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Quantum of Solace (2008)
Great action thriller, lousy Bond movie
Sounds contradictory, I know, but Quantum of Solace is exactly that.
Bond is back and out for revenge. The first Bond movie to be more of a continuation than a sequel, Quantum starts with Bond trying to deliver Mr. White (shot in the last scene of Casino Royale) to M. Of course, he is being chased by men with machine guns. During the interrogation, Mr. White tells M, "The first thing you should know about us is... we have people everywhere." And he means everywhere, including MI-6.
The movie is non-stop action. There's very little drama, and almost no humor. Come to think of it, there's a lot missing from Quantum no vodka martini, no Q, no gun-barrel sequence, and Bond only got one kiss. And somehow, three writers couldn't figure out a way to include the line, "Bond, James Bond."
Yes, this was a great action movie, but it just wasn't a Bond movie.
Reign Over Me (2007)
Moving on after tragedy
The first and so far only fictional movie about 9/11, "Reign Over Me" is about a man who lost his entire family in the WTC attacks.
Dr. Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), a successful dentist, runs into his old friend Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler), whom he hasn't seen in years. Although they were roommates in college and went to dental school together, Charlie doesn't recognize Alan. Charlie lost his entire family in a plane crash, and has become dissociative, shutting out the world and bottling up his feelings. His spends his days riding around Manhattan on his motor scooter, perpetually remodeling his kitchen, and drinking root beer. He spends his nights playing drums in a punk band and seeing Mel Brooks movie marathons.
Meanwhile, Alan's marriage to Jeneane (Jada Pickett Smith) is on the rocks. Although they still love each other, they can't seem to communicate with other. He tells his problems to Angela Oakhurst (Liv Tyler), a psychiatrist who works in his building, always starting with, "I have this friend..."
The references to 9/11 are subtle, and scattered throughout the movie, but it becomes obcious how Charlie's family perished. As Alan and Charlie rekindle their friendship, we learn that Charlie didn't lose his family in just any plane crash. They were on an early-morning flight from Boston to Los Angeles on a sunny Tuesday in September. As they begin to open up to each other, we see Charlie letting down his guard a bit. But he still can't seem to act appropriately.
Music plays an important roll in "Reign Over Me." Charlie shuts the world out by listening to Bruce Springsteen and the Who on his iPod. In one especially emotional scene, Charlie shuts out a trial by screaming the words to the title song.
The movie was shot almost completely at ground level, with few if any overhead shots, which gave me the feeling that I was in the film with the characters. Rounding out the superb cast is Donald Sutherland as the Judge, Saffron Burrows as Alan's patient who wants to give him oral sex, and Melinda Dillon and Robert Klein as Charlie's in-laws.
Sandler and Cheadle are both terrific in their roles, both of which were deep, complex characters. "Reign Over Me" is a powerful film about friendship, moving on, and communication.
I Am Legend (2007)
Will Smith carries the movie
In 2009, Dr. Krippen finds a cure for cancer by mutating a measles virus. Unfortunately, the virus, mutated to attack only cancerous cells, gains a life of its own. It spreads rapidly around the globe, and within three years, 90% of human life is wiped out.
Will Smith plays Robert Neville, a military scientist who is one of 12 million people who were naturally immune to KV. Dr. Neville is the sole survivor in the City of New York. So far as he knows, he and his dog Sam are all that is left of civilization. But he is not alone. The rest of the survivors became zombies, feeding off the healthy survivors.
To ease his loneliness, he sets up a few mannequins across the city so that he has someone to greet as he makes his daily rounds (like Tom Hanks and Wilson in "Cast Away"). He also turned his basement into a lab in which he experiments with rats, trying to find a cure for the virus.
One of the unique aspects of "I Am Legend," compared to other post-apocalypse movies, is the zombies had personalities. The Alpha Male is not only strong and tough, he is also very smart, able to set a trap for Neville and rally hundreds of zombies to fight with him. He was also smart enough to search all parts of Neville's townhouse.
The movie is not without its flaws, but it is much better than the Omega Man. There are some really good scares, and Will Smith was terrific in the lead.
Das Leben der Anderen (2006)
A look into fascism
It is rare to see a movie about how a police state immerses itself into the lives of its citizens, recording every detail of their existence. Many such films show a hero who takes on the establishment, or an villainous officer who moves up in the ranks by destroying people. But "The Lives of Others" tells a very human story from the viewpoint of a Staci officer.
Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) is an East German playwright who is surprisingly loyal to the state. Yet his loyalty arouses the suspicion of two Stasi officers, and they accuse him of conspiracy and subversion. So the Stasi assigns Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) to spy on Dreyman and his actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). The Stasi bugged the apartments and tapped the phone lines of the couple and their friends, and tried to turn one of their friends against them. Wiesler preceded to listen to every conversation they had over the course of five months. Complicating matters is Cultural Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme), who wants to have Georg arrested so he can have Christa to himself.
But as he listens to the intricate details of the couple's life together, Weisler grows to envy, respect, even like Georg and Christa. His character evolves from a cold robotic bureaucrat to emotional human. Mühe's performance as the Stasi captain is nothing short of brilliant. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, in his directorial debut, overlooks no detail as he puts his audience in 1984 GDR.
Far from nostalgic, "The Lives of Others" examines the power of the Stasi and its impact on the people of the GDR.
Arlington Road (1999)
Is your neighbor a terrorist?
"Arlington Road" is one of the scariest thrillers you'll ever see. There are no monsters, no masked chainsaw killers, no man-eating aliens, no children crawling out of TV sets. Just two men: a college professor and his neighbor whom he thinks is a terrorist.
Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) is a college professor who has devoted his career to studying terrorism. He is a widower; his wife was an FBI agent killed in the line of duty. One evening, he sees a boy staggering in the middle of the street with blood pouring from his arm. He rushes the kid to the hospital, and a few hours later meet the boy's parents, Cheryl and Oliver Lang (Joan Cusack and Tim Robbins).
Michael becomes friends with the family across the street, but soon he begins to suspect something's not right. As he begins to dig into Oliver's mysterious past for information, his suspicions grow into paranoia. But just because he's paranoid doesn't mean that the Langs aren't terrorists.
What is most frightening about "Arlington Road" is its sense of realism. The Langs truly believe they are at war with the Federal Government, and they believe that Michael should be as well. And if you think it can't happen, well, six years ago, I thought that no one could ever fly civilian aircraft into office towers.
Rating note: "Arlington Road"'s R rating is appropriate, but it is just about the mildest R I've ever seen.
Man of the Year (2006)
Stick to comedy
"Man of the Year" is about Letterman-Leno-style comic Tom Dobbs who, on a whim, decides to run for president. So with two months to go until election day, he enters the race as an independent. At first he takes it seriously, talking to audiences about money, education, special interest, and other important issues. Then his manager (Christopher Walken) told him the people expected him to be funny--that's how he got ratings, that's how he'll get votes. So during the debate, he transforms into Robin Williams, turning the election on its ear. His honesty and irreverence captivated the audience... and aggravated the moderator and other candidates. He wins the election.
Or did he? An employee at the company which made the computerized voting machines noticed a glitch in the programming. She talks to the company's executives with it, but they'd rather bury the problem than take a chance hurting the company's reputation. So when she talks about going public, the company begins a smear campaign to silence and/or discredit her.
What could have been a very funny satire about the American two-party electoral system and corporate greed instead it turns into a second rate thriller. It just killed the movie.
The Departed (2006)
"Cops and criminals... What's the difference?" I'm not sure Martin Scorcese knows the difference. I can't believe this trash won anything. It is racist, anti-gay, disgustingly violent, and ridiculously vulgar. But the worst offense: It wasn't even a good movie. I hated just about every single character. Apparently if your movie has enough blood and gore, plenty of bigotry, and has a few hundred different uses of the word "fuck," and still manages to avoid an NC17, you too can win best director and screenplay.
Since Scorcese and Monahan can't tell the difference between cops and criminals, when they need one, I hope they get the other. And since they think firefighters are just a bunch of homos, I hope they're victims of the next terror attack.
That, dear reader, is justice.
Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)
What journalism used to be
In 1954, television was still a new invention. Few Americans owned one, and those who did had only three or four channels to choose from. It was the time of the Red Scare, of Joe McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee, of Edward R. Murrow.
"Good Night, and Good Luck" is not your typical biopic or docudrama. It does not delve into Murrow's childhood or marriage. Murrow (David Strathairn) and his news producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney) learn an obscure story of an Air Force Lieutenant who is discharged because his father might have been a Communist. With his commander ("24"'s Glenn Morshower) unwilling or unable to explain his dismissal (one of the contents of a top secret envelope), Murrow and his team take on the ring leader of the Pinko witch hunt, Sen. McCarthy. (And if you don't think it can happen now, visit a university campus or listen to talk radio, and take note of the venom spewed by so-called "experts" who think they have a monopoly on truth.)
Standing in the way is CBS news manager William Paley (Frank Langella), who has to balance his journalists' integrity and freedom with the desires of his sponsor Alcoa. Murrow convinces Paley to let him run his critique of the Senator, mostly by washing his (Paley's) hands of Murrow if it blows up. So on March 9, 1954, Murrow's show "See It Now" used McCarthy's own speeches to show inconsistencies between his words and actions.
A month later, McCarthy appeared on "See It Now," accusing Murrow of being affiliated with the Communist Party. Of course, he had no proof. "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty," Murrow says. Viewers responded overwhelmingly against McCarthy. After that, politicians of all stripes openly criticized McCarthy, and McCarthy's career spiraled downward.
Filled with jazz and cigarette smoke and filmed in black & white, "Good Night and Good Luck" brings the viewer back to 1954. Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr., and Ray Wise round out the supporting cast with terrific credibility. At only 93 minutes, the movie--which has no sex, no violence, and only one blasphemous swear word--is anything but boring, letting the drama of the time dictate the action.
"Good Night and Good Luck" is less a movie about McCarthyism than it is about courage and journalistic integrity. All journalists, especially those who tripped over themselves to cover OJ Simpson's trial and Anna Nicole Smith's death, and columnists who close their minds to the opinions of others, need to see this movie so they could learn what journalism really is.
V for Vendetta (2005)
Does fascism justify terrorism?
In the near future, after the United States collapses and England is plagued by a biological terror attack, a Christian fundamentalist (John Hurt) is elected chancellor, and immediately enforces Nazi-esquire restrictions and curfews. He creates a propaganda ministry which controls all media, and a secret police called the fingermen.
Evey (Natalie Portman) is an aspiring actress who works as an assistant at the state-run TV station. One night, she is accosted by three fingermen. Out of the shadows comes a mysterious man (Hugo Weaving) wearing a cape and a Guy Fawkes mask, and referring to himself only as V. He is trained in hand-to-hand fighting and speaks poetically and articulately.
The following morning, he attacks the TV station where Evey works. He forces them to play a DVD, in which he explains his admiration for Guy Fawkes, his grievances with the government, and his intention to do what Fawkes failed to accomplish 400 years ago: blow up Parliament. Feeling obligated to help the vigilante who saved her, she helps him escape when the police surround him.
As Evey and V become friends, we learn that her entire family fell victim to the government, as did V. He is not just fighting for the freedom of England, but for his own personal vendetta against those who made him the monster he knows he is.
Stephen Rea is well cast in support as Inspector Finch, assigned to find V and bring him to justice. Hugo Weaving creates a sympathetic vigilante, despite the fact that we never see his face. Natalie Portman is perfect as Evey, the character she famously shaved her head to play.
Many of the themes have been examined before, most obviously in George Orwell's masterpiece "1984," but also in the second "Star Wars" trilogy, in which politician uses a crisis to force himself into the position of a supreme leader. What is new is the dilemma of who is a freedom fighter and who is a terrorist.
"V for Vendetta" is intelligent and disturbing. The imagery is beautifully artistic, the characters complex and sympathetic, and the future frighteningly Orwellian. The final battle between V and the police is gratuitously violent and unrealistic, but it makes a point: Ideas cannot die and one man can make a difference.
Casino Royale (2006)
A new age, a new Bond
Daniel Craig may be blond, but he is the Bond that Ian Fleming wrote for. He is cold, tough, egotistical, and brutal. From the opening sequence, filmed in black-and-white, shows Bond's first two kills: drowning one after a fistfight in the men's room, shooting the other after emptying his pistol. He does so without mercy, emotion, and smart-ass one-liners.
Craig is the Bond who disregards M's direct orders, breaks into her home, and steals her MI6 passcodes. He shoots up an African embassy to capture a single bomb-maker. He turns down certain sex with a gorgeous Italian model for work. He uses his fists, his gun, and his wits to beat his enemies. No Bond-like gadgets and toys, as Q doesn't even appear, a first since "Dr. No." Even the opening credits show a tougher Bond. Gone are the tasteful silhouettes of nude women, replaced with an image of Bond punching and shooting animated baddies, who bleed clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades.
"Casino Royale" terrific Bond movie - perhaps not the best one, bit easily the best since "Live and Let Die" (1973), and Daniel Craig instantly replaces Pierce Brosnan as the #2 Bond.
Not at all ordinary
"Heroes" is similar to Marvel's "X-Men," in that its characters discover they have different powers. But where "X-Men" is driven more by action and plot, "Heroes" is more character-driven.
The show focuses on an ensemble of eight characters, each of whom have a different power. Claire Bennett is a high school cheerleader with the power of spontaneous regeneration, DL Hawkins has the power to phase through matter, Isaac Mendez is a brilliant artist who can paint the future, Hiro Nakamura is the office worker who can bend and travel through space-time, LAPD Officer Matt Parkman has the power of telepathy, Nathan Petrelli is the ambitious politician who can fly, his brother Peter is an in-home nurse with the ability to absorb others' powers when he is near them, and Niki Sanders has super strength.
But what separates "Heores" from most shows and movies is that each of our heroes are uniquely flawed. Claire, like most high school seniors, frequently forgets who her real friends are. DL is running from the law. Isaac is addicted to heroin, and can only see the future when he is high. The wonderfully geeky Hiro used his power for personal gain. Matt is dyslexic and has marital problems. Nathan cares more about his career than his family, particularly Peter, who suffers from depression. And Niki, a single mom and internet stripper, has a brutally violent alter-ego.
Parents be warned: "Heroes" deals with some very mature subject matter, including rape, infidelity, drug addiction, and mental illness, and the show is rather graphic. But it is smartly written and very well acted, with deep characters you'll actually care about.
On the Waterfront (1954)
A true American classic
Meet Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando): ex-boxer, longshoreman, and witness to a murder. His local union is ruled with an iron fist by Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). He baited one of his fellow dock workers up to the roof of his building, where he was thrown to his death. He has no conscience, no morals, no guilt. He survives by doing what he is told to do and keeping his mouth shut.
But he falls for the deceased's sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint), who transforms him into a human being capable of doing the right thing. She is the strongest character in the film, the first to be willing to take on the mobbed-up union boss. She turns to Father Barry (Karl Malden), who holds a meeting to try to encourage anyone with any knowledge of the crime to say something. Frequently referring to Christ, he asked, What would Jesus do? fifty years before it en vogue.
The most memorable scene is, of course, the scene in the cab with Terry and his brother--and Johnny's right hand--Charley "the Gent" (Rod Steiger). Terry, talking about his shattered dream of boxing, laments, "I coulda been a contender... instead of a bum." It is a line that is still quoted over 50 years later.
Despite the terrific supporting performances (Cobb, Malden, and Steiger were all nominated for Oscars), Brando still had to carry the movie, and he did perfectly.
Winner: Best picture, director (Elia Kazan), actor (Brando), supporting actress (Saint), screenplay, score.
The Path to 9/11 (2006)
Not bad for a made-for-TV movie
I'll be honest. I didn't know this movie was made until all the talking heads started complaining about it, or defending it, whichever the case may be. So I decided to watch it. Not bad. Not bad at all.
In case you've been actively trying to avoid the hype as I had, "Path to 9/11" uses various sources, including the official 9/11 Commission Report, to portray the events leading up to the 9/11 attacks. The movie delves into the bureaucratic pissing contest that took place among many government agencies.
As a thriller, it was good. Harvey Keitel played special agent Jonh O'Neill, who followed the growth of terrorism for over eight years. Newcomer Prasanna Puwanarajah played our inside man, Ishtiak, a smart but nervous Islamic snitch who gave the CIA dirt on Ramzi Yousef (played with much anger by Nabil Elouhabi) and Osama bin Laden. And Donnie Wahlberg was totally believable as "Kirk," a CIA secret agent.
Also good was the make-up jobs, particularly Penny Jerald Johnson (as Condaleezza Rice) and Shirley Douglas (as Madeline Albright), who looked just like the characters they played.
My biggest problem was the length of the movie. at five hours without commercials, it's pretty damn long. It dragged on in several spots.
Another note: Did anyone notice that a vast majority of the votes are either 1 or 10? A bit of partisanship, maybe? Those of you who voted 1, did you see the movie, or did you hear that the Clinton staff was angry about it and refuse to watch it?
The only file footage inside the Towers
Gédéon and Jules Naudet wanted to film a documentary about rookie New York City firefighters. What they got was the only film footage inside the World Trade Center on September 11.
Having worked with James Hanlon's ladder company before, Jules went with the captain to inspect and repair a gas leak, while Gédéon stayed at the firehouse in case anything interesting happened. An airplane flying low over the City distracted Jules, and he pointed the camera up, seconds before the plane crashed into Tower One.
Jules asked the captain to follow him into the Towers. The first thing he saw was two people on fire, something he refused to film. He stayed on site for the next several hours, filming reactions of the firefighters and others who were there.
The brothers Naudet took great care in not making the movie too violent, grizzly, and gory. But the language from the firefighters is a little coarse, and CBS showed a lot of balls airing it uncensored. The brothers Naudet mixed footage they filmed with one-on-one interviews so the firefighters could explain their thoughts and emotions during particular moments of the crisis.
Unlike a feature film of similar title, most of the money from DVD sales go to 9/11-related charities. Very well made, emotional, moving, and completely devoid of political propaganda, is the best documentary of the sort to date.
World Trade Center (2006)
A must see... for those who can
This is not an easy movie to watch. Much of the movie shows PAPD Officer Will Jimeno (Michael Peña) and Sgt. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) under the rubble of World Trade Center Two. It is dark and claustrophobic, and you will feel their pain, their anger, and their fear. They literally kept each other alive by talking to each other, knowing that if they fell asleep, odds are they wouldn't wake up, and if one died, the other would, too.
But "World Trade Center" is not told solely from the point of view of the officers. It also looks at Allison Jimeno and Donna McLaughlin (Maggie Gyllenhall and Maria Bello are perfectly cast), the wives of the hero officers, as well as their families, and the toll the day's events took on their lives.
I'm the first to admit that when I heard Oliver Stone was directing "World Trade Center," I worried that it would be a political commentary laden with conspiracy theories. Far from it. Stone and writer Andrea Berloff took great care in leaving politics out of the movie. The dialogue was not only believable, but it was all New York. You can tell that the four stars spent a lot of time with the people they portray.
The only thing I would have changed in this movie is to have the time of day in which the scenes took place, just for continuity.
If you can watch a movie based on the single worst day in American history, I urge you to see "World Trade Center."
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
"Atlantis: the Lost Empire" tries hard to be an exciting animated sci-fi adventure feature, but it turned out to be rather dull. The characters, while well developed, seem to be very ordinary: the geeky scientist/linguist hero, the aggressive military commander, the strong female sidekick, the pretty love interest, the comical supporting cast.
The animation is good, but it is not up to Disney standards. The pace is fast enough to keep most interested, but the story gets lost somewhere along the way. (Speaking of story, you can look elsewhere for the plot rehash.) The voice-acting is fine, but the characters facial expression don't seem fitting for the situations they're in. The film just doesn't have the all-age appeal that Disney is known for.
Is it me, or is this entire storyline borrowed from Stargate? Isn't Milo just like Daniel Jackson? If you want to see a good animated sci-fi adventure, rent "Titan, AE," which combines traditional 2-D animation with 3-D digital effects. I just can't recommend this. "Atlantis: the Lost Empire" could have been so much better than it was, but it just missed the mark.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
A typical Disney/Bruckheimer/Bay action flick
What is a Disney/Bruckheimer/Bay action flick? It is heavy on special effects; includes a dopey love story; lacks historical accuracy and/or scientific reality; and has awful acting (mostly by Ben Affleck), writing, and character development. "Armageddon" is the most obvious example; "Pearl Harbor" is another.
The first hour-plus of "Pearl Harbor" is the dopey love triangle. Rafe McCawley (Affleck) goes to "downtown London" (no one says downtown -- it's known as Central London) to serve in the RAF as a fighter pilot. I don't know how, in one night, he was able to train to the point where he can not only fly a completely different aircraft, but shoot down a German bomber. Believing he is killed in action, his best friend Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) comforts--and hooks with--his girlfriend Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale). The two men fight on the night of December 6th, and of course by the time the bombing starts they're best friends again.
The attack on Pearl Harbor: The action sequences were well directed and choreographed, but they too were loaded with historical mistakes for the sake of dramatic license. One thing done right was Dory Miller (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), the cook who shot down an enemy plane and was later awarded the Navy Cross. But I doubt the real Dory Miller jumped and hollered when he did it.
Then they include a scene or two with the Japanese fleet, which I guess is an attempt to give us both sides of the story, or to give the audience an enemy to hate. But Admiral Yamamoto was portrayed wrongly: he wasn't gung-ho about attacking Pearl Harbor, he lamented the decision.
The movie could have ended with Roosevelt's (Jon Voight) address to Congress -- and even *that* had mistakes in it -- but it dragged on for another hour with Dolittle's Raid over Tokyo. James Doolittle is played poorly by anti-war mouthpiece Alec Baldwin, who acts like a cheerleader rather than a military leader. And all of the sudden, Walker and McKawley are bomber pilots?
Now, contrast this with 1970's "Tora! Tora! Tora!" which is practically a history lesson disguised as a feature film; or even 1953's "From Here To Eternity," a smartly written and well acted love story set in November of 1941. "Pearl Harbor" tries to be both, but it fails miserably.
The Right Stuff (1983)
More than just an historical drama
"The Right Stuff" is more than just an historical drama about the Mercury Seven. It gets into their personal lives: their successes, failures, flaws, fears, disappointments, and relationships. It explores how seven men dealt with suddenly being in the media spotlight, and how one dealt with suddenly being out of the spotlight.
The film opens in 1947. Test pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) was the first man to break the speed of sound and live to tell about it, after several died trying. Within ten years, he was virtually forgotten, replaced by "America's Mercury Astronauts" (the Mercury Seven), the first seven Americans to enter outer space.
John Glenn (Ed Harris is perfectly cast) was a moral, conservative man who insisted the Mercury Seven were role models and should act like them. Gordon "Hot Dog" Cooper (Dennis Quaid), a cowboy who called himself "the best pilot he ever saw," knew he was in the company of greatness with the others.
The movie also examines the stress the Eisenhower administration was under to beat the Soviets into space, adding archival footage of Yuri Gagarin's first trip into space.
At 3 hours and 13 minutes, "The Right Stuff" is a long movie, but the pace is quick enough to keep most people interested, and the story is told with humor and heart.
Rating note: despite the PG rating, the F-word is used more than once. The movie was made before the advent of PG13, which this film would be rated today. Recommended for 11 and up.
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
A Shakespearean Tragedy for the 21st Century
Two people are trying to realize their American Dream. Unfortunately, instead of helping each other, they behave like (pause) Americans until it is too late.
Kathy Nicolo (the beautiful Jennifer Connelly), a recovering alcoholic, has just been evicted from her home, a small bungalow on the outskirts of San Francisco. The county says she owes $500 in unpaid business taxes, which is impossible because Kathy doesn't own a business. The deputy sheriff Lester (Ron Eldard) feels bad for her and decides to help her out. He befriends her and soon falls for her (which at first I thought was stupid, but it turns out to be essential to the story).
The county sells the house to Colonel Behrani (Ben Kingsley), an Iranian expatriate who fled after the fall of the Shah. Once an elite aristocrat, he now works two jobs to support his family. To him, the house is an investment: he will sell the house for its market value, which is nearly four times what he paid at auction. He has a widow's walk constructed to better view the sea.
The characters make so many selfish mistakes. Against the advice of her attorney and Lester, Kathy returns to "her" house to find that the new owners are "more at home there than I ever was." After she steps on some nails, Nadi and Esmail Behrani (Shohreh Aghdashloo and Jonathan Ahdout from the fourth season of "24") take her of her. She later confronts Behrani, who knows the house was taken from Kathy unfairly, but rather than working with her to solve the problem, he scorns her. Lester, who has now left his wife for Kathy, goes over to the Behranis' to subtly threaten the Colonel.
The story is told from both Kathy's and Behrani's points of view. What is most intriguing is that both think they're doing the right thing. Unfortunately, doing the right thing seems to involve crushing the other.
Performances are terrific. The stars and the supporting cast truly breathe life to the characters. They bring out their characters' hopes, dreams, and flaws so perfectly and believably.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Not as good as the novel...
...but few movies are. Too much was changed from the book to the movie, including a critical scene with DaVinci's masterpiece "Madonna on the Rocks," the importance of the Golden Ratio to the artist (as in "Vitruvian Man"), and a scene with the cryptic (it had two layers of codes in the book, only one in the movie).
It was cool to see DaVinci's paintings, particularly "The Last Supper," used in the context of the book. I had a hard time picturing the details of the painting, specifically the posing of Mary Magdalene and Jesus.
I thought all along that Tom Hanks (one of my favorite actors) was a bit miscast as Langdon, but he was credible. Audrey Tautou is understatedly beautiful and sophisticated as Princess Sophie. Jean Reno played Capt. Fache as if the role was written for him. Ian "Gandolf" McKellan was perfect as the obsessive Grail historian Leigh Teabing. And Paul Bettany was spooky as the Opus Dei assassin Silas.
Bottom line, "The DaVinci Code" didn't live up to the hype, but was nowhere near as bad as the critics say. 7 out of 10.
and now, a rant: The worst part of The DaVinci Code had nothing to do with either the book or the movie. We had to sit through 18 minutes of commercials (yes, commercials!) before the previews. Now I don't know about you the reader, but I go to the movies to escape the commercials. People in the theater were actually booing and yelling. I don't drop $9.50 on a movie so I can watch commercials that I can see at home. In my theater in North Jersey, the commercials were for Cablevision and its subsidiaries I/O digital cable and Optimum Online, none of which are even available in my area.
Fear Strikes Out (1957)
Good movie, but...
Jimmy Piersall (Anthony Perkins) was a major league baseball player, an exceptional outfielder and a lousy hitter. He had an overbearing perfectionist for a father (Karl Malden), was socially awkward, suffered from severe bipolar disorder and paranoid delusions, and fought with his teammates. That is pretty much where the similarities between "Fear Strikes Out" and reality end.
The story takes place in the early 1950s. Little was known about mental illness, and there were few if any psychiatric medications. There wasn't much beyond talk therapy and electro-convulsive therapy (then known as electro-shock treatment). Unfortunately, Jim responded to neither. He spent most of his rookie year in a psych hospital.
In one chilling (although probably invented) scene, psychiatrist Dr. Brown asks if he wants to watch a ball game. Jim doesn't respond, so the doctor flips on a game. A hitter doesn't extend a double into a triple, a play which Jim comments that his father would never approved of. As the conversation moves from baseball to Jim's father, Jim realizes "If it wasn't for my father, I wouldn't be where I am today!"
The film ended in typical Hollywood fashion, with Piersall returning to the team in 1953. I thought the roll of his wife Mary, played ably by Norma Moore, was badly underwritten. There was no mention of the fact that his mother also suffered from mental illness.
As a study of mental illness and its effects on a man, his family, his co-workers, and his career, "Fear Strikes Out" is a very good movie. Trouble is that it is so loaded with historical inaccuracies, mistakes, and "dramatic license" that the person upon whose experiences the story is based distanced himself from the movie.
Doctor Who (2005)
The Doctor is Back
One of the most successful shows in television history is back. Now I admit I never got into the original show.... Okay, so I never watched it at all. But the new show is impressive.
Sci-Fi has premiered the first two episodes, "Rose" and "The End of the World," this weekend. We meet Rose, a twenty-something clerk who is chased by remote controlled mannequins. She is rescued by a mysterious stranger who calls himself the Doctor. Using the Internet, she finds a conspiracy buff who warns her that wherever the Doctor goes, death follows. When her geeky boyfriend Mickey is replaced by an impostor, the Doctor informs her of a plot to use Earth as a breeding ground for more of these plastic monsters, whom the Doctor has been fighting across space and time, traveling in a Tardis disguised a 50s-style police call box.
She helps him save the world--there wouldn't be a show otherwise--and decides to join him. But when he puts her life in danger, he is distraught, and questions whether her company was worth the risk.
Although the special effects are kinda lame, and the some of the scenes are a bit choppy, "Doctor Who" is (after two episodes aired in the US) a smart, well-written work. Apparently, the second season has already aired in the UK, so I predict the same success here.
Corpse Bride (2005)
A new generation of animation
I don't care how visually brilliant an animated movie is. These days, if it doesn't have a good story, interesting characters, appropriate music, and competent actors, the movie is going to suck. I want to feel like I'm watching a live-action movie. Fortunately, Tim Burton is a wonderful storyteller, and "Corpse Bride" is an example of his imagination.
Victor (Johnny Depp) is about to meet his bride Victoria (Emily Watson) for the first time. It's early 19th century England, so it is an arranged marriage. During the rehearsal, he keeps flubbing his vows, panics, and runs into the woods. He practices, and when he finally gets it right, he places the ring on a tree branch. Except that it isn't a tree branch. It's the finger of a corpse (Helena Bonham Carter), and she thinks she's now married to Victor! He runs, crashes into a tree, and knocks himself out.
When he comes to, he finds himself in--it's not really Hell, and it's not really Heaven, so we'll just call it the underworld. Bonejangles (Danny Elfman) tells the "tragic tale of romance, passion, and a murder most foul" in a jazzy song-and-dance routine. Victor becomes friends with Emily, the Corpse Bride, and she falls head-over-heels in love with him. But he's not sure if he wants to live among the dead, and he's torn between Emily and Victoria.
The stop-motion animation is the same style as "The Nightmare Before Christmas." The animation has come a long way since 1993, but I liked "Nightmare's" story more. There are some parallels, but contrary to rumor, Jack Skellington does not make a cameo. Overall, this is a beautiful love story with likable characters, catchy music, and, of course, visually brilliant animation.
PG for scary stuff. Most kids who understand death and/or love will enjoy it.
La marche de l'empereur (2005)
Next time you complain about how cold winter is, think about how Luc Jacquet spent his summer. He and his crew went to Antarctica, the most brutally cold place on Earth, where they braved temperatures below -80* (without the wind-chill), to film the mating habits of Emperor Penguins. Every March (fall in the southern hemisphere), all of the Emperor Penguins leave their homes on the shores of the coldest landmass and march single-file to an area about 70 miles away. This is the breeding ground at which all of them were born.
In some ways, they are like us. The males stand around and strut their stuff while the females choose their mate. Once the couples are decided, their lives are focused solely on procreation and keeping the egg alive. After the female lays the egg, however, she passes it to her mate--the videography is unbelievable!--and then travels 100 miles or more back to the shore to eat. The males stay at the breeding ground to care for the egg. The females then return to the breeding ground to feed their chicks, and only then do the males go to search for food.
I was amazed at the sense of family. Everything they do is for the chick. Both parents quite literally risk their lives to keep their babies alive. What amazed me most is the sense of community among the Emperor Penguins. All of the females go to the ocean as a single group, while all of the males stay in one huge huddle, rotating so that each can spend some time in the warm middle, and some time shielding the group from the -80* cold and the 100+ mph wind.
You don't have to be a nature lover to enjoy "March of the Penguins." It is a story of love of family and the importance of community. The frozen desert of Antarctica captured beautifully on film. And Morgan Freeman is regal as narrator.
Note: Despite the G rating, there is some material which may scare little children.
Lucas strikes back!
George Lucas tied up all of the loose ends of the Star Wars epic. We finally see how exactly how Anakin Skywalker fell to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader. The story is no secret: Palpatine uses the Force to gain absolute power both as a Sith Lord and as the Chancellor/Emperor, and seduces Anakin to the Dark Side.
The opening scene is more action packed than the other five movies. Anikan and Obi-Wan must penetrate the defenses of General Grevious (a CGI character), the separatist leader, and rescue the kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine. They become close friends, and Palpatine reveals that he is the Sith Lord whom the Jedi have been hunting for years. He coaxes Anakin to the Dark Side by telling him how Anakin could grant his pregnant wife Padmé (whom Palpatine mentions by name) immortality. Then he creates distrust between Anakin and the Jedi council, portraying himself as an innocent victim of the Jedi's quest for power.
Hayden Christiansen seemed to take some acting lessons over the last three years. He does a much better job as both Anikan and Vader in "Sith" than in "Clones." Ewan McGregor makes a great transition from the young Jedi into the wise old hermit he becomes in "A New Hope." And the script is just so much better than "Phanton Menace" and "Clones"--it seems like mature adults are talking, not a bunch of whiny teenagers.
9 out of 10 because of some minor problems I had. First, Anikan seems to fall way too easily. Second, James Earl Jones wasn't in the episode enough. I would have liked Grevious to have been human rather than animated, too. Chewbacca makes an appearance, but is not used enough, and we don't get to see how he teams up with Han Solo. Finally, there are some inconsistencies between what happened in "Sith" and what Obi-Wan told Luke in "A New Hope."
Political note: Despite a particular line that sounds like something President Bush would say, "Sith" (and "Phantom Menace" and "Clones" for that matter) is based on the fall of the Roman Republic into the Holy Roman Empire.
Rating note: Parents, "Sith" is PG13 with good reason. It is dark, intense, and in some scenes too scary for young viewers. Know your children.