Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

After years of rumors and hype about the possibility of a fourth Indiana Jones movie, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had a lot to live up to. Whether it did or not is something you'll have to decide for yourself—and certainly there are a fair number of outraged fanboys out there—but, as for me, I loved it. In some ways it's a little goofier than at least the first two films, relying a bit more on one-liners, and Indy has gotten a little more superhuman in his toughness (especially considering that he's also nearly twenty years older than he was in The Last Crusade). But despite all of that it's still very much an Indiana Jones movie, and does everything that it should. It has great action sequences, of course, as it should, but it also brings back that sense of discovery that I remember from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And, most importantly, it has Indy, himself, exactly as he should be. What I think was particularly good about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was that by making Indy's sidekick young and male (unlike Marion Ravenwood or Willie Scott) and unfamiliar with Indy (unlike Short Round, Sallah, or Henry Jones, Sr.) we almost get to see him with new eyes. I'm sure that some of you will disagree with me, but I think that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a worthy successor to the Indiana Jones franchise, and I give it my wholehearted recommendation.

Viewed: 5/22/2008 | Released: 5/21/2008 | Score: A

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Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Once again, the Apatow crew have made a winner. This time it's Jason Segel who fronts the movie as the writer and star. Many of you will remember him from Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, but my first experience of Segel was as Seth Rogen's sleazy roommate in Knocked Up. This certainly shows him in a different light as the heartbroken Peter, although I gather that it was really Knocked Up that was the departure for him. Anyway, I thought he was really quite good in this film, managing to come off as pathetic, likeable, and funny all at the same time. The rest of the cast did a good job as well, including Mila Kunis, who I'd never really cared for in That 70's Show, but seemed to be well cast in this film. (She's also become quite beautiful since I last saw her, which certainly helps for being the love interest in this kind of movie.) Of course, what was really great about Forgetting Sarah Marshall, like all the rest of the recent films that this group has put out, was the writing. Not only was it uproariously funny, but it had a sense of honesty to it that I've come to expect from this team's films. If you're in the mood for a great comedy, definitely check this one out.

Viewed: 4/17/2008 | Released: 4/17/2008 | Score: A-

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Smart People

As I am now apparently making a habit of lateness, you will probably have to wait until this comes out on video to see it. If you like quirky dramedies, though, it might be worth checking out when it does become available. Smart People is the story of Lawrence Wetherhold (played by Dennis Quaid), who is an intelligent but extremely arrogant and self-absorbed literature professor. His relatively dysfunctional family consists of a daughter (played by Ellen Page), a son (Ashton Holmes), and a "loser" brother (Thomas Haden Church). After Lawrence throws his back out, his brother moves in, ostensibly to serve as Lawrence's chauffeur (since he has lost his license), but more obviously to mooch. There's also a romantic element as Lawrence, a widower, tries to start dating again. It's not particularly new ground as indie films go but it's pretty well done. Dennis Quaid is usually good and this is no exception, and Thomas Haden Church managed to come off as a little pathetic while still endearing and down-to-earth. Church was also the main comic relief and he was effective in that capacity--I laughed out loud quite a few times. As for Ellen Page, well, it was interesting to see her after her Juno fame (though it bears pointing out that Smart People was filmed before Juno) but I think that her acting is a little one-note. She didn't come off as exactly the same character as Juno, but given that the character as written was completely different, it's telling that there were any similarities at all. Still, even though this one probably won't win her any awards, her performance was decent and fit the movie fairly well. All in all, I quite enjoyed this movie, so if your taste is anything like mine, keep your eye out for it at the video store.

Viewed: 4/10/2008 | Released: 4/10/2008 | Score: B+

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Married Life

Entertainment Weekly put Rachel McAdams' performance in this film in their "Must List," so I had high hopes that Married Life would be the movie that made me change my mind about her. Unfortunately, it wasn't--I still think she's just mediocre. It's a real shame, too, because the rest of the cast was pretty good. It's not the best I've seen out of any of them, but then, that bar is pretty high--Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson, and Chris Cooper have all done really great work in the past. Still, with such a strong cast (McAdams excepted) and from the trailers, I was really hoping for a great movie. And throughout the film I kept feeling like it was right on the verge of brilliance, but it never quite got there. I ended up feeling a little disappointed. Still, it's not bad, and there was something vaguely comforting about the fuzzy colors and grainy feel to the film--I'd definitely recommend it as a rental.

Viewed: 3/22/2008 | Released: 3/6/2008 | Score: B-

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It's been almost two months since I saw this one, so my memory of it is a little spotty. I think that it was a pretty good movie with some good performances, but nothing about it really blew me away. Keira Knightley was still pretty lackluster, unfortunately, although I guess I disliked her less in this role than I usually do. On the other hand, James McAvoy has become someone I'm keeping my eye on, and although I'm not sure that Saoirse Ronan deserved an Oscar nomination I did think she was just right for her role. The direction was kind of hit or miss for me--I liked the way the soundtrack incorporated typewriter sounds and generally liked the way the film came together, but I found the long tracking shot in the middle to be pretty distracting. I think what I liked best was the writing, but even at that there was something vaguely dissatisfying about the story. That may just be due to what the story is about, though, because I can't really identify anything I would have liked to see happen differently.

Viewed: 2/15/2008 | Released: 12/6/2007 | Score: B+

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No Country for Old Men

I wish I could tell you that the reason I waited forty days to write this review was because I wanted to take time to really think it over and give you an honest review, untainted by initial glow. I'd be lying if I did, of course. Still, having had the time to reflect on it was useful. What I've determined is that this was a very good movie that, nevertheless, didn't have that great a story. The film is amazingly well put-together. Those people whose only experience with the Coen Brothers has been goofier movies like The Big Lebowski or The Hudsucker Proxy may be surprised at the lack of obvious Coen eccentricity, as well as the darker tone. Indeed, the stars of the film, Tommy Lee Jones as the weary sheriff, Ed Tom Bell, and Javier Bardem as the cold-blooded assassin, Anton Chigurh, seem positively restrained compared to the likes of George Clooney's Ulysses Everett McGill. Bardem, of course, has been nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and it's no surprise--he creates such an intense, inscrutable character that it couldn't help but get noticed. For me, though, Jones was even better. He gave such a tight, unpretentious performance, it was just a joy to watch him. The rest of the cast was also quite good--Josh Brolin and Kelly Macdonald, in particular. Still, despite the fact that I loved the performances and the cinematography--as you may know, I'm a sucker for landscapes--the film as a whole left me feeling a little unfulfilled, particularly the way it ended. Actually, I think the closing scene may have been genius from a thematic standpoint, but in terms of providing a resolution to the story, the film just didn't deliver. Despite my objections, though, I have no qualms about giving No Country for Old Men top marks.

Viewed: 1/3/2008 | Released: 11/20/2007 | Score: A

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I Am Legend

I had been really excited about I Am Legend ever since I saw the first teaser trailer several months ago. It just looked awesome. As it turned out, it was awesome but, even so, I don't know if I enjoyed it a whole lot. The whole thing was just so intense. I don't usually find myself highly affected by movie tension, so it should tell you something that I was on edge nearly the entire time we were watching this one. I was completely drawn in by the movie's portrayal of an empty New York City, and Will Smith's performance had all of the desperation, loneliness, terror, and near-insanity that you would expect the last man on Earth to be feeling. It was a little more than I could handle. Unfortunately, I can't really tell you too much more about my reactions without giving away some major plot points. I'll just repeat, it was intense. Anyway, if you're up to it, I do recommend this one pretty highly--it featured an amazing performance, good use of environment for exposition, and great production design. The only flaws, in my opinion, were a few moments of shaky, hand-held camera work and possibly the decision to use computer-generated characters for the infected. Those were pretty minor flaws in my book, though, so I feel comfortable giving this movie top marks.

Viewed: 12/31/2007 | Released: 12/13/2007 | Score: A

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Juno has been quite the critical darling, so I had pretty high expectations for it. I'm glad to report that it didn't disappoint. The movie follows the title character through an unplanned pregnancy, which she decides to give up for adoption rather than keep or abort. It sounds like kind of a heavy premise but the movie is actually both adorable and funny. The entire cast was just great. The big star, of course, is Ellen Page as Juno, whose offbeat teenage sarcasm and sass was just about perfect. Michael Cera, who plays the unborn baby's biological father, is rapidly becoming one of my favorite young comedic actors, and Jason Bateman, the adoptive father, actually dialed down his normal sarcasm for a much more layered performance. But the real surprise to me was Jennifer Garner. I'm not usually much of a Garner fan, but I can tell you right now that her performance as the adoptive mother will easily make this year's SMAs. She plays a character who desperately wants a child but has been unable to have one, but where a lesser actress might have gone for a lot of hand-wringing and over-emoting, Garner manages to convey some amazingly potent emotion with a few looks that she then tucks away so fast that if you weren't watching, you'd miss them. This is by far the best work I've seen her do. If you're in the market for the kind of movie that will make you chuckle and leave you feeling nice, check this one out.

Viewed: 12/28/2007 | Released: 12/24/2007 | Score: A-

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American Gangster

One of the things I like about this time of year is that the studios bring out all of their heaviest hitters in anticipation of the Oscars, and with the combination of Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, and Ridley Scott, this one is about as heavy-hitting as it gets. As you might expect with two Oscar winners in the lead roles, the acting is outstanding. In addition to the leads, I also particularly liked Cuba Gooding's performance as Nicky Barnes, a friend and rival of Washington's Frank Lucas. Gooding's swagger contrasted perfectly with Washington's more business-like mien. In many ways this is a film about contrasts. There's the obvious one between Frank Lucas--a criminal who, on the other hand, appears to uphold traditional values by providing for his family--and Crowe's Ritchie Roberts--an honest detective whose personal life is in shambles. But there's also, as I mentioned, the comparison between Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes, as well as between Lucas and his former mentor, not to mention between Roberts and his police counterparts. The film's only real problem is its length--if you see it in the theaters with the trailers it'll come out over three hours. Personally, I didn't think it was too long for its content, but in discussions with some other people I have heard some complaints about the pacing, so your mileage may vary. Nevertheless, I do recommend this one, and I'll be pretty surprised if it doesn't get multiple Oscar nominations.

Viewed: 11/9/2007 | Released: 11/1/2007 | Score: A

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Lars and the Real Girl

If I tell you that this movie is about a man whose mental breakdown takes the form of a delusion wherein he believes that a realistic sex doll is his actual living, human girlfriend, well, you can probably expect that it's a bit, well, weird. And it comes as no surprise when I tell you that there are a number of very uncomfortable moments as he takes his "girlfriend" to church, to a party, to dinner at his brother and sister-in-law's house. On the surface, it doesn't seem like the kind of movie that I would like. I mean, beyond what I've already said, the movie really stretches credulity with the way that this man's community plays along with his delusion, that one woman even maintains her crush on him (this is the other figure that I believe the "Real Girl" in the title refers to). But if the story isn't quite right, the performances really are. Ryan Gosling, who plays the delusional title character, is rapidly cementing his position in my mind as one of today's best young(-ish) actors--and considering how much I hated The Notebook, I think that's quite an accomplishment. His performance in this film was just amazing. I also always like Emily Mortimer, and Paul Schneider also handled his role quite well. Patricia Clarkson's performance wasn't exactly breathtaking but what I noticed is that she seems to have a good range as an actor--her wise, maternal character in this film is nothing like her part as the irresponsible, hippy-ish aunt on [i]Six Feet Under[/i]. I really appreciate that sort of unpretentious competence in a character actor. Lars and the Real Girl is not one you need to rush out to see--I'd say you can safely wait and rent it--but if you're looking for an offbeat film with some great acting you might consider checking it out.

Viewed: 10/27/2007 | Released: 10/24/2007 | Score: B-

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