Friday, December 22, 2006

Night at the Museum

Ben Stiller plays a divorced father with shared custody of his son who feels like he has to compete for his son's respect with mom's new boyfriend. He has had trouble finding his way since the divorce, with several failed career moves and financial troubles. He turns to a job agency to get him a job, any job, when his son tells him maybe he should quit trying to do something extraordinary because maybe he is just an ordinary guy who should go get a job. He is sent to the museum of natural history to be a night watchman.

His first night on the job, he undergoes a trial by fire, and he finds out it is nothing like he expected. Before long, he and his son both find out it is his chance to do something extraordinary and be someone great in the eyes of his son after all.

This is a PG rated film that is very family safe and friendly. It is just a tad corny from an adult perspective but very fun and enjoyable and full of amusing imagination and good clean humor. It promotes family values, interest in learning, and working together. I believe it will do well at the box office and will become a minor family classic for the next few years due to the small number of interesting films with a PG rating.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers

A film which covers the turning point for the US in World War II where public support for the war was waning, cash was running low, and how the entire situation changed by a single picture... of soldiers putting up the American flag in Iwojima. Now I know it sounds like a propaganda movie, however it is actually quite an effective assessment of the complexity of war on the ground.

It also looks at the concept of heroism and how the hypocrisy is exposed when soldiers who were in the field are suddenly woven into the war-propaganda-machine. The film is highly critical of how war is sold to the public, the manipulation of emotions, the use of images, words and imagery, all to glorify and promote the good work the soldiers are doing "over there". It does shed light on the truth that there is nothing honorable in killing or being killed.

The acting is pretty good and so is the Directing (Clint Eastwood). The war scenes do look a little like Saving Private Ryan, but then again, it is produced by Steven Spielberg... so expect lotsa blood, lotsa CGI, but it all looks pretty real, nonetheless.

Overall, a good movie to watch albeit not so much for entertainment value than education value. I recommend this one :)


P.S. There is a sister movie "Letters from Iwo Jima", this will be out in 2007.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Pursuit of Happyness

Mom and I went to see this movie last night.

My 4th-grader nephew was with us. For him, it was a bit serious and a bit long, but he said he guessed it was alright. :)

This is "inspired" by a portion of the life of Chris Gardner. If you Google him, you can read about him and get some ideas of the Hollywood liberties taken with the true story. Not nearly as drastically different as the changes Disney made to the "real" story to make Eight Below, but a few differences are to be expected. This is a San Francisco Chronicle article that would give you a good taste.

First of all, it must be said that Will Smith and his son Jaden Christopher Syre Smith both do remarkable acting jobs in this film. Will Smith's Golden Globe nomination for this role is well-deserved. The quality acting really carries the story.

Another strength to this movie is that a person sitting in the audience will, for a brief while at least, really have an inkling of what it feels like to be homeless - and that is something we could all benefit from, to gain empathy of those in need, and perhaps a bit of compassion. Although it is not made a point in the story, if one pays attention, we also see something of the choices people make and the emotions involved that put them in such a dire situation and how they deal with it - how pride can hurt a man and his family and also help them. Thankfully, the telling is neither sapped over nor sensationalized -it feels genuine. But make no mistake that when you think things are bad they can get worse. The audience knew the ending would be a happy one and what a happy one it was, but when Chris Gardner was homeless with his two-year-old son (in the movie, his son is five) he didn't have the luxury of knowing that - he just had the dream.

A weakness is that the story runs long and you start to feel the point has been run into the ground, but it is still compelling. At times, you may find yourself questioning some of the choices made by the hero - could he have done more to improve his situation with a son involved if he swallowed a bit of pride? If you read up on the real Chris, you may find that in some instances he did do more but still had to endure some dark dark nights. On the other hand, you might get through the whole story and not think about it until afterwards - did he have family he could've gone to, friends, church? In truth, not everyone has these lifelines and some just can't bring themselves to ask for help when they need it. He is presented as a hero, but a fully human one who makes mistakes.

Did he have faith in God to pull him through? The real Chris has said a few things to suggest he believes he has a close line to Jesus, as he said, " Jesus loves me. He only likes you.' I don't know him to tell if he intended some humor in there, but he definitely maintains his pride.

From a Muslim perspective, there is a lot going for this movie - to learn about homelessness and feel a bit of it is a good thing. And as a Muslim I found myself thinking about would I trust God and keep faith if everything were taken from me? Would I hold and take solace in the belief that I am in God's care? Would I manage the balance between putting faith in God in desperate times and trying to improve my situation without losing my integrity? I suspect that no one really knows how they will respond to desperate situations until they are in them.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Casino Royale

Well, I think over the years I've seen every James Bond film at one point or another, or pretty close to it.

I had no idea what to expect of this film or the new Bond. I had seen a few previews and was mildly interested. But I came out a big fan of the latest film, which brings new life to the genre.

That being said, I think Daniel Craig is probably the best of all the actors to play James Bond so far. This movie is better and different than the Bond movies of the past 10 or 15 years. It is an origin story - it is about James Bond's first mission as 007. It shows him as being more physical than other Bonds and more human - and that makes him much more intriguing. This version Bond, said to be truer to Ian Fleming's vision, is also capable of more intelligent dialogue. Mr. Craig is a talented actor, and it shows.

The "Bond girl" in this film is also different than others. She is more intelligent than most, contributes more to the plot, and actually has a genuine emotional impact on Bond, although I found the love story to have a bit of weakness to it. It wouldn't be a James Bond movie if the women weren't all "eye candy" - the objectification of women is toned down here compared to some previous films as the women are somewhat more empowered, and double entendres are at a minimum here, but there is a certain expectation of Bond movies that does not go unmet.

"M"'s interaction with Bond in this film is far more interesting than any I can remember from other films. Dame Judi Densch actually has at least a little occasion to demonstrate her acting ability with a real character this time.

The villain in this one, however, was weak and uninspiring, and only mildly interesting. He wasn't the real villain anyway, but by the end of the film Bond seems ready to move up the ladder to tackle some of the bigger fish.

Techno gimmicks and gadgets are not the drivers in this story - a few are present but they are appropriate rather than expensive attempts to wow an audience with the latest and greatest. Instead, the audience is quickly grabbed by a stunning opening action sequence including a memorable display of free running, and the action remains very good throughout.

There are some slow parts in the film and a few mini-twists that might strike as ridiculous but nothing to make you look at your watch or not buy in to the story as a whole. This is a satisfying movie and I hope to see another one with the new Bond Daniel Craig, building on a good beginning here. If you haven't been a fan of other Bond movies, this one could change your mind - unless your disdain is in response to the omnipresent sex and violence of the genre - in that case, stay away.

PG-13 is an appropriate rating, although there are a few particular scenes of violence that are not for the squeamish. Nudity (in a particular Abu-Ghraib-ish torture scene, of Daniel Craig - not so much of the females beyond the typical skin-baring $1000 prom dresses), sexual situations, and violence make this, of course, not a "family film".