At first glance The Family Stone appears to be yet another silly romp about family dynamics. But the Stones a vivacious loving liberal-minded New England family are more than just cardboard cut-outs; they’re as real as any dysfunctional family can be. The film begins with the Stones getting ready for their annual holiday gathering. Matriarch Sybil (Diane Keaton) is especially anxious to meet her eldest son’s (Dermot Mulroney) girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker). The family has been warned Meredith is a controlling neurotic New Yorker with very little redeemable qualities. And when Meredith arrives she certainly does nothing to dispel the notion meeting her potential eccentric in-laws with a mix of awkwardness confusion and hostility. Yet oddly enough the disruption brings about some needed changes within the family Stone allowing them to come together and realize their extraordinary capacity for love. Everyone in this stellar ensemble rises to the occasion and truly paints a very vivid picture of a family devoted to one another--but who are less than approachable to outsiders. As mom Keaton turns in yet another genuine look at a complicated woman dealing with some insurmountable obstacles while Craig T. Nelson as her loyal husband does a nice job conveying a warmth to their marriage. Playing their grownup children is Mulroney as the straight-laced “suit” Everett who isn’t all that priggish; Luke Wilson as the laid-back Ben who seems to have strayed the most from his family; and Rachel McAdams as the passionate if rather acerbic little sister. But the real revelation is Parker as the uptight highly unlikable Meredith. It’s quite a departure from her fun-lovin’ Sex
and the City days and the Parker--who truly is one of the better comedic actresses we have today--easily handles the unpleasant chores of playing someone suffering with chronic foot-in-mouth syndrome. Like many newbie filmmakers writer/director Thomas Bezucha--whose only other credit is the little seen indie Big Eden--has the advantage of having that certain fresh quality to his work. Stone’s dialogue is snappy poignant and spot-on as the Stones interact with each other in all too familiar ways. The whole Meredith scenario will perhaps have many of us remembering similar situations--from both sides of the fence. It’s just as painful to have to meet the family of someone you love for the first time as it is dealing with a family member’s poor choices in mates. And what makes
The Family Stone stand out even more is how Bezucha truly defines the term “dramedy.” From the trailer the film seemed to be a balls-out slap-sticky comedy which in many ways it is but you may be surprised to see how The Family Stone’s more serious tones will touch you.
The Crusades were a series of religious wars in which the Christians tried to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims who had conquered the Middle East in the 7th century. With the battle cry of "God wills it! " thousands of Europeans answered the call and were able to retake the fabled Holy City in the 11th century. Kingdom of Heaven begins in 1186 between the Second and Third Crusades. A fragile peace prevails mostly through the efforts of Jerusalem's enlightened Christian king Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) and the military restraint of the legendary Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). But it's difficult to maintain the peace. There are extremists within the Christian brigades--known as the Knights Templar--who want to wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth. On top of that King Baldwin's health is failing. Once he's gone war is sure to follow. If ever there was a need for a hero this is the time. Enter the young French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who is in deep despair over the loss of his family. He joins the Crusades after the father he never knew Godfrey (Liam Neeson) comes back from Jerusalem and convinces him it's a quest worth fighting for. As Godfrey passes his sword to his son he also passes on that sacred knightly oath: to protect the helpless safeguard the peace and work toward harmony between religions and cultures so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth. No pressure or anything though.
Orlando Bloom carries his first major motion picture very well easily handling the chores of being such a gallant conscientious and morally upstanding knight. As Balian the Troy costar plays the gamut. He broods over his lost wife and child has father-son epiphanies upholds his knightly duties on a regular basis falls in love with a beautiful but troubled princess and finally bravely defends the Holy City from the encroaching Muslim army thus becoming a legend. Not bad for a day's work eh? There are even times especially toward the end when Balian is standing before the denizens of Jerusalem urging them to fight when you swear you can see a little of Bloom's The Lord of the Rings alter-elf Legolas creep in. The supporting cast also does an adequate job painting a picture of some trying times. Chief among them: Jeremy Irons as King Baldwin's right-hand man Tiberias; Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) as the evil leader of the Knights Templar; Massoud as the great warrior Saladin; and lovely Eva Green (The Dreamers) as Princess Sibylla King Baldwin's sister who captures our hero's heart but makes some bad choices with dire consequences.
Even if these sword-and-armor epics are all blending together you've got to give props to the directors who make them. These films are massive undertakings and Kingdom of
Heaven with the expert Ridley Scott at the helm is no exception. The Oscar-winning director of course has had his fair share of recreating history first with the classic Gladiator and then with the contemporary Black Hawk Down. But in recreating the Crusades Scott faces his toughest challenge to date and takes on the responsibility very seriously. He is painstakingly meticulous with details even as he is building a 12th-century Jerusalem or corralling 2 000 heavily costumed extras for the colossal climactic battle sequences. And it is always a good thing when a historical film can teach you something you may not have known like what the heck the Crusades were really all about. No Kingdom's biggest obstacle is timing. While it certainly has more substance than Alexander it is not nearly as intense and stirring as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the granddaddy of them all Braveheart. Too many of its ilk has come before and the concept has unfortunately worn thin.
The Lizzie McGuire Movie is similar to the TV program and features the same cast and characters except here Lizzie McGuire (Hilary Duff) and friends leave the confines of Disney's Los Angeles studio headed for a class trip to Italy where you're hit with the preposterous storyline: In Rome Lizzie is mistaken for a famous pop star named Isabella and before long she is asked to impersonate the singer at a huge Italian music award show. Turns out Isabella had agreed to perform at the ceremony but backed out at the last minute leaving her singing partner Paolo (Yani Gellman) in a legal lurch. Lizzie agrees in part because she has a crush on Paolo and spends the rest of the trip prepping for the big night. There are so many things wrong with this ridiculous plot it's tough to know where to begin. The worse part is the Lizzie so many kids relate to on the tube is transformed here into a self-indulgent fashion plate who changes outfits more often than Celine Dion in concert. The result is an obvious promotional tool for the Lizzie McGuire TV phenomena rather than a movie about change growing up and the awkwardness of transitioning from middle school to high school.
Sixteen-year-old Duff recently made her big-screen debut in Agent Cody Banks but it was her two-year-old TV series Lizzie McGuire that catapulted her into 'tween idol status. In The Lizzie McGuire Movie Duff who appears in practically every scene bears the whole weight of the movie. That's an impressive feat for such a young actress and Duff does it quite professionally: her character stutters nervously when addressing her middle school graduating class and bites her lips in a kittenish manner when uncertainty sets in. Duff plays to the camera like a pro and knows how to maximize her cutie-pie image for the big screen. It's a shame her relatable Lizzie McGuire character was transformed into such a shallow teenager with very few redeeming qualities. Here's a girl who puts her own interests before that of her friends and gets them to lie for her so she can embark on a romance with a flaky pop star while stealing another one's identity. But Duff is a trooper and grins through it all despite being shrewdly marketed by studio execs like a scented Strawberry Shortcake doll.
Director Jim Fall's The Lizzie McGuire Movie is not a movie at all; it's a 90-minute advertisement for Duff. Since the handful of scribes hired to pen this sad script couldn't come up with a quasi-decent storyline Fall resorts to stringing together one montage after another of the ultra-cute teen idol. There's Lizzie singing Blondie's "The Tide is High (Get the Feeling)" in her bedroom while trying on a trillion different little outfits. There's Lizzie on the back of a dragon-red Vespa pointing and gasping at Roman landmarks like the Fontana di Trevi and the Coliseum. There's Lizzie…well you get the picture. The film's shameless self-promotion of its star overshadows any thematic elements and whatever bit of a story it had. And with a full line of Lizzie McGuire apparel and accessories coming soon to a store near you the reasons are all too clear. Sadly the opening screen credits in which Lizzie's animated alter ego spells out names with beauty products including a mascara wand and lipstick are the only entertaining thing about this 'tween pic.