Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Color Purple



The Color Purple, directed by Steven Spielberg, chronicles the struggles of a black southern woman growing up in the early 1900's in a world riddled with prejudice, sexism and poverty. Whoppie Goldberg, in her first leading role, commands a list of quality performers. Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover and Maya Angelou are all members of this 1984 drama, making it one of the first feature films with the majority of its cast to be African American, to transcend the racial lines and be considered a film worthy of Academy recognition. This being said, Though Goldberg clearly commanded this stellar cast of actors, she was only nominated as Best SUPPORTING Actress' for her role.

The movie starts out in a lovely field of purple, where two girls are playing. They are playing the stereotypical 'patty-cake' game as done by most young children. The bright sun and field of purple help give a since of playfulness and innocence, and as the faces of the children are the only things that are shown, the two run to a clearing where their bodies are exposed, as well as their innocence.. We see that one of the children, Celie is with child. The innocence is immediately taken away, which a fitting seg-way into the next scene is with is dark and dreary, of her giving birth to her child, which is immediately taken away by her father.

The shocking truths do not end there. It just gets worse from this moment on. In the next few things, the story of Celie unfolds. We quickly find out that her child that she had given birth to was her father's child and sold away to family that was not able to have children. A suitor visits the home, in hopes of marrying Nettie, Celie's younger and prettier sister, but Celie's father is non too plus in getting rid of Celie first, and gives his consent to have her married, to a man how did not love her.

Still a teenager now married with Mr. and living in a loveless and abusive marriage, Nettie escapes her father's incestuous grasps to the new home of Celie only to be propositioned by Mister. I think that the fact that neither Nettie nor Celie ever calls her husband Mister and never says his last name. Alice Walker, author of the book in which the movie is adapted, did a good job in conveying the ominous character development of this role.

Moving on, Nettie thwarts off the sexual advancements of Mister and by way of a dramatic exodus, Nettie is dispelled from Mister's property, vowing to Celie that nothing but death could keep her from writing her.

Years past, and Celie is still living in disparity and foundering a loveless marriage. She is older now and the scene shows that she has become as accustomed to mister's idio-sequences as the back of his right had. Mister goes out to check the mail and Celie asks if a letter from her sister had come. With Mister's response, it is conveyed to the audience that there was no letter from Nettie and that she has never heard from her sister since the day that she was cast away from Mister's property.

Not until Celie runs into Mister's equal, and mistress, Suge Avery, did Celie start to take pride in her. Though Mister's equal, Suge's love for Celie along with her confident brought out a new Celie that made Mister and a lot of other people stand up and take notice of her. Suge along with, Sophia (played by Oprah Winfrey) teach Celie to love herself and not the situation that she was in.

The confidence of Celie explodes when she finds out the way that Mister has been keeping her sister way from her. I will not tell you how he does this, you are going to have to watch and find out for yourself. It is well worth the couple hours of waiting to see all the years of degradations and oppression is expelled in the direction of Mister over a quiet family dinner.

Depicting yet another riveting exodus, Celie goes on to live the rest of her days as the independent woman that she was destined to be. At the end of the movie her patience and fidelity are rewarded ten fold.

Sherlock Holmes: The Eligible Bachelor



Review by Garnet Brooks

This is a feature film produced by Granada Media. It is like the television series starring Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwick as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. This is a later entry in the Holmes timeline and occurs after he has pursued Moriarty over the Falls. Jeremy Brett is my favorite Holmes. His characterization of the detective is unconventional and may take a little getting used to for some. This was my experience of it also. When I first saw Brett in this role I thought him a little over the top, a little overly dramatic compared to the portrayals I had seen. Holmes as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is all rationality and is dry and emotionless. Brett retains the Holmes peculiarities but adds something that makes him a more interesting character than the one as written by Conan Doyle. This film is taken from the story called "The Nobel Bachelor."

Visually, the film begins with the fog dimmed streets and gaslights of Victorian London. The television series begins with London streets and the clippity-clip of horses hooves and they convey a carriage down the street. London in this era is full of gentlemen in top hats but because it is a mystery series it is also set in the dangerous, out of the way back streets. There is a scene like this and a woman seemingly drunk laughing.

The scene changes to the country. We see a country estate set like a jewel in the lush green landscape. A couple appear on horseback and they stare across a body of water at the looming estate. She is an American heiress and he is the eligible bachelor in question. Her name is Hettie and his is Lord St. Simon. Hettie is a spirited girl and the Englishman is all attentiveness. The isolated and rarely visited estate has a private zoo and the tiger there is as entranced with Hettie as is the Lord. A woman companion with her later remarks that Hettie stared down a bear near the mining camp back in America. Her father owns the mines and is American-in-Europe wealthy. He is there in a later scene making sure his daughter is taken care of before the planned wedding. When Hettie meets the bachelor's family they are all genuine smiles and approval.

Back in London Holmes is in a funk. He is puffy faced and pale. He has been using cocaine again and is withdrawn even more profoundly from humanity than usual. Mrs. Hudson is afraid to test him and Dr. Watson has been away. He comes back to find Holmes ill and bored. No worthy opponent has presented himself or herself in Moriarty's absence. Thus, Holmes' drug use. The uber-rationalist Holmes is having peculiar dreams. He dreams of a woman all wild and beastlike who is trapped and clawing to get out. He dreams of a torn red chair. The dreams seem to have special significance to him and he sketches the dreams as he dreams over and over. Later the dreams appear to have been premonitions. Holmes has taken to haunting the dangerous streets of London at night when he cannot sleep.

Two visitors spark him into action again. Lord St. Simon visits asking for help. At first Holmes in his dressing gown lets Dr. Watson take the information and Holmes does not put in an appearance. The English lord is a bit disparaging but is impressed when he finds that Holmes has been consulted by a European monarch. Holmes is less than impressed with St. Simon. It is the appearance of a veiled woman who causes Holmes to put in an appearance. He follows her out into the street in the rain--in his dressing gown but she has gone leaving a meager clue.

There is another major player in the action. Flora Miller a well-known stage actress is St. Simon's mistress. He has cast her off after many years for the lovely Hettie. She is drinking too much and is angry at St. Simon's betrayal. Flora wants revenge. She is not the only one. The veiled woman is Lord St. Simon's sister-in-law. Few know of his previous two marriages. His first wife was killed shortly after the ceremony took place. The second wealthy wife is Helena's sister. The woman was declared mad and disappeared. It is unclear whether or not Helena's sister is alive. She cannot find out for herself and learns of the upcoming wedding. She wears a veil to conceal her disfigured face. There is another person who is deeply involved in this mystery. This individual is not yet known to most.

The stage is set for the usual murder. But a usual murder does not happen. Instead Holmes is swept up in the horror of an individual's suffering. Solving the mystery leads him to his worst nightmare and as close as we ever come to seeing Holmes feeling for another. That other engenders his deepest respect. Later in life Conan Doyle became interested in the paranormal and became a sort of believer despite his background of scientific rationalism. Unlike earlier Holmes stories this one has a seemingly paranormal event.

This is a worthy production. Giving away more would undoubtedly spoil the experience of the moviegoer. This film is available on DVD in an MPI digitally restored version. Many of these Brett as Holmes stories are available on video. Some of the video episodes are of average quality and some are of less than average quality. The DVD version is a nice clear print

Little Buddha



Review by Garnet Brooks

This is a Bernardo Bertolucci film. Those interested in Bertolucci career may want to go to imdb.com, a great resource. Bertolucci both wrote and directed the film. Its star is Keanu Reeves. Reeves is able to make his deadpan style work very well here as Prince Siddhartha. The film has other stars in central roles: Chris Isaak as the boy Jesse's father and Bridget Fonda as the boy's mother.

The story is complex. It is really two films interlaced together: the story of Jesse, a young American boy who may be the reincarnation of a recently dead priest and of Prince Siddhartha who is on his way to becoming the Buddha. In the opening credits it says that the story is based on real events. The Buddha story is related in ancient religious texts but there is also a book version by Hermann Hesse that is very readable.

Jesse is a young boy living in Seattle. A priest Lama Norbu hearing of him comes from Bhutan to Seattle to visit the child. It is a strange contrast to see Lama Norbu in his Tibetan monastery and shortly afterwards in America. In Tibet he is surrounded by children clad in the reddish-orange robes. They play and laugh as children do. The priests are capable of humor and humanity even when retelling sacred parables. Lama Norbu and two companions are next seen driving on the freeway in a big modern city. They stay at the local Dharma Center and make a visit to the Conrad's house. Jesse's mother is curious and allows visits. She reads the story of Siddhartha from a child's book version with Jesse. Jesse is allowed to visit the Dharma Center and seems genuinely enamored with the teachings. It is when Lama Norbu wants to take Jesse to Katmandu that his mother begins to resist. His father however agrees to take time off from work and go with Jesse and the priests.

When Jesse is reading about Siddhartha we first see the young Siddhartha (Keanu Reeves). His father is a powerful king and his mother dies when he is very young. There are elaborate myths around Siddhartha's birth and youth. His father tries to shield him from all things that might distress him. No one is allowed to let the young prince see starvation, old age, or death. When he demands to go out on his own no one dares refuse him. What he sees shocks him out of the innocent happiness of his privileged existence. He cannot endure it and wants to leave to seek spiritual enlightenment. As a youth, Siddhartha has already married and had a child before he feels called to find his spiritual path. He leaves them falling in with a group of stoic men in the wilderness. They distrust the desires of the flesh and are extreme in depriving themselves. Siddhartha spends several years with them before realizing that deprivation alone is not the path to enlightenment.

The story of Jesse continues. In Katmandu he finds and becomes friends with a young street urchin. The boy is also a candidate. One of the two may be the reincarnation of the beloved priest. They soon find that there is one more candidate: a slightly older and rather bossy girl. Her family are very devout and knew the priest slightly before he died. The children play together and hear more of the life of the young Siddhartha. They imagine it vividly and come to know how he was tempted and how he became the Buddha.

The film manages to create suspense about who will be the reincarnated one among the children. Like all children there is a bit of competition between them. The outcome is odd and surprising.

As is usual for Bertolucci, his film is visually rich and beautiful. Much of it has golden undertones which somehow convey the calm and serenity that one supposes go along with enlightenment. The cinematography is wonderful. The story of Buddha is told with simplicity and respect. It manages to convey important spiritual messages without being dogmatic or preachy. Siddhartha's story is interwoven with lively renditions of a host of creatures in their magical and fascinating settings. Besides its obvious merits, the film is a painless way to get an introduction to Buddhism.

The Sentinel



I am a big fan of the television show 24 and of starring actor Kiefer Sutherland, so when I heard that he was going to be in a feature film with the likes of Michael Douglas, Kim Basinger, and Eva Longoria, there was no question that I would eventually watch it. The film is called The Sentinel, and though I wasn't able to see it in the theater, I rented it as soon as it came out on DVD.

Douglas is actually the lead character in the movie, but Sutherland gets plenty of screen time, which was fine by me. Douglas plays Secret Service agent Pete Garrison, a veteran of the force who even took a bullet for President Ronald Reagan in the 1980's. Since then, Garrison's career hasn't exactly been stellar since then. He's never been promoted, though he probably should have been, and is basically just another agent. His current assignment is to protect the First Lady of the United States, Sarah Ballentine (Basinger), with whom he happens to be having a steamy extramarital affair.

The action in this film starts off when one of the agents from Garrison's squad gets gunned down outside the steps of his own home. The murder was made to look like a robbery gone bad, but investigators David Breckenridge (Sutherland) and his rookie partner Jill Marin (Longoria), analyze the crime scene and conclude that it wasn't a robbery after all. Apparently, this particular agent had stumbled upon a conspiracy and was murdered in order to ensure silence.

Garrison goes to work trying to discover what kind of information the murdered agent came across, and soon realizes that there could be a big plot to assassinate the president in the works. Garrison goes to his superior officers with that theory, and since he has some credible evidence, all current agents are required to take a lie detector test. Garrison ends up being the only agent that fails, so he is immediately under a dark cloud of suspicion. Before the Secret Service can bring him in for questioning, he sets off to clear his own name.

The rest of the film deals with Garrison's attempts to get to the bottom of the conspiracy and save the president from being killed. Breckenridge and Marin have the task of trying to bring Garrison in, and along the way they become privy to some of the information that Garrison is uncovering. Breckenridge then has to decide whether he believes in Garrison's innocence or not, with the president's life hanging in the balance the entire time.

Most people who have seen The Sentinel are immediately reminded of the 1993 Clint Eastwood movie In the Line of Fire because both films focus on Secret Service agents trying to protect the president. But I don't think there's much similarity between the two movies beyond that very basic point. At any rate, I don't remember all the details of In the Line of Fire anyway, so I was able to judge The Sentinel entirely on its own merit.

I thought the movie was a decent, but not great, thriller. The plot kept moving along fairly quickly, and though there were several "Yeah, right!" moments of disbelief, they didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the movie.

The main reason that I liked The Sentinel was because of all the wonderful actors in it. Michael Douglas was very good as Pete Garrison. I've never considered myself a Michael Douglas fan, but I notice that I end up liking his movies more often than not. To me, that's an indication of what a fine actor he is. I thought Kiefer Sutherland did tolerably well as Breckenridge, though I had a feeling that he was just a by-the-book Jack Bauer -- in other words, not much of an acting stretch. Basinger and Longoria didn't have many scenes and they certainly didn't detract from the movie when they were on the screen. I wish I had more to say about them than that!

At any rate, if you're looking for a pretty good movie to watch and if you don't have high expectations for a tight script, then I recommend checking out The Sentinel. It's a popcorn movie that does a decent job of entertaining the audience for a couple of hours.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Solaris



By Simon Woodhouse

For many people, Science Fiction movies are the domain of talking robots, exploding spaceships and friendly (or not so friendly) aliens. They're popcorn movies that require little attention to understand, and provide quick and easy entertainment. But it isn't always like that. Once in a while a serious Sci-Fi movie comes along. When I say serious, I mean a film where the actors act, the dialogue is believable and very few things explode. If you like that sort of Sci-Fi, you'll like Solaris. If you're one of the robots/aliens/explosions crowd, it almost certainly won't be for you. Me, I like a little from column A and a little from column B.

Solaris is a remake of a Russian Sci-Fi movie from the early 70s, also called Solaris (surprise surprise), and directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. I'm not really a fan of Russian cinema, which means I haven't seen and can't comment on the original, but if it's half as good as this remake, then it's a winner.

The remake tells the story of Dr. Chris Kelvin (George Clooney), a recently widowed psychologist who's sent to investigate strange goings on aboard a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. He arrives to find some of the crew dead, and the two remaining shipmates, Snow (Jeremy Davies) and Dr. Helen Gordon (Viola Davis), teetering on the brink of insanity. It's Kelvin's job to find out what's going on, but neither of the two survivors are willing to talk, telling him he'll understand what's happening when it happens to him. As the opening reel progresses, Kelvin is constantly reliving life with his wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone), through a series of lengthy flashbacks. These quickly show the depth of their love, and the pain he's still feeling from her loss.

Before he can get to grips with what's happening on the space station, Rheya appears before him. But she's not a ghost, or something only he can see, she's real, he can touch her and she can remember things from their past. However, Kelvin is a psychologist, unable to belief she's real and therefore forced to prove to himself she's not. Most films save the real dramatic, heart-wrenching scenes right until the end, but not Solaris. The sequence where Kelvin tries to 'dispose' of Rheya is one that really pulls on the heartstrings. Anyway, he doesn't succeed and she comes back, so he's forced to face whatever it is that's happening on the station.

A constant backdrop to Kelvin's emotional ups and downs; the planet of Solaris sits below the station like a mute supporting character. It's a beautifully drawn special effect, surrounded by clouds of violet coloured mist and set in a starless background. In fact the whole look and feel of the film is a superbly rendered mixture of darkness and light. The visuals and the dialogue form a perfect match, insomuch as they're both understated but spot on. Heavy patches of shadow and darkness blend in with the characters' moods, and lots of lengthy close-ups show what Kelvin and the other crewmembers are thinking, rather than having them constantly voice their emotions.

As the film progresses and more of Kelvin's and Rheya's past is revealed, the tension aboard the space station starts to build. Snow and Gordon, the other two crew members, are also experiencing a situation similar to Kelvin's, and they start to hypothesise it's the result of a force emanating from the surface of Solaris. But because Rheya seems so real, Kelvin begins to accept she is, and feels unable to leave her on the station, even though its orbit is decaying and soon it'll crash into the planet.

I'd never really been a fan of Clooney's up until I saw this film, but here he shows just what a strong actor he is. Natascha McElhone also turns in a top-notch performance (why isn't she in more films?). Playing the jittery character of Snow, Jeremy Davies doesn't appear to be acting at all, and he's so easy to watch it's a shame he doesn't get more screen time. Viola Davis, the forth of the principle quartet, also gives a good account of herself, but her character is the hardest to like and so I enjoyed her performance the least (but that's not to say she wasn't as good as the others).

If you like films that require you to use your brain (and not just to direct your hand from the popcorn bucket to your mouth), then Solaris is for you. The pace and the visuals reminded me of such other Sci-Fi classics as Blade Runner, Alien and 2001. The plot twists and turns, and cleverly reveals character details in a steady stream, which means they gradually become more complex. It's the sort of film that makes you wish all Sci-Fi movies put more emphasis on people, rather than aliens, robots and explosions.

Orlando



Review by Garnet Brooks

This lovely period film received an Oscar nomination when it was first released in the early 1990's. Its director is Sally Potter who also wrote the screen adaptation. It is based on the book written by Virginia Wolf, one of the stream-of-consciousness Bloomsbury writers. The film's stars are Tilda Swinton and Billy Zane. I suppose this would be considered an art film. It is available on DVD.

The story follows Orlando who is an English nobleman. We first see him in 1600, the Elizabethan era, and he is noticed by the aging queen. She gives him some advice: just don't grow old. Elizabeth is daunting in her white face powder, red wig and enveloping dresses. Apparently no one dared disobey her. Orlando, a male, is played by Swinton but it is impossible to hide the femininity in period male costume. This sort of thing is hard to pull off in film. Orlando falls in love with a Russian woman and his heart is broken.

In 1650, Orlando is still a youth having aged not at all. He turns to poetry to comfort himself. He has resources that others do not have. Orlando gives his patronage to a great man who then trifles with Orlando, spends his money unwisely and mocks his patron in print. Orlando is disillusioned by the writing life.

In 1700, Orlando takes himself off to desert lands as an ambassador. He becomes enamored of the Ottoman way of life and is a true friend to the people he meets there. Conflicts there place him in a precarious position. Orlando almost dies and mid-film he awakes to find he is now a woman. She then remarks that she is really just the same after all, only of a different sex. She goes veiled into the desert for a time and comes back to England to find that her legal status is now murky. People both notice and do not notice the change of sex and they find ways to explain it away. Increasingly the hold on the estate is disputed.

In 1750, Orlando finds herself on the verge of losing the estate. A suitor emerges and gives her an offer of marriage. This would give her security but she refuses. She becomes enamored instead of a literary salon of the age and meets literary giant of the time like Addison and Johnson. Their attitudes toward her gender seem rather offensive to her. Again she is put off by this world and looks for meaning elsewhere.

In 1850, Orlando still has not aged a bit. She falls in love with one of the "wild" romantics of that time who model themselves after Lord Byron but he cannot stay with her and goes off on his stallion presumably to meet his death in the service of his particular grand cause.

Alone once more, Orlando is told by Victorian lawyers that she must have a male heir or lose the estate for good. She searches for meaning and satisfaction elsewhere yet again. World wars come and go and Orlando becomes a twentieth century woman turning novelist and having a girl baby by herself.

Orlando gets herself a motorcycle and visits the house she has lost with her young daughter. They take off on the motorcycle to find themselves in modern London. Here Orlando blends into Everywoman. She is "no longer trapped by destiny."

This film is, because of its nature as film, not able to reflect a stream-of-consciousness technique. It seems to be magical realism if I understand the concept. Really only two magical things happen: Orlando does not age and Orlando changes sexes. People pretend not to notice that these events are outside the scope of reality as we usually understand it. Otherwise it operates according to the tenants of realism. It is also a good example of how magical realism is not that different from old fashioned allegory. Everyman or Everywoman, Orlando marches down the ages and into myth.

While art films are not to everybody's taste, many people might like this film. It is a story about feminist issues but without being dogmatic or overt in presenting them. Wolf who wrote in the early 1900's clearly struggled with these issues. This film version manages to be very engaging. The period sets and costumes are magnificent.

It's a Wonderful Life



Over the years, the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" has become a holiday tradition. But when it was first released in 1946, it was considered a major flop.

Directed by the legendary Frank Capra, "It's a Wonderful Life" had a dream cast, including leading man Jimmy Stewart, the lovely Donna Reed and the acclaimed actor Lionel Barrymore.

Based on the short story "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern, "It's a Wonderful Life" tells the story of George Bailey, an everyman who gives up the dreams of his youth to settle in the small town where he was born and take over the family business. But, there is a lot of back-story in this movie.

Bailey's life, seen through the eyes of an angel named Clarence, unfolds throughout the movie. We see all of the things that George has done over the years, including an accident in his youth, meeting the woman he will marry, and how he comes to stay in Bedford Falls, the small town that he strives to get away from.

In the end, after a financial tragedy, George wishes that he had never been born. It is then that his wish is granted-- he gets to see how the lives of the people he loves would have been if he hadn't been born. It is a huge wakeup call and in eth end George is ready to face his troubles and embrace life.

So why is this movie considered a Christmas classic 60 years after its release? While not a holiday movie per se, the pivotal scenes take place on Christmas Eve. And the message of the movie is heartwarmingly clear: that money is not what makes a man rich.

In addition to Jimmy Stewart's great performance, Donna Reed is perfect as George' wife, Mary Bailey. Lionel Barrymore plays the role of the evil banker and George's nemesis, Mr. Potter. Other great performances include Henry Travers as the angel, Clarence, and Sheldon Leonard as Nick, the bartender. The town "tramp', Violet Bick, is flawlessly portrayed by Gloria Grahame. And here's a bit of trivia: when you watch this movie, check out the scene at the school dance, right before the floor opens up to reveal a swimming pool underneath. If the guy in that scene looks familiar, perhaps you remember him-- it's Carl Switzer, better known as Alfalfa from the "Our Gang/Little Rascals" series from the 1930's.

The most classic scenes revolve around George and his family on Christmas Eve. The usually happy-go-lucky George Bailey becomes despondent and begins complaining about his house, and all of his kids, etc. The bright spot seems to be his youngest daughter, Zuzu, who fell ill on her way home from school. Bailey's scolding of Zuzu's teacher, Mrs. Welch, is another classic scene and displays Jimmy Stewart's phenomenal acting talent.

Lionel Barrymore, of the great Barrymore acting family, is downright frightening as the evil banker, Mr. Potter. The best scenes involve George and Potter arguing over George's father's skills as a businessman. Barrymore plays this part to perfection and I can't imagine anyone else playing this role, although legend has it that Vincent price was considered for the role of Mr. / Potter.

Todd Karns plays the role of Harry Bailey, George's handsome younger brother who gets to live all of the dreams that George once had. And then there's Henry Travers, who plays the angel named Clarence-- although he doesn't look exactly the way I would envision an angel to look, Travers plays the role in an endearing way.

This movie has become a fan favorite over the past few decades, breathing new life into it. At one point, in the early 1990's, the movie was shown on television repeatedly throughout the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Currently, it only airs once or twice a year, usually on Christmas Eve on one of the major networks. The movie is also available in VHS and DVD, in both colorized and in black and white versions. While purists despise the colorization of classic films, I actually prefer it-- I feel that the colorization of "It's a Wonderful Life" is subtle and adds depth to the film.

Critics of "It's a Wonderful Life" peg it as corny and overly-drawn out. In my opinion it's a heartwarming tale of Americana and of what is truly important in life. "It's a Wonderful Life" is a definitely a movie that everyone should see.

King Kong ('05)



By Christina VanGinkel

When I first heard they were remaking King Kong, I have to admit that I was thrilled. I am a fan of big movies, of movies that take the reality of life and stretch it until it snaps. That is King Kong, a three hour remake of the original that was first filmed on 1933. Bigger than life, action packed, breathtaking, the whole shebang, that is what King Kong is all about! I grew up watching the old black and whites, reruns that though already well past their prime when I first watched them, still elicited in me my rapt attention to a gorilla fifty feet tall and running amuck. The newest installment in the greatness that is King Kong had me pinned to my seat in much the same way, save for the very beginning that is.

I admit that when I first watched this version of King Kong, I was so bored I was yawning. The beginning seems disjointed, to the point that I thought it might be just me, but I have heard others make the same statements as myself. For true King Kong fans though, if you can last the beginning out you will enjoy the rest of the movie.

Starring Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, the blonde bombshell who steals King Kong's heart, along with none others than Jack Black and Adrien Body, the story begins when Ann loses her vaudeville job. Desperate to do anything other than end up as a working girl on the wrong side of the tracks, she agrees to travel to Skull Island where she is to be the starlet of an action packed film. Little does she know that the trip does not have the backing she thought it did, and their leaving from port is more hurried than expected. This is the part of the film where I felt a bit lost, where the undertakings of the actors were wasted space and time. I am not sure how they could have made it better, other than just skipping it and not bringing, the pieces about being broke into the script. Set sail they do though, and before they know it, they are headed to Skull Island.

When their ship arrives at the island, chaos ensues from the start, and Ann is almost immediately captured by King Kong. Chivalry still exists in the day and age the film is set, so of course a group of men go out into the oversized jungle to try to save her. A few also figure they might as well capture some film footage to salvage the trip at the same time.

The visuals and startling special effect from this point on are fascinating, in true King Kong style. With not only King Kong in giant proportions, but also subjects such as giant insects, there are parts that can get you to the edge of your seat quick. No, it is not realistic, but you should have guessed that when you agreed to watch a flick about a fifty foot tall gorilla. When the dinosaurs fight King Kong I was nearly transported back to when I was a young child watching Godzilla, yet I loved every minute of it.

All good things must come to an end though, and typical of the King Kong I recall from my childhood, King Kong is captured and brought back to the biggest jungle of them all, New York City. I wished they would have delved into the trip back more than they did, but as it was, this is a long movie. My opinion though was they could have skipped the beginning as I already suggested, or clipped it to provide more time for this part of the journey.

Those who captured him think they can control him, and he is soon on display before an audience of partygoers not sure what to expect when the curtain is raised. He does escape, as we all knew he would, and meets back up with Ann. The ending of this show is a must see for King Kong fans, so the next time you are in the mood for a bigger than life, cinematic adventure as the critics call it, then pick up a copy of King Kong. Watch it on a big screen, and enjoy!

Akeelah and the Bee



The first time I heard the title Akeelah and the Bee, I thought it was an animated film with a bumblebee as one of the main characters. That's because it never entered my mind that someone would decide to make a movie about a spelling bee. After all, how interesting would it be to watch grade school kids spelling words for nearly two hours? Well, it turns out I was wrong on both points. Akeelah and the Bee is indeed about spelling bees, and screenwriter Doug Atchison managed to make the story very compelling.

The main character in this film is an 11-year-old girl named Akeelah, played by Keke Palmer. She attends school in one of the worst districts in the Los Angeles area, and isn't a particularly outstanding student except in one respect: she has never missed a single word on any of her spelling quizzes, despite the fact that she doesn't study for them. Akeelah's teacher notices this, and encourages her to participate in the school's spelling bee. The winner will automatically advance to the regional round, with the chance to keep advancing all the way to the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

Akeelah had never heard of the event and is not very interested. She sees herself as just a regular kid with enough problems as it is. The last thing she wants to do is get labeled as some sort of "braniac" because that will just invite more bullying from other students. However, Akeelah's school principal, played by Curtis Armstrong, makes her choice very simple. Either participate in the spelling bee or serve detention for her other infractions.

As you might expect, Akeelah wins her school spelling bee easily. She is given a tape of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and after watching it, she allows herself to dream of someday winning the tournament. The only problem is that Akeelah doesn't have a coach or any other kind of support system. Her father was killed when she was a young child, and her mother, played by Angela Bassett, is far too busy with her job and other children to help out or even take much notice of Akeelah.

That's when the principal brings in the help of an old friend, Dr. Larrabee. Dr. Larrabee is a professor at UCLA, but is on sabbatical for personal reasons. Laurence Fishburne infuses this character with intelligence, toughness, and compassion, which is exactly the kind of influence that Akeelah needs in her life. Their partnership starts off on the wrong foot, but they eventually come to understand each other more than they ever thought possible.

The rest of the film deals with Akeelah's journey to Washington, D.C. and how she comes to embody the hopes and dreams of not only the people that help her, but also her entire community. Does she have what it takes to win the national spelling bee? You'll have to watch for yourself in order to find out!

The lead actors in this movie, Palmer and Fishburne, turned in fabulous performances, which was of critical importance since they are in so many scenes together. I'd seen enough of Fishburne's other work to know he would be good, but I was pleasantly surprised by Palmer, whom I'd never heard of before. I also thought the supporting performances by Bassett and Armstrong helped the film along too, as did the young actors that appeared throughout as Akeelah's spelling bee friends and competitors. They were all believable and very convincing, which is exactly what you hope for from the casting department.

Overall, I thought this was a gem of a movie that I almost overlooked simply because of its title. As surprising as it may sound, the film moved along at an excellent pace throughout. There weren't many slow spots at all, which was unexpected given the subject matter. In fact, I didn't even notice how much time was passing while I watched this movie -- and I'm the kind of person that constantly checks my watch during most films!

If you want to immerse yourself in a truly heartwarming story that is family-friendly entertainment at its best, I recommend checking out Akeelah and the Bee. The film was very inspirational and is the kind of thing I wish Hollywood would produce more of.



Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest



By Janie Blank

My husband and I have a place in the city and nearby is a very nice movie theatre. The kind where you can by a beer. That is our main criterion. We are much more into live theatre than movies but it was Friday late afternoon and we had no plans so walked over and tried to find something worth seeing. We had heard quite a bit of hype about The Pirates of the Caribbean. I have always liked Johnny Depp so we decided to go for it.

We bought our beer, we bought our popcorn and settled down for a fun show. It started out quite lively with lots of action and I will say that we seemed to follow the action pretty well. I have heard a lot about Keira Knightly but actually had no idea what she looked like. She was both beautiful and a good actress. Probably better than the part demands. She reminds me of a young Brooke Shields. Her part of Elizabeth was definitely well done. I am not sure I have ever seen Orlando Bloom before either, although I have heard his name as well. He also was quite handsome and good in his part of Will. Johnny Depp is always Johnny Depp although we both thought he was pretty well over the top in this movie. He plays the lead character of Captain Jack Sparrow. On the one hand he seemed to play a ladies man but on the other he sashays around and wears eye makeup like a drag queen. I found it quite amusing. I think my husband thought it a bit overdone.

We also thought Jonathon Pryce did a good job as the provincial Governor and Elizabeths father. The way the pirates pillage and behave is not supposed to be overly realistic so you kind of get caught up in the humor of it. Johnny Depp or Captain Jack Sparrow has some hilarious scenes throughout the movie. There is loads of action, some incredible special effects, some science fiction and even some black magic. The action and suspense are what I suppose they consider the right mix for a summer blockbuster movie.

The action starts in Port Royal, in Colonial America and progresses to Tortuga in the Caribbean. It is always hard to do a movie review without giving things away. Same with a book review. How do you tell everyone what is good or bad about it without giving away the plot?

When we entered the theatre and watched this movie, we had no real idea that this was a sequel. As I said we are basically live theatre goers. We see only the most occasional movie. We actually got quite caught up in the movie and it seemed to be leading somewhere but then we pretty much felt like we had hit a brick wall. By the end of the movie it becomes quite clear that there is going to be a sequel to this one. A completely new character appears and pretty much that is the end. We were left quite baffled. It was just a completely unsatisfactory end for us!

When we left the theatre I went over to the popcorn guy and asked him if he understood the movie. I told him we just did not get it at all. He looked at me for a moment then asked if we had seen the first one. The first one I asked? Obviously we had no idea there was a first one. We had just somehow missed that entirely! He said you have to see the first one to get the second. Oh my! The funny thing was that we really did not feel we had missed a thing until the end.

Well, needless to say, the next thing we did was make a trip to the DVD department at a local store and found a copy of the Pirates of the Caribbean- the Curse of the Black Pearl. It took us a couple of weeks but we finally found the time to watch it and sure enough. The new character at the end of the second movie is really a character from the first one who returns and sets up the third movie that I am sure is due out next summer!

I cannot wait to see Johnny Depps makeup in that one!

Christmas with the Kranks



By Christina VanGinkel

Starring Tim Allen, from the long running hit television sitcom Home Improvement and the ever-popular Santa Clause movies, and Jamie Lee Curtis, star of such shows as My Girl and True Lies, along with a supporting cast that includes Dan Akroyd and Cheech Marin, the comedy show Christmas with the Kranks has a firm foothold on being a hit right from the start. Add to that the fact that the movie is based on the hit novel Skipping Christmas by best selling novelist John Grisham, and Christmas with the Kranks is a definite winner.

I like Christmas themed shows, so let us get that right out in the open. With that in mind, Christmas with the Kranks is not your usual Christmas themed movie. When Luther and Nora Krank, played by none other than Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, decide that if their daughter Blair cannot make it home for the holiday season, having just left for a year abroad in Peru, working for the Peace Corps, there is not much sense in them spending the huge amounts of money or time they normally do on such a celebration. When Luther sees an ad for a Caribbean Cruise over the holidays, he adds up what the family spent on Christmas the year before and is stunned when it comes to over six thousand dollars. He decides the money would be better spent on an elaborate getaway, such as the cruise he saw advertised. He goes so far as to see what the cruise will cost, and it is actually less than what they spent the year before on Christmas, almost half as much! At first, Nora says no to the idea, until Luther relents and agrees that they will still give their annual donation to the hospital and the church, matching the previous year's donation dollar for dollar. What they were not prepared for though, was that the whole town would feel put out.

The Kranks have been hosting an annual Christmas Eve extravaganza for many years. If the town's people do not have the Krank's party to attend to on this most important of dates, what will they all do? Sure, there are other parties, in town, but nothing the likes of what the Kranks put on each year.

In addition, the Krank's house has been the bearer of Frosty the giant snowman decoration for a very long time, and if he does not put him out, the decorations on their street will just not be complete. Not wanting to spend even a dime on Christmas, other than the two charitable contributions that Nora refuses to give up, they not only forgo putting out Frosty, they also do not buy their annual tree from the scouts, or many other annual purchases, including personalized cards and a holiday ham. All of which seems to cause even more revolting amongst the town's people.

When daughter Blair calls unexpectedly to announce that in fact, she is coming home for the holiday because she has someone special she wants to introduce to her parents, her boyfriend; the Kranks must pull together their annual get together at the last minute. The town's people rally round to help, in the end showing exactly what Christmas is really about, that being spending time with friends and family. What follows is a laugh a minute roll through town as the Kranks and everyone else tries to assemble everything they need to pull it all off, without letting on to Blair that they had actually intended to skip Christmas. This includes putting up Frosty, getting a tree, and gathering food and all their old friends and a few new ones together for their annual Christmas Eve bash.

No Christmas show would be complete without a few very touching moments, and Christmas with the Kranks is no exception. Neighbors Bev and Walt have had a tough year, what with Bev being ill and all, and money being tight. When Luther decides to make them the recipient of the best Christmas gift, he could think of, tears are sure to roll, at least for a few seconds. The rest of the time, you will be too busy laughing!

If you are looking for a new holiday tradition to add to your television viewing, pick up a DVD of Christmas with the Kranks.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation



By Brandi M. Seals

For nearly as long as I can remember, my family has settled in to watch our favorite Christmas movie - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. It is watched every year like clockwork along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas and It's a Wonderful Life. However, National Lampoon's stands out from the rest.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation stares Chevy Chase, Juliette Lewis and Randy Quaid. It is a cult classic and airs on television almost every year. The film details a Christmas at the Griswold's that has gone awry.

The whole film is viewed from Clark Griswold's (Chevy Chase) point of view. It is his dream to have a big old fashion family Christmas. In order to make his dream come true, Clark invites both sides of the family over at once despite his wife's objections. Clark does everything imaginable to make Christmas a delightful experience that everyone will remember. He takes the family out and chops down a great big tree. He covers the house in Christmas lights (25,000 twinkle lights in all) and even plans for a special Christmas surprise.

However, anyone familiar with the National Lampoon's franchise will know that like always, things do not go as planned. Everyone will remember Clark's big old fashion Christmas. Not because they had a great time, but because everything goes wrong.

The Christmas tree is too big and is eventually burned down by Uncle Lewis. The last minute replacement tree has a squirrel in it, but he does not stay there for long. The squirrel jumps out and chases the family around the house.

The Christmas lights do not work at first. Finally the flip of a light switch is all it takes to get the whole house to light up. However, it is so bright that the power plant has to use nuclear power to compensate for the rise in electrical use and the grouchy neighbors are blinded by the lights.

And, Clark's Christmas bonus also does not come through, which spells the end for his surprise.

In addition to things gone wrong, a parade of long, lost relatives appear. Each of them has their own quirks that add to the hijincks. Cousin Eddy (Randy Quaid) is a country bumpkin that pulls up in an RV and camps in the yard with his family. He does not know how to behave and can be seen emptying the septic tank on his RV into a storm drain, all while wearing boxers and a robe. Cousin Eddy brings along Kathryn (his wife) and two disturbed kids. Cousin Eddy also comes complete with a dog named Snots that possesses a peculiar nasal problem.

Aunt Bethany and Uncle Lewis also make an appearance. These two are so old that they do not really know what is going on. Bethany is so confused that she wrapped up her cat as a present and makes a lime jello mold with cat food sprinkled through out it. Lewis is simply a cranky old man with a very bad toupee who likes to smoke cigars.

The Griswold family Christmas is so bad that it has to top any bad Christmas experience you may have had. The writers seem to have taken everything that could go wrong and make it go wrong. Kick back with the family and watch the hilarity ensue as disaster after disaster strikes the Griswold family Christmas. Far from the good old fashion Christmas Clark imagined, Clark's Christmas is more like a hellish experience that just will not end.

Watching the film will take you back to all of those bad Christmases gone by. Hopefully now you will find the humor in the situation. This December if you are looking for a movie to lighten the mood or are otherwise looking for a good laugh, rent National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.
If you have never seen a National Lampoon's movie before, I would recommend renting some of the others first. A number of them were made after Christmas Vacation, so you would only want to watch those made beforehand. You also only want the ones that deal with the Griswold family. The movies will give you more background information on the kooky Griswold family. You would want to rent National Lampoon's: European Vacation, Natonal Lampoon's Vacation and National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation.

Date Movie



By Brandi M. Seals

What were the writers and directors thinking when they decided to make Date Movie? Clearly they were too busy being stoned out of their minds or having their bums kissed by movie executives to realize that the movie sucked - and not just a little. We are talking full on piece of crap movie that no one in their right mind should spend one cent on. Although it was written and directed by two of the five people responsible for the Scary Movie franchise (Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer) the so-called romantic-comedy and spoof movie comes up short in every way. Clearly these two were not the brains behind the Scary Movie movies.

Date Movie began torturing theater goers since February 17, 2006. It is a movie filled with little more than gross out antics and jokes that flop. With a rating of only PG13 there was only so far that the jokes could be taken. Instead of witty one-liners and other potential hilarious scenarios the film craps out with immature humor, often poop related. The film although marketed towards teenagers is only well suited for the 11-15 range. Everyone else is most likely too mature to handle this film.

The movie opens with a plus-sized Alyson Hannigan as Julia Jones in a street dance ala Austin Powers. She meets a man in her parents' Greek diner and is immediately determine to land him despite her father's (Eddie Griffin) protest that she must marry within her race - a Black Indian Japanese Jew. She visits mini Hitch (played by Tony Cox) and is soon sucked and scrubbed into a beautiful young lady at the chop shop.

Throughout the course of the 83 minute movie there are no highlights that I could pick out. However, there is a disturbing and decidedly unfunny bathroom scene with Jinxers the cat taking the biggest crap of his life. By the way, later in the movie we discover this cat's friskier side as he romances Julia's elderly human neighbor

As to fit in with other spoof movies, Date Movie is little more than a bunch of scenes from other date movies that have been dumbed down and exaggerated. Unfortunately, the spoofs and goofs that make up Date Movie are, as one might guess, ridiculous and not very funny. Of the movies spoofed are When Harry Met Sally, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Dodgeball, Meet the Fockers, My Best Friend's Wedding and other comedies. There is also a game show clearly designed to resemble The Batchelor.

Spoof movies have worked great in the past, look at Not another Teen Movie and the Scary Movie franchise. There is potential for a spoof, but it needs to be done well. It cannot be all gross out and dumb humor.

Date Movie is just one more movie in the line of several that is not up to par. The public has been inundated with several atrocious wrecks that should have never made it to the box office. I'm sorry movie execs; you must try harder if you want the people to come out to the movies and spend their hard earned money.

If after reading this you are still tempted to rent Date Movie, you are clearly in the mood for some punishment. You will wish for your money back within 5 minutes of the start of the film. The previews will be the best part of the DVD. Maybe if you are extremely immature, like stupefied humor, and are obsessed with movies like Harold and Kumar go to White Castle and Napoleon Dynamite, you will get a kick out of Date Movie. Everyone else should just save their money.

Perhaps my disappointment in this film stems from the fact that I know Alyson Hannigan can do better. I have seen her act in numerous things. She is pretty good and she does comedy well. I guess the thought of carrying a movie is what got her to sign on, but this pile of crap is not worthy of her acting. I do not know if she can make a come back in the movies after this flop. If she is lucky, only a handful of people will have seen it and associate her with this horrible piece.

Pirates of the Caribbean 2 (Dead Man's Chest)



First of all let me just say that there are very few sequels that live up to the glory of their predecessors; this is a well-known fact. Although I enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean 2 (Dead Man's Chest) it was certainly wasn't as grand and exciting as the Curse of the Black Pearl. Since there was a lot of hype and excitement over the sequel and people were expecting great things, it did fall short in a few ways.

The acting was great as usual; the characters of Commodore Norrington and Will Turner in particular underwent some major personality changes that were fascinating yet somewhat hard to believe. Jack Sparrow was his same great self; superbly constructed into a likeable and realistic pirate hero. Elizabeth Swann, daughter of Port Royal's governor, was a strong female role in Pirates 1, but in the second movie, let's just say if you like Captain Jack Sparrow, you may first yourself not liking the character of Miss Swann quite so much anymore. I found her character downgraded to more of a tagalong sidekick than a main female role.

I saw Curse of the Black Pearl with my father and wasn't too thrilled about a pirate movie, but since I love history, I decided to watch. Soon I was hooked, and was happy to discover that a sequel was being made. When I could finally watch it, I was on the edge of my seat. One thing I have to say is that there was a bit more violence in this movie than in the first. Some of the fighting scenes are more intense; sword-fighting doesn't bother me because it's done so adeptly, but people getting eaten by a huge sea monster was a bit disturbing. Most children are used to seeing fighting in some form or another in the movies, but I don't know if I'd recommend some of these parts for young kids.

One odd feature of the movie is that, like the first Pirates, an exact year is never mentioned. You know it was the era of the pirates, it's set in Port Royal (in Jamaica, in the English domain of the Caribbean) but one could wonder how accurate the historical portrayals are. Usually in a historical movie (although of course *most* of it is fantasy) the year or era is mentioned. This isn't a big deal if you're not a history buff, however, and kids will probably never notice. There are some great lessons if you watch Dead Man's Chest closely. Will Turner, a kind blacksmith who is head over heels for the governor's daughter, gets a test of his courage in this movie - in Pirates 1, he was more of a back-burner character, but now he's in constant action. He finds his father on a pirate ship doomed for eternity, and instead of wishing something for himself, all he wants to do is free him.

Jack Sparrow is marked to become a servant of Davey Jones but he doesn't go down without a fight. There are some funny moments that will make you giggle, but then gasp at a scene you weren't expecting. I consider this to be more of a movie that explains the characters then a constant action film, although there *is* plenty of action. The ending was the only part of Dead Man's Chest I could have scolded the writers for! Way at the end of the movie, an unexpected character (thought to be dead in the first movie) appears, alive as can be, with no explanation at all, and the movie ends, leaving many (including me) with their mouths hanging open. It was probably done for suspense, but it was still a big shocker.

The goal that was worked toward for the entire movie is not completed, which makes this very unusual among movies, and you have no idea what comes next. I understand they are paving the way for Pirates 3, but I don't think I have ever seen a movie in which none of the plot lines that form the story are resolved. I guess I'll have to wait until Number Three comes out, and hope for a more conclusive ending. (Of course, if there is ever a Pirates 4, the ending of Pirates 3 may also leave us with an annoying cliffhanger!)

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe



By Christina VanGinkel

The C.S. Lewis novel of the same name, The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, originally published in 1950, is considered a classic that many say should be reread at different times of our lives, in order to understand fully the true wonders woven deep within the words and worlds within. The movie, based tightly on the book by the same name, is sure to be a classic right alongside its bound counterpart.

I have long been a fan of C.S. Lewis and when the movie opened at our local theater last holiday season, I did not even ask anyone to go with me, so intent was I in being able to watch the show undisturbed. It opens with WWII bearing down on London, and in the midst of it are Lucy, Peter, Edmund, and Susie, the four Pevensie siblings. When the war hits too close to home, their mother does what many mothers during that time did, she packed them up, and put them on a train to the farmland outside of London hoping to keep them safe.

They get off the train at a very deserted station, to be greeted after a bit of a wait by a housekeeper for a somewhat reclusive professor who they first meet as only a shadow beneath a door, and a stern warning from the housekeeper that the professor is not to be disturbed.

Greatly missing their mother left back in London, and their father who is off at war, the older siblings keep watch over the two younger ones. Bored by the quietness of the big house, though not wanting to disturb the professor, they try to make the best of things by coming up with games that will not disturb the professor. One favorite is the old standby of Hide & Seek. When the youngest member of the four siblings, Lucy, discovers a large wardrobe underneath a cloth cover in an otherwise empty room, she also discovers much more when she decides it will make the perfect hiding spot. As Lucy peeks out of the wardrobe door once more to see who is coming, she then backs up to what she believes will be the back of the wardrobe. Instead, she stumbles from the wardrobe, into the snow-covered land of Narnia, where she quickly befriends a half man, half fawn, Mr. Thomas.

When she goes back through the wardrobe, Peter, Edmund, and Susie believe it is just her imagination at work when she tells them of the land she ahs discovered hidden in the back of the wardrobe. Peter soon discovers though that Lucy is not lying, yet he does not back up her story with their two older siblings. Soon, they all know the truth though, and Peter, betrays them all while in the land of Narnia, accepting promises from the evil white witch, Jadis.

Swept up in trying to save their brother, they discover more than they ever could have imagined, in part that they themselves are part of a prophecy, that two sons of Adam, and two daughters of Eve would save Narnia from the evil icy spell cast over the land. On the run from the evil witch, they receive help from an unlikely cast of characters including two talking beavers and a sly fox. The further they go into Narnia, they discover that just their being there is already having devastating effects on the spell, with parts of the land melting, and spring making a comeback. Still, they need to rescue Peter, or else all will be lost. They seek out the help of Aslan, the powerful lion, and his army, who they learn about from the beavers. Aslan greets the three with honor, but quickly inquires where the fourth is, Peter. They explain about him betraying them to the white witch, Jadis, and then Aslan agrees to a meeting with Jadis, and makes a deal with her that no one can believe he agreed to. From there, the story really heats up. If you are a fan of adventure stories that dare to take you where no other story ever has, then be sure to watch The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, to find out what happens next. Be warned though, that this will be a story you will never forget.

An Unfinished Life



By Christina VanGinkel

An Unfinished Life stars Jennifer Lopez, Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, and a supporting cast that includes the likes of Camryn Manheim, Damian Lewis, Joshua Lucas, and newcomer Becca Gardner. I am never big on names of producers and directors and such, but when I heard that the producer of An Unfinished Life was Alan Ladd, I figured that it could not hurt a film to have such a man in the producer's seat.

I first watched this show just a few nights ago. Its original unveiling was in September of 2005, and it made its debut on DVD in April of 2006. A fan of almost the whole cast listing; it was a no brain decision for me to sit down and watch it.

From the start, I felt the show was slow moving, calm even, yet this is not always a bad thing. In the beginning, we see the character Jean, a single mother played by Jennifer Lopez, and her young daughter Griff, played by Becca Gardner, in a bad situation with a boyfriend. Deciding it is time to leave the boyfriend, the two packs up their meager belongings and head out of town with no true destination in mind. When their car breaks down, Jean comes to terms that as broke as she is, and with her daughter along, the only sensible thing to do is to go home.

Home is back to her father-in-law, Einar Gilkyson, and his ranch where she once knew nothing but happiness. Now though, it is not the welcoming home she would have hoped or dared thought it would be. Einar blames Jean for the death of his one and only son, Jean's husband, who was killed in an accident that had Jean behind the wheel. The ranch has been left to fall apart, in part because of an accident that had befallen the main ranch hand, and because Einar feels there is not much left in life for him to hang on for.

When we first see the ranch, we meet the ranch hand, Mitch, played by Morgan Freeman. He has been the hired help on the ranch so long; he is as much family as anyone else. Laid up from a run in with a grizzly that he surprised while the grizzly was busily devouring a cow he had killed, he befriends Jean's young daughter Griff, and between the two of them, they quietly push for reconciliation between old Einar and Jean. Einar never knew he had a granddaughter, as Jean was pregnant, we learn, at the funeral of her husband, Einar's son. Griff never knew she had a grandfather either. Griff falls in love with the ranch and the men who have made it their life, and when Jean moves off the ranch into town, Griff runs back to the ranch, the only stable home it seems she has ever really known. With scenes such as Einar teaching her how to drive and trusting her to make sure Mitch gets his meals and letting her name all of the farms cats, there is a heart in this show that some critics might just call a waste of time. I found it to be touching, and somewhat close to what real life might be. Sure, there is drama, but there is also a lot of calm in between, unlike many of the fast-paced dramas we so often see made.

As things would have it, Jean's abusive boyfriend finds her, figuring that her hometown is where she might run to, and even after the sheriff, Jean's new love interest, and old Einar, try to run him off, he makes the mistake of coming back to town. Between Mitch's plans to have Einar help the bear that mauled him, by releasing him from the local zoo with the help of young Griff, and young Griff accidentally causing old Einar to be attacked by the same bear, Einar realizes that accidents do happen; something he had been unwilling to admit to both himself and Jean. Add in the boyfriend needing to be taught a lesson, and there is a lot going on in the film, just in a more relaxed manner than someone might think for the story unfolding. If you are a fan of Jennifer Lopez, Robert Redford, or Morgan Freeman, and do not mind a film that is a bit laid back more so than many, then be sure to check out An Unfinished Life.