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Flicka is a faithful update of "My Friend Flicka"
So many times when writers "update" a movie, they destroy it by changing the heartwarming plot into something colder and more distant. Flicka remains true to the book, even if they made Flicka's owner a girt instead of a boy. Allison Lohman, really deserves credit as the teenage girl with spirit who find Flicka, a similarly spirited mustang. Her mother is Maria Bello (Doctor on ER, owner of Coyote Ugly) and her father is a beardless Tim McGraw (that took a while to get use to). Tim does a surprisingly good job as "Dad," and although its not perfect, he doesn't detract from the movie.
Expect lots of tears - bring lots of tissue.
Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
Excellent Inspirational movie
Among the inspirational movies, Cool Runnings (current IMDb rating 6.3) and Stand and Deliver (current IMDb rating 7.2) are my favorites. Akeelah and the Bee stands up with either of them, with an excellent performance by Lawrence Fishburne. Angela Basset, who starred with Fishburne in the 1991 hit Boyz in the Hood, was not as smooth, but still enjoyable as the perturbed mom who finally comes around in support of her child. Young Keke Palmer was very watchable as young Akeelah, who pursues her dream of competing in the national Spelling Bee. The words, many of which are unknown except to scientists and such are real jawbreakers, and the everyone wins ending is really a little too sweet, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
The Family Stone (2005)
Comedy et tragedy
The Family Stone covers three days in the life of the title family, Christmas Eve, Christmas and, briefly, the following Christmas so that it can wrap up the multiple story lines of the plot. One of the things I like about the movie is that this is not in your face as far as the tragedy part, no more than a few lines in a couple of scenes.
Sarah Jeessica Parker plays against her type, a stuffy, straight-laced businesswoman and does a surprisingly good job throughout the movie. Luke Wilson is at his best, the laid-back brother to Dermot Mulroney who is called upon the bring Parker down to earth and Mulroney is the somewhat confused suitor who... well, you will just have to watch the movie.
Craig T. Nelson also gets kudos for keeping you interested in his character. He plays Diane Keaton's husband and Keaton, one of the best actresses, sparkles. The film doesn't waste any time with character introduction, getting right into the plot but gives you time during the movie to see what each character is about. I took off a point because the movie is predictable to a degree.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Best of three May blockbusters
May seems to be the month studios release their best summer movies and this year MI3, X-Men and Da Vinci Code were the three biggies. Of those 3 the best is easily Mission Impossible III. In the first installment in six years, Cruise continues his role as Ethan Hunt and Ving Rhames returns as Luther Stickell but bad guy Philip Seymour Hoffman seems to dominate the entire film in spite of the fact that he's not in that many scenes.
Introduced in an unnerving sequence at the beginning of the film that is thankfully not repeated in context, Hoffman displays his incredible talent at understatement, even when he is suppose to be Cruise. Of course, Cruise does the usual running, jumping off tall buildings and is repeatedly saved by various ropes just long enough to break his fall before he hits something. Probably the best scene for pyrotechnic fans is Hoffman's escape from an armored car on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
King Kong (2005)
Remake better than the original
I never thought I would say this, especially after the horrid 1970's remake, but I think Peter Jackson has captured the "Beauty and the Beast" aspect of the saga of Kong even better than the original. Naomi Watts and Adrian Brody turn in good performances and Jack Black is phenomenal (I never thought I would use that word in association with him), but the ape steals the show. Even during the brontosaurus/raptor attack I was wondering about Kong and where he was.
Even though you know how the story is going to end, take the 3+ hours to watch this film as it is an above-par retelling of the story. While it drags at first with the introduction of the characters in New York City, once the cast is on the boat the production sets sail and time stands still.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
A ho-hum effort from an incredible team
When you begin with Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, throw in a pretty girl and some incredibly talented "character" actors like Ian McKellan and Jean Reno, you probably would expect a grade A movie. The best I can give it is a seven, and it probably deserves that much. Hooray to Howard for not including much sex (one brief scene flashes on the screen in black and white) in a movie that has Tom Hanks pretty much mopes his way through a maze of religious demagoguery that combines reasonable historic truth with unreasonable religious fiction.
Having been one of the few who never read the book I might not catch everything, but the movie simply takes too long to get where its going, and even then the muddled ending left me questioning if it was an introduction for a sequel or actually had a meaning?
King Arthur (2004)
Confusing, not historical, but a good, average movie
Accept the fact that this is not a historically accurate movie -- its not. Accept the fact that it mis-portrays major portions of the Arthur legend -- It does. Read the comments that other people have voted against because I think there's a group that have been voting against negative comments for this film -- Probably.
What you have left is an acceptable little entertainment film that doesn't try to distract you with name actors or actresses, at least at the time (pre-Fantastic Four). The battle at the end of the film is confusing and some of the special effects are ridiculous, but outside of that the film is at least worth watching if you have a couple of free hours.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Better than the majority think
As I am writing this War of the Worlds has a 6.8 average with 35,000 votes. The sad thing is that it deserves better. Tom Cruise turns in a good (but not great) performance as the dad trying to save his two kids in the massive alien invasion. Not up to The Last Samurai or Mission Impossible, but still convincing. Young Dakota Fanning is the stand-out here, and she has been standing out against some pretty big names recently.
Watch for Gene Barry as "grandfather" at the end of the movie. He was in the original "War of the Worlds" back in 1953. His co-star (who I did not recognize) plays "grandmother".
La marche de l'empereur (2005)
Great movie in a year of stinkers
The kids want to go to a movie and mom and dad are confronted with the standard beat 'em up action flick, the stun ray sci-fi trash or some TV remake held together by Jessica Simpson's butt. Take a look for a theater showing the March of the Emperor (as in Penguin) and mom, dad and the kids will be enchanted.
Greeted by the melodious fluidity of Morgan Freeman's voice, we learn the story of the massive Emperor Peguin, and their ritualistic habits that allow them to propagate. The story is National Geographic stuff, but the photography is stunning, given the barren nature of the Antartic. Be prepared for some tough scenes, though, as the story details both the successes and failure of the parents to be.
Bad Santa (2003)
One of the worst movies I have ever seen, the story revolves around Billy Bob Thorton's "stupid" Santa and his unbelievable exploits (and unbelievable mouth). Nobody is going to keep a worker, much less a Santa who acts like this idiot. Even Lauren Graham's performance as a bartender with a Jewish dad who likes Santa's because they are "forbidden" is completely wasted. She deserves something better than this role. John Ritter's wimpy department store manager is too afraid to fire the Bad Santa, also unbelievable in this day and age. It wouldn't take too many complaints before Billy Bob would be out the door. This was the last movie in which he appeared, although he did tape additional episodes of the TV show before he died. Bernie Mac always turns in great work, but his role is wasted.
Lackawanna Blues (2005)
Killer performance for S. Epatha Merkerson
I always felt that Ms. Merkerson had never gotten a role fitting her skills. Familiar to millions as the Lt. on Law and Order, she has been seen in a number of theatrical releases, always in a supporting role. HBO's Lackawanna Blues changes that and allows this talented actress to shine as Nanny, successful entrepreneur in a world changing from segregation to integration. But the story is really about the colorful array of characters that she and her adopted son meet in a boarding house in Lackawanna, New York, a suburb of Buffalo.
The story could be set in any major African-American community of the 50's and 60's from Atlanta's Sweet Auburn to New York's Harlem. But the segregation-integration angle is only a subtle undercurrent in the colorful lives of the folks at Nanny's boarding house. The story revolves around Nanny's relationships with all kinds of people, played by some of the best actors in the business (I purposely did not say black actors--this ensemble is a stunning array of talent who happen to be black, except for Jimmy Smits, of course) I recommend this film as a fun and colorful look at a bygone day.