Movie of the Month - December, 2005

November 21st, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

Hotel RwandaDon Cheadle gives "the performance of a lifetime" (Los Angeles Times) in this "remarkable" (Newsweek) and "profoundly affecting" (Houston Chronicle) true story of one man's brave stance against savagery during the 1994 Rwandan conflict. Co-starring Sophie Okonedo and Nick Nolte, Hotel Rwanda is "the kind of film that can change the world" (Joel Siegel, "Good Morning America").

As his country descends into madness, five-star-hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Cheadle) sets out to save his family. But when he sees that the world will not intervene in the massacre of minority Tutsis, he finds the courage to open his hotel to over 1,200 refugees. Now, with a rabid militia at the gates, he has only his wits and words to help keep them alive another hour...another day...

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American Movie

November 17th, 2005

American MovieAn aspiring film maker struggles against his own personal demons as well as external forces. In his quest to make his first feature length film we see how he encounters influence of drugs, alcohol, gambling, a dysfunctional family, and his own poverty.

To raise the capital for his first movie, he decides he must complete the short he started 10 years earlier, "Coven". "Coven" is in line with the short films he has made growing up and they are all the model for the full length movie he wants to make in the future. His genre is "B" Horror flicks.

He enlists the aid of friends to help as stand in extras, stage hands and film editors. Everyone is inspired by his determination to see the project through to the end and they never give up on him, though sometimes it was not easy to stay.

I had a class my senior year of college with a kid who suggested that I see this movie. I believe his words were something to the effect of "It's awesome." I must apologize to him for I must have missed something huge, for it fell well short of the billing he gave it.

Not even I can deny the impressive nature of Mark's (our struggling film maker) character. He is so driven to make his movie(s)...that or equally as driven to not work 8-5 in the factory. His knowledge of what it takes to actually make a movie seems a bit wasted on the crew with which he surrounded himself, but you get what you pay for I guess.

I enjoyed a laugh or two at how absolutely obscene the language could be between Mark and his family and friends. I fought with my own sense of political correctness as I tried not to laugh at one character's stories of substance abuse. Truth be told, that was the funniest part of the movie, but how horrible is it to laugh at someone sharing that part of their life?

I was entertained, but I just don't think that is enough for me to suggest this as a "Watch" movie. Though something inside me leads me to believe that I might take some criticism for this one. If you end up in a situation when someone has it and wants to watch it, go nuts. But there is no need to seek it out.

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House of Games

November 9th, 2005

House of GamesA woman, psychiatrist by day and best-selling author by night, gets caught up when one of her patients confides in her that he is in trouble. She promises to help him, but what can she do to make a $25,000 gambling debt disappear? Seemingly without alternative, she goes to see Mike, the man to whom the money is owed, in his club, The House of Games.

For helping Mike in a matter concerning a poker game she had interrupted with her visit, he agrees to forgive the debt her patient owes. Almost from the minute she meets him she begins a new education and a relationship develops between them of teacher and student; one with an overwhelming desire to learn, the other with a tremendous wealth of experience in the confidence game. At her request, Mike begins to teach her the ropes; a few parlor tricks at first before she finds herself in the middle of one of Mike's biggest scores.

Though the movie came out in 1987, it has only been on my radar for about two years. Back in Philadelphia, a good friend (Dr. Bob) would hold "movie night" at his house periodically. One night I had the honor of introducing the movie Confidence, one of my favorites, to the others. When it was over, I believe the gentleman's name was Bill who suggested to me that I see House of Games. It took me awhile, but I finally got around to it.

If you could not tell from the brief synopsis I wrote above, the movie is about the art of the con, grifting, the confidence game, call it whatever you want. Many movies have been made on the subject, some better than others. A few I would recommend to you are Confidence, The Sting and Matchstick Men (in that order). If you are interested in the genre, or maybe you just like David Mamet movies, I also recommend House of Games.

I do not normally like the work Joe Mantegna does, unfortunately. I do think he did very well in this movie (as Mike), all things considered. Overall the acting was pretty bad, but your primary focus should be the story which I thought was very well thought out. It does make you wonder if Mamet or co-writer Jonathan Katz had a bad experience with a psychiatrist which led to the exploitation of any parallels between psychiatry and grifting...

I liked House of Games.

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Danny Deckchair

November 8th, 2005

Danny DeckchairDanny Deckchair is the story of an atypical cement worker from Australia. Despite his occasional wild idea, his girlfriend refers to him as one of the little people. She needs a little more excitement in her life. Learning this, however by accident, sends Danny into an emotional whirlwind. He devises his next big plan: to strap large helium-filled balloons to his deckchair until he can actually lift off the ground. His plan goes awry and before he knows what happened Danny is soaring among the clouds without his means of getting back down.

Danny Morgan, now the media darling "Danny Deckchair", has gone missing after his hair brained scheme floated him away. No one knows what happened to him. They have no idea that he landed in a far off town full of people who like to live as simply as he.

The race is on, two-fold. One part is the effort by his girlfriend to find him again (since he is now big news, a somebody), and the second is by Danny to remain relatively unknown to his new friends and thus able to leave his old life behind.

Danny Morgan is played by Rhys Ifans, maybe best known for his role in Notting Hill as Spike, Hugh Grant's flatmate. If you are familiar with any of his other work, you probably are not surprised when I tell you how well I thought he did. He has a very likeable on screen presence.

I do not want to inflate anyone's expectations (pun intended, sorry), but I was very impressed by Danny Deckchair. It had been awhile since I had seen a movie I enjoyed as much as this. Fun story. Funny movie. I liked this one. Check it out.

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Mosquito Coast

November 4th, 2005

Mosquito CoastHarrison Ford and River Phoenix star in a movie (directed by Peter Weir) about civilization. The movie starts as Phoenix narrates an introduction of his father (Ford). "He dropped out of Harvard, to get an education" (para.). He has a knack for anything mechanical, always inventing. Whereas he could be making millions of dollars from his creations, he works on a farm and tinkers in his spare time. One result of such tinkering is a machine that makes ice from fire, no electricity required. On a whim, he decides to head into the jungle and bring ice to societies that have never known its pleasures.

Mosquito Coast was a title once reviewed in the original forums, but lost in the hack incident. I couldn't remember if it was a positive or negative one, though I know where I will make my stance.

Charlie: My father often talked of things being revealed - that was true invention, he said. Revealing something's use, and magnifying it; discovering its imperfections, improving it, and putting it to work for you. God had left the world incomplete, he said, and it was man's job to understand how it worked, to tinker with it, and to finish it. I think that was why he hated missionaries so much - because they taught people to put up with their earthly burdens. For father, there were no burdens that couldn't be fitted with a set of wheels, or rudders, or a system of pulleys.

Harrison Ford's character could have used his intelligence and creativity to really make a difference in peoples lives, which he did for awhile. Based upon that, I think this movie could have been so much more. I do not want to go into too much detail, but I will tell you that he does become obsessed with his quest to bring ice into the jungle to be set before people who have never experienced such a thing.

Once the conflict arises about whether or not to move back to the United States the movie took a serious downturn. I was relatively entertained up until that point, but not at all after. I found myself unable to avoid feeling embarrassed for Ford's character and the way he acted. I am happy to send this movie back. Bring on the next one. It was not horrible, I just feel as though it fell short. Fell short of what, I am not sure, but it was missing something.

Let me save you the almost 2 hours of your life. Watch something else.

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October 30th, 2005
SpaceballsDark Helmet: What's the matter, Colonel Sandurz? CHICKEN?

Movie of the Month - November, 2005

October 24th, 2005

Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the FirefliesWhy do fireflies die so young?

It is post-war Japan, just weeks before the American occupation. In the city of Kobe, a boy lies dying in a train station. Beside his body lies a small candy container. A janitor, unsure what to make of its ashy contents, pitches it into the night. As fireflies float softly around it, the ghostly images of the boy and his little sister appear…
Flashback to a short time earlier. Orphaned and homeless from a fire-bomb attack on their city, 14-year-old Seita and his 4-year-old sister, Setsuko, set out to survive in the face of a society that is no longer able to protect them. Forced to live in an abandoned bomb shelter in the Japanese countryside, they slowly come to realize that they can never escape the hardships of war, or even find enough food to survive.

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October 11th, 2005
On the WaterfrontTerry: You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody...

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

October 4th, 2005

I am told that this story originated as an Eastern European folk tale. A young man (Johnny Depp), promised by his family to give his hand in marriage finds himself in a most unfortunate situation. In his nervousness he meanders into the forest to clear his head before the wedding. The end result of his trip into the trees is less of a clear head and more of a new bride; a Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter).

Now married to the Corpse Bride, he is taken to the city of the dead and left wondering if he will ever see the light of day again, let alone the woman he was to marry.

Tim Burton's movies exude style. Whether he uses actors or stop-motion animation, you are in for a treat. Corpse Bride is no exception, it is a visual schmorgesbord.

The music was done by Danny Elfman, whose name should speak for itself. If it doesn't, the man's resume is quite impressive. The songs were fun, though a little muffled. It was hard to tell if it was the fault of the theater in which I watched, or the songs themselves. It was such that the backround voices and music sometimes drowned out lead vocals. This left me lost during a song or two but I was able to move on.

I will chalk it up to a flaw in the story of old, and not in the representation presented by Tim Burton, but I do not believe I was the only one who found himself in a dilemma towards the end. Watching the movie you see the feelings Victor (Depp) has for Victoria, the woman he is to marry. You obviously pull for him to find a way to be with her, right? Well right....kinda. What about Corpse Bride? It was not her wish for fate to lead her to this place, so how can you have Victor turn his back on her?

I will not tell you the resolution, but I will say that I thought it a bit lacking. Overall, however, the movie was good. I am glad I went to see Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.

Burton left me with another dilemma, though less intentionally. Here I am torn between wanting to see more of the stop-motion animation like Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas and wanting more (Johnny Depp starred) movies like Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow...and Ed Wood (you think these two like working together?).

I guess I will opt for both, but while we all wait I think you will have fun at Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.

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The Motorcycle Diaries

October 3rd, 2005

The Motorcycle DiariesBased on a true life story, The Motorcycle Diaries is an inspiring and thrilling adventure that traces the youthful origins of a revolutionary spirit. The film follows two daring friends, Ernesto "Che" Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal, Y Tu Mama Tambien) and Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna), who hop on the back of a beat-up motorcycle for a breathtaking and exciting road trip across Latin America. From executive producer Robert Redford and acclaimed director Walter Salles (Central Station) comes a life-changing journey that critics are hailing as "Magnificent!" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone)

Based on a "true life story." If you pick up the same double meaning I found there, give yourself a cookie. It is a story based in true life, but also a story of a true life. You can play with the emphasis as you say the words. Based on a true life-story or based on a true-life story. I love that.

Take two young men with futures nearly as bright as they can be, and set them loose on a journey across a continent with nothing but their own stubborn unwillingness to quit to get them from point A to point B.

It took me far too long to see this movie. I wanted to from the first preview I saw and I make no excuses for the delay. All I can tell you is that you should not wait as I did. This was truly a beautiful movie and any praise it has received in the past along with any it gets in the future is more than merited. And I will go ahead and say it: Gael Garcia Bernal is probably the most likeable on screen personality of our generation.

Some may disagree with the actions Ernesto Guevara took later in his life, many of which resulting from experiences gained on the trip chronicled in this movie. I respect this opinion, but I do not think that should prevent you from seeing and even enjoying The Motorcycle Diaries.

I found it a bit odd that there was so little emphasis on the danger involved in two young men traveling around South America with no money and even less outdoor experience, but the movie was not about the literal journey. The figurative journey that both men took was special to witness. The kindness and compassion that especially Guevara exhibited towards others was moving.

Go rent, or even buy The Motorcycle Diaries. I recommend this one to you all, even in consideration of the relatively harsh language used at times. (This movie is subtitled.)

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