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Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey

139 results
    • Underdog

        Disney’s Underdog movie doesn't completely blow puppy-food chunks. Jason Lee, who has gotten plenty of voiceover practice on TV’s “My Name is Earl,” narrates and speaks for the title character, a beagle that gets CGI-supplied superpowers. Yes, it’s another live-action version of an old cartoon. But updated: Our heroic beagle gets his powers after a mad scientist’s DNA experiment goes wrong. He can fly, digs faster than your average backhoe, has super hearing and can speak English. His animated antics are a hoot — admittedly even the talking part thanks to Lee’s trademark truck-stop charm and slacker sarcasm.
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    • Fired!

        Yeah, she got canned by Woody Allen. OK, so it was after only three days on the job. That’s pretty bad. But is said firing worthy of a cottage industry? Actor-comic Annabelle Gurwitch has parlayed her Allen dismissal into a book, stage shows in New York and Los Angeles, and, now, this documentary film. But rehashing it for more than 71 big-screen minutes is a huge stretch for Gurwitch, who wrote, produced and stars in this. At best, Fired! makes a case for laughing at our misfortunes by having us laugh at Gurwitch’s and firings of other “celebs.” But when it comes to serious analysis, Gurwitch's conclusions are obvious to all but herself, as she appears genuinely surprised to discover that some folks lose their jobs through no fault of their own and end up worse off. No foolin’? That’s about as deep and revealing this film gets.
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    • Puccini for Beginners

        Director-screenwriter Maria Maggenti's tale of neurotic well-heeled New York is a comedy of sexual identity confusion and commitment-phobia. Samantha (Julianne Nicholson) walks out on obscure writer Allegra (Elizabeth Reaser). Allegra, even after nine months with Samantha, declares she’s not ready to commit and is still getting to know her. On the rebound, Allegra finds herself entangled with tweedy scholar Philip (Justin Kirk), who himself can’t commit to longtime girlfriend Grace (Gretchen Mol). Unlike, say, Woody Allen, Maggenti doesn’t let her characters bear the weight of too much unhappiness. Still, Maggenti could have passed over the softball sensitivity and given Puccini for Beginners more teeth, and taken a bigger bite of that Big Apple.
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    • The Italian

        Director Andrei Kravchuk and writer Andrei Romanov present an orphan's tale that reminds us that even when pessimism prevails, there’s room for good. When an Italian couple scopes out a prospective adoptee in a ramshackle orphanage in Russia at first, the adoption seems like it’d be a salvation for 6-year-old Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov). If he stays, he’ll become like the older orphans, undereducated, pimping, prostituting and stealing to survive. If he goes with the adoptive parents, he’ll be cared for and loved. But there’s a twist: Vanya realizes that moving to Italy means giving up bigger hopes that one day his mom or dad will find him.
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    • Flannel Pajamas

        This relationship-under-a-microscope drama has nothing to say. For two overly long and chatty hours, writer-director Jeff Lipsky drags us through the highs and mostly lows of New York couple Stuart and Nicole’s courtship, marriage and prolonged disintegration. In the end, we’re drowning in second-rate banter, in tears of boredom and wishing we could sign the divorce papers ourselves and get this mess over with.
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    • Because I Said So

        In this unfunny romantic romp, Keaton, with the fashion sense of Minnie Mouse, is relegated to one of the darkest corners of moviedom — lame romantic comedies in which she can play either an overbearing mother or a sex-starved middle-aged woman. Here, she’s a hollow version of both. As Daphne, Keaton’s a controlling single mom who has pushed her three grown daughters to find love, but neglected her own personal life. She’s directing all of her energy into finding the right mate for the youngest and only unwed daughter, Milly (Mandy Moore). Milly, however, also lands a date with musician and single dad, Johnny (Gabriel Macht), whom we clearly see is Mr. Right. Much of the movie revolves around Milly making up her mind between the two men, and Daphne getting over herself. Is it more disappointing that the star of Annie Hall is now reduced to a caricature, or that director Michael Lehmann, who brought us the wicked fun of "Heathers," hasn’t been able to repeat in nearly 20 years?
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    • Freedom Writers

        This story is based on Erin Gruwell’s efforts to inspire a Long Beach, Calif., classroom of students, just after Rodney King went down. The first-time English teacher enters the school with high hopes of really reaching the students, but she meets administration naysayers and resistant students at every turn. She perseveres, however, and through journaling and reading books about other troubled teens, Gruwell’s class becomes a room where the teens can openly discuss their problems. The irony here is Freedom Writers preaches that to reach troubled kids, educators have to be real. But there’s nothing honest about how Swank — with that polished mug and gleaming white teeth stuck in a perma-grin — chirps her way through the drama.
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    • Shut Up & Sing

        Since that one glorious fateful Bush crack back in ’03, these bumpkins with ’tude have been embroiled in a controversy that’s shaken the Nashville faithful and rankled Washington. It all starts with the Dixie Chicks — the best selling women’s band ever — on a London stop of their world tour. Onstage, Natalie Maines blurts out a comment between songs and is met with cheers from the Brits: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” The incident escalates from no big deal to minor crisis and finally to all-out war, as rabid right-wing country music fans turn their frothy-mouthed hysteria back on Maines and company, and faster than Jeff Gordon can complete a lap. But it’s not what Maines said, or even how the group responded to the outcry, that makes for the most compelling drama in Shut Up & Sing. The vitriol is shocking, not just the usual wrath of CD burnings and radio-play bans, but in the degree of hatred toward the women. How quickly the Chicks’ audience turned against is mind-blowing.
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    • A Good Year

        Russell Crowe’s latest flick is the Boone’s Farm equivalent of Sideways: At first, it feels pretty good, is really sweet, has some cheap thrills, and puts you in a good mood; but finishing the thing will likely result in a splitting headache. A Good Year is also a comic, romantic tale of a wayward man finding his way in a winery. Yet, unlike Sideways’ scribe and director Alexander Payne, director Ridley Scott lacks subtlety. The man behind Black Hawk Down and Gladiator is something of a hammer behind the lens, and his movies, at least the good ones, hit hard. What Scott has going for him is a healthy affection for Russell Crowe — for which no one should blame him — even if the hot-tempered Aussie isn’t a perfect fit. Crowe is hardly the obvious choice as an uptight Englishman in syrupy rom-com that’s set in the lush surrounds of Provence.
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    • C.R.A.Z.Y.

        Growing up in suburban Quebec in the 1960s, 7-year-old Zac is deathly afraid of disappointing his father, desperately praying that he won’t become what his macho dad seems to hate most: “a fairy.” When dad catches him dressed in Mom’s jewelry, cooing over the new baby, the jig is up: “I had just turned 7 and unwittingly I had declared war on my father,” Zac says. It’s the kind of heartbreak you’d expect from a coming-out tale, but C.R.A.Z.Y. is more than just a “Mom, Dad, I’m gay” flick. Director Jean-Marc Vallée has crafted a rich, complex and entertaining coming-of-age comedy, that’s both spiritual quest and family drama. Vallée and co-screenwriter François Boulay follow Zac — played by a trio of actors, including the director’s son — from his Christmas Day birth to a tragedy involving one of his older siblings some 20 years later. At first, Zac is the favorite child of his father, Gervais (Michel Côté). They share a love of music (lots of Patsy Cline and old Francophone crooners), ride in shiny, fast cars and take field trips to a favorite food stand. But Zac starts to fall out of favor as Gervais grows suspicious of his son’s idiosyncrasies. He’d rather have gotten a baby-doll carriage than a hockey game for his birthday, and his mother Laurianne (Danielle Proulx) is certain Zac is gifted with healing powers. As Zac gets older, Gervais keeps a watchful eye on the boy, secretly cheering when he suspects Zac groped his girlfriend, and flipping out when he catches his son jerking off in the back seat of his car with a male schoolmate. Zac, meanwhile, spends most of his energy trying to suppress anything that might make his dad or family suspicious of his sexuality. He also rebels against their religion, dismissing his mother’s faith in God and the Catholic Church, and her certainty of his own healing powers. After all, why hadn’t he been able to “cure” himself? Where other directors use catchy soundtracks as mere nostalgic window dressing, music is the central component of Vallée’s storytelling. Zac goes from admiration to mockery to disgust as his dad spins his cherished Patsy Cline LPs, or sings along at parties to Charles Aznavour (something of a French Sinatra). When Zac was 7, Gervais seemed so cool — but at 20, he thinks his dad is out of touch. Then it all comes full-circle, and a dusty old LP becomes part of a father-son reunion. Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” and the Cure’s “10:15 Saturday Night” mirror teenage Zac’s emotional development — he’s mixed up and feels like an outsider, but longs for something different, something his dad’s mainstream point-of-view won’t allow. Vallée uses heavy doses of religious symbolism as well, sometimes laying it on too thick. Zac’s mom urges him to pray to the Baby Jesus because they share a birthday; but when he makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to find himself — not so much spiritually as sexually — the connections seem too forced. It doesn’t help that his first big, gay encounter there is with a longhaired guy who looks like Jesus. It’s easy to forgive Vallée the few trespasses, as the rest of the movie is so well scripted, acted and shot. C.R.A.Z.Y. has all the trappings of a subpar memoir, but it’s much more than that. Zac’s story is filled with repression, religious confusion, redemption and forgiveness — and Vallée captures it well, with the bonus of a great soundtrack and a keen sense of humor. —Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey
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    • Running with Scissors

        Augusten Burroughs dark sense of humor about his dysfunctional childhood has made his tale popular, enjoying 2 1/2 years as a New York Times bestseller. If the film (directed by Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy) doesn’t successfully tap into those same veins of humor and horror, it’s not for lack of material. In fact, there’s almost too much material to work with here, and Murphy waffles between favoring the sentimental and darkly comic. His wannabe poet mom divorces his alcoholic dad, comes out as a lesbian and gives custody young Burroughs to her shrink, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), who is arguably more messed up than this Mommy Dearest. Finch’s home makes The Addams Family digs look like a Barbie “Dream House.” With so many freaks under one roof, the Running with Scissors movie should be a riotous celebration of oddity, neuroses and pop psychology. But after one boogie-fever disco dance lesson and Tab cola reference too many, the movie feels less like The Royal Tenenbaums and more like Almost Famous — sentimental and nostalgic where it should be dark and acerbic.
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    • The Queen

        Set in the midst of Princess Diana’s tragic death, this film scrutinizes the dealings of the royals and then-newbie Prime Minister Tony Blair. It’s neither a touchy-feely walk down memory lane nor is it a scathing condemnation. Director Stephen Frears’ successful and unapologetic re-enactment of the events of 1997 is instead a compelling narrative about family, fame and political power. Frears’ greatest force is Mirren. With a crown of tight curls and a wardrobe of tidy, conservative frocks, hats and pearls, the often-alluring Mirren transforms into the prim Elizabeth. With her chin held skyward and posture rigid, Helen Mirren takes on the role of Elizabeth II with such honesty and empathy that she comes mighty close to making the audience actually give a flying flip about the machinations of the monarchy in England. She might as well start building herself an Oscar display case now.
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    • Little Children

        Directed by Todd Field and based on Tom Perrotta’s novel, the film wavers between the menacing and the satirical, but never loses its grip on you. Little Children follows a quiet, bedroom community where gossipy hens shuttle toddlers to the playground and swap notes on parenting and sex. The moms’ carefully ordered world is only thrown off course by the presence of a stay-at-home dad Brad (Patrick Wilson), whom they dub the “Prom King.” Brad, like Sarah (Kate Winslet), has not embraced adult life. On a dare, Sarah approaches him at the playground, then to bait the gossiping moms, convinces him to kiss her. The encounter leads to a friendship and a heated affair. Meanwhile, the neighborhood order gets shaken by the presence of Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley), a recently released sex offender who’s moved in with his mom. There’s enough that’s right about Little Children to compensate for some weak performances.
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    • The Fallen Idol

        Carol Reed’s dark, atmospheric drama examines the complexities of adult life from the point of view of a young, privileged boy, Phillipe (Bobby Henrey), the son of a foreign ambassador in London. Phillipe is deeply attached to his butler, Baines (Ralph Richardson), who is having an affair with a young embassy employee, Julie (Michèle Morgan). Phillipe unknowingly uncovers the liaison, but he only knows part of the truth. When Mrs. Baines turns up dead, it seems Phillipe might be the only one who can help figure out what happened. The adults circle around him, trying to manipulate his innocence, leaving the little boy left in the middle, confused, alone and scared. Today’s movie child stars play such pint-sized know-it-alls — much too worldly for their years — that it’s hard to imagine Haley Joel Osment or Dakota Fanning pulling off the innocence of Phillipe. But Henrey is perfect (and far less bratty-seeming than most of today’s young Hollywood).
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    • Boynton Beach Club

        The ladies of Boynton Beach are like the Sex and the City crew of the shuffleboard set — only the squeaky clean TBS-version, without all the HBO naughtiness. Boynton Beach Club is the sweet story of a group of widows and widowers who cope with loss and relearn the rules of romance as they mingle at a seniors’ bereavement group in a sunny Florida retirement community. The movie never hits harder than a Bea Arthur sitcom, and but its messages will easily hit home with AARP-card-carrying moviegoers who rarely have a decent movie made for their demographic. Thankfully, though, not all the characters fit so neatly into typical age and gender roles. Lois (Dyan Cannon) is a firecracker who runs her own business and encourages other widowed women to get out there and become more independent. At 69, Cannon still bears a trademark wide smile and mane of blonde curly locks that have rendered men weak-kneed since long before Ally McBeal was a twinkle in David E. Kelley’s eye. (Her last big role was as a feisty, sexy judge on the ’90s sitcom.) As Lois, she dons a wardrobe of impossibly skinny jeans and impossibly tall stilettos. Some of the comedy in Boynton Beach, however, tends to feel antique. Over the course of the movie, the grieving men and women have all manner of mishaps, proving that generic romantic comedy clichés apply easily to any age group. Seidelman mostly plays it safe, delivering nothing risqué enough to require blood pressure meds. Boynton Beach doesn’t dig too deep into mourning, loss and baby boomers’ sexuality, instead boiling down to a cute, passable comedy about the social trappings of widowhood.
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    • Confetti

        English director Debbie Isitt’s mocks modern marriage and reality television by channeling Christopher Guest (star of This is Spinal Tap, director of Best in Show) with this improvised mockumentary. She sets the stage for a triple wedding, giving us three sets of fiancés competing in a magazine contest to see who can throw the most unusual wedding. The contest has only drawn freaks as contenders, and the results are hilarious. Martin Freeman (of the BBC’s The Office) and Jessica Stevenson, want to put on an elaborate, 1930s, Busby Berkeley-style musical affair. Stephen Mangan and Meredith MacNeill are a pair of tennis freaks, and their shared overcompetitiveness mean things will get ugly quickly. And finally, Robert Webb and Olivia Colman play naturists who insist on being totally naked while expressing their undying love for each other in front a roomful of near strangers. The cast represents the young face of British comedy. The nuptials are cheeky, campy and goofy, and, unlike your cousin’s Renaissance-themed reception, you’re free to laugh out loud.
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    • The Last Kiss

        In this film, lovable Zach Braff goes from sweet to lowdown, shaking off his sweet persona to play a complete jerk. And, showing he does have some range, he executes it rather well. The movie, however, has too much range, like a screwball guy flick masquerading as a grown-up dramedy. The cast of characters is mostly kid-like men on the verge of 30 who can hold their liquor but not their women. Throw in Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, a beer bong and Peter Pan’s I-don’t-wanna-grow-up sentiment, and you’re not far off from Old Schoo. Braff’s character, Michael, has a successful career, good friends and a longtime, loving girlfriend, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), but he flips out when she discovers she’s pregnant. He tries to play it cool and supportive, but we quickly see that he’s really a commitment-phobe who’s just a flirtation away from losing everything. Screenwriter Paul Haggis and director Tony Goldwyn succeed in making the viewer feel entirely uncomfortable watching Braff act a fool. In fact, the most stomach-churning scenes are between Braff and Rachel Bilson. She plays the barely 20-year-old co-ed who spots Michael at a wedding and throws her perky little body at him. It’s not that Michael wants to cheat; it’s that he’s going to with the worst kind of girl, one too young and immature to show better judgment. But by the time all lessons are learned, the movie is far too confused. On one hand, we’re meant to cheer for the knuckleheads who head off to Neverland, refusing to grow up; and on the other, we’re to applaud the guys who stay behind to own up to their responsibilities and commitments. But frankly, all of them are such dumbasses, it’s hard root for any of them.
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    • Conversations with Other Women

        The screen is split, and so is the verdict, on this banter-heavy encounter between two unnamed characters. Taking place during and after a wedding reception, our lady and gent, played by Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart, occupy separate frames of the screen for most of the movie. When they come together, the other side of the split screen is mostly occupied by flashes of the past, or flashes of what they wish was happening now. Even with its inventive moments, the dual action eventually starts to drag. The viewer is holed up in the hotel with these two for most of the movie, yet the moments where they exchange any meaningful looks are few and far between, and there’s little direct interaction between the two main characters. The split-screen is a thoughtful and creative tool, but — like so many ill-fated lovers — what was once intriguing eventually winds up just plain annoying.
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    • Lassie

        This latest UK-made Lassie sidesteps most of the camp of earlier versions, some of which stretched the fable amazingly thin. Director and screenwriter Charles Sturridge has assembled a “serious” cast of British heavyweight actors — including Samantha Morton, John Lynch and Peter O’Toole. Lassie is living with the Carracloughs, a coal-mining family who’ve fallen on rough times. When a rich duke (O’Toole) offers to buy their beloved dog, young Joe (Jonathan Mason) protests, but Mum (Morton) and Dad (Lynch) have no choice. Lassie doesn’t want to leave either, and, once in her new home, she’s treated cruelly by the duke’s help. She eventually gets shipped off to Scotland, but escapes to find her way home to Joe and his family. When Lassie finds Joe and he squeezes her tight, however, it might as well be Timmy after the fateful well incident. A Lassie reunion is about as sweet as it gets; thankfully Sturridge and company resist trying to make it any sweeter.
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    • The fun in dysfunctional

      Flaky family propels light and sweet indie comedy
        Sunshine features a motley crew of lovable losers who embark on what seems to be a family road trip destined to rival anything National Lampoon’s Griswold family has endured. The family of misfits races to get their youngest member to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant — and you just know there’s no wee tiara in her future. Little Olive (Abigail Breslin) is escorted by her heartbroken gay uncle (Steve Carell), who recently failed at suicide; Grandpa (Alan Arkin) has a newfound penchant for illegal drugs; her mute-by-choice teen brother (Paul Dano) hates everyone and worships Nietzsche; and Mom (Toni Collette) is on the brink of divorcing Dad (Greg Kinnear), who’s a winning-obsessed loser. The obvious moral of the story(winning isn’t everything) gives Little Miss Sunshine a saccharine undertaste, but the cast is fabulous, the performances are wonderful, the humor is cheeky, and the story is original.
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    • Shadowboxer

        If there's one thing to applaud about this exceedingly violent and uneven arthouse-wannabe thriller, it's that Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr. get totally freak-deaky. The bad news: There's only one thing to applaud about this movie.
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    • Peaceful Warrior

        Corny this movie is, yes, but blame them you cannot. What do you expect from a film about the bodhisattva of gymnastics? Peaceful Warrior is based on gymnast Millman's book about his own life; here he's played by relative newcomer Scott Mechlowicz, and the venerable Nick Nolte is Socrates, the wise, mysterious mentor who taught him to blend Eastern mysticism and Western training to become a top gymnast. The film does not, however, portend to show the sweat, blood and grit that go into nailing the perfect pommel horse routine. Its purpose is more to offer a light intro to Buddhism, a primer on Eastern philosophy dumbed down for American appetites in the form of a feel-good summer movie.
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    • Service industry blues

      How pretty production polish spoils a cult sequel's shine
        Kevin Smith made the original Clerks in 1994 with $27,000 and a bunch of Jersey kids with bad hair and tight-rolled jeans. It looked like it was spliced together with duct tape and shot by a cameraman with cataracts; the actors deliver their lines with the finesse of a 6-year-old who hasn’t finished Hooked on Phonics. If you’d ever held a job, you can relate. When Dante (Brian O’Halloran) bemoans, “I’m not even supposed to be here today,” anyone who’s taken an extra shift feels his pain. With Clerks II, Smith heads back to Jersey, only this time he’s fat with cash and a half-dozen movies and countless Jay Leno appearances under his belt.
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    • My Super Ex-Girlfriend

        "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," is a great idea, but director Ivan Reitman can’t deliver the laughs. The light-on-guffaws, high-on-concept scene is typical for this mash-up of superhero stories and romantic comedies. The mild-mannered and sappy Matt is just a regular joe who thinks he’s landed the girlfriend of a lifetime with the heroine G-Girl (Uma Thurman). When he discovers she’s a needy control-freak, he learns that splitting up with a chick with superpowers isn’t just hard to do, but bad for your health.
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    • Little Man

        In "Little Man," which Shawn and Marlon wrote and star in and Keenen directs, the brothers rip off a classic Bugs Bunny plot: an ill-tempered little person pretends to be a baby to get away after a robbery. This time, it’s a jewelry heist, and the little person, Calvin, puts himself on the doorstep of an unsuspecting couple, angling to retrieve the jewel he stashed in the woman’s handbag. Marlon plays Calvin; his head is superimposed on a dwarf’s body, and not with great finesse. Baby Calvin has to be the homeliest little thing you’ve ever laid eyes on. He’s such an ugly kid his face would curdle breast-milk. Babies make great fodder for bodily function humor, what with diapers and breasts readily accessible. The brothers miss no opportunities for little Calvin to ogle, fondle and rub his face in every set of ta-tas that pass him by. Throw in a half dozen kicks in the crotch, and you pretty much have the whole movie.
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