anything except that its popular literature turned into a film. The best actor in it remains Billy Burke, who seems as incredulous as most of the rest of us about the film he's in, but from a character perspective. If the film-makers hadn't been trying to make this so serious and faithful to the idea of the books, this might have made a really funny set of romantic comedies. Alas, the fans will not allow.

The films have all been about the same: Choppy pacing, cringe-worthy dialogue; cheap-looking effects; and a lazy 'you've read it, so fill in the motivation' style of presenting the scenes that guts any sense of depth of feeling. I don't blame the actors. Kristen Stewart just doesn't do it for me, even if I was eighteen again. She's special, or so we're told, but the wait for the reasons she's special is so late in coming that I ceased to care long ago. Pattinson, lautner and the vamp clan do their best, but there's no real 'culture of vampires' to explore here. You'd think that a hundred-year-old vampire would share more of that culture with his beloved.

As a moralistic fable, it also fails. Young women today don't need these kinds of role models. As escapist fantasy it's all right, but the underlying messages are poorly handled. Think of other fantasy films where the messages are clear, and compare to these films, including Part I. There's little redeeming value in the chaste, Victorian style of sexuality here, nor can they simply go the pure lust route. They're stuck in the boring pages of "I love you, but you're a vampire/werewolf/human" triangle without any exploration of that. The books at least have dialogue around these conundrums. The films lack even that. However, if your girlfriend/spouse likes these books/films, keep your opinions to yourself, and you'll achieve more than the characters do.

Memphis Belle

Despite taking many liberties with the reality of the actual plane and crew, Memphis Belle is a relatively good film with some good acting and tense situations. It was also a career starter for a number of young actors. The overall tone of the film is an optimistic view of the sheer heroism of simply flying in one of these bombers. They aren't really portraying one bomber crew, but it's more a composite of the many very young men that risked and gave their lives on these missions.

You can call the characters a bit stereotypical, because they are composites. However it takes nothing away from the story, which suggests that some of the veteran crews were pretty good at the teamwork necessary to survive; or at least be able to alter the odds a little more in their favor. Evidence of training and discipline did contribute to some crews surviving tough missions. read about actor Jimmy Stewart's career, and you can see that he was considered a 'lucky' commander.

The film, Memphis Belle captures some good drama on and off the ground. It hints at, but doesn't fully exploit the stress that these young men were under. Only the navigator is really a nervous wreck for most of the mission, but everyone has moments of terror in the film. The B-17 as an aircraft also gets good exposure here, even though they had only a handful of flying examples to CGI the vast squadrons that characterized the later war missions. The terrible randomness and helplessness on the missions comes off well. You can't help but wince at some of the scenes like the bomber chopped in half, and the desperate 'counting of the chutes' by the Belle's crew.

As a purely historical film, it has many flaws that others will no doubt pick at, but they're not fatal. It's never dull, and it's got an everyman character for most to sympathize with, whatever your background or temperment.

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol
½

Mision:Impossible has morphed far from what it once was. The new producers managed to put back some of the zing that the earliest installments had, with some nods to the older TV series with gadgets and play-acting to carry out a scam being added back into the mix. The team also works well here with Cruise-Renner-Patton-Pegg making for an interesting dynamic.

It has the usual betrayals, delays, and split-second timing that keeps you guessing until the last second. For once, I couldn't get ahead of the entire plot in the first half-hour. The twists were just enough to keep the pace full of action, but not enough that you had to completely suspend your disbelief of it all. Once again, Tom is off and running, hanging, and being beaten to a pulp on a regular basis, and we enjoy that. It's a time honored formula, and it's well directed here. I also enjoyed the slightly different locations shown.

There's a lot of like here, and so I gave it 70% based on the overall style captured and the strength of the team. Simon Pegg wins the performance award here for quirky tech geek, but it works given the circumstances.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
½

While the fourth installment restores some of the fun that the first film had, the action and story are again disjointed and the film look like it had a lot left on the cutting room floor. Johnny Depp is always fun to watch, although he loses a lot of screen time to other big stars like Penelope Cruz as the charming pirate girl/woman; Ian McShane as a much sanitized Blackbeard; and Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa. If you liked the first three films, you'll just get another nice helping of the same kind of silly slapstick action and rather thin plot to find the Fountain of Youth. There's also some fashion models that look a little like mermaids, but they do little to advance the plot, and there's a sort of Will-like character who's badly underdeveloped, but supposed to serve some kind of good guy role? Not too sure. So you can get the idea from that. Until the final scene, there's absolutely nothing surprising about the film. It's big, it's loud, it has some laughs and people dress like pirates. There's even a hint of romance between Penelope Cruz's character and Johnny Depp. However, while an enjoyable film, I left wanting more from it. There was something just lacking, some kind of spark or cleverness that just wasn't there. I thought it was an improvement over the prior two installments, but not by a great deal. See it to get your fix of Depp or pirates or flashing blades, and then you can forget about it. My 50% rating comes from that I liked some things about it and was disappointed in other things.

War Horse
War Horse(2011)

War Horse is an old-fashioned film that showcases all the things you like about Spielberg: His storytelling; his depth of character; his artistic sense and use of camera work. All of that is well-displayed here. The script is sometimes encumbered by some emotional contrivance, but you just have to tell yourself to relax and let it all unfold before you. It's also a multi-level film with tight, intimate scenes and larger scale battle sequences that might seem disjointed, but I felt it really blended seamlessly one sequence to the next. That's because Spielberg, unlike many directors, has a purpose for every frame of film, and he gets a lot of mileage out of the horses and his other actors.

While I don't think it's the best thing he's ever made, it's a beautiful film, wonderfully made, and made with good intentions. It's challenge was to take a stage play and turn it into a sweeping film. On most levels it succeeds, and you are carried along from scenario to scenario. Is it a little unlikely that so many things would happen to the one horse? Sure. However, you don't mind, because it's so well done.

The acting is spot-on, and even the minor characters fit the overall tone of the film. My favorite scenes are really the scenes with the girl and her grandfather. That's when the creeping sense of dread that is the war going on off camera really starts to hit you. This conditioning for disaster is something we've all gotten from films, and that's why War Horse is effective, too. The possibility that this story could end quite differently creeps in about mid-way. The ensemble of young and veteran actors are perfectly cast, and once you're in the thick of it, the sweetness is almost necessary to get you through. The work with the horses in their acting roles was also first rate.

We've long forgotten that the era depicted was quite different from our world today, and a horse was once central to people's lives. War was still foolishly considered somewhat a romantic adventure, until the horror of weapons of mass destruction changed that forever. Our collective consciousness is what Spielberg understands and uses to great effect here. For that reason alone, I enjoyed War Horse.

The Muppets
The Muppets(2011)
½

It's amazing to think about, but this kind of entertainment used to be on prime time television; and people watched it in droves. It's good to see that zany comedy, Henson-style, hasn't completely left our collective memories. It blends the same formulas that worked before: Slapstick, silly humor, beloved characters, and a clever use of the 'getting the band back together' plot. Although the creators are gone or not involved, the characters seem to have picked up right where they left off in their Muppet-reality lives. There's some real heart to this film, which definitely brought smiles and tears of remembrance.

The script, songs, and music were all worthy of the Muppets of old, and even if the jokes are sometimes flat, you smile anyway. The faux-real world of the Muppets is actually pretty complex, and the mythology could have been visited more, but I'm sure the pacing would have been less than brisk if they'd done it that way. An enjoyable film for young or old, it had a little more tongue-in-cheek feel than the original, but it's still innocent fun. It's difficult to do anything that's not dark, violent, or laden with vices these days, and that accomplishment alone deserves applause. The fact that the movie was good, with just the right amount of schmaltz, but also containing time-honored values in its message makes it that much better. Recommended.

Schindler's List

I remember the first time I saw the trailer for this film, which was very brief. It gave me chills because the images in b & w had huge impact drawn from my learned experience of the Holocaust.

We saw the film near Christmas, and I also remember the theater was full, and when the film was over, there was utter silence for 3 minutes, and no one moved. Finally people got up and left, and only then did the dialogue begin again. It had been that powerful that it silenced 600 people.

It's a sad, bleak film, and its long, but its story is perfectly told, which is the story of many people that suffered the same fate elsewhere in camps. Spielberg used every skill he possesses to get it right, and do it well, and I think he succeeded at every level. Liam Neeson was a great choice for Oskar Schindler, and likewise Ben Kingsley, but the supporting cast was tremendous. I read that the man that plays the machinist was actually a child at the camps, and actually went through that whole scene of his near-execution in life, and re-lived it for the movie. (where the gun misfires multiple times) Incredible, and only one example of many fine moments, and the incredible depth of creation that was achieved.

All the technical work; costuming, sound, cinematography, editing is near perfection. You are there.

It's an important film for posterity. The subject matter is difficult, but I applaud every aspect of the film and its makers to tell the story, and find the inspiration in it.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
½

In what was an incredibly difficult assignment, the Yates team managed to pull off a satisfying ending to the film series. Is it perfect? No, there are inexplicable gaps in our knowledge that only the readers of the books will be able to interpret. Lots of character motivations are left unexplained,(exception: the Snape backstory is nicely done) probably because they would have made the film longer. I still find that lazy film-making, but be that as it may, I enjoyed the whole ride.

The classic attention to environmental detail of Rowling's world is something that US film-makers really need to learn. It's so organic to the viewer now after 8 films that we hardly realize that none of it is real.

In seeing the film on Blu-Ray, the deleted scenes fill in a few of the gaps, and there is one scene left out of the theatrical release that really ought to have been included.

Nothing wrong with the technical aspects of the film, it's looks great, and the actors are now very comfortable with the story and roles. They do very well. They also managed to give a nod to most of the supporting cast here and there during the battle sequences. Everyone has good moments, and most of the sequences are there that the book fans were looking for such as Molly/Bellatrix.

All in all, one of the most successful translations of book series to film in history. We're not likely to see this kind of work again for a while. Enjoy the world. Potter lives.

Moneyball
Moneyball(2011)
½

A film about the game of baseball that presents all kinds of heroic action in a very non-traditional way. Brad Pitt is backed up by a strong cast, smart writing, and excellent editing and construction, and it really draws you into the game. Whether or not you like baseball or any sport, this is an intelligent, witty, and often poignant take on the game and the machinery that runs it. Yet, baseball as a game still can surprise and delight, despite the corporate interference, or lack thereof. It's an interesting set-piece about organizations in baseball, and why some teams just seem to win despite surface appearance. There are some really great scenes here, and you can't help but root for the A's and the band of misfit toys they put together. It's an amazing story, and very compelling. Like a good book, that keep you page-turning, you can't take your eyes from the screen even if you know the outcome. Highly recommended.

Tristan & Isolde

I'm not sure what the critics were expecting from this film, and it's obvious by their reviews that it didn't meet any expectations. Derived from the Arthurian legend somewhat, it's sort of an early version of Romeo and Juliet, set against the backdrop of post-Roman Britain. I believe that people expected some big, sweeping Arthurian epic, which it's not.It also had a strike against it because I think the basic story has been done so many times. It's a much smaller scale story of a brutal period of British history.

Taken as just that, it's a pretty decent film, just not epic. There are some good performances. Rufus Sewell, in particular goes against his usual character, and made his character the sympathetic loser in the love triangle.

Yes, the dialogue was a bit stilted, but the film moves right along nevertheless. The action sequences are good, especially the ambush of the raiders on their way back to their ships. The attack on the keep is also well done, even if its a very small scale action.

I think it has more positives than negatives, and I remember there was very little PR on this film prior to its release, which might account for the poor box office as well. Overall, it had some nice moments, and captured the era well.

The Adjustment Bureau
½

I wish that the hats I owned worked the way they do in this film! All in all, I enjoyed this movie, and although it wasn't really fully sci-fi, thriller, or romantic drama, it had a nice blend of those elements, and a very appealing cast. It also had some clever ideas in it, and although it's explained, you still are left with an aura of mystery from the scenarios our leads get into. It made us talk about the film, and some of the philosophical ideas that it showcased. It really made you think about what you believe, but in a rather obtuse way. The stars worked well together on screen, and they are good actors with skill. Without them, the movie probably wouldn't have worked as well, but it does work. Now go buy a hat, and if you feel like you've met someone before...maybe you have!

United 93
United 93(2006)

When I saw this film, it was in a nearly empty theater. That in itself was somewhat significant, in that the choice of most people was that they had already made up their minds about the film. For good reasons, perhaps, and to avoid pain almost certainly. People are too distracted and busy in our everyday lives, and this sort of ignorance and "not being awake" is what some people take advantage of, everyday. Sometimes with chilling results:

I'm glad I went when I did. There were no distractions.

Now as to the film itself. Rarely has the power of film to tell a story been so well executed. It's a simple story, but contains many layers to it. The technical construction of the film is flawless.

I felt emotionally drained and saddened, numbed by the experience of watching about as accurate a depiction of the events as could be managed. I found myself grasping at straws of who to blame, as we all do in these kinds of circumstances -- but in the end I came up almost completely empty. Like life itself, the events of 9-11 unfolded at a pace too quick for the reaction times of human organizations to react in a technological age.

There's heroism in every frame of the film, in large ways and small, but it's all hopelessly futile. I could only watch, helpless as the rest.

It's also a movie full of paradoxes. The hijackers go through the motions of life even when they are committed to killing the passengers around them. They were numbed by their dedication before they executed their plan, but some shreds of humanity remained: For a brief moment they allow an attendant to help one of the passengers they stabbed, possibly an automatic function to calm the passengers, and buy time, but it's hard to say.

If anyone thinks they were portrayed as too human, (I heard a lot of "not brutal enough") we can't forget they are made up of the same matter as the rest of us. I found the fact they could drink water, buckle their seat belts and allow first aid and then carry out their plan as almost more evil and calculating: For these simple acts had only one purpose, to further their mission. The people were weapons just as the plane was.

The reactions of the passengers were wholly realistic as they came to grips with the realization that unless they did something, that their survival was not possible.

I was curiously elated that the director and filmmakers chose the portrayal of human survival as the main cause for the passengers acting as they did. I was relieved at the lack of foolish patriotic jingoism that usually accompanies these types of documentaries. The only nod to nations was the reaction of one European passenger arguing to reason with the hijackers.

Leave patriotism for the firefighters and police in those films. The people on the plane had no time to think about what history would say about them. They used their time in the only way they knew how.

We can't know for certain what happened, but as I left the theater I felt the cold truth creep in. That's why I couldn't place blame in one place.

It offers no answers. It simply is what it is, and that troubles me too.

It causes me concern for our younger people. They have inherited this flight's legacy of truth. I hope they will know whether to make the right choice when they are confronted with their own decisions that can affect many people.



Five stars of five for achievement on the film.

Two stars for the world we've created.

I wish, for my childs' sake, we could simply rewind the film and start over. But we can't. We can only watch as it races by us, and try to make the right choices.

Cowboys & Aliens

This summer popcorn flick aspires to be greater than it is, but it remains entertaining because of a few clever twists and a good cast. It draws upon the lesser known western genre for its stable of human characters, and similarly draws upon the Alien(s) films for its baddies. The whole premise is of course, preposterous, but the strength of the film lies in good character development and some clever action. Favreau's team makes it pretty bloody and violent overall, but hey, it's the wild west: Life was cheap!

Although I think it would have made a better western than a crossover genre flick, it held my interest. While the situations are a little predictable, the spirit of the 'western gunman' and their ability is nicely captured even in the sequences where they take on the aliens. Good performances by nearly the whole cast also makes you sort of care what happens to them. None of the reasons for the aliens to be there are fully explored, because the film is entirely from the human perspective. As a video game, it will probably do well, as a film, it will probably be forgotten.

One thing is certain: we haven't seen the last of this 'genre mixing' type of film.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
½

The complete predictability of the story is offset by strong performances by its cast, and by some very great acting behind the mask of Caesar by Andy Serkis. He is fast becoming the Lon Chaney of our age, where his real face is never seen, yet he garners praise for his acting! Good performances from the supporting cast of humans, although the ape cgi actors really deserve the praise here like Serkis.

Although I thought everything was well handled, I hate it when they put these films into a contemporary time, it automatically set it up to be horribly dated looking in a decade. Also someone needs to tell the script-writers that its over 200 miles to the first redwoods north of the Golden Gate bridge. The entire northern California audience around me was commenting on this...

These are minor nit-picks, though, for it manages to propel the idea of dignity for all living things as part of its through line. The action sequences at the end had to be there, but I thought they could have handled them better. You just have to suspend your disbelief a little, and go with it. Nevertheless, I was entertained, and its a nice cautionary tale.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Surprisingly coherent, this treatment of the origins of Captain America I rank almost as high as the Batman and Spiderman films. It really kicks the other superhero films to the curb with the skill and care shown in this effort. This is a difficult character to capture, but there's plenty to like here: Good action; intelligent script; well-thought out blending of mythology and history. Chris Evans is a good choice for playing the First Avenger, he can carry a scene and make it believable, even as a CGI-90 pound weakling. Kate Beckinsale look-alike Hayley Atwell does a good job as his Brit sidekick/intelligence officer/love interest. Tommy Lee Jones does his usual growly turn as the head of the special division that Steve Rogers is assigned to, but it's all appropriate here. The key thing to the success of this film is the script: It takes its time in bringing us the story of how Captain America came to be, and makes good use of the technology of the time to make the super-soldier program seem almost probable. The script and directing team also got the feeling of the WWII era correct, and the anachronisms of the technology are nicely explained. Hydra villain Red Skull is effectively done by Hugo Weaving, and makes a good enough villain to lend weight to the 'real' danger that is simmering below the surface of the World War II-era setting. Good action, and even Rogers' little combat team gets moments to shine as they battle the bad guys across Europe. I'm not a fan of the bookend-type film, where we start in present day and go back in time and then bring it forward again, but this wrapper story actually works.

It has some genuinely charming moments, and you really care about what's going on because it actually has a story, and characters that are likeable. Yes, they're maybe not deep enough in some ways, but its a comic book story. It's meant to be fun and Captain America is feel good without being faux patriotic. The action sequences are justifiable, they aren't just fights for the sake of fights. Similarly it has plenty of good effects, but they are not driving the film, they are enhancing it. If you stayed to the very end of the credits, then you have seen what they plan to do with the character, and after seeing it, I actually look forward to more from Cap and his Avenger buddies. Nicely done, and a feel good film that many ages can enjoy, comic fan or not.

The Tree of Life
½

No one under 25 will care much about the message of this film, unless they like to pretend they know life already. If you like films that are artistic, beautifully shot, and yet tedious and pretentiously showing you how to feel, you'll like Tree Of Life. It's not so much a film as a treatise on belief, and like all Terence Malick films, he shows you the inside of his thought process, and then cleverly allows you some leeway to interpret what you just saw. The ride is long on this one, and the mosaic takes most of the film time to come together in your own head. For those of us of a slightly older generation, you will flash back to your own childhood quite often.

What Malick does well is craft a nearly silent film with pictures. Motivations mean nothing really, so don't look for them. There's a lot of truth in the acting going on between the kids and the parents, and he expertly captures the era of his own childhood and growing up. Told mostly from the perspective of the older, troubled child, it has some strong sequences and performances, and mirrors what we remember of our own past life -- it's in fits, starts and odd memories that stick with us like one family dinner, or a fire at a friends house. I could have done without the science documentary part way through. In fact, you could have shown that 12 minutes with a narration by Morgan Freeman and used it at the local planetarium. Aside from that, he's good with emotions and manipulating your own as you watch. Sean Penn has nothing to do except reminisce for us, and in one sequence all I could hear in my head was the hymnn..."In the sweet Bye and Bye..." and the scene was humorous to me for that reason. These are the weaker moments.

Nothing about it is mean or malicious, it just is life for one small tiny group of people. For those of you that love Malick art of trees and windows and curtains and surfaces, you'll love this. For the rest of us, 'I get it' now can we get on with life?

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The memorable second installment of the LOTR Trilogy was Jackson's most difficult assignment of the three, and he carried it off in style. The recent re-release of the films on the big screen afforded another look at the Extended Editions of these films, and ten years later, they still have power and huge entertainment value. While some would argue that Two Towers has a flawed flow to it, cutting constantly back and forth between the various characters, there's no denying that if you have the patience for the film, it all comes together so well, you hardly notice. The pacing is brisk, the development of new characters is robust, and the action is tense and spectacular.

My opinion is that a 'linking film' like this is the most difficult to make because of the new characters and narrative action. The film manages to do some things really well that are critical to the story: Gollum is masterfully pulled off, and he's a critical part of these films. The animation still looks good ten years later because of the advanced techniques they used at the time. The subplot of Saruman is successfully explained and carried out, and the Battle for Helm's Deep is excellent. The Ents were another difficult assignment, and they come off well also. They provide a whimsical story for the two hobbits to work within while their brethren are off doing darker, more dangerous work.

The strength of the ensemble cast cannot be undervalued here either. The supporting characters add just the right amount of depth and gravitas to the proceedings, rather than distracting from the major Fellowship characters. In the Extended, we even get to see Boromir again in a brief sequence explaining more about Faramir, his brother. Purists might quibble about what Jackson included and what he left out, but I'm as much of a purist as the next, and I thought he kept what he needed, and modified what he didn't have.

Yes, the Extended adds in some talky areas, but by this time, you've invested in these characters, and any additional footage is just candy to be eaten without question. Again, musical score, Art Direction, Cinematography, Effects, and costumes are all first rate. It's not a stand alone movie, but I appreciate it more now than I did then.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

It's nothing less than a herculean task to turn one of the greatest adventure stories ever written into a movie, and the man who did it, Peter Jackson, has obvious love for the material, as well as talent behind the camera. It's his masterwork, and he's going to have a hard time to top the massive achievement of the three films.

I am only reviewing this film now because I had the opportunity to see it on the big screen as a special event with the full Extended Edition being shown. I have to say, it's just as impressive now as it was then, even though I can practically mouth the lines word for word. The audience at the special event was clearly into it as well. Respectful of others, and yet sharing the joy and laughter of Part 1 of this magnificent story.

How well I remember the heady days ten years ago when this film came out, and how I can remember the chills I got when Gandalf rode into the picture and they first entered the Shire. I was already thinking how great the first 7.5 minutes were at introducing the story to non-readers of the book when they topped that rise and entered Hobbiton. I knew I was looking at a masterpiece.

Everything about these films is well done. The dialogue lifted carefully from the books, the clever use of dialogue in different places; the tension of the film from the time they leave the Shire. It's the whole package. The actors, one of the strongest ensembles ever assembled on screen, give real life to the sometimes bland characters of the book, and that was perfect teaming between actors, director and writers. The look and feel is lifted right from the pages and our imaginations. Every minute of the film is worthwhile, and the Jackson humor is deftly applied throughout, as well as his penchant for tension and (restrained) horror. He puts an excellent flow into this film, scene to scene, moment to moment. He even filmed it directionally, as if you were following the map of the journey in the book. Brilliant.

The special effects still look good, and there are so many good moments, it's difficult to pick any particular one that stands out. However, two come to mind: Boromir picks up the Ring out of the snow and comments on it. It's not a Boromir line fro the book, but it was brilliantly applied here. The other moment belongs to Aragorn, when he rallies the stricken Fellowship after Gandalf's heroic fall. It's the small details like these, added to the great work everywhere else, that make the whole film work. I take nothing away from the work elsewhere by picking out these two tiny bits. The fight at the end is one of the best sword actions I've ever seen.The aforementioned Balrog vs. Gandalf showdown is tense and exciting, as is the pursuit of the hobbits earlier.

Some didn't like Liv Tyler -- frankly because she's Liv Tyler, or for some other purist reason. I'm a Tyler fan because she's just ethereal enough to carry off the character. For the romantic set, not much beats her scene with Aragorn at Rivendell speaking love lines to each other. It could ahve been laughable, but Elvish makes it beautiful.

The Costuming, Art Direction, Musical Score, Effects are all top flight, and each contributes to the whole. How this was coordinated so well was an achievement in itself. The creativity, yet the loving hands that built things (real sets!) show in every frame.

Seeing it again on the big screen was a treat. I enjoyed every minute of four hours, and there was also a nice introduction by Peter Jackson as well. The re-mastered print was used (same as in Blu-Ray) and it looks even better and more detailed than I remember. I spotted things this time that I missed even though I've seen this film more times than I can remember.

We're not likely to see this scope of film again. There just aren't stories big enough to contain that much depth. The Hobbit might approach it, but that first viewing will live on in memory. Just plain great entertainment.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

When the gods we worship in cinema today are long gone, and long after the credits and the stirring score by John Williams have faded from the screen, this screen gem will still shine in many people's collective memories. I took a long time to get around to writing about Raiders of the Lost Ark because it's difficult to write a critical essay of a film that has all the right ingredients. It was a successful film, with a highly creative team born into some watershed moments in film history. It made Harrison Ford more of a star than he was from Star Wars, and for a few years, the old action/adventure serial was reborn. A remarkable achievement when you think about how much the world had changed in just a few decades from the 1930's.

It's a film made with craft, not just computers. Film students in future generations will appreciate that this generation of films in the 80's were the last gasp of traditionally shot and edited films. The stunts and action sequences are just as impressive now as when the film came out. Oh, yes, the high-tech generation will argue that there are better effects, and maybe that's true, but no machine can replace the human factor in the film. It's in every frame. Like a great book, it blended action/adventure, mysticism, whimsy and humor, good versus evil and other timeless themes in one very neat package. Yet, it's also simple and uncluttered by the the egotistical needs of today's filmmakers. It doesn't need to do anything more than tell a good story. This is really George Lucas' creative gem, and one of his more original, core values. It stands as his time capsule, too, long after the generation that inspired it is gone. Was the world really like that? Well, no, of course not, it's a fantasy, but the remarkable part of human creativity is that it can aspire to make things seem 'perfect'.

Like some other screen gems, this film doesn't lose its lustre with time, it simply looks better and rarer. It has inspired me many times and helped me define what my core values are. If you've never seen it, by all means see it. What will it do for you?

Kung Fu Panda 2

All of us share a need to release our inner child, and Kung Fu Panda 2 is one of those films that can do it, and we aren't really ashamed that it had that effect. It also is distinctive in that its basically as good as the first animated film, but manages to expand and deepen the universe -- slightly.

Despite the homage to kung fu, there's nothing really too deep here, but it's harmless fun, with beautiful visuals and art design and excellent animation. The action is high energy, and the story is good enough to keep you interested, even if you can almost plot what's going to happen frame by frame in your mind. Dreamworks even played with emotional depth here. Yes, not too much, but there are flickers of what you get from 'that other animation company.'

The voice talent is used a little better in this film, and some of the supporting cast of kung fu masters get to kick it into high gear in support of Jack Black. My quibbles with this film were that they almost achieved shaky cam effect on some of the action sequences, there's a rather predictable plot, and some of the humor falls flat. It also suffers from the forgetability of the movie because of it's rather shallow emotional investment. However, it's a successful sequel and I don't think we've seen the last of these films.

Million Dollar Baby
½

Clint Eastwood has had a long career in front of and behind the camera, and his best work is really behind the camera, and this film is one of his great works. The rags to riches story has been done, but not in such a human or emotionally vulnerable way.

The characters are perfectly defined, and steer clear of most cliches. This is a great ensemble film, with some great people at the top of their form. It's so seamless in the portrayal of the trio (Swank/Eastwood/Freeman) that you almost forget what you're watching, and who. You don't have to be a boxing fan to admire the work here. Hilary Swank is completely believable as the girl looking for a way out of her white trash existence. The film never strays from its mission, and it sucks you in and and wrings you out like a sweaty towel. There's an interesting collection of peripheral characters to center our three main ones.

The camera work perfectly mirrors the emotional highs and lows, and Eastwood did an outstanding job here with some grim scenes of the low sort of life they all lead. Who else could make a movie where a conversation about socks actually makes it to the final cut, yet is relevant and actually amusing?

There are a lot of negative comments about this film on RT, but I never really understood why. (maybe it has to do with the ending?) Maybe it hit too close to the truth for some, who themselves are trapped as a 'have not'. It asks some tough questions, but where do we look for answers or sympathy? Or even justification for what we do? I think understanding comes with time and life experience, and this film looks even better viewed after a few years.

Avatar
Avatar(2009)
½

Got out to see the special edition with the additional footage. With one exception, I thought the additional footage blended nicely with the film overall. None of the bits added changed the film significantly.

1. Additional footage includes a visit to the abandoned school

2. Hunting scene is visually interesting, but minimal impact on the story of Jake and the tribe

3. Tsu'tey's death is expanded, and explained.

4. There's a little bit of information about 'unobtanium' being a superconductor, so that explains a little of its value, and also how the mountains stay up.

Overall, the movie's basically the same. However, it didn't seem longer, or that there was any momentum lost by adding the six minutes.

Still a well crafted, exciting, and visually stunning film. For those that didn't like the story line chosen for the film, this won't change their minds either: they have some personal bias that keeps them from enjoying it as a big adventure. Comparisons to other films with a (marginally) similar plot are specious arguments, but people like to complain. To each their own.

It was nice to see it again on the big screen.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

One of the most smartly written buddy films of all time, dressed up in period clothing, and with action and heart all rolled into one film. Hill's direction of the big names in this film brought out their best and the best of the script. The collaboration was tight, and the obvious trust of the actors for one another and the production team shows in every frame. It's big entertainment, and purely for escapism purposes.

The story is loosely based on the infamous team of Robert LeRoy Parker (Butch Cassidy) and his Hole In The Wall gang of bank and train robbers. It focuses primarily on Cassidy and Harry "Sundance Kid" Longabaugh, and their later careers and subsequent pursuit by the law. It captures the idea that such bandits were somewhat the celebrities of the times, like Jesse James, but times and technology were finally catching up with these kinds of outlaws.

The movie itself features great scenic work, memorable cinematography, and fascinating use of overlapping vignettes to move the story along without dialogue. The Academy awards for Cinematography and Screenplay are well deserved. The skill of film-making and slick storytelling shows in every frame of this film. On top of that, it was a commercial and critical success.

The duo of Newman and Redford make for a highly entertaining film, with banter, and strangely realistic comraderie, despite the sometimes lopsided humor. The film holds up well despite the 'period' parts of the musical score that instantly transport you into the 1970's, not the 19th century, but the soundtrack also transports you instantly into the heartfelt story. It features memorable characters, exciting chases, gun fights and clever montages of action to carry you along effortlessly. You really don't notice the time speeding by. It's never dull at just around 2 hours. If you haven't seen this film, you'll be missing some great quotes, at the very least.

"Bolivia!"

"I couldn't do that. Could you do that? Why can they do it? Who [i]are[/i] those guys?"

"Morons. I've got morons on my team. Nobody is going to rob us going down the mountain. We have got no money going down the mountain. When we have got the money, on the way back, then you can sweat."

"How do you know? This might be the garden spot of the whole country. People may travel hundreds of miles just to get to this spot where we're standing now. This might be the Atlantic City, New Jersey of all Bolivia for all you know."

etc.

Recommended!!

A Night to Remember

This is the one that Titanic critics like to extol as the 'real' movie about Titanic. It is, in many ways, better than its latter-day cousin. It focuses on the human drama, and it has its share of heroes, villains, cowards, and just plain folk. Some of the moments were clearly echoed in Cameron's film, such as the father saying goodbye to his wife and daughters as they are lowered away.

Kenneth More gives a good performance from the perspective of the senior surviving officer, Lightoller, and gives the movie a point of focus, although the story is really told in the many little stories of the other characters we meet. Most of the actors are unknowns, so you aren't distracted by that. (David McCallum is one of the few people might even recognize) It also makes an interesting contrast between the reactions of the crew of the Californian and the Carpathia. One crew acted, and the other didn't. History is the judge, and this film will remain a good view of the tragedy. There are apologists for the captain of the Californian, and maybe he was pilloried, but the fact remains, he didn't act when another sailor was in trouble, and that's an unwritten law of the sea.

This Rand production was low budget, but doesn't look it. It was well directed, and captures the tension and disbelief very well. It's also fun (as a Titanicophile) to pick out the various historic characters, that Lord wrote into his book based on Colonel Gracie's memoirs. Some live well, some die well, some live badly and some die badly, it's a great cross-section. The immigrant characters are also interesting, and they get some focus here, too. Once you realize that these were, for the most part, real people you see surviving or dying, you can really feel for them. I found myself tearing up in many places.

The musical score is a bit over-the-top, but that was the style. You can say it's over-romantic, but to balance that you get very realistic reactions of confusion, fear, disbelief, seem quite close to what it might have been. The social classes of the time did behave in ridiculous ways, and we are slowly losing those pretensions somewhat, so it looks unrealistic to our eyes. In short, I don't think it quite replaces the grandeur of Cameron's epic, but it's a very successful telling of the story, even if time has given us more knowledge about the accident itself.

I was lucky enough to see this on a big screen in a local classic house as a double bill with the rather melodramatic Titanic (Clifton Webb) and this blows that one away...it looks great.

Recommended.

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

Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a family friendly adventure that will please parents and non-teens, but older teens and college students will probably be bored by the pacing and story, unless they are fantasy fans. Since the first two films, the movies have relied on the younger stars to carry the story, much like the Potter trio. Here, we get Edmund and Lucy for continuity from films 1 &2; with a new addition of Eustace, a thoroughly detestable kid who is dragged to Narnia unwillingly.

Deliberately paced, with occasional flurries of action, the story is a linear quest style, sailing between various locations seeking the lost lords and their seven swords. The Director and writing team have instilled a bit more tension into the story by playing off the 'temptation' episodes of the book, and tying them into the kids' old enemy Jadis (The Ice Queen). Personally, I think this approach helped the movie, but here's where an understanding of who Jadis was (from Magicians Nephew) would really have developed her character and motives. She's reduced to a sort of a tacked on villain in Dawn Treader and her motives are 'merely evil'. Indeed King Caspian's original quest is radically changed when Edmund, Lucy and Eustace (literally)drop in on them. In my opinion, the film doesn't spend enough time with the characters trying to figure out their next move, but rather they follow clues left behind or given to them by people they meet. This means the whole quest is a little bit unexplained and remains simplistic (stop the evil). This would account for the 'meandering' criticism that so many have attached to the film.

Performances are good from the principles, and there's a few newcomers that do well, including Will Poulter as Eustace. The animals are less in evidence here, although there's a nice turn by Simon Pegg as the voice of Reepicheep the valiant mouse warrior.

I didn't find it all hard to follow, or boring, but they could have done more with each sub-adventure on their way to the final showdown. Perhaps the lower budget on this film hurt them in terms of doing more with each episode. In some places the effects are good, and in others, they look a bit sub-par. They simply don't spend enough time on each part of the adventure. The ship is quite nice to look at and the scenic visuals are good.

C.S. Lewis meant the stories as a gentle introduction to Christian principals, and we get that here. Lewis' vision is mostly undiluted, and that's to the film-makers credit. Temptation is everywhere, but only one character really falls victim to that temptation, and this lowers the stakes somewhat. The others, being decent kids after their prior adventures, manage to resist. It flattens what might have been a tense film with higher stakes. However, Lewis' story isn't in the hands of Andrew Adamson this time, who created the original 'look and feel' of Narnia for these films. In the hands of Adamson, this film might have been better, because he cared about the material. Apted does a decent job of blending a big cast with the story, but it's no Lord of the Rings any more.

Overall, a pleasing, but not particularly rousing adaptation.

Breakheart Pass

Trains, murders, and a tough guy - Charles Bronson. What, another 'Taking of Pelham 1-2-3?' Nope, wrong. Breakheart Pass is a western that actually features action on a train, not just a train full of bad guys pulling into Dead End Gulch. The movie adaptation was based upon the novel by famous yarnster Alistair MacLean, who also wrote the screenplay.

An unusual murder mystery, Breakheart Pass has Charles Bronson, and old-school badass, who steps out of his usual tough guy role, and plays a dangerous murderer. Wait, I guess that's not so different from his usual roles! However, in this film, he shows some of that craggy charisma he did in films like the Magnificent Seven. In fact, it's probably the most lines he ever had in a movie.

Set in the 1870's, aboard an army supply train in the Old West, the film is noteworthy because it's quite different from the usual gunslingers and range wars fare. Bronson plays his character with the usual grim-faced, gravel-voiced skill, and he's surprisingly effective here. The film also has a load of familiar old film stars supporting him in various roles, and they all look right at home in this western. The mystery of what's going on is slowly unraveled as the train chuffs slowly through the snowbound wilderness. There's some very cool photography, and the fact that it was shot aboard an authentic steam train in some beautiful locations elevates it from the humdrum. Although the pacing is a little slow, it does move along, sort of at a 1870 steam train pace. Unlike static western town scenarios, this murder mystery action western has some great scenery and action on and nearly off the train. The characters are straight out of the book with a few modifications, and they're all distinct and interesting. Charles Durning, Richard Crenna and Ben Jonson put on their Western personas here, and have fun with it.

The result is an entertaining yarn about the old west, and there's even a pretty damsel (a still youthful Jill Ireland - Bronson's wife). It's a straightforward script, with good guys, bad guys, and those caught in between. It's up to you to figure out who really is who they say they are.

Black Swan
Black Swan(2010)
½

A tense Hitchcock-style psycho-thriller that profiles the extreme world of a ballet dancer and the pressure on her for perfection. Some dancers I've known in that business can handle it. Apparently Natalie Portman's character cannot! As with most Aronofsky dramas, we literally get inside the head of the protagonist here, who's a deeply troubled young woman. There's a lot of use of mirrors and cameras tricks that are deftly applied to bring you into and out of Nina's mind, and if you're not paying attention, you'll miss where reality ends and fantasy begins. But that's the beauty of the film.

Portman is absolutely flawless. Finally she got a role that she could not only show of her acting/characterization skills, but we really see the pain and suffering of Nina throughout. Pressured by the demands of the Director, her mother, and competitive pressure from presumed heirs to her ballerina role, she fractures like glass. This character has a real arc to it from beginning to end, and we're never quite sure what or who we're looking at. It has elements of other films of this type, where it's largely in the head. It's well executed here. Portman's supporting cast are all good, but this is a Portman vehicle all the way. She'll undoubtedly wins some awards for her portrayal, and it ought to finally elevate her career. She also looks pretty much like a ballerina, since she's tiny enough, and she dances through the whole thing. She obviously did a lot of work to prepare for the role. Mila Kunis is fine as her foil, and Barbara Hershey is chilling as her mother, although it find it both hard to look at Hershey's face with all the work she's had. At the same time, the surgery and the idea of perfection is ironically captured by the actress as both character and actress. The messaging here for mother and daughter is quite true. Women can't escape from the body imagery and objectification. It's simply extreme, and it ought to be a message to both the male and female population, but I don't think it's ever sunk in.

Being in the performing arts myself, I've met some less extreme examples. People sometimes just go effing nuts in their pursuit of things for themselves or their children. But I digress.

Aronofsky's direction gets the most mileage out of every frame, and he uses some very cool camera angles, and color variance to achieve the effect he wants with every sequence. The dialogue is well written, and although this isn't really a movie about ballet, you get a sense that - extreme as it is - it could happen. Yes, some of it is over the top, and you feel sometimes that you're never far from hysteria yourself. He does play fast and loose with Swan Lake, but it's all appropriate in this world he created. A lot of the buzz around this film undoubtedly stems from the lesbian scene (with an interesting twist), and they are perhaps a bit gratuitous in terms of length, however, it's still appropriate. It's a movie to see with friends, not relatives!

Overall, it's melodramatic, but extremely well-crafted, and Portman takes you through every grueling minute. You'll feel like your toes would from standing on point for two hours, and it's pretty entertaining. It will stick with you.

Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor(2001)
½

The long trailer for this film was the best part of the movie. It really sold me, and had that been the way the movie was done, it might have been successful. Then after they hooked me, they gutted me. What we got was Michael Bay's clumsy attempt to do what James Cameron did with Titanic: Layer a romance over a big historical event.

The troubles began with that, and the script, and continued through the action and finished with the completely unnecessary final act of the Dolittle Raid. It's a Cliff Notes version of history, and a lazy film-makers excuse for a film.

Where to start: The movie is called Pearl Harbor, but we get precious little idea why that was a name that inspired anger, frustration for several generations of people. Instead, we start with a couple of kids who dream of flying. Fair enough. We follow them inexorably towards their army air corps posting to Pearl harbor, and along the way, romance blossoms with some nurses. Not unlikely, but not handled very well. It was like watching people from the late 1990's or early 2000's suddenly tossed onto a movie set with different clothing. It didn't seem real or correct. They went through the motions, and the banal dialogue didn't help either. I like Ben Affleck, and I like Kate Beckinsale, but together, it just didn't work. Josh Hartnett was actually doing a better job at living in the 1930's-40s than his bigger stars, but he was given nothing to do. The whole romantic triangle is a clichéd manipulation, and none of these people act quite the way a 1940's trio would act. The script layered on modern courtship styles 9and some dialogue) to a totally different period. It's also over-talky. Pictures are what movies are made of. Pretty romantic pictures is how movies tell stories.

Then there's the event itself, oh, right this is about Pearl Harbor! When we finally get to the attack, there's very little perspective shown about the whys and hows. There's a rehash of some of the same things from Tora! Tora! Tora! just so people won't be totally lost, but it's not enough. Bay does big action sequences well, and Pearl Harbor's best 40 minutes is the air attack. The air actions are well done, but it's all an afterthought to tug at our heartstrings for the poor sailors and soldiers (and nurses). We try to care, but we don't. The only character I really liked was the one historical one that was thrown into Ben and Kate's narrative: Cuba Gooding's cook. He's our only conduit to the real tragedy of the action. The rest is Bay's manipulation.

In the end, we get down to the romantic triangle again, and more forced emotion when the two friends-enemies-friends are forced into a suicide mission. You can guess the outcome. But at that point, the war is truly just a sideshow and an excuse for another action sequence. At least Josh Hartnet gets a death scene, and he does a creditable job of that, despite the horrible hackneyed dialogue. The Japanese are once again reduced to mere footnotes in the film, and this is too bad, also. They come off more as 1940's stereotypes in a modern film than any John Wayne guts 'n glory film ever did.

The good: Watch the action sequences
The bad: The rest

If you're interested in the history of this action, watch Tora! Tora! Tora!. In fact, if you watch both films, you'll really appreciate the older film. If you want to see a better wartime romance, there's plenty of those. Heck even HBO's The Pacific gave us Lena and John Basilone, and it was really creditably done, even if it was only for 45 minutes. Or just watch From Here to Eternity for a classic take. There are also some fine books on Pearl Harbor (Gordon Prange's is still one of the best).

The Great Race
½

One of the last of the slapstick comedy epics, the Great Race is almost like a historical document from a different era in movies. Created by Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini, who produced many films together, its one of their most colorful and zany films. The comedy pays homage to the silent film era in many places, and the characters are actually quite well fleshed out, despite their stereotypes (Good Guy Hero; Bumbling Bad Guy, etc.)

The cast assembled for this movie is tremendous, (EVERYBODY is in this thing) and whether you're young or old, you'll recognize most of them. While the pacing is slow by today's standards, it still has some incredibly funny sequences, and includes the largest pie fight ever filmed. The auto race also takes us through some nice scenery, and is in fact, based on an actual round-the-world auto race that followed much the same route.

This was the way big films were made back in the day, with a powerhouse team. The characters are all distinct and memorable, even the cameos by old comedians like Larry Storch (F-Troop) and Ross Martin (Wild Wild West).

The subtle undertones of 'women's liberation' that accompany the film are well represented by Natalie Wood. Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate is a memorable 'villain'. Peter Falk, and comics of many eras are included.

The costumes are dazzling and first rate, and the automobiles like the Leslie Phaeton and Fate's Hannibal 8 were specially made for the film and exist even today in museums or with private owners. They're amazing pieces of machinery.

Great score by Henry Mancini.

Worth seeing.

The Phantom of the Opera

Unlike the stage show, I just didn't feel anything for these characters...at all. Emmy Rossum was pretty to look at, and Gerard Butler has talent to spare, but it was a pedestrian attempt at yet another screen adaptation of the story.

Maybe the fault was in the choices they made on what to focus on. Obviously they were going for swoonworthiness (is that a word?) but fell short. Not that Gerard Butler isn't swoonworthy, but that's not the point. They also really didn't do a good job of playing up the mystery of the Phantom. The book is there, use more of it to add something that the musical can't do!!! It's a fantasy, I know, but it just didn't work for me on any level. Even Butler's 'disfigurement' looked like a bad skin condition. Now if he'd been truly missing part of his face, well, that would be a much bigger contrast to how desperate he felt about Christine. I understand this was directed with fans in mind, but movies allow for a much broader spectacle. Just once I'd like to see some real investigation going on, not just a walk through of the stage version on screen. Christine needed more reason to like this guy. They could have used Butler's voice more, in a seductive way, not just the songs. She obviously believed he was her father speaking to her and being her guardian. It just felt like the courtship was way too swift.

The final scene where Raoul (thankless role, that is) is a prisoner was painful to watch. Patrick Wilson did a good job, to his credit, and if they ever gave this character more to do, it might have been the winning performance. The movie was nice to look at, but had no heart. There were also some continuity problems here and there that were jarring, as if it was badly edited.

Plenty of money went into this, and they did a few scenes well, like the graveyard and the rooftop, but it's not enough. I wanted to see something I couldn't imagine on stage. They played it safe.

Tora! Tora! Tora!
½

With the memories of the event fading into the sunset, I thought I'd review a docu-drama that you may not have seen recently: Tora! Tora! Tora! It's a straightforward film about the fateful day in 1941 when the US Pacific Fleet was caught at anchor by a brilliantly planned and executed attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy. The film is still the best at recounting the events leading up to the attack, and is unfettered by the need to create interest around fictional characters: Literally every person shown during the film was alive and breathing at the time. While the film depicts the events mostly from the US point-of-view, it's surprisingly free of slant or bias against the Japanese people. It was a joint film production by both an American and Japanese film company, and this accounts for its fairly neutral outlook. The film depicts facts, and although it's not paced up to modern standards, they get the mood and intensity right when the attack is finally shown. Some will be bored, but someone interested in a time capsule of history, or seeing what a real docu-drama can do will be interested.

Unlike its modern brethren, the film makes use of real locations and there's no green screen fakery here. Only the ships are models and sets, and they are quite sophisticated for the time. The aircraft were not strictly historical for the Japanese, but then there simply weren't any available. However, the aerial combat scenes are well done, too, as is the depiction the attack itself. The special effects aren't 2010 standard, but the fires and explosions are quite good for the time. The destruction of Hickam field was particularly well done.

There's a lot of older film stars in this, and they play their roles well: Some are energetic; some are surprised, and apathetic as appropriate to the time. The 360-degree view of the historic day is about as good as you're going to get now. The film has some really great moments, and surprisingly has some real emotion in it for such a straightforward style. It indulges in some melodramatic moments that belong to history, because Hollywood can't write lines better than people actually spoke them: "It would have been merciful had it killed me," says Admiral Kimmel as a spent bullet strikes his uniform during the attack. The tiny scene where a Japanese-American messenger boy delivers a telegram after the attack has begun speak volumes about what was to come over the next four years.

So, while it's long, and some would call it tedious in its depiction, it's pretty accurate overall. It's amazing how many things went wrong for the US Navy that one day. Like Titanic's story, there are many what ifs?

La Bamba
La Bamba(1987)
½

Some music biopics are about huge stars and their lives and loves. La Bamba is about Richie Valens, a rising star on the rock 'n roll scene who might have made an even bigger impact had it not been for his untimely death. As a film, writer/director Luis Valdez did a terrific job of telling the very simple story of Richie, his family, and his dreams. It's not a big splashy film like an Elvis biopic or the excellent Walk The Line. It's a film that's big in heart if not in glitz. Produced by some respected veterans of Hollywood, the movie is clean, and uncluttered by too many cliche situations. Valdez also wrote the script, and it's clear he cared about his subject.


I had the opportunity to meet and interview the Valenzuela family in the town where they still live near my own home in California. They were extremely proud of the film, and rightly so, it's a nice story, even if Valens life had some rough edges. His family was far from perfect, especially his half-brother (who later really cleaned up his act). It's slightly sanitized, but you can clearly see where the boy came from. Those are actually the best parts of the film.

Lou Diamond Phillips really put a lot into this role, and I think it's the best thing he ever did, then or since. He has a certain charisma that was right for the very young Valens. His family dynamic is also well-explored, and the supporting cast fits this story like a glove. They really draw you into the story, and although Diamond-Phillips is undoubtedly handsomer than his real-life counterpart, he acted a certain awkwardness that the family said to me was quite similar to the real Valens. There's little material to draw upon for this biopic other than remembrances of his family, his music, his friends, and a few clips to draw upon. Valens wasn't quite the big name that some of the others were in the fateful plane crash, and he lived in a time before mass media. His American Bandstand appearance survives, and is recreated in the film.

The film also does a good job at portraying the bias against a Hispanic singer, but how his musical peers, at least, were supportive. The music in the film is Valens own, rearranged some, and played with verve by Los Lobos. Additional arranging was done by Miles Goodman and Carlos Santana, and they did a fine job on this. The music is simple but captivating. It's easy to see why Valens songs are still danceable when others of his era have faded. He had a lot of real heart, and so does the movie.

It's not a long film, so if you like music, biopics or just a movie that's not over-the-top, you might like La Bamba.

The Tempest
The Tempest(2010)
½

There's a lamentable tendency to feel the need to dress up and stylize everything these days to attract an audience, and Julie Taymor's adaptation of William Shakespeare's is in that camp of 'outside the box'. While there's nothing wrong with trying to reach a broader audience with the play, the execution of such concepts often obscures the multiple layers of the story by employing the tricks of a seemingly clever concept. In short, the wrong things get emphasized, and the dynamics of the story are completely changed far from the Bard's original purpose.

That's exactly what happened here: The beautiful story, with its prose delivered expertly, is smothered in concept, as well as sound an music signifying nothing... to the point where it will confuse first timers to Shakespeare more than recruit them to enjoy it. It pushes you away emotionally, instead of drawing you in. You ought to be attracted to some and repelled by other characters, but I just wasn't. I believe there's a subtlety to concept version of classics, and this Taymor product looked like she didn't fully embrace her original concept. She could have done much more and maybe that would have worked, or dialed it back to reach a balance, and still be different from a traditional telling.

Helen Mirren is a fine actress, one of the best of her peers, and I have seen versions of the stage where Prospero is turned into a woman(renamed Prospera). Those were almost universally failures.) I thought this would work with someone of talent like Mirren doing the role, instead of the poor versions I've seen. Coupled with the ability to blend fantasy with reality in a film medium. I was hoping for something special. It's just - not. The visuals are interesting, but add nothing to the story, really. What Taymor seemingly forgot is that it's not the visual aspect of the play that's compelling 400 years after it was written, but the language and the characters, and their complex relationships. It's a complex mix, and tinkering with it invites problems. The character of Caliban is one example. Djimon Hounsou is good, but again, we just start to get an idea of good vs. evil/nature vs. nurture. They could have done more with the dynamics of Caliban and Ariel's relationship with a female magician, but they don't. Even the romance just gets going between the lovers when when we get distracted by the horribly out of place Russell Brand. He's just in a different movie, and his mugging here doesn't pass for acting alongside these other greats. The humor seems forced, and not natural, and the scenes with the clowns slow the action to a stop. Again, I know they put him in to attract an audience, but it's a gimmick, not an inspired choice.

Part of what's missing is the time to enjoy and get to know the characters, Kings, clowns, spirits. There's a lot of music and sound to the point where there's no subtlety left for any of the scenes. Since she had her roots in her musical adaptation of Lion King, you'd think she could balance sound and action, but not here.

Also missing is the farewell speech by Prospera. I understand why it was left out considering the concept Taymor chose, but it's a great goodbye, and there must have been a way to work it in. Even where the lines are untouched, there's an emphasis on delivery than on meaning. It's meant to keep our attention, such as the use of Prospera actually doing magic. With the visual aspect comes a lessening the value of the magic she could perform.

Is it a total miss? No, but the story is so good, it doesn't need all the window dressing. Just tell the story.

Band of Brothers (MINI-SERIES)

Band of Brothers is one of the best war series/films of all time, capturing not only the essence of combat in World War II, but the spirit of the whole generation that fought in the war. By focusing on the well-documented exploits of a unit of the 101st Airborne, Band achieves a cohesive and realistic grounds eye view of the war in Europe. From basic training through final victory, you come to know and understand the strengths (and weaknesses) of the men of Easy Company. The concept of the citizen soldier is strong here, and the characters they chose to portray were spot on for representing every part of the US. The comaraderie that you develop with the men of easy Company mirrors the excellent performances by the cast: There's just not a weak moment. The characters become more experienced, and change, and some don't make it to the end, and none go home unscathed. You're glad that Winters is able to fulfill his promise to find a quiet corner of the world, and truly buy the farm in the best sense. Damian Lewis gives a brilliant performance as Winters, and Ron Livingston and the rest contribute strongly from start to finish. The scars and wounds carried by each man of the company are understood, and it really brings home the cost of victory.

The technical parts of this mini-series are A+, with gripping action interspersed with soldier's humor, or just plain grumbling. The beauty and ugliness of the locations of the war are splendidly captured by the cinematographers. Sound, Editing, Lighting, and special effects are all first rate.

It's an inspiring series, and it deserved every accolade it received. In the end, you really understand what it was all for. The veterans biographies presented also speak loudly, and remind us that to the average soldier, going home is reward enough, not medals and praise, and patriotic back-slapping.

Recommended.

Rip It Off
Rip It Off(2003)

The title is appropriate, except you need to remove the "It". Where does one begin with a film like this? I really can't understand how so many talented young actors were suckered into doing this awful heist film. It was amateurish from end-to-end, low-budget, with a horrible script, thin plot, and not even Alyson Hannigan and her comrades could save this film.

The mistakes started with the script and just get worse. There's absolutely no believability to any of it, and the set up of a revenge heist is preposterous. The characters, situations, and sequences are completely unbelievable, although they tried to make it cool with artsy camera work.

Instead it's shot like a bad TV show (many of the actors involved were Buffy regulars) That's still not a reason to watch this. No one gets any good lines and it's completely predictable throughout and beyond the final shootout. Though the film has many nice looking female actresses, it's not even exploitative enough to watch it for the usual nudity. (There's about ten seconds of it) The thing must have been written by committee because it can't stay on one narrative at a time. This will be one film that Alyson Hannigan and others will look back and laugh about. It's simply not worth your time.

Bad script, bad acting, bad plot, bad camera work, and a complete waste of time and talent. You're not missing anything. If you've seen it, I'm sorry for you.

Tangled
Tangled(2010)
½

Vividly animated, cleverly plotted, and filled with humor warmth, and entertainment: That's the way I'd describe this latest animated film from the Disney Animation Studio. Since John Lasseter reorganized the mostly defunct Disney Animation unit a few years ago, they've been turning out much better products, albeit more in the old style of Disney animation. However, Tangled takes advantage of all the Disney princess mythology, while giving the tale of Rapunzel a deconstruction that the production team rebuilt it into something very entertaining.

The voice talents of Mandy Moore are put to good use too, and both she and Zachary Levi have nice chemistry as the couple forced to depend upon one another. Add in an increasingly scary pseudo stepmom, and some great supporting sidekicks and characters, and you have a very enjoyable hour and forty minutes. The musical numbers by Alan Mencken don't quite hit the level of his memorable tunes of yesteryear, but they aren't relying on them to carry the story as they once did.

Instead, a series of clever twists and nicely choreographed comedy carries the plot forward, and the characters are charming through and through. However, they're given a lot of life and depth this time, and they work well within the little kingdom created for them. The ending is also very well handled, because I really wasn't sure how they were going to wrap it all up this time. But they do.

The art direction in this film is beautiful -- no other way to describe it. One of the big scenes where Rapunzel gets a lifelong wish is really pretty. My own children were completely spellbound all the way through. The humor is right on, silly, but not mean-spirited as in some animation today. In a world where kids grow up too fast, and wonder is replaced by sarcasm, this is a film to be applauded. Sometimes it all works, and Tangled does.

Moulin Rouge!
½

Baz Luhrmann always bring a unique perspective to any movie he makes, and Moulin Rouge is no exception. He manages to take the movie musical, deconstruct it, and reassemble the pieces with all the basic parts, plus beautiful visuals, and a talented cast that aren't necessarily known for their flair for the stage. Big musicals were always about fantasy and love affairs, but this one takes a more adult tone, and the result is pretty successful. Luhrmann takes on love from all angles, and we get to go through all the phases of it with the couple presented: Infatuation, courtship, first thrills, commitment, and finally, the complications and consequences of keeping their love secret. It's meant to be fun, but it has some very finely honed emotion mixed into the dialogue and zany setups.

As usual, Luhrmann makes great use of the camera and finds the best possible combination of shots to not only tell the story, but set the mood for each scene, and let emotion play out through music. While I think some of the song choices could have been better for the film, even the campiest of them works within the fabric of the world he creates. In some ways, it reminds me of the much later Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus in the choices confronting the lovers. This story is bare bones, too, we're sort of dropped into it, and try to keep up. Nothing is explained, because it's not a conventional story: It's love and lust on display. Like the song that epitomizes the whole movie "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return." The pacing is good, although it does diverge into some odd side scenes that don't really propel anything forward, although I call these necessary for the 'atmosphere' being set. The dramedy of Satine's 'business relationship' with the Duke is played more for laughs, but Luhrman then swings the emotions meter the other way, and things get serious in a big way. It's a little abrupt they way he does change the tone, but it helps the viewer to feel there's something at stake here. Love is really on trial, and can it survive?

Ewan McGregor is good as the young writer struggling to find a muse. There's an absinthe-tainted crowd, too,(with John Leguizamo in an interesting turn as Toulouse Le Trec), and the ever-entertaining Jim Broadbent. The scenes with the crowd inside the Moulin gives us the impression that maybe Luhrmann's film is really an insider's view of a hazy dream. Nicole Kidman is the object of McGregor's lust/dsire/love, and she's no angel. They have good, but not perfect on screen chemistry, sometimes I felt they were a little 'off'. Or maybe that was what Luhrman intended, after all, she was looking for a way out of her situation, and he was the best and handsomest thing to come along. It's a fine balance, and it kept me guessing at the ending. Luhrmann chooses the tragic end to this story, in classic French style where everybody is morose by the end.

It's a unique film, and still looks good and sounds good ten years later.

Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas)

There aren't very many films about the First World War, and the likelihood of any being made is low now, with no veterans left to tell a story. However, the incident of the unofficial cease fire during December 1914 along one small section of the Western Front is well documented.

French film director/writer Christian Carion put together a sentimental film that tells the simple story quite well. While not as good as classics like "All Quiet on the Western Front"; "Sergeant York"; or Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory", Joyeux Noel still captures a brief footnote in history beautifully.

The terrible conflict of World War One has left only a few blurred images behind in people's minds, except perhaps in France. This film, set at the beginning of the European conflict clearly shows the entr'acte of what was to become a bloody opera of death in the trenches in France. Carion casts his protagonists perfectly. They're human, not superheros. They are terrified, as the French lieutenant clearly shows in the very first scene.

The story has a few surprises in it, and those not familiar with the history of the war will also find the attitudes of the soldiers to one another quite unusual. This conflict was started by treaties and egos amongst the ruling classes in Europe -- very different from the origins of the Second World War. The film shows the divide between the common soldier and their superiors, as the remnants of the old aristocracy drive them to war.

It's also beautifully photographed, and also unusual because the narrative is in three languages. Despite their language difference, the three main characters all have very similar backgrounds. They were the first wave of men sent to the front: The idealistic and optimistic ones in the war to end all wars. That they managed to retain some semblance of brotherhood, even for a short time, is remarkable.

The film is a little overly sweet, and perhaps it doesn't let the viewer understand that this situation is unusual: What came over the next four years of the war is pure horror. However, the movie is technically well done, and the dialogue is good, and seemed heartfelt. The acting by the multi-national cast is excellent. The characters are all sympathetic and interesting, and although the sub-stories about propaganda might seem heavy-handed, it's not much different from today. It gives you some understanding of the period, and how the young people are manipulated into believing in the righteousness of their cause, or the evil of their enemies.

This kind of manipulation Hitler must have understood,(he served in World War I) and used to horrific effect a generation later.

It's not a cheerful film, or a big, sweeping one, but it shows the true meaning of brotherhood and goodwill in a way that many foolish Christmas romantic comedies cannot.

Sergeant York

Once in a while it's good to look back at classic films that reflected the era in which they were made. At the outbreak of World War II, there was the usual rush to produce films that invoked patriotic feeling in young men, so that they would volunteer for the armed forces. Sergeant York is a lightweight version of such a film, but it's significant in that it really examines the meaning of why people take up causes, even if their own conscience is against them. The heroism was genuine, and it still resonates with people today, because the term is overused. Like the US as it entered the Second World War, it's a film that hearkened back to a more innocent type of patriotism. It's both a war film, and biopic. It was successful in both areas as a movie.

Directed in classic style by veteran actioneer Director Howard Hawkes, the movie take a long time to get to "the front". However, when it does, the connection that Hawkes and his star, Gary Cooper, has made in portraying York ensures that you care about this simple, yet honest soul. Cooper won an Academy Award, and although his performance is typical of his understated style, he's quite perfect for the role. On closer examination, he does go through quite an arc of behavior, and the scenes of his backwoods activities are both amusing and touching at the same time. There's a heartfelt innocence in the way York approaches anything - common sense is what it used to be called. Even his reason for his heroic actions are clearly explained: He did it to save lives, not take lives. He was fighting to help his friends, a sentiment that we hear over and over in modern epics like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and other 'modern' war films. Yet this was made in 1941 about the First World War. In that way, it was well ahead of its time, and is remembered when other drum-beating films made during the Second World War are forgotten or dismissed as mere propaganda.

The producers were fortunate to have the real Sergeant York to provide advice and consult on the film. Even he thought he'd been portrayed as 'too heroic', but he liked Cooper's work.

The dialogue is sparse but meaningful, and the narrative picks up speed rapidly after York decides to go to war. The trench warfare of the First World War is shown in some detail, although not in the brutal fashion that it would be done today. However, there's enough to give viewers and idea of how deadly it was, and that only makes York's actions seem even more extraordinary. He was a truly modern hero in a simpler age. We would do well to remember soldiers like Sergeant York, not just because he serves as a heroic portrait, but because he was human as well.

The Young Victoria

An interesting take on the life of Queen Victoria, Emily Blunt continues her string of great acting performances. The romance between Victoria and Prince Albert is perfectly played, and refreshingly honest. It's beautifully shot, and of course all the costumes and locations are amazing, as you might expect.

Whether or not you are knowledgeable about this era, you can appreciate the time they lived in, because it so well captured. Don't expect massive dramatics or sweeping cavalry charges -- there's none, although the one action scene does surprise you if you don't know your history on this pair.

The love story is all the more heartfelt, because it was written shot, and directed feels exactly right, given what we do know about their romance. In their roles as Victoria and Albert, Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend look and blend well. It also has a great cast from stage and screen, and they play out the ensemble work perfectly. You really get to know these characters, even if you don't know your history. Beautiful, subtle musical score by Ilan Eshkeri, and a nice credits song by Sinead O'Connor.

Recommended.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

It took three tries by David Yates and his team, but he finally got some real mileage out of the book material in Harry Potter 7 Part 1. The film was very different in scope and focus, and because of it, it shows its strengths very clearly, as well as some flaws, because its not perfect.

The flaws are that its an adaptation, not a book, so its clear that you have to be familiar with the story from reading it to really understand this film and what's going on to any depth. That's been the weakness of all the Yates films. Luckily, he had 2.5 hours to use, and took his time with this one. At least we get a good explanation of the Deathly Hallows, if there are other parts that are made less clear. The other weaknesses are that they can't dwell on the secondary characters now, as you could in the book, because there's no time to waste.

However, the trio of Watson, Grint and Radcliffe do something really well this time out: They carry the film forward pretty much by themselves. They couldn't do this years ago, because they weren't old enough to act through some emotions. However, now, the three actors clearly have a nice bond that works to their advantage on screen, and they use all of the past history to make us care about what's going on. They are able to be front and center, and fill the screen. There's a lot to show, too. Chases, emotional/relationship tension, and this time, the fluid script keeps things moving, even when the characters aren't. The descriptive word for this film is tension, and it's well done with that in mind.

Camera work and editing is smoother, although sometimes the jumps are a little abrupt, and some scenes are perhaps a bit shorter than they could have been. Nevertheless, the sense of purpose, and the quest that's before the characters is fully revealed here. We get a nice set up for the big finale, especially where the big weakness is in Voldemort's plans. All three of the heroes turn in nice performances, and they are much more natural than they ever have been. As usual, the supporting characters get little time, but it's used well, and the narrative manages to keep the tension I mentioned, even if you know the books well.

As I watched this film, I was thinking it's also the end of an era, and people that don't like these films are missing something. But then I thought... maybe they can't help it. All I can say is that you have to remember that this isn't supposed to be Citizen Kane.

They are books that have been enjoyed by millions of people young and old, and everybody views this and the characters through their own unique lens. Some people can't wrap their head around fantasy environments, and that's why they don't enjoy it. That's just the way some people are made. For the rest of us, if you put aside all biases, it's just a great set of adventure stories in a very creative and deep mythology. It will be hard to say goodbye to these films that have defined a decade of entertainment. I've read the supposed successors to these books,(look on any bookshelf at a store) and they're poor imitations by comparison. This is an original story, and although it borrows from some of the great authors, it stands alone. Millions of readers enjoy it, and that ought to tell you something about why people want to see these films done well. They've invested so much.

So, to sum it up, this time around, it's excellently done, with high production values for sound, lighting, effects, and a script that's better than most of the prior 6. It did its job to set up the second half of the end story. I'll be there to see it.

Note: There are some very chilling sequences. The young kids (6-7?) seated to my left couldn't take some of it, so if you're taking young ones, talk to them first. Even fantasy violence can be scary to a mind untrained in any kind of death.

Up
Up(2009)

A hugely enjoyable film. A combination of great storytelling, whimsy, and depth of feeling that comes from the beautifully crafted characters. Once again, the choice of art and character style maps perfectly to the seemingly simple plot. That's where the film really take off, though.

Voice casting is perfect, too. Edward Asner never did a better thing on the Mary Tyler Moore show than this lovable curmudgeon. The unlikely team of Mr. Fredrickson and Russell take a journey that changes everything for them both. The adventure is told through the lens of animation so well that you almost forget you're watching an animated film. I remember reading that some critics complained about the slapstick parts and the action sequences as the weak links in this film. I couldn't disagree more. Yes, they needed them to keep the young ones engage, but they take nothing away from the core values of this film: Friendship, Living life every minute, coping with loss and questioning your own worth.

Terrific supporting characters with the dogs, and Muntz as the villain.No detail is missed in this Pixar production, as usual. The care and work that went into making this film is inspiring. Filmmakers, artists, animators, and writers at the absolute top of their game here.

The first four minutes alone are a work of art and story crafting unequaled even by live action film montages. This is a film deserving of its accolades, and a real gem. I would see this on the big screen again if it was re-released, it was that affecting.

The Legend of 1900 (La leggenda del pianista sull'oceano)
½

The art house film, for me can mean one of two things: Something unique that mainstream audiences won't watch, or an experiment in storytelling. The Legend of 1900, or 1900, is both of these categories. It's a fable about a man who lives out his life as a piano player aboard a transatlantic liner, and it's a very interesting story idea.

The beginning of the film is odd, with a narrator that looks like something out of a bad film noir. After this initial shock, he does voice one really beautiful moment when a liner full of immigrants comes into New York, and the passengers see the Statue of Liberty. If they had continued in that vein, the movie would have been really wonderful. However, the storytelling shifts rapidly to a jumbled collection of flashbacks from the life of the protagonist (Tim Roth) named...1900. Choppy and uneven as it is, Roth makes him a likeable character, but they introduce some very dull situations for 1900 to live through. There's so much great history to be found around ships like that, it was a shame they didn't exploit it. It disn't need drama, but 1900's character just doesn't adapt or change much. He accepts his life, and is resigned to his failures. He has a lot of them, and even a brief romance goes nowhere, it just sort of stops with nothing much dramatic about it. In fact, he doesn't exploit any of his successes either.

1900's life reaches its peak with a piano duel with Jelly Roll Morton, and after that the movie kind of ambles along, semi-propelled by the narrator Max. (who's rather annoying, like a bad Bogart cliche) But to no avail, the movie reaches a predictable climax, if that's what you can call it, and the move ends. I felt very let down, not because it wasn't happier or sadder just because it was so blah.

I'll say this: It has some good moments, and the character is interesting. Like I said above, it won't appeal to many people, but it's an odd little film, and might be worth a watch. It succeeds in being unique, but fails in its experimental storytelling.

The Statue of Liberty sequence is the best part, after that, you can turn it off, and not miss much. Or perhaps you will be intrigued. That's why I rate this one 50%: Your life, and your 2 hours is up to you. Make your choice to watch or not to watch, but for Gods sake do something, unlike Mr. 1900.

Courage Under Fire

The study of a soldiers' experience in war has always fascinated movie audiences. Some of these films are jingoistic and some are realistic. Some, like Courage Under Fire are a hybrid of battlefield drama and investigative drama, almost a whodunit, and it does a good job straddling those genres. It was unique in a numbers of ways: It dealt with a contemporary conflict, a female soldier was the focus of the story, and it told the story from multiple character perspectives to arrive at the true scenario. Like any detective solving a crime, you have to interview witnesses, and each is a human with a different perspective. Well written and intelligently directed Edward Zwick, Courage Under Fire is a Denzel Washington vehicle, (collaboration that went back to Zwick's Glory film in '89) but has some great supporting cast members like Matt Damon (a fascinating character); Lou Diamond Phillips and of course Meg Ryan as the deceased Medal of Honor winner whose courage is called into question.

The movie also touches on the often-asked: 'What really happened out there?' theme, which we've seen in the recent Iraq conflict many times. Thought the press involvement in Courage Under Fire is strictly secondary to the military investigation by Denzel's character, you can't help but think that this film resonates well today. It's also interesting to see how the attitude has changed since 1996. In the film, clearly the military is doing its best to understand what happened 'out there' because it assigns someone of high integrity like Denzel Washington's character.

Today, with all the Tillman-type stories that have circulated, the attitude is clearly that we can't believe these military investigations alone, we still have to question authority. Washington introduces the concept of that as an insider, and does a good job of that, risking his own career.

Although the action sequence makes up a small part of the film, it's chillingly similar to things we've seen in Hurt Locker, Valley of Elah, and other films. There are some inaccuracies in terms of weapons allowed on that type of chopper used, and there was little support from the Department of Defense on the film, so that hurts the overall technical aspects. However, if Courage Under Fire has non-technical faults, it's because it's a little over-the-top in terms of the emotions, but other than that the court sequences are tightly handled, and the resolution is quite a bit different from what you might expect. A good film, and deserving of another look if you missed it the first time around.

Saving Private Ryan

One of Spielberg's best, and it set the standard by which combat and war films will be measured for a long while. If the movie has a weakness, it's the bookend story, but in the face of the achievement, it's a minor nitpick. From the carnage of Omaha to the end sequences at the crossroads French town, the movie is the work of Spielberg and his A-Team of craftspeople. It has a host of characters in it that drive the story forward, and you get to know them despite their short lives, in many cases. Each has their own motivations, fears, and strengths. Some call them cliche or stereotypical, but I'm not so sure. I met my father's friends in the service, and they were of all stripes and from all over the nation.

Tom Hanks is a good choice for Captain Miller, and I saw an interview where he asked Spielberg to cut his lines back to a bare minimum. This was accepted, and the 'less is more' character that emerged was very effective. This is an example of how a real cast of people work together, even in a high-budget situation, to make a film better.

Underneath the cinematography, the character work and the meticulous realism is an underlying theme about war and its cost. It's an interesting war of value: The value of one man's life against eight others, and maybe you agree or maybe you don't. This was a film that we all talked about for a long time afterward, and how effective it was at telling a story. Yes, the story itself is an adaptation of fact, but its an intelligent use of the real-life story to make it more meaningful. The men had a job to do, and they grumbled to cover their very real fear. Each of the characters is an effective cipher for a specific fear or doubt, and taken together they show the best and worst of men at war. But above all, death doesn't discriminate: It takes the brave and the foolish, the well-meaning and the selfish. The presence of death in war colored the lives of millions of men and women in the service during those years, and millions more that lost people. The small entracte with the stenographers typing up letters of bereavement is a small, but brilliant concession to that. Those ripple effects continue to this day. If you're in the service, you know what I mean. It's well to continue to see and study these kinds of films to understand what that does to our society, even as the combat unit was a tiny little society all its own.

Everything done in this film is first class: Terrific score by John Williams, and a great script by Robert Rodat. Astonishing technical detail, and enduring cinematography.

It's just a great film, whether you think its romanticized or not.

Recommended.

A Christmas Story

The high-water mark of Christmas comedies, you'd have to be a real Scrooge not to find something funny, or at least be able to smile, at A Christmas Story. It's a nostalgic piece that rapidly becoming nostalgic itself, and draws on the slowly fading memories of a quieter, simpler time. Kids remained kids until their teens, and Santa was just beginning to be a vehicle to 'sell Christmas'. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, or ever lived in suburban Ohio in the late 1940's, you'll appreciate the warm humor brought to the screen. It's witty and smart, and broadly played after the manner of the best comedy films.

You know the story: Kids and parents and the meaning of Christmas through a child's eyes. The acting is pitch-perfect for a comedy of this type, both adults and kids slide easily into the era and the roles. You almost feel you know these people from somewhere. The narration by Jean Shepherd works perfectly as Ralphie all grown up. The scenarios are right out of the best playbook for classic comedy, and it features some of the best scenarios of a child's Christmas you're ever likely to find. It also effortlessly propels some real heart and Christmas spirit into your living room: It sneaks up on you during the film while it makes you laugh. That's the real magic: This movie really understands how people really are. They get excited over weird things, and make ridiculous ceremonies out of trivial things in their lives, like changing tires. The kids visit to Santa is simply the best scene of its type you're likely to see in a Christmas film, and its startlingly close to the truth. That's the other magical part of this film, the humor is played just over the line of absurd, but it 'could' have happened.

My own childhood was years after this period, but it was still a simpler era. I could bond perfectly with what was going on in A Christmas Story. I had similar greedy present wishes. I had colorful school experiences, and gosh, we did go out to Chinese food on Christmas once, in very similar circumstances! One warning: You have to swallow this apple whole, and set aside your biases of crass comedy. Some, I suppose will have trouble doing that in this era of broken homes, The Internet, and instant gratification of our desires. But I would say pause for a while. These images you see in A Christmas Story may seem cliché, but they were once very true to life.

To conclude, it's a great film: When you watch this film, you will be home for Christmas, wherever you are.

Megamind
Megamind(2010)

Dreamworks entry into the animated superhero, or more correctly, supervillain, film is Megamind. It borrows from things you've seen before: Pixar's superior Incredibles as well as the summer's Despicable Me. (Universal)

Unfortunately, Megamind comes in a distant third place in the lineup of those three films in terms of plot, creativity and story. It boasts a great voice cast, good animation, and its designed to appeal to the same crowd that liked the other two films, but it's not entirely a kiddie film. Dreamworks is trying to copy the Pixar style of appealing to more than the kids demographic with this film, but it makes the film weaker, in this case. The themes of not fitting in, and what's my purpose in life are used once again, but the writing in the middle of the film fails to exploit those fully. The result is a meandering plot that quickly loses it way in a semi-love triangle between the heroine (Tina Fey) the hapless villain (Will Ferrell) and Jonah Hill as Tighten (Titan). The film also weakens itself by depending on cliché representations of Superman's origins and training that most younger kids won't understand unless they've seen all the old Superman movies. In short, the film gets a bit lost in the middle, and the kids around me (including my own) stopped laughing while they tried to figure out what was going on.

Will Ferrell is often naturally appealing, and he succeeds here. As the bumbling Megamind, he is actually pretty funny, and his characterization is superb. It reminded me of the old Professor Fate character from The Great Race in places, and he holds up his part of the movie very well. I'd go so far as to say that it's his best role in quite a few films., and he's a blue alien. The rest of the cast does well enough, but it's all pretty familiar: Robo-drones that act the same as the Minions from Despicable Me, and a good guy turned bad, while the bad guy turns more or less good. The action sequences are pretty standard, and not very surprising or innovative, which is too bad. Animation is supposed to give you the ability to show epic battles, but that's not what this is really about. In fact, the whole resolution hinges on where Megamind parked his invisible car; but it's enough exciting for the kids. Things explode, and weird inventions are used. One negative for me: I don't like Jonah Hill, and using him essentially as himself made me dislike his character even more than you're supposed to. Makes me wonder why Jonah Hill likes playing fat, stupid louts. Probably because he really is a fat, stupid comic lout?

However, you're supposed to like Megamind, and in that at least, it succeeds. Brad Pitt is largely wasted as Metroman. It's easy to see why the early trailers didn't reveal the actual plot of this film until much later, because, well, that's the whole film.

The pacing and direction is good overall, and the film has some funny moments. It's not going to evoke laughs or tears as naturally as The Incredibles or How to Train Your Dragon, Dreamworks spring offering that was far superior to this. Nevertheless, it's a good, fun outing, and worth seeing if you like superhero spoofs. The 3-D has a few nice tricks, but it doesn't add a great deal to the film, as you might expect.

Due Date
Due Date(2010)

Films like Due Date are the new formula for producing forced, lowbrow humor with minimal laughs. On the surface, there's many elements to like here, with a good cast and talented production team, but the writing, direction and ultimately the meaning are completely lost in Due Date. What worked in similar films like Planes Trains and Automobiles doesn't work at all here, where the situations are more contrived than surprising. The odd couple pairing ought to have worked, but it doesn't, Robert Downey Junior seems to be in a different film from Zach Galiafanakis, and the movie veers between the crude, the absurd, and some odd attempts at serious situations. The result is that the whole thing feels forced and uneven.It falls into the same traps that many TV comedies fall into: routine.

I'm already tired of Galiafanakis, who's simply annoying and unfunny. In the Hangover, he didn't have to carry half the film. Now you can't escape him, like Downey can't. You also can't escape that they've long since pushed the envelope on crude humor. There are lots of what people sometimes find funny, but the rest of us find simply cringeworthy. That's not high humor. If you like that, you might find a few funny things in this film, but it's not going to be memorable. The jokes wear off almost as quickly as they might 'almost' bring you to laugh. It's a stand-up comedy routine carried into a (bad) road trip movie. In the end, this will appeal to a strata of moviegoers that are desperately seeking to relive the great old comedies of 15-20 years ago, and bored college students, or simply guys that haven't grown up.

However, unlike those earlier comedies by Martin and company, there's nothing challenging here, and nothing really worth writing more about.

Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3(2010)

By turns funny, thoughtful, and emotional, this wrapup to the first two films was so well done, there's very little to improve upon. It includes all your favorites doing what they do best, as well as some hilarious newcomers. A few of the characters have moved on, and some will be missed, but that's entirely in keeping with the toy world mythology. In fact, it's crucial to the plot.

Once again, Pixar sets the bar dazzlingly high for script, animation, characterization, and action. They succeed because they not only tell the story well, but they are really good at using the mythology of the toys to further the impact of what they are trying to do. This film is no exception to that: Every character has as much depth as any live action film you're likely to see. However, they can do so much more with the action because animation allows you to create stunt situations that are right out of your imagination.

From opening sequence to the final farewell, it's a journey filled with laughter, tears, tension, and a lot of entertainment. The clever use of every aspect of the characters and their situation, and the attention to detail is what makes this film stand head and shoulders above many live action and all other animated films. Best use of the deus ex machina convention in any film I've ever seen. That they can extract emotion from the audience with toys means they understand their audience. The film challenges even the young to keep up. It's not for the lazy, it really engages you.

It will certainly be a top contender for best animated, and it could even be nominated for Best Picture. it will almost certainly win honors at the Golden Globes.

Comparing the three films, and other Pixar brethren, you could argue that it's their greatest achievement: Simply the fact that it was at least as funny and touching as the prior two Toy Story movies that are brilliant masterworks -- and it's VERY hard to improve upon those two films.

A must-see film.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Delivering a clear message about Christmas and the holiday spirit, there are few films that say 'Christmas' to me more than this simple classic animated film. It brought together three great talents: Boris Karloff; Chuck Jones; and the story by Dr. Seuss, and it never looked back.

It's a story that gets better as you age, and become more Grinch-like yourself, and it's fitting that a children's story can teach us a lot in just 26 minutes of silly, but perfectly chosen animated splendor. Karloff may have done bigger things, but he will always be remembered for this. One of the gentlemen of cinema could not have been better cast to voice this tale of redemption. Chuck Jones, already famous for his many Looney Tunes, puts the book pages onto the screen with care and whimsy. The music is another one of those cheerful blends of Looney Tunes and memorable tunes. The combination of prose, animation and true heart absolutes flattens the ill-advised remake in every department.

It's remarkable (or perhaps not so surprising) that it can make us reflect on ourselves, even after all these years of seeing it. You may not celebrate Christmas, but this is one of those timeless classics that has something to say to everyone, to kids from 1 to 92.

The Nightmare Before Christmas
½

Highly original, beautifully created and visualized, funny, and yet with a great heart, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is arguably his best film. It's a fable with great twists, and the artistic sense of this film is terrific, as it is with most Burton productions. However, the smart, witty script perfectly complements the scenario and the characters 'living' in Halloween Town.

I have to say that for completely unreal characters that couldn't possibly exist, they live and breathe as we do, and in a world that seems just as 'real'. This is a tribute to Burton and his team, who really know how to make people identify with the protagonists, like Jack and Sally, and even the Boogie Man. They're all misfits, and especially Jack in his uninformed quest to understand Christmas. The film itself has a lot of genuine warmth and spirit -- no pun intended.

There's also some subtle messaging in this film that gives it the depth that Burton's vision alone couldn't give it. The choice of stop-motion and Selick's direction are what puts it all together. There's not a wasted frame, and Selick obviously made this a labor of love. The script, animation and use of every scene make this a film you can watch over and over, and still see something new.

My only minor quibble is that some of the characters are a little mumble-mouthed, but this is a minor nit-pick in an otherwise magical film.

The songs are good, too, and this film has something to offer for everyone. Simply magic.

Gladiator
Gladiator(2000)

Gladiator is sometimes remembered for Elizabeth Taylor's slightly tipsy award speech for Best Picture. It's also a film that draws fire as overrated and boring; or some people don't like it because Russell Crowe is in it, and they read that he was often clashing over the script. Honestly, people have such biases it's hard to see the real film in perspective. None of the negatives made any difference, as the final film was a finely crafted piece of work, with strong performances all around. Those performances are definitely big enough for the big screen, and Scott doesn't do things small when he does epics.

The story is fact-based, but hardly factual, surrounding the death of the great Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and the subsequent troubles the Roman Empire faced afterwards. To its credit, Gladiator's plot holds together, and remains interesting even if you're not a student of Roman history. There aren't many films that capture the idea of Rome very well, you have to reach back to Spartacus to get something of quality. Gladiator traces the rise and fall of a Roman general, and his subsequent 'resurrection' as a Gladiator in Emperor Commodus' arena. Like many Ridley Scott films, there's a lot of details and subplots, and even the lesser characters are well-acted and consistent throughout. Crowe is good, but Joaquin Phoenix and Connie Nielsen give excellent performances to support Crowe's depressing and dour Maximus. Smaller roles are filled with greats such as Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi and Richard Harris. They all add a nice layer of life to the world of Rome circa the 2nd century AD. That world is well recreated, even if the CGI of Rome itself is a little out of scale.

With impressive action sequences scattered throughout, and a rousing score by Hans Zimmer, it's a big-budget swords and sandals epic that Hollywood hadn't made in years. It's on a level with Braveheart, although I personally connected better with Maximus than Wallace. It may lack subtlety of plot, and has few true surprises, but it's one of Ridley Scott's better efforts. Whatever the script arguments were, the dialogue is good enough to convey the story, and there aren't any cringe-worthy lines, although some of it is highly predictable since the story and plot borrows from similar films. The film does has some layers to its dialogue, and effectively draws some interesting parallels between the idea of spectacle and celebrity and our media-obsessed society of today. That obviously resonated with the audiences that came to see it.

Take as an action-adventure, Gladiator delivers on all levels: Bloody combats; Amazons with bows; and fickle crowds. As a comment on society both ancient and modern, it also has something to say. It's characters aren't wholly good or wholly evil, they just have agendas, whether that's power, vengeance, money, or just to protect their children.

Hollywood of the early 2000 era liked movies with a lot of work in them. I admired the way the story was told, and the characters we met along the way. Historical epics are very hard to do, but this one had most of the right stuff.

Did we learn anything from it? Probably not. However, as Maximus says: "Are you not entertained?" the answer is yes.

The Best Years of Our Lives

Movies are a reflection of our society in real-time. The Best Years of Our Lives is one that spans multiple generations and does it so well, you'd think it was a new film, despite the black and white. In addition to tackling a tough issues facing of post-WW-II era soldiers and servicemen, it's also chock full of strong performances.

You have to view some of the hokum through the 1946 lens, but overall, it's a 'modern' looking film, and interesting in its triple storyline. Skillfully interwoven, these propel the movie forward at a good clip, and it only meanders slightly with some of the romantic aspects, but you are drawn in to the men's lives.

One of the protagonists is physically scarred (wonderfully played by Harold Russell in a brave, Academy Award-winning role)Fredric March plays a family man whose problem are more hidden; and Dana Andrews is in top form as a man in search of himself. It's very powerful stuff, the kind that only rarely gets done well in modern day film.

There some great sequences, and the story lines are tied up with satisfying endings. Robert Sherwoods smartly written script, combined with Wm. Wyler's direction and some nicely nuanced acting by everyone makes this a real winner, and not just of awards. Andrews is really terrific as Derry, who is really very charming, despite being a complete loser for a while.

Recommended.

Waiting for Superman
½

For those of us that have children in the US public school system, this film will resonate with you, whether you agree with your local school district's methods or not. it won't give you every answer, but it will create some additional dialogue around one simple message: Spend more on education, and less on war and prisons, and in time you'll have gone a long way to fixing poverty, unemployment and crime. In short, restore the idea that every child deserves a good shot.

For those of you students inside the current education system, you probably can't see what's going on, but you ought to see this as well. I don't care what your political leanings are, education is the most important investment you make. It's certainly one of the seven biggest decisions you make in your own life, or that your parents have to make for you. We've seen what the wrong education can do in other countries, it produces narrow-minded fanatics in great numbers. So it's a security issue as well as a simple crime issue.

I know in my own area, test scores have hijacked curricula and preparation for the future...it's a rush for funds. The other ill the director points out is that unions have created a catch-22 in school systems by making it difficult to get rid of incompetent teachers. This is certainly one of the problems, but it's not the only one.

The movie centers on five kids and their stories. I think you will find it interesting and illustrative, whether you are a parent, a teacher or a student. Well worth watching, even if it just scratches the surface.

In Her Shoes
In Her Shoes(2005)
½

Thanks for Michael C. for inspiring this review, where I tried to find a performance by Cameron Diaz that I actually liked. In Her Shoes is, only on the surface, a film for the ladies, but it gets into some very interesting sister relations scenarios that I've seen between my wife and her siblings, and so the entire movie rings somewhat true. It treads a fine line of being preachy, but never quite topples into that trap.

It has smart dialogue, and will bring to mind family situations in your own experience, and that's a tribute to the writing. While the film goes a little off-track at times, it regains its feet. The smaller, intimate scenes are well rendered, and Cameron Diaz does a creditable job of playing the troubled sister. She's a little over-dramatized, perhaps, and the ending seems a little bit pat, but Diaz and Toni Collette do a good job at their scenes and their complicated lives.

As a guy watching this, I was interested to see how they were going to resolve all the drama that the movie creates. The healing process that is begun is hinted at with the movie, although its far from a completely happy ending. Life is like that, and there are new challenges presented in the film that carry it beyond the usual A+B+C=happy ending. I also liked it because it didn't go overboard with the women's portrayals: None of them are perfect, and none of them are completely right or sympathetic. The women portrayed here are not objects or cardboard cutouts, they live and breathe.

Younger men will not give a whit for this film, unless they have sisters and siblings. It's talky, and some of it is contrived, but in order to bring the film in under 3 hours, you have to make choices as a director and editor. There are scenes that ought to have been given more time, but overall it rings true enough to be worth it.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

If you took a director with an idea to mix sci-fi with Christmas, stir in a couple of D-list actors, and some of your local community theater rep company, (including the lighting, sound and set construction crews) and put them together to do a Christmas story, this would be the result. It's so incredibly inept and lame, yet you can see it, plain as day: They were utterly sincere! It was somebody's belief that it would be a hit, and it was someone's labor of love.

It's like those people on American Idol that can't sing, and are completely deluded, that's how bad it is. Someone ought to have told them. Someone ought to have accidentally lost the negatives.

But wait, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians gave life to a really good episode of MST3K; so that's one positive. It has a happy ending, that's two positives. It's really very inoffensive, that's three positives.

In fact, it's risen above how bad it is to become a really enjoyable thing to watch at the sheer awfulness. In other words, it really does have some of the Christmas spirit in it: It will make you laugh, or at least you'll be able to fall asleep on Christmas Eve watching it, with visions of really creepy guys in green suits and bad makeup dancing in your head.

I give it 10% because it's 100% better than a zero for comic relief. Apologies to the West Minnetonka Community Theater Company for making fun of their sets. (They disavow all knowledge of this film)

PS DO NOT show this film to your kids. They may be permanently scarred, and become somewhat Scrooge-like in their later years.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

School shapes and defines both student and teacher, and we get a nice example of this in the 1939 version of Goodbye Mr. Chips. This classic tale of the mild-mannered schoolteacher learning to adapt in his profession has that certain timeless quality. This film version hones much more closely to the story from which it was adapted, and this includes the curious cultural themes of the time. The social structures of later Victorian England are interesting, and provide a nice backdrop for this story. The days of all-boy schools in England aren't completely behind us, but playing pranks is familiar to any school landscape. Harry Potter fans will recognize the environment instantly in this film, and there are some interesting similarities in narrative structure. (The themes about new students, a special train, etc.)

Robert Donat as Professor Chipping, gives an impressive, multi-decade performance. His character evolves from a relatively ineffectual teacher to one that is widely loved and respected, and Donat makes it look easy. The film style is typical of the 1930's: It's a little overacted and talky, but still intelligent. Greer Garson makes a charming companion to the professor, and although her time with him is short, she changes him for the better. They have some genuinely likeable dialogue that seems very realistic because it's just two people that complement each other. Their first meeting scene is nicely balanced and evolves because of the 'lost' situation they are in. It's interesting in that she's the dominant partner in the romance instead of the male-dominated romances of the time. This kind of character rapport seems very modern in some ways, and the charisma of the two stars certainly helped. The story also provides little cameos of the students re-encountering their old Professor as adults. There's genuine warmth being played on the screen, and it reminded me of times I've gone back and visited teachers of my own. One of the best scenes is a short one, where zeppelins are bombing in the area, (World War I era) and Chips uses humor to keep the boys of his class calm. These kinds of small scenes are well done and help propel the story forward, building on the reputation of Chips as odd or different from the norm of Headmasters at Brookfield. The film was made in 1939, on the eve of another World War, and there's a distinct anti-war sentiment to some of the scenes that probably reflected the opinion that the War to End All wars wasn't going to be allowed to happen. Viewing these scenes now is interesting, especially Chips sentiments about a German teacher, who was his friend.

The ending is the weakest part, and is over the top, but that was the style of the time.

This theme about the school teacher who changes and is changed by his students has been done many times, but Mr. Chips stands out because of its honesty. It doesn't feel contrived or manipulative because it eschews the usual school crisis scenes, and instead allows us to get to know the parade of characters slowly. I'll bet you can pick out the types of students and teachers from your own university experience, even if you didn't go to a British school.

The film somewhat disappeared under the shadow of Gone With The Wind, which accounts for its anonymity today. Although Peter Donat won for Best Actor, the film lost to Selznick's epic in most other categories.

Modern audiences will relate more to the Peter O'Toole version (even with the 1969 penchant for actors trying to sing).

However, this Chips is a nice, gentle ride back to a period long-lost in movie history, when stories didn't have to be great bombastic ones in order to explore the human condition in all its wonder and frailty.

Paint Your Wagon
½

If you're a fan of movie musicals, then your viewing has probably included Paint Your Wagon at some point, and I bet you've never watched it again after that! The era of the big-budget movie musicals was long over when this one was made, and for its time, it was controversial and 'adult'. Now it seems relatively tame to have singing gold prospectors wooing and bedding the same woman.

Don't look for any big performances or smash-up musical numbers with this one, there aren't any. Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood are charismatic as ever, but they can't sing worth a damn, nor should they have tried. The results are absolutely laughable. Marvin, to his credit, could always fill a screen, even as a drunken singing prospector in underwear. I can imagine he probably was 'fully lit' for this performance -- you'd have to be stoned or drunk to get through this movie in front of, or behind the camera.

Why this film really fails is that musicals don't come off well in outdoor locations. You completely lose any kind of focus on the song, because you're looking at the nice scenery, and there are some good camera shots. The scenes are confusing, the action alternating between frenetic and achingly slow. It's the kind of film that the stars probably laugh about, or wish they could erase from their memory. The songs are pretty forgettable, here's a sample:

"Where are we going? I don't know! When will we get there I ain't certain, all I know is that I'm on my way!!!"

The movie sort of follows this pattern...you really don't know where it's going...for hours.

All I know is, it's several hours of your life that you won't get back. Go watch Singing in the Rain, it's far more entertaining.

A Christmas Carol

I'm an admirer of Patrick Stewarts enormous body of work for stage, TV and film, and this version of A Christmas Carol is no exception. This 1999 production spun from his very successful one man show of A Christmas Carol, and they simply added a fine supporting cast to make this version complete. It hones very close to the book, and portrays the various ghosts as Dickens described: Joel Gray is interesting as the wispy Ghost of Christmas Past, and other familiar stage and screen British actors round out the cast. The movie was originally made for television, and the smaller budgets for a TV film certainly show up. However, this is balanced by Patrick Stewart, who growls and grumbles his way in fine Shakespearian style through the character of Scrooge. Of all the Scrooges portrayed, Stewart is probably the most cranial of the actors that have done the role. He's got all the tones of light, dark, and gray that a classically trained actor ought to use with a character like Scrooge. His face is wonderfully expressive - one of his real strengths as an actor.

The Cratchits (Richard E Grant) and the various supporting characters all support his fine performance with equal gusto. Best of all, the story doesn't descend into overdone holiday sentiment, so for those looking for a slightly darker tone to the film, this might be the right one to see. The special effects for the supernatural sequences are pretty good for a TV movie, (Turner Broadcasting) with one or two minor exceptions. Scrooge's journeys with the spirits are a nice blend of reminiscences and guilt. Likewise, his eventual redemption seems real enough, and is embodied in the church sequence. The Dickensian atmosphere is strong here, and hasn't been dumbed down for purposes of understanding. The lines are largely lifted right from the pages, and luckily, the actors are all up to the task of speaking in "Victorian". A good one. Not as iconic as Alistair Sim, or as coldly practical as George C. Scott, but one of my top 3, for certain.

Field of Dreams

Flights of imagination are rare in films these days. Maybe we've forgotten how to simply enjoy ourselves without being shocked or beaten to death with realism and obvious messages. Or maybe films are just too concerned with making money than touching more than the hypothalamus. If you like gritty and realistic, this film isn't for you. Yes, it's about baseball, but only as a religion for the most part: The way it was meant to be. It's also about the delicate fabric of family and connections to people that we have through the love of something - in this case, baseball. It's about regaining something we've lost - dreams that we've had, and it does that really well. Believe me, the older you get the more of this sentiment you have. If you're a realist, you'll be frustrated by the utter lack of explanation in the film, or maybe overwhelmed by the sentiment. The point is, that none of that matters, and maybe it's not the right time for you to watch the film. I don't mean that in an arrogant way, I mean that everyone approaches love of something or someone in their own time, and in their own way.

However, if you let this gentle string of fantasies in, I think you'll appreciate the value of a shared dream. Those with religious leanings will make the messages their own, and that's okay. For the more secular of us, it's still about what we've gained and what we've lost, and what makes us who we are. It goes one step further with 'who we meet shapes who we are' because some of the people Roy meets aren't supposed to be there at all.

The movie could tip into the ridiculous, but it doesn't. It doesn't need to be, and it doesn't need profanity or violence to get its message across. Some parts are so grounded and realistic, you feel at home, and the performances are nuanced to make it so. The acting is very finely done, on the tightrope of reality and fantasy, yet it's well written and directed, and you get carried along effortlessly. The movie is just like the magic waters described so perfectly by James Earl Jones (in a great role for him, and with a great speech about baseball) He and Burt Lancaster play important supporting roles to Kevin Costner and Amy Madigan, whose farm is the center of controversy after Costner builds a baseball diamond on crop-yielding acreage. There's also some great performances by Ray Liotta and others.

It's a film that's whimsical and meaningful, too. I think everybody experiences it in a different way, because we're all different. It's a rare film that lets us have our own private thoughts on what it means to just them. That's why I liked this film - a lot.

Recommended.

Scrooged
Scrooged(1988)

Scrooged is derived from the Dickens story, but as this is a perennial favorite, I thought I'd include it in the group of Christmas Carols I've been reviewing. Normally, I don't like derivatives and loose adaptations of classic stories (they fail more than they succeed), but this was Bill Murray doing what he does best. The rest of the cast was appropriate, (in fact I don't really like ANY of them, well, maybe Carol Kane) but Murray owns this film, and the whole concept wouldn't have worked without him. His sardonic tone throughout is perfect for the Scrooge-y character of the TV exec, although at times, he's a little too shrill.

The comedy can't be denied to Bill, however, it has some things about it that, to me, were over-indulgent. The ending seemed a bit rushed and forced, and and the very fact that it's a exploitative Christmas film about Christmas being exploited is an interesting irony. This is one of those films where I almost felt Murray was laughing at the people watching this film -- an uncomfortable feeling to have for what is supposed to inject cheer into your holidays. Nevertheless, he pulls it off because he has talent, and there are some good moments where they touch the real spirit of the holidays.

Overall, it's an entertaining film, but not one of Murray's better efforts. Echoes of the Cross character's miserable existence can be seen in Lost In Translation.

Disney's A Christmas Carol
½

Robert Zemeckis is a talented director, and he has a penchant for feel-good films. In this version of A Christmas Carol, however, that feel-good feeling you're supposed to get by the end of the story is completely absent. It's not the story itself, as it's a close adaptation of the Dickens book, even including lines I hadn't heard except in stage productions I've been in. It's not the voice cast. Jim Carrey certainly knows how to chew scenery, even in CGI animation, and he brings a certain style to the Scrooge character that others have not. The fault, I believe lies in the animation. Instead of freeing the technical team to do amazing things with the story and the characters, it seemed to bind them even more tightly to realism than a live action piece. Even the 1938 Reginald Owen version seemed more mystical than this attempt.

Disney pushed this very hard, and spent a lot on advertising. It did all right at the theater, but no one I knew was really impressed by it. It was just something to do around Christmas. The 3-D effects lent very little to it.


The animation at fault here was schizophrenic: It seemed good for Scrooge, but other characters were far less convincing, and they all have that weird 'dead-eye' look of older, less advanced animation methods. It really hurts your emotional connection to the characters like Cratchit. The voice actors for most of the roles other than Scrooge can't seem to break loose from the chains of the animation. You ought to like them, but you can't.

The action has two sequences that tried to use the animation to full effect: The scene where Scrooge meets Christmas Past is amusing, and different, as is a later scene with the funeral carriage, but the rest is simply the usual walk-through of the story that you can get from any version. It's a little too scary for small children, and not chilling enough for adults.

It made little impression on my child when she saw it, and she enjoyed the live action versions more. Although Victorian London is beautifully rendered, the characters are lifeless, and the film seems to drag until the next action sequence, and those are few and far between. The trailers for this film were very misleading, in my view. They implied that it was fast-paced and exciting: The Dark Night of Christmas Carols, and it could have been. Instead, we get animation that makes you watch the characters and not really listen to the story: none of it seems real. It doesn't draw you in. This version isn't good for first time viewers of the story, for all the reasons cited above. Go with a live action of your choice, or even Muppets, you'll have a better time.

The Muppet Christmas Carol
½

With the Muppet Christmas carol you automatically know what to expect: Zany live action mixed with Muppets, built around the classic Dickens story. Other than the types of characters, and the humorous intent, the story is actually quite close to the book, with a narrator (Gonzo the Great) speaking as the omniscient Charles Dickens part. For a Muppet film, the camera work got fairly elaborate, and the songs in it are all original, typical of Muppet films. The version I watched contained one additional song that was cut from the theatrical version, but it does add to the loneliness of Scrooge (Michael Caine). Caine makes quite a good Scrooge, and seems to be enjoying playing the role during the movie. I'm surprised he has never done the role in a feature film before this one came out. He brings his usual panache to the role, which he plays absolutely straight, as if these crazy puppets were the real deal. You can imagine how a dying Tiny Tim is easily a sympathetic character when human, but Cain manages to make the emotion real when Tiny Tim is actually a small frog!

The Spirits of Past, Present and Future are all specially designed Muppets that are not used in other films, so this is also different than the later Muppet Treasure Island which featured the beloved characters in mostly the key roles. The Roles of Marley & Marley, however, are portrayed as the hecklers from the old Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf. Here, Kermit takes the role of Bob Cratchit and his family, predictably is made up of - more Muppets. The songs are cute and Christmas-y, and the humor lifts this above the usual grim Christmas Carol Adaptations. Brian Henson directed the piece, taking over from his late father and creator Jim Henson. It's a good effort, and he clearly understood how to blend the talents of live actors with the furry friends. The pacing is lively, and it's a good introduction to the tale that isn't too scary for little kids. Where it misses is in broad appeal, it's stuck in a young people's genre, and holds little to watch for the parents except the story itself. However, you might just find yourself laughing at the antics of Rizzo the Rat and some of the others, and that's not a bad thing.

The Caine Mutiny
½

This classic wartime drama/courtroom film set the stage for later films like A Few Good Men and Crimson Tide. Featuring standout performances by Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Jose Ferrer and others, the film revolves around a court martial following a mutiny aboard a US Naval vessel during wartime.

You'll be completely taken in by the performances, and by Bogart's brilliantly erratic performance. The film has some unnecessary subplots, such as the love story, but overall, it remains a taught and gripping tale that uses a clever black is white and white is black approach to who's really at fault for the mutiny. It also makes interesting character studies of most of the key characters and their motivations.

Derived from the Pulitzer Price winning novel by Herman Wouk, it's courtroom scenes are as tense and interesting as the stage version of the trial that came after the film.

Recommended.

A Christmas Carol

The George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol is another version that is widely regarded as both realistic and faithful to the Dickens story. The casting of Scott is excellent, as he owned the ability to play a curmudgeon in a realistic way. His Scrooge is perhaps the most 'human' of the many versions. He's not ridiculously cruel, just horribly cynical and practical as a result of many years of being a sharp businessman.

The production values, for a TV movie were very high, and the locations and sets feel very authentic. His ghostly visitors are also appropriately kind and gruff as Scrooge, since they are played more as an extension of his personality. With a host of experienced British stage and screen actors to help, this version has some excellent dark sequences. Want and Ignorance, often left out of productions, are included here, as well as some very seedy aspects of old London.

David Warner plays the bewildered Crachtit well opposite the gruff, but ultimately salvageable Scott. His transformation is much more subtle as a result of his visitations, but ultimately more satisfying and believable. Scott was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal.

Scrooge
Scrooge(1970)
½

Adding music to the classic Dickens Christmas story doesn't hurt it in the slightest, and Albert Finney is fun to watch in his role as the man you love to hate. The music, while not memorable, adds a nice break from the usual gloom of the Christmas Carol films. It's not intended to be realistic, and instead it highlights part of the story very differently from a straight film version. It cleverly uses the music to change the tone pre-and-post redemption, especially the song 'Thank You Very Much'. Since music is a traditional part of the holiday, the inclusion of music in the film helps the overall feeling of cheer, even if some of the songs are rather dragged out.

The movie departs from the book in several ways. The inclusion of the 'hell' sequence is a novel approach, although not really necessary for showing what's going to happen to Scrooge, he's already seen his own death several times.

Finney shines the brightest in his redemption of several Scrooge adaptations, but some of the other characters have good moments. Sir Alec Guinness has a good time spooking Scrooge as Marley's ghost.

The pacing is a little uneven, with the frequent bursts of song, but if you like musicals, this one is very different, from the traditional musical treatment, really more like a play with music.

A Christmas Carol

One of the earlier film adaptations of Charles Dickens classic story, the Reginald Owen Carol is one of the better ones for capturing the 'spirit' of the story of the old miser who undergoes a dramatic transformation. Rendered in black and white, it has some excellent performances for its time, and the style of acting. It's a little over-the-top, but it's supposed to be a fantasy.

Owen is impressive as a curmudgeon-lite, and his spirit visitations are slightly different from versions you may have seen on TV. Likewise, much of the darker elements of the book have been pared away. The Cratchits are an appealing family, and have some good scenes, and Scrooge's nephew and role are likewise departures from the book verse.

Since it's in black-and-white, it really 'feels' like Victorian England, even though it's an MGM back-lot special. It features some good banter, and one of the better 'goose scenes' of the many versions that have been produced. It's a good-hearted, lighter weight 9and shorter) version than many, and well worth seeing to compare with more modern versions.

Flyboys
Flyboys(2006)
½

I was very disappointed with this film, and it held so much promise because of the subject matter. The Lafayette Escadrille was a colorful batch of pilots of dubious background and experience that nevertheless were pretty effective as a combat unit. The real-life people involved certainly were interesting enough to warrant a film like this.

I think it was a case of a poor script and lack of budget, and selling a war film is never easy.They opted for fictional-based-on-fact set of characters that reduces them to cliches. I suppose they didn't want to be taken to task by creating a character profile of Raoul Lufbery that didn't jive with historical fanatics.

The cast wasn't the problem: They were pretty good, even if they were cardboard cutouts of actual historical members of the famous Lafayette Escadrille. James Franco does a decent job as the central Yankee flyer who joins up to flee his past. His love interest is improbable, but at least it had some awkward realism to it.

But even the combat situations were stock Hollywood: Rather than attempting to show a historic fight of the Escadrille, they created generic Germans. I guess that once again it was to make the film interesting to non-war buffs, they skimped on accuracy and detail in favor of flash. The CGI combats were too fast, way too fast. These kind of planes were pretty darn slow. The tactics and maneuver was what could make the combat exciting, but they fought like World War 2 aircraft instead. The mix of planes was very limited, so instead of encountering five models of aircraft it was literally the same Nieuports and Fokkers every dogfight. With CGI, you should be able to throw in an occasional odd plane.

This is an untapped era of film: The Knights of the Sky, and the much older 'Blue Max' still stands as one of the better depictions of air combat in World War One.

The Commitments
½

The Commitments is a faux band-bio that is a great way to spend an evening watching a film. This genre has been done many times, but Alan Parker's film is the most organic and realistic of any I've ever seen. It's got some great music, intercut with sharply written dialogue, and that's strewn with working-class Dubliner expletives that are both amusing and authentic.

The background of Dublin is captured perfectly in Parker's lens, and the editing and scene choices are a complex mosaic of the lives of the characters. It's so well done, you barely notice how much is going on, and how much subtext is in ever look, ever word and glance. It's really well done.

casting is perfect. There are many characters that make up the band, and they're all distinct and interesting. The writing and direction brings them so alive, you'd swear you know some of them as friends (or foes) of yours. The struggles of the various characters are easy to understand and bond with, and how the music they make is when they are truly alive. The other beautiful thing about The Commitments is how beautifully unglamorous the whole situation is. The people are imperfect humans with enough talent to be able to rise above their rather squalid existence. You really hope they make it, even though you know not everything will be rosy in the end.

If you love music (even if you're not a soul fan) you'll love the message and spiritual feeling of The Commitments.

Recommended for all you eejits.

The Enemy Below
½

One of the better films made about submarine and anti-submarine warfare, The Enemy Below takes a unique dual view of the action. It's basically a duel between an escort vessel and the U-Boat that they are hunting, a scenario that's been used in other films like it. While it suffers from the obviously propagandist nature of World War 2 films, it's better than most when it comes to the human non-political nature of this kind of warfare. Curt Jurgens plays his German opponent with his usual grim-faced vigor.

The depiction of the action is pretty good by the standards of the day, although the plot is somewhat predictable. The destroyer escort depicted is accurate as to class, and actual crew of a real US destroyer escort were extras in the film. The U-Boat set is less impressive, and fails to capture the cramped nature of the small German boats in the Atlantic. Das Boot still remains the best of this genre, but Enemy Below is pretty competent as to tactics and devices used. Based on a book by a former British Navy officer, the whole scenario closely resembles similar ram-and-sink incidents in the North Atlantic convoy actions.

Robert Mitchum played a number of naval officers during his long and varied career, but this is one of his better gutsy performances.

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond
½

Unfortunately for anyone that likes Tennessee Williams for stage or screen, this adaptation of a 'lost screenplay' isn't quite up to the power of things like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Streetcar Named Desire. The screenplay itself makes it hard to engage with what's going on, as it shifts focus between real vs. drugged unreality. This might work as a stage play, but it's hard to follow on screen. It flattens out the performances of Bryce Dallas-Howard as Willow, an heiress with the wrong love interest. Director Jodie Markell gets a lot of mileage out of Dallas-Howard, who shows a lot of acting props in this otherwise muted film. It's really the film that lacks pacing and passion, and has some strange and unnecessary scenes that seem tacked on. It's a little like watching a stage play for the dialogue, which is Williams trademark stuff.

The atmosphere of the 1920's south is appropriate: Stifling, antiquated mores, and almost blues-club in its presentation. This has the unfortunate effect of slowing the film down somewhat, but there's time to admire the technical work of sets and costumes while you watch. In that, this film is right up there with the great period pieces like Gatsby.

As the film meanders down unfamiliar paths, the underlying story is pretty familiar to anyone with knowledge of Williams' work. The ending, and the social commentary it represents will leave you uneasy and unsatisfied, but I think that's just that this particular Williams story isn't his best. The attempts to make it relevant to a modern audience really don't work. It would have been better to have kept it in a period style, as some of it seems like the characters are reacting to a totally un-Williams South. You sort of guess what's going to happen, and then you just have to watch it to the end. Not terrible, but there are lots better examples of Williams' plays as screenplays. This is one screenplay that needed a lot of work, or maybe it was better left on the shelf?

The Musketeer

This is another one of those 'someday someone will make a good Three Musketeers film again' situations. I have to give Peter Hyams points for trying to make this film interesting and exciting. However, it was pretty much a failure in execution. Where to start?

First of all, the deviations from the Dumas story were badly handled, and at times it began to become one of those films where they take a break from 'acting' to do some kind of fight scene. It neither looks authentic in kung fu style, nor is it particularly exciting to watch. The rest of the more traditional fighting is decent enough, but its just strung together with hammy dialogue and a meandering plot. The other musketeers are neither interesting nor helpful to D'Artagnan, (Justin Chambers) who hasn't got enough screen presence to carry the film. Mena Suvari is all forehead and no acting, and not even Catherine Deneeuve can summon much dignity out of this mess.

The look of the film is about the only thing I can say about it that positive. The costumes and sets looks pretty good, but it's a poor excuse for a film. If you're looking for some kind of diversion, and have a couple of hours to waste, this might just do it.

Secretariat
Secretariat(2010)
½

Some achievements will never be truly equaled, and this is the case of a particular horse. This is a feel-good film about those achievements, and what it took to get to the winner's circle. It's therefore predictable if you follow sports history at all, and the amount of conflict and drama is really pretty minimal. That's not to say they sanitized the story in any way: I don't think they needed to. The film is depicting real people in real circumstances. (Wow a family that actually likes each other!)

I'm sure they made some changes to make it more exciting, but it doesn't hurt the film. There's a lot to like about Secretariat, and I think most of the 'bland, boring, predictable' complaints come from a cultural shift away from believing in ANYTHING. Not believing in our politics, or religion, not believing in our heroes, and not even our movies portraying human achievements. We applaud conflict, rumor and internet truths (not the same as truth) We don't applaud achievement like this, and to me, that's sad.

This isn't the best film of its type, I've seen better, and its designed to make you cheer. It did however, give me a warm feeling about the people, time and place, and that despite the fact that racing's a rich people's sport.

However, one of the best things about it was that the main character with guts is female. That's a big positive, and the casting of Diane Lane was spot on. She takes over the screen, and carries the film very well. The other big surprise for me was John Malkovich, actually not playing a creepy weirdo for once, and he was actually interesting and likeable. Great supporting cast, too, lots of familiar faces.

Race photography is well done, and the Triple Crown races are tense. Good direction by Randall Wallace, who sets the tone as a realistic, almost documentarian telling of the tale.

If you're a bored teen that needs shocks to stay awake, this isn't for you.

However, it's a solid film about an amazing achievement, with some nice real world touches that used to be how films were made. I enjoyed it.

Gettysburg
Gettysburg(1993)
½

Ted Turner is a Civil War nut, and so it?s no surprise that he helped fund this sprawling, re-enactor-laden production of the famous battle of the American Civil War. Director James Maxwell and the production team did a pretty good job of coordinating the film and the actor/re-enactors that form the battle scenes. If you?re not a history buff, though, there will be little to latch onto regarding the why of the tactics and the flow of the battle. The best that can be said is that it hits the high points of the multi-day action pretty well. The script was lifted from the very good novel Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. The movie, like the book, tells the story of the battle from the viewpoint of a few key individuals, of high and low rank.

Jeff Daniels is the standout here: He's very believable and comfortable in his role as Col. Joshua Chamberlain. He has the best scenes, and we know the most about his character from the real Chamberlain?s writings so there's plenty of depth to his portrayal. It's interesting to note that the whole war could be said to have hinged on what his character did at one point in the action. Truly a case of how one man made a big difference.

Less effective is Martin Sheen as General Robert E. Lee. An enigmatic figure at best, Lee?s character here is mostly reconstructed from a very romantic viewpoint. The real man is elusive, although Sheen does his best in some of the smaller scenes give a glimpse of what he might have been like. Tom Berenger suffers from bad makeup, but he manages to act past that as General James Longstreet. One of the more sympathetic characters is Confederate General Lew Armistead, played by the late Richard Jordan in his last film. It?s interesting to note that Jordan died the day of the premiere of the movie, almost to the minute that his character dies on screen. He does a good job portraying a war-weary, disillusioned commander who?s been losing his friends one by one over the years of war. It?s a nice performance, and amidst the patriotic drumbeats of the film, a welcome shift from the stiff marble-statue portrayals of most of the rest of the generals. Sam Eliott also has a nice role as John Buford, whose defense of the roads into Gettysburg was perhaps the whole reason the battle was fought.

There?s certainly plenty of action, spaced throughout the film. The battle sequences are pretty good, and accurately capture the tactics and cost of an attack. The ?fog of war? and lack of information about the opposing armies? movements is also a central theme to the movie, as it was for warfare of the period. But none of this will really interest the average viewer, and that?s where the movie fails to engage: It?s a niche film, with a big budget and lots of sweeping camera work, but no one except a student of history will really care much for what?s going on. It?s somewhat of an anti-war film, and doesn?t point fingers at the underlying reasons for the war. For the Confederacy its still about state?s rights in 1863. For Lincoln?s general?s it?s trying to lift the war to something nobler: setting other men free. Only Chamberlain really makes this clear in a nice speech delivered by Daniels. Otherwise, we?re left adrift in a critical battle that we don?t really understand. It was a turning point in the war between the states, but no one realized it at the time.

If you like period pieces with warfare, there aren?t many films about the Civil War that can match this one. While it?s far from perfect in terms of acting or dialogue, and there are some cheesy effects (the beards are really poorly done!, it?s still interesting to watch and marvel that people once killed each other who worshiped the same God, and who truly were from the same families and circles of friends.

It's a four hour film, so be prepared with plenty of snacks. You might also want to watch something like Ken Burns Civil war before viewing, it will give you much more perspective on the war up to July 1863.

Trivia: See if you can catch Ted Turner's cameo appearances in the film.

Gods and Generals

Years after the release of Gettysburg, a second film about some pivotal battles in the American Civil War was released by the same production team that made the previous film. However, where Gettysburg was a successful film in capturing the pivotal battle, and had some standout performances to lend a human view to the slaughter taking place, this film almost entirely fails on all counts.

Although shorter than Gettysburg, tedious and boring are a good description. The dialogue is stilted and filled with speechy platitudes that its near cousin Gettysburg avoided, for the most part. The conversations are as if they were lifted from a wordy book, and are completely unbelievable, even considering the way people expressed themselves in the 1860's.

This movie has a distinctly southern slant, and focuses on one of the most bizarre and brilliant generals on the Confederate side: Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. A weird eccentric in an era of picture book generals, his was a fascinating figure. Stephen Lang tries to make him interesting, but the awful dialogue leaves him no room for exploring the character. He should be the man you love to hate: it could ahve been a story like Patton. However, we're really not allowed to see inside his head. In the hands of another director, this could have been a fascinating study of how a complete nut job was good at one thing: Battle.

The action sequences are well done, but they can't keep the momentum going. The film is badly fragmented and disjointed, and at 3 and a half hours, its horrible to endure. While some of the favorites from Gettysburg are in this (earlier period in the war) film, they have no chance to shine. I can't help thinking they ought to have spent more time with Robert Duvall's portrayal of Lee. Too bad.

It's incredible how many things are just wrong with this film. The awful romanticism of Jackson, and the lame dialogue defeated the armies in this film, not the opposing side.

This one you can leave on the shelf. watch Gettysburg instead.

Marie Antoinette

People are divided on this film, but I?m firmly in the ?fail camp?. Sophia Coppola is a talented film-maker, but I felt completely distanced from both the history and the person of Marie Antoinette with this film. Stylish and dazzling, she knows how to frame a lens and achieve shots for maximum effect. However, within that frame, there?s nothing of importance or substance going on. It?s like a pouty fashion show, almost a mockery of its own style, trying desperately to be hip. To me, the premise of this film was if Marie Antoinette was able to a video diary or post to a Facebook page in the 18th century, that?s what this film would capture. In other words, nothing I care to know about Marie Antoinette really shone forth.

There was an abandoned attempt to paint her in a more sympathetic light: A young girl, with little knowledge, has to survive on wits and beauty in a foreign land. That could have been really interesting. But we fast forward into the bon bons without much warning. As historical figures go, compare this bad biopic with the terrific Young Victoria. Now you can clearly see at least one thing: Victoria was an effective Queen, and Marie Antoinette was a disastrous choice for France. But the examination of that slippery slope for her within the court of France never really gets going. We, the viewer, feel as insulated from the events around her as she does.

We learn very little of her motivations. But maybe I?m wrong here: Maybe showing her a vapid, steerless girl was the way Coppola wanted the movie to progress. If so, it makes for boring and meaningless costume parades, and banal dialogue. The consequences of being self-indulgent must have been a shock to the real Marie Antoinette, and her coterie, but we get little of that. There?s no layers to Kirsten Dunst except in terms of petticoats. Don?t get me wrong, I like costume dramas with a little romance, but even her fling seems tacked on, and a necessary sideshow just to show some skin. There were a lot of other half-realized ideas: Showing how she set fashion trends, and how celebrity status can be a double-edged sword. None of it works. I was desperately hoping to see Marie's head in a basket, but alas, they disappointed us by leaving that to our imagination.

Radio Days
Radio Days(1987)
½

Although I?ve been hot and cold on Woody Allen for years, with radio Days he was able to capture the whimsical side of his personality in writing and direction without going overboard in either the silly or gloomy direction.

In fact, it?s probably my favorite Woody Allen film after maybe Annie Hall. Backed up by his cast of 'usual suspects', this film with its Oscar-nominated original screenplay is a nostalgic look at the early days of mass communication via the airwaves. The technology has changed, but Allen was able to capture the spirit of what made these radio days great, and why it still fascinates.

You?ll see all the familiar faces except Allen in this. He narrates, but doesn't appear. In fact, I like his films when he isn?t on screen, and uses a proxy, in this case Seth Green (as a young kid!). Everyone lends their best upbeat, comedic tone to the film, but it also has a lot of thoughtful, poignant, and bittersweet moments: It?s never schmaltzy or heavy-handed. The vignettes are all intermingled seamlessly, and Allen keeps the pace up in what might otherwise have been dragged under by its naturally talkative script.

It?s basically Woody Allen?s ?soundtrack of my life? using songs and old radio shows. It?s a very effective film, and relevant to today?s generation that use playlists and favorite movies and music delivered through new forms of mass media. People still seek entertainment and escape, and Mr. Allen provides both in this marvelous time capsule.

Recommended

Fitzcarraldo
Fitzcarraldo(1982)

Another unique film in the Herzog/Kinski collection, Fitzcarraldo tell the almost unbelievable story of one of the craziest schemes ever attempted by human beings. In fact, it's really a case where madness really does translate to genius.

It's a slow burn to watch, but the beauty of the landscape and the sheer magnitude of the quest is impressive. Klaus Kinski plays yet another slightly mad Don Quixote figure tilting at the nearly impossible windmill of bringing opera to a small frontier town in Peru, via the treacherous Amazon River.

You'll be amazed at what the filmmakers did with the story (which is fact-based). They literally re-created the attempt that the real mad Irishman tried. There's no CGI fakery here, it's all really happening as you watch. If you have an evening to see what dreamers can do when they put their minds to it, watch Fitzcarraldo.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

It shares little in common with Ian Fleming's clever book, and it wasn't a hit with the critics either, but its kind of grown on me over the years. It's a big production, with some very interesting musical numbers, very elaborate sets, and a bewildering array of items crafted just for the film. Not to mention the car itself. The sheer audacity of doing this film as a musical never ceases to amaze me. The musical numbers by Richard and Robert Sherman are all quite memorable.

Despite the sugary sweet script, there are some great comic turns here, and Dick Van Dyke was electric in his role. The kids are annoyingly cute, and the supporting cast is also excellent, especially the very talented Lionel Jeffries as the elder Potts. (Little known fact, Jeffries was actually younger than Van Dyke, yet plays his father) Gerd Frobe of Goldfinger fame is amusingly over the top as the Baron Von Bomburst. Sally Anne Howes comfortably fills the role of Truly Scrumptious.

I saw a retrospective on the film with Dick Van Dyke, who told some interesting stories of the production. The fact that he wasn't a dancer, yet managed to tackle the elaborate Morris dance of "Me Old Bamboo" is a tribute to his professionalism.

The effects are pretty poor by today's standards, but the live action sequences are beautifully rendered, including some use of famous Neuschwanstein Castle.

See it for the nostalgia of what family entertainment used to be like.

The Ghost Writer
½

Ghost writer contains an interesting premise and a scenario that is just ridiculous enough to be true. There's a good cast with talent, and an off-beat location as a backdrop for the story. However, it was pretty underwhelming when it all comes down to it. I?ve heard buzz that it?s brilliant, but I just didn't see it.

It?s a weird film, with a weird Polanski touch of humor here and there It has weird vignettes in it that were put there to make it seem more real, but instead are very distracting. (It?s a film about eating sandwiches part of the way) We gave up trying to piece it together, and instead guessed the real bad guy about a third of the way in, so after that, it was just a slow roll to the somewhat anti-climactic ending.

Ewan McGregor was all right as the Ghost Writer himself. He has to have an obligatory sex scene which does nothing to advance the plot, although it ought to have been more significant. I can?t say more about that without giving away the whole thing. Instead they put that in just to wake up the female audience, because it was very slow. There are lots of weird throwaway characters that don?t really do anything, (like Kim Cattrall doing a vanishing British accent) and unexplained events that are left to you to imagine why it was even in the film. They are Red herrings that aren't very significant ones.

For example, Timothy Hutton gives Ewan McGregor an unimportant book manuscript that is promptly stolen. The theft is assumed to be because of the bio he?s going to be ghost writing, but it?s never explained. You can?t ask Timothy Hutton about this either, since he promptly disappears from the film after the first five minutes.

All these weird things were devices to create paranoia in what is otherwise a movie about ghost writing a book, with unusual consequences. Polanski did this throughout the film, just to ratchet up tension, but it never felt tense. I suppose he had to manipulate us to keep the big reveal a secret.

Pierce Brosnan is somewhat in the film, but his scenes seem incomplete, and he comes off as curiously flat. The dialogue throughout is just odd. I think Polanski was trying to give the audience the character-eye view that things don?t add up, and things aren?t all as they seem, but again, it just makes it all seem disjointed.

A good hunch served us well enough to exactly guess as to what was really going on, and we didn?t even need the clues carried by McGregor. Instead of the ah-hah moment, we simply have to watch it to the end. The viewer feels no sense of accomplishment, at all. Not that I mind the ending, it?s all right, and the final camera shot was very cool, but, *shrugs* I?ve seen better.

Disappointing, to say the least. No idea why the critics didn?t pick this one apart.

Casino Royale
½

This is an odd artifact from the wild and experimental 60's in moviemaking: a spoof of James Bond. I'll say up front that its a complete train wreck as far as story, plot, and action, so be warned. However, the cast list reads like a who's who of classic film actors in a wide variety of bit parts and little vignettes. I doubt you will see a larger collection of classic film actors outside of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. That's probably the only reason to watch this film, as it has about as much James Bond in it as Austin Powers did. It's James Bond as seen through a drug-induced haze. 9Might be the best way to watch it? You didn't hear that from me LOL)

The plot bares only a slight resemblance to the book (and later, far superior movie). The real James Bond is trying to enjoy a quiet retirement, but his old enemies and some new ones, are at it again. It takes forever to get to the real world-threatening plot, which, of course, is complete nonsense. Turns out MI6 has multiple James Bonds to save the world, but only a few of them are anywhere as competent as the original. (David Niven)

There are some really bizarre sequences, and the trivia surrounding this film would fill up a review all by itself. The film had a troubled production, with no less than five directors employed, and its still not known what happened to Peter Sellers role, which is cut short. Presumably, he had creative differences somewhere along the way.

For the time, it was a pretty risque film. Lots of half-dressed females, although this shouldn't be surprising in a Bond film of any type.

In short, a terrible waste of time and talent. It's a disjointed set of loosely strung together episodes, but it's sort of fun to watch now. Keep a notepad and pen handy and try to write down all the classic actors you see in the film.

It's also amazing that Burt Bacharach let his name be used in association with some of the the film's music sequences. Hopefully they paid him well. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass rendered the very recognizable theme for the movie.

Recommended for film buffs.

Dead Again
Dead Again(1991)
½

One thing is for sure, after seeing this movie, you?ll never look at a pair of scissors the same way! It probably also served as the inspiration for anti-smoking commercials by the American Cancer Society.

Dead Again is Kenneth Branagh?s nod to film noir classics with murder, mystery and private detectives, and with a slightly supernatural twist. The film is notable because it?s a superb group of actos from the British stage having fun working together. It?s pretty humorous to see Branagh trying to hold an American accent, as well as Emma Thompson, but watching that old team work together made it almost believable anyway. There?s also a very interesting cameo by Robin Williams, and Wayne Knight (Newman!) in his first significant film role. The performances are what you?d expect from this group: They carry their characters well, and this helps engage the viewer, and the witty script keeps you interested on where this story is going.

The story itself is about the murder of a famous composers? wife, and his subsequent execution. You?d think the story would end there, but in a cleverly scripted set of twists, Branagh?s PI named Mike Church (appropriate) meets an amnesia victim with strange knowledge of the old murder. You might guess the ending long before it comes, but it?s a rather enjoyable journey to get there. It?s not a heavyweight film with a big aspirations, but it?s entertaining, and has a regular doses of ironic humor throughout.

If you like detective drama, you might like Dead Again. There?s no shootouts or memorable chases, as it?s more Agatha Christie than Bourne Supremacy, but it?s solid entertainment for an evening in with some popcorn, and someone you like.

Alice in Wonderland

I was underwhelmed by this film, which was nice to look at, but a very pedestrian script. Like the critics here said, it really did lack WONDER.

They tried to re-create Alice's surprise at the creatures by her amnesia about her prior visit, but then they abandoned that premise, which might have made her more interesting. After all, we lose our childish fantasies at some point, but what if those childish fantasies suddenly came back into an adult full-force? But, they didn't go there. They plunged on simply re-creating the Wonderland almost exactly as it was before.

The weak premise of leaving childhood behind, and Alice becoming her own person was what they next attempted, but it was rather lamely done. In fact, although Alice is the title of the movie, they really didn't seem to care what happened to her. There was nothing at stake. Her journey really didn't make much difference, they just tacked on an ending that she's a liberated female now. That's a good message, but it could have been better. She ought to have been the teacher to the Wonderland residents while discovering her own strengths. That was implied, but again, it was a weak through-line that lent no suspense, and she really didn't change from start to finish. There was no value in the (re) discovery of the place she'd gone. We also needed to see that Wonderland changed more than it did since she was a child. Not just "The red Queen is conquering Wonderland".

It was mostly a series of set-piece comic parts for Johnny Depp, Crispin Glover, and Helena Bonham-Carter. A nice place to visit, but fast forward through the tour. It was like a little like the Snow White Scary Adventure ride at Disneyland, it just sort of ends, leaving you wondering why it mattered.

Positives include a very nice, colorful array of costumes, sets, and characters, as you might expect. Good individual performances, and a few laughs. Not enough of anything worth watching again.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
½

How do you make a film about talking owls interesting to a wide audience? Take a series of books, adapt some of the better plots, add some talented voice casting and a storyline that isn?t too cluttered, and top it off with great animation. This is Legends of the Guardians. We?d been watching previews for this film for a long long time, and so we expected it to at least be entertaining and visually interesting. It?s both. The plot is like something lifted from every quest novel you?ve ever read, but the characters are appealing, and there?s just enough at stake for the protagonists to make you feel some emotion for what they have to go through. The movie is a patchwork of some of the books (There?s like 20+ of these), so it strings together a lot of Soren?s adventures to make one film.

While it?s a good enough adaptation, it does leave a lot of things unexplained. This is perhaps the weakest part of the film. Some of the most interesting bits of the books' conflict and its mythology aren?t really explained completely, so it has just enough story to engage adults. If you?ve read the books, you fill in the gaps the film leaves, but to me, that?s a bit lazy on the film-makers part, and its one of my biggest negatives on this film. I make it a practice not to reveal plot twists, but there are a few, and they?re pretty well handled. However, some book characters do get short shrift. Critics will talk about the rather ordinary story line, and I agree, they could have done more with it, but it?s good enough.

What Legends of the Guardians does well is move along at a good pace. It?s got action enough to suit older children, and in fact it?s a bit thematically dark in places, and this might frighten kids under 8. However, it will keep you engaged. The music is interesting and multi-layered, with vocals (Lisa Gerrard of Gladiator fame), and instrumentals that make a nice underscoring to the battles. Perhaps the best parts are that its? visually stunning, and the amount of emotion they can put on a birds face is pretty remarkable. Saw it in 3-D, which is never used for ?cheap? tricks, but really enhances the world of the owls. The voice talents are largely Australian, (as is most of the production team) and this makes you listen more closely. They?re all appropriate and the dialogue is a little routine, but still effective. There?s also some good humor sprinkled throughout, and the film has a good heart. It?s not Lord of the Rings, which it superficially resembles, but it?s a nice effort by Snyder & Co. to do something that looks and feels different from the formula for younger peoples? movies.

Shakespeare in Love
½

Shakespeare in Love is the rare case of a costume comedy/romance becoming relatively popular outside the art set demographic. However, it cleverly bended the elements of comedy and romance; as well as some bare elements of who was Shakespeare himself; and added a real budget for high production values to make a successful film. The fact that it was crafted for mass appeal takes nothing away from the excellent ensemble cast, and terrific script by people that really know and love theater. It?s an interesting postulation: Why did Shakespeare write some of the plays, regardless of who he was? Since this is a complete fabrication, it's not intended to add to our understanding of who the man himself was, just how inspiration led to some of the greatest literary works the world has ever seen.

Despite the star power of Joe Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow, it?s really an ensemble film, with wonderful supporting performances from Tom Wilkinson; Geoffrey Rush; Ben Affleck, and a host of other stage/screen crossover actors. Blending humor in good measure, the movie moves swiftly through its premise, and never slows down. From the backdrop of Elizabethan England to the costume detail, it?s pretty meticulous. For those of us that work in theater, it?s fun to watch, and catch the layers of detail that are included here. While it?s a bit over-the-top in places, it captures the spirit and the difficulty that theater productions face, even today. Nothing has really changed!

Direction by John Madden is perfect, with the right blend of comedy and tragedy apportioned amongst the actors strengths. Smooth editing, and a terrific musical score add to the build up to the ending, which is nearly flawless, as well as bittersweet.

It?s one of the few films that Gwyneth Paltrow has done where I didn?t mind her performance, although I can think of half-a-dozen actresses that could have played the role of a progressive young woman better than she did. However, the rest, as I said, are just right. Subsequent viewings of this film prove that the entire cast had a great time with this material, and that?s infectious.

Recommended

The Other Boleyn Girl
½

My first viewing of the trailer told me this was going to be pretty to look at, but a failure. The book is better by far. This adaptation fell far short of its lofty goal of making a costume drama seem racy and mainstream. A fine cast, with fine costuming and locations, its actors and actresses can't overcome a lackluster script, and predictable setups. While it points out some interesting historical vignettes of the two girls' lives, I felt nothing but contempt for the entire family by the end. Maybe I would if I really knew what went on then, I don't know.

My problems with this film are legion: The lead actresses probably ought to have donned wigs and switched roles. Johansen was boring as the nicer sister and the ambitious Anne (Natalie Portman) couldn't hook a flounder with the lines she was given to recite, and Portman is a good actress. Eric Bana provides the swoon-worthy element for the female audience, but he's simply moved around like a chess piece in this contrived plot.

If you want trashy sex in this era, you might as well watch the ridiculous Tudors series instead. As for any kind of understanding of intrigue in the court, it's soap opera style at best.

It could have been good, but it wasn't.

Michael Clayton
½

Michael Clayton is a multi-faceted, intelligent drama that makes a corporate lawsuit into an almost thriller. Brilliantly written and directed by Tony Gilroy, it goes above and beyond the Grisham novels and movies. George Clooney?s conflicted ?fixer? in a legal fiasco is caught between the worlds of loyalty and confidentiality, and professional ? eventually personal ? survival. The film is realistic to a degree that most courtroom/legal dramas aren?t: There?s no gavel-pounding, only the whine of the copy machine and paper shredder as a backdrop for the legal maneuvering.

There?s a lot going on between Michael Clayton, his bosses, his family and friends, and the firm he?s representing, and the stakes (meaning money) are very very high. Gilroy increases the suspense with every scene, but it never gets melodramatic or leaves a realistic plane of existence. Clooney is his usual intense self, and the award to Tilda Swinton was well-deserved. She?s just about as conflicted and dimensional as Clooney is, but she?s on the wrong side. Tom Wilkinson is also brilliant as the deranged attorney that causes the foundations of the legal case to crumble. It?s a great script, and it proves that you don?t have to carry a gun to be deadly, sometimes the flick of a legal pen is enough to kill. It?s also startlingly relevant to the corporate legal landscape. I just could happen?you'd swear you've read news stories just like it.

The Aviator
The Aviator(2004)

The Aviator is a sprawling, ambitious, and somewhat conservatively constructed Scorsese film, with all the hallmarks of a master storyteller behind the camera. It's pretty amazing what he manages to put onto film here, and how many scenarios of Howard Hughes life it manages to capture. If I have any complaints about it, it focused a lot of the glitz and glamor, and not so much on the real accomplishments of the man and the capitalist. Nevertheless its a great biopic, as well as a social commentary.

Leonardo di Caprio proves once again that he can carry a film of this magnitude, and his supporting cast is also superb, and they support his role perfectly. From his long-suffering friends, to his amours, there are some very interesting small scenes that put together the mosaic of a man with as much wrong with him as there was genius.

Every scene builds upon the other, and while it's sometimes disjointed (a director's cut needed?) it marches steadily towards the finale of Hughes public life: The short flight of the Spruce Goose. From there, it was indeed, all downhill. It's a movie to watch for detail, and the amazing craft that Scorsese and his team puts into every film.

Recommended

Julie & Julia

Drawn from two separate books and combined into one film, Julie and Julia is a food film with some really great performances, and that's what makes it an easy journey. Meryl Streep perfectly captures the spirit and heart of the cooking maven Julia Child, and her relationship with her husband Paul Child. It's the stronger story of the two, drawn from writings and diary entries, but Amy Adams manages to make the neurotic Powell almost likeable in the modern era half of the film.

I base my rating on the strength of the performances, and the subject matter was quite interesting. Good humor abounds, and the contrast between the couples and their respective eras is pretty interesting too. Once, people were doers like Julia Child, who redefined cooking for millions of people. Then there are voyeurs, like Powell, the 'Internet' generation, who don't really do anything new, but recycle others success. I think Adams did manage to capture the fact that her character learned something about herself, and discovered that she was more capable than she thought. So, that's what she 'did', so in the end, I enjoyed both sides of the movie.

It's a nice journey, and uplifting.

Recommended.

Enchanted
Enchanted(2007)

Someone was very inspired at Disney when they thought this up, and they even managed to carry through on the execution of this film. So, tired of being lampooned by everyone, Disney set out to make light fun at its own princess genre. The result was a fast-paced, witty and fun romp at the intersection of two worlds. Saw this with low expectations, and it really won me over big-time, partly because it has Amy Adams, but also because the whole cast looked like they had fun making it.

The acting is appropriately over-the-top and/or incredulous, depending on whether you're from the real world or the cartoon world. Timothy Spall just cracks me up, and he's a hard-working actor. He's in everything these days. They even threw in the original Wicked Witch from Wicked (Idina Menzel) whose very talented. Patrick Dempsey manages to balance the two sides of his character pretty well, and even the Rachel Covey is sprightly. Susan Sarandon is fun to watch while she chews the scenery as the archetype evil queen

It makes no pretense to being deep or anything more than fluff, but it was a welcome change of pace.

I keep wondering when this is going to end up on the Broadway stage...

Cyrano De Bergerac
½

The 1990 version by Jean-Paul Rappeneau is, to my mind, one of the best adaptations of the Rostand story, and a great romance/drama. This version even surpasses some very fine stage adaptations that I?ve seen, and it?s a great story for the stage. You?ve seen the theme many times, the unrequited love of a tragic hero for the maiden, but never like presented here. Gerard Depardieu made this character and movie completely his own, and Rappeneau managed to make all the members of the love triangle equally sympathetic. Christian does come off as sincere, and Roxane does come off as intelligent, but also kind. This pays huge dividends at the end of the movie, with Cyrano?s big revelation that he?s carried with him for many years.

The film treats the key episodes of the romance and wooing by proxy with a skilled artistry that you don?t see in many romances. The idea of writing someone else?s letters for wooing is humorous, and the humor is played perfectly throughout: It?s never ridiculous, because Depardieu and his co-stars play their roles exactly right. The poetry and Cyrano?s love of words is clear, and even the inexperienced Christian is moved. The film could tip into the maudlin at times, but it doesn?t. It feels true. The duels and wordplay are also well-handled, and even Cyrano?s enemies have good moments. It?s also an interesting period of history, and the whole flashing blades/musketeers era beautifully portrayed. One of the best of its type. The acting and ?being there? feeling is spot-on. You feel every insult, and you see how personal the duels are, both with words, and with swords. The stakes are high with Anne Brochet as the object of the men?s desire. This talented comedienne and actress certainly found some depth and intelligence to a character that is often portrayed as merely coquettish or dismissive. Here, we get all the emotions of the love triangle.

The all-french production also shines with its cinematography, art direction, and of course, costumes. The score by Jean-Claude Petit is appropriate and understated.

The final sequences on the battlefield are well-shot and interesting to watch. The final minutes, with Cyrano?s death are well-handled. If you?ve ever loved someone that didn?t love you, that final scene will poke at your heartstrings.

In French of course, but you hardly notice. Recommended.

Déjà Vu
Déjà Vu(2006)

I wanted to like this film more than I did. It has a great cast: Denzel Washington, the attractive Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, and Jim Caviezel. It starts out like a standard cops and terrorist/killer scenario, (shocking to start with) and ends up in a time travel premise that goes a bit over the top. The trouble with that is, you have to reveal that premise way too early, and then its a desperate scramble to tie-up the plot and loose ends, and create a satisfactory conclusion.

That may be why it falls apart of its own weight about half-way through, and becomes a bit too predictable. It doesn't help that each of the main actors is in their accustomed roles, Denzel as the driven detective type, Caviezel as a loony, etc. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it was perhaps too soon to use New Orleans as a backdrop for another disaster. However, It's not all bad. The visuals and action are pretty good, and the intensity never flags much. It's mostly enjoyable, as long as you don't think about the plot too much.

It's really a tribute to the intensity of Denzel and his co-stars that we are engaged all the way through.

It's all been done before, but it might be worth a rental if you like thrillers with weird science.

Troy
Troy(2004)
½

This movie had a lot going for it: A talented cast of people that wouldn't have been 25% that attractive in the Bronze Age, a talented director, a big budget, and pretty good effects to back up an epic story. So what went wrong with this?

Yes, it's long, but it's supposed to be a long war with lots of ups and downs for both sides. Unfortunately, it's a case of 'skip a bit, brother' and take us to the climactic final conflict. It's just too big a story, perhaps.

I guess in the end, I just didn't care about any of the characters, because they were all so unlikeable. It's got a very pro-Trojan slant to it, but you know they're doomed, so...what satisfaction can you get out of a long film where the outcome is pre-determined? Hopefully you learn something, but Troy has nothing to teach us...about anything.

I was glad to see they took the historic route, and didn't resort to crazy gods intruding on the picture like Clash of the Titans, but there was a definite lack of mythology here. The characters acted like modern people, with no fear of the Gods wrath. We'll never really know of course, but people must have been driven by fear of everything unexplained...by portents and nature itself. You banded together behind strong people because, well, they were less afraid. The one concession to this was crazy Cassandra, but it simply wasn't used. It was an old-fashioned 50's Hollywood epic with updated technology, and without anyone to really root for.

There were also no real surprises. Brad Pitt was appropriately buffed and egotistical, but it was all one note acting for him, and he's capable of more. Once again, Orlando Bloom got a thankless role. Eric Bana was about the only one that seemed comfortable with his role, and he tried.

It was disappointing, to say the least. It looks great, and the action is good, but it gave the audience no reason for the fanaticism. Maybe Helen's 'theft' ought to have been done at a higher cost? It was ultimately a war fought over trade, which isn't very interesting, but more of that could have been included. The siege could have been more interesting, too, but I go on and on.

Left me wanting to watch Spartacus again.

That Thing You Do!

It's catchy, it's snappy, it's charming. It's one of those films I see on cable half-way through, and with a lack of anything else to do late at night I watch the rest of it. That Thing You Do features a lot of talent wrapped in an early music industry story, topped off by a little romance, and a hefty dose of good humor. You also get a bunch of original songs by 'original' bands and singers that sound suspiciously like other groups and singers of the mid-60's.

Directed and Written by Tom Hanks, it's just one of those films with so many 'make-you-smile' moments, I don't have time to list them all. Can you tell I like this film? It's also fun to see Charlize Theron in a small role before she was A-list, and a host of familiar faces in various cameo roles. It's just a fun film, but recalls with more accuracy than you might expect the early days of rock and roll.

Recommended.

Tales of Manhattan

I guess I'm on a classics kick this week. Tales from Manhattan is an odd little film made up a series of episodes and vignettes where a tailcoat changes the lives of a number of people. Fate can be capricious, though, and some do well and others poorly by owning the coat.

With an engaging mix of stories linked together, and a terrific cast of studio power names, Tales of Manhattan is still fun to watch. There's two versions: Either its theatrical release (five stories) or a 'restored' release with the sixth story as part of the disc set. The film isn't without its weaknesses, with a weaker story near the end about a poor black family finding the coat that used far too many stereotypes.

However, the love triangles are carried off well, and two of the stories are standouts: Charles Laughton as a struggling composer, and Edward G. Robinson as a man who has lost everything are, in my opinion two of the most heartfelt episodes.

Overall, a gem that many people have probably not seen.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

While it was intended for a propaganda vehicle during wartime, this film transcends its campy and sentimental trappings because of the electric performance of James Cagney. As a biography of a great entertainer, it also succeeds, and covers a lot of ground through Cohan's long career. If you're a student of history, or just love film and theater, you'll appreciate the nods to Vaudeville, the comedy, and song-and-dance acts. It's like a time capsule, and a great chapter in the history of entertainment: Broadway was built by Vaudevillians including Cohan on one figurative side of the street and Frohman's organization (the higher brows) on the other.

The film's all Cagney, though. His incredible on-screen performance is just brilliant. While he's better known for his tough guy roles, this is probably one of his best performances, and one he considered his best as well, and for which he won Best Actor.

The direction and filming is snappy and fluid considering its time, but that's to be expected when capturing Cagney's energy. The supporting cast was also splendid, with cameos by some famous Vaudevillians.

If you've never seen this, you owe it to yourself to experience it on a big screen, in a classic movie house if you can. or on the biggest TV screen you can find or rent. It's just plain fun.

To Kill A Mockingbird

One of the best adaptations of a book to film ever made. In some ways it surpasses Harper Lee's brilliant novel in being able to bring to life a time and an era not very long gone. The pacing, the use of each camera shot, and the spare dialogue all combine to create a mood and tone that is perfect throughout. It's also one of the few films where the narration is used judiciously and in correct measure to the story.

There's not much you can say about Gregory Peck that hasn't been said before. It's arguably one of his best films, and he is the very embodiment of Atticus Finch. The kids in the film were natural and believable as they came to be aware of the world around them. It's a kind of innocence that's largely lost on today's media saturated audience.

The characters are endearing, and the story is relevant even today. It educates and inspires while you watch the drama unfold.

Recommended

Good Night, And Good Luck
½

As a former journalist myself, this film definitely resonated with me. It will undoubtedly bore people that are looking for action and conspiracies -- there's none -- except for conspiracies to control people's thoughts. If you want to understand how your perception of 'news' has been hijacked today, watch this film, which is more of a biopic of TV News of the past. It's both history and a cautionary tale of truth and responsibility today. It's not hard to follow, and its told through just one incident in the life of one of journalism's greats: Edward R. Murrow.

It's all exposition, but I found it gripping and it validated everything I was taught to uphold in news. It's a pretty simple concept conveyed in the film: Freedom of speech comes with a cost.

Clooney's directorial debut is a seamless blend of great actors doing what they do best. All of them work together well, and bring their respective journalist or business people to life once more. There's even a clever use of real footage included in David Strathairn's depiction of Murrow's question and answer session with McCarthy.

Murrow's words in the film are never more true than they are today, when opinion passes for fact, and gossip passes for news. we've come a long way since the 1950's, but some things don't change much.

Watching the DNA of new reporting on US TV/Mass Media will make you think, but as I said, it's all dialogue. I don't expect many here will like this film, but watch it and gain a little insight into the way things are.

Layer Cake
Layer Cake(2005)

Layer Cake is a gritty British crime drama which copious amounts of talented actors, action, suspense, and clever twists to it. Daniel Craig plays his highly intelligent drug-dealer trying to get out of the business to perfection, and the supporting cast of hoods and heavies is also excellent. Throw in a nice blonde (Sienna Miller) and you have something on the order or Snatch, also by Vaughn, but more effectively shot and acted. It?s not quite Scorsese, but it has the same sort of grim humor and sudden violence that populate other crime dramas.

The way his (unnamed and mysterious) character manages to survive double-crosses and triple crosses, and set up his own double-crosses is certainly clever and well done. It?s tinged with realism in a way that similar US crime stories aren?t, although this is more stylized and hip than any crime syndicate deserves to be. However, all the motivations of the characters are well portrayed. The twists require your full attention, but it?s a satisfying movie. In the DVD version, there are multiple endings, so I won?t reveal anything about them, and leave you to enjoy your "Cake."

Finding Neverland
½

Although Finding Neverland isn't intended as a biopic of J.M. Barrie, it gives the viewer a lot of insight into the creative mind of the author of Peter Pan. It's an unconventional film, that ventures into many genres of film: Drama; comedy; fantasy; and tragedy. It does all of that with precision and polish, from the writing by David Magee, to the direction by Marc Forster, and of course the near-flawless performances by Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, and the child actors that portray her children.

The movie could have been maudlin and mushy, but the nuanced scenes and restrained performance by Depp and Winslet keep it really meaningful all the way through. Though it has an underlying sadness throughout, the adult Edwardian characters are too strong to allow for us to feel it through them, instead we feel the emotion through the children, who are less guarded than the adults.

Nominated for many awards, the film is seamlessly edited and with great costumes, art direction and locations. The whole setting perfectly supports the story, and makes the world real that Barrie and his proteges inhabited. Also effective is a gentle, understated (and Academy Award Winning) original musical score from Jan Kaczmarek.

The ending is a thing of beauty, too. If you see Peter Pan the play or musical in any form after seeing this movie, you'll just appreciate it even more.

Recommended

Eragon
Eragon(2006)

Eragon is just the epitome of a desperate money grab from its producers, and it will remain a film that its actors will wish they hadn't been associated with. Even veterans like Robert carlyle and Jeremy irons can't make the banal dialogue sound genuine, and Sienna Guillory can't even muster any dignity in her role as an elf.

Now, I'll grant you that the book was pretty much a ripoff of every quest adventure (even doing a Terry Brooks novel would have been better!), and so the base from which to start was pretty bad. However, it was just possible they could have made something of this that was at least intelligent, coherent and entertaining.

Unfortunately it's none of the above.

It's a series of action sequences strung together, with bad dialogue in between. There were a lot of good people in the film, so someone convinced them it was the next Lord of the Rings (wish I had been a fly on the wall in that meeting) It was just an epic failure on all levels. Even the fantasy world went unexplained, and there's no heart to the adventure either.

Avoid this one, or watch it as an example of how not to make a fantasy epic. I give it 10% because it has Sienna Guillory and Jeremy Irons, and a dragon.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

There were many changes to the film from the book, and it was a very dumbed-down, whitewashed and charmless adaptation. While it wasn't terrible, they managed to make it seem MORE like Harry Potter instead less by taking out many of the more interesting set pieces of the books. The result is that we get a colorless, Americanized version of kids with magical powers.

The cast did what they could, but they were cardboard cutouts with very little depth or charm. The few glimpses of the gods were interesting, and very classic in detail, but I don't think they ought to have made them 'supersize'. They also aged the principal characters to appeal more to the teen crowd, which was a mistake, and left zero room for character development, or for any natural bonding of the various characters as they get older together like in HP. It all felt rushed, although reading Riordan is like being dropped into the middle of a fast moving story anyway. He's not big on description, it's all dialogue.

Columbus did go outside his comfort zone, since this film is more properly an adaptation than a chapter by chapter tour of the first book. He did a pretty good job with the general flow of the story, but it lacked detail and became more like a teen road trip movie for a while instead of a quest.

The whole franchise is probably imperiled by this adaptation, but maybe they can do another and redeem themselves. Waste of a good story, and a clever premise. Very disappointing.

The Pacific
The Pacific(2010)

HBO?s ?The Pacific? miniseries captured seven Emmy awards recently, and this is my 100th review. Helmed and produced by the same team that created ?Band of Brothers?; the Pacific is an ambitious telling of some of the key island-hopping campaigns of the Second World War. With an eye for accuracy and detail, the production team perfectly captures the horrible, bloody mess the island campaigns were. Since it focuses largely on the stories of four Marines, the episodes are presented in a slightly different fashion that BoB, in that it gives no sweeping ?Invasion of Europe? overview, but instead captures the mud-level view of the common Marine.

It?s not as well liked as Band of Brothers: The reasons are clear. Most people have been raised on a steady diet of the romanticism of warfare, mostly as depicted in the invasion of Europe, and the bloody mess of the island campaigns isn?t well known. In the Pacific, that romanticism belonged to the naval pilots and carrier battles that were all part of the war. So it?s easy to see why it was less well-received by people that liked Band of Brothers: Nobody likes to see people broken by war, and unclear objectives, and often chaos: That?s truth. Another truth is that The Pacific does what few series have ever done ? take you there, and fill you with the same dread. You OUGHT to recoil from watching it. Pitted against the dedicated and implacable Japanese forces, these are young men for whom there?s no real escape: The marines and Army units engaged in reducing Japanese outposts had nothing but mud, malaria, and misery to compound their boredom.

The soldiers depicted are just some of the many stories but they give an interesting cross-section of the US forces. The casting is once again superb at all levels, and their ordeals are about as close as I ever want to come to a war like that. The action wavers between extremely intense bursts of violence and long period of either tedium or paranoia. You find yourself questioning why some of these battles were fought at all, and three episodes deal with Pelelieu, a pyrrhic and ultimately useless victory. However, these are stories that need to be told, and HBO and Spielberg?s team with Hanks, McKenna, and the rest of the technical folks do an outstanding job at all levels. You really come to understand why veterans of that conflict don?t talk about anything but the chow and their buddies. That?s really all that was even halfway good.

It will give you an appreciation for what that generation did, and even more appreciation for the sacrifices our current generation have made around the world in their own service to their country. This series and Band of Brothers makes many half-assed films about ?heroes? with guns look like the hollow fakes that they are. It?s not for everyone, but if you?re into history, or just want a better understanding of history presented in a high-quality way, The Pacific is worth watching. You can also read the companion book for the series, which also follows two more participants in the Pacific campaign that aren?t in the series.

Recommended

The Natural
The Natural(1984)
½

This movie had everything for me: It's taken from an excellent author's book, it's a study in people by the people director, Barry Levinson, it's got baseball as a backdrop, and it has Robert Redford and a great cast to watch. It's not an exact adaptation of Malamud's story, because it has significant differences in the actual outcome, but it captures the spirit of the writing better than I expected. Laying the book aside, it's just a really great film.

If you're a sports fan, you'll appreciate it's nod to the good old days of baseball, and it's allegorical nod to various baseball scandals, as well as honoring real sports figures like Ted Williams. If you're not a baseball fan, there's still a lot to like here: The considerable onscreen presence of Redford as Roy Hobbs overcomes any quibbles, in my book, about his 'baseball playing skills'. It's a fable, guys, it's not Bull Durham.

The thread of mythology and superstition is a strong theme here. Pick a favorite herculean story, with its flawed hero, and this is it. It has so many nice touches, and so many great little 'french scenes' between characters. Pops and Roy; Roy and Memo; Roy and Iris, etc. The supporting cast is very strong all around, even if they only have small parts.

There are so many great lines, it would be hard to capture them all here, so I'll leave it to you to pick your favorites, but briefly...

"I believe people have two lives...the life they learn with and the life they live after that"

Pops: "Batting practice tomorrow...be there!"
Hobbs: "I have been, every day."

Recommended...enjoy.

Seabiscuit
Seabiscuit(2003)
½

Another inspirational story of an underdog owned and trained by three other underdogs! Seabiscuit is an engaging film visit to period nostalgia, produced and directed by Gary Ross. It's a character study of three men and their remarkable race horse, and features good performances by Jeff Bridges, Tobey Maguire and Chris Cooper. Cooper's taciturn trainer is perhaps the strongest of the actors here, and he brings every scene to life, even if he has literally no lines.

The racing scenes are really exciting, and add a nice layer of tension to each step in Seabiscuit's career. It's intended as a crowd pleaser, and does just that, since everyone gets pretty much what they set out to get. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards but didn't win any, but it captures the era and characters quite well.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream
½

Coppola's tribute to Preston Tucker, inventor and loose cannon, is an enjoyable biopic with some messages relevant even today. While the story takes the most optimistic view of the emergence of the Tucker automobile, it's appropriate, since Tucker himself was one of those irrepressible optimists.

Jeff Bridges is fascinating as Tucker, and you can't help catch the fever and root for him, and his car. There's a number of good acting turns in this film, including a bizarre appearance by Dean Stockwell as Howard Hughes.

Coppola nicely reproduces the atmosphere and media frenzy of the time, as well as an interesting courtroom scene. The film clips right along, and you get an interesting view of the power of the established US car companies (how far they've fallen since then!) after the Second World War.

Some liberties were taken with the historicity to fit the screenplay, but overall, it captures the essence of who Tucker was, and what his cause faced. The film wasn't a commercial success, but it's worth your time because of the interesting subject matter, and a great 'underdog' story.

Recommended.

Empire of the Sun

I appreciate what Spielberg was doing with this film, and seeing the war through the eyes of Christian Bale is an interesting journey, and one well worth taking. That Bale was able to carry this rather episodic story on the big screen is quite a feat, considering his age at the time the movie was made.

The production values are first rate, and the terrible drudgery of the civilian POWs is perfectly portrayed. The privileged boy has a lot of growing up to do as the film progresses, and it's a little like Lord of the Flies: He starts innocent, is changed by his experience, and once the world goes back to normal, he has a hard time adjusting. The adult characters are not well defined, partly because they are peripheral to Jamie's existence. All except John Malkovich's opportunistic scrounger Basie, who becomes a sort of 'friend' and adult figure for Jamie Graham.

There's some terrific scenes, especially Jim's friendship with the Japanese boy. It's all told pretty much without conversation, and that's the way a lot of the film is done. It's a stunning collection of sights and sounds in Jim's eyes.

If I have any quibbles with the film, they're minor: I didn't like John Malkovich at all as Basie. He was too unlikeable. Somehow, to me, a knave like Basie would have been more charismatic than Malkovich can summon, but that's just my opinion.

The scene with the Mustangs shooting up the airdrome ought to be an emotional climax, and it's an awesome scene, but it didn't quite touch me the way I think Spielberg expected. I guess his character's point-of-view, where adults are mere spectators, worked on me, too. I felt very detached from Jamie at that point, and didn't share his enthusiasm.

Overall, though, it's a great film, and certainly goes down as one of Spielberg's more innovative and daring films.

Recommended

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

With the Sixth film, Director David Yates brought back Steve Kloves for the screenwriting effort, but the rest of the art and technical team remained mostly the same. The adaptation of the Sixth book is smoother, and a lot of streamlining of the characters and action contributed to a much more cohesive story telling effort than HP 5. Book Six also has a lot of key events, so it was easier to link together to arrive at the climax to the film.

Some deviations, however, have significantly changed how certain events happen, and some 'character detail' for Snape is omitted (Like why he's called the Half-Blood Prince) It will be interesting to see how Kloves writes certain things back into the scripts for 7.1 and 7.2. For example, the way that the potions book is hidden means that Harry can't find the diadem by accident, or at least not alone. My guess is that they'll simply find a clue to where it is in the Room of Requirement later. Possibly this was done to give Ginny a more active role in Harry's quest, since she really doesn't do much in Book 7. But I digress.

The start of the film indicates that things are going from bad to worse in the war on Voldemort. The team then jumps right into the mystery of the search for horcruxes by Dumbledore, and Draco's association with known Death Eaters. There's also a buildup of tension around the school, with Voldemort known to be active and causing trouble all around.

We learn that Dumbledore is searching for something, and he eventually takes Harry into his confidence in trying to get Professor Slughorn's memories. This major subplot is carried off well, but it seems a little out of sync with the suspicions about how Voldemort has cheated death. Surely Dumbledore must suspect he used a horcrux, but it's really not explained. No doubt to save it for the big reveal later in the film. However, the movie progresses well through these subplots and mysteries, with only occasional stops for 'shipping' and moments of levity. The quidditch match is pretty well done, but it somehow forgets that the Seeker ends the game, and Ron's heroism is just part of the victory. Small, niggling details like this are dotted throughout, but they don't really hurt the flow of the film.

The dark and sombre tone pervades the entire film, and unlike the prior films, Harry seems to be gaining some confidence, and he is taking a more effective role in his own quest to destroy Voldemort. Daniel Radcliffe shifts through his character changes well, and someone really worked on Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, too. They turn in much better, more nuanced performances in this film.

The main supporting characters remain strong. Although Maggie Smith's bout with cancer limited her employment in this film, Alan Rickman and Jim Broadbent come off very well. There are some very nice scenes with Slughorn, including the leadup to the big reveal.

The subsequent search for the horcrux and the Dumbledore's death are well handled, although somewhat different from the book. The movie succeeds in keeping things taught and suspenseful in the most important areas.

If the movie has a weakness, it's the lack of knowledge transfer between Harry and Dumbledore about the horcruxes. We can only presume that the Headmaster shared knowledge with him about it, because it's not fully explained. This will have to be rectified by additional clues left by Dumbledore as to the location of what the horcruxes can be and where.

The lack of understanding about Voldemort's propensity to return to certain places, and his hoarding of objects isn't really explained, either. Hinted at, but not explained. In a regular crime drama, this would be a major point to follow for detectives like Harry and company. It leaves readers with a feeling of "where will Harry start?" for 7.

This is what happens when you change things in an adaptation, it changes three other things. They'll come up with a good workaround, but it's not as elegant as the book does it.

Nevertheless, Yates and company improved upon the base they built with HP 5, and Half-Blood Prince stays on target for a handoff to films 7.1 and 7.2

Letters from Iwo Jima

The companion film to Flags of Our Fathers is both complementary and necessary to the appreciation of them both. Whereas Flags gave us protagonists that were trying to come to grips with the brutality and boredom, the characters in 'Letters' have no ability to escape.

Eastwood's direction is once again brilliant, and he was better able to capture the heart and soul of the Japanese soldiers, and makes them very real in the eyes of the viewer. Probably the most real Japanese military characters ever shown in a war film made by US filmmakers. They are haunting, in many ways, because they feel right. The film strips away the romanticism of war films, and replaces it with about as honest a portrayal of human nature in war as you can get.

Falstaff in Shakespeare's Henry IV Pt. I says 'What's honor? A word...' when he tries to explain his own cowardice and fear. All of the emotions around loyalty, duty, self-preservation, fear and anguish are realistically portrayed in the film. The acting is superb.

It's a sombre film, and it's not for everyone. It transcends being a war film or an anti-war film. It's a film about people and their humanity.

Recommended. Also read the book...

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
½

The fifth installment of the Harry Potter film series is a film that actually improves when given a second viewing. This is probably because the Director Writer team was altered again, and the march to a real adaptation of the books continued. In my opinion, this was one of the weaker efforts, but partly because it was based on the weakest of the books.

Director David Yates and his writer, Michael Goldenberg did a creditable job of eliminating a lot of unnecessary book detail with this adaptation. The pacing remains uneven however, and the movie still relies on people's knowledge of the Fifth Book to fill in the blanks, where things are seemingly unexplained. There's a lot of talk without any real explanation for non-Potterites. I didn't dock the film much for this, being very familiar with the source material, but it's easy to get lost in this film, and misunderstand what's important, and what's not.

There's no real attempt to flesh out characters that are important both now and later. The darker tone of the novel and the angsty Harry are handled well enough. However, the idea of Harry's isolation and loneliness was given short shrift, and dispensed with quickly, instead of using the debate about Voldemort's return to provide some energy-injecting conflict within the film. It's there, but it's not fully utilized, even with Umbridge.

The one thing the production team couldn't get around was the massively over-the-top character of Umbridge, and I have to say, her presence felt less out of sync in the film, than in the book. This was largely because of a fine performance by Imelda Staunton.

The camaraderie of the trio is diluted somewhat by the addition of Luna Lovegood. Evanna Lynch almost steals the show, in my opinion, with a spot-on delivery of the eccentric Lovegood, one of the high points of the film. Helena Bonham-Carter and the stable of baddies are appropriately menacing, but the rest of the adult actors feel underused.

The prophecy (which was the whole point of the book) seems rushed and only partly explained, yet its going to be very important later. In the books, the idea of foreshadowing and hints of the future are one of the strongest points of the story. In the movies, it's not handled as well, or as noted, it's left the the presumed reading of the book to fill in the blanks.

However, none of the faults of film make it greatly less enjoyable than any of the others, and there are some good moments that remained in the adaptation, like the twins departure, and the growing paranoia at the Ministry. It's a solid enough, bridge film between the early films and the more dramatic 6 & 7.

The Red Baron (Der rote Baron)
½

The Red Baron is one of those films that teeters on the edge of being bad, yet you can't fault the director for trying hard to find something to talk about. It's a rather slow, narrow view of the air aces' career, and doesn't really explore his background, or what made him successful. The script was rather shoddy, and the clumsy transitions between action and ground time don't help either. The romance between Von Richtofen and the nurse are interesting counterpoints, but it's also clumsily handled. The other characters, rather than strengthening why he was feared an admired are cutouts. We aren't given time to really knnow them or understand why they feared/were jealous/or admired Von Richtofen.

That said, the movie tries hard to give us a picture of the mentality of the times, and at least an idea of how personal the air combat was. While little time is spent on the technical aspects of the fighting, there are some interesting historical tidbits that become visible through the film, like a visit to the Fokker factory. Von Richtofen was a very young man throughout the conflict, and this perhaps means that there's not really much of a fully formed person there to write a screenplay about. The movie still didn't give me much of a 'read' on him as a person or as a warrior. Usually this kind of study is best done through a close friend, or comrade. Maybe putting the film into the eye-view of his brother Lothar might have been a better tactic. I hate voice-overs, but it might have strengthened the film a little to have Lothar narrate parts of it.

The technical aspects are pretty good, however. The planes are nicely done, and some of the aerial combat is well done: You don't get to see balloon busting very much.

The performances were decent, given a rather amateurish script. The actors' scenes lacked polish, and rather than being energetic, was rather flat and moody.

It's a take it or leave it. I give it 50% because they were trying to make an honest film, but the production and writing wasn't up to the task.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

By the time this movie came out, it was evident that Rowling was now writing the books to be more easily adapted to the screen. This one even came with a built-in prologue to kick the film off with some action. As a film, Goblet of Fire continued the adaptation route of the movies, with large changes from book to film. In terms of a film, this made a lot of sense for this installment, and the movie had a good pace as a result. The adaptation route essentially highlights what's important to the big overarching story of Harry and Voldemort. As a result, some purists were upset that some characters and sequences were mere footnotes in the film.

The film introduced us to more of the wizarding world, as well as some powerful magic and magical items. It also has a lot of action surrounding the Triwizard Tournament, and those sequences are well done, even if they are quite different from the book. With the addition of people like Barty Crouch and Mad-Eye Moody, and the visiting school characters, some of the key professors were left with less screen time than they might have had. However, overall, the characters introduced moved the plot along quite well.

Director Mike Newell got a lot out of the trio in this film, as they continued to mature and gain skill. The rather dark ending to the film mirrors the book, even if the events leading up to it are different, but Newell also kept the whimsical aspects of the tournament in those scenes, and nicely balanced the light with the dark elements. Newell also made some of the characters more likeable, such as Cedric Diggory, and he started building up the teen romance aspects so that the characters naturally have more conflict. This has greater impact during the darker moments.

Overall, it was an effective movie, with good use of the core plot and characters. Nice score by one of my favorite composers Patrick Doyle.

Flags of Our Fathers

One of the best anti-war films made that still honors the men who fought. This film isn't for people looking for action for the sake of action -- that's far from its premise. It strives to give us an understanding of symbolism, propaganda, and heroism. It's a carefully crafted film that strives for the authenticity of what honor is, and what happens to men at war, even when the cause is just.

Eastwood has captured the tedium, the confusion, and the brutality of the Pacific island campaign through the eyes of its protagonists -- all of them very different men. He's also successful at capturing the need for heroes back home, and the 'machine' that fed that need has only improved with time in our modern day world. If the film lacks anything, its more of the desperate camaraderie of the men who fought on Iwo Jima. Even so, it exactly captures the power of one image, made in a mundane moment. We understand the pain the men went through to reach that point, and to go beyond.

It's also an ambitious project that spawned the twin film, which is even better, in many ways.

Technically, the film is flawless, and the performances are excellent. It may not be the best Eastwood film or the best film of its type, but its still a film to see.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

There are a number of reasons why people number this Harry Potter installment as one of their favorites. There's a lot of change going on, (in the story, and on the set) and the producers took advantage of that to try out a new director, and a different tone to the film than before.

Harry and his friends are growing up, and the fact that they were now teens made the film popular with the actors contemporaries. It took a step towards more serious and emotional topics, instead of remaining a child's fable, and this made it appeal to more of an audience. It's a bit darker, and more 'adult' which probably made it cooler for teens to 'like.'

While many people didn't like Michael Gambon at first, he's another big difference in this film versus its two predecesors. While I don't think he nailed the character on the first try, he's quite different from Richard Harris, and some people like his more quirky approach.

We also get to broaden and deepen the wizarding world a great deal, and learn more about Harry's background and parents than we'd seen before. Cuaron took this personal approach with the characters, and we get a stronger sense of relationships and bonds that would form at this age of character.

The modifications to the script were carefully chosen to advance the story, and Cuaron was very successful with that approach. It was less of a page-by-page walk-through, and more of a real adventure film.

The child actors also got a lot of attention, and they continued to improve, but finally the adults were used more effectively. (Dumbledore, Snape and Lupin in particular) They are, after all important to Harry's life and education about the magical world he lives in.

It's paced well, and although its not much shorter than its predecessors, it feels shorter. Special effects continue to improve, and add luster to the telling of this story.

It's the 'turning point' of Harry's life and the books, and it made some necessary changes in the style of the film to make it more interesting. I believe it succeeds better than the prior two films, although some would argue that changing pieces of the plot weakens it as a "faithful" rendering. I don't find that to be true at all, in that it sharply defines why books are books, and why movies are different.

The Fugitive
The Fugitive(1993)

One of Harrison Ford's best films, and a good adaptation of the TV series, this remains a watchable film, even in the Internet age. The movie is well-paced, tense, and has some superb acting turns by everyone all the way down to the tertiary characters. While the villains are easy to spot in this one (Jeroen Crabbe ALWAYS plays a heavy), it's just fun to watch the whole story unfold. Needless to say, Tommy Lee Jones is hilarious, ("Dr. Nichols, Hi!") but smart as Kimble's hunter, and his whole team has good moments. It's also interesting to see the different levels of law enforcement portrayed, and their level of skill, and their approach to the incidents, which adds a level of realism to the film. Clever edits and perspectives keep the suspense. It's one of those films I see on TV, and start watching if there's nothing else on, regardless of how much of it I've missed.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
½

Although it effectively captures the slightly darker tone as well as the whimsical moments of the its book, the second film was less satisfying than the first for me. Chris Columbus played it safe, and honed closely to the details of the book, so its a faithful adaptation. For fans of the books, this came as a relief, but for those of us looking for some slightly quicker pacing and wit, it fell far short. Chamber is mostly a detective story, but it takes a long time to reveal any clues. This is necessary because of the nature of the mystery, but more red herrings might have helped. Had Columbus and Kloves really thought about it, they could have built a lot more suspense into the plot. Instead it takes a long time to resolve, and at nearly three hours long, it feels slow.

It's other weakness is the real reliance on the young stars of the film, and they simply aren't mature enough to play the type of emotions required here, and Harry, Ron and Hermione come off somewhat one-note. Despite that, they manage to carry the film fairly well, with less intervention from the adult actors. Kenneth Branagh was pretty much undirected in the film, to the point where he becomes distracting, but luckily he was effective. Dobby and Aragog are appropriately amusing and scary enough.

However, like all of the series, the production values are first class, and the film widens and deepens the mythology created by Rowling. There's great detail, and more action, to absorb. A worthy Second Year for the Potter series, but imperfect as a film.

In the Mood for Love
½

This is simply an amazing and beautiful film to watch, with masterful direction by Wong Kar Wei, and with standout performances by the leads. Every frame of this film is carefully chosen for maximum effect, and its very much like a poem told through pictures.

It's unforgettable in its imagery of Hong Kong, as well as the deep emotion that it captures through its focus on Leung and Cheung. If you want to revisit emotions of forbidden love, this is a film to see. The revelations come slowly and naturally.

It's not a fast-paced film, but one to savor as it rolls by. In the Mood For Love certainly qualifies as a more modern Casablanca.

Recommended.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
½

Since we're coming up on the last two films, I thought I'd revisit the potter canon from beginning to end for a comparison and contrast. From the start, these films were destined for commercial success just as the Twilight films were, however, the execution was far superior from the first.

The Sorceror's Stone was directed by Chris Columbus, who was used to putting together kid-centric, amusing films. He collaborated closely with Steve Kloves the screenwriter, and the result was a rather pedestrian jaunt through the book, with a few minor adjustments. However, they set the proper tone and honed close to what Rowling had in mind for her world, and the fans instantly embraced the actors playing the kids. Looking back, they were unimpressive at the time, but they have improved over the last decade.

There's really no surprises or major deviations, but the inclusion of so many fine British actors from stage made the supporting cast for the students the real brilliance in this film. Richard Harris made an excellent Dumbledore, and it would have been interesting to see him carry out the whole series, although his successor Michael Gambon does a good job, too. Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman and other character actors support the core trio extremely well. It's a very strong ensemble that's hard not to like.

It satisfied the fans that the beloved books were in good hands, and was commercially successful. It also increased people's thirst for the future books. It spawned a whole generation of fan sites to cover the mythology, and its really a good story on top of it all.

The art direction, effects, and costuming were all well-blended to produce the final product, and the humor and danger were also handled adroitly for the majority of this film.

It's a memorable series that will probably not be duplicated any time soon.

Monsters, Inc.

This film combines all the ingredients that Pixar films do best. Well-written, funny, yet with poignant and sad moments blended in at the right moments. It has great characters, interesting moral dilemmas, and the setting is brilliant. This all adds up to a group of chracters you really care about, and invest in, emotionally, so that by the end, it's hard to say goodbye.

There are so many favorite moments in this film, it's hard to choose one, but if I had to, I'd say I enjoy the final frame where Sully re-visits Boo. The look on his face is priceless when he hears her voice again.

It's still funny and upbeat almost ten years after it was first released, and although I really don't think it needs a sequel, I'm now convinced they would never make one unless they had another brilliant script coming for the second film.

Recommended

Open Range
Open Range(2003)

This western is a realistic, small scale range war story told through the eyes of a couple of veteran cowboys. Well cast (one of Costner's best roles), and well directed by him, it belongs to a new genre of realistic westerns. It's an under-appreciated film, with great scenic beauty that really captures the feel of the undeveloped west.

Annette Bening is also excellent (bravely playing her age); and she makes a nice counterpoint to Costner. Robert Duvall also gives another distinctive performance, and nicely balances Costner as well. It's action sequences are brutal and realistic. Truth: You can't hit a damn thing with those Colts past a few yards! While the story is Shane-like, it avoids the cliches of most westerns about gunslingers searching for a more peaceful existence. It's not grand or epic, but you really grow to like the characters and the dialogue is well done, with Costner and Duvall totally believable. Only moderately paced, it is an explosion of action at times, with tension spaced out through the film. It's not melodramatic, either, so the believability factor that a small scale conflict like this probably could have occurred is reinforced.

An enjoyable film all around, even if you're not a western fan.

Recommended

King Arthur
King Arthur(2004)
½

Some day the movie-going public is going to get a good film about King Arthur that blends romanticism, action, and stunning visuals with an intelligent and plausible script. However, this movie is not that film. Despite a good cast, and a few good action sequences, there was just nothing to root for. The Roman-Arthur idea was a good basis, but it was let down by a poor script and formula set-pieces between the 'magnificent 7' Roman auxilia and the Saxon invaders.

Clive Owen invests in his character, but he's not given much to do other than fight and look heroic. Keira Knightly is simply miscast. The idea of her being an action star when the weakest villain could snap her in two is simply laughable. We don't get to know or admire her character, or any of Arthur's companions because there's no time allotted to them. The only standout in this muddle is Stellan Skarsgard as Cerdic the Saxon. His quiet menace makes him a worthy villain, but its not enough.

There are some interesting fight sequences, such as the battle on the frozen lake, but overall the film feels like its over about half-way through. There's some nice scenery, but that can't keep your attention for long, and the lack of chemistry between Owen and Knightly can't be covered up by a quickie in a tent.

Someday, someone will make a good film about King Arthur...

Howards End
Howards End(1992)

Arguably the best of the Merchant-Ivory collaborations, this adaptation of the EM Forster novel is impecccable in its portrayal of relationships that try to cross class lines in Britain during the early 20th century. Outstanding performances and pairings of the couples in this film, a literate and subtle script, and the story draws you in. If you see one period romance with real character work, great technical and art direction, terrific script, and beautiful locations, this is it.

It's not for action junkies, but its very compelling. It makes you want to know what's going to happen. See Emma Thmpson and Anthony Hopkins at their best, and the excellent romance of Helena Bonham-Carter and Samuel West. There's so much in this, you can watch it again and again just to see the details and character tics from all the actors. Amazing work, and deserved its Oscars.

Recommended.

Silent Running
½

This film and it eco-centric message was obviously inspired by the first genre of 'modern' scifi films, but it still is very relevant. While simplistic, it brings home how little has changed in the war over the earth's resources.

At times the pacing is uneven, and the technology is obviously dated and not science-factual enough by today's standards of sci-fi films, but if you look beyond those weaknesses it has a lot to offer. It's fun to watch the characters of the film develop and handle the situation they're in. The forerunners of R2-D2 are in this film, and an excellent performance by Bruce Dern carry the movie.

Worth watching as an artifact of science fiction movies.

Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D
½

Caught this on a recent trip to the Kennedy Space Center, so there's nothing like being there to enhance your experience! This IMAX documentary is one of a series of excellent films made about one of humankind's great adventures: The moon missions. It takes you from the origins through a lot of footage from the later missions that you may not have seen, and supplements the real footage with technically excellent simulations and re-enactments. Like its close cousin, From the Earth To The Moon series, its an inspirational and sometimes harrowing tale of the journey to our nearest neighbor. It's calculated to inspire, and it does. The sheer magnitude of what was accomplished is still pretty staggering. If you watch this and are not moved by the experience, then you either never saw any of the space program coverage over the last 40 years, or you just aren't awake. The kids in the film can't name the astronauts that did it, but it still captures their imagination and that nothing is impossible.

Great narration, photography, and science fact.

Recommended

Angels & Demons
½

Like it's predecessor, the Da Vinci Code, this film tries hard, but ultimately falls flat. It's slow and pedantic at many points, with an overabundance of explanation that makes it hard to keep the tension alive. The stakes are higher than in Da Vinci Code, but we end up not caring a whit what happens. That said, Tom Hanks and Ayelet Zurer make a much better team in this film.

It's as preposterous a plot/faux science as you think, but the real failure of the film was to create the conditions that might make us believe this really could happen. Somehow it didn't suspend my disbelief at all, and I got rather bored simply trying to justify the puzzles they were solving. In the end they had to fall back on bursts of action that just didn't work, and the whole film felt unwieldy and clumsy.

Other than that, it's got great people in it, and terrific locations, and it's got nice scenery, but not enough to make you see it more than once, and then forget all about it.

Sahara
Sahara(1943)

If you watch the film with an understanding of when it was made, and that it's a platform for propaganda, you'll appreciate its finer moments. Those finer moments include gritty and excellent performances from the cast; some well-orchestrated small-unit action sequences, and nice cinematography.

The interaction between the various nationalities is surprisingly frank, if you discount the US bias in the film. There's some smart, soldierly, and realistic dialogue here. Humphrey Bogart doesn't usually play this kind of action hero, so it's interesting to see him in the role of the tough sergeant.

While not as sweeping as some desert epics, it will make you as thirsty as the soldiers portrayed in it. Good score by Miklos Rozsa.

The Da Vinci Code
½

Like the fall of Rome, many things contributed to this film being somewhat of an artistic and box office failure.While Ron Howard is a fine director, and Tom Hanks is always watchable, the script adaptation was plodding and just didn't engage the viewer with the intricate clue trail. Despite all the hoopla about Brown's book, very little of its intricate construction came to the screen, as the movie struggled to be a thriller/detective/docu-drama, and it was chasing too many paths.

There was also little motivation for us to even care about this mystery: Other than the murder at the beginning, it just kind of limps along as they delve deeper into the whole secret society plot. The betrayal twist came as no surprise, either, and the film basically ended with a very unsatisfying epilogue.

While it was technically a good film, with great camera work, and nice scenery, it felt over-long. The actors did the best they could with the material and script. It was well-intentioned, but Brown's book just didn't come to life the way it does when you're sitting there and reading in an armchair.

Hubble 3D
Hubble 3D(2010)

A very engaging film, despite what seems like a pedestrian mission. The photography is spectacular, and the use of 3-D enhances the beauty of the space vista. I agree with the premise that the Hubble telescope may just be in the top 'Man-Made Wonders' category. An astonishing journey where no one has gone before. Caught this at the local Tech Museum of Innovation. Just great film-making.

The White Countess

The last collaboration between Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, the White Countess is far from perfect. However, like all their prior films, it has a standout cast, impeccable production values, and beautiful photography that captures the era perfectly. While some what of a let-down as far as the story goes, it still has some nice moments, and if you're a fan of period romances and Merchant/Ivory films in general, you'll want to see this one, too. Fiennes does a good job in his role as the blind diplomat, and the late Natasha Richardson also give a multi-layered performance as the countess. It stands in the shadows of their better works, and can't really stand up to scrutiny as far as the pacing and script and narrative. It tried and failed to be a latter-day Casablanca, but it's still a finely crafted film.

The Wizard of Oz

It's the Wizard of Oz! It's one of those films that crosses generations easily, and whose images and lines are burned into every corner of western pop culture. Fleming was a genius at how he turned this into a screen gem for the ages. The cast, the songs, the performances, and the humor all blend together into something that's one-of-a-kind. I saw it again recently on one of those HD classics at the theater events, and the restored HD version is so good, you can see detail and things on screen you never could before.

So many good memories of watching this film only on TV from childhood, and then to see it again in a blaze of color on the big screen again...amazing. Times have changed, but some things endure.

The Sand Pebbles

Another film from the nostalgia vaults. The Sand Pebbles is a long film, but the story is compelling and well done, and has some very fine acting turns for tough guy Steve McQueen, Richard Crenna, and Richard Attenborough. It's realistic in its depiction of the strange gunboat conflicts that have erupted in China from time to time. The scenery is also a great backdrop to an era that most people know little about. It had some very brutal scenes for a film of this era, and the dramatic tension ebbs and flows with precision despite the long running time. The era comes to life so well, you really feel as if you're stuck on the river with the crew.

Recommended.

The Bridge on the River Kwai
½

Another towering epic by David Lean, with standout performances by Alec Guiness and a host of others. The subject matter is also interesting and the moral dilemma is one that will keep you thinking long after the last timber from the bridge floats downstream. Holden is at his gutsy best in this wartime drama, and the portrayal of the Japanese characters is surprisingly human, considering the time in which this film was done. (though they are in no way very humane).

It's one of the best non-frontline wartime dramas ever made, and I seriously doubt we'll see many of this caliber ever again.

Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai)

The group action adventure film that has influenced so many genres, including westerns, Star Wars, and many others. It's filled with great moments, and goes deeper into the emotions of the characters than Hollywood ever dares. It also achieves a level of realism that is unsurpassed. (as if this probably happened somewhere in that time)

Star Trek
Star Trek(2009)

This is one of those films that all my friends liked, and they thought I would too. It just didn't impress me, and I'll take the flames. I'm a fan of the series although I'm not a rabid purist or foamer.

Overall it was a good re-invention of the Star Trek franchise for the mass and popular market. It's slickly done, action-packed, great cast, and what's not to like?

This: It's not really Star Trek, and it breaks no new ground. I learned nothing about Kirk, Spock, Scotty or the rest that I didn't already know. It also was also illogical (sorry) in many places, and ignored common sense, even if its faux science. The villains were a rehash of the Khan revenge plot, only this time it was directed against Vulcans. The time travel scenario is overused, and Abrams himself spent years doing much more complex stuff on LOST that might have been better used here.

It also messed with the trinity of Spock, Kirk and Scotty in order to introduce Uhura into the mix. I'm all for strong female role-models, but in this case, it just didn't work. (for me)

For me, who admired the strong proto-science aspects of the series, it's a dumbed-down, loud action film with big toys. In fact, the scenarios are sort of like Andy playing with his toys in Toy Story. It entertained me, but didn't make me think.

There were some things I liked. The cast was good, and they had some very big shoes to fill. The production values were high-tone and glossy.

They succeeded in making Star Trek like Star Wars, which is that its appeal is broader, space opera fare: it will make money now. But unlike the original few TV series, it never aspires to be greater than it is. If they do more of this franchise, perhaps they'll find some better writers. Those alleged 'fans' who were the writers were pedestrian at best. I place a lot of the blame with them. Science Fiction writers challenge beliefs and introduce new concepts and ideas, there was none of that here by those hacks.

I felt a little like the Last Airbender people felt, although luckily, Star Trek is a far better film. Otherwise, if you've never watched Star Trek, you'll probably like it.

Silverado
Silverado(1985)
½

Silverado isn't the best western ever made, but it certainly sums up what was great about the genre. It draws inspiration from older and less politically correct films, but it adds a great cast (Kevin Costner's best film by far)Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, etc. It has great cinematography and a script filled with western-isms and quotable lines. It has a great sense of dramatic timing, and its a fun game to 'count the deputy corpses' as you go along. From the very beginning, it draws you in and never really slows down. The only misstep was casting Jeff Goldblum as the gambler, but since he dies anyway (to cheers when we saw it)all is forgiven. Great supporting cast, and echoes of many westerns in its imagery. Good score by Bruce Broughton also inspired by classic westerns.

Even if you don't like westerns, it's fun to watch.

Recommended.

The Magnificent Seven
½

While most would agree that The Seven Samurai is the better film, The magnificent Seven does a masterful job of capturing the ideals of 'the code'. It also expands on the various characters slightly, and true to Hollywood, makes them more easily identifiable. The action is intense, and its story is as relevant today as it was in the time that it was made. An iconic western with a big-screen feel seldom equalled, The Magnificent Seven is one to study for films of the time. Famous score by Elmer Bernstein influenced many films of the western genre.

Firelight
Firelight(1997)
½

My wife and I enjoyed this a lot more than the critics did, obviously. It has its flaws, and some people can't get past the low-key nature of this romantic drama. Firelight takes you through a wide vareity of highs and lows as you follow the life path of Sophie Marceau's governess character. The casting is excellent, and this period piece has a lot of romantic and redemptive moments. It's not Jane Austen level, or a Bronte novel, but its effective and detailed. The social mores of the time are difficult to understand now, but Marceau gives a sympathetic performance. The twist is easy to unravel, but the suspense of what's going to happen, and how it will all play out, for good or ill, is the interesting journey this film takes.

9/11
9/11(2002)

For those that were too young to have watched this drama unfold, this accidental documentary is about the most compelling account of the day. What started as a film project by two brothers became a ground's eye view of the efforts of one firehouse. It's got everything in terms of images, and it tells the events from a single perspective that could be anyone's. Highly effective, and full of mind-numbing moments before, during and after the destruction of the towers. A good film to watch if you're studying film, and what happens when history overtakes you, and you happen to have a camera.

Recommended.

Ultraviolet
Ultraviolet(2006)

How far lovely Milla has fallen. Not even her lithe frame could save this film, which is essentially a remake of that other film...names escapes me...with Christian Bale. The story makes little sense, and its essentially a bunch of action sequences strung together, with Milla in a variety of tight outfits. It's just pablum for the masses, and not even good tasting at that. Luckily I had free passes to this, and I still felt ripped off because I bought popcorn.

Ultraviolent and Ultrasilly

Salt
Salt(2010)
½

If you are a fan of implausible, bordering on preposterous spy thrillers, you might like this film.

Salt borrows heavily from Bond flicks, Bourne flicks, Alias TV show and a movie called 'No Way Out' that featured a sleeper agent. Those movies had some basis for their reality, but this has none. The movie tries hard to be Bond or Bourne, but the gaping plot holes and utterly ridiculous story line kills it. It offers nothing more than some rather boring chases, and bad dialogue. Not even Liev Schriber is any good in this one, and Jolie plays her usual pouty, devoid-of-emotion superspy that can leap tall buildings in a single bound. In fact, the number of seconds the camera focuses on her stare is uncomfortable.

You know the rest: save the world from destruction. No attempt is made to explain motivations of any of the good guys or bad guys except vague world domination scenarios. Salt's own motivation is a blank, it's like they wrote this script as they filmed it, and said 'okay, now we need a twist, we're 27 minutes into the film!' Near the last half hour, it really departs from reality, and I just wanted it to be over.

In short a really bad film, slickly produced, marketed and packaged. Skip it and save your money for a real thriller.

It's remarkable how many BAD films Jolie has done, but she still has a career. She really adds nothing to this one except the lips and the stare.

The Ghost and the Darkness
½

While it takes liberties with the true story of the lions, this film is still tense and interesting. The collision of industrial-age man and nature is interesting to watch, and the exploitative nature of the railroad isn't too heavily glossed over. Nice soundtrack by Jerry Goldmsith sets the mood for the lion hunt, and while somewhat preditable, it's a well made film with great scenery and action.

Hidalgo
Hidalgo(2004)

This interesting footnote in history (and the historicity is dubious at best)didn't make for the grand, sweeping epic it could have been. The movie is only watchable because of Viggo Mortensen's grim charm. It has great cinematography and an appealing supporting cast, but there's just not enough meat on this horses' bones.

Green Zone
Green Zone(2010)

This film had a lot going for it: Good cast, good director, and a subject matter that is still topical. The whole plot turns on one particular question, and its an interesting premise to carry that premise out to conclusion. However, it attempted to take on too much on that premise, and the script isn't strong enough to carry the weighty political issues that are brought up. What the film does well is distinguish between the simple-minded policies carried out early in the war, and the actual reality on the ground. However, it feels flat, and you really can't develop any rapport with the characters on either side of the question.

The Proposal
The Proposal(2009)

It's formula and somewhat predictable, and the supporting cast are your basic stock characters (there's even a dog joke), but the film is saved from pure mediocrity on the basis of Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock alone. They are actually pretty good together on screen, and there's some good laughs, as well as some moments where the relationship almost has 'real' moments of dialogue.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
½

This Coen brothers comedy hits all the right notes with its 'Odyssey' overtones. Standout performances by literally everyone make this a treat to watch. With a great score by bluegrass musicians, this is one of their best.

The Age of Innocence
½

I thought it was a well crafted film, with an all-star cast, and I thought it would be better than it was. I can't put my finger on it, but it felt rather flat to me, and it just didn't grab me. However, I can appreciate what they wanted to do with this film. It had noble aspirations, and Scorsese, as usual, paints a lush picture of life. Despite Daniel Day Lewis' talent, the characters didn't quite rise to the life depicted. Maybe it was the script, because it wasn't a lack of talent. Maybe I need to watch it again? Still a worthwhile film to watch for the craft and subtlety of the performances.

Goldfinger
Goldfinger(1964)
½

This is the Bond film that really defined the genre. It's full of iconic images: The girl killed with golden paint; the Aston Martin; Oddjob and his bowler hat; Fort Knox, and the list goes on and onNot to mention the aptly named Pussy Galore. It's got a style all its own, and despite being somewhat dated now, its still a great Bond adventure.

Best Line:

"Do you expect me to talk, Goldfinger?"
"No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"

Schoolhouse Rock!: The Ultimate Collector's Edition

This collection is just fun to watch all over again. It owes its success to a long run on TV, as well as those hypnotic tunes that get into your head just like 'It's a Small World' does in Disneyland. It was also interesting to see some that I never saw at all, but the old favorites 'Conjunction Junction'; 'I'm Just a Bill'; and 'Interjections' had us all singing along again.

The Remains of the Day
½

If you are a fan of the Merchant Ivory works, this is one of their best. With a standout cast, a crisply written story, and some very interesting human drama, it draws you in and never lets go. Anthony Hopkins is flawless in his portrayal of Stevens, and Emma Thompson makes a great counterpoise to his character. There's no action, per se, but there's a lot of layers of human emotion here from the James Fox as Lord Darlington all the way down to the individual housemaids. I wish my dining room looked that good!

WALL-E
WALL-E(2008)

A lot has been written about this film, however, it was yet another Pixar film that made me rearrange which ones are my favorites. The movie takes a very Chaplinesque approach to the first half of the film, where the story is told almost entirely by sights and sounds, which is a masterstroke that only works if its well crafted, which it is. Some less enlightened people labeled the whole environmental message as heavy handed, but to them I say the truth hurts, doesn't it?

But the primary tone of the movie is whimsical, if a little sad because of the condition of Earth. This is because the filmmakers are unafraid to approach real emotion on the screen. Comedy mixed with tragedy is as old as drama itself, and every detail is there to help you understand what's at stake.

When the story re-connects with the human world aboard the Axiom, it's slightly less interesting, but the robots are the stars of the picture all the way through, and they keep things moving. Or as seen in the Captain's paintings, they've become progressively bigger and more important in human lives. We can relate to them, as they're almost more human than the humans.

It's got a hopeful ending, although you have to stay through the credits to see this vision played out.

Beautiful score by Thomas Newman again, perfectly underscoring each scene. It's a remarkable achievement in moviemaking.

Recommended

Pride and Prejudice

Another great depiction of a Jane Austen novel. The richness of the setting, characters and story make it easy to like, but it has some many fine details, they are hard to list. Excellent performances, and perfectly played romantic scenes are bound to hit the right emotional nerve endings for almost anyone. You can really lose yourself in this film, and the fact that some well-known actors are in it actually enhanced the experience, rather than detracted. Final scene and admission of love is delicately played and perfectly done, even to the stuttered delivery of 'I love you.'

Sense and Sensibility

The cast, direction, writing, and production values are first class start to finish. It's what made these novels great, and the adaptation preserves the best parts of Austen's novels, and really brings forward the values of the time. It's a nice balance of humor, romance, and occasionally serious situations. It deserved its awards. Even if you don't care for this kind of romance fare, this is the one to watch.

Letters to Juliet
½

It's sappy, what more can you say? The movie survives being completely ridiculous by the reasonably appealing characters, and performances by Seyfried and Redgrave. While completely conventional in most ways, it's at least well crafted, and played as if its truly a serious story. Plenty of scenery to look at, too. Enjoy it with a girlfriend or spouse, but don't expect too much.

Twelve Monkeys (12 Monkeys)

This is one of those films that will keep you talking for hours afterward, and its certainly one of Terry Gilliam's best efforts. It's a marvelous thing to watch the excellent performances by Willis and company as they peel back the layered onion of a plot at about the same speed that you do. This contributes to the paranoia that you get watching this thriller. Gilliam is really good at immersing you in a story, and letting you sort out the details like you just emerged from a murky pool of water. Try this one, you won't be disappointed.

From Paris with Love

This mess of a film sank quickly. Once again, annoying characters in barely realistic situations. You really have to suspend your disbelief at the scenarios that travolta gets into, and you end up disliking all the characters as well. Just a thoroughly bad film. Never been a big Travolta fan, and this didn't help my appreciation of any talent he has.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

When Terry Gilliam makes a film, it has his unique stamp on it, and that's a good thing in today's selection of remakes, retreads, and formulaic thrillers and love stories. Imaginarium is sort of like a painting that you look at and can't figure out what the artist was trying to say...at first. Then all the parts of Gilliam's mind (an extension of Dr. Parnassus, or is it the other way around LOL) fall into place. The parable worked well enough, and all the cast have good moments. It's visually interesting, too. Like Parnassus laments, though no one wants to hear these stories any more. I can relate to that in my own life. It's too bad, this one is worth seeing, and not just for Heath Ledger.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Being a reader of nautical fiction, I was dubious that they could pull this off. However, Peter Weir never does anything at less than full effort. The result is a meticulous and accurate portrayal of life at sea during the age of sail, with some very tense action sequences. O'Brien purists will quibble, but I thought it was an excellent adaptation drawing from several books, and truly captures the claustrophobic atmosphere. Although Russell Crowe is the star, in no way is it entirely his movie, as the supporting cast was well-handled, and also excellent, down to the individual sailors.

That said, Paul Bettany/Russell Crowe team worked well off each other and added a nice blend of conflict and friendship.

Musical score is also good.

Even if you have no interest in nautical things or Napoleonic age of sail, this is a movie to watch. It shows how direction, acting, script, and technical detail came together in almost flawless form.

It's a movie I can watch again, and still enjoy.

Recommended.

Fiend Without a Face
½

My friends, since you're weary, and need change of pace, I present to you all: Fiend Without a Face.

I was just a young kid, up late at night, when brains that were glowing flew into my sight.

The rads caused the problem, as the science will show, and the characters decisions are foolish we know.

But a good gun will save you, if you hit the brain right, just like the zombies that now give us a fright.

In fact, on reflection, it looks like Romero, may have gotten his early ideas from this tale filled with marrow.

It was cheesy and fun looking back on it now, but the sight of those monsters scared me -- holy cow!

It's now food for Rifftracks and MISTY -type shows, but nostalgia like this drove my need for this prose.

And now I return you to your favorite station, and hope that your brains will come back from vacation.

-Rostron

Invictus
Invictus(2009)

Another Eastwood film that I managed to squeeze in recently. It's an interesting way to look at Mandela's early days as President of South Africa, and just one way he tried to heal his country's massive rift. It's not fast-paced, but it builds nicely to the Rugby World Cup finale. Not surprisingly, Eastwood gets a lot out of the performances of his actors, and characteristically, even the supporting roles are well done. It's not a rugby story, it's a political one, but it really grew on me. The whole scenario might be a little idealistic and sanitized for some, but at the point we take up the story Eastwood is taking us to the future, not delving into the past. It's almost as if he's asking for faith in the future of the movie. Like Morgan Freeman says in the film: "Can he run a country? ...It's a valid question." In this case, the answer is yes.

Nice performances all around, and I enjoyed it.

It might just make you think about our own political divide in the US.

Changeling
Changeling(2008)

Clint Eastwood continues his streak of interesting and unique movies with Changeling. My only complaint is that it seemed a little long, and unevenly paced. However, the Christine Collins story is one that I knew only vaguely, and it's a great vehicle for Jolie. The amazing corruption that accompanied this investigation is shocking in itself, considering that it centered on a missing child. Eastwood always gets the most out of his actors, and he knows how to keep you riveted. The critics didn't care for this one so much, but I thought it was quite good.

Babe
Babe(1995)
½

I just re-watched this recently, and it was still the charming, clever fable that it was the first time around. While the story may be told from the animals viewpoint, it's also a story about life, with its perils and wonders. A great cast, fun script, and nice blend of animal action and puppetry makes for a classic.

Dangerous Liaisons

I'm reviewing this now years after seeing it for the first time. It curious how I thought this was an awesome film at the time, but on repeated viewings, I've liked it less and less. Not for the story or the plot, it's a nasty game of sexual manipulation that could be as true today as it was in the Louis period. However, now the actors really bother me, all except Glenn Close, and strangely Keanu Reeves. I still think Frears did a great job with this bunch, but it doesn't fascinate me as it once did. I've seen crackling stage productions now that put it to shame.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
½

I went into this film with high hopes, but I ended up merely liking it, not loving what they did with the film adaptation. The romance seemed tacked on, and the big reveal was hard to conceal within the movie. While I like Johnny and Helena, they didn't really do anything very different from some of their other oddball characters they've portrayed. The music and style of the film were about the best parts of it for me, anyway, recalling some great stage versions I've witnessed. However, worth watching just for the glee with which they dispatched people to their -- often deserved -- ends.

Pacific
Pacific(2010)
½

It's always difficult to review something as large as this docu-drama from HBO. It's a successor to the much lauded Band of Brothers, but its a very different product, about a very different part of the Second World War. Those of us that grew up on a diet of romanticized war in Europe films will notice the difference immediately. There's nothing romantic or even honorable about the island war: That description belonged to the fliers and naval veterans of that theater. The ground work by the Marines was necessary, and I think people just can't relate to just how horrible it was.

The focus was on just a handful of characters, and not all of them fought together, so it will seem a bit more disjointed than Band of Brothers, but taken as a whole, the tapestry of the island-hopping they put together is very effective. It avoids the 'big picture' of the Pacific War, and goes straight for the visceral and personal. You'll never look at canned peaches the same way again.

Fine performances by all the actors involved, and the technical aspects are pretty amazing as well. It may just help you understand why the veterans of this war didn't talk about their experiences: because other than 'they did their part to win the war', there's nothing really good to talk about. Veterans (and my family had its share) limited war discussion to the food and their friends they made.

You can nit-pick all you want about how it's not another Band of Brothers. It's not, but it tells the story of these (very) young men just as well. In an era where violence in films has become almost unreal, this brings it back to the ugly reality. It will also make you appreciate why war must be avoided, and the cost to the men and women that serve today.

Recommended.

Strange Cargo

Two of Hollywood's powerhouses of that era teamed up to make what appears to be a pretty conventional prison break film, where Gable's lead character is very much an anti-hero. It's a bit over the top, even for the era it was made, but enjoyable to watch how the actors of that era worked together. I'd venture to say the scenes seem almost modern in construction, as opposed to the very stage-like methods used up until this time. Interesting supporting cast. Worth looking into it if you enjoy classic films.

The Road
The Road(2009)
½

While the setting is in a post-apocalyptic, and post-civilization Earth, this move, at its heart is about a relationship between a man and his boy. In my view it was a good adaptation of the book, which for some is a difficult read, but for some, like myself, it was impossible to put down. Forget the complaints about 'but nothing happens'; there's plenty going on in the film, and there was plenty to discuss afterwards, so for me, it was effective. Today, we've been given a steady diet of post-apocalyptic thrillers of various kinds, but most have a clear resolution.

I think a lot of people who don't have families themselves, or are still young, just won't feel the same emotions, or ask themselves the questions that the movie made me think about.

Viggo Mortensen plays his role in his classic world-weary style. It asks a very important question: What are humans when there's nothing to be human for? I hope we never have to face those questions, in any generation.

I can't say I 'enjoyed' this movie, but it was worth seeing.

Lawrence of Arabia

Another film I saw when I was young, during a re-release of the film some years after it was made. It made a deep impression on me then, as it does today whenever I have watched it.

The movie could have been made and released today, it's so well crafted. It's even more amazing when you think about how it was made: There's only the basic film-making technology, the director's and cinematographer's eyes creating this story. Masterpiece is the right word, and a worthy study for anyone that makes films. It has action and realism rarely approached in modern films; and deals with the human element of the characters in a very real way.

It's also unusual in that it's really an anti-war film that was made in a era that usually produced flag-waving epics.

Though most people don't really know a thing about the fighting in the Middle East in the First World War, it certainly shows the beginnings of the Middle East nations, and perhaps explains some reasons why the problems with 'Western' nations continue to this day.

I was lucky enough to see this in a large screen theater when the restored and digitized print became available. The theater was packed. (I never saw a movie theater sell standing room tickets, but they did that afternoon) It was an experience to remember.

Father Goose
Father Goose(1964)
½

This may have been the first movie I ever saw as a special premiere, and although I was very young, I can recall this to this day. We actually lined up to see this in the rain in New York at the Radio City Music Hall. The movie itself was not very successful, and the lack of chemistry between the leads is evident as I watch it today. However, the story is actually pretty interesting, with the backdrop of the war and the coast-watchers. Seeing it much later as an adult, I found it had left deep impressions on me as far as movies. But Cary Grant was always worth watching.

Inkheart
Inkheart(2009)

The movie was solidly panned when it came out, so I didn't see it in the theater, as it sank quickly out of sight from the local movie houses. The movie left me underwhelmed. I don't think it was as bad as portrayed, and the cast did pretty well with the material. I think part of the problem was that there was no central character to focus our hopes and fears on. Meggie's actress was all right, but she couldn't carry the film, and instead Iain Softley had to rely on a big ensemble cast to tell the story. Since the action takes place all in a short space of time, we have no opportunity to grow to like the characters, and see them in action at different times (except through some weak flashbacks). In fact, you're somewhat dropped into the middle of the story, and try to run along with the characters. While this worked in Funke's novel, it's not always the best for a fantasy story. You need more mythology to give people a basis of understanding.

Overall, the look of the film was nice, and the actors did fairly well considering the adaptation was questionable. maybe there were just too many peripheral characters. It's not at all like HP, where you have a few key characters and the supporting cast makes up their world. The narrative is easy to drive forward in that structure.

It had some enjoyable moments, and its too bad that it did poorly, as the second and third books would have made better movies.

Despicable Me

I thought the premise, look and voice casting was right on target for this film, which delivers on most of its promises of crazy fun. Gru is a 'villain' pulling off incredible capers with the help of his sidekicks the Q-like Dr. Nefario, and the little yellow minions. From the very first frame, the movie is a gag reel of spy vs. spy rivalry, and on that level it succeeds fairly well.

The orphans are cute, too, and add a certain winsome fun to the whole plot, and they certainly succeeded as characters and the way they Gru warms to them. It's very predictable, but pretty well done.

What the movie lacked for me was smooth pacing, and the minions, while they were cute and in some ways vital to the story, somewhat broke up the continuity. It was somewhat like having a funny commercial come on in the middle of a show, so that it slowed down the pacing in places. The visuals are inventive and satisfying, and the 3-D has some good moments. The animation captures some of Steve Carell's facial impression that he uses in live action, and that was a big startling to see on a cartoony character.

Despicable Me has some decent attempts at investing the characters with some emotion, even if it's at predictable turns in the story.

I think for me, the film also fell victim to 'telling the story too much with the trailers', so some of the better scenes lacked the 'laugh-out-loud' impact they might have had. However, overall, an enjoyable film from Universal.

Killers
Killers(2010)
½

Wait a minute, am I seeing double? Isn't Tom Cruise doing this movie? Oh wait, that a different film entirely LOL. I can't see that this film will do anything but BOMB, no pun-like behavior intended.

Shrek Forever After
½

They were simply out of ideas with this one, and although it was better than #3, it was still tired. It had an overly rehashed plotline and tired gags. In short, if you loved the characters, you'll probably like this one enough to see it once, and then promptly forget about it.

How to Train Your Dragon
½

This film earns the title of 'best film of 2010' (at least so far. It's fast, fun, has great characters, good comedy, and even has some good messages for the kids. Some of the sequences were really great in 3-D, too. It's very different from the books, but they managed to surpass the story of the books in some ways. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Clash of the Titans

Very disappointing in terms of plot, dialogue, characters, and even the action sequences were tedious. The attempts to make everything bigger and more eye-popping simply made it more tiresome. Once upon a time, big name stars would have had this kind of film at the BEGINNING of their careers. Just shows what some people will do for a paycheck. As pure escapist nonsense, and the vidiot game generation, it's probably more satisfying.

Dear John
Dear John(2010)

A very strange choice of a title, considering a Dear John letter was never good news when you got one. But maybe that's the whole plot?

The Lovely Bones

This was a tough assignment for any director, and I have to give credit to Peter Jackson for his adaptation of this book, which is a big mix of genres. It's a tough sell for an audience, too. The casting was good, the adapted screenplay was good, and although it felt a little choppy and uneven, the tone of the novel was captured. To back it off to PG-13 required some sacrifice, so Tucci's character had to be made monstrous in other ways than the obvious ones in the book. Some characters were much less central than in the book as well, but the focus of the film is still Susie's story. I didn't find the 'in between' sequences distracting at all, and the emotional high points were all about right. I don't know why the critics got so hung up on this, if the movie veers from whimsical to devastating and back, well, that's what happens when murder destroys the fabric of your family.