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The Gentle Movie Critic


Twilight: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan); Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen); Billy Burke (Charlie Swan); Peter Facinelli (Dr. Carlisle Cullen). Directed by Catherine Hardwicke;

A modest film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's wildly popular series, the storyline is faithful to its source material, which will likely make it's large fan base happy. It's also better written than Meyer's book, which tends toward frothy lines such as , "I was in danger of being distracted by his livid, glorious face."

Director Catherine Hardwicke, who made "Thirteen" and "Lords of Dogtown," didn't have the budget for a blockbuster film so she keeps the scale of things intimate, focusing on all the feverish, sexually charged but chaste murmurings of her attractive but sullen stars. Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan the new girl on the block and Robert Pattinson (cue the teen screaming) as Edward Cullen the tortured, sensitive vampire with astonishing white face and unkempt hair.

After her mother remarries, our teen heroine Bella moves from hot, arid Arizona to cold and rainy Washington to be with her police chief father (Billy Burke). Unexplained "animal attacks" on the local population have stirred up his quiet corner of the world and now he has a teenage daughter to reckon with. The movie wastes no time in revealing the mysterious nature of Fork, Washington's inhabitants. Misty images of a forest pursuit involving a scared deer and a pack of super human predators are but just a start to the action that follows.

Upon meeting Edward for the first time Bella feels he has peered into her soul and ravished her with his intense unholy gaze, and she's both attracted and suspicious of him at the same time. To reveal more would spoil the movie for those unfamiliar with book so I'll not delve deeper into the plot.

I found the movie to be interesting but the tone of the film a little bit too young to for me. Unlike the Harry Potter series that lets you get a glimpse into the world of children journey towards adulthood in a dangerous world of fantasy and magic, this film revolves around attractive young people in thier 20's from the start and I felt like I was watching a more sinister version of Gidget.  Our two granddaughters Krys and Lauren loved it as did our niece Olivia. In fact they have seen the film multiple times and claim that each time it gets better. One area they did not particularly like however were the special effects. The super fast running effects, with Edward dashing up mountains, or the evil rival vampires swooping here and there and everywhere at breakneck  speeds were typical things we've seen before but the one that they felt let them down the most was the 'shimmering' that the vampires were supposed to do in sunlight. They did however love the vampire baseball game. The film does deliver on Bella's (and our) amazement and fascination with a strange new world, so I will recommend it. While some scenes are sexually suggestive there are no explicit sex scenes nor any strong language. There is some violence but it's shown in blurry, hurried, moments. Nothing to scare the kiddos. I give it :rose rose rose


Appaloosa: Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, Ed Harris, Jeremy Irons, Timothy Spall. Directed by Ed Harris.

Ed Harris rides tall in the saddle as director, co-writer, co-producer and star of this terrific Western, a potently acted powerhouse that sticks in the mind and the heart. The source material is a 2005 book by Robert B. Parker, best known for his Spenser for Hire crime novels.  Though Appaloosa has lightning sharp action and suspense, the movie finds its meaning in its two central characters. It's the friendship between Harris' marshal, Virgil Cole, and Viggo Mortensen's smart and pragmatic deputy, Everett Hitch that grabs and holds your interest from the first frame. You see immediately that they have a history, and you can feel it in their every sly move and telling gesture, in their easy banter, in their hard-won mutual respect. Having signed up to bring rough justice to Appaloosa, an 1880s town in the control of despotic rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), Virgil and Everett do everything that's expected, except show off or show fear. There is side story concerning the relationship between Allison (Zellweger) and Virgil but it doesn't distract from the story and ads some humor. Gun battles, brief nudity and some raw language. If you like westerns, Ed Harris, or Viggo Mortensen, you'll love this one. I give it rose rose rose


The Happening-Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Directed by M. Night Shyamalan:

Lady in the Water director M. Night Shyamalan defers from his usual PG-13 friendly films to spin this grim tale about humans fleeing from a natural disaster that they might have been responsible for. Philadelphia high-school science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is in class trying to get across the importance of the disappearance of bees when he is summoned to the theater with all the other teachers and briefed about a possible terrorist event that is currently happening in New York City. According to all reports, citizens in the in and near Central Park have suddenly and unexplainably begun acting strange before up and killing themselves by any means at their disposal. As this behavior begins to spread and talk of terrorism fills the airwaves, Elliot, and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), their friend Julian (John Leguizamo), and his daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), board a train to hopefully escape the madness. When the train stops short of its final destination, however, the scared passengers are forced to find their own way to safety. Catching the news on radios or cell phones they become more and more desperate as each news report paints an increasingly horrid picture of the situation in more urbanized areas. Wild theories fly from person to person on what could be causing the unexplainable self inflicted deaths, but the only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that it's some kind of airborne contagion that is carried in the wind. It would appear that mans reign on planet Earth has come to an end, but perhaps if this small band of survivors can find a safe place to lie low until things return to normal, all hope for survival of the species might not be lost. It's not the best film made by Shyamalan but it's interesting and creates discussion between those who see the film about not only the preservation of the planet but human life as well. Not for the kiddies because of some graphic gory scenes but teens on up should be okay. If you like M. Night Shyamalan movies like I do you'll like this one too. I give it rose rose rose


Cloverfield- Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Jessica Lucas, Directed by Matt Reeves:

Plot revolves around  five New Yorkers told mainly through the eye  of a  hand held video camera. The film is the length of an ordinary commercial tape and the sub-plot is introduced by showing bits and pieces of video previously recorded. The movie starts as a huge being  of unknown origin smashes some boats and buildings and our party group goes to investigate.  They are horrified to see parts of buildings and the head of the Statue of Liberty falling down around them. The movie chronicles their escape and mission save a friend, the romantic  interest of the main character. In the end no explanation is given for the rampaging alien if that in fact is what it was. I was not familiar with any of the young actors and while they did a credible job the hand held camera made me feel a bit nauseated at times. The younger people in the audience (my granddaughter for one) seemed to enjoy the film much more than I did. There is blood and some rough language and a tiny bit of sex. I don't think children would be able to understand the film so if you're inclined to see it I don't think you should take anyone under 12. I give it

rose rose for inventiveness and 1 for unresolved storyline

sweeney todd

Sweeney Todd: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall. Directed by Tim Burton.

Stephen Sondheim's award-winning musical thriller comes to the big screen in this thrilling adaptation. The story is about an embittered man (Todd played wonderfully by Depp) having been falsely convicted and imprisoned by a powerful judge (Rickman) who covets his beautiful wife and daughter. Having escaped he arrives in London in a changed state determined to seek vengeance against his accusers due to the grim fate that befell his wife and daughter while he was imprisoned. Meeting up with the Looney Mrs. Lovett (Bonham Carter) he sets up a modest barber shop to set the stage for his revenge and we quickly find that if you go to Todd's shop for a shave and a haircut you may never been heard from again. Subsequently branded "The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" by the frightened community, Todd continues with his murderous exploits with a little assistance from his amorous accomplice Mrs. Lovett whose once dreadful meat pies have grown very popular due to a most unsavory ingredient. Depp and Bonham Carter handle the melodies quite well although they do not have the range and power of stage performers. One need only see clips of Angela Lansbury manic Mrs. Lovett to know that this is true. The film stays true for the most part to the stage play but I'm sure theater purists will find some things to complain about. I say that having such a fine film version of a great stage musical is a good thing because it will introduce a greater number of people to the joys of musicals. Go see it and enjoy a magical experience but leave the little ones at home. There is a fair amount of highly stylistic blood letting and the story has a mature theme that would not be interesting to children. It's film that's more than worthy of

golden compas

Golden Compass: Nicole Kidman, Dakota Blue Richards, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliott, Sir Ian McKellen. Directed by Chris Weitz.

Based on author Philip Pullman's bestselling and award-winning novel,' The Golden Compass' tells the first story in Pullman's trilogy. 'The Golden Compass' is a fantasy adventure, set in an alternative world where people's souls manifest themselves as animals. Polar bears fight wars, and Gyptians and witches co-exist. At the heart of this world is Lyra (played by newcomer Dakota Blue Richards), a 12-year-old girl who starts out trying to rescue a friend who's been kidnapped by a mysterious organization known as the Gobblers. In doing so she finds herself on an epic quest to save not only her world, but ours as well. The film starts out a little slowly but picks up speed when Lyra embarks on her quest. Good special effects but not great ones as we came to expect from such films as the LOR trilogy. I have not read the books so I found myself a bit lost in following the story line and the ending seemed a bit abrupt and anti-climatic to me. Still it was fun and I did not see the anti-Christian theme that was referred to by several in the media. I thought it was more anti-government than religion. The kids should enjoy but be aware that there are scenes of violence and children being kidnapped. Not my favorite fantasy film but still an enjoyable one. I give it

the mist

The Mist: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Toby Jones, Andre Braugher. Directed by: Frank Darabont.

After a powerful storm a mist begins to creep over a small Maine town. Dozens of people find themselves trapped inside a supermarket after a fellow citizen smeared with blood runs into the market and tells them that something horrible is out there that they cannot see and it is no longer safe to go outside. As the events unfold they come to find out that in the mist are horrible creatures that feed on everything in site. As the hours pass being stranded begins to take not only a physical toll but a psychological one as well. The trapped shoppers split into 2 groups: those who believe it is an act of a vengeful god who demands human sacrifice and those don't. Ms Harden is creepy in all her bible thumping fundamentalist glory and Mr. Jane makes a good hero faced with difficult decisions. The film is based on a short story of the same name by Stephen King, and it has long been considered one of his scariest. Well acted and directed it asks the question of what would you do if faced with a horrific situation and if human kind has a right to open the door to other worlds that it does not understand. Stephen King stories do not always have the endings that we are comfortable with but they do make us think and that has to be a good thing. Strong violence and language and some gore do not make it suitable for the kiddies so get a sitter and leave them at home. I give it

Eastern Promises

Eastern Promises: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl. Directed by: David Cronenberg.

Nikolai (Mortensen) increases his credentials as a fine actor by mesmerizing us as a man both ruthless and mysterious. As a driver and 'babysitter' for the son (Cassel) of one of London's most dangerous crime families Nikolai crosses paths with Anna (Watts), an innocent midwife who tries to help the infant of a young Russian immigrant girl who has just died in childbirth. Finding a diary in the personal effects of the young woman Anna hopes she can use the information in it to find any family members of the young girl that might take the orphaned infant in. First she must get the diary translated which leads her to the owner of the Trans-Siberian Restaurant owned by the deceptively grandfatherly Semyon (Mueller-Stahl) who is actually the head of the Vory V Zakone crime syndicate in London. Nikolai takes an interest in Anna and we see a different side to him as the movie unfolds and we begin to wonder whose side he is really on. This excellent drama and mystery takes hold of you from the first frame and leaves you wanting to know more about the characters you have come to care for. Director Cronenberg has a way of filming or story telling that makes the viewer feel they are there in the film and not just an onlooker. The now famous 'bathhouse scene' leaves you wincing and gasping...and no not because of the nudity. My granddaughter said she actually forgot that the star was nude and found herself hoping that he would just survive the brutal assault. Mortensen gives Nikolai the arrogance of a survivor who has endured horrors we can only imagine and has little to lose. The way Mortensen enters each scene you know you're watching an actor with presence but more importantly an actor who has the skill to show us two or three aspects of a character simultaneously. Nikolai is the moral center of this rotting bunch, but Mortensen does not ennoble him or make him seem without sin but is perhaps a person like all of us caught up in situations we do not like and so do the best we can with them. This film is real, it's gritty, and it's compelling. I wouldn't miss this one for the world. Graphic sexuality, crude language, violence, and nudity give this film a definite R rating.

harry potter

Harry Potter: And the Order of the Phoenix- Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Imelda Staunton. Directed by David Yates.

The film based on the longest (to date) book follows the quest of Harry and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to convince an increasingly paranoid and unbelieving world of wizards and witches that its darkest and most vile villain, Voldemort (played by Ralph Fiennes), has returned. It is far more complex than its predecessors and scene by scene let's us know that we are no longer in a charming magical place, but on a collision course with a dark evil that will end in an epic battle that leaves our young heroes suffering from real losses. Radcliffe (Harry), Grint (Ron Weasley) and Watson (Hermione) have improved their acting chops and have begun to finally flesh out the characters and provide the necessary depth needed in this plot-advancing film. Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge – Dumbledore’s usurper at Hogwarts - is truly remarkable and very creepy. You almost want to reach out and strangle her every time she giggles as she dispenses her own brand of 'teaching'. Helena Bonham Carter as the villainous Bellatrix Lestrange shines in her tiny bit but honestly does she own a comb? I've seen her with the same hairdo in a number of movies. She has style though...I have to admit that. As usual Alan Rickman is sorely underused but owns each scene he appears in. The introduction of Luna Lovegood is charming and well done. Not so with the character of Nymphadora Tonks (Natalia Tena) who we only get to see in brief tantalizing tidbits. The director has given us some great moments, including the Weasley twins’ exit from the world of academia to the world of business. The fifth – and longest – book on which the film is based plays a crucial role in the saga and several things are explained, but sadly much is left hanging. The climax of the film is indeed the fight at the Ministry of Magic and it's very well done. We get to see Lucious Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) and Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) show their fighting skills and the duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is an awesome show of special effects that lights up the screen. I loved it because it was the first time we've been given a good look at Dumbledore's wizarding skills and I think I've finally gotten over Gambon replacing the late Richard Harris who was my ideal Dumbledore. What can I say? Dumbledore rocks!! Loved the film but thought it left too much out of the book...wish they could have done at least another half hour. Perhaps the added scenes in the DVD release will add some details that were left on the cutting room floor. All in all it was an enjoyable film. A bit too complex for the younger set but I saw plenty of the little ones in the audience. One in front of us wanted to go home during the film. So leave the really young ones with a sitter and take those who can read and enjoy the books to see and enjoy the film. Intense situations and wizard fight scenes.


"300" Gerard Butler ... King Leonidas, Lena Headey ... Queen Gorgo, Dominic West ... Theron, David Wenham ... Dilios. Directed by Zack Snyder:

Based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, "300" tells the dramatized story of the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae, where the King of Sparta, Leonidas, led his elite personal bodyguard against the enormous army of the Persians. Vastly outnumbered, the Spartans held back the enemy in one of the most famous last stands of history. Persian King Xerxes lead a Army of well over 100,000 (Persian king Xerxes before war has about 170,000 army) men to Greece and was confronted by 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians and other Slave soldiers. Xerxes waited for 10 days for King Leonidas to surrender or withdraw. Not understanding that the Spartan soldiers were taught to never retreat, never surrender he led his forces against them at the "Hot Gates". The battle lasted for about 3 days and one hopes that the small force might have held longer had it not been for a traitor who defected to Xerxes and informed him of a goat path that let the Persian army outflank the small band of ferocious fighters. As it turns out the small army of Spartans bought time for the rest of the Greek army to arm and plan a stronger defense that eventually defeated the larger empire of Persia. Now with that bit of history out of the way on to the merits of the film itself. Gorgeously filmed on a set against green and/or blue screens the action is almost a lyrical ballet of awesome looking men clad in leather loin clothes, long red capes, and smart gold helmets and shields. King Leonidas (played brilliantly by Gerard Butler) is a leader in all the ways a leader of men should be. Bred from infancy to be warriors the Spartan men are proud and fierce soldiers who protect themselves and their families from any and all danger. The Spartan Queen Gorgo (Headey) shows us that the women are also warriors in their own right and stand beside their men as equals. As in all movies history sometimes suffers in the retelling so you should not go into this movie for a history lesson but to be entertained by this work of wonderful master craftsmen. It is violent and there is some brief nudity so I would not take children who do not understand real life from reel life. My 23 year old granddaughter and I loved it and we would see it again. Can't wait for the DVD to come out and see all the extras that I'm sure will be available. Men will love it for the amazing battle scenes, women will love it for the amazing men. All in all I give it

NetFlix has really cut into our going out to the movies but we did manage to catch two good ones in the last month.

pan's Lab

Pan's Labyrinth: Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones, Areanda Gil. Directed by Guillermo del Toro:

A beautifully filmed and well acted film set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. The story centers around Ofelia (the marvelous Ivana Baquero) and her mother who are entering a new phase of their life after the death of Ofelia's father and her mother's marriage to Captain Vedal played with cold repressed evil by Sergi Lopez. It is on the their way to the army camp set deep inside the woods that Ofelia first encounters a large bug that she thinks is a fairy that we get our first glimpse into the fable she has created in her mind. Later, her pregnant mother drained from the trip is ordered to bed rest and Ofelia is left on her own to explore the old house and an abandoned labyrinth. Faced with the grim reality of the real world of violence in the war torn world she must live in Ofelia takes refuge in her fantasy world populated by strange creatures both fascinating and scary. Doug Jones plays the faun Pan whose true intent is hard to fathom and until the end we're never quite sure if he is good or evil. It's not a fable for the faint of heart and the ending leaves you to make up your own mind if what happens is true or just the imagings of a young troubled girl. I would not recommend this film for anyone under the age of 12 nor for anyone who is uncomfortable with violent acts which happen often during the course of the story. It is also in Spanish with sub-titles which can be distracting for some people. I enjoyed it immensly as did my grand daughter who is 23 years old. I give it


Night at the Museum: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan: Directed by Shawn Levy.

When Larry Daley (Stiller), a divorced father whose get rich schemes always fall apart he finds himself on the verge of eviction and worse he sees the lose of his sons respect and affection and finds him must get a real job. Lacking any real skills he finds one at the Museum of Natural History as a night guard. Things are not always what they seem and he finds out quickly that there is a catch to the seemingly easy job. Left alone with just a tattered sheet of instructions he finds that an ancient curse brings the "inhabitants" of the museum to life each night and it his job to keep them from destroying the museum and more importantly see that they do not escape from the museum lest something happen to them if they are not in their places before the sun rises. With a few casting surprises and the always entertaining Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt the movie offers lots of belly laughs and a good time. Take the kids to this one and enjoy a good time. I give it

Haven't been to the movie theater lately but have seen several films at home thanks to the trial NetFlix we got from Evie So I'm posting a few quick recommendations on a few of the films we've seen.

Everything is Illuminated: Elijah Wood, Liev Schreiber-Director

About a young Jewish man, who collects a variety of artifacts, desire to find his roots. Funny, touching, and quirky.

The Island: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Sean Bean, Michael Bay-Director.

Lots of action, storyline supposes how far some people will go to live longer.

Memoirs of a Geisha: Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Rob Marshall-Director.

Having lived in Japan for over 8 years I was pleasantly surprised that the movie filmed in New Zealand did have authentic looking sets. The story of a young girl sold into the world of the Geisha and her journey to find love. Enjoyed the whole look of the film.

Caveman: Ringo Starr, Dennis Quaid, Shelly Long, Carl Gottlieb-Director.

An old film about a group of cavemen set a 'zillion years ago on October 9'day to day struggles...very cute and except for a couple of off color moments is for the whole family. The dinosaurs are adorable.

The Libertine: Johnny Depp, Laurence Dunmore-Director.

Krystal saw this one and said it was depressing and didn't recommend it for me even though we both love Johnny Depp.

Casanova: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Lasse Hallström-Director.

Retelling of the Casanova legend. Entertaining and funny, even my husband enjoyed it.

The Devil Wears Prada: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, Emily Blunt, Adrian Grenier, Directed by: David Frankel.

must that if I hadn't been prodded into seeing this film by my grand-daughter Lauren I would have passed it by to wait for the DVD release. Not being interested in fashion myself and having seen 'the working girl loses soul, finds soul, succeeds in life' formula far too often that I felt the movie had little to offer with the exception of the always excellent Meryl Streep. After seeing it I found it better than I expected it to be. It's neat and glossy little film that offers us a window on the cut throat world of fashion telling the story of Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) a wide-eyed idealistic journalism major from out of town who lands a job with the fictional Runway Magazine. Hired on as the Second Assistant to the First Assistant Emily (Emily Blunt) to the deliciously cynical editor Miranda Priestly (Streep). Befriended by one of the fashion editors Nigel, (Stanley Tucci) Andy soon blossoms from fashion misfit to fashion maven par excellance. The movie touches on the shallow need of the beautiful people to be thin and be in the right place to be seen and heard by other beautiful people. Sad to say that one of the biggest laughs comes when Emily explains her new diet 'I wait until I feel faint and then eat a cube of cheese' to our (in Miranda's words, 'smart but fat' size 6) heroine. Following the formula for this genre of films Andy learns to play the game and becomes the right hand of Miranda but finds herself losing site of the things she used to love. Her patient aspiring chef boyfriend Nate is played by an underused Adrian Grenier. It's a pleasant way to pass the afternoon but children might find it a tad boring for lack of any special effects or action and the story line might be too subtle for them to follow. My husband would not like this movie but my grand-daughter did so make a date with your teenager or grab a couple of your girlfriends and enjoy this light guilty pleasure. The film contains adult situations, but no nudity or on-screen sex

vendettaV for Vendetta: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Directed by James McTeigue:

A lot of movies these days are based on the graphic novels and this one is no exception. The graphic novel written  by Alan Moore, V for Vendetta is set in a Britain ruled by a corrupt and abusive government that has  total  power. (This ring any bell with the current government here in the US?) Breaking a curfew our would be heroine Evey (Natalie Portman), is assaulted by thugs in secret policeman clothing and  is rescued by a   caped figure named V (Hugo Weaving) -- who is both articulate and skilled in combat. V burns with passion and desire to protect the principles of rebellion against the authoritarian state by donning a mask of the oft vilified would-be terrorist of British history Guy Fawkes. Together he and Evey lead the rebellion to give power back to the people. Interesting film that gets bloody towards the end. The politics of the film makes good fodder for conversation and presents the question of who is a terrorist and who is a hero? Great for those 12 and up. Bloody and violent scenes too intense for those younger plus the subtleties of the politics may be lost on them too.  I'd give it three stars but for the bloody fight scenes at the end. I don't like a lot of blood.

narniaThe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Georgie Henley .... Lucy Pevensie, Skandar Keynes .... Edmund Pevensie, William Moseley .... Peter Pevensie , Anna Popplewell .... Susan Pevensie, Tilda Swinton, Directed by Andrew Adamson:

Based on the beloved novel by CS Lewis four London children are sent to a professors country home for protection during World War II. There while playing a game of hide and seek they find a magical wardrobe that leads to a fantastic country named Narnia, The country is in the grips of a deep ice age and  ruled by an evil White Witch played to icy perfection by  Tilda Swinton. To defeat the Witch, the children must join forces with Aslan, the lion God of Narnia (voiced by Liam Neeson), and join in the great battle between good and evil. The movie theater was filled with families and the adults seemed to enjoy the film as much as the children did. Some of the battle scenes may be too intense for the younger set but the ones I observed did not appear scared by it all. A lot of what was in the movie battle scenes reminded me of the Lord of the Rings but not as well done. Still I enjoyed the film and even my Mom was rooting for Aslan to defeat the wicked White Witch there at the end. A very enjoyable film to take the whole family to is my view on it. So don't look for too many hidden meanings or complicated plot lines and enjoy. I give it

GoF posterHarry Potter And the Goblet of Fire: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint. Directed by Mike Newell.

Wow, where do I begin. As a (sad to admit it) person who has never read any of the novels I must say that I like to watch the films and get filled in on the finer points of the stories by my daughter and granddaughter who are both voracious fans of the books. This time round we saw the film twice, the second time taking my mother to see it. This could have been a problem for her because she has never seen or read anything on Harry Potter, but luckily she had her great granddaughter Krystal to bring her up to date on the happenings in this the fourth installment of the franchise. Pity the viewer who steps out during the film for a snack or potty break because the action is fast and furious and if you miss any part of it you are hopelessly lost. The trio is all grown up and battling not only the villainous minions of the dreaded Voldemort (played by the fine Ralph Fiennes) but their own growing pains of which they are many. Our young hero finds it easier to battle fire breathing dragons then ask one of the young ladies to a dance. Sprinkling humorous bits throughout the film that lift the more sinister tone of this film was a good idea because without these little gems the whole experience would have been more like the Brother's Grimm. I especially enjoyed the short but fun to watch scenes with the vastly underused Alan Rickman as Professor Snape.     This time around Harry finds himself thrown into a Tri Wizard competition against his will. Amid the circus atmosphere of a Superbowl game he must complete three dangerous tasks with only his wits and trusty wand... and of course some aide from his friends that comes in the way of information. Harry forges a  friendship  with an older student (Craig Diggery), aptly played by the handsome and likable Robert Pattinson that ends in tragedy and that part of the story in my opinion makes this too dark a film for those under 10 years of age. Special affects abound in the form of a battle with a dragon to retrieve a golden egg, rescuing his friends from a watery death, and a terrifying trip through a maze that ends with him being transported into the clutches of the dreaded and creepy Lord Voldemort.  My niece bemoaned the fact that some of the most interesting and fun bits in the 700 page book were left out but she enjoyed the film anyway an hopes that some additions will appear on the DVD. A movie that can be enjoyed by all those over ten.  (Perhaps discussion with them over the more disturbing parts would be a wise idea.) I give the film

Zorro2The Legend of Zorro:Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rufus Sewell, Nick Chinlund, Shuler Hensley, Adrian Alonso. Directed by Martin Campbell.


The legendary Mexican hero returns to the screen in this swashbuckling sequel to the 1998 box office hit The Mask Of Zorro. It's 10 years later and California has made its bid to become the next state to enter the union. Of course there is a dastardly plot to prevent this from happening by sinister and wealthy Europeans  and a truly unsavory creature of a man named Jacob McGivens (Nick Chinlund) who claims to be doing God's work .  Don Alejandro de la Vega (Antonio Banderas) must once again call on his heroic alter ego Zorro to foil the culprits and save California.  This time around his formerly understanding wife Elena (the lush Catherine Zeta-Jones) who married him because he was a swashbuckling hero wants him to abandon his secret life and be the country Don and family man.  This leads to trouble between Alejandro and Elena, and they separates, with de la Vega moving into a hotel or rooming house and the acting out of their son Joaquin (an adorable feisty Adrian Alonso). Elena soon becomes an item in local society and finds her self being pursued by Armand (Rufus Sewell), an impeccably proper  French nobleman who wants her hand in marriage. (Spoiler alert) Alejandro learns that Armand is part of the plot to keep California sovereign and that Elena divorced him (under the urging of Pike a Pinkerton man played by Shular Hensley) as part of a scheme to stop him. Zorro and his beloved Elena with the help of their son Joaquin fight together in a rousing climax to save the day. Great stunts and sword fighting choreographed by Master Swordsman Bob Anderson make for exciting action sequences. A little darker in tone than the first movie but the chemistry between Zeta-Jones and Banderas is still right on and I think it is suitable for all ages. I give it

flightplanFlightplan: Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean, Kate Beahan. Directed by Robert Schwentke

This film reminded me of Dangerous Crossing, an old 50's movie with Jeanne Crain and Michael Rennie whose plot revolved around the disappearance of the husband on their honeymoon voyage. This time the story takes place at 40,000 feet in an enormous modern  474 aircraft instead of a ship. Instead of a wife perceived to be delusional we have Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) as a possibly delusional mother. And instead of her husband missing it's her  six year-old daughter Julia who vanishes without a trace mid-flight from Berlin to New York. Already emotionally fragile by the sudden death of her husband, Kyle fights to keep her wits about her to prove her sanity to the polite but unbelieving flight crew and the increasingly hostile passengers that her daughter is indeed missing and she is not having a nervous breakdown . Captain Rich (an underused Sean Bean) is at first sympathetic and does all that he can to help her but as her efforts to find her child grow increasing desperate and present a danger to his crew and passengers he orders her to be cuffed and watched by an sympathies Air Marshal Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard). We don't want to doubt the bereaved widow, but all evidence points to the fact that her daughter was never on board.  This is a Jodie Foster film all the way and she plays the strong determined Mom who you root for throughout the entire film. A good mystery with the drama made more intense by the claustrophobic setting. Some scenes may be too intense for children. I recommend it for 12 and up. My rating: 

A History of Violence: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt. Directed by David Cronenberg:

Never have I sat in a darkened theater and had the strange and unsettling experience of being in the movie. Directed by Cronenberg this film draws you into the film so that you are a part of it...but not. It's more like you are there among the characters as an unobserved entity that feels everything they  feel. The opening sequence of the two brutes making  their way towards the quite  town in Indiana where the Stahl family lives is chilling in it's simplicity.  That horror could be so quiet and matter of fact makes it  all the more horrendous than all the shoot 'me up and slasher movies that have come before it. Mortensen is brilliant as the unassuming 'everybody loves Father' Tom Stall. You find yourself drawn to his gentle goodness and watch with growing anger the strangers who enter his diner and threaten his employees and friends theft, rape, and worse. When Tom explodes into action and saves them all you cheer him. When thugs show up in town after seeing him on TV and accuse him of some sinister and violent past life you are rooting for him to beat them down and save his family. Is it a case of mistaken or identity or is  our quiet and thoughtful hero flawed? Every worry, every fear plays across Mortensens face and he does it all  with a quiet grace and strength that shows through all his characters. Maria Bello is fine as Edie, his smart and sexy lawyer wife and their son, tormented by the school bully until he takes matters into his own hands is well played by  Ashton Holmes. Ed Harris is oddly charming as the cold and polite thug Fogerty and William Hurt surprises with his turn as the slimy Richie Cusak. Brilliant, violent, darkly humorous at times the film always entertains, leaving you breathless and speechless by the stark straight forward portraits of sex and violence that are integral to the story telling and always thought provoking. I saw it with my 21 year old granddaughter and we talked about it for at least an hour afterwards. Leave the  kiddies at home for this one but do go see's well worth the time and money. I give it  5 for brilliant directing, writing, camera work, and acting.

skeleton keyThe Skeleton Key: Kate Hudson,Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard. Directed by Iain Softley:

"The Skeleton Key" is not just a horror movie but an old-fashioned dark  mystery thriller. A pretty female  hospice nurse, Caroline Ellis,(a pleasing and surprising Kate Hudson) travels deep into the swamp lands of Louisiana  to care for a stroke victim.  The story starts slowly giving us small hints of what's to come and the movie takes the viewer along on Caroline's journey into the world of Hoodoo that  is explained to us as a belief different from Voodoo in that it is based in magic and the dark arts that require a person's belief in order for them to be affected by it. Good in their respective roles as the creepy mistress of the house as Violet and her immobile husband Ben are Gena Rowlands and John Hurt. The movie has some intense scenes that might prove to be to disturbing for young children who believe in ghosts and goblins  under the beds  and in the closets, so it's best to leave them at home with a sitter on this one. I give it

brothers grimmThe Brother's Grimm:Heath Ledger, Matt Damon, Peter Stormare, Lena Headey. Directed by Terry Gilliam:

A film made in the mode of VanHelsing with a beautiful heroine and this time two handsome heroes that is both dark and humorous.. The movie suffers from choppy editing that is jarring and sometimes confusing in following the storyline. It opens when the brothers are youngsters and their sister is ill and the youngest brother Jacob (Ledger) has been sent to sell the family cow and comes home instead with magic beans. Wilhelm (Damon) is incensed and jumps on a confused Jacob and thus their characters are set with Wilhelm as the cynical and practical brother and Jacob as the believer in magic and fairy tales.  The next scene jumps to them as adults in an French occupied Germany who travel from town to town saving the locals from all manner of dangerous apparitions and creatures. Amongst the bad guys is a French General and an eccentric Italian soldier named Cavaldi played by Peter Stormare who offers the comic relief. For reasons not fully explained the French military  has been following the brother's exploits and suddenly decides to arrest them.  Meanwhile we as the movie goer ahs been privy to the fact that a small village has had several of their children stolen which the villagers attribute to sinister mysterious forces of an enchanted forest. The French general  offers the brothers their freedom in exchange for their help in finding the cause of the disappearance of the children.  Ready to find charlatans such as themselves responsible for the missing children they find that the village has apparently been cursed by a 500 year old Queen that seems to have been the inspiration for both the Snow White and Rapunzle stories. During their efforts to stop the Queen's dastardly plot of using the children's' blood to restore her to her former glory the brothers enlist  the help of the beautiful huntress Angelika  (Heady) who herself has been a victim of the evil Queen. Lots of references to the tales of the Brothers Grimm is imbedded in the storyline and you'll have fun picking them out.  CGI effects galore make for exciting action but  some violent scenes may be to intense for children 8 and under. I give it

war of the worlds posterWar of the Worlds: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is a working class man living in New Jersey. The film opens with the visit from Ray's children, Robbie, an angry teenager (Justin Chatwin) and Rachel, a precocious grade schooler (played by the ubiquitous Dakota Fanning).  When we met Ray he's at odds with his ex wife who is now married to a successful businessman who Ray fears is replacing his role with his children. A blue collar worker Ray's standard of living is not up to the life style his family now enjoys and he is not happy with the state his life is in. Knowing he has lost the respect of his children by his seemingly careless attitude towards them he tries in his own fumbling way to start a dialogue but his plan is interrupted by an unthinkable and horrible event that will change their world forever.  The violent arrival of an alien life form descends upon the earth and thrusts them into a nightmare world they never could imagine. These are no ET aliens but compassionless beings that have one purpose and that is to destroy all human life. Suddenly Ray finds himself  sole protector of his children and in his mind everything will be okay if he can get his children to their mother. As the massive alien tripod machines rip through the  country in a wave of mass destruction, Ray finds strength he never knew he had. The special effects are excellent and the creepy red vines with their terrible secret that makes them grow is chilling. Fans of the original film will take delight in spotting Gene Barry in a cameo role. Also for those of you who know Sandy A., see if you can spot her daughter in the crowd scenes when the army is clashing with the enemy in a country field. The movie may be too intense for young children but I think it's fine for 12 and up. I give it

batman posterBatman Begins: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman. Directed by Christopher Nolan.

Wow! The best of the Batman franchise movies yet. This brings the comic book character back to its roots and it is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. A buffed up and totally charming Christain Bale is perfect as the scowling caped crusader. Just dark enough and noble enough to make us like him and empathize with his plight. The rich it seems are not as lucky as they appear to be. The story follows Bruce Wayne (Bale) from his idyllic childhood with a scary scene that shows him frightened by, you guessed it, bats! After the death of his parents the story jumps to the adult Bruce Wayne in college and still bitter over the death of his parents. After failing to keep the man in jail who killed his parents he drops out of society and wonders the dark side of the world until he reaches rock bottom in a prison somewhere in a Himalayan type local. He is rescued by the mysterious Ducard (Neeson) who teaches him martial arts and other mystical practices that help him overcome his fears and give him the tools he'll need to fight for justice. Unwilling to go the final step required by the cult (for want of a better word) of Ducard that requires him to execute a criminal he makes his escape and burns down the house where he was kept but saves the life of Ducard. This act of compassion will later come back to haunt him. He makes his way back to Gotham and finds that Alfred (Caine) has kept his fortunes intact and he enlists his help and that of a scientist Lucius Fox (Freeman) who used to work for his father to create his Batman persona. Lots of action sequences and special effects that add to the story instead of distracting from it make the movie move at a fast clip. First rate writing, (David S. Goyer) and acting by a fine cast, and crisply directed by Nolan make this a fun action film that you might want to see again just to catch the parts you missed because you were laughing or had to make a fast trip to the bathroom or were simply just catching your breath at the stunts. Some amusing bits help lighten the mood but keep the story moving. Violence, mild profanity, and disturbing scenes with millions of bats and the villainous Scarecrow may be too intense for younger children. Fine for 12 and up though. I give it

cinderella man posterCinderella Man: Russell Crowe, Rene Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Craig Bierko. Directed by Ron Howard:

Bring your hanky or box of Kleenex to this fine film. The hanky to  wipe your eyes with during the moments when the actors move you to tears and the Kleenex box to hide behind as you wince at the realistic boxing scenes. Ron Howard has created a masterpiece of America during the brutal depression years. He takes you on a rollercoaster ride of   Jim Braddock  and his family from good  times to the worst of times and then blessedly back to the good times once again. It's a story of a family who maintains their honor and morality through the harshest times American families ever experienced. It opens with a short look at the good times in Braddock's career then moves to the early 1930's after the stock market crash has wiped out his life savings. Without giving too much away the film paints a vivid portrait of a man doing  whatever he can to keep his family together.    His career appeared to be finished, he was unable to pay the bills,   and fearing his family was in danger  of starving and faced with the fact that his children might have to be sent away he was even forced to go on Public Relief. He's a man of great dignity and teaches his beloved children that no matter how hard things are they will be together and they will not lie, cheat, or steal to survive. Things continue to get worse before they get better and after breaking his hand in three places in a fight he walks to the docks every day to get work even with his hand in a cast. Determined to make things better for his family he returns to the ring after his hand is healed and miraculously wins and then wins again. After word of his victories in the ring spreads, the ordinary working men see him as a beacon of hope and he becomes the peoples hero. Taking on a seemingly impossible task he rises in the ranks and earns a chance to become the heavy weight champ by taking on the dangerous Max Baer (played very well by a menacing Craig Bierko) who has killed two men in the ring.  Unlike Baer, Braddock is honest, hardworking, and loves his wife and children above all else.   I found myself comparing Jim and Mae Braddock ( a superb Renee Zellweger) to  the parents in Angela's Ashes. While those parents wallowed in misery and the father drank up what he made the mother smoked incessantly and did not take in work to make a dime. Mae Braddock took in sewing to help out her family. They both  worked hard and  do not spend their hard earned pennies on drink or cigarettes  and even went so far as to give their own portions of food to the children. The movie follows the facts very closely even touching on the sacrifices made by Braddock's manager Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti)  and it' was refreshing to see an uplifting and thoughtful movie about a family struggling to make their way in life and still hold on to their moral beliefs and values. It's great family movie but the boxing scene may be too violent for very young children. I loved it as did our granddaughter Krystal and my mother and her friends. The audience clapped at the end of each viewing. No nudity, mild profanity, violent scenes in the boxing ring. I give it

Kingdom of Heaven posterKingdom of Heaven: Orlando Bloom, Liam Neesen, Jeremy Irons, Morton Csokas, Directed by Ridley Scott:

Visually visceral, "Kingdom of Heaven" takes us to medieval France and the ancient city of Jerusalem. It boasts a fine cast with Orlando Bloom as Balian, the hero of the story. While Orlando Bloom is a fine young actor and I did find him delightful in Pirates of the Caribbean and the ethereal elf Legolas in LOR I felt he was a bit too young and unmarked to have experienced the sorrows that Balian suffered such as the desertion of his father Godfrey (Liam Neesen), the loss of his child and the suicide of his young wife. This is a minor criticism though and my granddaughter disagreed with me and found his age and good looks only enhanced her viewing pleasure. Other performances were richer (could it be that I am identifying with the older actors, ahem-surely not) such as those of Liam Neesen as Balian's father, Jeremy Irons as Tiberius, and Edward Norton as the King. World weary these veteran actors embodied the knights of old and were very effective in their portrayals.   Guy de Lusignan (Morton Csokas of Celeborn fame from Lord of the Rings) is deliciously evil as he lusts of the crown of the King played by Edward Norton. Norton shows a king ravaged by leprosy and while he is made to wear a  mask and heavy makeup throughout the film he is surprising touching and showed us a gentler side to the legendary figure. The plot follows Balian's physical and emotional journey  from the time his father comes to him and asks him to accompany back to Jerusalem to help him  fight. Along the way battles are fought, some lost some won but lessons are learned and true characters are revealed. It shows how one man can effect change not only in his own life but in those around him. The battle  scenes are bloody and disturbing and some scenes may be too intense for younger viewers. I give it

Sahara posterSahara: Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz, Steve Zahn. Directed by Breck Eisner:

While it's not the most cerebral of films we found Sahara to be fun and entertaining. The cast is competent and easy on the eyes and  the story line while familiar is plausible. An African dictator's nuclear waste disposal plant is mutating the red tide, and so threatens the planet's ecosystem. It's up to Dirk Pitt and his associates from NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency) to find the source of the pollution and shut down the operation. While searching for the remains of a Civil War ironclad Dirk Pitt (Mathew McConaughey) stumbles upon a plot of an African dictator to dispose of nuclear waste in a  Niger River that threatens the world's oceans and its people.. Also the toxic pollutants is spreading a disease that is killing hundreds of North Africans. With the  help of a beautiful W.H.O. doctor Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz) and his faithful assistant Al (Steve Zahn), Dirk investigates this catastrophe in the making  that puts them all in danger. Fighting the clock to stop the polluting before it reaches the oceans and spreads they fight the armies of the West African War Lord and a greedy billionaire eager to keep his secret and his millions even at the cost of the worlds ecosystem. I don't remember any bad language nor nudity and the sex is limited to a couple of kisses. There is eye candy though with Matthew's abs worthy of the price of admission and Penelope Cruz while not quite believable as a doctor looks lovely and does her best with what is given her. The action is frequent but not gory and the special effects are well done. A good movie for the whole family. I give it

mindhunters posterMindHunters: Val Kilmer, Christian Slater, Will Kemp, Kathryn Morris, Directed by Renny Harlin:

"Trainees in the FBI's psychological profiling program must put their training into practice when they discover a killer in their midst." And that's about all I can say about this film without spoilers. I found it mildly entertaining while my granddaughter Krystal thought it was good.  Val Kilmer and Christian Slater played pivotal but small roles and several fine young actors got jobs out of it so I guess that is a good thing.  If you like mysteries served with a side of mayhem and sprinkling of gore then you will enjoy this film on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Not for children though. Some sex, lots of violence, and some profanity. I give it

Miss Cong PosterMissCongeniality 2- Armed and Fabulous: Starring: Sandra Bullock, Regina King, William Shatner, Heather Burns, Directed by John Pasquin:

Miss Congeniality 2 picks about three weeks after the end of the original Miss Congeniality It opens with an undercover operation at a bank with Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) back in her position as a field agent.  The operation goes awry when Gracie is recognized by a lady who shouts out her name alerting the bank robbers. In the ensuing melee one of the agents is hurt and her boss (Ernie Hudson) informs Gracie that she is a liability in the field and can no longer work in that area. He does propose a plan to use her as 'the new face' of the FBI and offers her the job. Gracie mulls it over and after being dumped by Agent Matthews (her love interest in the first film) she takes the job. The film jumps to 10 months later and we see that she  has become a media celebrity, spending more time looking good than at the shooting range.   When last years pageant winner Cheryl (Heather Burns) and emcee Stan (William Shatner) are kidnapped in Las Vegas, Gracie is sent to be the front for the media but becomes frustrated with the local FBI agents who are more interested in being politically correct than in saving her friends. Together with female agent Sam Fuller (Regina King) who has an anger management problem, they save the day. Plenty of site gags and slapstick comedy make for a laugh out loud movie. The audience clapped at the end and stayed to watch the outtakes. Some mild violence but it is a film for family members of all ages. Not a great movie but a fun one that makes you laugh and sends the message that it's okay to be yourself.. I give it

Sin City PosterSin City: Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Elijah Wood, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Mickey Rourke, Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller with cameo direction by Quentin Tarantino:

Let me start off by telling you all upfront that this movie is not for children. Adults and older teens only. It's a wild ride that is visually stunning. Shot in black and white entirely on a sound stage in front of a green screen, it features splashes of vibrant color that leaps off of the graphic novel pages it was born from.  If you are looking for deep meanings of the human condition and great writing this movie is not for you. But, if you are up for two hours of original movie making, brilliantly filmed scenes of mayhem and violence woven into three coherent stories than this film is indeed for you. This violent film noire pictures a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah  through the eyes of its toughest denizens. There's the Hulk like Marv (Mickey Rourke), whose single minded quest to find the killer of the hooker named Goldie (Jaime King), the only person who ever showed him a kindness, will lead him to the worst foul places imaginable. Mickey  Rourke has his most memorable role to date in this film and never again will I think of Elijah Wood as angelic (re: Frodo in Lord of the Rings) after this role as a mute serial killer. His performance truly creeped me out, big time. It's a small role for Wood but it plays large on the screen and his wire work in the fight scenes are awesome. Another memorable character is the coolest of the cool Dwight (Clive Owen), a photographer in league with the ladies of the night, headed by Gail (Rosario Dawson), who opens up a can of worms after crossing paths with a corrupt cop named Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro). Then there's Hartigan (Bruce Willis), an ex-cop with  heart problems who's hung up on protecting a stripper named Nancy (Jessica Alba). A who's who supporting cast  includes Brittany Murphy, Devon Aoki, and Nick Stahl and Josh Hartnet. I give it for content and for brilliant originality and stunning visuals.

Tidbits: From the Movie Guild:" Rodriguez quit the Director's Guild when they refused to let Frank Miller co-direct the film, a deal hashed out after the two collaborators developed and shot the opening scene utilizing a green-screen process to harness the stark, black-and-white look of the books as a litmus test for the rest of the production. Quentin Tarantino was brought in and reportedly paid one dollar to direct an extended scene between Del Toro and Owen." Krystal and I were at the Austin premiere of the film and got to see the director and writer of the film, and Jamie King.

For more movie reviews, check out my movie archive here.

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