Sunday, January 30, 2011

Movie News Today

Javier Bardem has been offered a role in the next "Bond" movie. It's unknown whether or not the role is that of a villain but if it is, you'd have to think it could end up being the best in the history of the "Bond" franchise. Could be a bit too soon after his iconic turn in "No Country for Old Men," though.

Henry Cavill has been cast as the lead in Zack Snyder's "Superman" reboot. Not going to lie, I'm not happy about this choice. Nothing against Cavill, he may be a fine actor. I think Snyder (and producer Christopher Nolan) is missing a golden opportunity, however, to reinvent the superhero genre by going with an older Superman, namely John Hamm. Hamm IS Superman and the idea of an aging hero would have worked beautifully in my mind. This is a less than inspired choice for me.

NPR gives us an article about why seeing a movie in a theater is still the best choice. It isn't the most well-written article I've ever read but the point is clear.

The SAG Awards were tonight and the best moment of the evening was the presentation of the Life Achievement Award to the amazingly peppy, 94 year old Ernest Borgnine. The presentation was classy, the slide show was relevant, and the acceptance speech should be the example for such matters. Congratulations, Ernie. One of the coolest guys in Hollywood.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "The Rite" - $15.01 million
2. "No Strings Attached" - $13.65 ($39.74 million total)
3. "The Mechanic" - $11.5
4. "The Green Hornet" - $11.5 ($78.8)
5. "The King's Speech" - $11.1 ($72.22)
6. "True Grit" - $7.6 ($148.39)
7. "The Delimma" - $5.48 ($40.63)
8. "Black Swan" - $5.1 ($90.7)
9. "The Fighter" - $4.05 ($78.37)
10. "Yogi Bear" - $3.17 ($92.51)


Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is bored. A former CIA agent of great importance now living off of retirement, the highlight of his day is when he calls Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), his benefits representative whom he flirts with. Things take an exciting turn, however, when a hit squad breaks into his house and attempts to kill him. After putting down his new foes, Frank then sets off across the country to round up all of his old comrades (Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren) as he tries to figure out who's trying to kill them and why.

Similar to "The A-Team" and "The Losers", "Red" is all about stylized action. It revels in its ridiculousness and has a fine appreciation for over-the-top explosions. Based on a graphic novel, 'Red" doesn't waste time with such issues as reloading, collateral damage, or the laws of physics, something I can certainly admire when done correctly. "Red" left me feeling a bit cheated, though. This movie is a lot of fun but it could have done so much more with the premise. The misuse of such a great cast is criminal. Willis is excellent, bringing visions of an older, more mature, but still awesome version of John McClane. Everyone else seems to be mismatched or out-of-sync as they just aren't given much to do. I have no idea why Morgan Freeman was cast in the first place. If you're not going to use Morgan Freeman then why bother adding him to the equation? Likewise, the story is jumpy, going from place to place, event to event, without much development or wrap-up. It's a bit like a video game as our heroes (or anti-heroes as the case may be) go from level to level. And just like "The Losers", "Red" lacks a compelling villain which could have helped me overlook the movie's other flaws. It has its moments (mostly in the first half), not to mention an excellent supporting part from Bryan Cox, and I can't deny the entertainment value as a whole. I simply expect an action movie with this level of talented actors to provide me more than above average entertainment.

Grade: B

Friday, January 28, 2011

New Movie Friday

"The Rite" - Anthony Hopkins, Ciaran Hinds, Colin O'Donoghue
A priest (Hopkins), known as a specialist in exorcism, is possessed by a demon. This is getting some good press and the trailer is sufficiently creepy but I usually steer clear of exorcism-related movies altogether. Quite frankly they scare the crap out of me. If you see it, let me know what you think.

"The Mechanic" - Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland
A hitman (Statham) takes on an apprentice (Foster) who has a connection to one of his past targets. Does anyone else feel that Ben Foster might be an actual serial killer? He's just so good at playing angry, disturbed characters that kind of freak me out. He's a terrific actor, obviously, I'm just saying it wouldn't surprise me if 25 years from now we find out there's a mass grave in his backyard. Anyway, hitman movies can be quite good but this one, a remake of a Charles Bronson flick, looks awfully cliche to me.

"From Prada to Nada" - Camilla Belle, Alexa Vega
Two upper class sisters are forced to move to the slums of East LA when their father dies. I saw this trailer a few months back, I think before "Harry Potter 7", and I almost choked myself to death to get away from it. It was like being stabbed in the ears. Movies like this remind me of how thrilled I am not to have a pre-teen daughter.

"Biutiful" (limited) - Javier Bardem
Centers around an every day father and husband (Bardem) who happens to have the ability to speak to the recently deceased. So basically Miles from "Lost" gets a family and his own movie. But seriously, Bardem, one of the very best in my book, scored an Oscar nod for his role here and I'm interested in checking out the performance. I've heard the movie isn't as good as the acting, though.

Chin up, friends! Good things are just around the corner. February will bring a few solid choices and March will kick start what will be a great movie year!

Movie News Today

SyFy has found an Adama for its upcoming "Battlestar Galactica" prequel. I'm rewatching "BSG" right now (thanks for the decrease in productivity, Netflix) and I must say, I'd forgotten how good it is. Most of the SyFy stuff fails to impress but wow, "Battlestar" is outstanding.

NPR provides a handy-dandy cheat sheet for the Best Picture Oscar nominees.

Saoirse Ronan ("The Lovely Bones") has been added to the rapidly expanding cast of "The Hobbit." Excellent choice here; this kid can really act.

Flixchatter poses the question, who should be the next Bond villain? Answer: Sean Connery. Think about it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blu Ray Review: "Takers"

A veteran crew of hardened thieves, led by Gordon (Idris Elba) and John (Paul Walker), runs into some turmoil when Ghost (T.I.), a former member of the group, gets out of prison and offers up a dangerous job. Against their better judgement, the group decides they owe it to their newly free comrade to pull the heist, all the while unsure of whether or not they can trust the intel. With a detective (Matt Dillon) hot on their tails and a clean lifestyle calling to some of the crew, the thieves put everything on the line for a score that will surely make or break them.

Heist movies call to me, even ones I know will be awful. There's something about a big score playing out on screen that gets my attention every time. I'm like a drug addict, really, constantly chasing the next high, with the high being "Heat" or "Italian Job." So even as I mocked the trailer for "Takers" last Fall, I knew I'd eventually give in and check it out. And now I hate myself for giving into the urge.

"Takers" is, quite simply, a mess of a movie. Terrible acting, an overly convoluted story, and a final "twist" you can see from the opening credits, "Takers" has them all. The biggest issue, however, is a severe identity crisis. "Takers" can't decide whether it wants to be "Ocean's 11", "Heat", or "Dead Presidents." The tone of the film jumps back and forth between smooth and stylish, harsh and gritty, and over-the-top ridiculousness. The filmmakers clearly couldn't decide what their target audience would be and decided to shoot for them all, only they failed to hit on ANY level. Elba, a fine actor, is seriously underused while Zoe Saldana's role in the film is completely pointless. Whatever Saldana was paid, it was stolen money because she's essentially an extra given a line here or there. And when you then consider how much time was given to Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen, both horrendous actors, you have to ask yourself what in the name of John Frankenheimer was director John Lussenhop doing?!  Walker and Christensen are completely overshadowed in the "Worst Actor EVER" conversation, though, compared to rapper T.I. Never, and I mean, NEVER, have I witnessed a more miserable performance. I feel like I should start a petition to ban T.I. from appearing on screen again in the future. It is offensive how bad he is.

"Takers" also steals liberally from better heist movies and while I usually give a free pass in the "That's Already Been Done in This Other Movie" department, it's so blatant here that the characters actually reference the knock-off they are about to perform. New lows all around. The first 20-30 minutes of "Takers" is decent and some of the (early) action is entertaining but that is all that keeps this movie from completely deteriorating into near-spoof territory.

Grade: C-

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Movie News Today

Michael Fessbender is in talks to join Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" which was originally an "Alien" prequel. Fessbender has completely exploded after a small but substantial role in 2009's "Inglourious Basterds" and is coming closer and closer to A-list status. Good for him.

With Fessbender headed over to "Promethius," it appears Viggo Mortensen may take his spot in "Snow White and the Huntsman." Now we just need to know who'll play Snow White.

Will Ferrell will join "The Office" for a 4 episode arc later this season. I am positively giddy right now; can't even begin to describe.

Ryan Murphy has some strong words for Kings of Leon, who have rejected the idea of having their songs featured on the director's hit show, "Glee." Hey Ryan, maybe you should stop focusing on musicians who don't want their music covered on your show (totally within their rights, obviously) and maybe put some attention toward "story development" or "likable characters" instead of doing the same thing over and over, week in and week out. I really enjoyed the first season of "Glee." I made it three episodes into this season, however, and loathed every minute of it. The show, quite frankly, sucks. Get off your high horse.

The LA Times has a very interesting story concerning movies that tank domestically (see: "Gulliver's Travels") that score big overseas. Great read.

Next in Film delivers 9 actors who need to get back in the game. Well said, excellent list.

Oscar Nominations Are In

In case you haven't seen it all over the free world, the nominations for the 83rd Academy Awards are in. I'll cover these movies a little more as we get closer to the actual show but here's a brief look at the nods and some of the more notable snubs.

Best Picture

"127 Hours"
"Black Swan"
"The Fighter"
"The Kids Are Alright"
"The King's Speech"
"The Social Network"
"Toy Story 3"
"True Grit"
"Winter's Bone"

Biggest Snub: "The Town" - I think the final two spots came down to "127 Hours", "Winter's Bone", "Blue Valentine", and "The Town." I haven't seen "127 Hours" so I can't honestly say whether or not "The Town" is any better. If I had a vote between "Town" and "Winter's Bone" I would have gone with "Town" and I would also put it in over "The Fighter" which just isn't as good as the rest of these films.

Best Actor

Javier Bardem - "Biutiful"
Jeff Bridges - "True Grit"
Jesse Eisenberg - "The Social Network"
Colin Firth - "The King's Speech"
James Franco - "127 Hours"

Biggest Snub: Leonardo DiCaprio, "Inception" - One of many snubs for "Inception," this one I at least expected. I'm not sure what more DiCaprio could have done to pick up a nomination here. Not sure exactly who he'd replace here, however, so maybe that's the real issue.

Best Actress

Annette Bening - "The Kids Are Alright"
Nicole Kidman - "Rabbit Hole"
Jennfer Lawrence - "Winter's Bone"
Natalie Portman - "Black Swan"
Michelle Williams - "Blue Valentine"

Biggest Snub: ??? Quality leading female roles are tough to come by these days and I'm not sure I saw any performances that warranted mentioning here.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale - "The Fighter"
John Hawkes - "Winter's Bone"
Jeremy Renner - "The Town"
Mark Ruffalo - "The Kids Are Alright"
Geoffrey Rush - "The King's Speech"

Biggest Snub: Matt Damon, "True Grit" - This category always seems the most difficult to figure out. I think you could probably pick 10 guys every year that legitimately deserve to be nominated. That said, Damon was near perfect as Texas Ranger LaBeouf and his exclusion is pretty rough for my money. Ruffalo has been a shoe-in for this nod for months and I really don't get it. He plays the exact same character in EVERY SINGLE MOVIE and his performance in "The Kids Are Alright" is no different. Can't see a one-note actor gets so much love over a multi-faceted guy like Damon.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams - "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter - "The King's Speech"
Melissa Leo - "The Fighter"
Hailee Steinfeld - "True Grit"
Jacki Weaver - "Animal Kingdom"

Biggest Snub: Marion Cotillard, "Inception" - Her limited screen time may have hurt her cause but Cotillard's work in "Inception" was mesmerizing and haunting. I personally would have given her the edge over Leo, though I thought Leo's performance was also excellent.

Best Original Screeplay

"Another Year"
"The Fighter"
"The Kids Are Alright"
"The King's Speech"

Biggest Snub: ??? I got nothing. Pretty much all of the great screenplays from 2010 were adapted.

Best Adapted Screenplay

"127 Hours"
"The Social Network"
"Toy Story 3"
"True Grit"
"Winter's Bone"

Biggest Snub: "The Town" - An excellent script drawn from an excellent source material. This is another case, however, of, what do you take off this list to put "The Town" in there? Not sure.

Best Director

Darren Arnofsky - "Black Swan"
Joel and Ethan Coen - "True Grit"
David Fincher - "The Social Network"
Tom Hooper - "The King's Speech"
David O. Russell - "The Fighter"

Biggest Snub: CHRISTOPHER FREAKING NOLAN, "Inception" - This is the only real "snub" of the bunch, the only screw up worth getting worked up about. Really, Academy members? Really?! The most inventive, engrossing, amazing movie going experience of the year with so many moving parts that comes together seamlessly. That doesn't warrant a nomination for Best Director? This, dear readers, is a stinking joke. Fincher, Hooper, and the Coens all deserve their attention and I'll give the benefit of the doubt to Arnofsky having not seen "Black Swan." But the difference in directorial achievement for "Inception" and that of "The Fighter" is TREMENDOUS. David O. Russell did a solid job, even a good job, with his work on "Fighter" but not great or incredible or amazing or any of the other adjectives you can think of to describe what Nolan did with "Inception." After being snubbed for "Memento" and "Dark Knight", I think Nolan has legitimate cause to question what the heck the Academy has against him. Ridiculous.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Movie News Today

Orson Welles' final film, which has been locked away in a vault for four decades, is expected to see the light of day sometime soon.

Movies and Other Things provides a brief look at one of my very favorite films, "Into the Wild." A fitting choice given that it was unceremoniously snubbed for an Oscar nod just about 3 years ago today.

Cinema Slants discusses the somewhat triumphant return of Roger Ebert and "At the Movies" to television. On the whole I thought the first volume was a good start and I'm thrilled that Ebert is back on screen even if it's more in name than anything else.

I've seen 8 of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture this year (more on that to come). I missed "127 Hours", however, so have a look at Celluloid Zombie's take.

Robert Downey, Jr. has been working on a movie adaptation of the Mr. Peabody sketch from the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" TV show. Weird.

"The Hunger Games" has officially been given a March 23, 2012 release date. I loved this series and I'm extremely interested to see how in the world it's going to translate to the screen.

New DVD Tuesday

Red (2010) - Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren
A group of aging CIA retirees get the band back together to track down the people trying to kill them. Not sure how, in a crappy movie year like 2010, that I missed this one but somehow I did. I've seen mixed reviews but I'm still very interested. Review to come soon, I would guess.

Secretariat (2010) - Diane Lane, Chris Cooper, John Malkovich
The story of the most famous race horse in American history, John Malkovich. No, I mean Secretariat. Meh. I'm sure this is a nice, feel-good movie but I'm completely uninterested on two fronts: 1.) Horses; 2.) Diane Lane. I'm just not digging either of these components. Out.

Saw 3D (aka Saw 7) (2010) - Who cares
Do I need to sum this up? Didn't think so. If you're into terribly formulaic horror movies I'm sure you've already seen this. Otherwise, just move right along.

Like Dandelion Dust (2010) - Barry Pepper, Mira Sorvino, Cole Hauser
The lives of two families from different circumstances collide through the life of one boy. This is supposed to be a very real, gritty look at parenting from a Christian perspective. Let me say this: as both a Christian and a serious film lover, I usually run from Christian movies faster than I do just about anything else. The general lack of quality offends me as a movie buff and a Christian. With that said, I am really looking forward to this and hoping that it's a breakthrough for this medium. And Soap Box Office favorite Barry Pepper definitely helps.

Nowhere Boy (2010) - Aaron Johnson, Kristen Scott Thomas
Tracks the teenage years of John Lennon (Johnson). This kind of came and went without much fanfare here in the States but has gotten generally positive reviews. The trailer didn't do much to sell me, however, so I believe I will turn my attention elsewhere.

New to Blu Ray
Broadcast News (1987) - William Hurt, Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks
An inside look at a popular news station. I tried to watch "Broadcast News" a year or so ago and I just could not get through it. I stopped and started probably five times but ultimately gave up and deleted it from my DVR. I'm not really sure why. It won a TON of awards and it's got a great cast but I couldn't get into it. May have to try again with this Criterion Collection edition.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Movie News Today

With Sundance in full swing, Movieline presents 13 films that debuted in Park City and worked all the way to an Oscar nomination.

James Cameron says the two sequels to "Avatar" will open in December 2014 and 2015. So there's that.

With Oscar nominations coming out tomorrow, Marshall and the Movies has his predictions for who will get the nods. Solid thoughts.

In "Dadgumit!" news of the day, Duncan Jones ("Moon") passed on directing the new "Superman" movie.

The Razzie nominations are in. Very "Twilight" and "Last Airbender" centric. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Movie News Today

Matt Damon doesn't seem to happy about a the supposed fourth "Bourne" movie that won't involve him or director Paul Greengrass.

Keanu Reeves (always a reliable source) has started some rumors regarding fourth and fifth installments in the "Matrix" series. Because, you know, the last two were so awesome.

I wish the news of Anthony Hopkins potentially starring in an Alfred Hitchcock biopic made me giddy. Unfortunately, Hopkins seems to come one step closer to "Val Kilmer Straight to DVD" territory with each and every role.

The Sundance Film Festival is going on in Park City, Utah right now and while I hope to be there someday, for now I recommend Cinema Blend for your news and festival updates.

Weekend Box Office Results
Well pretty much everyone in America besides me hated "The Green Hornet" and clearly bad word of mouth got around. Either that or the appeal of Ashton Kutcher is much stronger than I would have thought. Regardless, it's a bad sign for "Hornet" that it fell to second so quickly in January.
1. "No Strings Attached" - $20.3 million
2. "The Green Hornet" - $18.1 ($63.44 million total)
3. "The Dilemma" - $9.73 ($33.36)
4. "The King's Speech" - $9.16 ($58.62)
5. "True Grit" - $8 ($138.63)
6. "Black Swan" - $6.2 ($83.58)
7. "The Fighter" - $4.52 ($73.03)
8. "Little Fockers" - $4.39 ($141.19)
9. "Yogi Bear" - $4.06 ($88.89)
10. Tron Legacy" - $3.71 ($163.27)

Movie Rankings 2010

For all the fuss I made about 2010 being the worst movie year in the history of the world, it does have one distinction: it is the first year to receive five "A+" grades since I started my rankings in 2004. That said, I've also seen less movies from 2010 than in any other previous year by the time I did my movie rankings. In short, 2010 was a top heavy year. We were treated to a number of magnificent films along with the usual array of junk but the biggest issue was the general lack of desirable content. How many weeks came and went last year and brought absolutely nothing that warranted a viewing? A handful of times I made a weekend trip to the theater not because I desperately wanted to see the newest release but because going to the movies is what I do. 2010 will be forever remembered as the year the writer's strike finally caught up with us. Adios, 2010. May your distinct brand of awfulness never make its presence known to us again.

"Inception" - Having thought long and hard about how to rank this top 5, I think that if I was given an Oscar vote, I would give Best Picture to "Inception." Never has that decision been as difficult as it was this year. When all is said and done, though, I think this was the best film experience I had in 2010.

"True Grit" - In a year that was almost entirely devoid of comedy, "True Grit" might have been the funniest film of the year. Strange, considering its subject matter. An all-around incredible movie.

"The King's Speech" - If you'd told me at the beginning of 2010 that a historical drama set in England would crack my end-of-year top 3, I would have slapped you in public. "Speech" holds the honor of being the only movie this year that I will see twice in theaters.

"The Social Network" - I expect "Social Network" to win Best Picture at most of the important award ceremonies. I can't really argue with that. I've said this a dozen times but from a technical perspective, this is a perfect film.

"Toy Story 3" - I feel bad that "TS3" fell this far. In all honesty, if it had opened in any of the last two or three years, I think it would have found itself atop my rankings. When I saw it in June I said it was the best movie I'd seen in years. I stand by that statement. It just so happened that four films came later in the year that all fit that bill.

"127 Hours"
"The Town" - For the last 12 years or so I have measured every serious heist movie against the wonder of "Heat." In that time, "The Town" is the first film that even compares. Not quite up to the high standard but a valiant effort nonetheless. In 10 years, I think we'll still be talking about how this film saved Ben Affleck's career.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" - I fully admit my extreme bias towards the Harry Potter franchise. That said, I found this installment to be a stroke of genius. I understand why some fans of the movies/books cried foul but this movie left me wishing the rest of the Potter series had been given more runtime with which to work.

"How to Train Your Dragon" - "Dragon" took me completely by surprise early in the year. I went in expecting a typical DreamWorks production and instead found that the company had turned a corner. It's still not Pixar but come on, there's a reason why Pixar is Pixar. This is the best film DW animation has ever done.

"Winter’s Bone" - The first film on this list that I didn't see in a theater. Jennifer Lawrence NAILS her role as a backwoods teenager trying to get her siblings through a tough life in crystal meth country. It is rugged and tough to watch but nonetheless significant.

"It's Kind of a Funny Story"

"Tangled" - If DreamWorks found a new path with "Dragon," Disney animation rediscovered their old path with "Tangled." The first Disney movie to matter in years, I think the much maligned redesign by John Lassiter to make "Tangled" appeal to both sexes was a key factor in the studio's return to prominence.

"Animal Kingdom"

"The Fighter"

"Shutter Island" - I gave this a B+ back in February and was a tiny bit disappointed in the finished product. Like many excellent films before it, however, its strength has grown over time. The more I thought about the overall concept of "Shutter Island," the more I liked it.

"The A-Team" - My "Guilty Pleasure Movie of the Year," hands down

"Iron Man 2" - Originally graded out as an A-, some distance between myself and my original viewing has brought it back down to earth. This still might be too high for "IM 2" but I've watched it three times now and despite the flaws, I really enjoy it. It definitely deviates from the main focus of the film for about 20 minutes in the second act, but when it's all said and done, I'm a superhero nerd and Robert Downey, Jr. follower. So deal with it.

"Easy A"
"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work"
"I’m Still Here"

"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" - A runtime 20 minutes shorter could have bumped "Scott Pilgrim" up into the top 10 or 15. Just a little too much drag out towards the end. From an originality standpoint, however, you don't get much better than this video game movie. A lot of quirky fun.

"Date Night"
"Exit Through the Gift Shop"
"Black Swan"

"Due Date"
"Despicable Me"

"The Book of Eli" - A lot of people didn't like "Eli." In fact it showed up on more than a few "Worst of the Year" lists. The finished product is definitely flawed but I really, really enjoyed the vast majority of the movie. I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic visions of the future, anyway, and this is one of the better concepts I've seen from that genre in a while.

"The Kids Are Alright"
"Exporting Raymond"
"Alice in Wonderland"

"The Other Guys" - Certainly not the best Will Ferrell-Adam McKay collaboration (duh) but in a year that seriously lacked humor, "The Other Guys" provided half a movie of hilarity and one of the more shocking (and comedic) death scenes in recent memory.

"Eat Pray Love"
"Shrek Forever After"
"The American"
"Knight and Day"

"Green Zone" - Matt Damon man crush aside, "Green Zone" could have been much better than it was. I think the filmmakers tried to tell a story without picking a political side and the end result was just plain dull. It is, in fact, the only movie I saw in theaters this year that I didn't review simply because I didn't have anything to say. I missed a couple due to business and a few because of my injury, but this one...I just didn't have 800 words worth of content. Not a bad movie but nothing to write home about.

"Robin Hood" - Not the worst movie I've ever seen but easily the most disappointing of the year for me. I love the Robin Hood story and thought for sure the Ridley Scott-Russell Crowe combination would make for an awesome new chapter. Instead, we got a mismatched, fairly boring, uninspired rendition.

"Tron: Legacy"
"Get Him to the Greek"
"Morning Glory"

"Going the Distance"The second best romantic-comedy of the year (behind "Date Night"), which is more an indictment of this genre as a whole than it is an endorsement of this film. "Distance" has its moments and there's a decent amount of humor but the chemistry between Justin Long and Drew Barrymore was off in my opinion.

"Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole"

"The Sorcerer’s Apprentice"
"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" - I put these two together because they're basically the same movie with the same formula: Jerry Bruckheimer + Disney + plus a video game-esque epic adventure + a valuing of style over substance = a mediocre movie that is good for a one time in-home viewing and not much more. I guess the formula brings money so...
"Cop Out"
"Dinner for Schmucks"
"The Company Men"
"Holy Rollers"

"The Losers" - I had "The Losers" graded higher until a few weeks after its release when I saw "The A-Team" when I thought to myself, "Oh, that's what "Losers" was supposed to be." The movie has a flair that could have been built upon but it was stifled by one of the worst villainous performances (Jason Patric) in recent memory. A serious waste.
"Edge of Darkness"

"The Expendables" - If I'm grading from a filmmaking perspective, "Expendables" is one of the worst movies...EVER. If I'm grading from a "How Much Fun Was it to Watch in a Theater Full of Testosteroned-Out Men," this is one of the best movies ever. I think a C+ is about perfect. It is without question the most ridiculous, poorly acted, poorly scripted thing I've ever enjoyed but man was it a stinking blast. So stupid and yet so fun.

"The Next Three Days"
"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"
"The Switch"

"Jonah Hex" - Not nearly as bad as people made it out to me. Was it an achievement in film? Of course not. But was it one of the worst movies of the year? Not even close. Josh Brolin may have been surrounded by absolutely nothing in the way of quality writing, directing, or supporting cast but he works hard in his role and the majority of the scenes he's in are more than tolerable from a throw-away-movie-on-a-Thursday-night perspective.

"Karate Kid" - Look, it's pretty simple: when Jackie Chan gives the best acting performance in a given movie, that movie sucks. Jaden Smith sent me into a 'Nam-like flashback with visions of Jake Lloyd flashing through my head. In addition, the focus of this movie is kung fu, not karate. So basically someone wrote a screenplay that had nothing to do with the Mister Miyagi-Daniel Son classic and the studio called it a "Karate Kid" reboot so help sell tickets. The fight scenes were fun but that's about the extent of this movie's merits.

"Clash of the Titans"


"Brooklyn’s Finest" - It's always a bad sign when you forget you even saw a movie. I honestly had to go back and search for "Brooklyn's Finest" on IMDB to remember anything about it other than the fact that Wesley Snipes was in the cast. Exceedingly below average.

"Harry Brown"
"Repo Men"

"The Wolfman" - Remember when Benicio del Toro was a rising star? Dude needs a new agent. "Wolfman" is just one screw up after another, culminating in a toneless, emotionless "horror" movie that fails on almost every level.

"Grown Ups" - I have always loved Adam Sandler. But seriously, this was an embarrassment. Absolutely nothing was right with this movie. NOTHING.

"Valentine’s Day" - There are almost not enough bad words to describe "Valentine's Day." The romantic comedy version of "Crash" contains some of the very best unlikeable, two dimensional characters that you could ever ask for. What the heck, Garry Marshall?1 You used to be the king of this genre! Best of all, if you missed this one, you'll get a second chance later this year when we get..."New Year's Eve"! Let the celebration begin!

"Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" - Apparently some people who I generally trust actually sort-of liked this movie. I, on the other hand, wanted to choke a puppy. The kids CANNOT act, Christopher Columbus DID NOT direct, and in all honesty, having read the first couple of books in this series, there isn't much of a quality story to draw from. Just awful.

"The Last Airbender" - When I say that "Airbender" wasn't as bad as I expected, please understand that I expected the absolute worst movie of the last decade. It wasn't. I actually enjoyed perhaps 15 minutes of this thing. That said, it is, unquestionably, truly a miserable movie. Can we send out a search party for the real M. Night Shyamlan now? Clearly something bad has happened to him because there's no way that the guy who did "Sixth Sense" and "Signs" also created "The Happening" and "Airbender." Definitely the worst movie of the year for me but not the worst of recent memory (see: "Gentlemen Broncos"). (EDIT: No longer the worst movie of the year, thanks to "Skyline.")

"Skyline" - One of the very worst movies I have ever, ever seen.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Movie Friday

"The Company Men" - Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner
This supposedly less depressing version of "Up in the Air" finds several business men who are suddenly laid off and left scrambling to put their lives back together. I can't figure out what to expect here. "Feel good" movies are alright as long as they don't get too schmaltzy and this is a superb cast. Then again, a move from November/December to January is always a bad sign. More importantly: is it weird that, after "The Town" and the interviews that came with it, I'm sort-of rooting for Affleck? I've spent years hating on the guy but darnit if I'm not finding that difficult these days. Weird.

"No Strings Attached" - Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher
A pair of life-long friends put their relationship to the test when they begin a "friends with benefits" affair. There's a bunch of these movies headed our way this year including one that's actually called "Friends with Benefits." Portman is wonderful but I'm uninterested. Also, what am to think about Kutcher in general? It's not that he's a bad actor necessarily, it's that I can't take him seriously. Every time I see him on screen all I can think about is "Punk'd." No thanks.

"The Way Back" (limited) - Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Mark Strong
Based on a popular novel, "The Way Back" focuses a soldier (Sturgess) who helps lead a group out of a World War II prison camp and across the continent to India. This is supposed to be quite tough and gritty but holds a great deal of interest for me. I'm sure it won't hit a theater near me so I'll have to wait for DVD. I am, nonetheless, very interested.

Movie News Today

If you've ever wanted to see a film starring Beyonce, directed by Clint Eastwood, then may I recommend "A Star Is Born" which the Hollywood legend (Eastwood) has signed on for. Calling this a strange combination doesn't even begin to describe it.

Marvel continues its trend of focusing on obscure superheros by focusing some development on a movie for Black Panther, a project they've discussed in the past but gone away from. Obscure or not, I'm always in for a good comic book movie (as long as it doesn't involve the Punisher).

Roger Ebert has a sweet diagram/chart of the Batmobile in its various forms throughout the years. Nerdiness abounds!

If 2011 wasn't already awesome enough for Blu-Ray purchases ("Star Wars" and "Jurassic Park" already confirmed), now comes word that later this month Best Buy will offer an exclusive BR version of the Cameron Crowe masterpiece, "Almost Famous." Without question one of my ten favorite movies of all time. I'm a little giddy right now, not going to lie.

You probably know a thing or two about Catwoman, one of the two villains for the third "Batman" film announced earlier this week. You might not know much, however, about Bane, the other villain who will be played by "Inception's" Tom Hardy. Never fear, Empire has a handy-dandy guide to all things Bane.

"The King's Speech"

A few months back, as I looked over the end-of-year movie schedule, I couldn’t help but be more than a little disappointed with the holiday offerings. I was stoked about “True Grit” and “The Fighter” but other than those options, “Tron Legacy” was about the only thing that had any appeal whatsoever. But as the month approached, buzz about “The King’s Speech” began making the rounds and after initially dismissing it as a subject I wasn’t interested in, I finally succumbed to my influences and partook in the Colin Firth fervor. And lo and behold, peer pressure isn’t near as bad as my old D.A.R.E officer would have had me believe! (Note to kids: I’m kidding, peer pressure totally sucks. Stand strong!)

“The King’s Speech” tells the riveting story of the man who would come to be Britain’s leader in World War II. We open in 1929 as Prince Albert/the Duke of York/George VI (Colin Firth) steps up to a newfangled device known as the microphone to address the global British Empire. Unfortunately, the prince suffers from an extreme speech impediment that makes it near impossible to complete a full sentence without stammering. A few years and a plethora of doctors later, George’s wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) enlists the help of one last specialist. Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) is a quirky Australian who claims to be able to heal anyone who wants to be healed. After some hesitation, George begins to buy into Logue’s odd methods and steadily sees an increase in his vocal abilities. This is all put to the test, however, when his brother, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), is forced to abdicate the throne and George is given control of Britain at a dangerous time. With war on the horizon, George must face his fear and deliver a speech to rally the Empire.

I confess that my ignorant American education left me with no knowledge of these events. (Sorry, Britain.) I’ve gone through periods of great interest in WWII but in true Westerner form, that interest has focused almost entirely on the American involvement. Whenever a film like this reaches theaters, I’m always shocked that it has taken so long for the story to be told. Perhaps the Brits know this subject matter so well that it didn’t need to be dramatized or perhaps no one thought Americans would care to see this. But regardless of the reason, man am I glad it’s finally come to the forefront.

“Speech” could be used as a teaching tool for how to make a historical drama. The performances are amazing, the runtime is sufficiently concise, the drama is built organically and without heavy-handedness, and it stands out in all technical departments. From a story standpoint, you could not ask for a better tale than the one director Tom Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler were given. For their parts, however, the pair doesn’t waste time trying to spice the narrative; they simply let the story be told, a novel concept in Hollywood these days. Hooper seems to understand the use of space in front of the camera as well as anyone in the business and chooses his shots brilliantly, bringing attention to tiny details of the set that serve to strengthen the atmosphere of the film. In addition, the use of color and a subtle soundtrack are strokes of genius.

I’m not exactly sure when Colin Firth went from “Likeable-but-Plain with an Accent Guy” to “Could Win an Oscar Every Time Guy” but the transition certainly suits him well. He absolutely shines here, delivering what has to be considered a career-best performance. Just like Christian Bale in “The Fighter,” Firth earns extra points in my book for a near-perfect depiction of a real-life person with a disability. It is so incredibly hard to play a character with an addiction, a mental handicap, or a speech impediment and make that character come across as authentic rather than caricature-like. His final speech is a work of art. Rush shines in his own right, providing a down-to-earth base for both the characters on screen and the audience. He’s accessible and that fact brings the audience into the film, helping to connect the viewer to the story. Carter, Pearce, and a few other actors take full advantage of their moments in the spotlight, but the fact of the matter is, “Speech” begins and ends with the work of Firth and Rush.

It should be noted that this type of film isn’t really my cup of tea. More often than not, I avoid historical dramas and period pieces because the ones I have seen bore me to tears. “Speech” may force me to reexamine my prejudice. A dose of genuine heart and an outrageously witty, self-deprecating sense of humor provide the finishing touches to a tremendous finished product. This is (forgive the pun) a crowning achievement in film and one that I would recommend to any movie goer.

Grade: A+

Even this movie’s poster is awesome,

If you're interested in knowing what King George VI actually sounded like, please check out the link below. He begins speaking at about the 3 minute mark.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Movie News Today

The big news of the day is that Anne Hathaway will play Catwoman/Selina Kyle in the final Christopher Nolan-directed Batman film, "Dark Knight Rising." Not much of a Hathaway fan, to be honest, but as I've said before, I trust Nolan so much that if he were to announce Jaleal White as Catwoman, I'd give him the benefit of the doubt.

Movie Muse provides a profile on the beautiful and talented Natalie Portman.

In "Why Hollywood is Stupid" news of the day, WB plans to reboot both "Lethal Weapon" and "The Wild Bunch." Because whenever you can completely ruin the legacy of a great franchise, you have to do it.

John Likes Movies reviews the Coen Brothers classic, "Fargo." Always worth a viewing.

And while we still don't have a trailer, today we have a first look at the cast of "X-men: First Class." I'm excited, I'm just not sure about this cast.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"The Green Hornet"

I would say that overall, my final graded opinion on most films falls in line with the thinking of the average movie blogger. Maybe not the hardcore, professional critics but guys like me who enjoy a wide range of cinematic experiences and put their thoughts on paper? We usually find some level of agreement. Every once in a while, though, a movie comes along on which my opinion is far different from the rest of my colleagues. Sometimes I despise a movie that most everyone else at least tolerates (see: “House Bunny”). Sometimes, however, it’s the exact opposite: everyone around me, people I trust and usually agree with, pounce upon a film and rip it to shreds, forcing me to stand alone and argue the merits of said film. So without further review, allow me to stand alone and argue the merits of “The Green Hornet.”

“The Green Hornet” opens on young Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) as he is ridiculed by his overbearing, news mogul father, James (Tom Wilkinson). Fast forward twenty years (during which we can assume the rift between father and son only grew wider) and we find Britt as a full-fledged L.A. party guy with no ambition and nothing to show for his privileged life. Things change, however, when James is found dead, leaving his entire media empire to his slacker son. While vandalizing the statue above his father’s grave, a drunken Britt and his driver/barista Kato (Jay Chou) stop a mugging and in the process garner some attention as low-class crooks. Inspired, Britt and Kato decide to become superheroes who will take on the city’s criminal element. However, instead of coming out as heroes and risking the proverbial weaknesses of being good guys (the call of duty, the respect for all human life, etc.), the duo will pose as villains in order to get closer to the real baddies. Britt uses his media influence to push this new terror down the city’s throat and names him The Green Hornet. This new found calling draws the ire of crime boss Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), however, and he engages Britt and Kato in a full scale urban war.

It should be noted before I get too far into this sure-to-be-questioned review that I am not a fan of Seth Rogen. A few of his movies (most notably “Knocked Up”) have been enjoyable but on the whole, I generally dislike what he brings to the table. I think he thinks he’s much funnier than he actually is and that annoys me. That said, I thought he was just about the perfect choice for Britt Reid/Green Hornet. He isn’t your typical superhero casting choice but then again the Green Hornet isn’t your typical superhero. This version of the Hornet is as much a bumbling buffoon as he is a stylish butt kicker and Rogen embodies that mentality. It is Kato, and therefore Chou, who provides the real muscle behind the Green Hornet, designing all of his gadgets and putting bad guys down with a righteous array of kung fu moves. Some have complained about Chou’s struggles with the English language but I found this to be much more endearing than annoying. And while Chudnofsky might not be as formidable an opponent as you might want in a villain, Waltz gives a quality and humorous performance, almost a satirical take on his brilliant work as Hans Landa (“Inglourious Basterds”). It’s clear the priorities of “Hornet” are comedy then comic book action but the laughs are plentiful and the mix worked for me. Add in some sweet fight scenes, a well-used soundtrack, and a couple of killer car chases and you’ve got an enjoyable action-comedy.

That’s not to say I don’t understand the negativity that’s being thrown around. I definitely understand some of the complaints my colleagues have levied against this movie. First and foremost, the post production addition of 3D is infuriating. This enhancement is poorly done and utterly pointless. More often than not I wouldn’t have been able to tell I was watching a 3D movie were it not for the cumbersome Buddy Holly glasses attached to my nose. “Clash of the Titans” has nothing on “The Green Hornet” in terms of hastily added 3D. Likewise, Cameron Diaz’s character, Britt’s secretary, is empty and unnecessary. In all honesty, she didn’t need to be in the movie and she adds nothing of significance to the plot. And speaking of the plot, it seems “story development” wasn’t of great importance. It’s not that “Hornet” is all style, no substance like your average Michael Bay movie. Instead, we get a worthwhile story but one that jumps from place to place and moves along clumsily. These negatives, though, weren’t enough to temper my satisfaction with the movie as a whole.

I went into “Hornet” without having read, seen, or heard a single review of the film and perhaps that added to my experience. Regardless, I confess I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. From almost the first moment, the jokes start flying and the vast majority of them hit the mark. While the humor is certainly slapstick-y, juvenile, and perhaps less witty than my normal comedic taste, I found it to be entertaining and easy to watch. Director Michael Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) and screenwriter Rogen establish the tone of the film immediately and seem to ask the audience to get on board or get out. I accepted this invitation to enjoy myself and did just that. “Hornet” is, quite simply, fun and much more so than anything I have come to expect from a January release.

Grade: B-

Death to 3D,

New DVD Tuesday

Takers (2010) - Idris Elba, Chris Brown, Paul Walker
Just your typical "one last big score" heist movie. I quite enjoy heist flicks but I've got no excitement for any movie that stars Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen plus singers/rappers Chris Brown and T.I. Seriously, just the cuts from the trailer that featured T.I. were brutally painful. I imagine this will make its way into my blu-ray player at some point but I can't really tell you why. I have a sickness.

Buried (2010) - Ryan Reynolds
A contractor (Reynolds) working in the Middle East wakes up in a coffin with a limited supply of air. He must negotiate a ransom payment before he dies, locked beneath the earth's surface. Now this, I'm interested in. This is a big test for Reynolds. To carry a movie completely on your own with no or very little support from anyone else is a challenge that some of the very best actors in the business haven't been able to work through. Extremely intrigued.

Justified Season One (2010) - Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins
This FX series follows US Marshal Raylan Givens (Olyphant) who is forced to return to the backwoods of Kentucky where he grew up as punishment for a bad shooting in Miami. Back home, he goes full battle mode against the meth dealers that have overrun the town. My goodness, what a GREAT show! Other than "Sons of Anarchy," you'd be hard pressed to find a show that's better than this. Olyphant is outstanding and the show works beautifully week-to-week.

Stone (2010) - Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich
A soon-to-be-retired parole officer (De Niro) gets tangled up in a messy love triangle involving a convict (Norton) and his wife (Jovovich). When he's on his game and invested in a role, there's almost no better actor than Norton. I'm cautiously optimistic that "Stone" will be one of those "invested" films.

Animal Kingdom (2010) - Ben Mendelsohn, Jacki Weaver, James Frecheville
From Austrailia comes an independent film about a family of crooks whom the youngest brother (Frecheville) wants to break away from. "Animal Kingdom" was a festival favorite and garnered a Golden Globe nomination for Weaver. I have been chomping at the bit to see this movie for the last few months and can't wait to swing through Family Video this week to pick it up.

Jack Goes Boating (2010) - Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan
Per IMDB: "A limo driver's blind date sparks a tale of love, betrayal, friendship, and grace centered around two working-class New York City couples." Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut got mixed reviews so in a week that features this many strong candidates for viewing, I imagine this will slip through the cracks of the Soap Box Office.

Paper Man (2010) - Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Jeff Daniels
Apparently it's indie-week at your local Best Buy. "Paper Man" follows a writer (Daniels) who forms a creative friendship with a teenage girl (Stone) under the guidance of an imaginary superhero (Reynolds). Talk about a concept film! Still, the premise is thoroughly intriguing. I expect a review will be coming your way sooner rather than later.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"The Fighter"

If there is any recreational medium that I love more than the cinema, it is sports. The vast majority of my spare time that does not involve movies usually revolves around the ESPN family of networks. I watch sports, play sports, think about sports, and work in sports. So it should come as no surprise that I love it when movies and sports come together to rock the multiplex. 2010 was a huge disappointment in this regard. I can’t remember a year that featured less sports related films than 2010 and that’s coming off a year that had a solid selection in this department. It seems weird that I went into “The Fighter,” the last movie I saw in 2010, knowing that by default it would be the best sports movie of the year. Fortunately for me, “Fighter” lived up to the title that had been pre-ordained upon it, delivering a compelling story that grabs hold of the audience from the opening scene.

“Fighter” is the true life tale of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a struggling light welterweight boxer who fought in the 90s. Boxing is a family affair for Ward, with his mother Alice (Melissa Leo) serving as his manager and his half-brother Dick Eklund (Christian Bale) fulfilling the role of trainer. Dick was at one time an up-and-coming fighter who nearly defeated the great Sugar Ray Leonard in a highly publicized bout in the late 70s. Since then, however, his life has fallen apart in the midst of a serious drug addiction. Everyone has a say in Micky’s career except Micky, leading to a litany of poorly matched opponents who use him as a tune-up before a big fight. Everything comes to a head when Dick, attempting to make some money to keep Micky in his gym, gets into an altercation with the police during which Micky’s hand is broken. With his brother back in jail and his hand busted up, Micky finds that his career is at a crossroads. Under the guidance of his new girlfriend, Charlene (Amy Adams), Micky decides to give it a go on his own, training for the first time without Dick. When Dick is released from prison, however, Micky finds that he must figure out how to bridge his two worlds in order to give himself a legitimate chance in a title fight.

Despite its sports setting, “The Fighter” is, for all intents and purposes, a character study. It’s kind of the exact opposite of a Jerry Bruckheimer production: 90 percent story and development, 10 percent action. At times that causes the film to move a bit slower than I was prepared for, resulting in a 115 minute runtime that feels a bit more like 150 minutes. It isn’t boring by any means but the pace is steady and deliberate. As such, much is asked of and delivered by the leads. You could not ask for better crafted or portrayed characters than Micky, Dick, Alice, and Charlene and therefore, Wahlberg, Bale, Leo, and Adams. All four of these esteemed actors give masterful performances that should be counted among their finest works. Wahlberg brings quiet intensity to Micky, a trait that makes his immediately likeable. You can’t help but root for Micky because that feeling comes upon you organically rather than being forced down your throat. Alice, on the other hand, is cold and harsh and Leo perfectly illustrates the balance between loving mother and icy businesswoman. On some level, you dislike Alice the way you do those obsessive stage moms who force their kids into pageants but you’re also left to wonder what you might do in her shoes. If Wahlberg provides the quiet drive behind the film, Adams gives it its voice and backbone. Charlene is unapologetically foul-mouthed and strong willed and it is her push that allows Micky to do something for himself. Micky’s life outside of the ring is as much a fight as it is inside of it and that is displayed beautifully in the conflict between Charlene and the rest of the family.

All of these performances, however, pale in comparison to the work done by Bale. Every time he stepped on screen I was fixated on him. I sat mesmerized as he ran the gamut of emotions that rule an addict’s life, the ups and the downs, the delusions of quitting and the calm of the high. His mannerisms, speech, and behaviors are all textbook junkie, giving heartbreakingly authentic life to Dick Eklund and the film as a whole. The scene in which Dick realizes what he’s done to his family and particularly his young son is one of the more haunting, gut-punching moments in recent film history. Simply put, Bale owns every scene that he’s in and you are undeniably reminded of what outstanding work this guy is truly capable of.

On the down side, I found some of the filmmaking aspects of “The Fighter” to be below par. The sound and video editing were a bit off and at times even the color was tinted poorly. While the boxing scenes were excellent (you can tell that extensive work was put in to make these shots look as realistic as possible), I felt like they could have used a little more production to help build the in-ring drama to match what happens outside of it. The final fight ends somewhat anticlimactically which brought with it a touch of disappointment. On some level, I think the performances are better than “The Fighter” itself and overshadow the film as a whole.

These negatives, however, in no way take away from the overall impact of this movie. Director David O. Russell put together a brilliant film and brought attention to a story that badly needed telling. The realism of “The Fighter” combined with the powerful performances would make it a tough contender to beat for just about any other sports movie. It is an outstanding achievement and one that will not be forgotten soon.

Grade: A-

Boxing may be favorite sport in the movies,

Movie News Today

For the last few months/years, Ridley Scott has been working on an "Alien" prequel. Well, forget that. What started as "Alien" has turned into "Prometheus" and will star Noomi Rapace of "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" fame. I'm okay with this.

While I don't agree with every choice, John Likes Movies gives us the worst movies that were nominated for Best Picture in the 2000s. Check it out!

Gman Reviews delivers the top 10 Westerns of the last decade. Cosigned.

If you care to see the results of the Golden Globes, here you go. I'm out on any award show that gives props to "Burlesque."

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "The Green Hornet" - $34 million
2. "The Dilemma" - $17.42
3. "True Grit" - $11.2 ($126.41 million total)
4. "The King's Speech" - $9.07 ($44.59)
5. "Black Swan" - $8.13 ($72.99)
6. "Little Fockers" - $7.14 ($134.22)
7. "Tron Legacy" - $5.67 ($156.91)
8. "Yogi Bear" - $5.35 ($82.1)
9. "The Fighter" - $5.13 ($65.77)
10. "Season of the Witch" - $4.5 ($17.99)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Blu-Ray Review: "Eat Pray Love"

Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) has achieved the American dream - she has a successful career, a loving husband, and a quality life. Still, however, she feels unfulfilled and when she finally embraces this fact, she springs into dramatic action. Leaving her husband, Liz embarks on a one year journey that will take her from Italy to India to Bali and back to New York. Along the way she meets a number of new and fascinating people who help her work through the image she has created for herself and discover her true being.

Based on the memoir of the real life Elizabeth Gilbert, "Eat Pray Love" is ostensibly about letting go and forgetting about calorie counting, cultural constraints, and the burden of guilt and worry. All noble conventions, to be sure, but in reality this film pretty much grounds itself in shallow spirituality and the cliche actions of empowered women in film. Roberts, one of my very favorite actresses, plays her role well but there isn't much to work with. Just like his work on "Glee," director Ryan Murphy creates depth-less, one note characters that seem more generic the longer they are on screen. With the exception of Richard Jenkins, whose turn as a rough-around-the-edges-but-kind-hearted recovering addict is inspired, the talented cast of "Eat Pray Love" is under-utilized and their characters are ultimately forgettable. Even Javier Bardem, who always draws attention no matter what role he plays, fails to make much of an impact on the audience.

It is, nonetheless, a beautiful film. The cinematography, architecture, and use of color is at times mesmerizing. Anyone who dreams of starting fresh in a new setting will be tantalized by the stunning visual beauty displayed throughout the 130 minute runtime. But these features combined with the personal appeal of Julia Roberts simply wasn't enough to draw me in and get me invested in the movie as a whole. "Eat Pray Love" tells a bold and viable story but without emotional connection to the tale or the characters that work within it, you're left with a flawed finished product that fails to impress.

Grade: B

My 10 Favorite Performances from 2010

10. Marion Cotillard - "Mal," Inception
"Inception" is going to get a lot of love this award season and rightly so. Though I'm still undecided, if I were given a vote for a major award committee, I think this would get my vote for Best Picture. Still, Cotillard's hypnotic and ghoulish turn as Mal isn't getting much attention these days and that's a crying shame. She is magnificently creepy as the ghostly vision of Cobb's (Leonardo DiCaprio) dead wife who pops up at the most inopportune of times to wreak havoc on an otherwise flawless plan. Mal is an atypical villain but "Inception" calls for a compelling antagonist and Cotillard steps up beautifully.

9. Will Ferrell - "Allen Gamble," The Other Guys
This one is undoubtedly a unique choice. On the whole I didn't really like "The Other Guys" all that much but the one blindingly bright spot was Ferrell. Gamble is a straight edged, starched collar, pleated pants kind of guy whose humor is more unintentional than anything else and Ferrell absolutely nails that description. The downfall of this movie is the rest of the cast, almost all of whom get swallowed up by director Adam McKay's improvisational, "just see what happens" style. Ferrell, on the other hand, flourishes in that setting and gives a truly funny performance.

8. Armie Hammer - "Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss," Social Network
The majority of the attention being paid to the actors of "The Social Network" is going to Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield and rightly so. Both men did an excellent job with their characters. Hammer, however, stole the show for me every time he and his body double came on screen. Sure, Mark Zuckerberg is clearly the brainier of the three but it would be very easy for him to dominate the screen and the story. Instead, Hammer delivers a dual performance that is commanding, compelling, and sympathetic with his twin brothers going to toe-to-toe with Zuckerberg.

7. John Hawks - "Teardrop Dolly," Winter's Bone
Jennifer Lawrence is the clear star in "Winter's Bone" and she'll get her due in a minute here. But wow, what an outstanding job Hawkes did as a backwoods, Ozark tough guy. Teardrop is a man torn in two directions: on the one hand he'd like to avenge his brother's death and on the other he must respect the code developed between himself and the rest of the his methed-out community. Hawkes displays this internal struggle gloriously and would be nominated for Best Supporting Actor if I had a vote.

6. Emma Stone -  "Olive Pendergrass," Easy A
You can't watch an Emma Stone movie and not fall in love with her character. She's the girl next door who also happens to be deliciously hilarious. "Easy A" is Stone's coming out party of sorts, her first real, mainstream starring role and what a job she does with it! Olive is an unknown teenager who finds that her popularity (temporarily) soars when (untrue) rumors of her promiscuity roll through the school. Stone plays Olive perfectly, never allowing her to become too wrapped up in the cliche drama that envelopes most high school settings but still letting the ramifications of her circumstances register with the audience. It's an excellent balance and it is what makes "Easy A" a valid piece of social commentary instead of just a throw away teen movie.

5. Jennifer Lawrence - "Ree Dolly," Winter's Bone
As an Ozark mountain teenager left in charge of her young siblings as her mother drifts deeper into depression and her father jumps in and out of jail, Ree is an uber-sympathetic and harrowing figure. Lawrence embodies the backwoods of Missouri so perfectly that you would think "Winter's Bone" was based on her life. She is strong, rugged, and determined but with a subtle touch of naivety that makes the role as powerful as it is. She's a shoe-in for a Best Actress nomination and would get my vote in the category.

4. Leonardo DiCaprio - "Cobb," Inception and "Teddy Daniels," Shutter Island
I'm going to focus mostly on DiCaprio's turn in "Inception" but I would be remiss if I didn't mention his outstanding work in "Shutter Island." While "Island" wasn't quite up the expectations I had going in, it was a compelling story and DiCaprio was wicked good. Like Mal in "Inception," Daniels is often a disturbing figure that you can't take your eyes off of. DiCaprio sells the film's final twist beautifully. Cobb is a much more commanding but no less compelling and sympathetic figure as compared to Daniels. Cobb is haunted by the ghostly spectre of his dead wife but hell bent on delivering on his most complicated job to date. He is an excruciatingly complex character and everything about DiCaprio's performance brings the audience deeper and deeper into his soul (for lack of a better term).

3. Jeremy Renner - "James Coughlin," The Town
Two years ago, Renner was in a short-lived ABC cop drama called "The Unusuals." Last year he gave a stirring performance in "The Hurt Locker" which earned him a Best Actor Oscar nod. This year, he was cast as Hawkeye in the upcoming "Avengers" movie and perfectly played the crucial role in "The Town." He's a star in the making. As a hardened ex-con with a horrifying temper and a lack of legal skills, Coughlin is the driving force behind the inevitable confrontation between Ben Affleck's bank robber and John Hamm's FBI agent. He is devoted and loyal to his crew and his heritage but he will not accept that his best friend is moving on with his life. Most importantly, he is steadfast in his determination that he will never again be kept prisoner. When Renner makes this declaration I believed him, unlike so many movie crooks I've seen over the years. You could almost feel sorry for Coughlin if you weren't sure he'd beat the crap out of you for saying so. It's a riveting portrayal.

2. Jeff Bridges - "Rooster Cogburn," True Grit
How do you follow up a role that won you the Oscar for Best Actor? I guess revamping a character that won the same award for another legendary actor is a good way to go. Rooster Cogburn is a collection of contradictions: harsh but appealing, simple but wickedly sharp, often drunk but always sober-minded, slow to speak but quick to act. There's no question that writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen gave Bridges a magnificent character to work with. Likewise, however, there's no question that Bridges did more with what he was given than even the Coens could have envisioned. Bridges offering is, all things considered, perfect. Adding to the brilliance for me is how decisively different Bridges' Rooster Cogburn is from his Bad Blake, the role for which he won the Oscar for last year. Both are aging, grizzled, down home, good old boys but their similarities end there. To make those two characters so different is EXTREMELY difficult and I think any number of great actors wouldn't have been up to challenge.

1. Christian Bale - "Dick Eklund," The Fighter
It is tough to standout in a film that is rife with amazing performances. In "The Fighter," Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo all deliver excellent portrayals of their respective characters. Adams and Leo are likely to garner numerous Best Supporting Actress nominations and for my money, Wahlberg deserves some award talk as well. So please understand how great those actors were when I say that none of them even hold a candle to what Christian Bale did. A drugged out, washed-up former boxing prodigy whose reality never measured up to vision in his own head, Eklund is one of the more well-crafted characters in recent memory. It is not easy to accurately depict the life of a junkie, to find the proper balance between the zone-outs and the manic outbursts, the shifty vulnerability and the drug-fueled strength. From moment one of the film to the final frame, Bale hits the mark flawlessly. He sucks you into his world as an addict, keeps you there as he attempts to recover, and rewards you for your patience when he ultimately steps up in the most important moment of the film. In a year that was egregiously lacking in heart, Bale's turn as Eklund is the only single performance that brought a little water to my crybaby eyes. It is a tremendous achievement in acting and Bale deserves every single praise that comes his way.

Looking forward to what these great actors will do in 2011,

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Netflix Review - "Holy Rollers"

Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg) is a young man whose life is run by his Orthodox Hasidic Jewish upbringing. He lives at home, works for his father, and will marry only the woman he is set up with. Everything changes, however, when he accepts a job offer from Yosef (Justin Bartha), his best friend's older brother who serves as the community's black sheep. Presented as a free trip to Amsterdam, Sam quickly discovers that to return home, he will have to carry Ecstasy through customs. While he is clearly shaken by this foray into the world of drug running, he quickly realizes what kind of financial benefit this trade could bring him. He begins training other down-on-their-luck Jews to smuggle drugs and before long, asserts himself as a valuable part of kingpin Jackie Solomon's (Danny A. Abeckaser). But as the deals get bigger, Sam's family life falls apart and he comes closer and closer to the edge as the feds get closer.

"Rollers" gets some good-enough performances from the cast. Eisenberg brings a certain emotional attachment to the project and does an admirable job of making Sam his own man instead of a Mark Zuckerberg as a drug mule. Bartha, usually the comic relief, plays well against-type and embraces the black sheep junkie with flair. Based on real events, the film's setting is interesting but fails to develop as I would have liked. There's a great story to be told within the framework of the "Orthodox Jew struggles with the abandonment of his family and faith in order to make good money" plot line. Unfortunately, director Kevin Asch and screenwriter Antonio Macia neglect this, the most intriguing aspect of the tale and instead focus on a cookie-cutter love triangle that stagnates the flow of the film and brought about boredom on my part. A refocused narrative could have made "Holy Rollers" an engrossing film. Instead, the final product is mediocre at best.

Grade: B-