Movie Valley

Smokin' Aces
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Andy Garcia, and Alicia Keys (another who isn't in this movie?)
Directed By: Joe Carnahan
Run Time: 1 hr 48 minutes

First, let me say that I tried something new today. I don't advise it. I have to have popcorn when I watch a movie. It's just something to mindlessly munch on while I absorb the film in front of me. And it goes without saying that I also need a sodie. That's for everyone else's benefit. For some unknown reason, if I'm sans drink, I tend to develop a coughing fit. The sodie prevents that. Anyway, today I decided to try something new. I've had an awful lot of popcorn the past month. I still love the stuff (haven't developed an adverse reaction yet nor have I O.D'ed on the fluffy stuff) but again, 10 movies in a row eating the same thing can be a bit boring. Today I decided to try nachos. And of course, can't just have nachos. I also had Twizzlers. When asked if I wanted "extra cheese" I opted for that, too. Didn't want to run out of the bright orange fake cheese in the middle of a nacho feeding frenzy. I then decided if I paid the additional $1.75 for another cup of something being touted as "cheese," I was darned well going to use it. I made sure each nacho was well covered in cheese. The movie vendors should probably mention that a). a normal person, even without having breakfast or lunch, cannot eat the whole basket of nachos and b). one cup of cheese is plenty. I gorged myself on nachos, even broke into the second cup, and still had more than half of chips left and plenty of cheese left. In the end, I had to give up. I had a raging tummy ache. Note to self: Stick with the popcorn.

Now, back to the movie. Smokin' Aces is about a bunch of hitman trying to take out the same man, an ex-Las Vegas lizardy lounge act magician turned wannabe mob lord named Buddy "Aces" Israel (played by Jeremy Piven). The man who wants him dead is the mob boss of the rival clan Primo Sparazza. He wants Israel's heart. And while all the hitman are ponying to reach Israel first, the FBI is right there in the running. They need to bring in Israel so that he can testify against Sparazza.

While Pan's Labyrinth was one of the most creative movies I have ever seen, Smokin' Aces is definitely not. It doesn't even come in a distant second or third or 100th. I think I've probably seen this movie before, with different actors (although with the amount of people who are in this one, maybe not entirely different actors), and possibly a different outcome. The ending was quite touching. This was definitely a guy movie and tries too hard to be cool and clever.

The movie follows each of the groups of hitmen, during their quest to be the one to take out Israel. The first team of hitmen are two women, one of whom is played by Alicia Keys. They were picked by right hand men of Sparazza, in an attempt to beat the old man at his game. It seems a little far-fetched to me that an uprising in Sparazza's clan would want to strike out at the very mark Sparazza himself had picked. Hmm... beat him to the punch by killing the guy he already wants dead? Wow. Good game playing strategy, boys. That aside, my thrill at seeing the top hitmen actually be women was short-lived. Apparently, tough chicks only come in the form of lesbians. Well, one lesbian. Keys' partner has a huge crush on her and would do anything to protect her. I'm willing to bet that this is Keys' first movie. She was green, bright green. Perhaps she'll find her acting gene in the next movie, because she certainly didn't bring it to this one. She had one job to do - play tough - and she didn't do that. I've read reviews that claim she was wonderful (and even equate her to Pam Grier) but I have no idea if those critics were actually listening to her act instead of just watching her.

The rest of the hitmen grow increasingly bizarre and twisted, from the trio of neo-Nazis to the master of disguise, to the torturing and devilish yet unbelievably smart Acosta (played by the wonderful Nestor Carbonell). And then there are the bondsmen (Affleck, Peter Berg, and Martin Henderson) hired by an insanely over the top Jason Bateman. Affleck and Berg are forgettable, mainly because they don't have much screen time, but also because their characters are remarkably the most sane of this expanding balloon of carnival freaks.

And while everyone is busy trying to out freak the next group of hitmen, the FBI is busy homing in on the action. I'm not quite sure why Israel was not in their custody to begin with, as it seems they did bring him in to get all the information they had on him, but apparently, they now want him back. Ray Liotta is one of the good FBI guys in this mafia movie and seems a bit out of place. Andy Garcia is the head of this FBI investigation. I have no idea why he chose to play his character with an accent but it was annoying and just plain bad. Ryan Reynolds was one of the few wonderful parts of this movie. His character was interesting and he did a bang up job displaying a heart of gold all the while being tough and smart. And yes, this is the same guy who fronted Van Wilder... Sometimes the actors do grow up.

Which brings us back to the guy everyone is trying to kill - Buddy "Aces" Israel. Jeremy Piven does a wonderful job playing the sleazy wannabe crime lord. I loved watching his obsessive-compulsive flicks of magic tricks. I did wonder if he could pull some nifty illusion out of his sleeve to escape his fate, but alas, that would have been an imaginative moment for the writer/director. And I hope that Piven had some cellulite injected into his torso to make him appear to be a man caught up in excess because dang. He had the midriff of a 70 year old man (and I hope that was intentional).

I liked this movie, even though it concentrated more on being outrageous and stacking up a high body count than being original and cohesive. The plot is unoriginal, the subplot is thin and sadistic, and the ending seems to come out of nowhere (this is one of those movies with a Scooby Doo ending). But it was also a bit clever, particularly in the end shoot-em-up scene, with great, fun characters. It's probably something you could rent rather than waste the money on theater tickets, but it's a good escapism movie.

Pan's Labyrinth
Starring: Maribel Verdu, Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez (II), and Ariadna Gil
Directed By: Guillermo del Toro
Run Time: 1 hr 50 minutes

Pan's Labyrinth takes place in Spain in 1944, during the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War where rebels and Facist soldiers are still at odds. Ofelia's new stepfather is a captain in Spain's army and is in charge of squashing the rebellion in rural Spain. Ofelia's mother is suffering miserably during her pregnancy with the Captain's son. With her mother bed-ridden and her stepfather cold, cruel, and caring only to carry on his name, Ofelia retreats into the grim fairy tales she loves so much. She creates a world of her own, where she is a princess.

This movie is incredibly dark. It depicts the horrors of war, and the corruption/evil/madness that comes with absolute power. Even Ofelia's fairy tale world is no fairy tale. Despite the fact that her world is longing for her return, she is saddled with completing three tasks before she can take her rightful place beside her father, king of the underworld. These tasks are a bit frightening, particularly for a little girl, and are filled with gruesome creatures. While these creatures would frighten any other person, Ofelia is running to them in order to escape her war torn world led by an unloving and downright vicious stepfather.

Although Ofelia's mother told her that she had been incredibly lonely after Ofelia's father's death, I failed to see how she could fall in love with Captain Vidal. Before Ofelia even meets the captain, her mother begs her to call him "father" with hopes of soothing the beast. And when Ofelia does finally meet him, her little girl instincts kick in and, although trying to please him, can not quite bring herself to find her tongue. She is instantly struck by his cruelness as he abruptly reprimands her for not knowing which hand to extend when greeting him. When Carmen's (Ofelia's mother) pregnancy takes a turn for the worse, the captain instructs the doctor that if he should have to make a choice, the baby should be saved (and not his wife). Vidal is more frightening than any of the monsters Ofelia dreams up, because, after all, she is limited by her own imagination, and Vidal is all too real.

The creatures in Ofelia's world are magnificent... horrifying, dark, but wonderful. I think most little girls would have been freaked out by the fairy she encounters, but Ofelia's sweet nature and vivid imagination shift creepy to the fantastic. She is clever in her pursuit of accomplishing her tasks (right down to taking off her dress so that it wouldn't get muddy... and she wouldn't get into trouble by getting it muddy) and fearless when approached by the bizarre. But as clever as she, she proves she is also a little girl. Although warned not to do something by the faun, her age betrays her. And even though the faun tells her the final task is innocent, Ofelia knows better. She does something that even the men of Vidal's army do not do - disobeys orders.

Pan's Labyrinth is unbelievably creative and imaginative. It is scary, grotesque, violent, bloody and yet beautiful and sweet all at the same time. It is a tale of the power of imagination. It is a battle between good and evil, wrong and right, innocence and corruption. With so many incredibly horrible things happening to and around Ofelia, it's hard to determine just which side truly wins in the end. She is tested time and time again, and her purity triumphs over evil, but with a price. Such imagination went into making this movie, from the concept to the construction of the creatures and Ofelia's world. I also like the fact that it was an evil stepfather instead of stepmother in this fairy tale.

It is a wonderful movie. It is a unique movie. It's just so darned good.

The Departed
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Wahlberg (who isn't in this movie?)
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Run Time: 2 hrs 30 minutes

When this movie was first released, Jeff mentioned that he wanted to go see it and seemed a little miffed over the very notion that I might see this movie without him. I waited. The movie left the theaters before Jeff was in the mood to see it. When the movie came back to local theaters, I decided I would go see it without him. I wasn't missing my chance to see it (sorry, honey)! Jeff did make the comment that I've been to a lot of movies lately (eight alone in the month of January, and it ain't even over yet). I'm trying to squeeze in as many Oscar nominated movies as I can (and yes, I know The Hitcher is not a nominated movie, but never rule it out - Click was nominated....).

The Departed is set in South Boston and is about a cop who infiltrates organized crime and a criminal who infiltrates the police department. It's a race to see who can uncover the "rat" in their respective groups.

This movie has Oscar buzzing all around it, and with good reason. I know this is a remake (and I haven't seen the original, yet again) but Scorsese does an excellent job in making you forget that this isn't his own movie. It reeks of his past movies, with action, intrigue, suspense, and of course, thugs.

In The Good Shepherd I didn't quite believe Matt Damon's cold and calculating exterior, but in this movie, I did. He was smooth and always one step ahead of getting caught. He's comfortable because he has the law on his side. He feels he is protected on either side - the law and Frank Costello (Nicholson). Leonardo DiCaprio's character, on the other hand, is scared stiff. Although always one step ahead of getting caught himself, the fear of what will happen to him if he is caught keeps him lying awake at night. He personifies the rat - scurrying about, making short, jagged movements, never staying in one spot too long. Both actors were amazing to watch.

Jack Nicholson is larger than life as the head of the crime syndicate and seems almost to parody himself at times. When he gets to be too much, I'm not a Nicholson fan but in this movie, he was wonderful. I think he knew where the line of going to far was and never stepped over it. Alec Baldwin is hysterical as the captain of the special forces. Mark Wahlberg and Martin Sheen are also excellent as the leaders of the undercover agents. Although not on screen as much as the other actors, each have dramatic impact to the movie. And I must say, it must have been fun for Boston boys Damon and Wahlberg to play their Boston accents. I'm sure Jeff would cringe (he always seems to do that when he hears a Boston accent, possibly because he doesn't realize that's how they really sound), but I thought all actors had great accents.

There are many plot twists in this movie. For the greater part of two hours, the suspense of the movie is the cat and mouse chase - who will win, Costigan (DiCaprio) or Sullivan (Damon)? Or the more appropriate questions - who will live and who will die? The plot twists come late in the game, which make the story so much more riveting than "Will he or won't he" be uncovered. I gasped many, many, many times. Much more so than when I watched The Hitcher. :-) I will say that the underlying plot - surrogate fathers - was a bit weak. I didn't quite feel the love Sullivan should have had for Costello; but I definitely saw it in Costigan for Queenan (Sheen), although that relationship was identified too late in the game to be effective.

All in all, a good movie. It could have been shorter and the underlying plot could have been more pronounced. Other than that, great actors in a well crafted movie. It was fun to sit back and watch such a wonderful cast that played well together. I've read that DiCaprio claims that if Scorsese doesn't win for Best Director, he's gotten robbed yet again. At this point, I feel the same (although I have yet to see Letters from Iwo Jima to fully make that claim).

The Hitcher
Starring: Sean Bean and Sophia Bush
Directed By: Dave Meyers
Run Time: 1 hr 30 minutes

I am a sucker for a horror movie, especially the cheesy ones. I expect a horror movie to be devoid of script, character development, and acting. I expect it to have plenty of blood, gross carnage, and oozing with gore. With that in mind, you can probably see why I just had to see The Hitcher. It ain't Shakespeare, but I didn't put it on my list because I thought it was going to be.

Because my beautiful sister was getting married on the 20th, I was unable to see this movie when it opened on the 19th. It was a lovely ceremony but it didn't quite quench my horror movie jones. I read the reviews. I expected the reviews to be bad... and they were. That put a small damper on my desire to see this movie but I still had to go.

After watching the movie, I have to say that it completely did not deserve the poor ratings it got. Most of the reviewers had seen the original (I have not but am now going to) and felt the need to compare it to the original. Having not seen the original, I had nothing to compare it to. I liked this remake. I'm sure I'll like the original more, but the fact that the reviewers felt the need to compare it really irks me. Let the movie stand on its own. The original was 20 years ago and I highly doubt that the same people who saw the movie in 1986 had any desire to see it in 2007. Why? Because horror movies are geared towards the younger audience. It's funny how the intended audience for these movies isn't eligible to see them... Like animated films, I don't think reviewers quite understand how to put themselves in the intended audiences' shoes. Most critics don't get cartoons; most critics don't get horror movies. Weird how I get and love both...

The movie is about a young couple who are tormented by a murderous hitchhiker. There's not much more to the plot than that. Grace and Jim pick up a guy in a rainstorm who needs a ride to a motel. The hitchhiker (Sean Bean) then tries to kill Grace, played by Sophia Bush. They shove him out of the car and think they're done with the hitchhiker. Miraculously, Ryder (the hitchhiker) keeps showing up wherever the couple goes.

Several of the reviews I read were upset that we only see the aftermath of Ryder, meaning we only see bloody corpses instead of the gruesome murders themselves. I gotta tell you, you can definitely imagine the way these people died and I really don't think you needed to see them be killed in order to be horrified by their death. Do any of these critics understand that Hitchcock was the best at horror because you didn't see the carnage? A mere foreshadowing of death is sometimes scarier than the death itself. Not to give anything away, but there is a death that we do see and while it was supposed to be gruesome (it sent Grace into shock), the execution (no pun intended) was comical. It didn't have the impact it should have had because we saw it happen. The special effects failed miserably. The death itself was an absolutely horrific way to die. We knew it was going to happen. That was the scary part.

One review I read was upset that when Ryder shot the helicopter pilot, we didn't see the copter crash. Apparently this reviewer must have thought the audience was too dumb to draw that conclusion without the explosion. The helicopter drifts off screen when the pilot slumps forward. What do you think happened next?

Sean Bean was pretty good as the hitchhiker. I think he should have been given more on screen time, in order to be truly scary. He did a lot of bad things but we didn't get to see him enough to truly be afraid of him. He had some great evil glances, particularly at the end of the movie, but that's all we got from him. I was glad that Grace stopped being wussy and started to show some spunk. Sophia Bush did a great job with the ending of the movie. Her boyfriend was just "there" - he didn't have much of an impact. He wasn't caring enough, particularly when his girlfriend's eye was almost cut out by the hitchhiker. And he wasn't heroic enough, either. He filled the screen and that was it.

I liked this movie. It was gruesome. It was suspenseful (more so than horrifying). And it wasn't too predictable. Sure, the plot was thin. Why did this guy feel the need to kill? But in all fairness, I didn't care to have a back-story. That would have made Ryder feel more human. He wasn't human. He was a killing machine looking to pass the torch onto someone else. He knew his days were numbered. He thrived on the excitement of killing and the wonder of how he would meet his end. And in a horror movie where the sole point is body count, we don't need to know our killer that much. It's sometimes nice but many times it comes off as a Scooby Doo ending to unveil the method to the madness.

With all the reviews I did read, I do have to say that the remake did miss the subtle plot of the original. That was "ruined" by adding Grace, although it was certainly nice to have a kick-ass girl in a horror movie. In the original, Jim was alone when he picked up the hitchhiker. And that fact fueled the question - was Ryder an alter-ego of Jim? Was Jim the one responsible for all the killings? In this remake, there was no question that Ryder was real. But then again, if you take this movie just as it is and do not compare it to the original, it was pretty darn good (although I do like that plot point of the original, darn it).

Notes on a Scandal
Starring: Cate Blanchett and Dame Judi Dench
Directed By: Richard Eyre
Run Time: 1 hr 38 minutes

Notes on a Scandal is about an inappropriate relationship between a teacher at a British prep school and a 15 year old student.

This movie is narrated by the wonderful Judi Dench. She plays Barbara Covett, a battle-ax history teacher at a British prep school. She has been teaching so long that she has decided her students are unworthy and unteachable. Each year the students get worse and worse. She finds that teaching is just a way to pass time. Her feels her role is merely to warden the students. She's gruff, snide, abrupt, uncaring, and seemingly devoid of all emotions, particularly happiness.

A little aside here for my high school friends - Barbara is almost exactly like Mrs. Fischer. The only difference is that Mrs. Fischer was married...

Enter Sheba, the beautiful new art teacher. She hasn't a clue how to teach; even less of a clue on how to rule the students. She is instantly popular among the other teachers, even though behind her back they make fun of her ineptitude.

Despite Barbara's initial contempt for Sheba, they soon become friends. Sheba is warm and friendly; Barbara responds well, desperate for a friend. Her prickly nature dissolves to reveal an awkward and proper but eager to be loved disposition.

Barbara trusts only one person - and that is her diary, which she writes in daily and at quite length. She lives alone with her cat Portia. She is lonely. She strikes a connection with Sheba because she believes Sheba, although married with children, is lonely, too.

Barbara's friendship and longing to be loved quickly turns into obsession. Sheba, a warm and loving person, doesn't pick up on the signs of budding psychosis. Her lack of perception adds fuel to Barbara's obsession as she mistakes Sheba's easy going and warm invitations for reciprocation.

Barbara's world of admiration for Sheba takes a dark turn when she uncovers Sheba's affair with one of her 15 year old students. Barbara gives Sheba a chance to explain herself. After chastising Sheba for her lapse in judgement, Barbara suddenly does a 180 and informs Sheba that as long as she ends the relationship, Barbara won't turn her in. Sheba mistakes Barbara's generosity for sincerity.

But as desperate as Sheba is to make things right, she can't simply bring herself to do it. The reason she launched into the affair is too strong a pull for her. Behind Barbara's back, she continues with the affair. Barbara's connection to Sheba grows, despite Sheba's family's objections. Sheba is too nice, a bit too guilty, to truly see how cold and clingy Barbara really is. Her family can see how much of a drag Barbara is, but Sheba can't (or won't).

Barbara discovers once again that Sheba is having an affair - still having an affair - and that's when the true emotional blackmail begins. Sheba does everything in her power to placate Barbara's demanding whims for friendship but when she simply can't continue, Barbara implodes.

This movie is wonderful. It was fascinating to watch what Barbara would do to be loved and even more interesting to watch what happens when that love is not returned. And it was truly riveting to realize that, although Barbara's exterior melted into a "nice" person, only her diary told the tale of her true personality.

I think the screenwriter made a strategic choice to create a female adulterer instead of a married male teacher having an affair with a teenage girl. Despite the illegal and immoral implications of the affair, I think the audience is truly supposed to sympathize with Sheba - and understand why she did what she did. The teenage boy made her feel special, sexy, and needed. If the sexes had been reversed, it would have been difficult to see the relationship past the sex.

As I've commented many times before in past reviews, I typically foresee plot twists. Most of this movie is fairly predictable, from picking which student Sheba would have the affair with to the reasons why she had the affair, to prim and proper Barbara's reaction, and finally to Barbara's blackmail. The part I didn't see is a small plot twist that makes the movie so much more interesting and takes this movie up a notch.

Cate Blanchett is wonderful as the lovable Sheba. Judi Dench is fabulous as the heartless, conniving Barbara. This movie is well acted, well scripted, and well directed. A good movie choice for anyone who wants to sit back and watch some incredible actresses pull off a somewhat predictable (save the small plot twist, which really adds to the enjoyment of the plot) movie - and do it well.

The Queen
Starring: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell
Directed By: Stephen Frears
Run Time: 1 hr 37 minutes

Although this movie has been out for several weeks (if not months), it was the first time it came to a theater close by. I check for the next week's movies as soon as they're posted on Wednesday nights (and am always irked when they're delayed until Thursday). I was delighted to see this and Notes on a Scandal playing this week. That will be my Tuesday movie.

The Queen is about how the royal family dealt with Princess Diana's death.

I'm not sure how much of this movie is true and how much is fiction. Assuming that most of the movie is true, it was an incredibly interesting week for the royal family, Britain, and Diana fans.

The movie begins with Tony Blair being elected prime minister. As the Queen pointed out to her secretary, he was Prime Minister Elect and wouldn't actually be his title until she acknowledged his victory. The movie progresses with depictions of proper royal etiquette, something that apparently most commoners are clueless about but the Queen is insistent upon. It also waxed over how the royal family felt about Diana (she was now divorced from Charles) with snippets here and there.

After that, the movie launched into Diana's death. I suppose most people who went to see the movie were all too familiar with the events that led up to Diana's death. The movie didn't show too much of that night, nor did it give a dramatic impact to the actual crash. It was a simple scene. I'm not sure if the director felt that her death was too painful for people to endure or if he simply glossed over it because it wasn't the entire point of the movie. Either way, her death didn't seem as griping as it possibly should have been.

The Queen's life and actions appear to be dictated by royal protocol and she was bound and determined to not break with traditions. English tradition is to deal with death with quiet mourning. Since Diana was no longer a member of the royal family, the Queen left every aspect of her death - the funeral, the announcements, etc - to her family. The Queen did shield her grandsons, Diana's children William and Harry, from the media by removing the radios, televisions, and newspapers from the children's reach. She wanted to protect them by not having to witness their mother's image as she died and so that they didn't have to be affected by other people's grief. The royal family refused to publicly "acknowledge" Diana's death. No statement was made.

Tony Blair did make a heartfelt statement (although written by someone else on his staff). Millions of mourners flocked to Buckingham Palace, leaving flowers, candles, cards, and other gifts. Still, the royal family said nothing. They had to be bullied into permitting a public funeral, and even then, they were appalled that the funeral arrangements mimicked Queen Elizabeth I's funeral as it was the only large scale funeral they had prepared for. It is he who helps the royal family realize that by not addressing their subjects and acknowledging Diana's death, they were angering the public. Sometimes it's better to do what the public wants than what has always been done in the past. The royal family finally made a public statement. And it was then that Blair gained new found respect for the Queen as he realized her words and actions during her address would win her back her country's love. Although she may have temporarily stumbled over the initial days after Diana's death, she certainly regained her royal gait.

The movie did a wonderful job subtly depicting the differences between two types of leaders in England - the royal family and Tony Blair. The Queen is determined to maintain protocol while Blair sees the value in being flexible and addressing the public's mood. This movie reaches beyond the overlying plot of Diana's death to the underlying plot - what the monarchy needs to do in order to keep control of the country. In the beginning, when the Queen meets Tony Blair, she informs him that she has seen many a prime minister come and go and that she will be the person to guide him through his term of office. She is the one with the knowledge about the way the country should be run, not he. By the end, it is clear that being in touch with reality is the key to governing, and is a lesson Blair teaches the Queen. It is his humbleness and own sense of political mortality that wins him favor with the Queen.

Much is made of the iciness of the Queen, particularly in her actions and reactions to Diana's death. While that may certainly be true, there is an emotional side to the Queen. She definitely seems to care for her grandchildren, despite her lack of interaction with them. She definitely cares for her country, despite her failed attempts at reading what the people really want from her. And both scenes with the stag were incredibly touching. I think she keeps her emotions in check because, as she stated, her reign comes first.

Not knowing too much about the royal family, I found it interesting how incredibly intelligent the Queen truly is. I particularly found it interesting that she was a mechanic in the war and when her Land Rover broke down, she knew exactly where to look and what was wrong with it. The interactions between all members of the royal family were quite striking. While it was apparent that the Queen ruled over Charles (he tiptoed around her, despite wanting desperately to honor Diana, the mother of his children), it was also apparent that her mother still ruled over her.

Helen Mirren did a wonderful job playing the Queen. She was understated in her efforts. She was quietly passionate. She was quietly tormented. She was a strong ruler. And she was a stickler for traditions.

All in all, this was a great movie. I see why Mirren was nominated for Best Actress.

Happily N'Ever After
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Patrick Warburton, and Andy Dick
Directed By: Paul J. Bolger
Run Time: 1 hr 15 minutes

Happily Never After is about an evil-doer who takes over Fairy Tale Land and changes all of the fairy tales to have, well, unhappy endings.

I love movies. I particularly love kiddie movies. It's pretty difficult for me not to like a movie. It has to be pretty bad - have major flaws in the underlying plot (see Man of the Year - no, wait, don't see that movie), have incredibly bad actors, have a boom mike drop in the middle of scene and NOT have it edited out. I go to movies without any expectations. I go because I like watching movies, all types of movies. I like cheesy lines. I like ridiculous plots, as long as they're pulled off. I can take it all.

That being said, I did not like this movie. It was just plain bad. It had sooo much potential. So much could have been done with the unhappy endings the evil empress created. It would have been fun to pursue what life would be like for the miller's daughter/queen without her baby (in the unhappy ending, she did not guess Rumpelstiltskin's name so he took her baby). It would have been interesting to follow what life would have been like for Rapunzel, after she fell out of her tower (as she did in the unhappy ending). But instead, the movie took the predictable turn of trying to remove the evil empress from power so that the happy endings could return.

The main characters were Ella - the hip, revised version of Cinderella - her evil stepmother, the prince, his servant, and two wizard apprentices. The prince's servant was in love with Cinderella, er, Ella. His name was Rick. Um, yeah, Rick. His name alone should have warned me how bad this movie was going to be. Did the writer actually read a fairy tale prior to writing this movie? Rick is not a fairy tale name. It's supposed to be something old and British - like perhaps Hubert (with the nickname of either Hugh or Bert) or Reginald. I cringed every time his name was mentioned. And then there were the wizard apprentices - Monk and Mambo. I think the writer was trying to pick cutesy names - like Pumba and Timon or Jumba and Pleakley. It just seemed like it was trying too hard to get Happy Meal toys created after them.

Sigourney Weaver played the evil empress/wicked stepmother to Cinderella. She did a wonderful job playing up to her evil side, despite the incredibly stilted lines she was given. Weaver has a great evil cackle. Patrick Warburton played Cinderella's prince. He, too, did a wonderful job playing the dumb and conceited prince. His character's motivation (consulting a book that tells him how to act and re-act to everything) got old and tedious fast ("The book says I do this" and "The book says I do that"). I expected more out of Andy Dick, who played the annoyingly named Mambo. I suspect they forced him to stay on script instead of let him run wild and make up zany things for Mambo to say. Mambo was just too generic.

Luckily, this movie was only an hour and fifteen minutes long. The best part about this movie was that they didn't make all of the fairy tales revert back to their normal happy ending. They re-wrote some endings to correspond with how the movie changed them. That I liked. And that was all I liked about this movie.

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson
Directed By: Bill Condon
Run Time: 2 hrs 5 minutes

With Jeffrey in New York for the day, I decided to hit the movie theaters and see something I didn't have on the list. And that something was Oscar potential Dreamgirls.

Dreamgirls is about a girl group's rise to the top and the relationships that they built and destroyed along the way.

The major fuel for the fiery relationships is competition - competition to front the group and competition for the love of one man. Effie, played by American Idol Jennifer Hudson - has an absolutely wonderfully big, powerful, soulful voice. The problem is she doesn't look like a star. Enter Deena, one of her backup singers. She has a simple voice - a good singer but not a memorable voice. What she has going for her is her face. When their manager chooses pretty over substance, it tears the group apart. Effie can't handle not being in the spotlight and eventually self-destructs. She is replaced with yet another pretty face. And Deena marries her man.

It surprised me how much of a difference there was between Beyoncé's sweet, simple voice and Jennifer's powerful voice. I was relieved to discover that this was played up in the movie to illustrate the difference between the characters. By Beyoncé's final song, her true voice came through. The cinematography was fabulous. I loved the Broadway-esque spotlight scene endings as well as the dramatic cut to black (I think that's cinematography).

I wanted to like the movie more than I did. I know it's a hit musical but I just didn't think the movie quite captured the essence of Broadway. The songs just didn't quite reach me (even though they're probably the exact same songs from Broadway). For the most part, the songs were well sung (I thought Foxx could have had better songs, although he did fine with what he had). The cast was decent. Eddie Murphy was wonderful as the slimy but charismatic Jimmy Early. Jamie Foxx was great as the unscrupulous Curtis Taylor. Beyoncé was sweet. Jennifer Hudson, as I mentioned earlier, had an absolutely wonderful voice and did a great job as the fame-seeking diva. The movie just didn't have that final pop... I'm not sure the full effect of how Curtis treated people was fully realized. I think the story was trying to say that he was a really bad guy but I just didn't feel it. I assumed but it just wasn't there. I will say, without trying to ruin anything, that the ending for Curtis (played by Foxx) was refreshing as he suddenly realized what a cold, horrible person he truly is/was.

Good movie. Enjoyable movie. The story moved along nicely. The songs were well sung. Jennifer Hudson has a fabulous voice. And that's all there was to it (but that's not necessarily a bad thing). I just expected a bit more, especially given the great cast and all the Oscar buzz.

Children of Men
Starring: Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, and Michael Caine
Directed By: Alfonso Cuarón
Run Time: 1 hr 49 minutes

First, let me say that I'm extremely excited that this movie was playing at a local theater. I was actually surprised. And as soon as it opened, I had to go, just to show those movie people that movies like this can do well at a mall theater.

Children of Men is an apocalyptic vision of the future, where women are infertile, non-natives are rounded up and imprisoned, and war is an every day occurrence.

The movie opens on a bleak note and only gets bleaker. A news broadcast informs the public that the youngest living person, who is only 18 years old, has died. As sad as that tidbit is, it seems the young man was murdered when he refused to give someone an autograph. Adored, treasured, and revered apparently didn't prevent the every day onslaught of brutality and ugliness from taking the life of the last bit of hope the world had. And then, just as our main character (played by Owen) steps out of a coffee shop, it blows up. A woman who had been in that shop stumbles out, carrying her own arm. Lovely. Bleak to bleaker to bleakest, and this is the first 5 minutes.

The movie takes place in 2027, just twenty years from now. The world is consumed in chaos, corruption, and anarchy. The setting is England, but if I remember this part correctly, the US pretty much doesn't exist anymore. People who are not legal citizens of England are rounded up and imprisoned. Hundreds of thousands of people packed into tiny cages, all because they didn't have the proper paperwork. They fled their own countries, which were apparently worse than England, only to be dealt a worse fate once captured in England. The guards/military were cold and uncaring, despite the cries of the old ladies behind bars. Of course, as cold and uncaring as they were, they were also hardened by the despair and brutality of bombs exploding and guns being fired, even in broad daylight. The mask of the word "civil" had been lifted from civilization.

Enter our main characters - Theo (played by Clive Owen), Julian (played by Julianne Moore), and Kee (played by Claire-Hope Ashitey). Although no woman in 18 years has been able to get pregnant, Kee is just that. Julian is the lead of an anarchist/rebel group who wants to get this young girl to safety and freedom under the watch of an organization called the Human Project (although what the Human Project intends to do with either mother or child really isn't expounded upon; suffice it to say that it would just be better for Kee). Theo is Julian's ex-husband, whom she enlists to help get the documentation Kee needs to travel to her rendezvous with the Human Project.

I knew going into this movie that it was going to be a tough one. The previews certainly didn't paint a happy, sunshiney picture for this movie. I guess there's something haunting in itself to have part of the plot be the total destruction of mankind without reproduction. Not only was it tough, it was intense. It had a lot of action and even more things to think about. With all the chemicals in the food we eat and pollution in our waters and in the air, it seems quite possible that we may be pickling ourselves to the point of extinction. And with so many nations at odds with each other and with the US, it seems quite possible that we're taking dozens of steps closer to every day war-like conditions, even in our own backyard.

Clive Owen was wonderful as a man haunted by his past. Julianne Moore was delightful as a tough but sweet rebel leader, striving to make the world a better place. Ooh - I did spend some time trying to place where I had seen the actress who plays the side character Miriam. She's Aunt Marge in the Harry Potter movies. Michael Caine was fabulous as Jasper, a modern day hippie laying low and fighting the bad of the world with insightful and drug-induced rants. I will share one of the brightest moments of the movie - Jasper's joke. Basically, his joke revolves around the plot - women can't have babies. When one man is asked what he thinks about it all, he looks up from his dinner and says, "I don't know, but this stork is delicious." Ha.

The plot has several unexpected twists. Normally, I'm one to see these twists coming a mile away but I certainly didn't anticipate these. These twists definitely made the movie flow along and gave more depth to the plot. I'm sure the people sitting around me thought I was a weird one as I sat through much of the movie with my hands clutching my cheeks or tugging at my hair. The movie did a good job not siding with the military or the rebels, and, in fact, made both of them seem wrong under certain lights. Too much military without thinking of the consequences (is deporting an 80 year old woman really solving anything?) is not a good thing. And even those who rebel and try to make a difference may only be rebelling for their own causes.

I don't think I'm giving too much away when I describe this part (and if you are worried I might spoil something, simply skip this paragraph): Kee and Theo are trapped inside a building under gun fire. The baby begins crying. All the prisoners trapped inside the building risk their own lives (being caught by a stray bullet) to touch the crying baby. The rebels who are taking over the building stop shooting as the baby is carried past them. The military outside also stop firing as the baby is carried, crying, through the streets. For an eerie moment in the middle of an uprising, the only sound that can be heard is a baby crying. Strange for the people as they haven't heard a baby cry in almost 20 years. Haunting as something so simple sucked the desire to kill and destroy right out of these people. The uprising didn't seem as important or desperate... now that there was a ray of hope. And then they were right back to killing each other once the baby passed....

This was a bleak movie, but an incredibly good movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was haunting. It was scary. It was... possible. The whole of the movie is not uplifting but the movie itself is. I won't say why. That would give something away. From the ashes, we will be reborn. Where there is a will, there is always a way. Never give up hope.

Night at the Museum
Starring: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson
Directed By: Shawn Levy
Run Time: 1 hr 48 minutes

I am not a Ben Stiller fan. In fact, I've only willing watched one other Ben Stiller movie and liked it and that was Mystery Men (but that says more about the other cast members than Stiller himself). I've hated Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers and I refuse to see There's Something About Mary. But when I saw the preview for Night at the Museum, I instantly wrote it down in my little movie notebook. I guess I'm a sucker for movies with monkeys slapping people....

Night at the Museum is about a man who takes a job at the Natural History Museum as the night guard, only to discover that all the exhibits turn to life as soon as the sun goes down. He must make sure that all the exhibits play nicely with each other and keep them in the museum.

After it is discovered that the guard must contain the exhibits while trying to stay alive himself (there are lions and huns who think he makes a great snack), I wondered what the next hour would hold for us. Wasn't that the whole plot? The museum comes to life at night? The plot does continue to move along quite nicely and doesn't just play on special effects of statues coming to life. I must say that I did figure out Dick Van Dyke's character's role in the whole plot from the moment I saw him. But I enjoyed how all the pieces fell together and the movie kept me entertained for its duration.

This is the first movie of the year for me, and the year starts off well as I had the pleasure of an escort - Jeffrey.

I liked this movie. It was quite funny. I laughed many times. And I even liked Ben Stiller, probably because he wasn't too Ben Stiller-ish. Mickey Rooney, although on screen for only a couple of minutes, was hysterical (although he was definitely playing up the crochety old man bit). Owen Wilson, despite playing the same character in every single movie, was fabulous as the gun-slinging cowboy at odds with the Roman gladiators, whose exhibit is right next door. Dexter the monkey was great at playing up his mischievious side, although he needs a better agent. I don't see him listed at all on imdb. The dinosaur Rexy was cute and stole every scene he was in. All in all, the characters blended well together.

Good movie. Not Oscar worthy (shocker, I know) but a good escape movie. Funny. Cute. Jeff says that any movie that has a monkey peeing on someone is funny. And it made him want to move to New York (the setting, not the monkey peeing part).