May 5th, 2006
Dead Poets SocietyJohn Keating: We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Top 5 Movies: In or About School

May 4th, 2006

Ned Kelly

April 28th, 2006

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0277941/

Ned KellyGripping action and powerful performances by some of today's hottest stars come together in this epic story of a real-life outlaw who defied the law and inspired his people. Actor Heath Ledger (The Four Feathers, A Knight's Tale) brings a raw intensity to the role of Ned Kelly, an innocent man driven to fight the corrupt authorities oppressing his people. Joining Ned's legendary gang is his best friend, Joe, played with devilish charm by Orlando Bloom (Troy, Pirates of the Caribbean) and sexy Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts (21 Grams, The Ring) as Ned's lover, Julia. Overnight, the Kelly Gang become heroes to their people. But as their popularity grows, they quickly find themselves the target of a ruthless lawman (Geoffrey Rush), who soon makes them the most wanted men the world has ever known.

The story of Ned Kelly is an epic one and is told the world over. This movie depicts that story. The story where Ned's people are repressed by the local government and when they jail his mother to get to him they go too far. He, his brother, best friend and another become the most sought after outlaws in the world. The price on their heads is higher than it ever was, and yet no one turns them in. He is not and never was unreasonable. His demands are simple and they fight for the people.

Going into this movie there is good and bad. The good is that it is a Focus Features production. The bad is that Heath Ledger is in it. The former is an attraction to some and should be to more. The latter, if you can get past it, is no big deal. I have a hard time getting past it. I know a lot of the country is sold on Heath Ledger, enough to even nominate him for a Best Actor Oscar, but I cannot separate him from the parts he plays. In Ned Kelly, he wasn't Ned Kelly, he was Heath Ledger playing Ned Kelly.

I firmly believe that if you can stomach Mr. Ledger, then the movie is good and worth seeing. A tale of an underdog society rallying behind an unlikely hero is one I will usually enjoy.

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Elizabethtown

April 25th, 2006

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0368709/

ElizabethtownDrew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) has just had a very difficult day at work. He received the hard-to-swallow news that a product he designed, though it made him a hero in the office prior to its announcement to the public, was a disaster and would cost the company an incredible sum of money. He was politely asked to shoulder the blame for the product's fate...while he was being fired. Later that night, he was swimming in a pool of self-pity when his sister called to deliver more bad news. Their father, Mitch, had died of a heart attack.

When he died, Mitch was visiting his family in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, a city and a lineage that his wife and two children all but ignored. The town was small and the pace of life was slow. The people were friendly and everyone knew and loved Mitch Baylor. Drew, labeled the "responsible" one, was nominated to represent his mom (Susan Sarandon) and sister (Judy Greer) at the memorial in Elizabethtown.

Drew had to embark on a journey to a place as foreign to him as the people who lived there. Each person he met seemed to know him well, though he did not truly know any of them. That began what became a very humbling trip for Drew. The sharp contrast between big-city life and small-town life made itself evident. Drew was accustomed to his corporate surroundings, back home, where people smiled, but you never knew what to make of it. In Elizabethtown he knew they were happy and friendly people. They cared about him and his father.

On his flight to Kentucky, Drew met a flight attendant named Claire (Kirsten Dunst). She was extremely friendly, maybe even too friendly. Through a strange turn of events (and no one else to call), Drew and Claire connect on the phone. Claire becomes Drew's crutch in his time of need. She is the catalyst that opens his eyes to who he is, who his father was, and how important family should be.

I think Drew Baylor had expectations for the people in Kentucky. I think he expected that they all were stereotypical back-country folks who could not relate to him, nor understand the world he lived in. That was essentially why his mother and sister elected him to go in their place. They all felt that way. Claire disproved this expectation. They connected on more levels than Drew could have ever imagined. His guard dropped and he was able to appreciate the countless anecdotes and southern hospitality he received from his dad's side of the family.

He, eventually, was very touched by the warm reception he received and more so by how loved his dad was in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Drew did not know his father very well. Over the past few years life at work took on an exclusive role on Drew's time and attention, which led to a change in the father-son relationship that had been strong when Drew was a boy. He was reacquainted with his dad through family and friends in Elizabethtown. It was truly a chance for Drew to get to know his father all over again, something he should not have saved until his father had died. But Mitch Baylor was not the only one Drew got to know all over again on this trip. He also became reacquainted with himself...with a little help.

The movie was not without flaws, some of which make events unrealistic, but I quickly got over them. They were trivial things that should not concern me nor should they detract from my feelings toward this movie, which were fiercely positive.

Orlando Bloom, for the first time, stepped outside the Legolas mold into which I had him so snuggly typecast. I thought he did well as Drew Baylor.

Kirsten Dunst is another who is not normally one of my favorites, but she did well. Normally her characters are so elitest and conceited, but as Claire Coburn she was much more down to Earth. It was a nice change.

A lot of people have compared this movie to Garden State, which is not without merit. The journey (in a general sense) on which each protagonist ventures is one through a clouded sense of reality to a broader perspective that among other things emphasizes the importance of family and is lead by a new-found, outgoing female friend from a chance meeting.

Elizabethtown has a broader appeal than Garden State. The latter is more targeted to a younger audience through subject matter concerning drugs, prescription and otherwise. Elizabethtown is more about getting to know the people around you and learning the faces of those who matter most. (Though both movies feature very good soundtracks.)

I have already recommended Elizabethtown to my parents and they both said they liked it a lot. I have not recommended they see Garden State.

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Mrs. Henderson Presents

April 24th, 2006

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0413015/

Mrs. Henderson PresentsAcademy Award winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) received her fifth Oscar nomination for her saucy, hilarious performance in Mrs. Henderson Presents. Laura Henderson (Dench) may be a widow in London but she is certainly not going to spend the rest of her days playing bridge. In a time when England is brought to its knees by war, she brings a nation to its feet in applause -- with a live show featuring nude girls! Dench and Academy Award nominee Bob Hoskins have won critics' hearts in this stylish gem that Joe Morgenstern from The Wall Street Journal calls "one of the wittiest comedies to come our way in a very long time!"

Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) was a member of England's upper-most socio-economic faction. She and her husband traveled in the most elite circles. They had business throughout the English Empire and were privileged in all corners. Unfortunately, when her husband dies, Laura is left without not just the love of her life, but also the man who kept her schedule. She is forced to occupy her time some other way. She is schooled in the art of widowhood by a friend (who was played very well by Thelma Barlow). Mrs. Henderson is instructed that being a widow is not that bad, for example she has no one around to stop her from buying things. The advice, though in reference to jewelry, was applied when Mrs. Henderson bought the Windmill Theatre.

She knows nothing of running a theatre and even less about producing a review. To help her with her project, Mrs. Henderson hired Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins). Together they revolutionize the theatre experience in England, offering things that have never been available before, up to and including nude girls.

The story is based on actual events. It was certainly an interesting piece of history to recount, and it was done well. I may have been a little too young to fully appreciate the humor and the charm, but I still liked the movie a good deal.

Judi Dench's body of work will be celebrated well into the future. Her career is an impressive one, and really speaks for itself. Her role as Laura Henderson is another notch in her belt of which she should be extremely proud. If my saying so is not enough, it did earn her an Academy Award nomination.

It is hard to overshadow a Judi Dench performance, but apparently if anyone is capable it is Bob Hoskins. I may be so bold as to actually think he did a better job than she. He has been nominated for many awards (link), but I have seen very few of those pictures. I figured he would always be Eddie Valiant to me, the character he played in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The movie is not well suited for a younger audience as there is nudity, though it is tastefully done. But I guess that is just a word we just to justify seeing naked people. The writing was funny and the songs were very good. I will warn you, some are not so easy to get out of your head.

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Thank You For Smoking

April 21st, 2006

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0427944/

Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is the Vice President of an organization created by the cigarette conglomerate, a position that carries with it responsibility of being the chief spokesperson for Big Tobacco. He does not have the advanced degrees that other successful businessmen have, but he has a self-proclaimed bachelor's in "kicking ass and taking names." Nick is a talker and he is very good at what he does. And he must juggle his job (spinning on behalf of cigarette companies) and being a positive role model for his son.

As if a man in such a position is not accustomed to conflict, he encounters further trouble from an outspoken Senator (William H. Macy) and a feisty newspaper reporter (Katie Holmes).

Aaron Eckhart was great. He really did a fabulous job. The sly, "I've got a secret" smirk he wore for so much of the movie was fantastic. You have probably seen a movie he has been in, if you are wondering who he is. He has played some small, though decent roles. The movie for which I am most familiar with Aaron is In The Company of Men. To see him transition from that small production nearly ten years ago to playing a part for which he should receive an award or two is great. He was very engaging in this role. He will keep your captivated. Aaron Eckhart sells this role like Nick Naylor sells Big Tobacco.

The slow development of Joey Naylor, Nick's son was done very well. From the early part of the film when he pleads with his dad to not ruin his childhood to when he finally takes his dad's advice about how to present an argument through to the end, Joey was a great side story.

Maria Bello and David Koechner round out Nick Naylor's MOD Squad in expert fashion. Their constant sparring around the lunch table is definitely one of the highlights of the movie.

The writing was fast and funny. The movie is full of one liners, but they come at you from all directions so be sure to keep up.

Rob Lowe's cameo was perfect. The setup of walking through his office building, his assistant Jack, the late night phone call, it was all hilarious.

Thank You For Smoking kept me entertained and kept me laughing. I really enjoyed the movie.

(Sidenote: I hate to detract from the rest of the film, but I feel I would be doing a great disservice to not mention how horrible Katie Holmes is. Not just in this movie, but in other parts she has played she is not good. To be a pretty face is one thing, to be able to act is another. I am sure there are countless young talents who are, of yet, undiscovered who could have played that part just as well if not better. I do understand the attraction to being able to include her name in the credits, however.)

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Movie of the Month - May, 2006

April 20th, 2006

The Tao of Steve

The Tao of SteveWant to be irresistible to women? The charismatic, overweight, amateur philosopher Dex -- brilliantly played by Donal Logue (The Patriot, TV's "Grounded for Life") can help. He'll teach you all about "The Tao of Steve," a code which he and friends live by that virtually guarantees scoring with the ladies. The gist of it? Be desire-less, be excellent, be gone. But when Dex meets up with old college fling Syd, the rules he lived by no longer apply and he soon realizes that true enlightenment and happiness lies not with picking up women, but in being true to yourself.

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Top 5 Movies: With Subtitles

April 12th, 2006

Walk The Line

April 12th, 2006

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0358273/

Walk the LineSinger. Rebel. Outlaw. Hero. With his driving freight-train chords, steel-eyed intensity and a voice as dark as the night, the legendary "Man in Black" revolutionized music -- and forged his legacy as a genuine American icon. Golden Globe nominees Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon star (and sing) as Johnny Cash and June Carter in this inspiring true story of one man's unwavering devotion to his sound, his message and the greatest love of his life.

Before seeing Walk the Line, I new very little about Johnny Cash. Before it was released in theaters, I knew almost nothing at all. I had heard some of his songs and was more than familiar with his name, but I had no concept of the impact he had on music and on so many lives.

The movie touches briefly on Johnny Cash's childhood, enough to paint the picture of a few events and relationships that would shape his life forever. The film next follows Johnny on tour, at the beginning of his career, as he played shows with Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, and a young Miss June Carter. They travel from city to city delighting audiences, playing shows, having a good time, and for some of them, maybe even falling in love.

Johnny Cash had more talent than he knew what to do with. But he also had skeletons in his closet and without June Carter, his story would have been one of what could have been, rather than what actually was, one of the greatest careers music has produced. June Carter, despite being the object of Johnny's affection for many years prior to their marriage, played a very valuable role in his life. Among so many other things, June Carter was Johnny Cash's guardian angel. She saved him from his own demons and inspired him to continue his greatness.

Before I even begin to comment on the acting, I need to mention something important. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon did their own "stunt work," if you will. They sang each song featured in the movie. It is truly an impressive thing they did in lending their singing voices and not just their faces to Johnny Cash and June Carter. I have read that Reese Witherspoon was not a very good match vocally to June Carter, but that should not take away from what she did. Joaquin Phoenix's voice was incredible. I thought he did an amazing job sounding like Mr. Cash.

From an acting standpoint I feel that there were two breakthrough performances in Walk the Line. I will start with Reese Witherspoon, whose career has been full of light comedies and naive characters. I have not brought myself to watch many of her earlier movies because they do not appeal to me. I hope that is about to change. Your secret is no longer safe, Reese; we now know that you are an impressive presence on screen. She is not just another pretty face, though she certainly is that. Her performance, which earned her an Academy Award, was full of strength and passion. She did humor, drama, and love and she did each one well.

Joaquin Phoenix and I have had many creative differences in the past. Well, I do not know him personally and have never actually met the man, but I refer to the roles he has played. From seeing him as male support during the majority of his career, if you had asked me if I ever thought he could play lead, I would have said no. And I would have been wrong. Joaquin Phoenix played the lead, nay, he owned the lead in Walk the Line. He still showed signs of the actor I have not liked in the past, but managed to still captivate me. Maybe it was his likeness to Johnny Cash's voice as he sang that overshadowed the rest of the performance, but I doubt it. I think he has come a long way. I am sure he has worked very hard to get to where he is now, with one Academy Award nomination under his belt. It has paid off.

Walk the Line is a movie with two great performances about two great performers. And I can tell you that you will not be the first to rush out and buy Johnny Cash albums after seeing the movie, or even the soundtrack which features the performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.

For another movie with great vocal performances by the actors see The Commitments.

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Good Morning Eve

April 9th, 2006

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0025193/

Adam (Leon Errol) and Eve (June MacCloy) leave the Garden of Eden and set off on a trip through history. They make brief stops to Nero's Rome and King Arthur's England along the way. Good Morning Eve was a Vitaphone short made in 1934.

I caught the short on Turner Classic Movies. Some of the choreography needed a bit of work, but that can be easily overlooked. The writing was funny and the vaudeville touches were right on time. I don't watch many old "classic" movies, but this one was very good. Shame it was just a short.