Movie Valley

Number 23
Starring: Jim Carrey and Virginia Madsen
Directed By: Joel Schumacher
Run Time: 1 hr 35 minutes

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this movie. I like movies where there's something amuck and you have to figure out what that logical explanation is. Of course, logical is the key word here. A good mystery movie gives you clues to unraveling the mystery and only the most observant person figures out the ending before it is revealed. Too often, the most telling clues are withheld (because if they're too revealing, even a monkey could figure it out). Or, the ending is so far-fetched that it makes what could have been a great movie into something trite.

The Number 23 is about a book that Walter Sparrow (played by Carrey) receives for his birthday that changes his life. The book is a mystery that centers on the number 23, and how it can be found everywhere. Deciphering the meaning behind the 23 turns the characters in the book mad, and it also turns Sparrow mad. He becomes obsessed with not only tearing apart his life to find the hidden 23 (his birthday, when he met his wife, the day they got married, their house number, etc), but he's also obsessed with pulling the pages from the book into reality. The books speaks to him because it appears to be all about him. He finds connections even in the minutest details of the book, and those connections begin to drive him insane.

I played along with the movie and the madness of making teeny tiny connections because I wanted to find out how everything played together. I shushed the little voice in my brain that dismissed the Waco and other such date-related connections by piping up with "What about this event in history? or this one?" I really tried to let myself be drawn in by the psychosis that was engulfing Walter. But then the ending came and I was forced to realize that I had been suckered into a really bad movie. Either the writer thought he was being clever by conjuring up an ending no one in their right mind could possibly guess, or the writer realized that he had painted himself into a corner and desperately needed to tie all the loose ends together somehow - and the only thing that came to mind was a bad summer plot in a tired soap opera.

Jim Carrey did a wonderful job playing a man driven mad by connections that couldn't possibly be coincidence (although if you try hard enough, you can make a connection to anything). Virginia Madsen did an okay job playing a supporting role as Sparrow's wife, although truthfully, her job was merely a sounding board, lacklusterly trying to squelch the budding obsession her husband was developing. If that had been me, I wouldn't have tried to reason with him as long as she did. I would have either taken the book away or sought medical attention - the kind with padded walls - for my husband.

Up until the ending, the movie did have me suckered in. It was an interesting tale and even more interesting to watch Sparrow get sucked into the world of 23. The ending, however, ruined the previous hour. What a waste.

I would like to point out this one implausible connection (which is a possible spoiler, although I'll try not to reveal too much): If Agatha's maiden name was Pink and pink was the favorite color of the suicide blonde, the writer of the book couldn't have known this connection as the day Walter and Agatha met was the "the day their lives started" which was after the book was written.

Ghost Rider
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Wes Bentley, Eva Mendes, and Peter Fonda
Directed By: Mark Steven Johnson
Run Time: 1 hr 50 minutes

Ghost Rider is about a motorcycle stuntman who, unbeknownst to him, makes a pact with the devil to save his father's life. He becomes the devil's bounty hunter, collecting the souls of evil-doers. Oh, and somewhere along the lines, he has to stop the devil's son from collecting a stolen contract that contains the souls of a 1000 evil-doers (a contract stolen by the last Ghost Rider who suddenly developed a conscience and knew that turning over the contract to the devil would make the devil really, really powerful).

Ugh. A total piece of hooey. From plot, to special effects, to acting. Complete with obvious hairpiece, Nicholas Cage apparently thought it would be funny - or maybe his idea of cool - to channel Elvis into his daredevil (ha!) stuntman character Johnny Blaze (hmm... a bit campy foreshadowing into his Ghost Rider persona). I pity poor Eva Mendes. She apparently has to split her salary from this movie with her breasts. They got ample screen time peeking through her precariously and inexplicably lowly unbuttoned shirt. I have a feeling the director knew this movie was boring so in order to keep the 14 year old boys in the audience attention, he had Mendes unbutton more buttons than any self respecting reporter would do. Sam Elliot plays the same grizzled old veteran in every movie. And I gotta tell you, the only person who didn't figure out Elliot's true identity was Johnny Blaze.

The only bright spot of this movie - Wes Bentley's Blackheart. He played the son of the devil with a nice lighthearted (ha) evilness. Not too over the top, not too nonchalant. And he was the only actor to act well in this movie.

The plot had a lot of "What the hecks?" in it. The devil's son had three accomplices - the elements, as far as I can tell. One who channeled the earth, another who channeled the air, and a third who channeled water. Each could only be killed by channeling their element. For instance, air had to be killed by wrapping a vortex of fire around it. Water, however, was killed the normal Ghost Rider way, probably in haste to get to the end of the movie.

Another "what the heck?" moment - apparently, you can be arrested for murder just because your charred motorcycle license plate is found buried in some rubble (when Ghost Rider's en fuego motorcycle tore through the streets, it ripped up roads, smashed windows, and exploded cars). And no lawyer need be present.

One final "what the heck?" moment - when Johnny Blaze was transformed into Ghost Rider, one of the evil doers he came across (a mugger), stabbed Ghost Rider in the shoulder. It did nothing to Ghost Rider, but the next morning, Johnny Blaze had a gash in his shoulder that needed to be sewn up by Sam Elliot's character (the cemetery caretaker who knew an awful lot about being a Ghost Rider). When a hundred policemen shot up Ghost Rider the next night, Johnny Blaze was completely unscathed when he transformed back the following morning. Huh...

Bad, bad, bad movie. Bad acting. Bad plot. Way too many "what the heck?" moments. Slow. Stupid. Good special effects (kind of). Great son of the devil. If it weren't for experiencing watching this movie in another country, I'd have nothing to remember this movie for. Except that it wasted almost two hours of my life.

Because I Said So
Starring: Diane Keaton, Mandy Moore, Lauren Graham, Gabriel Macht, and Tom Everett Scott
Directed By: Michael Lehmann
Run Time: 1 hr 42 minutes

Because I Said So is about a single mother, with three grown daughters, who just can't seem to let go of her youngest and let her live her own life. The mother places an internet ad to find her daughter a man, unbeknownst to her daughter, and proceeds to interview all the applicants herself before allowing one of them the privilege to call her daughter.

On the surface, it seems as though Daphne Wilder (Keaton) is a control freak. If you scratch a little deeper, you'll see that her life parallels her daughter Millie's life too closely. Subconsciously, she sees her daughter's mistakes as a way to correct her own.

This movie is definitely a chick flick. I normally stay away from these movies because I find them appallingly too cliché - everyone is better off in love and with someone than alone because you can't truly be happy unless you have a man. After weeks of watching "good for me" movies, I opted for something a little light-hearted, something that wouldn't give me nightmares. Sadly, this movie will.

Diane Keaton's acting was incredibly over the top, over melodramatic, over hammy, and with way too much gusto. She was her quirky, zany self times at least 10, and that was 9 Diane Keatons too much. The bright spots of this movie - Lauren Graham's dead pan comedic deliveries, Mandy Moore's singing (her pipes are greatly improving with age), and Stephen Collins sweet, loving, non-overbearing, easy going dad.

I abhor movies that think they know how women interact with each other. They almost always get it so wrong. True, there are many sisters out there who know every detail of each other's sex lives but I highly doubt they discuss it so graphically in front of their mothers, particularly those mothers who keep saying, "I don't want to know."

One thing that bothered me about the movie - Laurne Graham's character psychologist was a... or a psychiatrist (I never know the difference). I highly doubt that a shrink would go long without intervening in her sister's struggle with their mother's obsessive need to control her romantic life. A big sister is supposed to protect her little sister, something Lauren Graham's character hinted at doing. The biggest bully of them (their mother) all should have been stopped long before it ever got to that point. But then, I guess, there wouldn't have been a movie, huh?

All in all, it was an okay movie. Not offensive enough to be bad but not cute and charming enough to be good, either.

The Messengers
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dylan McDermott, and Penelope Ann Miller
Directed By: Oxide Pang, Danny Pang
Run Time: 1 hr 30 minutes

I like pretty much every movie I see. Except this one. I thought about waiting until the third or fourth paragraph (I like I normally do) before expounding on my thoughts about the movie, but if I'm slow about it and drag it out, that would be just like the movie.

The Messengers is about a family who moves from Chicago to farmland country of North Dakota (although they moved to the pretty side... known as Canada, where it was really filmed) to begin a new life. And then bad things start happening, but only to the teenager Jess. Her family merely chalks it up to a bad teenager gone worse and simply ignores her stories. And then it's too late.

The tagline for the movie is "There is evidence to suggest that children are highly susceptible to paranormal phenomena. They see what adults cannot. They believe what adults deny. And they are trying to warn us." That movie would have been good. This movie tries to run with that theme and when that fails, switches to the paranormal activity afflicting only the teenager, and then when that has to somehow be explained, switches to plausible reality (intertwined with the supernatural).

I wonder if the writer/director has even been to North Dakota. Apparently someone was under the impression that there are malaria-carrying mosquitoes swarming about. When we first see Jess' (the teenager daughter, played by Kristen Stewart) bedroom, there's a net draping over the bed. Very princess like, even though the teenager was anything but girly. Next, we see the parents' bedroom. Again, a net drapes over the bed. How romantic, in a tropical way. Finally, we see the baby's crib... and hanging over it is a mosquito net. Huh. And apparently all you need for starting a successful sunflower farm is a tractor and several bags of seed (and a couple of strategically placed sprinklers).

This movie is just plain bad. It starts off with the cliché - troubled teenager who protests her family's decision to move to a new state. We know she did something bad, and her parents can't forgive her, but we'll have to wait an hour to find out what that bad thing is. I do have to warn anyone who chooses to start their life over by moving to a new state - do your research first. If no one has lived in your "it's a little run-down but oh what a difference some paint will do" fixer-upper of a house in several years, you might just want to throw in the towel now. Watch a few horror movies. That plan never works because "quaint" is synonymous with "ghost-riddled" and "fresh new start" is code for "gonna end up impaled on a pitch fork in the middle of nowhere."

The acting is absolutely horrible, horrendous, in fact. Even Dylan McDermott makes it seem as though this was his first movie ever. The lines are delivered painfully and painstakingly slowly, with over embellished emotions (you can see the wheels in the actors' heads working - here's the part where I get frustrated and yell so I'm going to act like I'm frustrated and yell NOW).

The movie is incredibly quiet and slow, apparently by design so that when something scary finally does happen, the audience will be even more surprised because something finally happened.

And I think in acting school they must teach actors that when you're in a horror movie, in order to look scared, you must fall to the floor trembling, clutch your face, and pull at your hair. Cue response to scary stuff. Good reaction. End scene. And now the audience will know what they saw was really scary. I like scary movies. I like being scared. I wasn't scared. A little disturbed by the imagery. A little spooked by the sudden rise in music volume. But not scared. In one particular scene that had so much potential, Jess takes little Ben around the house to show her what he has been seeing (only he can see the creepy crawlies). Jess is looking forward. Ben is looking behind her. Slowly, one of the creepy crawlies that only Ben can see approaches behind Jess. And approaches. And approaches. And cut back to Jess' reaction - quivering lips, quick breath, wide eyes. The creepy crawly is still approaching... slowly. Cut back to Jess' wide eyes. She knows something is behind her. She waits. And waits. And waits some more. The creature is now just behind her. She waits some more. And then she turns. The creature has vanished. The scene seriously took five minutes. And nothing.

Bad, bad, bad, bad movie. Not scary. Not suspenseful. Full of clichés. Laden with bad acting. I expected to be more scared than I was, time and time again. I waited for it. And then, oh, no, that wasn't too bad. Maybe this time - eh, wait, no, that wasn't scary either. My imagination was more active than this movie. I will give the twist of the ending (well, the plot "switch" that summed up why everything was happening by taking it into the plausible reality with a hint of supernatural) some kudos for imagination. Not Pan's Labyrinth imaginative, but the writer certainly dug himself out of the deep hole he created with a bit of ingenuity.

Possible spoiler: If somebody has seen this movie or does see this movie, can you please explain to me why the creepy crawlies were attacking Jess? Shouldn't they have asked for her help, particularly the children creepy crawlies? And why did they only attack Jess and not Ben? Just wondering. And why is the movie entitled The Messengers? Did the creepy crawlies ever try to talk to anyone in the house? What message did they bring? That the didn't like being dead? Cuz, yeah, like those were the only problems with the movie...

Last King of Scotland
Starring: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, and Gillian Anderson
Directed By: Kevin MacDonald
Run Time: 2 hrs 03 minutes

I kicked February off with a bang, even though I intended to close January off with a bang (I wanted to see this movie yesterday but I had to make a cake instead). I had been jonesing to see this movie ever since I saw previews for it, and since the name of this movie is on the very first page of my little book (meaning, it was one of the first ones I wrote down), it has been a very long time since I originally saw the previews. I knew it was going to be good. And it was.

Jeffrey did not want to see this movie as it is about the life of Idi Amin after he rose to power in Uganda. Jeffrey likes "feel good" movies and apparently movies about a corrupt man who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people and was a rumored cannibal does not fall into the "feel good" category. I wanted to see this movie because Forest Whitaker has won the Golden Globe and SAG award for Best Actor, and is up for best actor for the Academy Awards.

As I mentioned, this movie follows the life of Idi Amin soon after he takes power as President of Uganda. Nick Garrigan (played by McAvoy), who recently became a doctor, finds himself running to Uganda, desperate to leave Scotland and do something different with his life rather than take up a mundane and predictable medical practice with his father. Dr. Garrigan has a chance run-in with Amin, and makes a lasting impression. When Amin injures himself in a roadside collision with a farmer's cow, Garrigan is the only doctor within miles who can help. And while Garrigan overcomes his celebrity encounter with Amin, he shows his true compassion and colors when he, surrounded by armed bodyguards carrying incredibly intimidating-looking automatic rifles, passionately grabs Amin's gun and puts the poor injured cow out of his misery (because no one else would). Amin is struck by how courageous Garrigan was (would you grab someone's gun - regardless of how noble the action would be - when you were surrounded by menacing guards?) and honors him by selecting him to be his personal physician.

Initially, Garrigan rejects the idea as his work in small villages seems more care-free (and meaningful) but he can't pass up the good life of the palace and he accepts the offer. Being a friend to the president has its privileges, particularly when introduced by Amin as "my personal physician." Unbeknownst to him, he becomes Amin's "closest advisor." He soon finds himself intertwined so deeply into Amin's life that try as he might, he cannot leave Uganda.

Initially Garrigan is a happy-go-lucky kind of guy who shuns the British agents who try to warn him against Amin. He neither hears nor sees anything bad in Amin and rejects any notion that Amin should be closely watched. When Amin buys him a brand new Mercedes convertible, Garrigan accidentally saves Amin's life (and his own). If they had been riding in Amin's chauffeured car, they would have been ambushed by Obote's (the former president) rebels. Everyone in the car died. When the rebels are captured, Garrigan is at first sympathetic, but that vanishes when Amin reminds him that if he had been in that car, Garrigan himself would be dead, too. Garrigan then comes to realize that in order to combat violence, you must meet it with violence. From that moment on, any time he hears about Amin's violent antics, he brushes them off as justified. Only when Garrigan engages in an affair with one of Amin's wives, does he truly come to see Amin as others see him. By then, it was too late and Garrigan himself falls victim to Amin's psychotic and violent means of control.

The title Last King of Scotland is in reference to Amin's obsession with the Scottish culture. The dress uniform for his soldiers is a kilt; and he has even named many (if not all) of his children with Scottish names. This Scottish obsession plays for him in his connection with Nick, who is from Scotland. Amin relates to Scotland because they, too, have suffered under English domination and control. Interestingly enough, even though he connects with Scotland he does not connect with India, as he so cruelly demonstrates when he orders all Indian residents out of his country in 90 days or less.

This film in very good. It is suspenseful and quick and beautifully shot. Forest Whitaker is absolutely wonderful as the charismatic Amin. At first, he seems like a jovial solider who is grateful to his people for their support and eager to do only good for his country. Very slowly, his true side is revealed to Nick. As one of Amin's wives point out (yes, he has several), the reason Nick only saw Amin as such a happy, caring person is because he specifically chose to only show Nick that side of him in order to win over his loyalty. She has always known that Amin was a cruel, heartless, and downright scary man. Whitaker is wonderful playing both sides to Amin's personality.

Possible spoiler: After watching this movie, I surfed the web, anxious to find out what happened to the other characters (the movie does wrap up Amin's reign of terror) and found out that this is not an entirely true story. Finding out which part made me like the movie a bit less because the ending then seemed like a Hollywood ending instead of "this is how the story goes."

I liked this movie. I thought it could have been better if we actually saw more of how Amin dealt with his opposition, instead of seeing it second-hand in re-tellings. But since this movie is told from Garrigan's point of view (and he turned a blind eye to the evil), we see very little. The pacing is good. The story - a fictionalized version of Amin's administration - was compelling. Forest Whitaker was absolutely wonderful as the lovable yet sadistic Idi Amin. In my book, he should definitely win Oscar's Best Actor.