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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Ice Harvest 

What most impressed me about The Ice Harvest was the unexpected humor that consistently broke up the ever-present tension and suspense of the story. This was an excellent movie, both exciting and funny, with memorable characters that made me laugh even as I worried about the eventual outcome.

Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and his buddy Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton) have just stolen $2 million from Charlie’s boss, mobster Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid), through a carefully planned scheme that should ostensibly go unnoticed for several hours. Their seemingly perfect crime having been successfully executed, Vic and Charlie must sit tight for several hours and wait out the bad weather, nervously hoping that their crime will remain undiscovered long enough for them to make it out of Kansas. Vic offers to watch over the money and instructs the increasingly anxious Charlie to act normal for just a few hours. Rather than simply going home where he won’t have to worry about interacting with others, Charlie instead chooses to visit as many places as possible in the span of a few hours in order to maximize the probability that he will give himself away. But of course, it wouldn’t be much of a movie if the rest of the plot consisted of John Cusack sitting around the house for two hours, so instead Charlie has a series of encounters at various strip clubs and bars over the course of the night. He soon discovers that Guerrard’s top hit man, Roy Gelles (Mike Starr), is asking around all the local strip joints for Vic’s and Charlie’s whereabouts—indicating that Guerrard has caught on to the theft much sooner than expected. Before Charlie skips town, however, he hopes to gain the affections of Renata (Connie Nielsen), the manager for one of Vic’s many strip clubs, by retrieving a valuable photograph of a local councilman’s one-night stand with her. Furthermore, when he runs into his old friend, Pete (Oliver Platt), a belligerently drunk buddy who is married to Charlie’s ex-wife, he agrees to go to his former in-laws’ house for a bit of antagonistic Christmas Eve dinner. As the evening wears on, Charlie begins to wonder whether Vic is going to double-cross him and take all the money, which gives him yet one more worry to occupy his fretful mind.

Charlie’s outings with the perpetually inebriated Pete were by far the best scenes, as Pete shamelessly hits on an chaste Christian girl in front of her progressively annoyed boyfriend, purposefully makes an ass of himself at his in-laws’ Christmas dinner and brandishes a turkey leg at his wife, pukes in Charlie’s car, and gets himself kicked in the nuts after making one too many inappropriate remarks. I suppose if you don’t find the misguided antics of ridiculously drunk people all that entertaining, then you might find these scenes more annoying than anything else. The interplay between Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton was very entertaining as well, but given that dark humor seems to be Thornton’s specialty, it shouldn’t be all that surprising to anyone. I loved all of the scenes with Vic or Pete in them, and when mixed with the suspenseful plot and straightforward nature of Charlie, I was left feeling quite satisfied with this movie.

Personally, I loved The Ice Harvest, but I think the audience for this movie will be very specific. It’s a dark comedy with a lot of tension built into the story, so some viewers might find the film simply boring. Otherwise, for those who like drier humor and a steady-pace, this is definitely a move to see.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Walk the Line 

Let me see, here. Guy with natural musical talent and a browbeating father/uncle/patriarchal figure pursues a burgeoning musical career, suddenly gets famous but does a bunch of drugs/alcohol and hits a low point, loses his wife and all his money, and then has a lifelong friend/mother/dreamgirl say something wise and inspiring that enables him to beat his addiction and revive his career. Sound familiar? Ok, ok, so even though Walk the Line has the same recurring elements of almost every other biographical movie ever made, Johnny Cash’s story is still quite absorbing. When combined with the superb acting and vocal performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, this movie-going experience was more than worth the $10 admission.

The movie opens with Johnny Cash’s (Joaquin Phoenix) epic performance at the Folsom County jail, wherein he is distracted with a circular saw just before he is due on stage. The film then flashes back to Cash’s childhood, where we see his verbally abusive father discourage Cash from listening to music and then berate him when his older brother, Jack, is mortally wounded in a circular saw accident. His father clearly favors Jack over Johnny, and is extremely displeased that “the wrong son is taken” from him. We then skip forward several years to see Johnny composing his first songs while stationed in Germany during the Korean War, and then we watch his failed efforts at selling home appliances door to door in Memphis, Tennessee. When he and his two band mates audition before Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) of Sun Records with a half-hearted gospel song, Phillips bluntly tells Johnny that he can’t market gospel music, especially when there was little feeling behind Cash’s attempt. At this point we hear the speech from the oft-played preview about lying in the gutter dying, and having time to sing just one song. This is apparently the precise motivational speech Johnny needed to hear in order to instantly transform from crappy to awe-inspiring. He soon finds himself on tour with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), with whom he has an instant attraction that will tempt him to stray throughout the rest of the tour and well into his career.

While the movie is framed with Johnny Cash’s career, with a large portion of running time devoted to concerts, the story really seems to be about his relationship with June Carter, who continually rebuffs his advances and marriage proposals for over a decade. I suppose this factor might make this movie equally attractive to men and women, as it’s a love story mixed in with the chronology of Johnny Cash’s musical career. I can’t say enough how awesome Joaquin Phoenix was in his ability to sound like Johnny Cash, and despite sounding like a screech monkey for the first ten minutes, Reese Witherspoon did an excellent job with her vocal performances as well.

I definitely recommend Walk the Line—the story is intriguing, the acting is excellent, and the singing is sensational. I really can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t like this movie, so I give it four very entertaining stars.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 

Director Mike Newell's adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is easily the best yet in the series' franchise. In condensing some 700+ pages of material, Newell impressively managed to keep all of the major storylines intact, without having to sacrifice key plot points. Goblet of Fire was also definitely deserving of its PG-13 rating, as I'm certain some of the more dark scenes, like, oh say... Harry getting tortured, will probably disturb younger viewers.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) begins his fourth year at Hogwarts, which this year is hosting the Triwizard Tournament--a magical competition between three of Europe's magical academies: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang. Only three students, one from each school, are chosen by the Goblet of Fire to be a tournament champion, as the three students will then compete in three dangerous magical tasks, each designed to test their magical prowess. After Fleur Delacour of Beauxbatons, Quidditch star Viktor Krum of Durmstrang, and finally Cedric Diggory of Hogwarts are chosen as the three champions, the Goblet of Fire suddenly and mysteriously spits out a fourth name to compete in the dangerous tournament--Harry Potter, of course. Unfortunately for Harry, it seems that whoever put his name into the Goblet of Fire engineered it such that he would definitely be selected and therefore forced to complete dangerous tasks well beyond the scope of his abilities as a mere 14 year-old wizard. Harry must face a dragon, rescue underwater captives hidden deep within a lake, and navigate an ever-moving and seemingly ravenous maze just to survive the tournament, not to mention have any hope of winning it. Besides the rigorous challenges he must face during the tournament, Harry also finds that his fourth year at Hogwarts entails the horrifying task of asking a girl to a formal ball, as well as numerous other coming-of-age hardships. At times I wondered if Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) would punch out Harry over some perceived romantic slight with Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) like some sort of bizarre Dawson's Creek episode.

Fortunately, this was not Dawson's Creek, so I didn't have to scrape out my own eyeballs.

Whether one has read the Harry Potter books or not, it will be apparent that the plot is moving at lightening speed. But again, having to condense 700 pages into one movie meant quick transitions and summarizing of material. The amount of humor in this movie was much improved from its predecessors, especially because the Weasley twins and all their antics were given a much larger quantity of screen time. The acting overall was surprisingly stronger, specifically from Daniel Radcliffe, whose ability to cry was not so much laughable as it was in Prisoner of Azkaban, but instead believable and moving--especially in the final scenes. Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) was portrayed perfectly, superbly balanced between intimidating and comically strange, and Ralph Fiennes was simply inspired as Voldemort. The scene between Voldemort and Harry toward the end of the movie was easily my favorite, as Newell managed to preserve on the screen the power and fear that was so excruciatingly moving in the book.

My only major complaint with this movie was Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. I felt that he was alright in Prisoner of Azkaban, but, quite frankly, he sucked in this movie. Whether his portrayal was due to Newell's direction or simply his own admitted ignorance as to Dumbledore's character, the guy did a remarkably horrific job and basically butchered the role completely. Seriously dude, read the freakin book next time and get a clue.

Overall, I think this movie will be easy to enjoy and understand whether one has read the books or not, and I give it my strongest recommendation. I admit that I am biased toward this type of film, but it really was done remarkably well. I'm anxiously anticipating the sequel, Harry Potter and the Fireball of Danger and Magic, sure to start filming soon!

Friday, November 18, 2005


One of my friends remarked that while he was watching Derailed, he just couldn’t shake the feeling that he had seen this movie before. I didn’t get the same sensation during my viewing, but since the main elements of Derailed aren’t all that groundbreaking, anyone who sees movies on a consistent basis might feel like they’re rehashing old material. Apparently, despite the fact that I see movies, one might say, all the damn time, I’m still an absurdly easy target for Hollywood to exploit.

Charlie Schine (Clive “Johnny I’m-evidently-too-good-for-the-role-of-James-Bond” Owen) is having a pseudo mid-life crisis. Disenchanted with his wife, Deanna (Melissa George), and weary of his constant financial and emotional struggle in caring for a daughter with Type I diabetes, he has started to yearn for a change. He’s a decent guy, but when he meets a beautiful young vixen on the train one day, he allows himself to indulge in some relatively harmless temptation in the form of verbal banter. Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston), it turns out, is also married, but to a husband whom she never sees due to his demanding market-based executive existence. Both Charles and Lucinda are somewhat hesitant to continue their daily flirtation, but the mutual attraction is strong enough that they ignore their ethical misgivings about the situation and instead allow it to escalate. They finally forgo all pretenses and check in to a moderately seedy hotel, but before they can fully violate their wedding vows, they are interrupted by a brutal mugger. After he steals their money, beats Charlie into semi-unconsciousness, and then horrifically rapes Lucinda, the two would-be lovers discuss their options. Neither really wants to go to the police out of fear of revealing their purpose at the hotel, so they decide to part ways and attempt to move on with their lives.

Alas, the vile mugger, Phillipe Laroche (Vincent Cassel, perhaps a distant relation to alien and NBA star, Sam Cassell), calls Charlie and heartlessly demands $20,000. Lucinda offers Charlie several thousand dollars and begs him not to go to the police, saying that her husband would take away her daughter if he ever found out about their near affair. Charlie, being the nice guy that he is and feeling immensely guilty for her suffering, refuses her money but acquiesces to her request for silence by paying Laroche the money. Several weeks later Charlie has returned to his normal state of affairs, when he receives yet another phone call and threat from Laroche, this time demanding $100,000. Laroche simply refuses to leave Charlie alone, even going so far as to visit Charlie’s house and have a pleasant coffee break with his wife. Charlie and Lucinda start to make some rather poor decisions in their attempts to rid themselves of Laroche, which leads to a rather surprising twist. For me, anyway.

I definitely liked Derailed, but I am also what one might classify as a gullible viewer. I didn’t like some of the characters’ decisions in dealing with the situations presented to them, but for the most part it was fairly plausible. The acting was not surprisingly excellent, even and especially from the two rappers who starred in the film, Xzibit and RZA—although Xzibit’s role wasn’t necessarily all that challenging. The story is thrilling and relatively logical, but probably less so for the more critical viewer. Therefore, I recommend this movie to anyone who has little difficulty in accepting what is presented on the screen, but those of you with a more fastidious eye might find yourselves a little annoyed with Derailed.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


The lesson in this movie is clear. If you want your children to get along, appreciate you, or just stop acting like a couple of brats, simply force them to play Zathura, Jumanji, or any other life-threatening adventure game. Assuming they survive the many perilous encounters with various lethal creatures and situations, they will become sufficiently frightened and overwhelmed that any previous behavioral deficiencies will have been completely eliminated by the game’s conclusion.

Zathura was just as good as I expected it to be—fun, innocent, and heavy on the “appreciate your siblings, they’re all you’ve got” theme. 10 year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and 6 year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo) get to spend 4 days a week with their dad after their parents’ divorce. The brothers heatedly compete for their dad’s attention, each wanting to outdo the other, but unfortunately for Danny, being the younger of the two, he simply can’t beat Walter at much of anything. Walter, for his part, resents Danny for simply existing and finds his little brother’s persistent attempts at gaining his affection annoying and completely useless. When their father leaves for a meeting, instructing the boys’ older sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart) to watch them in his absence, Danny continues to make endless bids for Walter’s attention, which result in his being locked in the basement after Walter finally loses his patience. He stumbles upon an old board game called Zathura, and brings it upstairs to show Walter in another endeavor to get his brother to play with him. Walter thinks the game just looks dumb and old (which it does), so Danny plays by himself. He finally succeeds in getting Walter’s attention, however, when Sports Center is interrupted by flaming meteors crashing through the roof; which, to be fair, is certainly one way to get your brother to notice you. It is then that the boys realize they are floating in space and must finish the game in order to get back home. Meanwhile, their sister continues sleeping undisturbed upstairs, oblivious to their new interstellar predicament.

Of course, as in Jumanji, the game produces all manner of disturbing obstacles with which the boys are forced to contend. It spirals them into a gravity field, sends Walter a defective robot operating under the mistaken impression that Walter is an alien life form that must be killed, puts a stranded but helpful astronaut in their path, and forces them to face Zorgons—heat-seeking, meat-eating lizard monsters that burn up everything with which they come into contact. But before all these adventures can take place, one of the boys' turns results with Lisa being frozen in cryogenic sleep for five spins, presumably so that the movie can continue with its plot to compel the brothers to work together through the shared hardships. The astronaut (Dax Shepard) helps the boys out with their Zorgon problem by simply throwing a burning couch out the window... because Zorgons, it seems, are simply a bunch of rednecks who just want to burn shit. The adventures continue, the boys fight and scream at each other (which was almost a little too realistic for my tastes), and their sister eventually wakes up to discover any babysitter's worst fear: the kids have completely and thoroughly destroyed the house.

I liked Zathura, although not quite as much as Jumanji. It lacked the darker and more sinister elements of its predecessor, but it was still quite exciting to watch. I especially liked that the threatening creatures/situations didn't necessarily just disappear, as they did in Jumanji, when the next person took his turn, meaning that each challenge must be faced rather than hurridly dismissed. There weren't really any parts that dragged unecessarily, and there was a great twist toward the end that I honestly did not anticpate. The acting was good, and the dialogue was funny and well-written, so I never lost interest in the story. I've no doubt that this movie will appeal to kids, but honestly, I think it's a decent and imaginative film that most people would enjoy watching. I definitely recommend it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Get Rich or Die Tryin' 

I don’t know how much of the movie is true aside from 50 Cent dealing drugs and getting shot a bunch of times, but this was an interesting story to watch nonetheless.

Get Rich or Die Tryin’ opens with Marcus (50 Cent) and his small crew robbing a rival gang of Columbians, which is progressing smoothly until one of his buddies, Bama (Terrence Howard), shoots a guy in the leg and then gets all emotional and weepy over Marcus’ holier-than-thou disapproval. After narrowly escaping the scene, Marcus heads home to his grandparents’ house in order to be on time for supper, when he is suddenly ambushed and shot nine times—one of them being through the mouth. As he lies in the middle of the street, life slowing draining from him, he flashes back to his childhood and his life up to this point, which is what comprises the basic plot for the movie. So, off we go to Marcus’ childhood, where he laments the fact that he has no idea who his father is while he sings along to 80’s music with his mother, Katrina (Serena Reeder). He knows only two facts about his father: one, that he certainly isn’t a white dude; and, two, that he definitely isn’t a cop. His mother often drops him off at his grandparents’ house, where he must contend with eight other children as Katrina goes out to make a lucrative living as a drug dealer. Unfortunately, this lifestyle leads to her murder, potentially at the hands of a Rick James look-a-like, and 10 year-old Marcus decides to pick up where she left off so that he can afford the very best shoes. Despite the fact that his dream has always been to become a rapper, Marcus instead grows up dealing cocaine for Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the same boss for whom his mother worked as well. He proves himself to be extremely competent at selling the cocaine without being tempted to use it, so he is given charge of his own crew of three dealers, with whom he works and parties. He wins the approval of both Majestic and the drug kingpin himself, Levar Cahill (Bill Duke), who praise his managerial skills and strong work ethic... at selling drugs. Life is good to Marcus, and it only gets better when he reconnects with his long-lost childhood friend, Charlene (Joy Bryant). He is excited to discover that there are still sparks between the two of them, because despite the fact that Marcus is a gangster, Charlene knows he’s a really good person deep down and just turns a blind eye to his drug dealing and whatnot.

Unfortunately, his gangster ways catch up with Marcus, and he is sent to jail, where he realizes he must express himself through music or die in the harsh prison environment. Since he has always dreamt of being a rapper, prison merely serves as some kind of inspiration to leave the violent gangster world behind, so he uses his former career as material for his songs. Majestic doesn’t quite see the humor in Marcus exposing the drug world in order to work out his issues, so when Marcus is finally released, he finds that he has to watch his back. Which he obviously doesn’t do.

Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was a very compelling semi-biographical story, and I really enjoyed watching it. There were obviously some embellishments, and sure, Marcus was depicted as a decent and ethical drug dealer who shoots people from time to time, but only when they really deserve it, and he doesn’t want to actually kill them; but whatever, it was a fun movie.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Shopgirl was one of those “life lessons” kind of movies, where everyone makes mistakes and messes up each other’s lives, but really learn and grow by the end of the film.

Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) moves to Los Angeles from Vermont in order to pursue, not an acting or musical career (thank god), but a career as an artist—as in painting stuff artist. In between paintings she works at Saks Fifth Avenue to pay her bills, one of which includes a student loan with a fabulous payoff of 70 some years. Apparently she has not made any friends whatsoever, so when a strange, scruffy dude named Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) ineptly hits on her at the laundromat, she is desperate enough for companionship that she agrees to a date with him. Jeremy works for a musical appliance store, and it’s not clear what his basic ambition is, other than to be extremely odd and scruffy. He seems harmless enough though, and since Mirabelle is extremely lonely she sleeps with him. A few days later she meets Ray Porter (Steve Martin), an older guy whose idea of wooing a woman is expensive gifts and nice dinners, with the added bonus that he showers regularly. Mirabelle is conveniently saved from having to completely destroy Jeremy and turn him down, however, as he calls to let her know he is leaving town for a 6-month road trip with a local band. Now free to date Ray without a guilty conscience, she begins seeing him exclusively despite his early warning to her that he is not looking for anything serious with her.

After several months with Ray it becomes clear to Mirabelle that while he can provide her with everything she could want, he perpetually keeps her at a distance and will never fully commit to the relationship. Meanwhile, Jeremy starts calling Mirabelle from the road, and she realizes that despite his hygienic shortcomings and lack of maturity, he is completely devoted to her and willing to give her the emotional attachment she is missing with Ray. The plot finally reaches its climax, and Mirabelle has to make a decision about which man she will choose, despite the fact that it was pretty obvious whom she would pick from the beginning.

Shopgirl is about love and loss, and how people make compromises with themselves in an attempt to make a connection with someone else. In other words, it’s the kind of movie you’ll see on Lifetime. There were admittedly some funny parts to the movie, mostly during the scenes in which Jeremy acts like a loonball, and those were certainly fun to watch if nothing else. Steve Martin narrates parts of the movie even though he is not the central character, which I thought was somewhat distracting. His narration is told from an outside third party perspective, rather than directly from his character, so I kept wondering who was the actual storyteller in this movie. The screenplay itself was adapted from the “novella” by Martin, so I suppose he just read passages directly from the book, which left me feeling as though Steve Martin was reading me a bedtime story or something. It was really quite odd.

This is definitely a sentimental and emotional film, and one that, for the most part, is fairly realistic about relationships. It’s a decent flick, perhaps a bit slow at times, but I’m sure many people who are into that emotional stuff will love Shopgirl. Me, I just want some explosions and gunfights, so I hope that’s the topic of Martin’s next “novella.”

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 

I loved this movie. It’s classic film noir style with great sarcastic dialogue, a fast-moving plot, and entertaining characters. I don’t know what film noir actually is, but it just sort of seems like the proper description for this movie’s style.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is told in chapters and narrated by Robert Downey Jr’s character, Harry Lockhart, who describes four exciting and dangerous days that he spent in Los Angeles. Firstly, the narration style was great, as it is told in a conversational manner wherein Harry sometimes freezes frames to engage in some verbal editorializing. Harry starts out his night as a thief, attempting to steal some expensive electronic equipment when alarms go off and he is forced to flee. In his efforts to evade the police, Harry stumbles into what turns out to be an audition for the role of a detective in a movie. Not wanting to blow his newfound cover, Harry goes along with the audition and is surprised when the director wants to fly him out to Los Angeles for detective lessons, in order to familiarize him with the role. Once there, the director introduces Harry to Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), a sarcastic and homosexual private detective (hence the nickname “gay”), who will be taking Harry along during his investigations. By a happy twist of fate, Harry’s high school dream girl, Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan), happens to be at the director’s party as well, so Harry strikes up a conversation in the hope of finally getting into her pants. Sadly, however, he only manages to get into her less-attractive friend’s pants. Harry rejoins Gay Perry the following day for some detective work, which quickly becomes less dull when they witness some burly henchmen driving a car into the lake with a dead woman inside it. As Gay Perry and Harry begin investigating the murder, they find themselves caught up in a really confusing mystery that was somewhat difficult to follow, but exciting nonetheless.

Harry spends a lot of time talking in this film, whether he’s talking to other characters or narrating the story for the audience, but he was always quite funny. His scenes with Gay Perry were by far the most hilarious, as Gay Perry was blessed with withering sarcasm and a great sense of timing. None of the characters take their precarious situations all that seriously for that matter, choosing instead to deflect danger with appropriately-timed and detached commentary—which allows the audience to laugh rather than cringe when someone gets his head blown off. This movie reminded me of Pulp Fiction in that way, as what would normally be seen as disturbing and gross is instead funny and ironic. I never once felt bored with the story, as the pace was steady and quick, and each of the situations held my attention completely. The characters themselves were entertaining to watch as well, so really no matter what they were doing I found myself interested in the outcome. The mystery wraps up fairly well, and although the actual details of the plot were difficult to follow at times, it turned out to be quite simple—which is nice, for a change, because it prevents glaring holes in the story that annoy the crap out of you later.

I definitely recommend this movie, although not if one hates Robert Downey Jr. The humor is very sarcastic and dry, and none of the characters take themselves seriously; nor, in fact, does the movie itself. It’s a good murder mystery with an interesting film noir style I suppose, and I strongly recommend it for its humor alone, if nothing else.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Chicken Little 

Chicken Little is typically cute in that standard kids’ movie fashion, surprisingly short, and very heavy on the G-rating. The vocal talents were well-chosen for each of the characters, and I actually laughed aloud several times. Yes, I know, I’m easily entertained.

Chicken Little (Zach Braff) is an intelligent and highly imaginative little chick, who has completely destroyed his reputation after an unfortunate encounter between his head and what he believed to be a piece of the sky—later confirmed to be an acorn. Because of this celestial mixup, everyone thinks he’s a bit of a nutjob, with the exception of his three best friends: the ugly duckling Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack), the oversized pig Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn), and Fish out of Water (does not speak). Despite his extremely small stature, Chicken Little joins the baseball team in a misguided attempt to win back his father’s approval, as his father, Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall), was a high school baseball star. His dad simply doesn’t believe in Chicken Little anymore and advises him not to get his hopes up, to which Chicken Little responds by beating all the odds and making the game-saving hit in the final inning of an important game. After having finally earned back everyone’s respect, Chicken Little is understandably dismayed when what appears to be a small piece of sky crashes through his bedroom window, placing him in the familiar position of freaking everyone out. Yet this time his friends, Abby, Runt, and Fish, are witness to the event, and they must now convince the skeptical town that an alien invasion is about to commence.

The overall plot is fairly straightforward and fast-paced, and the underlying message of believing in your offspring, be they bird, pig, or otherwise was blatantly clear. So too was the lesson that one should never give up, always believe in yourself, blah blah blah—insert your typical “Disney movie lessons” here. There was nothing exceptionally earth-shattering about this film, but I did like the humor quite a bit. The fish character was remarkably entertaining even though it did not speak, and I found that any scene in which it appeared was sure to be amusing. Much of the dialogue was surprisingly witty, but always in keeping with good taste—for the kids, afterall. By the time the movie was over, I was legitimately surprised at how short it had seemed.

This is a great movie to take small children to see, and it won’t be excruciatingly painful and cheesy despite its blatant message. I wouldn’t say this is necessarily the kind of kids’ movie that will widely appeal to adults as well, but it’s one of those things that you can pretend you don’t want to see and then “humor” the kids by agreeing to watch it with them, rolling your eyes yet inwardly laughing.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


I thought this was a decent movie, albeit a little boring for my tastes, but probably quite interesting to those with military experience. Nevertheless, I think Jarhead will have great appeal to many, as it is a character study of one marine’s struggle with the lesser-known aspects of war.

Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) narrates this story of his experiences (or lack thereof) as a marine in the Scout Sniper unit during the first Gulf War. The film starts out with a very brief overview of Swoff’s dysfunctional family life and his hellish training during boot camp. Basically, this sets the tone for the entire movie, as Swoff’s service in the military is entirely composed of one crappy experience after another. Swoff is assigned to the scout sniper unit, where he is trained endlessly by Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx), an amusing and yet unforgiving superior, whose idea of punishment often includes humiliation. After several months of harsh military life, Swoff and his unit are ecstatic to learn that they will be sent to Iraq for Operation Desert Shield, finally being presented with the opportunity to utilize their hard-earned skills. Unfortunately, their mission is entirely defensive, having been ordered to simply protect the oil fields from Iraqi soldiers, which means more waiting rather than combat. Swoff and his unit now spend their brutally hot days with yet more training—navigating empty minefields, shooting at nothing, running chemical weapons drills, drinking water, and looking north in anticipation of a possible Iraqi attack. The relentless heat and mounting boredom make daily life frustrating, and Swoff usually fills the empty time with thoughts of the girlfriend he left behind, wondering if she will remain faithful to him. Finally, after nearly 6 months, the focus of the war becomes offensive, and Swoff and his sniper unit are sent out into combat through burning oil fields and more desert.

Jarhead is focused on Swoff’s character, inasmuch as he narrates the story, and everything that occurs is from his point of view. The combat portions of the film are toward the end, so the majority of time covers the growing restlessness and frustration of the forever-waiting troops. We constantly see the daily life of soldiers in the camp and their attempts to beat back boredom with various activities—reading letters, betting on scorpion fights, and burning pooh as punishment for misdeeds. When reporters come to the camp to interview the soldiers about their experiences in the war, Sergeant Sykes instructs them to say only positive things about the military, reminding the men that they signed contracts and don’t have any rights to free speech. Swoff’s sniper partner, Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), continually repeats the line, “welcome to the suck,” throughout the movie, and by the middle of the film the audience begins to relate.

Jarhead was an interesting movie, but certainly nothing one hasn’t seen before in terms of brutal training practices in the marines—whether accurate or not, it seems to be a common theme for films focused on the military. What makes this movie different, however, is its focus on the non-action that takes place when combat is not occurring, and the frustrations and tensions associated with such inactivity. This was definitely a good movie, although personally I found it slightly boring. Keep in mind that it is a character study as opposed to your typical war film, and with that in mind, one might enjoy it quite a bit.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Weather Man 

Yet another film in which Nicolas Cage plays a conflicted depressed guy, who does and says all sorts of inappropriate things that appall everyone around him.

David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) feels like his life is a complete failure, despite having a well-paying job as a weatherman in Chicago where he only has to work two hours a day. Even worse than having that occupational nightmare, people are constantly recognizing him on the street and asking him what the weather is going to be like. He responds to these innocent questions by being a huge asshole, whereupon someone inevitably throws some sort of food at him. His life truly sucks. Better days are not on the horizon for David either, as his father, Robert (Michael Cain), is dying from lymphoma, he’s still in love with his ex wife, Noreen (Hope Davis), and his two kids are troubled and unhappy. David’s teenage son, Mike (Nicholas Hoult), has recently gotten out of rehab, and one of his former drug counselors seems to have developed a creepy affection for the teenager. David’s 12 year-old daughter, Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena), is overweight and referred to as “cameltoe” by her classmates—she assumes it’s because she’s tough. On the off chance that the audience is similarly confused as to cameltoe’s meaning, several shots of it are shown while David explains the phenomena. Meanwhile, he has just received a potential job offer from the national morning show Hello America with Brian Gumble in New York, which is the only bright spot in his ostensibly dismal existence.

David makes various attempts throughout the film to please his kids and his father, as well as win back his ex wife’s affections, but each honest endeavor fails and the situation subsequently worsens. He takes Shelly and his father to New York, where his father can see another specialist, and David can interview with Hello America. He’s optimistic that he’ll get the job and even more hopeful that this potentially successful career move would allow him to fix his personal life as well. He seems to be completely off-base about his relationship with Noreen however, who responds to his suggestion of marital reconciliation with near revulsion. Flashbacks of an argument over tartar sauce during their marriage are shown to help the audience understand what David does not—that Noreen pretty much loathes him. So he becomes more depressed.

Nicolas Cage spends the majority of his starring role gazing forlornly into space, occasionally interrupted from his reverie by food smashing into his face, or his daughter strutting around with a cameltoe problem. The movie is alternately dismal and amusing, but more so the former. The comedy mostly comes from David’s reactions to his many failures as well as his observations on life, which usually end in outbursts of profanity or mild physical violence. The food chucked at David throughout the movie was also quite entertaining, although that might just be due to my sometimes juvenile sense of humor. Regardless, I think the previews for this film were slightly deceptive, as it wasn’t nearly the comedy I expected it to be.

There were many brilliant attempts at humor in the film, but in the end I mostly just felt depressed. I’m not sure where to even start in classifying this movie, but it was a great character study in typical Nicolas Cage style. If you like those kinds of stories, then you’ll absolutely love this one.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Legend of Zorro 

Well, I will say one thing for the filmmakers of The Legend of Zorro--they managed to incorporate ridiculous explosions and physics-defying stunts using various modes of transportation, all in a pre-Civil War time period!

After the opening credits, which feature lots of flames so that the audience will know they're about to see a kick-ass movie, the story begins with the people of the California territory about to make history by voting in favor of joining the Union as the 30th state. Unfortunately, villains want to stir up trouble for no good reason, and decide to steal the completed ballots from one tiny province in order to minimally affect the general outcome. Regrettably for the bad guys, they picked the one province in which Zorro/Don Alejandro (Antonio Banderas) resides, so he flips around on the rooftops and then flamboyantly dispatches with the villains. However, given that the bad guys had inexplicably abandoned their guns in favor of the more effective and precise hand-to-hand method of combat, Zorro kind of got off lucky.

With the opening fight sequence complete, Zorro/Alejandro goes home to his wife, Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who insists that he now give up his superhero life in order to spend time with their son. Or something like that, she was nagging him for a while, and my attention started wandering. Anyway, being an incurable goody-two-shoes, Alejandro refuses, so Elena files for divorce and starts dating a snobby rich guy, Count Armand (Rufus Sewell). Alejandro is instantly jealous and upset, and immediately begins to suspect that Count Armand is up to no good, which becomes apparent when he sets off a random bomb and then has his evil henchmen steal land from a poor man and his wife. Zorro/Alejandro attempts to prevent this from happening, and it was at this point in the movie when he had the good sense to engage in a swordfight in a burning barn with an infant in his arms. Somehow, Count Armand's plans to arm the Confederate Army with nitroglycerin hinged upon attaining the deed to this guy's land, but for the life of me, I just can't see why.

Eventually, Alejandro's son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso), takes matters into his own hands during a ridiculous wooden sword fight scene, in which he does several backflips and steals some evidence of Armand's plan before being rescued by Zorro/Alejandro. He doesn't recognize that Zorro is his father, which is understandable, since it's not like huge parts of Alejandro's face are showing or anything. The plot gradually leads to a big fight on a train where Zorro's horse leaps off a cliff onto the speeding carriage, which didn't surprise me all that much, considering that the horse had previously crashed through the side of a burning barn. . .which also didn't phase me, come to think of it, because I had already seen horses smash through solid brick walls within the first five minutes of the movie. Anyway, once Armand can get the train up to 88 miles per hour, they can travel back to the future and destroy this infernal script.

I'm being harsh on The Legend of Zorro, but I actually liked this movie a great deal. It was, as one might expect, completely absurd, and it was much longer than it really needed to be, but there were many redeeming qualities nonetheless. There were several hilarious lines, wonderful choreography for the outrageous fight sequences, and a very thrilling ending. Don't go into the film expecting a strong dose of reality, and you'll have a great time watching Zorro.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Plainly, I just didn’t get the joke. Or maybe I did, and I just didn’t think it was all that funny.

Rafi (Uma Thurman) is a 37 year-old recently divorced depressed person, who is seeing Dr. Lisa Metzger (Meryl Streep), a super awesome psychiatrist, to help her through the difficult time. Months after her divorce is final, Rafi meets 23 year-old David (Bryan Greenberg) through a mutual acquaintance, and apprehensively agrees to a date after Lisa’s strong encouragement. While hesitant to become too serious with David due to the 14-year age difference between them, Rafi can’t help but let loose with the fun-loving David, who makes her laugh and is so eager to please her—in a variety of ways. Through great feats of simple deductive skills, Lisa brilliantly puts two and two together after Rafi reveals details about her new paramour, and realizes with horror that Rafi’s new young lover is, in fact, her son. Lisa consults with a colleague about her ethical obligations in continuing treatment of Rafi, at which her colleague scoffs and says that conflicts of interest are no longer considered unethical due to their nature as being boring subjects for movies. With that moral dilemma now having been completely ignored, we can proceed to have a session in which Rafi talks candidly about the couple’s love life, which is funny because, like, Lisa is David’s mother! So Lisa makes an assortment of uncomfortable facial expressions, to which Rafi responds by inexplicably deciding to describe, in detail, the finer aspects of David’s penis. For ten. Long. Minutes.

Eventually, as we see from the previews, Lisa gets tired of hearing about myriads of sexual adventures and tells Rafi that David is her son, which is when things get quite interesting. Sadly, however, the rest of the movie explores the very serious issues behind romantic relationships involving two people with different religious backgrounds, as well as large disparities in age.

The supposed main premise that a psychiatrist is counseling a woman who is dating her son was definitely amusing, but the joke quickly became overused and then discarded altogether. The real focus is instead stubbornly kept on real relationship problems as opposed to lighter romantic comedy antics. There is a very funny pie-throwing gag that runs throughout the duration of the movie, and there are of course multiple scenes that seemed cause for laughter; but, on the whole, this movie failed miserably as a romantic comedy.

If I hadn’t been lured into the theater with the promise of a hilarious film, then perhaps I wouldn’t be so annoyed. In all fairness, it was a decent story about love and the obstacles that two people face in making a difficult situation work—in other words, it was like a chick flick gone tragically wrong. The movie was way too serious for its supposedly silly base, so I would classify it more as a dramatic comedy and recommend it only as such.