Iggy's Movie Reviews Weblog
Independent reviews of recently released major motion pictures

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Monday, February 28, 2005
 

HELLO & GOODBYE

In the past three years, despite almost no promotion, over 200,000 people have stopped by my little corner of the web. I am very grateful for all those who visted this site and I hope you found it to be useful in determining your movie-going choices.

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, time constraints no longer permit me to put in the time and energy it takes to maintain this site. As a result I will no longer be adding new reviews.

I'll leave you with my favorite personal saying; "Fond Memories Play Havoc With Reality".

Thanks for stopping by.

Yours truly,

Iggy
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Sunday, February 13, 2005
 

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2004

Movies Listed in Random Order. Click on the movie title for the review.

1) MILLION DOLLAR BABY

2) HOTEL RWANDA

3) HERO

4) KILL BILL VOL. 2

5) FAHRENHEIT 9/11

6) MARIA FULL OF GRACE

7) COLLATERAL

8) RAY

9) FINDING NEVERLAND

10) GARDEN STATE


HONOURABLE MENTIONS

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER

SIDEWAYS

SUPERSIZE ME

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WORST MOVIES OF 2004

The movies included in this list have the dubious distinction of not only being bad but being major disappointments as well.

1) ALEXANDER

2) GODSEND

3) I HEART HUCKABEES

4) THE VILLAGE

5) ENVY

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MOVIE - MILLION DOLLAR BABY - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Clint Eastwood (Frankie Dunn), Hilary Swank (Maggie Fitzgerald) & Morgan Freeman (Scrap).

DIRECTOR - Clint Eastwood

Million Dollar Baby may be set in the boxing ring but that's not what it is really about. The struggle for success between the ropes is a metaphor for the struggle to achieve success and a sense of self-worth in life itself. Million Dollar Baby is a story from the heart that will make you laugh, cry and think as the trials and tribulations of the main protagonists unfold.

In typical Eastwood fashion the directorial hand is a feint jab. Eastwood has enough confidence in the material and the performances to let them deliver the knockout punch without adding superflurious directorial sunker punches.

The performances are brilliant. Hilary Swank epitomizes what great acting is supposed to be in her riveting portrayal of a young lady who refuses to succumb to the society's low expectations for her. John Wayne would be impressed with the "grit" she demonstrates in the process.

There has been some controvesy regarding the ending of Million Dollar Baby. Without giving the ending away it is safe to say that these critics miss the point completely. The film is not a referendum on a particular social issue. It is simply an eloquent examination of a man dealing with a crushing burden of guilt arising from past and current mistakes.

Million Dollar Baby is worth its weight in gold.

Running time - 133 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Wednesday, February 9, 2005
 

MOVIE - HOTEL RWANDA - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Don Cheadle (Paul Rusesabagina), Sophie Okonedo (Tatiana), Nick Nolte (Col. Oliver) & Joaquin Phoenix (Jack).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Terry George

The most difficult hurdle films like Hotel Rwanda face is authentically conveying the full scope of the tradegy being recounted. Hotel Rwanda brings this deplorable genocide to life without undue sentimentality or in your face guilt. The facts, for the most part, are allowed to speak for themselves.

Hotel Rwanda, in a similar vien to Schindler's List, tackles the tricky subject of the competing values of self-preservation and altruism when faced with unspeakable evil. Heroic efforts, more often than not, are originally motivated by selfishness. This impetus has multiple outcomes depending on the nature of the person these forces are applied to. The good join the forces of Light and lesser individuals become Storm Troopers for the forces of Darkness. The history of the world indicates, sadly, that there are more Storm Troopers than Knights in Shining Armour.

Hotel Rwanda demonstrates the difference one person can make. Just think how different the outcome would have been, for untold thousands, if only a few more people and/or nations had lifted a finger to help.

Running Time - 110 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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MOVIE - FINDING NEVERLAND - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Johnny Depp (J. M. Barrie), Kate Winslet (Sylvia Llewelyn Davies), Radha Mitchell (Mary Ansell Barrie), Julie Christie (Emma du Maurier), Dustin Hoffman (Charles Frohman) & Freddie Highmore (Peter).

DIRECTOR - Marc Forster

Based on the Play "The Man Who was Peter Pan" by Allan Knee.

This wholesome adventure breathes new life into the story of Peter Pan and will make both adults and children believe again.

Depp turns in another brilliant off-beat performance.

Running time - 101 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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MOVIE - CLOSER - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Julia Roberts (Anna), Jude Law (Dan), Natalie Portman (Alice) & Clive Owen (Larry).

DIRECTOR - Mike Nichols

Love, of the untrue variety, is a minefield of emotions involving pride, hyprocrisy and self-delusion. Closer captures this bitter reality better than any recent similar film (See Wicker Park & We Don't Live Here Anymore).

Julia Roberts gives her best performance in recent memory and Natalie Portman (Garden State) lights up the screen.

Closer may be difficult for some to watch because both Love and Truth hurt.

Running time - 101 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Wednesday, December 8, 2004
 

MOVIE - ALEXANDER - Review Rating $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Colin Farrell (Alexander), Angelina Jolie (Olympias), Val Kilmer (King Philip), Jared Leto (Hephaistion), Rosario Dawson (Roxane), Anthony Hopkins (Old Ptolemy), & Christopher Plummer (Aristotle).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Oliver Stone

It's not surprising that Oliver Stone, the man who brought us Natural Born Killers, would want to get inside the head of one of history's greatest killers. What is surprising is what a poor job Stone did of making history, and Alexander, come alive.

The story of Alexander, as presented by Stone, boils downs to having a Hollywood stage mother, a severe Oedipus complex, not knowing when to stop and an obsession with bisexuality. This psychological examination fails to capture one's imagination as a result of its shallow, repetitive and speculative nature. Being beat over the head with conjecture just isn't my idea of a good time.

Lost in the psychological "intrigue" is a credible examination of the other historical factors that contributed to Alexander's rise to greatness. The opposing forces, decisive battles, with the exception of two major ones, and most of the Palace intrigue, are given short shrift. Stone even papers over most of Alexander's tyrannical war crimes with catchy brief rationalizations uttered by Sir Anthony Hopkins. This historical retrospective is about as fair and balanced as a typical Michael Moore documentary.

Adding insult to injury is a cast, with the exception of Hopkins and Plummer, who are way out of their league. While Farrell is the current bad boy of Hollywood he has yet to live up to to his own hype. There's nothing in this performance that proves he is anything but a rather ordinary actor. Jolie is credible in her youth but less so as she ages and Kilmer isn't credible at all. All three lack the gravitas to play these characters. To be fair the script doesn't do them any favors.

The only thing that Stone does accomplish, in Alexander, is to create a genuine appreciation of battle fatigue. At about the same time as Alexander is faced with a revolt within the ranks you too will be rising up demanding an end to this seemingly endless flaccid expose.

Alexander is an epic waste of celluloid.

Running time - 175 minutes

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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MOVIE - SIDEWAYS - Review Rating $$$$$ $$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Paul Giamatti (Miles), Thomas Haden Church (Jack), Virginia Madsen (Maya), Sandra Oh (Stephanie), Marylouise Burke (Miles' mother) & Jessica Hecht (Victoria).

DIRECTOR - Alexander Payne

Sideways true strength is its attempt to infuse the buddy movie genre with insight instead of one liners. The bonds that tie these former college roommates together are very thin. This odd couple sticks by each other, through thick and thin, because they apparently don't have anyone else to cling too. That degree of honesty, in a "major motion picture", is refreshingly depressing.

Sideways does have a few weaknesses. The degree of character development doesn't justify the two hour plus length of the movie. The wine aficionado subplot also lacks robustness. For all of the story's depth it fails to tackle the issue of alcoholism head on. Mother's Against Drunk Driving (MADD) would also no doubt be appalled by the script's failure to even remotely suggest drinking and driving isn't a bright idea.

Sideways, like a good wine, has to be savoured to be appreciated. Upon deeper introspection, however, you'll come to the conclusion that this offbeat buddy film needed a little more flavour to be considered a classic.

Running time - 124 minutes

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Toatoes Review

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Saturday, November 20, 2004
 

MOVIE - NATIONAL TREASURE - Review Rating $$$$$ $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Nicolas Cage (Benj Gates), Harvey Keitel (Sadusky), Jon Voight (Patrick Gates), Diane Kruger (Abigail Chase), Sean Bean (Ian Howe), Justin Bartha (Riley Poole), David Dayan Fisher (Shaw) & Christopher Plummer (John Adams Gates).

DIRECTOR - Jon Turteltaub

The history of "Art" includes a sub-history of artful forgeries. Movies are "Art" of a particular form and National Treasure is, if nothing else, an artful forgery.

There is nary an original idea in this film that borrows heavily from both The Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Da Vinci Code. In fact, National Treasure so completely rips off The Da Vinci Code that unknowing viewers, of the future movie based on that book, may well think it to be a forgery.

The artfulness of this particular forgery lies in its pacing. The first hour goes by so quickly that you barely have time to ponder the gaping plot holes or lament the lack of significant character development. National Treasure does bog down a bit near the end and the conclusion is anti-climatic (the movie has happy ending written all over it) but it's nevertheless really hard to resist going along for the ride.

Forgeries aren't as good as the real thing but National Treasure is at least smart enough to steal from the best and the end result is an entertaining, if unoriginal, movie.

Running time - 100 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Friday, November 12, 2004
 

MOVIE - THE INCREDIBLES - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

VOICED BY - Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible), Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigirl), Samuel L. Jackson (Lucius Best/Frozone), Jason Lee (Buddy Pine/Syndrome), Wallace Shawn (Gilbert Huph), Sarah Vowell (Violet Parr), Spencer Fox (Dashiell (Dash) Parr), Brad Bird (Edna "E" Mode) & Elizabeth Pena (Mirage).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Brad Bird

The Incredibles is the latest effort of the Pixar animation studio that has brought us previous animated hits like Toy Story and A Bug's Life. These movies, and other recent animated films like the Shrek series, have had two things in common: 1) better than average story lines with cross-generational appeal and 2) mind blowing graphics. The Incredibles has more and less of both.

With each subsequent release of this new generation of animated films the "wow" factor is diminished. The story takes on greater importance as a result. The first half of The Incredibles is great stuff. A combination of Dilbertian drudgery, mid-life crisis and social commentary the story delivers rapid fire laughs and angst in equal measure.

Its the second half of the movie that stumbles as it takes on an eerie resemblance to a Hollywood blockbuster action movie. The wit is replaced with action scenes, destined for inclusion in the subsequent video game, leading to the "thrilling" redemptive conclusion.

While most of the animated movies follow the same formula, to be honest, the problem with The Incredibles is that it's more obvious. When the leading edge graphics no longer "wow" and the stories are no longer better than average the real appeal of these animated films disappear.

The Incredibles is an entertaining movie that is slightly better than the average Hollywood film but not by an incredibly big margin.

Running time - 115 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Monday, November 1, 2004
 

MOVIE - RAY - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Jamie Foxx (Ray Charles), Kerry Washington (Della Bea Robinson), Regina King (Margie Hendricks), Larenz Tate (Quincy Jones), Bokeem Woodbine (Fathead Newman), Sharon Warren (Aretha Robinson), Curtis Armstrong (Ahmet Ertegun), Warwick Davis (Oberon) & Richard Schiff (Jerry Wexler).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Taylor Hackford

Ray Charles's energy and pure talent shine brightly in this moving biographical tribute that is honest enough to document his womanizing and heroin abuse.

Honesty isn't the equivalent of depth, however, and after watching "Ray" you may leave the theater feeling you still don't know the man, or those who shared his life, very well. Demons and distrust permeate the story and contradict the public image but they fail to fully convey the person. Ray's harsh coldness, at times, is displayed without being adequately explored. There is an underlying hard done-by bitterness, that runs through a life of otherwise unparalleled success, that is worthy of further retrospection.

Jamie Foxx (Collateral), who is a classically trained pianist, gives his second brilliant performance this year and deserves the Oscar for this role. This comedian is a great serious actor.

"Ray" the movie isn't as brilliant as Ray the man but its does do him justice.

Running time - 152 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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MOVIE - I HEART HUCKABEES - Review Rating $$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Jason Schwartzman (Albert), Dustin Hoffman (Bernard), Isabelle Huppert (Caterine), Jude Law (Brad Stand), Lily Tomlin (Vivian), Mark Wahlberg (Tommy Corn) & Naomi Watts (Dawn).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - David O. Russell

This well acted attempt at high brow comedy will have existentialists and philosophy professors rolling in the aisles and everyone else rushing for the exits.

Your understanding of infinity, after watching I Heart Huckabees, will be limited to the discovery that, depending on the circumstances, 105 minutes can seem like a lifetime.

I Heart Huckabees is a smart comedy that forgets to be funny.

Running time - 105 minutes

ALTERNATIVE REVIEWS:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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MOVIE - TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE - Review Rating $$$$$ $$ (OUT OF 10)

VOICED BY - Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller and Daran Norris.

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Trey Parker

The "creative" minds behind South Park produce a crude, rude, grossly oversimplified take on world affairs that is, surprisingly, mildly thought provoking.

They deserve kudos for being smart enough, unlike some world leaders, to figure out which tyrant is the greatest threat to world peace and for the funniest sex scene in movie history.

World Police would have been much better, however, if Parker et al could have resisted their tendency to rely on gratuitous vulgarity.

That being said, World Police is both funny and smart.

Running time - 98 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Monday, October 11, 2004
 

MOVIE - FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Billy Bob Thornton (Coach Gaines), Lucas Black (Mike Winchell), Garrett Hedlund (Don Billingsley), Derek Luke (Boobie Miles), Jay Hernandez (Brian Chavez), Lee Jackson (Ivory Christian), Lee Thompson Young (Chris Comer), Tim McGraw (Charles Billingsley) & Grover Coulson (L.V. Miles).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Peter Berg

Football (U.S. style) has been described as "war by other means". In Friday Night Lights the analogy is expanded to make high school football synonymous with our entire lives. It's a postulation worthy of consideration by both fans of the game and those who think a zebra is just an animal.

The true strength of Friday Night Lights is that, for the most part, it presents the hypothesis without reaching a conclusion for the viewer. In the process the movie presents a realistic view of the remoteness of future stardom. Glory may be achieved but it will most likely be short-lived and come at a significant cost.

The scariest aspect of Friday Night Lights is the suggestion that success must be achieved on the high school gridiron because it may be your one and only chance to be a hero before the responsibilities of adulthood wear you down. The film asks the question whether the best years of our lives are already behind us or whether we need to redefine those activities that should be glorified

This, and other questions poised by Friday Night Lights, make it a movie worth seeing for sport fans and non-fans alike.

Running time - 117 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Friday, October 1, 2004
 

MOVIE - SHAUN OF THE DEAD - Review Rating $$$$$ $$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Simon Pegg (Shaun), Kate Ashfield (Liz), Nick Frost (Ed), Lucy Davis (Dianne), Dylan Moran (David) & Nicola Cunningham (Mary)

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Edgar Wright

Never before, in the history of cinema, has so much effort been put into disguising a romantic comedy/ buddy film. The effort put into the back story, the attack of the zombies, both helps and hurts Shaun of the Dead.

The "help" arrives in the form of the understated similarity of Shaun's current lifestyle and the mindlessness of the zombie's themselves. The zombies provide numerous opportunities for humorous escapades.

The "hurt" results from the fact that the Shaun of the Dead is one of the few movies where the back story is so well done that it begins to intrude upon, and at times overwhelm, the frat boy humour that propels the rest of the movie. This is an inconsistency that leaves the viewer, especially those who enjoy films like28 Days Later, wanting a greater exploration of the moral dilemmas posed by the subplot from a movie that is not willing to provide them.

Shaun of the Dead is a deadly serious comedy. Oxymoron's are only so funny.

Running time - 99 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Sunday, September 19, 2004
 

MOVIE - SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW - Review Rating $$$$$ $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Jude Law (Sky Captain), Gwyneth Paltrow (Polly Perkins), Angelina Jolie (Capt. Franky Cook), Giovanni Ribisi (Dex Dearborn), Michael Gambon (Editor Morris Paley), Ling Bai (Assassin) & Omid Djalili (Kaji).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Kerry Conran (debut)

The real strength of Sky Captain is its use of a new CGI technology, developed by director/writer Conran, that allows the imaginary to become real. The entire movie, except for the actors, is one large special effect.

The immersiveness of this new technology is so complete that Sky Captain's special effects are only obvious on a self-conscious level. This provides Conran the opportunity to conjure up completely believeable worlds filled with a variety of monters that never seem artifical though in the back of your mind you know they are. These images also have a mesmerizing effect that engulfs the viewer in this artifical landscape and makes you either ignore or forgive the numerous plot holes.

The story of Sky Captain, a loving ode to the sci-fi films of yore, isn't on a par with the special effects and the mood they create but its good enough to keep the other side of your brain interested. The actors play their larger than life movie hero throwbacks with the required swagger.

Sky Captain is a movie that is more likely to be appreciated than outright loved but its worth the price of admission.

Running time - 107 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Wednesday, September 8, 2004
 

MOVIE - WICKER PARK - Review Rating $$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Josh Hartnett (Matthew), Rose Byrne (Alex), Diane Kruger (Lisa), Matthew Lillard (Luke), Jessica Pare (Rebecca), Stefanie Buxton (Ticket Agent) & Gillian Ferrabee (Robin).

DIRECTOR - Paul McGuigan

Love has been described as a many splendid thing but you wouldn't know it from watching Wicker Park. Love is presented as a one dimensional beast. If your not obsessed and prepared to to act on your obsession, in very dubious ways, your not in love according to Wicker Park.

The obsessed also apparently don't act rationally. Our hero, Matthew (Harnett), refuses to follow his girl to London, where he knew she abruptly went, but two years later is prepared to sacrifice career, reputation and risk being charged with any number of offenses to track down his true love. The contrivances and "plot twists" are so numerous in this movie that they become laughable (and the audience I watched with did indeed giggle).

Those looking for steaming romance will be disappointed as well. This is PG obsession with only a few very brief wardrobe malfunctions.

Wicker Park had me on the edge of my seat. I couldn't wait for it to end and make a quick exit.

Running time - 115 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Sunday, September 5, 2004
 

MOVIE - MARIA FULL OF GRACE - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria), Yenny Paola Vega (Blanca), Giulied Lopez (Lucy), John Alex Toro (Franklin), Patricia Rae (Carla) & Wilson Guerrero (Juan).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Joshua Marston

America is often referred to as the "land of opportunity". Opportunity fuels desire. Those that have opportunities often waste them on desires of the self-indulgent variety. Those who don't have opportunities, and wish they did, often find themselves enslaved in the service of those who do and to their own desires for upward mobility.

Maria Full of Grace, without an ounce of sentimantality or undue glorification, puts a very human face on the drug mules who facilitate the cocaine trade. In so doing, it artfully makes the point that excessive disparity in the number of economic opportunities, between the have's and the have not's, helps to make the trade in illicit dugs both possible and profitable.

The war on drugs will never be successful unless the root causes of the problem are addressed in a meaningful way. America, which champions and exports its "dreams", on a global basis, must assume some responsibility for those who adopt these values but have no legitimate means to achieve them. Failure to do so only perpetuates the vicious cycle of exploitation that ensnares the givers and receivers of the drug world.

The Maria's of the world are, sadly, a dime a dozen. Candidates for exploitation, many will be arrested and more will endure less glamourous fates. But, they'll keep on coming if attitudes and policies don't change.

Maria Full of Grace attempts to explain, but not excuse, why many choose to be drug mules. In putting a face on the villified it seeks to shake up your preconceptions. It's a worthy cause and a film worthy of seeing.

Running time - 109 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Saturday, September 4, 2004
 

MOVIE - HERO - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING -Jet Li (Nameless), Tony Leung (Broken Sword), Maggie Cheung (Flying Snow), Zhang Ziyi (Moon), Chen Dao Ming (King of Qin) & Donnie Yen (Long Sky).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Zhang Yimou

Hero is not just another karate movie. Rather, it is a very compelling morality tale that happens to showcase the artistry of the martial arts.

Those that do not enjoy martial arts will still be impressed with the highly choreographed fight scenes. Set against majestic backdrop these scenes, as in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", are meant to symbolize the underlying angst the characters are struggling with as well as the symmetry of the martial arts. Some may wish that these scenes were devoid of gravity defying feats, myself included, but they remain mesmerizing.

Hero's real strength lies in its excellent story. The irony of most conflicts is that the opponents profess to be righteously defending their enlightened beliefs through the use of violence. Hero forcefully argues there is, in the tradition of Gandhi et al, a better way. We often make the mistake of limiting our definition of hero to those who die in a blaze of glory and/or triumphantly ride off into the sunset. The truth is that the definition of a hero is much broader and many other forms of sacrifice are equally heroic. In our tumultuous times this is a powerful message that bears heeding whether your a leader of a nation or merely trying to coexist with your neighbors.

Hero reaffirms the notion that the word is mightier than the sword and that a "sensitive" approach is often the wiser course of action.

Running time - 96 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Monday, August 30, 2004
 

MOVIE - WE DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE - Review Rating $$$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Mark Ruffalo (Jack Linden), Laura Dern (Terry Linden), Peter Krause (Hank Evans), Naomi Watts (Edith Evans), Sam Charles (Sean Linden), Haili Page (Natasha Linden) & Jennifer Bishop (Sharon Evans).

DIRECTOR - John Curran

Another movie on the subject of adultery that can't quite bring itself to suggest that its a bad thing. Indeed, of the two couples portrayed experiencing matrimonial difficulties, one couple is brought closer together as a result of their mutual affairs and the other long suffering but cheating spouse is "liberated" by her extra-martial dalliance.

We Don't Live Here Anymore's moral compass is guided by the principle "it must be okay since everybody is doing it". While the film offers various rationales for justifying cheating (revenge, lack of attention etc) it never even remotely suggests that fidelity, trust and sticking to your principles are important values.

The one bright spot in the movie is that its well acted though you'll find yourself wondering how these married couples with children find so much free time to carry on their respective affairs.

We Don't Live Here Anymore is neither insightful nor that entertaining.

Running time - 101 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Sunday, August 22, 2004
 

MOVIE - GARDEN STATE - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Zach Braff (Andrew Largeman), Natalie Portman (Sam), Peter Sarsgaard (Mark), Ian Holm (Gideon Largeman), Ron Leibman (Dr. Cohen) & Method Man (Diego).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Zach Braff (debut, star of T.V.'s Scrubs [NBC])

If you were thinking about not going to see Garden State because you think its just another romantic comedy you are making a big mistake. Garden State is a brilliant, quirky, comedic ode to life's struggles that just happens to include an offbeat PG rated romance. This is a date movie the Trailer Park Boys would enjoy.

The real beauty of Garden State is its ability to repeatedly succintly summarize life's numerous trials and tribulations in fresh and hilarious ways. The film is smart enough, for the most part, not to flog any one joke for too long. Along the way you'll meet a host of characters you've encountered in one form or another unless you've led a very sheltered life. And unlike Napoleon Dynamite you'll be laughing with these characters as opposed to at them. The audience I watched the film with roared with preserve pleasure throughout the film.

Garden State falters near the very end, as it tries to meaningfully wrap up its various themes, but what has come before is so rich and original that this lapse is forgiveable.

Do yourself a big favor and go see Garden State. You'll be laughing all the way home.

Running time - 109 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Saturday, August 21, 2004
 

MOVIE - OPEN WATER - Review Rating $$$$$ $$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Blanchard Ryan (Susan), Daniel Travis (Daniel), Saul Stein (Seth), Estelle Lau (Estelle), Michael E. Williamson (Davis), John Charles (Junior) & Christina Zenaro (Linda).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Chirs Kentis

Based on true events.

Open Water reminded me of the ghost stories told around crackling fires on late summer eves when you were a child. As the story progresses you get caught up in the tale without realizing it. The shadows cast by the flickering flames take on ominous dimensions and you your skin tingles as the tension rises and you begin to believe in things that go bump in the night.

As with all good ghost stories the tale contains sufficient attention to detail (i.e. a pointless arguement about who's to blame) to give added credence to the unfolding drama and acts as an ominous warning about potential dangerous real world behavior (the true underlying purpose of such tales).

The only problem with Open Water is that, like campfire ghost stories, the degree it gets under your skin is highly dependent upon the atmosphere in which it is told. In the wilderness, a well-timed Owl's hoot or branches creaking in the wind can ratchet up the tension. Unfortunately, I watched the film with an audience that had several talkers and another group who laughed for 2 minutes at a brief scene of female nudity. Who you watch this movie with may effect your enjoyment of it.

Open Water will rattle your nerves.

(FYI - the sharks are real)

Running time - 79 mins

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Monday, August 9, 2004
 

MOVIE - COLLATERAL - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Tom Cruise (Vincent), Jamie Foxx (Max), Javier Bardem (Felix), Jada Pinkett Smith (Annie), Emilio Rivera (Paco), Barry Shabaka Henley (Daniel), Irma P. Hall (Max's mother).

DIRECTOR - Michael Mann (Thief, Heat & The Insider)

Collateral is a pleasure to watch because it relishes the opportunity to develop its characters. In the process Collateral proves that doing so can actually ratchet up the intensity of the action sequences that are "interrupted" in the process. The result, of taking the time to do it right, is that the characters drive the action as opposed to the other way around.

Though both, Cruise and Foxx, turn in impressive performances it's Foxx's character (Max) that is more complex and undergoes a greater transformation during the evening. Foxx, better known as a comic actor, handles the transition magnificantly. Cruise, admirably, plays the cold-blooded assassin with subdued intensity. The performances of both actors lend credibility to the unfolding story.

While there is murderous mayhem on tap Collateral is not just another "thriller" filled with car chases (there are none) and snappy one-liners. The movie also isn't filled with scenes obviously included to form the basis of a future video game. In the tradition, of Quentin Tarantino, Collateral is a thinking man's crime thriller.

The movie does deviate, from its successful formula, in the rush to the dramatic conclusion and there are a few plot holes a long the way as well. Neither of these flaws is enough to distract from what is an otherwise excellent film.

Collateral, simply put, is the best movie of the Summer of 2004.

Running time - 119 minutes

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Friday, August 6, 2004
 

MOVIE - THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE - Review Rating $$$$$ $$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Denzel Washington (Ben Marco), Meryl Streep (Eleanor Shaw), Liev Schreiber (Raymond Shaw), Kimberly Elise (Rosie), Vera Farmiga (Jocelyn Jordan) & Jon Voight (Senator Jordan).

DIRECTOR - Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia, The Truth About Charlie, The Silence of the Lambs, Beloved & Married to the Mob)

A remake of the 1962 film based on the novel by Richard Condon.

The villains in the original book/film were Communist provacatuers. The end of the Cold War reqired a new villain for The Manchurian Candidate to remain relevant. Sadly, due to wide spread abuse of trust, corruption, scandals and out-right greed, Corporate America has proven itself to be a worthy replacement as the villain of choice for the new millenium. Ironic, to say the least.

Reality gives the implausible plot of The Manchurian Candidate the required degree of credibility to be taken seriously. However, much of this credibility is squandered away.

A few years back the major broadcast networks and their staffs were prohibited from participating in commercials films. It was felt, rightly or wrongly, that their presence would blur the line between fact and fiction. Thus, The Manchurian Candidate has to make due with pretend reporters (for the most part). This, combined with the monumental task of recreating a political convention, convincingly, and a few plot holes leads to large portions of The Manchurian Candidate coming off as unbelievable.

The ying and yang between the great performances, political intrigue and unconvincing backdrops is disconcerting enough that it manages to lower the intensity level and impact of the film.

Political junkies and conspiracy theorists will enjoy The Manchurian Candidate despite its flaws.

Running time - 130 minutes

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Wednesday, August 4, 2004
 

There's another new and interesting movie related blog on the web. Check out The Movie Generation.

The Manchurian Candidate didn't do as well at the box office last weekend as The Village but it's the better movie by a longshot. Review later.

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Saturday, July 31, 2004
 

MOVIE - THE VILLAGE - Review Rating $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Joaquin Phoenix (Lucius Hunt), Bryce Dallas Howard (Ivy Walker), William Hurt (Edward Walker), Sigourney Weaver (Alice Hunt), Adrien Brody (Noah Percy), Judy Greer (Kitty Walker), Frank Collison (Victor) & Jesse Eisenberg (Jamison).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - M. Night Shyamalan (Sixth Sense, Unbreakable & Signs)

The Village is a complete failure for four reasons.

1) Shyamalan isn't fooling anyone anymore with his not everything is as it seems plot device which causes the audience to focus more on figuring out the surprise than the story itself;

2) The "cover" story comes off as stitled, corny, generally unbelieveable and just plain boring;

3) Shyamalan puts a lot less energy into his trade mark "Hitchcockian" off camera scary moments and;

4) most importantly, the secret, which is relatively easy to discern, is not particurlarly thought provoking.

The one bright spot in the film is the performance of Bryce Dallas Howard. I predict we'll be seeing a lot more of her in the future.

Shyamalan has gone to the same well once too often and has come up empty.

The Village is a definite contender for Worst Movie of 2004.

Running time - 120 minutes

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Thursday, July 29, 2004
 

MOVIE - THE BOURNE SUPREMACY - Review Rating $$$$$ $1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Franka Potente (Marie Helena), Joan Allen (Agent Landy), Julia Stiles (Nicolette), Brian Cox (Ward Abbott), Tim Griffin (John Nevins) & Gabriel Mann (Zorn).

DIRECTOR - Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday)

Based on the novel, of the same name, by Robert Ludlum.

WARNING: ANY RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN THIS MOVIE AND THE BOOK ITS BASED ON IS PURELY COINCINDENTAL

My comments regarding the first movie in this series, The Bourne Identity , are equally applicable to this latest installment.

The only additional comment necessary is that Julia Stiles is in the running for the 2004 "Most Miscast Actress in a Supporting Role" Award.

The Bourne Supremacy is one of the few book adaptations where reading the novel first doesn't spoil the movie (sarcasm intended).

Running time - 109 minutes

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Tuesday, July 27, 2004
 

MOVIE - NAPOLEON DYNAMITE - Review Rating $$$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), Jon Gries (Uncle Rico), Efren Ramirez (Pedro), Aaron Ruell (Kip), Tina Majorino (Deb), Haylie Duff (Summer), Ellen Dubin (Ilene), Emily Kennard (Trisha) & Diedrich Bader (Rex).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Jared Hess

Based on a 9 minute short film, by Hess, called Peluca.

Napoleon Dynamite, a so-called "indie" film, more closely resembles amatuer hour at the Improv than it does quality independent filmmaking. This movie is a dumb-downed version of American Pie without the charm. Napoleon Dynamite is really a series of vingettes, very loosely tied together, by a script that not only lacks fresh insight but barely bothers to explain how the characters find themselves in the situations they do. The production values are sub-par, as well, even for an independent film.

They are moments, in the movie, that you can't stop yourself from laughing at. But, and this is the important point, you will be laughing "at" the characters instead of with them.

Some may consider Napoleon Dynamite to be a cult classic but it's really just juvenile drivel.

Running time - 86 minutes

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Saturday, July 24, 2004
 

MOVIE - METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo, Phil Towle & Jason Newsted.

DIRECTORS - Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Paradise Lost)

A Documentary

Berlinger and Sinofsky must have thought they had died and gone to heaven when filming for this documentary began. Their arrival on the scene coincides with Metallica coming apart at the seams. What could have easily turned out to be a rather pedestrian rockumentary instead evolves into a fascinating psychological portrait of a highly dsyfunctional group.

Throughout the film you will be continually amazed by the discordance between the public persona of the group and the much more complicated and messy nature of its individual members and their interactions. Who would have thought that the most successful heavy metal band in the world would require a $40,000 a month psychologist to ensure "the beat goes on".

You don't have to be a Metallica fan, I'm not, to relish this voyueristic opportunity to be the proverbial fly on the wall.

Metallic: Some Kind of Monster proves, yet again, that money "Can't Buy Me Love".

Running time - 160 minutes

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MOVIE - THE CLEARING - Review Rating $$$$$ $1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Robert Redford (Wayne Hayes), Willem Dafoe (Arnold "Arn" Mack), Helen Mirren (Eileen Hayes), Matt Craven (Agent Fuller), Wendy Crewson (Louise Miller), Alessandro Nivola (Tim Hayes) & Melissa Sagemiller (Jill Hayes)

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Pieter Jan Brugge

There is something ultimately unsatisfying about The Clearing that's somewhat hard to put your finger on. The performances are fine (you'd expect nothing less from Redford & Mirren), the directorial tempo maintains the intensity of the unfolding drama and the script explores the human psyche at a deeper level than most movies. These three seperate elements, however, don't gel into a cohesive whole.

The disappointment with the film may result from the fact that The Clearing, in the end, doesn't break any new ground. It promises profoundness yet doesn't quite deliver. A better example of insight into the human condition is 21Grams.

The Clearing, when compared to most of the films in current release, is an excellent film. However, when compared to movies of a similar nature it is only average.

Running time - 91 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

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Thursday, July 22, 2004
 

MOVIE - I, ROBOT - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Will Smith (Spooner), Bridget Moynahan (Dr. Susan Calvin), Bruce Greenwood (Lance Robertson), Chi McBride (Lt. John Bergin), Alan Tudyk (Sonny), James Cromwell (Dr. Alfred Lanning), Peter Shinkoda (Chin) & Emily Tennant (Sarah Lloyd).

DIRECTOR - Alex Proyas (Garage Days, Dark City & The Crow)

Suggested by a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov.

I, Robot successfully combines a variety of themes to produce one of the best films of this year's crop of summer blockbusters. The script cleverly balances the competing elements of Sci-Fi allegory, a murder mystery and action in such a way as to keep fans of each entertained and allow the audience, if they wish, to comtemplate the movie's broader implications.

Some might consider I, Robot to be Asimov "lite" but, in my opinion, its refreshing to see a blockbuster that at least attempts to be faithful to its source material and is as concerned about the message as the marketing. The film has more non-artificial intelligence than the previews suggest.

I highly recommend I, Robot.

Running time - 115 minutes

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Thursday, July 15, 2004
 

MOVIE - ANCHORMAN -- THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Will Ferrell (Ron Burgundy), Christina Applegate (Veronica Corningstone), David Koechner (Champ Kind), Steven Carell (Brick Tamland), Paul Rudd (Brian Fantana), Fred Willard (Ed Harken) & Chris Parnell (Garth Holliday).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Adam McKay

A comedy that understands that once you go over the top you have to keep going and Anchorman does that in spades.

In between bouts of laughter you'll wonder what these guys (Farrell & McKay) were on when they dreamed up many of the movies funniest scenes.

Running time - 91 minutes

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MOVIE - SPIDER-MAN 2 - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), Alfred Molina (Dr. Otto Octavius), James Franco (Harry Osborn), Elizabeth Banks (Betty Brant), Bruce Campbell (Snooty Usher), Rosemary Harris (Aunt May), J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson) & Vanessa Ferlito (Louise).

DIRECTOR - Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, A Simple Plan, Army of Darkness, The Gift & Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn)

Despite inherent corniness Spider-man 2 has better special effects, a better villian and a story with heart that makes it a worthy film.

Spider-man 2 proves two things: 1) Hollywood blockbusters and decent scripts don't have to be mutually exclusive concepts and 2) how bad the original Spider-man really was.

As an added bonus, for those who missed the first installment, you don't have to subject yourself to it to enjoy Spider-man 2.

Running time - 125 minutes

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MOVIE - FAHRENHEIT 9/11 - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

A QUASI-DOCUMENTARY WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY MICHAEL MOORE

Fahrenheit 9/11 is an important film in that it smashes many of the myths surrounding the invasion of Iraq and the murky dealings of the Bush Administration that often aren't reported in mainstream media.

Moore also makes George Bush look like the idiot he is but to be honest that's not particularly hard to do.

The two-fold problem with Fahrenheit 9/11 is its complete lack of objectivity and Moore's own occassionally shoddy reasoning and/or not fully supported arguments. In this respect Moore has done a disservice to other true Documentarians.

The pros outweigh the cons and viewers of all political stripes should see this film.

Running time - 110 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

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MOVIE - DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Vince Vaughn (Peter La Fleur), Ben Stiller (White Goodman), Christine Taylor (Kate Veatch), Rip Torn (Patches O'Houlihan), Justin Long (Justin), Stephen Root (Gordon), Joel David Moore (Owen), Chris Williams & Alan Tudyk (Steve the Pirate).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Rawson Marshall Thurber (feature debut)

A cross between the "Bad News Bears" and "Something About Mary" that will have you rolling in the aisles. The first comedy recently released that was actually consistantly funny.

Running time - 96 minutes

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MOVIE - SUPER SIZE ME - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

A DOCUMENTARY WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY MORGAN SPURLOCK

A very scary and well documented look at the potential harmful side-effects of our love affair with fast food.

Sadly, despite the evidence presented (some of it humorous), it appears that Super Size Me has had virtually no negative impact on the fast food industry.

A must see film for any interested in their own good health or the health of a loved one.

Running time - 96 minutes

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MOVIE - THE TERMINAL - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Tom Hanks (Viktor Navorski), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Amelia), Stanley Tucci (Frank Dixon), Barry Shabaka Henley (Ray Thurman), Chi McBride (Mulroy), Diego Luna (Enrique Cruz), Kumar Pallanatucci (Gupta Rajan) & Zoe Saldana (INS agent).

DIRECTOR - Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Minority Report & Catch Me If You Can)

Though not without its flaws (a few plot holes and the underwritten Zeta-Jones character) The Terminal is worth seeing for the nearly perfect virtuoso performance of Tom Hanks. As I watched this movie I kept thinking that no other actor in Hollywood could have pulled this role off with the skill and nuance evident in Hank's performance.

Stanley Tucci also captures the true nature of uptight, overzealous bureaucrats more concerned with their self-promotion than anything else.

A true romantic comedy that should be seen when it lands at a threatre or video store near you.

Running time - 121 minutes

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MOVIE - THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK - Review Rating $$$$$ $ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Vin Diesel (Richard B. Riddick), Colm Feore (Lord Marshal), Alexa Davalos (Kyra), Karl Urban (Vaako), Thandie Newton (Dame Vaako), Judi Dench (Aereon), Nick Chinlund (Toombs), Chris Astoyan (Tony Nesteravich) & Christina Cox (Logan).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - David Twohy (The Arrival & Pitch Black)

A semi-silly "blockbuster" that takes itself seriously enough to allow the viewer to shrug their shoulders, mutter "what the heck" under their breath and enjoy the show.

Running time - 118 minutes

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Saturday, June 12, 2004
 

MOVIE - THE STEPFORD WIVES - Review Rating $$$$$ $ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING Nicole Kidman (Joanna Eberhart), Matthew Broderick (Walter Kresby), Bette Midler (Bobbie Markowitz), Christopher Walken (Mike Wellington), Glenn Close (Claire Wellington), Faith Hill (Sarah Sunderson), Roger Bart (Roger Bannister) & Jon Lovitz (Dave Markowitz)

DIRECTOR - Frank Oz (The Score, Bowfinger, In & Out, What About Bob? & Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)

A tougne in cheek take on the battle of the sexes that gets off to an awkward start. It gets better as the plot becomes more sinister. It's not "To Die For" but still a welcome reprieve from blockbuster mayhem.

Running time - 93 Minutes

FULL REVIEW LATER.

ALTERNATIVE REVIEWS:

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Thursday, June 3, 2004
 

The reviews for Shrek 2 and The Day After Tomorrow are now complete.

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Sunday, May 30, 2004
 

MOVIE - BREAKIN' ALL THE RULES - Review Rating $$$$$ $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Jamie Foxx (Quincy Watson), Morris Chestnut (Evan Fields), Gabrielle Union (Nicky), Bianca Lawson (Helen Sharp), Peter MacNicol (Philip Gascon) & Jennifer Esposito (Rita Monroe).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Daniel Taplitz (Commandments)

Though somewhat predictable and a little contrived this light-hearted romantic comedy has some fresh material, a little humour and decent performances.

In otherwords, better than most of the blockbuster garbage currently playing at your local multiplex.

Full Review Later.

Running time - 85 minutes

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Saturday, May 29, 2004
 

MOVIE - THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW - Review Rating $$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Dennis Quaid (Jack Hall), Jake Gyllenhaal (Sam Hall), Emmy Rossum (Laura Chapman), Dash Mihok (Jason Evans), Jay O. Sanders (Frank Harris), Sela Ward (Dr. Lucy Hall), Kenneth Welsh (Vice President Becker), Ian Holm (Prof. Rapson), Perry King (President Blake) & Arjay Smith (Brian Parks)

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Roland Emmerich (The Patriot, Godzilla, Independence Day, Stargate & Universal Soldier)

I am at a bit of a loss to explain why I was able to tolerate The Day After Tomorrow. The acting is only so-so (Gyllenhaal's performance, in particular, is just plain awful), the script is weak, plot holes abound and the special effects aren't that realistic.

The only explanation I can think of is that I went into the movie with such low expectations it would have been nearly impossible for them not to be exceeded.

The one thing that the movie does have going for it is that it is actually loosely based on a legitimate scientific theory. So despite its numerous flaws it maintains a modicum of credibility during the first half of the film.

If you wait, until The Day After Tomorrow, to see this movie and its no longer playing you won't have missed much.

Running time - 124 minutes

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Sunday, May 23, 2004
 

MOVIE - SHREK 2 - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Mike Myers (Shrek), Eddie Murphy (Donkey), Cameron Diaz (Fiona), Antonio Banderas (Puss-in-Boots), John Cleese (King Harold), Julie Andrews (Queen Lillian) & Rupert Everett (Prince Charming).

DIRECTORS - Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon

First, the good news. You don't have to be a kid or have watched the original Shrek to immensely enjoy the sequel.

The bad news?...If you did see the first movie watching the second installment will be like deja vu, all over again.

Despite wondrous animation, characters that bubble over with charm and numerous brilliant jokes and parodies, Shrek 2 has one glaring flaw. The story line is almost identical to the original. While the message, in the era of T.V. shows like the Swan, remains important it is still disappointing that this second installment has the characters stuck in a morality time loop.

There will no doubt be a Shrek 3. Let's hope the characters will be allowed to explore and experience other emotional quandaries.

What Shrek 2 lacks in originality it makes up for with a mix wholesome charm and satirical wit that can be enjoyed by all.

Running time - 105 minutes

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Saturday, May 15, 2004
 

MOVIE - TROY - Review Rating $$$$$ $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Brad Pitt (Achilles), Orlando Bloom (Paris), Eric Bana (Hector), Diane Kruger (Helen), Sean Bean (Odysseus), Brian Cox (Agamemnon), Peter O'Toole (Priam), Brendan Gleeson (Menelaus) & Saffron Burrows (Andreomache).

DIRECTOR - Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, Air Force One, The Perfect Storm, In the Line of Fire & Outbreak)

Troy, if judged by summer movie blockbuster standards, is a pretty good flick despite its muddled message and 2 hour and forty-two minute length. History teachers, however, will cringe.

Full Review Later.

Running time - 162 minutes

ALTERNATIVE REVIEWS:

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Sunday, May 2, 2004
 

MOVIE - ENVY - Review Rating $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Ben Stiller (Tim Dingman), Jack Black (Nick Vanderpark), Rachel Weisz (Debbie Dingman), Amy Poehler (Natalie Vanderpark) & Christopher Walken (J-Man)

DIRECTOR - Barry Levison (Rain Man, The Natural, Wag the Dog, Bandits & Good Morning, Vietnam)

Envy, despite good intentions, just doesn't achieve its potential. Director Levison does his best to create an interesting visual canvas to backstop this high-minded comedy but the script doesn't hold up its end of the bargain.

The Vapoorizer is silly enough but the humour associated with this gag disappears almost as quickly as the sprayed dog poo does. What's left isn't strong enough to be either entertaining and/or thought provoking.

Envy reminded me of Punch-Drunk Love without the edge. Stiller's character is a timid version of Punch-Drunk's Barry Egan (Sandler). The inner rage barely boils to the surface. Without a minefield of inner demons to conquer, obsessive flossing aside, Tim Dingman (Stiller) is as interesting as reheated leftovers. Cerebral humour requires insight that is sorely lacking in Envy.

Contrivance contributes to Envy's downfall too. The J-Man (Walken) , in particular, just didn't work for me and neither did the dead horse escapades. Mrs. Vanderpark's political aspirations answers a question no-one was really asking. In the final analysis, the problem with Envy is that you don't care where the poo goes but you do wish you hadn't stepped in...the theater.

Despite decent acting, an interesting concept and some cerebral humour there is nothing to be envious about in Envy.

Running time - 99 minutes

ALTERNATIVE REVIEWS:

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Saturday, May 1, 2004
 

MOVIE - GODSEND - Review Rating $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Greg Kinnear (Paul Duncan), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Jessie Duncan), Robert De Niro (Dr. Richard Wells), Cameron Bright (Adam Duncan), Jenny Levine (Sandra Shaw), Deborah Odell (Tanya) & Janet Bailey (Cora Williams).

DIRECTOR - Nick Hamm (The Hole, Talk of Angels & The Very Thought of You)

Godsend is so bad it barely rates a review so I'll keep this short. The movie can't decide if it wants to be a serious morality tale or a full fledged horror flick. The result of this indecision is predictable. The junk science and sparse morality are laughable and the "horror" is uninspired and unoriginal.

I haven't seen De Niro give a worse performance in a long time. Unlike Al Pacino, in The Recruit, he doesn't even try to save this dog. Kinnear and Romijn-Stamos don't do us any favors either.

If you like having your intelligence insulted and wasting your hard earned money then I heartily recommend going to see Godsend, one of the worse movies of 2004 and the year isn't even half over yet.

Running time - 102 minutes

ALTERNATIVE REVIEWS:

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Saturday, April 24, 2004
 

MOVIE - MAN ON FIRE - Review Rating $$$$$ $$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Denzel Washington (Creasy), Dakota Fanning (Pita), Marc Anthony (Samuel), Radha Mitchell (Lisa), Christopher Walken (Rayburn), Giancarlo Giannini (Manzano) & Mickey Rourke (Jordan).

DIRECTOR - Tony Scott (Top Gun, Spy Game, True Romance, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State)

Not in Kill Bill's league but clearly better than most film's with a similar theme and Denzel Washington gives a first rate performance.

Full Review Later.

Running time - 142 minutes

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Sunday, April 18, 2004
 

MOVIE - THE PUNISHER - Review Rating $$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Tom Jane (Frank Castle/Punisher), John Travolta (Howard Saint), Will Patton (Quentin Glass), Laura Harring (Livia Saint), Ben Foster (Spacker Dave), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Joan), Samantha Mathis (Maria Castle), John Pinette (Mr. Bumpo), Mark Collie (Hary "Heck") & Roy Scheider (Mr. Castle).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Jonathan Hensleigh (debut)

Based on the Marvel comic book.

The odd thing about the proliferation of big screen adaptations of comic books is the dumbing down effect they've had. Most of these films are so rife with plot holes that its become almost pointless to continually point this fact out. The Punisher, unfortunately, proudly continues this tradition.

The net effect of becoming used to watching movies, with more holes in their scripts than a slice of swiss cheese, is that they lower the bar for other films. All of sudden you find yourself extolling the virtues of movies you once would've considered second rate. This is not a positive development.

If I can't criticize The Punisher for its plot holes I still reserve the right to comment on my other pet peeve about most such adaptations. If you want to be taken seriously, despite your comic book origins, then you must produce a film that has a modicum of credibility. It's hard, to take The Punisher as seriously as it wants to be taken, when all the mayhem and destruction that occurs fails to attract the attention of even a single innocent bystander.

At just over two hours in length The Punisher stretches more than the boundaries of credibility. There simply isn't a reasonable excuse for this very thin story dragging on for this long. I didn't leave the theater thinking I got my money's worth just because I was forced to endure this drivel for an extended period of time.

The Punisher is as subtle as the proverbial brick. If you enjoy being hit over the head then this is the movie for you.

Running time - 124 minutes

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

The Punisher Official Web Site

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Saturday, April 17, 2004
 

MOVIE - KILL BILL VOL. 2 - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Uma Thurman (The Bride), David Carradine (Bill), Daryl Hannah (Elle Driver), Michael Madsen (Budd), Gordon Liu (Pai Mei), Michael Parks (Esteban/Earl), Samuel L. Jackson (Organ Player), Bo Svenson (Rev. Harmony) & Quentin Tarantino (Voice of Pai Mei).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown & Kill Bill Volume 1)

When I reviewed Kill Bill: Vol. 1, I commended Tarantino for creating a visual masterpiece, that paid homage to past film masters, but lamented the one dimensional nature of the 24/7 revenge plot. While revenge remains ever present in this second installment it doesn't detrimentally dominate Kill Bill Vol. 2 to the same degree. It's this slight variation in thematic emphasis that propels Kill Bill Vol. 2, and Vol. 1 retrospectively, from brilliant gore fest to cinematic masterpiece.

In Vol. 2, Tarantino is more concerned with substance than style. That is not to say that the visuals are not remarkable, they are, but after watching Vol. 2 you'll realize what essential Tarantino ingredient was missing in Vol. 1. The secret recipe that separates Tarantino's films from ordinary fare, and which is present in abundance in Vol. 2, is....drumroll...thought provoking dialogue.

Think back, if you will for a moment, to Pulp Fiction. What made that movie unique was the surreal insight, expressed in conversations regarding Whoppers and other mundane subjects, and not the violence that elevated the genre to a new level. Whether its Bill and The Bride engaging in verbal foreplay on the church steps or Bill's Superman soliloquy, Tarantino reminds us, once again, of the power and importance of thoughtful dialogue. Hasta La Vista Baby this ain't.

These brilliantly crafted oratory duels have the capacity, that cinematography and special effects don't, to simultaneously put the unfolding events into greater perspective as well as expand our boundaries of comprehension. All the flying Samurai's in the world can't make up for a badly written script.

In the process of developing the characters, more fully, Tarantino turns the violence down a relative and realistic notch. Fewer people not only die, in Vol. 2, they do so in a less gratuitous manner. Less is more, in this regard, in that each passing serves as a reminder of how precious having the opportunity to live one's life in peace actually is.

Some may take offense at being asked to have sympathy for the devil. The Bride, is after all, a retired assassin. Everything is relative and Kill Bill serves as a potent reminder that those who live by the sword more often than not are destined to die by the sword. You can't make that point without unsheathing your Hanzo sword.

This review wouldn't be complete without giving kudos to both Thurman and Carradine. This odd couple have chemistry and that enhances the potency of their respective character's motivations. Their performances are so convincing that you too will want to Kill Bill.

Tarantino hits his stride in Kill Bill Vol. 2 and turns this two-part epic into a cinematic masterpiece.

Running time - 136 minutes

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

Kill Bill Official Web Site

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Sunday, April 11, 2004
 

MOVIE - THE ALAMO - Review Rating $$$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Billy Bob Thornton (Davy Crockett), Jason Patric (Jim Bowie), Patrick Wilson (William Travis), Emilio Echevarria (Santa Anna), Dennis Quaid (Sam Houston), Jordi Molla (Juan Seguin), Wes Studi (Chief Bowl) & Leon Rippy (Sgt. William Ward).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - John Lee Hancock (The Rookie)

Whether or not history comes alive depends as much, if not more, on the quality of the storytelling as it does on the actual event being recounted. This version of the story of the Alamo turns a pivotal historic event into a drab and dreary movie going experience.

The movie gets off to a bad start, that it never recovers from, by committing the fatal sin of not coherently establishing the significance of the events that are about to unfold. If you're not overly familiar with the story you'll be hard pressed to understand the importance of The Alamo. The story is told so badly, in fact, that this remains true even after you've watched the entire movie.

One of the reasons The Alamo doesn't succeed is that it places more emphasis on the historical figures than the historical events themselves. This is not unusual, in of itself, because historians often focus on history's great personalities. However, a historical hero and/or villain can only be properly understood if their actions are put into context. The effect, of this failure to communicate the context, is to turn the heroism of those who defended The Alamo into senseless male bravado.

Not helping matters is the fact that The Alamo's focuses on personalities is driven by the desire to deconstruct the myths and legends of the famous characters who got caught up in this historic event. This attempt at moral equivalency falls flat because The Alamo wants to have its cake and eat it too. The Alamo wants you to cheer its heroes on while simultaneously telling you they are not worth cheering for.

Making matters even worse is that when The Alamo ventures into the minefield of moral equivalency it ignores the golden rule, effectively demonstrated in The Missing, that revisionism requires balance. The Alamo, in an attempt to inspire patriotism while dishing the patriots, is content to portray the Mexicans as dastardly, cartoonish villains. The movie is virtually devoid of any consideration of the negative consequences of the conquering of the wild west.

The only reason I didn't give The Alamo a lower rating is that I'm mindful of the importance of understanding history. It's better, in my opinion, to watch a flawed historical movie than not to watch and learn at all. That's about as backhanded a compliment as I can manage.

The movie version of the historic battle for The Alamo is, contrary to the rallying cry of those who sought to avenge this defeat, quite forgettable.

Running time - 137 minutes

Roger Ebert's Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

The Alamo Official Web Site
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Saturday, April 10, 2004
 

MOVIE - WALKING TALL - Review Rating $$$$$ $ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - The Rock (Chris Vaughn), Neal McDonough (Jay Hamilton), Johnny Knoxville (Ray Templeton), John Beasley (Chris Vaughn Sr.), Barbara Tarbuck (Connie Vaughn), Kristen Wilson (Michelle), Khleo Thomas (Pete) & Ashley Scott (Deni)

DIRECTOR - Kevin Bray (All About the Benjamins)

A remake of the 1973 film, of the same name, based on the true story of Sheriff Buford H. Pusser.

The original Walking Tall wasn't a cinematic classic but it did have a message. This 21st century remake is, by comparison, an empty vessel. This "new and improved" Walking Tall is merely an opportunity for the The Rock to flex his muscles and crack a few action hero one-liners. Oh yeah, by the way, he gets the girl too.

There is, in this instance, a direct correlation between the length of this movie (85 minutes) and the quality of the final product. While I'm the first to assail a movie for undue length there is a minimum amount of time required to tell a story well. This condensed retelling of the story barely has enough time for all the action, let alone character development and social commentary. If you were expecting a morality tale you'll be disappointed. If you just want to see the Rock bust a few heads then this is the movie for you.

Giving credit, where credit is due, Walking Tall has credible production values, decent action hero humour and passable to fair acting (The Rock has come a long way in this regard). Remarkably, the action sequences are only so-so. From an entertainment perspective, you'd be better served by renting the Rock's previous action adventure, The Rundown, then shelling out the big bucks to watch Walking Tall at your local multiplex.

Walking Tall is a slick but soulless remake that will only appeal to fans of The Rock and action movies.

Running time - 85 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

Walking Tall Official Web Site

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Sunday, April 4, 2004
 

MOVIE - HELLBOY - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT 0F 10)

STARRING - Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), John Hurt (Prof. Bruttenholm), Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning), Rupert Evans (John Meyers), Karel Roden (Grigori Rasputin), Corey Johnson (Agent Clay), Doug Jones ("Abe" Sapien) & Bridget Hodson (Ilsa).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Guillermo del Toro (Mimic, The Devil's Backbone, Cronos & Blade II)

Based on the comic book by Mike Mignola.

While most movie previews give too much away and make going to most films almost redundant the previews for Hellboy don't do the movie justice. This is one film you have to see to appreciate.

Hellboy is based on a relatively obscure comic book. The difficulty that presents, especially for an action adventure movie, is the need to quickly engage the audience while simultaneously taking the time to faithfully recreate the comic book's ambiance and introduce the main characters.

Hellboy does gets off to a shaky start. The opening sequence, meant to capture our attention, is pretty unbelievable. The audience, without much preparation, must not only buy into a wild premise they also have to believe that the massive secret Nazi compound in Scotland would be adorned with Third Reich paraphernalia. This weapon of mass destruction was at least easy to find.

What saves Hellboy is the fact that it never loses sight of its comic book roots. In fact, it relishes in them. Even without being familiar with the original comic book the viewer senses director del Toro's passion for the original format. Reminiscent of the Dick Tracy movie, which relied on vibrant colors and appropriate costume design to capture the spirit of the original material, every scene in Hellboy reminds the audience of the comic book panels which its based upon.

The effect produces two benefits. First, it allows the audience to forgive the obvious loopholes in the story because both the viewer and the movie never forget Hellboy is just a comic book hero and not a living legend. Hellboy's infatuation with Liz (Selma Blair) is a prime example of the movie not taking itself too seriously. Despite the earth's impending doom the movie takes the time for a very funny "jealousy" scene. This moment of levity amidst the chaos is just one of the little touches that separates Hellboy from other comic book adaptations.

The second benefit, of recreating the feel of a comic book, is that we are treated to masterfully crafted sequences. The funeral scene is particularly noteworthy. The cascade of black umbrellas conveys the somberness of the moment with comic book majesty yet, at the same time, feels like a scene out of a much more serious film. For those who appreciate true visual artistry this scene alone is worth the price of admission.

Further evidence of del Torro's fondness for his material is the attention to numerous other details. When this supernatural hero chases villains through city streets the crowds, which should be present are, and they panic accordingly. The Hulk and The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman, two very poor adaptations of comic books, were most notable for their lack of attention to similar details. These two films were also guilty of an over inflated sense of self-importance that Hellboy never succumbs too.

The only real fault with Hellboy, over and above its length which is partly due to the need to introduce us to the various players, is its lack of originality. Many aspects of the story and several of the characters (Liz Sherman & Abe Sapien) will remind you of other sci-fi stories. However, like Pirates Of The Caribbean, Hellboy puts the pieces of the action adventure movie genre together properly.

Hellboy, despite a few plot holes, is a hellava of a supernatural action adventure.

Running time - 132 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

Hellboy Official Web Site

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Saturday, April 3, 2004
 

MOVIE - THE PRINCE & ME - Review Rating $$$$$ $ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Julia Stiles (Paige), Luke Mably (Prince Edvard), Ben Miller (Soren), James Fox (King Haraald), Miranda Richardson (Queen Rosalind), Alberta Watson (Amy) & Zachary Knighton (John).

DIRECTOR - Martha Coolidge (Real Genius, Out to Sea, Rambling Rose, Lost in Yonkers, Valley Girl)

The Prince & Me is an updated version of the very familiar girl meets Prince Charming story. Being romantically linked, to a modern Prince, necessitates the addition of Paparazzi and the script is smart enough to include this element in the story. Our heroine is also the epitome of the modern career-orientated woman.

The modernization of the story is mere set dressing as opposed to a deeper contemplation of the complexities of such a relationship. The Prince & Me has no aspirations to be more than what it is, a lighthearted romantic comedy. In this regard, it largely succeeds because of the inclusion of enough charming and mildly humourous moments to keep the viewer entertained.

What The Prince & Me doesn't succeed at is making you truly convinced that Cupid's arrow has struck gold. The attraction between Paige (Stiles) and Prince Edvard (Malby) is based on the attraction of opposites. Beyond that basic concept the viewer is left somewhat mystified as to how they fall so deeply in love. Paige is not a woman so easily distracted and the Prince's transition from playboy to devoted husband happens to quickly to be believable. A lack of on-screen chemistry between Stiles and Malby doesn't help matters either.

Judged by romantic comedy standards The Prince & Me is not a crown jewel but it will do when your in the mood for non-thought provoking entertainment.

Running time - 111 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Monday, March 29, 2004
 

MOVIE - THE LADYKILLERS - Review Rating $$$$$ 1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Tom Hanks (Professor G.H. Dorr), Irma P. Hall (Marva Munson), Marlon Wayans (Gawain MacSam), J.K. Simmons (Garth Pancake), Tzi Ma (The General), Ryan Hurst (Lump) & Diane Delano (Mountain Girl).

DIRECTORS/WRITERS - Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (Fargo, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn't There & Intolerable Cruelty)

A remake of the 1955 British comedy of the same name.

The image that comes to mind, as you watch The Ladykillers, is of a puppeteer gone mad. The film is such a mishmash of characters and story lines you are often abruptly reminded that it has little coherence. The Coen Brothers, the crazed puppeteers who brought us brilliant films like Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, are either resting on their laurels or have completely lost their touch.

The Ladykillers, as noted above, is a reworking of a 1955 comedy. The first mistake the Coen Brothers made, in this remake, was to only update parts of the story. The most obvious discrepancy this produces is the irreconcilable casting conflict between the erudite Professor Dorr (Hanks), who waxes eloquently and epitomizes the quintessential Southern Gentleman, and the hip-hopping MacSam (Wayans). These two shouldn't exist in the same time and place. Some might consider this pairing to be part of the joke, like Mrs. Munson (Hall) being a supporter of the infamous Bob Jones University, but neither are funny.

The rest of the supporting cast, who are as generationally out of step with the Professor as MacSam is, exasperate this jarring inconsistency in the story. Suffice it to say, that if your main characters are stuck in a time loop, the theoretical and theatrical application of the principles of the theory of the time continuum require all of your characters to be from a synchronized time frame.

In writing this review I have attempted to purposely demonstrate a pertinacity for verbosity. My rationale for so doing was not to impress you with my command of the english language but rather, dear reader, to impart to you the humourous basis upon which The Ladykillers rests. The Professor's comedic value, and he is the only truly funny character in the movie, is directly linked to his ability to mix metaphors and quote Edgar Allen Poe. I think you'd agree, if you choose to see The Ladykillers, that this joke's capacity to tickle the funny bone is of limited duration.

Admittedly, the last 15 minutes of the film are the funniest. What makes this so is the preposterousness of the climatic events as opposed to the outright hilarious nature of the final sequence. Its hard to recommend a comedy with such a low ratio of funny moments to not so funny moments especially when you have to wait until the very end to laugh aloud.

The Ladykillers sorta grows on you. However, like other things that grow on you, The LadyKillers isn't often a laughing matter.

Running time - 104 minutes.

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

The Ladykillers Official Web Site

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Sunday, March 21, 2004
 

MOVIE - TAKING LIVES - Review Rating $$$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Angelina Jolie (Illeana Scott), Olivier Martinez (Paquette), Ethan Hawke (Costa), Tcheky Karyo (Leclair), Kiefer Sutherland (Hart) & Gena Rowlands (Mrs. Asher).

DIRECTOR - D.J. Caruso (The Salton Sea)

Based upon British author Michael Pye's 1999 book of the same name.

Taking Lives, an otherwise excellent example of moviemaking, has one fatal flaw. It's the story, devoid of any substance and/or compelling reason to care about what happens, that prevents me from giving Taking Lives a better recommendation.

These are the things I liked about the film:

a) Having been made in Hollywood North (Canada) the producers decide to forgo trying to turn Montreal, Quebec into some indistinguishable American city and showcase, rather than disguise, Montreal's beautiful historic Old City.

b) Having chosen this route the producers hired recognized French actors to play French Quebecers (the majority of the population of the Province of Quebec). While this may seem a rather obvious thing to do it's not always done. The movie The Statement suffered greatly when the producers of that film cast English actors to portray Frenchmen.

c) The cast, including Angelina Jolie, give excellent performances in an ordinary film.

d) Very good overall direction including a great hand-held camera foot-chase through the Old City of Montreal.

e) a couple of scenes that will make you jump in your seat.

f) They also get a lot of the small details right including slipping in a line justifying Mrs. Asher's (Rowlands) being put up in a very ritzy Hotel. One detail they get wrong is the reference to Moncton, which is in the neighboring province of New Brunswick, and definitely not a 3 hour train ride from Montreal.

These are the things I disliked about the movie:

a) The killer (don't want to ruin it for you) has been on a 20 year homicidal rage that has gone unsolved despite the sadistic and ritualistic nature of most of the murders. The killer's choice of victim and aptitude for changing his appearance never adequately explains why this serial murderer didn't come to the attention of the authorities before. The script undermines its own credibility, in this regard, when a complete list of the killer's victims, the accompanying crime scene pictures and modus operandi is quickly produced.

b) Once this serial killer eludes authorities, after killing a police officer, the killer continues to kill, doesn't even bother changing his appearance and a manhunt for him is apparently not even undertaken.

c) Numerous plot holes including, but not limited to, how the killer and his hostage get to the car in the time allotted (an earlier scene establishes there is a rear exit but only Superman could have achieved this feat).

c) While I was prepared to accept Angelina Jolie, as a psychological profiler that gets absorbed in her work, there is nothing else to her character. Its possible that the lack of originality of the character (its been done before - Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs etc.) led the screenwriter to believe further character development wasn't necessary (i.e. we all know the drill). It's more likely just evidence of bad writing.

d) What little we do find out about psychopaths, in general, and the killer in particular, is pretty standard fare and of a limited nature. The combined effect is to give the viewer almost no reason to be interested in the outcome. As written, Costa (Ethan Hawke), is one of the most forgettable and uninteresting serial killers in movie history.

e) Lastly, the movie confuses plot twists with good story telling. There are two main twists. The first, though somewhat obvious, doesn't really play fair. The second twist, while creative, isn't realistic and is blatantly obvious. If you can't see this one coming you've never watched a murder mystery before.

The cons outweigh the pros in this well acted and directed murder mystery that relies totally on dubious plot twists to keep the viewer even mildly interested.

Running time - 103 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

Taking Lives Official Web Site

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Saturday, March 20, 2004
 

MOVIE - ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Jim Carrey (Joel Barish), Kate Winslet (Clementine Kruczynski), Tom Wilkinson (Dr. Howard Mierzwiak), Mark Ruffalo (Stan), Elijah Wood (Patrick), Kirsten Dunst (Mary), Thomas Jay Ryan (Frank), Jane Adams (Carrie), David Cross (Rob) & Gerry Robert Byrne (Train Conductor).

DIRECTOR - Michel Gondry (Human Nature)

Another gem from the brilliant mind of Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation & Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind) that is a must see for anyone who has ever loved and lost.

Full Review Later.

Running time - 108 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

Eternal Sunshine Official Web Site

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Saturday, March 13, 2004
 

MOVIE - SECRET WINDOW - Review Rating $$$$$ $$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING -Johnny Depp (Mort Rainey), John Turturro (John Shooter), Maria Bello (Amy Rainey), Charles S. Dutton (Ken Karsch) & Len Cariou (Sheriff Newsome).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - David Koepp (Stir of Echoes & The Trigger Effect)

Based upon "Secret Window, Secret Garden" a novella by Stephen King.

I have to confess to being a fan of Stephen king, not a diehard "Misery" fan, but still a fan. As a result I tend to enjoy movies based on his books even if the adaptation is flawed. I enjoyed watching Secret Window despite its flaws.

A couple of years ago I read King's book "On Writing". The book is part autobiography and part writing guide. Reading "On Writing" provides you with a greater appreciation of King's literary technique. Like a great painter every line becomes a brush stroke that is integral to the picture being painted.

Part of the enjoyment I derived from watching Secret Window was being able to detect King's writing technique in the unfolding story. The effect, rather than making the movie predictable and boring, was like looking over King's shoulder as he wrote the original manuscript. Those that haven't read "On Writing" or who aren't big King fans might not get as much enjoyment out of the movie as I did.

As I noted, in my review of Dreamcatcher, some of King's books haven't translated well to the big screen because of the depth of descriptive detail they contained. When a single picture can convey a thousand words, that were used to create a spellbinding backdrop, the impact of various developments in the plot are lessened by the immediacy of the visual presentation.

Secret Window doesn't suffer from this condensation phenomenon because its based on one of King's short stories. Therein lies the rub. What makes for a good short story doesn't always make for a good full-length feature film.

Secret Window is King's literary contemplation of the notion that writers of gruesome fantasies must be somewhat deviant to begin with. The story revolves around a single character, author Mort Rainey (Depp), whose creative muse may not be so benign. Rainey's mental stability is written in a literary shorthand that assumes the truth of the proposition. The result is that there is little or no need to explore the psychological precursors of such creative deviance. The story suffers because of the lack of a closer examination of its own premise. What you do is not as interesting as why you do it. That being said, Secret Window is an interesting take on the subject.

Johnny Depp turns in another fine performance but his talent is somewhat wasted. This role is not as meaty as his other recent performances in Pirates of the Caribbean or Once Upon A Time In Mexico. Turturro, as a malevolent hick with a literary flair, steals every scene he's in.

If your a fan of Stephen King and Johnny Depp you will not be disappointed by Secret Window. If you not a fan of either then its up to you to decide whether this is a Secret Window worth looking through.

Running time - 106 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

Secret Window Official Web Site

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Saturday, March 6, 2004
 

MOVIE - STARSKY & HUTCH - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Ben Stiller (Dave Starsky), Owen Wilson (Ken Hutchinson), Vince Vaughn (Reese Feldman), Juliette Lewis (Kitty), Snoop Dogg (Huggy Bear), Fred Williamson (Capt. Dobey), Amy Smart (Holly) & Carmen Electra (Staci).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Todd Phillips (Bittersweet Motel, Road Trip, Hated: G.G. Allin and the Murder Junkies & Old School)

The 70's, were an odd time, to say the least. The cultural milieu, in a seemingly diametrically opposed response to the strains being placed on society as a whole (the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis, gas shortages and high interest rates etc), produced bell bottoms, tye dye shirts, Disco, the 8-track and the Village People. In retrospect, it was a serious decade that was, and is, hard to take seriously.

The T.V. shows of the era were, to put it politely, a product of the times they were created in. When viewed years later, stripped of the social context in which they were created, their flaws are blatantly obvious. The big screen remake of Starsky & Hutch solves the creative conundrum, of having to work with weak source material, by parodying the original. The result is a funny movie that is part tribute and part spoof. It's funny, despite the script not being particularly witty, because the original concept was so lame.

The producers were also smart enough to ground the crime story, which is often an afterthought in buddy cop movies, in a degree of reality. Plausibility allows the viewer to focus on the parody as opposed to the plot holes.

Stiller (Starsky) and Wilson (Hutch) have teamed up before. This dynamic comedic duo's comfortableness with each other pays off as they play off each other's strengths and weaknesses. It's the effortlessness with which they cover familiar ground that keeps this repeat performance fresh.

Starsky & Hutch is an entertaining mix of humour and camp combined with a credible crime story. It will appeal to fans of the original, with a sense of humour, and people who weren't born when Starsky & Hutch first aired.

Running time - 97 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

Starsky & Hutch Official Web Site

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Saturday, February 28, 2004
 

The reviews for Barbershp 2: Back In Business, 50 First Dates & 21 Gramsare now complete.

The reviews for Monster and The Station Agent, two of my Top 10 Movies of 2003, are now complete.

Check out my TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2003 & WORST MOVIES OF 2003 lists.

Here are the final results in this year's Best Movie of 2003 Poll. Thanks to all who voted.

What 2003 Movie deserves the Oscar for Best Picture?
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING
50%
Other
(display visitors suggestions)
11.59%
LOST IN TRANSLATION
10.06%
SEABISCUIT
6.71%
28 DAYS LATER
4.57%
COLD MOUNTAIN
4.27%
ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO
3.35%
THE STATION AGENT
2.74%
MONSTER
2.74%
DIRTY PRETTY THINGS
2.44%
A MIGHTY WIND
1.52%


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Sunday, February 22, 2004
 

MOVIE - WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT - Review Rating $$$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Gene Hackman (Monroe Cole), Ray Romano (Handy Harrison), Marcia Gay Harden (Grace Sutherland), Maura Tierney (Sally Mannis), Christine Baranski (Charlotte Cole), Fred Savage (Bullard) & Rip Torn (Bert Langdon).

DIRECTOR - Donald Petrie (Miss Congeniality, Grumpy Old Men, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Mystic Pizza & Richie Rich)

Sometimes when stars of the little screen make the leap to the big screen they are seeking the opportunity to demonstrate the range and extent of their talent. On other occasions the motive for making the jump is merely to cash in on the star's current popularity. Welcome to Mooseport clearly falls into the latter category.

Welcome To Mooseport essentially amounts to a two hour Everybody Loves Raymond special. If your a fan of Romano's emasculated male persona then you may be able to overlook the movie's other flaws. If your not a fan there is nothing else in Welcome To Mooseport that would justify even renting it.

The funniest parts of the film revolve around President Cole (Hackman). However, Welcome To Mooseport is allegedly a romantic comedy so the political satire gets muddled in the name of mending broken hearts.

Not everyone will love Raymond after watching this overly long romantic comedy that turns out to be short on both romance and comedy.

Running time - 110 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

Welcome To Mooseport Official Web Site
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Saturday, February 21, 2004
 

MOVIE - MIRACLE - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING -Kurt Russell (Herb Brooks), Eddie Cahill (Jim Craig), Michael Mantenuto (Jack O'Callahan), Patrick O'Brien Dempsey (Mike Eruzione), Kenneth Mitchell (Ralph Cox), Nathan West (Rob McClanahan), Noah Emmerich (Craig Patrick) & Patricia Clarkson (Mrs. Brooks).

DIRECTOR - Gavin O'Connor (Tumbleweeds)

The true story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team's gold medal performance.

The decade of the 70's was a tumultuous time in American history. The Vietnam War had torn the nation apart, Watergate had undermined the public's confidence in the Presidency, there were fuel shortages, high interest rates and ongoing domestic social unrest and international diplomatic disputes. But life went on and some normal activities took on greater significance than they otherwise would.

Miracle is a modern day "David vs. Goliath" story. A group of unheralded American hockey players beat their arch rivals, the Soviet National Hockey team, arguably the best dynasty in the history of the sport. An amazing accomplishment made that more memorable because of its timing. As Seabiscuit inspired a nation emerging from the shadow of the Great Depression this victory coincided with the Nation's need to demonstrate its indomitable spirit and resilience in the face of a decade of turmoil and unrest.

Miracle is not as strong a movie as Seabiscuit but it still makes for an entertaining history lesson. The use of the opening credits and the occasional news report, to set the stage for the events that unfolded, is quite effective. The decision to cast real hockey players enhances the film's credibility as well. The performance of Kurt Russell is instrumental to the film's success. He masterfully captures the spirit and motivation of the late Herb Brooks.

You don't have to be a sports fanatic to enjoy the film either. The larger message that the movie conveys, while somewhat corny, is nevertheless inspiring and uplifting. Miracle also reminds us that not all athletes "just do it" for the money.

Miracle captures the spirit of the moment and maintains your interest despite knowing the outcome. It makes for a great sport's film that the whole family can enjoy.

Running time - 135 minutes.

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

Miracle Official Web Site

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Sunday, February 15, 2004
 

MOVIE - BARBERSHOP 2: BACK IN BUSINESS - Review Rating $$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Ice Cube (Calvin), Cedric the Entertainer (Eddie), Queen Latifah (Gina), Eve (Terri), Troy Garity (Isaac), Harry Lennix (Quentin Leroux), Sean Patrick Thomas (Jimmy), Michael Ealy (Ricky) & Leonard Earl Howze (Dinka).

DIRECTOR - Kevin Rodney Sullivan

The Barbershop has gone Hollywood and the scissors blades have been dulled in the process.

The original film (review) was a low budget semi-independent production. Freed, from the constraints of conformity that mainstream productions are burdened with, the original Barbershop was edgy, in your face social commentary combined with superb wit. Barbershop 2: Back In Business is so soft and fuzzy that it not only misses the mark by a mile its barely good enough to keep you planted in your chair.

Its too bad Hollywood doesn't make the horrible sequel first thus saving us all, on a regular basis, from repeated bitter disappointments. Barbershop 2: Back In Business is such a shameful sequel partly because the original was so fresh and entertaining. That's not the only reason, however, that this sequel doesn't make the cut. In the rush to cash in, on the success of the original, the producers served up a story line that is barely distinguishable from the original plot. What they didn't copy was the energy or rapid-fire banter of the first film.

The sequel disproves the theory that character development is a good thing. The characters, like the movie, have become boring as they strive to be role models. Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) has been turned into Mr. Huxtable and Ricky (Michael Ealy) has morphed into a streetwise Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In the process they have lost the gritty realism that made them memorable characters in the first place.

Adding insult to injury the producers use Barbershop 2 to expand and promote the franchise by giving Queen Latifah her own Salon. You'll have the opportunity to experience this "original concept" in the upcoming movie Beauty Shop.

Barbershop 2: Back In Business is the cinematic equivalent of a bad perm.

Running time - 118 minutes.

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

Barbershop 2 Official Web Site

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Saturday, February 14, 2004
 

MOVIE - 50 FIRST DATES - Review Rating $$$$$ 1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Adam Sandler (Henry Roth), Drew Barrymore (Lucy Whitmore), Dan Aykroyd (Dr. Keats), Rob Schneider (Ula), Sean Astin (Doug Whitmore) & Blake Clark (Marlin Whitmore).

DIRECTOR - Peter Segal (Anger Management, Tommy Boy, My Fellow Americans, Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps)

50 First Dates raked in $71 million in its first two weeks of theatrical release. This may explain why Adam Sandler doesn't get tired of playing the same character over and over again.

Too bad the same thing can't be said about the humour. Not only is it getting tired but there's very little of it in 50 First dates. You know a movie is in trouble when it relies on animal gags, like a vomiting walrus, for 50% or more of its jokes. Sandler, who showed a flash of brilliance in Punch-Drunk Love, is in danger of becoming the obvious choice to replace Eddie Murphy in the lead role in the Dr. Doolittle films.

Drew Barrymore saves 50 First Dates from being a total waste of time. She brings a light and convincing touch to her portrayal of an upbeat flower child suffering from short term memory loss. Her condition is also surprisingly portrayed in a sufficiently sympathetic manner to remain charmingly funny as opposed to outright offensive.

That sympathy is a trademark of most of Sandler's recent movies. He wants you to like him and he finds a way to have his character demonstrate his softer side. Redemption excuses crudeness and everybody leaves happy. It's shameless pandering but it tempts you, less and less each time, to forgive Sandler for failing to expand his repertoire.

50 First Dates scrapes the bottom of Sandler's humour barrel but dredges up just enough good bits to consider renting it on a night you have nothing else better to do.

Running time - 96 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

50 FIRST DATES OFFICIAL WEB SITE

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Sunday, February 8, 2004
 

MOVIE - 21 GRAMS - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Sean Penn (Paul), Benicio Del Toro (Jack), Naomi Watts (Christina), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Mary), Melissa Leo (Marianne), Danny Huston (Michael) & Clea DuVall (Claudia).

DIRECTOR - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros)

76th Annual Academy Awards Nominations: Best Actress (Watts), Best Actor (Del Toro)

21 Grams is a movie that challenges the viewer philosophically and psychologically. It also challenges your patience. The first 45 minutes or so of the film are so meanderingly chaotic (oxymoron?) that you may be tempted to walk out in a state of total mystified frustration. If you can survive this celluloid test of endurance you will be rewarded. But be forewarned.

When what was murky becomes clear the viewer is treated to an unrelenting examination of the human heart. 21 Grams is not easy viewing but it is worthy of the effort it takes to digest its insights into the human condition.

Running time - 125 minutes.

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Saturday, January 31, 2004
 

MOVIE - MONSTER - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Charlize Theron (Aileen), Christina Ricci (Selby), Bruce Dern (Thomas), Scott Wilson (Horton), Lee Tergesen (Vincent Corey) & Pruitt Taylor Vince (Gene).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Patty Jenkins

A TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2003 SELECTION

Based on a true story

Awards: Best Breakthrough Actress (Theron) (2003 National Board of Review); Best Actress (Theron) (2003 San Francisco Film Critics Circle); Best Actress (National Society of Film Critics); Best Actress (2003 Broadcast Film Critics Association); Best Actress - Drama (Theron) (2004 Golden Globes)

If you watch Monster and walk away thinking that it was nothing more than a liberal, feminist, soft on crime, post-execution vindication of America's most prolific female serial killer, you have, in my opinion, totally missed the point of this film. What Monster does is shine a bright light on a largely forgotten about segment of our society that is often demonized and routinely considered not worthy of further compassion or help.

Monster is one of the most powerful and compelling films I have seen in years.

Running time - 111 minutes

Full Review & Links To Alternative Reviews

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Saturday, January 24, 2004
 

MOVIE - THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT - Review Rating $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Ashton Kutcher (Evan Treborn), Amy Smart (Kayleigh Miller), William Lee Scott (Tommy Miller), Elden Henson (Lenny Kagan), Eric Stoltz (George Miller) & Melora Walters (Andrea Treborn).

CO-DIRECTORS/WRITERS - Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber (Debut)

The Butterfly Effect is an interesting movie in certain respects. Bress and Gruber clearly decided that attempting to ground this story in reality wasn't possible.

Throwing caution to the wind in this manner does, oddly enough, provides Bress and Gruber a lot of latitude in how the story develops. If you can somehow ignore the plot holes, which are too numerous to list, you may start to get caught up in whether or not Treborn can make things right. The story is, however, far from original and has been done much better in numerous other films and T.V. shows.

The Butterfly Effect is the early favorite for Worst Movie of 2004.

Running time - 113 minutes

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Thursday, January 22, 2004
 

MOVIE - CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN - Review Rating $$$$ (OUT OF 10)STARRING - Steve Martin (Tom Baker), Bonnie Hunt (Kate Baker), Piper Perabo (Nora Baker), Ashton Kutcher (Hank) & Hilary Duff (Lorraine).

DIRECTOR - Shawn Levy (Big Fat Liar & Just Married)

A remake of the 1950's film based on the book of the same name by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.

Besides proving that Hilary Duff needs acting lessons there isn't much to recommend this barely charming and only occassionally funny family orientated film.

Full Review Later.

Running time - 98 minutes

Check out my TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2003 & WORST MOVIES OF 2003 lists.

VOTE for your favorite by CLICKING HERE

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Saturday, January 17, 2004
 

MOVIE - THE STATEMENT - Review Rating $$$$$ $ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Michael Caine (Pierre Brossard), Tilda Swinton (Annemarie Livi), Charlotte Rampling (Nicole), Alan Bates (Armand Bertier), Jeremy Northam (Colonel Roux) & Matt Craven (David Manenbaum).

DIRECTOR - Norman Jewison (The Hurricane, Moonstruck, A Soldier's Story, Fiddler on the Roof & In the Heat of the Night)

Based upon the novel, "The Statement", by Brian Moore which was inspired by the true story of French war criminal Paul Touvier.

The Statement is a disappointment on many levels. Part of the problem is that the movie is an adaptation of a novel which itself was an adaptation of a true story. The end result of this creative process is to reduce the Church's complicity in protecting Nazi War Criminals to a mere plot device in a mediocre detective mystery.

The weakness of the script, which virtually totally fails to convey the magnitude of this travesty of justice, is compounded by the casting. The incongruity of an entirely British cast portraying devious and/or righteous Frenchmen saps the film of its remaining credibility.

The only positive purpose The Statement serves is to remind and educate viewers about postwar injustices. Unfortunately, they may miss the point because The Statement conveys its historical lesson so poorly.

Running time - 120 minutes

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Wednesday, January 14, 2004
 

MOVIE - BIG FISH - Review Rating $$$$$ $$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Ewan McGregor (Young Edward), Albert Finney (Old Edward), Billy Crudup (Will Bloom), Jessica Lange (Sandra Bloom), Alison Lohman (Young Sandra), Helena Bonham Carter (Jenny/Witch), Steve Buscemi (Norther Winslow) & Danny DeVito (Amos).

DIRECTOR - Tim Burton (Planet of the Apes, Sleepy Hollow, Mars Attacks!, Beetlejuice, Batman)

Based on the novel, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, by Daniel Wallace.

Big Fish is certainly big but not always brilliant. Oddly enough, the same force that breathes life into the familiar tale of generational conflict hurts the movie as often as it helps. Big Fish is one of those films that the viewer has to decide early on whether they are going to buy into the concept or not. If you don't see the charm in the larger than life, and some would say over the top, nature of the story than you won't feel compelled to stay to the end.

Big Fish is a fresh take on generational estrangement wrapped in very colorful and creative paper that won't appeal to everyone.

Running time - 125 minutes

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Thursday, January 8, 2004
 

MOVIE - CALENDAR GIRLS - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Helen Mirren (Chris Harper), Julie Walters (Annie Clark), John Alderton (John Clark), Linda Bassett (Cora), Annette Crosbie (Jessie), Philip Glenister (Photographer), Ciaran Hinds (Rod) & Celia Imrie (Celia).

DIRECTOR - Nigel Cole (Saving Grace)

The true story of a group of older women who honour an old friend's memory by posing for an "artistic" nude calendar.

The thing that may most impress you about Calendar Girls is how it nearly perfectly mixes humour with sentimentality without ever going for the cheap laugh or artificial teary moment.

Calendar Girls is a heartwarming and hilarious tribute that pulls few punches.

Full Review & Links To Alternative Reviews

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Sunday, January 4, 2004
 

MOVIE - STUCK ON YOU - Review Rating $$$$$ $ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Matt Damon (Bo), Greg Kinnear (Walt), Eva Mendes (April), Wen Yann Shih (May), Ray "Rocket" Valliere (Rocket), Cher (as Herself), Seymour Cassel (Morty) & cameoes by - Jay Leno & Meryl Streep.

DIRECTORS/CO-WRITERS - Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly (There's Something About Mary, Shallow Hal, Dumb and Dumber, Me, Myself & Irene & Kingpin).

Lately, there have been a seeming rash of supposed comedies (Intolerable Cruelty & Bad Santa) that are noteworthy for how unfunny they really are. Stuck On You, which is by the same people that brought us the outrageously funny and crude Something About Mary, is a kinder, gentler comedy that is not one of the Farrelly brother's best efforts.

Stuck On You is a laugh every 12 minutes.

Running time - 118 minutes.

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Sunday, December 28, 2003
 

MOVIE - PETER PAN - Review Rating $$$$$ $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Jason Isaacs (Mr. Darling/Capt. Hook), Jeremy Sumpter (Peter Pan), Rachel Hurd-Wood (Wendy), Lynn Redgrave (Aunt Millicent), Olivia Williams (Mrs. Darling), Harry Newell (John), Freddie Popplewell (Michael) & Ludivine Sagnier (Tinker Bell).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding & Muriel's Wedding)

Not your father's Peter Pan and not for young children either. This is the Fruedian version of the classic tale.

Running time - 113 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

Peter Pan Official Web Site

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Saturday, December 27, 2003
 

MOVIE - HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG - $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Jennifer Connelly (Kathy Nicolo), Ben Kingsley (Colonel Behrani), Ron Eldard (Lester Burdon), Frances Fisher (Connie Walsh), Kim Dickens (Carol Burdon), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Nadi Behrani) & Jonathan Ahdout (Esmail Behrani).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Vadim Perelman (feature debut)

Based upon the novel, "House of Sand and Fog", by Andre Dubus III.

The House of Sand and Fog is a rare movie in that its characters respond, very naturally, to the contrived circumstances they find themselves in. The House of Sand and Fog is both brilliant and ridiculous at the same time.

The House of Sand and Fog manages to overcome its extremely contrived circumstances and deliver an intense personal drama worth seeing.

Running time - 126 minutes

Full Review & Links To Alternative Reviews

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Friday, December 26, 2003
 

MOVIE - PAYCHECK - Review Rating $$$$$ 1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Ben Affleck (Michael Jennings), Uma Thurman (Rachel Porter), Aaron Eckhart (Rethrick), Paul Giamatti (Shorty) & Colm Feore (Wolfe).

DIRECTOR - John Woo (Face/Off, The Killer, Hard Boiled, Mission: Impossible 2 & Windtalkers)

Based upon the 1953 short story, "Paycheck", by Philip K. Dick. Other movies based on the author's work include Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall.

One of the reasons that Paycheck doesn't work is that there really isn't a good reason for the evil ACME corporation (humour intended) to regularly erase Jennings's (Affleck) memory. If only Jennings and one other person knew about his work then it might be logical to go to such extremes. However, when a gaggle of corporate honchos are witness to his work what's the difference if he knows what he's done or not. The lack of a compelling reason to sap synapses makes the film's momentary reflection on a life with serious memory gaps almost pointless and certainly less meaningful. This may all have been excusable if Paycheck was truly a thriller but its not.

Don't be confused by Paycheck's December release this is just a very average summer flick.

Running time - 110 minutes

Full Review & Links To Alternative Reviews

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MOVIE - COLD MOUNTAIN - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Jude Law (Inman), Nicole Kidman (Ada), Renee Zellweger (Ruby), Donald Sutherland (Rev. Monroe), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Veasey), Natalie Portman (Sara) & Giovanni Ribisi (Junior).

DIRECTOR - Anthony Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley, The English Patient, Truly Madly Deeply & Mr. Wonderful)

In business there is an old saying "that location is everything". In the world of movies it could be said that "setting is everything". Cold Mountain, set against the backdrop of the U.S. Civil War, is a case in point.

Despite the fact the Cold Mountain covers very familiar ground, love and war, the setting creates a reciprocal relationship between its main themes that makes the love more poignant and the war more painful. It is this unique combination, that derives its potency from the setting, that separates Cold Mountain from lesser films that tell similar stories.

Cold Mountain is a compelling romance and a vivid reminder that war is hell.

Full Review & Links To Alternative Reviews

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Thursday, December 25, 2003
 

WORST MOVIES OF 2003

The movies included in this list have the dubious distinction of not only being bad but being major disappointments as well.

I have left out some obvious candidates (From Justin to Kelly, Darkness Falls & My Boss's Daughter) because I trust you weren't tempted to watse your money in the first place.

Here are my Top 5 worst movies of 2003 (in no particular order).

1 - The Life of David Gale

2 - Gigli

3 - The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

4 - Open Range

5 - The Hunted

If you want to see a good movie check out My Top 10 Movies of 2003 list.

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MOVIE - MONA LISA SMILE - Review Rating $$$$$ $ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Julia Roberts (Katherine Watson), Kirsten Dunst (Betty Warren), Julia Stiles (Joan Brandwyn), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Giselle Levy), Ginnifer Goodwin (Constance Baker), Dominic West (Bill Dunbar), Juliet Stevenson (Amanda), John Slattery (Paul Moore) & Marcia Gay Harden (Nancy Abbey).

DIRECTOR - Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Pushing Tin, An Awfully Big Adventure & Enchanted April)

There may be more to life than being a housewife but there isn't much more to Mona Lisa Smile.

Full Review Later.

Running time - 117 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Review

Mona Lisa Smile Official Web Site

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Sunday, December 21, 2003
 

MOVIE - THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Elijah Wood (Frodo), Sir Ian McKellen (Gandolf), Sean Astin (Sam Gamgee), Sala Baker, Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Billy Boyd (Pippin Took), Martin Csokas, Brad Dourif (Grima Wormtongue), Bernard Hill (Theoden), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Dominic Monaghan, Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Miranda Otto, John Rhys-Davies, Andy Serkis (Gollum/Smeagol), Liv Tyler (Arwen Undomiel), Karl Urban, Hugo Weaving & David Wenham.

DIRECTOR - Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners, Dead/Alive)

The third and final film in the trilogy based on the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

There is very little I can add to what has already been said about the magnificence of Peter Jackson's big screen adaptation of this timeless morality tale. The Star Wars and The Matrix (The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions) franchises pale in comparison. That being said this third installment is not without its flaws.

The main flaw is that this final installment spends too much time on lengthy battle scenes and not enough time on the heart of the story. In this respect Jackson falls into the same trap that the Wachowski brothers fell into in The Matrix Revolutions. Indeed, in an epic noted for its adherence to the original literary work, whole sections of the original story have been deleted.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a wonderful morality tale masterfully brought to the big screen. However, the length of this final installment will make you wish good triumphed over evil much sooner.

Running time - 200 minutes

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Sunday, December 14, 2003
 

MOVIE - SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Jack Nicholson (Harry Sanborn), Diane Keaton (Erica Barry), Amanda Peet (Marin Barry), Keanu Reeves (Julian Mercer), Frances McDormand (Aunt Zoe) & Jon Favreau (Leo).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Nancy Meyers (What Women Want & 1998's The Parent Trap)

Most of the fun associated with Something's Gotta Give arises from the uncanny similarity between Jack Nicholson in real life and his character in the movie, Harry Sanborn.

Something's Gotta Gives remains funny up to the point that Sanborn seeks redemption. It's at this point that all the efforts exerted by the entire cast and the a hilarious screenplay goes to waste.

That being said, Something's Gotta Give is a hoot for the most part, and a must see comedy for anyone over 30.

Running time - 124 minutes

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Tuesday, December 9, 2003
 

MOVIE - THE LAST SAMURAI - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Tom Cruise (Nathan Algren), Ken Watanabe (Katsumoto), Billy Connolly (Sgt. Zebulah Grant), Tony Goldwyn (Col. Benjamin Bagly), Koyuki (Taka), Shin Koyamada (Nobutada), Aoi Minata (Magojiro), Timothy Spall (Simon Graham), Hiroyuki Sanada (Ujio) & Scichinosuke Nakamura (Emperor).

DIRECTOR - Edward Zwick (Legends of the Fall, Courage Under Fire, Glory, About Last Night..., & The Siege)

The Last Samurai is a tale of two heroes joining forces, out of mutual respect for the other, to make a historic last stand. The heroes are not, however, equally interesting.

Tom Cruise (Nathan Algren) is a smart, successful actor as opposed to a great actor. His smartness is evident in the manner he has choreographed his career. With the exceptions of Far and Away and Eyes Wide Shut his rise to mega stardom has been seemingly as effortless as driving down the interstate with your car set on cruise control (pardon the pun).

In the process Cruise has chosen roles that compliment his talents as opposed to exposing his weaknesses. The role of Nathan Algren does both. Part of the blame for this lies with Cruise and part of it lies with the script.

The first 45 minutes or so of The Last Samurai is actually a little hard to watch. While the hint of epic battles to come keeps you in your seat the movie gets off to a very clumsy start. The opening scenes feature Cruise as a drunken U.S. Calvary veteran, Algren, wallowing in alcoholism and suffering from post traumatic stress. Cruise simply isn't convincing as a washed up mercenary for hire.

In much the same manner as Tom Hanks stumbled in the Road To Perdition, Cruise's performance is lackluster up to the point his character more closely resembles roles he's more comfortable playing. Cruise doesn't hit his stride until the character Nathan Algren resurrects his faith in himself and finds an idealistic purpose to pursue.

Not helping matters much are equally unconvincing flashbacks to atrocities committed by Algren and his fellow soldiers. Unlike Cold Mountain, this attempt at moral equivalency is poorly portrayed and comes off as a crass attempt to infuse Algren with demons needing to be conquered.

This is one instance where character development could have been either dispensed with altogether or at least taken a much different and less contrived route. The transformation of Algren from war criminal to war hero turns out to be almost irrelevant to the success of the film. What makes The Last Samurai compelling is the Samurais. Steeped in tradition and led by Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), a leader without an ounce of moral ambiguity, their attempt to preserve what is sacred, to them, is what makes the film interesting.

In this regard The Last Samurai is similar to some of Cruise's other excellent films (Rainman & Color of Money). Watanabe, like Hoffman and Newman before him, steals scene after scene and Cruise's humble role is to bask in the glory of another great performance.

The Last Samurai makes no explicit claims of historical accuracy and much of what transpires has been covered before in other films. Some have suggested The Last Samurai is nothing more than a reworked Dances With Wolves. I haven't seen that film so I can't comment further in that regard. What I can say is, that despite adhering to numerous Hollywood conventions, the second half of The Last Samurai pushes all the right buttons and evolves into a rousing film in the tradition of Gladiator.

The Last Samurai finishes strongly enough to make you forget about it flaws.

Running time - 150 minutes.

Roger Ebert's Review

Private Joker Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

The Last Samurai Official Web Site

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Sunday, November 30, 2003
 

MOVIE - BAD SANTA - Review Rating $$$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Billy Bob Thornton ( Willie T. Soke), Tony Cox (Marcus), Bernie Mac (Gin Slagel), Lauren Graham (Sue), John Ritter (Store manager), Brett Kelly (The Kid) & Cloris Leachman (Grandma).

DIRECTOR - Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World & Louie Bluie)

Bad Santa is an adult version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas without any redeeming charm. Bad Santa, in stark contrast to this year's other Holiday comedy Elf, is unable to sustain the potential humour of its premise from beginning to end. Bad Santa more closely resembles Intolerable Cruelty, another recent comedy that had only one mildly comedic note.

This shared failing, both films were coincidentally produced by the Coen Brothers, may have a lot to do with the fact that the central characters in these movies are so loathsome and shallow to begin with. The notion of a drunken bum playing Santa Claus may well be funny but the character has very limited comedic appeal over and beyond that.

All of the blame for Bad Santa's lack of appeal can't be placed on the weakness of the concept. The blame must be shared by screenwriters John Requa and Glenn Ficarra whose definition of humour appears to be limited to having a drunken adult repeatedly curse at children. Expecting more from the writing team that brought us the comedy classic Cats and Dogs (2001) may have been asking too much. This team also had a crack at writing the screenplay for Looney Tunes: Back In Action. One can only imagine how horrible that script was considering it was rejected in favour of the final version which was absolutely dreadful.

When Bad Santa isn't cursing at children he's involved in an unlikely relationship. Santa fetishes aside its hard to imagine young and vivacious Sue (Lauren Graham) coming back for seconds. Bad Santa's criminal exploits aren't that compelling either.

Admittedly, Bad Santa is so crass that you will find yourself laughing, at times, despite the fact it isn't actually that funny or insightful.

Bad Santa is only for adults who've already run out of Christmas cheer.

Running time - 91 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

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Saturday, November 29, 2003
 

MOVIE - THE MISSING - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Tommy Lee Jones (Samuel Jones), Cate Blanchett (Maggie), Evan Rachel Wood (Lily), Aaron Eckhart (Brake Baldwin), Val Kilmer (General), Jenna Boyd (Dot) & Eric Schweig (Chidin).

DIRECTOR - Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Backdraft, Ransom & Parenthood)

Based on the novel "The Last Ride" by Thomas Eidson.

One of the things that most impressed me about The Missing was the respect this film has for the audience. The script and direction never rely on what I call the "flashing neon sign technique", which so many lesser movies do, to draw attention to significant moments in the film. The transformations that the characters undergo are gradual and understated while being just obvious enough to not go unnoticed.

One of the best examples of what I'm referring to is the scene where the Christian Maggie dons a necklace of Native Prayer Beads. This moment of personal growth doesn't happen immediately upon her being stricken by the curse of an Apache Shaman and it shouldn't. This is a strong woman with deeply held beliefs, not all of which are that righteous, that wouldn't abandon her beliefs instantly. When she does put on the necklace the camera lingers momentarily but no further commentary is made. Everyone sees it and the audience is left to appreciate the significance of the moment if they so chose.

The Missing is filled with similar subtle scenes. The musical score also never swells to an ear-deafening level during crucial sequences either. The Missing also doesn't attempt to invest Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones) with mystical tracking powers. I'm sure Jones appreciated not having to reprise his less than impressive impression of a hound dog in the film The Hunted. If you want to see the difference proper directing can make to a movie watch The Missing, and the absolutely dreadful Western Open Range, back to back.

The Missing's respect for the audience is also demonstrated by its choice of villains and its treatment of them. In these politically correct times it was refreshing to see a Native American bad guy. There are certain groups that may rise up in righteous indignation at such a concept but The Missing isn't engaging in race baiting or the promotion of negative stereotypes to lure audiences in.

If you even remotely pay attention to the film's message, no one, from the Christian Maggie, to the Town Sheriff, to the U.S. Calvary, gets off lightly. The Missing, in the tradition of Unforgiven, challenges the simplistic notions of homogeneity that normally permeate discussions of these various matters. By the end of The Missing moral equivalency has been achieved. This is not a case of having your cake and eating it too but rather a more honest retrospective historical portrait.

The other aspect of The Missing that impressed me was the intensity of the film. The action scenes, totally devoid of mindless special effects, nevertheless rivet you to your seat. That's quickly becoming a lost art in this era of overproduced blockbusters like The Matrix Revolutions. Director Howard also uses the stark and beautiful natural surroundings to augment, as opposed to overwhelm, the intensity level.

The Missing's basic story, rescuing a loved one, is strong enough to stand on its own. The beauty of the film is that for those seeking more than just entertainment there is a powerful underlying message contained in the story as well.

The Missing is an intense, gritty and powerful western that shouldn't be missed.

Running time - 135 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

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The Missing Official Web Site

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Monday, November 24, 2003
 

MOVIE - GOTHIKA - Review Rating $$$$$ $1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Halle Berry (Miranda Grey), Penelope Cruz (Chloe Sava), Robert Downey Jr. (Pete Graham), Charles S. Dutton (Dr. Douglas Grey), John Carroll Lynch (Sheriff Ryan), Bernard Hill (Phil Parsons) & Dorian Harewood (Teddy Howard).

DIRECTOR - Mathieu Kassovitz (Hate, The Crimson Rivers & Cafe au Lait)

Gothika starts off promisingly enough but gradually reverts to the "B" movie that it really is. Up to the point that this occurs, about halfway through the movie, Gothika succeeds in its basic mission of being spooky. Be forewarned though, once Gothika turns the corner and becomes a full blown "B" movie, its pretty pathetic.

The only really questionable aspect of the first half of the movie is what the heck is a hottie like Dr. Miranda Grey (Berry) doing with more than average Joe, Dr. Grey (Dutton). Their brief intimate moment is scary in its own right.

The setting, a psychiatric hospital, is largely responsible for making the premise of Gothika intriguing. For a brief moment there is hope that Gothika will be a smart examination of some creepy aspect of the human condition. The Doctor becoming the patient theme is intriguing. This plot development isn't fully explored and becomes a means to an end rather than a meaningful examination of the flip side of this coin. As hope fades, but before Gothika dissolves completely into a poor man's Sixth Sense, the movie still manages to maintain your interest with a few moments that will make you jump in your seat.

This is largely the reason that I've didn't to give Gothika a marginally positive recommendation. The audience I watched the film with, unlike numerous other supposedly scary films I've seen recently (Ghost Ship, & The Ring), was actually spooked at several points.

Unfortunately, instead of delving deeper into psychosis, Gothika turns into a bad murder mystery. The script really doesn't play fair in this regard and in its haste to wrap things up totally skips important details. There is simply nothing in the script that would allow you to figure out the whole mystery beyond a simple elimination of possible suspects seconds before the climatic scene. The killer, perhaps sensing this incongruity, thankfully confesses all before his ultimate demise. The crime is also, in my opinion, unnecessarily sadistic.

The performances, for the most part, are adequate. Berry's and Robert Downey Jr.'s talents are wasted though in this mediocre production.

If you're looking for psychological thrillers, that do delve deeply into the human psyche, than I strongly recommend either Spider or Frailty.

Gothika is another "I see dead people" horror film that succeeds at its basic mission but doesn't raise the bar one iota.

Running time - 95 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

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Gothika Official Web Site

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Saturday, November 22, 2003
 

MOVIE - MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD - Review Rating $$$$$ $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Russell Crowe (Capt. Jack Aubrey), Paul Bettany (Dr. Stephen Maturin), Max Pirkis (Lord Blakeney), Billy Boyd (Barrett Bonden), James D'Arcy (Lt. Thomas Pullings), Mark Lewis Jones (Mr. Hogg), Chris Larkin (Marine Capt. Howard), Richard McCabe (Mr. Higgins) & Robert Pugh (Mr. Allen).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Peter Weir (Witness, The Truman Show, Gallipoli, Dead Poets Society & The Mosquito Coast)

Based on the novel by Patrick O'Brian.

Master and Commander is a frustrating film to watch because of it's dual personality. It's a cross between a summer action flick and a historical epic and a master of neither.

The film deserves credit for its realistic portrayal of the harsh conditions faced by sailors in the British Navy during the 1800's. The script also accurately conveys the clear difference in treatment of members of the crew, based on their social class, that was prevalent in British society at the time.

The battle scenes were also compelling. In the age of smart bombs Master and Commander reminds us of the destructive force of far more primitive weapons at close quarters. The hallmark of modern warfare, for the most part, is the ever increasing distance between the warring parties which, in turn, has reduced the immediacy of the brutality of war. Whether or not this remoteness has the unintended consequence of increasing the likelihood of future wars is a subject that has been hotly debated and yet to be finally determined.

While the battles are the highlight of the movie they are also its achilles heal. The H.M.S. Surprise suffers extensive damage but is almost magically restored to pristine condition while remaining at sea. That's just one of the film's pills that's really hard to swallow. The other is the fact that the H.M.S. Surprise and the Acheron are constantly able to so readily catch up to each other on the open seas.

Interestingly enough, in the original novel, the bad guys were Americans rather than French. However, accuracy was abandoned in the name of marketing and box office success. It would have been unseemly, in this day and age, to release a mass market film portraying the Americans in such a bad light especially when the French make such an easy and inviting target.

This lack of regard for historical accuracy is not fatal. Master and Commander, in fairness, never really claims to be anything other than entertainment. The problem is that the rest of the story isn't that entertaining. There are just too many scenes of pointless male bonding. Capt. Jack Aubrey, unlike Crowe's character in the Oscar winning film Gladiator, may inspire loyalty among his men but not among the audience. The lengthy scenes between the battles just aren't up to instilling Captain Jack's mission with a grand enough purpose to rouse the masses. With the outcome never truly in doubt the inherent tension in the plot sinks below the level required to truly maintain your interest.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, in the final analysis, keeps its head above water but just barely.

Running time - 139 minutes.

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

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Master and Commander: The Far Side Of The World Official Web Site

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Saturday, November 15, 2003
 

MOVIE - LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION - Review Rating $$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Brendan Fraser (DJ Drake/Himself), Jenna Elfman (Kate), Steve Martin (ACME Chairman), Timothy Dalton (Damian Drake), Heather Locklear (Dusty Tails), Joan Cusack (Mother) & Bill Goldberg (Mr. Smith).

CHARACTER VOICES:Joe Alaskey: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Beaky Buzzard, Sylvester, Mama Bear. Jeff Glenn Bennett: Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Nasty Canasta. Billy West: Elmer Fudd, Peter Lorre. Eric Goldberg: Tweety Bird, Marvin the Martian, Speedy Gonzales.

DIRECTOR - Joe Dante (Gremlins, Innerspace, Small Soldiers, Gremlins 2: The New Batch & The Howling)

I am old enough to remember watching the Bugs Bunny Comedy Hour and looked forward to these Looney Tunes characters getting their chance to strut their stuff again. I was immensely disappointed with Looney Tunes: Back In Action and I don't think the reason has anything to do with the fact I'm getting old.

The charm of the original Bugs Bunny show was a combination of short, clever skits and the character's willingness to step outside the action and speak directly to the audience. This combination not only kept you entertained but made you feel like you were in on the joke. The movie isn't short or clever and those seemingly impromptu moments have been turned into product placement pitches.

That's the main problem with Looney Tunes: Back In Action. In reality its just an ode to brand engineering. The edginess that made the characters funny, in their original incarnation, comes off as crass as the characters are reduced to pitchmen.

The script, which is neither funny or original, is so bad that it manages to squeeze the life out of Brendon Fraser's (The Quiet American) usual aw-shuck's charm. The worst and most annoying performance, in the movie, is turned in by the normally brilliant Steve Martin (ACME Chairman). His over the top impression of Mike Myers's already over the top character, Dr. Evil (Austin Powers in Goldmember), is just plain irritating.

I didn't laugh heartily once watching Looney Tunes: Back In Action. That's...That's...That's All (you need to know) Folks.

Running time - 91 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

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Looney Tunes: Back In Action Official Web Site

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Thursday, November 13, 2003
 

MOVIE - ELF - Review Rating $$$$$ $$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Will Ferrell (Buddy), James Caan (Walter), Edward Asner (Santa Claus), Bob Newhart (Papa Elf), Mary Steenburgen (Emily) & Zooey Deschanel (Jovie).

DIRECTOR - Jon Favreau (Made).

Elf succeeds for three fundamental reasons. The first is that it resists the temptation to go for cheap laughs based on crudeness. That doesn't mean that the script is devoid of innuendo but that the writer's relied on "Simpsonesque" subtlety to amuse young and old alike.

The second reason Elf succeeds is because of it's originality. Though the plot itself is rather pedestrian, restoration of the Christmas spirit, it's the approach that is refreshingly original. The human Elf concept is an instant classic and the script leaves no comedic stone unturned as Buddy (Ferrell) discovers his true identity. Elf, unlike Intolerable Cruelty, is not a one joke comedy.

The final ingredient in the success of the movie is the acting. Ferrell plays Buddy as wholesomely straight as is possible. There is no winking to the audience. This Elf's sincerity is genuine and that's why the jokes work as well as they do. Asner (Santa) and Newhart (Papa Elf) are delightful as a hard edged St. Nick and ernest Elf, respectfully.

Elf does begin to run out of christmas cheer near the formalistic ending. However, by that time, you've gotten more than your money's worth of clever humour and this lapse is forgivable.

Elf is a Holiday comedy for the whole family that is proof that you don't have to be crass to be funny.

Running time - 95 minutes.

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

ELF Official Web Site

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Saturday, November 8, 2003
 

MOVIE - THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS - Review Rating $$$$$ $ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Keanu Reeves (Neo), Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Jada Pinkett Smith (Niobe), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity), Helmut Bakaitis (The Architect), Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith), Mary Alice (The Oracle) & Monica Bellucci (Persephone).

DIRECTORS - Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski (Bound, The Matrix & The Matrix Reloaded)

When I reviewed The Matrix Reloaded I hypothesized that the diminished impact of the second installment had a lot to do with the fact that times had changed. The essence of my argument was that the sequel no longer reflected "the prevailing socio-historical forces" that were a significant contributing factor to the success of the original film. In hindsight, after watching The Matrix Revolutions, I think the explanation for this phenomena is much simpler.

What struck me the most watching The Matrix Revolutions was not that the audience was no longer blown away, by the premise of being a virtual cog in a massive machine, but that the characters themselves no longer were either. There is, contrary to the original film, a remarkable lack of questioning about the significance of the mind boggling circumstances the characters find themselves in. The mistake made in the second and third installments of this trilogy, in my opinion, is taking the premise for granted.

That mistake may have been intentional. It appears that the Wachowski brothers were intent on transforming Neo into a modern day "Savior". What was once implied is no longer subject to debate. The numerous analogies between Neo and Christ, Mr. Smith and the Devil, and the Architect and God, are too obvious to warrant further discussion. While the merits of pursuing this singular focus may be debatable the nature of the message is not.

Using science fiction, to promote religiosity, is not a new concept having also been recently employed in the film Signs, to name just one example. In this instance, however, it manages to squeeze the life out of an otherwise original premise. The audience I watched the movie with appeared singularly unimpressed with the religious implications of the film's "significant" moments.

The Matrix Revolutions also suffers from an overextended "battle to end all battles" scene. This installment, like The Matrix Reloaded, is guilty of being a little too impressed with its own special effects at times.

While The Matrix Revolutions is better than The Matrix Reloaded I have decided to give it a lower rating for two reasons. First, and foremost, if you haven't watched the first two films there is absolutely no point in going to see this movie.

Secondly, from my perspective at least, the direction the trilogy has taken makes the "dramatic conclusion" much less interesting. What started with so much promise has morphed into a convoluted and lengthy sermon. The Matrix Revolutions should have been called The Matrix Revelations.

The problem, with The Matrix Revolutions, is that while its true that "everything that has a beginning has an end" I wish the ending had been better.

Running time - 130 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

Newsweek Review

Peter Travers /Rolling Stone Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

Matrix Revolutions Official Web Site

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MOVIE - THE HUMAN STAIN - Review Rating $$$$$ $ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Anthony Hopkins (Coleman Silk), Nicole Kidman (Faunia Farley), Ed Harris (Lester Farley), Gary Sinise (Nathan Zuckerman), Wentworth Miller (Young Coleman Silk), Jacinda Barrett (Steena Paulsson), Phyllis Newman (Iris Silk) & Anna Deavere Smith (Mrs. Silk).

DIRECTOR - Robert Benton (Nobody's Fool, Twilight, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart & Billy Bathgate)

Based on the novel by Philip Roth.

Warning - "Spoilers" contained in review

The performances, in the The Human Stain, are so outstanding you may be temporarily lulled into thinking that this film is a masterpiece of psychological intrigue and/or a powerful social commentary. Upon closer examination it becomes apparent that, great performances aside, the wool has been pulled over yours eyes. The film's substance is illusionary and turns out to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

The Human Stain's undoing is analogous to a slow death from a thousand contrivances. The event that precipitates a maelstrom of conflict is itself a stretch. The firing of Professor Silk (Hopkins) is based on the very equivocal use of one word. Even when political correctness was at its peak it is unlikely that a similar single comment would have been sufficient, without more, to justify the firing of a tenured professor. The Life Of David Gale began with a similarly weak premise and we all know how good that film was.

The Human Stain's lack of concern, with the veracity of its premise, wouldn't be so problematic if it didn't turn out to be just the first such event in a long series of equally contrived coincidences. These include:

- Silk's wife dying the day he is fired;

- Silk falling in love with a woman half his age (Faunia Farley) who's either been really hard done by, is Susan Smith reincarnated or both;

- Farley's husband being either a crazed Vietnam Vet Stalker, a deeply committed father pushed over the edge by a harlot or both;

- Silk's discovery that there's a famous author, with a bad case of writer's block, hiding in the woods and;

- Silk lied about his true identity and is actually a very light-skinned African American.

The credibility of The Human Stain's social/psychological commentary goes out the window as these coincidences pile up. The short shrift given each of these potentially thought-provoking themes only serves to reinforce the impression that they've only been included to "shock and awe". These personal "bombshells" are the literal equivalent of the pyrotechnics employed, in mediocre Action films, to make you forget about the plot's inherent weakness.

To discuss the implications of the various themes touched on in The Human Stain would be giving the film a level of credence that it richly doesn't deserve. The Human Stain is, to borrow the title of a song by the Canadian Rock Group Trooper, "A three dressed up as a nine".

The only reason to go see The Human Stain is for the opportunity to yet again witness superb performances by some of the greatest actors working today. Watching Nicole Kidman reminded me of the George Burns quote, "Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made". Her ability to so completely and convincingly throw herself into any and all roles is simply unrivaled. The rest of the cast is brilliant as well. Too bad the movie isn't.

The Human Stain isn't nearly as good as it thinks it is.

Running time - 106 minutes

Roger Ebert's Review

Peter Travers / Rolling Stone Review

Newsweek Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

The Human Stain Official Web Site

The Human Stain Official Novel Site

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Friday, November 7, 2003
 

MOVIE - THE STATION AGENT - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

A TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2003 SELECTION

STARRING - Peter Dinklage (Finbar McBride), Patricia Clarkson (Olivia Harris), Bobby Cannavale (Joe Oramas), Michelle Williams (Emily), Raven Goodwin (Cleo), Paul Benjamin (Henry Styles) & Joe Lo Truglio (Danny).

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER - Thomas McCarthy (Debut)

The Station Agent is a movie filled with truths, some humorous, some not so funny. The first truth the movie explores is the fact that we each gravitate to activities and/or groups where shared interests or circumstances provide an unspoken bond. Finbar's (Peter Dinklage) membership in the train club and subsequent befriending of Olivia (Clarkson) and Joe (Cannavale) are two examples of this phenomenon.

The second truth the movie conveys is that everything is relative. While the train club isn't exactly "hip", by today's cultural standards, its enthusiastic social outcasts differentiate among members as the larger society differentiates the group as a whole. The group's version of Cliff Claven (Cheers), who provides The Station Agent with a few great moments of humour, is held up to ridicule within the group. No matter our station in life our egos demand a basis upon which to feel superior. It's why the members of the jury on Survivor, who have lied and cheated, always accuse the remaining survivors of being bigger liars and cheaters.

The third truth superbly articulated in The Station Agent is that, for most of us, our circle of true friends is quite small and vulnerable to disruption. The friendships formed in the movie are among people who, for one reason or another, are otherwise without such companionship.

The new found friendships, in The Station Agent, form the basis of movie's fourth truth, no man or woman is an island. Despite Finbar's resolve to be left alone he can neither resist Joe's over exuberant overtures of friendship nor ignore Olivia's withdrawal from the group.

This need for acceptance is The Station Agent's final truth. Finbar's desire to be left alone has been fanned by the ridicule directed at him because of his stature. Olivia is similarly hiding from the pain of attachment lost. Joe, you'll see when you watch the film, is just Joe. His willingness to share Finbar's fascination in train watching is indicative of the depth of his need to feel wanted. The Station Agent uses humour and melancholy to make this point. This theme is echoed in the movieMonster, another of my TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2003, though from a very different and darker perspective.

The humour in The Station Agent, which never goes for a cheap laugh, will have you rolling in the aisles at times. Though it's not billed as a comedy its much better than most of the recent films (Intolerable Cruelty, Bad Santa & Stuck On You) that claim to be comedies.

Most remarkable, perhaps, is that The Station Agent accomplishes its mission brilliantly in a scant 88 minutes. The Station Agent proves, like its main character, that length alone is an inadequate yardstick by which to take the measure of a man or a film.

The Academy, in its infinite wisdom, has overlooked this quality film. Searingly funny and heart wrenching, at the same time, The Station Agent is the story of three lonely people that shouldn't be missed.

Running time - 88 minutes

Roger Ebert's Review

Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

The Station Agent Official Web Site
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MOVIE - THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

NARRATOR - Lili Taylor

DIRECTORS - Sam Green and Bill Siegel.

A timely historical documentary about America's most prolific group of domestic terrorists. The relative merit of this documentary is directly related to the degree it provokes thoughtful discourse. The Weather Underground attempts to objectively straddle the fence of moral equivalency. Objectivity and moral equivalence are, however, mutually exclusive concepts.

In many ways moral equivalency has become the predominant sociological construct of the early 21st century. This may seem counterintuitive in an era of ever increasing partisanship but I would argue that one of the root causes of such intense partisanship is moral equivalency. Other contributing factors include hypocrisy, waning morality and the demise of accountability.

Politicians are a perfect example of this phenomena. The real differences between the objective, measurable actions of Democrats and Republicans, while in office, has become so small as to almost be indistinguishable. In response to this the parties have increasingly staked out positions, at the extreme end of their respective political spectrums, in an attempt to rouse their core supporters. Indeed, the upcoming U.S. Presidential elections are shaping up as a colossal battle between poster boys for the far right and left, Bush and Dean. This despite the fact that at one time or another they have both advocated policies now embraced by the other.

But its not only politics where moral equivalency reigns supreme. Spend a day in the courtrooms of any country or watch/listen to the talk shows on T.V and radio and you'll come away fortified in the belief that no one is responsible for anything. McDonald's and genetics are responsible for obesity and every criminal has a story deserving of mercy.

In a world where politicians lie, stock brokers steal, spouses cheat and genetics can be blamed for everything else, life itself becomes cheap. The bright line that used to separate right from wrong has blurred to the point that not only can one man's terrorist be seen as another man's freedom fighter but that the terrorist and victim can now be put on equal footing.

Two recent examples of this phenomena were articles comparing the life stories of a female Palestinian suicide bomber and one of her female Israeli victims and an article in Time Magazine portraying an Iraqi insurgent and a U.S. Army Sergeant. I'm sorry, but these individuals are simply not equate able and the society that accepts such equality is in grave danger of losing the required cohesive capacity to preserve the freedom we so cherish and sanction those who threaten to rip the fabric of society apart.

The above should not be construed as a clarion call to blind obedience. Rather, its an effort to illustrate, in the Durkhiemian tradition, that there is a point beyond which the foundations of a civil society (responsible use of authority and shared sacrifice for the greater good) can be shaken.

As I noted in my review of The Missing moral equivalency is not without merit. However, it is better suited as a method of historical reflection than as a means of judging the legitimacy of immediate events. If nothing is momentarily scared than every wrong is right and every right is wrong and no action can be sanctioned or justified. Sometimes, it more important that you believe in something than what your beliefs actually are.

The most fascinating aspect of the film is to see former members of The Weather Underground struggle to defend their actions and beliefs in a post 9/11 world. They, for the most part, don't wish to be seen as the moral equals of Osama Bin Laden despite the clear equivalencies is the rationales they relied upon to justify their actions.

What is clear, from my watching of this film, is that terrorist organization do share one thing in common, the cult of personality. As hard as the members of the Weather Underground try to convince you otherwise the groups raison d'être had as much to do with sex, drugs, and personal power as it did with fighting an unjust government. All terrorists seek to cloak their actions in the name of a sacred cause but the problem is that they are not wearing Joseph's amazing techicolor coat. The Weather Underground ultimately unraveled due to very human failings rather than the achievement of the group's goals. The sad truth is that it was these same human failings that provided the group with its initial impetus.

It's very debatable if The Weather Underground had any effect on how history unfolded and their long term impact has been either negligible and/or counterproductive. One of the group's members believes they have prepared future generations for the inevitable revolution. This in spite of massive evidence to the contrary. The demise of The Weather Underground coincided with the rise of the preeminent cheerleader, Ronald Reagan. The future revolutionaries they sought to groom overwhelming believe, according to a recent poll, that Saddam Hussein had a part in 9/11 despite absolutely no evidence to support this claim. The group's "failure", instead of cultivating revolutionary fervor, may have actually had the opposite effect, instilling the belief that "Resistance is Futile".

The Weather Underground also reminds how universally violent the late 60's and early 70's really were. This chaotic period, which seemingly simultaneously started and stopped, worldwide, was a "Perfect Storm" of social unrest. Social scientists would, no doubt, be able to offer numerous explanations for this. Nevertheless, this phenomena is not only hard to fathom but a scary prospect, as well, if the conditions which created it were ever to coalesce again.

Perspective has a lot to do with interpretation. Seek out The Weather Underground and judge for yourself.

Running time - 92 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

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Saturday, November 1, 2003
 

MOVIE- SCHOOL OF ROCK - Review Rating $$$$$ $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Jack Black (Dewey Finn), Joan Cusack (Principal Mullins), Mike White (Ned Schneebly), Miranda Cosgrove (Summer), Sarah Silverman (Patty), Joey Gaydos (Zack) & Maryam Hassan (Tomika).

DIRECTOR - Richard Linklater (Waking Life, Tape, Before Sunrise, Slacker & Dazed and Confused)

Jack Black is Dewey Finn and I mean that both figuratively and literally. If there ever was a role more closely suited to the personality of the actor portraying the character I can't think of it. Its Black's obvious devotion to the power of Rock & Roll that provides School Of Rock with his comedic heart.

The script, more charming than outrageously funny, will draw you into Finn's world. You can't help but laugh with, and at, the underdog loser so firmly committed to the belief that Rock & Roll can save the world and himself.

The transformation of the kids from chronic overachievers to let your shirt hangout rebels is not only amusing to watch but a valuable lesson for overbearing parents. School Of Rock reminds us that there is more to life than straight A's.

You know I'd never give away the ending but the dramatic conclusion to the School Of Rock is much more compelling than the emotionless, conventional and trite ending of 8 Mile.

"The Man" would approve of this comedic ode to following your dreams.

Running time - 108 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

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School Of Rock Official Web Site

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Monday, October 27, 2003
 

MOVIE - BEYOND BORDERS - Review Rating $$$$$ 1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Angelina Jolie (Sarah Jordan), Clive Owen (Nick Callahan), Linus Roache (Henry Bauford), Teri Polo (Charlotte Jordan), Yorick van Wageningen (Jan Steiger) & Elizabeth Whitmere (Beatrice).

DIRECTOR - Martin Campbell (The Mask of Zorro, Goldeneye, Vertical Limit, Defenseless & No Escape)

Beyond Borders should be commended for attempting to shine some light on the plight of millions of dislocated and forgotten about refugees, worldwide, who are struggling to survive poverty, drought and war. As noble, as the cause is, Beyond Borders is undermined by its inability to free itself from Hollywood conventions.

Beyond Borders begins nobly enough but unravels due to increasingly heavy-handed plot devices and an assortment of discrepancies.

Running time - 127 minutes

FULL REVIEW & LINKS TO ALTERNATIVE REVIEWS

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Wednesday, October 22, 2003
 

MOVIE - MYSTIC RIVER - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING -Sean Penn ( Jimmy), Tim Robbins (Dave), Kevin Bacon (Sean), Marcia Gay Harden (Celeste), Sarah Silverman (Patty), Laura Linney (Annabeth) & Emmy Rossum (Katie).

DIRECTOR - Clint Eastwood (Space Cowboys, Unforgiven, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Absolute Power & Blood Work).

Based on the bestselling crime novel, of the same name, by Dennis Lehane.

Mystic River is, without a doubt, a powerful and rich tale of how human nature, past sins and fate can combine to come back to haunt us in ways we could never imagine. Clint Eastwood should be given credit for being as faithful to the book, which I've read, as is humanly possible. Therein, however, lies the rub. Eastwood's respect for the complexity and depth of the original material ultimately produces a film that, at numerous moments, feels like a mechanical, paint-by-numbers video recreation.

Ultimately, its the totality of the quality of the performances and the underlying depth of the story that makes Mystic River worth seeing, despite its flaws.

Running time - 137 minutes

FULL REVIEW & LINKS TO ALTERNATIVE REVIEWS

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MOVIE - RUNAWAY JURY - Review Rating $$$$$ $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - John Cusack (Nicholas Easter), Gene Hackman (Rankin Fitch), Dustin Hoffman (Wendell Rohr), Rachel Weisz (Marlee), Bruce Davison (Durwood Cable), Bruce McGill (Judge Harkin), Jeremy Piven (Lawrence Green) & Jennifer Beals (Vanessa Lembeck).

DIRECTOR - Gary Fleder (Don't Say a Word, Kiss the Girls, Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead & Impostor)

Based on the book, of the same name, by John Grisham.

You don't have to read too many of my reviews to know that I'm not a fan of movies that play fast and loose with reality. You also probably know that there are exceptions to every rule. Runaway Jury is one of those exceptions.

By any definition Runaway Jury is the worst kind of populist fluff that grossly exaggerates and perpetuates common misconceptions about both lawyers and our legal system. Ironically, its the outrageousness of the story that permits a positive recommendation for Runaway Jury. The story is so over the top that disappointment quickly dissolves into enjoyment of this fast paced, well acted "thriller".

Despite a preposterous plot and a Hollywood ending Runaway Jury still manages to be entertaining.

Running time - 127 minutes

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Tuesday, October 21, 2003
 

MOVIE - KILL BILL: VOLUME 1 - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Uma Thurman (The Bride), David Carradine (Bill), Daryl Hannah (Elle Driver), Michael Madsen (Budd), Vivica A. Fox (Vernita Green), Lucy Liu (O-Ren Ishii), Sonny Chiba (Hattori Hanzo), Michael Jai White [Alburt (Da Moe)], Chia Hui Liu [Pai Mei (Crazy 88 Fighter)], Chiaki Kuriyama (Go Go Yubari), Julkie Dreyfus (Sofie Fatale) & Samuel L. Jackson (Organ Player).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs & Jackie Brown)

The fundamental problem with Kill Bill is it's one-dimensional nature. The plot is simply 24/7 revenge. The Bride (Thurman) sole mission in life is to avenge those that wronged her. The beauty of the concept of Kill Bill is that it allows Tarantino to create five unique characters, for The Bride to seek retribution against, providing Tarantino with the opportunity to pay homage to past master's in the process. Admittedly, Tarantino succeeds in this regard and it's one of the reasons that the film is worth seeing. The trap Tarantino falls into is that these five parts of the story are essentially the same.

Kill Bill: Volume 1 is a brilliantly executed homage to the masters of film making by one of this generation's best directors. Despite its one dimensional 24/7 revenge story line I'm staying tuned for Volume 2.

Running time - 93 minutes

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MOVIE - INTOLERABLE CRUELTY - Review Rating $$$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - George Clooney (Miles Massey), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Marylin Rexroth), Geoffrey Rush (Donovan Donaly), Cedric the Entertainer (Gus Petch), Edward Herrmann (Rex Rexroth), Billy Bob Thornton (Howard) & Richard Jenkins (Freddy Bender).

DIRECTOR - Joel Coen (Fargo, Raising Arizona & O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

It's hard to pinpoint where the Coen Brothers went wrong with Intolerable Cruelty but it quickly becomes apparent, as you watch the movie, that this is not their best effort. One thing that I'm sure of is that the quirky charm, evident in their rich characters in Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, is missing here.

Intolerable Cruelty is a very cynical look at marriage that has a few memorable moments but ultimately misses the mark.

Running time - 100 minutes

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Monday, October 20, 2003
 

MOVIE - OUT OF TIME - Review Rating $$$$$ $ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Denzel Washington (Matt), Sanaa Lathan (Ann), Dean Cain (Chris), Eva Mendes (Det. Alexandra Cole), John Billingsley (Chae), Alex Carter (Dr. Cabbot) & Robert Baker (Tony Dalten).

DIRECTOR - Carl Franklin (One True Thing, One False Move, Devil in a Blue Dress, 1989's Nowhere to Run & High Crimes)

Let's get something straight right off the bat. Out Of Time, though another cop movie starring Academy Award winning actor Denzel Washington, is about as diametrically opposite his last cop role, in the movie Training Day, as you can get. Training Day provided Washington the opportunity to demonstrate his mastery of the craft of acting while Out Of Time merely provides him with the opportunity to cash in on his prior, and well-deserved, success.

If you don't like surprises then Out Of Time is a well acted but very predictable murder mystery.

Running time - 114 minutes

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MOVIE - UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN - Review Rating $$$$$ $1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Diane Lane (Frances Mayes), Raoul Bova (Marcello), Sandra Oh (Patti), Vincent Riotta (Mr. Martini) & Lindsay Duncan (Katherine).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Audrey Wells (Guinevere)

Based on the book by Frances Mayes entitled Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy.

Under The Tuscan Sun is a fairly standard "there is life after 40" and "everyone deserves a second chance" type of movie. There are some humorous sequences but for the most part the script is worn out cliché piled on worn out cliché.

Running time - 102 minutes

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Sunday, September 28, 2003
 

MOVIE - LOST IN TRANSLATION - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING -Bill Murray (Bob Harris), Scarlett Johansson (Charlotte), Giovanni Ribisi (John) & Anna Faris (Kelly).

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER - Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides)

Lost In Translation is one of those rare films that is content to leisurely and powerfully develop its central characters. Even rarer is the fact that the character's development does not rely on verbosity alone. Coppola, the daughter of the late Francis Ford Coppola, uses body language, vivid visuals and dialogue in equal measure to create the atmosphere that allows for a simultaneously tranquil and intense exploration of Bob (Murray) and Charlotte's (Johansson) mutual personal isolation.

Lost in Translation can be interpreted in many ways. You'll have to see it yourself to determine its true meaning.

Running time - 105 minutes

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Saturday, September 27, 2003
 

MOVIE - THE RUNDOWN - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (Beck), Seann William Scott (Travis), Rosario Dawson (Mariana), Christopher Walken (Hatcher), Stephen Bishop (Quarterback), Ewen Bremner (Declan) & Jeff Chase (Kambui).

DIRECTOR - Peter Berg (Very Bad Things)

Regular readers of this site may be surprised that I rated The Rundown so highly. I just want to reassure you all that I haven't lost my senses. The Rundown won't make my Top 10 Movies of 2003 list but it will earn an honourable mention as the best Action film in years.

If you missed it in theaters "run down" to the video store. You have two options when you get there:

OPTION A - Rent the best action movie to come out of Hollywood in over a decade.

OPTION B - Assume any movie starring "The Rock" and Seann William Scott isn't worth seeing and miss out on a film that's as good or better than Raiders of the Lost Ark and Terminator II.

It's your choice.

Running time - 104 minutes.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2003
 

MOVIE - SECONDHAND LIONS - Review Rating $$$$$ $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Michael Caine (Garth), Robert Duvall (Hub), Haley Joel Osment (Walter) & Kyra Sedgwick (Mae).

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER - Tim McCanlies (Dancer, Texas)

The charm of Secondhand Lions is rooted in its affirmation of the need to be needed and have and believe in heroes. In the final analysis, however, Secondhand Lions is a charming family movie, with a PG rating, that's a bit too cute at times.

Running time - 107 minutes

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Tuesday, September 23, 2003
 

MOVIE - CABIN FEVER - Review Rating $$$$$ $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Rider Strong (Paul), Jordan Ladd (Karen), Joey Kern (Jeff), Cerina Vincent (Marcy), James DeBello (Bert), Arie Verveen (The Hermit) & Giuseppe Andrews (Deputy Winston).

DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER - Eli Roth (debut)

A smart, sexy, funny, scary movie.

It's been done a thousand times before but seldom as well as its been done in Cabin Fever. Cabin Fever is not Oscar caliber material. However, as far as the tried and true "scary" movie involving camping trips go, its clearly heads and shoulders above most of the films with similar premises.

Cabin Fever is the best "scary" movie since "The Blair Witch Project".

Running time - 94 minutes

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Sunday, September 21, 2003
 

MOVIE - COLD CREEK MANOR - Review Rating $$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Dennis Quaid (Cooper Tilson), Sharon Stone (Leah Tilson), Stephen Dorff (Dale Massie), Juliette Lewis (Ruby), Dana Eskelson (Sheriff) & Christopher Plummer (Mr. Massie).

DIRECTOR - Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas, Time Code, Internal Affairs, One Night Stand & The Loss of Sexual Innocence)

You can often tell a lot, about how good a movie is going to be, by the opening scene. This scene, which establishes the entire premise of the movie, is so overwrought that even the steam rising from the city streets doesn't seem realistic. The rest of the movie doesn't get any better or more subtle than this.

When the film ended, I overheard another patron exclaim, "Thank God its over".

Enough said, consider yourself warned.

Running time - 118 minutes

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Sunday, September 14, 2003
 

MOVIE - ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Antonio Banderas (El Mariachi), Salma Hayek (Carolina), Johnny Depp (CIA Agent Sands), Eva Mendes (Special Agent Ajedrez), Willem Dafoe (Barillo), Mickey Rourke (Billy), Danny Trejo (Cucuy) & Cheech Marin.

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty, Desperado, Spy Kids, El Mariachi, Spy Kids 2 & 3)

A vivid and violent masterpiece in the tradition of Pulp Fiction.

Technically, this is the final chapter of Robert Rodriguez's trilogy that started with his debut, El Mariachi, and continued with Desperado. Once Upon A Time In Mexico is so majestic and visceral that you forgive its other sins. The brilliance of Once Upon A Time In Mexico is that it seamlessly combines the unabashed sentimentalism of the larger than life John Wayne type Western and the harsh reality of Eastwood's Unforgiven in one film.

Once Upon A Time In Mexico, unlike Open Range, is the real macoy.

Running time - 101 minutes.

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Saturday, September 13, 2003
 

MOVIE - MATCHSTICK MEN - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING-Nicolas Cage (Roy), Sam Rockwell (Frank Mercer), Alison Lohman (Angela), Bruce McGill (Frechette) & Bruce Altman (Dr. Klein).

DIRECTORRidley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner, Hannibal & Alien)

Based upon the novel, of the same name, by Eric Garcia.

There are three aspects of Matchstick Men that distinguishes it from the other three films listed above. The first is Ridley Scott's directing. The second is the acting. The third is Matchstick Men deviates partially from the con man Robin Hood formula. These con men don't just steal from the rich but from average Mr. and Mrs. Smith's as well. Taking the varnish off of your central characters is not something that happens that often in Hollywood films.

Matchstick Men is a fresh and very human look at the life of a neurotic con artist filled with wit and superb performances. The race for Oscar has officially begun.

Running time - 120 minutes

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Monday, September 1, 2003
 

MOVIE - WINGED MIGRATION - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

A Documentary directed by Jacques Perrin.

It took Perrin and five teams of photographers (using a variety of ultra lightweight gliders and miniature cameras) four years to chronicle the migration of a variety of bird species from the South Pole to the North pole. The end result is a fascinating and breathtaking look at these birds and the planet they soar over.

Winged Migration, which garnered a nomination for Best Documentary at the 75th Annual Academy Awards, is most definitely worth seeing and a great family film. Running time - 89 minutes

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Saturday, August 30, 2003
 

MOVIE - DIRTY PRETTY THINGS - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING -Chiwetel Ejiofor ( Okwe), Audrey Tautou (Senay), Sergi Lopez (Sneaky), Sophie Okonedo (Juliette), Benedict Wong (Guo Yi) & Zlatko Buric (Ivan).

DIRECTOR - Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters & Mary Reilly)

Awards: Best Film, Best Actor (Ejiofor) (2003 Evening Standard British Film Awards)

Dirty Pretty Things, a thought provoking look at the lives of immigrants in England, grabs your attention early and keeps it.

Running time - 107 minutes

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MOVIE - MY BOSS'S DAUGHTER - Review Rating $$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Ashton Kutcher, Tara Reid (Lisa Taylor), Terence Stamp (Mr. Taylor), Carmen Electra, Michael Madsen (T.J.), Andy Richter (Kevin) & Molly Shannon (Audrey).

DIRECTOR - David Zucker (The Naked Gun & The Naked Gun 2 1/2)

My Boss's Daughter had been sitting on the shelf gathering dust for almost a year. It should have stayed there. My Boss's Daughter's only claim to fame is that it's worse than Gigli.

Running time - 86 minutes

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Saturday, August 23, 2003
 

MOVIE - FREAKY FRIDAY - Review Rating $$$$$ $1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING -Jamie Lee Curtis (Tess Coleman), Lindsay Lohan (Anna Coleman:), Chad Murray (Jake), Mark Harmon (Ryan), Ryan Malgarini (Harry) & Harold Gould (Grandpa).

DIRECTOR - Mark S. Waters (The House of Yes, Head Over Heels)

A remake of the 1977 Disney film starring Jodie Foster which itself was based on the book by Mary Rodgers. Disney also produced a T.V. movie remake of this film, starring Shelley Long, for its Wonderful World of Disney series.

Freaky Friday is a "cute" generational comedy that is well acted and has numerous "hit the nail on the head" humourous moments.

Running time - 93 minutes.

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Sunday, August 17, 2003
 

MOVIE - OPEN RANGE - Review Rating $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Kevin Costner (Charley Waite), Robert Duvall (Boss), Annette Bening (Sue), Abraham Benrubi (Mose), Michael Gambon (Baxter), Michael Jeter (Percy) & Diego Luna (Button).

DIRECTOR - Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves, The Postman)

Based upon the novel, "The Open Range Men", by Lauran Paine.

Open Range is so bad it almost makes you regret that Clint Eastwood revived the Western with his brilliant film "Unforgiven".

Open Range is actually a Harlequin Romance with a gun fight at the O.K. Corral. The plot amounts to the domestication of our hero, Charley Waite (Costner), who till he meets the lone single woman in town, is as untamed as the wilderness he herds cows through. This gentlemen, is a corny date movie, not an epic western.

If your significant other asks you to go see, or rent, Open Range run for the hills as fast as you can.

Open Range is one of my WORST MOVIES OF 2003

Running time - 135 minutes.

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MOVIE - S.W.A.T. - Review Rating $$$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Samuel L. Jackson (Hondo), Colin Farrell (Jim Street), Michelle Rodriguez (Chris Sanchez), James Todd Smith aka LL Cool J (Deke Kay), Josh Charles (T.J. McCabe), Brian Van Holt (Michael Boxer), Jeremy Renner (Brian Gamble) & Olivier Martinez (Alex Montel).

DIRECTOR - Clark Johnson (Feature film debut)

Based upon the 1975-1976 TV series of the same title.

S.W.A.T. isn't a bad movie its just not a good movie. As far as action pictures go the plot is semi-realistic (internal politics & breaking a major con out of jail) and they get a lot of the small details right.

Sure, there are a few good one-liners and some things get blown up, but the overall movie experience is ultimately about as intense as watching your dishes dry.

Running time - 111 minutes.

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Saturday, August 16, 2003
 

MOVIE - AMERICAN WEDDING - Review Rating $$$$$ 1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Jason Biggs (Jim Levenstein), Alyson Hannigan (Michelle Flaherty), Seann William Scott (Steve Stifler), Eugene Levy (Mr. Levenstein), Eddie Haye Thomas (Paul Finch), Thomas Ian Nicholas (Kevin Myers), January Jones (Cadence Flaherty) & Molly Cheek (Ms. Levenstein).

DIRECTOR - Jesse Dylan (How High)

There are some truly funny moments in the film but overall the humour level pales in comparison to the original which was fresh and funny throughout. Mr. Levestein (Levy) has become, by default, the funniest character in the series.

American Wedding is a half-baked American Pie.

Running time - 96 minutes

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5:31:24 PM  
  


MOVIE - RUSSIAN ARK - Review Rating $$$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING- Sergey Dreiden (The Marquis), Maria Kuznetsova (Catherine the Great), Leonid Mozgovoy (The Spy), Mikhail Piotrovsky (Himself), David Giorgobiani (Orbeli), Boris Piotrovsky (Alexander Chaban), Lev Yeliseyev (Himself) & Oleg Khmelnitsky (Himself).

DIRECTOR/C0-WRITER - Alexander Sokurov

The Russian Ark's main claim to fame is that Sokurov decided to shoot the entire film, which takes place in 33 rooms of the Hermitage of St. Petersburg and involves over 2000 extras and four orchestras, in one take using high definition digital video. The coordination required to make this work is almost beyond comprehension and Sokurov deserves credit for pulling it off.

There are limitations and tradeoffs to using this technique, however, that ultimately overwhelm the novelty of such an approach.

At the risk of seeming unsophisticated I'll give Sokurov's acclaimed masterpiece a 5.7 for technical merit but only a 1.6 for artistic impression. Talk about your figure skating judging controversies.

Running time - 96 minutes

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5:21:02 PM  
  


MOVIE - GIGLI - Review Rating $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING -Ben Affleck (Larry Gigli), Jennifer Lopez (Ricki/Rachel), Justin Bartha (Brian), Christopher Walken (Det. Jacobellis), Lenny Venito (Louis), Lainie Kazan (Mrs. Gigli) & Al Pacino (Starkman).

DIRECTOR - Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop, Scent of a Woman, Meet Joe Black, Midnight Run)

Gigli makes you wonder how a story as bad as this one got the green light in the first place. The conversation must have went something like this:

Bob (Producer): Hey Joe (studio executive), got a few ideas for upcoming films, including a romantic comedy called Gigli.

Joe: Gigli...what's that a sexual position from the Karma Sutra?

Bob: Ha Ha...It's the name of the main character...part of the joke...he's real sensitive about how people pronounce his name.

Joe: Tell me more...

Bob: Well, remember Rainman, where Tom Cruise has to care for his mentally challenged savant brother, Dustin Hoffman?

Joe: Great movie but it's been done...next.

Bob: Wait...I've got a twist...

Joe: A twist?...okay...shoot.

Bob: Instead of the Cruise and Hoffman characters being related the Hoffman character will be the son of a D.A. prosecuting a mob boss...

Joe: I don't get it...how will that work?

Bob: Well, this time the Cruise character will be a bungling mob henchman who kidnaps the Hoffman character to put pressure on the D.A.

Joe: I thought this was supposed to be a comedy!!

Bob: It is...don't you see...a mob henchman baby-sitting a mentally challenged prisoner...man...this has funny written all over it...

Joe: Next...

Bob: Wait...Affleck has signed on already...

Joe: Affleck, hmmm...box office drawing power...you got my attention, go on.

Bob: It gets even better, I already got Jennifer Lopez interested too.

Joe: Wow...Lopez...can she act?

Bob: Who cares...think of the prerelease publicity...

Joe: Yeah, a marketing department dream...this will make me look good with the boss's. By the way, what's her character do?

Bob: She'a a lesbian mob enforcer who helps Affleck kidnap the D.A.'s brother.

Joe: A lesbian mob enforcer?

Bob: See, I told you this had funny written all over it, didn't I?

Joe: A lesbian mob enforcer?

Bob: Well, actually bi-sexual...lots of sexual tension between her and Affleck...in the end they get it on...

Joe: Ahh...a love interest with a twist...every blockbuster needs one...I like it...who else you got signed up?

Bob: Pacino and Walken are on board for cameo's as the mob boss and a detective...

Joe: Wow...those two plus Affleck and Lopez...I'll get a promotion...when can I read the script?

Bob: I only got a rough draft...a few details to iron out...but with this cast we can't lose.

Joe: Yeah, I know how to sell this to the boys upstairs already....green lighted...What else you got?

This is what must have happened because if the script had actually been read prior to the green lighting of this movie it may never have been made.

The only award Gigli has a chance of winning is Worst Film of 2003.

Running time - 124 minutes

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MOVIE - SEABISCUIT - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Tobey Maguire (Red Pollard), Jeff Bridges (Charles Howard), Chris Cooper (Tom Smith), William H. Macy (Tick Tock McGlaughlin), Elizabeth Banks (Marcela Howard) & Gary Stevens (George Woolf).

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER - Gary Ross (Pleasantville)

A true story previously chronicled in the book Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand.

Seabiscuit is no ordinary "underdog beats the odds" story. Seabiscuit's rise from obscurity, and triumph against the odds, was just the medicine the American public needed as the nation emerged from the demoralizing shadow of the Great Depression.

The brilliance of Seabiscuit the movie is that in an era of plenty, where the depth of despair created by the Great Depression is unfathomable for most, history is masterfully brought back to life.

Another crucial factor, in the success of the film, is absolutely brilliant performances by the entire cast. Jeff Bridges's portrayal of Charles Howard is mesmerizing and worthy of very, very serious Oscar consideration.

Seabiscuit is a story of redemption involving 3 men and a horse who help to heal each other and a nation. The message is as powerful now as it was then.

Seabiscuit is one of my Top 10 Films of 2003.

Running time - 140 minutes

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MOVIE - WHALE RIDER - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ 1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Keisha Castle-Hughes (Pai), Rawiri Paratene (Koro), Vicky Haughton (Nanny Flowers), Cliff Curtis (Porourangi), Grant Roa (Rawiri), Mana Taumaunu (Hemi) & Rachel House (Shilo).

DIRECTOR/WRITER - Niki Caro (Memory & Desire)

Based on the book by Witi Ihimaera.

Awards - AGF People's Choice Award (2002 Toronto International Film Festival); World Cinema Audience Award (2003 Sundance Film Festival); Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature (tie) (2003 San Francisco International Film Festival); Best Film, Best Director (2003 Seattle International Film Festival)

A wonderful tale, set in New Zealand, of a young female aboringinal seeking to save her tribe by breaking centuries of tradition and becoming its next chief.

Full Review Later.

Running time - 105 minutes

Alternative Reviews:

Roger Ebert's Review

WHALE RIDER OFFICIAL WEB SITE
4:59:54 PM  
  


MOVIE - JOHNNY ENGLISH - Review Rating $$$$$ $ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Rowan Atkinson (Johnny English), John Malkovich (Pascal Sauvage), Natalie Imbruglia (Lorna Campbell), Ben Miller (Bough), Douglas McFerran (Carlos Vendetta), Tim Pigott-Smith (Pegasus) & Kevin McNally (Prime Minister).

DIRECTOR - Peter Howitt (AntiTrust & Sliding Doors)

Mr. Bean does his impression of Inspector Clouseau. This spoof of the spy movies is not nearly as clever as the Austin Powers films but does have a few hilarious moments.

Johnny English, despite its shortcomings, will make you laugh.

Running time - 87 minutes

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4:51:38 PM  
  


MOVIE - THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN - Review Rating $$$1/2 (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Sean Connery (Allan Quatermain), Naseeruddin Shah (Captain Nemo), Peta Wilson (Mina Harker), Tony Curran (Rodney Skinner), Stuart Townsend (Dorian Gray), Shane West (Tom Sawyer), Jason Flemyng (Jekyll and Hyde) & Richard Roxburgh (M).

DIRECTOR - Stephen Norrington (Blade, The Last Minute, Death Machine)

Based on the comic book mini-series by Alan Moore.

I had very low expectations going into The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen based on the previews. Often, in such instances, the movie will turn out to be a pleasant surprise and exceed your low expectations. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, unfortunately, is so bad that it failed to meet, let alone exceed, my low expectations.

Sean Connery, who does manage to instill some swagger into the Quatermaine character, is the only bright spot in this otherwise dismal production.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen...isn't.

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MOVIE - PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Johnny Depp (Capt. Jack Sparrow), Geoffrey Rush (Capt. Barbossa), Jonathan Pryce (The Governor), Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann), Orlando Bloom (Will Turner), Jack Davenport (Norrington), Damian O'Hare (Lt. Gillette), Lee Arenberg (Pintel), Mackenzie Crook (Ragetti) & Giles New (Murtogg).

DIRECTOR - Gore Verbinski (Mouse Hunt, The Mexican, The Ring)

Loosely based on the Disney Company's Pirates of the Caribbean theme park rides/showcase.

Part of the reason that Pirates of the Caribbean works is the quality of the script. The story is, of course, a fantasy. This relieves the screenwriters from from having to work too hard to get the audience to suspend disbelief. However, they don't abuse the freedom, and the legend they have created is as believable as any good fairy-tale is.

The cast, led by Depp and Rush, give excellent performances that lend credibility to the tale as well. In many ways this is Depp's movie. His quirky charm comes through in spades and makes Captain Jack Sparrow a scene stealing instant hit.

Pirates of the Caribbean is a slick, well-executed and entertaining paint by numbers summer flick. No more, no less.

Running time - 134 minutes

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MOVIE - TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES - Review Rating $$$$$ $$ (OUT OF 10

STARRING - Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator), Nick Stahl (John Connor), Claire Danes (Kate Brewster), Kristanna Loken (T-X) & David Andrews (Robert Brewster).

DIRECTOR - Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown, U-571)

T-3 is the Chicken Little of movie sequels. The sky isn't constantly falling but Sky-Net and the machines are constantly rising. If you were looking forward to seeing the rise of the machines, and the human rebellion against them, you'll be disappointed. If you have fond memories of T-2 and you don't mind paying $11.00 to see essentially the same movie, again, then I recommend T-3. Running time - 109 minutes

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MOVIE - LEGALLY BLONDE 2: Red, White & Blonde - Review Rating $$$$$ $1/2

STARRING - Reese Witherspoon (Elle Woods), Sally Field (Rep. Rudd), Bob Newhart (Sidney Post), Luke Wilson (Emmett Richmond), Charles Dance (John Bosload) & Regina King (Grace).

DIRECTOR - Charles Herman-Wurmfeld (Kissing Jessica Stein, Fanci's Persuasion)

Elle returns, in the sequel to Legally Blonde, to take on Washington and get a National Animal Rights Bill passed by Congress.

Legally Blonde 2 succeeds, to a certain degree, because it doesn't try to be something its not. Its not as fresh or funny as the original but retains an internal consistency that exploits all the built-in humorous potential of its characters.

Running time - 95 minutes

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4:42:37 PM  
  


MOVIE - 28 DAYS LATER - Review Rating $$$$$ $$$$ (OUT OF 10)

STARRING - Cillian Murphy (Jim), Naomie Harris (Selena), Christopher Eccleston (Maj. West), Megan Burns (Hannah), Brendan Gleeson (Frank) & Noah Huntley (Mark).

DIRECTOR - Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary)

A new age virus decimates the population of England, turns most of the population into zombies and leaves those unaffected struggling to survive this nightmarish scenario.

28 Days Later is a metaphorical examination of the human condition. Man's Darwinian Ancestors, chimpanzees, have been purposely infected with "Rage" as opposed to some exotic jungle virus. Both the chimpanzees, and the audience, are exposed to a visual record of man's atrocities. Transmission of the disease by contact with the blood of an infected person (and the lab worker's warning that it's in the blood) is a metaphor for the Hobbian view that man is inherently evil. In other words, "Rage" is man's natural state when not constrained by societal norms, regardless of social class or status. No one, even those in positions of power, is immune.

Take the sociology out of 28 Days Later and you are still left with a provocative, scary and entertaining story of survival.

28 Days Later reminds us that those who unleash the forces of evil will one day themselves be consumed by its fury.

28 Days Later is one of my TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2003.

Running time - 108 minutes

FULL REVIEW & LINKS TO ALTERNATIVE REVIEWS

Comments by Halo Scan:
4:38:42 PM  
  


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STARRING - Eric Bana (Bruce Banner/Hulk), Jennifer Connelly (Betty), Nick Nolte (Davd Banner), Sam Elliott (General Ross), Josh Lucas (Talbot) & Paul Kersey (young David Banner).

DIRECTOR - Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ride with the Devil, Sense and Sensibility)

Based on the Marvel comic book series.

The Hulk, unlike the other Marvel Comics to be made into movies (Spiderman, X-Men, & Daredevil), is totally devoid of nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more humour. The Hulk wants to be taken ever so seriously despite the fact there isn't enough spandex in the universe to allow Bruce Banner to remain clothed after each of his transformations.In seeking to be taken seriously the Hulk has raised the ante in the suspension of disbelief sweepstakes and miserably fails to cover the wager made.

One bright spot in this film is that the special effects look better in the final movie than they did in the previews.

The Hulk, with its lack of humour and inflated sense of self-importance, is an oppressive and lifeless two plus hour film. Even the mostly dialogue free final act, a chase across California, fails to ignite the viewer[base ']s imagination or increase their pulse.

Running time - 138 minutes

FULL REVIEW & LINKS TO ALTERNATIVE REVIEWS

Comments by Halo Scan:
2:07:27 PM  
  


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VOICED BY - Albert Brooks (Marlin), Ellen DeGeneres (Dory), Alexander Gould (Nemo), Willem Dafoe (Gill), Geoffrey Rush (Pelican), Brad Garrett (Bloat) & Barry Humphries (Bruce).

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER - Andrew Stanton (co-director of A Bug's Life)

An underwater adventure involving the search and rescue of the young fish Nemo by his father.

Finding Nemo is another gem brought to the big screen by Pixar (Toy Story etc.) and Walt Disney. Technology and an excellent story make this a must see movie for children and adults alike.

There are two notes of caution for parents. There are two scenes, the opening sequence and a shark chase scene, that may scare younger children (though I can't think of very many of the standard kid's stories that don't have similar scenes). As well, as noted in recent articles, the sound gets cranked up in several spots and this may be problematic for some younger audience members.

There is a bonus Pixar short titled Knick Knack that precedes the movie. Its funny too but also serves to remind us how far CGI technology has come since the early days.

FULL REVIEW & LINKS TO ALTERNATIVE REVIEWS

Running time - 101 minutes

Comments by Halo Scan:
2:01:14 PM  
  

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