Thursday, December 30, 2010

The King's Speech

The King's Speech has many delightful moments but not a sufficient number to justify this eye-rolling poster that suggests it's a comedy. It most certainly is not. At the heart of this story of England's King George VI (the father of the current monarch) is his struggle not only with his speech impediment (a stammer)... but more importantly with the trauma that created it. This element gives the film such resonance and emotional gravitas that I didn't mind its predictable structure. The speech of the title (if you read it as "oration" and not "elocution") is a crowning achievement of movie storytelling and is enormously satisfying. Colin Firth as the king, Geoffrey Rush as his speech tutor and Helena Bonham Carter as George VI's Queen Elizabeth are individually and collectively wonderful.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

127 Hours

Danny Boyle's 127 Hours devotes so little time establishing the main character of this riveting and, yes, briefly repulsive film that it got me wondering: Was Boyle using the harrowing experience of climber / cayoneer Aron Ralston as a device to put us all on notice that, to misquote the bumper sticker, "Life is too short to be a dick."

Of course, other readings are just as plausible, including that it is simply a cinematic rendering of Ralston's tale of his misadventure, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place." But Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, Sunshine) is such an intelligent and insightful filmmaker that I can't resist thinking more is going on here. No matter. It's a splendid movie whatever the case.

The supremely egoless James Franco carries this picture in a tour de force performance as Ralston, who was pinned by a bolder against the wall of a narrow canyon in Utah. Franco's Ralston is a rambling and self-centered man-child but not stupid or careless -- just unlucky. Through flashbacks and hallucinations we get a sense of who Ralston is, but it is never clear if these dreams are reliable memories, wishes or premonitions or a mix of all three.

Despite his quirkiness, Ralston's resourcefulness (and spiritedness) saved his life as he eventually snipped and sawed and hacked his way through the tissue, veins and nerves of his right arm to free himself from the rock. The amputation scene, which lasts about 3 minutes, is craftily staged by Boyle but it is, unquestionably, not for weak stomachs. Even so, it must be seen to get the full effect of this terrific film.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Tourist

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Tourist is as beautiful and anemic as its star Angelina Jolie. The film, which also stars Johnny Depp, does not provide enough fiber in terms of story or red meat in terms of action to be a full cinematic meal. (Stop that metaphor!)

This tale of mistaken identity fails to put the wrong guy (Depp) in real peril, and unlike her earlier performance in the star vehicle Salt, Jolie does not work up a sweat here. I actually got the feeling she's was indifferent to the outcome of all of the cat-and-mousing as I was.

Von Donnersmarck stages two uninvolving chases and an interminable last act that would have been much more satisfying -- oddly enough -- if either Jolie or Depp (or both) had not survived the last reel. Tedioso!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

True Grit

The Coen Brothers' decision to remake (remodel) the 1969 classic western True Grit seemed curious to me, but the smartness of the film's screenplay, the seamlessness of the cinematography and key performances testify to the Coens' gifts and vision as filmmakers. I loved it.

The story of the odd pairing of a young girl ...and a gristly lawman on the trail of the scoundrel who shot down the girl's father is intact but the language has been refashioned into something bordering on Shakespearean, like David Milch's HBO series Deadwood, without the unrelenting profanity. The script sparkles with intelligence -- as most Coen scripts do.

Hailee Steinfeld's performance as the aggrieved 14-year-old Mattie Ross has been highly praised and deservedly so. She's tremendous. A horse-trading scene between Steinfeld and veteran character actor Dakin Matthews near the beginning of the film is splendid and is an early indication of the quality of this young lady's performance. That Steinfeld's work and that of Coen fave Jeff Bridges (the Dude) as the aging and drunken marshal Rueben "Rooster" Cogburn and Matt Damon as the officious Texas Ranger LaBeouf (pronounced LaBeef) were ignored by the Hollywood Foreign Press (Golden Globes) is curious indeed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan is the movie from hell ... which is a good thing. It's the story of the sexually repressed ballerina from hell (Natalie Portman) who is tormented by the stage mother from hell (Barbara Hershey), stalked by the understudy from hell (Mila Kunis) and fondled by the company director from hell ...(Vincent Cassel). All of this hellacious drama is played out to the strains of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

Comparisons have made to Polanski's Repulsion in which Catherine Deneuve goes quietly mad over a long weekend in her Paris apartment. While Deneuve's repressed manicurist's frightening walk into madness felt gradual, Portman's prima ballerina Nina's downward spiral into hell is rapid and precipitous. Aronofsky's introduces Nina as needy, unstable and borderline masochistic.

It would be easy enough to lay Nina's estrangement from sanity at the door of her controlling and whacked out Mom who doesn't know the meaning of personal boundaries or the controlling and whacked artistic director whose idea of creative tension involve forcing his tongue down Nina's throat and other appendages elsewhere.

Don't mistake, both of these characters are truly repugnant, but I think Aronofsky might be going for something else here in this film. Portman's Nina is wound so tightly by her own monomaniacal quest for transcendent perfection that she's driven herself crazy. No, the demon mother and predatory dance master don't help, but I think Aronofsky is saying that in the end we're all our own creations.

The Fighter

David O. Russell's The Fighter is a superb boxing movie that doesn't have a whole lot of boxing in it -- at least not the type that goes on in a roped ring. Most of the sparring in the film is between a quartet of exciting heavy hitters -- Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo -- which isn't to say their battles are any less bloody than those staged in Atlantic City, Vegas and London. In fact, if you listen carefully, you can actually hear the crunching of bone and tearing of sinew as these champion performers hurl their anger, bitterness and frustration at each other and the world they can't seem to affect quickly enough.

Wahlberg and Bale play boxing brothers in a large Lowell, Massachusetts, family that has investing its hopes and dreams in the two sons. Bale's Dicky became a town legend when he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard during a bout, although the circumstances of the champ's tumble has been disputed. Dicky is now a washed up and washed out crack addict whose only obsession other than scoring rocks is training his younger brother Micky (Wahlberg) to a boxing title, two pursuits which appear to work in opposition to each other. He's walking disaster for himself and his family. Wahlberg, who appears to be a favorite of Russell's having appeared in the director's Three Kings and I (heart) Huckabees, delivers one of the most focused performances as the conflicted but devoted younger brother. He is the heart of the picture.

Melissa Leo (a personal favorite of mine since her days on Homicide) plays Alice Ward, mother to both Dicky and Micky, and a creature of singular domineering neediness -- an inspired character and performance.

And the redoubtable Amy Adams plays Micky's love interest and muse whose flintiness ignites her boyfriend's desire to free himself from the control of his enmeshed and carnivorous family and try to chart a course of his own design -- and take her along with him.

Yes, Russell does stage three exciting boxing matches, and they are filmed smartly and economically, and all in service to this true story of love and liberation. It is a terrific movie.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Man from Earth (2007)

Jerome Bixby's The Man from Earth (2007) ponders the nature of life and probes questions of mortality, history and knowledge, more precisely, how is it we know what we know. It's how these undeniably heavy themes are introduced that makes the film such a surprise.

A respected and highly favored history professor has announced to his colleagues that he's leaving after 10 years on the faculty. His friends -- among them, a biologist, anthropologist, archeologist and psychiatrist -- gather at his home to say goodbye and ask him why he's leaving his tenured position so suddenly. It's then that he reveals he's actually 14,000 years old. From that incredible premise, Bixby, a celebrated sci-fi writer who died the year after this film was released, crafts a decidedly theatrical but satisfying treatment of the meaning of life that contains not a single cliche and has a fascinating reveal in its last quarter. Highly entertaining and not just for eggheads.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Love and Other Drugs

Brokeback Mountain co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway are reunited in Edward Zwick's Love and Other Drugs to do a whole different kind of two-step as a couple of supremely insecure but glib people engaged in all manner of painful, and painfully funny, battles with themselves, each other and the world.

Gyllenhaal plays the emotionally stunted pharmaceutical salesman Jamie who despite all of his natural proclivities falls in love with his f-buddy Maggie (Hathaway), who has erected walls around her heart 12 feet high and 4 feet thick because she's going through the early stages of Parkinson's disease and fears abandonment. Both Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are stellar, as are Oliver Platt as Jamie's antacid-popping partner and Josh Gad as Jamie's rich and doughy younger brother, who gets some of the best lines in the film.

If you enjoy watching beautiful people cavort acrobatically, sans apparel, while espousing at length about what little use they have for human connections, you'll love this movie. You might recall that Zwick was one of the creators of thirtysomething and that program's knowing sensibility about human frailities is all over this movie.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- part 1 of the final installment in the book / film phenomenon -- veteran Potterologist David Yates delivers many wonderful things to the audience -- a cogent, intelligent story; even more imaginative camerawork; inspired animation; splendid performances by every living actor;... heartbreak and humor. And for ardent fans of the diminutive wizard, who comes of age in this film, the movie settles once and for all the question that keeps them up at night. The answer is boxer briefs. (The other burning question was answered when Daniel Radcliffe dropped trou for Equus, first in London and then on Broadway. Cheeky bugger.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Unstoppable

Tony Scott's hugely entertaining Unstoppable is a tried-and-true Hollywood action flick in which hardworking blue-collar stiffs -- in this case Pennsylvania railroad workers in pursuit of a runaway train -- outsmart and outmaneuver (literally in both cases) the suits in headquarters, whose only interest is minimizing t...he damage to the company's stocks. Denzel Washington, who plays a veteran railman, is a consummate performer who is uncommonly good at playing opposite younger actors, here Chris Pine as the hotheaded and insecure newbie conductor Will. Pine is equally as adept at playing callow youthful studs, who take their lumps but eventually end up saving the day despite their faults. Rosario Dawson as a railyard supervisor, Kevin Dunn as a callous corporate v.p., and Kevin Corrigan as a federal railway inspector each make strong contributions in this story that was leanly crafted by Mark Bomback. Good times.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Catfish

Catfish is a curious documentary about a long-distance online relationship that takes a couple of bizarre turns before the big reveal -- which was telegraphed from the first frame but was for me surprising all the same. And that's the puzzlement. Why was the second half of this film so riveting and haunting?

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost filmed Schulman's brother Yaniv's eight-month courtship of the mysterious Megan and follow him to her home in Michigan after Yaniv (Nev) begins to suspect she's not who she claims and wants to see for himself. Well, of course she's not but it's who she really is
that's the core of this unsettling movie.

Those of us who spend a lot of time on Facebook might feel a special sympathy for the battered souls drifting about in cyberspace who occasionally bump into each other -- for better and for worse -- and hope we are not counted
among those poor saps who find comfort in the virtual. Others might find it tempting to wag their fingers and cluck their tongues disapprovingly at the folks at the center of this drama: "See? That's what you get!" To do so would be to miss the point altogether, I think.

Some have questioned whether this documentary was staged, at least in part. Perhaps. But to me that's not reason enough to dismiss the picture's message(s) about authenticity, connectedness and the undeniable human need to be and feel loved.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hereafter

I believe Clint Eastwood's enduring legacy as a director will be a catalog of films that are, collectively, a tribute to human decency in spite of human frailty. Eastwood appears to be drawn to stories about damaged people caught up in circumstances of their own contrivance or those created by nature or fate.

And so we... have Hereafter, which appears to be Eastwood's treatment of that imponderable question, "What's Next?" ~ and all three reasons for human misery are on display. Matt Damon, the co-star with Morgan Freeman of Eastwood's Invictus (2009), is George Lonegan, a psychic who has been gifted with the ability to speak to the dearly departed by touching the hands of a survivor.

This curse, as Lonegan calls it, has made it difficult for him to form lasting relationships and so he is resigned to a life of lonely bachelorhood until ... . The script by Peter Morgan. who wrote Frost/Nixon and The Last King of Scotland, also features the stories of a French journalist (the beautiful Cecile de France [is that her real name?]) and a London school boy (played by the twins Frankie and George McLaren), both of whom have had close encounters with death -- the journalist during a tsunami (the creation of which is an impressive cinematic feat) and the boy as he watches his twin die after being hit by truck.

Eastwood and Morgan bring the three characters together in a final reel that is teary (an Eastwood signature move) and ultimately uplifting (ditto). The question "What's Next" is not answered but, in the end, that's really not the point of the film, which is actually to get viewers to ask ourselves "What About Now?"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Like Dandelion Dust

Jon Gunn's Like Dandelion Dust is a quietly, cunningly affecting film about the battle between birth and adoptive parents over a 6-year-old boy. Both sets of parents -- Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper as the "birthers" and Cole Hauser and Kate Levering as the adopters who've been the only parents the boy has known ~ are raggedly desperate because of their personal weakness but supremely loving of the boy, Joey, played by Maxwell Perry Cotton. Gunn directs both Sorvino and Pepper, the decidedly lower-middle class couple who are victims of their own poor choices, in deeply moving performances that are played almost entirely on their faces. Hauser and Levering ~ whose wealth sets them apart but not altogether positively from the birth parents ~ are also wonderful in this refreshingly intimate and memorable film.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Red (2010)

Is Robert Schwentke's Red enjoyable? Well, yes and no. Everywhere you turn there are the wrinkled though not unattractive faces of Hollywood stars shaking off their age to do some ridiculously contrived bit of super-spy action to get the oldsters in the audience, among whom I proudly counted myself, to guffaw and applaud in appreciation. Take that you whipper-snappers! It's all explosive fun. Bruce Willis -- at 55 he's only three years my senior-- leads a cast of cinema legends (Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss) in a secret agent parody based on a DC comics series about retired covert assets who strap on their semi's to take on the bad guys, which, according to Tinsel Town's liberal establishment is the vice president of the United States and his private contractor handlers. Most of it is played for laughs, though I wish, for once, they wouldn't sacrifice the black guy to remind us of how noble we are.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Let Me In

The chilling "Let Me In" is as much about everyday childhood predation as it is about the mythic variety represented in smarter vampire lore. This wonderfully enigmatic film, directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), focuses on the relationship between the eternal tween Abby, played with preternatural intelligence by Chloe Moretz (the true star of Kick Ass) and the tortured and disaffected Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, who formed a mesmerizing duo with Viggo Mortensen in The Road). Though Reeves, who also wrote the screenplay, stages a few startlingly bloody feeding scenes the real horror for many who see this film will surely be the torture the delicate and lonely Owen endures at the hand of a child bully as sadistic as any I've seen. Kudos to young Dylan Minnette for this truly frightening performance. Let Me In is disturbing in many, many ways and very few of them have to do with the undead.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Social Network

The first five minutes of David Fincher's The Social Network, scripted by the inestimable Aaron Sorkin, is quite likely the best and briefest exposition of a central character I have seen in film in quite awhile -- if ever. Jesse Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg, the Harvard student who co-founds Facebook, ripping off c...lassmates and friends along the way. The scene takes place in a bar where Zuckerberg is having a beer with his "girlfriend," Boston University student Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). By the end of the scene, he's insulted and demeaned the young woman eight ways to Sunday and is so blind and deaf to his own callousness that he is mystified and pissed off by her dropping him like a sack of potatoes. Later he trashes her on his blog, which sets him on the path to worldwide notoriety and disdain. I've enjoyed Eisenberg's work -- Adventureland, Zombieland and The Squid and the Whale -- and his performance as the accidental sociopath Zuckerberg is remarkable.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Town

If testosterone were oil, Ben Affleck's hypermasculine rendering of Chuck Hogan's Prince of Thieves is a gusher. And that's not a bad thing. This story of a team of Boston bank robberies who make the mistake of taking a hostage after one job (the wonderful Rebecca Hall) is a muscular tale that's well-told through spot-on performances by a trio of men's men -- an impressively pumped-up Mr. Affleck, The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner and Mad Men's chief mad man Jon Hamm. Mr. Affleck's impressive directorial debut Gone Baby Gone was not a fluke. This is a well-crafted and affecting film. Bravo.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Salt

The central question of Salt: Is Angelina Jolie's Evelyn Salt a double- or triple-agent. While this puzzle was intriguing enough to keep me engaged, the true mystery is how a woman who weighs all of 87 pounds can perform the feats of derring-do and don't she does. Early in the film, Jolie's Salt throws herself off a br...idge onto the top of a passing truck below. That she doesn't bounce like a penny off of it and onto the highway is beyond me ... but then much of the action in this film is beyond reason. This makes it exciting and instantly forgettable fun.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Step Up 3D

The intended audience for the Step Up series is suburban teens who sneak off to the city on the weekends to rub up against the hardcore ... and me. I really enjoy the film even though the casting of the leads -- Abercrombie & Fitch beauties who can't act -- is all about pulling in the Twilight crowd. Each of the films has been about a street smart white boy with black boy swagger who fights for respect in the highly competitive world of underground street dancing, where you either bring it or you get served (do they still talk that way?) Anyway, the eye-popping 3D of part 3 adds a stunning dimension, pun intended, to the already wild and wonderful proceedings.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

I really liked Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right and not just because the title is spelled correctly (all right). That would be pedantic, and lord knows I don't want to come off as pedantic or ironic or sarcastic. This fresh and keenly observed little film is none of those things. It's unpretentious, genuine and... respectful of our flawed humanity. It's also funny and touching. It's the story of a family of four -- Joni, who's preparing to enter UCLA; her brother, Laser, who is a little clueless about his relationship with a dipshit buddy; and their moms, Nic, a doctor, and Jules, who's trying to find herself. Fifteen-year-old Laser is curious about the guy who donated the sperm for his and his sister's conception. Joni tracks down Paul, a local urban farmer and restaurant owner and they all get to know each other. Therein lies the "drama." It's a sure thing that folks who object to gays in general or gay marriage in particular will have a problem with this movie. But I'm wondering if some lesbians might have problems with the film's central conceit about the structure of gay marriages, as well.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Other Guys

The Other Guys, directed by Adam McKay and starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, is about two New York detectives who can't seem to catch a break or a good case because they can't seem to get policing right. The movie, for what it is, gets nearly everything right. It's howlingly funny, a grotesque lampoon of evil capitalists and their stooges that is brimming with overacting from the inestimable Messrs. Ferrell and Wahlberg and the likes of Steve Coogan, Michael Keaton and Bobby Cannavale. The cherries on the top of this confection are the hilarious cameos by Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inception

Christopher Nolan's "Inception" was in the end disappointing. It's not that the cinematography went wild and outshone the acting because it didn't. Many of the showcace-y scenes of bent time and perspective were really quite restrained and the acting is uniformly competent. A film about entering another's subconscious is not new; I actually found The Cell (2000) quite intriguing and visually arresting. It's more that in the end I didn't care much for Inception's caper, romance, villain or threat, etc. I actually didn't understand much of the consciousness hokum, which sounded a lot like The Matrix.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Predators

Predators is bad science and bad fiction. Like every other movie of this type, it's not much more than Ten Little Indians in space. The audience gets to watch as the increasingly despicable characters are dispatched in increasingly gruesome ways by the inexplicably cranky predators of the title. Though some humor was i...njected by That 70's Show's Topher Grace, the movie is grim going all the way, leaving one to wonder why Oscar-winner Adrien Brody signed on for this dreck and why Laurence Fishburne accepted the invitation of an amazingly hammy cameo midway.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes

I'd not read a word about the remarkable Argentine film The Secret in Their Eyes before seeing it with a buddy last night although I think I knew it had won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture this year. Though the story has some of the feel of murder mysteries and police procedurals, it's varied and intricate textures are like nothing I'd seen before. And, yes, it's conclusion is haunting and unsettling. Television director Juan Jose Campanella's film overflows with stunning visuals and intimate set pieces so stuffed with nuance I was put in mind of Ingmar Bergman's work. This film raises the bar in so many years, so many times, that for me it was like watching a film master craft a new standard of excellence. Superb.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Toy Story 3

Anyone who is not moved by the wondrously imagined final installment of the adventures of Woody, Buzz and Jessie should be stuffed in a box and shoved into a corner of the attic. I laughed, I cried. I loved this movie. What does it mean when animated features are tapping unadorned human emotion more regularly than live action films? P.S. Lotso the bear is the most brilliant character creation I've seen this year. Bravo, Pixar.

Harbison State Forest

Knight and Day

Hall and Oates make a not unwelcomed appearance in Tom Cruise's new flick, Knight and Day. The movie is entertaining but draggy in places and riddled with narrative holes and general nonsense. I wondered what Matt Damon would have made of Cruise's role as the "crazed" secret agent who is accompanied by a winsome automobile restorer played by Cameron Diaz as they track down a missing teen savant (Paul Dano) who has the key to perpetual energy. Cruise looks like he's had some body work -- fake pecs and lats.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Splice

Splice is a squishy, oozy, nasty and repugnant David Cronenberg film without David Cronenberg. The squish and ooze belong mostly to the human/animal hybird created by lovers/scientists Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody, who
provide the nasty and repugnant elements, IMO. The film does take a couple of interesting turns but it telegraphs the ending fairly early on. As with Cronenberg's movies -- notably Crash (1996), Naked Lunch (1991) and The Fly (1986) -- Splice, directed by Vincent Natali, has an unsettling eroticism that transforms sex into a dance with mortal danger. The message of this motion picture of science run amok is you must always be careful who (or what) you're effing with.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon is at its core a familiar affair -- a senstive boy tries to find his place in his tribe and win his father's approval but his efforts are complicated when he finds a new pet. In this beautifully insightful film, the boy is a Viking, his father is the Viking chief and his pet is a fearsome (and ...misunderstood) dragon -- one of hundreds that have been pillaging the Viking village for generations. DreamWorks' animated features have been spotty, IMO, but this film is wonderfully realized, the characters enormously appealing, the action scenes cleaner than the CGI battles in The Prince of Persia and Clash of the Titans (to name two of the more recent spectacles), AND the movie's message is life-affirming. The ending may be a bit shocking for very young children but overall it's a family affair.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Robin Hood

Yes, as a matter of fact, Ridley Scott's Robin Hood is quite a lot like his Gladiator. (Has it really been 10 years?) It's well-crafted, smartly scripted and boasts an enviable assortment of veteran actors and new faces. Russell Crowe as Robin Longstride is firmly at the center of this story about the origins of the legendary well-redistributor -- and there is quite a lot of action -- as he opposes Mark Strong's nefarious Lord Godfrey, who is in service to a vain and ineffectual ruler, King John, played winningly by the Guatemalan actor Oscar Isaac. But this time, Crowe, is oddly understated this time out, must share the stage with the estimable Cate Blanchett as Lady Marion Loxley. The lengendary Max von Sydow, in a small but pivotal role, gives a sure and studied performance as does William Hurt; but you would not expect less from actors of their caliber. This film has a palpable sense of time and space. My only quibble is with the prologue that sets the scene by telling us days of tyranny and oppression are no cup of tea. "England in the 12 Century was just such a time." Shouldn't that be "just such a place?" I'm just saying.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Much has been made of Jake Gyllenhaal's studliness in Mike Newell's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and for good
reason -- he looks great. He and his equallty stunning co-star Gemma Arterton are the most watchable elements in this fairly uninteresting and uninvolving but terribly busy film about magic and mystism in ancient Persia that's
based on a computer game. To be honest, I spent most of my time in the film wondering why they'd asked the L.A.-born actor to play valiant young Dastan with a British accent. Perhaps it's because Newell is a Brit, and so is Arterton, and featured players Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina. Perhaps they thought Gyllenhaal's swashbuckling adventurer would
be a distraction if he spoke in his normal voice. Trust me, nobody will be listening to anything this kid says in the film. Take the youngsters. It's got some scary moments with deadly serpents but overall the movie is harmless.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Kick-Ass


The over-the-top action picture genre is hit-or-miss with me. Hits have included most of Guy Richie's stuff, the little praised but much seen Wanted and the little seen but much praised Shoot 'Em Up. Misses include the Jason Statham collection, which is getting pretty hefty, and much of the lesser comics-to-cinema attempts starting, I think, with Daredevil (2003). Kick-Ass is a comic-to-cinema film that is as self-referential as a movie can get. A high school nobody is inspired to amateur superherodom by little more than reading comics and asking the question "Why not?" His first foray into crime fighting ends with him getting his "ass kicked" but through the intercession of modern medicine he is turned into a schmo who can take a punch better than most. The young British actor Aaron Johnson plays the youthful schlub and Nicolas Cage adds some gravitas (in a weird Christopher Walken kind of way) as a Batmanesque crusader Big Daddy. But the true star is 13-year-old Chloe Moretz who plays Hit-Girl a pre-teen badass who spits the c-word (yes, that c-word) like a pro. The movie's base vulgarity is exceeded only by the bloodletting. Do NOT take the kids.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Date Night

The laughs in Shawn Levy's Date Night, which stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey, are pretty rich and fairly frequent, and its underlying message to keep love alive in marriage is sweet, but the film is weighted down by weary cynicism. This cynicism will be familiar to those who have seen Fey's 30 Rock and Carell's The O...ffice, although Date Night is not nearly as biting as either of those programs. Still, I pulled for the poor, hapless Fosters as they climbed out of a pit of ridiculous mishaps and mistaken identities and howled at their antics.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Clash of the Titans (2010)

Clash of the Titans (2010) is loud and exhausting, predictably short on exposition but long ... numbingly long ... on fight scenes led by Mr. Avatar, Sam Worthington, and directed by Louis Leterrier, who brought us the better of two Hulk movies. It's swords and sands and so everybody speaks like an earl. The Medusa is... wicked hot. The audience in screening cheered at the end. Go figure.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Ghost Writer

No director does paranoia like Roman Polanski, and his latest film, The Ghost Writer, is a model of crackling suspense and suspicion. Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Catttrall, Olivia Williams and Tom Wilkinson swoop and swerve around one another effortlessly, guided assuredly by Polanski's masterful direction and a script that is a dream of literate intrigue and snipe. It's been ages since I've been in a film with a story so fresh, lean and tightly crafted that my attention NEVER wavered. Wonderfully entertaining.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Green Zone

Green Zone is more than a Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon vanity project but less than the latest Bourne installment. It has the kinetic madness of both Supremacy and Ultimatum and a bit of the political craziness of a Syriana but it lacks heft and intrigue mainly because we know the story -- there weren't no WMD. Greengrass's signature hand-held camera work left me especially dyspeptic this go round. Damon, long one of my favorites, delivers.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland is a visual feast but it is not the cinematic wonder that Avatar is and it often feels junky and cluttered, qualities that are worsened by the 3D effects. I don't think I could have tolerated more length but the film feels disjointed and underdeveloped. Mia Wasikowska (stellar in HBO'sIn Treatment in 2008) is suitably spunky as Alice but the film overall is anemic and uninvolving. Pity.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Edge of Darkness

Edge of Darkness is like a conventional detective flick except for the body count and the bloodletting. Mel Gibson's performance as a Boston detective whose whistleblower daughter is shot down on his doorstep is surefooted, his Boston accent not too distracting and he is fairly generous when playing against the others in the cast. In fact, a fairly long scene between him and a mysterious British fixer played by Ray Winstone is a highpoint of the film. The lowest point is the last scene, which reunites Gibson's Tommy Craven and his murdered daughter, Emma, for a last goodbye. It's unbearably treacly.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island feels more like a tribute to Hitchcock, Welles and Polanski and less of Scorsese's own unique vision. That's not to say it's a bad movie. I don't think Scorsese is capable of making a bad film. It's to say that the story (suitably convoluted and deceptive) is secondary to the staging wh...ich are infused touches of the "old" masters. Yes, it's beautiful but it's not really bold.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Single Man

While Colin Firth and Julianne Moore undoubtedbly offer the best performances in A Single Man, it's Firth's searing scenes with the young actor Nicholas Hoult that give this marvelous film it's complexity and, ultimately, it's romantic ambivalence. Adapted by director Tom Ford from the novel by Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man is startlingly beautiful and achingly human. I loved it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli is not devoid of ideas, the action sequences are tight, the twist is a bit surprising, and the parade of British character actors is delightful but the movie feels more like an exercise than a complete work. Denzel does Denzel without much exertion. The morality, which is to say the message of the movie, is unclear. Still, the showdown set piece featuring Denzel, co-star Mila Kunis, Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour is masterfully choreographed.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Daybreakers


The vampire science is ridiculous and the guts and gore are pornographic but I love ghoulish feeding frenzies that end with decapitations? Yum.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

It's Complicated


It's Complicated is not complicated at all. It's a pristinely crafted storythat's set in some of the most impeccably appointed interiors this side of House Beautiful. (www.housebeautiful.com) Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin are an inspired pairing as two exes who haven't completely embraced their ex-ness.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...