Finding Neverland

I'm not sure exactly what I expected when I went to see Finding Neverland, but it turned out to be a very heartfelt and moving film. The movie tells the story of Sir J.M. Barrie, who we all know as the author of the beloved play Peter Pan. The preview makes it look as though the movie is about the process by which Barrie wrote his famous play, but while that is a major plot point, the overall story is much more about Barrie himself, and the relationships he has with his wife and the members of the Davies family. While the fact that the Davies family provided Barrie with the inspiration for Peter Pan did hold some interest for me, what really drives the film is the love that Barrie develops for Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (played by Kate Winslet) and her children. If I had to come up with a complaint about this film, I can only think that it was rather slow for much of time. But for some reason that never bothered me. Possibly, the wonderful performances were what held my interest. Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet are always good, but of particular note to me was Freddie Highmore, who played Peter Llewelyn Davies. The role of Peter would have been really flat if played by the wrong actor, but Highmore brought out all of the nuances of the character in a very powerful way. I am really looking forward to seeing Highmore as Charlie Bucket in next year's remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Viewed: 11/18/2004 | Released: 9/3/2004 | Score: A

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Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

The tagline for the new Bridget Jones movie reads, "Same Bridget. Brand new diary." I think that sort of encapsulates my problem with this film. You see, it's not so much that it's a chick flick--it is a chick flick, but I like a lot of chick flicks--or that the jokes aren't funny, it's that it's just too much like the first movie. All of the themes are the same, all of the characters are the same, and even many of the plot points are the same. To top it all off, a good portion of the humor involves what I call "The Part of the Movie That I Can't Watch." I know a lot of people find it funny to watch characters get themselves into embarrassing situations and then flounder around looking for a way out, but I actually experience physical discomfort during those scenes. It makes it difficult to watch most sitcoms, too. Anyway, whatever you felt about the first movie, this one is similar enough that you'll probably feel exactly the same way.

Viewed: 11/13/2004 | Released: 11/11/2004 | Score: C

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The Polar Express

When we first heard about this movie, my wife wondered how they would stretch such a short book into a feature-length film. The answer, of course, is that they added a bunch of filler that, while designed to increase tension and excite the audience, nevertheless left me bored. I'm sure most of you have read Chris Van Allsburg's wonderful children's story that this movie is based on. In my opinion, much of the beauty and power of that story comes from its simplicity. The book didn't have roller coaster rides and children jumping to safety just in the nick of time. It didn't have cheesy, overproduced songs or even other "speaking" characters. It didn't need any of that. The movie is good where it sticks to the book, but all of the filler is just that. I give it two stars because it is an undeniably pretty movie. In fact, I have to say that the filmmakers did a very good job of capturing some of the feeling of Van Allsburg's paintings. Unfortunately, it seems like they thought that the illustrations were the only important thing about the book. I will admit, though, that I'm not necessarily the best audience for Christmas movies, especially newer ones. You might even like this one; I'm pretty sure it moved the woman behind me to tears.

Viewed: 11/12/2004 | Released: 10/20/2004 | Score: C

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The Time Traveler's Wife

By Audrey Niffenegger

It's a little hard to describe The Time Traveler's Wife. It is, obviously, a story about time travel. One of the two main characters, Henry, is a time traveler. It's a little different from your average science fiction story, though. You see, he can't control when he disappears, nor can he control when or where he goes. The other main character, Clare, is Henry's wife, who is not a time traveler. Clare first meets Henry in 1971; she is six, but he is in his thirties. Henry first meets Clare in 1991; she is twenty and he is twenty-eight. Is that confusing enough for you? The Time Traveler's Wife is the often confusing, very disjointed, quite circular, but exceptionally beautiful story of the love between Henry and Clare, and the way their lives intertwine and shape each other. Much like other time travel stories, it investigates questions of predestination, free will, and the nature of time. But above all that, it is a highly character-driven story about the unique relationship that develops between the main characters. I'm not sure what I could say to really capture the feeling of the book, but if my reaction is any measure of the story's quality then let me tell you this: it's one of the only books--possibly the only book--I've ever read that has made me cry.

Started: 11/4/2004 | Finished: 11/10/2004

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The Incredibles

My one-word description of this movie? Incredible. OK, OK, I'm sorry for how cheesy the last two sentences were. I just couldn't help it. Seriously, though, The Incredibles was a great movie. Not that it's any surprise to anyone who has seen any other Pixar film. As usual, the animation was brilliant. (Those of you who are CGI buffs, check out the hair in this movie. It's really well done.) But these days brilliant animation just isn't enough. What Pixar brings to the table every time is a well-crafted story with excellent voice characterization. Some people go to a movie looking for action, others for laughs. Some people want characters with emotional depth. Some people want cool visuals, and some just want superhero meta-humor. The Incredibles has all that. But, look, you already knew you wanted to see it. So just go see it.

Viewed: 11/6/2004 | Released: 11/4/2004 | Score: A

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If Jamie Foxx doesn't get a Best Actor nomination out of this, I will take that as final proof that the Academy Awards are totally and completely meaningless. Looking back over the films I've seen this year I can't find a single one that has a performance that's even in the same league as Foxx's Ray Charles. It was just amazing. I didn't even feel like I was watching an actor; it just felt like I was watching Ray Charles. Now, a lesser actor might get bogged down in the physical details, the way Charles' moves. To be sure, Foxx got that right, from the way Charles walked to the way he moved his lips and fingers. But where someone else might have hoped that would be enough, Foxx gave us the whole package--at least as far as I can tell, not having known the man personally. The rest of the movie held up to Foxx's strong performance as well. It did tend to treat Ray Charles as something more than just a man, but we still saw all his human foibles. And above all that was the music. Of course we would expect a biography of one of this century's greatest musicians to have an excellent soundtrack, and it does. To me, though, seeing Ray Charles' music in the context of his life and times just made it that much better for me.

Viewed: 10/29/2004 | Released: 10/13/2004 | Score: A

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By Ken Grimwood

What would you do if you had your life to live over again? It's the kind of question that everyone has asked himself at one time or another, so it's not surprising that there should be so many stories about it. This one, though not the best of those stories, is nevertheless good. In the very first scene of Replay the main character, Jeff Winston, dies, then wakes up to find himself 25 years in his past. We then follow Winston through several iterations of his life as he continues to die and return to his life. Several of the plot devices are familiar to this sort of story; we see Jeff Winston use his knowledge of the future to change his fortune, we see him become disillusioned as his life continued to repeat. In spots things seem a bit cliché--though I can't honestly say whether these themes would have seemed so when the book was first published in 1985--but Grimwood manages to write some truly poignant scenes. It's by no means a perfect novel, but I found myself quite moved by parts of it.

Started: 10/24/2004 | Finished: 10/25/2004

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