CAST: Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Matthew Lawrence, Tress MacNeille, Janeane Garofalo
Animator Hayao Miyasaki stuns the world with his honest and magical descent into the trials and tribulations of Kiki, a 13-year old witch who must overcome obstacles that most people in their mid twenties have yet to face. It is custom for witches in her world to spend a year away from home and settle in a city unfamiliar to them. Accompanied by her talking black cat Jiji, Kiki finds a beautiful city right on the ocean, but quickly finds that fitting in for a witch is not as easy as she may have thought. Her behavior is not always ideal, but it’s impossible not to root for her because, although she may have magical powers, she’s still just a regular teenage girl at heart. She is not without human friends either. She immediately attracts the attention of a kind baker who gives her lodging and a nerdy but outgoing boy who is smitten with the girl on the broom. It truly is difficult to find such wonder in a movie where the demand for family animation becomes so over saturated, yet Miyazaki stands alone in world run by him, filled with paints, pens, and stories for the ages. Rated G.
DIR: Sidney Lumet
CAST: Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason, Milo O’Shea
Paul Newman boasts a terrific performance as an alcoholic lawyer who a long time ago was the golden boy of a prestigious law firm. Vague details describe him almost getting disbarred, and now he wonders aimlessly through a grey backdrop passing itself off as Boston, where he plays pinball, chases ambulances, and drinks plenty of beer in between. He’s a disgrace, but he’s not a bad man like most lawyers. His opportunity for redemption comes in the form of a complicated medical malpractice case where two highly distinguished doctors are put on the slab for gross negligence that lead to a girl’s permanent vegetative state. It doesn’t have to be complicated; in fact, it should be as easy as a settlement, yet Newman’s soul is no longer for sale. Director Sidney Lumet has always had a penchant for character study, however he sometimes sacrifices the excitement of the story for the plight of the actor. This one is no different. The movie is exceptionally slow paced and the court room scenes that don’t feature British great James Mason speaking are very dry, which may limit the film’s audience to a more refined group of dignitaries or high level film students. Conclusion; it’s the Paul Newman show all the way through. Rated R.
CAST: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons
Whiplash is made with such ferocious intensity that is begs the viewer not to shake uncontrollably when either the music is playing or when J.K. Simmons steps into view. It is inspirational in that it doesn’t pander to trite feelings of being good at what you do, nor does it insist on a loud speech that seems to be the antidote for all failures in today’s movies. The words are loud, but in no way are they an antidote. They are a blow to the spirit; a series of situations meant to break down those who have talent, but don’t really have what it takes. Miles Teller plays a talented young jazz student at a prestigious college in New York. He plays the drums, and catches the attention of the school’s most celebrated instructor, Terence Fletcher (Simmons). Simmons runs his ensemble the same way North Korea probably runs their political prisons. He goes on profanity-riddled diatribes aimed at his kid’s weak points, throws cymbals at Teller when he is “not quite his tempo”, and manipulates students to do what he wants, so he can plan the next move, and strike them when they least expect it. He sees in our hero greatness, so naturally he will pick on him the most. The lesson ultimately learned from these methods could be considered outdated for the 21st century, but hey, so is jazz. That’s why there are no more greats in the field anymore, Fletcher argues. No one pushes or tries anymore. And most important of all, never say the words “good job”. If he is right about this, the only exception would be Simmons’ soon to be iconic portrayal of Fletcher. We’ll roll the dice and say “good job” Mr. Simmons (prepare to duck). Rated R.
CAST: Tom Cruise, Kyra Sedgwick, Raymond J. Barry, Willem DaFoe, Jerry Levine, Frank Whaley
There’s nothing particularly memorable about Oliver Stone’s emotional tribute to the veterans of one of history’s most controversial wars, other than Tom Cruise’s deeply invested performance as a Marine who sees the country he loves in its most jaded state. He plays Ron Kovic, a small towner who doesn’t particularly exceed in anything of significance. He understands this about himself early on, and sees America’s involvement in Vietnam as a way for him to make a difference. While serving in the marines, he gets shot and paralyzed from the waste down. He expects to come home a hero, and instead comes back a pariah. The reasons for this are about as partisan as a filmmaker like Stone can make them. He does occasionally give unbiased insight to what the war did to America’s political landscape both during and after the Indochina occupation. Really what it lacks is the true drama and suspense seen in his far more supreme film Platoon. Other than Cruise, all the characters are pretty stock and unimportant. The war scenes are terribly disappointing, and the production value is about as uninspiring as America was at the end of Vietnam. Maybe that was what Stone was going for: a bleak landscape with no hope or reasoning behind it, symbolizing the brave ones who sacrificed all and received nothing in return. As commentary, it is something to ponder seriously. As filmmaking, it gets caught in the crossfire. Rated R.
CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
Harry Potter is an 11-year old boy who, while living with his vile aunt and uncle, gets a letter from a magical owl saying he’s been accepted to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. While there, he meets an assortment of delightful characters, both human and mythical, and they all seem to know who he is but just hearing his name. Why is he famous? He survived an attack when he was just an infant from the ruthless Lord Voldemort, a wizard gone bad who was thought to have been destroyed long ago. Now he’s back and he seeks revenge on the adolescent Potter and anyone who gets close to him, including the school’s headmaster, the wise Albus Dumbledore. Based on the remarkably successful young adult books by J.K. Rowling, this is the first installment in what promises to be a groundbreaking series. The three main kid actors have such strong chemistry that it must have taken tens of thousands of auditions to get it right. With a haunting but easily accessible musical score from veteran John Williams and a production value unparalleled in recent years, this piece of family magic is sure to levitate critics off their seats and have children, for once, begging for more school. Rated PG.
CAST: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Robin Wright
An old grandfather reads a fairy tale his sick grandson who, before his aging relative came in, was playing a video game. The tale is of Princess Buttercup and her soulmate, Wesley. There are evil kings, giants, swamp rats, miracle workers, and even a six fingered man. Based on the popular book by William Goldman, the world created is one of pure joy that probably will never be replicated. The settings are classic story book, but the dialogue is not the traditional storybook narrative or anything over the average Joe’s head. The characters are witty and sarcastic, each with their own distinguishable trait that makes them unique and likable. Even the bad guys will have their admirers. All in all, director Rob Reiner has created something truly magical; a chapter in his career that will be admired by those long after he and his children’s children have passed on. If anyone requests to watch this on a Saturday night, the person being asked, will always answer the same way: as you wish! Rated PG.
CAST: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson
What if you could erase a person from your life completely? It sounds like an attractive idea in the short term for many lovers, but a meek Jim Carrey comes to find, love is eternal; all it needs is timing. He finds it in Clementine (played wondrously by Winslet in her best role yet), a free spirit with dye in her hair and words in her heart. After breaking up, Carrey’s character Joel goes to a special type of doctor where he can scrub every hint of Clementine from his brain. The majority of the movie is a visual spectacle inside Joel’s mind as the doctor’s techies wander through his labyrinth of neuron paths, hitting ‘delete’ whenever they can. Joel is conscious of this as he goes back further into the happy times with Clementine, and tries to find a way to bypass the operation. Carrey shows the world a new level of his talent unencumbered by his usual comedy shtick. Elevated to the high mountains with his unmistakable spark with Winslet and a tour de force script by Charlie Kaufman, he finds himself on a side of love we usually see in memory alone. To see it visually takes true talent from everyone involved. Luckily for this film, everyone involved had some serious talent. Rated R.
CAST: Nicolas Cage, Tea Lioni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven
The Christmas season produces films which follow a recipe that, like grandma’s apple pie, can be replicated over and over. A glimpse of a life that could have been in snowy New York may sound to much like James Stewart rehashed for the thousandth time, but with young wonder kin Brent Ratner behind the camera and leading thespian Nicolas Cage taking the George Bailey helm, there is serious potential for entertainment value and originality. Cage plays an arrogant but successful broker on Wall Street who chose the life for himself instead of a life with someone else. That all changes when he does a good deed, and finds himself waking up in suburban New Jersey with a wife and kids. Cage has a reputation for over the top performances, but he finds himself grounded here with his new family, free of the incessant body humor found in seasonal flicks. Still, the plot itself and its climax contain far too many of the aforementioned cliches to really become something special. Rated PG-13.
CAST: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth
Yet another remake comedy proves once again that originality is a taboo word in the writing rooms at movie studios. Ed Helms tries his best as the fifth incarnation of Rusty, who was the legendary Clark Griswold’s son in the first four ‘Vacation’ movies. Now he’s an adult pilot with his own family, and his family is less than impressive. He’s meek and overly bubbly in dad-mode, a trait he tries to emulate from Chevy Chase with mixed results. He decides to reenact the first film’s trip to Wally World, with disastrous results along the road trip. Right, it’s more or less the exact same thing as the first Vacation, only this one has more glitz and glamour without the humor or charm that made the original so popular. The kids have some serious potty mouths, and the physical humor couldn’t be more predictable if all the disgusting sequences were shot-for-shot in the trailer. As with any nostalgia driven mess, there are desperate cameos from the original and some just for the heck of it. Hopefully they stay away from the other National Lampoon classics, as the ‘creative geniuses’ just proved they couldn’t do it without succumbing to generational humps and dollar signs. Rated R.
CAST: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo
Denzel Washington plays a new kind of action hero as a retired black ops operative who seemingly had his whole past erased and now works as a kind hearted old soul at a homes good store. When he meets a teenage prostitute at a diner he frequents, his old life starts to come back when he witnesses her getting beat by a Russian mobster. His next actions set a course of events which leads to the arrival of a nasty villain who is hired by a businessman to hunt and kill whoever is responsible for the disruption of their dealings. The spin here is that unlike The Punisher, who kills bad guys without discrimination or negotiation, Denzel is ‘The Equalizer’. This means he gives bad men the chance to redeem themselves before deciding their fates. Because these are bad men, and because Denzel seems pretty harmless, they often don’t listen to his reason, leading to some pretty impressive sequences in a movie era that’s dedicated to older action stars with checkered pasts. Denzel is always a treat to watch no matter what, so even the laundry list of action movie cliches can’t knock him down. Rated R.