Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

So I'm a little behind on my blockbusters. I don't particulary like going to see movies like this with the unwashed masses because... I don't like people. And no matter what you do as a theatre manager, there is always going to be some douchebag in a crowded theatre doing something annoying. Although my tardiness in watch POTC2 is not because I didn't like the first picture. In fact, I thought the original was some of the best entertainment I'd seen in many a summer. I was just unmotivated.

Turns out... it is a pretty decent film. Obviously, director Gore Verbinski needs to work on his editing skills since this film is at least 15 minutes too long. There is plot... and lot of it actually for this kind of film. Basically Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) sells his soul to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) for the chance to raise his ship from the bottoms of the ocean. This sets off a number of other plot points involving Will Turner (my white-trash cousin as portrayed by Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (more Keira Knightley) amongst others. And since we all know they filmed POTC2 with POTC 3, there will be setup for a sequel.

All right with that being said... you get more or less what you got with the first. This is finally a film that costs a shit-ton of cash and you can see where it went. Unlike some pile o'shite like Transformers, the visual effects in this film are as good as it gets. The tendrils on Davy Jones for example are brilliantly utilized at times as well as stunning to look at. (The wardrobe dept. even gives Knightley cleavage) Excellent stunt work too with some of the island scenes early on in the movie.

All of the actors are fine as well with Nighy stealing the show here. Despite a hefty costume and untold amounts of green screen, he manages to give a performance of utter delight. He has fun with every line much like an Alan Rickman would. Stellan Skarsgard also classes things up with an appearance as Will Turner's long lost father. The three leads are all more than adequate for this light material - nothing extraordinary either. You also get a tease of the third film with the always welcome Geoffrey Rush reprising his character from the first film.

With some trimming to get this closer to two hours instead of 2:40 with credits, this would play a lot better. But for a home on with a good entertainment system and a stop button... just about right.


Monday, March 24, 2008

The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson... in the forefront of the hipster douchebag movement of young filmmakers. He of the quirky older music in odd sections of film and who I probably have to blame for the headache of the Juno soundtrack. Anderson has given us: the second and third act failure of Rushmore, a masterpiece of the h/d movement in The Royal Tenanbaums, and a fiasco of a failure in The Life Aquatic. So what the heck did I expect here? The answer: pretty much what I got.

Very much in The Royal Tennabaums feel the story starts off with three brothers Jack (Jason Schwartzman), Francis (Owen Wilson), and Peter (Adrien Brody). The elder Francis kicks up an idea to meet and ride the train also named The Darjeeling Limited around India on a spiritiual journey. The real motivation is for them to finish their journey in Nepal to visit their mother (Anjelica Houston) who in typical Wes Anderson fashion has become a nun. Their mother never showed up for their father's funeral the year before and all of them seem lost now.

All three of the brothers are all going through trials and tribulations. Jack is messed up by his ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman) - who if you have watched Hotel Chevalier (the short preceding the film) is playing with his head by showing up unannounced and having sex with him. Peter's wife is pregnant and he is still caught in the transition of boy to man... he has retreated into all of his father's possessions for comfort. And never quite addressed in the film, Francis tried to kill himself on his motorcycle. You also get glaring symbolism from all of their father's baggage the brotheres carry with them on their journey.

The real difference between The Darjeeling Limited and Tennanbaums is the lack of sympathy the audience feels towards the characters of the former. Only Jack is ever given a deeper character. You get a look into his life that you are never quite given with Peter and Francis. Besides that the whole script feels very minimalistic and not in a good way. How are you truly supposed to care about these people without knowing anything about them? Brody and Schwartzman do what they can with the roles, while Wilson gives another perfomance he could have done in his sleep.

The overall effect is that of modest enjoyment. You feel fortunate for the little pieces of brilliance you get and yet you long for what you could have had.


* Wes Anderson needs to try something a little different. He needs to get out of the 70's look with rich, spoiled kids. Only four films in and I'm getting tired of his schtick.


I was quite excited to see Joe Wright's rendering of Ian McEwan's novel after seeing what he did with the classic Pride & Prejudice. It would probably have helped to have read the book to prepare for this film. So many people consider McEwan's work a masterpiece that there has to be something more to it than what we the audience get to see in the movie.

The story is essentially that of a poor young man named Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) who works as a groundskeeper for the rich Tallis family. He has ingratiated himself into the family and finds that the father is going to put him through medical school soon. Alas Robbie is in love with the oldest daughter Cecilia (Keira Knightley) whilst the younger one Brionly secretly has a crush on him. After Brionly sees two different scenes (that is suggested she believes Robbie to be a sex crazed attacker) involving Robbie causing her to think he was the one who attacked and raped her cousin. On the word of Brionly, Robbie is sent away to prison for two years and is forced to join the army during the early days of WWII to excape further jail time.

After the Robbie joins the army, the film loses all perspective and turns into an almost Terence Malick-like film. What was once an intricately told tale of lust and bitterness, deviates into a darker meditation that never quite works. Perhaps this is better told in the novel. Here, you merely get the bare minimum with a nice (or sad) little twist later on. James McAvoy provides the films only strong performance. Knightley and the two Brionly's are adequate, but hardly anything special.

Overall though, I felt quite disappointed with the setup to just have the story peter out the last hour. Obviously, Joe Wright has a lot of talent and that is further evidenced here. He has an eye for shots and backgrounds that is clearly among the top filmmakers. So I would suggest the problem lies in the screenplay adaptation by Christopher Hampton. Hampton's previous work like Mary Reilly and The Quiet American are both good examples of his mixed work. Hopefully Joe Wright finds something better for his next project.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Drillbit Taylor

Yes... I'm giving you an advance review. I was forced to watch the on the shelf for the last two years Drillbit Taylor. Let's just say it should have stayed there. Two of the big names of comedy are attached in different ways. Seth Rogen (Superbad) draws a writing credit while Judd Apatow somehow excutive produced this sad retread of every other teen film you've seen. Owen Wilson stars as the title character who is an ex-Army Ranger who has found himself on hard times. Three dorks very much in the vein of the kids from Superbad are looking for a bodyguard to save them from the school bully.

The principal (Stephen Root) doesn't believe that such activity could be going on thus forcing the dorks' hand. Drillbit is a conman looking to exploit the kids while giving them the stupidest advice ever. Eventually he infiltrates the school under the guise of a substitute teacher. Alas, it isn't Tom Berenger so no ass kicking is done. There is also a worthless subplot with Apatow's wife Leslie Mann as a beautiful teacher who exists only to have sex with Wilson's character apparently.

All of the story is cliche and plays like My Bodyguard with a dose of Superbad. The comedy is the lazy kind you get in a lot of Will Ferrell with most of the laughs intended to come on improv. Well the bad news is Owen Wilson is no Will Ferrell... or even a John C. Reilly. The film drags for the last hour as the stupid never stops. One can only wonder how dumb the writers think teens really are... do they honestly believe that they would be sucked in on the con... or even sucked into watching this film. If you catch yourself thinking that maybe this film isn't that bad... well it isn't bad like say an Eddie Murphy film, but it's mediocrity only serves to make you wonder what you could have been doing the last 1 h 45 min.


Rescue Dawn

Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) joined the Navy before the conflict in Vietnam because he wanted to fly. The Navy was offering a chance to fulfill that dream so away he went. Little did he know that poor Dieter would be shot down in his first mission over Laos. The mission was black ops so no official rescue party could be sent in to get him. Dieter is on his own to find his escape after capture by a patrol.

Director Werner Herzog captured this story before in a documentary he did with the real Dieter Dengler. However, both felt the story still needed that visualization to fully appreciate the journey Dieter faced. This time Herzog could show his interaction with fellow prisoners Duane (Steve Zahn) and Eugene (Jeremy Davies). The three along with a few other foreigners intend to make a break with the wet season comes... but can they wait that long?

For a very modest budget of $10 mil, Herzog does a fine job of creating the big picture. The locations are incredbly shot... there are times with they are going into jungle and they barely can cut their way through the foliage. Another positive thing to remark on here is the much better pacing to this film then most Werner Herzog films. At right around two hours, Rescue Dawn never plods. Christian Bale and Steve Zahn are very good here and Jeremy Davies... well he is Jeremy Davies. Bale you expect this kind of physical role from, but Steve Zahn is very effective in this serious acting turn.

Overall you get a well crafted and harrowing tale. An interesting side fact, Rescue Dawn is the first project from a production company ran by Elton Brand... yes the PF for the LA Clippers...


Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Okay... we are going to keep it simple with this clunker. Courteney Cox plays a woman named Sophie who loses her husband (James LeGros) in a convenience store hold up. One by one little things start happening that blue the line of what Sophie thought happened and what really did happen.

At only 77 minutes long, November is one of the most boring films I've ever watched. The plot is that of 15 minute student film and plods along at a pace Kubrick would have been ashamed of. Amateurish... hackish... blah blah blah. Absolutely one of the worst movies I've ever seen. A waste of James LeGros.


Things We Lost in the Fire

Audrey (Halle Berry) loses her husband Brian (David Duchovny) to a senseless attack while trying to break up a domestic dispute. Audrey turns to Brian's best friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro) for support even though she has resented him for years. Audrey just wants someone around to keep that since of her husband there for herself and her two children. They are mostly selfish reasons because Jerry is trying to fight his addiction to heroin all the while he provides a father figure.

Jerry starts going to meetings to get help and befriends a younger addict named Kelly (Alison Lohman). He also becomes a sympathetic ear for Brian's other friend and neighbor Howard (John Carroll Lynch taking time off from scaring the shit out of you in Zodiac). As Jerry becomes a bigger part of their lives will he be accepted or perhaps he will relapse under the strain...

Things We Lost in the Fire has a contrived screenplay that puts these characters into a situation and seems lost on what to do from there. Halle Berry is trying way too hard to run the gambit of emotions - which she can do two. Her subpar skills are much more noticable with the power of Del Toro's performance. He plays Jerry with a subtlety that Berry could never grasp. He can provide more depth with a look than with all the lines Halle has in the script. It would have been nice to see someone like Maria Bello or Naomi Watts (very 21 Grams-ish)in the lead... actresses who actually can act. Lynch and Lohman are top notch here in key supporting turns.

The basic idea of a heroin addict staying with a family in a time is loss is quite prepostorous... but if you can get by that detail you actually get an involving story of recovery. Only the Audrey part is flawed with everything else being very well done. It seems frustrating for this film to hinge on an actress who can bring the goods. I think that is my only real problem with the film. It has an awkward start with a slow set up... and a somewhat disjointed opening only adds to this feeling. The overall pacing gets better later on when the story becomes Jerry's. Del Toro should have received a nomination for best supporting actor for his work here and the fact he didn't is frustrating.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

No Country for Old Men

The Coen brothers lastest opus is an adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel so one should keep that in mind when viewing No Country for Old Men. Much of the complaints that I've heard from people are valid, yet I still enjoyed the film and the ending. The obligation to keep it faithful to the book does box the Coens in though.

Basically, this is another tale like A Simple Plan of a fellow named Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) that stumbles onto a drug deal gone wrong. Llewelyn finds the case of cash close by and attempts to start his life over. The only problem is that he goes back to the grant the wish of the last man standing for water. This time, people are waiting for him. So the film quickly turns into chase movie with Llewelyn being persued by the Mexicans selling the drugs and Anton Chigirh (Javier Bardem). Anton is the hired enforcer of a mysterious business man (Stephen Root looking for more than his Swingline stapler).

Soon, the mysterious man determines that his enforcer is off his rocker after Anton racks up an Arnold-like body count in Texas. So he sends ex-army mercenary named Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) to secure the loot and take care of Anton. All the while, Sherrif Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is trying hard not to take an interest in all this murder in his county. Ed Tom believes in avoiding sticking your nose into serious cases or else you too could be become involved.

All of the actors, even the small parts (Garret Dillahunt from Deadwood in particular), are well cast and acted. My chief complaint rests in the limits of the book and that is the underdeveloped Woody Harrelson role. The man chews the scenery everytime he comes on screen and you want his character to take care of all the ugliness unfolding, but as quickly as he enters he leaves. Another problem with the film is the climax. Having not read the book, the inevitable clash between Llewelyn and Anton has to take place on screen. In the film, their final battle isn't shown and really isn't addressed. The films does reach a conclusion that is satisfying and rather fitting, but the Coens set us up throughout for what seemed to be terrific climax worthy of LA Confidential like cred. Llewelyn who also was ex-army seems the perfect foil for Bardem's Anton and you want to see it play out. Javier Bardem has the flashy role, but Josh Brolin deserved the Oscar nod. I haven't seen him get a meaty role like this before, but he nails this one.

No Country for Old Men moves swiftly for its two hour running time. I'm not sure how much is cut out of the book, but there seems to be missing some meat on the bones. I definitely would have been okay with another twenty minutes of story. That being said, I did have a good time watching it... maybe too good of a time and that's why I wanted more with the characters. This is a flawed movie... but a good one.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Set in the future, scientists are forced to plan a second mission to the sun in order to restart it. Through some science that doesn't quite make sense we learn that a massive warhead is needed to get it going again. A crew of 7 with various jobs is assembled. The important ones are Capa (Cillian Murphy) the payload specialist, Mace (Chris Evans), Cassie (Rose Byrne...God I love just saying her name) the pilot, and Searle (Cliff Curtis) the doc.

Obviously, the first mission didn't succeed so that is bound to be brought up. Just when and how provide some of the meat of the plot for the rest of Sunshine. Unfortunately, Sunshine falls in line with most other space movies with their themes of rebellion and isolation so nothing truly seems a surprise. The two things that set this film apart from others are the outstanding visuals and the strong work of the cast.

Director Danny Boyle again has shown a flair for putting on the screen a tremondous vision. 28 Days Later and Trainspotting both showed off his eye for the shot. Here you get some majestic shots of the sun as the Icarus (the ship) makes its way closer to the star. Later on when you get a full view of the areas around the payload, you truly get an overwhelming sense of scale.

One thing I do have to say is that with great trepidation do I have to give props to Chris Evans for giving a subtle, yet powerful performance. Til now Evans is mostly known for the craptastic Fantastic Four films, but here you get a hint that he could do much more. Cillian Murphy and Rose Byrne have a nice interplay that isn't given a chance to fully play out. And finally I know Cliff Curtis's names... this guy was absolutely terrific in 3 Kings as well as performances in Fracture, Live Free or Die Hard, Training Day, Deep Rising (yeah I went there), and many more. Cliff is definitely in my "that guy" hall of fame. Anyway, he is solid here as the doc that seems to be the one character that gives his role a sense of humanity. That picture in the post would be of him.

I did have some issues with something that happens in the third act that left me wanting more of an explanation. You have to go along with it at the time, but later on you might be left wondering. Sunshine does manage to distinguish itself from other space dramas, although whether or not it is remembered in years to come will be the question.


Monday, March 10, 2008

In the Valley of Elah

I wanted to like this film with all my heart. Crash was a solid directorial debut from Paul Haggis and the cast for his follow up was top notch. Everything seemed right for him to just keep swinging for the fences. Alas, the Goliath plot amounts to little more than an actors showcase.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Hank Deerfield a former MP looking for his missing son (Jonathan Tucker) just back from the war in Iraq. During the course of his inquiry, he butts heads with a cop (Charlize Theron) and an army investigator (Jason Patric). The army feels as if they might be trying to cover something up, but what? The plot is the underlying problem. Paul Haggis seems to be trying to make a message film about our country while not chastising our military. It all seems to be too neat and tidy without the satisfaction.

The performance of Tommy Lee Jones was rightly nominated since his is the foundation upon with this film stands. Without Jones, the entire missing son plot would amount to little more than a Law & Order episode. Jason Patric brings his all as well... but it is curious since he is so forceful you might think he actually has something to do with it all. No... he just reminds you of what a good actor can do even in a nonessential part. Cameo performances from Josh Brolin, Brent Briscoe, and James Franco also add some fuel (or red herrings) to the fire.

Haggis seems to have set himself up and gotten lost on where he was going. Yeah we know the war in Iraq is messed up Paul... just like we knew race relations were in Crash... but you've gotta give us more than that. I think of something like Syriana which was able to be a message film, but was so much more in the big picture. Haggis needs to take notes from fellow acclaimed screenwriter/director Steven Gaghan was able to do on his second project. You've got to have that emotional climax or payoff after setting up an audience.


* This just made me miss Jason Patric even more.

Pride and Prejudice

Director Joe Wright has done a marvelous job bringing Jane Austen's classic novel to the big screen. The gentle dolly shots through the doorways of the Bennett household work as a graceful introduction to their characters. You feel like that big water alien from The Abyss peeking in to see what is happening and moving on to the next room.

The plot to Austen's novels are rarely intricate are overwhelming. Here we have Elizabeth Bennett (Keira Knightley) the second oldest of 5 daughters trying to find love and a reliable means of income for her family. Her older sister Jane (Rosamund Pike who is more beautiful than everyone's sister )is the more outwardly beautiful and attracts the glances of a rich lad Billingsly (Simon Woods). Except that his friend Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen) has noticed Lizzie and isn't sure what to think of her. Of course it is love and all the Austen complications come up to keep the characters apart til the end happen.

All the performances are strong here with Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn shining as parents of the Bennett household. Each one gives enough comic energy to lighten up the story without adding too much zaniness. Knightley easily gives her best performance ever with her romantic opposite MacFadyen just along for the ride. A gorgeous score from Dario Marianelli only adds to the excellent work of Joe Wright and cinematographer Roman Osin.

The craft behind Pride and Prejudice makes this film what it is... the performances are solid with a nod to the creative casting of Donald Sutherland. If you watched it just for the story the first time, try it again and look for the little things that have been meticulously put together here. I credit Joe Wright's work here for making me want to see his next project Atonement.


Friday, March 7, 2008

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

Joseph Sargent didn't know it at the time, but the flop he was making would be looked on years down the road as a classic. Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) leads a group of four armed gunman onto the subway car Pelham 123 to hold the people hostage until they get one million in cash delivered. Lt. Garber (Walter Matthau) of the Transit Authority is the cop in charge of the situation.

The rest of the plot I will leave alone. It is more fun to watch it happen anyway. The other gunman are very good actors including Earl Hindman (Wilson from Home Improvement), Hector Elizondo, and Martin Balsam. You also get Jerry Stiller as another cop with the TA. Director Sargent keeps the pace moving ahead not allowing the film to drag. The film isn't complex, but it does feel real. There isn't anything too elaborate here just a skeleton plot to show off the terrific actors. Matthau in particular is very strong. He does an excellent job of keeping court of the chaos at the headquarters while talking the audience through the situation.

In the end, you will look back on the plot as rather simplistic, but remember in '74 this was quite different. The pacing allows you to keep going along with a killer score by David Shire (also did the score to Zodiac and won an Oscar for Norma Rae) that keeps you juiced up for whatever is gonna happen next. You can clearly see the influence that Pelham One Two Three had on filmmakers down the road.



For my money there is nothing worse than an indie movie that tries so hard... sooooooo very hard to be quirky. Let's be clear, I liked Juno, but for God's sake... level it off a bit.

Ellen Page stars as Juno which consists of her doing her Diablo Cody (the writer of the film) impersonation at 16. She doesn't talk like a 16 year old, but hey that's what's so hip and quirky about it, see... we're quirky... love us. Juno gets knocked up losing her virginity to her best friend (Michael Cera). Funny thing is (my back is actually on my cock) apparently in a film with characters this smart... we don't use condoms?!????! So... Juno looks through the Penny Saver ads (not making this up) for prospective adoptive parents. She finds Vanessa (the awful Jennifer Garner) and Mark (the always perfect Jason Bateman) who have been trying to have a kid for five years. They seem like the most immaculate couple at first glance.

During all of this, Juno looks to her father (JK Simmons) and stepmother (Allison Janey) for help. The ins and outs of pregnancy are glossed over and basically consists of moments in each trimester before the conclusion. Most of the plot I didn't like at all, however you get a little curveball later on that was both real and smartly handled. Juno feels jumbled together by a first time screenwriter... but oh wait it was... the director Jason Reitman (Thank for Smoking) would've been better off having someone take the script apart an reconstruct it.

Not to harp on it, but Page's performance feels as if she is just doing a SNL sketch of some famous person. She was much better in the underrated Hard Candy. I never got a sense that the film felt "real". Without the completely great supporting cast, I don't see this film eliciting enough laughs to make it worth the watch. Thanks to Simmons, Janney, Cera, and Bateman you get by just that little bit to keep you from noticing all the flaws.

One final note on the music... I've also heard a lot of talk about the "quirky" soundtrack. Watching the film, I found most of the music to be distracting and out of place. I again can see what they are trying to do with it, but it all seems too much. Just quit trying so damn hard to be liked. I feel like an annoying Jack Russell Terrier is jumping on me trying to get me to pet him.


Take out JK Simmons and Allison Janney and you get a 40/100

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Wild Orchid 2: Two Shades of Blue

Oh yeah... I'm going there. An erotic-period piece from high class sleaze maker Zalman King, Wild Orchid 2 has absolutely nothing to do with the orginal. King starts the intriguing story off with Blue (Nina Siemaszko) following her heroin addicted father (Tom Skerritt) around from town to town as makes a living blowing the horn in jazz clubs. Eventually Blue finds herself selling her body to a family friend for more drugs for her father. The junk catches up to him and Blue finds herself an orphan with no skills to support herself. Elle (Wendy Hughes) comes and gives her an offer to work in her class brothel.

Blue takes her up on the offer and starts her new life. Robert Davi plays the groundskeeper that looks after her during her stay there. They form a father/daughter bond that leads to an escape later on. Wild Orchid 2 veers all over the place after that with Blue having to service a young lad she likes complicating matters and being befriended by a Senator (Christopher McDonald turning up the asshole up to 11) that may have darker motives.

What I like about Zalman King movies is that he usually makes his trash at least erotic. Lake Consequence and all The Red Shoe Diaries are all good examples of this... the start to Wild Orchid 2 is at least interesting with the wonderful Tom Skerritt... but the introduction to the brothel, etc is thoroughly uneventful.

Let's be fair though... I remembered this film for one thing Nina Siemaszko. Unfortunately she doesn't do drama as well as she does comedy (see The West Wing or American President). She is absolutely gorgeous yes, but Zalman never really capitalizes on that. For a film labeled "erotic" shouldn't this be your first task rather than overcomplicating the plot?


* look for a little pre-ER nudity from Miss Gloria Rueben.

** I as going to add a pic, but all the ones I found had Nina naked...which isn't a bad thing, but not something I want to post here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Into the Wild

"Happiness, only real when shared."

Those were the last words of Christopher McCandless as he scrawled them between random lines in a book as he prepared to die somewhere in the Alaskan wilderness. Christopher is played with quiet efficiency by Emile Hirsch who decides to set out on a journey away from his dysfunctional parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden). Most of Chris's trip is narrated by his sister Carol (Jena Malone) from his journal and interviews with the people he encountered that was compiled into Jon Krakauer's book of the same name.

Chris's homelife was difficult growing up with him always looking after his sister while his parents fought. He sets out a smaller trip after he graduates from high school. The audience is left to wonder if maybe that was what put the idea in him later on to try it again. And that is what he does after he spends four years at Emory University to appease his parents. Life seems to going great with Chris planning on attending Harvard Law. A disagreement with his folks over a graduation gift pushes him further out the door.

After driving all the way across the country, Chris decides that he doesn't need all the trappings of the city. He leaves his car and burns the non-essential items. Chris sets out completely alone hitching here and there. Throughout the film he encounters many different people. McCandless has subscribed to the theory that relationships aren't what life is about, but rather it is what you do. This will sharply contrast what he finds out later the hard way.

Some the key people Chris encounters are Jan and Rainey (Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker), who are hippies out on the road getting by on selling books second hand. Jan gave her son up a long time ago and feels very drawn to Chris. By the times their paths cross again, Chris is determined to go to Alaska. This worries Jan as she feels like she might be losing a second son.

The most important character along the way is the last... Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook). Ron has too lost his family along the way and finds a second chance at it when he meets Chris. You can see that Ron's plee to stay and he'll try to adopt him as a grandson to replace the love both of them never had is genuine. I think this moment is what makes Chris decide later on that he had enough of Alaska and set out, presumably to Ron's place.

All of the acting is quite good here. Director Sean Penn has cast not necessarily the best actors, but the best ones for the roles. Holbrook Oscar nominated performance is brilliant, but so are the rest here. Even Vince Vaughn provides a comic charge as a farmer who hire Chris to work his spread awhile. Each actor doesn't try to do too much with the role especially Emile Hirsch. I think he quietly turned in maybe the second best performance of the year behind Daniel Day-Lewis. The physical demands of the role hit Christian Bale-like proportions towards the end with intense shots of the weight loss Hersh went through for the role. On a side note, the Eddie Vedder songs that make up most of the soundtrack, although much talked about, were fine... but nothing special.


The more I think about Into the Wild, I am reminded of my favorite film of 2006, Down in the Valley. In that film, Edward Norton plays a mentally disturbed young man who goes off his meds named Harlan. Harlan is trying to live the life he watched in movies... a simpler life. He too cannot live in the city any longer and tries to escape it like Christopher McCandless. I mention this only as an observation about my taste in films. Into the Wild would currently be my favorite of '07, but I still have a few left to watch:

Things We Lost in the Fire
In the Valley of Elah
No Country for Old Men
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
American Gangster
The Savages
Before the Devil Knows You Are Dead
The Darjeeling Limited
Charlie Wilson's War
Maybe Sweeney Todd, but I am less excited about that one.

The Cincinnati Kid

Steve McQueen plays the title character in a good ol' fashioned poker movie AKA cliche movie heaven. The Kid is an up and comer in the 5 card stud game and finally gets a chance to test his mettle agains the legendary Lancey Howard (portrayed by the legendary Edward G. Robinson). Kid also has to deal with his marriage-on-the-mind gal (Tuesday Weld) while fighting off the advances of his best friend's wife (Ann-Margaret).

Before the big showdown, Kid learns that a gambler named Slade (A young Rip Torn) has bet a lot of money on him to win... so much so he has propositioned the dealer Shooter (Karl Malden) to throw a card or two the Kid's way. The only problem is that the Kid doesn't want to cheat and Shooter doesn't want to test his friendship.

All the acting is fine. McQueen looks a little bored at times with the boring romance between his character and Tuesday Weld's... can't say that I blame him. The real problem here is the script. You never really get a true since of the characters. It would have been nice to see some backstory on the Kid's relationship with Shooter. Ann-Margaret's character should have been cut out completely. Just because you are hot doesn't mean you need to waste valuable camera time. Edward G. Robinson has the only real solid performance here. He is quite good in the few scenes he has with McQueen.

Director Norman Jewison spends an achingly, long time to set up the final meeting. I suppose he did have the constraints of a book to deal with, but it would have been nice to see the Kid in more action before that. Isn't a poker movie supposed to be about poker? The Cincinnati Kid comes right at the beginning a long stretch of success for Jewison that included The Thomas Crown Affair. Although for my money, he didn't hit his peak until 1984's A Soldier's Story.

The Cincinnati Kid was a real let down. A lot of praise has been heaped on it over the years and to find it is just another one of those old "classics" that really isn't, makes me tired. So many times pictures during the 50's and 60's get a pass because at the time they were something, but films like this would get a drubbing from today's critics.