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December Movie Reviews
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P.S. I Love You
Starring: Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Gina Gershon, Lisa Kudrow
Directed By: Richard LaGravenese
Run Time: 1 hr 59 mins

P.S. I Love You is about a deceased husband who helps his widow overcome his death by sending her letters. Before his death from a brain tumor, Gerry arranged to have letters, a cake, a singing telegram, and all other things sent to Holly with instructions like "buy a new dress and go out with your friends" and "quit your job." Gerry (played by Gerard Butler) knew his wife Holly (played by Hilary Swank) would need help coping with her loss. Holly's very regimented and plan oriented; Gerry was more carefree and easy going. Gerry knew that Holly's life would be chaotic after his death because her plans never included being a 30 year old widow. Sending her letters instructions was Gerry's way of taking the reins and letting Holly be more carefree.

I sat through most of this movie with a lump in my throat, sympathizing with Holly's predicament. How horrible it must be to lose the love of your life. Not wanting to let go, not being able to let go seemed very natural. I could see myself responding just as Holly did - holing up in her apartment, seeing and feeling and talking to her dead husband. And how horrible it must feel to watch your friends' lives moving on, while yours has come to a screeching halt.

Aside from watching my own fears and emotions playing out on the screen, there was little other connection to this movie. It was formulaic and predictable and utterly lacking soul. I found the flashbacks forced. While these attempts at nostalgia were meant to show how charming and cute and meant to be this couple was, they failed miserably. Nothing seemed touching and romantic. I could see where the movie was trying to go, it just fell short.

I did laugh a little. Lisa Kudrow was excellent at dead-pan delivery. Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler were okay. I didn't buy Holly's former arty "eclectic" nature, especially given her need to obsessively plan her life. I didn't see the charm of William (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) at all. I suppose the director thought if you slap an Irish brogue on any guy, it gives him charm. His character was incredibly two-dimensional and when he reminisces about his friend, it seemed really slimy, as if it were a pick-up line (which was very pointless, considering the position he was already in).

The scenes in Ireland (at least, I'm hoping they filmed these scenes in Ireland) were very pretty.

I wanted to like this movie, really I did, but I just can't. It's too predictable. It's too forced. The underlying sentiment of "I'll always be there for you" is sweet. I did get a little teary-eyed. But it's just missing chemistry, pizzaz, and a... specialness to it. It just didn't have the "wow" moment it really needed to make this a likable movie. It wasn't bad - it was watchable. It just wasn't special.

Starring: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley
Directed By: Joe Wright
Run Time: 2 hrs 3 mins

Atonement is about the lives that are impacted by one young girl's lie. The little girl's flare for stories plus her unrequited love for her sister's boyfriend cause her to wrongly accuse him of raping her cousin and attacking her sister. The story follows the lives of the three affected by the lie - her sister's boyfriend Robbie, played by McAvoy; the sister Cecilia, played by Knightley; and Briony, the young girl, played by Saoirse Ronan.

Robbie is sent to prison and then is given a choice - stay in prison or fight in the war. He chooses to join the Army. Cecilia abandons her family because they believe Briony's accusation and think that Robbie is a horrible person. She pines away for Robbie. Briony grows up to become a nurse. She struggles to overcome her guilt of her accusation and hopes to be able to save Robbie, should he ever need medical attention.

Briony is a writer with a vivid imagination. I did sense a connection with her during the scene where her cousins are less than enthusiastic about rehearsing the play she had just written. I remember that same frustration when I was a child. My little friends wanted to act; they just didn't want to rehearse and I failed to experience the joy of watching my words properly be acted out. Briony made the observation that stories were much easier because you write everything so that people get a sense of background and characters. Plays are open to interpretation because it's just dialog...

The way the movie is presented is very interesting. A lot of scenes are shown as Briony has witnessed them. And then once that scene has played out, the movie backtracks to show what actually happened. Although a wonderful way to depict point of view, it's a bit clumsy and confusing. It's like a train swiftly chugging along that, with a jarring jolt, backs up to change tracks. The first time is a bit off-putting but tolerable, once you figure out why the train is backing up. The next few times, although expected, are frustrating because you just want to get to your destination.

There's not much to this movie except the thin plot - a little girl wrongly accusing her sister's boyfriend of a crime. After Robbie is ripped away from Cecilia, the story derails (not to harp on a metaphor). We follow Robbie as he staggers through France in the middle of the war. There's one scene that lasts for at least 15 minutes that navigates through a beach filled with British Army, waiting to be evacuated. The conditions are horrible. The wounded are unattended. There's no food. There's no water. For some reason, they're shooting all the horses in the head. Three hundred thousand soldiers packed onto the beach, clinging to the hope that they'll get to go home soon. The cinematography is absolutely wonderful. You could feel the desperation. It was eerie. It was sad. It was haunting. And it went on forever. There's little dialog... for 15, possibly 20 minutes. I understand that war sucks. I understood that Robbie was hurting. Was it the director's intent to make the audience hurt and want to go home, too? Ugh. It was agonizing.

And then we go back to Briony and follow her life around as she works as a nurse in a hospital in England. She's sad. She tries to keep writing. She's struggling with her guilt. She tries to reach out to her sister but her sister refuses to talk to her. Briony clings to the idea that she may someday see Robbie again, and might be able to tend to his wounds.

This movie starts off strong but then fails to hit its points. It fails to properly make us feel that Cecilia and Robbie are unbelievably connected and desperately in love. It fails to show us that Briony was really trying to atone for her wrong doing. It shows us that their lives crumbled as a result of Briony's accusation. It shows us that war sucks. It made me sad. But it really didn't pull all the pieces together to really hit its points home.

I did like the ending, the part recounted by old Briony (played by Vanessa Redgrave). That was the sweet, sad, and haunting part - FINALLY.

One of the reasons I went to see this movie is because it's a Golden Globes nominee (and potentially an Oscar contender). I think there's been a lot of talk about Keira Knightley's performance and I must emphatically say that this talk is completely undeserved. She's only in the movie for possibly 20 minutes and she spends those minutes either trembling with rage or trembling with lust. Woo.

I would recommend this movie simply for the ending. Watch the first half hour; watch the last half hour. Skip the middle hour. You don't need it. The ending is sweet and sad. That I liked.

I Am Legend
Starring: Will Smith
Directed By: Francis Lawrence
Run Time: 1 hr 40 mins

I Am Legend is about a virus that kills off all of the world's population. All, that is, except Robert Neville (Will Smith), a scientist bent on finding the cure.

The movie begins with an apocalyptical panoramic view of New York City. The city is overgrown with weeds. There are cars parked everywhere. The buildings are covered in dust. Deer run in herds through the streets. There's not a person in sight. All is quiet. In an eerie kinship with New York, the sight of cars submerged in water from a fallen bridge really hit home (the connection being the 35W bridge collapse in MN over the summer). Something bad happened here. We just don't know quite what.

Three years prior to this ghost town New York, a virus that was supposed to cure cancer suddenly takes a turn for the worse. Instead of helping the human subjects live, it quickly spreads and kills everyone. Neville, an army scientist, is immune and is desperately trying to find a cure for the destruction. Three years later, he's still trying, clinging to the hope that if he finds an antidote, all will be restored. As he says over and over again, "I can fix this."

If it weren't for flashbacks, the first hour of the movie would simply consist of Will Smith and his German Shepard (who, sadly, does not even get a credit on Even though there are only two actors on screen for most of the movie, it never gets dull. Smith is funny. The dog is cute. And there's a lot of tension and suspense. What happened? What's going to happen next? Why is he doing these things?

I've likened this movie to 28 Days Later which is another apocalyptic movie about a virus that wipes out the entire world. But unlike 28 Days Later, this movie is not painful from the moment the cellulose hits the screen to the very end. I had a very hard time with 28 Days Later. Although there are strong overtones of 28 Days Later, I Am Legend is a much better movie. It's not as painful and tense but it is very scary and suspenseful. The struggle to survive in this movie is more focused on keeping sane, versus dodging zombies. It's mental survival. We see Neville running on a treadmill (with the dog on her own treadmill), hunting deer, and other day to day activities.

One interesting thing is that every day, Neville broadcasts over the radio that he'll be at a certain spot at a certain time of the day, every day, calling out to any other survivors. The interesting thing is that he really doesn't think there are any other survivors, which is evidenced by the fact that he only makes the broadcasts and doesn't scan for any himself. A part of him is clinging to the hope that he can fix the problem, but a deeper part of him has given up. He seems to have an upbeat attitude (still trying to find a cure, maintaining a daily regimen, getting out of the house every day instead of hunkering down waiting for the end to come) but yet he is totally dismissive of what the Dark Seekers are capable of, which in the end turns into his downfall. If he had given the Dark Seekers more credit, he would have been more prepared. And interestingly enough again, he suddenly realizes how pessimistic he really is and owns up to that.

A small side note: I found it interesting that the Dark Seekers' roar is the exact same roar the mummy made in The Mummy (the one with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz). It was supposed to be a scary sound but every time I heard that roar, I giggled.

I really liked this movie. How many other actors would have been able to successfully carry a movie all by himself (okay, with help from a lovable puppy)? His solo screen time flew by because he's enjoyable to watch. His character was strong, smart, and funny. It's a haunting movie. I typically steer away from apocalyptic movies because movies about things that can really happen give me nightmares. Slasher flicks are an enjoyable jaunt. The end of the world movies scare me. This one was no different. I was scared. I cringed and looked away many times. I could feel my shoulders tighten with the tension. But it was all good. An intense movie and a good one at that.

The Golden Compass
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Eva Green
Directed By: Chris Weitz
Run Time: 1 hr 53 mins

The Golden Compass is about a young girl's quest to find her missing friend. This quest turns into an adventure where Lyra encounters ice bears, flying boats, witches, and a plot to take over not only her world but other worlds as well. Lyra is determined to foil this plot, all with the help of a compass that helps her uncover the truth.

I wanted to like this movie more than I did (and I did really like it). I've seen so many previews for it that really drew me in. The previews only show one primary focus of the movie - the compass and the plot to get the little girl with the compass. Normally, I hate it when previews show too much of the movie. This was one where maybe I could have been shown a bit more. I was not prepared for the whole story and was a bit overwhelmed by it. For a good hour of the movie, I was trying to figure out what was going to happen next - all of the plot points that were presented to us had to mean something - and I was excited by this anticipation. In fact, I felt as though I needed to keep kicking the movie to plod along, to show us more. And in the end, I was left wondering, "What the heck?"

I suppose I should read the books this movie is based on. I assume this movie has the same issue the Harry Potter movies have - there's so much detail that's in the books that gets omitted from the movie in order to highlight the action sequences. Losing that detail makes for a rather lost movie. I assume there is much more detail in the His Dark Materials books. I assume, or rather, really hope. There must be more to the witches. They float in. They float out.

I could probably go on and on about what I hope is in the books, things that troubled me about the movie but I think I'll concentrate on the things I liked about the movie. I loved the animal souls. I wonder what mine would be. A monkey? Or a panda? I did find it odd that most of the daemons were mice, birds, cat like creatures (lynx, leopards, housecats, etc), and dog like creatures (wolves, dogs, etc). There were no giraffes or hippos or elephants or pandas. I wonder if the reason most daemons were similar and familiar is because deep down inside, most people are "normal" and alike. Interesting how the powerhouses of the movie did have different souls - the monkey for Mrs. Coulter (Kidman); the ferret for Lyra (Richards); the snake for one of the council members...

As unprepared as I was for the different plot points, I was even more unprepared for the scary parts. I got a sense from the previews that the monkey was mean but, ohmygosh! He was downright nasty! And I could not watch the ice bear battle. They did make sure not to make it too violent - no blood. I definitely wouldn't have been able to bear (no pun intended) that scene if there had been blood. And the thought of what was going to happen to the kidnapped children was grisly! Wow. Very scary.

I loved how tough Lyra was. She was one spitfire! I loved how her daemon Pan was her conscience, her fears. She certainly wasn't afraid of anything. Pan (the ferret) was afraid of most everything. He was also the voice of reason for her. I didn't like how quickly she learned how to read the compass. I suppose if that's her lot in life, it should come naturally for her, but I would have thought there should have been more of a learning curve. Mrs. Coulter could have been more evil but I find the driving force behind her character very interesting. And why does Sam Elliot have to play a cowboy in every movie? Is he that go-to guy in Hollywood? "We need a grizzled but friendly prospector type. Better call Sam Elliot."

I felt that the movie came together a bit too quickly. It started off a bit slowly as things unraveled (which was fine; it built anticipation), but then all of sudden - PLOT! Trudging along, trudging along, then BOOM! Everything happens. And then... Spoiler: I can not tell you how upset I was with the ending! Two hours of my life wasted with no resolve! I wanted Lyra to find her uncle, save the world, stop the Magisterium - not to have it all suddenly end! I was so into the movie and then, wham. Done. I, and the rest of the audience, sat there in stunned silence as the credits began to roll. Really? That's how it ends? With one task done? One? Argh! And what's with hyping Daniel Craig being in this movie? He was in it for five whole minutes! It's Pirates of the Caribbean all over again!!! Part 2 better come out soon. Of course, the previews will probably start in a month, getting my hopes up, making me want to really, really see it but the movie won't come out for almost a year, I just know it, darnit.

Sigh. Back to the non-spoiler talk. Good movie. Could have been better (see the spoiler paragraph above). Wanted to really love it. I just only really liked it. Could have been the third greatest movie of the year. Now, I think it's dropped to number 5 on the list. Such imagination. Such a powerfully strong little girl. Loved the souls manifesting as animals. Too condensed. Heartbreaking ending. Just wanted more from it.

Fred Claus
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Kevin Spacey
Directed By: David Dobkin
Run Time: 1 hr 56 mins

Fred Claus is, simply put, about sibling rivalry. If you have a sibling, you probably have a bit of some rivalry, however well meaning it is. You can probably relate to either Fred, the troubled one, or Nick, the saint.

I watched this one with Dawn and Joel, after all my Christmas shopping had been completed. I love Christmas movies. This one, although about Santa Claus, is less about Christmas than it is about family dynamics. Interesting twist on what I expected to be a light, funny romp with snow, tinsel, and Santie. I think Dawn and Joel appreciate Vince Vaughn's humor more than I did, and as a result, loved this movie. I liked it. You definitely have to be a fan of Vince Vaughn to like this movie. His style of humor resonates through the whole thing. I laughed, but not like they did.

The reviews of this movie painted Fred as a total loser. I did not get that at all. He was a regular guy, beaten down by life and, as a result, had a crusty outer edge. Deep down inside, he was a good guy. People just had a hard time seeing that.

I like movies with good morals, good lessons learned, particularly if it's not too preachy and tacked on. I liked that a "saint" may not be that saintly and can even stand to be a taught a thing or two. And a screw-up isn't all that bad.

I really loved Kevin Spacey's character Clyde Northcut. I absolutely loved the Superman reference, particularly since he was Lex Luther in the Superman remake this year. Ha! And again, a crusty exterior because life had beaten him down.

So... good movie. A little funny. Funnier if you appreciate Vince Vaughn's humor. Not necessarily a Christmas movie in the traditional sense (well, maybe) but definitely a good life lesson movie. That I liked.

August Rush
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Robin Williams, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Terrence Howard
Directed By: Kirsten Sheridan
Run Time: 1 hr 53 mins

August Rush is about an orphan boy's obsession with finding his parents. He's drawn to music and knows that music is the key to finding them. Unbeknownst to him, his parents are both musicians. His mother, a Juliard trained cellist, meets a man, an Irish rock and roller. They're instantly drawn to another but their differences keep them from ever seeing each other again.

After spending 11 years in an orphanage, Evan (played by Freddie Highmore) decides the only way to be reunited with his family is to seek them out himself. He leaves the orphanage and stumbles into New York City on his own. Everything he hears is music to him - dogs barking, horns honking, steam rising from vents, cars thunking over manhole covers. He is drawn to a street performer named Arthur who introduces him to the Wizard (played by Robin Williams). The Wizard provides shelter for dozens of child street performers, in exchange for a hefty cut of their tips. Although he's never picked up an instrument before, just watching, listening, and experimenting are all Evan needs to play some pretty awesome music. When the Wizard realizes that Evan has a gift, he exploits that gift. He dubs Evan "August Rush" because every musician needs a catchy stage name. It is this stage name that will both help and hinder "August" from finding his parents.

We then cut to August's parents. His mother Lyla (played by Keri Russsell) is no longer a cellist. She's a music teacher that doesn't play music. His father Louis (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) no longer plays in his band. He's some hot shot business guy who rides around in a limo, definitely light years away from the man Lyla fell in love with. She lives in Chicago now; he in San Francisco. As if called by August, both suddenly take to their music again.

I absolutely loved this movie. The soul and passion of this 11 year old boy, desperate to find his parents, with unwavering faith that music is the answer to his problems, was heartwarming and heart-wrenching at the same time. It was sweet. It was sad. Tears welled up in my eyes many times. I loved when he asked the instructors at Juliard when informed that his music was selected to play at a concert in Central Park, "How many people will hear it? A hundred?" His desperation to get his music to the right people (his parents) was so touching.

As sweet and sad and touching as this movie was, it also had a couple of really funny lines. I died laughing at the little girl's face when August asked her, "Are you an angel?" It was priceless. He was drawn to the wonders of music and anyone who could understand music - and was able to teach it - was an angel to him.

His rhapsody - the music played in Central Park - was wonderful. It was filled with everything that he hears as music - traffic sounds, the choir, and his parents' song. The cellos and the guitars had a section where they seemed to talk to each other. It was great. Very moving.

I wasn't that impressed with Freddie Highmore. He has a great disposition for sadness. The scenes where he talked about his desire to have music draw his parents to him is wonderful. His tears made me cry but the happy scenes just seemed forced. Robin Williams' character was creepy and mean. I wish I knew more about his driving force to succeed, though. He could have been a bit more creepy. I half expected him to crack a joke to ease the harshness of his scenes (and that anticipation didn't make him seem so mean). Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers were great little musicians. I do have to wonder how much was their own playing.

The movie might be a bit predictable but it was quite sweet and touching. I was really drawn in to the music, much as August hoped to draw in his parents. I really liked this one!