Reign Over Me

It seems pretty clear that writer-director Mike Binder is having some sort of mid-life crisis. Why else would his recent work feature so many male characters who feel stifled by their marriages? Still, he does at least seem to realize that he shouldn't be feeling that way, which I guess sort of makes it better. I found this one to be a good deal more mature on that front than I was expecting, actually. Add in Adam Sandler's best dramatic performance to date and Don Cheadle--who is always good--and you have quite a good film. It's not without its flaws--the female characters are notably one-dimensional--but I think it's worth it for what it does right.

Viewed: 3/24/2007 | Released: 3/22/2007 | Score: B+

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The Namesake

We've been seeing some great movies this year and so far this one is my favorite. For those of you who haven't heard of it, The Namesake is the story of a family of Indian immigrants. Kal Penn plays the title role, a second generation Indian-American who struggles to figure out how to reconcile his parents' culture with the one he's grown up with. Despite the fact that I'm quite a bit more removed from the country of my ancestors (even by the shortest route, I'm still third generation), Penn's identity crisis still struck a chord with me and I recognized a lot of his issues as familiar. On the other hand, as Juliette and I discussed afterwards, a lot of it would be familiar to anyone because, in a way, every family has its own separate culture. In any case, I absolutely loved this movie. Those of you used to thinking of Kal Penn in movies like Van Wilder and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle may be surprised by how good a dramatic actor he is. His performance in this film is a little rough at first but he eventually finds his groove and does some really amazing work. Even better were Irfan Khan and Tabu, who played Penn's parents. I was just blown away by how beautiful their relationship was, by the quiet love that they shared both for each other and for their children. I really can't praise this movie enough.

Viewed: 3/22/2007 | Released: 3/8/2007 | Score: A

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Watership Down

By Richard Adams

I first read this book the summer before my freshman year of high school--it was our summer reading assignment. I ended up waiting until the last week before school started because, well, it was summer and I wanted to have fun, not do homework. Fortunately, I liked it so much that I tore through the book in about two days and was prepared for the test when I got to class on the first day. Coming back to it as an adult, I have to say that it holds up pretty well, although it does now feel strongly like a children's book. That's what it is, of course--the only reason I bring it up is that Watership Down is so often compared to The Lord of the Rings and while I can see the similarities, The Lord of the Rings brings me something new every time I read it, whereas this one is appealing more for the childlike point of view and the associated feelings of nostalgia.

Started: 2/3/2007 | Finished: 3/12/2007

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Juliette made an observation as we were leaving this movie that I think sums up the experience pretty well: she said that it was pretty slow, but that it was still tense and she was interested the whole time. Lack of action is a common problem for any psychological thriller but the good ones--and this is a good one--manage to maintain the tension somehow. Good performances are crucial, and that's where actors like Chris Cooper come in handy. I've liked Cooper since the first time I saw him (I believe it was in the '98 version of Great Expectations) and this one definitely continues that trend. Ryan Philippe also did a very good job as the young operative assigned to uncover Cooper's espionage. The only blip for me was Laura Linney's performance. When she's good she's really good, but at other times she can come off as a little too needy and "actorish" in her performances. Anyway, this was the first film we've seen that was released in 2007 and I'd say it's an auspicious beginning.

Viewed: 3/17/2007 | Released: 2/11/2007 | Score: B

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Pan's Labyrinth

One problem with waiting a long time to see such a highly acclaimed movie is that it gives you time to hear and absorb the hype. I really liked Pan's Labyrinth, but unfortunately I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. It's not that the film wasn't brilliant. It was. I'm just not sure that any film could really live up to the kind of hype I'd been hearing for months before I finally got around to seeing it. But enough negativity--what was good about the movie? Well, the obvious thing is that the production design was nothing short of amazing. Tim Burton at his best manages a similar sort of dark weirdness, but where Burton--even in his good moments--usually feels a little cartoonish, this one really felt more like a fairy tale come to life. Which is, of course, what they were going for. There were also some very good performances--Maribel Verdú springs to mind in her role as Mercedes. My one complaint about the movie was that there were some violent scenes that I thought could have been less graphic.

Viewed: 3/3/2007 | Released: 12/28/2006 | Score: A

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