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Zoey 101 (2005–2008)
A mild surprise
13 August 2005
As somebody who grew up on Pete and Pete, Clarissa, Salute Your Shorts, and all the other classic Nick shows, I hold a fond place in my heart for Nickelodeon. But that place has, generally, been reserved for anything before All That appeared. In my (not-so) humble opinion, that's the moment at which the network started to go downhill.

Okay, so Zoey 101 isn't exactly on a level with Pete and Pete. It's got elements of The O.C. in that it's based on upper-class lifestyles. But I'm not going to discriminate against it based on that. Any given show is going to be about a very small slice of society. This one just happens to be an upscale slice.

It's a decent show. It's shot well, so it's visually entertaining -- something I can't say for most Disney and Nick shows. And, though it's classic preteen content, it's spun in a way that stops me from vomiting, as I do watching most other crap being peddled on children these days.

That's saying something. I'm 19 and I can tolerate this show. That's near-glowing praise.
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Batman Begins (2005)
The bar has been raised -- and reshaped into a bat
16 June 2005
Sometimes, a movie comes along and blows away your expectations. Sometimes, a movie comes along and redefines a genre. Sometimes, a movie comes along and gets nearly everything right. In the world of comic book-to-movie translations, I doubted it could get much better than Spiderman 2. Spiderman had great acting from Tobey Maguire and Alfred Molina. It had great visuals. It delved into the emotions and motivations of a superhero. But there was that pesky, awkward romance, ruined by Kirsten Dunst's I'm-always-embarrassed look.

Batman Begins take everything that went right about Spiderman 2 and replaces all the wrongs with tastiness. It's the creamy goodness inside Spiderman 2's empty Twinkie shell.

In the past decade, the Batman saga has been, to use a terrible pun, rather two-faced. There have been a few great performances in the movies, but they have, overall, failed miserably. Possibly the crowning failure was director Joel Schumacher's decision to put nipples on the batsuit.

Thankfully, those nipples are now gone. The painful dialogue, the laughable plots, the poor acting -- it's all gone in this iteration.

With Christopher Nolan (Memento) taking over, the franchise was bound for some redemption. Nolan's personal philosophy results in his potential to be the anti-Lucas. Where the Star Wars creator relies excessively on special effects, Nolan avoids them when at all possible. Among the few computer-generated graphics found in the film are -- well, nothing, really, aside from some swarms of bats.

Something about this film works perfectly. Likely, it's Bale's convincing performance as Batman. Where others have tried and failed to make Batman something more than a black suit and mask -- and it's no discredit to them, seeing as how the suit and the mask are his defining features -- Christian Bale turns the character into something more. There's a human element the superhero. He is constantly wrestling with his emotions; his parents died in front of him when he was a child, and he had his only chance of revenge -- at peace of mind -- stripped from him.

Or, maybe, the point at which this film separates itself is refusal to turn itself into a joke. While the X-Men movies and Spiderman movies are fantastic in their own right, they tend to have a certain dark sarcasm about them, an intentional foray into classic action humor. Batman Begins does not. There may be three or four laughs in the film, but they don't take over the film. Even without the laughs, the film is enjoyable.

Or, quite a bit more likely, it's the raw emotion in the film. It's the passion, the anger, the guilt, the sorrow. I felt as though the film was tossing me around like a kitten would a ball of yarn.

The supporting acting, too, is fantastic. But, honestly, how could one expect any less from the likes of Michael Caine (Alfred), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), and Liam Neeson (Ducard)? Sprinkle other spot-on performances (Ken Watanabe -- The Last Samauri -- and Katie Holmes play their parts perfectly), and this version of Batman can't fail where others did. It can't fail where Spiderman 2 did.

Everything is subtle, not overblown like one may expect to find in a summer blockbuster. Not completely flawless, no -- but close enough to have raised the bar for comic book movies far beyond its previous resting place. If the Fantastic Four trailer is any indication, I doubt we'll see another superhero film like this in a long time.
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Contrived, this film is
29 May 2005
At a crucial point in the plot of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) screams out a forced, "Noooooooo!" A metaphor is to be found here. As Hayden Christensen passes the torch of Anakin onto Jones, that single word is representative of Christensen's acting career -- if you're willing to call his strained attempts at emotion acting.

George Lucas described Episode III as, "Titanic in space." This comparison isn't entirely correct. In one sense, it is true; the tragedy of the story is certainly as bad as that of Titanic. However, Episode III's dialogue and acting are nowhere near the caliber of Titanic.

George Lucas is a master of creating rich worlds for his stories. The Star Wars universe has spawned countless books, video games, and iterations in every other form of media. There's even a TV show soon to be produced.

Lucas, however, may be one of the worst writers in recent memory. Some have claimed the Lucas brought in another writer to help with the romantic subplot between Anakin and Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). This is quite believable: The dialogue seems as if it's been written by a fourteen-year-old girl. It's painful and embarrassing to watch; it's funny; yet, it's supposed to be emotional and painful in another way entirely.

As should be expected, brilliant battle scenes bring the movie back from the depths the romance brings it down to. Even these scenes have their drawbacks, though. Not a single one is as memorable as the original duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. None of them makes the imprint on one's mind that the Darth Maul duel from Episode I does. None even measure up to the duel between Yoda and Count Dooku from Episode II.

One duel scene does stick out, but for all the wrong reasons. Everything about it seems contrived. A piece of debris floats over a river of lava for absolutely no reason. A droid follows the debris, as if Anakin is controlling it with the Force. (It's worth noting, then, that classic Star Wars mythology excludes droids from the effects of the Force.) Lucas also described the film as being "dark." This is true, to an extent. One scene shows Storm Troopers shooting a child. Another implies the cold-blooded murder of multiple young Jedi padawans. However, even this is tempered when they are referred to as "younglings," apparently in an attempt to make the murder of children seem less harsh. Instead, it comes across as yet another painful contrivance by George Lucas.

There are redeeming aspects to be found. Ewan McGregor once again delivers a perfect portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi. There's wry buddy-buddy-style humor, coupled with, shockingly, good acting in emotional scenes.

Ian McDiarmid and Samuel L. Jackson also deliver wonderful performances as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine and Mace Windu, respectively.

Maybe the most telling performances, though, are those that aren't truly performances. The most enjoyable character to watch never says a word. Yes, that's right, R2-D2 is the best character in the film. Yoda, too, is wonderful in his limited time on-screen. (Though it is apparent that Frank Oz was half-asleep when he made this film; Yoda-speak runs rampant, and begins to become rather annoying.) A single word can describe this film: contrived. Everything seems as if it's merely staging to spend money on effects. George Lucas, it seems, buys into the all-too-common modern-day belief that style is paramount, and, as a result, any substance takes a back seat.

** out of *****
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Unsettling, yet pleasant.
13 December 2004
I'll admit, my initial reaction to any movie without action or comedy is not generally good. As such, I had to stave off those feelings throughout Lost in Translation. The question to be asked, then, is, "Was it worth it?"

The answer is indistinct. The movie got off to a rather dull start. That is to say, after the initial opening scene, with nearly a minute of nothing but pure sexuality (can you really justify the clear shot of a woman's backside, otherwise?). Typically, that turns me off more than anything. Not the sexuality; the dullness. I gave up on Oliver Twist after reading the first page, after all.

However, on the level of a character study, this movie succeeds splendidly. Bob Harris (Bill Murray), a washed up actor, in Tokyo to film a commercial for an excessive sum ($2,000,000), speaks no Japanese. In fact, he's woefully inept at understanding dialectical differences between Americanized English and Japanese-tinged English. As one may imagine, he's displaced.

Shortly after arriving, in a state of insomnia, Harris meets a young woman named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who is also feeling displaced. Dragged to Tokyo by her photographer husband, John (Giovanni Ribisi), Charlotte is feeling unloved, and is questioning whether she made a mistake marrying John.

As the admittedly shallow plot unfolds, we see a developing romance between Charlotte and Bob. Rather than cave into the typical Hollywood physical portrayal of romance, however, director/writer Sofia Coppola chooses to push the film in an entirely different direction; romantic tension is portrayed by awkward conversations, vocal inflection, and facial expression more than anything. This is a decidedly pleasant change, leaving the audience feeling as if there's a true tension, rather than an imagined tension. The two characters aren't entirely sure they should be attracted to each other, yet they are. Had Coppola caved into Hollywood clichés, it would have come across as yet another fanciful film in which a couple has sex while pretending they have grave misgivings.

The ending of the movie, however, is rather unsettling. It's not necessarily a *bad* ending, merely unsettling. Lest I spoil the movie, it will suffice to say that there is no apparent resolution to the problems each primary character is having outside of their personal relationship with each other. It resembles real life, in that things don't always change for the better or for the worse; but do we really want a movie that results in no change?

For the changeless resolution and the dull beginning, I give it 7/10.
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Blasphemous? I think not.
1 September 2004
Life of Brian is, undoubtedly, the best religious satire I have ever laid eyes on. It's authentic, has good acting, and is biting in its commentary. It rivals some of the great parody work of Mel Brooks for the greatest comedy of all time (Young Frankenstein may trump Life of Brian). And this comes from somebody who is a Christian, and holds to a very strict interpretation of the Bible. Maybe, though, that's why it's so funny.

The Python crew themselves made it quite clear that they couldn't even attempt to make fun of Jesus, nor could they mock his message. Rather, they'd mock those people who misunderstood the message and killed each other for 2000 years because of it. What better way to do so than to make a movie following the life of somebody who's mistaken for Christ, rather than following Jesus himself.

This movie is probably the best example of the acting talents of the Python members. While John Cleese and Eric Idle continue to light up the screen in newer movies (most recently, Cleese in Shrek 2, as well as Eric Idle narrating Ella Enchanted), you'll not find a better performance from Graham Chapman, nor the rest of the Pythons.

One potential drawback to the movie is in its lack of laugh-out-loud comedy.

However, the smart viewer will see beyond this and recognize a work of comic genius. Some of the most unforgettable lines ever are held in this comic jewel: "Blessed are the cheesemakers" is just one among many.

Also of note is the generally un-Ptyhonesque ending to the movie. True, it's anticlimactic, in a sense, but it's a far better ending than that of The Holy Grail. Ahh, but if you haven't seen the movie, I'd better not give away the ending.

Dear reader, before you go, remember, this movie is to be watched more than once. While certain scenes are unforgettably funny the first time around (I want to be called...Loretta), there are things you'll undoubtedly miss.

Now, I send thee forth to bask in the radiance of Python.
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