Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sicko (2007)

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A documentary is difficult to review because there is no acting, nothing really "special" about watching it on the big screen, and no overwhelming sense of creativity or artistry. Documentaries must, therefore, be critiqued for their thoughtfulness, relevance, entertainment value, and truthfulness. Michael Moore, one of the most polarizing figures in popular culture, is hated by one and loved by another. He has perpetuated this characterization by creating films that strongly attack distinct parties, persons, and ideologies, but Sicko is break from the old Michael Moore. For the first time Moore has singled out a problem that everyone in America can relate to because everyone gets sick, or has family that gets sick, and experiences the U.S. health care system. With his typical wit, humor, and ability to pull heartstrings, Moore explains the sad state of the system by showing how we have gotten to where are today, who has suffered along the way, and ideas for change. Whereas in the past his spotlight shined on conservative, right wing politicians and personalities, Moore points that finger at everyone responsible and delivers blows across the political spectrum (one of the hardest hits is aimed at Hilary Clinton, and its a knockout). The combination of touching personal stories and sprinkles sarcasm keep the viewer entertained, informed, and moved. Sicko isn't perfect. Few scenes come across as excessive or unnecessary but the ones that do stand out. In addition, Moore doesn't go too far in showing critiques of universal health care. But these problems are few are far between and don't take away from the relevance or importance of the film. Moore comes across not as an agitator or trouble maker but as a passionate human being trying to figure out how America can be a better place for everyone. Sicko challenges the viewer to consider how such a powerful country can overlook such a significant problem that affects so many people. Moore has raised a flag that should be at least noticed by all Americans.

Good For: everyone with a thinking brain

Bad For: people who cry at movies, the ignorant, the narrow-minded

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

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Is it possible to recreate the detail of nearly 900 pages of source material in a little over two hours? The fifth installment of Harry Potter seems to point toward "no." New director David Yates and new screenwriter Michael Goldenberg, who have done nothing remotely close to the grandiosity of Potter, faced a terrific challenge adapting the massively detailed Order of the Phoenix into a film enjoyable for both those who have and have not read the book. In trying to make the film exciting, scary, action-packed and never a hint of boring, the two appear to have left out what makes the Potter series special; friendships, adolescent confusion, and multitudes of characters interwoven through shared experiences and fascinating dialogue. The film is so fast paced in its attempt to include as much as possible from the book that it feels like visual Cliff notes. There is considerably less acting compared to other Potter films because scenes are rushed and cut short, but what little acting is left has improved tremendously. As has become expected, Gary Oldman is once again a standout as Sirius Black and Ralph Fiennes is haunting as the dark wizard Lord Voldemort. Surprisingly, Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint all turn in their most funny and touching performances as the big three of the film. Radcliffe finally seems like a true actor, and Grint, despite seeing the least time on film of the three, displays subtlety as the hero's best friend. As in all the films, the most underrated actor in the series, Alan Rickman, is perfectly horrifying as Professor Snape. Newcomers Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood and Imelda Staunton (from Vera Drake) are some of the few spot-on representations of their literary counterparts. Although the film strays from the book more than any of the previous four, this should not count against it; it must be able to stand as its own for those who have not read the book. It's clear that such a fast pace will not recreate the intricate plot lines found in the book, but it also seems that the movie itself does not provide its own narrative reward for the viewer. With almost zero character development, way over-edited dialogue, and quick jumps in storyline, all that is left is dazzling special effects that would look amazing on the IMAX screen. The dramatic climax involving Harry and a close friend seems to pass by without in an instant, but the final fight scene between Professor Dumbledore and Lord Voldemort is massive and one of the most memorable in the film series. So maybe this is what the fifth Harry Potter movie truly is, more of a thrill ride than an art piece.

Good For: Harry Potter fans, fans of action movies

Bad For: those who have not read the book, those who who have not seen all four films

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Shrek (2001)

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Shrek was billed as "the greatest story never told," and may infact be one of the best non-Disney/Pixar animated films. By now everyone knows the story about Shrek, the ogre voiced by Mike Myers, and his unlikely quest for Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), and this is a testiment to both the writing and direction. Shrek is filled with both child and adult humor ranging from fart jokes to pop culture references. Although there are few weak points to the film, nothing is as strong as scenes involving both Shrek and Donkey, voiced to perfection by Eddie Murphy. Hearing Murphy completely embody the outlandish Donkey makes one wonder how he has done films like the Adventures of Pluto Nash and, of course, Norbit when he is one of the very few comedians who can be hilarious both dropping F-bombs or saying "poop." Being a fairy tale, Shrek has the typical, sentimental hero rescues Princess from evil Prince storyline, but the Donkey/Shrek combination make what is commonplace seem new and fresh. Memorable characters like the Gingerbread Man get too little screentime, whereas above-average (at best) characters like Lord Farquaad get too much. The visuals, however, are amazing and when combined with an impressive score transport the viewer into what truly feels like a land far, far away. Shrek isn't a landmark film but is the type of movie that can be watched repeatedly and quoted and who doesn't like those?

Good For: kids, families, a date, people who like donkeys

Bad For: mean people, people who don't like donkeys

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