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The Best Star Wars and One of the Best Films Ever Made
It took many years and many viewings before I could say that I liked this film better than A New Hope. But careful examination tells all - by every conceivable measure this is a better picture. The characters are more fully developed, Vader is even more evil, the score gives us the chilling Vader theme and the story is more interesting. Now that the six films are complete, The Empire Strikes Back is even more compelling and interesting than it was before we knew its Big Secret.
All great heroes are flawed, and Luke Skywalker is no exception. Empire reveals to us in full that the inner battle he will have to fight is worse than any enemy he will face. As we meet for the first time Yoda, the wise Jedi master (we find out in Sith why he is on this jungle planet), we learn what a Jedi is, what his responsibility is and just how difficult that life will be. Luke, however, wants immediate gratification - he wants to help and wants revenge.
The film cuts back and forth between Han Solo and Leia's pursuit by Vader and Luke's training and ultimately leads to the greatest scene of the six films, the epic light saber battle between Luke and Vader. And, if you are one of the 12 people on the planet who do not know the outcome, the less said the better.
Empire rightly holds a place in the IMDb top 10, combining Action-Adventure, space opera and even the best elements of a super-hero film, into an infinitely watchable, entertaining movie. **** out of ****.
A Family Film in Every Sense
As a parent, I deeply admire this film for adhering to a PG rating. It could have gone over the top in the battle scenes and with gore and completely ruined itself. Its jaw-dropping box office success was due to the fact that is was the best family film of 2005 and one of the better ones in many years.
Narnia's story is well known. Four young English children trying to escape World War II are sent to a large country home. There, they stumble upon an old wardrobe which leads them to the mythical land of Narnia, where strange and friendly creatures live. Narnia is cursed to a permanent winter while it is under the rule of the icy White Witch, devilishly played by Tilda Swinton. The four siblings soon find themselves in a battle for their own lives and for the very freedom of Narnia itself.
The parallels to LOTR are many, but Narnia comes across as LOTR-Lite. The battle scene at the end is exciting, not scary and Andrew Adamson has perfect sense in when to cut a scene and how far to take things. Yes, its frightening, but just enough.
And, as an allegory of the life of Jesus, it has a strong moral message that allows for some great conversation with your kids after the film.
Well made, wonderfully acted, good (but not great) FX, this is a film worth owning if you have kids, and maybe even if you don't. ***1/2 out of ****.
A Performance That Overshadows a Great Film
It will be interesting to see how history treats this film, whether or not this will be Philip Seymour Hoffman's Dog Day Afternoon, Silence of the Lambs or Raging Bull. Whether it will be held with history's truly great performances. I think it should be, and likely will.
Capote is a great film, well made from every aspect, with a strong supporting cast, tight script and engaging story, but it is all overshadowed by one of the best performances in a decade or more. PSH inhabits Capote, his cartoon-like voice, mannerisms, paranoia, ego, gestures. This is made all the more amazing by the fact that this movie is not a hero-worship picture - it tells a generally unflattering tale of a man who was willing to go to any extent to finish his book.
Capote tells the tale of the writing of In Cold Blood, the first "non-fiction novel", entertainment reading based on an entirely true story. Capote travels to the small southern town to write about the brutal murder of a family of four. How it affected the townspeople. He soon finds that he has a novel in the making. One that would make him the most famous writer in America, stop his prolific career and hasten his death.
By chance, Capote meets one of the accused killers, Perry Smith. A lonely and confused man, mistreated as a child but with many hidden gifts. Truman views him as a kindred spirit saying "Its as if we grew up in the same house." But the dilemma strikes - if the novel is to be completed, then Perry (whom Capote has at least inwardly fallen in love with) and his partner in crime must be put to death.
Although we know how this will end for both Smith and Capote, the journey is extraordinary as we watch the manipulation on both sides of the jail cell. In the background is Nell Harper (Cahterin Keener) Capote's friend gaining notoriety for To Kill A Mockingbird. (Capote says of the film at its premier "I don't see what the fuss is all about.") She acts as the films moral centre, telling Capote the truth about himself, which he knows but does not want to hear.
PSH deserved an Oscar nomination two years back for Owning Mahowny and I implore anyone as gripped by his performance here as I was to seek that small film out.
Capote is a worthy best picture nominee on its own, made better by a lead acting performance for the ages. **** out of ****
Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)
If You Admire the Craft of Film-making, this one's for you.
Good Night and Good Luck enters into the territory of films like Appolo 13 and to a certain extent even Revenge of the Sith which tell an intensely compelling story to which everyone knows the ending. It is an unenviable task, to be certain. We know the start and end, what we are interested in is the details. GN&GL is an engaging, skillfully made period piece which make no bad decisions.
Telling the story of the fabled and public battle of Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joe McCarthy, director and co-start George Clooney does a near perfect job of transporting the audience back to the 50s. An age when America's most respected news anchor would still smoke on TV. When communism was what terrorism is today.
The key to this film is casting McCarthy as himself, using only newsreel footage and actual McCarthy speeches and quotes, rather than having him played by an actor. This gives a documentary-like authenticity to this film that it would otherwise never have and it is the key to its success.
The film portrays Murrow as an intelligent man, defender of freedom of the press, eloquent and of the highest integrity, which he was. It portrays McCarthy as an likely-insane demagogue, power hungry and exploiting fear, which he was. In other words, it completely succeeds in re-telling the tale. David Straithairn, long an underrated character actor adds great depth to what could have been a one note performance as Murrow.
GN&GL is, however, style over substance and craft over content. It does not stray even the slightest from its mission, and thereby may prove to be a little dull for some viewers. If you are the type who can watch a movie and appreciate it for its skill, then this is worth watching. ***1/2 out of ****.
Geri's Game (1997)
Everything a short should be
Geri's Game is a brilliant, funny original short from Pixar. A senior, Geri, sits in a park and plays a game of chess with himself. We get to see both perspectives, himself and himself the opponent, as well as the perspective of an observer to the entire game. The expressions on Geri's face while he loses to himself and the ultimate way in which he wins are priceless.
Free of dialogue, but abounding with colour, image, expression and humour, this is everything a short should be.
An Oscar winner for best animated short, it helped solidify Pixar as the pioneer's in computer animation. They are still to this day yet to make a false step. ***1/2 out of ****.
Funnier than Madagascar
THe Penguin Christmas Caper is a blisteringly funny and fast paced little short that is far funnier that the film from which it spun.
Private, the least insane of the gang of Madagascar Penguins, decides to venture out into the streets of New York to buy a present for the lonely Polar Bear, who is all alone on Christmas. He is mistaken for a chew toy, and brought home by an old lady to be a present for her vicious, salivating but tiny dog. THe rest of the crew embark on a rescue mission.
Skipper barks orders, Kowlaski has the logistics and Rico, he just wants to blow something up. The jokes are in every line, and every corner of every frame of this short. Its ten minutes well spent. ***1/2 out of ****.
Delightful Short with an Excellent Message
Boundin' tells a four minute tale of a young, puffy white lamb who wanders freely, is happy and dances through life until one day, he is shorn and shattered. Left out in the rain with nothing but his pink skin he mopes around until a Jackalope (whatever that is) bounces by to convince him that everything is OK.
As narrated by the director Bud Luckey in a sort of 6/8 time country and western poem, this short is light, lilting, funny as can be and packs a wonderful message. It is not so much about tolerance as it is about being proud and comfortable about who you are. It is also likely the only animated short ever to use the word Heliotrope.
If you have the Incredibles DVD then you have this short. We watch it every time we run through The Incredibles. ***1/2 out of ****.
The Most Original Romance Film I Have Seen
What a brilliant, original and challenging film this is. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind likely falls into the category of romantic comedy, but that would put it on the same shelf as America's Sweethearts or Two Weeks Notice. This is immeasurably more.
Charlie Kaufman is the prolific writer of quirky and bizarre screenplays. Since 1999, he has written three films (including this one) that you can strongly argue were the best pictures of the year. He writes unique and almost deliberately odd movies, but they never some across as weirdness for its own sake.
How to describe the plot? (This is not a plot-driven film). Jim Carrey is Joel - as bit of a loser who lacks confidence in himself. Kate Winslet is Clementine, a blue haired off the wall kooky chick, the exact type that Joel should repel. They start a relationship and are in love.
As the relationship goes sour, they have a quick and nasty break up. Clementine goes to firm that can erases memories and has Joel erased from her mind. Joel decides to do the same, but his memories of Clementine are so deeply entrenched that they refuse to go away easily.
Kaufman and director Michel GOndry take this simple sounding premise, tell it in a non-linear format and take it in directions no viewer can predict. The result is a touching, haunting and moving emotional experience that will linger with you long after the film is over. If you liked Being John Malkovich and Adapation, chances are you will like Eternal Sunshine as well. This films could not be more different, but they have the common threads Kaufmans pen.
Carrey and Winslet are backed up by an amazing support cast, including ELijah Wood, Kirten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson and Mark Ruffalo.
Here you have a memory loss film where the characters choose to loose their memory. The film examines the moral, social and even logistic implications of this, without losing the nature of the romance. It takes every convention of it genre, chucks it out the window and starts from there. ***1/2 out of ****.
Fun and Frighteneing
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a wonderful film. Loking back, Chris Columbus, the great pop film maker, deserved an Oscar nomination for this film. THere are no wrong choices, showing the world of Hogwarts from Harry's eyes, letting us discover this strange and scary world with him.
It is by no means violent and is as scary as it needs to be. Most children will be able to handle this film and sleep soundly the same night.
What I love about the movie, more than the CGI and special effects, is the building of the relationshio with Ron, Hermoine and Harry. Really, they are three outcast nerds and in spite of Harry's celebrity and power and new found wealth, he chooses them for friends forsaking the likes of the other rich kids. It is a subtle but very strong positive message for kids.
In spite of its running length it can easily hold a child's attention, jumping from trolls to dragons to goblins to quiddich matches, mixing it all in with moments of trues pathos as Harry discovers the truth about his family. Daniel Radcliffe succeeds in portraying Harry as a likable, flawed, emerging hero, fascinated with his own power, but keeping everything in check. (one of the great achievements of this film is how well it is cast, considering the huge number of speaking roles).
Aside from a little uneven acting from the young newcomers in the cast, this film does not strike a wrong note. ***1/2 out of ****.
Good but by no means great
2005 was a weak year for animation to be sure. Madgascar stands up well, but in other years would have looked weaker than it is. It is a light, funny and wonderfully inoffensive family film, but all those good qualities make it a tad dull.
Madagascar knows how to make use of peripheral characters. The penguins, King Julian, the scared subway passengers, the monkeys all add to this movie and make it more interesting. Its lead, Ben Stiller's Alex the lion is the dullest of the bunch.
Madagascar opens in Central Park Zoo, where Alex is the star of the show. He loves his life. Luxury, steaks to snack on daily, legions of adoring fans and an endless parade of cheesy merchandise bearing his image. His friends Melman the Giraffe (a hypochondriac with all the medication he needs) and Gloria the Hippo (no body image problem here), seem content, but not as in love with the zoo as Alex.
Marty the Zebra, perfectly voiced by Chris Rock, is in a different zone. He runs on his treadmill, longing for the wild. He does not really know what that this, but he know instinctively that that is where he belongs. One day, h breaks out of the zoo and wanders Manhattan looking for the wild. This leads to the movie's funniest scene, with the escapee Zebra asking directions from a police horse.
Marty's friends chase after him to try and coax him back to the zoo, but all are caught and shipped off to a wild life reserve. On the way, their crates fall from their ship and they land in Madagascar.
From there, the story does not really go too far. It stays funny largely thanks for Sasha Baron Cohen and Cedric the Entertainer, but it is lightweight in comparison to its contemporaries.
If you are looking for a fun couple of hours with the kids, Madagascar is funny enough for the mom and dad crowd. Although the sequel has been announced, it is mediocre entertainment at best. *** out of ****.
Chicken Little (2005)
I almost feel guilty writing a negative slanted review of this film. I saw it on a Saturday afternoon matinée with my six year old son, we had a great time and he loved it. And isn't that what the movie experience should be about. To nitpick the awkward scenes, the cheesy dialogue, the endless in-your-face-ain't-I-clever movie references that no kid would ever get - well that just seems churlish, doesn't it.
Well, then, call me a churl.
Chicken Little is minimally passable kids entertainment. As Disney's first "non-Pixar" foray into computer animation, it s really a failure when you consider that Pixar's films rank from great to brilliant.
The plot involves our cute little chicken (Zach Braff, brimming with enough sincerity for a lifetime of Church of the Latter Day Saints commercials) sending his town into panic because a small octagonal piece of the sky has fallen on his noggin. It turns out to be nothing but an acorn, and he is outcast for causing the scare. We know he was right, but no-one, especially his emotionally absent single dad (Gary Marshall) believes him. Quick aside, why can't any Disney main character have two living parents?
From there, we get to see his redemption, failure, near redemption, near failure and so on and so on. The cast is rife with wacky sidekicks, evil villains, aliens, even a nice, funny little cameo by PAtrick Stewart as a teacher of the Mutton language.
Chicken Little is OK, and completely inoffensive. It does not achieve the greatness of The Incredibles or Shrek - in fact it does not come close. The latter two are movies adult can and will see on their own. Chicken Little requires Child Accompaniment. ** out of ****.
Very slow with an excellent payoff for patient viewers
Someone asked my to describe 3-Iron and I told then that it is like Lost In Translation, but slower, less plot, in Korean and with no dialogue. If that sounds intriguing to you, then put this at the top of your rental list.
I sought this film out specifically when James Bernardinelli placed it at the top of his list of best films of the first half of the year. I am a huge fan of Reelviews but I cannot share his enthusiasm here. It was a good, stylish film, but it seemed to be enjoying its own tricks with symbolism too much.
The story is simple. A handsome young man poses as a deliver boy for restaurant menus. If he sees one of a door for a day or two, he breaks into the house. He does not rob or ransack, rather he bathes, eats, and repays the owners by doing their laundry and fixing things around the home.
He happens on a home that is not empty. A sad, and obviously beaten woman is there. They are wordlessly attracted to each other but when her husband returns and begins beating her again, he comes to her rescue in a manner that I must admit is very original. They run off together - and from there, the last two acts of the film I will leave you to discover on your own.
3-Iron is well-made, wonderfully acted and tells a heart-breaking story, but it is very slow and makes you endure a lot of circumstance to get to the ending. It would have worked unbelievably well as a 40-minute short film. As a feature, it has too many gaps for my taste.
If you are in for a challenge and something truly cerebral, 3-Iron is strongly recommended. *** out of ****.
A thesis on the culture of corruption
Stephen Gaghan penned Traffic, which was the best film of 2000. Now with Syriana, he has developed a companion piece, with the oil industry as the backdrop rather than the drug trade. The irony of this is that the films show that both industries are corrupt to the core, but only one is legal.
In fact, by the evidence of these two films, one could argue that the drug trade is the less sleazy of the two because it does not exist with the facade of legitimacy that surrounds the oil industry. If I was to make a list of the 10 best films of the decade so far, these would both be there.
It is tough, if not impossible and perhaps even foolish to try and apply one thesis to this film, but for me, it is that what we as civilians call corruption is simply the culture of the oil business, one supported and nurtured by government, business, traders and lawyers. No-one knows why it exists, but it does, and if you cannot wade in it, you are out of the game.
Syriana does not have a plot or a storyline, but it throws character and story and information at you by the bucketful. There is no warm up time. Gaghan goes out of his way to show that the people involved in this business are surrounded by a normal world with normal hopes and dreams. This is evident from the opening shot. A title card tells us we are in Tehran, but not a some stereotypical open market selling figs. It is a hip hop club.
The main story of the film involves a possibly corrupt merger of two major American oil firms. From there, everything else fans out. THe story of Jeffrey Wright, the government official investigating the merger, George Clooney, the CIA operative with missions with no apparent goal, the Arab Emir from an unnamed oil producing country, and his two sons each wanting to take over his reign, the industry analyst (Matt Damon) who will use any situation to advance his firm, and the young, broke angry Arab youth who look for meaning in life and find it in the most dangerous way.
Syriana is not a left wing movie, it is surprising a-political. It is not anti-American, but it most certainly lays blame on the US and the west for putting oil ahead of all other priorities. It is not sympathetic to terror, but its most compelling plot line tell us how a terrorist can be made from a bad combination of hopelessness, unemployment, anger and poverty.
If you are looking for a neat and tidy ending, you will be frustrated. The film ends like a truck running into a brick wall, with all but one or two plots left hanging. It does not answer any questions because I believe that Gaghan is trying to show that no-one is really in charge and that no-one really knows what is going on.
The acting is near perfect from everyone in the cast, including a small, two scene brilliant cameo by William Hurt and Oscar worthy work from Clooney and Alexander Siddig as the frustrated Arab prince.
This is an important film and it is not to be missed. **** out of ****.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Stylish, but too nihilistic
From Jerry Bruckheimer, I would have thought this to be an inferior film. From Spielberg, its an outright disaster.
War of the Worlds is on par with Independence Day and that ludicrous Bruce Willis movie with the flying rock - big, ungainly loud moves that are still a financial success. It was easily the worst, and most disappointing film I saw in 2005.
As goes with Spielberg, it is expertly made and has flashes of brilliance all over. Some of its best moments are in the few quiet ones. But for 90 nearly endless minutes, it is simply Tom Cruise and company yelling, running and watching everything around them get destroyed. I have never experienced the onslaught of senseless, plot less death from a Spielberg film that I got from this one.
The ending has to be seen to be believed, and it is what elevates it from disappointing to downright bad. The script entirely forgets about the character of Tom Cruise's son, who seems to miraculously appear for the final scene. And miracle of miracle, the whole of the US eastern seaboard is annihilated, save for the block on which the mother of Cruise's children live.
War of the Worlds received a lot a press for being made in a short time span and it feels rushed and unfinished. It is purely and exercise in special effects, a not a very good one. *1/2 out of ****.
Brilliant Effects, Great Story Arch, Lame Writing
George Lucas is a great story teller and the undisputed master of creating special effects that serve a film. He cannot write, and Revenge of the Sith simply in the hands of a better writer could have been the best of the Star Wars Series. It is still excellent, third best of the six by my take (I rank them Empire, Hope, Sith, Clones, Jedi, Menace), but it misses an opportunity for greatness.
There is really no way of spoiling the plot. The film has the great disadvantage that everyone who enters the theatre knows the ending. What we are looking for are the details of the trip.
The movie opens with Obi Wan and Anakin on a quest to save Emperor Palpatine from captivity from the evil Sith Lord Count Dookoo. (It seems that Christopher Lee's new career is to play bit role evil villains in two part of a trilogy, only to get killed in the open scene of the third). What we know that the characters do not is that this was all set up, a test of Anakin's mastery of the force.
Anakin becomes the Emperor's special envoy to the Jedi Counsel. The other members of the counsel refuse to give him the rank of master, which stirs up his hatred and anger and allows his rapid descent to the Dark Side of the force to begin.
Sith gives us four moments of true greatness - Obi Wans light sabre fight with General Grevious, the volcano planet, Yoda's fight with Sidious and of course, the transformation to Darth Vader. The movie's weakness is its paint-by-numbers script which gives the exact minimum amount of dialogue required to move the script forward.
Sith is a worthy, rousing operatic send off to the cinemas most celebrated story. Parents be warned, it is dark and violent, more so that any previous Star Wars. ***1/2 out of ****.
Ocean's Eleven (2001)
Ocean's 11 is the kind of movie you want to watch when you want to be entertained, you want to think but you don't want to have to think, if that makes any sense.
I would describe this as an 'honor amongst thieves' film in the line of The Sting, and of course its original predecessor. There are no good guys, just various levels of likable and dis-likable bad guys. The straightest arrow of the cast, casino owner Terrry Benedict (Garcia) is made to be the film most dis-likable character.
The story is about Danny Ocean (Clooney), who is just released from prison. His first act is to break parole and the state for Las Vegas, where he meets up with his old buddy Rusty (Pitt). They decide that they want to do the impossible, knock over 3 casinos simultaneously, with their impenetrable security systems. They assemble a team of nine thieves, and the bulk of the movie is the caper itself.
In spite of the star power, this is a skillfully made ensemble drama, with the likes of Don Cheadle, Elliot Gould, Julia Roberts and Andy Garcia all content in breezy supporting roles. The true joy of this film is watching the robbery unfold. Steven Soderberg does not make a single wrong directorial decision here.
Ocean's 11 is a fun ride - a movie worth owning. It has zero social value, but at the same time, there is nothing really objectionable. It has a completely implausible plot, but we never care because it is wonderful escapist entertainment. ***1/2 out of ****.
The Aviator (2004)
Excellent Biopic, but Mediocre Scorsese
Don't get me wrong, I loved this film. And I would be delighted to see Martin Scorsese win Best Director and the film win Best Picture. But for Scorsese, this is (best case) his 5th best film (behind Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and Mean Streets) and I will choke a bit if the Academy chooses to honour this after ignoring his masterpieces.
This is an epic film with an intimate feel, in which the director makes no wrong choices. By concentrating on Howard Hughes' life from 1927 to 1947, his glory years before his long and pathetic decent, we get to see the legend and myth of Hughes and not the cartoon character.
As The Aviator opens, Hughes has recently inherited his parents fortune and he seems bent on spending all of it to make Hell Angels, and World War I picture concentrating on spectacular flying scenes. We get to know the Hughes who was a mad risk-taker, a womanizer of Hollywood's most elite and a genius business man. (It is interesting to watch how he succeeds by a succession of near-bankruptcies).
Intertwined with this are brief flashes of the madness to come - his battle with OCD and his sickening obsession with germs. For a drink, he orders milk, in the bottle, seal on. And when he is enjoying his dinner, he is nearly ill when someone picks a single pea off of his plate.
If this film wins an Oscar, it will be Cate Blanchett for her stunning portrayal of Katherine Hepburn. Blanchett brings to life the accent, quirky tomboy behaviour and irreverence that made Hepburn a legend off the screen.
For all the CGI and special effects in this film, its greatest scenes are person to person, most notably the senate hearings. Alan Alda is perfect as Senator Brewster, a crooked politician who is trying to bring down Hughes to advance his own career. Their lunch meeting leading up to the hearings and the time they spend across the table on National TV are the movies best moments.
Martin Scorsese is one of the great directors for brining out performances and this film is no exception. Leonardo DiCaprio avoids many opportunities to overact in this film, and creates Hughes as a complex and puzzling man slowly slipping away from reality. Supporting roles from Alec Baldwin as the president of Pan Am and John C. Reilly as Hughes' hapless business manager, keep the film from dragging.
For fans of aviation scenes, you may never find a better picture. Much of the film's budget has been spent recreating some of Hughes more ambitious inventions and failures. The crashing of his prototype spy plane into a Hollywood residential neighbourhood may be the single greatest plane crash scene ever filmed, not because of the plane crashing, but because of the different perspectives that are shown.
This by no means Martin Scorsese's best film, but it is his best since Goodfellas and it is a great movie. ***1/2 out of ****.
The Incredibles (2004)
Possibly Pixar's Best
Pixar is six for six with the Incredibles. All six films have been smash hits, but more importantly, all six have been wonderful films. And every time they step up to the plate, they just hit it further out of the park.
The Incredibles is not Pixar's most visually compelling film (Finding Nemo is, by far), but it is the most entertaining, the funniest and the most mature. It cleverly combines incredibly realistic backgrounds with obviously cartoonish characters, to give the film and sense of realism and great comedy at the same time.
Mr. Incredible is a happy super-hero, engaged to the sexy Elasti-girl, and with his best friend Frozone, he lives a wonderful life. Until one day, he saves a would-be building jumper who, just plainly did not want to be saved. This opens up a rash of lawsuits against superheroes, and forces the government to relocate them (a la the Witness Protection Program), and in exchange, the heroes will just stop being heroes.
The Incredibles now live as Bob and Helen Parr with their three kids, all of who have powers of their own. Violet, who can disappear and create forcefields, is entering that awkward teen stage of life. Her younger brother, Dash, can, as his name implies, move with lightning speed and only know how to use this ability to annoy. The baby, Jack Jack, has powers that are yet to be discovered.
Bob is a claims clerk at an insurance company, with a nasty boss (brilliant small role by Wallace Shawn) and he is just plain bored. He sneaks out at night and with the help of Frozone and a police radio, still fights crimes.
The Incredibles deals so well with mid-life crisis, that one can scarcely believe that it is primarily a kids movie. Bob's hair is receding, his belly bulging and his mind longing for the past. That is why he cannot resist the call when a mysterious woman contacts him and offers him a job that only Mr. Incredible can solve.
From this point, the film is just one delight after another. From Edna, the costume lady (a less-that-subtle tribute to costume legend Edith Head) to the far away island where an evil villain is plotting his master plan, to the ingenious ways the powers are put to use, this is a movie that does not take a misstep. This film is scarier than the previous Pixar offerings, but not too instense for young children.
The best scenes in this movie are when the kids discover the extent of their powers and learn to put them to use. Like any kid in an awkward situation, they are shy, timid, and shocked when things go right. Also pay close attention to Elasti-girl when she is caught in between sliding doors.
In the simplest of terms, The Incredibles is an animated super-hero movie, but it creates complete characters and wonderfully unique situations. Like all good superheroes, The Incredibles have flaws and short-comings that get in the way of their powers. I cannot recommend this movie enough. **** out of ****.
Maria Full of Grace (2004)
Deeply Moving Film
The three main characters in Maria Full of Grace decide to take on a job as a drug mule. You hear this term a lot in the news, but in this film, it become a reality. You get to see with gut-wrenching realism the lives these young women lead that force them into this work and the drug lords who view them as nothing more than packaging for their shipments.
A stunning feature debut from Director Joshua Marston, Maria Full of Grace takes the time to create fully developed, three dimensional characters of its leads. Maria is 17, pregnant and disgusted with he salve job dethorning roses in a sweat shop. Blanca, her best friend, is head strong and bored. Lucy, who goes for her third trip to New York with a belly full of cocaine, wants to see her sister, but is too ashamed once she arrives.
The three acts of the film are clearly defined. In the first act, we meet the three leads. We learn about Maria's life, her frustrations and boredom, but at the same time, her sense of responsibility to her impoverished family living in a tiny house. Her macho boyfriend offers to marry her upon hearing that she is pregnant, but she refuses. In the second act, Maria has agreed to take the "job" and the audience is given near-documentary insight into how drugs are transported. From meeting the drug lords in a seedy dive, to the creation of pellets, swallowing over-sized grapes without gagging as practice, being fed the pellets, and the final warning about ensure that all the product gets delivered.
The final act takes place in New York and it is heart-wrenching and compelling and must be seen and not read about here.
Maria is presented as a victim, but the film does not completely evoke sympathy. She is, after all, a willing participant in a criminal act for money. Her motives may be pure, but her methods are not.
Maria Full of Grace comes with the strongest of recommendations. It is a serious and somber film, but not depressing. It creates characters you will relate to and care about and that you will remember long after the credits roll. **** out of ****.
All the President's Men (1976)
Intense, Compelling & Entertaining
You know you have a good movie when scenes of a man on the phone taking notes are amongst the best. Some of the best footage in this picture is Robert Redford making call after call, fiercely scribbling, scarcely believing his own ears.
All The President's Men is a truly great film from many standpoints - film making, historical overview, social importance. It works from all angles and is entertaining above all.
The subject matter is handled perfectly. Rather than make a movie about Watergate (which we all know), they writers wisely made a movie about the investigating of Watergate. We know the outcome, we know many of the key facts. That is why we can get even more enraged when Woodward and Burnstein are lied to and mislead.
The social importance of this movie cannot be overstated either. Watching ATPM now seems almost like a documentary. We must keep in mind that this was made while Watergate was still fresh in the country's mind and that the divisive, partisan wounds were still healing. A gutsy move, but a successful one.
All elements of this film strike the perfect tone continually. It is presented in such a way as to throw information at you from all angles, confusing and jumbled, with lies and half-truths woven in everywhere. This is done to give the viewer the same paranoid sense of futility that the reporters on this case truly must have had.
Also of note is the fact that this film is very neutral. It does not Republican bash any more than it has to. That is key to its success.
A nearly perfect film. **** out of ****.
Brother Bear (2003)
Not Up to Disney Standards
Brother Bear is a flawed but entertaining family film. It tells a meandering, very thin story with moderately interesting characters and animation that is not up to Disney's own standards.
As the movie opens, young Kenai is to go through the ceremony with his tribe in which we will receive his totem, and become a man. He receives the totem of love, which is a source of humiliation to him, because his brothers received totems of guidance and wisdom - more manly things.
When Kenai's brother is killed by a bear, Kenai takes it upon himself to exact revenge and kill the bear himself. In the process, the spirit of his dead brother transforms him into the bear he was trying to kill, so that he can learn about his calling in life, the totem of love. One thinks there would be an easier way to get the lesson across.
Kenai meets Koda, a young bear who lost his mother and the two travel on in what is little more than an animated buddy picture. The laughs in this film all come from a couple of moose played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. They reprise their legendary (in Canada anyways) roles of Bob and Doug McKenzie from SCTV and has a fan of that old show, I loved it.
The real weakness in this movie is the music. Phil Collins' songs sound like recycled old bits of music from Tarzan, and they are consistent snoozers from start to finish.
The characters flit in and out of the story and do not give us much to care about. Kenai is a selfish bully, Koda teeters on the obnoxious side, and the supporting cast pop in and out on an as needed basis. There good scenes outnumber the bad, but there are a couple of very painful to watch sequences in this film, most notably, the music number at the salmon run.
Brother Bear is not a bad movie, but it is beneath the standards that Disney has to live up to. It is a movie for young kids that is at best, tolerable for adults. **1/2 out of ****.
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Nothing Unites The Masses Like a Common Hatred
It is very easy to point and criticize. It is far easier to do when there is no-one around to counter your criticism. Fahrenheit 911 is a finger pointing exercise that I simply did not enjoy. It is not bad just the opposite. It is skilfully made, funny and very well organized. I strongly encourage everyone to see it and judge for themselves. But it is culpable and hypocritical, and its approach to its own content so questionable, that it must be dismissed as nothing more than entertainment.
I did not hate the film. I laughed on a number of occasions. Moore's ability to match a song with a newsreel clip to underline his point (the best being the use of `The Greatest American Hero' theme), his sarcastic, easy to listen to narration is excellent. It is not a quality film . It is primarily archived newsreel footage strung together with voiceover work and vintage Moore interviews. It is very well assembled, but as a documentary, it fails. Mr. Moore grandstanded at the Oscars two years back that he is a film maker that lives in the world of non-fiction. I heartily disagree.
The factual content is laughable. Most notably, Moore asks someone what the total wealth held by Saudis in the USA is. The man answers `I have heard it is as high as $840 billion dollars'. That is hardly a statement of fact backed up by anything. Good enough for Moore though. Next scene, he is speaking of the `trillion dollars' held by Saudis in the US (what's $140Billion between friends), then proceeds to say that they own 7% of the United States. One piece of conjecture stretched to the extreme.
The movie is racist. Yes, racist. As he decries Bush's ties with the Saudis, he flashes a seemingly endless parade of photos of American shaking hands with Arabs, as if anyone and everyone who has ever met one is of questionable character. And the shots he cuts to when he mentioning the countries in the `Coalition of the Willing' are offensive, showing Vikings when he mentions Iceland and other stereotypical photos of countries like Cost Rico and Morocco, and someone smoking hash when he mentions the Netherlands.
The movie is manipulative beyond any measure I have seen. Two examples here. Moore is willing to completely demonize Saudi Arabia, talking of their human rights violations and even showing a public beheading performed by their government. Pre-war Iraq is shown as some kind of Utopia, with people gleefully shopping in markets, children playing and most nauseatingly, a young boy flying a kite up the bank of a river.
Even worse than that however is Lila Lipscombe. She is from Moore's hometown of Flint Michigan and is interviewed extensively in the middle part of the movie, telling Moore how proud she is that her children enlisted in the army, how it is a duty and a privilege, on and on and on. Later on, we find out her son was tragically killed in a Black Hawk accident, and Lila now curses Bush, the government, the Whitehouse and the war. The hypocrisy and manipulation of those scenes made me squirm out of my seat. I am a parent and my heart breaks for this woman losing her son. But they way it is presented, simply for effect, is offensive. It also smacks horribly of Moore's famous editing of the facts for effect.
Many times in this film, people mention that the terror threat just does not exist. That Saddam was not a threat. That Iraq had never killed an American (Gulf War?). That no weapons exist in Iraq. What world are these people living in? Why is never mentioned that Iraq was run a brutal and murderous regime and routinely killed its own people, that used WMDs against its own people, that killed anyone who opposed the government, that Saddam was a multi-billionaire in an impoverished country? Moore could have balanced his approach like this, and still not lost it. I believe he could have strengthened his film by showing Iraq for what it was, and not creating a fictional account of life there.
The greatest point Moore makes is in the interview with a retired FBI agent, who questions the removal of 250 or so Arab citizens from the US post 9/11, by air, when all air traffic in the US had been grounded. They should have been questioned by FBI, especially those who are related to Bin Laden directly. Also, Moore does an excellent job of outlining the Bush insiders and their ties to the oil industry.
There may be a great film to be made about the Bush administration. This is not it.
The worst thing about this movie for me, though was the pall of hypocrisy that hung over it. As Moore decries the war profiteers, he becomes one. As he accuses the US government of exploiting the poor and marginalized of the US for profit, he does the same. As Fahrenheit 911 approaches $100,000,000 in domestic receipts, I sat in the theatre thinking that Moore himself is as big a war profiteer as any of his targets.
Field of Dreams (1989)
Can't Tell You Why This Works So Well
Field of Dreams is a film I love and admire. Its premise is silly beyond belief, and as a true Canadian, I should despise its "American Dream" undertones. But for some reason it works - perfectly. I have seen this movie time and again and each time I love it more.
Why? Why should a movie about a broke farmer who plows under his field to build a ball park so dead guys can play baseball while he hunts down a reclusive author, work? I think this movie hits a chord with me of relieving your life of frustration.
Here is a man on the brink on destruction and to get himself out, he follows his instinct, no matter how stupid. He believes in the voice and the message he is getting so much, that he risks what little he has, and convinces his wife to go along for the ride. Who of us does not admire Ray Kinsella for his passionate, brazen stupidity, and wished at some point that we could do the same.
Maybe that's it.
It is a very well made film, to be certain. Acting, writing and cinematography are all Oscar worthy. The small role by Burt Lancaster is so beautiful, when he sums up his life by saying "Had I only been a doctor for five minutes, that would have been a tragedy." James Earl Jones is brilliant in the role of a reclusive 60s rebel author who wants nothing more than privacy.
Field of Dreams is silly and far-fetched, but like Forrest Gump, it works. It gets my strongest recommendation. It is not really a baseball film. It is a film in which baseball is the conduit for living out dreams. **** out of ****.
Shrek 2 (2004)
Excellent, But Inferior to the Original
There are two things missing from Shrek 2 that the original had. The first is John Lithgow - what a great villain. Lord Farquaad made the movie with his arrogant, smarmy attitude, and the way he went about seemingly unaware of his height. The second is the sense of wonderment that the original gave us with its cutting edge animation. Shrek 2 has a little bit of "been-there-done-that" attached to it.
The open scene is outstanding. Shrek and Fiona are newlyweds and enjoying there new life together. In a matter of minutes, the pop-culture references fly by. Lord of the Rings, Spiderman, The Little Mermaid, Jaws and even From Here to Eternity are parodied. Its quite wonderful.
Shrek and Fiona receive notice that they are to travel to the land of Far Far Away to meet Fiona's parents, voiced by Julie Andrews and the immensely underused John Cleese. Donkey comes along for the ride and in the first act of the movie, provides nearly all the laughs. The villain this time around is the fairy godmother, who had hopes of her own son, the spoiled and whiny Prince Charming, marrying Fiona, and now wants things set straight.
Of the new characters, the best is clearly Antonio Banderas' Puss-n-Boots, a swashbuckling Kitty that is a beautiful send up of his own turn as Zorro. The Fairy Godmother is given lots of cute quirks like an eating disorder, but I found her to be annoying.
I attended Shrek 2 with my two youngest children, age 4 and 8, and they were thoroughly entertained. The movie was not as frightening as the original, and even though it brims with nudge-nudge jokes for the adults, there are plenty of gags for the kids. It will be a movie to see several times to catch all the little gags. For example, when King Harold is given the Love Potion to give to Fiona, there is a little "IX" (#9) on the bottle. Or the Land of Far Far Away's coffee shop, Farbucks, and the fact that there are two across the road from eachother.
I would have to heartily disagree with anyone who feels that Shrek 2 is a better film than Shrek. It is not as funny, drags a bit and has a couple of complete klunker scenes (the giant gingerbread man). It is still better than most movies in the multi-plex circuit and most worthy of your $12. ***1/2 out of ****.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
So Bad, I Almost Admired It
The Day After Tomorrow is a implausible, paint-by-numbers disaster movie, so filled with clichés, so predictable and that approaches badness from so many angles that I admire it, to an extent. Roland Emmerich has thrown logic, plot and character out and gone for sheer popcorn entertainment, and although the film fails on many fronts, I cannot fault his efforts.
This is the kind of a film that does not have a script, it has a checklist. It introduces and disposes of so many characters, that we really don't care about a single one.
One is tempted to make a list of the overused clichés: - the workaholic scientist dad who has a theory that no-one will listen to - the loving ex-wife with a noble career - the whacky homeless guy with a dog (which really, I thought they would eat) - the estranged son who just wants to hang with dad, so bad that he enjoy being stranded at sea just outside of Iceland - the nerdy yet somehow vivacious love interest of the son, complete with the rivalry from the rich, handsome private school guy hitting on her - the oriental female scientist, who really believes the theory - the heartless right-wing politicians - the British soccer fans - and most shamelessly, the bald-headed brave little dying kid that everyone forgets about.
The plot holes in this move come at you with such fury, that your mind really just shuts off. Too many to even mention. But really, even in a movie this bad, can we be expected to suspend our disbelief to the point where a man walks from Philadelphia to NYC, in -100 degree temperature, in a blinding blizzard, no food, electricity or fuel, in a day or so? And we haven't even started talking about the librarian who would rather die than burn a book, the CGI wolves attacking three heroes searching for medicine on a Russian freightliner, the space station, the Japanese street vendors getting pelted by hailstones the size of a meatloaf or attempt to rescue the Queen.
Whoever would consider this film a warning to the mindless burners of fossil fuels and shameless bar-b-q-ers of steaks must really give their own heads a major league shake. If anything, The Day After Tomorrow is such a far fetched plot that is mocks the environmental movement. Take away the awesome special effects and you can use the script for a sketch on Saturday Night Live.
Still the destruction of LA and NYC are well done and exciting and in spite of everything, I did find this movie a little endearing. Not that I will recommend it, but I can't dismiss it either.
*1/2 our of ****.