The times were changing in the West in the middle of the 1880s. What once was as wide and open as one could imagine, now landowners, with the application of barbed wire, controlled fiefdoms of territory that they could run however they saw fit, and in the case of the movie, this antagonistic character would be Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon).
What Baxter has done in his sphere of influence, Harmonville, is close it off to free-grazers, or cow herds that roamed the West without a base of operations. This heavy-handed treatment conflicts with the values of Boss (Robert Duvall) and his right-hand man, Charley (Kevin Costner), the protagonist free-grazers.
Our two heroes are not typically violent people, but when Baxter's men attack their herd and kill one of their men (Abraham Benrubi) and severely wound another (Diego Luna), the two head into town for some old-fashioned Western justice. But while in town, a complication arises, as Charley falls for the town doctor's sister, Sue (Annette Bening). Now that he has something to stay alive for, he is about to be embroiled in a gun battle for what he sees as right versus the wrong of Baxter.
While Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall might be billed as the stars of the piece, the real `star' would have to be the visuals. With an unusual (at least in this century) minimal reliance on computer graphics, the story could have been done back in the heyday of Westerns, the 1950s. But in lieu of computer work, the scenery takes over and manages to just be jaw-droppingly beautiful. If you are not amazed by what you see, well then you don't know true beauty.
Not everything is as beautiful as the scenery though, as there were two things that were rather bothersome, in my opinion. Firstly, in every `true' Western, at least one protagonist needs to fall in love with a nice lady from town, so there was precedent for the Charley-Sue romance. But something about it just was jarringly discomforting-it wasn't so much the `square peg in a circular hole' but more like `an oval peg in the circular hole'-it wasn't quite clicking.
The other thing that wasn't as I would have liked it was the pacing. At times, the movie seemed to go by way too slowly as the dialogue wen t in a circuitous manner around the main points (something I've been occasionally guilty of-five dollars of writing for fifty cents of content). But everything reeked of authenticity, so I'm inclined to give this the benefit of a doubt.
`Open Range' is not your typical movie. Instead of all of the modern gilded trappings, it has an old-school reliance upon detail and natural visuals that make it a quaint and rather enjoyable film. 8 out of 10.
In the months before the dawn of the 20th Century, the world is facing a massive war, brought upon by terrorist attacks by a masked villain/arms dealer named the Fantom (not a typo). To combat this, a functionary in the British Empire called M (Richard Roxburgh) has assembled a team of individuals culled from Victorian Literature to head off the Fantom's plans.
The roster reads: Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), expert hunter/adventurer; invisible thief Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran); inventor Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah); vampire Mina Harker (Peta Wilson); unstable Dr. Jekyll/Mr.Hyde (Jason Flemyng); immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend); American Secret Service Agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West).
In a fantastical series of explosions, chases and drawn-out scenes of tedium, the so-called `League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' travels from Paris to Venice, to an industrial complex in Mongolia, in hope of adverting war.
Coming into the movie, I was familiar with all of the characters (except for Quatermain and Skinner--but he is explained PDQ) through their original medium (not the graphic novel from which this was adapted), and, to be succinct, I was appalled by the butchery of these great literary figures that was committed within the movie. The biggest atrocities come in the characters of Dorian Gray (who, in Wilde's work, was NOT immortal, just morally corrupt and youthful) and Mr. Hyde (more of a psychological transformation, according to Stevenson, and to be sure, Hyde did NOT miraculously grow to the size of a small house).
Perhaps I could be more forgiving if logic had not been tossed out the window. In the first half of the movie, one can see: an automobile race through the streets of Venice (and there really are NO major streets in that fair city), a 5-story submarine negotiate the Venetian canals (which are certainly not deep enough for the Nautilus), the same submarine, which, on the outside appear to be blade-thin, but, according to the film, is large enough to approximate a cruise liner on the inside (I bet the crews of the Ohio-class submarines would appreciate this type of reality distortion). I could go on and on, but then I'd get too worked up and succumb to a stroke or something and leave this column unfinished.
Perhaps as a concession, I can say that the acting is decent, but looking back, I can safely assume that this was one of Sean Connery's last appearances as the lead in an action film-the dude is getting old and it shows.
I can put up with most movies, but when one that is mediocre to begin with assumes the temerity to insult my intelligence, THAT is unforgivable. Director Stephen Norrington should be severely chastised for this effort (or lack thereof). This movie, for being insulting and seat-twistingly bad, gets a big fat ZERO. (And no, I am not bitter).
In the ritz and glamour of Hollywood, often one job-even a decent job like police work-is not enough to get by. Thus, Police Detectives Joe Gavilan (Harrison Ford) and K.C. Calden (Josh Hartnett) have found themselves moonlighting as a real estate broker and a yoga instructor, respectively. Neither lets their side jobs be interfered with too much with the major case plopped before them-the murder of four breakout rappers.
The main suspect thrust at the dynamic duo is one Antawn Sartain (Isaiah Washington), the head of the deceased rap group's record company, who cuts a sinister profile along with his head henchman, Wasley (Dwight Yoakam). Now Calden and Gavilan have found themselves waist-deep in a mess of a murder case, an internal affairs investigation, major business deals, acting auditions, etc.-leaving the audience to wonder if either one of these officers ever invested in a PDA.
Unlike last week's adventure in the cinema, `Hollywood Homicide' features an extremely witty and fun give-and-go dialogue between its two stars, Ford and Hartnett. Once the movie ended, I felt that for once in a summer action/comedy, I could depart the theater feeling like I knew the main characters.
But despite coughing up a snappy repartee, the writers failed to do one thing-develop a coherent plot. Half of the time I was in the dark as I pondered where this new bit of information would take me, leaving me with the distinct impression that one too many red herrings can cause one heckuva lousy smell.
Plus, the writer and director Ron Shelton chose to impart a wonderfully implausible device, known in Greek as dues ex machine, which translated here, means the mother of all implausibilities to help bring the beginning of the end to us.
Next on the agenda is my beef with the chase scenes. When I was younger, I reveled in watching reruns of `Dragnet', set basically right in the same area as `Hollywood Homicide'. At no time do I remember Friday and Gannon embarking upon a massive car chase replete with gunfire and massive civilian damage-rather they served (oh my gosh!) warrants on the wrongdoers. I guess in 35 years, the modus operandi has changed in the City of Angels, as warrants are basically unheard of and the only way to catch the bad guys is in a car chase. But I digress.
About the only homicide that I could remember after all of the twists and non-twists in `Hollywood Homicide' was the murder of a coherent plot. Still, the movie did feature some of the snappiest and better examples of dialogue that I have seen in a while, so I guess that, like last week, a 5 out of 10 serves as my verdict.
After losing all but one of his brood, Marlin (Albert Brooks) an over-protective clown fish that strangely lacks a sense of humor, has resolved to protect his one (slightly disabled) `child' remaining, Nemo (Alexander Gould). But disaster strikes as Nemo is taken by a Sydney dentist and plopped into a fish tank where he is comforted by a host of other captive fish (William Dafoe, Vicki Lewis, Allison Janney, et al). But back in the big ocean Down Under, Marlin has resolved to search out his one remaining progeny.
Along the way on his quest, Marlin acquires a tag-along `friend', Dory (Ellen DeGeneres)-a fish with, well, the memory capacity of a fish. The two must surmount hurdles like a group of sharks (Eric Bana, Barry Humphries and Bruce Spence) that have (mostly) sworn off eating other fish, a nasty swarm of jellyfish, a bird-brained flock of seagulls, and others.
This is the bridge! Well, in a way. Back when I was younger, one of my favorite films was `The Incredible Mr. Limpet', which, for the uninitiated, combined live-action with under-the-sea fish animation. What Pixar has done here was bring back that film to my mind and start me thinking, because they have created a wondrous undersea environment (with `normal-looking' fish instead of 1960s animated fish).
My favorite feature in this movie chock-full of sweet treats must be the sharks. I have always been partial to the shark family, but what has been done in creating three humorous sharks (what a movie concept), just sent paroxysms of laughter through me. Another thing that (mostly) works is Ellen DeGeneres' fish (character?) that provides a fairly constant source of laughter with her antics (although a couple gags do wear on the viewer with time). On the whole though, there is not a single bit of shoddy voice-acting or animation in it.
Compared to `Monsters Inc.', `Finding Nemo' is something of a revival for Pixar. I like how they have stepped up their efforts to make an altogether pleasing film without any big flaws. The thing that I did not like with `Monsters' was the inclusion of a single key (but EXTREMELY annoying) character. Director Andrew Stanton has done an excellent job at making the film work and be (basically) non-annoying to most of the general public (and this critic).
I suppose life has come full circle-now that I am (relatively) old as a high school graduate, animation is cool again, thanks to high-powered computers, at any rate. `Finding Nemo' is one heckuva movie and a good one to take anyone you know to, trust me on this-nine out of ten.
The film opens up in Prague, where Steve Tobias (Michael Douglas) is busy brokering a deal for a Russian nuclear submarine, which is broken up by what appears to be the Czech Police, which requires some tricky driving to escape. The scene then shifts to Chicago, where our other protagonist, Jerry Peyser (Albert Brooks), an obsessive and phobic podiatrist is busy hammering out details for his daughter's (Lindsay Sloane) upcoming marriage to Tobias' son (Ryan Reynolds).
In what could be seen as an outrageously incredible series of events, Peyser finds himself an unwitting and unwilling accomplice of Tobias, who as a deep-cover CIA agent, has been tasked to nab both the buyer and seller of the submarine. The two adventure to France to meet the buyer, a thoroughly odd arms dealer, Jean-Pierre Thibodoux (David Suchet), who has, uh, more things on his mind than submarines.
This is a classic case of a Tale of Two Movies-a good one and one not-so-good. I think today, I will discuss the smaller part-the good part. For one thing, the writing of the film was witty and engaging, with multiple barbs thrown out that are pretty dang funny. With this writing, Brooks and Douglas are allowed to play off of each other to, in a sense, become `The Odd Couple' of the new millennium. They are an excellent coupling and a magnificent piece of casting by director Andrew Fleming.
And for the not-so-good? Two things really got my goat here, the first of which being the immensely cheesy special effects. The first shot of the film is of the submarine in question, the problem is that I have seen much better rendering in video games, so what is seen is just well, stupid. Also, for most of the action shots the actors so obviously stand out from the picture behind them, that it makes one wonder if he has been transported back to the 1960s where such distinction was commonplace. Shoddy, just plain shoddy.
Also, `The In-Laws' is, for lack of a better expression, badly out of touch with reality. I cannot say too much, for fear of ruining the ending, but I can safely say that certain key features of geography in the Great Lakes waterways are blatantly ignored and an underwater weapons system ignores physics in an unforgivable manner (among other things).
I suppose that this was a bit of an unusual switch to watch-good writing, but lousy special effects, but `The In-Laws' managed to pull it off. Still, with a decent portion of the movie being good, and only the special effects being truly pathetic, I can give this movie a 5 out of 10, just because I say I can.
At the conclusion of the first installment, we have learned that Neo (Keanu Reeves) is The One meant to end the struggle between the humans and the Matrix controllers, the machines. Now, we can see that his abilities have grown to basically encompass your typical superhero superpowers. But Zion, the last refuge of humanity, is in peril, as a quarter million machines are digging to eradicate it.
It is now up to Neo, his lover Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and his friend Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) to find an end to the war and save Zion. Along the Kung-fu, explosion-laden way, they employ the talents of many allies-Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), the Keymaker (Russell Duk Kim) and the Oracle (Gloria Foster)-to overcome the obstacles thrown in their paths by such villains as the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), The Twins (Adrian and Neil Raymont), and the multiple Agent Smiths (Hugo Weaving) in their search for the final victory.
After the first `Matrix' debuted, the entire world of Hollywood Special Effects was thrown asunder as what was shown was ground-breaking and jaw-dropping. The bar has been raised again. Without delving into too many details, I can safely tell you that the fight scenes within are of the ilk that have never been seen before and had me saying to myself `Did I just see that?'
That said, the philosophical and theological leanings of the film had me a bit flummoxed. I get the whole philosophy/theology thing and I can understand the importance and significance that it carries, but WHY must certain points be expounded upon over and over? It would seem that the Wachowski brothers who wrote it have not been acquainted with Dire Straits, who succinctly summed up my point in `Industrial Disease'-`Philosophy is useless, Theology is worse.' Amen to that.
I alluded to my distaste for Mr. Reeves earlier in this piece, and I would like to think that it was somewhat correct. In some ways in `The Matrix: Reloaded', he is the perfect character for his role, but then he takes to speaking for more than a line or two and things go downhill. The same goes for Laurence Fishburne, who becomes tedious during his speech-making. It might be a shock coming from me, but concision is important.
On the other hand, I was nothing if not delighted with the performances given by Lambert Wilson and Hugo Weaving as a pair of characters maybe not intrinsically evil, but close enough. They were, by no small means, the acting performances to of the film.
When `The Matrix Reloaded' is pared down to its essentials, it works extremely efficiently as an action vehicle, but at times, the dogmatization within wears thin and becomes more of a burden and a far-too-often repeated point, so on the whole, Matrix v. 2.0 gets a 7.5 out of 10.
On a rainy night in a place in Nevada that could be quite well described as the Middle of Nowhere, ten perfect strangers all end up in a desert motel. There is the pleasant York family with the father (John McGinley) and son Timothy (Bret Loehr) trying to hold together after a messy accident puts the mother (Leila Kenzle) on death's door. The cause of the accident also shows up at the motel in the form of a pampered actress (Rebecca De Mornay) and her faithful chauffer Ed (John Cusack) being the ones who actually hit Mrs. York.
Then there is the prostitute, Paris (Amanda Peet), who, for some odd reason is detested by the creepy hotel clerk, Larry (John Hawkes). The next set of people is made up of the newlyweds (Clea DuVall and William Lee Scott). The final set of people is the cop (Ray Liotta) with his prisoner escortee (Jake Busey), which makes for a nice combination on a stormy night. Oh, and I must add that in a seemingly unrelated tangent, there is a hearing going on in some California town to decide on a soon-to-be-executed prisoner's aptness to be killed.
As one may expect, people start dying, often in gruesome fashions, which leads in to this nifty bit from the song of the column--`Another one bites the dust/ Another one bites the dust.' Then comes a twist that may or may not blow your mind, but I'll leave that little bit of the mind-twist for y'all to figure out.
This is one creepy film. I don't do horror/suspense well, so I really have nothing to base this off of, but it had me hooked. The first two acts play out nearly perfectly, with the suspense building and building as another character bites the dust. To this, I credit director James Mangold for keeping it moving and also keeping the audience guessing as to which member is the killer.
The third act of the film, though, threw me for a loop. In some ways, it is a very good twist, but in others, the entire pacing of the movie is interrupted and throws the audience off of its guard for a moment or two, which is not exactly a good thing to do.
A couple of stand-out performances-John Cusack is excellent as the closest thing to a `hero' the film provides as he basically walks the audience through the clues. I also give kudos to John Hawkes for his motel clerk who offers the precise amount of patheticness and menace to be intriguing. One other good job goes to Amanda Peet who is solidly spectacular as a flawed semi-heroine.
But as with most large casts, there are a couple performances that left a bit to be desired-for one, Leila Kenzle (this is not that big of a spoiler, so don't protest!) as her character is supposedly lying dead, well, when a dead person is noticeably breathing, that is not that good of a thing. I also did not particularly care for Jake Busey's convict-character because what we did see was just not really enough and a bit more could have been done with him.
`And another one gone, and another one gone/ Another one bites the dust/ Hey, I'm gonna get you too/ Another one bites the dust.' As this review bites the dust, I can conclude that the tension in `Identity' never really bit the dust, as proof, my heart rate was up over normal by nearly 40 BPM right after the film ended, which speaks to the tenseness. I think that `Identity', especially when coupled with an amazing coincidence, is deserving of an 8 out of 10.
The entire crux of the story is along the lines of `Mrs. Dalloway', a novel written by Virginia Woolf (portrayed here by Nicole Kidman) that focuses on a woman planning a party to disguise her own shortcomings. With that in mind, let us jump feet first into the plot.
The first plot line centers on Virginia Woolf who has been confined in a rest home by her semi-caring husband, Leonard (Stephen Dillane) due to her mental demons. While confined, she sets to work at what will prove to be her most everlasting work, `Mrs. Dalloway'.
The second plot line is set in 1950s suburbia in the United States, where Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) is a housewife who is finding life as a homemaker to be extremely overwhelming, as she simultaneously attempts to bake a birthday cake for her husband (John C. Reilly) and entertain Richard, her clingy son (Jack Rovello).
The third thread is set in modern day New York where editor Clarissa Bell (Meryl Streep) attempts to throw a party in celebration of her dying former lover (Ed Harris) attaining a top poetry award. She, however, feels as though all of her shortcomings have been overexposed by his constant harping and has reached the end of her rope.
To start with, the plot can be summed up in two words-depressingly innovative. Why depressing? Well, a film where two major characters commit suicide can certainly not be called uplifting. As for the innovation, this film echoes `Adaptation' in the fact that there are three separate, yet interconnected plot lines. `The Hours' also goes one better than `Adaptation' by segue-ing between scenes with a character copying the previous character's action.
As for the acting, it was extremely well done. The audience can see that these are full and complete people and not merely figures upon a screen. I especially liked Streep's performance, but truth be told, there was not a poor performance in a bunch.
But if `The Hours' has all this going for it, then why did I not really like it? I offer a couple reasons. Firstly, it employed a repetition of objects in every scene that was frightfully reminiscent of the books I read for AP Lit (movies are for pleasure and not to remind one of work). Also there was that previously mentioned bit about it being a dark film-I went in with a good mood and I left feeling a bit down. A third reason is that it is far from a quick film-it is deliberate in pacing and in turn, seems to take `Hours' to finish. Finally, this is not a male-directed movie and just did not meet my tastes all that much.
In a rare move, I have opted to reward each half of the film-the art side (a.k.a. shameless pandering to the Oscars) which is really what the film aimed at, and the entertainment side. For art, I award a solid 9 but when it comes to entertainment value, I shall give 5 out of 10.
In the 1920s life was wild, liquor flowed freely (though illegally) and jazz was all the rage. In the smoke-filled bars, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) was a star-along with her sister Veronica, who has just been killed by Velma, the leading jazz tramp. But that is not the only murder that will rock Chicago.
All that Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) wants is to be a jazz star-so she takes a lover who supposedly has `connections,' but when it turns out that he is a fraud, Roxie kills him, which could end up with her getting the death sentence.
Stuck in the murderer's row of Chicago's Cook County jail, Roxie is `befriended' by Mama Morton (Queen Latifah), the prison matron who is not above a little bit of graft, who recommends that Roxie enlist Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), the top defense attorney in Illinois, who will plaster her face over every paper in the city and turn her into a criminal celebrity, which inflates her ego and causes her to forget her erstwhile husband Amos (John Reilly).
To kick things off, I just love how director Rob Marshall weaves the songs in and out of the storyline. Actually, he makes two plotlines-one of the traditional movie sort with a straight-forward, engaging yet dry fashion and the other occupies the imaginations of the characters-a high-flying jazz musical, through which we are guided by the bandleader, played by Taye Diggs. The difference is what sets this film apart, but I must say this while dwelling on the story-the ending is weak. It's decent, but compared to the rest of the film, it needs some help.
What does not need help are the actors. Renee Zellweger is pretty dang good-she sings well and she manages to pull off every scene as an ego-bloated yet naïve girl with aspirations of stardom. But I think that Catherine Zeta-Jones is better. I am not music critic (I'll leave that to Luke), but Zeta-Jones is magnificent-especially her rendition of `Cellblock Tango'. Not to be forgotten is Queen Latifah, who is a showstopper with her power-piece `When You're Good to Mama.'
On the guys' side, they don't do half-bad. John Reilly does well as a sad-sack husband, who is beaten down and disrespected, which is especially evident in his song `Mr. Cellophane,' which sings in a manner atypical to how I expected his character to. But my oh my, was I surprised by Richard Gere. He is purely awesome as a corrupt lawyer skilled in manipulation. One of his numbers standout in my mind-`Razzle Dazzle'-because he couples great singing with Astaire-like tap dancing.
`Chicago' was certainly not a miss like I had previously feared. I was spellbound by it the entire way (except for the closing bit that seemed non sequitor), and I can certainly see why it grabbed all those Oscar nominations. I give it a ten out of ten for sheer panache and because it is different than every other movie out there.
Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage), by his own admission, is a loser. By my viewing, that's a fairly accurate description-if you add neurotic. Anyhow, Kaufman is a talented screenwriter, who, after writing what is his `script of a lifetime' (`Being John Malkovich), he takes on a project that is over his head-adapting Susan Orlean's (Meryl Streep) book, `The Orchid Thief' into an amazing film about flowers that will stun and amaze all.
The plot diverges here. One path follows Kaufman along the road to the inevitable breakdown of writer's block that forces him to jump from idea to idea in vain attempt to write a screenplay, until he commits the cardinal sin of screenwriting-writing himself into the script. This is not helped in the least by his hack brother Donald (Nicholas Cage) successfully working on his own script (a complete antithesis of his own).
The other road follows Orlean as she goes about writing her book three years earlier. The book is about a dentally challenged Floridian orchid thief, John Laroche (Chris Cooper), who is personable enough to cause Orlean to fall for him, his drugs, and his outside-the-law lifestyle.
As you might well imagine, this is not your usual Friday-night flick. The complexity of three separate, yet interwoven plots (Laroche the thief, Orlean writing about the thief and Kaufman writing about the writer writing about the thief) is stunning and the end, for those who will get it (I did not at first) will blow you away once it hits you I'll give you a bit of help in knowing why the ending works later on. Oh, and Charlie (but not Donald) Kaufman, Susan Orlean, and John Laroche are all real people, which will make the film infinitely easier to understand.
Nicholas Cage is amazing. To have to carry out the performances of two different characters is certainly a feat, but to do it with such widely disparate characters like the Kaufmans is really nothing less than wondrous. Not to be outdone, Meryl Streep is superb, especially in the third act of the movie when her character becomes a more physical one. As for Cooper, well, I don't want to insult the guy, but he comes across as a redneck hick and a shyster, which is exactly what the script demanded.
All glory praise and honor for these fine actors would be for naught, had it not been for director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman (see that name before?). What they have done is simply amazing and is a tribute to their brilliance. Visually, the film does not stand out much (except for the fast-action evolution sequences that are worth their while). In short, kudos to the entire staff.
I promised earlier to give you some help in figuring out why the ending works before I thought of this nugget of info (instead of studying anti-derivatives), the ending had me confused and slightly angry. The key to the ending is in the opening credits, in the line `Written by Charlie and Donald Kaufman'. Good luck in comprehending the ending. I give this film my first 10 of the year.
Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) is bored. Having recently retired as an actuary at a major Omaha insurance company, only to be replaced by a young nitwit, Schmidt is questioning his entire life, including Helen (June Squibb), his wife of forty-two years who he professes to have woken up and wondered `Who is this woman sleeping next to me?'
Schmidt's only consolation and relief to this new found life of retired `ease' is Ndugu, a Tanzanian orphan that he has `adopted' for $22 a month and has taken to writing long epistles detailing his fears. But Schmidt's orderly life is turned upside down when his wife suddenly dies.
This tragedy causes him to set off on a roadtrip through the Great Plains and his soul to Denver where his daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davies) is preparing to get married to Randall Herzel (Dermot Mulroney), a waterbed salesman with a balding mullet (you'll see). In Denver, he will have a, uh, personal encounter with his future son-in-law's nutty mother (Kathy Bates), which adds to the impact on a life of order.
What amazed me most about `About Schmidt,' is director Alexander Payne's use of silence. It sounds crazy, but in this world of sound, the occasional meditative aura of silence improves this film by leaps and bounds because it is a technical trick seen in a very few other movies of the modern era.
But the silence would not be nearly as effective without Jack Nicholson as the star. To just go into a cinema to watch Nicholson's facial expressions is an experience that ANY theater buff or prospective actor should do. Nicholson, without a doubt, carries the film like few other actors of his, or any other generation could aptly do.
Along with Jack, actress Kathy Bates gives a standout performance. She is able to juxtapose herself with the taciturn Nicholson that runs the gamut from the extroverted Roberta (her character) to the introvert Schmidt. I also grudgingly have to give props to Bates for her courage. Why, you ask? Well, you need to see it to believe it.
There is one other thing of note that I mustn't fail to mention-the unique plot device of the voiceover letter. Clearly the highlight of the film, the several letters that Schmidt writes to his African sponsored child are some of the funniest works of writing that I have ever seen. Truly, the entire audience cracks up to hear the familiar beginning to words of wisdom, `Dear Ndugu '
`About Schmidt' is all about modern philosophy and satire. This is a movie about ordinary people doing fairly ordinary things and living fairly ordinary lives as they try to impact the lives of others. Philosophy speaks through the film that the need to impact other's lives is a needed part of the soul, which provides food for thought from an arena better known for food from the popper. I liked this film a lot, but it unsettled me at times, but not enough to prevent my bestowing a 9.5 out of 10.
`Two Towers' opens with proof that the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan), my favorite character from the first installment, has not died a fiery death in the mines of Moriah, which certainly gladdened my heart. But that is just one of the four separate storylines that exists to enhance the plot (and make my summarization a much more difficult task).
In plotline number two, a pair of our plucky Hobbit protagonists, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and his companion, Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) are traveling closer to the ultimate destination-Mt. Doom, the only place where the frighteningly powerful Ring of Power can be destroyed. But in a deal that falls as close to a deal with the devil, Frodo and Sam enlist the aid of the schizophrenic Gollum (Andy Serkis) to guide them to the fiery mount.
The third plotline involves the other two Hobbits of the story-Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan). After being kidnapped by vicious Uruk-Hai, the intrepid Halflings escape into the foreboding Fangorn Forest, where they are taken for a ride (literally) by an Ent-a tree-shepherd of the forest.
The fourth and most dwelled upon plotline focuses on the three remaining heroes-the human uber-warrior, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the waggish dwarf, Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and the talented elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom). To make what could be a long story short, this band of heroes comes to the aid of the embattled nation of Rohan, ruled by the wise (though sometimes misguided) Theoden (Bernard Hill). The quest of these heroes culminates in the spectacular battle of Helm's Deep.
The thing that struck me the most about the movie was the jaw-dropping visuals. Combining amazing camera work and amazingly realistic special effects, the film was an absolute feast for the eyes. The only flaw that I readily noticed was in the shots of the two Hobbits riding atop the Ent-it seemed to be shot out of the 1950s, not the 21st Century, but one flaw out of three hours of film is a pretty good success rate.
I may sound masochistic to say this (especially after consuming a cup of soda), but I think that the film could have been easily stretched another half-hour. Too much seems to be crammed into a relatively short three hours-not that I'm being nit-picky here. The plot already is excellent, but if it could possibly be stretched out to allow more development to each character, I'd be ecstatic. Well, maybe I'll just have to wait and see an unedited version on DVD.
The acting was magnificent and I really had nothing against any of the performances, although if I were to pick out one weak point in the acting is in Sean Astin's character's speech to Frodo towards the end-a bit schmaltzy if you ask me.
Overall, I was breathless after the splendor of `The Two Towers.' This, despite the myriad of special effects (which actually WORK here-as opposed to other films), is what a movie is supposed to be. If a few flaws were corrected and the movie stretched out a little bit, it would be a 10; as is, I'll give it a 9.5 out of 10.
`The Emperor's Club' starts out in medias res with our protagonist, retired classics teacher William Hundert (Kevin Kline) arriving at a posh resort. Now how could anyone not related to a Fortune 500 executive afford a stay there? The answer lies in the past-1976 to be exact-in St. Benedict's, an exclusive male-only private school with a penchant for the classics.
It is at St. Benedict's that Mr. Hundert holds sway over the Classics department as a truly outstanding teacher who manages to reach and inspire his students from the Indian workhorse, Deepak Mehta (Rishi Mehta) to a Martin Blythe (Paul Dano), a legacy student and on to the smart-but-with-a-swagger Louis Masoudi (Jessie Eisenberg). But when Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch) enters Hundert's class and subverts the students with his feckless rebel routine that brings him C's and D's when he could very well be earning top marks.
At St. Ben's, there is an annual contest between the top three students in Classics for the `Mr. Julius Caesar' title. In the true Hollywood fashion, Bell catches fire and earns his way into the contest-at the expense of Hundert's ethics, for it was Hundert who used this newfound impetus to bump the third qualifier (Blythe) in favor of the fourth place finisher (Bell). The contest goes on (no spoiler here) and then 25 years later, the grown Bell (Joel Gretsch), who really has not changed, wants a rematch, hence the entrance of Hundert at the resort and the conclusion of this summary.
I'd like to get one thing off of my chest-I would give my left hand to be able to have a Classics course (Latin is good, but not enough history) at Lourdes. The Roman Empire is one of the most fascinating things in my mind, so that stance might skew my review a bit in favor of `The Emperor's Club'.
Not that my opinion needs much skewing-while the film is not great, it is certainly very good. Kevin Kline as a teacher was an excellent casting choice-I could see parts of my teachers in him (and certainly that must have been what the film was looking for in this role) and Kline brings a sincerity to the screen that is unmistakable. Also, kudos should go out Emile Hirsch for a performance that is right-on as a trouble student. On the whole, the acting was solid if not good.
The plot, while being straightforward, is exactly what I was looking for here. Depending on one's level of cynicism, the plot either takes a couple unexpected turns or is completely predictable. Still, it is very nice to see a movie that does not feature violence, explosions, and other physical mayhem. The thing that I would tweak if I were to rewrite the script is a purging of the relationship that is supposed to develop between Hundert and a female colleague-it was just not going anywhere.
What it all boils down to is the question: Do you like the Classics? If you do, then director Michael Hoffman's work is right up your alley. If you don't like the Classics, then you might not fully enjoy the film, but still, I'd recommend that you watch it. `The Emperor's Club', in my opinion is worthy of a 9 out of 10. Oh, and one more thing if I were at St. Benedict's I would be Mr. Julius Caesar.
A couple things that I would change would first to feature Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) in more scenes--I don't know why, but he adds so much to the table and creates an excellent foil for he other actors.
I would also cut back on that 2002 version of Jar-Jar Binks, Dobby the House elf--not entirely, because its role is rather important but by a bit so that it remains a novelty of S&M rather than a drain on the senses. I'd say a decent ratiing of 8/10 would suffice.
In the jungle that is New York City, expatriate Southerner Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon), has reached the pinnacle of the fashion world with magazines raving about her debut line of clothes (random question-who actually buys the clothes from the runway? I asked this question while reviewing `Zoolander' and haven't gotten an answer).
Anyways, along with career success, she is engaged to Andrew Hennings (Patrick Dempsey), son of the New York Mayor Kate Hennings (Candice Bergen), who is `destined' to be the next JFK. Of course, the fairy tale has one flaw (they all do)-Melanie is still married to a man she left behind in Alabama.
To rectify this, Melanie returns home to face her past that she's been running from for the past seven years (not exactly an earth-shattering plot premise), personified in her hoped-to-be ex-husband, Jake Perry (Josh Lewis), a beer-swigging redneck-type of character. Along for the ride are her distant parents, Pearl (Mary Kay Place) and Wayne (Fred Ward) Smooter (the disparity of last names comes from Melanie's attempts to run from her past. In the end, it comes down a choice between her two lives-urbane vs. casual.
I was mildly surprised with `Sweet Home Alabama' because it did have a few standout performances and highlights. For one, you cannot argue against Reese Witherspoon's performance. The best analogy that I can think of is that she is the caffeine to the movie's cappuccino-a burst of energy that makes it worth watching. She puts the `Sweet' into the title and is just an enjoyable presence on the screen.
I also can't argue with the slew of Southern characters that are unique and completely realistic, while being funny and slightly eccentric. Topping the list is the performance turned in by Josh Lucas. He has a classic character to play up as both larger than life while being slightly helpless on his own. He does it well, creating a slightly paradoxical `sensitive redneck.'
While the Alabamans are charming, the New Yorkers are brash, loud and overblown. It's hard to like any of them, which really takes a bit of suspense and cliff-hanger aspect of the ultimate showdown between sides of Melanie out of the picture. Topping the list of annoying performances is Candice Bergen's. She is a really nasty lady, accentuated by, maybe this is just me, but it seems like Candice Bergen is becoming a man. She sounds and even acts a bit mannishly as she takes on her domineering big-city politician.
As I hinted at in my opener, romantic comedies are completely predictable and `Sweet Home Alabama' fails to disappoint on this point. I could have told you from the opening sequence where this film would have ended up, and it follows the romantic comedy formula exactly, except with the one small deviation in actually being quite humorous at times.
So was `Sweet Home Alabama' enough to cause the dead members of Lynyrd Skynyrd to turn in their graves at the desecration of one of the greatest rock songs ever written? I don't think so, but then again, the movie also doesn't do much for me on any level. Still, it was a valiant effort and it was funny at times, so I think that a 7 out of 10 would be appropriate in this case.
`Orange County' opens with our hero, Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) acting, as he would describe it, as a typical Orange County teenage guy-going surfing. Calamity strikes, however, one day when he and his buddies try to surf a tsunami, thus causing the death of one of his friends. While reflecting upon this terrible twist of fate, Shaun comes across a book that will change his life-instead of wanting to surf for the rest of his life, he will be a writer, but the thing is, he can only become the writer he wants to be by attending Stanford
Shaun is a talented writer and a bright guy (1520 on his SAT's), so his guidance counselor (Lily Tomlin) tells him that he should only apply to Stanford where he will be a lock to get in. But in a perverse twist of fate, she sends in the wrong transcript, which lists his SAT as 900. But all is not lost. Perhaps he can convince a regent of the university of his worthiness, so Shaun invites his seemingly last chance to his home. Big mistake. At best, the Brumder family is.dysfunctional. With an alcoholic, hysterical, scene-stealing mother (Catherine O'Hara) and a perpetually drunk, drugged-out, and scantily clad brother (Jack Black), the impression that he will make will turn out to be quite negative.
With seemingly nowhere else to turn, he goes to his absentee, yet well-off father (John Lithgow), who is preoccupied in HIS world and predictably turns Shaun down. Now Shaun is grasping at straws when he resorts to making a last-ditch trip to Stanford in hopes of convincing the admissions director of his worthiness of admission. Accompanying Shaun on this noble `quest' are Ashley (Schuyler Fisk), his animal-loving and devoted girlfriend along with his brother. What ensues is best described as a melee of confusion and destruction.
As every other critic has found issue to mention as if he/she was the first to break the news, are the famous parents of the two stars and the director so I guess that I'll follow the trend. Colin Hanks (Son of Tom), Schuyler Fisk (daughter of Sissy Spacek) and director Jake Kasden (son of the famous director Lawrence Kasden) all have served their families well in their roles. Hanks is able to pull off a nerdy well-grounded youth in search of his dream; Fisk is excellent as an animal/cause-loving activist; and Kasden just lets everything flow along with little, if any turbulence.
But the actor that I really want to talk about is Jack Black. If he can be a movie star, then so can everyone else. To start with, he looks as if he has been lost in the Boundary Waters for several years and has only now made it back to civilization. And in `Orange County' he has the (painful) distinction of revolting the audience in multiple appearances clad only in his underwear. Despite all this going against him, Black turns in a hilarious performance every time he is on screen. Not quite at a gut-ripping level of humor, but impressive nonetheless. Another performance to watch for is Catherine O'Hara's presence whenever she is onscreen. Personally, I cannot think of anyone else better suited at playing a neurotic mother than Ms. O'Hara.
`Orange County' marks a dramatic change from the recent teen films that were skewered in `Teen Movie.' Instead of a focus on prom, sex, and sports, `Orange County' chooses to focus on what most high school students are stressing about-going to college (for an insightful look at the process, be sure to read Sarah Voskuil's columns on the College Search Saga). It magnifies the fear of a clerical error causing a rejection to one of your desired colleges. I am confident that this will not befall me, after all, the Guidance Office here at Lourdes seems to be extremely competent.
In the end, `Orange County' marked a renaissance from the dire straits that teen movies have entered in the past five years. Here's to hoping that this is a permanent shift in quality rather than an aberration. I would give it a high percent, but its weak ending doomed it to a lower rating of 90 out of 100.
This single quote, which could sum up scores of main characters throughout the history of Hollywood, is perhaps the perfect way to sum up the attitude of `A Beautiful Mind's' protagonist, John Nash. Afflicted with a disease, schizophrenia, he manages to confront it and eventually conquer it on his journey through the highs and lows of life.
We first meet John Nash (Russell Crowe) he comes across as an egotistical, yet brilliant mathematician, and because of his ego, he focuses his energies not on reviewing other ideas of his mathematical predecessors, but instead on finding `an original idea.' This quest poses problems for Nash as he struggles to find his idea, but throughout, he is supported be Charles (Paul Bettany), his partying prodigal roommate. When Nash finds his idea (of course he will-it's Hollywood), it is an economics that completely-and accurately, flies in the face of 150 years of economic theory.
With this idea, Nash receives a cushy job as a member of an MIT think-tank that is funded by the government. It is he who gets the call to go in and break a nearly impossible Soviet cipher regarding agent movements. After rendering these services, he is called upon by Agent Parcher (Ed Harris) of the CIA to search for Soviet codes in magazines during the tense periods of the early 1950s. With all of this defense work, it becomes natural that he becomes a little paranoid and stressed, which only bring out schizophrenic delusions.
To add to his already complicated life, the prickly and brusque Nash falls in love with a student of his, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), who, despite his manner and direct approaches, loves him as well. To make a long story fit into the space of this little column; they fall in love and get married. But Alicia begins to get worried about her husband's paranoia. In the fall of 1956, Nash is taken, quite forcefully to a psychiatric hospital, where he learns that the world that he thought he knew was mostly in his imagination. Now Nash is forced to find some way to conquer his delusions in the tortured battleground of his mind.
What can I say about this movie? Well, for the most obvious choice, it was nearly flawless. Russell Crowe is excellent in this turn from some of the more, shall we say, physical movie roles. With `Gladiator' on my list of favorite movies, I personally could not picture Crowe as an academic. I'll admit it, I was wrong. Director Ron Howard has made me say that I AM WRONG. That sounds humble enough, right? The supporting actors were also superb in their roles. Ed Harris was the perfect guy to place, with no offense intended, a jerk. He played out his character strongly and made certain that the audience would not love his character. Jennifer Connelly was stunning as she portrayed the loving, faithful, yet anguished wife of a man haunted by invisible demon. Awe-inspiring performances all around.
The issues that `A Beautiful Mind' dealt with were also strong and daring. Thinking about all of the films that I know of, I can only think of a few that portray mental illness as part of a primal theme, with most of it showing the physical aspects such as autism in `Rainman' or the treatment of it, ala `One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.' This film delved into the invisible demons of schizophrenia, which were portrayed on the screen to give the movie some sense. But this is so much deeper than just the story of tragedy and triumph-it is really an allegory, a parable for living. Nash was forced to deal with his demons, to face them head on, which could also apply to anyone's and everyone's lives because as humans, we have fears and problems that should not be shirked from, but instead, be faced head-on so that the demons will be conquered. (Note to readers-If I have just gone off on a tangent, I apologize, too much studying of themes for Lit class I guess.)
It is my prediction right here, right now, that `A Beautiful Mind' will garner a handful of nominations for the Oscars, and without knowing the rest of the field, I think that it should do very well. Go see this movie, it will touch you, it will move you, but most importantly, it will teach you about life and living. One hundred percent.