Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ninja Assassin


Directed by James McTeigue.
2009. Rated R, 99 minutes.
Cast:
Rain
Naomie Harris
Ben Miles
Rick Yune
Shô Kosugi
Anna Sawai
Joon Lee


Raizo, played by the singularly and mystically named Rain, has turned his back on his family. His family is not like yours. They are the infamous Ozunu clan. The Ozunu clan is one of the infamous “nine clans” that has apparently been supplying ninjas to work as assassins for governments or “anyone who has gold” for thousands of years. They are, of course, led by Ozunu (Kosugi). How old is this guy? Shouldn’t he be Ozunu XXV or something? Alas, that’s not important.

When we meet Raizo, he is roughly 9 or 10 years old and under the tutelage of Ozunu, along with about a couple dozen other kids of about the same age. A few of them are girls. How did Ozunu become the sole guardian of all these children? That’s not important, either. What is important is that it’s a secret ninja training compound. It’s so secret, Ozunu seems to run the place with absolute autonomy. There doesn’t even appear to be any staff to help run the place. You guessed it, that’s not important.

What is sorta important is that Raizo flew the coup and his family is out to kill him for it. They are also out to kill Mika (Harris), the Europol agent who has picked up their scent and wants to put a stop to all this ninja madness.

What is really important is that everything you’ve read so far gives a great excuse for some nasty, nasty ninja fights. All manner of sharp, shiny metallic weaponry whirls about while the people using them do the same. Losers in these fights generally end up as a group of parts on the floor in a puddle of blood. One rather unlucky young lady ends up in a dryer. Speaking of blood, it’s obviously cgi, but it splatters everywhere. Even I ended up with a few red stains on my shirt.

The dialogue that drives this vehicle is hokey, at best. Lots of things make little or no sense. For instance, when you watch it please tell me where you think Ozunu’s compound is located based on how things play out. Why the hell would he have it there? Did it move, or is it me? Wait a minute…that’s not important. It is important that we move very quickly from one genuinely fun action sequence to the next. Oh, and a still breathing ninja has no need for Neosporin, band-aids or even stitches. It all adds up to a movie that’s so bad, it’s awesome!

The Opposite View: Movies so bad they're awesome are exempt.

What the Internet Says: 6.4/10 on imdb.com (6/27/10), 25% on rottentomatoes.com, 34/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: -10/10

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Good Hair


Directed by Jeff Stilson.
2009. Rated PG-13, 96 minutes.
Cast:
Chris Rock
Nia Long
Sarah Jones
Rev. Al Sharpton
Tracie Thoms
Raven Symone
Ice-T
Lauren London
Andre Harrell
Maya Angelou
Melyssa Ford


Plot: A documentary in which comedian Chris Rock explores the world of Black hair, particularly of Black women.

The Good: It takes an in-depth look at a subculture of Black society and shows its effect on Black culture as a whole, as well as its far reaching economic impact. Though it obviously favors one side over the other, it does manage to give us a fair amount of the opposing view and benefits of what’s going on to achieve a solid balance. It’s also funny. Chris Rock does generate a solid amount of laughter but most of it actually comes from the people he talks to in the barbershops, beauty salons and at the hair shows. This keeps things light even as the subject becomes heavy. The coverage of one particular hair show, the Bonner Brothers show really adds little to the movie but it’s over the top fun in a reality TV train wreck sort of way.

The Bad: The movie flinches twice. First, it rightfully makes a big deal about how toxic hair relaxer is, yet it never presses the issue with the execs at a Black-owned hair care manufacture that Rock spends a lot of time with. Nor does it present the information to mothers of the really young girls we’re shown having it put in their daughters’ hair. Second, the issue of employability of Black women who choose to wear their hair natural as opposed to straightened is also raised. Again, it’s a subject that needs to be explored but we never find out how any employers feel about this. Even if they only would’ve said “the right things” or hit us with a “no comment” we’re robbed of the opportunity to gauge their body language.

The Ugly: What happens to a soda can when it’s left in a vat of relaxer.

Recommendation: Since its subject matter is so relevant to its target audience, I feel comfortable saying this is among the most important documentaries the Black community has ever seen. If you think I’m overstating things, drive through a predominantly Black neighborhood anywhere in the United States. Pay attention, not only to the craftsmanship of the hairstyles you see but to the amount of salons and what’s on the advertising posters. Ultimately, it probably won’t change anything but it is vital information that is made entertaining and easily accessible. If you’re not Black, it’s a look into a world you may not have known anything about. That said, if you just can’t understand the relevance of a documentary about hair, knock my score down at least two points.

The Opposite View: Melissa Anderson, Village Voice

What the Internet Says: 6.9/10 on imdb.com (6/27/10), 94% on rottentomatoes.com, 72/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 9/10

Monday, June 28, 2010

Greatest Basketball Movies


Another basketball season has come and gone. What should you do about getting your basketball fix? If you’re lucky, like me, you live in an area where there’s some good summer hoops to take in. Here in the Triangle (in North Carolina) we have an excellent annual pro-am event starting up next week. So last year I got an advanced viewing of John Wall against pro and major college talent. Some of you may have seen the youtube vid of him dunking on Jerry Stackhouse; same league. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there that night, but he did some impressive stuff when I was there.

If you’re not so lucky maybe you can catch some NBA summer league games on cable. Honestly, I usually don’t bother with that. How about mixing in some drama with your b-ball? If you go that route, these are my greatest basketball movies of all time...

10. The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh
Moses Gunn, played by the awesome Julius "Dr. J" Erving, is on a fictional pro team in Pittsburgh. He's great but the team sucks. One of Gunn's fans, who's like 15 years old, gets hired & he in turn brings in a psychic who decides the only way this team will succeed is if they bring in all new players that were born under the sign of Pisces cuz Moses Gunn is a pisces. I'm not even making this up. Movie critics the world over will tell how much it sucks but I love it.

9. Above the Rim
Tupac is the local gangsta that runs the street-ball world. The rest of the cast, including star Duane Martin, is capable but at the end of the day it's Pac's charisma that carries the movie. Throw in solid work by the always underrated Leon & we have the makings of a 'hood classic.

8. The Heart of the Game
We follow the Roosevelt Rough Riders, a Seattle high school girls’ basketball team. Their eccentric coach Bill Resler is infectious. He keeps things as loose as possible. However, the real heart of this documentary is star player Darnellia Russell and the trials and tribulations she goes through.

7. Love & BasketballOkay, so an all-out chick-flick makes the cut. Sanaa Lathan & Omar Epps grow up as extremely talented ball-playing next door neighbors who happen to have a thing for each other. Admittedly, even with plenty of basketball being played throughout (the movies even physically broken into four "quarters" like a game is) it boils down to being a romance. For this movie, and one other on this list, I can let that slide.

6. Rebound: The Legend of Earl “The Goat” Manigault
Based on the true rise, fall & rise of NY playground legend Earl "The Goat" Manigault. One of my faves, Don Cheadle, is in the lead-role. Growing up & playing a lot of ball in the city, I heard plenty of stories about "The Goat" so maybe nostalgia gets it this high up on the list but it really is a very good movie. The only one on the list that was made-for-tv. HBO did the honors & they generally make much better movies than other networks.

5. White Men Can't Jump
Woody Harrelson & Wesley Snipes take advantage of the stereotype that white guys aren't as good at basketball as black guys & hustle on various courts in L.A. Lots of basketball and hilarity ensues. Of course, it's the love story that plays out between Harrelson & one of the women of my dreams, Rosie Perez that provides the movie with balance. Well, it really makes it a bit of a chick-flick but for Rosie I'll make an exception.

4. Soul in the Hole
This documentary contains exhilarating, New York City streetball and gut-wrenching drama as we follow two basic storylines. First, we watch the “Kenny Kings” try to go undefeated through the summer. Second, and this is the tough part, we watch the relationship between the team’s coach Kenny Jones and his star player Ed “Booger” Smith, whom Kenny has taken in and cared for as if he were his own son. No one who has seen this movie will ever forget “Booger.”

3. He Got GameThe story of Jesus, Shuttlesworth, that is. Director Spike Lee takes on the college recruiting game & scores big. Real NBA baller Ray Allen plays the lead but helping to elevate a suspect cast are Rosario Dawson as the opportunistic (read: gold digging) girlfriend & the already legendary Denzel Washington as the dad trying to persuade his son. It’s edgy, funny & not given nearly enough credit for predicting the hype surrounding the high school career of LeBron James. Yup, that's what I said.

2. Hoosiers
For many, this is the quintessential sports movie not just basketball movie. It’s Rocky on the hardwood. Gene Hackman is pure genius as the new head coach who has to deal with all the local riff-raff telling him how to do his job. If the story of an underdog high school basketball team in Indiana doesn’t warm your heart, you don’t have one.


1. Hoop Dreams
The intertwining, yet independent tales of William Gates and Arthur Agee make for arguably, the greatest sports documentary of all time. We meet the boys just as they are about to enter high school and leave about a year after they graduate. What happens in between is touching, sad, triumphant, wonderful, bittersweet and just perfect filmmaking.


Just Rimmed Out (honorable mention):

The Air Up There
Blue Chips
Coach Carter
Glory Road
The Great Santini
Gunnin' For That #1 Spot
More Than a Game
Pistol: The Birth of a Legend
Semi-Pro
Space Jam
Sunset Park
Teen Wolf

Bricks (terrible):

The 6th Man
Celtic Pride
Crossover
Juwanna Mann
O
Rebound

DNP - Coach's Decision (haven't seen):

Eddie
Finding Forrester
Forget Paris
A Season on the Brink
That Championship Season

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Good Shepherd


Directed by Robert De Niro.
2006. Rated R, 167 minutes.
Cast:
Matt Damon
Angelina Jolie
Alec Baldwin
Tammy Blanchard
Billy Crudup
Robert De Niro
Michael Gambon
William Hurt
Timothy Hutton


The Good Shepherd is a dramatization of the events that led to the creation of the CIA. It also dramatizes the agency’s earliest days, specifically it’s involvement in the Bay of Pigs. We see things through the eyes of Edward Wilson (Damon). He’s a fictional character, but like almost everyone else in the movie, he’s based on a real-life person.

The film plays like Edward’s rise through the ranks to become the CIA director and the problems his unwavering dedication to country has caused in his marriage. However, from within the twists and turns of a spy movie emerges a film much more about father-son relationships. The absence of Wilson’s dad, who committed suicide when Edward was just a young boy, hangs over the movie. Then there are the various men who assume mentorship of Edward and the problems of trust bound to arise from associating only with people engaged in espionage. Finally, there’s Edward’s relationship with his own son that we don’t realize is important until the final act.

For enthusiasts of the genre, there are plenty of spy games played. These have the added advantage of being based on true events without stylizing them. Still, it’s not an easy movie to watch. It’s a largely monotone affair in which dialogue is almost always spoken calmly and often whispered. Matt Damon’s performance perfectly embodies all the movie wants to be. Some will be turned off by his emotionless portrayal but that’s precisely what his character is supposed to be. He handles the role well.

It is also a dialogue heavy movie that asks you to pay close attention. What happens between sentences and offscreen drive the movie. Offscreen is where most of what would be action scenes in another movie takes place. Because of this, many would consider it boring, and may have trouble following. It can indeed be difficult to delineate what exactly the point of all this is since it purposely builds slowly towards it. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, steer clear. If you want intrigue and don’t mind it in hushed tones, have at it.

MY SCORE: 8/10

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Box


Directed by Richard Kelly.
2009. Rated PG-13, 116 minutes.
Cast:
Cameron Diaz
James Marsden
Frank Langella
James Rebhorn
Holmes Osborne
Sam Oz Stone
Gillian Jacobs


Plot: A couple with some new financial concerns is given a mysterious box by an even more mysterious man. They are then told if they choose to press the button on top of the box they will receive one million dollars in cash. However, someone they don’t know will die.

The Good: The choices with which our heroes are faced are incredibly fascinating. This holds true for not only the initial decision but the final one, as well. Because of this, it’s a great conversation starter. Throw in that it’s a religious (anti-religious?) parable and it not only starts conversations but can keep them going. The movie itself moves very well and presents one startling situation after another to bring you to the edge of your seat. As our villain, of sorts, Frank Langella is sufficiently aloof and detached from the proceedings. If you haven’t seen it, that sounds bad but it’s precisely what the role calls for.

The Bad: As interesting as its beginning and ending are, there are several points in the middle that might make it easy to give up on. The problem is the way it chooses to build its metaphors and try to be creepy feel kind of hokey. The basic pattern goes like this: something happens, you roll your eyes, then something else happens to explain what you rolled your eyes at and you’re okay with it. Well, it’s going to lose lots of people during one or another of those eye-rolling moments. I can hear tons of people saying “I just couldn’t get into it.” Lastly, I could also see people thinking this movie hates women. There is certainly a case to be made. At the very least, it seems very upset with them over that whole getting us kicked out of the Garden of Eden thing that happened a while back.

The Ugly: Southern accents seem to come and go as they please.

Recommendation: I thoroughly enjoyed this but understand many will quickly dismiss it, leaving me alone on an island. I was intrigued from the start and I almost always like movies that leave you something to debate, as this one does. Go in with an open mind but if you don’t like it, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Opposite View: Claudia Puig, USA Today

What the Internet Says: 5.9/10 on imdb.com (6/25/10), 45% on rottentomatoes.com, 47/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Astro Boy


Directed by David Bowers.
2009. Rated PG, 94 minutes.
Cast:
Freddie Highmore
Nicolas Cage
Kristen Bell
Donald Sutherland
Bill Nighy
Samuel L. Jackson
Eugene Levy
Charlize Theron


Plot: After his son is killed during a demonstration gone awry, Dr. Tenma (Cage) builds a robotic version of his tyke outfitted with the latest weaponry and boosters in his boots.

The Good: It manages to be fun without being overly stupid. It doesn’t talk down to its target audience. It also resists the urge to cater to parents and doesn’t purposely put in a bunch of jokes that they know will go over the heads of the kids watching. When we get action, it’s a blast watching Astro Boy zip back and forth across the screen.

The Bad: The go-green subtext is a bit heavy-handed. However, the kids may not pick up on that. What they might notice is that both of our villains are a bit underdeveloped. They’re not as menacing as they could’ve been.

The Ugly: Did they really have to give him "butt guns"?

Recommendation: This is a fun, quick hour and a half. As far as kiddie flicks go, its not in the class of the best animated movies of the last couple years, but it’s successful in its own right. The kids will be thoroughly entertained and adults will probably not be squirming to get out of the room.

The Opposite View: Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle

What the Internet Says: 6.4/10 on imdb.com (6/23/10), 48% on rottentomatoes.com, 53/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 6/10

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Avatar


Directed by James Cameron.
2009. Rated PG-13, 162 minutes.
Cast:
Sam Worthington
Zoe Saldana
Sigourney Weaver
Stephen Lang
Joel Moore
CCH Pounder
Michelle Rodriguez
Giovanni Ribisi
Laz Alonso


Plot: Jake Sully (Worthington), a former Marine who has become a paraplegic is recruited to replace his deceased twin brother in the research department of a mining colony from Earth on the moon Pandora.

The Good: It’s a great looking movie. In Pandora, director James Cameron gives us a plush world filled with wonders. Each creature is a magnificent beast and the blue-hued Na’vi people are beautifully rendered. Then there are things like floating mountains and gigantic trees that also take our breath away. Like all of the physical aspects of this movie, the action scenes are a sight to behold. In fact, nearly every frame contains something amazing for us to marvel. As the most fully realized native character, Zoe Saldana is excellent as Neytiri. Admittedly, it’s hard to tell how much is actually her and how much is technology. Finally, instead of being difficult to ascertain, it gives us easily understandable metaphors for the recent/current wars America involves itself in (the precious resource here is heavy-handedly named ‘unobtainium’) and for saving our own planet.

The Bad: The story is a complete cut-and-paste job. Beneath all it’s visual splendor, it’s a rather predictable love story. Each point on the arc of the relationship of the highlighted couple can be spotted pretty far in advance. Meanwhile, other situations that hold no surprises play out between the military and research branches of the human camp. This unfortunately gives it something in common with the worst of the Star Wars movies. It often feels like all techno-wizardry dragged along by trite dialogue.

The Ugly: Man, can Colonel Quaritch (Lang) hold his breath a long time while performing physically demanding feats.

Recommendation: If you’re into big special fx flicks, you absolutely cannot miss this movie. That said, it’s a hard movie to grade because it’s so visually spectacular but so narratively blah. It’s not a terrible blah, but blah, nonetheless. Because of what it might mean to the advancement of technology in movie-making, it’s possibly the most important movie of the last few years. However, when you step away from it for a moment you realize it’s beautiful, exciting and ultimately cute, but not great.

The Opposite View: Scott Tobias, The Onion (A.V. Club)

What the Internet Says: 8.4/10 on imdb.com (#101 all time as of 6/22/10), 82% on rottentomatoes.com, 84/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 7/10

Monday, June 21, 2010

Facing Ali

Directed by Peter McCormack.
2009. Rated R, 100 minutes.
Cast:
Ron Lyle
George Foreman
Joe Frazier
George Chuvalo
Sir Henry Cooper
Ken Norton
Earnie Shavers
Larry Holmes
Leon Spinks
Ernie Terrell



Former boxers discuss their experiences during and surrounding their fights with Muhammad Ali. Though it amounts to little more than a love letter, there is still lots of insight to be gained. Most of the fighters talk about the technique they used against Ali as well as what he did to them. They also talk about the circus atmosphere he often created before fights and how their bouts with him impacted their lives going forward. His stance against the Vietnam War is also a big topic of conversation since it is a large part of the Ali legend.

Three men dominate the proceedings, and rightfully so. George Chuvalo is the most intriguing. He doesn’t just kiss up to Ali. He very matter of factly tells us what he likes and dislikes about the champ. He also tells stories of how certain fights came about or turned out. Of course, the infamous “phantom punch” that floored Sonny Liston is Ali’s second fight with him is a big sticking point with him. Whether you believe him, or not, Chuvalo comes across as giving a first-hand account of the shadowy side of boxing history. He also seems to be the healthiest of the battle-worn bunch.

No less clear-headed is Ron Lyle. He has a certain intensity in his gaze and speech that make you listen. He’s also keenly aware and appreciative of the fact that his place in boxing history is based on the fact he gave Ali a tough fight.

All of the fighters are interesting, in their own way. However, it’s the last fighter we meet, Leon Spinks that lifts us from the seemingly endless streams of deadpan seriousness. Nevermind that his speech is so raspy and occasionally garbled the filmmakers saw fit to put up subtitles when he spoke (the same goes for Ken Norton, by the way). He’s so obviously excited to be doing an interview, he infectiously heightens our spirits. He’s unfiltered and honest, not only when he says that Ali was his idol growing up, but also when he says he never understood why it was so important for Ali to change his name from Cassius Clay. He even mocks many in the black community who followed suit when Ali announced his faith and new moniker. Spinks also drops in four-letter words, broad smiles and hearty laughter. He just feels natural.

Overall, this is great for boxing buffs and Ali aficionados. If you’re neither and didn’t grow up during the sixties or seventies, it may not hold much weight for you. I did, it does for me.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Sister's Keeper


Directed by Nick Cassavetes.
2009. Rated PG-13, 109 minutes.
Cast:
Abigail Breslin
Cameron Diaz
Sofia Vassilieva
Jason Patric
Alec Baldwin
Joan Cusack


Plot: Anna (Breslin) was conceived to be a donor for her sister Katie (Vassilieva) who suffers from leukemia. At age 11, Anna sues her parents for “medical emancipation” in hopes of gaining control of her own body and not be subjected to any medical procedures without her consent.

The Good: This is a movie that knows how to push your buttons. Scene after scene is played to its emotional hilt. In the process, it raises some interesting questions. Though we may not all have to deal with the extreme situation depicted here, we parents can all passionately discuss and debate just how much control we have over our children’s bodies. To facilitate all of this, we get some dynamite performances across the board from adults and children, alike. This surprisingly includes Cameron Diaz. Her portrayal of a mom unwaveringly dedicated to saving her daughter’s life makes for an intriguing villain.

The Bad: Remember that whole “emotional hilt” thing? Let’s just say manipulative doesn’t even begin to describe what’s going on here. It seems the movie’s main concern is making as many people cry as possible. Nearly every scene is a tragic occurrence or a set up for one. It gets to be too much. Also, this is the most overly narrated film I’ve ever seen. Every family member plus a lawyer gets to do a good deal of voice-over work. Of course, they mostly just tell us things we either already know or can easily delineate from what we’re actually shown. At times, it feels like trying to watch an audio-book.

The Ugly: Did she just throw up on her own hair? Ewww.

Recommendation: Because we all love kids and families and hate to see them going through tough times, this is a hard movie to hate. However, if it doesn’t totally hook you from the beginning, it’s hard to love. This means while some of you are crying, others may be vigorously rolling their eyes.

The Opposite View: Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

What the Internet Says: 7.4/10 on imdb.com (6/7/10), 47% on rottentomatoes.com, 51/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 6/10

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Daybreakers


Directed by The Spierig Brothers.
2010. Rated R, 98 minutes.
Cast:
Ethan Hawke
Claudia Karvan
Sam Neill
Willem Dafoe
Isabel Lucas
Michael Dorman
Vince Colosimo


Plot: It’s 2019 and almost all of the world’s population has been transformed into vampires. To survive, they hunt and farm the remaining humans for their blood supply. With only a few humans left, both they and the vampires are on the verge of becoming extinct.

The Good: It’s original. The vast majority of vampire fare is fixated on some sort of romance. This takes the vampire legend to a logical point. If such creatures did exist, it stands to reason they could become the dominant species. Though here, that’s attributed to an unnamed plague. It’s a different sort of apocalypse. The movie does a nice job showcasing just how different, but also how many things would remain the same. Taken all together, it works as an excellent metaphor for and warning against our cultures seemingly insatiable consumerism and devouring of natural resources. That said, it never forgets blood is the main draw for the characters and the audience, alike. Therefore, there’s plenty of it splattering the screen. When a vampire dies, or bites someone, it’s usually a very messy thing.

The Bad: Our main villain, Charles Bromley (Neill) is quite up to snuff. We need a more dynamic personality to instill the fear and loathing this movie obviously wants to. Our human resistance isn’t always the smartest bunch. I mean, why would they ever travel by night? Finally, our solution isn’t necessarily a sure thing. Normally, I’d be fine with that but here, it’s passed off as if it is. It would take a whole lot of convincing or a lot more scenes like what happens at the end here to be effective.

The Ugly: What happens to the first guy they try out the blood substitute.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a different type of vampire movie, look no further. It’s what I Am Legend could’ve been, had those creatures maintained most of their human faculties. If gore bothers you, steer clear. Of course, I realize I’m in the minority while championing this movie. There appears to be a lot of hatred for it. Perhaps, it’s because of that ending. People seem to feel it doesn’t go far enough when the premise is so great. I can definitely see that, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Opposite View: Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

What the Internet Says: 6.6/10 on imdb.com (6/15/10), 66% on rottentomatoes.com, 57/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 7/10

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Couples Retreat


Directed by Peter Billingsley.
2010. Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.
Cast:
Vince Vaughn
Jason Bateman
Faizon Love
Kristin Davis
Kristen Bell
Malin Akerman
Kali Hawk
Jean Reno
Tasha Smith

Ken Jeong
John Michael Higgins

Plot: Four couples get a group rate to go to an island paradise. Once there, they discover that the unorthodox therapy sessions that came with the discount are mandatory.

The Good: From time to time something funny happens. When it does, it’s usually hilarious. Our four couple often find themselves in outlandish and compromising situations. Chief among them is the yoga scene which is one of the funniest scenes I’ve watched in a little while. Vince Vaughn (Dave) is only doing the Vince Vaughn persona he does in nearly every movie, but he does it so well. It’s “so money”, to fondly remember where it all started. He’s not alone. The other guys also wear their familiar personas well. Therefore, we get what we’ve come to expect from Favreau, Bateman and Love.

The Bad: Those hilarious moments are spaced kind of far apart, while easily predictable things happen to fill the gaps. Worse than that, nearly every funny moment in the movie was in the trailer. There really wasn’t much else. Of course, a tidy bow is wrapped around everything, including one character’s wife popping up literally from nowhere. It’s a movie that could’ve been so much more but takes the lazy route more often than not. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the walking, talking stereotype named Trudy (Hawk).

The Ugly: I guess he really wasn’t wearing drawers.

Recommendation: It has its moments. It’s not the affront to humanity some have made it out to be, but it has a severe case “if you’ve seen the commercial, you’ve seen the movie.”

The Opposite View: Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

What the Internet Says: 5.5/10 on imdb.com (6/15/10), 11% on rottentomatoes.com, 23/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 5/10

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Brothers Bloom


Directed by Rian Johnson.
2009. Rated PG-13, 113 minutes.
Cast:
Adrien Brody
Rachel Weisz
Mark Ruffalo
Rinko Kikuchi
Maximillian Schell
Robbie Coltrane


Plot: Bloom (Brody) agrees to pull one last con with his older brother Stephen (Ruffalo) before getting out of the family business, for good.

The Good: Right from the beginning we’re drawn in by the elaborate cons. They create multiple stories within the framework of the larger plot. They also keep us guessing where exactly they end. The sense of humor is slick. It’s the kind that makes you chuckle and say “You gotta be kidding me,” but in a good way. Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo are both good, as usual. However, Rachel Weisz’s turn as the naïve and eccentric Penelope makes the movie tick. Her charm is infectious and we understand why Bloom is taken with her. Lastly, we get a wonderful ending in which everyone gets everything they want, to borrow Stephen’s terminology. Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as sappy as it sounds.

The Bad: Our villain, Diamond Dog (Schell) is barely visible. We see him a couple times and hear a little about what’s gone on between he and the boys, but we never feel it. Therefore, he doesn’t seem like someone to be feared. Finally, as much as we like Penelope, she’s a little too naive, bordering on stupid. The old saying goes “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on me.” She’s obviously not familiar with the second half of that adage.

The Ugly: Does Bang Bang (Kikuchi) really go bang bang?

Recommendation: If you’re at all into heist movies or movies about con-men, this is for you. I was very pleasantly surprised as this has flown under the radar. However, you should be aware this is a con-movie sans car chases and tense standoffs with the authorities. Somehow, it still delivers the thrills.

The Opposite View: Jason Di Rosso, Movie Time - ABC Radio National

What the Internet Says: 7.0/10 on imdb.com (6/15/10), 65% on rottentomatoes.com, 55/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Stepfather


Directed by Nelson McCormick.
2009. Rated PG-13, 101 minutes.
Cast:
Dylan Walsh
Sela Ward
Penn Badgley
Amber Heard
Sherry Stringfield
Paige Turco
Jon Tenney
Nancy Linehan Charles
Braeden Lemasters
Skyler Samuels


Plot: When Michael (Badgley) comes home from military school he finds his mom blindly in love with and ready to marry David (Walsh) whom she met just six months ago. However, there’s something just not right with this guy. A remake of the 1987 movie of the same name.

The Good: The pedal stays to the metal. It throws everything at you, repeatedly. David suddenly appears out of nowhere about a thousand times, always accompanied by a hard note of music. He’s also prone to violence at the drop of a hat which leads to a knock-down drag-out finale. We even get the time-tested cat thrown across the camera to create a jump-scare.

The Bad: The stupidity is unending. The director strikes first by revealing to us at the very beginning what this guy is all about. That’s right, the very first scene is of him leaving behind the family he just murdered. So now, there’s nothing for the movie to build towards. We know how far he’ll go. Second is Sela Ward’s character (Susan), who is a complete numbskull. I kept waiting on someone to tap their knuckles on her head a few times and say “Hello McFly, is anybody home?” The authorities are no better. How this guy hasn’t been caught before Michael meets him is a mystery only explained by poor screenwriting. I could go on about ridiculous plot contrivances, imbecilic dialogue, predictability, etc. but why should I?

The Ugly: Why Jay (Tenney) never picked up Michael.

Recommendation: If you can completely shut your brain down, have at it. Some movies are completely dumb but still fun to watch. This is not one of them. It is painful. You can see everything coming and you roll your eyes when it happens. No, I haven’t seen the original. I may have to. It couldn’t possibly be as bad.

The Opposite View: Betty Jo Tucker, ReelTalk Movie Reviews

What the Internet Says: 5.3/10 on imdb.com (6/14/10), 11% on rottentomatoes.com, 33/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 2/10

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tattoo Connection

Directed by Lee Tso-Nan.
1978. Rated R, 87 minutes.
Cast:
Jim Kelly
Sing Chen
Tao-Liang Tan
Norman Wingrove
Hsiano Liang
Bolo Yeung


A highly valuable diamond, insured by an American company, is stolen in Hong Kong. To retrieve the gem and find out who is responsible, the CIA (huh?) sends in one-man-army Lucas (Kelly). How bad a dude is Lucas? Well, he wastes no time telling us he’s been called “the black Six Million Dollar Man”. For you young’uns that don’t get the reference, google “six million dollar man” or better yet, look it up on youtube. I’m sure there are some clips, there. Anyhoo, kung-fu fighting, gratuitous female nudity (often of the full-frontal variety), hokey dialogue, more kung-fu fighting and lots of other things that make little or no sense ensue. Needless to say, I love this movie. It’s the kind of flick that just screams ridiculous from the moment it starts. Our hero, Jim Kelly just might be the coolest cat of all time. If you don’t believe me, please go watch Enter the Dragon and Black Belt Jones, now. He’s also a pretty bad actor. However, that fits this movie perfectly. Fans of cheesy martial arts flicks UNITE! This is for us! It’s so bad, it’s awesome!


MY SCORE: -10/10

Extract


Directed by Mike Judge.
2009. Rated R, 92 minutes.
Cast:
Jason Bateman
Mila Kunis
Ben Affleck
Kristen Wiig
J.K. Simmons
David Koechner
Clifton Collins Jr.
Gene Simmons


Plot: Joel (Bateman), a successful extract manufacturer, has to deal with a lawsuit by an employee severely injured on the job, a thief loose in his plant and a sexless marriage.

The Good: Joel is the kind of guy we can identify with. He’s successful, but total happiness seems just out of his reach. He gets bad advice from friends that he follows anyway. This includes ideas about his marriage, which is in trouble. In all, he’s an everyman for us to cling to. Because of this, there are some very funny bits. However, the funniest moments belong to David Koechner as Joel’s annoying neighbor. It’s a wonderfully understated performance that feels more genuine than anything else going on.

The Bad: The movie pretends to resolve things but never does. What’s clearly supposed to be a happy ending feels more like coming back to square one. In movies where that’s the point, it can work. Here, we’re supposed to think everything is all better when it isn’t, mostly because he’s still the same. The other offense is it’s only funny in places. There are too many flat sections that’ll have you checking your watch.

The Ugly: What Dean (Affleck) accidentally gives Joel.

Recommendation: It’s touted as a return to corporate America for director Mike Judge, who also directed Office Space, one of my favorites. While Extract has its moments, it pales in comparison. Character development is nil and the story never goes anywhere. I desperately wanted to like this movie more than I did, but I just couldn’t.

The Opposite View: Brian Holcomb, CinemaBlend

What the Internet Says: 6.5/10 on imdb.com (6/9/10), 63% on rottentomatoes.com, 61/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Friday, June 11, 2010

Agent J Returns?

Apparently, Will Smith is all set to return to fighting aliens in Men In Black III. Since I liked both movies, I'm actually looking forward to this. Read more about it here.

Shrink


Directed by Jonas Pate.
2009. Rated R, 97 minutes.
Cast:
Kevin Spacey
Mark Webber
Keke Palmer
Saffron Burrows
Jack Huston
Pell James
Dallas Roberts
Laura Ramsey
Robin Williams
Robert Loggia
Gore Vidal
Jesse Plemons

Maggie Grace

Plot: Dr. Henry Carter (Spacey) is a psychiatrist to the stars in Hollywood. Not only do they have serious problems, but he does, as well. Chief among them is his out of control weed and alcohol habits. He seems to have met his match when he takes on the pro-bono case of troubled high school girl Jemma (Palmer).

The Good: I’m a Kevin Spacey apologist. Therefore, I’ve liked him in just about everything I’ve seen him in. Still, I think this is his best work in a few years. He’s brilliant as a man decaying in front of our eyes. We believe everything about him. The rest of the cast is excellent, also. Most notably, Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee and Nickelodeon’s True Jackson, VP) is outstanding as Jemma, the troubled teen. The same goes for Robin Williams in limited time as a movie star trying to find excuses to cheat on his wife.

The Bad: In the tradition of “gritty” indy dramas and black comedies, it’s filled with unhappy and unlikeable people doing things that are unlikeable and keep them unhappy. There’s also the traffic jam of about a gazillion different storylines that tie together all too conveniently at the end. Then of course, this culminates in one of those conclusions where everything is instantly all better but we can’t buy it for one second. Any one of the subplots could make an intriguing movie on their own. All mashed together, like they are here, none of them feels developed enough. The most fully realized of these, the main one between Dr. Carter and his young patient, could’ve been a great variation of Half Nelson. It’s even headed in that direction. However, instead of continuing down that path and putting it’s own spin on it, it pulls up short so it can tie into all the rest of the movie in one supposedly magical moment.

The Ugly: “Break glass in case of emergency” weed.

Recommendation: The performances are top notch. There is also a thread of dark humor that runs through it. However, it crumbles under the weight of its own self-pity, rendering the phoenix rising finale laughable. In short, it’s a well acted trainwreck.

The Opposite View: Prairie Miller, NewsBlaze

What the Internet Says: 6.7/10 on imdb.com (6/11/10), 30% on rottentomatoes.com, 40/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 4.5/10

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Whip It



Directed by Drew Barrymore.
2009. Rated PG-13, 111 minutes.
Cast:
Ellen Page
Alia Shawkat
Marcia Gay Harden
Kristen Wiig
Juliette Lewis
Drew Barrymore
Jimmy Fallon
Eve
Carlo Alban
Ari Graynor
Zoe Bell
Landon Pigg


Plot: Bliss (Page), a small-town Texas high-school girl who hates the pageants her mother makes her compete in, discovers a new passion when she sneaks off to nearby Austin to join a roller-derby league.

The Good: Bliss feels like a real teenager. She’s not over-stylized and ultra-snarky like Juno (also played by Ellen Page). Nor is she super-happy and carefree. Her character is very well written as is that of her mom, played with stern faced resolve by Marcia Gay Harden. First time director Drew Barrymore paces her movie well. This enables the main characters to breath and places the roller derby scenes at nice intervals. And those scenes are quite fun.

The Bad: The relationship between Bliss’ parents is done a disservice. We get hints that there is much more below the surface, but we’re never shown. Basically, this boils down Dad’s reason for existence to one heroic action. Similarly, we learn curiously little about Bliss’ teammates on The Hurl Scouts. There’s plenty of potential for great characters and they’re given great names like Maggie Mayhem (Wiig) and Rosa Sparks (Eve) but it’s never taken advantage of. At the very least, we should’ve gotten to know the aforementioned Maggie a lot better.

The Ugly: Play number three.

Recommendation: It’s kinda the best of both worlds: a chick flick/sports movie. Sure, there are some clichés from both genres present, but it’s fun and engaging. Despite its faults, this is an enjoyable ride and a solid directorial debut for Barrymore.

The Opposite View: James Berardinelli, ReelViews

What the Internet Says: 7.1/10 on imdb.com (5/17/10), 84% on rottentomatoes.com, 68/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 7/10

Monday, June 7, 2010

Citizen Kane


Directed by Orson Welles.
1941. Not Rated, 119 minutes.
Cast:
Orson Welles
Joseph Cotten
Dorothy Comingore
Ray Collins


In an attempt to come up with a fitting eulogy for the famous and wealthy Charles Foster Kane (Welles), a group of reporters investigate the man’s life hoping to discover the meaning of his last, dying word – rosebud. Many believe this film to be a thinly veiled commentary on the life of William Randolph Hearst. This includes Hearst himself who then set out to destroy the movie. On the surface, it tells a great story of a man consumed by his own ego. The metaphors are just explicit enough to let you know there’s more beneath the surface. Somehow, despite its age it still feels fresh. That’s mainly because this movie pioneered techniques still in vogue today. The easiest of these to spot is the non-linear telling of the story. It jumps back and forth in time often and effortlessly without ever blatantly putting a date on the screen. The most subtle of these innovations and perhaps most effective is Welles’ use of the camera. He simply does things directors today still aren’t as proficient at implementing and directors of his era, or viewers for that matter, had never seen before. He positions the camera and moves it in such a way that doesn’t merely suggest a mood, it forcefully puts you there. He’s particularly brilliant when using low angles. To help you better understand I’ll use Michael Bay's Transformers as a reference point. In that movie there’s the now famous scene of John Turturro being “lubricated” by one of the giant robots. At that moment director Michael Bay, and/or his cinematographer basically have the camera on the ground, or close to it, looking up at the two characters. Turturro looks large and authoritative standing over the camera. Picture yourself as a small child being scolded by a parent towering over you. Behind Turturro is the robot who is substantially larger and again appears even more so with the camera below him. When he “lubricates” Turturro not only is it funny but the director suggests to you that human authority figures are meaningless in an epic battle for the universe. Well, meaningless at that particular moment. In CK there’s a scene where Kane walks across the room and slaps his wife. During that scene the camera is positioned seemingly about knee-level in the middle of the two. As he walks toward her, not only does she retreat but the camera does as well. It seems to drift to the farthest right corner of the room and lower to the floor. The effect is Kane appears to grow physically becoming more and more menacing by the second while she and you as the viewer seem to shrink and get weaker. You actually feel as if you’ve been backed into a corner. Nothing suggestive about it, Welles shoved you in that corner. That may be too technical to digest and you probably won’t notice it but you’ll feel it. Things like that are why CK will always be studied by prospering directors but that’s enough film-school. The one thing that does make it feel dated, aside from the black-and-white picture, is the dialogue will occasionally sound a little cheesy or a little too polite for what the character is actually trying to say. Other than that it does everything well and my favorite part, of course, is it gives us an ending we can interpret a number of ways.

Why Did I Get Married Too?


Directed by Tyler Perry.
2010. Rated PG-13, 121 minutes.
Cast:
Janet Jackson
Jill Scott
Tasha Smith
Malik Yoba
Richard T. Jones
Tyler Perry
Sharon Leal
Lamman Rucker
Michael Jai White
Cicely Tyson
Louis Gossett Jr.


Plot: Four couples reunite for their annual couples retreat. They’re unexpectedly joined by Sheila’s (Scott) ex-husband Mike (Jones) who hopes to win her heart back, even though she’s already remarried.

The Good: As in most of his movies, director Tyler Perry gets very strong work from his cast. Perhaps, it’s because his scripts offer ample opportunities for big, showy moments. With lots of screaming and/or crying, performers are simply encouraged to go for it. So far, that’s worked well for him. His female players, in particular, put the petal to the metal and hardly let up. The near-constant outpouring of emotion seems to foster a strong attachment from his audiences. There are also moments of real humor, mostly through the relentlessly loud mouth of Angela (Smith).

The Bad: The Janet Jackson character, Patricia, dominates the second half of the movie but is ridiculously written. For a relationship expert, she’s curiously incapable of maintaining one, though I’ll admit that seems to be part of the point. She’s also psychotic. Her behavior hardly feels warranted. In fact, she’s all she accuses her husband of being, yet she’s the one we’re supposed to feel for. It’s hard to empathize with a person whose problems, even dating back to the first movie (Why Did I Get Married?), are all of her own making. Another problem is the numerous breaks in real dialogue so that one character or another can deliver a PSA. It’s distracting in the sense that it sounds nothing like real people talking.

The Ugly: Everything leading up to and including the car crash.

Recommendation: As usual, if you’re a fan of TP then have at it. I will say that like its predecessor, it’s a cut above the rest of his catalogue. It’s still not as good as that one, not really even close, but delivers similar thrills.

The Opposite View: Michael Ordona, Los Angeles Times

What the Internet Says: 2.3/10 on imdb.com (#91 on Bottom 100 as of 6/6/10), 39% on rottentomatoes.com, 43/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ice Castles

Directed by Donald Wrye.
2010. Rated PG, 95 minutes.
Cast:
Taylor Firth
Rob Mayes
Henry Czerny
Eve Crawford
Gillian Ferrier
Tattiawna Jones
Morgan Kelly
Andrea Joyce
Michelle Kwan


Small-town girl Alexis (Firth) suddenly becomes a superstar figure skater, problems in her love life and tragedy ensues. Remake of the 1978 film of the same name. Director Donald Wrye knows that his target audience is there for the ice skating and the love story. Therefore, he packs his movie tight with both. There is no meandering. Every scene is directly related to one or the other and often both. This helps the pace, making the 95 minutes feel even shorter. This also means there are lots of highs and lows that work well. On the other hand, it puts to use nearly every cliché in two genres: sports movies and chick-flicks. Even if you haven’t seen the original, and I haven’t, nothing surprising happens. The only exception being the severity of a certain event, but even that’s ruined if you read the back of the DVD cover (or saw the original). Don’t worry, I won’t spill the beans other than to say yes, the consequences of said event are way beyond excessive. Hey, the rest of the movie is built around that moment, so I'll leave it at that. Obviously, this is a full-blown chick-flick. It also has a Disney channel feel to it, so it’s also kind of cheesy. However, that’s precisely what it wants to be. This makes it the type of movie pre-teen girls will just eat up (at least, my daughters did). Fellas, this isn’t for you, but if you find yourself stuck watching it you just remember, it could be worse.


MY SCORE: 5/10

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Invention of Lying



Directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson.
2009. Rated PG-13, 99 minutes.
Cast:
Ricky Gervais
Jennifer Garner
Jonah Hill
Rob Lowe
Louis C.K.
Jeffrey Tambor
Fionulla Flanagan
Tina Fey

Edward Norton

Plot: In a world where man has never developed the ability to lie, Mark Bellison (Gervais) suddenly does.

The Good: The first two acts of the movie are incredibly original. In addition to being brutally honest, every person is also way too forthcoming with unsolicited information. The result is deliciously over the top dialogue during some hilarious exchanges. It also has fun pointing out the mixed messages of religion. Through this, which is essentially the invention of theism (or atheism?) and the aforementioned exchanges, the writing is top notch. There are also two very strong cameos. Jonah Hill’s turn as Mark’s suicidal neighbor is morbidly funny. As Mark’s secretary, Tina Fey absolutely steals every scene she’s in.

The Bad: The third act is dreadfully predictable. It eschews everything that made the earlier parts of the movie such a joy, in favor of recycling the same crap we’ve seen in countless other romantic comedies. We switch from watching a sharp, innovative comedy to a run-of-the-mill chick-flick. Let me tell you: it’s quite the letdown to go from one to the other.

The Ugly: Moses’ tablets are replaced by pizza boxes.

Recommendation: Again, the first two-thirds of the movie are more than enough to make this worth a look. It’s sort of a flip side to Liar Liar and works terrifically. Who knows? You might even like the last twenty or thirty minutes more than I did.

The Opposite View: Kyle Smith, New York Post

What the Internet Says: 6.5/10 on imdb.com (5/20/10), 57% on rottentomatoes.com, 58/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 7/10

Friday, June 4, 2010

Let the Right One In Remake

A film I reviewed here, "Let the Right One In", is one of my favorite vampire flicks of all time (check the archives). It's a Swedish movie that's getting an American remake entitled "Let Me In." It's scheduled to hit theaters in October of this year. Read more about it here.

The original is only a couple years old. Should really recent foreign movies be made over in English? I understand that us Americans hate "reading" movies. However, most DVDs come with the option for an English track. Personally, I would rather Hollywood give us some original material rather than remaking everything under the sun. What says you?

Paper Heart


Directed by Nicholas Jasenovic.
2009. Rated PG-13, 88 minutes.
Cast:
Charlyne Yi
Michael Cera
Jake M. Johnson
Demetri Martin
Luciano Yi
Lydia Yi


Plot: Charlyne doesn’t believe in love. She travels across the country getting ideas about what love is and if it really does exist. Along the way, she starts a relationship with Michael Cera (both are playing themselves).

The Good: The documentary style works well. It frees the movie of having to confine itself to many of the conventions of romantic comedies. Because of it, we’re not only interested in whether or not Charlyne will find love but also in the film within the film. It is at least as interesting watching Nicholas (Johnson) try to piece together a movie as it is watching Charlyne and Michael’s awkward companionship.

The Bad: While the various elements seem to work well individually, they never quite gel into a cohesive unit. It’s like watching three separate movies that deal with the same subject but have little to do with each other. Also, even though it wants us to believe her relationship with Cera is real, it feels painfully staged. We never feel any real connection aside from an odd fascination with one another. Instead of a developing romance, they seem to be on a perpetual first date. This makes our big dramatic moment near the end feel overly manufactured.

The Ugly: Am I the only one not sure if the biker dude’s joke about beating his wife was “only” a joke.

Recommendation: It’s an interesting movie with a lot of charming moments. Charlyne appears to have an adorable, if quirky, personality and seems to bring out those same qualities in the people she talks to. This gives the movie many of it’s cute anecdotes about love. However, the blurring of the lines between fact and fiction don’t work well here as it does in other “mockumentaries”. This makes it a frustrating watch and may lead some to tune it out.

The Opposite View: Angie Errigo, Empire

What the Internet Says: 6.1/10 on imdb.com (6/3/10), 60% on rottentomatoes.com, 54/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Taking Woodstock


Directed by Ang Lee.
2009. Rated R, 121 minutes.
Cast:
Demetri Martin
Imelda Staunton
Dan Fogler
Henry Goodman
Jonathan Groff
Eugene Levy
Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Emile Hirsch
Liev Schreiber

Paul Dano

Plot: Elliot Tiber (Martin) is desperately trying to save his parents’ motel from being foreclosed upon. When a nearby town pulls the plug on “a hippie music festival” he calls the organizers to see if they want to move the event to his town. “Inspired” by the true story of Woodstock.

The Good: Visually, it’s an interesting movie. It’s not interesting in a big special fx blockbuster way, but there’s so much going on your eyes willingly dart around the screen trying to take as much of it in as possible. It effectively captures the feel of Woodstock as thousands of people seem to be incessantly milling around. More importantly, we get three interesting stories of self-discovery. To that end, the way Elliot’s relationship with his parents plays out is very well done. Overall, the movie is at its best when it goes for the stoner vibe. That aspect supplies us with the best humor.

The Bad: It can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. It tries to be a straight comedy but unless Elliot’s mom (Staunton) is on screen it’s not quite funny enough. At other times, it tries for gut-wrenching melodrama. However, it never quite succeeds at that, either. Without the ability to commit to any style in particular, it’s not effective enough at any one of them. Finally, the music that makes Woodstock legendary is strangely absent.

The Ugly: Liev Schreiber in a dress is disturbing on a Patrick Swayze & Wesley Snipes in To Wong Foo level.

Recommendation: TW is a movie with some interesting parts but they never seem to work all together. As a result, it’s a terribly uneven watch. There are stretches of flatness interspersed with a few moments of greatness.

The Opposite View: Joe Williams, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

What the Internet Says: 6.8/10 on imdb.com (6/3/10), 48% on rottentomatoes.com, 55/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 5/10

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Julie & Julia


Directed by Nora Ephron.
2009. Rated PG-13, 123 minutes.
Cast:
Meryl Streep
Amy Adams
Stanley Tucci
Chris Messina
Linda Emond
Helen Carey
Mary Lynn Rajskub


Plot: In 1949, Julia Child (Streep) begins the journey which will make her a giant in the cooking industry. In 2002, Julie Powell (Adams) starts a blog and challenges herself to cook every recipe in the icon’s legendary cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. within 365 days. Based on two true stories.

The Good: It’s kinda hard to talk about a Meryl Streep movie and not start with her. As Child, Streep is a force of nature that simply dominates her every scene. As fine an actor as Stanley Tucci is, he plays her husband, he simply doesn’t stand a chance because he constantly shares the screen with her. She is “that” good. The movie does a nice job with the more contemporary story of Julie Powell and the strain her quest puts on her marriage. Adams and Messina make a very nice screen couple. As a pleasant surprise, it’s him we wind up rooting for.

The Bad: The telling of the two stories together rob the chronologically earlier part of any mystery. In any biopic, particularly of someone as famous as Child, there’s already an air of inevitability. That feeling is multiplies every time we switch back to Powell and continuous gushing over the icon. While the story of Julie and her husband is done well, it’s predictable. Their half of the movie feels like any number of the rom-coms we’ve already seen.

The Ugly: How Julia reacts when she learns of Julie.

Recommendation: J & J is a movie that really shouldn’t work as it’s constructed. On paper, it seems like it would be better as two separate films. However, the strength of the portrayals, not only by Streep but also by her cast-mates, makes the end result greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, if you require the slightest hint of testosterone-charged excitement to have a pleasurable viewing experience, look elsewhere.

The Opposite View: Kimberley Jones, Austin Chronicle

What the Internet Says: 7.2/10 on imdb.com (6/1/10), 75% on rottentomatoes.com, 66/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 6.5/10

The Damned United

Directed by Tom Hooper.
2009. Rated R, 98 minutes.
Cast:
Michael Sheen
Timothy Spall
Colm Meaney
Henry Goodman
David Roper
Jimmy Reddington
Maurice Roëves
Stephen Graham
Peter McDonald
Jim Broadbent

Plot: After years of feuding with their manager Don Revie (Meaney), Brian Clough (Sheen) is named to succeed Revie as the manager of Leeds United; "inspired" by a true story.

The Good: Brian Clough is a unique character for a sports movie underdog. He’s not your run-of-the-mill humble and downtrodden guy facing seemingly insurmountable odds. When we meet him, he’s already overcome the odds, twice, one of which we witness in flashback. He’s arrogant and treats success at the next level like a forgone conclusion. On top of that, most of the difficulties he encounters are of his own creation. Michael Sheen plays the role excellently. He manages to get us on his side, even though he’s a jerk. As Clough’s sidekick talent scout Peter Taylor, Spall is even better. He gives a perfectly restrained performance that seems to mirror our feelings on what’s going on. The movie as a whole also displays a sly sense of humor.

The Bad: Though we get a good sense of what’s going on between Clough and his new team, we’re shown surprisingly little. All but one of the players are simply part of a faceless mob. It would’ve elevated the movie further to witness more of the dynamic between them. Likewise, we don’t see much actual soccer…er…football. We don’t get the rush of exhilaration or disappointment we would normally get from watching it play out before us. It seems to be a case of overdone restraint.

The Ugly: What one of the players does during the singing of the National Anthem.

Recommendation: TDU is a different sort of sports movie and it’s better for it. It’s much more a character study than anything else. Therefore, don’t go into this looking for the next Rocky or Remember the Titans. However, do check it out if you want a more mature sports film.

The Opposite View: Rick Groen, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

What the Internet Says: 7.6/10 on imdb.com (5/26/10), 94% on rottentomatoes.com, 81/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 7.5/10