Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Judi Dench Mrs. Henderson Presents movie Directed by Stephen Frears
Starring Judi Dench
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



This film came very close to receiving a "thumbs up" but I just couldn’t pull up enough good qualities about it to render such a personal verdict. And there ARE good qualities to it.

First and foremost is that it was directed by the estimable
Stephen Frears. Having fallen in love with High Fidelity and Dangerous Liaisons (both directed by Frears), I’d hoped to find a similar quality here. No dice. Although filmed relatively well, the storyline was choppy and veered away from the main character (Judi Dench as Mrs. Henderson) far too often. The focus of the film felt as though it were drifting through a fog. Personally I would’ve enjoyed seeing the WW II veterans’ viewpoint on the new nudeness of this raucous stage. The emotional impact surely would’ve been greater as we see how many “boys” return to Mrs. Henderson’s theater and how many …don’t.

The second positive for the movie is that it has Judi Dench in the prime role and
Bob Hoskins (Mr. Van Damm) as the main supporting actor. The two fed off each other extremely well and it showed how two people, who were probably in love with each other, denied their feelings for one another in a time of greater righteousness. But, even though they played well off each other, their respective roles were lost amongst the "out of focus" film. Many times I felt the attention was on them when it should’ve been somewhere else, and vice-versa.

At 103 minutes long, the movie was short-changed. This was a pivotal moment in world history as well as in London’s theater history. Compressing it so drastically really made the whole film shallow and limited. Combining theatrical nudity and the horrors of wartime should’ve been explored much more in-depth.

It’s really a shame. I loved the history of the times and the story surrounding The Windmill Theater (Mrs. Henderson’s purchase), but this flick didn’t give me enough of either.

Oscar Nominated: Best Performance by an Actress in a leading role

Oscar Nominated: Costume Design

Bafta Award Nominee: Best Screenplay

Bafta Award Nominee: Best Actress

Bafta Award Nominee: Best Costume Design

Golden Globe Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy

Golden Globe Award Nominee: Best Performance by an actor (Bob Hoskins)

Golden Globe Award Nominee: Best Performance by an actress (Judi Dench)

Click here for the Mrs. Henderson Presents movie trailer!

Saturday, May 27, 2006


X-Men: The Last Stand movieHugh Jackman Directed by Brett Ratner
Starring Hugh Jackman
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Learning how to keep an audience enthralled is one of the essential curves for good cinema. For me, it’s all about the characters. Always has been, always will be. And on many levels, this third installment in the X-Men movie series succeeds.

After having watched Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) die in the second film, I felt that the series directors, screenwriters, producers, etc., were beginning to understand what audiences need. But then we have Dr. Grey return in X-Men: The Last Stand. The emptiness of her passing was now miraculously refilled as we learn that Jean is not in control of her faculties. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) had previously held Jean’s mind in check by separating her destructive side from her more controllable one. Jean was (is) a level five mutant, one with unlimited power. But with that power comes a fractured mind. Something called “The Phoenix” (uh-boy, not that name again) lives inside Jean’s head and refuses to be reigned in. A path of destruction and death reels before Jean as The Phoenix part of her mind takes control.

Against this we have the discovery (by humans, of course) of a “cure” for the mutant gene. This cure lives (naturally) inside the body of a little mutant boy who’s kept out of harms way at a new facility that rests on old Alcatraz Island in San Francisco.

Magneto (
Ian McKellen) sees this as a threat to everything he stands for. It’s only a matter of time, he believes, until the government makes it mandatory for all mutants to be “cured” of their “disease”.

A personal, social, governmental, and worldwide movement begins on three fronts. First is Magneto’s group of mutants who want this “cure” threat destroyed before it falls into the wrong hands. Secondly, we have the government who says that the vaccinations are strictly voluntary and want to protect the child/cure. And in-between them we have the X-Men. Battling amongst themselves as much as any external threats, we begin to see the extreme price the X-Men are willing to pay in order for peace.

New mutants abound in this third film. First, we have something called “The Beast” (
Kelsey Grammer), a blue cowardly lion with anger management issues that acts as a Presidential aide between mutants and humans. I don’t know why, but I half expected to see Lilith from Cheers come stomping in and pull him out of a scene by his ear. Go figure. Secondly, we have The Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), a bulky …um …guy who gets rolling and can’t be stopped. And finally, we see Angel (Ben Foster), a winged boy whose inability to accept the “cure” ends up saving someone very close to him.

Although this film is subtitled “The Last Stand”, I seriously doubt if it’ll be “The Last Film.” An end scene with a “cured” Magneto opens up an entirely new miasma of questions: Does the cure really work? Or is Magneto immune? Will mutants need to be re-vaccinated every so often? I feel pretty confident that X-Men movie aficionados haven’t seen the last of Wolverine or Storm.

Click here for X-Men: The Last Stand movie trailer!

Click here for Chad's alternate review of X-Men: The Last Stand.


The New World movieColin Farrell Directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Colin Farrell
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



The New World has many detractors. Most comment on the slow pace of the film, and this is undeniably so. “It’s like watching grass grow” is the commonly heard cliché. I’m not here to defend the speed at which this story unfolds; it is slow. But it’s also beautifully put together.

Try this: You’re in a raft on a placidly flowing river. Trees wash by, animals nibble grasses on the shores, the sky illuminates a beautiful blue above and below while the sun warms your legs. The rapids are few and easily navigated, allowing you time to view everything around you. Sound boring? Or comfortable?

If this sounds like death, stay away from The New World. If it sounds pleasant and enjoyable, give the film a try.

What I enjoyed was the how the story dribbled into the viewer’s lap. It roiled around you like a cool mountain stream and allowed time for everything to come into focus. This isn’t Disney’s Pocahontas; this is how the Jamestown Settlement came to be, in all its boringness and beauty.

Colin Farrell stars as Captain John Smith, one of the founders of the original colonies. He and his shipmates arrive in the Americas and are soon building a fort while the leader of the group, Captain Christopher Newport (Christopher Plummer), heads back to Europe to resupply and bring more colonists.

Meanwhile, Jamestown is nearly overrun by disease, power struggles, and the native Indians. Amidst all this, Captain Smith meets up with Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher), the pretty and inquisitive daughter of a local chieftain. It is her generosity that allows these first colonists to survive, and it is mainly because of her love for Smith.

After Captain Smith leaves the colony in search of better lands up north, it is wrongly reported to Pocahontas that her love perished in a shipping accident. Thus she despairs and eventually falls for John Rolfe (Christian Bale), a tobacco farmer.

Pocahontas is later requested by the King and Queen of England to come to Court and meet them …and she does. Thus, we have two new worlds being discovered: one for the Europeans (America), and one for the Native Americans (England and Europe).

Pocahontas later learns that Captain Smith is still alive. It is a bitter realization and she has to decide whom to stay with, Smith or Rolfe.

It is the beautiful cinematography of The New World that really pulls the viewer in. Some have complained that it should have won Best Cinematography at the Oscars and not
Memoirs of a Geisha. I disagree. The New World is extremely beautiful to watch, no doubt, but I feel Memoirs of a Geisha was a bit better on the eyes.

The wondrous musical score was another boon for the film. Surrounding the viewer/listener in an emulsion of color and sound, the music made for some powerful moments. Terrence Malick, Director, knows how to engage an audience. But it’s not going to capture all those who watch it.

In a society where action sells better than art, this film will be lost to many. Don’t get me wrong, I love action films just as much as anyone. But it’s not a necessary ingredient for a movie such as this. The authenticity (as seen on the DVD’s extra features) will astound many; I know it blew me away. The re-creation of the settlement, the Native American huts, the battle gear, etc., are all pulled from archaeological records and sources. Impressive.

It’s also noteworthy to mention how little dialogue there is in the film. Terrence Malick prefers to let the scenes speak for themselves rather than have actors and actresses voices spoil the moment.

I guess what it boils down to is this: If you don’t like art films that focus on nuance rather than specifics, stay away from The New World. But if you don’t mind letting your mind meander through a burbling set of scenes, you’ll probably delight in this film.

Oscar nominated: Achievement in Cinematography

Click here for The New World movie trailer!

Sunday, May 21, 2006


Max Minghella Art School Confidential movie Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Starring Max Minghella
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


Yesterday I went to my local art theater to watch an art film about a future artist attending art school. Whew! I’m glad I got that out!

But lets chat about this art film, shall we? Here we go...

It’s got a lot going for it. First and foremost is an impressive script. Obviously the screenwriter, director, producer (or all three) attended art school at some point. And making fun of the people and faculty at such a place is where the comedy in Art School Confidential takes wing. When Jerome (Max Minghella), the main character, begins attending his freshman year at Strathmore Art School, he’s quickly introduced to the cliche-riddled cast (the cliche is purposeful and pulled off just as well as the movie GALAXY QUEST). He meets the burned-out art teacher Professor Sandiford (John Malkovich), the beautiful model that every male wants named Audrey (Sophia Myles), the angry lesbian, the teacher’s pet/kiss-ass, the drug addled film student, and a splash of others. There’s also a strangler on the loose in the neighborhood which will play a vital role in how Jerome’s artistic dreams play out.

The ridiculousness of art school is what really makes this movie work. Jerome is obviously very talented, but other artists whiz by him because art is what the artists say art is. It might be a picture of a car, or a man attaching jumper cables to his nipples and letting current run through him, or a mound of plastic chairs.

Jerome wants to be the next Picasso. He studies hard, tries to get noticed, but nothing seems to work. He’s also a virgin and wants desperately to get laid but with the wacked out student body at Strathmore, he’s got his work cut out for him.

As Jerome works and works, trying to become a successful artist, we get to watch him fall into despair; he starts smoking, drinking, and visits a washed up Strathmore graduate named Jimmy (Jim Broadbent) who gives him some dark and grotesquely sage advice: "Are you good at ‘getting on your knees?’" (I’ve cleaned that up a bit but you get the idea.)

It becomes apparent to Jerome (and the movie watcher) that he has no chance of becoming a recognized artist ...unless something drastic happens. Which, of course, it does (Cliche? Oh yes!)

Once this "something drastic" happens, Jerome learns the true nature of being an artist. It’s an unfortunate and incredibly funny set of circumstances that finally thrusts Jerome into the limelight.

The level of casting in this indie film is surprisingly large and notable. In addition to John Malkovich (
BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) we see Anjelica Huston (THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS), Jim Broadbent (MOULIN ROUGE!), Matt Keeslar (DUNE miniseries), Ethan Suplee (COLD MOUNTAIN), Steve Buscemi (THE BIG LEBOWSKI) and several others.

This impressive cast pulled off the overly-pretentious attitudes that flood many art schools. They were witty yet cynical which made laughing out loud a requirement during the viewing of this amazing little flick.

God I love these little independents when they’re done right!

Click here for the Art School Confidential movie trailer!

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Robert Redford An Unfinished Life movie Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Two cowboys caring for each other in a beautiful landscape. No, this is not Brokeback Mountain. AN UNFINISHED LIFE gives us a story about two men (Robert Redford as Einar and Morgan Freeman as Mitch), and the examination of a loving relationship between friends, men who care for each other in a profound way …but it’s much more than that.

This story begins with Einar’s daughter-in-law, Jean (
Jennifer Lopez), coming back to live on Einar and Mitch’s Wyoming ranch. Einar’s son (Jean’s husband) was killed several years ago during a car accident in which Jean was the driver. Much guilt lay between Einar and his former daughter-in-law. But when Jean arrives at the ranch, in tow she has her daughter Griff, the granddaughter Einar never knew about. Bruised and battered from an abusive relationship, Jean hopes she’ll find some respite in the only place she has left to go.

Daughter/granddaughter Griff (
Becca Gardner) is a well-behaved young girl who helps soften the blow of their unexpected arrival at the Wyoming ranch. She looks a lot like Einar’s dead son, apparently. Griff slowly enters Einar’s life and we see a tempering of emotions.

Mitch (Morgan Freeman) is a long-time friend and cowhand of Einar’s. He was also recently mauled by a grizzly and needs a lot of care …which Einar provides. This is the love story, but a heterosexual one, a love story of two men who care deeply for one another as if they were kin. Einar helps Mitch bathe, gives him his pain medication injections, helps him walk to chairs and outside occasionally, and cleans his bed. This is the softer side of Einar that the audience sees and we know it will emerge once Griff and Jean get further into his life.

Then there’s the grizzly (Bart the Bear). The bear that attacked Mitch still roams the ranch, and Mitch feels a certain connection with it. The mauling has left scars on the outside of his body as well as the inside. Mitch won’t let go of the bear and asks Einar to do several things for him (“Feed the bear” “Take me to see it”). The bear becomes a metaphor for the unfinished lives of all the characters in the movie, Mitch’s life being the one that’s come closest to being finished.

The other main character – which we never see – is Einar’s son who happens to be buried on the property. Einar visits the grave often and speaks in hushed tones to the headstone. It is here, in these quiet moments, that we come to understand how the ending of this one young man’s life ended up stopping everyone else’s. Jean’s (his wife) life stopped because of her guilt over the car accident in which she was the driver. Einar for losing his one and only son whom he felt he should’ve protected. Mitch for allowing Einar to sink into this fit of despair. And Griff for allowing her mother to remain in an abusive relationship too long.

But once the family comes together, their disjointed nature takes on a sense of meaning for all of them, and their lives again move forward.

Robert Redford plays his best role to date as the curmudgeon cowboy who doesn’t forgive easily but has a loving nature tucked deep down inside. His grumbled comments fit in perfectly with his embittered character, Einar.

Morgan Freeman is just Morgan Freeman. But he’s such a powerful presence onscreen that it’s tough not to enjoy every word he speaks and every mannerism. His scarred body and relationship with the bear make for some very powerful moments.

Jennifer Lopez pulls in her best performance. Her interactions with Mr. Redford were strong enough to make me understand why her rough life led her back to such an uncomfortable spot on the ranch.

Many viewers may not like An Unfinished Life because of its slow pace, its common themes and its lack of action. This is a family story that delves deep into the meaning of letting life continue and how to allow healing in a time when it seems impossible.

It’s a great character movie with some of the more notable performances in a dramatic role that I’ve seen in quite a while.

Click here for An Unfinished Life movie trailer!

Friday, May 19, 2006


The Da Vinci Code movieTom Hanks Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Tom Hanks
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



The trouble with making a movie out of book so wildly popular as The Da Vinci Code is that we all knew (just knew!) it’d have problems. Detractors will lambaste it for the pages of the novel that had to be cast aside for the sake of film time (the movie is still 2 hours and 29 minutes, though) and any changes to characters or plots (all of which have happened.) But when you transfer a book to film, a certain amount of trust has to go to the screenwriters; a level of trust that basically says, “Please don’t screw this up! But give us a good story that’ll engage film audiences!”

I’ve read the book and I must say that it was interesting, but I felt the novel didn’t live up to the hype surrounding it. I was continually astounded to see it on the bestseller list month after month after month. I kept asking myself, “Did I miss something? Was it really THAT good?” Maybe. Either way, however, I approached this film with a fairly high level of trepidation. “Will the movie be over-hyped, too?”

I’m happy to say that this is an adequate film (thus my thumbs up rating.) But I don’t believe it’ll stay in theaters as long as the book stayed on the bestseller lists.

The film DOES follow the book surprisingly well.
Tom Hanks plays symbologist Robert Langdon. He’s in Paris autographing his latest book when a police officer approaches and asks him to come to the Louvre. Once there, Mr. Hanks discovers that a murder has taken place. A curator that Mr. Langdon was supposed to meet that night was murdered and his body desecrated. But it appears the dead curator desecrated his own body. But why?

Sophie Neveu, a young detective played by
Audrey Tautou, arrives at the scene and soon Mr. Langdon’s life begins to unravel. Trapped by the French police, a murder investigation in which he is the prime suspect, a secret society of ultra-worshippers known as the Opus Dei, and a group of Templar Knights in hiding, Robert Langdon is quickly whisked into a life of puzzle solving in order to find a secret that could unravel Christianity as we know it.

Much controversy surrounded the film before its release. The main controversy was from albinos. Amazingly I heard nothing from this group while the book was out, but now that the film is here, they’ve emerged from the woodwork. Why? I’ll let you all think about that one on your own.

There have been complaints, too, that the film is “too slow to get going” or that Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou gave wooden performances. I didn’t see that.

I will complain about Tom Hanks in this role, however. I’m sure Ron Howard and he work together comfortably after their previous collaborations …from SPLASH to APOLLO 13. But I just couldn’t swallow Mr. Hanks as the prime character. There was zero chemistry between him and Mrs. Tautou, and his long hair was …well …nasty looking (like it needed a good washing.) He’s getting up there in age and I think Clive Owen or some other up-and-coming actor would’ve been a wiser choice. My two-cents …

Click here for The Da Vinci Code movie trailer!

Click here for Chad's alternate review of The Da Vinci Code.


The Family Stone movieSarah Jessica Parker Directed by Thomas Bezucha
Starring Sarah Jessica Parker
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


Whine, whine, whine! I hear nothing but whining from so many reviewers about this film that I feel like chasing after them with a big stick. “The dysfunctional family gathering stories have been overdone,” some say. “It’s trying to be a comedy, a drama, and a romance,” others complain. “Too many subplots,” others lament.

On the first complaint (“dysfunctional family films”), I’d have to agree. There are a TON of them out there (Look Who’s Coming to Dinner,
The Squid and the Whale, and In Her Shoes, just to give you a sprinkling.) But what does that have to do with the quality of THIS film? Nothing.

On the second complaint (“too many genres”), I’d have to say, “What the Hell are you talking about!” The mixing of genres has been going on since celluloid productions started. And I don’t really care if they mix genres as long as the story/script/acting is good –
The Family Stone definitely had a great story/script/acting.

And on the third and final complaint (“many subplots”), I’d have to say “So what.” Subplots are an excellent way to let the story unfold without getting heavy handed with one of the other genres (i.e., too much drama versus excessive comedy).

The story…

The Stone family is getting together for the Christmas season. Everett Stone (
Dermot Mulroney) is bringing with him his girlfriend whom he has intentions of asking to marry during the family’s gathering. Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) is this fiancé-to-be and she’s so uptight you think her head might pop off at any moment. Her type-A personality is excessive, so much so that she wears perfectly fitting gray outfits, has her hair wound-up securely on her head, and rarely laughs or smiles. Meeting up with the Stone family, she’s about to be slam-dunked into a realm she’s never before experienced. This new family has a gay, deaf son (Tyrone Giordano) whose partner is black (talk about a dynamic!), a daughter (Rachel McAdams) who’s met Meredith and damages her reputation before she ever sets foot in the Stone home, the matriarch of the house (Diane Keaton) who’s medical secret threatens to destroy this year’s festivities, the patriarch (Craig T. Nelson) who’s trying to hold the fraying ends of the family together, and finally we have Meredith’s sister (Claire Danes) who’s called in to act as a support person for Meredith but ends up getting more involved with the Stone family than she’d ever hoped.

The beginning of the film is front-loaded with plenty of laughable moments. Sarah Jessica Parker’s character (Meredith) has a nervous tic which involves clearing her throat, and this is used to great comedic advantage. The dialogue is also excellently laid out as we see Meredith say to one of the more obnoxious Stone family members, “I don’t care if you like me or not.” To which the Stone replies, “Aw … of course you do.”

As the film progresses, however, we get to see much more of the family’s problems. Mother is very ill. Everett may not be in love with Meredith. Everett’s brother has a “thing” for Meredith. And the list goes on. What makes this portion work is its realism. There are so many dynamics to this family. They don’t have just one. Ever. You get in tight with the Stone family, whether you like it or not, and this can seem very uncomfortable to some viewers, especially those who can identify with one or more of the characters.

And that’s why this movie works. All of the actors (even Craig T. Nelson) don’t force the issues. The Family Stone comes tumbling off the screen and it’s funny, sad, irritating, beautiful, angering, spiteful …it’s family. Yes, it’s been done before, but that doesn’t mean you won’t like this version. Give it try.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Hoodwinked MovieAnne Hathaway as the Voice of Little Red Directed by Cory Edwards
Starring Anne Hathaway ("Little Red")
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



We all know the story of Little Red Riding Hood, right? But with director Cory Edwards at the helm of this fairy tale, things get changed …just a wee bit.

Little Red (voiced by Anne Hathaway, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) wants out of the forest. She’s not happy living in such a constrained society. She dreams of flying over the mountains and seeing what lay beyond. But bad things are afoot in the forest. Food establishments are closing due to a rash of recipe thefts. Little Red has to protect her and Granny’s recipe book before it disappears as well. But who’s behind these thefts? And for what reason? When Little Red arrives at Granny’s house, the typical meeting with The Wolf occurs …sort of. Granny (voiced by Glen Close, FATAL ATTRACTION) is tied up in the closet (or is she?) The Wolf asks Little Red lots of probing questions about her basket. And as Little Red discovers that The Wolf is not Granny, The Woodsman comes bashing through a window wielding his axe and acting murderous. But is he?

The police are called in to investigate this “domestic disturbance” and as Detective Nicky Flippers (voiced by
David Ogden Stiers, M*A*S*H) soon discovers, many more strange things are happening than meets the eye. Granny has a triple-G tattoo on her neck and loves extreme sports (paying homage to xXx with Vin Diesel). The Wolf (voiced by Patrick Warburton, SKY HIGH) is actually a reporter researching the recent recipe thefts and feels that Granny and Little Red are at the center of it. The Woodsman (voiced by James Belushi, K-9) is just a Schnitzel-On-A-Stick salesman turned actor trying to find his inner Woodsman. And Little Red is simply a delivery girl who’s disenchanted with the world around her.

Borrowing from just about every action film out there, HOODWINKED really works. Everything from THE MATRIX to CITY SLICKERS is referenced …and it’s done very well. The animation seems nearly old-fashioned and out-of-date, which actually adds a quaint quality to the film; it’s not trying too hard to be something it isn’t. It isn’t FINDING NEMO or SHREK. It couldn’t be with a budget only a fraction of what those two animation goliaths cost. This is an independent film (gotta love ‘em!), so money is stretched thin. Which leads me to my next point …

When the film was put out at theaters (in limited release), it didn’t have the marketing budget that Pixar and Disney had for theirs. Professional reviews were cool (to say the least), which leads me to wonder if this movie had been put out by Disney or Pixar what the reviews might have been like. With action figures at Toys-R-Us, computer games, posters, and God only knows what else, the financial ability of the production company might have weighed heavy on the minds of reviewers and how children (and adults) viewed it. Trust me, this IS an issue. Independent films struggle under the shadow of these huge film companies.

And here’s the thing: this movie is GOOD. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s fun, light, engaging, voiced well, animated fine, and uproariously entertaining. I especially enjoyed Twitchy the speed-talking squirrel whose brush with caffeine addiction makes for some of the funnier moments. I also liked Japeth the singing Goat, who takes a ride with Little Red through a mine that looks suspiciously like the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad attraction at Disneyland. A little needling at the Disney corporation maybe? Loved it!

And who is the recipe thief, you may be asking. Well that’s something you’ll HAVE to find out for yourself …and it’s worth it.

Click here for the Hoodwinked movie trailer!

Friday, May 12, 2006


Jonathan Rhys Meyers Match Point Movie Directed by Woody Allen
Reviewed by Byron Merritt

Unfortunate Thumbs Down


Some reviewers and movie-goers have been stunned by the transformation of Woody Allen as a director because of this film, and there’s no doubt that this is a step in the right direction. His horrible, horrible, horrible film THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION completely turned me off (not to mention some of his less-than-appropriate personal behavior …but that’s another story). Woody had trouble seeing himself as an older guy in many of his more recent releases and seriously miscast himself in roles that were never intended for a short, balding, and aging man.

Thankfully, here in MATCH POINT, Woody’s balding pate never makes an appearance. He’s planted firmly behind the camera as director, and this is a very good thing (but not a great one).

I will give Woody Allen credit; he’s gone off his previously overly beaten path and is branching out into realms unknown to him. Match Point is a case in point (no pun intended). Here we have a young tennis pro stud named Chris Wilton (
Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who comes to London from Ireland in pursuit of a better life. He meets up with a nice, wealthy young man named Tom and is quickly introduced to his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). A relationship starts to build but not before Chris runs into Tom’s fiancé, Nola (Scarlett Johansson), a blond bombshell who’s ready to ignite anything near her. Chris marries Chloe but not before having “an encounter” with Nola, setting the stage for a relationship nightmare in the future. Tom breaks up with Nola, thus allowing Chris more access to her, but when pregnancies, family fortunes, and the future of everything Chris has been working for comes to a head, he has to make a choice; a terrible and wrong …but lucky choice.

I don’t want to give too much away here in case some of you decide to watch the flick. If you’ve seen it already, let me say that I don’t agree with Chris’ choice (obviously) but one can see why a man (or woman) could be driven to do such a horrendous thing.

I’m gauging this film based on other movies, not just other Woody Allen movies – thus my “thumbs down” rating. Although this is a giant leap in the right direction for Mr. Allen, it still held a narcoleptic pace. The acting was okay, nothing extraordinary, but nothing to jump up and down about either. The sets …eh. Nothing great there either. The dialogue was okay but sometimes felt forced and speedy. When Chris first meets Nola over a ping-pong table, their actions and emotions feel rushed.

Match Point has been compared, in theme, to Hitchcock. I beg to differ. Woody isn’t that good, but perhaps with a little time he’ll get there.

Click here to watch the Match Point movie trailer.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Chris Evans Fantastic Four Movie Directed by Tim Story
Starring Chris Evans
Reviewed by Byron Merritt

Hesitant Thumbs Up!


There are serious SF films then there are entertaining SF films and, as of late, the film industry has seen fit to adapt several comic book SF characters onto the silver screen. Whether or not these are serious or entertaining is often left up to the viewer’s discretion. Some have been great (Spiderman) and some not-so-great (Catwoman). Then we have this movie, the FANTASTIC FOUR.

Debuting in 1961 (Marvel Comics), the Fantastic Four hit on new ground: a dysfunctional family of sorts who fight amongst themselves as much as they do against the forces of evil. Unable to decide on costumes, they really had none for several episodes. All of them gained their superpowers from exposure to cosmic rays while visiting a space-station.

Jump to 2005 and we get the entire dysfunctional dynamic rolled into a 105 minute film; not an easy task. But director Tim Story does an admirable job with writers Mark Frost and Michael France’s screenplay. The space-station, the problems with costumes, the infighting, it’s all there (thus my thumbs up rating).

The beautiful Jessica Alba stars as the sexy, kick-ass Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman. Her powers include the ability to manipulate matter and light. Chris Evans (whom I’ve given top billing) brings to life the role of Johnny Storm (“The Human Torch”), Sue’s immature younger brother who can spark up any room with his powers and his wit. And Mr. Evans instills some much needed comedy into the flick by playing pranks on the other three as well as having some great dialogue. Ioan Gruffudd bends the silver screen as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, the flexible rubberman who is the defacto leader of the Fantastic Four (and who’s also in love with Sue Storm). Then we have Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) who’s increased mass and stone-like structure have given him incredible strength …and some problems at home. He’s uneffectually called The Thing and his wife leaves him posthaste when she discovers his altered physical structure.

The great thing about the film is that it really looks at the issues surrounding being a newly developed superhero and how people might respond to such a thing. For one thing, when Ben Grimm’s wife leaves him, she pulls off her wedding ring and Ben/The Thing tries to pick it up but can’t because of his bulky hands. It’s actually a fairly touching scene and we can feel Ben’s frustration. Also there’s the lost love between Sue Storm and Reed Richards which is always in the background and causes flare-ups and fights constantly. Then there’s Johnny Storm’s discovery of his flaming superpowers and his difficulty in controlling them (or lack of wanting to control them). He’s a cocky upstart who brings an entirely new dynamic to the group …which is why I gave him top billing.

The film’s faults are easily seen as we’re rushed through certain aspects (how they plan to get back to normal using a machine created by Richard) and several convenient plot twists (not uncommon, though, for comic books).

This is a fun film. It’s not at the level of Spiderman, but it’s way, way above Catwoman.

Click here for the Fantastic Four movie trailer!

Click here for Chad's alternate review of the Fantastic Four.


Heath Ledger Casanova Movie Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Starring Heath Ledger
Reviewed by Byron Merritt

Surprising Thumbs Up!


Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat: I really, really, really enjoy Lasse Hallstrom’s films. The Cider House Rules, The Shipping News (one of my all time favorites), Chocolat, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape are a few that stand out. So I went into this movie expecting the typical Lasse-style flick …and I wasn’t disappointed.

For those looking for a historically accurate recounting of Casanova’s life, you best look elsewhere; this movie only touches on a few aspects of the great lover. Here we get a fun, raucous comedy with cinematic character (all filmed on location in
Venice) along with sumptuous sets and startling costumes.

Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain, 2005) plays the starring role and does so with a wit and charm reserved for such a part. Indeed, I’m becoming more and more impressed with Mr. Ledger. His ability to play a confused gay cowboy in one film, then a slight historical figure in the next speaks well for his future acting career.

The story…

Casanova’s life is in jeopardy. The Prince of Venice has been covering for Casanova’s immoral behavior (fornicating and adulterating) but the Catholic Church has had enough. Inquisitor Pucci (played perfectly by the baritone-voiced Jeremy Irons) has come to Venice to hang the famed lover of women. But confusion reigns as Casanova misdirects the Inquisitor by taking on the (phony) mantle of Paprizzio, a famed pork lard salesman. Oliver Platt (again, perfectly cast) nearly steals the show as the real – and rotund – Paprizzio who comes to Venice to marry the beautiful Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller). Casanova falls in love with Francesca while Paprizzio falls for another. But Casanova is promised to another “virgin” whom he must marry in order to save his neck. Can he go against his womanizing behavior and get married? Is his affection for Francesca just another set of desires? Or could it be true love?

Against all of this slapstick behavior is the
beautiful backdrop of Venice. Its amazing streets, waterways, ancient buildings with staggeringly beautiful edifices, and, of course, the usual Lasse Hallstrom direction of all of it; this is what Mr. Hallstrom loves more than anything else: letting the settings become a character themselves.

This isn’t to say the movie is perfect. It isn’t. The script, although holding its own charm, was fairly shallow and predictable. For instance, when Paprizzio is rebuffed by Francesca, his future wife, everyone knows that Paprizzio will find another mate close by.

But even so, the film is packed full of great dialogue, great sets, even better costumes, and some wonderful actors (How could you possibly dislike a film with Oliver Platt, Jeremy Irons, Lena Olin, and Heath Ledger in it?) History buffs should avoid the film like the plague, but if you like slight comedies and, in particular, have enjoyed the Lasse Hallstrom films listed above, you’ll delight in this flick. No doubt about it…

Click here for the Casanova movie trailer!