Year Director Running Time MPAA Rating Title Comments
1953 Yasujiro Ozu 136 NR Tokyo Story Japanese: “Tôkyô monogatari.” This is one of those films which is often highly praised by major critics and usually appears in “top 100” lists, but is one that I found hard to appreciate. It is very slow moving and some of the characters are so low key you think they are about to fall asleep. However, if you are looking for insights to what middle class Japanese life was like in 1953 this may prove instructive. The director was known for always setting his films in the current time period. It tells the story of a retired couple who live a great distance from their adult children who live in Tokyo. They decide to take one last trip while they are still able, to visit their children and grandchildren. But none of their children seem to have much time to entertain and at one point even ship the folks off to a seaside spa to get them out of the way. But Grandmother takes ill on the train ride home and the whole family must come together. In addition to being slow, boring and depressing, the director deliberately makes it difficult to learn the identities of some of the main characters. In that sense it makes it more like you are spying on this family and hoping they will say or do something that reveals who is who. I suppose the main point of this film is the way the three generations of this family treat each other and how “modern” life has contributed to their behavior. In expressing those themes the film succeeds rather well, but the presentation is quite draining.
2007 Jon Turteltaub 124 PG National Treasure: Book of Secrets A sequel to the 2004 film, “National Treasure,” this reunites the same director with at least five of the same actors and two of the original writers and thus, not surprisingly, is very similar to the original. Nicolas Cage again stars as Ben Gates. In the back story we learn that one of Ben’s ancestors may have been an accessory to the plot to assassinate President Lincoln. Ben believes otherwise and when a long lost portion of John Wilkes Booth’s diary turns up, he sees an opportunity to clear his family’s name if he can prove the existence of a mythical treasure. In an attempt to outdo the risk taking of the first film, this time Cage finds himself breaking into Buckingham Palace and later kidnapping the President of the United States. There is plenty of exciting action especially towards the end, though I was not terribly impressed by the acting. It is pretty funny at times and so overall a decent piece of “mindless” entertainment. While I consider the first film to be better, most of its fans will probably enjoy this sequel.
2001 Laurent Cantet 128 PG-13 Time Out French: “L' Emploi du temps.” This is very interesting because they were able to take a relatively simple plot and turn it into something very mysterious by withholding key information not only from the characters but from the audience as well. We see a man who seems to be on a road trip for his work, periodically calling his wife to report on his progress. Yet it quickly becomes apparent that none of what he is telling her is actually taking place but we don’t know why nor is it entirely clear what he really is up to. He does however seem to be getting deeper and deeper into something that will force him to make some tough choices. This story was inspired by the true life of Jean-Claude Romand except that Romand’s final choice was shockingly different. You can read about Romand at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Claude_Romand but I advise waiting until after you see the movie.
2007 Chris Weitz 113 PG-13 The Golden Compass This fantasy is derived from the first book of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials" trilogy. Thus if this film makes enough money you can expect Hollywood to turn this into a movie trilogy as well. The original title of the first book is actually "The Northern Lights" but “The Golden Compass” was preferred by the American publishers. This story takes place in a very different universe from our own. Perhaps the most unusual difference is the concept of the human spirit existing outside the body in the form of an animal which accompanies you everywhere and which is referred to as your “daemon.” Your daemon can talk to you and it can physically interact with other people’s daemons. So the special effects artists had their work cut out for them, having to digitally add all these animals alongside every human actor. And to make it even more complex, when you are a child, your daemon has not yet settled into a fixed form, as with adults, and so may alternate from a cat to a bird to a rodent, for example. The main character, Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), is a 12-year old girl whose main adventure in the film is a quest to rescue a group of kidnapped children from a remote location in Norway. The major adult stars in the film include Nicole Kidman, Sam Elliott and Derek Jacobi. While I won’t give away the ending of the film, I have learned that the ending of the book (which I have not read) was cut from the film but will be used as the beginning of the second film if there is one. The implication being that the actual end of the story is not a happy one. With that long introduction, you may be surprised to learn that I did not get a lot of enjoyment out of this movie. I did not find the character, Lyra, as sympathetic as she could have been and in general, not a story that really grabbed me. Probably too scary and violent for young children.
2007 Francis Lawrence 100 PG-13 I Am Legend Will Smith delivers a very good performance as a man who finds himself alone in Manhattan after a man-made virus kills nearly everyone on the planet. Most of the story takes place three years after the epidemic started but there are occasional flashbacks to the time when everyone was trying to escape Manhattan after the government declared a quarantine for the entire island. I had just recently seen the History Channel’s “Life After People” program and it was interesting to see that much of what they said would happen to a city, in the first few years after the disappearance of the people, was accurately depicted in this movie. Smith, however, is not entirely alone. Some humans did not die from the virus, but turned into horrible ravenous creatures who only come out at night (they are obviously computer-generated creatures but very effectively rendered). Having been a medical scientist before the disaster, Smith still holds on to the hope that he will find a cure for the virus and attempts to capture these “mutant” humans as test subjects for his cure. These creatures are pretty scary and violent, so unless you like a good horror movie now and then, you might think twice about seeing this. Other than that consideration, I recommend it.
2007 Tim Burton 116 R Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street The violence is shockingly graphic. You have to be a real glutton for punishment to enjoy this unusual musical starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. So I cannot recommend it. But if you still want to know what it’s about, I’ll tell you. Depp plays a 19th century barber who seeks vengeance on a judge who many years ago had deprived him of his wife and daughter. He sets up shop on Fleet Street in London and proceeds to slit the throats of all his customers and ... well it is just too disgusting what he does with the bodies, but it does provide a source of income. In a subplot, a younger man of his acquaintance has his eyes on the barber’s daughter who is being held as a ward of the judge. Depp helps pave the way for him to free her from this “captivity.”
2007 Todd Haynes 135 R I’m Not There While this film may not have broad appeal, it certainly is interesting for, if nothing else, the manner in which it tells its story. The film was inspired by the life of Bob Dylan and as a result is loosely biographical. Yet not a single character in the film is named Bob Dylan, nor is there a single central character but rather six. What is presented consists of six completely independent stories each with its own central character who in some way, not always obvious, represents some part of Bob Dylan’s life. The one character who looks and acts most like Dylan is played, unexpectedly, by Cate Blanchett. She does it pretty well, though if you didn’t know the actor was a woman you would certainly suspect that. The six stories are revealed in alternating segments rather than serially. The one that puzzled me most in terms of its relevance to Bob Dylan was the one starring Richard Gere as “Billy the Kid.” Most of the music you hear was written by Bob Dylan and a large number of the songs are his performances, though I recognized only a few (I do like some of his songs but have not followed his career closely). I would imagine that a fan who knows more about Dylan’s life would be able to make more sense out of these fractional portrayals of him.
1999 Jianqi Huo 88 NR Postmen In The Mountains Chinese: “Nashan naren nagou.” A young man in Hunan Province takes over his father’s job as postman for the mountain villages. When his father tags along on his son’s first time on the route it becomes the bonding experience of a lifetime. It is a simple story but told with much feeling and sensitivity. Although the image quality on the DVD is not first rate, the landscapes in China are quite beautiful. My only other complaint about the DVD itself is that the English subtitles are sometimes illegible due to blending in with the picture. If you are lucky enough to find this DVD I’m sure you will enjoy it.
2007 Tamara Jenkins 114 R The Savages This is an excellent drama which is both sad and funny. It would not surprise me though if the story hits a bit too close to home for some people. Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as Wendy and Jon Savage, a sister and brother who are coming to terms with the increasing dementia of their elderly father. While you might jump to the conclusion that this is about Alzheimer’s, the film does not examine the specific cause of the dementia. Very good performances by Linney & Hoffman. One word of warning: if images that are not compatible with eating would spoil your dinner, don’t plan a meal for this film. They try to gross you out two or three times, though the most disgusting moment is delivered in the first 10 minutes.
2007 Jason Reitman 96 PG-13 Juno Sixteen year old Juno has managed to get herself pregnant. And like too many teenage girls these days, she clearly did not give adequate consideration for this possible outcome of her sexual activity. Being much more assertive than her boyfriend, Juno was the seducer in this case. When her father and stepmother find out, they are surprisingly calm about the whole thing. Juno decides to give the baby up for adoption and the rest of the film follows her pregnancy through to its natural conclusion. The main drama is the two parallel stories of how this affects her relationship with her boyfriend and how the prospective adopting couple come to terms with their impending parenthood. Of course there is an unexpected twist to the story which I won’t reveal. I suppose this movie is trying to send a message to its teenage audience, though it seems an incomplete message. Ellen Page does a fine acting job as Juno, though I never developed any sympathy for the character. If anyone is sympathetic here I would say it is her boyfriend. Perhaps the writer intended it that way. On the other hand maybe I’m just too old to appreciate this movie. The demographic group that rated this the highest was “Females aged 18-29” (according to us.imdb.com).
1992 Quentin Tarantino 99 R Reservoir Dogs Although this is not the most violent movie I’ve seen, it did strike me as too brutal for my taste; and combined with the heavy handed use of foul language, these elements went beyond what I would consider entertaining. However, if it were possible to tone this down without compromising the story, it would rate fairly high. It is a good story with very good performances. Two of the better known stars are Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi. Tarantino is the same director who brought you “Pulp Fiction” (1994), which I also felt was too extreme. But if you enjoyed “Pulp Fiction” there is a good chance you would like this one. Briefly, this is the story of a jewelry store heist that went sour, resulting in deaths of both cops and criminals. The story is told with alternating “present” and “past” sequences, showing both the aftermath of the robbery and the back story of planning it.
2007 Paul Thomas Anderson 158 R There Will Be Blood A very original story about a private oil prospector in the early 20th century. Daniel Day-Lewis does an excellent job in the starring role. In the early days one of his coworkers is killed in a drilling accident and he adopts the victim’s now orphaned son, but allows everyone to believe the boy is his own. The main conflict of the story arises when a young man approaches Daniel (coincidentally also his character’s name) asking for money in advance to reveal a potentially lucrative source of oil. Convinced that this may be the big break he is looking for he visits the site, buys the land and strikes oil. The young tipster’s twin brother turns out to be the local faith healer and becomes the main antagonist (however I must admit that the existence of the twins was never clear, since you never see them together and it was easy to believe that the preacher was possibly a dual personality - he is a very creepy character played by Paul Dano). The original score is very nontraditional film music but is very effective in setting the mood. It is not an action movie and while there is good momentum throughout most of the drama, at 158 minutes it did start to seem a bit long towards the end. Also, the first 15 minutes or so almost seems like a silent movie with its complete lack of dialogue. But overall this is very good and I recommend it. The R-rating covers some violence but it is minimal compared to many R-rated films, however there is one instance that is quite brutal, though edited in such a way that it comes across as worse than what your eyes actually see.
2007 Joe Wright 122 R Atonement There have been at least five films made with this title but this is the one based on the novel by Ian McEwan. Set in 1935 England, it tells the story of a very annoying 13-year-old girl who gives false evidence in a rape case and then spends the rest of her life trying to atone for the disruption this caused to the accused’s love life. The girl’s older sister (Keira Knightley) is the object of the man’s affection, but not the victim of the rape. This film makes periodic use of flashbacks which aren’t always a bad thing but here I felt that the technique was sometimes pointless and confusing. In spite of the wide acclaim for this film I have to say that I found much of it rather boring, I am not in a position to compare the film to the novel but I would imagine if you liked the book you probably would appreciate the film more than I did.
2006 Agnieszka Holland 104 PG-13 Copying Beethoven I cannot help but enjoy listening to Beethoven. The scene in which he conducts the 1824 premiere of his Ninth Symphony is thrilling, though understandably abbreviated due to the length of the complete work. But the fictional story built around that great event is less inspiring. The film opens on his death bed and then circles back to a few days before that premiere when a young woman (played by Diane Kruger) is sent to be his copyist. Ed Harris plays the very deaf Beethoven, who has no reservations about expressing his chauvinistic attitude towards her. But she proves to be very talented and is able help him through this critical episode. While I cannot begin to know what the real Beethoven was like, I wasn’t totally convinced by Harris (though they did a pretty decent job of making him look like the famous portrait by Stieler). And although the director probably wasn’t trying to create another “Amadeus,” there are a number of scenes which draw parallels with that film. As a matter of practicality to suit the dramatic needs of the script, the film depicts Beethoven’s hearing as being better than it really was at the time. He was in fact stone deaf while composing his last symphony. Furthermore, for this very reason, he did not actually conduct at the premiere (but was on stage). One might have expected that the premiere would be the grand finale of the film, but the story continues from there, further developing his relationship with the fictitious copyist (in reality he had two male copyists). They also throw in a boyfriend for the copyist and another subplot involves Beethoven’s nephew, Karl. While it is probably not fair to criticize this film solely on the grounds that it took liberties with the truth (“Amadeus” certainly had its share of that) it seemed to me in this case that the creation of the fictional copyist as such a central character was a bit of a stretch. I will give credit to the writers for injecting a pretty good sense of humor now and then.
2007 Ben Affleck 114 R Gone Baby Gone As the title suggests, this is a story about a missing child. But it turns out to be much more complex than a simple child abduction case. The film opens with the search for little Amanda already underway. The child’s aunt hires a pair of private detectives (Casey Affleck & Michelle Monaghan) to assist in the investigation. The police captain (Morgan Freeman) assigns police detective Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) to work with them. Amanda’s mother is a real piece of work, constantly on drugs and alcohol, no husband and spews four-letter words like a machine gun. The twists and turns of the plot will surprise you and ultimately leads to a tough decision by Affleck’s character, one that will leave you pondering for a long time if it was the right decision. There are some scenes of violence that are quite disturbing. And as I already pointed out there is a lot of foul language used; I don’t mind the occasional expletive to punctuate the drama, but they went a bit overboard here. However, if you can see past the graphic violence and pervasive language, you will find a very good movie. Not a bad acting performance to be found. Casey Affleck, the director’s brother, was a good lead and Ed Harris was also impressive. This is Ben Affleck’s first time out as a director of a feature film and he also co-wrote the screenplay from the novel by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote “Mystic River”). I think if he stays behind the camera and the pen he will have a much more successful career than as an actor.
2007 David Fincher 158 R Zodiac In the late 1960s, a string of unsolved murders in California were attributed to a serial killer known only as “Zodiac.” A cartoonist at “The San Francisco Chronicle,” Robert Graysmith (played here by Jake Gyllenhaal) became obsessed with the case, trying to solve it himself even though police had generally given up. This movie is based on Graysmith’s account which he first published in 1986 followed by a second book in 2002. Although Graysmith’s conclusions about the identity of Zodiac are not well supported by police evidence, the movie plot is built around his theory. So for the purposes of watching this movie, the less you know about the actual case, the better. I will warn you that several of the killings are acted out in bloody detail, so consider that before you decide to rent this. It works out as a pretty good crime mystery, though I was not terribly impressed with Gyllenhaal or Robert Downey Jr. who plays the “Chronicle” reporter who covered the case.
2007 Matthew Vaughn 128 PG-13 Stardust This is an unexpectedly good fantasy. As I tend to prefer science fiction, I can be a tough customer when it comes to fantasy, but this story won me over. Perhaps because it was remarkably self-consistent, or because of its sense of humor or the charming love story. Set in a magical time and place in which the English town of Wall borders a strange but never visited land called Stormhold. One day a young man dares to cross the dividing wall and meets an enslaved princess. He returns to Wall and nine months later a baby in a basket is delivered to him from beyond the wall. He raises the boy, Tristan (Charlie Cox), who one day has his own adventure across the wall. This story has princes, princesses, witches, pirates, ghosts and magic. Although Cox is not well known, the film also stars Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro and Peter O’Toole. The only thing that seemed out of place here was the depiction of De Niro’s character as a closet (literally) transvestite (or however you want to interpret his secret life style), though I have to admit it was pretty funny.
2001 David Atkins 94 R Novocaine Steve Martin stars as a dentist who gets in a lot of trouble. While this is a comedy of sorts, it is a more subtle style of comedy than what normally comes to mind when you think of Steve Martin. His hygienist (Laura Dern) is also his fiancé. Everything seems fairly normal until two people enter the scene who seem destined to make sure his life is never the same. One is his estranged brother and the other is a sexy new patient (Helena Bonham Carter) who is trouble with a capital T. In a classic case of “movie stupidity” Martin falls into one lie after another until there seems no escape. While there is not a lot of violence in this movie, it does get a bit bloody at times; relatively speaking it is probably the most graphic violence I’ve ever seen in a Steve Martin film. So if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, better stick with “Father of the Bride.” It’s perhaps not Steve Martin at his best but it is a story with a lot of surprises a good sense of humor.
2007 Andrew Dominik 160 R The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford Although many people have praised this movie, I did not find enough appeal to make up for its extreme length. It tells the story of how Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) befriended the famous 19th century outlaw, Jesse James (Brad Pitt), and then plotted to kill him. Pitt was very good as James, but I’m not sure Affleck was right for the role of Ford.
2006 Tony Scott 126 PG-13 Déjà Vu Denzel Washington stars in a very exciting crime thriller with a science fiction angle (read: time travel). Washington plays an ATF agent who investigates a horrific terrorist bombing in New Orleans. He is given access to a secret government surveillance system that offers the possibility of a very unique way to solve the crime. He is also very moved by the discovery of the body of a beautiful young woman whose murder may be connected to the terrorist. Lots of action and surprises.
2007 Gavin Hood 122 R Rendition A very good political thriller but at the same time a story that highlights the shameful way our government tortures suspected terrorists and violates their human rights. Obviously a very politically charged story which while not intended to portray any one specific real-life case, was strongly influenced by a documentary on this subject (”Outlawed” - included as an extra on the DVD). The film alternates between two different but related stories, though I can’t tell you much about how they are connected without giving away a surprise. The central story follows the disappearance of the Egyptian husband of an American woman (Reese Witherspoon) on his flight home from a conference in South Africa. American intelligence agents believe he is a terrorist. Witherspoon makes appeals to Senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin) and another government official (Meryl Streep) in search of answers to what happened to her husband. The other story takes place in the fictitious country of North Africa where we observe the development of a secretive love relationship between a young Muslim couple. Be warned that the torture scenes may be disturbing.
2007 Olivier Dahan 140 PG-13 La Vie en Rose French: “La Môme.” Marion Cotillard won the Academy Award for her outstanding performance as singer Êdith Piaf (1915-1963) in this biographical film. Êdith’s first stage name was “La Môme Piaf” (literally, The Kid Sparrow, and thus the original title; for the purposes of marketing to the American audience they changed to title to match one of the more popular songs she wrote). There is no English dubbing available on the DVD so you will have to read the subtitles, but believe me, it is worth it. Never a dull moment in this nonlinear dramatization of the life of this famous French singer and actress. Nonlinear because it jumps back and forth amongst different periods in her life, though fortunately the first scene of a new time period is labeled with the date and location. A truly amazing “rags to riches” story that begins when her father abandoned her to the care of a brothel (run by his mother!) to her achievement of great fame as a singer and finally her death in 1963. Very impressive makeup work to change her from a young woman to “premature” old age; very convincing even in close-ups.
2004 Roland Emmerich 124 PG-13 The Day After Tomorrow This is an OK action adventure with tons of expensive computer-generated special effects. It’s your basic disaster movie but not so star-studded as some of the more famous ones of the past. Dennis Quaid and Sir Ian Holm play two scientists who quickly realize that some very bad weather is really a sign of something seriously wrong with Earth’s climate. Things go from bad to deadly very fast as the whole northern hemisphere falls into a deep freeze. Some of the storm scenes will remind you of “Twister” (1996). Although most of the special effects were very well done, the giant hail stones looked like clear-ice chunks from an ice machine, and the computer-generated wolves appeared as just that (though they were effectively scary). The film is obviously using entertainment to deliver a message about global warming, though I doubt that this particular outcome would occur as rapidly as it does in the movie. The theory that Quaid’s character outlines is a real-life theory about one possible yet paradoxical outcome of global warming. It states that the natural currents that warm the north Atlantic could be disrupted by the melting of the polar ice cap and thus throw us into another ice age. Having viewed this film only just recently (3-18-2008), it was a bit of déjà vu to watch the scenes of tornadoes hitting downtown Los Angeles after just seeing the aftermath of that very thing in Atlanta, Georgia. Another thing that ties this movie to real life is a scene early in the story that depicts an event that really happened (minus the humans) in Antarctica in 2002 involving what is known as the “Larsen B Ice Shelf.”
2008 Roland Emmerich 109 PG-13 10,000 BC This actually turned out to be a pretty good adventure story, set in the year 10,000 BC. Built on the basic “boy rescues girl” plot, the main character is a young man who is part of a small clan that lives in a remote mountainous region. The wise old woman of the clan is having prophetic dreams and soon they start coming true. Members of an unfriendly clan arrive and kidnap many people. The young man, having escaped capture, leads the other men of the clan to attempt a rescue of their friends and family. This takes them across unfamiliar lands and climatic zones, ending up in a desert where the kidnapped members of their clan are enslaved in the building of the pyramids. But you’re thinking, hey, the pyramids weren’t built until after 3000 BC. What can I say? This is fiction and not a history lesson. Some great digital effects bring to life giant wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers.
2008 Jimmy Hayward + Steve Martino 86 G Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who! A disappointing animated feature based on one of Dr. Seuss’ famous children’s stories. His original stories are so short they don’t easily lend themselves to feature-length productions. The animated “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (1966) was only 26 minutes and was a big hit on TV. This story would have done much better in the same format. The filmmakers’ attempts to stretch the story were quite lame and un-Seuss like.
2003 Robert Benton 105 R The Human Stain This is difficult to describe without giving away a key plot point that the creators clearly did not want you to be aware of until well into the story. Of course if you’ve read the novel by Philip Roth (I haven’t) then you would know what I’m talking about and it won’t come as such a surprise. Anthony Hopkins plays a college professor who resigns his post rather than face a frivolous lawsuit. When his wife dies, he starts an affair with a much younger woman (Nicole Kidman) whom he later discovers is being stalked by her ex-husband (Ed Harris). The story is actually told, mostly in flashbacks, from the perspective of a fourth character, a writer, played by Gary Sinise. In spite of all this talent, somehow the story failed to grab my interest. Kidman suffers from a bit of typecasting and thus seemed a little out of place in this role. Ed Harris on the other hand was well suited to his part. The casting of Hopkins is problematic because on the one hand, it serves very well to defer your discovery of the secret his character has been hiding for 50 years. On the other hand, once the cat is out of the bag, you’ll be asking yourself, why would they have cast Hopkins? Rated R for nudity and some crude language.
1994 Xiao Lang & Qiu Lili 97 NR Saga of Mulan Chinese: “Hua Mulan chuan qi” (Mandarin with English subtitles). This predates the Disney cartoon, “Mulan” (1998) and is a live action version of the same story, presented in the style of “Beijing Opera.” This is not, however, simply a filmed stage show, but created on large film studio sets and occasionally inter-cut with actual outdoor scenery (though all the scenes with actors were filmed in the studio). It is a more adult version of the old Chinese legend; it does not, for example, have the character of the little dragon (”Mushu”), which I suspect was a Disney invention. Though not rated, I’d guess it would qualify for PG-13. In this version of the legend, when the Huns attack China, the young woman, Hua Mulan, disguises herself as a male soldier and joins the army, because her father is too frail and her only brother is too young. She succeeds in her deception and eventually becomes a famous general of the army. Very exotic costumes add to the spectacle. I must admit that the singing style of Beijing (aka “Peking”) Opera does not sit well on the American ear. But this is a very authentic performance in that style and makes for a good cross-cultural experience. The acting style is also very different, even from other non-musical Chinese films. It won two Best Musical awards in China. So if you think you can tolerate Beijing Opera singing and don’t mind reading subtitles, it’s a pretty good show.
2008 Steven Spielberg 122 PG-13 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull While many fans of the previous “Indiana Jones” films will probably enjoy this action-packed fourth feature, I would have say it is not as good as the three previous films in the series. Harrison Ford is obviously a much older Indiana Jones but through the magic of the movies he still manages to be however agile the scene requires. In spite of the many great action sequences and impressive stunt work, somehow the two hour film managed to feel longer. I wasn’t as impressed with the dialogue nor with Indie’s new sidekick (Shia LaBeouf). This new character is a young man who seeks Indie’s assistance on behalf of a colleague of Indie’s (played by John Hurt) who is in trouble after trying to return an ancient artifact known as the “Crystal Skull” to its original site in South America. In the early part of the film (the “warehouse” scene) watch for a brief glimpse of something from the original “Raiders of the Lost Ark” movie; it’s the kind of moment that you could miss if you blink (from my viewing experience at the theater I suspect many in attendance either missed it or never saw the original movie or were too young when they did). There were some scenes in this new film that clearly borrowed from the 1999 version of “The Mummy,” so if you’re familiar with that film I’m sure you will spot the same things. My last comment is that the ending of this film takes the series in a completely new direction into a different genre from “archaeology adventure” but I will leave it to you to discover what I mean. Maybe since they figured this is probably the last Indiana Jones film they could get away with this.
2007 David Sington 100 PG In The Shadow Of The Moon An excellent documentary about the Apollo space program, focusing primarily on the Apollo 11 mission but with many side discussions about other missions. Very significant here are the brand new interviews with ten of the still-living astronauts, revealing new perspectives and details about their missions you will not have heard about elsewhere. The only disappointment here was the absence of an interview with Neil Armstrong, but this only continues his policy of limiting his public exposure. One can only imagine the social pressure of being the first human to walk on the surface of another world. A wonderful selection of archival footage is included and of particular note is the work the filmmakers did in synchronizing audio tape of the control room voices with the original silent film footage taken in the NASA control room during the missions. If you rent the DVD and enjoy the film I highly recommend watching it a second time with the director’s commentary track turned on. While it may not matter to most viewers, purists will want to know that some of the footage shown is not in all instances from the particular mission under discussion, since in some cases a particular moment of that mission may not have footage available and so the essentially identical footage from another mission was substituted. This is acknowledged by the filmmakers both in a disclaimer in the end titles and in the director’s commentary. The featured astronauts are: Aldrin, Bean, Cernan, Collins, Duke, Lovell, Mitchell, Schmitt, Scott and Young.
2008 Christopher Nolan 152 PG-13 The Dark Knight There is enough action in this movie for three normal movies and at 2-1/2 hours, it sometimes felt like it was three movies. The story just keeps going and going. This Batman movie continues the darker, more serious tone of “Batman Begins” (2005), and features the same director and many of the same actors, including Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Michael Caine as Alfred the butler, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. But the best performance by far is that of the late Heath Ledger as “The Joker.” What an amazing performance! He could easily earn a posthumous Academy Award for this. The main focus of the film is of course Batman vs. The Joker but with assorted other characters and complications. But this Joker isn’t joking around and is intensely evil and quite insane. Filmed on location in Chicago and Hong Kong, with Chicago serving as “Gotham City.” For those familiar with Chicago you will see many familiar sites but they change the names such as “Lower Fifth” instead of “Lower Wacker” when using Lower Wacker Drive for many of the chase sequences. It is an intense action movie with lots of thrilling stunts, explosions, gun fire and special effects. If that is what you look for in a movie you won’t be disappointed but it will test your endurance.
2008 Andrew Stanton 97 G WALL·E Not as entertaining as I’d hoped based on the preview trailers. The story opens on a desolate Earth, a complete shambles, with no obvious explanation. Was there a war? Or did we bury the planet in our trash? There are some clues along the way, but the main action plot doesn’t spell it out clearly. We see no people or other organic forms of life (OK, there are two exceptions but I’ll leave the details as a surprise). Just a little robot with a manufacturer’s designation of “WALL·E.” His only function seems to be the clean up of all the debris which covers the planet. If you remember “Short Circuit” (1986) you will probably think as I did that WALL·E is a straight rip-off of robot “Number 5.” In spite of the limited demands of WALL·E’s job, his subsequent behavior in the rest of the movie makes it clear his “mental” capacity far exceeds that required for janitorial services. One day a large spacecraft lands and leaves behind a robot which appears to be far more advanced than WALL·E. This new robot is named “EVE,” thus suggesting it is female. WALL·E falls in love with EVE (that’s right, a garbage collecting robot capable of love) and when the spaceship returns they both depart Earth. We eventually learn what has become of humankind and it is at this point when the movie finally becomes somewhat entertaining. I guess I felt that the first “act” of the story just wasn’t as funny as it could have been (it is also almost completely devoid of dialogue). But the plight of the humans is quite amusing. So if you’re willing to take a chance on being disappointed by the first half of the story, you may enjoy the second half. However, if you’re like me, you may find too many dumb things that just don’t make any sense. Not terrible but certainly overrated.
2006 John Carney 86 R Once A low-budget Irish film about two young struggling musicians who meet on the street and help each other write and record songs in Dublin. Apparently I missed the whole point of this story because I was very surprised and disappointed by the somewhat abrupt ending. Since the two musicians (played by actual musicians, not actors) are male and female I was expecting a more traditional romantic development and conclusion to the story. I won’t tell you what actually happens but perhaps if you see this film you will pick up on where it is going better than I did. Curiously you never even learn the character names of the two musicians; even in the credits they are just named “Guy” and “Girl.” I believe most of the songs they play in the movie were actually written by the two performers (Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová). There are many different accents spoken in this film and occasionally it is hard to understand some of the dialogue. Personally I’d have to say that this is not my type of music but the film did win the “Best Original Song” Academy Award for “Falling Slowly” so I guess somebody likes it (but even if you do, you might not like Hansard’s singing style). With the music playing such a central role in this film, I think that your opinion of this music will be a major factor in your opinion of the film. Rated ‘R’ only for occasional F-words.
1987 Zhang Yimou 88
Red Sorghum Chinese: “Hong gao liang.” This was the first feature film by director Zhang Yimou, but having already seen ten of his later films, I was not as impressed by this one. This is a story of a young woman (Gong Li) whose father has betrothed her to the owner of a red sorghum winery, but although this means the man is wealthy, he also happens to be a leper. So naturally she avoids physical contact with him. When he is killed under mysterious circumstances, she becomes the boss of the winery. The story also involves a romantic involvement with one of the men who was hired to carry her wedding sedan. Although he doesn’t marry her, he becomes an employee of the winery after demonstrating a somewhat revolting method of improving the taste of the wine. The narrator explains that this couple were his grandparents. Later the story takes a tragic turn when the Japanese army arrives, destroying the red sorghum crop and committing other atrocities. I found it confusing at times, in part due to the poor quality of the English subtitles - the translator did not have a good grasp of English. After reading other viewers’ comments I realized I had misinterpreted an important scene and so I was able to make more sense out of it the second time I watched. I should mention that if you even find the DVD, the menu is in Chinese, so you must use the Subtitles button on your remote to select English once the movie starts. No subtitles are provided during the titles & credits.
2008 Martin Scorsese 122 PG-13 Shine A Light Although The Rolling Stones can still put on an entertaining show over forty years after they started, they have transformed their performances of familiar songs in ways that no longer appeal to an “original” fan such as myself. While I can appreciate that, now in their sixties, they have grown tired of performing their hits the same old way for decades, the result is a show for a new audience. I consider myself lucky to have seen them in concert at Soldier Field, Chicago, in 1978. So this concert film turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment to me. They did not play as many of my favorite hits as I would have liked and the new arrangements and Mick Jagger’s new singing style did not appeal to me. Then there were three unfamiliar songs which featured people who are not part of The Rolling Stones: Jack White, Buddy Guy and Christina Aguilera (good performances though). Also something I’d never seen before in a Stones concert, there were two numbers where Keith Richards was the solo singer. Actually, the DVD extras include four numbers that were cut from the film and one of them, in my opinion, is a better Keith Richards performance than the two they included. Scorcese does a fine job of capturing the concert on film, but if you don’t enjoy the concert, that doesn’t carry as much weight. The concert footage is occasionally interrupted with historic film clips of the band in their early days and that part was definitely interesting to see. The DVD also includes a “behind the scenes” documentary with footage of the band rehearsing for this concert. Unlike some concert films which mix performances from several locations of a tour, this film is based on performances at only one venue, the Beacon Theater in New York City. My personal preference for a Stones concert film is “The Rolling Stones - Live at the Max” (1991).
2007 Patricia Riggen 110 PG-13 Under the Same Moon Spanish (Mexico): “La Misma Luna.” A simple but charming story about a nine year old boy in Mexico whose father has left the family and the mother illegally crossed the US border four years ago to get a job. When the boy’s grandmother dies, he pays a young couple to drive him across the border hidden under the back seat of their van. Immediately things start to go wrong. The tension builds because you know he has only one week to get to Los Angeles and find his mother before she realizes he is missing. OK, it is a bit contrived and unlikely but if you want a change of pace from all the R-rated movies, this just might be the ticket.
2005 James Mangold 136 PG-13 Walk The Line A very good biographical drama about singer Johnny Cash. Although the film only covers his life from age 12 to 36 (he lived to be 71) those were the most important years in terms of exploring how he became the popular country singer nicknamed “The Man In Black.” Joaquin Phoenix stars as Cash and Reese Witherspoon stars as singer June Carter, who eventually became his second wife. Witherspoon won the Best Actress Oscar for this role and she definitely deserved it. Both of them did their own singing in the film and were surprisingly good at it. The director interviewed Johnny & June in their final years and was able to include in the film details of their early lives that weren’t even in his autobiography. I was never a fan and knew next to nothing about them before watching the movie but that did not prevent me from being well entertained.
2003 Peter Webber 100 PG-13 Girl With A Pearl Earing A very interesting period piece set in Holland in the year 1665. The title refers to the famous painting by the Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer (a.k.a. Jan Vermeer van Delft, 1632-1675). Based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier, the story is a fictional speculation as to the identity of the girl and the circumstances surrounding the creation of her portrait. She is the young servant, Griet, played by Scarlett Johansson, who has just been hired to work in the Vermeer household. The artist is played by Colin Firth. His patron, Pieter Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson) has a lecherous interest in Griet and commissions the artist to paint her. Johansson has the perfect face for this role, and with the great makeup and costume work, everyone in this film looks like they just stepped out of a 17th century painting. The use of color and light is very good and there is great attention to detail in the set design, for example, the window panes in the artist’s studio match those in several of his paintings.
2008 Oliver Stone 129 PG-13 W. Boring. Josh Brolin stars as President George W. Bush in a fictionalized account of the life of the President from his college days up to near present day. Although all the political and historical events that set the framework for this film are certainly factual, most of the dialogue is pure speculation as to what was said behind closed doors. It was not funny; it was not dramatic. Just a straight forward presentation of what most people already know about “W.” A waste of time.
1952 Jacques Becker 98 NR Casque d’or French: literally, “Golden Helmet” but more commonly translated as “Golden Marie.” What do you call a love triangle when it involves five people (three men & two women)? I don’t know but when one of the men is the head of the local group of gangsters, things can get a little rough. The “hero” is a carpenter who, while engaged to his boss’ homely daughter, falls for the girlfriend of one of the gangsters. The quintet is rapidly reduced to a triangle with more tragedy to come. On its initial release in France this film was a flop but after worldwide distribution it returned as a classic and it definitely is. Lead actress, Simone Signoret, won the “Best foreign actress” award from the British equivalent of the Oscars. If you’ve ever seen the famous French crime thriller, “Les Diaboliques” (1955) then you’ve already seen her. On the DVD release, The Criterion Collection has done a beautiful job of restoring the black & white film to “like new” condition.
2003 Denys Arcand 99 R The Barbarian Invasions French-Canadian: “Les Invasions barbares.” Don’t be fooled by the title. This is not about ancient battles. It is a powerfully emotional story about a dying man and the lengths to which his son goes to make his father’s final days bearable. The father lives in Montreal and the son must fly in from London, England, to be with him. The son tracks down his father’s friends and brings them all together for one last reunion. Some of the things he does to ensure his father’s well being are illegal, but he is wealthy and money talks. It is not all serious however, though I should mention that some of the humor is quite vulgar. The DVD has English subtitles but no English dubbing track and this is a conversation-heavy screenplay, so you can’t be too slow a reader. In 2004 this won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It is very good.
2007 Julian Schnabel 112 PG-13 The Diving Bell and the Butterfly French: “Le Scaphandre et le papillon.” An amazing true story about a man who suffered a stroke and was left only able to communicate by blinking his left eye to answer yes/no questions. The movie presents the events almost entirely from his point of view, totally paralyzed and completely at the mercy of the hospital staff. You really feel his sense of isolation and helplessness. He had been a journalist and decided to write a book about this experience, even though it meant dictation one letter at a time. His writing assistant had to guess each letter until he blinked for ‘yes’. You just can’t imagine the degree of patience she had. The film is based on the resulting book and was filmed at the actual hospital where most of the story takes place. Although most of the cast will be unfamiliar to you, most people will probably recognize Max von Sydow in the role of the father of the stroke victim. The DVD has an optional English language soundtrack if you don’t like subtitles. Highly recommended.
2008 Gavin O'Connor 130 R Pride and Glory This is a very rough and violent movie about bad cops. And boy are they bad. Ed Norton stars as a cop who is also the son of the Chief (Jon Voight). He is assigned to investigate the killing of four cops who worked under his brother. When he finds out what is really going on, he faces some tough moral and ethical dilemmas. There is some good acting here but I’m not sure it is worth the disturbing violence and the nonstop use of the F-word. A much better good-cop/bad-copy movie is “The Departed” (2006), though it also has its share of violence and pervasive language.
2008 George C. Wolfe 97 PG-13 Nights In Rodanthe The last time Diane Lane and Richard Gere teamed up for a movie it was very good (”Unfaithful” (2002)) but this time I was generally disappointed. A chance meeting of a “semi-divorced” woman and a divorced doctor turns into a brief romance. The story was weak and there weren’t that many sparks. A very touching ending but most of the movie wasn’t that good.
2008 Clint Eastwood 141 R Changeling An excellent true-crime dramatization. The previews for this movie tell you that a woman’s son went missing and when the police found a boy, she said it wasn’t her son. But the police insisted they were right and she was disturbed and mistaken. The movie reveals what really happened and it is truly incredible and shocking that something like this could have actually taken place. Angelina Jolie stars as Christine Collins, the missing boy’s mother. And John Malkovich stars as Rev. Briegleb, who helped her in her search for the truth. Those of you familiar with Malkovich will recall that he has played some very unusual characters in the past, but this is not one of them. He is very good in this “normal” role. While I would not call this a violent movie, there are some scenes that may be rather disturbing to some, as the visual suggestion of violence is very effective as the result of very skilled editing. By the way, the actual events of this story took place starting in 1928. For those interested in the original story you can look at the following article on the Internet (but I don’t recommend reading it until after you’ve seen the movie): http://articles.latimes.com/1999/feb/07/local/me-5769
2006 Spike Lee 129 R Inside Man A bank robbery with a twist. Several people enter a bank dressed as a painting crew but suddenly they take everyone hostage. Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) is brought in as a negotiator. But at the same time, a mysterious woman, Madeleine White (Jodie Foster), enters the picture on behalf of the CEO of the bank corporation (Christopher Plummer). Mysterious because her true profession is unclear, but highly suspect. The CEO is very concerned about his safe deposit box in this bank and he has been assured that she can protect his interests. The police begin to suspect this is no ordinary robbery, but I won’t tell you why. Though it’s fair to say that this movie left itself open for a sequel and in fact one is anticipated for release in 2010. Being a fan of Jodie Foster I can only say that I wish her role had been larger, but this was clearly a Denzel Washington show and he is very good at what he does also. While the motivation for this crime may not be the most interesting one, the clever planning of it was. I enjoyed this but I do have my doubts about the success of the sequel unless they hire some very good writers. There is some violence but nothing I would call extreme.
1958 Andrzej Wajda 98 NR Ashes and Diamonds Polish: “Popiól i diament.” A World War II story set in a small town in Poland on the eve of the last day of the war. With the transition from Nazi rule to Soviet rule, the local branch of the Polish resistance moves to assassinate an official of the Communist Party. They mistakenly kill two innocent citizens and now Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski), the younger of the two assassins, has been assigned to finish the job. Apart from the opening and closing scenes, nearly the entire film takes place in a hotel in the town where the mayor is celebrating the end of the war. Maciek is now having second thoughts about going through with the assassination and the rest of the movie explores his dilemma. Cybulski’s performance made Maciek more like an American rebel of the 1950s than the underground assassin he was supposed to be. But apparently this role made him a big star in Poland. You now know more about this film than I did at the start so you may understand it better on your first viewing. I don’t know if some Polish history background might help but it probably wouldn’t hurt. I found it a bit confusing at first. It’s definitely of the “art film” variety. I was only able to find an old VHS tape edition to watch so I don’t know whether the DVD edition offers any improvement in the translation. There were many interesting “cinematic moments” throughout the film, but I think this is one you really have to watch twice before you begin to appreciate it as a whole.
1995 Claude Chabrol 112 NR La Cérémonie French. The title means “The Ceremony” but look for it under the French title. This is a very good suspense thriller that will surprise and shock you. It may be an overused expression but I think it is fair to say that it is, in part, somewhat Hitchcockian. The only star in this you might recognize is Jacqueline Bisset, who plays Catherine, the mother in a wealthy family that lives on a large estate far from any large town. The main character however, is Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire). At the beginning of the film, Catherine hires Sophie to be the family’s new maid. At first, everything seems quite normal, but gradually Sophie begins to exhibit some rather strange behavior and the director deliberately leaves you in the dark for a while before letting you in on her secret. Meanwhile she has made friends with Jeanne, the postal clerk in the nearby village, who has some secrets of her own. The head of the family doesn’t like Jeanne and the fact that she is now a close friend of Sophie isn’t helping matters. I can’t tell you any more of the plot without ruining it. Although the film has not been assigned an MPAA rating, it is probably borderline between PG-13 and R, as there is some graphic violence; just enough to be shocking but not revolting.
2004 Frank Oz 93 PG-13 The Stepford Wives Too stupid for words. In spite of big stars like Nicole Kidman and Christopher Walken, this is not worth watching. I have not seen the 1975 original but I hear that it is better than this remake. It is a story about a couple who leave their jobs at a major TV network (she gets fired, he quits) and move to the gated community of Stepford, somewhere in Connecticut. Gradually they realize that something is not quite normal about all the other wives in the town: they’re too perfect. Only the most recent arrivals seem “normal.” On the off chance you decide to watch this or the original I won’t give away any more plot details. But on the strength of hearsay alone I would suggest renting the 1975 version if you think you have to see one of them.
2008 Ridley Scott 128 R Body of Lies A slick spy thriller. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a CIA agent in the Middle East, tracking down a terrorist leader. His boss is played by Russell Crowe who spends most of his time communicating with DiCaprio by phone from the USA. DiCaprio’s mission is complicated by his dealings with the head of security in Jordan (played expertly by Mark Strong) and by his romantic involvement with his part-Iranian nurse. Lots of intense action and strong violence, including terrorist bombings and disturbing scenes of torture. So it’s not for everyone but if you are accustomed to that type of movie violence you will probably enjoy this.
1998 Michael Grossman + David Carson + Sally Field + Gary Fleder + David Frankel + Tom Hanks + Frank Marshall + Jonathan Mostow + Jon Turteltaub + Graham Yost + Lili Fini Zanuck 663
From the Earth to the Moon Excellent 12-part mini-series tells the story of the Apollo space program through dramatic reenactment of all the moon-landing missions. The Mercury and Gemini programs are also covered but in less detail. Tom Hanks was inspired to produce this program after reading Andrew Chaikin's book, "A Man on the Moon." And while the series is largely drawn from the book, there are details addressed in the show that were not in the book. I have read the book and it is well worth reading if you have any interest in the space program. Production took the approach of having a different director and writer for each episode, giving each episode a different flavor and point of view. For example, the episode which covers Apollo 12, is told entirely from one astronaut’s point of view (Alan Bean). And the episode directed by Sally Field gave the point of view of the astronaut’s wives (Sally snuck herself in as Mrs. Gordon Cooper). Tom Hanks also directed an episode, did some of the writing and also made an acting appearance in the last episode (a non-astronaut role). As a bit of trivia, Ron Howard was also one of the producers, and in typical fashion he got his brother, Clint Howard, a role in this film, which interestingly, is a nearly identical role to his appearance in “Apollo 13” (1995) which Ron directed.
2008 Marc Forster 106 PG-13 Quantum of Solace Although this is considered to be a direct continuation of “Casino Royale” (2006), if you have forgotten the plot details of that movie (as I had), it won’t make a great deal of difference because this new story stands on its own for the most part. There are several characters (and their corresponding actors) from “Casino Royale” who are brought forward for a sense of continuity, so if you do remember them it will probably give you a slight advantage in “feeling at home” with the new plot. James Bond has captured “Mr. White” from the previous film and in an extremely hectic car chase in Italy, brings him in for questioning by “M.” I can’t say much more, but let’s just say that things quickly get out of hand. There are many busy action sequences as Bond goes on another globe-spanning quest for the bad guys, the principal one this time played by French actor, Mathieu Amalric, who, while not well known to American movie-goers, may seem familiar if you saw “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (2007). There is enough action to keep almost anyone from dozing off, but my one complaint is that most of the action sequences employ an overabundance of rapid-cut editing. Too many cuts that are under a second in duration, making the action almost a total blur in your eyes at times. If you missed “Casino Royale” I would recommend that over this if you need to make a choice.
2008 Peter Berg 92 PG-13 Hancock A most unusual “superhero” movie. One way of explaining it would be to say that it tries to answer the question, “What if Superman was an alcoholic ?” Except that it is not about Superman, it is an action comedy about a superhuman named Hancock (Will Smith). He does catch the bad guys and rescues people from danger, but he is in fact inebriated (even guzzling it down in-flight), and as a result flies erratically, and carelessly causes major property damage every time he is fighting crime. The public naturally has mixed feelings about him. One day he saves the life of public relations executive Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), who, being grateful, offers his services to help Hancock improve his public image. I dare not explain much more because there is a major surprise a little over halfway through the movie that suddenly makes the story a lot more interesting. And unless you’ve already been told what it is, there is very little chance of you seeing it coming - which is a good thing. It is one of the most unexpected plot twists I’ve seen in a long time. I must admit I was not all that impressed with the movie up to that point; I especially was not very impressed with the Mr. Embrey character. But Mr; Embrey’s wife is played by the beautiful Charlize Theron, and she is, as they say, “the better half.” The special effects are very well done and support the story rather than overwhelm it. Though there was one effect that I though was in rather poor taste. I should point out that this review is based on the theatrical edition of the movie, since there is now a second, unrated edition available on DVD (though not all video stores carry both). And one more viewing consideration, there is a short additional scene after the end-credits start, so don’t press stop prematurely. It’s not as good as something like “The Dark Knight” (2008) or “Hellboy” (2004) but it is a very original variation on the superhero theme.
2007 Joel Schumacher 98 R The Number 23 Numerology madness. This movie is probably too weird and bizarre for most people, but if you can put aside the numerology for the nonsense that it is, you may find something worthwhile in the stylistic portrayal of this rather dark story. The first half hour was probably the best part, since the subject of an obsession with the number twenty-three isn’t introduced until after that. Jim Carrey plays a small town dog catcher; his wife is played by Virginia Madsen. For his birthday she buys him a strange book titled, “The Number 23.” As he reads it, we are shown his personal visualization of the book’s tale which begins with the author’s childhood. When the child in the book becomes an adult, Carrey now appears in these visualizations as the adult version of the author. Later on, Madsen also takes on a second role by playing the character in the book known as “Fabrizia.” The more Carrey gets into the book, the more he starts to believe it was written about himself due to what he perceives as striking similarities between his childhood and the author’s. He also starts having nightmares about the book and when the book introduces the “23 enigma” Carrey (as the reader) falls prey to the obsession himself. When he finishes the book he also becomes obsessed with finding out who wrote it and what it all means. As I said, it is a rather dark story but Carrey does inject some funny lines now and then for comic relief, though neither of his characters expresses the extreme comedy which made him famous. It shows a very different side of Carrey the actor. And “Fabrizia” is also quite different for Madsen. The DVD includes an unrated version of the film but the only difference is that the sex and violence scenes are more graphic; there are no new scenes that might change the story (though the DVD extras include scenes that were deleted from both versions of the movie).
2008 Mark Herman 94 PG-13 The Boy In The Striped Pajamas An excellent film based on the novel by John Boyne. It has a heartbreaking finish that you won’t easily forget. This story is a new twist on the subject of the Holocaust. A Nazi officer relocates his family to be near his new assignment at a concentration camp, a detail not imparted to his children. His son discovers the camp (thinking it is a farm) and makes friends through the electric fence with a boy of the same age. That’s as much as I dare reveal. It definitely creates an interesting emotional conflict for the viewer, faced with disdain for the Nazi father but compassion for the family. Wonderful performance by Asa Butterfield as the 8-year-old Bruno.
2008 David Frankel 120 PG Marley & Me A fairly routine family picture that follows the entire life of a dog named Marley and the family that suffers through his unrestrained behavior. Every conceivable type of mischief that a dog could perpetrate is included, making for a rather predictable story. Owen Wilson (not one of my favorites) plays the father in this family and Jennifer Aniston (one of my favorites) plays his wife. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the massively overweight Kathleen Turner as the dog trainer. I found the attention to Wilson’s career as a newspaper columnist to be rather boring. Even placing Alan Arkin as his boss didn’t help much. I’m sure that dog owners may find greater empathy here but I can’t imagine putting up with a dog like that (or not trying harder to train it). It winds up with a very heartfelt ending but other than that I was not particularly impressed. I said it is a “family picture” but I must admit that some of the events in this movie may be confusing or troubling to younger children.
2008 John Patrick Shanley 104 PG-13 Doubt Excellent drama starring Meryl Streep as the very self-righteous principal of a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964. Without any concrete evidence she makes serious accusations about the priest’s association with the school’s only black student. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Brendan Flynn. Many great scenes between Streep and Hoffman. They get into some shouting matches that are a bit overdone but not enough to spoil the whole movie.
2006 Richard Eyre 92 R Notes on a Scandal I almost gave up on this during the first half, because of the heavy doses of personal “girl talk” between the two female leads, Dame Judi Dench (as ‘Barbara’) and Kate Blanchett (as ‘Sheba’). But I have to tell you that there comes a very definite turning point when suddenly you realize that this is the sort of psychological thriller that Hitchcock might have made if he were still alive. Dench and Blanchett are both teachers at a London public school, Dench being the old battle-axe nearing retirement and Blanchett is the newest member of the teaching staff. Dench attempts to develop a friendship with Blanchett but is stunned when she accidentally witnesses a sexual encounter between Blanchett and a 15-year old student. What she does with this knowledge and how it affects her relationship with Blanchett is the core of the movie, rather than the actual “scandal” itself. In Hitchcockian terms, the illicit affair is the “MacGuffin.” While we’ve all read about these teacher-student affairs in the news, it is still a little shocking to see it played out so sensually on the screen. Disturbing is another word that comes to mind. Fans of Dench will no doubt be surprised at this much darker character than any she has played before, but she proves equally worthy here as in previous roles.