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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1
There have been six Harry Potter films by this point, so you've already made up your mind on whether the story of "The Boy Who Lived" is for you or not. But for those who are firmly on board, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows offers one of the best and most emotionally engaging films in the series.
This penultimate adventure immediately sets itself apart from its predecessors, as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) follow up on their vow at the end of the last film to hunt down the remaining horcruxes – pieces of the dreaded Lord Voldemort's soul that must be destroyed in order to defeat him completely. This quest takes our central trio away from the comforts of Hogwarts for the first time, taking the series into a very different tone and feel.
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Visually stunning, ingeniously crafted, poorly laid out and sporadic at best, “9” is the cinema’s greatest example this year of how an intriguing premise can be squandered through the lack of ability to construct a sound storyline and is, furthermore, living proof that not everything Tim Burton touches turns to gold.
In the wasteland of what used to be Earth, a small puppet comes to life. The year and location are unknown, like many other things, but the puppet, 9 (Elijah Wood), quickly finds he is in a hostile world, filled with mechanical beasts and robots, machines and danger, where life seems to no longer exist.
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Me and Orson Welles
Me and Orson Welles is about the theater, or at least the theater as it was in the 1930s. Based on the semi-fictional novel by Robert Kaplow and set in New York City around the time of the opening of the Mercury Theater, the film is rich in period detail. It chronicles not only how Welles put together his now-famous stage production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar but how it was to work around and with the temperamental genius. In a departure from his usual intimate, character-based fare, director Richard Linklater paints on a broad cinematic canvas that brings Depression-era Broadway vividly to life.
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Good Night, and Good Luck
"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
- George Santayana
It's astounding that a treatment of a factual incident from five decades ago could have such powerful resonance today. Lessons learned, it seems, are not taken to heart, or the next generation willfully ignores the hard truths purchased through blood, sweat, and tears by their parents. Today's climate of escalating paranoia isn't that different from what this country endured in the 1950s, when the birth pains of the Cold War evacuated a placenta named Joseph McCarthy. And while the 2000s have not yet generated a demagogue of McCarthy's stature, the sense of déjà vu is inescapable. Replace the "Communism" of the '50s with "Terrorism" today, and the parallels come into focus. (Note: this should not be interpreted as an argument that terrorism is not a serious threat, but an indication that there are those who exploit it as a means of financial and political gain.)
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What is the difference between a bad melodrama and a good one? The key lies in the emotional response. If the viewer feels that he or she is being forced into reacting in a particular way because of "button pushing," the film makers have erred. While manipulation is almost always mandatory in a melodrama, it should be accomplished in such a way that no one in the audience is conscious of it at the time. Emotional high points should evolve naturally out of the plot; the storyline should not be constructed around those moments. Movies like Forrest Gump and Titanic capture the finer aspects of melodrama. Failed efforts like Patch Adams spend too much time trying to reduce the audience to tears through a series of cheap, transparent ploys.
This is yet another of those "based on a true story..." feel-good movies that's designed to make us believe that there are two kinds of human beings - free-spirits (who are the good guys) and establishment-types (who are inevitably villains). The title character, played by Robin Williams in one of his familiar dramatic/comedic turns, is a mental patient, who, during his stint in the Fairfax State Psychiatric Ward, decides that he wants to go to school to become a doctor. So, upon his release in 1971, the 40-something year old man enrolls in the Virginia Medical University. However, while the teachers preach book learning and emotional detachment, Patch believes that to treat a disease, the physician should connect with his patients. While his attitude is embraced by some of his fellow students, including a pretty co-ed named Carin Fischer (Monica Potter), Dean Walcott (Bob Gunton) forbids Patch to have contact with real patients, and, when he disobeys, he finds himself in danger of being thrown out of medical school.
The film is directed by Tom Shadyac, who helmed the first Ace Ventura movie, and written by Steve Oedekerk, who was behind the camera for the second (the pair also teamed up on the Eddie Murphy remake of The Nutty Professor). While these two arguably have some skill at comedy, they have little or none when it comes to drama. Patch Adams isn't much more than a series of overdone emotional scenes connected by a conventional plot line. Anyone interested in exploring a better approach to the same basic ideas should check out The Doctor, in which William Hurt plays a surgeon who learns about the coldness of the medical profession when he becomes a patient. In Patch Adams, there are moments of supposed emotional warmth as Patch connects with dying patients, towering sadness as he recites poetry over the coffin of a lost friend, and triumph as he overcomes the forces aligned against him. And, as is seemingly obligatory in this kind of film, there's a big speech at the end - one that makes Al Pacino's tirade in Scent of a Woman seem subtle by comparison. (It is perhaps worth noting, however, that few of the film's jokes involves flatulence, so maybe Shadyac and Oedekerk are trying to display some maturity.)
Robin Williams, who won an Oscar for his beautifully-understated role in Good Will Hunting, wavers between being effective and going over-the-top. From time-to-time, he has genuinely funny moments (when Patch Adams goes for comedy, it's not half bad), but, for the most part, the dramatic aspect of his performance is off. He's forcing the audience's emotional response. And, although attempting to replicate his work in Dead Poets Society, Williams is working with a script that isn't as polished, so some of his scenes come across as overwrought instead of heartbreaking.
The supporting cast is peppered with familiar faces. Monica Potter, most recently seen in the Prefontaine biography, Without Limits, is Patch's much younger girlfriend. Daniel London is the first of his student converts. Philip Seymour Hoffman (the prank phone caller in Happiness) is Patch's straitlaced roommate. Bob Gunton is Dean Walcott, the personification of evil. Michael Jeter is Patch's mental ward cellmate. Irma P.Hall is a nurse at the hospital where Patch works his magic, and Peter Coyote is a cranky cancer patient who becomes one of Patch's greatest successes.
Patch Adams is slated for a Christmas Day release, presumably because Universal Pictures believes audiences are more susceptible to this kind of half-baked storytelling during the season of good will. However, with the even more cloying Stepmom arriving on the same day, there's bound to be a run on Kleenexes. Patch Adams is the kind of film that will work for an audience that's just interested in having an emotional experience (with a happy ending) without caring how obviously or clumsily they are manipulated. I find this sort of sledgehammer film making to be offensive, but there are those who enjoy it. Somehow, though, I don't think there are enough viewers with such a low quality threshold to right Universal Pictures' floundering financial ship. Patch Adams is another miscalculation by a studio that hasn't done much right all year
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Dumb and Dumber
Sometimes, a movie just can't live up to its advertising campaign (or its name, for that matter). Dumb and Dumber is one such case. Take the newspaper ad, for example, filled with all those fake, witty quotes. That's rather clever (although not original). Unfortunately, the same kind of humorists weren't involved in writing the script. "Dumb" actually overestimates the film's intelligence.
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Farewell My Concubine
Farewell My Concubine spans fifty-three years, presenting the lives of two men against the historical backdrop of a country in upheaval. Initially banned in China but shown to international acclaim, Chen Kaige's film is one of the year's true masterpieces. Deserving of its award at Cannes and of its prominent position in 1993's New York Film Festival, Farewell My Concubine is a motion picture experience that few will soon forget after leaving the theater.
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Fresh from the Corman camp comes Barbarian, yet another faceless entry in the previously-thought-dead subgenre of Mega-Low-Budget Swords & Sandals. If this movie were any more hilarious, I'd start a nationwide petition to make sure video vendors plunk this one down on the Comedy shelf.
Rare is the turkey this meaty.
Devil's Island: Journey Into Jungle Alcatraz
Imagine the prison of Alcatraz, only 10 times worse, built on tropical, hellish and deadly islands, lost to the rest of the world. Three tiny castaway islands rise away from the coast of French Guyana, in South America The Devils Islands. Now buried under an impenetrable jungle, lay the lost remains of what had been for a hundred years the most storied convict prison in history. There, while most of the prisoners faded into oblivion, a few became legends. Some because they were innocent, as in the scandalous Dreyfus Affair, some because they somehow escaped the islands of nightmare, as did the butterfly, Henry Charrire, immortalized by Steve McQueen in Papillon. Now 50 years after the prison doors slammed shut for the last time, we explore whats left of the Devils Islands unbelievably dark and oppressive realm. Follow Jean-Christophe Jeauffre and his crew as he reveals the secrets of another lost world...
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A brooding detective assumes the persona of his young daughter and obsessively hunts internet chat rooms for the pedophile who killed her.
The Curiosity of Chance
In Europe in the 1980s, flamboyant and gay 16-year-old Chance Marquis (Tad Hilgenbrink) shows up at an international high school in a top hat and tails, immediately attracting the attention of the "queer-hating" resident bully, among others. Through his involvement in the school newspaper, he meets an introverted photographer with a mysterious briefcase, and while practicing tennis, he befriends a catty fashionista, both of whom act as his wingmen in his new high school. He also meets the jock-next-door, with whom he forms a tentative friendship, despite the jock's cacophonous group of friends. The film follows Chance through a year of high school, with its attendant drama, successes, and hijinks—including sneaking into a drag bar, where Chance begins to explore his true self.
Themes underscored throughout the movie include facing your fears as you grow into adulthood, and the barriers that people put up in order to cope with life. Chance claims to be strong with his nonchalant attitude, but when photos of him in drag show up all over school, Chance must face his own preachings of staying true to yourself.
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One Way to Valhalla
Bo Durant, a volatile, working-class gearhead, sees himself trapped in a world with few possibilities but when he falls off his stepdaughters bike, suffers a concussion, stops eating, and smashes up the backyard with a sledgehammer, he begins to feel free for the first time in his life.
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In 1989, a breakthrough in advanced parasitic research on Cuttyhunk Island, gave scientists a jump in human evolution. Initial tests proved promising as subjects were experiencing heightened physical and mental strength and awareness. But, something in the experiment went horribly wrong and the island mysteriously lost three quarters of its population. Jamie Akerman fled the outbreak, which took her mothers life, twenty years ago. She now returns with her boyfriend and step brother, to sell the family property. There, they uncover the key to Jamies disturbing past, and the horrifying secrets long suppressed by the town leader, Larkin. Now, a new strain of parasite has emerged, and threatens the island once again. Jamie struggles to survive and escape the obsessive pursuit of the local islanders who know that she has inherited more than she could ever have imagined.
The Fabulous Baker Boys
Frank and Jack Baker are professional musicians who play small clubs. They play smaltzy music and have never needed a day job. Times are changing and dates are becoming more difficult to get so they interview female singers. They finally decide on Susie Diamond, a former escort who needs some refinement, but the act begins to take off again. While the act is now successful, both Frank and Jack have problems with their life on the road. Susie becomes the agent that makes them re-evaluate where they are going, and how honest they have been with each other.
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Annelle Dupuy (Daryl Hannah), a recent beauty school graduate, is hired by Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton) to work in her a home-based beauty salon. M'Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field), a good friend of Truvy's, and her daughter, Shelby (Julia Roberts), arrive at Truvy's to prepare for Shelby's wedding which is taking place later that day. Also arriving at the salon are Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacLaine), a grouchy, two-time widow, and Clairee Belcher (Olympia Dukakis), also a widow, who is cheerful and enjoys taking cracks at Ouiser whenever possible. During an argument with her mother over whether or not she should bear a child, Shelby, who is a diabetic, falls into a state of hypoglycemia, but is quickly resuscitated by her mother and the other women in the salon.
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The unexplainable phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder has left landscapes of empty beehives all across America, threatening not only the beekeeping industry but our food supply. As scientists and beekeepers search for the cause, Colony captures the struggle within the beekeeping community to save the honeybee and themselves. Colony documents a time of unprecedented crisis in the world of the honeybee through the eyes of both veteran beekeeper, David Mendes, and Lance and Victor Seppi, two young brothers getting into beekeeping when most are getting out. As Mendes tries to save the nations collapsing hives, the Seppis try to keep their business alive amidst a collapsing economy.