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Ladder 49 (PG-13, 2004) ... Average: 4.0
(Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Morris Chestnut, Robert Patrick, Balthazar Getty)


Chris Mal
Interesting, even if you only can appreciate this film as a sort of documentary on fire fighting and the brotherly bond that it breeds.  Excellent, as well, as a story of what it must be like to be married to a firefighter, and the pins-and-needles you must walk on daily knowing your loved-one may not come home that day.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Jack Morrison, a firefighter in Baltimore.  The movie chronicles his transition from rookie to seasoned veteran, and his struggles to cope with the the balance of a dangerous risky job and how that affects his his wife and children.

I couldn't decide if this was really a 4-star movie or a solid above average 3.5, but I'm in a good mood today, so:  4-stars it is.
 

Ladykillers (R, 2004) ... Average: 3.0
(Tom Hanks, Marlon Wayans, Irma P. Hall, Ryan Hurst, Stephen Root)
(Directed and Produced by: Joel & Ethan Coen)


Chris Mal
Hanks plays an eccentric professor turned criminal mastermind who gathers a band of diversely quirky accomplices via newspaper ad.  The movie envelopes their quest to stealthily steal a large sum of money from the vault of a nearby casino by renting out a room in the home of an innocent old woman, and burrowing a tunnel starting from her basement.  Their plot reaches a bump in a road when the old woman senses foul-play.

This movie is both odd and wry - typical Coen production.  Not much of it is supposed to really make sense - it is, afterall, a quirky comedy.  But it was just a little too quirky, a little too odd, and only mildly amusing.  Hanks is brilliant, but we knew that before we saw the movie.  The other characters are interesting and generally appealing and loveable.  But there just wasn't a home run in this film.  It's not a bad movie, but of all of Hanks' resume, this has to be the lowlight for me.  A rental on a bored evening, and not much more.  It was...OK.
 

Lake Placid (R, 1999) ... Average: 2.0
(Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, Brendan Gleeson)



Chris Mal
It wasn't really boring or stupid, it was just plain silly.  A movie about a 30' long crocodile that has somehow migrated to a lake in Maine and has taken a liking to human flesh.

The movie doesn't have much substance - which I guess is apparent by the fact that it is only 82 minutes long.  I won't give away the story, but to give you an idea of the movie, here are the stereotypical characters:  Fonda plays a museum scientist who hates the outdoors and is scared of mosquitoes and ticks.  She was sent on site by her boss who she was dating but who left her for her co-worker.  As the story goes, they just wanted to get her out of the office for a while.   So she spends the entire movie acting like the stereo-typical primadonna fish-out-of-water.  

Pullman plays the Fish & Game warden - generally, his character has no depth and is there just to give Fonda someone to fall in love with.  Gleeson plays the local sheriff who has the most common sense of all the characters but is ignored and poked fun at by all the other characters.  Platt plays a wise-cracking eccentric mythology professor who shows up to help hunt the croc in his croc-painted helicopter.  Betty White is also in the movie - she plays the old lady who lives by the lake who feeds the crocodile(s) her cows - yes, her cows.

There are some funny one-liners in the movie, but sadly I couldn't for the life of me tell if the entire movie was meant to be tongue-in-cheek or if I really was supposed to feel the "intense drama" of the situation.  The end of the movie shows baby crocodiles being fed pieces of bread by White's character, leaving open the possibility of a sequel!  GO SEE THIS MOVIE NOW!...errr, just kidding.  (The movie is based on a screenplay by David E. Kelly - of Ally McBeal and The Practice fame.  Perhaps it was good he moved on to television!)

 

The Last Castle (R, 2001) ... Average: 2.0
(Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Clifton Collins Jr., Delroy Lindo,
George C. Scott, Brian Goodman, George W. Scott, Steve Burton)

The Last Castle (2001)Sue Hohenadel
I always like a movie where the underdog wins in the end.  I'm not so sure about a movie where the underdogs are convicted military men, serving time for everything from murder to brutally maiming people because they "got mad."

And so goes the dialogue in "The Last Castle."

"The Last Castle" is the story of a 3 star general (Redford) who is sent to a military prison to serve a ten year sentence for "disregarding orders."  The prison warden (Gandolfini) is also a military man who seems to have spent most of his time pushing papers rather than engaged in any sort of activities that apparently make army men army men.  Redford picks up on that immediately.  Oh boy...I smell trouble!

Redford's character just wants to do his time and get out.  Unfortunately, his reputation precedes him and everyone in the prison knows who he is and what he is.  As the movie unfolds, Redford's stripes begin to usurp the warden's authority, and bad things happen.  There's that smell of trouble again, but it's getting more faint.

Sadly, Redford is almost robotic throughout the movie.  Granted, he's a career military man and has made it through horrendous situations by being devoid of emotion, but it's hard to warm up to him and what he's trying to accomplish in the prison.  Gandolfini is sooooooo weasely, it's sickening.  I expected slime to come oozing out of the screen and onto the theater floor.  Truthfully, there really are no characters in this movie that I could embrace -- even if they are psychotic prisoners.

"The Last Castle" is not overly violent, there's some foul language and a few mildly disturbing scenes that have to do with "punishment" for disobeying rules, but it's not overly offensive for a prison flick.  Actually, it's not overly anything.

And that trouble I was smelling?  Must have been a rotten Milk Dud left behind from a previous showing, because the movie never really goes from predictable and tedious to an audience cheering, foot stomping, "Good for them!" rallying ending.

This one is a rental.

 

The Last Samurai (R, 2003) ... Average: 3.5
(Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Billy Connolly, Koyuki, Tony Goldwyn)

Kirsten Cheskey (CLICK HERE for "Neurotic & Negligent")
You know what?  I love a movie that doesn't make me think of any other movie.  A movie that makes me think, "Wow, I've never seen that before." 

Sadly, The Last Samurai is not that movie.  But it's not crap either.  It's just an okay movie.  I liked the performances.  The scenery was pretty.  The story seemed to drag at a few spots but that was all quickly followed by someone getting some parts hacked off and that's always fun.

However, I'm taking away stars because these were some of the thoughts that ran through my head while watching...

"I think Viggo Mortensen did that that in The Two Towers."

"Wow, those guys shoot arrows as well as Legolas."

(Okay, I admittedly have  a small obsession with LOTR, but continuing on with my thoughts that have nothing to do with Peter Jackson films...)

"I think Kevin Costner did that in Dances With Wolves."

"Isn't this the part where he should paint his face blue?"

"I think Uma Thurman did that in Kill Bill, Vol. 1."

"Whoa, does that guy kind of look like Mulan?"

"Isn't this where he should look to the East and see Gandalf?"

Oh wait, there I go again.  Maybe I'm not the best person to be reviewling movies after all. 

Anyway, I should mention that Carter  liked the movie more than I did.  Not so much the battles, but showing how the Samurai lived.  He's upstairs chanting right now.

 

The Legend of Bagger Vance (PG-13, 2000) ... Average: 2.0
(Will Smith, Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, Dermot Crowley, Joel Gretsch, Jack Lemon)

Chris Mal
I once heard a comedian say, "What's with golf?  Golf is just old men in ugly pants walking."

Charlize Theron and Matt Damon in "The Legend of Bagger Vance"I actually had looked forward to this movie, probably just because of the cast.  I always liked Will Smith and, despite Dogma which was an absolutely horrific excuse for media, I like Matt Damon as well.  But I should have known this would be boring - REAL golf is terribly undramatic.  Why would I think a fictitious story about golf would be any more interesting?

OK, OK...there was a deeper philosophical meaning, I understand.  But all the metaphors between golf and getting Matt Damon's screwed up life back on track just seemed hokey to me.  "Look out into the field, find your field."  "Inside each and every one of us is our one true authentic swing."  "It's just you and the game and it's all up to you."  And on and on and on.  Pure cheese.

The story, in case you don't know, is about a golfer (Matt Damon) in the WWI era who was a teen-age golfing future legend who survived his tour of duty in WWI and returns a shell of his former self.  The Great Depression leads Charlize Theron's character, who has inherited her father's newly built golf course in Savannah after his untimely death, to stage a 56-hole golf tournament to raise money to save the course.  Damon, who has sat around lounging and drinking since returning from the war, hires Bagger Vance (Will Smith) to be his caddy and shake loose the rust.  Damon's character winds up learning more than just how to regain his stroke bla bla bla.

Charlize Theron is just the cutest thing, but it doesn't compensate for a character that I couldn't fall in love with.  Her acting - which I think was a product of the script - was a bit weak, and the character oddly unlikable and kind of uninteresting.

Damon and Smith are all that saves this moving from putting me to sleep.  I just didn't find it interesting.  It's not horrible, but I can't recommend it. 

 

The Legend of 1900 (R, 1999) ... Average: 2.0
(Tim Roth, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Clarence Williams, Bill Nunn, Melanie Thierry)



Chris Mal
I saw this movie during our 5-hour flight to San Diego.  I had never even heard of it, but spent the $5 for the head-phones anyway just to pass the time.  The time passed but that's about all I can say for this movie, although I admit it's hard to enjoy anything during a 5-hour flight.

The movie begins with a trumpet player (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who is selling his old trumpet to a music store.  The store owner and he begin chatting and the trumpet player says something to the effect: "Everyone has a story.  I could tell my story, but no one would believe it."  As he regurgitates the "unbelievable story" the movie unveils itself.  Do you want to know why no one would believe it?  Because the plot is so outrageous that you can't believe it.  Reasonable believability is pretty much a basic necessity for any good movie.

Tim Roth plays a man who was abandoned at birth on a cruise ship in 1900.  He is found as an infant by one of the ship's grunts who raises him in the belly of the ship.  For his entire life he never leaves the massive ocean-liner.  He steps up to the piano at an early age and immediately begins playing like Beethoven.  He becomes a mysterious piano legend, and people from all over begin hearing about him and coming to see him play - but, again, he never leaves the ship.  The greatest piano player alive (played by Clarence Williams) shows up one day and challenges him to a piano dual.  Oooooooo.

Many years later the ship is dry docked and is scheduled to be destroyed by dynamite.  The ship owners don't know that he is still on the ship (don't ask me, just accept it).  His friend (the trumpet player) comes back to try to convince them that there is still someone somewhere on the ship.  He finds him (of course, not with the people who are going to blow up the ship), but he refuses to leave his "home".  The ship is blown up.  End of movie.

Yes, I know, I ruined the ending for you, but on the other hand I just saved you a rental fee.

The good point of the movie is that the music was, indeed, fantastic - particularly if you enjoy piano that you and I could only dream of ever being able to play.  In fact, Bev plans on buying the soundtrack at her next opportunity.

 

Loggerheads (Not Rated, 2005) ... Average: 4.5
(Tess Harper, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Kelly, Michael Learned, Kip Pardue)


Chris Mal
Let me just start off by saying that this film moved me to near tears.  Seriously.  I had a headache not long after the movie because my eyes hurt so bad from making sure I wouldn't start balling right in the theater.  And I'm not a guy who cries.  That isn't to say that this was an all-around tear-jerker, because you felt the love in the movie, but it was that love and the way everyone was torn apart by their own circumstances, how they got there - and in some cases their own prejudices - that touched me to the core.

The heartfelt movie - based on a true story! - centers around the triad of interwoven stories of people all at a crossroads in their lives - a birth mother, her son and his adoptive parents.  The mother and father have abandoned their adopted son years ago and haven't seen him since.  The son, a soft-spoken drifter - who is dying - is living with a kind hearted sole who he befriends and falls in love with.  And the son's real mother who gave him up at the age of 17 attempts to find her son and come to grips with an emotional void.

I don't want to say any more about the story so as to not give anything away.

Religious freaks should be required to see this movie.  Your heart will be torn in many directions.  It teaches a good bit about compassion.

The acting in this film was flawless.  I'm not sure there has been a film more well acted in recent memory.  To me, if you're a fan of drama, this is a must-see film.

It's an Independent film, and we had to go to the old "Civic Theater" in Allentown to see it, but it was worth the trip.  It's been getting rave reviews by critics, winning the Best Feature Film in the Dramatic Competition at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.  That said, I have a feeling many guys might hate this movie.  Die Hard it is not.  (If you're looking for explosions and special affects - go see Star Wars III.)  Still, one of the most moving films that I have ever seen.
 

Lord of the Rings (R, 2001) ... Average: 4.17
(Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler)

Michele K Carter RN
Amazing, awe inspiring and accurate retelling of the First Book of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy!

After reading most of Tolkien's works I was most impressed how closely the film followed the original storyline. The imagery was so detailed and authentic that you actually felt as if you were there, so intense that you forgot for a while (3 hours in fact) that you were anywhere but along the journey with the Fellowship of the Ring!

After even one reading of the Lord of the Rings books a reader might develop images in their mind of what "Middle Earth" and the world therein would appear like and the film produced instantly recognizable places, characters and moments. The special effects did not overwhelm the movie, but complemented it so engrossingly that you didn't want it to end. The entire cast & production team obviously poured their heart & soul into this film.

Congratulations on a triumphant piece of cinema! It is a wonderful movie that you will want to see again and again and is destined to become a classic...

Mike Capilo
This movie's like cool and stuff.

Chris Mal
I won't go into the basic plot since everyone should have read the 1954 Tolkein classic by now.

Translated onto the silver screen, it would be easy enough to write countless words praising the films tremendous stage sets, make-up and trailblazing digitally generated special effects.  The various creators were spectacular, and the scenery even better.  Even the reduction of lead actor, Elijah Woods, from his real-life 5'-6" to his character Frodo Baggins height of 3'-6" was done flawlessly.

The acting here is also of highest quality.  I was particularly taken by Ian McKellen who played the noble, subtle, wise and omnipotent magician, Gandalf.  For that matter, all of the characters are filled with genuine spontaneity.  (Although Bev did think some of the closing scenes were a bit overdramatic.)

Since it followed the legendary Hotter Potter film in the theaters it's probably worth comparing the two.  While HP deserved its acclaim as a magical tale for children, Lord of the Rings is an altogether higher adult achievement.  That said, I'm a little surprised they are marketing this so heavily for children.  No doubt in my mind that anyone under the age of, say, 13 is going to be almost totally lost.  And, quite frankly, there are a number of scenes that I think smaller kids would find a bit TOO scary.  The movie definitely reflects the book in that there are a number of scenes that are extremely violent.  I definitely wouldn't want to take an easily frightened 6 year old to see this.

The flaw in the movie for me was its length, which I suppose was necessary to mimic the original book.  But when translated to a movie, there was a sequence of events in the movie that almost felt like the same thing over and over and over again as our adventurers encountered one obstacle after another, each one with just a different monster.  There was a period where this sort of battle scene seemed to repeat itself too many times to the point of monotony in a way.

Like the book, you also had to seriously pay attention.  There were many characters, and how certain things came to be took some effort to discern.

All in all, though, the film works.  It's a good "relationship story" at its core:  The bond between Gandalf and Frodo, the camaraderie between the four hobbits, the growth of mutual respect between the various do-gooders.  Recommended.

 

Lost in Translation (R, 2003) ... Average: 4.0
(Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Anna Faris, Giovanni Ribisi, Fumihiro Hayashi)



Mike Capilo
This is one of those films you will either love or hate.  If you need lots of talking or action or sea bass stay away.  On the other hand, if you like art films this almost qualifies; there are some beautiful shots.  I enjoyed Bill Murray's character.  Some of the scenes he is in are hilarious.  It's out of video so if you find anything interesting in what I've said get off your bottom and enjoy.  Just remember it's one of those love/hate movies and you may find it repulsive!

Tony Porco (CLICK HERE to go to Tony Porco's Movie Reviews Page)
A has-been action movie star (Bill Murray, brilliantly cast) hangs out in a luxury hotel in Tokyo while waiting to shoot a whiskey commercial. A young wife (the lovely Scarlett Johanssen) hangs out in the same joint, leaving to see the occasional tourist site and being neglected by her jet-setting husband. They are bored, and as my mother always used to say, bored people are boring.  Fortunately, we don’t wait too long before they meet each other and strike up a friendship; even more fortunately, they have real chemistry, humor, and a curiosity about each other and (eventually) the place where they temporarily find themselves.

Sofia Coppola’s movie captures well the isolation of being in a huge, strange city, and the feeling of not having much to do. This gets old after a while, but the relationship between the Murray and Johanssen characters redeems it after a while.

As with other movies I’ve reviewed (Finding Forrester, Strawberry and Chocolate), the movie’s slow pace makes a hard-to-believe relationship more plausible, although this one pushes the envelope a lot more than the other ones did. It helps that Murray is still quite funny; one gets the sense that his character’s deadpan humor is keeping him sane throughout the whole experience.  The scene where Murray films the commercial and tries to keep up with his interpreter and an eccentric Japanese director is absolutely hysterical, especially for anyone who has worked as an interpreter!

The plot holds together reasonably well, except for one thing that bothers me enough to mention it: the two leads go out soon after they meet with some of her Japanese friends to sing Karaoke. It’s another funny scene, bringing to mind Murray’s old lounge-singer act on Saturday Night Live (you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Murray singing the Roxy Music song “More Than This,” or Johanssen sing “Brass in Pocket”), but I have to wonder why Johannsen’s character was lounging around at the hotel if she had these friends to hang out with all along!

Overall, however, I enjoyed the movie once it got going, and I hope that Murray’s recent career renaissance continues. (By the way, I was amazed to find out that the annoying Japanese talk show host Matthew, who appears in the film to interview Murray, is an actual TV personality. Coppola’s cinematographer gave me a pretty good idea what downtown Tokyo looks like, although the film is far less “touristy” than a lot of other movies I’ve seen that were shot in non-US locations--this movie is much more of a character study than a time-and-place film. Lastly, if you rent or buy the DVD, watch the deleted scenes. One of them is funny enough to make me wonder why they cut it.)
 

Love Actually (R, 2003) ... Average: 4.5
(Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, January Jones)


Drew Gallagher
Noteworthy for its incredible ensemble cast alone and then a tremendous movie to boot.  Plus there is always the Emma Thompson factor.