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Rated PG | 104 mins


     I would be tempted to call Aquamarine sugary if the term didn’t imply a headache after the product’s digestion. The movie, directed with a seeming effortlessness by newcomer Elizabeth Allen, is as light and marshmallowy as ‘tween flicks come, but leaves the viewer with far more post-viewing satisfaction than most of its standard-issue counterparts. Not that it’s particularly profound or anything of the like: the plot follows the misadventures of a mermaid (Sara Paxton) and the two human friends (teenage singer “JoJo” and Emma Roberts) that she acquires when she is washed up into their beach-club’s pool after a storm. However, Aquamarine’s humorous delivery and charming lead performances make it enjoyable enough to permit the viewer to look back on it with smiles rather than shrugs.


Failure to Launch



Rated PG-13 | 97 mins


     It isn’t everyday that one is able to watch Matthew McConaughey get bit by a chipmunk and a lizard in the same movie, which is probably a good thing. I’m not sure if the strangeness of these scenes in Failure to Launch was the fault of the actor, who is nowadays becoming Hollywood’s Number One choice for a leading-man, but they certainly fall flat. Otherwise, the movie exactly what one would expect out of a big-studio-produced romantic-comedy. It has several charming moments and McConaughey and fellow lead Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays a woman hired to assist her co-star’s thirtysomething-and-still-living-at-home to leave the nest of his parent’s home, share a considerable amount of onscreen chemistry together. In the near future, Failure to Launch will make a fun lazy-afternoon rental, but the audience never has enough emotional interest invested in the characters to allow the sum of its parts to merit anything more.





Rated R | 94 mins


     Coming of age is often a glamorized transformation in the modern-day land of pseudo-sophisticated independent films, but Tsotsi suffers from no such glamour. Winner of the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and helmed by South African Director Gavin Hood, it is a stunning tale of a troubled youth’s path to redemption. In a memorizing performance, first-time actor Presley Chweneyagae plays the title-character, a thug living in a ghetto of Johannesburg who leads his own small gang. One night, he decides to conduct a solo-job by stealing a woman’s car in a nearby rich neighborhood, but gets much more than he bargains for when he finds her baby inside after crashing the vehicle while making his getaway. Tsotsi isn’t heartless enough to merely leave it to fend for its own, and finds himself facing a troubling inner-dilemma when he begins to raise the baby and comes to love it. Chweneyagae’s portrayal of the character’s fragility when he comes to understand that the baby is dependant upon him functions as a poignant representation of the failings of an unstable society and the individual’s ability to overcome them. It is impossible not to sympathize with Tsotsi, but equally as difficult to forgive his actions. Through and through, Tsotsi is an effectively thoughtful and often emotional motion picture.





Rated PG-13 | 105 mins


     Directed with simultaneous style and incoherency, somewhere in ATL is a very good movie. Each scene in the film works by itself, but director Christ Robinson fails to bring them together to create a product that flows. From ATL’s innovative opening mix-track of Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind” and a contemporary hip-hop cut to its electric, colorful rollerblading montages, sketches of the movie work as ingenious blends of old-fashioned storytelling and modern-day urban culture. The picture even contains some rather poignant scenes featuring New-New (Lauren London), a teenage girl from a wealthy family who secretly sneaks off against her father’s wishes to watch the film’s focal rollerblading matches in the ghetto. However, despite the fact that the majority of ATL does exactly what it should, it looses its punch somewhere between its intersecting-subplot style execution and its choppy editing. There’s a lot to admire in screenwriter Tina Gordon Chism’s script, based on a story by the Antwone Fisher; the excellent performances by the young cast; and much of the film’s production design. Unfortunately, these elements don’t come together nearly as fluidly or effectively as they should have.


American Dreamz



Rated PG-13 | 107 mins


     Say what you want about Paul Weitz’ filmmaking career, but the writer/director has never made a bad movie. American Dreamz doesn’t come anywhere close to the level of emotion found in About a Boy, In Good Company, or even American Pie, but it offers its fair share of good laughs and is unmistakably a Weitz film. More of a comedy that exaggerates the already-existing humor found in current-events than an analytical satire, the two main targets of American Dreamz are TV’s “American Idol” and the Bush Administration. The plot follows a brainwashed, clumsy terrorist named Omer (Sam Golzari) who is sent to America by his superiors “as a sleeper cell.” However, they are actually shipping him off to live out the rest of his life only under this assumption because they fear that his continued participation in the organization will jeopardize future attacks. In the U.S., strange chain of events leads Omer to be a contestant on TV’s “American Dreamz”, alongside bubble-gum-popping goody-goody Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore). When the heads of the terrorist group discover that the American President (Dennis Quaid as a very Bush-inspired figure) will be judging the finale of the show, they decide to utilize Omer after all. They send orders to him to conduct a suicide-bombing during the episode, killing both he and the Commander-in-Chief.

     The fact that Omer, a terrorist, is depicted as a humorous character is slightly distasteful when one keeps the current international-climate in mind, but American Dreamz is so over-the-top that this never comes across as entirely offensive. In fact, one of the main things I admire about the movie is that it targets its humor in a highly malicious fashion, leading to an often hysterical result. Weitz, working hand-in-hand with his cast (Moore is particularly good in her role), is able to capture a synergy between the performances that contributes to the general hilarity of the film. However, despite its abundance of clever material and acting, American Dreamz never transcends the level of these big belly-laughs and, as a result, is nothing more than a simply good film. Had Weitz been able to create a deeper product under the same premise, it could’ve ranked among his best films. Still, American Dreamz offers audiences some funny and biting material to chew on, which is becoming more and more of a rarity in Hollywood nowadays.


Friends with Money



Rated R | 88 mins


     Nicole Holofcener’s Friends with Money is about as slice-of-life as a movie can get when it features Jennifer Anniston as a depressed, pot-smoking schoolteacher who chooses to quit her job and become a maid. Actually, to her credit, Anniston is rather believable here and delivers a solid performance. Her co-stars—Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener, and Joan Cusack—are equally as good, but they also never have to struggle with fitting their roles’ prototype of wealthy suburban moms. Friends with Money is a portrait of all four of their characters’ troubles in life, bridged by, as the title observes, the friendship between them. The movie doesn’t really go anywhere—one could argue that that the developing relationship between Anniston’s Olivia and Bob Stephenson’s Marty is the most plot-like device throughout the entire duration—but it doesn’t need to. Only these characters can make the realizations that they need to in order to improve their outlooks on life; by the end of Friends with Money, some do and others don’t. The film plods along to the refreshing tune of everyday life and, for this, I greatly admired it.


Inside Man



Rated R | 129 mins


     There’s no doubt about the fact that Spike Lee knows how to make a great movie. For two hours, Inside Man is as focused and lean as a Hollywood-style heist film has ever been. Suspenseful and intelligent, I found its plot’s cat-and-mouse-style game to be far more riveting than those of most mainstream films of the sort. From Denzel Washington’s cool collectedness as a detective following a bank-robbery to Clive Owen’s mysterious evilness as the robber, I was genuinely gripped by the film, ready to grant it a glowingly positive review. But then came time for the conclusion, which is, to say the least, one of the biggest third-act cop-outs of recent-memory. Not only does the outcome of the heist-plot that Owen’s Dalton masterminds function as an obvious and boring finish to a previously exciting movie, but also it does nothing to affect the audience’s emotions. After being consistently jarred for two straight hours, as a viewer, I wanted a nerve-wracking finish to bring home Lee a win. What I got was a lukewarm, anticlimactic ending; I left the theatre feeling nothing but disdain for the film. As I’ve said in the past, a disappointing movie is often worse to watch than one that the viewer expected to be bad in the first place. Inside Man’s crap-out of an ending certainly respects this principle.


The Sentinel



Rated PG-13 | 108 mins


     I’m not sure that writer Gerald Petievich and director Clark Johnson knew that they were making a dramatic-irony-themed film rather than a thriller when they conceived The Sentinel, but their approach will certainly be a surprise to audiences given the contrary way the film was marketed. The trailers and ad-spots for The Sentinel suggest that it is full of suspense, in the same vein as supporting-actor Keifer Sutherland’s television show “24”. However, this couldn’t be more farther from the truth. Following Secret Service Agent Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) as he runs from authority after being falsely accused of plotting to kill the President of the United States, the film’s plot is actually rather straightforward. The audience knows that Pete failed the polygraph test that pinned him as a suspect not because he wanted to kill the President, but because he lied about having an affair with the First-Lady (Kim Basinger). One could make the argument that The Sentinel’s thrills lie within the game of guessing the identity of the real Secret Service Assassin, but most viewers will be too concerned with Pete’s quest to prove himself innocent to participate in such. For the most part, The Sentinel is swiftly crafted and well-performed, but because of the way it is assembled, it seems far too straightforward. When the real assassin is revealed, the viewer feels little-to-no adrenaline as a result. I was never exactly bored by the movie, but was never on the edge of my seat at any point of it, either. In a couple of months, The Sentinel will make for a worthwhile Friday-night rental.


United 93



Rated R | 111 mins


     September 11, 2001. Three Arab men awake in their hotel room before sunrise, pray to their God, shave themselves, and get dressed. “It’s time,” one of them proclaims in a weary voice. As the scene progresses, an aura of terror fills the auditorium; United 93 is a haunting motion picture because it is so surreally real. The men board the plane and, after take-off, the focus of the film shifts to Air Traffic Control Headquarters as its employees become clued into the other flight hijackings taking place on the East Coast of the United States. Cut back to the plane. The men begin their hijacking; the passengers are frantic. The innocent civilians’ horrified emotions bleed through the screen and into the auditorium. One of the men takes control of the plane. Those onboard call their families and discover that both buildings of the World Trade Center have already been crashed into, as the audience observed twenty minutes before at Air Traffic Control Headquarters in real-time. A group of passengers makes the decision that they will need to take control of the airplane, no matter what the cost. It is in this decision that the viewer observes perhaps one of the most stunning and heroic events of contemporary history.

     Directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, Bloody Sunday) without the slightest bit of exploitation, United 93 is a great film. As a result of a combination of superb acting and the employment of the director’s trademark hand-held cinematography, the film allows the viewer to feel as if they are a first-person observer of the events taking place. In several ways, United 93 transcends mere cinema and brings the tragic event to life; when watching, I didn’t sense any of the required manipulation of filmmaking. United 93 exists solely as a memoriam of the events of September 11th, allowing the viewer to be affected by its contents in the way that they choose. It is just as much about the uplifting hope and courage of the passengers onboard as it is about the evil cause the terrorists were consumed by. It is just as much about the human suffering of the event as it is about the politics surrounding it. Supremely affecting and highly thoughtful, Greengrass’ film is a multi-dimensional masterpiece that is a testament to the fact that it is not “too soon” to make movies about the Darkest Day of American History.


Mission: Impossible III



Rated PG-13 | 126 mins


     Say what you will about ‘ol Tom Cruise’s little fling with a girl who could be his daughter or his belief that there are aliens living in the Earth’s volcanoes, but the fact remains that the guy can still deliver an intense, super-cheesy-cool performance. Mission: Impossible III proves no exception. Back for a third time as pop-culture’s action-film-God Ethan Hunt, Cruise’s character has now decided to dump his super-agent day-job and start a family. However, as expected, he is coaxed into returning to kicking ass and taking names when his former trainee, IMF-agent Lindsey (Keri Russell), is taken hostage by evil-villain Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Lindsey dies in a poorly crafted opening action sequence, but the rest of this part-revenge, part-spy film is made in a flowing, entertaining style.

     Cruise and his former Mission: Impossible co-stars—namely Billy Crudup, Ving Rhames, and Laurence Fishburne—are all back for the ride, but this installment also adds three new components to the equation: Hoffman filling the villain’s shoes, Michelle Monaghan playing Cruise’s love-interest, and J.J. Abrams taking the director’s chair. The first is genuinely creepy in his role and the second shares some rather touching scenes with Cruise, but the true magic of the film lies in the change made behind the camera. Abrams, who helmed both TV’s “Alias” and “Lost”, has a true knack for pacing and executing the non-stop action that consumes Mission Impossible III’s contents. His effortless touch allows the long sketches of bullets flying, cars exploding, and Cruise running to be entirely interesting. I liked the approaches of the first two directors of the franchise, Brian DePalma and John Woo, to their films, but this offering plays much more fluidly than its predecessors thanks to Abrams’ work. The world may not be ready for another Mission: Impossible flick anytime soon, but if the day comes, allowing Abrams to return to make it would be a very smart move on the studio’s part. As for now, I’m fully pleased with what Ethan Hunt has accomplished in Mission Impossible: III; he deserves some well-earned time-off.



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