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Reviews for November 26th, 2008


Directed by Baz Luhrmann.

In 1939, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) arrives in Australia where she discovers that her husband has been murdered. She tries to save the cattle of his cattle station, Faraway Downs, by transporting 1,500 cattle all the way to the port town of Darwin, Australia. The Drover (Hugh Jackman) helps her along the way while she tries to protect a young boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters), whoís also the narrator. Meanwhile, Fletcher (David Wenham) and King Carney (Bryan Brown), who might have murdered Lady Sarah Ashleyís husband, find ways to stop their mission from succeeding. Director/co-writer Baz Luhrmann infuses many genres including adventure, action, drama, romance and comedy, which could have easily ended up a convoluted mess were it not so exhilarating and filled with tongue-in-cheer humor and witty dialogue. Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman both deliver intentionally over-the-top, yet lively performances that take a while to get used to. The young actor, Brandon Walters, steals many scenes with his abundant panache as Nullah. Although the plot occasionally feels corny and contrived, itís forgivable if youíre willing to suspend your disbelief. Admittedly, it takes roughly thirty minutes to get truly absorbed into the story. Also, Baz Luhrmann shouldnít have made the references to The Wizard of Oz so blatant, such as by including clips of it and a paraphrasing a classic line from it; he should trust the intelligence of his audience a little more. Despite its minor flaws, Australia manages to be a captivating, visionary and unforgettable adventure. Itís a cinematic and unabashedly bold epic that must be experienced on the big screen. Even with a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, thereís rarely a dull moment to be found from start to finish.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1.
Released by 20th Century Fox.

Four Christmases

Directed by Seth Gordon.

When they get stranded at the airport on the way to a Christmas vacation in Fiji, Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon), an unmarried couple, spend each of their divorced parentsí home instead. They first stop over at the home of Bradís father (Robert Duvall) where Kate watches in horror as Bradís two brothers (Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw) beat Brad up. Soon enough, Brad nearly destroys the entire house when he improperly installs a cable TV antenna on the roof. Next, thereís a visit to the home of Kateís mom (Mary Steenburgen) where little steals Kateís pregnancy test as if it were a toy and fights with Kate. How does Kate solve the problem? It has to do with urine, of course. The visits to the home of Bradís mother (Sissy Spacek) and, later, to Kateís father (Jon Voight) donít get any less insane. It turns out that Bradís childhood friend happens to be his momís new boyfriend and, in a creepy scene, theyíre unafraid to show their physical affection for one another. A total of four writers, Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson, Jon Lucas, Scott Moore, wrote the screenplay which tries hard to be funny with a range of jokes thatís all over the map, but it only generates laughter some of the time thanks to the decent comic timing of Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon. Also, in one particular scene, Brad and Kate perform a Christmas show in such an outrageous way that open-minded individuals, especially Bill Maher, the director of Religulous, would find it to be quite hilarious. Itís a little painful, though, to watch well-respected actors like Sissy Spacek, Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen and Jon Voight stoop to such low levels of comedy with very little to redeem themselves, much like Diane Keaton has been done in painfully unfunny comedies such as The Family Stone, Because I Said So and Smother. On a positive note, director Seth Gordon moves the pace along at an appropriately brisk speed and doesnít include too many unnecessary dramatic subplots. At an ideal running time of 89 minutes, Four Chistmases manages an ultimately harmless comedy and sporadically funny and often silly comedy thatís best enjoyed if youíre willing to check your brain at the door and suspend your disbelief. Number of times I checked my watch: 2.
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.


Directed by Gus Van Sant.

Based on true events. In 1977, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), an openly gay man elected into the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, actively fights for gay rights amidst a social and political climate filled with homophobia. Another member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Dan White (Josh Brolin), tries to impede Harveyís gay right activism and seems to have complicated issues of his own that arenít quite explored here. Also, on the sidelines, are the romances between Harvey and Scott Smith (James Franco) and later with Jack Lira (Diego Luna). Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black along with director Gus Van Sant wisely focus the attention on Harveyís sociopolitical campaigning along with his campaign manager, Anne (Alison Pill), and strong supporter/activist, Cleve (Emile Hirsch). Sean Penn deserves an Academy Award for his brave, utterly convincing and moving performance as Harvey Milk. Itís very rare to observe an actor sink his teeth into a role so much that he practically transforms into him for the duration of the film, so you forget that youíre actually watching Sean Penn. Through his eloquent, emotion-filled speeches, Harvey shows that he has the charisma, intelligence and courage to stand up for what he believes in no matter what obstacles come his way. Those familiar with Harvey Milkís story know that Dan White had assassinated him after Harvey spent only eleven months in public office. Although Harvey isnít alive today, his ideas, passions and relentless courage will always survive along with the impact that he had on the gay rights movement. Milk should, hopefully, inspire this generation to be brave, honest and, most importantly, to speak out loud and clear about what truly matters to oneís heart and mind. Number of times I checked my watch: 0.
Released by Focus Features.

The Secrets

Directed by Avi Nesher.

In Hebrew with subtitles. Naomi (Ania Bokstein) postpones her marriage to Michael (Guri Alfi), a rabbinical student, by studying at a Jewish seminary for women in Tzfat, Israel, where she becomes close friends with one of her roommates, Michelle (Michal Shtamler). The other roommates include Sheine (Talli Oren) and Sigi (Dana Ivgy, from Or). She and Michelle often visit Anouk (Fanny Ardant), a lonely French woman with a mysterious past, to donate food that the school assigns them to give to her. How did she end up needing to receive donated food? What dark secrets is she hiding? Gradually, Naomi and Michelle discover the answers to those questions the more Anouk opens her heart to them and lets them try to heal her wounded soul. Writer/director Avi Nesher does a great job of immersing you into the dramatic and mysterious elements of the plot, but the subplot involving Naomi and Michelleís romantic life and their budding romance between one another feels rather contrived and bland by contrast. He also includes a few brief scenes of comic relief involving a visual gag and one characterís offbeat compulsion to count how many times a letter of the alphabet appears in somebodyís sentences. Itís also worth mentioning the terrific soundtrack as well as the radiant performances of Ania Bokstein and Michal Shtamler while Fanny Ardant, as expected, adds some gravitas in the important, complex role of Anouk. At a running time of 125 minutes, The Secrets occasionally drags, but manages to be a mostly engrossing drama. Number of times I checked my watch: 3.
Released by Monterey Media. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

Transporter 3

Directed by Olivier Megaton.

Frank (Jason Statham) obeys a command to transport Valentina (Natalya Rudakova), the kidnapped daughter of Vasilev (Jeroen Krabbe), from Marseilles to Odessa. Both wear an arm bracelet that will detonate if theyíre more than 75 feet away from their vehicle. Meanwhile, Frank also tries to fight off the Vasilevís agents who want to capture him. If youíve watched any Jason Statham movie in the past, not just the last two Transporter movies, you should already know that plot development doesnít really matter. What does matter is the quality of the action sequence, which, in the case, fall a bit short of expectations. Sure, director Olivier Megaton includes plenty of car chases and cool stunts, but with such a fast pace and shaky camerawork that it leaves you feel nauseous rather than thrilled or exhilarated. Also, scenes feel redundant and uninspired, although some of the dialogue exchanged between Frank and Valentina does have some much-needed offbeat humor. Fans of French films should keep an eye out for Francois Berleand in a small role as a police officer aides Frank along the way. Ultimately, Transporter 3 comes across as a mindless, forgettable and slightly engaging action film thatís short on surprises and thrills. Number of times I checked my watch: 4.
Released by Lionsgate.

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