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Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
A great movie
This movie is rightly considered the front-runner for this year's Best Picture. It is easily the year's best and one of the best of the whole decade. It is directed by Danny Boyle, who should win the year's Best Director Oscar, and is about a young man, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel, who should have been Oscar-nominated) who is a contestant on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire". Jamal does very well on the questions of the show, which are very difficult, and the police believe to have gotten so many questions right, Jamal must have cheated.
But in telling the story of his life, amidst grinding poverty and oppression, Jamal tells how he was able to know the answers to the questions that were posed to him. Jamal's story is mainly about how he combated his dire circumstances with his brother Salim and how he has always loved a young girl named Latika. In fact Jamal went on the game show hoping Latika would see it and that the two might be reunited after years of separation.
I went to this film expecting a lot and was surprised to see that it was better than I hoped for. It tells an uplifting story and mixes gritty drama, of how Jamal used his wits and courage to get by in a world designed to grind him down as he is only a "slumdog", with romance as Jamal never forgets Latika and only dreams that against all odds that the pair can get back together. So, this film gets a grade of 10 and the highest possible recommendation.
The Reader (2008)
Not Oscar worthy
"The Reader" directed by Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry should not have been the 5th film to earn an Oscar-nomination as Best Picture. That honor should have gone to "Doubt" or "The Dark Knight". But, Holocaust-themed pictures are popular with the Academy so this film was nominated. However, this is not a great movie like "Schindler's List" but only very-good, like "The Pianist"
Michael is a high-schooler in West Germany in the mid-50s when he is afflicted with scarlet fever. When he gets sick on the streets, Hannah (the very good Kate Winslet) comes to his aid. After months of convalescense, he goes to Hannah's house to thank her for her assistance and soon the pair starts a romance. It mostly consists of Michael's reading literary classics to Hannah and then sex. This tryst lasts a few months and then peters out.
Almost a decade later, Michael is a law student and as part of a seminar on the legal ramifications of the Holocaust he attends a trial of several women charged with war-related crimes. Michael is very surprised to see Hannah on trial and has crucial evidence about her possible complicity. He must decide whether or not to bring it up.
I like this film but do not feel it to be one of the year's 5 best. So it gets a grade of 8 and a positive recommendation. But, do not expect a truly great movie when going to see this film.
Grumpy Old Men (1993)
a funny movie
"Grumpy Old Men" is a movie about two senior citizens, John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) and Max Goldman (Walter Matthau) who have known each other their entire lives and love getting the better of one another. They refer to each other as "Moron" (Goldman) and "Putz" (Gustafson) and play pranks on the other. John puts a fish in Max's back seat causing an awful stench in his friend's car while Max uses his remote to change channels while John is attempting to watch the lottery. The two men embark on a competition to win the affection of an attractive woman, Ariel Truax (Ann-Margret), who moves into the neighborhood and each does his best to win her heart. This movie is very funny, Lemmon and Matthau are one of the movie's best comedic duo and their story is filled with touches that show how both men retain their vitality though they are getting up in age. So, this film gets a grade of 7 out of 10 and a pretty strong recommendation.
The Wrestler (2008)
A very good movie
This is easily one of the top movies of 2008. In a comeback role, Mickey Rourke gives an award-worthy performance as a fading wrestler, Randy "The Ram" Robinson who has a very shaky relationship with his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) and a tenuous relationship with a stripper, "Cassidy", played by a very good Marisa Tomei. Randy has health problems, he suffers a heart attack after one performance and wants to get out of the wrestling game altogether. But it is from his loyal fans that Randy gets his only committed emotional support.
This movie was named by At the Movies Ben Manckiewicz as the best film of 2008 and while that may be a bit much this film is one of the year's finest. It tells the story of a man unable due to circumstances to move beyond his 1980s glory and as he is no longer young he can no longer perform as he once did. He wants a relationship with both his daughter Stephanie and "Cassidy" (Tomei's stripper name) but neither woman can commit to him how he would like. So, Randy continues to do the one thing he knows and loves, wrestling, even so doing so puts his health at great risk. This is an excellent film so it gets a grade of A- and a very strong recommendation.
Music and Lyrics (2007)
A decent romantic comedy
Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is the washed-up former member of a 1980s WHAM! like group called POP. Alex is well past his heyday and is reduced to reproducing his past glories at reunions and amusement parks. Out of the blue he is asked to write a song for a current pop star who is a fan of his past work. Serendiptiously, Alex, who does not write lyrics, finds a collaborator in Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore) who is a natural lyricist.
Most of this movie is fairly predictable. Alex and Sophie find romance as they work on their song and then face difficulty as Sophie objects to being asked to commercialize her work while Alex, who is very grateful for his second chance, takes the request as merely being about business and is fully prepared to bastardize his effort.
This movie is only pretty good, Grant and Barrymore share a good chemistry but the material is only average and proceeds in a manner that is totally predictable and done better in other romantic comedies. So, this movie gets a grade of B- and a moderate recommendation. Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore fans will like it but the average fan might not like the expense of renting it.
Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins (2008)
A somewhat funny movie
Roscoe Jenkins has taken the name "RJ Stevens" and become a self-help guru with a book and talk show based on the premise "the team of me". He heads home accompanies by his self-absorbed fiancée, Bianca, who has the idea that they should record RJ's parent's 50th anniversary celebration.
At home, RJ's family does not treat him as the important semi-celebrity he is in LA but as the child who could never defeat his cousin Clyde in any competition and as the boy still under his parents' dominion at home. Roscoe's relatives played by James Earl Jones. Margaret Avery, Cedric the Entertainer, Mo'nique and Michael Clarke Duncan are all funny and good at puncturing the bubble of Roscoe's believed importance. Eventually Roscoe learns some important lessons about the importance of family and remaining connected to them and becomes the man his father has always wanted him to be. This is a decent, somewhat funny movie so it gets a grade of C+ and a moderate recommendation.
28 Days (2000)
A good Sandra Bullock movie
Sandra Bullock has been good in several movies, including "Speed", "While You Were Sleeping" and "Hope Floats" but this is probably her best film. It is not to be confused with Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later". In this movie, Bullock plays Gwen, a woman with alcohol and prescription drug problems. After crashing a wedding limo, which she stole, into a house a judge makes Gwen enter a substance abuse program instead of sentencing her to jail. Like many addicts, at first Gwen denies she has any type of problem, but she prefers the clinic to prison so she goes to the facility. At first Gwen is a very difficult patient but eventually concedes that she has a problem and begins to work to get better. This picture mixes fairly serious drama with humor, as Gwen both owns up to her predicament and interacts with a comic cast, including Mike O'Malley, to gently poke fun at the situation which Gwen finds herself in. I like this movie, though it is by no means a great film, so it gets a grade of "B-" and a moderate recommendation.
An Oscar worthy movie
Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) was the most corrupt President in US history and was forced to resign before he was tossed out of office by the US Congress. Because he resigned and was pardoned for any possible criminal offense by President Ford, Nixon was never officially questioned for any of his possible crimes. David Frost (Michael Sheen) noted there was a hunger in the US to have Nixon question about his improprieties and convinced the disgraced former President to agree to a 4-part interview, 1/4 of which would be questioning about the Watergate scandal. The best scene in this film occurs not during Frost's questioning but when a drunk Nixon calls Frost in the night before his Watergate interview. Nixon delivers a drunken rant which reveals the type of personality he truly had. He rails at the elite institutions of the nation which never fully accepted him as an equal and informs Frost that he sees their interviews as a battle between two men, only one of which could be the winner. This is one of Ron Howard's best movies, it is the equal of "Apollo 13" and "A Beautiful Mind" and should be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. It gets a grade of "A" and a very strong recommendation.
Mr. Woodcock (2007)
A moderately funny movie
John Farley (Seann William Scott) was an pudgy, out-of-shape youth who grew up to write a self-help book, "Letting Go", designed to help people overcome childhood trauma. John's trauma was his gym teacher, Jasper Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton), picked on and humiliated weak kids as part of his teaching method. John's book is very successful so he is named winner of his town's "Corn Cob Key" award. When he arrives home, John learns his mom Beverly (Susan Sarandon) is romantically involved with Mr. Woodcock, something John cannot accept or even condone. So, most of this movie is funny bits in which John tries to dig up dirt on Mr. Woodcock or tries to compete with his ex-teacher to prove to him he is not the loser Woodcock pegged him as when he was a kid. Both Scott and Thornton are accomplished comedic actors, though both have been funnier in other films, like Scott in the "American Pie" series and Thornton in "Bad Santa", but they do bring some, not a lot of, humor to this film. I would not have recommended this film to people to see at the theatre but it is worth a Netflix rental, particularly if one likes the humor of its stars. It gets a grade of "B-"
The Invasion (2007)
A very good sci-fi film
I was very pleased with this movie. Like her ex-husband, Nicole Kidman stars in a remake of a 1950s sci-fi classic. Kidman plays Carol Bennell, a Washington DC psychiatrist, faced with a crisis when alien spores infect humans, through liquid, causing them to become emotionless and hugely desirous of converting every Earthling to their mutated species. It is during the REM stage of sleep that the "infection" converts those exposed to the alien species so Carol must make sure that she never sleeps after she is exposed to the infection. Carol is aided in her quest by her boyfriend/scientist Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig) and together the two realize that Carol's son Oliver is not susceptible to being converted due to a strain of chicken pox he suffered previously. I like this sci-fi remake more than "War of the Worlds" which was a bit overwrought and if one merely wants to see a good movie with no pretensions other than to provide entertainment one will like this movie. It gets a grade of A- and a recommendation that acknowledges it is a worthy remake of a 1950s classic.