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What has happened to Robin Williams?, 31 July 2008

Robin Williams is one of the funniest people of all time. All time! When he's being interviewed, I cry with laughter. And he's made some excellent comedies over the years, such as "Good Morning, Vietnam." What's he doing in this junk? For that matter, what about the other actors? John Krasinki is great in "The Office," and Mandy Moore has proved that she's good too, in her films. Likewise the supporting cast in the film is solid.

So what happened? We have a lot of talented people making an absolute stinker. I guess a couple of Williams' one liners are moderately funny, but nothing like as funny as the lines he whips off without a moment's thought on the "Tonight" show or other things. It's sad.

I suppose I should mention some specific things about the plot. Sadie (Moore) and Ben (Krasinki) want to get married by Sadie's family minister. He has a "marriage course" he wants them to take, which basically involves them doing a lot of foolish and in some cases dangerous things, like driving blindfolded while the other gives directions, or caring for 2 fake babies while they are supposed to be taking care of Ben's friend's actual children.

I guess a rule of thumb is that whenever you find yourself in a comedy where the joke involves a fake baby making green poo, you're probably not in a very good film.

The only thing that makes me give this 3 rather than 1 star is that I like the actors.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Nice, light entertainment, 10 May 2008

I wouldn't rush out to see this movie, but if it happens to come on TV or if you happen to come across it, it's not a bad way to spend an hour and a half. James McAvoy, who is familiar nowadays as the star of "The Last King of Scotland" (no he was not the one playing Idi Amin) and the faun in the first "Narnia" film, does a credible job as a working class bloke who goes to a fancy university and parlays his lifelong interest in trivia into a spot on the academic bowl team.

Along the way he has to struggle with several movie clichés, like having his working class pal from back home break up a party, struggling with classes when life gets hard, dealing with his mother moving on in her life, etc. It's all standard stuff, but done in a light and airy enough way that it passes the time. We see go back and forth between Alice, his gorgeous, smart, and interesting love interest with blonde hair (Alice Eve) and Rebecca, his gorgeous, smart and interesting love interest with brown hair (Rebecca Hall). (An interesting side note is that Alice is played by an actress named Alice and Rebecca is played by an actress named Rebecca.) Some not-bad comedy bits are encountered along the way, but it might have been good to see a bit more of the side characters. Benedict Cumberbatch is terrific but underutilized as the imperious but highly insecure captain of the quiz bowl team, for instance. His character is comically one-dimensional, but in a film like this that's hardly the point. In all, a good but not great film.

Jesus Camp (2006)
4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Decent Film, not nearly as extreme if looked at objectively, 1 January 2008

When discussing a film like this, it's hard to give an opinion without someone thinking you have a hidden agenda. For what it's worth, I don't have an agenda. I'm not an evangelical, I believe that evolution is real (as is global warming, for that matter), I believe in the separation of church and state. However I'm also not reduced to tears when I find out that someone in the US has view that are radically different than mine.

A lot of things that people allege are "scary" about this film aren't really scary, just weird. If I were watching a documentary about, say, a tribe on some distant continent, and people said that part of one of their religious ceremonies involved speaking in gibberish, I'd probably say, "Gosh, that's odd" or maybe, if I was being uncharitable, "That's silly." I wouldn't, however, be shaken to the core with fear. Some people reviewing this film seem to think, however, that if white, midwestern Ameriancs who are the ones doing the weird religious stuff, then it's extremely sinister and evidence of something terrible.

The woman running "Jesus Camp" has a lot of really extreme political views that I don't agree with, such as the idea that global warming is a hoax, or that the US should be considered a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. I think that's wrong. However, it's her right to believe that, and it's likewise her right to teach kids these silly ideas too. Is it indoctrination? I don't know. But I have a hard time dreaming up a scenario where the government (or somebody) sweeps in and tells her she can't do that that doesn't sound like fascism.

Likewise, consider the Ted Haggarty segment. I know we're supposed to hate the guy, because of things he's said in other forums, and because he turned out to be a hypocrite with regards to homosexuality. However, in this film he basically seemed like an affable, smiling guy. It's hard to see how someone could find him to be a menace on the basis of this alone.

But these are comments about reactions to the movie. Here's a few things on the film itself. I don't really believe the filmmakers assertion that this is a straight, unbiased account. True, the woman who runs the camp says plenty of things that are bizarre, and I don't doubt that her opinions are being presented fairly. However because the filmmakers kept cutting back to the Air America commentator, talking about how Evangelism is taking over the country, it's pretty obvious that the filmmakers think that this strange form of Christianity is both bad and running things. They imply, for example, that the only reason Samuel Alito ended up on the Supreme Court was because of evangelical pressure, as if there was no other reason for him to be confirmed other than that.

However the fact that the film has a clear bias doesn't make it a bad film. It's pretty interesting to see how the kids interact with strangers, for example. It would be interesting to see how they turn out in another 10 years, for instance. Likewise the film has a brisk pace and kept my interest the whole time, and the fact that it made me think is an indication that the filmmakers were doing a lot of things right.

Inside Man (2006)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Pretty good caper from Spike Lee, 19 August 2007

Lee is a very uneven filmmaker. Some of his movies, like "Do the Right Thing" and "Malcolm X", are brilliant. Others are pretty junky. This movie is a departure from any movie I've ever seen him do, in that it's pretty much a straight caper film, and even though there are a lot of twists, it's not overly about politics, the African American Experience, or sociology.

What I liked about it: - The theme music. I don't know much about popular Indian Music, but I liked the hip-hop inspired Indian song in the beginning. I'm not entirely sure what it was doing in this film, but I liked it.

- The Actors: Foster, Davis, Plummer, Washington - all great performances. the supporting actors were great too.

- The twists: I honestly didn't see what was coming until the end. I knew something was going on funny, but I didn't see it coming. Some people might not like the non-linear story telling, but it held my interest Things I didn't like: - Ultimately they didn't develop the central idea of the story too much. I don't want to give it away, but they should have played up the Plummer story more.

- The ending was a bit too clever.

Overall, a pretty enjoyable film, and a good step forward for Lee.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Boring, unfunny mess, 15 August 2007

Robin Williams, Laura Linney, Christopher Walken, director Barry Levinson - can't go wrong with that much talent around, right? Apparently the answer to that question is yes. Part of this movie wanted to be Robin Williams doing his standard off-the-cuff riffing, except they tended to put it in weird, unrealistic situations like a presidential debate in which a comedian for some reason gets a part.

Then it wanted to be a political commentary, except the points it was making were facile and uninteresting. The voting machine company that has a national contract with the election committee is hiding the fact that its voting machines don't work! Except that there is no national voting contract because each state, and in some cases each municipality, does its own thing. And the scenes with the allegedly sinister corporate goons are laughable at best. I've seen more realistic sinister goons in "Undercover Brother." Then there's a strained love story with Linney and Williams that doesn't work, and some nonsense about Linney running way from badguys.

And then the film has the temerity to pass itself off as a "message" movie about doing something with regards to the political system.

No thanks. I'll take a pass on this one.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
I'll resist putting a pun in the headline, 23 July 2007

It takes superhuman effort not to put a pun in the headline of a review of "You've Got Mail." One wants to write "You've got Male! And Female!" or maybe "You've got a Remake!" or "You've got Tom and Meg Again!" The fact is that a solid team put this piece together. Say what you will about Meg Ryan, Nora Ephron, and Tom Hanks, they know what it takes to put together a solid romantic comedy. Is this the most original romantic comedy? No. Is it a solid piece of work, considering the genre - and by that I mean light, fluffy romantic comedies - sure.

I think few people will go into this expecting hard hitting movie, which is good because this is a bit like cotton candy. Hardly filling, but not bad for a lazy afternoon.

A word on the casting. It's loaded with excellent actors: Ryan and Hanks, of course, but also Dabney Coleman, Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, Steve Zahn, John Randolph. Any one of them could have carried a significant portion of the film themselves, but instead their parts seem to have been cut way back. It's too bad they didn't develop these parts more, considering the talent they had on hand.

I understand that, according to the trivia on this site, the great Michael Palin even filmed afew scenes, which were cut. I find it astonishing that anyone in their right mind would do such a thing. Rule #1 of film-making: Don't if you can get Palin to do your movie, by all means keep his stuff in.

So so, redeemed somewhat by good actors, 8 July 2007

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not in the right demographic to enjoy a film like this. I'm a guy, I'm not interested in fashion, and I'm not fascinated by fancy parties. So right off the bat this film had to do a lot to interest me.

And as it turned out, it didn't really do much to interest me. Yes, Meryl Streep is a great actress and she did a credible job here - enough to hold my interest. It's not like she had a lot to work with here - the character was largely a cardboard cutout - but she made me pay attention.

One problem the film had was with its basic premise. Ho ho ho, the characters say, how could someone who looks like Anne Hathaway expect to work at a magazine like this? Uh, maybe because Anne Hathaway is an almost ridiculously good looking young woman, and is the kind of person whose face looks as if it was designed specifically to go on the cover of a magazine? Yes, she's not as skinny as a stick like some models, but she is thin, and when the characters talked about her like she was some ugly duckling it completely took me out of the moment. They should have either cast another actress (although that would have been a mistake because Anne's a good actress) or toned down the dialog.

Stanly Tucci was good as always. Adrian Grenier was fine, although didn't have much to work with. Emily Blunt was adequate.

But overall the movie just didn't connect with me. From the first scenes I could predict almost everything that would come, and I don't mean that in a good way. The decent performances save this from utter oblivion, but I certainly wouldn't rush out to get this one, unless you're a nut for fashion.

Panic Room (2002)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Great thriller, 30 June 2007

This isn't a film that will appeal to everyone, but it certainly appealed to me. It's a movie everything fits into a closed space - literally and figuratively- and every move by one character directly impacts the others. Others have likened it to a chess game, and the analogy is apt.

I wouldn't call the characters particularly deep, but that's not really the point in a film like this. We see just enough background of each character so we know what motivates each of their moves. It's more like a short story than a novel in this way.

The only disappointment I had was that the nature of the plot requires an ending that is sort of tacked on. I didn't think it was a terrible way to finish the film, just not particularly satisfying.

Definitely worth a video rental if you're looking for something kind of interesting.

61* (2001) (TV)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
OK, but flat, 2 June 2007

I didn't really like this movie very much. It was competent, the acting was fine, the scenes were technically OK, but it just didn't inspire me. I guess the others on this board have a different opinion. I don't say this because I'm a Red Sox fan and don't like the Yankees (although, that is in fact true), because I've liked other Yankee related films before (Pride of the Yankees, for example). It just didn't grab me.

It seemed that Billy Crystal was so desperate to make a movie that honors his baseball heroes that he forgot he was also supposed to be making an entertaining film.

The fact that the title itself is based on a historical inaccuracy didn't help. The commissioner never said anything about an asterix, and it didn't help that the film portrayed him as a one dimensional asshole.

7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Brilliant. One of the most interesting films of the last 10 years, 22 April 2007

"The Truman Show" is a rarity in Hollywood - or movies in general - a film that actually makes the audience think, and is about ideas. How do we know what we see is real? Why do we accept what is around us without questioning it? What would happen if we found out that a fundamental we were making about the world turned out to be completely wrong? You'd think a movie that was about those things would be a chore to get through, but in fact "The Truman Show" is great fun. I certainly wouldn't call it a comedy (although there are a few light moments here and there), but it's not too heavy and goes down easy.

It might sound like exaggeration, but the scene where Truman first starts to realize what's going on is one of the best scenes I've seen in any movie, because of Carrey's acting, the direction, and also because of the Philip Glass soundtrack (which was critical to making that scene work).

If you haven't seen The Truman Show, do yourself a favor and check it out.

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