30 Days of Night – Fright Night

30 Days of Night    B

Starring Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, and Danny Huston
Rated R for strong horror violence and language
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story: In the middle of winter, in the town of Barrows, Alaska, the sun sets for an entire month, leaving the town in complete darkness for thirty days.  A group of savvy vampires discovers this and thrusts itself upon this small town, bent on devouring every inch of life that occupies it.  Now it’s up to a young sheriff (Hartnett) and his soon to be ex-wife (George) to save Barrows from total destruction.

The Good: Based on the famous graphic novel by the same title, 30 Days proves to be as intense as it looks.  While more disturbing and chilling than frightening, it still makes for an effective horror flick.  I appreciated the unique look of the vampires and the resemblance to the creatures from the novel.  The spooky moments are relentless and the pacing makes this a fast, thrill ride of a scary pic.  This is the perfect film to help you get a head start on Halloween.

The Bad: Like many films in this genre, this one is based on stupid people doing stupid things.  The hero and his gang could have easily just camped out in their original hiding place till sunrise, but instead they chose to keep running around the town exposing themselves to their predators.  Granted, without this there wouldn’t be much of a movie, but still, it would be nice if the characters didn’t act so irrationally. 

The Summary: The excess of scares more than make up for the film’s lack of brains.

Michael Clayton – Tastes Like Grisham

Michael Clayton   B+

Starring George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, and Tom Wilkinson
Directed by Tony Gilroy
Rated R for language, including some sexual dialogue
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story: Michael Clayton is a “fixer” at one of the most powerful law firms in New York City.  He takes care of the dirty work better than any attorney in the business.  With job burn-out, a divorce, a failed restaurant, and a gambling addiction to contend with, he must put his life together long enough to survive a controversial and dangerous case his firm is litigating. 

The Good: This is a smart, witty, suspenseful little flick that will leave many audiences very satisfied.  Saying it feels like a John Grisham movie is a compliment to the film.  Dirty lawyers with a conscious and a big character arc usually always make for good entertainment.  It doesn’t hurt that the performances are terrific.  Clooney gives you a huge portal into his soul and Wilkinson steals every scene he appears in. 

The Bad: This isn’t that original of a story.  The case being worked on smells too much like Erin Brokavich and Clooney makes a poor replacement for Julia Roberts.  Clayton is an interesting character, and worth a two-hour film, but the ground here has been tread before, many, many times. 

The Summary:
While not innovative in the least, Michael Clayton still serves up an entertaining yarn.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age – A Forgetable History Lesson

Elizabeth: The Golden Age   C

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, and Geoffrey Rush
Directed by Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth)
Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and nudity
Appropriate for ages 13+

The Story: Many years after the events of the first Elizabeth film, Queen Elizabeth is still entrenched in a battle of religion between the Catholics and the Protestants.  Spain, being the most powerful country in Europe, launches a crusade to dethrone the Queen and convert England into a Catholic state again. 

The Good: As a history lesson, I’ve seen worse.  There is a lot of fiction here, much revolving around Sir Walter Raleigh (Owen), but it’s not enough to make you hate the film.  The performances, especially Blanchett’s, are solid throughout.  The film is beautifully shot and the costumes are a sight to behold.  Also, the music by Craig Armstrong provides for a moving score, although it, and the film, are a little too playful at times.

The Bad: What worked so well for the first Elizabeth was it’s complex and dark tone, full of violence and sexuality.  Much like you would picture England was at that time.  This new pic is very toned down by comparison.  Making this film PG-13 might be great for the kids, but it does nothing for it’s integrity.  Imagine The Sopranos made by NBC.  Imagine Braveheart brought to you by The History Channel.  Imagine Disney’s South Park.  That’s what a PG-13 Elizabeth is like.  It’s a sell-out to make more dough – and I predict it will backfire horribly.  Sure there are other little problems like a painfully long second act, and a frightfully shortened and unexplained third act, but the tone of the film is what brings it down.

The Summary: The Queen has gotten soft and slow.

War – A New Ken Burns Masterpiece

The War – A Ken Burns Film
Release Date: October 2, 2007

Ken Burns is famous for his hard-hitting documentaries, but never before has he put together such a remarkable piece of film making as his new picture The War.  This seven-part PBS series takes a never-before-seen look at the Second World War and the effect it had on American lives.  This six disc set contains all fifteen hours of unbelievably impressive footage, much of which has been newly discovered.  With narration by some of the biggest names in Hollywood and the intellectual community and music by famed jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, this film will go down as the crowning achievement of Burns, as well as the defining archive of information about the war.  As an added note, Burns will be speaking at the Lutcher theater in Orange on October 17, 2007 at 6:30 PM. 

Blades of Glory – Gold Medal Comedy

Dexter – Bloody Brilliant

The Ultimate Gift – Sweet and Sappy

Resurrecting the Champ – Jackson Wins Big With Terrific Performance

Resurrecting the Champ   B+

Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Hartnett
Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief language
Directed by Rod Lurie (The Contender)
Appropriate for ages 13+

The Summary: A struggling journalist (Hartnett) discovers a former boxing champ (Jackson) living on the streets of Denver.  In his journey to discover the truth about the boxer, he is better able to reflect upon his own life. 

The Good: Let’s face it, Jackson is an amazing actor, and this movie really showcases his talents.  His turn as the champ is his best performance in years and although Hartnett does a fine job, Jackson steals every scene he is in.  I was also impressed with the fine script filled many sincere and self-reflective moments. 

The Bad: While this is a solid piece of entertainment, it’s not too terribly flashy and many will find it a little too slow for their tastes.  Also, I don’t think that the movie packs the emotional punch (bad pun – ouch!) that it intends.  I found myself touched, but not at all teary-eyed. 

This could have been a great little family film, were it not for an F bomb and other assorted bad language.  I think that the film could have been more successful without the language, but the filmmakers probably spiced it up in order to achieve PG-13 status. 

The Summary: Jackson gives a knockout performance in this low-budget crowd pleaser.

The Lives of Others – The Government is Listening…

The Lives of Others

Rated R for some sexuality/nudity
German with English subtitles
Release Date: August 21, 2007

Perhaps the biggest surprise of this year’s Oscar ceremonies occurred when a little German film titled The Lives of Others beat out the Spanish hit Pan’s Labyrinth for Best Foreign Language Film.  After all, hardly anyone had even heard of the movie, and it hadn’t opened in even the larger markets yet (other than New York and L.A.).  I have to admit that I was a little upset – until I saw this breathtaking film.  Set in East Germany a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, an ambitious Stasi policemen (the late Ulrich Muhe) is ordered to bug the home of a writer (Sebastian Koch) that might be involved in illegal activity.  Billed as a thriller, the pic evolves into a beautiful drama with an absolutely perfect ending.  The DVD contains deleted scenes, featurettes, and an interesting commentary by the director spoken in English without the slightest hint a German accent.