Here's where you guys can comment on the blurbs on the sidebar. Have at it!
This is also where I'm going to archive some of the sidebar reviews, so revel in the posterity of it all!
Aron Ralston was a hyper-confident thrill-seeker with an almost pathological need to live inside himself and encounter the rest of the world on a catch-as-catch-can basis. It ended up biting Aron in the ass (er, arm, I guess), but this movie could've used a bit more of that confidence in its own premise. James Franco is really fantastic, and the cave scenes are gorgeous and intensely/grotesquely fascinating, even before THAT happens. The diversions meant to keep us from getting bored should've been cut down by half, though. B
28 Weeks Later
Considering how completely and totally opposed to this movie I was when I first heard that they were a) making an utterly unnecessary sequel to a movie that ended just fine the way it did, and b) not including any of the original cast or (worse) Danny Boyle...all that being said, it's not a bad movie. One scene in particular involving a horde of rage-zombies and a low-flying helicopter is worth the price of admission alone. The plot "twists" are a mixed bag -- the first one is a nice bit of misdirection as to just how the rage virus is going to return. The last one, involving the two kids, you can see coming a mile away. Just like that helicopter that...well, you should see it for yourself. B-
3:10 To Yuma
Full disclosure: the Western is not the film genre that holds the most interest for me, though it's not nearly as irritating as the fans of the Western, who never fail to greet any movie with some dust on its boots as the welcome return of a beloved genre, where men were men and horses were horses,that sadly went out of style because this country just got too fucking faggy. I'm looking at you, Bob Duvall. I'm also not too crazy about Russell Crowe, in case you haven't heard. All that being said, I liked this movie quite a bit. It never mythologized itself, my chief problem with the Western, and it presented characters rather than archetypes. Ben Foster continues his streak of being the best thing about the movie he's in, and Luke Wilson continues his streak of being the worst thing about the movie he's in. B
(500) Days of Summer
It's very derrivative of other movies, particularly in all the little flourishes, and if you're really inclined against a certain type of moony, arty skinny white-boy romantics, you should probably not see it at all. But it's also incredibly likeable, features a pair of charming performances (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose work is deeper than it seems), and has been rolling around in my head ever since. And there's a sequence that manages to totally redeem the fact that the trailer used that Hall & Oates song. Perfectly lovable little movie. B
Across The Universe
So take Forest Gump, Moulin Rouge!, that NBC miniseries The 60s, and Pink Floyd's The Wall, mash 'em all up, and drench them in Beatles songs and you get this movie. It's not good. The songs are good, but they're either set to such obvious (or obviously ironic) story arcs that the fun is gone. There are a handful of truly enjoyable sequences -- the "I've Just Seen A Face" in the bowling alley -- and performers -- Dana Fuchs (whose spot-on Joplin brings a whole lot to "Helter Skelter") and Joe Anderson, mostly -- but most of the rest is predictable and hollow. C
What an oddly unpleasant movie. I guess I can appreciate that a purportedly romantic-comic movie about Asperger's would resist cutesiness and a predictably happy ending, but Rose Byrne's character just seemed straight-up heartless in some of the crucial scenes here, and when you're opposite Hugh Dancey, you can't afford to be such a bitch because I will hate your ass. Could have used some laughs. C+
Akeelah and the Bee
Wonderful, and a testament to how great actors (Laurence Fisburne; Angela Bassett) can really sell time-worn archetypes like the Mentor With a Past and the Overworked Ghetto Single Mom. Plus, Keke Palmer as Akeelah is delightful. Good year for kid actors, I have to say. B
Alice in Wonderland
It has its moments -- Helena Bonham Carter is very funny -- but it seems both pointless and yet not pointless enough. To me, the charm of the "Alice" story is how Alice keeps encountering weirdness upon weirdness until she learns to operate on its own level. Burton's "Alice" gets put through a drearily typical Hero's Journey tale, and the truly strange elements are too familiar to be all that interesting. C-
All the King's Men
I...honestly don't know. It's almost like there was a very good movie that got trapped inside the movie we got to see. I honestly am going to have to go back and watch it again, because I can't remember the last time I was torn this evenly between "excellent" and "awful." I'll keep you posted. [Oh yeah: watched it again. It's so bad.] C-
The Alphabet Killer
There's a better movie somewhere in this story, but this isn't it. It fails as a supernatural thriller AND a procedural. It could have worked as a character piece on the schizophrenic lead cop, but director Rob Schmidt backed off of that. It's too bad, because I think Eliza Dushku could've been up for that. D+
There are actually more virtues to this movie that I thought there would be. The attempt to depict how wannabe gangsta white boys come to actually commit the violence they only play at is uneven and ultimately toothless, but it's an enjoyable enough journey along the way. And, though I'll probably be accused of bias, Justin Timberlake is really not bad. I remember reading scathing commentary about how bad he as at playing "hard," but...that's kind of the point. Pretty boys just can't win especially when they're cast well. (See: Orlando Bloom in Troy) JT doesn't give the best performance in the film -- that would be either Ben Foster's hilariously over-the-top suburban drunken master or Sharon Stone's fat suit -- but he shows promise. Also abs. C+
A sweet and thoughtful movie about immigration and (the myth of?) assimilation into America's modern, congealed melting pot. The movie opts against melodrama at every turn, juggles multiple perspectives quite well, and (hopefully) cashed a big, fat check from White Castle. B
At this point, Von Trier's misogyny isn't even about hating women. It's about hating EVERYBODY. It can get tedious being in the presence of that kind of nihilism for almost two hours, but he manages to keep things compelling in ways that are thrilling (there is some deep, visceral terror here), stupid (can't decide whether the term "chaos reigns" is dumber or the fact that a fox says it), and transgressive (the scene everyone keeps spoiling). Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography, however, is unambiguously brilliant. B
Away We Go
The movie paints in broad strokes, especially in its first half, and the point of it all often seems to be "Please tell me we're cooler than whoever it is we're talking to now," but that being said, I found it very funny and, in the end, quite moving. Krasinski's really great, and way cuter than I've ever found him. I really loved the way the movie painted him as decidedly a nerd but didn't exaggerate it or make him feel nobly superior because of it. Seeing as we're now living under a nerd-talitarian regime in pop culture, that's something. Maya Rudolph is somewhat impenetrable, probably by design, and I can't decide whether that works as well as it should. Maggie Gyllenhaal is awesome (as a total cartoon character) and Catherine O'Hara is the absolute best, playing a character named What If Kathie Lee Gifford Were a Hippie? B+
Wow. Intense. But I thought it was excellent. Almost all the aspects of Iñaritu's 21 Grams and Amores Perros -- promising and well-acted films that devolved into annoying and pointless scenes of tragedy -- get rehabbed here and what results is a powerful and tightly-scripted (for the most part) emotional gut punch. Brad Pitt gives one of his stronger performances, but it's Adriana Barazza (with an assist from Gael Garcia Bernal) who walks away with the film. The scenes in Japan didn't work for me -- too tenuous a link to the rest of the movie; I couldn't connect with the actress at all -- but the other three story arcs kicked my ass completely. I didn't think Iñaritu had this movie in him, and I'm so happy to have been proven wrong. B+ (Top 10 of 2006)
Be Kind Rewind
Very cute movie, if not a terribly substantial one, but I laughed a whole hell of a lot. Mia Farrow has, I think, had a whole lot of time to prepare for her role as a batty old New York lady. B
Terribly disappointing, although now that I think about it, I can't believe I had gotten my hopes that high for an Emilio Estevez movie. Damn you, festival buzz! Seriously, though, it's an awful movie, made all the more awful by the story potential it squandered. The script was poor -- tone-deaf beyond belief and shallow as hell -- and the casting was an utter failure. A big, sprawling "name" cast can work -- Sin City made it work with a similarly sketchy ragtag ensemble -- but, for one thing, you can't just slap some horned-rimmed glasses on people, have them smoke indoors, and pretend they're from 1968. The final 15 minutes would have been an emotional gut punch if they were even remotely earned. They weren't. AWFUL movie. D
The Book of Eli
Actually not bad. More interesting than most Denzel Washington movies are, with a hint of depth regarding things like religion and, uh, blindness I guess. I don't know what it is about post-apocalyptic movies, but I have a super hard time accepting the premise if it doesn't feel right. That happened with The Road too, with its too-innocent kid and flip-flopped moral construct, and it happens here too. Apparently all the Bibles were burned after the Vaguely Defined Apocalypse, which A) is suuuuuper not likely but whatever, but B) is it believable that after 30 years, no one would know what a Bible even is? That 30-year gap kept plaguing me, in that it seemed too short to explain some things (the widespread illiteracy) and too long to explain other things (after 30 years there is NO sense of what exists in the world outside these small shantytowns?). But whatever, the movie's not bad, there's an improbably fun sequence in the middle (perk up when you get to Michael Gambon and Frances De La Tour) featuring an excellent music cue, and Jennifer Beals and Tom Waits show once again why they're among our most underused talents. Then there's the Mila Kunis thing. She's actually become a pretty good actress, but she's pretty severely miscast. With her big ol' eyes and "What's your deal?" demeanor, she's utterly scrubbed and contemporary in a world full of gross teeth and bartered handi-wipes. B-
The Bourne Ultimatum
Keep 'em coming, Paul Greengrass. These movies are so immensely satisfying, in every way. They're also a testament to the value of stocking every movie -- not just the prestige pictures -- with top-shelf talent. Matt Damon, Joan Allen, and David Strathairn are superb. B+
Some tremendously creepy imagery and ideas, in isolation, but nothing that adds up to anything that works. I love Richard Kelly's imagination, but this doesn't have the conviction of "Donnie Darko" or the big ideas of "Southland Tales." Also seems to confuse '70s and '50s aesthetic. C-
The Brave One
It just never comes together, at all, despite a good Jodie Foster performance. It's all kind of muddled, Terrence Howard is annoying, and it never feels like it says anything beyond "killing is cathartic but comes at a cost," which...okay. I hate to see Neil Jordan and Jodie Foster waste opportunities like this. C
Started off well enough but became a total disappointment. Maguire's performance went south fast, there are no satisfying emotional payoffs, and no good reason for the lack of them. C
Holy balls. I knew going in not to expect anything like the horror movie it's been marketed as. In fact, don't expect a horror movie at all. What this is is the most invigorating and paranoid movie I've seen in quite some time. It's a slow build for sure, and your mileage may vary as to how patient you are in the early going, but I have to say that last half-hour goes absolutely off-the-rails in the most spectacular way. It rides the edge of ridiculousness for a long time, but it keeps itself upright due to sheer momentum. The performances by Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon are frighteningly good, and on the technical side, I have not seen better art direction or sound mixing all year. Praising the sound mixing is a weird thing coming from me, but if you watch the movie you will know exactly what I mean. A-
There's a great idea in there, but it's BURIED (that's right!) under mounds and mounds of heavy-handed storytelling, idiot direction that keeps the audience removed enough to let them off the claustrophobic hook, and some really shoddy voice-over performances, to tell the truth. I wonder if the Sundance reviewers would like to dial back the effusiveness of their praise for Ryan Reynolds after watching what James Franco did in "127 Hours." I like Reynolds a lot, but he's not a patch on Franco here. C
I wonder if maybe Oscar voters had been able to see this movie before voting on the '05 awards, they'd have given Heath that Best Actor trophy for Brokeback Mountain. I think seeing what he does in Candy, the kind of charismatic junkie that is so 180 degrees away from Ennis Del Mar, makes you appreciate him so much more as an actor. It's a brilliant performance, and in a more ambitious movie I'd go so far as to compare it to Billy Crudup in Jesus' Son. This movie isn't quite so ambitious, though, and despite a good many fresh, atypical moments, it's ultimately another movie about heroin addicts in love. But see it for Ledger's performance -- it's worth it. B-
First thing's first: Daniel Craig is awesome and saaaaa-mokin'. But the movie -- and this is prefaced by the fact that I don't watch Bond movies at all -- is hysterically awful. Between the part-cheetah adversaries, the bizarre violations of the space-time continuum during the Poker Game of Indeterminate Duration, and the runaway gas car that managed to skid to a stop despite HAVING NO BREAKS, we were laughing our asses off. I almost can't wait for this to come out on DVD. C+
Catch a Fire
Powerful, well-plotted, and not as predictable as you might think. Nothing so special as to elicit a rave, but it's solid, and Derek Luke is very, very good. B-
Catch and Release
I had been puzzled as to why this film got such a cold reception from critics and audiences, not to mention how it sat on a shelf for a whole year. After seeing it, I get it. It's not offensively bad, just profoundly uninteresting, and a squandering of some real talent. I admit to coming into this a huge Jennifer Garner fan already, but I do think she has tremendous potential as a romantic comedy star, not that she got to show it here. And Timothy Olyphant is really an excellent actor. And they're both wildly attractive, and yet...nothing. Just a whole pile of poorly-paced nothing. Kevin Smith does an excellent job playing Kevin Smith (if you like him as much as I do, that's a very good thing), but Juliette Lewis is asked to play a cardboard cutout and very little happens that's in the least unexpected. Susannah Grant is on probation, as of now. C-
The rare combination of a satisfyingly chewy story -- I've had a great time rolling its story and themes around in my head in the weeks since seeing it -- conveyed through a vibrantly compelling personal story. I could go on for a while about how the themes of authenticity and pretense and the roles we choose to play in our lives weave in and out of the story, but it's the story itself that kept me riveted to what is essentially a movie about two people walking and talking. But this roving conversation is such a chameleon, with the dynamic between Juliette Binoche and her English lover(?)/husband(?)/stranger(?) shifting from scene to scene, often from sentence to sentence. Trying to figure them out isn't some kind of detached intellectual exercise but rather a vital question about these characters. Are they role-playing? If so, from what starting point? They could be a married couple engaging in a familiar game; they could be strangers doing same. Are they former lovers reconnecting and imagining what-if scenarios? Watching them engage with each other -- and seeing them reflected (often literally) in the people they encounter -- is too compelling to be a mere parlor trick. Binoche in particular makes herself so vulnerable, both to her man and to us. I keep talking about those bra straps of hers, but seriously, there's a lot going on with that extreme level of familiar dress. I could go on for a while, but the bottom line is: see it! If you're lucky enough to have this open in your market, see it. A
As overwrought as you were expecting it to be, with some truly regrettable supporting work from actors I generally like (Jeffrey Donovan; Denis O'Hare). The real-life story about not only the counterfit child but the serial murders in California at the time were intriguing, and I kind of wanted to learn more about it, but maybe in some kind of A&E true crime program and not this movie. C
Started off very promising, with the flirtatious chemistry between Michelle Pfeiffer and Rupert Friend popping off the screen like firecrackers. Unfortunately, the movie pays off their courtship so soon that we lose the most exciting element. It's a richer story to tell, but not one that plays to the actors' strengths. The movie ultimately slowed to a halt over the next hour or so. But Pfeiffer was still quite good, and Kathy Bates a hammy delight, but the real find here was Rupert Friend, whose charmisma and sex appeal were both incredibly evident and presented by Stephen Frears like a gift to the audience (which he was). Imagine if Orlando Bloom was able to project real sensuality and you've got it. C
The China Syndrome
Good movie, though not the movie that I was expecting. Jack Lemon is so great, and Jane Fonda does some great work playing a shallow character, which is tough to do as subtly as she does. B
Clash of the Titans
BORING! Holy Jesus. Sam Worthington, I'm sorry, is not a leading man. He wasn't in Terminator, he wasn't in Avatar, and he's not here. Nothing ever feel like high stakes when he's around. Not that the rest of the movie is some gleaming triumph around him. The effects work is nothing special, the 3D was a joke (but we knew that going in), and the Medusa sequence especially looks laughably video-gamey. The one bright spot, for me, was Ralph Feinnes's campy take on Hades. First of all, he didn't even bother with the voice, instead just importing his Voldemort hiss. But the real treat was in his flourishy entrances, the likes of which have only been equaled on RuPaul's Drag Race. You better work, Lord of the Underworld! C-
Creepy as all get-out, but pound-for-pound probably as impressive as any animated effort in the last few years. So much to take in on the screen at all times, and some truly indelible images. I will not soon be forgetting the deconstructing-the-rag-doll credits. Or the people with buttons for eyes. So glad to see Neil Gaiman's work has finally found a big-screen adaptation that lived up to his standards. B+
Okay, 1) How in the hell are they gonna tease us with a song title like "Rinky Dinky Town" and not deliver?? But also, 2) Gwyneth isn't even the main character in this movie, and the conclusion that tries to be "The Rose" is insultingly unearned. C-
A fairly modest indie movie raised considerably by the most excellent music (hottie du jour Ryan Bingham not only wrote "The Weary Kind," and performed it over the credits, but he also shows up as the lead singer of an opening act) and a performance by Jeff Bridges that should not have been surprising, but for the odd fact that he'd pretty much won the Oscar before anyone had seen the movie. Awards season is fucked up sometimes. But it would have been so easy to dismiss it as simple awards-grubbing. Thank god it's Jeff Bridges, then, and he totally came through with a carefully observed, unshowy performance that has only grown more impressive as I remember the movie.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Flawed but enjoyable. But, you know, flawed. I wanted more of an insight into what it would mean to age backward than we got. I don't think we ever learn anything from Benjamin's unusual life other than the fact that it's pretty goddamn sweet to grow up to look like Brad Pitt. I did enjoy the fact that the second half of the movie played like a lyric poem honoring the unbelievable beauty of perfect Brad Pitt. I mean, when you're right, you're right. But anyway, for all that this movie had to say about Benjamin's odd life, he could have been beset with any affliction that made him different. That said, Cate Blanchett gives a great performance of this kind of sad, graceful physicality. Her story affected me. And for a three-hour movie, it never felt that long. Well-paced, even if the framing device (both the contemporary scenes in the midst of Katrina and the voice-overs) was totally superfluous and intrusive. I'm fine with this as an Oscar nominee because it's the kind of grand, romantic movie that the Ocars always nominate, and it's good, but don't expect to see it on my (imaginary, hypothetical) ballot. B
Not really at all my cup of tea, probably having more to do with lead actors John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill than anything else. But the plot also hinges on Marisa Tomei's character being REALLY oblivious, which I guess is a plot point, but it's still frustrating. Still, I respect the way the movie dealt with its plot head-on at the end and didn't shortchange any of its characters. Get me two actors I actually like in the leads and I'd probably have really loved this. B-/C+
The Darjeeling Limited
It's become the fashion to hate on Wes Anderson as of late, but I'll never stray. He can keep making the same movie every three years for the rest of his life and I'll be absolutely satisfied. I really loved this movie, not as passionately as Tenenbaums, but I think more than Aquatic, Bottle Rocket, and even perhaps Rushmore. Adrien Brody was, as I expected, a brilliant addition to the repertory company, and he, Schwartzman, and Wilson made a fantastic trio. It's the most emotionally manipulative film Anderson's ever done, in the sense that it's his only film that actually contains emotions, but that's not a bad thing. To each their own, of course, but I will love and cherish this movie without guilt. (Top 10 of 2007)
A perfectly acceptable comedy elevated by great interplay between Steve Carell and Tina Fey. That scene where they returned to the frou-frou Manhattan restaurant disguised as fashionista trash was worth the price of a ticket alone. The cavalcade of guest stars had its moments (William Fichtner got some great stuff to play, and James Franco and Mila Kunis should play these characters in every comedy this summer), but mostly I was left wondering if Ray Liotta and Ari Graynor and Taraji P. Henson were just wandering by the set that day. And can somebody write a role for Common where he does more than just grunt? That said, this movie is absolutely the best instance of completely objectifying Mark Wahlberg for the piece of meat he is since the Calvin Klein days. Whoever managed that feat deserves a Pulitzer. Or a Genius grant. Or a Nobel Prize. Whatever, figure it out. B
The DaVinci Code
I was expecting far worse, to be honest. I mean, I was eight miles ahead of every plot twist (particularly the major one) and the flashbacking method of providing backstory was amateurish, but for a summer popcorn movie, I can say I've seen far worse. Though -- and I may have to read the book to verify -- but it seemed like there was a lot of ideological equivocation grafted onto the story so as to, for example, fend off protests from religious groups. A lot of "To be fair, we're not saying Christianity itself is the villain here," going on, in mightily unsubtle terms. That was annoying.
Deadwood: The Complete First Season
This was a Christmas present I bought for myself. I had watched the first season when it first aired, but I didn't get hooked on the show until I re-watched season 2, so it's been a blast seeing it through from the beginning. Ian McShane used to seem so scary! Now he's just Al, respectable lowlife. I'm up to the Kristen Bell episodes, which are a treat indeed.
Diary Of The Dead
Ugh. It has its moments, here and there, but it mostly suffers from what was wrong with Land of the Dead: symbolism and allegory laid on far, far too thick, and the actual story and characters are for shit. Hearing Romero say, in the Q&A after the screening, that he approaches his movies with the themes first and the characters second, is both unsurprising and reason enough for me not to have to see any more of them. He's a great guy, with a fine mind for horror, but I have no interest in movies like that. C-
I totally was not expecting this movie to go where it went -- the marketing has really held its cards way closer to the vest than you think. Which made for an excellent viewing experience (despite a Top 5 worst "obnoxious people talking at full volume behind me" situation). All I'll say is that it's the best action movie I've seen all year. B
Drag Me To Hell
It goes there. Wherever you're thinking there's a slight chance it might go? It goes there. Rides the line between outrageously awesome and silly perfectly, only really veering into the latter once (...the goat), but everything else is a skillful balancing act. So much fun. And the best cat-killing plot-line since Pet Sematary. B
Pretty much the definition of a slow starter, as it took me a full third of the movie to get interested. Much of the credit for finally capturing my attention has to go to Jennifer Hudson, who really is stunning in her big showstoppers, to the point where you have to suppress your standing ovation. She wouldn't get my vote, but I'll be happy if/when she wins the Oscar. The rest of it is very uneven. Eddie Murphy's storyline is clichéd and boring, for example. One aspect I did like that I wasn't expecting to: Beyonce's "Listen," which was a much more powerful moment in the movie than the hit single would suggest. The lyrics to the songs are awfully blunt, but about half the time, the music makes up for it. That's not a great batting average for a musical, much less a Best Picture contender, but I won't deny that my opinion in general was a positive one by film's end. B-
Pretty much everything I was hoping for, and not a bit more or less. Total triumph of casting here: Clive Owen and Julia Roberts were great together, and the Ocean's Eleven vibe kept everything light and flowing. But the movie goes from a B to a B+ with the addition of Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson as warring CEOs. Tony Gilroy is on a bit of a streak, after this and Michael Clayton of taking well-established movie types (the lawyer flick; the caper romance) and doing them just about perfectly. B+
I have to say, I don't think I've ever seen a movie so single-mindedly concerned with getting Viggo Mortensen naked and sweaty like this movie right here. I don't even think I'm viewing this from a skewed perspective -- Cronenberg tailors this movie around events, characters, and situations that ultimately climax in Viggo writhing around in his altogether. Overall it's a decent little movie, kind of an uninspired story, but blessed by a uniformly excellent cast, Armin Meuller-Stahl and Vincent Cassel in particular. The aggressive homoeroticism -- the film's chief feature besides Cronenberg's penchant for gaping neck wounds -- was unexpected but not unwelcome. B-
Probably the most uneven movie I've seen all year. The stuff with Emma Stone (who was great) and Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, and Dan Byrd was delightful, and also touching? But the whole story is really poorly spaced out, the acting weak spots are REALLY weak (back to "Hellcats," Aly & AJ!), and there are parts where it feels painfully effortful. Still, I can't shake those good moments. C
I don't want to play the hype game, because this is a good movie in its own right, but I don't think I ended up liking this movie as much as many critics have. That said, it's a fine, light, funny movie with a handful of excellent performances. Carey Mulligan is a dream, and she deserves all the accolades coming her way, and I really hope she stops dating Shia LaBeouf sometime soon. I really wish more people were blowing the trumpet for Rosamund Pike, though. She's fairly remarkable, telling whole stories with a glance or a background comment. Love her. B
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
I'd have preferred this movie to be straight-up awful rather than simply boring, which is what it was. Cate Blanchett's fantastic, and Samantha Morton's really intriguing as Mary Queen of Scots, and if the whole movie had been about them squaring off I'd have been happy. But as it was, Blanchett got that one scene to go super over-the-top and the rest of the time she's just brooding over Clive Owen and Abbie Cornish, both of whom are pretty but give very dull performances. Blah.
Very good movie with flashes of brilliance. How the guy who directed this also directed Notting Hill is a mystery I may never solve. There are sequences here -- particularly in the first half hour, and the last fifteen minutes -- that are positively Hitchcockian. It's weird to see Daniel Craig being so ineffectual as a protagonist these days. Bond wouldn't have taken so much crap. B+
I had been assured that this was a terrible movie, but I wasn't prepared for how uneventfully, boringly terrible it was. Not even a particularly gaudy performance to laugh at. Just Claire Danes, Toni Collette, and Patrick Wilson being boring as you please, Glenn Close and Meryl Streep not being in the movie long enough to do anything, and poor Hugh Dancy trying his damndest to do something but getting no help anywhere. Depressing. C-
I seem to be in the minority on this movie, at least in regard to Sienna Miller's performance, which I found surprisingly good and compelling. The movie itself isn't very inspired and is content to listlessly drift through the life of Edie Sedgwick without really saying much of anything, but Miller certainly impressed me. And Hayden Christiensen was, yet again, a foxy guilty pleasure. C+
More of a series of missed opportunities than an outright abomination. Needed way more memorable musical numbers, plus a romantic pair in which the boy half isn't a total homo.(Ironically, it also needed way more total homos.) Props to Naturi Naughton for all the best singing, and also props to Megan Mullally, the best of the teachers. This is the first time I've liked her since "Will & Grace"; she's wonderful. C
Fantastic Mr. Fox
I had a smile on my face from beginning to end, which is generally the case with me and Wes Anderson. I have no idea how the growing horde of filmgoers disenchanted with Anderson will take this movie. A big part of me doesn't care. As someone who's been a fan of his all along, this movie was a real delight. Animation is a great fit for his ultra-structured, obsessively art-directed style. The way he uses stop-motion manages to make this feel idiosyncratic, even within the animation world. This is easily the best-looking movie he's done since The Royal Tenenbaums. The aspect of Anderson's movies that fits least with animation is the dialogue -- the kind of mumbly, melancholic, sly humor; there's a bit of a meeting in the middle here -- Anderson turns the volume up a bit, but it's still incredibly low-key for its genre. The story isn't breaking any new ground, but between the look, feel, sound, and sense of humor, it's pretty easily unlike any other movie right now. I really loved it. A- (Top 10 of 2009)
The Final Destination
Oh wow. Essentially the same movie as the first three, but you knew that. And some of those kills are a LOT of fun, esp. in 3D. Nick Zano does his part for humanity by sporting some heroic butt cleavage before -- SPOILER -- Palahniuking himself at the bottom of a pool. B-
Flags of Our Fathers
Wow. I was not expecting to love this movie, after it underwhelmed with critics and audiences, but I did not expect it to be so unrepentantly terrible. Just because Clint Eastwood filmed everything in a washed-out shade of gray denim doesn't mean the story isn't as blunt as a club to the head. Not to mention repetitive, unimaginative, suffocatingly literal, and somewhat embarrassingly scripted. Thank God Eastwood was able to make Letters From Iwo Jima so quickly and salvage his reputation, because this? Is shockingly bad. D+
For Your Consideration
As disappointing as everybody else has been saying, unfortunately. I'm not sure what it was. There was an anger this time around, a nastiness that weighted some of the scenes down, plus we all saw that ending coming a mile away and nothing was done to make it anything but a foregone conclusion. Catherine O'Hara was delightful, of course, and John Michael Higgins made me laugh pretty much every time he was onscreen. I guess that's the enduring pleasure of this Guest installment: catching the small brilliances. Like Sandra Oh's thirty seconds of wonderful. Jane Lynch got bigger laughs with her posture than some actors got all film (Eugene Levy, Harry Shearer). C
It's a really remarkable movie, even if it tends to shove some pretty blunt imagery in your face and expects you to see it as deep rather than...kind of goofy. It looks spectacular, however, and Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz are perfect. I think I'm going to end of liking this a whole lot more than its flaws would indicate. Watching the film, you can see the constraints Aronofsky is working with, and the way he operates within those constraints and fills every inch of the screen with something gorgeous and emotional and true approaches...well, there's some brilliance in there. Some. A-/B+ (Top 10 of 2006)
The Fourth Kind
100 minutes of the same bad idea happening over and over and over again. One star for one legitimate scare, but that's it. This needed to be scrapped at a very early stage of development. D+
Four Weddings and a Funeral
I suddenly feel very silly for not having seen the movie before. Totally delightful and not at all what I expected. Hugh Grant clearly earned his status as floppy-haired Brit dreamboat of the mid-'90s (it's interesting that while his popularity rebounded after the Divine Brown scandal, his sex-symbol status did not). I totally also now get why people have a thing for John Hannah, and I wonder why this movie doesn't get more credit for being a positive (but not preachy) depiction of gay characters. Oh! But I totally agree with this video on Pamie's site that says Hugh Grant should have "settled" for Kristin Scott Thomas. Totally! Does anybody watch this movie and root for Hugh to end up with stupid Andie McDowell? Bump down a half a grade just for that. A-
I wasn't a fan. I thought it was superficial, and I was really not impressed with Frank Langella's stagy (understandably so, but still) performance. Michael Sheen was very good, though, and probably saved the movie, for as much as I liked it. And while Rebecca Hall didn't have a single thing of substance to do, I have to say she looked absolutely dynamite in some awesome '70s clothing. Anyway, probably the biggest gap between potential and actual quality of any movie this year. C+
Melissa Leo is phenomenal here, stone-hard but she knows just the right moments to let the softness peek through. I'm still letting the movie roll around in my head, but I very much enjoyed it. As far as low-budget stories about bleak and desperate lives of single women in America, I think I was more impressed by Wendy & Lucy, but this is a close second. B+
Produced a rageful feeling in me I didn't think I was capable of. Every single character is utterly unlikeable, so that spending even six minutes would be unbearable, much less 146 minutes. Two and a half hours (!!) (...!) and the closest thing I had to latch onto were a weak-willed and obsequious Seth Rogen and Oitraygeous Ozzie Stirryahtoipe Eric Bana. (Actually, in a better movie, Rogen's performance would have been quite good, and Bana needs more opportunities to be funny, because he's almost delightful). Everything else ranged from annoying to mind-boggling misjudged. Adam Sandler is just NOT a good enough actor to pull off a character this hateful; the Leslie Mann subplot would have felt extraneous even if the character wasn't gratuitously sandbagged; Rogen, our alleged protagonist, never once stops being pathetic. If I never again see a story about what sad clowns comedians are, particularly one that feels the need to punish the audience with this much layered-on misanthropy, I will not complain. D+
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Too much of a missed opportunity to be truly enjoyable as a bad movie; it gets just enough things right tonally (purposeless, grandiose plots against France; the look of Cobra Commander; Dennis Quaid as General Hawk) that everything else that they fuck up seems worse. Way to completely fucking ruin The Baroness, one of my Top 5 favorite characters from childhood. A-holes. Oh, and Channing Tatum is wicked hot but miscast. And Scarlett gets fuckall to do beyond a token girlfight. And Norton anti-virus plays a suspiciously crucial role in the plot. C-
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Zodiac meets Seven without the latter's audacity nor the former's studiousness. OR ... the best season of The Killing ever. As a story, it's a smidge too obvious, and I seriously do think it's episodic enough to have been made into a TV series. And I don't want to get into a Gender Studies thing about Lisbeth -- and I could totally entertain ideas to the contrary -- but to me she was pure male fantasy, if a particularly badass male fantasy. Viewed in that light, the rape scene is less bracingly necessary than luridly opportunistic. But I'm not trying to say I was deeply offended by the movie or anything. It's a fun procedural with compelling actors in the lead roles (how does Daniel Craig's insane sexiness continue to sneak up on me?). Obvious casting in the supporting roles is a drawback, but overall, it was far easier for me to look past the story and appreciate Fincher's frigid aesthetics (that ever-present howling wind!) here than it was in The Social Network. B-
I had such high hopes for this one based on the trailer, but ultimately, while it's funny in fits and starts, it feels like it would have been a better fit as a 5-minute Daily Show segment. This felt like it needed to go back to the blackboard and run through some Documentary 101. Is this about the history of black women's hair issues? Or is it about the Atlanta hair show scene? Too much time is spent on the latter, and it ends up dominating the former. (Though a full movie about the hair show would have been pretty amazing.) And it would have been actually edifying to learn the actual mechanics of hair relaxer. Yes, yes, it can melt a can of diet coke, but what does it actually, do, chemically, to black hair? I guess I wanted the Chris Rock movie to be more like a science-class filmstrip? I know, fine, boring. But in that case, more of the interviews. I could seriously have listened to Nia Long and Tracy Thoms talk about their hair issues for days. Hey, if Hollywood isn't going to give them anything to play in narrative films, might as well get my fill in documentaries. But I couldn't because, again, too much hair show. A letdown. C+
The Good Shepherd
Well, it's certainly a marathon, not a sprint. And I have no idea why Angelina Jolie even bothered showing up, considering how thinly drawn her character was. But Matt Damon continues to deliver good-to-great performances in everything he's in. And there are a handful of scenes that hit hard -- the waterboarding/LSD scene in particular. I can’t get entirely worked up about a movie that's essentially kind of boring and traditional. Though I wasn't wild about wasting talent like Alec Baldwin and Billy Crudup.
The Green Hornet
The story could've used another pass or three through the writers room -- it's essentially Pineapple Express grafted onto the usual superhero origin story; the goals of the Green Hornet's whole enterprise are murky at best; and Cameron Diaz's character is completely out to see. But I ended up liking it due almost entirely to the lightness, energy, and humor of the execution. We could've easily gotten another dire, serious (though tightly plotted) superhero movie, but instead we got a buddy comedy that didn't take itself at all seriously. The 3D adds exactly nothing, so avoid it if you can, but Michel Gondry does have a good instinct for wringing comedy from action. Even if he does need a quick tutorial on how damage and injury affects the human body. B
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
Eh. I appreciated how the film recognized the tropes of this genre -- this sort of Bronx Tale outer boroughs brotherhood of the schoolboy chums thing -- and went counter to them, but it's also stifling in its bleakness. The bright spots are Rosario Dawson's brief but sparklingly lively performance, as well as the gracious decision to have Channing Tatum walk around without a shirt for much of the film.
I'd seen parts of this movie -- the beginning and the end -- when I was hanging with my little sister back in Buffalo last month, and I remember thinking it was an okay movie and that Travolta wasn't as terrible as I was expecting (which threw my worldview for a loop, I'll tell you what). Last week, I saw the whole thing, and while I think the first and last twenty minutes are still the best parts of the movie, I liked Travolta far, far less. He (and Amanda Bynes, too, though I like her otherwise) is so shown up by the rest of the cast that it's embarassing. He's every bit the blight on the film I thought he would be. ...There, my world is back to making sense again.
I expected to REALLY hate it, so the fact that I didn't certainly speaks in its favor. I still cant look at Steve Coogan's incessant mugging directly, lest I turn to stone, but Catherine Keener is caustic and hilarious, and against all odds, that musical ended up being pretty good. B-
Sorry, THIS was the big comedy sensation of the summer? Zack Galifanakis is pretty great, I'll say, but everything else is bleak, effortful, and completely uninterested in looking one inch beyond its Vegas-babying, shrewish-wife-cowering, boys-being-boys worldview. Also, if the world is divided between those who are part of the Ken Jeong problem and those that are part of the Ken Jeong solution, this belongs with the former. C-
My pal Jason at My New Plaid Pants is an asshole. He went and got his review of Hanna up first and pretty much said every single thing I was going to say about it. Except for how he still bizarrely hates Atonement, which is strange because that movie is awesome. Anyway, this is the best mainstream movie I've seen thus far this year, and I would be SHOCKED if anything released this summer tops it. Who knew Joe Wright was such a referential director? I spotted nods to Tarantino, Haneke, Fassbinder, Tykwer, and that was just on first pass. It's funny, because watching the trailer, my biggest worry was that there'd be a flashy beginning, a flashy end, and then boring middle part where Hanna lies low with a regular family. But thanks to Olivia Williams and especially young Jessica Barden, those scenes were my favorites of the movie. Well, maybe tied for favorite with everything Tom Hollander does in his sinister sportswear. Again, click on Jason's review for everything I might have had to say about Hanna before he got to it first. Particularly the stuff about Saoirse Ronan, who reminded me that I pretty much always loved her, even if I didn't know it.
Happy Go Lucky
A rather lovely little movie featuring Sally Hawkins giving a rather lovely performance about a truly exasperating woman. The movie's upfront about that, though, and Hawkins is undeniably funny in the role. I did find some of the banter in the film to feel scripted, which is odd given Mike Leigh's reputation for cultivating lived-in ensembles. That said, huge props to Eddie Marsan and Alexis Zegerman in supporting roles, and Karina Fernandez who is a scream as a commanding flamenco teacher. B
There is a cheap, exploitative core to this movie about a teenage girl (Ellen Page) who lures an unreasonably attractive would-be pedophile (Patrick Wilson) into a revenge-motivated trap. But I won't lie and say it wasn't an incredibly compelling and fast-movie movie while it lasted. Page and Wilson are dynamite and make their respective cases for getting a whole lot more work in the future. It's disingenuous in that it takes this shell of a boyish 14-year-old girl and fills her with the molten lava of Charles Bronson. But, again, Page sells the hell out of it. Recommended, but take a shower afterward.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
I'm kind of astonished -- and way impressed -- that Warner Brothers would throw a couple hundred million (let's say) at David Yates to make what amounts to a 2.5 hour movie about a pair of teenage romances. Don't get me wrong, because I love the movie that resulted, and in the grand scope of things, and of what's time come in the last two movies, it was wonderful to see a movie that basically lingered on Harry and his friends and showed us what's at stake in the coming battles. I still think certain things could have been lingered on a bit longer (the explanation of the horcruxes went by so fast, I'm not sure if I totally understood it, and I've read the books and know how it all turns out). B+
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
I love Guillermo Del Toro, I do, but this movie didn't do it for me in the slightest. Dull, dull, dull, plus tonally schizophrenic and...kind of stupid. It can't decide whether it wants to rip off Lord of the Rings or rip off Men in Black, is the main problem. I never read the Hellboy books and have zero idea of the mythology or characters/creatures therein, but it felt to me like Del Toro was given this grand underworld fantasy story that he got bored with (and rightfully so), so he created those weirdo yucky monsters he loves so much and had Hellboy spend a whole lot of the movie wasting time with them. Nothing holds together, not least the Colonel Klink-like smoke robot. Oh, and I never would have thought losing David Hyde-Pierce's voice as Abe Sapien would hurt very much, but Doug Jones could not have been more irritating. C+
Okay, now I do nothing but notice fonts everywhere, so thanks a lot, but I really liked this documentary about the world and the typefaces through which that world is revealed to us. It's interesting, informative, and benefits greatly from the enthusiasm of many of its interviewees.
He's Just Not That Into You
Obnoxious, full of really unlikeable characters, and ultimately doesn't even believe in its own dubious "message." On top of that, it offers up some of the most insultingly token gay characters in recent memory AND commits the cardinal sin of making Justin Long and Bradley Cooper so assy as to appear unfuckable. I KNOW! D+
The History Boys
Very funny and featuring some lively acting. I'll leave it to lovely John for the perfect summation of the film's appeal: "Smart boys with varying degrees of sexual fluidity." Um...word. Samuel Barnett and Dominic "He's My Age So I Don't Have To Feel Pervy" Cooper are among the best of the boys, and special mention should go to Frances De La Tour, whose character could have been superfluous if she wasn't so unwilling to let that happen. B
FAR too boring to elicit anything like a recommendation, even though Kate Winslet is as delightful as you might expect. Her storyline isn't half bad -- if predictable and forcibly heartwarming -- but the Cameron Diaz/Jude Law portion of the movie? Total snoozer, for serious. Despite the fact that Diaz's character has my total dream job: she creates movie trailers. I know! Anyway, not that I'm advocating deep-sixing Kate Winslet's box-office bankability, but I'd wait for DVD on this one. If that. C
Hot Tub Time Machine
I can't believe some people are recommending this as even a guilty pleasure. At BEST it's a lazy wannabe-Hangover with a couldn't-be-less-interested John Cusack. At worst, it is a comedy killing fields where half-jokes about '80s culture and lady-hating men comingle with plot conceits stolen from South Park and Pleasantville. Craig Robinson is the only person doing good enough work to deserve better. Even Lizzy Caplan can't save it. LIZZY CAPLAN! D+
The House Bunny
Totally stupid but very, very funny. Anna Faris really is a comedic gem, and I only wish the filmmakers hadn't felt the need to suck up to Playboy by including that time-waster of a subplot with the scheming chick (it totally undercuts the out-the-door-at-25 joke just to make Hef look good). Interesting that watching Rumer Willis speak does remind you of Demi, even though I never thought there was much of a resemblance. And, as someone who was in the Idol trenches, having Kat McPhee playing a pregnant girl was a fine inside joke. B-
House of the Devil
I was on the edge of barfing in terror from the moment the girl went on her ill-fated babysitting job until almost the very end. Weirdly, the terror somewhat dissipated right when the payoff began. I feel like that should have been the moment I was most ready to hurl. But man, that dread just built and built, and that old early-'80s setting, without cell phones or cable, made things that much scarier. Plus, seriously, you call your movie House of the Devil and you're already halfway there. B
Low-key and funny without being cheap or reactionary. OR preachy and message-y, for that matter. Big fan of all three leads, including Blair Witch Project alum Josh Leonard but espcially Alycia Delmore, who drew more laughs with a sideways glance than anything else. I can't say anything else without completely spoiling the movie, but read on if you don't care SPOILER LOOK AWAY Okay, not to be immature or juvenile, but I paid to see awkward, ungainly man-fucking and ultimately, I didn't get that. So it drops a letter grade. Sorry, them's the breaks. END SPOILER ALL CLEAR B
The Hurt Locker
Really tightly-paced action and inventive storytelling wrapped around an occasionally soggy script, but boosted by some of the strongest performances of the year. Especially Anthony Mackie, but especially especially Jeremy Renner, who I'm not sure will be topped by any actor this year. Kathryn Bigelow really gets at the day-to-day toll that life on the brink takes. A- (Top 10 of 2009)
Hot Tub Time Machine
I can't believe some people are recommending this as even a guilty pleasure. At BEST it's a lazy wannabe-Hangover with a couldn't-be-less-interested John Cusack. At worst, it is a comedy killing fields where half-jokes about '80s culture and lady-hating men comingle with plot conceits stolen from South Park and Pleasantville. Craig Robinson is the only person doing good enough work to deserve better. Even Lizzy Caplan can't save it. LIZZY CAPLAN! D+
I Love You, Man
Likeable comedy elevated by Paul Rudd's sheer force of adorable will. It's actually kind of the dude-movie equivalent of 27 Dresses, though absolutely no one will be willing to admit that's true. B
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Disappointing, though sadly not unexpected for Gilliam at this stage. Nothing seemed especially thought out, the plot instead meandering around and, worse yet, becoming increasingly dependent on the dubious talents of "actress" Lily Cole. That said, Tom Waits is kind of brilliant as a devil whose mumblecore sensibility is completely out of place yet welcome. And, of course, it was wonderful to spend a couple last hours with Heath Ledger. C-
Fan-freaking-tastic movie that puts every Guy Ritchie movie I've ever seen to shame. Stellar comedy combined with surprisingly touching moments and a surprising amount of blood all add up to a good time. The Colin Farrell conundrum continues as he's possibly more adorable than he's ever been before, yet he can still show up to the Oscars like a total skeezeball. B+ (Top 10 of 2008)
God, when Steven Soderbergh just doesn't try so hard, he really makes some phenomenal movies. It's interesting to put this movie side-by-side with his other whistleblower movie, Erin Brockovich, a movie that I very much liked but which draped itself in the earnest strivings of its main character. Here, Matt Damon's Mark Whitacre drapes himself in self-serving lies and a seemingly unending labyrinth of deceit, and the film does a great job of bopping along without ever truly taking the audience into its confidence. Smart stuff. (A big assist in that regard has to go to Marvin Hamlisch's dextrous score.) Damon's performance is full of humor and indignation -- it's not a generous take on this guy, but it's a committed one. B+
First blush impressions of David Lynch's Inland Empire? I need to watch David Lynch's Inland Empire again. I didn't like it, then I thought about it for 24 hours straight. Now I think I did like it, but I need to see it again to make sure. Not that it'll make much more sense, but that's really, really not the point. Also, I think we should create a national holiday where we watch Grace Zabriskie's one scene over and over again. B
Not the most consistent movie in the world, but fantastically creepy in a really simple way. I prefer Nick D'Agosto playing it silly, but he's so good here, going from troubled quasi-stalker to the slowly burning realization of the kind of situation he's gotten himself into. The third-act reveal is pretty typical of junky thriller fare, and Leighton Meester is either terrible or wasted in this role, but the film builds tension quite effectively. C+
You have to be willing to let it do its thing, but I felt some serious gut-level terror watching this thing. It breaks a few cardinal rules here and there (we see something just a few more times than we should see that something), and the actors have to walk a very thin tightrope, so the performances occasionally wobble. It all seems so silly in retrospect -- like as soon as the spell is broken, you see it for the goofy shit it really was. But I really liked the way the movie doubled down once Barbara Hershey showed up.
In The Valley of Elah
It's a good movie, with a good Tommy Lee Jones performance -- it's certainly a supportable Oscar nomination he got. The movie tells a good story, though there are more than enough of those Paul Haggis touches to let you know it's a Paul Haggis movie, and thus not as good as it might have been. Too many characters externalizing what should be internalized. Charlize Theron's character seems like so much of a narrative construct that her character arc feels tacked-on and false. But it's a good movie, and unlike Crash it comes by most of its emotional impact honestly. B-
I Saw the Devil
You guys, the Koreans take their revenge really seriously. Not knowing anything about this movie going in made this a really intense experience, particularly because the movie goes through the usual "quest for vengeance" arc in, like, the first half-hour. Then it becomes something else, more action-thriller than horror. The two leads are really great, and the taxicab scene might be my favorite single sequence in a movie all year. B
Exceedingly uncomplicated, to a fault. This never feels like a movie that has any investment in its own outcome. Which would be fine in a movie that just sort of luxuriated in Meryl Streep's amazing bourgeois life and perfect children and delicious bakery. But it doesn't, bafflingly. It just keeps returning to this love triangle of Baldwin-Streep-Martin that it nevertheless could not care less about illuminating so that we care enough to pick a side. Meryl's great, of course, and I won't soon forget a pot-smoking sequence that culminates in Alec Baldwin shotgunning John Krasinski in a cramped bathroom, but it all falls rather flat. C+
Your sensitivity to Diablo Cody-isms in a script will obviously vary (the Homeskillet Threat Level here is about a 5 out of 10), but if you can look past the weirdo vocab, this is a funny and impeccably cast (though maybe not as scary as you might like) movie. I had a blast, and as I feared, I kind of loved Megan Fox. B
A good movie with a GREAT Laura Linney performance. It explores the space where white guilt meets straight-up guilt, and whether we have the responsibility or even the right to try to atone for the sins of others. Well-acted and sharply written. Solid. B-
This is going to sound weird, but the movie I can best compare Julia to, at least in terms of 2009 movies, is Avatar. Hear me out! Both of the movies are dazzling and filled with impossible sights and sounds; both movies make me feel a little bit stupid for being so caught up in their grandiosity. The difference is that while Julia may ask me to stick with it as the lead character makes one extraordinarily BAD call after another, it's at least grabbing me by the hand and pulling me along with it. (As opposed, to finish the comparison, to Avatar sitting me down with an old copy of Dances with Wolves while it works on some 3D effect in the next room.) Anyway, TILDA SWINTON! No way it should have taken me this long to get to her. She's absolutely amazing, starting at 100mph and never once slowing down. Tilda gives us a woman who's so much of a fuckup she doesn't even realize the choices she's made 'til they're miles behind her in the rearview. And yet when she does have these kind of rolling breakthroughs, they're fairly devastating to her. It's like watching someone get shot from the inside. She's astounding. B/B+
Snooze! Some great visual effects (as well as some tedious ones -- how you make the Pyramids look so uninspired I will never know) are wasted on a half-baked story that functions as a kind of black hole of human emotion. I'm not going to take the easy way out and blame Hayden Christensen either -- Doug Liman can do and has done much better. C-
Eh. It was okay. Not the geek-gasmic orgy of comic-booky goodness the nerds have been screaming. Not the irresponsible slide down the slippery slope into Gomorrah that the older nerds have been screaming. Though, if I'm being honest, the movie really does try to have it both ways, gleefully reveling in the oh-so-transgressive prospect of a little girl essentially playing like Wolverine (part of the reason I'm so annoyed at the pearl-clutching response of Ebert and Co. is that it's justifying just how amazingly edgy the film thinks it's being) while also trying to play on the gut-level repulsion of seeing a little girl beat up by an adult. Mostly, I thought there were scattered good moments done in by inconsistent pacing and the ever-present masculinity issues of Mark Millar. I'm sorry you feel like such a huge pussy, Mark, but maybe stop obsessing about it in your writing? C+
While it certainly gave enough reasons not to like it -- its politics are patronizing, it's predictable, it tries way too hard for hokey symmetry -- but I ended up very much liking it, almost in spite of itself. It's an expertly put together little action movie with a strong and likeable cast (yes, even Jamie Foxx). I really like the way Peter Berg directs a movie. B-
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Oh my God AWESOME. It's a cliche, but you really couldn't have made this movie up. It doesn't surprise me that nerds would get seriously hardcore about defending their nerdly fiefdoms, but everybody in this movie is playing such a specific role in the greater rivalry story, from the king terrified to lose his crown, to the sniveling wannabe, to the longing-to-be-cool official, to the relatively normal guy who nonetheless finds himself caught up in the obsession. It's just a fascinating story and as good a "sports" movie as has been made in quite some years. B+
For a movie about prophecies about future disasters, the fact that it's so predictable is either sneakily artistic or else just a gift to snarky reviewers. Either way, Rose Byrne delivers 3/4 of a competently inoffensive performance before kind of embarassing herself when it came time to start screaming and sobbing. The ending manages to be heartless AND New Agily queer at the same. Time. All that said ... it had a moment or two. C
The Last King of Scotland
Two fantastic performances -- outsized and dynamic Forest Whitaker and opportunistic and overwhelmed James McAvoy -- in the middle of a movie that almost lives up to them. It doesn't quite move beyond the two-man show, but as it is, Whitaker deserves and Oscar and McAvoy is proving me prophetic and growing into one hell of a young talent.
The Last Winter
I saw this movie with the illustrious JA and his lovely boyfriend, and while it was a fun time, it was by no means a good movie. Slow to get started, ponderous, poorly acted (Ron Perlman I can understand but seeing Connie Britton acting so poorly messed with my worldview a bit; maybe Tami Taylor is just the role she was made for and that's it), and just shoddily executed when it came to the oogedy-boogedies. It's a good idea -- global warming as a symptom of the Earth rising up and smiting we humans who have mistreated it -- but it's just massively fumbled.
No laughs kind of hampers the "com" half of "romcom." But I will see some shit for the sake of Matthew Goode. Every minute Amy Adams didn't jump on his face felt like a new reason to hate her character. D
Lions For Lambs
Yuck. I couldn't imagine this movie would be as didactic, obnoxious, talky, and boring as everybody said it was. And yet...here we are. How a movie thinks it can get away with the message that it's not enough to just talk a good game about the quagmire this nation is in by...talking a good game about it. That's some balls, Robert Redford. C-
I definitely want to see it again, but on first glance I very much liked it. I guess it just goes to show that no matter how played-out the premise -- in this case the "seamy underbelly of the suburbs, with a thick ironic glaze" -- a well-made movie is its own reward. The movie does indeed have a talent for taking a whole lot of what seems wrongheaded on paper and making it work beyond all expectation. Case in point: that wicked Frontline voiceover and some extremely unsubtle foreshadowing. Kate Winslet is as good as ever, and I want to kiss Todd Field on the mouth for directing the rare film that treats Patrick Wilson as the impossibly beautiful and ogle-worthy creature that he is.
Doesn't break any new ground, but it's a really good movie throughout. That's three in a row for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, so he's officially one of my favorite actors. And Matthew Goode was unrecognizable as the villain; he's really fucking good, and it really makes me much more positive about his participation in Watchmen.
You can see how this might've been an enjoyable action comedy. Certainly Chris Evans and Columbus Short brought their charisma to play. But the movie's hamstrung, pretty much from the beginning, by a stilted narrative flow, vague main characters, and a too-casual attitude towards violence and death. Also, how far down the "Who you want/who you get" ladder do you have to go before your male lead ends up being Jeffrey Dean Morgan? What a complete black hole that guy is. C-
The Lovely Bones
I actually don't think it's so much the abomination some are saying it is. It's suspenseful, at times, and the dreamlife of heaven was actually quite pretty, if not very surprising. The problem, actually, is The Lovely Bones. You don't find out what they are -- what that title means; what the movie is purportedly about -- until the final minutes. And once you do, you realize what a total failure of execution the whole film has been. If it's supposed to be about the relationships and odd connections that sprung up surrounding the death of Susie Salmon, the fact that there are almost ZERO resonant, affecting, or even believable relationships between any of the characters becomes a real problem. Wahlberg and Weisz could not have less chemistry together, Susan Sarandon is a hoot but kind of off on an island, as are the goth girl and her vaguely foreign boyfriend, as is Michael Imperioli (who would have worked better as the dad, I think). In fact, the characters feel more disconnected than anything. The problems go down to the bone(s) on this one. (Sorry.) C
The Lucky Ones
It's simplistic and broad-strokes and predictable and lightweight, but a trio of warm, compelling performances by Rachel McAdams, Tim Robbins, and Michael Peña make it all pretty watchable. Your mileage may vary on McAdams, who plays the kind of self-deceivingly cheerful character who might annoy viewers, but I found her delightful. B-
Here's where 2012 Joe apologizes to 2006 Joe, because I know how frustrating it is to live in the parts of America that just don't get limited-release indie movies that we get in New York. Because I complained and complained about not getting to see Margaret, and ultimately, it was put back into theaters and I got to take advantage of my incredibly fortunate geography to see it. Of course, after weeks and weeks of #teamMargaret, I was worried I'd been oversold on the movie, that I would walk out not getting what all the fuss was about. I'm happy to say I DO get what the fuss was about. It's not a perfect movie, but it packs a punch. The moment that drives the film -- a first-act bus accident that costs Allison Janney her life -- is legitimately harrowing, and it makes total sense that this would be traumatic enough to drive the plot of this sprawling tale (and to stand in for 9/11 when the movie's allegorical needs make it necessary). Anna Paquin's performance as a girl whose self-centeredness is almost feral is a marvel (and it connects a lot of dots for the way she's been playing Sookie on True Blood, to be honest). And the supporting cast is full of great performances and teen actors who would go on to become A Thing in the five years since this movie was made. Believe the hype about Jeannie Berlin's performance, too. She doesn't show up until halfway through, but her every line reading (which range from hilarious to scathing) is a winner, and she and Paquin make for one of the more fascinating screen duos in recent history. Lonergan has significant pacing issues in the latter half -- and my ass he couldn't find any scenes to cut; there are whole subplots and characters (Jean Reno; Matt Damon) who could have been trimmed and/or set aside for a director's cut -- but the script and the actors rarely step wrong. Here is a movie that bites off a lot of big ideas, about responsibility, about the limits of hanging meaning on the meaningless, and how Upper West Side teens can be just as monstrous and insufferable as their east-side counterparts. Also, if every five years we could get a new movie starring the 2005 version of Matt Damon, that would be just fine. Yum. B+
I was expecting to dislike this movie intensely, but I didn't. It's actually quite a good exercise in portraying the decadence of pre-Revolutionary Versailles in the guise of a sugary party girl, without making it seem too much like an exercise. There are times when the music cues and montages of frilly pink confections gets a little too heavy-handed, and the film as a whole could have been trimmed down severely. But the best scenes -- Antoinette and her party girl friends; anything having to with Asia Argento as Madame du Barry -- are wonderful, and there are enough of them to make the film worth watching.
As if it were even a question, "Melancholia" removes any doubt: Lars Von Trier is totally an "I don't even own a television" person. The infuriating thing about LVT is that he can make a damn movie.The thing looks like a million bucks at all times (self-consciously so, but whatever). I don't think he rewards his actors very well (Kirsten Dunst is impressive but loathsome; Gainsbourg is affecting but pathetic), but he gives them a lot to do. But God damn, does his smug, miserablist worldview weigh heavily on anything he does. It just crushes everything in its path. And so insular! Which I guess is the point. This is a movie about the world ending, only "the world" according to Von Trier is small enough to fit on a postage stamp. B-
Really, really good movie, which takes the shell of a legal thriller and fills it up with a character study. I understand why they stuck with the seemingly boring title "Michael Clayton" now -- he is what's at stake in the movie. He's the entire point of the movie, both subject and object. The screenplay is fab -- really economical in what it allows us to know about the characters and leaving the viewer room to find out for themselves. Of course, a script like that is out to sea without a good cast, which is why I'd hand out Oscar nominations to everyone. This is the best I've ever liked Clooney in anything -- he's astoundingly good. Tilda Swinton does so much with so little, both in terms of screen time and just words she gets to say. But in those three or four scenes, she gives you acres and acres of who this woman is. Even Tom Wilkinson, who gets the seemingly "easy" role of the crazy prophet (I kept thinking of Peter Finch in Network), but he manages to modulate it and keep the slobbering to a minimum. See this movie, seriously. A- (Top 10 of 2007)
Mission: Impossible III
To the charges that it's simply an oversized, if very good, episode of Alias, JJ Abrams's directorial debut must plead guilty. All the tropes are there, from the "72 hour earlier" opening gambit, to the nervous Op Tech guy, to Michael Giacchino's score. Thing is...I really liked Alias, and this movie's a lot of fun. A little too easy to peg the plot by virtue of where the cast is billed, if you follow me, but aside from the fact that you can't be arsed to care about Tom Cruise and his lady love, it's some quality Abrams spy fare. B-
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
This was deeply stupid but a LOT of fun. It made me forget how creeped out I am by Tom Cruise, it nailed set piece after set piece, and it took the "A Really Great Episode of Alias" level of M:I 3 to the next step of being "A Really Great Alias Movie." In a year when so many movies just would not stop telling us about the magic of the movies and how films could let us see the impossible, Brad Bird stepped up to the plate and actually showed us. That sequence in Dubai is going to be tough for action movies to top for a long while. And I would honestly nominate it for Costume Design because every single person in that cast looked the most fuckable they ever have, and that's saying something. Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton, nice work. B / B+
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day
Kind of dull, despite the 90-minute running time a lot (I mean a LOT) of go-go-go big band music. But Amy Adams and Frances McDormand are very good, and Lee Pace is just a peach. Oh, and whatsherface who plays Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter movies...does she just talk like that all the time? Weird. B-
Really fun. Nothing groundbreaking, as far as animated movies go, but it's a clever and enjoyable movie that doesn't need to bathe in pop culture references in order to endear itself to the audience. B-
Despite the fact that dozens of people had recommended it, this movie still managed to sneak up on me. In the narrative sense, I mean. You think it's about one thing; then you think it's going to be about another thing on a metaphorical/spiritual/"I don't know what's real" level; then, before you even realize it, the movie IS about that second thing, on a very literal level. Just watch the movie, you'll get it. Anyway, Duncan Jones is a whiz with the pacing, Clint Mansell provides another great score, and Sam Rockwell is lively and fun (I don't want to give anything away, but there's a pop-music moment that just killed me). B+
Mother and Child
Writer/director Rodrigo Garcia's script has its issues -- some seriously clunky dialogue and a plot that embraces cliche and goes EXACTLY where you think it will. That said, the second hour really opens the characters up, and there are some uncommonly sensitive payoffs. And the acting ensemble is pretty fantastic, including twin lead performances from Annette Bening and Naomi Watts, the latter who takes a total cliche and makes her real and interesting. But also much love to Kerry Washington, Shareeka Epps, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Cherry Jones. Worth a Netflix rental...and your patience. B
Never Let Me Go
Just devastating in the most delicate and straightforward way. Romanek gets exactly what's important about the story's special protagonists and waits for the exact right moments to rip your guts out (as it were). Brilliant casting, but really it's Mulligan and Garfield who are the most impressive. I'm not sure how I can look at Andrew Garfield's face again without bursting into tears. B+ (Top 10 of 2010)
Hooooo boy, was this every bit the festering turd that we all figured it would be. Not even worth the Netflix "watch instantly" option I saw it under. Every predictable storytelling cheat is taken, nothing makes sense, Julianne Moore runs around like the world's crankiest lesbian, and Jessica Biel earns every bit of that Razzie nomination she got. Remember, after The Illusionist when we were all supposed to believe she was suddenly this great actress? Yeah, that was some bullshit. The movie does have the chutzpah to place a Sandals resort at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, though. So there's that. D-
Hrm. It's got problems. Like how, first of all, the songs aren't all that memorable, save for "Be Italian." Then there how Rob Marshall recycles the Chicago conceit, where every performance is a fantasy that takes place on a stage. Made sense there, given Roxy's fixation with a life on the stage. No earthly idea why he decides to use it again in a movie about 1960s Italian cinema. The bright side is that pretty much all the actresses to really well singing their super boring songs. Kate Hudson's the exception, but to be fair, her song is the total worst. Honestly, though, I want to give Fergie some kind of awesomeness award, because "Be Italian" kind of saved the movie. From a "D." C-
Pretty good, if inconsistent, and gets too cute with the whimsy at times. It goes for Big Ideas, though, and I liked that. The big news, however, is that Melissa McCarthy needs to be working a TON more than she already is, because she's just phenomenal here, and way more versatile than I ever gave her credit for. C+
After delving into JFK again, I had an intense desire to re-examine this film, particularly since I don't remember digging it all that much. This time, whether it's because I know more of the history or I'm missing that old Oliver Stone brio or what, but I really loved it. As pure film, it's Stone at his best, with some wickedly awesome performances. But the amazing thing is how Stone was able to film the ultimate rebuke to George W. Bush a good 10 years before the fact. Seriously, watch this movie and take in all the comparisons to our current political situation. Then have a little quiet cry as to how we could have forgotten all the lessons we should have learned from Nixon about abuse of power and White House corruption. B+
Notes on a Scandal
A good movie that's gotten better as I keep remembering it. Judi Dench is just scarily good, for one, and I do admire how the screenplay keeps showing you all her cards at once -- making her three-dimensional without a hint of softening. And I'm always a sucker for a good Phillip Glass score. B+ (Top 10 of 2006)
Observe and Report
I wanted it to be funny. I'll cop to being pre-annoyed by this movie's strident "anti-PC" backers, but ultimately I did want this to be funny. And it wasn't, unfortunately. Like, it was ridiculous. And I could see where it wanted to be funny, but everything sat too heavy. So without anything to laugh at, I was left with the story Jody Hill was trying to tell. And I don't have to tell you how much I love a story about white-male impotent rage. And in the end, it totally pusses out anyway. It's not a terrible movie, but it is really, really not as transgressively brilliant as it thinks it is. Also, something terrible has happened to Anna Faris's face, and it makes me sad. C
The Painted Veil
This is not my genre of movies, the mannered costume drama cross-bred with the white man in a brown land film. But this movie not only held my interest, I actually ended up pretty invested in it by the end. Much credit to Naomi Watts and especially Edward Norton for their strong performances and to the script (and the Sommerset Maugham novel it adapted) for not taking too many of the usual shortcuts. B-
Probably not the best companion to Funny People given the state of mind that movie put me in, especially on the subject of self-indulgent comedians. Maybe Charlyne Yi isn't as altogether annoying as I found her to be in Paper Heart. I could have just been in a bad mood. What I do know is that the movie is never once convincing as a "documentary"; the line between the scenes that are actual interviews and the scenes that are staged could not be more apparent, which destroys any attempt at suspension of disbelief. And the whole "I don't believe in love [at age TWENTY-THREE] until this movie where I fall in love proves me wrong" thing has just been done to death. It was before (500) Days of Summer came out, too, but at least that movie delivered charming performances visual panache. This one gave us mumbly Michael Cera and a fatally disinterested protagonist. D+
Admittedly, I went in *wanting* to be scared shitless, but the fact remains that it totally delivered, despite a particularly obnoxious Times Square crowd. The payoff earns the comparisons to "Blair Witch," though "Blair" was more clever. B
There's going to be a danger of overpraising this low-budget indie for being a low-budget indie, and for being about the kinds of characters and environments you don't usually get, even in low-budget indies. When it comes to black, teenage lesbians in lower-middle-class families in non-hipster Brooklyn, we're not exactly spoiled for choice, so for that alone, Pariah SHOULD be celebrated. And it's a very good movie, on its own terms. Adpero Oduye makes for a magnetic and fascinating lead, and the movie lets her life be about a lot of different things at once. Teen movies have a particular tendency to reduce their characters' pressures to just one thing, but Oduye has to deal with coming out and fears over her parents' crumbling marriage, and strained best-friend relationships, and a lot more. It's not a perfect movie -- some of the dialogue feels heavy and scripted, and I don't think Kim Wayans is all that great as the mom. But overall, it's really solid (and not nearly the suffocating bummer I've heard it described as). B
Cute enough, though I'm not sure if it completely satisfies as a modern-day fairy tale. But Christina Ricci and James McAvoy are totally adorable, and Catherine O'Hara always brings something to the table. It was...okay. I've kind of already forgotten most of it. B-
A Perfect Getaway
A fun, tense movie that works up a great head of steam, totally kills all its momentum, and then improbably build it all back up again for the finale. Not sure I'd have done it that way, but it ended up quite satisfying. Plus you get to look at Timothy Olyphant and Chris Hemsworth for a while. And Kiele Sanchez really keeps up. I guess I still root for her, 'cause of "Related." B
Fine dumb comedy with an MVP performance from James Franco. He's funny, touching, wickedly attractive, and always the most compelling thing on the screen. If he keeps up this kind of work in Milk, I'm predicting an Oscar. The movie could've been tighter -- and Rosie Perez could've been better utilized, but overall, a good time. B
Given what it's trying to do, it succeeds wildly and is pretty much a perfect movie. Bloody, shocking, hilarious, and boobs, boobs, BOOBS. Christopher Lloyd should be given a Nobel Prize for his cameo, and the Oscar campaign for Jerry O'Connell starts right here. B
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Or maybe this is the worst movie of the year. It's sad to see what began as an unexpectedly sparkling comedy slump across the finish line weighted down with too much convoluted mythology and not nearly enough action. Also, Peter Travers can suck it, he and all the other critics who blamed the downfall of the movie on Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley. Nobody in this movie did anything interesting, not even darling Johnny Depp. At least Orlando Bloom gave me a reason to stare at the screen. Actually, I should take that back -- Geoffrey Rush is a lot of fun. But the cast is not to blame for this movie's utter failure. It's the overstuffed plot, dull direction, and bloated (3 hours!) running time.
This would be the...er, gooier half of the Grindhouse double feature. Seriously, it's the most disgusting movie I've seen this year. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it did mean that whole chunks of the movie went unseen by me due to turning away in revulsion. Good job, I suppose.
It's too long, that I can say for certain. And it very likely tries to cram too much into its narrative. For for a very long movie, it's paced as well as you possibly could pace it, and simply from a cinematography standpoint, it's brilliant. As for the actors, Michael Caine manages to stand out the most, playing a very Michael Caine part. And Scarlet Johansson, while not being in very much of the film, gets a couple of the juiciest scenes. It's not a "best of the year" movie, but it's certainly worth the price of a ticket.
Not an especially good movie, but it goes far on the collective charm of Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. I'd like to throttle the music supervisor, though, as that hokey, tootling score intruded on the events approximately every three minutes or so. Weirdo highlight? It involves Betty White AND Lil' John, but I won't ruin it for you. Also of note, after watching the credits: Zoe Bell was Sandra Bullock's stunt double. ZOE BELL? Somehow I think falling off of a boat doesn't quite compare to that Grindhouse car chase. C+
Tonally schizophrenic movie -- like, wildly so -- but I'm glad I saw it. It kept bouncing back from hyper-ironic to sweetly earnest, to hopelessly retro, and I honestly couldn't keep up. B-
First and foremost, Helen Mirren is as good as advertised. She creates a strong and, most importantly, likable character that ended up turning my preconceptions around. As a film, its strengths -- it manages to touch upon every crack and crevasse of what could easily be seen as a simple story of tragedy -- are so closely intertwined with its weaknesses -- a disappointing tendency to spell everything out, particularly toward the end. Plus, any film that can make that string of a case for the royal family at the expense of a sheepish public has my respect.
You almost don't believe they're able to cram as many references to old Hollywood movies, but they do. It's almost entirely an homage to classic Westerns, though there's certainly a healthy chunk of Chinatown grafted onto there as well. It'd make an interesting double-bill with True Grit, actually, as that was another movie that managed to feel fresh while essentially remaking an older Western. I'm not sure whether Rango's mega-homage strategy always comes together -- and I'm REALLY not sure if younger audiences will find a whole lot to latch onto -- but it's all quite entertaining, particularly the voice work from Johnny Depp and Isla Fisher (and Ned Beatty, who's really carving out a late-career niche playing animated oldsters/villains-in-waiting). And the animation work on the characters is absolutely astounding -- the rival of anything Pixar has produced. B+
I believe I'm not going too far out on a limb when I call this the sexiest Holocaust movie I've ever seen. Which, okay, to be fair this doesn't become a Holocaust movie until the last 45 minutes or so. Kate Winslet is marvelous, even by her high standards, and Stephen Daldry makes a triumphant return to directing (after The Hours) and, if the lingering shots up and down David Kross are any indication, his triumphant return to total gayness. B
Red Riding Hood
Believe it or not -- and I was largely surprised by it too -- but I really rather enjoyed this. It's no masterpiece, but for what it is -- a pop-gothic popcorn flick with enough awareness of itself to have fun with its origins and conventions -- I think Catherine Hardwicke succeeds rather well. Certainly better than she did with Twilight. In particular, the movie looks like a million bucks, with some striking, indulgent visuals (the story isn't interested in being demure and neither is the filmmaking). The three leads -- Amanda Seyfried, Shiloh Fernandez, and Max Irons -- have great chemistry together; particularly Seyfried and Fernandez, who as far as snarly/dreamy types is quite a find. A perfectly acceptable B.
Even after clocking in at three hours plus, I don't think this movie wore out its welcome, so kudos to Warren Beatty for that. I have to respect the guts involved in gutting out a three-hour Communist romantic epic not two months removed from the Moscow Olympics boycott. The real standout, for me, was Diane Keaton, who I have never seen play this kind of character before. The closest she came again, I think, were certain scenes -- few and far between -- in Godfather III. There's a fire in her belly and steel in her bones; she's absolutely riveting to watch. Jack Nicholson, too, is all the more powerful for holding back that trademark twinkle in his eye. Interesting that Beatty and Maureen Stapleton walked off with Oscars (director and supporting actress); I'd have given Keaton and Nicholson statues. Anyway, well-acted, well-paced, Greenwich Village as the center of the universe...good stuff. B+
Aside from a very good Kate Winslet performance, I really hated this movie. Loud, obnoxious, and shallow, without the conviction to stick through the heavy drama without undercutting it with these really campy scenes/characters of comic relief. But you'll be comforted to know that, once again, the crazy person is really the most sane of us all. Deep! I wanted to tie Michael Shannon up in a sack and throw him over a bridge. Good to see Kathy Bates working again -- her role isn't handled well, but she plays it perfectly, if that makes any sense. There's a smugness in this movie that isn't remotely earned. C-
For a movie whose subject matter is so vital, this is a terrifically dull movie, with a whole lot of time wasted on a go-nowhere subplot that could have been better spend deepening its largely shallow characters. Jake Gyllenhaal is very good, as his is the only character that's allowed to change, but the rest seems like a tragic waste of time. C
A movie this low-key and precious cannot afford to move as slowly as this does, and it's guilty of most of the things a movie like Juno and Little Miss Sunshine gets accused of (i.e., quirks for quirk sake -- that cellist playing Violent Femmes??). That being said, once it gets going, it's got some seriously funny moments, and the universe of policy debate is absolutely fascinating. Also, if you hate Nicholas D'Agosto as "West" on Heroes (and why wouldn't you?), this movie will either deepen that hatred or completely turn you around. Personally, I thought he was phenomenal.
Running With Scissors
When I first heard this movie was getting made, I said that its success or failure would depend solely on the kid they got to play Augusten. Turns out I was wrong: Joseph Cross is pretty great in what ultimately becomes an impossible role, but the movie still sinks. It's just hollow in a way the book wasn't. And then, maddeningly enough, just when we come upon something heartfelt and surprising...the movie ends. I need to read the book again just to remember why I loved it.
You'd think a movie that showed us Stephen Dillane's penis would also be kind enough to give us a peek at Hugh Dancey in his altogether but APPARENTLY NOT. Whatever. As a movie it's...okay. Forgettable. It surrounds this incredibly scandalous act with a lazy tale of the indulgent, idle rich. It just feels lacking. Julianne Moore's excellent, though. B-
Searching for Bobby Fischer
Still totally engrossing and appealing, with some great performances, especially by Ben Kingsley and Joan Allen. I kinda started to freak out in that one scene with Laura Linney as the schoolteacher; seeing her and Joan Allen in the same frame, I might have started to overload. A-
Searching for Debra Winger
Endlessly fascinating with a great collection of actresses, most of whom get wonderfully candid (particularly Vanessa Redgrave, Martha Plimpton, and the late Adrienne Shelley). The cherry on top, of course, is the total spaciness of Rosanna Arquette. Love.B+
Season of the Witch
It's not like I didn't know exactly what to expect. But even for a terrible movie, this one was pretty dire. It's going to come as a shock, but Nicolas Cage really phones in his performance here. Of course, so does Ron Perlman. And everybody else, really. Maybe Stephen Graham just couldn't be assed to cycle out of his Al Capone/Boardwalk Empire accent for this piece of crap movie, and who could blame him? It still means we have to listen to A Brooklyn Mook in King Arthur's Court. Also, the CGI could not be worse, and the makeup on Christopher Lee belongs in a particularly cruel Monty Python sketch. D+
A Serious Man
You know, I get what they were trying to do with this ice-cold look at a good man who bears the brunt of any number of inhumanties and whose anxieties all seem to be proved correct, all while repeatedly appealing to his Jewish faith for comfort and finding none. The ending seems like an especially bold and appropriate way to cap things. But by then, I had long since checked out. I am a HUGE fan of the Coens, and I appreciate how they keep their characters an arm's length away (or at the end of their nose down which the Coens look upon them), but this one felt so distant that I ended up getting pushed away too. As a result, it felt like a dull, dispassionately cruel movie peppered with a handful of funny moments and characters (I was partial to Fred Melamed as the touchy-feely cuckolder and Amy Landecker's stone-faced hot housewife). I can see where people would greatly admire such a disciplined movie, but it wasn't my thing. B-
Fantastic atmospheric thriller -- why doesn't anybody talk about this one more? Brad Anderson got more credit for The Machinist, but this one has the same unsettling mood with a better story attached. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it plays like a terrifically rendered ghost story. Well done. A-
Kind of a so-so movie that never truly took off for me, but there is one scene -- the one with the bear trap -- that is utterly horrifying and hilarious and one of the best I've seen in a horror movie in a long time. Just fantastic.
It's maybe ever-so-slightly more an acting showcase for Michael Fassbender than a cinematic masterpiece, but who's going to complain about settling for very, very good? McQueen digs deep into Fassbender's sex addict character in a way that's explicit but not salacious, and ultimately the joke's on us, because he really puts us into the mindset of a tormented guy unable to forge any kind of human connections. It's quite something. I could go on for about 10 more lines worth of prurient concerns (honestly, Fassbender is 30% penis by volume, I'd swear to it), and one fairly story-based quibble (McQueen really pusses out at the gay club), but for the most part, it's a total must-see. B+
The Salon.com reviews says this: "Let us sound the ass kazoo of freedom! is Mitchell's rallying cry." How do I offer a better recommendation than that? Make no mistake, this movie is not for the faint of heart. But if you can embrace the graphic and non-simulated sex scenes, your reward is a sweet, funny movie that manages to say something without having to say something, you know? The sense of humor employed in this movie means you smile before you laugh, and the film's two biggest laughs come in the most unexpected of places. Loved it. (Top 10 of 2006)
Shrek The Third
Same issue as the first two (though I still admit to laughing my ass off at the second one): clever premise drowns in haphazardly commissioned pop culture references and annoying vocal performances by the three leads. You really do wish that Prince Charming and the princess brigade could have the movie all to themselves. That said, here's hoping that another, better movie steals the idea to use Heart's "Barracuda" on the soundtrack for a siege of some sort. That shit was hot.
It's a totally solid mystery thriller that, if you go in expecting a twist (which: obvs, since the marketing has pretty much guaranteed one), you will probably guess 80% correctly. But it's still fun to watch, especially as DiCaprio and the score compete for Most Histrionic, only to both be edged out by a late-surging Michelle Williams. But Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, and Patricia Clarkson are also great at more appropriate volumes. At 137 minutes, it never felt draggy, which was another plus. Doesn't deserve the backlash it'll probably get for being Lesser Scorsese, but it also doesn't deserve the wave of "secretly brilliant" I can see coming either. B-
A Single Man
As gorgeously shot and attired as you've heard. And while I can sympathize with those who found the rest of it empty, I really connected to the sad drifting of it all. And if a camera wants to expend that much time and effort on loving shots of Matthew Goode (Matthew Goode on a beach! Matthew Goode on a couch! Matthew Goode with a book! Matthew Goode in a uniform!), I am pretty much automatically onboard. B/B+ (Top 10 of 2009)
Captivating and brilliantly paced, with only a couple dips into action-movie cliches to pull me back out of the story. Otherwise, it's kind of the movie I wanted City of God to be, with a sad, nonprofessional-but-in-a-good-way lead performance from Edgar Flores. His face bears the weight of everything he's done, will do, and will be done to him. B+ (A- ?) (Top 10 of 2009)
Skins: Series 1
Totally addictive, hilarious, endearing Brit series about teenagers and how many different ways there are to be a fucked-up seventeen-year-old. It's only nine episodes, each one focusing on one character in a group of friends. The best ones feature Cassie (a spacey anorexic), Sid (loveable loser), Jal (talented, but perma-angry, caretaker), and Tony (infuriatingly sexy, probably sociopathic bastard played by the kid from About a Boy). Dev Patel plays Anwar, the Muslim horndog, and he has to share his episode with Maxxie, the adorable gay tapdancer. More Maxxie in series 2 (on DVD in April), I hope. A-
I definitely didn't connect to it the way a lot of people have, but I also didn't resent it the way a lot of other people have. I do wish there had been more Bollywood in it. That dance sequence in the end credits was my favorite part, and I don't think it should have been. Also, I'm kind of weirded out by how cute I thought Dev Patel was, particularly when I looked up how old he is. But seriously: way hotter than he is on "Skins."B-
Wow, depressing! But very well done, kind of splitting the difference between David Gordon Green's romantic slice-of-life All the Real Girls and southern gothic Undertow. I was expecting something of a different movie, so the turn of events about halfway through probably took me by surprise more than most, but I though Green really lulled the audience into security with some fine human comedy before pulling the rug out. Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell are good, and Amy Sedaris is hysterical just standing there, but the standout performances are all given by the kids: Michael Angarano, Olivia Thirlby, and Connor Paolo. B+
The Social Network
I really didn't think the self-seriousness was going to be a problem, but it very much was. Justin Timberlake shows up and does his best to inject a little bit of light, but mostly it's Fincher lighting this like the Zodiac is hiding in your Little Green Patch, and Trent Reznor's punishing score trying to scare the shit out of you. Zuckerberg's disconnection from the college life he hoped to replicate on the internet was played for simple, condescending irony rather than any kind of examination into why Facebook took off or anything interesting to say about Facebook/social networking at all. The one thing Sorkin's script seemed truly interested in was how much money Zuckerberg made. None of this is Eisenberg or Garfield's fault, and in fact I liked what I saw out of both of them (ditto Rooney 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Mara), but they're sunk by a myopic script. I'm seriously disappointed. C+
Son of Rambow
Not bad at all, really, but totally forgettable aside from the fact that Chuck Bass is in it, speaking in his native accent. Needed more of that. C+
Colors! Bright, spectacular colorszzzzzzzzzzz...D+
Holy God, was this an unexpectedly terrible movie. I was never as big of a fan of the Spidey franchise as others, but I still liked them and even after hearing how this underperformed I was shocked by how unrepentantly bad it was. The only saving grace, James Franco's unexpectedly affecting performance, was ruined by an over-repetetive storyline. Everything else was just uninspired, poorly thought out, and silly. Just awful.
Funny, if dated in its depiction of Lilith-era feminine dorkiness. But Amy Poehler and Parker Posey sell it well enough -- and an honorable mention goes to Amy's cornrows, which got about 20% of the movie's laughs on their own -- but best in show honors absolutely go to Missi Pyle who transcends "cougar" and steals every single scene with ease. B-
Starter For Ten
Yet another placeholder light Brit flick for James McAvoy to tread water in while he waits to become the Next Big Thing in the states. He and The History Boys' Dominic Cooper are the leads, but they don't make out or anything. You know who I did like was Rebecca Hall, who played Christian Bale's wife in The Prestige. She's in Woody Allen's 2008 movie, and I'm really interested to see what she does with it.
State of Play
Really fantastic Brit miniseries (soon to be remade/ruined in America) that tells a story of political corruption and murder but makes the inner workings of a newspaper team the most compelling part. Flawless cast highlighted by the best performance I've ever seen Bill Nighy give. Polly Walker really makes me give even more credit to her work on Rome because her character here is nothing like Atia. And James McAvoy is insanely cute and charming for five of the six hours. Totally loved it. A
Stranger Than Fiction
DELIGHTFUL, to borrow from James Lipton, or at least from (appropriately enough) Will Ferrell's version of James Lipton. So much better than I was even expecting. This is a smart movie with a clever premise that does the audience the supreme favor of not spending two hours pointing out how clever it is. The premise is presented, and then the filmmakers set out to tell a story. And it's a story with well-drawn characters and just about the strongest and most likable acting you can imagine. Ferrell is super, and Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dustin Hoffman are pretty excellent as well. But Emma Thompson steals the show, for me. That lady needs to be given a national holiday in her honor. LOVE HER. It's just the most fantastic movie. And if it seems too thinky for a Friday night? It's not. There are times when it's like a lit geek's wet dream of a comedy (where else would you get a punch line about a Golem?), but it had a near-packed theatre in Buffalo APPLAUDING at the end. It's a crowd pleaser. At least in my crowd.
This is an absorbing and unflashy story about a Dominican baseball prospect, working his way up from the minors and being confronted with how much this Great American Opportunity does, and often doesn't, offer him. Like directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's last movie, Half Nelson it keeps a tight grip on the mood; things never get too maudlin, but they also carefully dole out the sentimentality. There's is a also this heartbreaking recurring theme of language barriers that manifests itself in continually surprising ways. And oftentimes, it sets itself at the beginning of a path that will surely lead to cliches (his host family in Iowa; just the general baseball-hero's-arc) only to avoid almost all of them. A fine little movie. B
Verrrry typically indie, down to Alan Arkin essentially re-playing his role from Little Miss Sunshine (no second Oscar for that, Mr. Arkin), but kept afloat by the great sisterly chemistry between Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. Blunt's character is terribly underwritten, but she's the best thing going in the movie anyway. B
Talk To Me
It's a really good movie, with Don Cheadle going a good job but Chiwetel Ejiofor doing a great job. It's a movie that passed the multitasking test, i.e. I was planning on watching this on the laptop while doing other things but I ended up stopping and just watching the movie. Also, Taraji P. Henson needs to be in a lot more movies, because she's great.
Take Me Home Tonight
Inept. Full of really charming people who get very little charming stuff to do. Dan Fogler's kind of the worst, but otherwise, I feel like a better filmmaker needs to have another go with Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Teresa Palmer (who is totally a find and about to take all of Amanda Seyfried's roles), Lucy Punch, Demetri Martin, and weird, gothy Michelle Trachtenberg. Also: THEY DIDN'T EVEN INCLUDE THE SONG "TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT." Listen, honey, just like Ronnie say: that is total bullshit! D+
Spotty and not nearly as funny as it should have been, given the talent. Winona Ryder's excellent, though, and she's so rarely in anything these days that it might be worth watching for that. And Adam Brody continues to beguile me long after everyone else in the culture has gotten over him. His segment was the movie's best -- too bad it comes so early in the film.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Disappointing! Terribly so. I was expecting so much more from this movie than self-congratulatory cutesiness and an overlong series of conversations with private investigators. Less unmasking of the MPAA members' identities, please; more interviews with filmmakers about why we should care.
I really wish I liked this movie as much as the (popcorn-movie-starved?) film festival audiences did. Affleck is a competent and even promising director, but he's not nearly charismatic enough an actor to sell his character, which means the story gets fairly ludicrously loaded in his favor. Overall, this is an overwritten movie (poor Jon Hamm has groaner after groaner to speak), except for one key area that's terribly UNDERwritten (the entirety of Rebecca Hall's character). Jeremy Renner is scarily believable as a trigger-happy thug, and I enjoyed the hell outta Blake Lively, but I'm not sure it rises above Blue-Collar Boston Porn (a Fenway heist AND a romantic scene set in a Dunkin Donuts?). Boston remains the one city you'd want to live in LESS after watching a movie about it. C+
I saw this screened at IFC where I was once again within arm's length of a wicked hot actor, this time Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (I also saw Olivia Thirlby get introduced as "Olivia Wilde" by her own director, maybe the most awkward thing I have ever seen.) Anyway, the movie is this SUPER indie "two ways this story could go" affair. One set in Manhattan that morphs into this lovers-on-the-run thriller, the other set in Brooklyn that's your standard family slice-of-life. The Brooklyn one works okay, while the Manhattan one falls apart early and never really improves. But even in the inept thriller half, the chemistry between JGL and Lynn Collins (who played Silver Fox in the Wolverine movie) is intimate and I totally want to see them reunited in a better movie. C
Absolutely charming and lovable and beautiful and moving as has been promised, and with about 30% less hectoring peer pressure from the entire universe to find the whole thing brilliant beyond all understanding, it was much easier to sit back and enjoy than WALL-E was. I'm still not sure how Charles Muntz went missing in South America when Carl was a child and yet ended up apparently younger than Carl in the present. Botox? A-
Up in the Air
Quite enjoyable while it lasts, in no small part due to the very fine trio of actors in Clooney, Kendrick, and especially Vera Farmiga. And yet almost immediately my brain began to pick away at it, as nagging dissatisfactions grew, as the movie settled, into pretty fundamental objections. Mabe if it wasn't getting heaped with all this praise as The Movie of Our Times (tm) I wouldn't feel the need to explore how little it actually has to say about, say, the pain of joblessness. Or the fear of economic collapse both at national and household levels. Or the consequences of recklessness and complacence at the top; or the helplessness felt at the ground level; or ANYTHING that Our Times are actually about. It's not the movie's fault that it can't live up to this standard, I guess, but when you're wrapping yourself in the cloak of recession to give your tale of The Bachelor's Painful Isolation (also tm) some gravitas, maybe you do owe us something. Anyway, the three actors are bril -- and Amy Morton as Clooney's sister, too; she's a gem -- and the middle section where all three get to share screen time is lovely. But I'm left underwhelmed. B-
La Vie En Rose
The worst movie of the year? It's up there. It's one big braying scream of a film that wants to use every color in the rainbow of human misery to bring gravity to a central performance -- Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf -- that tries to impress us with sheer volume. I cannot believe she's going to pull an Oscar nomination for that crap.
Well, I officially will have to catch up on the Almodovar stuff, because I very much enjoyed this movie. As advertised, Penelope Cruz is actually good -- it's a world of difference to see her so relaxed onscreen -- and along with Carmen Maura and Lola Dueñas provides a hell of an acting trio. Dueñas is especially impressive and responsible for many of the film's funniest moments. Overlong, sure, but very likable.
The Dubya-at-home stuff, where he's beset by jealousies and Oedipal conflicts with his dad are the kind of smirking indulgences you'd expect from an Oliver Stone movie on this subject. But everything about the leadup to Iraq, and the Team of Bastards who crafted it (the movie seems to portray Dubya as a clueless doof who was led to war by Cheney and Rumsfeld, though he was galvanized by his born-again Christianity) was tremendously watchable. And I want to see an entire movie about Jeffrey Wright's Colin Powell. He's fantastic. B
Really great, funny, sweet little movie that may not be for everyone due to some tonal inconsistencies and an aggressively happy ending, but I absolutely loved it. So great to see Keri Russell get another chance at a lead role, and she's brilliant, and in a very un-Felicity way besides. Also great? Jeremy Sisto, who has to play the abusive lout of the system and constantly brushes him just to the edge of cartoonish before pulling him right back. It's great to watch. And Nathan Fillion is as dreamy as he needs to be, plus ten. Great movie.
Almost as good as advertised (and I only say almost because it's been hyped to the degree that said it would cure cancer and end world hunger; it didn't). EVE enters the pantheon of ass-kicking female heroines, right up there with Ripley and Buffy. B+ (A-?) (Top 10 of 2008)
Waltz with Bashir
I'm not sure why I was expecting this to be boring, but I found it particularly engaging and beautiful. Which means, in terms of exceeding expectations, this one rated above WALL-E. That Animated Feature Oscar was a farce! B
Wendy & Lucy
The kind of movie that I could have easily drifted off into doing other things while it played on the DVD player, but I never once did, to the film' credit. I really liked the lost-in-plain-sight atmosphere, which presented a version of America that isn't some scary and foreboding place but is nevertheless unavailable to some people. Michelle Williams gives a dynamite lead performance (she's done some great work this year) that mutes her natural beauty to great effect. I've never owned a dog in my life, but I hear it's quite the devestating movie for people who have. A- (Top 10 of 2008)
Were the World Mine
How do you make a movie about a high-school rugby team full of 18-year old underwear models suddenly making out with each other under the influence seem so fucking BORING? I dunno, ask the makers of this movie. I normally tend to brush off the "why should I care about the problems of young, pretty white people?" criticisms as pointless whining, but even I couldn't get into the all-consuming angst of a boy this cookie-cutter cute. Like, boys that good looking don't need creepy drama teachers with Shakespeare spells to hook up with straight boys. Anyway, a total wasted opportunity made notable only because it featured Opal from "All My Children" singing and going momentarily sapphic. C
I'll say this for Woody Allen's latest: It didn't end up quite as awful as the first half-hour would suggest. It's the faintest praise I can manage, though, because the best the movie gets is dated amusement. I've been told the movie is based on a decades-old Woody script, and despite Age of Obama gussying up, boy does it feel like it. The stereotypes, the worldviews, the tired depictions of avant-garde New York are all positively moldy with age. Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson do yeoman's work with terrible characters; Larry David, less so. D+
The White Ribbon
Probably the most intellectually rich movie I've seen this awards season. It flirts with floating too high above the ground on big ideas, but I was too busy enjoying the fact that Michael Haneke has delivered a movie that retains his usual themes of sweeping condemnation without feeling the need to lecture or punish the audience for simply being there. There's hope for you yet, Lars von Trier! The visuals are wonderful, conspiring in a grand deception of rural placidity. Definitely something I look forward to seeing again. B+
Funny movie that lets a lot of the characters have a voice, which is refreshing. Alex Shaffer plays a perfectly realistic sullen teen (though he falters some when it comes time to really emote), and Amy Ryan pretty much steals the whole show with a really lived-in combination of toughness and kindness. The whole thing kind of loses its grip on tone towards the end, but it's quite likeable and worth your time. B
Wings of Desire
Haunting and beautiful, as advertised. It's also exactly the stereotype of European movies you would see parodied in the late-'80s and '90s, all black-and-white ennui, wordy voice-overs, longing stares, it even has a melancholy circus. Kind of gave the movie this fun comedic subtext. B+
Wristcutters: A Love Story
I see what they were trying to do with this story, and it's not un-interesting, the idea of purgatory for suicides being a gray wasteland where nobody smiles and everyone waits tables and pumps gas for no real reason. But in practice, it's dreadfully boring, and pairing Patrick Fugit (here drained of his usual charisma) with a wet rag like Shannyn Sossamon doesn't help. Will Arnett deserves better, you guys.
Year Of The Dog
Once again, "animal people" (dog people in this case) make no sense to me. I'm sorry. This is a good movie, but not a favorite of mine like it is of other people I know. That being said, it has maybe the best ending of any movie I've seen this year. Loved that they left things like that. Molly Shannon's really good, but my favorite performances were given by Peter Sarsgaard and Regina King.
Better, funnier, and sexier than I had expected it to be. It's a series of vignettes, so of course it's uneven, but the strong points are well worth it. I'm pleasantly surprised at how much I've come to enjoy Carly Pope, considering how much I didn't care for her on "Popular." B-
Ultimately not the zombie action gore-fest you may be looking for, but I laughed from beginning to end and just baseline enjoyed myself. I can knock it a bit for a lack of ambition, but the world needs its solid "B/B-" movies too. B-