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Clever's Movie Reviews: A-C

The Hits!

About Time ****
Adaptation ****
All About My Mother ***
American Beauty *** 
America's Sweethearts ***
Amores Perros ***
Analyze This *** 
Anna Karenina ***
Argo ****
Atonement ***
Aviator ***
Babe ****
Babies ***
Bandits ***
Bank Job ***
Barbershop ***
Beautiful Mind ***
Before Midnight ****
Before Sunset ****
Being John Malkovich ***
Bernie ****
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ***
Best in Show ****
Blood Diamond ****
Blue Jasmine ****
Bourne Identity
***
Bowling For Columbine ****
Boys Don't Cry ***
Brave One ***
Bridge of Spies ****

Bridget Jones's Diary ***
Brokeback Mountain ****
Buck ****
But I'm a Cheerleader ***
The Butler ****
Captain Phillips ****
Carlito's Way ***
Casino Royale ****
Charley and the Chocolate Factory ***
Charlie Wilson's War ***
Chef ***
Cider House Rules *** 
Civil Action
****
Claim ***
Cold Mountain ***
The Company you keep ***
Constant Gardener ***
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon***
But I'm a Cheerleader ***
Cast Away
***
Chicago ****
Chicken Run ***
Chocolat
***
Crazy Stupid Love ***

 

The Duds!

Affair of the Necklace
**
Ali *
Aristocrats *
Arlington Road
**
Australia *
Avengers o
Babe, Pig in the City
**
Beloved
o
Best Man Holiday **
Blair Witch Project
*
Body of Lies **
Bourne Ultimatum **
Bless the Child o
Bounce **
Brave **
Bulworth
**
Captain Corelli's Mandolin
**
Carol **
The Class **
The Contender
o

The Counselor *

The Hits:

About Time ****
reviewed by the Phantom
By Richard Curtis, the director who gave us Love Actually. It's a British romantic comedy with time travel. I loved every frame of it. Fun story, well acted in that British under-stated way. Great ending. This movie is going to be a cult favorite for me. It might even replace Love Actually as our feel good movie for the holiday season.

Adaptation ****
reviewed by the Phantom
What a treat to see Meryl Streep again. It's been too long. Nicholas Cage seems just as lost and one dimensional in dual roles as he was in Leaving Las Vegas, but the plot of this dark filmland-insider comedy is just too much. I loved every self-absorbed frame of it.

All About My Mother ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
Somewhat easier to follow but surely no less bizarre than some other Almodovar films. Full of off-kilter, very human characters, this movie explores motherhood and responsibility in a new way.  Don’t see it to try to resolve your own issues with your mom.  Great acting, vibrant colors, clever twists and turns. A nice way to break up the Hollywood monotony.

American Beauty ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
Deep and vague…my review is in the style of the movie! This movie is not about a marriage gone bad. Or the struggles of midlife angst or adolescent rebellion. It’s not a commentary on modern society or the banality of suburban life. Rather, it declares itself a study of awakening, expanding, confronting taboos, facing fears. Few answers are provided -- moralistic and preachy it is not. Flawlessly acted, intensely composed, and uniquely filmed it is. This movie is not about plot twists or storytelling and can scarcely be described, reviled, or applauded with words. It either speaks to the heart or says nothing. Highly recommended.

America’s Sweethearts ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
Now here’s a funny movie! The most generous thing the publicists did with this one was to withhold some of the truly comic moments from the trailers and keep Hank Azaria a secret to be savored.
For once, some quality actors were given a light and easy piece to work with and were directed to turn out a performance they can be proud to hang their names on. There are enough of the common feel-good elements to leave the viewer with a satisfying aftertaste, but original enough comedy and characters to engage the brain in a pleasantly stimulating way. Go see it! 

Amores Perros ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
Here’s a weird one. Pulp Fiction sequencing crossed with Hitchcock-esque scenarios set against a Mexico City backdrop. I think it was good, but it was too long and it didn’t really come to any discernable point. Certainly a tough one for animal lovers to watch. I think one of the main points of the film is to show that people can love their pets and still go on to lead really freaky lives. It’s in really colorful Spanish with English subtitles: I learned that pendejo can mean anything from “stupid” to “moron” to “dickhead”…wow, what an educational opportunity! Recommended for intellectual types who can keep up with the highbrow discourse.

Analyze This ***
reviewed by the Phantom 

Billy Crystal and Robert DeNiro try for cheap yucks in this comedy send-up of both psychological counseling and the Mafia, but if you watch TV, you've already seen the funniest bits, where the mobster threatens to turn a cow into a rib-eye and DeNiro "hits" the sofa pillow, but in addition to those scenes, I did chuckle at Billy's version of a New York City psychologist, and DeNiro seemed to enjoy playing his usual on-screen self, played serious, a the psychologically conflicted Mafioso, and although the premise is amusing, the movie staggers along, not quite knowing how to end itself.

Anna Karenina ***
reviewed by the Phantom
I've given this movie 3 stars to keep it out of my "Duds" pile only because of the beauty of it. There will be Oscar nominations. It's a gorgeous movie start to finish. A grand theatrical display of Imperial Russia at its most baroque. The scenery, props and costumes are wonderful, the theater of it is interesting, but it was way too melodramatic for my taste. As I always say, I like stories about real people with real problems. Too much suspension of disbelief is necessary in order to embrace this movie, so I was squirming and mentally looking at my watch after the first half hour or so. And way too much awkward foreshadowing, all those train wheels slowly turning, pul-eeze. If you already know the story, just rent the old movie or skip it altogether. If you love overly dramatic turn of the century theatricals that run a little long, this is your movie.

Argo ****
An edge-of-your-seat thriller based on a true story. Even though a lot of us know how this story ends before it even starts, it's still a gripping film from start to finish. This is exactly what we go to the movies to watch. Great film making and story telling. The cast is great, surprising choices, perfect fit. And please notice, there is limited overt violence, no car chases or buildings being blown up, just tense drama. An Oscar contender for sure.

Atonement ***
reviewed by the Phantom
This movie was based on Ian McEwan's novel. Those who read it say it was faithful to the book. I thought it was a rather pretentious movie, so self-consciously sure of itself, and looking as though it had already won the Academy Award (sorry, Oscar went the other way). It's one of those British stories of deceit, this time by a very young and spoiled little girl. Her actions have a tremendous effect on those that she wronged. She eventually feels bad about what she did and tries to make things right, that's the atonement part, but things don't always work out the way we want them to.

The opening of the movie drags a bit, I even felt myself growing sleepy but then I remembered that something important happens so I managed to stay awake for it. After "the incident", the pace picked up and the story moved right along. The Dunkirk scenes are some of the most haunting I've ever watched. The acting is great, very believable, even that bratty girl, who was nominated for an award, but didn't win (whew).

The Aviator ***
reviewed by The Phantom
This was the year (2004) of the bio-pics and this movie, about that weirdo Howard Hughes, was one of the best. I think Leonardo DiCaprio was a little young to play Howard, even though he did a creditable job and won an Oscar nomination for his efforts. But Cate Blanchett was marvelous as Katharine Hepburn, one of Hughes' many love interests. The academy agreed with me and handed her an Oscar. The movie was one of the larger-than-life stories told in an old fashioned cinematic way and stunning in every aspect. If you haven't seen it yet, be sure to rent it.

Babe ****
reviewed by the Phantom
Babe, a talking pig with feelings, is the centerpiece of a charming story about a farm animal who saves the day for an Australian farmer. If you haven't seen it yet, go rent it immediately. For all audiences.

Babies ***
reviewed by The Phantom
This movie makes lots of women drool and go all motherly because it’s all about babies, four of them, to be accurate, each from a different country: one from Namibia (my favorite), one from Japan, one from Mongolia, and one American from San Francisco. The babies are the stars and there is no dialog, just the camera bouncing from place to place filming the babies from when they were first born until they start walking. So it’s a year in the life of these precious little bundles of joy. I must admit that I found it just a little long in places, but as a study in how differently babies are raised, it was educational and sometimes, even amusing.

Bandits ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
This is the story of two escaped convicts who hatch a plan to steal themselves the good life in Mexico. They have the smarts and spontaneity to figure out the next step as their feet are in the air, and the movie keeps us guessing as the characters themselves seem to be guessing from one moment to the next. Their scheme evolves into a string of non-violent, intellectual robberies earning themselves unsolicited fame and recognition. The connections they make along the way add greater meaning to their plight and decisions, and flavor the story in unexpected ways.

The plot remains tight throughout the telling. The characters are all great and interesting, with special props going out to Billy Bob Thornton as the neurotic, hypochondriac, brain of the operation. The greatest buddy stories show us all the sides of the wayward personalities, including the strengths and vulnerabilities. Bandits goes there, and well, and, somewhat unintentionally, reinforces the power of love. Go figure. (12/01)

The Bank Job ***
reviewed by the Phantom
This is a British movie based on a true story. A group of robbers dig a tunnel under a bank and into the bank's safe deposit vault where they remove some very interesting stuff, in addition to lots of money. Apparently, there was some government involvement in both the set-up of the robbery and the cover-up that followed. It's a well-constructed, smart movie that will definitely entertain most people. I think it's ready for the rental market so look for it.

Barbershop ***
reviewed by The Phantom
By the time I got to this movie, I had seen most of the funny parts on TV commercials. Unfortunately for us, the advertisers think we’ll laugh at the same material again and again. So I already knew that Rosa Parks just sat down, OJ did it, and all that other sort of funny stuff about Jackson and King. Even so, I did laugh at this movie.

The barbershop is on Chicago’s south side, and the most interesting action takes place in the shop, all in one frantic day from start to finish. The barbers include an angry black woman with attitude up to here and a black-wanna-be white guy just for kicks. But they just add spice. It’s really about Calvin, the owner and Eddie, the old stand-up philosopher-barber who carry the show. There’s tension from the very start, comic one-liners, slapstick, pathos and even a little romance to round out the fast-paced hour and a half.  

A Beautiful Mind ***
reviewed by the Phantom
This movie starring Russell Crowe is based on the life of John Nash, Jr., a mathematician who in 1994 won the Nobel Prize for his work in game theory. He was 66 at the time and for most of his adult life he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. That’s the kind of story that Director, Ron Howard likes to make into a movie.

The movie generally held my interest, and I did believe, as I’m sure most of the audience did too, that Nash’s delusions were actually real. However, I had some trouble suspending my disbelief in Crowe as a pointy-headed intellectual who hears and sees some very strange things. And now I hear he’s being considered for an Oscar. I guess that says something about the breadth of the competition this year. Nash, however, is a real, living, pointy-headed intellectual, still teaching classes at Princeton. So, and I’m just guessing here, the story was probably true and accurate, which makes it even more compelling. (1/02)  

Before Midnight ****
reviewed by The Phantom
The third of the "Before" movies is finally on screen. Richard Linklater, directs and Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy star in what is now a trilogy of the continuing romance between Jesse and Celine. The first one, Before Sunrise (1995) takes place in Vienna, where the very young 20-something Jesse and Celine meet on a train and spend the night, mostly walking and talking. They plan to meet a year later, but things go terribly wrong and they don't meet up, but we don't know this until the second movie. The second one, Before Sunset (2004) takes place in Paris 9 years later when Celine finds Jesse in the famous Shakespeare & Co. bookstore. The sexual tension mounts as they walk through Paris talking and eventually end up in Celine's apartment, with Jesse's taxi waiting to take him to the airport. So now 9 years later we get Before Midnight (2013). Jesse and Celine have been living together, and have twin daughters who look just like Celine and speak French, and happily-ever-after has not occurred. Jesse divorced his wife, and left his little boy in Chicago, and 9 years with Celine and the twins is wearing a little thin with these now 40-something lovers. They are on vacation in Greece, and talk a lot about their problem. It rings so true. They still love each other, maybe, but Jesse's young boy, soon to be a teenager, has spent 6 weeks with them, and just went home to the ex-wife, and Jesse is rethinking his situation. He and Celine hash it out, and we are not sure whether they have resolved it by midnight. It makes me think that there is still another episode to come. I'm hoping they don't wait another 9 years to make it.

Of course, this trilogy is a love story and love stories can become soap operas, but this one rises above the mundane while telling the story of two people living the fairy tale life. We all wonder what it would be like to make the perfect match and have a soul mate. We hold the belief that life would be wonderful if only that could happen.

Linklater, Hawke and Delpy collaborate on this endeavor and their talent and creativity keep this couple's love alive. It's such a smart movie, it give us something to have long conversations about, reminds us that there is so much more to entertainment than what we usually get. And Linklater's work is superb. The camera work is amazing. Long talking scenes where the lovers walk and talk are uncut for stretches at a time. This can only occur when the actors know their lines and the director has complete confidence in them. The audience remains mesmerized by the conversation and the camera work never gets in the way. That's one of the technical aspects that make this film so incredibly watchable. Bravo! Once again we are treated to a wonderful film.

Before Sunset ****
reviewed by the Phantom

Here's the recap from rottentomatoes.com: "Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) spent a
magical, romantic night together in Vienna, ending with the promise to meet again in six months ("Before Sunrise"). Nine years later, Jesse, now a best selling author, is in Paris touting his new book. As he answers questions and autographs copies of his novel he spots Celine watching him from the sidelines. His flight home leaves that evening and, once again, they only have a short time together with a whole lot of questions to be answered in Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset."

Before Sunset is part two of what we all hope will eventually be a three-parter. Part one is Before Sunrise. Rent it if you must but each movie can stand alone. The film is smart and funny with breath-taking scenery, it's Paris this time. We can feel the tension in the air as these two fine actors go through their paces in this heart-achingly beautiful romance. Bravo!

Being John Malkovich ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
It’s different and strange and interesting in a kind of an existential way. One might assume it aims to explore the possibility of being someone else, but it really doesn’t delve to the depths possible. The film has options and avenues for examining profound questions of human existence, but it doesn’t go there.  Being John Malkovich remains primarily plot-driven and takes viewers into the enterprises and encounters of some pretty freaky people. The acting is simply great. John Cusack delivers another solidly flawed and confused nice-guy performance. There are lots of laughs and new material--we certainly haven’t seen this one before. Worthwhile.

Bernie ****
reviewed by the Phantom
This movie was based on a true story and stars Jack Black. Isn't that enough detail to make you want to run to the movie house? Should be. It's sort of a documentary about this Southern guy who starts working for a nasty old lady with a lot of money, played perfectly by Shirley MacLaine. Of course, he's out to get her money and live the good life with her. Why else would he put up with her bad manners and evil disposition? Everybody in the small town hates her and loves him, but she's got all that money, right? Complicated, non? Things begin to sour between them and then it gets even weirder. Fine story telling, like 60 minutes. So interesting, so unusual. Makes you want to smile.

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel***
reviewed by the Phantom
A Judi Dench romantic comedy of a sort. Setting is a run-down, barely functioning, hotel in India, large cast of older, beloved actors looking for something different in a vacation. They all end up at the Marigold Hotel, which is struggling and managed by a very optimistic and stereotypical Indian fellow. Each cast member has a story and each resolves itself while they stay at the hotel. Very amusing in an old fashioned way, runs a little long, but is totally enjoyable. Always fun to watch Judi work, so effortless and believable. (Woody Allen should have watched this movie and took notes before making Roma! It might have stood a chance then.)

Best in Show ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
CLEVERMAG EDITOR RAVES, "I NEVER STOPPED LAUGHING!".
Another gem from the mastermind behind This is Spinal Tap, this movie follows the patented mockumentary style that continues to prove hilarious. I personally think that the integrity of the dog show was upheld and honored; it merely provided a colorful backdrop to the film's bizarre characters, who manage to be quirky in a very ordinary yet entirely ridiculous way. Parker Posey regains her stronghold as indie-poster girl. If you need a good laugh, you really shouldn’t miss this one.

Blood Diamond ****
reviewed by the Phantom
DeCaprio was terrific in this very bloody, violent and unrelenting film about Sierra Leone's diamond mines. The film is based on the horrible facts of this awful practice. The blood diamond problem is robbing a country of its people, its culture, its very life. Let's hope this film helps to bring reform. Of course, what would help tremendously is for western woman to start coveting something else besides diamonds. If it weren't for our insatiable thirst for big, expensive rocks, millions of people wouldn't be suffering and dying violent deaths. Women who calculate the value of their marriage by the number of karats on their finger are too shallow for words.

Blue Jasmine ****
reviewed by the Phantom

Woody Allen is back this summer with a very good film, one of his best IMHO. This one is not a comedy, although there are moments when you might smile a little. Jasmine is played by Cate Blanchett. She is in nearly every frame, beautiful as ever, as a distraught upper class woman, whose marriage has fallen apart, think Bernie Madoff's wife. But she is determined to pull herself back up even though she has sunk so far as to be living with her sister who rents a crumby apartment in a working-class neighborhood in San Francisco. Such a distance from Manhattan's Upper West Side. Only Woody has the sense of style and uncanny ear to pull off this story with such irony and wit. You will recognize the whole cast, all of Woody's favorite pals, plus some new ones. Loved this one.

The Bourne Identity *** 
reviewed by The Phantom
The studio trotted out this old Ludlum thriller and made a pretty good movie out of it. The spy tricks needed some updating, which they rewrote, but basically they did a fine job of it. We all love stories about innocent bystanders caught in a horrible situation not of their own making. That’s Bourne, the title character. He’s suffering from amnesia, and as the story unfolds and he becomes more aware of who he is, or once was, he doesn’t like that person very well. That’s an interesting touch, since he was a very bad guy. Well, not really, because as we all know, spies (at least American spies) have to do bad things for the right reasons. So the underlying question – do the ends justify the means? – is at play here. Bourne says no, with thrilling results.  

Bowling for Columbine ****
reviewed by the Phantom
Michael Moore just gets better and better as he tries to answer that gnawing question: Why are Americans so violent? The documentary format reaches a new level with Michael behind the camera and in front of it as well. His questions are deceptively simple and the reactions to them are so powerful. When he takes on the gun lobby's Charlton Heston, Moses doesn't know what hit him.

Boys Don't Cry ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
A sad story about a boy born into a girl's body. A realistic study in ignorance and intolerance. Great acting--good portrayal of characters, but certainly not an "issue" movie. Moral of the story: if you're born transgender, get the HELL out of Nebraska! Worthwhile, but not the feel-good movie of the year.

Brave One ***
reviewed by the Phantom
This is another one of those Jody Foster revenge films. Revenge is an interesting concept, it feels good to revenge the wrong doings of the world, especially when it's something personal. When the State murders somebody, we call that ritual "capital punishment", but there's something sort of sterile and unsatisfying about the whole deal. Maybe that's why we like revenge films. We cheer when the film's hero does something, usually against the law, to rectify some major wrong-doing. We know we are not supposed to feel this way, but we do. Jody has done it again, a very watchable, suspenseful and entertaining film. Make Netflix send you a copy right after the holidays.

Bridge of Spies ****
Reviewed by the Phantom
A period film about the Gary Powers spy swap. Beautifully filmed. Tom Hanks obviously had a lot of fun with this role and it was a pleasure to watch him. I'm surprised that this movie hasn't gotten more attention. Hanks masterfully plays the prisoner exchange negotiator who works the Russians over very well. The sets and costumes are perfect for the era. Loved this one.

Bridget Jones’s Diary ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
Renee Zelwiger’s not British, is she? Well, if she’s not, she sure did a good enough English accent to fool this Yank. I might have bought into a phony accent, but I did not, by any means, buy into the premise of this movie. I actually found the movie to be quite pointless. No, that’s not true: I actually found Bridget Jones’s life to be pointless. This woman is the most bumbling, brainless, and self-defeating nitwit in all of Great Britain. And they try to convince us that she’s charming enough in her own way to get the hunky guys, even though she’s really not that cute, clever, or otherwise attractive. It was actually painful to watch her humiliate herself over and over and never appear to learn anything from her idiocy. 
I admit the primary reason for my prejudiced attitude toward the movie is that I read and enjoyed the book. It wasn’t great literature, but the humor went beyond the slapstick and Bridget actually evidenced a smattering of intelligence. The movie is definitely entertaining but, unfortunately, all of the truly clever bits from the book were edited out. It’s worth seeing for the…what, honestly? Well, for the Hugh Grant-ness of it, I guess. 

Brokeback Mountain ****
Reviewed by the Phantom
Lots of sex, both hetero and gay. Lush scenery, great acting. Bottom line, a love story. Everybody knows that this is the “gay cowboy movie” but most people who have seen it understand that it’s much more than that. It could be any couple in a relationship that cannot work out for social reasons. Romeo and Juliet were the first doomed couple with a social problem and these two tortured cowboys won’t be the last. The viewers know from the first encounter that this movie will not have a happy ending, but we’re all still crying when the lights come up.

Buck ****
reviewed by the Phantom

A biography/documentary of Buck Brannahan, the real horse whisperer, the guy who Robert Redford went to see before making the movie about the fictional Horse Whisperer. It starts out with Buck as a little boy enduring a very bad childhood, who ends up in foster care and gets lucky. He learns to love horses, and as a result, develops a very special relationship with them. He can train horses without having to resort to "breaking" them. The story is told in a straightforward manner, like old-fashioned story telling, no flashbacks or fancy photography. The subject matter is engaging, and heartfelt. I was so disappointed that the movie didn't become more popular. I cannot imagine anybody coming away from this movie not liking it a lot. It really deserves to return to the theaters. We need more movies just like this one.

But I’m a Cheerleader ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
If there is such thing as a clichéd teenage lesbian coming-out story, then this film has all the elements. However, it is packaged in a pseudo-surreal, darkly humorous, dichotomously contrived bundle of hetero-bashing fun. If you watch "Third Watch" and think Jimmy’s cute, you’ve gotta check this movie out, just for him. Oh, and to see Rupaul as a repressed homosexual man is priceless. If these things don’t grab you, catch it on video or leave it to those who can appreciate its finer points.

The Butler ****
reviewed by the Phantom
Start to finish this is a superb movie. Great cast should walk away with Oscars, and this could be the best movie of the year. It's the true story of a White House butler working for presidents from Eisenhower through Reagan. All presidents make an appearance, and the agony of Black America from the '50s into the '80s is detailed, as well as the assassinations. As I watched scene after scene play out, I couldn't help but remember what I was doing during this era, just living my life, going on about my business, and watching the story unfold on TV. There are still millions of US citizens alive today who should be ashamed of the way they acted as their ignorant hatred and bigotry fill the screen. It is just as awful to watch today as it was then. Bring Kleenex. And be sure to remember what our fellow black Americans have endured. Their battle isn't over yet. It's sickening to me that the conservatives in this country are still trying to take away their voting rights and heave us back into those bleak days.

Captain Phillips ****
reviewed by the Phantom
First rate thriller. It's a story about piracy off the coast of Somalia. Tom Hanks is terrific, as usual, as the captain. Very realistic. The Somali highjackers were so believable. It's edge of your seat the whole way. We know how this story ends because it's not fiction, nevertheless, we are held in suspense through the entire movie. I think there will be lots of Oscar talk about this one.

Carlito's Way ***
reviewed by the Phantom
A young Al Pacino stars in this one as an ex-con trying to go straight back in the hood after about 5 years in prison. He still has lots of connections, clout and enemies, and can be very mean when he gets angry, but he's trying to control himself, go into business (running a club), and keep everything on the up and up. He even gets his old girl friend back. But as we all know, you can never go home again. A tragedy so well acted, riveting entertainment, still seems sort of fresh, even though it was made in 1993! 

Casino Royale ***
reviewed by the Phantom
Finally! A James Bond movie that I could actually watch and enjoy. Now that Daniel Craig has been selected as the latest Bond, things have changed. No longer do we have to watch gimmicks and senseless male slavering over beautiful women, no longer do we have to endure the sexist remarks and the tedious innuendo that prevailed in the previous films that had totally worn out their welcome. Casino Royale went back to Ian Flemming's novels for its plot in a tightly wound, suspenseful thriller that is worthy of its pedigree. It's about time.

Cast Away ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
Just realizing that the title is two words rather than one brought a whole new level of meaning to this movie. It’s not an incredibly deep work, but the situation presented is profound in it’s delivery of a simple message: appreciate what you’ve got. It’s a reminder movie, encouraging us to live each moment and remember that anything is possible. Good and bad are really irrelevant; what matters is what is. Cast Away’s message has stayed with me and is the mark of something worthwhile, something that leaves us with a bit a wisdom to carry into our lives and to bestow upon us a richness greater than money, religion, or pride.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ***
Running time: 1 hr, 46 min.  Feels like: 2 hrs (you get your money’s worth) (K), 3 hrs (P)
P—A good story about a family staying together. Even in the worst circumstances, there is still love. This family maintains such a good sense of humor, even about eating cabbage every day. The multi-generational theme is very touching.
K—Not as creepy as I remember the version from the 70’s to be (but I was just a tyke then). It’s “really weird” in a really good way. Johnny Depp is fantastic. I saw it twice and I could see it again tomorrow and still love it as much.

Charlie Wilson's War ***
reviewed by the Phantom
Tom Hanks and Julie Roberts star together in this bio pic. Sounds like an odd couple, but it works. Tom plays Charlie, a free-wheeling DC politician who can get things done. Tom is believable in this role, but somehow I get the idea that the real Charlie was probably not quite as honorable as Tom plays him. (Just my opinion, since I don't know a thing about the real Charlie Wilson.) The movie eventually gets around to its purpose: that first war in Afghanistan, the one that the Russians lost due to the efforts of the Afghani people that Charlie was eventually able to help. Conveniently, or politically, the editors left out the name of the main guy that the CIA equipped with those stinger missiles. Those of us who watch Sixty Minutes regularly know that it was Osama bin Laden that Charlie's money went to. But the movie wouldn't be able to create those lovely patriotic overtones if they revealed that information. Whatever. It was a good movie.

Chef ***
reviewed by the Phantom
I watch a lot of food network TV shows so I was eager to see this movie, and it didn't disappoint me. The chef is on a backward slide. When the film starts he's the chef de cuisine at a Michelin star restaurant. Then he loses his job because the owner won't let him do new things in the kitchen, so he ends up driving a taco truck. Fun ensues. Chef has a fairly typical family life for his line of work, divorced with a small kid, still loves his wife but she doesn't like his life. Great music, good looking food, light weight story, lots of fun. There are some nice moments, I loved the little boy. I loved all the Twitter stuff. Great summer movie.

Chicago ****
reviewed by the Phantom
Musicals just don't get any better (well, I said that about The Producers, but...). Rob Marshall figured out how to tell this story even better than the stage version. And the cast! Standing O's all around for Renée, Catherine, Richard, AND Queen L. I simply loved it.

Chicken Run  *** 
reviewed by Karen Dale
Thank god for clay-mation! I am a much bigger believer in chicken freedom-fighters than I am in mid-ocean mega-storms after my movie-going adventures this month. The story of Ginger the chicken and her quest to free her fellow chicken-farm inmates in order to live together as self-actualized beings was at once compelling, thematic, and very, very human. Ginger is on a tireless struggle to find a successful means of saving not just herself, but all the chickens from the Tweedy’s greedy scheme to turn them into pot-pies. 

The clay actors create much more realistic and evocative characters than do most of their flesh-and-blood colleagues of current fame. This is really not a film for kids, as the subtle British wit and plot-driven story will most likely go right over their little heads, leaving them a bit bored and restless. There’s no need for the grownups to feel silly catching this flick on date night.  

Chocolat ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
This film is a lighthearted and lightweight look at the subject of temptation and judgment .It  portrays the plight of the outcasts and their struggle to be accepted as they are. It discovers that there is no gain to be found in fighting one’s purpose and path in life. The threat of God’s wrath may be used to guide and control others, but eventually one’s true nature will emerge and revolt, and, according to Chocolat, everything will be fine. The easy answers and trite conclusions make this movie somewhat less compelling, thematically. The ill-conceived casting, questionable accents, and complete lack of chemistry between the love interests make Chocolat less interesting, period.

Cider House Rules ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
A condensed version of the great book by John Irving.  It was definitely a plus that he was able to write the screenplay.  The casting was excellent¾the characters were brought perfectly to life.  Overall, well-done and enjoyable, with lots of heart.

A Civil Action ****
reviewed by the Phantom 
I can't help it, I do like John Travolta, and he really shines in this courtroom drama about a personal injury, bottom-feeding lawyer with a heart.  It's not a sentimental tale, but it leans that way, as the true story of an environmental disaster softens the cold hearts of the lawyers who encounter the residents of a small New York town with too many deaths.  An impressive cast supports Travolta in bringing this story to life, and the ending surprised me. 

The Claim ***
reviewed by the Phantom
This film was released in 2000 but never made the rounds of first-run theaters until now. It wasn’t given much publicity so its success or lack of it relies on word-of-mouth. It’s an ambitious film, both in plot and set design. It takes place in the Sierra Nevada during the Gold Rush era, and the cast is made up of actors whose names are mostly unfamiliar to us. The story is based on Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, which is a morality play about a man with a past, the mayor of Kingdom Come, who attempts to redeem himself while trying to create a town his way.

The gold rush days were about greed, pure and simple, and lawlessness and people living on the edge. The film is coarse and stark, taking place in the dead of winter with snow covering everything. The viewer sees and almost feels the cruel world of Kingdom Come, the upstart mining town filled with miners with little else to do put spend their hard-earned gold dust on binge drinking and prostitutes. It has the look and feel of authenticity about it.

I was completely taken in by both the story and the sense of being there. It felt real to me. The story is told in an unexpected manner so I had no idea what was going to happen next, which was probably exactly the way the miners lived during that time. And some very strange things happened. It’s actually two stories in one. As the town’s mayor grapples with his personal problem, a larger, more important event is taking place – the railroad is making its way east over the mountains. The railroad coming through means the difference between life and death for a mining town. The mayor wants the railroad and he wants redemption for his past sins. He means to have things his way, at all costs, and the audience watches in wonder as this rather surprising and disappointing story unfolds. I enjoyed this film immensely and was totally caught up in the magnificence of the scenery and the coarseness of the time. (6/2001)

Cold Mountain ***
reviewed by the Phantom
I loved this book by Charles Frazier, but the movie just didn't reach the heights that it should have. I think that perhaps the director, Anthony Minghella, didn't quite get it. He also wrote the screen play but I'm thinking that he should have spent a little time and maybe money to get Frazier to help him understand the plot at its more subtle levels. Instead he added warfare scenes that we could have done without, and missed the point about the journey. The actors did a credible job of bringing the characters to life and I thought Renee Zellweger was outstanding -- but something was missing from this Civil War love story.

The Company You Keep ***
reviewed by The Phantom
Robert Redford returns to make a movie about The Weathermen, from politics of the late '60s and early '70s. It's based on the true story of the bank robbery that went terribly wrong. In this version, the gang has changed their identities and melted into society, and all have become respected members of their various communities. But the FBI is still after them, lo these 40 years later. It's a thriller of sorts. Redford plays one of the group, now a lawyer, with a young son, on the run because he is a suspect. He knows what really happened that fateful day and he has to figure out how to make things right again, and more important, to clear his name. It's a morality play, of course. The set up is good, but it's a complicated story, so unfortunately towards the end there has to be a lot of long conversations in order to unravel the whole thing. I think Redford should have watched some other thrillers to get some better plot resolution ideas. Long discussions and thousand yard stares don't belong in thrillers. But it is a good looking movie, and is a chapter in our society's history that needs to be explored from a distance. Nice to see Redford working again too.

Constant Gardener ****
reviewed by The Phantom
I finished reading the book one day and saw the movie the next day (with Karen). I was afraid that the movie would be like The English Patient (impossible to figure out unless you had read the book several times). But Karen assured me that it was easy enough to follow. I had been somewhat afraid that the screen play wouldn't do the book justice OR be able to translate Le Carre's very interior story about corruption, greed and lost love into something visual. But lo and behold, it's a beautifully distraught film that captures the mood and the messages quite accurately. The acting is superb and Africa, in all its misery comes alive. Great camera work. We need more films like this one.

Crazy, Stupid Love ***
reviewed by the Phantom
It must be Ryan Gosling's breakout summer - 2011. (I saw three movies in a row all with Ryan in them). I thought this romantic comedy was truly fun. A guy is getting divorced, he meets another guy in a bar, who teaches him how to be cool again, and guess what, he wins his wife back, all because of Ryan. Ah. The storyline is predictable, but it's one that we like. I love it when Ryan actually talks. See this one.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ***
reviewed by Karen Dale
This movie is beautifully filmed and the acting is fantastic. The martial arts sequences are truly fabulous, but I have to take issue with all of the flying. I’ve been under the impression that the laws of gravity apply in China as they do in the U.S.A., but perhaps I’ve been mistaken. There are good things to say about this film, including the heroine's journey (refreshing!),  but the storyline does not flow evenly and the conclusions are not in keeping with the themes presented. It seems that good prevails, but to what end? The filmmaker could have used this movie to make a statement, but unfortunately lacked the desire, vision or skill to bring it to fruition.


The Duds:

The Affair of the Necklace **
reviewed by the Phantom
In late 18th century France, ex-aristocrat Jeanne de la Motte-Valois leaves her adoptive home to seek out her royal heritage which was taken from her because of her father’s politics. She decides to steal a spectacular diamond necklace to use in a very complex scam that she thinks will restore her family’s name and return to her family’s property, which she believes rightfully belongs to her. The scam, which takes on almost humorous overtones, eventually leads to the downfall of Marie Antoinette and the French monarchy. Hilary Swank is Jeanne, who I guess actually did exist. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for her though because her tactics were truly underhanded, and it seems as though her timing was awfully poor. She really didn’t mean to bring down the French aristocracy, she only wanted to be a part of it. Overall, it’s long and rather tedious at times, but the scenery and costumes are spectacular. (1/02)

Ali *
reviewed by Karen Dale

What in the world was the point of that? Was that a boxing ring or a BOR-ing?

The Aristocrats *
Running time: 1 hr, 26 min.  Feels like: 2 hrs (K), nap time (P)
P—This review begins with a groan. Boring. Not much more to say. Oh yeah, disgusting.
K—A friend of mine described this movie as “anthropologically interesting”, which I thought was very fitting. You’d think it was going to have all the comedians who were billed telling their version of the joke. Not so. There’s a LOT of talk about the joke, but actually relatively few full tellings of it. The very first joke, told by George Carlin, was the funniest to me. It sort of went downhill from there, but there were some good moments in there. I think it’s a good bit of knowledge to add to a well-rounded cultural education.

Arlington Road ** 
reviewed by the Phantom
This slow-starting intellectual thriller, starring an over-acting Jeff Bridges, would like to convince us once and for all that there is a vast conspiracy of terrorist groups out there who are so smart they have fooled the FBI into thinking that every act of terrorism is conducted by an individual acting alone, and who are capable of blowing up even the FBI building and making it seem like one person did it.

The film starts out sanely enough, asking some very good questions about federal investigative procedures and what constitutes legitimate suspicion. But then, in order to make the story move forward, the writers resort to a tactic that is beginning to annoy me. It's the one where the protagonist is suspicious about something but can't convince anybody else to believe him. This is a device that Alfred Hitchcock used many times in the 1950s, and it worked then, but now forty years later, the world has turned a few more times and we've become a little more savvy. Actually, The X-files Agents Mulder and Scully are still using this device but they have taken it to a more sophisticated level than Arlington Road did, which is just to have Bridges running around yelling at people in hopes that they'll believe his wild suspicions. Images of Bruce Willis popped into my head at one point, but the Jeff Bridges character didn't have any sense of humor whatsoever.

The film finally resorts to those formulaic automobile chase scenes we've become so accustomed to and then finishes things off with a rather surprising ending: 1) which does not answer any of the interesting questions posed at the beginning of the film; and 2) which is so totally unbelievable that it left me feeling cheated after spending two hours watching Bridges go through so much emotional turmoil. However, the FBI comes out looking even lamer than ever. If this keeps up, I may even start feeling sorry for those poor slobs.

Australia **
reviewed by the Phantom

This movie got mixed reviews by most critics and I can see why. Great concept, poor execution. Nobody looked at the script. They must have taken 3 or 4 bad stories and just glued them together and thought nobody would notice. (Sort of like bundling a lot of bad mortgages together and pawning them off a something really good.) From the very first scene it was a groaner. Any movie that begins with a slapstick bar-room fight loses its creds right off the bat. The Western goofiness continues until a good guy shoots a kangaroo. That's supposed to signal serious stuff ahead. Not funny. Then we get a more Western rehash for awhile, culminating in a predictable cattle round-up. Then we are treated to that big shot where the camera moves into the wide angle mode and the big music starts up. That usually signals The End. But no, there's more. We now have to sit through WWII lite. More old, unimaginative stuff with some heart tugging manipulation thrown in. Add to it some really trite bad guy going through his motions, and a love story that was pulled out of another B movie and we're almost at the end. And another ending shot with the big music. But wait, there's still more. We haven't finished the half baked aboriginal story. It's the movie that couldn't figure out how to end itself. Bring out the kangaroo gun and shoot it. Unfortunately, you probably won't be able to sleep thru it, so don't even rent it.

The Avengers *
reviewed by Roger King
This jumbled juxtaposition of stupefying special effects, droning dialogue, and plodding plot line leaves the viewer with ample time for random musings such as: (1) maybe this is an avant-garde technique of not having an actual script and just ad-libbing the roles; (2) perhaps they forgot to do any editing and just spliced all the takes together; (3) the original Steed's appearance as an invisible man was a wise choice on his part; (4) if Uma Thurman's feet were just a smidgen longer she could bend over at the waist and form a perfect equilateral triangle, (5) the old James Bond would happily shred Sean Connery's acting card for this; and lastly, for a movie about weather, spending 91 minutes watching the weather channel would be vastly more entertaining.

Babe, Pig in the City **
reviewed by the Phantom
Babe must once again save the day for the farmer by going to the big city to win yet another competition, but Babe, ever the soft-hearted one, cannot stick to the task at hand, but rather sticks his little piggy nose into the business of at least one hundred hungry cats and dogs, who are thrown out of their boarding hotel and onto the mean streets of some big city that looks like a cross between New York and Disneyland, which is inhabited by an evil underclass of wicked and nasty animals who try to harm the hungry ones, but somehow Babe saves the day in piggy fashion, once again reminding us that good manners, a pig heart and pork rind always come through in the end.

Beloved ...maybe I just didn't get it *
reviewed by the Phantom
A Negro slave-woman flees to Ohio to escape the horrors of slavery but disastrous events of the time, including infanticide and lynching, continue to haunt her, literally, throughout this long, disjointed, cinemagraphic nightmare. Toni Morrison's novel may have worked as a book but telling it as a movie left out the descriptive narrative that leads the reader through the more bizarre aspects of the story.  Sorry Oprah, I still love you.)

Best Man Holiday **
reviewed by the Phantom
I wanted to love this movie. Mostly black cast, wealthy friends getting together to celebrate the holidays. Beautiful sets, lovely clothes, but the storyline, not quite believable. The laughs weren't quite as funny as they could have been, and the sad part of the story was way too underplayed. Rent it.

Blair Witch Project
(1999) *
reviewed by the Phantom
Bring your air-sick bag and take plenty of drugs, like double up on your blood pressure medicine and gulp a couple valium before this one. Too scary even for the Phantom.

Bless the Child (no stars)
reviewed by The Phantom
About seven of us watched this dreadful film yesterday in a cavern-like, otherwise, empty theater. Good thing it was a matinee. I wouldn't have wanted to pay full price for this little stinker. Kim Basinger and Jimmie Smitts starred in it, but even those two couldn't save this little angel-in-danger wannabe thriller.

Kim's the single parent of a precociously weird little six year old girl, who apparently was sent from God to do battle with Satan, who not only continues to be the Prince of Darkness, but this time out is also a serial killer of little kids. Satan is now disguised as a guru-motivational speaker, who has a cult following of worshipers, willing do his bidding -- including very evil things, of course. The Prince-Guru has latched onto the little girl and is eventually going to kill the cute little tyke unless she gives up her faith and turns to him.

I guess the screen writer earnestly thought we'd be impressed with this new version of Satan, who still wears black and has evil eyes, but is enormously successful and even drives around in a stretch limo. Kim and the little girl were in peril the whole time, of course, and Kim went through all the increasingly stressful plot points, culminating in the eventual hair-curling ending. (If you actually see this film, be sure to notice that Kim's normally long straight hair curls during the climax!)

Although Kim really tried to make us believe this was a serious movie, Jimmie Smitts had a very difficult time with it. He was cast as an FBI man working with the NYPD. He's no Bobby Simone this time out, even though he's still wearing his shoulder holster and flashing his cop badge. At one point in the film, a camera close-up shows him pondering the case, and as I watched him I couldn't help wondering what he was really thinking: "I gave up NYPD for this?" Please: there must be something better for Jimmie out there. HELP

Body of Lies **
reviewed by the Phantom
Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe are spies in war torn Iraq. Doe these people really exist? One wonders because we see them so often in the movies. Somebody once said, if you want to understand the CIA, watch American movies. Oh-oh! It's a complicated story, nearly impossible to figure out what these two are trying to accomplish. Lots of posturing, cryptic meetings. The complicated plot and all the driving around while using cell phones, plus much hand held camera work, make this a disjointed and disappointing film. Fairly typical of most Iraq movies though.

Bounce **
r
eviewed by Karen Dale
In two words: Disappointingly formulaic.
In four words: Great cast, boring story.
In all the rest of my words: This movie is solely a solid production of the same-old, tried and true, been there-done that story. The filmmakers probably just wanted to prove that they could do the ‘boy meets girl, etc., etc.’ thing as well as it could possibly be done. There. You did it. Can we just DROP IT now?! 

The most disappointing thing for me was that they didn’t change one thing from what we expected after the first five minutes. I thought "well, it’s obvious where this one’s going. Maybe they’ll throw in some new twists and turns since we clearly already think we know how it’s gonna turn out." Nope. They just followed that same road to the black hole of creativity and called it a day. Of course Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow are fine actors and lovely to look at. Even the child actors were totally tolerable, which means a lot coming from me. 

This movie did help me refine my theory on children's place in the movies: I’ve decided they can be perfectly adequate in supporting roles, but they should just never be asked to carry the story. Clearly, I was far more entertained by my own bemused ponderings than by the uninspiring eye candy on the screen. Catch it on TNT in two years…the commercial interruptions won’t make a difference.

Bourne Ultimatum **
reviewed by the Phantom
I heard the rumor that this movie was filmed without a script. It shows. Matt Damon lopes his way through this one, and I can really buy into the idea that he was making it up as he went along. There's no real "there" there  even though we are supposed to learn the real reason why Bourne doesn't know who he really is or what has happened to him. The chase scenes are unending. The ending is weak and doesn't begin to explain "everything". But those who love chase scenes and endless, wild nonsense will love this film, the rest of you can fast forward to the last half hour and cringe through the last act, hopefully, of the Bourne saga.

Brave **
reviewed by the Phantom
Just because a film is animated doesn't make it suitable for children. I took my 5 year old grandson to see this and he claims he liked it but he couldn't tell me what it was about. The heroine is a red-headed lass of marrying age who lives in a Scottish castle. Her folks are looking for a suitable mate for her. She is rebelling. There are witches and bears, bows and arrows, a truly wonderful horse, and lots of unsavory types running around the woods, scaring little kids in a complicated plot about evil spells and rebellion. It wasn't exactly a Sponge Bob moment for a 5 year old. And I don't like to watch bears being killed, even cartoon bears. Skip it.

Bulworth **
reviewed by Tom Beall
Now here is an interesting twist on the usual "politician run's again" story. The beginning is slow, so stick with it. After setting up his own murder, and self-deprived of sleep as a consequence, Senator Bulworth realizes he no longer needs to cover up his politicians' lies and larceny to support bad legislation for bad people. As a result, he comes clean in his speeches as he runs for re-election. Telling the truth can be upsetting so he angers LOT'S of people. He gets involved with criminals of all walks of life, spends an entire night in a blacks-only night club, then does a pretty impressive ad-lib "rap" speech at a major rally, with an ENORMOUS number of swear words. It's fun, with a twist at the end. (10/99)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin **
reviewed by the Phantom
I didn't think it was a great movie but I liked it well enough. I sat through it without getting bored and only looking at my watch one time. The film was shot on the Greek island of Cephallonia, which added to its beauty and authenticity.

Carol **
reviewed by the Phantom
A 1950s lesbian romance movie. It might have been shocking in the 1950s, but nowadays it's not. It was slow-moving and understated, boring even. The older experienced woman seduces the younger naive one. A love story we have seen hundreds of times, usually by "straight" actors. However, it's the same story, the same sad ending. Loved the sets, the movie pretty much nailed the '50s, especially the scenes in the department store. But sets and even good acting cannot save a truly boring story.

The story is taken from the novel, Corelli’s Mandolin, by Louis De Bernières, which has been described as a tragicomedy. The time period is World War II, and at the beginning of the story the island is occupied by Italian soldiers. Captain Corelli, played by Nicolas Cage, is almost believable. Everybody speaks English – the Greeks, the Italians and eventually the Nazi Germans – everybody just sort of awkwardly accents their English so we can tell one culture from another. Penelope Cruz plays Pelagia, the Greek woman who falls in love with Corelli because of his mandolin and his charming Italian personality. Well, actually, make that American super-star Nicolas Cage trying to be an Italian musician, making love to Penelope Cruz, a Mexican-American superstar, who is trying to act like a Greek woman.

The first half of the story moves a little too slowly as the love story develops, while the Italians’ military occupation and position in the war changes. The German invasion and the war part of the story is brutal and warlike, but too much story is crammed together. Everything happens too quickly, plot points fall like bowling pins, which is especially apparent after the slow build-up during the first half. It’s a wanna-be box office hit in search of its audience. The art house crowd will probably avoid it because it should have actors speaking in the native language with subtitles, which would have given it more authenticity. The action seekers will have snuck into another theater and be watching something else by the time the war starts. And those who thought it might be a comedy are also disappointed. But if you don’t see it in the theater, rent it. It’s really not that bad. (8/31/01)

The Class (Entre les murs) **
reviewed by The Phantom
This French movie, with English subtitles, wants to be the Blackboard Jungle of the 21st century but for me it missed by a mile. The earnest, but flailing French teacher, tries his best to teach a class of ethnically mixed, lower class French kids. His snobbery and eliticism are quite apparent, as are his lack of teaching skills. Add to that, it was filmed hand-held, so we are treated to jerky off-kilter camera work throughout. The majority of the film takes place in a crowded classroom of bored students. That boredom wanders out into the audience, so the film takes forever to finish up, mainly because the story arch, when we finally reach it, is a mere bump in the road. Skip it.

The Contender: NO STARS!
reviewed by Karen Dale
A star is too bright and beautiful an object to shed any of its light on this dismal display of a movie. Here is a sampling of the notes I wrote during the movie so as not to forget the roots of my scorn…"unimaginative, one-dimensional, too many eating noises--aaah! want to run away!, politicians too casual, unending swearing to fill void left by lack of cleverness, oh pa-LEEZE!, misogynist, stupid…". To expound on the comment about eating noises, two of the main characters ate more or less continuously throughout the movie, making the most disgusting smacking, slurping, and swallowing sounds. Obviously, the filmmakers were going for some kind of metaphorical something with that, but the absolute GROSSNESS of it all was not nearly worth it, as they failed to make their point due to the endless list of flaws plaguing this mess. DON’T GO THERE!

The Counselor *
reviewed by the Phantom
Not a memorable film. I had to find a plot summary online to jog my memory. Very dark movie, nearly incomprehensible plot, lots of gore. Something about drug trafficking going terribly wrong. Way too arty, way too complicated story telling, not compelling in the least, even a first rate cast couldn't put this disaster together. Skip it, unless you have insomnia. It will put you to sleep.


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