Category: Reviews

American Beauty

Overview: Tired of his mundane, suburban existence, Lester Burnham becomes enamored with his daughter’s attractive friend and decides to change his life around. DreamWorks Pictures. 1999. Rated R. 122 Minutes. The Good: Kevin Spacey won an Oscar for his performance as Lester Burnham, and that performance is one of the few bright spots in this film. Burnham is going through a mid-life crisis and Spacey captures the essence of that perfectly with his despondent facial expressions and monotone voice. As Burnham’s outlook on life becomes more positive, Spacey makes the transformation seamless as an air of confidence begins to...

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Overview: A young princess, Snow White, is driven from her home by fear of her jealous stepmother, who envies her youth and beauty.  Walt Disney Productions; 83 minutes. The Fair: This is one of those Disney movies in which the story is secondary to the beauty of the hand-drawn backgrounds and the nuanced animation. Little ones won’t know it, but they’re watching a work of art. That doesn’t mean the plot is uninteresting, however. It is simple and linear, with plenty of touches meant just for children. The dwarfs are silly and fun, and provide a bit of a...

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Casablanca

Overview: During World War II, a cynical American expatriate struggles against his own desire to help a former lover and her new husband find safety; Warner Brothers; 1942; Rated PG;  102 minutes. The Value of Sentiment: Often, when we as a film culture make our innumerous greatest-ever films list, Casablanca is a passing thought, a reluctant inclusion that we stuff ranked somewhere in the low teens out of a sense of obligation. I believe this has something to do with the film’s blatant fixation toward and application of sentimentality. The film is not only aware of its obsession with sentimentality, it openly discusses it in more than one scene. Certainly, there exists an element of plasticity in this movie, a glossy artificial surface that begs us not to dig. For evidence, look no further than Sam’s obvious piano-playing pantomime, his open palms bouncing over and over in the same place, with no regard for the complexity of the room’s music (it’s quite funny, on first notice). This shininess is a tool of focus though, guiding the reader to concentrate on the dialogue-driven and rich character drama. Think of these characters: Ilsa Lund is disarmingly beautiful but a uniquely complex heroine for the time. And her lover Victor Laszlo, our hero’s obstacle, is a good guy in the most universal sense. If that’s not a departure from early film formula…...

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Gladiator (2000)

Overview:  A Roman General has his family murdered, is left for dead, and returns to Rome as an enslaved gladiator to seek revenge and save the Empire.  DreamWorks/Universal; 2000 Rated R; 155 minutes. Ummmm…: This ain’t History class, folks.  If you grade your movies sharply against historical accuracy, I can assure you that this is not the film for you.  General historical consensus suggests that the Maximus who exists in this movie did not exist in ancient Rome.  However, that does not stop Russell Crowe from giving the character considerable screen-life.  For the purpose of cinematic celebration, it is...

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Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Overview:  Attack of the Clones revels in the political intrigue, but make no mistake this film is all about Anakin Skywalker and the beginning of his descent into one of the most iconic villains of all time, Darth Vader. LucasFilms; 2002; 142 Minutes. Using the Force: Perhaps the best thing about this film, and what sets it apart from its predecessor The Phantom Menace, is the great lead-ins to future events. Attack of the Clones explains the origin of the Stormtroopers.  (obvious  spoiler alert number 1: They’re clones! And they attack!). It also gives us insight into the guy that will eventually...

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The Prestige

Overview: Tragedy and a competitive desire  ignites a chain of deception between a brilliant illusionist and a captivating performer whose rivalry wavers on the edge of obsession. Touchstone Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures. 2007. Rated PG-13. 130 Minutes. Every Magic Trick Consists of Three Parts: There is a pattern to every illusion, a guiding structure.  1) A Pledge where we are presented with the ordinary.  2) The Turn where the ordinary becomes extraordinary.  3) The Prestige where we are brought full circle.  There’s a secret here, a curiosity.  But do we really want to know or would we prefer to be fooled?  Watch closely…...

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Overview: Because the first two X-Men movies didn’t show enough of Wolverine’s origin story, the character finally gets his own spin-off.  20th Century Fox; 2009; Rated PG-13; 107 minutes. The Good: This movie, unlike its immediate predecessor, at least tries to have character development. Does it succeed? Not really. The opening scene and credits are do a good job building up both the relationship between Wolverine and his brother Sabretooth and their inevitable falling out. Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber have good chemistry, and they make the first portion of the movie fairly enjoyable. The Bad: That first, good...

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A Clockwork Orange

Overview:  Alex and his group of thugs (“droogs”) rape, pillage, and terrorize the streets. Based on the Anthony Burgess novel.Warner Brother’s. 1971. 136 minutes. Rated R. Psychological Conditioning: We all remember Pavlov’s dog from Psych 101. A Clockwork Orange explores a human example of comparable conditioning, but on a twisted, disturbing scale. When Alex is picked up by the police he is chosen for a fictional form of aversion therapy known as the Ludovico Technique, wherein he is forced to watch horrific crimes while listening to his favorite composer, Ludgwig van Beethoven. The goal of this conditioning is to...

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Batman and Robin

Overview:  Batman, Robin, and Batgirl fight Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy to sell toys. You all know how bad this movie is. Warner Bros.; 1997; Rated PG-13; 125 minutes Let’s Get This Over With: Since its release in 1997, Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin has been embedded into the public and geek consciousness as one of the worst movies in cinematic history. Justifiably so. I remember watching this movie for the first time: My brain checked out with the close up of butts in the opening minutes of the movie, followed by Chris O’Donnell’s Robin saying “I want a car....

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Overview: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is sent on an adventure with a company of dwarves looking to reclaim their homeland from a dragon. Warner Bros. 2012. Rated PG-13. 169 Minutes. Store Brand: After seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey three times in theaters (once opening weekend, once to experience Peter Jackson’s ill-advised High Frame Rate 3D experiment, and once with my sister on Christmas), I’d had my fill of the trilogy. I had trouble expressing my dissatisfaction without comparisons to the Lord of the Rings films, so I thought I was being too hard on it. The problem is...

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Overview:  In the second installment of the Hobbit trilogy, Bilbo, Gandalf the Grey, and their merry band of dwarves continue to face endless obstacles as they journey to reclaim their home, the most daunting of which is a gold digging dragon with some serious anger issues. 2013, Warner Bros. Pictures, rated PG-13, 161 minutes. Living in the Shadows:  Sometimes, I wonder if the reaction to the Hobbit trilogy would be different if it had been released prior to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy.  As I watch these Hobbit films, I can’t help but make mental comparisons along the...

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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Overview:   Frodo and Sam are led by an unusual guide while everyone else begins to choose a side and prepare for the inevitable as the battle for Middle Earth continues in the second installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  2002, New Line Cinema, rated PG-13, 179 minutes. I remember sitting in the theater watching The Two Towers for the first time like it was yesterday.  Although I enjoyed my first journey to Middle Earth in Fellowship of the Ring, particularly it’s breathtaking visuals and wide array of equally engrossing cast of characters, I wasn’t entirely sold on investing so...

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Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Overview: The Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to an emotionally gratifying conclusion. New Line Cinema; 2003; Rated PG-13; 201 minutes. The End of All Things: The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the great cinematic accomplishments. As a collective society, I’m not sure we deserve movies this good. But given the state of the world we live in, we need them. The series takes some heavy flack for extended run time and the presumption that the film revolves around people walking with no greater purpose. You can strip down any movie to a simple action the characters...

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Days of Heaven

Overview:  An ill-tempered worker accidentally kills his boss, flees to the Texas Panhandle with his lover, and convinces her to partake in a scheme that results in a lethal love triangle.  Paramount Pictures; 1978; Rated PG; 94 Minutes. Form:  Many great film directors make you squint to find the story.  Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Jim Jarmusch, Christopher Nolan– all directors who make you hunt the details microscopically.  True auteurs of film, without argument.  But Terrence Malick  has no interest in that ambition.  Malick holds sole occupation on the other end of the spectrum.  He seeks to make the audience’s...

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Spider-Man 2

Overview: Peter Parker must choose between having a normal life and being Spider-Man in this superior sequel. Columbia Pictures; 2004; Rated PG-13; 127 Minutes Past, Present, Future Spider-Man: Spider-Man 2 wisely starts off with opening credits that recap the original movie. A lesser movie would have suffered the burden of awkward expositional dialogue. Peter Parker is now struggling to balance his normal life with the extraneous crime fighting. It’s not working out well. Whether it’s his friends, teachers, or bosses, Peter is disappointing everyone around him. This is where the character of Spider-Man is at his best. When Peter...

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