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Reviews, Rants and All That Other Good Stuff

Bonjour, tout le monde! January 30, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — meganclose @ 8:12 pm

Hi there, and welcome to my blog!  I don’t have anything super new posted, but see below for film & DVD reviews I’ve written between November and January!  And check  back for updates!


“Blood Diamond” a Jewel in the Rough

Filed under: Film Reviews — meganclose @ 7:56 pm

Being less than excited over the new releases opening last weekend, I decided to play a little bit of catch-up. My choices were “Blood Diamond” and “The Good Shepherd.”

These films were seemingly only connected by the great actors, but I found they addressed almost all of the same themes. Fathers and sons, identity/roots, war. I find this fascinating, as one took place in Africa and the other primarily took place in the United States; one covered the late 1920s through the early 1960s and the other took place in the 1990s, and so on. I was originally going to review them both, but it would have been massive. Instead, I chose “Blood Diamond,” which I found to be the superior film of the two.

In an opening scene, a vast attack is underway in the African wilderness. Rebel troops barrel into town, bullets flying. They attack the helpless villagers, very few of whom are able to escape. The scene is vaguely reminiscent of the opening moments of “Saving Private Ryan” in its severity and all-encompassing brutality and gives the audience a window into a violent world they are not accustomed to.

Thanks to the scene and the card at the beginning, the audience learns that the diamond industry is a dirty one. Profits from diamonds that are sold from war zones (or “conflict areas”) in Africa are used to buy weapons for the rebels who are savagely trying to take over the country. Because it’s a cheaper and easier way to buy, many diamond companies look the other way in order to get more for less. Governments either have no control over what is happening or chose not to.

We also meet Soloman Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a fisherman and dedicated family man. He is especially close with his son, Dia (Kagiso Kuypers). One day as they are walking home the RUF (the major rebel group portrayed in the film) comes through, killing anything in its path. Solomon helps his family escape, but is captured and forced to work in the diamond mines. While there, he discovers a giant pink diamond. Seeing it as the way to save his family, he buries it. However, he is discovered by Captain Poison (David Harewood). Before Poison can kill him and steal the diamond back, the mine is attacked. In all of the chaos, Solomon manages to escape, only to be arrested.

In the midst of all this, we have Danny. One can see almost immediately that he is a loner, a soldier of fortune. He and his pilot friend have made a deal with “General Zero,” one of the heads of the RUF: For a large bag of diamonds, Danny gives him several grenade launchers. Danny attempts to smuggle the diamonds out of the country to a buyer, but is caught and lands in jail.

It just so happens that Solomon is in the same jail. After Danny gets wind of his story, he sees it as his chance to rid himself of the debt he incurred after the smuggling bust. He gets Solomon out of jail, and sets up a partnership with him – he’ll help Solomon find his family if Solomon shows him where the diamond is. Dia is stolen from the mother by Captain Poison, who decides to turn him into a child soldier. And that is where the plot takes off.

Danny also happens to meet a reporter, Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) in a local bar. There are immediate sparks, sexual and ideological. Danny is an anti-hero, whose allegiance is to no one but himself. Maddy, on the other hand, believes in helping others. She is the voice of reason, he is the voice of reality. It is refreshing that the seemingly obligatory token love scenes are not included. Instead, two people with very different viewpoints find love and understanding with each other. And isn’t that what achieving peace is all about?

Identity is a huge issue in “Blood Diamond.” Danny works as hard as he can at denying his heritage and attachment to Africa. He is an orphan and is bemused by people who pledge their attachment to this “godforsaken continent.” He is a pessimist and a cynic. He tells Maddy that he asks himself if “God (can) ever forgive us for what we’ve done to each other,” but then he looks around and realizes that “God left this place years ago.” The film is not just a journey to find the diamond and to find Solomon’s family. It is also a journey to find himself and to find his roots.

The term “war his hell” reverberates in viewers’ minds while watching the bloody clashes that occur throughout the film. As soon as the triggers are pulled, it is insanity, bloody chaos and mania. But in spite of all this, love and hate is an obvious and powerful theme. The amazing ability of the human heart and soul to love in the midst of such hatred is portrayed in the relationships between the characters.

Overall, “Blood Diamond” was an immensely satisfying film. Director of Photography Eduardo Serra captures the breathtaking beauty of Africa, as well as the poverty and squalor. The direction and writing are first-rate, but the acting guides the whole picture, predominantly Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou. Hounsou’s characters usually seem to play second fiddle to others in his films, but here he is the heart of the film. He is proud and strong in the face of adversity, and one can almost feel his true, beating heart. DiCaprio currently seems to specialize in brooding, haunted characters like Danny. I always find it amazing when a child actor soars above their peers, as Kagiso Kuypers does.

Some scenes in this film might be rightly accused of being a tad too overwrought, and it is a tearjerker on many levels. “Blood Diamond” is a brutal movie, but an important one. What is so refreshing about some of the films being produced now is that they at least attempt to raise consciousness of certain issues. “Blood Diamond” gives a face to some of the struggles in Africa.

One of the most moving scenes is when Solomon looks in a store window and sees a diamond necklace, gaudy in its opulence. He doesn’t see the necklace as a whole. He sees what the hundred tiny little jewels on it represent, and the audience sees it along with him.


Deja Vu All Over Again

Filed under: Film Reviews — meganclose @ 7:56 pm

Well as my father would say, “Hokey smokes!” If you are in the mood for a believable, realistic film — save your money. However, if you want to suspend disbelief definitely check out Déjà Vu.

Denzel Washington stars as Doug Carlin, an ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms) agent, who is investigating the bombing of a ferryboat in New Orleans. While trying to put together the pieces of the catastrophic puzzle, he meets FBI Agent Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer). Pryzwarra introduces him to a new, secret branch of the government (like Men in Black, but cooler). They have created a program that uses satellite technology to look back in time by four-and-a-half day intervals. They are hoping to use this to find the terrorist responsible for the bombing, and ask Carlin to join the team. In the meantime, the body of a young woman, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton) washes ashore. Her corpse is made to look like a victim of the explosion, but the official time of death was hours before. Carlin wonders if going back in time is possible, so he can save her.

Some of the highlights of the film are the interactions between the people on the secret crew. While Pryzwarra is the boss, the resident expert is Denny (Adam Goldberg). Gunnars (Elden Henson) and Shanti (Erika Alexander) join him. They provide witty banter and humanize the time-folding-on-itself process.

There are some interesting twists and turns in the plot and many “convenient” moments when ignoring logic seemed to work out. Thankfully, the romance was mostly in undertones because if there had been a token sex scene I think I may have walked out.

Washington’s character is rather formulaic. He is a workaholic loner who is viewed as an expert in his field, despite the unconventional methods he uses at times. His partner is killed and is driven to find the villain until he becomes obsessed with the dead woman. (Very Maltese Falcon meets Vertigo.) However, despite all of the clichés, Carlin is likeable enough to spend two hours with and believe in.

It was interesting to see Val Kilmer (who isn’t aging as gracefully as one would think) again, but his character doesn’t have much depth or room to grow. It took me about twenty minutes to realize Jim Caviezel was playing the villain, Caroll Oerstadt. Caviezel was chilling in the role and believable.

Tony Scott directed Washington in two previously well-reviewed films: Crimson Tide and Man on Fire. The two strike gold again with Déjà Vu. Co-screenwriter Terry Rossio is no newbie to blockbusters, either. Some of his works include Aladdin, Shrek, the two recent Zorro movies and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer just never seems to disappoint me (aside from Pearl Harbor). It felt from time to time like I was in the pilot for CSI: New Orleans.

It was also touching to see the city on film post-Katrina. The filmmakers tried to give the audience a real feel for the city, which was interesting because New Orleans is such a great, moody place to put on film.

Honestly, I went in with very low expectations, but overall this was a completely satisfying viewing experience. The acting was solid, the story was interesting (and it takes a lot to get me interested in sci-fi films), and I was definitely on the edge of my seat through most of it. Déjà Vu is a popcorn movie for sure, but with a subtle touch of class.

DVD Highlights for the week of November 28, 2006:

A Star is Born (Special Edition): In the 1976 version of this Hollywood classic, Barbra Streisand stars as the struggling young singer Esther Hoffman, who falls for rock star burn-out Kris Kristofferson. As her fame begins to rise, his begins to fall.

Superman Returns: Brandon Routh stars as Superman and Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane in the most recent Superman flick. The superhero returns to Earth after a five-year absence and learns that the world has moved on without him.

The Ant Bully: An angry young boy is shrunk to the size of an ant after taking his frustration out on the local insect population. Voices include Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep.

(Also on DVD: Clerks II; Now You Know; Van Wilder: Two Disc Van Gone Wilder Edition; Angel Rodriguez; Where Angels Fear to Tread; Monster in a Box; H6: Diary of a Serial Killer; Distortion; Maxx; Girls From Nowolipki; North Korea: A Day in the Life; 12:01; Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front; The Cheetah Girls 2; Striking Range; Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone; Jailbait; Backlash; Coalition; The Ellen DeGeneres Show: DVD-licious; Dane Cook: Vicious Circle; Kong: Return to the Jungle; Power Rangers Mystic Force: Volume 2 – Legendary Catastros; Power Rangers Mystic Force: Volume 3 – Fire Heart; and Marshall University: Ashes to Glory.)


Quite the “Inconvenient Truth”

Filed under: Film Reviews — meganclose @ 7:56 pm

New Release: An Inconvenient Truth

The film was rated PG for “mild thematic elements.” If we’re going to rate it for “thematic elements,” we should give it an “R” or an “X,” because the end of the world scarier to me than other movies. The film is terrifying and quite sobering. We could really lose Earth, as our narrator/speaker Al Gore says. This planet as could be no more because of our actions, the “mistakes” we make with nature.

The film opens with a beautiful shot of a river surrounded by trees and the sounds of nature. It’s like there isn’t a problem in the world. The film waits over two minutes before showing the speaker’s face, but the man behind the voice is former Vice President Al Gore. The majority of the film is a slideshow lecture on global warming, but is intercut with a behind-the-scenes look at his lecture tour and his life before, during and after. He is a much more dynamic than I expected, especially because past speakers have failed to make global warming easier to understand.

The slideshow makes a concerted effort to mix data and bar graphs with humor. The Matt Groening-esque cartoon is great, and Gore’s dry humor comes out at times. Gore uses various quotes from famous writers and thinkers, reinforcing the theme of learning from the past to protect the future. It’s amazing how many problems in history are still around, and the quotes emphasize this (i.e. “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so” – Mark Twain;”It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary demands upon his not understanding it” – Upton Sinclair).

Special features include two commentaries by director Davis Guggenheim and the producers of An Inconvenient Truth: Laurie David, Lawrence Bender, Scott Z. Burns and Lesley Chilcott. I did not watch to these, but I did watch the three other offerings. The first was a short interview with Gore, aptly titled “An Update with Former Vice President Al Gore.” It was filmed a full year after they shot the film, and he shares “new evidence” with the viewers. He touches on topics such as hurricanes, global temperatures, ocean acidification, population, glacial earthquakes, wildfires, soil moisture and melting permafrost. It also features “extended scenes” and new slides. There is a brief behind-the-scenes look at the “Making of An Inconvenient Truth” and a cheesy Melissa Etheridge music video. Gore is portrayed as the lonely crusader. He has given the slide show over a thousand times, but feels he failed to get the message across. Gore wants desperately for his fellow citizens of the world to recognize the problem. Once that happens, the “moral imperative to make big changes is inescapable.” He wants to get rid of the obstacles in peoples’ minds that keep them from understanding. He says the only way the world will get out in the political world is if the issue is on “the tips of constituents’ tongues, or they will say we’ll worry about that tomorrow.” He is optimistic about the possibility of change, despite the pessimistic nature of the issue.However, despite how wonderful it is that he is talking about an issue many people refuse to touch, the film makes it seems he is close to the second coming of Jesus Christ. I am happy there are people trying to make a difference, but I’m also aware there is very little in the world that is pure and apolitical.

Call me a cynic, but I can’t get past the fact he is being paid to make these speeches, and that it is global warming and An Inconvenient Truth that has kept him in the spotlight. Melissa Etheridge sings in front of her own slideshow (clips from the film) in the music video, and the whole thing makes me feel that at any moment she will put down her guitar and pray to the image of Gore. I will readily admit global warming is a political issue, so it’s not as politics can be avoided. Conservative, right-wingers feel a choice has to be made between economy and environment. They fear that if all of the suggested changes are made, the economy will suffer. Theoretically, they’re wrong and we can work together and achieve this goal while helping the economy. Either way, what is most important is not who is right, but that we “rise again to secure our future.”

That is the message. Not the maximized photos of the former vice president.

Classic DVD: The China Syndrome (1979)

As you’ll probably pick up in future columns, my all-time favorite period in American cinema is the 1970s (the “new Hollywood”). The rules were rewritten and films had meanings.

The 1970s was an exciting period in American history. The big issue, of course, was the Vietnam War, but there was also the women’s movement and Watergate…the list goes on. Films were much more politically conscious (even aggressively so) than ever, and many veered away from the stiff constraints of genres in traditional Hollywood. This was not an era of happy endings and riding off into the sunset – films from this time had themes of paranoia, conspiracy and were very, very political.

Reporter Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda) is doing a routine “California Close-Up” story with cameraman Richard (Michael Douglas) and soundman Hector (Daniel Valdez). She is at the Ventana Nuclear Power Plant doing an energy special. A routine tour takes them to the observation booth, where visitors can observe the action in the control room. Suddenly, an alarm goes off and shift supervisor Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon) rushes out of his office. While the emergency is fixed and disaster averted, it is clear that something is wrong.

Apparently, nobody cares. When Richard and Kimberly bring an illegal tape of the incident to their bosses, they refuse to air it. Jack tries to talk to his bosses about the incident, but they don’t want to hear it. Jack reluctantly agrees to help Kimberly and Richard get the truth out, and, as they say, nothing will ever be the same.

Kimberly starts out a skeptic, until Richard introduces her to a couple of his anti-nuclear power friends. She learns in a dry, plodding way that the “China Syndrome is if the energy core is exposed, the fuel heats beyond the “core tolerance.” It melts through the bottom of the plant and deep into the Earth (theoretically to China, hence the name). More likely, it will hit groundwater, and blast into the atmosphere, sending out clouds of radioactivity. The death count would depend on “which way the wind blows.” It’s damn scary and this is not a concept that is very easy to grasp even now.

Another interesting subject addressed is women’s rights. While sexual harassment and prejudice is not exactly non-existent in today’s society, this was a major issue in the 1970s. Kimberly personifies some of the struggles faced by women. She is a good hard-working reporter, but is objectified because she is also attractive. The station manager tells her, “Don’t worry your pretty heard. Let’s face it; you didn’t get this job because of your investigative duties.”

In case the comments of her male superiors don’t get the message across, there are also camera shots like one in the control room of the news station. On one screen, Kimberly is doing an interview; another has a commercial for microwave ovens. Kimberly’s rise above the prejudice to succeed is a major subplot.

The film and its execution may seem dated by today’s standards, but the themes are relevant: power, money, truth and doing the right thing, even if it isn’t the safe thing. It’s about uncovering what really happened and what it means.

Chew on this: the movie was released on March 16, 1979. The film foreshadowed and boy did it ever. On March 28, just 13 days later, the Three Mile Island incident occurred. The power plant had a partial meltdown, which, while complete disaster was eventually averted, opened eyes to the real dangers of power plants.

Just remember this line from An Inconvenient Truth. “It’s human nature to take the time to connect the dots. But there is always the day of reckoning when you wish you had connected them sooner.”


Go See “The Departed”!

Filed under: Film Reviews — meganclose @ 7:55 pm

Well, first let me start off by apologizing. The movie I am reviewing this week is not a brand new release. I am, however, hoping that those of you that, like me, have waited this long to see this movie will stop what you’re doing right now and go out and see it. The film: The Departed.As a film major, you can’t help but love Martin Scorsese. Whether you are the freshman male with the Taxi Driver poster in his bedroom or if you like his lesser well-known films like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore or The Age of Innocence, you always come to the point of respecting, adoring and wanting to be him. And The Departed makes me respect, adore and want to be him even more.

The Departed follows two men from opposite sides of the law as they go undercover and get in over their heads. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Billy Corrigan, a loser from a family of losers (aside from his late father, in whose footsteps he wants to follow). He is determined to become a policeman, but is talked into going undercover within the mafia and becoming one of the fearsome Frank Costello’s men. On the flipside of things is Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), an orphan whose adoptive father is Costello. He graduates from the police academy and quickly rises up the ladder, feeding information to the Irish mafia. Things work well for both of them for a while, until both sides of the law begin to suspect that there is a mole present in their organization. Corrigan and Sullivan are assigned to find out each other’s identities.

The film is based on the film Infernal Affairs, which I have not seen (but probably should have). William Monahan’s script, however, is brilliant. The dialogue and characterizations are amazing, and the twists and turns are believable and either kept me on the edge of my seat or broke my heart (or both). Take my advice and bring a date that doesn’t mind having his/her hand squeezed into paralysis.

But most of all, the acting in The Departed was phenomenal. I don’t know that I could pick one performance that was better than another – all of the actors shone. Even people like Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin, who I was expecting rather lackluster performances from, blew me away. At no point during the film (which was a semi-lengthy two-and-a-half hours) was I conscious of the fact that the six main actors (Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin) were all A-list (or almost A-list) talent that could command millions for a single performance. They were just six guys playing their parts and doing a damn good job at it.

Colin Sullivan is a lot more emotionally distant than Billy Costigan, so a lot of sympathy falls toward the latter. Sullivan has been brought up to be a liar and he is good at it. Once he meets The Girl, however, he tries to change his ways. Costigan has never been a liar, and isn’t very good at it, as is shown during the interrogation scene with Dignam (Mark Wahlberg). He must become a liar, a personally completely different from himself, and after time begins to lose his identity. The whole theme of identity is huge throughout the film – which side are you on, where are you from, where do you belong, who you really are – and we watch as these two men struggle to make sense of it all.

For the first time in a long time, Jack Nicholson’s performance is less Jack and more the actual character. I’ve always been a fan of Nicholson, but lately all of his films seem to give you the smile and “Oh, Jack” reaction. In The Departed, he is the main villain, and while the script doesn’t take too much time to make us understand how he came to be the man he is (other than learning that to succeed in anything have to take care of it yourself, his personal mantra as sorts), the depiction of his character does not suffer. He is about as unappealing as I’ve ever seen him, and he trades in his trademark grin for a sneer.

Welcome comic relief is provided by Alec Baldwin as Ellerby and Mark Wahlberg as Dignam. They have a lot of the best lines in the film, and their characters help to bring a bit of balance to this dark, dark film.

As is characteristic in Scorsese films, the other sex isn’t a very large part of the film. While Vera Farmiga played Madolyn, the therapist Sullivan and Costigan both fall for, the only other female character with reoccurring scenes was Gwen (played by Kristen Dalton), who played Costello’s “girlfriend.”

The film also investigates themes of betrayal and male rage (also characteristic of Scorsese films). These are pretty much always present in mafia/gangster films, but are shown rather than expressed in The Departed. Scorsese has never been butterflies-and-daisies with his scenes, but I have to admit that the blood splatter got a bit gratuitous after a while. While I am quite sure that falling off of a tall building to the concrete sidewalk below isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing experience that a body could go through, I don’t think that the audience needs to see every spurt of blood magnified in order to grasp the severity of the violence in the scene.

Lastly, the themes of sacrifice and good versus evil drive the storyline in The Departed. The Irish community in the film consists of god-fearing Catholics, and there are several aesthetic references to the cross. But religious inferences aside, the film asks some big questions in a more subtle, bittersweet way. What is good and what is evil? How far are you willing to go to protect yourself or those you love? Are you willing to sacrifice yourself for a greater cause?

So it’s been out for a few weeks. Go see it. Trust me.

DVD Highlights for the week of November 21st:An Inconvenient Truth: Director David Guggenheim explains the causes and effects of global warming in this documentary, also featuring lecture footage of former vice president Al Gore. You, Me & Dupree: Kate Hudson and Matt Dillon star as newlyweds who allow Dillon’s friend Owen Wilson to stay as their houseguest. Wilson wreaks comic havoc on their lives.

Scoop: Scarlett Johanssen plays an American journalism major in London who gets a tip from the ghost of a dead journalist. From the tip, she begins to investigate the identity of “The Tarot Card Killer” and winds up falling in love with the main suspect (Hugh Jackman). Woody Allen writes, directs and co-stars.

Ice Age: The Meltdown: The characters from the original Ice Age return as their frozen world begins to melt and they must migrate in order to escape an impending flood.

(Also on DVD: Azumi; Another Gay Movie; Little Athens; Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist: Season Two ; Home Alone: Family Fun Edition; Slayer; Totally Awesome; The Ten Commandments: The Musical; Bang; Death & Texas; School For Seduction; Love Thy Neighbor; Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical ; Been Rich All My Life; Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film; Benjamin Britten: A Time There Was…; Heavy Metal: Louder Than Life; Thin: The Internationale; Heaven: Where Is It? How Do We Get There?; Mafia Empire; Don’t Be Scared; Angora Ranch; Vacationland; and Def Comedy Jam Classics – Volumes One & Two)


“Night Listener” a Dark, Creepy Treat

Filed under: Film Reviews — meganclose @ 7:50 pm

I cringed slightly upon spotting a quote hailing “The Night Listener” as a “Hitchcockian” film. Usually when someone says this, it means that there are shadows and a certain degree of suspense. That term has become a film critic’s cliché. However, while I would compare this film more to M. Night Shyamalan than the great Alfred Hitchcock, the reviewer has a point. There are lots of scenes involving stairs that call “Suspicion” and “Vertigo” to mind, along with the chilly cinematography and score. But, as Robin Williams said in an interview, the film “plays with your perceptions” as Hitchcock’s films did.

Robin Williams stars as Gabriel Noone, a host of a nightly radio show of short fiction. As he begins reading a story, it becomes a voiceover for the rest of the movie. An editor friend of Gabriel’s has passed along a manuscript to him. It is the memoirs of a terminally ill 14-year-old boy, Pete Logand (Rory Culkin). Pete is a victim of horrifying sexual abuse and has been adopted by a social worker, Donna (Toni Colette), who encouraged him to write as means for catharsis. Gabriel is sucked into the book and so moved that he decides to contact Pete. The two begin a telephone friendship, which soon includes Donna as well.

In the midst of all of this, Gabriel has been dumped by his live-in boyfriend, Jess (Bobby Cannavale). In the process of moving out, Gabriel plays him some voicemails left by the Logands and Jess makes a startling observation. Pete and Donna’s voices sound very similar – so similar they may be coming from one person. Gabriel at first denies it, but soon realizes that Jess has a point. And so begins an obsessive cat-and-mouse quest to find the truth.

The film is based on co-screenwriter Armistead Maupin’s best seller. The book itself is taken from real events in Maupin’s life, and the audience is treated to a simple, creepy story. I don’t mean “simple” in that there are no layers or deeper themes – it is an intelligent film. There are a few unanswered questions at the end, but one is still left with a safe degree of closure. The film is also barely 90 minutes, so it feels like a satisfying short story (much like the ones Gabriel reads on the air).

All of the main characters in “The Night Listener” are vulnerable and lonely. Gabriel makes a living telling stories by himself in a studio late at night. The one person who was close to him, Jess, has left him. He has one friend, (Sandra Oh), but is even disconnected from her. Pete has led such a harrowing life; there is no question as to where his feelings of isolation come from. Donna is a single mom in a small town. They all have their handicaps, physical and emotional. And so the three of them find each other, and for a while they don’t feel so alone. This is what is so upsetting to Gabriel – if Pete and Donna aren’t real, then he really is alone.

I would advise you to check the film out. This is not a slasher flick, but it will keep you entertained. There are only two special feature selections on the disc, a brief documentary about the making of the film and a deleted scene. They’re quick, fun little add-ons to the movie, but if you skip them you aren’t missing much. So grab a bowl of popcorn, turn off the lights, and put in “The Night Listener.”

And on the classic film front, my top four favorite Hitchcock movies:

1) “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956) – In his second version of this film, Hitchcock directs Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day as Ben and Jo McKenna, parents vacationing in Morocco with their son, Hank. They meet a mysterious man named Louis Bernard, who is later murdered in front of them in the local marketplace. Before he dies, he whispers details of an assassination plot to Ben. The assassins kidnap Hank in order to keep the McKenna family silent, but Ben and Jo decide to take matters into their own hands. Great performances (Doris Day sheds the cutesy good girl image and shows some real acting chops) and incredible suspense. The scene at the Royal Albert Hall is not to be missed.

2) “North By Northwest” – One of his absolute masterpieces. Cary Grant stars as Roger O. Thornhill, an advertising man who is mistaken for a secret government agent. He finds himself caught in a whirlwind of misadventures and is pursued across the country by spies, the government and a blonde (Eva Marie Saint). Grant is at his most dashing. There is plenty of comedy to mix in with the plot twists.

3) “Psycho” – The Hitchcock film that everybody knows. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) runs the Bates Hotel with his mother. When Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) disappears, her boyfriend (John Gavin) and sister (Vera Miles) hire a private detective (Martin Balsam) to find her. When he disappears, the two come down to investigate for themselves. Treat yourself to great cinematography, a brilliant score, and the infamous shower scene.

4) “Vertigo” – Some hail this as Hitchcock’s best. Jimmy Stewart appears in one of the darkest roles of his career. He plays Scottie Ferguson, a retired policeman, haunted by the death of his partner and battling a serious case of vertigo. He is hired by an old friend to follow his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak). The friend fears she has become possessed by a dead woman, and Scottie is determined to find out. He ends up falling in love and becoming obsessed with her, leading to tragic results. San Francisco is so much a part of the movie it’s like another character.

Also on DVD this week: “The Illusionist” (Edward Norton, Jessica Biel); “Crank” (Jason Statham, Amy Start); “Idiocracy” (Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph); and “Barnyard” (voices of Kevin James & Sam Elliott).


End of Winter Round-Up

Filed under: Film Reviews — meganclose @ 7:49 pm

It actually snowed in Malibu last week. Malibu. California. And, being an East Coast native, I know that it’s much colder on that side of the country. Needless to say, I am ready for winter to end. And what better way to anticipate and celebrate such a great occasion than to plan a movie outing? Below is a selection of films that are scheduled to come out before March 20th, the first day of spring.

Films I’m Excited About Category:

In Seraphim Falls (Jan. 26), a former Confederate Army colonel (Liam Neeson) and his gang relentlessly pursue a wanted man (Pierce Brosnan) and have a final face-off in the New Mexican desert. I would watch Pierce Brosnan read the phone book, but he has been making great film choices lately. He was fabulous in The Matador, and the idea of two of my favorite actors (and Angelica Huston, who’s amazing) making an old-fashioned western is just too perfect to resist.

I saw the trailer for Breach (Feb. 16), and it looked great. Movies about the intelligence community are either, well, intelligent, or awful. This looks like it may be the former. FBI newbie Eric (Ryan Phillippe) finds himself working for Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper). He finds out that his boss may be responsible for the greatest security breach in US history and has to prove this without Hanssen finding out. This was inspired by a true story and also features Laura Linney, who is pretty consistent.

Based on the Robert Graysmith books, Zodiac (Mar. 2) follows Zodiac, a serial killer who terrorized San Francisco with a string of seemingly random murders during the 1960s and 1970s. Jake Gyllenhaal (who needs repeat the caliber of his performance in Brokeback Mountain sometime soon), Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey, Jr. star. Films about serial killers are always interesting, so we’ll see if this reaches its potential.

Will Either Be Great or Just Plain Awful Category:

Smokin’ Aces (Jan. 26) is quite the star-studded film, featuring the likes of Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Jason Batemen, Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta and Jeremy Piven. Snitch Buddy Israel (Piven) is set to testify against the mob, and a motley crew of characters set out to make sure he ends up dead. Cool cast, looks stylish, could be a violent Ocean’s 11.

I had the opportunity to read the script for The Number 23 (Feb. 23, cute) and found it intriguing. Can Jim Carrey excel outside of his preferred comedy métier? An average Joe finds a book by chance that seems to be based on his life. It ends with a murder that has yet to happen in real life, and the catch is that the author (and later Carrey) realize that everything is connected to the number 23. It was a creepy script, hopefully it will translate well to film.

The Not a Chance Category:

 I loved Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30. The guilty pleasure movie was cute and silly and she was almost reminiscent of Meg Ryan in the early 1990s. But there is just no way Catch & Release (Jan. 26) can be a hit. This is screenwriter Susannah Grant’s directorial debut. She wrote Erin Brockovich, which did supremely well, and so liked her script that she decided to direct. In my mind, Garner is in the middle of a slump, and this is not the movie to revive it. The story follows Gray (Garner), who has to come to terms with the death of her fiancé and all of his secrets. His friends help her out, and she finds herself falling for the least likely guy in the trio. Clichés up the wazoo, but I do want it to be good. I want to do an “I believe in a thing called love” dance after seeing it. Maybe it would have more of a chance if it was opening on Valentine’s Day. We’ll see.

As Nicolas Cage was my first bona fide star sighting since moving to Los Angeles, I have a special little place in my heart for him. However, I don’t think even my allegiance to Mr. Cage will get me in the theaters to see Ghost Rider (Feb.16). Maybe it’s because I have never been a huge comic book fan, but the plot doesn’t exactly intrigue me. According to, “stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze gives up his soul to become a hellblazing vigilante, [and] to fight against power hungry Blackheart, the son of the devil himself.” Peter Fonda co-stars, but even the original Easy Rider won’t get me in to see this one.

The “Not another one!” Category:

Can they just not let The Silence of the Lambs series die? The first was great, Hannibal was awful, Red Dragon was good, but another one? Hannibal Rising (Feb. 9) shows Lector as a child in war-torn Lithuania and his descent into serial (cannibal) killer status. I am curious to see how they manage to bundle this one up, as they don’t even have Anthony Hopkins to save them.

Norbit comes out on Feb. 9 as well. Why do they keep paying Eddie Murphy to make movies like this? Basically the plot is this: a mild-mannered guy (Murphy) is engaged to a fat woman (Murphy), meets the woman of his dreams (Thandie Newton), and schemes to be with her instead. So yet again, we have Eddie Murphy in a “fat suit,” catering to the 12-year-old boy crowd. He just got nominated for a Golden Globe and then we have this?

Epic Movie (Jan. 26) also continues in a series (Date Movie, Scary Movie, etc). Four orphans join forces with a pirate, wizard students and other cliché characters in a quest to destroy the evil queen of Gnarnia.

Hopefully these will tide you over until spring and the big summer blockbusters (Spiderman 3, Die Hard 4). Thaw out and enjoy.