Welcome to my website!
Have you ever wondered why some critics review films? They don't even seem to like movies that much from what they write. I LOVE movies, and think about them long after the last credits roll across the screen. My reviews are meant to inform, entertain and never have a spoiler.
Enjoy my reviews and please comment and come back frequently! Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Heart of the Beholder

Heart of the Beholder is based on the true story of Mike and Diane Howard, video storeowners in St. Louis in the 1980’s. All is going along well for them until 1988 when The Last Temptation of Christ is released. The Howard’s refuse to pull the video from their shelves, and are targeted for financial ruin by a fanatical religious group, the Citizens For Decency. The group has blackmailed the Prosecuting Attorney to file obscenity charges against the Howard’s for carrying X-rated videos, a move supremely ironic since the Prosecuting Attorney frequents prostitutes. The case is taken to trial, but that is not the end of the difficulties for the Howard’s. Mike becomes very depressed and nearly throws his life away before bouncing back and strategizing a way to bring down the Prosecuting Attorney.

Early on in the film, a comment is made that not all Christians are like these fanatical groups who bomb family planning clinics and ban books. And that is important to remember. However, groups like the Citizens For Decency are still very vocal in their attempts to regulate other people’s lives, often in extreme and violent ways. Their members are damaged, vulnerable people who have found their way into the group, desperate to have a place to belong.

One such person depicted in this film was played by Silas Weir Mitchell as Lester, a mentally ill man easily influenced to commit crimes ranging from arson to intimidation and near kidnapping of a child. I recognized Mr. Mitchell from his playing an equally psycho young man in last season’s hit sitcom My Name is Earl, and his performance is outstanding.

This story is so incredible, I wondered how much was cooked up to make the story thrilling in a Hollywood storytelling way, and how much was truly factual. I found myself shaking my head in disbelief, such as when the movie Splash is presented as a target for banning, because their “rationale” was so ridiculous. But those who ban books and films are not rational. Since I am a lover of story and film and its potential to enlighten, educate and entertain, I feel that we should all protest censorship. It is up to individuals to decide, based on reviews such as mine, whether a film is something they want to watch or not, and leave everyone else to decide for themselves as well.

Heart of the Beholder is an entertaining and engrossing film. I liked the opening sequences as we follow the mighty Mississippi to its banks in St. Louis, but it soon has a made-for-TV movie feel to it. It is still worth renting or buying the DVD as this is a fascinating story that echoes the present as extremist groups still attempt to regulate how people should think and behave in our country today.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Slumber Party

I remember hearing about a slumber party my older sister had where some boys allegedly snuck some beer into their tent that was pitched out under the trees in the orchard. The rest of the details of that night are unknown to me, but Slumber Party, a funny little film I was treated to recently, shows just what lengths a group of guys will go to crash a girls only night.

This is the first film written, produced and directed by Jazmine Bizzoco, Crystal Burdette, and Venice Ventresca. It is not rated, but in my judgment it is probably around a PG-13. I think it is amazing that a group of women in their twenties could pull off a production like this. Its humor reminded me vaguely of Booty Call, a very funny R rated film with Jamie Foxx and Tommy Davidson chasing around two women for you can guess what.

In Slumber Party, four friends go to Palm Springs to help one of them house sit. They deem their weekend as No Boys Allowed. A neighbor, Rufus, sees an opportunity has landed in his neighborhood, and he calls a couple of friends to come crash the party. This is where it gets really funny. I have to give these three writers credit for coming up with some very funny scenes of the guys’ journey to get to the party, and what they do to try to enter the house. Will the guys be successful and gain entrance to the slumber party? I’m not going to give it away.

The only thing that really kind of bothered me was the language. Do people in South Central LA really talk to one another like that? I’ll have to trust the filmmakers that it is realistic. I really can’t say living in the middle of New Mexico. The film is available on DVD only. There were parts that really had me laughing out loud. If you just want to experience something different and light for pure entertainment, give Slumber Party a try.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lady in the Water

M. Night Shyamalan has written and directed yet another fine film. I have been a fan of his ever since The Sixth Sense, and have carried my admiration for his work through viewing Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village. His most recent work, Lady in the Water, proved to be a complex and ambitious film.

Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is the stuttering maintenance man/superintendent at The Cove, an apartment complex with a unique swimming pool that leads to the Blue World. Cleveland discovers Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) swimming in the pool one night after hours. Story however is from a fairy tale, and has a purpose to fulfill for the benefit of mankind. A Chinese woman in the building slowly reveals to Cleveland the archetypal tale Story inhabits, and he tries to piece together the clues to deliver a happy ending. To finish the tale he enlists the help of a group of diverse residents in the building. That in itself was the part of the movie that was difficult to believe, that these residents would help him and not simply think him crazy, but this is a fantasy after all, and suspension of disbelief is required here.

The film is shot in a Rear Window like fashion (Alfred Hitchcock is one of Shyamalan’s favorite directors; mine too). Shyamalan himself has a more than cameo acting role in his film this time around as Vick, a young writer with a manuscript that will eventually help change the world. This role Shyamalan has chosen to play seems a bit of a grandiose choice, but he is a brilliant filmmaker after all and everything Vick learns about his writing could be applied to Shyamalan’s own works as well. For who among us really knows the impact our life’s work can have on future generations?

If I could distill the subject of this film into one word, it would be purpose. The mystery that is our world is looked at through the eyes of the residents of The Cove who are trying to figure out their purpose in life the same as any of us are doing in our own lives. This I think is what made Lady in the Water so appealing to me. Shyamalan attempted to tell an archetypal tale to inspire us to think about life, and anyone who likes to go to a film to have their mind challenged and stimulated would appreciate his attempt. I liked how I felt when I left the movie that even if I don’t know what exactly my contributions through my work and life have accomplished, they may be part of a process that helps the planet evolve.

The film is rated PG-13 for some frightening sequences (the world Story comes from has some truly scary creatures in it). If you haven’t seen Shyamalan’s other films, I recommend them all. You can easily rent them from Netflix (see link on this site).

Friday, June 16, 2006

The First Wives Club

The grande dames of Hollywood, Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton, star in The First Wives Club. With divorce in the United States running at 50% or more of all marriages, the fate of the women in this film is not unlikely. What they perpetuate after each of their marriages fail is.

The three were college girlfriends along with another woman, Cynthia Swann Griffin, who is so convincingly played by Stockard Channing in about two minutes of screen time, that the memory of her is indelibly imprinted on our minds just as it is for our three heroines, shocked by her death. The three reunited friends find they all have in common husbands who left each of them for younger women.

Elise (Goldie Hawn) is an award-winning actress with a drinking problem rivaled only by her need for plastic surgery. Annie (Diane Keaton) is separated from her husband, a self-involved businessman and philanderer. Brenda (Bette Midler) has a husband who is going through his second adolescence with younger Shelly (Sarah Jessica Parker) accompanying him. Grieving over the loss of their friend, they decide to join forces to get even with their ex’s. I really like the camaraderie between Annie, Elise, and Brenda, and how they help each other grow. Three heads are better than one.

I find it ironic and very sad that Olivia Goldsmith, the author of The First Wives Club (the book upon which the screenplay was based), died from complications of anesthesia during plastic surgery (I believe she was having liposuction underneath her chin). Is that the risk modern day women will have to take to stay appealing to men? Every woman I’ve talked to who’s seen this film loves it because even if they weren’t dumped for another woman, they know men who are like these husbands, and also know firsthand the attitude our culture perpetuates about youth and beauty which is so detrimental to women’s self-esteem. I recommend you see this film with your closest female friends. This is a very funny movie (rated PG), one that women will relate to, and during which men should be embarrassed as it shows the men here as completely pathetic creatures.

The outcome of The First Wives Club is so satisfying, and the actors’ performances really shine through the witty dialogue and physical comedy. It’s really a film classic for all time. Who hasn’t dreamed of getting even? Here is your chance to live vicariously through the antics of Annie, Elise, and Brenda, along with the help of a gay decorator (Bronson Pinchot), and socialite (Maggie Smith). The film also stars Marcia Gay Harden, Dan Hedaya, Victor Garber, and Elizabeth Berkley among others, and won the National Board of Review award for Best Acting by an Ensemble that year. Sarah Jessica Parker is svelte and beautiful in this pre-Sex and the City role, and Heather Locklear true to form as the woman who helped send Cynthia over the edge. Don’t give up-Get Even!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Governor's Cup Short Screenplay Competition

I entered the above screenplay competition with my 10-page screenplay, A Candle for Spirit Bear. To my delight, it was selected as one of the 12 finalists in the competition out of 433 entries.

It was not selected to be one of the four short screenplays to be filmed, but better luck next time. It was a wonderful learning experience for me and a great honor to be selected as a finalist.

The New Mexico Film Office has a website you may be interested in which I added under my links on the left. It lists films currently in production in New Mexico and all about opportunities in the state to work in the film industry.

I will be away from my computer for about 12 days, and will get back to you with some new reviews once I return. Have a good Memorial Day weekend my faithful readers!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams is based on the novel Shoeless Joe
Shoeless Joe
by W. P. Kinsella. When I first heard of this film, I wondered if I’d like a movie about baseball and father/son relationships that takes place largely in a cornfield in Iowa. It is now one of my favorite films, and the perfect DVD to buy your Dad for Father’s Day.

Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is an average guy with a wife Annie (Amy Madigan) and a daughter Karen (Gaby Hoffman). His life has been uneventful until one day he hears a voice: “If you build it, he will come.” Ray deciphers this to mean that he should build a baseball field. Annie supports this vision of his, and Ray plows under a good portion of his crop of corn in order to build it. And they wait to see who will come.

Eventually, a ghostly figure appears on the field. It is Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), and a short while later several of the Chicago White Sox show up for practice. But that is not the end of it. Ray hears another message that sets him off on a cross-country journey to Boston to seek out a reclusive writer and former activist from the 1960’s, Terence Mann (James Earl Jones).

That’s all the plot you really need. Sit back and enjoy as Ray’s magical journey unfolds. This is the most appealing and engaging Kevin Costner has ever been in a film. His Ray is truly the "everyman" here that he embodies so well. Amy Madigan plays Ray’s wife Annie just right: a spunky, opinionated woman who is loyal to her husband and encourages his dreams. For me, that is the best part of the film; watching Ray and Annie sort out what the voice is trying to tell them, and then taking the action to create a little bit of heaven on earth. The appearance of James Earl Jones as the writer Terence Mann is a bit of casting genius. His sonorous voice convinces Ray and us that keeping the field, even though others think it’s crazy, is the right thing to do. It’s really a message about how we must keep building our dreams.

Phil Alden Robinson, who also directed the film, wrote the screenplay. The film and the screenplay were nominated for Academy Awards, but lost to Driving Miss Daisy that year. The music is perfect for the action. This was Burt Lancaster’s last film, and his playing Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (an actual person that Mr. Robinson found in a baseball encyclopedia) seems a fitting way to leave us.

It is a tribute to the film that the baseball field created for the movie in Dyersville, Iowa still draws hundreds of tourists a year who go there hoping to touch a bit of the magic they felt from seeing Field of Dreams. And if you’d like some help creating your own little bit of heaven on earth, get Building Your Field Of Dreams
Building Your Field Of Dreams
by Mary Manin Morrissey. The book is well written, easy and interesting to read, and I believe it can be useful no matter what your spiritual beliefs.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Good Will Hunting

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote the screenplay Good Will Hunting from a short story Matt had written in college. Their story of writing the screenplay and nurturing it along until it got filmed the way they envisioned is inspirational to any aspiring screenwriter. But here, I’m going to tell you about the film, which is a masterpiece. Gus Van Sant directed the fine cast, which included the two young screenwriters/actors as well as Robin Williams in the important role of Sean, Will’s therapist. The drama is rated R for strong language, including some sex-related dialogue.

Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is a troubled young man, an orphan who suffered abuse at the hands of a succession of foster parents. He lives in an impoverished neighborhood in Boston, where he hangs out with his loyal working class buddies, including his best friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck). Will is also a mathematical genius, but chooses to work as a janitor. His janitorial position just happens to be at MIT, where he surreptitiously completes math problems left on the blackboards for advanced students.

Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) tracks down the mysterious Will, and decides to try and help him. He strikes an agreement with Will’s parole officer to keep him out of jail. They will meet weekly for math instruction, and a therapist will provide weekly therapy sessions for Will.

Will scoffs at the idea of therapy, no doubt having suffered through many inadequate counseling sessions in the past. But the professor enlists the help of an old college roommate of his, Sean, who teaches psychology at a community college. Sean is quickly intrigued by Will and the challenge, and agrees to provide the therapy.

This film amazes me every time I watch it because of the way the therapy is portrayed. There is little I can complain about other than one moment when Sean becomes angry with Will and pushes him up against a wall. Other than that, Sean is depicted as an ethical and competent therapist, which we don’t often encounter in the movies.

One night when Will and his buddies go to a Harvard hangout, he meets Skylar (Minnie Driver), a pre-med student from England. She is charmed by his wit, and gives him her phone number. They begin to date, but Will can only allow Skylar to see little bits of himself, fearing that if he reveals who he really is, she will leave him.

Sean helps Will with his intimacy issues, and it is a beautiful thing to watch. At the Academy Awards, Robin Williams won Best Supporting Actor, and Matt Damon was nominated for Best Actor. Damon and Affleck famously won Best Original Screenplay, and it launched them into their successful acting careers. The nominations and awards that were given to Good Will Hunting are far too long to list here. If I didn’t know who the screenwriters were, I would have guessed them to be far older than they were when this was written (they were in their twenties). The dialogue is clever and wise, and the decisions Will makes about his life, important decisions about friends, career, and love, are depicted realistically. This is one of my favorite movies, and I hope that someday, Damon and Affleck will write again.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Blast from the Past

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’ll be reviewing some of my Mom’s favorite movies. The first is Blast from the Past. This romantic comedy rated PG-13 has as its backdrop a unique story. Calvin and Helen Webber (Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek) are an affluent couple living in Los Angeles in 1962. For those of you not old enough to remember that era, that was the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the nation was gripped by fear of nuclear war. At that time people thought a direct nuclear attack could be survived, if they were safe beneath the earth in their own personal fallout shelter.

Mr. Webber is a brilliant scientist (and eccentric) who had a fallout shelter built underneath their 1960’s home and equipped it with enough supplies for his family to survive for three-plus decades. The worst happens, or so the Webbers think, and they seal themselves into the shelter which protects them from the radiation. In reality, a plane has crashed into their home.

Mrs. Webber is pregnant and soon has her baby, whom they appropriately name Adam. Thirty-five years later (the half-life of radioactive fallout), the locks on the shelter spring open. Mr. Webber’s first glimpses of Los Angeles in the ‘90s convince him that there really was a nuclear disaster, and the stress causes him to fall ill. Adam (Brendan Fraser) must now be the brave soul who exits the shelter to get food and supplies.

Although Adam is well schooled, he of course hasn’t seen the world face-to-face. His joy and wonder at discovering the things we all take for granted most of the time is at turns humorous and poignant. Adam also wants to find a girl while he’s out and about (remember he’s 35 years old and has never seen other humans besides his parents). The film becomes a great romantic comedy between Adam and Eve (Alicia Silverstone), who meet soon after he surfaces. Adam employs Eve to help him get the supplies his family needs, and she slowly falls for him.

There are so many great laughs in this film. Sissy Spacek should have been nominated for some acting awards for her performance as Mrs. Webber. If you’re an actor wanting to see how good comedy is done, watch her as this 1960’s housewife trapped with only her husband and son for 35 years beneath the earth. Ms. Spacek gives Mrs. Webber such personality, and she is so much fun to watch. Brendan Fraser is wonderful as the grown man experiencing the world for the first time, and I think this is my favorite performance of his. I first grew to like Alicia Silverstone in her Clueless role, and her Eve here is just the right woman for Adam. Christopher Walken is, as usual, brilliant.

My Mom is 88 years old and loves this film. And so do I. Blast from the Past would make a great Mother’s day gift, and a fun movie to watch together.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Groundhog Day

February 2nd is Groundhog Day, but don’t wait till then to see this delightful comedy that is another film on my favorites list. Bill Murray is Phil Connors, a TV weatherman in Pittsburgh assigned for yet another year to cover Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, PA (actually filmed at the quaint village square in Woodstock, Illinois, which is just over the border from Wisconsin northwest of Chicago). Accompanying Phil are the newly hired producer Rita (Andie MacDowell), and the cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott). They arrive the night before the event to get up bright and early to film the segment for the news. Phil is a man who is full of himself and not liked by many people. He is attracted to Rita, but has no clue how to romance her, much less even make her like him. Rita is all sweetness and light as expertly created by Andie MacDowell.

After the shoot, Phil can’t wait to get out of Punxsutawney, but a blizzard he didn’t predict keeps him in his bed and breakfast for another night. Mysteriously and magically, Phil awakens the following morning to February 2nd, not February 3rd. Phil is confused, and fails to make sense of this strange déjà vu like experience, but then it happens again the next day. And the next. And the next. And the next.

Bill Murray’s performance in Lost in Translation received a lot of press, and that is a flawed film which I can review some other time. However, Groundhog Day, released 11 years earlier, gave Bill Murray a much better role in which to express himself, and to show what a fine actor he really is. It is his best film role. He does a wonderful job of portraying Phil as he struggles to come to terms with whatever weird time warp he has stumbled into which causes him to always awaken on February 2nd there at the bed and breakfast in Punxsutawney. I have read some compare Bill’s performance to that of Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life, and I shamelessly admit that I prefer Groundhog Day. Sorry Jimmy.

Phil’s predicament is the beauty of the film which was flawlessly written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, and who should be credited with creating a classic screenplay for all time. When Phil realizes that tomorrow never arrives, he has big choices about how to spend his day. Will he indulge himself in the pursuit of pleasure, go crazy from the monotony and repetition, or make every day count in a unique and special way?

See for yourself. Harold Ramis directed this wonderful film, which is rated PG. I unconditionally recommend this movie. Not only will it make you laugh, it will have you looking at today in a whole new way.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Film ratings

I am adding a link to my blog for film ratings (see links on the left). It has a section on Questions & Answers: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About The Movie Rating System. There are informative explanations of what the five ratings mean and how they are determined. Check it out sometime.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Shawshank Redemption

In my blog profile I have listed five of my favorite movies, and I think it’s time I reviewed them for you, beginning with The Shawshank Redemption. Stephen King wrote a short novel, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (which appears in the book Different Seasons
Different Seasons
). Frank Darabont adapted the story into a feature length screenplay. After I originally viewed the film, I read the novella, and concluded that Mr. Darabont couldn’t have done a better job of bringing Mr. King’s tale to the screen. Mr. Darabont also directs the film, and later The Green Mile. It is rated R for language and prison violence.

Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is a banker convicted in 1947 of murdering his wife and her lover. He is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the crime, which he maintains he did not commit. Andy arrives at Shawshank Prison, where he has to adapt to the rough prison life, sometimes having to fight for his life. He becomes friends with a group of men, and especially with Red (Morgan Freeman), a man who has already served 20 years of a life sentence, and who is someone who knows how to get things smuggled into the prison. Morgan Freeman provides the narration in the film from Red’s point of view.

Warden Norton (Bob Gunton) believes in discipline and the Bible, and is as amoral as a prison warden could get. Andy’s skills on the outside as a banker and financial planner also serve him well in prison. I was initially worried about the violence that I knew would be depicted in this movie, but it is held to a minimum. I don’t want to say much more because I’d like you to be as delighted, moved, and surprised as I was, as the film unfolds (never let anyone tell you how this movie ends if you haven’t seen it before).

The story of Andy and his imprisonment is a metaphor for life, and the film is just brilliant. Beautifully written jewels of wisdom are sprinkled throughout the dialogue and narration. Thomas Newman composed a beautiful and haunting score for the film. The Shawshank Redemption received 7 Academy Award nominations, and didn’t win any of them. Yet it is a classic film, and once people see it, they will never forget it, sure to become a favorite for the rest of their lives.

This is the role Mr. Freeman should have won his Academy Award for. He lost to Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, which also won Best Picture. Had Forrest Gump not come along that year, it may have fared better at the Awards. I think that ultimately it is the better film, even though I loved Forrest Gump. The Shawshank Redemption is one of the few films I’ll watch again and again, just to be reminded of its message of hope.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Disney's The Kid

Bruce Willis stars in Disney's The Kid, a light family comedy/drama/fantasy rated PG. Children will enjoy this film as it is very entertaining and funny, and it is also a poignant film for adults to watch sans children as the screenplay goes deep into the psyche of middle age.

Bruce is Russ Duritz, a high-powered image consultant soon to be 40 years old. He is mysteriously visited by himself when he was an overweight 8-year-old called Rusty (Spencer Breslin). The question is: Is Rusty there to help Russ, or is Russ there to help Rusty?

Don’t stress out about the impossibility of the situation; this is a fantasy after all. Russ, although highly successful in his career, lacks all the important things in life: a wife, a family, and a dog. Rusty is very critical of this, and despairs that he grows up to be a loser.

Russ meanwhile is embarrassed by this young version of himself. Rusty is a painful reminder to him of all he has struggled to overcome. It’s fun to watch Rusty go after what he wants as an adult while only a child, much to Russ’ dismay. I know that sounds cryptic, but I don’t want to spoil the surprises for you.

Russ and Rusty finally work things out, and in the process of regaining memories of his childhood, Russ is able to see a brighter future for “them”, with all the important things present that he wished for when he was 8-year-old Rusty.

The film also stars Lily Tomlin as Russ’ long-suffering assistant Janet, and you may recognize other character actors Jean Smart and Dana Ivey. This is a very funny movie, and very touching as well. The screenwriter did a great job bringing childhood into physical form in the persona of Rusty, so that what could have been just a mental exercise digging into childhood memories in a therapist’s office, becomes a flesh-and-blood person for Russ to talk to as he sorts out his life.

Rent this one soon. And have your box of Kleenex handy.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

King Kong

King Kong, directed by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame, is outstanding entertainment. I missed it in the theatres, but I had the good fortune to view it on a friend’s wide screen TV complete with surround sound. The 187-minute film held my interest from beginning to end.

The story begins in depression era New York City. A film producer, Carl Denham (Jack Black) has notions about making a film on a remote island. He has an actor lined up for the male lead, but lacks a woman to star opposite him. He comes across Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), a vaudeville performer hungry for food and work, and entices her to join him on ship to sail to the island to make his masterpiece.

Joining them is the author Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody). Ann and Jack quickly form a romantic interest in one another. I smiled at the sight of Jack composing his screenplay in the ship’s hold where animals are normally kept, behind bars.

Once on Skull Island, the action begins and what a ride it is! I flashed back to the Indiana Jones movies, as the nonstop thrills and chills are of a similar intensity. Ann is captured by natives and sacrificed to Kong. The men set off to rescue her, and as they make their way through the jungle, they have to battle some of the creepiest creatures I have ever seen on screen, creatures so awful, I sat curled up on the sofa, hands ready to cover my eyes, emitting sounds of panic as the humans struggled to survive and not be eaten alive. It is adrenaline pumping nonstop action during this part of the film.

Meanwhile, Ann has saved herself from Kong. He is brought back to New York City, and some of you may know the rest of the story, so I won’t say much about the ending. One of my favorite scenes in the film is set in Central Park and is visually stunning as Kong and Ann share a sweet, tender, playful moment together.

King Kong won three Academy Awards, for Best Achievement in Sound, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects. The film is rated PG-13 for frightening adventure violence and some disturbing images. Despite that somber rating, I will definitely see this film again, and highly recommend it to you. It’s a very well developed story with romance and adventure, the actors are great, the special effects extraordinary, and every frame is beautifully rendered to create the times of the depression, the sea voyage, and the beautiful, dangerous jungle.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Libertine

I apologize for taking three or so weeks off. The flurry of activity around Oscar time necessitated a short break.

I cannot recommend The Libertine unconditionally. Written first as a play by Stephen Jeffreys and played on the stage at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, the film version of the tale stars Johnny Depp as John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. It is a period piece with an R rating for strong sexuality including dialogue, violence and language. Wilmot is a poet with three significant interests in his life: the theatre, drinking and sex. He is a friend to King Charles II, played by John Malkovich. Samantha Morton plays Mrs. Barry, a woman with promise as an actor in the theatre, and to whom Wilmot offers his coaching services and affections.

The film is not pleasant to watch. The 1600’s in England are depicted as gray and wet, and filled with citizens engaged in nothing particularly noble. Wilmot’s obsessive focus on sexuality leads to his writing and producing a ridiculous play with sexual themes, and he delights in insulting King Charles and other royal guests with the performance. He is a self-indulgent man who succumbs to alcoholism, and unfortunately, the viewer has to watch him slowly die of the results of venereal disease and drinking. This process is unkind to the normally attractive Johnny Depp.

Depp is such an extraordinary actor, and delivers a strong performance as Wilmot, but there are far better films than this one to watch if you’re a fan of his, or are wanting to see his acting for the first time (Pirates of the Caribbean, Ed Wood, Chocolat, Finding Neverland). Samantha Morton is also a gifted actor, and I’d recommend two of her other films over The Libertine, which are In America and Sweet and Lowdown. Both Depp’s and Morton’s acting abilities stand out in this bizarre period piece, but not enough to redeem the depressing tale.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Oscars

It’s the day after the Academy Awards, and some of my predictions came true!

Philip Seymour Hoffman won in the best actor category for his role in Capote, and Reese Witherspoon won best actress for playing June Carter Cash in Walk the Line. Both acceptance speeches were sweet (Philip thanked his mother, and Reese said she just wants to do something that matters).

Best picture to my delight was Crash, and it also took in best original screenplay. Brokeback Mountain received some adulation, as Ang Lee won for best director, and it also won for best adapted screenplay, and best original score.

Rachel Weisz won for best supporting actress in The Constant Gardener, and George Clooney for best supporting actor in Syriana.

March of the Penguins won for best documentary feature, probably well-deserved. The filmmaker accepting the award commented that the legislation protecting Antarctica will need to be renewed in 2041, and so he hoped many children would see the film and protect the penguins for years to come.

Other wins of note were three for Memoirs of a Geisha in the areas of art direction, costume design and cinematography. I wish I’d seen it on the big screen.

Speaking of the big screen, there were some references made to nothing coming close to the experience of seeing a film in the theater compared to a DVD rental for at home. I had heard that revenues were down for films this year, and the industry seems to be wondering why.

Personally, I agree that nothing takes the place of sitting in a darkened theater with a bunch of people watching a story unfold before our collective eyes. People I’ve talked to lately about why they don’t go to movies much say it is too expensive, then they launch into a diatribe about how much the popcorn, soda and candy costs. Hint: Don’t buy the concessions! Movies typically only last about two hours; I think you wouldn’t starve if you didn’t eat or drink anything for that long, right? Then the movies, at least in Albuquerque, are $6.25 or $9.00 at night, well within my meager entertainment budget.

Something else I wondered about was the choice of Jon Stewart. Was he chosen because it was a more serious year for the movies? All in all, I was entertained. I like the montages, and my motto for awards shows is not to expect too much, and then you won’t be disappointed.

Let me know your thoughts on the awards and the night. And onward to another year of good movies!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

My article for Life in the USA magazine

I am a guest contributor to the
  • Life in the USA
  • magazine. My article there is about movies and Hollywood. Once on the site, go to the entry for USA Magazine, and there I'll be.

    Saturday, March 04, 2006

    Academy Awards

    Tomorrow is the Academy Awards, and predictions abound as the night draws near. Who will win the big honors?

    I haven’t seen all of the nominated films. After all, I work full-time, and movies are an average of two hours long, sometimes longer, and there is only so much time. But I have seen all of the Best Picture/Best Director nominees (they are one and the same). Looking back at what I saw, I realized that the five nominated films have in common that each illuminate people struggling with moral dilemmas.

    It’s tough to pick just one film to win the top honors as Best Picture, but my award would go to Crash. To me, it is the most ambitious of any of the films, showing Los Angeles as the community of diversity it is, and what the challenges are to individuals caught in their divergent as well as interconnecting lives.

    Best Director I’d give to George Clooney for Good Night, and Good Luck. It amazed me how the actors’ scenes could be mingled with live news footage from the era depicted. I think it took a strong vision to make that work, and the director is best given credit for it.

    I think Philip Seymour Hoffman should win for Best Actor in Capote. The nuances of his performance as Truman Capote gave substance to a film that could have been just another biopic. We see Capote change as he researches and writes his book, and as he grows to know his subjects and mourn for them.

    Best Actress is something I don’t know much about as I only saw one of the actresses in a nominated film, Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line. But let’s give it to her. She won the Golden Globe for her performance, and it was well deserved. Speaking of Walk the Line, Joaquin Phoenix was amazing as Johnny Cash, and it is one of my favorite films of the year.

    All that said, Brokeback Mountain is likely to win top honors. It was a groundbreaking film because of its subject matter, but in retrospect, I wanted more from it. It never told me why these two men fell in love, only that they did. Still, it showed the ramifications of their relationship in a society that does not value or accept diversity, and is an important film.

    Lastly, don’t miss The Constant Gardener. I was surprised it did not snag a nomination as Best Picture. Whereas Munich left me feeling rather hopeless about the state of the world, surprisingly The Constant Gardener did not. If you only rent one of these movies, make it that one.