Friday, October 19, 2012

Across the Universe (2007) [PG-13] ****

A film review by James Berardinelli for

One could never argue that Across the Universe isn't ambitious. However, like many ambitious movies, this one fails spectacularly. Glenn Kenny of Premiere magazine called it the perfect disaster and, while I think that's a little harsh, I understand where he's coming from. Elements of Across the Universe are shockingly awful and the film lasts at least 30 minutes past the bearable stage. But if you like the Beatles, and the idea of hearing about 20 covers of their work fills you with a perverse joy, this may be the movie for you.

The film has had a troubled production history. It was reportedly taken away from director Julie Taymor after advance preview screenings resulted in jeers and catcalls. The producers re-cut the movie and it was received with more warmth, but Taymor went public with her gripe and this stirred up controversy. Apparently, the 133-minute theatrical cut is Taymor's version. If it's not, I shudder to think how much worse a longer edition could be.

The lack of anything resembling a compelling narrative is part of the problem. It's the 1960s and Liverpool native Jude (Jim Sturgess) has traveled across the Atlantic in search of the dad he never knew. He is befriended by Princeton drop-out Max (Joe Anderson) and falls in love with his sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). Soon, these three are doing road trips, fighting against the War in Vietnam (or, in Max's case, fighting in Vietnam), and experiencing everything the era has to offer. They are joined on their odyssey by an Asian lesbian cheerleader (T.V. Carpio), a Janis Joplin clone (Dana Fuchs), and a Jimi Hendrix wannabe (Martin Luther).

Taymor has always been best known for the imaginative visual aspects of her films and stage productions (see Titus for her best screen work), and there's no shortage of tricks in her bag this time: animation, puppets, underwater sequences, psychedelic imagery, and more. Somehow, however, it all seems gratuitous - a way to distract the viewer from how pointless the story is. Like the shot of Wood's left breast (more nipple than one normally sees in a PG-13 production), it's all a bit of a tease. And none of these elements shows much in the way of technical achievement - they're the kinds of things any reasonably adept graphic designer can accomplish on a properly equipped home PC.

The songs are a bigger distraction than the visuals. With only a few exceptions, most of them are out-of-place. They are shoehorned in simply to increase the film's Beatles music content. The expected approach in a musical is for the songs to advance the story. In Across the Universe, the narrative pauses roughly every seven minutes so the characters can break into song, then resumes when they're done. This approach makes it impossible to identify with the characters or be interested in their circumstances. And, while the singing is of variable quality, most of the dance numbers are amateurish.

Jim Sturgess and Joe Anderson were obviously chosen more for their singing ability than their talent as actors. To their credit, they make a credible Lennon/McCartney pair. Evan Rachel Wood has a surprisingly strong set of pipes. The vocal styling of the supporting performers is variable, and includes a torturous version of I Wanna Hold Your Hand by T.V. Carpio which may destroy your ability to ever again hear that song cleanly. Eddie Izzard, Joe Cocker, and Bono have cameos. Oddly, Cocker does not contribute With a Little Help From My Friends, even though his recorded cover is arguably more recognizable than the original (thanks in large part to the TV series The Wonder Years).

I have heard Across the Universe being referred to as this generation's Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and I can't refute the argument. There are also times when the film evokes memories of Xanadu. Neither of those stinkers is the kind of company any self-respecting musical wants to keep. It's hard to argue that the idea behind Across the Universe is a bad one - after all, Baz Luhrmann did something similar with Moulin Rouge and the Beatles music is incredibly versatile. The problem, therefore, must be in the execution, and it's a big problem. With a shorter running length, it might have been possible to appreciate Across the Universe as an entertaining failed spectacle. But, at 2:15, the word entertaining no longer applies in any context. [Berardinelli’s rating: ** out of 4]

Labels: drama, fantasy, musical, romance

Celine Dion: A New Day (2007) [UR] ***

Celine Dion is beautiful and statuesque; she has prodigious talent, and her voice has amazing power, presence and range. Her show is a wonderful example of the kind of polished, glamorous entertainment spectacle you expect to see in Las Vegas, with an expansive stage built especially for Celine, innovative song arrangements played by a full orchestra, Celine's pleasing figure draped in attractive and sensuous gowns and dresses, and dozens of dancers in intriguing costumes displaying intricate dance choreography - a bit like Celine Dion meets Cirque de Soleil.

Once you get beyond the show's spectacular performance value, however, it's a rather cold, emotionless experience. Celine is a consummate performer but she doesn't connect with her audience; in fact, she uses the dancers to shield herself from contact with her audience - during one number, for instance, she surrounded herself with over twenty, closely-packed male dancers. The only time the shield comes down is at the end of the performance when she regally descends from the stage, in diva fashion, to bestow a single red rose on a middle-aged female fan standing in the front row, a fan who is obviously more overcome with emotion than is Celine.

Her glowing reviews clearly indicate that many viewers like this kind of entertainment. Personally I much prefer a simpler, more heartfelt, more natural, more intimate performance in which the performing artist makes a stronger connection with her audience. 

Labels: family, music    
Internet Movie Database    

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Bucket List (2007) [PG-13] ***

Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) is a billionaire CEO. He's made his fortune buying profitless hospitals and turning them into understaffed money-making machines. But now he has cancer, and he's forced to share a room - since his hospitals have no private rooms. His roommate is Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) an auto mechanic with lung cancer. Carter has had some disappointments in his life; he also has a wife of forty-five years from whom he has grown distant.

After their surgeries and chemotherapy, Carter remembers an assignment given by his old college philosophy professor, and he starts to create a bucket list - a list of things to do before he kicks the bucket. Edward loves the idea, and since he has the financial resources, and they both have only a few months to live, the two slip out of the hospital cancer ward. They embark on an epic adventure of skydiving, race car driving, African safaris, and pyramid climbing - during which Carter asks Edward the two questions deceased Egyptians must answer correctly in order to enter the afterlife - Have you experienced joy in your life? And have you brought joy into the lives of others?

At the Taj Mahal in Agra, India they debate the issue of cremation vs. burial vs. crypt. And when they get to Chomolungma (Mount Everest, Goddess Mother of the World) they find that the climbing season is over, and they won't be able to see the peak until the following spring, by which time they'll be gone. Carter thinks that perhaps this is a sign that it's time to go home to his wife and family, whom he misses. In the final analysis, since we are all mortal, Carter and Edward's experience is relevant to each one of us, although the film speaks most clearly to those of us closer to life's end than its beginning. If you enjoyed Jack Nicholson in Something's Gotta Give, and Morgan Freeman in Feast of Love, you might really enjoy The Bucket List

Labels: adventure, comedy, drama    
Internet Movie Database     
Metacritic 42/100     
Tomatometer (critics=40, viewers=81)     

Wild Hogs (2007) [PG-13] *

City Slickers was one of the best road-trip buddy films ever made, and Wild Hogs tried, without success, to copy that film's formula. If you recall City Slickers, you can find its characters and plot in Wild Hogs. Billy Crystal's role as Mitch the family man who needs a time-out - that's Tim Allen. Patricia Wettig's role as his supportive wife - that's Jill Hennessy. Bruno Kirby's role as the tough guy with the lingerie model wife - that's John Travolta. Daniel Stern's role as the henpecked husband with the domineering wife - that's been split between Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy. Stern's love interest Bonnie, played by Helen Slater - that's Marisa Tomei. And Noble Willingham's role as cattle rancher Clay Stone - that's local sheriff Stephen Tobolowsky.

The cattle drive to Colorado in City Slickers, featuring loco trail hands, thunderstorm, stampede, flash flood and calf rescue - that's a menacing motorcycle gang that threatens to tear up a picturesque town. And the tough-on-the-outside but good-hearted trail boss, the role that earned the great Jack Palance a Supporting Actor Oscar - that's motorcycle gang leader Ray Liotta.

Uniquely, for the generation that remembers the classic motorcycle road film Easy Rider, one of the small pleasures of Wild Hogs is the cameo by Peter Fonda, as Ray Liotta's character's father, an aging biker trying to keep biker traditions alive.

Wild Hogs has plenty of acting talent. Its biggest problems are screenwriting and directing. Writer Brad Copeland's main writing credits are three TV comedy series: Grounded for Life, Arrested Development and My Name is Earl. Director Walt Becker has only two previous credits: Van Wilder and Buying the Cow. Both are teen movies featuring crude humor and male nudity. In short, if your taste runs to entertainment like My Name is Earl and Van Wilder, you will enjoy Wild Hogs. Otherwise I would pass. 

Labels: action, adventure, comedy   
Internet Movie Database    
Metacritic 27/100    
Tomatometer (critics=15, viewers=72)    

Reign Over Me (2007) [R] ****

For most of us the tragic events of 9/11 have a certain vagueness or abstraction. If we were not flying, and we weren’t within a hundred miles of New York City, Washington, D.C. or the rural crash site of the United Flight 93, we probably were not personally affected by the tragedy. If we were distant enough we might not even know anyone who was personally affected. Because this was a human tragedy, though, we can feel it acutely by sharing in another person’s tragedy. Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) is one such person. He lost his wife and three daughters in one moment when their flight from Boston to L.A. crashed into the World Trade Center. Now, several years later, Charlie has learned to cope. He lives alone in his apartment, endlessly remodeling his kitchen, building a record collection, playing an addictive videogame, avoiding all contact with his dead wife’s parents, a victim of post traumatic stress syndrome.

Then one day Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) Charlie’s old friend and roommate from dental school sees Charlie shuffling along the street. Alan is approaching a mid-life passage, is living beside his wife and daughters, rather than with them, and sees in Charlie an opportunity, almost like a hobby. The story of how Alan and Charlie reconnect, and how Charlie emerges slowly and painfully from his cocoon into the real world of New York City, is a remarkable one, and it gives us all a painfully real and intimate feeling of what every 9/11 survivor must have felt and must still feel. Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle give incredible performances. 

Label: drama

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 61/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=63, viewers=74)

Then She Found Me (2007) [R] ***

April (Helen Hunt) is almost forty, and a primary school teacher. She would love to have a child, but so far she and her husband Ben (Matthew Broderick) haven't been successful in getting her pregnant. Her elderly mother suggests adoption, but April, who was an adopted child herself, wants her own baby. Then Ben confesses to her, like an immature juvenile, that this isn't the life he wanted; he exits, moving back in with his mother. A day later April's mother passes away, and only days after that, Frank (Colin Firth), a single parent of two young children, one of whom is a student of April's, confesses his attraction to her. And if that weren't enough, April receives a message from her birth mother Bernice (Bette Midler), that she wants a relationship with April. April and Frank's relationship begins to blossom, and then Ben reappears in her life.

None of these people are ideal; they're not people we would choose to know. They're all damaged in some way, carrying emotional baggage, telling lies, betraying a trust, pretending to be something that they are not. But, like all of us, they're desperately searching for the human connection that gives meaning to their lives - that makes living worthwhile. And for April, Frank and Bernice the story does have a warm, comforting, life-affirming ending. Hunt, Firth and Midler shine in their roles, and while there's little memorable dialog, the characters are very real. If you like low-key, conversation-laden, character-driven, comedy-dramas, films like As Good as It Gets, Smart People or The Upside of Anger, you will probably enjoy this film. 

Labels: comedy, drama, romance

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 56/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=55, viewers=62)

Flawless (2007) [PG-13] ***+

It’s 1960, and American businesswoman and Oxford graduate Laura Quinn (Demi Moore) has worked for the London Diamond Corporation (LON DI) for a decade. Just when she thought her brilliance and hard work would be recognized, and she would be the first woman promoted to managing director, she’s once again passed over. She also discovers that her employment contract will not be renewed, and worse, she’s not employable anywhere in the banking industry due to a conflict of interest clause in her contract. Although angry and frustrated, Laura is outraged when she’s approached by Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine), night janitor at LON DI, with a plan to steal a small quantity of diamonds to secure his comfortable retirement, and her independence. However, the plan seems simple and foolproof, so she agrees to be his partner, and obtain the vault codes. Of course, Hobbs has not shared with Laura his true (and very complicated) motive for the theft. And so, the following morning, when Laura believes that Hobbs has successfully pulled off the diamond theft, the vault is opened and it is discovered that the entire two tons of diamond inventory is missing.

While a story about two heartless and reviled institutions (diamond brokering and insurance underwriting) getting their comeuppance from two very different and apparent powerless individuals, would seem to be a winner, sadly Flawless is flawed. There are no thrills, anxiety or tension around the execution of the plan, and virtually the entire film takes place inside the LON DI offices. There are endless meetings of old men in black suits. In addition, the film is deceiving as well as boring; the theft of the large, blue-white, flawless South African Star diamond depicted on the movie posters and DVD covers is an accidental afterthought of the main theft. If you expect a heist-action-thriller with the entertainment value of Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job you will be very disappointed. On the other hand, if you enjoyed The Bank Job or Inside Man, you may be satisfied with Flawless

Labels: crime, drama, thriller

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 57/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=57, viewers=66)

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2007) [G] ***

It's hard to know what the purpose of this film is, beyond being a vanity piece for Dustin Hoffman. Over the past forty years Hoffman has given us a number of memorable film performances, including Best Actor Oscar-winning performances in Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man, and Best Actor Oscar-nominated performances in The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, Lenny, Tootsie and Wag the Dog. However, as Mr. Magorium, the 243-year-old proprietor of a century-old children's magic toy store called the Wonder Emporium, Hoffman simply channels Gene Wilder from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, while the toy store is reminiscent of Santa's workshop fromThe Santa Clause.

The film features a poorly-written script with no story arc, no character development and no tension to be resolved, overacted performances from Natalie Portman and Jason Bateman, garishly colored costumes and sets with no inventiveness or subtlety, and boringly unimaginative special effects. The only redeeming part of the film is a charming supporting performance by preteen Zach Mills, for which he was nominated for a Young Artist Award. Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium will be best appreciated by children under the age of eight; most of the older viewers will be bored beyond belief. This film is not The Last Mimzy

Labels: comedy, fantasy, family    

Wedding Daze (2007) [R] ***

Anderson (Jason Biggs) had been in love with Vanessa (Audra Blaser) for the six months he'd known her, but he had no idea that proposing marriage to her in a crowded restaurant while he's wearing a revealing Cupid costume, would cause her death from heart failure, although his friend Ted (Michael Weston) tried to warn him. A year later Anderson is still grieving, and Ted is still encouraging him to start dating again. So, while they are sitting together in a local diner, Anderson impulsively proposes marriage to their waitress, Katie (Isla Fisher), and just as impulsively she accepts.

The next day Katie moves into Anderson's apartment, and they begin to get to know one another, as well as both sets of parents. Anderson's dad is a sex addict, and his mom is a psychopath. Katie's dad is in prison, her stepdad makes Jewish toys, and her mom seems normal, but who really knows. Also, Katie has a possible fiance, who may be gay, and her closest friends are circus performers who are into swords and knives.

This is a low-budget independent production, filled with surprisingly quirky characters. The film asks the fundamental question: would we be as likely to enjoy marital happiness if we were to marry a total stranger? And given that the current divorce rate is around 50%, perhaps the answer is yes. Despite Jason Biggs' warmhearted cluelessness it's Isla Fisher, with her radiant energy, charm and beauty, who holds the film together, and provides the best reason (some would argue the only reason) to spend ninety minutes with Wedding Daze. And if you enjoy Ms. Fisher, I can highly recommend Definitely, Maybe, and, with some hesitation, Wedding Crashers and Confessions of a Shopaholic

Label: comedy     
Internet Movie Database     
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=42, viewers=60)     

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Starter Wife (2007-TV miniseries) [UR] ****

After twelve years of helping her husband Kenny (Peter Jacobson) climb the film studio corporate ladder to become president, Molly Kagan (Debra Messing) gets dumped for a young starlet named Shoshanna (Trilby Glover). At first, Molly is devastated. Some of her friends abandon her, she loses her club membership, and she's ignored at exclusive restaurants. Fortunately, her good friend Joan (Judy Davis) invites her to house-sit her beach-front Malibu Colony home for the summer. Joan is an alcoholic, and when her husband sends her to a spa in Ojai, Molly helps her escape. Molly and Cricket (Miranda Otto) are very close, but Cricket's film director husband Jorge (Aden Young) needs Kenny to greenlight his project and he forces Cricket to cut Molly off. Then Cricket catches Jorge with their Russian nanny. Molly's gay decorator friend Rodney (Chris Diamantopoulos) is flat broke and has commitment issues. Lavender (Anika Noni Rose), the colony's security guard, is being evicted from her apartment, along with her grandmother and dog. Lou Manahan (Joe Mantegna) the studio CEO is bored with his life and contemplates dropping out - or worse. And homeless drifter Sam (Stephen Moyer) saves Molly from drowning when her kayak overturns, and then asks her if her life was worth saving.

The Starter Wife would have been a good 100-minute film, but there are too many non-essential sub-plots and supporting characters. Messing has romantic opportunities with both Mantegna and Moyer, but there's no chemistry; Mantegna is much too old for her, and Moyer is too squinty-eyed and weasel-like. Debra Messing is a decent comic actress, but she isn't strong enough to open a film. She needs to be paired with a strong male lead, as she was with Dermot Mulroney in The Wedding Date. For a far better satire on the film industry, I highly recommend David Mamet's State and Main

Labels: comedy, drama, filmmaking, romance

Friday, August 10, 2012

Interview (2007) [R] ****

Pierre Peders (Steve Buscemi) is a former war correspondent and political reporter who has faked so many sources and stories that his editor no longer trusts his news reports, and has assigned him to write celebrity puff-pieces. Katya (Sienna Miller) is a twenty-something starlet who's agreed to meet Pierre for an interview. Although they meet in a New York City restaurant, most of the interview takes place in Katya's nearby loft.

This independent film feels like a two-person stage play that was authored by David Mamet or Harold Pinter. Both Pierre and Katya are trying to interview the other one; each is trying to be the cat in a cat-and-mouse game. Anything short of physical violence is permissible, including alcohol, drugs, psychological intimidation and seduction. Neither one can trust the other to tell the truth. Pierre is desperate to find something newsworthy to write about, to prove to his editor, and to himself, that he's not a failure - and Katya senses this. Katya is desperate to prove to her viewers, and to herself, that she's a talented actress, and not just a vapid starlet who only gets roles in TV soap operas and horror films - and Pierre senses this.

To make a two-character story like this one succeed requires a great screenplay and two excellent actors, and Interview has these elements. If you enjoy intimate, small-cast, character-driven films like My Dinner with Andre or Two Girls and a Guy, then you will probably enjoy Interview

Label: drama   
Internet Movie Database    
Metacritic 64/100    
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=60, viewers=64)

License to Wed (2007) [PG-13] **

This romantic comedy contains neither romance nor comedy. Robin Williams plays Reverend Frank, a mean-spirited, manipulative priest, determined to put Ben Murphy (John Krasinski) and Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore) through a three-week premarital boot camp before certifying them to be married. During the ordeal the unfortunate pair experience several humiliations including: (1) Frank hitting Ben in the face with a baseball; (2) Ben and Sadie fighting while they role-play changing a flat tire; (3) Frank coaching Ben into embarrassing himself in front of Sadie's family during a wine tasting event; (4) Ben guiding a blindfolded Sadie as she drives a car through traffic with Frank at her side; (5) Ben and Sadie dealing with a pair of android babies that Frank loaned to them; and (6) Ben discovering that Frank has bugged their apartment.

John Krasinski tries to hold the film together despite having little help from either Moore or Williams. Unfortunately, Krasinski and Moore have absolutely no romantic chemistry, although it is certainly not for Krasinski's lack of effort. Moore is wrapped tighter than an airport sandwich; she could no more give herself to Krasinski in a passionate screen kiss, her body yielding and pressed against him, her arms around his neck, her open mouth melting with his, than she could walk on water. Moore was 23 when this film was made, and since she clearly has not developed the ability to be a romantic lead, she probably never will. She may be a great hit in the youth, family and religious markets, but years from now Moore will likely be remembered simply as another boring, passionless, good-girl actress like Jennifer Aniston. If you want to see Robin Williams play a kind, compassionate, noble, endearing figure, watch Good Will Hunting or Bicentennial Man. Do not waste your time on this film. You will regret it and you will never get the 90 minutes of your life back. 

Labels: comedy, romance    
Internet MovieDatabase    
Metacritic 25/100    
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=31, viewers=62)    

Atonement (2007) [R] ***

Briony (Saoirse Ronan) is a 13-year-old daughter in a wealthy family in pre-WWII England. She's developed a serious crush on Robbie (James McAvoy), the son of the family housekeeper. She throws herself at him, even pretending to be drowning so he will rescue her. When he scornfully rejects her, and passionately declares his love for her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley), Briony decides to get even. When a youthful cousin is raped by a friend of her older brother, Briony gives false witness and identifies Robbie as the rapist.

Briony exhibits anti-social personality disorder, what we would call a sociopath (aka psychopath). She is able to lie, cheat or steal without any guilt, shame or remorse. Her goals are control and winning, and any action is permissible to attain the goal. She has no conscience, and only a hole where her heart should be.

Convicted of rape and imprisoned, Robbie accepts a wartime reprieve by agreeing to join the British armed forces fighting the Germans in France. Tragically, he dies of septicemia during the British evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940, and Cecilia later dies during a German bombing raid on London. So the lives of the two lovers are destroyed without their ever having had a moment of true happiness. And Briony lives with her secret for the next seventy years. Finally, upon learning that she is dying of dementia, an 83-year-old Briony (Vanessa Redgrave) decides to tell the truth in an autobiographical novel, she calls Atonement.

Atonement is the act of making honest and heartfelt amends or reparations for an injury or wrong; it is an act of contrition, of facing those whom one has wronged, and accepting the consequences and punishment for one’s actions. Briony doesn’t atone for anything; she waits until Cecilia and Robbie are long dead, and she herself is dying, before publishing the truth, which she admits isn't accurate, since she gives the lovers' story a happy ending in her novel. This isn't atonement - this is spineless cowardice, purely and simply. This is failure to accept responsibility and deal with the consequences. A more apt title for book and film would have been A Lie Told and Lives Destroyed.

While the film's production values are excellent, there is no moral and ethical foundation for the story. Its only value is in awakening us to the fact that roughly one in 20 (5%) of all adults are sociopaths, and when we cross them, they have the potential to destroy our lives. If you'd like to see Keira Knightley shine in a critically acclaimed, truly magnificent film, I highly recommend Pride and Prejudice

Labels: drama, mystery, romance, tragedy, war, WWII
Internet MovieDatabase     
Metacritic 85/100     
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=74, viewers=76)     

National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) [PG] ***

I must agree with film critic Roger Ebert's characterization of this as a mouth agape movie; during the film your jaw will hang open in astonishment as one preposterous event follows another. The concept is that treasure hunter Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) wants to uncover the mystery within the missing pages of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth's diary, so Gates can restore the good name of his ancestor Thomas Gates, who has been identified as the mastermind behind the assassination plot.

In the process Ben Gates discovers that the plot involved a treasure map and the search for Cibola, one of the seven Cities of Gold originally sought by Spanish explorers to North America. After traveling to Paris and London in search of clues, after surviving a ridiculous car chase by another team of treasure hunters led by Ed Harris' character, our three intrepid treasure hunters almost magically return to the U.S. where they learn that there exists a book of secrets that is passed from one U.S. president to the next, and never seen by anyone else, a book that contains all sorts of fascinating secrets, including, for instance, the existence of Area 51 in the Nevada desert, as well as clues to the location of Cibola. Since the existence of Cibola will prove that Thomas Gates was a loyal U.S. citizen and not Lincoln's assassin, the treasure hunters must find Cibola, which means they must actually kidnap the current U.S. president, and get him to let them look at the book of secrets! Amazingly, they succeed, and uncover the clue that sends them off to South Dakota in search of Cibola.

The screenplay features huge plot holes, unbelievable locations, improbable events and inane dialogue. Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren, Bruce Greenwood, Harvey Keitel and Ed Harris must have wondered what they were doing in this disaster of a film, besides collecting a paycheck. Caution - you will never get back the two hours you waste on this film. 

Labels: action, adventure, Ferrari, mystery, thriller

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 48/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=48, viewers=72)

A Stranger’s Heart (2007-TV) [UR] ***

After living with a heart condition for most of her life since her mother's accidental death, Callie (Samantha Mathis) moves into the university medical center heart transplant ward to wait for a suitable donor heart. She meets Jasper (Peter Dobson) who's been waiting for a heart for several months, and has developed a rather macabre heart-transplant-ward sense of humor - he's thrilled about New Year's Eve because of the auto accidents, and thus the increase in number of potential heart donors.

After several weeks of waiting, Callie and Jasper both receive new hearts within a twenty-four hour period, and then they both mysteriously begin to experience dreams about a little girl named Cricket (Mary Matilyn Mouser), to whom they are strongly but inexplicably drawn. Callie discovers that their heart donors were Cricket's parents, both of whom had died in an automobile accident.

It turns out that Callie and Jasper are experiencing the phenomenon known as cellular memory. This is a touching, character-driven melodrama about how Callie and Jasper and their new hearts find themselves in love with each other, and how they reconnect with Cricket. This made-for-TV movie will be best appreciated by those who enjoy low-key, family-oriented dramas like Jack & Sarah - also starring Samantha Mathis, Hope Floats,  Stepmom, and Return to Me, as well as fans of Samantha Mathis and Peter Dobson. 

Label: romance

Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=NA, viewers=68)

The Go-Getter (2007) [R] ****-

Mercer White (Lou Taylor Pucci) is nineteen and living in Eugene, Oregon when his mother dies of cancer. Naive and optimistic, he decides to find his older half-brother Arlen (Jsu Garcia), whom he hasn't seen in fourteen years and who doesn't know his mother has died. Stealing a Volvo station wagon from a carwash, Mercer hits the road, but before long the cell phone left in the car rings. The phone belongs to Kate (Zooey Deschanel), the car's owner. Surprisingly, she doesn't threaten to call the police, but instead is curious about Mercer and his motives. Eventually she agrees to let him take her car on his quest, and their phone conversation becomes a screen flirtation through which the two develop an unusual bond, although Kate is not seen for awhile.

From this point on, Mercer's journey takes some strange twists and turns. At a coastal art commune he's assaulted by a fellow from whom Arlen stole a set of tools. In Fallon, Nevada he's seduced by the sluttish Joely (Jena Malone), a former middle school classmate who plies him with Ecstasy. In nearby Reno, he steals a video camera from a porn director named Sergio Leone (Julio Oscar Mechoso), and in turn, he has the Volvo stolen. In Mojave, California he recovers the Volvo with the aid of a liquor salesman. And in Sacramento, Kate, envious of his experiences, unexpectedly joins him. Finally, Mercer finds Arlen in Ensenada, Mexico, where the reunion is disappointing, but where romance with Kate unexpectedly blossoms.

Written and directed by Martin Hynes, this road trip film is made unique by the vast possibilities of the open road, the opportunities for personal growth, the drama of the search for Arlen, and the romance with Kate. While Maura Tierneyand Judy Greer are good in supporting roles, this is clearly an independent production, with bleached-out cinematography and low-budget sets, costumes and soundtrack. If you enjoyed Zooey Deschanel in All the Real Girls, you might give this one a try. 

Labels: comedy, drama     
Internet Movie Database     
Metacritic 69/100     
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=55, viewers=70)

Encounters at the End of the World (2007) [G] ****

Written, directed and narrated by Werner Herzog, this Oscar-nominated documentary feature reflects one man's curiosity about the continent of Antarctica, and the nature of the inhabitants of the American research base at McMurdo Sound. Herzog observes and interviews a diverse group of people including, among others: scientists studying the huge icebergs and their movements in the ocean currents surrounding Antarctica, marine biologists studying underwater animal life, zoologists studying penguins and Waddell seals, volcanologists studying the Mt. Erebus active volcano and the fumaroles on the volcano's flanks, a physicist performing a neutrino experiment in the stratosphere, a linguist cultivating tomatoes in a greenhouse, a survival expert conducting a training class for new arrivals, a plumber performing a pipe repair, and the driver of one of the largest buses in the world.

The one thing these residents all seem to have in common is a love of freedom and adventure. As one of them observes, it is as though anyone who is not tied down ends up at the bottom of the world. While Herzog tells us that the scientists he has met are uniformly alarmed about global climate change, and that many of them predict the demise of the human species, the effects of climate change on the continent and its animal life are not a subject of the documentary, and there is no visual evidence presented to show, for example, receding glaciers or crumbling ice shelves. As a result, this documentary is most likely to appeal to someone with a sociological or historical curiosity about Antarctica and its exploration and colonization, or to a scientist planning an expedition to Antarctica. Viewers expecting a consistently-themed, visually beautiful portrayal of Antarctica will be disappointed; this is not Planet Earth. Nor does it have the dramatic depth, character development and emotional appeal of Antarctica or its remake Eight Below

Label: documentary

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 80/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=76, viewers=70)

Silk (2007) [R] **+

Silk is a meditation on a classic theme - a naïve Westerner goes on a journey to the mysterious Orient, and is captivated by what he finds there. Hervé Joncour (Michael Pitt) lives in provincial France in the 1860s, where a local businessman named Baldabiou (Alfred Molina) has a plan to reopen the town's silk spinning mills. Since all the silkworm eggs available from his Egyptian sources are diseased, he's decided to smuggle healthy eggs out of Japan. He convinces Hervé's father, the town's mayor, to let his newly-married son make the hazardous journey. Leaving his lovely young bride Hélène (Keira Knightley), Hervé makes his way across Europe and Asia to Japan, buys the silkworm eggs and returns to France.

While in Japan, however, Hervé is captivated by the concubine (Sei Ashina) of his Japanese host Hara Jubei (Kôji Yakusho). Hervé is obsessed with the girl, and makes a second journey, during which she seduces him. Although silkworm eggs have become readily available from other sources, Hara Jubei's devious plan has worked, and the besotted Hervé makes a third journey to Japan. He nearly loses his life during an armed rebellion and returns to France empty-handed. Over the course of his three journeys, Hervé grows more and more distant from Hélène, and she suspects that she has lost him to another woman.

This is a story without a happy ending; worse, it moves at a glacial pace. With the exception of Molina, the performances are wooden; there is little chemistry between Pitt and Knightley, and the love affair between Pitt and Ashina is constrained by its clandestine nature, and by the language barrier. However, the cinematography is beautiful and the musical score is lush and haunting. If you enjoyed similarly-themed films like Kiss the Sky, The Sleeping Dictionary and Lost in Translation, and you enjoyed director Francois Girard's last film, The Red Violin, you might enjoy Silk

Labels: cross-cultural, drama, romance
Internet Movie Database     
Metacritic 39/100     
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=38, viewers=54)

The Man from Earth (2007) [UR] ***+

Ten years after joining the faculty of a California college, John Oldman (David Lee Smith) has decided that it's time to move on. He's invited seven of his closest colleagues to his rural cabin for a farewell party. The question arises as to why he's giving up his hard-earned tenure, and John decides to risk everything and tell them the truth. He tells them a fantastical story about being a fourteen thousand year old Cro-Magnon who's forced to move on every ten years or so, as people begin to notice that he doesn't age. His guests want to see and hear the evidence, the objective proof, and he tries to give it to them, telling them pieces of his history in rich detail. Of course it's impossible for him to give them absolute proof, and they have to decide for themselves. Inevitably, there's disbelief, fear, anger, outrage, threats; ultimately they force him to disavow his entire story as a fabrication.

As night falls, and the guests begin to leave, Sandy (Annika Peterson) who believes John and wants to accompany him on his journey, asks him what other names he's used recently. In revealing several previous identities, John discovers that he IS able to provide proof of his story's truth, although with tragic consequences.

The entire film takes place in or around Oldman's cabin, so it feels like a stage play, and some of the acting is mediocre at best. Shot using hand-held cameras, with ambient lighting and amateur audio, the picture is grainy and shaky. Nevertheless, if the idea of living thousands of years in a body that never ages intrigues you, or you enjoyed thought-provoking films like K-PAX, Orlando, The Quiet Earth and Solaris, you might give this film a try. 

Labels: drama, fantasy, sci-fi, space-time

Internet Movie Database 
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=NA, viewers=80)

Music Within (2007) [R] ****-

Richard Pimentel (Ron Livingston) grew up unloved by the mother (Rebecca De Mornay) who bore him in 1949 after suffering seven miscarriages. From age two onward, whenever she needed a respite, his mother handed Richard off to an orphanage or a foster home, until she decided to claim him as her own again. At age fourteen, Richard discovered a gift for public speaking. He developed his skill over the next six years, but without the life experience to give his oratory credibility, he was denied a scholarship to Portland State University. Directionless, Richard enlisted in the Army, and subsequently lost his hearing in Vietnam. Returning to Portland in 1970 he discovered firsthand how the disabled were shunned and made to feel invisible because their disfigurement made normal people feel uncomfortable.

Over the next twenty years Richard worked tirelessly on behalf of the disabled, training employers to recognize and value the disabled as an underutilized resource, speaking publicly on their behalf, writing his seminal book Tilting at Windmills, and finally seeing his life work bear fruit in 1990 with the passage and signing into federal law of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Based on a true story, with a sensitively-written screenplay and a memorable soundtrack, this is a heartwarming story about overcoming adversity and discovering a true purpose in life. Ron Livingston does some of his best work to date, and his supporting cast is excellent, especially Melissa George as Richard's long-suffering girlfriend Christine, Michael Sheen as Richard's best friend Art whose debilitating cerebral palsy gives Richard an understanding of the indignities suffered by the disabled, and Yul Vazquez as Richard's Vietnam veteran friend Mike whose inability to fit into the civilian world eventually overwhelms him. If you enjoyed Forrest Gump you will probably really appreciate Music Within

Labels: biography, comedy, drama, music, romance, war

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 53/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=52, viewers=76)

Starting Out in the Evening (2007) [PG-13] ****

Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella) is an aging writer and former college literature professor. Now in his seventies, he lives alone in a New York City brownstone apartment. Years ago Leonard wrote two well-received novels, and was feted along with literary lions like Saul Bellow. But those days are long gone. His third and fourth novels were disappointing, and Leonard has spent the past ten years struggling to finish a fifth novel. He suffered a heart attack a year ago, and lives in lonely seclusion, visited only by his daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor) who is single, turning forty and is trying to define her relationship with boyfriend Casey Davis (Adrian Lester).

Into Leonard's life comes Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose), a young woman whose life was transformed by his early work, and who is writing her master's thesis on him and his novels. Starry-eyed Heather is convinced that she can resurrect Leonard's career and get his novels published again. What Leonard doesn't realize is that Heather has fallen in love with the handsome, passionate young Leonard Schiller who wrote those novels fifty years earlier, and what starts out as an interview process becomes something much more.

As we observe Leonard and Heather we're given a peek into the minds of both the writer and the literary critic, as well as a glimpse into the thought process of writing a novel. The screenplay, direction and acting are all outstanding, and Langella and Ambrose have excellent chemistry. This feels like a four-person stage play, since most of the action takes place in Leonard's apartment. If you enjoy deliberately-paced, character-driven dramas with an intellectual theme, a multi-generational gap between the leads, and romantic overtones, films like CrashingThe Girl in the Cafe or Suburban Girl, then you might enjoy Starting Out in the Evening

Labels: drama, romance  

Internet Movie Database  
Metacritic 78/100  
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=73, viewers=72)

Crashing (2007) [R] ***

Richard (Campbell Scott) is a handsome, graying novelist, whose bestselling first novel The Trouble with Dick (also the name of an earlier film by writer/director Gary Walkow) brought him fame and a beautiful actress wife with a Malibu beach home. But his first success is seven years old and he has a severe case of writer's block; his new novel gets worse with each successive draft. Looking for inspiration, Richard agrees to speak to a college writing class being taught by former girlfriend Diane (Alex Kingston), the same day his wife kicks him out of their house. Richard casually mentions to the class that he has nowhere to sleep that night, and two star-struck students offer him a couch in their small apartment.

Richard soon has plenty of raw material to start his creative juices flowing, simply from peeking into the private lives of the two foxy coeds, Kristin (Izabella MikoCoyote Ugly) and Jacqueline (Lizzy CaplanMean Girls). But the two girls have their own creative agendas; they are both aspiring writers, and instead of paying rent, they demand that Richard give them literary consultations that begin with writing and end up in bed. Soon all three are writing stories influenced by their romantic couplings, fantasies, suspicions and anxieties. Jacqueline's muse is Jacqueline Susann, while Kristin is more lyrical, metaphorical and poetic. Happily Richard finds his inner rhythm again in more than one way, as their menage-a-trois becomes the inspiration for his next novel. While production values are mediocre, this engaging, independent film uses a light, breezy tone and excellent performances from Scott, Miko and Caplan to deliver an amusing, if somewhat predictable story. Scott perfectly conveys both the strength of insight and the weakness of imagination that caused Richard's writer's block, while Caplan and Miko hold their own in the literary and suggestive conversations with their older, wiser, and very willing teacher. 

Label: college, drama, romance 

Internet Movie Database 
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=NA, viewers=50)

No Reservations (2007) [PG] ***

Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is the chef at a tony little New York City restaurant. She's temperamental, hypersensitive to criticism about her cuisine, and she rules her kitchen with an iron hand. Her philosophy is that the only way to get something done right is to do it yourself. And so she drives everyone crazy, including Paula (Patricia Clarkson) the restaurant owner, who has told Kate that either she gets therapy or she's fired.

Then tragedy strikes. Kate's sister is killed in an auto accident, and suddenly Kate finds herself the guardian of her pre-teen niece, Zoe (Abigail Breslin). Kate does not have a clue about how to comfort grieving Zoe, about how much love she needs or about what she eats. In addition, when Kate returns to the restaurant a week later, she discovers that Paula has hired a new sous chef, Nick (Aaron Eckhart). Nick loves Italian cuisine, and he sings opera while he cooks. He's completely changed the atmosphere in the kitchen, for the better. Nick is attracted to Kate from the first moment, but the thing keeping them apart is Kate's fear that Nick is after her job; she doesn't realize that he took the sous chef job because he wants to learn from her.

The real question in the viewer's mind is whether Kate will wake up and realize how good Nick is for her, both personally and professionally, before she drives him away. Zoe acts as the catalyst bringing Kate and Nick together, and in some ways Abigail Breslin is the best part of the film, especially when she's on screen with both Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart. Kate and Nick do not have much romantic chemistry, the screenplay is not particularly original or inventive, and Philip Glass' musical score is a little too techno-futuristic. Regardless, if you like romantic comedies around the subject of food and restaurants, films like Eat Pray LoveJulie & Julia and Tortilla Soup or if you enjoyed Abigail Breslin in Definitely, Maybe, then you will likely enjoy No Reservations. 

Labels: comedy, drama, food, romance