Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Visitor

The Visitor came out earlier this year, and was such a great little movie that Richard Jenkins managed to get a SAG nomination for Best Actor. He plays a widowed professor, Walter Dale, who has given up on finding something new to like about his field of work. He heads to NYC to present a paper a colleague wrote, and finds a couple living in his apartment. Tarek and Zainab are illegal immigrants from Syria and Senegal, respectively, and thought they'd legitimately rented an apartment. When Walter arrives they realize the scam and start to leave, but Walter offers them a few days to find something new. Tarek plays the African drum and Zainab makes and sells jewelry. Since Walter doesn't care about anything in his own life, he hangs out with Tarek quite a bit, and Tarek even teaches him to play the drums. While trying to get on the subway with their drums one day, Tarek gets caught and jumps the turnstile to escape, but the police see him jump and arrest him, finding out he's illegally in the U.S. He's sent to a detention center in Queens. Walter gets involved in trying to help Tarek, who is a really good person caught up in a few bad bureaucratic snafus. The director and writer, Thomas McCarthy, also directed The Station Agent, one of the best movies ever. He likes characters who don't mind the silence that many people find uncomfortable. Now with The Visitor, he's examined another character and how he interacts with strangers. Just a terrific film, 4 stars/Lambs

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Songs in movies, some thoughts

There are often songs used in movies by particular characters to help convey a message or develop the plot or the characters emotions or desires. Two movies this year have made use of this device: WALL*E and Australia. However, only WALL*E shows how to do it effectively without overusing the music instead of more creative dialogue. Australia uses the song "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz. Nicole Kidman's character sings it to Nullah as a bedtime lullaby, but can't remember all the words. Enough of the lyrics capture Nullah's imagination and he hums the song throughout the movie, and the director Baz Luhrmann uses the lyrics to help tell Nullah's story. However, having Nullah actually attend a showing of The Wizard of Oz starts taking the device a degree too far. Everyone watching the film (as it's not meant for children) already got the symbolism, given that it's one of the most wellknown songs around the world. In WALL*E however, the movie benefits from several choices: using a somewhat less well known songs, "Put on your Sunday Clothes" and "It Only Takes a Moment" from Hello, Dolly!, and having the actual music play - the movie plays, as well as Wall*E's recordings of the songs. The characters don't sing the music often, and in particular because they don't speak, the music does a good job as a complement to their emtions rather than just playing repeatedly without obvious context. Wall*E seeks to have a connection, and literally hold hands with someone (EVE) like they do in the movie Hello, Dolly! during "It Only Takes a Moment". Wall*E makes use of the music in a much better way than Australia does, in my opinion. Just something I've been thinking about. Here's a clip from Wall*E with the song they use.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Magic of Benjamin Button

I thought The Curious Case of Benjamin Button lives up to much of the hype. Since I whine a lot about movies that are inappropriately or inaccurately marketed, I suppose I should praise a movie that has sold itself for exactly what it is: the life of a man that is a unique story. Julia Ormond is sitting with her mother in a New Orleans hospital on the eve of Hurricane Katrina, and her mother asks her to read from a diary. What she reads is the life story of Benjamin, which includes a love story, but is not limited by it alone. Benjamin is born at the end of World War I, but is obviously different, looking like an old man with old man problems (cataracts, poor vision, loose skin, arthritis). His father abandons him on the steps, where Queenie finds him. Queenie (brilliant Taraji Henson) says that he's a child of god and they should look after him since the doctor doesn't think he'll live long anyway. Queenie manages an old folks home so as Benjamin gains years, but becomes younger, he fits in really well with the residents. They teach him things, change his life and help him deal with the comings and goings of death. He says a few times through the movie that "Nothing lasts" which sort of becomes the theme of the movie, but a better catch line might be "youth is wasted on the young". We also watch Daisy (the elder played by Cate Blanchett) age from 6 year old child visiting her grandmother and befriending Benjamin to a careless 20-something dancer who doesn't know what to do with herself when she gets older. As the ads show, they do find themselves "meeting in the middle", but Benjamin does meet lots of others along the way, and if I may, Brad Pitt is gorgeous as he "youthens" (gets younger).

It's a beautifully shot movie that absorbs the pace of New Orleans from the 30s and which becomes Benjamin's pace of life. It's slower paced, but not slow. It seemed to me a story of magic of a single person living an every day life. Whatever magic touched him and created him the way he is makes him special and able to share some of that magic with others. I didn't love the very end, but I don't know they could have found a better way - you decide. Right now I do think it deserves an Oscar nomination for best picture and for Brad Pitt, but I still haven't seen many of the other acclaimed movies, so I'll reserve judgement on the best picture for a few more weeks. 4.5 Lambs/Stars.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Movies of 2008

So, based on the list of movies from 2008 at Variety, I have seen only 45 new movies this year, and even fewer actually in the theater! That seems low to me, but given the fact that I repeat watch movies, watch LOTS of TV, including TV on DVDs, maybe it's not completely surprising. That, and the fact that many of the likely Oscar nominees, a category I try to see many if not all of in the theater, have not arrived at my local cineplex, perhaps it's not a bad number. Here's my list. I'm going to wait to post my Best of 2008 until at least mid-January, or at least after I've seen Benjamin Button, Milk, Valkyrie, Seven Pounds, The Reader, Doubt, Revolutionary Road, and Slumdog Millionaire since those are on many of the Golden Globe/SAG and many Critic's awards lists. What did you see this year?

Movies of 2008 I’ve seen:

Baby Mama
Be Kind Rewind
Burn After Reading
Charlie Bartlett
The Counterfeiters
The Dark Knight
Definitely, Maybe
The Duchess
Fool's Gold
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Four Christmases
Horton Hears a Who
In Bruges
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Iron Man
Kitt Kittredge: An American Girl
Kung Fu Panda
Mad Money
Mamma Mia
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
My Best Friend’s Girl
Nim’s Island
The Other Boleyn Girl
Over Her Dead Body
The Secret Life of Bees
Sex and the City
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
Smart People
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Step Brothers
Then She Found Me
Tropic Thunder
27 Dresses
Under the Same Moon
Vantage Point
The Women

Addendum: As you can see from the reviews I've now see Benjamin Button and The Visitor, so the total became 47. Not bad.

Monday, December 22, 2008

DVD Review: Wanted

I would be reviewing Fred Claus which I also just saw, but I didn't finish watching it because it was too awful. Vince Vaughn's style of interrupting and explaining to people what they really mean and why his feelings could be hurt if the person continues to tell him what's real, just drove me NUTS. Normally it's not that painful, The Break Up wasn't terrible, but it was just barely good, and I actually liked Four Christmases, but Fred Claus is just dreadful. But this review isn't about that, but better movie, Wanted.

Wanted tells the story of Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), an account manager in a cubicle that is living a life of unfulfilled potential and doesn't know how he can change anything. He suffers from "anxiety attacks" that he can't understand (he doesn't have anything to be anxious about) and his best friend is screwing his girlfriend. Then one day he's picking up pills at the pharmacy and Fox (Angelina Jolie) appears to save his life from a guy who's shooting at them. He learns from Morgan Freeman, that his father has just been killed and he used to be part of a brotherhood of assassins that have spent hundreds of years fulfilling their destinies. They want to train Wesley to be an assassin too, since he already possesses the skills, trying to contain them is what brought on the anxiety. There's lots of fighting and training and hitting and kicking and riding on trains and obviously getting hurt and fixed and learning to be an assassin. He eventually becomes an assassin (you don't want to find out how they choose the people to assassinate, you wouldn't believe me) and works his way up to hunting the man believed to have killed his father. Some ridiculous stunts take place, most of which are incredible and funny, but there are also explanations that make it even harder to believe. Overall, I liked the movie, it embraces its cheeziness to the point where at the end McAvoy looks into the camera and addresses the audience. Light entertainment, great special effects, wholly unbelievable story, but still worthy of watching. 3 Stars/LAMBS

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More Songs from Movies

Here's another bunch of actors singing in movies. I don't hear these songs much, but they're such great scenes with people singing their hearts out.

This is Andie McDowell singing a song she wrote in Michael.

Here's Hugh Grant and Nick Hoult singing at the school concert in About a Boy. One of the most painful scenes in movies, but still a good song, and they try so hard.

And finally, the best scene from 27 Dresses. Singing Bennie and the Jets

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tuesdays Top-Grossing Reviews: 1990

Year: 1990
Film: Home Alone
Box Office Gross: $
Awards: Nominated for 2 Oscars for best Score and Original Song, "Somewhere in My Memory" (which I don't actually remember)
Actors:Macaulay Culkin, John Heard, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern

First, I was amazed when I made the list of the top grossing movies in the US for the past 20 years that there was a holiday movie on the list, so I saved it. I'm also nearly finished with this series, so I'll do a wrap-up before the end of the year. Since it's been 18 years, I'm not sure there are many people who don't know the plot of Home Alone, but I know some of my fellow movie bloggers are actually under 18 years old or thereabouts, so I will stop being ageist and give a bit of a summary. Basically, Kevin McCallister (Culkin), 8 years old, is being a brat when lots of his family descends on his house at Christmas en route to a vacation in Paris. Inadvertently, Kevin is left behind when the family leaves. However, Kevin's street has been targeted by two theives who plan to break into all the houses while the families are away for Christmas. Kevin overhears their plans and decides to defend his home. Much of the hilarity ensues as Kevin sets up all kinds of booby traps around his house (ice steps, hot doorknobs, a bb gun, a blow torch, ornaments on the floor, glue, spiders, everything). The story I find funnier 18 years later is Catherine O'Hara's determined attempt to get home to her son as fast as possible rather than waiting the two days until a direct flight is actually available. She pairs up with the late John Candy and his polka band to drive across the Midwest. I just like her line when arguing with the airline lady and insisting her quest must be possible. "No, no, no, no. It's Christmas, the season of perpetual hope." Here's hoping you're still hopeful for Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Kung Fu Panda: Review

I liked Kung Fu Panda. I didn't get to see it in the theater (mostly because it was a hard sell to my movie viewing partner), and it actually might have been more fun watching it with lots of kids. There's a lot of slap-stick humor with the panda falling down, breaking things, etc. And Jack Black couldn't have been a more appropriate choice to voice Po, the Panda. He's the son of a duck (that sounds like it should be an insult, but it isn't) who runs a noodle shop. However, in his heart he's always wanted to be a famous kung fu master. We start the story on the day that the kung fu master of the village in China, Oogway, is going to announce which one of the apprentices (Tigress, Mantis, Crane, Monkey, or Viper) will be made the master of the Dragon Scroll, and thus the ultimate Kung Fu master. Through a series of misadventures, our Panda Po is selected. He begins training to be a master with Master Shifu because the evil Tai Lung has escaped prison and seeks the Dragon Scroll and only the master of the Dragon Scroll can defeat him and save the valley. Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogan, and Jackie Chan voice various characters. It has terrific animation, beautiful scenery (reminiscent of Mulan, which I've always loved), and a captivating story. The final message is that it's within anyone to be anything, but it's sometimes hard to find a path to one's Kung Fu talent. 3.5 Stars/LAMBS

Thursday, December 11, 2008

40 Inspirational Speeches in Two Minutes!

I watch a lot of bad movies because I like to be inspired. I've probably seen Rudy thirty or forty times. So I particularly liked this video montage on YouTube.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Why I love David Krumholtz

Anyone who knows my dating history knows I tend to go for geeky guys, so in some ways David Krumholtz is my Brad Pitt. And this love has a bit of a history. Here's why I love David Krumholtz:

"Numb3rs" - Krumholtz plays Charlie Epps, a math genius who uses all his abilities to help solve crimes with his brother Don (Rob Morrow) at the FBI. He lives with his Dad (Judd Hirsh) too (or since he owns the house, his dad lives with him?) and dates one of his former grad students, Amita (Navi Rawat). His former mentor and current colleague is the brilliant Peter MacNicol (so hilarious on Ally McBeal). They solve crimes, try to figure out normal society, how to use your gifts to serve others, and how to be a family. It's a fun show for nerds, and anyone into math. I heard on NPR they even have a module for school kids to better understand the math on the show and have fun learning. Krumholtz is awesome. It's hard to believe one person would know that much math, but he pulls it off.

Serenity - Krumholtz just had a small, but pivotal, part in the movie of the space cowboy story Serenity as Mr. Universe. He seemed to have access to all the electronic media in the galaxy and helped out Mal and others when they needed it, so of course he's a good guy. His wedding with the robot is hysterical.

The Santa Clause (1 &2) - This is a thankless part in a possibly forgettable Christmas series (not in my house, I just watched the first one while decorating the tree, and the next 2 are up soon), but that doesn't mean he doesn't do it well. Krumholtz plays Bernard, the head Elf at the North pole. He guides the new Santa (Tim Allen) through his responsibilities as the new Santa. His quick paced dialogue and no-nonsense business-like attitude give credence to the North Pole as a business AND a magical place.

"ER" - He only guest starred in 3 episodes (in two different seasons) as a schizophrenic law student who has a break and kills Lucy (Kellie Martin) and stabs Carter (Noah Wyle) sending him in a tailspin of drug addiction. He's innocent looking, but once he goes off he's scary enough that you remember him 2 seasons later when he reappears.

10 Things I Hate About You - Probably not his best role, but definitely my favorite. He's the super geek at Verona High School (ousted by his clique when a rumor spreads that he busy his izods at an outlet) who introduces Joseph Gordon-Leavitt's character to the school and helps him win the fair Bianca. He's just a background character, and hardly recognizable today, but I still think he's hysterical.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

DVD Roundup: The Good, The Innocent, and the Ugly

It's time again for a really random group of DVDs I've watched recently. All the movies came out this past year, to mixed reviews, but since they all starred people I like, I rented them through Netflix. I'll review them in the order I saw them: Get Smart, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, and Over Her Dead Body.

Get Smart, based on the 1960s TV show, starred The Office star Steve Carrell and Anne Hathaway. The supporting cast wasn't bad either, with Supporting Actor Oscar winner Alan Arkin, Dwanye Johnson, and Masi Oka. Carrell longs to be a field agent, his agency gets destroyed and only he and Anne Hathaway can inconspicuously infiltrate the bad guys group and save the world. That's about all I understood of the main storyline, but it didn't really matter. The action is only slightly better than a TV series would put together, kind of like a funny Alias. Mostly it's about silly jokes and Carrell hurting himself with weapons. Decent entertainment, but nothing ground-breaking. 3.5 LAMBS/stars

I rented Kit Kittredge because I like Abigail Breslin (see Nim's Island and Little Miss Sunshine) and I'm kind of a sucker for kids movies, and it got decent reviews in the theaters. Based on a doll (The American girl series, which I had when I was a kid) and the books written about her character, Kit lives in Cincinnati during the Great Depression. She wants to be a writer when she grows up and keeps submitting her stories to the newspaper (edited by Wallace Shawn!) and keeps trying to write stories they might publish. Her father (Chris O'Donnell) loses his job and moves to Chicago to find work and Kit and her mom (Julia Ormond) open their house to borders to help make the mortgage. A mix of people move in, helping create fun stories, quirky characters and a good mystery. It was a strangely pertinent story as our own economy struggles that our society's view of poverty might not have changed much since the Depression. They treat "hobos" as criminals, and since few weren't susceptible to unemployment, anyone could become a hobo. I'll admit while watching it I got kinda nervous as they were echoing things that have been appearing in the papers lately. But since it's a kid's movie, it all worked out in the end and Kit solves the mystery and saves the day. It's still fun entertainment. 4 LAMBS/stars.

And finally, the ugly. Over Her Dead Body is a bad redo of Just Like Heaven (with Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo) which wasn't a good enough movie to do again. Basically, a woman dies, can't accept it, haunts someone, and there's a love story. Lake Bell is the main character and isn't interesting enough to carry a movie. That's my first problem with it. The second was that someone convinced Eva Longoria Parker (who I love in Desperate Housewives) that she should both tan extensively and dye her hair blond so she's the same color all over. Plus, half the story is about how Paul Rudd can't get over the death of his fiancee and thus won't smile anymore. Most of Paul Rudd's appeal is his humor and his smile. So basically this movie stinks. The reviews weren't good, but they were kind. It's worse. 1 LAMB/Star. Don't watch this movie.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees

There are many, many books that have become movies, and some books that have become plays, and even some movies that have becomes plays and plays become movies, but The Secret Life of Bees is the only story I know that I first read the book, saw it performed as a one-woman play, and now have seen the movie. I'm also happy to say that the story holds up to the various media. Lily Owes (Dakota Fanning) lost her mother as a child and now lives with her father, T-Ray (Paul Bettany in a scary yet sympathetic role) on a peach farm in South Carolina during the 1960s. President Johnson has just signed the Civil Rights act, and Lily's housekeeper, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson, proving she deserved her Supporting Actress Oscar) is going to register to vote. She runs into racists idiots who won't let her register and beat her up. This is the impetus Lily needs to run away, helping Rosaleen escape the hospital and heading to Tiburon, SC. Lily has just a few items from her mother, an image of a black virgin Mary, white kid gloves, and a photo. It's the Mary that sends her to Tiberon where she finds the Mary as the label for a brand of honey. This brings her to the pepto-bismol pink home of the Boatwrights, August (Queen Latifah), June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo). Lily lies about why they are in Tiberon, but the Boatwrights take them in and teach Lily about beekeeping and Rosaleen helps May in the kitchen. There are quirks about each of the women, and the story resolves itself with the sad conflicts you might expect in a story about black women in South Carolina in the '60s. Overall, I really liked the movie, but found that without the tidbits about bees and beekeeping the book weaves through, the story is mostly sad. 3 stars/Lambs. In case you've missed the trailers, books, or plays, here's the trailer to remind you.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

L.A.M.Blog_A_Thon: Volume 2 - Christmas Scenes

As I love holiday movies, I have many favorite movies, and usually a favorite scene within each movie too, so I love this month's theme for the LAMB blog-a-thon. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is a family favorite ever since my grandparents were forced to spend the night due to a blizzard on Christmas Eve. Not having any way to entertain her parents, my aunt put this movie on and the rest is history. I've even found kindred spirits by quoting the movie in front of strangers and having people respond in kind. (B-mama, I'll get you something "real nice" for the holidays). Anyway, quoting the best scene properly is something of a badge of honor in our family and usually leads to disagreements about the actual words, leading to putting the movie on and watching it all the way through as this scene is close to the end. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I saw this over at Hoping for Something to Hope For, and I just like the idea.

1. One movie that made you laugh:
Step Brothers

2. One movie that made you cry: Out of Africa

3. One movie you loved when you were a child: The Little Mermaid

4. One movie that you have seen more than 10 times: Groundhog Day

5. One movie you've seen multiple times in the theater: Aladdin (5 times)

6. One movie you walked out on: Battleship Earth

7. One movie that you can and do quote from: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

8. One movie you loved, but were embarrassed to admit it: Stuck On You

9. One movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven't gotten around to watching yet: Blade Runner (I know, I's in my queue)

10. One movie you hated: The English Patient

11. One movie that scared you: Seven

12. One movie that made you happy: WALL-E

13. One movie that made you miserable: Finding Neverland (very sad)

14. One movie musical for which you know all the lyrics to all the songs: Most of them, but I'd say I know all the lyrics to all the songs in Mary Poppins

15. One movie that you have been known to sing along with:
Almost any movie that has music

16. One movie you would recommend that everyone see:
Out of Africa

17. One movie character you’ve fallen in love with: George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life

18. One actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie: Robert Downey Jr.

19. One actor that would make you less likely to see a movie: Nicole Kidman

20. One of the last movies you saw: Australia

21. One of the next movies you hope to see: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Milk

If you want to play along, consider yourself tagged!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Out of Australia

Baz Luhrmann's new film Australia meets all the qualifications of an epic film, and hopefully will achieve the recognition it deserves as the child of Ben Hur, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind and Out of Africa. It tells the story of Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), who arrives in Darwin, Australia on the eve of WWII, to force her husband to sell their cattle ranch and return to England. She arrives to find he's been murdered, the cattle scattered, and nothing to keep her around. Then she meets Nullah, a half-caste young boy afraid of being taken by the "coppers" and sent to the island where the government is trying to adapt the kids to a white lifestyle and "breed the black out of them". The Australian government recently apologized to the Stolen Generation for their policies. Anyway, Mrs. Boss (as Kidman becomes known) realizes she has people who depend on her and decides to drove the cattle to Darwin to earn a contract with the military. The process of bringing the cattle involves The Drover (Hugh Jackman in a terrifically sexy role). There are wonderfully beautiful scenes throughout this act, and action sequences that will make you gasp. There are three acts to the movie, the drove to Darwin during the dry season, the middle act, a time of peace when the rains return, and the bombing of Darwin. Each one might have been a movie individually, but together they tell an epic story.

I expected Nicole Kidman's character to annoy me - her hairstyle mimicked The Golden Compass which was a dreadful role with coldness and dispassion (the opposite of what's required for Australia) but I did believe her falling in love in with The Drover (how you could you not?) and Jackman's acting was terrific. He reminded me of Robert Redford in Out of Africa, playing the disinterested loner who falls in love, but doesn't want to admit that comes with responsibilities. His character has lots of depth, that unfortunately, due to the script, only gets to come up in pieces. When he appears in a white tuxedo jacket at the top of the stairs I kept thinking how much he invoked Humphrey Bogart. However, the absolute winner of the film that makes it a story worth following is Nullah (Brandon Walters). You can feel the yearning for goodness in his eyes. On a personal note, I live in Kenya for a year studying zebras (another life) and lived at a research center where the next youngest person was the three-year old daughter of the manager and she became my best friend. She was Kenyan, half white, a quarter black, and a quarter West Indies, with the creamy skin and dark soft hair and huge curious eyes. We called her Dudu (swahili for little bug) thanks to the look of her eyes. Nullah looked very much like Dudu, so I had a strong connection to his story throughout the movie, wanting people to take care of him and make it all right. But this was a movie, so all kinds of things happened, including using all kinds of magic and aboriginal culture to bring the stories to life from a unique place in history. I really liked the overall effect of the movie, the stories were beautiful, the plot was fine (yes, predictable, but not cliched), and the love story (both between Kidman and Jackman, AND Mrs. Boss and Nullah) was wonderful. Great movie, definitely go see it in the theater, completely worth it. 4.5 LAMBS/stars

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Twofer Tuesdays Top-Grossing Reviews: 1995 and 1992

Year: 1995
Film: Toy Story
Box Office Gross: $
Awards: Nominated for 3 Oscars (before Best Animated Feature was a category) including winning an award for Special Achievement for a feature length computer animated film
Actors:Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger

This movie holds up even though computer animation has made leaps and bounds since this movie was completed. It was an in
novative concept as a script even before we were awed by the new techniques behind animation which most people only notice when they're bad, not that they're amazingly new. I just read that Joss Whedon helped write the screenplay, which was nominated for an Oscar which, with Finding Nemo, are the only animated films nominated for best original screenplay. The characters they created were iconic toys, but given voices that seemed totally appropriate (wouldn't you assume that Mr. Potato Head spoke like Don Rickles?) and then sent on an adventure to return to the little boy who loves them. It's a great story, and deserves the accolades heaped upon it. This description of Buzz Lightyear sums it up for me.

Year: 1992
Film: Aladdin
Box Office Gross: $
Awards: Nominated for 5 Oscars (before Best Animated Feature was a category) including winning 2 awards for Original Score and Best Original Song for "A Whole New World"
Scott Weingner, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, and Gilbert Gottfried

Aladdin was the first movie I saw in the theater more than once. I think I actually saw it 5 times in the theater (back when movies cost $2 for kids) I liked it so much. Robin Williams' comedy as the genie was terrific and started the trend of big stars voicing characters in animated movies. I'm not sure this movie holds up as well for grown-ups because I've only seen it once since I was a kid, and most of the other animated movies I love I still watch. I'm still surprised this movie was the highest grossing for 1992, even over Batman Returns (the one with Penguin and Catwoman), Home Alone 2, and Lethal Weapon 3. Okay, maybe I'm not surprised.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Young @ Heart

In the documentary spirit of King of Kong, Spellbound, and Wordplay, the film Young @ Heart presents interesting people doing interesting things, learning to excel at something and triumphing over challenges. Young @ Heart follows the story of a choir of senior citizens, some very senior, as they prepare for a new show learning new songs including James Brown's, "I feel good", and Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia". They have some troubles learning and there are obviously less talented singers, but their passion overwhelms their skill anyway. The director follows several of the more prominent singers and interviews more people. Not to give anything away, but several of the members are in or out of the hospital, changing the dynamic both of the group and the movie. It's an uplifting story, and you can sing along. They even do music video-like montages of songs from Bowie's "Golden Years" to The BeeGee's "Staying Alive". I really liked it and highly recommend it. No special mood is required to watch it, and rapt attention isn't required so watch it while you write holiday cards.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Four Christmases: Review

There used to be a time when it wasn't appropriate to show the best parts of a movie in the trailers. I guess the movies were better and they could leave things out. Or, trailer makers were better at their jobs taking a funny moment in an even funnier scene so that when you see it again during the movie it still surprises you. I've seen too many trailers for Four Christmases, so I could see the baby vomiting on Reese coming from a mile away, but for a change, it was even funnier in the movie because there's more to that scene than just what you see on TV in the trailers. In general, I also have a beef with movie marketers who think all movies must fit into just a few molds, and so they market them that way. "This must be a comedy, that must be an action thriller", etc. However, by inaccurately marketing movies usually just leads to disappointment when you leave the theater, though many of them reach audiences on DVD because by then they only have their name or popularity to sell them, rather than their supposed plot. Four Christmases wasn't a misrepresented as many comedies have been, but there's a lot more to it than just continuous hilarity.

Reese and Vince Vaughn have been dating a while, and they like doing things together and having fun (I won't ruin it, but the opening scene is hilarious) and avoid their families at Christmas. They usually lie ("you can't spell families without lies") and go off on a wonderful vacation. This year, flights grounded for a day and being seen on the local news means they have to actually see their divorced families. While each family represents stereotypes a bit, they're not quite caricatures (though Jon Favreau as Vaughn's brother was annoyingly over the top). Vaughn's dad and brothers are middle class NASCAR fans who love to wrestle and be men's men. Vaughn never fit into that mold, left and became a lawyer. Now he's back and has to figure out how to avoid getting his ass kicked. There were two supporting characters that made this scene work and relatable, Tim McGraw as a father of two boys he can't afford to give big presents to, and Katy Mixon as Favreau's super pregnant wife who makes bologna casseroles and extols the virtues of her husband. He's touching (without meaning to) and she's hilarious without actually being crass.

Each of the other Christmases has something that would resonate with anyone from or with access to a large family. There are elements of not fitting in, rising above what you were born into, trying to meet your family's expectations and just plain disliking your family. The bigger theme I liked throughout the day was whether Reese or Vince actually knew enough about each other to have a life together. Can you love someone if you don't know where they come from or who their family is? How much do you need to know about someone so you feel like you really know them? They did a good job of exploring that a little bit more with each family. I liked the movie and give it a 3.5 LAMBS/stars

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesdays Top-Grossing Reviews: 2002

Year: 2002
Film: Spider-Man
Box Office Gross: $
Awards: Nominated for visual effects and sound
Actors:Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Willem Defoe, J. K. Simmons,

The first Spider-Man tells the story originated in the comics, with Peter Parker (Maguire) becoming Spider-Man and fighting the Green Goblin (Defoe). Everyone knows the story so I won't fully elaborate here. Instead, I'll whine about what I don't like about the entire Spider-man series. Mostly the acting is fine, the special effects are good, though often overwhelming the story. The first film has a cohesive story, they have background on most of the characters (Green Goblin used to be Norman Osborn who made weapons, Parker is trying to figure out what it means to be Spider-Man "With great power, comes great responsibility", etc.). The story was well established and well written. The successive films lost a lot of that, and thus the acting suffered. Without a great story, even terrific actors like Alfred Molina (Doc Ock) can't make the movie better. I like movies based on comic books but this series never really grabbed me.

Monday, November 24, 2008

'Friends' on Thanksgiving

There were many reasons to love "Friends" and this week I'm thankful that they always had a terrific Thanksgiving episode. I like it when a TV show acknowledges that it doesn't live in a vacuum and realizes that it exists on Thursday nights and Thanksgiving is always a Thursday, and the producers at "Friends" always made unique Thanksgiving shows ("Boston Legal" is another show that acknowledges it knows it's a TV show from time to time). Most series do a Christmas/holiday episode of some sort, but with the current schedule of episodes, Christmas shows often appear the first week of December with no new episodes until well after the holidays.

Season 1 - "The One Where Underdog Gets Away" This episode brings all the friendless Friends together when they're supposed to be celebrating elsewhere. They pretend that Wonderdog escaped from the Macy's parade and ends up down in the Village near their apartments, getting locked out and missing dinner. Not the best, but a classic.

Season 2 - I don't know why, but there's no Thanksgiving episode this season.

Season 3 - "The One with the Football" None of the Friends are dressed well throughout this episode, and it always bothers me. They decide to play football in the park, it becomes really competitive and dirty tricks abound. Joey and Chandler fight over a hot girl, but as they learn, most girls don't want to be told who they get to go out with. The episode ends with Monica and Ross still in the park holding onto the football waiting to see who wins The Gellar Cup.

Season 4 - "The One with Chandler in a Box" This is one of the all time best episodes of Friends. Joey won't forgive Chandler for kissing his girlfriend Cathy. To make up for it, Chandler spends Thanksgiving Day in a box. Monica gets ice in her eye and goes to see the eye doctor - Richard's son (hot Michael Vartan) who she invites to Thanksgiving Dinner. The whole thing becomes kinda weird, particularly with Chandler sticking his fingers out of the hole in the box, but it's got one of the best lines ever from Monica yelling at the others for judging her crush on Richard's son:

"Fine! Judge all you want to but, [points to Ross] married a lesbian, [points to Rachel] left a man at the altar, [points to Phoebe] fell in love with a gay ice dancer, [points to Joey] threw a girl's wooden leg in a fire, [points to the box Chandler's in] live in a box!"

Season 5 - "The One with Thanksgiving Flashbacks" All the Friends flashback to Thanksgivings they remember. The show always did this well, with Monica in a fat suit, Rachel with her old nose, Ross and Chandler's 80s hair. They flash back to the 2 Thanksgivings when Ross brought Chandler home from college. The first year he calls Monica fat behind her back, so the next year she's back to her normal size. She says she hates him, which parallels to their real time affair, deciding they love each other. There's a great moment when Joey has the turkey on his head.

Season 6 - "The One where Ross Got High" This is another of my all time favorites. The Gellars come over for Christmas and Rachel makes trifle but accidentally adds beef with peas and onions. Phoebe dreams about Jack Gellar fighting Jacques Cousteau. And Ross and Monica out each other on all the secrets of their childhood: porn, broken porch swing, pot smoking. They find out they've been blaming Chandler for lots of things which is why the Gellar parents have always hated him. When they find out the truth, they thank Chandler for watching out for their kids. Joey comments on Rachel's trifle: "What's not to like, Jam:good, Custard: Good, Beef: Gooo-od"

Season 7 - "The One Where Chandler Doesn't Like Dogs" This episode didn't really fit into their Thanksgiving canon. Phoebe has a dog she's been hiding in the guest room even though Chandler hates them and says he's deathly allergic. Not too much goes on beyond Rachel flirting with Tag and he finds out she likes him.

Season 8 - "The One with the Rumor" This was when Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were still married. Pitt guest starred as a friend of Ross' from high school who used to be really fat. Rachel spends most of the episode trying to figure out who he was and flirting. But he and Ross had a club in high school called the We Hate Rachel Greene club. Rachel is pissed when she finds out considering she is pregnant and having a kid with Ross. Pitt applauds Ross for knocking up Rachel. It's a really funny episode with lots of Thanksgiving cooking.

Season 9 - "The One with Rachel's Other Sister" Christina Applegate shows up for Thanksgiving and spouts her narcissistic opinions on how to raise Rachel and Ross' new baby Emma. She assumes she'd get to raise Emma if Ross or Rachel die, but they've already planned to ask Monica and Chandler. This causes all kinds of discussions about why certain people would or would not be good parents.

Season 10 - "The One with the Late Thanksgiving" Monica reluctantly agrees to cook Thanksgiving dinner again, but Ross and Joey go to a hockey game, and Phoebe and Rachel enter Emma in a beautiful baby contest so everyone's late. They spend a lot of time talking to Monica and Chandler through the door with the chain on, floating heads. Joey of course gets his head stuck. It's a really funny classic Friends episode of fighting, but no one being really upset. Great finale to the Thanksgiving series.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesdays Top-Grossing Review: 2004

Year: 2004
Film: Shrek 2
Box Office Gross: $
Awards: Oscar nomination for Animated Feature and Best Original Song "Accidentally in Love"
Actors:Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese

This is was the highest grossing sequel until The Dark Knight came along breaking all kinds of records. It expands the story of the original Shrek, our green, ornery ogre who has fallen in love and married the Princess Fiona who is also an ogre. Now they have to return to the Kingdom of Far, Far, Away to see her parents. They're of course shocked that their daughter is an ogre and married to Shrek. The King (John Cleese) hires Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to get rid of Shrek and of course they become friends. However, the real Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) still wants to be Fiona's husband and works with the Fairy Godmother (the brilliant Jennifer Saunders from AbFab) to get rid of Shrek. Lots of hilarity ensues, I think Puss is terrific, the swashbuckling kitty who uses his cuteness to win fights when he knows he's losing. Ultimately, this movie didn't really do much more than the first one. The first was incredibly original, riffing on traditional fairy tale characters and ideas. This one does take that a little further with the new characters, but not a lot further. A good sequel, but not a fantastic stand alone movie.

Monday, November 17, 2008

DVD Round up

I'm not sure there are two movies more different than the fairy tale Penelope and the powerfully violent Blood Diamond. Penelope is a fable of sorts that tells the story of Penelope (Christina Ricci), a young woman from a blue-blood family with a curse: The first female baby born in the family will have pig nose and ears. The curse can be broken if she can get "one of her own" to marry her. Penelope's family hides her away to keep their secret, even faking her death. When she's 18, her mother (Catherine O'Hara) starts interviewing young blue-blood men to see if they'll marry her. This goes on for years, with all of them running away when they finally get to see her. One of them, Edward, is particularly scared when he sees her and puts a story in the newspaper about the monster living there. A reporter, Peter Dinklage, who was injured by Penelope's mother when she was leaving the hospital and he was getting a picture, partners with Edward and they hire Max (James McAvoy) to go in for an marriage interview and get her picture. Max has a heart and he starts talking to Penelope and they hit it off. Since it's a fairy tale, you can image how the rest plays out, except that you really can't. It's an original story about beauty being inside, and a reversal of the Beauty and the Beast idea (the woman is the beast in this case). It's beautifully shot, colorful, imaginative, and the supporting characters are terrific. Catherine O'Hara as the over-the-top mother with a heart of gold, and Reese Witherspoon as Penelope's crazy friend once she reaches the outside world. 4 LAMBS/stars

The second movie I saw this weekend was Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly. The acting is terrific, the story well articulated (which I found remarkable considering understanding conflict in Africa is rarely simple), and the violence overwhelming. If you're willing to watch the film by fast-forwarding the shooting scenes, I'd give the movie a 4.5, if I'd had to sit through this in the movie theater or with someone who won't let me fast forward, I'd give it a 3 for excessive violence. So here's my description of the 4.5 version. Hounsou plays Solomon Vendy, a fisherman from a small village in Sierra Leone in 1999 during their civil war. As he's walking his son to school one day, the R.U.F. (Revolutionary United Front) attacks his village and his family is divided. He is sent to work in one of the diamond mines in Kono where he finds an enormous pink diamond. He manages to hide it before the rebels find it. Meanwhile, Danny Archer (DiCaprio), a Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) soldier from the wars in Angola turned diamond smuggler has managed to get caught smuggling diamonds into Liberia (here's what I learned from the film: to avoid exporting diamonds from known conflict zones, like Sierra Leone in 1999, the diamonds would be smuggled into another country and then exported as clean diamonds to be sold around the world, 60% to the US. Because they are smuggled, the diamonds are dirt cheap and to gain money for fighting the war, both sides sell the diamonds. However, to keep the global price high, the diamond companies hoard the diamonds. The diamond companies even have an interest in keeping the conflict going because it keeps the price of diamonds low. I can't vouch for the validity of any of this, but that's what the movie seemed to be saying). Anyway, Hounsou and DiCaprio eventually meet in jail and DiCaprio convinces him to let him sell the pink diamond. They start to head back to Kono to get the diamond, and meet up with Connelly, a journalist trying to prove the conflict diamonds are being purchased by the diamond companies. They try to reach Kono and run up against government military troops, supplemented by the same Rhodesian/Angolan military DiCaprio used to belong to, as well as the R.U.F, AND local militia who are trying to protect their homes from both sides. Watching this movie you start to feel like everyone's in the wrong, that all the people are evil and just trying to make money. The leader of the R.U.F. has a terrific line that makes the movie seem a little more real, "If I am a devil it is because I live in hell." There's another conversation between Hounsou and DiCaprio where Hounsou is trying to explain how it feels to be living amidst a civil war where most of the people are not on one side OR the other, but living on the battlefield. The R.U.F. would steal young boys and force them to be soldiers. They're brainwashed into believing they are right, and given guns, drugs, money, and gifts to keep the cycle going. I've lived in Kenya and Gabon (neither in any conflict while I was there) but it's still nearly impossible to understand all the atrocities, war, violence, and bloodshed that goes on during these internal conflicts. This was a terrific movie to see how it can work from a single family's point of view, just fast-forward through the gunshots.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

More Songs from Movies

Here are some more songs from movies that I can't hear the song without wanting to watch the movie:

"Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" sung by Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You

"Golden Years" sung by David Bowie, and danced to by Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale. Some friend's and I were watching this and drinking one night and somehow decided chocolate ice cream and Pirate's Booty popcorn would taste really good with gin and tonics. It doesn't.

"Jump (For My Love)" sung by The Pointer Sisters, and danced to by Hugh Grant in Love, Actually

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Then She Found Me

Helen Hunt's feature film directorial debut explores the different meanings of family and stars a great group of actors. Then She Found Me stars Hunt as April, a NYC teacher who was adopted by a Jewish family as a child, and married to fellow teacher, man-child Matthew Broderick. She's desperate to have a child of her own, but at 39, it's not been easy. In fast succession Broderick decides he can't live the life she wants, and her adopted mother dies. A few days later, April's biological mother, a super-kooky daytime TV show host played by Bette Middler, gets in touch and wants a relationship. Meanwhile, Hunt has gotten to know the parent of one of her students, single dad Colin Firth. Lots of various lies are told, revealed, apologized for, forgiven and a little more sex happens. Hunt struggles with what it meant to be adopted and what her own family might look like. Firth is terrific, outgoing and compassionate with the same mystery as his famous Mr. Darcy. Ben Shenkman plays Hunt's adopted brother really well, I'm surprised he doesn't get more work. It's a good independent movie that tells the story a little differently than others. Plus, the scenery around NYC is always fun to watch. 3.5 stars/LAMBs

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A question of love

This has nothing to do with entertainment, but Keith Olbermans says the things I've been trying to say much better than I can. I have no opinion of him as a commentator, I've never seen his show, and have no idea of the rest of his politics. I saw this clip on a fellow movie blogger's site, and think the more people who see it, the better.

Who are you thankful for?

The L.A.M.Blog-a-Thon this month is celebrating the people in entertainment that we are thankful exist and practice their craft. "The catch is, it can't be a director or actor. Those cats just get too much love already, don't you think? With these posts you can focus on anyone working in the film industry from any time period from any country that isn't a director or actor. It is okay, though, if the person has done both directing and acting, so long as your post acknowledges their exceptional work in another part of the filmmaking process." While my choice already gets a lot of love, I am yet again thankful for his work. Aaron Sorkin. Writer.

I like nearly everything Aaron Sorkin has had come to the screen. And by nearly everything I'm including everything I've seen, and the nearly encompasses the stuff I haven't seen. I loved "The West Wing", which continued to be good even after he left thanks to the genius that was the set of characters he created. Even more relevent to the past week was the final season of "The West Wing" when a minority Democrat candidate wins the White House. The NYTimes had a terrific article describing how prescient it was (though Sorkin didn't write it, he did get a cameo in the final episode). "Sports Night" was fun, sassy, and just never found its audience. There are elements of both of these shows in "Studio 60", which never found its footing, but has achieved some of the same brilliant moments of its predecessors. I like the fact that Sorkin picks all kinds of small elements of society and brings them into prominence on his shows. He gave President Bartlett M.S. and educated a whole viewership about it, if only on a superficial level. He always seems to present situations where people matter more than the politics of the action - e.g. it's significant that Tom Jeter was speeding because he wanted to see his brother before he deployed to the Mid-East and not just that he's a celebrity getting out of a ticket, or Toby saving the astronauts by exposing a military asset. Sorkin makes it clear what matters and that things are rarely as simple as they seem at first. He makes us think about why we believe what we believe, and I admire that about his writing.

The feature films he wrote include A Few Good Men, The American President, and Charlie Wilson's War. Here's my favorite speech The American President:

Anyway, I am Thankful for Aaron Sorkin and everything he's brought to television and film.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

W. Reliving the present

Oliver Stone's new movie W. probably won't win any awards (though a nomination for Josh Brolin wouldn't be out of place), and it probably won't change anyone's mind about our out-going President, but it did remind me that we should make a bigger fuss about who surrounds our President, who the advisers are should make almost as big a difference to the American people as the President himself. W. runs along two time periods. The first follows George W. Bush from his early days at Yale, through several jobs, drinking, meeting Laura, working for his dad's election campaign, to running a baseball team in Texas and finally becoming Governor of Texas. The second timeline follows President George W. Bush through his decisions following 9/11 and going to war in Iraq. You see all the people who advised him, most played by terrific actors who gave solid performances that emulated real people, rather than tried to map them exactly. The lone caricature was Thandie Newton's performance of Condalezza Rice, it was much more of a mockery than any of the other performances (including staunch democrat Richard Dreyfus playing VP Dick Cheney). The movie itself isn't anything like a mockery. It feels at times critical of the topic, but at others sympathetic. I don't know how much of the dialogue came from first-hand accounts or reports (since the President's day is mapped to the minute, it wouldn't be hard to verify certain meetings, but actual conversations probably not), but all the conversations map carefully to what actually happened later and who towed the line after actions were carried out. I would love to find out any argument the actual people had with the movie. The main theme carrying through the whole movie, which may be more or less true is George W. Bush's attempt to please his father and gain his respect. That was the only storyline that seems to be based on innuendo and assumption, rather than known fights or disagreements. Overall, I really liked it, both as a story told well, and a movie creatively put together. Rarely do I notice a movie's lighting scheme, but the lighting in the situation room, and in most of the White House scenes was always just a little dark and treacherous seeming, creating a mood. Ranked 4 of 5 LAMB/stars.

I just read the Mahnola Dargis review of the film in the NYTimes on October 17, and I loved this line, it does describe the overall feel of the film: "History is said to repeat itself as tragedy and farce, but here it registers as a full-blown burlesque."

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Saturday, November 8, 2008

DVD catch up

I just saw Baby Mama on DVD, so here is my review. Baby Mama is a really funny story about Kate (Tina Fey) trying to have a baby. She's 37, single, and a VP at an organic foods company in Philadelphia. She can't conceive herself, so after many tries, pursues surrogacy at a posh firm run by Sigourney Weaver (who keeps having her own babies in a strange/funny gag). Kate meets Angie (Amy Poehler) and Carl (Dax Shepherd, dreadful) who are volunteering to be her surrogate (for a lot of money). There are lots of jokes about first-time parents and the process of childbirth, which are always funny. What I didn't know about the film going in was that Steve Martin and Greg Kinnear also star in the film. Martin is the owner of the organic foods store and plays the aging hippie money-whore perfectly. He rewards people with good ideas with "5 minutes of uninterrupted eye contact". And Kinnear as the owner of a fruit juice place (like Jamba Juice) who flirts with Kate, is pretty terrific. He has a small role, but plays it perfectly. I often find him over the top or trying to do more than is interesting. Kate takes care of Angie as she gets farther and farther along. Secrets are revealed and the story wraps up well. Unlike a lot of movies with SNL cast members this movie isn't too long, too silly, or too much. It's a great little comedy. 4 of 5 LAMBS/stars.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Alphabet Meme

I was tagged by Fletch at Blog Cabins and Rachel at Rachel's Reel Reviews to participate in the Alphabet Meme. Here are the rules:
1. Pick one film to represent each letter of the alphabet.

2. The letter "A" and the word "The" do not count as the beginning of a film's title, unless the film is simply titled A or The, and I don't know of any films with those titles.

3. Return of the Jedi belongs under "R," not "S" as in Star Wars Episode IV: Return of the Jedi. This rule applies to all films in the original Star Wars trilogy; all that followed start with "S." Similarly, Raiders of the Lost Ark belongs under "R," not "I" as in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. In other words, movies are stuck with the titles their owners gave them at the time of their theatrical release. Conversely, all films in the LOTR series belong under "L" and all films in the Chronicles of Narnia series belong under "C," as that's what those filmmakers called their films from the start. Use your better judgement to apply the above rule to any series/films not mentioned.

4. Films that start with a number are filed under the first letter of their number's word. 12 Monkeys would be filed under "T."

5. Link back to Blog Cabins in your post, cause he made up the rules.

6. If you're selected, you have to then select 5 more people. (I'm not going to tag anyone, though if you do decide to do it, please link back to me!).

American President, The
Becoming Jane
Cold Mountain
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Fifty First Dates
Gone With the Wind
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Incredibles, The
Just Like Heaven
Knight's Tale, A
Little Mermaid, The
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Notting Hill
Out of Africa
Princess Bride, The
Quiz Show
Regarding Henry
Sense and Sensibility
Top Gun
Under the Tuscan Sun
V for Vendetta
When Harry Met Sally
X-Men 2
You've Got Mail

These are my favorites under each letter, but some are definitely better than others. Since I'm that nerdy, I actually alphabetize my own collection of several hundred DVDs, so this was pretty easy.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Songs that remind me of movies

I've been playing my ipod on random lately and keep hearing songs that remind me of movies I love and so I thought I'd share. Thanks to YouTube, you can hear AND see the scenes I like.

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - 50 First Dates

"Tenderness on the Block" - Sliding Doors (okay this is a pretty obscure movie so I couldn't find the right clip, but this song plays at the very end of the movie where you finally see that everything happens for a reason).

"Thriller" - 13 Going on 30. I know there are probably lots and lots of other things to think when you hear this song, but I still love this scene with Jennifer Garner dancing.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Keira Knightley keeps getting better

Keira Knightley is still really young considering the blockbusters and Oscar nominees she's been part of so far in her career. And, in my opinion, she keeps getting better. She was captivating in Atonement, showing her skills rather than just pouting her lips. She was perfectly fine in the two sequels to Pirate's of the Caribbean, though her character became more ridiculous (I thought her career might be over after she spent most of the third movie in pointy shoes). She probably deserved her Oscar nomination for Pride and Prejudice, though I really disliked the remake. However, her recent performance in The Duchess is fantastic. The movie follows the story of Georgiana, becoming the Duchess of Devonshire, wife of the most powerful, if somewhat short-sighted, member of the political party rising to prominence in 1774. Georgiana's sole duty as his wife is produce a male heir, and keep at it until she does. The Duke (quite a few years her elder) has the love-making skills of a horse, and while Georgiana conceives, a son eludes her. Meanwhile, she has become beloved by the rest of the social scene, and one of the most fashionable, intelligent, influential women in the country. She makes friends with Lady Elizabeth Foster, who comes to live with the Duke and Duchess. Ultimately, the Duke decides he likes Bess better, but continues to torture Georgiana's bed to get his son. Lots of mini-scandal occurs, carefully hidden, but obvious given some of Ralph Fiennes strange acting choices. So Bess, the Duke, the Duchess, and their kids live on together. The story is incredibly well-told, and it's hard to miss the ties to the current political climate, as well as to current celebrity status. Just after their wedding, the Duke and Duchess ride through town as people watch, trying to catch a glimpse through the carriage. Georgiana was a distant relative of the late Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, and it's hard to miss the similiarities, though the story holds well on its own. The costumes are fantastic, the set dressings impressive (I never understood why women's dressing tables had the weird little chairs with no back, but when you see how the dresses get in the way, it starts to make sense) and overall the world is carefully and fully created. Keira Knightley fills the screen every time she appears and leads the movie with terrific emotion and strength. 4 of 5 stars/LAMBS.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Drew Barrymore and her leading men...

I was having a conversation with a friend about our mutual love for Drew Barrymore, but that not all her leading men were created equally, nor is their on-screen chemistry. From best to worst of her romantic comedy/dramas (chemistry, not movie quality) are:

Adam Sandler (50 First Dates) - This movie is probably one of the most original romantic comedies, telling a story about love and relationships without everything working out perfectly but making a very satisfying ending. Sandler's best work as an adult shows lots of sides of falling in love and what it means to create a relationship. You want them to succeed and you're impressed that they overcome a lot of the problems.

Jimmy Fallon (Fever Pitch) - Drew plays a woman who falls in love with a Red Sox fan who hasn't figured out the difference between obsession and fandom. Their relationship transforms them both (isn't that what you want from romantic comedy?) and they figure out how to be together, but still pursue their individual goals.

Hugh Grant (Music and Lyrics) - Her character in this is more than a little kooky, and that gets in the way of their romance, but given that they sing together, and Grant's dry wit making fun of her all the way through, they seem like good friends who fell in love, rather than two weirdos stuck together.

Adam Sandler (The Wedding Singer) - She is super cute in this movie, and really believes in true love, which almost makes you believe she'd turn down what she thought was a happy, successful relationship for the Wedding Singer. She makes him believe in himself and then he realizes he loves her. It works pretty well, but their chemistry definitely improves in 50 First Dates.

Dougray Scott (Ever After) - As Cinderella, she has more chemistry fighting with her stepsisters than she does with the Prince, but since you know the Prince will finally sweep her away, it's easy to believe. Her intellectual fights with the Prince over his entitled attitude sometimes breed chemistry, but mostly you just think "how stupid is this guy to not get that he's a prince?"

Michael Vartan (Never Been Kissed) - The sketchy nature of the teacher crushing on his student never really goes away, even though you know Drew is old enough to date him. He's impossibly cute, and her nerdy-girl crush works, but it never makes sense that they would actually get together.

Eric Bana (Lucky You) - Their chemisty NEVER comes together. He's a gambler who can be turned into a good guy by the love of a good woman. But Drew doesn't seem all that interested in the role, and Bana can barely see past his cards to realize Drew is sitting right there trying to flirt with him. Dreadful and unbelievable chemistry throughout.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My own Top 50

I'm all for sharing our favorites and many of my fellow bloggers have put up their top 50 lists (without any particular order, except that the Top 10 are the best). These are my favorite films. I own most of them or have seen them dozens or hundreds of times. They're not for everyone, but they all have something I like to see. Check out the really different lists at Blog Cabins, Hoping for Something to Hope For, and The Center Seat.

Top 50 Films

1. Sense and Sensibility
2. Gone With The Wind
3. The Princess Bride
4. Out of Africa
5. The Shawshank Redemption
6. Star Wars Trilogy
7. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
8. When Harry Met Sally
9. Waitress
10. 50 First Dates
11. Finding Nemo
12. The American President
13. 10 Things I hate about you
14. Good Will Hunting
15. Walk the Line
16. Dogma
17. Little Miss Sunshine
18. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
19. Sliding Doors
20. Top Gun
21. V for Vendetta
22. My Fair Lady
23. O, Brother Where Art Thou?
24. The Philadelphia Story
25. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
26. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
27. Grosse Pointe Blank
28. Groundhog Day
29. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
30. Men in Black
31. 12 Angry Men
32. Forrest Gump
33. The Little Mermaid
34. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
35. The Sting
36. A Few Good Men
37. Gattaca
38. Notting Hill
39. The Lion King
40. Live Free or Die Hard
41. Say Anything
42. March of the Penguins
43. The African Queen
44. Minority Report
45. Fargo
46. Bridget Jones’ Diary
47. Almost Famous
48. The Incredibles
49. West Side Story
50. Cold Mountain