Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (2006)

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To become the greatest band of all time, two slacker, wannabe-rockers set out on a quest to steal a legendary guitar pick that gives its holders incredible guitar skills, from a maximum security Rock and Roll museum. (IMDb)
There are some moments of good comedy (the subversive take on the “inside all of us/inside your hearts” speech had me in stitches) to go with the entertaining soundtrack (the opening flashback number and the boardwalk jam are highlights), but not enough to distract me from the terrible script that can’t even do the generic underdog story right (where was their triumphant open mic performance?). It’s not boring (fun cameos help), but not every bit lands, and it misses the mark on a grander scale.
6/10 (Mediocre)

 

War of the Worlds (2005)

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As Earth is invaded by alien tripod fighting machines, one family fights for survival. (IMDb)
There are some great set pieces and special effects here that combine with consistently tense action and adventure–spiked with just the right amount of chilling horror–to keep you entertained despite a script that continually raises questions (why didn’t Ray immediately go back to his children when things started happening? Why was Robbie so insistent upon fighting the aliens–and how did he get back?) and disappoints (the neglectful Dad sub-plot doesn’t come to any kind of climax or resolve).
6.5/10 (Alright)

Dead Man Walking (1995)

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A nun, while comforting a convicted killer on death row, empathizes with both the killer and his victim’s families. (IMDb)
Raw and powerful performances from Penn and Sarandon here present an unlikely relationship between a determined nun and a death row convict that grows to develop heart-wrenching emotional intimacy (see Matthew’s confession and Helen’s outstretched arm in the intense climax). Flashbacks to the crime and scenes with the victims’ and prisoner’s families are added throughout to create a thoughtful and well-rounded (but still moving) study of death, violence, and justice that avoids easy answers.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Mystic River (2003)

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With a childhood tragedy that overshadowed their lives, three men are reunited by circumstance when one has a family tragedy. (IMDb)
Fantastic turns from Robbins (the troubled childhood victim), Bacon (the steady cop), and Penn in particular (the tough but broken dad) headline this dark-toned, grungy suburbia-set film that fleshes out its tense murder mystery plot with torturous character drama surrounding three old friends brought together by ugly tragedy. The final twist is a little jarring and unconvincing at first but it sinks in with further thought, and its agonizing emotional aftermath solidifies it within the script.
8/10 (Great)

 

Arlington Road (1999)

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A man begins to suspect his neighbors are not what they appear to be and their secrets could be deadly. (IMDb)
Although it could have built its intensity more gradually, Arlington Road at least does well at maintaining it right up until its refreshingly devastating (if a tad far-fetched) climax, thanks to Bridges’ crazed, slightly over-the-top lead turn and the heavy socio-political content from his lectures that fills in the gaps between the thrilling scenes of his paranoid detective work, his chilling interactions with the subtly creepy Robbins and Cusack, and the final high-octane action sequences.
7.5/10 (Really Good)