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Clever's Movie Reviews: H-M

The Hits!

Hearts in Atlantis ***
He's Just not that into You ***
High Fidelity
***
The Holiday ***
Hope Springs ***
Hundred Foot Journey ***
The Hours ****
The Hurt Locker ***
Ides of March ***
I'll See You in my Dreams ***
In America ****
In Bruges ***
In the Bedroom ***
Inconvenient Truth ****
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom...skull ***
The Insider ***
The Intern ***
It's Complicated ***
Jaws ****
Jersey Boys ***
Julie and Julia ***
King of the Masks ***
Kinsey ****
Kissing Jessica Stein ***
Kite Runner ***
Kung Fu Panda ***
La Vie en Rose *** 
Last King of Scotland ****
Legally Blonde ***
Les Miserables ***
Lincoln ****
Lincoln Lawyer ***
Magnolia
***
Mama Mia ***
Man In the Moon ****
Mansfield Park ****
March of the Penguins ***
Master and Commander ***
Match Point ***
Mean Girls ***
Memento ***
Memoirs of a Geisha ***

Messenger
***
Michael Clayton ***

Michael Jackson Concert ***
Midnight in Paris ****
Million Dollar Arm ***
Mission Impossible 4 ***
Monsoon Wedding ***
Monster ****
Monsters Ball ***
Monuments Men ***
Moulin Rouge ***
Mr. Holmes ***
Mrs. Dalloway ***
Munich ***
Music and Lyrics ***
My Big Fat Greek Wedding ***



The Duds!

Hannibal
**
Harry Potter
**
The Heat **
Hello my name is Doris *
Hilary and Jackie
**
Home Fries o
House of Mirth
**
Hunger Games **
I am Sam *
Incredibles *
It Might Get Loud **
Jason Bourne **
Kill Your Darlings *
Kiss Me Kate
**
Lady in the Van **
Lantana
**
Larry Crowne *
Last Chance Harvey **
Life as a House
**
Life is Beautiful **
The Little Vampire
*
Matrix
**
Me, Myself and Irene
**
Message in a Bottle
*
The Mexican o
Miss Congeniality o
Monsters, Inc
*
Moonrise Kingdom o
Must Love Dogs *


Hearts in Atlantis ***
reviewed by the Phantom

There are two ways to interpret this movie. You can see it as a nostalgic look at Bobby Garfield, a coming-of-age eleven year old in the summer of 1960. His sort of idyllic childhood reaches a pivotal point when he becomes friends with his upstairs neighbor, Ted Brautigan, played by Anthony Hopkins. This sepia-toned interpretation is sort of helped along by sound-track melodies such as “Twilight Time” and “Sh-Boom”. Bobby’s childhood friends are so innocent and child-like that they make your heart wrench. This point is punctuated by Stephen King’s peculiar title for this work, as eluded to by Ted when he states: "Sometimes when you're young you have moments of such happiness, you think you're living in some place magical, like Atlantis must have been. Then we grow up and our hearts break in two."

The second way to interpret this movie is the scary one. As Stephen King fans know, King is one of the most frightening people on earth and he must also be the most frightened himself. He creeps us out by taking an innocent things -- the posting of lost pet fliers -- and turns them into sinister warnings about low men in yellow coats driving bright colored cars, who are coming after Ted. Their reason for wanting Ted is never apparent, but Ted is rather weird himself, having sort of a supernatural ability to see into both the past and the future. King is playing on our 1960s cultural paranoia about “those dirty commies”, boogie men, and all the other fears of that age, both real and imagined, in order to remind us that those idyllic years were really a pretty scary time indeed. Bobby learns some valuable life lessons through his experiences with Ted, and then his heart breaks and he becomes a grown-up, who probably will never see another pet poster again without chills running down his spine.

Whichever way you choose to interpret this movie, it well worth watching.(11/01)

He's Just Not That Into You ***
reviewed by The Phantom
Surprisingly, I liked this film. I think it's supposed to be a romantic comedy, but I thought it was actually rather sad, and sort of depressing -- all these incredible people lead such dreary lives and have no clue about finding somebody to be with. It's an ensemble cast of all of our favorite people and they do a believable job of entertaining us. Perhaps it's because that might be the way things are these days. Things don't even end the way they usually do in romantic comedies. Ah well.


High Fidelity
  ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
It's enjoyable and even a little different. John Cusack, as Rob, is on a quest to become a better boyfriend and to get his pathetic life in order. It seems that we can always relate to Cusack's plights, whether they fall under the name of Rob, Lloyd, or Martin. The supporting cast, including the de-rigueur­ zany coworkers and edgy girlfriends, do a great job in fleshing out the rather thin story. I caught only one, but perplexing nonetheless, inconsistency in the story. The action centered around a record store owned by Rob. Look beyond the fact that there are probably very few surviving vinyl record stores to be found anywhere off-line. And the movie stayed true to this reality by portraying the shop as primarily unsuccessful and next-to bankrupt. However, in one scene, the store was having a really good day! They showed the aisles packed with customers and the employees making lots of sales. This day came and went without explanation or consequence. What was that about, huh?!? Aside from this one small rant, I would recommend High Fidelity for a stress-free movie experience.

The Holiday ***
reviewed by the Phantom
This romantic comedy has a wonderful ensemble cast with Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black as the love interests. The plot: two single women exchange houses, one in LA and one in the English countryside. The women are retreating from their problems in the romance department, and of course, the predictable happens, but the journey is worth it. It's a light-hearted, funny and winsome movie that everybody will love -- unless you don't like puppies and chocolate, feather beds and romance.

Hope Springs ***
reviewed by the Phantom
Another Meryl Streep comedy. Loved this one, also starring Tommy Lee Jones, who plays the grumpy husband, awfully grumpy, IMHO. Meryl deserves better. They are an unhappily married couple, been together forever for some strange reason, and the wife wants to regain "the spark" they had when they were first together. (Why, I want to ask!) They take a trip to somewhere romantic to do a week's worth of intensive couple counseling. Steve Carrell plays the counselor, brilliantly, I think. They go through the motions, Tommy is the stereotypical old guy who doesn't believe in counseling, or communicating, or even romance. Lots of laughs, the ending is hard to believe, but we know it's a movie, and we all like happy endings, so all's well.

The Hours ****
reviewed by the Phantom
Meryl Streep (again, yeah!), and Nichole Kidman bring the effects of Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway to prominence in this very complicated and intelligent film. It probably helps if you know something about Virginia and Mrs. Dalloway beforehand, but the film itself is as beautiful as it is powerful. 

Hundred Foot Journey ***
Reviewed by the Phantom
This movie stars Helen Mirren and a beautiful cast of actors who look like they actually can cook and love food. It is set in the French countryside, which I love, and it's actually a romantic comedy and a restaurant war. It's the old established French restaurant against the upstart immigrant Indian restaurant, and a Michelin star is at stake. Of course, it's assumed that the French are the best cooks in the world, but once you see this movie, I swear you'll head for the nearest Indian restaurant, if just to smell the spices in the air. It's a predictable storyline but that's what we like about romantic comedies.
The Hurt Locker ***
reviewed by Josh Goller

Red or blue wire? The steely hero deactivating a ticking time bomb is an action movie cliché, but Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker injects new life into the war genre with an episodic film about the travails of a bomb-tech unit in war torn Iraq.

The Hurt Locker strips away the convoluted plot elements and commentary that have bogged down most other Iraq War films, and thrusts the viewer into the heart of a war against a faceless enemy, where roadside bombs hidden away in rubble, cars, or even bodies pose an unyielding threat. Baghdad-based Bravo Company muscles through a series of bomb deactivation and combat missions. The three-man team consists of an adrenaline-junkie prone to recklessness, a by-the-book military man who’s rubbed raw by unconventional tactics, and a young soldier whose fraying nerves dangle by threads.

Bigelow keeps the camera at eye-level during action sequences, often employing handheld shots to ramp up the authenticity. The result is pulse-pounding thriller steeped in three-dimensional characters dripping with the humanity of war, the exhilaration, the horror, the viscera. A Best Picture winner with the Best Director at the helm, The Hurt Locker is the best recent war film, period.

Ides of March ***
reviewed by the Phantom
George Clooney and company are politicians this time. It's the rough, ugly, under belly of political campaigns. Sort of reminded me of The West Wing, only seamier. Campaign managers have rotten jobs, but I'm thinking we only know the half of it. (I can only imagine what Rick Perry's campaign manager went through, or Gingrich's, for that matter. Yikes!) You will need a shower after this one, it's that grim, but they had trouble with the plotting. I would rather watch moral dilemmas that have to do with political issues rather than what they hung this storyline on. Sigh. The story gets too hokey to propell this one into the Oscar ranks, in my humble opinion.

I'll See You in my Dreams ***
reviewed by the Phantom
Blythe Danner stars in this senior romance about a widow woman who finds love again. The best part is her singing moment, a very good rendition of "Cry me a River". A show stopper. Otherwise, it's Blythe and her pals doing their best to convince us that they know how elderly people amuse themselves. Well acted, maybe a little too long, no surprises, but worth watching.

In America ****
reviewed by the Phantom
This is an exceptional movie, it was one of those times when I was truly charmed by the experience of just sitting in the theater and watching it. Summarizing the plot for you would not do the film justice because it's the story as well as the performances by everybody in the cast that make this film so wonderful. As proof, this small, relatively unknown film has earned three Oscar nominations.

The setting is New York City, a slum area of Manhattan where an Irish immigrant family lives, just barely surviving, as is the norm for many immigrants. Dad wants to be an actor, and mom keeps the family together somehow. But it's their two little daughters who steal the show. Rent this one and be prepared for a truly memorable evening.

In Bruges ****
reviewed by the Phantom
Two Irish hit men are holed up in Bruges, possibly awaiting word of their next job. The young guy hates Bruges and cannot see how quaint, lovely, and charming the city is. The older hit man is in love with the city, a perfect tourist-hit man. This romantic European city is the perfect backdrop for this comedy-drama. The movie is extremely well-paced and beautifully rendered. Terrific acting by all three bad guys. Don't bring the kids. A movie about hit men, even one billed as a comedy, will not have a happy ending. Nothing good ever happens to hit men.

In the Bedroom ***
reviewed by the Phantom

This movie is billed as a thriller and is getting lots of publicity as a major contender for the 2001 Oscars, in both the “best movie” and “best actress” categories. The hallmark of a thriller is fast-paced action, the edge-of-our-seats nail-biting that we’re accustomed to. But this one is different. The pace is excruciatingly slow, boring even. We forget that it’s supposed to be a thriller by the time the action starts…oh, about fifteen minutes before the end of it. And then they squeeze it in, sort of haphazardly.

Here’s the briefest synopsis: Sissy Spacek’s only son (Nick Stahl) is murdered and she and her husband (Tom Wilkinson) agonize over his death until they can’t stand it any longer and take up the matter of avenging his death into their own hands. It’s a familiar plot, but this time the emphasis is placed more on the anguish and “how life goes on” and less on the revenge. That’s why it’s so boring. Real life is that way, unfortunately. (2-02)  

An Inconvenient Truth ****
reviewed by the Phantom 
A friend questioned whether humans really are to blame for global warming, and a second friend questioned whether global warming was real. (Yes, I actually do have a couple of clueless friends)…

Here’s what I told her:

Scientists have known about this problem for years and have tried and tried to convince the public that it is real. But powerful anti-environmentalists and politicians have done their best to thwart the message. After all, the public really doesn’t want to hear the bad news, and business men and industrialists (capitalists!) know that profits are at risk if people get clued in to the dangers we are creating by just doing business as usual. When cave men roamed the earth there were very few of them, but once we humans discovered fire, the game was on. The earth’s population was stable at around one half a billion people until “recent times” — until about the beginning of the 17th century. That’s when the industrial revolution began. Population began to skyrocket. We’ve gone from half a billion to around 7 billion covering the earth (somewhat like a fungus gone wild from a scientific pov). And we all burn fossil fuels for heat, to cook our food and for transportation. Burning coal fires is a big culprit, also cutting trees and burning them.

Trees play a dual role in things. As long as trees are alive and well, they take in carbon (the stuff that causes global warming, which is released when coal or oil is burned). As long as they are alive, they store the carbon and it is no threat to global warming. When we cut the trees, they can no longer store any more carbon (obviously), BUT when we burn the wood, the carbon is released into the air. The other thing that trees do is provide shade which cools the earth, and forests of trees play a role in weather patterns. When rain forests are cut down (and they are being cut down so quickly it’s unbelievable in So. America, Canada, and parts of Asia), it changes the weather patterns. Scientists know this and have been reporting it for years. But the politicians have been successful it making the environmentalists look sort of foolish when we try to send out this message.

Burning fossil fuel causes so many problems, in addition to the carbon release. The air pollution is horrific for the earth in general and for those of us who have to breathe it. But we are also destroying other parts of the earth too. We are devastating the oceans, taking out too many fish, destroying their populations and their ability to reproduce. We are destroying the coral reefs, which are truly important to our fish population. (I could go on to point out other problems, but I won’t :-)

There is very little good news. Humans are in control, we are the only animals who have the ability to make changes. But first we must get our heads out of the sand and wake up to the facts. It still might be possible to create a sustainable abode for ourselves well into the future. But it will take a committed social movement to do it. That’s what the “average person” can do. We must become knowledgeable about what’s going on and not let business, politicians and complacent people continue to ignore the obvious problems. It is in our hands, not out of our hands. We like to think that it’s all up to somebody else to figure out this mess, but that’s not really true.

Gore has been a committed environmentalist for years. I applaud him for this latest effort but just watch the news. If and when people actually start seeing this movie and believing what he says, the cynical politicians will say that his real purpose was just to get more publicity for himself, maybe to try and run again. Don’t let that message be the lasting one. It’s about the environment, stupid!

The Incredibles *
reviewed by The Phantom
Was I the only person in the audience who felt like she went through the wrong door? No, not really. My daughter didn't like it either. We both walked out about half way through, deciding it was more pleasant to just wait in the lobby until the dreadful thing finally ended. Granted, zillions of people think this is a terrific film, but I thought it was boring, trite and stupid beyond the pale. I should have known better than to waste my money on it. These films are just not for everybody, believe me.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ***
reviewed by the Phantom
Harrison Ford is still believable in this unbelievable series. Loved the beginning segments and about the first half of this mixed up fantasy adventure film. It's Spielberg, after all. But even The Great One can slip up occasionally. He must have gotten bored about half way thru the plot development meetings and dredged up all the old ideas, reaching clear back to ET and that close encounters movie for some way to finish up this script. Pul-eeze. But it's still a cheap summer thrill, well, maybe not so cheap these days, but fun anyhow.

The Insider ***
reviewed by the Phantom
Have you been watching 60 Minutes for years?
Been following the Big Tobacco Scandal?
Do you hate reruns and movies that are billed as "just a little too long"?

If you answered yes to these questions, why would you want to go see The Insider? That's what I asked myself, so I waited for the video. And guess what? I was pleasantly surprised by this intriguing movie about all of the above. Al Pacino was great as the 60 Minutes producer, Lowell Bergman, as was Russell Crowe as the whistle-blower, Jeffrey Wigand, and Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace. 

The movie goes beyond, well, way beyond, the 15-minute segments that were run on 60 minutes. We find out that 60 Minutes didn't want to run Wigand's story, for complicated legal reasons having to do with a confidentiality agreement Wigand was forced to sign upon leaving Brown and Williamson. We also find out that Wigand had a terrible time deciding to come forward. And then when he did, he was threatened and harassed, which eventually led to his marriage breaking up. Lots of moral intrigue and heavy drama and several replays of those famous film clips showing the tobacco execs swearing that nicotine is not addictive. But overall, it's the actors who bring this story to life. I recommend it.

It Might Get Loud **
Reviewed by Josh Goller

Put three guitar luminaries in the same room and it might get loud. Or it could be the gimmicky premise for an otherwise engrossing documentary on the respective relationships rock legends Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White have with their guitars. 

It Might Get Loud beats its chest early, with an overly hyped one-day summit of cross-generational rock gods. With Jack White’s baby face, The Edge’s crow’s feet, and Jimmy Page’s silver mane, the meeting of idols who rose to prominence over three generations has a familial quality to it, especially given Jack White’s obvious inspiration drawn from old Led Zeppelin tunes.

Compared with White’s artistic streak and The Edge’s overly philosophical ramblings about his craft (as should be expected from someone who calls himself “The Edge”), Page is the only one who seems genuinely happy to just play, perhaps because has nothing to prove.

It Might Get Loud obviously features some great music, although the jam sessions with this trio are less interesting than the rest. Despite its loaded title, It Might Get Loud resonates with fans of these guitar icons while leaving others wishing they’d turn it up.

The Intern ***
reviewed by the Phantom
This was a light-weight, goofy movie, inoffensive and charming at the same time. Robert De Niro must need the money (ha!). He definitely didn't break a sweat as an elderly intern working at an online fashion start up. His boss is Ann Hathaway. Fantasy, yes indeed. It's no Devil Wears Prada, but its cute factor is off the charts.

It's Complicated ***
Reviewed by The Phantom

Meryl Streep can do everything, and she works hard, whether it's comedy or heavy drama. In this romantic romp, she's an older divorcee (yeah, Meryl!), who has boyfriend/ex-husband problems, the kind that only show up on screen. She's paired with both Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, who must have been on his sleep meds because his performance was so laid back that we hardly recognized him. Implausible story, but who cares -- beautiful, yummy sets (she's a bakery owner), and lots of laughs. Rent it!

Jaws***
reviewed by the Phantom 
A beautiful woman goes swimming in the ocean at night, ignoring the music that signals the arrival of the greatest white shark, which bites her to death, leading to the shark hunt of all times by three guys in a soon-to-be-very leaky fishing boat, who scour the ocean, before finally blowing the great white's ass out of the water.

Jersey Boys ****
reviewed by the Phantom
I just knew I would like this movie, and I wasn't disappointed. It's longer and more involved than the stage play, but it's the same story, same music. I had no idea Frankie Valli led such a difficult life. I guess that's true with just about every singer. He's still going strong, he performed at the fireworks show in DC that was televised on the 4th of July. I was so surprised to see him. What a treat. I'm going to run down to the movie house and watch this one again. Great story, wonderful music.

Julie and Julia ***
reviewed by the Phantom
What a treat to watch Meryl Streep play Julia Child to a tee. This is a remarkable film that is actually two stories in one: Julie Child in Paris learning how to cook back in the day, and a present day wanna-be Julia, living in NYC, cooking up food from Julie'a Art of French Cooking and writing a blog about it. Some people don't like the dual concept but I thought it worked quite well. I loved both stories and the back and forth between them. Movies like this don't come along often enough these days.

King of the Masks *** 
reviewed by Carrol Chrys 
This is a great classic movie that reminds me in mood of The Good Earth. It is a gorgeously photographed sliver of a film that is gritty, scary, tender, up-lifting and truly UN-Hollywood -- perhaps that's the best accolade I can give it.  (Note from the Phantom: 1999, Chinese, art film -- oh, and by the way, Ebert and his guest host gave it two thumbs up.)

Kinsey ****
reviewed by the Phantom
See this one if only to understand America's sexual history. Kinsey, for all his personal flaws, made a huge contribution to American culture. He brought us out of the sexual dark ages and into the light. He changed us fundamentally and this movie does his life justice. It's a great bio-pix and Liam Neeson is excellent in capturing the spirit and the era. Bravo.

Kissing
Jessica Stein
***
reviewed by Karen Dale

Yes, I am giving this movie three stars. Yes, I laughed my butt off and I was sad when it ended. Yes, I would recommend it to a friend. All that notwithstanding, I’ve got serious issues with this movie. A 30ish woman looking for love and finding only wackos and losers reads a personal ad and finds a likely candidate, who turns out to be a woman, who is also straight but looking for a new skill to add to her sexual resume. They begin a sort of lesbian romance, but their attempt actually insults the lesbian community. But this movie completely minimized the seriousness and importance of gay relationships.

Kite Runner ***
reviewed by the Phantom
Hasn't just about everybody read this book by now? The movie follows the book's storyline very closely, the scenery is wonderful, it has a truly authentic look and feel, great acting. Interesting, intense story. The kite sequences are great. My only problem with this movie is with the kites themselves. I don't get it --"kite-cutting". Why do kite fliers have to chase each other out of the skies? What kind of a cruel game is this anyhow?

Kung Fu Panda ***
Reviewed by Antonio Garceffo

“Your training is a lonely war.” When you train, you battle yourself. You wrestle your internal demons forcing your mind and body to bend. Remember the story of the sculpture who was asked how he carved such a perfect warrior from stone. He answered, “the warrior as already there, I just removed the excess stone.”

I am inventing my own old saying, “Truth comes in the form of a Disney cartoon.” I saw “Kung Fu Panda” on its opening day in Manila, Philippines. I went back and saw it again the next day. Then I skipped a day, but the fourth day I was back at the cinema to hear Jack Black, as the Kung Fu Panda, speak the truth. Black is one of the funniest and most talent men in Hollywood. Both of his kids movies, “School of Rock” and “Kung Fu Panda” can be thoroughly enjoyed by adults, while teaching us lessons that we, in our sophistication, have forgotten.

Not to spoil the surprise for anyone who is still planning to see the movie, but in a nutshell, Jack Black, playing the Kung Fu Panda, is recognized as the legendary “Dragon Warrior,” a great Kung Fu hero who will defeat Tai Long, the evil master. The problem is that the overweight Panda has never had a single Kung Fu lesson in his life. The legend says that once the Dragon Warrior is identified, he should be given the dragon scroll, which will give him the secret to unlimited Kung Fu power. Then Kung Fu Panda is finally awarded the Kung Fu scroll, he sees that it is blank. Dejected, he leaves the temple, convinced that he is not the Dragon Warrior, and that he will never achieve greatness.

Back at home, Panda's father, a successful noodle vendor, wants his son to take over the family business. The father made a fortune off of his special dish called, “Secret Ingredient Soup.” Believing that his son is finally home to stay, and ready to take over the family business, his father shares the secret ingredient with him. “The secret is nothing,” says the father. “To make something special, you just have to believe it is special.” Panda opens the scroll and realizes that he can see his own reflection in the gold braid of the paper.  The message: “The secret ingredient is YOU.”  You can be your own hero. You can achieve whatever success you want. Dream, reach out, find your hero and then find the goodness in yourself.

La Vie En Rose ***
reviewed by The Phantom
I really wanted to love this movie. After all, everybody who knew her music simply loved the great Edith Piaf. It's French film, a biography of sorts, beautifully photographed, with a tremendous performance by Marion Cotillard, as Edith. But I think it was the format that thru me. Every other scene was a flashback, the story jumped from Edith as a child, a young girl, to Edith near the end of her life, endlessly back and forth until I wanted to scream. Why couldn't they have just told the story. So much was left out, including WWII, for some reason. We are left to speculate about what may have happened to her to bring on such an early death, was it alcohol, drugs, some mysterious ailment? One could not know from watching this film, so I cannot call it a biography -- too much was left out. Edith lived a short, and apparently very unhappy life, as many extremely talented people do. The music was good, and it was a feast for the eyes, but really left me wanting to see the real life story of Edith Piaf.

The Last King of Scotland ****
reviewed by the Phantom
Don't be fooled by the title, this is not a movie about Scotland. It's about Idi Amin, Uganda's brutal dictator, played deliciously by Forest Whitaker, for which he wins the Oscar. Who knew that playing this tyrant would lead to such an achievement. This is another convincingly brutal film, of course. Africa has lots of problems, and they continue -- well after Amin, who died just a couple of years ago exiled in Saudi Arabia.


Legally Blonde ***
reviewed by the Phantom
Blonde women take lots of heat in their everyday lives. Blonde jokes seem funny to many people. (Since the Phantom happens to be blonde herself, you may have noticed that their are no blonde jokes in Clever's archives.) So when I heard that this movie was getting good reviews, I put it on my must-see list. I was not disappointed, even though the plot and all the characters are created from every clichè and stereotype you've ever heard about blondes, lawyers, relationships, graduate school, and even gays and lesbians. Nobody was left out. But somehow, thanks to Reese Witherspoon and company, it all worked as a smart, screwball comedy. 

Reese plays Elle Woods, a total Barbie Doll sex pot right out of a college sorority who is determined to make her ex-boyfriend fall back in love with her by getting accepted to Harvard Law School so he'll realize she's more than the sum of her parts. The set-up is classic, and the humor relies on tried and true comedic turns, but somehow we're all laughing in spite of ourselves. It reminded me of those old classic comedies starring Hepburn and Tracy -- cute and silly, but with a touch of heart that leaves the audience feeling great. 

Les Miserables ****
reviewed by the Phantom
I saw the play in London and I think I slept through parts of it. I thought it ran a little long and was sometimes difficult to understand. But not this screen adaptation. I thought it was brilliant, a triumph. Even though there is no actual dialog, every word is sung, the story is totally accessible, and we definitely understand  Victor Hugo's wonderful book about this French rebellion and Jean Val Jean's plight. Unlike Anna Karenina, the other big screen adaptation of a classic novel, this one works at every level.

Lincoln ****
reviewed by the Phantom
I'm usually a squirmer in the movies. The seats are uncomfortable, or it's too cold, or maybe the exit light is bothering me, something usually keeps me shifting in my seat. But that didn't happen in this film. I was totally mesmerized by this story. Daniel Day Lewis was Lincoln and I was so caught up in the story that I forgot I was watching history and was totally shocked when Lincoln was shot. There have been some great movies this season, but my money's on this one to take the Oscar.

The Lincoln Lawyer ***
reviewed by the Phantom

Good movie, well-acted by Matthew McConaughey and Marisa Tomei. The title of this mystery written by Michael Connelly refers to a big black Lincoln limo-like car. Lawyer Micky Haller works out of it. In fact, he has a fleet of them. Haller trolls the local court house representing lots of low life criminals. And then he gets hired by a well-heeled defendant who seems to have accidentally gotten into a serious scrape. The plot gets complicated. It helps if you have already read the book. On the way out, I noticed a group of people having a heated discussion trying to figure out the plot. That's not a good thing, but I can understand how it could happen.

Magnolia ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
I pretty much wrote it off after first seeing it, but then I had a chat with someone who has a great eye for symbolism and a deep respect for the profound.  And I saw new layers in the film that I hadn’t even considered. Certainly it explores sweeping themes that may resonate stronger with some people than with others. What impressed me the most was witnessing Tom Cruise finally break free from his Maverick character, which seems to be his standard interpretation of roles. Magnolia is probably most enjoyable for those who enjoy doing a little work as part of their movie-going experience.

Mamma Mia ***
reviewed by the Phantom
Well, isn't this just about the cutest musical to hit the theaters in a long time. Abba music, everybody singing along, And Meryl Streep, like we've never seen her before, singing her heart out, and looking so slim and tasty. It's one of those brainless movies with the plot just added to the Abba hits to create some sort of a way to dish them up. Streep's daughter's wedding, but there's no dad, and then there are three possible dad candidates. What's a girl to do? And Christine Baranski, as Meryl's pal, wonderful as usual in a supporting role. The dads are sort of forgettable, but that's okay, it's the music we want to hear and see. Totally fun film, especially for us girls.

Man in the Moon ****
reviewed by the Phantom
This film is worth watching even if you're not a fan of Andy Kaufman. It's actually worth it even if you don't know a thing about Andy Kaufman.  I didn't pay much attention to Kaufman while he was alive (he died young) because I don't watch Saturday Night Live and somehow I forgot what was so funny about Taxi, the two vehicles that helped make Kaufman popular. Kaufman wasn't particularly interested in being popular or well-liked.  According to the film, he wanted to irritate people, to shake them up, to mess with their minds and then leave it up to them to figure out what he was doing to them.  That's an interesting twist because we usually think of performers as people who crave attention and want, above all else, to be loved by their fans.

The film details Kaufman's professional life, and focuses on helping the viewers understand his mindset.  That’s what makes the film different from the usual film biography. Jim Carrey does a superb job of becoming Kaufman.  He worked hard at it and he got it right. I think it's probably Carrey's best work yet. Carrey has come a long way from Ace Ventura-Pet Detective.  He just might be on his way to becoming a first-rate serious actor.

Mansfield Park ****
reviewed by Karen Dale
This is a Jane Austen-based tale; apparently it was crafted from ideas taken from her novel of the same name, as well as her early writings and journals. So said the opening credits. It certainly contains many of her stories’ basic elements: the idle rich, woman’s dependence on attaining a man, sharp wit and intelligence, and stunning English scenery. The plot was just a bit more complex than the standard ‘I love him, he loves her, no wait -- he loves me’ fair. 

This movie tried to explore themes deeper than ‘Love is nice’. The necessity of patience and belief that the universe orchestrates events to occur according to divine timing. The tension between formal education and soulful intuition. And the relentless Austen notions of stubborn self-reliance and character over beauty. These themes don’t tire as gentle reminders of timeless wisdom. It is a lovely movie that is interesting, humorous, and quite clever at times. My only area of discomfort was that the main character displayed a certain wisdom and motivation whose origin was never explained. The acting was very good and the English-ness was entirely authentic. Highly recommended.

March of the Penguins ***
Running time: 1 hr, 24 min.  Feels like: 1.5 hrs (K), eternity (P)
P—Cold! And tiring! I was like, “Why do the penguins have to do this?” And they weren’t eating! I mean, I’ve always liked penguins, but I don’t understand why they have to go through all that. It’s just so much work! Can’t we teach them a new way? Poor penguins.
K—It’s cute. Very Discovery Channel.

Master and Commander ***
reviewed by the Phantom

Russell Crowe is Captain Aubrey in the first movie of Patrick O'Brian's sea captain print series of swash-bucklers. It's been awhile since we've been to sea in the tall ships and something tells me that we'll be going again soon. It just smacks of a film series to me.

This movie genre has been around a long time, it's the ocean-going version of the big western and those of us who are adults have been many of them. Nowadays movie-making is so advanced that we can truly be immersed in the action, not like the old days when we had to stretch our imaginations to believe we were actually aboard a real ship. This particular O'Brian story's theme is about phantom ships and deception, probably a common-enough occurrence in those days. But predictably, the movie is mostly about cannons blasting, sabers rattling and old tars climbing mastheads. 

The main characters, Aubrey and the ship's doctor, seem to be complex characters with enough intellectual tension between them to be interesting, but I'm thinking that this is a series that will appeal more to guys than girls. It's definitely not a date movie, unless you've been dating for a very long time.

Match Point ***
Reviewed by the Phantom
Billed as Woody Allen’s come-back (to greatness?) film, this movie, for once, doesn’t star Woody himself. Whew! It’s a romance/mystery, set in London, gorgeous scenery, good acting by new-comers with big lips (what’s up with those injected lips anyhow?). This movie is long on the romance part and short on the mystery part, which is unfortunate. While watching it I had a flashback to Theodore Dreiser’s classic novel, The American Tragedy. It’s the same story, folks. But sometimes crime pays.

Mean Girls ***
reviewed by the Phantom

This is a girl-teenager coming-of-age movie and yet another attempt to explain how truly horrible the high school years can be. Picture this: a teenager has never been to public school in her life because she has been raised in Africa. We are supposed to think that living in the jungle would prepare her for this new nasty and brutish place she must now endure. It's an amusing film that rises above the average summertime fare, although the ending is somewhat predictable. A good renter.

Memento  ***
reviewed by Karen Dale

Everyone is talking about this film. It’s said to be very intelligent, suspenseful, and thought-provoking. I found it interesting, but the loose ends that didn’t get tied up left me unsatisfied rather than pensive. The story revolves around a bizarre brain malfunction that leads the main character to avenge a murder in a very roundabout way. The story is told backwards, so that by the end we get answers to the questions that have been raised along the way. It’s not nearly as sharp as a movie like The Sixth Sense which gets you at the end and then you realize you probably could have figured it out the whole time. 

This one throws in a couple of doozies from left field and dangles a few participles to try to dish out a good “ah-ha!”, or at least an “ooooooohh...!”. It’s a little unclean there at the end, though, which leads me to drop off a precious star. This movie is also slow-moving, which makes it feel overly long although it doesn’t even reach the two-hour mark.  The film is very well acted and definitely something new, which you always know is a plus for this reviewer. I recommend it, but only if you’ve already seen Shrek. (July 2001)

Memoirs of a Geisha ***
Reviewed by the Phantom
Most book-clubbers will have to see this movie, even though most of us have forgotten the plot by now. It’s not really a memoir, but a novel written by a man (with insight?) about geishas just before and during WWII. It’s moody, dark, and beautifully filmed. The myth of the geisha world is that while the women are devoted to pleasing men by using their talents in pouring tea, playing Japanese musical instruments, dancing and making light-hearted conversation, behind the scenes their world is fraught with danger, back-stabbing and desperate female conniving. This topsy-turvy world collapses as WWII turns ugly for the Japanese. The film got some bad press because many of the roles were given to Chinese actors. Once you get into the film, it makes little difference, the acting was terrific across the board.

The Messenger ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
Charisma, intuition, piousness, schizophrenia..? This movie contemplates one or all of these attributes utilizing the Joan of Arc legend. The film allows and encourages the viewer to choose their own moral-of-the-story. There is ample opportunity for rumination, debate and analysis. And if you are a complete history numbskull like me, the probable lack of historical accuracy doesn’t effect it. Consideration of human motivation and questioning of the true source of divine inspiration is much more meaningful matter than that of the brains colorfully displayed for gore’s sake. This movie is interesting for those who find questions of spirituality and destiny intriguing...long and a bit tedious for those in it for the plot. Worthwhile.

Michael Clayton ***
reviewed by the Phantom
I'm crazy about George Clooney so I was really looking forward to seeing this movie. Clayton is a lawyer. As he explains it: he's the fixer-janitor for his law firm. This is not prestigious lawyer work, it's cleaning up the messes that clients and other lawyers make. It's dirty work and apparently Clayton is good at it. However, this movie gets sort of muddled because of the complicated plot twists and the flashbacks. As with other Clooney films, it is not told in a straight-forward manner. Some of us are a little slow on the uptake so it's sometimes puzzling to figure things out. Plus, there are a few plot points that are a bit hard to swallow, but we must swallow hard to be able to stay with this very complicated film about cover ups, under-handed lawyering, and class action suits gone bad. They needed John Grisham's firm hand to fix up the script before they tackled this subject. It could have been a much better movie.

Michael Jackson concert documentary ***
reviewed by the Phantom
This was a terrific tribute to Michael Jackson. It was non-stop MJ, singing, dancing and creating his comeback. Little did we know that he was so drugged out and addled. So watching it is difficult while entertaining -- it's extremely sad to realize what a monumental loss it is that Michael is gone. Personal life aside, MJ was a master showman, and his comeback concerts would have been amazingly successful. As for the movie, it is all there, a fantastic concert, maybe the best one yet. A bitter sweet memorial, all his fans should see this documentary.

Midnight in Paris ****
reviewed by the Phantom
This is Woodie Allen's latest, and he doesn't act in it, thank god. It's Paris again, modern day Paris during the day, but during the night, at the stroke of midnight, it becomes Paris in the early part of the 20th century, and all of the Hemmingway crowd is there to help the clueless American from the 21st century become a writer. I usually don't go for this escapist stuff, but this one is different, so much fun, so easy to watch, so old fashioned in a modern way. I think it's Woody's best in a long time. Bravo, Woody. It's a brilliant romantic comedy set in the most romantic place on earth.

Million Dollar Arm ***
Reviewed by the Phantom
Another movie about Indians. This time it's a true story about young Indian boys who learn how to play baseball and then come to the US to show off their skills. It's a charming story, well acted and totally engrossing. The total immigrant experience. We know this story so well, and love watching it. What is it about the Indian people that intrigues us so much? The answer is everything!

Mission Impossible 4: ghost protocol ***
reviewed by the Phantom
I actually liked this movie. The storyline, what there was of it, was possible to follow, and Tom Cruise did a very good job. He runs funny, huh? But he's in good shape and was credible, in this rather incredible plot to blow up the world. You really do have to suspend your disbelief because the scenes simply do not hang together if you stop to think about them at all. And nobody in real life could take the physical punishment that this MI crew is subjected to. It doesn't matter because this was a really entertaining movie. Since this is the 4th in the series, there should be no more storylines and the stars should be too old for their parts. This one is the exception.

Monsoon Wedding ***
reviewed by the Phantom
This film comes to us from India and it has been gathering rave reviews, so I had to have a look at it right off the bat. It's a family story, probably a very familiar one in India, about an arranged marriage. It's a comedy, filled with bright color, wonderful characters, charming music, and domestic scenes that ring true for families all over the world. It's great entertainment, lots of laughs, and a feel-good ending. What more could we ask for (April 2002)  

Monster ****
reviewed by the Phantom
This is one of those movies that I felt I had to see for the performances. Charlize Theron and Christine Ricci truly do their characters justice. Theron deserves the Oscar for her work, which rises above anything that is expected of an actor. In case you've forgotten, the movie is the true story about the Florida prostitute who becomes a serial killer of her Johns and then is executed for her crimes. The story ends when she is caught so we don't have to go through all the prison stuff, which is a blessing, but the horror of her life is displayed in full detail. Masterful movie, difficult to watch.

Monster's Ball ***
reviewed by Christopher J. Stephens
At his best, actor Billy Bob Thornton is our new Humphrey Bogart. Look at that weathered, beaten face, those eyes that have seen hell and kept it all inside. As Buck Grotowski, a Georgia penitentiary guard who shepherds condemned men through their last days, Thornton is devastating in what he does not show, in all that he hides from the world. His father, Buck (Peter Boyle), is a retired guard, stuck on the couch, never far from his oxygen tank and a cigarette. Sonny (Heath Ledger), Buck’s son, is also a guard. The Grotowskis are a white southern family steeped in a racism that seems as natural as the air they breathe, but their lives are about to change.

Director Marc Forster, working from a script by Milo Addica and Will Rokos, takes his time with this story. The condemned man, Lawrence Musgrove, (Sean Combs) is an artist, reflective, contemplative, but not idealized. His wife Leticia (Halle Berry) will soon be faced with being sole provider for their son. Their scenes together are brittle with regret and sadness. Their boy Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun) meets his own tragic twist of fate, and it draws Leticia together with Buck in the usually manipulative way Hollywood movies have of creating romance.

Monster’s Ball refers to the final night ritual prisons go through for their condemned prisoners the night before they are to die. It could also stand for the slow dance of survival these grief-stricken characters must face halfway through this film. It’s a cruel world, with sharp twists and conclusive turns and nothing spoken can ever be taken back, but there’s an undeniable beauty to this film.

The primary buzz is around Halle Berry’s Oscar-nominated performance and the explicit love scene between her and Thornton. The buzz is justifiable, and the scene is raw, but it is far from obscene. These two characters are at their most vulnerable, and they need this contact. Talking won’t help. It’s a brave and explicit few minutes, but more so because both performers are symbolically exposing themselves to the world. They are investing everything into this work, and we can’t help but watch in awe as their relationship develops.

Berry is fantastic in this film, but Thornton’s ability to disappear into his character and wear the pain on his face is pivotal to her development, and the success of the film as a whole. It seems much harder to internalize grief. Thornton knows this, and he speaks through a look from his eyes or a touch of his hands. Amazingly, without resorting to Southern redneck stereotyping or the usual one-dimensional looks at superhuman African-American women, "Monster’s Ball" offers salvation and a new chance for both these characters. They will persevere, and we’re better for it. (3-02)

Monuments Men ***
reviewed by The Phantom
This is an old fashioned movie filled with actors that we recognize, which is always a good thing. It's the end of WWII, the mop up just after Hitler kills himself. So much destruction everywhere in Europe. Hitler and his gang stole and hid thousands of paintings and statues from the Jews and from museums all across Europe. Now it was time to get them back. Great premise. True story. A small group of US post-war soldiers set out to find and save for the world the art treasures that had gone missing. It's one of those stories that make you feel good about humankind in general.

Moulin Rouge ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
This film is different, very creative, and somewhat inscrutable -- a futuristic/historicmuscial love story. Pretty much a fairly tale that seems as though it belongs on the stage, with the richness of the scenery and the way the male lead projects his singing voice throughout. Could also be a cartoon, as the sets and characters all maintain somewhat of a surreal haze about them. This movie is loud and energizing while managing to be tender and emotionally evocative in the same space. Nicole Kidman -- fugedaboudit -- she truly just inspires incredible pity for Mr. Cruise and his poor decision-making skills. This one’s worth a look-see. (July 2001)  

Mr. Holmes ***
reviewed by the Phantom
Ian McKellen stars as Sherlock Holmes in retirement, living on an estate outside London, time frame just after WWII, with flashbacks. He's now very old with memory problems, has a housekeeper and is a bee keeper. Watson is gone. His day-to-day meanderings are well dramatized, and his rooms look just charming, The sets designs are lovely, they deserve an Oscar. The plot is about his final case, which he considers unsolved. He needs to figure it out but, drat it all, he can't remember it. Eventually things come together, Sherlock Holmes fashion, so we get glimpses of him in action. It's an enjoyable movie, perhaps a little long winded, but nevertheless, easy on the eyes

Mrs. Dalloway ***
reviewed by The Phantom
 This is a film adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel of the same name. Mrs. Dalloway is Virginia Woolf's version of Harold Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses. This time the twenty-four hour "day in the life of", takes place in London, rather than Dublin, and we follow Mrs. D's day as she prepares for an elegant party. Along the way, we are treated to her life story, and her inner thoughts as a genteel Victorian young woman who must choose between two suitors, one who can give her the stability and pampered life of leisure she is accustomed to, and the other who wants her to explore the world in a much different way. The film's setting is beautiful if you adore all those things which exemplified Victorian England, but the story is bland and slow-moving and I really didn't understand which of the suitors would have made a better choice for her. I'm not sure if V. Woolf did either. Perhaps one must read the book for the answer. But if you're suffering from insomnia and need a pretty movie to help put you to sleep, rent this one.

Munich ***
Reviewed by the Phantom
Bloody, violent, loud, tense -- but that’s to be expected, right? It’s a much more serious revenge movie than the usual fare. Spielberg has an agenda, just like he did with Private Ryan. He wants to explain something to us about revenge in general, and the historical roots of this present era of terrorism. Kusher’s script is first rate. He was asked to write this screen play, his very first, but he was working from previously produced material, and historical records as well. Nevertheless, his dialog works, which sets this movie apart from the usual thriller fare. We do begin to feel what it must be like to be on an assassination team (it’s not the OK Coral), and just how complex and distorted the rules are. But bottom line, this is a guy flick. I don’t think most women find this sort of film very entertaining or enlightening.

Music & Lyrics ***
reviewed by the Phantom
Who doesn't just love Hugh Grant, especially teamed with Drew Barrymore, what could possibly be any cuter. Nothing I can think of. This screwball comedy about an aging rock star is adorable and funny. Not bring-tears-to-your-eyes, wet-your-pants funny (when does that ever happen these days?), but it's filled with the small asides that Hugh is so famous for. That's what we want to watch. And Hugh can still shake his booty like the best of them. This movie is a winner.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
My hopes for an uplifting sleeper were met with this movie. I hadn’t heard anything about it and I’m REALLY trying to believe that this is NOT because the main character is not some gorgeous, Anglo, anorexic, taco de ojo. I need reassurance that our society is not so based on superficial…oh please, who am I trying to kid? Just myself. Go see this movie! It is a really funny slice of life that comes off as very genuine and touching. It’s one of those movies where you can forgive the small licenses the filmmakers take with plausibility, because you just really want to believe that it’s working out the way it looks. One thing that I appreciated about this movie was the way the small plot tensions weren’t allowed to build into Three’s Company style shenanigans, the way they could have. It told a story in a darn funny way, and left us all with big goofy smiles on our faces. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t ask for more from a summer movie. June 2002



The Duds!

Hannibal **
reviewed by the Phantom
Anthony Hopkins is back as Hannibal Lector for this Part II of grossness. Jody couldn't stomach another film of this type so Julianne Moore took over the role of Clarise and I think she did a creditable job of it. Ten years has passed and Hannibal is in Florence, Italy, working as a museum lecturer (or something). He's up to his old tricks, and in one of his more gruesome murders, he reconstructs the infamous hanging that occurred there during the 1400s. But that's only the teaser. This film is a total gross-out, with only the fine acting of Hopkins to redeem it. 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone **
reviewed by Karen Dale
I have heard two reactions to this movie: 1) It’s perfect, a great movie; 2) It’s too much like the book, not so good. I had both reactions when I saw it. I’ve read most of the Harry Potter books, and I was really excited to see all of the characters and events come to life. It seems that this is what the audience cried out for, and that is exactly what the filmmakers produced. They tried to include as many scenes and imaginative sequences from the book as possible, and they succeeded in perfectly rendering the spells, monsters, and characters that made it a great read. In fact, the filmmakers reproduced the book so well, in the exact manner that my imagination created it as I was reading, that I felt rather under-awed by the display, as if it was nothing new.

The filmmakers’ clear goal was to give a visual image to the wonderful, creative ideas in J.K. Rowling’s books. They certainly brought the story to life in the visual sense, but they forgot that life encompasses all the senses, rather than just the one. They failed to develop the back-story in any meaningful way: the movie was clearly created for people who have read the books and already know the intentions and motivations of the characters and the reasons for this story to occur at all. The statement that the movie is too much like the book is accurate, in the sense that they are both two-dimensional media. The film describes the events and people visually, rather than in words, but fails to provide the depth of detail necessary to give the story meaning, purpose, and heart.

Personally, I was bored and I felt irritated that the story was not made accessible enough for the person I watched it with to care about what was happening, as she had not read the book. The movie’s plot did not propel itself; the action jumped from scene to scene without any explanation for what, why, how, and who, with emphasis on the why. Kids should love it, since it’s very concrete and there’s not too much complicated plot to follow. I’m putting this movie in the pile with Monsters, Inc., as one that doesn’t cross over to the adult market with success. No coveted Shrek award for Harry, sorry lad. (12/01)

The Heat **
reviewed by the Phantom

I actually said yes to seeing this movie, although I knew from the beginning that the humor would be stupid. It's Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, playing an up-tight Fed and a foul mouthed cop. Guess which one is which? They are after a bad guy, of course. They try maybe a little too hard to be funny, but I actually did laugh out loud at times. I think the writers came up with the gags first and then wrapped a story around it. Bad, but watchable. Harmless fun.

Hello My Name is Doris *
reviewed by the Phantom
I was looking forward to this movie, so I was truly disappointed. Sally Field is old but still spunky, I will definitely give her that. (She deserves a better script.) It's the female version of The Intern, but since it's a woman, she's not an old intern dispensing wisdom, but instead is working in an office cube doing whatever, and seems like the office mate everybody tries to aviod. She has no wisdom to spread. I didn't buy the love story at all, so it seemed empty and embarrassing to watch Doris go through this forgettable story. Avoid this one if possible.

Hilary and Jackie **
reviewed by the Phantom
This film will probably mean more to classical music lovers who actually know who cellist Jacqueline du Pre was.  It's another one of those music biographies that seem to come along about one per year these days. This time it's musical sibling rivalry between sisters who grew up in England during the 1950s. Actually, the time period is not clear unless you're alert for the one brief reference to the Beatles. The rest of the biography follows their personal lives to the absolute exclusion of any historical or social reference point. The sisters are totally involved in becoming musicians from early childhood, Hilary the flute and Jackie the cello. At one point in the film Jackie even says to Hilary that they are not fit for anything in life except playing music.

Eventually, Jackie achieves success, while Hilary opts for hearth, home and a loving husband and chucks her career, perhaps to prove to sister Jackie that she could do something other than play the flute. The sisters physically split up and go their separate ways, but not for long. That's when the story becomes even more bizarre as it leads to its tragic end.

Even though musician biographies have found good audiences in the past, this time the magic just wasn't there. For one thing, the story was told from one sister's point of view and then retold from the other's in a rather disjointed way. (Groan.) Second, British filmmakers do have a tendency to linger over the scene just a beat or two too long for my taste, which was definitely the case here. And third, the camera work became quite annoying whenever the scene called for Jackie to actually play the cello. The camera did 360-degree revolutions around her throughout every performance, as if we would be bored just watching her play straight on. (Groan.) While I did manage to stay awake throughout and even watch it to the very end, I really can't recommend it too highly for general audiences.

Home Fries  (no stars)
reviewed by the Phantom
I like Drew Barrymore, who doesn't? So that's why I chose this one as a renter. I'd heard somewhere that it was basically a romantic comedy. In my humble opinion, it wasn't funny. It wasn't romantic. And it definitely wasn't good.

It was written by Vince Gilligan, who also writes scripts for "The X-Files." I think that explains it. In an opening scene a helicopter chases down a car, the driver gets out and starts running away from it on foot, and then eventually becomes so frightened that he dies of a heart attack. That scene could be right out of X-Files. Next, we find out that the pilots are the step-sons of the dead man, who have been enlisted by their mother to kill her husband. We are encouraged to believe this is all very funny by the "cute" background music. While I was watching this and other distasteful scenes, I was thinking that if the background music were different, the plot itself would be just another bad TV drama. It seemed as if they might have actually been making sort of a suspense drama but it was so laughably bad that they just added corny music and turned it into a "black comedy." It didn't work.

House of Mirth **
reviewed by the Phantom
Don't believe the title. There's nothing funny about this movie. Scully (Gillian Anderson) gets dressed up in beautiful Edwardian costumes and wanders listlessly through Victorian sets as a hopeless case. We're not sure what she's looking for and she doesn't either. Rent this one if you're suffering from insomnia. It's a sure-fire remedy.

The Hunger Games **
reviewed by the Phantom
I guess I'm the only one who is having "issues" with this movie. It's not the film per se that's bothering me, it was well constructed and very well acted. It's the plot and the message that scare the daylights out of me. This movie is recommended for kids. Teachers are pressing students to read this book. Why, I ask? The plot: we are living in dystopia, completely controlled with limited freedom and we can do nothing about it. Mysterious people, maybe game show hosts, are in charge of the world, and have decided that there will be no more world wars. Instead, there will be an annual TV game show, like the Olympics, where the children are turned into warriors who fight to the death for their own region. Only one child remains alive when the game is over. It's like the TV reality show Survivor, only lethal. It is shocking to me that this story comes onto the screen without a whimper from the ratings board (although they had a great deal of trouble allowing the movie The Bully to be shown to our little darlings. Go figure that one out.)

I was chatting with a clerk in a retail store the other day while he rang up my purchases, whose night job must be as a philosopher (no work for philosophers these days). Here's his reasoning: because of the wide spread watching of violent video games, young people are immune to violence and death, so it takes extremes like this movie to produce the cathartic effect that used to be more easily obtained (like old fashioned horror films). Nowadays we need more horror and killing to get that effect. I certainly buy that answer, but I'm dismayed that it has come to this.(2012)

I am Sam *
Reviewed by Christopher J. Stephens
Sean Penn has earned his right to a temperamental nature. His two writer/director efforts, "The Indian Runner" and "The Crossing Guard," along with last year’s sorely neglected "The Pledge" (the last two starring Jack Nicholson), were sad and serious films touched by greatness. Penn’s star turn in 1995’s "Dead Man Walking" was legendary and should have won him an Academy Award. His hard-earned credentials as an "artiste" are impeccable, but with "I Am Sam" he very well may have abandoned them. Folks, our last real actor may be gone.

Penn is the title character, a retarded single father of a daughter named Lucy Diamond (Dakota Fanning.) The plot, loosely built by co-screenwriters Kristine Johnson and Jessie Nelson around montages of Beatles cover performances, involves this earnest man with the mental capacity of a seven year old fighting to retain custody of his girl. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Rita, the high-powered lawyer who is basically browbeaten into taking his case pro bono. 

Of course, as this conveniently processed story evolves, Rita learns that she has been a neglectful mother to her young son. Her own marriage is falling apart, but we really don’t know why she takes Sam’s case. She’s a pawn of the story, and she’s going to be taught a life lesson by the benevolent, all-knowing Sam.

All You Need Is Love, but product placement obviously helps finance a film. The good folks of Starbucks and Pizza Hut play roles here. Sam starts as an employee of the former, and ends as a faithful servant of the latter. Through the miracles of film, this minimum-wage life allows him to keep a fairly good apartment, and move to a better one when Lucy is taken in by foster parents (the mother is played with cloying earnestness by Laura Dern). The feature length commercials are both annoying and insulting to watch, but this is in keeping with the overall patronizing nature of the film.

Director Jessie Nelson has given us a "Lifetime" cable TV movie, and Sean Penn has turned in one of the most annoying, patronizing portrayals of a retarded man ever put on screen. Sam doesn’t lose out in the end, but we do. We are subjected to long stretches of shiny happy people dancing to Michael Penn and Aimee Mann’s "Two Of Us," or Sarah McClachlan’s "Blackbird." 

Dakota Fanning is sweet and natural as the little girl, but it’s always in the service of Penn’s mugging. He was on "The Charlie Rose Show" musing about how retarded people are just naturally sweet, and this is a statement that smacks of ignorance. Sweetness won’t pay the bills. Blissful ignorance won’t support a child all alone. "I Am Sam" ignores reality in exchange for the feel-good "power of the human spirit." When Penn, as Sam, prances around in Beatle wig and suit, the movie ends up as a horrible endurance test. You have been warned. (3-02)

Jason Bourne **
reviewed by the Phantom
I have lost track of the number of films in this franchise, even though I have seen them all. I enjoyed the previous ones much more than this one. Not much story here for Matt Damien to sink his teeth into, so they just do a ridiculous Los Vegas chase scene, the usual shooting, and fighting that never ends. It's all rather boring in an edge-of-your-seat way. I don't think it's worth the money, and I don't think it's doing well at the box office.

Kill Your Darlings *
reviewed by the Phantom
This is a film biography of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs during their college years (WWII era) at Columbia University. Supposedly, they are the "founders" or "originators" of the Beat Generation. It's difficult to figure out what they are so angry about. They come off now as dilatants, frittering their young lives away, on some nebulous and meaningless rebellion against something that is never quite articulated. World War II music plays in the background as they destroy books, irritate their professors, and end up killing a school mate, in a tortured story that truly doesn't hang together. No sympathy for the subjects or the actors in this messy film.

Kiss Me Kate** (1953)
reviewed by the Phantom
"Brush Up Your Shakespeare..." This old-style Hollywood musical, starring Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson and Ann Miller, is loosely based on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, but that part is barely noticeable amid the dancing, singing and general silliness of this comedy, that nevertheless, reminds us that once upon a time, in a land far, far away, movies were really a lot of fun.

Lady in the Van **
reviewed by the Phantom
Maggie Smith plays an old lady who lives in a van, for years. Another true story, sort of. I'm sure they took some liberties to make this into a comedy. Maggie is parked in a friend's driveway. He doesn't have the heart to ask her to leave, but it is definitely an inconvenience. I cannot understand why she was there all those years. It's a very puzzling story for a realist like me. There isn't too much to laugh about homeless people who gut it out living day-to-day, hand-to-mouth, so playing it for laughs is the real reason why this story just doesn't work. Maggie tried a little too hard to make it funny and real, it was neither, I'm afraid.

Lantana **
reviewed by Karen Dale
I only gave this film two stars because it somehow managed to be interesting enough to make me fight between catnaps to keep my eyes open. I remember that there was a murder and they might have been trying to solve it, but I think there was something more they were trying to say. It just beats the hell out of me what it could possibly have been. This movie was S-L-O-W. I should have been forewarned that Ebert stuck his thumb up at it…this was actually one of the reasons I rented it (stupid, stupid—read: “banging of head with hand”). He’s got some kind of immunity to boredom that I wish he could bottle. If you’re compelled to see this one, be sure to watch it at noon in a straight-backed chair while eating corn-nuts. June 2002

Larry Crowne *
reviewed by the Phantom
How embarrassing for Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks. They are friends in real life, I think, but they aren't good enough actors to convince us that they could also be lovers. This romantic comedy is sort of funny at times, but mostly it's just clumsy and so far-fetched that we just roll our eyes. Julia is a community college teacher, but I guess she's never been in a classroom, and Tom is a student. Pul-eeze. It's not working, for one single minute. And then there's the inevitable teacher-student romance, not working either -- even for laughs. Skip this one, even as a rental.

Last Chance Harvey **
Reviewed by The Phantom

I wanted to love this film because it stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson and it's billed as a romantic comedy, a chick flick for older chicks, maybe. What a disappointment. Was it the script? Was it the fact that Emma is much taller than Dustin? Whatever it was, the lack of charisma and charm between these two characters is evident from the beginning and throughout the movie. Even adding all the comedy clichés -- the party, the shopping for the perfect dress, the miscommunication -- can't save this one. What a perfect shame. Let's give Harvey one more chance, or maybe it's Emma's character who needs better luck next time.

Life as a House **
reviewed by The Phantom
Choose this one after you've seen all the good ones. Kevin Kline is dying of cancer but his very dysfunctional family doesn't know it. His last wish is to finally build his dream house in his remaining four months. By the time he finishes it, his family has become the Brady Bunch. What else can I say. Hankies may be necessary. 

Life is Beautiful **
reviewed by the Phantom
The Phantom really wanted to live this movie since it's getting so much attention from "the academy" but I just can't.  It wasn't the subtitles, which I probably would have needed even if I spoke Italian because Roberto Begnini speaks so fast, and he's always talking, or gesturing, or bouncing around the screen, and he's in every frame of this two-act slapstick comedy-tragedy.  Neither act worked for me on any level even though I know I'm supposed to revere this movie because of its subject matter. I just couldn't.  Begnini reminds me of a smart Jerry Lewis, if that's possible.  Wait for the rental.

The Little Vampire *
reviewed by Karen Dale
I guess kids are happy with anything that has a little action and some neat one-liners to take back to school with them on Monday. As bad as I typically find child actors to be, this was probably one of the worst performances by a minor, this side of Nickelodeon. He truly excelled if he was going for consistency in blankness of expression and stilted delivery of overly-precocious lines. This movie even managed to take an idea as cool as flying vampire cows and package it into something hokey and uninteresting. Too bad our kids are learning young to settle for this kind of crap. (I wonder if I’m getting old..?)  

The Matrix **
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eviewed by Tom Beall
If you are looking for pure thrills, this movie will fill the bill.  In the distant future humankind lives a very “computerized” sort of life, but a few have broken free and are trying to liberate the rest.  However, they have to contend with the computer-generated opposition, and that is no easy task. Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, who is recruited into the group of rebels and is taught how to fight with and without weapons.  He is thought to be the only person able to defeat the system.  The special effects are the show, with the story and acting coming in second.  It’s well worth watching though, and should be positioned well for a sequel.

Moonrise Kingdom (no stars)
reviewed by the Phantom
I seldom walk out of movies and even less often do I demand my money back. But this time I did because I wanted to be part of the record of those who absolutely couldn't stand this movie. Stylized to say the least, storyline to make a person cringe, the stuff they thought was funny made me sick to my stomach. There must be a name for this sort of story telling but whatever it is, it's not for me. Presumptuous is the only word I can think of to describe a director who would foist such drivel on an audience.

Must Love Dogs *
Running time: 1 hr, 30 min.  Feels like: 2 hrs (K)
P—Didn’t see it. (Smart girl)
K—Love John Cusack, hate that he did this movie. Major suckage. Zero chemistry, zero depth to the plot, VERY trite.

Me, Myself, and Irene  ** 
reviewed by Karen Dale
A fun movie from the Farrelly Brothers, creators of There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber. As always, there is definitely a strong emphasis on those things gross and utterly ridiculous, but, for some reason, it just kind of works. Jim Carrey is great in a role that taps into all of his abilities¾ physical/slapstick humor as well as earnest portrayals of a variety of emotions. I can be very testy about movie depictions of mental illness; however, this movie ventures so far out of the realm of the possible that somehow it managed to suspend my disbelief. It’s entertaining, but also a good one to wait for on video (insert DVD, satellite, HBO, etc.).

Message in a bottle*
reviewed by the Phantom
 (After watching 5 minutes of the Postman° , I swore I would never watch another Kevin Costner film, but then I must have had a senior moment and forgot that pledge, so I sat through this manipulative tear-jerker, feeling more angry at myself than Kevin. This Nicholas Sparks novel has been turned into a two-hour torture session of romantic drivel. Now, don't get me wrong. I love a good romantic movie, but this one threw in every sentimental cliché they could think of to try to shift our attention away from the fact that this was a totally implausible story; everything was there except the puppy, which would have died, had they included it.

The Mexican (no stars)
reviewed by the Phantom
Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt get to read lots of scripts and can choose any project they want. Money is no object. So my question is: why on earth did they choose to make this dreadful movie? It’s unwatchable. (11/01)

Miss Congeniality o
reviewed by Karen Dale

This movie rated lowest on the stupid-o-meter. It was probably a bad omen that after suffering through the first five minutes of this one, I had to excuse myself from the theater. It was just sooo bad! I couldn’t imagine subjecting myself to three more senseless, idiotic pictures, even for the sake of a potentially amusing article.

Monsters, Inc. *
reviewed by Karen Dale
It’s not really fair that I review this movie for a couple of reasons. First, I’m thirty years old, for god’s sake -- this movie was not made for me. Second, I didn’t stay ‘til the end ‘cause I was bored outta my mind. I think a high level of false advertising was poured into the marketing of this movie. 

They wanted us grown-ups to think the jokes were gonna include us, but the slapsticky, tedious nature of the shtick was barely getting laughs out of the seven-year-olds in the theater, and the adults were paying more attention to their popcorn. And third (thought I’d try to sneak one more in), a movie whose premise is scaring the “s” out of little kids and bottling their screams needs to reevaluate its priorities before deciding on it’s audience. Personally, I was somewhat horrified. You could see where it was going, and I’m guessing that I know how it ended, but I just didn’t have the patience or masochistic chutzpah to subject myself to it any longer. (12/01)


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