March 12th, 2007
Layer CakeXXXX: My name? If you knew that, you'd be as clever as me.

Buddy

March 7th, 2007

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0371589/

BuddyKristoffer and Geir are as close as two friends can be. They live together, work together and get in trouble together and Kristoffer catches every highlight and many lowlights on his camcorder, which he never leaves behind. By accident he loses a few tapes from his bag and they end up in the hands of a local television station that decides to give them their own show. The premise is that they live their lives as usual and film things that happen as usual and the network would air some of the footage. It was all simple enough. And their lives were simple enough...at first. Fame, new women, old women and a paranoid roommate teach these two young men that maybe it is time to grow up a little.

This was a fun, but frustrating, Norse film about young people and their inter-personal relationships. I have seen my fair share of foreign films, but I have to guess this is my first from that part of the world. I would have never found it but for the power of recommendation. Buddy was suggested first as a "you might like this if you liked The Rage in Placid Lake." I did like The Rage in Placid Lake...and I did like Buddy.

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March 7th, 2007
BatmanThe Joker: Tell me something, my friend. You ever dance with the devil by the pale moonlight?

Half Nelson

March 6th, 2007

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0468489/

Half NelsonDan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a young inner-city junior high school teacher whose ideals wither and die in the face of reality. Day after day in his shabby Brooklyn classroom, he somehow finds the energy to inspire his 13 and 14-year-olds to examine everything from civil rights to the Civil War with a new enthusiasm. Rejecting the standard curriculum in favor of an edgier approach, Dan teaches his students how change works -- on both a historical and personal scale -- and how to think for themselves.

Though Dan is brilliant, dynamic, and in control in the classroom, he spends his time outside school on the edge of consciousness. His disappointments and disillusionment have led to a serious drug habit. He juggles his hangovers and his homework, keeping his lives separated, until one of his troubled students, Drey (Shareeka Epps), catches him getting high after school.

From this awkward beginning, Dan and Drey stumble into an unexpected friendship. Despite the differences in their ages and situations, they are both at an important intersection. Depending on which way they turn -- and which choices they make -- their lives will change

Feel free to include me with those who probably would not have ever heard of this movie let alone seen it had Ryan Gosling not received the Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. So that is why I saw it and that comes with the expectation that the movie will be bad but the performance will be good. As the movie started I felt the exact opposite. The scenes were short and his character was yet undeveloped, but the plot pulled me in; I was very interested in where it would lead. As the movie progressed, the movie did a great job adding depth to Gosling though the plot went in a strange direction.

The adult language intensifies towards the end of the film, but the real reason to be wary of Half Nelson is the vivid drug-use scenes. Mr. Dunne's extracuricular chemical dependency is very important to his character and the movie and the creators did not shy away from it. This is not a child-friendly movie and while even I was uncomfortable a few times, I really liked it.

I think Ryan Gosling has really put himself on the acting map. This performance and obviously the nomination should really give him the opportunity to establish himself as one of the best young talents in the business. I would love to see him sustain this level of performance.

Half Nelson is not for everyone. There is drug abuse and abusive language. Ryan Gosling was deserving of his nomination, and you may become familiar with the name Shareeka Epps after her performance as well. I was hooked early by the story though I had to sort my thoughts out at the end before I realized how much I liked the movie. It had some impressive artistic merit and many good things to take away from it.

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Movie of the Month - March, 2007

February 20th, 2007

Spirited Away

Spirited AwayFrom one of the most celebrated filmmakers in the history of animated cinema comes the most acclaimed film of 2002. Hayao Miyazaki's latest triumph, filled with astonishing animation and epic adventure, is a dazzling masterpiece for the ages. It's a "wonderfully welcoming work of art that's as funny and entertaining as it is brilliant, beautiful and deep" (Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal).

Spirited Away is a wondrous fantasy about a young girl, Chihiro, trapped in a strange new world of spirits. When her parents undergo a mysterious transformation, she must call upon the courage she never knew she had to free herself and return her family to the outside world.

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Top 5 Movies: Dealing with Race

February 15th, 2007

The Illusionist

January 29th, 2007

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0443543/

The IllusionistUnlock the mysteries of the year's most spellbinding film from the producers of Crash and Sideways! Oscar nominees Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton lead an all-star cast in this "stunning" film (USA Today) that conjures an exhilarating blend of suspense, romance, and mind-bending twists. The acclaimed illusionist Eisenheim (Norton) has not only captured the imaginations of all of Vienna, but also the interest of the ambitious Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). But when Leopold's new fiancee (Jessica Biel) rekindles a childhood fascination with Eisenheim, the Prince's interest evolves into obsession...and suddenly the city's chief inspector (Giamatti) finds himself investigating a shocking crime. But even as the inspector engages him in a dramatic challenge of wills, Eisenheim prepares for his most impressive illusion yet in this "mesmerizing" (Entertainment Weekly) and "beautifully acted" (Good Morning America) film that "teases you until the very end" (The New York Times)!

You may have heard and/or read the same mix of reviews that I had before I had seen The Illusionist. Some people could nod their heads at it and tell you it was entertaining. Others would hesitate, only to be polite, and say it just wasn't worth seeing. In my experience, not many people had very strong feelings one way or the other. And many people preferred to focus on whether or not it was better than The Prestige instead of discussing the movie on its own merits. I won't claim the moral high-ground, admittedly I have not seen The Prestige; all I have to go on is The Illusionist. And I liked it.

The casting is better than luke-warm. The movie features the on-the-rise career of Paul Giamatti and the long-overdue return of Ed Norton. Giamatti acted his way onto the map with a highly praised performance in American Splendor, though he is probably most well-known for his role in the Sideways. If you have read my reviews before, this may not be the first time you see me point to the movie Confidence. It is the movie to which I would say Paul Giamatti's role is most comparable (and one of my favorite movies). In both movies he toes the line between the moral and immoral, while bringing a strong breadth of character. In the Illusionist he has a larger part, so you are able to enjoy his very-likeable personality in greater supply.

Edward Norton has delivered some very noteworthy performances over his career. I can only wish for him to get more work; I enjoy what he does. He does not seem to work at the same pace as many in-demand actors today. Maybe he prefers more time off, or maybe I am the lone voice of support for his career. Either way, I thought he did a great job as lead in The Illusionist, where he brought the same "I'm better than you" arrogance that he gave us in Rounders. It seemed effortless as he settled into a character who is not too over-the-top. Knowledge is power, and his character knew what others did not.

The story was a new flavor of an old dish. The creators here took the often-used template for a crescendo of suspense which carries you safely into the heart of an exhilarating plot twist. What they added was magic, literally. (Sure it was good, but you know what I mean.) I really enjoy magicians and their craft. I liked the way the creative team for The Illusionist was able to bring this story to life. The only thing I longed for was more magic. A few more slight-of-hand tricks would have made me very happy, though I understand that there wasn't necessarily any good place for them to be added.

I hope that you are neither too proud of yourself, nor disappointed should you predict the twist. The strength of the movie is less in the surprise and more in the execution. The Illusionist is not a movie you will love, but I think if you give it a fair chance, you will be entertained.

For another movie (starring Ed Norton) similar to The Illusionist, click here.

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Top 5 Movies: Starring Michael Caine

January 25th, 2007

Movie of the Month - February, 2007

January 23rd, 2007

Secondhand Lions

Secondhand LionsFor young Walter (Haley Joel Osment), being stuck on his "crazy" uncles' farm is the last place on earth he wants to spend the summer. First, shocked by their unconventional behavior, including ordering an African lion through the mail, Walter soon gets caught up in their mysterious past. The rumors that his uncles (Academy Award winners Robert Duvall and Michael Caine) were bank robbers or maybe even worse are hard to believe, but they do seem to have an endless supply of cash!

Little by little, an amazing story comes to life -- filled with adventures in exotic lands involving kidnapped princesses, Arabian sheiks and lost treasure. These tales not only bring him closer to his uncles but also teach him what it means to believe in something...whether it's true or not.

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Children of Men

January 18th, 2007

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0206634/

Children of Men is a science fiction story that could appeal easily to non-sci-fi fans. The movie is set in the year 2027 and portrays a very believable future. The twist is that by 2027, all humans have become infertile. The youngest person on Earth is 18 years old and when people stopped having babies, the world fell apart. Clive Owen delivers an incredibly realistic performance in bringing to life this book by British mystery maven, P.D. James. Owen stars as Theo Faron, the one-time activist who has lost his cause and seemingly his passion for life as well. An important part of his past catches up with him when he is confronted by an extremist organization asking for help. Does he help this woman find help, when it means risking her life and his? And does his decision become easier or harder when he learns she is pregnant!?

The movie has it all: action, humor, and a brilliant theme showcasing the relationship between faith and chance in our lives. The action was gripping and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. In Children of Men, they do not hold your hand through the story; things happen and they happen quickly. You will not get lost due to the speed, but be prepared. Things happen and you may not agree with them all, but by the end of the movie I hope you agree with me that everything that happened was necessary and well-timed.

The laughs come at odd intervals, but seem to be just when you need them. The performances by Michael Caine (Jasper) and Peter Mullan (Syd) added the right about of levity to balance out the serious nature of the story. I could talk all day about Michael Caine alone and his iconic career in film, but I will leave it at this: he was fantastic yet again. Any elaboration I make on that would mean divulging a detail of the film that you should experience for yourself.

Jasper even brings the theme (mentioned above) right to the audience. He tells a story about Theo's past and sets it up nicely. I love movies that can pull that off; I can't imagine it is easy.

I have never been in a war zone. I can only imagine what it would be like to be in such a hostile environment. From what I would imagine, Children of Men nailed it. I have seen movies with similar scenes, but they have never felt as real. Maybe it is the political environment currently that added to the feeling in the movie.

I liked Children of Men for many reasons. I will admit that there were a few moments that I felt the time passed too slowly, but they were brief. Clive Owen did wonderfully. The language was rough and there is a lot of blood shed. If those do not deter you from seeing other movies, you should see Children of Men.

For another Clive Owen movie you should see, check out Croupier.

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