The Flixter's Movie Reviews
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Archive #3

Troy
a la The Flixter

       Mycenean King Agamemnon (the great Brian Cox) is going around making additions to his kingdom.  He finds the perfect reason to surround Troy when Helen, his brother's wife, runs off with Paris (Orlando Bloom) to that city. So his forces surround that city, and war is on.
       Brad Pitt is pretty awesome as his star warrior, Achilles. The guy is a fierce fighter. When he is introduced, he has just crawled out of bed, but that doesn't stop him from going off and killing a giant challenger with a single blow. He is reluctant to join Agamemnon's army but Odysseus (Sean Bean) convinces him to join the forces and become part of history. So he gets on board one of the ships that make up Agamemnon's huge fleet of 1,000 ships, that are headed towards Troy.  Inside Troy we have King Priam, played by the great Peter O'Toole (I was kinda shocked to realize he's still around, Sorry).  He has some forces by his side, which include his sons Paris and Hector (Eric Bana). The action begins and never lets up until its over.
     Orlando Bloom is hard to sympathize with since he comes across as pretty much a wuss. First, he steals another man's wife and then he doesn't even have the guts to stand up and fight much of the time.  Let's not forget Helen; sure, she's hot but she is kind of hard to sympathize with since she's pretty much a hoochie (I hope you won't have me elaborate on that) bringing about the demise of all these people.  At one point, Priam says that war is just young men dying and old men talking. How true.
     A very awesome looking movie, but when the whole part with the Trojan Horse comes about, I couldn't help but think of the Trojan Rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The fights (mostly computer generated when shown from a distance) are amazing. The face off between Hector and Achilles is just plain amazing.   Very good but a little short of great....   

Rating:  FOUR STARS

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Van Helsing
a la The Flixter

       Its been five or six days since I saw this one, so let me try my best to recall all fond memories associated with this cinematic
extravaganza (yup, I am being sarcastic again)
Van Helsing is not the same geriatric protagonist of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Here he is embodied by Mr. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine from the X Men movies) and he is going around killing off monsters, slowly making his way
to the master fiend,
Count Dracula. He meets up with Kate Beginsale's Anna in Transylvania (hate to call that place my hometown).  She(once again, not hard on the eyes) is on a personal crusade against these monsters, since her family has had a tragic past with these folks.
      Anyway, Count Dracula is in his castle with his brides. His plan is to use Frankenstein's monster (the only sympathetic character) to gain some sort of powers.  Anna's brother, her only surviving relative, has been turned into a werewolf; also, in the beginning, is Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll's alter ego, who is there briefly as a humongous-type thing.  So the stage is set and you should know what you are in for. A whole bunch of dizzying special effects, as eye candy takes precedence over any serious attempts at entertaining the filmgoer.
       I am sure there are many who will be entertained, but I wasn't one of them. It was pretty disappointing to know that it was from director Stephen Sommers, who was behind such entertaining movies such as The Mummy and The Mummy Returns.  The summer movie season has begun and hopefully has better offerings...   

Rating:  ONE STAR

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Envy
a la The Flixter

       Tim (Ben Stiller) and Nick (Jack Black) are best friends and neighbors. They both work at a factory that makes sand-paper (???). Tim is a dedicated worker while Nick is a dreamer. His biggest flaw, as illustrated by the progress reports, is a lack of focus. How can he focus when he keeps getting these insane ideas for inventions? His latest is a product he calls "Va-poo-rize." Its a spray can that you carry with you when walking your dog. The dog does its business, you spray Vapoorize on the mess, and it evaporates.  Sounds good, but according to Tim, its just another crazy idea from his pal. That is until Nick, working with a scientific guy, makes it happen. Vapoorize is born and becomes an instant hit.
      Nick gets wealthy beyond expectation. But he won't leave his best bud, so he just turns his house into a castle, right across the street from Tim. He drives fancy cars and even buys a white stallion; he gets a butler; he gets a merry-go-round for his kids. Nick's kid plays a grand piano while Tim's son bangs away on garbage can lids......and Tim still lives hand to mouth and goes to his job like always. Of course, the title kicks in, as Tim has to constantly see all this and hear it from his wife about how he is a moron for letting that golden opportunity go by.  In comes Christopher Walken as a homeless vagrant that Tim meets in a bar.  Tim lets all he is holding in, out, and Walken's nut, the J-man, puts ideas about getting revenge in his head.  Tim goes along even though Nick has always treated him as a best friend, sharing as much as he can. So revenge is plotted and plans back fire as expected. Plus, a campaign starts brewing that demands to know, "Where does the sh*t go?"
     The movie is funny but how long can you laugh at dog poop jokes? I started out loving it but by the time it was over, it just felt ok. Both Stiller and Black have done a lot better. And what about director Barry Levinson?  An Oscar winning director (Rain Man) who has done plenty of great films. I am a huge fan of his Baltimore trilogy( Diner, Tin Men, and Avalon).  How the hell did he end up sinking to the level of poop jokes? God knows how things work out in Hollywood....   

Rating:  TWO STARS

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Man On Fire
a la The Flixter

       Mexico City is a dangerous place, especially if you are a child with wealthy parents. Kids get kidnapped left and right and held for ransom. That is where John Creasy (Denzel Washington) has ended up. He used to be a CIA operative and assassin. But that was a past he is trying to leave behind; you know that, because he is always sulking and chugging down alcoholic beverages. Then a friend (Christopher Walken) hooks him up with Marc Anthony's wealthy industrialist. He and his wife have a precious young daughter, Pita (Dakota Fanning), and they want Creasy to be her bodyguard. Creasy accepts the job. In the beginning, he is strictly her bodyguard, stoic and serious. Pita tries to be friends with what she describes as "a sad teddy bear." Eventually, Creasy does give in; he becomes her friend. He becomes her swimming coach. Pretty much, he becomes the father figure and friend that the little girl can't even see in her own father.  Then she is kidnapped. Creasy is left injured and lying in a hospital. The parents agree to pay the ransom but somehow the drop-off gets bungled. The money disappears and the kidnappers are not happy. It appears that they have killed Pita. That is when Creasy blows up.
       He goes after whoever is on his way to finding the culprits. There are corrupt cops, many foes, and a few allies. He doesn't let anything get in the way. The movie gets brutally violent as he kills, maims, and tortures, anyone that gets in the way.  There are twists and turns but eventually a happy ending.  Denzel Washington gives another great performance.  He is a mourning loner who starts to recover with the help of an unlikely friendship. Then he is a vengeful mourner who will stop at nothing to make the wrongdoer pay. But its surprising to see the young Ms. Fanning match, and at times top, her older co-star. Its good,but director Tony Scott (Ridley's brother) gives it a few too many music video touches and the ending is a little too compromising.  From somber to Hollywood in a very short time..     

Rating:  THREE and 1/2 STARS

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Kill Bill Vol.2
a la The Flixter

       The Bride is back. But you probably need a brief recap. The Bride (her name was never revealed), played by Uma Thurman, was an assassin working for The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (I am pretty sure I got that right) that takes its orders from Bill (voice of Keith Carradine who actually shows up physically in this one). She got pregnant, left the Squad, and was getting married. But Bill wouldn't let her off so easy. The wedding was hit by her former allies and everyone was killed. Even she took a bullet to the head and went into a four year coma. She woke from the coma and went out after those who had done this to her. The movie skipped around in time and we saw her take on her enemies. It was bloody as hell but it was great cinema.  Now we pick up where we left off.
      The Bride (her name is revealed) is still on her avenging crusade. She goes after Daryl Hannah's one-eyed former colleague. She goes after Michael Madsen's former ally. She goes after whomever is on the way to Bill and once again the movie jumps around in time. We see her go to a martial arts master, an old and grumpy Gordon Liu Jia-hui (Tarantino's a big fan, of course) and get training. That is pretty brutal but she leaves well trained.  Then finally she faces Bill, who has a surprise revelation for her that came at the end of Volume One. But the standout here is when the screen goes pitch black for a pretty long time. The Bride has been thrown into a coffin and put in a grave. Her agony is muffled by the sound of the dirt being thrown on the coffin. The grave is filled and you sit there looking at the black screen, listening to her struggle and wondering what will come next.  Just go watch it, if it sounds like something that may interest you (watch the first one first, though). Its not as bloody as the first one, even though a character gets their eye plucked out and squished under the
gouger's foot.
       I loved it. The music is great.  An absolutely amazing movie with a great story, amazing action, and a pretty poignant end....     

Rating:  FIVE STARS

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The Punisher
a la The Flixter

        Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) kills the son of powerful crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta); but that's part of his job. He's a cop and it happens during one of his final jobs, while he is impersonating an arms dealer.  Then he plans on retiring and leading a quite existence with his wife and son. But you know how the best laid plans of mice and men go...... Saint comes after him and attacks during a family reunion. Not only does he kill his wife and kid but pretty much wipes out his entire family, siblings and parents included....... and The Punisher is born.
      Living in a dreary apartment building, Castle works the nights going around and eliminating wrong-doers and slowly making his way up to Saint. His neighbors, a couple of geeky room-mates and a beautiful waitress start to get suspicious about their misanthropic neighbor and eventually become allies. The waitress (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) also provides a potential love-interest.
     The movie is based on a Marvel comics hero but the hero doesn't have any super powers, just an endless supply of ammunition. The movie is extremely brutal. Sadistically so, when a seemingly endless scene of torture turns to the body piercings of one of the neighboring allies. But its not too
bad, even though some digressions into humor go on for too long.
Travolta is in pretty standard villainous mode. I think the movie works best when the violent ways are put aside and a little deviousness is used to turn Saint against his wife and best friend. Like I said before, its not too bad, but I also liked The Punisher from ten years ago or so, even though it had the great thespian Dolph Lundgren (yes, I am being sarcastic) in the title role and a bunch of French-Canadian types playing Italian mobsters..     

Rating:  THREE & 1/2 STARS

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The Alamo
a la The Flixter

        In case you forgot the Alamo, here's a reminder. Sometime in the early to mid 1800s, (I am not too big on history), the Alamo was surrounded by Mexican General Santa Anna's army. On the inside were about 200 or so Texans. On the outside, were many, many more times  Mexicans. The stage was set for an epic battle for survival, that Hollywood dreams of...... Certainly so, since there have been many movie versions of that stand-off. This one may be the most expensive one, since according to some accounts, Disney spent close to a $100 million to bring this to the screen.
      Anyway, on the inside, we have Billy Bob Thornton's David "Davy" Crockett, along with Jason Patric's Jim Bowie, to name a few famous people.  Meanwhile, a little farther away is Dennis Quaid's Sam Houston. Quaid, unfortunately, doesn't get too much time and most of the time he gets, he is pretty tipsy, thanks to his fondness for alcohol.  General Santa Anna is a meanie, of course, and Jim Bowie's life isn't just threatened by the bullets since he is terminally ill (means he's dying).   Many, many fights happen as the Mexicans keep getting closer and closer.
      We all know the outcome, so no surprises there.  The movie was pretty slow despite all the flying bullets and cannonballs.   There isn't much to write about.  The Alamo gets surrounded...... People on the inside are outnumbered...... They put up a tough fight..... The Alamo falls.... That's about it.....  Despite having sat through a two hour account of how bad the Mexicans were, I stopped over at Taco Bell after the movie, to get my daily Chalupa.     

Rating:  TWO STARS

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Hellboy
a la The Flixter

        The year is 1945. The Nazi master plan during World War II involves opening a portal into Hell itself, and letting some heat into our world; they manage to do that but the Allied forces arrive just in time.  They blow up the portal but one thing that manages to come through is a little infant, devil-type thing. But the soldiers take kindly to the boy and they pretty much adopt him. Over the years, Hellboy has become a part of tabloids, with both TV and Print speculating on his sightings.
       In present day, Hellboy has grown to a pretty huge size and keeps busy smoking cigars, grinding down his horns, and fighting crime. The government has utilized his abilities pretty well. He has been raised by a father-figure scientist (John Hurt) at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Development (or something like that) in our very own Newark, NJ. But things get messy again when one of the original villains, Rasputin (a resurrection of his name-sake mad monk) re-emerges, intent on opening up the portal again. He does manage to do so, letting some nasty Hell creatures loose.  Meanwhile, there is a whole bit going on with Hellboy being in love with one of his fellow freaks, Selma Blair's human torch who can set her surroundings ablaze when she's in a bad mood.
       So the battle begins, including some spectacular set pieces, mixing some awesome pyrotechnics with some equally huge creatures. Ron Perlman is great as Hellboy, mixing some poignancy with humor about his potential for a love and its good to see Guillermo del Torro return to directing something decent after the horrible Blade 2. Some may call it a wannabe X Men but I think the two can hold their own ground (but I do like the X Men movies a little better.)
      A fun time, if not much more. A pretty decent comic book adaptation (can't wait for The Punisher)..

Rating:  FOUR STARS

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SHANGHAI KNIGHTS
a la The Flixter

         Chon Wang is still in America.  He's actually the sheriff in some small desert town where they all pronounce his name John Wayne, but he has to give up his duties there, to go to England and avenge the murder of his father.  But first he stops over in New York City to get some money from his friend Roy O'Bannon.  You see, Roy was supposed to have wisely invested their fortune (from the first film), but instead John finds Roy working as a waiter --- since he lost that fortune.  The two fight, but in the end, they head off to England.  There they have to track down the evil Rathbone, who killed John's father and stole the Imperial Seal.  Joining them is John's sister Lin, also on a quest to avenge her father's death; she also finds herself becoming the object of gigolo Roy's desire.  Rathbone, a distant heir to the throne, is actually planning on eliminating all his competition, so he can be next in line.  That's enough of an explanation of the plot. 
       There are many, many awesome fights and a whole lot of comedy thanks to Owen Wilson's Roy (who is pretty much a male, dumb, blonde).  Like I have said in other reviews, I am a huge Jackie Chan fan; he is perfect as John Wayne.  And I have to hail him a genius, since many of the fights are just pure works of art because of their scale and complexity.  This movie more than makes up for the thoroughly disappointing Tuxedo.
    LOVED IT.

   P.S.  The police officer who helps them is a wannabe author by the name of Artie (full name: Arthur Conan Doyle).  And the young street boy who picks their pockets and later becomes an ally is named Charlie (last name: Chaplin).
 

Rating: FIVE STARS.

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How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days
a la The Flixter

         Poor Andie (Kate Hudson) wants to be a serious journalist and do stories about world events.  She wants to write about socio-economic issues but instead gets handed tripe about superficial feminine issues, by her boss.  But maybe if she can do well with her latest assignment, her boss will let her do her own thing.  The latest assignment she gets is to write about "how to lose a guy in ten days".  She has to hook up with a guy and do everything so wrong that the chap won't be able to stand her past the ten days; her diary will be the article.  Enter Ben (Matthew McConaughey) on an assignment of his own.  He's an "ad guy" who wants to land a big jewelry account --- his mission is to get a girl to fall in love with him in ten days.
       The two meet at a club and the fun begins.  Andie tries her hardest to make Ben leave, while he tries his best to make her stay. Kate Hudson was absolutely great ---NO, not in this movie.  I am talking about her breakout performance in Cameron Crowe's love letter to music, Almost Famous.  Over here she is just plain annoying; as she tries so desperately to lose a guy in ten days, she almost succeeded in losing me as an audience member during the first half.  Then the movie shifted into a regular romantic-comedy mode as the two leads begin to see past their assignments and actually start bonding.  Matthew McConaughey is in pretty standard romantic comedy mode as well.  You know that I am a wuss for a good romantic comedy --- this just wasn't one of them.
    

Rating: One Star.

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Final Destination 2
a la The Flixter

         Kimberly and her friends are heading down to Daytona Beach for Spring Break.
Just before she pulls onto a busy highway,
Kim sees a vision of a massive car wreck, taking place on that highway.  She "freaks out" when she sees a truck carrying lumber pass by --- it is the same truck that caused all the mayhem in her vision.  She tries telling her friends, but they are just not listening.  So she blocks the entrance ramp to the highway with her SUV.  All the people behind her are getting angry and a cop, who is among them, gets out to see what is going on.  As she hysterically tries explaining, the accident happens and everyone is silenced by the chaos. 
       The accident that she had envisioned is one heck of a spectacle; an absolutely awesome demolition derby.  Like the first film, death's system will not be disturbed.  All the people who were supposed to die are going to die.  And they do so in some very stylized and gory death scenes; they get decapitated; they get sliced; they get squished into mush.   All the while, Kim tries desperately to find a way to stop the chain reaction.  She even turns to Ali Larter's Clear Rivers, the only survivor from the original who is now in a padded cell at a mental institution.  The moral of the story seems to be:  Don't do any good.  For instance, don't help some old lady cross a busy street, because if she doesn't get hit by a speeding car, she will just die being impaled on some knitting needles while knitting a pair of booties (or something like that.)  But seriously, the movie is pretty damn cool.  All the death scenes are spectacularly set up.  I loved the first one, and I enjoyed this one too, even though there's not much new here.
    

Rating: Three and a half Stars.

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The Recruit
a la The Flixter

         James Clayton (Colin Farrell) graduated at the top of his class from MIT. Still haunted by the mysterious disappearance of his father, he is working as a bartender and marketing his new computer programming "break-through".   Along comes James Burke (Al Pacino) a sort of talent scout for the CIA.  He gives Clayton a chance to be recruited by the Agency, which Clayton takes; consequently he is taken to The Farm, a training facility for recruits.  There he is put through all the usual spy training stuff --- and among his fellow recruits he also finds a love interest in the form of Bridget Moynahan's Layla.  But things start getting out of hand when the line between the training and reality starts to get blurry.  Is there really a mole in the training camp or is it just part of the training?  And if there is, then could Layla be the one?  Plus Clayton is starting to see a father figure in Pacino's Burke, which also complicates things, when loyalties are pitted against a potential romance.  But then again, is it really love or is Clayton just being strung along as part of another test?  There is a very simple but delicious twist towards the end, as once again the players come to realize what is and is not.
         The movie doesn't add anything new to the espionage genre.  Pacino's
performance is not too different from what he has been doing in the past. But it's entertaining and I enjoyed it.     

Rating: FOUR STARS.

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A Guy Thing
a la The Flixter

         Paul (Jason Lee) is getting married to Karen (Selma Blair), his boss' daughter.  The morning after his bachelor party, he wakes up with Becky (Julia Stiles) who was one of the Tiki dancers at his wild party.  As he is trying to make sense of what might have happened, his fiancй returns.  A hectic comic, cover-up happens as Paul tries to get Becky out before his fiancй sees her.  Paul is trying very hard to carry on, but he can't get Becky out of his mind.  Its a very standard romantic-comedy --- not many surprises.  Jason Lee is pretty funny, especially when he gets obsessed with a huge and obese male dance instructor.
        Like I said, a very standard romantic comedy.....  Not much to write about....       

Rating: TWO STARS.

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National Security
a la The Flixter

         Earl, played by Martin Lawrence, has locked his keys in the car; he is desperately trying to get into his car, when a cop pulls up.  Officer Hank is suspecting foul play seeing a black man trying to get into a locked car.  Things proceed to get messy and Officer Hank is accused of "police brutality".  Hank is stripped of his badge and is sent off to prison for six months.  Once there, he chooses to spend his time in solitary confinement, rather than dealing with vengeful black prisoners who want a piece of this "racist cop."   When he gets out, he joins a security firm and continues his quest to find the guys responsible for killing his partner.  There is only one problem; he is paired with Earl, who has also joined that same security firm.   What follows, is another "mismatched buddy movie".
         Martin Lawrence does his usual thing as Earl, and Hank, Steve Zahn, gets pretty annoying going through most of the film with the same pained expression.   If you have seen the preview, you have seen the comedy.       

Rating: ONE STAR.

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25th Hour
a la The Flixter

         It is Monty Brogan's final day before he begins his seven year prison sentence.  The movie takes place over those final 24 hours, as he mulls over his life while making a final round of NYC, along with his best friends, Frank and JakobFrank is a slick Wall Street trader and Jakob is a high school English teacher; then there is Monty, the Irish-American drug dealer who is about to pay for his dirty deeds.  The highlight of the movie takes place when he goes into the bathroom of a bar; there Monty looks into the mirror and launches into an angry rant against all the members of NYC's "melting pot."  However, he finally sees that he has only himself to blame ( that particular scene could just as well be a modern "to be or not to be" soliloquy ).
         Edward Norton is absolutely great as Monty; Barry Pepper is good as the hotshot Frank, but it's Phillip Seymour Hoffmann who is tops as Jakob, a teacher under torture by a "Lolita-esque" student played by Anna PaquinRosario Dawson is also great as Monty's longtime girlfriend ---- and let's not forget the great Brian Cox as Monty's dad, who can't figure out how or why he screwed up......... There is an almost surreal prelude to the finale of the movie, when Monty and his father mull over what can or cannot happen.
         This was a great movie from director Spike Lee...... a really great movie.          

Rating: FIVE STARS.

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Antwone Fisher
a la The Flixter

         Antwone Fisher is an angry young man, so angry in fact, that his frequent outbursts against his fellow shipmates, gets him sent to a Navy psychologist.  Of course, he is not too cooperative there either.  His first couple of sessions are spent clamming up while the "shrink" tries to get him to open up.  Consequently, the doctor starts "playing along"; Antwone sits quietly on the couch while the doctor does his paperwork --- no words are exchanged.  This works because soon words are being exchanged and a depth is revealed behind the hostility. 
         Born in prison, and having run the gauntlet of abusive foster care, Antwone begins to see a father figure in Denzel Washington's doctor personage.  The doc, meanwhile, is having his own marital problems.  When Antwone is invited over for a Thanksgiving dinner, he sees a family he's been searching for and the doctor sees a son that he can't have..... it might sound "sappy" but it's not.....   Derek Luke as Antwone is great and the great Denzel Washington is just as good in front of the camera as he is at his directorial debut.
        The movie is extremely satisfying as Antwone learns to return the affection of a femaler co-worker and seeks to find his original family.  Based on the real Antwone Fisher's autobiography, it is simply one of the best movies of the past year.   

Rating: FIVE STARS.

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Catch Me If You Can
a la The Flixter

         The Abagnales have moved to a new town.  On the first day of school, out of nowhere, sixteen year old Frank Abengale Jr. steps in front of the class and introduces himself as the teacher.  The real teacher is out sick and nobody knows Abengale yet; plus his confident manner is convincing.  A whole week goes by before the school realizes what is going on.  The parents are called in, but young Frank sees a whole new world of opportunity....
           Leonardo DiCaprio is great as Frank Abengale, Jr.  He is just as confident playing the role as his character is at "conning" people. Before he has turned 21, he's fooled people into believing he's an airline pilot, a physician, and a lawyer.  Additionally, he has cashed over a million dollars in bogus checks.  All the while, he is being pursued by FBI Agent Carl Hanratty Carl is played by, the always great, Tom Hanks, whose FBI character is always a step behind Abengale . However, the chase here is a pleasure; probably the most fun you will have at the movies all year. 
        The movie is based upon the true life exploits of the Real Frank Abengale Jr. , who was an an advisor for the film makers.  This is the most light-hearted movie from director Steven Spielberg in a long, long time.       

Rating: FIVE STARS.

P.S. Christopher Walken is also great as Frank Abengale, Sr. .

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Maid In Manhattan
a la The Flixter

         Marisa Ventura is a struggling single mother.  When not chauffeuring her young son around, she is working as a maid at The Beresford, which happens to be a luxury hotel, full of ultra-rich and important guests.  One day, she, along with her fellow maids, starts fooling around with a patron's expensive wardrobe.  She happens to bang into "Senate hopeful" Chris Marshall while she has one of those expensive robes on --- he thinks that she is also a guest at the hotel.  Sparks fly and she has to carry on the lie she unwittingly perpetuated, along with her very supportive co-workers.  They wanted to see Marisa make it to management, but now see an even better pay off for the hard working mom.  Of course, the political hopeful is being hounded by paparazzi who see a scandalous story in the whole situation.  Yada yada yada, you know how romantic comedies work...
        Jennifer Lopez is great as Marisa and Ralph Fiennes is just as good as the political hopeful. I am a huge fan of his; ever since he broke out as a ruthless Nazi in Schindler's List, he has not done a bad movie.  And this one is no exception.  Much of the comedy comes at the expense of Stanley Tucci's campaign manager who is trying to steer his candidate away from any scandal.  Bob Hoskins is also very good as the hotel manager who is also a father-figure to Lopez's Marisa.
Very good movie. Call me a wuss or whatever, but I liked it. ..  

Rating: FOUR STARS.

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Analyze That
a la The Flixter

         Dr. Ben Sobel is at his father's funeral.  Before he can go up and say some last words about his departed dad, he keeps imagining himself up in front of everyone, talking about how bad a father his dad really was; then his cell phone rings and it's one of his former patients complaining about how someone is trying to kill him.  But the patient in this case happens to be gangster Paul Vitti, now in prison ---- so there might be some truth to his fears. Ben hangs up, but is called in by the Feds the next day.  It appears that Vitti has gone a little crazy and the Feds want to release him into Ben's custody since he was Vitti's shrink before his imprisonment. Reluctantly, Ben has to do it and, as a result, finds out that Vitti was just faking it.  Vitti just wants to get his gang back together and return to his old ways.
      Watching Robert DeNiro, as Vitti, trying his hand at comedy again is amusing at first until one realizes that its pretty much a rehash of what he did in Analyze This. But there are some pretty funny moments, especially during the scenes in which his mobster tries his hand at regular jobs like car salesman and working at a restaurant. Billy Crystal is also pretty funny as the reluctant chaperone Sobel who has to deal with Vitti and carry on with his regular life, which includes an impressionable son and a "not-so-happy-with-the-situation" wife (Lisa Kudrow).
Pretty funny. I think I got my money's worth..        

Rating: THREE STARS.

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Solaris
a la The Flixter

         It's the not too distant future and once again it seems there won't be any drought problems since the rain is constant.
         Dr. Chris Kelvin is a psychiatrist specializing in "grieving".  When he is not trying to help his patients, he is trying to cope with the suicide of his wife, Rhea. Then he gets called for help --- his friend, who was on a space station orbiting the planet Solaris, has sent a video tape requesting his help.  There have been strange occurrences on the space station and the friend thinks that Kelvin should come up and check them out, so Kelvin is off to the space station (I forgot the name).
        Once he has arrived there, he finds that there are only two survivors.  When he falls asleep, he dreams of Rhea, and wakes to find her beside him.  Yup, strange things are happening.  George Clooney as Kelvin just may be his best performance; beyond that, the movie is dank, depressing, and extremely slow moving. It's a remake of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's  "just as slow" movie. Thank God, it was only ninety something minutes  long.  I don't think I could have stayed up past that..............
       It might become a critical "fave" like Insomnia (which I also found unbearably slow), but this critic did not like it too much.  Director Steven Soderbergh and Clooney did great with Ocean's Eleven. Unfortunately, I can't say the same here.        

Rating: TWO STARS.

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Die Another Day
a la The Flixter

           As is Bond tradition, the movie starts off with an over-the-top-action-set-piece with loads of big explosions.  But this time the sequence ends with James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) being captured by North Korea; then we go to pretty traditional opening credits with silhouettes of naked women dancing around and doing gymnastic routines to a Madonna theme song (she also pops in for a cameo) --- and this time those ladies are joined by scenes of Bond being tortured in his imprisonment. Then the movie really starts.
          Bond has been in prison for 14 months. He is released as a trade with a North Korean prisoner that the Brits had.  Ironically, he happens to be the same guy that Bond was caught trying to kill.  As a result of that failed attempt, he has a face full of diamonds. The plot, as is another Bond tradition, is overly complicated, involves stolen diamonds and an arch-villain who is building an eternal sun. The action goes all over the globe -- from it's North Korean opening to its finale in an ice castle on the top of the world. Of course, there are two Bond girls. There's the American agent Jinx, played by Oscar winner Halle Berry....and another woman who also has to hop in the sack with Bond so he can see if he can trust her. Bond's weapon supplier Q is played by Monty Python's John Cleese.  He hooks Bond up with an Aston Martin that can become invisible.
         There are plenty of cheesy one-liners and a whole stretch in the middle that tries to establish a reason for another big-bang finale. But who cares about all that. We want to see Bond movies for the action and the babes --- and we get to see both.  In reality, Bond would be seventy-something years old by now and retired.  He could spend his retirement helping raise the many grand-kids he should have since he hasn't been much of a monogamist.
But who'd pay to see that.

Rating: THREE STARS.

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Half Past Dead
a la The Flixter

           Steven Seagal is Sasha Petrosevich, a car thief, who along with his best bud Nick (rapper Ja Rule), gets busted by the Feds and is shipped off to prison. The prison is the infamous Alcatraz, now called New Alcatraz.  Once inside, the movie becomes a standard prison movie for a while, with a sadistic warden and some sympathetic prisoners thrown in.....   One of the prisoners happens to be a killer on death row who stole over 200 million dollars in gold that was never recovered.  Then the prison gets taken over by a bunch of bad guys who want to know the location of that gold before that guy gets "fried".  They take over the island and hold all the officials hostage; one of the officials happens to be a Supreme Court justice who is there for the execution.  Of course Sasha is not what he appeared to be; he, along with the other prisoners, manage to turn the tables on these, ummm..., people.
        Those of you not too familiar with Seagal's school of acting may find yourselves on the edge of your seats.  No, not in anticipation of what will happen ---- but in an attempt to decipher the dialogue streaming out of his barely parted lips.  His best movies have been those where he had some help from some very good actors, like Gary Busey and Tommy Lee Jones in Under Siege or Michael Caine in On Deadly Ground.  OK, the second one is not such a great movie but Michael Caine is still a fine actor.  Anyway, here he doesn't have any help so the movie sucks.  If you really want to see it, wait for it to come out as a rental.  Don't spend $8.75 like I did.
Footnote: I used to take karate (tae kwon do) a while back. One of the key elements in punching and kicking was not telegraphing your move, so the opponent doesn't know what you are about to do.  Steven Seagal must be an awesome martial artist.  He doesn't telegraph his moves at all.... heck, he doesn't even telegraph any emotion.  You have to sit there and figure that out too.  "Gee, he must be pissed because he just used a cuss word."
So if you decide to go see this, remember it won't be a relaxing experience. You will first have to decipher what is being said; then you have to figure out what kind of emotion lies behind what was said.

Rating: ONE STAR.

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8 Mile
a la The Flixter

          A white rapper breaks through the ranks and gains enormous success and fame.  A decade ago, that would be Vanilla Ice, but he was not so critically acclaimed. Even his movie, Cool as Ice, bombed with both critics and audiences. Thank God, the rapper here is the very controversial and just as talented Eminem. True, I found his first hit, My Name Is..., to be just as annoying as any Spice Girls ditty or Hanson's MmmBop.  But Eminem rose above that in his later efforts, delivering some very harsh lyrics accompanied by some slam-bang rhymes ---- many have hailed him as the best rapper around. I am not big on hip-hop, but even I admit that he is pretty damn talented.  Here he plays Jimmy Smith Jr., aka Bunny Rabbit; who, when he splits with his girl friend, has to move back in with his mother.
       His mother, a very good Kim Basinger, is pretty much the epitome of white trash.  She lives in a trailer with Rabbit's young sister and a boyfriend. (The boyfriend happens to be a guy that Rabbit went to school with.......) Her only aspiration seems to be hitting it big on bingo at church.  Meanwhile, Rabbit works in a factory and wants to become a rapper.  He goes to a club that holds "improv" nights where people have 45 seconds to let loose a barrage of rhyme.  His first time there, he freezes in front of a heckling audience that is not used to seeing a "white boy" on stage.  But he manages to find a muse in the form of Brittany Murphy's Alex, plus he has some very supportive friends who want to see him succeed.  Mekhi Phifer is one friend who keeps pushing him to compete in the poetic face offs ---and Jimmy finally is able to find his voice.
       The final rap show down is ABSOLUTELY brilliant. The audience in the theater broke out in applause as Rabbit lets loose all that he has held inside (the movie is very close to being an Eminem bio-pic.)  When you see his trailer trash mommy, you kind of understand why he has been so harsh to her in his songs.

      Unbelievably great movie.

Rating: FIVE STARS.

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White Oleander
a la The Flixter

          The beautiful and poisonous flower of the title comes into play early on in the movie.  Ingrid Magnusson uses it to poison her boyfriend because she thinks he's cheating on her.  She goes to jail to serve a life sentence while her young daughter, Astrid, has to serve a sentence of her own.  She is taken in by the proper people who are looking out for her best interests and will put her with some loving foster parents --- which begins the poor young girl's gauntlet through foster care.  She is taken in by Robin Wright Penn's bible-thumping, born-again, mother of quite a few kids.  That doesn't work out too good, once she starts seeing her boy-friend beginning to set her sights on Astrid.  Next up, she is taken in by a wealthy film-industry couple.  Renee Zellweger is the actress who can't have any kids of her own.  Things actually look promising there as she and Astrid bond while the husband (Noah Wyle) is away working on some movie.  But that doesn't go too well, thanks in part to Michelle Pfeiffer's imprisoned Ingrid who keeps interfering from behind bars. So poor Astrid, played by a very good Alison Lohman, is growing older under the most horrible of circumstances.  Along the way, she meets Patrick Fugit's Paul, who is also in the "home" and just as artistically inclined as her.  There are signs of hope there, but the movie is pretty slow and depressing as hell.  What else could you expect from the movie adaptation of an Oprah's Book Club selection.
          This is pretty much a chick-flick but there are some great performances and an undeniably powerful story. Too darn depressing though.

Rating: THREE STARS.

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Red Dragon
a la The Flixter

         Dr. Hannibal Lecter has just ended a dinner party.  Since we already know about his cannibalistic side, we can't help but laugh as his guests commend his culinary skills and ask about what he used to make these exquisite dishes.  Just after the party, FBI agent Will Graham comes to visit Lecter with some questions about a case.  But his stabs at what might have happened are too close to what happened, which leads to a violent confrontation
between the two. 
Graham almost dies and Lecter is captured.  And that is just the prologue.
        Flash forward a few years.  Graham is in semi-retirement.  His boss calls him back for some assistance with a new serial killer they call the Tooth Fairy.  He's been breaking into houses, killing entire families and smashing their mirrors .....and for assistance Graham has to turn to Lecter.  Meanwhile, we get a little glimpse of what is making the Tooth Fairy, who calls himself the Red Dragon, tick.  Its memories of a horrible childhood combined with a facial disfigurement.  But he gets sidetracked when a slight romance starts developing with a blind co-worker.  But back to work he must return, which culminates in one heck of a bang-up finale. The great Ralph Fiennes (I am a huge fan) is the Red Dragon.  His character, I am ashamed to say, is almost sympathetic.  I mean, there are times, especially during his doomed romance, where you feel bad for the "sicko".  Edward Norton is agent Graham, in another great performance and of course, Anthony Hopkins returns as Lecter.  There are so many great actors --- Emily Watson as the blind love interest --- Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a tabloid reporter whose stories are used as bait for the Dragon.  On and on.  And all under the direction of Brett Ratner, the director of the very different Rush Hour movies ( In my review for Rush Hour 2, I goofed and linked him to the crap-trap Virtuosity -- my apologies ). In 1986 director Michael Mann made Red Dragon; it was called Manhunter.  (Very good movie.)  But Mr. Ratner tops him with this version.  Absolutely awesome.  I wish I could add some more stars to my rating system but five's the limit.

Rating: FIVE STARS.

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Tuxedo
a la The Flixter

         James Tong is a pretty talented taxi driver; so talented, in fact, that his driving skills get him on the good side of millionaire Clark Devlin.  He hires him as his personal chauffer.  And Devlin is not just a millionaire -- he's a secret agent.  Tong drives him around and tries to learn what makes his boss such a charming and suave man with the ladies.  If he can learn, then maybe he can have the guts to talk to the pretty lady at the art gallery.  But Devlin gets hurt in a bomb blast and instructs Jimmy to put on his tux.  Once the tux goes on, the klutzy Jimmy is transformed into a person as suave as his now comatose boss.  He can sing, dance, and kick ass; the tuxedo is a billion dollar weapon that gives its wearer these powers  (the wrist watch is the control panel).  Jimmy has to step in for his boss with these newly attained powers, then along comes agent Del Blaine to assisst Tong, who she thinks is Devlin since she never personally met him.  Their task is to stop some bad guys from polluting the national water supply.
         I am a huge Jackie Chan fan.  I have seen pretty much all of his Hong Kong stuff.  His role here as James Tong has to be the worst thing he has ever done.  The movie was pretty bad -- the cool fights that are a Chan staple are not there.  Heck, even the out-takes, that follow every Chan flick, are not that funny here.  And Jennifer Love Hewitt, is pretty bad as Del Blaine.... I am also a big fan of hers (if you catch my drift). But this movie was one heck of a disappointment ---- not too well directed.  No awesome fights; no funny bits; nothing that is usually in a Jackie Chan movie regardless of the budget.
 

Rating: ONE STAR.

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Trapped
a la The Flixter

         Joe Hickey, wife Cheryl, and cousin Marvin have a nice kidnapping business going;  they have successfully collected the ransom and gotten away with four such endeavors.  But their fifth one's a doosie --- they kidnap the 6-year old daughter of a pretty well-off doctor. The action takes place in three different locations.  Joe is holding the doc's wife hostage at home.  Joe's wife (Cheryl) corners the doc, while the kidnap victim is in a far off location with the dim-witted cousin.  But complications arise when they realize that the child is severely asthmatic and needs her medications.  Both the mom and dad start turning the tables on their abductors --- things culminate in a big-bang finale involving many cars and everyone converging on that same stretch of highway.
        The movie was absolutely gripping --- no, just kidding.  It sucked, i.e., it was an awful piece of crap that wastes a lot of talented people.  Kevin Bacon, who can generally be counted on to redeem stinkers, fails here as the gang leader, Joe Charlize Theron is wasted as the mom......and...well pretty much everybody is wasted.  As for that big-bang finale, my question is where did everybody go??  Once all the cars and trucks are done crashing into each other, its just the principals left chasing each other around and shooting.  Nobody else is there in those banged up cars.  And no cops or ambulances show up.
Anyway, very good cast.  But very lousy movie...
 

Rating: 1/2 STAR.

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One Hour Photo
a la The Flixter

         Sy Parrish leads a lonesome existence.  His days are dedicated to working the photo counter at the local Sav Mart.  For the most part, he gets to develop inane photographs from all walks of life.  Some of his customers are amateur pornographers or insurance claim adjustors.  But one of his long-time customers is the Yorkin family:  a beautiful young couple and their young son Jake (who calls him Sy the photo guy).  Sy has been developing their pictures for years.
         When Sy gets off of work he goes to his lonely little apartment; that's when we see the obsessive nature of his relationship with the Yorkins.  He has been making extra prints of their pictures and has a whole wall dedicated to this seemingly perfect family.  He dreams of being part of them; the Uncle Sy that young Jake should have.  But like he says in the beginning, photographs only show the happy times --- never the bad ones.  He realizes that his perfect family is not so perfect ---- and he is willing to go to any lengths to make it perfect.
        Robin Williams as Sy is absolutely brilliant.  This has to be his best dramatic performance.  Actually, his BEST performance period.  And overall, the whole movie is brilliant; absolutely riveting.  As it hurtles towards its ending, it delivers the most heart-breaking, suspenseful narrative, I have ever seen.
        I loved it .... very depressing though.  No wonder I hate getting pictures taken.
 

Rating: FIVE STARS.

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City By The Sea
a la The Flixter

         The best way to describe Lt. Vincent LaMarca's position is to say that he is in the middle of a dysfunctional sandwich. His father was convicted and executed for the kidnapping and murder of a child in the 1950s. Then there's his own self: an honest and hardworking homicide detective in Long Beach, New York (the city of the title which actually is Asbury Park, New Jersey) and finishing up that sandwich is his son Joey, a druggie who hasn't seen his father in years.  What brings them together, is the murder of a drug dealer (which Joey commits) and the murder of LaMarca's partner (which Joey did not commit). The senior LaMarca is investigating the former case, which results in the later. The son turns to his long gone father to prove that he did not kill his partner. It's pretty safe to say that Robert DeNiro is one of our best actors and his performance here as Vincent LaMarca just solidifies that statement.
        James Franco (who won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of James Dean on cable a while back) is excellent as the drug-addled son. There is a romance brewing between LaMarca and his downstairs neighbor (Frances McDormand). One of the only comic moments results when LaMarca is telling her some things she did not know before....but the movie was excellent. It's based on actual events and an Esquire magazine article about those events.
Gripping. Tragic. Great.
 

Rating: FIVE STARS.

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fear dot com
a la The Flixter

         Something strange is happening in New York City --- people are ending up getting killed in the goriest of ways.  Detective Stephen Dorff is investigating the cases accompanied by Natasha McElhone, who works for the city's Health Department.  She is on the case because an Ebola-type virus is being suspected (??) as a possible cause of the deaths (the victims have bleeding eyes.)  A common link is found in all the deaths; all the victims had gone to the same website less than 48 hours ago.  The website, Feardotcom, is a display of grisly murders, being recorded and broadcast, while they take place; the man behind that website is Stephen Rea (nominated for an Oscar a while back).
        People were walking out of the movie before it ended. But I sat there, because I had to see the end credits and make sure that it was really those three fine actors in this horrendous piece of crap. If you are looking for gore, there's plenty of that --- but the lines are laughable and the acting horrible. The movie was shot on location in the New York City borough of Luxembourg ??? ---  Oh wait --- Luxembourg is not a borough.  It's some dinky little country in Europe (that explains the ample parking) and I guess their biggest industry is allowing crappy movies to be shot there.***  All I can think is that director William Malone gets these great actors to appear in his movies because he knows something about them that they don't want the rest of us to know.  His last movie, House on Haunted Hill, had Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush ---  and now, not one, but three fine actors going to waste.  A long while back, a very young Stephen Dorff was in a cheesy horror movie called The Gate. That movie seems awesome after watching this.
 

Rating: ZERO STARS.

***Editor's Note: A reminder that the Flixter's opinions and descriptions do not necessarily reflect those of metrojersey.com

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Simone
a la The Flixter

         Victor Taransky (Al Pacino) is a struggling Hollywood director. He has been around for a while and just wants to show that he has staying power -- he is not a burned out, "has-been". But then the star of his latest project (Winona Ryder) walks out because her trailer is not big enough. Taransky is afraid that the studio exec., his ex-wife (Catherine Keener), will fire him. In comes a dying computer genius who has the solution: he has created a virtual star --- a simulated one ---- or Simone.  She is a composite of great actresses, from Garbo to Katherine Hepburn and Meryl Streep, and she requires no make-up or assistants or even a paycheck.
       Taransky finishes the film with Simone and she is a huge hit with the media and audience.  The only problem is that only Taransky knows the truth. Everyone thinks that Simone is real and they want more of her; the press want to interview her; the fans want to meet her.  Things start getting tougher and tougher for Taransky as he piles on the lies ---- Simone is afraid of crowds..... Simone is in a third world country on a charitable mission..... And on and on.   Then Simone gets nominated for an Oscar;  how things get resolved (or do they?) should be seen, because there is only one word that can describe this movie: BRILLIANT.
         Simone's physical attributes are borrowed from a real Canadian model. Beyond that she is simulated. Writer-director, Andrew Niccol, once again shows his brilliance. He helmed the sci-fi great Gattaca and also wrote the screenplay for the highly under-rated Jim Carrey film, The Truman Show.  This movie just tops an already impressive resume. The movie is absolutely hilarious one instant and thought-provokingly touching the next.....
Loved it.
 

Rating: FIVE STARS.

New Jersey movie reviews by the NJ's own " Flixter"..............

email: The Flixter@metrojersey.com

New Jersey movie reviews by the NJ's own " Flixter"..............

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