About A Boy

About Schmidt

Adaptation

The Agronomist

ALADDIN

The Alamo

Albert Nobbs

Alexander

Ali

Alice in Wonderland

Amelie

The American

American Gangster

American Hustler

American Pie 2

American Sniper

American Splendor

America's Sweethearts

An American Rhapsody

Angels & Demons

Anger Management

Anything Else

Apocalypse Now: Redux

Apocalypto

Argo

The Aristocrats

The Artist

Atlas Shrugged- Part 1

Atonement

L'Auberge Espagnole

The Audience (Live from London's Gielgud Theatre)
 

August: Osage County

Austin Powers in Goldmember

Australia

Avatar (in 3D)

The Avengers

The Aviator

 

 

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Babel

Bad Company

Bad Education (La Mala Educacion)

Bad Santa

Bandits

The Barbarian Invasions

Batman Begins

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Be Cool

Behind Enemy Lines

A Beautiful Mind

Being Julia

Bend It Like Beckham

Beowulf (in 3D)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Bewitched

Big Fish

Big Trouble

The Big Wedding

Birdman

The Black Book

BlackHawk Down

Black Mass

The Black Swan

Blades of Glory

The Blind Side

Blood Work

Blue Jasmine

Book Club

Body of Lies

Bollywood/Hollywood

The Boondock Saints

Borat

Bottle Shock

The Bourne Supremacy

Bowling for Columbine

The Bourne Identity

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Brave One

Breach

Bridge of Spies

Brideshead Revisited

Bright Young Things

Brokeback Mountain

Broken Flowers

Brother Bear

The Brothers Bloom

The Brothers Grimm

Bruno

Burn After Reading

The Business of Strangers

Lee Daniels' The Butler

 

 

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Cabin Fever

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Callas Forever

CAPERNAUM (in Arabic with English sub-titles)

Capitalism: A Love Story

Capote

Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Captain Phillips

Capturing the Friedmans

Carnage

Casa de los Babys

Casanova

Casino Royale

Catch Me If You Can

Cats

Changeling

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie Wilson's War

Chef

Cheri

Chicago

Children of Men

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The Chronicles of Riddick

Cinderella

Cinderella Man

City of God

Class of the Titans (in 3-D)

Cleopatra (50th Anniversary Edition)

Closer

The Closet

Cold Mountain

Collateral

The Company

Connie and Carla

The Cooler

El Crimen de Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro)

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

The Constant Gardener

Contagion (in IMAX)

Coraline in 3D

The Count of Monte Cristo

Cowboys and Aliens

Crash

Crazy Heart

CREED

The Crimson Rivers

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

THE CURRENT WAR

 

 

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Dallas Buyers Club

Daredevil

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight Rises

Dark Shadows

DARKEST HOUR

The Da Vinci Code

The Day After Tomorrow

Death at a Funeral

The Debt

December Boys

The Deep End

De-Lovely

The Departed

Derailed

The Descendanrs

The Devil Wears Prada

 THE DICTATOR

Die Another Day

Disney's A Christmas Carol

Django Unchained

Doubt

Downfall

DOWNTON ABBEY

Doubt

The Dreamers

Dreamgirls

Drive

Duplicity

 

 

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Eastern Promises

The Eagle

Eight Women

Elephant

Elf

Enchanted

The Emperor's Club

Eragon

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Evening

Exodus: Gods and Kings

 

 

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Fahrenheit 9/11

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Far From Heaven

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

THE FAVORITE

Festival in Cannes

A Few Good Years

50 First Dates

The Fighter

Finding Nemo

Finding Neverland

Find Me Guilty

Firewall

Flags of our Fathers

Flight

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

For Your Consideration

The Fountain

Foxcatcher

Fracture

Frailty

Frida

Friday Night Lights

Friends With Money

From Hell

Frost/Nixon

Full Frontal

 

 

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Gangs of New York

THE GENTLEMEN

Gerry

Ghost World

The Ghost Writer

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (in Swedish with English sub-titles)

The Girl Who Played With Fire (in Swedish with English sub-titles)

Girl With a Pearl Earring

The Golden Compass

The Golden Door (in Italian with English sub-titles)

Gone Baby Gone

Gone, Girl

The Good Girl

Good Night, and Good Luck

The Good Shepherd

The Good Thief

Gosford Park

The Grand Budapest Hotel

La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) in Italian with English sub-titles

Gran Torino

Gravity

The Great Debaters

The Great Gatsby

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

Greenberg

The Grey Zone

Grindhouse

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

 

 

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Habemus Papam (We Have A Pope) (in Italian with English sub-titles

HAIL CAESAR

Hairspray

HAMLET

The Hangover

The Hangover: Part 2

Hannibal Rising

The Happening

Happy Accident

Hard Candy

Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows-Part 1

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows-Part 2

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone

Hearts in Atlantis

Heist

Hellboy

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not...

The Help

Hereafter

Hero

HIDDEN FIGURES

A History of Violence

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (In HRF and 3-D)

Hollywoodland

Mr. Holmes

Hotel Rwanda

The Hours

House of Sand and Fog

Howl's Moving Castle

Hugo

The Hulk

The Human Stain

The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hurt Locker

Hustle and Flow

 

 

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I Am David

Identity

The Ides of March

Idlewild

Igby Goes Down

I (Heart) Huckabees

I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS

The Illusionist

I Love You, Man

The Imitation Game

I'm Not There

The Importance of Being Earnest

In America

In Bruges

The Incredibles

Inception

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Infamous

The Informant

Inglourious Basterds

In Her Shoes

Innocent Voices (in Spanish with English sub-titles)

Inside Man

Insomnia

"THE INSULT" (in Arabic with English sub-titles)

Intermission

The Intern

The Interpreter

Interstellar

In The Bedroom

Intimacy

Intolerable Cruelty

Into The Woods

Invictus

The Invisible Woman

Iris

THE IRISHMAN

Ironman

Iron Man 2 (in IMAX)

The Italian Job

It Runs In The Family

 

 

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JACKIE

Jarhead

J. Edgar

Jersey Boys

JOJO RABBIT

JOKER

JUDY

Julie & Julia

Juno

"JURASSIC WORLD" (in 3-D)

Just Like Heaven

 

 

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K-19:Widowmaker

Kate and Leopold

The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayham

The Kids Are All Right

Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Kill Bill: Vol. 2

Kingdom of Heaven

King Kong

The King's Speech

Kinsey

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

Kiss the Bride

Kitchen Stories

The Kite Runner

KNIVES OUT

Knockaround Guys

Knocked Up

K-PAX

 

 

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Ladder 49

LADY BIRD

Lady in the Water

The Ladykillers

LA-LA-LAND

The Last King of Scotland

The Last Samurai

The Last Shot

The Last Station

Layer Cake

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Letters From Iwo Jima

L.I.E.

The Life of David Gale

The Life of Pi

Life or Something Like It

Lincoln

"THE LION KING" (the 2019 CGI version)

Lions For Lambs

A LITTLE CHAOS

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Women

The Lives of Others (in German with English sub-titles)

The Longest Yard

Looney Tunes, Back in Action

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Lost in Translation

Love Actually

Lucky Number Slevin

 

 

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Made

Mad Hot Ballroom

The Magdalene Sisters

Magic in the Moonlight

Maleficent

Mambo Italiano

Mamma Mia

MAMMA MIA: HERE WE GO AGAIN

MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA

The Manchurian Candidate

Man on Fire

The Man Who Wasn't There

The Man Without a Past

March of the Penguins

Marie Antoinette

MARRIAGE STORY

The Martian

MARY POPPINS RETURNS

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Matchpoint

Matchstick Men

The Matrix Reloaded

The Matrix Revolutions

Max

Me and You and Everyone We Know

Mean Girls

Meet The Fokkers

Memento

Memoirs of a Geisha

The Merchant of Venice

Michael Clayton

Michael Jackson's This Is It

Midnight in Paris

A Mighty Wind

Milk

Million Dollar Baby

Minority Report

Miracle

Miracle of St. Anna

Mirror, Mirror

Les Miserables

Miss Pettigrew Lives For One Day

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Mr. Ibrahim (Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran)

Mrs. Henderson Presents

Mr. Turner

Mona Lisa Smile

Moneyball

Mongol (in Mongolian with English sub-titles)

Monsoon Wedding

Monster

Monster's Ball

Monster-in-Law

The Monuments Men

Moonrise KIngdom

Morning Glory

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN

Mulholland Drive

Munich

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

My Life Without Me

My Fair Lady

My Old Lady

Mystic River

My Week With Marilyn

 

 

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Nanny McPhee

The Nativity Story

Neighbors

The New World

Nicholas Nickleby

Nine

Nine Queens

Noah

No Country For Old Men

Norbit

North Country

Notes on a Scandal

Novocain

 

 

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Ocean's 8

Ocean's 11

Ocean's 12

Ocean's 13

Off The Map

Old School

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

One-Eyed King

One-Hour Photo

OPERATION FINALE

The Other Boleyn Girl

Our Lady Of The Assassins

 

 

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Pan's Labyrinth (in Spanish with English sub-titles)

"PARASITE" (In Korean with English sub-titles)

The Passion of the Christ

PATRIOT'S DAY

PAVAROTTI

The Perfect Storm

Peter Pan

Personal Velocity

The Phantom of the Opera

PHANTOM THREAD

Philomena

"PHOENIX" (in German and English with English sub-titles)

Phone Booth

The Pianist

The Pink Panther

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher)

The Polar Express

Poseidon

Possession

A Prairie Home Companion

Precious

The Prestige

Pride and Prejudice

The Princess and the Frog

The Producers

Prometheus

Proof

The Proposal

Public Enemies

 

 

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Quantum of Solace

Quartet

The Queen

The Quiet American

 

 

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Rachel Getting Married

Ratatouille

Ray

The Reader


Real Women Have Curves

The Recruit

Red Dragon

Religulous

Reno:Rebel Without A Pause

Rent

Revolutionary Road

RICKI AND THE FLASH

Riding In Cars With Boys

The Ring

The Road to Perdition

Robin Hood

ROCKETMAN

Roger Dodger

ROMA

Romper Stomper

The Rookie

The Royal Tenenbaums

Runaway Jury

The Rundown

Running With Scissors

 

 

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The Saddest Music in the World

The Safety of Objects

Sahara

St. Ralph

Salt

Saved

Saving Mr. Banks

Scary Movie 3

Scoop

The Score

Scotland, PA

Seabiscuit

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Serendipity

Serenity

Session 9

Seven Beauties

Sex and the City

Sexy Beast

Shallow Hal

The Shape of Things

THE SHAPE OF WATER

Shattered Glass

Shaun of the Dead

Shopgirl

Shrek 2

Shrek the Third

Shutter Island

Sicko

Sideways

Signs

Silver Linings Playbook

Simone

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas

Sin City

A Single Man

Skins

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Skyfall

Slumdog Millionaire

The Social Network

Something's Gotta Give

A Song for Martin

The Son's Room (La Stanza del Figlio)

Spartan

Spectre

Spellbound

Spider Man

Spider Man-2

Spider Man-3

Spirited Away

SPOTLIGHT

A STAR IS BORN

Star Trek

STAR TREK: BEYOND

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (The IMAX Version)

Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

State of Play

The Stepford Wives

Steve Jobs

STILL ALICE

Still We Believe: The Boston Red Sox Movie

Stolen Summer

Stop-Loss

The Sum of all Fears

Superman Returns

Super 8 (in IMAX)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Syriana

 

 

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Tadpole

Taking Lives

Talk to Her/Hable a Ella

Tape

Team America: World Police

The Terminal

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI

300

3:10 to Yuma

Time Out (L'Emploi du Temps)

The Theory of Everything

The Time-Traveler's Wife

To Rome With Love

The Town

Training Day

Transamerica

Les Triplettes de Belleville(The Triplets of Belleville)

Tristan and Isolde

Tropic Thunder

Troy

TRUMBO

There Will Be Blood

The Truth About Charlie

Thor (in 3D and IMAX)

The Tree of Life

The Three Stooges

 

Tsotsi

The Trip to Italy

This Is Where I Leave You

12 Years A Slave

21

21 Grams

21 Jump Street

Two For The Money

THE TWO POPES

The 25th Hour

28 Days Later

2012

 

 

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Unbroken

Unfaithful

Unknown

Up (in Digital 3D)

Up in the Air

 

 

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Valentine's Day

V for Vendetta

Van Helsing

Vanilla Sky

Vanity Fair

VICE

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

VICTORIA AND ABDUL

La Vie En Rose (in French with English sub-titles)

The Village

Vincere (in Italian with English sub-titles)

The Visit

Volver

 

 

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Waiting for "Superman"

Waking Life

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Walking Tall

Walk The Line

WALL-E

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Warhorse

War of the Worlds

The War Within (in English, French, and Arabic, with some subtitles)

Watchmen

Water For Elephants

The Wedding Crashers

Welcome to Collinwood

We Were Soldiers

Where the Wild Things Are

Whiplash

The Wicker Man

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself

Win, Win

The Wolfman

The Women

WONDER WOMAN

Wonderland

The Woodsman

The Words

The Wrestler

A WRINKLE IN TIME

 

 

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X2: X-Men United

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men: The Last Stand

XXX

 

 

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Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too)

You Don't Mess With The Zohan

 

 

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Zodiac

Zoolander

 

 

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MOVIE REVIEW- "AN AMERICAN RHAPSODY"

The true-life story of writer/director Eva Gardos plays like a cold war soap opera. Her family fled Communist-ruled Hungary in the middle of the night, leaving her behind as a baby, because travel with a baby was too dangerous. She was to be sent to them later. In the meantime, she was cared for by relatives in the country. "Meantime" stretched to six years and young Szusi learned to think of these people as her real parents. When she was finally sent to America, where her parents were now American middle-class suburbanites, she never knew where she really belonged...in Hungary or America. At age 16, this rebellious American teen-ager returns to her native Hungary and her adoptive parents, only to learn a very important lesson about herself, her parents, and Hungary. Beautifully written and acted (by Nastassia Kinski, Tony Goldwyn and Scarlett Johansson,) director Gardos allows the story to unfold in a slow, deliberate way so that we learn all about this family, and also about how freedom can survive even under impossible circumstances.

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MOVIE REVIEW- (TALK CINEMA PREVIEW FILM)- "SKINS"
A fascinating, but thoroughly depressing and gruesome film about the tragic lives of the Oglala Sioux Indians living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Following the story of two very different brothers, the film deals with alcoholism, spousal abuse, murder, arson, and other forms of brutality...unfortunately, everyday occurrences on a 21st Century Indian reservation. A painful, and frighteningly realistic performance by Graham Greene isn't enough reason for me to recommend this film to anyone except a student of contemporary native American life.
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MOVIE REVIEW- "BANDITS"
Barry Levinson's "Bandits" qualifies as a fine example of pure escapist entertainment. Isn't that what we're all looking for right now? It's well-written, clever, goofy/funny, and well-acted with so much tongue-in-cheek, that it's a wonder that the three leads didn't choke while filming it! These three, Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett, are so good at this wacky comedy style, that I can't imagine anyone else pulling off this bank-caper-film better than them, except possibly The Three Stooges!
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Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- (TALK CINEMA PREVIEW) "AMELIE"
I wasn't familiar with the work of French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Delicatessen,") so I was unprepared for his style of cutting edge cinematography used to tell a charming, hilarious story about neurotic people in weird situations. If I'm making this movie sound negative, I don't mean to. It was thoroughly enchanting and great fun....and Paris looked so good. Amelie was brought up by cold and unfeeling parents, and as a result has grown into a pretty but painfully shy neurotic. Because she can't connect with other people and develop relationships, she chooses to fantasize about the lives of her friends and strangers, and play games to manipulate them so that good things happen to them. Sort of a Mother Teresa on Prozac. That some of these "games" backfire is not surprising considering the fact that a simple "hello" from a stranger, can send Amelie over the edge. Many people come through Amelie's life, and we find ourselves getting involved with THEIR stories just as Amelie does. Some of these are very funny, others are moving and touching, but all are interesting. Audrey Tautou is perfect as Amelie. She's so pretty that it's almost hard to believe that she's so afraid of life and people. Ah, but that's what keeps therapists in business, isn't it?
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Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "K-PAX"
I love a movie that makes me come away from it feeling good, and this psychological jigsaw puzzle made me feel VERY good. Without giving away more of the plot than you already know from the trailers, "K-PAX" is about a man, Prot (Kevin Spacey, in a brilliant performance) who claims to be from another planet, K-PAX. It's up to his psychiatrist (Jeff Bridges) to find out what's really going on. The moral of the movie is that, often, it takes a stranger from outside our own inner circle, to help us see what's wrong...and right...with our own lives. I don't know why I was expecting a comedy; maybe the trailers were misleading. But, although there are some very funny moments in this film, it's really a very moving, sometimes heart-breaking story of human relationships, and how we take them for granted. I loved it!
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Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS"
Remember those Afternoon Specials on TV? Well, if you think of this film as one of the best of those, then you won't be misled or disappointed. Writer/"actress" Beverly Donofrio has purged herself of the guilt of being a miserable mother, by writing a book about it. The moral of the book and movie is, if you're fifteen and you get knocked up (as they used to say in my day,) you'd better be mature, responsible, with a great guy to marry you, and a family to support you...and some money wouldn't hurt either. Miss Donofrio had none of these. The resulting story is at times heart-breaking, hilarious, touching, cruel, and entertaining. A well-written script, and some very fine acting on the part of Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, James Woods, Lorraine Bracco, etc. makes the film seem to be more of a voyeuristic experience, than a movie. The Italian-American wedding-reception scene alone is worth the admission price. I must have traveled in the wrong circles because I never attended such an hilariously low-class tasteless affair. Maybe it's not too late.
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Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "FROM HELL"
Some people might find it surprising that this film was directed by the Hughes brothers, who are better known for their stories about "the 'hood," ("Menace II Society" and "Dead Presidents.") "From Hell" is yet another re-telling of the Jack the Ripper story, set in Victorian England. When you stop to think of it there is a commonality. The Hughes brothers films deal with urban violence in ghettos, whether in the Bronx or in London. Johnny Depp plays a drug-addled inspector (type-casting?) who is investigating the brutal mutilation of prostitutes in the hellish Whitechapel district of Queen Victoria's London. He sees visions...and then they happen. Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid in the upcoming "Harry Potter" film) plays his sidekick. One of the prime theories of who Jack the Ripper was, is explored here, and I won't give it away by telling you anymore of the plot. The cinematography is very atmospheric, creating a dark and frightening London slum, and the actors are very comfortable in their roles. Depp and Heather Graham should be praised for their fine lower class London accents. As in other Hughes brothers films, the plot, characterization, and dialogue don't always live up to the visual imagery of the film, but it's a fine job, and a credit to the Hughes brothers for taking a risky chance. Spike Lee, listen up. How about getting out of "the 'hood" and tackling "Frankenstein?"
(4-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW- "SERENDIPITY"
A young, perfectly (and obviously) compatible couple "meet cute" in a more carefree, pre-disaster New York, spend a memorable night together, and then, in spite of an obvious attraction to one another, part company for 6 years, trusting that faith and fate will eventually bring them together..."if it was meant to be." If you can buy this absurd plot, then, maybe you'll enjoy this lightweight, thoroughly predictable film. Preston Sturges used to make this kind of romantic comedy back in the '40's, but those were so much better because they were sophisticated and unpredictable. Is there anything good about "Serendipity?" Yes, several things: (1) the excellent performances by the always-fine John Cusack and his real-life best friend Jeremy Piven, Kate Beckinsale (this year's English actress flavor-of-the-month,) Molly Shannon, and the wonderful Eugene Levy, (2) some clever, occasionally funny dialogue, and for me, (3) a chance to re-visit one of my favorite New York haunts of decades ago, the East Side dessert shop 'Serendipity." I loved this place, and I still drink my cranberry juice at breakfast, out of a glass that I "borrowed" from the shop 30 years ago! In any case, the film is good for a few (very few!) good laughs, and some very pretty New York scenery. But, let's hope that this is the end of movies with this worn-out plot.
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Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE CLOSET" (in French with English sub-titles)
Many years ago, writer/director Francis Veber gave us the funniest French film ever made, "La Cage aux Folles." Now, 23 years later, he returns to the same subject matter of gender-reversal and hypocrisy and comes up with a sophisticated comedy for our time. A dull worker in a condom factory, who is about to be fired, decides to make believe that he's gay, in order to save his job. In today's society, after all, who would dare to fire a gay man? Unfortunately, this comedy has none of the hilarious, broad humor of "La Cage" and the characters have none of the humanity and sheer lovability of those in the classic French film. In fact, both the characters and the plot seem to be cold and mean-spirited at times. So, if you're looking for an hilarious French comedy, rent the original 1978 film "La Cage aux Folles." You won't be sorry.
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Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE PERFECT STORM"

This movie, based on the Sebastian Junger best-seller, is the most exciting film that I've seen in a long time. It's a modern-day Moby Dick, whose captain is every bit as obsessed, and possibly mad, as was Ahab. The object of his obsession is not a whale, but rather a large catch of swordfish, that would translate into big bucks...money that he desperately needs. His obsession recklessly brings about his own death, and the death of everyone on his doomed ship. The true heroes of this film/book are the men and women of the Coast Guard who risk (and in this case lose) their lives to save obsessive fishermen and idiotic pleasure sailors! The few women in the film (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Diane Lane, Karen Allen, Cherry Jones, and two fat actresses whose names I didn't catch,) do a much better job of acting than do the men. George Clooney who proves in yet another film, that he's a terrible actor, once again uses his two expressions inappropriately! Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly do much better with the little they're given. The computer graphics of ILM create the most frightening storm that I've ever seen on film. It's certainly the main character in the film.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "MULHOLLAND DRIVE"

"Mulholland Drive," the latest film written and produced by David Lynch, opened the new season of Talk Cinema's movie previews with a bang. On my comment card I wrote the following: "The best film noir that Fellini never made." The first two hours of this 2 1/2 -hour film consists of the most coherent narrative that Lynch has ever put on screen. It's film noir at its best, complete with mistaken identities, murders in the shadows, unusual plot twists, and constant unbearable tension! The last 1/2 hour completely deconstructs the story, so much so, that you really have to see it twice in order to make sense of the FIRST two hours. I can't say any more without revealing the secrets of the plot...some of which I STILL don't understand. Once again, the dark brooding musical score is by Angelo Badalamenti ("Twin Peaks.") There are some stars like Ann Miller, Lee Grant, Billy Ray Cyrus (yes HIM,) Robert Forster, and Chad Everett in bit parts. Otherwise the excellent cast consists of unknowns. If you go expecting "weird," "bizarre," and "tense," you won't be disappointed. 

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "OUR LADY OF THE ASSASSINS"

Director Barbet Schroeder has created a fascinating, horrifying look into life and death in present-day Medellin, Columbia...the city from hell! An author returns to the city of his birth, only to find that this once-peaceful town has now become a city of muggers, whores, crack heads, and killers. Violence and street-killings are everyday occurrences. The author strikes up a beautiful relationship with Alexis, a street-kid gangster who is forced to kill over and over again just to exist on a day to day basis in this terrible city. Ironically, much of the story takes place in the cities beautiful churches...now filled with drug addicts doing business. The only thing that isn't made clear in this highly original, but disturbing film, is why anyone in his right mind would choose to stay in this hell-hole!

(4.5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "MEMENTO"

If you enjoy puzzles, riddles, games , Rorschach tests, and movies like "The Sixth Sense," you'll love this movie. It's a puzzle, within a puzzle, within a puzzle, and if five people go to see it, there'll be five different versions of the story. I couldn't begin to try to summarize the plot, but I can say that it's about a man who has short-term memory loss (he can't remember what he said or did just moments before!) and who may or may not be in pursuit of the man who may or may not have killed his wife!!! Because of this disability, the "hero" and the audience are forced to relive everything that he's done, often in different, and conflicting versions. If you're looking for clues, AND YOU'D BETTER BE, look for the changes in the looks of his clothing and car. (Don't worry; I'm not giving away anything, because I don't have the answers either.) Two of the main characters may be telling the audience what REALLY happened, so listen carefully to what people are saying. Writer/Director Christopher Nolan won the prestigious Waldo Salt Screenplay Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, for his script; he earned it. What a convoluted, intricate plot! In spite of this, I'm withholding one "star" because I think that the resolution could have been (and should have been) cleaner and clearer. Nevertheless, a fascinating and truly original film.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "HAPPY ACCIDENT"

The best way that I can think of to describe this warped, quirky love story is by comparing it to other movies and TV shows. Here goes. It's a combination of a romantic comedy like "You've Got Mail,"/ "Sleepless in Seattle," and The X-Files. Or, try mixing "Sex and the City" and "Star Trek." If that doesn't clarify things for you, here's the plot: Ruby (Marisa Tomei) meets Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio) and falls for this sweet and gentle oddball, until his idiosyncrasies and strange behavior are explained by him as the result of being a time traveler who has returned illegally from 400 years in the future!!! Is he really a time traveler, or is he a very sick person with a very real earthly disease? Whatever! It won ME over with its oddball originality...and fine acting.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "HEARTS IN ATLANTIS"


Based on the novel by Stephen King, "Hearts in Atlantis" makes the third hit in a row for director Scott Hicks ("Shine," "Snow Falling On Cedars.") In small town America in the '50's, a mysterious boarder moves into the upstairs rooms of a cold, selfish, young widow and her 11-year-old son, Bobby. The impressionable young boy is ready for the magic and mystery that Mr. Brautigan brings to the last summer of his childhood. Is Brautigan fleeing from some people who are trying to find him? Is he a criminal? Does he have psychic powers? Is he an alien? Even if none of these were true (and at least two of them are,) this beautiful film about coming of age in rural America is heartwarming, brilliantly photographed, and with a musical score that recalls the period of "The Platters" and early Sinatra. The acting by young Anton Yelchin as Bobby, Hope Davis, as his mother, David Morse as the adult Bobby, and especially Anthony Hopkins as Brautigan, is as good as it gets.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "ZOOLANDER"

This satire of modern pop culture in general, and the model business specifically, is about as funny as a movie with this plot/theme can be. We laughed a lot at the funny situations, the dialogue, the unusual cameos, and we smiled even more throughout this combination male model/James Bond parody. Just about everyone in the Stiller family (Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Christine Taylor) is in the film, which was also written and directed by son Ben. From what I understand it's an expansion of a skit that Ben Stiller wrote for the VH1 model awards (or something like that,) and that's the problem. It plays like a short skit that's been retrofitted to the large screen and expanded in length to 10 times it's original playing time. Basically it's a one-joke movie, and blowing it up to a full-length film strains it beyond its limits as a comedy piece. Go to see it for some well-needed laughs and to spot the dozen or so famous actors, models and designers who play cameo roles.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "IN THE BEDROOM"

The author of last year's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, House of Sand And Fog, has written the story upon which this film was based, and it's a brilliant story. A tale of life, love, and death, in a beautiful peaceful town in Maine, it unravels at a very slow, deliberate pace, but with the force of a Greek tragedy. The actors are so perfect that one appears to be looking in on just plain folks under tragic circumstances, rather than people playing roles. It wouldn't surprise me if one or more Academy Award nominations came out of this film, especially for Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, and Marisa Tomei. I really enjoyed this film.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "TRAINING DAY"

I've never seen Denzel Washington play a role like this one before...and he's brilliant. In "Training Day" he's a rogue cop, who "polices" his inner-city (L.A.) beat using the laws of the jungle. Today is training day, where he gets to break in a rookie cop, (played by the always-excellent Ethan Hawke;) a cop who lives by the rule-book, and by the "good cops" code of ethics. The combination is a deadly one! All of the action takes place in the course of one day, and be warned, there's more action and violence in this film than you would expect to find in a film of such quality. Credit the fine actors, and the excellent director, Antoine Fuqua ("The Replacement Killers") for making it thoroughly believable, and often uncomfortable to watch. Look for some Best Actor nominations come Oscar time.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE"
This film by the Coen Brothers, and "Mulholland Drive" by David Lynch, shared the Best Director's award at this year's Cannes Film Festival in May. Coincidentally, both films are attempts to recreate the genre known as film noir...the stylistic and dark, detective thrillers of the '40s and '50s."The Man Who Wasn't There (the title says it all,) was written by the directors, Joel and Ethan Coen, and it could just as easily have been written by the master of this type of story, James M. Cain ("The Postman Always Rings Twice", "Double Indemnity",etc.)
Ed Crain, a non-entity and a barber, walks through his life and his town as though he were a ghost. He has no affect, no emotions, speaks very little, and when he does speak, he says nothing worth hearing. Then destiny puts him on a path that ends in blackmail, deception, suicide, murder, and surprise twists of fate. Brilliantly written and directed by the Coens, the film is acted by an ensemble cast that couldn't be better...Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco, James Gandolfini, and Tony Shalhoub. As film noir should   be, it's filmed in the shadows, lights and angles of black and white photography. Have patience, because the story unfolds slowly, as did "Citizen Kane," "The Postman Always Rings Twice," and other classics. We'll be hearing more about this film at Oscar time.
(5-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "GHOST WORLD

Almost without exception, movies about teen-agers follow one general rule: make it dumb, make it dirty, and make it fast! "Ghost World" breaks this rule in every way. Although it's the story of a teen-age girl, it's intelligent and well-thought-out, creative in an analytical way, and a disturbing true original. Writer, director, and actors all obviously sat down and spoke at length about how to make this unique document of the life of a disturbed loner. The story begins with two young girls at their high-school graduation. It's obvious that they're misfits. But instead of descending into the usual raunchy comedy, the plot follows the adventures of one of the girls...an obnoxious and pathetic loser. Thora Birch, the young actress from "American Beauty" is perfect as this girl, who in everything she does is crying out for love and attention. At the same time that you want to shake her by the shoulders and smack her face, she's breaking your heart. Her look and her story will stay with you long after you leave the theater.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "SESSION 9"

If you're looking for a movie like "Scream," or "I Know What You Did Last Summer," ...this isn't it. This is the movie that "Blair Witch Project" tried to be, but failed. Instead, what this film is, is a suspenseful psychological thriller for intelligent adults who want a good honest scare! The basic plot concerns a group of men whose "elimination company" is hired to remove all of
the asbestos in a huge abandoned hospital for the criminally insane. The State Hospital in rural Massachusetts (called the Danvers State Hospital,) could be the darker twin of that hotel in "The Shining." In fact, there are other similarities in the two movies. Director Brad Anderson ("Next Stop in Wonderland") who also co-wrote the film, has done a brilliant job with a fine ensemble of actors led by David Caruso (his best work) and Peter Mullan. Just when you think that you've got a handle on the story, they throw you a curve. Helping to create the tension-filled atmosphere, is the photography, the musical score, and the unforgettable setting. I can't remember the last time that I felt so uncomfortable watching a film...simply because I was scared! If you don't think that this is a truly classic horror film, please tell me why.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "NOVOCAIN"

I have an intelligent dentist, so it's hard to imagine any dentist...in fact, any MAN, being as stupid as the character portrayed by Steve Martin in this appropriately named film. Dentist take note: if you're looking to save money, show this film to your patients while you're working on them, and you won't need that nitrous oxide. The film is a series of boring stretches, interrupted by a thoroughly unbelievable and gory plot. A dentist in lust, tells a simple lie to cover up his indiscretion, and this lie escalates into an avalanche. A cast of fine actors (Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Dern, Scott Caan, and an unbilled Kevin Bacon) is wasted on this ridiculous story. Steve Martin was there in person to receive the Career Excellence Award. His hilarious acceptance speech was the best part of the evening!

(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "ONE-EYED KING"

Set in the violent world of Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, "One Eyed King" is an Irish "Godfather," filled with the drama of five young men, who grew up in this cauldron of ignorance, violence, love, loyalty, and betrayal. The film is so well acted by the likes of William Baldwin, Jason Gedrick, Jim Breuer, Bruno Kirby and a frighteningly-evil Armand Assante, that the viewer feels that he/she is not watching a film, but looking at real people spiraling down into an unsinkable pit. Connie Britton (soon to be the new addition to TV's "The West Wing,") is excellent as a young woman who hates "the neighborhood" that has killed her father, brother, and soon possibly, her lover. She functions as a Greek chorus, looking in at the action from its perimeter (although very much a part of it,) and commenting on it with her eyes and sad face. Chazz Palmintieri is fine as a police officer who is loyal to his friends in the neighborhood. The friendship of these five young men is portrayed very realistically, complete with its absurd loyalties based on fear, ignorance, and love. When one betrays the others, the friendship is strengthened, and then destroyed. A documentary-like film with an incredible musical soundtrack of hits of four decades. Not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "APOCALYPSE NOW: REDUX"

If there was ever any doubt about the "classic" status of this 22-year-old film, that doubt has just been eliminated. With 50 minutes of the original footage restored to the film (it now runs 3 1/2 hours!) it's truly a masterpiece, and the best film that was ever made, about the Vietnam War. Some of the new footage gets lost in the overall arc of the film but some truly stands out. There's an extended scene where the Martin Sheen character is entertained at a French plantation, thereby giving Director Coppola the opportunity to present the French side of the issue. It's informative and beautifully acted by several French actors. There's also an addition to the famous "surfing" scene ("I love the smell of napalm in the morning,") that ends that scene on an hilarious note. With the additional footage, the journey up the river to "find" Colonel Kurtz seems less like an adaptation of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, (as it was meant to be,) and more like an adaptation of Homer's Odyssey, complete with the "sirens" (the Playboy bunnies, ) and the "Cyclops" (the surfing Colonel Kilgore!) Even though I had just seen the 2 1/2- hour version of the film just a few months ago on TV, I wasn't bored for one minute during this complete version of the movie. That says a lot.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "AMERICAN PIE 2"

For those of you who don't remember, I wasn't exactly what you'd call a "fan" of the original. In fact, I thought it was highly overrated teen crap. As for the sequel... I loved it. Back is the entire cast, lots more flesh and another plot almost entirely focused on sex. Sounds like a good summer comedy to me. This time, the gang is all back from their first year at college and they've decided to spend the summer at a beach house, working summer jobs and partying every night. Maybe I liked this one better because I could relate to the characters as college students better than high school students, but I'm pretty sure it really had something to do with a much heavier dose of my favorite character, Stifler. Jim and his dad are idiots, Chris Klein is underutilized, Finch is annoying as hell, but Stifler is hilarious. A nice continuation of the 1999 blockbuster.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN"

When I reviewed the book "Corelli's Mandolin" last year, I wrote, "The story and characters are buried under a ton of verbiage, similar to what students do when they hand in overwritten papers in order to impress their professors. This will probably be one of the rare cases where the movie will be better than the book." I WAS WRONG! The movie IS as bad as the book, saved only by the beautifully photographed Greek scenery and the enjoyable Italian music. Penelope Cruz once again proves that she simply can't act in English. Nicolas Cage was either directed to, or chose to, use an absurd faux Italian accent, which is distracting, when it's not downright hilarious. When will actors/directors realize that Italians, Greeks, Germans, don't speak with accents. They speak Italian, Greek, and German!!! Either the accents should be eliminated entirely, or else the film should be IN the foreign language with subtitles. Not even the always-excellent actors John Hurt and Christian Bale could save this fiasco. Questa fa puzza!

(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE CRIMSON RIVERS"

Have you ever gone to a movie, enjoyed it immensely, and didn't have a clue as to what was going on in the story? That's what happened to SIX of us who went to see the French film, "The Crimson Rivers." I had a similar experience when I saw this year's film "Memento." Getting back to "The Crimson Rivers." This sub-titled French film-noir takes place high in the French Alps in a picturesque town that turns into a Stephen King-like nightmare as the film progresses. A series of seemingly unrelated killings/mutilations has taken place, and the Lieutenant (played by a very somber Jean Reno,) is brought in to help the local gendarmes solve the cases. What follows is a series of bizarre incidents, linking these killings to each other, and to a more outrageous "larger scheme. "The cinematography is extraordinary, and the acting is first-rate. That leaves us with the curiously unsettling feeling that perhaps we WEREN'T meant to understand everything that was going on. How French! In any case, we talked about the film for about 15 minutes outside the theater, and then carried our discussion over into dinner. How many films can stimulate THAT kind of reaction in six different viewers?

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE DEEP END"

Last week at the Boston Film Festival, I saw a movie about the dumbest dentist on screen this year ("Novocain.") "The Deep End" is a perfect companion-piece to that film, in that it portrays the dumbest MOTHER on screen this year! Tilda Swinton, in a fine acting job, portrays the overprotective mother of a teen-age son, who she suspects has been involved in a crime of passion. In order to protect him, she sets in motion one of the most ridiculous and improbable plots that I've seen on screen all year. Not a minute of it is believable. As I said before, Tilda Swinton does a fine job of portraying this woman, but what good is a fine acting job in the service of a stupid plot? I can't tell you how many times I said to myself (I think,) "Jesus lady, that's SO dumb!" I wouldn't even waste my time renting this one, unless you must see some picturesque scenery in Lake Tahoe and Reno.

(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "L.I.E."

One reason why I wanted to see this movie was because I spent some time at the Boston Film Festival, talking to its two stars (Brian Cox and Billy Kay.) Each one had wonderful things to say about the other's performance. They were both right. Unfortunately, the film doesn't live up to the high standards of the actors in it. In fact, it's a terrible bore. The story, such as it is, concerns Howie, a young Long Island boy, who comes from a wealthy but dysfunctional family; his thieving young friends and corrupt father; and Big John, the Fagin-like ex-marine/spy...a pedophile, who "takes in" young boys. Given those ingredients, don't you think that YOU could make a better film than this one? I know that I could!

(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "MADE"

This film reunites Jon Favreau and his buddy Vince Vaughn, in the second film written and directed by Favreau. The first film, "Swingers," gave an entire generation of acne-ed adolescent boys, enough "what-to-say-while-hitting-on-girls" jargon to get them through the first stages of their never-to-be-consummated dates. This one will give them "the right things to say" if they're planning to join the Mob! Vaughn and Favreau once again play losers (boxers this time) from L.A., who are sent to New York, by the local mob boss (played brilliantly by Peter Falk) to settle a "deal." Sean "Puff Daddy"(or whatever the hell he's calling himself this week) Combs, plays himself, a high-living criminal contact in New York. All that's missing is Mike Tyson as Father O' Shaunnessey! What Favreau has written (and directed) is the funniest movie of the year. He and Vaughn play the dumbest, most incompetent and idiotic wannabe thugs seen on screen since "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight." Favreau writes dialogue that is so realistic that it seems to be improvised, and nobody plays this kind of idiot better than Vaughn; he's absolutely brilliant. As my friend and I left the theater, we were thinking maybe 3-1/2 or 4 stars, but damn, I'm still laughing (and thinking) about so many of the scenes, that I'm raising it to 5 stars.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "SEXY BEAST"

This movie has so many good things going for it, let me get the one BAD thing out of the way up front. When will the English/Irish/Scottish filmmakers realize that Americans can't understand a word that they're saying on screen? Please give us sub-titles! The plot, about a London criminal who comes to the Costa del Sol in Spain, to "convince" one of his former mates to come back for one last job, takes a back seat to (a) director Brian Glazer's incredible ability to create, through the use of style, mood, and acting, the most tension-filled movie of the year, (b) this year's best acting job so far: the performance by Ben Kingsley as Don Logan, the psychopathic criminal, (c) the beautiful reactive acting of the other cast members, (Ray Winstone, Amanda Redman, Ian McShane and James Fox) who through their subdued performances help to make Kingsley's character seem more frightening and over-the-top than it might have been, had they all been directed to play at the same level of energy. Kingsley, who is sure to be nominated for an Oscar, uses every "trick" at his disposal to create a truly memorable monster. He's terrifying even when he's sitting perfectly still. His character will stay with you long after you've left the theater. Try NOT to think about him!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE SCORE"

If you're looking for a good reason to see what might appear to you to be just another "let's-plan-a-robbery" film, I can give you two good ones. First, it's a VERY GOOD heist film. Although it does tend to bog down a bit during the expository and planning phase of the robbery, the actual heist will keep you on the edge of your seat. Second, it's a rare opportunity to see America's three greatest actors (Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, and Edward Norton) perform together for the first, and probably the last, time. Each actor represents the elite of his generation, and it's wonderful to watch their scenes together. Although Brando and De Niro are excellent in creating their characters, Norton steals the film with yet another one of his insightful on-the-edge interpretations. Angela Bassett is there as eye candy; she has very little to do and she does that well! Filming in Montreal gives the movie an unusual, not-often-seen, exotic quality. If you've seen the movie "Sexy Beast" you'll see some striking similarities in both films. They're both worth seeing.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS"

Simply filling the screen with some of my favorite stars (Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Walken, Hank Azaria, Billy Crystal and Alan Arkin) doesn't guarantee that a film will be a good one; "America's Sweethearts" is the latest case in point. Summertime...story's weak, the acting is dry...fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high." I'm guessing here, that the "creative minds' behind this film, were aiming to recreate the goofy magic of director Preston Sturges' classic comedies of the 1940's. Unfortunately, due to a lack of brains and imagination, they didn't have a clue as to how to utilize the potential of the talent at their disposal. When the funniest scene in the movie is one in which a Doberman-pinscher simulates the act of oral sex on the Billy Crystal character, then you know you're in deep trouble! Instead of going out and wasting your time and money on this film, stay home and rent a video of one of Sturges' comedies. I recommend either "The Lady Eve," or "Sullivan's Travels." There isn't a Doberman in either one of them!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "INTIMACY"

All of the controversy surrounding this film has to do with its many sex scenes, in particular, one involving UNSIMULATED oral sex...the leading man gets his weenie sucked! Actually, I've got that wrong; it's the film that sucks. "Intimacy" is nothing more than a series of explicit sex scenes, interrupted by a depressing and dreary plot, involving two characters who meet once a week to have great sex without any intimacy. The actors are very good at conveying the anguish of their characters, which makes the film even more depressing. Three questions have to be asked concerning this film: (1) why would noted Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance agree to play such an unpleasant role, (2) why would the jury of the prestigious Berlin Film Festival give its Best Film, and Best Actress Award (to Kerry Fox who performs "the act,") to this movie, and (3) why did I waste a good afternoon seeing it? Don't do the same.
(2-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "WAKING LIFE"
Two animated films opened on Friday; one was strictly for adults ("Waking Life,") and the other was strictly for children ("Monsters.com.") I chose to see the "adult" film today. If you've seen the trailer, then you know that the film was first filmed in live-action, and then, through computer graphics (I assume,) transformed into animation. The decision to do this was the most creative thing about the film. However, the animation is terrible to look at. It's jumpy, watery, and guaranteed to induce headaches or seasickness in the viewer. Picture trying to look at a video through a fishbowl while on a stairmaster! The story is non-existent...something to do with a young man floating through a series of dreams, while people spout sophomoric, philosophic concepts at him. Imagine, if you will, that you've just been visited by ten boring and stupid Freshmen from L.A., who've just taken an "Intro. to Philosophy" course, and who insist on spending two hours telling you what they've learned...as they understood it! I should have seen "Monsters.com!!!"
(1-Star)
Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "SHALLOW HAL"
The Farrelly brothers make two kinds of film. The usual is the hilariously tasteless genre of movie, filled with potty-humor (e.g., "Dumb and Dumber," "There's Something About Mary," etc.) The second, is the funny but gentle, sweet and moving morality tale ("Outside Providence.") "Shallow Hal" falls into the second category. Peter and Bobby Farrelly have called it their "love letter to fat people.".......and that it is! Hal (Jack Black) is your typical sexist, valueless, club-hopping "adolescent" who sees women as nothing but meat. One day he gets stuck in an elevator with self-help guru Tony Robbins, who hypnotizes him into seeing people as manifestations of their inner beauty or ugliness. Yikes! Enter 300-pound Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow) and the fable begins. Black and Paltrow play their usual on-screen personas with a bit more meat on their bones...no pun intended. Jason Alexander as Black's best friend is perfect. Well-written, well-directed and well-acted, the movie asks you to see it as a fairy tale or fable, otherwise you'll hear and see the gears churning noisily below the surface. Sort of like the plot of the movie itself. At times, the gears were too loud for me and it all seemed too contrived. But, listen as your "inner self" and you'll love it.
(4-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

TALK CINEMA PREVIEW
MOVIE REVIEW- "TAPE"
This isn't a film by Neil LaBute ("In The Company of Men," "Bash," etc.) but it could have been. If you enjoy (I'm not sure that that's the right word in this context) LaBute's work, then you'll probably love this film, as I did. The screenplay by Stephen Belber (from his own play,) is the best screenplay since "Memento," and the director Richard Linklater redeems himself  with this disturbing movie, after directing the dreadful "Waking Life." Like LaBute, Linklater places his characters in a confined setting (a hotel room,) and when we first meet them. they appear to be relatively normal. But then, they proceed to strip away layers, showing more and more of themselves, until unmentionable deeds are exposed and what appeared to be normal becomes sick, pathetic, and often monstrous. The men are usually misogynistic, but in the case of "Tape" they hate themselves, and each other....and they're painfully unaware of this simple little fact. In a three-character one-room movie, each actor carries a lot of responsibility. The three actors in this case are magnificent. You can tell that Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Robert Sean Leonard are stage-trained. Linklater's directing is brilliant; it's amazing how many views of a single room he can come up with. Not a comfortable film, by any means, but one that is edgy, thought-provoking, and will give you enough topics for discussion to last you for a long while!
(5-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "HEIST"
If you enjoy the distinctive speech patterns of a David Mamet (writer/director) play or film, or the intricacies of his convoluted plots, then you'll certainly like "Heist." Although this completely implausable film has a couple of twists and cons too many, and the viewer gets lost in a confusing maze, the trip through the maze is a fun-filled and exciting  one. Because of the language style, the acting often seems stilted and self-conscious. It's especially noticeable with Rebecca Pidgeon (MRS. David Mamet,) who seems to be rehearsing in "Mametese!" The screenplay is more choreographed than written, but Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, and Delroy Lindo appear to be enjoying themselves. Even though the "aging-crook-pulling-his-last-caper-before-retiring" plot has become an overused cliche, it can still be lots of fun to watch if it's done right. This one was done right, and it kept ME interested.
(4-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE"
Even if you've never read a word of any of the four books, (and My God, why haven't you?) you'll LOVE this film. Easily one of the most eagerly-awaited films of the decade, this masterpiece lives up to all of the hype...and more. Its sheer brilliance elevates it to the level of classic, up there with "The Wizard of Oz," "E.T.," the Star Wars films, and all of the great Disney animated classics. If it doesn't become the most popular film of all time, I'll eat my Hogwart's sweat shirt! Unless you've been living in a cave for the past few years, you must know that Harry Potter is an orphaned 11-year-old English boy, who finds out that his late parents were wizards, and that he has just been invited to enroll in Hogwart's School of Wizardry. In the film, the faculty of Hogwart's is played by some of England's greatest actors (Richard Harris, Dame Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, John Cleese, etc.) The three children hold their own in this illustrious company, and are absolutely wonderful. Director Chris Columbus must be commended for being completely faithful to the book. With author J.T. Rowling looking over his shoulder, he had to be! In fact, she supposedly put her "OK" on each scene as she watched the miracles unfold on screen. It shows. Her greatest achievement, is that she takes adult subjects and themes and makes them accessible to children..Go with the family, and you'll have the time of your life. What a wonderful holiday gift for all of us.
(5-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "BEHIND ENEMY LINES"
Sure it's exciting and brilliantly photographed, but prior to the War on Terrorism, this would have been categorized as just another improbable military adventure. But, now, after 9/11, everything resonates with a different tone, and even the implausible films come across with the patriotic spirit that we all seem to need. The setting is wartorn Yugoslavia, and the main character, a hotshot, top-gun-like, frat-brat ( a perfectly-cast Owen Wilson,) gets bored on his carrier and, on his last assignment, goes into enemy territory. Predictably, he gets shot down, losing his 40 million plane, and his pilot, and the rest of the film is spent with "everyone" trying to rescue this loser (who should have spent 5 more years in a mall playing video-games waiting to grow up!) It's a good thing that President Bush didn't take this "we must save this American" attitude toward those two girls (Heather and Heather!,) who were trying to sell bibles to the Afghans while they were on their Spring Break! The most unbelievable part of this story (aside from Gene Hackman's agreeing to play his cliched character,) is the scroll at the end that says that it was a true story! To be fair, the acting by Wilson and Hackman is very good, and as I said before, so is the MTV-like photography. But, how many more of these films are going to be thrown at us in the name of patriotism?
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

TALK CINEMA
MOVIE REVIEW- "A SONG FOR MARTIN" (in Swedish with English sub-titles)

Although this film by director Bille August is brilliantly acted, photographed and directed, I don't feel comfortable recommending it as "entertainment," because it's also one of the most disturbing and depressing movies of the year. A famous symphonic conductor falls in love with his talented first violinist, and after an idyllic honeymoon (each one has been married before,) he goes back to the business of conducting and composing...and he begins to forget things. So begins the tortuous downward spiral into Alzheimer's. What makes it infinitely more painful to watch, is that the wife is the caregiver from hell, a self-centered, selfish, stupid woman, who doesn't have a clue about how to deal with the disease, and therefore helps to make the fall even more cruel than necessary. We could give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she's in denial, but that's probably not the case. She is just a me-first kind of person, who thinks that she's doing the right thing and for the right reasons. The actors playing the conductor and his wife, are brilliant; they're so good that you forget that they're acting. I actually turned away from the screen a couple of times, out of embarrassment!
(5-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "OCEAN'S 11"
I hated the original movie "Ocean's 11," that self-indulgent home-movie, made by and for the old Hollywood "Rat Pack" (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. etc.) Director Steven Soderbergh's retelling of the story is such a wonderful contrast to the other film, that he should have considered changing the title, so as not to link the two films. Everything about this version is done with style and class, beginning with the fine ensemble cast (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle, and the wonderful veterans Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould.) The acting is first class, as is the brilliant direction and cinematography, and the fine musical score. Star billing should also be given to the beautiful Bellagio hotel, Vegas' most incredible resort. I stayed there a few years ago, and it brought back fond memories. The story is basically the same as in the first film. Ex-con Danny Ocean rounds up ten of his experts/friends to pull an impossible heist-caper...the robbery of three Las Vegas casinos, simultaneously. The screenplay is so well-written, that you actually believe that the robbery is possible. This heist film is easily the most stylish, imaginative, fun, and beautiful-to-look-at robbery movie since the classic "Topkapi"...and that's saying a lot. However, having said all that, I must say something about George Clooney's acting...or the absence of it. Clooney belongs to the John Wayne school of acting. All of his "expressions" say one thing..."I'm George Clooney and I'm only acting!"
(5-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE BUSINESS OF STRANGERS"

In Neil LaBute's movie "In The Company of Men," two men psychologically abuse a helpless deaf woman. In "The Business of Strangers," two women turn the tables on a far-from-helpless man. Stockard Channing (in an Oscar-worthy performance,) is an insecure CEO who is stranded in an airport hotel with her pathological assistant, played by Julia Stiles. Into their lives comes an obnoxious boor (Frederick Weller,) and they proceed to teach him a lesson! The bad things that these people do to one another is done in such a slow-moving context, that at times, the film is quite boring...and it shouldn't be! Stockard Channing has been so good in so many Broadway plays over the years, it's about time that TV ( she plays The First Lady in "The West Wing") and movies are beginning to recognize her incredible talents. She'll give Sissy Spacek ("In The Bedroom") a run for her money this year at Oscar time. May the best actress win!

(2 1/2 -Stars) Back to Top

Nick

TALK CINEMA PREVIEW
MOVIE REVIEW- "GOSFORD PARK"

I can't think of a current British actor who ISN'T in "Gosford Park" a Masterpiece Theater-like classy murder mystery from director Robert Altman. Yes, you heard right, Robert Altman. Who would have thought that he could put together a sophisticated drawing room drama worthy of a Noel Coward? To continue the analogies, it's like a combination of Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" and the TV series "Upstairs Downstairs." The time is just after World War I, and a rich and glamorous group gathers for a shooting party at a country estate in England. Before the weekend is over, someone will be murdered - twice. Although the story is a fine one, it's not as important as the acting, the ambience, the set and costumes and the music. It's all perfection! The ensemble cast is like a compendium of great acting...and it has the same effect as the second act of a great ballet, where each star gets his/her turn to strut in the spotlight. Here they are: ABOVE STAIRS- Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jeremy Northam, Charles Dance, Bob Balaban, etc. BELOW STAIRS- Alan Bates, Helen Mirren, Eileen Atkins, Derek Jacobi, Emily Watson, Ryan Philippe, etc. See what I mean? Put on a tuxedo and go see this wonderful film.
(5-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "VANILLA SKY"

"Open your eyes" are the first three words in this movie, as well as the title of the Spanish film of which it's a remake. (Why does Hollywood keep remaking foreign films? Don't they think that we can read sub-titles?) Anyway, those three words are the key to unlocking the film's mystery. If writer/director David Lynch ("Mulholland Drive") had remade Frank Capra's corn-ball "It's A Wonderful Life," the remake would have been "Vanilla Sky!" Instead, writer/director Cameron Crowe ("Jerry Maguire") made it, and so it's big, splashy, way too long, but with brilliant performances by two beautiful actors: Tom Cruise (maybe his best performance) and a radiant Cameron Diaz. What's wrong with this movie can be summed up in two words...Penelope Cruz. This actress, so good in her native tongue, Spanish, simply can't act in English. She reads her lines phonetically, ruining every scene in which she appears. But in fairness to Ms. Cruz, there is something else seriously wrong here. The plot is so convoluted, and often boring, that long before the last sentence that gives meaning to the whole story, the film sinks under its own weight. I couldn't begin to summarize the story except to say that like "It's A Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol," it's about a man who gets a second chance to redo his extravagant and wasted life. Cameron Crowe should have left well enough alone, and not given this plot a second chance. I'm going to rent the Spanish original, "Abre Los Ojos" to see if it's any better than its remake. Any bets?

(2-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "A BEAUTIFUL MIND"

This excellent film chronicles the true adventures of "a beautiful mind" as it declines into the horrors of paranoid schizophrenia. The beautiful mind belongs to mathematician/economist (and Nobel laureate) John Nash, played brilliantly by Russell Crowe, surely an Oscar-worthy performance. Although we've seen minds and personalities deteriorate on screen before, what sets this film apart is that the main character's delusions are enacted realistically, so that we, the audience, see what he sees, and WE'RE never sure what is a delusion, and what is reality. Ron Howard directs his actors lovingly, and because the caliber of acting is so high, the film never feels as long as it really is (2 hours and 15 minutes.) Much of the film takes place on the campuses and in the classrooms of Princeton, M.I.T., and Harvard... photographed beautifully. All of the aforementioned actors are excellent, especially Ed Harris, Jennifer Connolly, and Christopher Plummer, one of whom plays a character that exists only in the mind of John Nash! Although there's a great deal of talk about math, theories, and economics in this movie, there are also some very funny moments, some truly heartbreaking ones, and some that are terrifying.. Praise must go to the makeup artist who helped make Russell Crowe age from a man in his 20's to a man in his 70's. However, most of the believability of this aging is due to Crowe's amazing acting skills. This is truly a once-in-a -lifetime role for Crowe and he makes the most of it.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "LORD OF THE RINGS; THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING"

I've waited all of my life to see a film version of one of my three favorite series of books (the others being, the "Harry Potter" series, and Isaac Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy. Someday, if we're VERY lucky, we'll see that one on film.) Well, it was worth the wait, because "The Fellowship of the Ring"(the first of three films in this series) is one of the most beautiful films that I've ever seen. Thanks to director Peter Jackson's persistence and vision, author J.R.R. Tolkien's many fans are seeing their dreams come true. With a perfect cast (including Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, and Liv Tyler,) majestic sets, a Tolkien-like script, brilliant direction and wonderful acting, the hobbits once more leave Middle Earth in order to return the One Ring...to destroy it, and rid the world of the Dark Lord Sauron's evil. Their adventures are many, exciting, and often frightening in this 3-hour film. At times it moves along at a slow pace, and at other times the action is fast and furious. It's definitely NOT for young children. I can't wait for the next two films and the next 6 hours of a dream come true!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "KATE & LEOPOLD"
Ok, you're asking, "why did you go see this movie?" Simple. I like Meg Ryan, Liev Shreiber, and Hugh Jackman. Are they good in it? Well, yes and no. The
men ARE, but Meg Ryan is getting a little too old to be playing "cute and goofy." The story, one of those time-warp things, concerns a Duke in 1876 New York, who is brought through a "portal" where he must deal with the frightening (to him,)customs of present-day New York. If this story sounds familiar, it's a cheap rip-off of Jack Finney's wonderful book, "Time and Again,"...one of my favorites. It's not worth a trip to the theater on a cold winter's night!
(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS"

The films of director Wes Anderson usually walk a fine line between moving reality and comedic farce. "Rushmore" didn't succeed because its characters were annoying or unbelievable. "The Royal Tenenbaums" on the other hand is an inspired ensemble piece of creative and hilarious comedy. Just filling a film with a large cast of good actors doesn't guarantee that the film will be a good one. Look at last year's "America's Sweethearts!" But in "The Royal Tenenbaums," an ensemble cast of gifted actors manages to sustain a tongue-in-cheek mood for two hours, with not one actor making a false move. Maintaining this mood for such a long period, often makes for some slow and even boring stretches (fault the director,) but the whole is worth...yeh, yeh, you know! Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) is a cold and distant father of a dysfunctional family of traumatized geniuses (played brilliantly by a lobotomized Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, and Ben Stiller.) After being thrown out of his lodgings for being broke, he decides to return to the family home (after 20 years) just as his wife (Angelica Huston, in the film's best performance) is about to marry their accountant (Danny Glover.) Bill Murray plays Paltrow's cuckolded husband, and Owen Wilson is one of her many lovers. Even Feydeau couldn't come up with a better one than that!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

MOVIE REVIEW - " ALI "

I hate boxing! I don't get any enjoyment out of watching two men beat each other senseless, either in the street or in the ring. So I put off going to see "Ali" until a rainy day came along, when no other movies were opening. That was today. I had heard that the only thing good about the film was Will Smith's performance. That's not quite accurate. Once Will Smith got his body all "buffed-up" his performance ended! He walks through most of the film, like an actor playing Jesus in one of those cheesy religious films. In fact this supposed bio-pic has a lot in common with those religious films. Mohammed Ali is depicted as being a combination of Jesus, Mother Teresa and Jake La Motta ("Raging Bull.) In fact Ali was neither. I remember him during those ten years depicted in the film, when he was metamorphosing from Cassius Clay (the womanizing wildman) into Muhammed Ali (the self-righteous conscientious objector.) He was far from a saint. Jon Voight (as Howard Cossell,) although he does a fine acting job, needs to get out from under all of the facial prostheses that he's been buried under in his last two films (as FDR in "Pearl Harbor" and now as Howard Cossell.) Smith and Voight have some funny scenes together, and there are some excellent supporting performances from Melvin VanPeebles, Jamie Foxx, and Ron Silver. Other than that, stay home and rent "Raging Bull."

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "BLACK HAWK DOWN"

Years ago, when this incident happened, I read about it in the newspapers, and then when the book came out, although I had been told that it was an interesting read, I didn't think that an entire book about the event could hold my interest...so I never read it. Having just sat through a 2 1/2-hour movie based on the very same incident, I'm surprised to report that the film is not only interesting, but fascinating, exciting, and thoroughly spellbinding. The entire film, one of the most brutal war movies ever made, has the same intensity of the excruciatingly painful and realistic first half-hour of "Saving Pvt. Ryan." However, what's surprising is that it's also a great human interest story, and in spite of what you may have heard, we, the viewers, do get to know many of the large cast, as individuals, and we're able to empathize with their horrible hell-like situation. Although it's far from a "first-date flick," women should see this film as well as men. It's an important part of the history of all  of us. There are no stand-outs in the cast; all seem to be real soldiers. Director Ridley Scott has to be commended for commanding this cast through the impossible carnage of the battle scenes. WARNING: If you're teetering on the brink of racism, this film will push you over!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "THE SON'S ROOM" ("LA STANZA DEL FIGLIO") (In Italian with English Sub-titles)

If you cry easily at the movies, then you might enjoy this trite, manipulative, Italian, tear jerker, about a perfect family that falls apart when one of its members dies. Although all of the actors are excellent, believable, and quite likable, I was bored to death most of the time, and I kept thinking about the cosmic burritos and smoothies that my friend Pete and I would be having for lunch after the movie! What were the jury members thinking, at the Cannes Film Festival last May, when they awarded the coveted Palme D'or to this thoroughly predictable soap opera? If you want to see a similar plot told on film, but told brilliantly, see "In The Bedroom."

(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO"

There's a reason why this story has been popular for over 100 years, and there have been countless movie versions of it. The reason? It's good! The book written by Alexandre Dumas, pere, is a huge page-turner, and it transfers beautifully to the screen. The tale of love, treachery, and revenge set in 19th Century France, tells the story of two "friends" from childhood who are torn apart under the worst of circumstances. While in the infamous Chateau d'if prison in the harbor of Marseilles, Edmund Dantes (Jim Caviezel) plots revenge against his villainous "friend" (Guy Pierce,) who has destroyed his life and taken his woman. In prison, he is befriended by an old priest, also a prisoner (Richard Harris,) who tutors Dantes, turning the simple, uneducated dolt, into an intelligent and cultured gentlemen, and eventually several plot turns later, into the immensely wealthy and vengeful "Count of Monte Cristo." I'm guessing that even the young generation of MTV fans and rappers, will enjoy this film, even though they don't know what the word "swashbuckler" means, and have never heard of Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks, jr.! The film is big and old-fashioned, in the most positive sense of the word.  I loved the book when I read it in high school(!) and I really enjoyed this movie. It's a great way to spend two hours on a Saturday afternoon.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "SCOTLAND, PA"

I have no problem with productions of Shakespeare's plays, in which the time and place have been transferred to something other than the original (e.g., "King Lear" done with a cast of Eskimos with music by Barry Manilow.) But, if it's Shakespeare, stick to the TEXT. Therefore , I was prepared to hate "Scotland, PA" a film by writer/director Billy Morrissette, in which nothing but the skeletal plot of "Macbeth" was kept with none of Shakespeare's words, and the action was transferred to a fast-food restaurant in backwoods Pennsylvania in the 1970's. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. But, what a pleasant surprise it was to find that the film was not only clever, and well-acted, but very funny as well. I must warn you however that, it will increase your enjoyment of the movie, IF you're familiar with the story of Macbeth, because it's filled with subtle (and not so subtle) references to the Scottish play. Maura Tierney (Mrs. Billy Morrissette) and James LeGros play the McBeths(!) beautifully, and Christopher Walken steals every one of his scenes, as a vegetarian Lt. Ernie McDuff. The sets and costumes are as funny as anything that I've seen on film this year. Although I hope that this film doesn't start a trend for doing Shakespeare without the words of Shakespeare, this one was worth the effort.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "MONSTER'S BALL"

Easily one of the most uncompromising (and depressing) films of 2001, "Monster's Ball" tackles the difficult subject of racism in America, and deals with it more effectively than just about any film since "To Kill A Mockingbird." Set in the contemporary South, we are presented with three generations of corrections officers who are also haters. The grandfather (Peter Boyle) hates all blacks and it would seem, life itself. The son, Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) hates blacks as much as his father does. The grandson (Heath Ledger) hates himself more than anything. The story is a classic tale of irony and tragedy, as old as Ancient Greece. Hank, the state executioner, electrocutes a black killer (played very effectively by Sean Combs.) When he meets the widow (Halle Berry,) in what is an unlikely turn of events, he falls in love with her. The results are implausible, but always interesting. I found it hard to believe that a man, who one day shoots off his rifle to scare two young black boys off of his property, would allow himself to fall in love with a black woman a few days later! In spite of the unbelievability of the last part of the film, the acting is so intense, especially on the part of Halle Berry, who fills every scene with depths of anguish and pain rarely seen on screen, that I would recommend that you see this film just to see what will surely be an Academy Award-nominated performance.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

TALK CINEMA PREVIEW MOVIE- "FESTIVAL IN CANNES"

This cinematic gem was written, directed and edited by Henry Jaglom...a man who obviously knows the movie industry thoroughly...and must hate it! Using the 52nd Cannes Film Festival as a backdrop, Jaglom introduces us to some of the most megalomaniacal, egotistical, borderline sociopathic con artists ever put on screen...the producers, writers, directors, agents and stars who go to the festival to "do business." Using some new young stars( Jenny Gabrielle and Zack Norman,) some old reliables (Ron Silver, Faye Dunaway, William Shatner,) and some of the greatest classic European actors of the past (Maximilian Schell, Greta Scacchi and Anouk Aimee,) Jaglom tells a story of manipulation, con-artistry, and lies, that makes you feel dirty watching it unfold. As my friend Pete said, "it's almost Shakespearean in scope." I couldn't agree more. A great star like Anouk Aimee ("La Dolce Vita," "8 1/2," "A Man and a Woman,") can say more just by brushing her hand through her hair, than all of today's "Meg Ryans / Julia Roberts/ Gwyneth Paltrows" can say with 10 pages of script. The note-perfect musical score couldn't be better. You'll come away from this film disillusioned (you mean film festivals are not about fun and glamour?) and thinking, "thank God I'm not in THAT business!" Jaglom has written the most sarcastic, incisive, biting, and twisted dialogue about the movie business, since "All About Eve"(in 1950.) Anyone who loves the movies MUST see this unforgettable film.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "WE WERE SOLDIERS"

Fortunately, America is a young country, and we've only had a few wars. Hollywood, on the other hand, has made ENDLESS films about these few wars, thereby decreasing the chances of producing a truly original war film. The same plots are recycled over and over again, specifically the one about a noble band of soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. "We Were Soldiers" offers at least a rethinking of this theme by taking a War and Peace approach to its story. The scenes of the soldiers "at peace" at home with their wives and children, although a bit too idyllic and TV sitcom, offer a stark contrast to the scenes "at war" in Viet Nam, where everything is horrifying, nightmarish, and realistically violent. The fact that war is insane, is made evident in this expertly-done film by writer/director Randall Wallace. Based on the book by Hal Moore and James Gallaway, the centerpiece of the movie is the battle at Ia Drang in Viet Nam in 1965. Lt.Col. Hal Moore (a stoic Mel Gibson) leads his band into one of the most ferocious battles in America's history, and becomes disillusioned with the futility of this, "the war that America lost," as most of his men are killed mercilessly. Actors Chris Klein and Greg Kinnear, and the grizzled veteran Sam Elliott, do an excellent job of portraying some of these men. I can't say that this movie will make you feel good, or that you'll love America even more than you do now, but it does make a strong statement about how it's often necessary to take up arms to defend a life-style worth defending.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "IRIS"

If you have the patience and stamina to sit through this short, but heartbreakingly sad film, then you'll at least be rewarded for your time, by seeing four of the finest acting performances on screen in 2001. This Richard Eyre movie, tells the real-life story of the famous English literary couple, Dame Iris Murdoch and John Bayley. The drama of the tale lies in Dame Iris' steady and rapid descent into the hell that is Alzheimer's. The story flashes back and forth from the elderly couple in the present, to the young couple as they fell in love. The heartbreak is in the editing. Playing Iris and John as a young couple, are Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville, and they are wonderful. Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent are Iris and John in their later years, and they are astonishing. Bonneville and Broadbent look so much alike that they could be the same actor in aging make-up. If there's a moral in this gut-wrenching story (and there are several,) it's that love can't conquer this horrible disease, but it can sure make the downward spiral easier for the victims.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "MONSOON WEDDING" (in Hindi and English with English sub-titles)

If you're tired of seeing films like the big, waste-of-talent, stupid ones that Hollywood has opened in theaters this weekend, check out Mira Nair's unique Indian (yes, Indian) film "Monsoon Wedding. Bombay, or Bollywood as it's known in the trade, churns out movies like this one by the hundreds, and we're lucky if we see one of them a year. "Monsoon Wedding" is the story about the preparations for an arranged marriage in New Delhi. Even if you hate sub-titled films, you'll probably be entertained by the sheer joy, silliness, color, and humanity of this Indian version of "Father of the Bride." There are so many plots weaving through this movie that, just as you may be getting tired of one, another comes along to occupy your senses. The actors are all, talented, perfectly suited for their roles, and some of them really stand out, although you won't recognize any names or faces! It's exotic, soapy, fun, often surprisingly dark, but always colorful...just what we need right now to take our minds off of the ugly real world outside the theater. If you want to open a door into a different world, one that Westerners don't often get a chance to experience, then accept the invitation to this unusual wedding.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "STOLEN SUMMER"

Unless you've been sleeping under a rock for the past year, you're probably aware that "Project Greenlight," the brainchild of actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, is an attempt to make it easier for new screenwriters to get their film made and distributed. Scripts were submitted, judged, and then, the winner, Pete Jones' "Stolen Summer," was filmed under the guidance of Damon, Affleck, their "bad-cop," Harvard's Chris Moore, and Miramax. All of this was documented in the HBO series, which turned out to be the best reality show on TV this past season. But what about the film itself? Was it worth the effort? Only the powers behind "Project Greenlight" can say if the effort was worth it. However, the film "Stolen Summer" is a beautiful film; one that could have been made by Frank Capra ("It's A Wonderful Life.") It has that Capraesque blend of humor, family values, goodness, and the sense that right does triumph in the end. It tells the story of two young boys, one of whom is Jewish, the other Catholic, who decide, because of the impending death of one of the boys, to compile a list of 10 good deeds, guaranteed to get the Jewish boy into heaven! The actors are letter-perfect in their roles, especially Bonnie Hunt, Aidan Quinn, Kevin Pollack, Brian Dennehy, and the two little boys whose names I missed. You'll be moved to tears one minute, and laughing out loud the next...all the time saying, this IS the way it was growing up. I loved it!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE ROOKIE"

Because it's only two days to the Red Sox opening game, I chose to see "The Rookie" today, in anticipation of the upcoming baseball season. It was an inspired choice. If you love baseball and old-fashioned movies...clean movies with heroes, dreams, and happy endings...then you and your family will love "The Rookie." Part "It's A Wonderful Life," "Field of Dreams," and "Rocky," this film tells the story of Jim Morris, a high-school chemistry teacher, who had to give up his short-lived career in baseball, because of a serious injury. In addition to teaching, he coaches his high school's losing baseball team. Toward the end of a dismal season, the team-members present the coach with this challenge..."if we win the district championship, you have to try out for the major leagues." They do...and he does, leading up to a predictable, but thoroughly enjoyable ending. What keeps this film from being buried under a field of corn, is an intelligent screenplay, fine direction, and excellent acting from Rachel Griffiths, Brian Cox, and especially Dennis Quaid...in possibly his best role. Oh, by the way, this is based on a true story.

(4- Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "BIG TROUBLE"

If you're unlucky, or stupid enough, to stumble into this movie, then you'll just have to take my word for it, that it's based on one of the funniest books that I've ever read (see my review of the Dave Barry book in BOOKS.) The film, on the other hand is not only a waste of some high-priced talent (Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Stanley Tucci, Tom Sizemore and Jason Lee,) but also is absolutely moronic. My advice is obvious: skip the movie, read the book!

(1-Star)

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "TIME OUT" ("L'EMPLOI DU TEMPS") (in French with English sub-titles)

Vincent appears to be a successful French businessman, with a nice car, decent clothes, a loving wife, and a cell-phone. For the first 40 minutes of this 2-hour film, we are kept in the dark as to just exactly what Vincent does. Soon, we see that Vincent appears to love his car more than he loves his job or his family, because he sleeps in the car in hotel parking lots, and lies to his friends and family about his fictitious new job in Switzerland. When we find out that Vincent was fired because he loved driving around in his car more than he loved making his sales, and that he now is bilking his father and his friends for large sums of money, we realize that Vincent is a real sicko; is there such a disease as autophilia? But, more importantly, who cares about Vincent, his scamming lifestyle, or his damn car? The film is a colossal bore!

(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN" ("AND YOUR MOTHER, TOO") (In Spanish with English sub-titles)

Although it could hardly be said that the Mexican film industry churns out great film classics by the score, every few years it does manage to send up a truly excellent, original film, like "Amores Perros," and "Like Water For Chocolate." "Y Tu Mama Tambien" is NOT one of those. The somewhat interesting story concerns two adolescent boys (who act like pre-teens,) who out of sheer boredom and horniness, convince an older female relative of one of the boys, to join them on a road trip, in search of a fictitious beach. Their goal is to see her naked (or better,) but what they don't realize is that she has her own hidden agenda. This could have played out well, had the three main characters not been so stupid, immature, and uninteresting. One loses interest in them long before the tragic, but predictable ending. Don't be fooled by the critics who are calling this a sociological study of the class struggle in Mexico. It's about two naked boys screwing cousin Luisa, and it borders on child pornography!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "LIFE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT"

I assume that Julia Roberts and Winona Ryder were wisely not available when this role was handed out, and Billy Bob Thornton must have been out of town when his wife signed on the dotted line to star in this mushy, soap opera of a chick flick. Angelina, what were you thinking? No one comes out of this cheesy tearjerker unscathed...not Angelina Jolie, not Edward Burns, not Tony Shalhoub, and not even the city of Seattle. If you need to know, this is yet another one of those "what would I do differently if I had my life to live over?" films. Chose another role Mrs. Thornton!

(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "FRAILTY"

A truly frightening and upsetting film that stays with you long after you've left the theater. It's not scary the way those silly, stupid, "Scream" movies are scary to adolescent girls, or the way those gymnastic, kung-fu, "Matrix" movies are scary to adolescent boys. But rather, it's scary the way the psychological thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock were/are scary to intelligent adults. No special effects. Just a good story, good cinematography, and good acting. Driving this story is a disturbing religious belief that's even more upsetting than the violence in the film. I'm sure that you know at least one person who believes that God makes us do everything that we do, and that we must do it unquestioningly. If you do, and I know that you do, please don't take that person with you to see this movie. Especially if that person is carrying an axe!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING"

I love Greeks. I love Greek food. I love Greek music. I love this hilarious movie, about an out-of-control extended Greek-American family, that exemplifies the worst (and the best) of what it's like to grow up in a large ethnic family. Toula (screenwriter/actress Nia Vardalos) is in her 30's, and her overprotective mother and father (Lainie Kazan and Michael Constantine) treat her like a child, until a waspy, but loving, man (John Corbett) tells her that she's beautiful. Not since Woody Allen went to meet Annie Hall's waspy family, has there been a funnier clash-of-cultures scene on film. This movie is laugh-out-loud funny, and if you come from a large hyphenated family (Greek-American, Italian-American, Latin-American, etc.) you MUST see it.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "SPIDER MAN"

Tobey Maguire is one of the finest young actors working in films today. If you're not familiar with his work, rent "Wonder Boys" and "Cider House Rules." Obviously, I was predisposed to enjoy his work as Spider Man, and enjoy it I certainly did. He is wonderful in the role, and mostly because of his performance in it, I loved the film. In fact, it's the best movie about a comic-book hero since "Superman I" and Batman I." Director Sam Raimy wisely chose to ground his film in the love story between nerdy teenager Peter Parker (Maguire,) and his next-door neighbor Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst.) Then, when the spider bites, and the computer graphics kick in, enough of a strong foundation has been built from which to enjoy the dizzying special effects, and to prevent the film from descending into the usual cheesy camp. Unfortunately, the villain of Willem Dafoe does not escape this fate. The Green Goblin is cheesy, campy, and over the top. His costume is downright silly, as is his mode of transportation. J. K. Simmons as the newspaper editor, does a fine job, as does Broadway diva Rosemary Harris as Aunt May. This film stands on its own. It requires no sequel. Unfortunately, due to its phenomenal success in such a short time, there'll most certainly be one...or two!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "UNFAITHFUL"

"Unfaithful" is the story of the most recklessly horny housewife in all of suburban New York, whose adulterous love affair destroys not only her supposedly happy marriage, but also the lives of everyone involved. Director Adrian Lyne returns to the theme of his "Fatal Attraction" film, upping the ante this time, and foolishly pushing the envelope into the realm of absurdity. Beginning with the most stupid and phony windstorm seen on film since Dorothy landed in Munchkinland, scene after scene that should have produced either terror or suspense, produces laughter instead. That's not good! If there's a reason to see this soft-core porn film, it's because it's a soft-core porn film, and also because Diane Lane as the sex-starved wife, gives one of the most daring and expert performances seen in a while. Look for her at Oscar time next year. Olivier Martinez plays the sex-crazy stud (the Glenn Close role,) and Richard Gere comes to as close to acting as he's ever done....and that's saying a lot. My suggestion to Adrian Lyne? Try a comedy next time. It should be terrifying!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "NINE QUEENS" (in Spanish with English sub-titles)

No, it's not about nine gay men! What this film from Argentina IS about, is one of the most masterfully crafted scams perpetrated by two con men, that will keep you talking and guessing about who did what to whom and when, long after you've left the theater. Now, I'm not stupid, but I was fooled about what was going on during the course of this film-length con. Writer/ director Fabian Bielinski tells a story of the theft of nine stamps printed in the Weimar Republic, each stamp bearing the likeness of a queen, and valued at half-a-million dollars. If I told you anymore, I'd be giving away key elements of the intricate plot, so I'll stop right here. I know that I don't have to say this but, please don't give away the ending!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "STAR WARS: ATTACK OF THE CLONES"

Having seen the previous four films as recently as yesterday, allow me to recap for a moment. Episodes IV, V, and VI, are completely lacking in computer graphics, but are filled with the charm, humor, and intelligent dialogue of a Spencer Tracy- Katherine Hepburn film, and the gripping story line of a work by Tolkien, Vonnegut, Asimov or the Brothers Grimm. When I first viewed Episode I three years ago, I thought that the computer graphics overpowered the story, and that the character of Anakin was weakly drawn and badly acted. On viewing it again, in the context of the other three films, I can say that it's a fine film, and the character of Anakin is just perfect. Context is everything. When one is forced to wait three years to see a film, ones perception changes. Now to the present film. Everything that George Lucas has learned in the four previous films, he builds on for this film...even his mistakes. Episode II is the best of the series in every way. The story lines are complex, but build logically from what came before and what is to follow. The acting, especially by the young lovers Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen) and Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman,) couldn't be better. They're beautiful, believable, and often quite moving. The action scenes have to be seen to be believed. Here, the amazing computer graphics enhance the story. Wait until you see Yoda kick ass in a light saber duel! The settings, especially the real scenes at Bellagio at Lake Como in Italy (the lovers balcony scenes) are breathtaking. The music is used as Wagnerian leitmotifs; when Anakin reveals his dark side you hear Darth Vader's theme. I could go on, but this review is long enough. Allow me to make the recommendation that you rent the four previous films and see them before you go to the theater to see this one. It'll make your viewing experience an unforgettable one.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

After having seen "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones" shown on film and digitally, I can speak to the differences. Although the film version (seen in most theaters,) is bright and clear, the digital version is incredibly sharper, brighter, and almost 3-D-like in some intimate scenes. In the large-scale scenes of cities, receding landscapes, and epic battles, even the images in the extreme background, are seen as clearly as those in the foreground. The colors are the brightest that I've ever seen on screen. So, if you don't have to go too far out of your way to see the digitally-projected version of this incredible film, see it. It's definitely the better movie-going experience

MOVIE REVIEW- "ABOUT A BOY"

Everything that I'd heard about this movie predisposed me to like it. It was Hugh Grant in a break-out role, rather than playing his stuttery-aristocratic ditz. It was directed by Paul and Chris Weitz, the brothers who made "American Pie," operating in their adult mode, rather than doing their lovable potty-mouthed thing. It was touted as a great hit by my favorite critics. It was about an independently wealthy man, who spends his days doing those things that will make him happy. So, why then did I find it to be only mildly amusing some of the time, and very annoying most of the time? The characters, especially the insane suicidal, self-centered mother and her nerdy, socially inept son were on the top of the annoying list, followed closely by the slacker himself, who hasn't a clue as to how to enjoy a life of true unbridled leisure. Around these three, circles a whole solar system of dysfunctional, mean, and, yes, annoying people. The actor playing the young boy is so bad, he would make milk curdle. I wanted him to suffer! Some critics were calling this the male version of "Bridget Jones's Diary." I agree with them. That's probably why I disliked it.

(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "INSOMNIA"

Once again, let me tell you how I feel about the remaking of successful foreign films into American movies in English, implying that Americans just won't, or are too stupid to, read sub-titles. I feel insulted, and so should every intelligent moviegoer. The most recent examples of this cinematic dumbing-down trend are "Abre Los Ojos" into the ridiculous "Vanilla Sky," and "La Femme Infidel" into the trashy "Unfaithful." "Insomnia" (from the Norwegian film of the same name,) is the latest film to come out of this simplistic mind set. (It's not surprising to see that non-actor George Clooney was one of the producers!) The film, set in the beautiful landscapes of an unforgiving Alaska, follows two L.A. cops (Al Pacino and Martin Donavan) who are on the trail of a killer (a miscast Robin Williams) in the land where the summer day is 22 hours long. That fact, and a guilty past, produces the insomnia of the title, and our good/bad cop Pacino seems to collapse under the weight of sleep-deprivation. Actually, from the first frame of the movie, Pacino looks as though he'd been dragged behind a truck for a mile and a half! Especially when he's sitting next to the beautiful Hillary Swank, who doesn't get a chance to do anything remotely Oscar-worthy in this film. There's nothing really bad about "Insomnia," except the pacing, which during the first hour, is actually sleep-inducing. Ironic, isn't it?

(3-Stars) Back to Top

(I had the opportunity to see the Norwegian film, "Insomnia," this evening, and it's not much better than the American version.!)

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE SUM OF ALL FEARS"

Before I start to review this film, let me say that I believe that releasing a movie,  that deals with a nuclear attack on an American city by terrorists, AT THIS TIME,  borders on irresponsibility. Money be damned; save it for a less traumatic time. As for the film itself, it's a very good action thriller of the "almost-the-end-of-the world" genre, but it has enough loopholes in it to drive a stealth bomber through. The plot concerns the unleashing of a nuclear device by terrorists (Arabs in the book; more politically correct neo-Nazis in the film,) during a Super Bowl, and making it look as though the Russians did it. Everything escalates, and only Jack Ryan can save the day. Now about Jack Ryan. The last time we met him (in Clancy's book Debt of Honor,) he was Harrison Ford (age 60-ish) and he was President of the United States. His wife Kathy (Dr. Muller-Ryan) was First Lady, and John Clark was an aging Master Spy. Did they suddenly discover the fountain of youth? Because even though the last film (and book), and the current film, take place in the present time, they've all become twenty-somethings, and Jack Ryan is now an aging frat boy (albeit with a doctorate in History!) who has a minor governmental job. How did this happen and how can I get some??? The acting is all good, within the context of the action-film genre: ("Don't you understand, I've got to get to the President or all of mankind is doomed?") If you have no knowledge of the Tom Clancy series of books upon which the films are based, you will probably enjoy this as a straight "brink-of-disaster" action thriller. If you've read the books, well, you'll probably come out as confused as I was.

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "BAD COMPANY"

In the most unlikely pairing on screen since Sir Lawrence Olivier starred with Marilyn Monroe in "The Prince and the Showgirl," Jerry Bruckheimer's latest video game teams up Sir Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock in a dreadful movie that should have been left on the shelf, where it was sitting since the events of Sept. 11th rendered its terrorists/nuclear attack theme tasteless. Nevertheless taste never enters the picture when it comes to making money, does it? Shakespearean actor Anthony Hopkins has obviously decided that money is good, even if it means prostituting his talent in a piece of garbage like this film, and we all know that Chris Rock would sell his mother for a buck. Do you really need to know that the plot involves the CIA, represented by Hopkins, having to recruit the idiot twin brother of one of their best agents, (Rock in both roles) in order to avert a nuclear disaster? Hopkins sleepwalks through the film, and Rock does his stand-up comedy act. What's next, Sir Ian McKellen and David Spade in "The End of the World- the Sequel? Stay home and rent any video game; you'll have more fun, and save the movie money

(0-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST"

When I think of intelligent comedy, I think of two authors...Oscar Wilde and Woody Allen. Oscar Wilde's most brilliant comedy-of-manners is the hilarious "The Importance of Being Earnest." Although the definitive version of this play was already filmed in the 1950's, with a cast that included Dames Edith Evans, and Margaret Rutherford, and Sir Michael Redgrave, the present film is pretty good as well. As the ditzy Cecily, Reese Witherspoon does a fine job, and manages to maintain a proper British accent throughout. Everyone else in the cast is an accomplished British stage actor (Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O' Connor, and the incomparable Dame Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell) and so it's not surprising how well they handle Wilde's classic witticisms. The play is practically a compendium of Wilde's witty quotes. Here are a few:

"To lose one parent, Mr.Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness."

"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

"In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing."

"This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last."

"It is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth"

Who writes lines like that nowadays? Many scenes in the play are "opened up" in this film, and I can only think that Wilde would have approved of their bawdy bent!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE BOURNE IDENTITY"

I loved the book (written 20 years ago and arguably Robert Ludlum's finest,) and I'm happy to say that I loved the movie as well. On paper, Matt Damon, America's boyfriend ("the guy-next-door,") might appear to be horribly miscast as an action hero in a shoot-'em-up spy film. On the contrary, his persona works in his, and the film's, favor, as his character, a victim of amnesia, learns that he is not the boy next door, just as we, the audience, learn the same thing. He is in fact a CIA assassin...one of the best. Unfortunately, too many people know this, and they're all out to kill him. Thus the film becomes one long chase, and one of the best espionage thrillers to come around in a long time. Director Doug Liman ("Swingers," "Go,") follows Jason Bourne (Damon) from the time he is found floating near dead in a stormy Mediteranean, until............I can't say anymore! Franka Potente ("Run, Lola, Run") and Chris Cooper ("American Beauty") are also along for the ride, and speaking of rides, the long car chase is one of the best on film, rivaling those in "Bullitt" and "The French Connection." Damon's acting in this film doesn't reach the heights that he achieved in "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "Good Will Hunting," and "The Legend of Bagger Vance," but after all, this is an action film, and he turns in one of the most credible performances seen in a film of this genre. In fact, he's the best thing in an already fine film. There are two more "Bourne" books. Sequels Matt?

(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "LA PIANISTE" ("THE PIANO TEACHER") in French with English sub-titles

The winner of the 2001 Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and the Best Actor and Actress awards for its two stars, Isabelle Huppert and Benoit Magimel, "The Piano Teacher" is a difficult film to review. On the one hand, its screenplay is utterly original and well-written, its director (Michael Haneke,) has done his job well, and it's brilliantly acted by its two award-winning stars, in addition to the wonderful Annie Girardot. On the other hand, it's one of the most disgusting and repulsive films that I've seen in a long time. The story concerns a well-respected, authoritative Viennese piano teacher, who goes from her master classes at the Conservatory, to a humdrum life in a dreary apartment, where she lives with her domineering mother. Her father has just died in an insane asylum. However, in secret, this prim and proper woman, is a self-mutilator, a regular visitor to the neighborhood porn house where she views porno films in private, and a seducer of at least one of her young male students. Although the sadomasochistic elements of the film are shocking and ugly, there's nothing remotely erotic about the movie at all. In fact, some of the sickest scenes become almost comical! Although I can appreciate the craftsmanship that went into making this film, I could never recommend it to anyone.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "MINORITY REPORT"

If you're going to this film thinking that you're going to see "Mission Impossible 3, forget it. This is one of Stephen Spielberg's finest films; arguably, a masterpiece. Filled with ideas that resonate to things in our present, this sci-fi film is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick ("Blade Runner.") Philosophical and ethical issues ("Are we giving up our privacy? If so, at what cost?) are balanced with exciting chase and action scenes, resulting in a truly memorable film experience. The time is 2054; the place, Washington D.C. The crime of murder has been virtually eliminated, thanks to three pre-cogs...psychics who can sense future crimes. People are arrested BEFORE they commit the murder. James Aderton (Tom Cruise,) one of the best of the pre-cog officers, has his belief in the system tested, when HE becomes one of the accused. If Cruise has given a better performance in ANY film, I haven't seen it. He is completely believable in this role, possibly because he and Spielberg have tailored the role to suit all of his talents and skills. It pays off. Cruise and the film have attained mythic status...no mean achievement for a summer movie. In addition, the movie is a virtual encyclopedia of cinematography. It's a visual stunner. Spielberg has done things with color, and the removal of color, that will be studied in film schools for years to come. A wonderful cinematic experience.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE ROAD TO PERDITION"

Not as epic in scope or operatic as "The Godfather" saga, "The Road to Perdition" is nevertheless a classic of the gangster family genre. Although the stars of the film (Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Stanley Tucci) are all quite excellent, although directed to act in a relatively passive and restrained way, the true "stars" of the film are not the actors. The story, the way it unfolds, and the way it looks on screen raise what could have been another melodramatic mobster film, into the realm of "one of the best of its kind." Therefore, credit must be given to director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty,") screenwriter David Self, and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall. The story concerns the relationship between fathers and sons, and that really says it all. The fact that this drama plays out in the context of the Irish mobs of the Depression era is almost irrelevant. Boss of bosses John Rooney (Paul Newman) has two sons...one his real son (a hot-headed idiot,) and another, his surrogate son Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks.) Sullivan is one of Rooney's most trusted hit men, and Rooney truly loves him. Sullivan in turn has two sons of his own, and when one of them accidentally sees his father committing murder for the mob, a chain of events is set in motion that rivals the plot of even the best of the Greek plays or the tragedies of Shakespeare. 

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "K-19: WIDOWMAKER"

Although "K-19:Widowmaker" is good enough to take its place alongside the other great movies about submarines ("Run Silent, Run Deep;" "Crimson Tide;" "The Hunt for Red October," etc.) it's still just a movie about a submarine and its crew, and there's not much room for variation on that theme. What does set it aside somewhat, is that it's one of the few American films that deals heroically, with what was our Cold War enemy...the Soviet Union. Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson do a fine job of portraying the captains of the ill-fated ship...Neeson, the good, humane one, and Ford, the single-minded, by-the-book, captain. They are both believable as Russian naval officers, and wisely, they've chosen to affect only a slight Russian accent. When will American film makers realize that Russians don't speak with Russian accents? They speak Russian! So either use the original language with sub-titles, or drop the attempt and speak English, damnit. The plot involves a new Soviet nuclear submarine that was put to sea long before it was finished and, short on all supplies and emergency materials, how its captains and crew deal with an impending nuclear meltdown. The question is asked, did this heroic crew prevent a catastrophic nuclear disaster and possibly WW III?

(3 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "TADPOLE"

If you must see a movie about a 14-year-old overachiever from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, who goes to an exclusive prep school, lusts after his step-mother, speaks French fluently, has an affair with his step-mom's best friend, and shaves the hair off of a dog to make sideburns because his step-mother loved Elvis Presley when she was 15...then this is the movie for you.

(1 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER"

If you've never seen an Austin Powers film before, then don't start with this one, simply because it assumes that you know what happened in the first two, and it makes constant references to the earlier films (as well as to other movies, from "Singin' in the Rain," to the Star Wars films!) But, if you have seen the other two movies, then rush to see this one. It's funnier than the first one, and equally as funny as the second one, my favorite. I laughed out loud for almost the entire 1 1/2 hours. The same wonderful characters are back from Austin Powers and Dr. Evil, to Fat Bastard and Goldmember (all portrayed brilliantly by Mike Meyers.) Then there's Mini-me and Powers father, super-spy Nigel Powers (Michael Caine.) Beyonce Knowles is decorative...nothing more. The jokes are outrageously potty-mouthed, and the visual genital jokes are even funnier...and very clever. If you shock easily, or have no sense of humor, then do yourself a favor, and rent something that WILL make you laugh. But if you are an Austin Powers fan, then you'll love this one. Oh, the plot? Well, Dr. Evil has a tractor-beam that can pull a meteor down onto the Earth, and Austin Powers has to thwart the plot. But, the plot is only the framework on which to hang the jokes...visual and otherwise. I won't give away any secrets by telling you that there are lots of surprise "guests" in the movie. I'm laughing now, as I write this review, just thinking of some of the funnier things in it.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "SIGNS"

M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense," and "Unbreakable,") must have spent a great deal of time studying the work of Alfred Hitchcock, because in "Signs," he has written and directed a modern-day horror film in the style of the master, and done it beautifully. Nowadays, when blockbuster films boast of having hundreds of computer-generated special effects, this one has none...or at best one! Shyamalan does it all the "old" way...with brilliant writing, directing, acting, cinematography, and music. I can attest to the fact that it works, because four grown men (three of my friends and I,) almost jumped out of our seats a few times during the two-hours of "Signs!" The plot concerns the appearance of large symbols that have been "cut" into the cornfields of a family in America's mid-west. The family consists of Mel Gibson (a former priest,) his brother (Joaquin Phoenix,) and his two children (Rory Culkin and a wonderful young actress whose name I don't know.). When these 500-foot "crop-circles" begin to pop up all over the world,  people start to wonder who made them and why. All of the actors in the film, (including the wonderful stage-actress Cherry Jones as the town sheriff,) are so thoroughly believable, that you're swept up in their plight, and terrified along with them. Although the ending is somewhat anti-climactic, (one expects a surprise "punch" from Shyamalan, and there is none,) everything in the film works, and it works perfectly.( Look for Shyamalan in the role of the town's animal doctor, who changes the life of the Mel Gibson character, in a horrible way.)

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "FULL FRONTAL"

Not even its ensemble cast of relatively decent actors, could have saved this turkey by director Steven Soderbergh. In fact, the actors (Catherine Keener, David Hyde Pierce, David Duchovny, Blair Underwood, and Julia Roberts,) seemed to be making it up as they went along. Who knows; maybe they were. I couldn't even begin to summarize the several disjointed plots, because I have no idea what they were all about. I should have stayed home and reread my birthday cards!

(0-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "BLOOD WORK"

If you stumble into a theater near you, thinking that you're going to see an action film starring Vin Diesel or The Rock, you'll fall sound asleep in the first 15 minutes of this movie...especially if you're a 14-year-old boy who's only interested in seeing large screen video-games, rather than movies of substance. "Blood Work" (from the novel by Michael Connolly,) is an old-fashioned cops-vs-serial killer thriller, similar to the "Dirty Harry" movies of decades ago. It's plot and character driven, with no trendy fast cuts, martial arts sequences in slow motion, explosions, or MTV sound track. It features two "mature" stars at their best , Angelica Huston and Clint Eastwood (also its director,) and the always dependable but underused actor, Jeff Daniels. The plot concerns a former FBI agent, and now happily retired senior citizen (Eastwood,) who comes out of retirement to track down the killer of the woman whose transplanted heart is now ticking soundly in his body! Daniels is his buddy, and Huston is his doctor. Although it's filled with flaws, one of which is Paul Rodriguez' portrayal of one of the dumbest cops on film, and another is the fact that you'll guess the ending long before the characters do, it's still a fine example of the best kind of old-fashioned film-making.

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "XXX"

This movie doesn't have a thought in its head other than to entertain you for nearly 2 hours, and it does this perfectly, through non-stop fast-paced action, wry humor, outrageous special effects, and an uncanny ability to imitate every aspect of the James Bond-film-formula, substituting muscles and tattoos for martinis and tuxedos. Unless you've been living in a cave for the past two months, you must surely know that Vin Diesel has emerged as the screen's action star for the new millennium, pushing Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis et al, into the category of senior citizen. As in the Bond films, the locale is exotic. Most of the action takes place in and around the city of Prague, one of the most beautifully photogenic cities in the world. It almost looks as good on film as it does in person. The plot is irrelevant, having something to do with a biological weapon of mass destruction that is capable of annihilating the entire world. It's a blast!

(5-Stars CB*)

*WITH THIS FILM I'VE STARTED A NEW WAY OF CATEGORIZING ACTION FILMS (POPCORN, BLOCKBUSTER, SUMMER MOVIES,) USING THE INITIALS "CB" TO STAND FOR "COMIC BOOK." I HOPE THAT THIS WILL DISTINGUISH THESE KINDS OF FILMS THAT RECEIVE MY 5-STAR RATING, FROM PLOT AND CHARACTER-DRIVEN FILMS LIKE "A BEAUTIFUL MIND," "IN THE BEDROOM," AND "THE ROAD TO PERDITION." IF YOU CAN THINK OF A BETTER DESIGNATION FOR THESE "COMIC-BOOK" ACTION FILMS, PLEASE LET ME KNOW.

Thanks.

MOVIE REVIEW- "POSSESSION"

A.S. Byatt's novel, upon which this film is based, is one of the most perfectly crafted pieces of contemporary literature that I've read in years. It engages the intellect, as well as the emotions , of the reader. The film does neither. In spite of some fine acting, and some beautifully filmed locales in England, "Possession" never touches the heart. The movie (and novel) tells two parallel love stories. It concerns two present day academics (Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart,) who are on a quest to unravel the mystery behind the love letters of two Victorian poets (Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle.) Director Neil La Bute in a shocking departure from his usual heartless, cold, mean, misogynistic films (and plays,) has tried to redeem himself by making an unabashed romance. He failed. The book read like a Bronte novel. The movie plays like a Harlequin romance! 

(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE GOOD GIRL"

In every state, there's a town like the one in this film, populated by ignorant, middle-class white trash, who live out their boring, go-nowhere, unhappy lives, unable to do anything to get out of the downward spiral. Director Miguel Arteta has assembled an ensemble cast of great character actors, led by Jennifer Aniston, to tell their story. Aniston, at her best in this un-Rachel-like role, is a clerk at the local Rodeo Retail, and married to an ignorant pot-head of a house-painter (John C. Reilly.) Out of sheer boredom, she has an affair with a younger co-worker (Jake Gyllenhaal,) who just happens to be a psycho. Nothing goes right for anyone after that. It's all beautifully written, and acted so well, that at times you think that you're watching a documentary of life in a small Texan town. What is truly surprising about this un-formula-like film, is how hilarious it is. The humor comes out of the situations and the characters themselves, in spite of the fact that we're dealing with sterility, suicide, robbery, adultery, and food poisoning!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "SIMONE"

If you're as fed up as I am with the fakery--technical, emotional, cultural, political, you name it--in the world around us, then this stab-in-the-back to the movie industry is just the movie for you. But satirizing Hollywood, which it does brilliantly, is not just what this film is trying to do. Director/ Writer/Producer Andrew Niccol ("Gattaca," "The Truman Show,") is going for bigger game. He's interested in how technology has effected the mass media, and how it has changed the public's perception of reality. The plot involves a has-been director who, out of desperation, accepts the help of a crazed, dying software genius, and creates a digital actress, who becomes the darling of the world! All of the actors in the film play the satire for all it's worth, giving brilliant tongue-in-cheek performances. The best of these are Al Pacino, Catherine Keener, Winona Ryder, Jay Mohr, and especially Rachel Roberts as the fake, Simone (Simulation One.) Hypocrisy is the target and Writer/Director Niccol hits his mark every time. So many aspects of modern-day society are skewered, from lawyers who cloak their clients in the insanity plea, to popular idols, who are nothing better than criminals and lunatics. You'll laugh while you're being insulted. I loved this film, and how it targets everything that I feel has dumbed-down my once happy world.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "A FEW GOOD YEARS" (Private screening of a "working print" of the film)

Last night, I attended a private screening of a new film starring virtually every member of the acting Douglas family. Before entering the auditorium to see what was called a "working print" of this film, we were asked to sign a waiver claiming that we would not discuss this film with anyone. I'm breaking this promise now, so please don't tell anyone! The film, directed by Fred Schepesi is called "A Few Good Years," and it's absolutely wonderful. A dramatic comedy with the Douglas family as the Grombergs, a highly successful New York family--except when it comes to communicating with each other. Three generations of a family, each in their own dysfunctional way, live their own separate lives but find a couple of moments in time to come together and remind themselves they are attached by blood. As they struggle to get from one end of life to the other--the younger Grombergs try to figure out where they're going while the older Grombergs try to figure out how in hell they got there in the first place. The elder Grombergs are played by Kirk and Diana Douglas. Their son and his wife are played by Michael Douglas and Bernadette Peters. Their sons are played by Cameron Douglas and Rory Culkin. Audra McDonald (three-time Broadway Tony winner!) has a cameo as one of Peters' patients. Cameron Douglas is a stand-out in a breakthrough role; he's a winner. The film has everything...comedy, sadness, good music, tragedy, great acting, beautiful New York settings, and a chance to hold a mirror up to at least some aspects of your own life. I loved it!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "ONE-HOUR PHOTO"

Although it's only a movie, it's still unpleasant to be reminded of the fact that there are so many sick, pathetic little psychos out there, similar to the one portrayed so effectively by Robin Williams, in this otherwise so-so film. Williams character lives vicariously through the lives of families, whose photos he develops in his one-hour photo booth. Not only does he live through them, but he also, at least in one terrible case, tries to "correct" their marital problems. He's sort of a moralistic stalker. Although Robin Williams performance is frighteningly chilling and right on target, one performance does not make a movie, and unfortunately, I was bored to death through three-quarters of the film. When it finally picked up toward the end, it was a case of too little, too late. If there's a moral to this tale, it's this; when you're having your films developed, don't have extra copies made! 

(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW- "THE GREY ZONE"
Chilling, terrifying, and unforgettable, "The Grey Zone" is the most graphic and horrifying portrayal of the everyday life of the inmates of Auschwitz concentration camp toward the end of the war. Writer/Director/Actor Tim Blake Nelson has written a story based on actual events. It's the story of one of the thirteen Sonderkommando units...special squads of Jewish prisoners, who in exchange for a few extra months of life with extraordinary privileges ( food, wine, cigarettes, etc.,) assisted the Nazis in exterminating their fellow Jews at Auschwitz. Details of what went on before the gassings, as long lines of Jews are led to the showers (gassings) while a band played Strauss waltzes, the gassings themselves, and the disposal of the bodies in the crematoria, are portrayed as though they were normal, everyday occurrences, as indeed they were at Auschwitz. A brilliant cast led by Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Mira Sorvino, and an amazingly effective David Arquette, portray these events in an almost documentrary style realism. The effect is unforgettable. Director Tim Blake Nelson has created a classic film. It makes "Schindler's List" look like a musical!
(5-Stars) Back to Top



Tim Blake Nelson conducted a one-hour Question & Answer period after the screening. He is an intelligent, sensitive, and very committed young man.

MOVIE REVIEW- "KNOCKAROUND GUYS"

Four sons of Mafia overlords are having an identity crisis. They feel that they're not appreciated by their fathers, who don't seem to trust them enough to do the mobs dirty-work. Perhaps the old guys are right, because when they do get to do a job, they screw it up so badly, it's a wonder that they made it out of puberty. All they're asked to do is pick up a bag from mobsters in Montana, which contains a half a million dollars. When you consider that the young hood who is supposed to make the initial pick-up is a cokehead played by Seth Green, you can understand how things get messed up so badly. When all is finished, half of the cast, and much of the small Montana town...is dead. To think, I thought that this was going to be a comedy! Although all of the actors (John Malkovich, Dennis Hopper, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper) are excellent, they're not given enough with which to work. The story is too light-weight for all of these heavy-weights.

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MOVIE REVIEW- "KISS THE BRIDE"

Four sisters return to Rhode Island to attend the big Italian family wedding of the youngest of the four, in this badly written, badly directed, and badly acted film. If you want to see this same story done to perfection, see "My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding" instead.

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MOVIE REVIEW- "WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD" (U.S. Premiere)

In this remake of the 1958 Italian film classic, "Big Deal on Madonna Street," the action has been switched from Italy to Cleveland (!) but the story remains the same. Once again, five totally inept misfits band together to make themselves rich by pulling off the greatest robbery they've ever heard of. Their stupidity and inexperience cause numerous disasters. The original Italian cast featured such greats as Marcello Mastroianni, Vittoria Gassman, and Claudia Cardinale. We have to settle for George Clooney, William H. Macy, and Jennifer Esposito who don't have the star-power to pull it off...the heist OR the film. It's a no-brainer and unfortunately it doesn't work. In a heist film, you have to either be kept on the edge of your seat from the tension of the job, or if it's meant to be a comedy, you should be rolling in the aisles. In this one, you alternate between switching from one side of your butt to another, and checking your watch; neither one a good sign. Stay home and rent the original.

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MOVIE REVIEW- "THE EMPEROR'S CLUB"

William Hundert (Kevin Kline) is a passionate and principled History professor who finds his tightly-controlled world shaken and altered forever, when a new student, Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsh,) walks into his classroom. What begins as a fierce battle of wills, eventually gives way to a close student-teacher relationship. But the good professor, although he knows how to convey a love of Greek and Roman history to his young charges, crosses the line with this one wise-ass problem student, and gives him special privileges, slighting at least one of his other students. When he crosses this line, he has failed as a teacher. What is a theme/plot that hit close to home for me, reinforced my belief that some teachers miss the boat as teachers, even though, objectively, they might appear to be perfect. I knew several of these "learned men." The movie starts as a formulaic "boys' prep school" film (e.g., "Dead Poets Society," "Goodbye Mr. Chips,"etc.) and then twists it into some surprise plot developments. In addition to Kline, the actors (Patrick Dempsey, Edward Hermann, Rob Morrow, Harris Yulin) are excellent. A fine beautifully photographed film.

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MOVIE REVIEW- "IGBY GOES DOWN"

If you don't mind being depressed by one of the sickest new movies of the season, then you'll be rewarded with an original, clever, and well-acted film. If "Igby Goes Down" is even slightly autobiographical, then writer/director Burr Steers must be a shell of a man! The story follows the miserable life of a rich preppy who has just run away from the last of a dozen prep schools, most of which have thrown him out. Why? In his words, because he's "drowning in a sea of assholes." Think "Catcher in the Rye" on acid!  Igby is played, brilliantly, by both Rory and Kieran Culkin. Igby's parents (Bill Pullman and Susan Sarandon) are card-carrying psychos. His brother (Ryan Phillippe) is a fascist robot. His godfather (Jeff Goldblum) is despicable, abusive, and something even worse, which I can't say right now. On the lam, and in hiding from just about everyone, Igby is comforted by two "older women"(Claire Danes and Amanda Peet) who have sex with him and turn him into a drug dealer. His psychiatrist is so put off by him that he slaps him during therapy. His former art teacher and her husband (Cynthia Nixon and Eric Bogasian) buy drugs from him. And so it goes.....

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MOVIE REVIEW- "8 WOMEN" (In French with English sub-titles)

Not even eight of the greatest actresses in the history of French cinema could save this turkey! Blend in equal parts of "Gosford Park," "Moulin Rouge," the worst French film ever made, and an entire field of French cow manure, and you've got "8 Women." Only a writer/director who hates women (Francois Ozon) could have made this film, but how he convinced Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Beart, etc., to star in it is the real story. Now THAT would make an interesting movie.

(1-Star) 

MOVIE REVIEW (TALK CINEMA ADVANCE SCREENING): "REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES"

In her application to Columbia University, a Latina from the barrio in Los Angeles is asked to write a "personal statement." In one sense, this entire film is the personal statement of playwright Josefina Lopez. Whether or not the story is autobiographical, it is powerful in its depiction of life in the Latin community of L.A., and how it is virtually impossible for a young woman with brains, to escape the ignorance of her family and the humdrum, hopeless, downward spiral of her go-nowhere environment. The story is a depressing one, and the cast of fat and homely women doesn't help to relieve this feeling of "what a miserable life these people live." What were they thinking at Sundance when they give this film an award?

(2 1/2 -Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW (TALK CINEMA ADVANCE SCREENING): "RENO: REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE."

Reading the hand-out before entering the theater, I learned that Reno was a former crystal meth addict, a lesbian with attention deficit disorder, and one of New York's underground club performers. The film would consist of a 75-minute monologue about living through the disaster of "Sept. 11th." I knew that I would hate it, and was prepared to leave after a few minutes. To my shock and amazement, what I saw was one of the funniest movies that I've ever seen. Who would have guessed that someone could talk about these horrifying events in a tasteful, respectful, and moving way, and still be absolutely hilarious? Certainly not me! Many members of this packed house at Lincoln Center were probably near "ground zero" when the disaster took place, and were directly affected by what transpired. Their laughter was even more surprising...but maybe not. Reno taps into something primal, twists it with love, and makes it funny. Laughter is involuntary. Amazing! If you get a chance to see this film (and I hope that you do,) don't prejudge it as I did, and you'll be rewarded with some of the best, and most meaningful, comedy that you've ever seen. I laughed so hard that I got a headache!

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MOVIE REVIEW- "RED DRAGON"

Unless you're one of the Al-Qaeda prisoners in Cuba, you  probably already know that "Red Dragon" is the prequel to "Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal," and that it's a re-make of the fine film "Manhunter," in which we were first introduced to the character of Hannibal Lecter..albeit a more benign Hannibal, as played by Brian Cox. In "Red Dragon" (based on the first book in the trilogy,) the theme is the same as in the other books and films. Namely, "set a thief to catch a thief." I must admit that I wasn't sure about seeing Hannibal on film yet another time, until I heard what an extraordinary cast had been assembled to tell the story. Led by the ubiquitous Anthony Hopkins, the cast includes Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel, Mary Louise Parker, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. With that cast, they could have re-made "Mars Attacks" and made it work! Once again, Hannibal is asked to get into the mind of a serial killer, by the very same FBI agent who was almost killed by Lecter, and who was responsible for putting him into his now-famous prison cell. The tale unfolds in the same dark, chilling, suspenseful, and horrifying manner of "The Silence of the Lambs" without any of the operatic over-the-top humor of "Hannibal" (both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.) The music of Danny Elfman helps to set the mood, especially in the chilling opening sequence. (By, the way , I loved the last line of the movie.) Now let's hope that there are no more Hannibal films, unless they can convince Jackie Chan and Martin Lawrence to play the serial killers.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

  

MOVIE REVIEW- "SPIRITED AWAY"

I don't think that I've ever used the word "masterpiece" to describe an animated movie, but in hindsight, maybe I should have. Certainly some of the Disney classics like "Snow White," "Cinderella," "Pinocchio," "The Sleeping Beauty," "Aladdin," "Beauty and the Beast," and "The Lion King" qualify for the title. Now, add "Spirited Away," the Japanese "anime" film to that list. With a story line straight out of "Alice in Wonderland," and with the darkness of the Grimm brothers, this long, animated movie should become an instant classic, although it's somewhat frightening for young children. Once again, a young girl steps through a portal, leaving behind her human parents (and reality,) and enters a magical, frightening world of witches, dragons, monsters, and over-sized babies! Here she finds inner strength, and overcomes various obstacles, and learns some lessons about herself. The artwork is absolutely breathtaking. What I did miss however, was a musical score/songs, which I think would have enhanced the magic and charm of the film, in addition to making it seem less long than its 2 hours and 5 minutes!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE"

In his latest documentary, this one on violence in America, controversial writer/director/producer Michael Moore tries to answer the puzzling question, "why do more Americans kill each other than do people in other civilized countries (e.g., less than 500 per year in other countries; 10,000 or more per year in America???") Using his usual film techniques of hunting down controversial subjects who are a part of the problem, stalking them, and then getting some of them to humiliate themselves on camera, Moore has put together a film that is alternately chilling, very funny, moving, shocking, and ultimately thought-provoking. He and his staff have done their research and I'm sure that you'll learn something about our country and its people. His camera focuses on everyone from the students at Columbine and Littleton in Colorado, to an unusually articulate Marilyn Manson, to bank tellers in Michigan who give away rifles to new customers, to Charlton Heston who becomes tongue-tied in his own home and walks off camera to leave Moore with no one to interview. At times Moore can get too self-serving, sanctimonious, and unfair, but most of the time he's right on target...no pun intended.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "A la folie...pas du tout" ("HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT...")  (in French with English sub-titles)

Easily the most disturbing film of the year, this is also one of the most intricately designed, compelling, and fascinating ones. Unfortunately, I can't say much more about it than that, because the plot is so delicately constructed, that anything at all could be saying too much about the unique story line. Written and directed by newcomer Laetitia Colombani, it stars Audrey Tautou ("Amelie") in a role that could easily win her an Oscar nomination next year. I recommend this intriguing film very highly, but let me also tell you to resist the understandable urge to want to leave half way through the film. It's a complete package and it MUST be seen in its entirety. You'll be "happy" that you stayed. Also, don't read any other reviews except this one!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE"

If you saw Stanley Donen's classy 1963 thriller, "Charade" (the Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made,) then you probably won't enjoy this dumbed-down and unnecessary remake for several reasons. First of all, you'll know who the villains are and that will strip the film of the only suspense in it. Secondly, you'll miss the haunting melodic score by Henry Mancini. Third, in place of the picture-postcard view of Paris in the original, you'll now get a more politically-correct view, showing the multi-ethnicity of the more seedy arrondisements of the most beautiful city in the world. But most of all, in place of the ethereally elegant Audrey Hepburn, and the suave sophisticated Cary Grant, their roles are now played by Thandy Newton, and Mark Wahlberg! Enough said? If you've never seen "Charade, " you can do one of two things. See the current remake and settle for an average thriller (it's not terrible,) or you can stay home and rent "Charade." I'd opt for the latter.

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MOVIE REVIEW- "THE RING"

This could have been a very scary movie, if someone had bothered to write a screenplay that made any sense, because this one sure as hell doesn't! After a creepy beginning, in which the premise is set forth...anyone who watches this special video-tape will die in seven days...the movie starts to unravel immediately. Somewhat interesting characters start to behave like idiots, and we're bombarded with more inexplicable visual images than are found in all of the films of Fellini! After an hour, the film deteriorates into a bad version of one of those "Halloween" films.  The biggest mystery in the movie, is why Jane Alexander would come out of retirement to play a role that could have been phoned in. Perhaps the story makes more sense in the Japanese trilogy of films on which this hodge-podge is based. Why don't you rent them and tell me all about it?

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MOVIE REVIEW- "FRIDA"

Poor Salma Hayek worked so hard to get this story put on screen, rounding up a posse of her friends (Edward Norton, Ashley Judd, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Antonio Banderas, Roger Rees and Valeria Golino) to star in it, and hiring one of the world's most creative directors, Julie Taymor, to direct it. Unfortunately, the end result is a visually stunning, but strangely un-involving and emotionally flat generic bio-pic...the kind that you might sleep through on PBS. Granted, the lives of Mexican painters Frida Kalho and her husband Diego Rivera were wildly eccentric and filled with unbelievable incidents and historical figures. However, the emotions that are triggered in an audience viewing it, are detached shock, condescending laughter at their craziness, and ultimately a sense of "who cares?" boredom.

(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "STAR WARS: ATTACK OF THE CLONES" (THE IMAX VERSION)

If the reformatted version of "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones" is being shown at an IMAX theater in your city, run to see it! Even if you've seen the film a dozen times, it's like seeing a brand-new film. In a word, it's OVERWHELMING. My God, Yoda is 4 stories tall! Everything about this IMAX version of "Star Wars 2," is larger and louder than any movie that you've ever seen or heard...unless you're old enough to remember Cinerama. The picture is digitally clear and the sound is loud enough to vibrate the theater seats. Images come from left and right out of your peripheral vision. Imagine that army of clones/storm troopers coming on screen from around the side of your head. Even the intimate love scenes have an added dimension to them. Once again, seeing this movie reinforces my original belief that the heart of the film is the love story, and that Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen are absolutely perfect in their roles as the future Mr. And Mrs. Darth Vader. (A word about the IMAX Theater in Boston. This exciting piece of architecture, is a titanium free-standing sculpture on the waterfront. It's worth a trip just to see the building.)

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MOVIE REVIEW- "HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS"

To get right to the point, yes, this film is better than the first one. Because there WAS a previous film, there's less exposition in this one, more action, and a darker story line. If you've never read any of the books written by the once prolific (now somewhat dormant,) J.K. Rowling, or have never seen the first "Harry Potter" film, I can only ask, WHY? Go out and get the books and read them before the next film comes out. Book number 5, WHEN it comes out, should outsell the Bible! But getting back to the present film, it's one year and one grade later, and we're back with the same characters at Hogwart's School for Wizards (where the faculty consists of every great actor in Britain!) The actors who play Harry, Ron, and Hermione, have obviously grown a little older, and the voices of the boys come complete with built-in frogs....perfectly suitable for the characters that they're portraying. Director Chris Columbus, once again, sticks faithfully to the book, which might offend all but the purists. Although there's enough creativity, imagination, and inventiveness for two films, a bit more daring might have been exciting. The next "Harry Potter" film will be directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who made "A Little Princess" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien." He should be able to bring that extra something to this incredibly successful series. Until then, go and enjoy this one. It's spellbinding.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA

MOVIE REVIEW- "PERSONAL VELOCITY"

Based on her own book of short stories, writer/director Rebecca Miller (the daughter of Arthur Miller, and wife of Daniel Day-Lewis,) has created an original and exciting film about the lives of three self-loathing, self-destructive women, who with their own personal velocity, arrive at a moment in their lives when change will send their lives into completely new directions. The film is told in three half-hour stories with little, or nothing, connecting the three story lines, other than the fact that the three women were abused by dysfunctional parents. The first woman is a battered piece of trailer park trash (Kyra Sedgwick.) The second is an ambitious, but highly neurotic book editor (Parker Posey.) The third is another runaway of sorts (Fairuza Balk,) who picks up a young wounded hitchhiker. What distinguishes the film is the fine writing and directing of Ms. Miller, and the incredible right-on-target acting of these three wonderful actresses. (A Grand Jury Winner at this year's Sundance Film Festival.)

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MOVIE REVIEW- "DIE ANOTHER DAY"

If there's a person on this earth who doesn't know what to expect when buying a ticket to see a James Bond film, that person should not expect to find a summary of plot & theme in this review! All that the Bond fan wants to know is: how big are the special effects? how big are the breasts on the "Bond girl(s)?" how evil is the villain(s)? how destructive is "the secret weapon?" how exotic are the settings? To answer these questions: the special effects are spectacular, although at least one looks cheesy; the breasts belong to Halle Berry...need I say more? the villains are creepy and come with the appropriate sneer; the secret weapon is a doomsday device that circles the earth and can bring down destruction anywhere that it's pointed; the locales range from a militaristic North Korea to a colorful Cuba. Having said all of this, let me also say that if you view the first Bond film, "Dr. No," and compare it to this one, you'll see that the films have evolved into a comic-book format, and into adolescent self-parody. Nevertheless, this is still the best James Bond film in many, many years. It's also the only Bond film that stars two Oscar winners...Halle Berry and Judi Dench...although neither one had to tap into her bag of acting tricks for this one! It's time to start looking for a replacement for Pierce Brosnan. He's looking a bit long-in-the-tooth. My vote goes to either Jeremy Northam or Rupert Everett.

(4 1/2-Stars CB*)

*Comic Book/Action Rating

MOVIE REVIEW- "ROGER DODGER"

Everyone has known a snake like Roger Dodger, a self-deluded "womanizer," who thinks that he has all of the inside information on how to bed any woman, with a line for every occasion, every woman, and every bar, and who invariably goes home alone at night! Campbell Scott, in a brave performance, is letter-perfect in the role, and you hate every word coming out of his misogynistic mouth. Two actresses who are are not known for their acting ability (Elizabeth Berkley and Jennifer Beals,) and one who is (Isabella Rossellini,) turn in fine performances as well. The plot takes place in one long night. Roger's 16-year-old nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg in a realistic performance) has come to spend a couple of days with his uncle, who in turn decides to instruct him in the ways of seducing a woman. What eventually ensues is a case of role-reversal, where both the nephew and the uncle come to learn a lot about themselves. I can't say that I enjoyed the film, because I hated the character of Roger, but I certainly did admire the acting by everyone concerned.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "FAR FROM HEAVEN"

Back in the 1950's, director Douglas Sirk made a series of romantic melodramas ("chick-flicks") with titles like "All That Heaven Allows," "Magnificent Obsession," "Imitation of Life," and "Written on the Wind." They starred actors like Rock Hudson, Lana Turner, Robert Stack and Jane Wyman. In tribute to these films and to Sirk, writer/director Todd Haynes felt that it was time to revisit this genre, using present-day sensibilities and tastes, in order to put a spotlight on the hypocrisy, the racism, and the fake politeness of the '50's. Big mistake! All that he's done is make yet another one of these dated Technicolor corny old-fashioned movies, and in the year 2002, this film looks like it fell out of a time warp. Sure, he's added a touch of homosexuality here, and an interracial relationship there, but it still stinks of moth-balls. A New England housewife has her picture-perfect life turned upside down when she finds her ad-executive husband kissing another man. Yikes, what to do. Her solution? Have a relationship of her own...with the thoughtful black gardener. The acting by Dennis Quaid, Julianne Moore, and Dennis Haysbert is excellent; the Technicolor look of the spotlessly phony Martha Stewart homes and shiny family cars is even better; the '50's hair styles are almost as funny as the hair in "Hairspray," and the lush Elmer Bernstein score should be played in the cells of "gangsta" rap stars who are currently in prison. That'll teach 'em! If you really need to see a film like this, rent one of the Douglas Sirk originals mentioned above.

(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "EL CRIMEN DE PADRE AMARO" ("THE CRIME OF FATHER AMARO") (in Spanish with English sub-titles)

It's virtually impossible not to view this film as a metaphor for the horrible state of affairs in the Catholic Church, but I'll restrict my review to the movie itself. Father Amaro, a newly-ordained young priest comes to a small town in Mexico, to assist the older Father Benito, who has been the priest there for many years. Amaro is filled with idealism, spirituality, and kindness. He isn't in the town more than a few days before he realizes that all of the priests, and the bishop himself, are corrupt. Father Benito is in bed figuratively with the area's drug lord, and in bed literally with one of his parishioners. The bishop, and all of the other priests are aware of this. The people in town, however, love their priests, and don't seem to be aware of any wrong-doing. Before long, Father Amaro is having sex with the parishioner's young, virginal daughter. This love affair spirals downward pulling everyone down around the young lovers. The only person who seems to be unscathed is the "good" Father Amaro. Sound familiar? The story builds slowly, but when it reaches its climax, it races ahead to a very disturbing conclusion. All of the Mexican actors are thoroughly believable, and the direction is excellent. The film is filled with irony, not the least of which is the fact that the only good priest, gets excommunicated!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE PIANIST" (Havana Film Festival)

Yet another Holocaust/Warsaw Ghetto film....from director Roman Polanski, this time. In this film, the horrors are seen through the eyes of a concert pianist who manages (through bumbling stupidity and the kindness of others,) to survive the insanity. A true story. Adrian Brody finally gets a role that shows off his considerable talents. Beautiful Chopin music, played brilliantly by a Polish pianist, whose name I didn't recognize when the credits rolled at the end. Too long, and the hour was very late.

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MOVIE REVIEW- "LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS"

When is a sequel not a sequel? When it's the middle third of a 9-hour film! As everyone knows by now, director Peter Jackson has already filmed the entire J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy as a 9-hour film, and is releasing it yearly, as three 3-hour films. The first film was primarily exposition, character development, and lots of action. This present film is virtually non-stop action from beginning to end. It's epic in scope, but unfortunately, we get little expansion of the three-dimensionality of the main characters, beyond what we've already learned in the first film. Nevertheless, the many threads of the plot are woven beautifully throughout. Our band of seven hobbits, elves, dwarves and humans is now trying to return the "ring of power" to the dark land of Mordor, in order to save the world of Middle Earth. Along the way, they fight battles involving tens-of-thousands of evil creatures, who are trying to wrest the ring away from them...and kill them as well. It's ironic, I suppose, that the character with the most vivid personality in this film, is Gollum, a computer-generated creature. At times, his facial features resemble those of another famous computer-generated creature...Yoda! Although it was slow going at times, as was the first film, I couldn't take my eyes off of the screen.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "GANGS OF NEW YORK"

In "Gangs of New York," director Martin Scorsese has created his finest film, and a true masterpiece. In an earlier one of his films, "Age of Innocence," he gave us an exquisite period drama, showing the life of upper class New Yorkers in the opulent Gilded Age...the end of the 19th Century. Reversing the coin, he now takes us down to where poor New Yorkers lived during the same period. In minute detail, he creates an epic portrait of a place where five neighborhoods come together and form a seething cauldron straight out of Dante's Inferno. Dickens could have written about these people and this place, and Breughel could have put them on canvas, but Scorsese has made them come alive. Gangs of disenfranchised men and women, roam the streets, killing anything that gets in their way. Corrupt politicians support them to get votes. Those people who were born in America prey on the immigrants who have just come in, and blacks are hated by both. There's no clear pecking order; only random violence rules. In fact, the brutal killings make the murders in Scorsese's gangster films ("Mean Streets," "Goodfellas," etc.) look like child's play. The center piece of the three-hour film is the New York Draft Riots of 1863, which are reenacted in horrific fashion. All of the actors (Leonardo Di Caprio, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent) are excellent, but watch for Daniel Day-Lewis to take home the "Best Actor" Academy Award at Oscar time.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "ABOUT SCHMIDT"

Jack Nicholson is Warren Schmidt, an unsociable, miserable, lonely, loser who upon his retirement as an actuary, realizes that he has done nothing in his life worth noting, and now faces another 10 or 20 years of more of the same. In short, he hasn't lived. This role is certainly a departure for Nicholson, and he milks it for all that it's worth. In fact, on the merit of his performance, this film has found its way onto just about every critic's "Best Movie of the Year"- list. Not mine unfortunately! There's no need to sit through another "how dysfunctional can a trailer-park-trash family in Denver" be. The family referred to, is the family that Warren's daughter is marrying into...and it's a doozy. Mama, Kathy Bates, is an oversexed housewife, who nursed her son Randall (Dermot Mulroney) "until he was 5, and look how he turned out." Bates gives an over-the-top performance, and in one scene she gets completely naked, which should earn her some award for bravery or guts, but not the Best Supporting Actress Oscar that she's being hyped for. Hope Davis, who never gives a bad performance, almost succeeds in giving one. Don't bother with this one, unless you're the most avid Jack Nicholson fan.

(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW-"CHICAGO"

During the "Golden Age of Movie Musicals" (1928-1978,) people of all ages (from nerds to jocks of both sexes,) flocked to movie musicals and enjoyed them. The best of them ("Singin' in the Rain," "My Fair Lady," "Gigi," "The Sound of Music," etc.) are always listed among the best films of all time. If "Chicago" doesn't start a renaissance of the movie musical, then nothing will! Broadway director Rob Marshall has found a way to transfer this biting, satirical, comical Broadway musical to film, and makes it work beautifully. It's paced at a lightning speed and the songs are integrated into the story so effectively, that even untrained audiences should be willing to accept the switch from speech to song. "Chicago" is still the story of two murderesses on death row (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellwegger,) who, with the help of their Johnny Cochran-like slime-bucket of a lawyer, Richard Gere (who would defend Hitler for a buck,) manage to convince the gullible public, that they're misunderstood, and it's not long before they become media-darlings and instant celebrities. Everyone in this film turns in an award-winning performance, including Queen Latifah as the prison matron, and John C. Reilly as the meek husband of one of the murderesses. The classic musical score by Kander and Ebb is virtually intact, and is served beautifully by this quintet of singing and dancing stars. All of the chorus dancers are as good as anything on Broadway today. This film is a groundbreaker and my choice for best film of the year this year (2002.)

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "ADAPTATION"

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich,") has written this year's most inventive, original, creative, and clever screenplay. Faced with the daunting task of turning author Susan Orlean's non-fiction book about orchids into an exciting movie, author Kaufman (Nicolas Cage,) after experiencing an extreme case of author's block, decides to write himself into the story, as well as creating a fictitious twin brother (also a screenwriter,) an imaginary love affair between the author (Meryl Streep) and an orchid poacher (Chris Cooper,) and tagging on an hilarious Hollywood ending to the "orchid story." All of this is very original, but unfortunately, I lost interest in all of the inventiveness and self-indulgence (on the part of the author as well as the director, Spike Jonze,) just about half way through the film. It was like listening to a long joke that you've already heard. Nevertheless, the saving grace of "Adaptation," is the strong acting by all of the stars. Look for nominations for Cage (brilliantly playing BOTH twin brothers, and making each one believable,) as well as Streep and Cooper. A daring, but ultimately disappointing experiment in film making.

(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "NICHOLAS NICKLEBY"

This perfect adaptation of the lengthy Charles Dickens novel, has been brought lovingly to the screen by writer/director Charles McGrath, who understands and respects the book, and by a brilliant cast of stage actors led by Christopher Plummer, Tom Courtenay, Nathan Lane, Alan Cummings, Barry Humphries ("Dame Edna") and Jamie Bell. Because they all do their jobs so well, this fine movie, with the exception of the last 15 minutes, is the most thoroughly depressing film of the year!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE 25th HOUR"

In this, his latest, and probably his greatest film, director Spike Lee reveals himself to be the most moral of film-makers, delivering a work that should be shown in all schools (after being tidied up a bit,) to discourage any budding entrepreneurs who might be considering drug-dealing as a career choice. Screenwriter David Benioff has done an excellent job in adapting his own novel for the screen. In it, he tells the story of a drug-dealing kingpin (played brilliantly by Edward Norton,) who has been "busted" and who is living out his last 24 hours before being sent to prison for seven years. In this 24-hour period he gets to re-live and rethink his entire life, and his fatal choice as a career. (In one unforgettable scene, Norton's character delivers a 10-minute rant, in which he spews racist and sexist venom at every major minority group in New York City. It's bound to become a classic!) In the evening, he bids farewell to his childhood friends (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper,) his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) and his father (Brian Cox.) All of the actors deliver award-winning performances. The cinematography and the music add immeasurably to the film. But ultimately, the highest praise must go to the extraordinary director.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "MAX"

A slow-building, but ultimately fascinating, and chilling study of the early life of Adolf Hitler...as it might have happened. After World War I, a 29-year-old struggling artist returns to his native Germany, with nothing but his ambitions for a career in art. Here, he is befriended by a Jewish art dealer, who tries to channel the young artist's frightening energy, anti-semitism, and zealotry into a new form of artistic vision. Ultimately, Hitler realizes that the best way to express himself is not through his art, but through his newly-formed politics. Although this is fiction, nevertheless it's fascinating to see how a monster can be created through misplaced ideals, narrowly focused beliefs, and introverted, anti-social behavior. At any step of the way, a slight change in events could easily have sent him into a life of art, and the history of the world could have been changed. John Cusack as the wealthy Jewish art dealer, is letter perfect, but the film is stolen by the shocking, brilliant performance of Noah Taylor as Hitler. He is mesmerizing.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE"

(Introduced by Kevin Spacey, who led a Question & Answer period after the film)

This overwrought tale whose theme is whether or not we should abolish the death penalty, walks a fine line between exciting thriller, melodramatic soap opera, and pedantic lecture. Although it's not a piece that tries to sell the viewer on a particular viewpoint, it does lean heavily on the side of doing away with the killing of people on death row. The story concerns a Texas college-professor, a vocal advocate of the abolishment of the death penalty, who after an unusual turn of events, finds himself on death row. The acting on the part of Kevin Spacey as the professor, and Laura Linney as his faithful disciple, is especially good. Kate Winslet, as a driven reporter, is unfortunate to be stuck in some of the more ridiculous scenes, which require wildly improbable events and over-the-top histrionics. She cries incessantly. The best thing about this film is, just when you're ready to put it down for being annoyingly predictable, it takes a sharp turn into something entirely different.

(3 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE HOURS"

(The film was introduced by author Michael Cunningham, who also led a Q & A after its screening)

No, it's NOT a "chick flick," if by "chick flick" you mean a movie that allows women to feel good about themselves after viewing it. David Hare has written a devilishly clever and intelligent screenplay, based on Pulitzer-prize-winning author Michael Cunningham's book. It concerns three women, whose lives are spread out over 80 years and two countries. The connecting link is author Virginia Woolf, whose life and book Mrs. Dalloway, change the lives of all three women, and the men and children around them. In spite of the brilliant screenplay, it's not the story of this film that keeps you glued to your seat. It's the staggering excellence of the acting of everyone in the movie. Director Stephen Daldry ("Billy Elliot",) has assembled a true ensemble of great actors, down to the smallest roles, and what they do is astonishing. Volumes of emotion are conveyed by just the right look on the face of an actor, or in his/her body language. Here is the ensemble cast: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Miranda Richardson, John C. Reilly and Eileen Atkins. They are all deserving of Acadamy Awards. Not least of the virtues of this masterpiece is the magnificent original music of composer Philip Glass. It's intrusive in the best possible sense of the word. A great film, and one that will stay with you long after you've seen it.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "CATCH ME IF YOU CAN"

If I didn't know that this was a Steven Spielberg film, I never would have guessed it. It's not top-draw Spielberg, lacking his usual creativity, sense of magic and wonderment, and showmanship. Instead what we get is a relatively lifeless story of real-life con man Frank Agagnale, Jr., who became a check forger and imposter, while only in his late teens. It's funny at times, and sad at other times, and tongue-in-cheek satirical at still other times. Sort of a movie in search of a style. What it does do well, is recreate the look of an innocent and naive DisneyWorld-type America of the 1960's, when people still took people at face value, and it was easy to "pull the wool over the eyes" of so much of the population. At least that's the 60's portrayed in this film. That's not the 60's that I knew! The best acting comes from Christopher Walken as Frank's loser of a father. With parents like this it's no wonder that Frank Jr. kept creating fantasy lives. Leonardo Di Caprio is OK as the young imposter, but poor Tom Hanks is up a tree with the worst Boston accent ever captured on film. The best thing about this film is the wonderfully imaginative titles sequence. Almost everything after that is a disappointment.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND"

Chuck Barris was the producer of some of the cheesiest game shows on television.; shows like "The Dating Game," "The Newlywed Game," and "The Gong Show." But, the question is, was he also an assassin for the CIA, as he claimed in his trashy autobiography? Screenwriter Charles Kaufman ("Adaptation,") and first-time director George Clooney seem to think so as well, and so we get this preposterous film about a shallow game-show producer/host who is also a CIA assassin. If it were played strictly for its comedic value, it might have been a funny movie, but, my God, I think that they want us to take it seriously! At that level, it simply doesn't work, in spite of some extraordinary acting on the part of Sam Rockwell as Barris, and some fine acting by Drew Barrymore as his hippie girlfriend. Julia Roberts, as some sort of campy spy, is perfectly ridiculous, and the less said about George Clooney, as a CIA operative, the better. The man can't even direct himself to give a good performance! 15 minutes before the end of the movie, the theater was evacuated due to an emergency. I didn't return.

(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE RECRUIT"

There are two main reasons for going to see what is being advertised as a standard spy thriller...Al Pacino and Colin Farrell. Surprisingly, the "who's -the-mole-in-the -CIA?" plot is pretty good. The first hour is interesting and informative, with an "inside" look at what goes on, on "The Farm." The second hour is suspenseful and thrilling, although the outcome is thoroughly predictable. As for the two leads, Pacino reprises his standard role of mentor to a young apprentice...a role that he could mail in. However, between growls and mannerisms, he does create a more interesting character than those that he created in his last few films. Farrell, the rising young star from Ireland, is loaded with talent...much more than what was required of him in this film. His direction must have been "brood, and run." I can't wait to see him in a break-out role, one that will show us what he can really do. Something like what "A Beautiful Mind" did for Russell Crowe. Until that role comes along, we'll have to settle for "brood, and run." I could just imagine what he would do with the role of Heathcliff in a remake of the classic "Wuthering Heights!"

(3 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE PREVIEW- "THE QUIET AMERICAN"

On the surface, this film, set in Vietnam in 1952, during the Vietnamese liberation war from French rule, tells the story of an opium-addicted British reporter, Fowler (Michael Caine,) in love with a beautiful young Vietnamese woman , Phoung (Do Hai Yen,) who is dismayed when a young American CIA agent, Pyle (Brendan Fraser,) falls in love with her, and tries to take her away from him. But the true story is told in metaphors, with each of the characters representing his/her country, and showing how Vietnam was destroyed, by the people who thought that they were "saving" her. Both the surface-story and the sub-text are exciting, brilliantly written (based on the novel by Graham Greene,) and flawlessly acted. Michael Caine certainly deserves an Oscar for this one...possibly his best role. To see the beauty of Saigon, with its romantic restaurants, sidewalk cafes, and pastoral country scenes, rips your guts out when the explosions begin, and the bloody bodies of innocent people fill the streets. In one telling scene, the American brings his unruly dog into the elegant apartment that the Englishman shares with his lover, the Vietnamese, and the dog proceeds to climb all over the furniture, and tear up the bed-coverings. If that isn't a metaphor, albeit a crude one, for what happened in Vietnam, I don't know what is!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "CITY OF GOD" (In Portuguese with English sub-titles)

Many years ago, when I visited Rio de Janeiro, I was warned not to wander into the favelas (the slums on the hills behind the city,) because they were ruled by drugged-out teenagers, who raped, robbed, and killed anything and anyone that got in their way. This film is their story. It follows the insane lives of several of these young boys, only one of whom remains alive by the end of the film. Unfortunately, what was confined to the slums years ago, has now spilled down into the heart of this once-beautiful city, where these animals feel free to terrorize tourists as well as the natives. At the closing ceremony of the Havana Film Festival, which I attended last month in Cuba, "City of God" took all of the major awards, including "Best Picture." These awards are well deserved; the film almost plays like a documentary. The actors, some of whom are real gang members, are completely believable in their roles. Be warned, however. The film is very graphic. It's as violent, bloody, and shocking as the thugs who are its subject. You may be horrified, but you won't be able to take your eyes off the screen.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "TALK TO HER" /"HABLE A ELLA" (in Spanish with English sub-titles)

Spanish director, Pedro Almodovar, is certainly up there on any list of the 10 most creative and prolific directors working in the world today. His list of fine films includes: "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down," and "High Heels." Unfortunately the present film is not up there with the best of them. The story concerns two men (a writer and a psychopathic male nurse,) who stand vigil over the women that they love (a ballerina and a female matador,)....women who happen to be in comas! Now one would think that given THAT cast of characters and that premise, one could come up with a spell binding story. Not so. In fact, I was bored most of the time. What did hold my interest was the incredibly beautiful Spanish music, especially the long song sung by Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso (about a dove..."una paloma.") This mesmerizing song alone, was worth the price of admission.

(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "DAREDEVIL"

I don't know if never having read a Daredevil comic was a disadvantage or an advantage. I certainly wouldn't want to read one after having sat through this stupid film! Where to start. First of all, the script was so poorly written, that even highly charismatic stars couldn't rise above it. (Jon Favreau's dialogue was very funny, leading one to believe that he wrote his own scenes.) Unfortunately the two leads (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner,) sound as though they're reading their lines phonetically. Affleck is a good enough actor to be able to rise above a bad script. Here, unfortunately, he didn't. Garner is simply a pretty model who can't act. Together, they comprise the two most boring and unlikable "action figures" ever put on screen. Colin Farrell, on the other hand (as the villain Bullseye,) lights up the screen for the few short moments that he's on it. Speaking of action, the action scenes all look like out-takes from the far superior film "Spider Man." In addition, the music is so intrusive and silly that, as one of my friends said, it sounds like an episode of "Baywatch!" Buy the comic and save the movie money!

(1 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

(Comic Book)

MOVIE REVIEW- "OLD SCHOOL"

If you're in the mood for lots of laughs, and who isn't nowadays, this is the movie for you. Think of "Animal House" for grown-ups! Sure, it's wacky, immature, predictable, and nonsensical, but it all seems to work somehow. The reason is that the comedy grows out of character and situations, rather than being an excuse for an endless series of potty jokes. When the characters are portrayed by Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, and Luke Wilson, you know that the comedy is in very strong and capable hands. These actors play it straight, each one doing a turn on his usual  screen persona, and the result is often hilarious. Oh the story, you ask? Well, if you must. It's about three thirty-somethings (two of whom are married,) who have never really outgrown their adolescence. All three set up house on the fringes of a down-and-out college, where they turn their "home" into a social club/fraternity, for every misfit who can stumble in the door. The results are predictable, but very funny.

(3 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

 

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM"

Think "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" meets "A League of Their Own," and you have this often very funny film, which suffers, unfortunately, from following by one year, the hilarious "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," a film that covers much of the same ground, but does it more effectively. This time the culture clash involves Indians in London, and a daughter who wants to break away to pursue her dream of playing women's football (soccer.) The film was written, produced, and directed by Gurinder Chadha, who I'm assuming is a product of this culture. Her/his portrayal of the Indians is merciless, depicting them as so ethnocentric and paranoid that it would probably take them another century to become fully assimilated! Had a non-Indian made this film, it probably would have been branded as being racist. Most of the funny moments come from watching the Indian family, relatives, and friends, do and say things that are so far removed from Western thinking, that they appear to be absurd and therefore, funny. I wasn't offended watching "The Godfather," so I hope that Indians won't be offended watching this movie. As I said before, it is very funny!

(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE SAFETY OF OBJECTS"

Having decided not to indulge in the "pleasure" of seeing one of the two Hollywood bombs that opened today ("Bringing Down The House," and "Tears of the Sun,") I went to see this independent film that was starting to get some buzz. What a mistake! Writer/Director Rose Troche must truly hate the suburbs because she paints a picture that rivals an Hieronymous Bosch painting. Sure we know that lots of suburbanites are dysfunctional (we've all seen "American Beauty,") but this is ridiculous. Four families, who live in the same neighborhood, have story lines that interconnect throughout the film. Robert Altman might have been able to pull this off, but not Rose Troche. Since everyone in the film is nuts, and in various stages of coming apart, one or two of the actors in the film (Glenn Close, Patricia Clarkson, Dermot Mulroney,) get a juicy scene or two. But the sum total is a complete mess. I should have gone with one of the bombs. Relative to this, Bruce Willis and the Nigerians might have come off as lots of fun!

(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "GERRY"

Director Gus Van Zant ("Good Will Hunting,") and Writer/Actor Matt Damon, have chosen to stretch their creative minds, as well as their fertile imaginations to come up with this exercise in existential minimalism (an oxymoron?) Based on a true story of a student from Northeastern University, the author and director have opted out of a straight dramatic narrative, and instead, have chosen to tell this odd story in the form of an almost silent film. Two young men named Gerry find themselves stranded in the desert, and after wandering aimlessly, they begin to realize that death is a possibility. Unfortunately the film doesn't work as entertainment. There is virtually no plot. Nothing happens. It's about choices, and the not-too-bright young men who make all of the wrong ones. It could be a metaphor for life. Nah! Conceivably it might have a future in film, as well as philosophy, classes. There's plenty to talk about here!

(1-Star)

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "THE GOOD THIEF"

Some films just cry out for sub-titles, and this is one of them! Everyone in the international cast speaks with a heavy accent (Russian, French, Algerian,) and star, Nick Nolte, is virtually unintelligible, mumbling his way through his entire role, like a man whose lips have been sewn together. Writer/Director Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game,") has the makings of an excellent heist film in here ("let's round up our crew and steal the paintings from the casino,") but he sabotages it with stilted, overly-written dialogue, tricked-up photography and lighting, and an intrusive musical score. The one question you shouldn't be asking when you come out of a heist film is "what the hell was that all about?" The plot is too confusing to follow, and that was enough to ruin what could have been a perfectly fine film. It's a remake of the French film "Bob Le Flambeur," so I may have to rent that video to find out what actually took place!

(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "PHONE BOOTH"

Wow, what a surprise. I expected to see a bad movie starring one of my favorite young actors, but only half of that was true. I like Colin Farrell as an actor and as a professional "Irish character." This isn't even a case of a good actor having to carry a lightweight film on his very capable shoulders. "Phone Booth" is a highly suspenseful, yet funny, film about an unseen serial killer who has a victim trapped inside of a phone booth in Manhattan. The first ten minutes of the film, which amounts to a prologue of sorts, is the only time that Colin Farrell's character is seen outside of the prison-like phone booth. In this short scene, director Joel Schumacher and writer Larry Cohen get to say lots of relevant things about the erosion of decency in society today. Of course I agree with everything that they say. Once Farrell is in the phone booth, all of the acting rests on his shoulders and he is wonderful. Nothing outside of the phone booth relates to good acting or well-written dialogue. Especially bad are the two women, one of whom is mimed by child-star Katie Holmes! Farrell, on the other hand, gets to show his stuff, ranging from despicable arrogance (in the prologue) to pitiable shame. He may get a nomination for this. Abetting him beautifully is the unseen, but terrifying voice, of the serial killer...voiced by Kiefer Sutherland. I won't give away anymore of this short, but mostly excellent film.

(4 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

  

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST" (in Finnish with English sub-titles)

A man gets off a train in Helsinki, Finland. He goes into a park, falls asleep on a park bench, and then gets beaten to the point of death by muggers. When he reawakens in a hospital, his memory is gone. He falls in with a bunch of homeless people who live in freight containers and dumpsters. It took me almost a half hour before I realized that it was supposed to be a satirical black comedy! Sure, I laughed at some sight gags, some funny lines, and some funny scenes, but in order for a satire to work for me, I have to know what is being satirized. I didn't have a clue. The movie didn't work for me!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "ANGER MANAGEMENT" (Private Screening)

I can't believe that, not only did I enjoy this Adam Sandler movie, but that I was cheering on his character right to the end of the film. As you must know by now, Sandler plays a timid and passive executive assistant (secretary,) who, after a series of misunderstandings, ends up in an anger management program, with the counselor from hell. Jack Nicholson, in a role reminiscent of the role that he played in "The Shining," plays the psychotic shrink. He's completely over the top, and hysterically funny. The jokes come fast, and the lines, sight-gags, and situations are often hilarious. I understand that it's common for an Adam Sandler film to be filled with celebrity guest appearances, and this one is no exception. Turning in very funny cameos are John Turturro, Luis Guzman, Woody Harrelson, Heather Graham, Derek Jeter, John C. Reilly, Rudy Giuliani, and others. Marisa Tomei, as Sandler's patient girlfriend, is her usual adorable self; this role was obviously a favor to Sandler. I thought that I would never say this, but I recommend this Adam Sandler movie, if you're looking for enough laughs to fill two funny movies!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "A MIGHTY WIND"

If you're a film buff, then you're certainly familiar with the hilarious parodies created by Christopher Guest and his acting company. If you're not, then do yourself a favor and have a Christopher Guest film festival, by renting his previous films, "This Is Spinal Tap," "Waiting For Guffman," and "Best In Show." The latest parody skewers the world of the sixties folk singers (e.g.,"The Kingston Trio," "The New Christy Minstrels," "Peter, Paul & Mary," etc.) Guest's acting ensemble consists of Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard (my favorite,) Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley, Jr., Harry Shearer...each and every one a brilliant solo artist, but when they come together, watch out! The usual format is a mock documentary in which, I suspect, most of the actors dialogue is improvised. The results are always hilarious, often brilliant, and sometimes even touching, as they are in this movie. The occasion for the reunion in this film, is a memorial tribute to a folk impresario, arranged by his anal-retentive son. Each group has its turn in the spotlight (on, and off, stage) and each one shines. A very funny film, especially if you're old enough to have lived through those wonderful sixties!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW - "IDENTITY"

(This is a tough one to review, so bear with me, at least until part way through...and then you might need to leave. I'll tell you when.) Although based on an imaginative and thoroughly original story, the movie itself is filled with implausible plot devices, annoying performances, and every cliche in the horror-film genre. Once again, we have a group of strangers who come together (this time in a deserted motel,) and one by one they are being killed off. (If you intend to see this film, you might want to leave, because I'm going to give away the main secret of the film.) After sitting through an hour of ridiculous nonsense, we find out that the entire film is taking place inside the mind of a serial killer. Therefore, no rules apply. Hence the nonsense, the bad-acting, the impossible occurrences, etc. It's the kind of movie that becomes much better, after you've left the theater and talked about it with the friends who saw it with you. Then, things start to make sense. However, the difference between "secret" movies like this one and "The Sixth Sense," for example, is that the latter was an entertaining film while you were watching it, and the surprise ending only added to your enjoyment. This film is a pain-in-the-ass while you're watching it, and maybe, only maybe, it makes more sense, and becomes better after you've left the theater. Long after! John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Ray Liotta, and Alfred Molina are in the movie. They've all been much better in other films! 

(2-Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "L'AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE" ("The Spanish Inn" or "EURO Pudding") in French with English sub-titles

"The Real World" comes to Barcelona! A group of immature students from all around the world, share an apartment in Barcelona, while attending a business school. It just goes to show that idiotic students can be assholes no matter what country they come from. Think Spring Break in Cancun, or Thursday Night in Boston for that matter. Audrey Tautou ("Amelie") lends her presence (tiresome as it's becoming) to the film for about 10 minutes. I can often tell how boring/annoying a film is by the length of time it takes me to start thinking of the delicious burrito that I'm going to eat after the film. I started to think about my burrito about 25 minutes into a nearly 2-hour movie!

(1-Star) 

MOVIE REVIEW- "X2: X-MEN UNITED"

Not only is this sequel better than the original film, but it's also better than any other "comic-book" film since the first, dark "Batman." Although  beautifully scripted for a film of this genre, and directed expertly by Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects,") it's the fine acting that sets it apart from all of the other "comic-book" movies. With a cast headed by three brilliant Shakespearean actors, playing the two opposing mutant leaders and their nemesis (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Brian Cox,) as well as a group of fine young New York and London stage actors playing the mutants (Hugh Jackman, Famke Jansen, Anna Paquin and Alan Cumming,) their readings of even the most superficial of lines has import and meaning. Especially moving, is some of the interaction between the mutants. It's obvious that these people know and love one another. In case you are not a reader of these particular comics, and I wasn't, the story deals with two warring mutant leaders who band together when a powerful arch-villain threatens to destroy all mutants (people with specific, individualized superpowers.) There is a not-very-subtle sub-text dealing with preserving the dignity of "people who are different," reflecting the civil rights era when these comics were written, but which resonates as powerfully today, when Muslims, gays, blacks, people with SARS and AIDS, etc. are still discriminated against and treated as though they were mutants. I'll bet that some of these groups wish that they did have superpowers. But that's another story! Oh, and yes, the computer graphics and action sequences are spectacular, especially those involving my favorite mutant, Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming.) I can't wait for the next film in the series.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

CB (Comic Book)

MOVIE REVIEW- "IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY"

(See my review of the film under its original title "A FEW GOOD YEARS.")

MOVIE REVIEW-"THE MATRIX RELOADED"

Ideally, the purposes for making a good sequel should be: to advance the story line in an intelligent way; to give more depth to the main characters; and to explore further, the theme of the original piece. Practically, the most important purpose is to make lots and lots of money! "The Matrix Reloaded" succeeds on all counts. Supposedly there are 1000 computer generated images in this sequel, as compared to 400 in the original (as though that should have any significance.) It's hard to imagine this story being told without them. The story continues the battle between a renegade group of humans, and the machines and their agents, that rule the minds of men in the future. Leading this group are the messiah-like Neo (Keanu Reeves,) his love-interest Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss,) and their "Obi-Wan with muscles" mentor, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne.) There are enough Kung-Fu sequences in the film, to delight even the most intelligent 14-year-old boy. The morons in this age category will be ecstatic. Watching the umpteenth kicking match, it occurred to me that these Kung Fu movies (even the epic ones) are to me, what musicals are to the teen-agers and twenty-somethings. As soon as Julie Andrews would open her mouth to sing a note of the first song, the young people would "turn off" and wait for the song to be over, and the story to continue. That's what I do when the first slow-motion-foot hits the air! But if I'm making it sound as though I didn't enjoy this movie, then let's get back on track. I enjoyed it thoroughly...even the parts that I couldn't understand. I defy you to make sense of the long monologue delivered by a character called The Architect, near the end of the film. I have three degrees, and I didn't know what the hell he was talking about! It's like a Rorschach ink-blot. You read onto it whatever you want it to mean...the more pseudo-religious-philosophical you make it, the better it sounds! But all of this is just nit-picking. The movie is great entertainment, especially the 15-minute car chase, surely one of the greatest ever filmed, even though there may not have even been one real car used. And what about that crowded dance sequence in Zion? It looked like a Rave at the Apollo theater in New York! And how about those sex scenes? NOW I've got your interest. Go see it; you'll love it.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

CB (Comic Book)  

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE SHAPE OF THINGS"

All men over the age of 18 should see this film before hitting the bars in search of their next "prey." It's a cautionary tale, in which writer/director Neil LaBute once again demonstrates his hatred for people. That's all that I can tell you about the story without ruining it. Sorry. Although the four actors in the film (Gretchen Moll, Paul Rudd, Frederick Weller, and Rachel Weisz,) are too old for their roles, they're all uniformly excellent, and are convincing in making you believe that they are who they're supposed to be. When I saw it as a play Off-Broadway (with the same four actors,) two years ago, it was like a punch in the gut. It's even more sickening on screen. Guys, see this film, and, if you have one, take your current girlfriend. Ouch!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE ITALIAN JOB"

Well, it's not the worst heist/caper movie ever made ("Welcome to Collinwood," "The Good Thief;") nor is it the best ( the classic "Topkapi," and the original "Thomas Crown Affair.") What it is, is surprisingly uninteresting, and quite boring. It's so boring at times, that my mind wandered to such thoughts as: why would the Italian authorities in Venice be so irresponsible as to allow them to film a chase scene, using several speedboats racing through the canals, when this is exactly the reason why Venice is sinking? Why would Edward Norton take third billing to Charlize Theron and Mark Wahlberg? How much money did Northeastern University get to allow the school's name to be used in the film, as well as the appearance of my former student, Shawn Fanning ( the real "Napster") who played himself in the scene? Have we become so jaded to these heist films, or is it just that the script was bad, the acting terrible, and the chase with Mini Coopers, completely ridiculous? Yes, that's it. Don't waste your time.

(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "FINDING NEMO"

If you're looking for a family film to take the kids to this summer, look no further...this is it. "Finding Nemo" is pitched at the 10 and under set, but adults will get a chuckle or two out of some of the humor, and the computer-graphics artwork (Pixar) is some of the most colorful and beautiful that I've ever seen in an animated film. The story, most of which takes places under the sea, in and around Sydney, Australia, concerns an over-possessive (and very annoying,) father-fish, who is a single-parent. Did I mention that all of the characters in the film are either fish or birds, with an occasional human being thrown in, including the most hideous little girl seen on screen in years? Anyway, the son-fish (Nemo) gets lost, and the entire film is the father's search to find him. There is some moralizing about overprotective parents, but basically it's a tale of lost and found. The major voices belong to Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe, Allison Janney and Barry Humphries ("Dame Edna.") No one voice is outstanding. The star of the film is the undersea artwork; it's truly magnificent.

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

  

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE HULK"

Drawing from such diverse sources as "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "King Kong," and the biblical tale of "Samson and Delilah," screenwriter James Schamus has written a beautiful story based on the comic book/TV series "The Incredible Hulk." For once in a fantasy film of this genre, the computer-graphics (which come midway through the 2 1/2 hour film,) actually serve the plot, rather than the other way around. There's a great deal of exposition and back story involved, but as someone who never read the comic, I welcomed it. Once again, the story revolves around a young scientist and an experiment that went wrong. In this case, the result of the failed experiment is that every time the scientist gets angry he turns into a large green hulk! With that kind of truncated synopsis, the story invariably sounds pulpy and stupid. Trust me, it's not. What saves it from this fate, is the expert, and serious, direction of Ang Lee, as well as the high quality of all of the acting, especially that of Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, and Nick Nolte (the latter two are now playing larger than life versions of Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte!) The only weak link is the Bruce Banner of Australian actor Eric Bana, who is merely good. For those of you who saw the trailers, and thought that the animated Hulk looked cheesy (as I did,) he/it definitely doesn't in the actual film. In fact, he looks like a larger, greener version of Eric Bana, and in some scenes,  is more moving! The chase scenes through the Mojave Desert are filmed almost like a ballet. It's reminiscent of all of those flying Chinese in Ang Lee's other film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." I liked "The Hulk" better than that epic bore!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 (Comic-Book)

MOVIE REVIEW- "28 DAYS LATER"

If you combine "The Night of the Living Dead" with any survivor/end-of-the-world film (e.g., "On The Beach," etc.,) then you've got this surprisingly ho-hum movie by director Danny Boyle ("Shallow Grave," "Transpotting.") A mysterious plague has spread rapidly through London (and apparently the rest of the world,) killing all but a few survivors. The four that we follow are a father (Brendan Gleeson) and his young daughter, a black superwoman, and a young dolt who is reminiscent of those stupid young girls in the "Scream" movies who always go where they're specifically told NOT to go! All of the frightening scenes, and there are several, are telescoped so that you know exactly what to expect and when. The photography is so amateurish that I can only assume that those old-newsreel-like pieces of footage with superimposed backgrounds, were done deliberately. Boyle has taken ideas and images from so many films that the film comes across as a first-year-film-student's end of year project. It starts off very well, but it reaches its low peak very quickly and stays there for almost two hours. This is so surprising from Boyle, who is usually inventive, creative, original, and always has something important to say about people and/or society. None of that is evident here.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES"

It's 12 years after "Terminator 2," Schwarzenegger is nearly 60, and although the role of the cyborg still fits him like a glove, the formula has run out of gas. There's no acting, no new plot, nothing original, creative or unique in this film; nothing but a rehash of the ideas in the first two Terminator movies. Once again, the robotic killing machines come from the future to change the course of history. It's too bad that they couldn't have brought a new plot with them, instead of resorting to ripping off the original one. Although the villainess looks great in a red-leather jumpsuit, she's a complete annoying bore! All she does is tilt her head and plow through explosion after explosion. Nothing will stop her. Where is the suspense, if the villain is indestructible? Even Superman had Kryptonite and Achilles had his heel! Speaking of explosions, there are enough here to fill three other bad films...and the car-chases just look ridiculous. Too much destruction of property becomes numbing after awhile!!! The "Terminator 3" 3D attraction at Universal Studios in Orlando, is more exciting, original and creative than this overblown video-game. If a big video-game is all that you're looking for, then by all means, go and enjoy it.  Here's a challenge to a director: try to create an exciting film without resorting to car-chases and explosions. Until then, you'll excuse me if I skip "Terminator 4: Arnold uses a Walker!"

( 1 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS"

Ironically, the three best action films in this Summer blockbuster season, are three films with animated leading characters..."The Hulk," "Finding Nemo," and "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas." ("X-Men 2" and "The Matrix Reloaded" were the best action films of the Spring releases.) "Sinbad" is the latest creative adventure from DreamWorks...Disney's chief competitor. It tells one of the Tales from the Arabian Nights in the vernacular, for people who never read the original, and it uses the voices of Brad Pitt, Joseph Fiennes, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Michelle Pfeiffer as the hero, his best friend, the heroine, and the villainess respectively. The overall result is a wonderful, exciting, high-seas tale for everyone in the family. It's filled with fantasy, comedy, romance, and adventure. That's a lot in one film. Take the kids; you'll all enjoy it.

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL"

Remember the fun that you had the first time that you went on the ride "Pirates of the Caribbean" at Disney Land or Disney World? Well, that's the spirit that's been captured by everyone involved in this film...the sense of eye-popping spectacle, the tongue-in-cheek humor, and a feeling of innocent excitement and adventure. Several things separate this movie from the pack of summer popcorn blockbusters. It's very well written, acted beautifully by an ensemble of real actors who know how to do comedy, and directed by Gore Verbinski ("The Ring") who knows the difference between stupidity and humor! The leading actors (Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Pryce, and Keira Knightley) are all excellent, but Johnny Depp mercilessly steals the film from under their very capable noses, with the most over-the-top, campiest performance on screen this year. Mincing around like a drag queen on Halloween, and using a voice that owes everything to Keith Richards, he steals every scene that he's in...and that's a lot of this 2 1/2 hour film. He plays Captain Jack Sparrow, a pirate who tries to rescue the governor's daughter from Captain Barbossa and his crew of the undead. There's a lot of sub-plot, but you'll learn that when you see it. For those of you who have enjoyed the ride, as I have, it's fun to try to find the scenes (and the music) in the movie which match the same scenes on the ride. There are several of them. Before you go into the theater, put your tongue firmly in your cheek, and then enjoy the ride...I mean, the movie.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

CB (or rather, Thrill Ride)  

MOVIE REVIEW- "CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS"

After sitting through a month of mindless summer movies, it was a jarring "wake-up from complacency" to see a film that is adult, thought-provoking, controversial, and intelligent. In place of the action-movies' car chases and explosions, there is subject matter that is so shocking and disturbing, that it'll give you something to think and talk about long after you've left the theater. Andrew Jarecki's documentary tells the true story of an accused pedophile Arnold Friedman, and his son Jesse, both of whom have been arrested for committing "acts of sodomy" on children in the father's computer class. The film is told through the medium of actual video-tapes that were taken by another son, David, a compulsive sociopath who was foolish enough to document everything that was said and done by this highly dysfunctional family. Listening to the rantings and ravings of the various family members, it's easy to come to the conclusion, at first, that the father and his son are guilty as charged. However, as we begin to hear interviews with the arresting officers, the supposed "victims," the judge, an investigative journalist, and each of the Friedmans themselves, we begin to see the makings of a modern-day witch hunt. Did the father and son actually commit the crimes, or were they framed by overzealous police officers, impressionable children who have been coached by these officers, and by their own bizarre family history? These are the questions that you're left to ponder, long after the film has ended. 

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "SEABISCUIT"

Everyone should see this movie! It has more action and excitement in it than any of the so-called "action" films this year. It has more genuine emotion, love, and caring than any of this year's "chick-flicks." It has more suspense, surprises and twists than any of the "scare" films. And, there's more comedy in just the writing and the acting of William H. Macy's caricature of a cheap track announcer, than there is in any of those dumb "cop-buddy" films. Besides, I predict that it will be one of the five nominated films at Oscar time. No, it isn't the life of Jesus. It's the life of Seabiscuit, the horse! If you've read Laura Hillenbrand's best seller, you'll appreciate the fact that writer/director Gary Ross has only improved on the book. Once again, we're told the story of the misfits who came together, almost miraculously, to create the horse-racing legend known as Seabiscuit. During the Depression, this horse was a symbol to all of those respectable people who had lost their way of life and were looking for something to hang onto. They found that something, strangely enough, in a horse! All of the actors are superb. I couldn't imagine anyone doing a better job than Tobey Maguire, Chris Cooper, Jeff Bridges, Elizabeth Banks (who IS she?) and of course, William H. Macy (a sure-fire Oscar nominee for this one.) I'm not a big fan of horse-racing, although I have enjoyed going to races. I'm certainly not a fan of movies about horse-racing. So, I'm not prejudiced when I say that this film is a masterpiece of its genre. Take the whole family to see it.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "SPELLBOUND"

No, this isn't the Alfred Hitchcock classic film, but it could become a classic of the documentary genre. Jeff Blitz' film about spelling bees in America, made ME feel optimistic about some things that I feel very pessimistic about. For one, the absence of parenting in America (obviously some people are doing it right.) For another, the deplorable condition of the American educational system, especially the virtual elimination of geography, the arts, and spelling, from the curriculum (obviously some people are doing it right.) Then there's the influx of immigrants inundating our population (obviously some people are doing it right.) See what I mean? The film follows eight children (who can spell words better than you or me,) from the preliminaries in their hometowns, to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. Their own words, and the words of their parents, are at times poignant, tense, illuminating, and often very funny. These kids are not the stereotypical freaks that you'd expect them to be. They're normal, and lovable...with the possible exception of one. You figure out which one! As one by one, they're eliminated, you feel for them, but you know that they'll all succeed in life brilliantly...especially the young girl from the projects in Washington, D.C. She had more self-esteem than many adults that I know. The film is short, but packed with emotion. Now, go back and find the word that I spelled inncorrectly!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE MAGDALENE SISTERS"

Only in Ireland, a country that has been ruled, repressed, oppressed, and nearly destroyed by the Catholic Church, could an institution like the Magdalene "asylums" flourish, and indeed be run by the very same Catholic Church. Ostensibly a series of large commercial laundries, the asylums were really maximum security prisons for "girls who sinned." The girls were imprisoned like hardened criminals, and treated as such, by a religious order of sadistic and near-psychotic nuns (or is that redundant?) Writer/director/actor Peter Mullan has created a masterful film, in which both the acting and the directing are so realistic, that a documentary quality is reached, and is therefore even more painful to watch. He's relentless in his depiction of religious hypocrisy, but from letters that I've read in the New York Times, sent in by women who actually lived in the asylums, they were even worse than they were depicted in the film...if that's at all possible. In the postscript to the film, we learn that the last of these institutions was closed as recently as 1996. Incredible!

4-Stars

BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: MOVIE REVIEW-"OFF THE MAP"

What an amazing film this is....one that lingers with you long after you've left the theater and have had time to think about the characters, their relationship to one another, and their relationship to the majestic environment (Northern New Mexico) in which they live. An extraordinary extended family (consisting of a mother, a father, a 12-year-old daughter, and the father's best friend,) lives in a ramshackle (but picturesque) shack in the desert, in what, by objective standards, would be considered extreme poverty. They have no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no telephone, and to complicate matters, the father is in a complete state of depression. But the strength and love that each of these individuals draw, and give to one another, makes them a more powerful family unit than what would be considered to be a successful, happy family anywhere else. Into their lives comes an IRS agent, to audit these people who make less than $5000 a year, living on what they can grow and hunt. He comes with his own baggage, and soon becomes a part of the family. Everything about this film sets it apart from anything else that you've ever seen...the acting, the directing, the beautiful script, and the overwhelming scenery. The actors are incredible. Amy Brenneman plays the grown daughter who narrates the film. The father and mother are Sam Elliott and Joan Allen. The best friend is J.K.Simmons (the Nazi skinhead from the TV show OZ.) The wonderful actress who plays the daughter is Valentina DeAngelis in her first movie role. She's a natural and the camera loves her. The IRS agent is Jim True-Frost. They all give Oscar-worthy performances, especially Joan Allen. The story was written by Joan Ackermann and directed by actor/director Campbell Scott. This is screen poetry! (Campbell Scott. looking uncannily like his father George C. Scott, and Joan Ackermann, conducted an informative, interesting, funny, and articulate "Question & Answer" period after the film.)

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: MOVIE REVIEW-"MATCHSTICK MEN"

The main character in this film suffers from a psychological illness known as obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the film itself suffers from a problem commonly referred to as "split personality." The first hour and a half of the two hour film is a quirky, hilarious comedy about two off-the-wall con men (played brilliantly by Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell, who could go out on the road as a comedy team!) Watching them pull off their small-time scams, is a joy. Up to this point, I would have given the film 4 stars. Then, a daughter (newcomer Alison Lohman) that the Cage character never knew he had, enters the picture, and director Ridley Scott makes a big mistake, and turns the film into a melodramatic, mysterious, shoot-em-up soap opera. It simply doesn't work. Several of us discussed the last half of the film on the way out of the theater, and none of us knew what the hell was going on! This isn't good. I gave this part of the film 2 stars at best. That averages out to......................................

(3-Stars) Back to Top

The Opening Night party of the Boston Film Festival preceded the screening. Lots of free drinks and hors d'ouevres...short on celebrities. At the screening itself, Sir Ridley Scott received the Festival's 2003 Film Excellence Award, and he was cheered on by his stars Nicolas Cage, Alison Lohman, and Sam Rockwell, all of whom left before the film started. Smart move!!!

BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: MOVIE REVIEW-"MAMBO ITALIANO"

Picture "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," only now, the couple consists of two young gay men who come from quintessential Italian families. Sounds dreadful, doesn't it? Well, it isn't! Instead, it's one of the funniest movies that I've seen in a long time. I suppose it would help if you were Italian-American (or Italian-Canadian,) as the families are, in this simple, but uproariously funny film. The writing is clever, in that it consists of parading out every Italian cliche and stereotype in the book, and milking them for every possible laugh. The actors were probably directed to play it all larger than life...and it works. The father of the young narrator, Angelo's, family is played by Paul Sorvino. I've never seen any of the other actors before, but they were all letter-perfect. The music, costumes, and sets (especially those houses) add to the hysterically funny atmosphere of the piece. There are actually some moving moments stuck in there between the laughs. God help me, I'm actually wishing for a sequel!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

  

BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: "MY LIFE WITHOUT ME"

An intelligent script and an ensemble cast of fine actors keep this film from being just another "illness-of-the-week" Lifetime TV movie. The story of a young working class housewife who learns that she has inoperable cancer, and decides to keep this a secret from her husband, her children and her mother, is a story-line that's been done to death (no pun intended.) But the well-written script, by writer/director Isobel Coixet, keeps you involved, because of its unexpected twists and turns. However, even an unusual script wouldn't have been enough to raise this film above your average tear-jerker. It's the actors that do that. The ensemble cast includes a brilliant Sarah Polley (in what could be an award-winning performance,) along with Mark Ruffalo, Alfred Molina, Amanda Plummer, Scott Speedman, and Deborah Harry (yes, THAT Debbie Harry!) They're all amazing. But even with that fine cast, the excellent script, and the fine directing, there's no way that this film will appeal to your average male moviegoer. (Even your above-average male moviegoer!) Let's face it. It is what it is. IT'S A CHICK FLICK! (The Spanish film director, Isobel Coixet, and one of her stars, Scott Speedman, were there for an interesting, long, Question & Answer period afterward)

(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: "THE COMPANY"

The fact that I didn't enjoy Robert Altman's new film about the world of ballet, is probably colored by my lack of interest and understanding of this world. Except for the music in the classical ballets, I simply don't enjoy anything about ballet. Having said that, let me say that director Robert Altman, and actress/producer/writer Neve Campbell's decision to tell the story of a ballet company, through the devise of a plotless film with virtually no dialogue, simply didn't work for me. It ends up looking like an endless number of documentaries often seen on the Bravo channel on TV. There have been wonderful, classic films, that have used ballet to tell a story...films like "The Red Shoes," "The Tales of Hoffman," and "The Turning Point." This is not one of those films. In case you're wondering, Neve Campbell trained as a young ballet dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, when she was a young girl. She used some of that training in this film in her role of an up-and-coming young ballerina with The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, although none of the dancing that she did in the film looked to be of the very-professional "on-the-tips-of-your-toes" variety. In addition to the actual members of the Joffrey Ballet, the other stars of this movie are Malcolm McDowell (as the ballet company's stern manager,) and James Franco (once again doing his James Dean thing.) Only for the most avid fans of ballet. (A very articulate, business-like Neve Campbell conducted an interesting Question & Answer period after the film.)

(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: "CASA DE LOS BABYS"

Director John Sayles focuses his attention on a group of American women who have come to a Latin American country to adopt a child. Each one comes with her own "baggage," and each one is acted by a fine actress (Marcia Gay Hayden, Rita Moreno, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daryl Hannah, Mary Steenburgen, Lili Taylor, and Susan Lynch.) However, as written by John Sayles, each character is so neurotic, that I wouldn't give a child to any one of them! Even though the country is unspecified, it looked to me that the movie was filmed in the back-streets of Acapulco, Mexico, and my mind wandered trying to figure out where the action was taking place, instead of concentrating on what was happening in the scene. That's not a good sign. Another negative:  in one long scene, actress Susan Lynch, playing an Irish woman who lives in Boston, delivers what amounts to a monologue in English, to the maid who's cleaning up her room. The fact that the maid can't understand a word of English doesn't stop this idiot from droning on, in a thick brogue no less, for at least 15 minutes. That interminable and insensitive speech almost drove me out of the theater! The best thing about the film, (aside from my game of trying to figure out where we were in Acapulco at any given time!) was the amazing performance of Marcia Gay Hayden in a hateful role.

(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: "I AM DAVID"

A beautiful, haunting, moving, and completely incredible film about a young boy's journey from a hellish life in a Bulgarian labor camp just after World War II, to the hope of a normal life in a distant country. How he gets to that "distant country," is the story of this film. David escapes from the insanity of his life in the labor camp, with nothing but a sealed envelope from a friend at the camp, instructing him to take the envelope to a specific person in Denmark, where he will unravel the mystery of his past. The obstacles that he faces along the route, put those of Candide to shame, and rival those of Ulysses in the Odyssey! Director Paul Feig, known to many as the creator of TV's "Freaks and Geeks" show (!) wrote and directed this unforgetable film, based on the novel by Anne Holm. It must have been a labor of love for the young director, who knows how to blend humor and tragedy to create a story about a 12-year-old's amazing life. And amazing is the only word to describe the young actor Ben Tibber, who is in every scene of the film, and carries it beautifully. He is assisted by effective cameo appearances from Jim Caviezel and Joan Plowright (Lady Laurence Olivier.) The enchanting musical score was carefully put together by Stuart Townsend and the director himself. (The director was there for an informative Question and Answer period after the movie. He said that he loves stories about people who are discovering life for the first time. His film is one of those stories.)

(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: "SHATTERED GLASS"

An expose of fraudulence in journalism at one of America's most prestigious magazines, might have been shocking news as recently as ten years ago, but unfortunately, today it almost seems dated! What isn't dated in this excellent film by first time director Billy Ray, is the exciting screenplay (by Billy Ray once again,) the direction, and the impeccable acting of a truly ensemble cast. Back in 1998, Stephen Glass was the star writer for the respected current events and policy magazine The New Republic ("the magazine of choice on Air Force One.") Everybody loved him, until it was found out that he was a pathological liar/sociopath who had "cooked" (made up) most of his articles! Even then, his loyal following of "fans" on the staff  fought not to have him fired. Only a brave editor was courageous enough to confront him with his problems, and throw him out. The fine cast includes Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard as Glass and his editor. Both deliver Oscar-worthy performances. Hank Azaria plays the previous editor, Michael Kelly, and Chloe Sevigny is one of the on-staff writers who sticks with Glass till the very end. Portraying the writers of the on-line magazine that did all of the detective work and exposed Glass, are Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson. As I said before, everyone in the cast is letter-perfect. As an unfortunate coda to this story, today Glass, after having written a novel about a writer who makes up articles (!) is being sought after by magazines like Rolling Stone and Esquire, to write articles for them. Says a lot about how we glorify criminals, psychopaths, and wrongdoers today, doesn't it? (Director Billy Ray presided over the informative and lively final Q & A at this closing film of the Boston Film Festival.)

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "CABIN FEVER"

I can only imagine how the idea for this film came about. Picture writer/director/producer Eli Roth sitting in his backyard in Newton, Massachusetts with about ten of his former college friends. He says to them, "Look, I just happen to have a large vat of pig's blood in the yard. Let's throw it on each other and make a movie." That's about it! The result is a cliche-ridden mess (literally) filled with a bunch of people who can't act, who in addition, are asked to play roles that are so repulsive that you just can't wait for them to be killed. But that in itself is a cliche as well, isn't it? The story is the usual one. Five people in a cabin in the woods. One by one they catch "a contagious disease," and die of illogic and stupidity! I found myself rooting for three "Deliverance"-type goons and a deputy sheriff who couldn't spell "sheriff!" Why did we see it? Because the print for "American Splendor" got ruined by a water leak. Such is fate!

(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "AMERICAN SPLENDOR"

Sure, this film is creative, original, unique and highly imaginative. But I also had to fight the urge to walk out on it several times, because it's also bizarre and painfully boring! Harvey Pekar was a real person, a file clerk in a hospital, and also,  a gloomy, depressed and depressing, obsessive-compulsive, obnoxious slob of a loser, who felt compelled (out of insanity perhaps?) to sketch his life as a comic book. Through a strange series of circumstances, he met and became friends with Robert Crumb, the equally wacko illustrator, who felt the need to illustrate a comic book based on Pekar's stick-figure sketches and stories. The rest is history, so to speak. The underground comic book "American Splendor" and Harvey Pekar, became the darling of the cult circuit. Although he maintained his slovenly life-style and his pathetic job, despite acquiring a nut-job of a wife, he managed to become a regular guest on the David Letterman Show, where he was ridiculed by the host. Mercifully I missed all of these appearances, possibly because I never watch Letterman! The actors portraying Pekar and his wife (Paul Giamatti and an unrecognizable Hope Davis) were brilliant. It must have been painful for them to spend so much time in the "skin" of these misfits. But then again, they're actors and they probably enjoyed the challenge. I would rather have a root canal. I can't believe that, for the past month, I looked forward to seeing this self-indulgent piece of trash!

(1-Star) 

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "BOLLYWOOD/HOLLYWOOD"

I know that there's a huge international audience for the big musicals that are churned out by the studios in Bombay, India (nicknamed "Bollywood.") If this film is typical of those movies, then it'll be my first and last one! The plots are basically all the same: melodramatic soap operas told through tongue-in-cheek comedy, and big musical numbers. Directors, like Deepa Mehta, who make these films, should be locked in a movie theater, and forced to watch all of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals of the 1930's and '40s, and then watch every musical that the MGM studios made in the '50's and '60's. Then they might learn something about how an elegant musical with class, intelligence, and excellent music is made! The present film has no class, no intelligence, and no music that my ears would ever want to hear again. The characters in the movie are all repulsive, but giving them the benefit of the doubt, they're supposed to be. We're supposed to be seeing Indo-trash (I didn't even know that this group existed!) at play, in their garish homes that look like Vegas lounges, driving their BMW's, and wearing tasteless clothes and jewelry. If this group does exist, then their values are every bit as reprehensible as the worst of those in the Euro-trash, and Sino-trash categories. I don't need to go on. You get the picture; don't see this one!

(1-Star)  

MOVIE REVIEW- "ANYTHING ELSE"

Woody Allen used to be one of the most creative and brilliant minds working in film. Unfortunately, he's lost it all. This film is perfectly dreadful! His writing has become ugly, mean, and condescending. His directing brings out the worst in a talented cast of actors who bring to life some of the most obnoxious and hateful characters seen on screen this year. His acting has been reduced to doing a bad Woody Allen impersonation. Very sad. Jason Biggs, a gifted actor/comedian, plays a comic writer (the Woody Allen alter ego,) who is such a neurotic nerd and doormat, that he allows a host of sick individuals to control his life, simply because he's too afraid to tell them to get lost. These deranged lunatics include his girlfriend and her live-in mother (Christina Ricci and Stockard Channing;) his agent (Danny DeVito;) and his mentor and friend (Woody Allen.) For those of you with a morbid curiosity for freaks, you might want to check out Christina Ricci's performance as the nastiest, craziest, most mean-spirited bitch on screen this year. I hope that this is good acting on her part! Is there anything good about this film. Yes. The New York scenes in Central Park, Sheepshead Bay, and the Upper West Side, are lovingly filmed by a man who truly loves his city. As in all Woody Allen films, the music, consisting of great standards of the past, is impeccable. But scenery and music aren't enough to make a film worth seeing...unless it's the Discovery channel! Stay home and rent "Annie Hall," arguably his best film.

(1-Star) 

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE RUNDOWN"

This is as good as an action film gets. It's the Schwarzenegger film that Arnold never made (although he does have a cameo appearance in it.) It's the next Indiana Jones movie. It's The Mummy #4 (or is it #5?) You get the picture, right? The plot is irrelevant, but in synopsis, it involves an invincible bounty hunter (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson,) who is hired by a bad guy to find his son, a student of Archeology (Sean William Scott..."Stiffler" in the "American Pie" films,) who is searching for a priceless golden statue in the Amazon jungle. He, in turn, is being pursued by the Lord-Jim-like owner of a slave-run gold-mine (played by a wildly over-the-top Christopher Walken, who is doing the best Christopher Walken impersonation since Jay Mohr!) Providing the eye candy, is the leader of the rebels, played by Rosario Dawson (who is not only sexy, but a damn good actress as well.) So there you have it. Each actor plays a stereotype, but plays it to the hilt. They couldn't be bettered. The jungle settings (enhanced by computer graphics) are truly spectacular; the fights (enhanced by Dolby sound) are thrilling...and absurd; the action is fast and furious. In short, a perfect Summer blockbuster. Oops, I forgot. It's Fall. Oh well. It's still a thrill-a-minute enjoyable movie. I loved it.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

CB (Comic Book)

MOVIE REVIEW- "LOST IN TRANSLATION"

Some critics have said that Bill Murray's performance in this film should get him an Academy Award nomination. If he does, then so should the horse who played "Seabiscuit." They both show about the same amount of emotion, with the nod going to the horse! Maybe it's the fault of Sofia Coppola, the director, or maybe it's Sofia Coppola, the writer, but in either case, she's given her stars little or nothing to do, or say, for that matter. The only actor who shows any emotion at all is Giovanni Ribisi, who's on screen for about 12 minutes. The two main stars (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) were directed to act as though they were just coming out of a coma and are trying to adjust to oxygen. The story, such as it is, involves a has-been movie actor who's in Tokyo to film a whiskey commercial (Murray,) and the young wife (Johannsson) of a photographer who has accompanied her inattentive husband (Ribisi) on a photo-shoot in the same city. For some strange reason, neither one can sleep in their extremely luxurious Japanese hotel, so they end up in the bar, where they "meet cute" and then drink and smoke for the rest of the movie. It seems to me that these two losers would have been lonely in any city on this planet. They develop a slightly more than platonic relationship, and then "part cute," after boring the audience nearly to tears for almost two hours. The only redeeming feature of the movie is the beautiful photography in the photogenic cities of Tokyo and Kyoto, and the portrait of contemporary life in these two exciting cities. But, at nomination time, my money is on the horse!

(1 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "MYSTIC RIVER"

When I reviewed the Dennis Lehane novel Mystic River, I said that although it's "not a masterpiece of great literature, it's certainly a page-turner and an excellent example of the murder-mystery genre." Director Clint Eastwood has actually improved upon the book and made it into a masterpiece of FILM literature. The story remains the same. Three young boys are playing street hockey when a car pulls up and two men posing as cops abduct one of the boys. The boy is sexually molested and then released. Twenty five years later the three men are united when the daughter of one of them is tragically murdered. Eastwood has wisely assembled the finest ensemble cast of actors on screen this year, and they all fulfill his expectations. Another wise decision on the part of the director was to film the story where it was set in the book...in Chelsea, a seedy "suburb" of Boston. The result takes this murder mystery out of the realm of the ordinary, and elevates it to the level of Greek tragedy. The dream cast includes Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurence Fishburn, Laura Linney and Eli Wallach. Look for at least two or three Oscar nominations for several members of the cast (my bets are on Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Marcia Gay Harden,) a best film nomination, and a surefire nomination for the brilliant director, Clint Eastwood, who incidentally, composed the musical score as well!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "INTOLERABLE CRUELTY"

In this tribute to the intelligent "screwball comedies" of the '30s and '40s, the Coen Brothers ("The Big Lebowski," "Fargo," and "Raising Arizona,") have recreated the mood of one of these classic comedies, in both style and substance. The gifted actors play their tongue-in-cheek roles perfectly, especially one who I never thought that I'd call a "gifted actor".....George Clooney. Now we all know that Clooney can't act, all he can do is play George Clooney. So the Coens have capitalized on this fact, by writing a role that pokes fun of the George Clooney persona,  vanity and "charisma." He plays it beautifully. Clooney is Miles Massey, a vain con-man, Beverly Hills divorce lawyer, who specializes in getting philandering husbands out of paying huge sums of money to their Barbie-doll wives. Then along comes one of these gold-digging wives and Miles falls for her, hook, line, and sinker. Who can one trust? George Clooney plays the Cary Grant/Spencer Tracy role, and Catherine Zeta-Jones is all elegance, class, and humor in the Katherine Hepburn/Rosalind Russell role. (If you don't know who I'm talking about, then you should rent one of the classic screwball comedies, like "Bringing Up Baby," "The Awful Truth," "The Lady Eve," or "The Philadelphia Story.") Giving very rich support in this farce, are such gifted actor-comedians as Geoffrey Rush,  Julia Duffy, Edward Herrmann, Cedric the Entertainer (yes, you heard me!) and Paul Adelstein. The Coen brothers have done it again!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "LES TRIPLETTES DE BELLEVILLE" ("THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE")

I was very sorry when I missed this film that became the runaway hit of the Boston Film Festival last month. Therefore, I was very happy that it was selected for this advance screening. "Happy" is a good word to describe this French/Canadian/Belgian animated film. Other words that could describe it are "imaginative, creative, thoroughly original, bizarre, funny, beautifully drawn, irreverent, artistic, politically incorrect, etc." It was conceived, written, and directed by Sylvain Chomet who probably has Hollywood banging down her/his doors right now. There may have been a time when studio animators had the guts and the vision to create a surrealistic movie like "The Triplets of Belleville," but I can't remember having seen one. It's virtually a film without words, and those that are in the movie are either a garbled French or English, or are sung in parodies of French songs. The story defies description but I'll try to summarize it anyway. Madame Souza lives with her grandson Champion and his dog Bruno. Through a rigorous training regimen, she turns him into a first-class cyclist, and he enters the Tour de France. During the course of the race, he's kidnapped by the French mafia, and transported to a New York-like city called Belleville, where he's kept a prisoner, used to entertain the gangsters in a bizarre way. Meanwhile, Madame Souza, with the help of three old ladies (who were once famous music-hall stars, "The Triplets of Belleville,) and the old dog Bruno, set out to rescue Champion. If the story sounds crazy, it's meant to be, and it's thoroughly entertaining for it's short 80 minutes. Stay through the end of the credits for a quick, but funny scene. Take the kids. It's a little violent and wacko, but they'll get it...and love it!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

  

MOVIE REVIEW- "KILL BILL: Vol. 1"

Anyone who knows me, knows that I hate martial arts films, especially those that have dozens of Chinese flying through the air on invisible wires. If Quentin Tarentino's brilliant "Kill Bill" is a martial arts film, then it's the "Gone With The Wind" of this genre. In short, it's a work of art! Tarentino has written and directed his most beautiful film. Because he loves films, he's made it into a parody and an homage at the same time. He quotes from such diverse sources as: the Sergio Leone "Spaghetti westerns"( close your eyes and you'll think that you're listening to the wonderful Ennio Morricone music from those movies;) every martial arts film ever made; the musicals of Busby Berkeley, with the overhead camera shooting dancers in kaleidescopic patterns; the "Anime" animated films from Japan (an entire sequence is brilliantly animated;) etc. The movie is written, directed, acted, photographed, and choreographed magnificently. Yes, choreographed. The final 30-minute fight scene in the "House of Blue Leaves" is virtually a ballet, complete with beautiful music. The story concerns members of an assassination squad, who murder one of their own on her wedding day. Instead of dying, she (known only as "The Bride,") goes into a coma for months. When she revives, she plots the killing of each and every one of her former fellow assassins. Uma Thurman is absolute perfection as "The Bride," as are Lucy Liu, Viveca A. Fox, and Daryl Hannah as her former "team-mates." For those critics who have complained that the film could have been condensed and shown as one film, rather than two (Vol. 2 comes out in February,) I, for one, wouldn't want to have to be the one to decide which frames get cut from the present film. As I said before, it's a work of art, and cutting any of it would be an act of vandalism!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

  

MOVIE REVIEW- "WONDERLAND"

This movie depicts the true-life multiple murders that marred the end of the already-fading career of porn star, John (Johnny Wadd) Holmes. It's a mess from start to finish, as I assume was the life of Johnny Holmes, and it qualifies for the worst movie of the year. One would think that a film about pornography, drug-addiction, whores, real-life gangsters and multiple- murders, would at least be interesting.  This one is a colossal bore! In addition to being sleep-inducing, it's a waste of the talents of some skilled (and not-so-skilled) actors, including Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Jeanine Garafalo, Eric Bogosian, Carrie Fisher, Christina Applegate and an almost unrecognizable Dylan McDermott ( formerly from TV's "The Practice.") Mercifully, we're never shown the 14-inch "piece of equipment" that made Mr. Holmes famous! One can only be thankful for small favors.

(0-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "RUNAWAY JURY"

This movie was in trouble very early on in the creative process. Its script, based on the John Grisham best-seller, dealt with whistle-blowing in the tobacco industry, and that was out-dated before filming even started. (That story had already been done so well by Russell Crowe in "The Insider.") So the script went through a year of rewrites, and in the process, lost its original stars, Sean Connery, Edward Norton, and Gwyneth Paltrow, and turned into a movie about whistle-blowing in the GUN industry. (Always topical, unfortunately.) The skeleton of Grisham's novel, which dealt, primarily, with jury tampering, is still intact, and the new stars are Gene Hackman, John Cusack, and Rachel Weisz. Dustin Hoffman is the only original star who stayed with the project from the beginning, and it was he, who brought on his former room-mate Gene Hackman. The two strike sparks whenever they're on screen together, sparring as opposing lawyers in the big-money case. Gene Hackman, is the bad guy lawyer, and just in case you're in doubt, he's made up to look like Mephistopheles, in a modern-day production of "Faust." John Cusack is good, playing an adult role for a change, as is Rachel Weisz, once again, showing what a good actress she is, and how well she does an American accent! In spite of all of the drawbacks prior to filming, the final product is a big, old-fashioned, fascinating cat-and-mouse thriller, with lawyer pitted against lawyer, juror against juror, and the entire judicial system in America, on trial. There are enough twists and turns in it, to keep you guessing "who did what, and why?" If you guess the ending, you get to be excused from your next jury duty!

(4- Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "THE COOLER"

This is easily the best movie about Las Vegas that I've ever seen. Not the glitzy "billion-dollar-theme-park" Vegas of The Strip, but rather the seedy, rundown Vegas of downtown Fremont Street, with its desperate, pathetic winners and losers. There, in the "old-school" casino, the Golden Shangri-la, we meet someone known as "The Cooler," who is such a loser, that he's actually hired by the casino bosses to walk around the tables, emanating an aura of bad luck, and turning winners into losers. What a goldmine for a casino! As played brilliantly by William H. Macy, we in turn feel sympathy and also disgust for this complete wreck of a man. He has a strange relationship with the casino boss, (played to perfection by Alec Baldwin,) who claims to be his friend, but who also smashed his kneecap to smithereens with a bat, when he did something wrong to him. Maria Bello plays the role of a cocktail waitress who falls in love with this pathetic shell of a man. At the Shangri-la, old-time gangsters do business with young Harvard B-School whiz-kids. A washed-up lounge singer (Paul Sorvino) shoots up with heroin after his dreary act, as his young replacement (Joey Fatone) waits to fill his worn-out shoes. If the unusual mixture of comedy, tragedy, extreme violence, and explicit sex is not your cup of tea, then stay away from this unique and original film. But be warned. If you do stay away, you'll be missing one of this year's best written, directed, and acted movies. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Oscar nominations for William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello, and even Paul Sorvino.

(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "SCARY MOVIE 3"

Most of this movie is pretty stupid; some of it is very funny; and a little bit of it is absolutely hilarious. The cleverest, and funniest parts of the film are the spoofs/parodies of such other films as: "The Matrix:Reloaded," "Signs," "Seven Days," the Pamela Andersen/Tommy Lee sex tape, and the Coors-Lite commercial. Of course, none of this will make any sense to you if you haven't seen the original films. Somehow I think that I remember the first two "Scary Movies" as being funnier, but that might just have been the fact that the idea was still new and fresh. What is truly refreshing is to see what comedy can accomplish when it isn't politically correct. Some of the politically incorrect scenes in the film are also the funniest, especially the one involving Michael Jackson, and the one with Father Muldoon and the little boy! Unfortunately, the trailer gives away most of the funniest scenes.

(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE HUMAN STAIN"

Although I'm not a fan of Philip Roth, I can only imagine that his novel, upon which this film is based, must have had more substance and intelligence than does this overblown, superficial, soap-opera, period piece of a movie. Although not meant to be an homage, it brings to mind those dated movies of the '40s and '50s, in which a black character trying to pass for white, is played by a white actor. Maybe I just gave away more of the plot than I should have, but it's all academic anyway...no pun intended. The plot concerns a Classics Professor (Anthony Hopkins) in a college in the Berkshires (Williams?) who is forced to resign in disgrace, because he calls two chronically-absent students "Spooks," (ghosts.) What causes the furor is that the students happened to be black, and they took offense with the word, thinking that he meant it as a racial slur, even though he never met the students. What transpires after that is inspired lunacy! His wife dies when she hears the news; he has an affair with a 34-year-old cleaning lady, who's being stalked by her psychotic ex-husband (Ed Harris); he strikes up a friendship with a lonely writer (Gary Sinise) who decides to write his biography; and in ludicrous flashbacks, we find out that he is black! Add to all of this, the fact that the two leads are dreadfully miscast, especially Nicole Kidman...as a  trashy cleaning lady??? At least the campus scenery is pretty. It was filmed in Williamstown, Massachusetts, one of America's most beautiful towns.

(2 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS"

With this final film, "The Matrix Trilogy" comes to a smashing conclusion...literally. What was given to us in the first film, was the gift of novelty. The story was new and original, and although the characters were all two-dimensional, the action and computer graphics were outstanding. The story, in the second film, was cloaked in a lot of philosophical mumbo-jumbo...sort of a cinematic Rorschach ink-blot. People read into it all kinds of deep meanings, that I'm sure were never even imagined by the creators of the film! In this final film, all of the story lines come together, and the grand cosmic battle (machines vs man,) is the highlight of the film. The computer graphics are truly awesome, and the plot draws heavily from "Star Wars," "2001: A Space Odyssey," and "The Wizard of Oz!" The "saviour" Neo, with the help of the Oracle, Morpheus, Trinity, and the whole gang at Zion, battle the machines in a spectacular "siege of Zion scene," and if this isn't enough to tax the supernatural powers of Neo, he's forced to fight Mr. Smith to the death, while thousands of cloned Mr. Smiths look on. But not before he and Trinity pay an unforgettable visit to the City of the Machines (a CGI worker's dream come true!) I only wish that I could have seen these three films through the eyes of someone who had been raised on video-games; they would have had much more substance and meaning. But I WAS raised on comic books, and that old imagination of mine kicked in to provide the needed pump. I did notice something interesting in this last film. Although the computer graphics wizards were able to provide terrifyingly realistic machines and weapons, the last scene of the movie has one of the phoniest sunrises and cityscapes that I've ever seen. I guess computer graphics imagery can't create EVERYTHING!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

CB (Comic Book) 

MOVIE REVIEW- "LOVE ACTUALLY"

I had expected this movie to be a silly comedy about Love: British Style. I was going to see it because of its excellent cast...and I was prepared to hate it. I even had composed a sentence in my mind, that I had planned to insert in my review. So as not to waste it, here it is: "This film is so flat and soggy that it's like a platter of yesterday's fish and chips." Well, in fact it's the exact opposite. It's utterly and completely charming! As the film unfolded, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was not only enjoying it, but that I was feeling good about enjoying it! The eight intertwining stories deal with various aspects and types of love...adolescent love, unrequited love, philandering love, stupid love, tragic love, brotherly love, etc. It's easy to see why the incredible ensemble cast of six of Britain's best actors (Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Rowan Atkinson, Colin Firth,  Hugh Grant) and two of America's best (Laura Linney and Billy Bob Thornton) jumped at the chance to play these roles, and play them they do...brilliantly, intelligently, and comically. Each role is a gift to the actor playing it. The story is beautifully written and expertly directed by first-time director Richard Curtis (he wrote "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Notting Hill.) The plots jump from sugary love scenes, to comic slapstick, to intelligent family drama, to dorky "American Pie"-like scenes, and they do it so comfortably. Why can't we do this as well as the British can? Take your girlfriend, your wife, or your mother to see this as a holiday gift. She'll love you for it...and you'll feel good about it too.

(4 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW-(Special Screening)- "LOONEY TUNES BACK IN ACTION"

I can almost guarantee with complete certainty, that anyone over the age of seven, who isn't severely retarded, will hate this film!

( 0-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "ELF"

Who would have thought that my favorite cynical-hipster, actor/writer/director Jon Favreau ("Swingers," "Made,") and outrageous, often potty-mouthed comic Will Ferrell, could have created an old-fashioned Christmas movie...one  that is sure to become a yearly holiday classic? Not me, that's for sure. It would have been easy to go for the cheap, gross-out laugh, but never once does the excrement hit the fan. Instead, Favreau has given us an early Christmas gift...a true film for the whole family to enjoy...from children to grandparents, and most definitely including the college students as well, who are flocking to it in droves, and loving it. A young orphan crawls into Santa's (Ed Asner's) gift bag on Christmas Eve, and is accidentally taken back to the North Pole, where he's adopted by an older elf (Bob Newhart) who raises him as his own son. When Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) learns that he's really human, and that he has a father in New York, he leaves the North Pole, and walks to Manhattan! When he gets there, he finds that his father (James Caan) is a Scrooge-like owner of a childrens-book company, and that he has a new step-mother (Mary Steenbergen) and a step-brother. Buddy innocently wreaks havoc on the city, including the toy department of a Macy's-like department store (named after the defunct Gimbel's,) and his new family's apartment. At the department store, he meets a co-worker (a charming Zooey Deschanel,) who brings out the man in him. All ends well, as the holiday spirit is restored to a beaten-down New York. (Something that hasn't happened yet in real life!) I can't think of another actor besides Ferrell, who could have made the role of this child-like human, believable, without turning it into a sugary caricature. Director Favreau keeps the film moving from one hilarious scene to the next, but never loses sight of the sweet and gentle story that's being told. It's a beautiful fairy tale of a Christmas movie for the entire family to enjoy.

(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD"

If you're a fan of 19th Century British naval history, and you love to see historic battles fought at sea, then you'll probably enjoy this fine film much more than I did. Although I can certainly appreciate the tremendous amount of work that director Peter Weir did in having these two frigates built, outfitted accurately, and then wrecked, and I can also appreciate the work of the talented actors involved (especially Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany,) I can't say that I was glued to the screen throughout the entire movie. Maybe it was the lack of land, or possibly the lack of women, but I found my attention lagging because of the sameness of watching two ships chasing each other through a lot of water for two and a half hours! The story did much to keep me interested, even though it was filled with so many of the usual cliches of this genre: the obsessed sea captain, the mutinous crew, the brave ship's doctor who operates on himself and then is playing his cello a week later, and all those young boys who should be home playing "little-league cricket" rather than having their limbs cut off at sea. Topical comment: in the Patrick O' Brian books upon which this film is based, the action takes place during the War of 1812 and the bad guys are the Americans. But in the film, the action was pushed back to the Napoleonic Wars, and the bad guys are now the French. I guess they felt that it was easier to hate the French nowadays! Does anyone reading this know, if this title is the longest title in film history? At times, the film seemed like the longest movie in film history!

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "ELEPHANT"

In an almost documentary fashion, writer/director Gus Van Sant takes us into a typical American high school, and introduces us to the "cast of characters" of his latest award-winning film. They're all stereotypes and you'll recognize every one of them. There's the jock, the school photographer, the most popular pretty girl, the bulimic ditzy air-heads, the grungy goths, the library nerd, and the two clean-cut guys who march into the building during the last 20 minutes, and shoot dozens of their fellow-students, and blow up parts of the school! I've heard Gus Van Zant say that he has no intention of answering the question "why?" However, I'm afraid that he has. The leader of the two guys is bullied by his classmates. They play target-practice computer games. They passively watch Nazi documentary films on TV. They order automatic weapons on-line, and have them delivered to their homes by an unsuspecting FedEx man, and under the noses of their all-too-absent parents. Isn't that enough to send two sociopaths (albeit normal-looking ones) on this deadly rampage? The cast consists of non-actor high school kids whose naturalism is absolutely perfect. However, there's so much time taken just going through the every day activities of a normal school day (I know; that's what the director was going for!) that at times it gets a bit boring and repetitious. Nevertheless, it's thrilling, if you know what's going to happen, and you should, and the final killings are bone-chilling in the matter-of factness of the killers. Maybe some parents will wake up if they see this, and take a look at what's going on in junior's bedroom, and in his head!

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING"

Director Peter Webber has created a visual (and aural) masterpiece, in this film about a painter and his subject, that is as much a work of art as is any one of the paintings by Vermeer scattered throughout the movie. Credit cinematographer Eduardo Serra, and the set (Ben von Os) and costume (Dien van Straalen) designers, for making each frame of the one-and-a-half-hour film an accurate representation of a Dutch painting. It's like taking a tour of the 17th Century Dutch Painting gallery at a great museum. However, with THIS tour comes a beautifully written story (from the book by Tracy Chevalier,) brilliantly acted by a perfect cast of actors. In 1652, in the beautiful blue town of Delft, Holland, the household of near-bankrupt self-absorbed artist Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth) is dominated by manipulative women, and neighbor and patron, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson.) Vermeer's mother-in-law (Judy Parfitt, in a performance deserving of an award,) rules the roost, while his wife (Cillian Murphy) primps, broods, and produces daughters...four brats and one psycho! Into this cauldron comes the innocent new maid (a radiant Scarlett Johansson) who proceeds to set in motion a set of unfortunate events that eventually will produce the magnificent painting that sits in The Hague..."Girl With A Pearl Earring." Everything about this film reeks of class, not least of which is the magnificent musical score by Alexandre Desplat. It's still playing in my head! I can't think of the last time that I saw a film that so accurately and faithfully reproduced a time and a place. For a short time, we the viewers ARE in Delft, Holland, watching lives fall apart, and a painting come to life.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "BROTHER BEAR"

I can just imagine how the planning session went, around that big conference table at Disney, when someone proposed the idea for this animated film. "Forget the computer crap this time. It worked for "Nemo," but let's give them something classic, like "The Lion King." Do we still have anyone at the Studio who knows how to draw? Get him out of the hospital; we need him. The story's about talking animals; that's good. It worked for "Bambi," and we can try to kill off the mother again. That's a sure winner. Make sure that some of the animals sound Jewish, and at least one should sound Black. What about that gay guy in London? Can we get him to write the music? He's a Lord now? Forget it; too expensive. Get Phil Collins. He'll do anything for a buck, but tell him that every song should sound like something from "The Lion King." We need an Oscar-nominated song. We can't keep milking that damn "Circle of Life" forever. Well, that should do it. What could go wrong?" I'll tell you what went wrong, my friends. First of all, you needed a hateful villain. There is none in the movie. Therefore, there's little tension or conflict. At least one of the animals should have been a memorable character. Not one, I'm afraid. They were all stupid, annoying, or forgettable. What's left is a truly boring, but beautifully hand-drawn travelogue of somewhere up in the Far North. Mercifully, it was only 85 minutes long. "Hey, that's not fair. Wait till you see our next one. It's about a talking shoe!"

(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "21 GRAMS"

This film is the most brilliantly acted and startlingly constructed movie of the year. It's also one of the most oppressively depressing films that I've ever seen. As he did in his first film "Amores Perros," Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu tears the story into pieces, and then scatters these pieces on screen, making audiences work at putting the pieces together...during some boring stretches at times. Math professor Paul (Sean Penn) has just had a long-awaited heart transplant. His wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) wants to have a baby, something of him to leave behind, in case he dies. Paul hires a detective to find out who the heart donor was. In doing so, he comes in contact with two seriously damaged characters. Christina (Naomi Watts). an ex-junkie, is the widow of the man whose heart Paul now carries. Jack (Benicio Del Toro) is the ex-con, Jesus freak who accidentally killed the man and his two young daughters. When they finally all come together, so does the story, and it explodes violently into a bloody climax. As I said before, the acting is brilliant, and the three leads will probably be nominated for Oscars, putting Sean Penn in the unique position of competing against himself ("Mystic River.") Just in case you're wondering, as I was, "21 Grams" is the weight that a body loses at death. That'll give you an idea of the overall tone of this very heavy film!

(4- Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "BAD SANTA"

Independent film director Terry Zwigoff ("Ghost World," and "Crumb,") has come up with an alternative to this year's two feel-good Christmas movies..."Love Actually," and "Elf." The movie is the grungy, profane, and absolutely hilarious "Bad Santa." Billy Bob Thornton and midget (I'm not politically correct, remember?) Tony Cox, play con-men who take department-store jobs at Christmas, working as the store's Santa Claus and his Elf helper by day, and robbing the store at night. They make enough each Christmas to sustain them throughout the year until the next holiday season rolls around. That is, until "Santa" meets the dumbest and fattest kid in a movie this year (Brett Kelly,) and mellows out to the point where he can't do his job effectively. "Bad Santa" is basically a one-joke movie. The joke being, that outrageous non-stop cursing, done in the presence of, and to, children, is...sick as it may seem...downright hilarious! Every time it happens, and it happens every time that "Santa" opens his mouth, it's just as funny as it was the first time it happened. I feel sorry for all of those poor 8-year-old actors, who had to have these words thrown at them in every scene. Hell, if they're in the business, they were probably cursing at the age of three! A couple of afterthoughts. It was sad to see brilliant comic actress Cloris Leachman in a virtually non-speaking role as the fat kid's grandmother. (Rent "Young Frankenstein" to see her in her prime.) Also, as an opera-lover, it was gratifying to hear the classical music of Bizet, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, etc. used as part of the movie's background music. I don't know why it was used, but I for one, enjoyed it. In any case, if you're looking for laughs, this is the movie for you. But PLEASE, leave the kids at home!

(3 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE LAST SAMURAI"

Make no mistake about it, this is a great film...beautiful, exciting, and moving, in the tradition of "Spartacus," "Glory," "Braveheart," and "Gladiator." Tom Cruise, in his finest performance, plays Captain Nathan Algren, a drunk and disillusioned Civil War veteran, and a survivor of Custer's Last Stand. Because of his military expertise, he's hired by no less a personage than the Emperor of Japan, to train the Imperial troops in the ways of modern warfare, with the purpose of defeating the last rebellious Samurai. After being captured by the Samurai and their warlord Katsumoto (a brilliant Japanese actor, Ken Watanabe,) Algren undergoes a life-changing transformation. During the course of this fast-moving 2 -1/2 hour film, Cruise's character learns about himself, the Samurai, and Japan itself, as do we. Director Edward Zwick keeps the plot and theme focused on clashes...clashes of cultures on the practical and philosophical scale, clashes of personalities on the personal level, and clashes of swords vs guns on the epic scale. In the battle scenes, Zwick makes it clear that he's an admirer of the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. The battles are realistic, terrifying, moving,  and epic in scope. By imitating Kurosawa, Zwick achieves a cinematic beauty often missing in these types of battle scenes. All of those martial arts movies, with their multiple flying Asians, pale in comparison to the real thing! Ironically, all of the battle scenes, especially the grand climactic one, were filmed in New Zealand. It would seem that the spread of modern technology, which is at the heart of this story, has rendered the Japanese countryside useless for filming scenes of epic grandeur. At least all of the scenes filmed in and around the grand Shinto shrines, were filmed in Kyoto, Japan. Even the relentless bombings of WWII, spared that royal, magnificent city. 

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS" (In French with English sub-titles)

A French-Canadian college professor is diagnosed with terminal cancer. His wife, who has been divorced from him for 15 years, makes a frantic phone call to her successful capitalist son in London, pleading for him to come to Montreal to help her care for his father during his remaining days. The son, who hasn't spoken to his father in a year, and who feels no emotional ties to him, agrees reluctantly. On their first meeting in a year, they have a fight. But then the son takes charge, not because he cares about his father, but that's because that's what he does for a living. He makes things happen. He phones all of his father's dearest friends and former mistresses, and asks them to come to his father's bed-side. Surprisingly, they all do, and what ensues is a sweet, gentle, moving story of interpersonal relationships. The discussions at bedside are revealing, intellectual, and often very funny. There's no action, as such, but none is needed. It's just one of those well-written, well-acted "slice of life" films. The barbarian invasions in the title refers to all of those people, places, and things that are threatening to destroy the civilized world...from the animals who flew those planes into the World Trade Center,  to moronic students who sit in college classrooms absorbing absolutely nothing. 

(3- 1/2 Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG"

Here's what I wrote when I reviewed the book by Andre Dubos III: "I can't remember the last time that I read an American novel that's as good as this one; a blend of Greek and Shakespearean tragedy set in modern-day California. It's the story of a house...and the three people whose lives come together because they want what each one thinks is rightfully his/hers. Kathy Nicolo's father left her the house, but because of a misunderstanding due to her alcoholism and drug addiction, she loses the house. Colonel Behrani, formerly a high-ranking colonel in the army of the Shah of Iran, but now reduced to collecting garbage, buys the house on auction with the remainder of the money that he brought with him when he and his family fled Iran. Deputy Sheriff Lester Burdon, a married man who has fallen in love with Kathy, is obsessed with returning the house to Kathy, come what may. It's a modern-day story of misunderstandings, due to cultural and language differences; a lack of communication; obsessive love and sheer ignorance. This suspenseful page-turner is, at times, almost too hard to take. There are really no heroes or villains in this story of fate, in spite of the fact that at times you hate, and understand, each of the characters, as they, and the reader, are drawn toward their unnecessary tragic end. What a movie this one will make!" Well, now the movie HAS been made and it's magnificent. It's a slow, deliberate, painful, tension-filled retelling of the story of the book. The three leading actors (Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Connelly and Ron Eldard) are perfectly cast, and Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly (as Behrani and Kathy) will certainly be nominated for Oscars, as will the film, unless it's crowded out by all the competition this year. I was depressed for a week after reading the book, and it looks as though the same will happen now that I've seen the movie. Nevertheless, it's a must-see film.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE"

If you've read the ads and seen the movie's trailer, then you'd probably think, as I did, that this was a chick-flick for the over 60 set. Well, you'd be wrong. Beautifully written and directed by Nancy Meyers, this ensemble piece is an hilarious off-beat romantic comedy, with unusually good acting on the part of its five principal actors. Its humor, ranging from broad slapstick to highly sophisticated drawing room comedy, would appeal to anyone who knows how to laugh. Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson) is a 63-year-old bachelor tycoon who dates no one over the age of 30. His current squeeze (Amanda Peet) is the daughter of a famous female playwright (Diane Keaton.) On a visit to her mother's Martha Stewart-like home in the Hamptons, Harry and his date are surprised by Erica (Keaton) and her sister (Frances MacDormand) who didn't expect her daughter to be visiting, especially with her old-man  boyfriend. In all the excitement, Harry gets the first of several heart attacks, which he gets the way people get headaches. The young doctor (Keanu Reeves, still recovering from "The Matrix,") who takes care of him, takes one look at Erica, and falls in love with this woman who's twice his age. Because Harry can't be moved a long distance, he's forced to stay at Erica's home. They all get to know each other very well.  Get the picture? Diane Keaton hasn't been this good in films since her award-winning work in the classic comedy "Annie Hall." Watch for her at Oscar time. Nicholson matches her in every scene that they have together. The scene in which they take a long walk on the beach, has some of the best dialogue ever written for two mature adults. Frances MacDormand is so good that she's really wasted in the few scenes that she's in. Keanu Reeves makes you realize that he can play a real person, and make you believe his character...in fact, feel sorry for him...without resorting to computer graphics. Credit old-fashioned clever writing, and excellent acting, with making this movie one of the most enjoyable this season. It's just plain great fun!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING"

I remember when I finished reading the Tolkien books, many years ago, the ending brought tears to my eyes. At the end of this film, my eyes were dry. It's either that I've grown harder and more critical with age, or else the film does not have much emotional depth to it. What it does have is lots of plot (don't even think of seeing it if you haven't seen the previous two films;) lots of beautiful New Zealand scenery; and scene after scene of incredible computer-graphics-enhanced battles. It's a worthy challenger to the Star Wars saga in vying for the crown of the finest piece of epic-fantasy-fiction ever filmed. Director Peter Jackson is to be congratulated on a great achievement. In this third chapter of the trilogy, Frodo (Elijah Wood) pursues his difficult quest to return the ring to its final destination, while Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and the surviving members of the Fellowship, distract the evil Sauron and his endless armies. The creepy Gollum (a computer-generated version of actor Andy Serkis) is there to try to get the ring away from Frodo, and faithful Sam (Sean Astin) is around to keep him from doing this. (Was Frodo such a whimpering asshole in the books? I don't remember.) The scenic effects are truly spectacular, with some non-realistic landscapes appearing to be a tribute to the work of Maxfield Parrish. Ironically, the most dramatic and awe-inspiring scene in the film is one that requires no computer graphics. It's a scene in which a series of signal fires are lit on the snow-covered peaks of a chain of mountains. Spectacular! The actors all handle their roles well enough, considering the fact that they're dwarfed by the special effects. Sean Astin as Sam, and Miranda Otto as Eowen (I think that's her name,) come off the best. The others all seem to spend most of their time and energy swinging their swords at Orcs or other fearsome creatures. The film is so entertaining that its 3 1/2-hours go by very quickly. So, if you've read the books and loved them, as I have, and have seen the previous two parts of the trilogy, you will probably love this ending to the story. All the threads of the various plots come together, as they do in the books, but with no tears for this viewer. 

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "COLD MOUNTAIN"

"Cold Mountain" and "Gone With the Wind," are two sides of the Civil War coin. In "GWTW," the war is romanticized in an epic way, and everything is painted in broad, colorful melodramatic strokes. "Cold Mountain" focuses a laser beam on individual lives, and does it in an ugly, nauseating, violent, and painful way. Two distinct ways of portraying the same war. Much has been made of the parallels between the book by Charles Frazier, and Homer's Odyssey. True, they both deal with a soldier's trying to return home to the woman that he loves, and the obstacles that he has to overcome to get there. But, in fact, there are only two or three episodes that parallel the Greek classic tale. As in his "English Patient," writer/director Anthony Minghella tells his story in a slow, sometimes plodding way. Just when you feel the boredom set in (and it IS a long film,) he sings you with a violent, jarring scene. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. What does work is the excellent award-winning acting from this large cast of talented actors. The three perfectly-cast leads (Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellwegger) couldn't be better, and they are brilliantly supported by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Giovanni Ribisi, Eileen Atkins, Natalie Portman, Brendan Gleeson, and Kathy Baker. Each one comes on to take the spotlight in a vignette in which the character portrayed, either aids or hinders, the soldier Inman on his journey home. Renee Zellwegger as Ruby, pretty much steals the film away from everyone (as the character did in the book,) as does the beautiful scenery of Transylvania, Romania, standing in for an overdeveloped, Wal-Mart-ed North Carolina. If you're a Civil War buff, you'll love it, otherwise, be prepared for a 2 1/2-hour journey, that sometimes feels as long as Inmans!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "MONA LISA SMILE"

At the risk of sounding sexist, I can't imagine any man truly enjoying this chick flick, unless he were doing a sociological study of "women in the '50s," specifically the women of Wellesley College in Massachusetts. I don't know just how accurate the film is in its portrayal of life at Wellesley in the '50s, but the college, which has probably turned out more successful female judges, doctors, lawyers, scholars, and even one misguided Secretary of State (Madeleine Albright,) than any other comparable college in the '50s, is portrayed as nothing more than a finishing school...a place where young girls learned how to become good wives and mothers! Into this traditional, conservative, repressed environment, comes a "progressive" teacher (Julia Roberts) who teaches art history, and much, much more, to her students (Julia Stiles, Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gylenhaal.) Naturally, the college's stern President (Marian Seldes) and some of the other teachers (one portrayed by the always excellent Marcia Gay Harden) label her subversive, and try to have her thrown out. Her only female friend on the faculty, is a lesbian who gets fired (Juliet Stevenson.) It's all so Oprah Winfrey, and there isn't a scene in this movie that hasn't been done better in other films such as "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," and "Dead Poet's Society." It all looks as authentically '50s as possible, but then so does the "Carousel of Progress" at DisneyWorld!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "PETER PAN"

Do we really need a new version of "Peter Pan" you might ask? After all, there's the classic Broadway/TV musical starring Mary Martin as an ageless Peter Pan, and Cyril Ritchard as the definitive Hook, and with that unforgettable musical score. Then, there's the Disney animated version, with a completely forgettable score. If only we could forget that expensive Spielberg flop, "Hook," with Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter, and Dustin Hoffman as Hook. Wow, that was a bomb! So what does this new film version bring to the table? Well, for one, it adheres closer to the original Sir James M. Barrie play than do any of the others. For another, it has a beautifully written screenplay...one that's written with intelligence, wit, sophistication and charm. It easily appeals to children, adolescents, and adults. In short, take the whole family to see this one. In addition, the acting is first-rate and the special effects add to the story...they're not the story! But, even with all that, it could have remained firmly planted on the ground, had it not been for the two wonderful actors who play Peter and Wendy (Jeremy Sumpter and Rachel Hurd-Wood,) and for the scary, but lovable Hook of Jason Isaacs (the senior Malfoy in the Harry Potter films.) They're all charming, and they soar...figuratively, and literally. The London settings are beautiful, and although it's an American film, it has a British disregard for political correctness. Hook shoots people randomly (albeit comically,) and he even kicks a child to the ground. How refreshing!

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "MONSTER"

In a breakthrough performance, an unrecognizable Charlize Theron gives the performance of her career as real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a truck-stop prostitute who murdered the trucker-johns who tried to rape her, and who was executed in Florida just two years ago. With a lot of unflattering poundage, and a a set of prosthetic teeth, Theron has transformed herself into this pathetic hunk of white trash, and as a result, will most likely take home the Oscar this year for Best Actress. Credit the director, the screenwriter, and most of all, the actress, for allowing us to see the frightened woman behind this monster. It's an ugly, hard film to sit through; a sad and upsetting tale of a lonely sociopath. Cristina Ricci does a fine job in portraying Wuornos' sick, lesbian lover, who goads her on to do her evil deeds (the true "Monster" of the movie,) but make no mistake about it, this is Theron's film, and she takes it to the bank!

(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "BIG FISH"

You don't usually think of words like "sentimental," "sweet," "sugary," "soap-opera-ish," and even "corny," when you think of a Tim Burton film. The director of such films as "Batman," "Planet of the Apes," "Edward Scissorhands," and "Ed Wood," usually makes films that are often described as "fantastic," "dark," "creative," and "off the wall." Well, "Big Fish" is certainly all of these things as well, but it's burdened with an overpowering sense of heartwarming sentiment...something that Burton doesn't do very well. A Southern patriarch (Albert Finney) a man who has spent his entire life telling fantastic stories, or lying, (depending on your point of view,) is visited by his estranged son (Billy Crudup.) What makes the film interesting, is that the story bounces back and forth between the present, and the make-believe (are they?) stories in which the old man is seen as his younger self (Ewan MacGregor.) Some of the characters in these bizarre stories are enacted by the likes of Danny DeVito, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi, a giant, and Siamese twins! A director like Federico Fellini would have known what to do with them, but Burton just puts them through the motions. There's something very definitely missing. Poor Jessica Lange is wasted as the wife of the old guy. Oh, and did I mention the Buick in the tree, the one-eyed witch, the living tree that acts like an escapee from the Lord of the Rings....................................................................................................................................???

(3 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "MR IBRAHIM" ("MONSIEUR IBRAHIM ET LES FLEURS DU CORAN") (in French with English subtitles)

This is the kind of sweet, gentle film that I feel guilty about not being able to recommend to anyone. Although there is a situation presented, a conflict, and an ultimate resolution to the story, there's so little that actually happens to the main characters, that I was bored almost to sleep. Moise (Pierre Boulanger) is a young boy who lives in Paris with his father, who treats him as though he doesn't even exist. His mother left them a long time ago. His only friends are the neighborhood prostitutes, who befriend him and "initiate" him, and the Arab owner of the grocery store across the street. Eventually this kind old man, played by an old, old Omar Sharif, becomes the surrogate father that this boy so desperately needs. Well, that's it folks!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "IN AMERICA"

In this charming but depressing little film, writer/director Jim Sheridan ("My Left Foot,") tells the semi-autobiographical story of his own move to America from Ireland. In the movie, the dirt-poor young Irish immigrant family leaves Ireland to find a better life in America, which in this case, turns out to be in a crack-house in New York. My God, how bad were things in Ireland? The young father is a weak, proud and often foolish man who can't get over the death of his young son. The wife (played brilliantly by the Oscar-nominated Samantha Morton) loves her husband enough to stick by him as he tries to get work as an actor, while he drives a cab at night.  His daughters are thoroughly delightful (as are the young actresses who play them,) especially the eldest (age 10,) who is the strength and backbone of the loving family. The girls frolic in the halls of the crack-house like Eloise at the Plaza, and with the exception of one ugly incident, the denizens of this slum apartment house seem to be as content as the singing nuns in "The Sound of Music." Not too realistic a picture I would say, but what do I know about life in an absentee landlord's nightmare? One of the mysterious neighbors, who becomes a friend to this innocent family, is an Aids-victimized African (played by another Oscar nominee for this film, Djimon Hounsou.) The whole thing struck me as a calculated tear-jerker, although it had plenty of interesting moments to keep me involved, and the acting by everyone in the film, is worth the price of admission. With the exception of a few bumps in the road, the movie makes immigration look like loads of fun. No wonder America's crawling with illegal aliens!

(3-Stars) Back to Top

  

MOVIE REVIEW- "MIRACLE"

This "Rocky-on-Ice" film tells the corny, but true, story of the 1980 U.S.A. Olympic team...the one that performed the "miracle" of beating the professional, unbeaten Soviet juggernaut. The team consisted of a pick-up group of students from Boston and Minnesota-based schools, who were molded into an unbeatable hockey team, by a strong-willed, intractable coach. Remember, this was before the Dream Team turned the Olympics from a sporting event of true amateurs, into a media event, where professionals join some amateurs to compete against one another. Kurt Russell does a fine job of impersonating the in-your-face, take-no-prisoners coach, Herb Brooks, (who was killed in an auto accident just last year.) The young actors who play hockey players Jim Craig and Mike Eruzione, also are convincving as their real-life counterparts. But viewing, and enjoying this movie must come with a caveat. Since the actual events were almost too corny and patriotic to be believed, the film struggles not to sink under a load of "film corn," and it almost succeeds. Also, you'd better be a fan of hockey or else you'll find it difficult sitting through the 25-minute recreation of "the big game" at the end of the film. If you can handle the heavy doses of corn, and the long recreation of the hockey games, then you should find this film very entertaining. Way too long and cliche-ridden, this piece of patriotic Americana may be just what the movie-going public needs in these troubled times.

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW: "KITCHEN STORIES" (in Norwegian with English sub-titles)

When one of my friends saw this at a screening in New York, she said that the reels were accidentally reversed and the movie  was shown out of sequence. That might have improved the film! As it was shown to us, correctly, it was the most boring movie that I've seen since Gus Van Sant's "Gerry" (sorry Matt!) This Norwegian film, deals with loneliness, alienation, the importance of communication, friendship, blah, blah, blah. So what? Although there are some humorous moments, it's still a bore. If you're in a sick-bed, and a friend brings a CD of this movie over to cheer you up, and he puts the film in and presses the "start" button, then I would say watch it. But if it takes any more effort than that for you to see it, forget it!  

(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE DREAMERS"

Back in 1973, noted Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci pushed the censors buttons with his sexually explicit classic, "Last Tango in Paris," in which Marlon Brando gave one of his best performances. (The X-Rated version is available in video stores!) Thirty years later, he's made the companion piece to that film, pushing the sexual envelope for today's audiences. With its frontal nudity, graphic scenes of feigned intercourse, and incest, it just barely made an NC-17 rating (by removing a scene involving oral sex.) Sadly, possibly due to the dumbing-down and vulgarization of America, the film doesn't shock as much as it bores the viewer. The year is 1968; the place is Paris during the student riots. A teen-age American boy, there to "learn French," meets two siblings at a protest for the closing down of the Langlois Cinemateque (a place where film classics are shown.) When the three realize that they are fanatic film buffs, having memorized scenes from just about every film, they become friends, and soon all three are living, and having sex together, in the spacious apartment where the French twins (yes, they're twins) live with their parents. The fact that the twins are self-indulgent psychos doesn't become readily apparent to the naive American. When it does, it's almost too late. At times, it's interesting to see how Bertolucci has his characters mimic the behavior of characters in classic films, but it's just not enough to maintain ones interest in these jerks. The nudity is nothing more than what's available to any 12-year-old on an unguarded computer. Ah, progress! For me, the best part of the film was the beautiful recording of Edith Piaf singing "Rien, je ne regrette pas," over the end-titles!

(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST" (in Aramaic and Latin with English sub-titles)

Whatever motivated Mel Gibson to make this film is irrelevant, because what he's created is a masterpiece...and not just a masterpiece of the biblical/religious-film genre. It's easily the best re-telling of the Jesus story that I've ever seen, read, or heard about in church. Yes, it is excessively bloody, brutal, cruel, and hard to watch, but within the context set up by the director, it adds to the overall powerful effect of the film. No, it's certainly not anti-Semitic, or anti anything except hate, mob-rule, and the fearful power of an angry, ignorant mob. In fact, Gibson is extremely fair in depicting all sides of this story. Just as there were bad Jews and good Jews involved in Jesus' final hours, there were good Romans and bad Romans, a good thief and a bad thief, and even good disciples and the infamous bad one. As a non church-going but religious and moral person, I was anxious to see if a sense of the religious and spiritual comes out in the telling of the story. It most certainly does, in a moving and powerful way. The sense of this Man's sacrifice through love of humanity, is overpowering. Anyone who comes away from this film with nothing but the memory of the blood, gore, and violence, is surely sado-masochistic. Although the director is telling the story of the last 12 hours in the life of the Christ, he uses flashbacks to show important scenes in Jesus life...scenes that offer a marked contrast, or commentary on the events taking place at the end. Telling the story in the original languages which were used by the people who lived it, is not gimmicky, but on the contrary, most effective. It gives an added level of authenticity and realism to "the greatest story ever told." After sitting through the retelling of this horrendous story, the director allows the viewer to leave, feeling up-lifted and renewed. It's a brilliant ending to a perfect film.  

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "WILBUR WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF"

A thoroughly annoying and depressing little Scottish film, in which everyone is either completely obnoxious, stupid, or insane...AND it's almost two hours long!

(0-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "SPARTAN"

Writer/director David Mamet ("Glengarry Glen Ross," "Heist," "The Spanish Prisoner," "House of Games," etc.) may just have created a new genre with this film... the film-noir action thriller for the thinking person! Once again, Mamet has his characters speak in the stilted, unrealistic style that has come to be known as "Mametese."  Val Kilmer, William H. Macy, Derek Luke amd Ed O'Neill have mastered it for the film. This rhythmic dialogue is calculated to have the viewer concentrate less on what's being spoken, than on the true emotions of the speaker. There are so many twists and surprises in the film, that even the barest outline of the plot would give away too many secrets of the story. What I CAN say is that it deals with a whoring and murderous president, villainous Arabs (no political correctness in THIS film,) a hostage from Harvard, a white-slavery ring in Dubai, a deceiving media (redundant?) and the bridge and tunnels of The Big Dig in Boston. Throw in some con-artists from the White House, and some killer marines, and you've got the ingredients for this edge-of-your-seat brain-twister.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "INTERMISSION"

A quirky Irish film that consists of a series of intertwining plots, whose story lines run the gamut from melodramatic soap opera, to black Irish humor. The ensemble cast consists of some of Ireland's best actors (Colin Farrell, Colm Meaney, Cillian Murphy, Shirley Henderson, and Kelly MacDonald,) acting their hearts out in the service of a ridiculous plot that can't decide whether it's a comedic farce, a bank-robbery heist film, or a sappy love story. One point of view might have worked, but layering all three on top of each other just makes for a car-wreck of a movie. In case you're interested, the story is an urban love story about insecure people and their desperate, sometimes sad/sometimes funny journey for love. This kind of Irish thing has been done so much better by both Guy Ritchie and Mike Leigh. Rent one of their films instead.

(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND"

In screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's ("Adaptation," "Inside John Malkovich,") brilliantly creative script, modern "science" has developed the technology to erase the memory of someone from a person's mind. If only we had that technology now, I can think of one or two people who I'd like to have erased.....but that's another story for another time! Clementine (Kate Winslet) has decided to erase the memory of her boyfriend Joel (Jim Carrey,) so that she can go back to a happier time. When he finds out, he decides to erase HER...only things start to go terribly wrong. For one thing, he realizes that he still loves her and cherishes her memory, and wants out of the erasing process. The movie is filmed in sort of a reverse love story. Kind of like "Memento." It's tricky to follow, because of the intricacy of the flashbacks, which come complete with partial erasures. Every one of the actors in the film is brilliant, from Carrey and Winslet (in their best acting roles,) to the players in the sub-plot (Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Rufalo, and Elijah Wood.) If you like to just kick back and enjoy a film without having to use too much of your brain, then go to see a less complex film. This one is for people who enjoy doing the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle (in ink!)...and finishing it.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "TAKING LIVES"

If you enjoy seeing Angelina Jolie on screen as much as I do (although she is becoming a computer graphic image of herself,) then you might take the time to see this otherwise predictable, generic thriller, about a serial killer loose in Montreal. There are some genuine scares, and some moments of Hitchcockian suspense in the film, but they're few and far between. With the exception of a truly surprise ending (no, it doesn't involve the identity of the killer,) the rest is, as I said before, predictable. Philip Glass has composed the background music, as if anyone will even notice it. There is some good acting from Jolie, Ethan Hawke and a hammy Gena Rowlands, and some unintelligible garbling from Olivier Martinez (where are sub-titles when you need them?) Oh, did I mention that Kiefer Sutherland makes a brief appearance in the movie, twenty minutes from the end? Montreal looks good, and for a change it's not acting as a stand-in for New York or Chicago! All in all, a disappointing effort on the part of all involved. 

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MOVIE REVIEW- "THE LADYKILLERS"

Fifty years ago, Alec Guinness and Peter Sellars starred in the classic British comedy "The Ladykillers." I guess that I can understand why the edgy Coen brothers decided to do a remake of this campy heist story. It gave them the opportunity to deal with irritable bowel movements, severed fingers, racial stereotypes, and retarded football players. However, it was probably Tom Hanks, sensing the unlimited possibilities of his comic role as the leader of this band of dysfunctional robbers, that got the green light for this film. The tired heist genre is once again hauled out for yet another time. This time we have a band of thieves posing as musicians, who rent a room in the home of a feisty black matron in the very deep South. Her home just happens to be next to the office that stores all the money for the neighboring riverboat casino, and under the guise of practicing their instruments in her root cellar, they plan to dig a tunnel to...............well, you know the rest. Irma P. Hall as the overly religious landlady, almost steals the film away from Hanks, who has one of his funniest roles. Marlon Wayans as the stereotypical black street-smart(?) hip-hop punk, holds his own with these two comic actors. But all in all, in spite of the comic performances, we've seen all of this so often that we can practically say the lines with the actors. The best thing about the film then, is the foot-stomping gospel music, sung on screen, and as background music to other scenes as well, by the Thomas Dorsey Gospel Jubilee Singers...the great performers that I see at the New England Conservatory's rockingest concert each year. That was worth the price of admission for me. But other than that, this is definitely not a top-drawer Coen brothers film.

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MOVIE REVIEW- "HELLBOY"

I never read the "Hellboy" comics, so this film was my introduction to the character and his story...and what a bad introduction that was. The movie is a confused hodge-podge of what could be outtakes from dozens of different films about superheroes...from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," to "The Matrix," and "X-Men." I won't even begin to try to summarize a plot that includes as its main characters: the Russian monk Rasputin (from the court of Nicholas and Alexandra,) Hitler and the Nazis (from World War II,) an apparently gay aquatic superhero (from under the sea,) and the Spawn of Satan (from God knows where or when!) You've seen all the special effects before, including the monsters, who look like a cross between Alien, and some large calamari...and they're all starting to get more than a little annoying. The main character "Hellboy" (and isn't it good to see Ron Perlman working again?) is sort of a large, red, klutz, who likes candy bars and a woman who's a firestarter (wasn't that another film?) The story never really gets in the way of the special effects, although it sometimes threatens to do so. Those, of course, are the best parts of the film!

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Comic Book 

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "THE AGRONOMIST"

The director of Talk Cinema, Harlan Jacobson, must be on drugs this year, because the five films that he's selected to be screened have been incredibly depressing, and just plain bad. Today's film was the straw that broke this camel's back; I just may not join the Club next season. Today's movie, Jonathan Demme's "The Agronomist," is a documentary about a human rights activist in Haiti during the Duvalier and Aristide regimes, and it is easily the worst film that I've seen this year! Even if you were interested in the tragic politics of this faux country...which I'm not...this film would still be an unbelievable bore.

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MOVIE REVIEW- "WALKING TALL"

One goes to a movie starring ex-wrestler "The Rock," to see him kick ass, and if the movie happens to be inspired by the true story of Sheriff Buford Pusser, and it's a remake of the 1973 cult classic "Walking Tall," then you've got some bonuses thrown in. Sure, it's one cliche after another, but they all work, and you'll come out feeling good when it's short 90 minutes are all over. Our hero returns from the war to his picturesque hometown in Washington State, to find that the town lumber mill (its chief employer) has closed, a casino has opened, and pornography, crime, drugs, and Home Depot have destroyed the life style of a once typically American town. A perfect recipe for The Rock...and he certainly takes advantage of it. Before long, his shirt comes off, a plank is in his hands, and he's waging a war of his own against the "bad guys." The fighting is fast and furious, and as you're rooting for The Rock, now The New Sheriff, he does everything that you want him to do and more. If only he could be cloned, and sent to every city and town in America.

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MOVIE REVIEW- "THE ALAMO"

Long & boring! If you need to hear more, read on. Originally, this film was supposed to be directed by Ron Howard, starring Russell Crowe, and meant to be a violent blood-bath of a movie. Plans changed, time went on, and eventually the direction went to John Hancock, the starring role went to a miscast Dennis Quaid, and Disney made sure that the blood level was toned down. What resulted is this ponderous, heavy-handed, plodding, history-text of a movie, with dull acting (except for Billy Bob Thornton who does some interesting things as a toned-down Davy Crockett,) and hundreds of soldiers being moved around like tin soldiers on a table-top. Nothing new emerges. You'd probably have more fun renting the historically inaccurate John Wayne version of the story, with its big cast of leading actors, and 7000 Mexican extras playing 7000 Mexican soldiers.

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MOVIE REVIEW- "KILL BILL: VOL. 2"
With "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" as the longest, and most perfectly made trailer, this film more than fulfills the promises of that "trailer," bringing to closure this masterpiece by Quentin Tarentino. The character of The Bride, goes on a "roving rampage of revenge" to avenge the murder of her entire wedding party, (as well as her own attempted murder) by the Assasination Squad led by her former lover, Bill. Tarentino cuts down on the comic-book style violence, and in its place, gives us long, beautifully-written scenes, in which characters speak at length with one another; something not often seen in films catering to the short attention span of the modern-day audience. Once again, the cinematography is exquisite, as is the acting, and the music. Stars Uma Thurman, David Carradine and Darryl Hannah have never been better on screen. Warning: if you're one of those film buffs who tries to pick out all of the references to other films, etc., there are so many in this film, that in trying to do so, you'll be reduced to being a blabbering idiot on the floor of your neighborhood theater! 
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TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW: "THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD"

You'll either hate or love this brilliant, original, creative, satirical comedy. Obviously, I loved it. Here's a checklist to see if you'll like it too. You'll love the film if: you loved "The Best of Show;" you enjoy the black and white, silent films of the German Expresionistic school; you love the films of Federico Fellini; you love surrealism; you enjoy hearing music standards, like "The Song is You;" and "San Francisco;" you enjoy tongue-in-cheek humor, and biting satire. I could go on, but that should give you a good idea what to expect. Isabella Rosselini and Maria de Medeiros (Mary in "The Passion of the Christ,") star in this movie about a competition to determine which country has "the saddest music in the world." Written and directed by Guy Maddin (who IS this genius?)
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MOVIE REVIEW: "MAN ON FIRE"

After making two or three flops in a row, Denzel Washington has redeemed himself, with this, his best movie since his Oscar-winning "Training  Day." This makes the second action movie that I've seen in two weeks (the other being "Kill Bill: Vol. 2,") that has a beautifully scripted screenplay. Although the last hour and a half of this 2 1/2 hour film is an action-packed, violent,  revenge movie, the first hour takes the time to develop characters and plot, in long scenes in which characters have the opportunity to speak to one another with meaningful realistic dialogue. Highly unusual for this type of film. In addition, the cast features actors who really know how to act, not just to shoot guns and torture people. It includes Washington, his wonderful young co-star Dakota Fanning, Marc Anthony and Rachel Ticotin, Mickey Rourke, and the always dependable Giancarlo Giannini. The musical score is first-rate, as is the cinematography in the gritty but beautiful Mexico City. All in all, a revelation of a film, and quite a surprise for someone who was expecting the worst.
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MOVIE REVIEW: "50 FIRST DATES"

I loved this movie! To think that I stayed away from it, because I thought that it looked stupid. Instead of stupid, it's charming, hilarious, picturesque, moving, and beautifully acted, by a cast of actors who seem to be having a great time with one another, both as the characters they're portraying, and as themselves. This ensemble consists of Drew Barrymore, Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, Sean Astin and Dan Ackroyd. The story is about a young girl who, after an auto accident, is left as an amnesiac, who, when she wakes up every morning, has forgotten everything that's happened the day before. Try falling in love with someone like that, as the Adam Sandler character does. I laughed out loud through most of the movie. What a wonderful way to spend an hour and a half!
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MOVIE REVIEW: "CONNIE AND CARLA"

Aren't there any original ideas to be found in Hollywood? This movie is a complete rip-off of the classic films "Some Like It Hot" and "Victor/Victoria," without the sophisticated comedy of the former, or the stylish elegance of the latter. Connie and Carla are bad performers in a dinner-theater in Chicago, when they accidentally witness a mob murder. They flee Chicago, and go into hiding in Los Angeles, disguised as drag queens performing in a run-down dinner theater. Of course, they're so good, singing their Broadway show tunes, that the act becomes such a big success, and the gangsters hear about them, etc. In a misguided attempt to be sexually correct, this film manages to insult just about everyone, even drag queens, who I thought couldn't be insulted. Ooops, I think that I've just insulted them!
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MOVIE REVIEW- "VAN HELSING"

Having signed on for "X-Men 3," and with promises from director Stephen Sommers, that there will be a "Van Helsing 2" and Van Helsing 3," Hugh Jackman joins the other 9 actors who have been in two or more film trilogies (franchises.) Can you name the 10 of them? In Bram Stoker's classic book Dracula, the character of Van Helsing is a 65-year-old professor who has dedicated his life to hunting down and killing Dracula. In this film, he is a swashbuckling action hero of indeterminate age and background, who pursues just about every major monster from gothic literature, from Mr. Hyde and Dracula, to Frankenstein and the Wolfman. It's too bad that the director didn't throw in Gollum and Cruella DeVille just for the fun of it! And this film Is great fun. Sure it's too long, and some of the effects are cheesy, but it's also got a well-written screenplay, with enough story plots for three films; it's spectacular, and in the masked ball scene, quite elegant, in a Fellini-esque way; it's well-acted by Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale...I don't know which one is prettier; and there are enough CGI special effects in it to short out a 12-year-olds Play Station! In my opinion the best computer graphics are not the flying animated monsters, but rather the hauntingly beautiful scenes of Paris, the Vatican, and a very snowy mountainous Transylvania. Many years ago, I spent one night in Dracula's castle in Transylvania, and although Transylvania was recreated quite accurately, the castle was MUCH smaller, but just as frightening! Go prepared to have a fun time, and you'll really enjoy this often scary, often funny, always beautiful-to-look-at circus.

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Comic Book

MOVIE REVIEW- "TROY"
If you're a purist, and you're looking for a literal translation of Homer's The Iliad to the screen, then this is probably not the film for you. However, if you're looking for an action-packed, spectacular historic-epic of a war film, then you definitely will enjoy "Troy," the first blockbuster popcorn film of the "summer" season. Screenwriter David Benioff has borrowed freely from Homer's Iliad as well as his Odyssey, and from Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy, to come up with the plot that is squeezed into the spaces between the almost uninterrupted battle scenes. Once again, the young Trojan prince, Paris (Orlando Bloom) kidnaps Helen (Diane Kruger,) the queen of Sparta, thereby beginning the Trojan War. Of course, it's much more complicated than that, and you're not really interested in the real reason why Agamemnon took 50,000 Greek soldiers and 1000 ships to battle with Troy, so let's stick with the kidnap story! The best acting in the film (and there is some,) is done by the old pros playing the three kings: Priam (Peter O'Toole,) Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson,) and Agamemnon (Brian Cox.) Julie Christie, another old-timer, shines in her one short scene as Achilles' mother. The only young actor in the film who is truly impressive and moving, is Eric Bana as Hector. He's also a match for Brad Pitt in the body department! Speaking of Pitt, all of his acting as the warrior (bully, show-off, and media-whore) Achilles, is done with his "bi's, pec's and ab's!"
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MOVIE REVIEW- "STILL WE BELIEVE: THE BOSTON RED SOX MOVIE"
Although documentarian Paul Doyle, has made a movie that's targeted at a specific audience...Boston Red Sox fans...it should resonate with all people who root for the underdog. This is not really about what goes on in the locker room, or about the behind-the-scenes politicking of the owners and managers, although there's plenty of that in the film. It's all about the fans; those diehard, bleacher-sitting, fanatically loyal, masochists, who have followed their team through the best and the worst of it. The season of 2003...the one in which we came so close...WAS the best and the worst of it. Watching these fans parade their emotions on the big screen, is worth the price of admission, whether you're going there to cry with them, or laugh at them. For a documentary about a baseball team and its fans, this film has plenty of drama, high comedy, tears, and great characters...(especially "angry Bill" and the two blondes.) That's a lot to say about a simple documentary.
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if you're a Red Sox fan
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if you're not.
(1-Star) if you're a Yankees fan!

MOVIE REVIEW- "SHREK 2"
If you've already seen the first Shrek movie as I have, then you probably won't enjoy this one as much, because the look and behavior of the characters will no longer be a novelty. This is not to say that there aren't some very funny lines and situations in this sequel. The film starts off where the last one left off, with the ogre Shrek, and his bride, the Princess Fiona, going off on their honeymoon. This honeymoon is interrupted by a summons from Fiona's parents, the King and Queen of Far, Far Away, to return home for their blessing. When Shrek reluctantly takes his bride home, their troubles begin. Whereas the first Shrek was a biting satire of all things Disney, this one is a not-so-biting satire of all things Hollywood/L.A. Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you  know that Shrek, Fiona, and their sidekick Donkey, are voiced by Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, and Eddie Murphy, respectively. The new voices in this film belong to Julie Andrews and John Cleese as the King and Queen, and Antonio Banderas as a goofy, macho Puss-in-Boots. Rupert Everett is the voice of the very effete, and annoying, Prince Charming. At the risk of sounding like the mean villain, I hope that there's no "Shrek 3."
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW- "THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW"

When the CGI Special Effects team for this film received the initial script, their pre-shooting conference might have gone like this: "Global Warming. Melting of the Polar Ice Cap. Massive tidal waves. Earthquakes. Tornadoes. Destruction of major U.S. cities. Dennis Quaid and Ian Holm as scientists trying to prevent the disasters. Jake Gyllenhaal for the chicks. Awesome. This is the big one, dudes. Story? We're flooding New York and burying the f_____g Statue of Liberty under water. Isn't that enough?" The answer? No! Had director/writer/producer Roland Emmerich written a screenplay that was the equal of the spectacular special effects, this film could have had class. Instead, he's written a series of cheesy interlocking stories, that are unbelievable, illogical, condescending, and just plain stupid. Especially the one in which the supposedly intelligent scientist straps on his snow-shoes and decides to walk to a frozen Manhattan, from Philadelphia, to find his moronic son...with no idea as to what he's going to do when he gets there. The screenplay is a throwback to the days of "The Poseidon Adventure," "The Towering Inferno," "Earthquake," and those campy Japanese Godzilla movies. I expected better.

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MOVIE REVIEW- "HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN"
Even if you've never experienced the joy of reading the Harry Potter books or seeing the movies based on the first two books (and why haven't you???) don't deprive yourself of the privilege of seeing this masterpiece of film fantasy. It's brilliant, and it stands on its own...towering above the first two films.  Whoever had the incredible foresight to hire Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron ("Y Tu Mama Tambien,") to take over the reins from Chris Columbus, was a genius. (It was probably Chris Columbus himself, since he's listed as the producer of the current film.) Cuaron has made a gothic film...dark, foreboding, frightening, exciting, moving, thrilling and suspenseful. It's so dark, that I would hesitate to recommend it for anyone under the age of 12. After an hilarious sequence at his uncle and aunt's house, Harry returns to Hogwart's School to reunite with his pals Hermione and Ron. The actors playing these three, have aged appropriately, along with their characters. Their old professors are there, played by the greats of English theater and film...Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Julie Christie, and Michael Gambon, replacing the late Richard Harris as Headmaster Dumbledore. Joining them are some new professors, played by Emma Thompson and David Thewlis. Add to this the wonderful Gary Oldman, as the mysterious prisoner of Azkaban, and you have a cast for the ages! As I've said before, don't hesitate to see this film, even if you haven't seen the first two. It's a classic, up there with the best classics of film fantasy.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "MEAN GIRLS"
If you have the urge to see one of the several films for, and about, teen-age girls, making the rounds of the local movie theaters, and you're looking for one with brains and a sense of humor, then check this one out. Written by Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey (who plays the math teacher in the movie) , it's surprisingly satirical, clever, and very, very funny. Fey remembers what it was like to be a teen-age girl, and the dialogue and situations (albeit far-fetched,) strike a familiar chord. The story is the usual one, concerning the new girl at the high school, who has to contend with blending in, while being attacked by the "mean girls," hit upon by the "Asian nerds" and the "math-club geeks," and befriended by the "misfits."
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW- "THE STEPFORD WIVES"
In the late '60s, Ira Levin wrote a little thriller called The Stepford Wives. It became a runaway best-seller. A "horror" movie was made in 1970, based on the book. It was also a great success. Now, someone decided to remake the film, this time as a satirical comedy. Comic writer Paul Rudnick was hired to write the script, and an all-star cast was assembled.  Unfortunately, the final film, although very funny, misses just about all of its satirical targets. In a minute I'll tell you who is in the film, and you'll understand why I think that they should have assembled the cast before filming, told them the basic story, and then thrown away the screenplay and let this gifted cast improvise the whole movie. Now, THAT would have been a satire worthy of Voltaire, Swift, and Monty Python! In case you're not familiar with the story, it has to do with a town in Connecticut,  in which all of the husbands have had their wives "remade" into docile, blonde, pre-feminist robots. Here's the cast: Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken, Matthew Broderick. Bette Midler, Jon Lovitz, Roger Bart and Glenn Close. All of these gifted comic actors are perfectly cast, and unhindered by a script, would have made a classic comedy....one that would have horrified the wives of Stepford.
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW- "THE TERMINAL"

To give Stephen Spielberg the benefit of the doubt, let's say that he was aiming for a fable, an allegory, a cautionary tale, or just a fun, exciting film. I don't think that he succeeded on "any of the above." The story of a man who is forced to remain in the international terminal at JFK airport indefinitely, because there's been a coup in his country, rendering his passport ineffective for either returning him home, or allowing him to enter the U.S., should have made for an engrossing film. It didn't. I found it to be overlong, somewhat boring at times, hopelessly corny, and completely far-fetched. Yeah, I know it's based on a true story, but even true stories can be far-fetched! Tom Hanks gets into the skin of his character, speaking real Russian, and affecting some comical mannerisms, but all in all, I found the character to be annoying and somewhat stupid, although under the circumstances, who wouldn't be? Catherine Zeta-Jones is wasted in the role of a flight attendant who always falls for unattainable married men, and Stanley Tucci plays "the villain" as a one-dimensional pain-in-the-butt. The secondary roles are played with all the cuteness of the mice in "Cinderella." At least one woman in the theater laughed hysterically at just about everything in the film, and I'd venture to say that she probably DOES live in a lounge...somewhere!

(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK"

The character of the interplanetary outlaw, Riddick, was introduced in a minor action film, entitled "Pitch Black," several years ago. It didn't seem to warrant a sequel, but now here we are, with what threatens to become a major franchise. The story of Riddick has been pumped up, as have the muscles of Vin Diesel who plays the role. Pumped up (some might say bloated,) to epic proportions, into a sado-masochistic comic book of violence and non-stop action. It's great fun, if you like this sort of thing, and I do. The fact that the movie could never have been made before the advent of CGI effects, shouldn't bother the avid reader of action comic-books, and I grew up on these. I recommend renting "Pitch Black" before you see this film, because the story is confusing enough, as it is. It's Flash Gordon meets The Matrix, with Necromongers threatening to obliterate the universe, until interplanetary super-hero/outlaw Riddick, saves the day. Needless to say, there's no acting to speak of in the film, with Diesel impersonating Governor Schwarzenegger, Thandi Newton in a performance that could be used in film schools to exemplify terrible acting, and Dame Judi Dench strutting her stuff in a cameo of a role that screams "Give me the money, so that I can go do a good play, or a fine independent film, where I can show you what an actress can really do."

(4-Stars) Back to Top

Comic Book

MOVIE REVIEW- "FAHRENHEIT 9/11"
Michael Moore could have made Mother Teresa look like a whore! He is a gifted detective, stalker, and film editor, who has no scruples about preserving the dignity or the privacy of his victim. (Witness the hatchet-job he did on the senile Charlton Heston,  in "Bowling for Columbine," in the actor's own home.) The question therefore is, how valid is a documentary that's presented through the lens of a director who is filled with so much bias and hatred, and with the skills to deceive? You can decide the answer. Is this a good film? Yes.  Did the French use Moore to fuel their hatred of America, by awarding him the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival? Of course.  Does Moore accomplish his goal of smearing George W. Bush? Very definitely. Will you see behind-the-scenes footage of the president that was never meant to be seen? Yes. Will it unseat a President of the United States? Probably. Should a film have the power to do that? That's up to you in November.
(5-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW- "SPIDER MAN-2"
When director Sam Raimi hired the brilliant novelist Michael Chabon ( Wonder Boys  and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,) to create the story for "Spider Man-2," it was a fait accompli that this would turn out to be the best comic book movie ever made. It's right up there with the first "Batman" film, and that's good company in which to be. The film is character and plot- driven rather than action-driven, even though the runaway subway-train scene is probably the most exciting action sequence in any comic book movie.  Once again, we have our conflicted, full-of-doubts hero, Peter Parker (the perfectly cast Tobey Maguire,) saving his lady love, Mary Jane Watson, (and the city of New York,) from the clutches of yet another colossal villain. This time it's Doctor Octavius, or "Doc Ock," (Alfred Molina) the mad scientist with tentacles of steel.  The scientist started out as a good guy, but his experiment with fusion ran amok, destroying his laboratory, and killing his wife (Broadway's Donna Murphy, hiding her incredible talent in a too-short role.) At the risk of scaring off all the men who are running to see this film...beware guys....it's basically a love story...but a damn good one. All those scenes of "Spidey" flying through the air, climbing buildings, and tossing debris around Manhattan, are a nice break in this love story...even though they would hardly tax the genius of those CGI guys.  Of course, the ending leaves no one in doubt that there will be another sequel, and this time the villain will be......... Well, go see the film and find out.
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Comic Book


MOVIE REVIEW- "DE-LOVELY"
Lyric #1- "Who let the dogs out? Who let the dogs out? Who let the dogs out?" Who let the dogs out?
Lyric #2- "In olden days a glimpse of stocking, was looked on as something shocking, but now God knows, anything goes. Good authors too, who once used better words, now only use 4-letter words writing prose...anything goes."
If you prefer the first set of "lyrics" and are more familiar with the sounds of Outkast and LLCoolJ, than you are of the music and lyrics of Cole Porter, then please stay away from this film. If, on the other hand, you enjoy listening to some of the greatest songs ever written...songs that were made famous decades ago by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, etc, and are still being sung today around the world, over a half-century after they were written, then this film is for you. This flawed biography, tells the story of Linda and Cole Porter, and their unusual love affair and marriage. Unlike the prior film about Cole Porter's life...the one entitled "Night and Day" starring Cary Grant as Porter, this one doesn't pull any punches. Porter, the ultimate society sophisticate, lived life to the fullest (as he saw it,) and then wrote about it in his clever lyrics. A sampling of his many songs are sung in the film by Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, Robbie Williams, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, and others. The actors portraying the Porters (Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd,) are letter-perfect, and deserve to be nominated at Oscar time next year.  As Cole Porter said, "You're the top; you're the Colosseum. You're the top; you're the Louvre Museum......................................................................................................................................................................
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "SAVED"
This charming little comic allegory takes us into a strange suburban community...one that appears to be populated by noone but Christian Fundamentalists. At least, the high school, American Eagle High, has a student body made up entirely of born again "Jesus freaks." It's almost like looking at one of those bizarre tribes that used to populate our Sociology textbooks. Everything revolves around Jesus, or at least the students perception of Jesus, as reinterpreted by Pastor Skip, the Headmaster. They're all forced to confront their moral and value systems, when they are challenged by the few misfits in their midst: an unwed mother (Jena Malone) and her off-center mother (Mary-Louise Parker,) a Jewish girl (Eva Amurri,) a cripple (Macaulay Culkin, in his first good role,) and a gay male. The ringleader of the students, and the true "Heather" of the school, Hillary Fay (an excellent Mandy Moore) gets her well-deserved comeuppance at the end, in a fashion worthy of Jesus himself!
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE BOURNE SUPREMACY"

Matt Damon says that "there have only been three sequels that qualify as masterpieces. The New Testament is better than the Old. Huckleberry Finn is better than Tom Sawyer, and "The Godfather: Part 2" is better than "The Godfather." I agree with him, but I probably would have added a few more films like "Kill Bill: Vol. 2," and at least one or two of the Star Wars films. Then there are all of those wonderful books in "The Forsyte Saga." In any case, although not a masterpiece, the present film is an excellent sequel, far surpassing the fine original film "The Bourne Identity." Once again, Jason Bourne ( a perfectly-cast Matt Damon) is being pursued by a team of CIA agents, led by the incomparable Joan Allen, that is bent on killing him, simply because they think that he's "turned," and is trying to kill them. Peter Greengrass, the director of "Bloody Sunday," certainly knows how to keep the action moving at a dizzying pace, right from the opening scene. In addition to being a nail-biter from beginning to end, it's a great travelogue of Moscow, Berlin, Naples, etc. The story (based on the fine Robert Ludlum novel) is well-crafted, and all of the actors are superb. You can't miss when you have a cast that includes Damon, Allen, Julia Stiles, Brian Cox, and Franka Potente. Take a high-speed ride on this completely satisfying roller-coaster of a film, and get ready for the next Bourne film. Yes, there IS another book by Ludlum.

(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE VILLAGE"
M. Night Shyamalan joins the ranks of Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock as the current master of film suspense and the surprise ending, accomplishing this, as Hitchcock did, without the use of expensive special effects. He does this through his style and technique, using the same devices as Hitchcock did, namely, a well-crafted plot, fine acting, camera angles, lighting, and music. Shyamalan's best film was his first, the classic "The Sixth Sense," and he followed this up with two other suspense thrillers, "Signs," and "Unbreakable." "The Village" is not as good as "The Sixth Sense" by any means, but it can certainly hold its own with the other two. A fine cast of screen and stage actors (Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Adrian Brody, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones, Jayne Atkinson, and the promising young newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard...daughter of Ron Howard,) tells a morality play of a community of Amish-like people who are surrounded by, and threatened by "the creatures who can not be named," in the woods around them. This story is more predictable than the others, and the ending less of a surprise, only because Shyamalan chooses to reveal it to us slowly throughout the film. There's a lesson for our times in the ending, but I won't say any more at the risk of saying too much. 
(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE"

Why would someone choose to remake a classic, especially if the definitive version of the story is already on film? One reason might be, if the director thought that he could re-imagine the classic, and make it more relevant to a new generation. Jonathan Demme has not only done just that, but he's actually made the current "Manchurian Candidate" even better than the 1962 original. It's still a political thriller about an American war vet (this time it's the Gulf War,) who suspects that he and his platoon have been brainwashed during the war. Not only brainwashed, but brainwashed to become future assassins. Demme has made his version of the story even more horrifying, suspenseful, and shocking than the excellent John Frankenheimer original film. The conspiracy angle and political satire are even more relevant, and therefore more terrifying, today, than they were 40 years ago. The actors are all brilliant, from the three leads (Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, and Meryl Streep,) to the many talented supporting players (Jon Voight, Zjelko Ivanek, Dean Stockwell and Al Franken.) They're even better than the original cast (Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, and Lawrence Harvey.) I'm going to end this review now, so that I can go downstairs to rent the original!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "COLLATERAL"

Sometimes it pays to be BAD. Whoever told Tom Cruise to take the role of "the bad guy" in "Collateral," gave him the best advice of his career since the time that he danced in his underwear in "Risky Business!" At Oscar time next year, this role might just do for him, what "Training Day" did for Denzel Washington. As I said before, sometimes it pays to be BAD. Sporting gray Clinton-like hair, Cruise plays a sinister, but classy, hit man, who "commandeers" a taxi (driven by Jamie Foxx,) and drives around a film-noirish L.A. killing people who are unfortunate enough to be on his "list." The tension between the Foxx and Cruise characters is chilling, and their dialogue is believable and frightening. Both actors dance around each like two cobras ready to strike. The end is somewhat predictable, inevitable, and satisfying. The last half-hour of the film is more exciting than just about anything else on screen this year. Michael Mann ("Miami Vice") has directed two actors at the top of their game. They're a pleasure to watch, even though what they're doing is terrifying.

(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "VANITY FAIR"

Director Mira Nair has taken the classic novel by Thackeray, dealing with that most famous of bitchy gold-diggers, Becky Sharp, and removed most of the biting satire, in order to make the heroine "more acceptable for modern audiences." By removing the sting, she has also removed the power of the book. Now we're left with an overblown period piece, starring Reese Witherspoon and her fine British accent, surrounded by a cast of British supporting actors (Bob Hoskins, Eileen Atkins, Jim Broadbent, Jonathan Rhys Myers,) who do far more than support her. It's only an intermittently enjoyable film, with snippets "borrowed" from such films as "Moulin Rouge" and "Gone With The Wind." Becky Sharp was born poor (in 19th-Century England,) but decides early on that she'll do ANYTHING to get rich---and for two and a half hours she does just that. This is the kind of thing that Masterpiece Theater used to do so well on TV years ago. But when it's blown up onto the big screen as this one is, it comes across as a colorful, but overlong and fragmented soap opera. Read the book instead.

(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "HERO" (in Chinese with English sub-titles)

If you liked "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (I didn't. I wasn't prepared for all of those flying Chinese!) then you'll love this film. Chinese director Zhang Yimou uses color and cinematography brilliantly, to create a visually stunning epic, that is part Chinese history, part Art, part Martial Arts, and part Ballet. In the style of the Japanese classic "Rashomon," a story is told three different times from three different viewpoints. Of course, it's different each time. The difference between "Hero" and "Rashomon" is that the director and his cinematographer designed the look of each version of the story in a different color. The story involves a prefect (Jet Li) who kills three potential assassins, who were plotting to kill the king of their province. The movie is still filled with flying Chinese, but this time I was prepared for them, and I enjoyed their ballet-like movements through the air. Kind of like a Chinese laundry just exploded!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW"
Taking the "Indiana Jones" films one step further along the cinematic evolutionary process, director Kerry Conran has created a brilliantly creative retro-futuristic (oxymoron?) film, in which only the actors are real, and everything else is generated by computers...and it's true movie magic. Let me back up a bit...............................................................................................................................................................
Last weekend, I stayed at a hotel in New York (The Edison,) that is an Art Deco landmark. I went to an Art Deco-designed theater (the Belasco,) and saw a musical ("Dracula") in which all of the sets and costumes were done in an Art Deco style. Yesterday, I went to an exhibit of Art Deco masterpieces at the Museum of Fine Arts, here in Boston. So, to continue my exploration of the world of Art Deco, I saw this film, in which everything is inspired by the world of Art Deco, and is made to look like a film made in the 1930's that's been colorized. The effect is stunning, but it must have been difficult for the four leading actors to act up against nothing but a blue screen for the entire film. What is drawn in by the computers, is the magic part. The story is pure 1930's-1940's comic book/movie serial. Ace pilot Sky Captain Joe Sulllivan (Jude Law,) aided by his sidekicks Dex, a technical genius (Giovanni Ribisi,) and Ace pilot Franke Cook (Angelina Jolie) are called upon to lead their fleets of superplanes, in order to destroy a mad scientist (a computerized Laurence Oliver!) bent on saving mankind for a World of tomorrow, by destroying Earth! Providing the love interest, and getting in everyone's way is the Lois Lane-like reporter, Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow.) Everyone plays it as though each one had just invented the concept of "tongue-in-cheek." I loved it.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "I (HEART) HUCKABEES"
This is a hard picture to review, and an even harder one to recommend (or not recommend,) because of its free-flowing wacky plot. The writer/director David O Russell ("Flirting With Disaster," "Three Kings,") must be certifiably insane; I pity the actors that have to work for him. What he has created is an absolutely absurd, "existential comedy" where the actors appear to be improvising as they go along. Their story concerns a young man, a tree-hugger, who leads a coalition to prevent a strip-mall from being built in a marshy woodland. Because he is a troubled soul, he consults two "therapist/detectives" who try to put his life (and the lives of others,) in order. What ensues is a movie that had me laughing out loud for almost two hours! It's entertaining throughout, because of the crazy situations that the actors are put into, and also because the troupe of actors is brilliant. Take a look at this cast: Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Mark Wahlberg, Lili Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Schwartzman, Talia Shire (Schwartzman's mother,) Jean Smart, Tippi Hedren, Shania Twain, and the great French actress Isabelle Huppert. That cast could have read the L.A. phone book and kept you interested!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE LAST SHOT"
The premise of this highly improbable film ("based on a true story") is that a film that was never actually made, was part of an F.B.I. sting operation aimed at taking down mob-boss John Gotti. F.B.I. rogue agent Joe Devine (Alec Baldwin,) puts together a film crew to create this imaginary film. The crew consists of a ticket-taker at Hollywood's Chinese Theater as director (Matthew Broderick); his crazy agent (Joan Cusack;) his equally crazy girlfriend (Calista Flockhart;) the narcissistic star of the film (Toni Collette;) the agent's F.B.I. brother (Ray Liotta;) the "director's" brother (Tim Blake Nelson;) a low-level Gotti henchman (Tony Shalhoub;) the "director's" next-door neighbor (Buck Henry;) and a few others that I might have left out. The problem is the script, and the direction. Both plod along with occasional funny barbed jabs at the movie business. Some of these lines and incidents are very funny (especially whenever Toni Collette and Joan Cusack are on screen,) but not funny enough to rescue this half-hearted attempt at satire. With all of these stars, they should have been able to pull it off. They didn't!
(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "LADDER 49"
As many of you may know, my nephew is a Physical Therapist as well as a New York Firefighter, and I couldn't be prouder of him (in both careers) than I am. The true heroes of America are not the athletes, rock stars, and movie & TV personalities, but rather the men and women of the armed forces, the police, and the firefighters. "Ladder 49" is the best movie that I've ever seen that tries to portray what it must be like to be a firefighter and his family. The cinematography is breathtaking and frightening. We're introduced to a young idealistic firefighter (Joaquin Phoenix) who is being mentored by the Captain of his firehouse (John Travolta) when their ladder company is called out to put out a devastating holocaust of a fire. The rookie is trapped in the burning building, and his young life is retold in flashbacks, as he tries to guide his fellow firefighters up to where he is, in order to save his life. His thoughts are on his early career, as well as his wife and children. His wife is portrayed by a beautiful and talented young actress, Jacinda Barrett. The flashback technique is a risky way to tell the story, but this story is all about risk, and it works. The actors are first-rate, but the stunt-doubles really earned their keep on this one. Tory, if you're reading this, maybe it's time to retire from one of your two careers and open a nice little pizzeria!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS"
Novelist Evelyn Waugh wrote Vile Bodies, one of the funniest books in all of British literature. The time is London before World War II, and the characters are the sons and daughters of the aristocracy, all of whom seem to be bent on self-destruction; but they're going out with a bang, partying all the way. Director Stephen Fry has not succeeded in making the difficult transfer from page to screen. What he's created instead, is a stylish, but silly, boring and ridiculous film about "Eurotrash" at play at a carefree time, just before all hell was about to break loose all over Europe. Not even a cast of brilliant actors (Jim Broadbent, John Mills, Margaret Tyzack, Simon Callow, Julia MacKenzie, Imelda Staunton, Dan Ackroyd, Stockard Channing and Peter O'Toole) could keep this one from sinking under its own tedium. What should have been floating like the bubbles in champagne, was as stale and flat as yesterday's beer.
(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS"
Although I didn't read the Bissinger non-fiction book upon which this movie is based, I did live in a small-town in Oklahoma for four years, and I can attest to the fact that people down there, eat, sleep, and breathe football. During the football season, their obsession takes on the power of a religion or cult, where ordinary parents give up their children to coaches, who do things to them that border on criminal acts. Billy Bob Thornton plays the coach of one of these fight-for-your-life high school football teams, in Odessa, Texas. Director Peter Berg does manage to show us some examples of the hysteria that hits towns like these because of their football team, but much of the nitty gritty details have been Hollywood-ized. The demented, alcoholic, abusive parents are there, but where are the drugs...so much a part of high school football? We get to see some examples of what happens to two or three of the players who go on to succeed in college and the business world. But what of the majority, who've peaked at the age of 18, and who stay in those small towns as insurance agents or owners of gas stations, and who slowly become their parents...and the cycle continues? 
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE"
I really expected this to be an hilarious film by the brilliant creators of "South Park," instead of just a mildly amusing satire, with all of the "actors" being marionettes on strings. Although it pokes fun at everything from Hollywood liberals, Kim Jong Il, and Michael Moore, to the musical "Rent" and America's tendency to sometimes destroy that which it's trying to save, it does it in such a bland way, that the only time that I laughed out loud, was in an extended vomit scene!
(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "RAY"
I've always loved the music of Ray Charles and, with the possible exception of Elton John and Madonna, he's probably the performer who I've seen the most times in live concerts. With that bias, and having heard the buzz on Jamie Foxx's amazing performance, I was hardly an impartial reviewer of this film. Having said that, I must say that two things were worth the price of admission, but that the total package was not as fine as it should have been. Negatives first: the film is very long (2 1/2 hours,) and it follows the standard plot of most other bio-pics of musicians...drugs, extra-marital affairs and self-destruction...the same kind of thing that we saw in films about Billie Holiday, Bix Biederbeck, Charlie Parker, Jerry Lee Lewis, Patsy Cline, etc. The two things that are wonderful about "Ray" are, the singing of Ray Charles himself (with the best lip-synching that I've ever seen,) and the extraordinary Oscar-nomination-sure-thing performance of Jamie Foxx. He IS Ray Charles. 
(3 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "SHAUN OF THE DEAD"
The perfect film to see on Halloween, this intentionally comic movie is the funniest horror film since "Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein." The plot, such as it is, concerns the adventures of an idiotic slacker in London, who tries to exterminate a bunch of zombies who are threatening his neighborhood. At first, he's completely clueless about these hordes of the undead, and that's part of what makes the movie so damn funny. The film is a complete original, and it pokes fun at an entire genre of horror films. Although it's not the most hilarious film that you've ever seen, you'll get some good laughs out of this one.
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE INCREDIBLES"
Easily the best Pixar animated film ever made, this tale of superheroes past their prime, borrows more from the canon of Ayn Rand than it does from Disney. In the beginning of the film, while the superheroes are saving America from the bad guys, writer-director Brad Bird ("The Iron Giant,") takes shots at some of the problems facing society today, from the worship of mediocrity to over-litigation. At the end of this part of the film, Mr. Incredible marries supergirl, Elastigirl, and because society has turned against superheroes in a barrage of lawsuits, they are forced into a witness protection program. Fifteen years later, they come out of a flabby retirement, to rescue "the city" from a truly nasty villain, Syndrome. Now the film turns into a non-stop action extravaganza, with nods to everything from "Spider Man," "Spy Kids" and the James Bond films, to "Return of the Jedi!" The animation borrows from the Japanese Anime films and the computer-generated images are brilliant. The right-on voices belong to Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson and Wallace Shawn, who become their characters, rather than do the usual guest-star voices. If you have kids, take them along (or vice versa.) They'll love the kids in the film, and all of the action scenes. You'll love everything about it.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "KINSEY"
"Kinsey" is easily one of the most important, provacative, and daringly shocking films of this, or any other, year. It'll be an eye-opener for young people, who have grown up in a time when sex (casual and otherwise) is a necessary and enjoyable component of life, but also one that is discussed as openly as one would discuss a TV show. It would be hard for them to imagine a time when sex was never discussed openly, and individuals were never quite sure if what they were doing in private (or were afraid to do,) was what others were also doing. "Kinsey" tells the story of Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the noted sex researcher, who created a sexual revolution in America in the innocent and repressed 1950's, by publishing the explosive results of his interviews with hundreds of thousands of people of every size, shape, color and age, in which they openly, and often fearfully, volunteered the details (often very graphic,) of their sex lives. The result is a film that will have people talking, long after they've left the theater. This will be an important contender at Oscar time in several categories, especially the performances of stars Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, John Lithgow, Peter Sarsgaard, and Lynn Redgrave. It was written and directed by Bill Condon ("Gods and Monsters") who will surely be nominated as well. When watching the life of Kinsey unfold, it becomes clear that the line between genius and insanity is often blurred, but it's hard to imagine where we'd be if Dr. Kinsey had NOT written his controversial Kinsey Report. If I've made this excellent film sound like one of those grainy hygiene-class films, don't think that for a minute. It's brilliant, bold and often very funny.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE POLAR EXPRESS"
Four of my favorite children's picture books are Make Way For Ducklings, Where The Wild Things Are, Jumangi, and The Polar Express. Jumangi was made into a terrible movie starring Robin Williams, and so I was apprehensive about what Hollywood might do this charming book by Chris Van Allsburg. I know that it must be difficult to transfer a book that takes 5 minutes to read, into a 1- 1/2 hour movie. Things get added that often detract from the original intent of the book. Therefore, I went into this animated movie simply hoping that director Robert Zemeckis and star Tom Hanks had preserved the look, the plot and the theme of Van Allsburg's Caldecott-winning book. They did, and in the process of doing so, they've created an instant Christmas classic, and a masterpiece of CGI animation. Not quite animation, and certainly not live action, this "new look" takes some getting used (especially in the wax-figure-like facial features,) but once you get into the mood of the film, the magic takes over. Although many exciting, thrill-ride-type incidents have been added to the plot, they blend beautifully into the original story, and they even look as though Van Allsburg has illustrated them. That's a high compliment, as he's one of my favorite illustrators. The basic story is still that of a young boy who doesn't believe in Santa, until he takes a magical ride to the North Pole on the Polar Express....or does he?
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "SIDEWAYS"
Every once in a while, a movie comes along that not only has brains, but that has a heart and a sense of humor as well. "Sideways" is that kind of rare film. Writer/Director Alexander Payne ("About Schmidt," and "Election,") has written an intelligent screenplay about four strangers who come together on a field trip, and whose lives are forever changed as a result of their meeting. Two former college roommates, now in their late 30's or early 40's, take a trip to the wine country in their native California, where they plan to spend a week tasting wine and golfing, prior to returning to Los Angeles, and the wedding of one of the two. While away, they meet two women and "things happen." What makes this film so exceptional, in addition to the beautifully written screenplay, is the incredible ensemble acting of the four leading actors (Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh.) Don't be surprised to see one, or all, of them nominated at Oscar time, but the movie belongs to Paul Giamatti. That brings me to the reason why I didn't give this film 5 stars. Although Giamatti is excellent in the lead, I'm just so damn tired of seeing him play the pathetic shlump of a loser yet another time. Just once, I'd like to see him play the role of a normal, rich, successful person...the kind of person that he is in real life.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "FINDING NEVERLAND"

An enchanting and magical film. Set in London in 1904, this beautiful story follows playwright J.M. Barrie's journey to bring Peter Pan to life, from his first inspiration for the story, up until the play's premiere at the Duke of York's Theatre....a night that will change not only Barrie's life, but the lives of everyone close to him. Whenever Johnny Depp signs on to play a role, you know that he'll do everything to make that part unforgettable to the moviegoer. The role of J.M. Barrie fits him like a glove. With a flawless Scottish accent, a stylish "do," and impeccable clothes, he becomes the eternally young Barrie. Whether or not he was inspired by the sons of his dear friend, the widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) to create Peter Pan, may be a fictionalized version of what really happened, but it makes for a wonderful Masterpiece Theater-like movie. Director Marc Forster has decided to veer off into fantasy in depicting some of the inspirational moments in the gestation of the Peter Pan story. Some critics didn't like this; I loved it! All of the actors in the film are perfect in their roles, especially Depp and Winslet. But also adding immeasurably to the story, are the always fascinating Julie Christie, as the stern and frightening grandmother to the boys (the inspiration for Captain Hook?,) Radha Mitchell as Barrie's long-suffering wife, the wonderfully talented young boys who play the Davies children, and Dustin Hoffman as Barrie's patient American producer. The sets and costumes add to the authentic, atmospheric ambience of this period piece. A perfect film for anyone who loved the Peter Pan book, play, films, and musical, or like me, just "won't grow up." BELIEVE!!!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "THE WOODSMAN"

Three actors at the top of their form, bring to life a raw, gritty, tension-filled screenplay, in what may be the most overwhelming film of the year. First-time director Nicole Kassell takes us into the mind of 46-year-old Walter (Kevin Bacon,) who has just been released from prison, after having served 12 years for molesting pre-teen girls. He walks like a zombie through his barren apartment and through his job at a lumberyard, where he meets a rough-and-tumble, tough-talking woman (Kyra Sedgwick) who tries to help him forgive himself, and re-enter society. Mos Def plays the police sergeant...more Greek chorus than Javert...who keeps tabs on him. Director Kassell is relentless in her pursuit of the truth of the story, providing no Hollywood cliches or safety nets, for either the characters, the actors, or the audience. Just about everyone in the story, has either molested someone, or been molested. It's a harrowing and moving tale of how low a man can sink, and his desperate attempts to rise above the depths. You'll find it difficult, as I did, not to judge him for his past, but you want him to make it, nevertheless. Magnificently written, directed, and acted, this is a movie that's very hard to sit through, but ultimately, it's a rewarding experience. Caveat emptor!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "ALEXANDER"

Writer/ Director Oliver Stone has fashioned his ambitious epic film about Alexander the Great, in the style of the classic "old-school" epics of the past ("Lawrence of Arabia," "Doctor Zhivago," "The Fall of the Roman Empire," etc. ) Rather than caving in to the narrow attention span of the modern-day audience, raised on video-games and play-stations, he takes his time (almost 3 hours) to tell the story of the man who had conquered the known world by the age of 27. The movie is plot and character-driven, rather than proceeding in short spurts from one computer-graphics-created action scene to the next. As a result, it might seem overly talky and filled with too much plot for the eyes and ears of young moviegoers weaned on trash. I thought that it was beautifully done however, allowing this expansive style to tell the story of the remarkable leader, from his birth and traumatic younger years, to his early death at the age of 33. There are a couple of bad things about the film. The first is that Anthony Hopkins, whose character tells the story in flashbacks, is given page upon page of narrative exposition that is overlong and often dull. Hopkins must have loved all of these monologues, but it's hard on the viewer! Secondly, for some curious reason, most of the Macedonians, from King Philip (Val Kilmer) down to his lowest soldiers, seem to be speaking in Scottish accents! With those two qualifiers aside, the rest of the film is wonderful, especially Colin Farrell in the title role, and Angelina Jolie, as his fiery and ambitious mother. Their scenes together are explosive. The battle scenes are massive, graphic and extremely bloody, but they are some of the best that I've seen on film. The recreation of ancient Babylon, in all its beauty and splendor, makes you want to pack your bags and move to an apartment with a view of the Hanging Gardens! Unlike the less serious "Troy" which ignored the sexuality of Achilles (Brad Pitt) and Patroclus, "Alexander" treats the bi-sexuality of Alexander as what it was...a fact, common to its time. Unfortunately, the two actors who play his love interests, the beautiful Rosario Dawson, and the equally beautiful Jared Leto, do nothing more than provide eye candy. All an all, this remarkable film is a landmark of film-making, in that it breaks most of the rules of modern-day movie-making, and takes the time to present its story with honesty and integrity.

(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "CALLAS FOREVER"
Whether or not you love opera as I do, this film is one of the most uplifting, elegant, and emotionally satisfying films of the year. It's magnificent. Writer/Director Franco Zeffirelli, one of the world's legendary directors, has taken his friendship with opera diva Maria Callas, and woven, what may or may not be a fictitious story, around their friendship in the last year of her life. (She died at the age of 53.) Jeremy Irons plays a producer of punkrock groups in the '70's, and a friend of opera star Callas, who tries to coax her out of her self-enforced and lonely "retirement," in order to make a film of the opera "Carmen." Fanny Ardant is startling in her portrayal of Callas; she looks and acts exactly like her. It's a masterful performance. If you know the work of Zeffirelli, either in opera houses or on film, you know what to expect...lush decor, class and elegance, a high degree of emotional involvement, and a story that will rip you apart. As a bonus for the opera lovers, the voice of Maria Callas is used in arias from "Carmen," "Tosca," "Norma," and "La Traviata." What a treat!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "CLOSER"
Not even one of our finest directors (Mike Nichols,) and four excellent actors (Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Natalie Portman and Jude Law,) could turn a ridiculous and annoying play into an enjoyable motion picture. In fact, the large screen magnifies the silliness of the dialogue, and the absurdity of the situations. Two "couples" spend the better part of four years loving one another, hurting each other, changing partners, and pushing their "loved one" further and further away. Ironically, the movie is called "CLOSER!"
(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW-"OCEAN'S 12"

I had forgotten how much I had enjoyed the remake of the old Rat Pack home movie, "Ocean's 11," until I saw "Ocean's 12." This sequel has more in common with the Rat Pack's original film, than it does with the remake of that film. It has the same chemistry between the actors (who are obviously enjoying themselves,) and the same funny dialogue. What it doesn't have is a good plot and exciting action. Instead, the plot is a confusing hodge-podge (WHAT did he say???) and the action is virtually non-existent. The only actor in the current film who appears to have read the script, is Catherine Zeta-Jones. The others (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Scott Caan, Elliot Gould, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Julia Roberts, and the wonderful Carl Reiner,) appear to be improvising the whole story. Maybe that's why it's so hard to follow. (Watch for some fun cameos by Bruce Willis, Albert Finney, and Broadway and Cambridge's own Cherry Jones.) The scenery is beautiful, especially those scenes that were filmed at George Clooney's own villa on Lake Como. Not being able to act appears to be working for Mr. Clooney.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS"

If you love the miserable little books upon which this movie is based, then I'm sure that you'll enjoy this film as well; it's faithful to the books in tone and content. I found the books, as well as the movie, to be mean-spirited, overly cynical, and leeringly smutty in a scary way, considering that they're aimed at an audience of impressionable children. Roald Dahl wrote dark, and Gothic books for children too, but he did it in such a funny way, that you couldn't be offended by them. At least, I couldn't. However, Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Donald Handler) has hit on a winning formula, whether I like them, or not. Once again, the Baudelaire children are orphaned, when their parents are killed and their home burned to the ground...under suspicious circumstances. They are placed into the care of their distant cousin, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey,) who is intent on killing them, to gain their vast inheritance. As in the books, every other adult in the film is an incompetent fool, who refuses to listen to the children's pleas for help. Meryl Streep, Catherine O'Hara, and Billy Connolly play three of these inept jerks. Jim Carrey plays all the rest of the adults. All of them overact outrageously! The three Baudelaire children are named Violet, Sunny and Klaus. If you get the sick joke in the linking of those last two names, then you understand what I mean when I say that these stories are just plain mean.

(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "THE MERCHANT OF VENICE"

In this age of "political correctness," actors and directors are hesitant about putting on this most problematic of Shakespeare's plays because of its blatant anti-semitism. After all, the title character Shylock, is a moneylender, a Jew, and an unsympathetic monster. His daughter Jessica, is a deceitful and selfish bitch. Writer/Director Michael Radford, without any qualms, tackled the problem head-on without changing anything, and in the process created one of the most beautiful film versions of any of Shakespeare's plays. If Al Pacino, the Shylock, doesn't get nominated for an Academy Award in March, he was robbed. He's letter-perfect and very brave in a difficult role. He's surrounded by such brilliant actors as Jeremy Irons (Antonio,) Joseph Fiennes ( Bassanio,) and wonderful newcomer and Gwyneth Paltrow clone, Lynn Collins   (Portia.) All are wonderful, and deserving of awards. They make the story come alive in a surprisingly accessible way. The two main speeches, Shylock's "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech, and Portia's "The quality of mercy is not strained," flow from the preceding dialogue like a continuation of the conversation. There's another star in this all-star film, and that's the ageless city of Venice. This incredibly magnificent city never looked so beautiful. Not even a Zeffirelli could have re-created 16thCentury Venice in such colorful and detailed opulence. It looks magical. A film for adults, created by intelligent adults.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA"
Be warned. This is an opera; a completely sung-through piece. So, if you can't suspend belief, and let your creative imagination run wild, then you probably won't be able to enjoy this unique film masterpiece. The creative team behind this movie was courageous enough to transfer Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running stage musical to the screen, without the use of any gimmicks to trick the audience into thinking that they weren't seeing a musical. Everything is sung, with minimal spoken dialogue. None is necessary. What has been added to the stage musical as it was opened up on the large screen is: brilliant and appropriate melodramatic direction by Joel Schumacher; an incredible cast of award-deserving singing actors (Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Gerard Butler, Miranda Richardson and Minnie Driver;) spectacular sets and costumes; and beautiful choreography. Give it a shot, even if you hate musicals. You can always demand your money back by saying that you didn't know that it was a musical! I loved it, and if you do go, and enjoy it, please let me know. At the risk of sounding condescending, there are too few of us left, who can still enjoy the beauty of a musical that tears at your heart and your emotions.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE AVIATOR"

In Martin Scorsese's 3-hour biopic about billionaire-aviator-director-madman Howard Hughes, it will increase your enjoyment of the movie if you're familiar with the famous celebrities depicted in it...celebrities like Hughes himself, and the legendary actresses that he "dated"... Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale,) Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett,) and Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani.) But even if you've never heard of any of the people in the film, you should still be able to enjoy this beautifully written, expertly directed, and perfectly acted "story of a madman." Just about every major young actor (Johnny Depp, Edward Norton, Nicolas Cage) wanted to play the role that eventually went to Leonardo DiCaprio, and although he's not one of my favorite actors, he's absolutely brilliant in the part. Although DiCaprio's finest acting role is still "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" director Scorsese seems to bring out the best in him. (He also directed him in "Gangs of New York.") The current film deals with everything but the later years of Howard Hughes, and stops long before he ended up as a long-nailed, long-haired madman, living on the entire top floor of Boston's Ritz Hotel while undergoing treatment for cancer at Mass. General Hospital. In his glory years as a young man, Hughes was a creative inventor, an innovative aviator, and the discoverer of some of Hollywood's leading talents. He produced and directed revolutionary films, while creating new, and unheard of, flying machines. Scorsese has assembled a perfect cast of actors to bring all of this to life, In addition to those already mentioned, his illustrious supporting cast consists of Alan Alda, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin and the ubiquitous Jude Law as Errol Flynn. Credit must also be given to the cinematography, especially in the incredible flying scenes, and to what should be an award-winning screenplay by John Logan. The 3 hours fly by as quickly as did some of Hughes' aircraft.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "MILLION DOLLAR BABY"
With the exception of "Raging Bull," "Rocky," and "Champion," I don't enjoy films about boxing; too repetitious and boring. However, because of the positive critical acclaim that this movie has received, I went, against my better judgment, to see it. I didn't enjoy it. The first hour of the movie is one boxing match after another...a bloody (literally) bore. I almost fell asleep. Then, the film takes a turn for the worse, and becomes a morbid and depressing "TV-illness-of-the-week" tearjerker. Because of the seriousness of the plot, the actors get a chance to act up a storm, and they all do their best. Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman are excellent, but the film is Hillary Swank's, and she runs away with it. She deserves the Oscar for this one. If you love seeing women beat the hell out of each other, you'll at least "enjoy" the first half of the film. But, I can't imagine anyone who enjoys THAT kind of stuff, sitting through the last half of the movie. If you love boxing, go for the first half of the movie, then leave. If you love hospital soap-operas, go in half way through the film. In other words, it's a schizophrenic film, and one that I wouldn't recommend.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "BEING JULIA"
Last September, when "Being Julia" had its premiere here, Annette Bening came to collect the Boston Film Festival's annual award. Make no mistake about it, this is Annette Bening's movie, and she makes the most of it, turning in one of the best performances by an actress in any film this year. If Hilary Swank doesn't pick up the Oscar next month (for "Million Dollar Baby,") Bening will walk off with it. Based on the novella "Theatre" by W. Somerset Maughm, "Being Julia" is a period piece that chronicles the story of a stage actress in 1930's Britain, who is always acting, even when she thinks that she's not. In short, she is a true theatrical "diva." The story is a May-December love affair with the actress falling for a deceitful young man. But then again, everyone is deceitful in THIS film. The perfect settings, costumes, supporting actors (Jeremy Irons,) and even the lighting, are designed to showcase Bening as Julia Lambert. It's a tour de force for an actress, and Bening is up to the challenge. However, other than Bening's performance, the film is somewhat of a bore.
(3- Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "BAD EDUCATION" in Spanish with English sub-titles
Spanish director Pedro Almodovar has never made a film that wasn't imaginative, interesting, creative, thought-provoking, passionate...and highly controversial. This one is no exception. It's a no-holds-barred look at the issue of sexual misconduct in the Catholic Church. The time is 1980; the place is Madrid. Two young boys are molested by their priest, and when they grow up, one becomes a film director, and the other a transvestite junkie. The film is Almodovar's tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, and everything from the opening titles, the music, and the melodramatic story, reeks of film noir. The story is told in flashbacks, some of which are confusing. I had a problem with the construction of the film. What's not confusing is the incredible acting job of Gael Garcia Bernal ("Y Tu Mama Tambien," "The Motorcycle Diaries,") as one of the young men, and as a femme fatale named Zahara! The film is filled with surprises, graphic sexual images, beautiful lush photography and some truly disturbing scenes between Father Manolo and one of the young boys. People are not who, or what, they seem to be, in this film. 
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "HOTEL RWANDA"
I know that this is a true story about one man's heroism during the genocidal civil war in Rwanda in 1994. ( A manager at a 4-star hotel saved hundreds of his countrymen's lives, when he sheltered them in his hotel, after all of the whites had left.) I also know that the two stars were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances. (The fine actor Don Cheadle for Best Actor, and newcomer Sophie Okonedo for Best Supporting Actress.) But, although it's a fine film, it's the most depressing film of 2004. It was hard to sit through almost two hours of abject misery, bloody violence and genocide. My God, it made "The Passion of the Christ" look like a musical! 
(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "MEET THE FOKKERS"
What was Barbra Streisand thinking, coming out of retirement to star as "Mother Fokker" in this stupid, annoying, tasteless, mean, and completely ridiculous waste of the true talents of 5 Hollywood/Broadway/TV stars? It's the second stupid choice that she made last year! If you're a Ben Stiller fan, now would be a good time to send him a sympathy card. After 5 bombs in a row, this movie is the official end of his career. I can only hope that he doesn't drag down Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Blythe Danner and Barbra Streisand with him. The film is the low-point in all of their careers. Yes, it's THAT bad!
(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "BE COOL"
Customarily, Hollywood dumps its bad films into the theaters in January and February of each year, and doesn't start releasing its blockbusters until just before Spring. The first of these good films was the highly anticipated sequel to "Get Shorty," "Be Cool." Once again, John Travolta reprises his role of Chili Palmer, former loan shark/hustler and current movie/music producer. He is surrounded by a promising supporting cast, including the always gorgeous and talented Uma Thurman, the usually hilarious Vince Vaughn, and enough cameos by the likes of Danny DeVito, Harvey Keitel, Seth Green and James Woods, to film a re-make of "Around the World in 80 Days".....the original film, not the dreadful Jackie Chan re-make! Now here's the BAD news. Travolta walks through his role, leaving his sense of commitment behind. Thurman is operating on fumes, compared to her incredible performance as The Bride, in the "Kill Bill" movies, and even the dozen or so cameos contribute nothing to this insult to its lineage ("Get Shorty," and the classic "Pulp Fiction.") Author Elmore Leonard must be turning over in his grave! The film is stolen, by three men with no real names: The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) as a gay bodyguard, Andre 3000 of Outkast (Andre Benjamin,) and Cedric the Entertainer (does this man HAVE a name?) But, it's only PETTY larceny, not GRAND larceny. The only thing GRAND about this film, is that it's a GRAND shame, that it wasn't funnier or more original!
(1 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "DOWNFALL" (in German and Russian with English sub-titles)
A once-famous ruler, who brought his country to greatness, and then to hellish ruin, is hiding from the approaching enemy, in a hole below his capital city, contemplating his suicide during his last days on earth. There's enough drama in this scenario to make the viewer feel some degree of sympathy for this old man, but not in this case, because the old man is Adolf Hitler. During his final days, in his bunker with his general staff and their wives and children, Hitler brought in a young secretary, Trudl Junge, to document these final days. It's this diary that's the basis of this compelling and fascinating film. The film, a great success in its native Germany, has been meeting with controversy all over the world, because movie audiences are seeing it as an attempt to humanize a monster. Does it accomplish this? Yes, and no. We do see the man behind the monster, shaking with Parkinson's Disease, and being kind and grandfatherly to Goebbels' children. But, even though Bruno Ganz does a remarkable job of portraying the different facets of this many-sided personality, when all is said and done, the man is still Hitler, the most evil man of the 20th Century, and he's quite mad. Although overly long, the movie is a brilliant docu-drama of the life of one of the most infamous men who ever lived. A must for history buffs, and for those who are interested in the psychology of evil. "In the dead of a November night in 1942, a group of young women are escorted by SS officers through the woods to Wolf's Lair, Hitler's headquarters. They are candidates for the post of personal secretary to the Fuehrer......................................................................................."
(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "SIN CITY"
Finally, 2005 has produced its first wildly creative, imaginative, exciting, and violently thrilling roller-coaster of a movie. If it isn't already sold out at your neighborhood theater (the word-of-mouth has been incredible,) buy your tickets now and get over there. I'm stalling, because I'm finding it very hard to describe this unique movie. It's a black and white film-noir masterpiece, with splashes of color applied artistically (and not at all at random) to remind us that this is after all, based on three of the classic chiaro-scuro comic books (or graphic novels,) of Frank Miller. Although I never read the "comics" of Frank Miller, I grew up on the E.C. comics which were a strong influence on Miller. I read THEM religiously. In this filmed version of the books, there are three intertwining plots involving three over-the-top men (two bizarre criminals and one bad cop,) and the sexy dames who put them there. The men are played by Bruce Willis, Clive Owen and Mickey Rourke. The women, by Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, and Brittany Murphy. The place is the back streets and dark alleys of BaSin City...a place so filled with corruption and vengeance, that crimes of gory murder are so commonplace, that director Robert Rodriguez (with a little help from co-directors Quentin Tarentino, who directed one scene, and Frank Miller, the author, himself,) has upped the ante to include decapitations, animals eating living people, mutilation, and enough gore to fill a dozen "Fear Factors!" But, it's so damn ingenious, and beautiful to look at! Don't be put off by the violence of the piece, and don't take the kids. Concentrate on the intricate plots, the stunning visual effects, and the incredible acting by all of those stars (plus 5 or 6 others, including Benicio Del Toro, Carla Gugino, Josh Hartnett, Michael Duncan Clark, and Elijah Wood.) It's one of a kind. If you grew up on comics and still think of them as an art form, as I do, you'll love this film, and see it as a cinematic masterpiece. If you're not "into" the comics, you'll probably just see this as an overlong, confusing, indulgent gore-fest, so stay away from it. Those are your options.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE PREVIEW- "ST. RALPH"
Doesn't this sound like an awful idea for a movie? The time is the 1950's. The place is an industrial town in Canada. A young teen-age boy, at a Catholic prep school, is about to become an orphan, because his father died in the war, and his mother has just lapsed into a coma. He needs a miracle to bring his mother "back," and so he decides to win the Boston Marathon, hoping that that will be the miracle to do the job. Corny? Saccharine? Old-fashioned? Sure for all three, but it works...and it works beautifully. The film is a perfect gem, and you're rooting for this kid against all the odds. This is why preview clubs and film festivals exist. To bring small films like this one to the attention of a public that might not otherwise get to see it. The story is uplifting. The acting, by Campbell Scott, Jennifer Tilly, and unknown Adam Butcher (as the young boy,) is top-notch, and even the music is terrific. It's funny. It's touching. It's believable. It's short. Catch it, if it makes its way to your neighborhood. You'll thank me for recommending it.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "SAHARA"
Indiana Jones is back, reincarnated as Dirk Pitt, the swashbuckling hero of Clive Cussler's 16 adventure novels. It's hard to believe that this is only the first of the 16 "Dirk Pitt" novels to hit the big screen. I've read, and loved all of them. They're the finest example of the serial-type adventure genre on the contemporary scene. Therefore, I've been very concerned about what they would do with this first one. Part of the battle was won with the casting of Matthew McConaughey as Dirk Pitt. He is the perfect choice for this bright and adventurous charmer. The other half of "the duo" is another story. Steve Zahn is completely miscast as Al Giordino, the muscular little hot headed Italian bulldog. Steve Zahn??? Even though he's not the Giordino of the books, he makes for a good wise-cracking sidekick to Pitt in the film. In fact, he almost steals the film. William H. Macy is perfect as Admiral Sandecker. As with all Cussler novels, this one starts out in the past where an incident occurs involving some famous historical event or artifact. Then, the action jumps up to the present, where the NUMA (National Underwater Marine Agency) team solves the mystery and saves the world. Of course, there's always a beautiful damsel-in-distress involved...usually a very brainy one. This one is a scientist played by the English-impaired Penelope Cruz. (Now, THAT'S a stretch!) But to get to the point, was I thrilled or disappointed with the first of this series to be made into a film? I loved it...AND I was disappointed. The story line was changed from the book, and not for the better, but it still works. Even if you've never read any of the books (start right now,) you'll enjoy this ridiculous story of how a Civil War battleship ended up in the Sahara desert with a mysterious secret on board. Is it the source of a threatening plague? It's fun, it's tongue-in-cheek, it's smart, it's camp, it's thrilling, it's everything that you loved in the Indiana Jones/ James Bond films. 
(4- Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE INTERPRETER"

What a smart move it was on the part of the United Nations to allow Sydney Pollack and his film crew, to film this movie in, and around the headquarters in New York. This is the first time that a movie was filmed there, and it coincides, not surprisingly, with the fact that the U.N.'s reputation is at the lowest point in its history. It will remind you of the days when the U.N. was a powerful and necessary institution, commanding of the world's respect, and the headquarters for the world's hope. The film is an old-fashioned political thriller, with an exciting story having to do with the attempted assassination of an African warlord. Its story is exciting and believable, and the acting by the three main stars (Sean Penn, Nicole Kidman, and Catherine Keener) gives the film even more of an impact. There's suspense, red herrings, an attempt at some political relevancy, and some beautiful photography highlighting the majesty, as well as the burden, of having this institution in the heart of an already troubled New York. I remember the horrible traffic jams (at least once a week) when heads of state crisscrossed Manhattan in their motorcades. Getting back to the story, there is one glaring error or miscalculation in the story line, that will have you screaming, "that could NEVER happen," and you're absolutely right. That's why I took one star away from what could have been a five-star blockbuster. It's still a fine film.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "CRASH"

The initial response to this incredibly complex and intelligent film, is that its moral is, people of different races and ethnic groups shouldn't live in the same city, especially if that city is Los Angeles (where no one walks, but everyone just peers at each other through car windows.) This "coexistence" produces fear, hatred, paranoia, ignorance, and senseless killings. This thought-provoking film written and directed by Paul Haggis ("Million Dollar Baby,") begins with a multi-car crash, and then proceeds backwards to show the many lives that collide in that crash. Each life intertwines with one or more of the others, and in the process, your ideas about race are challenged, reinforced, or destroyed. Every stereotype is explored with no holds barred...no punches pulled. There's the upper-class racist housewife (Sandra Bullock) and her DA husband (Brendan Fraser.) There are the two car-jackers...one a black, ignorant bigot (Chris "Ludicris" Bridges,) the other a bright but doomed accomplice (Larenz Tate.) An African-American television director (Terrence Howard) and his bitch of a racist wife (Thandie Newton,) come into conflict with a white racist cop (Matt Dillon) and his innocent rookie partner (Ryan Phillippe.) If there's a hero in the film, it's a black police detective (Don Cheadle) whose lover is an hispanic woman (Jennifer Esposito.) Throw in a Mexican locksmith, a paranoid Iranian shopkeeper, a middle-aged Korean couple with a terrible secret, an unexpected but beautiful miracle, a large black insurance agent named Shaquanda, and you have an idea of what this funny, powerful, unpredictable, compelling film is all about. You'll be talking about it for a long time after you leave the theater. Brilliant!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY"
Back in 1978, Douglas Adams created a radio series for BBC, entitled "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Then, he turned the series into a trilogy of books that became cult classics, read by millions around the world. (Back in the '70's, it was these books, and the books of Kurt Vonnegut, that made me laugh out loud while reading them. I haven't done THAT in years.) Now they've been turned into a film...a film that's hard to review, because it has two audiences...those who've read the books and those who haven't. If you haven't read the books, I hesitate to recommend the film, because it captures the spirit of the books perfectly, and you won't know what the hell is going on. Picture what might have happened to "Star Wars," if those films had been directed by and starred the Monty Python troupe. An englishman is whisked off of Earth by his friend (who he never knew was an alien,) just minutes before the Earth is destroyed, (to make way for an inter-galactic highway.) He then travels the galaxy, having one adventure after another, searching for the answer to "the Ultimate Question," and a cute girl that he met at a party. If you can handle that, then you'll love this wacky, sci-fi comedy as much as I did. The film stars Martin Freeman (of BBC's "The Office,) Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, John Malkovich and Zooey Deschanel, and features the voices of Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, etc. The visuals are creative, colorful, and surreal, and the special effects are as big as anything you've seen on screen to date. The story is ridiculous, wonderful, satirical, and almost as funny as the books. Give it a shot.
(5-Stars, if you've read the book)
(2-Stars, if you haven't.) 

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW- "ME & YOU & EVERYONE WE KNOW"
Written and directed by Miranda July (I never heard of her) who also stars in this movie, this is easily the worst film of the year. Why anyone would finance this self-indulgent piece of garbage is a mystery to me. We walked out!
(0 -Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "KINGDOM OF HEAVEN"
I know that the ladies reading this will disagree, but I just don't think that Orlando Bloom is "leading man" material. In spite of having packed on 20 pounds of muscle for this film, he's still delicate in appearance and wimpy in personality, leaving a big hole in the center of what is supposed to be an epic film. Trying to fill this hole are two real leading men, Liam Neeson and Jeremy Irons, in supporting roles. But without a real lead, the film is just another computer-graphics "show-and-tell," with virtual armies racing at each other...scenes that you've seen countless times in these big summer films. The real loser in these battles, is the story! Supposedly, we're dealing with the First Crusades, where the Catholic armies road out of the West to rescue The Holy Land from "the infidels." Now that COULD have been a topical story, resonating with all kinds of parallels to what's going on in the world today. Instead, director Ridley Scott played it safe, trying to make everyone seem like "the good guys." That just doesn't work. The audience is too smart for that. My God, did I just say that? With the world engaged in a global jihad today, there were ready-made villains there for the taking, but Scott played it "gray" with no "black and whites." That just didn't work for me. The radical Muslims are the villains today, and they were the villains then. You can't blame the Crusades on the U.N. or the Germans !!! But to get back to Ridley Scott, what he was able to do so successfully in his fine film "Gladiator," he just couldn't pull off here for one simple reason...Orlando Bloom is not Russell Crowe!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "MONSTER-IN-LAW"
Although this film is nothing more than an extended TV sitcom episode, it reminds you how funny TV sitcoms used to be before they gave up, and turned TV over to the contagious, and moronic, plague that is reality TV. No, this isn't hilarious from beginning to end, and it's not even very funny, but I got to laugh out loud twice. That counts for something. Besides, it's good to see two women (one a real actress; the other, a celebrity based on her anatomy,) pretend to be two people who hate each other, and who try to do each other in. Jane Fonda, who used to be a good actress, before her politics made her "an enemy of the people," and an exercise-video guru, plays an aging, but famous, TV news-personality (Barbara Walters?) Her son, (Michael Vartan...nothing but eye candy for the girls) brings an ethnic floozy (Jennifer Lopez, who else?) home to Mom, the way a bird brings a worm to her nest, and proposes to her...in front of Mom. This guy is obviously an idiot! Mom loves this jerk the way Jocasta loved Oedipus, and so she is determined to "get rid of the bitch" before she can marry her little boy. Watching the two women trying to get rid of one another, produces a couple of funny scenes. Playing Fonda's mother-in-law, in a cameo, is Broadway's legendary Elaine Stritch, who has more class than the other two actresses combined! Jennifer Lopez holds her own against Fonda, simply by being herself, but she's getting a little long in the tooth (and rich) to still be playing "Jenny from the block." Give this woman a big musical, and let her shake that humongous butt all over a stage. I don't mean a brainless MTV video, aimed at pre-pubescent horny boys and equally horny drunken frat rats. I mean a big Broadway musical that requires discipline, class, intelligence, and talent. Maybe she can do one with her husband, Marc Anthony. If not, she'll never be anything more than a rich, famous "fly-girl."
(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "MAD HOT BALLROOM"
This is a small movie with a big heart and a big smile, that'll make you feel good about kids in general, and about minority kids in the New York public school system, specifically; kids who are written off, too soon, as losers. First of all, let me say that the film is a documentary, and the best one this year. What's it all about? Well, it's about three public schools in New York City whose eleven-year-old students enter a ballroom dancing (fox-trot, swing, tango, rumba, and merengue) citywide contest, and what the competition does to these students, their parents, their teachers and their friends. The students that the film follows, come from: a school in the ghetto where the students are from the wrong side of EVERY set of tracks; a school in Brooklyn where the students are a true melting pot...just like Brooklyn itself; and a school in TriBeCa, where the students could be considered somewhat affluent in comparison to those in the other two schools. The battle is drawn. You'll get to know the kids and their families, and you'll start to fall in love with some of them. If you saw the documentary "Spellbound," you'll know what I mean. There's also a lot of the movie "Fame" in here, because it all revolves around the music, the dancing, and the joy of watching young people discover things about themselves that they never knew. There are jerks and there are heroes. There are winners and there are losers. But the moral here is that, if you show these kids a little love, and give them back their dignity and something to strive for, the experience can transform them.

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE LONGEST YARD"
An unnecessary, corny and stupid remake, of what was a dumb movie to start with. Now Adam Sandler is playing the role that was originated by a younger, funnier Burt Reynolds (who is in this film, as an older, unfunny Burt Reynolds.) If you must see this kind of thing, rent the DVD of the "Bad News Bears!"
(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "LAYER CAKE"
If you enjoy Guy Ritchie's Irish gangster films, ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," and "Snatch,") as well as David Mamet's intricate puzzling thrillers ("House of Games," and "The Spanish Prisoner,") then you'll surely enjoy "Layer Cake." British film director Matthew Vaughn (who apprenticed under Guy Ritchie) combines the best of the work of these other two directors, to tell the story of a cocaine dealer who's paid his dues, by catering to the needs of the British mafia's mob elite, and who's getting tired of the racket and wants to get out. But then his mob-boss pulls him into a scheme to rescue a missing-person, who just happens to be the daughter of one of "the other bad guys." That's when things heat up, and the action becomes non-stop, thrilling, and puzzling. You're constantly thinking, while you're sitting on the edge of your seat and biting your nails! Be warned though, the accents are so thick that it's difficult to understand much of the dialogue. The film is alternately violent, clever, brutal and funny...a tricky balance that works brilliantly. Another reason to see this fine film is that it'll give you the opportunity to get to know actor Daniel Craig (the cocaine dealer,) who right now is the most likely candidate to become the new James Bond. He'll be perfect!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

(It would have been 5-Stars if it had been sub-titled!)

MOVIE REVIEW- "STAR WARS 3: THE REVENGE OF THE SITH"
What can I say that hasn't already been said about this epic series of films than has spanned a period of almost 30 years, from when the first one burst on the movie scene, until this last one, that brings the series to a close? George Lucas has created a cinematic masterpiece, a film legend that will always be the benchmark by which other science-fiction fantasies are measured. The characters have become a part of our culture, and the story is unforgettable. Everyone has his/her favorite film of the six, and mine will always be the least popular one, #2 "Attack of the Clones." I also differ from many fans in that the two characters that I love the most are Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman.) Their acting is so realistic in "SW2", that it doesn't seem like acting....just two awkward teen-agers in love. In this last of the films, all of the story lines converge, everything is resolved (with one or two surprises,) and I felt the way I felt when I finished reading the last of the "Lord of the Rings" books....like some of my closest friends had moved, and I would never see them again. It's a sad, empty feeling. But I'll carry those characters and their stories with me forever, and I know that the force will be with me.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "CINDERELLA MAN"
What can you do to make a boxing film different from all of the other boxing films that came before it? Well, you can make it about a kickboxer, or a woman boxer, but those have already been done. You can do it as a musical, but even that's been done. So there's a sense of deja vu about Ron Howard's new film; you've already seen it all before. This one tells the true story of James J. Braddock whose career, like that of "Seabiscuit," mirrored the times in which he achieved his fame...the Stock Market Crash, and the Great Depression. Braddock (Russell Crowe) was on a winning streak, when his career took a turn for the worst, and he and his wife (Renee Zellwegger) and three children, fell into extreme poverty, and then, through perseverance, strength and an annoying, but effective manager (Paul Giamatti,) his career was revived, and he went on to win the heavyweight title. The three main actors do most of their acting through their accents, which to my untrained ear, sound very phony! The fight scenes are bloody enough, and well choreographed, but the actor (Craig Bierko) who plays Max Baer, hams it up outrageously. Movies about a common-man hero, and those about surprising sports legends in history, have their audience waiting for them. So, if you're one of those people, you'll probably enjoy this film more than I did.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "MR. & MRS. SMITH"
Going into this movie, I knew that it would be an action film, of course, but I was also hoping that it would be a throwback to the old "screwball romantic comedies" of the 30's and 40's...the kind of films that starred Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell or Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. This wonderful genre has been extinct since it was recreated successfully in the late 50's with those great Rock Hudson/Doris Day comedies. Director Doug Liman ("Swingers," and "The Bourne Identity") is certainly capable of directing a combination screwball comedy/action film, and the stars, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Vince Vaughn are perfectly cast. Given the screenplay that the stars were given to work with, they just about pulled it off. The dialogue is not as sophisticated and intelligent as in those great comedies (but then again, neither is the audience,) and the action sequence at the end of the film goes on way too long, for all but the most X-Box-prone adolescent. Other than that, it's a noble attempt and there's great chemistry between the two leads. In case you're not aware of the story, it involves a husband and wife who are professional assassins, but who are unaware of the other's profession, until their respective agencies hire them to kill one another. An interesting premise, don't you think?
(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "BATMAN BEGINS"
Not only is this the best Batman movie ever made (yes, Christian Bale is better than Michael Keaton AND Val Kilmer;) the best comic-book movie ever made (yes, it's better than "Sin City;") but it's also one of the best movies of the year! What makes it so damn good? Well, as one of the major movie critics for the New York Times said, " It's amazing what an excellent cast, a solid screenplay, and a regard for the source material can do for a comic book movie." I couldn't agree more. With the exception of the eternally-childish and inept Katie Holmes who is completely miscast, the rest of the cast is a perfect ensemble of talented actors at the top of their game. It includes Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer and Gary Oldman. Director/Screenplay-Writer Christopher Nolan ("Memento") has taken the time to weave a dark story, that explains why the young Bruce Wayne became the caped crusader. It's a beautiful, intelligent story, and not a camp or silly one, as often happens to the plots of comic-book movies. It's a movie for adults, and I only hope that all of these positive attributes don't scare away the adolescents, whose numbers are required to make this the money-making blockbuster that it deserves to be! A piece of advice to directors who are planning sequels to this film, "don't even think of using ANYONE but Christian Bale to play the role. He IS Bruce Wayne/Batman!")
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW- "BEWITCHED"
If you enjoy watching reruns of the mildly amusing '60's TV series, "Bewitched," then you'll probably find this film remake of the series, well,..............mildly amusing. I found it to be awful; I almost walked out! I can't understand why a talented Oscar-winning actress like Nicole Kidman would chose to play a role that could easily have been played by any pretty dim-wit with an ability to twitch her nose...someone like Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Lopez, or God help us, Paris Hilton. Supposedly, it was Kidman's favorite TV series as a young girl. Is that now the new criterion for taking on a film-role? In any case, she's Samantha. The premise of the new film, written by the talented Ephron sisters, Nora and Delia, and directed by Nora, is that a movie is being made of the old TV series, "Bewitched," and they're looking for someone to play the lead opposite washed-up actor Jack Wyatt ( Will Ferrell, in his subdued, bordering on stupid mode.) Real-life witch Isabel Bigalow (Nicole Kidman) thinks that she's just perfect for the role, because she's a real-life witch! Get it? Although there's a very strong supporting cast with Michael Caine playing Isabel's warlock father, Broadway's Kristen Chenoweth wasted as her next door neighbor, and a very hammy Shirley MacLaine as the actress who plays Endorra, Samantha's witch mother, they tend to make things worse, rather than better. It's fun to see all of these excellent stars on screen, but I would rather have seen them in a vehicle that's worthy of their many talents. This one is a disaster. Only a witch could have saved it.
(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW- "WAR OF THE WORLDS"

Even the title conjures up images of little green Martians in space ships blowing up the Empire State Building and the Capitol Building. Orson Welles scared people to death (literally, in two cases,) with his ultra-realistic 1938 radio broadcast, and then George Pal made a campy film based on the radio broadcast, back in 1953. Now Stephen Spielberg has gone back to the original source material, the H.G. Wells classic novel of the same name, and in true Spielberg fashion, has created an unforgettable science-fiction horror film. It's hard to take Tom Cruise seriously nowadays, but this film should help to bolster his image. He does a fine job portraying an un-heroic blue-collar worker, (a jerk, actually,) with two children...two of the most troublesome and annoying children ever put on screen! (Thank God they didn't cast Katie Holmes as his daughter!) The fine young actress Dakota Fanning does an excellent job in this role. She's the "go-to" girl when you need a kid in trouble, on film. Spielberg manages to avoid some of the cliches of this genre (e.g., blowing up world-famous landmarks, trashing New York City, having generals move toy tanks around with long sticks on a war table, etc.) and as a result has come up with a pretty damn good, realistic, and exciting, thriller about Martians invading the Earth. Of course the computer graphics are many, but necessary to the story, and the story is well written, well acted, and well directed. It's Spielberg at his best. Tim Robbins plays a deranged survivor, who spends a great deal of time hiding under his ruined house. He should hide, after his disgraceful role in the failed Kerry campaign last year! You may choose to see this film as a metaphor or allegory for global terrorism, the cultural erosion of America from within, or the destruction of manners, taste, and values due to MTV and cell-phones. I choose to see it simply, as the scariest film of the year!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE" (Dubbed from the Japanese)
Japanese anime films are an acquired taste, and I guess that I've acquired it, because I found this film (and its predecessor, "Spirited Away,") to be one of the most creative, imaginative, and beautiful films of the year. Director Hayao Miyazaki has created a stunning piece of art, with unforgetable visual images. The story concerns a young girl Sophie, whose adventure begins, when she has a spell put on her by the Wicked Witch of the Waste...a spell that ages her into an old crone. She leaves her comfortable home, and sets off on an epic journey to get her life back. Along the way, she meets Howl, a strange young wizard, who lives in a fantastic castle that moves from place to place on large chicken legs! She falls in love with Howl, and together they fight off evil, and try to restore peace to their homeland. I concentrated on the surface story, and tried to ignore all of the symbolism, mythology, and metaphors. Sometimes I succeeded. This film is being released in a sub-titled version, and in a dubbed version. We opted for the dubbed version, because it contained the voices of Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, Blythe Danner, and Jean Simmons. I think that we made the right choice. Some of the images of monsters, war-machines, bombings, etc. might prove to be frightening to very young children. Otherwise, it's an interesting and unique film experience for everyone else.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY"
Finally Hollywood got it right! This second film version of the classic Roald Dahl dark tale about horrible children and their downfall, is faithful to the book in just about every way. It's cynical, mean, politically incorrect, biting, satirical, and absolutely wonderful. Director Tim Burton doesn't worry about offending some segments of the population when he creates those four hideous children: the obese glutton; the mindless, violent video-game freak; the competitive trophy winner with a stage-mother to match; and, the rich, spolied brat whose daddy gets her everything. Johnny Depp IS Willy Wonka, but not the happy-go-lucky people-friendly Wonka portrayed by Gene Wilder in the earlier film. This one's a mean but lovable nut-case...a combination of Carol Burnett, Michael Jackson, and ditzy "valley girl." If you don't know the story, it's never too late to read the book, but it tells the story of five lucky children who win golden tickets that entitle them to tour the town's imposing and mysterious chocolate factory. What happens to four of them there couldn't happen to a more horrible quartet of little monsters. The film is immensely creative, imaginative, clever, and often hilarious. If I have one criticism it involves the tiny ooompa-loompas, all portrayed by one actor, Deep Roy. When they sing the four songs about the four brats, the lyrics are Roald Dahl's own, taken directly from the book, and they're brilliant, but unintelligible. So much is lost because of the way the voices are distorted. Other than that, the film is right on target, (especially young Freddy Highmore who is perfect as Charlie.) The sets, costumes, and Danny Elfman score would have pleased Dahl, a hard man to please. One final note. Leave the under-10 kids home. They won't get it, and it might scare them.
(4 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE WEDDING CRASHERS"
This movie was advertised all wrong. It was packaged and sold, in the ads and the trailer, as a movie that would appeal to the "Dude, Where's My Car" 14-year-old adolescent boy, set...the kid with one hand on his X-box, and the other on his OTHER toy! Instead, it's an hilariously raunchy, clever chick flick that would appeal to anyone with a brain in his/her head, and a sense of humor to match. The premise? Two guys crash weddings to hook up with girls. When the two guys are portrayed by two of Hollywood's more out-there improv-type comic actors, Vince Vaughn and Owen (or is it Luke?) Wilson, and the script is intelligently crafted, the results are an over-the-top, "laugh-out-loud" sleazy comedy. Throw in Christopher Walken, and two very promising young actresses in supporting roles, and you've got a surefire hit. Easily the funniest movie of THIS summer so far. However having said all that, let me add that, in my opinion, Owen Wilson is by far, the most painful-to-watch, annoying "actor" in the history of film!!!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "BROKEN FLOWERS"
Although I'm a big fan of Bill Murray the comedian, I don't enjoy him when he tries to take on serious roles (e.g., "The Razor's Edge," "Hamlet," "Lost in Translation," etc.) He's just not credible in these parts, especially the roles he tried to play in the boring "Razor's Edge," and the sleep-inducing "Lost in Translation." In "Broken Flowers," he plays another of those roles. THE BILL MURRAY ACTING TECHNIQUE: Put a frown on your face, and walk and talk like a zombie through the entire film. Imitate a sleepwalker. In this film, Murray plays Don Johnston, a womanizing Don Juan (although we see no indication that Murray's character could attract women, men, animals, or even inanimate objects,) who receives a letter from one of his former lovers, stating that he has a 19-year-old son. The letter is unsigned. He sets out on a quest to find out who is the mother of his son. The four actresses who play his four former loves (Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton,) show more emotion, acting ability, and affect in each of their 5-minute cameos, than Murray displays in the entire film! Director Jim Jarmusch has a history of making weird films. Add this one to the list.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE ARISTOCRATS"
1. Put together dozens of America's funniest comics.
2. Ask them to comment on, or retell, the dirtiest joke in the history of American comedy.
What do you get?
The funniest , laugh-out-loud documentary that I've ever seen. Don't miss it!
(5-Stars) Back to Top



[FOR ADULTS ONLY- no one under the age of 18 will be allowed in the theaters, even if accompanied by two nannies, a doctor's note, and a goat.]

MOVIE REVIEW- "THE BROTHERS GRIMM"
Once upon a time, in the Black Forest of Bavaria, there lived two elderly brothers, Wilhelm and Jacob, whose job it was to collect ancient fairy tales, and write them down so all could read them. These two scholars, the Brothers Grimm, made this pursuit into a respected profession, and their names are synonymous with the world of "Hansel & Gretel," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Snow White." 
What eccentric director Terry Gilliam, and actors Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, and Monica Bellucci have done, in this ridiculous deconstruction of the lives of two eminent men, borders on the sacriligious. They've been turned into swashbuckling con artists, who go from town to town in Napoleonic Germany, rescuing towns from evil monsters, demons, and other predators. Even, by stretching ones imagination, and trying to see this as a metaphor for what the real literary collectors did, the film is truly absurd; a really stupid, confusing mess! (When I was an academic myself, I made a study of the Psychology of Children's Literature, and even created and taught college courses in this subject for many years. This background made the viewing of this joke, even more painful!) What's next? Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare as hip-hop stars ???
(1-Star) Sorry Matt!

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN"
If you've been keeping track of my "laughing-out-loud" barometer, in my reviews of this year's comic films, this one is by far the funniest....I never stopped laughing! As you must know by now, Steve Carrel plays the title role, a child-like man whose "friends" are determined to change his sexual status. Catherine Keener plays the loving woman who finally does it for him. Both actors are brilliant. Every type of comedy is explored in this clever film, from slapstick-physical comedy to intelligent satire. In fact, hidden in the laughs are some very pointed things that are being said about male immaturity, whorish women, racism, parent-child relationships, homosexuality etc. If you think that you've seen the funniest scenes in the trailer for the movie, you haven't. Even the chest-waxing scene is much longer and painfully more hilarious in the actual film. The most amazing thing about this movie is that it's a comedy for adults who want to laugh at the foolish things that we do. These people could be people that you know, and you really like every one of them...except the predatory women, who do and say some of the funniest things in the movie. A fine cast of excellent actors, as well as the writers and director, should all be applauded. I'm actually laughing as I'm writing this review!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE CONSTANT GARDENER"
Here's the perfect way to jumpstart your brain after having sat through three summer months of light weight movies. This is the first film of substance since "Crash" (four months ago.)  The film, directed by Francisco Meirelles (who directed the shocking "City of God,") and acted, brilliantly, by Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, and Bill Nighy, tells the story of a massive governmental cover-up, involving pharmaceutical companies and the distribution of their drugs, in impoverished Africa. It's based on the book by John LeCarre, who is the grandfather of the espionage thriller. The suspenseful plot is intricate as a puzzle, but when the pieces come together, the film is bold and daring, and fingers are pointed at the British government and the drug companies. It's they who are acting in collusion to test drugs on unsuspecting Africans, many of whom die as a result of the trials. Whether or not this is true, it makes for a powerful film. Even if you're a racist and couldn't care less what happens to the people of Africa, this movie is thrilling, intelligent, and thought provoking.
(5-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW- "JUST LIKE HEAVEN"

This slight "romantic comedy" is the first big chick-flick of the Fall season, and it's not very good as anything but a date movie. A new tenant (Mark Ruffalo) moves into an apartment, only to find that it's already "occupied" by the ghost of the former tenant (Reese Witherspoon.) Now THAT'S a renter's nightmare!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE PREVIEW: "INNOCENT VOICES" in Spanish with English sub-titles
Just in case you might have lingering doubts about whether or not war is hell, you might want to check out this depressing little film. It's an account of the civil war in El Salvador (1980-1992) as told through the eyes of an 11-year-old, who, through youthfulness, inexperience, and childish ignorance, manages to put everyone around him in danger. It's a liberal's delight, in that it portrays America as the evil supporter of all that's bad in the countries of the third world. On the other hand, one might ask why people stay in their cardboard shacks, where soldiers and guerrillas shoot at one another every night, rather than packing up their belongings in a shoebox and simply walking out of harm's way. I suppose that the same could be said for the poor people of New Orleans before Katrina hit the city. But that's another story, isn't it?
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "PROOF"
When Broadway shows transfer to the screen, sometimes they lose a lot in the "translation," and sometimes they gain. This one definitely gained, primarily due to quality casting. In the role of the mathematical genius whose mental faculties have been slowly deteriorating prior to his death, Anthony Hopkins is, well...Anthony Hopkins...and that's always good. In the role of his student who falls for the daughter of this genius, Jake Gyllenhaal does some of his best work. Hope Davis is powerful as the daughter who stayed away from her ailing father, while her sister did the dirty work. But the film belongs to Gwyneth Paltrow, as the mousy daughter, who may be a genius in her own right. It's her best work on screen, and that's saying a lot. Like the solving of a difficult mathematical equation, the film is often slow and sometimes difficult, but in the end it proves to be a powerful piece of work. Unlike that same mathematical equation, it's fairly short. If you enjoyed "A Beautiful Mind," then you'll probably enjoy this as well. But if you're looking for something light and cheery, this ISN'T your film.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "SERENITY"
According to Manohla Dargis, the film critic for the New York Times, "Serenity is superior in every respect to George Lucas' more ambitious 'Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith" I can't agree with THAT, but I will say that "Serenity" ranks up there with the 10 best sci-fi films ever made, and that DOES include the "Star Wars" films. It's that good. Written and directed by Josh Whedon (who used to be a nerdy actor,) it's based on his sci-fi cult TV hit, "Firefly." It's clever, funny, (like the early "Star Wars" films) and thrilling beyond belief. I like the way it just starts out 500 years in the future, with a past filled with worlds at war, and renegades against the ruling Alliance, and assuming that we, the audience, are aware of all of this. There's no talking down to us, and no backing away from unpleasantries. The dialogue is adult and the actors (all unknown to me and all excellent,) deliver it as though they were making it up on the spot. The battle scenes are spectacular and filmed beautifully. Josh Whedon has learned a lot from his predecessors...Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, and George Lucas. This movie is such a complete and thorough package, that I almost wish that there wouldn't be a sequel. But, who knows. Money talks.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK"
For those of you who are not familiar with the famous newscaster Edward R. Murrow, and his attempts to throw light on the evils of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his witch-hunt-like House Un-American Activities Committee back in the 1950's, this film will come as an eye-opener, a lesson in history, and a damn good thriller as well. Murrow was one of the last of the real newscasters...men who were not only intelligent enough to understand the news they were talking about, but sought to change events as well. They were as unlike the present-day idiot newsreaders (like Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, and all those other pretty, but stupid, biased faces on the TV news shows) as Nobel Prize-winning scientists are to people who collect garbage! George Clooney, a terrible actor, has done the public a great service, by acquiring this property, and believing in it enough to put his money behind it, as well as his talent as a director. He has assembled a perfect cast (himself, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey, Jr., and especially David Strathairn as Murrow) to tell the story of a single David of a newsman who attempts to fight the Goliath of a paranoid, powerful, and evil American Senator. The film is in black and white, and actual footage of Senator McCarthy in front of his committee, is used. He just may be the greatest villain on screen this year. Watch for Strathairn at Oscar time.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE PREVIEW: "THE WAR WITHIN" in English, French, and Arabic with some subtitles.
This was one of the most terrifying and disturbing films that I've ever seen. Terrifying and disturbing because of the times we live in, and because it takes us into the mind and lifestyle of an Islamic fundamentalist suicide bomber! Brilliantly written, directed, acted, and filmed in New York City, it's frightening in its fairness, objectivity, and ability to show us the other side and how it thinks. Hassan (Ayah Akhtar) a Pakistani engineering student, is pulled off the streets of Paris by the CIA/FBI, who suspect him of being a terrorist. He isn't. After being extradited back to Pakistan, he is brutally interrogated there, and then, three years later, we see him in New York joining a cell of terrorists who are intent on blowing up some of New York's landmarks. From being a not-especially religious student in America, and then France, he has now become a pious follower of Allah and the Koran. When the terrorist cell-members are captured by the police, he decides to go it alone, and blow up Grand Central Station. While he's preparing to commit his suicidal act, he lives with some of his best childhood friends, who have made a good life for themselves in the America that they love, in spite of their being Muslims! This is a film that will stay with you long after you've left the theater.
(In a Q & A period after the film, we got to meet the director, the writers, and Ayah Akhtar, the leading actor. ) 
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE"
Director David Cronenberg's ("Dead Ringers") latest film may just be his best. In this exploration of "violence" in its many guises, the life of an average family in small-town Indiana, is shattered, when vicious mobsters come to town and threaten their very existence. Viggo Mortensen (in his best role,) plays the mild-mannered head of this family, and Maria Bello once again turns in a remarkable performance as his wife. The gangster (Ed Harris) can't seem to believe that the man known to everyone in town as Tom Stalls, owner of the local diner, is not someone that he knew in a former life. In what could be an Oscar-nominated performance, William Hurt plays against type, as the mob boss, back in Philadelphia. After a shocking opening scene, the film starts quietly and peacefully, in Millbrook, Indiana. It's not long before violence comes to town, and violence begets violence, bodies start piling up, leading up to a Shakespearan finale, with a total body-count of 15...I think! What's surprising, is that all of this violence flows naturally and realistically from one act to the next. Helping to make this happen is the excellent acting of the entire cast, as well as the fine script, and the inspired direction of David Cronenberg. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire length of this suspenseful film.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "CAPOTE"
Truman Capote: popular author, openly gay, the darling of New York's cafe society in the '50's and '60's, the effeminate little troll who used to love to chat with Johnny Carson on his late-night TV show...these could all be used to describe Capote, until he decided to write a book about two young men who killed a family in Kansas in 1959. For whatever personal reasons, Capote went to Kansas, interviewed the two killers, developed a relationship with one of them, and then wrote a book that changed literature in America. The book, In Cold Blood introduced a style of literature called "the non-fiction novel." All of this is documented in the fascinating new film, "Capote." There are many reasons to see this film...psychological, sociological, literary...not least of which is to see the brilliant performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman as the troubled, tortured Capote. Hoffman, who bears no resemblance to Capote in real life, has become Capote on screen. He has him down perfectly. Playing his lifelong friend, Harper Lee (author of To Kill A Mockingbird,) is Catherine Keener, who couldn't be better. I'd be highly surprised at Oscar time next year, if at least two Oscars don't come out of this intriguing, and highly entertaining film.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "IN HER SHOES"
Women will love it; men will hate it. In other words, it's a perfect chick-flick, made bearable by some fine acting on the part of its three leading ladies. Two sisters, one a hottie, slut-type (Cameron Diaz;) the other, a nerdy, plain-Jane lawyer (Toni Collette,) have had a love-hate relationship all of their adult lives. The lawyer is getting tired of having to pick up her drunken sister in the middle of the night, bringing her home, only to have her steal her money, her boyfriends, and her shoes. In other words, she's the perfect enabler. Could these two really share the same gene pool? That pool comes back to haunt (and eventually save) them in the person of a grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) who they never even knew existed! Its hard to imagine that this sitcom was directed by Curtis Hanson who directed "L.A. Confidential" and "Wonder Boys!" Alpha males- stay away. Don't say I didn't warn you.
(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "TWO FOR THE MONEY"
The Fall and Holiday seasons are the time when quality 5-star films are released, so as to be considered for the coveted Oscar nominations early in the new year. Plopped in the middle of all of these serious films (e.g., "Capote," "A History of Violence," "The War Within," "Good Night and Good Luck," etc.) is this left-over summertime popcorn flick. Now a popcorn film doesn't have to be a bad film. But this one is! An injured small-town football star (Matt McConaughey) has the ability to predict the outcome of bigtime sporting events. Of course, it's not long before he comes to the attention of a Wall Street "sports consulting firm," led by it's manipulative boss (Al Pacino, once more playing "the devil!") A Faustian bargain is struck, and the one-time small-town football star becomes a legend in the business. Eye candy Rene Russo, still looking incredible in her 50's, is the wife of "the devil." As in all legends of Faust and the Devil, it's not long before payback time comes! Everything about this film is second-rate. It's predictable, silly, and the acting is bad (especially from Pacino, who is now doing a parody of himself, and McConaughey, who is just plain bad.) Don't waste your time.
(1 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "SHOPGIRL"
Every one of us knows a dull little loser like Mirabelle Buttersfield, who can depress you by just saying "hello." Mirabelle, the heroine of Steve Martin's bland little novella, is now the heroine of Steve Martin's bland little film, although, in the person of the fine actress Claire Danes, she's a great deal more interesting, than she was in the book. Mirabelle is a shop-girl in the glove department at Saks Fifth Avenue in L.A. For some entirely inexplicable reason, two men are attracted to her; one, a 50-ish, sophisticated, apparently wealthy businessman (Steve Martin,) and the other, a funny slob of a nutcase (Jason Schwartzman.) I didn't like any of these people. If you liked the equally boring "Lost in Translation," then you'll probably love this film.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "NORTH COUNTRY"
Just because a movie is "based on a true story," doesn't mean that it can't be unbelievable and thoroughly predictable. Such is the case with "North Country." Director Niki Caro ("Whale Rider") has, surprisingly, so stacked the deck in favor of heroine Josey Ames (Charlize Theron,) that everyone else in the film comes off as a redneck escapee from a mental institution! Some critics have wondered how much of Charlize Theron's talent is acting, and how much is make-up. Every time she drops her glamour-girl image and puts on a few pounds ("Monster,") she gets an Oscar, or at least a nomination. As far as I'm concerned, she is an extremely talented actress, with, or without the make-up. In the case of "North Country," she tackles another real-life story, as she did in "Monster." This time it's the story of Josey Ames, who was the first woman to file, and win, a sexual harassment class action suit against the almost all male mining company, where she worked, in Minnesota. Although there's a lot of fine acting in the film, from Theron, as well as Frances McDormand and Sissy Spacek, it's ultimately just another chick-flick, where the men (and some lesbian women,) are all Neanderthals. That gets tiring in a film that lasts two hours.
(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "JARHEAD"
Put this film up there with the best war films of the past, even though it doesn't take sides, or comment on the current situation in Iraq, and even though it has very few actual war scenes in it. So, if you're one of those people who's always looking for something to support your political beliefs, this isn't it. What it is, is an excellent retelling of Anthony Swofford's best-selling memoir of what it was like to be a young Marine serving in Operation Desert Shield/Storm. This is Jake Gyllenhaal's year. With three big movies released this year ("Proof," "Jarhead," and the much heralded "Brokeback Mountain,") he's become one of America's finest young actors. Joining Gyllenhaal in this film, is another of America's finest young actors, Peter Sarsgaard. Together, they show us what it must be like to be a young Marine recruit, fighting a controversial war in a faraway country. It's really about what soldiers do in between the battles, while they're just hanging around...the boredom, the comedy, the insanity, the human interest stories. It's a fascinating glimpse into the real behind-the-scenes of what it's like to fight a war, far from home and loved ones. Once again, director Sam Mendes creates a memorable piece of cinematic art. Chris Cooper and Jamie Foxx have supporting roles as officers, but their roles are negligible. This film belongs to the two young actors, and they make the most of every one of their scenes in it.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "KISS, KISS, BANG, BANG"

If this isn't the most annoying and stupid movie of the year, then I just haven't seen the other one!

(0-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "DERAILED"
When I read, and reviewed, the book Derailed a while back, I said that it was "a cleverly written, thrilling, chilling, page turner. It's a cautionary tale with a moral...don't cheat!" In the film, the plot still involves two strangers who meet on a train, have a flirtatious fling, which escalates into "adultery, rape, and multiple murders!") Unfortunately, the thrills and chills of the book, don't translate into this unintentionally funny mess of a film. The film fails for several reasons: (1) it's completely miscast. Jennifer Aniston is the girl next door, not a femme fatale. That's Anjelina Jolie, stupid. Clive Owen is James Bond (or at least he should have been,) not a wuss who can't defend himself; (2) the screenplay is so poorly written, that all of the suspenseful twists and turns in the book, are completely predictable on screen, and are utterly preposterous; (3) worst of all, the direction is choppy, careless, and confusing. Save your money; read the book!
(2-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW: "WALK THE LINE"
There are really only two good reasons to see this film about Johnny Cash, and those two are the acting and singing (they do all of their own singing,) performances of Joaquin Phoenix (as Johnny Cash,) and Reese Witherspoon (as June Carter Cash.) Watch for them both at Oscar time. Other than that, this is just a standard Hollywood bio-pic of another talented singer whose self-destructive behavior spirals him down into near oblivion, until "a good woman" saves him. The pattern seems to be routine in all of these kinds of films (e.g., "Ray," etc.) consisting of: an abusive father, a brother who dies, accidentally, in childhood (this has become mandatory,) and then a progression through drugs, alcohol, adultery, and prison. It makes you wonder, if you had this kind of talent, would you also get involved with "sex, drugs, and rock and roll?" I'd like to think not, although Mr. Cash and I DID share a propensity for black clothing!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "HARRY POTTER & THE GOBLET OF FIRE"
I loved this movie; my favorite of the four films in the series!
Harry Potter is now 14 years old, and in his 4th term at Hogwarts School. The three young protagonists have obviously matured, as have the actors who portray them. Director Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral") has keyed in on this maturity, and has created the most adult, the darkest, the scariest, and the most entertaining of the films, as well as the one that most realistically portrays the human emotions and problems of young teen-agers. The centerpiece of the film is the Triwizard Tournament, in which a representative of three rival schools of wizardry, compete in death-defying tasks. The Tournament is a cinematic masterpiece, with some of the most realistic special effects ever put on film. How could the acting be nothing less than superb, when the three new actors in this movie, Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson, and Ralph Fiennes (as Lord Voldemort,) join the already incredible ensemble cast, consisting of Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon and Gary Oldman? (Of course, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are portayed by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and what's his name?) I'm sad to think that the recent novel was the penultimate one, meaning that we're coming to the end of the film series as well. Let's all write to author J.K. Rowling, and tell her to take Harry into college!!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE"
Although this isn't the best adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel put onto the screen, (that honor goes to the definitive BBC 5-hourTV production starring Colin Firth,) it's an excellent film, with everything that you'd expect for this wonderful story...fine acting, sumptuous period settings, and something to say about modern-day values. Surprisingly, even though Keira Knightly is miscast as Elizabeth Bennett, the PLAIN Bennett sister, she does a fine job in this difficult role. Her Darcy (Matthew Mcfadyen) doesn't come off as well. Having to follow other great Darcys of the past (Laurence Olivier and Colin Firth,) doesn't help him very much. He's just TOO bland. As would be expected from such great actresses, Judi Dench and Brenda Blethyn are perfect in their "supporting" roles. So, if you're in the mood for an intelligent "Masterpiece Theater"-type film, and who isn't, when everything on screen is so dumbed-down and ugly nowadays, this is the film for you.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE KEEPER: THE LEGEND OF OMAR KHAYHAM" (Special Advance Screening)
This film is a mess. It's certainly not worth the time, effort, and money put into it by young writer, producer, director Kayvan Mashayekh, to whom I spoke briefly before the film. (We beat a hasty retreat AFTER the mercifully short movie!) It tells two parallel, interconnected stories. The first, is the story of the life of 11th-Century Persian poet Omar Khayham. The second, is that of a contemporary 12 year old boy in modern-day Houston, who happens to be the descendant of this poet. The first story is boring and uninteresting. The second is silly and confusing. The connections between the two are not made, leaving a disjointed, irrelevant mess. At least the settings in Uzbekistan are exotic and filmed beautifully. The acting, with the exception of Vanessa Redgrave's 5-minute cameo appearance, is at the level of a high-school play. Don't give up your day job, Mr. Mashayekh; he's a lawyer!
(1- Star)

MOVIE REVIEW: "RENT"
IF YOU LOVED "RENT" ON STAGE, YOU'LL LOVE IT ON FILM. However, when I saw the Broadway musical, "Rent" onstage ten years ago, I hated it. I hated it because, I felt that the music was trite and unbearably loud, the characters were despicable, and the actors portraying them were too old for their roles. Besides, if I wanted to see a musical "loosely based" on Puccini's "La Boheme," I would go to see Puccini's "La Boheme." Why settle for a cheap imitation, when the time-tested masterpiece is available? In this film version, all of the problems that I had with the musical on stage, are exaggerated, because of the larger-than-life size of the screen. The music is even more trite, louder, and forgotten before you even leave the movie theater; the characters are more despicable and in-your-face; and the actors portraying them (most of whom are from the original Broadway cast,) are ten years older than they were when they were, already, too old!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE"
Long before there was a Harry Potter, there were "The Chronicles of Narnia." Sixty million readers have stepped through the wardrobe with Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, entering the wondrous land of Narnia in C.S. Lewis's beloved classic The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Now, this first book in the series of seven books, has been made into one of the most glorious, exciting, thoughtful, and adventurous fantasy epics of all time. Although prior films have been made based on this series, none of them has achieved the spectacular proportions of this great film, thanks to the wonders of computer graphics. Once again, four brave children battle evil in a mythical kingdom where the animals talk, and strange creatures roam the countryside. But now, everything comes alive before our very eyes, as never before...Mr. Tumnus, a faun carrying an umbrella; the frightening White Witch (Tilda Swinton) is a threatening villainess in a sleigh; the Jesus-like, magnificent Aslan is, although a realistically "drawn" lion, very much the hero of the piece; the battle between these two opposing forces is even more elaborate than it was, as written in the book. Christian Fundamentalists will be delighted to know that the religious sub-texts of the books are still there, although they could easily be missed by someone who wasn't familiar with Lewis's religiosity. There are a thousand stories in this series of books. Those in this current film are only a few of them. Let's hope all of the books make it to the screen in, what is surely to be, the Disney Studios most successful franchise. For those of you who aren't imaginative or creative enough to appreciate these books/films and others like them, all I can say is "I'm so sorry."
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "SYRIANA"
What a disappontment this film is. Had writer/director Stephen Gaghan ( "Traffic," ) chosen to tell his story in a linear fashion (starting at the beginning scene, and running straight through with each scene following the previous one, as the story unfolds, until the end,) this might have been a 5-star film. Instead, he's chosen to break up his story into four separate plot lines, switching arbitrarily, from one to another, just as the viewer is getting into a scene. This fragmented approach makes for a confusing, disjointed, irritating, and even boring movie. All of the actors (George Clooney, Matt Damon, Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Amanda Peet) are fine, but it's difficult to appreciate their work, because just as they're starting to get into the depth of their characters, the scene changes to another one of the plots! I saw this movie with a friend of mine. Between the two of us, we have six degrees, and at times, we didn't know what the hell was going on on screen! Oh, by the way, the story concerns America's efforts to control the flow of oil in the Middle East, to our advantage. Sound familiar?
(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "KING KONG"
I hate remakes, especially if the definitive version of the film is already on screen. However, disregarding the dreadful 1976 remake of "King Kong" (which was both a critical as well as a financial failure,) this current remake is not only better than the 1933 original film, but it's also a loving tribute to that film. The story is still basically the same one. In the Depression Era of the 1930's, down-on-his-luck director Carl Denham (Jack Black,) hires a down-on-her-luck Broadway actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray, I mean Naomi Watts) to star in his latest film. His cast and crew, including an annoying playwright (Adrien Brody,) sail off to Skull Island, to film God knows what. What they encounter there are primitive tribes, prehistoric animals, and the big ape himself. The ape is subdued and brought back to New York to be exhibited, but things soon run amok, culminating in the classic scene on the top of the Empire State Building, where Kong fights off those bi-planes. The Beauty and the Beast tale is emphasized in this version much more so than in the original. In that film, poor Fay Wray screamed through the entire film and tried to escape from the ape in every scene. In this version, The Beast not only "loves" Beauty, but Beauty returns that love. We're not talking about bestiality here, so get your mind out of the gutter! The heroine simply feels sorry for the ape, and doesn't want him to be killed. The computer graphics enhance the King Kong story immeasurably, and director Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings") has scored another triumph. I'm not sure that it will win any Oscars, but it's the shortest three hours that I've spent in a movie theater in a long time!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN"
I've just seen the best movie of the year; my candidate for the Best Picture Oscar. Unless you've been living under a rock, you must surely know that this controversial picture is being called, on the street, "the gay cowboy movie." That's like calling "Titanic" a movie about a boat! Unless you're the dumbest of homophobes, you'll see this movie as one with a terrific story about love and hate; with great acting (there'll be several nominations coming out of this one;) and with some of the most intelligent directing, by Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon",) that I've seen in years. It's also beautiful to look at, filmed in the great outdoors of Canada, I think, standing in for Wyoming. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal  are extraordinary, as two "Marlboro Men" who fall passionately in love, then suffer terribly because of it. Anyone who has a problem with that should rethink their attitude toward cowboys. This isn't about sex, it's about love. These two guys would be the last to admit that what their relationship is about, is about "being queer." They stumble blindly into this relationship, try to fight it, and then accept it as the only real thing in their lives...lives that include two wonderful wives (Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway,) and some lovely children. Several times a year, they break away from their married lives to "go fishing," until something goes seriously wrong. As I said before, the acting by all of the actors in the film is something exceptional, but Heath Ledger's performance (a shoo-in for the Oscar) is something that you'll have to see to believe. It's worthy of comparison to a young Marlon Brando. All in all, one of the finest films that I've ever seen; it's an American masterpiece.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE PREVIEW: "TRANSAMERICA"
If you really feel the need to see attractive "Desperate Housewives" star, Felicity Huffman, play the role of a man, who's about to undergo surgery to become a woman, then you might enjoy this weird little film. Aside from her incredible performance, thanks in great deal to her voice coach and her make up person, I thought that it was a freak show. Stanley/Bree finds that he's/she's fathered a son, who he/she never knew about, and just days before his/her surgery, his/her therapist won't give him/her the necessary "OK" for the surgery, unless he/she meets the young man and "settles things" with him. Bree/Stanley flies to New York from Los Angeles, bails his/her son out of jail (he's a 17-year-old male prostitute on drugs,) and decides to drive back to L.A. with him, so that they can get to know each other. From them on in, the film becomes a road/buddy movie, albeit a dysfunctional one! Wait until you see Bree's/Stanley's parents (Fionnula Flannigan and Burt Young.) Yikes. The apple doesn't fall very far from the tree.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "MUNICH"
For those of you who believe that "the age of terrorism" began with the bombing of the World Trade Center, this excellent film should put things into proper perspective. It tells the story of a single event decades ago, and the brave people whose lives were forever changed by that event. Director Steven Spielberg has chosen to focus on the murder of the Israeli Olympians, by a group of Palestinian terrorists, during the Munich Olympics of 1972. With the tacit approval of Prime Minister Golda Meir, Israel's secret police, the Mossad, set out to find, and kill, all of the killers. Leading this band of what he thinks are only four "hunters," is Avner Kaufman, played by the excellent Australian actor, Eric Bana, in an Oscar-worthy performance. (He's as magnificent as he was in "Troy," when he stole that movie away from Brad Pitt!) Most of the film is a Hitchcock-like cat-and-mouse thriller, as one by one, the Palestinian terrorists are hunted down and killed. Spielberg also poses some unanswered questions, such as: does retaliation eliminate or escalate terrorism? Do the anti-terrorist hunters destroy themselves in the process? These are questions that we still haven't answered today.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE PRODUCERS"
Neither the Broadway musical version of "The Producers," nor this film version of the staged musical, is as great as the original, non-musical film version of Mel Brooks's "The Producers." That version had originality, creativity, imagination, breakthrough humor, and two excellent leading actors....the incomparable Zero Mostel, and Gene Wilder. This version has: an all-star cast...Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, Will Ferrell, Roger Bart, Gary Beach and the Rockettes (!); stagey sets; the same now-stale Susan Stroman choreography from the Broadway version; and a bad sense of deja vu. The two leads are shameful imitators of Mostel and Wilder, and not very good ones. Bigger isn't always better! Save your money and rent the DVD of the original film version, with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. (Can you guess how many times I used the word "version" in this review???)
(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA"
Many years ago, in Kyoto, Japan, I spent some time with a charming geisha; she was a beautiful and elegant bore. So is this film!
( 2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "MATCHPOINT"
Woody Allen is back in top form. After a slow ten-year period, in which he turned out films that were not up to his usual high standards, he's created this suspenseful film that's a worthy successor to some of his classic movies like, "Manhattan," "Interiors," Hannah and her Sisters," and "Crimes and Misdemeanors." (Nothing, however, compares to his masterpiece, "Annie Hall," possibly the most intelligent comic film ever made for an adult audience.) To the best of my knowledge, "Matchpoint" is his first movie in decades that isn't set in New York City. (It takes place in London.) The change of venue served him well. The intricate plot concerns a handsome, young, ambitious tennis instructor (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers,) who marries the wealthy sister (Emily Mortimer) of one of his new pupils. Unfortunately, after his marriage, he falls into a deadly relationship with a beautiful American (Scarlett Johanson,)....spiraling the film into one of the most tension-filled movies of the year. As is always the case in a top-drawer Woody Allen film, the writing, directing, and acting are superb, as is the musical background, which brilliantly underscores each scene. In this film, the music is operatic, (suitable to the dramatic plot,) which is unusual for jazz buff Allen, who still plays his clarinet every Monday night in a small Manhattan supper club. Anyway, the critics were right. Put this on your list of the ten best films of 2005. It's going on mine.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "CASANOVA"
If you've seen the trailer for this film, you've seen the best of what the movie has to offer; the rest is just beautiful-to-look-at fluff. A fine cast (Heath Ledger, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Oliver Platt, and Lena Olin,) has been wasted in telling this story about the legendary Italian lover Giacomo Casanova. The computer-graphics-images that were used to recreate the glorious beauty of 18th Century Venice, should be stored in a data-base to be used in a future film about Venice, possibly "The City of Fallen Angels," when someone is smart enough to film THAT wonderful book. Although this movie is often witty, campy, and over-the-top, it was also much too silly to hold my interest for almost two hours.
(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW- "TRISTAN & ISOLDE"
Ironically, one of the greatest interpreters of the role of "Isolde" in the opera world, Birgit Nilsson, died just two weeks before this non-operatic version of the story of the star-crossed lovers, Tristan and Isolde, opened. It was a blessing for her! Without the incomparable music of Richard Wagner, this story of Tristan & Isolde is just another, generic, historic epic...and believe me, it's no "Braveheart!" The young lovers are played by photogenic James Franco and Sophia Miles (who?) as though they were starring in a high-school-play version of "Romeo and Juliet." Tristan, a young English medieval knight, falls in love with a young Irish princess, who is destined to marry Marke (Rufus Sewell,) the future King. Who cares. I'll save my "Tristan & Isolde" for the opera stage, where the magnificent Wagnerian music transcends what is after all, a very ordinary story. The magnificent music of the "Liebestod" is resounding in my ears as I write this review.
(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW: "MARCH OF THE PENGUINS" (on DVD)
I've been anxious to see what all the fuss is about, so I finally rented the DVD of this much-acclaimed French documentary. Admittedly, up to this point, my experience with penguins has been confined to rare visits to our magnificent Aquarium on the Waterfront, watching them frolic in the elaborate habitat set up for them there. I always knew that they were cute, funny, fascinating, and probably had better social skills than most teen-agers today. (Just as I know that a dozen dolphins in a room could probably translate War and Peace into their own language!) What I didn't know was the unbearably difficult ritual of mating and survival that the penguins of Antartica must undergo each year. This film documents that incredible march from the sea, to their mating ground 70 miles away; the courtship, mating, and hatching of their chicks; and their return march to the sea. Who knew how lucky those penguins are in our comfortable Aquarium; they're so spoiled! Although the film is never boring, thanks partially to brilliant photography and to Morgan Freeman's "voice of God" narration, my mind did occasionally wander to visions of midgets dancing at a formal ball!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE BOONDOCK SAINTS" (on DVD)
If you enjoy seeing the bad guys punished, and the good guys rewarded, then this is the film for you. It's a film about bloody violence, good and evil, vengence, and retribution...AND it's a feel-good movie! Two Irish brothers in South Boston take it upon themselves to become a two-man vigilante squad, in order to singlehandedly wipe out the entire Russian and Italian mafias in the city of Boston. The high-ranking, bizarre, police official (Willem Defoe) brought in to capture them, decides to help them instead. For all those of you who have been recommending this film to me for years, all I can say is, "thank you, you were right;" I loved it.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "ROMPER STOMPER" (on DVD)
Ten years ago, when Russell Crowe was at our Boston Film Festival, he was raving about his first film, "Romper Stomper," for which he received the Australian equivalent of our Academy Award. He warned us that it was violent. I finally rented the DVD of that film, and I should have saved my money. The film is a bloody mess, with gratuitous violence from beginning to end, as a group of dysfunctional skinheads, led by Hando (Russell Crowe) in Melbourne, terrorize the new Vietnamese community there. I'm not opposed to violence, but this movie is as empty-headed as the skinheads in the gang. Crowe did not deserve an award of any kind for this film, unless it came from the members of the Aryan Nation!
(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE NEW WORLD"
I'm sure that writers of history books, when they create their texts, intend for them to be enlightening, enjoyable, accurate, and a pleasure to experience. I'm also sure that director Terrence Malick intended his version of the John Smith/Pochontas story to be the same thing, but unfortunately for all of us, he's created another history book...and a dull one at that. It would be more at home on The History Channel, than in a movie theater. The very talented cast (Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale,) takes its cue from the 14-year-old who plays Pocahontas ( Q'orianka Kilcher,) who speaks about 20 words in the entire film, and spends most of the time staring into space, and waving her hands at animals and birds! Farrell (John Smith) and Bale (John Rolfe) just walk through their roles as well. The Disney animated film "Pocahontas" (complete with a large-breasted Vanessa Williams look-alike as a way-too-old Pocahontas,) may not be historically accurate, but it's certainly more enjoyable!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

ADVANCE SCREENING MOVIE PREVIEW: "FIREWALL"
I went to this special screening not expecting very much, but I went because Harrison Ford was going to be there in person to work the crowd afterward, and field questions from us. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought that the film would be a typical action-filled genre film, aimed at the 14-year-old-boy, "Dude, I Lost My Car"-set, filled with car chases and multiple car explosions on urban streets and highways, as well as stock heroes performing unbelievable stunts that only could be performed with the help of stunt doubles and wires! Instead, it's a very intelligent edge-of-your-seat thriller, with no car chases or explosions, and a leading actor who performed all of his own stunts. Harrison Ford plays a highly placed bank executive who has created and put into place, the bank's impregnable security system. He, and his very-normal family, are suddenly threatened by a high-tech villain (Paul Bettany) and his reluctant and somewhat sensitive (!) henchmen, who hold his wife (Virginia Madsen) and children hostage, while Ford's character is supposed to be breaking into the bank's system, to transfer 100 million dollars to the villain's off-shore account. How the Ford character defeats this plan, without the help of any visible police, is the crux of this very exciting film.
(Harrison Ford was indeed present to tell us about himself and his work, and to answer endless questions from a rather stupid fan-filled audience!)
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "NANNY McPHEE"
Actress Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay for this movie, based on the British classic series of "Nurse Matilda" books by Christianna Brand, and by casting herself in the lead, she gave herself a nice juicy role. Of course, comparisons to Mary Poppins are inevitable; I loved those books and the Oscar-winning film. This movie is definitely not in the same league. What it is, is crayola-colorful and sometimes entertaining, but mostly corny and boring, without charm, without music, and without a sense of humor. Emma Thompson brought many of her actor friends together (Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury, Imelda Staunton, Derek Jacobi and Kelly McDonald) but forgot to write a screenplay worthy of their talents. A hack of a director didn't help matters much either. The story concerns a widower and his seven unruly brats, who drive off seventeen different nannies, until Nannie McPhee arrives, with her magical walking stick, to teach everyone a lesson or two. If you're in the mood for this kind of children's book fantasy, rent the DVD for "Mary Poppins."
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW (on DVD): "SEVEN BEAUTIES" in Italian with English sub-titles
One of my favorite foreign films of all time has always been this 30-year-old Italian classic, "Seven Beauties," or "Pasqualino Settebellezze." I rented it on DVD to see if it held up after all of these years. It did. It's as good now as it was in 1976. Under the brilliant direction of Lina Wertmuller (the worthy succesor to genius, Federico Fellini,) the story of a Neapolitan small-time crook, Pasquale (Giancarlo Giannini) who has to support his mother, and seven ugly sisters during World War II, unfolds in an almost fantasy-like setting, filled with stunning visual imagery, unforgettable music (just TRY to forget the haunting theme song,) and great acting performances. (Giannini is magnificent in his Oscar-nominated role.) It's a very dark war comedy (an oxymoron?) which has comedic scenes, followed by scenes of unbearable tragedy. The colorful settings range from a Neapolitan vaudeville house to a German prison camp. All are unforgettable, as is the entire film; one of the best. (DON'T GET IT IN THE DUBBED VERSION. GET IT IN ITALIAN, WITH ENGLISH SUB-TITLES)
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW (on DVD:) "HUSTLE AND FLOW"
A frightening peek into the world of pimps, whores, rappers, and DJ's who come out of the ghetto, but never really leave it. The Oscar-nominated performance by Terrence Howard as a rapper called "DJ," is an exceptional performance by a very talented actor. Is it reason enough to see this film? That, and an extended sequence in the film, in which we're shown how one of those dreadful rap "songs" is put together, might be worth seeing it. But rent the DVD. Don't see it in a theater; it draws an unpleasant crowd. (Please don't send me an e-mail telling me that that's a racist statement; I know it is!)
(2-Star) 

MOVIE REVIEW: "MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS"
The real-life story of Mrs. Laura Henderson, a british dowager, who took a run-down theater in World War II war-torn London, and turned that theater into the hottest place in town! The shows put on in this theater featured nudity, (Mrs. Henderson's idea,) which accounted for their great success. With Judi Dench in an Oscar-nominated role as Mrs. Henderson, and with fine support from Bob Hoskins as her manager, the movie is a charming piece of nostalgia that only the British can pull off so well. We Americans are just not civilized enough to either create, or appreciate, this genre of classy, elegant period pieces. That brings to mind Oscar Wilde's famous quote, "America is a country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between." 
(4-Stars) Back to Top

TALK CINEMA MOVIE PREVIEW: "TSOTSI" (in some African dialect, with English sub-titles)
Based on the novel by Athol Fugard, this movie tells the story of Tsotsi, a teenage psychopath, who lives in the filthiest slum in South Africa. (There are domestic pets in America who live much better!) He and his gang of cretins steal, murder, and inadvertently kidnap a young baby. They are immoral, unintelligent, and indecent. I hated him, and I hated the movie. 
(0-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE PINK PANTHER"
Shame on all of the fine actors (Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Kristen Cheneweth, and Jean Reno) who saw fit to star in this ridiculous, completely unfunny rehash of one of the classic series of comic films of all time. It's so bad, that there's no point in writing a review of it. If you've never seen any of the original "Pink Panther" films of the 1960's starring the comic genius, Peter Sellars, rent the DVD of "A Shot in the Dark." It's the second film in the series, but it's by far the funniest. 
(0-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "FIND ME GUILTY"
 
The combination of 81-year-old legendary director, Sidney Lumet, and actor/action hero Vin Diesel, in a courtroom drama/comedy about the Mob, was too good to resist. I came out of my Winter movie-going hibernation (brought on by the fact that Hollywood dumps its garbage into the theaters during January and February) to see this one, and you should too. It's the best film of this new year, although that's not saying very much! The story, based on a real-life court-trial involving members of the Lucchese crime family, tells of a mobster (Vin Diesel) who, rather than betray the members of his gang, decides to defend himself, and them, in court. The results are fine "theater." Lumet gets the best out of all of his excellent actors who, in addition to Diesel, include Ron Silver, Annabella Sciorra, (in a brilliant 5-minute cameo,) Peter Dinklage (the very talented actor/dwarf from "The Station Agent,") Raul Esparza (from Broadway,) and Alex Rocco. Diesel put on a hairpiece and gained 30 pounds to play this role. That's not what an action-hero does; that's what an ACTOR does, and he really proves himself in a tricky role. Bravo Lumet! Bravo Diesel!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "V FOR VENDETTA"

After a global war, England has become a totalitarian police state, with London as its Orwellian capital. When the government has become evil, terrorists become "freedom fighters." This was the theme of Alan Moore's DC comic-book (graphic novel?) series upon which this film was based, (although Moore has disavowed the movie-version of his comic.) The Wachowski brothers ("The Matrix") have written and produced the film, although they didn't direct it. In any case, the film itself is one of the best of the movies based on comic books. Much of this has to do with the fact that good actors were hired to play the main characters, and the special effects are kept to a minimum. The plotline follows a terrorist/soldier/freedom fighter (Hugh Weaving in a mask throughout ) who, when the High Chancellor of England (John Hurt) created concentration-camp facilities, where "good" doctors (Sinead Cusack portrays one of them,) conducted tests to create "the perfect soldier," emerged as one of these creatures, but now, determined to destroy the government that "created" him. He enlists the help of a young student (Natalie Portman) to help him destroy the monuments in the "empire of evil." The police, led by a Javert-like officer (Stephen Rea,) are virtually helpless against him. The film is filled with references to classics like "The Phantom of the Opera," "The Count of Monte Cristo," "Les Miserables," and of course, "1984." Some of it doesn't work and its somewhat predictable, but most of it does. In any case, it'll keep you thinking about where we may be headed!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "INSIDE MAN"

Director Spike Lee has finally made a film that doesn't exalt blacks and trash whites, and it's a damn good one....one of his best, in fact. Denzel Washington plays a tough cop, who clashes with a smart bank robber (Clive Owen) who's involved in a daring heist that escalates into a hostage situation. As their cat and mouse game unfolds, a third party is put into the equation: a power broker with her own hidden agenda (Jodie Foster.) That's when things get complicated! What distinguishes this bank heist film from the dozens of other bank heist films, is its incredibly inventive screenplay, Lee's classy direction, and the top-drawer acting of its three stars, and its three co-stars (Christopher Plummer, Willem DaFoe, and Peter Frechette.) Although the film doesn't have the same in-your-face racial underpinnings that all of his other films have (thank God,) it has a different kind of tension to it...more Hitchcock, than P. Diddy, and as a result, it's more universal in its appeal. I'll bet that Spike Lee could even direct a classic, if he wanted to. That would take him out of his self-imposed ghetto, once and for all.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN"

What do you get when you have an "Elmore Leonard-LIKE" story, that wasn't written by Elmore Leonard, and a "Quentin Tarantino-LIKE" film that isn't directed by Quentin Tarantino? What you'd expect to get is a dumbed-down version of "Pulp Fiction." However, in the case of "Lucky Number Slevin," what you get is a film with a story that's as good as any Elmore Leonard book, and a film that's as good as (and in a couple of cases even better than) any Quentin Tarantino film. That's saying a lot!  When a young man (Josh Hartnett) is mistaken for a friend of his, he's drawn into a feud between two rival warring mega-gangs (one Jewish and one black!.)  The bosses of both gangs (Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman) threaten him with death, unless he fulfills some deadly "tasks" for them. Hot on their heels is a sketchy detective (Stanley Tucci,) and a "world-class assassin" (Bruce Willis.) The eye candy is provided by Lucy Liu. The film, almost an homage to Tarantino, has all of his trademarks: the convoluted flashbacks, the unusual camera angles, the movie references, the bizarre characters, the blood and gore, and the catchy dialogue. The surprise ending takes about 20 minutes to unfold. Don't try to guess it. It's more fun that way.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "FRIENDS WITH MONEY"

This movie was the big hit out at the Sundance Film festival this past January.
It's interesting to see Jennifer Aniston play against type, as a pot-smoking loser...a single woman who just can't seem to make it, in whatever she does. Her three best friends (Catherine Keaner, Joan Cusack, and Frances McDormand) all are married, and more importantly, have more money in the bank than she does. But, none of them seems happy, because their marriages are shaky, as are their careers. In fact, everyone is completely f_____ up! The fun of this movie is to see four fine actresses at the top of their game, taking a good script, and making it even better. The film shows us, once again, how shallow and superficial the well-to-do citizens of Los Angeles can be. Aren't there ANY real people living in that pathetic, fake city??? Admittedly this is a chick flick, but it does give ALL of us some insight into the lives of supposedly happy and successful couples, regardless of who they are and where they live. What messed up lives these people lead.
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "HARD CANDY"

This is one of the sickest movies that I've ever seen. Other than viewing it as a cautionary tale for would-be pedophiles, I can't think of any other reason for seeing it.
(0-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "POSEIDON"

Sure the special effects are better, but my advice is to stay home, save the $10, and rent the 1972 camp original, "The Poseidon Adventure," the first big-cast disaster flick. It's filled with played-out stars from B-films of the '60's and '70's, and then there's fat old Shelley Winters floating in the boiler room in her undies. That alone is worth the rental fee! In the original film, it took an hour of character development before the wave flipped the ship over. You got to know those people before the special effects took over. In this one, the wave hits the ship just 12 minutes into the film; so much for character development! It's just another remake (of a film that was mediocre to start out with) that should never have happened.
(1-Star) 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "X-MEN: THE LAST STAND"

Same old, same old...fine actors (Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Jansen, Kelsey Grammer, Anna Paquin) in expensively designed costumes, fighting one another in a battle to save their mutant status. The computer graphics technology is all that a 14-year-old boy could hope for, as is the lack of a well-written screenplay. If you enjoyed the first two films, and I did, you'll surely enjoy this one. But I'm sure that all of us are hoping that this is the LAST X-Men film. Enough is enough.
(5-Stars CB* ) *Comic Book (Rated against other COMIC BOOK films, not against other mainstream studio, and independent films.)
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE DA VINCI CODE"

Read the book...you don't need the pictures!
That was going to be my review if the movie turned out to be as bad as I expected it to be. Instead, to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Director Ron Howard, has taken the controversial best selling phenomenon, and reinterpreted it for a new medium. Sticking closely to the plot, he takes us through the twists and turns, highlighting the book's important events. Unless you've been hiding in a cave for the past few years, you must know that the story concerns a Harvard symbologist (Tom Hanks) and the French granddaughter (Audrey Tatou) of a murdered curator at the Louvre, who set out to uncover some of the secrets of the early years of Christianity, in order to discover who the present-day murderers are. Many of these secrets are coded and embedded in the great artworks of Leonardo DaVinci...or so the author of the FICTITIOUS book, Dan Brown, would like us to believe. The secrets (including whether or not Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, and had descendants who are currently living in France today,) are sometimes more fascinating than the thrilling modern-day murder mystery. However, the cat and mouse chase, involving some pretty exotic villains (including an albino monk, played by Paul Bettany,) is more than exciting enough to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout this film. Also, the actors (including Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina and Jean Reno) are damned good. Ignore the critics, your friends, and me, and check it out for yourself. THEN, make up your mind whether or not this film (and book) is as good, or as bad, as it's hyped up to be. I loved it!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

TALK CINEMA MOVIE REVIEW: "THE ILLUSIONIST"

When you see this exciting, intriguing, fascinating film when it comes out, and it is a MUST-SEE film, you'll understand why I can't say more about it other than, it's the story of an illusionist in 18th Century Vienna, who threatens to bring down the Austrian monarchy. Everything about it is first rate: the actors (Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Rufus Sewell and Jessica Biel,) the direction (by Neil Burger,) the beautiful sets and costumes, and the haunting musical score (by composer Philip Glass.) When you do see it, shoot me an e-mail so that we can talk about it. Until then, my lips are sealed
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION"

Even if you're not a fan of Garrison Keillor's cornball popular radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion," (and I'm definitely not a fan,) you'll love this entertaining film. Director Robert Altman, has taken a typical broadcast of the show, and through brilliant casting, some clever plot twists, and incredible songs sung beautifully by the stars, has created what is easily the best feel good movie of the year. We  came out of this hilarious film with tears in our eyes from laughing so much. It's the last night of the show, before the theater in which it's been broadcast is about to be torn down. The incredible ensemble cast portrays  the singers who are regulars on the show. The cast is perfect, and includes, in addition to Keillor himself, Kevin Kline (never funnier,) Meryl Streep and Lili Tomlin (as the singing Johnson Sisters,) Woody Harrelson and John C.Reilly (as Western singers Lefty and Dusty,) Virginia Madsen (as the mysterious lady in the white trench coat, ) and Tommy Lee Jones (as The Axeman.) I'm rushing out now to buy the CD for this wonderful film. I haven't done that for a movie, since "Chicago!"
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE"

This funny, insightful little film says a lot about contemporary society and its faults, as it tells the story of a dysfunctional family, whose members set out on a road trip, to take their plain little girl to a beauty pageant for children. The father (Greg Kinnear,) is a loser, who's also a motivational speaker. The grandfather (Alan Arkin) is a foul-mouthed heroin snorter. The son, reads Nietsche, but refuses to speak. The uncle (Steve Carrell) is a gay, former college professor who's suicidal. The mother (Toni Collette,) is relatively "normal," although she smokes! So, there you have it. What ensues on the trip, and how it all comes together at a parody of childhood beauty pageants that'll make you cringe, is what the film is all about. A good film, but not a great one.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

This unnecessary sequel is an overlong 2 1/2 hours of repetitious special effects, elaborate make-up, endless swordfights, and other silliness. The classic Disney ride, on the other hand, is five minutes of pure fun and enjoyment. Given a choice, I'd take the ride!
(1-Star)
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "LADY IN THE WATER"

What is an M. Night Shyamalan film (e.g., "The Sixth Sense," "Signs," "The Village," and "Unbreakable,") without a good story, without excellent direction, without unbearable suspense, and most importantly, without a surprise ending??? A ridiculous and meaningless bore!
(1-Star) 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "SCOOP"

As a long-time fan of Woody Allen's, it's good to see him back in top form again, up to his old comedic tricks. A change of scenery, from Manhattan to London, and the inspiration of his new muse, Scarlett Johansson, has done him a world of good. "Scoop" is not up there with some of his earlier masterpieces, like the classic "Annie Hall," (rent it if you haven't seen it,) but it's a fine sophisticated and intelligent comedy, as good as his "Bullets Over Broadway" and "Broadway Danny Rose." Johansson plays a goofy journalist, who, with the help of a Jewish magician (Woody Allen,) and a ghost (Ian McShane)...don't ask...helps to track down (and fall in love with,) a James Bond-like suspect (Hugh Jackman.) It's all very Nick and Nora Charles (and if you're not familiar with the classic "Thin Man" films starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as sophisticated, charming, and funny detectives, you should rent one of those, as well,) and that's a great compliment in itself. So, if you're in the mood for some adult, intelligent, sophisticated humor, and you're tired of those ridiculous, expensive summer "blockbuster"/bombs, this is a fine way to spend a couple of hours away from the oppressive heat. It's not a GREAT film. It's not even a great Woody Allen film, but it's fun.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW; "THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA"

Meryl Streep is never out of the spotlight for long, but this has really been a banner year for her. Later on this summer, she'll be live in Central Park doing Brecht's "Mother Courage" (God, I hate that play,) and on film she was a country-western singer in "A Prairie Home Companion," and now, she's the bitch-boss-from-hell as the fashion editor-in-chief of Runway magazine,  in "The Devil Wears Prada." The two film roles couldn't be more dissimilar. In the former, she's a folksy singer, who's as homespun as homemade oatmeal, and in this film, she's a sophisticated platinum blonde monster, who torments everyone who's unlucky enough to work for her. In this latter category of preyed-upon employees, is the new young intern at the magazine (Anne Hathaway,) and a gay "lieutenant" (Stanley Tucci) for the boss. It must be hell to work for someone like the character portrayed by Streep (it's patterned after Anna Wintour of Vogue,) but she's so much fun to watch on screen, as she twists the screws on her workers! The dialogue crackles with hysterical, often cruel, one-liners. The script is smart, and the acting is perfect. But it's Streep who steals the film. She's a witch that you'd love to take to lunch. At least, I would! The film itself, however, is just a chick flick, for very young chicks..."The Princess Diaries" meets the fashion world.
(2 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "SUPERMAN RETURNS"

I suppose that if you're really dying to see another Superman movie, then you'll probably enjoy this one. I didn't. I found it to be alternately exciting and boring...mostly boring. It's far too long (2 1/2 hours;) the actors are dull (especially the lead, Brandon Routh;) the story is a remix of scenes from the old films redone with a slight twist; Superman looks like a Pixar animation; Kevin Spacey, as Lex Luthor, overacts terribly, etc.  As director Brian Singer said in an interview, "I made a chick flick...a love story. The hell with the 14-year-old boys." Well, there goes his audience!
(2- Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "IDLEWILD"

I really wanted to love this movie. On paper at least, it sounded like it was going to be a loving tribute to the Busby Berkley, MGM film musicals of the '30s, '40s, and '50s (my favorite film genre,) as seen through the very-contemporary eyes of two members of the hip-hop group Outkast. Instead, what Andre Benjamin and Antwan A. Patton (Andre 2000 and Big Boi) have come up with, is a badly-filmed and badly-edited movie with terrible music. (Why didn't they use the actual popular music of the period...songs written by black composers in the 1930's?) Set in the 1930's, in and around a Southern speakeasy, "Idlewild" tells the story of two men, who are trying to break away from their environment, through the vehicle of their music.  It's a good story, very well-acted, and there's a lot of creativity and imagination in the very stylish and elegant look of the film, especially in the frantic, exciting choreography of Hinton Battle. But it's a musical damnit, and the music sucks!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE WICKER MAN"
When one goes to a play or a movie written (and in this case, directed as well) by Neil LaBute, one expects to find characters who display excessive cruelty (usually psychological,) toward one another. This film is no exception. The screenplay (based on a story by Anthony Shaffer,) concerns a sheriff (Nicolas Cage) investigating the disappearance of a young girl from a small island. When he goes to the island, he discovers there is a larger mystery to solve among the island's secretive, neo-pagan community. Although the film is filled with suspense, the problem is with the writing and the acting of the main character, played by Cage. He is so stupid and naive, stumbling into one predictable and cliched incident after another, that the viewer ends up rooting for the "bad guys." In this case, however, the "bad guys" are a sect of demented Amish-like women, who are ruled over by a "loving" matriarch (Ellen Burstyn) known as Mother Summerisle. To strain the metaphor even further, the women raise bees! Get it?
(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "HOLLYWOODLAND"

In 1959, George Reeves, the actor who played Superman on TV's "Adventures of Superman," died of a gunshot wound. His millions of fans were shocked by his death. Was it suicide or murder? Reeves (Ben Affleck) leaves behind a fiancee (Robin Tunney,) and a mother (Lois Smith) who believes that her son was murdered. She hires a private detective (Adrien Brody) to find out what really happened. What he uncovers, is the fact that Reeves was having an affair with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane,) the wife of Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins,) a big MGM studio executive. So, who killed George Reeves? In Hollywood, then and now, it's not easy to discover the truth! Ben Affleck was counting on this being the movie that revives his almost-dead movie career. Does it? I would say so. In fact, he, and Diane Lane (in an Oscar-worthy performance,) are the best things about this not-very-exciting would-be thriller. It's just not written or directed well enough to keep the viewer glued to his/her seat. Also, is it just me, or does Adrien Brody just not cut it as an actor or a believable big movie star? Because of his looks, he'll always be Adrien Brody. In any case, this OK film needed Bruce Willis or Jack Nicholson in the role of the detective, not Brody. It also needed a director who knows how to do film-noir. But still, it's worth it to see Affleck and Lane. They're excellent! 
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS" (Boston Film Festival)

I'm finding it hard to justify my withholding the 5th star from my review of this film, simply because I felt so uncomfortable being in the company of the ignorant, pathetic, losers who were the low-life characters in this autobiographical film. First-time writer/director Dito Montiel has made a brilliant, disturbing, highly creative and original slice-of-life film about a boy growing up in the hellish environment of Astoria, New York, in the 1980's. The only way to survive there was to fight for your life every day in the streets, and then run away as he did when he was only a teen-ager. The award-winning ensemble cast is so good that they don't even appear to be acting. Dito is played by a wonderful young actor, Shia LaBeouf (who is he?) as a young man, and by Robert Downey, Jr. as an adult. His inarticulate and ineffective parents are played by Chazz Palmintieri and Dianne Wiest in what could be Academy-award performances. His friend Antonio is played by Channing Tatum as a socio-pathic young man, and briefly, but movingly, by Eric Roberts as an adult, imprisoned because of a teenage murder. Rosario Dawson plays the adult version of his young girlfriend. The Sundance Film Festival has awarded the entire cast an award for Best Ensemble Acting. A wise choice!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

[In a Q & A after the film, a still-inarticulate Montiel explained about how this film came together, and about how his friends ended up either dead, on drugs, or in prison. Chazz Palmintieri was there as well, to tell how he bought himself into this film, simply because he loved the script so much.
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE DEPARTED"

Director Martin Scorsese has made films about boxing, gangsters, high society in 19th Century New York, and gangs. All of it, he does brilliantly, entertainingly, and in great detail. He's never received an Academy Award. Hopefully this movie will change that. In a return to the world of crime and gangsters, the setting is now South Boston. The plot is convoluted, and operatic in its structure. A good cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) has infiltrated a crime family with the help of his superior in the police force (Martin Sheen.) Mirroring him on the other side, is a bad guy (Matt Damon) who has infiltrated the police force, with the instigation of his crime lord (Jack Nicholson.) Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg at their acting best,  play detectives, rounding out the cast. Think of the possibilities. The story takes 2 1/2 hours to tell, but I was glued to my seat the entire time, thanks to the expert acting of this incredible ensemble cast, the no-holds-barred directing of Scorsese, and the brilliant writing of the screenwriter William Monahan. These actors really speak like gangsters, and their Boston accents are letter-perfect...not only just those of Boston natives Damon and Wahlberg, but Nicholson, Baldwin, and DiCaprio as well. This is a fast, ruthless, bloody remake of the Chinese film, "Infernal Affairs," and although I never saw that film, I can't imagine it being any better than this one. Scorsese has a winner here. Let's hope that it brings him his long-delayed Oscar for Best Director! 
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE QUEEN"

The Motion Picture academy might as well just give the Oscar to Dame Helen Mirren now, for her perfect portrayal of the present queen of England, HRM Elizabeth II. (She's already portrayed Elizabeth's ancestor, Elizabeth I on screen. Is she the first actress to have played both roles?) The action of this film takes place during the week of Princess Diana's death in that horrible car accident. The Queen of England, and the entire royal family for that matter, are running around like chickens without heads trying to figure out how to deal with the tragedy, while the world is openly grieving the loss of "the peoples princess." The Queen is adamant about not having a royal funeral ("she wasn't a Royal when she died",) while the Prime Minister Tony Blair, tries to convince her that she must. Mirren takes the unsympathetic queen, and turns her into someone with whom the audience can, if not identify with, at least understand. Her portrayal is brilliant...a real tour de force. Because of this great actress, you can actually see the emotional changes that this woman is going through, learning what it means to be a queen in an ever-changing democratic world. Everyone else in the film does a fine job, especially Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, and James Cromwell as Prince Philip, but the film belongs to Helen Mirren and her equally brilliant director Stephen Frears. And the Oscar goes to..............?
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "INFAMOUS"

If you've ever read anything by, or about, Truman Capote, then you know that he was much more than the lisping little gay caricature, who appeared on the late-night TV talk shows in the '50s and '60s. He was larger than life, and a brilliant writer and confidant of the most famous people in New York and Hollywood at the time. Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising to see two movies made about the period in his life when he was writing his most famous book, In Cold Blood. Last year's film "Capote" was the more serious of the two, giving us Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning portrayal. This film, "Infamous" is just as good, but takes a more light-hearted approach. Toby Jones portrayal is as accurate as was Hoffman's, but he doesn't have the acting strengths of Hoffman. Capote was the Sun, around which circled such famous "planets" as Slim Keith (Hope Davis,) Babe Paley ( Sigourney Weaver,) Marella Agnelli (Isabella Rosselini,) and Bennett Cerf (Peter Bogdanovich,) in New York, and author Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock,) Alvin Dewey, the murder investigator (Jeff Daniels) and Perry Smith, the murderer (Daniel Craig, the new James Bond,) in that small Kansas town where those horrible murders took place. All of the actors are brilliant, and should be given a special Oscar for ensemble acting!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS"
I've been searching my memory bank to see if I could remember a better war film than this one, and I couldn't. It's equal parts of several classic war films such as: "The Best Years of our Lives" (the best film about what happens to servicemen when they return home after the war-1946;) "Sands of Iwo Jima" (John Wayne's phony, but beautifully patriotic Hollywood film, glorifying war-1949;) and "Saving Private Ryan" (Steven Spielberg's epic, with the single best battle scene ever filmed-1998.) Clint Eastwood, who's becoming a better director as he gets older, tells us the true story about those "heroes" who raised the flag on the top of Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima, after one of the bloodiest battles in history. The resultant publicity from that famous photo of the flag-raising raised so much money, that it probably saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and helped to bring the war to a speedier end. (That, and the dropping of the atomic bomb, of course!) Were the three men who were credited with the flag-raising, the real men who raised the flag? No one cared, then or now. They were a symbol of all of the heroes who died on that island. All of the actors do a fine job, but the cinematographer (who colors every scene in faded colors, like old photographs,) and the director, deserve the bulk of the credit. Be warned. It's extremely bloody and gory, but then I imagine, so is real war.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE PRESTIGE"
When I first heard about this movie, I thought that it might be the film version of that wonderful Susanna Clarke novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, that I read a few years ago (and that's being made into a film,) or that it was something to rival that incredible movie "The Illusionist" that I saw earlier this year. Well, in fact, it's neither. It's the story of two rival magicians (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale,) in Victorian England, and it's far inferior to either the book or the film that I've just mentioned. Director Christopher Nolan who directed two excellent films, "Memento" and "Batman Begins," got so bogged down in the twists and turns that he and his brother Jonathan wrote in the screenplay for this movie, that he ended up botching up his own film. Even with the always-terrific Scarlett Johansson and Michael Caine as co-stars to Bale and Jackman, and with David Bowie in a colorful cameo appearance, "The Prestige" ultimately fails. Why? Early in the film, we learn that the surprise at the end of a magic trick is called "The Prestige." Like a magic trick, this film is mysterious,  intriguing, and confusing for most of its length, but unlike a good magic trick it has no surprise at the end, because the surprise is given away in a scene half way through the film. What's a magic trick, or film, without "The Prestige?"
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "MARIE ANTOINETTE"

Sofia Coppola is a terrible director (and an even worse actress.) I hated her "Lost in Translation," and now, she's taken one of the most momentous events in world history, the reign of Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, and trivialized it by turning it into one big, long MTV music video starring Kirsten Dunst! Why? Can't the audience that she's aimed at...iPodded teenagers...understand the story of Louis XVI and his teenage bride, unless it's been dumbed-down with contemporary references, and a ridiculously inappropriate musical score? Apparently not. Who else but a self-indulgent daughter of a famous director with big pockets, would have been able to get the financial backing to remake the story of Marie Antoinette (the self-indulgent daughter of an Empress,)....a story that was filmed in the '30s, with mature actors (Tyrone Power, John Barrymore, and Norma Shearer?) Sure, it's bigger than life, it's pretty to look at, it's flashy, sometimes funny, and it's loud. But so is Paris Hilton. If you would like to learn more about the life of this tragic queen, and her even more pathetic husband, read the biography by Lady Antonia Fraser, or rent a DVD of the 1938 film.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "BORAT"

Sasha Baron Cohen, a British, Jewish, actor/writer/comic, has a popular talk show in London (and on HBO here,) in which the character that he's created, Ali G, "interviews" guests, some of whom are famous, and gets them to show how ridiculous and stupid they are. In his film, "Borat," Cohen has created a new character, a "journalist" who comes to America to make a documentary on America, and ends up doing pretty much what Ali G does on his talk show... interviews people who look stupid and ridiculous! The movie is offensive, disgusting, shocking, politically incorrect, vulgar, insulting to just about everyone...and is, without a doubt, the funniest movie that I've seen this year. I laughed out loud for almost two hours. What sets this apart from movies like "Jackass," is that it's brainy and so damn clever. It's really not cruel either, because the people who look stupid, deserve it. It's filled with the kind of social satire that would make Voltaire and Jonathan Swift proud. Cohen is a comic genius, in the mold of clowns like Laurel and Hardy, and Groucho Marx. If you don't know who they are, then maybe you should stick with "Jackass." 
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "RUNNING WITH SCISSORS"

Whoever said that truth is stranger than fiction, must have been thinking about the real-life memoirs of author, Augusten Burroughs, upon which this film is based. 13-year-old Augusten (Joseph Cross,) was raised by an alcoholic father (Alec Baldwin) and a psychotic mother (Annette Bening, in what will be an Oscar-nominated performance.) Under the spell of her deranged therapist (Brian Cox,) who has kept her drugged as his form of therapy, Augusten's mother gives her boy to the therapist, to be raised by him, and his equally lunatic family (Jill Clayburgh, Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow and Evan Rachel Wood.) It's hard to recommend a film where you have to watch crazy people, doing and saying crazy things for two hours, but although it may be hard to watch at times, and somewhat boring at other times, your eyes will be glued to the screen to see what happens next. Hell, go for the acting performances alone; they're all amazing. Some actors just appear in cameos or walk-ons (Kristen Chenoweth and Patrick Wilson) just to be in the film. If you do go, make sure that you stay for the credits, where you get to find out what happened to all of the real characters, including the author (appearing next to the actor who portrays him.)
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "VOLVER" (in Spanish with English sub-titles)

After a series of Hollywood blockbuster flops in which she was virtually unintelligible in English, Penelope Cruz has returned to her Spanish roots in this much-heralded new film by her mentor/discoverer, director Pedro Almodovar, and she is brilliant! This director knows exactly how to showcase her talents, and she shines under his tutelage. In this beautiful film, Almodovar tells the story of three generations of women...the Cruz character, a woman of solid character saddled with an alcoholic asshole of a husband; her simple and innocent daughter (Yohana Cobo;) and the "ghost" of her dead mother (!) played by the wonderful Carmen Maura, one of Spain's greatest treasures. 'Volver' means 'Return' in Spanish, and one of the many returns the title alludes to is Carmen Maura's return to Almodovar's movies. The female cast of "Volver," Carmen Maura included, won a collective prize for Best Actress at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. When you see this wonderful film, you'll know why.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "CASINO ROYALE"

Obviously, the question to be answered is "How good is Daniel Craig as James Bond?" In my opinion, he's the best Bond since Sean Connery, my all-time-favorite James Bond. (I never could believe that those pretty-boys Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan could ever get their hands dirty doing the bad stuff that 007's must do.) In this remake of the 1967 spoof of the Bond genre, this "Casino Royale" plays it seriously, and tells the story of how James Bond got to earn the right to be a 007 agent. Maybe because Daniel Craig is such a respected actor (in the tradition of Sean Connery,) the screenwriters actually bothered to write a good plot for this film, and deemphasized the absurd "gadgets" that have caused this franchise to deteriorate into a bad comic-book. There's still a beautiful girl (French actress Eva Green) and a nasty villain (played by some Scandinavian actor with a forgettable, unspellable name,) and there are still exciting chases, and things blowing up. But, the story's the thing, and it's a good one. In fact, with the exception of the high-stakes card-game scene that goes on forever, this is a perfect Bond film, complete with a villain whose eye bleeds on cue!  Watch for the tribute to the best Bond girl of all, Ursula Andress, from "Dr. No." In that film, Andress came out of the ocean wearing a skimpy bathing suit...and she was HOT. In this film, Craig comes out of the ocean wearing a skimpy bathing suit...and he's hot. Hopefully this doesn't start a trend!  
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE FOUNTAIN"

If I were tripping on acid (which I never did,) and this was the '60s, I might have enjoyed this film. But seeing it in the present, and under the influence of nothing but a big glass of cranberry juice, I thought it sucked. I should add that I've hated the other two films made by director Darren Aronofsky ("Pi," and "Requiem for a Dream.") We're just not on the same wave length! In this pseudo sci-fi, Buddhist-influenced mess, we follow the lives of three couples (possibly the same couple,) in three different centuries. All are searching for eternal life, and attempting to conquer death. Not a bad deal if you can pull it off! In the first story, a 16th-Century conquistador searches for the Fountain of Youth for his Queen, Isabella of Spain. In the second story, a 21st-Century scientist tries to cure cancer to save his dying wife. In the third story (reminiscent of the ending of Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey,") a bald man floats in a bubble with a tree, in search of a dying nebula, and the meaning of life!!! The couple in all three stories, is played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz ( Mrs. Aronofsky! ) The stars originally contracted for the film, were Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. They were smart enough to skip out on it before the cameras started recording this self-indulgent, confusing, bore! 
(1-Star)
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION"

Writer/director Christopher Guest, and his brilliantly funny troupe of players (Catherine O' Hara, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge, etc.) have made some of Hollywood's funniest movies..."Waiting for Guffman," "The Best in Show," and "A Mighty Wind." Appearing to be documentaries, they ridicule some of our society's sacred cows, like dog shows and folk singers. Unfortunately, this film is not in the same category as the others. In fact, it's not even very funny! Here, the ensemble is making fun of the movies themselves, especially the race for the coveted Oscar. The semi-scripted story goes behind-the-scenes to show us the making of a terrible movie about a Jewish family in the Deep South, entitled "Home for Purim."  Throw in a lesbian daughter and her partner, and you can see where this film could have gone. What they should have done, was give that wonderfully talented ensemble the premise, and then have them improvise the entire movie. THAT would have been a brilliant film. The only reason to see this film is to see the performance of Catherine O' Hara. Now, that IS worthy of an Oscar nomination! 
(1-Star)
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE NATIVITY STORY"

Forget about the Rockettes this year, and take the whole family to see this extraordinary film........................................................................................
Back in more sensible and intelligent times, the season leading up to December 25th (the biblical date given for the birth of Jesus Christ,) was known as "the Christmas season." Now, in the age of insanity and political correctness (is that redundant?) other religious and racial groups have either super-sized old quiet holidays (Chanukkah,) or fabricated new ones (Kwaanza) to cash in on the commercial action. Holidays are springing up like lice on the head of an inner-city child! These groups aren't looking to share the spirit of Christmas, they're looking to eliminate it, and replace it with something generic known as "the holidays." To them, I say "f___ all of you," or, as Ebenezer might have said more eloquently, "bah, humbug!"
With this in mind, I was delighted to see that a movie called "The Nativity Story," was being released just in time for Christmas. It deals with the birth of a Jewish child to Jewish parents, who is visited and worshiped by an African king, and whose birth gave rise to one of the world's great religions, Christianity. Now that's diversity! Fortunately for all of us, the film is surprisingly good, given all of the pitfalls that might have caused it to be otherwise. It's a faithful retelling of the New Testament story, but with enough drama and action, to make it enjoyable to even the most devout atheist! The acting is excellent, especially on the part of the very talented actress, 16-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes (from "Whale Rider,") who is a perfect, believable Mary. The direction is sensitive, and the setting (probably Morocco,) looks exactly as it should look. So, as I said earlier, here's a perfect film for the entire family, if you're looking to get a healthy dose of Christmas Spirit.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "APOCALYPTO"

If you're either, a student of ancient Mayan civilizations, an avid reader of National Geographic, an anthropologist, or a sadist, then you might enjoy watching ugly savages brutalize one another for two hours...tearing out the organs of living human beings, beheading one another, torturing babies, and eating the testicles of wild boars...in the land that was destined to become the playground of drunken fraternity boys on Spring Break. You might enjoy it; I didn't!
(1-Star)
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "ERAGON"

I enjoyed reading the books Eragon, and Eldest, the first two books in a proposed trilogy by the brilliant young writer Christopher Paolini. (He was only a teen-ager when he wrote Eragon!) But I'd hate to be the person who had to decide which scenes from the book to include in the movie, and which to leave out. The movie is more a rethinking of the book, rather than a literal translation of it. Therefore, some purists will be outraged. I enjoyed the film in spite of the many omissions. The story concerns Eragon (unknown, Edward Speleers) a young farm boy in Alagesia, who discovers a large blue stone, only to find that in that stone is a dragon, who is about to be hatched. The dragon, Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz,) grows to full size immediately, and through telepathy, shows Eragon how to ride a dragon. When Eragon meets the Gandalf-like mentor, Brom (Jeremy Irons,) he's made aware of the fact that he has a destiny to fulfill. He must ride to the exiled Varden...the once-great Dragon Riders...and help them to defeat the evil King Galbatorix (John Malkovich,) who rules Alagesia with the help of his Shade, the villainous Durzo (Robert Carlyle.) Aiding Eragon in his battle, is the mysterious Arya (Sienna Guillory.) The story moves along quickly, from adventure to battle, in spectacular settings, with little room for character development. That's where the book excels. But go and enjoy it for what it is, an action-filled fantasy about flying dragons, and the people who ride them.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

OVIE REVIEW: "THE GOOD SHEPHERD"
Sorry, Matt, but your new film is very disappointing, and you can pass that information on to Mr. De Niro, your director. How could a film with so much promise fall so flat? Well, for one thing, in spite of its all-star cast (Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro, Alec Baldwin, Michael Gambon, William Hurt, Billy Crudup, and John Turturro,) it's much too long (almost three hours,) and its story (about the early days of the CIA,) is not that interesting. The founding of the CIA is shown through the eyes of a young recruit, right out of Yale, and his wife and son. Their story could have been told in half the time, and might have made for a more interesting film. But in this film, the actors give wooden, two-dimensional performances, with the exception of Angelina Jolie, who is the only three-dimensional character in the movie. The story-telling is confusing, jumping back and forth from the 1940's to the 1960's. Without the subtitled dates, it would have been impossible to follow, because even the make-up artists couldn't age Matt Damon. For a film about the CIA, there's surprisingly little action in it. Maybe De Niro should have made a film about the other CIA...the Culinary Institute of America. Now THAT would have been exciting!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "DREAMGIRLS"

Although I saw "Dreamgirls" on Broadway when it first came out 25 years ago, I was never really a big fan. The story was good, but the musical score left me cold. It seemed like just a bunch of watered-down Motown stuff, with nothing very memorable. To me, it was a one-song musical (the big over-hyped "And I Am Telling You") and that song left me cold. Screaming isn't singing!  I have the same problem with the new all-star movie version of the musical. The cast is excellent (Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, John Lithgow and newcomer Jennifer Hudson) and it wouldn't surprise me if Murphy and/or Hudson were nominated for Oscars for their portrayal of the James Brown-like singer, and the scorned member of the singing group, the Dreams. If you're not familiar with the story, it's the thinly-disguised story of how the Supremes got started in Motown, with the help of music-guru Berry Gordy (Jamie Foxx) and a Marvin Gaye/James Brown-like black singer (Eddie Murphy.) Of course, all of the names have been changed, but it's not hard to figure out who's who. Beyonce Knowles plays the Diana Ross-like lead singer. Poor Beyonce still can't act. If you enjoy musicals as I do, then you should see this film. If you don't, stay away. It's not one of the best.
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "CHILDREN OF MEN"

I just finished reading a dreadful novel, The Road, which is the story of those who survived, after some cataclysm has destroyed all but a few people on Earth. Now, here we are again revisiting another post-apocalyptic vision of the world. (What am I nuts?) As with the novel, The Road, this movie has made just about every critic's "10 best" list. Based on P.D. James' novel The Children of Men, the survivors on Earth lead dehumanized and fearful lives in the few remaining cities, and are no longer able to reproduce. In fact, no children have been born in 18 years. The government of England is a Fascistic regime, and of course, there is an underground resistance movement. One of the leaders of this underground group is Julian (Julianne Moore,) who, reluctantly contacts her ex-husband, Theo (Clive Owen) who has the connections to get transit papers for an unusual refugee...a black pregnant woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey.) This could have all been just another sci-fi, dystopian film, had it not been directed by that young Mexican genius, Alfonso Cuaron ("Y Tu Mama Tambien," and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Now , THAT'S a range!) He moves the film along, from horror to horror, so quickly, that your senses are bombarded, and an Hieronymous Bosch-like picture is painted of a nightmarish, yet very believable world. He pulls excellent performances out of the two leads, as well as from Michael Caine, as Theo's old-hippie friend. What's the opposite of "boring and depressing,"...words that I used to describe The Road??? This film is riveting, thrilling, suspenseful, and moving. It's an excellent film.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "BABEL"

If you enjoyed last year's Oscar-winning Best Picture, "Crash," and the multi-storied films of Robert Altman, then you might like "Babel," this year's Golden Globe Awards winner for Best Picture. Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and his screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (have you noticed how Mexicans are having a real impact on the cinema world?) have created this film with three separate stories, that somehow become connected at the end. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are a married couple who are traveling in a third world country when tragedy strikes. In another story, their Mexican nanny back in San Diego, is mistaken for a kidnapper, when she tries to take her charges, their children, over the border to her son's wedding. In the third story, a deeply disturbed Japanese teenager just can't seem to keep her clothes on! All right, those are the positives. Now, the negatives. I found this film to be one of the most deeply distressing and disturbing films that I've ever seen. I find it difficult to watch people, whether in real life or in reel life, put themselves in dangerous positions, either through their own innocence, or their incredible stupidity. The characters in this movie, because of what they've done, spiral down into different levels of "hell." Although it's well written, well acted, and well directed, I almost walked out of this film a couple of times!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

The most compelling reason to see this film, is to see Forest Whitaker's portrayal of Ida Amin, the former dictator of Uganda. It's a role that's already earned him the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, and it's sure to earn him the Oscar as well. Is all the acclaim deserved? Absolutely. It's the role of a lifetime for Whitaker, and he makes the most of it. The story is a fictitious one, about a young Scottish doctor (James McAvoy) who flees Scotland to get away from the clutches of an overbearing father, only to travel to Uganda, to fall into the clutches of an overbearing father-surrogate, Idi Amin. The two are an unlikely team...one a dictator, the other, his personal physician...but their relationship is a fascinating one, and it makes for an interesting, albeit melodramatic, film. The fictitious story tends to put a human face on a man who was, in reality, a monster, and who was not even as civilized as some of the Great Apes of his country, Uganda!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

(But a 5-Star portrayal by Forest Whitaker.)
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA" (in Japanese with English sub-titles)

Clint Eastwood is certainly no fool. While he was filming last year's epic war movie, "Flags of Our Fathers," the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima told from the American soldiers point of view, he was also filming this film, "Letters From Iwo Jima," the story told from the Japanese soldiers point of view. Bravo Clint. It was a brilliant idea, and it paid off with an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. While I was watching "Flags of Our Fathers," and watching the American soldiers advancing up that horrible mountain, while the Japanese, buried in their tunnels and caves fired at them, I thought, how horrible it would be to be fighting from underground tunnels and caves...just like trapped animals. Now we get to see just how horrible it really was. We see the battle through the eyes of ordinary Japanese soldiers...men who had wives, jobs, and children...just like the men who were trying to kill them. This time it's the Japanese who are humanized; last time it was the Americans. Of course, we don't get to see all of the terrible atrocities that the Japanese committed during the war. That's for another movie. In this film, they're "the good guys." Ken Watenabe, a fine actor, plays the leader of "the good guys."
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "NOTES ON A SCANDAL"

Two perverted women...one a schoolteacher pedophile who preys on her young students (specifically, one young boy)...the other, a lesbian who preys on the pedophile...makes for a melodramatic triangle worthy of Sartre! If only Richard Eyre could write like Sartre, then maybe this film would have become something more than an exercise in good acting. But the good acting was enough for me. What a joy it is to see two great actors (Cate Blanchett as the young woman, and Dame Judi Dench as the older woman) sink their teeth into two great roles, and "chew up the scenery" (to continue the metaphor) in the process. The Motion Picture Academy has already nominated both for Oscars, but inexplicably, Judi Dench is nominated for Best Actress, while Cate Blanchett, who has as much quality screen time as Dame Judi, is nominated for Best Supporting Actress. It's probably a studio ploy to increase Blanchett's chances for an award. Let's see if it works!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "PAN'S LABYRINTH" (in Spanish with English sub-titles)

The time is postwar Spain, 1944, under the repressive rule of General Franco. A young girl, Ofelia, has traveled, with her pregnant mother, to a rural military outpost commanded by her new stepfather, a sadistic captain in Franco's army. Ofelia keeps her precious book of fairy tales close at hand, and feeling powerless and lonely, she begins to spend more time in this fantasy world of strange and wonderful creatures. A new real friend, and a new magical friend, a faun, introduce her to a secret garden, and it's there that Ofelia finds an enchanting new world. Brilliant Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro has created the most imaginative and visually stunning movie of the year, by blending the harsh, violent realities of Ofelia's real world, with the magical creatures (created by stop-motion photography) of her imaginary world. Only a genius would have thought to blend the horrors of war-torn Spain with the fantasy world of Pan's Labyrinth. The final result is unforgettable, like the first time that you read Alice in Wonderland, or the first time that you saw "The Wizard of Oz." A warning to parents, however. Due to the sadistic nature of parts of the story, and the excessive blood, gore, and violence, I wouldn't recommend this for children, nor for impressionable teens.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "HANNIBAL RISING"

In a word....dreadful! Some things should have been left to the viewers/readers imaginations. At least now I won't have to read the new book Hannibal Rising, that author Thomas Harris has written (about Hannibal Lecter as a young boy/man) to cash in on the success of his previous books/movies. Stay home and rent "The Silence of the Lambs."
(1-Star)
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "NORBIT"

I know. It's one big stupid racial slur. Some black women are obese and obnoxious, and terrorize their men. But, I knew that I'd get some laughs out of this movie anyway...and I did. Eddie Murphy has teamed up again with Rick Baker (the make-up man who made him look like an entire family in "The Nutty Professor,) and has created three memorable characters. A simple nerd of a man, Norbit. The Chinese man who adopted him when his parents threw him, as a baby, out of a fast-moving car. But, most memorably, the grotesque ogre of a woman, Rasputia. Every time that Murphy is on screen, in his perfect fat "body-suit" as Rasputia, you'll get a good laugh out of the sight of "her." She's monstrous! The story is irrelevant. It's all about the fat body suit!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "BREACH"

It's a known fact that the worst new films of the year, are dumped into the theaters in January and February, so it's a sign that Spring is near, when the first good film of the year appears. The first good film of 2007 is "Breach." It's not a great film, but it's better than anything else that we've seen so far this year. This is a true story, telling the shocking tale of Robert Hanssen, America's most notorious traitor, who worked for the FBI during the Cold War, and who gave away secrets to the Soviet Union, costing billions of dollars and causing lives to be lost. Chris Cooper does a masterful job playing this sour-faced religious fanatic, who slinks through the halls of the FBI headquarters, and local churches, like a ghost. The whole story is told through the eyes of his young new assistant (Ryan Phillippe,) who is in turn harassed and mentored by Hanssen. Laura Linney, doing her usual fine acting, is around as the woman who runs the operation to capture Hanssen. She is hot on Hanssen's trail, and wants him stopped. The film is suspenseful, thrilling, tense, and sometimes funny. One of my friends said about the film,  "there's just not enough spy stuff in it!" On the contrary, it's all about "spy stuff," just not the usual shoot-'em-up spy stuff usually portrayed in action films.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "ZODIAC"

Some movies like "Lord of the Rings" and "Gone With the Wind," need 3 hours to tell their story. This one doesn't! For the first two hours of this tale of the real-life "Zodiac killer" who terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area in the '60's and '70's, I was caught up in the suspense, the intrigue, and the thrills, as a team of reporters and detectives attempted to unravel the pieces of the puzzle. Then, after the main reporter (an alcoholic played appropriately, and expertly, by Robert Downey, jr,) and the chief detective (an excellent Mark Ruffalo,) leave the unsolved case, the trail is pursued by a self-serving cartoonist/writer (a nerdy Jake Gyllenhaal.) That's when I lost interest. The character of the obsessed cartoonist was annoying, and so was the story during the last hour of the film, as it became bogged down in the uninteresting and repetitive details of the plot, as this unbelievable overgrown Eagle Scout followed every trail relentlessly like a modern-day Javert, but nowhere near as interesting. It was like beating a dead horse, and the wild and near-crazy writer became laughable. At that point, his wife (Chloe Sevigny, in a fine cameo) left him, and so did I (although I did stick it out until the end.) Where was the editor???
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

TALK CINEMA MOVIE PREVIEW: "THE BLACK BOOK" (in Dutch and German with English sub-titles)

Director Paul Verhoeven ("Total Recall," "Robocop," "Starship Troopers," etc.) generally makes big action films for young boys who were raised on video games. Therefore, it's somewhat surprising to see him making a film for adults...a film about a young Dutch Jewish girl (no, not Anne Frank,) who is a part of the resistance movement in her country during WWII. The film is basically a moving love story (oops, I just lost all of the men,) set against the backdrop of the extreme violence and bloodshed (the men just came back again,) of WWII. It's a long film (about 2 1/2 hours,) but the length is not a factor here, because the young actors, (Carise van Hoeten & Sebastian Koch,) who are wonderful, keep you interested in their story, from beginning to end. I wouldn't be surprised to see them scooped up by the Hollywood studios, (remember their names,) and to have their careers cheapened in the process. In any case, Verhoeven directs expertly, and the Dutch and German actors respond to his direction beautifully. This is an epic film that seems like it was made decades ago. It's visually stunning, with lush music, suspense,  romance,  and cliffhanging episodes. The story begins in an Israeli kibbutz in 1956 and is told by Rachel Stein Rosenthal, a schoolteacher. It goes back to Holland in 1944, where Rachel finds herself on the run from the Nazis. There are so many surprise plot twists in this film, and I don't want to give anything away, but let me just say that Rachel ends up posing as Ellis de Vries, a blond bombshell, who becomes a spy in the German command, where she falls in love with a high-ranking  Nazi. This is a great espionage drama, filled with thrilling action, horrific violence, scary prison escapes, and nail-biting chases. Did I mention that it's based on a true story? Almost hard to believe. It's a film not to be missed.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "300"

There's a movie to be made about the most one-sided battle in history...the Battle at Thermopylae in ancient Greece...but, this isn't it! This one is a big comic book or video game (photographed to look like the drawings in Frank Miller's original graphic novel) for people who enjoy seeing near-naked musclemen fighting against a pierced dark-skinned enemy. The meatheads at the gym will probably love it, and for some ballet-dancers, organists and interior decorators, it's a wet dream! But, if you're a history buff, stay home and read Gates of Fire, by Stephen Pressfield, an overly-detailed account of how 300 single-minded Spartans held off 1,000,000 Persians, until the Spartans were finally all killed. The New York Times critic said it best, "'The 300' is about as violent as 'Apocalypto' and twice as stupid!"
(1-Star)
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "BLADES OF GLORY"

An hilarious spoof of the already ridiculous world of championship figure skating. Will Ferrell and Jon Heder ("Napoleon Dynamite") play two gold-medalists, who after creating a public brawl in a jealous fight over a tied gold medal, are barred from the sport forever. Several years later, their former coach (Craig T. Nelson) comes up with an idea. The only way that they can legitimately return to competing in the sport, is if they return as the world's first team of two male PAIRED skaters! The result is a very funny film, that satirizes just about every aspect of competitive figure skating. Going along for the ride, and being really good sports about it, are former champions Peggy Fleming, Brian Boitano, Dorothy Hamill, Nancy Kerrigan, Sasha Cohen, and Scott Hamilton. Because I smiled, chuckled, and laughed out loud a few times, I'm giving this film a score of 8.5. I mean...4-Stars!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "GRINDHOUSE"

Two of our most creative and adventurous directors, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, have pooled their considerable talents in this clever attempt to recreate the experience of going to a double-feature "back in the day." When I was young, when you went to the movies, you saw a major film, then some trailers, a newsreel, and a cartoon (and sometimes a serial.) Then you saw a second film, all for the price of one show. That was the package. "Grindhouse" attempts to do the same thing. We get two cheesy films and some fake trailers. The films are even made to look old. The first film is a big, bloody, stupid zombie-horror-film, "Planet Terror," and the second film is something called "Death Proof," (which is really just one big car chase, showcasing the "talents" of stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who plays herself.) The films star Bruce Willis and Kurt Russell, but that doesn't matter, nor does the plot of either film. The whole is intended to be greater than the sum of its parts...but it isn't. What you're paying full price for, is two very bad films, that you wouldn't pay to see individually. Combining them doesn't make it any less painful, only longer (three hours!) What Tarantino and Rodriguez forgot when they conceived of this idea, was that in the 40s, 50s and 60s, the heyday of the double feature, the first film was always a first-run quality film, and the second film was the second-rate B-film. Both of these are B-films. That just doesn't work.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

One for each film!
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "FRACTURE"

We're already 4 months into the new year, and I've finally seen the first excellent new American film of 2007, and it's a first-rate thriller, worthy of a Hitchcock. A hot-shot young public prosecutor on his way up to the top of the legal ladder, has been given his final case working for the government, and it's a sure-fire win. After all, the defendant has shot his wife, and signed a confession saying that he's done so. The trial should be just a formality for the young lawyer, but when it begins, everything starts to unravel, and a suspenseful game of cat and mouse begins. It's worth the price of admission just to see the two leading actors sparring with one another in their scenes together. In the role of the defendant, Anthony Hopkins chews up the scenery, in his best Hannibal Lecter manner. But Ryan Gosling, who plays the young lawyer, matches him at every turn, and in some scenes, even steals the show. The three main co-stars are played by three of Broadways finest actors...Fiona Shaw, Bob Gunton, and David Strathairn. There are so many twists and turns to this relatively short film, before you know it, the final surprise sneaks up on you, and the film is over. I didn't guess the ending. Can you?
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "SPIDER MAN 3"

This sequel, in which Spidey explores his dark side (!) proved to be just one Spider Man movie too many for me. Surprisingly, this confusing, overlong (2-1/2 hours) film, is just a corny, stupid, soap-opera, interrupted by musical numbers (yes, musical numbers,) and some much-improved-CGI action sequences. In part, there's something in it for everyone, but as a whole, it won't be totally satisfying to anyone. Stay home, and rent the first, and best, "Spider Man" movie instead.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "SHREK THE THIRD"

I have one simple rule when I'm reviewing a comedy. If it makes me smile, chuckle, or laugh out loud, then it's funny! Period. In this film, I only laughed once! In fact, this whole series of films just keeps getting dumber and dumber. This time, Shrek is forced to take over the crown from his froggy father-in-law, King Harold, who has fallen ill and died, (in a somewhat funny deathbed scene!) Shrek doesn't want the crown, and so he sets off with his sidekicks, Donkey and Puss-in-Boots, to find a substitute. The substitute that has been suggested, is a teenager named Arthur, who attends a medieval school like Hogwarts. While Shrek is away, the "bad guy"  Prince Charming (and an army of fairy tale villains,) comes back to take over the kingdom...only to be met by a fiery bunch of yuppie princesses...Fiona, and her friends, Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. The results are predictable and stupid. After a while, it gets tiresome to see our favorite fairy tale characters acting against type. The same voices as in the previous films are back again...Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, Rupert Everett, and John Clease...who are now joined by Justin Timberlake, Eric Idle and Larry King! Wouldn't you just love to see this cast in a live-action comedy? Until then, get down on your knees and pray that there is no "Shrek 4."
(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE LIVES OF OTHERS" (in German with English sub-titles)
Rather than go to one of those stupid, big, summer blockbusters that are playing in the theaters this weekend, I chose to see this German film, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film last year (2006.) Great choice; the film is incredible. One of the best of the year that I've seen so far. This political thriller takes place in 1983 East Berlin, where Staci (secret police) officer Gerd Weisler, gets the assignment to spy on a famous playwright and his actress-lover...who are suspected of being disloyal to the Communist Party. The spy becomes immersed in the lives of the couple, and in the process, also becomes sympathetic to them. Then his superior falls for the actress, and orders Weisler to get the playwright out of the way. What ensues is a brilliant cat-and-mouse story, filmed in the best film-noir tradition. It's a long film, but it's so thoroughly engrossing that the time just flies by. At least it did for me. Once again, let me repeat the question that I seem to be asking more and more..."why can't WE make films like this anymore???" If it's not in a theater near you anymore, catch it when it comes out on DVD at the end of next month.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 


MOVIE REVIEW: "KNOCKED UP"
This one really surprised me. I expected a laugh-out-loud hilarious comedy, along the lines of "Wedding Crashers," and "The 40-Year-Old-Virgin," with maybe even a little of "Borat" thrown in. After all, it was written and directed by Judd Apatow, who was responsible for the TV series "Freaks & Geeks," and "Undeclared," as well as the movie "40-Year-old-Virgin." It's not that it's not funny. It certainly is...very funny. But it's a different kind of funny. The humor is extremely intelligent humor, aimed at adults, rather than pre-teens. Sure, there are jokes about farts and penises, and the heroes room-mates are Neanderthal, at best. But everything is so damn real, and ultimately, good family values are rewarded, even though it takes a twisted route to get there. The heroine (Katherine Heigl from "Grey's Anatomy",) is a hot, young TV reporter, who goes out on a spree one night, with her married sister, meets a fat dork, gets drunk, and ends up hooking up with the dork. Eight weeks later, she finds out that she's pregnant, and she and the dork get together for a "reunion" of sorts, to try to iron out what to do about the possibility of keeping this baby. It doesn't sound terribly exciting, or even funny for that matter, but it is truly funny, moving, realistic, and even wholesome. If I made it sound like an Oprah-style chick-flick, let me correct this, and say that the laugh-out-loud situations and characters will appeal to anyone who enjoyed the other films mentioned in this review. If your idea of comedy is "Dude, Where's the Car," and the "Jackass" movies, then maybe you should stay away from this...and wait for the next Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson mess!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE GOLDEN DOOR" (in Italian with English sub-titles)
This moving film, about a family of Sicilian immigrants coming to America 100 years ago, will resonate emotionally, for those of us whose grandparents and parents (my father came over with his family when he was a teen-ager) actually came over from other countries, legally I might add! I'm not sure how it will play for those viewers whose families have been in this country for generations. The story is beautifully told, artistically filmed, and acted brilliantly by an ensemble cast of unknown (to me at least) Italian actors. The only "name" actor in the film is Charlotte Gainsbourg, who plays an English woman, who is, inexplicably, coming to America with a bunch of Italians in steerage! Because the dialogue spoken is the Sicilian dialect, I found it easy enough to understand without having to read the sub-titles. For those of you who are not familiar with the unimaginable hardships that these courageous, adventurous immigrants had to put up with to come to America, this film will not only be an eye-opener, but will give you a new perspective on the current-day immigration issue, where illegal workers are trying to slip into America "through the back door," so to speak! The only thing that bothered me about the film, is the fact that most of the immigrants portrayed, appeared to be either ignorant, superstitious, or feeble-minded. Surely there was one intelligent Sicilian who came to America! I'd like to think that my family and those of my relatives and friends were not feeble-minded or morons!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "LA VIE EN ROSE" (in French with English sub-titles)
NOTE TO THE ACADEMY: This is easily the best film of the year, so far, with the best acting performance (Marion Cotillard.) Remember it at Oscar time next year!
If you're old enough, and were lucky enough to have seen the legendary Edith Piaf perform, as I was, then you know that it was an experience that you'll remember all of your life. Decades ago, this tiny French woman in a short black dress, got up on the stage of the ultra-elegant supper club, the Empire Room of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, and sang sad French songs, in a voice that tugged at your heart, while ripping out your guts! This film is a brilliant, impressionistic attempt to give you an idea of the life of this remarkable French woman, and it succeeds admirably, thanks, in large part, to the amazing actress Marion Cotillard, who lip-syncs to the voice of Piaf herself (as Jamie Foxx did in "Ray.") This is a tour-de-force performance of a lifetime. We see Piaf's rise to fame, from a young street beggar, singing in the streets of Paris, to one of the most famous women in France, or the world, for that matter. Surprisingly, her role as heroic French resistance fighter during WWII is left out. I wonder why? In any case, some of her tragic love affairs (one of whom is portrayed by French icon Gerard Depardieu) are included, as is her drug addiction, and more importantly, many of her greatest songs are sung throughout the course of this wonderful new film. I loved every minute of this 2 1/2-hour movie. It wasn't long enough!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "OCEAN'S 13"
If you've paid your money to see this sequel of a sequel of a remake, then you know what to expect, and that's exactly what you get...an expensive, elaborate "home movie," with a bunch of good (albeit famous) friends camping it up on screen, with the hopes that you'll all spend lots of money to see them doing this...over, and over, again!!! Well, I did, and presumably, so did you. Was it worth the money? Sure, why not. At least this film was much better than the cheesy "Ocean's 12," and Vegas really looks good. This time around, Danny Ocean, and his merry band of thieves, decide to settle a score with Willy Bank (Al Pacino,) the bad-guy owner of one of the fanciest new hotel/casinos in Vegas. Bank, an evil version of Steve Wynn (or Kirk Kerkorian,) did bad things to one of Ocean's 11, and that's a no-no! His co-hort in evil, is the overripe, but still sexy Ellen Barkin. In case you've been living under a rock, Ocean's 11 are played by: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Elliot Gould, Bernie Mac, et al. This time around, they're also joined by Andy Garcia, who was the bad guy in the last Oceans film...and so it goes. In order to combat the bad reviews from "Ocean's 12," the screenwriters for this one bent over backwards to create a fun, intricate plot, although at times it's so intricate that I couldn't follow who was doing what to whom, and why. But the most important thing is that it's good, and it's fun, and you'll enjoy it. I did.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "SICKO"
Although I despise the man, writer/director Michael Moore does what he does, brilliantly. What he does, is create "documentaries" filled with facts, biased opinions, misleading editing, subjective perceptions, and shocking interviews, revolving around a controversial issue, that is a sacred cow in America today. After highly successful films about the closing of auto factories in Flint,  gun-control, and George W. Bush and his administration, Moore is now focusing his poisoned arrows on the health-care industry in America. God knows, this industry could use a sharp kick in the ass, and maybe this film can do what the Congress and past presidents have chosen not to do. Through interviews with victims of the system, we see how our government has failed to care for its citizens, the way other countries around the world have managed to do very well. Things are even much better in some third world countries than they are here in America. Now THAT'S inexcusable. So, as much as it hurts me to say it, "bravo" to you, Mr. Moore, for pointing your spotlight on one of America's most horrible, and disgraceful, problems. This film is moving, shocking, an eye-opener, a cry for help, and the most non-partisan of all of the Moore films. I hate to say it, but in this film, Moore has performed a great service to the people of this country.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "EVENING"
WARNING: THIS IS A MAJOR CHICK FLICK, AND IT'S A REALLY BAD ONE. If you're still interested, read on. Without a good screenplay, even some of the world's greatest stage and screen actresses, can't rescue a cheesy, stupid, soap opera. Based on the Susan Minot book, (which she says was not treated well in its transition to the screen,) Michael Cunningham ("The Hours") has written a really corny screenplay, about a woman on her deathbed (Vanessa Redgrave,) looking back on her life. It's the ultimate chick flick, something that Oprah, her viewers, and your grandmother, would probably love. Who are all of these great actresses in this movie? Well, in addition to Vanessa Redgrave as the dying heroine, her daughters are played by Toni Collette and Natasha Richardson (Redgrave's real daughter,) Meryl Streep as her best friend, Clare Danes as the young version of the Redgrave character, and Mamie Gummer (Streep's real daughter, and a terrible actress) as the young version of the Streep character, (confused yet?) Eileen Atkins, Glenn Close, Patrick Wilson (one of my favorite actors,) and Hugh Dancy round out this incredible cast. But, what's the use. The movie's a bummer! Wouldn't this cast have been incredible in a remake of "The Women?"
(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW: "HARRY POTTER and the ORDER OF THE PHOENIX"
Witches and Wizards, gather your group of like-minded spirits, and rush to see this film, before the Ministry of Magic devises a scheme to take it off the screens. Leave your Muggles friends behind. If they haven't read the books and seen the other films, they won't have a clue what's going on in this one. Director David Yates wastes no time in condescending to those who are foolish enough to have ignored these masterpieces of modern culture. If your friends won't read the books, point your wand at them, and make them disappear. No loss! To get to the point, this film is easily the best of all of the Harry Potter films. It's the darkest, the most adult, and the shortest of the films. The characters have grown up, as have their bodies, their voices, their hormones, and their emotions. The story is fast-moving, with less Quidditch and magic fun, and more conspiracy and torture. The usual professors are around, played by the finest English stage and screen actors (Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith, Richard Griffiths, Brendan Gleeson, Fiona Shaw, Robbie Coltrane, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, and Gary Oldman.) They are joined by the finest most sadistic villain in the entire franchise, Dolores Umbridge, played by the incomparable Imelda Staunton. (Rent "Vera Drake" to see her Oscar-nominated performance.) Of course Harry, Ron and Hermione are still played by an ever-maturing Daniel Radcliffe (I can't wait to see him, on stage, in "Equus" when it comes to New York next year,) Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson. They're all wonderful. While your less intelligent friends are playing their video games, and rushing to see "Transformers," and "Fantastic Four," don your invisible cloak and your superior attitude, and sneak into the Harry Potter film again. I intend to. See you at Hogwart's next week when the last book comes out. Let's all petition J.K. Rowling to begin writing a sequel (or prequel) to the final book.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "RATATOUILLE"
When you're making your selection of a movie to go to see this weekend, forget about the fact that this is one of those Disney/Pixar animated films, go to see it, and judge it as you would any other non-animated film. You'll find that it's not only a joy for people of all ages, but also a masterpiece of its genre. It's the tale of an ordinary rat, who is a self-taught master of the culinary arts, and who, through a series of hilarious and sometimes scary adventures, ends up as the mentor of a simple garbage boy, in the kitchen of one of the great restaurants of Paris! He teaches this boy everything he knows about cooking, as he perches under the boys toque on his head, and in the process, we, the viewers, learn a great deal about gourmet cooking. The film is not only beautiful to look at, with non-condescending insights into what goes on in the kitchen of a fine restaurant, but it's also filled with so many moral lessons (about being true to ones ambitions, about familial loyalty, about democracy and elitism, etc.) that a parent can sit back, enjoy the film on its own terms, and let the children soak up the messages subliminally, as they're enjoying the fun. The characters are voiced by stars like Lou Romano, Janeane Garofalo, Brian Dennehy, Brad Garrett, and Peter O'Toole (as a villainous food critic.) I only wish that Julia Child were still alive to have seen this film. Her philosophy was in sync with that of the movie ("Not everyone can be a great chef, but a great chef can come from anywhere,") and she would have loved it.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "HAIRSPRAY"
I really loved this movie! The songs, the stars....But wait. I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit. I didn't like the original 1988 John Waters cult classic film, "Hairspray," and although I liked the subsequent Broadway musical based on the movie, I didn't love it. But something truly magical happened when this Broadway show transferred to the screen. Everything seems bigger and better; the songs, the stars, and especially the dancing. Every song sounds terrific, and the dances are choreographed as blockbuster production numbers. But what makes the movie so enjoyable is the ultra-talented cast of stars. John Travolta steals the show as fat but lovable Edna Turnblad, the mother of newcomer Nikki Blonsky, who plays fat but lovable Tracy Turnblad. The man of the house is played by a singing and dancing Christopher Walken, who finally gets a chance to sing and dance on screen. How many of you knew that he started out on Broadway as a song-and-dance man? The movie still tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, who is laughed at by all of the big-haired popular girls at Patterson Park High School in Baltimore, because she's fat, and because she's trying to integrate the all-white Dick Clark-like bandstand show on TV Station WZZT. That she succeeds AND gets the high school hunk (Zak Efron,) is a given, but how she does it makes for all the fun of this show. If you're nostalgic for the rock and roll '60's, and can handle really broad (pun intended) humor, you'll really enjoy "Hairspray." What I didn't remember on Broadway was all of the tongue-in-cheek satire, as it constantly spoofs the naive and vulnerable '60s (e.g., big-haired pregnant blondes smoking and drinking, etc.) Rounding out the fine cast are Michelle Pfeiffer and her daughter (played by Brittany Snow) as the twin villains of the piece, Queen Latifah as a loving, singing, Mother Mabel, who fights for integration in a white, quiet way, and lots of excellent young actors like Amanda Bynes, James Marsden, etc. I could go on and on, but this review is already too long. Just go see it!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM"
Because Matt Damon is such an exceptionally gifted actor, and Paul Greengrass is such a fine director, this final installment of "The Bourne Trilogy" comes to a smashing (literally) conclusion, in as intelligent a way as it was begun, and continued, in the first two films. It's aimed at the adult readers who read and enjoyed the Robert Ludlum espionage thrillers upon which the movies are based, rather than at the usual audience for action films...adolescent boys who prefer to get all of their fiction from video games! Once again, Damon plays Jason Bourne, an amnesiac on the run from a past that he can't remember, and away from a team of people who are trying to kill him. He's either a rogue CIA agent, a trained killer with superpowers although he's not a "superhero," an unlucky bastard who can't remember who he is and why he knows how to kill people so well...or a combination of all three! Part of the team who are trying to have him killed, are two top CIA agents, played brilliantly by Joan Allen and David Strathairn, two of the best stage and screen actors around today. Their names should be known to everyone because of their talent, but they're not. Julia Stiles is also around for some eye candy, in what is virtually a non-speaking role. (I miss Franka Potente who died in the last film!) Anyway, if you enjoyed the first two films, you'll certainly enjoy the way the story is resolved in this one, the best of the lot. It's an instant classic of the action-film genre. One of the best.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "DEATH AT A FUNERAL"
There are so few good British comedies on film lately, that when one comes out, you really should go see it, and this IS a good one. Not great, but good. The family of a deceased man gathers at his country home to mourn him, before his burial. It's British, so every one's a "character," and many of the guests come to the service with their own neurotic baggage, which spills out throughout the course of the fast-moving short film. The humor ranges from the moving, stiff-upper-lip, sophisticated, to the raunchy, bawdy, and hilariously vulgar. There is even a visual joke about shit! But, it's British, so it's all so tasteful. There are no real name actors in the film (with the exception of Rupert Graves and Peter Dinklage) but trust me, everyone is perfect for his/her role. On my laugh barometer, I laughed out loud four times. That's pretty good!
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "3:10 TO YUMA"
Russell Crowe and Christian Bale star in this remake of the classic 1957 western (which starred Glenn Ford and Van Heflin) based on an Elmore Leonard novel. I'm not a big fan of Westerns, but I'd have to say that this is the best one that I've seen in ages (since "The Unforgiven" in 1992?) Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a quiet rancher who is hurting for money to provide for his wife and two children. An opportunity arises to get some money, by volunteering to escort a desperate and dangerous criminal (Russell Crowe) to the 3:10 train to Yuma, which will take him to jail. This isn't an easy job, because the criminal's gang is on the loose and will ruthlessly kill anyone who gets in their way. Enough about the plot. This movie is about great acting, and both Crowe and Bale are brilliant. Their performances are nuanced so that neither one is all-good or all-bad. The direction is perfect, and the cinematography is stunning. Well, I guess that the summer (bad movie time) is officially over, because I think that we may have just seen our first Oscar contender of the year (for Best Picture and/or Best Actor) since "La Vie En Rose!"
(5-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW: "THE BRAVE ONE"
Whether you enjoy this film or not, depends to a large extent, on what your expectations are for seeing it. If you go to it expecting a commentary on violence, and the importance of gun control, than you'll probably be disappointed. If on the other hand, you go to it as I did, hoping to see an example of violence as audience-thrilling entertainment, where street thugs get what's coming to them, then you'll probably enjoy it a great deal. Don't get me wrong. I hate violence, except when it's directed at those animals who prowl our streets looking to hurt good people. That's what "The Brave One" is all about. Let's face it. Director Neil Jordan has made, intentionally or unintentionally, a remake of Charles Bronson's "Death Wish!" Jodie Foster plays a liberal talk-show host, who uses her radio show to extol the virtues of a tourist-friendly, safe New York City...until she and her fiance are attacked by street animals. He's killed, and she's left for dead. When she awakens from a three-week coma, she's a new woman. She's now a pistol-packin' mama, who roams the city looking to entrap the street animals, and kill them. How could you not love this character? This is probably Jodie Foster's best role, since her Oscar-winning performance in "The Silence of the Lambs." It's an intelligent, well-thought-out acting job, guided by an expert director, in which the actress completely becomes the character that she's portraying. Oh yeah, Terrence Howard is also in the film, as a suspicious detective, and as always, he's brilliant. But this is Jodie Foster's film, and she eats it up! You go get 'em girl!
(4-Stars) Back to Top


[NOTE TO MY RELATIVES: Grandpa John Jovino's gun shop is featured in the film. First, in a picture in the art gallery scene near the beginning. Then, the actual shop is where the Jodie Foster character goes to try to buy her gun!]


MOVIE REVIEW: "EASTERN PROMISES"
If you saw director David Cronenberg's excellent film "A History of Violence," then you know what to expect from one of his films...gore and violence, melodrama, crime, and actor Viggo Mortensen! (For a person who hates violence, I've been seeing a lot of violent films lately.) If you only know Viggo Mortensen for playing Aragorn in "Lord of the Rings," then you're in for quite a surprise in this movie. Here, he plays the Russian driver for a mob of Eastern European gangsters based in London. He is not only their driver, but also the close friend of the mob boss's nut-job of a son (Vincent Cassel.) To complicate the plot, at Christmastime, Nikolai (Mortensen) meets an attractive midwife from a London hospital (Naomi Watts.)  When one of her young patients dies, leaving a diary that could be highly harmful to the Mob, things start to get crazy for all involved. Mortensen, as always, is thoroughly believable, even stoic, although in the film's most talked-about scene, he's as frightening as a runaway truck. In this bloody murder scene, which takes place in a sauna, he brutally kills the members of a rival gang, by slitting their throats, and other bodily parts, and he does it while he's completely naked! Therefore, if you're offended by frontal male nudity, as well as horrific gore and violence, this is not the movie for you. But, if you can go, and close your eyes during the scenes that you find unwatchable, you'll be rewarded by some of the best acting you'll see this year.
(4-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW: "DECEMBER BOYS"
Let's face it. Just about everyone who goes to see this film, is going to see Daniel Radcliffe ("Harry Potter") in his first screen role outside of the Harry Potter films, and to see if he's as good an actor as all of us who have been following his career in the series, have said all along. Those people who were lucky enough to see him on stage in "Equus" in London last season know that he most certainly is. (He'll be coming to Broadway in the same play in the Spring. Don't miss it.) Getting back to this movie though, it's a tender and very moving coming-of-age film, set in the Outback of Australia. Radcliffe plays one of four orphans in a Catholic orphanage who are sent away for the Christmas holidays to a run-down seaside "resort," to stay with a kind, caring, elderly couple. There they meet Teresa and "Fearless," who they all decide would make perfect parents. In competing with one another to try to gain the affection of the prospective parents, they come to a better understanding of the strong bond between the four of them, and what it really means to be a family. Harry Potter, I mean Daniel Radcliffe, does a fine job. He's thoroughly believable as the oldest of the four orphans, and the strong glue that holds the four together. A charming film.
(4-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW: "MICHAEL CLAYTON"
Here's the visual equivalent of a page-turner...a movie that will keep your attention glued to the screen. In this thriller about the corporate world, Michael Clayton (George Clooney at his best,) plays a "fixer" in a law firm...the guy who's hired to clean up the messes and scandals of his company's clients. He's one of the best, and what makes it so scary is that we all have read about people like this in the media. Tilda Swinton, one of the screen's most underrated great actresses, is evil incarnate...a woman who will do anything to make things go her way, and to make herself look good in the process. Again, a type we've all read about in the media. Completing this trifecta of great performances, is the always excellent Tom Wilkinson, as one of the most important members of the law firm represented by Clooney. His mad scenes and mental deterioration, will surely get him nominated for the Oscar. So there you are. A gripping story, extremely well-acted, and directed by writer/director Tony Gilroy, to keep things moving at a fast pace...well, maybe not a fast pace, but a pace that will hold your attention for two hours. Kind of like putting together a Rubik's cube. Remember those? Watch for this one at Oscar time. It'll be up for Best Film, and in several of the acting categories as well.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "GONE BABY GONE"
After watching his sagging acting career finally implode (helped along by his disastrous relationship with the no-talent, brain-dead Jennifer Lopez, ) Ben Affleck has wisely chosen to reinvent himself as a director. He then was smart enough to option the rights to a Dennis Lehane novel, cast his talented kid brother Casey as the star, and decided to shoot the movie in familiar territory...his old stomping grounds, Dorchester, one of Boston's three grimy, neighborhoods. Similar in theme and mood to the most recent Boston-based films, "Mystic River" and "The Departed," "Gone Baby Gone" can now join their ranks as one of the three best films made about the underbelly of Boston. Casey Affleck (so good in this role that he doesn't even appear to be acting,) plays an inexperienced private investigator who, along with his lover and partner (Michelle Monaghan,) is hired by the aunt (Amy Madigan) of a missing child to investigate her disappearance. Other police and detectives on the case are played by Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris. Complicating matters, is the fact that the young girl's mother (Amy Ryan, in what is sure to be an Oscar-nominated performance,) is the mother from hell...an ignorant, abusive, drugged-out slut. The question then is, if the child is found alive, should she be returned to this animal? The answer to that question will have you talking long after you've left the theater.
(5-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW-"AMERICAN GANGSTER"
I really thought that this was just going to be another film about the rise and fall of a drug lord. I was wrong. Sure it borrows freely from films like "The French Connection," "Scarface," and even "The Godfather," but it has its own face, and that face is a black face. It tells the true story of Frank Lucas, born in North Carolina, but who rose to "fame" in the Harlem of the '70s, as a drug lord whose power rivaled that of the Italian mafia. He appears to have cornered the market on heroin, brought in cheaply from Bangkok, and sold at a lower rate than the drugs of his rivals. Ironically, while he was handing out turkeys to the impoverished people of Harlem during the holidays, he was destroying them with his drugs. What makes this film so powerful, is the acting of the leads, Denzel Washington, as the mob-boss, and Russell Crowe, as the disgraced cop who brings him down. Surrounding these two, are wonderful supporting players like Cuba Gooding, Jr., Armand Assante, Carla Gugino, Josh Brolin, Roger Bart, and the excellent Ruby Dee. Ridley Scott directs them all at a slow pace (it's almost 3 hours long) as though they were in a documentary about the life of a mobster. We get to see the good and the bad of both the criminals, and the cops who are criminals. It's a fine piece of work, and a welcome addition to the gangster genre. Diversity comes to the world of crime on film.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

 MOVIE REVIEW: "LIONS FOR LAMBS"
What a waste of two great actors, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, and one opportunistic media whore, Tom Cruise. (He's the producer. Who else would hire him?) Robert Redford, the director, has chosen to tell this story in the style of an old WWII propaganda recruitment film, where the stars would come on screen to extol the values of everything that's right with this country, and then tell the audience to "sign up and fight," or "buy war bonds." Except that Redford is a life-long liberal, and so, instead, he presents a laundry list of everything that's WRONG with this country...racism, poverty, the war in Iraq, America's decline, etc...but doesn't give a hint as to how to remedy these ills. Sound familiar??? In this chopped-up story, Redford plays a liberal professor (redundant?) who teaches his political science course on commitment so well, that he inadvertently gets two of his students to enlist and go over to fight a suicidal mission in Afghanistan. The orchestrater of this suicidal mission is a conservative senator (Cruise,) who spends an hour of his precious time, explaining the brilliance and importance of this mission, to a liberal reporter (Streep,) who wisely, isn't buying it. Strangely enough, Cruise's phoniness, posturing, and white teeth work well to make him somewhat convincing in this role of a phony, posturing, white-toothed senator. But on the whole, nothing rings true about anything in this movie. Maybe it's short length (1 hour and 28 minutes) helped to fragment the story, but for whatever reason, it's a mess. The only people who might enjoy this film are those people who enjoy watching brave, but naive boys, die in a futile battle. God help them.
(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW: "ENCHANTED"
In a word...enchanting! Disney's latest film is Disney's own spoof of the great "Princess" films made by the company. It's a loving parody of classic films like "Snow White," "Cinderella," "Beauty and the Beast," etc., and it's a perfect holiday film for the entire family. The tale follows the beautiful princess Giselle (Amy Adams) as she is banished by an evil queen (Susan Sarandon) from her magical, musical animated land – and finds herself in the gritty reality of the streets of modern-day Manhattan, where she's "pursued" by two princes...one a modern-day New York lawyer (Patrick Dempsey,) and the other, her fairy-tale Prince Charming (James Marsden,) from their fairy-tale land. It's in this fairy-tale kingdom that the film starts out...as a typical animated Disney film, complete with singing animals, and songs for Prince Charming and his Princess. Speaking of the Princess Giselle, a star is born in this film, with the incredible new actress, Amy Adams, who steals the film as she steals your heart. She sings, she dances, she's beautiful, and she's as funny as the most gifted comediennes. She does "tongue-in-cheek" as well as the late Madeline Kahn and Broadway and TV's Kristin Cheneweth, and that's the highest compliment that I can pay to any new, young, actress. Anyway, run to see this film, when you're feeling in a festive mood, or if you're looking to be put in a holiday mood. This charming, funny movie will do it.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN"
I think that I may have just seen the movie that will win the Oscar for "Best Picture of 2007!" Once again, the Coen brothers have created a near masterpiece. Their films, like their signature film "Fargo," have a tendency to become instant classics. I went to this film not having read the Cormac McCarthy novel upon which it's based. (I don't like Cormac McCarthy!) However, I understand from friends who've read it, that it's virtually a word-by-word translation of the book. As in most Coen brothers films, the plot doesn't really matter, but here it is anyway: a man out hunting near the Mexican border, comes upon a scene of dead bodies, guns, drugs, and a stash of 2 million dollars! Because he decides to keep the money (oh come on, you would too!) he is pursued by those involved in the killing, and a tired old sheriff. This film isn't "Fargo" or "The Big Lebowski," two of my favorite Coen brothers films, in that there's little or no comedy in it to relieve the almost unbearable tension of the piece. It's a character-driven film, with actors giving their best performances on screen, to portray these characters. Javier Bardem gives the best performance of his career. In what should be an Oscar-winning role, he is an unrelentingly evil psychopath, with not an ounce of humanity in his bones. His scenes on screen are so frightening, that they're almost too hard to watch. Josh Brolin, who I never really noticed as a great actor, plays the man who stumbles on the stash, and gives one of the best performances of the year on screen. He carries the bulk of the movie, but Bardem steals the film. Tommy Lee Jones, doesn't have much to do as the tired old sheriff, but he's very effective doing it. These actors are filmed in scenes of spectacular cinematic beauty. This film is for those true lovers of what great cinema is all about. It's definitely not for the short-attention-span, brain-dead, video-game crowd!
(5-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW: "BEOWULF" in 3D
This could be the start of an interesting trend...the great classics, animated, and in 3D! First of all a word about the superanimation used in this film. If you saw "The Polar Express" and "The 300," then you know what I'm talking about. It's not the Disney type of animation, but rather a form of ultra-realistic animation where you can easily tell who the actors are who are portraying the characters. Now a word about "Beowulf" the movie. If you went to any kind of respectable high school, where you were required to read books of substance, then you surely read Beowulf, the eighth-century epic about the warrior Beowulf, and his classic battle with the monster Grendel. In 3D, it's all very realistic, action-packed, and lots of fun. My neck hurt from ducking from all of the things that came flying off of the screen! I haven't enjoyed a 3D movie, since the days when several films were made in 3D. (I even had my own glasses back in the day.) Your theater will provide the glasses now...at a cost of $2!  Great actors like Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Angelina Jolie, Robin Wright Penn and Ray Winstone (the British actor who plays Beowulf) "portray" the characters in the story. Let's all start a write-in campaign to director Robert Zemeckis asking him to start filming ALL of "The Great Books," in superanimation and 3D. My choice for his next project? War and Peace, of course!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "I'M NOT THERE"
I was never a big fan of Bob Dylan's and so I was reluctant to rush to see this film about his life. What made me want to see it, however, was director Todd Haynes's unorthodox way of creating this unusual and imaginative biopic. Haynes looks at six different stages of Dylan's life and has chosen several actors to portray the legendary singer-songwriter at these different times in his personal life and career. In 1959, a guitar-strumming youth (Marcus Carl Franklin, a young black boy) rides the rails, calling himself "Guthrie." Then a man named Jack (Christian Bale,) emerges in New York's Greenwich Village, followed by "Robbie" (Heath Ledger,) "The Preacher" (Richard Gere,) and "Jude" (Cate Blanchett.) To say that Cate Blanchett steals the film is an understatement. To say that you actually believe that she's the '60's troubadour, in this black and white segment of the film,  is an amazing feat of acting...one that will surely earn her an Oscar nomination. Unfortunately, Cate Blanchett's role in the film is the only part of the film that I really enjoyed. The rest is a disjointed and fragmented mess, with homages to everyone from Federico Fellini to The Beatles. At least the music is good!
(2-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW: "THE GOLDEN COMPASS"
I've always been a lover of epic fantasy (The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narmia, etc.) whether in books or films, and so I was surprised when my young cousin Catie recommended a series of books to me, "His Dark Materials"...a trilogy by Philip Pullman. I had never heard of them! "The Golden Compass" is the film version of the first book in the trilogy...and it's magnificent. It's cast perfectly, and the computer graphics add immeasurably to the story-telling. If you'll allow me, I'd like to quote from my own review of The Golden Compass, because what I said about the book, applies to the film as well. "The characters of Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig,) Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman,) and Iorek Byrnison (the voice of Ian McKellan,) are unforgettable, but none more so than the young heroine of the tale, Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards.) The concepts far transcend those usually associated with stories dealing with children as the main character...concepts such as free will, the need for a soul, parental betrayal, original sin and genocide. The young orphan, Lyra, the ward of the scholars at Oxford, is torn away from her somewhat idyllic life on campus, and plunged into a wholly believable adventure involving kidnapped children, armored talking bears, brain surgery, flying witch-clans, sea-going gypsies, and warring parents bent on destroying one another, and their offspring. Pullman creates a world where souls are living animals, and the clergy is the villain." The film version is completely faithful to the book, and it is an instant classic of the genre. Don't for a minute think that this film will not appeal to you as an adult. In fact, it will challenge you, and make you think. What more can one ask for in a movie? Fair warning however. Because I read the book, my mind unconsciously filled in the many "spaces" in the movie. If you haven't read the book, you might be somewhat lost at times. If you can, read the book first.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

 MOVIE REVIEW: "ATONEMENT"
Whoever said that "a picture is worth more than a thousand words," mustn't have been an avid reader. Although the "pictures" in this film add up to make a magnificent movie, it just doesn't compare to reading the bestselling novel by Booker-prize author Ian McEwan, upon which the film is based. What McEwan wrote in the 21st-century, was a 19th-century piece of British literature in the style of Jane Austen. No mean feat, and he pulled it off. Therefore, what's missing in the film, is the incredible Victorian elaborate writing style and the complexity of plots common to Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, and other authors of the period. Having said all that, let me now say that I loved this film! The story, albeit trimmed down for the screen, is still the same. The time is 1935, and the place is a very proper manor house in the English countryside. A dinner party is in progress. Then something happens. The young daughter of the family, Briony (Saoirse Ronan,) an overly imaginative, foolish, and hysterical young girl, thinks she sees something that shouldn't be happening, involving her older sister Cecilia ( a radiant Keira Knightley,) and Robbie (James McAvoy,) the son of the family's housekeeper. As I wrote in my review of the book, "this 13-year-old has difficulty separating real people, from the characters that she writes about in her silly little plays and stories. When she reports a crime that she thought she saw, a chain of events is set in motion that follows the characters at this dinner party, through the years, to the retreat from Dunkirk in 1941; from London's World War II military hospitals, to the final shattering climax." Thanks to computer graphics, these big wartime events in England's history come alive on screen, and thanks to the brilliant acting of the three leads, the intimate moments are not lost. Director Joe Wright ("Pride and Prejudice,") has done a fine job, but I came away feeling that the film should have been two hours longer! Then, it might have been almost as good as the book.
(5-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW: "JUNO"
A few years ago, the quirky little comedy was "Sideways." Last year , it was "Little Miss Sunshine," and this year, it's subtle and clever "Juno." I predict right now, that it'll be in the running at Oscar time. Juno (the wonderful Ellen Page from the terrifying "Hard Candy," ) is a bored, but highly intelligent, mid-western high-schooler, who decides to have sex with her friend Bleeker (Michael Cera, the nerd from "Superbad.") Of course, she gets pregnant. But instead of opting for an abortion, she decides to take control of the situation and shop for prospective adoptive parents. She settles on what would appear to be the perfect couple (Jennifer Garner, at her best, and Jason Bateman.) What ensues, is smart, beautifully written by someone called Diablo Cody (who says it's vaguely autobiographical,) and acted to perfection by the entire ensemble cast. I don't want to forget the two wonderful actors who play Juno's parents...J.K. Simmons (the skinhead Nazi from TV's "Oz,") and the always incredible Allison Janney (from "West Wing.") With those kind of actors, they could have made the telephone book funny! But with Cody's script being as good as it is, the result is one of the most beautiful little comedies of the year. I loved it.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET"
In 1978, I invested a little bit of money in a proposed Broadway-bound musical by Stephen Sondheim...one with a very controversial story. That musical made it to Broadway, and went on to become one of the great classics of the American Musical Theater! Now, 29 years later, director Tim Burton has brought that musical to the screen, and has created a film that's a stunningly-beautiful  masterpiece. The cast is made up of singing actors, and although the score is almost operatic in scope, they act so well, that you overlook some of their shortcomings in the vocal department. The story remains the same. Benjamin Barker, a young London barber with a beautiful young wife and a little daughter, is falsely accused by a judge who covets the wife. He's whisked off to prison in Australia, the wife takes poison, and the young child becomes the ward of the judge. Fifteen years later, Barker returns, with a new name, Sweeney Todd, and with vengeance in his heart. With the help of Mrs. Lovett, who has a bake shop, he sets up his barber shop just above her bake shop, and together they create a hew business...murder! The cast is brilliant and they will all be heard from at Oscar time. Both Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd, and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett couldn't be bettered, and I've seen the original cast (Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury) on Broadway, and several other excellent casts, in opera houses and theaters around the world. Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin, Timothy Spall as the Beadle, and a wonderful Sasha Baron Cohen as Signor Pirelli, steal every scene that they're in. If you're a purist, as I am, you'll surely notice that some songs have been shortened, and at least one major one has been eliminated. I promise you, as someone who loves this musical, you won't feel shortchanged. Oh, and yes, it's one of the bloodiest films on screen this year, so it's not a family film!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THERE WILL BE BLOOD"
Boy, am I out of step with the critics on this one. Most of them couldn't wait to get to print, to call this a masterpiece, and name it the best picture of the year. I, on the other hand, was bored to tears, and almost walked out after two hours! Based on Upton Sinclair's long, tedious, and mostly uninteresting novel, Oil, director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson has been faithful to the book, and created a long, tedious, and mostly uninteresting film. It's the story of a 1900 Texas oil man, who destroys anything and anyone in his path, in order to achieve success. The only reasons I can see to see this movie, is to see the excellent Oscar-worthy performance of Daniel Day-Lewis as the oil man, and to hear the magnificent Brahms Violin Concerto played, inexplicably, as the background music in several of the more melodramatic scenes. There's something wrong with a major film, when you come out of it thinking of nothing but the background music. I can't get the Brahms out of my head!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

  
MOVIE REVIEW: "CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR"
OK, I'm committing. This is my choice for best film of the year (although "Atonement," another worthy choice, will probably win the Oscar.) Here are my reasons why. It has an extremely funny satirical script written by the talented Aaron Sorkin (who wrote "West Wing.") Its director is Mike Nichols, who wouldn't know how to direct something without class and intelligence. Its three leading actors are at the peak of their form. Although highly politically charged, in light of what's going on in the world today, the film keeps you laughing, in spite of the implications. Based on a true story, the chief players are: playboy Texas congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks,) a wealthy Houston heiress (Julia Roberts,) and a crank CIA agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman.) The heiress, who has a political conscience of sorts, gets the two men involved in a wacky scheme to finance the mujahideen in Afghanistan. They arm-wrestle a congressional appropriations committee, and before long, they're shipping anti-aircraft missiles to the insurgents, who are highly successful in shooting down Soviet helicopters. In fact, before long, the war gets turned around, and the Soviet Union loses, and leaves Afghanistan. As you're cheering the Davids beating the Goliaths, you realize that these mujahideen became the hateful, insane Taliban, who now are using these same weapons to bring down the Americans who financed them! If you ever doubted that war is insane, here's your example. The mujahideen's victory over the Soviets has come back to bite us in the ass. But that all comes later...not in this pointed satire of a film. It's a joy to watch Hanks and Hoffman fighting with one another, and Roberts is a beautiful mastermind. Everything about this film is first class. Just don't think too hard about what led to what. As Santayana said, "those who don't learn from History, are forced to repeat it." 
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE GREAT DEBATERS"
In summary, this movie's plot will sound corny and old-fashioned, and I suppose, in some ways it is. But, on screen, acted by a talented cast, it all comes together into a beautifully emotional, exciting story, about debating teams and race-relations. Director Denzel Washington is at the helm, and Oprah Winfrey is the producer, so you can expect a story that shines a light on an incident in black history that shows African-Americans at their best, under highly unfavorable conditions. This is the true-life story of a debate team at a small all-black college, which under the guidance of their brilliant and inspirational teacher, turns the debate team into a national powerhouse to be reckoned with. This climb to the top for the Wiley College team all took place back in the day, during the turbulent days just before the civil rights movement exploded on the scene. It's sort of an academic "Rocky," if you will, culminating in a big debate between the Wiley College team, and the team from...you guessed it...Harvard! I'll leave it up to you to figure out who wins. The acting is brilliant, and Denzel Washington (in one of his best roles, as the teacher,) and Forest Whitaker (as the father of one of the debaters,) light up the screen, especially in their scenes together. The three young actors, who portray the debate team are forces to be reckoned with in the future, and I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know their names. But I'm sure that we all will, soon enough. A truly wonderful feel-good film. Don't miss it.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY"
When I saw the trailer for this film, it looked like it was going to be an hilarious parody along the lines of the classic Christopher Guest parodies, "This is Spinal Tap," "The Best in Show," "A Mighty Wind," etc. John C. Reilly stars as Dewey Cox, a fictitious rock and roller, and the stage is set to poke fun at all of those movie-rocker biopics, like "Walk The Line," and "Ray." But, aside from one hilarious scene, in which Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman, Jack Black and some other guy, play the Beatles during their "trip to India with their guru" period, the movie becomes the thing that it's trying to parody! You'll laugh a hell of a lot at the outrageously funny scenes, but the rest of it just falls flat. Reilly is brilliant.
(3-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW: "THE KITE RUNNER"
Think of this film as a bad sequel to the very good film "Charlie Wilson's War." That movie was the story of how America armed the future Taliban in Afghanistan so that they could defeat the Soviet invaders. In this movie, several years later, the Taliban are using those very same weapons in order to destroy their own people, their country, and the American "liberators." Ah the irony of History! I'm not a fan of the books of author Khaled Hosseini, and so I was hesitant about seeing this movie, made from one of the books. I was right. Unless you grew up in the Arab tradition (I grew up in Brooklyn, which was exotic enough for me,) you'll probably find this film to be an overlong bore as I did. Two boys grow up together in a very peaceful Kabul, Afghanistan in the '70s. One is the wealthy son of the head of the household, the other is the son of one of the servants. When the Soviets invade, the wealthy father and his son escape with just the clothes on their backs. Years later, they find themselves in America, where the son has grown to become a published writer. Then he gets a phone call from Pakistan, from his father's dear friend..."Amir, something has happened. You must come home." I won't tell you anymore of the story, except to say that it only gets somewhat interesting in the last 15 minutes of a 2 hour and 10 minute film. That's a lot of time watching damn kites flying in the sky!!!
(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "IN BRUGES" 
The winner of last month's Sundance Film Festival, this is a strange little film. It's the story of two hit men and their boss, and the bloody and violent murders that they commit...and it's very, very funny! If you're familiar with the plays of Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, you'll know that he always juxtaposes bloody violence and comedy, and his plays are always a big success. This is his first feature film, and he's both the writer and the director. The story takes place in the picturesque medieval town of Bruges in Belgium, where the two hit men (Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell) have been dispatched to lay low after a botched hit. Their boss (Ralph Fiennes) is pissed, and he wants to enact some form of vengeance on these men. While they're waiting to hear from him, the older of the two (Gleeson, in a perfect role for him,) loves touring this beautiful city, as another sightseer, while the younger of the two (Farrell in his best role) hates the city, and makes his feelings obvious to everyone. The movie is politically incorrect in every imaginable way, especially the language, and that's completely refreshing. What is surprising, is that this bloody, comic film is also very moving. Now, THAT surprised me. It would be a pity that the film, because it shows how beautiful Bruges really is, would cause it to be overrun by tourists. That would be tragic. 
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR ONE DAY"
If it weren't for the fact that there are modern-day stars (Francis McDormand, Amy Adams, and Ciaran Hinds) in this film, I would've sworn that it was made in England in the 1930's. It's a charming, old-fashioned fairy-tale of a movie about the high-living social set in London between World Wars I and II...and I wouldn't think to recommend it to anyone under the age of 60!
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top


 MOVIE REVIEW: "THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL"
If you're looking for a history lesson, go to the History Channel, because this isn't the film for you. This film is just a costumed soap-opera, masquerading as a lesson in history. So, why did I go to see it? Because three of my favorite actors are in it, and they do a great job of chewing up the scenery. There's Eric Bana as King Henry VIII, and Scarlett Johansson, as Mary Boleyn, the less famous sister of Anne Boleyn, played by Natalie Portman. In case you've forgotten, Anne Boleyn is the second wife of Henry VIII...the one that he falls in love with while still married to Catherine of Aragon...then marries, makes his queen, and finally, has beheaded. Nice guy!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "21"
Ben Mezrich's book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, was real, fast, informative, and entertaining. This movie, based on the book, is none of the above. Read the book!
(2-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW: "STOP-LOSS"
Movies about the Iraq War ("In The Valley of Elah," "Redacted,") have been box-office poison. Nobody wants to see them! I hope that this isn't the case with this truly excellent film, about what happens to the young men and women while they're serving in Iraq; what happens to them when they return home; and what happens to some of the 81,000 of them who are "stop-lossed"...forced to return to the fighting in Iraq AFTER they've completed their official tours of duty. Director Kimberley Pierce ("Boys Don't Cry") has pulled excellent performances out of her four talented young actors...Ryan Philippe, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Lewitt and Amy Cornish. The film is in turn depressing, horribly graphic, poignant, and a nightmarish hell. Let's hope that the insanity depicted in the film ends soon, and that all of the young men and women return home, safe and alive. 
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL"
This is the latest film from Judd Apatow's production company, the one that churns out successful comedies like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin, "Knocked Up," "Superbad," etc. If you enjoyed those films, however, you might not necessarily enjoy this one, because it's a much different time of humor. Yes, it's another intelligent comedy about adolescent males who have to come to terms with maturity...in one way or another, but it's also much more gentle, sensitive, and female-oriented than those other male-oriented films. In short, it's a chick-flick with some comedy that would appeal to men. The writer, Jason Segal, is also the lead actor in this film about a break-up and its repercussions...and he's damn good...as a writer, and as an actor. His character has been dumped by his long-time girlfriend, and I won't give away the hilarity of the scene in which this occurs. Let's just say that it took balls on Segal's part to play the scene! He flees to Hawaii to try to forget, only to end up in the same hotel as his former girlfriend AND her new boyfriend. Now that's fairly standard stuff, but I said earlier, that this is an intelligent comedy, and that intelligence shows in the writing of the characters and their scenes, and in the way they're played, by the very capable ensemble of actors, many of whom, (like the always dead-on Paul Rudd,) have been in the other Apatow films. These people are likable, and you can empathize with them. Many of the things that happen to them, have probably happened to you, or your friends, at one time or another. It's not one of those brilliant screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s, but it's not one of those simple-minded Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson films-for-morons, either. You won't get any laugh-out-loud laughs out of this one, but it's a good date movie...a film that men and women can enjoy together. Now THAT'S an interesting concept!
(3-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW: "IRON MAN"
Let me put this latest comic-book-derived film (this time the source is Marvel Comics) into proper perspective. It's not as good as the last Batman film, and the first Superman and Spider Man films, but it's better than all "the best of the comics"( "X-Men,") and far better than "the worst of the comics" ("The Hulk," "Hellboy," "Catwoman," etc.) Iron Man's human "counterpart" is Tony Stark, a billionaire industrialist ( he inherited his father's company, which makes weapons systems for the military. ) Unlike Batman's billionaire Bruce Wayne, Stark is a hard drinking, playboy, ladies man. A perfect fit for the actor who plays him...Robert Downey Jr. On a tour to Afghanistan, where he's demonstrating new weapons for the Air Force, he's captured by terrorists, who force him to reproduce his new destructive missile. Instead, he builds a suit of armor, which gives him superhuman strength including the ability to fly. (It's a comic, alright?) IronMan is born. Of course, he has a beautiful personal assistant with an improbable name, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow;) a best friend...Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard;) and a dastardly villain (Jeff Bridges, with the required-of-villains bald head!) All of the actors are just perfect, partly due to an intelligent, well-written script, but mostly due to the efforts of the fine director/actor Jon Favreau (remember him in "Swingers" with Vince Vaughn ?) Favreau sets the tone for the film from the very beginning, and makes sure that all of his actors follow his vision of this classy action flick. Keep your tongue firmly in your cheek, and you'll have a great time during these 2 hours...as I did. ( By the way, stay until the credits are over. There's another important scene left!)
(5-Stars) Back to Top

CB*
*Comic book film

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN"
Time is relative when we're dealing with the land of Narnia. It's been two years since we, the audience, visited Narnia. It's been only one year however, since the Pevensie siblings, went through that wardrobe to visit, and become the rulers of, Narnia. But in Narnia itself, one thousand years have past. Things have changed. Most of the furry little creatures are in hiding. Mr. Tumnus is gone. (James MacGregor, the actor who played him, has moved on to matinee-idol status, in films like "The Last King of Scotland," and "Atonement.") A Shakespearean-like power-play is taking place in Narnia, with an evil brother trying to usurp the throne of his good brother, to put his own little offspring on the throne. The evil brother, Shiraz (no, that's the wine that I had last night!) or Miraz, is played by a wonderful Italian actor, Sergio Castellitto. The rightful ruler is Prince Caspian, played by a rather dull Ben Barnes (who was much better in "The History Boys.")  But princes are supposed to be dull, even in real life, aren't they? Anyway, once the Pevensies get back to Narnia, a war-story begins to unfold, with great CGI battles taking place all over the land. Interestingly, the first half of the movie has almost no CGI effects, giving us a chance to see the beautiful scenery of New Zealand, before the CGI battles (which are great) take place. It's a good thing that the directors discovered New Zealand, otherwise we'd have no fantasy films. Anyway, if you loved the first movie, you'll have to see this sequel, and you'll love it possibly even better. (I usually like  the first film of a series better than all the others, because we get to meet the characters and the situations for the first time.)
In any case, it's a fine film, with everything you want in a film about "Narnia," except possibly the religious undertones of the classic C.S. Lewis books. Not much of Aslan (Liam Neeson) in THIS one.
(5-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW: "INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL"
If you're like me, and you go to this movie with low expectations, I'm happy to report that you'll be pleasantly surprised; it's very good! In fact, the three of us who went to see it agreed that it was a worthy successor to the other three films. Sure, it's twenty years later, in real life, and in the lives of the characters in the movie. But, Indy is not acting his age, but rather doing things that would tax the strength, agility, guts, and energy of a 20-year-old gymnast. Harrison Ford looks like a fit 67-year-old, but his stunt man keeps him young. Karen Allen is back (remember her from the first film?) as his Maid Marion and love interest. Shia LaBeouf is there for the younger generation, and he's lots of fun. A chip off the old block. Ooops! Cate Blanchett is the villainess, a Russian scientist. Oh by the way, I forget to mention that this all takes place in 1957 during the Cold War, so the Russians are the villains. Back To Cate. She seems to be channeling Lotte Lenya as Rosa Kleb, the Russian villainess in James Bond's "From Russia With Love." The story is the usual mix of wild adventure, archeological scavenger hunts in exciting places, hair-raising chases in every imaginable vehicle and locale, and CGI-enhanced science-fiction scenes that surpass those in "Raiders." Look for Steven Spielberg's tributes to some classic films. We counted three of them. You'll spot them too. I won't even begin to try to summarize the story, except to say that it begins in a wild episode involving a chilling escape from an atomic bomb (!) and hurtles along through the libraries of Princeton, to the jungles of South America, to what may be a glimpse at the ruins of the golden city of Eldorado. It's fast, and fun, and the whole family will love it. Yes, it has a PG-13 rating this time.
(5-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW: "SEX AND THE CITY"

Unless you're a true fan of the popular TV series, this movie sucks! It's the ultimate chick flick, and a stupid one at that. I may be the only person in America who has never seen even one episode of the TV show "Sex and the City." So I guess I'm a pretty objective viewer when it comes to reviewing the new film based on the phenomenally successful series. From what I understand, the action in the film starts 4 years after the last episode in the TV series. The four women are preparing for the marriage of one of them...Carrie. Judging solely on the basis of what happens in the film, I wouldn't want to spend much time in the company of these self-indulgent, materialistic, aging sorority "girls." They're so predictable, and so boring! Carrie is marrying Mr. Big, who doesn't seem like much of a catch...in the looks department, anyway. He's a big oaf with a bad nose. The film is basically a 2 1/2 hour fashion show...with enough brand names to finance an epic film. Who wears these kind of clothes??? It's badly written, badly directed, and badly acted. Once again, if you loved the series, you'll probably love the movie. All others, BEWARE!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

 
MOVIE REVIEW: "YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN"

I've never been a big Adam Sandler fan, because I don't enjoy watching a grown man act like a retarded adolescent boy on screen. But the premise of this one sounded good (an Israeli special forces super-killer fakes his own death to escape to America to become a hairdresser,) and the trailer was funny. So I went. I was wrong! The film is stupid, infantile, and boring, with the simple message that arabs and jews can get along under the right circumstances, falling on deaf ears in the glaring modern-day reality of arab terrorists, their Israeli counterparts, and all of the innocent people who have been killed by the assholes on both sides. Not much comedy in that! Instead of going to this movie, go to a Middle Eastern restaurant, and enjoy the only good thing about the whole fucking Middle East...its food. But watch out for the goat!
(1-Star)


MOVIE REVIEW: "THE HAPPENING"
I know that some of the critics will hate this film, but all I know is that, the first one hour and fifteen minutes of this short (1 1/2 hours) suspenseful M. Night Shyamalan thriller, scared the living shit out of me! I don't want to tell you ANYTHING about the film, except that it's well written and directed ( by Shyamalan himself,) and very well acted by Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Dechanel, Betty Buckley, and John Leguizamo. Go see it and decide for yourself.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW: "MONGOL" (in Mongolian, I think (!) with English sub-titles)

If you're already tired of all of the mindless crap that's playing in the movie theaters this early in the summer...the comic-book heroes, those pandas and robots...and you 'ld like to wrap your brain around something with substance, then head over to see this tribute to old-fashioned, adult, big-sized movie making. This one's an epic in the true tradition of the great classic epics like "Spartacus," and "Lawrence of Arabia." Those are big shoes to fill, and "Mongol" fills them beautifully. The movie tells the story of the early years of the young man who was to go on to become one of history's most bloody rulers, Genghis Khan. But, even though the story is an intimate one of relationships, the sweep of the film is glorious...a cinematic triumph that'll grab you visually, emotionally, and intellectually. Director Sergei Bodruv knows how to tell a story, part love story, part action film, but he also knows how to fill the big screen with a cast of thousands. See it on a big screen, because when those armies of Mongols start sweeping across the screen, you don't want to see them looking like ants, on your TV screen. I don't know who all these Asian actors are, but they're damn good, and you'll believe everything that they say and do. They feel and look comfortable in those beautiful costumes, but don't lose sight of the fact that this huge film is really just the story of one man, who at one point in history, conquered most of the known world. Unfortunately, the story, although a gripping one, is told in a disjointed, rambling, and often boring way, but don't let this keep you from seeing one of the most interesting films of the summer so far.
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "WALL-E"
It's a mystery to me why Pixar has chosen to market its wonderful new animated film as a movie for children. It's not that at all. What it is is a movie for intelligent, thinking adults, who want to see an animated film with a story line that deals with contemporary issues, and is loaded with social commentary. In case you're still in doubt about whether or not the kids will enjoy this film, just take a few of them, and see if they can sit still through the first 40 minutes of what is virtually a silent movie, without any dialogue...in the style of the old Charlie Chaplin/Buster Keaton silent movies. It's brilliantly done, but the kids will be racing up the aisle for another fix of buttered popcorn! The story takes place after the apocalypse, when humans have fled, or been driven off, an unfriendly Earth. Our hero and heroine are robots. When we finally do get to catch up to the humans in their new safe haven, they're everything that we're slowly becoming...obese, lounging in recliners, being force-fed junk food, and living in a giant Wall-Mart-like spaceship. It's terrifying because it's so real. The film is reminiscent of the French animated film of a few years back, "Les Triplettes de Belleville." That's a high compliment indeed!
(5-Stars) Back to Top


MOVIE REVIEW: "THE DARK KNIGHT"

As you must surely know, unless you've been off visiting your relatives in Kazakstan, there's been an incredible amount of hype and word-of-mouth surrounding this, the latest of the films based on a comic book. Because of that, I was highly skeptical when I went to see it today. No film could live up to that hype. Well, it does! Very simply, it's the best movie based on a comic book, that I can remember seeing...and I've seen all of the good ones. Why is it so good? Christopher Nolan, the writer, has written a complicated, exciting plot, with more plot twists than an Agatha Christie mystery. Christopher Nolan, the director, has directed his actors to darken their performances, so that you feel as though nothing could lighten up the mood. There are very few laughs in this movie! Christopher Nolan, the producer, has rounded up enough cash to make this film look impeccable, and there's nothing that you could imagine that should be in the film, that isn't in it. Getting back to the performances, of course you've already heard that Heath Ledger steals the movie as The Joker, and that he'll surely get an Academy award nomination (and possibly the Oscar itself,) for his eerie, menacing portrayal of this truly psychopathic criminal. This is not your funny Cesar Romero Joker from the TV series, or your Jack Nicholson over-the-top Joker from the earlier Batman film. Ledger's Joker is terrifying. The poor guy. It probably killed him.  This is not to say that the other actors didn't do a fine job. They did. Especially Aaron Eckhardt, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and of course, Christian Bale. I won't  try to summarize the plot except to say that it picks up where "Batman Begins" ended. Also, a side note. Gotham City is played by Chicago! I recommend this film to just about everyone, unless you insist on having Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Owen Wilson in everything you see. If that's the case , God help you.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

CB (comic book)


MOVIE REVIEW: "MAMMA MIA"
Unfortunately for the current generation, they were raised to hate musicals...live on stage, or on film. I don't know how or when this happened. Back in the day, everyone enjoyed seeing a good musical...males, females, football players, nerds, etc. Now, no self-respecting male (and even some females,) would be caught dead seeing a show in which people sing. Too bad. They've missed the great joy of seeing films like "Singin in the Rain," "Gigi," "My Fair Lady," "Chicago," and Phantom of the Opera." Add to that list, the current film "Mamma Mia." The live production of "Mamma Mia" has played, and is currently playing, in just about every major city in the world, and millions of theatergoers have enjoyed the fun of this show, and some have even "danced in the aisles." Now, the stage show has been opened up on film, with scenes that could only be hinted at on stage, shown in their full glory on screen. The cast is amazing. The three female leads, Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, and Julie Walters have all sung on stage, so they're pros. The three male leads, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard, although more actors than singers, hold their own. The young star who plays the bride-to-be, Amanda Seyfield, steals the show. She's a real find. The setting...a beautiful Greek island in the Aegean...is filmed in all of its picturesque, primary-color glory. The story is still the same. A young girl, the daughter of a woman who used to be a part of a three-woman singing group, is now getting married. She wants her father at her wedding, but she's not sure which of three men that her mother slept with 21 years ago, is her father, so she invites all three to her island wedding. But the reason for seeing "Mamma Mia" is really none of the above. Instead, it's the infectious music of the '70s rock group, ABBA. You may hate these songs, but I defy you to sit still while this fun cast is singing and dancing to them. Go. Enjoy yourself, and maybe dance in the aisle! You'll be singing those damn songs all the way home.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "BRIDESHEAD REVISITED"
Why remake this film, when there's already a definitive version available on DVD? I'm guessing that this new version is for people who have ADD (Attention-Deficit Disorder,) and who don't have the attention span to read the classic Evelyn Waugh novel, and who can't sit still long enough to watch the magnificent 11 episodes (11 hours) of the 1981 Masterpiece Theater miniseries...one of the best things ever done on television! The short new "cliff-notes" film version, tries to tell the same story in only 1 hour and 40 minutes. It fails. It's like a Classics Comics version of the original! The plot still revolves around the aristocratic English Catholic Marchmain family, and their conflicted friend, Charles Ryder, who is also the narrator of the story. Young Sebastian Marchmain's grand family draws the awestruck middle-class Charles in, and eventually spits him out, leaving him shattered, but lastingly impressed by the power of the Marchmain's Catholic faith. Charles and Sebastian enter into an intense romantic and alcoholic friendship when Charles comes for his first year at Oxford. When Charles meets Sebastian's sister Julia, he also falls in love with her, making this a very British love triangle. Of course none of this sits well with the very proper Lady Marchmain ( Emma Thompson.) Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon,) who's living in a gloriously beautiful Venice with his mistress (Gretta Scacchi,) doesn't mind a bit. Both the shortened film version, and the long TV version give us a beautiful picture of aristocratic England, and picturesque Venice,  between WW I and WW II. It's just that the TV miniseries takes the time to develop the intricate plot lines and characterizations, and the splendid cast of characters in the TV version (Lawrence Olivier, John Gielgud, Jeremy Irons, Claire Bloom, etc.) have the time and luxury to develop unforgettable characters. My recommendation is obvious...rent the Masterpiece Theater TV version of this classic. Don't shortchange yourself.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "BOTTLE SHOCK"
If you love wine, and you love small independent movies, then you'll probably enjoy this charming, little film, about how, in 1976, the California wine industry in Napa Valley, took center stage away from the French. It's the true story of a British proprietor of a wine shop in Paris (Alan Rickman,) who decides that he needs to do something in order to make his wine shop do better business. He decides to sponsor a blind, wine-tasting in Paris, inviting all of the important owners of Parisian restaurants, as well as those reporters who cover the wine scene in Paris. In addition, after taking a trip to California, to sample the wines of this thought-to-be-backward wine region, he is shocked at the high quality of the sampled wines, and decides to include the Napa Valley wines in the wine-tasting in Paris. The rest is history. The film moves at a very slow pace, introducing us to the stubborn owner of Chateau Montalena (Bill Pullman) in Napa, as well as to his son, and his friends. It's all character development, and a lot of behind-the-scenes viniculture. Interesting, but not necessarily something that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The last half hour becomes a combination of "Cinderella" and "Rocky." Predictable, but fun to watch, nevertheless. If you want a break from the big action blockbusters, and the gross-out comedies this summer, then you might want to take a look at this film, and get filled in on an interesting moment in America's wine development.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "TROPIC THUNDER"
NOTE TO PRODUCERS AND BANKERS: Stop giving Ben Stiller money to make his movies; the man's an idiot! This is one of the dumbest movies that I've ever seen.
(0-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA"
Writer/Director Woody Allen at his best ("Annie Hall," "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Love and Death," "Manhattan," etc.,) is as good as it gets. No, this isn't top-draw Woody Allen, but even second-draw Woody Allen is better than most of the crap out there this summer. He tells the story of two American tourists in Barcelona. One is conservative and engaged (Rebecca Hall,) and the other one is flighty and adventurous (Scarlett Johansson.) They meet a Spanish artist (Javier Bardem, looking quite different than he did as the maniac-killer in "No Country For Old Men",) who hits on both of them, proposing a weekend away from Barcelona where they can have sex and see the countryside! One says "no," and the other says "yes,"  but they both end up going. What results is a series of liaisons...sexual and otherwise...that would have delighted Ingmar Bergman and Francois Truffault. In fact, the story seems to be an homage to Truffault's classic film "Jules and Jim." Enter the picture, the artist's insane ex-wife (Penelope Cruz, in the best thing that she's done since "Volver.") A tip to Cruz: make only Spanish-speaking films (She does most of her role in this film in Spanish, with sub-titles.) Don't make anymore English-speaking films. You're no good in them. What's good about this film is the excellent writing, the fine acting, the beautiful cinematography, and the expert direction. I'm not sure what I didn't like about it (maybe it was the annoying narrator,) but there was something. I can't put my finger on it. Another tip. Keep your eye on Rebecca Hall. She's British (the daughter of director Peter Hall) and she can act circles around just about anyone her age. I saw her as Rosalind, in a Royal Bath Shakespeare Festival production of "As You Like It" several years ago, and she blew  everyone else off the stage. Anyway, the movie's worth seeing.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "BURN AFTER READING"
I don't think that the Coen Brothers are capable of making an uninteresting film. Some of theirs have become classics of their genre (e.g., "No Country For Old Men," "The Big Lebowski," "Fargo," Blood Simple," etc.) Even when they miss the mark ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?" "The Hudsucker Proxy,") they're still significant films that must be seen. Every one is in turn bizarre, violent, wacky, bloody and hilarious...an unusual collection of traits for one film. This one is no exception. The twisted plot involves two morons (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) who work in a fitness center, and who one day, accidentally come into the possession of a CD containing the secret CIA files of a disgraced agent (John Malkovich.) The agent's wife (Tilda Swinton,) is sleeping with a jerk from the Treasury Department (George Clooney,) who is also sleeping with the moron from the fitness center! There's a lot of sleeping around in this spoof of the espionage genre. All of it leads to bloody murder, and some very funny scenes. In fact, one of the bloodiest murders, involving someone being hacked to pieces by an ax (it's not graphic,) is followed by one of the funniest scenes in the film. It's that kind of movie. The actors are all at their best, and the Coens have written and directed it beautifully. It has its flaws, but it's still a must-see film. I'm not sure that it would appeal to those 14-year-old boys who filled the theaters this summer, but it sure made me laugh a lot. That kind of adult humor is one indicator that the summer is over. At last the grown-ups can go back to the movies again.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "MIRACLE OF ST.ANNA"
I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of Spike Lee's movies, mainly because of their one-sided bias against whites. In this one, however, he got it right, and he's made what is arguably his finest film. In this film, based on a true story, he chronicles the story of four black American soldiers who are members of the U.S. Army, as part of the all-black 92nd "Buffalo Soldier" Division stationed in Tuscany, Italy during World War II. The movie opens with a scene that you're not likely to forget, and it proceeds from there, through flashbacks, and sometimes flashbacks within flashbacks, to tell the horrendous story of these black American soldiers, who although they were risking their lives, and dying, for their country, were often treated like animals by some of their racist superiors. They feel more at home in Italy, the home of their current "enemies," than they do in the America that sees them as second-class citizens at best. As one of the soldiers says, "the Italians don't see us as black, just as men." It's a long (almost 3 hours) and complicated movie, filled with blood, heroism, violence, racism, and unbelievable loyalty in the face of stupid opposition. The war looks and feels real, and it's a nightmare. All of the actors are excellent, and I don't know really who they are. Much of the dialogue is in Italian and German with sub-titles, but this doesn't detract from the film in any way. There's one scene in the film, where Nazi soldiers, American soldiers, and the Italian citizens in church...all in different locales, are saying the same prayer, and Spike Lee cuts back and forth from each of these groups. That says it all.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE WOMEN"
There's so little in the way of originality nowadays, that I'm not surprised that Hollywood keeps remaking classic films of the past. Seventy years ago, author Claire Booth Luce wrote a play, "The Women," that became a big Broadway hit. When it transferred to the screen, it starred Hollywood's biggest female stars of the time...Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, Norma Shearer, Hedda Hopper, etc....all names that probably mean nothing to you unless you're a film buff, or are over 60! In any case, it became a classic of style, sophistication, elegance, and clever dialogue. But now, someone decided that it was time to remake the film, as a chick-flick to appeal to a new generation. The story is still the same...and they rounded up some of Hollywood's A-listers (or maybe B) for the cast.  Annette Bening, Meg Ryan, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Candace Bergen, Bette Midler, Cloris Leechman, and Jada Pinkett-Smith combine forces in this story of successful women from all walks of life (single, married, authors, fashion designers, mega moms) who begin to question their friendships and relationships when Ryan's husband enters into an affair with a Saks Fifth Avenue counter girl (Eva Mendes.) I can't say that I hated it because the actors were very good, the dialogue is still pretty clever, and some parts worked better than others (the birthing scene at the end is very funny,) but I'd still prefer to watch the original black-and-white film.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "RELIGULOUS"
In his attempt at creating a comic, "Borat"- style documentary, satirist/talk-show host Bill Maher takes on the great religions of the world, and the people who believe in them. He fails!
(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW: "BODY OF LIES"
With the Stock Market crashing in the real world outside the theater, maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind to see this bloody, confusing, treacherous, and unrelentingly cruel picture of what the C.I.A. does in The Middle East. No one nor anything can stand in its way, as it single mindedly pursues its goals in the name of American "national security." All of the actors (Russell Crowe, Leonardo Di Caprio, etc.) are excellent, but I'm sorry,  I just couldn't be objective about what I was watching. I hated to see this picture of a world gone mad.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "W"
Like Michael Moore (remember that jerk?) before him, controversial director Oliver Stone is attempting to influence the course of an upcoming election, by releasing his highly-biased film about the Bush family, just weeks before the election. Will it work? Other than with a few morons who don't even know the first names of those people who are running, probably not. For the rest of us, this is a fun film, with well-known actors playing the roles of even more well-known political figures in the Bush presidency. Josh Brolin is great as the prez himself, with Thandie Newton and Richard Dreyfuss as Condoleezza Rice and Dick Cheney. Though Oliver Stone digs up all of the scandals in the Bush family, and there are lots of them, I doubt very much if you'll be shocked by any of them or learn anything new, because they're all so damn well known, in this age when the media are there to cover every bowel movement of street trash like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan! But getting back to the Bush family, and Stone's film, as I've said before,  I enjoyed it because of the fun of watching actors like Ellen Burstyn and James Cromwell as Barbara (a real bitch) and George Senior. My favorite, is the dwarf actor Toby Jones playing Karl Rove. Is the film an important political statement? No. Is it fun? Somewhat, when it's not boring. I hate to say it, but Oliver Stone makes a better film ("JFK," "Nixon,") when he's meaner!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "RACHEL GETTING MARRIED"
Wow! This one was hard to sit through, even though it's brilliant, and will be a serious contender for Best Picture, and certainly, Best Actress, Oscars when that time roles around. A.O. Scott, the New York Times film critic, called it "a masterpiece," and although I agree with him, let me tell you why it's so hard to sit through. It's the weekend of Rachel's wedding, and her baby sister, a recovering addict, has been let out of her rehab center to attend the wedding. The Buckman family, of which these girls are a part, is highly dysfunctional, and each person takes turns sharing his/her pain with everyone else. It's a hippie-type (you'll see what I mean,) interracial bunch of people who are all trying so hard to be different. Their lives are filled with pain, love, anguish, hate, despair, joy, and fear. The story is beautifully directed by Jonathan Demme ("The Silence of the Lambs,") and acted brilliantly by Anne Hathaway as the addict (I predict an Oscar for her,) and Debra Winger (a supporting actress Oscar, probably) as her mother with issues. There are times when you'll find yourself either turning away from the screen, or sitting on the edge of your seat, for fear that something terrible is going to happen. Sometimes it does. This kind of screenwriting, directing, and acting are the ingredients of an excellent film. But don't say I didn't warn you.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

  

MOVIE REVIEW: "CHANGELING"
Sometimes Anjelina Jolie's acting is so intense, that she makes you forget to pay attention to the plot of the film, and the other characters in it, and just to focus on whatever she's saying and doing. This is not the case in "Changeling." Although it's a tour-de-force for the actress, and an obvious bid for an Academy Award nomination, this film is so strong that it can easily support that kind of laser "watch me" intensity. It's based on an unbelievable, yet true, story, which took place in California back in the 1920's. A child is kidnapped, a mother is frantic, and then the child is returned by the police...only it's not her child! What's going on here? The film is over two hours long, but director Clint Eastwood keeps us on the edge of our seats as the anguished mother tackles an unbelievably corrupt L.A. police force, who insist that the young boy is hers, and because of her denial, they tell the press that she's insane. Only a few people believe her, one of whom is a preacher with a large congregation and a radio station, from which he preaches a weekly sermon. He becomes her champion against the police and the equally corrupt city hall. The role fits John Malkovich like a glove. I would suggest that you not see this film just before going home to bed. The unbearable insanity and intensity of the plot will keep you awake all night!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "QUANTUM OF SOLACE"

There are car chases, boat chases, plane chases, and buildings blowing up all around our hero...all thinly connected by a poorly-written, confusing and convoluted plot about the theft of Bolivia's water supply! I was actually bored during some stretches of this relatively short film. Sacrilege! I missed the sight of a James Bond walking through a Monte Carlo gambling casino in a classy tuxedo. Or an insane villain with an odd physical quirk, and a bizarre name. Or some beautiful eye candy with no past history of torment, and a name like Pussy Galore. God knows I'm not asking for a throwback to the stupidly cartoonish Bond films of the Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan eras. But how about some of the style, humor, sophistication, and class of the Ian Fleming books, and the Sean Connery films? Daniel Craig is a perfect James Bond...as good as my favorite, Sir Sean Connery himself. Now how about getting a screenwriter to write a story that's worthy of his acting talents and good looks? Oh, and while you're at it, get someone to write a good theme song. This one was the worst that I've ever heard in a James Bond film. Who the hell is Jack White???
(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "AUSTRALIA"
I'm guessing that Australian director Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge") was trying to create an old-fashioned epic, in the style of "Gone With The Wind" and "Giant." Well, he got part of it right...it IS old-fashioned. Unfortunately, it's also a chick-flick soap opera, overly long, poorly written and badly acted. It's also two separate films in one. The first half is a big Western, complete with cattle drives and cattle stampedes. The second part is a World War II war movie! The film should have ended after the first hour and a half. Instead, it goes on for another hour! The story? Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) leaves her pampered life-style in 1939 England, to go to Australia to settle her philandering husband's affairs, so to speak. There, she falls in love with a cowboy/drover (Hugh Jackman) and a half-caste aboriginal boy. The Australian settings are vast, but not necessarily beautiful, and the war scenes in  the last hour of the film are surprisingly fake. If you're a certain type of person who likes corny, sentimental, melodramatic movies, you might enjoy this. The ladies in front of us were sobbing on the way out. I found it to be a big bore!
(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE"
At least once a year, a small indie film sneaks under the radar, without any advanced publicity, accumulates a lot of buzz, and then, gets an Academy Award nomination. Think of "Sideways," "Little Miss Sunshine," and "The Queen." I think that this is this year's film. Director Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting") takes us to Mumbai, India (India's largest city, and the site of this week's terrorist massacre,) where he introduces us to an 18-year-old boy, who is a contestant on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" As the boy answers questions on his way to the top prize, the film flashes back to incidents in his life...ugly and violent incidents that coincidentally parallel the questions that he's being asked. Dev Patel who plays the boy, leads a cast of Indian actors, who are unknown...to me at least. Danny Boyle hasn't put together a movie that will make tourists flock to India. In fact, India looks like the world capital of filth, poverty, and corruption! Not on my must-see list. Anyway, although the film sometimes bogs down, and is filled with violence, it's a true original. I've never seen anything quite like it. Stick around for the titles at the end, to see the main actors in a less intense, serious mood.

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "MILK"
The movie starts out slowly, and some of it is predictable, and seems to cover familiar ground. However, without a doubt, this is director Gus Van Sant's masterpiece, and easily one of the best films of this year. It will certainly get nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. The performances are even greater than the film itself (and that's high praise,) especially that of Sean Penn, who turns in what may be his best screen performance ever. He's a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. By now, you must know that this is the biopic of Harvey Milk, political activist in the '70s and the first gay politician to win an elected office.. that of San Francisco Supervisor. He was assasinated, along with San Francisco's mayor, George Moscone (Victor Garber) by a troubled fellow politician, Dan White (Josh Brolin.) Milk's young lover is played by James Franco, in another of the film's fine acting roles. Whether you're gay, straight, or a homophobe, you'll probably enjoy this film for what is...a fine example of a well-written, well-acted, and well-directed story. Unfortunately, with all of the retro unpleasantness in California, where the gay-marriage laws were repealed, the issues involved in the story are still just as topical as ever.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "FROST/NIXON"

I didn't see "Frost/Nixon" when it was a Broadway play, because I had heard that it was being filmed with the same two leads as appeared in the play. Although the movie lacks the excitement and immediacy of live theater, director Ron Howard and his two stars have created one of the most excellent films of this year...one that's sure to be a contender for the Academy Award in February. After Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) resigned from the Presidency in disgrace, lightweight talk-show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) sold the idea of a series of taped interviews with the ex-president, to some sponsors. All of the networks had turned him down, because Frost usually did fluff pieces with "celebrities" like The BeeGees! During the course of the interviews, we see Frost grow as an interviewer, and see Nixon, who starts out by almost wiping the floor with Frost, deteriorate. It's an incredible performance on the part of Langella, but Sheen gives him a run for his money. Playing other real-life people involved in the interviews are actors Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, and Kevin Bacon. Even though I had seen the original interviews when they were first telecast, or possibly because of that, I was fascinated by the film, and glued to the screen through its entire length.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE WRESTLER"

Director Darren Aronofsky is a sadist! His trademark is putting pathetic losers, the dregs of society, on screen, and then  showing them deteriorate in graphic detail, for the entertainment of his viewing audience. It's like watching a cat die. I first encountered his work in "Requiem for a Dream" in which good actors portray bad drug addicts. I hated that film. In "The Wrestler," a film which has, inexplicably, been getting an incredible amount of Oscar buzz, we watch the deterioration of a washed-up wreck of a "professional" wrestler, played by Mickey Rourke. Mickey Rourke does a fantastic job of bringing this complete loser to life on screen, but one wonders if this is acting, or just Mickey Rourke being Mickey Rourke. We know how Rourke has abused his body, his career, and his life...since his days in "Diner" and "9 1/2 Weeks." The real acting honors go to Marisa Tomei as an over-the-hill stripper in a cheap strip joint, who bares her body in just about every scene. Her character may be aging, but Tomei's body still looks great! There's so much violence in the wrestling scenes that even those of you with strong stomachs may find yourself turning away from the screen. Ever watch staples being drilled into raw flesh with a staple gun??? The film spirals downward, as does the wrestler's life, with no relief...nothing to balance the negativity. It's just downright painful to watch.
(1-Star) 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON"
This is as perfect a film as I've seen in a long time. I really loved it, and until something better
comes along, it's my candidate for the Best Picture of 2008. As I'm sure that you've heard by now,
the plot of the movie, based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, tells the curious tale of
Benjamin Button, a man who was born old, and lived his life in reverse, "aging" until he becomes a baby. Brad Pitt, aided by some highly innovative computer graphics and remarkable make-up, gives a fine performance as Benjamin. The three women in his life are played by Cate Blanchetrt, Tilda Swinton, and especially, by a remarkable black actress (whose name I didn't get,) who plays his adoptive mother. The film is relatively long, but I couldn't think of a thing that I'd cut from the almost 3 hours. Director David Finscher has created a wonderful film, down to the smallest details, not least of which are the beautiful Scott Joplin ragtime tunes, that are interspersed throughout. Strangely enough, in spite of the bizarre story, I came out feeling good, and humming the tunes. As I said before, I loved this film.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "REVOLUTIONARY ROAD"
 Leonardo Di Caprio should have played the lead role in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," because he keeps getting younger looking, as the other actors around him keep getting older looking. His co star in this film, Kate Winslet, looks like his mother rather than his wife, thereby adding an unintended element of incest into the plot of an already-complicated love story! Actually it isn't really a love story at all, but rather a long,  boring, melodramatic soap opera...the kind of garbage that used to show up on Lifetime TV. The Wheelers are a young couple who, along with their two daughters,  move to the suburbs of Connecticut in the 1950s, to have a happy married life. These two losers couldn't have a happy married life no matter where they lived. She's an unbalanced nut case, and he's an immature nerdy wimp. I found them both to be despicable, and the only thing that kept me from walking out, was the fact that the actors did such an excellent job with the miserable story that was handed to them. Winslet (the wife of the director, Sam Mendes) will be nominated for an Oscar for sure, and it wouldn't surprise me if Kathy Bates, and especially Michael Shannon, were also nominated in the Supporting Actress/Actor category. Di Caprio looks like a high-school kid playing an adult in the school play. I can't understand how some of the critics have been raving about this pathetic excuse for a film.

(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW: "DOUBT"
Is the young priest in the Catholic school a pedophile, who has molested the only black boy in the school, or is he himself being harassed by the vindictive Mother Superior (principal) of the school? That's the question that sets up the plot of this excellent movie, based on the award-winning Broadway play. It's a question that's never answered in the film, and the audience leaves the theater still in "doubt." Now that you know the story, go to the movie and just enjoy the incredible acting performances of the four Oscar-nominated stars. Meryl Streep in one of her finest performances as the hateful school principal. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the perfect foil for Streep's character, as the priest. Amy Adams as the young nun who innocently places the doubt in the principal's ear. Viola Davis in a brief, but overwhelming role, as the young boy's mother. This is what the best screen acting is all about.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE READER"

This film is based on a book, which I'm guessing made for a compelling read, because of the dramatic nature of the story. In post-war Berlin, a 15-year-old boy is seduced by a woman twice his age. The relationship continues for only one summer, but it continues to effect the lives of both the woman and the boy long after they've stopped seeing each other, as he goes on to be a prominent German lawyer, and she goes on trial as a Nazi war criminal. Now on paper that sounds intriguing doesn't it? But on screen, whether deliberate or not, the movie is surprisingly cold, slow, curiously detached, and often boring. No one connects with anyone else in the film. If this was intentional on the part of Stephen Daldry, the director, it kept me detached as well. I felt as though I was watching everything through the wrong end of a telescope; I didn't care about any of the characters. Everyone seems to be heaping high praise on Kate Winslet for her acting as "the woman", and Ralph Fiennes is there in a thankless role as the lawyer. But the best acting is done by the young actor, David Kross, who played the boy. He gets to demonstrate a wide range of emotions. But not enough to make this impersonal film interesting for me.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "GRAN TORINO"

If you saw the trailer for this movie, then you know that basically, it's "Dirty Harry...The Last Sequel." OK, it's not really "Dirty Harry," but it might as well be. Once again, Clint Eastwood has dusted off the stereotype of the urban vigilante who lives for fairness, but seeks revenge. This time, however, the vigilante is much, much older...almost 80 as a matter of fact. In this film, the Eastwood character is a Korean War veteran, who still lives in the same house in which he lived for most of his adult life, only the neighborhood has become an enclave of Asian immigrants. "Zipperheads" and "gooks" as he calls them (among other things.) At first he hates them, but then, as he comes to know them, he befriends some of them, and even takes a young boy under his wing, "to show him the ropes." Because it's written and directed by Clint Eastwood, it's a film that's worth seeing, but I found it to be surprisingly predictable, cliched, formulaic, and often trite. It strives for political incorrectness, but this comes off as clumsy...the kind of taunting remarks that you hear high school kids saying when they think that nobody is listening. It short, it's corny when it should be razor sharp. If you enjoy Clint Eastwood, and who doesn't, rent one of his "spaghetti westerns," or one of the "Dirty Harry" films, where he's at his peak. Now he's become a mugging, geriatric caricature of his former self.
(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "CORALINE in 3D"
If you're tired of all of those stupid animated movies in which animals tell dirty jokes, fart, and speak in the voices of aging black TV comics, and like me, enjoy the films of Tim Burton, the gothic childrens' novels of Neil Gaiman, and the old-fashioned wonders of stop-motion animation, then run over to your neighborhood cineplex, pick up your 3D glasses (for an extra $2.50 charge!) and enjoy this excellent new animated film for the whole family. If you're not exhausted from reading that over-long run-on sentence, read on. Neil Gaiman's story, translated to film brilliantly through stop-motion animation where every single movement is photographed separately and painstakingly, tells the tale of Coraline, who escapes the dull reality of her family life, and retreats into a parallel world of fantasy and horror. It's a magical, imaginative journey for Coraline, a modern-day Alice in Wonderland, and for the audience watching it. (The voices are those of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, and Ian McShane.)  I can't remember seeing a more effective use of 3D in film. As one critic said, "Who's the audience for this film? Everybody!" I really enjoyed it.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "WATCHMEN"

An incomprehensible mess!!!
(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW: "DUPLICITY"
As in years past, with the coming of Spring, we finally get the first good movie of the year...and it's a film for grownups! Julia Roberts returns to the screen after a five year absence in which she raised a family and appeared in cameos in her friends' films. Now she returns in the role of a mature and intelligent woman. Clive Owen joins her as an equally mature and intelligent man, in a film that is a tribute to the "screwball comedies" of the '30s and '40s. Roberts, a former CIA agent, and Owen, a former MI-6 agent, have left their respective agencies in order to go into "business" for themselves. Their plan is to infiltrate two of the world's largest competing phamaceutical companies, and then, to steal a secret formula that could revolutionize the cosmetics world, and make billions for themselves in the process. There are more twists and turns in this plot, than there are on a Universal Studios roller coaster, so pay close attention to everything on screen. It doesn't help any that there are more flashbacks in this film than you can count. The supporting players (Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson, Denis O'Hare, Kathleen Chalfant) are brilliant, especially Giamatti in the role of the head of one of the big firms. Altghough it's early in the year for predictions, I'll do just that and say that this role could net him an Academy Award nomination. Don't miss this one.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "I LOVE YOU, MAN"

This is not at all the movie that I expected it to be. I expected a laugh-out-loud Judd Apatow-style comedy about a guy who didn't have any male friends. It turned out to be a mildly amusing chick flick about relationships and male-bonding. Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) is a newly-engaged young man who, when discussing with his fiancee who will be in their wedding party, realizes that he has no male friends, and especially, no one to be his best man. He sets out on a quest to find friends, and a best man. After some somewhat funny incidents, he finds a big aging surfer dude (Jason Segel from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall,") who starts to become the requisite best friend/best man. This guy intrudes into Peter's life and proceeds to change it, and the lives of everyone else he meets through Peter...sometimes in very good ways. It's corny, sweet, but even though it does contain the required Judd Apatow scene involving projectile vomiting, it isn't the hilarious comedy that I thought that it would be. It's a sweet date movie. If that's what you're looking for, you'll enjoy it.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "STATE OF PLAY"
Many great films of the past ("All The President's Men," "His Girl Friday," etc.) have dealt with investigative journalism, and have taken place in the noisy newsrooms of big urban newspapers. Although this current film is not up there with those film classics, it's a pretty damn good film. With a fine ensemble cast consisting of (in alphabetical order) Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Russell Crowe, Jeff Daniels, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, and Robin Wright Penn, the movie is a condensed version of the excellent six-hour British mini-series. The switch to an American locale works, but the condensation doesn't help. Much is lost. In any case, the story now deals with the conflict between an investigative journalist (Crowe) and his unlikely blog-writing cohort (McAdams) on this case, as they investigate the death of a congressman's (Affleck) research assistant/mistress. Was it murder? If so, why? All of the actors are at the top of their form, especially Helen Mirren (as always) who, as the editor of the paper, plays a God-like overseer of the action. Nowadays, with the Internet changing the way we get our news, and with major newspapers closing down all over the country, this film is a love-letter to those newspapers, and to the news printed in ink on pages of paper. That's the way that I read the Sunday Times this morning, and I hope that I can continue to do so!

(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE"
The official summer movie scene of juvenile action films, doesn't officially arrive until the Memorial Day weekend, but here we are with our first comic-book-derived, popcorn movie. Two of Broadway's best Tony-award-winning actors, Hugh Jackman and Liev Schrieber, are starring along with one of Hollywood's least talented actors Ryan Reynolds. As Laurence Olivier used to say when he would lend his talents to one of those mindless Roman epic movies of the past, "I do it for the money, so that I can then pay for one of my unpopular Shakespeare films." That might explain Jackman and Schreiber's presence in this film for the intellectually lobotomized. Hell, they have new mouths to feed and projects to finance. But is the film any good? Actually, it's somewhat entertaining (and short, at 1-1/2 hours,) if you check your brain at the box office on the way in, but most of it is repetitious, disjointed, and downright silly. As the title implies, we're here to learn the origins of one of the X-Men, Wolverine (Jackman,) and that we do.  Did you know that he had a brother, Sabretooth (Schrieber,) who becomes his mortal enemy for a while? They have some juicy scenes together, and of course, there's all the requisite violence, chases, and shots of Jackman's naked ass, if that turns you on! Otherwise, you've seen it all before...even Jackman's ass!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "STAR TREK"

As far as Sci-Fi action films go, this one is as good as it gets. It's pure thrilling fun, excitement, and entertainment for everyone in the family, even if that family has never seen any of the other "Star Trek" films or episodes of the 40-year-old classic TV series. I've been a fan of the Star Trek TV series and films for many decades, through the tenure of various commanders of the Enterprise, from the original white male, to the black male, to the female, to the Shakespearean actor, and wasn't there a lesbian dwarf commander at one time? Just kidding. Now, in the hope of injecting some life back into the franchise, we have the prequel. The roles of young Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Uhuru, Sulu, Chekhov, and Bones, are played by unknown young actors who bear some likeness to the Fleet members that they will later become. It's sort of Star Trek Origins. The story line follows them through their tenure at the Star Fleet Academy, and on their adventures into space on the U.S.S. Enterprise. There's lots of action, great special effects, but also fine character development, good acting, and humor. Although you'll be sitting on the edge of your seat for most of the movie, if you have a little down time, try to guess who the actors are who are playing Spock's mother, and Nero, the Romulan villain. They're both well-known stars. (A footnote. Friends who have seen "Star Trek" in the IMAX format, say that it's even better.)
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: ANGELS & DEMONS
In the Dan Brown books, Angels & Demons is the prequel, and The Da Vinci Code is the sequel. In the movie versions, it's the other way around, but it doesn't matter. Both movies are independent of one another, and Angels & Demons is the better of the two. The movie is thrilling, intelligent, exciting, violent, and the best guided tour of Rome and The Vatican that I've ever seen on film. I won't try to summarize the complex, confusing story except to say that it involves a plot against The Church and specifically, the College of Cardinals, while it's meeting in The Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope. The Church is threatened by both an ancient sect, known as The Illuminati, as well as an anti-matter "bomb" that is going to detonate at midnight, taking out not only Vatican City, but a good chunk of Rome as well. Robert Langdon, symbolist from Harvard, and a lovely scientist played by an Italian actress whose name I forgot, are going to have to save the two cities and the Cardinals. Tom Hanks, once again miscast, manages to look younger than he did in the sequel. Confused? Ewan MacGregor plays the Camerlingo, the Pope's right-hand man, and Arlin Mueller-Stahl is the head Cardinal. There are more red herrings in this film, than you'll find in an Agatha Christie novel, and there are exciting chases through the streets of Rome, and in some of Rome's most famous tourist attractions. I hope that they didn't damage any of those magnificent cathedrals, but with computer graphics so well perfected nowadays, the entire movie was probably made in a studio in New Jersey! Anyway, I loved it, and you will too, even if you never read the book. And why in hell haven't you???
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE BROTHERS BLOOM"
If you're looking for an antidote to all of the mindless action blockbusters that are filling your neighborhood movie theaters now that the Memorial Day Weekend has arrived, you might want to try one of the several quality independent films that have also arrived via the festivals in Berlin, Tribeca, Toronto, and Sundance. You don't have to check your brains at the door for these, in fact it helps if you bring them in. Especially in the case of "The Brothers Bloom," a story about two brothers (Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo) who have been con artists from childhood. As adults, they run cons all over the world, with the help of their silent partner, a Japanese woman played by a terrific actress named Rinko Kikuchi. She mimes her entire role, and she's fabulous. They move in on their billionaire mark (Rachel Weicz) with the stealth of cats. I can't and won't tell you much about the plot because I don't want to run the risk of giving away any of the many twists and turns. Just go in, sit back, and listen attentively. The film is a complete original, clever in its dialogue, adventurous, and very funny at times. But pay attention. You don't want to miss anything.The cinematography, in Berlin, Prague, Mexico, Montanegro, etc. is very beautiful. If there is a negative about the movie, it's that at times it moves too slowly, but I'm just nit-picking here.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE HANGOVER"

As stupid, adolescent, and retarded as a drunken frat party! But what do I know. All of the teens in the audience were howling with laughter. I almost walked out.
(1-Star)
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "UP" (in Digital 3D)

Following in the successful path of such films as "WALL-E," and "Ratatouille," this latest Pixar animated movie attempts to capture the adult audience won by the other two films, rather than the audience of children who enjoy their animated films with dinosaurs who speak with the voices of stand-up comics.  Just before I went to see it, my friend Krys e-mailed me that he found the film to be "disappointing...more sad than funny"...and I totally agree with him. It begins with a prologue of sorts, in which we are introduced to two adventurous children, who grow up together, fall in love, get married, have a baby...it dies, and then eventually the man's wife dies as well, but not before extracting from him a promise that he will try to find a mysterious waterfall in South America! All of this in the first 15 minutes of the movie. The rest of the movie involves the man's ridiculous attempt to fly his house to South America with the help of thousands of balloons tethered to the roof of the house. Enter a young wilderness cub-scout type...an obese, Asian child who is so annoying and destructive, that it's hard to get caught up in the adventures of the old man in his flying house, because of the presence of this thoroughly obnoxious brat, who comes along, reluctantly, for "the ride." I kept yelling racial slurs, under my breath of course, at this meddlesome idiot. In any case, because of this, and other aspects of the film, I found it to be annoying, and not very enjoyable. My apologies to any of my readers who are Asian.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE PROPOSAL"

If you're going to the movies with a bunch of guys, all of whom have had some beers, go to see "The Hangover." But if you're going with your girlfriend, this is the perfect date movie. Sure it's a chick flick, but she'll love it, and you'll get some laughs out of it as well. Although it's thoroughly predictable from start to finish, it's well acted by a fine ensemble cast. Margaret (Sandra Bullock) is the boss from hell. Not as classy, elegant or as satanic as the Meryl Streep character in "The Devil Wears Prada," but sufficiently bitchy for the purposes of this film. Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) is her extremely efficient, much younger secretary, who hates her, as does everyone else. To advance the plot, her visa has expired, and she's about to be deported to her native Canada, when she concocts a plot to marry a very surprised Andrew. Under the watchful eye of an immigration officer, they plan to spend a weekend with his parents (Craig T. Nelson and Mary Steenbergen) and his 90-year-old grandmother (Betty White, who almost steals the film.) Margaret is surprised and shocked when Andrew anmounces to her that his family home is in Alaska. (Just a side-note; the entire movie was filmed in a very photogenic Massachusetts. Check the credits at the end if you don't believe me.) Everything unfolds just as you'd expect it to, but it's a fun film anyway. I enjoyed it.
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "CHERI"
An Art Nouveau feast for the eyes. One of the most glamorous and elegant times in the history of Paris, were those years from the 1890's until the start of World War I, known as "La Belle Epoque," and director Stephen Frears ("The Queen") has brought them to life, beautifully and in great detail, in his elegant film "Cheri." Based on the book by the sexiest of French writers, Colette, this film is for those people who love The Masterpiece Theater on PBS. Colette wrote stories that were daring in her day, because she wrote about elegant prostitutes, then called courtesans. If you're an opera fan, think Violetta in "La Traviata." One of these courtesans is Lea de Lanval (Michelle Pfeiffer,) who although approaching 50, is still beautiful and seductive. Her colleague Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates,) a former courtesan and "friend," asks Lea to take on the sexual education of her son (Rupert Friend,) who Lea affectionately calls "Cheri" ("Dear one.") The film tells the story of this sexual education/love affair. In the telling, we get to see what life in Paris was like in this last, truly elegant and extravagant, time. Hollywood has tackled this period before, in a film based on another Colette story, "Gigi," and it turned out to be one of the classiest films ever made, and one of my favorite screen musicals. If you enjoy seeing "Cheri," rent "Gigi," and watch it on a big screen at home. You'll enjoy it even better!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "PUBLIC ENEMIES"

This film is a work of true cinematic art. Although there are lots of exciting bank robberies and prison breaks, it moves very slowly, and takes its time to tell the story of one of America's most famous gangsters, John Dillinger. It's a long film (2 hours and 13 minutes,) and at times it bogs down, but nevertheless it's a masterpiece of the gangster genre, right up there with "Scarface," "Goodfellas," and "The Untouchables." The movie starts with an exciting prison break, and immediately we're propelled into the life of Dillinger (Johnny Depp,) his girlfriend (Marion Cotillard,) and the men who pursue him...FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale,) and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup.) The newly-formed FBI would appear to have been made up of a bunch of idiotic bunglers, led by a few single-minded zealots. The acting, on the part of three of America's finest actors, Depp, Bale, and Crudup, is strangely subdued and understated. Director Michael Mann may have directed them to underplay, or else that's the way these actors chose to portray their real-life characters. In any case, all of the emotional dramatic acting comes from Marion Cotillard, who was so brilliant in her Oscar-winning role playing Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose." The musical score is wonderful, evoking the Depression with the songs of Billie Holliday. I don't know what digital techniques were used in the filming, but as I said before, many scenes are pure works of art. So, if you can sit for over two hours, and put up with a slow pace, you'll be rewarded with one of this year's best films.
(4 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "BRUNO"

I loved "Borat." I hated "Bruno!" Sure it was offensive, but it was also stupid and boring, and it's a miracle that Sasha Baron Cohen wasn't killed while insulting all of the rednecks and terrorists (yes, terrorists) in the film.
(1-Star)

MOVIE REVIEW: "HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE"
For those of you who don't live in New England, Patriot Place is a mall-like conglomerate of branches of fine-dining establishments (e.g., "Davio's," "Skipjacks,"etc.) and shops (e.g., "Eastern Mountain Sports," "Bass Footwear," etc.) located right outside Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots play their football games. We decided to kill two birds with one stone by seeing the latest Harry Potter film in the new De Lux Theatre there, where one sits in comfortable sofas, has a full dinner, all while watching the movie. Not being a multi-tasker, and after checking out the menu items, we decided not to watch the movie while simultaneously trying to eat a cheese-burger in semi darkness! We ate afterward. As to the movie, it's probably one of the best Harry Potter films to date. If you haven't read the books, or seen the five previous films, it might not be a good idea to check out our heroes and villains at this stage in their careers. But if you have, you'll be rewarded with quite a treat. They're now hormone-driven teen-agers, and so they spend as much time trying to hook up, as they do running from deadly creatures and horrible villains. It's all in great fun, and I loved every minute of it's 2 1/2 hours. I had only one annoying problem. After having seen Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) completely naked on stage last season in "Equus," the term Harry Potter's wand took on an altogether new meaning!!!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE HURT LOCKER"

If you can sit through and stomach this intense and suspenseful film, you'll be rewarded with having seen the best movie of the year to date, and one of the greatest war films ever made. Written by Mark Boal, a journalist embedded in Baghdad in 2004, and brilliantly directed by Kathryn Bigelow, this nail-biter tells the story of a month in the life of the men of an Army explosive ordnance disposal squad. These are the guys called in to dismantle IEDs and roadside bombs. We get to know some of these men very well, especially Staff Sergeant William James, played by an actor who I've never heard of before, Jeremy Renner, who will become an overnight sensation, because of his amazing performance. It's the stuff of instant legend, and will surely get him an Oscar nomination. He plays an adrenaline junkie, addicted to putting himself in danger, because he truly loves what he does. Director Bigelow structures the film as a one-damn-thing-after-another succession of traumatizing scenes that will keep you glued to your seat for the entire length of its two hours. A brilliant masterpiece, and a great antidote to all of the garbage that's in your theaters this summer.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "JULIE & JULIA"
I loved Julia Child, and the way that she changed the way America cooks and eats. When I first came to Boston 43 years ago, I was lucky to be taken to the big Victorian house in Cambridge, for Julia Child's annual Christmas Buffet Dinner. She was charming, gracious, and larger than life. Meryl Streep's portrayal of Mrs. Child is all of these things and more. It's the main reason to see this Nora Ephron movie. The movie is split into two barely connected stories. In the first, and much more interesting one, we meet Julia and Paul Child in Paris in the 50s, when she was just starting out, trying to figure out what she wanted to be in life. She gradually hit on the idea of becoming a chef. In the second story, we meet Julie Powell (Amy Adams,) a bored and boring office worker, who lives in Queens in 2002. She's floundering, and doesn't know what to do with her life, until she hits on the idea of cooking all of the recipes in the Julia Child bible, Mastering The Art of French Cooking, and writing a blog about her experiences. Even with all of Nora Ephron's quirky, comic touches, this story is nowhere near as interesting as the story of Mr. and Mrs. Child in Paris. (By the way, Stanley Tucci is wonderful as Paul Child.) Meryl, get ready for another Oscar nomination.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

P.S. Try to count the times that the overhead mictrophone accidentally appears in a scene. I counted 5 times!

MOVIE REVIEW: "INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS"
Writer/director Quentin Tarentino has been bragging for years, that this film would be his masterpiece. In spite of "Pulp Fiction" and "Kill Bill," he was right! The 2 1/2 hour film starts with the four words "Once Upon a Time..." and that's the viewers clue that this is going to be a fictitious story...and it is. Tarentino does nothing less than rewrite the history of how the Nazi regime, The Third Reich and Hitler, came to an end. I must say that I enjoyed HIS version of history better than what really happened! Brad Pitt plays the leader of a band of Jewish-American soldiers who are devoted to destroying Nazis. This gives Tarentino a perfect opportunity to display one of his several trademarks...bloody violence, and there's plenty of it...but very little of it is gratuitous. There are many other fine American, French, and German actors in the film, but the movie is stolen by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz who walks away with the acting honors as a Nazi captain. Watch for him at Oscar time. The film is filled with other Tarentino trademarks like a suspenseful plot, unusual camera angles, tributes to old films, and a great musical score. But this film is the sum of its parts, and the parts are wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

Loved the book; hated the movie!
(2-Stars
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE INFORMANT"

Of course I'm just guessing, but here's what I think happened between the making, and the distribution, of this film. Director Steven Soderbergh bought the true-life story of Mark Whitacre, an executive who exposed a price-fixing scheme back in the 1990s. He then filmed it as a straight retelling of the story. However, I'm thinking that during some of the sneak previews in theaters, movie audiences were laughing in the wrong places, and otherwise bored to tears. So, my guess is that he decided to market it as a comedy. Well, it doesn't work. It's not a comedy, and it's pretty boring. Those sneak preview audiences were right, if that's what actually happened. The best thing about the movie is Matt Damon's performance. He gained 40 pounds, grew an ugly moustache, and shaved some of his head. He gives it all he's got...and that's a lot...and he almost makes it work. It may be worth seeing just to see what a great actor can do with a thankless role.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY"
I can't stand Michael Moore! He's obnoxious, in your face, and obese besides. He's like your annoying next-door neighbor, who insists on bringing you juicy pieces of gossip, even though you've heard it all before, and much of it is lies. But he does his job well. He focuses in on a subject, as he did in "Sicko" (the health care system in America,) and "Bowling for Columbine" (gun control,) does his research, albeit colored by his prejudices and biases, and then stalks those people who he believes are responsible for the mess that we're in. Amazingly, he gets them to say absurd things on film, although much of this may be due to creative editing. In the case of the current film, he focuses his megaphone on the corporate world, its greed, and the resulting world-wide economic meltdown. It all seems so much like yesterday's news. After all, is there anyone out there who doesn't think that the economy is all fucked up??? The best part of this film are the human interest stories, which are quite moving. It's sad to see people talk about how corporate greed has destroyed their lives. Nevertheless, I'm fed up with Michael Moore. I'd like to see him shove his megaphone up his ass, if he can find it!
(3Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE"
Where the Wild Things Are has always been my favorite childrens picture book. It's only 40 pages and 23 words, but it packs a wallop for adults as well as children. People all over the world have read it and loved it. So I was really worried when I heard that director Spike Jonze was planning to turn it into a movie. How can you expand 23 words into a two hour movie? Well, the man did it, and he's created a modern-day unqualified masterpiece. Sure, he's added some backstory about Max's family that didn't exist in the book, but more importantly, he's preserved the attitude, mood, and look of the classic picture book. The original illustrator, Maurice Sendak, I'm sure, approves. Little Max, dressed in a wolf-suit, still creates havoc in his home, is sent to bed without his supper, and creates a fantasyworld of monstrous wild things, where he tames them, becomes king, and eventually sails back to reality, where his supper is still waiting for him. Wisely, the director chose not to use computer graphics to create the monsters, except for their facial expressions. Instead, he uses giant furry puppets (with the voices of James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, etc.) They are perfect, as is everything about this wondrous film. Take the whole family to see this one, except the very youngest children. The wild things are scary, as they should be!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

This "Jackson family home movie" is a quickly patched together compilation of footage of videos taken during the rehearsals for the Michael Jackson concert...the one that never took place due to his death. Because of the irrational devotion of his millions of fanatics, oops, I mean fans, around the world, it will surely make millions, which should fill the greedy pockets of the Jackson family for years to come. As you can probably tell, I was never a fan of Jackson the entertainer, or Jackson the "man." If you were, then you'll probably enjoy this film as much as I disliked it.
(0-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEWS: "DISNEY'S A CHRISTMAS CAROL" and "2012"
Just because you CAN do it, doesn't mean that you SHOULD do it! Computer graphics are so sophisticated, that moviemakers can now recreate just about anything on screen...real or fantastic...from the creation of the world, to the destruction of the world. Intelligent directors realize that these computer images must serve a good story...a well-written and well-acted screenplay. Without a good plot, the images become nothing but a fancy slide show, a glitzy show-and-tell, a large-screen video game. That's what these two big-budget holiday films are. "Disney's A Christmas Carol" (note that it's Disney's name in the title, not that of Charles Dickens,) is director Robert Zemeckis' way of allowing Jim Carrey to ruin a beloved classic book. Shame on him. This animated mess is just a big video game used as an excuse to have Carrey (I thought that his career was over) mug his way through another of his excessive exercises in self-indulgence. If you want to see a perfect film version of the classic Dickens story, rent the original black-and-white version starring Alistair Sim. Carrey has been quoted as saying that he used Alistair Sims' performance as the role model for his performance. Are you kidding me??? As for "2012," the less said about this ridiculous movie, the better. Director Roland Emmerich keeps remaking the same disaster movie..."Independence Day," "The Day After Tomorrow," and now "2012." When will he get the message that they're all awful. Intelligent moviegoers don't want to keep seeing the world's landmarks getting blown up. Not in this age of terrorism. Why doesn't he go back to his native Germany and blow up the Brandenburg Gate? Then he'll be locked up and we'll be rid of him and his terrible movies forever!
(1-Star) "Disney's A Christmas Carol"
(1-Star) "2012"

MOVIE REVIEW: "PRECIOUS"
If all goes the way that it should, this incredible film will sweep the Academy Awards in March. However, due to the disgusting, controversial nature of its subject matter, the Academy voters might be afraid to nominate it, let alone give it all of the awards that it deserves. It, and "The Hurt Locker," are the two best films of the year, but due to their controversial themes, they may both come away with nothing! That would be terrible. In any case, "Precious," based on the book Push by Sapphire (I have no idea who Sapphire is,) is the story of a grossly obese, ugly, illiterate black woman, who is pregnant with her second child. The father in both cases. is her own father! Her mother also abuses her in horrible ways. Gabourey Sidibe plays Precious, and Mo'Nique plays her mother. Both deserve every award that's given out for best acting in a film. A very unglamorous and unrecognizable Mariah Carey, as a social worker, also turns in a remarkable performance...believe it or not. This is acting at its best. I only hope that it's recognized by the movie-going public, and by the voters at Oscar time. Go see it.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "FANTASTIC MR. FOX"

Clever, well-animated, and funny, but after fifteen minutes, I was bored to death! Give it a shot, you might like it, although I would recommend reading the book (by Roald Dahl) instead.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "UP IN THE AIR"

The current movie scene consists of moronic love stories about teen age vampires, boring animated films, and cheesy computer-graphics blockbusters with no stories! How refreshing it is to see a film written, directed, and acted by intelligent grown-ups, for intelligent grown-ups. Director Jason Reitman ("Juno," "Thank You For Smoking,") is obviously a fan of the classic screwball comedies of the 1930's, because he's recreated the sophisticated, well-written dialogue and story line of those films, and substituted George Clooney and Vera Formiga in the roles often played by Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. The Clooney character has a job that keeps him in airports and on planes for 325 days of each year. His job takes him from city to city, firing people in person, for cowardly corporate execs who don't want to do the job themselves. He loves it! The Formiga character is a female version of him. Obviously when they meet cute, they have a lot in common. The supporting actors, especially Jason Bateman as his boss, and Anna Kendrick as the fresh-out-of-college whiz who comes up with a high-tech scheme which threatens to put him out of business, are all excellent. I loved this film. If you don't like it, you can fire me!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

The magic is back! In the past few years, the Disney Studios have made some fine films, using Pixar computer generated animation ("Toy Story," "Ice Age," "Up.") But not since the great elegant and artistic classics ("The Little Mermaid," "The Lion King," "Aladdin, and "Beauty and the Beast,") have they made a hand-drawn animated film...not until now, that is. The powers-that-be at Disney decided to reunite the artistic team that created these classics, and come up with a new, traditional animated musical film. Using the story of The Frog Princess, and with a foot-stomping score by one of my favorite composers, Randy Newman, they've hit the jackpot. The story now takes place in New Orleans's French Quarter in the 1930's, during Mardi Gras. Tiana, our heroine, is a hard-working, opinionated, charming young girl (like Belle in "Beauty and the Beast,") who has dreams of opening her own restaurant...dreams instilled in her by her equally hard-working parents. When a handsome prince, from one of those mythical kingdoms, comes to town, these dreams are set in motion. Because it's a Disney musical, there are Busby Berkeley-like production numbers, filled with color, movement, and music, but because it's Disney, there is also dangerous villainy afoot. Will the princess kiss the frog before midnight, and turn him back into a prince? What princess? What frog? You'll have to go see it to find out. The main characters are voiced by Anika Noni Rose, Terrance Howard, and Oprah Winfrey. A great family film, and one to put up there with the other four classics. I loved it!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "INVICTUS"

Have you noticed how Clint Eastwood keeps getting better as a movie director, the older he gets? Now that's an inspiration to all of us of "a certain age." I went in to this film with no great interest in either Nelson Mandela, or the sport of Rugby. I came out of it fascinated and thrilled by both. The story takes place just after Mandela (Morgan Freeman) was released from a 30-year imprisonment, and went on to become the president of an apartheid-divided South Africa. In an attempt to unify the white minority who controlled everything, and the black majority, who were still in a servile position to the whites, he hit on the idea of getting behind the virtually all-white South African rugby team, the Springboks. They were supported by the white minority, and he felt that if he could turn the team into a winning team supported by whites and blacks, that would be the beginning of a true unification of the country. So, he called in the Springboks captain, Francoise Pienaar (Matt Damon,) and inspired him with his vision to turn the losing team around, and take a shot at winning the 1995 World Cup, which was to be held in South Africa that year. Both Freeman and Damon are absolutely brilliant. They'll make you love their characters. Their performances should put them in the running as Oscar contenders. Whether that's the case or not, the film is one of the best of the year, and I loved every minute of its over 2-hours running length. If you're curious about the title, it comes from the poem whose most famous lines are "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul."
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "AVATAR" in 3D

Wow! Believe the hype. This sci-fi epic is as good as they've said that it is. Part "Star Wars," part "King Kong," part video game, and part metaphor for our wars in Iraq and Afganistan, this is writer/director James Cameron's wet dream...and after his masterpiece "Titanic," it's his greatest film. I won't even begin to put in print what is a visual spectacular, but a quick summary of the story is as follows: in the distant future, a coalition of scientists and armed forces have established a base on the planet Pandora, where they're hoping to negotiate a deal to extract the planet's priceless natural resource...either through diplomacy or by force. (Sound familiar?) The natives of the planet are the Na'vi, ten feet tall, blue, and peaceful. The coalition's scientists have learned how to transfer the mind and spirit of some of their soldiers into the body-forms of the Na'vi, and that's where the troubles begin. As I've said before, "Avatar" is a visual stunner, with a blazingly colorful world created through computer graphics imaging. The creatures and the plant life are imaginative, colorful, life-like...and they bite! It's reputed to be the most expensive film ever made, and it's obvious that all of the money was spent on the computer graphics and the marketing. Having said all that, and I'm sticking to my 5-star rating for the sheer showmanship of this adventure, I think that films like "Gone With The Wind," or even Cameron's "Titanic," are better films because they are not only spectacular, but they also tell a much more dramatic and complex story!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "NINE"
I loved this movie...one of the best of the year! If you want to experience the joy that I had in watching it, it would be best if you did a little homework first. Rent the 1963 classic autobiographical masterpiece by director Federico Fellini, "8 1/2" and watch it, then go see "Nine," the musical derived from that film. But, of course, you don't have to do that. Just go and let the movie work its magic on you, as it did me. Let me back up a bit to give you some history. First there was the 1963 Fellini movie masterpiece "8 1/2" starring the great Marcello Mastroianni as director Guido Contini, a thinly disguised version of Fellini himself. Then, in 1982, composer Maury Yeston wrote a Broadway musical based on the Italian classic, starring Raul Julia as Contini. In 2003, the musical was revived on Broadway with Antonio Banderas as Contini. Now, director Rob Marshall ("Chicago") has assembled a cast of brilliant actors, including 6 Academy Award winners, to make a movie of the Broadway musical. The book for the film was written by the late Anthony Minghella. The story is the same in all four versions. An aging and harried Italian film director has reached a mid-life crisis. He has no script for the major film that he's about to make, and no one knows this. Everywhere he goes, and he's constantly running away from his responsibility to start the film, the women in his life, past and present, come back to haunt him, primarily in his own imagination. In fact, most of the film, including all of the musical numbers (which are terrific,) take place in his imagination. This makes it easier for those of you who can't suspend disbelief enough to watch people burst into song! So, bring your own vivid imagination along, and you'll love it. The stars are all magnificent, so I'll just list them. Daniel Day Lewis is surprisingly good as Contini, and the women in his life are played by Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Fergie, and the iconic Sophia Loren, as his late mother. One more thing. I defy you to leave the theater not humming, or singing, the song "Be Italian." Wait for the credits to roll at the end, so you can hear it one more time just before you leave the theater. I'm still humming it!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "CRAZY HEART"
The only reason to see this ordinary little film, is to see the fine performance of Jeff Bridges, as a self-destructive, alcoholic, aging country singer. He'll get an Academy Award nomination for it, and he might even get the Oscar that he should have received for "The Big Lebowski."
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "A SINGLE MAN"

This highly-praised film is not a great film. It's not even a very good one. The only reason to see it is for the performance of Colin Firth in the title role. Critics have called it the greatest achievement of his career. Again, I disagree. I've seen him in better roles. Anyway, he plays a gay college professor whose lover of 16 years has just died in an accident, and in the course of a very long, long day, he contemplates taking his own life. The movie was directed by clothing designer Tom Ford. Stick to designing clothes Mr. Ford!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE BLIND SIDE"
Sandra Bullock has been taking home all of the awards for her role in this film. So far, she's won the Golden Globe award, the Screen Actor's Guild award, and the Critics Circle award, and it seems that she might just take home the Oscar as well. Now, don't get me wrong, I like Sandra Bullock, but she's a light comedienne, not a serious actress. So, I decided to go see if she was deserving of all of the accolades. She isn't!  It's a Johnny-one-note performance. If you've seen the trailer for this film, you know exactly what the movie is all about. A rich Tennessee family adopts a huge, socially retarded black kid, and through their TLC and persistence (especially on the part of the mother, the Sandra Bullock character,) he grows up to be a "star" at Ole Miss, and then of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. Just because it's a true story, it doesn't make it any less predictable and corny. It's Cinderella or Rocky for the football crowd. It's enjoyable if you like that kind of thing, but as far as I'm concerned, see the trailer...that's enough. If Bullock wins the Oscar in March, and she probably will, stand up and yell, "you got robbed Meryl !!!"
(3-Stars) Back to Top

  

 MOVIE REVIEW: "THE LAST STATION"
The only reason to see this slow, and sometimes boring, MasterpieceTheatre-type film, is for the great acting of Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren, as Count Leo Tolstoy and his wife of many years. They've both been nominated for Academy Awards for their roles as the Tolstoys in their declining years. Helen Mirren is especially wonderful as the faithful Countess who bore Tolstoy 12 children, stood by him all of her life, only to have everything ripped away from her, during a battle over what was to become of the family's fortune. Even the author of the greatest novel ever written, War and Peace, wasn't above screwing up his family because of money!
(3 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "VALENTINE'S DAY"
If you're expecting another "Love, Actually," you'll be greatly disappointed. Stay home and eat some chocolate today, instead. This one really stinks!
(1-Star)

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE WOLFMAN"
Stay home and rent the original, with Lon Chaney, Jr! All they've done here is add color and some unnecessary computer graphics; put in three stars, at least two of whom look like they'd rather be somewhere else (Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt;) add lots of silly blood and gore; and give make-up artist Rick Baker the easiest job of his career...turning Benicio del Toro into "The Wolfman." He was always halfway there!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "SHUTTER ISLAND"
I don't know why I was prepared to hate this movie, but I was. Well, I was certainly pleasantly surprised. I should have trusted in director Martin Scorsese. If you read Dennis Lehane's book, and enjoyed it as much as I did, then you'll certainly enjoy seeing all of the twists and turns of the novel fleshed out on screen. It's all there, with its enigmas, psychological plot twists, horrors, and the "nothing-is-what-it-seems-to-be" aspects of the novel. Two federal marshals (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) are dispatched to one of Boston's harbor islands, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of one of the patients from Ashcliffe, an institution for the criminally insane. There's nothing else on this barren, rocky island except Ashcliffe, which is run by two highly suspicious doctors (Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow in their most sinister mode.) How could the patient have escaped from her locked room, and where has she gone? As the story unfolds, and the horrors start to appear, one of the marshals starts to have migraines. and begins to have hallucinations of his dead wife (Michelle Williams.) That's only the beginning! There are more red herrings in this film than there are in an Agatha Christie novel. I'd better stop before I start to give away the ending.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "ALICE IN WONDERLAND"
Are you kidding me? If you're expecting a film version of Lewis Carroll's intelligent satire Alice in Wonderland, forget it. This is Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland," and aside from using the same characters (played by Burton's usual troupe of players, led by Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter) and some of its settings, this bears very little resemblance to the Carroll classic. Now, Alice is 19-years-old and escapes a fiancee to head BACK down the hole to 'Underland." See what I mean? I hate this new trend, where cult directors take classic novels and turn them into "updated" CGI action films, similar to what Guy Ritchie did to Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, and what Tim Burton does in this film. Sure they're clever, and with computer graphics they look beautiful (with computer graphics, the telephone book could look beautiful!) But, cult directors,  leave the classics alone, and create new characters and do whatever the hell you want with them. What's next, Scarlett and Rhett, and Heathcliff and Cathy as action heroes in a blockbuster???
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE GHOST WRITER"

My God, it just doesn't get much better than this suspenseful, haunting political thriller. Everything about this film is just about perfect. Without giving away any of the secrets of the twisting plot, I can say that the story involves a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) who's been hired to write the memoirs of a former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan,) who may or may not have been involved in a criminal incident of global proportions. The last ghost writer died under suspicious circumstances, and the PM and his wife (Olivia Williams,) as well as his press secretary/personal manager/mistress (Kim Cattrell) are sequestered on an estate on Martha's Vineyard to mull over how to deal with the upcoming investigation. Director Roman Polanski at his best here, keeps things moving along at a hectic pace, ably abetted by an excellent screenplay (based on the book, Ghost, by Robert Harris,) his incredible ensemble cast (which includes Eli Wallach, Tom Wilkinson and Tim Hutton,) fine cinematography, and a beautiful musical score. You'll be aware that you're in the presence of a perfect film, but you won't be aware of much more. The plot twists are way ahead of the viewer. Just sit back and enjoy it.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "GREENBERG"

I hate Ben Stiller, and have avoided all of his films since "Zoolander!" So why did I chose to see this one? I admire the work of the husband and wife team of Noah Baumbach (writer/director) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (writer/actress.) If you haven't seen their "The Squid and The Whale," you should. It's definitely worth renting. In any case, "Greenberg" is a small, but very enjoyable, "slice of life" film, in which very little happens, except that which happens in the minds of the main characters. One of those minds belongs to Greenberg, the part player by Stiller. His character has just come out of a mental institution where he was recovering from a nervous breakdown. He's come to Los Angeles to stay in his brother's palatial home for a while, in order to build him a doghouse! While he's there, he meets Florence (Greta Gerwig,) the personal assistant to his brother's family. An unlikely relationship develops. This Greta Gerwig is someone to keep your eye on. She's wonderful. Getting back to Ben Stiller, however, this is probably the best thing that he's ever done. Under the careful guidance of the Baunbachs, he plays a real, but dysfunctional, adult male. Never once does he resort to the self-indulgent, adolescent, man/boy, annoying mannerisms of all of his other dreadful films. My God, the man CAN act!  The film isn't a great one, but it's worth seeing.
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 I went into this movie prepared to hate it but, don't laugh, I thoroughly enjoyed it instead! It's pure fun, and exciting, and makes good use of some spectacular CGI effects. Unlike the original film, which was campy and silly, this one takes itself seriously, and that point of view gives it more substance and depth. It's still a lesson in deconstructionist mythology-lite, for those viewers who never read Edith Hamilton's classic Mythology. The Gods, represented by Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes) are dissatisfied with the way their creation, Man, has turned out. Zeus wants be be revered and loved by Man, and Hades wants to be feared. Either way, Man has turned against the Gods. Hence, the "clash." Our hero, Perseus (Sam Worthington from "Avatar,) who is half-man and half-God (son of Zeus,) becomes the leader of the men who are determined to reclaim their rights and their lives, and to save their city, Argos. The Gods are not happy! In the battle, Perseus and his men have to fight giant scorpions (who I don't remember from either the book or the first movie,) and Medusa (who could forget her, with her hairdo of living snakes. One look turns men to stone.) Let's not forget the ultimate monster, the Kraken, who tries to eat the chained up bait, Andromeda, in a scene right out of  "King Kong." It's worth the price of admission just to hear Liam Neeson say "Release the Kraken!" Speaking of the price of admission, this film was not filmed in 3-D, but the 3-D was added later. It shows. Producers are cutting their own throats by retro-fitting all films to 3-D and jacking up the prices. Don't they know that the day will come when everyone just downloads the films or waits for them on DVDs? "Release the Kraken!!!" 
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "IRON MAN 2" (in the new IMAX Theater at the Boston Common Theater)
Bigger isn't always better! Unless you're sitting near the center of the theater, this screen is just too damn big for enjoying anything but a circus. In any case, in this sequel, the novelty has worn off of the main character, played so brilliantly in the original by Robert Downey, Jr. and his sidekicks (Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle, replacing Terrance Howard, who foolishly walked away from a goldmine.) However, they're all still enjoyable to watch and the new script and direction gives them a new avenue to pursue...comedy. (More about this later.) Mickey Rourke is the Russian villain in this piece, and he milks it for all it's worth. He's terrific, although he says very little! Scarlett Johanson is some extra eye candy, but she's basically wasted. Now about the comedy. The brilliant comic actor/writer/director Jon Favreau (remember him as the buddy to Vince Vaughn in "Swingers?") is the director of this sequel, and I don't know whether it was his idea or not, but there's much less action in this film than there was in the original, and much more comedy. (Don't worry action fans, you'll get your money's worth.) Not just comedy, but the kind of screwball comedies that were so successful in the '30s and '40s...the ones that used to star Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, or Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. It's well-written and well-acted intelligent comedy, and it's what I really enjoyed the most about this sequel. Now, maybe "Iron Man 3" will be a musical???
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "ROBIN HOOD"

Director Ridley Scott certainly knows how to put together an epic blockbuster. He did a beautiful job with "Gladiator." Not so with Robin Hood! All of the classic epic films have one thing in common, in addition to being spectacular in scope. Films like "Dr. Zhivago," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Bridge on the River Quai," etc. all have heart. Their characters are flesh and blood and you care about them. The characters in "Robin Hood" seem to be figures in a history text, with little chemistry between the leads (Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett.) In addition, it's way too long, cold, and boring for at least 2 hours of its 2 1/2-hour length. It only comes alive during some action scenes, especially the epic battle on the beach at the end, which is very reminiscent of the WW II landing at Normandy seen in so many other films. In case you don't already know, this film depicts the backstory of how these characters came to create the familiar legend...a prequel if you will. Another thing that bothered me was the character of Maid Marion. In the legends that I read, she was a maiden (unmarried) lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother, Elinor of Aquitaine. Now in the age of feminism, a woman can't be just a woman. The Marion of this film has more testosterone than many of the men around her, and she straps on some armor to fight alongside Robin in the climactic battle. Give me a break! I did like parts of this film, but it needed a good editor, and a writer to make us care about the characters. Maybe the sequel will be better.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

My God, I should never have believed the news media critics who called this film "much acclaimed and the winner of many festival awards." In fact, it's the most boring movie that I've seen this year. I almost walked out several times. It's the story of one of Mussolini's mistresses, told over a two-hour length. It felt like five hours! Stay away.
(0-Stars) Back to Top

This is the most intelligent movie that I've seen since seeing "The Ghost Writer" three months ago! So if you've been staying away from the theaters because you don't enjoy seeing animated films about green ogres, or moronic films about overage sluts camping it up in the Arabian desert, this is the film for you. It's based on the first book in the world famous series of books by Steig Larsson that have taken the world by storm in the last year. You certainly have heard of this controversial trilogy from Sweden, unless you've been living in a cave all year. The story deals with a troubled investigative journalist and a goth, bisexual, brilliant computer hacker, who are thrown together to solve a 40-year old mystery. A wealthy industrialist's niece disappeared when she was 16, forty years ago, and the journalist sets out on the trail of the possible killer or kidnapper. The book and film are loaded with so many twists and turns that they make an Agatha Christie novel read like Where The Wild Things Are!  It's 2 1/2 hours long but it keeps you on the edge of your seat for the entire film.  This is not a family film, because of its violence, mutilations, sexuality, and just plain scariness. But it'll stay with you long after you've left the theater, and you'll probably want to read books 2 and 3 in the series, if you haven't done so already.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

The last time that I went to the movies was a month ago, when I saw "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." This movie is a sequel to that film, and it's based on the second book in the incredibly popular Swedish trilogy by Steig Larsson. The same two wonderful stars, Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqwist, once again play the leading characters. This time, Lizbeth Salander is falsely accused of three murders, and she and her journalist lover, Michael, spend most of the film trying to prove her innocence, while she's on the run from the police, and just about everyone else who's trying to kill her. It's a thriller filled with subplots, action, and surprises, none of which I'll give away in this review. You don't have to have seen the first film to understand and enjoy this one. The last film in the series is already playing in Sweden. I can't wait for it to bring closure to the story.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "INCEPTION"

Some stunning computer graphics imagery, and a batch of fine actors, are buried under the weight of a story that is senseless, convoluted, illogical, and absurd...like a series of scenes from a dozen different action films, edited together very badly. It reminded me of a philosophy class taught by a very bad professor!
(1-Star)
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "SALT"
I love Angelina Jolie! I'll see just about any film that she makes. Before I saw the film, I thought that it was going to be a Tom Cruise-like generic action film for the brain-dead. (The role was actually written for Tom Cruise.) In it, Jolie plays a CIA/FBI agent, or a Russian spy, or neither. Did she kill the President of Russia, and attempt to assassinate the President of the United States, or did she try to prevent their murders? As I said before, I love Angelina Jolie and I would see her narrate a documentary about goat farms in Uruguay. No, no such film exists, and please don't suggest it to anyone! But this film is not at all what I expected. In fact, it's one of the most intelligent action/espionage/thriller movies of the year; right up there with "The Ghost Writer," and the two Swedish films, and that's saying a lot. It'll keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire short length of its one and a half hours. I couldn't even get up to go to the bathroom! Don't miss it.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT"
This charming film about a loving family...the parents and their two children...is one of the runaway hits of this summer. At the risk of scaring some of you away from the film, the parents are lesbians, played brilliantly by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore at their best. Watch for them at Oscar time next year. The plot is set in motion, when the children decide to locate the sperm donor who is their biological father (Mark Ruffalo.) When they find him, they visit him, without their parents' knowledge, and invite him to come and visit them to meet their parents, and that's when things begin to happen. The acting all around, including that of the two young actors who play the children, is excellent, as is the writing and the directing. The hit of this year's Sundance Film Festival, it's this summer's perfect small film. I won't get into whether or not it's a chick flick, because it's a film with such great acting in it. See it. You'll enjoy it.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE AMERICAN"

Most action thrillers are badly written, acted, and directed, and have things blowing up every five minutes. They're aimed at an audience of adolescent boys with the intelligence of a tree! This film is a NON-ACTION thriller which is well written, well directed, well acted, and beautifully photographed in a very photogenic Abruzzi in Italy. It demands very different skills of its viewers. It demands patience, an adult attention span, and intelligence. It's filmed in the European style of a foreign film, and takes its time telling its fascinating story. The story is about an American assassin (George Clooney,) the people he kills, and the people who are trying to kill him. It's also about the craft of being an assassin, as we watch him fastidiously build the weapons of his trade. Clooney, not one of my favorite actors, is excellent as the highly skilled killer. The photographer deserves some special praise for the artistic way he's filmed the towns in Abruzzi. They look so beautiful, and yet so mysterious. The actress, with the oxymoronic name of Violanta Placido, serves as eye candy in the film. Be patient. It's slow-going, but it's worth your patience. It'll stick with you long after you've left the theater.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE TOWN"

I've always thought of Charlestown, that beautiful gentrified town across the river from Boston, as a place of lovely 18th and 19th-Century homes, historic landmarks on The Freedom Trail, Todd English's first restaurant "Olives," and that towering monument on Bunker Hill. Now, we learn from the opening credits of Ben Affleck's new film, that it's also the bank robbery capital of the world...the area breeds bank robbers! This film shows a couple of those daring robberies, and the four men who commit them. Affleck wrote, directed, and acted in this film, and did a good job in all three positions. However, the best job he did was before the film was made, when he hired four of the stage and screen's best actors to star in it...Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Chris Cooper, and Pete Postlethwaite. All are perfect! Jon Hamm from some TV show, also does a fine job. The story takes us into the heart of a bank heist, and the men involved. It's about loyalty to ones gang, ones family, and ones neighborhood. To complicate matters, one of the robbers falls in love with the manager of one of the robbed banks. The robbers were wearing masks and costumes during the robbery, so she doesn't know that he was one of the robbers. It gets complicated! If you're from Boston, you'll have fun trying to pick out the locations in Charlestown, The North End, etc. The shoot-'em-up finale takes place in Fenway Park, the "Cathedral of Boston," as one character calls it. Because of this, the World Premiere of the movie took place the other night, outdoors, in Fenway Park. Thankfully, it was a warm Spring night...and nobody robbed it!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS"
This kind of film is the reason why I usually hate sequels. They're only about making money, and they end up cannibalizing the original. As Matt Damon once said, "there have only been three good sequels...Huckleberry Finn, The New Testament, and 'The Godfather: Part 2'." However, this movie is not a bad sequel, and it's a fairly decent film too. Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko,  makes only a cameo appearance, but it's pretty powerful when he's on screen. The rest of the film belongs to Shia LeBeouf (!) who looks like he was molested by a priest when he was a boy!!! Oliver Stone tried to do too much here, trying to deal with the financial collapse of 2008; all the different kinds of Wall Street types who were involved; and to top it off, a corny love story involving Gekko's estranged daughter (Carey Mulligan) and the young investment broker (Shia LeBeouf.) He pulls off some of it, but the rest lacks focus. A couple of good actors (Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon) are wasted in small roles, although stage veteran Eli Wallach (who must be 100 years old,) makes the most of his time on screen. If you're really interested in business and Wall Street dealings (I'm not,) you might find this much more interesting than I did. I was bored much of the time, and worried the rest of the time, thinking about my retirement portfolio!!!

(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE SOCIAL NETWORK"

This is one of the best of the over-hyped Fall big-budget films. I really enjoyed every minute of it. Is it true? Who knows and who cares! Aaron Sorkin has written a brilliant screenplay, probably more fiction than biography, about the people and the process involved in the creation of "Facebook." David Fincher did a fine job directing it, and the actors (Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, etc.) were very believable in their roles. I'm sure the creation of "Facebook" was more complicated than the film portrayed it to be, but it's easy to believe that Mark Zuckerberg was the needy, immature, sociopathic nerd, that he appears to be on film...and that he created "Facebook" because he had no friends, couldn't get into a final club at Harvard, and was rebuffed by his girlfriend from B.U. If every young genius who couldn't get laid became a billionaire, the world would be inundated! To get back to the writer Aaron Sorkin, his script has put such interesting words into the mouths of these young people that it's hard to believe that they actually spoke this way. I'm sure that they didn't.  I knew one of the characters portrayed in the film, Sean Fanning (called Sean Parker in the film and played by Justin Timberlake,) and he was very different as a student at Northeastern. A word to all of you who are still on "Facebook,"  get off of it, call a friend on the phone and go out to dinner and have a good face-to-face conversation, pick up a good book and read it, have some friends over and talk to them over drinks, etc. In short, GET A LIFE!!!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

Every year there's a new must-see documentary, usually one of Michael Moore's successful rants. This year, this is the film. The hit of the film festival circuit, it's sure to take home the Oscar next year. Writer/director Davis Guggenheim has taken on nothing less than the failed public elementary school system in America. He wanted to find out why America's public school system has gone from being the best in the world, to being one of the worst (worse than many third world countries...in just 50 years!) So there are heroes in the film (the good teachers who make good students, the good charter schools,) and there are villains (the bad teachers, and the teachers unions.) You'll be hearing more about, and from, people like Geoffrey Canada (President of Harlem's Children Zone,) and Michelle Rhee (Chancellor of Washington DC's schools) who are on the frontline making incredible things happen. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York has called Canada "the most important living New Yorker!" The movie follows 5 children who are hoping to get into 5 different charter schools...the best schools in their neighborhoods, where entrance is determined by a lottery system. This brings the humanity to the film, and the suspenseful ending sequence will rip your heart out! Please see this film.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "HEREAFTER"

This Clint Eastwood directed film, starts out with an extraordinary 10-minute scene, that is one of the most visually surprising and shocking scenes that I've seen in a serious movie in years. Although it's done with computer graphics, it's extremely realistic, and will haunt you for days after you've seen it. Then, the film settles into three relatively quiet stories, done in the style of European or independent films. They deal with a near-death experience, a psychic who can communicate with the dead, and a young boy who has just lost his closest relative. Matt Damon, in a very understated role, plays the blue-collar worker who's also a reluctant psychic. A beautiful actress, Cecile de France, plays a French journalist who has had the near-death experience. All three stories come together in a sentimental, some might say tacky (I wouldn't,) way at the end, and the stories resolve themselves beautifully. Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron's daughter) and Jay Mohr, round out the cast, as well as the young McLaren twins, but the movie belongs to Damon and de France. They're wonderful, as is Eastwood's direction. Not at all what you'd expect of him.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "MORNING GLORY"

The trailer was funny, and three of my favorite actors (Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, and Patrick Wilson) are in it, so I figured that it should be good for a few good laughs and a clever story. It wasn't! No one bothered to write an intelligent script for these talented people, and in addition I had to sit through Rachel McAdams playing one of the most annoying characters on screen this year.
(1-Star)
You really shouldn't pay any attention to this review, because I'm thoroughly partial, biased, and prejudiced when it comes to Harry Potter. I love all of the books, all of the movies, and my Hogwarts sweatshirt! Having said that, let me say that I loved this movie. It's dark, filled with action, with lots of story and character development. Harry, Ron, and Hermione carry the film. There's not one scene at Hogwarts, and there are very few of those wonderful British actors who appeared in all of the previous films. The ones that do show up, are only there for a minute or two. Everything rests on the shoulders of the three young stars, and they're terrific. But remember, I'm biased!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE FIGHTER"

After two months and two surgeries, it was good to get back to the movies again. I've fallen so far behind. The movie that we chose to see was "The Fighter," and it was an excellent choice. I don't usually like films about boxing, but this one was so much more. It was more about character development and great acting. The great acting comes from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. Thirty seconds into the film in a scene with Christian Bale, you know that he's got the supporting actor Oscar locked up. The story (based on a true story) is about two brothers from Lowell, Massachusetts, who come from a family of socially retarded women and a monster of a mother (Melissa Leo.) They both choose boxing as a way out of this hell. One (Bale) makes it to the big time, but falls under the influence of drugs. He then trains his younger brother (a fine Mark Wahlberg) to do what he couldn't do. All of the actors are excellent, including Amy Adams as Micky's (Wahlberg's) girlfriend. But this is Christian Bale's film, and he runs away with it.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE KING'S SPEECH"

This is about as good as it gets. Everything about this true story of King George VI (the present Queen Elizabeth's father,) and his horrendous stammering, just reeks of class. The writing of the story is heartbreaking, and at times, you'll get goose-bumps from the things that you're watching; the acting, on the part of Colin Firth (the Oscar is his,) Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter is all letter perfect; the cinematography and music couldn't be better. In short, this is one of the best films of the year, and not to be missed. I never knew that The Queen's father had such a terrifying speech defect...one that made everyone believe that he could never be king...including the public, and the members of his own family. And then, upon the death of their father, his brother became the king for a short time, until he abdicated the thrown, to marry "the woman I love," (the twice-divorced American Waliis Simpson,) and he WAS the king, speech defects and all. His relationship with the uncredentialed, commoner who became his speech therapist, savior, and friend, is the story of one of the greatest friendships in British history. 
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE BLACK SWAN":
I've always hated the movies of writer/director Dennis Aranovsky ( The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, and Pi,) up until now. His obsession with gaping wounds, blood, and portraying drug addicts and drunks so realistically, that you feel that you're a drug addict or drunk yourself, has always turned me off. I don't like that feeling, and it always struck me as being a bit infantile on the part of the writer/director. However, this film is a much more mature film, aimed at more than his usual cult audience. "The Black Swan" is his masterpiece. It's a tour-de-force for Natalie Portman who will surely win an Oscar for her portrayal of a ballerina who strives for perfection regardless of the consequences. So far, that could be the story of all young ballerinas. But this is an Aranovsky film and there's a twist, and it's a brilliant one. The ballerina is vying for the coveted role of The Snow Queen in "Swan Lake," a schizophrenic role in which the young girl, turned into a swan by an evil magician, is in part, The White Swan...virginal, innocent, and fragile...and in part The Black Swan...evil, seductive, and cruel. The ballerina portraying this split personality, must convey both sides in order to be a success. I can't tell you anymore of the story without  giving away the intricate plot itself, (which I thought was obvious from the beginning of the film!) Go see it; it's a must.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE EAGLE"

Boring, boring, boring! There's absolutely nothing worthwhile about this film.
(1-Star)
 

MOVIE REVIEW: "UNKNOWN"

Two long car chases interrupted by a boring movie! If someone told you the story of the plot, you might think that it would make for a good film. Unfortunately, this Liam Neeson movie is recycled from lots of better films, especially the Jason Bourne movies. A case of been there, done it. You've seen it all before, and done better.
( 1 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

It has some nice travel footage of East Berlin.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "WIN, WIN"
Every year, a small, independent, sleeper of a film comes out and becomes popular through word of mouth, and because it's just plain good. Until something better comes along, this is that film. I think that it's almost a prerequisite that this kind of film stars Paul Giamatti, and this one does. He plays a down on his luck attorney, who's just barely able to scrape up enough money to support his family. Then one day, he gets to represent an old man (Burt Young) who's bordering on dementia. He sees an opportunity to make some money off of this man, by lying in court, and he takes it. He puts the old man in a home, and collects the $1000 a month check as his guardian. The lawyer is also a coach of his high school's losing wrestling team. One day, the old man's grandson pops up on his doorstep, and when the lawyer finds out that he wrestled a bit, he encourages him to practice with his team, and to move in with his own family. Of course, the kid turns out to be a great wrestler, and the team becomes a winning team. But, just as things are going well, the boy's "rehabilitated" drug-addict of a mother shows up, and wants to reclaim her son and her father. I've told you enough, but nowhere near everything. All of the actors are wonderful, especially Giamatti, Amy Ryan as his wife, Burt Young, and Bobby Cannevale (very funny) as his best friend. I don't know the name of the kid who played Kyle, the young wrestler, but he was also very good. Anyway, I enjoyed it. Check it out. You'll be hearing more about it at Oscar time next year.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

If you read and loved Ayn Rand's classic masterpiece as I have, and have waited decades for it to be made into a film, you're probably prepared to be disappointed. To make matters worse, the present movie came in under the radar, with no hype, no stars, no known director or screenwriter, and no publicity. A disaster in the making, right? Wrong! This film is actually good! My biggest concern was, would they be able to inject the spirit of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism into the movie, or did they just intend to put the story on screen, as they did with her other masterpiece, The Fountainhead, thereby erasing Rand from the process. Well, guess what? It's there, in a very simplified form...but, it's there. It would certainly have helped if you had read the book, but the film stands up on its own. The corporate executives, female and male, wine, dine, and sleep with one another, and then stab each other in the back. Some begin to disappear. The country is falling apart and this is pretty evident in scene after scene, but the rich are still enjoying the good life, and Ayn Rand would be the first one to say they deserve it. Screw sharing the wealth with those who have less than you. If you earned it, you deserve to keep it. That's paraphrasing the author! The actors are all excellent, especially the two leads who play Dagny Taggart and Henry Reardon (no clue who they are!) I'm looking forward to Part 2, and some more clues to the question "who is John Galt?)
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "WATER FOR ELEPHANTS"

This movie is based on a wonderful book...one that I truly loved. If you haven't read the book, you'll probably enjoy the movie more than if you had read it, because the movie leaves out some of those details about character development and plot, that make the book so much better. But having said that, let me say that the movie does do a fairly good job of translating the book to the screen. The story is intact, but some of the raw emotion and heart of the book are left out. It's the story of a young man (Robert Pattinson,) told in flashback by his 90-year-old self (an excellent Hal Holbrook,) who is forced to drop out of school just short of becoming a veterinarian, due to a personal tragedy. He runs away and joins a small circus run by a sadistic sociopath (Christoph Waltz, playing pretty much the same role that he won the Oscar for in "Inglourious Basterds,") and his lovely wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon,) the star attraction. It's the Depression, and the circus is hurting for business and just about to close. Into their lives comes the true star of the movie, Rosie the elephant, who transforms their lives, and sets them all off on a tragic path.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THOR" (in 3D and IMAX)
The worst movie of the year! Why did I see it? Because it starred Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman, and was directed by the great Shakespearean actor, Kenneth Branagh. All three are whores, who sold out to the big bucks of this comic-book franchise. It's really just a big, cheesy trailer for the upcoming film, "The Avengers," which will unite Thor, with The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man. "Thor" convinced me not to see its spawn.
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The first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie was as enjoyable as the first time that I rode the ride at Disney World...fun and exciting. The second was a stupid mess of CGI special effects, aimed at the idiots in the audience, who enjoy cheesy special effects more than they do the story and characters. I hated it. I skipped the third one, expecting more of the same garbage. What brought me to this, the fourth film in the seemingly endless franchise, was the new director Rob Marshall ("Chicago" and "Nine"...two of my favorite films) whose background is the Broadway musical theater, and the musical on screen. What would he bring to this series? I had to see for myself, so I went, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Rob Marshall brought the series back to its roots in the first film...all story and character development, and almost no CGI effects (I counted two in the whole film!) New additions to the cast are Ian McShane as Blackbeard, and Penelope Cruz as his daughter, both of whom do a fine job. All of the cast members are on the same page, along with an excellent Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush. The story involves a search for The Fountain of Youth, supposedly discovered by Ponce De Leon. Captain Jack Sparrow is being pursued by the King's sailors, as well as Barbossa (Rush) and Blackbeard, while he searches for the Fountain. The highlight of the film is the segment with the mermaids (complete with CGI effects that serve the story,) and Marshall stages it like a production number in a Broadway show. Great job director Marshall. The end is a cliffhanger, so watch for the sequel!!!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

CB, or more accurately, theme-park ride.

 

Don't waste your time. It's exactly the same movie as the first one, only less funny and dumber!
(1-Star)

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "MIDNIGHT IN PARIS"
In composing this love letter to the city of Paris, Woody Allen has created his most charming, creative, and lovable movie since "Annie Hall!" He's hand-picked an ensemble cast, and they're all perfect, especially Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams and, I can't believe that I'm saying this, Owen Wilson. I won't trivialize the film by summarizing the wonderful story, except to say that the cast of characters includes Ernest Hemingway, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, T.S. Eliot, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Gauguin, Degas, and Gertrude Stein! If these names don't mean anything to you, then don't bother seeing the film. I left the theater humming the songs and floating on air. Where can you get that for only six bucks?
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE TREE OF LIFE"
Reclusive and controversial writer/director Terrence Malick makes a film every ten years. Most critics consider them to be masterpieces ("Badlands," "Days of Heaven," "The Thin Red Line," "The New World.") Most audiences either love them or hate them. His latest, "The Tree of Life," has just won the Palme d'Or, the Best Picture award at the Cannes Film Festival. In it, the visionary director uses stunning visuals to highlight the story of a Texas couple ( Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain) struggling to reconcile goodness, fairness and kindness, with life's realities of ugliness, violence and death (Sean Penn plays their son as an adult.) No, it's not a musical! The awesome (I mean this in the true sense of the word) images express in visual terms what the characters are thinking and feeling, as they ponder the meaning of life, and their relationship to their God. This sounds very heavy, but it isn't, because what we see on screen in the linear story, is a realistic picture of a family growing up. The mother and strict disciplinarian of a father, love their three sons, and what they do together are the things that we've all done. The three boys, and the actors who play them, are extraordinary. Watching the visual poetry unfold, I was reminded of the first time that I saw a light show at The Electric Circus in the '60s, also seeing "2001: A Space Odyssey," and some nature shows on the Discovery Channel. If you go to see this film, go with an open mind, and think of it as less of an entertainment and more as an experience.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "SUPER 8" (in IMAX)

Believe the hype. This one IS good! Writer/Director J. J. Abrams ("Star Trek," "Mission Impossible III") has created an homage to his idol, Stephen Spielberg, who is also the film's Producer. He's channeled a lot of the spirit of Spielberg, and has come up with an instant classic sci-fi thriller. The main characters of the film are a group of young kids who are making an 8mm film about zombies. One night while they're filming "out on location" they witness, and film, a horrible train wreck. When the army swoops down on the wreck, it appears that evil forces have been unleashed, to terrorize the small town, and the kids are right at the heart of it all. Abrams captures elements of "E.T." in this film, as well as "Alien," and all of those zombie films, although the creature is not a zombie. It's loaded with action and suspense, but there's also a surprising amount of character development and plot, for a film of this genre. It's not your typical summer blockbuster, aimed at mindless 14-year-olds. Go, you'll enjoy it, and stay for the final credits. There's something that you'll want to see.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

In the last 10 years (or was it more?) I read all of the books, and saw all of the movies, following the life of Harry Potter, the boy wizard. It all comes to a bittersweet conclusion in this last movie, which we chose not to see in 3-D. It's an excellent film, and a perfect way to end the story. I loved it. Now if we can all persuade J.K. Rowling to write a prequel, detailing the lives of Harry's parents, Tom Riddle, and Snape, when THEY were at Hogwarts.....
(5-Stars) Back to Top

I loved this super-hero comic-book action adventure movie. I put it up there with the best of them. Why? Well, lots of reasons. First of all, its retro book, look, and cinematography. It's set during World War II and looks it...all faded, washed-out colors. Secondly, the hero, played expertly by Chris Evans is perfect. He starts out with his own head superimposed onto the head of a short, skinny kid and he looks like the kid who got beat up by every bully in the school yard. Its CGI at its best. After he undergoes "the experiment" by a German scientist (Stanley Tucci,) he becomes the muscle-bulging Captain America. But this is no tights-and-cape superhero. He's a regular GI with superpowers! Thirdly, the movie references so many old films of the past, that I stopped counting. It's like dozens of WWII war films, especially "The Heroes of Telemark" with its alpine scenes. (I'll bet that no one out there remembers that classic.) It also pays tribute to Indiana Jones, James Bond and even Star Wars. It also has a great villain played by Hugh Weaving of "The Matrix" and "Lord of the Rings." He and Voldemort share the lack of a nose!!! For those of you who like action, there's plenty of action from beginning to end. But there's also great character development, even from secondary characters, especially Tommy Lee Jones as the big military honcho, and the actors who play the head of Stark industries, Captain America's best-friend sidekick, and the villain's evil scientist (didn't he play Truman Capote?) Anyway, stay till the very end. There's a great last scene. I could go on and on but I won't. You'll love it. It's for kids and thinking adults alike.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

Comic book

MOVIE REVIEW: "COWBOYS AND ALIENS"

Although the title and my better instincts almost kept me from going to see this film, four names brought me to it...actors Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Sam Rockwell, and director Jon Favreau. For the first half hour, I sat, apprehensively, watching an intense and interesting Western. Then, the fantasy switch turned on with the arrival of the aliens, and surprisingly, the film continued to be intense and interesting, as well as thrilling, and very entertaining. I was shocked at how much I was enjoying it. Granted, you have to have the ability to suspend disbelief to enjoy this film, but if you can, it'll be worth your while, as you sit on the edge of your seat waiting for the non-stop action to unfold. From time to time, just as you get comfortable in one genre (the classic Western with cowboys and Indians,) the other genre (science fiction/ action) kicks in to keep you on edge. It works, and it works very well, thanks to an intelligent script, good direction, and fine acting. There's even some room for good character development. Just goes to show. You can go into a movie with very low expectations, and come out having enjoyed it from beginning to end, as I did.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE HELP"

If you loved the Kathryn Stockett book, as I did, then you'll enjoy the film, because it gives an added visual dimension to the incidents in the book. However, readers of the book, be warned. It also sanitizes the story somewhat, and takes out some of the biting, satiric, reality of the book's portrayal of "the maids' viewpoint," in the racist South of the '60s...though not enough to take away from the film. The cast is filled with fine actresses like Viola Davis, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Emma Stone, Cicely Tyson, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Mary Steenburgen etc. who flesh out the white and black characters from the book. Once again, the story deals with a young white woman (Stone,) fresh out of her journalism program at college, who sets out to chronicle the life of the black maids, who serve their white "bosses,"...the women who hire them to clean their houses and raise their children. At first. the black women are terrified to jeopardize their jobs to do this, but they finally band together and decide that their story must be told. All this against the background of the racist, Medgar Evers Mississippi, of the '60s. It's a fascinating and very moving story, and the film brings it an added dimension of life. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE DEBT"
Wow, this one is as good as it gets! It's a thinking man's thriller...exciting from beginning to end. The year is 1966, and three young Mossad agents are sent to East Berlin to kidnap a former Nazi war criminal...the Surgeon of Birkenau...and bring him to Israel for "trial." Things go wrong. Thirty years later, the former agents are now living out their lives, tortured by what really happened in their kidnapping attempt. Two (Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson) have married and divorced and the third (Ciaran Hinds) has been wandering the world, living a life of deceit, and tortured by this deceit. Most of the film is told in flashbacks, with the three young agents (Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Marton Csokas) plotting to carry out their kidnapping plot. All of the actors are brilliant, especially Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain as Rachel, old and young. I sat on the edge of my seat through this entire film. I almost peed my pants!!!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "CONTAGION" (in IMAX)

You've all seen this plot before, in dozens of other movies. You know, it's the one about the innocent tourist, who eats a grape in Ecuador (or in this case a handful of cashews in Hong Kong,) contracts a deadly virus, comes home to the U.S., and contaminates half of the world! What makes this one a little different, is that it's directed by Steven Soderbergh ("Traffic,") and stars six world-famous actors (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Lawrence Fishburne, and Gwyneth Paltrow,) although the best acting is done by Broadway actress Jennifer Ehle (the doctor at CDC who injects herself with the vaccine.) Every scene is one that you've seen before, thereby making the film completely predictable. It's somewhat interesting to see how it plays out this time, with all of these actors doing their thing, although it is a bit of a disappointment...especially if you paid almost twice the usual price to see it in IMAX, which is completely unnecessary for this film!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "MONEYBALL"
I'm not the least bit interested in what goes on behind the scenes, in the business offices of the general managers and their scouts in professional baseball. But I am interested in an unusual story...well-told, well-written, and well-acted. That's what this is. It's the true story of Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A's baseball team, and working with what he had, a team budget of virtually nothing, showed that it's not really about how much you spend to buy star players, but what you can do by using players who cost practically nothing, and building up a team from scratch. He virtually changed the way the business of baseball was carried out. Brad Pitt turns in the acting performance of his career, but the surprise here is Jonah Hill, who manages to keep up with him. Who would have thought that the fat nerd in all of those adolescent films, could actually act? Philip Seymour Hoffman doesn't get a chance to do much but it's good to see him in a role opposing the Pitt character. The film does bog down at times, but for most of its length, it's interesting and enjoyable.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

We did a double-feature of two films starring Ryan Gosling. Here are the short reviews:

 
This is a big film that takes us behind the scenes of a presidential primary campaign. Fifty years ago, we would have been shocked by the dirty tactics, back stabbing, and horny candidates. Today it's all business as usual. Ryan Gosling plays the candidate's scriptwriter/press secretary, Philip Seymour Hoffmann and Paul Giamatti are the campaign managers for the two opposing candidates, Marisa Tomei is a reporter for the Times, and George Clooney, in a supporting role, is the candidate. All are excellent, as is the director...George Clooney.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 
MOVIE REVIEW: "DRIVE"
This is a small film that takes us behind the scenes of the underbelly of violent crime in L.A. Fifty years ago, we would have been shocked by the bloody violence, and the depressing story. Today it's all business as usual. Ryan Gosling plays a small-time Hollywood stunt driver, who moonlights as a driver for criminals. His life spirals downward as everything goes wrong for him. His next door neighbor and love interest is played by Carey Mulligan, and in a surprise bit of casting, the "crime boss" is played by comic actor Albert Brooks. All are excellent, but this film is not for everyone because it's very slow-moving and filled with extreme, bloody, violence.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "J. EDGAR"

He was a bully, an insecure mama's boy, a tyrant, a closeted homosexual, and he created the most powerful law-enforcement agency in the world...the F.B.I! He subjected his agents to standards that he himself could never have lived up to, had he allowed himself to be judged by his own standards! This was the little troll who was J. Edgar Hoover, and the brilliant director, Clint Eastwood, and his even more brilliant star, Leonardo DiCaprio, bring this historical enigma to life in this powerful film. As Eastwood and DiCaprio play it, it's basically a love story between Hoover, and the love of his life, Clyde Tolson, played by Armie Hammer (who played the twins in "The Social Network.") Surprisingly, most people inside Washington, knew about this love affair, but kept it a secret from the press and the public. I guess that secrets could be kept in those pre-cell-phone/pre-media-whores days! In any case, the film is riveting, fascinating, and informative, and the acting is as good as it gets. DiCaprio (and the make up artist who ages him) should win an Oscar, and everyone else is phenomenal as well, especially Judi Dench as J.Edgar's manipulative mother. When you think of the many lives that he ruined, and the presidents and other powerful figures that he blackmailed, it's hard to explain how the viewer can feel such sympathy for him. I guess that's called great writing, great acting and great directing! Don't miss it.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

MOVIE REVIEW: "HUGO"
This is the most inventive, creative, imaginative, and beautiful film of the year. Based on the book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," director Martin Scorsese has fashioned the most artistic 3D film that I've ever seen. The place is Paris, and the time is just after World War I. It's the story of an orphan who lives in a train station in Paris, and who keeps the clocks going on time, although no one knows that he's there. Through a convoluted set of events, the young boy, Hugo, manages to get tangled up in the mysterious life of the inventor of the first movies, Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley.) We see the early history of film through Hugo's eyes, as he struggles to elude the bizarre police captain who guards the train station (Sasha Baron Cohen at his best,) and who is determined to round up every orphan and stray who wanders through the station. The film is funny, heartbreaking, exciting, and suspenseful. Although it's not an animated film, the computer graphics make the scenes of Parisian streets, viewed from above, look absolutely breathtaking. Take the whole family. It's a dark, and often sad film, but the kids in the theater where we saw it, seemed to love it. It'll be on everyone's best films list this year. It's certainly on mine.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "MY WEEK WITH MARILYN"

An unnecessary, unflattering little film that dishonors the memory of all those portrayed in it...especially Marilyn Monroe, Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. As seen through the eyes of the young employee of Sir Laurence's movie studio, who had been assigned the thankless job of "baby-sitting" Marilyn Monroe during the filming of the movie, "The Prince and the Showgirl," starring Olivier and Monroe, it trivializes the greatness of both of these film legends. Although Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh are great actors, they convey none of the talent, charm, looks, or charisma of these two larger-than-life stars. The movie spends more time concentrating on the man who was supposed to be shepherding Marilyn Monroe around England during the turbulent filming of this Laurence Olivier vanity film, than on the glorious star at its center. As I said at the beginning of this review, it's an unnecessary little film. You'd be better off checking out any one of the many classic films starring Marilyn Monroe, Laurence Olivier or Vivien Leigh. They were three of the best!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE DESCENDANTS"

In spite of all of the good reviews that it received, I expected nothing more than a chick-flick or a soap opera. Instead, what I got was one of the best movies of the year, a surefire Oscar contender, and one that will probably land George Clooney a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar. He plays a wealthy Hawaiian land owner, who, with his cousins, are in line to make a billion dollars from the sale of choice land that their family has owned for generations. All of this is happening, while his wife is in a coma in the hospital, having had a fatal boating accident. He's in the unfamiliar, for him, position of having to help his two daughters cope with everything that's happening in their lives. Now see, I've just made it sound like a soap opera when it's anything but. It's more like watching a real family, rather than a group of actors, cope with the traumatic events in their lives. It's brilliantly written and directed, and the actors, lead by Clooney, are completely believable as real people. No stereotypes here. Just three-dimensional characters that you can love and hate. I was completely fascinated by this family.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "CARNAGE"
"Carnage"is Roman Polanski's film version of the hit Broadway show "God of Carnage." The movie stars Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet, and Christoph Waltz, in the roles originated on Broadway by Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Hayden, and Jeff Daniels. Both casts were, and are, letter perfect. The story is still the same. Two sets of parents get together, in the posh Brooklyn apartment of one of the couples, to come to grips with a playground bullying incident, in which the 11-year-old son of one couple hurt the 11-year-old son of the other couple. The two couples start out in a forced civilized manner, and as things escalate, they all deteriorate into the "carnage" of the title. It's in turn insightful, witty, sad, and hilarious! The stars are perfect in their roles. I really enjoyed it, although the tension between the four characters, is, at times, unbearable.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "THE ARTIST"

I admit that it was a clever idea to make a black and white, silent movie nowadays, but who really gives a shit??? So, this remake of "A Star is Born" is creative, and a novelty, but it almost bored me to sleep. I kept looking at my watch hoping that it would end soon. Call me shallow, but I need sound and color for a new movie, for me to truly enjoy it. That doesn't mean I want to see "Casablanca" or "Citizen Kane" colorized. They're works of art, just as they are. This one isn't! Don't waste your time.
(1-Star) (The dog was funny!!!)

 

MOVIE REVIEW: "WARHORSE"

What a fine film this is; one of Spielberg's best. Based on the children's novel by British author Michael Morporgo, and the highly successful still-running Broadway play of the same name, director Stephen Spielberg has created one of his best film masterpieces. This sprawling epic, which cried out to be done on the large screen, tells the very moving story of a horse, Joey...and all of the people who love him...who gets caught up in the brutality of World War I in Europe