Year Director Running Time MPAA Rating Title Comments
2006 Muccino, Gabriele 117 PG-13 Pursuit of Happyness, The ‘Happyness’ is indeed the wrong spelling but is correct in this title. You’ll find out why early in this “based on true” story. Will Smith takes on a very serious dramatic role along side his real life son. It is a very good drama but it gets so sad as their luck runs out and they literally become street people before things turn around. Will is a salesman for a medical instrument that is too new (at the time) to be an easy sell. He can’t pay the rent but is training for a position as a stockbroker. Trying to care for his son after his wife leaves for a job on the other side of the country becomes a life or death struggle. He remarks how significant it was that Thomas Jefferson wrote of the pursuit of happiness rather than its guarantee.
2005 Haneke, Michael 118 R Caché French psychological thriller. The subtitles translate Caché as “Hidden.” While it would be wrong to characterize this film as violent, I must advise that there is one very shocking moment that is quite graphic (and I’m not talking about the scene with the chickens). With that out of the way, I will say that this is a very interesting drama in which the director plays a little trick on the audience right from the very start (though it doesn’t take long before you realize what it is). The main story line is that this couple keeps receiving anonymous video tapes that reveal in no uncertain terms that they are being watched. And so the mystery is, who is watching and why? While this question is never completely resolved at the end, there is a possible interpretation that can be derived from the very last scene. I have to admit that I missed it myself because I failed to correctly identify two of the people in that relatively crowded scene. I only found out about this detail after hearing the director’s commentary in which he admitted this was not an easy point to catch on a first viewing.
2006 Singer, Bryan 154 PG-13 Superman Returns An all new Superman story with a new actor in the title role: Brandon Routh. Also stars Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. Two actors from the original TV series make cameo appearances: Noel Neill (the 2nd TV Lois Lane) and Jack Larson (original Jimmy Olsen). The film credits included a dedication to the late Christopher and Dana Reeve. The story here supposedly follows the “Superman II” film and begins with Superman returning to Earth after a long absence in which he was exploring the remains of his home planet, Krypton. Lex Luthor figures out a way to construct an entire continent out of Kryptonite and attempts to put Superman out of business by luring him to his death in this new land. Superman must stop the formation of this new continent as it threatens to wipe out North America. Although Routh is no Christopher Reeve, he does a pretty good job of filling this famous dual role. Spacey was a good choice to play Luthor. It is a pretty good action adventure with a surprise new character that could lead to additional sequels.
2006 Stone, Oliver 129 PG-13 World Trade Center This film recreates one of the more miraculous survival stories from 9/11. Only twenty people were pulled out alive from the remains of the twin towers, and this story is about two of them, police officers who were buried in that rubble, not even realizing that it was the entire building that had collapsed on them. The director has compressed the events of 24 hours into a two hour movie but according to one of the survivors it is about 95% true. Nicolas Cage plays officer John McLoughlin and Michael Peña plays officer Will Jimeno, both very good performances. Also noteworthy is Maggie Gyllenhaal who plays the wife of officer Jimeno. Both of the real officers make cameo appearances in the film and on the DVD one of commentary tracks features Will Jimeno and some of the men who rescued him, so you get some very authentic insights to their experience by listening to that. The film alternates between long dimly lit sequences of the two men talking to each other in the depths of the rubble (they could not see each other) and the emotionally draining experiences their families were going through, not knowing the fate of the two men. I won’t take credit for calling this a love story but in a very real way it is because it portrays the two men as surviving by hanging on to the hope of reuniting with their wives. This is definitely not a political take on the events of 9/11 but a focused human drama about heroes and families.
2006 Eastwood, Clint 132 R Flags of Our Fathers Director Clint Eastwood brings to life the true story of the men in the famous Iwo Jima flag-raising photograph. It shows the intense battles those men experienced on the small island in very graphic detail after the fashion of “Saving Private Ryan” (which should be no surprise with Steven Spielberg as co-producer). And it reveals how the three surviving flag-raisers were plucked from the battle and toured around America as war heroes to promote the sale of war bonds, much to the embarrassment of the men who did not consider themselves heroes. Another truth brought out is the fact that the famous photo is not of the first flag raised but the second. That being said, I have to say that overall this film was a disappointment. Clearly a great deal of effort and expense went into the recreation of the battle on Iwo Jima (using the similarly volcanic Iceland as a location substitute). So I’m sure it is reasonably authentic. But it certainly didn’t bring anything new to that type of dramatic recreation. Also you don’t get to know the characters very well. It makes a decent history lesson but in the end I did not feel particularly entertained.
2006 Stettner, Patrick 81 R Night Listener, The Robin Williams stars in this creepy Hitchcockian thriller. It is based on a novel of the same title (by Armistead Maupin - also cowriter of the screenplay) which in turn was inspired by the author’s real life experience . William’s character is a gay radio personality who one day is loaned a book manuscript for his review. The manuscript is a very disturbing story by a 14-year old boy who tells how he had been the victim of pedophile parents. At first I was worried that this movie was going to follow that story but the twist is that the very existence of this young author comes under question. William’s, having developed a long-distance relationship with this unseen boy becomes concerned and tries to meet him in person. With his search the mystery only deepens. I don’t know how the novel ends, but I can tell you that Maupin presented the facts to a reporter who spent a year in research and could not find the boy. So this is a creepy and disturbing story and while the homosexual themes do not appeal to me it was otherwise a pretty good mystery with an unresolved ending. At only 81 minutes you are able to escape from this strange realm in relatively short time.
2005 Reiner, Rob
PG-13 Rumor Has It... This romantic comedy is a new twist on “The Graduate.” I don’t know what the true inspiration for the novel (1963) was, but the premise here is that it was based on a real family and the character in this film played by Jennifer Aniston begins to suspect that it was her family. From that line of reasoning she suspects her grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) of being the real “Mrs. Robinson.” Of course these characters are aware of the movie based on that book and part of this plot involves Jennifer going in search of the man she believes is the real-life equivalent of the character played in 1967 by Dustin Hoffman. In this movie that character is played by Kevin Costner. As a fan of Jennifer Aniston I may be a bit biased but I did enjoy this movie. Shirley MacLaine was a good choice to play the grandmother who is so vain she won’t allow anyone to call her “grandmother” and she gets to deliver some pretty good lines.
2006 Forster, Marc 113 PG-13 Stranger Than Fiction A very good comedy starring Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. Although Will Ferrell has a reputation of playing characters who are embarrassingly shameless, his character here is much more normal (at least as normal as one could expect when faced with the unusual situation he encounters in this film). Without giving away too much, the basic premiss here is that Ferrell one day starts hearing a voice that is narrating his life (but nobody else can hear the voice). He comes to the conclusion that he is a character in somebody else’s novel and he is living out whatever that author puts down on paper. With the help of Dustin Hoffman he attempts to track down the author and prevent her from controlling his life.
2006 Collyer, Laurie 95 R Sherrybaby Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Sherry Swanson, a young single mother with some serious problems with drugs. The story starts with her release from a prison term and her attempts to visit her daughter in spite of very strict parole restrictions. She wants to raise the girl herself rather than leave the task to her brother and sister-in-law but she has difficulty coming to terms with the fact she just isn’t capable. She is so desperate that she performs sexual favors to get a job she would normally be prohibited from taking, working at a day care facility. In a later scene we learn that drugs aren’t her only problem when the film gives an unspoken clue to something shocking from her childhood. It is a good dramatic story but not a happy one. The R rating is for sex, drugs and language.
2006 Macdonald, Kevin 123 R Last King of Scotland, The Forest Whitaker’s Oscar for his portrayal of Idi Amin was well deserved. He was equally adept at showing Amin’s gentle persuasion and his frightening madness. This film tells a story of a fictional Scottish doctor who went to Uganda to work in a remote village clinic but ended up as Amin’s personal physician. Filmed in Uganda with mostly local actors and extras the historical backdrop of this is actually quite authentic in spite of it having been based on a novel. Amin actually had a genuine liking for the Scottish people, even giving Scottish names to some of his sons and occasionally sporting a kilt. Things seem quite normal until there is an assassination attempt, after which his dark side comes out. There are two extremely disturbing scenes involving mutilation and torture which I am sure will get cut for prime time network TV. But apart from that it is a very entertaining film.
1930 Dovzhenko, Aleksandr 70 NR Earth This is a silent film from the Ukraine, with the Russian language title of “Zemlya.” Until 1971 only a heavily censored edition of this film was available outside the Soviet Union, but since 1991 a complete version has been available on home video, though unfortunately the quality of the print is somewhat poor but definitely watchable. Though highly praised by major critics it may be difficult to appreciate today except as a pure “art” film and a landmark in early cinematography and editing techniques. It is very visual, not just because of being silent but it has such a simple plot, much of it is montage without directed action. And by today’s standards somewhat boring. A farming community goes collective and acquires a tractor. A very long sequence in the film is devoted to images of the increased agricultural productivity that results, giving it an almost documentary feel. The clash between the collective and the more wealthy landowners ends in tragedy. And that’s basically it as far as plot goes. Some of the visual sequences are quite impressive, the most famous being the collective’s young leader dancing with joy on an empty road in the moonlight. One of the scenes that clearly would have been the victim of the early censorship is one depicting a woman running around her room in the nude. It seems very pointless that she is nude but there you have it in 1930 (don't get too excited – she could stand to lose a few pounds).
2007 Verbinski, Gore 168 PG-13 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End This is the third of the Walt Disney series inspired by their Disneyland attraction. While I can heartily recommend the 2nd half of the movie, it is way too long and could have used a lot of trimming from the front end. The climactic sea battle is quite entertaining and action packed. And if you haven’t learned by now, don’t forget to stay till the end of the credits for a bonus scene that most people miss by leaving when the credits start to roll. This episode does rely quite a bit on your recollection of the characters and their relationships from the previous films. I was a bit fuzzy on some of those details and thus a bit lost at times. One final teaser, this movie contains the most bizarre wedding ceremony you’ve ever seen.
1995 Rodriguez, Robert 104 R Desperado This “Desperado” is a sequel to the director’s 1992 film “El Mariachi.” Whereas the first film was made on a budget of only $7000, this time the budget was $7,000,000 which is still small by Hollywood standards of the day. While it inherently lacks some of the originality of “El Mariachi” it continues the style of strong violence with comic undertones. And while “El Mariachi” was in Spanish with subtitles, “Desperado” is 99% English but still filmed in the same small town in Mexico. The main character is now years older and portrayed this time by Antonio Banderas. He is seeking revenge on the remaining members of the local mob who were trying to kill him in the earlier film. Along the way he picks up a girl friend played by Salma Hayek. Steve Buscemi also stars and provides some of the comic relief. There is a pretty high body count in this movie but if you enjoyed “El Mariachi” you’ll probably enjoy the action and the sense of humor.
2003 Rodriguez, Robert 102 R Once Upon A Time In Mexico Director Robert Rodriguez reprises his “El Mariachi” story for a third and presumably final episode. Continuing in the lead role from “Desperado” is Antonio Banderas with Salma Hayek again as his girl friend. Added into the mix are Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe and Mickey Rourke. Although our “hero” got his man in “Desperado” he now has a price on his head. A CIA agent (Depp) steps in to take advantage of this and gets him involved to thwart an assassination plot against the president of Mexico. A much more complex story than the previous two films in this trilogy and full of well choreographed stunt work. One flashback sequence in particular is a totally preposterous escape by Banderas and Hayek that is a marvel of both stunts and editing. No surprise is the massive amount of gunfire and bloodshed but retaining the comic book exaggerated action. Once again this is filmed in Mexico but in a larger city this time. Mostly in English but several scenes are in Spanish with subtitles.
2007 Shelly, Adrienne 108 PG-13 Waitress Very funny comedy, very well written and acted. Keri Russell stars as a waitress in a small town diner where her talent is pie making. Every day she invents a new pie with a funny name. Her best customer is the diner’s owner, played hilariously by Andy Griffith. The main story is about how she finds herself pregnant but can’t stand her husband and doesn’t want the baby. When her long-time family doctor retires and a handsome young man takes her place, things get complicated. Trivia: the director plays “Dawn,” one of the other waitresses at the diner.
2007 Moore, Michael 123
Sicko This scathing attack on insurance companies and medical providers is often funny but at the same time it contains many sad tales of people whose lives have been destroyed or loved ones lost to benefit corporate greed. As with most of Michael Moore’s documentaries, there are no solutions, only exposé. He is like a one-man “60 Minutes” extended to two hours on one topic. I’m not sure he paints a complete picture here but he does a good job of contrasting the socialized approach in such countries as England and France versus our system which suffers from corruption, greed and insensitivity. He even visits a medical facility in Cuba, but a title card appears telling the audience that Homeland Security does not permit revealing how he got there!
2007 Wiseman, Len 128 PG-13 Live Free Or Die Hard Bruce Willis returns for the fourth time as police detective “John McClane” in this very exciting action film. I haven’t seen all of the “Die Hard” movies but this one is very good. The main plot involves a group of computer terrorists who hack into nearly every government computer facility, bringing the entire country to a standstill. Willis gets involved when he is assigned to pickup a known computer hacker for questioning. The catch is that the terrorists want this guy dead. As soon as these three parties cross paths, you get two hours of nonstop (frequently violent) thrills.
2006 Eastwood, Clint 141 R Letters From Iwo Jima This is the Japanese side of the Iwo Jima story and the second film by Clint Eastwood about this battle. The dialog is mostly Japanese with English subtitles, and although in color it is often so muted as to seem black and white. The war violence is quite graphic as it was in the earlier film. It shows the extremely grim circumstances of the Japanese army in their attempt to hold the island against vastly superior American forces. So given the known outcome of the battle, the film focuses on the personal stories of the soldiers with particular attention given to two of the men, and so in a sense it is from there point of view.
2006 Cuarón, Alfonso 109 R Children of Men A science fiction story about a future time when all women mysteriously become infertile. Yes, it is that absurd: all women. Then suddenly a young woman in England shows up pregnant and an “underground” network of people try to secretly escort her to some organization that supposedly will use her to solve the problem. Simply put, I didn’t like it. No explanation of the dilemma is ever offered and we never see the people that the pregnant women is sent to for protection and study. Stars Michael Caine (as an aging hippie) and Julianne Moore. Some intense violence.
2006 Iñárritu, Alejandro González 143 R Babel Excellent multinational drama, repeating the director’s engaging multi-threaded method of storytelling that was so impressive in “Amores perros (2000).” Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett star in one of four initially separate stories that little by little are shown to be interconnected. The title refers to the language and distance barriers that separate the people of the world. In this case the languages, in addition to English, are Spanish, Arabic, Japanese and even sign language. And the distant places are Morocco, Japan, Mexico and the USA. Contains some violence but nothing extreme, nudity and some strong language. Less than half the movie is in English so there are subtitles for the other languages.
2007 Greengrass, Paul 115 R Bourne Ultimatum, The Third installment of the Bourne series, starring Matt Damon and many other actors from the first two films including Julia Stiles and Joan Allen, with a special appearance by Albert Finney. I’m sure most fans of the first two Bourne films will enjoy this “final” episode. Plenty of action and suspense as Damon now goes on a quest to find the truth about how he became the covert assassin he found himself to be in the first film.
2006 De Niro, Robert 167 R The Good Shepherd A very long, complicated, serious drama about the formation of the CIA. Part of the complication is the frequent use of flashbacks, as the story bounces back and forth between the 1940s and the 1960s. Matt Damon plays the central character, in a role probably intended to represent former head of CIA Counterintelligence, James Angleton. Having been involved in the failed “Bay of Pigs” fiasco, Damon is investigating a leak of information that contributed to the failure of that mission. The flashbacks little by little show how Damon’s character was recruited to help form the CIA while a student at Yale. Robert De Niro, the film’s director, also plays the role of this recruiter. As the past catches up with the present the source of the leak is discovered with tragic consequences. Other major stars include William Hurt, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, Timothy Hutton, John Turturro and Joe Pesci. There are a lot of characters and details to keep track of in two time periods and familiarity with the history being dramatized here would probably help one follow the story more easily. This is an original screenplay that makes no pretense of being based on real events or people, but which was clearly inspired by them. This is a good but “heavy” drama, with good acting performances, though it may take a second viewing to absorb all the detail, which, at nearly three hours, is asking a lot.
2006 Zwick, Edward 143 R Blood Diamond Brutally violent and disturbing action thriller which serves to illustrate, through a fictional account, the horrible victimization of the people of the African nation of Sierra Leone as part of the diamond trade. The sad part is that the real life violence which inspired this story was much worse, which makes the story that much more shocking, given what one sees in this film. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly star as diamond smuggler and investigative reporter respectively. DiCaprio gets wind of a major diamond find by a native (an excellent performance by Djimon Hounsou) and is willing to do anything to get his hands on it. And Connelly seeks to document the truth about the mutilations and murders done in the name of greed over the diamonds. Great acting and exciting high adrenaline action with a surprising and emotional climax. Just make sure you can stomach the violence.
2006 del Toro, Guillermo 119 R Pan’s Labyrinth Spanish: “El Labertino del fauno” (The Labyrinth of the Faun). The use of the name “Pan” in the English title is misleading, as the Greek god, Pan, is not part of this story at all, though apparently Pan was described as half man and half goat as were the mythical fauns. Although this film is marketed as a fairy tale involving a 12-year old girl, it is most decidedly an adult film (rated R for brutal graphic violence). The young girl’s real life is caught up in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War when she is taken to live with her sadistic stepfather, Capitán Vidal. He is busy trying to crush the remaining resistance fighters, and no one is safe if he suspects them. Meanwhile, the girl, Ofelia, discovers a fairy in the woods who leads her into what appears to be an ancient ruin where she is introduced to a faun who believes she is the reincarnation of a princess. She is assigned three tasks which, if successful, will verify her identity. The violence aside, this is a very good story, an original screenplay written by the director. It won three Academy Awards: Art Direction, Cinematography and Makeup. So if you have a tolerance for the violence and can suspend disbelief for the fantasy, you will probably be very impressed by this film.
1944 Eisenstein, Sergei 99 NR Ivan the Terrible Part 1 Russian: “Ivan Groznyy I.” This is the first part of a planned trilogy commissioned by Stalin, intended to glorify the 16th Century Tsar, Ivan IV. Only part one was released in the director’s lifetime, as Stalin halted production of part three and banned part two. Only one scene and a screen test from part three survive and are included on the Criterion Collection DVD. A very impressive historical epic, though only loosely based on fact. Superb black & white photography. The sets and especially the costumes are spectacular. This episode follows the Tsar from his coronation to his retreat to Alexandrov. Also notable is the musical track composed by Sergei Prokofiev, who had previously scored Eisenstien’s “Alexander Nevsky.”
1958 Eisenstein, Sergei 85 NR Ivan the Terrible Part 2 Russian: “Ivan Groznyy II: Boyarsky zagovor.” Produced at the same time as Part 1, this episode of the trilogy was banned by Stalin and not released until 1958 (the director died in 1948). This episode, like a TV sequel, begins with a brief recap of Part 1 and then continues the story as Ivan returns to Moscow. It also includes an important flashback to his childhood, originally planned as part of the prologue of Part 1. Unexpectedly there are two sequences filmed in color, though being a rather low-budget form of color it looks very poor by today’s standards, making one wish the better quality black & white photography had been maintained throughout. Since there is no Part 3, this film ends with Ivan still in power, though the story as told is complete without any loose ends. Parts 1 & 2 should be viewed as a double-feature with an intermission.
1939 Cromwell, John 93 NR Made for Each Other This is the 1939 Jimmy Stewart and Carole Lombard picture. A forgettable minor film by two major stars (3 if you count Charles Coburn). 1939 was a big year for films that have become classics but this is not one of them.
1941 Marshall, George 85 NR Pot ‘o Gold A cute musical comedy starring a young Jimmy Stewart and Paulette Goddard. Stewart gets in hot water when he finds himself caught in the middle of a feud between his uncle and the musical family of an attractive young lady he has just met. You can probably find this DVD in the one-dollar bin and save yourself the rental cost! (The DVD I have was sold under the title of the other film on the disk, “Made For Each Other”).
2004 Linklater, Richard 80 R Before Sunset This is the sequel to “Before Sunrise” (1995). Once again Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy meet in Europe, this time in Paris. It is nine years since the characters parted company at the end of the first film. They had agreed to return to Vienna after six months and it turns out that he did but she didn’t. Now he is married and has published a book based on that first encounter. It is basically the same type of walking-and-talking movie that tries to recreate the charm of the first film but does not succeed. The actors contributed to the screenplay this time and they cheapened it by adding things like having the characters smoking, which they did not in the first film, and having them tell unnecessary off-color jokes.
1972 Tarkovsky, Andrei 166 PG Solaris Russian: “Solyaris.” This is the first film based on the novel by Polish author Stanislaw Lem. Steven Soderbergh directed a remake in 2002, starring George Clooney. Both versions portray essentially the same elements extracted from the novel by director Tarkovsky. This Russian version is very slow paced, requiring a long attention span to soak in the artistic intent of the director. It is interesting that while some aspects of this film may suggest an influence by “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Tarkovsky’s reaction to Kubrick’s film was that it was not the correct way to portray science fiction. Thus, for example, you will notice that the interior of the space station in “Solaris” looks very used and run down, as opposed to 2001’s shiny new pristine appearance. “2001” is probably not the only influence from the science fiction genre, as I noticed one scene that immediately brought to mind “Forbidden Planet” (1956). As a side note, if by chance you saw this film before 1990, you most likely saw a much shorter version; the DVD edition contains the full-length film, as well as some very informative interviews on the second disc. Briefly, the film tells of a psychiatrist who is sent to investigate a problem afflicting the crew of a space station orbiting the planet Solaris and becomes a victim of the same phenomenon he was sent to study. The film is not about technical gadgetry or space travel but about things like morality and what it means to be human. The slow pace and the tendency towards “visual poetry” may not appeal to the general audience but I would recommend it as an “art film” and as a great accomplishment by one of Russia’s greatest directors. Of particular note among the actors is the excellent performance by Natalya Bondarchuk who plays “Hari,” the ex-wife of the psychiatrist.
1975 Tarkovsky, Andrei 106 NR Mirror, The Russian: “Zerkalo.” There have been many films titled “The Mirror” but this is the one by Tarkovsky. It is the most confusing film I’ve ever seen. Aiding the confusion was the fact that the same actress, Margarita Terekhova, played two different roles. I was unable to discern a story line. There was much poetic narration that did not seem to relate to what you were seeing. I saw this from the DVD released by KINO and have since been made aware that the translation for the English subtitles is of very poor quality and that much dialogue was not even included in the subtitles (that much was obvious). Since there has been much critical praise for this film I didn’t want to leave it at that so I took the trouble to read more about it and then watch it a second time. It turns out that it is an autobiography of the director, with particular emphasis on his mother. In fact his real mother plays herself when the story calls for her to appear at her real age. And his real father is the author and narrator of the poetry you hear. The reason one actress plays two roles (his mother as a young woman and later as his wife) is because of an alleged likeness of the two women in real life. Knowing all this certainly helped on the second viewing but it is still difficult because it is a nonlinear story, mixing present time with both flashbacks and dreams as well as sometimes surprisingly long sequences of authentic wartime footage.
133 PG-13 Across the Universe A fun musical love story constructed around the music of The Beatles. These are all new arrangements and performances of the familiar songs and I’m happy to report that the new arrangements are very good. Being part of the target audience that grew up on The Beatles, it was most enjoyable to see the familiar lyrics brought to life. It is an interesting situation - with most movies you don’t know what music you are going to hear, but in this movie you know it is going to be Beatles songs but you never know which song they are going to break out in for any given scene. The story is set during the era of The Beatles, with a particular emphasis on the period of the Vietnam War. A young shipyard worker from Liverpool travels to the United States to meet the father he never knew. He makes a friend and moves to New York with him and starts to explore his artistic abilities while dating the sister of his new American friend. There are many references to The Beatles beyond just the songs but the characters never actually mention them, as if they didn’t exist in their universe. Several of the main characters take their names from the songs: Jude, Lucy, JoJo, Sadie, Prudence. There is also a scene that recreates the famous rooftop concert in London but here transplanted to New York. And yes, somebody does come in through the bathroom window.
2007 Gilroy, Tony 120 R Michael Clayton This legal drama is a bit confusing at first but eventually you realize that the case which drives the story is a toxic chemical lawsuit, not unlike that in “Erin Brockovich” (2000), but this film follows the case from a completely different perspective. George Clooney plays an attorney at the firm defending the lawsuit. He doesn’t work on any of the firm’s cases but he calls himself a “janitor” who cleans up all manner of troubles that the firm’s clients get themselves into. But now in this major lawsuit, the lead attorney on the case has a situation requiring Clooney’s special talents. Except for the introduction and conclusion the whole story is told as one long flashback, identified as “Four days earlier.” So the whole time you’re waiting to see how Clooney got into the unusual situation that he found himself in at the end of the introduction. Most of it becomes clear by the end but I was still left hanging on a few points; perhaps I missed a subtle detail or maybe they intended it to be unexplained. Even ignoring that however, I would only rate this as average for entertainment value.
2006 Greengrass, Paul 111 R United 93 A very realistic portrayal of the events of 9/11, focusing on the one hijacked plane that failed to reach its intended target, United flight 93. It attempts to play out the events in real time and adds to the realism by employing as actors many actual traffic controllers, pilots, flight attendants and military personnel, some of whom recreated their original roles on that fateful day. Unlike the film “Flight 93” which had been released on TV earlier in 2006, this one was made with the full cooperation of the families of the passengers on that flight (this is not to say that the earlier film had zero involvement by the families; I simply don’t know the facts in that case but doubt they went through this twice). The DVD includes an hour-long documentary which is even more moving than the film, in which the families are interviewed and introduced to the specific actor who portrayed their family member in the film. The families were given a private screening of the film before it was released to the public and the documentary also includes some of their reactions to the film.
2006 Agresti, Alejandro 98 PG Lake House, The Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves star in a love story with a science fiction twist. The premise that you have to go along with if you’re going to enjoy this at all, is that a mailbox has somehow become a time portal that allows these two characters to communicate across a span of two years. Relatively speaking, Bullock is in the future and Reeves is in the past so their chances of meeting do not look good. This premise is a little bit like the movie “Frequency” (2000) starring Dennis Quaid, in which a father and son were able to communicate across time, but at least in that case they suggested a possible explanation for the phenomenon. Here there is no attempt to explain the unusual nature of this mailbox. It is actually a remake of a South Korean film, “Siworae” (also known as “Il Mare”), which coincidentally came out the same year as “Frequency.” Although this isn’t strictly speaking a “time travel” movie, it does use many of the clichés of that genre and since I’m a sucker for time travel stories I will admit to a bias here. By the half-way point I was thoroughly engaged by the story but I have to say that the beginning of the film was often boring so I can understand if many viewers dropped out early.
2007 Yapo, Mennan 96 PG-13 Premonition Sandra Bullock is a wife and mother who finds herself waking up each day alternately finding that her husband is either dead or alive due to a car accident that did or didn’t happen. Eventually she deduces a way to take advantage of this strange phenomenon to try to prevent the accident. It is initially just as confusing to the audience as to Bullock as to the explanation for her strange experiences, though no reason is ever suggested for how any of this is possible in the first place. Overall I would rate this disappointing.
2007 Scott, Ridley 157 R American Gangster A very good “true story” drama starring Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas, a man who built his own organized crime heroin business by personally importing the drug directly from sources in Southeast Asia. Because he was getting it 100% pure and avoiding all the middle men, he was able to make a fortune by selling it twice as potent as anything else on the street and at half the price. The other side of this story is the police investigation that eventually brought Frank down. Russell Crowe plays the cop whose narcotics team is trying to figure out who is the head of this heroin ring. While there certainly is some strong violence here, it is not as much the focus of the movie as you might be thinking. It is more about how the cops and the gangsters are living their lives than about how they are killing each other.
1996 Wu, Tian-Ming 101 NR King of Masks, The Chinese: “Bian Lian.” Set in the 1930s, an elderly street performer, known for his astonishing ability to rapidly change masks during his act, laments the fact he has no son to whom he can pass on the secret of his trade. In desperation he purchases a child on the black market only to discover later that what he bought was a girl with short hair! Nothing seems to go right after that; he even gets thrown in prison at one point after being accused of kidnaping another child. The only thing I didn’t like about this was the old man. Somehow he didn’t strike me as sympathetic enough. The child actors on the other hand were amazing. If you enjoy Chinese films this is worth seeing.
2007 Coen, Ethan + Joel Coen 122 R No Country For Old Men A fairly violent but still quite engaging story about a man who finds a large sum of cash from a failed drug deal. He decides to keep the money but his problem is that other people are searching for it so he must keep on the run. The main character who is chasing him is a strange but very resourceful man who will stop at nothing to get it. His weapon of choice is most unusual so I won’t reveal it here. There were a couple talking scenes that seemed to go on and on without much point, but other than that this is a pretty good show.
2007 Apted, Michael 118 PG Amazing Grace The title comes from the well known song, but I never knew the origins of the song until now. It turns out that the lyrics (but not the melody) were written by an 18th-century British slave ship captain, John Newton, after he had given up the slave trade and became an Anglican priest. The movie is based on the real life of William Wilberforce (1759-1833), the man who convinced Parliament to abolish the slave trade in the UK. And it was that former slave ship captain (played by Albert Finney) who was Wilberforce’s mentor on that subject. It is a piece of history that I certainly was not familiar with and I think this film does a very good job of dramatizing it. Other than Albert Finney, most of the actors are unfamiliar to Americans, though many will recognize Michael Gambon from the “Harry Potter” series.
2006 Curran, John 125 PG-13 Painted Veil, The This is based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel, though it is not the first film version. It was previously done in 1934 with Greta Garbo. This time the stars are Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. Norton plays a British doctor who hastily marries Watts and returns with her to his bacteriology studies in China. When he discovers her infidelity, he volunteers to relocate to a village where a serious outbreak of cholera has occurred, knowing that his wife will be forced to accompany him if he doesn’t divorce her. Over the course of their stay there, the hardships eventually help rekindle their love. I must admit that the main reason I chose to see this movie was that it was shot primarily at the very scenic Li River location in Guangxi Province that I visited in 1990. It is one of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet. But as beautiful as the scenery was, I was disappointed by the story. Maybe fans of the novel will appreciate it more but I cannot offer a comparison.
2006 Polish, Michael 104 PG Astronaut Farmer, The This is fun “root for the underdog” story about a farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) who dreams of going into outer space and actually builds his own rocket to get himself there. But trouble is brewing when the bank starts to foreclose on his farm and the FBI gets wind of his attempt to purchase a large quantity of rocket fuel. Virginia Madsen stars as his wife. Other supporting roles include Bruce Dern and Bruce Willis. It’s a crazy idea but good clean entertainment.
1992 Zhang, Yimou 100 PG Story of Qiu Ju, The Chinese: “Qiu Ju da guan si”. An amazing story of persistence. In a remote farming community in China, a man had a squabble with the local government Chief which ended with the Chief kicking the man in the groin. The man’s wife (Gong Li), who happens to be pregnant, attempts to obtain justice in the form of an apology from the Chief. Money is offered but she won’t accept it. At great risk to her own well being she takes the case to higher and higher levels of government, which also means farther and farther from home. A fascinating look into Chinese society.
2007 Anderson, Stephen J. 94 G Meet The Robinsons A highly imaginative animated feature about an orphan, “Lewis,” whose life is changed when he meets a boy from the future. Lewis likes to invent things but they never work and nearly always blow up. His obsession with this repeatedly scares away all the couples who interview him for adoption. He finally invents a gadget that he believes will be the answer to all his problems. But a very strange series of events occur a the science fair which ultimately results in Lewis riding in a time machine to the future. If you saw the movie “The Incredibles” (2004), this movie is that type of animation and that type of fun.
2007 Darabont, Frank 126 R Mist, The If you enjoy gruesome scary movies here is a new one from the mind of Stephen King. In a small New England town a strange mist engulfs the town following a severe thunderstorm. A large group of people are trapped in the local grocery store and are attacked by strange unearthly creatures that get more and more horrific as the story progresses. Initially the movie is pretty routine and nothing to get excited about but when the creatures start attacking and killing people in more and more disgusting ways, you could say it gets more “interesting” - certainly more scary and attention grabbing. I won’t give away the ending but I will say that it is horrifying more on an emotional level than on a graphic violence level (there is plenty of that elsewhere in the film). I haven’t read the short story it is based on but usually King’s writing is better than the movies derived from it (it was originally published in the collection titled “Skeleton Crew”). Overall this is not one of the better film adaptations from King’s work but if you weren’t turned off by my description of it then you might want to check it out, at least as a rental.
2007 Nichols, Mike 97 R Charlie Wilson’s War An entertaining dramatization of a true story. Tom Hanks plays Representative Charlie Wilson, of Texas, who secretly arranged the funding necessary to help Afghan forces defeat the invading Soviets in the 1980s. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a CIA agent who aids the cause. Both Hanks and Hoffman were very good but the supporting role by Julia Roberts was not as impressive. My only big complaint is the extreme overuse of bad language.