Mystic River

I have been meaning to see Mystic River for months now. With the Oscars looming so close, I finally got around to it, and I'm glad I did. This film was described to me as a Boston Irish version of The Godfather, and I think it's an apt comparison. It's not really a mafia movie--in some ways the movie isn't really about crime at all, though the central action revolves around a crime--so there are lots of differences. But both films are deeply concerned with family. Clint Eastwood really brought the film to life, and he did so with a humility you rarely see in film drama today. Sean Penn gave a masterful performance, and even though I think he'll lose the Oscar to Bill Murray, I still think his nomination was richly deserved. Kevin Bacon was also very good, although his performance was subtle enough that it almost gets lost beside Penn. The weakest link was Tim Robbins. I really don't understand why he was nominated for Supporting Actor; his performance was too one-dimensional, and that one dimension was completely overdone. Even so, the film is good enough to overcome that one weakness, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested.

Viewed: 2/13/2004 | Released: 10/2/2003 | Score: A

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50 First Dates

People go to an Adam Sandler film expecting to laugh, and maybe to walk away feeling good at the end of the movie. I've always found that his movies have quite a lot of heart. This one, though, was surprisingly mature. I really expected it to be awful, but the love story at the core of this film was both tragic and heartwarming. Yes, there was a certain amount of the bathroom humor you expect from a Sandler film, but it almost seemed out of place here. The on-screen chemistry between Sandler and Drew Barrymore was wonderful, too. I think it's possible that they may become the new Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Viewed: 2/12/2004 | Released: 2/12/2004 | Score: a

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The Big Bounce

What an amazing disappointment. To begin with, Sara Foster, who played the female lead, was utterly lifeless on the screen. She really brought nothing apart from her looks, and, frankly, it wasn't enough. But that was hardly surprising. The sad thing was that the presence of people like Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Sinise was not enough to save this film. Sure, they had some good moments, but the problem with this movie is the script; it's just boring. Hopefully Starsky and Hutch will be funnier.

Viewed: 1/30/2004 | Released: 1/28/2004 | Score: D

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Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!

I saw this one for the same reason most men will: my wife wanted to see it. I expected Bye Bye, Birdie warmed over for this decade, minus the music. Actually, the film quite exceeded expectations. Topher Grace is pretty typecast these days, but only because he does that geeky boy-next-door thing so well. Yes, the film is the same romantic comedy you've seen so many times before, but the makers were overtly conscious of the genre, poking fun at it in ways that I appreciated. For many of you it will be a date movie, and it serves it's purpose as such.

Viewed: 1/29/2004 | Released: 1/22/2004 | Score: C

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The Last Samurai

Despite its many flaws, this movie inexplicably kept a lump in my throat for a surprising amount of time. Tom Cruise gives a typically self-indulgent performance, and the film has little in the way of historical accuracy. But there's something about the tranquility of the Japanese landscape and culture combined with the inexorable approach of the future that really resonates with me. The critics have all been raving about Ken Watanabe, who played the role of Katsumoto, and he was good, but many of the other Japanese actors also really impressed me. Masato Harada played Katsumoto's nemesis, Omura, extremely well, and Shin Koyamada's portrayal of Katsumoto's samurai son was amazing. But the performance that really left me breathless was Koyuki, as Katsumoto's widowed sister-in-law, Taka. She pulled off an amazingly subtle and rich performance as a young mother as well as the love interest, and, surprisingly, the script never cheapens her relationship with Cruise's Algren.

Viewed: 1/10/2004 | Released: 11/30/2003 | Score: B

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By Neil Gaiman

Before I picked up this book, I had liked everything I had ever read by Neil Gaiman. Now that I have finished it, I still do. Neverwhere held flavors of Dark City and The Wizard of Oz for me, and the fact that I've been to London (admittedly only for a very short time) only heightened the sense of magic about Gaiman's London Below.

Started: 12/29/2003 | Finished: 1/2/2004

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Cold Mountain

Americans are, as a society, quite fascinated by the Civil War. It is one of the pivotal moments in our history. It is the most studied American war. This movie brings you into that time, wraps you in its world. It's something of an American Odyssey, as we follow the journey of a deserter named Inman (played by Jude Law) as he makes his way home. The first thing that struck me about this film is the incredible landscape in which it takes place. The juxtaposition between the savage, dirty battlefields and the near-pristine forests of 1860's North Carolina is awesome. Add to that the lonely sound of a bluegrass fiddle and it makes for a haunting scenario. The performances quite lived up to the setting, as well. Of course, I always like Jude Law, and Nicole Kidman was alright, but the one who really surprised me was Natalie Portman. Portman is usually such a flat, boring actress to watch, but she managed to pull out quite an impressive performance as a young Southern widow in this film. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Renée Zellweger provided a great counterpoint to the generally solemn tone with some truly hilarious moments (although I found Zellweger to be a bit inappropriately spunky at times). I will be quite amazed if this film doesn't manage to garner several Academy Award nominations.

Viewed: 1/2/2004 | Released: 12/24/2003 | Score: A

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Big Fish

I wouldn't say that this movie was perfect, but I would say that I liked pretty much everything about it. We are given the life of Edward Bloom through the stories that he told his son, so the movie, like the stories, has to be bigger than life. And it is. Tim Burton was the perfect director for this story. Another director might have given us too much or too little, but Burton has this amazing sense of the fantastic (you can see it in all of his films) that was just right for this movie. He gives us the world as a child sees it: full of magic, color, and wonder, but also darkness and danger. And if the acting in the story sequences is a little over the top, it still fits in because that's how a young boy would have seen it in his head. Of course, I always like Ewan McGregor, but I really enjoyed Billy Crudup's portrayal of a man struggling to come to terms with his relationship with his father. I think for all of us there was a point when we realized that our parents (or grandparents or other real-life heroes) were not God, and Big Fish is about this revelation, and what comes after.

Viewed: 12/31/2003 | Released: 12/9/2003 | Score: A

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By Neal Stephenson

In the years between Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, Stephenson seems to have matured quite a bit as an author. His style has become much more refined, and the story is much more complex. Still, many of the problems I had with his earlier work are still present here. The story ended very abruptly, and he insists on using the present tense for much of the book. Still, I did enjoy the book. Stephenson manages the right mix of action and nerd appeal, for me at least; your mileage may vary. Despite its flaws, I think this one has convinced me to read more of his work.

Started: 12/16/2003 | Finished: 12/29/2003

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Cheaper by the Dozen

What is it with Hollywood studios that they feel the need to take the title from a good book and mate it with a completely different story? I can't believe the producers of this film have the gall to claim that it's based on the novel of the same name. Aside from the size of the family, there is literally nothing else in common between the two works. No, really. Nothing. I'll give it one star, but only because there were a couple of funny moments and the kids were cute.

Viewed: 12/27/2003 | Released: 12/24/2003 | Score: D

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