The Best and Worst of 2007

The Best and Worst of 2007

Although most of the entertainment news this year has involved one or another celebrities going to prison and/or rehab as well as the infamous writer’s strike, I think it can still be said that it was a good year for movies.  Week after week there were good, if not great, films to check out.  The one thing I love the most about writing for The Beaumont Journal is that I get to pick what to review and most of the time I skip the stinkers.  This year a few stinkers were inevitable, but overall, I am very pleased with what I consider to be the best 10 films of 2007

The Best

1) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  This extraordinary musical about a murderous barber and his thirst for revenge is one of the best movie musicals to ever hit the big screen.  Burton proves himself to be the perfect choice to direct with this macabre masterpiece. 

2) Juno.  While it was a great year for pregnancy flicks (Knocked Up, Waitress), Juno takes the cake with it’s story about a 16-year-old girl that decides to put her baby up for adoption.  It is not only the best written film of the year, but one of the funniest as well.

3) Atonement.  This WWII epic romance starring Keira Knightly and James McAvoy is a breathtaking and heartbreaking love story that could prove dangerous at this year’s Oscars. 

4) American Gangster.  Like a cross between Scarface and The French Connection, this crime drama is an amazingly crafted saga. 

5) Ratatouille.  Terrific story-telling and eye-popping visuals make this animated gem one of Pixar’s best yet (and that’s saying something). 

6) Persepolis.  While the animation might not impress you, the story, about a young French girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, most assuredly will.  This film will be coming soon to Houston theaters.

7) The Lives of Others.  I’m a sucker for good endings and this one has the best ending I’ve seen in years.  The rest of it is pretty darn great as well.  While it won the 2006 Oscar for best foreign film, I’m including it here since it didn’t open in Texas until February. 

8) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  While the performances by Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are terrific, the poetic screenplay by writer/director Andrew Dominick (based on the Ron Hansen novel) and the mesmerizing cinematography by legend Roger Deakins make this western a true classic.

9) Once.  The musical for those who hate musicals.  This film had the highest score of the year and is worthy of being added to both your DVD and CD collection.

10) Superbad.  I laughed at this film so hard, and it brought me so much joy, that I just had to include it in my top 10. 

Films I hated to leave out include: Lars and the Real Girl, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Charlie Wilson’s War, War Dance, Sicko, Hairspray, No End In Sight, Knocked Up, Across the Universe, Hot Fuzz, and Transformers.

The Worst

1) Evan Almighty.  Proof that the brilliant Steve Carell is not infallible.  Thank God we still have The Office.

2) Fantastic Four.  Turn down the volume or listen to the film in French without subtitles and this might not be a bad little movie.  Too bad the dialogue in inescapable.

3) Wild Hogs.  I wish they had left the pen closed.

4) I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.  We should be striking these writers!

5) Dan In Real Life.  I liked it better the first time I saw it – when it was called The Family Stone.

Holiday Releases – Get Ready For A Big Week In Movies

Busy Holiday

If you’ve seen the list of movies coming out on December 21st and 25th you will agree that it’s enough to keep you very busy or very confused as to what to see, or at least what to see first.  I didn’t get a chance to see National Treasure, P.S. I Love You, or Great Debaters before press time, and they won’t screen a film like Alien Vs. Predator for critics, but here is a rundown of the rest of this busy week.

Charlie Wilson’s War     A-

Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by Mike Nichols (Closer)
Rated R for strong language, nudity/sexual content, and some drug use
Appropriate for ages 17+

This movie is based on the true story of a Houston socialite (Roberts) that convinces alcoholic East Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson (Hanks) to commit to arming the Afghans against the Russians during the great invasion.  Look for Hoffman to get many nominations for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Wilson’s Afghanistan CIA adviser.  While the film is of a serious nature, it plays as a comedy and turns out to be well-crafted entertainment.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story     A-

Starring John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, and Tim Meadows
Directed by Jake Kasdan (Orange County)
Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language
Appropriate for ages 17+

This year has been a great one for the Rated R comedy.  Knocked Up, Superbad, and now this little gem of a spoof that pokes fun at the biopics Walk the Line and Ray, all brought to us by the same man: Judd Apatow.  John C. Reilly is Dewey Cox, a Johnny Cash-like singer that finds himself in the ever-changing world of music from the 60s to the modern era.  There are a lot of jokes thrown at the audience and most of them stick tight, making this a very effective comedy.  Just as you would expect from an Apatow production, this is a filthy little pic that seeks to shock and offend it’s audience throughout.  Reilly proves his ability as a leading man and comes across with fearless charisma.

The Waterhorse: Legend of the Deep     C-

Starring Alex Etal, Emily Watson, and Ben Chaplin
Directed by Jay Russell (My Dog Skip)
Rated PG for action/peril, mild language and brief smoking
Appropriate for ages 6+

A young boy finds a mysterious egg near the shore of Loch Ness.  Upon it’s hatching he discovers that he has a new pet water horse, or Loch Ness Monster.  His new friend outgrows the house and the child is forced to keep him in the Loch.  While the actors are all normally really great, the performances here seem phoned in.  Also, I think that kids could go with the dino-pet theme pretty easily, and adults won’t hate it, but the few E.T. moments do not excuse the predictability and choppiness found throughout the entire picture. 

Sweeney Todd – There Will Be Blood

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street     A+

Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman
Directed by Tim Burton (The Nightmare Before Christmas)
Rated R for graphic bloody violence
Appropriate for ages 15+

The Story: A barber named Sweeney Todd (Depp) returns to London many years after being wrongfully imprisoned by an evil judge (Rickman) who wanted to take advantage of Sweeney’s beautiful young wife.  Upon his return he has vowed to get his revenge on the judge, but in the meantime he kills off his customers and Mrs. Lovett (Carter), the owner of the shop below turns their bodies into meat pies.  Oh yeah – and it’s a dark musical comedy. 

The Good: If you are a big musical theater fan then you are already well aware of this production and are probably fond of the Broadway show starring George Hearn and Angela Lansbury.  But even if you are not familiar with this famous show, you are still in for a treat.  Tim Burton has created here a masterpiece that will go down as a musical classic.  The orchestrations are fabulous and the music is well performed by most of the cast, but the look of the film is the key.  Burton is really on his game here and could find himself giving many acceptance speeches this award season.

The Bad: The singers aren’t as strong as they could have been, although this doesn’t hurt the film badly.  While Helena Bonham Carter doesn’t have the powerhouse voice I would have liked, her look and acting ability get her through ok.  Also, the actors playing Johanna and Anthony aren’t voiced by brilliant singers, but that might have been on purpose so as not to make Depp, Carter and Rickman seem out of place.  That being said, the voices and performances of Toby (Ed Sanders) and Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen) steal the show. 

I do think a warning should be placed that this is a very violent film with tons of blood.  If the cannibalistic description of the pic doesn’t make you squeamish then you will probably be more than fine. 

The Summary: Sweeney Todd has been my favorite stage musical for years.  Now it is my favorite film of 2007.

Once – A Musical For Folks Who Hate Musicals


Starring Glenn Hansard and Marketa Irglova
Rated R for language
Appropriate for ages 15+
Release Date: December 18, 2007

This little independent film from Ireland took the world by storm this year.  Many of you probably made the trip to Houston to catch it, but just in case you didn’t, the DVD is finally here.  The story revolves around a street singer in Dublin that falls in love with a young immigrant woman.  The two take a musical journey as they write songs and record an album.  The relationship is sweet, but the music makes this film very special.  Glenn Hansard, the lead singer of The Frames, puts on one of the best performances of the year in this little indie that could.  Warning: I have not spoke with anyone that has seen this film and didn’t buy the soundtrack afterwards.  The tunes here provide what could be the best album of 2007. 

I Am Legend – Some Alone Time

I Am Legend     B-

Starring Will Smith
Directed by Francis Lawrence (Constantine)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Appropriate for ages 15+

The Story: A virus developed through cancer research kills off over 90% of the world’s population.  Those who are immune fall into two groups: normal humans and night stalking zombies.  Will Smith is a Doctor researching this disease at ground zero: Manhattan.  He is the only normal person left on the island and must hide himself every night so that he is not killed by the creatures that he is trying to save through his research.  Alone with only his dog, a German Shepherd named Sam, he looks for food and survivors by dawn, and fears for his life at dusk. 

The Good: The first half of the film is absolutely horrifying.  Almost too much so.  The isolation, combined with impending doom makes this a difficult film to stomach at first.  While Smith is charismatic and the relationship with his dog sustains most of the picture, you still find yourself scared silly.  In this regard, the film is very successful.  Also, the special effects with the destruction and isolation of New York are very impressive. 

The Bad: I don’t wish to be the one to give anything away, but the film goes downhill fast after the climactic scene.  Smith’s character slips into a depression and the film follows right behind him.  It’s no longer a fun monster movie, but rather a serious bummer.  While it may be true to the original novel, that still doesn’t make the film fun to watch. 

I don’t want to sit back and compare Will Smith films, but the Zombies in this pic were too similar to the robots in I, Robot, especially in their body movements.  I wish they would have gone with more organic looking creatures, maybe not Romeroesque, but at least something that resembles the humans the creatures used to be. 

Also of note, the trailer has a great scene where Smith is standing between the monsters as they snarl at him.  That scene is nowhere to be found in the film and I found that to be a very distracting omission. 

While there have been many movies with this same basic premise, I enjoyed Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later much more.  It’s just as bleak, but overall it is a much more effective horror flick.

The Summary: While scary at first, the film dies shortly after it gets going.

Beta vs VHS – And the Winner Is…

The New Frontier

Unless you are living in the Stone Age, you have probably seen a huge amount of discussion concerning Hi Definition televisions and what they have to offer.  There is no longer the question of “should I buy a Hi-Def set”, but rather “should i buy plasma or LCD?” 

The more pressing question, though, is “Should I buy a Blu-ray player or HD-DVD?”  If you’ve been shopping electronics the last six months you’ve no doubt seen both formats lying around and history repeating itself.  When home entertainment was first conceived, we had to choose between the VHS format and the Beta format.  While most considered Beta to be far superior, VHS ultimately won the battle and is only now pretty much phased out.  So which one of these new discs do you want to replace your DVD collection?  That depends.  I’d have to say both and neither.  Now don’t worry, DVDs will still be in for some time, so don’t throw away your old discs quite yet.  If you have a nice Hi-Def television, both formats look and sound fantastic.  There is a clear difference between 1080 resolution and the traditional 480 that DVD offers.  Blu-ray has the advantage of offering titles from Sony, Disney, and Fox.  HD DVD offers Paramount and Universal.  Both offer Warner Brothers.  There isn’t really a difference in quality, but Blu-ray might have an advantage in the future with a higher potential storage capacity.  HD DVD players, which you can find for just over $200 now, run about half of the price of Blu-ray, but both are coming down drastically to compete.  For a pretty penny, you can even buy a player that does both formats.  My advice, if you must have one or the other, or both, get them with a game system.  The Xbox 360 offers a HD DVD add-on for less than $200 that comes with the movie King Kong.  The Playstation 3 comes equipped with Blu-ray and includes Spiderman 3 and costs a mere $400.  Unlike the Wii gaming system by Nintendo, both of these units are easy to obtain at your local retailer.  Something else to remember: Hi Def discs can cost almost twice as much as regular DVDs.  Let me suggest going to for your purchases as they are much less expensive.  Also, netflix offers both formats for rental.  As I stated before, don’t go replacing your collections yet, as I am pretty sure that neither format will have a huge shelf life.  Just like music has gone the way of the internet, I see movies doing the same thing.  You can already rent Hi Def movies through pay-per-view, but I think in the very near future, services like itunes and amazon will give you the ability to wirelessly stream 1080 content from your computer to your TV without the need of a disc collection.  With space being such a luxury, I think that this could be the wave of the future and the shelves of movies collecting lining your living rooms will be a thing of the past. 

But how about right now?  If you either own Blu-ray or HD DVD already, or are buying for someone who does, here are my top five picks for each.


1) Planet Earth – This Discovery Channel special is spectacular to look at and will probably be the DVD most used to show off your system to friends.
2) Bladerunner – (Five Disc Collector’s Edition) More than you’ll ever want to know about this cult sci-fi classic.
3) The Ultimate Matrix Collection – All three films with tons of extras.
4) Pride and Prejudice – you just brought home Matrix and Bladerunner – prove to your wife that the HD really is worth it with this beautiful movie.  You’ll love the look and sound – she’ll think your extra sensitive.  Win-win. 
5) Transformers – Robots in disguise look amazing in HD. 

1) Planet Earth – available in both formats!
2) Bladerunner (Five Disc Collector’s Edition) – also available in both formats!
3) Ratatouille – You gotta get this new Disney classic.
4) The Fifth Element – The colors are rich and the sound is out of this world!
5) Superbad – So many great special features and tons of fun to watch. 

The Golden Compass – Kingdom of Confusion

Starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards
Directed by Chris Weitz (About a Boy)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence
Appropriate for ages 13+

The Story: In a parallel universe to our own, a young girl named Lyra (Richards) travels to the north to rescue her friend.  While on the run from her captor (Kidman) she befriends an ice bear and unearths a plot to kidnap and reprogram children.

The Good: It appears that Newline spared no expense for the special effects budget of this film.  The look of the film is absolutely stunning and at times a joy to view.  As a lover of polar bears, I especially enjoyed the Kingdom of the Ice Bears and the scenes in the North.  I also found the daemons a very imaginative group of characters.

The Bad: I am still not sure what this story is about.  It’s a mess that makes no sense.  There is something about Dust and the ability to visit other universes, but this is never fully revealed. 
I was quite shocked that the movie is so incomplete.  They left it wide open with zero closure or resolution.  This could be a huge mistake if the film doesn’t make enough money to warrant a sequel.  Time will tell. 
Also, forget about the Catholic church and the controversy they are stirring up.  I didn’t see anything particularly objectionable and wonder if Newline is publicizing their comments in order to bring the film into the public eye. 

The Summary: This is a classic case of eye candy that doesn’t taste too good. 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Dirty Harry

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ralph Fiennes, and Imelda Staunton
Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images
Release Date: December 11, 2007

The book series may be complete, but there are still two more movies and a lot of Hogwarts excitement to go around.  This fifth movie in the series is a well-crafted film about Harry and his rebellion against the Ministry of Magic when they refuse to believe that Voldemort is back in action.  While most of the usual suspects like Hermione and Ron have been sentenced to supporting roles for the sake of time, the performance of new evil headmaster Umbridge is beautifully played by Imelda Staunton and she steals every scene she is in.  This two-disc set has some hits and misses.  The deleted scenes should have been vanished, but there is an editing section that teaches you about film making and then allows you to edit your own scene.  You also get a chance to follow Tonks around the studio in order to discover how Harry comes to life.