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In this column we will feature thumbnail reviews by Wayne Case, a veteran of Hollywood's Big Machine who currently works for an independent film company in Los Angeles. Wayne ranks the films on a scale of 1 (bad) to 10 (good). The following are Wayne’s rankings of films for 2005.
A LOT LIKE LOVE Rated: 8
For this film, more than most, individual reaction and response is going to be based largely on how the viewer feels about the starring cast since the two leads are one the screen either together or separately for virtually every moment. This is especially likely when it comes to male lead Ashton Kutcher. I’m a fan but many aren’t & I suspect his tabloid persona works against him with the naysayers. As to whether or not Kutcher has range or real talent, the parts he’s played so far leave that question mostly unanswered. The same is true for co-star/leading lady Amanda Peet. She was excellent in her Something’s Gotta Give (2003) supporting part, but the jury is still out on her ultimate ability. I like her a lot and hope she gets significant future work. I’ll admit that there is a lot less to like about the characters they play in A Lot Like Love. Ultimately, though, that didn’t matter to me since I responded to the actors more than to their characters here.
If you enjoyed When Harry Met Sally (1989) and/or Serendipity (2001), you’ll probably like A Lot Like Love. If you liked Sin City (2005), return to your comic books or video games and stay away.
BATMAN BEGINS Rated: 8-1/2
BEWITCHED Rated: 4
There are few more painful movie experiences than having to sit/suffer through an intended/alleged comedy and finding few or no laughs. That was my fate today (Saturday, 6/25/2005) at the AMC Century City Cinemas in Los Angeles. Few other audience members seemed any more amused than I was and there was considerable grumbling as the end credits finally rolled. In fact, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a comedy that fell as flat as this.
Generally, I try to find something good to say about (almost) every film I comment on. In that tradition, I’ll admit that it is well cast and excuse the actors from any blame here. My guess is that they did exactly as instructed. Blame the director. As the credited director, this is Nora Ephron’s 7th film. In my opinion, she is 2 for 7. I am not a fan.
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN Rated: 9 1/2
BROKEN FLOWERS Rated: 4 1/2
However, be it known, I’m in the minority among critics about Billy Murray just as I was/am regarding Lost In Translation and Broken Flowers.
I like films that have a story to tell and do just that. Broken Flowers has an interesting setup but doesn’t bother to resolve/explain questions raised. At best, I consider is an exercise and, at worst a cheat.
The supporting cast includes Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct—1992), Jessica Lang (Tootsie—1982), Tilda Swinton (The Deep End—2001) & Frances Conroy (television’s Six Feet Under—2001-2005). These ladies are interesting and worthy of praise. The lead actor, the script, and the direction are not.
CAPOTE Rated: 9
All technical elements are professional and efficient. This is a good movie and I strongly recommend it.
CINDERELLA MAN Rated: 9
That having been said, let me add that, personally, I hope this is the last film I ever have to and/or want to see that features multiple scenes of professional boxing. I realize that many people simply love watching two adults beat the sh*t out of each other for their blood-thirsty amusement, but count me out. About previous films with boxing themes, my favorite is Million Dollar Baby (2004). It’s fight sequences, while excellent, didn’t seem quite as brutal as those in Cinderella Man. I thought the original Rocky (1976), which, amazingly, won that year’s Best Picture Oscar, was entertaining but not particularly special or memorable. Further, I am not a fan of Raging Bull (1980) from Martin Scorsese although it is considered a masterpiece by many critics.
(A Personal Aside: In the eighties, I got to know a young man named Daryl. As I soon discovered, Daryl was seriously screwed-up. Contributing to his condition, I suspect, is the fact that, before he was a teenager, Daryl’s older brothers forced him to have bloody fistfights with his other young siblings for their amusement. When I ran into Daryl a couple of years ago, he had just gotten out of jail. I found myself thinking of Daryl as I watched the brutal scenes in Cinderella Man.)
CRASH Rated: 9
Most of the credit has to go to now fiftysomething Canadian Paul Haggis who co-wrote and directed. Best known for his Oscar nominated adapted screenplay for Million Dollar Baby (2004), his earlier writing career included work on highly regarded television series Thirtysomething (1987-91) and Due South (1994-96) for which he earned both Emmy and Gemini recognition. This is the first film he directed. His personal experience of having his vehicle car-jacked and his observations of the Los Angeles riots influenced his decision to write this project which deals with interracial interactions in Los Angeles.
Crash takes place in 2004 Los Angeles and the plot is set in motion by a car crash/accident that involves several members of the outstanding ensemble cast. Nobody in the large cast is anything less than stellar but my favorites deserving special mention are Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe, & Thandie Newton. Ms. Bullock (Speed—1994, A Time To Kill—1996, Two Weeks Notice—2002) is anything but “congenial” here and proves that her range extends far beyond her usual likeable persona. I’ve always been a fan of Matt Dillon (My Bodyguard—1980, Drugstore Cowboy—1989, To Die For -1995, Wild Things—1998) but had forgotten just how good an actor he is when given compelling material. Until now I wasn’t sure about Ryan Phillippe. I liked him in White Squall (1996), Cruel Intentions (1999), & Gosford Park (2001) but thought he was extremely weak/unimpressive in 54 (1998) & The Way Of The Gun (2000). He really nails his part here. Other than in her 2004-05 network television arc as “Kem” in ER, I was singularly unimpressed with Zimbabwean Thandie Newton (Beloved—1998). I found her remote in Mission Impossible II (2000) & dull in the lackluster mistake The Truth About Charlie (2002). She is spectacular here and gets my early endorsement for a supporting actress Oscar nomination.
For personal reasons and based on past experience, I tend to have strong opinions about the way films are released. Generally, I don’t criticize release patterns in my reviews. I’ll make an exception here. Simply put, Crash deserved a platform release supported by a major campaign instead of being given such a wide initial opening. Unfortunately, it is not being released by one of the distribution companies that excel with this type film. I wish Focus or Fox Searchlight had picked it up for distribution. Regardless, with a surprisingly small budget quoted at $7.5 million, profit would seem assured. I would have guessed that it cost several times that to make.
I highly recommend Crash.
DARK WATER Rated: 5 1/2
DEAR FRANKIE Rated: 9
I’m reluctant to mention much about the plot since not knowing much in advance would probably add to a viewer’s enjoyment. Here’s the setup: Nine year old Frankie now lives near a Scottish seaside port with his single motherLizzie and her mother. In order to protect her deaf nine-year-old son from the truth and from his biological father, Lizzie moves them around a lot. Also, she has invented a make-believe letter writing father for Frankie. Lizzie tells Frankie that his father is a sailor on a ship she calls the HMS Accra. As fate would have it, there is a real ship with that name and Frankie learns that it will soon be docking near where he lives. Lizzie decides to get someone to pretend to be Frankie’s seafaring father for just one day.
The cast is exceptional. Emily Mortimer (Lovely And Amazing—2001) is Lizzie, Gerard Butler (The Phantom Of The Opera—2004) is the sailor/stranger, and Jack McElhone is Frankie. Gerard Butler gives ample evidence here that he’d be terrific as the next James Bond. He reminds me of two of my other current favorites, Clive Owen and Eric Bana, and is sure to be strongly considered for parts suitable for them.
I’m very disappointed in the lack of support that US distributor, Miramax, has given this film. It deserves better. It’s well worth seeking out either in a theatre or later on video. I was charmed and moved & plan to see it again.
DERAILED Rated: 4
ELIZABETHTOWN Rated: 4
Since Cameron Crowe wrote and directed, blame him. (* See my comments on his previous work below.*) Clearly, he meant well and was attempting to emulate Frank Capra type romantic comedies from the thirties such as It Happened One Night (1934). Whiff. As directed, the cast is adequate but just barely that. Personally, I tend to like Orlando Bloom. He’s best known for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy (2002, 2003, 2004) & the Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy (2003, 2006, 2007) but he still hasn’t registered any strong screen presence or heft. For me, he was at his best, so far, in Troy (2004) at least partially because his performance & appearance matched the somewhat frivolous/campy take on the serious subject matter whether on purpose or not. I consider Troy a major guilty pleasure and wish I had been even half as entertained by Elizabethtown as I was by it. I was a fan of Kirsten Dunst from the first time I became aware of her in Interview With The Vampire (1994) through Spider-Man 2 and Wimbledon in 2004. What was cute, sweet, charming and appealing about her in those films curdles and becomes cloying here. Further, two time Oscar winning cinematographer John Toll, who really ought to know/do better, photographs her in a manner that caused me to notice, for the first time, that she shares a problem with Patricia Arquette. (I’m not being specific here since I don’t want to encourage others to look for it.) Oscar winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking—1995) is unlikely to add her supporting turn here to her resume.
*Cameron Crowe has directed five previous films. My favorite, easily, is  Jerry Maguire (1996). It stars Tom Cruise in one of his most likable performances, turned Renee Zellweger into a star, and earned Cuba Gooding, Jr. a well-deserved supporting actor Oscar. I’m less enthusiastic that most about  Almost Famous (2001) which won Mr. Crowe an Oscar for his original screenplay but I was entertained by it.  Say Anything (1989) has a cult-like following and I was mildly amused. If I saw  Singles (1992), I’ve totally forgotten it. I didn’t like or respect  Vanilla Sky (2001) one bit and it was not well received. I found it unpleasant and incomprehensible. As Tom Cruise’s leading lady, Penélope Cruz is as annoying as Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown & Kate Hudson in Almost Famous. (Trend spotted…) Cameron Crowe deserves another chance or two, but his work, so far, doesn’t generally work for me.
THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE Rated: 6
Nobody is likely to think The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is anywhere near as successful, but fans of the genre may enjoy it, anyway. I found some of the plot very annoying, especially the ending. I suspect that being a Catholic might contribute to viewer enjoyment/understanding, but acceptance of the existence of demons as presented here is a leap I didn’t take.
(Maybe I’m taking the whole thing too seriously?!) Regardless, I’m being generous with my rating since I don’t want to discourage the predisposed and because of the excellent performances of the two lead actors, Laura Linney (You Can Count On Me—2000, Love Actually—2003, Kinsey—2004) & Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty—1997 and In The Bedroom—2001). Basically, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is competent film making.
THE FAMILY STONE Rated: 8 ½
Three of the Stone family siblings are played by Rachel McAdams (The Notebook—2004), Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding—1997) & Luke Wilson (Home Fries—1998, Old School—2003). They continue to be among my top favorites. Also earning mention are Sarah Jessica Parker (television’s Sex And The City—1998 to 2004), Tyrone Giordano, Paul Schneider, Claire Danes (Shopgirl—2005) & Craig T. Nelson (ABC Television’s Coach—1989 to 1997).
This is only the second film for writer/director Thomas Bezucha and his work is most impressive. (I’m also a big fan of his first, Big Eden—2000). I am delighted that he chose to reprise Judy Garland singing all of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” right off the soundtrack of Meet Me In St. Louis (1944).
FANTASTIC FOUR Rated: 5
For the MPAA to rate Fantastic Four as a PG-13 rather than a PG is a bigger mystery than anything on the screen.
FASCINATION Rated: 3
FEVER PITCH 8 1/2
This a sweet natured romantic comedy about a young woman executive workaholic who falls in love with a school teacher who is an obsessed Boston Red Soxs baseball fan. Drew Barrymore (ET—1982, Boys On The Side—1995, Home Fries—1998, & Charlie’s Angels—2000) is attractive, charming and as at least as likeable as ever in her part as the executive. Jimmy Fallon, who is best known from televisions’ Saturday Night Live is a pleasant surprise to me. He proves to be a very effective leading man as the sports nut.
The two have considerable chemistry and are a pleasure to watch.
Director brothers Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly have wisely chosen to seriously limit their well known bodily function & fluids comedy style this time. While I love their monuments to bad taste, namely Kingpin (1996) and There’s Something About Mary (1998), their more recent efforts between those two and now have seemed repetitive and forced. This is a step in the right direction and provides clear evidence that they do have range.
I recommend Fever Pitch to most potential viewers both male and female.
HAPPY ENDINGS Rated: 8
HIDE AND SEEK Rated: 4
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE Rated: 9
The casting and the acting are exceptional. Viggo Mortensen (The Lord Of The Rings trilogy from 2001, 2002, & 2003, Crimson Tide—1995, A Perfect Murder—1998, A Walk On The Moon—1999) deserves best actor award consideration. He’s never been this good before. Both Maria Bello (Coyote Ugly—2000, The Cooler—2003, television’s ER) & Oscar winner William Hurt (Body Heat—1981, The Big Chill—1983, The Kiss Of The Spider Woman—1985)are outstanding. Ms. Bello reminds me of the wonderful Virginia Madsen (SIDEWAYS—2004) and I’m hoping to see more of both of them soon. Mr. Hurt hasn’t been as good since his work in The Doctor (1991) although he has been fortunate to have been able to continue to work. Also deserving comment is young Ashton Holmes who impresses as Mortensen and Bello’s teen-aged son. His future is bright.
All other components are solid including: (1)cinematography by Polish born Cronenberg favorite Peter Suschitzky who resists a likely urge to keep the whole film too dark (2)musical scoring by two time Oscar winning Canadian born Howard Shore who resists the likely urge to over-score (3)editing by Cronenberg favorite and likely Canadian Ronald Sanders who allows just the right amount of violence to be shown without going too far this time.
The bottom line is that this film tells a good story without any stunts. There is no padding or fat & I was totally involved throughout its blessedly brief/appropriate 96 riveting minutes.
(*) My opinion about other films from director David Cronenberg: (1) I thought his 1986 remake of The Fly was creepy, dark, ugly and unwatchable. (I have fond memories of 1958’s The Fly.) (2) From the opening credits onward, I detested his Dead Ringers (1988) which starred Jeremy Irons. I loved the trashy novel upon which it was based, “Twins” by Bari Wood, Jack Geasland, but this dark/serious interpretation only made me cringe. (3) Naked Lunch (1991) would score high on any list of my worst ever films. To call this piece of shit repugnant would be to damn it with faint praise. (4) I suspect that I might have enjoyed the play of the same name upon which Cronenberg’s film adaptation is based, M. Butterfly (1993), but I found the film absurd. John Lone’s appearance & performance as the title character is incredulous. Not for one second did I believe he was the person he claimed to be or that his lover would believe it either. The Crying Game (1992) got it right. (5) Crash (1996) from Cronenberg is to Crash (2005) from Paul Haggis as chicken shit is to chicken salad.
HOSTAGE Rated: 9
Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the source book by Robert Crais when it first came out in 2001, I’m still pleasantly surprised at just how good
the film has turned out to be. It all starts with the clever material, of course, but the big difference here is the highly cinematic adaptation by Doug Richardson (Die Hard 2—1990), the exceptional casting, and the direction of Frenchman Florent Emilio Siri (Nid De Guepes aka The Nest—2002).
Bruce Willis (the three Die Hard films—1988, 1990, and 1995 & The Sixth Sense—1999) is Jeff Talley, a former LAPD hostage negotiator and current chief of police in a small, low-crime Ventura County California hamlet. He has moved there with his wife and daughter after a recent disastrous failed hostage situation in Los Angeles and another violent situation is the last thing he wanted or expected. However, three young thugs-in-training decide to steal a car from the home of gangster-connected accountant Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak). Walter shares his heavily fortified, stylish and expensive home with his eight-year-old son, Tommy (Jimmy Bennett) and his teenaged daughter, Jennifer (Michelle Horn). The thieves’ choice of that house was most unfortunate for all affected including Chief Talley and his family. Bennett and Horn do excellent work and special praise is due Ben Foster (Liberty Heights—1999) as the deeply troubled Mars, Jonathan Tucker (The Deep End—2001) as Dennis Kelly, and Marshall Allman as Kevin Kelly. All three of these young men prove that they have considerable range since they are shine brightly when cast against type as villains here. All five of these young actors have assured futures and this is the best that Bruce Willis has been in his last 10 films going back to The Sixth Sense in 2000. Further, this one reminds me of just how good he actually was in the Die Hard Trilogy. I’m not generally much of a Bruce Willis fan but he sure won me over this time, especially when I stop to consider just how much I would have hated at least three of his fifty-something contemporaries in this part. Namely: Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, and John Travolta.
About director Florent Emilio Sire, I was annoyed and apprehensive when he was announced as the director for Hostage. Fellow Frenchman Pitof came immediately to mind. Remember that Pitof was responsible for the calamitous Catwoman (2004). After seeing Hostage, I’d recommend Siri to guide the next in the James Bond series, the next Bourne chapter, the next Mission Impossible mission and/or anything from the pen of Tom Clancy and/or James Patterson. I see that Siri’s 2002 French film, Nid De Guepes (aka The Nest), is available on video at Amazon.com And I’ll be checking that one out soon.
Paris born composer Alexandre Desplat has provided a most unusual and amazingly effective musical score. Frankly, early in the film, I was concerned that the score was intrusive and annoying but it builds along with the film and ultimately does exactly what a good musical score should. Desplat is becoming increasingly popular for English language films such as The Upside Of Anger (2005), Birth (2004), & The Girl With A Pearl Earring-yawn-(2003).
My guess is that cinematographer Giovanni Fiore Coltellaccii is Italian, but my eyes tell me that he is gifted and knows how to turn his obvious craft into art. As best I can determine, this is his first English language film as cinematographer but look for more soon. Superb editing is credited to Richard Byard and Olivier Gajan. Editor Gajan, composer Desplat, & cinematographer all worked with director Siri on Nid De Guepes. They make an outstanding team and I hope they reunite on another project soon. Production design, art direction, and set decoration are all commendable.
Clearly, this one worked for me. I recognize that there isn’t much subtext here and suspect that, generally, men are going to like it better than women. I’m amused to note that thirteen people are credited as producers. Tellingly, perhaps, twelve of them are men!
IN HER SHOES Rated: 8 1/2
THE INTERPRETER Rated: 8 1/2
The Interpreter is comparable to and reminiscent of director Pollack’s earlier hit Three Days Of The Condor (1975). Both are thrillers played out against political backgrounds. Further, they are both intended for intelligent adults. I’m grateful that someone is still making this type film and pray that it will be a boxoffice success.
The casting is smart and the performances are excellent without being flashy, distracting or self important. I totally believed Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours—2002) as an interpreter for the United Nations and was not even once reminded of her tabloid life or glamorous off screen persona. While I respect Sean Penn’s acting ability, he’s never been a personal favorite of mine. His performance here as an FBI agent who must protect Kidman is unmannered and I found him surprisingly likeable. In a supporting role, Catherine Keener (Lovely & Amazing—2001) is terrific and adds some welcome, subtle humor.
THE ISLAND Rated: 7
JARHEAD Rated: 6 1/2
(Shattered Glass—2003, Kinsey—2004) continues to do exceptional work and stand out. Unfortunately, my guess is that the Academy will overlook him again this year but someday…
JUNE BUG Rated: 9
JUST LIKE HEAVEN Rated: 6 1/2
All that said, Just Like Heaven is a mild diversion that will be enjoyed by many. Personally, I was somewhat disappointed, especially when comparing it to Ghost (1990) which is easily the standard for this genre. On the plus side, leads Reese Witherspoon (The Man In The Moon—1991, Election—1999, Legally Blond—2001) and Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count On Me—2000, In The Cut—2003, 13 Going On 30—2004) are able, attractive & likable. John Heder (Napoleon Dynamite—2004) is effective/funny in support.
In my opinion, director Mark Waters is erratic. I love his Mean Girls (2004) but found his earlier work on Freaky Friday (2003) & Head Over Heels (2001) rather lame. Unfortunately, the edge which enriched Mean Girls is nowhere to be found in Just Like Heaven.
KING KONG Rated: 9
I went in with some reservations, but was won over in the first few minutes. Unlike almost everyone else I know or read, I’ve never been especially fond of director Peter Jackson’s work including The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003). (Don’t tell anybody, please!) This time he got it absolutely right and deserves award consideration for his seamless direction. The look of the film is miraculous. Although the 1930s New York sections were obviously shot on sets, they may be the best sets I’ve ever seen and match the material perfectly.
I thought Naomi Watts was great in 21 Grams (2003). Showing her range, she’s just as good here displaying tenderness and beauty. I’m surprised by Jack Black (The School Of Rock—2003). As intended, and to my surprise, he really does recall the young Orson Wells. As the screenwriter, Oscar winner Adrien Brody (The Pianist -2003) does well enough for me to forgive his annoying turn in The Village—2004. I also enjoyed seeing Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot—2000), Thomas Kretschmann (The Pianist—2003), emerging Colin Hanks (son of Tom), & Kyle Chandler who is a lot of fun as the movie star. Through technique that I don’t come close to understanding, Andy Serkis helps make Kong most believable. While watching the film, it never occurred to me that I wasn’t watching the real thing. My disbelief was totally suspended and I had a great time. Odds are that you will too.
KISS KISS BANG BANG Rated: 6
This is director Shane Black’s first time as director and it shows. Mr. Black wrote & is the person most responsible for the Lethal Weapon quartet (1987, 1989, 1992, 1998). So far, he’s a better writer than director. I suspect he’ll make a better film in the future.
Both Oscar nominee Robert Downey, Jr. (Chaplin—1992, Wonder Boys—2000) & Val Kilmer (The Doors—1991, Batman Forever—1995) are effective and likeable.
LOGGERHEADS Rated: 8-1/2
It’s really a shame that there’s so little interest in a film of this type in today’s marketplace. In Los Angeles, Loggerheads came and went (October 2005) in less than 2 full weeks. As partial explanation, it had very little LA Times newspaper ad lineage even thought film festival (including Sundance) reaction and reviews were both mostly positive. Roger Ebert really liked the film but his opinion didn’t help since his print review wasn’t published until a week after the Los Angeles opening and his television review wasn’t aired until a couple of days after the film had left Los Angeles theatres. Further, although it well may have been a valid business decision: (1) No television spots were run. (2) I saw no cast member television or print interviews locally or nationally. (3) No postcards featuring the cast were at the theatres where the film played or at local spots where these cards are often available. My point being, few potential viewers are likely to have even know of the film.
I don’t want to raise your expectations too high on this one, but I think it’s a nice little film that’s worth your time if you enjoy small, independent films from time to time.
THE LONGEST YARD Rated: 3 1/2
I’ve had mixed reactions to Adam Sandler in his past films. I liked: Bulletproof (1996), The Wedding Singer (1998) & The Waterboy. However, Big Daddy (1999), Little Nicky (2000), & Mr. Deeds (2002) would finish high on any list I make of films I’ve hated most. They are beyond terrible and could break a reasonable person of the habit of movie watching. I didn’t like either of his more serious recent efforts, Punch-Drunk Love (2002) or Spanglish (2004) but thought he showed signs of actually being/becoming a decent actor in those two. His efforts at expressing some honest emotion about some of his character’s past mistakes here in The Longest Yard were unsuccessful and lead me to doubt that he’ll ever progress. I know I don’t look forward to his next films.
Director Peter Segal graduated from the USC School of Cinema-Television (1994). That’s the only nice thing I have to say about him and I say this only because I’m a big fan of the University of Southern California Trojans. Based on this film and his others, including the atrocious Tommy Boy (1995) & the lame My Fellow Americans (1996), I strongly suggest that Mr. Segal only be offered scripts that Bob Clark (Baby Geniuses -1999) considers unworthy of his talent and passes.
Courtney Cox (television’s Friends) has a vivid cameo and wears a killer red dress. Eighty year old Oscar winning actress Cloris Leachman (The Last Picture Show—1971) provides some laughs in one of the strangest casting choices ever. Chris Rock continues to play Chris Rock in support. I’m pleased that Burt Reynolds (Starting Over—1979) was cast in a supporting role this time after effectively playing the quarterback in 1974. I believed him in the part while never believing Adam Sandler as a football player. Mr. Reynolds is adequate here as a coach.
This is a remake of an earlier version also called The Longest Yard & released in 1974. The original is better, much better. Although I don’t remember liking it enough to bother seeing it again now, the plot/story/script is basically the same. The major differences are better, much better casting then and the fact that a talented director, Robert Aldrich (Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?—1962) called the shots in the earlier incarnation. I suggest renting the 1974 edition and passing the 2005 remake.
MONSTER-IN-LAW Rated: 7
This is Australian born director Robert Luketic’s third feature film and follows Legally Blond (2001) & Win A Date With Tad Hamilton! (2004). I like both. In my opinion, he is one good script away from being a highly sought-after A-list director.
Monster-In-Law is nothing new but it knows that. The Friday afternoon audience that I saw it with in Beverly Hills on it’s opening day afternoon (5/13/2005) had a great time.
MR. & MRS. SMITH Rated: 8 1/2
After the cast, the next major plus is the direction by Doug Liman. Mr. & Mrs. Smith is his 4th film as a director. He has become one of my favorites based on four or his first five feature films and the episodes he directed of the television series called The O.C. (2003 & more). I am unfamiliar with his first theatrical feature, Getting In (aka Student Body 1994) but love Swingers (1996), Go (1999) & The Bourne Identity (2002). Mr. Liman is a 1992 graduate of the University of Southern California School of Cinema & Television and a credit to that fine institution.
All technical aspects are expert including exceptional cinematography by Bojan Bazelli (Kalifornia—1993) and original music scoring by John Powell (The Bourne Identity—2002, The Italian Job—2003, The Bourne Supremacy—2004). Worth noting, Bazelli photographed Pitt more than ten years ago for Kalifornia and Powell did the excellent score for Liman’s earlier Bourne Identity (2002).
Two writers are credited. They are Jez Butterworth and Simon Kinberg. Neither is familiar to me and I strongly suspect others contributed without credit. I’d have preferred more dialogue and quite moments between the stars and fewer action sequences. Although the action sequences are excellent, they do tend to go on a bit too long for my taste. Nevertheless, I highly recommend Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
MUST LOVE DOGS Rated: 8 1/2
NORTH COUNTRY Rated: 8
THE PACIFIER Rated: 3 1/2
An excellent trailer led me to expect much, much better. Vin Diesel (The Fast And The Furious—2001) proves that he hasn’t a clue about comedy. By comparison, his work here makes Arnuld’s attempt at the same in the similar Kindergarten Cop (1990) seem award worthy. Out director Adam Shankman (Bringing Down The House—2003) reconfirms that not all gay directors are talented or tasteful.
PRIDE & PREJUDICE Rated: 9
Of published reviews collected/compiled by Rotten Tomatoes, 87% (117 out of 134) of critics were favorably impressed and 86% of their reporting site users felt the same. Actually, I’d be leery of anybody who doesn’t like this one and that definitely includes Richard Roeper who found it dull. (What ARE this man’s credentials, anyway?)
This is the first theatrical feature film for British born director Joe Wright, who was in his early thirties when the film was shot, and it’s a major achievement. His previous work was limited to British television; his future is unlimited.
Casting of the film is spot on and the performances are uniformly exceptional and natural. I’ll be surprised if Keira Knightly fails to become a multi award-winning actress with major star boxoffice success. Her performance here is probably her best work to date and I liked her here just as much as I did in my two earlier favorites of hers Bend It Like Beckham (2002) & Love Actually (2003). I was unaware of Matthew MacFayden until I saw the theatrical trailer of Pride & Prejudice. As Mr. Darcy, at 6’2” and 30 years old at the time of filming, he is as attractive as he is talented. He’s my candidate to follow the recently cast Daniel Craig as James Bond once Mr. Craig completes his run as Bond, James Bond. Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies—1996) is charming as the mother and Canadian Donald Sutherland is worthy of supporting actor award consideration in his part as the father. I’ve been a fan of Sutherland since I first saw him in Joanna (1968). He is probably best know for his work in MASH (1970) and as father of Kiefer Sutherland (24) while his performance in Klute (1971) is my personal favorite out of his work in more than 100 films. Also, I particularly liked Tom Hollander as Mr. Collins and look forward to seeing him in Pirates Of The Caribbean 2 (2006) AND 3 (2007). Further, worth mention is Rupert Friend who has a small but flashy part as the scoundrel, Mr. Wickham. Friend is currently shining as the male lead of Dan Ireland’s charming Mrs. Palfrey At The Claremont (2005) and has at least three more upcoming completed or announced projects.
Pride & Prejudice is easily one of the best films of 2005.
PROOF Rated: 7 1/2
RED EYE Rated: 9
These lighter welcome moments are there to relieve the palatable tension. Incidentally, the trailer gives exactly the right amount of information without tipping/spoiling “all the good parts” which has become the norm rather than the exception. My highest compliments go to the people marketing Red Eye.
The film itself doesn’t include a wasted frame or bit of bloat/fat. The story is told in a clear, direct manner and I was riveted throughout the relatively brief running time of about 90 minutes. Director Wes Craven (The Scream trilogy ‘96, ‘97, 2000 & Music Of The Heart—1999) knew exactly the story he wanted to tell and does so efficiently, effectively, entertainingly.
Approximately 85% of reviews (per Rotten Tomatoes) are positive & opening weekend domestic boxoffice in late August 2005 was solid. The Century City, Los Angeles audience that I saw it with had a foot-stomping good time opening Friday afternoon.
My hope/guess is that word-of-mouth will be good enough to keep it around for a long time. Profit seems assured due to the appropriate, but tidy budget.
The young lead actors are terrific. Canadian born Rachel McAdams continues her rise to major stardom. This is her fourth big film in a row and she continues to amaze me. In 2004, she graced Mean Girls & The Notebook. Both were entertaining & boxoffice successes. This summer (2005) she follows up with her charming turn in big hit Wedding Chasers and now Red Eye. Nobody has a brighter future than she does. Irish born Cillian Murphy follows his appropriately over-the-top outing in Batman Begins (2005) as another villain but dials it back nicely here. I also enjoyed seeing him in 28 Days (2002) and look forward to Breakfast On Pluto (2005) next. He has long-term star potential.
Also deserving mention is Jayma Mays as hotel employee Cynthia. This is Ms. Mays theatrical debut after recent supporting parts in series television shows such as Joey, Six Feet Under & Entourage. Expect more. How nice to get reacquainted Jack Scalia as Charles Keefe. Now in his early fifties, Mr. Scalia is in great shape and has aged well. I enjoyed him as Rock Hudson’s son in the 1982 television series The Devlin Connection. Mr Scalia would be great as a USA President and could easily take the “Bruce Greenwood” (Thirteen Days—2000) parts when Mr. Greenwood is otherwise occupied.
Clearly, I suggest that you see Red Eye!
RENT Rated: 6 ½
THE RING TWO Rated: 4
I wasn’t a fan of it’s predecessor, The Ring (2002), and I had to force myself to sit all the way through this one. I’ll readily admit that current horror films similar to this one and The Grudge—2004 are just not for me. I insist that any film must make some sense, at least after the fact, and that is most definitely not a requirement for this genre these days. This one is appropriately produced and it does look good. Filming on location at rainy Astoria, Washington is a plus.
Returning lead actress Naomi Watts (21 Grams—2003) is up to the task at hand but has been much better in better films and will be again. I figure she did this one just for the money and find no fault with that. Also, ten-year-old David Dorfman returns as her son and does as instructed. I have to assume that he doesn’t ask why his character does what he does and the viewer shouldn’t either.
I like Simon Baker (L.A. Confidential—1998) and enjoyed seeing him in support. He deserves more and better. So does Elizabeth Perkins (Big—1988) who is effective in her one scene as a psychologist. Unfortunately, one of my personal favorites, Oscar winner Sissy Spacek (Carrie—1976) does not fare as well. She is unrecognizable beneath a dark fright wig. Maybe she was trying to hide.
The running time is a long 111 minutes. There are a few cheap jolts.
SIN CITY Rated: 3 1/2
I hated this piece of excrement. Style it has. Style alone, isn’t enough, at least for me it isn’t. Exquisitely photographed manure would still be manure.
I hasten to add that reviews/comments have been overwhelmingly positive from both critics and ticket buyers. Consider this a minority report. Perhaps I’m out-of-touch. If so, in this instance, I consider that a plus. In my opinion, unless you are a teenaged boy with a taste for comic book/graphic novel trash, a bored film critic who’s seen far too many films, and/or someone with an unquenchable thirst for splatter cinema, I suggest you think carefully before deciding to see this garbage.
I found it gross, repugnant, vile, sadistic, dull and repetitive. For one example, depiction of cannibalism has never been a personal favorite of mine, except when practiced by Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in HANNIBAL (2001). Here it’s is just plain disgusting.
The MPAA’s decision to grant this one a R rather than a NC-17 rating should trigger a congressional investigation. What would it take to get a NC-17?!
A SOUND OF THUNDER Rated: 4
STAR WARS III: REVENGE OF THE SITH Rated: 8
Between then and now, a quick 28 or so years, I figure I’ve seen approximately 3500 other movies including the four other Star Wars episodes. Revenge of the Sith (episode 3 of 6 in the Star Wars series) is not as good as episodes 4, 5 or 6, but it far superior to episodes 1 and 2. Further, I consider it excellent stand alone entertainment. Meaning, you probably don’t have to be an expert about other episodes to enjoy this one.
STEALTH Rated: 3 1/2
I gather that STEALTH is a lot like a video game. I can neither confirm nor deny that. However, I can tell you that I think this is a terrible movie. In brief, it’s simple-minded, loud and dumb. If you like video games, maybe you’ll like it. Otherwise, consider this a warning. In their compilation/recap of STEALTH reviews, the Rotten Tomatoes website found that only 14 out of 119 critics gave it favorable reviews. Not a good sign.
I didn’t even enjoy seeing a couple of my favorite young actors this time. Probably best know for the television series, 7TH HEAVEN (1996- 2001), I found Jeniffer Biel impressive and attractive in SUMMER CATCH (2001) and effective in her small part in 2004’s CELLULAR. She is really badly cast as a military pilot this time and not even interesting to watch. She deserves better and has 3 completed projects awaiting release including Cameron Crowe’s ELIZABETHTOWN (2005).
I first noticed Josh Lucas in THE DEEP END (2001) in which he played sleazy/swarthy to perfection. In his supporting part, I thought he was excellent in A BEAUTIFUL MIND—2001, & as attractive as he was likable as a good guy/leading man in SWEET HOME ALABAMA—2002. Recently, he was vivid in his unbilled cameo in television mini, EMPIRE FALLS—2005. STEALTH won’t destroy either Biel or Lucas’ careers, but it sure isn’t going to help them. Recent Oscar winner for RAY (2004), Jamie Foxx plays Jamie Fox in support here and can sleep late on February 2006 nomination morning.
I’ve liked some of director Rob Cohen’s earlier films such as THE SKULLS (2000) & THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS—2001, but although he fails miserably here, I hope he gets a chance to redeem himself. STEALTH is a major boxoffice under-performer. Occasionally, the public gets it right. Pass.
STAY Rated: 2-1/2
WAITING… Rated: 2
WAR OF THE WORLDS Rated: 8 1/2
WEDDING CRASHERS Rated: 8 1/2
THE WEDDING DATE Rated: 8
(More detailed comments to follow.)
WHERE THE TRUTH LIES Rated: 3
I wish he’d direct a film where the beginning, the middle and the end of the story are presented in roughly that order. (* See further comments about Mr. Egoyan below.*)
To begin with, casting Alison Lohman, who was about 21 years old at the time of filming, as a seasoned journalist was a major mistake. Over-and-above that however, she gives one of the worst performances I can recall. Kevin Bacon (Footloose—1984, JFK—1991, Mystic River—2003) and Colin Firth (Another Country—1984, Pride & Prejudice television mini—1995, Briget Jones’s Diary—2001) are cast as a show business team obviously intended to bring to mind Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis. Neither of these attractive actors has ever looked worse and I found both performances very distasteful. I’ve been a fan of both Mr. Bacon and Mr. Firth since the early 1980s and, this disaster aside, I still am.
*Born in Egypt to Armenian parents, 7 time major Genie Award winner, Atom Egoyan was raised in Western Canada. Although I’m predisposed to give Canadian films the benefit of the doubt, I really dislike this man’s work. But maybe it’s just me since The Sweet Hereafter received international acclaim including, to my complete amazement, Oscar nominations for best picture and best director.
…more to come.
...more to come!
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