Film Reviews : 2008

Doubt  Watchable
December 26, 2008

Doubt is a shaggy-god story.

Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley from his successful Broadway play, it has all the grace of a high school debate.

Shanley concocts a conflict between a conservative nun Sister Aloysiu ... more

Chinatown: As Much as Possible  Classic
December 20, 2008

Is Chinatown the best private eye film ever? It may well be. Nearing its thirty-fifth anniversary, it deserves a reconsideration and a celebration. It is a symbolically rich film that reverberates with meaning; it takes the alienation and l ... more

Frost/Nixon  Great
December 11, 2008

Who is Frank Langella? His is not a name that would register at all with most moviegoers, unless you are a Dracula-phile.

In 1979 Langella played Count Dracula on the screen with memorable presence. He had previously done the role on stage ... more

Seven Pounds  Very Good
December 11, 2008

Seven Pounds is an unexpected holiday powerhouse. Will Smith shakes off his familiar, comfortable persona, and cuts to the unsettled heart of humanity.

Smith has been riding a recent wave of gimmickry (Hancock) and contrived ... more

Milk  Very Good
December 11, 2008

Sean Penn and gay director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) have created a warm-hearted testament to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay individual who was elected to major political office (the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco), and was ... more

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button  Watchable
December 11, 2008

This inventive treatment will intrigue and fulfill some audience members. But not me. Despite general critical euphoria (90% favorable on Rottentomatoes), I found it a plodding tours de force.

Supposedly based on a F. Scott Fitzgerald short st ... more

Synecdoche, New York  Badly flawed
December 4, 2008

Writer Charlie Kaufman is the pseudo-intellectuals' "intellectual." He's pompous, self-flagellating and pretentious. So they love him.

Kaufman makes Sarah Palin seem humble.

Kaufman wrote Being John Malkovich, which was a diverting ... more

Appaloosa  Very Good
November 27, 2008

I give thanks for westerns.

Every time they seem to be about to gasp their last, dusty breath, one comes along to give them a bit of renewed life. Bless it, the western genre will not die. Last year it was the excellent remake 3:10 to Yuma< ... more

On the Aisle  Badly flawed
November 20, 2008

Jonathan Demme and Barry Levinson are two veteran directors whose new films are small and personal. But being personal often leads to neurosis, and neurosis can be a pain, especially for the viewer.

Demme has made two of my favorite films, ... more

Quantum of Solace  Better than average
November 13, 2008

Quantum of Solace is the most obtuse title of the year. Maybe it means kick-ass action. If so, it's a very apt title. Don't be late arriving at the theater. The pre-opening credit sequence to Quantum of Solace goes just 15 seconds be ... more

Changeling  Very Good
November 6, 2008

Clint Eastwood is a vital force of nature. Born May 31, 1930, the unflappable 78-year old director is still creating powerful, unique movies. Changeling is remarkable evidence of that.

What a career the man has had. No one would ever ha ... more

W  Exemplary
October 30, 2008

W is the October surprise.

The movie won't change anybody's ideas about the values of the last eight years. But it may make some of us think differently about their protagonist.

If one expects -- or demands -- a Liberal screed again ... more

The Express  Watchable
October 23, 2008

The Express is running on two rails at the same time. There's sentiment, which is true. And there's sentimentality, which is not.

At its best, "The Express" is a moving tribute; at its worst, it's conventional manipulation.

Because it ba ... more

Body of Lies  Watchable
October 15, 2008

When Russell Crowe gives a lackluster performance, you know how meager a year it's been at the movies. In “Body of Lies,” Crowe is bogged down in a thankless role in a thankless movie.

“Body of Lies” is the story of a well-traveled, young ... more

Hating for two  Watchable
October 10, 2008

Tony Macklin, film historian and author of the book Voices From the Set, joins Josh to hate on theatrical releases Body of Lies, The Express and The Duchess, plus Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal ... more

Ghost Town  Better than average
October 2, 2008

Ricky Gervais has become a major international star. The British comic created and was the lead actor in the original British TV version of The Office (2006) and Extras (2007). He has won two Emmys and a Golden Globe. Now after a few bit parts h ... more

Righteous Kill  Badly flawed
September 25, 2008

Righteous Kill

Imagine this conversation

A phone call between actor Bob De Niro and director Marty Scorsese

Bobby: Hello, Marty. I've been calling and texting, but you never answer.


Bobby: I'm talking to you. Are you ... more

Burn After Reading  Badly flawed
September 18, 2008

Please send Get Well cards to the Coen Brothers. After last year's "No Country for Old Men," for which they won the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year, Joel and Ethan Coen have had a relapse.

Their new offering "Burn After Reading" is remi ... more

Transsiberian  Exemplary
September 11, 2008

This has been the summer of my cinema discontent. I've felt like Sarah Palin killing caribou on a bridge to nowhere. There are carcasses all over the place.

But every once in a while an offbeat movie comes along that is a surprise. Last week i ... more

Bottle Shock  Very Good
September 4, 2008

Movie ads in the newspapers are a great barometer of … nothing. Except perhaps gullibility.

Studios often get pseudo-reviewers who are their lackeys to trumpet praise over the least deserving of movies. These dupers get their names in ... more

Tropic Thunder  Awful
August 21, 2008

Tropic Thunder is one humongous vanity project for Ben Stiller. His initials aren't BS for nothing. If you can't get enough of bouncing Ben, Tropic Thunder is the movie for you. Ben Stiller acted in, co-wrote, produced, and directed Tropic Thunder ... more

Vicky Cristina Barcelona  Great
August 14, 2008

Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a really good movie.

For more than a decade, Woody had been coasting, making mediocrities such as Scoop (2006) and Cassandra Dreaming (2007). Other movies, such as Melind ... more

Step Brothers  Better than average
August 7, 2008

“Step Brothers” is a rowdy, rambunctious, fitful, against-the-wall comedy. Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and director writer Adam McKay heave comedy, like spaghetti, against the wall. About half sticks; the other half makes a real mess.

... more

Get Smart  Badly flawed
July 31, 2008

What do dithering tv weathermen do when they retire? They must take their lame, witless banter and their awkward timing to Hollywood to write and direct movies. That might explain Get Smart, one of the latest in a long line of humid, mediocre, t ... more

The Dark Knight  Very Good
July 24, 2008

The Dark Knight is a good movie.

It has all the ingredients to be a great movie, but it isn't one. I may grudgingly put it on my best-ten-of-the year list (a paltry group at this point), but it could have been so much more. It came so close ... more

Hancock  Badly flawed
July 17, 2008

Like a timid giant, popularity rules big-time at the box office. I remember interviewing John Wayne in his home in Newport Beach, Calif. and being shocked at how much he was concerned with Photoplay magazine's top actors list and whether he wa ... more

WALL-E  Better than average
July 10, 2008

Robot romance - Pixar's new moneymaker may be the ultimate revenge of the nerds


I'm a real sucker for animated rodents. I loved Ratatouille and I laughed fondly at the previews of the brave Despereaux in a movi ... more

On The Aisle  Very Good
July 3, 2008

Hulk fails, Mongol delivers

The Incredible Hulk

About halfway through The Incredible Hulk, Ed Norton (Bruce Banner) gets his hair cut. Hair is not the only thing that winds up on the cutting room floor.

When Norton signed ... more

The Happening  Badly flawed
June 19, 2008

Intriguing premise, but a laughable dud

Seeing The Happening is like going on an outing with an earnest person, who happens to be a drunk. Every time it starts to make sense, it slurs its speech and starts dropping things -- such as coh ... more

Sex and the City  Watchable
June 13, 2008

There are some places men just don't belong:

1) In a pink Cadillac going to a shopping shindig -- yes, I know Clint was in a movie called "Pink Cadillac," but there was no Mary Kay decal in the window.

2) At Girls' Night Out at Thunder F ... more

Recount  Very Good
June 5, 2008

The first five months of 2008 at the movies have been a distressing period. Iron Man had its moments as did The Bank Job and Street Kings, but only The Visitor will make my ten best list. It's been a tepid time for ... more

What Happens in Vegas  Better than average
May 29, 2008

Sometimes you just can't trust reviewers. Hillary may be right. Maybe you should just dismiss your education and go against economists and the knowledgeable. No, believe the economists and the knowledgeable. It's just the media and some politician ... more

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull  Better than average
May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull-- the fourth movie about Henry Jones, Jr. -- is as comfortable as an old shoe. Or an old hat.

Actually it is old hat. It's comfortable, but it's also worn and slack.

The latest Indy Jones ... more

Iron Man  Very Good
May 15, 2008

Iron Man is an appealing superhero movie. It's also clunky. It's welded together out of disparate pieces that clank and ping. Though at times it's leaden, Iron Man also has enough moments of pizazz to intermittently soar.

Ir ... more

On the Aisle  Great
May 8, 2008

"The Visitor" one of this year's best, "Redbelt" a slapdash carnival

Decency is a major theme in two new movies. Both "The Visitor" and "Redbelt" ask the question: How does one keep his decency in an indecent world?

"The Visitor" a ... more

Forgetting Sarah Marshall  Watchable
May 1, 2008

Ok, I give up. The Slackers win.

In the last ten years, the Republican Party has had its revenge, the Nerds have had their revenge, and now the Slackers stand sloppy and tall.

I stand poleaxed.

The latest beating inflicted ... more

Leatherheads  Watchable
April 24, 2008

Leatherheads tries to be a screwball comedy, but it's more The Eleven Stooges.

Screwball comedy in its heyday in the late 1930's was a brilliant genre that produced classics such as Howard Hawks's Bringing Up Baby (1938) w ... more

On the Aisle  Very Good
April 17, 2008

Both "Street Kings" and "Smart People" have opened to very tepid reviews, but both should please their target audiences. I can recommend both, and I particularly enjoyed "Street Kings."

A lot of reviewers seem to have disliked "Street Kings" ... more

21  Badly flawed
April 10, 2008

When the movie "21" was announced with Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne, it sounded like a winner.

When everybody else involved in "21" was mentioned, it was doomed to be a loser.

"21" came from "Bringing Down the House," a nonfiction b ... more

Under the Same Moon  Very Good
April 3, 2008

Lou Dobbs will hate Under the Same Moon (la Misma Luna). In the past Dobbs has debunked his roots.

He said, "I have no idea who in the heck or where in the heck my grandparents came from. I don't even care."

Some who are not so dismi ... more

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day  Very Good
March 27, 2008

People often complain, "they don't make movies like they used to." But on occasion a film is made for that audience.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is such a film. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a well-acted comedy with en ... more

The Bank Job  Very Good
March 20, 2008

The Bank Job is not just another slick caper film. It's robust, messy, cluttered, and a cut well above the average crime job.

The Bank Job tunnels its own distinctive way under the well-worn genre. It's no cookie-cutter thriller. ... more

Semi-Pro  Watchable
March 12, 2008

Will Ferrell's Semi-Pro is a dreadful comedy. It's lazy and slipshod. On RottenTomatoes, it received 24 percent favorable from critics, and, even more notable, 49 percent of viewers thought it was rotten.

If Semi-Pro is so la ... more

On the Aisle  Badly flawed
March 6, 2008

Vantage Point and U2-3D

The first two months of the movies of 2008 are over, and it was a dismal run. When National Treasure was the best 2008-release I could recommend, I know how feeble it was.

Vantage Poi ... more

Jumper  Watchable
February 28, 2008

More than a month and a half into 2008, there hasn't been a single memorable movie released nationally. I can't remember a more lacklustre start to a year.

Cloverfield and Rambo had big openings, because they had effective ads. Unfortunate ... more

Rambo  Badly flawed
February 7, 2008

Rambo and Stallone

Do you want disembowelment and decapitation with your popcorn? Is gore glorious? Is brutality orgasmic? Is spurting blood the fountain of fun?

If so, Rambo is 4 U.

There is an audience that goes to the mo ... more

Cloverfield  Badly flawed
January 31, 2008

I think when they started filming Cloverfield, somebody accidentally dropped the camera. Someone else said, "Cool."

So they kept dropping the camera. And they threw it, and jerked it, and kicked it. And it went into terminal spasms.

< ... more
On the Aisle  Better than average
January 24, 2008

Starting Out in the Evening and The Savages

According to a recent movie, growing old and dying in the west is a lark.

According to The Bucket List, you meet a multi-millionaire, and the two of you go cavorting. ... more

National Treasure: Book of Secrets  Better than average
January 17, 2008

What makes a movie a box office bonanza? It strikes a chord in its expectant audience. Sometimes a sleeper such as Juno scores. Other times it's the tried-and-true, such as National Treasure: the Book of Secrets, that pleases those of us looking f ... more

Charlie Wilson's War  Better than average
January 3, 2008

Few people know how our government works. Even fewer know how it is supposed to work.

Over the years I've received countless phone calls promoting a political candidate. I ask the caller: "Who is the Secretary of Agriculture?"

No o ... more

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