Year Director Running Time MPAA Rating Title Comments
2004 Hirschbiegel, Oliver 155 R Downfall German: “Der Untergang.” Riveting, well paced dramatization of Hitler’s final days. This is shown with English subtitles but there is so much dialog that it requires your full attention to read them without missing something. The R-rating alone may not quite prepare you for some of the more disturbingly graphic scenes. It is very violent. The DVD edition has excellent surround-sound effects if you have the appropriate home theater equipment (which hopefully includes a decent subwoofer for those artillery shells). This film is an attempt to tell the true story of Hitler’s defeat by the Russian army in 1945. It is based on two books, “Inside Hitler’s Bunker” by Joachim Fest and “Until the Final Hour : Hitler's Last Secretary” by Traudl Junge and Milissa Müller. Junge was Hitler’s secretary. The film tells the story largely from her point of view. And to add to the authenticity, the film starts and ends with archival footage of the real Traudl Junge (1920-2002). Excellent acting across the board, especially Bruno Ganz as Hitler.
2005 Jackson, Peter 187 PG-13 King Kong This is the second remake of the classic 1933 “King Kong.” This didn’t really need to be three hours long to tell the same story, but this is certainly the most spectacular version in terms of visual effects and exciting action sequences. The dinosaur episodes on Skull Island are particularly noteworthy, though they do stretch the limits of believability even in the context of this story. Kong himself is definitely the most fully realized version of that character, showing a much greater range of expression than the previous two. And the final assault on Kong at the Empire State Building is quite dizzying, at least on the big screen at the theater. Naomi Watts is quite good as the girl who steals Kong’s heart, but the rest of the cast is nothing to write home about.
2005 Spielberg, Steven 163 R Munich In 1972, 11 Israeli athletes were kidnapped from the Munich Olympics by Palestinian terrorists and soon thereafter murdered. According to a book by George Jonas, Israel formed an unofficial team of assassins to hunt down and kill those responsible for the murders. Steven Spielberg based this movie on that book. Three days before this movie was released, Aaron J. Klein published a book which claims to be a more complete and accurate account of what happened. Apparently the assassination team’s victims were not really the key men responsible for the tragedy in Munich. The movie follows the five assassins as they track and kill one target after another which makes for a somewhat repetitive story and contributes to the film’s great length. The acting is very good but overall I was left unsatisfied. As you might expect, the killings are strongly graphic. One thing that didn’t make sense to me was several occasions when the lead Israeli assassin had dreams/flashbacks of the killings of the athletes in a manner suggesting that he had personally witnessed those events, which he hadn’t.
2005 Verbinski, Gore 103 R Weatherman, The Looking much younger than his true age (41), Nicolas Cage plays a Chicago TV weatherman (but not a meteorologist) who isn’t particularly happy with his lot in life. People on the street recognize him from the local news but are more likely to throw a fast-food item at him than to offer a friendly greeting. His wife (Hope Davis) has divorced him, he doesn’t relate well to his kids or his father (Michael Caine). Not a very promising state of affairs. For the most part this movie is about his attempts to repair these relationships while dealing with various family crises and a major career decision. His efforts are often amusing in a pathetic sort of way. Perhaps the less you think of this as a comedy the more you’ll appreciate the laughs when they come. The weather is bad throughout the movie but the acting is very good, but overall the film was a disappointment. The R rating is for excessive foul language and a gratuitous sex scene.
1954 Wellman, William A.
n/a High and the Mighty, The Disappointing airplane-disaster movie (“Airport”, 1970, followed in its footsteps and was more entertaining). The fact that John Wayne is in it is almost incidental. It is definitely not what people think of as a “John Wayne” movie. The film was only recently (August, 2005) made available to the movie watching public after being held out of circulation by the Wayne estate for decades.
2005 Gaghan, Stephen 127 R Syriana It took a long time for me to get interested in this story. They spend a very long time introducing a confusing array of characters. You’re not sure who’s working for who, what they are up to and why. As things start to fit together in the second hour there is a lot more intrigue and tension built up. The main character is played by George Clooney, and even now I’m not really clear what he was doing. Other major talent includes Christopher Plummer, William Hurt and Matt Damon. Although it was inspired by the nonfiction book “See No Evil” by Robert Baer, a former CIA agent, the credits inform us that everything in the film is actually fictitious. And the book includes a carefully worded denial by the CIA. There are at least three, maybe four parallel stories here centering around American oil interests in the Middle East. So there are CIA people, oil people, lawyers, Arab royalty, terrorists and others in a complicated soup. It has a multipoint climax but closes on an indefinite future.
2006 Markle, Peter 90 TV-PG Flight 93 A made-for-television movie, first shown on A&E, which dramatizes the events on 9/11 that resulted in the crash in Pennsylvania of United flight 93. As the first 9/11-related movie I’d seen, this was disturbing to watch but it was well done and was effective in portraying the plight of the doomed passengers as well as the reactions of their families on the ground. The exact events in the last minutes of that flight are unknown but the recreation here seems quite believable.
1991 Kurosawa, Akira 98 PG Rhapsody In August Japanese: Hachi-gatsu no kyôshikyoku. August is the month in 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. This story takes place in 1990, the 45th anniversary. It is an intimate look at three generations of a family that was touched by the bombing and their coming to grips with the recent discovery of a forgotten branch of the family found in Hawaii. Most of the film centers around the four grandchildren spending their summer vacation with their grandmother, who was widowed by the bomb. They try to convince her to visit her long lost brother but she doesn’t remember him. In an unusual bit of casting, Richard Gere is the only American in the film, appearing as Grandma’s long lost nephew (apparently his mother was American). Beautifully photographed and featuring a very moving performance by Sachiko Murase as the grandmother. Although I am a big fan of director Kurosawa, overall I have to rate this as one of his lesser works.
2006 Howard, Ron 148 PG-13 Da Vinci Code, The A mystery in the form of a very complicated treasure hunt. Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou (best known for ”Amélie” (2001)) star in this film version of the controversial novel by Dan Brown. I haven’t read the book so I can’t say if there is any mystery left for those who have. I did spot one of the major secrets a mile away, though I missed deducing the final clue that “broke the code.” Of course, once revealed, it seems embarrassingly obvious. It is moderately entertaining but certainly not one of Hanks’ best roles. In this case I would blame the writing more than the acting. The secondary characters were often more interesting than the leads. It also wouldn’t have hurt to shorten it by about 20 minutes. The director relied too much on flashbacks to provide character backgrounds. Although rated PG-13, there is a fairly disturbing scene where one of the “bad guys” is shown inflicting ritual pain on himself. As for the controversial mixing of fact and fiction -- it’s only a movie!
Cars A very funny cartoon in which every character is either a car or a truck. Even parts of the landscape look like automobile parts. The story centers on one car that is on its way to participate in a big race. Along the way “he” gets lost in a small town and manages to cause major damage to the main street. The town forces him to repair the road before he is permitted to leave. This plot seems like it was stolen from “Doc Hollywood” (1991) where Michael J. Fox was trapped in a small town doing community service because of some property damage he had caused. Even the romantic subplot is similar. Anyone who is familiar with the NPR show “Car Talk” will immediately recognize two cars that represent the hosts of that program.
2005 Baumbach, Noah 81 R Squid and the Whale, The This is quite a good story and very well acted, but I recommend it only with a strong warning. The strong language and sexual content are rather extreme, especially when it involves the younger boy in this dysfunctional family. But the director crossed a line in his depiction of the boy’s sexual hanky panky that I feel was a bad precedent. It is such a crude detail that I am not comfortable saying what it is, but I’m sure you will know what I’m talking about if you see it. The director was very efficient because when the film ended I was surprised that it had only been 81 minutes. He packed a lot of storytelling into that short time. It is not about squids or whales; the title comes from a line of dialogue that appears late in the film, and so doesn’t even hint at what the story is about. Jeff Daniels plays a snobbish professor of literature in Brooklyn in the 1980s and Laura Linney plays his wife. Very early in the film the family splits up across town and the rest of the story follows the impact of this on the two sons. The story draws on the director’s own life, with the older son representing himself.
96 PG Inconvenient Truth, An This documentary is Al Gore’s traveling lecture on global warming. This is a presentation he has been giving in cities all over the world to educate people on the facts of global warming. The facts he presents clearly show that what we are experiencing is not the result of some natural cycle. The more people who see and learn from this the better. This is not a political issue, so don’t let Gore’s politics distract you from the science.
2005 Miller, Bennett 114 R Capote Very impressive character portrayal by Philip Seymour Hoffman. After seeing the footage of the real Truman Capote (an extra on the DVD) I was even more impressed with how Hoffman captured his defining characteristics. The film tells the story of how Truman Capote investigated the circumstances surrounding the murder which became the subject of his book, “In Cold Blood.”
1995 Reynolds, Kevin 135 PG-13 Waterworld Kevin Costner stars in this exciting action thriller that is a “Road Warrior” on the ocean. In a fictional future, all land-based ice has melted, raising sea levels to the point where virtually no land remains on the planet. The few survivors have adapted to life afloat, forever searching for the mythical “Dryland.” Don’t get me wrong, I found this to be very entertaining, but as a side note on reality, if all the ice melted, the actual rise in sea level is currently estimated at 225 feet, which is nothing to sneeze at, but clearly would leave a lot of land remaining. Costner plays a lone traveler on a highly customized 60-foot trimaran, loaded with all manner of clever gadgetry. He is the ultimate survivalist, but is nearly undone when he takes on two female passengers (Jeanne Triplehorn and child actress Tina Majorino). Dennis Hopper plays the bad guy who is trying to kidnap the girl because her tattoo is believed to be a map to Dryland. The makers of this film shamelessly stole bits from other movies such as “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Blues Brothers” and the aforementioned "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior", but it all makes for good old fashioned nail-biting thrills.
2006 Linklater, Richard 100 R Scanner Darkly, A This film was made with a technique called “digital rotoscoping.” The director, Richard Linklater, first introduced this in his 2001 film, “Waking Life.” The scenes are shot with a digital camcorder as live action but then with a computer, each frame is painted to resemble animation. Although it doesn’t bother me, I can well imagine that this technique could give some people headaches. As an example of the technique, “Waking Life” is probably better. This story is based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, whose other novels have inspired such films as “Blade Runner” and “Total Recall.” In this film however there is very little that could be classified as science fiction other than the unusual suit worn by the narcotics officers which changes their appearance continuously and disguises themselves even from each other. We follow the undercover work of one officer, portrayed by Keanu Reeves, as he seeks to trace the source of a popular drug called “Substance D.” Robert Downey Jr. appears in this film as one of the drug users, which seems a bit strange given all his real-life troubles with drug addiction. It is a very odd, occasionally confusing story, but quite amusing at times when the characters are behaving strangely under the influence of the drugs. It is definitely an anti-drug movie, and is in fact based on Dick’s own bad experiences with drugs. The ‘R’ rating is mostly for language and of course the drug usage.
2006 Lumet, Sidney 125 R Find Me Guilty Perhaps not the best courtroom drama, but what makes it interesting is the fact that it is true. Most of the courtroom dialogue is taken directly from the transcripts. So remind yourself of that when you start to think they made it up. Truth is stranger than fiction. Vin Diesel plays mobster Giacomo "Jackie" DiNorscio, who is on trial with 19 other members of his “family” in federal court. It was the longest criminal trial in US history, running some 21 months (I thought I had it bad serving on an 8-week trial). Unlike the other defendants, Jackie acted as his own lawyer, resulting in much unconventional courtroom behavior. It is at times quite funny, and Diesel plays the role very well. Outside the courtroom the action isn’t as interesting. Plenty of crude language throughout the script to qualify for the R rating.
2005 Donaldson, Roger 127 PG-13 World’s Fastest Indian, The A very good true story about a 73-year-old New Zealand man pursuing a dream of testing his “Indian” motorcycle at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah. Anthony Hopkins stars as this mechanical genius who has continuously modified his 1920 bike for over 40 years with home-made parts, so that it far exceeds its designed speed rating.
2006 Verbinski, Gore 150 PG-13 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Disappointing sequel. The first hour was quite boring and the whole thing was way too long. It just didn’t have the sparkle of the original. Eventually there were some fun action sequences, such as when they were attempting to escape from the cannibals. And the final hour had plenty of action and special effects. But overall it failed to recreate the magic of the first episode. If you do choose to see this, hang on till the end of the credits because there is an extra scene there that most people miss by leaving the theater too soon.

Hollywoodland Explores several possible explanations for the mysterious death of “Superman” actor George Reeves.
2006 Burger, Neil 109 PG-13 Illusionist, The Edward Norton plays “Eisenheim,” a magician in Vienna, circa 1900, whose performances seem to go well beyond the realm of the traditional slight of hand. When the Crown Prince invites him to perform at the palace, Eisenheim manages to embarrass the prince, who then employs Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) in an effort to put the magician out of business. The story also involves a love triangle with the prince’s fiancé (Jessica Biel). It is a very engaging story, and while the magic is only “film magic” it makes for a good fantasy.
1960 Kurosawa, Akira 151 NR Bad Sleep Well, The Japanese: “Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru”. A complex story of revenge and government corruption in post-war Japan. Other critics have found parallels to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” though apparently the director never talked about it in those terms. It is long and slow requiring a great deal of movie-watching stamina to get through it but overall it is an impressive social drama. I’m sure a more thorough understanding of Japanese culture would go a long way to further appreciation of this story and its characters. The opening wedding party sequence is an impressive piece of filmmaking. The subtitles fly by pretty fast so be alert.
1960 Powell, Michael 101 NR Peeping Tom This is the 1960 British film of this title. In the same year that Hitchcock made “Psycho,” Michael Powell directed this psychological thriller about a serial killer who films his victims’ deaths. The actors are mostly unknowns to Americans, but Anna Massey (”Helen” in this film) had a major role 12 years later in Hitchcock’s “Frenzy.” This is an effectively creepy story about a man who was influenced as a child by a father who was constantly filming and recording everything his son did. In that regard it is sort of the psychological opposite to “Psycho” with the parental influence being the father rather than the mother. If you’re a fan of “Psycho” you should make it a point to see this. I definitely did not anticipate the way this ends until the final moments.