Sunday, November 25, 2007


Disney has found a new way to mine box office gold. "Enchanted" borrows from Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and few of their other classics to come up with the tale of a cartoon damsel in distress banished to the reality of New York City.

Amy Adams is wonderful as Giselle, a lovely cartoon character about to marry her Prince Charming (or in this case, Edward) played by James Marsden. The film starts out animated but the characters soon find themselves come to life, in New York (due to the magic of the evil Queen, played by Susan Sarandon) where Giselle meets Patrick Dempsey, a single parent divorce lawyer.

Other animated characters end up in the real world too as the film rolls along to it's inevitable conclusion. There are many fun moments, especially in the beginning as the characters adjust to becoming "real". As I said, Amy Adams is wonderful as Giselle, lovely and bewildered at the same time. Mr. Marsden plays the vain and clueless Edward perfectly. Ms. Sarandon has a fine time camping it up as the evil Queen. Mr. Dempsey, on the other hand simply plays a lawyer version of his TV doctor, Derek Sheppard. To his defense, that's about what the role calls for. Indina Menzel is wasted as Nancy, Mr. Dempsey's fiancé. She simply isn't given much to do for someone with her talent.

Timothy Spall and Pip the chipmunk add comic relief. The film is colorful, features a few clever songs, and is simple fun. "Enchanted" is great for the kids and entertaining for adults as well.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Using a technique he debuted with "The Polar Express", director Robert Zemeckis takes it to another level with "Beowulf". The film is a combination of live action with animation layered over it. The resulting image looks like a very realistic video game. The best way to view this film is in IMAX 3-D. The images are stunning. The audio and video are a feast for the senses.

The cast is pedigree. Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, Brendan Gleeson, Crispin Glover, John Malkovich, and Robin Wright Penn all add their vocal talent as well as their animated images to the story. "Beowulf is an ancient tale told many times through the ages but with a script by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery, it becomes a modern day sword and sorcery tale with liberal amounts of violence.

Visually amazing, "Beowulf" opened at #1, but overall has limited appeal. Fans of Norse mythology or the film, "300" will find much to appreciate here. Beyond that I wouldn't bother.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

No Country For Old Men

This amazing crime drama joins the ranks of Joel and Ethan Coen's best work. The film works on so many levels, I don't know where to begin. A story of greed and violence with no easy answers, the film is a marvel from start to finish.

Javier Bardem plays one of the all time great screen villains. You have simply never seen anything like Anton Chigurh. He is The Terminator in flesh and blood. Josh Brolin (getting better in every film) plays Llewelyn Moss, a simple man who discovers a satchel of cash and sets in motion a series of terrible events. Tommy Lee Jones is absolutely perfect as sheriff Ed Tom Bell, a man weary of the modern world, still trying to do the right thing. Kelly MacDonald plays Moss's wife, Carla Jean who is smarter than she looks. And rounding out the principal cast is Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells, a wild card in this deck of violent cat and mouse.

The cinematography of Roger Deakins is breathtaking. The color palate of the Texas plains to the stark and seedy small town motels is remarkable. The sparse dialog rolls off the actor's tongues like poetry. Tommy Lee Jones, in particular, has so much quotable dialog, I need to see it again and take notes. Working from the novel by Cormac McCarthy, the Coen Brothers wrote the screenplay and capture the detail and soul of the novel, while bringing the violence to the forefront. Be warned, there is no shortage of blood in a Coen Brothers film.

Without a doubt, one of this year's best films. And by the way, if you have been paying attention, all the questions at the end will have been answered.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

At 83 Sidney Lumet proves he's still got his directing chops. This is a taut little crime drama that puts ordinary people into extraordinary situations when a simple robbery goes very wrong. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke play brothers, Andy and Hank, who for different reasons both are mired in money problems. Andy hatches a plan to rob their parents jewelry store and everything spirals out of control from that point on.

The film is shot in and out of sequence with a time line at the bottom of the screen keeping things in proper perspective. This allows us, via different camera angles, to view the same events from different points of view. Hoffman and Hawke are very good in their roles but not very convincing as brothers. The film co-stars Albert Finney as their father and Marisa Tomei as Hoffman's wife. Finney, in particular, is excellent.

The film is reminiscent of an earlier film (from a terrific book), "A Simple Plan", which has a similar storyline and theme. It's a stronger story of ordinary brothers who's lives unravel when a simple plan goes bad. The saving grace of this film is Finney (so strong in his quiet devastation), Hoffman (oozing desperation) and Lumet's tight direction.

American Gangster

The new film from director Ridley Scott is based on the true story of Harlem Drug lord, Frank Lucas. It is another in a long history of gangster movies with not much new to tell. A gangster rise to the top and is brought down by a relentless cop. What keeps you watching are the strong performances.

Mr. Scott captures the gritty streets of New York in the early '70's and the film has the look and feel of a "Serpico" or "Prince of The City". As Frank Lucas, Denzel Washington has never been smoother. Whether shooting someone point blank or serving Thanksgiving dinner, he inhabits his character completely but we never see much of the man behind the criminal. As Richie Roberts, the cop who eventually brings him down, Russell Crowe is just as good in the less flashy role. In many ways, we learn more about Robert's character than we do Lucas as too much screen time is devoted to a custody battle with his ex-wife and his internal struggles within the police department.

The story behind Mr. Lucas's rise to the top is actually fascinating. Thinking like a businessman and not a street thug, he devised an ingenious way to bring heroin into the US and distribute high quality drugs for low prices.

His rise and fall certainly makes for a good story but this dark film is more informative than entertaining and anyone looking for sparks between Washington and Crowe will be disappointed. They literally only have a few scenes together towards the end of the film.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bee Movie

Animated Seinfeld is better than no Seinfeld at all in this slightly bizarre new film. It's one thing to have cute animated bees talking and acting like humans but to create an interspecies love story (even if it is chaste) takes it to another level.

The plot was reminiscent of "Antz" starring Woody Allen. A young bee isn't satisfied with life in the hive and longs for something different. This takes him out of his own environment into a new world of adventures. This is where the story takes a very strange turn. Unlike "Antz", which stayed in the insect world, "Bee Movie" takes young Barry Beeson into the human world where he is easily accepted as a "talking" bee and spends time as a lawyer and airline pilot among other things.

Rene Zellweger is the voice of his human love interest, a florist named Vanessa. Also along for the ride (literally) is Chris Rock as a cocky mosquito and Matthew Broderick, as his best bee friend. There are visual cameos from Larry King, Sting and oddly enough, Ray Liotta. Oprah Winfrey also lends her voice to the part of a judge.

Kids will like the animation and the slapstick. Adults will enjoy the Seinfeld humor but find themselves distracted by the cross-species sub-plots.

Sorry but I can't resist....I give it a B.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Michael Clayton

George Clooney tries hard to lose himself in the title character, unfortunately he just can't get past being "Clooney". He has a few strong scenes but he has reached a point in his career that makes it very difficult to lose himself in a role and that sabotages the gravitas of the film. The story is strong but complicated and forces the viewer to pay attention to fully appreciate it. The payoff at the end is strong but the film itself tries too hard to be "important".

Sydney Pollack does his one note acting as the head of Clayton's law firm. Tilda Swinton has too few scenes to really work up a sweat although she does save her best effort for the final moments. Tom Wilkinson never disappoints and does a great job as a lawyer who may be losing his mind.

Similar to the TV show, "Damages", "Michael Clayton" is a legal thriller that never sees the inside of a courtroom. It's a clever twist on the legal genre, concentrating on the characters involved in the case, rather than the case itself.