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More regal than a Buick
I kept my expectations low for "Narnia". I was expecting it to fail. To try to be too epic, too "Lord of the Rings", but ending up more like "Dungeons and Dragons". If "Rings" is a Cadillac, I thought "Narnia" would be a Buick. A Buick Regal, no less, but still a Buick.
But after popping out this DVD, I found myself thoroughly entertained. I actually applauded at the end, even though I was alone. "Narnia" can take its place as perhaps second to "Lord of the Rings" in the fantasy adaptations trophy room.
I hadn't heard of any of the children in this movie, but they were all good. Expect that main little girl to get more work in the future, she was excellent. Tilda Swinton was so-so as the villain, but she wasn't very scary. The wicked witch in "Wizard of Oz" is more gangster than her.
There were a few distractions while watching the movie. For one, there are more talking animals than a Disney animated film (wait, this is a Disney movie)! And it bugged me that I couldn't figure out who voiced the Lion. I thought for sure it was Sam Neill, but instead it was that Cadillac among Buicks, Liam Neeson who provided the vocal chops.
All in all, "Narnia" is a very regal movie: exciting, good lessons for children, and spectacular visual effects. Bring on the sequel(s).
Thrilling, informative documentary on motorcycle road racing
This excellent documentary film captures the excitement of the races and the lives of a few of the racers from the point of view of the racers themselves and their teams. The film begins with a focus on the rivalry between Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi (the film definitely takes Rossi's side). A select few other riders are showcased, and then the film focuses on the transition from two-stroke bikes to four-stroke, and Moto GP. The film seems to be pretty comprehensive, covering some history of the sport and also taking a very personal approach in telling the stories of some of the riders, like John Hopkins. The film has awesome footage, which is helpful to those interested in actually racing and those who just want to see some thrilling racing footage. Recommended to those with an interest in the racing scene, sport bike enthusiasts, or those seeking adrenaline-pumping motorcycle footage. The interactive racing features on the second disc of the DVD set has great on board camera footage and an update for the 2004 season.
Delivers the goods
"Pirates" is a fun adventure film that breaks out of its "based on a Disneyland ride" chains and delivers a near-perfect summer family blockbuster.
The film is aided tremendously by the casting, especially Depp and Geoffrey Rush. All of the performances are very good, and it adds immeasurably to the quality of the film. The production is also very well done, right up to the great visual effects. However, one let down was the music, which features a pounding quality heard in many Bruckheimer action films.
The characters are brought to life with the skill of the "Indiana Jones" or "Harry Potter" movies, yet somehow the overall film seems to be just a few notches of "The Mummy" and "Tomb Raider" movies. Unlike the latter movies, however, it seems a sequel or two could really help lift "Pirates" out of that same category and into the heights reached by "Indiana Jones".
The verdict: about as good of a summer blockbuster as could be hoped for.
The Italian Job (2003)
"Italian Job" is a slickly made heist movie that exceeds expectations with its cleverness.
The movie contains a well-proportioned amount of action and comedy. It is almost self-aware that it is a remake, but doesn't worry because it knows it has a killer cast with some strongly conceived action scenes and decent dialogue to drive along the witty plot.
Edward Norton adds a lot to the entertainment with an oddly mixed muted yet over the top performance, while Mark Whalberg and the rest of the men in the gang fill out the movie nicely. In alot of action movies, these "gangs" don't work, but each actor in "Italian Job" performs their purpose well. Charlize Theron stands out as the daughter of Donald Sutherland, in an excellent casting choice.
Director F. Gary Gray knows exactly what he's doing, and in many ways, this is the movie that Bruckheimer's "Gone In 60 Seconds" remake should have been.
The verdict: a Hollywood heist movie the way it should be done.
Master & Commander is flawlessly helmed by Peter Weir, who once again proves he is one of the most important filmmakers working today. His direction is masterful, creating an atmosphere in which the audience becomes fully emerged in the story. The film is aided tremendously by Bettany, who after only seeing previously in a Beautiful Mind (also starring Crowe), gives a surprisingly strong and memorable performance. Crowe is perfectly cast.
A wonderfully memorable sea adventure, and one of the year's best films.
Ladybug Ladybug (1963)
Powerful film at times
Unlike most nuclear annihilation drills, this time the children have been sent home, causing fear and a certain sense of doom on their walk home. None of the children are capable of finding out what is really happening, because all the adults they come in contact with act absurdly, while the children mostly remain calm and act responsibly. The film's message comes across clearly thanks to the excellent performances by the children and strong cinematography, but the film seems a bit unsatisfying due to a lack of film score and a rather rushed, but powerful, ending.
Rear Window (1954)
Brilliant in every way
The film is just brilliant. The story masterfully unfolds, and the dialogue is witty, wickedly witty, even by today's standards. The sound design is complicated and had to have been a big leap fifty years ago, when there are moments of no dialogue, only sounds coming from the many buildings of the apartment complex, as heard from his room - even the music score sounds like it's coming from a record player next door. Perhaps the greatest achievement is the fact that the camera never leaves the apartment - every angle is shot at his room or from the view of his room. Hitchcock loved to create little challenges like that.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Frank Oz transports us to the French Mediterranean where two con artists, Freddy (Steve Martin) vs. Jamieson (Michael Caine), try to dupe an American tourist (Headly) out of her money. Martin is the pocket-thief type who can't match Caine's suavity, and the fun lies in the crazy cons they each pull in order to one-up each other. It's a great pairing for Caine and Martin, and the soundtrack and locations also deserve special mention.
Great story, great filmmaking
'Witness' is about a guy who is a total product of the big city - he's a tough cop, he relies on cars, phones, and guns - who hides at an Amish farm to prevent a boy (the witness) and himself from being found by the killers.
The film is less about Harrison Ford learning to live among the Amish as it is the Amish learning to live with Ford. He is a man who at first glance has no matching ideals. The film is fantastic on that level, especially thanks to Peter Weir's direction, who brilliantly shows Ford gradually becoming accepted by the Amish men.
There is very little dialogue among the characters, and Rachel (McGillis) talks even less, not because she doesn't have anything to say, but because Amish rules of life don't seem to allow her to. They are presented as a quiet people, so McGillis has the difficult task of making Rachel speak without dialogue, and she does it well, which carries over to Ford (he got an Oscar nomination, she didn't).
It's only at the climax of the film, when the action takes over that the film begins to weaken. The filmmakers seem to have some kind of answer to how the killer's storyline should be resolved, but it's not very good.
Despite the flaw, the film is excellent based on the performances of the cast, the editor who had to put all the dialogue-less scenes together (and later, won the Oscar for it), and Weir's masterful handling of the story.
Breaking Away (1979)
Loving achievement by cast and filmmakers
'Breaking Away' is set apart by its charm. It's about four guys, the 'cutters', who have to face their rivals, their parents, and each other, over the summer before they have to become adults.
The rivalry between the rich university students and the cutters is entertaining, but the heart of the film is Dave's (Dennis Christopher) relationship with his Dad (Dooley, in a great performance), which provide the biggest laughs of the film. The tension is mostly set off because of Dave's outrageous lengths to emulate the Italian cycling team he idolizes.
The greatest achievement of Breaking Away is its honesty and charm, thanks to the talented cast and direction, not to mention the soundtrack.