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National Treasure


National Treasure (2004, Jon Turteltaub)

What's it about? Treasure hunter Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) is following a trail that he hopes will eventually lead him to a treasure hidden by the Founding Fathers. The problem: what he believes to be the final, essential clue is written on the back of the Declaration of Independence.

Who's in it? Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Sean Bean, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Plummer.

Why did you watch it? Actually, I've refused to watch it for years because the trailer looked stupid, but it's a Nicholas Cage movie - so I eventually gave in.

Why is it worth watching? Because, it turns out, it's a lot smarter and more fun to watch than the trailer suggests.
The acting (with the possible exception of Diane Kruger, who sometimes gets a bit annoying) is flawless. Cage portrays Ben just this side of obsessed, but essentially a good guy, Justin Bartha's Riley is the sidekick and always good for comic relief without reducing the character to that, and Sean Bean makes Ian a nicely three-dimensional villain, who's ruthless but not pointlessly evil.
Overall, it's a modern Indiana Jones - a fast-paced adventure movie that's all about hunting down clues and solving riddles, often spiked with witty moments (I just loved how the Evil Henchman was all, "Why does that never happen to me?" when Ben and Abigail kissed. That was priceless!). Really, it's quite awesome. And Nicholas and Sean are both ridiculously hot. (What do you mean, shallow?! Just focusing on the important things!)

On the other hand... I didn't quite understand how Ben and Ian (Sean Bean) ended up being enemies. They fell out over Ian's announcement that he'd steal the Declaration of Independence, which Ben violently disagreed with, but five minutes later he came to the same conclusion. And most of the time, Ian seemed to be a reasonable enough guy to talk sense with, so if Ben hadn't insisted on lying to him every step along the way, maybe they could have done without all the fighting and trying to kill each other.

The final verdict: 8-9/10



Evening (2007, Lajos Koltai)

What's it about? A dying woman (Vanessa Redgrave) remembers a time in her life when she was young and carefree and full of hopes for the future that were crushed when a complicated love triangle took a tragic turn.

Who's in it? Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Vanessa Redgrave, Patrick Wilson, Hugh Dancy, Natasha Richardson, Mamie Gummer, Eileen Atkins, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close.

Why did you watch it? Someone mentioned a kiss between Patrick Wilson and Hugh Dancy.

Why is it worth watching? It's a somber portrayal of a life's end from both sides - the perspective of the dying person, with all the memories and the regrets and the drifting in and out of reality, as well as the one of the loved ones that get left behind: the mourning, the pain, the sadness, the unanswered questions and unaddressed doubts. In a tragic, very sad way, there's an air of nostalgia and calmness around it that's beautiful, and it's certainly beautifully filmed.
The acting is as excellent as one expects from the all-star cast, with Toni Collette (as the protagonist's daughter), Vanessa Redgrave and Hugh Dancy (staring as the best friend of Ann when she was young) standing out.

On the other hand... It's depressing. Really depressing. The message I got at the was basically, "don't expect too much from life because it none of your expectations will be met, it just sucks and then you die wondering where it all went wrong" - which, I'm sure, isn't the message the movie intends to send out. But nevertheless, that's how it comes across.
Worse even, while the tragic unfulfilled story of Ann and Harris initially worked for me, in hindsight it seems not quite understandable just why it turned out tragic and unfulfilled because the movie never really touched on what exactly went wrong between them. They might have well been left clinging to each other after buddy died, but apparently that's not what happened - except we've never been shown those scenes, or the reasons.
Likewise, the gay subplot / the love triangle part isn't explored as much as it could and should have been.

The final verdict: 7/10

The Simpsons Movie


The Simpsons Movie (2007, David Silverman)

What's it about? Homer Simpson adopts a cute pig, pollutes the town's water supply, and thus sets in motion a chain of events that leads to what seems like the certain annihilation of Springfield.

Who's in it? a bunch of two-dimensional yellow people

Why did you watch it? The trailers were funny.

Why is it worth watching? I know there's a number of avid fans out there who follow The Simpsons religiously and think it's the best thing since the invention of donuts. I disagree. I like the TV show, I watch it whenever I accidentally catch it, but I have never before consciously sought it out.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. While aimed at an audience who loves the TV show, it's just as much fun for someone who isn't a regular follower. It's hilarious, witty, sometimes silly, sometimes absurd, sometimes too clever for its own good, cynical without being bitter, a little cheesy sometimes - and overall just fun to watch.
I loved all the pop culture references, and the "I can't believe we're paying to watch something we could see on TV for free!" intro, and the bits after the closing credits. And President Schwarzenegger was ace! Heh.

On the other hand... I almost wish there had been more Mr. Burns. And less of the Homer/Bart father & son stuff.

The final verdict: 9/10



Unknown (2006, Simon Brand)

What's it about? Five men wake up in a locked-down warehouse in the middle of nowhere, without memory of who they are or what happened to them.

Who's in it? James Caviezel, Greg Kinnear, Bridget Moynahan, Joe Pantoliano, Barry Pepper, Jeremy Sisto, Peter Stormare.

Why did you watch it? The premise sounded like Saw or Cube, just without the horror/slasher stuff added to it, which intrigued me. Also, the cast list reads like a who is who of some of my favorite actors (Moynahan, Caviezel, Stormare, Sisto).

Why is it worth watching? It's incredibly well-acted and vibrating with suspense. The moment the initial question of how the memory loss happened is answered, there's a new, equally unsettling mystery to latch onto: if this is a kidnapping situation gone bad, then which one of them are the kidnappers and who are the victims? And even as the memories gradually return, they can't be completely trusted.
Jim Caviezel in particularly gives an intense performance of a man torn between his instincts and what he believes are his memories, and while I've never been too fond of Greg Kinnear, his acting is up to par: tense and on the edge.

On the other hand... It's a rather weird movie, and I found the ending strangely unsatisfying. I'm not sure whether it was one twist too many, or if I rather expected an even bigger revelation, but in either case it didn't work for me.

The final verdict: 7/10



Transformers (2007, Michael Bay)

What's it about? Two battling robotic alien armies meet for their final battle on Earth.

Who's in it? Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rachael Taylor, Anthony Anderson, Jon Voight, John Turturro, Amaury Nolasco, Peter Cullen (voice), Hugo Weaving (voice).

Why did you watch it? Are you kidding? Did you think I'd miss my first chance to see Josh on the huge screen?

Why is it worth watching? Surprisingly, despite the sheer absurdity of the premise, Transformers is actually a good movie. It's not deep and meaningful, but it's incredibly fast-paced and witty, the special effects are great and make the transformations actually look real enough if you suspend disbelief, and the original score is fittingly opulent. Unlike most comic / cartoon adaptations, Transformers comes with a set of pleasantly three-dimensional (human) characters and non-cringe-worthy dialogue. I'm sure it weren't the most demanding roles for any of the actors, but each of them made the most out of their characters, which helped making the movie - robot invasion from outer space notwithstanding - as realistic as possible.
Besides, with the hot action and the tongue-in-cheek humor, it was simply fun to watch!

On the other hand... it's a movie about cars who turn into robots. And I really could have done without some of the pathos-ridden monologues from the Autobots.

The final verdict: 8-9/10

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007, David Yates)

What's it about? After having witnessed Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) killing Cedric in the previous movie, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has to battle on two fronts: the Ministry refuses to belief his warnings and do their best to silence him, and Voldemort and his followers are still at large and more dangerous than ever.

Who's in it? Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs, Katie Leung, Evanna Lynch, Gary Oldman, Brendan Gleeson, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter.

Why did you watch it? Well, it's Harry Potter.

Why is it worth watching? Because it's one of the best Harry Potter movies so far, possibly even better than Chamber of Secrets, and that achievement is purely down to the director and the screenwriters because Order of the Phoenix is most definitely not the best book. It's a good adaptation that makes for a smooth transition from paper to screen and manages to squeeze some improvements in (like toning down Harry's annoying teenage behavior) while sustaining the dark atmosphere of the book. Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in particular was perfect.
The acting, overall, has improved a lot since the first movie, especially the performances of Radcliffe and Watson. Ralph Fiennes, too, seems to be more comfortable in Voldemort's shoes now, coming off as less of a mad cardboard character and more of a scary powerful villain. Evanna Lynch as Luna might be the discovery of the movie.
The visuals are amazing as ever. The showdown between the Death Eaters and the members of the Order at the end was one of the most amazing scenes I've seen in the Harry Potter movies yet.

On the other hand... the pacing was slightly off, and some of the changes they made might prove to be problematic for the future development of the plot.

The final verdict: 8/10



Blonde (2001, Joyce Chopra)

What's it about? The life of Norma Jean Baker (Poppy Montgomery), and how she became Marilyn Monroe.

Who's in it? Poppy Montgomery, Patricia Richardson, Patrick Dempsey, Wallace Shawn, Griffin Dunne, Titus Welliver, Eric Bogosian, Niklaus Lange, Richard Roxburgh, Jensen Ackles, Skye McCole Bartusiak, Ann-Margret, Kirstie Alley

Why did you watch it? Poppy. Poppy being in a three-way relationship with Patrick Dempsey and Jensen Ackles in particular was too pretty a picture to pass.

Why is it worth watching? It's actually pretty good, despite its reputation. It's intriguing enough to sustain interest despite the long run time (mind you, I've seen the British DVD version, which is apparently about an hour shorter than the US TV edit) and Poppy is doing a great job making Marilyn fragile and broken without getting overtly clichéd. She looks a lot more like Marilyn Monroe during the movie than she does on the publicity stills, too.

On the other hand... It's hard to tell what's fact and what's fiction, and the movie takes a few too many liberties with the former and is too generous with the latter to work as a biopic.
I also felt slightly robbed at the ending, when they made no move to cover Marilyn's death. The ending is powerful enough to work, but in a movie on Marilyn Monroe, it's pretty outrageous to do away with her death with a puny little note during the end credits.

The final verdict: 6/10

The Last Castle


The Last Castle (2001, Rod Lurie)

What's it about? When former war hero Lt. Gen. Eugene Irwin (Robert Redford) gets first-hand experience of the sadistic regime in Col. Winter's (James Gandolfini) military prison, he rallies the inmates to force Winter to resign.

Who's in it? Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Burton, Delroy Lindo, Paul Calderon, Samuel Ball, Jeremy Childs, Clifton Collins Jr., George W. Scott, Brian Goodman.

Why did you watch it? It was on TV, and I was bored.

Why is it worth watching? It is, certainly, an entertaining movie, and despite the serious themes (abuse of power etc) and events it portrays there's a sly, almost light-hearted undertone to it that only gets stripped away at the very end. For the better part of the movie, there's a playful edge in Irwin's and Winter's power play, that lures the audience into a false security - until the ending effectively and quite shockingly takes that illusion away.
The actors are all doing a wonderful job; Redford and Gandolfini in particular manage to make the power struggle between their characters climactic and intense and entirely realistic. The Last Castle also remains the only movie to date where I actually liked Mark Ruffalo in.

On the other hand... The way the prisoners are portrayed as a decent bunch who, minor differences aside, get along great just didn't work for me. As Winter said at one point, they're not in jail because they had too many parking tickets, and it seems to be a far-fetched notion that they were all essentially good guys.

The final verdict: 7/10



300 (2006, Zack Snyder)

What's it about? Based on Frank Miller's graphic novel on the Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartan soldiers, lead by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), stood against an overwhelming army of Persians.

Who's in it? Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender, Tom Wisdom, Andrew Pleavin, Andrew Tiernan, Rodrigo Santoro, Giovani Cimmino, Stephen McHattie.

Why did you watch it? To shorten the wait until Sin City 2 is released.

Why is it worth watching? This is how a battle epic should be told. Forget Troy, forget Alexander (actually, I wish I could forget that particular debacle), forget Kingdom of Heaven - this is how it's done, period. It's visually stunning, well-acted, has a cast of strong, interesting characters, solid action sequences and an good story. It's easy to dismiss the movie because it supposedly neglects plot over pretty visuals. The thing is - it doesn't. 300 actually manages to combine plot and amazing visuals in a way that makes them almost as inseparable as in the Sin City movie adaptation. Frank Miller's unique style is showing in both the compelling, stylized comic-book visualization and the grim, elliptical pathos of the voice overs.
Lena Headey is an amazing female lead - a rewarding role, yes, but she does make the most of it.

On the other hand... Unlike in Sin City, which practically exists in a world made of shade of grey (despite the black and white visuals), the characters of 300 are all a bit black or white. They're interesting enough not to make it a big flaw, though.

The final verdict: 9-10/10



Fracture (2007, Gregory Hoblit)

What's it about? Convinced that he's committed the perfect crime when he murdered his unfaithful wife, Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) engages an ambitious young attorney (Ryan Gosling) in a twisted game of cat and mouse.

Who's in it? Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike, Embeth Davidtz, Billy Burke, Cliff Curtis, Fiona Shaw, Bob Gunton.

Why did you watch it? The plot summary reminded me of a cross between "Primal Fear" and "Under Suspicion", and Hopkins generally appears in movies that are worth watching.

Why is it worth watching? It's a very solid, clever psychological thriller, not terribly unique, but intriguing with two strong, three-dimensional and well-acted main characters. Gosling plays Willy Beachum with a touch of arrogance that almost proves to be his downfall, but he's still always the one you find yourself rooting for because, even if you're usually the one with a sympathy towards the bad guys, you just don't want Crawford to get away with what he did. Hopkins' Crawford is evil and despicable in a way that Hannibal Lecter never was - but despite that, he's still believable and far from a cardboard character.
I also rather liked the pleasantly unclichéd romance between Nikki (Rosamund Pike) and Willie.

On the other hand... I could have done without the moral sledgehammer. I would have found it much more believable if Beachum hadn't been able to let go because of his ego and not because he couldn't live with letting a murderer on the loose.

The final verdict: 8/10


I love movies, and I watch quite a lot of them in my free time. In this journal, you'll find my thoughts on movies I've recently seen - both new releases and older films.

Those aren't supposed to be actual journalistic reviews, just some personal, sometimes terribly subjective comments.

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