Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The Pianist

In a Nutshell: A good movie, but not as powerful (or as gruesome) as Schindler's List.

Quick Plot: The story of Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman and his survival as a Jew in the Warsaw Ghettos during World War II.

In Detail: This movie did manage to hold my interest for it's entire 2.5 hours, despite not really having a "story" per se. And in this case (unlike Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life), I think that's okay. The style was done that way for a reason; it is more of a "fly on the wall" approach here, simply telling each major event as it occurred, without need of a coherent narrative. Makes you feel more like you are experiencing it with him. This film is also unique in that it does not really have a hero. Szpilman did not organize the resistance (though he did help some), he did not hide people or help save anyone else, he didn't mount a daring rescue of his family; he simply existed and tried to survive. That alone took courage, but he is not a hero in the typical (or should I say stereotypical) film sense.

Adrien Brody did an excellent job, I must say, but I didn't see any of the other Best Actor Oscar performances, so I am unable to comment on whether or not he deserved it. As far as European WWII stories go, Schindler's List is both better and worse: better in that there is more of a cohesive narrative and story, and I found it both powerful and moving; worse in that it is much more graphic, traumatic, and difficult to watch. To its credit, The Pianist manages to effectively portray the violence and hatred without much gore and with surprisingly little blood given the atrocities shown. Still hard to watch, but not nearly as gut-wrenching for me as Schindler. Bottom line: The Pianist is a good movie to see once, but I don't think I would like to see it again.

Will I Buy It? No.

A Simple Twist of Fate

In a Nutshell: A sweet, sometimes funny, quite dramatic film that waits until the last possible instant to pull it all together. Worth seeing.

Quick Plot: Michael McCann had a great life, until fate dealt him quite a blow, after which he moved to a small town, living a hermit-like existence. But, fate comes knocking once again; his money is stolen and a little girl turns up on his doorstep, her mother dead from exposure in his yard. He receives custody of the child, bringing a spark to his life, only to have to fight for her in court when her "real" father comes calling 10 years later.

In Detail: This movie really has a lot going for it, primarily the cast. Steve Martin, Gabriel Byrne, Laura Linney, and Catherine O'Hara are all wonderful. However, do not assume that this is a comedy. It is primarily a drama, with some funny moments. I was not prepared for the seriousness; it looked more like a cute "comedic single person inherits mischievous child who upsets stodgy life" film. And you keep wondering when and how this one character is going to come back into play. You know he *must,* but they sure wait a long time to do it. It is appropriate to the story, though, so it's okay. A very sweet and touching story.

Will I Buy It? I hadn't even seen it until after we bought it on DH's recommendation, and we bought it for about what it would have cost to rent it. I am glad we own it, though.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life

In a Nutshell: Feels empty. The first one is better, and I didn't think the first one was all that great.

Quick Plot: Lady Croft returns, this time to protect the world from ultimate evil: Pandora's Box. Can she find it before the bad guys?

In Detail: Big sigh. I really wanted this movie to be better. I believe I said exactly the same thing after the first one, too. Both are perfectly acceptable, forgettable action flicks. I thought the first one lacked story, and even Jolie herself agreed. Sadly, I don't think this one had any more story than the first. Have you seen the Turner Classic Movies commercial with the couple trying to buy movie tickets? Where the title of one of the films is "Visually Stunning But Ultimately Pointless Sequel"? That is exactly what this movie felt like. (Hilarious commercial, BTW! Might have to add their fake titles to my review criteria when appropriate.) I could excuse lack of story for an enjoyable ride in film one, simply to get its foot in the door. But Cradle of Life should have drastically improved in more than budget and effects; it needed story! This is NOT the female Indiana Jones I was hoping for. The reason centers around my biggest bone to pick with this entire franchise: the figuring out part is as much fun as (and sometimes more fun than) the journey and the action, and the writers seem to have forgotten this. Even the first Tomb Raider had a tiny bit of figuring out (like the mirror image in the temple, or how to complete the triangle). This one had nothing! It was all explained in the first 30 minutes, and the rest of the film is just watching them do it. Very disappointing. Rent it if you must, otherwise don't bother.

Will I Buy It? No.


In a Nutshell: An interesting movie; worth seeing. Some great performances and awesome casting, but I didn't love it.

Quick Plot: The life story of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, turning her physical and emotional adversity into art.

In Detail: I know this film was nominated for several Oscars, but I don't feel it was nominated for the right ones. Personally, I feel that Salma Hayek was acting mainly like herself. That's not to say that's a bad thing, and she may be much like Frida (which could be why she felt so close to the material and pushed so hard to get the film made), but I don't consider that "acting." (I felt the same way about Julia Roberts in Erin Brockavich.) However, Alfred Molina turns in an outstanding performance! In fact, if I hadn't known that he was the male lead in the film before I saw it, I'm not sure I would have placed him. There are three other "super-star" cameos in the film, and they are all wonderful. And despite being an art film, it managed to avoid going too far over the "too arts-y" edge; very enjoyable for mass audiences, I think, though the ambiguity of Frida's sexuality may make some people uncomfortable. The story was interesting, and I saw enough of her art to know that I am not a fan of her art. Again, that's not a bad thing, just the way it is. Worth seeing.

Will I Buy It? I don't think so. I'm glad I saw it, but I don't think I want to see it again.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

In a Nutshell: Not quite what I was expecting, but pretty good. T2 still better.

Quick Plot: The original Judgment Day has come and gone with no end of the world in site, but the now 20-something John Conner is once again targeted for termination, this time by the lethal-as-she-is-lovely T-X, the most advanced killing machine yet. Once again, the now antiquated T-101 (that would be Arnold) is sent back to protect the future leader of the resistance.

In Detail: Warning! I have to admit that I have only seen T2, not the original, so I may be missing some important reference of some kind. I am still pondering this movie, trying to decide how much I liked it. To warn you, most of it is simply non-stop action (and virtually zero dialog). I was convinced for a while that this movie is really a Jerry Bruckheimer, but I think he demolished less stuff in Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Con Air, and The Rock, *combined*. Once they did finally get down to philosophizing, combined with the ending, it completely changed my outlook on the film, and I haven't quite digested everything. I can say that without the twists they threw in, I would not have liked this movie nearly as much, but there's a lot to sit through to get there. I can't say any more without giving things away. It certainly does get (and more or less keep) your attention though. Could have done without the T-X driving the car from the back seat (if you've seen the movie, you know of what I speak). T2 didn't require that, so did we really need it? Ewww! Worth seeing, theater or video acceptable.

Will I Buy It? I don't think so.

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas

In a Nutshell: It was just okay. Nothing really outstanding about it in any way, but it wasn't bad either.

Quick Plot: When Sinbad is accused of stealing the Book of Peace, the protectorate of the Twelve Cities, his best friend Proteus takes his place in jail. He will be put to death in 10 days if Sinbad does not return with the Book. Sinbad and his ship of thieves, along with Proteus's fiancee, set sail, determined to recapture the book from Eris, the Goddess of Chaos, no matter what obstacles she puts in their way.

In Detail: Really not much to say about this film. It was just okay. I didn't find it overly humorous or adventurous, nor particularly beautiful to watch. Eris was the best thing about the film, and I don't think she had a big enough or significant enough part, despite being responsible for most of the chaos going on. It was really an odd film in that way; plenty happened while it seemed that nothing happened. I left the theater feeling pretty much nothing. Not bad, not good, not happy, not thrilled, not energetic; bored is the best way I can describe it, but it wasn't really that either. Underwhelmed, perhaps? I simply felt nothing, which I don't think is any film's goal. See it if you want to, perhaps rent, but there's no reason to rush right out and catch it in the theater.

Will I Buy It? Probably not. As much as I loved Antz and The Prince of Egypt (both Dreamworks films, like this one), many of their recent offerings (The Road to El Dorado, Shrek (which I really disliked), Spirit), including this one, just haven't done it for me.


In a Nutshell: Bad. Just bad. Don't waste your time or your money. And my brother earned the right to say "I told you so," not that *I* didn't believe him (my husband made me go).

Quick Plot: Do I have to? I just don't want to think about this film anymore! Oh, all right. Big screen adaptation of the comic book favorite "The Incredible Hulk," though from what I understand from readers of the comic, only the names and the fact that the lead turns into a green monster when angry were taken from it. The rest is different, even the cause of the transformation.

In Detail: I am going to try to be positive here for a moment, so here are four good things I can say about the film (as my brother picks himself up off the floor; I'm sure he couldn't come up with four good things about the movie if he tried). 1) Believe it or not, this is not the worst movie I've ever seen, though it ranks right up there. 2) The CG Hulk looks better than I thought it would, based on the previews where he looked terrible. 3) The visual style of the film was interesting; it effectively recreates the look and feel of a comic book in places. 4) The credits were done in an interesting manner. Probably the best part of the film actually, because a) they were interesting, and b) it meant the film was over.

This movie just went too far beyond my realm of "willing suspension of disbelief," and that's saying something coming from a lifelong fantasy and sci-fi fan! And it kept going farther and farther into the deep end as the film progressed. It was either slow or wild, and most action sequences went on and on for way too long. The dog fight was so over the top in violence that it made me feel sick and I almost left the theater (wish I had now, as it only went downhill from there). It was just bizarre. My brother told me how bad it was (though I think he thinks it's even worse than I do), and I was all set not to go, but my husband insisted. Not only does he regret it, he had to take me to see Pirates of the Caribbean again as penance, to wash away the residue left by such a bad movie. Please don't see Hulk. It's 138 minutes of your life you'll wish you had back, not to mention the money you could have spent on something (anything!) else.

Will I Buy It? ROTFL!! Oh yeah, that's funny. I am disinclined to acquiesce to such a request. (That means no.) :p

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

In a Nutshell: Fairly entertaining, visually stunning. All in all, not a bad flick, but it may have helped that I didn't go into this film with high expectations.

Quick Plot: The mysterious M recruits various Victorian literary heroes (Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll (and his alter-ego), Mina Harker, The Invisible Man, Dorian Gray, and Tom Sawyer) to protect a summit of world leaders from peril at the hands of a mysterious nemesis, The Phantom.

In Detail: Allow me to preface this review with the following statements: I have not read the graphic novels this film is based on, and I have not read most of the literature the characters are based on, though I certainly will after seeing this film. Now, like I said, it was fairly entertaining (even with Stuart Townsend trying (and failing miserably) to be Johnny Depp). Based on the previews, I was skeptical of this movie. It could have been so so bad. Thankfully, it wasn't (though I don't think anything would seem bad after seeing Hulk). Wasn't overly good, mind you, but it wasn't bad. It was a visually amazing film. Very dark and gothic, and the Nautilus is beautiful; over the top and totally out of place, truly stretching that "willing suspension of disbelief" boundary, but beautiful nonetheless. If you like the visual aspects of movies, then see it in the theater (preferably a matinee), or much of the amazing detail will be lost. If that's not such a big thing for you, then just rent. Not really recommended for children; the end creature is quite disturbing, as is the Jekyll/Hyde transformation.

Will I Buy It? No. Fine for a one-time viewing, but I don't care to see it again.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

In a Nutshell: Fabulous fun fluff flick! Nothing deep, and great references to the ride (especially the Disneyland version). No sex, no language, but a fair bit of violence (more than just swordplay), and the skeletons were really quite creepy; definitely not recommended for young children.

Quick Plot: Disney makes history with its first ever PG-13 film released on the Walt Disney Pictures label. Cursed pirates capture the governor's daughter, Elizabeth, and the medallion she "borrowed" from Will Turner when her ship rescued him from the wreckage of a pirate attack years earlier. Will, long in love with her from afar, enlists the help of Jack Sparrow (that's *Captain* Sparrow!), a pirate of questionable abilities, to rescue her before it's too late.

In Detail: I really really liked this movie (upgraded to "I love this movie" upon repeat viewings). No deep thoughts, just fun fun fun! And it is a Jerry Bruckheimer film, so you can expect at least an explosion or two. Tips it's hat to the inspirational ride, but doesn't restrict itself to those images alone. Some great one-liners ("they're really more like guidelines"), some fun banter ("there's a lot of big words in there, miss"), lots of swashbuckling action, the obligatory romance, and way awesome special effects (ILM, in case you were wondering). The fight scenes with pirates running in and out of the moonlight (thus switching between flesh and bones) is flawlessly executed, with seamless transitions between the two forms. Johnny Depp totally steals the show (did you really expect less from him?). Quirky, kooky, and totally unpredictable. Geoffrey Rush attacks his part with gusto, reveling in the classic "pirate language" he gets to throw out here and there. Orlando Bloom's part could have been played by most anyone young and handsome, but he does fit that description quite nicely (much sexier as a blond elf, though). And Kiera Knightly is fairly spunky, given her limited options in the context of the film. It is 143 minutes long, but I never once looked at my watch or wondered when it would be over, and you really do want to stay through the end of the credits to find out the end fate of one character. A great no-brainer. Just see it! And be on time!! There are no, I repeat, NO opening credits. Just the title (no Disney castle, or 'a film by', or cast, or anything), and then it's off an running.

Will I Buy It? Yep, yep, yep! When will the DVD be out? (I'm hearing December.) Can I get in line already? I need this movie!

Finding Nemo

In a Nutshell: Cute, great for children, but not as clever as previous Pixar/Disney offerings.

Quick Plot: Nemo, a young clown fish, is captured from his reef home and plunked into a dentist office aquarium. His frantic and fraidy-cat father, Marlin, makes the trans-ocean journey into the unknown to try and rescue his only child. Along the way, he befriends Dory, a memory-challenged blue tang. Meanwhile, Nemo and the fellow occupants of the fish tank hatch their own plan to escape.

In Detail: A perfectly fine film, very sweet, and beautifully rendered. But it did not join the ranks of the Toy Story films and Monsters, Inc., in my mind. (Though, admittedly, Monsters, Inc. grew on me over time.) It lacked the small but delightful moments of adult appeal, and the story just didn't flow as smoothly as I thought it should have. It seemed a little more like running an obstacle course than a progression of story elements and conflicts. And too many body function jokes; Pixar should be above that. I do think children will love it, though. It is about a child, so they will readily identify with Nemo. It is bright and colorful, with lots of movement and sparkle; simply a beautiful film to watch.

Will I Buy It? Most likely. You know me and owning a complete set. It really is a good movie, and I did like it, but it just fell slightly below the incredibly high bar that Pixar has set for themselves.

Addendum: Like most Pixar movies, this one has grown on me the more I see it. You can see that I reviewed this movie before the child was even a thought on our horizon. It was his most favorite movie for nearly 2 years (roughly age 1-3), so I have now seen it many many times, and I recommend it to everyone.