Sunday, September 03, 2006


I haven't had a lot of movie reviews lately because the summer is a very dry time for any movies that are any good. Mostly, Alex and I have went to the discount theater and caught some of the animated flicks from about 6 months ago: The Wild, Ice Age 2, Over the Edge.

They are not worth reviewing in depth because I can basically review them all about the same: Overrated fish-out-of water stories with little plot. Overspent on voice talent. Nice messages about the environment. Largely unfunny. Kids will probably like but parents will be bored.

Highlights as far as voice talent: Eddie Izzard as Nigel and Janeane Garofalo in The Wild, Steve Carell, William Shatner, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara in Over the Hedge, and John Leguizamo in Ice Age 2. Grade: C+

The two movies I'm reviewing are stories of hope: one old, one new. Hope's a funny thing. It doesn't just help the person with it. As they say, "a rising tide lifts all boats".

The first of these movies is my 2nd favorite movie of all time, The Shawshank Redemption, and one of the best movies of the last 20 years. I re-watched it for about the 10th time this weekend.

A story of hope under the worst conditions, Shawshank tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a man falsely convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover. Through his interaction with his fellow inmates, he not only keeps some sort of sanity for himself but helps others. I won't spoil the plot here, but suffice to say that is a story of amazing redemption.

This movie is so well-crafted that I'm reticent to name another movie that has been such a great combination of cinematography, music, acting, etc. The look, tone and subject matter are reminiscent of Cool Hand Luke and there is even a scene that is a direct homage.

Director Frank Darabont wrote the screenplay himself, adapting a Stephen King short story. The screenplay's strength is in it's ability to give the movie space. It's not overtalkative. Also, the themes of hope and redemption are woven into the dialogue largely without you knowing it. So, by the time the movie comes to its climax, you are so invested in the story, it is that much more satisfying.

Secondly, the music by Thomas Newman and cinematography by the great Roger Deakins (Sid and Nancy, Fargo, A Beautiful Mind) give the movie such a sense of beauty. It's odd to say that a movie about a prison and with drab colors can be beautiful. But this movie is brimming with beauty in every sense.

Lastly, the acting is universally spectacular. Tim Robbins is already a hero of mine for his directing (Bob Roberts, Cradle Will Rock, and Dead Man Walking) but he gives a very understated performance here that serves the story. Morgan Freeman ... well, I have never seen the man give a bad performance in anything. But it is in the supporting roles that the real strength comes out, particularly James Whitmore, William Sadler, Gill Bellows and Clancy Brown.

I can't gush any more about it without ruining the plot. But, take my recommendation and see this movie if you haven't already. Grade: A+++++

The 2nd movie is a new movie that we just saw called Akeelah and the Bee. This is a very good family movie. It tells the story of 11 year old Akeelah Anderson, played by newcomer Keke Palmer.

Akeelah lives in South L.A. and obviously has a talent for spelling but because of the environment in which she has grown up and the distinct uncoolness of excelling in anything, especially spelling, she at first tries to deny it. But she comes to find that others want her to succeed as much as she wants to succeed. Her excellence gives them hope in their lives. Kinda like a lone flower growing in a barren field.

The movie is not overly maudlin and has nice acting performances by Laurence Fishburne as her coach(who's always great in movies), Angela Bassett as her mom, and in a case of ironic casting, Curtis Armstrong (Booger in Revenge of the Nerds) as her principal. I guess the nerds have their revenge again. :-) I recommend this movie. Grade: B+


Reel Fanatic said...

I may take off a few plusses, but have to agree with you about the greatness of Shawshank . and I was thoroughly surprised by just how much I liked Akeelah and the Bee .. it's that rare breed of family film that's as entertaining as it is informative

dbackdad said...

Welcome back RF. I liked your review of Little Miss Sunshine. I'm definitely going to have to check it out.

CyberKitten said...

I actually rather liked 'Over the Hedge'... [grin].

dbackdad said...

I'm not saying that I hated it and it was definitely the best of the three. I'm just saying that none of the three rose to the level of the best animated features of the last 10 years.

Carell and Shatner were great. And I love anything that Levy and O'Hara are involved in (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind).

CyberKitten said...

Haven't seen 'The Wild' so I can't comment and I was rather disapointed with 'Ice Age 2'.

Jewish Atheist said...

I LOVE Shawshank.

I thought Akeelah was mediocre. The kid was cute, but the story was exactly like four hundred other movies, some of which had done it better.

Sadie Lou said...

The Shawshank Redemption will always stand the test of time and I will always include it on any list of "Must See Movies". Tim Robbins performed probably the most likable movie character ever and a close second would be Morgan Freeman's character--convicted felon or not.
I love the way the story is told in narrative--it kept true to the integrity of King's story.
Thanks for the review of Akeelah and the Bee. That's the second time someone I trust with movies, has given it positive thumbs up.

Scott said...

Shawshank was good, but there's nothing risky about it is there? I mean where's the anti-Shawshank person? There is none, everyone likes it. I suppose that a testament to the quality of the film, and like I said I liked it, just not very edgy is all.

Haven't seen the Akeelah one. I saw Spellbound and would certainly recommend that.

Little Miss Sunshine was an absolute gem. Nearly perfect except the end which was (without giving too much away) close to soft core kid porn, but other than that perfect.

Laura said...

Shawshank is fantastic, but I like the short story better. It doesn't have the sappy ending.

I have to agree with Scott - Little Miss Sunshine is excellent. John didn't like it so much, but I loved it. It's a trainwreck of a family from start to finish. I agree about the kiddie porn too - grade-school beauty queens just creep me out. Talk about pimping your kid.