Saturday, December 31, 2005


Heath Ledger Brokeback Mountain movie Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Heath Ledger
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger, A KNIGHT'S TALE) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal, OCTOBER SKY) are two down-on-their-luck cowpokes looking for a summer job as they silently meet outside a dusty ranch trailer in 1963 Wyoming. Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid, INDEPENDENCE DAY), ranch boss, gives them the duty of moving a herd of sheep up to a spot called Brokeback Mountain where they’ll wile away the hours protecting the flock from predators and allowing them to graze. Their lives are pretty boring and tough, each having to cook, keep an eye on the sheep, and suffer their daily routines. Until one night ...

Ennis comes down from the mountain and is too drunk to go back up, so falls asleep outside Jack’s tent. Ennis’ shivering awakens Jack and he tells Ennis to get inside the tent before he freezes. It is here that something extraordinary and frightening happens: they have sex. It isn’t the soft, touchy-feely kind either. It’s rough and earnest, as though they had hidden something deep down inside each of them that finally was allowed out for some air. But their activities don’t go unnoticed ...

Their boss, Joe Aguirre, catches sight of the two of them "wrestling" and decides to pull them off the mountain. Their summer is cut short and as they part ways, Ennis and Jack are awkward and hesitant. Jack drives away and Ennis walks down the street, watching Jack’s truck vanish down the road. And as this happens, Ennis suddenly become overwhelmed and crumples to the ground, acting as if a part of him has been ripped out.

Jack and Ennis won’t meet up for another four years, during which time they both become married, have children, and develop a semblance of societal normalcy. But when they do finally meet up, they run into each others arms and are immediately back on Brokeback Mountain.
But can their relationship survive in a time when "alternate lifestyles" were taboo? Can Ennis give as much as Jack wants (Jack continually asks Ennis to move with him to a quiet cabin spot and help with a herd of their own, but Ennis can’t break away from what his family and society expects of him)?

Ang Lee (HULK, 2003) delivers his best film to date. The panoramic shots of the mountains were awe-inspiring, and the period vehicles, saddles, and other props were excellent.

Much has been made of Heath Ledger’s performance, and I must say that I was highly impressed with his excellent portrayal of a quiet cowboy in conflict with himself and the world around him.

Jake Gyllenhaal does a fine job, too, as the more earnest love interest, wanting more and more each time they meet up.

The only issues I had with the film were its pacing and the "love" the two feel for each other that some other reviewers have so adamantly pointed out. The pacing was very slow, like the lives of these two men, so if you’re expecting a bang-bang (no pun intended) action, don’t get your hopes up. But if you don’t mind a very leisurely pace (I’d say it’s about on par with the film SIDEWAYS, so if you didn’t like that film’s pace, stay away from this one), you’ll probably love it to pieces.

The "love" should’ve been ratcheted up a notch. The scenes took on a sense of paramours meeting rather than two people truly in love.

But the upside of the movie can’t be denied. It touches on relationships in a way that most films can’t get close to, and does so in a dramatic and thought-provoking way. And ogling at the stunning mountain backdrops added that extra bit of flavor, too.

Oscar Award Winner: Original Score
Oscar Award Winner: Adapted Screenplay
Oscar Award Winner: Achievement in Directing
Golden Globe Winner: Best Motion Picture - Drama
Golden Globe Winner: Best Director - Motion Picture
Golden Globe Winner: Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
Golden Globe Winner: Best Original song - Motion Picture
BAFTA Award Winner: Best Film
BAFTA Award Winner: Achievement in Direction
BAFTA Award Winner: Best Adapted Screenplay
BAFTA Award Winner: Best Actor in a Supporting Role


The Timothy Treadwell Myth Grizzly Man movie Directed by Werner Herzog
Starring Timothy Treadwell
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



GRIZZLY MAN is an intriguing and deeply disturbing look at one young man’s end of life experiences in the far reaches of the Alaskan wilderness, living, "working," and isolating himself with the most deadly creatures on Earth: the Grizzly Bear.

Timothy Treadwell is this man, and although the documentary takes on the initial look and feel of a nature film, it is anything but. Tim, as we come to know him, is the focus of this strangely watchable documentary, inserting himself in almost every shot and speaking about how he’s there to "protect" the bears (even though he spends much of his time in a National Park where they’re protected anyway), to bond with them (a definite no-no as we learn through the film’s machinations), and to rant about the outside world and how they (we) don’t understand what he’s trying to do out there.

For those looking for a feel-good documentary about a man living with bears in a beautiful landscape, you’d best look elsewhere.

To me, this film showed how a man with an obvious mental illness can become so obsessed with an idea ("loving" the bears) that it ends up killing him. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy nature films as much as the next person, but I think if you’re looking for information about Grizzlies and how to interact with them, this just ain’t the film to watch. Tim constantly puts himself in harms way and even goes so far as to take a dip (swim) with a Grizzly, and then proceeds to pet it! He turns his back on the bears and hides his tent in brambles, a risky way to camp in Grizzly country.

The mental illness aspect of Tim’s psyche was smackingly obvious to me. The man’s preconceptions of right and wrong were very bizarre. Initially he praises the park service, but later rants about them and their "F-ing" policies. He becomes paranoid about everyone and everything, moving his camp into dangerous areas. He befriends every animal as if it had human qualities, even some pretty cute little foxes, and tells them how he "loves" them and won’t let anything happen to them (I’ve never heard a man say "I love you" more often to animals than Tim). How about loving the race you belong to? You know, the human race?

But even with all these issues, the film pulls you in in a very strange fashion, and this can be two-fold depending on your stance on certain nature issues; some (like me) wanted to scream at the screen and warn Tim about what he was doing and how it would all end if he didn’t take precautions (he does get killed and eaten by a bear in the end, by the way); others might say, "go ahead, let him get killed. Who cares."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Steve Zahn Happy Texas movie Directed by Mike Illsley
Starring Steve Zahn
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Happy Texas is one of the greatest comedies you’ve probably never heard of. Shot in just 29 days on a shoestring budget, this film’s acting, directing, script and comedic timing are so clever and incisive that it has attracted an almost cult following, especially among Steve Zahn fans.

There are plots within plots that all pull together in the end to make a perfect film. Starting with escaped convicts (Wayne Wayne Wayne played by Steve Zahn and Harry Sawyer played by Jeremy Northam) who have to hide and steal an RV belonging to two gay pageant designers, to discovering the gay lifestyle in a small Texas community (Happy), to finding love in the arms of a doe-eyed banker (Ally Walker ...sorry for the cliche, but she really does have doe-eyes), this movie hits on all aspects of life and puts a hilarious spin on them.

The greatest things about this film were Steve Zahn’s acting while trying to teach pre-teen girls how to dance, and
William H. Macy’s stunning performance as Happy’s town sheriff who comes out of the closet.

Always sharp, incredibly funny, superbly paced, this movie’s small budget belies its excellent acting and directing.

Few films will tickle your funny bone as perfectly as HAPPY TEXAS. Watch it. Buy it. Live it!

Click here for the Happy Texas movie trailer!

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Naomi Watts King Kong movie Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Naomi Watts
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


It’s been 72 years since audiences were graced with Merian C. Cooper's epic KING KONG film, a movie that stunned and amazed. Never before seen special effects and a great story greeted those who bustled into theaters in 1933. And now, in 2005, Peter Jackson (director of the excellent LORD OF THE RINGS film trilogy) takes on the task of reintroducing movie-goers with this legendary tale.

If you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past 72-plus years, let me enlighten you: King Kong is a massive ape (about the size of a T-Rex Dinosaur) that lives on the fictitious Skull Island. Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), a filmmaker, is desperate to find the island and shoot a new film starring actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray). But once they find the island, a group of nasty natives captures Miss Darrow and "present" her to King Kong as a gift. A race to save Ann Darrow ensues and, on top of that, to capture and bring Kong back to New York City to show off as the 8th Wonder of the World.

Once captured and returned to NYC, all goes horribly wrong as Kong escapes, recaptures Miss Darrow, climbs to the top of the Empire State Building, and is shot to death by Army Air Corp planes.

The thing that made the
1933 Kong so interesting was the relationship between Kong and Miss Darrow’s character. And Peter Jackson uses that to full advantage here, going even further in his telling of that unusual relationship by having Ann Darrow (now played by Naomi Watts) actually care for Kong as much as he cares for her. That’s not to say this is about some twisted relationship between simian and human, but the emotions they feel for one another is easily palpable throughout the movie. This is the biggest strength of the film and one of Mr. Jackson’s fortes (watch the LORD OF THE RINGS if you doubt it).

And speaking of LORD OF THE RINGS, that film was Peter Jackson’s crowning achievement. The care and meticulous nature with which he put those movies together are easily seen. But here, that meticulousness got a bit lost...


#1. The relationship between two of the shipmates (a mentor/student type) is given lots of screen time and then summarily dropped without explanation as to why the relationship was started in the first place.

Jack Black (SCHOOL OF ROCK, 2003) picks up the roll as filmmaker Carl Denham and does so only moderately well. Part of the problem was the scripting of his character. He’s not a very nice man, will do anything (even risk the lives of everyone and everything) to get what he wants, and says the hollow "It was beauty that killed the beast" line at the end of the film (which rang completely false considering how Kong came to be in New York in this version).

#3. When the ship carrying all of the prime characters becomes lost, the captain asks one of his crew to take the sextant out and spot some stars. Umm, sextants were used to measure the movement of the sun across the horizon, not stars.

#4. The film was just too long. My butt began to ache from sitting in a theater for three hours. Cutting length really was needed. But I think Mr. Jackson is a bit spoiled on this issue thanks to the success of his LORD OF THE RINGS trilogies.

#5. The cutesy ice-rink scene (barf!).

Although these problems plagued the film, there was some stunning CGI work that actually made me dizzy. Specifically, the airplane scenes as they shot at Kong on top of the building. The circling and diving of the planes was amazing. Kong’s presence was also completely believable although we all know it’s a CGI creation. But he was so lifelike that it took absolutely no effort on my part to suspend disbelief that he wasn’t real.

And that’s about it for one of this year’s blockbuster films. A good film, but one that needed a bit more detailed care by someone as sharp as Mr. Jackson.

Click here for the King Kong movie trailer!

Oscar Award Winner: Achievement in Visual Effects

Oscar Award Winner: Achievement in Sound Mixing


Joaquin Phoenix Ladder 49 movie Directed by Jay Russell
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


Whenever you see a fire truck blazing down the road with its lights flickering and its sirens singing, you should move out of the way and give the men (and women) in that big red behemoth the "thumbs up" sign. They are on their way to save a person or a building ...and let’s hope it’s not someone or someplace you know. They will enter a burning building as everyone else flees it. This is the message those that made LADDER 49 want you to come away with after watching the movie. And it’s a good message. Firemen deserve our respect ...especially after so many were lost during the 9/11 attacks. They are brave, strong, dedicated, pranksterish, and heroic...

But that’s only part of the story. And it’s only part of what is covered in this myopic film.

Joaquin Phoenix (WALK THE LINE, 2005) stars as Jack Morrison, an injured veteran firefighter trapped inside a burning inferno who flashes back on his life in the fire service. We are re-introduced to him as he arrives for his first day of work on ladder truck 49. He meets his Captain, Mike Kennedy (John Travolta, GET SHORTY, 1995) and the rest of his new extended family as they play jokes on him and generally induct him into their midst using every prank one could think of (finding a live goose in his locker was nice one).

As the movie progresses, we watch some of Jack’s fellow firefighters die or get injured as Jack climbs the "ladder" of rank and prestige within this close-knit brotherhood. We also see him get married, have kids, move from the ladder truck to search-and-rescue, and receive medals for saving lives. And then we get to watch him suffer a terrible fall which leads us back to his life’s flashbacks.

Having worked with firemen for many, many years, I can tell you that much of what was shown in LADDER 49 is true. But, like I said earlier, there is much more to firemen than simple heroics and the golden light of prestige. Firemen have one of the highest divorce rates among any profession (Policemen being #1). They also often battle alcoholism (something that is only touched on in this film).

Their academies train them well, so a Captain would NEVER go in with a rookie on his first fire. EVER! That was pretty ridiculous.

This film is good for what it is: an obvious praise for firemen. And if that’s what you want to see, this’ll be a great film to watch. But there are better, more relevant firemen related screen versions out there. Most notably is the new
RESCUE ME on cable starring Dennis Leary. This new series is not afraid to show the good and bad psychological aspects many firefighters find themselves in. And Ron Howard’s BACKDRAFT is a pretty even take on them as well.

Click here for the Ladder 49 movie trailer!

Friday, December 23, 2005


Robin Williams Robots movie Directed by Chris Wedge
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


And you thought raising a human child was tough! If you live in the world of ROBOTS, you literally have to "make" a child (building it from a box of parts). When the Copperbottoms find out they’re going to be parents, they are so excited that the father runs through the street stuffing cigars into robots’ mouths. Once home, and peering into the box of parts, he realizes the task ahead of him: assembling a son. Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor) is born. We whisk through his childhood and into his teens where we discover his true calling: to become an inventor.

Following his dreams, he travels to Robot City to meet his mentor, Mr Bigweld (
Mel Brooks), an inventor of all things Robot-like. But upon entering the city and coming to the gates of Mr. Bigweld’s offices (ala the gates of Oz), Rodney finds that Mr. Bigweld is nowhere to be found and the company has been taken over by the corrupt Ratchet (Greg Kinnear). Secondhand parts are a thing of the past and Ratchet orders all faulty parts melted down. Every Robot must now purchase upgrades. Can’t afford them? Sorry, you’ll have to be scrapped.

Along with a bum-like robot called Fender (Robin Williams ....think
THE FISHER KING) and several hundred of his obsolete buddies, Rodney is headed toward trouble ...and maybe success.

Coming off the heals of such phenomenal animated features as
SHREK, FINDING NEMO, and ICE AGE, this film falls short but delivers on laughs and fun thanks to the energetic voice of Robin Williams; without him I fear this movie would’ve flopped entirely. But his action-packed antics made it completely watchable.

There have been comments about how slow ROBOTS was to get going, and this is undeniably so. But it was a fairly decent attempt at character and plot set-up. And although ROBOTS lacked anything new in the form of animation or concept, it did entertain enough to make me finish watching and even emitted a guffaw or two.

But is it on the same level as those earlier animated super-films? No way. Not even close.

Click here to see the Robots movie trailer!


John Turturro 13 Conversations About One Thing movie Directed by Jill Sprecher
Starring John Turturro
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



What is the nature of happiness? Why are some people happier than others? Can someone truly be "happy" all the time? These questions are put to the movie-goer as director Jill Sprecher (CLOCKWATHERS, 1997 ) dumps us into the lives of four people: an insurance actuary played brilliantly by Alan Arkin, an attorney played by current film heart-throb Matthew McConaughey, a struggling housekeeper played by Clea Duvall, and a college teacher having an affair played by John Turturro).

The film’s premise is a promising one. And you might think that a film exploring happiness would be uplifting. This film is not that. Happiness is sometimes confrontational, sometimes life-altering, sometimes unattainable, and sometimes not what we think it is.

In the vein of LOVE ACTUALLY, this movie jumps us between the four sets of lives and ties them all together in a societal quagmire of misunderstanding, loss, acceptance, and the caring we are all capable of giving one another (this is pulled off quite well by Alan Arkin as he helps out a former employee whom he had to fire).

LOVE ACTUALLY pulled the stories together nicely and left the audience with a satisfactory conclusion, 13 CONVERSATIONS does not. The open-endedness of this movie will bother many people (I know it bugged me quite a bit), but it also gives a realistic look at the emotional weight we all carry around with us everyday; it’s always mutating, and there’s really no end to happiness’ changes. It just goes on and on and on. So 13 CONVERSATIONS doesn’t give any kind of closure either. And although I can see this as a strength of the film (i.e., leaning toward reality), many movie watchers don’t go and see films for that. They want to be transported to the unreal and be snuggly planted in that fairytale aspect of stories.

So if you don’t mind an open-ended film and like real-life aspects put on the screen, you’ll probably love this movie. But if you don’t like those things, stay away from this one for God’s sake!

No movie trailer availabel. Sooorrrry!


Ewan McGregor The Island movie Directed by Michael Bay
Starring Ewan McGregor
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) lives in a futuristic society. He and many other civilians in an encased bubble-society are seemingly protected from the dangers of the outside world which has been ravaged by viruses and disease. Every facet of Lincoln Six-Echo’s life is monitored (even his urine for high levels of protein, etc.) and his only hope is to win "the lottery" and be sent to "The Island", a paradise for the wealthy and successful. But Lincoln has been stuck in his sterile society so long that he starts questioning why he’s there.

He’s also showing some affection toward another society member, the beautiful Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson), and when Lincoln discovers their real purpose, he must flee for his very life. And with him he takes Jordan who’s just won the lottery, sparing her an undeniably horrible death.

But what is it that threatens Lincoln and Jordan?

Michael Bay (director of Armageddon and The Rock) pulls from several previously successful films and presents a modestly interesting premise: How far will humanity go in the science of cloning? Can you murder a creation of mankind? Or will it simply be seen as harvesting organs? What if humanity doesn’t know how far some scientists have gone?

Ewan McGregor pulls in an "okay" performance as a clone with a questioning conscious. He alone discovers the truth behind their existence: being "throw-away" people designed to replace the organs of those individuals from whom they were cloned.

Borrowing heavily from one of my favorite cult classic SF films (Logan’s Run), I was hoping that Michael Bay might update that film and put a new face on it ...but no.

The deep messages of this film are never resolved or explored. In their place are unbelievable chase scenes and convenient plot twists that will make many viewers groan with disbelief (How can Ewan McGregor ride a futuristic sky-bike if he’s never even seen one? How can he and Scarlett Johansson supposedly survive a multi-story fall from a building? etc.).

There are, however, lots of interesting questions and concepts that are put forth from within the film’s script. It’s just too bad that the producers/screenwriters/directors didn’t explore them and give us a great psychological impact rather than fancy motorbike rides through impossible situations.

Click here for The Island movie trailer!

Monday, December 12, 2005


Simon Pegg Shaun of the Dead movie Directed by Edgar Wright
Starring Simon Pegg
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



For some horror fans, satirizing the zombie genre (and let's face it, zombie films are practically a genre unto themselves) could seem like sacrilege. With the serious films that have come before - 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, and, of course, Night of the Living Dead - SHAUN OF THE DEAD leads us down a path few have dared tread (Evil Dead fans should check out this film to see how a REAL spoof is pulled off). Leave it to the British to give us some gritty dialogue and bloody comedy all rolled into one. I, for one, say "thank you."

So what's this film all about ...

Shaun (Simon Pegg) leads a dull and mundane lifestyle; he works at an electronics store as a salesman, lives with a flatulently impaired and obese roommate named Ed (Nick Frost) and a second roommate, Pete (Peter Serafinowicz), who can't stand Ed. Shaun also has a girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), who is suffering with him over his complete lack of motivation to accomplish anything in his life. And she's right. Shaun doesn't seem to notice the zombie-esque lifestyle he leads, the terrible routine of drinking at `The Winchester' pub (named after the rifle that gleams over the bar), the protecting of Ed's horrific behavior (ripping farts and calling women the "C" word while never maintaining a job of any kind), and, of course, his forgetfulness that she, Liz, is actually a part of his life. So naturally she calls off their relationship, causing Shaun and Ed to go on a drinking spree and video game holiday. And when they awaken from the alcoholic stupor, some things have changed. Only Shaun and Ed don't notice right away. They're so used to life being slow, boring, and ...well, shuffling, that they don't take notice of the cars burning on the street, blood on the grocery store floor, or the vacant gaze of their neighbors. This is where the comedy really starts to take wing for the film.

When a "true" zombie wanders into their backyard, Shaun and Ed just think she's drunk. But they quickly discover that this ...thing ...can't be killed. And she is soon joined by another, much larger zombie. Shaun and Ed have entered the apocalypse. But what do you use to defend yourself in a country (let's remember, we're in England here) where guns are not readily available? Initially, they throw everything they can find at these shuffling monstrosities, but nothing seems to work (even Shaun's old record collection, which is hilariously pulled off as they try to decide which records to throw at the undead and which to save: "Stone Roses?" "No!" "Second Coming?" "I liked it." "Dire Straits?" "Chuck it."). Shaun finally picks up a cricket paddle and uses it to bash in the brains of the undead, thus ending their life-after-life existence.

A race to save everyone that Shaun loves soon ensues, and this includes his roommates, Ed and Pete, his girlfriend, Liz, and his mom and stepdad. But where to hide out until this has "blown over". Ah! Of course! The Winchester pub!

What follows is truly hysterical. Shaun must deal with the fact that Pete, his other roommate, has been bitten by a zombie. He also soon discovers that his stepfather (who he never really cared for anyway) was bitten, too. "All right, dude! We can drive his Jaguar!" Ed exclaims happily.

Once all of Shaun's loved one's have been gathered together, they have to make their way to the pub; but first they have to pass through a shuffling maze of zombies. They do this through some wonderful trial and error (from bashing in the head of every zombie in sight with the cricket paddle, to shuffling and moaning like zombies to fake them out. I mean, they're zombies for cryin' out loud! They ain't that smart.). Is the pub the place to go? Can Shaun, who's life has been pretty much meaningless up to this point, actually give meaning to it by saving all those whom he cares for?

The thing that helps this film stand out above other spoofs is that it doesn't dismiss the zombie-genre, but instead respects it and utilizes it to great comedic advantage. It's not slapstick, nor bathroom humor (although there is a touch of this thanks to Ed's bowels), but a set of coarse narratives and script that pulls the viewer into these characters lives and forces us to live with them. Most of us have seen, or have family members who are, in some way, these stereotypical losers. You can't help but cheer them on and hope that they survive their own failings. And that's where SHAUN OF THE DEAD gives you the emotional umpf! that you need to enjoy the movie. You care about them and laugh at their ridiculous inadequacies, both at the same time.

This is truly a great film. A+ ...especially for creativity.

Click here for the Shaun Of The Dead movie trailer!

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Georgie Henley The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe Directed by Andrew Adamson
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


Young Lucy Pevenise, along with her older brothers Edmund and Peter, and her older sister, Susan, are in London during the initial bombing raids of WW II. And like many families of the time, the parents decide to send them to the country for safer keeping. Peter, the oldest, is told by their mother to "watch over them" and make sure they stay safe. And although this seems like a fairly simple request, Peter’s ability to protect his siblings will be put to the ultimate test. But not by WW II, but by an amazing secret discovered by young Lucy.

Soon after being spirited into the company of a hermit-like professor’s care (
Jim Broadbent), they decide to play hide-and-seek, and it’s during this game which Lucy discovers a mysterious wardrobe. She tucks herself inside and backs to the rear of the cabinet ...only to discover herself in an entirely different world. Here she meets up with Mr. Tumnus, a strange half-stag, half-human creature who explains much about the wintry landscape Lucy now finds herself in. The place is called Narnia, and it’s been locked in winter for over 100 years by someone known as "The White Witch" (who claims to be the Queen of Narnia).

Lucy, excited beyond words, rushes back to "the real world" to tell her brothers and sister about what she’s discovered and, of course, they don’t believe her ...until they all get into the wardrobe one day and find out she’s been telling the truth.

Soon a prophecy is revealed to the two brothers and two sisters: it is said that when
Aslan returns, two daughters of Eve and two sons of Adam will come back and reclaim the four thrones of Narnia. But first they have to battle The White Witch, struggle with the internal dynamics of sibling rivalries, and face the death of the very creature who helped create this strange world.

Comparisons abound between NARNIA and THE LORD OF THE RINGS. And why not. Both are fantasy tales. Both authors (Lewis and Tolkien) were friends during the same era. And both stories have recently made it to the silver screen. And although my heart still rests with THE LORD OF THE RINGS, NARNIA deserves much praise.

But this praise doesn’t necessarily come from me...

I went to the theater today (a weekend) and it was packed with children (ranging in age from their teens to five years old), and while watching it I noticed something intriguing: not a single interruption occurred during the entire 140 minutes. No crying child asking to go home; no temper tantrums; no shushing of mothers and fathers to their kids. I think this speaks pretty highly of how engaged this film kept its intended audience. I will say that when Aslan became "injured" there were gasps of dismay from a couple of kids behind me and they quietly asked their mother if "Aslan was going to be okay" (I have to admit, that was pretty cute).

Georgie Henley (Lucy) was exquisite as one of the prime characters (move over Dakota Fanning). Her acting was spot-on and brought a lump to my throat several times. Liam Neeson’s Aslan voice was also perfect with its deep resonance that seemed to echo through the theater (must’ve been a good sound recording). Tilda Swinton was also excellent as the sinister White Witch who rules Narnia with a cold, iron fist. And James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus was also pulled off very well.

There’ve been several reviews (professional) that have been critical of the film’s Christian-based theological leanings. Well ...yes. That’s true. It does have that, but so did C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles novels. So did this bother me? Not at all. I don’t prescribe to any particular faith, and if you go into NARNIA with an anti-religious chip on your shoulder, I’m sure you could rip the film apart. But if you go into the theater strictly to enjoy good storytelling and for entertainment, you’ll probably delight in NARNIA just as much as the ten-year-old who sat quietly behind me throughout the entire movie.

Click here for The Chronicles of Narnia movie trailer!

Oscar Award Winner: Achievement in Makeup

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Reese Witherspoon Vanity Fair Movie Directed by Mira Nair
Reviewed by Byron Merritt

Becky Sharp is an orphaned child after the death of her opera singing mother (years before) and her painter father (more recent). She's quickly bustled into a house of governesses where her life's ambitions will collide with what is expected of her.

Becky grows quickly and is soon offered a job within the family of a wealthy woman whom she'd shared her time in training with (both women now having been trained to be governesses). But Becky isn't satisfied to just be a low-slung teacher of well-to-do children. She wants to scale the walls of indifference that separate her from the upper echelon of society. And she's willing to do just about anything to get there.

Along the way there's deceit, anger, backstabbing, love, loss, and redemption.

Reese Witherspoon stars as the beautiful and conniving Becky Sharp, and does so with surprising strength. Never having seen Mrs. Witherspoon in a role of this type, I was stunned to see her English portrayal pulled off extremely well. In fact, all of the actors and actresses did a great job (Gabriel Byrne, Jim Broadbent, Bob Hoskins, Deborah Findlay, etc.).

I was also very pleased with the sets, the costumes, and the colorful ending of the film as Becky finally makes it to India.

Where this movie had problems was in execution. We leap forward many years several times in the film and this was disorienting if not downright irritating to the movie watcher. I felt like I'd gotten a type of time whiplash .

I've yet to read
William Thackeray's VANITY FAIR, of which this film is adapted from. I have read other reviews which lambast the film for maneuvering too far from the books intent, but I'm obviously unable to comment on that here. Here I'm only able to rate the movie on its own merits.

Click here for the Vanity Fair movie trailer!

Friday, December 09, 2005


Kim Jong Il Puppet Team America Movie Directed by Trey Parker
Starring Kim Jong Il (puppet)
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE is a film that’ll be enjoyed by those with a penchant for the crude, rude, and socially unacceptable (not surprising since it was made by the creators of SOUTH PARK, Trey Parker and Matt Stone). And although I sometimes enjoy scraping the bottom of the film noir barrel, here the jokes were a bit too crude, rude, and socially unacceptable to be laughable. In fact, I only chuckled a few times.

What impressed me about the movie, though, were all of the
marionettes (hundreds of them), the elaborate miniature sets, and the ‘I’m So Lonely’ song sung by the Kim Jong Il puppet. You’ll note that none of this has to do with the comedic script, too.

Making a good comedy—even a cheesy one like this—often requires gag jokes and good dialogue. And although there were tons of gags pulled off in the film (from watching puppets "do it" doggy-style, to having Kim Jong Il act like a gangster rapper), the dialogue was pure rubbish. I realize that it was making fun of action flicks, Americans and American actors’ egocentricism, and just about every other world political state out there, but there needs to be some sort of reasoning to these things that gives the film structure. And this movie completely lacked any kind of coherency.

The other bad part is that none of the "characters" are memorable. Can anyone tell me the names of the Team America team without watching it again? I can’t. And they are what the film is supposed to be about.

But, again, if you like watching such things as
SOUTH PARK, you’ll probably enjoy this movie on the same brain-numbing level.

Click here for the Team America: World Police movie trailer!

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Haley Joel Osment Pay It Forward Movie Directed by Mimi Leder
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) is in his first day as a Las Vegas middle-schooler (7th grade) and his class is introduced to their new social studies teacher, Mr. Simonet (Kevin Spacey). And it’s quite a stunning introduction, because Mr. Simonet has visible scars that run up his neck and onto his face. Are they burn scars?

Mr. Simonet engages his class from day one by giving them an extra credit assignment that the students can do throughout the entire school year: think of a way to change the world and put it into practice. Most of the students see this as just teacher hype, but Trevor takes it literally and starts putting an idea into play; he decides to do three incredibly nice but difficult things to three separate people (strangers) and then ask them not to pay him back, but to "
Pay It Forward." His first is to bring home a homeless man where his mother, Arlene McKinney (Helen Hunt) finds him and pretty much freaks out.

The second thing Trevor does is to try and get his teacher, Mr. Simonet, into a relationship with Arlene, Trevor’s mother. And as this unfolds we begin to see more of this screwed up microcosm of souls. Trevor’s mom works two jobs (one waiting tables at a strip club and the other as a change girl in a casino), is battling alcoholism, and is trying not to turn Trevor into a latchkey kid.

Mr. Simonet begins to fall in love with Arlene but holds back for reasons unknown. Do those scars go deeper than the surface?

Trevor’s third "
Pay It Forward" attempt is to help prevent a fellow student from being beat up by the school bullies all the time. And this event will play a pivotal and surprising role in the end of the film.

Can a kid really teach everyone to "Pay It Forward"?


There’s an unforseen quality to this film that leaks out to the audience. After watching it with some friends, there were many differing takes on it:

"It’s schmaltzy trash," one said.

"At least it’s trying to get a valid message across without going into triteness," another commented.

"It’s got too many religious overtones," someone else piped in.

"It had a lot of downers," said someone else.

"Really? I thought it was quite uplifting," said another.

As you can see from this cross section of comments, there’s a lot going on in the film and I think this speaks pretty highly of how the message of the film (i.e., helping out strangers without any expectations of remuneration) was given to the viewer. This definitely is NOT a feel-good film. There’s cursing and mild nudity and drug use and alcoholism and child abuse and even (gulp!) murder. But through these not-so-appealing items the film garners much of its strength.

And it’s a message that really needs to be gotten across to humanity (especially around this time of the year ...which is to say, everyday).

Click here for the Pay It Forward movie trailer!

Friday, December 02, 2005


Matt Damon The Legend of Bagger Vance Movie Starring Matt Damon
Directed by Robert Redford
Review by Byron Merritt


Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) is a golf phenomenon of the early 20th century. But WW I pulls him away and destroys his will to play the "gentlemen's game." In WW I he also loses everyone in his platoon and is the only survivor. Feeling as if he should have lost "something", his "authentic swing" vanishes ...and so does he. He fails to return to his Savannah, Georgia home and his fiancé, Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron).

Adele is struggling to keep her father's dream of maintaining the ultimate golf course alive. So she finesses two top golf players in to playing a winner take all ($10,000) game. But many in Savannah want a local player to compete in the game as well. And a young boy named Hardy Greaves (J. Michael Moncrief) pipes up that "Captain Junuh" should do it. Since Junuh had recently snuck back into town, the townsfolk approach him and convince him to play. But what to do about his lost authentic swing?

Enter the mysterious and mystical Bagger Vance (Will Smith). He shows Junuh the way back to a magical state of the authentic swing and acts as his caddy during the competition. He also teaches young Hardy how to caddy/play the game of golf, and helps Junuh and Adele find love again.


Robert Redford directs and does so admirably. The beautiful cinematography and the way the story unfolds are nicely pulled off. And like "A River Runs Through It", this film has a leisurely cadence that deals with a subject matter that could put many people to sleep. But it doesn't. The character development and interestingly vague aspects of Bagger Vance's existence add much to the entertaining story.

But the film doesn't break any new cinematic ground. The story, although nicely done, is very predictable and sometimes trite. Can Junuh find a love for golf that he lost so long ago? I’m sure you can answer that question even if you’ve never seen the movie.

Even so, though, this is an enjoyable film with lots of beautiful sunsets, southern exposures, and well-played characters.

Click here for The Legend of Bagger Vance movie trailer!