The Prestige

Director: Christopher Nolan

In 2006, there were two movies centering on magicians released to the theatergoing public—both Oscar nominated works were set in the past and featured big named stars, a beautiful leading lady, and a complicated mystery. After the critical success of The Illusionist, it seemed like Christopher Nolan had the thankless task of going second with his magical mystery, The Prestige. However, while thematically similar, the two films vary greatly in the manner in which they are told. Like his prior masterworks Following and Memento, The Prestige (adapted from a novel by Christopher and brother Jonathan), is a much darker tale that seems to be assembled like some elaborate puzzle going backwards and forwards in chronology and introducing clues and red herrings around every turn. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are excellent as feuding magicians in turn of the century England who become bitter rivals after a tragic incident leaves one a widower. Their rivalry begins swiftly and abruptly but soon spirals out of control with more dangerous acts of sabotage and daring stunts as career ego takes the place of their original feud and both grow increasingly obsessed with outdoing the other. However, as Nolan fans are aware—nothing is as it seems and although one magician is locked away for murder at the start of the film, we know that “the prestige” or final act has yet to appear. Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie and Michael Caine costar in the film but it is Nolan’s show the entire way. By the time the final prestige (and there are many startling “turns” throughout) occurs at the very end, you’ll immediately want to watch the entire movie a second time. I must say that I still love the classically beautiful, old-fashioned Illusionist on a purely aesthetic level but for the writer in me, there is no greater thrill than being stumped by a master and Nolan succeeds admirably with The Prestige. Note: It is confusing—The Prestige is one of those films that plays so much better on DVD and to more than one viewer as you’ll want someone to bounce ideas off of during the movie.

From The Prestige

“Analyse” by Thom Yorke
Thom Yorke - The Eraser - Analyse

Or Buy It Now!

Flicka (2006)

Read Our Review of Flicka 2

Director: Michael Mayer

Screenwriters Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner do a wonderful job of infusing Mary O’Hara’s classic novel My Friend Flicka with both a sense of female empowerment by changing the male hero into a heroine and by making her tale accessible to today’s audiences. As Flicka begins, we meet our engaging leading lady (Alison Lohman, also wonderful in White Oleander and Matchstick Men), a sixteen-year-old restless dreamer who returns home to her Wyoming ranch for an eventful summer after failing to complete the final essay in her upscale boarding school.

Tim McGraw and Maria Bello are well cast as her loving parents who differ in their approaches with their headstrong daughter. During the summer, she finds a wild mustang and sets out to tame and train the beautiful horse she names Flicka, which, (as the film explains) means “pretty girl” in Swedish.

Inspiring, beautifully photographed and far superior to most of the films being marketed to teenage girls today, Flicka is a film of rare quality and one that will hopefully engaged new fans now that it’s been made available on DVD.

Note: Check out the excellent soundtrack below, including McGraw’s hit song that was written especially for the film.

Songs from the Flicka Soundtrack

“My Little Girl” by Tim McGraw
Tim McGraw - Flicka - My Little Girl

“4:35 A.M.” by Gemma Hayes
Gemma Hayes - Flicka - 4:35 A.M.

“Weight of the World” by Chantal Kreviazuk
Chantal Kreviazuk - Flicka - Weight of the World

“Catch the Wind” by Donovan
Donovan - Flicka - Catch the Wind

“All the Pretty Little Ponies” by Catherine Raney
Catherine Raney - Flicka - All the Pretty Little Ponies

“Alive” by Becki Ryan
Becki Ryan - Flicka - Alive

“Wild Horses” by Natasha Bedingfield
Natasha Bedingfield - Flicka - Wild Horses

“Where Did I Go Right?” by The Warren Brothers
The Warren Brothers - Flicka - Where Did I Go Right?

“The Things We Don’t” by Watertown
Watertown - Flicka - The Things We Don't

“The Fireman” by The Dancehall Doctors
The Dancehall Doctors - Flicka - The Fireman


Director: Douglas McGrath

Although made around the same time, Infamous suffered the misfortune of being released after the Academy Award winning Capote, thus by the time it debuted, most audiences weren’t all that interested in revisiting Truman Capote’s writing of the legendary In Cold Blood. However, Infamous is an entirely different film—glitzy and glamorous, the cast is bursting at the seams with Hollywood stars such as Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee, Gwyneth Paltrow (in a brief cameo), Isabella Rossellini, Daniel Craig, Sigourney Weaver, Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels and Peter Bogdanovich. Whereas Capote was filmed with a darker palette, Infamous is colorful, vibrant and filled with emotion as well as an added emphasis on the frivolity of the life of Capote back in New York with gossip and ladies who lunch. While both films feature the story of the horrible slayings of the rural farm family in Kansas and Capote and Harper Lee’s efforts to learn more for In Cold Blood, this film goes further into depth in regards to Capote’s life (featuring the stars in confessional docudrama styled one-on-one approaches to the camera) and a more pronounced gay subtext between Capote and killer Perry Smith. Although Phillip Seymour Hoffman rightfully earned an Academy Award for his fine portrayal, Toby Jones is wonderful as well—taking Capote even further into the campier depiction we remember from footage of the era. Based on George Plimpton’s biography of Truman Capote, Infamous makes an excellent addition to the previous film in getting a better understanding of the man prior to In Cold Blood and how the book affected his life as well, as the film notes that Capote was never able to produce another major work following its publication.

Songs from Infamous

“What Is This Thing Called Love?”
by Gwyneth Paltrow & Mark Rubin Band

Gwyneth Paltrow and Mark Rubin Band - Infamous (Music From The Motion Picture) - What Is This Thing Called Love

“Yesterday When I Was Young” by Dusty Springfield
Dusty Springfield - Infamous (Music From The Motion Picture) - Yesterday When I Was Young

“Broken Hearted Melody” by Sarah Vaughan & Bull Moose Jackson
Sarah Vaughan, Bull Moose Jackson - Infamous (Music From The Motion Picture) - Broken Hearted Melody

Pieces of April

Director: Peter Hedges

Shot in just 16 days on a budget of $100,000, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape screenwriter Peter Hedges made his directorial debut with this movingly unique tale of April (Katie Holmes), a young woman struggling to make a Thanksgiving feast for her estranged family. After her oven fails, April sets out to find a new one in her apartment building by visiting neighbors with mixed results as her family makes their own journey to the dinner. April’s parents, played by Oliver Platt and Patricia Clarkson, are especially good as the couple undergoing enormous emotional stress of not just the reunion with their daughter but also the terminal cancer diagnosis of Clarkson’s character. Clarkson, who earned accolades for the film, had quite a productive year in 2003, earning a few double awards for her performances in both this film and McCarthy’s The Station Agent. While Holmes does some of her finest work playing the red-haired rebellious punk daughter with dark painted fingernails, the actor playing her boyfriend Bobby, Antwone Fisher’s Derek Luke manages to charm the camera with every scene he’s in. Luke was offered the role after an audition that Hedges noted was the most impressive one he’d seen in his professional career since Leonard DiCaprio’s test for Gilbert Grape. Dedicated to Hedges’s mother who died of cancer, the film is an intimate work that is enhanced by its digital camera work and truly indie feel including the shoestring budget, which according to IMDB, stipulated that actors were paid $248 per day and Hedges received $10 to write and $10 to direct. Although the title comes from a song by Three Dog Night, the film contains one of the best soundtracks in recent memory by consisting entirely of selections created by prolific musical prodigy Stephin Merritt and his various bands. If you have yet to hear anything by Merritt, please check out the selections below (especially “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side”).

From the Pieces of April Soundtrack

“One April Day” by Stephin Merritt
Stephin Merritt - Pieces of April - One April Day

“You You You You You” by The 6ths
The 6ths - Pieces of April - You You You You You

“All I Want to Know” by The Magnetic Fields
The Magnetic Fields - Pieces of April - All I Want to Know

“I Think I Need a New Heart” by The Magnetic Fields
The Magnetic Fields - Pieces of April - I Think I Need a New Heart

“As You Turn To Go” by The 6ths
The 6ths - Pieces of April - As You Turn to Go

“The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side” by The Magnetic Fields
The Magnetic Fields - Pieces of April - The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side

“Epitaph for My Heart” by The Magnetic Fields
The Magnetic Fields - Pieces of April - Epitaph for My Heart

“Heather Heather” by The Magnetic Fields
The Magnetic Fields - Pieces of April - Heather Heather

“Stray With Me” by The Magnetic Fields
The Magnetic Fields - Pieces of April - Stray with Me

“Dreams Anymore” by The Magnetic Fields
The Magnetic Fields - Pieces of April - Dreams Anymore

Man About Town

Director: Mike Binder

After the critical success of actor turned writer/director Mike Binder’s mostly female driven hit The Upside of Anger, he rebounded with this dark little masculine indie starring Ben Affleck as a successful but emotionally unfulfilled Hollywood agent. Eager to put the pieces of his life together and do a little soul-searching due to the unrest at home with a distant relationship to his wife (Rebecca Romijn) and caring for his stroke and dementia-ridden father, Affleck’s Jack Giamoro signs up for an evening adult education journal writing class taught by John Cleese. When a revenge-seeking aspiring screenwriter (Bai Ling) steals his journal, she decides to expose all of his dirty secrets in a tell-all article, jeopardizing his career and position of power. The film, which begins as a sort of darker version of Jerry Maguire with hipper camera angels and a funny, poignant narration quickly veers out of control by its halfway point, evolving instead into a sort of twisted and violent hybrid of Robert Altman’s The Player and the entire oeuvre of David Lynch. Not sure if the film should pull at our heartstrings, shock, or simply amuse us, the brainy, creative and prolific Mike Binder (who also costars) tries to fit all of these reactions into the piece, thereby concocting an uneven film. Although chaotic on the whole, Man About Town contains some genuinely funny (and a few surprisingly moving) moments including a memorably zany ending with enough miscommunications and characters coming and going to have made Preston Sturges proud.

The Door in the Floor

Director: Tod Williams

Transferring the work of author John Irving from page to screen is a challenging task, as seen in other attempts including George Roy Hill’s disappointing The World According to Garp and Lasse Hallstrom’s masterful The Cider House Rules. However in the hands of a man who proved in a previous film (The Adventures of Sebastian Cole) his earnest love of storytelling and admiration for eccentric characters, the gamble pays off. In writer/director Tod Williams’s remarkable and emotionally wrenching, haunting and literary adaptation of Irving’s A Widow for One Year, Jeff Bridges stars as successful children’ author and artist Ted Cole whose marriage to the gorgeous Marion (Kim Basinger) has been on the rocks since the tragic deaths of their two sons. In an act of desperation, Cole opts to hire aspiring writer Eddie (Jon Foster), a bright, handsome high school junior, to serve as his assistant, helping out with odd tasks from tracking down squid ink to playing chauffer for Ted, Marion and their young daughter Ruth (Elle Fanning). While at first Eddie is eager to learn what it takes to become a writer, he soon realizes that he’s caught into the web of matrimonial betrayal and secrecy as he embarks on an affair with Marion and has trouble adapting to the many whims and unpredictable mood swings of the wild, self-indulgent Ted. Bridges and Basinger turn in some of their finest work and Williams’s direction is always tasteful and assured even when dealing with some unsavory events and shocking twists. The Door in the Floor is an emotional and psychological tour de force. Writers will especially want to give the moving film a second look as some of the anecdotes and stories (including that of the title) seasoned throughout the film hold an even greater meaning and provide extensive layers during repeat viewings.

In Good Company

Director: Paul Weitz

In his follow-up to the wonderful study of unlikely “surrogate” fathers, About a Boy, director Paul Weitz tackles male relationships of another kind with In Good Company, the story of a hardworking middle-aged Sports America Magazine ad salesman (Dennis Quaid) who finds himself working for a boss nearly half his age (Topher Grace) after his company is sold. At first asked to simply be an “excellent wingman,” to the boss, soon Quaid becomes Grace’s mentor and substitute father figure of sorts as the film goes on and the young hotshot realizes just how much about life he is unprepared for at twenty-six in the current corporate jungle of dollars over relationships. Their relationship is tested even further when Grace falls for Dan’s college-aged daughter, played by Scarlett Johansson in a role that frankly is underwritten and detracts from the piece as a whole as she’s not very sympathetic. However, despite the arbitrary, obligatory romantic subplot, In Good Company is one of the better movies about company politics since Jerry Maguire and Quaid is excellent and understated as Dan Foreman-- the actor continues to surprise us with each passing year and his ability to cue the audience in on the internal workings of his character with just a look makes his performance here the finest since his role in Far From Heaven. However, the real scene-stealer is Topher Grace, who Weitz turned to after top choice Ashton Kutcher bowed out. According to IMDB, Grace had to audition four times to convince the director that he was the right man for the job as his father was a businessman. You’ll find yourself smiling whenever he’s on screen as just as his character, the caffeine-fueled Carter Duryea demands, Topher Grace seems genuinely “psyched” to be there and manages to add warmth and humor to every frame. The film also benefits from cool, contemporary (and a few classic) musical selections that seem to become an extra character in the film as it goes on, complimenting the work as a whole in the same way that Badly Drawn Boy’s soundtrack for About a Boy added layers to that film.

Songs from In Good Company

“Glass, Concrete & Stone” by David Byrne
David Byrne - In Good Company - Glass, Concrete & Stone

“Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel - In Good Company - Solsbury Hill

“Reelin’ in the Years” by Steely Dan
Steely Dan - In Good Company - Reelin' In the Years

“Besame Mucho” by Diana Krall
Diana Krall - In Good Company - Besame Mucho

“Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin - In Good Company - Chain of Fools

“Cannonball” by Damien Rice
Damien Rice - O - Cannonball

“Gone for Good” by The Shins
The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow - Gone for Good

“Those to Come” by The Shins
The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow - Those to Come

“Naked as We Came” by Iron & Wine
Iron & Wine - In Good Company - Naked As We Came

“Ten Years Ahead” by The Soundtrack of Our Lives
The Soundtrack of Our Lives - In Good Company - Ten Years Ahead

The Motorcycle Diaries

Director: Walter Salles

Based on the early diaries of Che Guevara and Alberto Granado’s book With Che Through Latin America, Jose Rivera’s spirited screenplay, brought to life by visionary filmmaker Walter Salles, chronicles the start of Che’s political awakening at age 23 as he sets off (just one semester shy of graduating as an MD) on a motorcycle adventure with friend Alberto Granado. Gael Garcia Bernal had large shoes to fill in playing the controversial but revered Latin American hero and he is wonderfully emotive, helping illustrate the passion and growing political awareness experienced by Che on the journey from Argentina, through Chile, Peru, and Venezuela until ultimately landing in a leper colony in the Amazon where he comes of age on the road after facing the misfortunate realities of others that were absent from his previously sheltered life. Produced by Robert Redford, this visually sweeping film is lively and fun—don’t be daunted by the history of the subject as I was completely ignorant about Che going into the film and actually found that it provided a good foundation in charting his beginnings in the 1950’s before the rise of his political activism in the 60’s. The Motorcycle Diaries will also strike a chord for those fans of Kerouac and Dylan and lovers of On The Road style adventures as well as individuals in their 20’s who may be experiencing some of the same existential issues of wanting to think globally in helping their fellow man while also coming to understand themselves and their place in the world. While ultimately, the last portion of the film does tend to drag and could’ve benefited from additional editing to match the pace set by the start of the film, it’s a journey well-worth taking and one so expertly executed by Salles, Rivera, Bernal, and Rodriguo de la Serna (excellent as Granado) that viewers nearly feel as though they too are on the back of the 1939 Norton 500 Motorcycle used in the film. In addition to several nominations and awards around the globe, Salles’s film also received an Oscar for Best Song (see below).

Academy Award Winning Song “Al Otro Lado del Río”
Ana Laan, Ben Sidran, Carina Voly, Jeff Eckels, John Vriesacker, Jorge Drexler & Leo Sidran - Motorcycle Diaries With Additional Music - Al Otro Lado del Río


A Good Year

Director: Ridley Scott

Most of the critics reviewing the cinematic reunion of Gladiator director Ridley Scott and his star Russell Crowe quickly dismissed the film A Good Year as a male version of Under The Tuscan Sun. However, while it does share similar themes to the earlier work, A Good Year is a pleasant and entertaining movie in its own right. Based on Peter Mayle’s novel A Year in Provence, the film stars Russell Crowe as powerful, greedy, money hungry Max Skinner who leaves his native London to return to the French setting of his boyhood. Renting a smart car with a mind of its own or what he calls a “lime green roller skate,” Skinner arrives in Provence after inheriting La Siroque, the home and vineyard of his recently deceased, beloved but estranged Uncle Henry (Albert Finney).

Bound to appeal to both Francophiles and wine enthusiasts, the film is filled with Scott’s trademark bravura camerawork—quick cuts, zooms and pans sure to inspire awe and indeed, A Good Year is a visually stunning way to travel by armchair and take in the gorgeous French landscape. Although admittedly it does take awhile to get into the film because it’s mostly a solitary outing for Crowe in the first twenty minutes, not to mention a bit disconcerting to fans used to seeing the man most famous for his more dramatic portrayals in A Beautiful Mind and L.A. Confidential take wholeheartedly to comedic pratfalls and dialogue, the film and Crowe’s charm come full-circle once other characters (including the setting itself) are introduced.

Another admirable trait of the films of Ridley Scott is his fascination with strong female characters—while he is a bit of a man’s man and takes sheer delight in photographing them, A Good Year is filled with several strong-willed, independently minded, memorable women that add greatly to the plot and work their way into the hearts of the viewers.

While, like Under the Tuscan Sun, the film grows a bit more predictable as Skinner rediscovers his humanity and falls for a local beauty in the foreign land—Scott’s exquisite photography and eclectic, inspired soundtrack choices (see below) provide a much needed sense of whimsy to the film that make it highly amusing romantic fare that should appeal equally to both sexes.

The DVD features some wonderful extras including an entertaining short promo interview between Scott and Crowe, three music videos by Crowe and his band, as well as “Postcards from Provence,” which is a cinematically breathtaking film-length hybrid of video featurettes with an audio commentary track from Scott and screenwriter Marc Klein.

Featured in A Good Year

“Gotta Get Up” by Harry Nilsson
Harry Nilsson - Nilsson Schmilsson - Gotta Get Up

“Jump Into the Fire” by Harry Nilsson
Harry Nilsson - Nilsson Schmilsson - Jump Into the Fire

“Il Faut Du Temps” by Makali
Makali - A Good Year - "Il Faut Du Temps Au Temps"

“Je Chante” by Charles Trenet
Charles Trenet - Greatest Hits - Je Chante

“J’Attendrai” by Jean Sablon
Jean Sablon - A Good Year - J'Attendrai

“Le Chant Du Gardian” by Tino Rossi
Tino Rossi - A Good Year - Le Chant Du Gardian

“Itsy Bitsy Petit Bikini” by Richard Anthony
Richard Anthony - A Good Year - Itsy Bitsy Petit Bikini

“40 Ft” by Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand - 40 Ft

Bonus Songs by Russell Crowe
(Featured on the DVD)

“Weight of a Man”
Russell Crowe & The Ordinary Fear of God - My Hand My Heart - Weight of a Man

“One Good Year”
Russell Crowe - My Hand, My Heart - One Good Year

Russell Crowe & The Ordinary Fear of God - My Hand My Heart - Testify