Film Reviews

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Stranger Than Fiction (2006) Review

We all wish that our lives were interesting enough to be the plot of a book or a movie. For Harold Crick, this wish is fulfilled to the nth degree and to a very literal point. An actual author is writing out his life and, in this case, his death. It's an interesting premise and, I admit with chagrin, is very close to the premise of one of my plays, but Stranger Than Fiction tries to do a little too much and muddles the story with excessive characters and too many plot elements. Harold Crick (Will Farrell) is an ordinary IRS agent who lives a dull, repetitive life and is probably obsessive compulsive with a numbers fixation. He also seems to have a magical wristwatch. Anyway. Minus the wristwatch, which he doesn't know is magical, everything is going along fine until Harold starts hearing a voice narrating his every action, right down to what he thinks of when he hears specific sounds. If that isn't crazy enough, the voice off-handedly mentions something about his imminent death, obviously throwing Harold into a tizzy of concern. The catch here is that the narrator is a actually the author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) and she doesn't know that Harold actually exists.
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What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? (2004) Review

Part documentary. Part narrative. What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? reminds me those educational films they show in high schools. You know, where Jimmy's having problems in chemistry so the teacher takes him on a magical journey through labs and factories where Jimmy gets to learn all sorts of neat facts. It's kind of like that, but marginally better. The story part revolves around a woman (Marlee Matlin) who's going through some personal life challenges. She's depressed and hooked on a happy pill. As she tries to go about her life, she continually has surreal experiences, which are really just lead-ins for the documentary sections. These are the bread and butter scenes of the movie, since the surrealistic story parts are inserted as visual aids.
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The Departed (2006) Review

"Martin Scorsese [the legendary filmmaker] zero Oscars - Three 6 Mafia, one!" The implication of Jon Stewart's words during the 2006 Oscars stamped a red hot exclamation point onto the thoughts of many moviegoers. Hopefully, with this recent offering returning to a gritty crime-drama, the Academy will finally recognize Scorsese's talent. The Departed is a witty, highly original story about a State Trooper named Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) who goes into deep cover to infiltrate Boston organized crime led by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), an aging, teflon crime lord. Billy has a dark past and many connections with unsavory types, so he's a shoo-in to get close to Frank. As a fresh plot element, one of Frank's henchmen, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), goes into deep cover as a State Trooper. Here Damon treats us once again to his Boston accent that sounded so natural in Good Will Hunting. Once Billy and Colin discover the existence of one another, it's up to them to smoke each other out. It is in these moments where the movie truly shines. The most tense scene is probably the film's most subtle, with Billy and Colin on opposite ends of a silent phone call, waiting for the other to speak and betray their identity to the other.
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On Golden Pond (1981) Review

On Golden Pond revolves around the lives of one family teetering on the edge of the end of its time line. Norman and Ethel Thayer are approaching the end of their lives and decide to visit their summer home on Golden Pond. Norman (Henry Fonda) is turning 80 and his moved-to-California daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), is coming to visit with her new boyfriend and his son, Billy. In 80 years, Norman has slowly (or quickly) turned into an old curmudgeon, griping about life and taunting death with a quick barb whenever he can. If Ethel is the music that soothes the savage beast in Norman, his daughter Chelsea is the noise that drives him mad. Or at least nitpicky. This is apparent when she finally arrives and Norman grills her over the kind of car she rented. Here we discover the uneasy past Chelsea and her father have, which coincidentally mirrored the rocky relationship the real-life father and daughter Fondas had.
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Are You Scared (2006) Review

This movie was better when it was called Saw. Typically, I don't mind low budget films. I can tolerate mediocre visual effects, sub-par camera work, and shoddy acting. I can even stomach a movie switching from film to video after the first five minutes. What I cannot forgive is when a film skimps on the writing. Are You Scared does exactly that. The concept had potential, revolving around a reality TV show that was based on conquering fear; but rather than having to simply eat live worms, the contestants have to face more gruesome fears, like being awake during surgery. The consequence for not successfully facing your fear, however, is death. This could have been a wonderful commentary on reality TV and the commodification of people. This could have been a subtle screed about the selling of life for entertainment. Instead, it's a rip-off of Saw, complete with modulated voice. Oh yes, there will be an intellectual property lawsuit.
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300 (2006) Review

I’m always wary about movies that are heavily advertised. It’s the equivalent of overselling a product. In this case, I can forgive 300, because those trailers looked so good, I didn’t mind seeing them over and over again, but that’s also the problem. While the snippets of scenes were great and allowed me to fill in the blanks with equally great images in my head, the actual movie doesn’t live up. Some will say that’s my own fault for letting the hype get to me. Others will say that’s the studio’s fault for hyping up the movie with so much advertising. I think it’s both. Let me just say, that I enjoyed this movie. It’s entertaining. The visual effects are highly believable, considering that the entire environment is green screen (though it’s a shame what passes for blood these days). The acting ranges from adequate with everyone in the cast to very good with Gerard Butler. Lastly, there’s plenty of carnage to be had and even a little sex. You will have a good time watching this film.