Monday, January 31, 2011

The Ghost Writer

Directed by Roman Polanski.
2010. Rated PG-13, 128 minutes.
Ewan McGregor
Pierce Brosnan
Olivia Williams
Kim Cattrall
Tom Wilkinson
Robert Pugh
Timothy Hutton
James Belushi

The Ghost (McGregor), as he’s often called, is hired to ghost write the autobiography of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Brosnan). However, there are peculiarities about the job. Not the least of which is the reason he is hired in the first place. The man originally assigned to the task has suddenly turned up dead. Next, the manuscript is said to have already been written, but no one outside of Lang’s most trusted people have actually seen it. Last, but certainly not least, accusations of war crimes are being hurled at Lang. Pretty soon, those accusations turn into a full-blown criminal investigation. Like us, The Ghost wonders just what has he gotten himself into and if he can get to the bottom of it.

This is the type of move where the threat of what could be next carries the day. To this end, it gives us much more in the way of tension than action. It’s better for it. Action is a short burst of excitement and is largely visual. Tension is much more visceral and lingers longer. It keeps us interested in these people.

Because of tension, we’re vested in the exploits of our hero. With every step he takes, we fear that it is a false one and that he will pay dearly for it. What also helps is that often, he isn’t sure whether or not the move he’s making is a good one, either. Nor is he some super-spy trained in the ways of espionage with tons of gadgets at his disposal. He’s just a guy who finds himself in the midst of something enormous. To get through it, he has some ideas, but generally takes the next step presented to him.

To pull this sort of thing off, a movie has to be well written. This one is. It keeps us going long enough to sustain our curiosity. Director Roman Polanski helps by being patient. He never rushes his story and barely embellishes what little action there is. This gives it a real-world feel that adds to our enjoyment. I will have to dock TGW a bit because my initial suspicions about where the trail will lead turn out to be true. Within the first 20 minutes I guessed the answer. Luckily, asking the questions is still lots of fun.

The banter between The Ghost and Adam offers some of the movies best moments. As the Prime Minister, Brosnan gives an outstanding performance. McGregor is also strong, as is Olivia Williams as Lang’s wife, Ruth, and the reliable Tom Wilkinson as Paul Emmett. Casting wise, my one gripe is with Kim Cattrall. She gives a weird portrayal as Lang’s top assistant. Seeing her try to speak with an English accent is odd in itself. However, combined with her almost robotic line deliveries it becomes downright ridiculous.

In sum, TGW manages to overcome its shortcomings to be a wonderfully taut thriller. It’s capped off by an amazing shot to end the film. It reminds me of the director’s own classic horror film, Rosemary’s Baby. In both movies, the finale is startling because of what you don’t see.

MY SCORE: 8.5/10

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

All About My Mother

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar.
1999. Rated R, 101 minutes.
Cecilia Roth
Marisa Paredes
Penélope Cruz
Candela Péna
Antonia San Juan
Rosa Maria Serda

When you sit down to watch a film directed by Pedro Almodóvar, there are some things you should know. More than likely, it will heavily involve people in some form of entertainment, and someone desperately aspiring to break into the business. In this case, that’s a pair of stage actresses, a young would-be playwright and another would-be actress, though not so desperately aspiring in her case. There will be lots of secrets uncovered as we move along. Lastly, at least one of the characters will live what many consider an alternative lifestyle. Here, it’s a pre-op transsexual. He’s already got the boobs, but still has male plumbing. This character isn’t just a freak show, though that quality is certainly present, even made light of. This character is a constant reminder that things aren’t always what they seem. This is key because it ties back into the plethora of secrets.

We learn early that Manuela (Roth) is keeping a secret from her son. It’s about his absent father. Before she can tell him, he’s killed in a tragic accident. She then decides she needs to confront her past and goes looking for her ex.

As the story unfolds, each character we meet has their own major issues to deal with. Being the only mother in the group, Manuela becomes the one all others lean on. This provides an interesting dynamic between her and her odd circle of friends. In typical Almodóvar fashion, this develops without rushing or dragging. This perfect pacing, along with the colorful characters and their dilemmas, keeps us intrigued.

In comparison to other movies I’ve seen by this director, this suffers from something others do not. It feels overpopulated and disjointed. An entire movie can be made about a number characters here and it would be a good one. All stuffed into this one, it feels like most of these people don’t quite get their just due. The potential even more depth than is present is unexplored.

Exactly like Almodóvar’s other films, he extracts excellent performances from his actors. Even throughout all the melodrama, they never seem to overdo it. Sour notes just aren’t hit. They elevate the material. Particularly outstanding is Cecilia Roth in the lead role. Her emotions effortlessly runs the gamut from depression to triumph and most stops in between.

In the end, the director’s pacing, the sharp dialogue and acting come together to make an enjoyable movie. I don’t think its quite on the same level as some of his other work. However, the mere fact it’s different yet still real, and not afraid of being so, makes it worthy of your attention.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Knight and Day

Directed by James Mangold.
2010. Rated PG-13, 109 minutes.
Tom Cruise
Cameron Diaz
Peter Sarsgaard
Viola Davis
Jordi Mollà
Paul Dano
Celia Weston
Jack O’Connell

Maggie Grace

We learn something about Roy (Cruise) long before June (Diaz) finds out. Right at the start of Knight and Day, we find out he’s got some pretty powerful people after him. For some reason, they set it up so that she’d be the only other person aboard a flight with Roy and assassins they’ve sent to kill him. After spectacularly escaping that situation, with June in tow, he goes on the run dragging her along and generally not telling her much of anything. Is Roy the good guy, or the bad guy? Is he lying, or not? What about the people chasing him? Where does June fit into all this? These questions drive all the action and gags that follow. With the next shootout, car chase or fist-fight never more than a couple minutes away, its definitely an action flick. Since much of that action, and nearly everything else fused with jokes, it’s also a comedy.

The near constant action is a big plus. It keeps things moving along. Our runtime breezes by. The whimsical nature of the script helps with this, too. There are no heavy scenes for us to slow down and ponder. The basic pattern goes like this: everything goes boom, a few silly lines of dialogue reveal ever-so-slightly more of the plot, everything goes boom again.

Where it falls apart is in the story. It only gives us a little at a time because its trying to stretch what little is there. What’s there is simply a rehash of something we’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. For all the mystery its presented with, it actually holds none. On top of that, the entire movie could’ve been done without the Cameron Diaz character. She’s completely irrelevant, aside from the fact that the filmmakers obviously wanted a female lead to create sexual tension. Otherwise, she just gets in the way, screams hysterically and puts herself in harm’s way on a regular basis merely so she can be rescued. She is a classic damsel in distress, except she’s a damsel our dashing hero just met.

This is strictly for those knights you just want to see a lot of explosions while Tom Cruise does the impossible. Did you see that? Anyhoo, its not terrible popcorn fare, but it isn’t especially memorable, either. About ten minutes after the credits roll, it will simply blend in with all the other action flicks you’ve seen.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Friday, January 21, 2011


Directed by Robert Rodriguez.
2010. Rated R, 105 minutes.
Danny Trejo
Jeff Fahey
Jessica Alba
Robert De Niro
Steven Seagal
Michelle Rodriguez
Don Johnson
Lindsay Lohan
Cheech Marin

A couple years ago, director Robert Rodriguez joined forces with his bestest buddy, fellow filmmaker Quentin Tarantino to create Grindhouse, an homage to low-budget, 1970s grindhouse cinema. Rodriguez’s Planet Terror is unquestionably the more adrenaline-charged of the two halves. It has loads of zombies, a heroine whose amputated leg is replaced by a functioning machine-gun and buckets of blood. Between the this and Tarantino’s Death Proof were a few faux-trailers that fans immediately began hoping would really be made into movies. One of those trailers was Machete. At least in this instance, fans get their wish.

Machete (Trejo) is the name of both our hero and his weapon of choice. He’s a Mexican Federale on his way to rescue an apparent kidnapping victim from druglord Torrez (Seagal). Long story short: it doesn’t quite work out for the good guy. His whole family ends up dead, along with his partner. He himself is left for dead in a burning house. It should hardly be a surprise he manages to escape. The movie knows this is too easy and doesn’t even bother showing it to us. We just jump into the opening credits and theme song, after which we switch locations from Mexico to Texas.

Once in Texas, we find the immigration debate is on steroids. Senator John McLaughlin (De Niro) is so anti-immigration, he and his cronies literally hunt Mexicans under the cover of night. Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) runs a taco stand that’s really a front for “The Network”, a modern-day underground railroad for Mexicans trying to cross the border into the States. Then there’s Machete. He’s been moseying along as a day-laborer but suddenly finds himself hired to kill the senator. After some double crossings, which the senator survives, Machete has to go on the run from the American law, try to clear his name and bring the real bad guys to justice.

As expected, a healthy dose of graphic and over the top violence keeps our inner-sadists sated. This includes beheadings, impalings and even a crucifixion. There’s also enough nudity to live up to the exploitation flicks to which Machete owes its existence. It basks in the light of outrageous, testosterone driven fun.

Those things alone would make it worthy of a look. However, it adds something extra. It gives us really sharp social commentary through satire. The immigration issue is front and center. However, it also riffs on internet culture, celebrity culture, our obsession with technology and even the clergy. Between the action scenes, there are plenty of laughs to be had.

The cast aids immensely in our enjoyment. For the most part, they play it straight. It’s as if they’re unaware how ridiculously exaggerated this all is and it works perfectly. In the lead, Danny Trejo is deadpan but awesome. A surprisingly good Steven Seagal and surprisingly creepy Don Johnson steal all of their scenes, not to mention the incomparable Cheech Marin. Even Jessica Alba is solid. My one minor complaint is with one of my all time faves, Robert De Niro. He actually turns in a fine performance. He’s the one person who doesn’t quite play it straight and is at his campy best. This actually fits the character and the movie. For some reason though, I just felt like this should’ve been William Shatner’s role. In no way am I suggesting Shatner is a better actor than De Niro. I’m only saying that, in my humble opinion, the senator seems to perfectly fit Shatner’s abilities.

If you’re a fan of Rodriguez’s work and have some understanding of what you might be getting into, you’ll have a blast. The key here is that although nothing that actually happens is to be taken seriously, the movie’s message is. Of course, if you’re one of the hardliners who support what the government is doing in Arizona and think Mexicans are stealing “our” jobs, this might piss you off. If you’re not, or you at least have a sense of humor, it’ll be a fun ride. As for me, I’m anxiously awaiting the sequels we’re promised at the end of the movie: Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again. Please Mr. Rodriguez, make it happen.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Kids Are All Right

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko.
2010. Rated R, 106 minutes.
Annette Benning
Julianne Moore
Mark Ruffalo
Mia Wasikowska
Josh Hutcherson
Yaya DaCosta
Eddie Hassell
Kunal Sharma
Zosia Mamet

Nic (Benning) and Jules (Moore) have built their loving family the new fashioned way. Many moons ago, each of the ladies was artificially inseminated, bore a child and at some point apparently prior to any of this, decided to marry each other. Their daughter Joni (Wasikowska), named after rock icon Joni Mitchell, has just turned 18 and graduated high school. She is on her way to college in a few weeks. Their son, Laser (Hutcherson), is 16. He seems to also be bright, but makes extremely poor choices in friends. For him, “the wrong crowd” is all wrapped up into Clay (Hassell), the Neanderthal he hangs out with. Clay seems destined to die a horrible death trying to perform a stunt for YouTube. Anyhoo, things are fairly mundane until the kids decide to find out who their biological father is, without their moms’ knowledge.

In short order, they discover their dad is Paul (Ruffalo), a local restaurant owner. Totally unaware that he actually has kids up to that point, he’s living the bachelor life. You see, he donated sperm 19 years ago and has since forgotten about it. Women throw themselves at him, including Tanya (DaCosta). She’s not only his “friend with benefits” but his employee, as well. Evidently, she doesn’t believe in bras. Of course, a slob like me would notice such a thing for obvious reasons. However, there’s more to it than that. Her bralessness, the afro she sometimes wears (yes, she’s Black), the seemingly no-strings-attached sex she has (with a White man, no less), mark her as a free spirit, a bit rebellious and alternative thinking. She’s a female version of Paul. Though she’s a minor character, she helps frame the movie. She is the embodiment of both his lifestyle and the opposing force he becomes to Nic.

For all intents and purposes, Nic is the patriarch of her family. She’s domineering, demanding and can’t stand that Paul has been suddenly injected into their lives. Her partner Jules appears much more the wife in a traditional sense. She’s been a stay at home mom at Nic’s behest. She’s searching for her own identity and feels neglected. The entire situation becomes volatile as Nic has frequent outbursts and increasingly drowns her sorrows in alcohol. The children grow to like Paul more and more with each visit and he becomes the first client of Jules’ fledgling landscaping company.

As is the norm when worlds collide and get turned upside down, everyone is confused by what’s going on and try to make sense of it all. To the film’s credit, so do we. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is there even a right and wrong? What does this mean? Are the kids, or the adults, really all right? This enhances our experience because we’re working our way through it with the characters. In the end, we’re not sure we have any answers. Still, we’ve had an interesting ride with a family not as dissimilar to our own as appearances would lead most of us to believe. That said, if you're religious, or other convictions make you scoff at the notion of a nuclear family headed by two women, you might not be willing to enjoy it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Directed by Oliver Stone.
2010. Rated PG-13, 133 minutes.
Shia LaBeouf
Michael Douglas
Carey Mulligan
Josh Brolin
Frank Langella
Susan Sarandon
Austin Pendleton
Vanessa Ferlito

There is a lot of stuff happening, here. The iconic Gordon Gekko (Douglas) is finally out of jail and armed with a best-selling book. Still, his daughter Winnie (Mulligan) blames him for everything since the crucifixion of Christ and wants nothing to do with him. Of course, this means she’s in love with a guy just like him. That guy is Jake Moore (LaBeouf), a young Wall Street hotshot with a jones for an alternative energy company in California.

Keep up, we’re just getting started.

The firm Jake works for collapses. Did I mention this is set in 2008? Anyhoo, when the firm goes belly up, Jake’s beloved boss Lou (Langella) can’t take it anymore, or finally had enough of the smell in the subway, and steps in front of a train. As you would expect, Jake gets all pissed and , tries to go Jason Witwicky and get Bumblebee to kick some ass. However, since he can’t do that in this movie, he decides he’s going to try and take down the man who he thinks is responsible for all his recent misfortunes, Gordon Gekko…oh, wait, sorry. That would’ve made it more interesting. Instead, it’s some other cold-hearted arrogant mogul named Bretton James (Brolin). He’s the kind of guy that likes to stab people in the back and then come around front and act tough as they die.

Well, since it is 2008 and all, the Dow Jones does all of Jakes heavy lifting and all the firms soon find themselves in financial ruin and facing extinction. By the way, there’s also Jake’s mom (Sarandon) who’s a real estate junkie, a cajillion karat engagement ring and an angry liberal website.

Phew! Let me catch my breath.

Actually, all that sounds like an interesting movie. Add in the fact that Oliver Stone is indeed directing the sequel to one of his masterpieces, and this has the pedigree to be great. Sadly, it’s nothing of the sort. It’s just a bunch of stuff.

An old baseball saying warns us to “make them beat you with your best pitch.” If you’re a pitcher tasked with getting out the other team’s star hitter in a potentially game-changing moment, throw your best pitch. If that pitch is a 100 mph fastball, go with that. Don’t bother with your curveball that doesn’t curve so much. For non-baseball fans, it simply means go with what you do best in crucial situations. WS: MNS rarely throws its best pitch.

It’s best pitch is the Gordon Gekko of the original movie. That Gekko is simultaneously magnetic and repulsive. He is irreverent, unapologetic, self-absorbed and above all, greedy. He is one of the best villains of the 1980s, possibly of cinematic history. This version is much more pathetic. His smugness and sliminess has lost most of its appeal. Worse than that, because we do get glimpses of the old Gordon, he’s a secondary player on what should’ve been his stage to shine.

That stage is thoroughly hogged by Jake and James. As our good guy, LaBeouf does what LaBeouf always does, take it or leave it. As the bad guy, Brolin turns in another in what’s becoming a long line of impressive performances. The problem is the characters themselves. They’re both less interesting knock-offs of their counterparts from the original, with equally less interesting dialogue and relationship between them. There’s no complexity to it. It’s simply good guy vs. bad guy. The original gave us two guys who obviously admired one another and, for a time, really were on the same side. The sequel ditches that for standard hero/villain fare, not its best pitch.

About two-thirds of the way through, we get a cameo by Charlie Sheen, ever so briefly reprising his role as Bud Fox. This might be the best scene in the movie. That’s the worst thing that it could’ve been. Seeing Sheen and Douglas have a short, but contentious conversation is too much a reminder of what could’ve been. It’s a mere hint of the movie we wanted. After a few fleeting moments, Sheen walks off dragging our hopes and dreams, kicking and screaming behind him, never to be seen again. There went the movie’s best pitch.

We get more curveballs that don’t curve. We get lots of drawn out scenes of meetings where old men try desperately to save their own backsides. We get lots of one-on-one meetings between others, either trying to save themselves or talk tough to one another. We get lots of clips of CNN. All of this is steeped in joyless financial jargon. The movie only moves away from feeling like economics class when it involves Gekko’s daughter, Winnie. However, with her constant whining she’s much more an annoyance that the reprieve we need.

This movie has needs, too. Apparently, it needs us to like the Gekko family, along with Jake who keeps threatening to be their new addition. To that end, everything is wrapped up in one gutwrenchingly cheesy and hastily tied little bow. All of the good guys will have their cake, and eat it too. It’s too easy, too cliché and not Oliver Stone’s best pitch.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wall Street

Directed by Oliver Stone.
1987. Rated R, 126 minutes.
Michael Douglas
Charlie Sheen
Daryl Hannah
John C. McGinley
Hal Holbrook
James Karen
Martin Sheen
Tamara Tunie

Struggling young stock broker Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) earns his way under the wing of big-time power player Gordon Gekko (Douglas). The younger Sheen holds his own as the eager kid who’s suddenly figured out how to make unbelievable loads of money. His real life dad, Martin Sheen, also gives a wonderful performance as his fictional dad.

The Sheen family’s work aside, this is Michael Douglas’ movie. He is absolutely magnetic and dominates every scene in which he appears. His now iconic “Greed is Good” speech serves as an exclamation point behind his name. Despite the fact he has no superpowers and doesn’t kill anyone, Gekko is one of the all-time great movie villains. His scariness is derived from the fact that we know for a fact there are Gordon Gekko’s in the real world who’ve made fortunes putting us regular people out of work because it’s profitable for them. Not one of us has ever waged intergalactic warfare against an evil Jedi or saved our girlfriend from a mad scientist with giant mechanical arms. Lots of us have worked for companies that were bought out or went through mergers and felt uneasy about our futures. This gives Gekko power beyond many other bad guys.

A sidenote: This has mostly held up pretty good over the years, but dates itself when Gekko is talking on a cell phone. It’s about the size of a microwave. Of course, this applies to the computers in this movie, as well. These things aren’t mere dinosaurs. They’re single-cell organisms at the dawn of time. Still, nevermind all this. Wall Street is the crown-jewel of Michael Douglas’ career and one of Oliver Stone’s very best.

MY SCORE: 10/10

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Town

Directed by Ben Affleck.
2010. Rated R, 125 minutes.
Ben Affleck
Jeremy Renner
Rebecca Hall
Jon Hamm
Blake Lively
Peter Postlethwaite
Titus Welliver

Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his boys rob a bank in their hometown of Charlestown, MA. As a warning, we’ve already been told this Boston-area city produces more bank and armored car robbers than anywhere in the world. Anyhoo, as things develop quickly, part of their getaway involves taking one of the bank’s managers hostage. Since they’re not completely evil and were wearing masks, they decide to let her out, blindfolded, at the beach. Our gang keeps her drivers license as a little insurance. When they finally bother to look at her license the next day, they discover she live right in their neighborhood. Doug takes it upon himself to follow her around and make sure she can’t give any useful information to the cops. Very unwisely, he starts courting the shaken would be witness and the two begin to fall madly in love.

These events set up an intriguing game of cat-and-mouse that is, at times, reminiscent of Michael Mann’s classic Heat. Don’t worry, this does plenty of its own thing and is outstanding in its own right. The storytelling is fascinating and the robbery scenes are intense. It also builds relationships that have grown from simple roots, but become more complicated as time goes on. The first is obviously of Doug and James (Renner), his partner-in-crime. Helping it be that is Renner as James. His and Affleck’s characters are like brothers, but actually aren’t. Each has selfish motives but needs the other. Like he was in The Hurt Locker, Renner is simply fantastic in his role.

Three other subplots are done just as well. There’s the cop procedural element. Here is where it most resembles Heat. The police learn who the bad guys are rather quickly. They just have to figure out how to catch them. Then, there is our gang’s working relationship with “The Florist” (Postletwaite). Finally, we have Doug’s relationship with his dad who’s been incarcerated for many years.

All of these things combine to make The Town a excellent experience. It is a crime drama through and through, a fantastic one at that. Kudos goes to Affleck, who steered the ship. With this, and Gone Baby Gone from a couple years ago, he’s establishing himself as an outstanding director.

MY SCORE: 8/10

Friday, January 7, 2011

The A-Team

Directed by Joe Carnahan.
2010. Rated PG-13, 117 minutes.
Liam Neeson
Bradley Cooper
Jessica Biel
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
Sharlto Copley
Patrick Wilson
Gerald McRaney
Brian Bloom
Henry Czerny

Omari Hardwick

Overkill is underrated. That phrase is used in the trailer for The A-Team and somewhere along the way our fearless leader, Col. Hannibal Smith (Neeson) actually does utter these words. This movie treats that statement like a plague to be cured. Nothing is done that isn’t overdone. Another line of dialogue helps ease us into suspending our belief. Cpt. Sosa (Biel), hot on the trails of our heroes, tells her own team that these guys “specialize in the ridiculous.” This flick knows its just dumb fun, and makes sure you do, too.

If you have any knowledge of and/or recollection of the 1980s then you know this movie is based on the television series of the same name. For you youngsters that only see him in commercials, or know of him through his Chuck Norris styled “facts”, that series, along with Rocky III is the reason Mr. T is famous. From its first episode, it told us these guys were fugitives from the law based on a crime they didn’t commit. While fleeing the government and trying to gather information to clear their names, they were hired by the good citizens of Anytown, USA to take on the local bad guys. The movie is a prequel to this. It examines how our boys found themselves in that predicament. Honestly, going this route is a wise decision. We get the origin story we never really got from the series.

Even if this is all a bit goofy, and wholly unrealistic, it’s a fun, brainless adventure. As brainlessness goes, this is top notch. There’s plenty of narrow escapes, elaborate plans and pure zaniness, a lot like its source material. Much of this formula’s success hinges on the work of Liam Neeson as Hannibal. As was the case with Taken, his booming voice and unshakeable swagger elevates the material he’s given to work with. He’s helped most in this department by Bradley Cooper as Face. Sharlto Copley is adequate as Murdoch. The only suspect performance is turned in by MMA fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as B. A. Baracus. The problem is his Mr. T impersonation comes and goes. Either do it, or don’t. That said, I was hoping to hear him use Mr. T’s iconic catch-phrase “I pity the fool”, but I don’t remember him using it. However, this version of Baracus forgoes all the gold chains and instead rocks a tat on his left hand that reads “pity” while one on his right reads “fool.” I guess that covers it.

Overall, The A-Team is a popcorn flick with no pretentions of being otherwise. This enables us to enjoy it even as it revels in its own stupidity. Of course, for some it will just be entirely too dumb. Once again, it knows this and doesn’t mind one bit.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

12 Angry Men

Directed by Sidney Lumet.
1957. Not Rated, 96 minutes.
Henry Fonda
Lee J. Cobb
E.G. Fiedler
Ed Begley
Joseph Sweeney
Jack Klugman
6 other angry men

Plot: The 12 jurors of a first-degree murder trial deliberate the case.

The Good: Acting.This is a movie that's all about the actors. Without strong performances it would fall apart. Thankfully, this movie gets a good performance out all 12 guys. The writing is also exceptional as it has to be to carry such a claustrophobic movie. All but a couple minutes at the beginning & the very end take place in the deliberation room or adjoining restroom. The characters don't so much develop as they do reveal themselves. It becomes a very effective tool saving its most powerful moment for last. Director Sidney Lumet's pacing is also remarkable. Even though the scenery never changes and there are no action scenes to speed things along, the movie moves along rather quickly without rushing itself. His best trick however may be that for the most part he stays out of his actors' way.

The Bad: A couple of the guys really don't do much. Not really a detractor because it's awfully tough to write major parts for 12 different characters without making the movie excruciatingly long.

The Ugly: When the jurors all turn their back, quite literally, on one of the jurors spouting off his prejudices. Ugly in such a good way.

Recommendation: If you're a fan of courtroom dramas, this is an absolute must-see. If you just want to see a movie with some great acting and writing this is also for you. Skip it if you're under the distinct impression that every movie has to have either an explosion &/or love story

MY SCORE: 10/10

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Shrek Forever After

Directed by Mike Mitchell.
2010. Rated PG, 93 minutes.
Mike Myers
Cameron Diaz
Eddie Murphy
Antonio Banderas
Walt Dorhn
Jane Lynch
Craig Robinson
Julie Andrews
John Cleese
Jon Hamm

Shrek (Myers) is struggling with the monotony of family life, and the loss of privacy brought on by the celebrity his adventures have earned him. He longs for the days when he was a single, and feared, ogre, free to take a mud bath in peace. This leads him to sign a deal with Rumplestilskin (Dohrn) for just one day to enjoy as the monster he once was. If you’ve paid any attention to the first three movies in the series, you know things in Far Far Away are never quite so easy. Needless to say, the deal comes with plenty of strings attached. Suffice it to say that Shrek once again finds himself trying to find true love’s kiss.

In keeping with the direction the franchise has taken, this fourth installment is a more straight-forward adventure than the ruthless deconstruction of the fairy-tale that was the original. Here, Shrek finds himself in an alternate reality and Fiona to be the leader of “the resistance” against the rule of Rumplestilskin. There’s lots of swashbuckling and Shrek trying to convince everyone that what he’s saying is true. There are lots of references to the original movie, but like I said not as much of that same style of humor. There is some, such as when we first meet The Pied Piper. When it goes down that road is when it is most successful. That said, there are other moments that work quite well.

Forever After suffers from predictability and constantly using the original as a crutch. It also gives its action scenes more responsibility. The franchis is at its best when the action supplements the humor. This movie has it reversed, the humor only supplements the action, and it is less intriguing because of it. However, its still a fun ride that for all its flaws, is a step up from the lackluster Shrek the Third.

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Saturday, January 1, 2011