Monday, January 28, 2008


“GRACE IS GONE” (John Cusack)
This film was supposed to be out months ago – I had to keep asking ‘Is Grace Is Gone gone & never came to Seattle?’ I kept hearing how John Cusack would get a lot of Oscar buzz over his performance, but the end of 2007 came & no Grace Is Gone & no mention of Cusack as a possible Best Actor contender... It’s a mistake – John Cusack gives the performance of his life here – he is incredibly good. The opening sequence shows some old fuddy-duddy walking down a corridor as he gets closer you see that it might be John, but no this guy has a distinct ‘old guys’ gait – that can’t be John Cusack – but it is. On his way to give a pep talk to his fellow employees at the Home Store. He hooked me right then & there with the gait – he wasn’t John Cusack – he was Stanley Phillips, father of two daughters, husband of Grace; department store manager. Gone was the John Cusack smirk – the John Cusack eye roll – all of his stand by moves were gone & Stanley was now in command. I didn’t think he had it in him & I was very impressed.
Now, Grace’s death is announced within the first 10 minutes, so I’m not giving anything away here – what this movie deals with is how a grieving father tell his 12 & 8 year old daughters that their mother isn’t coming home from the war in Iraq.
Without seeing or knowing anything about Grace other than she was killed while fighting for ‘her’ country, Cusack makes you care about his plight with an absolutely brilliant performance, To see a weak Tommy Lee Jones vehicle get an Oscar nod while this role goes unrecognized is (bleep)ing criminal.
Yes, it’s sad – it is difficult to watch knowing what is eventually going to happen to these little girls as dad suddenly decides to take them on a road trip to a famous amusement park & starts granting their every wish; both girls by the way are outstanding young actors, Shelan O’Keefe as the older Heidi bares a remarkable resemblance to Paul Dano (the horrible so-called ‘actor’ who ruined “There Will Be Blood”) & Dawn is played by Gracie Bednarczyk, who has some flaws as any small child would but is already a better actor than Paul Dano.
I found myself wiping a tear from my eye more than once during this movie, but still found it a ‘joy’ to watch. Mr. Cusack, you have finally arrived on my A-List. Nicely done.


“UNTRACEABLE” (Diane Lane)

I felt cheated by this movie; they figure out the killer’s identity & they eventually track him down . . . so exactly how is he ‘untraceable’ ?

I should just use that as my entire review, but it really doesn’t help you to decide whether or not you want to go see it, does it?
Okay, here’s the plot; Diane Lane, getting up there in years but still a fairly sexy woman,
plays Jennifer Marsh, a detective for the Portland Police Dept. heading up the ‘Internet Creeps’ Division - which consists of her & Griffin (Colin Hanks)
When a website called ‘Kill With Me’ pops up, Det. Marsh checks it out & sees a cat stuck to one of those heartless ‘glue’ rat traps with a bowl of milk just inches away. After a few days the cat starves to death. Hundreds of thousands have logged in to watch the kitty die & the site is full of smart-ass remarks by equally heartless chat room dweebs. A few days later the site starts a new ‘game’ – this time it’s a male in his forties; shirtless with the words ‘Kill With Me’ carved into his chest. Attached is an I.V. that contains something that causes the man to bleed faster the more he’s given – the amount of the drug increases every time someone logs onto the site.
And that’s basically it; to give away more would be ‘spoiling’.
I’ll only tell you that the ‘untraceable’ killer when ‘traced’ is so ridiculous it really spoils what was a fairly suspenseful film. When you see it, you’ll understand – I’ll just say think of how much someone would have to know to understand & be able to pull off what this killer does & then ask – does that character look like someone with a great deal of experience in this sort of thing?
I’d say a good plot – well-acted for the most part – but ruined by the revelation of the ‘monster’ who created this ghastly inhuman torture device.


“30 DAYS OF NIGHT” (Josh Hartnett, Danny Huston, Melissa George & Ben Foster)

It was 9PM; the dog & I were bored, so we decided to go see the gory vampire movie for a buck at Gateway in Federal Way. (He waited in the car)
I was a big fan of the horror genre as a kid (Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, etc) & the last ‘monster’ movie I went to was Van Helsing (Bringing back the old time monsters)
So I decided to see what passes for ‘horror’ these days (plus it cost me more in gas than it did to see the film) Holy crap, people – this stuff is beyond gruesome!
When I saw the names Danny Huston (The Proposition) & Ben Foster (3:10 To Yuma) in the credits, I thought, ‘all right, this is going to be a real classy affair – that’s a couple of top quality actors right there’ . . . Well, Danny never speaks a word of English & Ben has 3 scenes & his character is never given a name, so... so much for wishful thinking.
But in the end, surprisingly, I liked this film. Despite the several times I muttered the full name of the Lord’s son while viewing horrific scenes of humans having either their throats torn out or their heads chopped off, I actually enjoyed the over-all story of how this nightmare came to take place. After discovering that the town of Barrow, Alaska would be engulfed in perpetual darkness for a 30 day stretch head vampire Marlow (Huston) says in some strange Klingon-sounding language “We should have come to this place centuries ago!”
These aren’t the 2 fanged Bela Lugosi vampires from my childhood, these are new, improved – yes, ‘evolved’ vampires who have 3 rows of razor sharp great white shark sized teeth that rip their victims’ throats to shreds with a single chomp. They are so messy that each vampire has a perpetual ‘beard of blood’ stained upon their chins & necks.
Josh Hartnett does a decent job as Sheriff Eben Olson; the only man in town with any hope of figuring out a way to defeat these undead cannibals & Melissa George as his estranged wife is very believable as she gradually rediscovers why she fell in love with Eben in the first place despite the fact that all of their friends & neighbors are being eaten like buckets of KFC at a little league end-of-season picnic.
It does fall back on the predictable at times & I really didn’t like it when the first victims were all the huskies – killed so the humans wouldn’t have any way to escape, but I did walk out of the theater feeling ‘entertained’. Of course, the toughest part was explaining to my dog why he didn’t hear any barking going on in a film set in northern Alaska!


“FIRST SUNDAY” (Ice Cube & Tracey Morgan)

I have never claimed to be ‘hip’; ‘hip’ when I was a kid meant you smoked – I never did.
So I’m not one to attend a movie with an all-black cast just to make it appear as though I’m a hip honky, but I chuckled a few times at the preview for this film, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
Ice Cube plays Durrell, a divorced dad who dutifully walks his son to the school bus everyday. Monetarily, Durrell isn’t such a good father, so when his ex-wife tells him she can’t keep her beauty shop in business unless he comes up with $17,000 she’s moving his son to Florida.
That’s the set up & if I hadn’t known from the trailer that this was supposed to be a comedy I’d have never guessed it. There isn’t a single laugh in the first 30 minutes of “First Sunday”; in fact, it has a rather somber tone to it as Durrell & his intelligence-challenged buddy LeeJohn try to figure out a way to come up with the quick cash.
The laughs start coming with the appearance of Katt Williams as Rickey, the effeminate leader of the church choir. Once they decide to rob the church, the comedy comes to the forefront & it has many laugh-out-loud moments & then just like a light-switch it gets serious again & the last 20 minutes are void of any chuckles.
Best actor in the cast, Chi McBride lends an air of sophistication to the proceedings as the church pastor who tries to convince Durrell & LeeJohn to do the right thing, but this is Katt Williams’ movie to steal – for without him, this is a serious family drama!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008



2007 was a great year for movies & male actors – but you couldn’t tell by the Oscar nominated selections – what you can tell is that it wasn’t a very impressive year for actresses. Now, I haven’t seen EVERY nominated performance, but I’ve seen most & there are a couple that I’ll never see simply because the subject matter of the film doesn’t interest me in the least.
The main reason I’m a little outraged by this so-called ‘cream of the crop’ came when I noticed the boring cartoon “Ratatouille” garnered 5 Academy Award nominations while my favorite film of 2007, “3:10 To Yuma” received 2. Sean Penn’s incredible work on ‘Into The Wild” went ignored as that film was also named in only 2 categories. Then it gets worse; “Charlie Wilson’s War”, “Eastern Promises” & “Lars & The Real Girl” each received 1 nomination. “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead”, a wonderfully original, well-acted picture that will easily make my Top 10 of the year received 0... & ‘Ratatouille”, a cartoon about a rat who cooks will be up for 5 trophies. Go figure.

3 great films are nominated for Best Picture; 1 mediocre film made it & 1 really bad one got in. I should be glad the ‘musical’ “Sweeney Todd” didn’t make it, but I’d rather see it in the final 5 instead of “Atonement” because I’ll never know how much I dislike ‘Sweeney’ as that is on the list of films I will never watch even when it comes to television. (Strike one – it’s a musical; strike two – I saw the stage play on PBS many, many years ago & hated it)
“Juno” making it in over about 30 better movies is a joke, but I guess I should be grateful that ‘Ratatouille’ didn’t make it in instead of “Michael Clayton”, eh?

I expected Johnny Depp to get in, but Tommy Lee Jones for the disappointing “In The Valley Of Elah”? Sorry, but young Emile Hirsch tortured himself for “Into The Wild” & still gave a better performance than old Mr. Jones (Who was much better in “No Country For Old Men”)
I’m aware that Ryan Gosling’s quirky role as “Lars” wasn’t appreciated by some - I can actually see how not everyone would ‘get’ his odd character’s nuances, but I loved the film & the performance – “Lars” should be getting the accolades that “Juno” is receiving.
& did the Academy voters not see “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead”? Cate Blanchett made it in both lead & supporting categories whereas Philip Seymour Hoffman deserved that honor not just for ‘Devil’, but ‘The Savages’ as well. Combine those two with his outstanding work in “Charlie Wilson’s War” & there’s your Actor of the Year winner, hands down.

My only problem in the Best Actress category is Ellen Page; I just don’t get why she has become the media ‘darling’ for that bland, one-note, relatively annoying character. I thought for certain Amy Adams would keep her out of the running, as Adams absolutely lit up the screen in “Enchanted” – one of the year’s biggest surprises in my mind.
I was very pleased to see Laura Linney make it in – one of the few pleasant surprises among the nominees.

As contentious as the Supporting Actor possibilities were, 4 of the 5 were easy to predict – but the 5th slot going to Casey Affleck is beyond comprehension; a somnambulistic performance if I ever saw one. Here’s where I really wanted a nod to go to either Russell Crowe or Christian Bale in “3:10 To Yuma” (Preferably Bale since Crowe has had his share of recognition in the past) Their combo performances in that movie was such a joy to watch, it is disgraceful that the Academy has chosen to ignore them. Instead, the best film of 2007 is up for ‘Sound Mixing’ & ‘Original Score’ (& I understand it’s a long shot in both categories!)

In the Supporting Actress category I’d have a tough time coming up with 5 deserving performances; in fact I would have nominated Tilda Swinton for “Michael Clayton” 5 times & let it go at that. She should win, but she won’t because Cate Blanchett put on a wig & played Bob Dylan. The Academy eats hokum like that up. Never mind Tilda Swinton not only held her own against the fine performances of Tom Wilkenson & George Clooney – she actually outshined them (Well, George more than Tom, who was brilliant as well)

& maybe my biggest complaint of all comes in the Best Director category where I will admit I’m prejudice because Sean Penn is my favorite actor – but look at the performances he got out of the actors in “Into The Wild”; Emile Hirsch will NEVER be better (trust me) & who knew Vince Vaughn could actually portray a non smart-ass?
Throw in snubbed ‘Supporting’ actress Catherine Kenner & the remarkable chemistry he pulled of between Hirsch & Hal Holbrook in just a few minutes of screen time & tell me how a hack like Jason Reitman (“Juno”) deserves a best director nod over Sean?
& since you snubbed him here – then where’s the Adapted Screenplay nomination?
You do realize that ever since working with Clint Eastwood, Sean has become much more ‘Oscar’-friendly? I always thought he was snubbed in the past because he’d make disparaging remarks about the Academy – ‘we don’t act to win trophies’ & ‘if you’re true to the art form, then you shouldn’t put up with someone saying one actor is better than another’. So maybe he’s just as happy not being in the limelight – but I think it’s a travesty of biblical proportions!

A friend of mine & predicted who we thought would be nominated – in the 6 major categories I hit 22 of 30, he nailed 23 (& I still disagree with his Ruby Dee selection!)
But those were predictions, not choices. So ignoring the ‘learned’ Academy, here’s the selections that should have been nominated – it’s a little thing I like to call...

If I Was The Nomination Committee – Here Are Your Oscar Choices...

PICTURE; “3:10 To Yuma” “Charlie Wilson’s War” “Michael Clayton” “No Country For Old Men” “There Will Be Blood”
ACTOR Russell Crowe (or) Christian Bale (3:10 To Yuma) Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood) Ryan Gosling (Lars & The Real Girl) Philip Seymour Hoffman (Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead & The Savages) Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises)
ACTRESS Amy Adams (Enchanted) Carice van Houten (The Black Book) Ashley Judd (Bug) Laura Linney (The Savages) Naomi Watts (Eastern Promises)
SUPPORTING ACTOR Christian Bale (or) Russell Crowe (3:10 To Yuma) Javiar Bardem (No Country For Old Men) Hal Holbrook (Into The Wild) Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson’s War) Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton)
SUPPORTING ACTRESS Daisy Donovan (Death At A Funeral) Catherine Keener (Into The Wild) Michelle Pfeiffer (Stardust) Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton)
DIRECTOR Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood) Ethan & Joel Coen (No Country For Old Men) Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) Sidney Lumet (Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead) Sean Penn (Into The Wild)

These are based on the movies I saw – so don’t complain because I Cate Blanchett or Julie Christie aren’t on my list – I didn’t see their performances, so I can’t really rate them, can I?
There are probably a dozen more Supporting Actors that deserve to be recognized, I’m really surprised how Ed Harris has gone ignored for “Gone Baby Gone”, whereas for Supporting Actress nominees I had to search just to come up with a 5th choice (Pfeiffer)

To win, I would take –
3:10 To Yuma
Daniel Day-Lewis
Laura Linney
Javiar Bardem
Tilda Swinton
Sidney Lumet
(In a year this good, no one film should take more than 1 award)

My predicted Oscar winners –
No Country For Old Men
Daniel Day-Lewis
Julie Christie (But I wouldn’t be surprised with a Cotillard upset)
Javiar Berdem
Paul Thomas Anderson

& for Best Animated Feature – The Simpsons Movie – becoming the first ever to take the trophy without being nominated as millions choose it as a write-in selection... “Ratatouille”, my ass...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


“HE WAS A QUIET MAN” (Christian Slater, Elisha Cuthbert & William H. Macy)

I guess this will have to be a ‘DVD’ review as this film is no longer showing; & for a movie that was only in town for two weeks at one theater, it is surprisingly good. I never saw a trailer to this, never saw an ad – all I knew about it came from one review which praised Christian Slater’s performance, but panned the film.
“He Was A Quiet Man” doesn’t cover any new territory, but it does so in an unusual way.
Christian Slater plays Bob, a worker bee at a large corporation. Bob sits in his small cubicle doing boring ‘numbers’ tasks. Every day Bob takes a revolver from his briefcase and six bullets from his desk drawer & loads them by giving each a name... ‘Annoying bitch’ is one bullet; ‘Back Stabber’ is another. Bob glances up at each co-worker as he loads their bullet into the chamber. When he reaches bullet #6, Bob hesitates – he doesn’t name it.
Bob lives in a small house with an aquarium full of goldfish – the biggest, bug-eyed one is his best friend – Bob holds conversations with him – the goldfish talks back. It’s one of several ‘quirky’ bits in this film that I really liked; as the goldfish is disappointed when Bob returns home from work everyday since that means he ‘chickened out’ again.
Bob has a crush on office cutie Vanessa (Elisha Cuthbert) who only knows him as ‘hula man’ because Bob has a bobble-figurine of a hula dancer which sits atop the divider of his cubicle.
Bob eats his lunch across the street from where he works and every day he takes a black box with a red button upon it out of his briefcase & pretends to blow the building to smithereens. As Bob imagines huge chunks of concrete & steel falling around them, Vanessa jogs by & with her usual friendly smile says “How’s it goin’, hula man?”
Yes, a quirky film that keeps getting quirkier.
The next day as Bob goes thru the loading his gun routine he begins to shake while trying to load the un-named 6th bullet, it falls from his fingers & rolls across the floor. Bob drops to his hands & knees & sees it in the middle of the pathway out in the open for all to see. Then he sees a shoe step on the bullet. A moment later gunshots ring out – four consecutive shots & four consecutive bodies hit the floor. Bob goes into panic mode – as the viewer of this offbeat tale, I wondered what was really going on – was this Bob playing out his fantasy as he does with his lunchtime explosion?
A 5th shot is fired at a jerk supervisor, but #5 misses its mark. Bob hears ‘Dammit’, & stands to see Coleman, a nerdy looking bald man with glasses standing directly across from him. The conversation they hold is... well, quirky. When one of the 4 victims moans, Bob sees that it is Vanessa. I won’t reveal how, but Bob saves her from being put out of her misery.
Vanessa becomes paralyzed from the neck down & Bob becomes entwined in a pact with her as she enlists his help in ‘finishing what Coleman started’.
Slater deserves recognition for his work in this film – he isn’t anything like the Christian Slater you’ve seen in the past. Elisha Cuthbert, on the other hand, is a cutie; I love to look at her, but she needs to find roles that don’t demand any ability to act... A mute nude model would be a step in the right direction.
William H. Macy plays the boss of the corporation, Mr. Shelby; he doesn’t appear until the second half, but he gives this film credibility just because he’s William H. Macy, dammit!
Expectations mean a lot in the world of movie-going & being rated NR, I didn’t know what to expect from ‘He Was A Quiet Man’, but I got a much better film than I anticipated. Why NR? I have no idea – it is a mild ‘R’ movie for language & one quick topless shot. (& they aren’t Elisha’s – they pull the old ‘here’s a pair of bare breasts but we’re not going to show the face in the shot’ gag – so you know they’re ‘stunt boobs’)

It probably won’t get any fanfare when it comes out on DVD either, but if you like off-the-wall films centering on a serious subject, but done with a good dose of dark humor, seek out ‘He Was A Quiet Man’ in a few months & I believe you’ll be saying the same thing I said – How come no one promoted this very entertaining film?


“27 DRESSES” & “MAD MONEY” (Lots of chicks)

Ah, it’s that glorious time of the year when all the Oscar buzzers have been released & all that’s left is the junk that will fade away before the credits even start to roll... in other words, ‘chick flick’ season is here!
Last January saw the release of the 3 worst movies of the year (Well,’I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry’ fits right in too, but) ‘Georgia Rule’, ‘Epic Movie’ & ‘Failure To Launch’ will all be in my bottom 5 of ’07.
But onto the task at hand – which had me viewing back-to-back chick flicks; one with no hope at all of being pleasurable & one that appeared to have some bite to it.
If you had told me I would like the movie about the woman who had been a bridesmaid 27 times more than I would the sneaky bank robbing caper, I’d have said you were nuts – but guess what? I liked ’27 Dresses’ a LOT more than the ridiculously stupid ‘Mad Money’ (Not that ‘Dresses’ offered any intellectual stimulation either)

I’ll start with what I liked about ’27 Dresses’; Judy Greer & James Marsden as the lead character’s best friend & chief annoyance, who turns out to be her favorite newspaper writer. I liked these characters because they’re cynical – they hate weddings as much as I do – so this doesn’t pay homage to droning rituals of the Homosapien species, it actually pokes fun at them.
The biggest surprise in this film is that they used my least favorite Elton John song, ‘Bennie & The Jets’ & actually made it work – how? By making fun of it, as the only lyrics Katherine Heigl’s Jane & Marsden’s Kevin get correct are ‘I read it in a magazine’ & ‘B-B-B-Bennie & The Jetssss’
’27 Dresses’ has a few funny moments & to be quite honest – it just didn’t suck as much as I thought it would.
What did suck was Ed Burns – he has the acting ability of a dead slug on a windowsill. He makes the unflappable Mark Ruffalo seem ‘dynamic’.
& for some reason, Katherine Heigl decided to ‘channel’ Lisa Kudrow to play this part & boy, does that idea fall flat on its unfunny face. Listen to her voice & the way she delivers her lines – that flat, ‘oh, I’m so much more sophisticated & adorable than you homely peons’ voice that just makes you want to throw buckets of raw sewage on her.
But still there’s enough to like to give this movie a C.

‘Mad Money’ on the other hand, gets a D- as its main plot ‘scheme’ is so simplistic it insults the viewing audience. If they had marketed this to pre-schoolers, I’d cut it some slack, but this was presented as a ‘smart’ bank theft caper involving 3 totally diverse actresses – The big surprise – they’re all really bad in this. Oh, they’re diverse, all right, but they all stink up the screen in their own unique way.
After one day on the job at a Federal Reserve Bank in K. C., Diane Keaton’s Bridget
unveils an easy as boiling water plan to heist several thousands of dollars a day from the worn-out cash that is earmarked for destruction.
Keaton is a janitor; Nina (Queen Latifah) is the actual bill shredder; & Jackie (Katie Holmes) is the ‘ditz’ that takes large bins of cash up to Nina’s section to be destroyed. First, Jackie is not the type of individual a staid bank would hire; & second - how convenient for Bridget that these 2 gals decided becoming criminals would be harmless fun.
One might ask why a janitor would be allowed inside rooms with large amounts of cash & several employees on duty, but that would be injecting sense into a movie that is devoid of such frivolous plot infringements.
The only thing this movie challenges its audience to do is to stay awake while these unethical, lazy women do very little to get rich quick.
Just when I hoped this story would show a little respect to the audience, they shove hypocrisy down our throats when Nina, after enrolling her 2 sons in a private school & making a generous donation toward the school’s library, orders the other 2 not to spend any of the loot as it would appear ‘suspicious’.
The bottom line here is that this film has 0 laughs; a sprinkling of light chuckles along the way, but there is not a single good laugh in the entire flick.
I guess if you’re tired of films with intricate plots that bog you down with having to remember who’s who & who’s responsible for doing what & who’s that guy? Where did he come from? (& believe me, I’ve had my fill of those overly complicated plots) then ‘Mad Money’ is the slow-it-down-for-me-and-spell-it-out-like-an-instant-replay-with-teleprompter-writing movie for you!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Bucket List

“The BUCKET LIST” (Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman)

To all the critics who bad mouthed this movie – uh, what were you expecting another “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”? There is nothing wrong with this film – it is well worth seeing; it has a fair share of comedic moments as well as a few poignant ones.
Jack doesn’t ‘mail in’ his performance & Morgan’s narration isn’t ‘tiresome’ (Two complaints I read) I don’t think it will crack my top 10 list, but it is definitely one of my top 20 favorite movies of 2007.

Jack plays Edward Cole, an eccentric, somewhat cranky, multi-millionaire who runs ‘hospitals – not health spas’; so when he coughs up blood while defending his practices in a court of law, Edward finds himself a victim of his own rules – 2 beds per room – no exceptions.
Edward is forced to bunk with Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) an exceptionally bright auto mechanic. The fact that these two opposites bond is not a stretch as they share the same frightening diagnosis – they both have cancer; Edward is given 6 months to a year left, while Carter is told maybe a year or so.

Carter begins to write his ‘Bucket List’ – things he hoped he would accomplish before kicking the proverbial bucket. Edward sneaks a peek at the list, calls it ‘cutesy’ at first, but a moment later is adding his own wishes to the list.
So with Cole’s money and Carter’s smarts they decide to venture around the world looking for something ‘majestic’.
Sure, the skydiving scene is predictable & the car racing scene is a little ‘cutesy’, but this film, directed by Rob Reiner, walks the line of comedy & drama without going over the edge one way or the other.
Maybe it’s a film for us older folk (I’m 52) as both my wife & my dear friend Alma (I’m the spring chicken of the group) enjoyed it immensely.
Here’s a little personal side story; we’ve been planning to see this movie with Alma for months – but the day before we went, Alma emails me & says the reviews have been terrible, perhaps we should pick another film? My response was – who cares what critics think? I only care what I think!
So who do you think laughed the most & was wiping a tear from her eye at the end of the critically UN-acclaimed ‘Bucket List’ ? That’s right, Alma.
The thing about critics is – you have to get to know their likes & dislikes – which is what I try to do with my reviews. From the preview, I thought this had #1 potential – the bad reviews made me think – how is that possible, with two of my all-time favorite actors & that nifty premise? Well, the truth is – this is a very good movie that doesn’t deserve the trashing it’s receiving from the snooty ‘wags’. Maybe it isn’t for the ‘younger’ generations (not much for them to relate to in it) but this older guy enjoyed the watching the trip that Edward & Carter take around the globe.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


“THERE WILL BE BLOOD” (Daniel Day-Lewis & Paul Dano)

I will say this about Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of the book “Oil!” – it is unique.
It is a memorable movie going experience, but I don’t think it’s the type of film that will be enjoyed by all. If you can become engrossed by watching a great actor at the top of his game, you will thoroughly enjoy Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood”. But if you expect the lead character to be ‘heroic’ or someone to be admired – Plainview’s not your man.
The two lead actors however are as different as night & ‘Day’ – I’ll explain later...

The film opens in 1898 as young Daniel Plainview toils away in a self-dug cave looking for ore. He toils and he sweats alone in the middle of nowhere during the day and attempts to keep from freezing to death at night. The picture Anderson presents is of a driven man – so driven that after Plainview breaks his leg in a mishap, he crawls on his back for several miles back to civilization with his bag of precious stones.
Then Daniel discovers oil while digging and puts all of his efforts into becoming the best oil man in the country. At this point Plainview is to be admired; that’s what hooks you in – even when he turns out to be a greedy monster with a condemnation for the human race – you still remember what he went thru to get to his position of wealth.... And ‘sharing’ isn’t one of his traits...

What keeps this movie from being great is the casting of Paul Dano as Eli Sunday. Eli is a young preacher who has taken over his father’s flock; except Eli fancies himself a ‘healer’. The problem with Dano is he has no ‘fire & brimestone’ abilities; he is weak in the role – his girlish squeals of ‘Cast ye out Satan!’ are laughable. No one – not even elderly rubes in the early 1900’s would ‘flock’ to hear this ‘boy’ shriek shrilly. And since he never actually cures anyone – his congregation would dwindle down to nothing rather quickly. The capper of Eli’s first performance witnessed by Plainview is Daniel’s comment, “Nice show.” Meant in sarcasm by the character, but I took it to also be a shot at Dano’s pathetic acting.
What could have been a marvelous, Oscar front runner is relegated to a ‘maybe’ nominee simply because one actor leaves you with such a bad taste in your mouth. It’s a shame that Day-Lewis’s incredible performance will be marred forever with Dano’s lame one.

But I would encourage everyone to see this film for the completely off the wall character of Daniel Plainview – if you go with a group, trust me, you’ll have plenty to talk about after the show. His ‘adopted’ son, H. W. (who is unaware of that status) is a source of pride until an accident leaves the boy ‘imperfect’. If there’s one thing Plainview cannot tolerate it is ‘people’ who are imperfect - & by the end of the tale – that applies to everyone except Daniel Plainview.
Day-Lewis is exceptional in practically every scene; I predict they will show the scene where he is forced to confess his sins in front of Eli’s congregation (In order to use a piece of property to run his pipeline thru) prior to his accepting his Best Actor award.
I said earlier that Emile Hirsch deserves the award due to what he put himself thru physically for the role – but when a performance like this comes along, you can’t let it go unrewarded. A fantastic year for actors – both lead & supporting roles – so there will be a lot of deserving thespians having wonderful work go un-noticed by the Academy this year.

I do have a few complaints about the movie – I’m not sure if it deserves a nomination; Dano really left me dour – there were unanswered questions about Eli’s twin, Paul - & the final showdown between Plainview & Eli went a little over the top. Without giving anything away – I found the ‘Keystone Kop’ chase scene to be quite silly, thus reducing the impact of what follows. I also would have ended the ‘argument’ in a different way, but you’ll have to email me after you’ve seen the film to discover what I would have done... & I’m sure everyone in bloggerdom wants to find out what that is!

Saturday, January 5, 2008


(Denzel Washington & Forest Whitaker)

I was afraid this film might be too ‘preachy’, but it’s not – It’s a little preachy, but it still packs a wallop that forgives it of all the small complaints. It is an interesting, well told story that is very well acted; there’s only one scene with Denzel & Forest, but it is a pleasure to watch the two of them read their lines with such ease while staying in character – for a nitpicker like myself, it put a smile on my face to see two ‘pros’ do it right.

Denzel directed this film as well & I was impressed – partly for the job he did in getting some nice performances out of the ‘lesser known’ cast members - but mainly for telling the story from start to finish without jumping around in time. There’s one difficult to watch scene that made me think he was ‘going back in time’ as I found it hard to believe that things like that were still happening in the 1930’s... And because of that, it would have been easy to make this a ‘let’s all hate whitey’ theme - & don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of reasons to hate whitey here, but the finale was uplifting for more than the obvious reasons (At least to this whitey)
Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that I felt that some of the white folks learned a valuable lesson during the final debate - & I’m positive that was Denzel’s intention; to mark this historical event as a major turning point in race relations in this country. To think that my parents were alive when things like this were still going on in this country just boggles my mind. But the good news is – look how far we’ve come in just a scant 70+ years... Okay, so I praised Denzel for not being too preachy & here I am preaching away when all you want to know is – what’s the movie about?
It’s about 2 hours, 5 minutes. Go see it, it’s a wonderful film.

Oh, you mean the plot & junk like that? Denzel plays Melvin Tolson, a professor at an all-black college in Texas. He is in charge of selecting the school’s debating team. Henry Lowe (Nate Parker) is the bright loud-mouthed star of the team; surprise members Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett) & 14 year old ‘wonder-student’ James Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker) are the back-ups/researchers.

James’ father, Dr. James Farmer, Sr. (Forest Whitaker) is a prominent member of the community & is constantly casting his ‘cocked’ eye at Tolson & his extracurricular ‘activities’.
This is ‘based on a true story’ filmmaking at its finest; sure, it’s easy to see that parts were ‘embellished’ or ‘tacked-on’ to give the tale some extra emotion – but it is done with a purpose; & in the end – if you don’t feel a rush of emotion coursing thru you, you might not be human – better go back to your home planet.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Submitted 12/3/07
"The MIST" (Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden Andre Braugher, Laurie Holden & Toby & Jones)

I did not plan on seeing this movie, but here we are with just a month remaining in 'Oscar Season' & not a single quality release in the first weekend of December? Allow me to bitch for a moment about the movies I didn't see; I didn't see "Margot At The Wedding" & I didn't see "I'm Not There". Why? Because I'm a South-Ender; & South-Enders don't like downtown Seattle. We don't like buildings with more than 4 floors; we don't like restaurants that don't have a drive-thru window & above all else - we don't like having to pay for parking like you hoity toity North & East Enders do. (I won't mention the fact that West Seattleites can't even find downtown Seattle)
So if I'm going to be forced to attend a downtown cinema & anti up an extra $6-$8 for parking - It's because the film is one I've been anticipating. "Margot" & "Not There" aren't among those, but I would have picked one of them over "The Mist". Here's my bitch - looking at what films were available in my neck of the woods I see a gluttony of kid-flicks & crap like "Hitman" at every theatre. So East Valley, Kent Station, Renton Village, Auburn Supermall, the new Century & the perpetually under-staffed Parkway Plaza - will just one of you clear some space by showing 'Mr.Magorium's Wonder Emporium' on one less screen so we adults can see some 'Oscar-buzz' material?
Okay, bitch-fest over - now, let's dissect the bugs in 'The Mist'...

I was prepared to plug my nose during 'The Mist' - but movies based on Stephen King 'novellas' will always grab my attention because 'Shawshank Redemption' is one of my all-time favorite films. Happily enough, 'The Mist' didn't stink as much as I thought it might. The film is at its best when it isn't trying to be a 'horror-flick'. What I found interesting was the way the various characters reacted to their circumstance. Marcia Gay Harden stands out from the cast as a bible-thumping zealot, but the other actors do a fine job of making this 'Doomsday' experience believable...

David Drayton (Thomas Jane) & his son head to town (Somewhere in Maine) after a severe windstorm blew down several trees, damaging their home & property. Neighbor Brent (Andre Braugher) a part-time residence (He's a lawyer in New York) rides along since a fallen tree has crushed his auto.
While picking up supplies at the local grocery store, a man with blood flowing from his nostrils enters the store screaming, "There's something in the mist!" & thus the saga begins.
Those who journey out into the mist don't return - some are heard screaming in agony. One brave biker volunteers to retrieve one man's shotgun from his truck. After they tie a rope around his waist, he ventures out into the mist. I won't tell you what happens, but if you're the queasy type - don't look when they pull him back.
I didn't like the fact that they didn't keep what was 'out there' more of a mystery; there is a scene very early on where a young grocery store employee meets his demise via a 'so typical-it-borders-on-boredom' monster movie trick. Okay, I'll spoil it - tentacles. A creature unseen other than multiple tentacles enters the loading dock & the elongated 'Help, it's got me!' routine plays out for the 397th time on film. My question (for the 397th time) is - how do these things know when they've got something worth grabbing onto? & how do the other tentacles know when someone is running to aid the victim & can see to knock them away? & why do questions such as this even enter my mind?
The special effects become less impressive as they 'mutate' & yet again, the unoriginal concept of 'pods' are introduced. But this film elevates itself above the genre by focusing on the large group of people trapped in the grocery store. They congregate into separate groups & each develops their own theory as to how they might survive this seemingly hopeless situation.
The final scenes could have been more 'powerful' - Once you see the film, you'll understand. I'll just say that everything happens a little too quickly. There are some bland characters & routine gimmicks along the way, but for the most part, I could breathe easily while sitting thru 'The Mist'.
Submitted 12/1/07
"AUGUST RUSH" (Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, FreddieHighmore, Robin Williams&Terrence Howard)

This movie has been unfairlylabeled 'sappy' by other critics; yes, it has moments of sappy-ness but the lureof this movie is music. Perhaps these'stuffy' critics who never created anything in their lives except sarcasm haveno idea what it means to be creative.
This movie is about the love for&the power ofmusic. It isbuilt around a far-fetched tale, sure; but the lure that kept it interesting forme was the connection that can be made thru music.
The story - Cellist Lyla(Russell) meets bar band member Louis (Rhys Meyers) at a party; they spend thenight together&are separated the next day when Lyla's controlling fatherwhisks her out of N.Y. for her next appearance. Lyla becomes 'with child'&gets hit by a car late in her pregnancy. She awakes in a hospital where her father tells her the baby didn't makeit. This is a lie; he puts the boy upfor adoption&doesn't tell Lyla until he's on his death bed 11 yearslater. Lyla then goes on a search forher son.

One of the mistakes this moviemakes is in having Freddie Highmore(The11 year old) do the narrative - Insteadof hearing a commanding James Earl Jones, or a relaxed Morgan Freeman voice - wehave to listen to whiney Freddie - which isn't his fault - he's just a kid, butthis is how the 'sappy' label got slapped on this; the narration is sappy&weak.

Freddie runs away from theorphanage&heads to N.Y. where he meets 'The Wizard' (Robin Williams) a manwho makes a living by exploiting children with talent by turning them intostreet musicians. But he does take them off the streets&provide them ahome of sorts (A run-down theatre) By chance, 'Wiz' gives Freddie his 'stage'name of 'August Rush'. It soon becomesclear that August has extraordinary talent&so The Wiz takes him under hisarm. It was a welcome sight to see RobinWilliams 'act' for a change; a difficult role as well, as he had to appearlikeable&trustworthy in the beginning to convince August he was sincere inhis wanting 'the best' for the boy.
Two TV critics called Williams'performance a 'channeling of Bono' simply because he wore long sideburns&a'gay-looking' cowboy hat. This is aninsult to both actor&singer/activist as the character of The Wizard caresonly for himself&what others can do for him, while Bono (from what I'veseen) is just the opposite of this type of person. Once again, clueless critics poking fun whileshowing off their lack of knowledge.

Terrence Howard has a small roleas an employee of the orphanage who's trying to track 'August' down. He is in the office when Lyla appears askingif they can help her find her son. Whenasked for the boy's name, she replies, "I don't know."

Ifthat's 'sappy', so be it; I thought it made for a touching scene of a distraughtwoman suddenly realizing her chances of finding the son 'she never knew she had'were slim-to-none. I liked this movieeven though it 'stretched' believability because I used to write&createmusic&it wasn't something I learned; it just came to me. So I bought the premise that a kid of musicalparents could inherit that ability - so I followed this tale right to the'sappy' predictable finale&enjoyed the entire trip.
Submitted 11/26/0
Submitted 11/22/07
"NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" (Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem&Tommy LeeJones)

Why do these people do this tome? I had the same reaction at the end of this as I did at the end of 'EasternPromises' - "What the ----?" Anexcellent set up, great story - the anticipation of - 'what's going to happen next?' &then... screen goes blank - movie over. . . yeah, what the ----?

JavierBardem, despite having very little dialogue is outstanding as brutal killerAnton Chigurh. In fact all three male leads are excellent - If Tommy Lee Jonesgets an Academy nomination this year, it had better be for this&not the'sleepwalking' he did in "In The Valley Of Elah" (Which other criticsseemed tolike a lot more than I did)
&Josh Brolin has taken 2 bigsteps to becoming a major star with his turn here, as well as in "AmericanGangster".
No, what goes wrong here are themovie makers - Ethan&Joel Coen; they create an intriguing villain(Chigurh) send him on a mission to retrieve 2 million in money stolen from adrug deal gone bad (by Brolin's character, Llewelyn Moss)&then bring inlaid-back, close-to-retiring sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Jones) to slowly piecetogether what went on&why Llewelyn is in danger. Even when it drags at times in the middle,you remain interested since Chigurh shows no emotion whatsoever as he goes aboutgetting what he needs by killing people as though he were swatting a fly.
There's an incredibly intensescene where Chigurh 'teases' an old man running a stuck-in-the-middle-of-nowheregas station/convenience store. You'vealready seen how callously this man can snuff out a life, so when his odddemeanor frightens the old man into telling him he's closing early - Chigurhasks "What is the most you've ever lost on a coin flip?" The old man becomes confused, yet eventuallycalls 'heads' when ordered by Chigurh to "Call it, Friend-o". The scene is both 'intense' because theviewer knows what's going to happen -&yet it has a 'relaxed' feel as theold man has no idea he's having a conversation with a 'nightmare'...
The story is simple; situated inTexas,Llewelyn Moss goes hunting&stumbles upon a circle of SUV's&pick-upswith several dead bodies lying in&beside them. One flatbed has a huge amount of drugswrapped in large packages in its bed - the lone survivor of the shoot-out, aMexican man unable to get out of his truck asks Moss for some 'agua'. Moss leaves the man to follow 'themoney'. He finds a dead man leaningagainst a tree&a satchel containing 2 million.
The rest of the story centers onLlewelyn's attempts to elude Chigurh&the Mexican mobsters who are out toget their money&/or 'product' back.
Despite the brutality of Chigurh&dour nature of the plot - this film has many humorous moments - many ofSheriff Bell's one-liners are quite funny, as is his rapport with his deputy,Wendell (Garret Dillahunt)
Woody Harrelson has a cameo asCarson Wells; hired to 'clean up' the mess Chigurh has made of retrieving themoney. As he's climbing the stairs tohis room you see a blurry figure behind him - from the Beatle hair cut alone youknow who it is; a man in the theatre I was in (Lincoln Square Cinemas - Bellevue- best seats in the state - send me some free passes for the plug) let out anexpletive. He must have been reading mymind.
This has a very 'Hitchcock-ian'feel to it because of the character Chigurh - every time he's onscreen, evenwhen nothing happens - you have that anticipatory 'high' of realizing somethingvery unpleasant may take place.
But alas, it all falls apart atthe end - Way way way way too many unanswered questions; of course to go thruthem all would spoil the movie for you&I don't want to do that because itIS a great film up until the end.
This is a very bad trendHollywoodissetting - Let's propose an excellent set-up&then let the audience decidewhat exactly happens at the end... I hate it. &once again, I felt cheated by having an intriguing, original storywith an unforgettable character leave me feeling deflated by a confusing,'forgettable' finale.
If you've seen the film, I'dreally like to hear from you to see if you felt 'cheated' a bit by the fact thata major event wasn't shown (just the aftermath)&the two huge questionswere never explained. Drop me an emailatterryreid@clearchannel.combecause this movie had the potential to be #1 for me&then dropped to #5because of how it ended.

"LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA"(JavierBardem, Giovanna Mezzogiomo&Benjamin Bratt)

If only this movie were in Spanishwith NO subtitles so I had no idea what these morons were saying - it would havebeen much more enjoyable to sit thru.
Unfortunately, it was in English&features some of the worst lines of dialogue ever written. With the exception of Javier Bardem (asFlorentino Ariza) this movie is awful.
I saw it with my Spanish speakingex-music teacher; when it was over I asked her - "How do you say 'load of crap'in Spanish?"
She didn't agree - neither did mywife. It's been a while since I've seen a really bad chick flick&trust meguys - this one is REALLY bad. Eventhough there are a few nipple shots to spark your interest once in a while -this is still a very long&difficult sit thru 'torturous' event.
The plot is simple; the execution issimpler. Set inSouth Americain the late1800's, Florentino (Bardem) sees Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiomo) runs home&writes her a 20 page love letter. He'snever spoken to the girl, yet he writes this ridiculously long 'pledge of love'to someone he knows absolutely nothing about. Florentino works in the telegraph office. Fermina's father (A woefully miscastJohn Leguizamo - he looks like he's Fermina's slightly older brother!) wantsmore for her than to become the wife of a telegraph office worker. He goes berserk when he finds out the twohave been exchanging letters&sends Fermina to go live with hercousin. Leguizamo over-acts somethingfierce in almost all of his scenes, looking wild-eyed&spitting profuselyas he screams at his daughter in order to give her a 'better' life.
When he findsout she's leaving, Florentino vows his undying love to the woman he hardlyknows. To prove how much his pledgemeans, Florentino spends the next 50 years having sex with 622 different woman(his count)
While Mezzogiomo plays Ferminathroughout the film, for some reason a young Paul Simon is cast to playFlorentino (Paul is barely recognizable with the hideous plastic nose they glueto his face, but it's Rhymin' Simon all right) Which brings me to the make-up department; I would bet money that someonein the crew was sent out more than once to purchase more pancake batter - themake-up in this film isthatawful.
When he isn't fornicating withwomen, Florentino is usually vomiting. Iguess the title they chose was better than 'Love In The Time Of ProjectileVomiting'.
His mother invites a homeless womanto stay with them - with the bonus of having to sleep in the same bed as herson. I almost expected her to add - 'Hepukes a lot, but you'll get used to it."
Fermina in the meantime meets awealthy doctor (Benjamin Bratt) He too, writes a love letter in an attempt towin her hand&eventually he does. On their honeymoon, Fermina calls her husband a 'stranger'&thenasks if he loves her! LikeI said, the dialogue here is just awful. Florentino in one of his love letters writes - 'Your love is like asplinter that cannot be pulled out.' another gem comes near the end - "I havediscovered that it is life, not death that has no limits." (In my head I heard Eric Cartman saying,'Gee, thanks for the newsflash, Tom Brokaw')

This whole story might be slightlyplausible if Fermina were this incredible woman of impeccable beauty&goodnature - She is NOT. The cousin shemoves in with is so much better looking; it's a joke that the rich doctordoesn't make a play for her instead of the flat-faced baggy-eyed Fermina. As years pass&after the couple has 7 or8 children together, Fermina discovers the Doc is cheating on her. She wisheshim dead.
On the day of her husband's funeral,Florentino appears in Fermina's home&says "I have waited 53 years, 8months&14 days for the chance to re-pledge my undying love for you."Fermina wishes him dead. Was it just bad timing on Florentino's part or do youthink she could smell the 622 different women he boffed while 'upholding' hisundying pledge?
The fact is; Fermina is a cold,heartless bitch&Florentino is a pitiful boob. It isn't exactly a matchmade in heaven - their's isn't a great love story for the ages - it's so idioticit is to be laughed at, not adored.
On top of the moronic dialogue,there is a scene at a 'Poetry' awards banquet - that's right, a 'Poetry' awardsbanquet where the top prize is given to a Chinese gentleman - the 'soccerhooligans' who normally attend 'Poetry' awards banquets start to riot&throw things at the stage. Yes, theywant us to believe that it is possible for a riot to break out at a 'Poetry'awards banquet. . . El-load-o del-crappo...
Submitted 11/17/07
"FREDCLAUS" (Vince Vaughn, PaulGiamatti, Rachel Weisz&Kevin Spacey)
I was hoping this would be 'darker', 'quirkier'considering Vaughn&Spacey were in the cast, but it isn't. It is better than your standard Christmasmovie fare - when you considerthosemovies are generally bloody awful. Itslike 'Bad Santa- LITE' - it's likable, but has no 'edge' to it. So it isn't an'adult' Christmas tale - it is directed at theyoung 'Santa believing'audience,but with enough humor to keep mom&dad entertained.
It tries tomake a believable story by making Santa Claus's older brother, Fred(Vaughn) justyour average everyday run of the mill schmuck. He wants nothing to do with his 'Saintly' brother&parents whofavored jolly brother Nicholas(Giamatti) from the day he was born. That is,until he lands in jail&has to call Nick to bail him out. Nick makes him a deal - he'll bail him out&pay him enough to launch his latest business venture if Fred comes up tothe North Pole&helps him with the Christmas rush.
Rachel Weisz plays Fred's longsuffering girlfriend, who for some reason doesn't seem at all surprised todiscover her lazy, selfish lout of a boyfriend is the brother oftheSanta Claus. An actress of herstature playing a 'throwaway' role just didn't make sense to me - wasn't CameronDiaz available?
Kevin Spacey plays a man from the'corporation' sent to the North Pole to tell Santa if he doesn't meet his quotathe 'company' will fire him&replace him. Yeah, I didn't get it either - but hey, it's a Santa movie, you'reexpected to believe all kinds of unbelievable sh*t!
&for some reason the very cuteElizabeth Banks is cast as the only 'adult' sized person on Santa's staff. She, unfortunately, is only window dressingas the love interest of a Spock-eared dwarf, er, I mean elf.
Having Kathy Bates play Fred&Nicholas's mother was a bit disturbing for me - I mean, the nut job from"Misery" as Santa's mom? That was onefantasy I couldn't buy into!
There was one scene that worked verywell&makes this stand out from others of this ilk - Fred pays a visit to a'Siblings Anonymous' meeting where Frank Stallone,Roger Clinton&StephenBaldwin (or is it Daniel or William?) are grousing about their lives - it's avery funny scene in a movie otherwise devoid of good laughs.
It's silly, sappy&predictable,but Vaughn&Giamatti bring enough to the table to make it better than youraverage Christmas 'fluff'.

"LIONS FOR LAMBS" (Robert Redford, Meryl Streep&TomCruise)
This, like"Rendition" is a topical piece concerning the actions of the currentpresidential administration;&like "Rendition" it is pretty good.
It follows 3 main storylines thatare taking place at the same time; Story#1 - Meryl Streep is famous journalistJanine Roth granted an interview by a Republican Senator (Tom Cruise) so he canexplain to her the new strategy he has come up with to win the war onterrorists.
Story #2 - Robert Redford as collegeprofessor Malley is having an intervention (of sorts) with a current student whohas shown a lot of promise, but has been skipping classes of late - he tells thelad the story of two students he had the previous year that decided to join thearmy - to 'make a difference', as well as get Uncle Sam to pay for their futureeducation (The students are Latino&Black)
Story #3 - The two students, Ernest(Michael Pena)&Arian (Derek Luke) are part of the 'new strategy' to winthe war as they are flown into Afghanistan to surprise members of the Taliban intheir hideouts. The helicopter they're in takes an artillery hit&Ernest isknocked out of the copter - Arian panics&then decided to jump after hisbest friend. Both are badly injured,left crumpled on a snowy mountain as the helicopter escapes to a safetyzone. Their commander back at base camptracks them&sees dozens of Taliban rebels closing in on them as hescrambles to send in fighter jets to the rescue.
So the Streep/Cruise combo featuresthe best dialogue - with Meryl getting the best lines; the Redford/Student combofeatures loads of dialogue, but it's more like a 'lecture' than a conversation.&the two ex-students-turned-soldiers provide the least amount of yap, butthe most interesting scenes to watch.
All 3 stories are intriguing - all 3are well-acted (Even Cruise is believable for a change as the smarmy know-it-allSenator) Streep&Redford give very solid 'veteran' performances - but Luke&Pena bring the heart; the reason why we care at all about GW's stupid'revenge for Daddy' war; two soldiers who just want to make a difference&yes, get something out of it for themselves in the end. It is their friendshipthat matters most among all of the B. S. that is being thrown around 'backhome'.&some critics have called the ending 'hokey', but I liked it - tohave it go the other way would have seemed 'hokey' to me.
Submitted11/13/07"BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD" (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei & Albert Finney)

An enticing title, but it doesn't fit this film at all - a better title would be 'The Brothers Who (Bleeped) Up' - Well, not better, but more appropriate. This is the tale of Andy & Hank (Phillip Seymour Hoffman & Ethan Hawke) a couple of complete screw ups who happen to be brothers (The family resemblance is more than a little hard to detect, but somehow they make it work) Older brother Andrew appears to be a successful businessman, in charge of payroll for a large real estate agency in New York, while the younger Hank is divorced, scratching for scraps to make good on overdue child support payments & obviously struggling thru life.
Andy, it is revealed, has a serious drug problem & has been embezzling from his company to pay for his habit. Knowing Hank's situation, Andy devises a 'sure thing' robbery that should net them each around $50 - 60 thousand. Hank is intrigued until he learns that the plan is to rob their parents' jewelry store. Andy reassures him of the 'fool proof' part of the plan - Hank buys a plastic gun & the little old lady who opens the store every morning won't be able to tell it isn't real.
Hank decides to 'hire' an accomplice without Andy's knowledge & the new 'partner' brings a real gun to the heist. From that moment on, it becomes an 'everything that can go wrong will go wrong' scenario, and the robbery ends with 2 deaths.
Albert Finney plays the father of Andy & Hank & doesn't hide the fact that he isn't exactly 'proud' of either of the two boys. Marisa Tomei is cast as the too pretty to be married to chubby Andy, but like the unlikely brother match up, she manages to convince us that she might be desperate enough to hook up with the unattractive brother as well.
The opening scene, I must warn you, is very disturbing - A totally nude Phillip Seymour Hoffman is shown 'humping' Marisa in a very graphic scene (for a mainstream film)
Try to avert your eyes from Hoffman's huge belly as it flops against Tomei's backside - You can't do it - it's like a horrible flab-o-lanche that you can't look away from - it sickens you, yet you can't stop watching. Think of it as Homer doing Marge & maybe you'll be able to chuckle your way thru it.
Despite the horrors of this opening scene - this is a great movie - very original, excellently acted - Michael Shannon (very good earlier this year in 'Bug') has a bit role that makes you wish it were quite a 'bit' longer - Every time he's onscreen you can't take your eyes off of him (Like Seymour's flab!) because he is so intense you get the feeling that he's going to explode with violent rage at any second.
But the stand-out here is Ethan Hawke, giving the best performance of his career. That's not to say that Phillip Seymour Hoffman isn't outstanding as well, just that I didn't expect such a powerful showing from Hawke.
Since Marisa is shown topless in a couple of scenes, you know George Costanza has already seen this movie a dozen times...
Submitted 11/11/07
"AMERICAN GANGSTER" (Denzel Washington & Russell Crowe)
The performances by the 2 leads are good, but far from 'dynamic' & there really isn't any 'wow' moments in this. It made the mistake (for me) of showing Frank Lucas (Denzel) 'torturing' a man before killing him in the opening sequence. So now I want to see this
monster brought to justice - I want to see him made to suffer in the same horrendous way he made his victim suffer. Instead, they turn Frank into a 'hero' of sorts; he buys a huge mansion for his mommy; he brings all of his poor relatives up to New York & sets them all up in business (Legitimate businesses that cover for his heroin smuggling operation) Yes, brutal murderer Frank is also a heroin dealer. Yet, this movie 'glamorizes' this abomination to mankind as being likable. & we're supposed to be 'outraged' when crooked cops attempt to gun down Frank & his wife. I wasn't - I was sorry they failed.
Russell Crowe as the one cop in NYC that isn't on the take plays his character so low-key, I had trouble buying him as the savvy detective that eventually brings Frank down.

& I didn't like the fact that there wasn't a 'confrontational' scene between the 2 actors;
by the time they are finally in the same scene - the story is on 'cruise control'. Although, the best scene is when Denzel & Russell 'barter' in an interrogation room, it leads to a very unsatisfying ending for me.
It's a good 'mobster' movie. It is well-acted. But it isn't 'great' by any means.

"The DARJEELING LIMITED" (Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody & Jason Schwartzman.

This movie is just flat out boring. 3 unlikable brothers meet to go on a train trip across India (2 of which have no idea why they're doing this) &... well, not much happens along the way. One of the brothers falls for the 'stewardess' on the train. One of the brothers buys a poisonous snake which gets loose on the train - it is instantly captured by the ticket taker, so the dramatic effect lasts about a minute & one of the brothers mysteriously has his head wrapped in bandages. When it is finally revealed why Owen asked Adrian & Jason to come with him on this trip, it's kind of ho-hum, is that all?
Billed as a 'comedy' there isn't one single good laugh in the entire script & even the marginally humorous lines are held to a bare minimum. The most poignant scenes take place after the 3 brothers attempt to save 3 children from drowning. & then director/co-writer Wes Anderson blows that by not having Adrian Brody's character attempt to explain his sorrow to the father of the boy he tried to save.
This reminded me very much of Bill Murray's exceptionally boring 'Broken Flowers'; just 'traveling' scenes & nothing 'memorable' happening. (Well, except Murray's film had Sharon Stone's teenaged daughter walk into a room completely naked - that was the only memorable scene in 'Flowers')
'Darjeeling' is a colorful film, I'll give it that; & the ending is semi-sweet & sentimental, but it basically is a long train ride that leads nowhere...

"The MARTIAN CHILD" (John Cusack & Bobby Coleman)

It is hard to say anything negative about this movie; it is sappy, sure; semi-predictable, without a doubt - but it has its own unique twist on two lonely souls coming together (Albeit one very young soul)
John Cusack plays David, a successful science-fiction writer; a man who lost his wife a few years earlier & since she was orphaned as a child, thinks that she would have wanted him to adopt.
He is matched with Dennis, a boy who spends his daily life inside a cardboard box because 'earth is too close to the sun'.
The plot is just that simple - Can sci-fi writer David make a boy who believes he's from Mars feel 'normal' by pretending to buy into his fantasy world?
The reason this movie works is due to the fact that after a while, David finally loses it & snaps at the boy. The 'oh, isn't this a sweet little Disney-esque story' suddenly becomes realistic. David, under presser by his agent & publisher to write a follow up to his latest best seller, as well as from the 'board' that may vote to remove Dennis from him, realizes that in order to be a good 'father', he can't pamper Dennis & be his 'buddy'.
Bobby Coleman is very good as the title character & I don't often heap praise upon child actors. Oliver Platt, a favorite of mine, doesn't have a lot to do as David's agent. Amanda Peet is always a welcomed sight even though she is a mediocre actress, she has one of the most gorgeous set of blue eyes on the planet - she plays David's sister-in-law.
Why Joan Cusack was cast as David's sister made no sense to me - I mean, the woman doesn't look anything like John & the pair had no chemistry whatsoever! Huh?... She's what? Really? His 'Real Life' sister? . . . Well, I'll be damned...

Yes, this film purposely pulls out all the plugs to try & tug at your heartstrings, & if anyone wanted to complain that it was too sentimental, I wouldn't argue with that - it's just for me - being brought up in a family that made me feel like an 'outsider' - I related to these characters & it did indeed bring a tear or two to my eyes... & they call Mahler 'Softy'!
Submitted 11/4/07"LARS & The REAL GIRL" (Ryan Gosling)

This is a marvelous film; quirky, original & deceptively sweet with a premise that would turn the average audience away - Lars(Ryan Gosling in an Oscar caliber performance) sends away for a 'realistic' sex doll & starts pretending that she's a living being.
I will only tell you that there is a reason for this behavior, which is slowly drawn out of Lars by his girlfriend's doctor (Patricia Clarkson)
There isn't a bad acting performance in the cast - made more impressive by the fact that I've never seen most of these actors before.
It does get a little far-fetched near the end by the fact that EVERYONE in town goes along with 'pretending' Bianca (the doll) is a real person. But Lars' journey into insanity & how he returns is a treasure to watch; despite his bizarre behavior, you find yourself rooting for Lars.
And the last line, as corny as it may seem in its simplicity, is perfect. If this movie doesn't leave you with a smile on your face & feeling glad that you took the time to watch it - you just don't like original scripts about exceedingly shy men who fall in love with 'life-like' sex dolls because a memory from the past has been brought back to life by a current situation in their lives...

"DAN IN REAL LIFE" (Steve Carell)
This is like a sit-com that's all 'sit' & no 'com'. Dan (Carell) is a widow with 3 daughters. He meets a girl (Juliette Binoche) in a book store & instantly falls in love with her. Then he discovers the girl is his brother's new girlfriend. That's the 'sit'; the 'com' is supposed to come with hilarious scenes such as Dan being forced to hide in the shower so his daughter doesn't catch him 'talking' with his brother's girlfriend without anyone else around - Why does he do this? So his daughter can reach in & turn the water on for Juliette to take a shower, of course. Ho, ho, ho, what hilarity! Oh, but it gets better... well, actually, it gets worse - the daughter wants to discuss something with Juliette, but insists that she not prevent her from showering - so naturally Juliette strips naked & joins clothed, wet Dan inside the shower. I know, I know, your sides are splitting from just reading about it, aren't they?
Hopefully you understand now why this movie is a total flop - Full of stupid, contrived situations that would never happen (dare I say it?) in 'Real Life'.

"THINGS WE LOST IN The FIRE" (Halle Berry & Benicio Del Toro)
My one line for this film is - Benicio Del Toro is really, really good in this really awful movie.
It is just too dumb to take seriously - the only meaningful moments are between Benicio's Jerry & a 'bit role' character played by Alison Lohman.
Halle is terrible in this - Part of the blame lies with her poorly written character - but she doesn't help matters by over-acting almost to the point of embarrassing herself.
Here's the dumbest scene - Recently widowed Halle (husband David Duchovny is murdered) invites heroin addict Jerry to live in her garage. Jerry was her husband's friend whom she's always hated. A day or two later, Halle invites Jerry, the heroin addict into her bed because she 'needs help sleeping'. Dressed in pajama bottoms & a flimsy top, she wraps herself around Jerry & tells him to tug on her ear until she falls asleep. Did I mention Jerry is a heroin addict that Halle has always hated?
Halle has 2 children, a daughter (10 or 11) & a 6 year old son - I'm guessing they could probably lie in bed with mom & take turns tugging on her ears - & what about Carol Burnette? Wouldn't you call Carol before inviting a heroin addict into your bed to tug on your ear?
But Benicio Del Toro is fantastic as Jerry - a beacon shining in a 'swamp'.
This movie tries to tug at your heart strings, but wind up churning your stomach instead.
Submitted 10/29/07
"RENDITION" Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Omar Metwally & Meryl Streep.

This movie, despite the appearance of RW in the cast, is expertly acted. (Trust in Jake, folks, he's what Timothy Hutton was in his early years) & the storyline, which just a few years ago would have been one of those 'oh, that could never happen', is very believable nowadays.

After a botched assassination attempt on 'North African' police chief Abasi Fawal (played by Yigal Naor) a bomb explodes killing several. Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhall) is sitting in the back seat of a car next his boss, an American investigator, who is killed when the bomb goes off. This puts Douglas in the position of having to 'stand in' for the dead man. Though he's been on the job about half a year, Douglas finds himself witnessing Chief Fawal's brutal torturing of the man they believe to have been behind the assassination attempt - one Anwar El-Ibrahimi. There's just one problem; Anwar is innocent - he lives in Chicago, has an American born wife (Witherspoon) & son with another child on the way. But his name is the same as a known terrorist & somehow his cell phone records reveal that he receive a call from a known terrorist as he was flying from South Africa (on a business trip) back home.
Anwar is 'detained' when he arrives in Washington D.C. & 'deleted' from the passenger's list. After questioning the man, they don't believe him & Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep, not 'over-acting' for a change) decides to send him to Abasi Fawal so that he may question him.
Three storylines then come into play - 1) The 'interrogation' of Anwar by Abasi, where the naked man is forced to live in a hole in the wall with just barely big enough room for him to fit; that is, when he isn't being beaten, electrocuted or nearly drowned.
2) Anwar's wife, Isabella's attempt to find out what happened to her husband.
& 3) Abasi's daughter, Fatima (Zineb Oukach) & her secret boyfriend Khalid (Moa Khouas) as they hide from her father who has 'promised' her to be the wife of someone else.

It is a statement film directed at the current administrations policies on torture. I got a chuckle when they revealed this 'policy' was initially enacted by the Clinton administration, with the express content that it only be used in extreme circumstances... meaning the Bushmen decided they could use it, blame it on Bill & just call every circumstance 'extreme'.
I love Jake Gyllenhaal - The Timothy Hutton line is relating to the two actors ability (or their agents') to pick great scripts. Hutton struck gold with "Ordinary People", "Taps" & "The Falcon & The Snowman"
Whereas Jake followed "Donnie Darko" with the under-rated "Proof" & "Jarhead" ("Brokeback Mountain" doesn't count because even though he was good in it - it sucked!) & though his character doesn't have a lot of lines - he spends most of the film just 'observing' - he makes the most of them. When Douglas defies Abasi by speaking during the 'questioning' & asks for a moment alone with Anwar - he asks the tortured man the same question twice - 'Explain the phone call'. When Anwar answers, "I can't."
You can see it in Jake's eyes - he knows he's innocent. He also knows there isn't anything he can do about it. When he calls back home to his boss (played by J.K. Simmons) he passes him along to Corrine Whitman who snidely says, "You haven't been doing this for very long, have you, Mr. Freeman?" "No," Douglas replies, "This is my first torturing."

Taken in small doses, I discovered Reese Witherspoon is much less annoying than she is when she's in a starring role. She's almost semi-believable as the pregnant wife of a man who has disappeared without a trace.

"Rendition" probably won't garner any Oscar nods, but it is a very good - conversation-evoking movie.

Submitted October 21st, 2007
"GONE BABY GONE" Casey Affleck, Ed Harris, Michelle Monaghan & Morgan Freeman.

I should probably disqualify myself from reviewing this movie because it was adapted from a novel by my favorite author, Dennis Lehane... but I'm not.
Just be prepared for a lot of 'why the book was better' comments.
I already know I'm going to have to wait a while & see this film on its own merit - not as a mangled screenplay that didn't tell the story right.
This movie SHOULD break your heart -but it doesn't. & that's the bottom line, man.
So who am I blaming? Well, I expected Casey Affleck to be at fault - he's not a very strong actor & I couldn't see him playing smart-ass detective Patrick Kenzie from the moment I heard his brother Ben (Director/Co-writer of screenplay) gave him the job -
But the truth is - he isn't bad in this - he's not a 'leading' caliber actor, but he did an okay job. The blame falls mainly on brother Ben's shoulders. Lines that he altered; an omission of a certain character that should have been part of a scene that would have made it much more powerful & the total screwing up of the character & scene where the title of the movie came into play. I'm sure every fan of the 5 novel Kenzie-Gennaro series was disappointed with the actor who was chosen to play Bubba Rogowski. Bubba is supposed to be a man-mountain who puts the fear of death into everyone he encounters - an arms dealer that even the police are afraid to go near because he booby-traps his own house - the only person who would fear this 'movie Bubba' is the guy who makes the donuts at the local Krispy Kremes. & why was 'Cheese' turned into a black man? Because in Ben Affleck's mind a drug dealing pimp shouldn't be Scandinavian?
Okay, enough about the book - here's what the movie showed me - Ed Harris will be nominated for Best Supporting Actor - he is the best part of the film. When I discovered Morgan Freeman was playing Jack Doyle, I doubted it would work, but hey - he's Morgan-Freakin'-Freeman - he can do anything!
The plot - 4 year old Amanda McCready has already been missing for 3 days when the movie opens. Amanda's 'Aunt Bea' (not played by Frances Bouvier, but Amy Madigan) hirers Private Investigators Patrick Kenzie(Affleck) & Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) to look into the child's disappearance since it seems the police have hit a wall. Amy Ryan does an excellent job as Amanda's alcoholic, drugged out slut of a mother who's 'just' pretty enough to become a media favorite. She relishes in the attention, sobbing 'please bring back my little girl' into the TV cameras, but as soon as the limelight shuts off, she's back to sitting on her sofa watching Jerry Springer with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other.
It is Aunt Bea who convinces Angie to take the case with her partner/lover Patrick. Angie initially doesn't want to get involved as she didn't want to be the one to find Amanda's body in a dumpster.
Morgan Freeman's Jack Doyle is a police captain who heads up the CAC (Crimes Against Children) Jack is passionate about this 'special team' as his own daughter was kidnapped and murdered when she was twelve. He pairs Patrick & Angie with detectives Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) & Nick Poole (John Ashton)
Patrick's connections instantly produces a lead & they find the murdered body of Helene McCready's (Amy Ryan) boyfriend with $130,000 of stolen drug money buried in the back yard.
After a botched 'Amanda-for-the-money' transaction, it is determined that Amanda was thrown into the deep, murky waters of the quarry where the exchange was to take place. Though only her doll is found, they declare Amanda to be dead.
Months later, the truth of Amanda's disappearance comes to light & what was a heartbreaking ending to read - just wraps itself up in too neat of a little bow here. An amazing performance though by Ed Harris - it's worth seeing just to watch this top notch actor 'outshine' everyone else.
'Gone Baby Gone' was the 4th novel by Dennis Lehane; his first five were all Kenzie-Gennero 'cases'. The best of which was "Darkness, Take My Hand" - a very dark 'serial' killer story. I'm just hoping Ben Affleck doesn't get his hands on that one!
Submitted October 21st, 2007
"WE OWN The NIGHT" Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall
& Eva Mendez
Although I liked this movie - I still had a problem with it & it's simply the fact that Mark Wahlberg can't act. No, that's not it - he's 'all right' in this - but I remember thinking about halfway thru it - "Robert Duvall is a natural - he just 'knows' how to play a role... Joaquin Phoenix - though 'unpolished' can do a good job when he puts his mind to it... Mark Walhberg - I'm sorry, but there's just 'nothing' there... no pizzaz, just a bland little man speaking in a bland little voice.
Actually, what bothered me was Joaquin's character & how he 'changed' his entire life & way of thinking virtually 'overnight' - I just didn't buy it.

The three leads are a father (Duvall as police captain Grusinsky) with two sons; Joseph (Wahlberg) becomes a cop just like dear old dad & Bobby (Phoenix) who doesn't exactly go in the other direction - but he's not fond of the police lifestyle, shall we say. Although he has a legitimate job - managing a 'disco' club - he is heavily into drugs (cocaine, especially) & the owner of the club, an elderly Russian gentleman, treats him like a son. Bobby has also gone so far as to use his mother's maiden name (Green) instead of his father's. So no one he works with knows he's the son & brother of 2 highly decorated police officers, except his girlfriend (Played by Eva Mendez in her sexiest role to date)

Trouble starts when brother Joe raids Bobby's club - harassing and arresting Bobby in the process. One of the members of the Russian mob is arrested for possession & ends up killing himself before being interrogated. Vadim (Alex Veadov) as the main man in the mob puts a hit out on Joe, who is shot in the head, but survives.

The rest of the movie then follows Bobby's transformation from coked-out swinger - to - well, I won't give that away, but it's just a little too far-fetched to believe. & that's not to say it isn't an enjoyable ride - there's a very tense scene when Bobby is taken to see where 'the magic happens'. When the Russians discover he's 'wired' it is 'edge of your seat' excitement. The Russians are a scary bunch & Eva is beautifully believable as she sticks by Bobby's side through thick & thin, even though you know inside she's thinking "This is not what I bargained for when I hooked up with you, baby!"

"We Own The Night" is a good movie with a few flaws that keep it from being really good. & I do have to point out one major 'stupid' scene, involving my favorite movie cliché, the car chase scene. If you've already seen this - you must know where I'm going - Joaquin & Eva are in the back seat - a cop (assigned to protect them) is driving. A car full of Russians pulls alongside & a shotgun wielding mobster shoots through the passenger's side window, killing the driver. Somehow, someway, thru the miracle of editing, big, hulking Joaquin Phoenix both dives into the driver's seat while at the same time disposing of the dead cop's body! & the car never slows down! Not even for a second!

But overall, it's not bad - it has some enjoyable moments & the acting (overall) is pretty darn good. Set in the early 80's I believe (from the 'Blondie' soundtrack) so it's easier to buy the 'Russians are the bad guys' concept. And finally - am I the only person who liked "Heart Of Glass" but hated "Rapture" ?

Submitted October 16th, 2007
"MICHAEL CLAYTON" George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton & Sydney Pollack.

This is an outstanding movie, but one of those to which you must pay close attention to understand what's going on & when it actually took place. In other words, it's confusing at times as they jumble the order in which certain events take place. If you're thinking about seeing it - GO - but I believe it will help you to know that the early scenes aren't really the 'beginning' of the story. They will be brought back at the end which clears up a lot of the confusion. It's one of those - here's what happens near the ends of our tale -
Now, let us take you back in time to show you what got us to that point.
The over-all acting here is one of the best ever - by that, I mean every single leading role & bit-part actor are flawless; even the little kid playing Clayton's son didn't make me sneer.
The story is rather basic, but there's 'a lot' more going on to complicate matters - Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) discovers the company he works for, U-North, is responsible for the deaths of nine (I think, I'm not sure; could be 11 or 12) innocent people by using a deadly pesticide. Arthur goes nuts at a deposition hearing, stripping down naked & running out into the streets.
The law firm that represents U-North sends in 'clean up' man Michael Clayton (Clooney) to 'get a set of reins' on Arthur (As he & Arthur are old friends)
And that is the basic story - then you add in Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) recently elevated to assistant to U-North CEO (Ken Howard) Karen is introduced as an insecure woman who repeatedly recites her speeches until she memorizes every single 'perfect' word. So, alone she seems vulnerable, almost frightened of the position she has been bestowed, while once she gets in front of the 'board of directors', she comes off as a polished professional. Tilda's performance in this film makes her my leading candidate to win Best Supporting Actress.
Then there's Michael, a man with a lot of sh*t on his plate at the time his buddy Arthur decides to go off the deep end. A failed marriage but still trying to be a good father to his son; a bad business deal he went into with his 'screwed up' brother and an addiction to gambling all become the least of Clayton's problems once he becomes entangled with the unscrupulous U-North employees and the lengths they go to 'silence' Mr. Edens.
Sydney Pollack shows he can still deliver great lines in a believable fashion as Clayton's boss, Marty; (MC) "What do you think they'll do?" (Marty) "What do I think they'll do? Open your f***ing eyes, Michael - they're doin' it!"
Even Michael O'Keefe as the Marty's right hand man who is obviously jealous of Clayton's role at the firm is sharp. As I said everyone in this film brought their 'A' game & they deliver it with intelligent, dead on performances. I'd say Clooney & Wilkinson were shoe-ins for nominations; but their categories are going to be much more hotly contested - But they come through with Oscar-caliber performances whether they garner one or not.
The scene in the street with Clooney & Wilkinson, where Arthur is holding the bag full of bread will be shown on Oscar night. It is one of the best acted scenes between two great actors since... well, Bale & Crows in "3:10 To Yuma', but before that, you have to go back to Penn & Robbins in "Mystic River". Yes, this movie deserves such high praise - even though there are some questions left unanswered; for me, I never completely understood the meaning of the game/book that Michael's son wanted his father to read.
The one Arthur had in his possession. Other than the drawing of the horses, I never caught on to the significance it had on Arthur - If you have the answer, or even a theory as to why the book was woven into the plot, please let me know at
And to those who haven't seen it yet - Watch Tilda Swinton in her final scene, after Michael walks away from her - That kind of commitment to a role is what's going to win her Best Supporting Actress.
Submitted October 8th, 2007
"The ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES..." Brad Pitt & Casey Affleck.

I've seen snails that move faster then this cinematic snoozer. I've seen better acting in Johnny Carson's 'Art Fern' sketches. & I haven't seen this much blurred vision since... well, it's all a little foggy, so I'm not sure when the last time that happened - but never in a movie theatre, of that I'm certain.
It lost me right from the start when the narrator pointed out that Jesse James (Pitt) had an eyelid condition that caused him to blink constantly. While saying this, the camera held a steady shot of Jesse's face for several seconds - Pitt blinked once... & I think he blinked one other time during the next 2 hours. Why would you mention the eyelid thing & then not remind your lead actor that he should be blinking frequently during his scenes? In fact, there are many scenes where the cold blooded outlaw is staring at someone as he 'sizes then up' - determining whether or not they're telling the truth, & he doesn't blink at all... So the eyelid thing became a major distraction to me; call me obsessive - I pay attention to junk like that.
The full title of this tryptophan injected turkey is 'The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford'. After watching how this so-called act of 'cowardice' played out, I'd say Bob Ford (Affleck) was anything but a coward - it was clearly 'self defense' as the arrogant killer turns his back on the two brothers he was planning to kill - more or less thinking that neither one of them had the guts to shoot him - in the back or otherwise.
If that's a 'spoiler' for anyone - well, excuse me, but the title of the movie is a spoiler in itself is it not?
And if shooting someone in the back makes one a coward - then Jesse James must be deemed a coward as he is shown shooting an unarmed man in the back. Jesse James was a cold blooded killer - not to be idolized or admired in any way, shape or form. & while this film, for the most part, portrays Robert Ford as a sniffling, mumbling, un-personable cretin, there is one scene where he 'proves his moxie' as a man that can handle a gun during a crisis. When two hardened criminals empty their six shooters and can't seem to hit their targets from point blank range - young Bobby Ford calmly takes care of the situation with one shot.
Pitt portrays Jesse as an arrogant prick; this guy isn't 'Butch & Sundance' - lighthearted, easygoing criminals that joke around with the employees of the trains they're robbing & manage to get the loot without killing anyone - he's a murderer; stand in the way of him getting what he wants & you die. So the clown that sings 'The Ballad Of Jesse James' near the end of the movie looks like a total buffoon; "Jesse robbed from the rich & gave to the poor..." No, he didn't. This isn't freakin' Robin Hood - this a**hole's death should have been 'celebrated' - Robert Ford should have been given a medal for ridding society of this human turd.
I found the acting to be exceptionally bland; Affleck's inability to speak clearly obviously worked to his advantage with this role & Pitt's believable in the role of the ruthless outlaw, but there's never a 'shining' moment where I said to myself - now that was a well-acted scene. (Where's Terrence Howard when you need him?)
Maybe I can blame the pacing for bringing everything down to a Death Valley level, but this film is so long & dull they should hand out pillows & blankets as you enter the theatre.
Sam Shepherd as Frank James is good, but he leaves for Baltimore 15 minutes in & is never seen again. Sam Rockwell brings a little bit of life to Robert's older brother, Charley, but you'll see traits from some of his other roles in this portrayal. Although it was nice to see 'Weeds' Mary-Louise Parker playing Jesse's wife, she's only in a few scenes & has a total of 2 or 3 lines... hell, they could have gotten Mary Kate Ashley Olsen to handle that load.
Anyone compares this to the fantastic "3:10 To Yuma" on ANY scale - needs to have their critic's license revoked. "3:10" is still the Best Movie I've seen in 2007; "Jesse James" may very well wind up on my '10 Worst' list.... Yippee-Yi-Oh-Ki-Yay...
Submitted October 7th, 2007
"ACROSS The UNIVERSE" Jim Sturgess & Evan Rachel Wood.

Jim Sturgess, looking like a young Paul McCartney looks into the camera & sings, "Is there anybody going to listen to my story, all about the girl who came to stay..."
Knowing this is a love story between Sturgess's 'Jude' & Evan Rachel Wood's 'Lucy', I found it to be a clever way to open this 'musical'. Even though "Girl" is a Lennon song...

Let me begin by saying I hate musicals. Every musical ever made has sucked in my opinion. They're like gay porn - they've made hundreds of them & they're all crap!
But over-all, I didn't hate "Across The Universe"; there are parts of it I hated - some of it is gawdawful - songs that were woefully out of place - and times when the singing or acting left a lot to be desired - but the 'concept' is a clever idea & the songs that weren't 'butchered' are perfect for what is basically a tribute to mid-to-late 60's America.

The highlight is an easy choice - Joe Cocker's "Come Together" (with Joe popping up as three different characters during the 'video') The low-light is also easy - Eddie Izzard's horrible rendition of "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite" (I like Eddie as a comedian/actor, but the cross-dresser can't sing worth a lick & if you're going to have someone who can't sing on key - don't you have to give him something Ringo sang originally?) But no, forget it - "Mr. Kite" didn't follow the storyline & had no reason to be included - other than to annoy me.
Let's keep playing good scene/bad scene; "I've Just Seen A Face" - a great little fast paced skiffle song by McCartney, sung well by Sturgess. Set, in of all places, a bowling alley; it was a fun colorful 'video' letting everyone know that Jude was in love with Lucy. / Bad idea - A cheerleader named Prudence (T.V. Carpio) singing "I Want To Hold Your Hand" (ballad-style, no less!) while yearning for a cute blonde fellow cheerleader. How did Carpio make it into the cast? She can't sing, has virtually no acting skills & seems to have a chunk of Oreo cookie permanently attached to her upper lip.
Good scene; JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy) plays a bluesy version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" to express his feelings following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. / Bad scene; Bono (as Dr. Robert) singing "I Am The Walrus" as though it were a 'poignant' dissertation on the turbulent 60's - This, like "Mr. Kite" was obviously inserted for 'visual' effect & thus stuck out like another 'sore' thumb.
That's the way this movie goes - hit & miss - Sometimes the misses still worked though - When Jude meets 'Max' (Joe Anderson) who would become his best friend, a group of Max's buddies sing "With A Little Help From My Friends"; musically, it's unpleasant - but the 'feel' of the scene is genuine - & when they switch from the Beatles original version to Joe Cocker's rendition - I was surprised at how well it worked for me.
The singing of "Dear Prudence"(One of my favorite 'White Album' songs) to draw Prudence out of her room seemed contrived, but I couldn't help it - I love the song so much & the cast did a decent job singing it that - although it was 'hokey' - it still goes down as a highlight.
So I would say, for the most part, "Across The Universe" works when they stick to songs that fit the plot - & it goes down in flames when it strays from that concept.
And yes, the final scene will leave many rolling their eyes, but I couldn't help it - John Lennon's ultimate 60's anthem being sung to win back the heart of a girl made me smile, as I remembered how powerfully those songs affected me. Many years ago I was asked, '"What is your favorite childhood memory?" I answered, "The day I bought 'Abbey Road'."
Submitted October 6th, 2007
"FEAST OF LOVE" Greg Kinnear & Morgan Freeman
This isn't anything like what I thought it would be from the previews; I was thinking 'light-hearted' comedy about relationships with Morgan Freeman 'advising' Greg Kinnear on how difficult it can be to 'read' women. It isn't the least bit 'light-hearted' - every whimsical line in the film is used in the trailer & despite the fact that the two lead actors are male - this is pretty much a heavy-handed & rather dour 'chick flick'. With one huge plus for the male audience - lots of female nudity (finally!)
It is a film about relationships - centering mainly on Greg Kinnear's character, Bradley; the owner & operator of 'Jitters' a quaint coffee shop in Portland, Oregon. & just a side-note to whomever created that name for a coffee shop - It's beyond stupid - NO ONE would go into a place of business that 'advertises' its going to give you the 'jitters';
Jitters are not good - have you ever seen 'Tweek' on South Park?
The movie opens with Bradley & his wife having drinks with his friend, Professor Harry Stevenson (Morgan Freeman) A woman sits beside Bradley's wife & soon has her hand on her leg & is picking out songs on the jukebox, cooing, "This is going to be our song." Harry sees what's happening, but poor Bradley is too busy flapping his jaws to notice. Bradley's wife leaves him after she asks him what color her eyes are & he 'guesses' wrong.
Next we have Bradley's young employee, Oscar (Toby Hemingway) & Chloe (Alexa Davalos) Chloe enters Jitters & asks for a job. Oscar says 'yes' & Bradley seems to not have the balls to over-ride him. Oscar & Chloe fall instantly in love.
One of the problems with this film though is character development - more-so with the 'unlikable' ones; beginning with Oscar's father, an angry man called 'The Bat'. He only has a couple of scenes, but he's out of his mind with murderous rage in every one. Why? If you're going to introduce someone whose borderline insane - shouldn't we know some more background other than 'he's been pissed off ever since his wife left him'?
The next 'problem' couple is David & Diana (Billy Burke & Radha Mitchell) - he's married, she's in real estate; he's an a**hole & she seems to enjoy that fact.
After Diana helps Bradley find a new house, he falls in love & she falls in 'like'.
Bradley is too milquetoast for Diana & it is plain to see that she is merely using him to make her married boy-toy jealous. She carries this to the point of marrying Bradley when David refuses to leave his wife after hearing of the engagement.
The best part of this movie (to no surprise) is Morgan Freeman's Harry & his wife (played by Jane Alexander) as they struggle to overcome a tragedy in their lives. Despite his pain, Professor Stevenson continues to act as a family guidance councilor to Bradley & Chloe.
The few funny lines & the most touching moments all involved the brilliant Mr. Freeman.
I would have liked this a lot more if it didn't have a head shaking 'moronic' moment near the end - A storyline involving a housewife/psychic's prediction leads to a completely idiotic statement by Harry & the fact that in the end, Bradley becomes 'friends' with all the people who screwed him over. It would make some sense if these were nice people - but they are not.
The good news is - almost every female in the cast bares her breasts (except Ms. Alexander, of course) & Radha Mitchell shows the full package - Unfortunately it happens during a scene where you come away thinking her character is a conceited, nitwitted b*tch.
The final scene involving Harry & Chloe is very touching; yet it doesn't make up for the 'supposed to be gut-wrenching but is actually insipid' disaster that precedes it.
. . . I guess I just wanted more lovemaking scenes between the lesbians - is that asking too much?
Submitted October 1st, 2007
"INTO THE WILD" Emile Hirsch

This movie features many excellent cameo appearances, but there is no reason to list anyone other than Emile as the star - it is his picture - he is virtually in every scene and the running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes. For the first time ever, I'm saying the 'Best Actor' Oscar shouldn't go to the actor who did the best 'acting' in the role he was given - I'm saying give it to young Mr. Hirsch because he earned it. Both Russell Crowe and Christian Bale gave better performances in "3:10 To Yuma" - but neither of them sacrificed the way Emile Hirsch did to create a 'realistic' portrait of a man alone in the wilderness and starving to death. There is a scene near the end of the film where the already thin to begin with Hirsch looks like a walking skeleton - it was, for me, painful to watch. That's when I made up my mind that 'this kid deserves an Oscar for this performance'; His acting is good enough for a nomination - so I'm not saying give it to him because he turned himself into Karen Carpenter... I guess you just have to see the film to understand that this is a very special portrayal of a very complex individual.
It is the true story of Chris McCandless (Hirsch) an intelligent, exceptionally well-read young man who, instead of going to Harvard Law School to please his 'well-to-do' parents (William Hurt & Marcia Gay Harden) donates all of his money to charity and virtually 'runs away from home'.
The story is told both by Chris and his younger sister, Carine(Jena Malone) who provides insights on why Chris did what he did to help the viewing audience understand some of his choices.
Two particularly impressive cameos come from Vince Vaughn and Hal Holbrook. Admitting that I am getting 'soft' in my advancing years because Chris's final scene with Holbrook brought tears to my eyes - a remarkable feat considering there isn't a lot of time spent 'getting to know' the characters Chris encounters on his odyssey to Alaska.
Thus my reasoning for putting Sean Penn in the forefront for Best Director - what he extracts from Hirsch is amazing and as the writer of the screenplay he lured a critical curmudgeon such as I into this journey of hopelessness and made me care about 'all' of the characters within his story.
One scene shows a filthy, unshaven Chris, peering into a 'yuppie' bar and seeing a man in his age range in a suit tie slurping down an alcoholic beverage and 'schmoozing'. Chris pictures himself as that same guy, if he'd carried on with his life the way his parents would have liked. And you can see it in his eyes, he doesn't have to say a word - Chris is much happier living the life of a hobo, going from town to town, job to job - hitch-hiking, kayaking, or hopping trains.
The only thing that keeps this from being one of the all-time greats is the lack of humor; but I guess Penn didn't want to 'cheapen' this story by including more 'lighthearted' moments. For me - a great film includes both humor and drama. Still, "Into The Wild" is unforgettable; It is at times a difficult movie to watch - if you're squeamish about the killing and skinning of animals (As I am) Do what I did and as soon as the moose appears & go to the can... Don't worry, you won't miss anything, for Bullwinkle was still being 'carved' up when I returned to my seat.
My only other complaint is the choice of music - other than the apropos placement of Roger Miller's "King Of The Road" (Though you have to question how Chris would know the words to a song written long before his birth) the so-called 'music' is provided by the master of mumbling and howling; Eddie Vedder
Chris changes his name to Alexander Supertramp (which does provide some humor when Chris takes refuge in a homeless shelter) Why, then, were there no Supertramp songs? "Even In The Quietest Moments" would have worked perfectly when Chris found himself alone in the wilderness. & "Bloody Well Right" could have summed up his relationship with his father in a sarcastic way. & what was Chris, if nothing but a 'stupid little dreamer'? Yes, I would have much rather heard Davies & Hodgson instead of 'Grumbles' Vedder.
Someone I know who read the book was concerned that Penn would make Chris out to be a martyr. I never got that sense. What I saw was a young man who discovers he loves living 'for the moment'; turning his life into a 'journey into the unknown' rather than following a chosen path with rules. Chris does what Chris wants to do & yet he never infringes on others' rights to do the same. From the Scandinavian couple he meets while illegally kayaking down the Colorado River - to the middle-aged hippy couple he befriends(Catherine Keener & Brian Dierker) - to Vince Vaughn's Wayne, who hires Chris and teaches him more than 'the ropes' of the job at hand - Chris comes into their lives for a short period & leaves with both parties seeming to be richer in spirit for having met one another. So Chris is no martyr, since he generally takes more from the experience than he gives. The exceptions are a young singer named Tracy(Kristen Stewart) & Ron(Hal Holbrook) an elderly widow. He meets Tracy while staying with the hippy couple; she is quite cute and obviously infatuated with handsome Chris but when she offers herself to him, he tricks her into revealing that she's only 16 & Chris does the honorable thing & tells her to put her pants back on. (Not sure if I believe this is something that 'actually' happened, because Chris had to be as horny as a Texas Christian frog at this point & Tracy was very enticing)
As Chris meets up with Hal Holbrook's Ron, I was thinking, 'This is a good movie - but it isn't 'Oscar' worthy by any means' and then ten minutes later, I'm changing my tune. The final scene between them, which takes place in Ron's pick-up, packed an emotional wallop; if he were in the film for a longer period, I would say Holbrook deserves an automatic 'Supporting Actor' nod, but what's the criteria - how long the character is in the film, or how much impact he has while he's onscreen? If it's the latter, Hal can go ahead & dust off his tux.
The inevitable ending is heartbreaking to watch - As the number of weeks were flashed on the screen as to how long Chris had been living alone in the 'magic' bus, I kept thinking to myself - "What more do you have to prove? Get the hell out of there! Go back to Ron, or Wayne, or the hippies and be happy again."
The sign that is left outside the 'magic' bus & Emile's final voice-over left me with a large lump in my throat. You have to be patient with a film like "Into The Wild" but it is a rewarding viewing experience; a memorable film... with a remarkable performance by Emile Hirsch.
Submitted Sept. 30th, 2007"The HUNTING PARTY" Terrence Howard, Richard Gere, & Jesse Eisenberg

Richard Gere is one of my least favorite actors; in fact, calling him an 'actor' is an insult to those who have perfected the craft. Until this movie - Richard Gere is actually great in this. Best I can figure, it's the Terrence Howard factor; the man somehow raises the level of all those who appear onscreen with him.
"The Hunting Party" is a great film - the second best of the year on my list. It is funny, fascinating, suspenseful, exceptionally well acted & believable (mainly due to the fact that the film opens with a disclaimer - 'the most ridiculous parts of this story are true')
Many critics have problems with stories that are 'based on' actual events - I don't. To me, all that means is that they've taken a 'true' story and punched it up with fiction with the intent to make it better. Now, with that opening disclaimer, I have no idea what they 'punched up', but they did a hell of a job.
Richard Gere plays field reporter Simon Hunt; Terrence Howard is his cameraman, 'Duck' - together they covered the war in Bosnia until Simon has a live on-air meltdown. Simon is fired - Duck is given a promotion.
Years later, Simon escorts head anchorman Franklin Harris (James Brolin) to Bosnia, with the young son of a network executive tagging along (Jesse Eisenberg, an actor with a very promising future)
Duck returns to his hotel room to find the long thought dead Simon Hunt drinking all the vodka from his honor bar. Simon tells Duck that the murderous war criminal 'The Fox' is nearby & Simon knows how to find him. They go with the intention of getting an exclusive interview when in reality, Simon plans to 'capture' the terrorist & claim the 5 million dollar reward on his head. When Duck calls him insane, Simon leaves in a huff.
Benjamin (Eisneberg) catches wind of the meeting & the idea intrigues him - just to be part of an investigative journey of such magnitude would impress his father. Soon, Simon & Benjamin are convincing Duck to hold off on joining his girlfriend in Greece for a day or two & help them track down 'the Fox'.
Despite its dramatic theme - this movie is often hilarious - the three lead actors & the characters they stumble upon during their 'quest' never cease to entertain in one form or another.
From Boris, a U. N. employee who becomes convinces that the three are actually C.I.A. sent to assassinate the Fox - to the donut loving local police captain - to the exquisitely beautiful Diane Kruger in a too short cameo - to the moment the trio is captured & come face-to-face with the Fox who orders that they be killed - this film always has you anticipating 'what's going to happen next?'
Knowing that the hopelessness of this folly will probably end with one or more of them being killed, figuring that somehow Duck survives as he provides the narration.
& the ironic twist considering the title of the film is that none of the three members of the 'hunting party' ever touches a gun or weapon of any kind.
The biggest surprise though is Gere - Howard is always top notch & I saw a lot of promise in Eisenberg in the rather bland 'The Squid & The Whale', so it was no shock that they shined in this.
Its Gere's 'off balanced' Simon that provides the heart of this wonderful flick - He actually interacts with the other characters - he doesn't sound like he's reading his lines (& is bored by them)
There's even a bit of a spark in those lifeless squinty eyes of his; a nominated worthy performance? Well, let's not get carried away - besides it's already crowded with great performances by Mortenson, Crowe, Bale, Cheadle, Jackson & Hopkins - but I wouldn't begrudge the academy for rewarding him with a nod for this - he's that good. I was amazed.
Submitted Sept. 29th, 2007
"The KINGDOM" Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman & Ashraf Barhom.

I liked this movie, but first I have to slam it; why do director's feel the need to blow up everything in sight instead of letting a compelling storyline guide their 'visions'?
The opening sequence - brutal, but very well done - is a terrorist attack so there's a reason for the excessive violence & multiple explosions. But what's with the fiery explosions that take place during car crash scenes? I've been in a couple of collisions in my life, one a six car mishap & I've driven by dozens more - I've never seen anyone's automobile explode upon impact with another car. So why would a director(In this case Peter Berg) want to include such 'dumbing down' scenes in a film where he's trying to make a fictional story seem 'real'? In the final showdown scenes, as the F.B.I. agents close in on the terrorists - out come the weapons of semi-mass destruction where these people annihilate the place they live in? I'm sorry, but if I'm trying to protect my home & neighborhood, I don't pull out my missile launcher & start blowing my neighbor's houses to smithereens...
Okay, with that off my chest, I can tell you what I liked about 'The Kingdom"; it is fairly well-told - a contrast to that muddled, convoluted, poorly told piece of crap, 'Syriana' - this movie is relatively easy to follow. Which may just mean that confusing 'stories' like 'Syriana' are simply too difficult for my uneducated mind to keep track of who's who & what's what.
Despite the appearance of two Academy Award winning actors (One deserving, one not) & two well-known TV actors - the actor who steals this film is Ashraf Barhom... Dare I say it? Could he be the next Ioamm Gruffudd?
The plot - When over a hundred people are killed in a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, including several Americans (& one buddy of Jamie Foxx's F.B.I. team) Jamie, as agent Ron Fleury sets the wheels in motion to get his squad over to 'The Kingdom' to investigate the attack. Chris Cooper (The deserving Oscar winner, if you hadn't guessed) turns in his usual fine performance as explosives expert Grant Sykes. The other agents, the unattractive & limited Jennifer Garner shouldn't even be a part of the mission - she was close to the guy who was killed in the attack - she starts tearing up at the drop of a hat; making her character not very believable as an F.B.I. agent & it takes quite a while before the reason for her being involved is revealed. Jason Bateman seems out of place here; there really isn't a reason for his character to be with this team of 'experts' as his only duty seems to be 'video-cam' man and 'wise-ass remark' expert.
Two nice cameo roles are filled by the always impressive Richard Jenkins & Danny Huston (who starred in last year's under-rated gem "The Proposition")
By far the most interesting character in the movie is Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Barhom) He is the man in charge of the compound that was hit by the terrorist attack - & he has to watch while his own men are being interrogated by the 'prince's military' to the point of excessive torture. He has to be careful how he handles the situation, especially since the man being beaten during questioning is the man who crashed into & killed the two snipers that opened fire on innocent men, women & children after the first explosion took place.
At first Faris is resentful of the American F.B.I.'s presence - he tells them it is his duty to keep them safe until it is time to send them back home; in other words - you won't be doing any investigating or go anywhere without my permission (& a bullet proof vest) The indignation on his face every time on of the 'unruly' Americans utters a curse word is a nice piece of acting ("Why do you feel the need to curse at me?") It was a nice reminder that even though he lives in a third world country - at least he was ahead of us by not 'belittling' our own language with the often vulgar way we modern day Americans speak.
& yes, after you've seen the film, you'll more than likely think they 'wrapped' things up a little too easily - with the use of a rather obvious 'gift' from a child, but thanks to two very impressive performances by Barhom & Cooper "The Kingdom" is an enjoyable piece of escapism & 'wishful thinking' (We finally go after the correct bad guys & bring them to justice; unlike 'real' life)