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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!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Capote

Capote is nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Supporting Actress (Catherine Keener) and Adapted Screenplay. Dan Futterman, who had read The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm, and then Capote: A Biography by Gerald Clarke, was inspired to write the screenplay. The film is about Capote as he researches and writes his most famous book, In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences
In Cold Blood
, a work that redefined modern non-fiction.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Truman Capote, who is an already famous writer for the New Yorker in 1959, when he reads a news article about a family of four senselessly murdered in Kansas. He heads to Kansas to research and write the story of the crime. His traveling companion and friend is Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), a famous author in her own right, who penned the classic To Kill A Mockingbird. Chris Cooper plays the Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent whom Capote wins over during his research.

Capote ends up developing a friendship with one of the murderers, a young man named Perry Smith. Capote witnesses his humanity, and is forever changed by having met and learned to know him. He discovers that he and Perry came from similar backgrounds of maternal abandonment, and says to Harper Lee, “It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he went out the back door and I went out the front.” Despite this identification, Capote shamelessly lies to Perry in order to get him to disclose the story of the murders, stopping at nothing to get his story.

The film is rated R for some violent images and brief strong language. It is just 98 minutes long, and perfectly constructed from beginning to end. Mr. Hoffman gives his best performance yet as the quirky celebrity Capote, whose initial self-centeredness gives way to compassion and grief when the executions finally happen. He paid a high price for getting the story In Cold Blood down on paper, and Mr. Hoffman is able to portray Capote’s turmoil very effectively. In fact, at the end of Capote, I and the rest of the audience sat stunned and quiet as the credits began to roll, collecting our thoughts after a film that illuminated both Truman Capote’s life and the tragedy that became his own.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Good Night, and Good Luck

The historical drama Good Night, and Good Luck is nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director George Clooney, Actor David Strathairn, Original Screenplay written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, Cinematography, and Art Direction. The film evokes the era of the 1950’s in America, from its black and white cinematography, to the constant cigarette smoking by nearly everyone who walks onscreen. Laced throughout the action is Dianne Reeves singing jazz that is not only beautiful to listen to, but also helps illustrate the times.

The cast worked well together and featured such renowned actors as Robert Downey, Jr., Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Tate Donovan, and Frank Langella. It is rated PG, and gets its story told in a sparse 93 minutes. Central to the film is David Strathairn playing Edward R. Murrow, the famous broadcast journalist who would not compromise his values while delivering the news.

In the early 1950’s, communism was made to be a serious threat to the United States, and fueling the paranoia was Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin. CBS reporter Murrow and producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney) agreed to launch fair and accurate reporting on McCarthy, even though it could have had serious repercussions for the network.

The film not only documents the showdown between Murrow and McCarthy, it also subtly illuminates the parallels between the political climate of the 1950’s and today. Murrow makes some observations about television that ring true even now; how the medium can entertain, amuse and insulate the public, or if used in another way, can serve to teach, illuminate, and inspire. The choice is ours.

This is a thoughtful and well-executed film, at turns humorous, sad, and inspiring. If you don’t get to see it before its run is through at the theaters, by all means go out and rent it. George Clooney did an amazing job directing this film, sure to be a classic. Interspersed between the acting is actual footage of Senator McCarthy from the 1950’s, so no actor had to portray him in the movie. The exquisite black and white cinematography pulls the actual footage and the film together seamlessly. Good Night, and Good Luck is yet another film from this year worthy of showing to students on campuses everywhere.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Munich

Munich is nominated for Best Picture, and Steven Spielberg for Best Director. It is rated R for strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity and language. The screenplay was based on the book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team
Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team
by George Jonas, and the film’s most notable actor is Geoffrey Rush.

Eric Bana is Avner, the leader of a group of five men instructed to assassinate the men believed responsible for planning the murders of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Note that the film was “inspired by real events,” which means some liberty was taken to make a film that would make the story cinematically appealing, and not just a documentary.

It is a long movie, 164 minutes, and I didn’t like it much at first. Spielberg drew me in though, slowly and inexorably. I was only 17 years old when this happened, and so I didn’t know much about it. The message I was left with at the end of the movie is that an eye for an eye, or more violence as payment for violence, has no end. There is also a disturbing segment near the end of the film where the violence toward the Israelis’ is juxtaposed with images of Avner having sex with his wife. I don’t think a film should ever have violence and sex put together that way, and I think Spielberg made a mistake in doing that. If he was trying to make the viewer feel unsettled, it worked. In retrospect, perhaps he was trying to make a point about the contradictions in an assassin’s life.

The film would be put to good use by showing it on college campuses in philosophy or history classes. What it did well was show the ambivalence the assassins had for the job they were carrying out. The sets, costumes and music are impeccably rendered to evoke the early 1970’s. Watching it on DVD would be the way to see it because there are some interesting things being said in subtitles that go by very quickly in the theater. At home you could skip back to read it again more slowly if necessary.

At the end of the film Spielberg shows the twin towers as seen across the river from Brooklyn, and it confirmed for me that 35 years later, the killing continues to go on and on and hasn’t solved anything.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

War of the Worlds

Tom Cruise, Tim Robbins, and Dakota Fanning head up this science fiction/ action/adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg. It is based on H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds
.

It’s loud, suspenseful, scary, and those creatures from outer space really test the Ferrier family: Tom Cruise is Ray, a divorced father of two; Dakota Fanning is his daughter Rachel; and Justin Chatwin is his son Robbie. The film is rated PG-13 for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images. Tim Robbins appears as Harlan Ogilvy, a crazed survivor of the attack that Ray has to deal with later in the film.

Ray is taking care of his children while his pregnant ex-wife and her new husband go away for the weekend. Ray is a working class man, who lives beneath a bridge in New Jersey. The unthinkable happens, as repeated lightening strikes energize alien tripod fighting machines buried beneath the earth. Panic ensues, people are dying (really being vaporized so just their clothes are left, an interesting sci-fi special effect), and Ray heads out of town with his children.

Ray is not a super hero kind of guy. He hasn’t been the greatest father, and the mass hysteria really challenges him. Robbie however, rises to the occasion and attempts to save people. They are separated, and Ray is then solely in charge of Rachel. They meet Harlan at that point, and hide in a basement hoping the aliens won’t find them. Ray and Rachel’s goal is to make it to Boston to where the children’s mother is staying.

I liked that War of the Worlds wasn’t a movie about superheroes in the face of a dire emergency. These were regular people who have problems, and are sorely tested in a time of crisis. The movie is very suspenseful, had my attention from beginning to end, but any creatures from outer space just look stupid to me. Despite my problems with fake aliens and machines that walk around, the drama of the family fighting for survival was what kept the film interesting. Morgan Freeman’s distinctive voice handles the narration, just brief segments prior to and at the end of the film. And a clue for you (I hardly ever give clues): What ends up being humans’ salvation is what lies within us.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Walk the Line

I must confess I am not a fan of country/western music. But I am interested in the history of American music, and because Johnny Cash is a musical legend, I went to see Walk the Line. I was entertained and very impressed.

It is no wonder Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for an Academy Award this year, as was his costar Reese Witherspoon. Both actors give extraordinary performances; Joaquin sang and played the guitar as Johnny, and Reese as June Carter Cash also sang and played the autoharp.

I had forgotten or not realized that Johnny Cash came along in the same era as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison. Walk the Line is thus a trip to the roots of a new time for American music in the 50’s and 60’s, and I enjoyed the film from beginning to end.

Like Ray, Johnny’s early life had a tragedy that continues to haunt him. Johnny’s life was also complicated by a troubled relationship with his difficult father, an addiction to prescription drugs, and the stress on his marriage to first wife Vivian because of his long absences while on the road.

June Carter deals with her own trials, including ostracism from her religiously fanatical fans that condemn her for getting a divorce. The film is also very much about the romance between Johnny and June, a love story that takes over a decade to resolve, and that never follows a straight line.

I liked seeing how Johnny created his music, and my feet were tapping as the songs I realized I really did know rolled off Joaquin’s lips. He does such an incredible job playing Johnny. His voice is so like the legend. It gave me chills watching him sing Folsom Prison Blues for the very first time in the recording studio. Clearly, Johnny Cash had things he needed to express through his music, and fortunately for us, he did.

The film is rated PG-13 for some language, thematic material and depiction of drug dependency. It really should have received a nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year. It’s a beautiful romance about soul mates Johnny and June finding a way to be together, and about what Johnny overcame to be the musical legend he remains today.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

March of the Penguins

March of the Penguins is nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the upcoming Academy Awards. It is a short 85-minute film narrated beautifully by Morgan Freeman. Rated G, it is appropriate for the whole family.

The emperor penguins that live in Antarctica are creatures of instinct. They march up to 70 miles inland every year in order to mate at the breeding grounds that have been their annual destination for centuries and beyond.

The film is unique in that it shows in close-ups how these penguins care for the egg that will quickly freeze if it has prolonged contact with the ice. The fathers have to shelter the egg in a sort of nest atop their feet, warmed by the fat of their bellies, while the mothers march back to the sea to eat.

Once the mothers are fattened up again, they return and take over. The baby penguins by now have hatched and need the mothers’ food to survive. The fathers return to the sea to eat, and the parents take turns doing these for weeks.

Antarctica is a desolate place, and dangerous even for the penguins. It made me think about the mysterious world we live in, and if there is a purpose in animal behavior beyond reproduction. The narration suggests that the penguins perform these rituals and bear their young, and then care for them under these dire circumstances out of love. Is this just anthropomorphizing that humans tend to do with animals and their actions? Tell me what your philosophy on this is.

The music is very fitting for the film, and I appreciated seeing briefly at the end, footage of the brave souls that went to Antarctica to film the penguins. Another good film I reviewed some time ago is Winged Migration, and I actually liked that film better, and is the one I’d watch over again. It has more incredible scenery and variety of avian species, whereas March of the Penguins of course focuses on one particular species. It is a good film though, and the whole family will enjoy it.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Valentine's Day

Tomorrow is the big day for lovers and sweethearts. Here are my recommendations for a Valentine's Day movie in case you still can't decide:

For a couple who's been married awhile, go for Shall We Dance?

If you have a boyfriend who likes action flicks, get The Saint. I reviewed it a few months ago, and it is a sure winner because it has action, adventure, and romance all rolled up into one neat package.

And if you are waiting for the love of your life to come along, You've Got Mail is the one for you. The movie is one of the best romance films ever. The writing is so great, and the dialogue is a joy to listen to.

So there you have it. Let me know what you think of the films. And have a happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Donovan's Reef

Donovan's Reef from 1963 was directed by John Ford, and stars John Wayne. I read this was the last romantic lead John Wayne played, and it would have been better if the role had been played by someone else. He was far too old to be playing this type of role at the age of 56. Cary Grant can get away with a romantic lead at 60, but John Wayne could not.

I remember watching this movie in my childhood and being fascinated by the culture of the South Pacific. Unfortunately, now I am an adult, the film leaves something to be desired.

John Wayne is Guns Donovan, the owner of a saloon on an island in French Polynesia. Several of his WWII wartime buddies remained on the island after the war, including Dr. William Dedham (Jack Warden), who married a Polynesian woman and had three children. His wife died and he continues to provide medical care for the inhabitants of the island while raising the children on his own.

Dr. Dedham also has a grown daughter Amelia (Elizabeth Allen) who lives in Boston. Legal matters make it imperative that she visit the father she’s never met, and Amelia shows up on the island. Since Dr. Dedham is away, Donovan decides to have the doctor’s three children pretend they are his own, in order to protect the good doctor.

What is interesting about the film are the references to race. Amelia at one point refers to the children who are in reality her half-siblings as “half-castes.” Knowing of the prejudice towards inter-racial marriages is the reason Donovan tries to protect all of the Dedham’s.

There are too many fight scenes about absolutely nothing in this film, one which features Lee Marvin as Gilhooley in a brawl that apparently occurs once a year between him and Donovan simply because they share the same birthday. And Donovan taking Amelia over his knee to spank her is so ridiculous and uncalled for I could hardly bear to watch it.

Pluses are the costumes by Edith Head, and a really cute Christmas Eve service. Cesar Romero and Dorothy Lamour also show up in this film, and they are fun to watch. You might enjoy Donovan's Reef just to see what the early 60’s promoted in the movies, or to see the beautiful South Pacific, but as a romantic comedy, it falls far short of the others I’ve reviewed recently.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

That Touch of Mink

That Touch of Mink is a romantic comedy from 1962. Doris Day was 38 years old when she made this film that won Best Motion Picture-Comedy at the Golden Globes, and the Writers Guild of America Best Written American Comedy for that year. The romantic male lead is Cary Grant, who was 58 at the time of the movie.

Cathy Timberlake (Doris Day) is a beautiful woman looking for work in New York City. Her best friend Connie (Audrey Meadows) gives her advice about her love life, sometimes at the curious restaurant where she works.

One rainy day Philip Shayne (Cary Grant) is being chauffeured in his car, and it splashes a puddle of water on Cathy quite badly. He wants to apologize to her and so sends his associate Roger (Gig Young) to find her. Roger is a very funny character in this movie, constantly in analysis, which was really big back then.

Roger finds Cathy and brings her up to Philip’s offices. Philip quickly invites her to spend the day with him, and Cathy goes along, as she is completely smitten with him. During this day with Philip, Cathy watches him deliver a great speech to the United Nations, and they attend a baseball game where three famous Yankees have cameo roles in the movie.

At the end of the day, Philip invites Cathy to accompany him on a trip to Bermuda and then to Paris, etc. Cathy has to think this over, because what Philip is lacking in his invitation is a marriage proposal. She eventually decides to go through with it, and Philip sends her shopping for clothes. This story is a bit like Pretty Woman, but without the sex. Cathy must get really tired defending her virtue all the time, whereas Julia Roberts never had to.

John Astin has a role playing Mr. Beasley at the unemployment office who has his sights on Cathy, and he figures prominently at the end of the film. It is a cute, funny comedy, and if you just want some light entertainment and a reminder of what the world was like in the early 60’s, That Touch of Mink is the one for you.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Constant Gardener

The Constant Gardener is well worth the price of a rental or purchase of the DVD. It is a suspense thriller with elements of romance. Rachel Weisz won a Golden Globe for her performance in the best supporting actress category, and is nominated for an Academy Award as well. She is luminous in her role as Tessa, an outspoken idealist married to Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a member of the British High Commission. Quayle’s assignment leads them to Kenya, where Tessa soon becomes involved in social justice issues, and her involvement places her in danger.

Tessa gets too close to the truth about the drug testing being performed by pharmaceutical corporations that use poverty stricken natives to further their corporate agendas. As a result, Tessa is murdered, and her husband seeks to find the truth about her, both as his wife, and as a murder victim. Justin is the gardener in the title who uses this avocation to modulate his feelings and order his life.

The cinematography in The Constant Gardener is unique and filled with movement, the images of the people of Kenya haunting and real. The film is rated R for language, some violent images and sexual content/nudity, but it is really not an objectionable film at all. The allusions to violence are more disturbing than what is shown, and the sexuality is not explicit, really just showing the loving relationship between Justin and Tessa. So I wouldn’t be concerned about the R rating. This is an important film, and one of the best I’ve seen in the last few months.

Bill Nighy ( love actually) plays Sir Bernard Pellegrin, an evil and soul-less man, and Mr. Nighy shows how diverse an actor he is when you see both his performances in these two very different films. The film is also nominated for adapted screenplay at the Academy Awards (from the John le Carre novel).

Ralph Fiennes gives an amazing performance as a man first in shock, and then grieving the loss of his wife. In his search for the truth, he comes to appreciate his wife for who she really was, and it changes him in the process. I found that I wasn’t feeling depressed by the film at the end, but rather more hopeful that there are people in the world who will risk their lives to expose corporate greed and abuse of innocent people. This is a must see film.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

love actually

The British film love actually received two Golden Globe nominations, one for best screenplay, and one for best motion picture (musical/comedy). It is rated R for sexuality, nudity and language and was released in 2003. I had forgotten that Christmas figures prominently in this film, and I think it would be a good film for adults to watch at Christmas time. But don’t wait till the season is upon us once again. Get it for Valentine’s Day.

This romantic comedy stars so many great actors, it is hard to know where to start. The ensemble cast swirl in and out of each other’s lives, each one having a different lesson to learn about love. I counted at least nine story lines in this movie.

Daniel (Liam Neeson) has lost his wife, and becomes the sole caregiver for his stepson, who has a bad case of puppy love. Jamie Bennett (Colin Firth) is sent reeling from his relationship into relative seclusion at a villa where he meets a beautiful Portuguese woman. Neither of them speaks the other’s language. Hugh Grant is the Prime Minister who finds Natalie, one of his domestic employees, to be very distracting. His sister Karen (Emma Thompson) has two children and is married to Harry (Alan Rickman) who is sorely tempted by a young woman at work. Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is an aging rock star whose long-suffering agent has devised a Christmas comeback for him. Juliet (Keira Knightley) marries and discovers that her husband’s best friend has a crush on one of them. Sarah (Laura Linney) is not so secretly in love with a co-worker, but is the sole comfort of her mentally ill brother. And possibly my favorite is the young British man who decides American women would embrace him because he is British, and flies off to Wisconsin of all places to meet the women of his dreams. Billy Bob Thornton has a cameo role as the President of the United States, and Denise Richards and Claudia Schiffer also appear briefly.

One story line has an X-rated movie being filmed where the two stars shyly begin a relationship. My sister took two elderly women to the theater to see this film when it first came out, and they all indignantly left when these scenes appeared. That’s an R rating for you. If that sort of thing doesn’t bother you, rent love actually. It would be a shame to miss such beauty and fun and really touching moments because of that one small part of the movie. The only unsatisfying story for me was the one about Sarah and her mentally ill brother, which is totally sad.

I loved how Hugh Grant played the Prime Minister. He has to really stand up to the President, and I feel like cheering every time he makes his speech. He also has a wonderful scene when he is searching for Natalie and some little girls get him to sing some “carol songs.”

There is a message to this movie and it is that

love, actually, is all around. Have your tissues handy.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Three to Tango

Matthew Perry, Neve Campbell, and Dylan McDermott star in this light romantic comedy with a message. Three to Tango was released in 1999, and is rated PG-13.

Oscar Novak (Matthew Perry) and Peter Steinberg (Oliver Platt) are architects bidding on a multi-million dollar project funded by wealthy and eccentric Charles Newman (Dylan McDermott). They get a chance at the job, and Charles then asks/tells Oscar to spy on his mistress Amy Post (Neve Campbell). Charles believes that Amy is safe with Oscar, as he was told that Oscar is gay. Oscar does not realize when he agrees to the task that Charles thinks he is gay, which he is not.

Amy is a glassblower, and Oscar first meets her at an exhibition of her artwork. They hit it off right away, but Oscar can’t pursue her as everyone thinks he is gay, and if he told the truth about his being straight, he thinks it could cost him and Peter their job. So Oscar pretends to be gay, and becomes friends with Amy. What follows is a very fine, funny, romantic comedy. The message in the movie has to do with Oscar gaining notoriety as an openly gay professional, and him feeling what it must be like for gays who hide who they truly are from the world.

Graeme Revell wrote the film’s music, which features wonderful big band dance music for most of the film. Mr. Revell also wrote the score for The Saint, a very different soundtrack, but also beautiful. The actors have great chemistry, particularly Neve and Matthew, and Dylan is so charming and odd at the same time. Kelly Rowan of The O.C. fame has a small role as Charles’s wife. The Chicago skyline is awesome day and night, as are the scenes along the waterfront. This movie really makes me laugh, and though not a typical Valentine’s Day romantic comedy, it is playful, and just plain great entertainment.