Let's face it, not every movie is out to win an Oscar. I rate movies based on their ability to deliver. In other words, if it's a comedy, did I laugh? If it's a thriller, was I on the edge of my seat? If it's action, were the  car-chases intense, the kick-boxing brutal and the guns-a blazing? If a movie makes good on it's promise, then it was probably worth the time and the money.

Click here to go to the Movie Archives (older reviews are located here).

"I loved this movie!!!!"

"I loved this movie!!!!" I should have caught this on cable. "I should have caught this on cable."

"It was alright. I had a good time!."

"It was alright. I had a good time!." "Why? Oh Why, did I waste my money?" "Why? Oh Why, did I waste my money?"
I should have rented this one from Blockbuster" "I should have rented this one from Blockbuster" "They should've paid me!" "They should've paid me!"

 

King Kong
Rated PG-13
187 Minutes
"It was alright. I had a good time!."

Old school rap fans remember the Public Enemy song "Don't Believe the Hype." You'd do well to take Chuck D's advice when it comes to King Kong. It's good but it isn't the 'masterpiece' that some people are claiming. Also be aware that it's three hours and seven minutes long. And Kong doesn't appear until the second hour.

The thing to remember about King Kong is that it's not all about the ape. It's also about almost destitute Carl Denham (Jack Black) who is determined to make a movie on the newly rediscovered Skull Island. He hoodwinks a tramp steamer, a cast and a crew to go along for the ride. It's also about Anne Darrow (Naomi Watts), a down-on-her-luck actress who is up for just about anything and joins the cast at the last minute. Finally, it's about playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) who ends up on the trip almost by accident. When they finally make it to the island, everyone is surprised to find that it's actually inhabited. Unfortunately for them, the inhabitants are the primitive, half-naked, human sacrifice types. The natives kidnap Anne and offer her up to Kong (who plays himself). Enter the ape. But a funny thing happens between the blonde beauty and the beast. They bond. Meanwhile, Carl, Jack and the others go back and forth on whether or not they should save her. Suddenly Carl has an epiphany: the ape would be a bigger attraction in New York than the film ever would, so they set out to rescue Anne and capture the ape. We all know what happens when they get the ape back to New York.

Peter Jackson, who says the original King Kong, was one of the movies that inspired him to pursue filmmaking, stays true to the original with a few embellishments that couldn't have been done technologically in 1933. Kong isn't the only outrageous creature on Skull Island and Jackson enjoys showing us the creepy crawly prehistoric gigantic insects and the super-sized flesh eating slugs. There are a few really impressive fight scenes with dinosaurs. Most of the time the CGI effects look authentic. And the New York/Empire State scene is worth the price of admission (before 6PM).

But it's long and it seriously drags in parts. Seriously. Jackson could have been a little more disciplined with the editing, even some of the good scenes tend to drag for too long. There is no reason why this movie should exceed three hours. And it felt like three hours. I recommend seeing this at a matinee. It's definitely the kind of movie that needs to be seen on a big screen. If you wait to rent it or to watch it on TV, I don't think it will have the same impact.

As the movie started, there was lots of anticipatory applause. As the movie ended, some people still applauded but there was a lot less applause than their had been at the beginning, I can only assume that there were other people in the audience who didn't have their high expectations met either.

 

Memoirs of a Geisha
Rated R
145 Minutes
I should have rented this one from Blockbuster"

Memoirs of a Geisha is a beautiful film. I don't know much about the exotic and secret world of the geisha, so I can't tell if they got it technically right but it looked damn good.

Memoir, based on the book by Arthur Golden, follows Chiyo (Zhang Ziyi and Suzuka Ohgoas a girl) from her humble beginnings as a young 9-year-old sold to a geisha house through her transformation to Sayuri, the most legendary geisha in history. Life at the house isn't easy and Hatsumomo (Gong Li), the house's leading geisha, takes an instant dislike to the young girl with the blue eyes. A chance meeting with a wealthy man known only as The Chairman (Ken Watanabe) changes her forever when she decides that she will become a geisha and win the heart of The Chairman. Eventually Sayuri becomes the protégé of Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), who uses her to gain control of the geisha house; wrangling control away from Hatsumomo. Over a period of years, Sayuri gets close to The Chairman but something (a little thing like World War II) or someone (like The Chairman's business partner) always intervenes.

Memoirs is a beautifully shot film and well-acted. Much has been made about the decision to cast non-Japanese actors in this film but their performances can, arguably, justify that decision.

Geishas are lovely to look at but emotionally distant. They are trained to be the objects of passion yet are cautioned not to be passionate themselves. The movie is the same way. There is this great unrequited love story there but there is no real passion to it. We never really feel the love or the longing that Sayuri feels for The Chairman.

 

Brokeback Mountain
Rated R
134 Minutes
"It was alright. I had a good time!."

Let me start by saying that Brokeback Mountain gets a big fat ZERO on the Shaun-o-meter. For those of you new to this site, the Shaun-o-meter (named after my ex-boyfriend) is used to determine whether sports-loving, beer-drinking, boob/booty-oogling guys will respond to a movie. For example, we can apply the Shaun-o-meter to several movies released this month (December 2005). King Kong would rate about a 7 due to lots of action and special effects (a sex scene or a little nudity from Naomi Watts would have given it an extra point). Memoirs of a Geisha would score about a 1, beautiful women but no sex and no nudity. There isn't a lot of action either; however, there is a cat fight between two women (which is where it earns that one point).

More than anything Brokeback Mountain is the story of secret, frustrated love. Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), a some time rodeo cowboy, and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger), a quiet Wyoming ranch hand, meet in the summer of 1963 while herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain. With nothing but time on their hands, the two form a friendship that turns into something neither one expected. At the end of the summer, they part ways and move on with their lives. Both men marry. Both start families. But neither can deny what they shared together. After about four years, Jack initiates contact with Ennis and over the next 15 years, the men manage to see each other several times a year for 'fishing' and 'hunting' trips. The depth of their bond grows and so does Ennis's conviction that what they have stay on Brokeback Mountain.

Gyllenhaal and Ledger give Oscar-worthy performances. However, Ledger has the more difficult task. Ennis is a man of very few words, so Ledger must communicate his pain non-verbally, through his eyes, his expressions, his body language. Michelle Williams as Ennis's wife (Ledger's wife in real life) also gives a compelling performance as a woman who struggles with the reality of her marriage.

Director Ang Lee paces the film like the languid, open cowboy life it depicts. Dialogue is sparse. And there is shot after shot of wide open Wyoming landscape. He takes his time and he keeps the film firmly focused on these two men. There are no distractions. The movie works for me because Ang Lee lets these men and their story make the statement. He doesn't beat us over the head with a heavy-handed moral or social statement. More than a gay story, it's a story of forbidden love. And it's a story that is well told.

Now, the question you want to know. Just how gay is it? Well, if you are gay and used to seeing all sorts of heterosexual sex on the screen, the answer is probably not enough. The truth is that there is one sex scene which, although sort of rough, is over in less than a minute. There are two scenes with passionate kissing but honestly that is about it.

 

 

The Family Stone
Rated PG-13
104 Minutes

I should have caught this on cable.

The Family Stone is supposed to be about this warm, cuddly, close-knit family. They're all supposed to be quirky and likeable. This is the family we're supposed to envy because they are so loveable and so open and so accepting. In actuality, they came across as a bunch of pretentious, smug hypocritical wolves. Though Sarah Jessica Parker's uptight, overworked, conservative was supposed to be the bitch, I ended up routing for her and hoping she'd find a way out of this hellish group of a family.

Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson are the proud parents of five adult children. Everyone is coming home for Christmas including oldest brother Everett (Dermot Mulroney) who's bringing his workaholic, stilleto-wearing, perfectionist girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker). Everett's sister Amy (Rachel McAdams) already hates her, having met her briefly a few months earlier. Deaf and gay brother Thaddeus (Ty Giordano) and his long-time companion Patrick (Brian White) are willing to give her a chance. Brother Ben (Luke Wilson) is the good-hearted, laid-back, pot-smoking brother who doesn't mind anything. And the final daughter Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser) is basically a pregnant window dressing as she doesn't really figure much into the plot. But they love each other, they really love each other and they are full of love and acceptance unless of course you aren't exactly like them and don't think exactly the way they think. Therein lies the problem for poor conservative Meredith who calls in her sister Julie (Claire Danes) as reinforcement. Unfortunately for Meredith, little sis is the nice artsy liberal type that fits in perfectly.

Diane Keaton gave a great performance as the mother. The movie's only truly authentic and touching moment involves her and husband Craig T. Nelson. Outside of that, I could not figure out why Meredith or anyone would want to be a part of this so-called family. They can openly embrace their deaf and gay son and his black partner but they can't even begin to open up to Meredith because she doesn't subscribe to their exact same world view and dares to have a better sense of style.

The story, of course, ends happily because, in the end, Meredith becomes more like them. For all it's attempt to seem genuine and sincere, it ends up feeling contrived and false. If you are in the mood for this kind of film around the holidays, rent Home for the Holidays with Holly Hunter, it's a much better movie.

 

Syriana
Rated R
136 Minutes

If nothing else, Syriana gets an 'A' for ambition. It makes a series of statements on big oil companies, federal regulations, CIA involvement in the Middle East, how China's need for oil directly impact the rest of us, terrorism and suicide bombers. There is a lot going on in Syriana. Too much.

Stephen Gaghan, who wrote Traffic, takes a similar approach with Syriana, telling several overlapping stories that eventually come together in the end. On one hand, we have CIA operative Bob Baer (George Clooney), who has spent years in the Middle East and who accidentally may have sold a missile to the wrong people. On the other hand, you have Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), a father who uses the loss of his son to get the ear of the would-be Saudi emir, Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig). This emir is locked in a power struggle with his brother Prince Meshal (Akbar Kurtha) over who will succeed their father. On the other hand (technically, I know I've run out of hands, but I'm trying to convey just how many hands are stirring this plot), Nasir has struck a deal with a company who is in cahoots with the Chinese to sell some valuable oil wells. The executives of Connex, the Texas big oil guys (Chris Cooper, Peter Gerety) want to merge with their competitor but a government investigation threatens the merger. They hire Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) to get stay one step ahead of the investigators and report to them. The fourth and final hand belongs to a young Pakistani man who loses his oil drilling job as a result of all this corporate movement. Jobless and without direction, he ends up influenced by a radical Muslim sect. Is your head swimming yet? I know mine is.

No one can ever accuse Syriana of being dumbed down for the masses. It's a very intelligent movie. It's thought-provoking. It's filled with a great cast from the top liners through the supporting cast. What it isn't, is very entertaining. It spends so much time setting up the separate stories and meandering through them that it is hard to really get engaged in the story.

The characters fulfill their function but like the story, it's hard to connect with them. I guess that is part of the 'intelligent design' of Syriana. There are no saints. There are no sinners. There are just people with varying amounts of blood on their hands. Everyone is guilty of something.

The stories do come together nicely in the end, but it was too little too late, the tension and the build-up needed to start a lot sooner. If you must, rent it. As a rental, you can stop and start and break Syriana down into digestible chunks.

 

Aeon Flux
Rated PG-13
97 Minutes

I guess Charlize Theron felt she needed to do the action movie heroine thing. Angelina Jolie satisfied her need to kick ass and take names as Lara Croft in the two Tomb Raider movies. Halle Berry got hers as a Bond girl in Die Another Day and in Catwoman.

Aeon Flux is based on the short-lived animation series from the early 90's that aired on MTV. The show about a futuristic femle assasin developed quite a cult following. Apparently over a decade later, someone thought it would still make a good movie. Someone thought wrong. Aeon Flux lives in a Utopian society, 400 years in the future. In fact, most of the world has been killed off, courtesy of a worldwide plauge and their city, Bregna, is the only safe haven left. But things aren't as perfect as they seem. People mysteriously disappear and it's up to a rebel group called the Monicans to find out why.

Both Charlize Theron (Aeon) and Frances McDormand (The Handler) are Academy Award winners. Sophie Okenedo is an Academy Award nominee for her supporting role in Hotel Rwanda. It just goes to show that a nice little statuette doesn't make you immune from the occassional stinker. If stilted dialogue and lack of emotion are hallmarks of our future, then the future is bleak indeed.

When done correctly, fast-paced, franticly edited fight scenes can add to the excitement of the fight sequence. But more often than not, they aren't done correctly and the viewer is left frustrated because the editing is done in such a way that we miss the action. That is definitely the case here.

I just could not get into this movie. I was bored stiff and the 97 minutes seemed to drag into eternity. I never watched the MTV series, so I can't say that it affected my opinion of this film. Judging it on it's on merits, however, it just didn't measure up.

 

Rent
135 Minutes
Rated R
I should have rented this one from Blockbuster"

On my increasingly long list of things I've meant to do but never quite got around to is seeing the theatrical production of Rent. To be honest, theater in general is something I never quite get around to. I never got around to The Producers, Raisin in the Sun and a host of other live shows. Don't even ask me about the last live concert I went to. Anyway, I was glad to hear that Rent was coming to the big screen because I always have time for the movies.

Rent is set in Bohemian Alphabet City circa 1989 when the first wave of the AIDS epidemic was beginning to crest. Artists and free-spirits of all sorts - straight, gay, bi, black, white, Latino, HIV-positive and HIV-negative - mixed and mingled; living to celebrate creativity and love in all its forms. This group of artists for arts sake includes Mark (Anthony Rapp) a documentary filmmaker, who documents the lives of his friends during the space of a year. Mark's ex-girlfriend, self-absorbed performance artist Maureen (Idina Menzel) who has dumped him for her button-downed corporate lawyer girlfriend Joanne (Tracie Thoms). Mark's roommate, Roger (Adam Pascal), an HIV-positive former junkie who wants to write one great song before his time is up. Roger falls for exotic dancer and current junkie Mimi (Rosario Dawson). Mark and Roger's third roommate is Collins (Jesse L. Martin) who was kicked out of MIT for some subversive theory he's developed. Collins ends up falling for Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), a drag-queen and street performer. Taye Diggs is Benny, a former roommate, who married up and traded the poor Bohemian lifestyle for what one could imagine is some cushy Manhattan digs. He wants to force his old roommates out of their building so that he and his father-in-law can build a digital studio.

Only Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms are new to this production. The rest of the actors came over from the original Broadway cast. In fact, Diggs and Menzel met on the set of Rent and have been married now for the past 2 years.

Whether it is because most of the actors originated these roles on stage or the way many of the sets were designed, Rent manages to retain a lot of the feel and the energy of a stage play.  There are quite a few show stopping numbers including  "La Vie Boheme", the opener "Seasons of Love", the poignant "No Day But Today", and "The Tango Maureen." And if you love big musical numbers, you'll love all of these great songs. Fans of Law and Order will not believe the set of pipes on Jesse L. Martin. That brotha can sang!!!!

But with strong cast and and stronger songs, you'd think I would have loved Rent but when they weren't singing (which fortunately wasn't often), I found the story to be lacking. The AIDS storylines were the strongest, the love between Angel and Tom in particular, and the relationship between Mimi and Roger, but others specifically, the looming eviction and the awkward love triangle of Maureen, Joanne and Mark didn't resonate. And the friends relationship with former friend Benny was also a little confusing.

I think it's funny that some people criticize Rent for being 'dated' as if the AIDS epidemic is so passé. That is such a scary and uninformed point of view, especially for African-Americans. The reality and the stigma of AIDS and HIV are very real and unfortunately still very timely.

 

Walk the Line
136 Minutes
Rated PG-13
"It was alright. I had a good time!."

I've pretty much determined that most successful musicians lead a Behind the Music structured life. They rise from poverty and obscurity and they usually have some sort of tragic character-defining childhood event that haunts them into adulthood. But they have talent and that talent saves them from a life of monotony and self-pity. They melt the hard heart of some music producer and end up succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. Alas, they still have their demons and success brings them out: booze, drugs, wanton women (or men). At this point, their demons either overtake them (Billie Holiday, Elvis, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix) or they overcome them (Ray Charles, 50 Cent) With Walk the Line we tread this very familiar path.

The Behind the Music analogy definitely applies to John R. Cash. His boozing-grief-stricken sharecropper father (Robert Patrick) never forgave him for the fact that his older brother died in an industrial accident and he didn't. In fact, he's convinced that the wrong son died. Guilt over his brother's death and defiance against his father's indifference propel young Johnny. He leaves home and joins the Air Force where out of loneliness he begins to write music. A movie he sees while stationed in Germany about the Folsom County Jail inspires Johnny who feels in a lot of ways like he's in prison. Back home, he marries first wife Vivian (Ginnfer Goodwin) and tries to lead a normal life - but damn it, he wants to sing. Finally, he wins over producer Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) and his career takes off. Cash tours with Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Malloy Payne), Elvis (Tyler Hilton) and June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). Carter, as part of the Carter Family, has been singing since the age of 4 and Johnny's been a fan of hers most of his life. The attraction between the two is undeniable but both are married. The two build a friendship that takes a while to become something more. Cash's wife, June's second husband and Cash's drug addiction keep them apart for years. I'm not giving anything away by saying that eventually true love prevails.

Walk the Line walks a very familiar path. We don't really learn anything new about Johnny Cash (and I didn't know that much going in). What impressed me the most about Walk the Line were the incredible performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. In addition to doing all of their own singing, the two give persuasive performances.

Director James Mangold and writer Gill Dennis wisely focus on the beginning of Cash's career and the courtship of Cash and Carter. As with Ray and Good Night and Good Luck, biopics work best when they focus on one pivotal time in a person's life instead of trying to do the cradle-to-grave treatment. Mangold also fills Walk the Line with music and the music fuels the story. It adds to the energy that Phoenix and Witherspoon bring to their work.

I wish the movie could have gone deeper into what drove Johnny Cash. A lot of his lyrics were pretty dark and although he never did hard time (just a little soft-time for a drug bust), prisoners loved him and related to him as if he'd been in the next cell. A man who could paint such sinister images and related to the alienation and hardness of prison inmates deserves a closer look. Walk the Line works as a love story but I can't help but think there is another story there just waiting to be told.

 

Derailed
110 Minutes
Rated R
I should have caught this on cable.

Looking for a good thriller? Keep looking.

Derailed is supposed to be a tight, twisty, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Instead, it's a bloated movie that telegraphs all it's plot twist. The idea behind a twist is that you don't see it coming. If you see it coming from a mile away, it's not really a twist.

Charles Schine (Clive Owen) is a struggling ad executive with a strained marriage and a sick child in need of her fourth kidney transplant. While on the commuter train one morning, he meets the stunning and very married Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston). The two flirt. Flirting leads to lunch. Lunch leads to drinks. Drinks inevitably lead to a seedy hotel. But before they can consummate their tawdry affair, a French thug named LaRoche (Vincent Cassel - who played the break-dancing Eurotrash bad guy in Ocean's 12) burst into the room. After a unnecessarily brutal scene where Charles gets beaten and Lucinda gets much worse, LaRoche ends up extorting money from Charles. Charles is so desperate that he uses the money they've saved for their sick daughter to keep his wife and more importantly Lucinda's husband from finding out the truth about the almost-affair. Both LaRoche and Charles have trusty black sidekicks that lend them credibility. LaRoche has the gun-toting, sadistic Dexter (rapper Xhibit). Ex-con and company mailroom clerk WInston (played by rapper The RZA of the Wu Tang Clan) has Schine's back.

For Derailed to work, Owen and Aniston need to work. Owen works for me as a nice guy who gets himself caught up in a situation where nice isn't going to be enough. In fact, he gets in so far over his head, he has no choice left but to get nasty. Aniston gets points for trying to go against type. I guess she's sexy in a 'girl next door' sort of way but she's just not sexy enough for this role. She had zero chemistry with Owen. Cassell as the bad guy was just too much. It seemed like everybody else was going for a low-key performance and he came in in hyper-overdrive. His changing accent, seemed to visit every country in the European Union.

I realize you have to suspend disbelief in any movie. But I just couldn't accept that a man would use his sick child's transplant fund to cover up an affair.

Consider yourself warned, there is a particularly brutal rape scene in the movie. Half of the women in my audience covered their eyes. Honestly, it was seriously uncomfortable. It was also, in my opinion, unnecessary. There are other ways to convey that a woman has been raped. They really didn't have to take it there.

If you are seriously fiending for a thriller, Derail will do. Just remember to check logic and half your brain cells at the door.

 

Get Rich or Die Tryin'
118 Minutes
Rated R
I should have rented this one from Blockbuster"

Every once in a while, I see a movie and I don't have any strong feelings about it. It's not terrible. It's not great. But more importantly, it doesn't leave me with an impression, either good or bad. That's how I felt at the end of Get Rich or Die Tryin'.

Any fan of hip-hop knows 50 Cents story. He's legendary for being shot nine times and living to tell. The film is a fictional account of 50's life. We aren't talking about Curtis Jackson known as 50 Cent; we're talking about Marcus (Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson and Marc John Jefferies as a child) known by the rap name Young Caesar. The film begins appropriately, with the now notorious shooting. It then goes back to the beginning. Marcus's mother (Serena Reeder) was a drug dealer who died a violent death. Afterwards, he was raised by his maternal grandparents (Viola Davis and Sullivan Walker). But little Marcus liked nice things and he started selling drugs to get them. He moved up in the drug game with the help of his crew and under the tutelage of the brutal Mr. Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who worked for the big kingpin Levar (Bill Duke).

While Hustle and Flow showed us how hard things are for pimps, Get Rich makes the same judgment about drug dealers. Marcus, at first, lives at home with his grandparents and then moves into his own shabby apartment. He has to work his a** off to afford the Mercedes he eventually buys. Along the way, he reunites with his childhood best friend Charlene (Joy Bryant) and the two develop a relationship. He also gets sent to prison where he meets up with Bama (Terrence Howard), a fellow hustler who recognizes Marcus's rap talent and offers to manage him.

50 Cent was credible playing a version of himself but he's just way too laid back for me. He lacked intensity for most of the movie. Terrance Howard, on the other hand, stood out in all of his scenes, as did Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Ladies, make sure to pay particular attention to Mr. Howard in the pivotal 'naked shower fight' scene. You might be pleasantly surprised.

I wanted to see more of Marcus's progression as a rapper in Get Rich; instead it focuses on his violent, drug-dealing days. There are lots of turf wars punctuated by lots of shoot-outs. His interest in rap was always there; as evidenced by a sexually-explicit rhyme young Marcus he makes for Charlene. It shocks her parents so much they send her out of the city to live with her grandparents. But the movie doesn't really delve into his creative process. As a result, I never really felt the passion that Marcus should have had for his music.

I guess that is ultimately the problem I had with Get Rich or Die Tryin. It just didn't have heart. It connected all the dots but it didn't have the emotion and the passion to make me really connect with it. Without that passion, this is yet another gangsta/hustla movie.

 

Jarhead
122 Minutes
Rated R
"It was alright. I had a good time!."

Jarhead isn't Full Metal Jacket. It isn't Platoon set in the desert. It isn't Apocalypse Now. It's a war movie but it's a war movie about a battle-less war. It's important to know that going in. It's not about the smell of napalm in the morning. It's about the anticipation of the smell of napalm in the morning.

Jarhead is based on the book of the same name by Anthony Swofford. Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his team have gone through an intensive sniper training at the hands of Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx). They're eager to use their new found skills when they are shipped over to Kuwait for Desert Shield. There, in the searing heat of the desert, they wait. When they are done waiting, they wait some more, and occasionally, they patrol the Kuwaiti oil fields. When Desert Shield becomes Desert Storm, the men are certain that they will see some action. They get burning oil fields, oily rain and lots of clean up and ditch digging. When Swofford and his partner Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) finally get an assignment, their efforts are thwarted at the last minute. And then, it's over.

There are no big battles in Jarhead because there were no big battles in Desert Storm (at least that Anthony Swofford was involved in). Jarhead is about what happens when men who ready for action don't get any. It's a study in frustration and pent-up aggression.

The men of Desert Storm, as far as Swofford is concerned were robbed of the opportunity to fight. Adding to their frustration is the reality that live back home was going on without them. Wives and girlfriends slowly forgot about them; leaving them all the more isolated and anxious to do something.

It's a well-acted film. Gyllenhaal, Foxx and Sarsgaard give powerful performances. The odd thing about Jarhead is the lack of story. There is no defined enemy. Sure, Saddam and his Royal Guard are the enemy, but they don't really figure prominently into the action. Foxx's Sgt. Sykes is at times antagonistic, but he's certainly not the bad guy. There is no central action. There is no big battle as a rallying point. It's just a bunch of hyped up guys waiting for something. They are locked and loaded but not allowed to shoot.

Jarhead works because we share their anticipation, we  go along for the ride. We wait, knowing at any time something significant might happen ... or not.

 

G
98 Minutes
Rated R
"It was alright. I had a good time!."

G is romantic drama based on the Jazz Age classic novel, The Great Gatsby (one of my favorites). However, kids be warned, watching this movie will not substitute for reading the book because there are some big differences (and not just the addition of rappers and a hip-hop soundtrack).

The Great Gatsby was basically a love triangle awash in class warfare. Gatsby fell in love with shallow socialite Daisy. But Daisy leaves the struggling Gatsby for the rich ‘old money’ Tom Buchannan. Not content to let the love of his life pass him by, Gatsby becomes a self-made millionaire (although the origins of his wealth are never clearly revealed). His motivation is to win back the woman of his dreams. Only his dreams are shattered when he sees Daisy for what she truly is, not his ideal soul mate but a shallow social climber who is truly incapable of returning his love. Caught in the middle of it all is Daisy’s cousin Nick who watches the whole story unfold over a summer in West Egg.  

The basic structure of G is the same. Only G (Richard T. Jones) reinvents himself as a hip-hop mogul along the lines of Puffy and Russell Simmons. Tom is now Chip (Blair Underwood), a bougie financier who fancies himself as better than the coarse hip-hop types he looks down upon. Daisy is now Sky (Chenoa Maxwell), a woman with considerably more depth than Daisy. Still caught in the middle is Sky’s cousin Tre (Andre Royo) who gets caught in the middle of the tug-of-war for his cousin’s affections in the posh Hamptons.

I enjoyed G.  It wasn’t a big budget production and it showed in the production values but all of the major actors gave solid performances. Those of you who are regular visitors to my site (all five of you! LOL!), know that I’m all about diverse portrayals of African Americans, so I have to say it was refreshing to see a serious romantic drama featuring African-Americans that aren’t pimps, playas and hustlers.

Without giving too much away, I felt that Skye should have been more conflicted when it came time to make her final decision. Screenwriter Christopher Scott Cherot seemed to go through a lot to make her more substantive than the original Daisy but at the end, she made her ‘decision’ very quickly and it didn’t quite ring true for me.

 I also thought a little too much time was spent on the sub-plots with the performers on G’s label. One of them was central to the plot but it seemed a bit distracting at other times.

 

Prime
105 Minutes
Rated PG-13

"It was alright. I had a good time!."

 Prime is a prime opportunity for Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman to shine, and they do. So what’s the problem?

 Rafi (Uma Thurman) is just getting out of a nine year marriage and is relying on her supportive and encouraging therapist Lisa Metzger (Meryl Streep) to see her through. When Rafi meets David (Bryan Greenberg) a struggling artist, sparks fly; in spite of their 14 year age difference. Lisa, being a smart therapist, puts two and two together and realizes that her son is the reason Rafi is so ‘sexually satisfied’. Despite what should be a conflict of interest, she decides to continue to treat Rafi. Eventually, she fesses up and creates some awkward moments for all involved.

 Streep, as the liberal therapist and overbearing conservative Jewish mother, is excellent as a woman who is forced to take her own advice. And Thruman, as the beautiful but still a bit gun-shy divorcee, delivers. They both have the timing and the chemistry that makes their scenes work. So, I ask again, what’s the problem?

 In a word (okay two) it’s Bryan Greenberg. I just couldn’t fathom Uma Thurman getting all hot and bothered over this guy. He didn’t work for me at all. Another actor, any actor with some sex appeal, would have been a better choice. I kept thinking, “She’s going ga-ga for this guy?”

 Prime was primed to be a great comedy. But with two strong leads instead of three Prime is good but not great.

 

Doom
100 Minutes
Rated R
"Why? Oh Why, did I waste my money?"
 

Doom is one of those movies designed to appeal to teenaged boys. Hollywood executives think that teenage boys are the key to big box office, so they go out of their way to create this type of stuff - movies based on comic books, extreme sports and video games -  to attract them. I, if you haven't guessed by now, am not a teenager, nor am I a boy (check the logo). So for me, a thirty-something woman, Doom was doomed from the start.

I've never played the video game so I can't make any comparisons. In the movie, a group of Marines led by the aptly named Sarge (The Rock) go to Mars because some Alien-esque thing has killed a group of scientist stationed there. One of the scientist, an archeologist, Sam Grimm (Rosamund Pike) is the estranged sister of one of the marines, Reaper (Karl Urban). She's uncovered some interesting evidence about life on Mars. It turns out that the original Martians were super-human thanks to an extra set of chromosomes. However, that extra chromosome turned some of the Martians into monsters; monsters strong enough to take out all of the super-human Martians. What does all of this mean? Not much but everyone runs down a lot of dark corridors with guns blazing, killing everything in sight. Sometimes people end up getting killed twice because apparently some of the more-super-than-the-super-human-super-monsters have a problem staying dead.

Let's be honest. No one going to see Doom is going for the story or the well-developed characters. Consequentially, the makers of Doom didn't really spend too much time on pesky little things like plot, characters, dialog and story. The teens that play Doom apparently like to shoot things up and that is what the characters in Doom do. They shoot things. And that's all they do.

A few ladies I know are considering seeing Doom because of The Rock. Ladies, don't do it. Your fantasizes of a buff sexy Rock wearing to nothing while wielding his big gun will not be fulfilled.

If you're a fan of the game, play it  and take a pass on the movie.

 

 

Domino
120 Minutes
Rated R
I should have rented this one from Blockbuster"
 

Domino is very loosely based on the life of Domino Harvey. She was the daughter of British actor Laurence Harvey, who is best remembered as the original Manchurian Candidate. After her father's death, she and her mother moved to Beverly Hills. For a minute, she dabbled in modeling before taking up her career as a bounty hunter. The real Domino Harvey was a lesbian who battled drug addiction. It was her habit that led to an overdose earlier this year. She was found dead in her West Hollywood apartment. While Harvey did have some say in the movie, she was also displeased with certain facets of her portrayal (particularly the choice to play her as a heterosexual).

Domino the movie is inspired more by the idea of Domino - a rich hot chick who decides to be a bounty hunter and hang out with criminals and ex-cons - than by Domino herself. Director Tony Scott takes the concept of Domino and creates what amounts to a lot more fiction than fact.

In the movie, Domino (Kiera Knightley) is being interrogated by FBI criminal psychologist (Lucy Liu). She tells the story of a bounty hunt/double-cross that went horribly wrong. Convoluted and taxing, all I will say is that it involves several DMV workers (including a scene-stealing Mo'Nique as well as Macy Gray), a mobster (Stanley Kamel) and his frat boy sons, Afghanistan freedom fighters,  a sick kid, the FBI and a sleazy reality show producer (Christopher Walken) and his 'celebrity hosts/hostages' played by Beverly Hills 90210 actors Brian Austin Green and Ian Zierling.  Along the way, Domino also fills us in on the details of her life - how she met her partners Ed Moseby (Mickey Rourke) and Choco (Edgar Ramirez).

Tony Scott is going for a sort of surreal, trippy energy with Domino. He uses lots of colored tints, jump cuts and shaky camera work to convey that feeling. After an hour and a half it was more distracting than anything. The script (by Richard Kelly) goes for that same sort of jerky, surreal, trippy effect. Things happen but then they really didn't happen. Or did they?

Domino is violent. Tons of shoot-outs, explosions, gun-play and a well-placed severed arm. And I swear every song in the score used the F-word repeatedly. Despite all of that, halfway through, I was bored. The movie's best scene is also it's most useless. Mo'Nique as Lateesha Rodriquez goes on Jerry Springer to advocate her new racial classification system featuring Blactinos (black/latino), Chinegros (Chinese and black) and Japanics (Japanese and Hispanic).

Domino is a classic case of lots of style and little substance. If you stay through part of the credits, you'll get a look at the real Domino Harvey. I get the feeling that her real-life story would have been a whole lot more interesting than this fictional account.

 

The Gospel
103 Minutes
Rated PG
"It was alright. I had a good time!."

The Gospel is an updated retelling of the Prodigal Son set to a vibrant gospel soundtrack.

In this version, the prodigal son is David (Boris Kodjoe), the son of Pastor Taylor (Clifton Powell). Instead of having a brother, he has a best friend Frank (Idris Elba). Just as the two teenagers prepare to graduate from the youth ministry program, tragedy strikes when David's mother suddenly dies. In his anger David turns his back on God, his father and the church. Flash forward 15 years and although the two have gone down separate paths, both have been successful. David is a R&B artist with a hit single "Let Me Undress You." Frank is the assistant pastor at the church and married to David's cousin Charlene (Nona Gaye). When David's father gets sick, David reluctantly returns home. As his father's hand-picked successor, Frank has ambitious and grand visions for the church - but others, particularly Assistant Pastor Hunter (Donnie McClurkin) aren't as enthusiastic. Things seem to come to a head as David asserts himself into church business. 

What struck me about this movie is that although it is a church movie, its more about the business of church and the power struggle that ensures following Pastor Taylor's death than anything else. It's through that struggle that both Frank and David experience their own spiritual redemption. I also liked the fact that presented a church filled with real people not saints: a single mother, an egotistical bishop, a jealous assistant, a scheming preacher's wife. Yes, they all love the Lord but none of them are perfect.

I would have liked to see more of the essence of the rivalry between David and Frank. A key aspect of the Prodigal Son parable is the faithful son's resentment at the return of his wayward brother. In the film, there is some resentment and there is definitely a rivalry but it could have been developed more. Also, the power struggle within the church didn't come across as strongly as maybe it should have.

Of course, any review of The Gospel has to talk about the music. Director Rob Hardy (who directed the Trois series) knows the important of music in church services and to the church folk who will see this movie and he does not disappoint. Yolanda Adams, Fred Hammond, Martha Munizzi and Tamyra Gray are all featured with original music provided by Kirk Franklin. The choir alone had people in my audience singing along. This soundtrack will do very well.

If The Gospel is successful (like Diary of a Black Woman was earlier this year) we could see trend towards more uplifting Christian films. Such a trend wouldn't be a bad thing. It sure beats the current trend towards hoods, hustlers and hos. The Gospel isn't a perfect film but if it's the kind of film you'd like to see more of, go out an support it (and that doesn't mean buying the five dollar bootleg!).

 

Roll Bounce
107 Minutes
Rated PG-13
"I loved this movie!!!!"

Roll Bounce is a feel-good movie for those of us who remember having to be home before the street lights came on and when roller skating at rinks with silver disco  balls was cool (yeah, I’m that old, but just barely!). For those too young to remember, the film features a cast filled with up and comers from Bow Wow, to Wesley Jonathan and even Meagan Good.

It’s the summer of 1978 and the neighborhood skating rink on the Southside is closing its doors. Xavier, otherwise known as X (Bow Wow) and his friends Mixed Mike (Khleo Thomas), Naps (Rick Gonzalez), Junior (Brandon T. Jackson), Boo (Marcus T. Polk) and the new girl next door Tori (Jurnee Smollett) decide to journey across town to the upscale Sweetwater skating rink on the city’s North side. The Sweetwater rink is ruled by legendary skater Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan) and his crew. When the kids find out there’s a skating competition worth $500, they decide to give Sweetness a run for his money.
But Roll Bounce is a comedy/drama. Most of the drama takes place on the home front where X struggles to get along with his distant father (Chi McBride) in the aftermath of his mother’s untimely death. Both men grapple with their loss as the struggle to redefine their relationship with each other.

While Roll Bounce treads some very familiar territory (the classic dance competition) it does so with a lot of heart and affection for a bygone era. Director Malcolm Lee (Undercover Brother and The Brothers) and writer Norman Vance Jr. (Beauty Shop) go to great pains to create an authentic memory of the late 70’s. From the dashikis and the patchwork denim pants to the skateboards and the funk/disco soundtrack, the duo succeed at capturing that particular moment in time.

I was pleasantly surprised by Bow Wow - whose acting has improved by leaps and bounds since his debut in Like Mike. His character has some very powerful scenes and he pulls them off like an actor. I never had the feeling that I was watching a rapper try to act. His performance was impressive and he held his own with Chi McBride who gives a heartfelt performance as a widower trying to piece his life back together. As expected Mike Epps and Charlie Murphy make the most of their limited screen time in some of the movie's funniest moments. Nick Cannon, Wesley Jonathan and Brandon T. Jackson also added some laughs.

While I enjoyed the skating (and definitely the music), I wish I could have seen more of the actual skating. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of skating in this movie but when it comes to the dance competition, there are way too many close-ups and cutaways. It was obvious that Wesley Jonathan, as the cocky Sweetness, and Bow Wow weren’t doing some of the more advanced skating sequences. I honestly wasn’t expecting them to. But Lee chooses his shots like he’s more concerned with not showing us the skating stand-ins than he is with showing us the actual skating.

At an indulgent 107 minutes, the movie could have been trimmed down a bit. However, that is a small price to pay for a sweet nostalgic trip down memory lane.

 

Flight Plan
93 Minutes
Rated PG-13
"It was alright. I had a good time!."

From the beginning of Flight Plan, you have to wonder, is this woman sane? Jodie Foster is a grief-stricken widow who's escorting her husband's body back from Germany to the U.S. for burial. Her daughter, Julia, is with her, or is she?

Mother and daughter fall asleep on the plane and mother, Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) wakes up to find little Julia (Marlene Lawston) gone. The crew (Erika Christensen, Kate Beahan, Judith Scott, Jana Kolesarova) the pilot (Sean Bean) and the air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard) are initially sympathetic. But an increasingly hysterical Kyle combined with the fact that no one has seen the girl and she isn't listed on the plane's manifest are enough to convince the crew that Kyle's grief has pushed her over the edge. Complicating matters, Kyle is an engineer who helped design the plane and knows all of its nooks and crannies. A woman obsessed, Kyle will stop at nothing to find her little girl.

Think Panic Room in a plane. It's actually kind of similar in that the action and rising tensions take place in a confined environment. This works both for and against Flightplan.

Foster, of course, is powerful as the possibly delusional woman. She carries the movie and carries it well. Unfortunately, she's surrounded by very good actors who don't have much to do: Peter Sarsgaard and Sean Bean especially.

As with most thrillers, you need to be able to accept a little bit of the incredible to enjoy it. If you are one of those people (who are very annoying to sit next to, by the way) who asks questions like: "Well, why didn't she just...?" "Couldn't he have...?" "Wouldn't it have made more sense if... ?" or you find yourself saying things like: "She should have just..." "Well, I would have...", you will not like this movie.

If you can sit back (theatres often have more leg room than planes), you might just have a good time. The audience I saw it with applauded at the end and most of the buzz as we exited the theatre was favorable. I, for one, enjoyed the ride.

 

Corpse Bride
77 Minutes
Rated PG

"It was alright. I had a good time!."

 

Tim Burton has a real knack for the macabre. More accurately, he has a knack for finding innocence and wonder in what would normally be dark and dreary. Whether it's Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before Christmas, Burton always manages to find a thematic 'light' in his otherwise dark material (he did the opposite in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory exploiting the dark edge of Willy Wonka that was only hinted at in the earlier film). His treatment of The Corpse Bride is no different. It's a darkly beautiful love story.

Of course, love wasn't a part of the deal struck between the social-climbing Van Dorts (Tracey Ullman and Paul Whitehouse) and the penniless but aristocratic Everglots (Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney) when they arranged a marriage between Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) and Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson). Both kids long for a marriage based on love and not economics and are pleasantly surprised when they seem to fall for each other at their first meeting. But poor Victor is so nervous that he just can't seem to get his vows out right. So he goes into the woods to practice and as he finally recites the vows correctly, he symbolically places the ring on what appears to be a twig. In all actuality, it's the bony protruding hand of the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter) who has been waiting for years for the man who will love and marry her. Immediately, the newlyweds are whisked away to the underworld. While intrigued by the Corpse Bride, Victor longs to get back to his life in the Land of the Living where Victoria's parents still intend to marry her off. An interesting love triangle evolves and is played out with sympathy for all three of the principals.

The Corpse Bride is a beautiful movie. It's filmed using a combination of stop-action (use moving puppets) and digital animation. I won't be surprised if it wins an Academy Award or two for animation. I also appreciated the visual irony of painting the world of the living in drab and boring grays while lavishing color and energy on the afterworld. Think about it, it's we, the living, who often drain the very life force out of life. But I'm not one for waxing philosophical so let's move on.

If one thing was consistently disappointing about The Corpse Bride, it's the music. From The Nightmare Before Christmas through Willy Wonka, we've come to expect original and witty songs from Burton and frequent collaborator Danny Elfman. The songs featured in The Corpse Bride were not nearly as clever as they should have been. Besides, I  had a difficult time even understanding much of the lyrics. Thankfully, the songs aren't the centerpiece of the film.

Based on a Russian fairytale, The Corpse Bride turns on Victor and Victoria's relationship and that of Victor and Emily, the Corpse Bride. What I liked is that both women were smart and sweet and capable of winning Victor's heart. Depp, Watson and Bonham-Carter voice their characters with the empathy and subtly that grounds their characters with sincerity.

I think most children will enjoy The Corpse Bride, while skeletons abound, there is nothing scary about them. This is a movie designed to enchant and not  to scare.