Saturday, July 21, 2007

movie: "Pan's Labyrinth" (4.5/5 stars) 2006

A gorgeous movie, it is subtitled throughout in Spanish. I read the subtitles as quickly as possible so I could get back to the stunning visuals.

A fairy tale set in a horrific location at the end of WWII, we see a little girl, Ofelia (played by Ivana Baquero) struggling with two challenges. One is her new life; her mother has married a man (Sergi López) after her father's death, and she tries to understand her new life and this new man. The 2nd, is the magic world of faeries and the underworld. She meets a magical faun in the labyrinth near her new home who tells her she's a missing princess from the underworld and has to prove herself so she can return.

Ofilia's magical quests and the violent, war-time setting resonate making each all the more real.

Guillermo del Toro, the director, is a genius who achieves his vision with incredible clarity.

With recent movies adding to world mediocrity, this one stands out as a bright, shining star. I can't recommend it enough.

Friday, July 6, 2007

movie: "The Last King of Scotland" (4.5/5 stars) 2006

An amazing movie from beginning to end. I love, love, loved this movie.

The only SLIGHT detriment to the movie is that is felt real, but it ended up being fiction. In the end, I thought if they could make it feel that real, I could hardly fault the writers.

Forest Whitaker and James McAvoy pull off excellent performances and the movie kept my interest though every second.

Run to the rental store for this - it is awesome.

Movie: "The Fantastic Four - The Rise of the Silver Surfer" (1.5 stars) 2007

I love comics, and there have been a few good adaptation for the screen - this was NOT one of them.

I thought the first Fantastic Four movie was ok, and this had it's moments, but the ending was SO, SO, SO bad, that it completely ruined the rest of the movie.

And what is it with Jessica Alba in this movie? For one of the hottest women on the planet, she was just weird looking. Maybe it's the bad fake blond hair, or maybe it was the strange blue contact lenses, but when you have a beautiful girl in your movie, why make her up until she looks fake? It was off-putting.

Still - Jessica Alba's looks aside, the movie's climax was stupidity incarnate! The only stars that I have are for the rest of the movie - the funny bits and a few of the special effects. Still - nothing great.


Please read no further if you haven't seen this movie and want to watch it. I am about to give away the ending and it would be bad if you don't want to know!

In the end, the Silver Surfer stands up to his master Galactus and takes him out in some giant cosmic explosion (that doesn't destroy the earth that is right next to it!).

If the Silver Surfer is so noble and is willing to sacrifice himself to destroy his master, why didn't he do it before he destroyed so many other planets? I think they mentioned that 8 other planets had been destroyed before he got to earth. That's just dumb! Stupid!

That by itself if dumb, however, it gets even dumber when you know more about the original stories. Of course, the Silver Surfer is noble and pure, and he has tried to stand up to his master before. However, since Galactus has given the surfer his power, he can easily take it away. He can't lose to the surfer. This just doubled up the dumbness from the already dumb ending.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Movie: "The Squid and the Whale" (4/5 stars) 2005

Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Owen Kline, Jesse Eisenberg, Anna Paquin and William Baldwin star in "The Squid and the Whale" , a quirky story about a dysfunctional family and their love interests in the throws of an unfriendly divorce.

Hyper realistic with solid performances and fantastic dialog all the way around , we see Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels' character) as a washed up writer teaching at a local college who becomes jealous when his wife Joan (Laura Linney) sells a novel while he struggles.

While well meaning, these parents are so far from capable of insulating their kids from the divorce that the two children (Owen Kline and Jesse Eisenberg) are completely unable to cope. They act out in the most inappropriate, but still understandable ways.

I have to say, Bernard Berkman (Bernard is the perfect name, as it's repeated often and is almost a character of its own) is one of the superbly written characters in cinema history, as the pseudo-intellectual who is just not that smart. He so wants to be, but just can't reach the top shelf and judges everyone but himself. His son Walt (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is following in his footsteps, but barely even managing to mimic his father.

A real sleeper of a movie that I enjoyed tremendously.

movie: "Intimate Strangers" (3/5 stars) 2004

A good foreign film (Confidences trop intimes) about a woman with marital problems wandering into an accountant's office, assuming he's a psychologist and telling him her deepest, darkest secrets.

The movie is full of amusing bits, confrontations, awkward moments and real drama, especially when she realizes that he's an accountant and still continued the sessions.

I enjoyed it and realized part way through that I had no clue how it was going to unfold. This is far from the standard Hollywood pic I see and I'm grateful for that.

While the originality was abundant, the movie was quite slow paced and I wasn't really satisfied with the ending. Still, a lovely little quirky movie that was honest and believable.

Movie: "Enduring Love" (3/5 stars)

Our new Bond boy (Daniel Craig) plays a philosopher in this unusual drama about an intense experience and how personalized everyone's experience is as they walk away from it.

Four strangers are brought together when a hot air balloon goes awry, and while trying to save the occupant, one of them falls to his death.

The survivors wonder if they did the right thing, "who let go first" and lots of second guessing. At the same time, Daniel Craig's character has a new stalker, one of the other survivors believes that something has passed between them, but won't tell him what. "You know!", he says.

This movie is interesting, and completely unpredictable, but in the end, doesn't really know if it's a drama or a thriller. I liked it, but not much.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Book: "Ysabel" by Guy Gavriel Kay (4.5/5 stars)

The first urban fantasy by Guy Gavriel Kay. I'm a huge fan and this is his latest novel.

Usually, he writes historical fantasy novels set in fictional cultures. He will base them on Viking, Italian, Roman, Spanish, French etc. This time, however, it's set in modern Provence in the South of France with iPods and cell phones.

The main character is Ned, a precocious fifteen year old, who was superbly written and completely believable. He is a smart-assed, wise cracking, practical joke playing kid who wanders into an ancient story, a fight between two men, one Roman and one Celtic who died 2500 years ago.

This is brilliant fantasy. Guy Gavriel Kay is one of the best there is and you cannot miss this if you've liked anything he's done.

Book: "Odd John" by Olaf Stapledon (4.5/5 stars)

One of my very favorite science-fiction novels when I was in university, I decided to re-read it and see if it still held up.

I have to say, for being written in 1935, it does not feel old at all and language wise is modern. There were few hints that it was written over seventy years ago.

All the things that I remembered from way back were still there and as intriguing as ever. I loved it as much as I did the last time I read it.

The only thing I noticed, and I know I'll forget it like I did last time, were the two or three places where the author indulged and went into details of his own philosophy on politics, psychology, religion etc. The author used the main character, a more evolved human, as the speaker, going on about how wrong various sectors of society were about their position. I forgive him, Olaf Stapledon was a philosopher and had a position. It didn't hurt the novel much at all.

Simple, classic science-fiction executed to perfection. A great novel.