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Reviews for December 21st, 2007

Charlie Wilson’s War
Directed by Mike Nichols.

Based on a true story and on the novel by George Crile. Just as expected, Tom Hanks gives a convincing performance as Charlie Wilson, a charismatic Texas congressman who assists the Afghans in their war against the Soviets by arming them with weapons. Joanne (Julia Roberts), a wealthy socialite, convinces him from early on that something has to be done to help the Afghans win the Cold War. Assisting Charlie Wilson is a bizarre CIA agent with a bizarre name, Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Fortunately, the intricate plot feels much easier to digest than the plot in Syriana or in the overly-talkative and dull Lions for Lambs. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin balances the political drama with some witty comedy, especially given that Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman truly get a chance to sink into their roles. Unfortunately, the momentum wanes during the final act which seems too rushed and forced without tying everything together imaginatively and satisfyingly. It’s too bad that the film opens strongly and continues to impress, but ends on such a weak note, underwhelming note. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Entertainment Value: Highly Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Universal Pictures.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Directed by Jon Turteltaub.

Nicholas Cage returns as Ben Gates, who teams up with his dad (Jon Voight) to follow clues that lead to hidden gold while proving that his great-great grandfather didn’t mastermind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln according to Mitch (Ed Harris). Ben summons the help of his girlfriend (Diane Kruger), his technology-savvy assistant (Justin Bartha) and even his mother, a code-cracking professor played by Dame Helen Mirren, who awkwardly drops her British accent here. Soon enough, Ben and Mitch go head-to-head as they both race to find the hidden treasure. Ben even manages to kidnap the president (Bruce Greenwood) just to ask him a critical question. What follows should have been a fun, thrilling ride, but, instead, ends up feeling tedious, inane and increasingly preposterous, even if you suspend your disbelief. As you’re watching Ben successfully escape government officials hot on his trail, you’re wondering “what universe does this movie take place in??” The third act falls apart with almost as many multiple endings as the last Lord of the Rings. Ultimately, you’ll be yearning to watch any of the Indiana Jones movies, which are far superior to this headache-inducing mess. Number of times I checked my watch: 9. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: None, as long as you suspend your disbelief. Released by Walt Disney Pictures.

P.S. I Love You
Directed by Richard LaGravenese.

Based on the novel by Cecelia Ahern. Holly (Hilary Swank) follows the instructions of her deceased husband, Gerry (Gerard Butler), through a series of letters that he leaves behind. Each letter gets handed over to her mysteriously from either she knows or meets on her journey. Her two best friends, Denise (Lisa Kudrow) and Sharon (Gina Gershon), come along for her ride as a buttress for her woes. Kudros’s scenes are the only dose of quirky comedy in an otherwise bland and tedious film. How many times can you stand to watch Holly mope and yearn for her dead husband? Co-writer/director Richard LaGravenese, after the surprisingly moving Freedom Writers, fails to bring any of the characters to life. Kathy Bates has too little to work with as Holly’s mother. Moreover, Holly and Gerry barely spend ten minutes of screen time together while he’s still alive and only much later is it clear how and where they met. Any of the emotions that Holly has through her journey—which takes her to Ireland—feel hackneyed. P.S. I Love You, which could have easily been called Gerry is Gone, simply lacks the mixture of charm, poignancy and humor found in films like Bridget Jones’ Diary. At a running time of 2 hours and 6 minutes, it often drags and overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Directed by Mark Obenhaus.

This documentary about the history of skiing will entertain and inform those unfamiliar with skiing, but fails to pack a punch for everyone else. Sure, it’s interesting that Bill Briggs helped to make it into a popular, cool sport as he intrepidly descended those steep slopes. Other ski legends include Eric Pehota, and Doug Coombs, who each get their say on what they love so much about skiing. Director Mark Obenhaus includes lots of breathtaking footage of skiing, but, seriously, how difficult to it be to make a snowy mountain look picturesque under blue skies? Some scenes will make you feel like you’re watching Jackass as many skiers risk their life—and in, some cases, actually lose it—just to do some daring ski stunts. There’s also brief footage from a groundbreaking documentary, The Blizzard of Aahhh’s, which, sadly, is only available on VHS. Those scenes make you yearn to watch that film rather than this ho-hum documentary that adds nothing new or surprising. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the AMC Empire 25.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
< Directed by Tim Burton.

Based on the play by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler.Johnny Depp gives a terrific performance, both singing and talking, Sweeney Todd, a barber who kills his customers one-by-one. He wants to exact revenge on Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who hold Sweeney’s daughter hostage and stole his now-deceased wife. With the help of Mrs.Lovett’s (Helena Bonham Carter) baking, he puts the remains of his victims into pies, which sell very fast—sounds like a very dark version Eating Raoul with a little bit of From Hell. Director Tim Burton includes plenty of his trademark visuals with amazingly crafted set and costume designs, make-up, lighting and cinematography. Unfortunately, the script by John Logan fails to enliven the consistently gothic, morbid visuals, some of which looks very grotesque. Logan also includes a few unnecessary subplots that go nowhere. In a surprising early scene, Sacha Baron Cohen briefly shows up to add some awkward humor. Fortunately, the singing is great all across the board—even Alan Rickman has a great voice. However, without enough dark humor to balance all the darkness, it’s like eating a dessert that has lots of dark chocolate that looks well-presented, but with too little sugar. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired, as long as you suspend your disbelief. Released by Paramount Pictures.

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