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Thumbnails February 2008

by Tony Medley

Cassandra’s Dream (10/10): Highlighted by the best performance of Colin Farrell’s career, this psychological thriller of two conflicted brothers, Farrell and Ewan McGregor, and their selfish, manipulative uncle, Tom Wilkinson, could be writer-director Woody Allen’s finest work.

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep (8/10): This is a sweet love story between a boy and the Loch Ness monster he hatches, intended for children that adults can enjoy, peopled by high-quality actors who are not household names, except for the exceptional Emily Watson. The terrific special effects are enhanced by the sparkling acting of the entire cast, especially David Morrisey, whose character seems a darker derivation of Hugh Laurie’s dippy Lieutenant George from the TV series, Blackadder Goes Forth (1989).

The Bucket List (8/10): What kind of numbskull could have so little confidence in the drawing power of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman that he inserts a spoiler with the funniest line of the movie in the trailer? Because of the great acting, a witty, intuitive, intelligent script by Justin Bakeman, and fine directing by Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men, 1992, and When Harry Met Sally, 1989, among others) this uplifting story about dealing with impending death doesn’t need that kind of damaging promotion.

The Kite Runner (8/10): While not as good as the book, this film that mystifyingly minimizes the despicable cruelty of the Taliban can stand on its own. It is still a tear-jerking, well-told tale with award-caliber performances by 12-year-old Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada and Homayoun Ershadi.

There Will Be Blood (6/10): Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, whose previous films have been well-nigh interminable, at 2 hours 36 minutes and 3 hours 8 minutes, shows that he still doesn’t recognize a stop sign when he sees it by making this drag on for 2 hours 38 minutes. Most of it is of his star, Daniel Day-Lewis, playing a stark-raving mad oilman. Very loosely based on the 1927 book, Oil, by muckracker Upton Sinclair, who founded the California chapter of the ACLU, it takes grit to sit through this thing, especially when there’s really no plot, just a character study of a man whose motivations and reasons for his actions are never explained or even explored. Whether the acting of Day-Lewis is histrionic or award-quality has to be up to the viewer.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets (5/10): “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,” said H.L. Mencken, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer is clearly not going broke. The first in this series, “National Treasure” (2004) was truly idiotic. But it grossed $347 million! So Bruckheimer made the same movie again. Only the locations and subject matter have been changed, but it’s still idiotic.

27 Dresses (4/10): This is a chick flick so derivative it boggles the mind, ending with cinematography so deplorable that in the final wedding scenes the gorgeous Katherine Heigl looks almost ugly because of the way she’s lit and photographed. Her nose looks as if she has just gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson.

In Bruges (3/10): Pronounced broozh, this is another in a line of silly, counter-reality Hollywood films about sensitive, sympathetic hit men (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson), inspired, I guess, by Pierce Brosnan’s entertaining 2005 film, The Matador. Farrell duplicates his neurotic performance in Cassandra’s Dream, only it’s not nearly as appealing in this dismal effort that is so full of plot holes, it could pass as Swiss Cheese. In one, after a guy is shot in the carotid artery, he climbs a huge staircase, jumps from a 250-foot tower, lands like a squished tomato, but still has enough in him to give a speech. (Opens February 8).