Casino Royale

Like many I was skeptical about the casting of Daniel Craig (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Layer Cake) as James Bond. He’s blond, first of all. Secondly, he seems a little too rough around the edges for the Bond we’ve come to know and love. The latter objection gets blown to bits in this second adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel.

Beginning with Bond’s entry into the double-0 ranks, Casino Royale suffers not because of Craig’s performance but more from an uneven script that both explodes with gritty action and drags with sequences that could have been significantly shortened. Truth be told, no matter how high the stakes, no matter how well dressed the players or how well they handle the chips, watching other people play poker is just not visually engaging.

Hinging on the money laundering activities of Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), Bond follows a trail that leads him from Africa to the Bahamas to the Casino Royale in Montenegro. It seems Msr. Le Chiffre has been playing the stock market with the money he is supposed to have been washing for his “freedom fighter” clients, money that he had hoped to make a profit from after blowing up a prototype aircraft at the Miami International Airport (a plot thwarted by Bond with the reckless abandon that is typical of this film’s action sequences). Now that Le Chiffre’s clients have come to collect, he finds it necessary to earn back their money via an invitation only high-stakes poker game.

Financed in this game by Great Britian’s Treasury Department, to the tune of 10 Million (we’re not sure if that’s Pounds Sterling, Euros, Swiss Francs, or U.S. Dollars (not that it matters)) and shepherded by Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), possibly the blandest “Bond girl” to ever hit the screen, Bond is thwarted in his pursuit of Le Chiffre by the first in a series of double-crosses. And it is from these double crosses that Bond learns the lesson that will turn him into the ruthless double-0 agent he will need to be.

That lesson: never trust anyone.

Overlong by at least thirty minutes, Casino Royale is a capable re-entry into the Bond franchise. Marked with a sly humor that is less self-conscious than anything we’ve seen since Sir Sean carried the 007 moniker, this characterization is grittier and more connected to what we’ve come to expect from an action-adventure/spy film. Craig’s Bond makes mistakes, some whoppers actually, and when he gets into a scrap he ends up showing the effects. You get the sense that he has to work for his victories. In some ways this fallibility, this humanity, makes this Bond more appealing than any of the ones who have come before him. Casino Royale is, in fact, a post-modern James Bond film that wouldn’t have been possible without all of the versions that preceded it.

Given that the price of movies has gone up to $10 for the matinee, given that no matter how hard the entertainment machine tries to convince me it’s visually interesting poker is not a spectator sport, and given that it could have been better with very little effort on the part of the filmmakers, I still found myself walking away disappointed. As such I have to give this film a 2.5 out of 5.

2.5 popcorns out of 5

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For Your Consideration

Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind) uses a big, broad brush to paint this satire of virtually all things entertainment. Employing his usual motley cast of regulars, including Catherine O’Hara and Harry Shearer as aging has-beens, Guest creates a film within a film (something I’m really not fond of) that should be taking on Hollywood’s obsession with self-congratulatory awards ceremonies.

Shooting Home for Purim, Marilyn Hack (O’Hara) is that actress whom everyone thinks was in that movie, you know, the one with that other, more famous actress. Her role as Esther, the dying matriarch of a Jewish family in the South during World War II, is meant to be nothing more than another job, a little film, until someone reports a rumor found on that “interweb thing,” as the internet is called by the film’s clueless publicist Corey Taft (John Michael Higgins), that Hack’s performance is good enough to warrant an Oscar nomination.

Taft is the catalyst the parlays a two line blurb from someone on some web site into an appearance on a local Los Angeles morning show for Hack and Victor Allan Miller (Shearer) which through utter stupidity gets spun into a potential Oscar nod for Miller as the family’s patriarch which gets taken to another level when Variety picks up that rumor and turns it into gossip about a nod for Callie Webb (Parker Posey) who is playing the black-sheep, lesbian daughter. What ensues is an uproarious indictment of celebutainment and people’s ability to buy into the rumor that they want to be true, particularly if it is a rumor that tells them they are valuable.

Guest and co-scripter Eugene Levy, who also makes an appearance in the cast as a slimy, not very convincing agent, spend more time poking a sharp stick in the eye of the industry that has sprung up to cover Hollywood, movie review shows, night time talk shows, entertainment reports, and the like, than they do dissecting that fact that Hollywood’s denizens believe they have a right to this sort of coverage. He’s none to kind to actors, portraying them as vain luddites more concerned with appearance than what’s inside.

Sprawling and with only the vaguest sense of structure, the film feels episodic. Still, if you’re even vaguely tapped into the culture of celebrity and the massive spin that surrounds it (pictures of Katie Holmes’ and Tom Cruise’s wedding anyone?) you will not be at a lost for laughs both broad and sly during the course of this film. For that, for the fact that all roads lead back to This Is Spinal Tap and for the complete irony that this film is probably just as worthy of anything that will receive an Oscar this year I’ll give this film 3.5 popcorns out of 5.

3.5 popcorns out of 5

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Stranger Than Fiction

There is nothing subtle about this film: from the themes to the set dressing to the performances Stranger Than Fiction bludgeons viewers with the message that we should squeeze every ounce of life we can out of every minute.

Taking pages from Sartre, Luigi Pirandello, and Charlie Kaufman, Stranger Than Fiction centers on Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) who is quite possibly the most boring, placid human being ever to be brought into existence.

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last six weeks you know that we know what Harold doesn’t: he is a character in a new novel by Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). Eiffel’s problem, which is Harold’s saving grace, is a raging case of writer’s block. Karen is a writer of tragedies and she can’t figure out how to kill Harold Crick. Eiffel’s publishers hope that saddling her with Penny Escher (Queen Latifah), a “writer’s assistant,” will help her make her deadline, a deadline for a book on which she has ostensibly been working for over a decade.

In a turn that is less Adaptation than You’ve Got Mail, Harold, who is an IRS auditor, is assigned the case file of Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal doing her best Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally (right down to the voice)) a baker who as a protest against the government calculated what percent of her taxes would go to fund programs she doesn’t support and purposely withheld that amount from her payment instead sending a letter that begins “Dear imperialist swine.”

Where Harold is bland – beige walls, white sheets, and even a beige telephone that looks like it was lifted right out of a hotel room from late-1980s Italy – Ana is bohemian complete with a sleeve tattoo that starts at her shoulder and ends at her elbow, driftwood lamps, and a guitar that she took as payment from someone or another for a batch of muffins. Ensue unlikely romance between typewriter crossed lovers.

Added to this mix is Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman doing a star turn at “quirky”) in the role of God for both Harold and Karen. After his unsuccessful visit to a psychiatrist it is to this professor of literary theory Harold turns and thus begins his personal odyssey into actually living. Harold’s subsequent discovery that Eiffel is writing his life and his meeting with Eiffel are where this film breaks down as it comes after Eiffel has figured out how to perfectly, poetically kill off her main character. Eiffel’s crisis of conscience (how many real people has she killed, she wonders) begs the reality question (is Harold real or a character? Is Eiffel a god? Such existential thoughts presented in such broad strokes are a bit much even for the thinking viewer to contemplate in the midst of a subplot that is entirely standard Hollywood romantic comedy fare.)

What is most shocking, though, is not just Prof. Hilbert’s advice that Harold accept his death for the greater good of literature but that Harold takes such advice with barely a ripple in his psyche (perhaps this was meant to be a comment on the placid nature of humanity in the 21st century, or perhaps it’s just too-clever for its own good writing passing for art; I’m not really sure) and that Eiffel, in turn, consults Hilbert to determine what she should do now that she has met Harold in the flesh.

The character and nature of the film’s subplot should tell you everything you need to know about how this film ends, and that is the real problem. For a film that attempts to take on the true meaning of life, death, and work the ending and plot twists are too easy, too pat, and too Hollywood for comfort. The film ends up being merely cute when it could have been a serious meditation on life in that way that true human comedy is serious yet simultaneously ridiculous.

Cute it is, though, and basically entertaining. And it is because of these things and because when confronted by Penny, who has sufferred through rainstorms, tantrums, and cartons’ worth of cigarette smoke in her job, about just how she discovered the way in which she would kill Harold Crick Eiffel replies “like anything worth writing it came without warning, method, or reason” I’ll give Stranger Than Fiction three popcorns out of five.

3 popcorns out of 5

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The Prestige

It would be criminal to reveal the secrets of Christopher Nolan’s twisty-good The Prestige. A brief sketch of the plot will tell you that this film follows the stories of competing magicians Alfred “The Professor” Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert “The Great DAnton” Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Cutter (Michael Caine) the “illuengineer” who connects the two men. Set in the late 1800s when magic was apparently all the rage on London’s stages, the film traces the rise and fall of each of the magicians after the tragic death of Angier’s wife – which may or may not have been as a result of Borden’s arrogance – on stage during another magician’s act. The plot, though, is pretty much immaterial as the setting of the world of stage magic is but a backdrop for Nolan’s other concerns: the nature of truth and reality.

Carrying through the theme of what is real and what isn’t that Nolan explored through the distortions of memory in Momento, The Prestige looks at the nature of reality and truth through the lens of self deception and secrets and how those two things change the nature of reality and twist the fabric of truth throwing you into a world, the real world, where something that is absolutely true one day may be equally untrue the next.

Cutter tells us, more than once, that “Every great trick consists of three acts…” 1) The Pledge where the magician shows you something ordinary; 2) The Turn: the magician makes this ordinary something do something extraordinary; and 3) The Prestige: the part that involves the risk, the danger, and something that you’ve never seen before.

But it’s what Cutter tells us about “The Turn” that is really at the heart of this film: if you’re looking for the secret but you probably won’t see it. The film’s implicit message is that you don’t see it because you don’t really want to. The audience wants to be fooled; they want the reward of the prestige, the shock, the something completely different. It is this capacity for willful self-deception that lies at the blackest heart of this film, and a black heart it is.

For this, for being a twisty-good film geared toward an adult, thinking mind I give The Prestige 4 out of 5 popcorns.

4 popcorns out of 5

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Before I saw this movie I only knew two things about George Reeves: one, he played Superman on TV during the 1950s in an incredibly cheesy looking show that was recycled to UHF TV stations during my childhood 20 years later, and two, he was dead (sort of a natural outgrowth, I’ always assumed, of being “middle aged” during the 1950s).

Hollywoodland is the fictional “what if…” of Reeves’ suicide in 1959. Whether or not Reeves was actually having an affair with the wife of an MGM studio executive I don’t know. Whether Reeves (Ben Affleck who would be wise to take a good look at the raw footage from this film should he ever decide to let himself go ala John Travolta) was actually the only marginally charming narcissist he is portrayed to be is also a mystery. What I do know is that while Hollywoodland is being sold as yet another dirty, gritty L.A. film noir it is actually a meditation on fame whose timeliness is almost unseemly.

Much as been made in the entertainment press of the symmetry of having a slightly washed up star (Affleck) play a man who believed he was destined for more than the cheap theatrics of a 1950s kids television show. The Reeves of Hollywoodland had dreams of being a great star. He certainly had the squared-jawed handsomeness that Hollywood was demanding during those times. Whether or not he had the talent who knows. His career seems to be a series of either supporting roles or low-budget productions; enough to make a living but not enough to have the photographers at Hollywood’s hot spots clamoring for his picture as he ate dinner.

Within the plot of the film Reeves is portrayed ably, though as a bit of a cipher, by Affleck. Since the bulk of the audience’s encounters with Reeves are told in flashback, either via the imagination of Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), the low-rent private detective who sees investigating Reeves’ suicide as a murder as a way to get his own publicity and move up in the world, or via straight flashback based on Simo’s interviews, we’re not really given any insight into what the man actually wanted but only what those around him thought of him and his desires.

In many ways Simo’s story is a parallel of Reeves’: low-rent in his profession, had a chance at something steady but didn’t make the most of it. Simo is always scraping, literally finishing the lunch of one of his more successful former colleagues early on in the film.

Simo’s poking into Reeves’ life turns up some interesting tidbits: Reeves’ multi-year relationship with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane doing “older woman” with aplomb despite the fact that she’s only 7 years older than her co-star) which was sanctioned by her studio-executive husband Edgar (Bob Hoskins, whose American accent must be so good by now he does it in his sleep) who also has his own relationship on the side. It also turns up the whiff of a cover-up. Is Mannix using the LAPD to keep his dirty laundry a secret? How exactly is he “fixing” the problems his stars get into?

The plot is largely immaterial except for the fact that it takes us ever spinning through Reeves’ and Simo’s downward spirals as each man tries to grasp the fame, accolades, and attention he can never quite reach. In a world of American Idol where Andy Warhol’s dictum about fame seems to play out every single night on TV it is the whys of the grasping for recognition that are most compelling. At one point late in the film Simo, still working the murder angle, pays a visit to Reeves’ agent Art Weissman (Jeffrey DeMunn) to inquire about what Reeves had in the pipeline and who might have wanted him dead. Weissman’s slightly resigned, bemused take on his client pretty much sums up both Reeves’ problem and the problem of modern pop culture “he had the Superman thing and it should have been enough…enough for a life, you know, but he wanted something bigger, something more.” In a world where people are constantly reaching for and lured by the promise of fame they have no hope of achieving “enough for a life” is a concept worth pondering. 3 popcorns out of 5

3 popcorns out of 5

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Little Miss Sunshine

Take a suicidal, gay Proust scholar, a crabby grandfather who has been kicked out of his retirement home, a 15 year-old boy who refuses to speak and reads only Nietzsche, a wanna-be self-help guru, an overworked mom, and a 8 year-old girl who dreams of winning a beauty pageant throw them into a VW microbus and start them on a roadtrip from Albuquerque, NM to Redondo Beach, CA. Does this sound like it’s going to be a funny film?

If it doesn’t, I suggest you look again. Little Miss Sunshine is laugh-out-loud funny in that “oh my god! that is so wrong” sort of way that we desperately need right now.

Revolving around the random chance that Olive (Abigail Breslin) gets to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, the story of the Hoover family is one of absolutely stunning American dysfunction. Long-suffering Sheryl (Toni Collette) has to deal not only with Richard (Greg Kinnear) and his “9 steps for success” even when they are trying not to fight over what they’re going to tell Olive and Dwayne (Paul Dano) about her brother Frank (Steve Carrell) and his recent suicide attempt the reasons for which Franks ends up explaining very calmly in that way only the incredibly depressed among us can muster.

It’s the random message left on the machine and Richard’s admirable if only for its consistency adherence to his “9 steps” for winning that set this bizarre little family, which also includes Grandpa (Alan Arkin) on the road in a shiney, yellow VW microbus.

The thing that I liked best about this film is that nearly every character has a distinct and discernible arc. They change and grow, yet they do it in ways that aren’t showy or flashy, ways in which even the characters, were they real people, would probably not be aware.

The other thing that I liked is that the comedy and the drama in this film come from human foibles, not from outrageous set-ups or outlandish gags. This film recognizes life for what it truly is: a random series of events with which each of us must cope to the best of her or his own ability. And it also recognizes that some of us cope better than others.

Little Miss Sunshine opened in limited release on July 26th and opens in wide release on August 18th. The fact that this was a free preview screening doesn’t really influence my opinion of the film at all. In fact, being packed like a sardine into an overheated theater on one of the hottest days of the year didn’t predispose me to like this movie at all.

For its absurdity and its humanity, and for the fact that Steve Carrell and Alan Arkin reminded me that it’s not necessary to have sex with a bit of pastry to get laughs, I’m giving Little Miss Sunshine 3.5 popcorns out of 5.

3.5 popcorns out of 5

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Cutting a good trailer is as much an art as the creation of the film itself. Selecting the right moments, the pacing, the score, these are all tasks that if done right way can make the difference between a big opening weekend and a small one. The trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is paced about right for a two minute trailer. Extend all of that mayhem and action into a two hour and thirty minute film and what you end up with is a slightly too long film designed to amp up the action and hook you in to seeing the third and final act of the franchise.

Opening with the thwarted marriage ceremony of Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) this Pirates revolves around not just the myths of the sea and piracy but also around the rise of the East India Trading company and the changing nature of the world in general. Arrested by Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) for their parts in freeing Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), the love birds are separated by Beckett’s offer to Will: get Sparrow’s compass by offering him a full pardon, and convince him to become a privateer for England and Beckett will set Elizabeth free.

Complications, of course, ensue, not the least of which is Jack’s devil’s bargain with Davy Jones. Jones (Bill Nighy under an obscene amount of make-up and CGI effects to turn him into the half-man, half-squid) raised the Black Pearl from the sea’s depths and allowed Jack 13 years as her captain in exchange for his soul and 100 years of crewing on Jones’ ship The Flying Dutchman. The crew of the Dutchman is, I think, one of this film’s weaknesses: while the transition of the doomed crew of the Pearl turned into elegantly rendered walking skeletons in the moonlight the Dutchman’s crew is grossly biological, each encrusted with barnacles, part fish, or walking reef. What else is grossly biological is the kraken, the giant squid at Davy’s beck and call which is capable of dragging a ship whole to the black depths of the sea. Imagine calimari 25 feet tall and up close, suckers pulsing and dripping sea water and you’ve got the kraken. Fortunately for the audience, sensorama was a 1950s fad and we aren’t subjected to the kraken’s breath, which is described as having the stench of 100 dead fish.

But Jack has a plan: find the key to Davy Jones’ locker and gain possession of his still-beating heart, the heart he locked away after losing his true love. To what end Jack wants possession of the heart we’re never told, but you can bet it’s convoluted and it’s not what it seems. Very little is what it seems in this film which is filled with myth and obliqueness, double crosses and lies.

Performances in this film are pretty much spot on, with Depp doing his “pirate as magpie” routine yet again. One major flaw in this film is that we don’t really get enough of Capt. Jack. The film lights up when he is on-screen but goes flat when we’re concentrating on Will (poor Orlando Bloom…his character grows not a whit in this installment), while Knightly’s Elizabeth seems to expand quite a bit, showing more of the guile that we saw in the first film and seeming to blossom and begin to become a woman with her own thoughts, and particularly her own desires.

While some of the bits and set pieces go on too long, particularly the excursion to the island ruled by cannibals, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is exactly what it sets out to be, the second act of a trilogy no one ever expected to make. Three popcorns out of 5.

3 popcorns out of 5

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X-Men: The Last Stand

It didn’t completely suck.

Of course, I believe that even the third film in a franchise ought to be held to a higher standard than “it didn’t completely suck,” but this is a good place to start with this film given all the uproar over Bryan Singer vacating the director’s chair, the hiring of Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, The Family Man, and the execrable Red Dragon), the rush to market to open the summer film season, and the cannibalization of a very important plot line from the comic’s source material.

It reveals nothing that any grade schooler, or anyone who has seen the bus shelter posters, didn’t know to say that this movie centers on the resurrection of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) as Phoenix in a “what hath mutantcy wrought?” plot line that revolves around the production of a so-called “vaccine” for mutantcy created by Worthington Labs from the DNA of a mutant named Jimmy/Leech (Cameron Bright) (apparently if you’re a mutant one of the things you get besides powers is a cool nickname…who knew!) whose power is that mere proximity saps any mutant of her powers without, seemingly, doing any harm.

Firmly on the side that mutantcy is nothing that needs curing, this is the film in which Storm (Halle Berry) very nearly comes into her own most resembling the Storm of the comic books. The plot of the film is beyond predictable – protests arise around the vaccine, Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen) organizes a mutant army that will storm Worthington Labs to destroy the source of the vaccine in a very black and white view of the world, mutants and people die, and untenable choices are made by all.

Given the parallels that are often drawn or seen between mutantcy in the X-Men series and homosexuality, it’s no wonder that this particular plot has sparked discussion and controversy in the glbt community. The cure for mutantcy brings up a whole slew of questions: is it wrong to want to fit in? why is being different seen as so bad? if you are different, whether it be queer or another race, would you take a “cure” to fit into the dominant paradigm? More important, though, is this film’s actual theme: what is it that makes us who we are?

During her rehabilitation at the school, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) reveals to Logan (Hugh Jackman) that during her schooling he placed a series of blocks in Jean’s mind that ostensibly allow her to better control her powers. In doing so, he separated Jean from the parts of her personality that contain all the “joy, excitement, and anger.” And there in lies the crux of the problem as separating out these aspects of who she was from her conscious mind caused the creation of another personality, one that calls itself the Phoenix (Dark Phoenix in the comics). It seems to me that this removal of certain aspects of who she was speaks more to the theme of the film than the device, the vaccine, in which that theme is wrapped. Jean is but one of the flaws of this film.

A primary player, the only class 5 mutant ever discovered, Jean/Phoenix’s ability to control her powers is a pivotal element to the plot, yet except for a few scenes she remains essentially passive, watching Magneto carry out his plot and plans, watching the X-Men make their last stand to defend the boy at Worthington Labs’ headquarters on Alcatraz Island.

Another flaw in this film is the shear number of characters the film makers attempt to introduce. With the first two films we had but a few to keep track of; with this one we are force fed a number of new-to-movies-only-viewers characters (Callisto, Jubilee, Juggernaut, Arclight, Kid Omega, Multiple Man…so many, in fact, that if you lined them up I couldn’t tell you who was whom) that it is impossible to become invested in them. The only ones who make any real impact are Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Peter Rasputin/Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) who cameoed briefly in X2: X-Men United. Even Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Kelsey Grammer) is remarkable only because he looks so much like a mutant (blue fur, claws, and all).

The real sin of this film, though, is that it tries to do too much, to take on not only a huge jump in plots, major character introductions, character deaths (yes, there are some), and massive thematic tasks on both the personal/psychological level and the political that it does nothing particularly well.

Does X-Men: The Last Stand completely succumb to the movie law of threes? It does not. Is it an entry into the franchise that lives up to its two predecessors? Probably not, but it’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday. My one piece of advice: don’t leave before the movie is over. This means watch all the credits. All of them. You won’t be sorry. 2.5 out of 5.

2.5 popcorns out of 5

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Over The Hedge

The latest entry in the wave of computer animated films started by Toy Story, Over The Hedge is a cute, if shallow film.

The plot centers on RJ (voiced by Bruce Willis) a raccoon who must gather a mound of food to replace what he was caught attempting to steal from Vincent (voiced by Nick Nolte) a Black Bear who is very, very cranky not only over the loss of his food but also over having been awoken a week early from his hibernation.

RJ’s quest to replace Vincent’s beloved “Spuddies” (read: Pringles) among other junk food and hard goods (Vincent’s demand that RJ replace his blue cooler and his little red wagon prime among them) leads the racoon to the primary source of junk food for any scavenging animal: the suburbs, suburbs that didn’t exist when Verne (a turtle, voiced by Gary Shandling) and his motley family consisting of Hammy (Steve Carell), a hyperactive squirrel (is there any other kind in animated films?), Stella (Wanda Sykes), a skunk with a body image problem, Ozzie (William Shatner) and Heather (Avril Lavigne), possum father and daughter who can’t agree on the value of “playing dead,” and Lou (Eugene Levy) and Penny (Catherine O’Hara), the mother and father head of a family of porcupines.

The suburb that is the target of RJ’s quest was built on the other side of the titular hedge while Verne and company were hibernating for the winter. Its existence, and the presence of the humans, houses, and all the things that we soft pink creatures bring with us is a shock to the cautious little turtle and his family of foragers.

The rest of the plot – RJ’s indoctrination of the foragers into the ways of humans and the joys of junk food, the lure of television, and everything the suburbs mean, and the animals unavoidable conflict with that worst of the soft pink ones: the suburban matron – is really immaterial. The theme of this film boils down to: the new vs. the old; the slick vs. the tried and tested; risk taking vs. cautious planning.

While Over The Hedge is not as nuanced as Shrek 2 or some of its predecessors, it’s still an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. For that, for a riotously funny sequence that begins with a dog who just wants to play, and for the unique way this film handles the inevitable “give the caffeine to the already hyped up squirrel” sequence, I’m giving this film 3 popcorns out of 5.

3 popcorns out of 5

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Inside Man

Densely plotted and well shot, Inside Man echoes every other bank heist movie that has preceeded yet it still manages to be original enough to be fascinating.

Turning on a brilliant plan by Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) to rob a very specific branch of the Manhattan Trust Bank, this film is full of spot-on performances by masters of their craft. Brought in to handle the hostage situation after the bank branch is secured by a group of robbers who all answer to some variation of the name Steve, Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) is a man with problems of his own.

Under the cloud of a bust gone bad and $140,000 of missing drug money, his healthy relationship with his younger, police officer girlfriend is being complicated by her petty hood of a younger brother, and by Frazier’s seeming inability to make Detective First-Grade. Even though he’s a man in over his head, Frazier moves confidently through the situations with which he’s faced, even the most unusual one of being told by the Mayor to afford Madeline White (Jodie Foster), a woman who specializes in handling delicate problems for the incredibly wealthy, every courtesy, and in exchange, Frazier will receive his long desired promotion.

What no one counts on, not Frazier, not Madeline White, not even Manhattan Trust’s Chairman of the Board Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), a man with much to hide, is the absolute perfection of Russell’s plan. The plot of this film turns on a twist that, once revealed, is so simple and so elegant you’ll find yourself wondering why you didn’t see it in the first place, for the clues are all there.

Good, clean direction by Spike Lee, solid cinematography by Matthew Libatique, and a superb script by Russell Gewirtz (whose previous credits include a couple of episodes of the failed Steven Bochco series Blind Justice) make Inside Man a wholly satisfying film pitched to adults. 4 out of 5 popcorns.

4 popcorns out of 5

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