Movie Valley
January 2008 Movie Reviews
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27 Dresses
Starring: Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Edward Burns
Directed By: Anne Fletcher
Run Time: 1 hr 47 mins

27 Dresses is about a woman who is always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Jane (played by Heigl) loves weddings and loves to help her friends plan them. But then her little sister starts dating and becomes engaged to the man Jane is secretly in love with, Jane's boss George (played by Burns). Suddenly being a bridesmaid again isn't so much fun.

This is a chick flick, through and through. For those of you who have read my past reviews, you know I'm not a huge fan of chick flicks. They're often silly (too silly), unrealistic, patronizing, cliched riddled, rely far too heavily on the "you complete me" ultra sappy moments, and have predictable endings. Ooh, such a cynical assessment of chick flicks, huh? This movie did not have most of these elements so I'm happy to say it was actually a pretty good movie. It was smart, it was funny, it was sweet. Unfortunately, it had a predictable ending. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad it ended the way it did but it was predictable. See? Not that cynical afterall, am I?

I think I liked this movie for three of the main characters - Jane, Kevin (played by Marsden), and George. I did not like Tess (played by Malin Akerman). I suppose we weren't supposed to like her since she was stealing Jane's man, but I think the writer/director took the easy way out in defining her character. You were supposed to hate her. I find it hard to believe that she was so cut and dry shallow. She was too easy to hate as a result. She had to have some good qualities, otherwise George wouldn't have fallen for her to begin with, right? I liked that George was a good guy, through and through (although that makes it that much harder to think he would fall for someone like Tess, even with her lies). I liked that Jane was smart and sweet. I think part of the reason I liked Jane is because Katherine Heigl comes across as an incredibly intelligent person. It's nice to see a smart female actor with great comedic timing.

I liked this movie, probably because it wasn't too heavy on the list of standard chick flick features. It was a bit sappy (all weddings are wonderful, even ones underwater and cowboy-themed). It was a bit unrealistic (27 weddings and no guy for smart, sweet Jane?). It was cliched-riddled, right down to the name of the character - plain brunette Jane loses out to perky blonde younger sister (hmmm... one's smart and caring and giving, the other's dumb and shallow... who do you think the wonderful, philanthropic guy who owns his own eco-friendly company is going to fall for?). But I didn't love this movie for one reason - it didn't have that (oh, I can't believe I'm going to say it) "You complete me" moment (yes, I did rag on it a couple of paragraphs before, but that was along the lines of too much "aw"-clutch-your-chest-with-a-Kleenex-tucked-into-your-hand-moments). It had its chance to be sweet. I was waiting for the sappy moment and when it came, just one line blew it. One line ruined that moment and that one line was "Get over here" ?? THAT was the moment when he was supposed to say "You complete me" but instead, he says, "Get over here." Wow. That was the best you could do? For a girl (Jane, that is) who is so in love with romance, perhaps something a bit more romantic was called for rather than "Get over here." So close.

Good movie. Funny. Sweet. Sibling rivalry rears its ugly head again. Well acted. Smart. Funny. But not as romantic as it could have been.

The Savages
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, Philip Bosco
Directed By: Tamara Jenkins
Run Time: 1 hr 53 mins

The Savages is about a brother and sister who suddenly have to care for their ailing father. As difficult as that task is, it is complicated by the siblings severe emotional baggage they associate with their father, who was verbally abusive to them while raising them as a single father. Wendy (played by Linney) is a struggling playwright having an affair with a married man; John (played by Hoffman) is a college professor writing a book and dealing with his Polish girlfriend's return to Poland.

The subject of this film is very scary and sad, both from a child's point of view and a parent's point of view. Lenny (played by Bosco) has suddenly lost his independence of living in his home, in addition to losing his health. When his girlfriend of 20 years dies, he is placed in a nursing home by his children, who are unable and unwilling to take care of him. He is suffering from dementia. He slips in and out of reality. Surfacing to reality seems to come when his children are at their worst - complaining about the hardship of taking care of their father or bickering about their insufferable lives. He is sad. He realizes he contributed to their neurotic behaviors but he also wants someone to care about him as he ages less than gracefully.

Wendy and John are pretty horrible people. Of course, I suppose any of us can be construed as horrible, especially during a moment in our lives we'd rather not be handling. For Wendy and John, neither want to have to deal with their father. They've spent years avoiding him, and he them. They're definitely messed up by their childhood - their mother abandoned them, leaving their verbally abusive father to raise them. But aside from their childhood issues, they're both miserable and selfish people. Wendy is living off a FEMA grant given to those who suffered from the aftermath of 9/11, even though she wasn't working in or near the Twin Towers. She steals office supplies and drugs from dead little old ladies (she ransacked the medicine cabinet while packing up her father's belongings). The only emotion she has seems to be fear, fear of doing things by herself, fear of failure, fear of life. Her brother, on the other hand, is bursting with emotion. He's constantly crying. He's afraid to commit to his girlfriend and afraid of losing her, too, but neither stop him from putting her on a plane back to Poland when her Visa runs out. Wendy is afraid to be under her brother's shadow. He's a bit more successful than she, but that's not saying much.

This is a tough movie. It deals with death, dying, having to care for your ailing parent, sibling rivalry, and childhood traumas that have crippled the lives of two adults. It was very well done. It's also very funny. Sad funny but a good sad funny. The humor is smart, which it needs to be when dealing with such a tricky subject.

The acting in this movie was wonderful. Well, can it be wonderful if you're not even aware that these people are acting? It seemed so effortless for both Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. They really clicked as brother and sister.

I really liked the ending. I was glad that Wendy learned something from her struggle with putting her father in a nursing home. Old doesn't mean death sentence. She finally grew into a person. I liked that.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le papillon)
Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Anne Consigny, Emma De Caunes, Max von Sydow
Directed By: Julian Schnabel
Run Time: 1 hr 52 mins

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is about a successful French magazine editor who has a stroke. The good news is that he didn't die. The bad news is that he didn't die. He is paralyzed from head to toe. He can't speak. He can't swallow. He can only see out of one eye (the other is sewn shut in a particularly disturbing scene in order to prevent the eye from going very bad and having to be removed entirely). He suffers from "locked-in syndrome" which essentially means that although his brain functions wonderfully (he can comprehend his surroundings, he can remember, he can think), there's no real way for him to interact with the rest of the world.

This movie is beautifully shot. For most of the movie, we see only what Jean-Do (played by Mathieu Amalric) sees, directly as though we're gazing out from his one good eye. If someone moves out of his eye's range, we cannot see that person anymore, just as Jean-Do cannot since he cannot move his head. If he's crying, the screen is fuzzy from his tears. Thankfully, the entire movie is not from his point of view. We see flashbacks, which show us Jean-Do when he was healthy. And occasionally, the point of view changes to omnipotent and we see Jean-Do in full view. It was an incredibly interesting way to shoot the movie and quite effective.

You might think a movie about a quadriplegic man who has no hope of recovery would be sad but it was actually quite inspiring. In a small sense, it was inspirational to watch him overcome the communication obstacle. His speech therapist runs through the alphabet and he blinks when she reaches the letter he wants to use. Slowly this spells out his thoughts. It's rough going at first - how tedious to have to run through a list of letters for each and every letter of the word you want to say and then to keep doing it to make a sentence. Eventually, Celine (the mother of his children) and several of his friends learn to help him communicate this way. Jean-Do even dictates a book this way.

I found it interesting that some of the people in Jean-Do's life felt the need to equate his situation with something they had endured. I'm not sure who they were comforting - themselves or Jean-Do. Of course, these comparisons were insightful. One came from a friend of his who had been held hostage in Beruit for 4 years. Both of their situations were like being held hostage, forcibly held alone only with their own thoughts to keep them sane. The other came from his ailing elderly father. He lives on the 4th floor of a four story walk-up and at 92 years old, those stairs forced him to remain in his apartment. Both were immobile. Of course, one could argue that even if you're being held hostage, you can cling to the hope that one day you'll be free but yet Jean-Do had no such hope for recovery. And one could also argue that his father's lack of mobility came gradually. He was granted time to acclimate to his decline whereas Jean-Do's immobility happened in the blink of an eye. Neither are fair comparisons.

The most inspiring point of this movie is to live life to its fullest. At first, Jean-Do is depressed thinking of all the things he wanted to do before he had a stroke and now wasn't able to do them. He would never know the simple joys of holding his children again or get back that moment in time to comfort his friend he never bothered to comfort. But then he learns that he can still do some things (he pens a novel). He's not dead yet.

I suppose the most interesting note about this movie is that when tragedy strikes, you discover who your real friends are. Jean-Do left the mother of his children (he never married her) for the "love of his life." Interestingly enough, the mother of his children visits frequently but the "love of his life" never does, and only calls once, bemoaning how his situation was too tough on her...

Ooh, ooh! One thing to point out: Jean-Do learns to speak by blinking at the letter when the alphabet is read to him. It's the same pattern every time. The letters aren't alphabetical, they're arranged in order of use (kind of like a typewriter) so instead of beginning with "A, B" it begins with "E, S." This movie is subtitled. When the speech therapist begins the alphabet, it's translated on the screen - "E,S..." My French is decent but I had to doubt myself immensely because most of the time, when the speech therapist said a letter, the letter that was translated into the subtitles was not the letter I thought she was saying. How could I be so off? I thought she was saying "M" and yet the letter that appeared in the subtitle was "T." I thought she just said the letter "J" but the letter "I" popped up on screen. Huh? Have my skills really gone out of whack? It wasn't until about an hour or so into the movie when it suddenly occurred to me that although she was saying a letter in French, the word he was spelling was being translated into English. So, yes, she did say "M" and the subtitle put up "T." This is because he was spelling "Merci" or in English, "Thanks." Oh, how it really hurt my head!

I really liked this movie. It was beautifully shot. And even though Mathieu Amalric could only act through blinking an eye, he was amazing with that one eye. The message of this film is wonderful - live life to its fullest and when life throws you lemons, make lemonade (although I suppose that since this is a French movie, it should be "if life throws you grapes, make wine").

Starring: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux, Simon Abkarian, Francois Jerosme
Directed By: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud
Run Time: 1 hr 35 mins

Persepolis is an animated French movie (at least the dialog is in French) about Iran. That's as confusing as the movie gets, well, as long as you're well versed in Iranian history (which I'm not). So, once again, it's an animated movie in French about Iran, heavily laden with Iranian history. It's nominated for an Oscar - Best Animated Feature Film of the Year (up against Surf's Up and Ratatouille, which is an American movie in English that takes place in France...), which is why I went to go see it.

Persepolisis a coming-of-age story of an outspoken young Iranian girl named Marjane. The movie begins just before the Islamic Revolution in the late 70s. Iran goes from being under the cruel regime of the Sha (who apparently fancied himself a king) to a state of rebellion to a dictatorship of Islamic rule (that the free people voted in during their few months of freedom after the fall of the Sha). People who were jailed for opposing the regime during the reign of the Sha were set free during the months of freedom and then executed under the new Islamic government. Can't have trouble makers stirring up the people. Women are suddenly second class citizens and are forced to wear veils and be educated separately from men, regardless of whether or not they follow Islam. Alcohol, pork, and anything Western are banned. People who speak out against the government are rounded up, most executed. The rules get stricter and stricter, more and more liberties are outlawed. Those in violation are jailed. People are being tortured, executed, and jailed every day. And it's even tougher being a woman.

The movie follows the life of Marjane. She starts off the movie as a 9 year old girl, full of dreams and spunk. she's determined that she's destined to be a prophet... and Bruce Lee's sidekick. And then Iran goes from bad to worse. At nine year's old, this little girl is suddenly thrust into adulthood - forced to live in a world of oppression and bloodshed. She questions everything. Her parents encourage her to learn as much about what's going on in their political environment and she does. And one day, that gets her into trouble. She speaks her mind a little too freely... for a girl. She rallies up her friends in a little protest. This doesn't go over well. Her parents, fearing for her safety, send her to Vienna. She's suddenly "free." She makes friends with anarchists and quickly grows wearily of their political views that are founded on nothing - they haven't experienced turmoil, war, death, oppression and have no reason to "stand up to the man." She goes back to Iran, still full of spirit but respectful of her Islamic servitude. When she realizes she can't inspire change and is in danger every day for speaking her mind, she leaves Iran for good but longs to be with her family.

Such a fun movie, huh? It was tough. Sad. Scary. I felt so bad for these people, particularly the women. They went from oppression to severe oppression. Even though the Sha was a bad guy, women were still treated semi-fairly. I can't imagine being forced to cover up, wear veils, and be taught that because you're a woman, you're inferior, especially since a moment ago you were somewhat free.

The animation was simple but beautiful - it was like a comic book coming to life on screen. I found out after the movie that it's based on a graphic novel, so hence the animation style. The movie is also based on the life of one of the directors (or so I'm guessing because the character and the director have the same name). The animation is in greyscale for most of the movie, partly because this is told in a flashback, partly because Marjane's world was pretty in bleak. It had a few funny moments (particularly when Marjane was a child and was imitating Bruce Lee at a party). It had a few very scary moments. It was incredibly interesting. How little I know of Iranian history! It was definitely educational. And it makes you feel incredibly lucky to not have endured anything like that. I can't even imagine.

I would assume animation was chosen as the medium for this movie because it makes the story that much more compelling. I definitely wouldn't have seen it if it had been live action. Although I know Kite Runner would be good for me to see, I can't imagine stomaching such a hard and heart-breaking movie - but Persepolis was much darker and tragic and yet I endured it because it was told through animation. Anyone can sit through a cartoon, filled with goofy pictures, right?

So... not a movie for everyone. It's tough. It's dark. It's tragic. But very well done. Incredibly compelling. Very educational. And it definitely makes you glad to be who you are. Ooh, and was a lovely way to brush up on my French!

There Will Be Blood
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciraran Hinds
Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson
Run Time: 2 hrs 38 mins

There Will Be Blood follows the life of an oilman, from his silver mining days to self made tycoon.

One interesting note about this movie: For the first 15 minutes, there's not a single word spoken. The characters go about their business but no one says anything. And in this 15 minutes, we see how unbelievable strong willed Daniel (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) is. He falls down a mine shaft, breaks his leg, but still not only manages to salvage a huge piece of silver, but drags his broken body from the middle of nowhere into town.

This movie is a bit about everything. It's about power. It's about the struggle between good and evil. It's about religion. And it's also about relationships. I loved father-son relationship. I love how Daniel tried but failed miserably to be a father. And the child knew it. H.W. gave him a chance to prove himself and when Daniel failed, that was the end of the relationship. The scene where the oil rig explodes, bursting into flame, Daniel immediately runs to find his injured son but the oilman in him is pulled from caring for his child to caring for his oil. The father-son relationship is never the same.

In my head, this movie is called There Might Be Blood. No clue why it's in my head that way but it certainly makes for a different movie, now doesn't it? I particularly loved the ending (well, not really. It was horrifying and gruesome AND evil... but slightly funny) - the way the camera pulled back to show Eli and Daniel and then, boom. Title. There Will Be Blood. Yes, it definitely made a point. And it definitely demonstrated why my title was wrong. There will be blood. No might about it. That kinda made me laugh.

I loved the money vs. religion struggle. Daniel is against religion but the town he takes over is deeply engulfed in a cult-like religion, headed up by a young prophet named Eli (played by Paul Dano). I liked how the dynamics switched back and forth several times between religion and, well, Daniel, but interestingly enough, even when religion had the upper-hand, somehow Daniel made it his own (the baptism scene is hilarious).

I liked this movie. The visuals were beautiful. Daniel Day-Lewis was wonderful. I heard a review that likened his character to the devil but I certainly don't see that. He was definitely a politician - he'd say what people wanted him to say in order to get what he wanted. He may have been a bit greedy and certainly was callous, but the love he had for his son was incredible. He wasn't supposed to be a father so he didn't know exactly how to handle the child but that certainly didn't make him evil. He tried. He just didn't have all the answers.

Good movie. I didn't love it as much as the critics. I liked Daniel Day-Lewis' performance. I loved the cinematography. I loved the struggle between good and evil, money and religion. There just wasn't a "Wow. This is the greatest movie ever" moment for me.

Starring: Lizzy Caplan, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel
Directed By: Matt Reeves
Run Time: 1 hr 24 mins

Cloverfield is about a disaster that strikes New York City. A group of friends try to navigate the city as it is falling apart, under attack from something that is destroying the city, as they desperately try to get to another friend who is trapped in her apartment.

The story is captured on a hand-held camera as the group of friends fight their way through falling buildings, attacking creatures, explosions, and gun fire. The only footage you see is what the hand-held camera captured - there's no breather from the shaky visuals. The characters are running and dodging and scared - and all of this shakes the camera, not to mention that the camera is operated by a complete novice (and utter moron). You find out what is happening just as the characters do. You are as confused about what is attacking the city just as the characters are. You feel what they feel, largely in part to the bouncy, jostling, twittering camera work.

I would like to say from the start that I liked what the movie was trying to do. I was definitely suckered me into the emotion of it all because it felt real. It actually seemed like a bit of voyeurism. And because none of the actors are really well known (no major names), it seems like the footage is real because you aren't aware they're acting. I felt so bad for these people, scared for them, hoping they can dodge the next falling rubble, hoping they'll get to where they want to go. I felt like I was right there with them. I was scared. I was terrified. I was so sad. It really pulled you into the story to have the movie shot on a hand-held camera with no major stars.

So I get what the movie was trying to do. I liked what the movie was trying to do. I just don't think they were that successful pulling it off. A lot of the movie I did not like. I absolutely hated the first twenty or so minutes of the movie - the part before the mayhem and destruction. The first twenty or so minutes sets the background for the principal characters (and the reason for the personal camera recording what's going on). It's a going away party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David). He's leaving New York, heading off to Japan. He's got a new job there. His friends are recording their "testimonials" to Rob ("Good luck in Japan, Rob! I'll miss you" etc). Ugh! They were so shallow and stupid! This part of the movie was incredibly boring, slow, tedious, and annoying. The cameraman (Hud, Rob's best friend) is absolutely dumb and annoying. It was almost unbearable. I almost got up and walked out of the movie. I couldn't stand listening to these people. Normal every day lives are not interesting, which is why there are movies. The party exemplifies this, magnifies this point.

But then the building shakes and the movie suddenly starts to pick up. Something strange has happened to New York City. The terror and anticipation begins.

For the most part, I liked this movie. However, there were several incredibly annoying scenes that caused me not to love this movie. For starters, I hated any moment when the cameraman Hud spoke. He was so dumb! Next plot killer - the fact that a twenty-something (closer to 20 than something - probably maybe 24 years old) landed a job as a VICE PRESIDENT of a company in Japan was totally implausible (although out the circle of his friends, he definitely was the likeliest candidate to get such a job, meaning he was the only one with some real brains). And if an earthquake hits your city (as they initially thought that's what shook the building), do not run to the rooftop to get a better look. If it's an earthquake, you leave the building (particularly one that's about 30 stories high). And cell phone batteries fresh out of a brand new package are not fully charged. They're not charged at all. Finally, I would think that in New York City when a colossal disaster strikes and buildings are crumbling to the ground everywhere, you probably ain't gonna get cell phone reception at all. But that point I'll grant to them over all the other implausibilities.

This movie was incredibly scary. It took awhile to build momentum, and you did have to get past the tediousness of Hud's dialog and his camerawork, but it was incredibly scary. And sad. I can't imagine what a New Yorker must feel like watching this movie, particularly post 9/11. This movie made you feel like you knew these characters and to add the trauma of seeing NYC getting destroyed again must really have been terrifying and traumatic. Part of the reason this movie freaked me out (aside from the fact that natural disaster movies terrify me) is that they played to my two greatest fears - tunnels (potentially underwater tunnels) and spiders - giant, mutant, crazy spiders to boot. If I had seen the rats making a beeline out of the tunnel, I, being attuned to the animal world, would have started running, full speed running. That couldn't have been good. Animals always know these things. Next time you see a herd of rats all fleeing in one direction, follow them. Something bad can't be that far behind.

On one hand, I liked this movie. I loved the way it drew me into really caring about the characters. How horrible for these people! But on the other hand, the shaky camerawork and the shallow, insipid characters were too annoying. Just once I wanted the camera to focus and hold still. But, sadly, that jiggly motion did serve a point. It added to the confusion, which in turn added to the scariness. Horror films always work best when you don't see the creature. It's always a letdown to see the alien/monster/scary guy in a hockey mask up-close.

Good movie, not a great movie. Kudos to the director for trying something new (okay, so it's been done before but not hugely). It served its purpose well. Really well. If you're going to go see it, see it on the big screen. I have a feeling it won't transition well to TV (but if you do watch it at home, wait 'til it's dark and turn off all the lights).

The Orphanage
Starring: Belen Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Princep
Directed By: Juan Antonio Bayona, Patricia Echevarra, Margarita Garcia Rodriguez
Run Time: 1 hr 38 mins

The Orphanage is about a woman who returns to the orphanage where she grew up, now as an adult and the owner of the house. When her young son vanishes, she uncovers a dark event that occurred after she left the orphanage that haunts the house.

I've heard reviews that this movie isn't scary. For the most part, I agree. It's not scary. It's not like a typical horror movie that's intense for 90% of the movie. It takes a bit to build momentum. The beginning half hour follows the family around. We see that young Simon has quite an imagination and a love of games. We see the immense bond between mother and son, husband and wife. We also find out that Simon is adopted, something his parents haven't told him. There are some creepy scenes and some utterly gaspingly scary scenes (seriously ohmygosh), with a bit of gruesomeness thrown in. The pacing is a bit slow, particularly while establishing the plot, but all of this is necessary for the character development that leads you to understand and become engrossed in the last half hour. The last half hour is absolutely amazing, even more so in retrospect.

This movie is not a horror movie. It does have elements of a horror movie - things jumping out at you, ominous characters, not being able to believe what you see (or don't see), creepy little children suddenly appearing from no where. But it's not a horror movie. It's more of a psychological thriller, with a tilt towards the horror genre. It's a mixture of the paranormal and sleuthing, or treasure hunting. I liked how it plays between reality, imagination, and another realm. I loved how it switched between the power of believing, of letting go, of diving into imagination and real life. I loved how the dynamics switched from the first treasure hunt - playful, exciting, innocent - to the second treasure hunt - panic, desperation, frustrating, frantic. I liked that the movie played on the what ifs. I liked how it teetered on the edge of supernatural and plausibility. It spoke volumes about the power of a mother's love and the power of imagination. It was amazing to see at what lengths a mother would go to in order to find her son. It was truly riveting to watch the mother dive deeper and deeper into her imagination, trying to channel the energy her son had for the creative.

One side note: I do have to say that I absolutely loved the house. It was so beautiful, inside and out (even the landscaping). Such beautiful hardwood floors and stained glass windows! And the doorknobs were beautiful (yes, you do notice the doorknobs - they play an important part in a couple of scenes). Such a gorgeous house, full of character...

This was a wonderful movie. I didn't expect to love it so much, particularly with the slow pacing and the lack of scary things happening. But when you realize that it's more about the obsessive nature of the mind, it's quite frightening. I cannot say more about the last half hour, it was that good. The game the mother plays is utterly fantastic. The degree to which she lulls herself into believing is fantastic. I love this movie purely for the ending (well, endings). It was unbelievably tragic and yet sweet at the same time. Incredibly powerful. The "eureka" moment for the mother was so haunting - the tragic, the scary, the sad all at the same time. I loved the scene where she rips the chain from her neck. So eerily sad and yet a bit peaceful. And the ending (the very ending) was amazing. I actually started to cry. The look on her husband's face was so sweet and comforting. He finally understood the power of imagination and believing in what you can't see.

Don't be scared off by the subtitles (it's a Spanish movie). It's worth the effort to read and be scared at the same time. Oh, gosh. I loved the ending.

The Bucket List
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, Sean Hayes
Directed By: Rob Reiner
Run Time: 1 hr 37 mins

I hadn't planned on seeing The Bucket List, not today or any other day but after a directional error, I missed the movie I had intended to see today (The Orphanage) and The Bucket List was the next closest showing to my arrival at the theater. It actually turned out to be a good mistake.

The Bucket List is about two terminally ill cancer patients who decide to conquer a list of "must see/must do" items before they die. They were strangers until their illness brought them together by sharing a hospital room. One is a rich, ornery man (played by Nicholson) and the other is a devoted family man (played by Freeman).

I had read and seen reviews that said this movie was horrible, and that these two wonderful actors were simply "phoning it in." I can't disagree more. I think each brought depth to their characters. I actually liked Jack Nicholson in this because he seemed to be connecting with his character, instead of making his character connect with being Jack Nicholson. Too many times I am fully aware that his character is just Jack Nicholson. In his character Edward Cole, I saw a sweet softness, a glimmer of fear of never having really lived, and, oddly, a bit of humbleness. I did not see Jack Nicholson. And once again, I really wished Morgan Freeman would tackle an evil, mean character instead of his usual sweet, non-threatening, extremely intelligent, and worldly range. I always like his acting; I just wish he went against type every once in awhile.

I did not find this movie as funny as it probably should have been, seeing as how it's labeled a comedy. But that was okay. I liked it in spite of not being funny (it did have its moments). It was very sweet and shockingly honest. I was expecting it to be riddled with cliches and not very real. Amazingly, I felt it hit home wonderfully. Well, not wonderfully because it seems horribly sad to have to deal with one's own death, but you get the point. What would you do if you only had a few months to live?

I can usually predict the "twist" or the ending of a movie. I like it when I can't. This one actually fooled me and the shock of the ending made it that much sadder. I wasn't expecting it.

Oh, going back to a Jack Nicholson moment - right out of the starting gate, I had a horrible sinking feeling I wasn't going to like this movie because of two lines that were almost back to back. In a way, they were funny, but in another way, I thought, "Uh-oh." Jack Nicholson said as he was trying to buy a drowning hospital, "I gave up a lunch with Michelle Pfeiffer for this meeting." (The funny: They were in The Witches of Eastwick together) And the second one, Jack said, "You need me" to the hospital board, persuading them to let him bail out their hospital. (The funny: I was expecting him to tack on "on that wall" - ala A Few Good Men.)

I couldn't help but remember while I was watching this movie that one of these actors played God (Morgan Freeman in Evan Almighty) and one of these actors played the Devil (Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick). That makes for an interesting twist. And, ala Evan Almighty, Morgan Freeman was the narrator.

You've gotta like a movie about people not only trying to better themselves but better each other. It made me want to write a list of things I need to do before I die. Not just stunts and dare-devil feats, but things to make a difference, things to connect to other people and to the world.

I was disappointed with the CGI location shoots (they weren't really in Egypt, perched on a pyramid; they weren't really in Africa on safari). That annoyed me. But I actually liked this movie. It was sad, in a good way. It was touching. I enjoyed both characters immensely. I really wished Sean Hayes had a bigger part because he was wonderful as Cole's subdued assistant (I particularly loved the name thing). And I actually cried at the ending. I had a lump in my throat for a lot of the scenes. The acting was great. It was a good movie. I'm glad I wrote down the wrong directions. I got to see a movie I would never have bothered to see, well, not without directional intervention. Not a movie to add to my collection (I didn't like it that much) but it was a happy mistake, well worth the hour and a half it played on screen. It was good. It was sweet. It was sad. I liked it. A lot. At least I understood it. :-)

I'm Not There
Starring: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw
Directed By: Todd Haynes
Run Time: 2 hrs 15 mins

I'm Not There is about the life of Bob Dylan. You'll just have to trust me on that one. I thought I knew enough about the movie before I went to go see it. Apparently, a little research would have done me good. I sat through the entire 2+ hours with a confused, slightly annoyed, and a bit stupid look on my face. The character that each actor plays (Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger) has a different name (and none of those names are Bob Dylan) which is supposed to represent the many "lives/personalities" of Bob Dylan during different stages of his career. Cate Blanchett played Jude Quinn; Christian Bale played Jack Rollins; Heath Ledger played Robbie Clark, an actor who played Jack Rollins in a movie; Ben Whishaw played Arthur Rimbaud, Richard Gere played Billy the Kid; Marcus Carl Franklin played Woody Guthrie (probably the strangest character of them all - a little black hobo kid). All of these were Bob Dylan and all of these personas were interspliced together in a series of vignettes that unfolded on top of one another.

One word sums up my thoughts on this movie: Huh?

I went to this movie because this is the role that won Cate Blanchett a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. She did a fine job. She looked a lot like Dylan. She sounded masculine. But there was something a bit odd about her performance, probably because I knew it was a woman playing a man (could you watch The Crying Game again after you knew Dil was a man?). I could feel the giggles bubbling up inside me. I thought that Christian Bale's portrayal was the best. He seemed gritty. He seemed shy. He seemed like a little fish thrust into the big sea, just trying to do his little fish thing. It was honest and endearing.

I know nothing about Bob Dylan (aside from seeing him in concert last year). It probably would have helped to have either been alive in the 60s or known something about his life or had Jeff with me (so I could be one of these really annoying people who keeps talking during the movie to ask questions about what's going on). I was lost during this movie. No, that's an understatement. I was completely lost during this movie. I got that each actor played a different personality of Bob Dylan (it took awhile, really it did). I just didn't understand the words that were coming out their mouths (particularly the Cate Blanchett persona). It was English, but that's all I got. The words just didn't go together to form intelligent, decipherable sentences. They were too "out there," trying too hard to be deep and philosophical. I knew they were speaking English, but what the hell did they just say? If it were one or two sentences here and there, that would have been fine. Normally when I don't understand things, I either ignore it or figure it out over clues from things I did understand, but it was non-stop! Every single thing was confusing, trying to be abstract and witty. I felt like I was drowning because I never got a chance to come up for air with a breath of clarity.

I found this movie to be a bit pretentious. Of course, I'm saying that because it made me feel incredibly stupid. I don't like to have to be smart enough to enjoy a movie. I did feel that the Richard Gere sequence was superfluous. That one definitely didn't make sense to me and I didn't enjoy that about it. Okay, so most of the movie didn't make sense to me but this particular vignette was complicated. What year was this one taking place? It appeared this persona of Bob Dylan was Billy the Kid in retirement. So... we went back in time? The people of the town appeared to be a cast of circus freaks. While that's fine per sea, it just seemed discombobulating. What was the point? The time period seemed to be in the early 1900s (as a newspaper that came floating by would have you believe). Everyone was riding horses and wearing old-timey Western clothes. But then there were telephone poles and cars. And why would they be building a six lane highway in the early 1900s? I suppose one could argue that Bob Dylan felt as though he was like Billy the Kid (there was mention of did he die or did he ride off into retirement) living in a world of circus freaks... Nothing makes you feel dumber than not understanding a movie.

The movie is incredibly long - two hours and 15 minutes. I kept wondering when this tedious ride would be over and grew increasingly frustrated when it failed to end. I've been to a couple of bad movies this year, bad enough that I wanted to leave from almost the minute I sat down, but this is the first one in my life that I've actually regretted going to see.

I'll repeat my previous summary of this movie: Huh? If you're not extremely well versed about the life of Bob Dylan, you'll also be sitting there with a dumb, confused, and slightly annoyed look on your face through pretty much the whole thing. The performances were good. The plot was trying too hard. I'm sure to Bob Dylan fans this is a wonderful capture of his struggle to be who the world wanted him to be. To a movie goer, however, it was disappointing. You shouldn't have to do research in order to enjoy a movie. If you can't figure out how the pieces fall together as a movie, then the movie failed.

No Country for Old Men
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin
Directed By: Joel & Ethan Coen
Run Time: 2 hrs 2 mins

No Country for Old Men is about one man trying to escape the wrath of a murderous stalker in pursuit of the two million dollars he stole from a drug deal gone bad. Llewelyn (played by Brolin) may have found the money innocently enough, however, since Chigurh (played by Bardem) is insane and loves to kill, he doesn't care. He'll stop at nothing to get the money back.

This is an incredibly violent movie and fully announces this in its opening first minute as Chigurh brutally kills his arresting police officer and then casually walks out of the police headquarters. The look on his face as he kills the officer is quite chilling, a mixture of insanity and pleasure. He takes a moment to clean his own wounds but doesn't let that stop him from killing his next victim. One interesting look into his psyche: a simple gun or axe isn't his weapon of choice. He apparently feels the need to move beyond the mundane normal weapons and opts for more unique and therefore gruesome means to kill his victims.

There were glimmers here and there of an insane killer but I really didn't feel just how evil he was until he stumbles away from a car crash, a bone sticking out of his arm, blood gushing from his forehead. He's in rough shape but he refuses to give up, almost as if he were channeling Freddie Krueger, a killer that can't be killed.

In addition to the carnage and insanity, this movie is about, as the title suggests, growing old and dealing with death. While Chigurh chases Llewelyn, Sheriff Bell (played by Jones) quietly pads along, concerned about the amount of bodies Chigurh is leaving behind, and concerned about Llewelyn's welfare. Bell is an old dog with just a bit of a grumble left in him. He can't run as fast in pursuit and doesn't want to. He's disillusioned by the way society is crumbling - no one says "Sir" or "Ma'am" anymore. His grandfather, a sheriff from a different town, never even carried a gun. Bell is quick to pull together the facts from the clues left behind as his mind is sharp but doesn't see the point in pursuing matters. Killers will always be killers, particularly those who enjoy it as much as Chigurh does. He cares about what's happening as he has a big, soft heart. He just doesn't have the spirit for society anymore. I am a bit confused by the title as I think it should be something like "Off into the Country for Old Men." I suppose the title is referring to old men don't fade away gracefully.

I liked this movie but didn't love it. I really liked Tommy Lee Jones' performance as the weathered old sheriff. He was funny and sad. He did a wonderful job as the loping ol' hound. I didn't quite get the full effect of Brolin's Llewelyn. I think he should have been stronger and smarter than he was. But, I suppose, if he were so smart, would he really have taken the money in the first place? He knew it would bring him unwanted attention. And I thought that Bardem's Chigurh could have been a bit more insane. He had some incredible chilling moments but I also found him likeable, and I'm not sure we were supposed to like him. He was a machine, a killing machine, but yet, I saw his heart.

This is a very interesting movie, with an even more interesting ending. I liked how it ended. The rest of the audience did not. I suppose the audience (comprised of senior citizens) wanted all the loose ends wrapped up neatly. The Coen brothers refused to do this. Chigurh is still crazy. You don't need the Coen brothers to tell you that. Bell is still struggling with getting old. His recount of his dream is creepy and sad. Both live in their own worlds but only one enjoys it. Some things will never change. The end.

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep
Starring: Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin
Directed By: Jay Russell
Run Time: 1 hr 52 mins

The Water Horse is about a young boy who finds an odd egg that hatches into a sea creature known as a water horse, a Scottish mythical being. Angus cares for the creature, protects it, and together they overcome his fears.

After yesterday's debacle (also known as In the Name of the King) anything had to be better. Since I love the legend of Nessie, I figured I couldn't go wrong with this tale. Even if the movie sucked, it would still have the beautiful background of Scotland, right? Wrong. It was filmed in New Zealand, a fact I discovered after watching the movie. It disheartened me to know that the breath-taking scenery wasn't the Highland moors, darnit. But thankfully, the locale is the only thing that irked me about this movie. I really liked all of the details behind the legend. I also loved the baby water horse. He was so darned cute (please disregard one reviewer's description that he looks like a raw chicken cutlet with teeth). I loved his little bark.

This movie made me sad, but in a good way. I was on the verge of tears for many scenes. In a way, it's always good to see nature being returned to nature, but at the same time, it's hard to let go of a really good friend. I wouldn't be able to do it! I was so struck by the relationship Angus and Crusoe (the water horse) formed. Being an orphan baby, Crusoe really needed Angus to care for him, but Angus really needed Crusoe, too. He needed to take care of something, show something the ropes of life, like his father did for him. Angus needed something to help spring him back into life. In a very telling scene, his sister asked their mother, "Did Angus have fun at the lake?" To which his mother replied as she shook her head no, "This is Angus we're talking about." Although probably only eight years old, this young boy had so many fears and was completely devoid of imagination and childhood. He needed this creature more than the creature needed him. It was sweet.

The one thing about this movie I didn't care for was the Captain Hamilton saga. Obviously having the military closehand served as the fuel for the battle to keep Crusoe safe and a secret (ala E.T. and the Iron Giant) but I didn't care to know what made him tick and why the squadron was in Scotland. Every time we cut to the army staking out the loch or patrolling the estate grounds, the movie lost momentum. I just didn't care. Show me more cute water horse, please! Tell me more about the legend. And when you're done with that, show me more cute water horse again.

This is a very good movie. The little boy who plays Angus (Alex Etel) is wonderful. The characters are all very interesting. I cried. I laughed. I was sad. I was scared. I was freaked out during the chase scenes (leave poor Crusoe alone, damn you!). I had a really tough time with those scenes, but in a good way. It's an incredibly sweet story. And I'll be booking a trip to Scotland poste haste. I'm going to find my own water horse egg. Maybe I'll release him back into the wild, but only after I've taught him to punch those bad military guys and hunters right in the nose.

REALLY Big Spoiler (I'm serious here):I was so upset by the ending! The lost relationship between Angus and Crusoe was one thing but to realize that Crusoe had died was so upsetting to me! If the legend is true and only one water horse can exist at one time, then the new egg must mean that Crusoe laid the egg and then died. I realize that it marks the beginning of a new relationship, a new friendship with this new boy and the new egg but I'm saddened at the expense! Sigh.

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Starring: Jason Statham, John Rhys Davies, Ray Liotta, Matthew Lillard, Leelee Sobieski
Directed By: Uwe Boll
Run Time: 2 hrs 4 mins

When I first saw the previews for this movie, I was confused. There's a Guy Ritchie movie coming out (hopefully soon) that stars both Ray Liotta and Jason Statham. When I saw these two actors for the preview of In the Name of the King, I assumed it was the backstory for Revolver (the Guy Ritchie movie). And since In the Name of the King is set in the 1700s and Revolver is current time, I was enthralled by the helluva backstory. So these two guys have been fighting for years? Is there some sort of time warp that leaps these two into the future? When the title popped up, I became very confused. You mean there's two movies starring Ray Liotta and Jason Statham? Such an unlikely pairing to begin with but there's really two movies with them in it? Really?

I decided to go to In the Name of the King because of my intrigue and love of being confused. I really should have paid attention to the plot more from the preview. Wow. In the Name of the King is about a simple farmer who seeks to avenge his son's death and rescue his kidnapped wife. His life was thrown into turmoil when the Krugs attacked his village. When the King comes to collect the survivors for his army, Farmer and his friends defect from the kingdom. He will have no part of the army that failed to protect his family. He clashes with the King and then goes on his merry way to find his wife.

If I ever meet the casting director for this movie, I will have to be restrained because I will grab him (or her) by the shoulders and shake this person vigorously demanding, "What were you thinking??" Jason Statham is no farmer. The scene where he and his son pick turnips from the field is odd. Farmers from the 1700s have bulging biceps and wear muscle shirts in the field? I kept wondering if Statham has ever harvested a vegetable in his entire life. Ray Liotta as a wizard? He's a goodfella through and through. He can play a hit man, a mob boss, a crooked police officer, a wise guy, a made man, an informant, the right hand man to the Don of a mafia clan, (yes, I am aware that these are all essentially the same character), but not an 18th century sorcerer. At least the costumer had the good sense to put him in a black leather jacket. Burt Reynolds as the King? When watching Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit, did you ever imagine that some day someone would address him as "Your Majesty" without Dom DeLouise laughing hysterically in the background? Matthew Lillard as the Duke, next in line to the throne? He's Shaggy, for crying out loud, not royalty! And do not get me started on accents! Why on earth did Jason Statham and John Rhys-Davies have the only English accents? Shouldn't it be all or nothing? Claire Forlani (who plays Farmer's wife) is British and yet even she had an American accent. And Matthew Lillard, who is an American, kept trying to pull off a British accent here and there. I think his costume went to his head and made him think he was doing Shakespeare.

With such outlandish and questionable casting, it was no wonder that the acting was atrocious. It was like something out of a bad high school play. The delivery was rushed or inexplicably drawn out. Of course, since they had horribly trite, flat, and downright stupid lines to utter, it was understandable that they would want their scenes to end as quickly as possible. How horrible does the director need to be to turn fine actors into stilted, unbelievable, and loathsome performers? And the amount of spit coming out of Matthew Lillard every single time he opened his mouth to spew dialog was just too much to take.

To add another nail into this movie's coffin, the plot was horribly hokey. The side story - the struggle for the throne between the sorcerer and the King - was a bad, a VERY bad rip-off of The Lord of the Rings. Gallian (played by Liotta) had an army of zombies called the Krugs who waged war on the kingdom. The Krugs were non-scary versions of Orks. They almost looked exactly like them! And the sorcerer, from his dark lair, controlled their movements ala Saruman. Then there were the tree elves who lived and guarded the forrest. The scene where Farmer, Muriella, Merick, and the elf walk along the mountain to the sorcerer's lair was almost an exact duplicate of the scene where Frodo, Boromir, Legolas (the elf), Aragorn, Gandalf, and Gimli take the mountain path. And the groan inducing connection - Gimli (from The Lord of the Rings) and Merick (from In the Name of the King) are played by the same actor (John Rhys-Davies)!!

I will confess that I went to this movie for Jason Statham. He's a wonderful action star. The fight scenes he was in were pretty good. A few were bordering on awesome. But in the end, the battle scenes were boring, unconvincing, unrealistic, implausible, improbable, and preposterous. And when you go to a movie purely for the action and the action sucks, it doesn't make for a good day.

This is probably the worst movie I have ever seen. It saddens me because I love Jason Statham movies (I even kinda liked the stinker War from last year). With all the talent in this movie, you'd think someone could have saved it. But in order to save it, there would have had to have been some glimmer. Stupid plot. Bad script. Stilted acting. Too many horribly bad similarities to Lord of the Rings (I kept expecting a gold ring to be behind the struggle for power). Bizarre casting. Horrendous special effects (really? That's how a great magician transports??). I don't think I was supposed to cheer as whole heartedly as I did for the bad guys (hey, they were winning. Maybe the movie would end sooner if the bad guys just clobbered everyone. I don't need a moral lesson. No need to wrap up the loose plot lines. I didn't need a feel good ending. I just wanted it to end!).

Even if you have two hours to kill and there's nothing else to do but stare at a blank wall, choose the wall. Do not see this movie. Do not be curious enough to see how bad this movie must be that I've urged you not to see that you actually want to see it for yourself. I repeat: choose the wall.

Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Olivia Thirlby, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman
Directed By: Jason Reitman
Run Time: 1 hr 31 mins

Juno is about how a sarcastic 16 year old girl deals with her unplanned pregnancy. She decides to carry the child to term and then give the baby to a childless couple she found through a wanted ad in the local newspaper.

I like to refer to this movie as the Superbad version for girls, from the girl's point of view. Although not as bawdy as Superbad, it is incredibly funny with a touch of simple sweetness in its intelligent and acerbic humor.

Even though this movie is about teen pregnancy, it does not glorify pregnancy or teen sex. It's more matter-of-fact. This movie is more about snappy, smart dialog with great little zings than about a 16 year old getting pregnant.

The characters are very real and wonderfully likable. Juno has a tongue of fire but a heart of gold. I loved Juno's relationship with her parents. Although a bit rose-colored, it was nice to see them be supportive of their daughter (afterall, what good does yelling do when she's already pregnant?). They seemed like nice, sweet, genuine people who cared about their child. And Mark (played by Jason Bateman) is a sad man, struggling to be the person he's always dreamed of being. Even Jennifer Garner's Vanessa, who seems very rigid, a bit phony, and slightly obsessive, had a sweet, caring side that was painfully (in a good way) touching. I didn't think I would like her character but in the end, I really did.

The interesting thing about this movie is that I came away with the feeling that the message here is deep down inside everyone is basically a good person. Yes, a 16 year old got pregnant but she tried to do the right thing by helping a couple who couldn't have children get their wish. Juno also learned about love and relationships in the process. And yes, Vanessa appeared to be a tight-assed controlling shrew, but I think that persona was a front to hide the woman who was hurting inside, aching to finally be a mother. The scene where she talks to the baby is so very beautiful - you see that longing resonating in her eyes.

I liked this movie. I laughed a lot. I really liked the characters. It was smart. It was funny. Jeff laughed a lot more than I did. He really liked this one (and since he's watching Knocked Up, it's his second movie in a row that's about unplanned pregnancy and shows a jiggly, slimy baby). There was a nice, simple, honest sweetness to this movie, despite it being about an unfunny subject. I like movies that aren't mean spirited and this one was very nice.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed By: Tim Burton
Run Time: 1 hr 56 mins

Sweeney Todd is based on a Stephen Sondheim musical about a revenge seeking barber whose life and family were destroyed when he was falsely imprisoned.

I felt that this movie moved really fast... and yet it didn't. I'm not exactly sure if glossing over the story line was built into the musical (and therefore not really Burton's fault) or if this was a result of the transition from stage to screen. I felt as though I was thrown into the movie - boom, it started - almost as if I was thrown into the ocean before being asked if I could swim. The opening seemed very condensed and rushed - I'm out of prison, oh, and by the way, this is what happened 15 years ago and why I'm so filled with rage, and now I'm looking for a way to exact my revenge, release my anger, and oh, here's my new best friend Mrs. Lovett. A lot happened in the first 15 minutes of the movie. I'm not sure I liked having all of these characters to digest (no pun intended) so quickly.

As overwhelmed with the story as I was, I was even more unimpressed by the quality of the singing. The singing was good - just good. Shouldn't a musical have great voices? I understand when Hollywood casts big name stars in musicals with the hopes they can sing (rather than big voices and hope they can act) because that draws in the crowds (which draws in the revenue). I understand it but I don't like it (remember Richard Gere in Chicago? groan). Johnny Depp was fine. His opening number was not his best. I actually cringed when I heard the first notes leave his lips and groaned, fearing for how the next two hours of my life might turn out. I think I shall blame the music because other songs served his voice much better. It's not a strong Broadway voice but it was enjoyable. Helena Bonham Carter was okay. Alan Rickman was passable. Now, go back to my earlier statement about big name stars not having the best voices. It's understandable why they're cast. I do not understand when they cast unknowns who can't sing. Jayne Wisener, who plays Johanna, has an absolutely horrid voice. It was truly painful. I did not understand that casting. On the other hand, the boys who play Anthony (the sailor) and Toby have absolutely wonderful voices. Ed Sanders, who plays Toby, completely shocked me with his first number.

This is a grisly slasher flick disguised with musical numbers. It's about a barber who slits the throat of his patrons and then uses the carcasses as filling in meat pies. That's a pretty gruesome plot right there. But the blood gushing from these throats is disgusting to watch. I had to turn away a number of times. Interestingly enough, the slashed throats are pretty similar to the special effects used in campy slasher flicks (a la Friday the 13th). In those movies, I'm fine with the gore. This, for some reason, although playing on that campiness, was a bit much to watch. And when the bodies slide down into the basement and their heads crash onto the floor, that was truly cringing.

I liked this movie but didn't love it. I liked the voices but didn't love them. I wish I had been allowed to watch Todd's rage/madness grow instead of being plunked down moments before his first kill. I liked the twist at the end, even if I saw it coming from the beginning. And I liked the abruptness of the ending, too. It gave it a much more dramatic touch - almost as if we, the audience, were killed off. Boom. Done. Dead. No happy "here's what happens to everyone else" warm fuzzy ending. Boom. Done.