Monday, November 25, 2002

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

In a Nutshell: To borrow from my friend Annette, it's grand! Better than the first, in my opinion.

Quick Plot: Harry, Ron, and Hermione are back, ready to learn more witchcraft and wizardry, and save the school (and the wizarding world) from evil once more. This time, a strange force is roaming the grounds, hunting "muggle-borns." Several school inhabitants have already been petrified, with promises to kill scrawled on the walls in blood. If the culprit is not caught, Hogwarts will have to be closed.

In Detail: Wow! I had so much fun at this movie. Again, filmmakers seemed to have plucked characters and settings straight out of my imagination and pasted them directly on the screen. Chamber of Secrets (CoS) is, in fact, my least favorite book, and I still loved the movie. Better than the first by far. It was still a kids movie, without being quite so childish. Perhaps this is aided by the maturity of the stars. The voices of Harry and Ron have now broken, though Harry wears his new tones a bit more easily than Ron. Less "baby fat" appears on all three stars, especially Hermione. Watch out, she'll be breaking hearts soon! Draco Malfoy, once the smallest of the group, is now the tallest, adding even more menace. My second favorite character in the series makes his debut in CoS: Mr. Weasley. (Sirius Black is my fav; we'll see him next time.) Though cut to even less of a part than he had in the book, Mr. Weasley's geniality, generosity, and fascination with muggles is not in question. Lucius Malfoy, played by Jason Isaacs, also makes his first appearance, and what a brilliant casting job that was. His patented sneer was perfect, and he pulls off the white-blond hair as if he were born with it. Wonderful! Even Dobby was less annoying than I expected. Sadly, this is one of the last performances by Richard Harris. It will be interesting to see who is chosen to replace him. Several names are being thrown around (Christopher Lee, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart (my fav), to name a few), but nothing definite has been announced. There is no "in memory of" because the film had already gone to print when he passed away.

The film is 2.5 hours, but I did not find it dragging in the slightest (unlike the film for Sorcerer's Stone). Several of the, um, oversized creatures were enough to give me the willies, especially at the very end. Quite creepy. I certainly don't recommend this film for children under 5 or 6, but you know your kids best. Be sure you stay through all of the credits (and there are a ton of them) for a small little clip at the end.

Will I Buy It? Absolutely! I really do love this world created by J.K. Rowling, and watching the movie is a great reminder of how much (and why) I love these books. Can't wait for the DVD!

Die Another Day

In a Nutshell: It was fine; your typical James Bond flick. Not my favorite, not the worst. Worth the price of admission for two scenes.

Quick Plot: James Bond to save the world again; need we say more? There's really not much else to say. Bad Guy is laundering illegal conflict diamonds to finance an all-powerful satellite weapon.

In Detail: Hmmm... I wasn't kidding when I said there really isn't much to say about this movie (though I'm sure I'll manage something!). :-) It's a pretty generic James Bond film. No great bad guys, no great Bond girls. Halle Berry was fine, but not great, IMO. Brosnan is starting to show his age, but he still does quite well. There seemed to be more extraneous stuff in this movie than in most. I can't tell you too much more of the plot without giving other plot points away (not that they're hard to figure out). Most of the effects were good to great, with one scene pretty poor. Most of the stunts were pretty good, but with a few too cheesy, even for a James Bond. There were also more "yeah right" moments than there should be. When you stretch beyond even Bond-level willing suspension of disbelief, you know there's a problem. Even the theme was a little off. I think the song as a song is okay, but I don't care for it as a Bond theme. The credit sequence is dazzling, if a little strange (even for a Bond).

This being the 20th Bond film, there were plenty of little things to watch for in tribute to the 19 films that came before. One of these tribute scenes is the "show Bond his new gizmos" scene with Q (played by John Cleese, formerly R). Look around that scene very carefully; lots of fun stuff for the Bond junkie. Also yields one of my favorite Bond-Q barb exchanges. Bond: "you're cleverer than you look." Q: "better than looking cleverer than you are." LOL! The funniest, most fantastic scene comes near the very end, and I can't tell you more than that without giving something away. But it is SOOO funny!! The whole theater fell apart laughing. Those two scenes alone made it worth seeing.

Will I Buy It? Yes, but only because I'm a Bond junkie myself, and I have to own them all. Were it a stand-alone film, it would be a difficult decision. It was okay to good, not great by any means, but still fun.

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

The Santa Clause 2

In a Nutshell: Perfectly pleasant, but a little hit and miss. The original is better.

Quick Plot: When we last left Scott Calvin, he had become Santa Claus by virtue of the first "Santa Clause." However, his elvin help forgot to mention the second clause, which states that he must get married, or he ceases to be Santa, and he only has 28 days to find a wife. He must hurry! The "de-Santa-fication" process has already begun.

In Detail: I love the original "The Santa Clause" movie, and amazingly, the entire cast returned. I do wish I had been able to see it again before we went to see the sequel, but I had to make due without. (And I can't go buy it now because it's too close to Christmas. Sheesh!) Perhaps the original isn't as wonderful as I remember, but this movie didn't fully live up. It was fine, good for kids, but it just seemed to be missing something. I think it was the sense of wonder as you watched Tim Allen follow a pretty strong character arc from Mr. Businessman to Santa, discovering the intricacies of the North Pole along the way. The scenes where he is back "on earth" are pretty good (better in the wife department than the son department), but the scenes with the substitute Santa (left to keep the elves working) felt strained, and I didn't find them especially funny. I know part of the point was that he only had 28 days to find a wife, but the whole movie felt a bit rushed. Some touching moments, and a great scene with the council of "other mythical beings," but it just wasn't the same, or even as good, as the original. Again, perfectly fine, but not great. Trekkies, keep your eyes open!

Will I Buy It? Perhaps when I'm in the market for films my kids can watch that I don't mind watching, we'll invest in this one, but I don't predict us picking it up before then.

Spirited Away

In a Nutshell: Interesting, but I don't think I fully "got it."

Quick Plot: (Brief but important background: This is a film from a Japanese master of Anime. This is the most successful film of all time in Japan, distributed in the US by Disney. It is dubbed, not subtitled.) A girl and her family stumble upon a resort for the spirits. When her parents become enchanted by the place and are kidnapped, Chihiro must take on the witch Yubaba to save them and herself, with the help of a variety of unusual friends.

In Detail: Um, yeah. It was, ah, interesting. Honestly, I think the cultural gap is too large, at least for me. The film was fine, meaning that it made sense and followed a "normal" progression. The story was different (though perhaps common in Japan). But when it was finished, I just thought "okay, I have no idea what the point of that really was." I think there were lots of references, both visual and perhaps in the names, that were simply lost on me since I don't have any kind of understanding of Japanese culture and spirituality. Even my brother, who is a great fan of Anime/Japanimation, said he didn't really get it either. An interesting cultural experience, one I am happy to have had, but not one I care to repeat any time soon.

Will I Buy It? No. It didn't make enough sense to me, so I would not enjoy repeat viewings.

Gone in 60 Seconds

In a Nutshell: Typical no-brainer action flick, a fun 2 hours.

Quick Plot: Memphis Raines is a retired (but still infamous) car thief. When his kid brother signs a deal to "boost" 50 cars and can't deliver, Memphis assembles his old crew in order to "acquire" the goods, and save his brother's life.

In Detail: Well, I don't have much detail to give. Another predictable film, this time in the action department. A perfectly fun 2-hours, with nothing deep to linger with you once it's finished. Nothing wrong with those kinds of films, but I like others in this genre better. The car chase was quite good, and I'm a sucker for those for some strange reason (must be all those James Bond films and Dukes of Hazzard episodes I watched as a kid). Not a bad outing for Nicolas Cage, not a great role for Angelina Jolie, and everyone else was pretty ho-hum. Not even a great villain. ::shrug:: If you're looking for a fun action flick you haven't seen, give this one a try. Just know what to expect.

Will I Buy It? Doubtful. I wouldn't watch it enough to make it worth it. As I said, there are others I like better in this genre.

Return To Me

In a Nutshell: A perfectly pleasant rom-com (romantic comedy), with some funny, touching, and sweet moments.

Quick Plot: Following the death of his wife, Bob (David Duchovney) meets and falls for Grace (Minnie Driver), only to discover that Grace has had a heart transplant, and the heart she received was his wife's.

In Detail: I call this a fluff movie, but that is in no way a bad thing! Everything is scripted and predictable, and you know how it's going to end before it even starts. But that doesn't make the journey any less sweet or pleasant. In a way, it's a throw-back to the older formula films, and it's just as comforting. Minnie Driver is charming as ever, Bonnie Hunt and James Belushi have small but wonderful parts, and Robert Loggia and Carroll O'Connor (along with their kooky bunch of friends) steal the show. Very cute, with some great scenes. Worth renting for a nice sweet escape for a couple of hours.

Will I Buy It? Hmm... I don't know. I have several films already that fall into this "fluff" category, and as I prefer some others to this one, I don't intend to rush right out and get it. But if I found it on a sale rack for a reasonable price, I would certainly pick it up.


In a Nutshell: Typical Philip K. Dick story, extremely well cast in most respects, and quite well done.

Quick Plot: Spencer Olham is a premiere scientist who has designed the ultimate weapon against the aliens that threaten to take over the earth. He arrives at work, only to be taken into custody by the ESA (Earth Security Agency), accused of being a genetic replica with a bomb in his heart, set to detonate upon meeting the chancellor. He escapes, trying to prove his innocence, while being hunted by the ESA as the city's most wanted criminal.

In Detail: You know me, I love sci-fi, and I'm quite fond of Philip K. Dick stories. They always have great worlds and good plot twists. While not the best in the world, there was still plenty for me to like in this film, primarily the casting. I adore Gary Sinise, and he's great as always. Madeline Stowe plays her typical part, but I like her anyway. And new to my "favorite actors" list is Vincent D'Onofrio. The more I see him, the more I like him, and he is perfect for the lead ESA investigator. I don't care much for Mehki Pheiffer, though this role wasn’t bad for him. I was able to predict the majority of the plot twists this time, but that didn't make it any less fun, and I only ended up being partly right. Better than Minority Report, IMO. If you like Gary Sinise, Vincent D'Onofrio, Philip K. Dick, or sci-fi in general, you'd probably like this movie. A good rental.

Will I Buy It? Mmm.... I'm not sure. I think I’m starting to get picky in my old age! I'm more likely to buy this one than Minority Report (also a Philip K. Dick story), but it's not a must have.

The Cat's Meow

In a Nutshell: Great cast, fairly good movie. Definitely fun if you love the roarin' 20s.

Quick Plot: William Randolph Hurst throws a party for his friend Tom, a formerly in-demand film producer who's career has hit a rough patch. Assembling various famous figures from Hurst's real-life exploits (including his mistress Marion Davies and her rumored lover Charlie Chaplin), this film tells the story of that weekend, and a much-rumored murder that supposedly took place.

In Detail: Strangely, this film strikes me much like the American version of Gosford Park. Perhaps I connected more with "Cat" than "Gosford" simply due to culture. I know a bit about Hurst and Davies and Chaplin, and the lives they lead in the mid-1920's, so maybe that gave it more weight and relevance to me personally. The casting is exquisite, the direction and set-up quite good. I thought it was fun, but I know it won't be everyone's cup of tea (or glass of bathtub gin, as the case may be). Kirsten Dunst shines! She was perfect for this role. Edward Herrmann is great as Hurst (I've always thought they favored each other a bit). The other characters are quite good, though I personally could have done without Jennifer Tilly. A great study into the era, and a great theory about what really happened on that yachting trip.

Will I Buy It? I'm not sure. I liked it more than my husband, even enough to buy it, but again, I'm not sure I'd watch it enough to make it worthwhile. It's on my "thinking about" list.