Every year around this time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences searches for a few important films that fit its Best Picture category. This year's leading candidate, "A Beautiful Mind," fits that category perfectly - personal conflict, tragedy and triumph, overcoming the odds, and global significance. In fact, in every facet, it should have an automatic date with Oscar in March.
Appoggiatura, succedaneum, prospicience. These are just a few of the championship words spelled correctly at the Scripp's National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. over the years. Words that you and I, no doubt, have never even heard of, let alone been forced to spell check. And yet, they are the kinds of words that youngsters like Akeelah Anderson can rattle off in their sleep. Written and directed by Nicholl Fellowship winner Doug Atchison, "Akeelah and the Bee" is an inspirational story about a young girl from South Los Angeles who struggles to make it through her school's local spelling bee before heading on to the state, regional, and National Spelling Bees. And through the encouragement of her school, her friends, and her community, she discovers her true potential, all the while inspiring those around her. Much like the benevolent spirit found beautifully in "Searching for Bobby Fisher," "Akeelah" triumphs not just as a film about empowerment and good sportsmanship, but a film about doing the right thing. And its star, Keke Palmer, will absolutely steal your heart. Joyfully uplifting, "Akeelah and the Bee" is quietly, one of the year's finest.
Transitioning from a shoestring budget to a bigger checkbook and a cast of Oscar nominees and stars, directors Mark and Jay Duplass go somewhat mainstream with Cyrus, a story about a divorcee named John who struggles with single life. But after a chance encounter at a party with a beautiful woman named Molly, things appear to be on the upswing. Until, that is, he meets Molly's twenty-one year old son, Cyrus, whose awkward relationship with his mother puts them in a territorial battle of wits. Maintaining an indie look and feel, Cyrus keeps things simple. It's well constructed and honest, allowing its characters a touch of improvisational freedom. The result, of which, is a humorous experiment in social discomfort.
The American Dream is alive and well in writer/director Jim Sheridan's endearing andintimate portrait, "In America." The film is not so much original in concept as it isoriginal in presentation. Told through the eyes of two young girls, "In America" depictsthe story of an Irish immigrant family coming to America in search of a new life after adevastating tragedy. It's charming and exudes tenderness, the exact antithesis of thegritty, turbulent dramas "My Left Foot" and "In the Name of the Father" that Sheridan hasmade a name for. "In America" is a deeply personal work for Sheridan, who came to Americaflat broke while struggling to make a living. And it's one the most lovable, moving filmsI have seen in recent years. Maintaining a childlike optimism and playfulness, itproffers: if you believe in magic, it will set you free.
The American dream isn't what it used to be. And it's taken a dramatically different turn in writer/director Paul Weitz's latest comedy, "American Dreamz," taking aim at both pop culture and the Presidency. In the film, everyone is artificially obsessed with dreams, dreams that are unrealistic, unfulfilled, or unattainable. Everyone from the President, who is re-elected and detached from the real world, to a string of reality show contestants that only seek fame and fortune. Their worlds all converge on the stage of a hit reality series, "American Dreamz," an American Idol knock off hosted by the snooty Martin Tweed. Of most significance, the film juxtaposes the common consensus about the American dream itself, by suggesting that the pursuit of such dreams can lead to madness, heartache, and confusion. Conceptually, the film succeeds, but cohesively, it fails. Directed by Paul Weitz, whose previous works include "About a Boy," "American Pie," and "In Good Company," "American Dreamz" is a sociopolitical satire with a lot of bark, but not enough bite.
Michael Haneke is well known for violent, confrontational, and utterly disturbing movies like Funny Games, Time of the Wolf, and The Piano Teacher. But his latest film, Amour, is something different, tenderly and painfully depicting the final test of true love. Well into their eighties, Georges and Anne are retired music teachers, enjoying the fruits of their labors until one day over breakfast, Anne suffers a mild stroke. Over time, her condition deteriorates as her husband does everything to keep her alive, knowing full well the end is near. Unlike so many films that sensationalize love as a young person's game, Amour is tough love. The kind that comes unexpectedly, while watching a loved one confront the realities of old age. French stars, Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, turn away from the glamour to show something more honest and revealing. And Haneke's direction is spot on, demonstrating how a blank stare conveys more truth than words. Amour is as heartbreaking and real as it gets.
After the rather bland adaptation of Dan Brown's blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code, director Ron Howard reunites with Tom Hanks for more international intrigue. This time, with less dilly-dallying and a lot more panache. In Angels & Demons, Hanks stars as Professor Robert Langdon, a Harvard scholar and widely respected symbologist, who is called to Vatican City after a container of lethal antimatter is stolen. Branded onto the murder victims is an ambigram that points to the resurgence of the Illuminati, a scientific group dating back to the days of Galileo. Time bomb in hand, the Illuminati plan to end to their long standing feud with the Catholic Church by blowing up Vatican City. While much has been made about the controversial subject material, the film is fairly innocuous, avoiding deep philosophical and religious debate and instead, opting for breathless action. Outlandish plot points aside, Angels & Demons delivers entertaining thrills through picturesque Rome.
"Anger Management" is a brainless comedy about how one man must cope with a hidden inner rage. It contrasts the absurd, comedic style of Adam Sandler with the more serious and dramatic acting talent of Jack Nicholson. The end result of which is a playful, diverting romp in the same vain as "Happy Gilmore" and "Billy Madison."
As a director, Ben Affleck continues to get better and better. In 2007, his debut, Gone Baby Gone, was a powerful drama about two detectives searching for a missing girl. Then came The Town, a successful crime thriller about a bank robber who befriends a former hostage. But his best work to date is Argo - a film that blends both powerful dramatics with the trappings of a political thriller. In the film, a group of militants have stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution and taken hostages. Unbeknownst to them, six Americans were able to escape to the nearby Canadian embassy. And it's up to the CIA and specialist Tony Mendez to extricate them, hatching an outrageous plan that involves a Canadian film crew, shooting the next Star Wars. With gritty period details, wardrobe, and camera work, Argo is a Hollywood crowd pleaser, a suspenseful throwback with well balanced humor. But more importantly, it's a testament to Affleck's uncanny storytelling ability, making mission impossible possible.
Cinematic nostalgia is back in vogue as The Artist, a sensational throwback to the silent era of film, makes its way to audiences worldwide. Directed by French auteur, Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist is a masterpiece on many levels - both dramatically and historically. In Hollywood 1927, silent movie superstar George Valentin has a difficult time adjusting to the future. Specifically, the age of talking pictures. Meanwhile, a young dancing sensation, Peppy Miller, appears to be a star on the rise, ready for her moment of fame. With nods to such classics as The Jazz Singer, Singin' in the Rain, and Metropolis, The Artist acts as a movie within a movie, depicting the beauty and bittersweet end of an era. With a touch of romance and comedy, a dash of drama, and one scene stealing Jack Russell terrier - The Artist has it all. Visually stunning, imaginative, and cleverly scored and choreographed, The Artist is quite simply and quietly, the year's finest film.
Fanboys have waited almost 10 years for the ultimate superhero mashup, The Avengers. And rightfully so. In much the same way as a comic book crossover, the film combines storylines from 6 different superheroes, many of whom have had their own films, and puts them all together in a glorious action adventure. When Loki attempts to enslave mankind, Nick Fury, the director of the international peace keeping agency S.H.I.E.L.D. assembles a team of the mightiest superheroes in defense. A team that includes Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow. The Avengers was assembled and directed by noted comic book writer, Joss Whedon, creator of shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly." Here, Whedon perfectly balances family dysfunction and humor with terrific action payoffs. The set up is brilliant. The execution is over-the-top. And for summer sizzle, it just doesn't get any better than this. The Avengers is simply marvelous!
Influential, innovative, and imperfect, Howard Hughes was one of the most compelling figures of the 20th Century. And in Martin Scorsese's latest biopic, his life is exposed with a flair of confidence and courage. Written by John Logan, "The Aviator" chronicles the topsy-turvy world of aviation pioneer Howard Hughes, a billionaire industrialist and visionary plagued with a private affliction. Throughout his career, Hughes romanced some of the world's most beautiful women, he produced some of the riskiest motion pictures ever made, and he helped pioneer the transformation of the aviation industry. But his desire for perfection would turn into obsession, tainting his legacy and forcing him into seclusion. With careful guidance, world-renowned director Martin Scorsese details Hughes' most prolific period while simultaneously alluding to the darkness that would consume him. Elegant and enthralling, "The Aviator" is an intricate character study of fame and misfortune.
"I seek the means to fight injustice. To turn fear against those who prey on the fearful." These are the fiery words of Bruce Wayne, emerging from years and years of darkness and despair in the aftermath of his parents' death. Plagued with guilt and an insatiable anger, Wayne loses himself in the far reaches of the world only to resurface in Gotham City with a newfound vendetta and a newfound identity. Directed by Christopher Nolan, known for such psychological thrillers as "Memento" and "Insomnia," "Batman Begins" is twisted in a web of psychosis. It explores the inner demons of Bruce Wayne's past and present as well as his future struggle between justice and vengeance. But most importantly, it invigorates the franchise with the Batman story we've been waiting to see - one that shows Bruce Wayne's spiral into darkness and his emergence into a legendary superhero. Riveting and refreshingly somber, this is the amazing story of the man behind the mask.
In 1995, following the cult sensation that was "Pulp Fiction," John Travolta starred in an adaptation of "Get Shorty," an Elmore Leonard story about Chili Palmer, a Miami loan shark who travels to Los Angeles to collect a debt from a sleazy movie producer. But in an odd twist of fate, he ends up pitching the producer a movie based on his own story, one that details the workings of a shylock, drug dealers, and other insidious characters. And one that explains why he is threatening the producer's own life! Now, 10 years later, Travolta returns as Chili Palmer in "Be Cool," the follow up to the snappy crime comedy. But this time, Chili enters the underworld of the music industry. Directed by F. Gary Gray, known for such sophisticated action thrillers as "The Italian Job" and "The Negotiator," the film retains the cool composure of the original, but surprisingly, lacks the sizzle. Far less original and appealing, "Be Cool" borrows more than it creates, placing it properly in the ranks of substandard sequels.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is the reason we go to movies. A fantastical tale that depicts the life of a six year old girl named Hushpuppy, growing up with her father in a region of the bayou known as the bathtub, just on the other side of the levees. It's a desolate, post-apocalyptic place with rising waters, widespread poverty, and dilapidated housing. But from a child's point of view, it is the prettiest place on Earth. Unfortunately, that all comes crashing down when a heavy storm floods the region and along with her father's fading health, forces Hushpuppy to become mature and resourceful in order to survive. Beasts of the Southern Wild is an amazing accomplishment. Directed by Behn Zeitlin on a low budget with lofty ambitions, it perfectly balances real world hardships with child-like imagination. Featuring a tour de force performance from Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild is pure movie magic. For once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.
Anti-semitism, bigotry, alcoholism, domestic violence - Mel Gibson's fall from grace has been well documented. And it makes his latest film, The Beaver, all the more interesting. In the film, Gibson plays Walter Black, a man so depressed, he has ruined his family and his business. After a failed suicide attempt, he stumbles upon a hand puppet in a nearby garbage bin and attempts to repair his psyche by communicating solely through the beaver. Directed by Jodie Foster, The Beaver takes an outlandish premise and turns it into a very serious and sensitive commentary on mental illness. And regardless of what you've read in the tabloids and have come to know about Mel Gibson off screen, on screen, he is still a man with many talents, perhaps made even more compelling in this story where art so closely imitates real life.
The unmistakable twitch of the nose. The enchanting theme and arrangements by Warren Barker. The lovely and cheerful Elizabeth Montgomery. All of these characteristics helped distinguish "Bewitched" as one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time. Depicting the every day life of a suburban household under the influence of magic, "Bewitched" dazzled and delighted audiences with humorous, socially aware stories. Now, many years later, the well-known director of "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail" adapts the classic into a modern tale. But rather than rehash the old, Nora Ephron and her sister Delia concoct a different scheme - a remake within a remake. Starring Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman, "Bewitched" tells the story of Jack Wyatt, a failed actor, who is offered a comeback role in a remake of the famed television series. And his co-star, Isabel Bigelow, happens to be a real witch. Although filled with occasional wit and humor, it lacks cohesion and chemistry, essential ingredients to the original's success. Muddled and misguided, this "Bewitched" cannot conjure up any magic of its own.
Edward Bloom was the most extraordinary man in all of Ashland, Alabama. At least, so he would have you believe. Says his son, William: "In telling the story of my father's life, it's impossible to separate the fact from the fiction." There are stories about falling in love, stories about the circus, and stories about magical creatures, places, and events. Detailing the triumphs and failures of fatherhood, "Big Fish" is told through the eyes of William Bloom, the son of Edward, who visits his father on his deathbed to say good bye and separate the man from the myth. It's based on Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace and directed by renowned auteur, Tim Burton, known for his dark and unconventional takes on such works as "Batman" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." But surprisingly, "Big Fish" is not dark and twisted. It's the exact opposite - a heartwarming, nostalgic story of tall tales and even taller dreams.
What do you get when you mix the swagger and slapstick of Will Ferrell with the elegance and artistry of professional figure skating? Talladega in Tights? Skating and Screaming? No, it's "Blades of Glory," a sports comedy parodying the pageantry of professional figure skating. After two rival Olympic skaters, Chazz Michael Michaels and Jimmy MacElroy, are stripped of their gold medals and banned from the sport, they discover a slight technicality in the rulebook that allows them to compete again - as the first male/male figure skating pair in history. Like most spoofs, "Blades of Glory" is proficient at parody. And it does its best to honor the athletes who make it their profession, adding cameos from Sasha Cohen, Scott Hamilton, Nancy Kerrigan, and more. But apart from the concept and a handful of inside jokes, the film misses its opportunity to break away from the technical routine, earning solid marks, but not enough for the awards stand.
Based on the best selling novel, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis comes the motion picture adaptation about All-American football player Michael Oher and his improbable rise to NFL stardom. As a homeless African American teenager, Oher is adopted by the Tuohy's, a well-to-do white family in the suburbs of Nashville who, as it turns out, have obstacles of their own to overcome. By helping Michael reach his full potential, they learn a great deal more about themselves and those around them. Directed by John Lee Hancock, known for the award winning baseball drama The Rookie, The Blind Side is a remarkable true story that unashamedly tugs at the heart strings. Overly sentimental, the film provides Sandra Bullock an opportunity to shine, but allows others to get lost in the huddle. Somewhat unbalanced, The Blind Side equates to a sports drama that's more about the melodrama and less about the sport.
For canine superhero and television star, Bolt, ignorance is bliss. When not relaxing in the comfy confines of his personal trailer, he's out saving the world from the Green-Eyed Man and protecting his owner from danger every day. But what he doesn't know is that it's all make-believe, especially his super powers. And when he's accidentally shipped from Hollywood to New York, outside the only world he knows, the real adventure begins. In Disney's latest animated adventure, "Bolt," the focus is on simplicity in story and salability in character. A cute puppy is lost and must find his way back home - a formula that has worked ever since Lassie came home in 1943. Yet, in spite of its lack of plot developments, "Bolt" remains surprisingly entertaining. It offers unique characters, a 3-D experience, and a wholesome, thrilling adventure for one and all.
If you're looking for a mindless action thriller, "The Bourne Supremacy" fits the bill quite nicely. Continuing the saga of the amnesiac Jason Bourne and his attempt to reconcile past memories of super agenthood, the film deviates from the novel quite a bit to focus entirely on the chase. While CIA Agent Landy searches for Bourne in an elaborate game of cat and mouse, a Russian assassin aims to have Bourne killed. From the shores of India to the city streets of Berlin and Moscow, everyone seems preoccupied with Bourne - including director Paul Greengrass, who finds a way to maintain intrigue and suspense without the need for character complexities. Representing the second piece in Robert Ludlum's three part series, "The Bourne Supremacy" de-emphasizes melodrama while emphasizing the action quotient. And the end result is a roller coaster ride of unglamorous sophistication and artful escapes.
After many stories involving toys, fish, cars, and superheroes, Pixar sets its sights on a long standing Disney tradition with the story of a princess. The film is Brave and the princess is Merida, a tomboy and expert archer with flowing red hair. Unhappy that her mother, Queen Elinor, is forcing her into an arranged marriage, Merida employs the talents of an old witch to change her circumstances. However, as is usually the case, the well intended wish turns into a curse - one that requires the utmost bravery to reverse. Unlike most Pixar films that dazzled audiences with brave new worlds, stories, and colorful characters, Brave feels a bit lethargic, opting for fairy tale routines. Still, the hallmark of Pixar is the visual delight. And here, the Scottish Highlands come alive in breathtaking detail. With a poignant mother-daughter arc, Brave shows signs of brilliance - an adventure that is both familiar and fun.
Truth be told, there are plenty of wedding based comedies to fill the Smithsonian. But what makes Bridesmaids different is that it plays against the so-called 'chick flick' mindset. After her best friend Lillian gets engaged, Annie becomes her maid of honor, an obligation that only seems to accelerate her midlife crisis. Broke and broken down, she finds herself going to extremes with a misfit cast of bridesmaids to put on the perfect wedding. In addition to starring in the film, Kristen Wiig co-wrote Bridesmaids with longtime friend, Annie Mumolo. And the film definitely showcases all of her skills. Playing out like a typical Judd Apatow film, Bridesmaids foregoes fantasy and instead, chooses the actions, language, and attitudes of real women. As a result, the laughs are bigger and better. And the formula less contrived.
Orson Welles once wrote, "We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone." As humans, we all have the need for love - to find someone who inspires us, comforts us, and fulfills us. And it is that yearning, that desire to create such an illusion, that echoes throughout Ang Lee's adaptation of Annie Proulx's moving short story, "Brokeback Mountain." In the film, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger star as two young cowboys hired to herd sheep in the title location, but who end up forming an unorthodox relationship that is difficult to shake. Upon their return to the real world, each struggles to fit into society and establish relationships with the opposite sex, all the while seeking ways to rekindle their feelings for one another. Beautifully cinematic and simple, the film profoundly engages the emotions associated with unrequited love, a love that must be kept under careful lock and key. And with passion, conflict, and gritty determination, "Brokeback Mountain" courageously and magnificently explores a new frontier.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be God? To be all powerful and all knowing? To be able to make mountains out of molehills? It's hard to fathom such power given to a mortal human being, but that is the premise behind "Bruce Almighty," a divine comedy about a man who is bestowed with God's powers for one week. What would you do? How would you behave? Would you make the world a better place? With the good-humored antics of Jim Carrey and the direction of Tom Shaydac, also known for his work on "Liar, Liar" and "Ace Ventura," "Bruce Almighty" is a pleasant, yet wonderfully hilarious and heartwarming film.
Winner of the documentary Audience Award at this year's Sundance film festival, Buck is the remarkable story of Buck Brannaman, who provided the inspiration for Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer. A highly talented, charismatic, and humane horse trainer, Buck travels year round to help owners become one with their steed instead of the more traditional route by force. And while this may sound about as exciting as watching the grass grow, director Cindy Meehl finds the dramatic truth behind Buck's success - a past that includes physical and mental abuse from an alcoholic father, the death of his mother, and how those scars have given him empathy for vulnerable animals. This isn't about pet psychics. This is about the truth, about how an animal's behavior is a reflection of their owner's. And why animals cannot always be tamed. An inspiring and honest film, Buck is a fascinating look at one man's approach to life through horses, hard work, and compassion.
The MPAA's decision to slap an R rating on the provocative documentary, Bully, is an outright crime - an unnecessary obstruction for the very audience the film is intended to reach. The film is an important lesson, documenting roughly a half dozen stories of families whose children have been bullied at school - beaten, abused, and humiliated. And the physical and psychological consequences of that behavior on their everyday lives - abandonment, fearfulness, despair, and thoughts of suicide. While Bully loses some of its momentum shifting from story to story, the predominant theme comes across without any embellishment. The kids are real and their stories are deeply moving. An important cry for change, Bully is a must see film for parents and their children, teachers and administrators, and pretty much anyone willing to make a difference and help bring an end to such an inhumane epidemic.
Every full moon a new horror film comes along that promises to reinvent the genre and become the next Scream or The Blair Witch Project. This week, that film is The Cabin in the Woods. In the film, five college kids go into the backwoods to blow off some steam, have a few drinks, make out, and of course, die gruesome deaths. But that's where Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, veterans of shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Lost," and "Alias," take things to a whole new level, where the clich?s become the casualties and nothing is ever quite what it seems. Without giving too much away, the characters are actually endearing, the story elements are cleverly unpredictable, and of course, there's plenty of gore. Much like The Evil Dead, The Cabin in the Woods is not so much scary as it is a fun and twisted carnival of modern horror.
Welcome to Camp Ovation, a camp where "American Idol" and "Star Search" collide with summer camp and Broadway musicals. A place where the theater arts are celebrated and performed by the nation's most gifted teenage singers, dancers, and actors/actresses. It's a place where those who feel out of place in their normal lives can find comfort with others. And it's a place where everyone gets to have their moment in the sun. Marking the directorial debut of Todd Graff, a Tony nominated actor for his role in the Broadway smash "Baby," "Camp" is an off beat comedy drama with a lot of soul. Blending coming-of-age story arcs with whimsical show tunes and ballads creates a passionate, uplifting summer sensation!
With the 2012 presidential race right around the corner, along comes The Campaign, a comedy about cutthroat politics and election hijinks. Starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, The Campaign follows two North Carolina candidates vying for influence over their local district - incumbent Cam Brady against the idealistic Marty Huggins. As the race gets more heated, so do the lies and smear tactics. Directed by Jay Roach, who also delivered Meet the Parents and Austin Powers, The Campaign is chock full of belly laughs and ridiculous antics. With careful precision, it satirizes every recent political snafu, from sexting and campaign funding to polling and buzz words. Along the way, the issues get lost. And that's precisely the point. American politics has become a dirty kind of entertainment, where image is more important than substance. And parody speaks louder than words.
The checkered flag is waving the opening of Pixar's latest animated adventure, Cars 2. The film reunites audiences with star racecar, Lightning McQueen, and his rusty sidekick, Mater. And on a much bigger scale, bringing in the excitement of the World Grand Prix. Lured away from the small town of Radiator Springs by an organic oilman, Lightning McQueen winds up racing against Italian rival, Francesco Bernoulli, all across the globe. And inadvertently, he and Mater land right smack in the middle of an international spy caper. With slick new cars, exotic locations, and a plethora of subliminal jokes, Cars 2 is extraordinary eye candy. A slight departure from the original, which took its time establishing characters and their surroundings, Cars 2 hits the gas with a simpler story about friendship, bolder visuals, good natured humor, and wall to wall action, making it a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
"Casa de los Babys" is an all-encompassing look at the foreign adoption business aspersonified by a group of American women waiting out their residency requirement in SouthAmerica. The film is the latest entry from John Sayles, a director with a penchant formixing sociology with complex character dilemmas. It details the experiences of sixnoteworthy starlets, trapped in a foreign country, struggling with the inabilities toconceive while awaiting the completion of their adoption papers. For them, it's a lifechanging, emotionally charged event. But for the country, with various political, economical,and social complications, it's business as usual. And although the subject matter exceedsthe scope of this film, Sayles is quick to point out that in the casa de los babys, as inlife, there are no guarantees.
Spectacular, extravagant, and 'all that jazz!' Pure and simple, "Chicago" is a fun film to watch, full of great music and a bevy of actors turned divas. Taking the Tony award winning musical and transforming it to the silver screen, director Rob Marshall takes the baton from Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" and propels the modern day musical to a whole new level. Originally opening as a Broadway play in 1975, "Chicago" is food for the sensationalist soul - full of greed, adultery, exploitation, violence, and corruption.
"Candy doesn't have to have a point. That's why it's candy." Simple, yet profound words spoken by Charlie Bucket, a good hearted young boy from a poor family who lives down the street from Willy Wonka's world famous Chocolate Factory. Able to afford only one candy bar a year, Charlie's wildest dream comes true when he wins an all expense paid trip to the factory. But little is known about the imaginative man who runs the most celebrated candy company, let alone why after 15 years, he's decided to open its doors to five lucky winners. Based on the beloved children's classic by Roald Dahl, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is devilishly rich in humor and splendid in sight. Brought to life by visionary director, Tim Burton, who also adapted another of Dahl's works "James and the Giant Peach," the film preserves many of the thrills and possibilities that make the story rewarding and riotous, a morality tale where the nasty are punished and the good are justly rewarded. With wondrous image and imagination, it's as textured and flavorful as a Wonka Whipple Scrumptious Delight.
In the middle of the Great Depression, one man fought his way out, carrying the entire nation with him. And his name was James J. Braddock, a family man and impoverished prize-fighter whose fairytale journey to the top of the boxing world is well documented in Ron Howard's historical drama, "Cinderella Man." The story is about a common man who becomes an unlikely hero in the most unlikely of times by upholding the simple and honest values he so firmly believes in. And unlike so many boxing films of yore, this one focuses on the man rather than the boxer. Driven by love and honor, courage and fortitude, Braddock achieves the impossible, defeating legions of foes on his way to the heavyweight championship of the world. And his unexpected rise earns him the nickname, Cinderella Man. The film itself is replete with phenomenal performances, led of course by Russell Crowe, and it contains some of the most realistic, thrilling boxing sequences ever captured on film. And despite overemotional tendencies, "Cinderella Man" remains a humbling and stirring account of an upstanding American hero.
Miles outside Brazil's resort city of Rio de Janeiro lies the "City of God," a slum of all slums, built as a shelter for the homeless and poverty stricken. But within this slum, a violent turf war is about to erupt between gangs battling for supremacy over drugs and money. In the middle of it all is a young boy named Buscape, aka Rocket, who stands, camera ready, in the city streets where violence and bloodshed have become the norm. A staggering masterpiece from newcomer, Fernando Meirelles, "City of God" is a graphic, striking look at how violence first came to the "City of God" and how it has forever shaped the city's culture.
Don't be fooled by the ambiguity implied in the title. "Closer" could not be further from the truth. The latest work from Mike Nichols, director of "The Graduate," "Silkwood," and "Working Girl," dissects modern romance with a plastic spoon. This is no heartwarming love fest, mind you. Rather, it's a cold, harsh look at relationships gone sour, from the chance encounters to the initial attractions and ultimately the bitter betrayals. Adapted from Patrick Marber's award winning stage play, the story follows four strangers drawn together by circumstance but pushed apart by their own obsessions. The sexual jealousy, the casual lies, the ego fueled competition, and the unforgiving fall out. All of the characters subject and are subjected to this new kind of relationship, a relationship that fails to bring them any closer to true love.
"Have you ever wondered what happened in your house before you lived there?" So says thetag line from the trailer of "Cold Creek Manor," an intriguing new thriller promisingsuspense and mystery, promising that the so-called truth of Cold Creek Manor will berevealed. But unfortunately for award winning director, Mike Figgis, better known forhis Academy nominated "Leaving Las Vegas," the teaser is just a teaser and the movie isjust an average movie in a long line of psychological thriller copy cats. Try as itmight to hold our attention, it disappoints at every turn, ending in a whimper ratherthan a bang.
"Cold Mountain" is a capable, but poorly executed and over hyped drama. Based on the best selling novel by Charles Frazier, it depicts the love story between Inman, a soft-spoken Confederate soldier and Ada, a high society southern belle. Both are inevitably separated upon the announcement of the Civil War and endure many hardships on the path toward a final reunion. Directed by Anthony Minghella, who also brought us "The English Patient" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," the film is successful as a series of independent scenes, but when strung together the overall purpose gets lost in the shuffle. And when the reel stops, the film will be remembered only as a muddled and tiresome misadventure.
Welcome to the jungle, an urban playground where jazz meets rock n' roll, simplicity collides with sophistication, and routine is far from boring. This is the dark and mysterious side of Los Angeles, a city that becomes an integral character in Michael Mann's electrifying crime thriller, "Collateral." Starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, the film transpires over the course of one fateful night, where two characters from different backgrounds make a series of visits across town. One is a taxi driver and the other is his fare, a hit man out to eliminate five witnesses. Edgy, suspenseful, and irresistible, the film leaves quite an impression. Its ingenious dialogue, gritty performances, and groundbreaking cinematography make "Collateral" an expertly crafted film without default.
Bernie Lootz has the uncanny ability of turning winners into losers at the Shangri La hotel and casino in Las Vegas. "I do it by being myself," he says, falling hopelessly into the self-fulfilling prophecy. But all of that is about to change after meeting the girl of his dreams - lady luck. Written, directed, and storyboarded by first timer, Wayne Kramer, "The Cooler" is a contradiction to the sexy and glamorous adventures of prototypical Las Vegas life we've come to know. It's simple, unglamorous, and ordinary. And though it may lack the punch of a sophisticated heist film, the stakes are just as high for Bernie and those living in the shadows of the Las Vegas underworld, virtuous individuals seeking a return to normalcy.
"A tragic tale of romance, passion, and a murder most foul?" Perhaps. But don't be too frightened by Bojangles' introduction. This animated fable may seem dark and dreadful, but it's really quite pleasant. And family friendly. From the creator of "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Corpse Bride" offers up a second handful of stop motion with a touch of gothic sensibility and fairy tale cheer. When a young man gets cold feet during his wedding recital, he runs away only to find himself married to a corpse and trapped in the underworld. He then must find his way back home and back to his true love. Directed by the master of the macabre, Tim Burton, "Corpse Bride" is an imaginative, sophisticated tale with unexpected charm. And it features a variety of characters, from rotting corpses to dancing skeletons, all of which have plenty of heart, long after their hearts have stopped. In good spirits, "Corpse Bride" is delightfully ghoulish.
"It's the sense of touch. Any real city you walk (you know?), you brush past people. People bump into you. In, LA, nobody touches you. We're always behind this meddling glass. I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something."
Crazy Stupid Love is one of the most clever and enthusiastic romantic comedies of recent memory. With a sensational cast that includes Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and many more, the film depicts romance across many generations. At the top, there's Cal, who seems to be living the perfect life until his high school sweetheart abruptly asks for a divorce, sending him into the dating scene for the first time in decades. Along the way, he befriends Jacob, a thirtysomething womanizer who shows him how to dress and pick up women. Jacob unexpectedly meets his match - a young woman who sees through all of his tricks. And then there's Cal's 13 year old son, who falls head over heels for the babysitter. All of these relationships comingle and tangent in unexpected ways, showing the various degrees of Crazy Stupid Love. Even though the plotlines and characters are far too many, the enthusiasm and energy brought to screen by the actors is fun and well worth the price of admission.
Transitioning from a shoestring budget to a bigger checkbook and a cast of Oscar nominees and stars, directors Mark and Jay Duplass go somewhat mainstream with Cyrus, a story about a divorcee named John who struggles with single life. But after a chance encounter at a party with a beautiful woman named Molly, things appear to be on the upswing. Until, that is, he meets Molly's twenty-one year old son, Cyrus, whose awkward relationship with his mother puts them in a territorial battle of wits. Maintaining an indie look and feel, Cyrus keeps things simple. It's well constructed and honest, allowing its characters a touch of improvisational freedom. The result, of which, is a humorous experiment in social discomfort.
In today's day of exploitation and overexposure, it's refreshing to see a film like Damsels in Distress that romanticizes the days of innocence. In the film, a trio of college girls led by the charismatic Violet Wister, are determined to make their alma mater, Seven Oaks University, a more pleasant place by promoting better hygiene and popular dance routines. Along the way, they end up in a series of romantic entanglements, silly subplots, and sanity checks that fall somewhere between Heathers and Mean Girls. With deadpan humor, devilish wit, and snappy dialogue, Damsels in Distress is a smart, preppy college satire from writer/director Whit Stillman. Even though the film lacks some of the precision and zing from his prior efforts like Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco, Damsels is an unexpected charmer, making the old feel remarkably new again.
Absolutely no convincing is necessary when it comes to Christopher Nolan's third and final installment of the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight Rises. After taking the fall for district attorney, Harvey Dent, the caped crusader has gone into hiding as a recluse for nearly eight years. Meanwhile, Gotham City has cleaned up its act, putting thousands of bad guys behind bars. That is, until a masked muscleman named Bane attempts to destroy humanity by instigating class warfare. And Batman must return to save the day with the help of a few friends, including Catwoman. In dazzling IMAX, The Dark Knight Rises is a heavy, chaotic drama on a massive scale that tackles modern issues and concerns. Most notably, the gap between rich and poor. It's a satisfying finale for sure, but with the added complexity and length of story and the absence of Batman throughout most of the film, moviegoers may wonder where's all the fun? And like the Joker devilishly asked, "Why so serious?"
Based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, The Debt is a complex spy thriller about three Mossad agents in 1966 sent into East Berlin to track down a Nazi war criminal known as the "surgeon of Birkenau." Flashing backwards and forward through time, 1966 to 1997, the film carefully reveals what happened during the "supposedly" successful mission then and the impacts to those involved now. Filled with unexpected plot twists, acts of revenge and retribution, regret, and a unique love triangle, The Debt is a highly engaging, nail biter from Academy Award nominated director, John Madden. Its only drawback is that it lacks a real credible, historical context. Starring Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson, along with terrific support from Sam Worthington and up and comer, Jessica Chastain, The Debt is a nifty little puzzler that satisfactorily pays off.
Hawaii is one of the most scenic places on earth. And for Academy Award winner, Alexander Payne, the perfect backdrop for his latest work, The Descendants, a complex drama slash comedy that comes seven years after indie darling, Sideways, took audiences on a manic trip through California wine country. Here, a Hawaiian land baron, Matt King, played by George Clooney, takes his daughters on a personal journey of self discovery after learning that his wife, currently hospitalized after a tragic boating accident, was having an affair. With effortless dexterity, The Descendants bridges dark comedy with tragedy. And features a strong, centered performance from Clooney. Emotionally stirring, The Descendants is somewhat cathartic - a quirky, methodical detour through tropical paradise.
Adapted from the 1986 six-part British miniseries by the late Dennis Potter, "The SingingDetective" features a talented cast and a variety of 1950's hop from Gene Vincent's "In MyDreams" to The Coasters "Poison Ivy." It's about a detective novelist who struggles toovercome a rare skin disease and while medicated, has hallucinations about his childhood,his failed marriage, and his outlook on life. All seems bleak until he encounters a craftypsychologist, played amusingly by Mel Gibson, who like a detective himself, unravels thenovelist's personal mysteries. Sounds good, right? Well unfortunately, rather than sing,the film version struggles to find its own unique voice, has a hard time consolidating whatPotter took six hours to convey, and more importantly, lacks the substance or zing tosustain a prolonged interest.
Sacha Baron Cohen's humor is not for everyone, oftentimes vulgar, obscene, and politically incorrect. From Ali G to Borat to Bruno. And now, The Dictator. In his latest film, Cohen plays a fictional North African dictator who takes pride in the oppression of his people and travels to New York City to explain his country's controversial nuclear program. Along the way, he avoids an assassination plot, but loses his beard and his identity. Stranded in America, he must work from scratch to regain control of his country. Unlike Cohen's prior films which thrived on outlandish improv and hidden camera antics, The Dictator is a scripted comedy from veteran director, Larry Charles. And while the story may be a bit conventional, the jokes and gags certainly are not. Everything from politics to feminism to celebrity. Cohen takes aim. And it makes The Dictator a different kind of Coming to America - provocative, uncomfortable, irreverent, and oftentimes, laugh out loud funny.
In 2009, Quentin Tarantino delivered his finest effort with Inglourious Basterds, a genre blending, fictionalized tale of Jewish Allied soldiers out to assassinate Nazi leaders. Now, 3 years later, he sets his aim on slave owners in Django Unchained, a spaghetti western set in America's Deep South. Starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, and Kerry Washington, the film depicts the story of a freed slave (Foxx) who travels across America with a German dentist turned bounty hunter (Waltz) to rescue his wife (Washington) from a sadistic plantation owner (DiCaprio). With influences ranging from grindhouse to kung fu, Django has tremendous style and stellar performances along with a pulp pounding soundtrack. All are hallmarks of Tarantino, whose bold ideas, cheeky humor, and graphic violence make Django Unchained a guilty pleasure. Wildly provocative, Django is a revenge film best served cold.
To have sinned or not to have sinned? That is the question that most pre-occupies the mind of Sister Aloysius in John Patrick Shanley's stage to screen adaptation, "Doubt." Starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt" relays the story of a nun and a priest from two different perspectives on Catholic faith. One is oppressive while the other, progressive. Both wind up caught on opposite sides of an alleged scandal involving inappropriate behavior with a young African American student. And it leads to an inquisition of morals and values, character, and faith - not just in God, but also in themselves. With an all-star cast behind this Pulitzer and Tony award winning production, "Doubt" is a powerhouse of performances - both on stage and in film. Mercilessly, it immerses its characters in the depths of certainty and the consequences of blind faith.
The 1995 version of Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone was an imperfect blend of parody and action. But the latest reincarnation of John Wagner's street judge is much more robust, graphic, and simple. Even the title has been reduced to simply, Dredd. Here, Judge Dredd is ordered to investigate a triple homicide in the slums of Mega-City One, while also evaluating a rookie. Together, the two stumble upon a drug cartel and attempt to administer justice. With Karl Urban in the title role, Dredd foregoes the Hollywood blockbuster trademarks for grit and gore. Set almost entirely within a single high rise building, it invokes memories of Die Hard. It's minimalistic, unapologetic, and surprisingly suspenseful. Even in 3D. Much closer to the comic than its predecessor, this Dredd is guilty of entertainment.
There's something inexplicably funny about a grown man in yellow tights, especially when that grown man happens to be former SNL alum Will Ferrell. After the adult comedy "Old School" in which Ferrell plays the obnoxiously sophomoric Frank "The Tank" and drinks like a frat fish, he switches gears completely in this unexpectedly warm family comedy. In "Elf," Ferrell plays an orphaned human child raised by elves, but who ultimately grows up yearning for the affection of his real father. Directed by Jon Favreau, also known for his cameo appearances on "Friends" and his lead role in "Swingers," "Elf" is a charming, wholesome Christmas film with a lot of holiday spirit.
First of all, and most importantly, I must tell you that I am a Star Wars geek. I have seen the original tri-fecta of films in the theater as a child growing up and have collected every action figure bearing the Star Wars name. That being said, I have no malice toward the legacy nor the legions of fans who love the mythos as much as I do. Simply put, I love Star Wars. Always have.
"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," George Lucas created an interstellar epic that forever changed the pop culture landscape. Starting with Episode IV back in 1977, "Star Wars" became the most successful motion picture franchise in history. And now, 28 years later, the saga comes full circle with the final installment, "Revenge of the Sith." This final prequel concludes the chronicles of Anakin Skywalker, whose path to the dark side of the force is cemented with the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Galactic Empire. Caught between good and evil, friends and enemies, right and wrong, Anakin begins his downward spiral with good intentions but against his better judgment. Says Yoda: "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." And sadly for Anakin, he becomes consumed by fear, transformed into the most wretched of villainy, namely Darth Vader. With state of the art technology by the numbers and one of the most anticipated origins of all time, the film excites and entertains with the same jubilant energy that made the original trilogy so beloved. Although far from perfect, "Revenge of the Sith" is a gratifying finale. And to Star Wars fans everywhere, a celebration of galactic proportions.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to erase a moment from your past, as if it never happened? To forget the mistakes, the embarrassment, and the pain? Such is the premise behind "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," a film by Michel Gondry, that explores the repercussions of memory loss. Following a tumultuous relationship with the impulsive Clementine, Joel Barish decides to exact revenge and have his memory of her erased. But while undergoing the procedure, he realizes how much he truly loved her and how much he wants to hold on to her. Written by Charlie Kaufman, whose previous works like "Human Nature," "Being John Malkovich," and "Adaptation" pushed the boundaries of disillusion and dementia, "Eternal Sunshine" breaks the mold, harnessing some of the same energy and imagination to create a highly original love story.
"Everything Put Together" is a dark and disquieting psychological tale about a woman forced into a downward spiral after the death of her first child. Her husband becomes indifferent and neglectful, her friends disown her, and she becomes horrifically insane and emotionally distraught. Directed by Marc Forster as the precursor to the 2001 award winning "Monster's Ball," the film is an exploration of human fallibility and bereavement. Suspenseful and satirical, it approaches a modern day suburban nightmare.
Much like the Jones', the Whitakers have it all: a plush house replete with a maid and gardener, an active social life consisting of swank parties and soirees, and a picture perfect family with two lovely and respectful children. In fact, they are so well known in the community that they are commonly referred to as Mr. and Mrs. Magnatech - a title in reference to the many advertisements they've appeared in together. Life is pretty, gosh darn good except for one mysterious detail about Mr. Whitaker: He is in love with someone else and that someone else is another man.
Director and screenwriter Christopher Claridge defines a flophouse as any kind of rental home consisting of a handful of roommates, all struggling to make their way in the real world. Claridge was one of those roommates in a rental in Van Nuys, California, which played host to as many as 20 different roommates over just a few years. Trying to break into film as an actor in the late 80's and early 90's, Claridge documented his experiences into "Flophouse," a well-intended film that pokes fun of those old roommate days - the days when money was scarce, food was comprised of instant noodles, and when the landlord came a knockin', you went a hidin'. But the translation to film, despite good intentions, comes off more as a sophomoric and tiresome effort, with little plot and character conflict to warrant any interest.
It's a title you'd expect to see on the wall of a truck stop restroom: For a Good Time, Call... the resulting number indicating some sort of sexual rendezvous. Here, For a Good Time, Call... represents a Sundance favorite about two college enemies thrown together under the same roof. Desperate to make end's meat, they agree to start their own phone sex operation and through their adventures and business pursuits, become genuine friends. Falling somewhere between Bridesmaids and Zack & Miri Make a Porno, For a Good Time stars two up and coming comediennes, Lauren Anne Miller and Ari Graynor. Even though the film plays out like a formulaic sitcom, it does have its moments as this female friendly comedy is filled with lots of charm and raunchy laughs. Not to mention, a hilarious onslaught of clientele cameos you simply won't want to miss.
Percy vs. Neville. Campbell vs. MacDonald. Hatfield and McCoy - some of the most famous blood feuds in history - an ancient ritual very much alive in present day Albania, a country transitioning between primitive customs and modern advancements. Directed by Joshua Marston, who also delivered the potent Maria Full of Grace, The Forgiveness of Blood, tells the tragic tale of a teenager forced to live under house arrest after a land dispute goes south and his father goes missing. Patiently, he must wait for a mediator to be assigned to resolve the neighborly feud before it escalates into violence - a process that could take many years. A film of stark contrasts, The Forgiveness of Blood, is suspenseful and visually enlightening, balancing old constraints with new freedoms. Horse drawn carts versus motorcycles. Word of mouth against cell phones and the Internet. And effectively equates the lack of progress to a prison.
Are you ready for some football? Okay, maybe it's not professional football, but don't tell that to the legions of fans that crowd Ratliff Stadium every Friday night to watch their beloved Permian Panthers take the field. For them, this is the greatest show on earth. And this inside look is based on the 1990 New York Times best seller, "Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream" by H.G. Bissinger. Following one of Texas' most successful team during a prototypical season, "Friday Night Lights" highlights the personal struggles, the pressures to win, and the hopes and dreams that rest on any given Friday. Produced by Brian Grazer, also known for "Apollo 13," "A Beautiful Mind," and "8 Mile," "Friday Night Lights" is yet another great example of absorbing character drama. Resisting the urge to showboat, the film expertly infuses humanity into the unforgiving, obsessive world of high school football.
Due to the efforts of Bora Milutinovic, Kyle Rote, Jr., Paul Caligiuri, and most recently, Brian McBride and Landon Donovan, soccer in the United States has gotten some respect over the years. But that wasn't always the case. In 1950, when the United States was invited to partake in the World Cup in Brazil, they had no respect, no team, and no chance. Directed by David Anspaugh and written by Angelo Pizzo, the dynamic duo that brought about "Hoosiers" and "Rudy," "The Game of Their Lives" is a tribute to the 1950 U.S. soccer team, a rag tag bunch that shocked the world by defeating England, the all around favorite, at the World Cup tournament. And the film version honors this experience, casting likable characters, maintaining historical accuracy, and capturing convincing game play. Although at times, it struggles to build momentum, "The Game of Their Lives" remains an inspiring homage to the men who changed and continue to change the face of the game.
"Garden State" is not just about New Jersey; it's about a state of mind. A jumbled state induced by years and years of meds and pent up futility. Written and directed by Zach Braff, better known in television circles as Dr. John Dorian from the hit comedy "Scrubs," the film depicts the transformation of a dejected actor, Andrew Largeman, who returns to his hometown after a nine-year leave of absence for his mother's funeral. While in the Garden State, Largeman begins anew by discovering friendship and life without the influence of anti-depressants. With passivity and subtlety, there doesn't appear to be much on the surface. But somewhere between the Prozac and Zoloft is a comedy of intemerate charm.
Controversial, candid, and composed, Edward R. Murrow is considered by many to be the founding father of broadcast journalism. Known for his matter of fact demeanor and his unflinching integrity, Murrow helped shape television news into what we see and hear today with radio and television shows like "Hear It Now" and "See It Now." Never one to shy away from the truth, Murrow made a name for himself by exposing the fear tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy and helping defuse the paranoia surrounding Communism in the early 1950's. And it is that heroic effort that lies at the center of George Clooney's biographical tribute, "Good Night, and Good Luck," also widely known as Murrow's signature sign off. Captured eloquently in black and white, the film exudes a warm texture with the sound and sophistication of a jazz club. Featuring a brilliantly subtle and sophisticated performance by David Straitharn, "Good Night, and Good Luck" methodically and purposefully demonstrates the importance of impartial journalism.
No doubt, we've had our fill of superhero movies over the past few years. Action packed extravaganzas with special effects and superhuman feats. But Griff the Invisible is not one of those. Hailing from down under, the film is an unpredictable, unexpected romantic comedy. Starring Ryan Kwanten of HBO's hit vampire series, "True Blood," Griff the Invisible is about a shy and rather eccentric office worker by day who assumes a super identity at night to escape the pressures of the real world. And then, risks it all when he falls for a beautiful scientist named Melody, who shares many of the same everyday struggles. Will their love prevail? Will fantasy win over reality? With lots of charm and humor, Griff the Invisible is a quirky and sophisticated romance in disguise. And acts as a metaphor, showing the importance of being yourself and having the courage to live life openly, honestly, and quite visibly.
A Stranger in a Strange Land meets La Femme Nikita. That is the role taken on by Hanna, a teenage girl raised and trained by her father, an ex-CIA operative, to become the perfect assassin. Sheltered from the rest of the world, Hanna is eventually sent on a mission by her father that involves her first contact with society - an overwhelming, scary, and beautiful place. Featuring a trifecta of star power in (Sir-sha) Ronan, Eric Bana, and Cate Blanchett, Hanna is a thrilling action adventure with a lot of backbone. It's a story about female empowerment. And includes a pulsating soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers and tremendous fight and chase choreography that will absolutely, leave you on the edge of your seat.
Jules de Gaultier once said, "Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality." And it's an appropriate quote taken to heart by a 10 year old boy in "Hard Goodbyes: My Father," where the young boy must cope with the unexpected death of his father. But rather than deal with reality, he copes by using his imagination, keeping his father's image alive until a final promise can be fulfilled. Simple, tender, and truthful, the film deals with its subject matter with delicacy and attention to detail. Representing the first feature film of Penny Panayotopoulou, "Hard Goodbyes" is a quiet eulogy, a reflection on life and death, dreams and imagination, from the perspective of a young boy.
"Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble." It's the famous incantation from the witches of Macbeth, no doubt a delicious metaphor for the mischievous events brewing in J.K. Rowling's third installment of the Harry Potter series. For in this edition, the alleged murderer of Harry's parents, Sirius Black, has escaped from prison in Azkaban, and is now hunting for the adolescent wizard himself. Like every chapter of the series, an entire school year unfolds at Hogwarts, the kids solve a mystery, and Harry uncovers precious details about his past. Yet, while much remains the same, this Harry Potter film uniquely matures with the help of a new director, a cast that is noticeably older, and a storyline that is much darker in tone. It's a refreshing change of pace. And it helps make "Azkaban" a sophisticated and distinctive delight.
"Dark and difficult times lie ahead, Harry. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right...and what is easy." Those are the foreboding words of Albus Dumbledore, words that convey a heavier, gloomier outlook for Hogwarts and the Harry Potter universe. In particular, the disappearance of childhood charms and the emergence of adult-laden curses. After all, "Goblet of Fire" begins with a nightmare and ends with a death. And it is the kind of heavy subject material that has earned the film a PG-13 rating. For in the story, Harry Potter is mysteriously placed in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a tournament of grave proportions. All the while, the appearance of the destructive Death Eaters signals the return of Lord Voldemort. Unlike any of the others, "Goblet of Fire" bears no semblance to the traditional style of Harry Potter storytelling. And while the artless age of adolescence still abounds, it's the uncomfortable acceleration into adulthood that emerges as the boy wizard comes to grips with his own fallibility. As exhilarating as it is daunting, "Goblet of Fire" is all grown up.
"There's a storm coming Harry, and we must be ready when she does," says Rubeus Hagrid, as the wizarding world teeters on the edge of a full-scale war in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." As if a pending war was not enough to worry about, Harry begins his fifth year in wizard exile, besmeared by the local paper and admonished for using magic to defend himself in public. With Hogwarts under a new authority and amidst a community that refuses to believe the Dark Lord has returned, Harry must choose his alliances carefully while training his friends in self defense and sacrifice. Under new direction and writing, "Order of the Phoenix" shifts into high adult gear, moving quickly out of adolescence and into the often cold and cynical world of adulthood. Innocence, wonderment, and playground fun have all been replaced with fear, betrayal, and death. Although the longest book to be adapted, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" represents the shortest film in the series. As a result, incongruities in plot and character abound. And yet, in spite of these shortcomings, "Order of the Phoenix" remains a constant, highly engaging entry in the Harry Potter saga.
As the ancient proverb states, all good things must come to an end. And after 10 years of cinemagic that included 8 films and more than 6 billion box office dollars, the most successful motion picture franchise of all time officially comes to a close with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2. In the film, Harry, Ron, and Hermione continue their search for the remaining Horcruxes in the hopes of defeating Lord Voldemort, who is quickly approaching immortality and attempting a hostile takeover of Hogwarts. In a climactic showdown, Harry finally takes a stand against his arch enemy to save the world from evil. Returning to the director's chair, David Yates delivers all the goods - the cinematography and production design have greater depth, the makeup and special effects are better than ever, and even the cinematic score hits all the high notes just right. The only downside is the film's brevity. Coming in at 131 minutes, Deathly Hallows -Part 2 is the shortest in the franchise - an abbreviated, yet exhilarating finale that is equally satisfying as it is bittersweet.
"There are things that go bump in the night. We're the ones who bump back." Of course, Professor Bruttenholm is referring to the covert operations of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), an organization set up by President Roosevelt to counteract the practices of the Nazi Occult during World War II. Within the confines of this operation is a group of secret agents led by Hellboy, a devilish character with a notion for crime fighting. Based on the Mike Mignola comic series by Dark Horse Comics, "Hellboy" is a supernatural adventure with creative spirit. Brought to screen by writer/director Guillermo del Toro ("Blade II" and "The Devil's Backbone"), a longtime fan of the comic, the final product is dynamic in disposition, but ineffectually conveyed.
After two years of trying to find a distributor, "Hero" finally arrives in American theaters. And not a moment too soon! Championed by Miramax and Quentin Tarantino, this 2002 Academy Award nominated film has it all - romance, drama, action, and intrigue. Starring Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, and Zhang Ziyi, "Hero" explores the events leading up to China's first Emperor by demonstrating how legends are made and heroes are born. When a minor official defeats three of the King's fiercest enemies, he is summoned to the King's court to present his story in elaborate detail - one filled with jealousy, deception, love, and honor. Using a unique blend of Chinese art forms, tradition, and philosophy, writer/director Zhang Yimou creates a masterful tale - a tapestry of extraordinary color.
"Hidalgo" is an action-adventure movie based on the controversial legend of Frank T. Hopkins. Written by John Fusco, whose previous works include "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," "Young Guns," and "Thunderheart," the movie tells the tale of the world's greatest long distance rider and his faithful Mustang steed, Hidalgo. Hopkins became legendary by competing in over 400 cross-country races and winning every single one. But the film concentrates exclusively on his final race - the Ocean of Fire, an endurance run across three thousand miles of Arabian desert. Starring Viggo Mortensen and Omar Sharif and set amidst the beautiful sand dunes of Morocco, the film may be misrepresentative of the facts, but its charm and traditional sense of adventure help it cross the finish line.
Based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" plays with the psychological aspects of violence - the impact of violence on a family and a community. And the long lasting effects violence has when used as a means to an end. The story revolves around Tom Stall, an upstanding small town business owner who is forced into a violent confrontation when a group of criminals arrive at his diner doorstep. By thwarting the robbery and saving the day, Tom is elevated to local hero. But all the publicity surrounding his good deeds brings unwanted attention, including that of some local mobsters who believe Tom to be someone else. A compelling thriller, "A History of Violence" is comprised of two storylines, the first of which is much stronger than the last. Shrouded in small town charm, the textured performances by Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, and Ed Harris give the film an earthy and eerie sensibility. But never does it deviate from Cronenberg's primal instincts.
Has it really been 9 years since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King took home Best Picture gold? Taking us there and back again is director Peter Jackson and a cast of familiar faces for The Hobbit:An Unexpected Journey. In this epic tale, home loving Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, journeys outside the Shire, across Middle Earth, along with Gandalf the Grey, Thorin Oakenshield, and thirteen dwarves to battle goblins, orcs, and spiders. Not to mention the creature that will forever change Bilbo's life (Gollum). At a little over 300 pages, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the shortest book in the series and An Unexpected Journey is the first of what will soon become a trilogy. However, even with familiar faces and places and an emphasis on humor, the pressure of three films limits much of the creative energy that made its predecessors so special. Strictly faithful to the novel, The Hobbit hems and haws with only an occasional cinematic punch, making it a good, but very expected journey.
When people ask me, good listeners, why do I hate all the Tutsi, I say: read our history. The Tutsi were collaborators for the Belgian colonists, they stole our Hutu land, they whipped us. Now they have come back...(and) we will squash the infestation.
Based on the best-selling novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznik, comes Hugo, a whimsical, childlike fantasy that takes place in the 1930s, deep within the walls of a Paris train station. There, a 12 year old orphan named Hugo works anonymously to keep all of the clocks running on time. Such was the work of his late father. And following the disappearance of his uncle and an accidental encounter with an eccentric young girl, he embarks on a quest to unlock the mystery of his past, present, and future left behind in cryptic and mechanized clues by his father. A magical, visually stunning adventure for the entire family, Hugo is not exactly the kind of film you'd expect from legendary director, Martin Scorsese. But with a story that cleverly pays homage to the early pioneers of cinema, it's easy to see the attraction. Scorsese's love for film and film preservation shine through in Hugo - an exuberant and meticulous 3D spectacle by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
In May 1962, a new type of hero emerged. Unlike any other superhero at the time, the Hulk was a manifestation of fear, whose power was fueled by anger and rage, and if uncontrolled, could single handedly destroy all of mankind. An original creation from Marvel stalwarts Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Hulk was born and reborn, undergoing a series of transformations over the years including an unforgettable five-year stint on television starring the late Bill Bixby and bodybuilder, Lou Ferrigno. Now, for the first time, the Hulk makes his way to the big screen. He's bigger than ever, he's greener than ever, and you still won't like Bruce when he's angry. Thanks in part to Academy Award winning director Ang Lee and producer Gale Anne Hurd, this interpretation of the Hulk has incredible style and detail.
Based on the best seller by Philip Roth, "The Human Stain" is a provocative illustration ofpublic opinion at its worst. When an esteemed classics professor is accused of a making aracist statement, rather than analyze the facts and proceed cautiously, the university forceshim to resign. His career, marriage, and life are forever in ruin. Academy Award winningdirector Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer) assembles a terrific cast to relay the allegory ofColeman Silk, a private man whose life is altered by a false sense of righteousness.Tragically engaging, "The Human Stain" is a somber look at cause and effect; in particular,it's a parable about how a society's beliefs and morals can mask the truth, sometimes for anentire lifetime.
Let the games begin, commands Suzanne Collins' teenage thriller, The Hunger Games, a post-apocalyptic adventure that is part "Survivor," part "American Gladiator." After the United States falls to ruin, a new fascist country emerges that demands an annual tribute from each of its twelve territories - 24 young men and women selected by lottery to compete to the death in a televised spectacle known as The Hunger Games. Among them, Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers in place of her sister, and uses her courage and survival instincts to change the game. With a script co-written by Collins herself, The Hunger Games is a faithful adaptation of the book and features a mesmerizing performance by rising star, Jennifer Lawrence. Even though the film plays it safe, is entirely too predictable, and regurgitates common themes like humanity vs. entertainment, it has all the imagination and youthful exuberance to become the next franchise to catch fire.
The opening monologue is difficult to shake. "It's like all my days, I've been hearing this beat in my head, man. It's like its pounding. But sometimes it gets real soft. And it can't be stopped." Straightforward and true, DJay's philosophical ramblings reveal more about the depth of his character than you could ever expect from a drug dealer or a pimp. But it's precisely what writer/director Craig Brewer had in mind for this fascinating portrait of a hustler trying to find his way out of the ghetto, trying to find his own voice, and trying to capitalize on a dream. The dream, for the aspiring DJay, is to succeed as a rapper, detailing the hard and fast life on the streets of Memphis. Under the influence of the charismatic indie phenom, Terrence Howard, "Hustle & Flow" succeeds where so many fall short. It builds characters that are smart, yet vulnerable. And likable in spite of their flaws. Unpretentious and socially aware, the film speaks on many different levels, about poverty and social class, stereotypes and race. But not once does it lose sight of the universal thread that brings it all together.
Manny, Sid, and Diego return in this sequel to the 2002 hit, "Ice Age." But the chills and thrills are gone as the Ice Age begins to melt. In fact, it's melting so rapidly that the trio must band together once more and spread the news that their hospitable paradise is in jeopardy of becoming a water wasteland. On the plus side, "The Meltdown" brings back a lot of familiar voices such as Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary, while introducing a handful of new ones such as Jay Leno, Seann William Scott, and Queen Latifah. And returning to the director's chair is Carlos Saldanha, who aptly breathed life into the original "Ice Age" and was responsible for last year's animated adventure, "Robots." But unlike "Ice Age" and "Robots," "Meltdown" is missing leadership from its creator, Chris Wedge, who is involved only as the voice of Scrat, the Ice Age squirrel. Not as a co-director. And subsequently, like many sequels, it falls prey to weak story development and insufficient character depth. Although retaining its characteristic visual style, "Ice Age: The Meltdown" is a disappointing and diluted affair.
With the 2012 presidential race just starting to heat up, along comes George Clooney's The Ides of March, a timely thriller about dirty politics, scandals, and ruthless campaigns. Based on the play by Beau Willimon, who worked on Howard Dean's 2004 presidential run, The Ides of March follows a young Democratic press secretary played by Ryan Gosling, whose idealism, core values, and allegiance to Clooney's candidate, Mike Morris, are put to the test by a rival campaign manager and a seductive intern. While the story elements are familiar and the overall outlook highly cynical, the execution and acting are all top notch. Along with Clooney and Gosling, the film includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood. Smart and skillfully directed, The Ides of March depicts the ugly reality of modern day politics.
If you're a fan of TruTV or "Dateline Mysteries," you're gonna absolutely love Bart Layton's pseudo documentary drama The Imposter, a real life impersonation case with more twists and turns than a roller coaster ride. The film picks up on June 13th, 1994 when a 13 year old boy named Nicholas Barclay disappears without a trace on his way home outside San Antonio, Texas. 3 years later he is discovered in a small village in southern Spain. Is he really the Barclay's son? Or a 35 year-old French-Algerian imposter with ulterior motives? Expertly mixing documentary footage with dramatic re-enactments and real interviews, The Imposter is a gripping, psychological tale of childhood trauma, mental reconditioning, and identity theft. Chilling, bizarre, and surprisingly unpredictable, The Imposter is a crime thriller so real, it's hard to believe.
After a successful awards run that included an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, Incendies finally makes its way to American theaters this week. The French word for "scorched," Incendies is a story about two siblings who discover upon the death of their mother that their father is still alive and that they have a long lost brother too, both living in the Middle East. As a result of this unexpected news, the siblings decide to reconnect with their roots, a journey that takes them down a dangerous road filled with unforeseen acts of hatred and love. Unraveling like a tragic detective story, Incendies is both an intimate family drama and sociopolitical thriller. Flashing backwards and forwards through time, the film includes enough emotional firepower and startling revelations to keep you guessing at every turn.
When it comes to animation, it doesn't get any better than this. From the award winning pool of talent at Pixar that brought us "Toy Story," Monsters, Inc." and "Finding Nemo," comes "The Incredibles," a hilarious and thrilling adventure about a family of former superheroes rediscovering their super skills. There's Mr. Incredible with his super strength, Elastigirl with her flexibility, Dash with his super speed, and Violet with her invisibility and force field. This fantastic foursome gets pulled back into crime fighting action by a curious villain named Syndrome who is intent on world domination. Written and directed by Brad Bird, known for his work on "The Iron Giant" and contributions to the highly successful series "The Simpsons," the film addresses underlying family and social issues while spoofing superhero comics and suburban sitcoms. And it's so much fun. With state-of-the-art CG, delicious humor, and spectacular action sequences, "The Incredibles" exceeds expectations to deliver a superhuman experience.
Another Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film makes its way from Poland to the U.S. The film is called In Darkness and it depicts the harrowing tale of Leopold Socha, a sewer inspector by day and thief by night during the Nazi occupation of Lvov. At first, Socha wheels and deals, offering to hide refugees underground for a steep fee. But as the persecution of Jews reaches nightmarish levels, Socha realizes he has a moral obligation to help those in need. Much like Steven Spielberg's tale (Schindler's List) of an entrepreneur turned humanitarian hero, In Darkness depicts similar themes, emotions, and actions. The one shining difference here is that director Agnieszka Holland effectively explores Poland's ethnical diversity by bringing together German, Yiddish, Polish and Ukrainian characters and languages for added authenticity. Based on a true story, In the Sewers of Lvov by Robert Marshall, In Darkness is a suspenseful and somber tale of Holocaust heroism.
From the acclaimed director of Hoop Dreams comes The Interrupters, an incredible documentary that focuses on the efforts of three ex-convicts who routinely walk the streets of Chicago trying to talk gang members out of senseless violence. These men and women are called "Interrupters" and bravely impart their experiences and wisdom on today's troubled youth, intervening in times of escalating conflict and denouncing the allure of easy money and violent retaliation. Much more harrowing than Scared Straight!, The Interrupters goes directly into the war zone, amidst drug deals, knife fights, drive by shootings, and other acts of criminal behavior. And attempts to capture the behavioral factors that lead to violence in America. Powerful and poignant, The Interrupters demands your attention all the while demonstrating what great documentary filmmaking is all about - a hopeful vehicle for change.
Inspired by Isaac Asimov's distinguished science fiction anthology, "I, Robot" toys with the concept of artificial intelligence gone awry. It stars Will Smith as detective Del Spooner, a Chicago cop of the future caught in the middle of a unique murder mystery. That mystery involves the recent death of Dr. Alfred Lanning, the father of the modern robot, whose death could be the result of a robot malfunction, a violation of one of the fundamental laws governing all robots, or something more serious - a shift in the relationship between man and machine. As the film regurgitates situations and characteristics from others in the same genre, it becomes apparent that there is very little originality and enthusiasm in the handling of its subject matter. Even more importantly, the unique blend of science and fiction that Asimov earned a reputation for is missing. And unfortunately, that only leaves an uninspired, recycled action thriller.
"Irreversible" is a horrifying portrait of rape and revenge all told in reverse order, a la Christopher Nolan's "Memento." It assaults the viewer with a barrage of gratuitous sex and violence that makes watching it almost unbearable at times. With a dizzying, hand-held camera, director Gaspar Noe paints a film that will leave you devastated. Yet while it may be shocking, the film falters as a pointless piece, average in conception, poor in execution.
This week, we explore the culinary arts with a fascinating documentary about the world's finest sushi. The film is called Jiro Dreams of Sushi and it details the life of Jiro Ono, the most famous sushi chef in the world. His restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, is nestled inconspicuously amidst a Tokyo subway station, seats only 10 at a time, and is the only restaurant of its kind to receive the coveted 3 star Michelin award. From dawn until dusk, Ono rigorously trains his employees on preparation and presentation. Not to mention his two sons, who struggle to carry on the family business under their father's shadow. While Dreams of Sushi meanders a little bit on Ono's back story, the overall focus is on hard work, passion, simplicity, and the pursuit of perfection. And director David Gelb appropriately widens his perspective to embrace the challenges of the fish markets, impacted by the rising popularity of sushi around the world. With mouthwatering visions of fresh fish wrapped in heavenly white rice, Jiro will not only tickle your taste buds. It will leave you with your own Dreams of Sushi.
When it comes to overindulgent behavior, Will Ferrell is king. In "Old School," his character goes berserk over alcohol, which subsequently earns him the nickname, Frank "The Tank." And in the family comedy, "Elf," his Buddy character can't seem to get enough candy. Now, in his latest comedy, "Kicking & Screaming," the obsession turns toward winning. Cast as Phil Weston, a quiet family man with a chip on his shoulder, Ferrell transforms into a hyper-crazed, win-at-all costs kind of coach. Much of this behavior is attributed to his father, Buck, who over the years has subjected him to his humiliating and competitive ways. And so, in an effort to get back at his father, Phil becomes the coach of his son's soccer team in a league where his father's team is the reigning champs. The end result is a funny, yet predictable romp through the world of little league soccer, where adults are very much a part of the game as their own children.
It's not very often that a sequel outshines its predecessor, that it fills in all the right details and completes the original story arc with satisfaction, and that it entertains while exuding passion and purpose. But that's precisely what "Kill Bill, Volume 2" does. Conformity and convention have never suited Quentin Tarantino, a former video store clerk with a knack for mixing pop with pulp. Tarantino has brought to life a series of original, non-conforming and abrasive films such as "Reservoir Dogs," "Pulp Fiction," and "Jackie Brown." And you can add to that list, "Kill Bill," perhaps his finest work yet. Further detailing the saga of The Bride and her attempt to exact revenge on Bill, "Kill Bill, Volume 2" not only completes the original story; it stands alone as one of the year's most entertaining films.
Everyone knows the classic tale of "Beauty and the Beast." But in 1933, there was "King Kong," a fairy tale in its own right - an adventure that turned a young Fay Wray into a household name; not to mention, a mythical 25-foot primate. Now, some seventy years later comes this update to Merian C. Cooper's influential work. Directed by the Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson, the film tells the harrowing tale of Ann Darrow, an aspiring actress, who finds herself impoverished during the Great Depression. Without recourse, she joins a team of filmmakers, journeying to a mysterious island to shoot a groundbreaking film. And it is there, where she encounters the legendary beast known as King Kong, a creature that will forever change her life. Bigger and bolder, this modern retelling of "King Kong" is a wonder to behold. Visually intensive, the film uses technology and verve to recreate an epic tragedy with measurable effect. But almost to the detriment of the story itself. Overblown and overextended, this version of "King Kong" is an exercise in excess.
Nominated for 13 Academy Awards, The King's Speech is a surprisingly, charming period piece that examines the relationship between a stammering young prince and the Australian speech therapist hired to cure him. In much the same vane as Mrs. Brown or The Queen, The King's Speech is a British production featuring meticulous period detail, outstanding performances from Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter, and inventive staging and visuals - all of which makes this a very memorable, historical and personal drama that can't be missed.
Written and directed by Judd Apatow, creator of the "40 Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," is a crude and somewhat sentimental romantic comedy about the residuals of unplanned pregnancy. When an underachieving slob named Ben meets an overachieving professional named Alison, sparks fly, and uncontrollable passion erupts during one glorious night. One glorious night of unprotected sex that forever changes their lives. Over the years, there have been many films about relationship mishaps, accidental pregnancies, and the attraction of opposites. And this film follows the tried and true formula - boy meets girl, boy screws up with girl, boy tries to make right. Yet, what makes "Knocked Up" stand out is the way Apatow carefully balances sincerity with obscenity, tenderness with vulgarity. Hilarity ensues, the result of an unadulterated, unfiltered, go for broke mentality. The kind that makes "Knocked Up" a highly scathing jolt of relationship reality.
This week, a familiar face comes kicking and chopsticking back to the big screen. In Dreamworks' Kung Fu Panda 2, our affable panda hero Po has adjusted nicely to life in the Valley of Peace. Until a new villain comes to town in the form of a mad peacock named Lord Shen. Troubled by a prophecy that involves a young panda bear, Shen aims to exterminate the entire species. In defense, The Dragon Warrior and his kung fu partners, the Furious Five, must team up to defeat Shen. And along the way, learn more about Po's mysterious heritage. While Kung Fu Panda 2 lacks some of the freshness of the original, it does carry many of its successful qualities in terms of wholesome laughs, character quirks, and colorful martial arts. And with a back story that touches on conservationism, puts meaning and truth behind the kung fu.
"The Ladykillers" marks the return of the Coen Brothers following last year's disappointing mainstream attempt known as "Intolerable Cruelty." The auteurs of such original, stylish works as "Fargo," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," and "The Man Who Wasn't There" return to the screen with an eclectic spin on the 1955 Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers British comedy of the same name. It involves a group of thieves, led by Tom Hanks' mischievous Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, who take advantage of a widow's good nature to burrow their way into a casino vault. And the film is chock full of Coen-isms - a dark comedy mixed with zany characters and a soundtrack that beckons for a gospel revival. Though not as abstract and sharp witted as "O Brother," "The Ladykillers" is a madcap heist film bound to make you chuckle, giggle, or simply laugh out loud.
Laurel Canyon is a street in Hollywood Hills on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Sandwiched between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, it acts as a home to many musicians, record executives, artists, and actors. It is home to Jane, a successful record producer, who is visited by her son and her son's fianc?. And it is here where lives change, tension unravels, and choices are made.
Jim Thorpe, Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Johnny "Blood" McNally - just a few of the well known stars that helped transform professional football into one of the most popular leagues in the country. At the turn of the century, stars like these helped inspire the character, Dodge Connelly, in George Clooney's latest feature, "Leatherheads." In the film, Clooney plays an old, resourceful veteran who recruits a young football sensation and American war hero to save professional football and his career. Along the way, he also encounters a snappy and seductive reporter named Lexie Littleton and a new, rules oriented commissioner, all of whom have a profound impact on the final outcome. Representing Clooney's 3rd directed film, "Leatherheads" is more akin to a pleasant Sunday stroll than a game of the week. Quick witted and unpretentious, it's a romantic comedy that sticks to the game plan.
Dear Reader. I'm sorry to say that the review you are about to read may be extremely unpleasant in nature. It concerns the recent film by Brad Silberling, director of "City of Angels" and "Moonlight Mile," and stars a melancholy cast consisting of Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, and Jude Law. Did I mention the children? Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, and Kara and Shelby Hoffman are oh so talented and clever. But don't let their charm and optimism deceive you. This is a woeful tale that will fill you with despair. It's about three Baudelaire children who become orphaned and entrusted to the evil Count Olaf, a horrible villain intent on stealing their fortune and making life miserable. A fire, a car accident, a deadly serpent, hungry leeches, and a massive hurricane are just a few of the many misfortunes that lie ahead. Of course, it's not too late to find something more pleasant and cheerful to read or watch. But if distress and discomfort do not cause you worry, you too may find "Lemony Snicket" dourly delightful.
For anyone unfamiliar with Wes Anderson's works like "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," I must warn you. You must prepare for the unexpected, the indescribable, and the bizarre. And watching his fourth and most ambitious feature, "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," you get all of that and more. "Aquatic" follows the seafaring escapades of famed oceanographer and documentarian, Steve Zissou (Murray), who after losing his best friend to a menacing jaguar shark, decides to pursue a course of revenge. With a cast of irregular crewman, Team Zissou enters the high seas on the verge of bankruptcy. They must evade a band of pirates, rescue a team member from kidnappers, and come face to face with the frightening shark. Of course, this is not your typical Jacques Cousteau fare. This is a film that explores personal relationships as much as it explores the underwater world. And it does so in a bizarre and crazy way. Quirky and oftentimes absurd, "The Life Aquatic" is an action comedy of misfit proportions.
For most of us, July 24, 2010, was a normal, yet mostly forgettable midsummer's day. But under the microscope of the internet, many extraordinary things happened - from newborns and weddings to acts of heroism and tragedy. Life happened. Sifting through 4500 hours of film on YouTube, Academy Award winning director Kevin Macdonald has compiled an extraordinary documentary shot by amateur filmmakers like you, all over the world. Entitled Life in a Day, the film captures a breadth of emotion from pure joy to sadness, relief, and laughter. And asks questions like: What do you fear most? What do you love? Or something as trivial as what's in your pocket? From skydivers to Elvis impersonators, a Moscow daredevil, and a Korean cyclist - the film is playfully optimistic in its depiction of humanity. With meticulous editing by Joe Walker, Life in a Day is a wonderfully uplifting account of what it means to be human. To be free. To be alive. And hopeful of what tomorrow brings.
Very few filmmakers have the grace, vision, and personal touch of Ang Lee. His latest film, Life Of Pi, is a perfect example of that extraordinary talent, making the unbelievable, believable. The magical tale centers on a young boy named Pi, who loses his family at sea and winds up alone on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Together, the two form a unique bond, spending 227 days lost at sea, fighting for survival. Adapted from the award winning novel by Yann Martel, Life Of Pi is an allegory - part philosophical, part spiritual, and part practical. With an agile script from David Magee and meticulous attention to detail, depth, and color, from a lifelike tiger to the grandeur of the ocean and a frightening thunderstorm, Ang Lee has crafted one of the finest, most mesmerizing films of the year. An absolute wonder to behold, Life Of Pi is an intimate story about the power of storytelling and the essence of life.
Rarely has time travel been depicted without some sort of paradox. But in director Rian Johnson's latest film, Looper, you'd be hard pressed to find one. The story takes place in the year 2044, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a looper, a hired gun who is paid by the mob to eliminate potential threats. The mob uses time travel to send their targets back to a specific time and place where a looper is waiting to kill them. That is, until the target is actually the looper. Here, Bruce Willis plays the future version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt who escapes and causes a thrilling man hunt. Meticulously assembled, Looper is an audacious project that blends dark comedy with old fashion action and a splash of romance. On screen, Gordon-Levitt and Willis are dynamic together, as intentions are laid out and survival instincts kick in. All of which makes Looper a very fulfilling sci-fi adventure that certainly knows how to close the loop.
Dr. Seuss is best known for his popular children's books that incorporate colorful characters, rhyme, and oftentimes, sociopolitical views. Topics such as anti-consumerism, racial equality, and environmentalism. The latter of which is captured in his latest book to hit the big screen, The Lorax. In the film, a young boy ventures outside the polluted environs of his home town in search of the legendary Truffula tree in an attempt to win the affection of the girl next door. Along the way, he bumps into a recluse who shares the story of The Lorax, a small orange creature who serves as guardian of the forest. Brought to screen by the same group responsible for Despicable Me, The Lorax is cotton candy on the eyes. With recognizable voiceovers, musical numbers, sight gags, and a bevy of chase scenes, both young and old audiences will find plenty of superficial delights. And one very somber message from The Lorax.
Based on the suspenseful novel by Richard Condon, "The Manchurian Candidate" remains a psychological thriller ahead of its time. Released in 1959 at the height of Cold War paranoia, the book caused quite a stir, detailing an insidious plot involving Communists and American political power. Later, the novel was adapted into a classic film with Frank Sinatra, who played the starring role of Bennett Marco, a war veteran plagued by recurrent headaches and abnormal psychosis. Trying to find the root cause, Marco discovers that there is something more to his dreams - something that involves a Communist conspiracy vying for power of the White House. Now, more than 25 years later, Denzel Washington steps into the leading role. Although no longer influenced by the Cold War and McCarthyism, the story has been freshly updated in a way that preserves the integrity of the original, thought provoking nightmare.
A chance meeting between a professor and a fugitive has unexpected results - a unique friendship in which each aspires to live the life of the other. Dissecting the ambitions and lifestyles of two dissimilar men, director Patrice Leconte creates one of his most fascinating films since the 1996 Academy Award nominee, "Ridicule." Emphasizing friendship, escapism, and regret, "Man on the Train" is an exceptionally crafted western dream.
Reggae superstar, Bob Marley, was one of the most charismatic, philosophical, and talented musicians of all time. A revolutionary whose influence continues today, long after his passing in 1981 from melanoma. Marley is the story of his life, from his early Jamaican childhood to the formation of the Wailers, the Rastafari movement, and his politically charged music. With never before seen archival footage and over 60 interviews from those who knew him best, Marley is a straightforward, fascinating documentary about the man and the myth. The son of a Jamaican woman and a British captain who was inspired by the Temptations, dismissed material wealth, and had 11 children from 7 different women. Directed by Kevin Macdonald (Life in a Day), Marley is a celebration of Bob Marley - the good and the bad. The musician. The poet. The activist. And of course, the legend.
More than an alliterative mouthful, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a psychological thriller about the paranoia that plagues a young woman after she leaves an abusive cult. After being out of touch for several years, Marcy reunites with her older sister and her sister's husband at their Connecticut lake house. However, the details of Marcy's disappearance remain mysterious until her nightmares and memories are relived in vivid detail. Starring Elizabeth Olsen, the younger sister of the famed Olsen twins, Martha Marcy is a smart depiction of the lingering effects of brainwashing and control, the verbal and physical abuse of cults, and the difficulty in breaking free. With terrific, lucid scenery and a mesmerizing performance from Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene is an ambiguous, yet startling tale of post-cult trauma.
"Master and Commander" is an exuberant adaptation of the highly successful Aubrey/Maturin series made popular by the late, great Patrick O'Brian. The series is comprised of 20 novels, all detailing the nautical adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his shipmate, Dr. Stephen Maturin. In this adaptation, combining the first and tenth installments, the two characters sail aboard the H.M.S. Surprise during the Napoleonic wars and engage in a battle of wits with a much larger, faster, and heavily armed French battle ship. Although the story is stripped to simplicity, the overall vision is handsomely detailed. Directed by three-time Academy Award nominee, Peter Weir, "Master and Commander" is a vibrant epic that clearly depicts what life was like in the British Royal Navy during the 18th Century.
"Mean Creek" is a quiet, little morality tale for teenagers. Shot along the Lewis and Clackamas Rivers in upstate Oregon, the film touches on issues of peer pressure, responsibility, and conformity with a hint of intelligence and complexity rarely seen in teenage dramas today. The only downside to the presentation is that the MPAA has made it particularly difficult for the film's target audience to see it. Rated "R" primarily for language, the film portrays teenage life with openness but not excess. After numerous run-ins with a school bully, a group of kids find themselves up a creek when a revenge scheme goes south. Tragic and simple, "Mean Creek" is a story that grows up fast.
It's the end of the world as we know it, according to Danish provocateur Lars von Trier, an unapologetic director known for exploring dark subject material with a graphic nature, a la Dogville or Antichrist. In his latest film, Melancholia, two sisters played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, struggle to find meaning in their lives and their relationships as a new planet threatens the Earth. The setting is an idyllic fairy tale wedding on a lavish estate, offering a fascinating distraction from world events. And an intimate opportunity to explore family drama. From anger to dread, sadness to serenity, Melancholia is an apocalyptic journey with many moods and depressions - much like its famed director. A deeply meditative film with stunning visuals, Melancholia brilliantly captures the chaos and calm before the storm.
The flamboyant Armani suits. The Ferrari Testarossas. The pink flamingos and nightlife of South Beach. "Miami Vice" was one of the quintessential cop shows of the 80's, distinguished not only for its rich pastel color and GQ style, but for its edgy center - namely, undercover cops breaking up countless cocaine cartels. Now, years later, Michael Mann's influential series is re-imagined, but noticeably darker. Starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx as the central Dade county coppers, Ricardo Tubbs and Sonny Crockett, this "Miami Vice" borrows a page from the past, following Crockett and Tubbs deep undercover while in pursuit of a drug kingpin. There are love interests, gun battles, high-speed chases, and complex drug networks. But surprisingly, there is very little Miami. Even more so, the allure or essentials of the original show just aren't there - the testosterone fueled music, the smooth and quick MTV style of editing, and the use of colorful imagery to emphasize emotional undercurrent. Without them, this "Miami Vice" hits on notes lower than the Smuggler's blues.
From the makers of "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show" comes "A Mighty Wind," a film that rekindles the spirit of the '60s folk rock boom and details the rise and fall of three noteworthy groups and their attempts to reunite years later for one, final memorial concert. With original music and outrageous character comedy, "A Mighty Wind" is a witty, knee slapping hootenanny - one that is sure to tickle your funny bone?at least, for a little while.
For canine superhero and television star, milk, ignorance is bliss. When not relaxing in the comfy confines of his personal trailer, he's out saving the world from the Green-Eyed Man and protecting his owner from danger every day. But what he doesn't know is that it's all make-believe, especially his super powers. And when he's accidentally shipped from Hollywood to New York, outside the only world he knows, the real adventure begins. In Disney's latest animated adventure, "milk," the focus is on simplicity in story and salability in character. A cute puppy is lost and must find his way back home - a formula that has worked ever since Lassie came home in 1943. Yet, in spite of its lack of plot developments, "milk" remains surprisingly entertaining. It offers unique characters, a 3-D experience, and a wholesome, thrilling adventure for one and all.
"Million Dollar Baby" is not just the finest film of 2004. It's one of the finest character dramas ever made. Based on the stories from F.X. Toole's Rope Burns , "Million Dollar Baby" tells the story of three fascinating characters: Frankie Dunn, a boxing trainer who has spent a lifetime in the ring but is gradually losing his touch; Eddie "Scrap Iron" Dupris, a former heavyweight who looks after Frankie and his gym; and Maggie Fitzgerald, an ambitious female boxer who desperately wants someone to believe in her. Although the film centers on the world of boxing, it's really the welfare of its characters that takes center stage - issues involving friendship, love and devotion, faith, and paternal instincts. Slow and methodical, the film is filled with deep philosophical meaning, compassionate and honest reflection, and raw emotion. Directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood, "Million Dollar Baby" is nothing less than a masterful triumph.
What would you do if you stumbled upon a million dollars, especially if you knew that the dollar was going to be replaced by another form of currency in less than a week? Would you keep the money? Would you spend it? Would you give it away? Such is the dilemma found in "Millions," a story about two young boys from Liverpool, who stumble upon a suitcase full of money, just as England is about to replace the British Pound with the Euro. Although the concept of an unexpected windfall is nothing new, the approach most definitely is. Heartwarming and happy, the exact antithesis of the adult fare that Danny Boyle has gotten us accustomed to with such works as "Trainspotting" and "28 Days Later," "Millions" is a pleasant surprise. It depicts a child's fantasy full of magic, miracles, and saints, while embracing an innocent and enthusiastic view of the world. As one of the year's most lovable and family friendly films, "Millions" is a diamond in the rough.
"Everybody runs." So says John Anderton after being corralled by a group of future cops and accused of a crime he is to commit in the future. Such is the basis for "Minority Report," a suspenseful short story about futuristic law enforcement by Philip K. Dick (author of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," the impetus for "Blade Runner"), brought to the big screen by Steven Spielberg.
On February 22, 1980, the unthinkable happened. A rag tag group of college hockey players defeated a nearly invincible Russian juggernaut on their way to Olympic gold at Lake Placid. The victory rejuvenated and inspired a nation depressed by the Cold War, Vietnam leftovers, rising gas prices, and the Iran hostage crisis. And it is widely considered one of the greatest triumphs in sports history. Told through the perspective of head coach Herb Brooks, "Miracle" depicts the chain of events that brought the team together and the events that spawned the upset of the century. It shows the hard work, the determination, and the teamwork that were necessary to compete with the Russians. And although it struggles to reproduce the emotion of the moment, it emphatically reminds us that on one fateful Friday night, the impossible was possible.
The theme song is unmistakable. The action is suspenseful. And the mission is always impossible. Based off the spy savvy television series by Bruce Geller, the Tom Cruise infused "Mission: Impossible" franchise grows older the third time around, as team leader Ethan Hunt has retired and is looking to settle down. But when one of his former agents is kidnapped, he gets pulled back into action. And to save the ones he loves, he must confront the toughest villain he's ever faced in Owen Davian, an international weapons dealer with no mercy. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, whose television creations "Lost" and "Alias" have captivated audiences worldwide, "Mission: Impossible III" is filled with intrigue - double agents, fast cars, and breathtaking stunts. But too much of anything can be dangerous. And "Mission: Impossible III" runs too fast, overloaded with pointless action to the brink of exhaustion.
The theme song is unmistakable, accentuating the action and intrigue that comprise the Mission: Impossible series. In the 4th installment entitled Ghost Protocol, Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt. And this time, he brings along famed animation director, Brad Bird, responsible for such works as Iron Giant and The Incredibles. In this installment, the IMF is implicated in a bombing at the Kremlin and shut down. To clear their name and diffuse the tension between the U.S. and Russians, Ethan is forced to invoke ghost protocol, assembling a team of specialists off the grid to stop a madman from starting a nuclear war. While the storyline in MI4 offers nothing new and the characters are fairly static, the action is flawless - sizzling sequences like an old fashioned prison break and a vertigo induced expedition outside the tallest building in the world. As a result, Ghost Protocol succeeds in its mission, delivering one of the most entertaining, testosterone infused adventures of the year.
The latest entry in the echelon of baseball movies is Moneyball, a biographical sports drama that exclaims, "Show Me Less Money!" In the film, former slugger and Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane is tormented over a recent epiphany: the lack of a salary cap in professional sports creates an unfair advantage for top market teams over smaller markets with smaller budgets. As a result, teams like the Yankees thrive while teams like the A's continue to struggle. To level the playing field, Beane hires a Yale statistician named Peter Brand, and together, the two embark on a mission to completely revolutionize the game - signing athletes based on sabermetrics or less subjective gauges of player performance. Adapted from Michael Lewis' book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin follows up The Social Network with another dandy, transforming off the field player management and analysis into compelling drama. And with razor sharp wit and delivery, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are sensational together, hitting Moneyball clean and out of the park.
Aileen "Lee" Wuornos was taken into custody on January 8, 1991 for the murder of six men along the Florida highways. Labeled as "America's first female serial killer," Wuornos became notorious for flagging down cars while hitchhiking, offering sex for money, and then robbing or executing her victims. But why did she do it? And was she really a man-hater? Was she really a 'monster?' In Patty Jenkins' directorial debut, Charlize Theron undergoes a monstrous transformation to portray Wuornos with unflinching realism and bitterness. Unglamorous and provocative, both their efforts pay off as "Monster" takes an unbiased and compelling look at the anatomy of a natural born serial killer.
First love is a magical thing, especially when envisioned by Wes Anderson, known for such works as Rushmore and Fantastic Mr. Fox. In his latest, Moonrise Kingdom, two twelve year olds, Sam and Suzy, fall in love and decide to escape their dysfunctions at home to spend a week alone in the wilderness. Of course, their disappearance creates quite a stir and turns their island community on its head as a search party consisting of social services, a scout troop, the local police, and their parents attempt to find them before a hurricane hits. Fans of Anderson will no doubt be pleased to see him back in his wheelhouse with Moonrise Kingdom - fixed camera angles, quirky characters, and meticulous production design. Even though complexity of character and plot are overshadowed by Anderson's artistic flair, Moonrise Kingdom is enchanting nonetheless. A whimsical tale about a different kind of storm - adolescence before adulthood.
"No more lies, no more secrets." So says Dave Boyle to his childhood friend Jimmy Markhamon the pier of the aptly titled Mystic River. If only life were that simple. But in thesmall New England town where both reside, secrets and lies complicate things to the extreme,defining relationships, defining the community, and defining the past, present, and future.Directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood, the man behind such gems as "Unforgiven" and "Bird,"comes "Mystic River," a potboiler of a thriller: Three boys' lives become forever alteredwhen one of them is abducted and molested and then once again, twenty five years later, whenone of their children is brutally murdered. Methodical, riveting and emotionally charged;it's a story of lost innocence and a reminder that the past is not something that can easilybe suppressed or forgotten.
"Finding Nemo" is a fish tale the whole family can enjoy. It has beautiful animation and tropical colors, a child friendly story, and uses adult themes and humor without being too obtrusive. Detailing the journey of a father in search of his missing son through the vastness of the Pacific Ocean/Coral Sea, the film explores underwater life through the eyes of a clown fish. From the producers of such wonderfully vivid and original films as "Toy Story" and "Monsters, Inc," "Finding Nemo" is an instant animated classic for all ages.
Following in the footsteps of Catherine Hardwicke's successful adaptation of Stephanie Meyer's teenage fantasy, Twilight, director Chris Weitz takes the reigns for the saga's second installment. And much more heartache ensues as Bella Swan is rudely dumped by Edward, her vampire boyfriend, shortly after her eighteenth birthday. Distraught over the break up, Bella finds solace in longtime friend, Jacob. But the anguish over Edward's sudden departure proves to be too great. Unwilling to let go, Bella's desperation sets off a chain of miscommunications, resulting in an ultimate showdown with vampire royalty. While New Moon achieves many cinematic moments, from thrill seeking cliff dives to werewolf showdowns, it cannot capitalize on them because of inherent character and plot inadequacies. Self indulgent and unnecessarily overdrawn, New Moon is superficial soup for the teenage soul. Or as Team Jacob might put it - all bark and no bite.
Everyone knows the story of Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up, the Darling children and their adventure to Neverland with Tinkerbell and the nefarious Captain Hook. But how many know the story of J.M. Barrie, the eccentric author of the whimsical tale? And better yet, how many know how the famed classic came to life? Adapted from the Allan Knee stage play, "The Man Who Was Peter Pan," "Finding Neverland" represents a fictional account of Barrie's creative life and the inspirations that helped bring "Peter Pan" to the stage. Playfully heartwarming, it features another phenomenal performance by Johnny Depp in the leading role. For, in "Finding Neverland," the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction are blurred, leaving behind a magical, wondrous world where anything is possible, if you just believe.
The 23 Enigma. A chaos belief that links all incidents and events to the number 23. For example, each parent contributes 23 chromosomes to the DNA of a child, Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times when he was assassinated, and the Mayans believe the world will end on December 23, 2012. Such beliefs have a notorious downside - the possibility of obsession, dementia, and insanity. All of which come in to play in director Joel Schumacher's "The Number 23," whereby a young man's life falls prey to a strange and obscure book. A book that appears to be based on the man's own unique experiences, one that makes startling conclusions about the future, and one that ties everything to the number 23. Starring Jim Carrey as the obsessive Walter Sparrow, "The Number 23" begins with an intriguing premise, drawing vast conclusions based on numerical coincidence. As it jostles between fact and fiction, it builds tremendous suspense and sophistication; however, in doing so, it stretches the limits of the theory, setting the bar so high that the end result is a cop out of chaotic inconsequence.
"Other people go on vacation and spend their days just laying around. We have a story we're going to be telling for the rest of our lives." That story, as Daniel references, involves he and his wife - a typical, workaholic American couple. Taking a break from their busy lives, the two venture off to a tropical locale for some much needed R&R. But what they get in return is much more than they bargained for. While scuba diving, a local dive boat accidentally leaves them behind. Left alone in open water, miles from land, and adrift in shark-infested water, the couple must confront their fears and deal with their dismal fate. Reality based and delivered, the film goes slightly beyond gimmick in painting a grim and ominous experience. With more than a handful of truth, "Open Water" exposes the vulnerability of man in relationship to the vastness of Mother Nature and the vicious circle of life.
If I had my way, everyone would be required to watch this film. Not because it's the greatest film ever made, but because it conveys a really important message, one that is demonstrative, humbling, and true. Inspired by many individual stories, "Osama" relays the tragedy of an Afghan widow and her daughter, living under the discriminate conditions of the Taliban. With no recourse, the daughter must disguise herself as a boy to find work and keep her family alive. Written, directed, produced, and edited by first timer, Siddiq Barmak, the film is an enlightening depiction of the oppression that enslaved an entire nation. Winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, "Osama" is an eye-opening look into the inhumanity and terror inflicted by the Taliban regime.
Based on the popular comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis, "Over the Hedge" cleverly depicts a suburban environment in which humans infringe upon nature and nature infringes back. All told from the perspective of a handful of woodland animals, who in an effort to save their outdoor neighborhood, discover the hidden pleasures and dangers of urban sprawl. So it comes as no surprise that in the film version of "Over the Hedge," the two central characters, RJ the raccoon and Verne the turtle, find themselves at odds over a mysterious hedge that has sprung up in their back yard while asleep for the winter. Along with a cast of idiosyncratic characters, they leap onto the other side to catch a glimpse of this new world, comprised of homeowner's associations, vending machines, and garbage collection. Yet, while the film is crisply animated and colorfully curious, sadly, it lacks the social punch of the comic. And because of a conservative and ineffectual story, it can't seem to rise above to see the hedge for the trees.
They're all over the supermarket. Tabloids exposing celebrities with hidden camera photos, off hour shots, and wild stories of sexual exploits, bizarre exaggerations, and mischief. Spreading gossip, lies, and occasionally an ounce of truth, these publications employ hundreds of persistent photographers known as paparazzi, who will do anything - lie, cheat, steal - to get the all important money shot. Produced by Mel Gibson, "Paparazzi" explores the fine line between photojournalism and celebrity stalking without taking itself too seriously. When a rising superstar, Bo Laramie, enters a new world of fame and fortune, he suddenly realizes that a group of paparazzi are determined to make his life hell. And after one of their photo expeditions nearly destroys his family, Laramie decides to take matters into his own hands. Written and directed by two first timers, "Paparazzi" fulfills every actor's dream - exacting revenge on those confounded photographers. But it does so with tepid enthusiasm and indiscernible rationale.
"You are my friends, and the greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them." So says Jesus to his disciples before giving himself up and saving us all from sin. At the heart of Christianity is the belief that Jesus loved us so much that He willingly died in disgrace, suffering pain for our sins. But unfortunately, this crucial theme stays somewhat hidden, buried beneath the brutality and bloodshed that is "The Passion of the Christ." The film is a horrific depiction of Jesus' final hours, from the floggings and beatings to the hateful antagonism, all the way up to the painful Crucifixion. Yet within all of this graphical detail, director Mel Gibson breaks new ground, showing the Stations of the Cross from a more realistic, believable perspective. Though definitely not a film for everyone, particularly the faint of heart, "The Passion of the Christ" is a powerful, artistic expression of one of the most pivotal moments in the Christian religion.
Have you ever gazed intently at a famous painting and wondered how it got made, who its subjects were, and what their lives were really like? In "Girl with a Pearl Earring," director Peter Webber attempts to answer those questions, filling in the blanks behind one of Holland's most endearing portraits by master painter Johannes Vermeer. The film is based off of the novel by the same name by Tracy Chavalier, which carefully describes the relationship between Vermeer and a servant girl named Griet, who eventually becomes his muse. Quiet and slow moving, it's a period piece without passion. Though delicately expressed and beautifully captured, the film moves along uneventfully, failing to connect the true spark behind the inspiration.
Holidays have a way of bringing out the best in everyone. Just ask Neal Page, who encounters Del Griffith on the trip from hell in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" or how about Claudia Larson, who heads home for a family reunion at Thanksgiving only to have it turn into a gigantic fight in Jodie Foster's "Home for the Holidays." Many films have turned dysfunctional relationships into comedy during the holidays and "Pieces of April" is no different. On the surface, the Burns family seems overly mundane, but as we spend Thanksgiving with them, we realize that there are many more complicated issues at stake. The film is a great first step for screenwriter turned director, Peter Hedges. Although there are some awkward attempts at humor, the overall picture is best viewed under the guise of drama.
"Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!" Who would have thought that you could turn an amusement park ride into one of the summer's most exciting and well-made adventures? Following up last year's surprise hit, "The Ring," director Gore Verbinski along with action producer guru, Jerry Bruckheimer, put forth an unforgettable tale on the high seas. With fantastic dialogue, outstanding performances from a sea worthy cast, and a stand out portrayal by Johnny Depp, "Pirates of the Caribbean" puts itself at the top of the list as one of the most entertaining swashbucklers to hit the big screen.
A somewhat deflated Captain Barbossa, "There was a time when a pirate was free to make his own way in the world. But our time is comin' to an end." Such is the dilemma that faces our beloved pirates in the third installment of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" saga. A fate beset by Lord Cutler Beckett, who now controls Davy Jones' heart, and sets forth on a mission to rule the seas and wipe out each and every pirate. Summoning up the Pirate Lords from the four corners of the globe, Captain Jack, Barbossa, Will, Elizabeth, and crew are determined to make one final stand - "At World's End." The third and final installment, "At World's End" re-teams the successful duo of Verbinski and Bruckheimer and infuses the same verve and vigor into characters and situations that made the previous outings entertaining. But it also infuses an enormous amount of overhead - detail and complexity that detracts from the film's primal pirate purpose. Bland, bloated, and at times, bewildering, this third serving is merely yo-ho-hum.
In space, no one can hear you scream. It's the famous tagline from Ridley Scott's classic science fiction horror, Alien. And after a 30 year hiatus, Scott returns to the genre with Prometheus, a familiar looking story about the origins of mankind. The year is 2093 and aboard the spaceship Prometheus is a crew consisting of a few scientists, a captain, a business woman, and of course, an android. Their mission takes them to a distant planet replete with cave paintings, lots of sticky residue, and a statue of a human head. Was Darwin right, was there divine intervention, or did extraterrestrials hold the key to the human race? These questions help build the suspense of Prometheus, a sophisticated looking picture with plenty of thrills and chills. Even though the clich?s are overly abundant, it's gratifying to see Ridley Scott once more serving up aliens in style.
A long time ago in a far away place, there lived an ogre named Shrek, whose stories became as tired as Rip Van Winkle. In an attempt to reinvigorate the fairy tale world, Dreamworks Animation presents Puss in Boots, a 90 minute adventure about the clever, swashbuckling feline. In the film, Puss is a wanted cat, working in conjunction with Humpty Dumpty and the feisty Kitty Softpaws to redeem himself. The mission? Steal three magic beans from evil giants, Jack and Jill. Then, climb the beanstalk to the castle in the clouds, secure the golden goose, and use the eggs to save the innocent. Channeling the latin allure and sophistication of Antonio Banderas, as well as playful voiceovers from Salma Hayek and Zack Galifianakis, Puss in Boots has the same colorful touches, dashing swordplay, and pleasant humor found in the original Shrek, without going overboard. For a fairy tale slash prequel slash spinoff, Puss in Boots is the cat's meow.
"Raising Helen" is a pleasant, yet very predictable romantic comedy starring America's sweetheart and brand new mom, Kate Hudson. Hudson plays Helen Harris, a carefree party girl whose life is instantly transformed when she becomes the guardian of three young children. Will she change and accept the role of super mom or will she revert to her old ways? Directed by Garry Marshall, better known for "Pretty Woman" and "The Princess Diaries," the film touches on the positive aspects of family, responsibility, and the maturation of a parent while avoiding many of the inherent hardships that new parents encounter. It's parenthood through rose-colored glasses, whimsical fare in the same vane as an after school special.
Weddings are often fantasized and idealized, with expectations higher than high. So much so, that in the midst of preparations, chaos may rear its ugly head. Such is the case with "Rachel Getting Married," a story that centers on Kym Buchman, heading back to her parent's house in Connecticut for her sister's wedding. Fresh out of rehab, she brings with her a baggage of addictions, personal problems, and tragedies that threaten the very core of the family dynamic, not to mention the wedding itself. Under the direction of Jonathan Demme, best known for his meticulous character studies in "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia," "Rachel Getting Married" attempts to delve into the relationship between the two sisters and their seesaw battle for sanity and meaning. But unlike Demme's predecessors, the film meanders. Wandering aimlessly, it immerses the viewer in a never-ending series of song and dance, wedding toasts, and family feuds that mimic the selfish annoyances and pains of real family life.
In a bit of irony, Johnny Depp voices the lead character Rango, a sheltered chameleon whose sole purpose in life is to blend in; however, finds himself the center of attention in the gun-slinging town of Dirt - a lawless outpost overrun by Rattlesnake Jake and his gang. Recruited by the mayor to help save the town, Rango is promoted to Sheriff. And the fun begins. Written and directed by Gore Verbinski (from Pirates of the Caribbean fame), Rango is a smart, satirical, and expertly animated adventure aimed at adults and children alike. It cleverly recreates memorable movie moments and likewise, pays homage to classic westerns by way of story and character.
Four years after "The Matrix" first exploded onto the screen comes the eagerly anticipated sequel, a special effects extravaganza of gigantic proportions. Picking up where the last one left off, Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus continue the battle against the machines that have enslaved mankind in the Matrix and are now determined to take over the last free human city of Zion. Written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, "Reloaded" expounds on their saga of machines, martial arts, and matrices. An action packed sequel, it is sure to entertain, philosophize, and leave you hanging for the final chapter.
"All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you." Simple wisdom from Gandalf hides much larger ramifications in "The Return of the King," the third and final installment of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic trilogy "The Lord of the Rings." The stakes are higher, the dangers are unavoidable, and the fate of Middle Earth is in absolute turmoil. The story follows Frodo and Sam on their tumultuous journey into the heart of Mordor to destroy the One Ring, while the last remaining forces of mankind do battle against the evil eye of Sauron. A magnificent and glorious achievement, the film marks the last chapter in director Peter Jackson's visionary Tolkien interpretation. And with epic-like fervor, it concludes as a monumental triumph poised to wear the cinematic crown.
"Everything that has a beginning has an end." So says the Oracle to Neo inthe final installment of the over hyped Matrix series. Captivating us withspectacular visuals, the Wachowski brothers pull out all the stops in "TheMatrix Revolutions," an action extravaganza of monstrous proportions.There's a frantic ship race against time, a journey into the never beforeseen machine world, the last hard hitting confrontation between Neo and AgentSmith, and a mind numbing, apocalyptic battle between man and machine. It'sa technological achievement that came with a hefty price tag - a storywithout substance. From poor editing and sequencing to poor dialogue andstorytelling, "The Matrix Revolutions" leaves far too many stones unturnedand winds up being an over bloated, anticlimactic yawn.
From the creator of Ice Age comes Rio, the story of a domesticated and rare Macaw named Blu, who lives the comfortable life with his owner, Linda, in Moose Lake, Minnesota. However, that comfort is disrupted when they learn that Blu is not the last of his kind. Rather, a female counterpart named Jewel resides in Rio de Janeiro. As a result, the two journey to the exotic land to reunite the rare birds and save the species. With bold, tropical colors, salsa sounds, and refreshing voiceovers from Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, and more, Rio is pure, light hearted fun. Even though many of its story elements are neatly resolved, Rio remains an audio and visual delight. Not to mention a great way for the whole family to get the summer party started.
The common saying, you can never go home again, plays out on center stage in Michael Cuesta's latest film, Roadie. In the film, an aging roadie named Jimmy, is fired by the Blue Oyster Cult after some 20 odd years of carrying the band's gear from town to town. Broke and desperate, Jimmy returns home to Queens to visit his aging mother and at the same time, runs into two former classmates - Randy, who bullied him throughout high school, and his wife, Nikki, Jimmy's old flame and an aspiring singer/songwriter. Slightly downbeat, Roadie shows the unglamorous side of rock n' roll - the lies and denial, the sadness, and the regret of dreams long gone. Even though other homecoming films such as Young Adult carry far more weight and depth of character, Roadie stays the course with tough love. With a wonderful ensemble led by Ron Eldard and a terrific classic rock mix, Roadie is one bittersweet trip.
It's easy to see why Robot & Frank was one of the crowd favorites at Sundance this year. Starring Frank Langella and set in the not too distant future, the film tells the story of a former cat burglar aptly named Frank, who begins to develop dementia. Worried about his increasing memory loss and overall health, his son purchases a humanoid robot to look after him. At first, Frank rejects the good natured robot. But over time, the two develop a strong and unique friendship. Toggling between Frank's hardened views and the robot's upbeat personality, Robot & Frank uncovers humor and tenderness as the two rough exteriors come together, battling age, emotion, and unwanted change. This is human and artificial intelligence coexisting in the most graceful and meaningful way. A way that would make Isaac Asimov very proud.
Well before the mega-hit "Ice Age" landed in theaters, director Chris Wedge and illustrator William Joyce were working on early designs for "Robots," a coming-of-age story about a teenage robot with big dreams and a big heart. And after years of dedication and development, the project finally surfaces in theaters with dazzling results. At the center of the story is Rodney Copperbottom, an ambitious robot who dreams of becoming an inventor and changing the world for the better. But his dreams are put to the test when Big Weld, a corporation known for rewarding creative individuals and inspiring imaginations, gives him the cold shoulder while secretly plotting to control the robot world. Cleverly clanky, "Robots" is a colorful, animated adventure with bold construction and mechanized humor. And its real luster comes from within. For unlike the luckless Tin Man, this film comes pre-delivered with a heart and soul.
Based on the Tony nominated Broadway hit, Rock of Ages is a juke box mash up - part musical, part comedy, and part rock concert. It follows the story of two star-crossed lovers - a wanna be rocker named Drew Boley who works as a busboy at a Hollywood night club where he meets Sherrie Christian, a small town girl and aspiring actress. Together, the two pursue their romance and dreams in the big city. With a playful, all-star cast that includes Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and more, Rock of Ages is pure 80's nostalgia. Featuring covers from Bon Jovi to Whitesnake, Night Ranger to Twisted Sister, the film pulsates between power ballads and fist pumping anthems. In between, there's not a lot of depth or originality. It's a mindless satire. And for that, Rock of Ages won't stop the legions of fans from believin' in the power of rock n' roll.
What happens when the girl of your dreams becomes your real life girlfriend? And through the written word, you have the ability to control her every move? In Ruby Sparks, the latest indie darling from the creators of Little Miss Sunshine, a successful, young novelist suddenly loses his edge. Unable to write and distraught over his love life, he decides to jot down the qualities and characteristics of his ideal mate only to find the embodiment of his words sitting right there on his couch. Starring Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks is more than a magical amusement of literary imagination. Through Kazan's clever writing, the film also depicts an intriguing dilemma about respect, control, and compromise in relationships. Some might call it a bit of Weird Science, but Ruby Sparks is the fantasy of every novelist - a charming escape for book lovers and romanticists alike.
Long before modern acts like The Donnas, Bikini Kill, and the Plastiscines, you had The Runaways, one of the first all female rock bands comprised of guitarist/vocalist Joan Jett, vocalist/keyboardist Cherie Currie, guitarist Lita Ford, drummer Sandy West, and bassist, Jackie Fox. This is the story of their turbulent days under the firm grip of Kim Fowley, an abusive and adolescent obsessed manager, their rise to fame and fortune, the sexual abuse and exploitation, and ultimately, their downfall from the excesses of rock n' roll. Based on the book, Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story, the film centers on Currie's life and involvement with the band. However, it fails to present anything new to the genre, keeping the story somewhat stale, the casting slightly askew, and many scenes without cohesion and resolve. More importantly, The Runaways lacks an anarchistic punch - an authenticity and angst so distinctive of the band's rock n' roll revolution.
In Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," the Eastern mantra of military theory, it is said that the only way to be victorious in battle is to "know thy self" and to "know thy enemy." Clearly, the filmmakers and characters participating in Hollywood's grand epic, "The Last Samurai" are familiar with Tzu's philosophy and that of Bushido. Such wisdom echoes throughout the fictionalized story of two men trapped in a changing world that no longer values their contribution to society. The film is very reminiscent of director Edward Zwick's earlier work entitled "Glory" in which the all black 54th regiment of Massachusetts valiantly sacrifices their lives at Fort Wagner during the Civil War. Delicately, exposing the harsh reality of modernization and the extinction of traditional ways of life, "The Last Samurai" is a harrowing tale of honor, simple beauty, self-discovery, and ferocious conviction.
Based on the highly acclaimed novel by Andre Dubus III, "House of Sand and Fog" is a somber and yet, heavy-handed psychological thriller about false perceptions, stubborn integrity, and the desperate search for retribution, no matter the cost. More or less a Greek tragedy in which bad things happen to good people, the story puts the wheels of disaster in motion following the eviction of its protagonist, Kathy Nicolo. After failing to resolve the situation legally, it escalates into a personal confrontation with the house's current owners, an immigrant family from Iran. Marking the writing and directorial debut of Vadim Perelman, "House of Sand and Fog" is an extraordinary piece of storytelling. Devastatingly dark and painfully honest, it paints a different side of the immigrant experience while showcasing two phenomenal performances by Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly.
The story of "Seabiscuit" is legendary. A small, undersized horse with knobby knees, alarge appetite and foul disposition is disowned and abandoned only to find itself inthe hands of three discouraged men in search of a new way of life - a disheartened owner,a frontierless cowboy, and a troubled jockey - all of whom put their heart and soul intomaking Seabiscuit a champion race horse and the underdog favorite of a generation.Directed by Gary Ross, also known for the 1998 comedy "Pleasantville," and based onthe best selling book by Laura Hillenbrand, "Seabiscuit" is exhilarating, sentimental,and uplifting." It's a Cinderella story for all ages.
Brazilian sensation, Aryton Senna, was one of the most charismatic and exciting race car drivers of all time. And sadly, the last Formula 1 racer ever to be killed on the track. At the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at the tender age of 34. Senna is his story. A sensational documentary that shows the pressure and politics involved in becoming a world champion race car driver. From his teenage days of go cart racing to the heated rivalry with Allain Prost that sparked many controversies to the world championships and amazing come from behind victories. Incorporating never before seen archival footage and thrilling, behind the wheel camera work, Senna puts audiences in the driver's seat. The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. And the tragedy that ended his life. Senna is one of the most fascinating, yet sobering views on the sport of auto racing.
The spotlight on international cinema hones in on a sensational drama from Iran called A Separation. In the film, a woman files for divorce from her husband because she wishes to relocate the family abroad to pursue better opportunities. Meanwhile, her husband is insistent on staying put in order to take care of his ailing father. When the divorce request is dismissed, a series of unexpected events occurs that places each character in a unique moral dilemma. Tackling issues of pride, religion, money, and social class, the beauty of A Separation is that there is no obvious villain. With each predicament, the characters are put through a psychological grinder, attempting to distinguish between right and wrong. Politics aside, director Asghar Farhadi offers a fascinating, impartial view of modern Iran. And more importantly, through a compelling narrative, offers a fascinating view of modern families in general. All of which helps distinguish A Separation from the pack as one of the very best foreign language films of the year.
Based on the true story of Mark O'Brien, a Berkeley scholar and poet, The Sessions is a touching film about a man trapped in an iron lung, whose final wish before he dies is to lose his virginity. Paralyzed by polio at the age of six, O'Brien has spent 32 years confined to a bed, unable to sit up, let alone experience any kind of intimacy. With the help of therapists and his priest, he gets in touch with Cheryl Cohen-Green, a professional sex surrogate, who helps to make his final wish come true. In the hands of any other filmmaker, The Sessions might be overly sentimental or sexually perverse. But writer/director Ben Lewin understands his characters inside and out, partly because he too contracted polio as a child. The result is a very elegant and charming film about the simple need for human affection. With expert performances by Helen Hunt and John Hawkes, The Sessions is filled with astonishing grace and hope. And no doubt, is a strong contender for Oscar this year.
Director Neil LaBute is known for depicting cruel psychological games. In his electric debut, "In The Company of Men," two men, tired of suffering miserable fates at the hands of women, concoct a scheme to boost their egos: they pick a vulnerable woman, wine and dine her, and then, once she begins to fall in love with them, they kick her to the curb. Following in those footsteps is "The Shape of Things," a film that explores the tempestuous relationship between Adam and Evelyn, two individuals searching for truth, but with completely different motives. Harsh, unflattering, and outrageous, it is guaranteed to leave a prolonged impression.
There's an old shark joke that asks: What happened when the shark tried to eat a crate full of bubble gum? The answer is simple - he bit off more than he could chew. This joke, I feel, is an appropriate analogy for DreamWorks' latest animation project, "Shark Tale." In the film, a small fish named Oscar gets into big trouble when he lies about slaying a shark. Complicating matters is a sensitive great white he befriends named Lenny, who has become an outcast from the shark community due to his vegetarian ways. Together, the two concoct a scheme of all schemes to deceive everyone along the reef and get what they want, whether it be fame, fortune, or in Lenny's case, seclusion. Try as it might, the film wants to be as pleasing as "Finding Nemo." But because of a weak script, insufficient character depth, and poor perception of its own target audience, "Shark Tale" surfaces in theaters as a colorful, yet misguided wad of pre-chewed bubble gum.
Not to be confused with the legendary actor and 'King of Cool,' minimalistic director Steve McQueen delivers Shame, a stunning portrait featuring actor/muse Michael Fassbender, whom you may recall from standout roles in Inglourious Basterds and X-Men: First Class. In Shame, Fassbender plays a thirtysomething New Yorker named Brandon Sullivan, a sex addict whose compulsive behavior is inconvenienced when his younger sister (played by Carey Mulligan) unexpectedly moves in. Conquest after conquest, Brandon becomes more and more desperate, ultimately spiraling out of control. Dark and difficult, Shame is not really a redemptive film, but a heavy, reflective one. And while it may have earned an NC-17 rating for adult content, this mesmerizing drama is not so much about sex as it is about addiction. And the urges and impulses that shape the human condition.
"Shattered Glass" is a brilliant movie that analyzes the ethics and fact checking practicesexercised in professional journalism today. As a freelance feature writer for such noteworthypublications as Rolling Stone , Harper's , George , and the famed political policy magazine TheNew Republic , Stephen Glass created quite a controversy when it was discovered that a majorityof his work was partially or in some instances, completely fictionalized. In fact, it causedthe entire industry to rethink and evaluate its editorial practices. Based on the Vanity Fair article by Buzz Bissinger and marking the directorial debut of screenwriter Billy Ray,"Shattered Glass" is a thought provoking thriller about honesty and integrity in newsreporting that lends credence to the phrase: "Don't believe everything you read."
Once upon a time in a DreamWorks studio, a feature film was created, starring the unlikeliest of heroes: a big, green, ugly ogre by the name of Shrek. This highly imaginative film went on to big box office success and eventually earned the very first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Now, three years later, the long awaited sequel arrives, depicting another adventure for the jolly green giant. After thwarting the plans of the chaotic Lord Farquaad, rescuing princess Fiona from a fire-breathing dragon, and returning from a happy honeymoon, Shrek finds himself in an awkward quagmire to be sure - a confrontation with his in-laws! From the characterizations of William Steig, "Shrek 2" once again takes us to a far away place with great amusement, spectacular visuals, and a wholesome story everyone can enjoy.
In a galaxy Far Far Away, there lived a happily married ogre named Shrek, who once saved the kingdom from the chaotic Lord Farquaad and survived a near fatal confrontation with the Fairy Godmother. Now, he faces an even bigger challenge, that of fatherhood. Not to mention, thwarting the plans of the vengeful Prince Charming and finding a rightful heir to the throne. Directed by newcomer Chris Miller, "Shrek the Third" marks the return of everybody's favorite obstinate ogre along with such affable characters as Donkey, Puss in Boots, and Fiona. And it also introduces many new ones like the soon to be King Arthur and the magically challenged Merlin, voiced by Justin Timberlake and Eric Idle. However, in spite of new and familiar faces and a delightful return to animated form, the film lacks the imagination, creativity, and energy that made the fairy tale fun. Maturing all too quickly into adulthood, "Shrek the Third," is over burdened with responsibility and a yearning for simpler, carefree times.
In John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," Casy ponders: "Maybe there ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue, they's just what people does." And they're just what the main characters do in Alexander Payne's latest comedy drama about wine, women, and middle-aged insecurities. Engaging in a variety of thievery, self-indulgence, promiscuity, and deceit, Miles and Jack exhibit a lack of virtue while sinfully exploring love and friendship, loneliness and failed dreams. All of this while on a wine tasting bachelor trip through the vineyards of the Central Coast. It's darkly comedic in the way it handles its disheartened characters, never straying too far from the human condition. And with wonderful acting and attentive dialogue, it makes a point to show that while the bottle may be tilted sideways, it's far from empty.
Director David O. Russell always seems to find absurd humor in serious places. In Three Kings, it was a group of American soldiers searching for treasure in Iraq. In I Heart Huckabees, it was a pair of existentialist detectives investigating the meaning of life. And in his latest film, Silver Linings Playbook, Russell finds humor with mental illness, relationship woes, and professional football. The film stars Bradley Cooper as a former substitute teacher who attempts to reunite with his wife after spending eight months in a psychiatric facility for beating up his wife's lover. Upon his release, he receives support from his football obsessed parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) and a mysterious girl (played by Jennifer Lawrence) with many of her own flaws. Both Cooper and Lawrence exhibit great chemistry together and the onslaught of zingers is one of the many silver linings in the film. Hysterically awkward, Silver Linings Playbook is a razor sharp, unfiltered exploration of recovery and reconciliation.
"There is no settling down! This is blood for blood and by the gallons. This is the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days." These are the unsettling times that fill the streets of Sin City, a violent, indifferent, and unforgiving town where mayhem and mischief run amok. And it's a place where if you "walk down the right back alley?you can find anything." Dressed in black and white with only a hint of color, "Sin City" looks and feels like a stylized graphic novel. Executed verbatim from the Frank Miller comic vignettes by Robert Rodriguez, known for the Mariachi trilogy, the film glistens from beneath its shadows. Broken into three storylines, oftentimes commingled, you'll find a lot of lurid crime drama here. There's an ex-cop protecting a stripper, a street thug searching for a prostitute's killer, and an investigator caught in the middle of a turf battle between the sirens of the city and a corrupt police officer. With a raw, unadulterated edge, these stories may not appeal to mainstream audiences. But for those with a penchant for pulp, "Sin City" is one guilty pleasure.
In spite of its feminine appearance and colorful title, this is not your typical chick flick. Based on the New York Times' best seller by Ann Brashares, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" tells the story of four best friends, who discover a pair of magical jeans that fits each one perfectly. And as a means of communication over the summer, each wears the pants for a week before sending them off to the next. And back and forth the pants go, as the girls share deeply personal experiences of love and loss, joy and sadness, life and death. Staying faithful to the words and spirit of Brashares' book, director Ken Kwapis manages to balance each of the stories equally with charm all the while benefiting from a delightful cast. And wisely, he steers the film away from sappy melodrama and instead, depicts characters and situations with intelligence, humor, and a little tenderness. It's sweet, but not too sweet. And most importantly, it shows why meaningful relationships are the fabric of our lives.
My teachers always told me: "Never judge a book by its cover." And I should have listened. Starring Jude Law as the heroic fighter pilot, "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" transports audiences back to 1930's action/adventure noir. When Sky Captain's best friend is taken hostage by an evil scientist, he and his ex-girlfriend Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) along with squadron leader Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie) must come to the rescue and save the world. Written and directed by first timer, Kerry Conran, the film visualizes the world of yesteryear through the blue screen lens of tomorrow. With sizzling special effects and an Oscar latent cast, "Sky Captain" looks deceptively like a sophisticated and stylish autumn treat. But once accustomed to the smoky filters and light permutations, the film peters out, leaving very little substance between the pages.
This week, it's all about Bond. James Bond, who turns 50 this year and celebrates with a loud bang. The release of Skyfall represents the third outing for Daniel Craig, who completely inhabits the role with confidence, down to earth realism, and surprising vulnerability. For this installment, after a mission goes south, Bond is shot and presumed dead. Meanwhile, MI6 comes under attack as a new villain emerges with a diabolical plan and 007 must operate off the grid to help save the agency and restore M's reputation. While the plot mechanics may sound familiar, the execution is refreshingly new. Directed by Sam Mendes, a British filmmaker who won an Academy Award for American Beauty, Skyfall embraces the old while flourishing with the new. The action, the design, and the psychological drama are all top notch, sophisticated within a real world context. One of the most engaging and complete Bond movies in the series, Skyfall is as satisfying as a great martini. Shaken, not stirred.
"Is that your final answer?" Those re-assuring words once echoed by Regis Philbin and others from the popular game show, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" are back. But not necessarily in the style or format that you think. While the show itself remains central to the plot, "Slumdog Millionaire" is far deeper and much more rewarding. Delivered with tremendous enthusiasm, this is the tale of an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai who winds up on India's version of the hit television show. Upon reaching the final question, he is arrested on suspicions of cheating and must defend his honor by reliving his heroic and tragic upbringing. Directed by Danny Boyle, who once again ("Millions") goes straight to the heart, "Slumdog Millionaire" is a moving journey of life and love. From simple, childhood glee to teenage trouble and heartache, it's a universal story that will leave you breathless.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, which movie adaptation is fairest of them all? Following in the footsteps of the Julia Roberts' farce, Mirror Mirror, comes Snow White and the Huntsman, a much darker revision of the beloved fairy tale. Here, an older Snow White is held captive by her father's second wife, a cruel and evil Queen who fears losing her beauty and must drink the blood of virgins to restore it. So when the fairest of them all escapes, the Queen sends the Huntsmen out to bring Snow White back to the castle and ultimately, preserve her youth. Without question, Snow White and the Huntsman is a visual pleasure. The costumes, the landscapes, and the effects are all colorful and creative. However, the film is slightly off in the character and story departments - areas that could have benefitted from complexity over fairy tale simplicity. It's not enough to turn the film into a bad apple, but ironically, reduces Snow White and the Huntsman to a superficial beauty.
Logorrhea. L-O-G-O-R-R-H-E-A. Logorrhea. Ironically, words like this are seldom used in everyday speech, but are frequently used during the National Spelling Bee, the cr?me de la cr?me of the spelling world. An annual affair in Washington, D.C. and broadcast live on ESPN, the National Spelling Bee represents the culmination of regional spelling champions all competing for a $12,000 cash prize and the all-important title as the nation's best speller. "Spellbound" captures this phenomenon wonderfully with nail-biting drama and humor. Profiling eight students from all walks of life, the film takes us into their homes, their families, their ups and downs, and how they wound up in the limelight. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, "Spellbound" is all about big dreams, big words, and big hearts.
Nothing is what it seems in David Cronenberg's latest film about psychosis and the degradation of the human mind. The film explores the mental state of Dennis 'Spider' Cleg, how he holds on to his memories, and how those memories become mixed with reality. It pushes the viewer to discern between what is tangible and what is illusion, between past and present, between sanity and madness. In doing so, however, it fails to connect with its audience and concludes in a contradictory and jumbled fashion.
"Everybody loves a hero," says Aunt May. Especially one who wears their heart on a string, one who sacrifices for the greater good, one whose pains and joys are understandable, and most importantly, one who is inherently human. These are the qualities that can be found in "Spider-Man 2," a film that brilliantly balances heroism with humanity. In this sequel, we find Peter Parker overwhelmed with responsibility, juggling work and school, not to mention a secret identity. On the verge of calling it quits, Parker encounters a new super villain named Doctor Octopus, whose sinister plot beckons a return to Spiderman's crime fighting ways. Returning for seconds in "Spider-Man 2" are director Sam Raimi and an expert cast consisting of Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, and newcomer Alfred Molina. Together, they help create one of the most essential, memorable super hero movies of all time.
While Peter Parker is certainly no Michael Corleone, he might find himself repeating the same popular phrase, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me right back in!" Because just when things seem to be on the up and up for Peter, just when he experiences a moment of sheer contentment, something always comes along to bring him right back down. This could not be more evident than in "Spider-Man 3," when Parker, on the verge of romantic bliss with the lovely Mary Jane Watson and a city celebrating the heroism of Spider-Man, has everything taken away. His girlfriend, his job, his life - all thrown upside down because of a mysterious black alien substance that merges with his body and provokes his darkest desires. Add to that an ongoing personal battle with his best friend, Harry Osborn, and the emergence of two formidable villains in Sandman and Venom, and you have a Godfather-like saga. Made with a bigger budget, a bigger cast, bigger effects, and bigger everything, "Spider-Man 3" attempts to be better than its predecessors. But in doing so, falls prey to Hollywood sequel subterfuge - namely, that bigger is always better.
Who is Harvey Pekar? That is the question that most preoccupies "American Splendor," a docudrama about an American original. Well before there was reality television, there was American Splendor, a comic that detailed the every day life of Harvey Pekar, the anti-superhero and blue-collar file clerk from Cleveland, Ohio. The comic, also written by Pekar, was unique in its attempt to show what was real, to show the ups and down of every day life uncensored and unflattering. The film, directed by documentarians Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini is a biographical adaptation of Harvey's life in all its monotonous glory. Humorous, impartial, and full of zest, "American Splendor" demonstrates just how ordinary life can be so complicated.
Boldly going where no Star Trek film has gone before, director J.J. Abrams, known for thrilling episodic television series like Lost, Fringe, and Alias, revives the classic science fiction franchise on the big screen with origins of the original crew. The early days at Starfleet. Kirk's tumultuous relationship with Spock. And the assembly of the Enterprise crew. Tormenting and testing the rookie crew this go around is Nero, a Romulan captain who travels back in time to destroy the United Federation of Planets. Although plot and logistics frequently get muddied, the casting is near perfection. In particular, Zachary Quinto, who effortlessly juggles between emotion and logic as Spock, the half human, half Vulcan First Officer. And it makes this Trek, mixing warp speed action with tongue in cheek humor, beam brighter than a supernova.
How can a well-known war criminal affiliated with the persecution of Jews during World War II survive for over 40 years without being caught? With the help of some very influential friends, that's how! Inspired by the true story of Paul Touvier and based off of the novel by Brian Moore, "The Statement" follows the flight of Pierre Brossard, a pro-Nazi conspirator, and his last desperate attempts to evade French captivity. Using the Catholic Church as a safe harbor, Brossard and his network of friends, stay out of the public eye in their remaining days. Directed by Norman Jewison, also known for "The Hurricane," and written by Ronald Harwood who most recently drafted "The Pianist," the film is an intriguing political thriller that asks a lot of good questions but leaves far too many unanswered.
"The Stepford Wives" is a remake of the biting 1970's cult hit about status quo, social values, and suburbia. It deals with a society of chauvinistic men, their pleasing women, and the horrible truth that dictates their behavior. Directed by master puppeteer, Frank Oz, this updated version recounts the tale of Joanna and Walter Eberhart and their move to the upscale Stepford community, where everything exudes a fantastical perfection. The story itself is a mystery, adapted from the classic by Ira Levin, whereby its heroine attempts to find an explanation for the strange behavior of her new neighbors. But this version quickly falls in and out of form, deviating from comedy to thriller and vice versa, losing the social significance of the original, and exhibiting a cozy complacency.
If you're looking to get a jump start on this summer's superhero extravaganza, you might want to check out Super, the latest from former Troma director, James Gunn. The film stars Rainn Wilson (from The Office) as a sad-sack who turns to crime fighting after his wife is stolen away from him by a drug dealer. In the hopes of saving her, he becomes The Crimson Bolt and along with crazed sidekick Boltie, played by Ellen Page, he takes his anger to the streets, beating up bad guys in a handmade suit and wrench. While the motives may be similar to homegrown heroes found in Kickass and Defendor, and the visuals reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Gunn's unique approach, combining twisted humor, dark drama, and over-the-top violence, offers a great change of pace for audiences tired of mainstream comic book fare.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies, E.T. - Steven Spielberg's influence on moviemaking is unmistakable. And for director J.J. Abrams, who grew up fixing Spielberg's old 8-mm films, the student/mentor relationship has finally culminated into Super 8, a nostalgic sci-fi thriller involving a group of teenage friends in small town Lillian, Ohio, who set out to make a zombie movie of their own only to stumble upon an alien event that has the whole town in a frenzy. As savvy filmmakers, the kids use the situation as fodder for their film while curiously investigating alongside Lillian's deputy sheriff (played by Kyle Chandler). And while Super 8 lacks some of the emotional punch and heart so masterfully orchestrated by Spielberg, it does capture some of the magic, surprise, and excitement of his early works. A coming-of-age monster movie for the masses, Super 8 brings the thrill and awe back to the summer Cineplex.
"Look up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Superman." Not since 1987's far from super effort, "Quest for Peace," has the Man of Steel appeared on the big screen. But after a long hiatus, he returns, faster than a speeding bullet. Picking up where "Superman II" left off, the film follows Superman's return to Earth after a five year journey to Krypton ends in disappointment and despair. But perhaps even more damaging is the universal rejection he receives from a world that no longer needs him. At least, until Lex Luthor shows up and starts making a continental mess of things. Directed by Bryan Singer, whose work on the X-Men franchise earned him favorable comic credibility, "Superman Returns" combines retro style with visual panache. At the center of attention is the casting of Brandon Routh, who does an admirable job filling in for the late Christopher Reeve. But it's not enough to keep the story from plodding along, as disjointed and erratic as years of development heck would indicate. And while this updated Superman is quite capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, it does so without much care or conviction.
"I will have vengeance! I will have salvation!" So laments former Fleet Street barber extraordinaire, Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd, upon his London homecoming. After being forcibly exiled to Australia and wrongfully imprisoned, Todd returns 15 years later to exact revenge on those who destroyed his life and that of his wife and child. Based on the award winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, "Sweeney Todd" is unlike any other musical you may have seen. While it does employ classic elements of tragedy like love loss and revenge, it does so with buckets of blood. Perfect material for a collaboration between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, who previously teamed up on such works as "Corpse Bride," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and "Sleepy Hollow." Although a far cry from Broadway, this "Sweeney Todd" is rife with Dickensian imagery, throat-slashing madness, and a melancholic, magical score that is unsurprisingly, razor sharp.
"Swimming Pool" is a sexy, stylish mystery that thrives on ambiguity. When a well-known British author takes a respite in the French countryside and is paid a surprise visit from her publisher's promiscuous daughter, worlds collide. Quiet versus loud, modest versus brash, and cautious versus libertine. And if that's not enough, throw in a murder to make things even more complicated. Setting long time British actress Charlotte Rampling against the up and coming Ludivine Sagnier pays off remarkably well, as director Francois Ozon creates a thought provoking mystery that will leave you re-analyzing every detail.
The whole world revolves around oil. From the heat and electricity that powers and warms homes to the energy and fuels that provide transportation of goods and services across the globe. Everything, it seems, could be linked directly or indirectly to the oil industry - a complex game in which players, roles, and agendas are not easily defined. From writer/director Steven Gaghan, the Academy Award winning writer of "Traffic," "Syriana" pushes the boundaries of political correctness. A potboiler of the most pressing kind, the film wraps itself unabashedly around the politics of the Middle East without passing judgment or standing on a soapbox. Based loosely on CIA special agent Robert Baer's memoirs, See No Evil, "Syriana" examines a spectrum of different and surprisingly interrelated stories from a CIA agent to a Gulf country prince to an energy analyst, an oil tycoon, and a Washington attorney. And it makes a point to show that in world's constant struggle for more and more oil, no side is completely free from corruption or compromise. Boldly original and thought provoking, "Syriana" is a game in which no one really wins because everyone has so much to lose.
From the creator of "Family Guy" comes Ted, a twisted comedy starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, and one foul mouthed teddy bear. The film is about a young boy named John who makes a Christmas wish to bring his one and only friend, a stuffed bear named Ted, to life. When the wish comes true, they become best friends. But later in life, John finds himself torn between relationships - keeping his long time girlfriend or his friendship with the inappropriate bear. Representing the feature debut from Seth MacFarlane, Ted is outrageous and vulgar. But also, surprisingly sweet. Much of that is attributed to MacFarlane's sensibilities and the straight play and charm of Wahlberg and Kunis. With an outlandish premise and a high degree of cuddly inappropriateness, Ted is a guilty pleasure, devilishly wrong and yet, oh so right.
Cowabunga, dude! It's been a long 14 years since we last saw the Turtles on the big screen. And what better way to re-invigorate the franchise than with a CGI adventure? Picking up where the live action sequels left off, this animated version of "TMNT" shows the Turtles in an utterly different light. For, the Turtles have given up crime fighting and gone their separate ways after the defeat of their archenemy, The Shredder. Which, of course, leaves the door wide open for an army of ancient and mythical creatures to take over the world! Or is it possible the Turtles can look past their differences and re-unite in the nick of time? Unlike its live action predecessors, this "TMNT" utilizes CGI, a magnificent move that brings the characters to life, making the action more fluid, and the fantasy more acceptable. Gone are the cartoon-ish colors, the slapstick humor, and the rubber suits. As well as the "Ninja Rap" by Vanilla Ice. Because in this updated version, writer/director Kevin Munroe properly aligns with the comic. A darker, more sophisticated outing that retains the kid friendly appeal, all the while staying true to the Turtles' native habitat.
It's been well over 10 years since John Connor last saved the world from judgment day. Now, a little older and a little wiser, John finds himself in a very familiar predicament - save the world from those confounded machines. Directed by Jonathan Mostow, also known for "U-571," "Terminator 3" marks the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his famed role as the T-800 while also marking the absence of famed Terminator originator James Cameron. It introduces a sophisticated new villain in the form of a Terminatress, elaborates on the base storyline in a simplistic, yet darker fashion, and does not miss a beat when it comes to action. Overall, "Terminator 3" is a worthwhile return to the saga, but more importantly, it's just darn good fun to see Arnie back in action.
From time to time, we all find ourselves waiting for something or someone in an airport terminal. Waiting for family and loved ones to arrive, waiting for that connecting flight, waiting for the final boarding call before our friends depart. In these large, uncomfortable waiting rooms, we spend countless hours of our lives, occasionally getting stranded due to inclement weather or technical delays. But nothing quite as significant as the time Viktor Navorski spends waiting at John F. Kennedy Airport in Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal." In the film, Tom Hanks portrays Navorski, an Eastern European who gets stranded in the international arrivals lounge when his visa and passport become invalidated due to political distress in the fictitious country of Krakozhia. In a foreign airport, he must patiently wait and survive. Marking the reunion of Spielberg and Hanks, previous collaborators on the terminal friendly "Catch Me if You Can," this outing showcases a fine performance from Hanks but one that gets lost while attempting to transcend a higher purpose.
It should come as no surprise that a coming-of-age indie about a misfit struggling through his high school days alone would become an instant hit at the Sundance Film Festival. But director Azazel Jacobs' film, Terri, isn't the traditional high school drama about freaks and geeks. Starring John C. Reilly and newcomer, Jacob Wysocki, the film is more of a lyrical tale of loneliness vs. togetherness. An oversized teenager named Terri lives in a cluttered house in the forest. He wears pajamas to school and takes care of his sick Uncle. Ridiculed by his classmates, he finds a unique friendship with the school principal, who helps him adjust to life's challenges. While the film moves a lot slower than necessary, there is a tranquil beauty in Tobias Datum's cinematography and a wholesomeness in the film's main characters that rises about the clich?s and with a touch of humor, makes Terri's maturity both subtle and sincere.
Despite the accolades earned at last year's Cannes Film Festival and withstanding the widespread critical acclaim, I find "The Piano Teacher" to be a revolting and shocking work devoid of redemption and purpose. Directed by Michael Haneke, "The Piano Teacher" explores the life of Erika Kohut, a piano instructor by day and sadomasochist by night.
One, two, three, go. That's about how long it takes for "Thirteen's" leading teenager Tracy to transform from a poetry writing, innocent, honors student into a drugged out, thieving, sexually active problem child. Marking the directorial debut of long-time production designer, Catherine Hardwicke, and combining the writing input of teenager Nikki Reed (also starring in the film), "Thirteen" is a scary movie about teenage corruption and reckless abandon. It's also about parents who fail to recognize the warning signs and realize their child's troubles until it's too late. Taking the coming-of-age genre to the extreme, the film accelerates rapidly from an after school special into a full-blown house of horrors, with unflinching detail and gritty realism.
The year is 1844. A time when the feudal shoguns still ran Japan. And a young lord, thirsty for power, rapes and kills with impunity. With the lord's sadistic ways showing no signs of slowing down, a noble shogun decides to put an end to the reign of terror by hiring 13 samurai warriors to assassinate him. Known for such cultish blood baths like Audition and Ichi the Killer, director Takashi Miike actually tones down 13 Assassins ever so slightly. And as a result, delivers his finest, most accessible film to date. A raw, breathtaking samurai adventure that nods to such classics as The Seven Samurai and Hidden Fortress. Yes, there is plenty of blood in 13 Assassins, but Miike quietly builds his characters and their dilemmas, leading up to a grand spectacle of swordplay that includes a whopping 45 minute action finale.
The Mighty Thor, one of Marvel Universe's lesser known heroes, gets the big screen treatment in a bold, earth rattling way. In the mythical realm of Asgard, an ancient war is reignited when the young warrior known as Thor reacts to a threat against his people by blindly retaliating. As punishment, he is banished to Earth to live among humans. Stripped of his immortality, he must learn humility and prudence. Directed by Shakespearean pro, Kenneth Branagh, Thor is an epic adventure of the classical sense, blending Norse mythology with human drama, romance, and a splash of hammer time. Although the content is a bit overwhelming at times, the film benefits from bold visuals and sound, along with solid performances by Aussie sensation, Chris Hemsworth, and a supporting cast befitting a god of thunder.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding." But in Matt Pizzolo's aggressive, new underground film, "Threat," the hope is that understanding can be achieved through violence. And that violence is the result of cultural miscommunication and misunderstanding. For in the film, several disenchanted youth, living on the fringes of society, from different backgrounds and lifestyles, struggle to comprehend the meaning of their existence. But the mere presence of violence severs all bonds, creating chaos and confusion on the city streets where there are no rules for survival. Mixing street philosophy with urban thrills, "Threat" incorporates guerilla style filmmaking and exuberance to present its tale of social abandonment, rage, and intolerance. And despite a lack of experience or direction, the film stays true to its intent - a gritty portrait of modern youth by youth.
Based on the novel by John Le Carre, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a brilliantly nuanced spy thriller that takes place during the Cold War era - a time filled with high anxiety, volatility, and disillusionment. Much like today. In the film, Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, a British intelligence operative who is brought out of retirement to track down a double agent, feeding top secret information to the Russians. Like the age old nursery rhyme, Smiley must investigate suspects identified as a tinker, tailor, soldier, poor man, and beggar man, in an effort to find the mole. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, who was responsible for the underrated vampire thriller, Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor is hauntingly immersive with ominous sounds, atmospherics, and camera work. With a top notch British cast that also includes Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, and many more, Tinker Tailor is a perfectly condensed, carefully calculated game of chess.
Right smack in middle of the Occupy Wall Street protests, the Bernie Madoff scandals, and woeful tales of corporate greed, comes Tower Heist, the perfect caper for such a dismal economic climate. In the film, a group of co-workers decide to exact revenge on those responsible for swindling them out of their pensions. So, together they create an elaborate plan led by Ben Stiller's Josh Kovacs, to break into the corporate tower and steal $20 million, rumored to be stashed away by Tower executive, Arthur Shaw. Along the way, the co-workers realize they need help from a real criminal to pull off the job, which is where Eddie Murphy's character Slide comes in. Even though Tower Heist presents nothing new in terms of story and can't always sustain its energetic pace, it does provide a lot of action and plenty of laughs. Most notably, through the triumphant return of the rude and crude antics of Eddie Murphy.
From dragon slayer to dragon whisperer. Such is the tale of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III in How To Train Your Dragon, a film based on the popular children's story by Cressida Cowell. As a clumsy and awkward Viking teenager, Hiccup always managed to disappoint his father and the rest of the Viking elders with his warrior ways. But after capturing his first dragon, all of that would change. Rather than kill the dragon, he befriends it, forever changing the once tumultuous relationship between Viking and dragon. A spectacle of technical and animated brilliance, How To Train Your Dragon colorfully soars to both new and familiar heights, capitalizing on the resurgence of theatrical 3D. However, while the animation is bold and full of depth, the characters remain flat and underdeveloped, leaving a visually stimulating, but slightly inconsequential "how to" tale.
"More than Meets the Eye" - super robots, in disguise, with the ability to change into planes, trains, and automobiles instantaneously. And they have come to Earth in search of the Allspark, a cubical device that holds the key to robotic afterlife. Based on Hasbro's popular toy line, "Transformers" depicts the battle between good and evil, between Autobot and Decepticon. And it does so as a backdrop to every day teenager, Sam Witwicky, and his pursuit of the perfect car and the perfect girl. Directed by adrenaline junkie, Michael Bay, "Transformers" is this summer's first, true blockbuster. First, because it's not a sequel. And true, because it's an all out assault of action and special effects wizardry. Although there are questionable storyline snags and character flaws aplenty, "Transformers" rolls with the punches, making no excuses for what it truly is - a mad rush of blood to the adolescent head.
"Lost in Translation" speaks in a universal language that everyone can understand. Itdeciphers the feelings of absolute loneliness, the importance of meaningful friendships,and the occasional need for self-discovery. Written and directed by Sophia Coppola,daughter of the legendary Francis Ford Coppola, "Lost in Translation" is by far, one ofthe best films of the year. It depicts the relationship between two individuals who areout of their element in a world neither understands, and who must come to terms with thesuccess and failures of their own lives. It's beautiful, purposeful, and profound. Infact, very few films these days are able to convey such a message with eloquence, heartfeltsincerity, and subtle charm.
Filled with nostalgia, classical music, and very little dialogue, The Tree of Life might not be the right film for everyone. But it is certainly one of the most introspective. Directed by Terrence Malick, who also did Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, the film depicts the journey of life taken by the O'Brien family in a sleepy Texas town in the 1950's. Specifically, it follows the upbringing of their eldest son, Jack, from his carefree days as a child to his disillusionment as an adult. And his attempt to reconcile a complex relationship with his father (played by Brad Pitt) - a stern disciplinarian with many imperfections of his own. Through the use of stunning imagery and carefully orchestrated music, Malick takes us on a beautiful voyage of sight and sound across the universe, waxing philosophically on the meaning of life, the existence of faith, and the passage of time. One of the best films of the year thus far, The Tree of Life is an extraordinary achievement in storytelling that will captivate your inner sense of being.
Based on the best selling novel by Frances Mayes, "Under the Tuscan Sun" is a pleasantjourney of self-discovery and re-invention. It follows the real life story of noted writerand book critic Frances Mayes on a vacation to the Italian countryside. And it deals withher life altering decision to purchase a small villa in Tuscany, make new friends, findlove, and begin life anew. Starring Academy Award nominee Diane Lane, "Under the TuscanSun" is a charming, highly entertaining romantic adventure full of life, spectacular vistas,and sensual delight.
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, Undefeated is a remarkable drama that focuses on an inner city school in Memphis, TN. Specifically, the Manassas High school football team, a team that has never won a playoff game in its 110 year history. And even went so far as to sell home games to the highest bidder at one point. But in 2004, a former coach turned businessman came to the rescue. Under Bill Courtney's leadership, the team rebuilt its confidence, discipline, and character on and off the field. And began to win games. Even though familiar themes abound, as depicted in melodramas like "Friday Night Lights" or The Blind Side, Undefeated is still inspiring and very emotional. Thanks to nifty editing and direction, we experience the financial hardships, family tragedies, learning obstacles, and anger and frustration up close. And watch carefully as the students persevere in the game of life. Yes, Undefeated may be familiar. But it is an unscripted, unadulterated score.
Oftentimes, when people get angry, their sense of right and wrong gets blurry. In other words, what once seemed good is now perceived as bad and what was once a bad idea is now interpreted as good. Such disarray becomes the norm for Terry Wolfmeyer, a mother of four whose life takes an unexpected turn when her husband leaves her for another woman. Overwhelmed with grief, she drowns her anger in alcohol, until an offbeat relationship with a former baseball player, takes her down the path of recovery. Written and directed by Mike Binder, creator of the HBO series "The Mind of the Married Man," "The Upside of Anger" examines the mind of the abandoned wife and her family. It toys with its character's imperfections, their destructive nature, and their indifference and disreputable concerns toward others. But it does so with sincerity and severity, light and dark comedy, and personal and family drama. And in spite of its ill temper, "The Upside of Anger" achieves a harmonious balance between truth and consequence.
Throughout the course of Nazi Germany, there have been 42 documented attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler. But none perhaps, as elaborately networked as the one depicted in "Valkyrie." At the center of the scheme is Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise), who served faithfully in the Third Reich his entire career. But upon losing sight in one eye, a hand, and several fingers during a battle in North Africa, begins to question the direction of the Fuhrer. And ultimately, decides to join the German Resistance and lead Project Valkyrie, a plan designed to assassinate Hitler and return the government back to the people. Directed by Bryan Singer, whose prior works include "The Usual Suspects," "X-Men 2," and "Superman Returns," "Valkyrie" is delivered with strong production qualities. Although the casting of Cruise takes some getting used to, the film makes ample use of a strong supporting cast and a tightly knit story to maintain suspense. Sleek and ever so swift, "Valkyrie" is a surprisingly taut and engaging thriller.
"Remember, remember the 5th of November." It's the beginning of an age-old nursery rhyme that invokes Guy Fawkes Day, a noted holiday in England celebrating the foil of Fawkes' attempt to destroy Parliament and overturn King and government. And it's a call to arms for a futuristic vigilante to take action against a tyrannical and totalitarian state. Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, "V for Vendetta" tells the story of Evey, a young woman who is rescued by a masked man known only as "V" and schooled in his unconventional ways. Ultimately, she becomes part of V's master plan - a revolution designed to fight cruelty and corruption and restore freedom and justice to the world. Written by the Wachowski brothers, best known for "The Matrix" trilogy, "V for Vendetta" exists on many different levels. On one hand, it's an entertaining action adventure, a swashbuckler. And on the other, a political parable, filled with ominous foreshadowing and subtext. Complex, cautious, and curious, it deliberately blurs the line between heroism and terrorism.
"There are secrets in every corner of this village. Do you not feel it? Do you not see it?" Of course we can. They're as plentiful as maize is to fall harvest, obvious signs that writer/director M. Night Shyamalan's ability to enthrall us may be waning. In his latest thriller, "The Village," a small community lives in peaceful co-existence with, of all things, flesh-eating monsters. But this symbiotic relationship is about to change when a heedless young man defies the rules, unintentionally breaking the truce and unleashing the creatures upon the village itself. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and stunning newcomer, Bryce Dallas Howard, the film prides itself on mystery only to have its secrets revealed in an embarrassingly clich?d and corny fashion. And in comparison to Shyamalan's previous works, "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable," and "Signs," "The Village" is simply a bad premise with bad execution and too much hype.
Based on H.G. Wells' influential work, this modern retelling of "War of the Worlds" is vast in size and scale. Directed by blockbuster auteur, Steven Spielberg, the film tells the harrowing tale of Ray Ferrier, a blue-collar worker from New Jersey, who stumbles upon the early stages of an alien invasion and barely escapes with his life. In the aftermath, he back peddles to protect his family while Earth prepares its final defense against a more powerful and destructive foe. Told through the eyes of one American family, the film is up close and personal. And unlike Spielberg's prior outings like "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "E.T.," these alien beings are evil, ruthless, and unyielding in their annihilation of the human race. As expected, the film is an extraordinary visual marvel, but sadly, one that is far less sophisticated in its story. And one that fails to stir the imagination. Although the entertainment value is sky high, this "War of the Worlds" is a thrilling but frivolous ride.
Just when you thought the whole Rocky genre had been played out, along comes Warrior, a rough and tough drama about two brothers - ex-Marine Tommy Conlon and former teacher, Brendan Conlon, who return to their home town of Pittsburgh to compete in a mixed martial arts event called Sparta, where the winner takes all in a series of violent cage matches. While the influences are many and the story seemingly predictable, director Gavin O'Connor maintains a unique approach of gritty redemption. From desperate street life to brutal carnage in the ring, Warrior holds nothing back. A heavy family drama that benefits from a trio of award worthy performances from Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as the two brothers. And Nick Nolte as their father, a recovering alcoholic battling his own demons. With great intensity, Warrior is a pleasant surprise, capturing the heart and spirit of a champion.
In Lynne Ramsey's adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin, Tilda Swinton delivers one of the finest performances of her career in this horrifying tale of a mother traumatized by the evil actions of her teenage son. Tormented by guilt, regret, and sadness, Eva searches for answers, reliving Kevin's life from the unwanted pregnancy to the unspeakable acts of a sociopath. Is Kevin's behavior the result of neglect, a lack of love or nurturing? Or is it possible for a child to be born with a hateful gene? This is the question that Ramsey analyzes through the lens of Eva. Every shortcoming, every maternal instinct gone awry. And Tilda Swinton conveys a pain and torment so real, it's hard to look away. An intense psychological thriller, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a disturbing exploration of every parent's worst nightmare.
When it rains, it pours. And somebody forgot to tell local weatherman Dave Spritz to bring an umbrella. Taking a brief hiatus from favorable box office smashes like "The Ring" and "Pirates of the Caribbean," director Gore Verbinski takes an indie turn with "The Weather Man," a comedy drama about a man who knows how to dazzle on screen, but manages to fizzle off screen. So bad are his character flaws that he's completely lost touch with himself and his family. That, and complete strangers are routinely tossing a variety of fast food items at him. So when the opportunity of a lifetime comes around, a chance to move to New York and start over, Spritz finds himself trying to salvage any semblance of family and self-respect. Such efforts are noteworthy, but devoid of feel good clich?s. And the outlook is remarkably drenched and dreary, making "The Weather Man" an engrossing character study of the oppressive kind.
"Whale Rider" encapsulates the grace and beauty of international cinema. It's uplifting,dramatic, and bursting with unwavering spirit. Based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera andbrought to life by director/writer Niki Caro, "Whale Rider" is a compassionate coming-of-agefilm about a 12-year-old girl who must overcome prejudice and disdain to find love andacceptance. Filled with cross-cultural themes, it takes us into the world of ancient Maoritraditions while handling more modern issues such as a woman's role in society and gender orracial stereotyping. Winner of the World Cinema Award at Toronto and Sundance FilmFestivals, "Whale Rider" is unquestionably the most impressive film of the year.
Based on a true story, The Whistleblower is a heavy political thriller involving human trafficking. Starring Academy Award winner, Rachel Weisz, the film depicts the efforts of Kathy Bolkovac, a Nebraska police officer who takes a job as a peacekeeper with the UN in post-war Bosnia only to stumble upon a dangerous reality rife with diplomatic corruption. Most disturbing, Bolkovac discovers that teenage girls are being lured to bars and brothels for sex while the UN and its security contractors, sworn to protect the people, are directly involved. While the style and pacing of the film may be similar to others in the thriller genre, what distinguishes The Whistleblower is its unflinching realism. Here, graphic violence serves a purpose as a courageous woman risks her life to expose inhumane acts all the while confronting a system devoid of ethics and accountability. Powerful and purposeful, The Whistleblower is shocking for the sake of a higher truth.
"Wimbledon" is a light, frivolous comedy that applies a tried and true romantic formula to the professional world of tennis. Filmed on location at tennis' preeminent championship, the film follows the story of Peter Colt, an aging British tennis player on the verge of retirement, who returns to Wimbledon to play in his last tournament. While there, he stumbles into American tennis star, Lizzie Bradbury, who gives him a whole new outlook on life and love. Starring Paul Bettany, a recognizable co-star from such films as "A Beautiful Mind," "Master and Commander," and "A Knight's Tale," the film aptly balances playfulness with a reverence for the game. Utilizing the latest camera technology and visual effects, director Richard Loncraine mixes a stereotypical romance with an atypical perspective of tennis, one that is both mental and physical. The end result of which is no Grand Slam, but more or lessa pleasant diversion.
From the 8-bit arcade games of the 80s and 90s that saw iconic characters like Pac-Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Super Mario spring to life comes Wreck-It Ralph, the latest animated adventure from Walt Disney that pays homage to those early joys of video gaming. Much like Donkey Kong, Wreck-It Ralph is a hard coded bad guy. But after 30 years of seeing his counterpart, Fix-It Felix, always saving the day, he yearns for a change. And thus, decides to escape his game in the hopes of becoming a hero himself - a journey that takes him from the trenches of Hero's Duty to the high speed thrills of Sugar Rush. Taking a page from Pixar, Wreck-It Ralph gives its 2 dimensional characters a conscience. And as a result, real emotions and drama ensue. With colorful animation, spirited voiceovers, and plenty of in-jokes and cameos, Wreck-It Ralph has plenty of amusements for everyone - a cleverly conceived, coin operated machine.
Kicking off this summer's sequel movie blitz is "X2: X-Men United," the follow up to 2000's mediocre mutant drama "X-Men." Promising to be bigger and better than the original, X2 does not disappoint. Fear not, true believers - the film is faithful to the 30 plus year old comic in a way that will excite comic lovers and general movie lovers alike. With a big budget and a stellar cast, X2 gets the summer movie season started with a BANG!
After a franchise that became entirely too predictable and tedious, director Matthew Vaughn (from Kickass) reinvigorates X-Men with First Class, a story that goes back to the beginning. Back to the 1960's and the Cold War, where an evil character named Sebastian Shaw stages a showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union a la the Cuban Missile Crisis in an attempt to eliminate the human race. Along the way, we learn about Professor X and Magneto, two uniquely gifted loners who eventually join forces to combat the threat and help assemble a Division of Mutant Powers. As with many superhero sagas, First Class spreads itself thin, trying to incorporate too many characters and backstories. Still, with a terrific new cast and a stylish look and feel that harkens the sophistication of James Bond, X-Men: First Class represents a successful reboot and a welcome return of the summer blockbuster.
Adventure is indeed waiting for those brave enough to wind up and spin. Based on the children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, "Zathura," follows in the footsteps of "Jumanji," a story whose central character is a magical board game - one that takes its players beyond the two dimensional surface and into another world, full of interactive creatures and chaos. Unlike "Jumanji," which engaged its participants in a wild jungle-like safari, "Zathura" takes its players into the depths of outer space. In the film, two young brothers are pulled into an unforgettable adventure when a mysterious game transforms their house into a space ship. Hurtling around the galaxy, the boys face a variety of challenges from unexpected meteor showers to malfunctioning robots and destructive Zorgons. All on their way toward completing the game and finding their way back home. Directed by Jon Favreau, the actor turned filmmaker whose previous work "Elf" hit a cheerful note, "Zathura" offers plenty of family fun. Full of enthusiastic action and child friendly thrills, it boldly goes where no board game has gone before.
So, how do you follow an Oscar winning Best Picture, like The Hurt Locker? If you're director Kathryn Bigelow, you amp it up to eleven with Zero Dark Thirty, one of the year's most powerful films about the hunt for Bin Laden. The film depicts the 10 year journey following the events of 9/11 all the way up to the raid on Bin Laden's compound. At the center of the story is a CIA agent named Maya whose unwavering determination and resourcefulness not only leads to retribution, but proves that women can get the job done in a male dominated environment. This is personal for Bigelow, the first woman to ever to receive an Oscar for Best Directing. It's not political. There aren't a lot of unnecessary back stories. It's just great storytelling. With an intricate script by Mark Boal and a gutsy performance by Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty is every bit as efficient and focused as Maya's investigation. Even though we know the final outcome, we are still locked in to the final frame. Powerfully provocative, Zero Dark Thirty is Kathryn Bigelow's finest hour.
Ask yourself if you're really happy and you might be surprised at what you find. Ask several people at various points in their lives and you will get the premise behind "13 Conversations," a film that depicts the lives of 5 different individuals and their quest to find and comprehend the meaning of happiness.
"We're in for one wild night." So says King Leonidas to his troops on the eve of the Battle of Thermopylae. It's one of the greatest battles ever told, where 300 Spartan warriors withstood a massive Persian invading force led by King Xerxes. A wild night indeed. Adapted from the Frank Miller graphic novel and directed by "Dawn of the Dead" filmmaker, Zack Snyder, "300" is rich with animated aesthetics - colorful chaos, ethereal bliss, and glorious grotesque. But filmgoers be warned: If you are looking for historical accuracy, look elsewhere. As this retelling of the "300" more closely resembles the fantastical, a la "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," than that of ancient Greece. In spite of characters and details that have been embellished and exaggerated to the point of absurdity, this is a film whose primary purpose is to entertain the male ego. Depicted with ferocity and blood spurting testosterone, there's no arguing that "300" stays true to its graphic nature - one that's all about the fight, not in getting it right.
A few years ago, "Amores Perros" exploded onto the big screen, devouring us with three intermingled stories about life, death, and dogs. What tied all three stories together in "Amores Perros" was a life altering car accident. And for director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, making his American debut, that is the same plot device that connects the three lives in "21 Grams." But rather than tell the story in chronological order, Inarritu takes us forward and back through time, allowing us to gain insights into the characters before and after they are hit with disaster. With phenomenal performances and unconventional storytelling, "21 Grams" leaves an impression: a riveting tale of hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation.