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15 Minutes has some serious flaws, but, at least, it's better than I thought it would be.
Robert DeNiro stars as Eddie Flemming - a hot shot New York City detective who is loved by the New York press. He gets the big cases, solves them and knows how to use the media to become a star. Now, his latest case seems to be tailor made for more stardom.
Two Eastern European crooks, Emil (Karel Roden) and Oleg (Oleg Taktarov) have come to America to collect the money they stole in a big heist. They gave it to a buddy to hold while they were in jail, but of course, their buddy has spent the money, so the Eastern Europeans have to kill him. And, so we can have a plot, one of the guys videotapes the crime.
After watching a great deal of American television, they come up with a scheme that will get them on TV and make them famous, but Flemming and his new partner, Jordy (Ed Burns) a young fire marshall who has talent for investigations but a hate for the press, want to stop the crooks before they carry out the plan.
Will Eddie and Jordy solve the crime?
I originally thought this would be another movie that condemns tabloid television and makes us question just how quickly we are slouching towards to Gomorra (I always wanted to use that phrase. Thank you Robert Bork). While there are ample amounts of that belief being thrown in our face, 15 Minutes actually turns out to be a decent cop story with an interesting pairing of DeNiro and Burns.
While their obsession with how to handle the press and Eddie's attempts to teach Jordy how to work in a media culture may feel a little silly, I think it as close of a real approach to the subject that I have seen in movies. DeNiro's character doesn't make any sermon-like speeches about the subject and the TV-hating Jordy doesn't make the same type of speech condemning the media. Also, the two develop an interesting friendship, which benefits from the chemistry they share.
Some of the other characters, however, are too broadly drawn and suffer from being stereotypical. Grammer's tabloid anchor character, Robert Hawkins, is too heavy-handed, too eager and too ambitious. His actions seem to be drawn from everyone's worst beliefs about how television news is produced, which makes him silly instead of interesting. Also, the two Eastern European crooks' approach takes a huge leap of faith to believe. We are supposed to believe that these two crooks are willing, intelligent and evil enough to tape their crimes and sell the tape to become famous, which will lead to a lucrative movie deal. Unfortunately, it all seems too far-fetched, even for a movie.
It's not a great movie, and director/writer John Herzfeld takes a huge gamble part way through it, but 15 Minutes is probably decent enough to rent if it rains this weekend. Grade: C+
Enemy At The Gates
It's very hard to make a war epic/buddy movie/love story, but director Jean-Jacques Annaud has pulled it off.
In Enemy At The Gates, Jude Law stars as Vassili Zaitsev - a young soviet soldier with good aim. He becomes a hero when he shoots several German soldiers after a failed battle at Stalingrad. The man he saves, Commissar Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) is a writer who elegantly spins the tales of Vassili's bravery so well that all of the Soviet Union roots for him. Even the leader of the Soviet forces at Stalingrad, Nikita Kruschev (Bob Hoskins) realizes that Vassili's bravery is inspiring the troops to stay strong. If they don't and Stalingrad falls, it is only a matter of time before the Germans win the war. Knowing this, the Germans soon realize that they must do something to crush the Soviet spirit, so they send in Major Konig (Ed Harris), their best sniper, to kill Vassili.
Who will win this cat and mouse game - the experienced Konig or the young, scared Vassili?
A great script with great actors leads to a great movie. Writers Annaud and Alain Godard brilliantly flesh out each character and make us see the good and bad in each one. While Jude Law is the competant star, I was taken by Joseph Fiennes portrayal of Danilov as he starts to regret the monster he has created when the woman he loves, Tania Chernova (Rachel Weisz), starts to fall for Vassili. Also, Ed Harris gives the bad guy depth to the point where the audience respects his ability and motivation, even though he is supposed to be hated. Finally, director Annaud puts it all together with fantastic, tension filled scenes of the two adversaries matching wits and questioning their own ability.
Overall, Enemy At The Gates is a little too long, but still a great movie for you to rent this weekend. Grade: A-
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Casting directors are underrated in Hollywood. Sure, you can put some big names together for a movie, but if they don't click, if they don't have chemistry, nothing can save them. That's the problem with The Mexican.
Brad Pitt stars as Jerry - a low-level hood working for a mafia-like crime gang. Since he started dating Sam (Julia Roberts), he has been failing at his job and the boss isn't happy. Jerry has one last chance at redemption - he must travel to Mexico and retrieve a legendary pistol known as The Mexican. This upsets Sam, who was planning to go to Las Vegas with him, so she decides to break it off.
Unfortunately, on her way to Vegas, Sam is kidnapped by a dangerous hitman, Leroy (James Gandolfini), who ends up counseling Sam on her relationship. And, of course, Sam, Jerry and Leroy end up in more trouble than they can handle.
Will Jerry find the gun? Will Sam want to take him back? Will Leroy decide not to do his job due to a fledgling friendship with Sam?
While Pitt and Roberts are the stars, they spend little screen time together, and what little the audience is treated to is not very good. The two megastars have no chemistry, which makes their lines feel forced and unnatural. Pitt is horribly miscast here and struggles with the comedic aspects of the character. I have admired his dramatic work, but he isn't funny. If paired with someone who could work with him, maybe Pitt would have a chance, but he is solo in most of the movie and can't deliver the performance needed to entertain the audience.
Strangely enough, Gandolfini and Roberts are the better pairing. While they aren't fabulous, they share enough chemistry to interact in a believable way as she gets inside his head and reveals a heart of gold. Gandolfini is the funniest guy in the movie, a far cry from Tony Soprano.
The film has an uneven tone that swings between hip, crime film noir (which it doesn't do very well) to farce (which isn't funny enough to make me laugh out loud more than once or twice). The two competing storylines (Sam's kidnapping and Jerry's adventures in Mexico) aren't matched up very well and feel like two distinct movies. Also, the score is horribly inappropriate. Instead of having a Mexican dream type feel, a harder, rock/soul/R&B feel would have been cool (kind of like Out of Sight with its organ driven funk).
A waste of immense talent and opportunity, The Mexican isn't worth your time this or any other weekend. Grade: D
Why was this film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar? Unfortunately, I think the subject matter and which characters end up being the bad guys probably have everything to do with it.
Juliette Binoche stars as Vianne - a drifter with an illegitimate child who moves into a small, religious mountain town to start a chocolate shop. Although her product, a chocolate confection that could be the forerunner to Viagra thanks to its ability to make its consumers frisky, becomes popular, Vianne is the town outcaste due to her growing feud with the mayor, Count de Reynaud (Alfred Molina).
The Count believes the town must be morally upstanding and frowns on Vianne's liberal, non-churchgoing lifestyle. The two start a feud as other misfits form an alliance with Vianne. Finally, the Count starts to spread gossip about Vianne, her child and the people who are her friends in an attempt to drive her out of town, but will it succeed?
I think Chocolat got a great deal of support in Hollywood for it's morality bashing. In today's world of political correctness, the liberals feel it is OK to bash and mischaracterize anyone who wants to encourage a moral lifestyle. Religious people have been made into an evil, buffoonish cult that the liberals (who use tactics that would scare the Nazis) feel compelled to destroy. Chocolat is yet another example.
Even though it is a boring film with average performances, it was the recipient of many Oscar nominations. It was nominated for Best Picture, instead of the far superior Cast Away which featured Tom Hanks in a role and performance that makes Juliet Binoche look like she should take acting classes. Speaking of Binoche, she was nominated for Best Actress instead of Renée Zellwegger in Nurse Betty, even though she doesn't display any great range or have the type of movie stealing scene that amazes the audience, while Zellwegger mesmerized audiences with her ability to evoke sympathy for a woman with mental problems (but don't see the movie, she is the only good part). Even Judi Dench undeservedly snuck out an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her cliched portrayal of a grandmother who wants to save her grandson from an overbearing mother. The cliches don't end there.
We are treated to Vianne's attempts to save Josephine (Lena Olin) a woman being abused by her husband who finds her inner strength when she stands up to him and learns how to take care of herself. I saw The Burning Bed with Farrah Fawcett, so I don't need any more women who fight off abuse stories. We watch Armande Voizin (Dench) try her best to be the curmudgeon who defies Doctor's orders because she wants to live a fuller life instead of one where she has to follow a special diet or clean up her act. And, of course, all men are evil, except for the artsy fellow (Johnny Depp) that incessantly flirts with Vianne. In this movie, he's OK because he is in touch with his inner self or emotional side or some baloney like that. Frankly, he's the good guy just because he is better looking than the rest of the men in this film.
Chocolat is an average film with competent performances that is worth the rental price if you don't have high expectations. Unfortunately, what could have been a lighthearted, funny, quirky flick tries to marginalize morality and make a point that is misguided. Grade: C
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Head Over Heels
I have lost all respect for Monica Potter. After a few good roles (The Very Thought Of You, A Cool Dry Place), she has resorted to slumming it in a sad attempt at becoming a high paid, Julia Roberts-ish, leading lady. This is sadly apparent in her latest video offering, Head Over Heels a vacuous film that is like cotton candy - all sugar, no substance.
Potter stars as Amanda - an Iowa gal whose love life is littered with lying, low life men who have left her with a low self-esteem. Of course, since she has low self-esteem, she moves in with 4 superficial super models who like to sponge off foolish, stupid, superficial men. One day, she meets a hunky guy who lives across the alley, Jim Winston (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) and thinks he might be the true love of her life.
He seems like the perfect guy. Jim is good looking, sensitive, responsible, successful, and rich. However, he might also be a murderer. Amanda, in a twist reminiscent of a bad I Love Lucy episode (and I wrongly cast aspersions on I Love Lucy by daring to compare it to this trash), decides to investigate Jim.
Did Amanda witness Jim committing a murder? What is his deep, dark secret?
Lacking any clear focus and a decent, original script, Head Over Heels is horrible. Director Mark Waters tries every trick in the book to make us laugh. First, they try to throw in some toilet humor. Then, we are treated to some very bad slapstick comedy as they desperately try to cash in on a few cheap laughs. Then, Head Over Heels tries to be a romantic comedy. Finally, they attempt a Rear Window homage that, instead, comes off like an insult.
Potter and Prinze have no chemistry. He's a baby teen idol who is way too young for her. Prinze may be trying to break out of typecasting, but he doesn't have the ability. Potter doesn't display any of the charm that made her so likable in previous performance, so she is left to create a character that comes off like an overly neurotic, man-crazy, girlie-girl woman. Also, she is way too beautiful to portray the supposedly frumpy, clumsy plain jane woman who can't get a date. And don't get me started on the 4 supermodels who try to come off as a good-looking female version of the Three Stooges, but really appear to be 4 Pauly Shores.
Don't waste your time. Don't waste your money. Grade: F
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I have always loved movies, but art is another matter. I couldn't differentiate between a cubist and a french impressionist if you bet me a million bucks. So, why do I want to see the biographical film Pollock - an art house film about the artist Jackson Pollock? After the first half-hour, I realized that I didn't want to waste my time. BORING!!!!!!!!!!
I won't waste yours with a full review because I just couldn't make it all the way through this flick. Other than being a showcase for Ed Harris' ability to emote and act like a weirdo as he portrays the tortured painter, I couldn't pick up on a plot. Are we supposed to just follow Pollock's life from historic moment to historic moment? Is Pollock supposed to be an intimate portrayal of his relationship with artist Lee Krasner (Marcia Gaye Harden)? Is the movie a chance for Harris to throw paint dramatically onto canvas?
Eventually, I decided that I didn't care. Grade: Incomplete
The Family Man
You will probably recognize many familiar elements in The Family Man. While it is done in the syrupy style of Christmas classics like It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, I am reminded by the hum of my air conditioner that it isn't Christmas in July. When the heat is at 90 and Jack Frost is sunning himself by the pool instead of nipping at your nose, some of that syrup gets a little too sticky.
Jack (Nicolas Cage) is a big time financier and stock trader living the high life in New York City as the head of a major financial services company. He parted ways with the love of his life, Kate (Tea Leoni), years ago to take a fancy internship in London. Although they promised to keep up a long distance romance, Kate and Jack never got back together. Now, he is a coldhearted, womanizing, scrooge of a boss who wants his staff to work through Christmas to seal a multi-million dollar deal that will make him richer. However, is Jack happy?
After helping a mysterious stranger (Don Cheadle), Jack wakes up on Christmas morning to a new life. He has been given the chance to see what life could have been like if he never got on that plane to London. In the parallel existence, he is married to Kate, has kids and runs his father-in-law's tire store. It's a far cry from the penthouse and Jack hates what this life has become. Now, he must look deep into his soul to discover if life would have been better if he made the decision to stay with Kate instead of going to London.
Will he appreciate the new opportunity? Can Jack grow and find happiness in life's simpler pleasures like love and family? Do I need a bunch of Hollywood fat cats with mucho dinero trying to convince me that money isn't the root of all happiness (give me $12 Million a picture and a girlfriend like Lisa Marie Presley like Nic Cage has so I can discover for myself how unimportant the dough is!)?
I am always amazed that movies clearly made with a Christmas theme get released in the summer. Why do this? The Family Man, which takes place at Christmas time and mightily draws on allusions to Christmas classics, should have been held back for the holiday season. At that time, I'll put up with a ton of sappiness because I'm in the mood for it. In July, I am in the mood for the pool and a BBQ!
The Family Man tries very hard to be a tearjerker and shows its hand by trying too hard. Also, it's picture of suburbia is a little too broadly drawn and stereotypical. As for the acting, I am starting to get sick of Nicolas Cage's "lost in a marijuana haze schtick" (I am not saying he is a pothead, he just acts like one), but he shows some tenderness and a flare for comedy here. Cage is a little too over-the-top as the womanizer and alpha male, but he shines in the quiet moments as Jack grows to love the family he never had. Amazingly, he has good chemistry with Tea Leoni. I want to marry her! She comes off like the greatest wife ever with a potent mix of sexy, fun and sweet.
The plot is predictable, but you can rent this one in December when you are in the mood to enjoy it. Grade: C
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Down To Earth
It seems like most movies today are based on a book, play, or previous movie. Down to Earth is one of those flicks, but it suffers the indignity of being the remake of a remake of a Broadway play. Unfortunately, it doesn't have any of the charm of the original.
Chris Rock stars as Lance Barton - a struggling comic by night and a bike messenger by day. He's got heart, but he needs better material if he is going to make it in this business. One day, while riding down the street, he is distracted when he spots a beautiful woman walking across. Of course, Lance doesn't see the bus coming the other way, and he ends up dead. Once Lance arrives in heaven, he finds out that it was all a mistake, and he gets the chance to restart his life in a loaner body, and become Charles Wellington III - a big, fat, old, rich, white guy.
Will Lance start using Wellington's money for good causes? Can he survive as a hip-hop loving African-American male trapped in a square white guy's body? Will he find true love with that mysterious woman who crossed his path? Can he become a famous comedian?
I like Chris Rock, but this movie, a remake of Heaven Can Wait and Here Comes Mr. Jordan, wasn't a good vehicle for him. Most jokes are related to him being an African-American stuck in a white guy's body. While some of these are funny, the joke loses its punch after the first 5 times it's used. Also, when there are some chances to show some heart, writers Rock, Lance Crouther, Ali LeRoi and Louis C.K. pull the punch and go for the laugh. I would have liked to have seen Rock show a romantic and sweet side. He can do it.
The supporting cast is fairly average, although Regina King (the love interest) is entertaining in her scenes with Rock. Eugene Levy seems like he is on cruise control as the angel who screws up and Chazz Palminteri was a horrible choice as the chief angel who tries to set everything on the right path. The idea of him running a social club in heaven was kinda funny the first time we see it, but Palminteri comes off like a mafioso instead of an angel.
Unless you are a hard core Chris Rock fan who has the patience to sit through the movie until he starts using his best material, you will be better off renting Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Grade: D
I am a history lover, so I have been interested in this film since I first heard about it. While the story has been told before, would Thirteen Days shed any new light on the Cuban Missile Crisis?
If you don't know the history, here is a little background. It's October 1962, Congress is in the midst of a re-election campaign, tensions between the U.S. and the Soviets have never been higher, our military is still reeling from a failed coup against Castro and the president is still suffering embarrassment from the Berlin Wall's erection almost a year earlier.
U.S. spy planes have captured photographic evidence of a Soviet nuclear missile build up in Cuba. This would provide the Soviets with a major tactical advantage over the United States because they could launch offensive nuclear weapons and destroy major portions of America before we could react. President Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) wants to force the Soviets to remove the missiles from Cuba, but the tactics to be used are heatedly debated between the military advisors and political operatives trusted by the president.
Will Kennedy order a military strike, which could cause WWIII or a major, dangerous battle that would lead to the death of millions of Americans? Will Kennedy choose a diplomatic approach that could be fruitless and perceived as a weak willed failure?
While Thirteen Days does not provide any new material or stunning historical revelations, it is a well written, suspenseful thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat, even if you did live through it all. Bruce Greenwood is fantastic as President Kennedy. Maybe this isn't what Kennedy was really like, but Greenwood creates an interesting, noble, understated character. The rest of the cast is mainly drawn from plenty of character actors whose faces you will recognize, but you won't know their names. This, in addition to their fine acting, draws you into the story because you truly believe that they are the real life people.
Despite the great cast, there is one character that bothers me. Kevin Costner stars as Kenny O'Donnell - a political operative and Kennedy confidante who is shown to have access to the highest levels of power, but, in reality, is not a prominent player according to history. First, Costner has the worst Boston accent ever! Second, I get the feeling that this character is elevated because Costner or the writers (or O'Donnell's real life son, who is a heavy investor in the producer's company) wanted him to get all the good, dramatic lines. I won't give total blame to Costner, but I would have liked to see him portray one of the real people who truly did play an important role in this historical confrontation.
While it isn't a documentary-type telling of this incident, Thirteen Days is a good, interesting movie that draws you in emotionally and gives you one view of what may have really happened. Grade: B
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Jack Nicholson is at a point in his career where he has nothing to prove and doesn't need the money. After 11 Oscar nominations and 3 wins, we know he is a great actor. After cutting one of the most lucrative deals of all time to star in Batman (reportedly, Nicholson still gets money from future Batman movies and toy sales), he is sitting pretty and living high on the hog. So, he has the opportunity to take roles that are challenging and interesting with no regard to how it will play at the box office. The Pledge is a perfect example.
Nicholson stars as Detective Jerry Black - a long time Nevada cop on his last day before retirement. He is loved and respected by colleagues, served his time with dignity and wants to get away to fish. However, he and his buddies are pulled out of Jerry's retirement party to investigate the heinous murder of a little girl. Her body has been found in the woods, and no one has the heart to tell her parents. Jerry agrees, and while speaking to the mother (Patricia Clarkson), promises to find the killer. Even after the force arrests a likely suspect, Jerry is determined to spend his retirement trying to solve the case.
Is Jerry chasing a red herring? Is he becoming too obsessed with the case?
The Pledge, directed by actor Sean Penn, is full of great supporting characters and a legendary lead who will keep your attention at all times. You don't need me to tell you that Nicholson does a great job. He always does. In The Pledge, Nicholson is riveting as the lonely, tortured man trying to solve the unsolvable. He battles with his own desire to walk away from the job, his need for it as an identity, and his conscience as he tries to move on, but wants to uphold the pledge he made to the little girl's mother. Nicholson puts in one of the quietest, most reserved performances I have ever seen him give, but he fills the character with an underlying burning desire and love for his job. The case mentally stimulates him, and he finds it hard to walk away from that which gives him life.
Sean Penn shows great skill at setting a mysterious tone within a measured, subtle movie and gets great performances out of Aaron Eckhart (Detective Stan Krolak), Benicio Del Torro, Robin Wright Penn (Lori, a woman Jerry meets during retirement), Vanessa Redgrave (Annalise Hansen, a music teacher), Costas Mandylor and even Mickey Rourke. No character, even the small roles, is wasted, and even the actors with little roles get the most of their material. He's got some great sweeping shots of the empty Nevada lake where Jerry is retired and cuts together the scenes to show us the clues to the murder as Jerry perceives them.
The script from Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson (based on a book by Friedrich Dürrenmatt) is a good, thrilling mystery that doesn't show its hand to early, and keeps you guessing until the end. We get four or five suspects and, like Jerry, have to weed through pertinent information and clues that will lead nowhere. Best of all, it is a quiet movie, but one that keeps you glued to your seat right up to the amazing, unpredictable ending.
A few photos of the brutal crime might disturb some folks, but it is very appropriate for most adults. Grade: A
The Wedding Planner
There is nothing shocking or groundbreaking in The Wedding Planner, but it's the type of film that gals will want to rent and guys who love those gals will be stuck watching.
Jennifer Lopez stars as Mary - a type A personality, driven, workaholic wedding planner who has her act together. Mary wants to get promoted to the position of partner at work, and gets her chance when she lands what could be the biggest wedding of the year - the wedding of Francine Donnoly (Bridget Wilson-Sampras), a web entrepreneur with tons of cash and a desire to show it off. Although Mary's the best in the business, her personal life is very lonely. She doesn't have a boyfriend, spends time with her Dad (Alex Rocco, who wants to set her up with every loser in town) and competes in scrabble tournaments.
One day, in true, tired Hollywood fashion, Mary is rescued from sure doom by Dr. Steve "Eddie" Edison (Matthew McConaughey). Of course, he is Mr. Right. Dr. Steve is a pediatrician who loves to dance and has a heart of gold. Of course, he also has a fiancée - Francine Donnoly.
Will Mary and Dr.Steve/Eddie be able to cool the love that is blooming? Will Mary blow the wedding and her opportunity to become a partner? Will Dr. Steve/Eddie get married to Francine?
The Wedding Planner, although it is cliched and predictable, starts off fine enough with some lighthearted comedy and a nice sequence where we get to see the developing romance between Mary and Dr. Steve. However, the movie quickly becomes boring and weighed down by writers Pamela Falk and Michael Ellis's attempts to get away from the cliches and lead the audience off the predictable path. Although they try to fool us into thinking the movie will have an unpredictable ending, the audience is left knowing that the inevitable will happen, which makes the writers' efforts fruitless. If everything else about the film is cliched, do you really believe the ending will be groundbreaking? Should it be?
Matthew McCounaghey is charming enough, but he doesn't have any chemistry with Jennifer Lopez. Also, Lopez seems out of place in the comedy. She tries hard enough, but her delivery and attempts at physical humor show a lack of those skills. Both actors shine in the more serious, dramatic, romantic parts of the film, but the performances miss the mark overall.
One person who does deserve kudos is Judy Greer as Mary's zany, man-crazy pal and coworker, Penny. She grabs hold of her character's silliness and runs with it. She's over-the-top and hilarious. I also loved Greer's work in What Women Want, where she played a lonely wallflower. Her ability to play both drama and comedy gives me hope that she might emerge as a great actress, or at least, a very in-demand character actress.
The Wedding Planner is innocuous at worst and mildly amusing at best. Grade: C+
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