Atonement

Atonement opens with the clickety-clack of a old 1930’s typewriter, that if you pay really close attention, serves as a huge symbolism later in the story. This is a beautiful, 60-year spanning romantic epic with a twist ending that rivals even The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense, and amazing performances from James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, as two doomed lovers, and three excellent performances of the same character by Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave.

Cecelia Tallis is a 22-year old upper-class British woman on the hottest day of 1935, and her 13-year old sister Briony an aspiring writer. Their housekeeper’s son, Robbie Turner, is a childhood friend of Cecelia, is secretly in love with Cecelia, and Cecelia is in love with Robbie. So Robbie accidentally sends a provocative letter to Cecelia, but is read by Briony, and Briony momentarily misinterprets this letter and accuses Robbie of a crime he didn’t commit. Robbie is then sent to prison, and Cecelia is heartbroken.

Flash five years ahead. Robbie is now in the army, Cecelia a nurse, and Briony guilt-ridden over her lie. Robbie and Cecelia have met only once, and neither have talked to Briony, who is also a nurse. But she begins to fully grasp what she did, but is it too late?

This film is really beautiful, and well-done artistically, and many, many great performances. And the final 10 minutes are, well, to sum it up, insane. In a good way. But be prepared to check what you saw, for there’s a lot of twists and turns along the way. But for those who enjoy a beautiful, well-done, intricate film? Look no further. A

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No Country for Old Men

This intense, tight thriller is possibly the greatest film of 2007. Period. Why? Well…The performances, especially that of Javier Bardem as a cold-blooded sociopath. The script, which doesn’t rely on violence and blood, a rarity in thrillers. The editing. The editing is what makes the film click, what makes it run. It literally kept the audience on the edge of their seat. And the ending. The ending is cryptic, poetic, and truly feels natural. But remember to pay attention.

Llewyn Moss is a poor Vietnam veteran hunter in 1980. He’s hunting in the desert and stumbles upon $2 million in drug money and several dead bodies. He takes the money, but a badly wounded gangster sees him. This incurs the wrath of both the Mexican mob, and Anton Chigurh, a hitman whose eyes you stare into and you see coldness, death, and madness reminiscent of the Terminator. But a local sheriff, played well by Tommy Lee Jones, tries to protect Moss…but there’s much more at large, and at stake, than originally thought.

After seeing the ending, a lot of people, including myself, thought “That was it?” But when you see it, think about it hard, and it will come to you. Its little subtleties like that which add so much more to the film. Javier Bardem is nothing short of Oscar-worthy as psychopath Anton Chigurh, and Josh Brolin gives a wounded performance as Llewyn Moss, a hunter on the run from Chigurh. Just see the scene where he asks a man on the street for a coat.

It’s such a surprise to see a film so intense and thrilling, yet so well-made. Expect many Oscars for No Country. A

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep

The Water Horse, despite its terrible marketing and more than one idea taken from E.T., overcomes your expectations. Why? Because it depends on the story, not the slick editing or flashy special effects. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say it was a minor modern family classic.

I have never believed in the Loch Ness monster, but the special effects are so convincing and well-made that for a minute, I could almost believe. It takes a tough try to accomplish that. Alex Etel, as the young boy who befriends the water horse, mostly interacts with a CGI monster, and pulls it off.

Angus is a young boy living in war-time Scotland, in a large manor. His sister disconnected, his mother constantly diverted, his father at war, he is a very lonely boy. So when he finds an egg on the Loch Ness shore, what pops out of an egg than a small puppy-like “water-horse”, whom he names Crusoe. Crusoe and Angus strike up an odd friendship, but Crusoe is kept a secret except for his sister and the housekeeper. Crusoe begins growing very fast, and soon he is so big Angus must put him in the Loch Ness. Thus, the Loch Ness Monster is born. But the British Army is taking refuge in Angus’ home, and soon Crusoe gains notoriety nearby, and the Army takes note. Can Angus protect Crusoe from the army?

The movie’s way of explaining that dated, fake photograph of the Loch Ness Monster is actually a wooden boat, while Crusoe swims about 100 feet away in plain sight. It’s cleverness and just sweetness is very unexpected, and despite its initial sadness, it has some really funny gags.

Its purity and trueness won me over. A-

PS I Love You

PS I Love You has a pattern so repetitive and clichéd that they could have just looped the first 20 minutes over and over, tacked on the ending, and voila, there wouldn’t be much difference. Hilary Swank receives letter from dead husband. Hilary Swank does crazy or funny thing. Hilary Swank laughs, but then realizes some cryptic clue reminds her of dead husband. She cries, has flashback, then goes to a bar or hangs out with girlfriends. Rinse, and repeat.

The director, Richard LaGravenese, has much talent, as evidenced in last year’s Freedom Writers, and even some scenes here. But even though he has an original and engaging premise, he simply doesn’t have anything original or engaging to make about it.

The first 20 minutes are funny, witty, and promise a good movie. They show hilarious chemistry between Hilary Swank and leading man Gerard Butler, a great round of dialogue, and then switch to the only scene in the movie that erects emotion. Sadness.

The movie is about a young, middle-class couple, played by Gerard Butler and Hilary Swank. They show a flurry of emotions in the first five minutes; one minute they’re arguing about having children, the next jumping into each other’s arms. But then Gerard suddenly dies, leaving Hilary Swank heartbroken. But somehow, days before his death, Gerard organized a series of letters and tapes to send to Hilary posthumously. So Hilary goes along with it, but her friends and family worry if she’s bordering on obsession…Is she?

Sound original and fresh for a romantic comedy? Well, yeah, but it’s a romantic drama. It has few laughs, with the exception of Harry Connick, Jr. as a fast-mouthed slacker. Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, and Harry Connick, Jr. own this movie with their performances, but unfortunately, there’s not much to own.

PS: C-

Juno

Juno is such a warm, sweet, funny, witty, smart, touching movie. I’d say less adjectives, but then it wouldn’t feel fully justified. And at this point, it practically has Best Actress and Screenplay in the bag. I repeat. IN THE BAG. Ellen Page is excellent as whip-smart, sweet teenager Juno MacGuff, and first-time writer Diablo Cody has now written the most witty, most funny, and perhaps the best screenplay of the year.

Juno MacGuff is a witty, funny, smart teenager. So naturally, that description keeps her low on the high school social radar. She and her loyal friend Paulie try an experiment and…Juno becomes pregnant. She gathers the courage to tell her parents, in a scene with the best exchange of dialogue spoken this year. She tries going to an abortion clinic in a trip that disgusts her, and so she decides to have the baby. Juno looks in the local newspaper and finds the ‘Desperately Seeking Children’ section, next to the exotic animal ads.

They find a couple that seems perfect, named Mark and Vanessa. Vanessa is obsessed with having a child, and Mark is a 40-ish wannabe rock star. But Juno’s wise-cracking exterior is subtly shown having deeper inner feelings than we expect, and as the months go by, it sort of reveals a new layer to her.

I could go on and on about the exchanges of dialogue, but I must move on to the acting. Ellen Page, as Juno, is so funny that some one-liners echoed throughout my head for hours on end after the movie. Michael Cera doesn’t have much to do, but nails the comedic aspects as Paulie, said teen who gets Juno pregnant. And in an unexpected delight, Jennifer Garner is excellent as Vanessa, someone whose obsession with having a child may or may not pay off.

When I saw this movie, there were more people in the theater than National Treasure 2 and Alvin and the Chipmunks combined. And very few movies actually deserve. Thank Ellen Page and Diablo Cody for one of the best movies of the year. A

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

It’s almost an insult to America that there’s a series so unrealistic, physically and historically. At that, it kind of attempts to tell us some absolute garbage. So…Queen Elizabeth was a Confederate sympathizer? Wow…Uh…Area 51 actually exists? Wow…It’s almost amazing to think that we plopped down $400 million to see the first one…That in itself is hilarious.

Thomas Gates is a treasure fanatic, as evidenced heavily in the first one. After finding the fabled treasure in the first, the team has broken up. Tech geek Riley Poole has written a book that no one’s read, and Thomas has been kicked out of his girlfriend’s house. And to make matters worse, a wealthy family comes along and shows the world a missing page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth that alleges that Thomas’ great-great grandfather helped to plan the assassination of Lincoln.

So Thomas decides to, for some reason, find some ancient treasure that could help clear his name. But can he do it with the whole world watching him, several police on his trail, and other people looking for the treasure?

I guess with this series a lot of people are gonna walk around saying, “Hey, Queen Elizabeth paid the Confederates!”, and stuff like that. Well, in that regard, I guess that’s probably inevitable. And if there’s a big Book of Secrets that hides our nation’s secrets, I’m pretty sure there’s not just a 4-digit combination in a library guarding it.

But as always, Hollywood tries to make us forget the unrealism by showing us big, flashy explosions and car crashes. And on that level, National Treasure succeeds. But as a film, a movie on its own, it fails. This treasure is best kept buried. C