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The Polar Express (2004)
See the 3-D version...
An amazing film -- when you see it on an IMAX screen in 3-D.
Though the film is somewhat lacking in story and not nearly as good as the book (by the same author as "Jumanji"), there are certainly elements of the original story that are faithful to the original theme.
Peter Scolari is resurrected from the 'Bosom Buddies' days of Mr. Hanks' legacy -- though the character he portrays is a dead ringer for Eric Per Sullivan from 'Malcolm in the Middle.'
In the end credits Michael Jeter is the second person listed -- though he died over a year ago -- yet he had only a secondary part so listing him right after Tom Hanks was an homage to who he was; not what he contributed to the film.
From very nearly the first scene in movie (at least in the 3-D version) you will be astounded.
Everyone will have a favorite scene in which the special effects reign; for me it was not the train ride or the slide, it was all the elves ... how the animator could keep them all so individual yet so real.
However, there is too much schmaltz and an obvious striving for a "message" that gets in the way.
"Peter Pan" and other films have done it better: Believe and it will happen.
It has been done and said before -- in better and more entertaining ways.
Not horrible -- but definitely a children's movie.
Intelligent bio-pic for the thinking person.
Cary Grant played Cole Porter in the first filmed biography of the life of Cole Porter with Alexis Smith as his loving wife, Linda in the film `Night and Day.'
With no disrespect to Mr. Grant and Ms Smith, Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd are far superior in this account of the trying life and turbulent times of Cole and Linda.
A novel approach was used to film this clever movie The ever talented and under appreciated Jonathan Pryce plays a character named Gabe that acts much like a Greek chorus; he comes to Cole Porter shortly before his demise and escorts him through the events of his life.
The film looks unflinchingly at Mr. Porter's bisexuality, his drinking and his self-doubts; and also at the unflagging mutual love and affection Cole and Linda had in their unconventional marriage. One historical inaccuracy in this film is that Linda was considerably older than Cole.
The music is handled and staged magnificently with everyone from Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morissette to Elvis Costello and Natalie Cole performing his songs in appropriate settings.
The costumes (Janty Yates) and settings (Eve Stewart, Production Design and John Bush, Set Decoration) are perfect -- completely evoking the time and milieu in which the film is set. The jewelry worn by Ms Judd as Linda is spectacular.
Special kudos to Sarah Monzani for her makeup design. Both Mr. Kline and Ms Judd age dramatically throughout the film and their makeup is flawless.
While this is certainly a romanticized depiction of a complex genius this film does much to enlighten the audience as to the multifaceted brilliance of a man that lived for fun and for music.
This is not a film for everyone -- but for someone that wants something other than special effects laden nonsense this may be the film for you.
Latter Days (2003)
The best independent film I have seen is a long time.
This is the basic love story but with a twist: can a young Mormon on his church mandated mission survive unchanged in Los Angeles.
In the first few minutes of the film when Elder Aaron Davis -- the young Mormon on the mission, superbly played by newcomer Steve Sandvoss -- is in a cab on his way to his new home there is a person with a placard by the side of the road with the inscription `Entering Hell.' It may be true.
It turns out that Elder Davis' next door neighbor is a very attractive gay party animal named Christian. How's that for irony?
Christian works as a waiter at one of those trendy LA bistros named `Lila's' -- owned by Lila Montagne -- the superb Jacqueline Bisset who has one of the best lines in the whole film; she is talking to Aaron when she says `Your church doesn't like alcohol or homosexuals. Hmm. Well, I definitely won't be joining. Can't imagine Heaven without both.'
After having many doors slammed in their faces Elder Davis and his mission partner, Elder Paul Ryder -- brilliantly acted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Third Rock from the Sun) -- encounter Lila who needs a sympathetic ear.
As Lila says at one point `I don't believe in coincidence.'
Eric Palladino (ER) is unrecognizable as an AIDS patient -- you will not believe it is he.
Through a series of twists of fate Christian discovers that Aaron is the man he has been waiting for and goes to great lengths to ensure that they will be together.
Mary Kay Place is the Mother From Hell to Aaron -- she is at her most unsympathetic best.
There are many plot twists and turns and quite a bit of suspense when you are uncertain of the fate of Aaron.
But the film does end on a satisfying note.
I saw this film with a friend that just happens to be a gay Mormon -- and while the Mormon Church no longer excommunicates people for their sexual orientation -- most of the rest of the situation was pretty much true to life.
This is an excellent film with superb music that helps to develop the story and move the plot to a final conclusion.
You really should see it.
Oh Brad, Oh Janet!
I was lucky enough to see this film in a test audience WAY back when it was first released...
I loved it then and I love it now.
I knew that it was a filmed version of a stage play and that made it all the more fascinating; simply because filming something that has been on the stage and making it work is always a challenge and is very rarely successful... but it certainly worked this time.
No one knew who Susan Sarandon or Barry Bostwick were; now of course they are both major forces in film and television.
I wonder if now they are embarrassed by this small but important film.
Even to this day, when I hear or see "Rocky" I am impelled to get up and dance or sing along with the film -- something that did not happen when I first viewed it. But shortly after my first viewing -- when it was still a fairly unknown film -- people started reacting to what they saw on the screen...
The first hint that this was a very special film came when a woman in the audience clicked finger cymbals together at an entirely appropriate moment -- I was enchanted and amazed -- this was audience participation on a level I had never experienced before.
As time went one -- as it seems to do -- audience participation grew and grew; until what was happening in front of the screen was as important was what was actually on the screen.
This is probably the first film where audience participation grew to be as important as the film itself.
I must admit that I do miss the quiet nights where a person could sit in the dark and just watch an amazing film without someone with a squirt gun or toast or cards is compelled to 'add' to an already brilliant film.
See this one at home and be amazed -- then see it in a public venue and be even more amazed.
Faithful to the original book(s) by J.R.R. Tolkien this is an amazing achievement by director Peter Jackson and a crew of thousands -- well, at least hundreds.
Visually stunning and amazingly photographed this film is a complete visual treat. Much of the credit has to go to the dazzling editing -- seamlessly fitting several stories into one thematic whole.
Much of what the viewer sees has been laid out in the books -- but it takes genius to realize the ideas and imagination and follow it so faithfully.
While there are endless battle scenes, Director Jackson has a way of personalizing the struggles of the individual. Because of this ability to personalize the, at times, overwhelming and seemingly endless scenes of battle are put in a more individual scale and makes them more accessible to the audience.
This is a story of how absolute power corrupts absolutely -- and how even the desire of absolute power can corrupt. This is also a story of how an individual can make a difference and how friendship, self-sacrifice and brotherhood will persevere.
Composer Howard Shore does an exemplary job of making the music fit the scene; using individual instruments to play upon emotions and the brilliant use of the human voice as an instrument.
The `Wizard of Oz' came to mind a couple of times both visually and thematically. I could almost hear `I am the great and powerful Oz!'
Miranda Otto does an outstanding job as Eowyn; remember: when you want a job done right send a woman to do it.
Elijah Wood is exceptional as Frodo; showing the inner turmoil and obsession with possessing The Ring.
Andy Serkis as Gollum/Smeagal is superb -- he embodies the power that The Ring has over the individual and how it possesses them body and soul.
Even though this film is 3 hours and 21 minutes long the audience is always completely caught up in the action and adventure -- a stunning achievement.
There are not enough superlatives to accurately convey the brilliance of this film -- it is one that will live forever in the hearts of all that see it.
Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
Enjoyable, clever and, at times, witty romp attempting to capture the screwball comedies of the 30's and 40's.
George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones do not have the chemistry of Hepburn and Tracy but it is not for lack of effort. They are sharp in their recreations of the charm that Katharine and Spencer portrayed oh-so-effortlessly but the charisma that the afore-mentioned actors had is somewhat lacking.
This is a completely enjoyable film -- with some very good laugh-out-loud set-ups -- at least the audience did have some good guffaws.
Ms Zeta-Jones is an amazingly attractive woman. Mr Clooney is as striking as she is; this goes a long way in making the audience like them -- as actors -- if not as Marilyn Rexroth and Miles Massey.
The `screwball comedies' of an earlier era at least attempted to make some kind of social statement (Dinner at Eight, My Man Godfrey and even Ninotchka); this film, while entertaining, only comments on the greed and avarice of a particular character.
You will know how it ends before it does.
While certainly not the best of this season's films -- it is not a waste of the price of admission and should be seen for the piece of fluff that it is.
I did enjoy it.
Ms Woods Goes to Washington
This is a much better film than people are willing to give credit for.
Audiences saw the first "Legally Blonde" and wanted a repeat -- well this is not a formulaic repeat but instead a sequel that hopefully will make viewers think.
There was a very strong message here: how does the legislative branch of American Government work? And more important how does it not work?
The ever-idealistic Elle Woods goes to Washington, DC, to make a point and, at first, fails miserably. But the right shall win out!
Sally Field plays her nemesis -- always seeming to support -- but is she really? Quite an interesting departure from the "goody-two-shoes" that Ms Field usually plays: "I'll get you and your little doggie too."
Jennifer Coolidge reprises her original role -- and is painfully reduced to a bit part rather than the hilarious character that should have been written.
When Elle visits the Lincoln Monument there is an evocation of the greatest of dumb blond films -- "Born Yesterday" -- for which Judy Holliday won the Best Actress Oscar. I am not willing to say that Ms Witherspoon's performance is on a par with Judy Holliday's; but the mise-en-scene and the overall feel of the moment are exactly right.
The photography of Washington, DC, was probably the best I have ever seen... We have all seen pictures of the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial -- but not in the vision that they were photographed for this film. They took on the otherworldly image that they should always be imbued with -- they became more real than real -- if possible.
Do not sell this film short just because it is different from the first... Viewers made that mistake with "The Thin Man" films too... This is (or should be) a long-running franchise that will continue to entertain for years to come.
The Italian Job (2003)
Stylish. Classy. Clever.
No one can play a slimy character as well as Edward Norton and he pulls this heist off better than ever before he is able to make the viewer admire him and even envy him, yet be utterly happy that they are NOT him.
This re-make of the 1969 film of the same name with Michael Caine and Noel Coward is far superior to the original rare in this day of endless copies and re-makes.
Mark Wahlberg plays the character that Michael Caine originally acted and while Wahlberg is certainly not an actor of the same ilk as Caine is he is certainly more entertaining in this role than Mr. Caine was. He is written as intelligent, witty, charming and, even though Michael Caine epitomizes class, far more elegant and sophisticated than Mr. Caine was able to achieve in the initial film; kudos to Mr. Wahlberg.
Charlize Theron is what I would want Cameron Diaz to be if I were ever lucky enough to wake up next to her sexy, intelligent and just immoral enough to make her a truly fun romp. I totally approve.
The supporting cast of crooks (Mos Def, Seth Green (!), Jason Statham and a woefully brief appearance by Donald Sutherland) is just delightfully fiendish enough to completely inveigle and entice the viewer to be completely caught up in their wicked, wicked ways.
Whenever a film starts with a catchy and compelling opening sequence I am always wary all too often it is a way of hiding the woefully inadequate film that is to come. Fortunately, even though `The Italian Job' started out on a high note, this time it did not let me down. It started cleverly and did not disappoint.
The sound track was an absolute delight hitting all the right elemental notes in all the right places with themes that the viewer will recognize (in all the proper spots) mixed with new music that was completely appropriate to the action on the screen.
Action is the key word. This was a film full of encounters and excitement with never a slow moment or a let down.
The use of the Minis as get away cars was a stroke of genius where many screen writers or directors would have used a car a la James Bond the utilization of the not-so-exciting Minis gave an enormous sense of fun and exhilaration to the chase scenes.
`The Italian Job' is the best time I have had at the movies so far this year and I highly recommend it to any and everyone that is looking for a good time replete with action, humour, romance and wit.
Door to Door (2002)
One of the most powerful films you will ever have the privilege of viewing.
William H. Macy is Bill Porter the door-to-door salesman for the Watkins Company deemed unemployable because of his cerebral palsy.
His performance is an actor's dream or nightmare depending on the actor's abilities and heart. And Mr. Macy proves he has the heart to play a difficult role with all the heart needed to make the viewer care deeply for this man who overcomes his disability to gain his own independence and sense of self.
Of course the script co-written by Mr. Macy with director Steven Schachter has a lot to do with his performance. But the real life story of Bill Porter is so compelling that it would be difficult to do it poorly.
While the audience is being manipulated (to a certain extent) to feel the inherent greatness that Mr. Porter has in his character the script does not shy away from his foibles and inability and subsequent anger -- to accept what he considers to be charity.
The soundtrack was used incredibly effectively to highlight the various moods and temperaments of the action in the film it was outstanding.
Kyra Sedgwick as Shelley Brady was outstanding as the woman he allows into his life to help him in his business; their relationship is sometimes volatile but the underlying love and respect for each other shines like a beacon.
This is an amazing film and should be required family viewing to help everyone understand that though people are all different we are all still the same.
Reinvention of the American Movie Musical
Completely prepared to not like this film (Moulin Rouge' being the big over-rated stinker of last year) I was astounded by the artistry and sheer spectacle of what has to be one of the best films of the year.
While Catherine Zeta-Jones has been the primary focus of the adverts, the show really belongs to Renée Zellweger. She proves she can dance, sing and act.
Ms Zellweger has a certain `Marilyn' aspect to her performance not only in her vocal skills but in her look as well.
While Queen Latifah is granted only one big musical number on her own she astounds with a characterization of Mae West that will drop your jaw. She is more than her rap' persona will ever consent to she rocks!
There is incredible interplay of colour in this film hot pink contrasting with cool blue to send a message of what is right and what is wrong theoretically.
The music by Fred Ebb and John Kander is timeless true classics though contemporary composer Danny Elfman (`Rugrats' amongst many other titles) provides his own sense of artistry.
Everyone (providing none of the singing voices were dubbed) can sing his or her heart out While Ms Zellweger is not the greatest vocalist ever she certainly knows how to sell a song and make you believe that she is the woman wronged.'
The Greek chorus' of the women behind bars' is absolutely astounding providing not just a couple of great musical numbers but also supplying a story line that helps to move everything along They can also dance like no one else I have ever seen.
Richard Gere is utilized as much as his talent allows not a lot but enough to make the story work.
My primary concern before I saw this film was `Please, don't wreck the story.' Not only was the story not wrecked' this is one of the best films I have seen this year.