A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

British humor: an ordinary bloke gets to tour the galaxies with hyperspace intergalactic travel, and all he can think about is that he can't get a good cup of tea anywhere.

Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) wakes up one morning in his ramshackle house in the country, only to discover that the wrecking crew has arrived to level his modest home, because they're going to build a bypass there. He lies in front of a bulldozer in his bathrobe to protest. The construction supervisor tells him that it's a useless gesture, because the decision's already been made. In the meantime, his friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) scurries toward him, anxious to get him to the nearest pub to drink a couple of quick pints before the world ends. Yes, Mr. Prefect, it turns out, is an alien, and he's planning to beam up to the spaceship via his thumb ring before the world explodes. You see, the planet Earth, also, has been scheduled for demolition in order to make way for a highway in space.

The Interpreter

It loses some of its force because it is fictional. But it could be about any number of countries in Africa that are all too non-fiction: genocides, ethnic cleansing, brutal slayings, mass graves, thousands of victims, thousands of refugees, thousands of the disinherited and dispossessed, thousands of expatriates yearning to go home, except home will never be the same.

Any movie that begins with an execution by children is going to be sobering throughout.  "The Interpreter" is a serious film intended to be taken seriously. 

Because of Winn-Dixie

For a good, old-fashioned family movie, this one has it all: a timeless small town, a cute little girl, a well-meaning but distracted Dad, a few colorful secondary characters, and a dog who has an amazing capacity for bringing the humans closer together.

Annasophia Robb plays Opal, the pig-tailed 10-year old with the skinny legs and the big, blue innocent eyes and a wise-beyond-her-years outlook. She moves to this small town because her Dad (Jeff Daniels) is the new preacher. The church is just forming, and is meeting in a convenience store.

Opal describes her Dad, whom she also calls "Preacher", as a tortoise always going back inside its shell. He seems to spend a lot of time in their mobile home reading the Bible, but not much time going out and seeing people. He's sad because his wife, Opal's Mom, left him several years ago, he says, because she couldn't stand being a preacher's wife. So his resentment of his profession hangs with him along with his gritty determination to keep doing it, because he's already paid too high a price not to continue.

Coach Carter


I liked it better than "Hoosiers."

In "Hoosiers," the new high school coach in a small Indiana town in the '50's preached teamwork, teamwork, teamwork, pass the ball, set picks, four passes before every shot, and then when the star shooter arrived, all that went out the window.

His big motivational ploy was to get them to measure the hoop when they went to the State tournament. They reported it as ten feet from the floor, the same height as every basketball hoop. It was his way of demonstrating to them that they didn't need to be intimidated. And in the end, they go all the way to the State Finals.

Now it's the '90's. Coach Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives at Richmond High in California, a school that graduates only 50% of its students; a school where only 6% go to college. When he preaches "teamwork, teamwork, teamwork," he means more than passing the ball to the best shooter, or running a trap play to force a turnover. He means taking responsibility for yourself, and for everyone else on the team.

The Chorus (Les Choristes)


It's not a new plot idea. Kids languish in an orphanage. New teacher comes and gets them energized. There's no real plot surprise here, it's all in how it's done. And 'The Chorus' is done in such a way that makes it seem real and heart-warming at the same time.There's precious little sugarcoating. It's mostly struggle, and conflict, with just a few moments of tenderness to make it even bearable.

The music teacher Clement Mathieu (Gerard Tugnot) is admittedly depressed as he shuffles into the dilapidated-looking French boys' orphanage in 1949. He's failed at being a professional musician. It seems that nobody really wants to pay to listen to his music. He's put his compositions away, in a leather satchel, and hidden them in the closet of his bare room at the orphanage. Metal bunk bed, wooden dresser, straight chair. The only woman around is the maid, who is seen little and heard from even less. 

The Incredibles

Remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25: 14-30?  The servants who are rewarded are the ones who are given ten and five talents, and produce ten and five more. The servant who is chastised is the one who takes his one talent and buries it. Yes, yes, the 'talent' in the parable referred to a unit of money and not to individual ability. Nonetheless, it's irresistible for preachers and other well-meaning commentators to apply the metaphor of personal talents. The message would be something like, 'Use your gifts, especially if they can help someone else.'

Well, that's also the message of 'The Incredibles.' This is an animated Pixar feature, where the voices are notable actors, but it's all programmed into the graphics, just like the music soundtrack and the cutting-edge visuals. This is pure high-tech, because there's not a 'real' scene in it.  But it's engaging, nonetheless, in part because of the compelling character development.

Polar Express

'The Polar Express' is an animation film that features Tom Hanks voicing several roles on his way to making a Christmas movie that looks and feels really different, especially on IMAX.

Our unnamed hero is a little boy who's just old enough to start doubting Santa Claus. He overhears his parents telling each other that he's shared his doubts with his younger sister. The mother and dad say, 'This may be the last year of the magic.' The little boy falls asleep, and the next thing he knows, a big train pulls up in his front yard, where the conductor offers to take him to the North Pole.

Finding Neverland


'Finding Neverland' is the play within the play within the play that is really about finding the magic at the heart of imagination. And, fittingly enough, it's all about believing.

Johnny Depp plays J. M. Barrie, the playwright who wrote Peter Pan. It's London, 1903.  The theater is the exclusive reserve of high society:  reserved people in reserved seats.  Barrie has enjoyed some success, but he'd not gotten in touch with his 'inner child' enough to pen the story that would immortalize him. Until he met the Davies family.

The Mom (Kate Winslet) is alone with her four sons, and somewhat destitute since her husband died. Her overbearing mother (Julie Christie) provides material relief, but emotionally, she's a dead weight. She constantly fusses about discipline and responsibility, and seriousness.  As if, should there be any playfulness left in them at all, it would soon be snuffed out for lack of a belief that it was important.  Sort of like Tinkerbell.

Life of David Gale

'The Life Of David Gale' is a polemic against the death penalty. It raises, and then answers, the question of 'What if someone executed by the state is actually innocent?' But the viewer finds out all the information only in bits and pieces, that is, at the same rate as the main character, Bitsy (Kate Winslett). She's a big-time magazine reporter who gets chosen for the exclusive rights to interview former philosophy professor David Gale, during his last three days on Death Row.

We, the viewers, get to witness her initial skepticism about the innocence of someone who was accused of rape and murder, and then convicted by three courts. She agrees to do the interview because they have appealed to her pride, as someone suitably high-profile who has proven that she will maintain confidentiality of sources (by going to jail). So she listens to the Gale (played by Kevin Spacey) unfold his story, and it's not pretty.

Bend It Like Beckham

'Bend It Like Beckham' is this year's 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding.' It's about a girl growing up in a very ethnic family, and how she struggles to honor her roots and yet find some independence. She's not perfect, but she's likable because she's so passionate. And she tries so hard. And while she cannot bend the world to her point of view, she can at least decide what to embrace and what to refrain from embracing (Ecclesiastes 3), and in the process discover something of who she is.

There are several refreshing elements to this film for the American moviegoer. First, it does not adhere to some of the silly Hollywood rules about what is glamorous. The lead character, 'Jess' Bhamra (Parminder K. Nagra), is neither tall nor skinny nor blonde nor blue-eyed; though her friend, Jules Paxton (Keira Knightly), is all those things. What the two girls have in common is a gift for soccer. Jess has just been playing 'football' with (guy) friends in the public park near her house. Jules is playing on a women's team. When she spots Jess' skill, she invites Jess to be on the women's team, as well. The coach, Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), is skeptical until he sees Jess play. And then he is ecstatic. And so is she, because she didn't realize how good she was until now.