December 16, 2008

...Freedom Writers (2007)

Hilary Swank and a solid group of young actors relive the true story of the Freedom Writers in this film that plays dangerously close to the 60s classic To Sir With Love. That's not a bad thing - it's just a thing. Like the first film, this is a feel-gooder about teaching and education; unlike the first film, the teacher is white and there is no #1 hit single.

December 15, 2008

...The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

Although overlong, The Man Who Came to Dinner is a well-made adaptation of the Broadway hit with Monty Woolley repeating his stage success as the man and Bette Davis playing second lead to bring bodies into the movie theater. It worked; the play is still funny and both Woolley, Davis, and An Sheridan are excellent in their roles. It does have a Christmas theme so, for better or worse, this is the time to check it out.

November 2, 2008

...Tin Man (2007)

Tin Man is an impressive re-purposing of the characters and mythology in L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that, despite it's serious tone, can be quite humorous in how it interpolates the familiar plot points into a brand new story. The computer generated imagery is excellent (especially considering its gestation as a television mini-series) as is the acting by, among others, Zooey Deschanel and Kathleen Robertson. Don't expect songs (although the score is magnificent) or the red slippers - just an emotional roller coaster ride double-dipped in fantastical science fiction.

August 19, 2008

...Heights (2005)

And writing of Elizabeth Banks (which I did yesterday) I found a little comedy and a little drama about four people and the happenstances in a 24 hour period called Heights, a film of which I had never heard. The film stars Glenn Close as Margo Channing (almost), Banks as her daughter, James Marsden as Banks's gay fiance, and Jesse Bradford as a gay-bor of the couple and it, and they, are all charming. The film starts on a low keel but steadily builds to a really sweet denouement: a great risk from Banks and a great kiss between Marsden and Bradford.

August 18, 2008

...4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

I don't know why anyone would bother hiring Jessica Alba just to put her in a blonde wig - or for that matter, to act. That's what they did in 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, a really boring movie (with a pretentious name) in which the aforementioned acting-challenged Alba and her cinematic sweetheart (Ioan Gruffud) have zilch in the chemistry department. Hire Elizabeth Banks for Christ's sake and maybe the film would work.

August 15, 2008

...Dan In Real Life (2007)

Forced cute siutations do not a romantic comedy make and Dan in Real Life is pretty boring until Emily Blunt enters gving the last half of the film some much needed steam. Steve Carell is good and Juliet Binoche is suitably flighty but the story is a little cloying and the movie is marketed in North America as something it is most definitely not. Still, I cried at the end and what more can you ask of a rom-com with a little indie feel (even one that is surprisingly similar to Sandra Bullock's While You Were Sleeping.)

August 11, 2008

...Day of the Dead (2008)

Mena Suvari takes quite well to her role as a bad-ass solider in Day of the Dead, a remake of the 1985 George A. Romero original and faux-sequel to the 2006 remake of Dawn of the Dead. Suvari impresses with her handling of the weaponry and is reason enough to watch this. But if you're a zombie fan, double the pleasure - even carrying with it the status of straight-to-video it's pretty good despite the fact that the only thing that remains, remake-wise, are the characters' names.

August 9, 2008

...Blonde Ambition (2007)

It's not that Jessica Simpson is bad in Blonde Ambition, a dreadful mashup of Working Girl and Ugly Betty, it's that there are people willing to give her money to make films when there are other actresses so much more interesting. She is bland, not especially talented as an actor (but can pass), has weird lips, and through attempts to channel Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, and Reese Witherspoon shows no flair and not much spark. A cameo by Penny Marshall (the director's aunt) and a romance with Luke Wilson make the film mildly watchable.

Here's your one chance Fancy don't let me down
Here's your one chance Fancy don't let me down

August 8, 2008

...Pitch Black

Pitch Black is an old-fashioned yarn with some new-fangled creatures trying to get some B-rated actors (one with a character twist I saw from a mile away). It's not enthusiastically engrossing but the story keeps moving and it does have one A-lister in Radha Mitchell. No, not Vin Diesel.

August 7, 2008

...The Other Side of Bonnie and Clyde (1968)

Warren Beatty's Bonnie and Clyde is vilified by some for its glorification of the criminal couple's exploits and The Other Side of Bonnie and Clyde sets the record straight, according to the estate of their nemesis lawman (and movie villian) Frank Hamer. Actual video footage from the criminal couple's massacre, photographs, interviews, lame dramatizations, and a polygraph machine that sits silently between the interviewer and the ex-criminal he is interviewing (you gotta see it to believe it) form the story arc that is at once familiar yet most probably more in line with the truth than the classic film. If Bonnie and Clyde (the couple) are your obsession, you won't want to miss this; it gets a lot less necessary after that.

August 6, 2008

...The Sarah Silverman Program, Season One (2006)

Although Sarah Silverman in a stand-up comedy setting is brilliant, The Sarah Silverman Program (Season One anyway), her faux-reality show, is less so; maybe it's lacking in the truth that the foxy Jew usually skewers with abandon. I found her sister Laura, an actress I remembered from Lisa Kudrow's The Comeback, a lot more interesting as the six shows dragged on. It's strictly for fans of either of the Silverman gals, TAB drinkers and poop joke lovers.

August 5, 2008

...Mamma Mia (2008)

Mamma Mia is par excellence but due to the personal nature of the subject matter I couldn't limit this review to three lines. Click here for a doctoral thesis with history, pictures, clips, and yes a review. But see Mamma Mia first.

August 4, 2008

...I Am Legend (2007)

Every part that Will Smith tackles comes out looking and sounding like Will Smith and I Am Legend is no different. The mainstream apocalyptic zombie story (taken from the classic science fiction novel by Richard Matheson) gets some steam going in the second half when Smith's character gets to interact with others but it takes a bunch of time getting there. And here's a semi-spoiler for all you dog lovers so don't read further if not interested:

there's a sad scene halfway through the movie that might make you turn away or turn it off.

August 3, 2008

...Batman Begins (2005)

I am not a fan of the comic book into film genre but I thought if I was going to be forced into seeing the most successful movie of all time, The Dark Knight, I should first see Batman Begins. All it made me realize is that I have no desire to see The Dark Knight. Next.

August 2, 2008

Bonnie and Clyde (1968)

Bonnie and Clyde has been, and still is, one of my top ten favorites of all time. It's got Faye, Warren, Arthur Penn on the megaphone and Theadora van Runkle on the needle and thread - am I missing something here? It is thrilling, stunning to look at, classic and worth multiple viewings because they rob banks.

August 1, 2008

...In The Valley of Elah (2007)

In the Valley of Elah is an excellent film (from Paul Haggis of Crash) about the Iraq war that doesn't feel like a film about the Iraq war. The film is a slow boiler and engrossing in its story of a father's search for his missing son. Good stuff with a shocking final scene from a film that never lets you down.

July 28, 2008

...The Concorde...Airport '79 (1979)

The Concorde...Airport '79 is a snooze fest with a ridiculously convoluted script and a stream of top-notch actors ( John Davidson, Charo, Alain Delon, Sylvia Kristol of Emmanuelle fame and the ubiquitous George Kenndey) that delve deeply into their own psyches to develop these multi-dimensional characters - NOT. It seems that the producers were attempting a throw back to the original film with elaborate back stories and situations but nothing ever seems to happen even when you can see something happening on screen with your own eyes. Skip it unless you're a film series completist or want to see Jimmie "J.J." Walker getting stoned.

July 27, 2008

...Airport '77 (1977)

Airport '77 doesn't have the sincerity of the original film or the camp value of the first sequel. In fact, the horrible plane catastrophe that is conducive to every Airport film is not even that exciting: the plane remains intact at the bottom of the Bermuda Triangle - big whoop! Brenda Vaccaro, Jack Lemmon, George Kennedy (3x the charm?), and especially Lee Grant are game but someone put the board away - and left the bored in.

July 26, 2008

...Airport 1975 (1974)

A classic in the disaster film genre, Airport '75 is unwittingly funny and wickedly campy. The actors are trying so hard to make the script work but it is really Karen Black, Gloria Swanson and Myrna Loy who come out smelling like a bouqet of roses. Helen Reddy sings a ridiculous song she wrote to Linda Blair, Charlton Heston does his hero shtick, and George Kennedy returns for the second of four Airport films but no one (and nothing) makes this turkey unwatchable.

July 25, 2008

...Airport (1969)

Airport is one of the last glossy soap operas made for the big screen, a throwback to the multi-character, multi-story films of the 50s, before television (and the mini-series launched in the 70s) became the place for this type of entertainment. It's a populist film so don't expect intellect but expect some excellent performances: Maureen Stapleton is heart-breaking, Jacqueline Bisset is stunning, Helen Hayes is wicked, and Dean Martin is just Dean Martin in a pilot's uniform. Fun all-around entertainment that has aged well and deserved the nods it received from the Academy,

July 23, 2008

...The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald (1964)

The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald is a straight-ahead filming of a mock trial of the presidential assassin, performed in a courtroom setting, that stops dead (pun intended) two-thirds of the way through for five minutes as an interview about Cuba with the real Lee Harvey Oswald is played for evidence. Historically it might be nice to have this on record but cinematically we're not talking Citizen Kane. The film has no music or audio other than what the actors speak, and the judge literally looks at the camera when talking to the jury; Court TV it ain't but it was filmed in Dallas in 1963 in the weeks following the actual assassination so that's

July 21, 2008

...The Idolmaker (1980)

The Idolmaker is an excellent picture about the music business in the 60s that contains music with a decidedly 80s sound. That said, I love the music and this film with its emotionally raw performances (including Ray Sharkey in a career-maker and Tovah Feldshuh), exciting musical segments, and a sharp script that says something without being preachy. Pull out a hanky and then live your life as The Idolmaker does!

July 20, 2008

...Babe: A Pig in the City (1998)

The now-infamous sheep pig and his master's wife head to the city to help save the economically ailing farm in Babe: A Pig in the City, the sequel to the surprise hit of 1995. Charming and whimsical, Babe ultimately wins out but not before encountering sundry animals jaded by a life in the urban jungle. The animal techtronics and human voiceovers are, if possible, better than those in BABE and help to add up to an engrossing fairy tale for children and their higher-ups.

July 19, 2008

...Being John Malkovich (1999)

Being John Malkovich is possibly the weirdest lesbian-themed, science fiction black comedy I have ever seen. Although a bit long, the premise (akin to using actor John Malkovich as a ride in Disneyland) is definitely intriguing and worth a look. The cast, including John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener and the titular actor, is great in roles they have undoubtedly not inhabited before and never will again.

July 18, 2008

...Hairspray (2007)

Hairspray is a near perfect filmization of a Broadway musicalization of a comedy film with era-specific dance music. John Travolta, Queen Latifah, Amanda Bynes, James Marsden, Nikki Blonsky, Michelle Pfeiffer and too many other cast members to list are wonderful; the songs are melodic, catchy, and literate, and the screenplay flows beautifully to its emotional burst of of an ending. For a few more than three lines on this film, see Truth, Lies, and the Poop on Hairspray.

July 16, 2008

...El Orfanato (2007)

A riveting, well-structured story, excellent camera work, and nice sound editing are just the tip of the El Orfanato (The Orphanage) iceberg. It's also an emotional histogram and a paranormal roller coaster as Belen Rueda (in a stunning performance) tries to find her son who has been missing for nine months. Capped by a surprise appearance from a Hollywood legend and presented lovingly by Guillermo del Toro (in the style of his classics Pan's Labrynth and Devil Inside), The Orphanage is unlike anything that's been spewn forth from Hollywood proper and thus is, unfortunately, ripe to be remade and ruined by the latter.

July 15, 2008

...Best Man in Grass Creek (1999)

Best Man in Grass Creek is a quirky, low key comedy about a man who was dumped at the altar and his scramble to overcome it. Written and directed by, and starring, John Newcombe, this indy charmer has a wonderful cast, realistic dialogue, smart situations, and Megan Mullally in a small yet not pivotal role. Grace Phillips also deserves a shout out for her intelligence and poise in the starring role as the jilted groom's new girlfriend.

July 14, 2008

...The West Side Waltz (1995)

The West Side Waltz is a mediocre screenplay (taken from, what I understand to be, a mediocre play) with nice performances but, I ask you rhetorically, what good is a chick flick that doesn't make you cry? Shirley MacLaine, Liza Minnelli, and Kathy Bates do respectable jobs with inconsistent and poorly motivated characters but Jennifer Grey is flailing for air with her Brooklyn Jew - vacillating between Streisand mannerisms and stock poses is not pretty. This movie is for fans of the actresses only - all others will most probably fall asleep.

July 11, 2008

...Xanadu (1980)

Xanadu has no charm, no humor, no wit, and no chemistry emanating between the romantic leads although it does have great music by Electric Light Orchestra, John Farrar and Olivia Newton-John, multicultural dancers, and some cheesy early 80s atmosphere. The viewing experience borders on dull but occasionally a scene explodes (like the 40s/80s mashup Dancin featuring Fee Waybill and The Tubes, and Gene Kelly rollerskating at the titular nightclub's opening) that made me soldier on to the end which climaxes with a thud as the big production number goes on far too long and attempts to break musical genres when all you want to do is hear the song. So I got the record.

July 10, 2008

...Perfect Stranger (2007)

Why do studios option mundane scripts and why do actors choose to make them into films? Let's assume Halle Berry and Bruce Willis were paid bucks for Perfect Stranger and let's hope the producers lost money (based on a US theatrical gross of $23 million) because maybe now they'll realize that making a good movie might be a better idea. It's not that it's a horrible film - the story is just not that interesting, and the twist ending is not the right ingredients at the right time; surprisingly though, the very last frame of the film adds a star.

July 9, 2008

...Georgia Rule (2006)

Surprisingly touching, Georgia Rule is not the train wreck the pre-release press and post-release reviews might have lead one to believe. Jane Fonda is great as the feisty grandma on whom Felicity Huffman dumps her rebellious daughter, Lindsay Lohan - both actresses meeting the old-timer's acting challenge head-on (especially the latter in a role that seemingly mirrors her tabloid sensations). Other good actors walk in and out (Dermot Mulroney, Cary Elwes, Laurie Metcalf) adding nice support to an involving script that touches on some taboo subjects but resolves itself on a positive note and in a humorous way.

July 7, 2008

...The Broadway Melody (1929)

The Broadway Melody was the first talker to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and, although it might not be the best picture now, there are a few things worth watching. Bessie Love chews up the scenery in a much-heralded performance, the toe dancer is awesome, and the interstitial titles lend an air of pre-code riskiness. Ultimately though, it is decidedly OF its time and worth a look for historical purposes only.

July 6, 2008

...Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

Diane Keaton returned to the Woody Allen fold (during a particularly nasty time for the auteur) to act in Manhattan Murder Mystery, an amusing but slight mystery. The four leads (Allen, Keaton, Alan Alda, Angelica Huston) have nice chemistry, the titular story is not easily solved and, at times, tres amusent. Although the film is indelibly marred by it's historical context, it looks and feels like the film Allen needed to make during this time.

July 5, 2008

...Absolutely Fabulous Season 1 (1992)

Nothing can be said about Absolutely Fabulous that has not already been said since it's premiere in 1992 but I'll try. The five J's (Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, June Whitfield, Jane Horrocks) are immaculately cast as the women at the center of this broad situation comedy about two misfits that, despite its drug, alcohol and sex themes, is very close in spirit to I Love Lucy. The scripts in this first season (all written by Saunders) are tight, smart, funny, and surprising; you can't go wrong with this bit of classic television.

July 2, 2008

...Death Sentence (2007)

Death Sentence is a ridiculously bad revenge movie from James Wan, the director of Saw. Kevin Bacon is SuperAvenger, a vigilante who takes down everyone that had anything to do with the deaths of his family and miraculously never gets popped by the cops. There are so many flaws in this movie (including Aisha Tyler's horrendous portrayal of the lead detective) that you should skip it and watch Straw Dogs for an excellent revenge film.

July 1, 2008

...Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Reservoir Dogs is an excellent movie in the Quentin Tarantino cannon of criminals and pop culture. The seven men involved in the heist (including turns by Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, and Mr. Tarantino himself) are believable and hysterical. And what happens after the crime is riveting but cover your eyes if blood is not your thing because this movie has it in buckets - enjoy!

June 30, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the latest sweet film in the film sub genre straight, sensitive men being introspective on relationships (including all Judd Apatow related films). Jason Segel has put his penis front and center by writing (and starring) in a believable script about a guy being dumped and getting back on his feet. Solid support from Kristin Bell, Mila Kunis, Jonah Hill, and Paul Rudd add to the gentle humor, lovely Hawaiian scenery, and effective emotion manipulation.

June 29, 2008

...Strait-Jacket (1964)

Joan Crawford does her best Bette Davis impression as the redeemed axe murderer home from the asylum in Strait-Jacket. Joan's schizophrenic performance brought on by the flip of a wig is a barnstorm and Diane Baker's is subtly underplayed as they slog through this unintentionally funny script with a story that has half the tension of writer Robert Bloch's far superior Psycho. But, if one does not expect more from the movie than the one we get here, one will still be pleased.

June 28, 2008

...The Reaping (2006)

The Reaping is X Files-lite with Hilary Swank as the non-believer and, Idris Elba and David Morrissey adding support as the believers. The story, centering on the ten plagues (yes, THOSE ten plagues) raining down on a bayou town is interesting and the actual plagues are not too transparent in their digital imagery but the script loses any good will it had earned by the film's surprising end with a cheesy denouement and a typical Hollywood coda. Not bad enough to laugh at and not good enough to really enjoy, it's ultimately (sorry, Hil, I love you but...) a small, insignificant movie.

June 27, 2008

...Teaching Miss Tingle (1999)

Helen Mirren is over-the-top excellent as the horrid high school teacher getting her comeuppance in Teaching Miss Tingle (the directorial debut from the writer of Scream) and Katie Holmes as the student meets her head on. Between these polar opposites, there is a mildly entertaining film with some attempts at humor (although The Exorcist parody went on far too long) but it was nice to see supporting actors Molly Ringwald, Vivica A. Fox, Marissa Jaret Winokur - and an uncredited (?) Leslie Anne Warren marvelously cast as Holmes' mom. Then Helen played the Queen and Katie played Tom.

June 26, 2008

...Cloverfield (2008)

Cloverfield is the story of a Godzilla-type thing (which we see minimally) transported into New York City, and told using the methods employed in The Blair Witch Project (and more importantly Cannibal Holocaust before it). With this lineage, one might think J.J. Abrams (of Lost and MI:3) would be able to fashion a scary and fun movie but instead it is bogged down with a bunch of twenty somethings about whom I could care less. And the digital video gimmick gets old quickly (unlike the aforementioned precursors) ultimately becoming an annoyance rather than an enhancement - and this is in a movie that is barely 75 minutes long!

June 25, 2008

...Get Christie Love! (1974)

Originally broadcast as an ABC Tuesday Movie of the Week, the kitsch factor is high in Get Christie Love as Teresa Graves earns kudos for breaking through a few glass ceilings with her genre-busting line, "You're under arrest, sugah." A pot-smoking lesbian teen and an abortion are some interesting aspects of this otherwise lackadaisical time capsule. And don't get me started on the relationship between Love and her boss Harry Guardino who, despite his lack of pigmentation and his workplace harassment of the titular cop,


gets the girl.

Watch this movie free.

June 24, 2008

...V for Vendetta (2005)

V for Vendetta is a discombulated slip of a movie that never takes off - though not for lack of trying. Natalie Portman straps on a crooked British accent and does her best to transport us into this quasi-political/science fiction send-up of a tyrannical, dictatorial future - to no avail. Maybe writers Larry Wachowski and Andy Wachowski should've directed the film (as they did The Matrix) or pulled in the reins on first-time director James McTiegue - at the least.

June 23, 2008

...Sex and the City (2008)

It's not the television series but I enjoyed immensely Sex and The City, the movie despite it's length and abusive product placement. Some supporting characters get short-shrift (although everyone makes an appearance), Carrie continues her idiotic infatuation with Mr. Big (annoying), Jennifer Hudson is bright but mundane, and Miranda comes out of the closet to have the best tale in the film. Despite it all and because of it all, it sure is fun to watch Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, and Kristin Davis having sex again even if it will never top the original (pun intended).

April 30, 2008

...The Stand (1994)

I kept watching The Stand, an excruciatingly long television mini-series that attempts to act as a treatise on good and evil but fails miserably, in the hopes that it might get better but, because the underlying post-apocalyptic tale seems a separate film from the morality tale (between Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg), the whole series was just disjointed and uninteresting. Although it seems a precursor to the current crop of multiple story line television series' (like Lost and Jericho), the performances, script and production values of the latter are more intriguing and expensive than those in the former. And if that doesn't cap it all in a top hat, the banal ending was poor manipulation; if you're gonna manipulate my emotions, do it right.