Luther is an account of the start of the Protestant Reformation starring Joseph Fiennes as Martin Luther. It's a muddled history lesson which does fairly well explaining Luther's objections to indulgences and holy relics but gets problematic with all the complicated politics between the Catholic Church, the German emperor, and a bunch of others I didn't catch. I was somewhat distracted by the funny outfits, especially the emperor's. Fiennes plays Luther in a variety of ways and it's hard to get a handle on him, particularly when he's raving at some unseen devil like a lunatic. I found Luther mostly unsuccessful and gave it four out of ten.
The Perfect Score is about a group of high school students who, for various reasons, need to score higher on the SAT than they are able to and who concoct a scheme to steal the answers. Predictably, the ragtag bunch of teenagers bond together, have some adventures, and learn some valuable lessons. The heist portions of the movie aren't convincing and the script is not smart enough for a movie about the SAT, but the kids are likable enough and there are some unexpectedly good lines sprinkled here and there. The Perfect Score is not a bad movie for and about teenagers. I gave it seven out of ten.
The plot goes thusly: the eponymous Hamilton is a bad-boy movie star who runs a contest to repair his image and subsequently goes on a dream date with a grocery store clerk from Frazier's Bottom, West Virginia. Frazier's Bottom, ha ha. The odd-couple setup is rendered pointless by the fact that the small-town girl is every bit as beautiful, perfectly groomed, and vacuous as the movie star. Topher Grace as the grocery store manager and Gary Cole as the girl's father (who hilariously goes Hollywood) seem to have wandered over from a sharper, funnier movie. Win a Date with Tad Hamilton is mostly as bland as its two main characters. I gave it six out of ten.
Teacher's Pet is a 74-minute cartoon adapted from a show on the Disney Channel. Nathan Lane voices the part of a freakishly intelligent dog who routinely disguises himself as a boy and attends school along with his master. The movie covers an eventful summer break during which the dog tracks down a mad scientist (played by Kelsey Grammer) who obligingly transforms him into a man. I haven't seen the TV series but I'll be looking for it. The movie is an exhilarating, surrealistic, somewhat warped musical comedy of errors full of sly gags. Children should enjoy the fast pace and funny animals but adults will appreciate the artistry of Teacher's Pet on a completely different level. I loved every minute of it and gave it ten out of ten.
Chasing Liberty is a fluffy and implausible story about Mandy Moore being the president's daughter and how she's really sick of all the Secret Service crowding her so she ditches them while on a visit to Europe. She picks up a cute guy who is actually another Secret Service agent and makes him uncomfortable by sexually harassing him and involving herself in life-threatening situations, but he falls in love with her anyway because the script says he must. Moore plays her part with all the charm of a cat in heat and there are some troubling ethical problems with the plotline. Chasing Liberty is distasteful and I gave it three out of ten.
House of Sand and Fog is the sad story of a dispute over the ownership of a house with a view of the ocean. Jennifer Connelly plays a depressed, irresponsible house cleaner who ignored her mail until it was too late, and Ben Kingsley plays an Iranian immigrant who snaps up her house in the county auction. Connelly relapses into alcoholism and lives in her car while Kingsley tries to juggle his finances and slaps his wife. The conflict escalates and matters go from bad to worse and then on to worse yet for everybody. House of Sand and Fog is the feel-bad movie of the year. I gave it four out of ten.
Paycheck is a thriller directed by John Woo and based on a story by Philip K. Dick. Ben Affleck plays a guy who does reverse engineering for a technology firm on such a confidential basis that he always has his memory wiped afterwards. Following one three-year job, he finds himself with no memory, no money, and an envelope of clues he sent to himself. The clues are neat, but the rest of the movie is tiresomely generic: evil technology company, check; numerous chase scenes and last-minute escapes, check; feisty girlfriend, check. Paycheck is really nothing out of the ordinary. I gave it five out of ten.
Something's Gotta Give is a romantic comedy written and directed by Nancy Meyers, who also did What Women Want. Jack Nicholson plays a man who has dated young women all his life and doesn't know what to make of Diane Keaton, whom he meets while spending the weekend with her daughter. Before Keaton knows it, she's having to choose between Nicholson and Keanu Reeves. This is a refreshing plot development for a movie these days, when usually any woman Keaton's age would be limited to helping her daughter sort out her love life, not having one of her own. Although Nicholson is great, the best scenes belong to Keaton and Frances McDormand, who plays her sister. They're incredibly great together. I gave Something's Gotta Give eight out of ten.
The Last Samurai is an historical epic directed by Edward Zwick about the conflict in nineteenth century Japan between the traditional samurai culture and the business interests importing heavy artillery from the west. Tom Cruise plays a bitter, traumatized, alcoholic Civil War veteran who is hired to go train Japanese conscripts to use their new weapons. He is captured by a samurai warrior and finds himself in a Shangri-La-like village for the winter. Ken Watanabe is most impressive as Cruise's captor and the movie is beautiful and enthralling until it falls apart near the end. They should have made it a little shorter. I gave The Last Samurai eight out of ten.
Honey features Dark Angel's Jessica Alba as a girl from the Bronx who works several jobs and aspires to dance in music videos. She is discovered and makes good in an amazingly short period of time but is soon crushed when she discovers that her mentor is, in fact, a slimeball. Honey is a good role model for kids as she's kind, hardworking, and apparently pure as the driven snow, but she's a boring character, and this must surely be the most sanitized hiphop movie ever made. The dancing is good, possibly because it's a relief that the characters aren't talking during it. I gave Honey four out of ten.