The Illusionist - Edward Norton plays Eisenheim The Illusionist. As a boy training to be a magician, Eisenheim was poor, but at least he had the love of Sophie (Jessica Biel). Unfortunately he was forbidden to see her as she was well above his social standing. One fateful day Eisenheim left his home and disappeared. Ten years later, after traveling the globe, Eisenheim returns to Vienna and begins performing in a local theater. It isn't long before he discovers that his childhood sweetheart Sophie is now engaged to Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), who soon grows a great dislike for Eisenheim. Enter Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), who Leopold tasks with keeping Eisenheim at bay. This becomes difficult, however, when Sophie turns up dead. I found it odd that The Illusionist, a film about a turn-of-the-century magician, would be coming out so close to the release of The Prestige, a seemingly similar film. In fact, the two began a sort of rivalry in my mind as I wondered which I would prefer. The Prestige had an obviously more substantial budget as well as several great actors and a director whose previous films I'd quite liked. Then again, The Illusionist had it's fair share of good actors, and I'd been looking forward to seeing a new movie from Edward Norton for some time as he's one of my favorites. I saw The Prestige first, and quite liked it, so things weren't looking good for The Illusionist. However, while it is more of a love story than The Prestige, it certainly holds it's own. Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Rufus Sewell are an amazing trio in the film. I was aware of Norton and Giamatti's abilities as character actors from their previous roles, but knew essentially nothing of Sewell. He was right at home with them though, it would seem, and he added the perfect villainous element. While The Illusionist seemed more concerned with romance and drama than magic, Eisenheim's tricks maintained an eerie quality that kept me very intrigued. The Prestige focused on explaining how the magic worked, but The Illusionist just let the magic be magic, often without explanation. The two films are so similar, and at the same time so different, that it's hard to choose which I liked better, and while I did prefer The Prestige, The Illusionist is well worth seeing.
A Bug's Life - Flik (Dave Foley) is an ant. He enjoys inventing and discovering things, and he has a bit of a reputation of being clumsy or absentminded. Nonetheless, he must help the rest of the ants that reside in the ant hill gather food. Much of the food isn't for the ants, though, but is instead for a gang of mean-spirited grasshoppers lead by the aptly named Hopper (Kevin Spacey), who have threatened to kill the ants if their food isn't prepared by the end of the growing season. Unfortunately, Flik accidentally loses all of the food that he and his fellow ants have gathered for the year. At this point, it is much too late for enough food to be accumulated to appease the grasshoppers before their arrival, so he opts to take responsibility for his actions and venture into the outside world to find assistance standing up to the grasshoppers once and for all. During his quest he meets a group of circus bugs who he mistakes for hired muscle. At the same time, these circus bugs misunderstand Flik's proposal, thinking that he wants to hire them to perform their act instead of defend his community. Returning to the ant hill, Flik raises everyone's hopes before realizing the horrible mistake he's made, and he must think of a solution before the grasshoppers show up looking for to quench their appetites. Now, I admit that this story seems like a bit of a stretch, even for a company that has brought us movies about living toys and talking cars, but once you get past that, A Bug's Life is just plain fun. As with all of Pixar's movies, they've managed to devise a story that is just as enjoyable for adult viewers as it is for children. Admittedly I got around to seeing this movie a bit late, so the CG isn't quite as good as it would have been if I'd seen it a few years ago, but that's trivial, really. I've loved Toy Story since it first came out, and I'd seen each of Pixar's other films fairly close to their release dates, except for A Bug's Life. Going back and watching it, not so much out of a desire to see a movie about ants as a desire to have seen every one of the Pixar films, I'm kind of surprised that I didn't see it sooner. Particularly because of all of the voice talent involved. Just about every voice in this film belongs to someone famous. Along with Foley and Spacey, A Bug's Life stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Phyllis Diller, Richard Kind, David Hyde Pierce, Denis Leary, Bonnie Hunt, John Ratzenberger, Brad Garrett, and Hayden Panettiere, who has recently come into the spotlight as a character on the show Heroes (and who was only eight years old when she did A Bug's Life). Overall, I'd have to say that if you've enjoyed any of one of Pixar's movies, that you'll probably enjoy this one as well.
300 - It all starts with a dickhead named Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Xerxes believes that he is a god to be worshipped by everyone on the face of the planet, so he sends his servants around to gather offerings from every settlement in existence. He didn't count on Leonidas (Gerard Butler), the king of Sparta, being so stubborn, though. Leonidas is so offended by Xerxes' demands, that he murders the servants who asked for their offering. Knowing full well that Xerxes wouldn't take kindly to this, Leonidas attempts to round up a sizeable army to confront him when he arrives with his hordes. The Spartan high counsel doesn't see eye to eye with Leonidas, though, and denies his request for military action. In the wake of this decision, Leonidas rounds up 300 of his most loyal men to follow him into battle of their own will to defend their home. What follows is a knock-down-drag-out series of intense battles between 300 Spartans and a seemingly endless sea of warriors under Xerxes' control. It's kind of tough to see the trailer for 300 and not want to see the movie. I was interested in the film for the action scenes, essentially, but had no particular interest in the story. I've never been a huge fan of Frank Miller, whose graphic novel this movie is based upon, but figured that wouldn't much matter because there were sure to be some good dismemberings involved. And god damn I was right about that. 300 starts a bit slow, but is by no means boring. However, once the action starts, you can hardly catch your breath. Wave after wave of men are poured on top of the Spartans, only to see them come out on top of each and every battle. Some people criticize the film for using too much slow motion, but I found that it made the action much easier to take in at times. Considering that essentially everything that you see on screen except for (some of) the actors was created using green screen and computers, viewers are constantly bombarded with incredible effects that couldn't be achieved with standard special effects. The blood splatter, as trivial a component of a scene as it may seem, was wonderfully handled in every battle and brought a lot to the experience. The tactics that the Spartans employ in battle are often ingenuitive, and always entertaining, as are the various types of opponents against which they are pitted in battle. It can be argued that 300 is nothing more than a mindless fight/action movie, but I don't think that that's entirely true. There are simple subplots that serve to change up the goings on a bit. In the end, my only real problems with 300 are trivial. The thing that I liked the least were scenes during which some characters competed during battle much like Legolas and Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies. All in all, as long as you don't fall asleep before the action starts, you should find yourself on the edge of your seat for the rest of the film.
Babel - What do an American couple vacationing in a foreign country, a deaf Japanese girl who desires acceptance, a Mexican immigrant babysitter on the way to her son's wedding, and a couple of boys in India with a rifle have to do with one another? That is the very intricate question that the film Babel provides an even more intricate answer to. I'm going to tread lightly with this film's review so as not to ruin any of the twists, turns, or connections to be found within. If you've seen the movie Crash, then you can sort of get an idea of what Babel is like. It is a movie about people who seemingly have no connection at all, but it shows how their fates are all intertwined. Crash did something similar to this, but Babel takes it a step further by introducing the language barrier. The film takes a look at the way that communication, verbal and emotional, plays a part in human interaction. It dissects four different cultures and throws them together, offering the viewer situations to make up their own minds about. Personally, I was very moved by Babel. I felt like I connected with each and every one of the people put through trials during the movie. There were points that I felt anger, sadness, and confusion right along with the characters themselves. The chances of events similar to those outlined in the movie occurring are nearly impossible, but they are presented in a way that can make you realize that while these exact events are far-fetched, things like this probably happen every single day. My life isn't changed for having seen Babel or anything, but it was a viewing experience that really made me think, which doesn't happen very often. My parents watched the movie shortly after I did. My father didn't like it, as I told him that he most likely wouldn't. He doesn't want to think while he's watching a movie, and the only way that he ever feels any emotion during one is if it involves war, which he feels a connection to because of his father's involvement in World War II. My mother enjoyed the film, but complained that there were too many questions left unanswered. While she didn't dislike the movie, she obviously missed the point completely. Again, I'm afraid, I'll have to amend the list of my favorite films from 2006, because Babel is a wonderful movie that I would recommend to anyone reading this. Marvelously written, wonderfully directed, and powerfully acted.