Thursday, February 22, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Starring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, and Dustin Hoffman

A boring IRS auditor (Will Ferrell) finds out he may be a character in a story written by a novelist (Emma Thompson). Further, it looks like she’s planning to kill him off at the end of the book. This is a funny, thought-provoking movie that works on multiple levels. Dustin Hoffman is very funny as a professor of literature that Ferrell looks to for help.

Hollywoodland (2006)

Starring Ben Affleck, Adrien Brody, Molly Parker and Lois Smith

In the 1950s George Reeves played Superman on TV. At age 42 he apparently killed himself. Reeve’s mother (played by Lois Smith) suspects foul play, and hires a down-and-out private detective (played by Adrien Brody) to investigate the case. All is not as it seems.

Breach (2007)

Starring Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillipe; Directed by Billy Ray

Breach is a fascinating glimpse into the mind and heart of the FBI’s worst traitor, Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper). Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillipe) is a young FBI agent-in-training; he’s assigned to be Hanssen’s assistant in order to investigate if the senior agent presents a security risk. Only later is O’Neill told that the FBI has discovered that Hanssen is selling secrets to Russia, and that O’Neill’s new job is to help catch him in the act. Cooper delivers a stunning, multilayered performance as Hanssen, inhabiting the role with authority, energy, and complexity. This movie is based on actual events.

Friday, February 16, 2007

M*A*S*H (1970)

Starring Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould; Directed by Robert Altman

This is a masterpiece of black comedy, set in the Korean War at a Medical and Surgical Hospital (M.A.S.H.) near the front lines. It's a moving, funny, sad movie, and features some memorable music and some great performances.

Thank You For Smoking (2006)

Starring Aaron Eckhart; Directed by Jason Reitman

This is a very funny film about a man who does PR for the smoking industry. As one of the tobacco executives in the movie says, “Gentlemen, our job is easy. Our product is widely available, its very cool and it’s highly addictive.”

The Sentinel (2006)

Thriller; Starring Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland; Directed by Clark Johnson

We get an inside glimpse (procedural) of how the Secret Service guards the President. It’s interesting to see Sutherland in a non-“24” role, playing opposite Michael Douglas. There’s a plot to kill the President, and Douglas is the chief suspect. He’s on the run to clear his name and save the day.

All the President's Men (1976)

Starring Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, and Hal Holbrook; Directed by Alan J. Pakula

This is a thrilling look at a couple of young newspaper reporters (Woodward and Bernstein) at the Washington Post. They’re following the story of a minor break-in at the Watergate Hotel wherever it leads. This time, it leads to the White House and presidential misconduct. (Where are the Woodwards and Bernsteins of today?!) Like a police procedural, this movie really gives you a kinetic feel for how reporters do their job.

Rent (2005)

Musical; Directed by Chris Columbus

This is a joyous version of the Broadway musical, which in turn was loosely based on the opera "La Boheme". If you like musicals, here's another soundtrack you'll have to buy. (The opening song will stick in your memory, whispering "buy me" repeatedly. Eventually, I'll yield.)

Eight Below (2006)

Starring a bunch of amazing dogs and Paul Walker; Directed by Frank Marshall

Eight sled dogs are trapped in the Antarctic winter. Their chances of survival are bleak; they must contend with frigid weather and hostile beasts. This film features gorgeous and moving visuals of the Antarctic wastes.

The Music Man (1962)

Musical; Starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones; Directed by Morton DaCosta

A conman (Preston) comes to River City in Iowa to sell musical instruments and band uniforms. The Iowa folks are suspicious of him, and with good reason. The Buffalo Bills barbershop group performs memorably throughout the film. Marion the Librarian (Jones) takes an interest in the conman, and he in her. This is a funny, enjoyable musical with great songs and performances.

Guys and Dolls (1955)

Musical; Starring Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, and Vivian Blaine; Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

This is a fresh and funny version of the Damon Runyon story, with Sinatra and Brando as gamblers who get wrapped up in an improbable bet. This film features some great singing and dancing. It's a pleasure to see the early Brando in a light comic/romantic role. The romantic interplay between Sinatra and Blaine is also very entertaining.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Starring Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant and Kate Winslett

This is a great modern remake of the Jane Austin classic. It’s a pleasure to watch the ensemble cast as they move through this period romance.

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds

This is arguably one of the greatest musicals ever made, also quite funny. It gives a supposed chronicle of the transition from silent movies to talkies in the guise of a mythical studio and two star-crossed stars.

Brigadoon (1954)

Starring Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, and Cyd Charisse

This is a fluffy fantasy about a small Scottish village that awakens every hundred years. Two lost hunters wander into the village and find mystery and romance. Gene Kelly does some great dancing and some good singing. The film includes classic songs like "Almost Like Being in Love".

Blade Runner: The Director's Cut (1982)

Directed by Ridley Scott, Starring Harrison Ford

Scott shows us a bleak and visually stunning depiction of one of our possible futures, where genetically-engineered replicants (artificial people) escape to Earth and are hunted down by special policemen (blade runners). This director's cut is bleaker and more ambiguous than the original theatrical release. The film is based on the Philip K. Dick sci-fi story, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

Starring Lawrence Fishburne and Keke Palmer

An urban kid finds she has a genius for spelling. She gets drawn into the world of spelling bees. Lawrence Fishburne plays a professor we all wish we could have had as a teacher.

Romancing the Stone (1984)

Starring Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas

A romance/adventure novelist must go on a quest to rescue her sister and gain true love, basically living out one of her novels. It's full of comedy and adventure and thrills as she travels through the wilds of Colombia with a questionable adventurer (Douglas) in pursuit of a beautiful emerald (the stone). Danny De Vito is very funny as a thief trying to steal the stone.

United 93 (2006)

This is a factual, harrowing, carefully focused movie showing the real-life events on United Flight 93 as terrorists hijacked it on 9/11/2001. The passengers fight back, but at a terrible cost. We also see the National Flight Control Center as it tries to come to terms with the hijackings of airliners on that terrible day.

The Illusionist (2006)

Starring Paul Giamatti, Edward Norton, and Jessica Biel

Paul Giamatti plays a policeman assigned to investigate a mysterious magician (Edward Norton). The magician is in a conflict with Crown Prince Leopold at the turn of the century. This film has some delightful twists and turns.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Starring Steve Carrel, Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin

This is a quirky movie about a strange family that goes on a road trip so the daughter of the family can compete in a beauty contest. Will her divided family be able to make it happen?

Step Up (2006)

Starring Channing Tatum & Jenna Dewan

Two very different people are born to dance, and get a chance to do it together. The film is set at a school for the arts.

Clerks II (2006)

Directed by Kevin Smith

If you enjoyed Kevin Smith's Dogma, you may also enjoy this movie, a follow-up to his original movie Clerks. It has a great tag line, "With no power comes no responsibility." It could best be termed a slacker comedy, sprinkled with *&*#$#* language. But hey, they'll be running the world in 20 or 30 years.

Con Air (1997)

Starring Nicholas Cage

This thriller is about convicts who take over a plane. It's a standard action movie with good explosions, etc., but also contains the hilarious line (in context), “Put the bunny down!”

Enemy of the State (2004)

Starring Will Smith and Gene Hackman

This thriller follows an innocent man as he is spied on and victimized by shadowy operatives using the sophisticated surveillance and information technology possessed by spy agencies. It has a serious subtext; how important is our privacy, and how can it be protected?

The Producers (2006)

Musical; Starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick

A movie producer and an accountant set out to make a failed Broadway musical in order to get rich. Things don’t go as they planned; their “guaranteed failure” becomes a success.

Nanny McPhee (2006)

Starring Emma Thompson and Colin Firth

This warm, funny movie is about a family of unruly children confronting a determined and mysterious nanny. It’s not just an updated Mary Poppins, though it is a worthy successor to that film for a new generation.

Blazing Saddles (1974)

Starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens; Directed by Mel Brooks

After Blazing Saddles, you’ll never be able to see another western quite the same. It spoofs the entire genre, having a lot of fun in the process. Some of the sight (and sound) gags are delightful.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Starring Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle; Directed by Mel Brooks

Shot in luminous black and white, this spoof of creature movies features hilarious scenes and delightful slapstick. This is one of Wilder’s best and funniest films.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal

Two cowboys fall in love while tending sheep. This is a gorgeously made movie with beautiful scenery and a sad story of two men who find themselves in an impossible place. Due to mature content, parents must decide if this is appropriate for their children.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

Starring Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow

This is a throwback to old TV serials and B-movie thrillers. The science fiction plot is improbable, but stars Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow light up the screen. The special effects are very special in this film; it's very beautiful because of the unique way in which the movie was made. To say that the effects are "computer-generated" is to miss the point about what makes this film so much fun.

Remember the Titans (2000)

Starring Denzel Washington and Will Patton

This great sports film follows a coach (Denzel Washington) as he works to integrate a school system's football program. It adds a special element to the standard story of how a coach mobilizes a team to reach into their potential and excel. This is a believable and inspiring film based on a true story.

Good Night & Good Luck (2005)

Starring David Stathairn and George Clooney

This is a stunning look at Edward R. Murrow's work in opposing the corrosive effect of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. It features an Oscar-nominated performance by David Stathairn, and an Oscar-winning performance by George Clooney (who also wrote and directed) as Murrow's producer Fred Friendly.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, and Ralph Fiennes

This is a good entry in the Harry Potter movie opus. Harry's entering adolescence, and it's more terrifying for him and Ron to ask a girl for a date than to face all the supernatural evil of Lord Voldemort. I like the dark, serious tone that director Mike Newell lends to this movie, yet the movie still has some of the extremely funny sensibility of the best of the Harry Potter books.

Howl's Moving Castle (2005)

Animated; Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

This is from Japanese moviemaker Hayao Miyazaki, who created the dazzling Sprited Away. This tale is about a young girl who undergoes a startling transformation, and must learn about the world and herself during her quest to return to normal.

Firewall (2006)

Starring Harrison Ford (2006)

Bank robbers hold the family of a bank security specialist hostage so that they can rob his bank. The resourceful specialist (Harrison Ford) works to thwart the robbers and save his family. Paul Bettany is menacing as the evil chief of the robbers. Predictable, okay if you like Ford. (Received Oscar nominations for best supporting role by a ditch-digging implement, and for most creative use of an iPod.)

Friday, February 2, 2007

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1996)

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes; Directed by Baz Luhrmann

Australian director Baz Luhrmann offers us a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in an urban landscape with gangs and guns. The language is still Shakespeare’s, but the look and feel are all Luhrmann’s. It seems a bit shrill, but very interesting visually; this is a high-energy tragedy.

The Descent (2006)

The Descent is a horror movie about a group of female spelunkers (cave explorers) who choose to explore the wrong cave. It’s been compared to Alien.

The Polar Express (2004)

Starring Tom Hanks; Animated

This is a magical movie all about Santa Claus and a child’s journey to the North Pole. This is destined to become a Christmas classic. Tom Hanks dazzles as he portrays many different characters in this film. Some of the animation is breathtakingly beautiful.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom & Keira Knightly

This sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl has humor, some great action scenes, and some almost unbelievable stunts and special effects. You won't soon forget the human balls, the hamster wheel, or the Kraken. It's good clean fun, suitable for family viewing.

Cars (2006)


This is a well-done treat that imagines a world built, inhabited, and run by cars. The story of the brash racing car who needs to learn humbleness isn’t ground-breaking, but it’s well-done. Some of the visuals of the western U.S. are stunningly realized.

Superman Returns (2006)

Starring Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Kevin Spacey, and Frank Langella

I liked the Christopher Reeve version of Superman (1 and 2, anyway) more. Iowa native Brandon Routh does a good job as the new Man of Steel; he just doesn’t have as good a script, or as good of a supporting cast. Things are more complex as Superman has been away from Earth for several years; he returns to find Lois Lane married (and with a child), and Lex Luther (played with cold glee by Kevin Spacey) up to no good.

The Shaggy Dog (2006)

Starring Tim Allen

In this Disney movie a man turns into a dog. As a result he comes to understand his family better, and becomes a better man. Plus, he can now catch Frisbees in his mouth.

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin

A Fish Called Wanda is an excruciating funny movie in which the excellent ensemble cast entertain us in a variety of ways. This film features a transcendentally funny turn by Kevin Kline.

V for Vendetta (2006)

Starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman

V for Vendetta is a dark, violent, ultimately affirming vision of a totalitarian world in which a solitary hero fights for everyone’s freedom with swords and bombs.

Monster House (2006)


Monster House is not just a children’s film. It is more like a myth or fairy tale, brought to life with truth and feeling. It’s Halloween-themed, which is why, I guess, the studio released it in the middle of the summer. (Perhaps they’ll release the DVD on Halloween.)

Last Holiday (2006)

Starring Queen Latifah

Last Holiday is a good family movie; Latifah is entertaining as a store clerk who finds she has a month to live, and decides to spend every last dollar she has living her life to the fullest and fulfilling her deeply held dreams.

Munich (2005)

Directed by Stephen Spielberg

Munich is a harrowing revenge procedural about a team of Israelis who hunt down and kill the people responsible for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

Mission Impossible 3 (2006)

Starring Tom Cruise and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Mission Impossible 3 delivers for those who like explosions, guns, violence, and a chilling, nasty villain (Hoffman). Cruise is fun to watch, and the stunts are thrilling. It's a good, diverting summer movie.

Open Season (2006)

Open Season is a spirited animated film about a big, lazy, domesticated bear who must learn to live in the wild. It’s a fantasy, and has some scenes featuring inspired, beautiful animation. I’d recommend it for children, but it lacks the multiple layers of meaning that have made other animated films like Shrek and Ice Age such enjoyable experiences for adults as well as for children.

The Dead Zone (1983)

Starring Christopher Walken

The Dead Zone is a thriller/horror movie (based on the book by Stephen King). It's about a man who has a terrible auto accident. When he awakens from a coma years later, his fiancĂ© has married someone else (and even has a child), and he must slowly come back to a life he no longer recognizes. Further, he has a new talent; when he shakes a person’s hand or touches them, he has visions of events that will befall that person in the future. This is an intelligent, well-crafted thriller, and includes one possible answer to this old question: if you knew about Hitler before he took over in Germany, what would you do?