April Summary















Another month done. Here are the links to April's reviews broken up by genre and arranged alphabetically with my picks for best and worst of each. The genres may not fit all of the movies perfectly, but this way I have less work.

ACTION/ADVENTURE:
Drive
In Bruges
Inception
Looper
The Usual Suspects
V for Vendetta

Best: "Inception"...duh, followed by "The Usual Suspects"
Worst: "Drive". It really didn't deliver.

CLASSICS:
A Night in Casablanca
Double Indemnity
Going My Way
How Green Was My Valley
Jaws
Mrs. Miniver
Network
Some Like It Hot
Sunset Boulevard
The Jungle Book
The Life of Emile Zola

Best: I actually think that "Jaws" is the best of this list. It keeps the attention from the beginning, a great movie.
Worst: Although "How Green Way My Valley" had a good ending that brought the tears, it wasn't enough to make up for the rest of the film and Roddy McDowall.

COMEDY:
In the Loop
The Producers
Zombieland

Best: "The Producers", though I am generally fond on Nathan Lane.
Worst: The barrage and failure to wrap up the third act place "In the Loop" at the bottom.

DOCUMENTARY:
Man on Wire

Best: "Man on Wire" is a great movie, it's really one of the best documentaries I've seen.

DRAMA:
A Beautiful Mind
Barton Fink
Catch Me If You Can
Chicago
Days of Heaven
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Frost/Nixon
Margin Call
Mommie Dearest
Rabbit Hole
Shattered Glass
Slumdog Millionaire
Strictly Ballroom
The Crying Game
The Grifters

Best: "A Beautiful Mind" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" followed closely by "Frost/Nixon" and "Slumdog Millionaire".
Worst: "Mommie Dearest"! What a horrible ending!

FOREIGN:
Paris, je t'aime

Best: This movie is really quite something.

SCIENCE FICTION:
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Star Trek

Best: "Star Trek" simply because of the keen special effects and the good action.
Worst: "A.I." because it failed to end properly.

SUSPENSE/THRILLER/HORROR:
Breach
Memento
Pi
The Game

Best: "Memento"
Worst: "Pi". For whatever reason, I've found that I really don't like Darren Aronofsky's movies. Maybe it's because he likes to push the viewer and I don't like being pushed.


The Grifters (1990) (R)
















Con men are a very often addressed issue in film. Dating back to the "Rat Pack" days and when the original "Ocean's Eleven" was released, we always like to cheer for the smart, sexy bad guy. After all, the people they are taking money from aren't really good are they? We always see con men with hearts of gold who steal because they have a vendetta against the person they are stealing from or because it's all they know—it's what their daddy taught them. Rarely are we given equal parts the grifters and the grift-ees. I can't think of one movie where you want both sides to win and can choose between them, maybe that would be impossible to write.
"The Grifters" tries to show how hard life can be like as a grifters, a con man; but it doesn't work. Throughout all the drama and murder the grifters still dress nicer than anyone else, look nicer than anyone else, and have more fun than anyone else.
"The Grifters" is a fairly plotless movie that follows the doings of a wannabe con man, his mother, and his girlfriend—both of the women are con artists as well. But none of them know that the other on is a grifter.
The mother, Lilly, is in the middle of a job that she's been doing for a boss for a long time. It looks like she might never get out of that situations, but she's content. Myra is a loose cannon, going from here to there and flaunting herself to get out of tough situations, or to get a couple extra bucks.
Roy doesn't really have an arena to perform his con artistry, he does simple things like ripping off people at the bar and collecting a few extra dollars here and there—how is it, then, that he has the most money of the three of them? Maybe Lilly has more, but he's close.
What takes place in the first half of the movie is just set-up. We watch the characters and see how they interact with each other and how they learn that the other one is a con artist.
Nothing really happens. Roy gets hit by a bartender and ends up in a hospital where the three main characters meet and things are said and then....still nothing.
References are made to the "long con" but nothing is done, we hope that there is a long con coming. The real long con of the movie is fooling you into thinking that something is going to happen.
Finally, there is some sort of crisis that sets are balls rolling and the action starts to pick up, but that only leaves half-an-hour left of the film.
Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening play Lilly and Myra both and it's these women that steal the show. Regrettably the movie couldn't just be about them.
Then we have John Cusack as Roy and he seems very much like Nicholas Cage in all of his movies. He's deadpan, monotone, and just not that interesting on screen. Why cast him as the eccentric lead grifter? I will never know.
For what it is, "The Grifters" works fairly well. There are no big reveals but the ending is really good. Scorsese produced this picture and his influences can be seen, mostly the lack of a coherent plot. Although all of Scorsese's pictures are fun to watch, "The Grifters" was somewhat of a hassle.
It was lacking a certain connectively and intrigue to make it great.


Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Margin Call (2011) (R)















The first and most glaring feature of "Margin Call" is its cast. If there ever was more of an imposing selection of highly accredited actors in any other film, I would like to see it. Although the film employs this large and wondrous cast, it leaves the viewer wanting to know who is the bad guy, who is the good guy, and who is the main character. Undoubtably, there are characters that you don't like and others you do, but does that make them fit into the stereotypical mold of "the villain" and "the hero"?
I know nothing about finances, absolutely nothing—maybe that's because I have no finances...whatever the reason, I still don't know anything. "Margin Call" is all about money, if there really was a central character it would be the money itself. How to trade money, how to receive money, how to screw other people out of money, how to make more money for yourself, how much money the other guy gets—you get the picture. It's easy to forget this when you are looking at a very sophisticated film like "Margin Call" but I would advise you to keep in mind, if you ever watch it, that money is really what it's all about.
The term margin call refers to investors sowing more money into an investment to cover losses from a plea by the broker—at least, that's what I'm trusting the internet with because I really have no idea. When you think of this definition, "Margin Call" would be an appropriate name for the film.
When an investment bank downsizes and fires a man who was fairly high up the ladder of politics, he hands the project he was working on to a low level two year employee and says, "Be careful". Twenty minutes of film and a little quick editing and montage scenes later and hey there's something wrong with this company...let's call in everyone whose ever worked for us.
So the big boss comes in and it's explained to him that this company is going to crash and burn—what do you want to do?
I love movies that take place in an office. When you limit yourself to one or two sets, unbelievable creativity can set in and you can get really great movies...or...they fall flat on their faces.
"Margin Call" falls somewhere in between these two sides, more on the good. The stylization reminded me of David Fincher. Between the cast and the interesting shots and the rapid change of focus, it makes a very attractive film.
But the source material was a little over my head to be enjoyable. It was easy to understand what was going on, it was tough to know why. Perhaps I didn't catch it or maybe they never addressed it, either way I was missing a piece of the puzzle.
The cast—Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, and Demi Moore—need I say more?
"Margin Call" reminded me of "Glengarry Glen Ross" because of its huge cast. But "Glen" has some amazing shouting drama and yelling scenes that needed to be in "Margin Call". Everybody was sweating from the pressure but you never saw anyone break...I wanted some breaking.
I felt like "Margin Call" should have been more of a thriller, but I was content with what I got.


Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Catch Me If You Can (2002) (PG-13)















I discovered recently what is known as the Spielberg "running man trilogy". I had no idea what this was until I was researching "A.I." and came across the term. It's simple enough: a man is going towards or away from someplace and being pursued either by the memory of his past of by an actual physical being or perhaps both. The protagonist is sometimes flawed, but you can empathize with him. These are the characteristics of the three movies that Spielberg made "A.I.", "Minority Report", and "Catch Me If You Can".
When you watch "Catch Me If You Can" I'm not sure if you could tell that it was Spielberg, the director is out of his usual element and so is composer John Williams whose score in this film is sensationally different from anything else he's done. The vibe of the film resonates with the 40s. Although it's set in the 60s all the characters grew up in the 40s and thus those influences flow over into the latter decades.
"Catch Me If You Can" tells the story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who by the time he was twenty had already impersonated a doctor, a lawyer, and an airplane pilot—fooling everyone and conning Pan Am out of a few million dollars. It's also the story of Carl Hanratty who is the FBI agent who is tracking Abagnale down.
It's the story of the house that Frank grew up in, shattered and confused and how his father and his mother were such important forces in his life. His father, Frank Sr., is played by Christopher Walken in a great way. The man unknowingly taught Frank all there is to know about conning and how people think with simple gestures like giving someone a necklace.
What makes this movie work is how it addresses Frank's age without making him look really young. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank Jr., and although at times he looks thirty, the way he carries himself is completely adolescent. The frivolous spending and the lack of understanding of how romance works is uncomfortably effective. One scene has him buying his father an expensive car because he thinks that it will make his mother and father get back together.
Carl Hanratty is the other side of the coin of "Catch Me If You Can" and he's caustic and bitterly sardonic. I was not a fan of Tom Hanks until I saw this movie, he shines as the FBI agent being the comic relief of the movie, but not overdoing it.
All-in-all I'd say that the approach that Spielberg uses is very much Scorsese, which is not a bad thing. I've said many negative things about Spielberg because I think that he overdoes the sappy scenes, but let me be clear. A bad Spielberg picture is still a really good everybody-else's film. He is one of the best current directors and has many classics under his belt.
"Catch Me If You Can" adds to Spielberg's repertoire.
On a side note Amy Adams and Martin Sheen both give small but good supporting performances.
This movie is curious because you cheer for both sides of the narration because neither is strictly the hero. You empathize with Frank because you see what makes him do the things he does; and yet, you root for Carl while he tracks the boy down.
The effortless style of the movie is what makes it great. Whether it's a shot of Frank running away from home or a surprise cameo appearance by Jennifer Garner, "Catch Me If You Can" is a biopic at its best.


Score: 4 out of 4 stars

The Crying Game (1992) (R)

















When "The Crying Game" opens, it's to Forest Whitaker who I've never really been a fan of. He's great in supporting roles but I've never seen him pull off a lead, then again I haven't seen "The Last King of Scotland" so I can't judge. I know that Whitaker is American so to hear him start the movie with an English accent that is so thick in some parts and disappears in others wasn't the best beginning.
An English soldier is kidnapped by the IRA at the beginning of "The Crying Game". The man's name is Jody and he is being held hostage until demands are met, the ultimatum being "or else we kill him". He knows that he's a dead man as soon as he's taken but that doesn't stop him from trying to reason with some of the guards, one in particular, a man named Fergus.
Fergus seems like an average guy, he's mixed up with the wrong crowd but he's loyal to it, maybe not as zealous as they are but still committed. He talks with Jody and the two of them bond a little.
This isn't a full fledged bromance but it's a start. They laugh and Jody tells Fergus the story of the scorpion of the frog which is a fable about people giving in to their nature.
Eventually, as the audience has guessed by now, Fergus is going to have to kill Jody. When the time comes for it to happen a remarkable scene happens. Jody is in the corner with a bag over his head and he's crying. Fergus asks him to stop and Jody pleads for Fergus to tell him a story—anything to get his mind off of his looming death. Fergus pauses and then quotes from Corinthians "When I was a child, I thought like a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things." He paraphrases a little but the scene resonated within me. What was the point of that?
Still after the movie is over, that scene stuck with me, and it's at the very beginning. I think that it stuck with me because it symbolizes what the movie is about. It's not a child's world anymore and adult decisions have to be made. That's obviously crasser than what is played out but it's the idea behind it.
Before Jody is killed he asks Fergus to find this girl named Dil and look after her, tell her that he was thinking about her in his final seconds.
So Fergus takes it upon himself to find this Dil woman and let her know what Jody was thinking about...that's the excuse he gives himself. He's really after forgiveness.
"The Crying Game" is a fearless movie, bravely tackling subjects that were way ahead of its time. It's style and method are simplistic, although the movie utilizes some camera angles that maneuver the set pieces more than once.
Stephen Rea is Fergus and it's his journey that we share. We come to see the world through his eyes, although the ending didn't make sense to me, but he's really great in this role that grows and morphs.
Forest Whitaker isn't that great in this movie, I don't know if I was just prejudiced against him.
There are moments that reflect greatness, they reminded me of scenes from "Taxi Driver" although not as visceral or poetic.
Neil Jordan, the writer/director, pulls of a good setting for this movie. The opening credits themselves are equal parts interesting and haunting, a shot of a carnival gradually shifts as "When a Man Loves a Woman" is playing.
The bravest acting besides Rea's role belongs to Jaye Davidson who isn't perfect but is tenacious.
"The Crying Game" is solid, there's nothing special about it but it is well-crafted and executed.


Score: 3 out of 4 stars

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) (PG-13)















All the truly great science fiction movies have special effects that still are powerful today. Whether it's "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Jurassic Park", they are built on what they can achieve in the special effect department. Who wants to see normal things in the future or a parallel universe? "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" is no stranger to great effect—but it's script seems a little weird.
This film was a project of Kurbrick's before he died, which comes as no surprise when the story is finished you can see how the odd director would have done it. But it was Spielberg who ended up directing "A.I." and I think that he is the better choice between the two for this movie. Kubrick, whether you like him or not, has a tendency to drone on and Spielberg, while perhaps not perfect, does liven the screen up a lot more than his colleague.
A company has decided to make a machine that can feel and reciprocate love. Not physical love of the flesh but maternal love as that of a child to his mother.
There is a family whose son is dying on an incurable disease so they take part in a test with Cybertronics, a company that builds mechas (robots). The real son is frozen in cryogenics and a robot child named David is brought home with the Martin family. The mom is skeptical of the robot and objects to him being in their house. But he grows on her and she activates a program that will start the attachment process. He grows to love his 'mother' but something happens that throws the story off-track. The son (who had an incurable disease) apparently didn't have that much of an incurable disease because a treatment is made for him and he recovers and returns home. Then he sees endless delight in tormenting David and daring him to do things to prove his humanity. Eventually, the Martin family start to see David as a threat to them even though he's as innocent as you could imagine.
Meanwhile the saga of humans tormenting the robots continue as a robot prostitute, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) is framed for murder and goes on the run.
It's interesting how many movie that involve artificial intelligence have humans being the bad guys, and this is no exception. Robots are rounded up and destroyed in grotesque ways for entertainment and little thought is given to what they "feel"...after all they can't feel anything can they?
Haley Joel Osment plays David and it's basically his movie. He is the movie. There's no other characters that carry a movie the way that he does in this one besides perhaps Adrien Brody in "The Pianist".
But the real star of the movie is split into two parts and one of them isn't even human. A robotic teddy bear, Teddy, voiced to perfection by Jack Angel. The bear is one of the special effects that will never age. I have no idea how they made that freakin' thing work but it does and incredibly well I might add. The other character that steals the show is Gigolo Joe. Jude Law does a stunning job as the robot and I'm not sure how he never got nominated for this role. It's very reminiscent to the recent job by Michael Fassbender as David in "Prometheus". Except Fassbender was religiously tight in his interpretation and Jude Law is flamboyant and eccentric while still convincing you that he really doesn't feel anything.
The ending....yes, the ending, I must speak of this. The ending is really weird, it's not "2001" weird but it's close. You can sort of feel the Kubrick coming out of the story with the ending and paired with Spielberg's need for sentimentality...it collapses.
If you could possibly watch this movie without the last thirty minutes it would be fantastic. The journey/searching-for-a-meaning aspect has been done thousands of times but it's very attractive in "A.I.".
The special effects are what make this movie—that and John Williams's score. It's not a movie that you can watch over and over but I do think that it's worth at least seeing it once.


Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Memento (2000) (R)















Christopher Nolan is the big name to beat right now in film making. From humble beginnings like the black and white short film "Doodlebug" to the grandiose scape of "Inception", the director/writer seems to have no end of talent, ideas, and innovation. But his career-making film should not be forgotten for it is a marvelous, movie indeed.
Leonard's mind has snapped, not in the typical evil diva way, no—he's suffering from anterograde amnesia, the inability to make new memories. The last memory he has is the murder and rape of his wife. He vows himself to find her killer and avenge her. Easier said than done, especially when you forget everything that happen every ten minutes or so.
That's all I'll say about the plot, because this is one movie that's better to work out for yourself.
"Memento" was famously filmed in reverse, not that the whole movie is seen better when rewinded but scenes start at the end and work back to the beginning, something like that. The time line is the fun thing to figure out.
Leonard, or Lenny, narrates with a preciseness that I have never seen duplicated. Guy Pearce does a stunning job as Lenny, a very underrated role for him. The voice-overs are where you see how in tune with Lenny that Pearce is. The narrations are inside Lenny's head, a stream of conscious way of talking to himself but it never sounds fake or contrived like it does in so many other movies.
Nolan uses the black and white that he did for his debut film, but the movie cuts from color to black and white and back again for certain scenes. It's really fantastic.
There are characters that intertwine with Lenny like a troubled bar waitress named Natalie played with a mysteriousness by Carrie-Anne Moss .
To keep his head straight, Lenny tattoos himself with reminders of his vendetta with his wife's killer and clues that he has found out so far.
One of the unsung heroes of the movie is Joe Pantoliano as Teddy. Really all these actors are great because you have to believe that they are equally evil and good.
How do you make a whole movie out of a main character whose narrations cannot be trusted and who forgets himself every few minutes? I have no idea!
For those of you who are plot scrutinizers, this is probably not the movie for you. It's the plot that delivers (although it does for me) it's the way the story is told that makes this movie a future classic.
Lenny is a boldly original protagonist, looking like a bleached body builder and tender but fierce, fueled only by love. This is what makes the movie almost perfect, the way that Nolan and his brother Joseph (who wrote the story that this is based on) don't try to quantify their lead. They don't explain everything about the character, in fact, by the time the movie ends there's still a little bit of uncertainty about Lenny. But this what the movie thrives on, the uncertainty.
"Memento" is a brilliant film, a truly original and bold take on storytelling.


Score: 4 out of 4 stars

The Game (1997) (R)















"The Game" comes from David Fincher who is no stranger to dark and disturbing movies—films like "Se7en" and "Fight Club" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". After first seeing "Se7en", which was the first thing I saw by Fincher, I claimed that I hated the man and would have nothing more to do with him. It's true, "Se7en" freaked me out and I found it dissatisfying. But then came "Fight Club" and then "The Social Network" and since then I have seen virtually everything that David Fincher has done  with the exception of "Zodiac".
I have never been a fan of Michael Douglas as an actor, sure he's a good producer—I mean, he produced "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". But as a lead actor I find him very annoying and maybe it's a personal thing, that's possible—I can admit to that.
"The Game" is a movie that hinges on a third act reveal. Everything builds up to that last moment and with the stylization of Harris Savides, the cinematographer and Howard Shore, the composer; the ending had better be really good.
Everything is mysterious to Nicholas Van Orton, a rich bank investor who seems to not enjoy anything in life. His mind is haunted by the photographic memory of his father's suicide, something he still hasn't gotten over.
On his 48th birthday Nicholas's brother, Conrad, gives him a 'gift card' to a place called CRS, Consumer Recreational Services. He is told that he is going to play a game (don't worry it's nothing like "Saw") but he needs to take a physical and two psychological evaluations; then he's rejected from CRS—he wasn't a fit.
Rightly so, Nicholas is a little miffed over this and he pouts for a couple of hours on the way home from work and then...he finds a life-size clown doll laying face down in his driveway right where his dad died.
He brings the doll inside and the television starts talking to him—Congratulations, Nicholas. You are now in the game, all that other stuff we said, yeah, forget about that.
So now Nicholas is playing the game, whatever the game is we don't know. Apparently knowing what the game actually is, is the game itself. It made me wonder if this movie spawned the popular phrase "You lost the game!"...if you don't know what that is, don't bother, it's not worth your time.
So "The Game" turns into a thriller with odd occurrences happening to Nicholas like a hospital loosing power and everyone disappearing, or a key that works an elevator he's never been in, or pictures of him doing things that he never did.
With the discordant piano notes and the dark night shoots, "The Game" is remarkably solid as a thriller but we know that the end is coming. Everything becomes more and more puzzling until the reveal demands to be the best...and it's not.
No, frankly the ending was a disappointment. A well-done disappointment, but still hollow. Michael Douglas does a good job but I still think that someone else would have filled the role better.
There are moments that sent chills down my spine like turning on a light to reveal a graffiti-ed home that reads "welcome home" in a creepy spray paint sort of way.
David Fincher is now one of my favorite directors, although I do think that "The Game" wasn't as good as some of his other works.
With "The Game" we get a generic title, an average lead, some interesting twists, and shout-off drama scenes that just don't work.
The movie also takes some twists and turns that don't add up, it should have stuck to just being a thriller (cue Michael Jackson music).


Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

















People love war movies, I'm not exactly sure why. It would seem that war would be the time that we would like to forget about the most; it's also a time that can express great tragedy, learning, and even beauty. A lot of moving pictures cover war times and an equal amount of them land in the Best Picture field. "Mrs. Miniver" is one of those films, from the beginning when we are told the date in 1939 it seems inevitable that this film will have some war in it—and it does.
Mrs. Miniver is a good little wife, she enjoys expensive things but she knows that material possessions don't give her happiness. At the beginning of the movie she buys herself a nice new hat and her husband buys a new car. They smile at each other and speak horribly sugary sweet dialogue that is filled with cliches and hot air. But we know that war is coming....
Their oldest son comes back from college and his studies have made him a confused boy who thinks that he knows everything. He gets into a fight with the girl who lives next door and the next thing you know, it's true love...whoa, nobody saw that coming.
But we know that war is coming...
A man who works at the train stations take Mrs. Miniver aside and tells her that because she's so nice to him every time she walks by he's going to name a rose he grew after her. A what a lovely rose it is. So he decides to submit the rose to a garden competition that is basically under a dictatorship from Lady Beldon (who is also the grandmother of the girl who falls in love with Vin Miniver [the oldest son]). Everybody tells him it's a foolish idea but anyone can submit flowers so he decides to do it anyway.
But we know that war is coming...
And then finally the war comes. We know, of course, that Vin will be shipped off to war and then something will go awry in the love department.
And guess what?...that's exactly what happens.
But the war parts are the best in the movie because the movie finally has a sense of direction.
What helps the movie in these parts is the lack of a dramatic score that builds and screeches at the slightest hint. The movie allows the actors to just act.
But there's nothing new here. It does have its good moments but those collapse under the weight of all the fluff.
For a Best Picture winner "Mrs. Miniver" sits nicely in the middle of the rest of the movies. It's not bad but it's not great.
Also, the ending is really weird because all the actions seem like it's a anti-war movie until the final scene which completely ruins everything the movie had built upon.
I liked "Mrs. Miniver"—it could have been better, but it's not bad.


Score: 3 stars out of 4

The Producers (2005) (PG-13)















After almost forty years since the original shocked audiences with its sexual jokes and interesting drug addicted characters, Mel Brooks produced a remake of his career beginning film.
The plot is the same, a broadway producer Max Bialystock is making one horrible play after another that are closing soon after they open. When an accountant, Leo Bloom, comes to check Max's books, he finds something curious—you can make more money with a flop than with a hit.
Max jumps on the idea and tries to get Leo to help him pull off their wonderful scheme but Leo is a self-proclaiming nervous, spineless, coward. But, like all movies, it soon takes Max two songs and a harsh boss for Leo to realize that he could do better. So it's off to cheat people out of money.
Max and Leo decide to recruit the worst director for the worst play ever written. They find the play "Springtime for Hitler" and then get the playwright (Will Ferrell) to sign off for them using it.
The men also need an assistant so they hire the sexy Swedish Ulla Inka Hanson Benson Yanson Tallen Hallen Swadon Swanson or "Ulla" for short. Ulla is played by the always perfect Uma Thurman who trades in her "Kill Bill" martial arts for dresses and a dumb blonde attitude. This role is perfectly hilarious for her and she just nails it.
What makes the movie is the chemistry between Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick as Max and Leo respectively. Both lead actors played their parts before on Broadway. In fact, the only lead actors who didn't play "The Producers" on Broadway are Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell.
"The Producers" is just as offensive as its 1968 predecessor, but I think that this film works on many more levels. The quickness of the lines and the overly dramatic emphasis placed on everything isn't great film making but it is highly enjoyable at that.
The sets all look strictly Broadway and the cast is in top form.
Some people dislike the film for the punches it pulls; but I can't help thinking that maybe those people have less fun than I do.
I have a very high standards for comedies and can think of only a handful that I would say are great...this is not one of them. A comedy, for me, has to be real enough to be taken as a drama if necessary. A comedy shouldn't be played by funny actors but by dramatic actors who are having horrible times in bad situations that let the viewer sit back and laugh at their misfortune. A comedy should move people.
Now, I have nothing against jokes and puns and visual tricks like the ones "Airplane!" uses but I don't consider them to be great comedies. Funny and wickedly entertaining, but not great.
"The Producers" is on the verge of greatness for Nathan Lane's performance alone. He's so addictive to watch on the screen. Matthew Broderick is better than Gene Wilder as Leo but he does get overshadowed a little just because of the personality of the roles between Leo and Max.
The funniest moments that stick out to me all involve either Nathan Lane or Uma Thurman.
"The Producers" remake is absolutely better than the original—quicker, louder, and more colorful.


Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Sunset Boulevard (1950)













Billy Wilder can make a movie, by the time the 50s had rolled around he had already proven that to everybody with movies like "Double Indemnity" and the Oscar winning "The Lost Weekend" which won both Best Picture and got Wilder his first (but not last) Academy Award for directing. No stranger to controversy, Wilder would push the envelope again and again until 1960 when he made his smash hit "The Apartment" which would win him his second directing Oscar and win Best Picture. Remember that the two movies that won him the directing Oscars were about a drunk about to drink himself to death and a man who lends his apartment out for people to have affairs in.
So when 1950 comes and goes, Billy Wilder stamped his name on cinema forever with the unusual and terrifyingly realistic "Sunset Boulevard".
The first thing you notice about this film is its cinematography, the way that the credits appear on large block font on the screen as the shot of a single street seems to never end is somewhat haunting. Then the camera pans up and you see police cars whiz by and the camera whirls around to see them speed into the distance.
William Holden's noir voice narrates from the beginning. These police cars are going to a famous actresses house to find a dead body in the pool. But don't judge too quickly, let's go back and see what happened.
Right away, "Sunset Boulevard" strikes an uncanny resemblance to "Double Indemnity" with its style and approach. But this film has something that the previous one didn't, a little pinch of crazy.
Joe Gillis is a writer whose checks are beginning to bounce. He's tried writing a screenplay for Paramount Pictures but everyone agrees, it's too fluffy and full of nonsense. His bills are piling up and some men are trying to take his car. In a chase away from the man, Joe blows a tire and ends up hiding in a desolate old mansion which looks abandoned. He quickly finds out that this is the home of the aging silent movie star Norma Desmond. The oddities of the house are darkly humorous and not fully explained like the dead chimpanzee upstairs that is quickly given a white coffin and toted out of the house. Norma wants to write a movie screenplay about Salome, the daughter of Herod who (supposedly) tried to seduce John the Baptist and when she failed she beheaded the man. Her seduction was made famous by Oscar Wilde and it commonly referred to as "The Dance of the Seven Veils". Norma wants to play Salome and she's sure that this movie will be a hit. Out of desperation and cabin fever she shows Joe her screenplay which is basically gibberish and he agrees to help her with the project.
It's quickly seen that this woman is not in her right mind. Narcissistic would be putting it nicely.
As far as lead actors go, I've never been a fan of William Holden carrying a movie on his own. He doesn't show that much emotion and he's from the generation of "shakers"—show women your love by grabbing them just below the shoulders, squeezing them tight, and giving them a few good shakes—wow, that was hot. There's no chemistry between him and the woman (Nancy Olson) who is supposed to fall in love with him at the drop of a hat because he oozes sex appeal. I actually didn't like Olson's character in the movie at all, if I had a magic film eraser I would have just taken her out. If you want to see amazing chemistry, watch "Shakespeare in Love". The best thing you can see William Holden in is "Network".
The film kind of prolongs itself in the middle section, building up too much for a ending, albeit a mighty fine ending.
What makes the movie is simple: Gloria Swanson. As Norma she embodies the depth and craziness of an aging star who would love to soak up more lime light. Perhaps the reason that she's so good in this role is because the role so closely mirrors her own life. It takes great courage to defy your public figure (or add to the flames) by playing someone who obviously represents yourself in a movie. Another movie to see something like this in is "Being John Malkovich".
There are certain things that are left unanswered (like the chimp) and others that don't feel natural but I can see why "Sunset Boulevard" is a classic.
The last act itself is worth the whole movie to see.
Gloria Swanson! No more is needed to be said.


Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

In the Loop (2009) (R)














"In the Loop" feels like a much more vulgar and political version of "The Office" when it first begins. The typical camera zooms and unsteady handling are somewhat defining of the 'mockumentary' genre of film. Although it tries and it gives us enough anger to make it work, near the end it dissolves into preachiness and over-performing.
There are two places where "In the Loop" takes place, the UK and the USA. Our story is told mainly in England where various men and women in political office are jumping through hoops and over ropes in the political system to try to get one or another thing done. What sets off this adventure tale is Simon Foster going on a radio show and being surprised with a question about war. When he flusters it sets the rest of our players up for starting a war, which apparently both the President and the Prime Minster would like.
It's clear from the beginning that "In the Loop" is a satire but what you fail to realize until the end is how scathing it really is. It's nasty, brutal, and harsh.
As far as dark comedies go I think that "Little Miss Sunshine" holds the position as the one of the best. "In the Loop" tries to be funny but really starts to fall apart with its screenplay.
Malcolm Tucker is kind of a watch dog. He tells Simon what to say and what not to say and he's very angry all the time. The barrage of profanity that spews from his mouth makes "Goodfellas" look like a kid's movie. But unlike Joe Pesci, Peter Capaldi as Tucker doesn't pull it off. It starts to become old and I began to wonder if the script had anything but curse words in it.
What I didn't like about the movie were the offices that everyone held. There were too many and they were too jumbled and in the end I still have no idea who everyone was. A filmmaker has to assume that his audience is stupid, because in this area I was completely helpless.
The British people are witty and quick witted, even with their vulgarity, and the Americans are more likely to make cultural and pop references for their jibes which I found funnier than their counterparts.
"In the Loop" has some very funny parts, most of which involve offenses in quick writing.
Near the end of the film you suddenly realize that nothing has happened this entire movie. There's no place it really goes and when it finally gets to the place that it wants to, it dissolves into a horrible scene of preachy politics. It's not very flattering of government or any sort of legal system.
One thing that it fails to do is feel intelligent. It starts to feel like the writers were just trying to vent and created these characters. When the addition of a character named Jamie comes along who is a larger version of Tucker, he can scream louder and make dirtier comments, it began to feel like a stupid script. Anyone can write insults and curses, but not everyone can make a Voltaire effort at satire.
The best part of "In the Loop" was Tom Hollander as Simon Foster. He's precise and sometimes keenly funny.
The other actors (whether this was their fault of that of the writers/director) all collapse into sweaty scenes of rage and swearing.
Because of its lack of direction and obvious political vendetta, I started to get angry with "In the Loop". What started out as funny and inventive soon shrivels into nonsensical insults and heavy handed statements. It should have had a better brain.


Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Jaws (1975)















If there's ever been a movie that terrified more people of something so trivially simple as the water than "Jaws" did, I would like to know what it is. This movie was such a box office hit that it claimed to be the highest grossing film for a couple of years until "Star Wars" dethroned it. "Jaws" is also the film that put Steven Spielberg of the map, metaphorically. Although many people consider "Jaws" to be Spielberg's debut film incorrectly, it is the film that launched his career.
"Jaws" is based on the book by Peter Benchly which in turn is roughly based on situation that happened when a rogue shark attacked beaches in New England in 1916. The movie begins with one of the most famous death scenes in film history and the introduction to John William's iconic score for the movie. When the remains of the first victim roll up on the shore it sets the dominoes falling and we see that "Jaws" is a very interesting blend of monster horror and political greed.
Brody is the Sheriff of Amity Island, it's right before their busy season. Brody is a little nervous about the shark attack and wants to close the beach but is held up by a mayor who knows that shutting the beaches down will lose all sorts of money.
So they wait and they wait and it doesn't take long before the second attack which happens right in front of Brody's eyes. He now insists that the beaches be closed; but some fishermen claim that they have caught the shark.
Enter Hooper, a marine biologist who specializes in sharks and shark behaviors. He examines the remains of the first victim and knows that this shark is still on the loose.
Enter Quint, the crusty sea-captain and shark-hater. Brody, Quint, and Hooper set off to capture and kill the shark if they can.
"Jaws" was an infamous picture to make; over-budget, a pain to shoot, and rife with problems that included a malfunctioning shark. But everything came together to make a masterpiece of a thriller.
"Jaws" might be antiquated today but what makes the film work is how little you see of the shark. Because the robot was faulty they had to work around seeing the beast until the last possible second which really adds to the suspense that builds up. When we finally see the shark (#18 on AFI's best villain's list) it does look a little fake but it's still remarkably scary.
Everything about "Jaws" is revolutionary. Even the poster itself (pictured below) is possibly the most well known movie poster in history.
















Add on to that, the trifecta of acting with Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss; and you get yourself a very good movie.
This movie was effective enough to scare an entire generation out of swimming—what other movie did that?
"Jaws" is a staggering masterpiece that doesn't overstep its bounds which is what makes it so great.


Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Breach (2007) (PG-13)




















This review contains some SPOILERS
Ever since seeing "Shattered Glass" which I was immensely impressed with, I wanted to see everything that the director had done. As is turns out, there's only one other movie the director has yet to direct: "Breach". Before watching "Breach" I assumed that, like the debut movie, it would be better to not know anything about it. I read no reviews, looked it up on no websites, and didn't even read the back cover...I was committed. It was, then, kind of a disappointment when you know how the movie's going to end in the first ten seconds.
"Breach" tells the story of a man who turns to espionage and trades the United States's secrets to the Russians—arguably, the worst mole in American history.
Eric O'Neill is a FBI novice, someone who isn't even an agent yet—a clerk. He is assigned by far ups on the ladder to tail a man named Robert Hanssen, who supposedly is posting inappropriate material on the internet. We know from the beginning that Hanssen is the bad guy but it takes Eric the first hour of the movie to work this out.
What the movie should have done was create enough doubt that would throw us off of Hanssen; instead of screaming in our heads to Eric that he is being blind. Anyone would have done the same thing that Eric did, but since the viewer already knows the answer we assume that our lead man is stupid. Thinking poorly of the lead is never a good way to start a movie.
So Eric begins to work out who Hanssen is and we start to realize that he may be in over his head.
That's basically it...the plot is fairly flat, the movie this should have been was "Fair Game".
Ryan Philippe plays Eric and he really resembles Hayden Christensen from "Shattered Glass". He's not that great in this role but there's something intrinsically fascinating about the way he carries himself, although that wasn't enough to save his performance.
But those were all my complaints—that and the fact that I thought the screenplay needed to have a faster paced dialogue. But okay, you want to go for dramatics—I can concede that.
What I did like about the movie were the small things, the subtleties that may slip into the background. It showed me how the director and the actors were grounded in the roles. Hanssen is a religious man (more than one meaning here), he's perceptive, dangerously intelligent, and not to be trifled with. He says "screw the rules" and he does whatever he likes. He's very much into power maneuvers and he doesn't like to be stepped on. Bureaucracy, he does not like.
His counterpart is Eric who is more timid, easily flustered, and nervous. But we hear that he's cocky near the beginning of the film, yet we see none of that in Philippe. I liked his take on the character more than the description of the words.
The best way to describe the relationship between these two is in their walks. When they walk around the FBI, Hanssen is sure of himself. There's some retiling in the room and he just walks over the rough spots while Eric outskirts them. Hanssen expects people to move for him and he keeps running Eric into walls or boxes or water fountains. It's actually quite brilliant and they're just walking.
Mychael Danna, who recently won an Oscar for scoring "Life of Pi" has an incredible score here, one of the better features of the movie.
There are times when the movie soars, with a simplistic enough approach that has you aching for more.
Other times the movie sags and weighs itself down with an unbearable need for something a little more interesting.
Chris Cooper plays Hanssen and it is a role that really fits him, although I still think that his best work was done in "American Beauty".
Laura Linney rounds out the major actors and I feel that she was good but could have been better.
But you know what? Even with all the cliches and the bad times and the overly dramatic scenes—I quite enjoyed "Breach".
The things that work are the lines of dialogue that pop up again and make you realize that you judged a character the wrong way. Techniques are put into use like the repetition of one line whose meaning keeps changing every time you hear it.
"Breach" doesn't feel like a typical Hollywood movie based on a true story. It obviously takes liberties but it seems to acknowledge that fact. The viewer realizes that it's a dramatization, which is clever and effective. It makes you want to know what really happened which is, of course, classified.


Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Note: I was going to give this 3 stars; but I felt that it had enough ambition and promise to elevate it a little more.

A Night in Casablanca (1946)













Who would have known that a comedy about Nazis would have been such a fun time?
Yes, the subject matter is a little borderline for some (particularly for a 40s movie). You can definitely tell as the Marx brothers's comedy progresses over time, how the jokes gets dirtier and the slapstick becomes more offensive. Now, this isn't Louis C. K. or anything like that, but for the time it's pretty revolutionary.
"A Night in Casablanca" seems, at first, like a spoof of "Casablanca" for reasons that should be blatantly obvious like the title city. There's a hotel in Casablanca and the last three managers of the hotel have all died, presumably murdered. The film opens as we see the third manager take a drink of alcohol, grab his chest, and collapse in a heap—poisoned. There's also the line about "the usual suspects" which is taken right from "Casablanca"; but as the movie ticks by it becomes its own movie and deviates from the classic.
As far as the Marx brothers's films go, this is near the bottom. There are too many long breaks with no humor that build for more dramatic purposes which don't do anything but show off—like the musical breaks from Chico at the piano and Harpo at the harp, playing jazzed up versions of Liszt's 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody. Yes, they're cool and I see that they can play instruments but what did it do to add to the plot?
The plot itself is simple enough. The Nazis were carrying a load of gold and treasure and were forcing an American pilot to fly them over Casablanca when he purposely crashed them. After all the dust settled, both figurative and literal, the treasure was gone! The young pilot assumes that the treasure is hidden somewhere in the hotel and that the Nazis are killing off the managers to get one of their own in the managerial position so they can smuggle the loot out.
Of cours, he is dismissed and told that he's an idiot, but we know that he's right. Why do we know that he's right? Because he's the only young, martially eligible man in the movie. The rest of the cast are slick business men or Germans with mustaches and distinguishing scars.
When the staff is at a loss for a new manager, they recruit the incompetent and Kornblow (Groucho Marx) to run the hotel for them and, naturally, many gags and jokes are made from this position.
What "A Night in Casablanca" lacks that all the other Marx brothers's movie have is a furiousness with which the jokes are made. The breakneck speed at which the puns are usually delivered is slowed down and drawn out for this movie which doesn't help the flow of things. The brothers seem out of their element at first but then the movie gets on its feet.
Once the steam had built up the movie becomes exponentially easier to watch and many of the physical stunts that the team are famous for are exemplified in stellar manner such as a smoke blowing contest and sneaking around a room, hiding from the big bad guy while driving him crazy.
Harpo and Chico are, like usual, the best part of the movie. Sometimes Harpo's whistling is a little ear-piercing and the snappy comebacks and puns aren't always perfect.
But hey, it's not perfection we're looking for. So "A Night in Casablanca" isn't fine art or the most brilliantly crafted masterpiece; but it is fun and enjoyable and that's enough for me.


Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) (R)















This review contains some SPOILERS
I have long been a fan/non-fan of Charlie Kaufman. The man is either great or horrible to me, there's no luke-warm spot in this man. I'm either totally in love with the movies that his screenplays are based on, or I hate them with a passion. Take "Being John Malkovich" which I think was brilliant versus "Adaptation" which I thought was the bane of 'comedy' films. Part of me feels bad because I didn't know that "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was a Kaufman film; but once you're into the thick of things there is no denying that this film came from the mind of Charlie Kaufman.
Kaufman films, as a general rule, like to play with the idea of reality and perception.
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is one such film that you should know absolutely nothing about before you see it. I challenge you, don't watch any trailers or look it up online, but you need to go out and see this movie now.
I labeled this review with "spoiler" because I think that I might unwittingly reveal something about the movie that would ruin a person's experience.
Joel and Clementine are two people that fall in love and begin a wacky relationship that seems to embody all relationships, albeit in an exaggerated form.
Joel is the more reserved of the two, caring a little more about how he is seen and what people think of him. Clementine, on the other hand, is much more of a free spirit, dyeing her hair unnatural colors and doing what she wants to do.
These two make the most boldly original on-screen couple that I have yet to see.
But this movie isn't just a romance, the complexity is what really boggles my mind. Maybe the idea of the movie is simple enough, but the execution is stellar and brave. What I really liked about the movie was how it doesn't make any compromises. It's its own movie.
I believe about half an hour into the movie I was still asking my friend, who was showing me the movie, "What's going on? I want to understand, but I can't."
"Just wait!"
And so my energy kept spiking and I kept wondering what was going on and then....ah, the beautiful reveal. But what this movie does that so many of its counterparts don't is how it handles the reveal. The movie isn't about figuring what's going on, yes, that's a part of it; but when everything is explained it leaves that behind and builds on what knowledge is now known—typical Kaufman.
The style in which it is shot is exquisitely intimate and yet epic in the same breath.
Jim Carrey plays Joel and his co-stars have big recognition for being drama actors but he really carries this movie on his own. He restrains himself so that there are no "Carrey outbursts" although I kept waiting for them. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" has its wacky moment but they are all believable and well-constructed.
Kate Winslet plays the enigmatic Clementine with the nature of a real woman—she doesn't fall into any cliches with the role.
I cannot say enough about how this movie really, really surprised me and how much I love it.
Near the middle of the movie I turned to my friend and said, "This is brilliant!" Not many movies can blow you away like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" did to me.
It definitely goes on my list of best movies ever made because it certainly is one.


Score: 4 out of 4 stars

The Jungle Book (1967)















"The Jungle Book" was a staple of my childhood viewing material. I probably have seen this Disney movie more than any other one, with the possible exception of "Beauty and the Beast". While I really liked the fairy tale aspects of "Beauty and the Beast" (an a side note, "Beauty" was the first animated movie that became nominated for Best Picture—it lost to "The Silence of the Lambs"), "The Jungle Book" was always my favorite. Who doesn't like the bluesy, ska style music that punctuates by George Bruns score? It's probably no fun to grow up in a real jungle with spiders that can kill and snakes that will poison; but based on (the much darker) Rudyard Kipling book, "The Jungle Book" can make the lush, livid world of the jungle fun and enjoyable.
"The Jungle Book" is based in the jungles of India where Bagheera the panther finds a 'man cub' deserted. He brings the boy to a wolf family and they raise him, but Bagheera knows that eventually the man cub will have to return to the village where men live to live the rest of his life with his own kind.
The movie appears to be metaphorical for taking responsibility, but unlike so many current kid's movies, it doesn't beat you over the head with this. Mowgli, the man cub, would rather loaf around and goof off with Baloo, the bear and wants to stay in the jungle.
There's another reason why Mowgli needs to return to the village, Shere Khan the tiger has a vendetta against humans and will kill the child if he ever hears about him.
So Bagheera volunteers to take Mowgli to the village and they have many adventures along the way that include meeting the hypnotically snake, Kaa, and the man cub being kidnaped by monkeys and taken to their king, King Louie the orangutan.
The voice acting in this movie is sensational. From regular Disney collaborator, Phil Harris as Baloo to the British voices of Sebastian Cabot as Bagheera and the magnificent voice of George Sanders as Shere Khan, this movie always brings like to the characters with the perfect voice.
I loved the movie as a child but when I watched it recently I noticed a few things that I really appreciated:
Since it is sent in India, I liked the fact that most of the names of the characters aren't American-ized. The names are exotic but not too difficult to pronounce for children.
The voices go on to include Sterling Holloway (more known as Winnie the Pooh) as Kaa and Louis Prima as King Louie.
The musical numbers are fun, the more notable ones are "The Bare Necessities" and "I Wanna Be Like You".
Another thing that I didn't notice about the movie when I was younger, was the villain itself. Shere Khan doesn't enter the picture until over half of the movie is done and after that he doesn't have that many scenes. But Shere Khan is one of the better Disney villains because of those few scenes. He shares company with Scar from "The Lion King" (the similarities between Shere Khan and Scar are remarkable) and the Queen from "Snow White".
The animation itself isn't seamless and represents some of the more non-perfected Disney works like "The AristoCats" and "The Rescuers" although the story of two mice helping a little girl is on my list of the best Disney films.
I have some criteria for kid's movies. Some people say that they shouldn't be held to such high standards because they were designed for kids but I disagree. There have been magnificent movies made for kids such as "Babe", "Up", "How to Train Your Dragon" and "The Lion King" and virtually anything that Pixar does. A kid's movie needs to entertain the child and the adult. As a child I was entertained by "The Jungle Book" and I enjoyed it when I grew up, too.



Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Frost/Nixon (2008) (R)













Ron Howard's bio/drama is a work that begins enigmatically and boils into a ferocious climax that can actually be described as thrilling. This director knows how to make a movie and "A Beautiful Mind" proved that to everyone. Now, keeping with a biographical theme, Ron Howard and the screenwriter Peter Morgan take on one of the biggest controversies in American History, simplified to one name: Richard M. Nixon.
The movie begins as Richard Nixon, not wanting to, resigns the presidency of the United States on the tail of the Watergate affair.
He is quickly launched into infamy and for three years after that, sits silent in his house and says nothing about the incident.
Enter David Frost, an English television show host who specializing in more humorous antics as opposed to real hard investigative journalism. But David sees the coverage of Nixon's resignation and decides that he wants to interview the man and get him to confess to covering up Watergate—not exactly the easiest thing in the world to accomplish when you're talking about one of the smartest and most cunning men in the country.
David assembles a team of helpers that include producers, authors, and journalists whose previous works seem tailored to this case.
But then, there's the issue of the man himself.
How do you convince a man to agree to a televised interview when both of you know that all you want is a confessions to a cover-up?
Near the beginning of the film, "Frost/Nixon" is shot like a documentary. It's as if, the fact has already happened and we are looking at archive footage of the real events. The actors portray their characters and give little snippet interviews that are intermingled with the dramatization of the story.
Michael Sheen plays David Frost and it is great role for him. I haven't seen anything that I haven't liked him in; and yes, that includes "Tron: Legacy".
The film is played out with a dichotomy between two vastly different big personalities.
David is showy but determined and Nixon is cunning and intelligent.
Sheen and the other actors which include Toby Jones, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen, and one of my favorites Sam Rockwell do a great job; but the show is completely stolen by a fascinating Frank Langella as Nixon. The mannerisms and speech of the president are captured by Langella, but it's not a strict mimicry. The actor adds his own spin to the much covered commander-in-chief.
By the end of the movie you are completely enthralled with the story and the execution of it and it becomes a very thrilling and moving picture. Ron Howard adds onto his already high credibility and establishes that he should never be doubted as a film maker.


Score: 4 out of 4 stars

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)















If you hadn't figured it out by the title, "The Life of Emile Zola" chronicles the life of French controversial and political writer, Emile Zola. Growing up and barely surviving on the streets of Paris, Emile writes about the hypocrisies of the government.
When Emile is in his twenties or so, he gets a job as clerk for a book store/publishing company. When the censors let his boss know that his works are displeasing to the government because of their critical eye, Emile gets fired.
Throughout the course of the next several months he meets a woman who is fleeing the police and learns her story and then publishes Nana, which goes on and makes a huge success.
Now with a blank check, Emile writes several more books and becomes a very prolific writer; but he's forgotten something—the reason why he originally began writing, to expose the hypocrisies of the time.
Another story starts taking place, one involving the government and the army. There is a traitor among the army, someone is leaking classified information. Instead of doing a thorough check, those in power immediately blame a certain Mr. Dreyfus of the crime. He is sentenced to a life of imprisonment and then exiled to an island to live out the rest of his days. Even though Dreyfus proclaims his innocence many times, the people just don't hear his cry.
Dreyfus's wife comes to Emile and pleads with him and convinces him to write about this case and prove her husband's innocence.
Emile knows that this will land him in court against the most powerful figures of the time, but he does it anyway—it's a matter of principle.
The court room setting is very hostile towards Emile and often cries of "Down with Zola" are heard ringing throughout the trial. But Emile wants to stick with his guns and he does; but it might not turn out the way you expected it to.
"The Life of Emile Zola" is the precursor to works like "To Kill a Mockingbird" and even "A Few Good Men". Paul Muni is strangely charismatic and likable as Emile though sometimes he becomes a little melodramatic.
The court room scenes are the best of the movie, but it takes a while to get to them and they aren't long enough.
This time piece has a few flaws, the French nation is all played by British actors. The accents are misleading, essentially everyone in this film is British trying to be French.
There's also a matter of everyone looking exactly alike. Take twelve men who are critical to the plot and make them the same height and the same build and give them all mustaches and a law will come into play—men with mustaches all look alike.
The upper lip growth is spared upon no man in this picture—glorious, handlebar, luscious mustaches with curls in them and waxed tips...I think I've seen enough mustache for the rest of my life.
While "The Life of Emile Zola" is a remarkable attempt at greatness it falls short of the mark but that doesn't stop it from being a undoubtably solid classic.


Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Paris, je t'aime (2006) (R)















"Paris, je t'aime" is a festival of film. To begin with, it's not exactly a movie as in one singular plot with subplots; instead, it's a collage or mosaic or short films (each one done with a different director) that paints a picture of what Paris is like.
The title itself, translated means "Paris, I love you" and in each story, it's applicable.
It's a little hard to get into because of how the films come together. The movie opens with one man driving around Paris, trying to find a parking spot. When he finally finds one he relaxes and watches the people walk by until one woman walks by and passes out from low blood sugar. Quickly, he helps the woman into his car and when she wakes up she falls in love with him. Yes, it's quick but somehow you buy this romance. It's the mystique or Paris that is the allure of the film.
We cannot escape the city where each of the short films is shot. It's always there, behind the screen, another player to the film and it plays its part well because all of the films are enjoyable and entertaining.
They range from drama to vampire comedy/romance. An array of actors, some that I recognized and some that I didn't, all tell separate stories about Paris.
The movie is a tour of the city and now I feel like visiting.
Some performances stand out like Juliette Binoche as a woman who has lost her son and Maggie Gyllenhaal (who I didn't know spoke French) as a drug addicted actress who falls in love with a dealer.
Yes, the movies vary and some are bizarre like the tale of a man who falls in love with a very fit hair dresser/kung-fu artist. They can also be very tame like the story of two people who are getting a divorce and have amazing dialogue in a cafeteria.
There's also a blind man who helps an actress.
Nearly each and every film has something to do with love, but each one handles it in a different way.
There are approximately twenty directors for this movie and I found that there was only one of the short films that I disliked altogether, the one done by the Coen brothers. They are sort or hit and miss for me and I feel like they failed to capture the essence of Paris as well as any of the other directors and films. Plus, their film is just a little freaky.
I think that "Paris, je t'aime" is not a film for everyone, though I really enjoyed it.
There are moments that I found funny and bizarre like Elijah Wood in a cartoon-ish vampire story; but it was entertaining and well-done.
The ending is really great and the individual aspects of the short films combine to create a bigger picture. Paris is sugary sweet, there is some heartache and loss but by the end you realize that Paris is not like any other city. All cities are different like all people are different, but Paris has the label of being Paris and that's what makes it iconic. Don't believe me? Watch the film and see if you agree.
"Paris, je t'aime" was a breath of fresh air and the more I think about it the more I really like it.
It stays with you.


Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Rabbit Hole (2010) (PG-13)
















"Rabbit Hole" tells the story that so many other movies have tried to tell—how one family copes with the loss of a child. The films that cover this topic range from the ethereal "The Lovely Bones" to crime dramas "Mystic River" and everywhere in between. It's a very common drama setting though I don't think it's ever felt as sincere as it felt to me in "Rabbit Hole".
Becca and Howie are the couple whose four year old son was hit by a car eight months ago. I like that the movie opens with the incident in the past. You don't have the long weepy scenes by a graveyard or the shouting at the sky demanding to know why—WHY?—why was my son taken? Although I'll be the first to admit that I tear up even at the hint of those scenes, "Rabbit Hole" handled itself very well because of when it started.
Becca and Howie have come to grips with the fact that their son is gone and he's never coming back—not exactly the easiest thing to do when it's your flesh and blood you're categorizing.
They seek ways of comfort and solace, or more appropriately Howie seeks these things. Becca is completely content letting her grief work itself out in "natural" ways, whatever those may be.
At a grief meeting for parents who have lost their children Becca snaps at a weeping couple because she feels that empathizing with other people is useless. Maybe she feels that no one quite knows how she's feeling or maybe she is slowly slipping into apathy.
Her husband is ready to move on and yet when the time comes and Becca starts to get rid of their child's possessions he becomes irritable and hostile towards her.
"Rabbit Hole" isn't a pretty painting, and yet there is a beauty to its storytelling method.
It has been said that no subject should be left untouched in art and "Rabbit Hole" is the best film about loss of loved ones that I have yet to see. That being said, it's not perfect. There are some moments that feel forced and trite but we have yet to distance ourselves (in this generation, anyways) from the need for sentimentality.
How long can it take before the wound is healed? Will it be years or will it be there forever?
As the sun sets each subsequent day and the life around Becca and Howie goes on...there's nothing. Words cannot properly describe the feelings that they have and no words should because no one should have to go through that tragedy.
Nicole Kidman plays Becca and Aaron Eckhart plays Howie and for both of them, it's an outstanding performance. Kidman is the better of the pair but Eckhart doesn't fade into the background.
One particular scene that stood out to me was Becca getting dressed and heading out to the company she used to work for. She gets into her best dress suit and applies lipstick, does her hair, and heads out the door with a newfound confidence. As soon as she's at the company she finds that no one she knew works there any more. Why was she going there? Did she want her job back? We are never really told; but when she finds that she knows no one there, her confidence wilts and she retreats into herself. Nicole Kidman gives a stunning performance.
The script could have been better, some scenes just don't work like Becca randomly slapping a lady in the store...yeah, I'd rather forget about that.
All-in-all it makes a really, really good effort. It was good but wasn't natural enough to be great.


Score:  3 out of 4 stars

Star Trek (2009) (PG-13)













J. J. Abrams can seemingly do no wrong. This young director has been selected to direct the new "Star Wars" movie after rebooting the "Star Trek" franchise in such a stylish way. After hearing the news of the up and coming Star Wars sequel I was skeptical at who was going to be the guider of such a project and then when Abrams name was released I was pacified. If there's anyone that can do it, it's him. This is proven because of his success in the sci-fi realm that culminated with "Star Trek".
This Trekkie's dream movie is somewhat of a prequel to the original series. The film open to a federation ship being bombarded by Romulans. The enemy has far superior weapons and they quickly destroy the ship and only handful of the crew survive, including Kirk's mom and himself, being just newly born. We are introduced to our villain within the first ten minutes—a revenge filled Romulan named Nero (not really breaking the creativity banks with this name) from the future. He's here to destroy Spock for reasons which are not told until much later in the film.
But then, the bad guy goes away for a while and we are told the story of how James Kirk grows up. He gets into all sorts of mischief, stealing his step-dad's car and driving it off a cliff when he's younger and when he's older, getting into bar fights and harassing women. He's the typical 1950s man...but he's stuck in some far off time.
He enlists in Star Fleet because he has nothing else to do and quickly brings all his mischief to the academy.
Then we are given Spock's backstory. This half-human/half-Vulcan boy was picked on in school because of his Earth mother. He too, applies to Star Fleet as a metaphorical thumbing of the nose to the Vulcans who put him down for being only half blood.
Spock quickly ascends the ladder of success while Kirk is more interested in having a good time with his classmates. The two paths soon cross and that leads to interesting jabs and remarks that give way into a hate relationship.
Chris Pine plays the young Kirk and even though he's not exactly like William Shatner, it's a pretty good fit for him. There are times when he doesn't quite convince us of everything he should be feeling, but this isn't an actor's movie.
Zachary Quinto plays Spock and although he was really good in the television series "American Horror Story" he's in top form here. The Vulcan/human emotions that fight inside him are clearly seen in his eyes and nowhere else. It's hard to be emotionally unemotional.
Karl Urban plays Bones and like Pine, he's good but not great.
Zoe Saldana plays Uhura...enough said.
More enjoyable are the secondary characters like John Cho as Sulu and Anton Yelchin as Chekov and the hilarious Simon Pegg as Scotty.
The cinematography leaps here and there and includes some really interesting angles and Michael Giacchino's score is good as always.
"Star Trek" is a remarkably solid movie. It's not perfect and doesn't always explain the time loops and jumps that its characters endure. Under scrutiny, it might fall apart.
Although Eric Bana can be imposing he's really not that frightening as Nero to do the picture any good. He needed to have more Health Ledger in his act to pull it off and he didn't.
The new "Star Trek" movie looks intensely amazing and it has Benedict Cumberbatch in it, which is reason enough to see any movie. Although "Star Trek" was good it could be that its sequel gets everything right...we shall see.
There are times when the script uses old cliches that have been in films forever but there's also a freshness to the film. The "Star Trek" franchise got some Botox and a nose job with this film, it's brighter, younger, and visually stunning.
Thoroughly enjoyable and deafeningly state-of-the-art.


Score: 3 and half stars out of 4

Mommie Dearest (1981) (R)















Frank Perry's movie "Mommie Dearest" attempts to retell the life of the neurotic and psychotic Joan Crawford, the Oscar winning actress and scum of the earth.
If the movie was trying to do anything but make us hate Joan Crawford then it failed miserably and should be burned at the stake. If hatred was intended, then congratulations...now let's burn it at the stake.
Faye Dunaway plays the actress and is incredibly imposing as the glamorous star. She lives her life in opulence, for instance her shower has three shower heads instead of the conventional solitary one. Near the peak of her career, she decides (for whatever reason) that she wants a baby. Unable to conceive and deliver one of her own she applies for adoption and promptly gets rejected. A single mother with two divorces, they are not likely to give a baby to the busy woman. But her lover is a lawyer and he's able to manipulate the legal system in order to procure her a progeny.
So how does motherhood agree with Joan?
Well, she's pretty far down on the maternal greatness scale. This obsessed woman (on a side note, we are never told what makes her so crazy) abuses her daughter and her son (yeah, for some reason they gave her another baby) in cruel ways which I will now catalogue for you in order to convince you to watch something else.
When her daughter, Christina, doesn't want to eat rare steak, Joan makes her sit at the table for hours and then keeps the rotting meal around for another day and starves her daughter until the meal is eaten which it never is. Then she finds a wire hanger in her daughter's closet and freakin' looses it! She rips Christina from the bed during the night and beats the crap out of her with the hanger while screaming an incoherent stream of crying and cursing....thanks, mom, now I have to have therapy for the rest of my life. After the beating is done she waddles into the bathroom and "sees some spots on the tile". Livid, she returns to Christina and demands to know if she scrubbed her bathroom that morning. The girl answers yes and the bathroom is immaculate—yet again, Joan looses it. She scatters the contents of a soap box all over the room simultaneously beating Christina with the box and then walks out of the room. This scene doesn't get any better because of the night cream smeared all over her face—it makes her looks like a female version of the Joker from "The Dark Knight".
And that's not even the worst of it! Oh no...
When Christina kisses a boy at school Joan brings her home and (while a reporter is in the house) attacks her and tries to choke her to death! Yeah...great parenting there.
I don't understand the point of this movie, it doesn't make any sense.
Actually, the beatings and the abuse were the most watchable parts of the movie [don't judge me for saying that]. After Christina grows up, she becomes the most mellow person imaginable. Diana Scarwid as Christina Crawford is unequivocally dull and dry and her character doesn't make sense.
After the strangulation she still loves her mom and has some really bizarre form of "mommie issues". I felt like the screenplay has five sections missing because we time jump around and don't have enough emotional buildup for any of the intense scenes to work.
It seems that the point of the movie is that children need to have a father or else mom is going to go crazy and beat you to a bloody pulp. Joan and her lover talk about children in the beginning of the movie and he mentions that children need a father. This is what I think the movie is subtly trying to convey. It becomes less and less about Miss Crawford (I don't really believe the movie because of the over-the-topd performances) and more about parenting. And what a parenting nightmare this is!
Although Faye Dunaway is great as a freakin' crazy lady, it's the movie that really bombs. If this had been a horror movie, it might have worked.
Oh, this movie also has quite a stupid ending.
It's really not enjoyable in any fashion. If it was half the running time it could have been twice as good.



Score: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Shattered Glass (2003) (PG-13)













It's usually random coincidence that I have in finding a movie. Usually, I'm surfing the web and come across one article or video clip that mentions how good or bad a certain movie is. Then there's the occasion of recommendations or references and some of those have been fun. But I can't put a finger on when or where I first heard about "Shattered Glass". It wasn't a movie that was at the top of my list but I got a hold of it and decided...you know what, why not? I wasn't expecting greatness when I began, seeing as Hayden Christensen was the lead man and I wasn't that impressed with him in the only other thing (like many others) I had seen him in which was "Star Wars".  For that fact alone, I was willing to condemn the movie as a B-list movie with entertainment purposes but nothing else...and boy, did I get it wrong.
The movie surrounds a young reporter named Stephen Glass.
Stephen is a very successful budding journalist. He's in the top of his game, writing for The New Republic, which was regarded as one of the more premier and well-respected magazines in the United States.
His stories ranged from political to transparent puff pieces and back again but he always wrote with a veracity and a determination that was unparalleled.
I don't wish to reveal any plot details so I'll just talk about the movie itself. It's better to go into the picture blindly, you'll have a better time.
The first comparison that leaps to your mind when watching "Shattered Glass" is with "All the President's Men" since both take place in a newspaper/journalistic setting.
There are a few dynamics to the office, mainly the relationship between writer and editor.
As a protagonist, Stephen seems odd and arrogant. He's sexuality is brought up at the beginning of the picture and then never resolved and it adds to the mystique surrounding this character. At first, Christensen can seem pretentious and I was mentally substituting other actors that I thought could do the job better—Ryan Phillippe, (maybe) Alex Pettyfer, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The role demands someone who's good looking and cocky and I thought that Christensen wasn't the right fit at first. He seems fake but the way he talks and how he carries himself is somewhat intriguing.
Now done with the film, I'm convinced that no one could have done this role better than Christensen.
Actually, all the acting in "Shattered Glass" was surprisingly good. The most notable are roles played by Steve Zahn, Hank Azaria, and the wonderful Peter Sarsgaard.
Keep in mind that this movie is based on a true story and I find myself researching the real Stephen Glass out of fascination which is an incredibly good thing for an audience member to do.
From the restraint of the director to the performances that stun to the cinematography that is complicatedly simple, "Shattered Glass" really packed quite a punch.
The ending is sensational. It ties everything up with a nice big bow and doesn't leave you wanting more or less. I wouldn't change anything with this movie, I feel that it answered all my questions in the right time with the right method.
It's evocative parts come from Sarsgaard's character asking the true question that lingers on the viewer's mind: what is journalism?
I was shocked by how much I liked this movie and how good it really was. It starts off and builds momentum and that increase in motion never ceases. It carries until the credits role up.
There are so many facets of the film to praise, from the script to the director to the music—they all deliver.
I like finding movies like this, the ones that no one really heard of and maybe received some slight critical attention but mostly escaped the public eye. The can be good like "The Lovely Bones" or great like "The Beaver" but mostly I just enjoy this weird side genre of movies: the films that got left behind. If no one else will pick them up and cuddle them and love them, don't worry, I will.



Score: 4 out of 4 stars