The Astronaut Farmer   (Tremendous)
          It’s kind of like Field Of Dreams In Space.
          That’s not to say The Astronaut Farmer is a science fiction movie, although you do have to suspend some belief if you’re going to buy into the idea.
          Billy Bob Thornton plays the conveniently named Charles Farmer.  He’s a former astronaut and family farmer who never gave up on the dream of going into space.  In fact, he’s built a rocket in his barn, and he insists on launching himself into orbit.
          Everyone thinks he’s crazy, and if you apply common sense, everyone is right. There is no need for him to put his family’s welfare and finances at risk for such a thing that benefits nobody but himself.  Child welfare really should be concerned, the government really should be checking on where he got all that rocket fuel and what he’s going to do with it, and everybody in town really should be whispering behind his back.
          But gosh darn it, everyone involved is so down-to-earth and friendly, and Charles is so determined without being arrogant or rude, you want to see that rocket take off.  The people around him have their doubts, but they also have Charles' best interests at heart.  They don’t want to squash his dream, they just want to make sure he's alright.  That’s even true of the little town’s public officials, who are also Charles' childhood friends.  Even one of the most prominent of his detractors,  a friend from NASA, hopes deep down that ol' Charles Farmer can pull this off. (He’s played by a big star who is uncredited.  I won’t spoil it, but he’s very good here.)

          Charles keeps his family involved the whole time (including the excellent Virginia Madsen as his wife), guaranteeing the movie will get consistent play on cable family channels for years to come.
          It's all gentle Americana-- a movie about a farmer and an astronaut?  How could it not be a feel good film?  


Bad News Bears    (It Is What It Is)
          Good news about Bad News. It doesn't mess with the original starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal.
          Bad news about Bad News. Director Richard Linklater's remake is so close to the original, there's really no reason to go see this.
          The sole reason would be Billy Bob Thornton, stepping in for Matthau as Morris Buttermaker, a washed-up ballplayer assigned to coach a group of oddballs. Thornton is funny, and I did laugh a few times at his less-than-politically correct humor (but if you really want to laugh at Thornton and some kids, go rent Bad Santa. Or even better-- Badder Santa.)
          What was funny about the first movie is still funny today.  I laughed watching a kid mix Thornton a martini and seeing a series of children get hit by baseballs. (I'm sorry, getting hit is funny. It just is.)
          A couple of the kids are pretty good actors, but the reason the movie belongs to Thornton is that none of them are close to a match for him. These kids could yet go on to better things, but none of them is a star like Tatum O'Neal.
          Like the original, this is not a "kid's movie." If you're taking small children, they will learn a few new vocabulary words. My parents wouldn't let me see the original for the same reason. Thankfully my friends had cable.
           If you have cable, check the guide to see if Linklater's School Of Rock is on. That's a better movie about a bum helping a bunch of misfit kids find their way. Or look for the original Bad News Bears. Then watch from the comfort of home unless you feel the need to see the story updated with references to the internet and Mark McGwire.


Batman Begins  (Tremendous)
          There's a scene in Batman Begins when Dr. Thomas Wayne comforts his young son Bruce asking "Why do we fall?" and answers "So we can learn how to get back up."
          Bruce's alter ego's fallen a few times since he was introduced in 1939.  There have been moments of brilliance in the comics pages, but there was also a "dark age" where he was followed around not just by Robin the Boy Wonder but by Ace The Bat Hound and a magical pixie named Bat-Mite.  There was the fantastic movie in 1989 starring Michael Keaton set in a comic book world created by director Tim Burton--- which led to a film series ending with the movie starring George Clooney set in a campy over-the-top world created by director Joel Schumacher.
          Can the Batman movie franchise get back up again?
          To revive the Dark Knight, Warner Brothers has turned to a couple of darker artists.  Our dynamic duo is director Christopher Nolan, known for Insomnia and the cult favorite Memento, and actor Christian Bale, known for the title role in American Psycho.
          Bale's a great choice, because let's face it:  I love Batman, you love Batman, we all love Batman-- but he's something of an American Psycho himself.  His parents are murdered, he puts on a bat costume and seeks justice for their murder by taking on all criminals.  This is the first Bat-movie to really explore why he does it and how he got the way he is.  Like the title suggests, it goes back to the beginning.  It's our first look at Bruce Wayne going into seclusion to train himself in his mission.
         Some real care went into the script to make sure that simple "comic book" concepts are explained and make sense.  Batman Begins explains things in ways that sometimes even the original comics don't.  Where does he get those weapons?  How did the Wayne family get all their money?  What's with the cave underneath Wayne Manor?  How does he disguise himself so well and stay in the shadows?
         And for that matter-- why a bat?
         It's because Bruce Wayne's afraid of them, and he wants to take that fear and throw it back at criminals.
         Fear and symbolism are big themes of the movie.  They're part of the Batman character and also parts of the villains this time out.  We have terrorist cult leader Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) and the master of fear The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy of 28 Days Later.)  The Scarecrow in particular is a great character, and the effects of his "fear gas" are some of the coolest moments.
         But for the first time onscreen, the villains don't overshadow the hero.  This is really about Batman, and Christian Bale is up to it.  He does a great job in three roles when you think about it:  Batman, the private Bruce Wayne and the public Bruce Wayne.  Which is the real guy?  Like I said, the guy who played American Psycho is a good choice.
         Bale is backed up by a supporting cast of real heavyweights.  Michael Caine is Alfred the butler and is way more interesting than Alfred ever has been before.  He has some of the movie's best lines, but he's not just comic relief.  We see why he's so important to Bruce Wayne.
          Gary Oldman is Sgt. Gordon (the future commissioner), Batman's closest ally.  Oldman is a chameleon-- he's played Dracula, Lee Harvey Oswald, Sid Vicious, Pontius Pilate.... but this is the first time I can recall him playing a decent, working class guy.  He's the lone good cop in the corrupt Gotham.  I have no idea what Gary Oldman's real voice sounds like-- so either this is his real voice (doubtful) or he's found another convincing one.
          Liam Neeson is great in the "Qui-Gon Jinn" role of Henri Ducard, the martial arts master who trains Bruce Wayne during his time away from civilization.  And Morgan Freeman has some great moments as Lucius Fox, the inventor at Wayne Enterprises who creates, among other things, the Batmobile.  The Batmobile is a character all its own in the Batman tv and movies series.  If you look forward to seeing it and what it can do, you'll enjoy it here.
          Katie Holmes is love interest Rachel Dawes (made up for the movie), and her real-life romance with the guy from War Of The Worlds is probably a little more interesting.  She's thrown in because they needed a woman in there somewhere.   (There's only one woman for Batman, and that's Catwoman.  But it's too early to introduce her.)
          The special effects are good and not as dependent on CGI as some other comic book movies have been.  There's good stunt work and great visuals, as Chicago is transformed into a Gotham that has a dark look unique from the visions of Burton or Schumacher.
          Despite the name Batman Begins, I'm glad this wasn't the first modern Batman movie.  Like when watching Star Wars Episode III-- Revenge Of The Sith, seeing an iconic character transform from one thing to another is more meaningful if we are already well-acquainted with the icon.
          Batman should be able to keep going after this.  He got back up.


Because I Said So   (Kept Checking My Watch)
            Imagine you've been invited to a dinner party and the hosts are an overbearing woman and her three daughters.  And to entertain their guests after dinner, the four of them get up and sing some oldies.  Only one of them can sing.
            That happens in Because I Said So.  I sat there and said "Why the hell would anyone want to go to a party where this is the entertainment?"  And I realized I was sitting through a movie where that scene was supposed to be the entertainment.
             Diane Keaton is the overbearing mother.  She lives through her three daughters, and as a long-time single woman, she desperately wants to keep them from making the mistakes she's made.  For the time of this movie, it's youngest daughter Millie, played by Mandy Moore, who finds herself needing a man.  So Keaton takes out a personal ad for her and screens the potential candidates.  The two most promising are a live-for-the-moment musician and a yuppie.
            Guess which one we're supposed to root for and which one we're supposed to root against?  Of course the yuppie will come off as soulless.  He's one of the chick flick elements we've seen before:  along with Mandy Moore's snorting laugh, the above-mentioned sing-along, and a precocious kid who tells women "You have a vagina."  I feel like I've seen that kid a lot. 
             The chick flick clichés can work well with good acting or a good story (they worked last week in Catch And Release), but this movie just isn't funny and no one in it is very good.  The makers may have been in awe of Diane Keaton and decided to let her do whatever she wanted.  They should have pulled her back a bit to make her likeable.  Mandy Moore's character-- doomed to repeat her mother's mistakes-- takes after her mother in the annoying department.  The other two sisters, played by the talented Lauren Graham and Piper Perabo, have nothing to do.
             This movie sucks.  Because I said so.

          

Bewitched   (Tremendous)
          I made a joke on the air that halfway through Bewitched, they ought to just replace Will Farrell's Darrin with another actor, just to acknowledge the whole Dick York-Dick Sargent thing. Don't say anything about it-- just have Vince Vaughan or somebody play Darrin for the second half of the movie and see if people catch it.
          I still like the idea, but the new Bewitched is different from other recent tv to film adaptations so my brilliant casting scheme won't work.
          Will Farrell doesn't play Darrin Stevens, he plays Jack Wyatt, an actor cast as Darrin in a new tv adaptation of Bewitched. It's a clever way to take a franchise and put it on the big screen without making us say "not another remake." So Nicole Kidman is playing an actress who's playing Samantha and Shirley MacLaine is playing an actress who's playing Endora. (Sadly, no Larry Tate-- denied!)
          Jack's fear of being replaced makes him push the new Bewitched producers to cast an unknown as Samantha, ensuring that he remain the star. So they cast a girl named Isabel (Nicole Kidman), who has never acted before. Little do they know-- she actually is a witch. And soon she becomes the one getting all the attention.
          She should. Nicole Kidman has been beautiful onscreen, she's been sexy-- this time she's just downright cute. You can believe the TV audience would fall in love with her, and certainly that Jack would. The film is much more a romantic comedy than a TV remake. It's written and directed by Nora Ephron, who wrote When Harry Met Sally, and while this is no Harry Met Sally, it's a charming little romantic story.
          Will Farrell is his usual hysterial self, and despite my casting idea, I would have hated seeing him replaced halfway through. Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine as Kidman's father are very funny too. (That's two weeks in a row Caine has provided a stand-out supporting role).  The movie itself is funny, much in the same way the TV show was.  It's gentle humor that won't offend anybody.  One semi-dirty word comes up once, and Isabel is shocked by it.
          Bewitched was the perfect show for the "remake within a remake" idea. There haven't been any other Bewitched remakes or reunions over the years. Yes, I KNOW the leads are all dead, but still, Bewitched is a show that producers have not gone overboard with on the nostalgia. (I can't take another Brady Bunch reunion, the Real Gilligan's Island reality show is awful.)  And before their deaths, the cast didn't milk the Bewitched thing into the ground.  They'd moved on.
          The movie industry is facing its worst attendance since 1985, and one reason cited is that Hollywood keeps recycling the same old garbage. It sure is, but not in this case. Don't think Bewitched is any other remake.

Big Momma's House 2  (Kept Checking My Watch)
          Of course, it's stupid, it's a sequel to a movie called Big Momma's House. The problems are that Big Momma's House 2 isn't funny, is at times ludicrous and tries to pretend it's a heart-warming family story.
          Martin Lawrence is again FBI agent Malcolm Turner going undercover as "Big Momma" in a disguise as an overweight elderly woman that somehow fools everyone around him. It's an amazing suit-- he can slip it on and off with ease. When Big Momma needs to be somewhere, there she is, and when Malcolm needs to be himself with only about a ten minute turnaround, he's out of the whole ensemble faster than Superman ever changed back to Clark Kent. Yet for some reason, when he's in "hot pursuit," he leaves the whole clunky thing on so it can get in his way when he's in a hurry.
          He goes undercover as a nanny because his former partner-- the man who taught him all he knows-- is killed on an assignment while investigating the family's father. . He becomes Big Momma on his own, because the FBI won't let him on the case. Of course, instead of sharing information, he gets in their way as if he's in a race to catch the people who killed his partner. You'll have to remind yourself of that motivation-- the partner isn't mentioned again after the initial setup.
          When not undermining his colleagues, Malcolm is putting his marriage at risk by being Big Momma. He'd promised his wife (Nia Long) he was done with undercover work. So he keeps the assignment a secret from her. Good thing too, because boy is she moody. Of course, she's pregnant so that's her excuse. That would be the only reason director John Whitesell made her pregnant-- to explain why this rational woman is so angry all the time. She's so emotional that when she finds an extra large pair of undies, she assumes Malcolm's having an affair with an extra large woman. She doesn't assume that he's Big Momma again, even though she was in the first movie and knew the truth about Big Momma. Apparently, Whitesell thinks pregnancy makes women dumb too.
          PARTIAL SPOILER ALERT:  I'll give away some of the ending. It's not enough to be "funny"-- the makers of Big Momma's House 2 have to add sentiment too. Maybe that's why he forgets his dead partner-- he's more attached to the kids, even though he doesn't care enough about them to tell them the truth. As if he was Mary Poppins, he leaves them mysteriously, with a letter telling them not to worry: "Big Momma will always be in your hearts" or some such nonsense. He's further away from Mary Poppins than Nanny McPhee is (read more under "See If You Want.") What would be the harm to tell the kids the truth when it's all over?  But this way the movie ends with a sappy letter and scarily, a promise that "Big Momma will be back someday."
          I'll be fair and point out the one thing I liked. There's a little kid who climbs on things and jumps off. Man, that was funny.

 

Black Snake Moan   (Tremendous)
            It’s not as lurid as it all sounds.
           Black Snake Moan is the story of an old bluesman, who chains a half-naked white trash nymphomaniac to a radiator in his home.
          OK, maybe it is pretty lurid, especially if you look at the movie poster of Bluesman Samuel L. Jackson standing over the Nymphomaniac Christina Ricci, who’s chained and at his knees.
          From the opening shots of real life blues legend Son House talking about the meaning of the blues and of Ricci and boyfriend Justin Timberlake... um… indulging her mania… you think this will be a lurid classic.  You think to yourself that this could be the Snake-Titled Cult Movie that Jackson didn’t get to experience with Snakes On A Plane.  But Jackson doesn’t have Ricci chained up for lascivious reasons, he’s keeping her there until The Devil leaves her.  It’s not about sex, it’s about redemption.
          It’s also about comedy, believe it or not.  There are some good moments of dark humor that come out of having a half-naked white trash nymphomaniac tied to a radiator in your home.  It’s almost a twisted Three’s Company.
          Jackson is great as our bluesman looking to redeem Ricci and himself, but you knew he would be.  Ricci is great as the girl who doesn’t understand her own issues or how far she’s fallen, but you probably knew she would be.  And Justin Timberlake?  He’s good.  His music may not be for you, but the former N’Syncer is actually a pretty talented actor.  His character may seem like a throwaway at first, but there’s more to him than meets the eye.  If you feel like the guy is everywhere, he probably is—but he’s earning it.
          Black Snake Moan’s redemptive theme will keep it from being the lurid cult classic you might have hoped it would be, but it’s still a unique movie that shouldn’t disappoint. 

Blades Of Glory   (Tremendous)
         Will Ferrell must want to be asked back every year to be a presenter at the ESPYs.  The star of Kicking & Screaming and Talladega Nights is starring in another sports movie, where he gets to take his big and less than athletic frame and put it into an arena it has no business being in.
          He is Chazz Michael Michaels, a rock and roll figure skater who’s really just Talladega’s Ricky Bobby sporting the mullet Ricky Bobby’s fans had.  His main rival is Jimmy MacElroy, played by Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder.  Ricky Bobby is all attitude and does his routines to Billy Squire’s “The Stroke.”  Jimmy is more delicate.  As Chazz describes him he’s “like a 15 year old girl but not hot.”  The two end up in a fight on the ice and are banned from the sport. 
           But they find a loophole—they can be a team.  So Chazz and Jimmy become the first all-male figure skating duo.
           It’s as ridiculous as it sounds.  It’s also very funny.  The choreography is hysterical as the two perform in some oddball and even awkward positions.  The movie includes the best use ever of Aerosmith’s cheeseball ballad “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.”  None of the skating is as funny as a foot chase late in the movie where the hunted and the hunter keep their skates on the whole time.
           Ferrell is the guy for this kind of comedy, and his fans will eat it up.  Heder still strikes me as a kid out of his element in the big movies.  Napoleon Dynamite was one thing, but he really doesn’t have the presence to pull off another character.  He’s probably funny among his friends, but he doesn’t compare to the more seasoned members of the cast.  They include some TV comedy all-stars: SNL’s Amy Poehler, her real-life husband Will Arnett from Arrested Development and The Office’s Jenna Fischer.
          Skating enthusiasts may appreciate the cameos from stars like Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill and Brian Boitano.  They may wish they were in a classier production, but if they can laugh at the outfits, the music and the routines, then so should the fans.


Blood Diamond   (Tremendous)
          Three months salary is nothing to give up for a diamond—not if there are people giving up arms, legs and members of their family.
          Blood Diamond takes place amid civil war in 1999 Sierra Leone, where factions are warring over their country’s diamonds.  Whoever controls the “conflict diamonds” essentially controls their country.  The conflict over the diamonds is as bloody as the title suggests, and might be enough to make you feel bad about the ring on your finger.
          It might not though, since the conflict is in the recent past, not the here and now.  The set-up could make you feel a bit guilty, but once the initial preaching is over, Blood Diamond shifts into a gripping action movie with all-too-real stakes.
          Leonardo DiCaprio plays a soldier-of-fortune type out for one big score:  he stumbles across an African man played by Djimon Hounsou (best known for a breakout role in Amistad) who himself has stumbled on a diamond large enough to make anyone’s fortune and give anyone in the conflict the upper hand.  Hounsou had to leave the diamond behind, so the two embark on a quest to find it again.
          Their quest is a little longer than it needs to be, but when the action picks up, it is intense.
          DiCaprio is on a roll, following his perhaps career-best work in the superior The Departed.  He’s a convincing solider-of-fortune and a surprisingly good action hero.  The real standout though is Hounsou, who could care less about the diamond—he’s trying to get back his son, who’s been taken by revolutionaries and trained to become one of them (the most vivid images in the movie are these young children becoming soldiers).  Hounsou is great through the movie, especially in the climactic scene, where his emotions are just amazing. 
          That scene is one of many bloody ones that will stay with you afterward.  There’s a lot of blood in Blood Diamond—again, it may be enough to make you feel a little badly about that diamond.  But the ending also puts things into perspective, so if you feel badly, you’ll only feel as badly as you need to. 


The Brave One
          The Brave One is a good movie, but it’s not the movie it thinks it is.
          Honestly, it’s really just a variation of a Charles Bronson Death Wish movie, but because it stars a woman and is shot more artfully, it thinks it’s more of a thought-provoking message movie.
          Jodie Foster plays a liberal radio talk show host for the kind of program nobody listens to but smart people say they do because it makes them sound smart.  She’s a storyteller; she wanders her beloved New York City with a microphone and goes on the air to talk about the sounds she captures.  One day, she and her boyfriend are brutally attacked (and it is brutal), and her perspective on life changes—so much so, she becomes a gun-toting vigilante out to clean up the streets herself. 
          Some of the action scenes are pretty good, and there’s an intriguing game of cat-and-mouse between Foster and a detective played by Terence Howard.  Foster is effective as a vigilante who wonders what she’s become, much as in real life she may wonder how she became an action hero in movies like The Brave One, Panic Room and Flightplan.
          Her soul searching is of course there to make us, the viewers, sit and think about violence and punishment.  The problem is once you start thinking too much, you realize how ridiculous Foster’s new world is.  Someone who is the victim of a horrible crime would look at the world differently, but in The Brave One, it’s not her perspective that changes, it’s her physical world.  Post-attack, crime is everywhere.  It’s not just that Foster looks at her fellow New Yorkers with more suspicion—it’s as if the crime perpetrated on her opened the flood gates for more crime in New York.  It follows her around at a ludicrous rate, so much so, that The Brave One becomes Death Wish 6 (I think that’s where they left off).
         There’s nothing all that wrong with putting out Death Wish 6, but the makers of The Brave One figure they need a female Oscar winner if they’re going to get us asking questions.  But really, there’s no reason an intelligent mind can’t watch Death Wish and still do some thinking.

Capote/Good Night, And Good Luck
(reviewed together for WHAM Radio -- both ranked "Tremendous")
          I'm lumping both movies together because each has been out for a few weeks already (look, I can't do everything), and because both are real stories about powerful and charismatic figures who symbolize the changing face of their mediums.
          First up: Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in Capote. He's been creepy (Happiness), funny (Along Came Polly), and has played charismatic real-life figures (Almost Famous) before. The Fairport native does all three here, pulling off the best performance of his career and maybe the best performance by anyone this year.  As of this writing, I stand by that.  David Stathairn (see below) and Joaquin Phoenix are both being mentioned as Oscar contenders. Both would be well-deserved, but Hoffman is better. Hoffman's going to face a challenge though. Strathairn and Phoenix play icons, and affection for who they play may persuade voters.
          The film covers Capote writing his most infamous work:   In Cold Blood. Already a celebrity journalist (one who covers celebrities and becomes one himself) in the 1960s, Capote would gain major fame with the unprecedented success of In Cold Blood. (An author becomes a major star, without wizards!)  He never wrote again after Blood, likely because of what we see in the movie. The flamboyant writer goes to smalltown Kansas to cover the murder of an entire family. He's drawn to one of the killers and even helps his defense-- until he realizes not helping will ensure his book has a better ending.
          It cannot be easy to play someone like Truman Capote and be convincing. His small stature, his speech patterns and his blatant homosexuality would make Capote easy to parody (and he has been parodied many times), but Hoffman hits everything that made the late writer such a charismatic, imposing and tortured person.
          In Cold Blood itself was made into a movie, ironically starring future murder suspect Robert Blake as killer Perry Smith. Smith's story became a book, but had it happened now, it would have been exactly the type of tabloid story that the Blake story did.
          Which leads to my now-telegraphed segue to Good Night, And Good Luck, covering the battle between legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
          It's a very good movie with a very narrow target audience. You know McCarthy was a bad guy (He had an "ism" named after him. That tends to make you either really good or really bad). Anyone interested in this movie already knows that. Still, director George Clooney and the actor playing McCarthy do a very good job reminding us what a nutcase the guy was.
          That's because the actor playing McCarthy is McCarthy himself. When he's onscreen, it's actual footage. Now, one could try and argue Clooney manipulates the footage to prove his point, but this movie takes place in the early days of TV journalism when interviews weren't chopped up into ten second soundbites. The movie is in black and white because that's what TV was like back then, and the footage speaks for itself, because that's what it did back then.
          Clooney is something of an activist in the real world, the kind that listeners to right-wing talk radio often shout: "Shut up and make a movie." So he did. Clooney does lecture, but I didn't sit there and think: "Take that McCarthy and all you modern day McCarthys." I thought: "Man, he's being harsh on the media." If you're one of the aforementioned right-wing radio listeners (and I talk to you people everyday), you may enjoy a movie that tells you what you often tell me: the media doesn't do a good enough job today getting to the facts and to what's important. Our perspectives on what's important may be different, but good journalism would let us make up our own minds.
          David Strathairn is a convincing Murrow-- a powerful journalist with the integrity to stand up to McCarthy. My peers and I would bow down if such a man came into our newsrooms, but Good Night doesn't make Murrow perfect. He argues with his boss about whether he's too biased in his take on McCarthy, and admittedly, his boss has a point. His network wants him to cover what people care about-- so for every expose on McCarthy, Murrow has to do an interview with a celebrity like Liberace.
          Kudos to Clooney for his supporting role in the movie as TV news producer Fred Friendly. (Cue the corny music)  News producers are complex individuals who juggle many tasks. They are often invisible to the public. You don't see or hear what they do, but if they stopped doing it, you'd notice.
          But before I get too full of myself and how much I've learned from Good Night, And Good Luck, I'd better hit "save" so I can get on the air and talk about Lindsay Lohan and who got voted off Survivor.  I appreciate the lesson George, and I will encourage my peers to take it seriously. But sometimes you do have to give people what they want too.

Casino Royale   (It Is What It Is)
           Batman got to begin again, Superman returned, so why shouldn’t James Bond get a fresh start?
           In some ways, restarting Bond is more of a challenge than a superhero.  Batman and Superman are more timeless—Bond is a creation of the Cold War, and no matter what the Pierce Brosnan movies did with him, he’ll always be tied to that dynamic.
           And to make skeptical fans even more skeptical—they cast a blonde.
           So how is Daniel Craig as Blonde, James Blonde?  We still don’t really know.  The movie is either a prequel to when Craig really gets to play Bond or a way to hide the fact that Craig isn’t the guy.
           Casino Royale is based on the very first Ian Fleming Bond novel (although it takes place this year.  Cell phones are important from the beginning, and Judi Dench’s M announces “I miss the Cold War” to make sure you get it).  He’s just earned his “double-o” status (license to kill) and is still a little green and prone to some mistakes. 
           He’s also not “James Bond” yet.  He is a womanizer, but he’s more silent action hero than suave superspy.  He has no fancy gadgets; instead he relies on his physical strength and speed (Bond does a lot of running). He does very little talking, and while there’s some charm there, there’s none of the quips we expect from him.  This is not the same guy.  That’s especially evident toward the end—just when you think the movie is over, he acts so un-Bond like, it’s almost a turn-off. 
           Casino Royale is also not really a typical Bond movie.  With no gadgets, there’s no Q.  There’s no Moneypenny.  That might be a refreshing change for you, or it might be a disappointment.
           There is action.  The movie starts with a great chase at a construction site, and later we get an explosive scene at Miami’s airport before the movie flies to Venice and Montenegro for more action.  (Although I’m going to take away points for the action coming to a halt during a way-too-long poker game).
           Bond does get some of the “other” kind of action we expect from him, but Casino Royale doesn’t give us any Bond women that will rank with the best of them.  Eva Green does an okay job, but she seemed plain to me as Bond women go.  There’s certainly nothing as memorable as Ursula Andress or Halle Berry in their bathing suits coming out of the water.  Although if you’re a Craig fan, you’ll enjoy him in his bathing suit.  Craig and the filmmakers are obviously very proud of Craig’s muscles. 
           There are hints that we could see the “real” Bond before long.  So for now, as an action movie, Casino Royale is passable.  As James Bond, we’ll judge Daniel Craig when he plays him.


Catch and Release   (Tremendous)
           Catch and Release practically screams Blatant Chick Flick.  Jennifer Garner stars as a woman whose fiancé dies just before their wedding day.  Heck, the cake is in her refrigerator ready to go.  She learns some upsetting things about her fiancé she didn't know before he died.  Her would-have-been mother-in-law wants the engagement ring.  She moves in with them to get emotional and financial support.  His friends, all of whom love her in their own way, rally behind her. 
           It might as well be an episode of What About Brian.
           Heck, it practically is an episode of What About Brian.  But what distinguishes Catch and Release from your run-of-the-mill chick flick or TV show are strong performances and relatable characters.  (I know nobody else watches What About Brian, but it's the chick show on my radar.  That Brian has nice hair)
           Garner herself stays grounded enough to let us identify with character.  She's certainly a pretty woman, but there's never a drop-dead gorgeous moment for her.  Nor should there be.  She's in mourning after all, there's no need for her to get all glammed up.  She doesn't wallow in the grief long enough for us too depressed, but she keeps an appropriate amount of grief tucked away in her performance to never let us forget what she's dealing with.
            She's also not forced to carry the movie on her own.  Timothy Olyphant, as the token chick flick badboy, is very good as a supportive friend to both Garner and, in an odd way, to his deceased friend's memory.  I was most impressed with Kevin Smith in the token comic relief role.  I sometimes think Smith as a director is a little full of himself, and that he comes off that way in his few acting roles or his DVD commentaries.  I even think he manages to do that as Silent Bob somehow.  This isn't his material, so he can't get full of himself.  He may also be channeling a real-life what-if situation.  Garner is married to Ben Affleck, an old friend of Smith's.  The two of them work well together, and you can't help but wonder if they're pretending Ben's dead.
             Interestingly, for such a chick flick, there aren't a lot of chicks.   Garner's support group is all guys.  The strong male presence may have made the movie more tolerable for me, I'll be curious if women will mind.  Oh who am I kidding--  Jennifer Garner ......  and Timothy Olyphant smiles a lot.  Women will love it. 

The Cave   (Kept Checking My Watch)
          At the risk of giving away some of the ending of The Cave, I did a head count at the end to keep track of who made it and who didn't.  I don't even remember one guy getting killed.
          That'll happen when the cast is pretty much made up of interchangeable pretty-boy tough guys.  They've all got attitudes, they all think they're the best, and they all take their cave exploration duties very, very seriously.  "Respect the cave," one of them says in all seriousness before they head off on their most dangerous expedition yet.
          That expedition involves checking out a miles-long underground cave.  It's a dangerous enough assignment without the demons or monsters or parasites or whatever they are attacking them.  I mention they're parasites because one of the tough guys gets taken over by them, even though the only side effect seems to be changing eye color and extreme irritability.
          I know it's called The Cave, so I shouldn't be surprised the movie is dark.  It's already bad enough you can't tell the characters apart (to be fair, there is a black guy and an Asian guy, so while they have the same tough guy attitudes, I could thankfully pick out a couple of guys), but once they're in the cave, you can't tell up from down, left from right, underground from underwater.  That hopeless feeling of being lost could be cool if they got all Blair Witch on us, but since these cocky cave explorers remains super confident, I couldn't share the adventure with them.

Charlie & The Chocolate Factory    (Tremendous)
          I've never read Roald Dahl's Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, but if I take Tim Burton's word for it, it takes place in an absurd world where a child can dream of getting a golden ticket to get into a magical chocolate factory.
          I kind of got that impression from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, but I'm going to be upfront and admit I didn't see it in its entirety until after I went to a screening of Tim Burton's new Charlie.  (I can't wait until the fall when I can review movies with original ideas and not have to rent the original for "comparisons.")   For some reason, as a kid, I always fell asleep when Willy Wonka was on.  I remember Augustus Gloop falling into the chocolate river, but it occurred to me while watching Charlie that I had no idea how this thing ended. 
          So as I watched Wonka with adult eyes, I was struck by how absurd some of the ideas are.  Why are all four grandparents sharing a bed?  Why does the whole world care so much about five kids winning a trip inside a chocolate factory?  I KNOW it doesn't have to make sense, but minus the modern special effects, Willy Wonka wasn't absurd enough for my modern eyes.  It felt like silly things were happening in the real world.
          Tim Burton takes every idea from the original and makes them all the more extreme.  The entire world becomes a cartoon where the most popular person in the world would be a guy who runs a chocolate factory.  Augustus Gloop is even more of a glutton, Veruca Salt is even more of a brat, her father is even more scared of her, Charlie's family has even less money-- Burton's approach makes the story more of a fairy tale and makes the lessons more meaningful. 
          His most impressive creation would be the Oompa Loompas.  The midgets in weird makeup have been replaced by one man-- diminutive actor Deep Roy, who is replicated to play every single Oompa Loompa. 
          Charlie by the way is an even nicer and humbler kid.  As the title suggests, the movie is more about him than it is Wonka, and Freddie Highmore (last seen as Peter in Finding Neverland).
          And then there's Willy Wonka himself, played by Burton's frequent collaborator Johnny Depp.  Like the rest of the movie, Wonka is a more exaggerated version of what we got in 1971.  He ends up not being as charming as Gene Wilder but is instead a slightly darker version of the character.  He has some good moments, but Depp has done a better job in the past of bringing Burton's visions alive.  Burton does give the character more depth by introducing a backstory for Wonka including a father.  In a twist on the Disney method of making children orphans, Burton gives fathers to both Charlie and Willy Wonka.
          Yes, I couldn't help but think Depp was a lot like Michael Jackson, between the scary appearance and the idea of inviting kids to come stay in his secluded retreat.  I've been asked if he's too scary for kids.  I wouldn't think so.  For some reason, kids like Michael Jackson.  And he can't be scarier than Gene Wilder in Wonka's psychedlic sequence:  "There is no way of KNOWING, which way we are GOING, and the madness is GROWING...."
          They won't be scared.   I think kids (or guys like me) who haven't seen both will like this better.  If you're a fan of the original, it may be nostalgic for you... or you may consider it a travesty that they made this.  That's up to you.  But this is a better movie.  Willy Wonka was a basic Wonka bar.  Charlie has extra ingredients.    

Cheaper By The Dozen 2  (Kept Checking My Watch)
          Maybe what I was looking for was in Cheaper By The Dozen 1.
          When the first movie about the Baker family came out, I wasn't being paid to see movies so the family film wasn't on my radar. They didn't need me though; Cheaper 1 was a big hit with families and obviously did well enough to earn a sequel.
          This movie is less about Steve Martin interacting with his twelve kids than it is about Steve Martin reacting to his twelve kids. Sadly, that means watching the comic legend do slapstick-- not the hysterical manic stuff he did in The Jerk, but more like closeups of his face while he water skis and yells "Whooooaaaaaahhhh."
          He can do family humor well-- he was touching in the first Father Of The Bride and was overall great in Parenthood.
          Of course in those movies, he had an interesting family. For a movie about a household with twelve kids, only two of them seem to matter: the two who get into romantic situations with the Baker family rivals. One is a tomboy who starts to notice a boy and will go on her first date and start wearing makeup. The other is Smallville's Tom Welling, who is afraid to tell Martin he wants out of college but does confide in the girl across the lake.
          There is a plot about the oldest daughter and her husband expecting a baby, but for some reason, these adults are lumped in with the kids. There's a moment when the family arrives at a country club party and the host says: "the bar is up here, and kids: the food is downstairs." The expecting couple dart off with the kids like they're twelve year olds.  They're as insignificant and bland as any of the little kids.
         Since the movie gives the meaningful roles to the adults, it should have been funnier. You have Steve Martin, who is one of the funniest people ever. His wife in these movies is the always reliable and very smart Bonnie Hunt.  His rival is the great Eugene Levy, who can steal scenes away from the best. When the cameras weren't rolling, I bet they were hysterical, but these are phoned in performances. Maybe they're not as funny because it's a family movie, but a gentler comedy doesn't have to be a simpler one.
          One other big star in the Cheaper movies is Hillary Duff. She was a big draw for Cheaper 1. She's barely in Cheaper 2. Her tween fans will be disappointed to see her walk on, give advice to her sister, walk off, and come back for the group shot at the end.
          It's cheaper to stay home and rent the first.


Chicken Little (It Is What It Is)
          The sky isn't falling on Disney-- they can do a decent animated movie without Pixar.
          That doesn't mean Disney shouldn't keep looking up, because while Chicken Little is a cute movie that will keep kids entertained, it's not quite up to the classic level of an Incredibles or a Toy Story.
          Chicken Little (Zach Braff) is a shy, nervous little guy who has never lived down the time he got hit in the head and thought the sky was falling. His panic caused the town to panic, and he's become infamous. His dad is forever disappointed in him (this being a Disney movie, he's in a single parent house. Children in Disney movies seem to be either orphaned or half-orphaned), but he gets some comfort from his friends Abby "Ugly Duckling" Mallard, Runt Of The Litter and Fish Out Of Water (the foursome are the toys you'll find in your cereal boxes, kids' meals, etc.)
          It's a sweet little story as Chicken Little tries to be accepted and make his way in the world. I was really taken with an extended baseball scene where the little guy gets a hit and doesn't know what to do. The characters are all very cute, and little kids will love them.
          Soon after, the film gets silly, and I was this close to knocking it down a category. It turns out the sky really is falling, and we're in the middle of a full-scale alien invasion (it's too early for a War Of The Worlds parody. Can't we be scared by it just a little longer?) It's almost like Chicken Little became its own silly sequel-- a sweet story followed by a silly one because they no longer know what to do with the characters. There are some funny gags right at the end which save the film and move it back up a category.
          The story doesn't live up to Pixar's legacy, and neither does the animation. I was a few minutes into it before I decided for sure I was watching 3-D technology and not the traditional animation. But that's a little aside for animation geeks. Families with little kids will enjoy the little chicken.


The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (Tremendous)   
          Five or six years ago, The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe might have been something of a gamble to make.
          It would have succeeded of course. Other movies in that time have proved audiences can get behind a movie like Narnia. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy proved an adaptation of a British classic could get an audience. The Harry Potter films proved epic-length children's books could make it to the screen and be convincing.
          And oh yeah, The Passion Of The Christ proved Christians will go to a theater in droves if the movie has a message for them.
          So we can focus less on any trails that have been blazed and take Narnia for what it is: a pretty amazing movie.
          For those unfamiliar with the C.S. Lewis books, Narnia follows four war refugee children staying at the mansion of a rich professor. Inside his wardrobe (in America, that's an armoire) is a passage to the magical kingdom of Narnia. They meet all kinds of odd creatures, both mythical and familiar.
          The familiar animals are somehow even more magical. I've never seen or walked alongside a Gollum, but I have seen wolves, beavers and lions. Narnia has them walk and talk alongside the kids, and it's a very convincing effect.
          The lion is the most convincing. You see every hair and every contour of his face and totally believe he's real. That's important to mention because, well, the lion is supposed to be Jesus. Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) isn't just supposed to be the King of The Beasts. C.S. Lewis wrote him as a Christ-figure. He walks among the kids and the animals, but even in computer animation, he has a regal presence.  He's their leader and their inspiration.
          If you're not one of the faithful, you won't be alienated. It's pretty obvious who Aslan is, but there's no call to action for you to join a church. The movie does have some good lessons for any child though-- things about loyalty to family, the temptation to do bad and the importance of forgiveness.
          Still, you should be cautious taking kids depending on what you want them to see. Narnia is a PG that could have been a PG-13. There are some intense battle scenes and some wolves that would scare anybody. Then there's a scene with Aslan. I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say the Christian allegory plays out to the extreme. Little children near me cried when they saw it. It may be important to your family's beliefs to have kids see that. It may not. Just a warning.
          Disney says if The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe is successful, there may be several more Narnia movies. They've already touched on "The Greatest Story Ever Told," but it will be interesting to see where they go from there.


Cinderella Man   (Tremendous)
           You'd think there are only so many ways to shoot a boxing movie. Two guys. One ring. Not a lot to shoot.
           But director Ron Howard found a way with Cinderella Man. From the blood dripping on the ring to the boxer's-eye view of a man entering through the ropes, there's a feeling you haven't seen this before.
          Mostly, that's because of the boxer Howard chose to do a movie about. Jim Braddock was a promising contender who lost his career due to injury and lost most everything else due to the Great Depression. But he gets a fight against a big name and to his surprise, his career takes off again. Eventually, he works his way to a title shot against Max Baer, who has actually killed two men in the ring. Braddock becomes the "Cinderella Man," inspiring the nation at one of its darkest times.
          Howard cast his A Beautiful Mind star Russell Crowe to play Braddock, and it's yet another great Crowe performance. Despite playing a boxer, the Gladiator star is actually a very gentle, soft-spoken man in this movie-- exactly the kind of guy the audiences at the movie and within the movie would want to root for.
          You always hear boxers say the other guy is "trying to keep me from feeding my family." For Braddock, it was so true. The scenes showing the family in poverty are stifling. People worried about their credit card debt shouldn't complain if they've never added water to a milk jug to make it seem full or closed their eyes and pretended a slice of baloney was a steak. Or worse-- thought about sending their children away until they can afford to support them.
          Braddock is humbled by what's happened to him but keeps his honor. He forces his son to return food he's stolen. It's heartbreaking to see Braddock literally hold out his hat and ask former colleagues and managers for money. You see how much he hates doing it.
          But no matter how desperate it gets, he continues to be a decent guy. He's trying to feed his family, but he's not trying to keep anyone else from feeding theirs.
         Crowe, Renee Zellweger as his wife and Paul Giamatti as his manager are fantastic. Zellweger and Giamatti both alternately doubt Braddock and then get behind him. But they aren't sheepishly following him. They have their own back stories and their own reasons to look out for him.
          It will be interesting to see how an Oscar-worthy film fares among the explosions of the summer blockbusters.  Hopefully come Oscar time, it can make a Cinderella-like comeback in the minds of the voters.

Code Name: The Cleaner   (Kept Checking My Watch)
          Cedric The Entertainer wakes up with no memory, a briefcase full of money and a dead body next to him.  Where did the body come from?  He might be a secret agent, or he might be a janitor.  He might be married to Nicolette Sheridan, or he might be involved with Lucy Liu.  He’s found himself in the middle of quite a mystery.
           Unfortunately, he’s found himself in the middle of a dull, dull comedy.
           I’ve liked Cedric before, but he does nothing here really worth talking about.  The attempts at funny material are nothing more imaginative than a fat guy attempting martial arts or a black guy questioning “I’m married to a white woman?” 
           Liu, Sheridan and everybody else are phoning it in here.  About the only guy I liked was standup comic DeRay Davis as a janitor/wannabe rapper.  He gets in a couple of good raps but isn’t used enough.
           The spy stuff isn’t good, the comedy isn’t good… heck, the cleaning stuff isn’t all that good.  If you go, you’ll forget you ever saw this.

 

The Devil's Rejects   (Tremendous)
          Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects is the best horror movie I've seen this summer.  By that, I don't mean it's scary.  It's too funny to be scary. 
          And by funny, I mean only if you have a dark sense of humor and can find the story of an evangelical sheriff hunting down a family of serial killers funny.  Still with me?  OK, if you like that kind of stuff, read on and consider Devil's Rejects a "Go See."  If you don't, I'll tell you March Of The Penguins is playing somewhere and thank you for stopping by.
          OK, now back to my warped sense of humor and the fun I had watching a poor woman killed by a truck while wearing her dead boyfriend's face.  (If you don't like that kind of thing, I told you to stop reading!)   She was in a scene with Priscilla Barnes of Three's Company, which leads me to the other fun part of Devil's Rejects-- the odd cast Zombie's assembled.  I spotted Barnes, Dottie from Pee Wee's Big Adventure, one of the daughters from Too Close For Comfort, porn star Ginger Lynn, pro wrestler Diamond Dallas Page, P.J. Soles of Rock N Roll High School and Halloween, the freaky bald guy with big ears from Weird Science and Motley Crue's "Smokin' In The Boys Room" video (trust me, you've seen this guy)-- and in a starring role, Zombie's wife Sherri Moon.  It's clear to see from the photography that Zombie loves his wife.  He's particularly fond of her behind.
          Still with me?  Maybe you like an offbeat horror movie, but aren't sure about Rejects because of Rob Zombie's other career as a heavy metal star.  Well, he actually makes great use of-- southern rock.  The movie takes place in the south and in the 70's, so Zombie knows these people wouldn't be listening to him.   The Devil's Rejects sounds a lot like a "Freedom Rock" commercial and has two great sequences including "Free Bird" and "Midnight Rambler."  They're outrageously violent sequences of course. 
          I swear I'll try to get to March Of The Penguins to make up for this.

Doom (Kept Checking My Watch)
          Forgive me video gamers, I can't tell you if Doom follows the storyline of the game it was based on.  I lost track of video games a long time ago.  Fairly recently, an acquaintance hooked up an X-Box and tried to teach me a shooting game, and to my surprise said "OK, first let me tell you the backstory."  Story?  I wanted to shoot things.  (By the way, I was terrible.  I can't do those 3-D shooting games.  I just walk around and bump into walls.)
          Doom the movie IS about shooting things, but like my acquaintace before me, I'll give you the backstory.  It's the 2040s, and mankind has discovered a portal to Mars.  They've set up a research station which has come under attack by something.  The Marines are called in-- led by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and eventually, The Rock gets to shoot things.  He doesn't bump into walls.
          I normally wouldn't have had high expectations for a movie based on a video game, but I was willing to give it a shot because of The Rock.  The former wrestler has actually made some good choices when it comes to his movies, so I figured maybe Doom was more than just a shoot-em-up.
          It isn't really.  The Rock has charisma and is actually a decent actor, but any B-list action star could have done Doom.   It's interesting to note that in the last year or so, The Rock has been billed in some films as "Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson," but in Doom he's back to simply "The Rock."  I guess you have to play to your audience.
          And Doom does play to its audience.  This film won't attract anyone outside its fan base, and even they might get a little bit bored.  It's obvious from the start who will live and who will die.  It does have its moments toward the end.  There's a bit of a twist and a cool looking homage to the game itself.  Ironically, Doom the movie is at its best when it looks like Doom the game.

The Dukes Of Hazzard (Kept Checking My Watch)
          It was easy to make fun of Cooter the last few days.
          Actor (and former Congressman) Ben Jones had a chance to see the new Dukes of Hazzard movie and was not happy with what they've done to the show he was part of from 1978- 1985. At his web site, he's urging people not to go to the movie unless they clean it up.
          I made a little fun of ol' Cooter myself.  Shucks, folks, I know I'm stereotyping, but I thought Cooter lived in a magical world where it was alright to have a Confederate flag on top of a car, and where the rednecks didn't drink moonshine, smoke pot, sleep around, get in bar fights or listen to the Allman Brothers. (I grew up next to a town named Wampsville with a lot of redneck-wannabes. I know what I saw.)
          However-- Cooter's Hazzard County was that special world. Where Jones has gone wrong is that he's focusing on what the film added to Hazzard County. He should focus on what they took away-- the charm. The problem isn't what the characters do, it's who they are.  Even the redneck wanna-bes I knew back in the day weren't bad guys.
          From the casting, you know this isn't going to be a kinder, gentler Hazzard County. The city slickers casting this movie sent a message by giving us American Pie's Sean William Scott and Jackass' Johnny Knoxville as Bo and Luke Duke.
          Our original Dukes were good ol' boys, but they were fairly gentle and decent guys. Tom Wopat's Luke was actually smart, and John Schneider's Bo was a kind-hearted lunk.
          It's not entirely fair to compare their current careers, but Wopat is now a success in musical theater and Schneider plays the dad on Smallville. I'll be shocked if Jackass or Stifler move on to anything like that. Especially since for now, they're amping up the dumb redneck routine. On the show, they came up with fun and clever schemes to defeat Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane. This time all they can think to do is get Cousin Daisy (Jessica Simpson) to shake it and distract people.
          Scott does have his moments though. He gets a demented look in his eyes and can be pretty funny. He's not the Bo Duke we remember, but he is one of the best things about the movie.
          That and Jessica Simpson's bikini, let's face it. But if you're going to Dukes just to see Jessica, you'll be disappointed. She's not really in it that much. Still, she's in it more than Willie Nelson as Uncle Jesse, who's part is really just a cameo. They didn't even bother with big names for Rosco, Deputy Enos or Cooter (no wonder Ben Jones is mad).
          They did keep the symbol of the original series. The General Lee is there, and yes, the Confederate flag is on top. I won't get into the issue-- director Jay Shandrasekhar has said he knows it's ridiculous to use the Dukes Of Hazzard to try and change the world. The way they address the flag in the movie is actually its best sequence. They do it so that the Dukes aren't endorsing it and that all sides of the issue are addressed.
          There's one other big name in the movie-- Burt Reynolds is our new Boss Hogg. Sure, he's not the guy who posed for Cosmo anymore, but he doesn't look much like the original Boss Hogg either. This is a slicker Boss Hogg, who's got a very different sheriff working for him. The new Rosco is a bully who doesn't even try to do the great noises that actor James Best used to give us.
          There was your problem, Cooter. They reversed the personalities of the heroes and villains. Our new villains are smart, our new heroes are the bumbling rednecks Rosco and Boss Hogg used to be.
          Until now, the big mistake in Dukes history was when the TV producers dared replace Bo and Luke with lookalike cousins named Coy and Vance. They didn't do much better with Stifler and Jackass.


Elizabethtown (Kept Checking My Watch)
          I really wanted to like Elizabethtown. I love Cameron Crowe's movies, even Vanilla Sky which I don't entirely understand.
          I also loved his Jerry Maguire, which is why Elizabethtown is such a letdown. It is Jerry Maguire, minus the good lines and great performances.
          Orlando Bloom is our "Jerry Maguire" this time out. He's a sneaker designer for a Nike-like company, who's reaping all the rewards of his success, including getting to hook up with the hottest woman in the office (Jessica Biel, who has a very minor role, but I bring it up just to point out it's the same as Kelly Preston in Jerry Maguire). Bloom makes a horrible (yet for some reason, unexplained) mistake with a high-profile new product. Like Jerry Maguire before him, he's fired (Alec Baldwin is very good in the Jay Mohr-like role) and is forced to reevaluate his life. Then his father dies, and he's off to Elizabethtown, Kentucky to claim the body.
          On his trip he meets a flight attendant played by Kirsten Dunst who, if you ask me, begins stalking him. But Bloom is going through a crisis and is lonely-- so they begin a friendship and a romance.
          I'm not trying to beat the Jerry Maguire horse dead,but I'll point out that Dunst is a lot like Renee Zellweger-- the quirky cute little thing who believes in our man and spouts out all kinds of quotable lines about life and love (Crowe is determined to coin a new "You had me at hello," but "we're just temporary people" or whatever it is doesn't quite cut it. I'm not even sure I remember it right.  He gives her so many lines in her ramblings that he's trying to trick us into thinking she's actually very wise).
          There are some differences between Tom Cruise's Jerry and Orlando -- one is cocky, the other more humble. But in Bloom's case that means dull. On the female side of the relationship, Dunst is always cute, but the way she talks rapid fire and stalks the guy makes her more scary than attractive.
          For comic relief, we sadly have no Jonathon Lipnicki, but we do have the residents of Elizabethtown themselves. They're a funny group that Crowe has affectionate fun with, without being condescending. He even seems to like Bloom's loser cousin, a Lynyrd Skynrd tribute band drummer who wants to be more a buddy to his young son than a father. It looks like there was more to that story than Crowe had time for.
          But then, too much is crammed into two hours.  I checked my watch about 90 minutes in and figured that had to be it-- no, there was another half hour to go.  Actually, the last half hour was a pretty good idea.  Without giving too much away, it involves a road trip and the father's remains. 
          On its own, that part would have made an interesting movie, but I already sat through what felt like a very long movie.  The word is Elizabethtown was screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and after the bad reaction, Crowe trimmed it.
          Which means it was once longer and duller.
          If you see it, you'll find that hard to believe. 

 Evan Almighty   (It Is What It Is)
          There was a time when Evan Almighty might have seemed like Son Of The Mask or Dumb and Dumberer:  an attempt to capitalize on a Jim Carrey movie while not paying the big bucks it would take to get Jim Carrey involved.  Steve Carell was a scene stealer in Carrey’s Bruce Almighty as anchorman Evan Baxter.  But could that character carry a movie?
          But Carell went and became a star since then.  He’s the star of one of the funniest shows on TV (The Office), has carried his own movies (The 40 Year Old Virgin) and in movies like Anchorman has made his small parts seem like big parts (that’s what she said.)
          So Evan Almighty?  It falls somewhere in between The 40 Year Old Virgin and Son Of The Mask.  It doesn’t make the most of Carell’s talents, but it doesn’t ruin the original movie.
          Unlike Bruce, Evan isn’t given God’s powers.  Instead, God (Morgan Freeman) visits him and asks him to build an ark.  He and his kids take up the challenge, even though the rest of the community thinks Evan has lost his mind.  The movie has more in common with John Denver's Oh God! than Jim Carrey's Bruce Almighty.
          Actually, John Denver could probably have made Evan Almighty.  It’s a very family-friendly story, with a loving wife, three cute kids, wacky sidekicks and plenty of cute animals.  I’m not sure how John would have felt about all the bird crap, but he wouldn’t have any problem with the story or its message.
          John Denver’s movie may not have been as stocked with as many popular friends in cameos as Evan Almighty is.  (OK, at the time, maybe Teri Garr and Dinah Shore were good gets).  Evan includes appearances by Carell’s Office-mate Ed Helms, the always dependable John Michael Higgins, Wanda Sykes and even Jon Stewart. 
          I probably shouldn’t apply too much logic about a movie based on a giant ark and faith, but I did have a little trouble getting over how few people believed Evan.  I’m not saying they need to buy into his “I talked to God” story entirely, but if they see bears and elephants following him around everywhere, wouldn’t they think there’s something more going on than just one guy acting like a lunatic?  And since his Noah-beard keeps growing back instantly (and miraculously), couldn’t he just shave in front of his wife so she’ll believe him?
          Details like that may not be too important considering what the movie really is:  a children’s book version of a Bible story.  It’s sweet, it has a nice message, but you know all involved could have done something with a little more edge.


The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (It Is What It Is)
          There were two ways the filmmakers could have gone with The Exorcism Of Emily Rose.  The problem is they didn't pick just one.
          Emily Rose is based on real events in 1976, when a college girl was -- depending on what side you believe -- either an epileptic schizonphrenic or possessed by the Devil.  What makes the case more than just a subject for the Weekly World News is the fact that the Catholic Church approved an exorcism for Emily Rose, and that the priest who attended it ended up charged in connection with her death.
          Sounds like it could be a horror movie or a cool episode of Law & Order.  Emily Rose tries to be both though-- so just as you get into one movie, it becomes another.  Emily's story is told in flashbacks in court.  The defense's argument is that this girl was possessed.  So the flashbacks are good and freaky-- Emily speaks long-dead languages, she twitches on the floor, she sees ghostly figures wherever she walks. 
          But just when you get a good scare going-- bam-- we're back in court.  OK, maybe then we get a gripping legal argument, but in that context, the horror becomes a little silly.  If the movie doesn't believe Emily was possessed, how can we?

 

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