Ray

A review from That Guy Named David:

Ray (B+)

This movie would have been so-so had it not been for the incredible performances put on by Jamie Foxx and cast. I know this has been said hundreds of times since the movie’s release, but it would be shocking if someone puts together a performance that will take the Oscar away from Foxx. Throughout the movie, you forget that it is an actor playing Ray Charles and not the musician himself on the screen. And the accompanying cast also put together performances that rivaled the performance by Foxx. As for the story itself, I thought it bogged down just a little in the middle of the movie, but overall, it was a captivating account of the life of one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. In addition to the great music and incredible acting, I enjoyed the way you could see the evolution in race relations as the movie moved through the 50’s and 60’s. Overall, it was a very pleasant movie-going experience, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the history of music in this country.

Finding Neverland; Alexander

New reviews by A View From Mars:

Finding Neverland (B+) Just as I thought that I was growing rather tiresome of all these Peter Pan adaptations (Hook anyone), lo and behold, a different and refreshing take on an old classic. In this one, it’s not so much Peter Pan itself but rather how J. M. Barrie came to realize the boy who would not grow older. Johnny Depp plays the Scottish playwright in what might be one of his more subdued roles yet and even at this, he does a brilliant job. Kate Winslet plays the recently widowed mother of four young boys that Barrie befriends in the park one day. It should be noted that my knowledge of Peter Pan is pretty much relegated to the Disney animated version and even so, it’s been entirely too long. However, it was interesting to note how the characters and the story of Peter Pan came to be (even though the film facilitates this through direct and indirect references). The movie lends itself some liberties, but unless you are familiar with the history, you can have a fun time believing that the four boys and everything that was happening in Barrie’s life at the time were about as perfect as a muse that any writer can hope for. Solid acting, solid story . . . solid movie. Perfect for the holidays.

Alexander (C-) I’d heard bad reviews about this movie prior to seeing it, both from critics and people I knew, but still I forged on determined to indulge myself in an epic that I was not so knowledgeable in. I knew the basics and hoped to learn a little more about this “Great” guy, but this was not the case. I came out of there knowing about the same as when I entered, only with 3 hours less of my life. I’d been impressed with Colin Farrell in some of his earlier roles, but his performance as Alexander was not the problem for me, it was Alexander himself and his story. His conquering of Europe and Asia is a very impressive feat, but I don’t necessarily think that this equates to good film making. I didn’t think there was enough confrontation and despite that there were only two major battles shown, I was left with way too much dialogue (which I usually enjoy) about his story that I didn’t care for at all. To be honest, I would have had more fun sitting at home “conquering” Europe and Asia myself while playing RISK. Avoid this one, unless you consider yourself the historian who hasn’t had their fill of Alexander the Great.

p.s.; Titanica

New reviews from The Movie Snob:

p.s. (C-). My better judgment was to avoid this movie because its plot is so similar to that of the terrible Nicole Kidman vehicle Birth. But I plunged in anyway, mostly because it stars Laura Linney, whom I have liked ever since seeing her for the first time in the wonderful You Can Count on Me. I thought I saw somewhere that there’s some other connection between that movie and this one, maybe the same producer or something. But Linney’s fine performance can’t overcome the inherent problems of the storyline. In this movie, Linney is Louise Harrington, admissions director of Columbia’s fine arts program. Her life, which appears none too happy, is thrown into turmoil by the appearance of the grad-school application of one F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace, of That 70’s Show), who turns out to be the spitting image of Harrington’s long-deceased high-school sweetheart (who was also named Scott Feinstadt). Harrington quickly departs from the approved admissions process where young Feinstadt is concerned, and other disturbing behavior by other characters is discussed if not actually shown on screen. I liked it better than Birth, probably because this apparently reincarnated lover is at least in his early 20’s, instead of being ten. And I think the characters in this movie react to the bizarre coincidence of Feinstadt’s existence a little more believably than the characters in Birth did to their mystery boy. Still, is p.s. a good movie? No. Do yourself a favor and go rent You Can Count on Me instead.

Titanica (D+). While I was home for Thanksgiving, I made my usual pilgrimage to Arkansas’ only IMAX theater to check out the new movie. It turned out to be this very old and not very good movie about the Titanic. The focal point was a 1987 Soviet (!) expedition to the wreck, and there was some decent footage from the expedition’s deep dives to the site. And interspersed throughout the film were a few comments about the wreck from a survivor of the disaster (she was seven at the time). But the movie felt very padded, and ended quite abruptly. James Cameron’s 3-D IMAX movie about his expedition, Ghosts of the Abyss, was much better and more informative.

Shall We Dance?

From The Movie Snob:

Shall We Dance? (B). This weekend I found myself in the small town of Mason, Texas. Mason is the home of the Odeon Theater, touted by locals as the oldest working movie theater in Texas, so of course I had to check it out. Unfortunately, the Odeon has only one screen, and my choice was to see this Richard Gere–Jennifer Lopez concoction or nothing. I bit the bullet and paid my $4. To my surprise, this was quite an enjoyable little movie (a remake of a Japanese film I never saw). Gere is John Clark, a successful professional man (a wills-and-estates lawyer, as far as I could tell) who has a nice wife (Susan Sarandon) and two perfectly decent kids. But for some reason he’s not happy, and during his angst-ridden commute home from work he spies J. Lo several times, brooding in the window of a rundown dance studio. Soon enough he finds himself jumping off the train and signing up for ballroom dance lessons. After that, the movie and its characters develop nicely. Clark’s new friends at the studio are interesting, even eccentric, but they don’t degenerate into caricatures. Clark’s wife, an intelligent woman, starts to suspect that Clark is being unfaithful but tries to handle the situation as reasonably as possible. And of course there’s some tension between Clark and J. Lo. (I forget her character’s name. J. Lo, probably.) Maybe it’s just because my expectations were so low, but I enjoyed the heck out of this movie.

The Polar Express

A review from The Movie Snob:

The Polar Express (A-). A local reviewer said that the IMAX 3-D version of this movie was a “groundbreaking spectacle” or some such thing, so I made a point to see it in that format. In my opinion, he was right. On the huge IMAX screen, the visuals were incredibly spectacular, and the 3-D effects were great. The story is minimal — a little boy who doubts the existence of Santa Claus is startled when a train (“The Polar Express”) stops on his street right in front of his house in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. Told that it is bound for the North Pole, he hops on and joins a gang of kids already on board. Only three are given any individuality, and I must register my complaint that the only kid with glasses quickly emerges as an irritating know-it-all. Such stereotyping! Anyway, the train has some adventures en route to the North Pole, and there are some more even after it arrives. The end. My best friend declined to see the movie on the ground that the computer-generated animated characters were “creepy,” and I have to admit that they are a little unsettling — extremely lifelike, except for their flat and often unfocused-looking eyes. And if you don’t like Tom Hanks, that could be a problem because he voices several of the characters. But if you can get past those little issues, it’s a fun ride. (And remember to see the IMAX version — I seriously doubt the normal-sized, 2-D version is nearly as impressive.)

The Incredibles

Two views of The Incredibles:

From Nick at Nite:

This movie was incredible. It was not as funny as Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., etc …, but it had more action, more intrigue, more adventure, and more sex (okay just kidding about the sex). The characters are great. Their detailed personalities, especially the design maven, were extremely impressive. The story line was very original. If I compared it to a live-action film, I would compare it to a 007 film. At one point I thought I was going to see the man with the golden gun come walking up on the Island. I give this movie an “A.” And that is not just because it is only the third movie I have seen at the theater in the last six months.

From The Movie Snob:

I enjoyed The Incredibles, but not quite to the extent that Nick at Nite did. The backstory was very humorous — superheroes were once an accepted feature of urban life, but they have been forced into anonymous retirement because the collateral damage of their heroic feats caused so many lawsuits. The stress of trying to live a mundane, normal existence is particularly tough on the supernaturally strong Mr. Incredible, who loathes his stultifying job as an insurance-company drone. So when a mysterious message arrives, inviting him to don his supersuit for a secret mission, he quickly opts to conceal this development from his family and to sneak off for more feats of derring-do. Needless to say, complications ensue, and the whole Incredible family gets involved in the action. The animation is great, the action sequences are fun, and there are even some touching family moments among the Incredibles. But the whole was somehow slightly less than the sum of the parts, and it started to seem a little long by the end. I give it a solid B.

Bonfire of the Vanities (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe. I read and enjoyed Wolfe’s novel, A Man in Full, but for some reason I only just now got around to reading its predecessor, Bonfire of the Vanities. It, too, is a fun book, full of vivid characters and writing that is just a pleasure to read. The central character is Sherman McCoy: wealthy Wall Street bond trader, Park Avenue socialite, and self-styled Master of the Universe. He is also, fatefully, an unfaithful husband whose dalliance with a younger woman leads to disaster. While out with his mistress one night, he gets lost in the wrong part of town, and a traffic accident leaves a young black man in a coma. The case becomes a political cause celebre, and the noose gradually and inexorably tightens around McCoy’s WASPy neck. The ending is perhaps a bit of a letdown, but the ride is so fun that I didn’t really mind. Judging from the names of the various law firms that crop up in the book, I’d say that Wolfe is a big fan of lawyers: Dunning, Sponget & Leach. Curry, Goad & Pesterall. And Dershkin, Bellavita, Fishbein & Schlossel. Sheer poetry.

Doctor Zhivago

A DVD review from The Movie Snob:

Doctor Zhivago (A-). This is a long movie, well over 3 hours long, so I watched it in two parts over the course of the weekend. It is the tale of Yuri Zhivago, who is orphaned as a young boy somewhere in the eastern wilderness of Russia, and then adopted and taken to Moscow by well-off friends of his family around 1900. Zhivago grows up to become a doctor and a published poet, played by Omar Sharif. The movie then becomes both a romance and a political drama. Taking the second element first, the movie effectively illustrates the political turmoil of the last days of the czar and the chaos brought on by Bolshevik Revolution. Zhivago, a compassionate man generally in sympathy with the purported aims of the revolution, soon enough finds himself menaced by its agents because of his perceived “bourgeois” attitudes. As for the love story, the young Zhivago marries the devoted Tania, the daughter of his adopted parents. But World War I and civil war separate them for a long while, and he is thrown into the company of a beautiful nurse named Lara, played by Julie Christie. And this is only roughly the first half of the movie. Highly recommended, although I should warn you that “Lara’s Theme” will keep playing in your head a long while after the end credits have rolled.

Birth

From The Movie Snob:

Birth (D). O Nicole! How many of these crimes against movie-going humanity can I forgive? Who has been vetting your scripts for you? After your success in Moulin Rouge and your conquest of the Academy for The Hours (okay, I didn’t see that one, but I’m sure you did a good job), I thought you were through with second- and third-rate cinematic dreck forever. Cold Mountain was pretty good, but let’s face it—you didn’t quite pull off the whole hard-scrabble-farmer thing. And then there was The Human Stain. And Dogville. And the terrible Stepford Wives remake. And now there’s this oddity of a movie in which you play Anna, a woman who is about to get married ten years after the unexpected death of her first husband. Out of nowhere materializes a creepy, seemingly emotionless ten-year-old boy named Sean (like your dead husband) who insists that he actually is your dead husband. Your director needed kid gloves to pull this one off without getting into a minefield of really disturbing stuff. He didn’t have them, and there is some really disturbing stuff in this movie. You know what I’m talking about. Straighten up.

The Motorcycle Diaries

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

The Motorcycle Diaries (B). This is a slow, meandering movie about a slow, meandering journey up the entire length of South America by two friends — one of whom would eventually become the Communist revolutionary “Che” Guevara. Although my understanding is that Guevara was a murderous thug by the time he was killed himself for trying to bring the revolution to Bolivia, at the time of the events in this movie he was only about 23, a medical-school student out to experience life to the full before returning to his middle-class existence in Buenos Aires. He and his older friend Alberto Granados set off on an ancient motorcycle and have an 8-month adventure exploring Argentina, Chile, Peru, etc. Already more serious and thoughtful than his older friend, Guevara is deeply affected by the poverty and injustice he sees during their journey, and he more than once displays the intransigence and absolute devotion to telling the truth (as he sees it) that are characteristic of the revolutionary. Interesting story, great scenery, but I think a bit of a white-washing of the full Guevara story. (See articles about this issue here and here.)

The Day After Tomorrow; Van Helsing

That Guy Named David reports:

The Day After Tomorrow (D+)

Good special effects. Horrendous acting. I am making a new rule for myself that I will not watch any movie from here on out whose primary star-power is Dennis Quaid. The plot was ridiculous, and as mentioned before, the acting was mind-numbingly bad; however, the special effects kept this movie relatively entertaining for a while. The only way I recommend it, though, is if you are at someone else’s house who has rented it and their cable is out, there is no one with whom to talk, and there are no books or magazines in the home.

Van Helsing (D-)

What a great night of movie-watching. First, I get to sit through 2 hours of the “end of the world” sci-fi with The Day After Tomorrow (see above review), and then I get to top it off with one of the single worst sci-fi/horror flicks ever made. Well, it appears Hugh Jackman has found his niche playing unconvincing “super-heroes” with no acting ability whatsoever. And this story… good God. At the beginning of the movie, I literally thought it was a bed-time story that was being told to a kid or something, much like The Neverending Story. But as the movie progressed into Jackman… sorry, “Van Helsing” fighting Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (who in this movie was about 20 feet tall) and then Dracula, I knew it was going to be a real task just to make it to the final credits. But I persevered, only to get to an ending that sucked about as bad as the rest of the movie. Horrible.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

From Nick at Nite:

Dawn of the Dead – Unrated, uncut, undead . . . this weekend I rented the penultimate in zombie flicks, last year’s remake of George Romero’s mall, zombiefest. Basically, something really bad happens, virus, infection, comet passing too close to earth, or whatever take on the usual fare, and the really bad things turns people into zombies. Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames head the cast of misfits that end up stuck in a large, suburban, shopping mall. I learned some things about zombies in this move. For example, whatever you do, don’t let your pregnant wife get bitten by a zombie, zombies like to congregate at the mall, and zombies don’t eat dogs. I won’t give away the end, but let me just say . . . things don’t end well for civilization. This was a generally creepy movie, with a very high gore factor. It is unrated, apparently so they can show more gore than they did in the theater originally. The movie has a few hundred zombie killings, some human killings, one zombie birth, some brain eating, one possessed killing child, three car chases, ten car crashes, one boat ride, three propane tank explosions, and partial nudity completely unrelated to the plot. I give it a “B+.”

The Grudge

From guest reviewer Chrissy W.

The Grudge

Just thought I’d share a tip with you about a movie I saw in honor of Halloween this past weekend. I went and saw The Grudge on Friday night, and it was one of the top 5 worst movies I’ve ever seen. It was made in Japan or China . . . I forget which one . . . by the same people that made last year’s movie The Ring. Both were supposedly scary and based on the same long-haired, creepy girl that hangs around to kill people long after she died b/c of something horrific that happened to her while living.

Just a tip . . . do not let anyone you like go see this movie. It was even worse than its predecessor b/c it had absolutely no plot and was not scary at all.