Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Catching Up

Recently viewed movies

The Proposal
How can you go wrong with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, not to mention Betty White? You can't. The story is a little thin and formulaic, but the sheer charisma of the leads pulls it through.

Personal note: Sandra Bullock is only a few years younger than I am. There is a scene where she is 99% naked yet not nude, and her physique is remarkable (hence I'm remarking), and not just for someone in her mid-40s. I don't know that I've ever seen any woman on-screen in that good of shape and certainly never in person. Wow.

Public Enemies
Michael Mann directed one of the best modern crime movies, 1995's Heat, a movie by which all crime dramas should be judged, and compared to Heat, Public Enemies is not at all good. It's too long, it has too many characters and it looks like many scenes were carelessly hacked in editing. On the plus side, Leelee Sobieski showed up in the last five minutes. No introduction; her character just appeared.  I just love saying that name.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
I'm withholding comment until I've seen it twice. With any HP movie, you have to adjust to how much of the novels was left out. It'll take at least one more viewing to form a real opinion on how I feel about the movie without thinking about the novel.

Transformers 2
This bad boy is another story. I saw it for the second time this weekend. There were things I enjoyed - the Sam's relationships to his parents, Michaela, Capt Lennox and the autobots - but it was still too long and there was too much machine-on-machine violence. Unless his next movie is only 90 minutes long, I'm officially reinstating the Michael Bay lifetime ban.

My Sister's Keeper

Stream of consciousness thoughts about My Sister's Keeper.

If you watch the previews and commercials, My Sister's Keeper should have been a courtroom light-drama, most likely with a happy ending. I'm not going to give any spoilers, but while they want you to think it's a kid vs parents legal story, it's really about the sister who is dying of leukemia. It is in turns very serious, very emotional and somewhat humorous. Most importantly, it's very good. Why they released a good drama during Summer action season, I can only guess.

I almost missed it. My Sister's Keeper will be moving to the discount theaters soon, maybe this Friday, so I was going to skip it and see a more macho movie today. However, I took too long to get out of the house for the other movie and decided to see My Sister's Keeper, starting 20 minutes later. Glad I did. It's a very good movie.

Director Nick Cassavetes used an odd technique for the first third of the movie. He had multiple narrators - each of the major characters. I wasn't sure if I liked it at first - it seemed heavy handed - but there was a lot of exposition to get through and it opened up the story much faster and much deeper than he could have with just one narrator. He stopped using any voice-overs at all after the first third, except at the very end.

I've taken issue with Cassavetes' movies before (The Notebook, She's So Lovely), so I was prepared for the worst. He made some odd choices like he always does, but they generally worked out. There were two scenes, for example, that portrayed a character lost in thought that used neon or bright lights along with indy-ballad music to show it. A little distracting but forgivable, as the rest of the movie worked so well. By the way, my issues with Cassavetes are nothing compared to the ones I've mentioned before about Ron Howard. Cassavetes makes a few odd artistic choices but I can accept and respect that. Howard always puts a fatal flaw in his movies. I'd better not start...

There was an inside joke that fell flat. Emily Deschanel of TV's Bones played a doctor. Her name was Farquad. Yep. Co-star Cameron Diaz was in Shrek, who had a villain named Farquad. They not only showed you the doctor's card in close-up, they had her introduce herself - no one was missing that gag. Take it from a punster - sometimes you have to resist the urge.

The soon to be ubiquitous Abigail Breslin was wonderful as the title character. The girl who played the ill sister, Sofia Vassilieva, was even better. I've never seen her in anything before. Cameron Diaz, a world-class hottie, was convincing as an early 40s mother. She may not get any award nominations at the end of the year, but if she does, she earned them. And Jason Patric, who's spent a career trying to convince audiences that he can't act, played the father to perfection.

If you're interested in an interesting family drama or emotional roller coaster, My Sister's Keeper is a movie for you.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Onquirer Years

From 2001 to 2006, I contributed movie reviews to the Customer Care Newsletter, which was merged into the Operations Newsletter, which was later merged into the company-wide Onquirer.

I recently made a pilgrimage into the depths of the LAN and my home computer’s hard drives and found copies of my columns from the Onquirer, et al. I'm publishing them here partly for entertainment value and partly to assist you in making home video selections.

My first review was for "The Glass House," a teen-in-peril thriller. The review was a full paragraph long and was scheduled to be published the second week of September, 2001. For some reason, the content of that issue was rapidly revised and my reviewing debut was delayed for a month. You can see a pared-down review for "The Glass House" below, but essentially my original advice was to wait for it to come out on VHS.

When these reviews were published in the newsletter, we had space considerations to deal with, so most reviews are tiny compared to ones written directly for the blog. These are the full text of the reviews as they appeared in the company publications, edited only for clarity, if needed, and if I commented inside the review, I did it in brackets [like this]. After many reviews, I made a comment from today's perspective.

When I started contributing, the editors wanted me to rate the movies on a scale of 1-3. I didn't care for that so I convinced them to allow me to use a free-form description. They later won out and I used the numerical method, which I've included in the reviews below. I later reverted to a Recommended/Not Recommended scheme. In 2004, I was able to do away with ratings altogether when I was made co-editor of the Onquirer. I never liked rating movies. I figure if you can't spend 30 seconds reading the whole review, then what the heck are you doing using the column to pick movies?

The reviews I'm posting today are only ones for which I found electronic copies. I didn't save e-versions for every edition, but I have most if not all of the various newsletters archived in print form, so some year when I get enough gumption, I'll scan & post any that are missing. Don't count on it being too soon. By the way, has anyone seen my scanner lately?

I've found that today's perspective can be quite different from those back in the day. Even I am surprised at how savagely I ripped a few movies and how nice I was to others that history has since castigated. I hope you enjoy my work and remember this: the reviews and comments are worth exactly what you paid for them.

Hearts in Atlantis - October 2001

[2009: My debut was limited to capsule reviews due to space limitations. I think I did an adequate job conveying my perceptions of the quality of the movies; not so much with the synopsis.]

Here are my thoughts on some movies I’ve seen recently:

"Hearts in Atlantis"

Very Good

Anthony Hopkins is fabulous as a man with a strange gift who befriends a fatherless boy. It’s a simple tale told patiently and carefully by the director of ‘Shine.’ Lousy title, though.

Ghost World - October 2001

Very Good

Follows the path of a teenage outcast as she finds herself drifting away from other outcasts. Thora Birch stands out among a highly talented cast.

[2009: Haven't seen Thora Birch lately, but another member of the highly talented cast was Scarlett Johansson, who has gone on to bigger and sometimes better things.]

The Glass House - October 2001


A by-the-numbers thriller with little suspense and few thrills.

[2009: I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the teenager in peril was played by Leelee Sobieski. I just love saying that name]

Soul Survivors - October 2001


A supernatural thriller with a slasher twist, or maybe a slasher flick with a supernatural twist. I couldn’t tell what the film-makers were trying to do and I doubt they knew for sure. Easily the worst movie of the year, and that’s saying a lot, considering this year gave us "Summer Catch."

[2009: About the worst thing on Eliza Dushku's resume. Did I mention that you should be watching "Dollhouse?"]

Herman USA - October 2001

Pretty Good

A charming feel-good movie with a warm heart. It bogs down a little with some generic romances, but ends on a nice note. An added attraction is the fun you can have spotting the mistakes in this filmed-in-Minnesota movie. There are plenty to find.

Rock Star - October 2001


A fictionalized version of a true story about a singer for Judas Priest. Mark Wahlberg does a respectable job and the story stays on target for the entire movie, except for one scene.

K-PAX - November 2001

Very Good

A mental patient claims to be from another planet. Is he? A simple story told with care and grace. Good performances all around. Although I’ve seen this type of story numerous times, at no point did I have a sense of déjà vu. I wish I could say that more often.

Escanaba in Da Moonlight - November 2001

Not Good

The only movie set in the UP of Michigan that I can recall. Four deer hunters gather at a cabin the night before the season opener. It starts out trying to be a comedy, maybe even a farce, then deteriorates into a bunch of surreal images that would freak out even David Lynch.

[2009: I don't remember if "Not Good" is worse than "Dreck," but I'm still annoyed at how bad this movie was almost eight years later.]

Joy Ride - November 2001


Almost a remake of Steven Spielberg’s classic “Duel,” but not quite. A truly suspenseful thriller that keeps you interested until the very end, unless you’ve seen the previews, in which case you know what’s going to happen throughout most of the film. Still, a good take on the ‘bad guy who never gives up’ formula.

[2009: And why would he give up? The babe in peril was played by Leelee Sobieski.]

Bandits - November 2001


A light-hearted romp that is less a good movie and more of an excuse for Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton to play roles they normally wouldn’t. I didn’t really care about the characters, which is usually very important to me, or where the story went, but by watching the actors having fun, I had fun.

[2009: Over the years, I've started loathing Bruce Willis, but putting that aside, I'll bet this movie is holding up pretty well.]

Training Day - November 2001


Denzel Washington as an experienced cop that breaks all the rules. Does he think the end justifies the means or is he just corrupt? Answering that question makes this an interesting movie.

Don’t Say a Word - November 2001


Another film where Michael Douglas starts out as an average citizen and becomes something completely different over the course of a few days. The story is a little weak, but told in a very entertaining fashion.

13 Ghosts - November 2001

Not Good

"13 Ghosts" gets the distinction of being the only movie I’ve walked out of in as long as I can remember, and I pride myself on sticking with bad movies. It’s loud and jarring, with abrupt cuts and flashes to make you think there is some substance. There isn’t. Just generic people being chased by hideous ghosts.

[2009: I think "Dreck" is worse than "Not Good," and this loser was definitely dreck.]

Serendipity - November 2001


A cheerful romantic comedy. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale are two people whose relationship is both helped and hindered by meaningful and not so meaningful coincidences. Not quite up to the level of a Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan romance, but, if you like romantic comedies, "Serendipity" is worth your time.

Behind Enemy Lines - December 2001

There’s a rule in the movie business that studios dump their lower quality pictures between Labor Day and the first week of December. While there were a few clinkers in September and October, I’ve seen some pretty good movies in November and December.

"Behind Enemy Lines"


In 1999, an F18 is shot down in Bosnia, and the navigator has to hike to a safe area for a rescue. It’s a mile-a-minute action movie, but suffers from so many inaccurate military, geographic, and, yes, meteorological details that I never forgot I was watching a movie. But since I like war movies, I enjoyed it anyway.

[2009: Since we've had too much war for my taste over the past seven years, I don't enjoy war movies any more. After refreshing my memory with IMDB, I'm going to say that "Behind Enemy Lines" hasn't held up very well and there's no reason to rent it.]

Amalie - December 2001

In French with English subtitles

A loner decides to dedicate her life to anonymously making people happy, with mixed results. "Amalie" is an unpredictably fun and happy movie.

[2009: "Amalie" deserved a longer review. I still love this movie. It's so quirky and fun, I think I'd put it in my all-time top 20, if I bothered to ever make an all-time top 20 list.]

Spy Game - December 2001


Robert Redford is a retiring CIA officer who tries to rescue his protégé (Brad Pitt) from a prison on the other side of the world. He plays the game with style, without leaving CIA headquarters, and without letting his bosses know what he is doing. Kind of far fetched, but Redford and Pitt make it worth watching.

Mulholland Drive - December 2001

Very Good

I won’t say anything about the plot of "Mulholland Drive," just this: If you’ve hated David Lynch’s movies in the past, or you don’t ‘get’ Lynch, you’ll really hate this movie. If you like David Lynch’s work, you’ll really enjoy "Mulholland Drive." With the exception of "Twin Peaks," this is Lynch’s best work yet, but it is incredibly warped.

Life As A House - December 2001

Very Good

Kevin Kline plays a dying man who wants to build a house for his alienated son before he dies, and ends up having an unintentional effect on everyone he comes in contact with. It starts slow, but gradually grabbed me and made me care about the characters. It could have turned sappy by the end, but never did. Not for children.

The Man Who Wasn’t There - December 2001


The Coen Brothers become unpredictable again, and follow up "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou" with a moody film noir tale. "The Man Who Wasn’t There" follows a little man as he makes some out-of-character moves, and, true to film noir, it rapidly gets out of hand. Hardly a feel-good movie, I’d skip it if you’re looking for a lift.

[2009: Features Scarlett Johansson just before she hit it big. This movie - along with "Blood Simple" - should have been a mandatory prerequisite before viewing the Coen Brothers' "No Country for Old Men."]

The One - December 2001


A Sci-Fi martial arts story that tries so hard to top "The Matrix" it becomes laughable. The fights and action scenes are so obviously staged or computer generated that you have to wonder why they cast noted martial arts actor Jet Li as the main character. They could have put John Goodman in the role and no one would have noticed. I can’t say it was bad, though, because I did enjoy it.

[2009: In 2001, apparently bad was the new good.]

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Monsters, Inc - December 2001

Very Good

What can I say about either movie that you don’t already know? Neither one disappoints.

[2009: There was a lot of hype for both of these movies when they came out. There was no reason to review either one, just give the readers a push to go see them.

I still think the publisher made a mistake in changing the Harry Potter title for American readers & viewers. The sorcerer was really an alchemist and in the UK, they call them philosophers. I think it dumbed it down to change the title from "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone," which is how it's known in most of the English-speaking world. I like the ring of "Harry Potter and the Alchemist’s Stone" but what do I know?

Did you know that Julianne Hough of "Dancing with the Stars" was an extra in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?" She's a Gryffindor fan at the quidditch match standing near Ron. She's not on screen for very long but you can't miss that thousand watt smile once you know to look for it.]

Heist - December 2001

Very Good

Gene Hackman plays a thief coerced into one last score. I looked forward to this movie and wanted it to be great, but it was, alas, merely very good. Let me explain. "Heist" was written and directed by David Mamet, and Mamet is the film industry’s greatest living screenwriter. Mamet’s greatest strength is dialogue - intelligent, rapid-fire dialogue. "Heist," however, is a classic caper movie in the mold of Rififi and Topkapi, which means there are long stretches of action and tension with no dialogue. Mamet writing a caper movie is like having Picasso paint your house - it’ll still look good, but what a waste of talent. Having said that, let me say further that "Heist" is still a very good movie, and if you like Gene Hackman or twisty plots, you will certainly enjoy "Heist." But, if you’re expecting David Mamet at the top of his game, you’d better ratchet your hopes down a notch before you go.

[2009: Saw it again in December 2005. It's holding up well pretty well. I think I was spoiled by having "The Spanish Prisoner" and "State and Main" be my first Mamet pictures. Those two were fabulous.]

Capsule Reviews - January 2002

"The Majestic"
An overly long, overly sentimental story of an amnesiac who tries to discover who he may or may not be, but turns silly at the end.

"Vanilla Sky"
A man who has everything begins to lose his mind, or does he? A movie that isn’t always what it seems to be and just isn’t that good, sorry to say.

"A Beautiful Mind"
A certified genius develops paranoid schizophrenia. It glossed over some parts I would have like to have seen, but was fairly interesting nonetheless.

[2009: It was OK, but did not deserve to be the Best Picture (tm) for that year.]

"The Royal Tenenbaums"
A comedy about the world’s most dysfunctional family. Gene Hackman is, as always, wonderful.

[2009: Almost always. I gave him a pass on "Behind Enemy Lines" and he was pretty bad in "Crimson Tide." With the ensemble cast here, I wonder why I singled out Hackman for praise.]

"Kate and Leopold"
A time travel romantic comedy that is much better than one might expect.

"In the Bedroom"
A story of how a couple copes after tragedy strikes. Great performances, but a weak ending.

"Joe Somebody"
The story of a little guy standing up for himself that we’ve seen in dozens of movies. "Joe Somebody" is notable for having been filmed in Plymouth, with exterior shots at the eBenX and Gage buildings. I didn’t see the Onvoy buildings in any scenes, but I recognized a lot of the backgrounds.

[2009: I saw a scene being filmed in June 2001, contributing to my personal connection to the movie. I own a copy and watch it once in a while. It's still fun to spot Twin Cities landmarks and it's holding up pretty well in general. The 10-year-old daughter was played by Hayden Panettiere, who inspired me to criticize "I Love You, Beth Cooper" recently.

The buildings I mentioned are at 505 Hwy 169 N and 10000 Hwy 55 W.]

Capsule Reviews - Febuary 2002

"The Count of Monte Cristo"
A very good telling of the classic tale of betrayal and revenge. Fast moving and fun to see justice served.

"A Walk To Remember"
Much better than I expected! A teen romance that treats the characters, teen and adult alike, as if they are intelligent people.

[2009: The beginning of my appreciation of Mandy Moore.]

"Gosford Park"
A comedy set in 1920s England that is equally about wealthy manor guests and the servants who tend them. Great characters and beautiful scenery, however I missed a lot of the dialogue due to strong British accents and rapid delivery.

[2009: I didn't have enough space to get into explaining the plot of this Robert Altman movie. I think it's one of his best but Altman isn't for everyone.]

"The Shipping News"
Kevin Spacey as a meek widower who gets transplanted to Newfoundland, where he finds great vistas, quirky people, and eventually, himself. A little over the top in places, but quite enjoyable.

Iris - March 2002


A story about noted British author Iris Murdoch, told in parallel tracks: in her 20s when she meets her husband; and in her 60s, when she contracts Alzheimer’s Disease. I had not heard of Iris Murdoch before seeing the movie, but she had quite a resume- author of 28 novels and countless articles, and was a respected professor. A movie about a person dying of Alzheimer's sounds grim, but Iris celebrates an unusual and remarkable life.

Monster's Ball - March 2002


A complex movie about a prison guard and the widow of an executed prisoner. Not a pretty story and neither character is a saint, but I enjoyed the movie immensely. I was riveted by how these two characters, different in all respects, came to meet and form a relationship. The movie gets high marks for avoiding cliches and letting the characters communicate via looks, reactions, and body language.

[2009: Not to mention that this is where Halle Berry picked up her Academy Award (tm) for Best Actress. Worth watching just for the last scene.

Dragonfly - March 2002


The Kevin Costner Curse continues! The previews for "Dragonfly" were wonderful, but the movie doesn't follow through. A man whose wife recently died believes she is contacting him from the great beyond. After the initial set-up, however, the movie loses focus. Is it a supernatural thriller, love story, ghost story, adventure? Costner does an adequate job playing the main character, but the movie goes in so many directions, I stopped caring what happened long before it was over.

Blade II - April 2002


A totally entertaining sequel to 2000’s "Blade." If you missed the original, don’t worry, they tell you everything you need to know in the first few minutes. And all you need to know is this: people, and people as vampires, look cool, talk cool, and are almost always fighting. It’s not violence so much as choreography. "Blade II" is like ballet, and the film-makers never miss an opportunity to thrill the audience.

[2009: And they made a third. I recommend renting all three for a thought-free, fully entertaining trilogy sometime.]

Panic Room - April 2002


Jodie Foster and Forest Whittaker are the leads in this thriller about burglars and a mother & child. Unlike your ordinary movie in the genre, where luck is written into the script, this story is about brain vs. brain. The characters are trapped in a house and must play each other like a game of chess in order to survive until morning. "Panic Room" is far above your average suspense-thriller.

[2009: The character of Foster's daughter was played by Kristen Stewart, who is a current "It" girl, appearing in "Twilight" last year. Stewart has quite the impressive resume, "Panic Room" is one of several really good movies she's been in.]

Ice Age - May 2002


Computer animation has changed animated films over the past few years. Even a lousy movie looks fabulous. How do you judge a movie that is visually stunning? "Ice Age" is certainly not a bad movie, but the story is a little thin. It looks fantastic, however, with animals that are as individual as people, great voice talent, and some great gags (I loved the Star Trek reference). Still, the story isn’t compelling, or even that interesting, so I walked away feeling empty, even though it was entertaining.

[2009: Knowing that "Ice Age II" would be derivative, I skipped it. I skipped "Ice Age III" because, in addition to the inevitable watering down of the premise, they put large mammals together with dinosaurs. That's just stupid.]

Frailty - May 2002


A widower with two young sons claims to receive a vision that he should kill demons masquerading as humans. When the boys grow up, the killing continues. Great acting and intense suspense, but the ending undermines the first 90 minutes of the story, so I can’t recommend it.

The Sweetest Thing - May 2002


"The Sweetest Thing" was half syrupy-sweet romantic comedy and half slime fest. The cast was unbelievably charismatic, but they needed to spend more time on the comedy and less on the gross-outs.

[2009: I had to IMDB this one to remember it. Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate played the leads. After prodding my memory, I'm remembering more sleaze than fun, so I see no reason to rent this one.]

Spider Man - May 2002


Go see it.

[2009: I was quite impressed by "Spider Man" and Spidey-hype was everywhere in May 2002, so I thought brevity was the way to go.

I didn't care for "Spider Man 2." It looked so computer-generated that it was impossible to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy it. I skipped "Spider Man 3" in anticipation of the same thing happening again. Judging by the box office take, others may not agree with my opinion.]

Changing Lanes - May 2002


Two flawed men meet, literally by accident, on what was the worst day of each other's lives. They make it even worse by repeatedly trying to do the right thing then doing a very wrong thing. "Changing Lanes" features Ben Affleck’s best performance to date and a typically great performance by Samuel L Jackson. It’s fascinating to watch the men realize just what is going wrong with their lives, then voluntarily make decisions that they know won’t help.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding - June 2002


The sweetest and cutest movie so far this year! A wallflower who was always overshadowed by her family asserts her independence and gets engaged to an ordinary guy. Chaos ensues as we are introduced to Greek immigrant culture. Well worth the price of admission.

Insomnia - June 2002


A worthy successor to director Christopher Nolan’s "Memento." Al Pacino creates another unforgettable character, a California detective on loan to a small Alaska town. He runs a murder investigation but can’t sleep, partly due to the 24-hour Alaska sunlight and partly due to the stress of the job. A solid thriller from start to finish.

[2009: Christopher Nolan would later go on to direct "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight." He did fine jobs with those movies but I'd like to see him do some small movies like "Memento" again.]

Sum of All Fears - June 2002


I’ve practically memorized all of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels, so I knew "Sum of All Fears" wouldn’t compare favorably to the book. However, as a thriller, this is a good movie, and it’s very topical, as we see terrorism on TV on an almost daily basis.

[2009: My how times have changed. I've come to dislike the jingoism and ends-justify-the-means mentality of Jack Ryan. In addition, there's terror fatigue, as we've been hearing people yell "Terrorist!" at the drop of a hat for the past eight years. I don't think I'd be so charitable as to give "Sum of All Fears" a 2.5 today.]

Bad Company - June 2002


Have you heard the phrase “designed by committee?” Well, "Bad Company" must have been written and produced by committee. It’s about terrorists setting off an H-bomb in New York City, but it stars a stand-up comedian and Hannibal Lector. There’s nothing funny about the topic, yet Chris Rock is cracking jokes non-stop. "Bad Company" had its moments, but mostly misfired.

Mr. Deeds - July 2002


Ostensibly a remake of the Frank Capra classic "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," but "Mr. Deeds" is really a movie that exists so Adam Sandler can play another lovable doofus. With a good supporting cast and a story that allows Sandler to be Sandler, "Mr. Deeds" gives you exactly what you would expect.

Minority Report - July 2002


One of Steven Spielberg’s best movies yet, and that is not an easy accomplishment. Tom Cruise plays a police officer in an elite unit that stops murders before they happen. "Minority Report" succeeds on a number of levels- it’s a top-notch mystery, a story of human relationships, and an eye-popping sci-fi thriller. It almost makes me forgive Spielberg’s "AI" and Cruise’s "Eyes Wide Shut." Almost.

[2009: "Minority Report" holds up well upon repeat viewings. I wouldn't mind having the holographic computer interface the cops use.]

Men in Black II - July 2002


I wish I could get the 81 minutes of my life back that I wasted watching "Men in Black II." It is said that sequels usually aren’t as good as the originals, and this more than proves it. It seemed like "Men in Black II" was just going through the motions, with no character development, a bland villain, and worst of all, no sense of humor.

The Importance of Being Earnest - July 2002


A modern telling of Oscar Wilde’s century-old play that works better than many modern stories. Colin Firth and Rupert Everett are perfectly cast as men who each end up impersonating a man named Earnest, who doesn’t actually exist. The hijinks that result were probably mind-blowing in 1895, but are still cute today.

Lovely & Amazing - August 2002


Movies about dysfunctional families are a dime-a-dozen, but "Lovely & Amazing" turns that genre upside down. The characters KNOW they are dysfunctional and are aware that they are making mistakes and bad decisions, and we get to enjoy seeing them go through their lives. The women of "Lovely & Amazing" are truly lovely and amazing, but also seriously messed up.

Road to Perdition - August 2002


‘A’ for effort, ‘C’ for story. Any movie with Tom Hanks and Paul Newman is going to have some great characters, but the story was predictable. "Road to Perdition" was beautifully shot and edited, but not exactly the happiest movie I’ve ever seen.

Signs - August 2002


"Signs" should have been called "Fear." That’s what it is really about, as fear permeates the atmosphere and drives the characters. What would you do if aliens made crop circles in your cornfield? You would fear the unknown. "Signs" is one of the best suspense films in recent memory, but I didn’t completely buy the ending. I will, however, have to see it again.

[2009: Starring Mel Gibson and Joachim Phoenix as future nut jobs. I saw it again four months later at the discount theater and I didn't much care for it. "Signs" showed some, well, signs that director M. Night Shyamalan was on the road to Crazytown, in which he would continue the voyage with "The Village," hit the outskirts of with "The Lady in the Water," and crash into the town square with "The Happening."]

Austin Powers in Goldmember - August 2002


Was that a new Austin Powers movie or did they just recycle the old ones? The sense of déjà vu was so strong even Ozzy Osbourne noticed it (he has a cameo). Some scenes were almost gut-bustingly funny while others were incredibly lame (best joke: a time clock for henchmen). "Goldmember" is worth seeing just for the first five minutes, but after that, you’re on your own.

[2009: I Netflixed the three Austin Powers movies recently. I don't remember cringing as much when I watched them in the theater, but they definitely are a bit icky today.]

My Big Fat Greek Wedding- August 2002


If you haven’t seen "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" yet, be sure to catch it while it is still in theaters. It’s a cute romantic comedy that’s a lot of fun, and is probably the funnest movie I’ve enjoyed all year. I saw it again last week and was even better the second time.

[2009: You're not experiencing déjà vu - I also reviewed "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" in June 2002. Sometimes, you have to push the really good movies just because you feel a responsibility to let other people - co-workers in this case - enjoy something as much as you do. I felt that MBFGW was worth the second plug.]

The Good Girl - September 2002


Jennifer Aniston proves she’s more than Rachel on "Friends." Aniston plays a bored woman who shakes up her life (the title is meant ironically) and gets more than she expected. Shot on video, the movie looks cheap, but has a top-notch story and good acting.

Possession - September 2002


Two love stories unfold simultaneously in "Possession." A pair of modern-day academics chase after evidence of two mid-19th century writers who were not known to have ever met, but had a torrid affair. The interweaving of old and new stories was breathtaking at times.

Update 6/24/2010

I watched "Possession" again last last week (6/16/10) for the first time since I saw it in the theater (9/16/02). I thoroughly enjoyed it this time as well. It is a seriously well crafted movie. It's both a romance and a mystery.

City by the Sea - September 2002


A lousy title for a nicely told story. Robert De Niro plays a detective on a murder case who finds his estranged son is the prime suspect. Unlike many cop thrillers, "City by the Sea" allows its supporting cast to develop their characters and lets them make, and recover from, their mistakes.

[2009: And Eliza Dushku as a crack ho is worth something. My biggest recollection of "City by the Sea," aside from Eliza Dushku as a crack ho, is the vulnerability flowing through De Niro's character. A really good role for him.

Have I mentioned that you should be watching Eliza Dushku in "Dollhouse?"]

Analyze That - December 2002

Not Recommended

In the post-Sopranos world, this is a movie that didn’t need to be made. The mobster-shrink relationship is no longer novel, and "Analyze That" doesn’t work as a buddy movie or a comedy.

[2009: In retrospect, I should have mentioned that "Analyze That" was a sequel to 1999's "Analyze This." I could also have mentioned that the director of both, Harold Ramis, who also directed "Caddyshack" and "Groundhog Day" is usually much better than "Analyze That."]

Femme Fatale - December 2002

Highly Recommended - Now playing in discount theaters

Brian de Palma is a master director. With "Femme Fatale," which he also wrote, de Palma shows he’s at the top of his game. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (who can act, believe it or not) plays a jewel thief who double crosses her partners, at the Cannes Film Festival no less. A few years later, she is forced to return to the scene of the crime and must scheme for her survival. The heist scene is as good as any I’ve seen, rivaling the classic "Topkapi" and last year’s "The Score." "Femme Fatale" was inspired by Hitchcock, but is an original.

[2009: I keep meaning to buy a copy of this gem but I still haven't. I last saw it two years ago and was still impressed.]

Die Another Day - December 2002


For my money, the best James Bond movie of the last 20 years. It’s an over the top, full throttle adventure, even if it doesn’t make complete sense. Best yet, the two toughest guys in the movie are the Bond girls. Even an appearance by Madonna couldn’t ruin "Die Another Day."

Solaris - December 2002

Not Recommended

I don’t think I got "Solaris." I have no idea what the movie was really about. George Clooney plays a troubled psychiatrist sent to a space station because only he can solve the problems there. He then becomes part of the lunacy. Make it all happen slowly and not as exciting as I’ve described it and that’s the movie. Like I said, I didn’t get it. Worse than that, in a couple of scenes they did an homage to "2001: A Space Odyssey," so I was expecting something really cool to happen, but it never did.

Punch Drunk Love - December 2002


I’m a little conflicted by "Punch Drunk Love." Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s quirky style is usually a good thing, as in "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia," but here it got a bit distracting. It’s Adam Sandler’s first attempt at a non-comedy role, and while he’s up to the task, I half expected him to break into Opera Man at some point. I wasn’t exactly bowled over by the movie until about half-way through, when I noticed I was feeling what Sandler’s character was feeling. That’s pretty rare. The story is a bit weak, but Sandler and Emily Watson are very good. I’ll have to see it again at the discount theater.

By the way, Sandler plays a guy named Egan. You don’t see that every day. Well, I do, but you know what I mean.

[2009: That Egan joke still tickles me after all these years. I never did make it to the discount theater to see it again, but I have "Punch Drunk Love" in my Netflix queue right now. I'm curious to see how this movie holds up. I'll bet it's pretty well.]

The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Claus - December 2002


Not the most unpredictable movie ever made (Santa must find a wife, he searches, he finds, the end) but it is cute, funny and heartwarming in all the right places. Kind of like comfort food. And hey, am I going to pan a Christmas movie in December?

[2009: I hear they made a third one. That was going to the well about one and a half times too many, so I skipped it.]

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - December 2002


If you enjoy the Harry Potter stories, this is a fabulous movie. If not, don’t bother. Twelve-year olds Harry, Ron and Hermione have the adventure of a lifetime (again) and save Hogwart’s School from an indescribable calamity (again). Loads of fun, but not to be taken seriously (much like this reviewer).

Frida - December 2002


I had never heard of artist Frida Kahlo before seeing "Frida." She lived quite the interesting life, and her essence was confidently captured by Salma Hayek.

[2009: Notice I didn't say anything about accuracy? I have a thing about bio-pics - I'm generally against - but I didn't feel like getting into that in the newsletter review. "Frida" looked more like style than substance, but to really make critical comments, I would have to research Kahlo, her husband and her boyfriend, so I took the easy way out and was nice.]

Chicago - January 2003


I dare you to see "Chicago" and not leave the theater humming one of the signature tunes. Set in the Roaring 20s, it is a biting satire of the media circus that still happens around famous criminals. Full of energy and comic timing, "Chicago" is a wonderful musical for today.

[2009: I watched it again in July and was still blown away. I have several of the songs in my music collection. Still a lot of fun.]

Adaptation - January 2003


I can’t tell you anything about the plot of "Adaptation." Not that I don’t want to, but after eight drafts I gave up. It is impossible to describe the plot of "Adaptation" but it is riveting to watch. Nicolas Cage plays two screenwriters and Meryl Streep plays both a novelist and a character in her own novel. Bizarre but fascinating.

The Hours - January 2003


A movie with three threads: Virginia Woolf writing a novel; a woman in the 1950s reading it; and a woman in 2001 living it. Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Phillips are each exceptional as the main characters, and the supporting cast is outstanding. One of the best movies I’ve seen in a while.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind - January 2003

Not Recommended

An odd movie about an odd man. Was Chuck Barris, creator of "The Dating Game" and "The Gong Show," a hit man for the CIA? Who knows? "Confessions" was a little too self-reflective, and Barris, a veritable genius compared to the people who put on "Fear Factor" or "Elimadate," just isn’t very interesting even if he was a hired killer.

About Schmidt - January 2003


What can’t Jack Nicholson do? In "About Schmidt," he plays a 66-year-old (his actual age) recent retiree who is forced to examine the value of his life upon retirement and the marriage of his daughter.

Maid in Manhattan - January 2003

Not Recommended

Your average romantic comedy follows a variation on a formula and because of that, successful ones must be put together well or they don’t work. "Maid in Manhattan" relies on the charisma of Jennifer Lopez, and it works for most of the movie, but falls apart at the absurd conclusion, when you can imagine the actors motivating themselves by visualizing their paychecks.

[2009: I'm not kidding - I like Jennifer Lopez the actress, but I ignore Jennifer Lopez the tabloid personality. 2001's "Angel Eyes" is a favorite comfort-food movie, not to mention her great work in "The Cell."

Old School - Febuary 2003


"Old School" is 86 minutes of exactly what you see in the previews. No lofty aspirations, no fancy plot, just a comedy about 30-year olds trying to recapture some college fun with the obligatory side-story about the Dean trying to shut them down. Plenty of harmless, albeit R-rated, fun.

Happily, I was amazed to see not a single excrement joke in the entire movie! I don’t even recall a single bodily function joke. "Old School" goes against the current trend of comedies in general and college movies in particular to go gross. There is plenty of old fashioned low-brow material in "Old School," just not the unnecessarily tasteless stuff that seems so prevalent lately. It’s a relative breath of fresh air.

Daredevil - Febuary 2003


"Daredevil" is based on a lesser-known Marvel comic book. I never read comic books as a kid so I judge all comic book-based movies by the same standards I use for all movies. My standards are simply: was it entertaining and was it a valuable use of my time? Daredevil passes the test with ease.

With the loss of his sight, Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) found his remaining senses sharpened and his sense of fear diminished. By day, he’s an attorney who insists on representing only innocent clients and therefore has plenty of time to sit in the neighborhood coffee shop. By night, Murdock dons a maroon leather costume and prowls the rooftops seeking justice for those who have been failed by the system.

Running a quick 96 minutes, "Daredevil" treats us to the genesis of the superhero, some of his daytime life, a nosy reporter, showdowns with two colorful and over-the-top villains and a love story with Alias’ Jennifer Garner. Not as slick as "Spider Man," "Daredevil" holds up well on its own.

[2009: Having rented "Daredevil" in January 2005, I had a different take the second time. I thought the story was a bit thin, Colin Farrell's villain unnecessarily over the top, and something about the way the young Murdock became a daredevil just didn't gel this time. By the time the related movie "Elektra" showed up in 2005, I had completely soured on "Daredevil."]

Final Destination 2 - Febuary 2003


You’d think a movie called "Final Destination" wouldn’t need a sequel, but it made enough money that "Final Destination 2" was inevitable. As with the original, "Final Destination 2" is about a person having a premonition about a catastrophe, preventing it, then spending the rest of the movie being stalked by death, literally. "Final Destination 2" has most of the original’s sense of humor and we see death working just as hard and creatively to capture its rightful victims. If you haven’t seen the original, you might want to rent it before seeing "Final Destination 2." Not the goriest movie around, but not for the squeamish, either.

How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days - Febuary 2003

Not Recommended

I have to admit I smiled through most of "How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days." It is a cute movie about gorgeous people doing stupid things. This is hardly unusual in the world of motion picture entertainment, of course, so I have to pan the movie because the beautiful people did too many stupid things, and any of the characters could have told the truth at any time and everything would have turned out fine. The biggest single reason I can’t recommend "How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days" is that the lovers have their obligatory final fight & make-up scene in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge. We have to have our standards.

Antwone Fisher - Febuary 2003


More or less a true story, "Antwone Fisher" was a seaman who joined the Navy to escape the mean streets of his hometown. He brought plenty of trouble with him and was forced to see a psychiatrist or leave the Navy. The psychiatrist starts Antwone on a voyage of self discovery that includes finding the family he never knew he had, for better or worse. A good story and great performances.

25th Hour - Febuary 2003

Not Recommended

What would you do if you had to report to prison tomorrow to begin a seven year sentence? Edward Norton turns in a good performance about a drug dealer saying goodbye to people and places knowing he may never come back. Not exactly a feel-good movie, "25th Hour" gets inside the heads of the main characters and makes them sympathetic, but it plods along and takes too many detours for my taste until the convict accepts the inevitable.

Tears of the Sun - March 2003


I thought it would be odd seeing a military-themed movie while the US is involved in a war, but current reality and "Tears of the Sun" are so far removed from each other, I thought nothing of Iraq. I did, however, think a lot about Viet Nam.

"Tears of the Sun" takes place during a civil war in Nigeria, and is about a group of Rangers sent in to retrieve US citizens. One of the citizens is a doctor who won’t leave without her patients and indigenous staff, so, rather than fly out one person, the Rangers trek through the jungle with 40 people in tow. Jungle warfare, even with modern communications and weapons, is not easy, and war is never pretty. In "Tears of the Sun," doing the right thing is a good way to get people killed.

I give high marks to Bruce Willis. Like him or not, Willis is a Movie Star, and his performance as a stoic and conflicted Ranger commander is very moving.

City of God - March 2003

In Portuguese with English subtitles

In Rio de Janeiro’s poorest area, there is a slum called "City of God." It is poverty and lawlessness and hopelessness unlike anything we could ever imagine in this country. "City of God" is the most violent movie I’ve seen in recent memory, yet none of it could be called gratuitous. The city is a tough place and a movie about it has to be gritty and sweaty and violent.

In "City of God," we follow a dozen boys for about a decade. Most do not make it to adulthood. In the Rio slums, crime rules, and some of the boys start out as petty thieves and end up as major drug dealers, while the narrator tries to play it straight and avoid getting caught in any crossfire. "City of God" is not a place anyone would want to live but it is an important place to visit for two hours.

[2009: Oh my goodness! They outsourced this movie to India and called it "Slumdog Millionaire!"]

Bringing Down the House - March 2003

Not Recommended

Imagine you are baking a cake. You have all the ingredients to make a fabulous cake, but your recipe has you adding them in the wrong order and baking it at the wrong temperature. That’s "Bringing Down the House". Steve Martin and Queen Latifah are charismatic actors with great comic timing, but the story didn’t grab me.

The story is movie-conventional: Uptight lawyer meets sassy ex-con (who is innocent, of course) and, after initial resistance, he agrees to help clear her name. There are plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings and fish-out-of-water situations, including her at the Country Club (funny) and him at the urban nightclub (not funny)[Painfully not funny]. One bright note: "Bringing Down the House" features one of the funniest cat-fights ever recorded on film.

Bend It Like Beckham - May 2003


First, the title. “Bend it” is a soccer term where a player kicks a ball and can seemingly bend its trajectory around defenders and goal posts. David Beckham is best known in the US, if at all, for being married to some has-been singer named Posh Spice. But in England, he is the equivalent of Michael Jordan. So, one who can 'bend it like Beckham' plays soccer better than most.

Now that you know all about the title, go see the movie. "Bend It Like Beckham" follows the familiar formula of a teenager following her talent and passion against forbidding parents of another culture. As with all movies of this genre, it’s all about the execution, and this movie executes very well. I wish I knew more synonyms for “charming” and “fun.” I could use them all to describe this movie.

Two words of warning: "Bend It Like Beckham" was made in England. While the English claim to speak the same language we do, the characters' accents are very thick and can be difficult to understand. Also, no matter how many times you hear them say it, referring to soccer as “football” is just odd.

[2009: What - I didn't extoll the virtues of Keira Knightley in her first big role? The one time I knew before anyone else that someone was going to be a big star and I didn't say anything about it in my review?

"Bend It Like Beckham" is still a wonderful movie - I watch it a couple of times a year. Between the classic girl-power story, the colors, the music and Keira Knightley with short hair, it's pretty much a perfect movie.

I caught it at a limited release showing on a Sunday in April, 2003, then watched it again the following Saturday. After some good word-of-mouth (You're welcome), it was released wide in August, 2003, where I saw it again a couple more times. OK, the wide release may have been prompted by Keira Knightley's "Pirates of the Caribbean - Curse of the Black Pearl" having been released - and becoming a monster smash - in July, but maybe I had something to do with it.]

Holes - May 2003


Once in a while, I go to a movie knowing nothing about it. Sometimes you win ("The Full Monty," "Femme Fatale"), sometimes you lose (too many to count). In the case of "Holes," all I knew was that a critic I like gave it three stars. So in I went. And after 20 minutes, I knew I was in a special movie.

"Holes" follows two stories. A present day teenager is sent to a juvenile detention facility for stealing a pair of shoes. Of course he didn’t do it, but being incarcerated exposes him to people he wouldn’t have otherwise met and opens his eyes to see himself and his surroundings differently. The detention facility is rather odd - it requires each boy to dig a large hole in the desert every day.

The other story takes place about 80 years earlier in the same location with relatives of… Well, I’m not going to spoil it. At the end, the two threads come together as the good guys find redemption and the villains get what’s coming to them. And you & I get a comedic and emotional reward.

[2009: The kid was played by Shia LeBeouf, now incredibly famous from "Transformers," "Disturbia," "Eagle Eye," et al. I wonder how I'd feel about "Holes" knowing that the underdog teenager later makes it with Megan Fox?]

Down with Love - June 2003


"Down with Love" is an homage to the Rock Hudson – Doris Day movies of the 60s. It’s a story about – gasp! – sex that couldn’t be told in the 60s but otherwise looks exactly like a movie of the period. The costumes, hair and sets are all big and bold but the joke wears thin after a while.

The story – an investigative reporter seeks to bring down the author of a women’s empowerment book by making her fall in love with him – is what we would expect from 40 years ago, more or less. It’s a cute movie with a few laugh-out-loud moments, including a hilarious two minute monologue by Renee Zellweger, but not exactly a must-see.

The Italian Job - June 2003


"The Italian Job" is a lousy title for a really fun movie. It’s a caper film, and I love caper films. There’s always risk, bad guys, not-so-bad guys, chases, double crosses, triple crosses, red herrings, diversions, cool sunglasses and ill-gotten booty. This one treats the heist seriously enough to reel you in but is tongue-in-cheek in the right places.

Think of "The Italian Job" as "Ocean’s Eleven" with a little less style, a better story and a more likable femme fatale. There are two signature heists, only one in Italy. The second one makes up the bulk of the movie and the good guys run into problem after problem after problem. "The Italian Job" has more risk, more personality and more excitement than "Ocean’s Eleven" or the recent "Confidence." It’s a very fun movie. If only it had a better title.

The Matrix Reloaded - June 2003


If you haven’t seen "The Matrix," be sure to rent it first. This is not a movie sequel where you can pick it up as you go. "The Matrix Reloaded" is a visual feast and a bit of a mystery. The plot itself is easy enough to follow, but as one character in the film says, “Do you know why?” And don’t expect to be able to watch "Reloaded" just once. The visuals and the labyrinthine plot virtually insist upon repeat viewing.

"The Matrix" was a fabulous movie in and of itself. This first of two sequels – "The Matrix Revolutions" will be out in November – expands upon the background and history of the people battling machines. While the world inside the Matrix is bright and sterile, the people’s world is gritty and sensual – a compelling contrast. But then, there are the questions. Who is a program and who isn’t? What is a program doing with emotions? Where do they buy those cool sunglasses?

No one can be told what the Matrix is – but you are allowed to guess. For most of the questions, we will find the answers come November.

[2009: I didn't review "The Matrix Revolutions," but I was a bit disappointed by it. I watched the trilogy again in Febuary, 2009, and while I now accept that "Revolutions" pretty much had to be what it was in order to resolve the story, it was still a bit of a downer. If you've never seen any of the Matrix movies, rent "The Matrix" and leave it at that.]

Bruce Almighty - June 2003

Not Recommended

I came out of "Bruce Almighty" thinking I had just seen a small movie. Given the concept and all the hype, I expected something more.

An ordinary guy is given the powers of God. What would you do with the powers? Well, in "Bruce Almighty," we get a guy who thinks small and a lot of Jim Carrey mugging for the camera. I’ve seen that before.

The In-Laws - June 2003

Not Recommended

"The In-Laws" is the worst kind of buddy movie. Michael Douglas plays a confident spy and Albert Brooks plays a wimpy doctor. Their kids are getting married, so, naturally, the spy drags the doctor on a few adventures the week before the wedding. Clichés abound and IQ levels drop as the week goes by.

The climax of the movie takes place with a ruined wedding, and of course, a too-happy ending. I don’t know what was more offensive: a Russian submarine in Lake Michigan or the hot tub scene (hint: there were no women in the hot tub).

Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines - July 2003


You get a sense of déjà vu while watching T3, and, normally, that’s a bad thing in a movie. In the case of "Terminator 3," however, it’s like riding a roller coaster for the third time – it may not surprise you, but it can still thrill you.

"Terminator 3" gives us the same basic story as its predecessors and uses no better effects than T2. In fact, T2 was the most expensive movie ever made, at the time, and looked it. T3 was not a terribly expensive movie by today’s standards and looks a little cheap by comparison, which is not all bad. At a quick 90 minutes, T3 moves along pretty fast, which is a wonderful thing.

One big complaint: the Terminator’s catch phrases. In "The Terminator," it was “I’ll be back.” In "Terminator 2," it was “Hasta la vista, baby.” In "Terminator 3," it’s “Talk to the hand.” They could have done much better.

[2009: I recommended this piece of bat guano? Oh, Claire Danes, you are my kryptonite.

2010: I found my hard copies of the published newsletter,.  The last sentence of  this review, as printed, became, "Did they even try?"  I don't think they did.  And I, after seven years now, still can't believe I receommended T3.  It's crap.  Still love Claire Danes, though.]

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle - July 2003

Sequel Mania! Doesn’t anyone in the entertainment industry have any original thoughts?

"Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle"


You may have thought the "Charlie’s Angels" movie from 2000 was silly and you were right. Based on that impression, you would then have to think of "Full Throttle" as impossibly silly. And if you do, you will find it incredibly entertaining.

Nothing, nothing about "Full Throttle" makes any sense, so don’t even bother trying to follow the nonsensical story. And if you’re a stickler for the laws of physics, well, maybe this isn’t the movie for you. The good guys and bad alike all can defy gravity as easily as breathing, which is all part of the silliness thrill ride. My favorite silliness is a gunfight on supercross motorcycles – defying gravity, ignoring inertia, dodging bullets – it’s all in a day’s work for Charlie’s Angels.

[2009: Did I convey that you must want to see silliness in a movie in order for this movie to work? I thought I was a bit subtle.]

Legally Blond 2: Red, White and Blond - July 2003

Not Recommended

[2009: I thought my "Spider Man" review was the shortest one possible until I came across this one. Not even worth three words, eh? I don't remember anything specific about LB2, but I'll be happy to go out on a limb and say we probably don't need to slip it into our rental queues.]

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl - July 2003


Johnny Depp may never win an Academy Award (tm), but he deserves an award for saving "Pirates of the Caribbean." If ever there was a shipwreck waiting to happen, it is with this movie, based on an amusement park ride and written by committee. So much could go wrong and some did, but without Depp turning his character into one of his trademark charismatic oddballs, Pirates wouldn’t be worth seeing. The rest of the large cast, with the exception of Geoffrey Rush, played it straight – and flat.

I’m recommending "Pirates of the Caribbean" because it is whimsical and fun, and you can almost sense how much fun the cast had being straight men for Johnny Depp. Plus, how can you not like a good pirate movie?

[2009: A little harsh, I admit, for a movie that is somewhat beloved today, yet I pretty much called it like it was. And of all places for me to have discipline - Keira Knightley in a movie and I don't mention it? How unlike me.]

Capsule Reviews - August 2003

[2009: They didn't give me a lot of space this month. Michael Bay is probably grateful]

"Bad Boys 2"
Not Recommended
"Bad Boys 2" had plenty of top notch action sequences but was too stupid for words.

[2009: Directed by Michael Bay, you'll see a theme develop in my comments about his movies in the future. "Too stupid for words" might be the nicest thing I say...]

Still in Theaters

"Bend it Like Beckham" was just released to most cineplexes. Be sure to catch it.

[2009: Featuring a tomboyish Keira Knightley. There, I said it. Mandatory plug accomplished.]

"Lara Croft Tomb Raider The Cradle of Life"
[2009: This is the sequel to "Tomb Raider." I have no memory of this movie aside from Lara Croft using a jet ski. No other memories whatsoever.]

"Spy Kids 3 Game Over"
Not Recommended
It’s bad enough "Spy Kids 3" is a pale comparison of the first two movies of the series, but number three is in 3D. Didn’t that flop in the 50s and again in the 70s? Skip it.

Whale Rider - August 2003


I didn’t know what to expect when I went to "Whale Rider." It’s a wonderfully intimate movie about a first-born girl of a Maori family in New Zealand. If she had been born a boy, she would have been made chief. Instead, she’s shunned. It’s striking that the family makes a big deal of tribal rules – there are almost no signs that they are in a tribe at all – they are a completely modern, albeit poor, family.

Just when you think the movie is going to drift into the usual sentimentality with the family finally accepting the girl, it takes a sharp turn in an unusual and beautiful way.

[2009: I love this movie, although I don't rewatch it very often. Maybe that helps to keep it special. Every time I watch it, I'm riveted for the entire movie and tear up at two points in the last ten minutes. Very well done.]

Elf - November 2003

Walking into "Elf," I expected just another holiday-themed, mildly funny comedy. Without Will Farrell or usually serious director Jon Favreau, that might have been the fate of "Elf." However, I found it generally amusing and hysterical at times, with just the right amount of sentimentality (i.e. not too much).

After seven years on "Saturday Night Live" and 10 scene stealing supporting roles in the past few years, Will Farrell hits a home run in his first starring role. His obvious delight in playing a naïve, giddy adopted elf shines as he vamps up the conventional fish out of water, guy out of his mind and Santa revealed cliches you’d expect in a Christmas movie. The fresh fun of "Elf" is a nice gift for movie watchers.

[2009: I didn't do my homework on Jon Favreau. He was a director and producer of comedies back then, but maybe I thought of him as serious as I had just seen him acting straight in "Daredevil." He went on to direct "Iron Man," so I doubt he minds that I mischaracterized him here.]

Runaway Jury - November 2003

The first rule of making movies based on novels: it is more important to make a good movie than to be faithful to the book. I liked John Grisham’s novel "Runaway Jury" a lot. It is a very good novel. The film version, perhaps because it does not faithfully represent the novel, is also very good.

"Runaway Jury" is a taut thriller about a couple who manipulate a jury during a lawsuit against a gun manufacturer. It tips its hand too early in a couple places, releasing suspense but counters by giving us more interesting characters more than we might expect in a courtroom thriller.

Mystic River - November 2003

Two days ago I did not know that the Mystic River is a major waterway in Boston. Learning such trivial facts is generally a happy thing. It would also be the only happiness associated with the film "Mystic River." It ain’t the funnest movie you’ll see this year, but it might be one of the best.

I’ve often thought of Clint Eastwood as an under-appreciated director. In "Mystic River," he assembled a dream cast, a deadly serious story and shot the movie in a seemingly four square block area in working-class Boston. Everybody knows everybody yet secrets are everywhere after a teenager is murdered. Very serious, very deadly.

Look for Sean Penn to get heaps of accolades during award season. The rest of the cast, fake Boston accents and all, are also wonderful.

Bad Santa - December 2003


Not all Christmas movies are heartwarming, like "It’s a Wonderful Life," "A Christmas Story," or "Die Hard," for that matter. "Bad Santa" is a rude, crude darkly comic tale that just happens to take place at Christmas. Don’t believe the commercials that make this look like "The Santa Clause III."*

Having said that, I found "Bad Santa" to be a brilliant dark comedy that stayed true to itself to the bitter end. There were no good guys, no one was redeemed and everyone got what they deserved. It was funny but it wasn’t pretty.

*Seriously. Don’t even think about taking the kids.

Love Actually - December 2003


If you like romantic comedies, you’ll love "Love Actually." If you don’t like them, stay away. "Love Actually" is a romantic comedy on steroids. No fewer than 20 people are involved in various shades of romances, some tragically, but most happily, eventually.

"Love Actually" takes place in London during the month before Christmas. There are common threads weaving through all the characters, but the stories stand on their own well enough.

Opinions will vary on which was anyone’s favorite romance but the funnest story was the over-the-hill singer who records a Christmas version of a 60s hit, who then admits it’s garbage, causing it to become a hit.

[2009: I could watch this movie over and over as it seems to get better with repeated viewings. It looks like I had enough space that month to write bigger reviews, so maybe I should also have noted Hugh Grant's pitch-perfect role as the British Prime Minister who falls for a housekeeper his first day on the job. And let's not overlook a bit part by a radiant Keira Knightley.]

Timeline - December 2003

Not Recommended

"Timeline" is another adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel and if this keeps up, we’ll have to take away his typewriter ("Sphere," "13th Warrior," "Jurassic Park II"). It’s not Crichton’s fault that the movies are bad but someone has to take responsibility.

"Timeline" was a decent novel about an archeology team sent back in time to when their dig site was brand new. Very cool. "Timeline," the movie, is a watered down swashbuckler with an excess of geek speak. It has its moments, but not enough.

[2009: Michael Crichton has since passed away. I hope it wasn't something I said.]

Looney Toons: Back in Action - December 2003


"Looney Toons: Back in Action" got lost amid all the new movies in November, but be sure to rent it sometime. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck get to interact with real humans, ala Roger Rabbit. Full of manic fun and tons of subtle and not-so-subtle in-jokes.

Chasing Liberty - January 2004


"Chasing Liberty" is a variation on the tried-and-true "Roman Holiday" formula that succeeds almost exclusively due to the incredible charisma of Mandy Moore. It’s Moore’s third movie and she has been fabulous in all three ("A Walk to Remember," "How to Deal").

"Chasing Liberty" is a predictable and sometimes plodding story of a First Daughter traipsing around Europe in the company of an unbeknownst-to-her Secret Service agent. The implausible story doesn’t matter. The beautiful scenery helps, but it’s all about Mandy.

[2009: Moore would move on the savagely funny "Saved!" a few months later, but her movies since aren't really anything special. That's a shame.

I rented "Chasing Liberty" last year and my impression was pretty much exactly what I wrote in this review. It's all about Mandy.]

Big Fish - January 2004

Not Recommended

Tim Burton is one of the most visually imaginative directors currently working ("Sleepy Hollow," "Batman," "Edward Scissorhands") but he sometimes misfires ("Planet of the Apes"). "Big Fish" is a misfire. It is visually impressive on occasion, but has a rather weak story that just didn’t grab me. It’s the story of a dying a man who has told tall tales to his now-adult son all his life. Now that the end is near, the son wants to hear some real family history but all he gets is more fantasy. We see the larger-than-life stories in flashback, but it’s all too obvious that something is not quite right.

Teacher’s Pet - January 2004

Not Recommended

I typically don’t read anything about movies I plan to see and, conversely, read up on movies I either don’t plan on seeing or am on the fence about. I had never seen the TV cartoon series "Teacher’s Pet," so I read up on the movie version. Reviewers said wonderful things about the film as a children’s story and how there was so much for adults. Don’t you believe it. This dog about a dog is purely for children under seven with nothing for adults.

Cheaper By the Dozen - January 2004


Deep and imaginative are two words that you won’t hear to describe "Cheaper By the Dozen," but charming and funny are. Steve Martin and comic gem Bonnie Hunt are the parents of twelve children whose lives get out of control. Some of the humor is pure formula slapstick, which, surprisingly, works, and the rest flows from the goodwill we have for the actors.

[2009: There may be a curse on this movie. The women who played the oldest daughters, Piper Perabo and Hilary Duff, each had their teeth fixed after appearing in "Cheaper by the dozen," and they both lost part of that indescribable thing that made them hot.]

Girl with A Pearl Earring - Febuary 2004


About 1665, Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer painted a masterpiece titled Girl with A Pearl Earring. Like the Mona Lisa, no one knows who the model was, but this movie gives us a fictional backstory.

Scarlett Johansson plays a maid, the uneducated daughter of a working class artist, who serves Vermeer and his spoiled rotten family. She becomes his assistant, briefly, then his passion and ends up posing for the portrait.

"Girl with A Pearl Earring" is a nuanced and detailed film, and therefore not for everyone. It is, however, a work of art.

[2009: "a nuanced and detailed film, and therefore not for everyone." How elitist of me. Well, that's how it works. Some like explosions and car chases while others like character and plot. Such is life.]

Monster - Febuary 2004


Everything you’ve heard about "Monster" is true. It is the story of a prostitute who becomes a serial killer. The characters aren’t particularly pleasant nor is the ending happy. The normally glamorous Charlize Theron plays the homely antihero to perfection and deserves the accolades she’s getting. Christina Ricci is picture perfect as a teenager in over her head.

"Monster" hits just the right notes as a character study –characters heading straight into a hole. "Monster" is heavy, dirty and sometimes graphic, so it isn’t for everyone. It certainly isn’t for children.

The Perfect Score - Febuary 2004


A simple review for a simple movie. A group of kids plot to steal the answers to the SATs (wouldn’t it be easier to study?). Things go awry, they learn lessons, everybody gets what they deserve. Kind of fluffy, but pretty entertaining.

[2009: Notable for Scarlett Johansson getting billed under Erika Christensen. That's not likely to happen again soon.]

The Big Bounce - Febuary 2004

Not Recommended

Baseball has the minor leagues. Where do movies get sent when they need more practice? I don’t know, but that’s where "The Big Bounce" needs to go.

The usually reliable Owen Wilson plays a film noir anti-hero - almost - getting involved in a not-quite nefarious plot and meets a bunch of uninteresting schemers and scammers. We’ve seen plenty of movies in recent memory with plot twists and surprising bad-guy reveals, but "The Big Bounce" isn’t in the same league with any of them, hence my minor league metaphor. Rent "Wild Things" or "Body Heat" again to see what this movie wasn’t.

Twisted - March 2004

Not Recommended

"Twisted" is an attempt to make a riveting crime thriller but falls way short. It actually plays as if the story included every cliché in the Screenwriting for Dummies handbook. We see rain-soaked roads, extra-talkative villains, dense detectives and obvious red herrings.

Twisted also shows us that Ashley Judd is in a rut—this is her fifth movie where she plays a victim who fights back violently.

Broken Lizard’s Club Dread - March 2004


Broken Lizard is a comedy troupe who got their start in improv. They were previously on the big screen in "Super Troupers" (2001). "Club Dread" is a spoof, not a parody, of slasher movies and Shakespeare this ain’t. It’s an excuse for fun, odd characters and women in bikinis. "Club Dread" is excruciatingly funny at times and just excruciating at others. If you like cheap comedies, this movie is for you.

Eurotrip - March 2004

Not Recommended

"Eurotrip" might be out of theaters by the time you read this, but that’s no loss. Maybe this will help when selecting videos in a few months.

"Eurotrip" almost works. It is a simple road picture with four very smart, likable characters who have some standard misadventures during their post-high school trip to Europe. The problem is raunch. When the movie goes raunchy, it stops being funny. When the kids are being themselves, it is very funny.

"Eurotrip" should also be noted as having the funniest running gag featuring a song since "Final Destination," even more so since it is an original song. If that appeals to you grab it when you see it in the video store.

Still in Theaters

"50 Fifty First Dates"

Yes, it’s an Adam Sandler movie and all that that implies, but the romantic comedy parts work as well as any Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan movie.

Ella Enchanted - April 2004


I can picture how "Ella Enchanted" was green lighted: A studio executive walked out of "Shrek" and said “We have to do a live action fairy tale.” From such hypothetically dubious beginnings, a wonderful movie was made.

"Ella Enchanted" is a riff on Cinderella and a few other fairy tales but is original in the telling of the story. A fairy godmother gives a girl a gift that backfires. As an adult, Ella travels the kingdom to remove her “curse,” meets a charming prince and rights all kinds of wrongs.

As hokey as it may sound, "Ella Enchanted" is just plain fun. Although it might be aimed at children, I consider it a movie for adults. I think I was laughing more than the 8-year old in the row ahead of me. And how can you not like a movie narrated by Eric Idle?

Hellboy - April 2004


"Hellboy" is an adaptation of a comic book that most of us have never read. I talked to one person familiar with it and she said the movie was very faithful to the comic [Was that you, Shelly?]. That’s nice, but it doesn’t really matter to me, because the first rule of adaptations is that the movie should be entertaining on its own. And "Hellboy" is very entertaining.

I found myself thinking “X-Men Lite,” which is a good thing. "X-Men" was heavy with heroes and villains, while "Hellboy" has just a handful of each. Very easy to follow.

Describing the plot sounds almost silly: A baby creature from a hell dimension grows up and is used by the FBI to hunt monsters and creatures from other dimensions. But the action is consistent, the mission is simple and the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. A nice ride.

The Ladykillers - April 2004

Not Recommended

Joel and Ethan Coen bring us their interpretation of a caper comedy. It runs a little thin, so I recommend saving it for video. It certainly isn’t up to the recent Coen standards set by "Intolerable Cruelty" or "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," never mind "The Big Lebowski" or "The Hudsucker Proxy."

Tom Hanks chews up the scenery as a smooth talking southern huckster who is not as smart as he thinks he is. His supporting cast is mostly bland and unlikable. You find yourself hoping that their heist fails.

Mean Girls - May 2004


Talk about your misleading ad campaigns. If you believed the promos, you’d think "Mean Girls" was something akin to "American Pie." Hardly. It is a thoughtful, even meaningful film with intelligent characters. I found myself comparing its spirit with "Drive Me Crazy" (1999), an intelligent prom-themed movie. While "Drive Me Crazy" and "Mean Girls" may stem from the same real-character source, they couldn’t be more different in plot. The former was about appearances and surely happens to hundreds of kids every year but the latter is a practically Shakespearean revenge fable. Who wins in the end? We, the viewers.

[2009: Oh, Lindsay Lohan, this was pretty much your career peak. I had such hope for you. Alas.]

The Alamo - May 2004


"The Alamo" is a decent but not totally accurate representation of the events leading up to and following the famous 1836 siege. We have all the elements: an unsure military leader; a wizened anti-hero; a colorful sidekick and a villain who doesn’t speak English. Throw it all together and it’s quite an entertaining package.

Still, I’m getting less enthused about historical dramas these days. I prefer my history to come from books. All movies, even documentaries, are fictional. To make a historical drama, the film makers have to leave so much out and then juice up a few details to make it more palatable. Books don’t have this handicap, although just because it is in print doesn’t make it more accurate. I just think if I’m going to watch a battle scene, I’ll get more enjoyment out of a purely fictional movie like "The Last Samurai” or "Starship Troopers." I don’t want ask myself, “Did Davy Crockett really accompany Santa Anna’s military band on the fiddle one night?”

[2009: I didn't mention it in the review, but "The Alamo" was directed by Ron Howard. You want to kill a few hours sometime? Ask me how every Ron Howard film except for "Night Shift" contains a fatal flaw somewhere. I tend to go on and on about it.]

Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2 - May 2004

You may not like the content of the stories, but after you’ve seen a Quentin Tarantino movie, you know you've seen A Movie. The "Kill Bill" films are the product of a mad genius and we likely won’t see anything like them again this year or next. Is it violent? Yes. Is it bloody? Yes. Is it gory? Yes. Is it a simple story? Yes. Is it funny? At times, gut bustingly so. Is it disturbing? Oh, my goodness, yes. Is it a good movie? I think so.

If you didn’t like any of Tarantino’s previous films, stay away. If you liked them, be sure to see "Kill Bill Volume 2" on the big screen while you can.

[2009: Tarantino's reportedly huge ego shows up in all of his movies as stylistic touches, but even discounting those, his movies are entertaining with a capital "E."]

Saved! - June 2004

A savagely funny rip on people so caught up in religion they lose sight of their spirituality. Jena Malone is picture perfect as a high school senior caught between her faith and best of intentions, and Mandy Moore continues building a stellar resume as a girl trying to save everybody, even if it kills her. Easily the funniest movie I've seen this year.

[2009: "Dodgeball" gets the nod as the funniest movie of 2004, but "Saved!" was a close second.]

Shrek 2 - June 2004

It is with no small amount of irony I point out that a few months ago I told you that the magical "Ella Enchanted" had been inspired by "Shrek," while I now have to tell you that "Shrek 2" was inspired not by the original, but by dollar signs.

"Shrek 2" has its moments and is reasonably funny (although with more groaners than I care for) but simply doesn't have the spark and wit of the original. Still, most comedies will pale compared to "Shrek," so here's a little warning: if you expect a clone of "Shrek," you won't find it. If you can accept an imitation, you'll enjoy.

[2009: I wasted $5.75 on "Shrek 3" in 2007. I won't make that mistake when "Shrek 4" and "Shrek 5" come out in the coming years. Seriously, Dreamworks has 4 and 5 in production right now.]

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - June 2004

I enjoy the Harry Potter novels and I've enjoyed the movies. "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" is darker than the first two and pays less attention to the wonders of magic. From the get-go we see that Harry is not an opened eyed observer but a surly teenager who's been pushed around for the last time. The movie discards much of the detail in the novel and instead focuses on the life-and-death adventures. It's a wise choice and makes for a movie than moves much faster than its two hour running time would indicate. Not that that's a hint of how it ends.

The Day After Tomorrow - June 2004

[2009: This movie received a lot of hype when it was released. The hype was less about the movie than the global warming debate. I referred to the media furor in my review.]

By now, you must certainly know that "The Day After Tomorrow" is a cautionary tale of sudden global climate change. You must also have heard that the movie works very well as a thriller and that is also my opinion.

Before I saw "The Day After Tomorrow," I read an article in Popular Science. They screened the movie for scientists who proclaimed it pretty good, both as science and as entertainment. Global warming, whether caused by human intervention or not, could melt the polar ice caps, which could stop the conveyor currents that warm the seas in the higher latitudes. That could cause rapid cooling and increase glaciation. Of course, the scientists say, rapid in real life means decades, not days. Well, it wouldn't be much of a movie if the countdown to calamity was measured in years instead of minutes.

And "The Day After Tomorrow" is clearly science fiction - it shows a grey-haired vice president admitting he was wrong on national TV. Gives me chills.

[2009: I really didn't want to include the phrase "whether caused by human intervention or not" but I was publishing in a company newsletter and had to be politic. Here however, I am allowed to say, OF COURSE HUMANS ARE CONTRIBUTING TO GLOBAL WARMING. ARE YOU NUTS?]

Open Water - September 2004

This low budget, high quality movie has been the critics’ darling since it was first screened at film festivals earlier this year. But when "Open Water" hit mass market theaters, the promos made it look like the second coming of "Jaws." I was ready to take a pass.

I hate sharks.

Contrary to the publicity, it’s not a shark movie, thank goodness. Oh, there are sharks in it, but it’s not about that. "Open Water" is about what happens when two people get stranded miles from land. We are able to see what they are thinking and can easily relate to what they are feeling. It’s loaded with subtlety and realism and makes you want to stand out in the sun on dry land when it’s over. It’s a good movie.

I still hate sharks.

Garden State - September 2004

I don’t watch "Scrubs" on TV, so I had no idea who Zach Braff was when I saw his name on the credits of "Garden State." He wrote and directed the movie, so I may have to start watching "Scrubs."

"Garden State" is a moody story of a barely successful actor who goes back to New Jersey for a funeral. He’s been highly medicated for depression since he was nine but leaves his medication behind in Hollywood during the trip home. When the drugs clear his system, he begins to realize he has the ability to feel alive and be happy.

Braff has a marvelous vision using impressive visuals and tells an interesting story. If this is what he can do with his first, independent film, I hope he doesn’t go mainstream anytime soon.

[2009: I started watching "Scrubs" right after this movie came out, and with the help of Netflix, I caught up on the first three seasons of "Scrubs" starting in 2005. "Scrubs" as a whole was pretty good, but some parts of it weren't to my taste and Zach Braff 's character wears a but thin after a few dozen episodes.]

Hero - September 2004

In Chinese with English subtitles

I hadn’t seen any promos for "Hero" before I saw it. I suspect the commercials make it out to be a typical Jet Li slice’em, dice’em, Kung Fu action thriller. Thank goodness that isn’t the case. "Hero" is easily the most beautiful movie of the year, with bright colors, beautiful scenery and fabulous fight scene choreography.

The story is complex and subtle and mainly told in flashback. Some vignettes are retold three times, each version very different from the others. I saw a bunch of disappointed faces when the lights came up at the end, but I like complicated stories and jaw-dropping visuals, so "Hero" may just find its way into my permanent collection.

[2009: I waited until I had a Blu-Ray DVD player to buy "Hero" then I read on the internet - so it MUST be true - that the Blu-Ray version was mastered poorly and looked terrible, so I still haven't purchased a copy.]

Paparazzi - September 2004

Some movies are destined to be bad. A B-movie may aspire to be more, but a bad script and a B-list cast keeps "Paparazzi" from becoming anything more than a bad revenge potboiler. Oddly, it was produced by a guy named Mel Gibson, whom you may have heard of. He has an Academy Award (tm) for producing a Best Picture and may get another one next year. He won’t be getting any awards for "Paparazzi."

The Incredibles - November 2004

Pixar scores again with a delightful animated romp. Although ostensibly aimed at children, I think the humor worked primarily for adults. "The Incredibles" had the look and feel of a 60-70s era spy movie, complete with an evil genius and an island lair. The time flew by. I just might have to see it again.

I especially liked the touches no child would (or at least should) get, like the hero working in an insurance company cube farm, the villain who likes to monolog and the costume designer who likes to reminisce.

Shall We Dance? - November 2004

Although the story of "Shall We Dance?" is much like any number of movies we've all seen, this is a fun and warm telling of the story. The plot: A bored lawyer takes dancing lessons, stuff goes wrong, things turn out OK.

Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and a number of lesser known but likable actors make "Shall We Dance?" much like the visual equivalent of comfort food.

In case you're wondering, Jennifer Lopez is in "Shall We Dance?," but only in a supporting role. She's one of my favorites on the screen, unless she's playing Ashley Judd. Here, she's a dance instructor who moves like a cat more than Halle Berry did in "Catwoman."

Recent DVD Releases

"The Stepford Wives"

Fun but not worth owning.

[2009: I can't believe I didn't savage this movie, even in a capsule review. It is easily one of the worst movies ever made. On morality alone, I have to register an objection. For most of the movie, it seems the husbands brainwash the wives but it turns out they kill the wives and replace them with robots. Jeez louise, how could I have called this loser "fun?"


A new Christmas classic. Can be watched over and over.
Available next Tuesday.

"A Cinderella Story"

Wasn't quite worth seeing in the theater but would make a good rental.

[2009: Hilary Duff still had her original teeth, so it's safe to view this movie.]

"Garfield: The Movie"

OK to rent but I wouldn't want to own it.

Closer - December 2004

Four people become romantically interlinked. Three are serial liars, serial philanderers or both. They’re so self absorbed that they can’t see how they hurt each other or how they destroy the one honest person among them. Not a real cheery movie, but well done and very watchable, although not for children and not for dates, unless you want to dump your significant other afterwards.

Sideways - December 2004

This low-budget indie flick exceeds its pedigree by featuring some of the best acting I’ve seen all year. Two friends spend a week in California wine country the week before one gets married. Although they don’t seem to have anything in common, over their twenty-year friendship, they’ve created a symbiosis of dysfunction and reliance upon each other. One – a womanizer, gets what he deserves and the other, a high-functioning alcoholic gets to know himself.

Paul Giamatti – you’d recognize his face if you don’t recognize his name – turns in an award worthy performance, as man who hides from everything behind a wine bottle but curiously, never slurs his words — the sign of a true professional.

Alexander - December 2004

“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.” Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), "Die Hard," 1989

That quote from the classic Christmas movie was pretty much all I knew about Alexander the Great before seeing Oliver Stone’s "Alexander." I now know that he also had a funeral for his horse, but I learned that from a clue on "Jeopardy" last
week, not from the movie.

I’m pretty sure nothing in "Alexander" adhered to historical fact, but that was not a problem – a movie is about entertainment, after all. No, the problem with "Alexander" is that it was incredibly boring. It was almost three hours long, had about a hundred speaking roles and all the characters looked alike. They didn’t sound much alike, though, with accents from all over the English speaking world, except for Angelina Jolie, who sounded like she just flew in from Transylvania.

No, "Alexander" was just a mess, almost as if the director couldn’t decide which themes to keep and which to cut, so he kept them all. And Colin Farrell, who will need a dump truck to cart home all the Academy Awards (tm) he will win in his career, was either miscast or underplayed it, because his Alexander had no charisma or strength. I’m guessing the leader who conquered most of three continents was kind of charismatic and maybe kind of strong.

The Polar Express - December 2004

Is it just me or is anyone else bothered by totally secular Christmas movies? "The Polar Express," like many Christmas movies and TV shows, is based on what I call the Department Store Christmas – all presents, lights and wrapping paper. It is also equal parts supernatural and ghost story, but what bothered me most of all was its creepiness.

The filmmakers used a new animation method called 'Motion Capture.' It’s a technique where they digitize the movements of real actors and have the computers draw in the details. Wouldn’t it just be easier to film live actors? Never mind my cynicism. Motion capture makes for funky looking people – some parts super-real and some parts grotesque (it can’t do hands, although neither can some artists). If "The Polar Express" had been made in standard animation or live action, it could have been very good, but with its odd story and odd animation, I’ve gotta warn you not to hop on that train.

National Treasure - December 2004

How do I say a movie is both very good and very bad in the same review? Simple. Nicolas Cage. You’ve come to expect it from him. No, not every movie, just the adventure flicks ("The Rock," "Con Air," "Gone in 60 Seconds") not his regular films ("Matchstick Men," "Leaving Las Vegas," "Adaptation"). When Mr. Cage makes an adventure film, they remove all the stops and let the over-the-top thrills happen, and so it is with "National Treasure."

The story is ridiculous and the villains exist purely to force the next chase scene but it’s a lot of fun. Every time Cage’s character gets an exceedingly cryptic clue to the whereabouts of the legendary Solomon’s treasure, all he has to do is scrunch up his face, tap his forehead and the right answer comes to him, no matter how obscure the clue. It’s a farce, but as all lovers of comedy can tell you, a farce can be great fun.

Ocean’s 12 - December 2004

Some movies don’t need to be made and this was one of them. "Ocean’s 12" is not about anything that made "Ocean’s 11" so entertaining. This one is about the stars having fun, which, while entertaining for a while, leaves you with an empty feeling. I won’t comment on the weak story or all the plot holes, except to say that if you steal $150,000,000 and don’t want to get caught, try changing your name and wearing a disguise.

Blade Trinity - December 2004

This Wesley Snipes vampire thriller holds up pretty well both as the third Blade movie and as a stand-alone adventure yarn in case you didn’t see the first two.
Vampires threaten the world, of course, and only Blade, of course, can stop them. "Blade Trinity" is very stylish and has colorful villains. It’s what we in the business call a good popcorn movie.

House of Flying Daggers - January 2005

In Chinese with English subtitles

The latest in a wave of Chinese imports featuring great heroes, personal redemption and jaw-dropping visuals. "House of Flying Daggers" doesn’t have as strong a story as last year’s "Hero," but represents the genre well and has three lengthy scenes that will make you want to hit ‘Rewind.’

The title refers to an organization whose symbol is the dagger, not a domicile filled with daggers on the move. Not good to confuse the two.

Elektra - January 2005

"Elektra" is supposed to be a spin-off of 2003’s "Daredevil," a lukewarm action movie. Aside from Jennifer Garner playing a character with the same first name, "Elektra" is nothing like "Daredevil." Thank goodness.

I found "Elektra" to be very much like "House of Flying Daggers," with relentless villains, personal struggles and amazing visuals, even beyond the amazing Ms Garner in red leather. "Elektra" is so stylish and intense, it makes "Daredevil" look like The Keystone Cops.

Beyond the Sea - January 2005

Bio-pics of famous musicians are difficult to pull off— witness the success of "Ray" (Ray Charles) or the failure of "De-Lovely" (Cole Porter). "Beyond the Sea" is Kevin Spacey’s tribute to Bobby Darin. The music is great, but most of Darin’s life was whitewashed, not to mention that Spacey is a decade older than Darin was at the time of his death. I can’t recommend it, but I could listen to the soundtrack over and over.

The Wedding Date - Febuary 2005

Most romantic comedies follow a familiar formula and win or lose based on how much the audience likes or respects the characters. Like "Hitch" (review follows), "The Wedding Date" succeeds because of its likable cast. Unlike" Hitch," with a great supporting cast, "The Wedding Date" wins solely because of the chemistry between leads Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney.

Here, a 30ish career woman hires an escort to be her date to her younger sister’s wedding. That secret, of course, leads to wacky situations and, of course, they fall for each other. Mulroney’s escort is reserved when needed and easily the smartest person in any room. Messing nails her neurotic yet redeemable character. It would be difficult to not smile at the inevitable and satisfying conclusion.

Netflix Users - Febuary 2005

Have you noticed the “Friends” feature rolled out by Netflix recently? You can get advice from your friends based on their recommendations. I’ve rated over 500 movies and would be willing to let other Netflix subscribers benefit from my experience by being on my “Friends” list. A couple of caveats, though. “Friends” is not terribly private – you can see my recent rentals and I’ll be able to see yours. Recommendations also go both ways. Finally, keep in mind that taste is very subjective. I may give five stars to something you’ll dislike or your favorite movie may end up on my “Hated It” list. Those are the chances we take.

If you would like to be on my “Friends” list, send me an e-mail with the name and e-mail address on your account. I’ll send you an invitation via Netflix.

[2009: Friends is still alive and kicking at Netflix today and I've now rated over 1000 movies. If you're an Onvoy employee or otherwise know me personally and want to be my friend in Netflix, the offer still stands. Just send the e-mail to my company address.

By the way, only one employee took advantage of the offer in 2005. Hi Amy!]

Million Dollar Baby - Febuary 2005

All the acclaim you’ve heard about "Million Dollar Baby" is earned. They don’t make movies like this anymore. Maybe they never did. Clint Eastwood the Director doesn’t make bubbly, generic movies, thank goodness. In "Million Dollar Baby," he gives us an intense character study that is alternately breathtaking and utterly devastating.

Clint Eastwood the Actor, along with Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman, each give us career-best performances. I saw Swank in "Boys Don’t Cry" last month, for which she won the Oscar (tm) for Best Actress. In "Million Dollar Baby," she blows that performance away. I saw over 100 movies in the theater in the past year and "Million Dollar Baby" is the best one.

Hitch - Febuary 2005

The ever charming Will Smith has never done a romantic comedy before and that’s probably all he’ll ever do from now on. He’s a natural and, let’s face it, his action pictures have been getting less interesting and original of late.

Unfortunately, Smith and his outstanding supporting cast have a lot of heavy lifting in "Hitch." It has some clunky dialogue, some plot holes, and a rather odd ending. Without the sheer likeability of the cast, "Hitch" would have sunk. However, it’s easy to overlook the bad points because of all the high points the actors give us.

[2009: My pessimism was unfounded - Will Smith hasn't done any romantic comedies since, but has made a big splash with dramatic roles. After seeing "Hancock" (2008), I'm happy to see him stop playing superheroes.]

The Pacifier - March 2005

A Navy SEAL as a nanny. Sounds cute, and the movie is full of warm cuddlies, but goes one dirty-diaper gag too far. If "The Pacifier" hadn’t been dumbed downed it could have been great, but, alas, they gave up a good premise and a great cast to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Be Cool - March 2005

I saw "Get Shorty" nine years ago and thought it was pretty good. I would have liked to have felt the same about "Be Cool." Dare to dream.

Even with another Elmore Leonard novel for a story and a dream cast, "Be Cool" goes nowhere fast. It is self-referential, annoyingly simplistic and tries too hard to be cool. If you have to see "Be Cool," wait for home video.

The Jacket - March 2005

In 1991, a Gulf War soldier nearly dies and comes back home with gaps in his memory. Through some bad luck, he ends up in an asylum, where everyone believes him to be a cop killer. A sadistic doctor treats him with hallucinogenic drugs, which might fix the violent tendencies of a psychopath, but end up giving this guy really odd fantasies, which seem to have a basis in reality.

"The Jacket," whose title refers to a straitjacket, is a grim but fairly imaginative movie that kept my attention the entire running time. If you’re in the mood for something thought provoking, this might be the ticket.

[2009: Another movie where I didn't mention that Keira Knightley is in it? Shame on me. Well, if I had to mention her, I would have had to say something about her American accent, which was kinda strange.]

Man of the House - March 2005

I’m sure it sounded good on paper, but the celluloid version of "Man of the House" is a time waster. The reliable Tommy Lee Jones plays a Texas Ranger who has to babysit five college cheerleaders who witnessed a mob hit. We get the requisite generational misunderstandings, runaway protectees and stupid criminals. We’ve seen it all before, right down to the car chases and the Ranger shooting a gun out of the hand of the bad guy. Worse yet, every scene with Cedric the Entertainer sucks the life out of the film and, seemingly, out of the viewer. "Man of the House" is to be avoided at all costs.

[2009: Because her role was so small, I didn't mention that Liz Vassey is in "Man of the House," but damn! that girl looks good on the big screen. Today, you can see her as a lab tech on "CSI."]

Sin City - April 2005

I’ve never been much for comic books and "Sin City" is based on a graphic novel, which is supposed to be a comic book on steroids. If "Sin City," a live action film, is supposed to look like a moving comic book, then the film-makers succeeded brilliantly.

The plot of "Sin City" is three unrelated but intertwined stories that are pure pulp. Violence, gore and car chases are as common as breathing. There are no lessons to be learned and no reason to see it twice, but "Sin City" provides two hours of comic book-esque entertainment and you can’t really ask for much more.