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tobynosker 01-08-2007 01:15 PM

tobynosker's 2007 Movie Review Thread

Freedom Writers
Directed by Richard LaGravenese
Written by Richard LaGravenese (based on the book "The Freedom Writers Diary" by the Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell)
Starring Hilary Swank, Patrick Dempsey, Scott Glenn, Imelda Staunton, April Hernandez, Mario, Kristin Herrera, Jason Finn, Deance Wyatt, Vanetta Smith, Hunter Parrish and John Benjamin Hickey

Every year, movie audiences are bombarded with mediocre offerings from studios hoping to cash-in with their latest naive stories — or as the studios refer to them, “inspirational tales” — about adult influences who manage to break through the proverbial wall and reach the unreachable. But, by avoiding the trite moments that film goers have become accustomed to over the years, Freedom Writers is able to succeed in less conventional ways.

Two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank plays ambitious first-year teacher Erin Gruwell, who enters a difficult world at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California where racial tensions remain high two-years following the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The integrated school is divided into four camps where whites, blacks, Latinos and Cambodians are forced to co-exist, but rarely do, in their underpriveleged life.

The daughter of a civil rights activist, Gruwell is able to connect with students after an unexpected discussion about the Holocaust leads the students to open up about their own personal struggles and they begin writing their own journals in resemblance to that of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Swank does a fine job in her portrayal of Erin Gruwell, although she is simply just the motivational factor for discovering the students who make-up her high school English class. The most notable of which is Eva, played by April Hernandez, who makes the most life altering choice of any of the students in Gruwell’s class. Hernandez is very convincing in her role as the hardcore Latino who wants something better for herself, but is uncertain as to what kinds of sacrifices she must endure in order to attain her goals.

Several other students’ hardships outside of the classroom are addressed, but are quietly muddied through in order to accomplish the big picture.

Patrick Dempsey plays Gruwell’s neglected husband Scott, while Scott Glenn is Gruwell’s former activist father Steve. Both are good in their roles, but are so underused that they have very limited importance to the story.

Imelda Staunton and John Benjamin Hickey play the film’s villians — two longtime faculty members at Woodrow Wilson High School who do not appreciate and are one of the few who are not flattered by Gruwell’s unorthodox, albeit effective style of teaching.

Yet, it is that unorthodox style of teaching and the unusual way in which Gruwell is able to connect with the students to get them to open up that makes the authentic climax of Freedom Writers something that’s endearing and genuine.


doublee 01-08-2007 08:02 PM

Wow, that is the best review I have come across for this movie. Most of the one I have seen have given it ** or less.

In seeing some of the previews for this it just occurs to me that we have seen the same movie with a slightly different plot several times already.

Marc 01-08-2007 09:25 PM

Great review, toby. Loved the photos, nice touch. :thumbup:

da12ken 01-09-2007 02:57 AM

Toby, you should post all your reviews on a blog or something.

Toby's Movie Reviews presented by SCMB.

tobynosker 01-09-2007 08:27 AM


Originally Posted by doublee
Wow, that is the best review I have come across for this movie. Most of the one I have seen have given it ** or less.

In seeing some of the previews for this it just occurs to me that we have seen the same movie with a slightly different plot several times already.

At times, Freedom Writers is a movie made according to formula and has some of the same plot tendencies as a number of movies -- most recently, the Matthew McConaughey football drama We Are Marshall.

But, as I mentioned in my review, a lot of those tendencies are quickly and quietly muddied through to tell the bigger story.

And the discussion of the Holocaust and where that leads these students in the classroom and in their lives differentiates this film from others because it is creative and takes a different approach than we are used to in a lot of these formulaic movies.


Originally Posted by Marc
Great review, toby. Loved the photos, nice touch. :thumbup:
Thank you.


Originally Posted by da12ken
Toby, you should post all your reviews on a blog or something.

Toby's Movie Reviews presented by SCMB.

That is sort-of the intent behind this thread.

But, to make things easier on me and those who read the reviews, I am only going to review movies released in 2007 in this thread, and only upon first viewing.

Billy D 01-09-2007 08:31 PM


Originally Posted by tobynosker (Post 232426)
But, to make things easier on me and those who read the reviews, I am only going to review movies released in 2007 in this thread, and only upon first viewing.

Thanks. Although it would be pretty funny if you kept reviewing certain movies upon repeat viewings....

"Saw Tommy Boy on TBS this weekend for the 14th time. Not quite as funny as last time, but worth a few laughs. Richard's the best."

"Saw 'Mother May I Sleep With Danger?' again on Lifetime last night. That is without a doubt my favorite Tori Spelling performance ever... I can't get enough of her."

"Tried watching 'Boat Trip' while drunk yesterday... it still sucks."

tobynosker 01-15-2007 01:39 PM

Arthur and the Invisibles
Directed by Luc Besson
Written by Luc Besson and Celine Garcia
Starring Penny Balfour, Jason Bateman, David Bowie, Robert De Niro, Emilio Estevez, Jimmy Fallon, Mia Farrow, Freddie Highmore, Harvey Keitel, Madonna, Doug Rand and Snoop Dogg

From The Incredibles to Shrek, from Ice Age to Happy Feet, movie studios have found a way to make animated films a box-office success with beautiful images and a host of household names providing the voice-work for wacky and irreverent characters who spout-off pop culture references and feature enough comedic elements for both kids and adults. Yet, Arthur and the Invisibles still manages to find a way to fail on nearly every level possible.

Fourteen year old English actor Freddie Highmore stars in this part live-action/part animated story about a young boy named Arthur who, neglected by his parents, lives in the country with his lonely grandmother, played by Mia Farrow. Arthur’s grandfather has been missing for years, and his grandmother’s financial woes have opened the door for a real-estate developer to foreclose on their farmhouse.

Arthur soon discovers details on a treasure of rubies in the backyard of the farm, but they are hidden in an area of the backyard populated by an animated African tribe of people known as the Minimoys. Arthur soon gains access to the Minimoys’ kingdom and his hunt to save the farmhouse begins.

Highmore is a wonderful young actor who has shined in his previous roles in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Finding Neverland, and while he remains likeable in this film, he is also poorly developed and misused in the role. Farrow’s role of grandmother is the only other live-action character worth noting, but she is simply a set-piece used to deliver a couple of lines of scripted dialogue.

Director Luc Besson and his excellent editing team do a fine job transitioning from the live-action segments of the movie to those of animation, as it has a less jarring effect than that of the beforementioned Happy Feet. But the film’s animation is truly second-rate, coming off less of a companion piece for recent DreamWorks and Pixar offerings, and just appears to be a more lively version of the puppet work in Team America: World Police.

Jimmy Fallon is boring as the voice of Betameche, while Madonna is uninspiring in her voice-work of Princess Selenia. An odd appearance from rapper Snoop Dogg — including one of the oddest musical sequences to ever appear in an animated film — and unrecognizable work from Jason Bateman, Emilio Estevez and Harvey Keitel makes Arthur and the Invisibles come off as nothing more than a very lackluster flick.

Plus, all of those characters are used simply as filler material until we arrive to our hackneyed conclusion that is neither heartwarming nor original, and simply disappoints like the rest of the film.


tobynosker 01-29-2007 11:28 AM

Catch and Release
Directed by Susannah Grant
Written by Susannah Grant
Starring Joshua Friesen, Jennifer Garner, Sam Jaeger, Juliette Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, Fiona Shaw and Kevin Smith

Jennifer Garner rose to popularity playing Agent Sydney Bristow on the ABC drama Alias. That role landed Garner four Emmy nominations, as well as a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award. But Garner’s cross-over success into cinema has failed to achieve that same type of recognition for the young actress.

She starred opposite future husband Ben Affleck in 2003’s comic-book adventure film Daredevil, which eventually led to a leading role in the spin-off movie Elektra. Garner also took her first stab at being a leading lady in 2004’s utterly predictable, sappy romantic commedy 13 Going on 30.

After an impressive run on television and a remarkable cameo appearance in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can, Jennifer Garner is still looking for that first movie role that will make her a star.

And she didn’t find it with Catch and Release.

In the film, Garner plays Gray Wheeler, a woman trying to cope after the accidental death of her fiance during his bachelor party trip. While trying to rebuild her life, Wheeler soon discovers secrets about her would-be-husband that turn her life upside down.

The movie sounds like a drama, and would have been a much better film had it been played as such. But instead, writer and director Susannah Grant (writer of Erin Brockovich, In Her Shoes) forces the film into a much different direction that centers around an abrupt, dull tale of love where the attraction of the two characters is never developed and hardly ever explained.

Yet, Garner and the attraction of her desire Timothy Olyphant are the only two characters the audience is ever truly invested in.

Olyphant, who has shown he can be a decent actor with his recent work on HBO’s Deadwood and as sleazy porn producer Kelly in Luke Greenfield’s 2004 film The Girl Next Door, is restrained to a one-dimensional character in Catch and Release. At times, you even find yourself rooting against him in his efforts to woo Wheeler.

Sam Jaeger and Kevin Smith play Wheeler’s best-friends, with Smith providing the failed comedic punch. Independent writer and director Smith talks more with his mouth-full in this film than he does as Silent Bob in all of his movies combined. Jaeger is barely noticeable until mid-way through the film when an interesting plot development arrives, but then is quickly escorted out the backdoor without rhyme and reason.

Fiona Shaw and the unsexy Juliette Lewis round out the cast, as Grant’s directorial debut misses every note except one — the casting of Jennifer Garner. But, in turn, Garner misses another big break at becoming a movie star.


tobynosker 01-30-2007 12:08 PM

Epic Movie
Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer
Written by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer
Starring Adam Campbell, Faune Chambers, Jennifer Coolidge, Tony Cox, Crispin Glover, Jayma Mays, Kal Penn and Fred Willard

Right off the bat, I believe it is important to note that last year I managed to laugh once or twice at the abysmal Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. Monique’s dreadful 2006 comedy Phat Girlz even drew a chuckle out of me on one occasion. So you have to realize how disastrously bad Epic Movie is when I say that I did not once crack a smile during the entire film’s 86 minute running time.

Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer are two guys who like to pride themselves on being two of the six creative minds behind the success of the satirical movie franchise Scary Movie. But since the release of the original Scary Movie film in 2000, the two decided to split ways from the Wayans family and instead branch out on their own.

The two released the highly successful, yet utterly painful to watch Date Movie in February of 2006. The design of that film was to spoof several recent romantic comedies like Meet the Parents and My Best Friend’s Wedding. It was evident when watching Date Movie that the days of excellent farces from the likes of Mel Brooks and David Zucker were long gone, with the laughs in Date Movie so few and far between that the spoof they made appeared like it needed to be parodied more so than the film’s they were attempting to lampoon.

Yet, the box-office success of Date Movie is undeniable and opened the door for Friedberg and Seltzer to tackle another genre of film — the epic movie.

The barely existent plot revolves around four orphans who come together after each orphan receives a golden ticket promising them admission to an epic adventure. After a failed comedic romp aimed at the Tim Burton version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the foursome stumbles through a wardrobe and into the world of Narnia where they learn it is their destiny to free it with the guidance of a mystical lion.

Epic Movie pulls out every stop on its way to becoming one of the worst parodies in film history.

Characters getting punched in their naughty bits? Check.

The mocking of Paris Hilton? Check.

A Carmen Electra cameo? Check.

Terrible musical sequences involving terrible songs from terrible musicians like Bubba Sparxx and Fergie? Check.

Horrid gags centered around urine and feces? Check and check…and check and check…and check and check.

Actors who deserve much better work? Like Jennifer Coolidge, Kal Penn and Fred Willard? Check.

Spoofs towards Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and X-Men seem too forced and are merely just thrown into the story without reason, resulting in the gags being unfunny. And other shots taken at P. Diddy and MTV shows like Cribs and Punk’d are not only unfunny, but also untimely.

I got the feeling when listening to the audio commentary on last year’s Date Movie DVD that both Friedberg and Seltzer realize they are creating nothing more than worthless drivel, and have become surprised over the years by the financial success of their films. And while the two appear to have other abilities with a Liberace biopic in development, it’s going to be tough for them to step away from a particular genre that landed them a number-one film over the weekend.

And after an $18 million opening weekend for Epic Movie, it will be tough for movie studios to say no to releasing another one of Friedberg and Seltzer’s unpleasant offerings.


tobynosker 02-05-2007 11:36 AM

Because I Said So
Directed by Michael Lehmann
Written by Karen Leigh Hopkis and Jessie Nelson
Starring Stephen Collins, Lauren Graham, Diane Keaton, Gabriel Macht, Mandy Moore, Ty Panitz, Piper Perabo and Tom Everett Scott

Nicole Holofcener’s 2006 film Friends with Money brought together an extraordinary group of female actresses to headline a dramatic ensemble. But even in the hands of talented actresses like Catherine Keener and Frances McDormand, wonderful acting fails to result into a wonderful film if the actors are forced to work with a shoddy story and script.

Less than a year later, that same disappointment is achieved when a tremendous female quartet who have each shown to be adept actresses in the realm of romantic comedies, are brought together in one of the most underwhelming films in recent memory that was unable to deliver either the romance or the comedy.

The often quirky Diane Keaton stars as Daphne, a mother of three who never hesitates at the chance to rudely intrude into the personal lives of her daughters. With daughters Mae (Piper Perabo) and Maggie (Lauren Graham) already settled down in married life, Daphne elects to take out an online personal ad to help find her youngest daughter Millie (Mandy Moore) a life partner.

Daphne belives she has found the perfect match for Millie in wealthy architect Jason (Tom Everett Scott), but also draws some unwanted attention from local musician Johnny (Gabriel Macht). Through planned circumstance on the part of the men, Millie begins a relationship with each of the characters while Daphne unexpectedly finds herself falling for the father (Stephen Collins) of one of the suitors.

Keaton, who was great as a romantic interest in 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give and was excellent in the motherly role of 2005’s The Family Stone, is too over-the-top as the overbearing mother in Because I Said So. In fact, Keaton is oftentimes irritating to the point of dislike.

23-year old singer-turned-actress Mandy Moore is the only actress allowed an honest opportunity to shine throughout the course of the film, with Moore once again showing an inherent likability that is a neccessary condition for these sorts of movies. But after stellar performances in Saved and A Walk to Remember, Moore has stumbled a bit in this film because of a script that requires very little range and performance to tell the stale story.

The casting in Because I Said So is all for naught, as the story also offers very little screentime for Graham and Perabo, who have proven in the past their abilities to succeed as light, humorous characters in film and television. Graham is restrained from delivering the rapid-fire dialogue that her fans have become accustomed to from her lead role in the television series The Gilmore Girls, and the adorable Perabo is simply utilized as nothing more than background scenery.

Young, adoring teenage fans of Graham’s and Moore’s might also find themselves shocked by some of the frank and sexual conversations between the four ladies in this PG-13 affair that at times closely mimics that of HBO’s Sex and the City. And it is certainly an inferior imitation, if any comparisons were to be made.


catman 02-05-2007 11:46 AM

Just purchased Saw 3 on DVD and watched it Saturday -- It was, in my wife's words "a toe-curling" experience. Very graphic, possibly too much so. The plot was thinner than the others, and the acting was not as good.
We will keep it to have the full set in our library, but it will not become a "favorite" of ours.

tobynosker 02-05-2007 12:01 PM


Originally Posted by catman
Just purchased Saw 3 on DVD and watched it Saturday -- It was, in my wife's words "a toe-curling" experience. Very graphic, possibly too much so. The plot was thinner than the others, and the acting was not as good.
We will keep it to have the full set in our library, but it will not become a "favorite" of ours.

I think I enjoyed Saw III more than Saw II, because I loved seeing Jigsaw (Tobin Bell in the only part in any of the three movies that features some marginally good acting) in such a compromising position like he was between Amanda and Lynn.

Quality wise, none of the films have been able to match the original and I wouldn't expect they ever will.

If you want a good, suspenseful scare catman, you should rent The Descent.

Marc 02-05-2007 01:10 PM

Watched the Back to the Future trilogy on HDNet Movies this weekend. Still one of my favorites of all-time. The 1985 view of the future (2015) was amusing. Now 2015 isn't that far off, and we sure don't have flying cars or hoverboards.

tobynosker 02-05-2007 01:17 PM


Originally Posted by Marc
Watched the Back to the Future trilogy on HDNet Movies this weekend.
The original Back to the Future film is my younger brother's favorite movie of all-time.


Originally Posted by Marc
The 1985 view of the future (2015) was amusing. Now 2015 isn't that far off, and we sure don't have flying cars or hoverboards.
You need to watch The Flying Car, a hilarious short-film made a couple of years ago by Kevin Smith starring Jeff Anderson and Brian O'Halloran.

tobynosker 02-06-2007 12:55 PM

Smokin' Aces
Directed by Joe Carnahan
Written by Joe Carnahan
Starring Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Common, Andy Garcia, Taraji P. Henson, Alicia Keys, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven and Ryan Reynolds

It’s been a little over four years since Joe Carnahan first found success with the low-budget crime thriller Narc, which garnered Carnahan an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Director and a Supporting Actor nod at the same award show for longtime actor Ray Liotta. But for those hoping to find the same wonderfully-crafted character study that Carnahan showcased in Narc, you will ultimately be unhappy with his follow-up film Smokin’ Aces.

Liotta reteams with writer and director Carnahan in this film as Donald Carruthers, an FBI agent sent to track down a Las Vegas magician named Buddy “Aces” Isreal (Jeremy Piven), who has decided to turn government witness and rat on his mafioso friends. Liotta and partner agent Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) learn of a million-dollar bounty that has been placed on Isreal, and try to halt the plans of several hitmen who intend to kill Isreal at a casino he is visiting in Lake Tahoe, with each of these hitmen destined to literally rip Isreal’s heart out of his chest.

Boasting an esemble of Hollywood elites like Ben Affleck and Andy Garcia, and intertwined with recognizable faces such as Jason Bateman and Taraji P. Henson and rap and R&B stars Common and Alicia Keys, Smokin’ Aces is Carnahan’s first big-budget affair with the ability to put an audience in the seats based off names alone. But while Carnahan has a wonderful — albeit a little ludicrous — premise and an all-star cast, you end up with no emotional attachment to any of the characters who are painted on the screen with a one-dimensional brush.

The minimal narrative and storytelling exists at the start of the movie, with the plot of corruption and greed slowly beginning to take shape, but that all soon tapers off as the film decides to quickly rush to its bloody resolution with enough over-the-top violence and carnage to satisfy anyone with an extremely high-level of testosterone.

Anybody wishing for a complex story to go along with their action though will be fairly disappointed.

The performances in the movie range from very good to embarrasing laughable caricatures. Ryan Reynolds finally climbs out of the sophomoric hole he has set-up residence in since his break-out role in 2002’s Van Wilder, and is one of the few actors in the film who is given the proper time to provide a little bit of depth to his character. Reynolds succeeds in the serious role, and he will be an interesting actor to watch if he decides to delve into more complicated dramatic work in the future.

Headliners like Affleck and Garcia are utilized in cameo roles, while Bateman provides the comedic effect and Common, Henson and Keys provide the flicks only romantic moments that don’t involve hookers and cocaine.

Outside of Reynolds, the overall scope of all of Smokin’ Aces‘ characters never evolve past anything more than rubbish, as there motivations and reasons are hurridly tossed aside so we can leap directly towards our exhausted ending.


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