Home | Reviews | Exclusive Writings | Great Links | Miscellaneous | FAQ | Contact Us



A Lot Like Love



Rated PG-13 | 107 mins


     If there was anyone outside of teenage girls who woulda thunk that a “romance” starring Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet would actually be a good movie, it wasn’t me. I walked into the screening of A Lot Like Love as pessimistic as could be, ready to chew the it up and spit it out in this review. And who could blame me? The film was advertised as the identical of Kutcher’s previous project of insufferable cinematic inhumanity, Just Married. But guess what? It turns out that it was falsely marketed in such a fashion so that it would attract the actor’s usual fan-base. In actuality, the movie is of surprising depth; it seamlessly uses circumstance-driven acts of coincidence to build a relationship-dynamic between the two main characters. A Lot Like Love may echo several superior films in its genre, but it’s always unique enough to be able to be both thoughtful and sensual.

     As for Kutcher and Peet—these are probably the performances of their careers. While her work has impressed me in the past, his always seems to curse everyone and anyone who comes near it. Here, the two show genuine chemistry together, supplementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, many of which I had no idea that they had. Director Nigel Cole should not go without mention for making this happen, either, as he allows the duo to glow onscreen. Cole paces the movie with a certain poetic elegance rarely found in Hollywood romances anymore, especially those of this nature. Contrived his movie may be, but it’s beautifully contrived because it uses its assets well. A Lot Like Love is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year thus far.





Rated PG-13 | 113 mins


     Paul Haggis, who spoke with such remarkable confidence through his screenplay for Million Dollar Baby, one of the best films of the past few years, seems to be his own worst enemy in Crash, his directorial debut. Ambition-wise, he doesn’t disappoint, taking on the touchy concept of the frightening practicalities of racism in Modern-Day American Society. However, while the movie is far from a bad one, Crash is not everything that it could’ve been. Often not making full use of the undeniable knack for observing the vulnerabilities of life created by mere human tragedy that he displayed in Million Dollar Baby, he here crafts an ensemble-driven motion picture that is unrealistically trite. In the film, every single character is a racist in some way or another. Because of this, it seems as though Haggis wants to make a statement—and maybe he does—that his cast is representative of the majority of people in reality. As a result, it’s hard to take the truly valid and thoughtful material in the film seriously.

     This all being said, Crash contains many redeeming passages and qualities. In particular, there are three scenes in it that are able to overpower and transcend the endlessly contrived slew of racist remarks which exist in its realm. They conclude stories regarding a conflict between a Persian store-owner and a Latino handy-man, a crooked cop and a woman he violates as her husband watches, and the cop’s former partner who one night picks up another man who has lost all direction in life. As I witnessed each of these sketches, I felt as though seeing the movie was an entirely worthwhile decision. Haggis’ powerful abilities as both a writer and a director are beautifully displayed in each of them. This isn’t to say that he was the only talented person who participated in the making of the film; Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton, Terrence Howard, Jennifer Esposito, Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Michael Pena, Matt Dillon, and Ryan Phillippe are just a few of the members of the cast, which is as artistically diverse as it is racially diverse. Together, they allow the motion picture’s artificial and, in truth, somewhat stereotypical ideas to form a whole that is far more poignant than it ever could’ve been on paper. Crash’s repetitive execution may be maddening at times, but the experience proves ultimately rewarding in more ways than one.


Dark Water



Rated PG-13 | 105 mins


     Without a particularly interesting plot—granted, the supernatural conflict found in this film is far more absorbing than that of any other American remake of a Japanese Horror movie—Dark Water manages to be quite a captivating and haunting motion picture. The reason for this is simple: it is expertly crafted, especially in terms of mood and atmosphere, as well as realistically performed. The beauty of Dark Water is that it doesn’t try to go for the same cheap scares that its peers do, but rather creates an eerie, dark realm of existence which deeply taps into the psyche. The premise is surprisingly human; rather than using the ghost-story which accompanies the apartment that the protagonist (Jennifer Connelly) and her daughter (Ariel Gage) move into as its main focus, the film concentrates more on a custody battle between she and her ex-husband (Dougray Scott).

     Connelly crafts her character, named Dahlia, in such a convincing and assured manner that I have a hard time believing that she didn’t use personal experience—perhaps she based it on what went on with her first child?—as a point of reference. In fact, not a single member of the cast, which also includes John C. Reily as the owner of Dahlia’s apartment complex, disappoints at all. This, in itself, makes the more derivative elements of the Japanese Horror Genre found in Dark Water far more compelling than they ever have been before. It’s quite amazing to see how effective the somewhat hokey material, which usually comes across as utterly ridiculous in other movies, is when real, cutting emotion is actually involved. Likewise, such emotion also propels the tinted, stunning camerawork by Affonso Beato—which in its prime when it focuses on the geometric shapes of the film’s sublime setting of Roosevelt Island, New York—allowing it to ooze of a creepy feel. Even when Dark Water looses coherency at times, director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) always uses its many assets to his advantage and the result is thoroughly fascinating. The movie represents what its peers—namely The Ring 2, which shared the same source-writer, and last year’s The Grudge—should’ve been.


Fever Pitch



Rated PG-13 | 103 mins


     Just when I thought that the Farrelly Brothers were about to destroy the streak of hysterical films that makes up the majority of the whole of their entire film careers, they ended up dishing out the best film that they’ve ever made. The ads for Fever Pitch, a movie which is basically about learning to balance the passions in our lives, made it seem like a product of profound stupidity, even more of an artistic bottom-feeder than the Farrelly’s shaky debut, Dumb & Dumber. Surprisingly, it is anything but.

     Truth be told, mere clips and a synopsis of Fever Pitch do no justice to its somewhat unassuming depth. This is a film that is all about atmosphere, portraying the ways that we humans respond to the loves of our lives more by understanding the mere nature of things than through plotting. The story, which chronicles the dilemma that Red Sox Fan Ben (Jimmy Fallon) faces when he discovers the magnitude to which his relationship with his girlfriend Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) is hindered by his devotion to his favorite baseball team, is undeniably silly. This, however, does not change the fact that the movie is so warm and so easy-going that the ridiculousness of the premise only adds to its charm. Fallon and Barrymore share wondrously realistic chemistry together and the picture benefits tremendously from such, especially in terms of making the ending, which was changed when the supposedly-cursed Sox actually went on to win last year’s World Series, feel seamless and natural. It’s no exaggeration to say that as far as Hollywood’s romantic-comedies go, Fever Pitch is quite a unique and precious catch.


Howl's Moving Castle



Rated PG-13 | 119 mins


     Leave it to Hayao Miyazaki to turn a mess of a story into a spectacle, further proving the fact that he’s the Martin Scorsese equivalent of the animated world. While probably his weakest effort in years—Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbor Totoro are tough competition—Howl’s Moving Castle is still a riveting motion picture, often joyous, magical, and sorrowing all at the same time. Even without an entirely fulfilling narrative arc—it seems to me as though Diana Wynne Jones’ book was quite a challenge to adapt—Miyazaki’s abilities to deliver visually, thematically, and symbolically make this film truly one of the year’s best. It plays like a truly sublime fable, as any great picture of this sort should, displaying distinct and often wacky characteristics. Younger viewers will be able to respond to these at face-value, whereas adults will appreciate them on higher, more meaningful levels, if they so desire. Not to mention, whatever one’s age, it’s hard not to be left completely awestruck by the beautifully detailed look of the movie, especially in terms of the “Moving Castle” which the film was named after, a humongous, gorgeous triumph of the imagination. This is a stunning motion picture that just begs to be experienced.


Kingdom of Heaven



Rated PG-13 | 145 mins


     The problem with Kingdom of Heaven, which is the bearer of a whopping $130 million production budget, isn’t technical inadequacy. In fact, if viewed in a “by-the-books” fashion, it could be said that it is a very good movie. However, it isn’t and the reason why is because well-rounded viewers have seen everything in it before. The film’s visuals are jaw-dropping, but they’re mere equals to those of last year’s Troy. There is historical information regarding the Crusades that can be learned from it, but nothing that couldn’t be absorbed from a History Channel program regarding the same subject. Director Ridley Scott draws parallels between the Middle East in ancient times and the Middle East today, but they aren’t any more enlightening than those that could be found on any ‘ol talk radio show. The performances by leads Orlando Bloom and Eva Green are solid, but nothing superior to their previous work. While Kingdom of Heaven is efficient enough to seem alright to audience-members while they are watching it, they will only leave the theatre thinking about the alternatives that they could’ve better spent their time with.


March of the Penguins



Rated PG-13 | 85 mins


     The mere fact that March of the Penguins’ subject, the Emperor Penguin, is able to survive and protect the egg of their growing offspring in the often negative-eighty-degree weather of Antarctica, for months on end, is limitlessly fascinating. The film is quick to inform us that “no other living creature can survive this ritual.” Apparently, Luc Jacquet and his crew weren’t thinking of their own participation in it when making that statement. It is almost equally remarkable that they were able to take the footage that is seen in the film, which was, for the most part, not enhanced by computer-generated effects. March of the Penguins is a documentary of limitless pleasures—Morgan Freeman’s wonderful storytelling (not narration) comes to mind, in addition to those I have already mentioned—although it unfortunately presents itself in a mediocre way. Out of his own desire to have his film seen by the masses, Jacquet has stretched it out to a feature-length of eighty minutes, allowing it qualify as multiplex-material. As a result, it often grows tiring to watch. As amazing as most of the material that it contains is, the truth of the matter is that once a viewer has seen one Antarctic landscape, they’ve seen them all. Had Jacquet cut the film’s length by twenty minutes and blown it up to fit IMAX screens, the gigantic vastness of the locales would’ve been far more captivating and the pacing of the movie would’ve become tighter. Still, there’s no denying the wonders that can be found in many elements of March of the Penguins, even if they, combined, aren’t able to match the grandness of 2003’s Winged Migration, as far as big-screen nature-documentaries go.


Melinda and Melinda



Rated PG-13 | 100 mins


   You can say what you want about his more recent fare, but it’s undeniable that Woody Allen is still one of the greatest working filmmakers. Melinda and Melinda will hopefully put an end to the doubt surrounding the veteran writer/director, mainly because it doesn’t exist in the same light-hearted bubble as Anything Else, Hollywood Ending, and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. While I also enjoy those films, there’s no arguing that this is Allen’s best motion picture in the last decade, an exuberantly cinematic piece of work. Its structure, which consists of two interwoven renditions of the same story—one comedic, one tragic—might’ve come across as a completely artificial gimmick in anyone else’s hands, but Allen knows exactly what he is doing. With his vision, Melinda and Melinda never slips into a state that is anything short of genius.

     The main reason why Melinda and Melinda is such a wonderful motion picture is that Allen made sure to make both storylines individually interesting and poignant. Rarely do we sense any strings of manipulation being pulled on his behalf. The movie does delve into its own philosophies—and, sure, sometimes pseudo-philosophies—regarding the ideas comedy and tragedy, but its main purpose is to be what every film strives to be: captivating. Helping Allen to make this possible is his wonderful cast, which is headlined by a near-Oscar-worthy Radha Mitchell, playing the title character with incendiary flair. Chiwetel Ejiofor Amanda Peet, Will Ferrell, and Chloë Sevigny are also all at the tops of their games, providing some terrific support. Despite Allen’s confident lead, Melinda and Melinda is a team effort through and through, functioning as a bi-polar representation of everything that’s good about art. It will likely be forgotten and left unseen by the majority of moviegoers, but for those who do see it, it will be one of the year’s most rewarding experiences at the cinema.


Mr. & Mrs. Smith



Rated PG-13 | 120 mins


     I have no problem with a single movie taking on two genres—Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda offers proof of this—as long as it handles both of them well. Mr. & Mrs. Smith wants to be both a comedy and an action film, but only masters the former genre. It does contain several inspired moments of the latter, but its abundance of shoot-outs and chase-scenes grows tiring and, as a result, the whole of the movie does too.

     Directed by Doug Liman, whose impressive resume also includes Go and The Bourne Identity, the movie realizes that it is a style-over-substance extravaganza of the highest degree and uses such to its advantage. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play John and Jane Smith, two married assassins who have no idea that they are working for competing organizations until they are hired to kill each other. As leads, the two are profoundly sexy together and share overflowing chemistry. Throughout Mr. & Mrs. Smith, this allows the dynamic between them to be both romantic and humorous, deliciously consumable for even the most cynical of all audience members. Not to mention, the fact that they are dating in real-life adds to the film’s charm. Aided by some terrific one-liners penned by screenwriter Simon Kinberg, Pitt and Jolie couldn’t sizzle any more onscreen. During all of its first and the majority of its second act, I was ready to proclaim that Mr. & Mrs. Smith was the best movie of its sort to come out of Hollywood in years.

     But then the action-overkill started. For nearly forty-five minutes, the cat-and-mouse chase between John and Jane, which is certainly expertly crafted, is thrilling and fun. However, there are few action scenes of this caliber found in the last third of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Pitt and Jolie’s talents take a backseat to special effects; there is probably fifty times more gunshots than there is lines of dialogue. The escapist fun found earlier in the film is replaced by utterly ridiculous, redundant, and boring excess. Still, even considering this, Mr. & Mrs. Smith will make for a terrific DVD rental in the future. While beset by juvenile tendencies in the end, its sportive, saucy first half ultimately makes it a worthwhile experience.





Rated PG-13 | 124 mins


     There is a scene in Sahara in which practically hundreds of bullets fly through the remnants of a civil-war boat which somehow naturally found its way to the African desert from North America, over time. The three main characters use boat as a means of shielding themselves from the gunfire and, despite the fact that it is basically blown to bits by the end of the scene, they make it out unscratched. At this point in the movie, many viewers will find themselves screaming “Yeah, right!” at the screen, trying to pretend that one of its goals is realism. I, on the other hand, developed some sort of geeky admiration for such sequences. For me, Sahara played like a rough, updated version Indiana Jones, in which the characters had greater survival-skills than Indy himself, but never realized this. A great picture it is not—perhaps it isn’t even a good one—but it is made and performed with such great energy and enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to like. By embracing Sahara’s silliness every step of the way, unlike those who participated in the filming of last year’s naively-constructed Day After Tomorrow, everyone involved clearly had fun making it. As forgettable as it is, this is the kind of movie that could be watched fifteen times without it ever really tiring. Not to mention the fact that Penelope Cruz looks as astonishing as could be—and then some—despite the grime she encounters running around the desert for two hours. The only question the film really left me with was: why weren’t any of the four screenwriters smart enough to include a role for Cruz’s fellow Oscar-presenter from this past year, the just-as-tantalizing Salma Hayek?


Star Wars: Episode III

Revenge of the Sith



Rated PG-13 | 140 mins


     It has finally arrived. Thank God.

     I make the above statement for two reasons. The first, and probably most important, is that I’m glad that I have finally seen the last installment in the Star Wars saga; my anxiousness to see it, which became more and more unbearable as each day of the first half of May passed, has been quenched. The second is that I can finally blow a sigh of relief; not until the film’s December DVD-release will those massive lines of irritating people dressed up in Wookie costumes be featured as the top-story on the Nightly News. I think my feelings towards the prequel-trilogy of Star Wars are the same as those of most others. I am of the opinion that the three films were unnecessary additions to the franchise, but now that they have been made competently, it’s hard to really object to them.

     Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, like The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, is a stunning technical achievement. All of its visuals are absolutely astonishing looking, lending to the creation of what has been perhaps the most imaginative world ever seen on the silver-screen. But this isn’t exactly News to anyone; George Lucas, who seems more like a world-leader to me than just a plain ‘ol writer/director, has been wowing audiences since the release of A New Hope in 1977. What’s truly impressive about Revenge of the Sith, in particular, is the exact same thing that’s wrong with it: it’s a great big mess. Whatever narrative-drawbacks that may entail as a result of this, it is what makes the movie work. The sheer magnitude of the film allows viewers to be treated not as audience-members, but as believers. Revenge of the Sith enraptures us in a spell of true science-fiction magic.

     While not the fateful operetta of a cinematic opus that many of us were hoping for—as impressive as the movie’s scope is, it results in indifference just as much as it does eye-popping—Revenge of the Sith is still a masterpiece in its own sense of the term. It’d be an impossible endeavor to find a movie that was able to pull off laughable dialogue; wise, green creatures; and cheesy performances better than this one. The magic of Star Wars is in the spirit; while nothing in the new trilogy resembles anything found in A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back, all three movies’ hearts are in the right place. Above all else, Revenge of the Sith allows all of its viewers to immerse themselves in the fan-boy mentality that the concept of sophistication prohibits them from embracing in the real-world.


The Interpreter



Rated PG-13 | 128 mins


     The fact that Sean Penn, Nicole Kidman, and Sidney Pollack had ulterior motives floating around in their liberal, little heads when they decided to make a “political thriller” centering on the United Nations was hardly subtle. And indeed, The Interpreter is a movie that is full of blatant pro-diplomacy, anti-Bush remarks, but that doesn’t change the fact that its central triangle is extremely talented. Pollack knows how to craft a thriller behind the camera; he has an expert command of pacing and plotting, setting up interesting situations masterfully. Kidman and Penn have only been better before in more artistically demanding roles. They, unlike most other actors in similar projects, bring creativity to their somewhat one-dimensional characters. The Interpreter offers an experience comprised of wonderful tension, only allowing viewers to slip out of a state of captivation during its strung-out second act, in which it plods and wanders along before realizing where it would like to take them. Sure, the political references are ridiculously presented and totally unnecessary (especially those hinted through the reaction of the African Dictator of the movie’s focus to the climax), but the fact that The Interpreter usually works as a clever thriller is undeniable. While certainly no match for the 2002 Tom Clancy adaptation, The Sum of All Fears, it is probably the best motion picture of its kind to come out since then.


The Longest Yard



Rated PG-13 | 113 mins


     The Longest Yard is a remake of the 1974 Burt Reynolds film of the same name, telling the story of ex-NFL Quarterback Paul Crewe (Sandler), who finds himself in prison after he is convicted of a DUI. There, Crewe is forced into taking a deal to coach a football team of his fellow inmates that will play against the prison’s guards and intentionally lose. However, when he discovers that his raggedy group actually has a shot at winning the big game, he finds that his conscience will no longer allow him to willingly throw in the towel. The situation serves as a setup for huge amount of clichés, yes, but there’s some fun to be had here. While full of a lot of stupid humor—I could’ve done without the material regarding a squad of transsexual supporting characters—I found the actual execution of the football-sequences to be unexpectedly well-done. Somehow, director Peter Segal, who Sandler also worked with on Anger Management and 50 First Dates, finds a way of allowing audience-members to suspend enough disbelief regarding The Longest Yard’s predictable outcome for each individual play to be exciting. In addition, some of the training sequences early on in the film prove amusing, especially those involving physically-gigantic supporting-actor Bob Sapp (despite his totally lame Michael Jackson line).

     It’s a bit much to be calling The Longest Yard, which is very similar to every other Adam-Sandler-vehicle made in the past, homophobic or racist, but I learn that a lot of critics and cinemagoers have. I find it hard to understand their point of view, given the completely playful tone of the film when it cracks politically-incorrect gags. The only thing I found questionable about it was its glamorized view of the prisoners and disapproving one of the guards, but even it is forgivable because of the simple fact that every movie needs protagonists and antagonists. Despite his tendency to often try to appeal to viewers with the dumbest senses of humor, it’s hard not to find Sandler to be completely harmless. I realize why many people don’t find him funny, but offensive is an entirely different adjective. The Longest Yard is unmistakably a Sandler movie; it may not be very smart or even effectively farcical, but it delivers what it promises and is well-made in most senses of the term.



Back to Home
The Bucket Review's Rating Scale