Wednesday, December 30, 2009

'Sherlock Holmes'

'Sherlock Holmes' (PG-13) **1/2

Writers: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg
Directed By Guy Ritchie
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly

Robert Downey Jr. has a complete and masterful charm and ease about him on the screen. Sometimes I think that he is smarter than the material he gets to star in. He is such a good actor and screen presence that he can make you smile, feel comfortable and know you are watching someone who knows what he is doing. He almost saves "Sherlock Holmes" from becoming a total misfire and disappointing star vehicle and possible franchise. "Sherlock Holmes" has it's moments and they are mostly the dialogue and the way it is delivered by Downey and his co stars. Jude Law as Watson has a great chemistry with Downey Jr. and they work the dialogue well off of each other. Also the fetching and magnetic Rachel McAdams proves again she has star power just waiting to jump out and she has good chemistry with Downey Jr. The film though is not really that memorable or good. It is overlong, the story is weak and a not as smart detective probably could have solved the mystery. I am not saying I figured it out but the case is too easy for someone like Holmes to figure out.

The villain is capably played by a great new promising actor Mark Strong who was great in "Young Victoria". The problem is the villain doesn't make a lasting and menacing enough bad guy and is never really on screen. The real villain in the books by Arthur Conan Doyle is Professor Moriarty and he makes a brief appearance setting up a villain for a possible sequel. There will definitely now be a sequel thanks to the Box Office take and the best thing about that is it might promise a better sequel. The real heart of the books was the strength of Moriarty and he was a match for Holmes. Since there is a sequel and Moriarty will be in it maybe it will be a stronger and better written movie. There is promise here because of the chemistry between and acting of Downey, Law and McAdams. What you have with this movie is a weak villain, too many big, loud and clumsy action scenes and no time to just soak in the movie because it is really choppy and frantic. "Sherlock Holmes" should be a battle of wits not a "Transformers" movie. I do recommend you see it if you like Robert Downey Jr. because as always he lights up the screen in this near miss.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

'It's Complicated'

'It's Complicated' (R) ***

Written and Directed By Nancy Myers
Starring: Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, Lake Bell, John Krasinski, Zoe Kazan, Rita Wilson, Mary Kay Place, Alexandra Wentworth

Meryl Streep and Nancy Myers have this thing down pat and have perfected it more successfully then most. That "it" is the romantic comedy geared towards an older crowd with Nancy Myers writing strong stories for adults. Also Meryl Streep is now perfecting a great second career proving that actresses over 40 can still have a great later career with great roles and money making hits. Nancy Myers has written "Something's Gotta Give" with the radiant Diane Keaton (also proving she still has got it) and Jack Nicholson and it was fresh, funny and romantic. "It's Complicated" has the same charm and three great roles for three great actors. Meryl Streep is on a role lately with smart choices in one blockbuster after another. "The Devil Wears Prada", "Mama Mia" and "Julie and Julia", all hits and all films I liked. It is a given that there is always Oscar talk with Streep but in "It's Complicated" she does give a great comic performance with great timing and facial expressions. I like her work here more than Julia because it is more in the moment. Alec Baldwin is carving out a good comedy career what with "30 Rock" and this role. He works off Streep very well and his comic timing is sharp. Steve Martin has always been likable on screen and he is charming here and subtly funny. Some critics think he was miscast as a too nice guy here but he is perfect to me. I think it is an insult to typecast him as the wild, crazy guy when he has done this kind of role before.

The movie's plot could have easily been sitcom time but with the three leads making it deeper it doesn't fall into that trap. The characters are real and going through real life situations. The plot revolves around the Streep and Baldwin characters being divorced for ten years. Baldwin is married again to a younger woman (Lake Bell) with a terror of a five year old kid and the scenes with Baldwin and the child are very funny. Well Baldwin feels that he is falling back in love with Streep just as she has become interested in her architect played by Steve Martin. The movie has very funny dialogue and a few scenes that made me laugh out loud. One concerns a party where some kind of drugs are involved and Streep and Martin play this scene brilliantly. There is also a very funny few scenes as the kids realize something strange is going on and it involves hotel rooms. I also must mention that John Krasinski form the television show "The Office" has some great double takes and has some priceless moments. He is very good here (as equal as Streep, Baldwin and Martin) and just might have a good movie career ahead of him and I mean leading roles. Nancy Myers has written a smart, charming crowd pleaser and I guarantee a good time had by all. If you want to see an adult comedy with some of the best acting around then see this and have a good time. Again I am amazed at what Streep can do and she always surprises me every time.

Monday, December 28, 2009

'Crazy Heart'

'Crazy Heart' (R) ****

Written and Directed By Scott Cooper based on novel by Thomas Cobb
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall, Colin Ferrell, Ryan Bingham

Once in a while a performance and a film come together in perfect harmony to create something special. It doesn't happen often but it did happen last year with Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler" and it does this time with the iconic Jeff Bridges and "Crazy Heart". You don't even have to like Country music to enjoy Heart just like you don't have to love Pro Wrestling to enjoy "The Wrestler". I don't love Country music like I love pro Wrestling but I love Jeff Bridges and his character in this movie. Bridges plays a somewhat washed up, alcoholic Country singer named Bad Blake who toils in small taverns and even a bowling alley singing his old songs. He is pestered by his agent to write some new songs and team up with a new style popular singer named Tommy Sweet. Blake just wants to drink mostly but he falls in love with a younger woman giving an interview of Blake played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. She has a child and Blake thinks of the son he left behind at four and loves spending time with Jean and her son. He gets offered a big tour with Tommy but Blake is on that edge of burning out and maybe even dying. This is a leisurely, beautiful and touching story with a lead performance that is perfect for the actor playing him and is one of the best performances I have ever seen.

Jeff Bridges is one of my favorite actors and might be my ultimate favorite actor. He has always been under the radar and somewhat taken for granted but he has done some great movies and some of my favorites. Among my top 100 favorite movies of all time Bridges has been in a lot. They include "Cutter's Way", "The Last Picture Show", "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" and he was amazing in "Starman" and gave an iconic and popular performance in "The Big Lebowski". This is his career defining performance as Bad Blake and he is perfect in walk, cadence and emotion. He gives exactly what the role calls for and you never see him acting like you see in most other actors. He has that Gene Hackman and James Garner easiness and naturalness. I do predict he has an extremely good shot at winning Best Actor at the Oscars. He just inhabits this character and never makes a wrong move. This is Deniro in "Raging Bull" and Robert Duvall in "Tender Mercies" great. In fact Duvall has a great, small part and we are reminded that he gave a great performance like this and won the Oscar in Mercies. Bridges has great support with another winning and great performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal as the young mother Blake falls in love with and it is a tender and touching love story. Also Colin Farrell gives a great cameo performance as Tommy and he is proving to be a most dependable and amazing actor. I like his singing voice which is not as deep and weary as Blake's but that is another way this movie is perfect. It compares the rougher and more roots driven old Country as opposed to the new Country that is not as deep and story driven. There is even a great and moving song that Blake writes for Tommy and should win Best Song at the Oscars. This is a nice and moving story and an outstanding character study with a flawless Bridges performance. Like Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler" this is a perfect job of casting and a performance that belongs in the upper echelon of screen performances. If you like great acting and a simply moving story or loved "The Wrestler" you should eat this one up.

Friday, December 25, 2009


'Nine' (PG-13) **

Writers: Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella
Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Fergie, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren

"Nine" is a major disappointment in the Musical genre and it actually mad me restless and bored through most of it. A musical is supposed to be alive especially when it is released during the Holiday season. "Nine" looks very good and has two show stopping musical numbers. The only problem is there are about 6 or 7 more musical numbers and they are clunkers. The problem for me is that it is not really Rob Marshall's fault because I didn't like the story and how it was portrayed. So if I saw this on Broadway I think I might have not liked it on the stage either. If that is not shared by others then maybe Marshall missed something. His last musical, the Academy Award winning "Chicago", was much more exciting, if vastly over rated, then "Nine" even though I wasn't crazy about "Chicago". Marshall hasn't grasped how to own the screen and make a musical totally alive on film. "Chicago" had some stagy moments but "Nine" is even more lifeless. The movie also fails as a depiction of Italian cinema, Federico Fellini to be more exact. The movie is beautiful to look at and resembles Fellini's colorful films but not the exuberance and excitement of them. Even if you don't care about that this movie still feels stiff.

The movie to me seems dark and I don't mind that though it is a suffering darkness. There are two sexy and wonderful dance numbers. They are well choreographed and very stimulating and that is because of the talents of Fergie and Penelope Cruz who come off best here among the actors. Fergie sings the show stopping number "Be Italian". It is a wonderful song and the singing is superb. Fergie and the way the number is presented is very sexy and alive. Another hot moment is a number sung by Penelope Cruz and surprise to me she can sing! She also is very sexy here as she writhes around the stage and shows some sexy moves and also is another hot and alive moment. Marion Cotillard is also moving as the director's wife and she sings a beautiful and somewhat good song but that is it. That is about 15-20 minutes out of two hours and the rest is a dull snooze fest. The film doesn't really have a plot except for it's homage to Italian Cinema and the fact that Daniel Day Lewis is a movie director who has a wife and a few Mistresses and he is trying to make a film and is also burnt out.

I am a big lover of Musicals and I am very critical of the stage to screen adaptations but this doesn't work in any way and not even a really entertaining way. There aren't many songs that are memorable and I was bored. There is another musical that this resembles and that is my favorite one of all time "All That Jazz" directed by Bob Fosse and from 1979. That was a dark and sexy musical and look at a director and Fosse knew how to adapt a stage musical. Rob Marshall still hasn't totally mastered it with even "Chicago" failing a little. Fosse also made a great stage adaptation in "Cabaret" "Cabaret", "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Fiddler on the Roof", "Grease" and "Hair" are the best in my opinion. "Nine" is even weaker then "A Chorus Line" and is at the bottom of the bunch. Save this for the small screen where you can enjoy Fergie (great debut), Cruz (sexy and again very good), Cotillard (breathtaking) and to see that Sophia Loren still looks fantastic. If you pay ten bucks at the movies you have to sit through Daniel Day Lewis (miscast), Kidman (non existent), Hudson (awkward and reminding me too much of Her Mom and bad "Laugh In) and a lot of safe, unmemorable songs. "Nine" isn't sexy enough, compelling enough or good enough on many levels.

'The Young Victoria'

'The Young Victoria' (PG) ***

Writer: Julian Fellowes
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Thomas Kretschmann, Mark Strong, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Julian Glover

"The Young Victoria" is a very stately, quaint and slow moving movie. That should be the style of this film for it is absolutely lovely to look at with meticulously crafted set design and costumes. It is a very well directed and photographed and I found it's characters very interesting and the story intriguing. This is not full of violent deaths and political back stabbing like the more powerful "Elizabeth". This has political backstabbing but a more courteous and slyer form of it. Emily Blunt gives a very good performance as Queen Victoria who took over the throne at a very young age and was manipulated by her Mother, the Duchess of Kent, and her mother's advisor Sir John Conroy. She breaks out of their grasp when she becomes a little more independent and strikes up a relationship with her German cousin Prince Albert. The movie shows how their friendship grew into a deep love. They each counted on each other for support and closeness during tough political times. Emily Blunt is one of our fine new actresses with her great performances in "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Sunshine Cleaning". She is very good here and gives a mature and compelling performance. The supporting actors are also good especially Mark Strong as Conroy. Queen Victoria had one of the longest reigns which went on for 63 years and there is another good movie depicting the older Queen in "Mrs. Brown". That had an Academy Award winning performance by Judi Dench and "The Young Victoria" would be a tasty appetizer in a double feature with "Mrs. Brown. I usually am bored by historical costume dramas about British royalty except for the powerful "Elizabeth" with Cate Blanchett which is an exception. I found this movie fun actually and intriguing and damn beautiful to look at and take in. So if I like this then someone who digs this sort of movie is guaranteed to really like it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'The Princess and the Frog'

'The Princess and the Frog' (G) **

Writers: Ron Clements, John Musker and Rob Edwards
Directors: Ron Clements and John Musker
Voices: Anika Noni Rose, Keith David, Bruno Campos, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman, Jennifer Lewis

"The Princess and the Frog" is admirable for the fact that it goes back to the charming hand drawn animation of old Disney in the midst of these CGI, stop motion animation films recently. It is also admirable for having the lead character, a Princess, that is African American and other characters that are also African American. There hasn't been a lead character that was African American since "Song of the South" which caused needless controversy. The only thing wrong about "The Princess and the Frog" is that it is safe and dull with mostly unmemorable songs. I couldn't get into it and I loved "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" which are ten times better and more alive. "The Princess and the Frog" has a great setting taking place in a colorful and alive New Orleans with a couple of good Jazz songs and I mean good old Dixieland Jazz. I like a couple of those Jazz numbers but I don't really recall them and I mean actually an hour after I left the theatre. The characters are also a little too quaint even though the Princess is independent and strong willed. The main villain is also cliched and seen before and reminded me of the bad guy in the 1975 Bond movie "Live and Let Die". It might come off as a stereotypical black voodoo character and the film has already gotten outed by some Christian group. That is pure baloney and not the problem with this movie. I just think only real little girls will like this and I found it pretty unimaginative, dull and safe. I am glad though that little African American girls will have someone in a movie they can look up to.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Me and Orson Welles'

'Me and Orson Welles' (PG-13) ***1/2

Writers: Holy Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo based on Novel By Robert Kaplow
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Zak Effron, Claire Danes, Christian McKay, Ben Chaplin, Eddie Marsan, James Tupper, Kelly Reilly, Zoe Kazan

If you love the theatre, Orson Welles and the art of acting, you will fall in love with "Me and Orson Welles". This is a beautifully shot valentine to theatre and the art of acting. It takes place in 1937 as Orson Welles, who would go on to be a genius movie director, and his Mercury Theatre troupe put on a stage play of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar". A young, aspiring actor played by Zac Effron tries to become part of this legendary group by taking on a small role in the play. He also falls in love with Claire Danes who plays an assistant to Welles. Zac Effron as I have said before is showing that he can act and hold a movie together as a lead. His last movie "17 Again" wasn't great but he was very good. But the movie really belongs to Christian McKay as Orson Welles. He not only does a perfect job of recreating that booming Welles voice but also looks just like a young Orson Welles. His performance is mesmerizing and pitch perfect and even though many don't know who he is I hope he gets a look at towards Oscar time. The movie is dreamy and well photographed and the movie knows it's subject and you can see a lot of heart went into it. The director is Richard Linklater and he is becoming one of my favorite directors. His rich list of films are always a different genre and include "Dazed and Confused", "Fast Food Nation", Before Sunrise" and "Sunset" and "School of Rock". What I like about him is that he loves every subject he films about and he never picks the same kind of subject matter twice. He clearly loves movies and reminds me of a Ron Howard though most of his films have been better. I love the acting in this movie and the performances of James Tupper as Joseph Cotton, Eddie Marsan as John Houseman and especially Christian McKay as Welles. Orson Welles was a very arrogant but extremely talented actor and performer who became probably the best movie director in film history. This movie shows that he had a passion and love for making art, plays and movies and this movie brilliantly shows that love coming through.

'Did You Hear About The Morgans?'

'Did You Hear About the Morgans?' (PG-13) *

Writen and Directed By Marc Lawrence
Starring: Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliot, Mary Steenburgen, Elizabeth Moss, Jesse Liebman, Wilford Brimley, Michael Kelly

Did you hear that pin just drop? Since no one really laughed at the screening I attended of "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" I probably could. This is one of those movies where people in the audience strain to laugh at very little moments when there is nothing else to really laugh out loud at. This is a deadly, dull, unfunny and annoying romantic comedy. Yes another loser in the romantic comedy field which also includes "The Proposal" also from this year. First of all I have seen so many movies where someone is murdered, the lead characters witness it and then are chased by a hit man. If this movie had just one laugh instead of numerous groans I wouldn't mind that I saw this story before. Grant and Parker, looking uncomfortable, play a bickering, separated couple who witness a client being shot by a bad guy. We are given a lame and underwritten explanation of why he was murdered. Then the couple are put in the witness protection program where they are relocated to Wyoming. They are looked after by a sheriff and his deputy who are also married and played by two wonderful actors in Sam Elliot and Mary Steenburgen. They both have aged well, look good on screen and are charming and they account for my one star. The movie is just Grant and Parker screaming at each other and insulting the locals who are portrayed as dumb yokels. Living in the South I was insulted by the movie's attitude towards small town people making them seem inferior and dumber than the smart, together big city slickers. Again I wouldn't mind if the movie was funny and I swear to you no one laughed at all during the show I went to. Hugh Grant's trademark of hemming and hawing and pausing and being a smart ass is wearing thin and it comes to a halt in this movie. I will be casting agent now and would advise Grant that maybe he should do a drama or better yet play a bad guy in a thriller like Alan Rickman in "Die Hard"? I am not worried about Parker because she can make a "Sex in the City" movie every two years.

'Broken Embraces'

'Broken Embraces' (R) **1/2

Written and Directed By Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Blanca Portillo, Jose Luis Gomez, Ruben Ochendiano, Tamar Novas

Pedro Almodovar movies remind me of the old women's pictures of the 40's with Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn and Joan Crawford. His best movies deal with a beautiful woman at the center surrounded by melodrama and multiple supporting characters. His favorite collaborator these days is Penelope Cruz who gave a fantastic performance in his last movie "Volver". Their new movie "Broken Embraces" is not as strong as "Volver" but still contains another great performance by Penelope Cruz. She is really coming on strong in her acting and more assured from one film to the next. The screen loves her and she has that great glamour and screen presence of the grand actresses of the 30's and 40's. "Broken Embraces" deals with an actress who was once a former call girl and her affair with a movie director. The plot becomes very full and complicated as she is being followed by her boyfriend who is rich and has her followed and filmed on camera as she is making a new movie with her director. The movie is chock full of melodrama, sly humor and a Little noir mystery. I liked the look of the film and the performances but I found the movie to be a pale copy of his two best movies "Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" and "All About My Mother". He even makes the film that is being shot in the movie a play on "Women of the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" and that even makes it seem even weaker. Penelope Cruz is again outstanding and Almodovar is a good writer of dialogue. The only problem I had was that I expected a little stronger movie instead of a fluff piece that needed to be more dramatic and funnier. I never really felt for any of the characters except for the Cruz character. Though I do love Almodovar's love of movies and old time melodrama and he knows how to shoot a movie for this one looks very beautiful.

Friday, December 18, 2009


'Avatar' (PG-13) ****

Written and Directed by James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi

James Cameron is definitely a visionary and a meticulous film maker who demands perfection but he also loves movies and his craft comes from the heart! What a difference in quality there is in his new breathtaking and beautiful looking epic. What a difference between "Avatar" and junk food crap like "Transformers", "G.I. Joe", the Laura Croft movies, the Mummy movies, the X Men sequels. When I was growing up there was "Star Wars" and "Raiders Of The Lost Ark", "Superman II", movies that were energetic and enthusiastic and thrilling and visually fun. I can't think of more than a few movies in the last decade that have that magic and definitely not now. They are lazy and Cameron wants to go above that flat line with his movies. In fact his other movies like the "Terminator" movies, "The Abyss" and "Aliens" are some of the best types of epic adventure movies in the past decades. Watching "Avatar" I felt like I did when I was a kid and I saw "Star Wars" for the first time. My mouth was dropping all throughout this awe inspiring visionary movie.

Let me first tell you that this movie begs to be seen in Imax and in 3-D! If you can't get into a sold out show you still must see it in 3-D. I am telling you this because yes the critics who say the story gets off track and that it is too long are kind of right. This doesn't matter though because this movie is filled with wall to wall eye popping special effects. You will be like a kid in a candy store so much so that you won't even notice a story. The first hour and last hour are hypnotic and awesome! The first hour sets up the story and characters quickly and then gives you it's eye popping effects and they are like a painting and not just looking like CGI effects. The last hour has a battle scene that is one of the best on screen and puts the Lord of the Rings movies to shame. It is great on an action scale and a visual scale. The only complaint I have is that 20 minutes could be cut off because in the middle there are a couple of sequences that drag the story but only a short time. Now Avatar's story deals with a paraplegic ex soldier played by newcomer Sam Worthington (the best thing about "Terminator Salvation"). He is promised back his legs if he goes into another World as an Avatar where he can walk and join a native tribe of aliens called the Navi. He must infiltrate the tribe so the Army can tap into some strong natural resources on this new planet. Here he falls in love with one of the female warriors. I thought the story was not as bad as some critics have said but who is going to care with all the visual wonder that will knock you out. Also I must tell you the Navi are blue and have tails and some have joked that they look like smurfs or characters from the animated cheapie from the 90's "FernGully". If people ahead of time think this will distract them then maybe you shouldn't even go to the movie. In fact Zoe Saldana who plays the female Navi actually looked hot and sexy to me but some have accused me of being weird sometimes.

The best part of this movie though are the cool creatures and monsters, the beautiful rain forrest backdrops and the visually perfect action chases and sequences. I swear to you this is so awesome in 3D and so breathtaking that you will find this a rewarding experience but only in 3-D. The story is not perfect but I can name numerous epics and classics that have had problems with story. For Cameron the stories of the "Terminator" movies, "Aliens" and "The Abyss" are better but visually this is his best movie and one of the most beautiful movies of all time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

'Golden Globe Nominations 2009'

'2009 Golden Globe Nominations'

It is that time of the year for the award season talk to begin and the various critics groups have made their picks and they are pretty good so far. Movies and the performances in them like "Up In The Air", "Inglorious Basterds" and "Precious" are being represented. This is also true of this year's Golden Globe nominations which have mirrored most of the critic's picks. The Golden Globes are always more relaxed and a great party where the nominees are allowed to drink and also comedies get their due. We all know the Academy has a stick up their butt when it comes to comedies and Blockbusters. The Globes can reach beyond that except "The Proposal" getting nominations is a little wrong. I am not saying all the nominations make sense but just that it is less tightly controlled. I have not seen everything and probably won't until the end of January when I write my Best of 2009 article but most of the nominations are good this year. First since I do watch a lot of television also I will comment on the television end of the noms. I am ecstatic that the show and the actors in "Glee" have nominations including the invaluable local actress Jane Lynch. She is one of the best comic actors out there and she is awesome in "Glee". "Glee" is the best new show on television as is "Modern Family" which is constantly hilarious and received nominations. Though "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is the best comedy on television this year and it got snubbed. Also where is the best drama on television and the best acting of any dramatic show this year "Friday Night Lights"? Is it because it first came out only on DirectTV and why are Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler always passed up? Was the best cop show this year and maybe of all time "The Shield" and Michael Chicklis not able to be nominated this year?

On the movie side I am very happy to announce that films like "Precious", "Inglorious Basterds", "Up In The Air" have multiple nominations. Congratulations to worthy nominations like Christolph Waltz in Basterds (but no Melanie Laurent?) Gabby Sidibe and Monique in "Precious" who made impactful first impressions. I love that Jeff Bridges was nominated for "Crazy Heart" which I am dying to see. Bridges is one of my favorite actors and if he wins any award I will start crying. George Clooney, Woody Harrelson and Matt Damon are the most dependable and wonderful actors out there and their nominations prove that they will always be treasured. They are the three most engaging and wonderful actors of our time and deserve to be labeled Hollywood Giants. I love the nominations for Anna Kendrick and the sexiest woman on this planet Vera Farmiga for "Up In The Air". Tobey Maguire lit the movie world on fire with the Spiderman movies but announces that he is a powerful dramatic actor with his performance in "Brothers". Critics have not been kind to "Nine" but I can't wait to see it and I am looking forward to "A Single Man", "Crazy Heart", "Young Victoria" and "It's Complicated". Still where is "Where The Wild Things Are", Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brothers", Ben Foster in "The Messenger" and where is possibly my favorite movie of the year "Adventureland"? Also where is the captivating Zooey Deschanel from "500 Days Of Summer" even though I am happy for the movie being nominated and for Joseph Gordon'Levitt. Also to see the great divide and looser feeling of the Globes I am amused and happy that "The Hangover" was nominated for Best Comedy. This will be a fun awards show hosted by the hilarious Ricky Gervais who isn't afraid to push the limits of comedy. I will see more movies by the time the show is on but I will be cheering and drinking along with all the Hollywood beautiful people. Soon I will be writing about the Academy Awards and in January I will be giving you my year end critique and my word is the one that counts actually so feel free to comment on what you think of the nominations.

Friday, December 11, 2009

On DVD: 'Every Little Step'

'Every Little Step' (PG-13) ***1/2

Directed and Produced By James D. Stern

I love Musicals on the stage for the sheer energy and harmony and I love how hard it is for the performers to make it on the stage. It takes hard determination, practice and guts to audition for a role in a Musical as shown by "Every Little Step", a fascinating documentary. "A Chorus Line" is one of the most successful Musicals on Broadway. It started on stage in 1974, won a Tony for Best Musical and had run for decades including a new revival that came out not too long ago. One of it's creators Michael Bennett was an extremely talented actor and dancer who made "A Chorus Line" the hit it is today. This new documentary goes behind the scenes of the new revival presenting all the tryouts and giving flashbacks to auditions in the 70's. It also contains beautiful scenes of Bennett talking about his craft and passion and love of Musicals and "A Chorus Line". The present day auditions show perfectly how grueling it is to try out for a role and how emotionally draining it is. The movie does a good job of giving a little background on all the men and women who are trying to get that spot. "A Chorus Line" is actually about that struggle and anxiety of making a name on the stage so that makes this movie even more fascinating. All the people trying out are decent and talented people who bare their souls as Michael Bennett did. They include Jason who is trying out for one of the leads and in a fascinating and powerful scene his audition brings the casting agent and director to tears. I felt that they also saw a little Michael Bennett in him. I got to know all these men and women and it was a pleasure spending time with them and watching their brave journey. The film ends beautifully with Michael Bennett accepting the Tony and giving a beautiful, heartfelt speech and then finally showing us the final cast and then fade. This is a powerful and spellbinding documentary and if you love Broadway Musicals it is a must see. I was enthralled and I even got into the auditions and rooting for who I wanted to see get the part. "Every Little Step" is one of the best documentaries of the year or any year.


'Invictus' (PG-13) ***

Writer: Anthony Peckham based on John Carlin's book "Playing the Enemy"
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Adjoa Andoh

I grew up idolizing Clint Eastwood for he is my favorite actor and I thought the man could and still do no wrong. His acting career has been rich and varied and when he started directing back in the early 70's he made some interesting and well done films. Now in the past decade he has made some outstanding and fascinating movies and everything he directs has been amazing. The man is hitting 80 and he still directs film after film and they have all been winners. He is on quite a roll and that continues with another winner in "Invictus". This is a rousing, inspirational and crowd pleasing movie. The movie starts out with Nelson Mandela being released from prison in 1990 and follows his new presidency as Apartheid had vanished. Nelson Mandela is played by Morgan Freeman and it is no surprise that he is outstanding and perfectly cast as Mandela. It is a beautiful, grounded performance that is subtle and affecting. The movie does not cover the whole life of Mandela but wisely narrows it's focus on one event. That is the journey of the South African Rugby team and it's goal to win the World Cup. Mandela feels this will unite South Africa after Apartheid has torn it apart a bit. He visits the team's Captain to try to inspire him to get his woeful team back on track. Matt Damon plays the Captain and he gives another sturdy performance. His accent is perfect and with his performance in "The Informant" he is having another great year becoming one of our finest actors. The movie wisely focuses on Mandela though because his is the character that sets everything in motion. This is Freeman's movie and he is sure to get an Oscar nomination for his performance. The Rugby scenes are well directed and if you don't know anything about Rugby you will learn a lot here. Eastwood has made an inspiring movie that will get people cheering. Everything is well done but the reason I think it is not a great movie is that there are really no surprises or anything that will stay with you for days. It is just a well made and crowd pleasing movie with great performances and another solid Clint Eastwood movie.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

'Everybody's Fine'

'Everybody's Fine' (PG-13) ***

Writer and Director: Kirk Jones
Starring: Robert Deniro, Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Melissa Leo

"Everybody's Fine" is a tearjerker that I should feel manipulated by but something struck a chord in me and I fell for this very light drama. Robert Deniro gives one of his best performances in a long time as a father and widower who wants to have his family join him for dinner at one table. Each child calls him to let him know that they can't come for various reasons so he decides to travel to them. He visits each one as he travels from train to bus to truck across the country to surprise each kid. The three children are played well by Kate Beckinsale (an under rated actress), Sam Rockwell (building a great acting career)and Drew Barrymore who again has an infectious charm and smile in everything she is in. We found out a lot of little secrets along the way and if you are smart you can figure out all the plot developments ahead of time. The movie is a little predictable but the acting and easy going nature of the movie hook you in. Deniro has made a lot of goofy comedies and movies that were unintentionally funny but here he is back in serious acting mode. He gives a touching, quiet and understated performance that betters the movie. There is also a nice small performance by Melissa Leo as a trucker who gives Deniro a ride. I felt in the beginning that my strings were being pulled and that I was watching a Lifetime movie on cable. I could also do without every time Deniro sees his adult children they turn into the younger version of themselves but then something got to me. The movie turns out to be a touching drama about the pressure parents put on children to be happy and successful and how sometimes not every thing works out for the best. Many people have had dreams and goals and sometimes they don't happen and we disappoint ourselves and family. This is a nice drama that turns out to say a lot and all the acting is very fine indeed.

On DVD: 'Shrink'

'Shrink' (R) **1/2

Writer: Thomas Moffett
Director: Jonas Pate
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Dallas Roberts, Keke Palmer, Mark Webber, Saffron Burrows, Pell James, Jack Huston, Robert Loggia, Jesse Plemons

"Shrink" is a perfect movie to watch on DVD at home where you can concentrate on the great performances. What you have here are some wise veterans and good actors not many people know about doing good work. You also have some rising talent that make big impressions in this movie. The story itself has it's moments but doesn't come together and feels a little rambled and disjointed. This is a movie for acting and it is headlined by another cool, effective and entertaining performance by Kevin Spacey. Here he plays a psychiatrist in Los Angeles who has a drug addiction and in a great scene his friends and father try to throw an intervention and Spacey's reaction and speech is priceless and pure Spacey. Kevin Spacey has had a rich career and he always makes you feel at ease and feeling good. He is awesome leading a great cast including another great performance by the brilliant young actress Keke Palmer. Palmer was amazing in "Akeelah and the Bee" and she is wise beyond her years here as a teenager who has lost her mother to suicide. Dallas Roberts (A Home At The End Of The World) is great as an ass of a Hollywood agent. Robin Williams makes a cameo and it is funny and it is the best thing he has done in awhile amidst a sea of crap lately. There are also good performances by Jesse Plemons (TV show Friday Night Lights, best drama on television) as a drug dealer and Mark Webber as an aspiring screenwriter. Also there is a great and natural performance by a new actress Pell James who might have a good career ahead of her based on her appeal here, sweet and glowing. All these characters are all connected together in some way to the Spacey character and the movie is entertaining but somehow comes up short in momentum and story. I enjoyed it for the performances and the way that Kevin Spacey always comes off as brilliant in everything he does.

Monday, December 7, 2009

On DVD: 'I Love You Beth Cooper'

'I Love You Beth Cooper' (PG-13) *1/2

Writer: Larry Doyle based on his novel
Director: Chris Columbus
Starring: Hayden Panetiere, Paul Rust, Alan Ruck

With the recent passing of John Hughes, "I Love You Beth Cooper" made me dislike it even more. This movie based on a book is a weak John Hughes clone that is very dumb, crude and messy. The movie concerns a high school boy who makes his Valedictorian speech at graduation and calls out all the kids who made his life hell in school. He also tells the lead cheerleader Beth Cooper that he loves her. The boy and his best friend (who every one thinks is gay) hooks up with Beth and her pretty and popular two friends and then cruise the town looking for parties. They are also being chased by Beth's boyfriend who is a muscular jock type who the boy had bad mouthed in his speech. This leads to chase scenes, slapstick and a lot of unfunny situations. What amused me was that this movie tried to come off as raunchy and tries to push it's PG-13 rating. Sorry but there is a movie called "Superbad" that knows how to get it done and I think is the standard bearer of this type of movie. This movie rips off "Sixteen Candles", "Breakfast Club", "Adventures in Babysitting", "Say Anything", "Superbad" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and very badly. The director is Chris Columbus who is a Hughes protege and had directed "Babysitting", "Home Alone" and the first Harry Potter movie. He is not one of my favorite directors and he should have known better than to make an embarrassing Hughes rip off.

On DVD: Big, Loud and Dumb-'G.I. Joe: Rise Of Cobra' and 'Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen'

'G.I. Joe: Rise Of Cobra' (PG-13) *1/2

Writers: Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett
Director: Stephen Sommers
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Sienna Miller, Rachel Nichols, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ray Park, Said Taghmaoui, Jonathan Pryce

'Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen' (PG-13) *

Writers: Ehren Kruger, Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Shia Labeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Isabel Lucas

I remember when the big summer blockbusters were fun, exciting and you could follow the stories. Nowadays the big summer blockbusters go Boom!Pow!Ugh! and then I usually go huh? Fortunately I was smart not to waste my time seeing two certain blockbusters from this past summer and then waste my money. I sat at home and watched on DVD on my big screen TV so I could pause to take a breath and pop in some Ibuprofen. I don't mind a dumb movie once in awhile as long as it is fun but with "G.I. Joe" and the 'Transformers' sequel what you have is no fun whatsoever. These are painful movies to sit through and "Transformers" is freaking 2 and 1/2 hours! Both movie are based on Hasbro toys that I had no desire playing with when I was a kid and now I know why. Next time I think there should be a Barbie movie where Barbie and her friends are really C.I.A. Operatives who kick major ass, date G.I. Joe and his pals and they both fight the bad guys from "The Transformers" Of course Ken turns out to be the evil bad guy and Barbie and her friends have to be half naked.

Anyway, "G.I. Joe" has to do with two army soldiers played by Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans who are recruited by a secret organization called G.I. Joe. That is all you need to know because the plot then gets too complicated for it's own good. I couldn't explain much of it but the G.I. Joe crew fight an evil foreign business man and a deformed evil guy and also the Tatum character used to be involved with the female baddie played by Sienna Miller. The movie is filled with back to back chases, martial arts fights and things blowing up. The movie is a mess, doesn't make sense and I couldn't follow any of the action. Dennis Quaid is slumming it, Marlon Wayans surprisingly comes off as unfunny and the action is cluttered and badly executed. Oh and also the special effects are cheesy. Really? It is almost 2010 and this is what special effects look like? The underwater scenes are kind of cool and the women have the best roles and look good. This is the same director that gave us "The Mummy" movies and they all are equally bad. You know you are in trouble when a wall to wall action movie comes off as boring.

"G.I. Joe" at least didn't make we want to scream or shoot myself in the head. "Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen" is even worse and somehow more badly directed and acted then "G.I. Joe". This is the sequel to the original "Transformers" which I actually liked but this sequel is twice as noisy, messy and headache inducing as the first one. The first "Transformers" was the only Michael Bay movie I liked and you could follow it and the story and action made sense. The sequel is so complicated and full of bad acting and dialogue and I couldn't even tell the difference between the good Transformers and the bad ones. The actors all shout and rush their lines so much so that I thought all the characters were on cocaine. The action is badly executed and I finally thought there's the trashy, bad director Michael Bay that I love. I find it funny that all the female students at the college where the hero goes to all look like supermodels and that brings me to Megan Fox. She certainly is very hot and beautiful but when one of the robots says that she looks hot but is not too bright I laughed. Megan Fox is very good to look at but I do not find her that sexy and the acting needs to improve a little. Everything is really the same as the first movie but somehow this one comes off as insufferable, dumb and way too loud. Next time I think the Transformers should have name tags next time saying good guy or bad guy. This has to be one of the worst summer action blockbusters I have ever seen. Oh how I remember the good ole days when you watched something like "Star Wars" and could follow the plot and you weren't confused. "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen" are two movies that make you go "Huh?"

Friday, December 4, 2009

'Up In The Air'

'Up In The Air' (R) ****

Writers: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner based on novel by Walter Kirn
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Amy Morton, JK Simmons, Melanie Lynskey, Danny McBride, Zach Galfinakis

I was not expecting to be blown away and moved so deeply by Jason Reitman's "Up In The Air". This is Jason Reitman's movie and he has become a new force in Hollywood as a great writer and storyteller. Also George Clooney has done some great work including "Out Of Sight" and "Michael Clayton" but he gives a career defining performance in this movie. This is a totally charming and cool Clooney but a very vulnerable George Clooney and it could get him that first Best Actor Oscar win. He is amazing in this movie not only showing that he owns the screen more than any actor today but is so assured in his screen presence that we are talking Cary Grant like star power here. You also have an actress who is so sexy, beautiful and cool who plays Clooney's love interest and is the first actress that has been able to stand toe to toe with Clooney's sex appeal. Vera Farmiga is extremely sexy and confident here and I couldn't keep my eyes off of her. She is amazing as a woman who at first seems just like Clooney's character but turns out to have much deeper shades to her. We also have a star making performance by Anna Kendrick as Clooney's trainee and she also finds an assured lock on her character and is good at playing naive but also digs deeper. Also writer and director Jason Reitman is building a powerful resume of great films with "Thank You For Smoking", "Juno" and now this and he knows how to tell a winning story.

Now I will get to the story that got me hooked and surprisingly emotional. This is a very seductive story about Ryan Bingham whose job is to fly around to different companies that are laying off their employees and giving them the bad news. He does his job very well and has flown around so much that he becomes only the seventh passenger to hit ten million miles in the air. He is now given a young woman to take on the road played by Anna Kendrick to show her the ropes because up till now she is more computer based. He also hooks up with a fellow passenger that flies around almost as much as he does. They hook up from time to time and strike up kind of a relationship or is it a fling? Again let me say that Vera Farmiga is extremely sexy and her and Clooney create major sparks together. This movie deals with a lot of powerful things like loneliness. This is a very lonely job and Ryan is on the road a lot at the expense of a grounded relationship, a home and keeping in touch with his family. The thing is Ryan loves his lifestyle, doesn't want to get married and likes life on the road. Boy did I identify with this character for many reasons. I always thought it would be exciting to have a job where I traveled a lot for I do like the loner lifestyle and a lot of freedom but this movie might have changed my mind. This movie knows how to deal with lonliness. The story is also powerful and topical because it deals with what most of America has dealt with lately. It deals with people losing jobs in a dwindling economy and the scenes where people are being fired are very powerful and Reitman uses real people that were actually fired. What you have here is a funny, sad and powerful movie that is extremely entertaining. You also have a beautiful, charming and powerful performance by Clooney, a confident and sexy performance by Farmiga and a great performance that has given us a wonderful new actress in Anna Kendrick. I had a great time watching "Up In The Air" and I did not expect to have a lump in my throat at the end. This movie is what great commercial Hollywood filmmaking should always be about.

'The New War': 'The Messenger' and 'Brothers'

'The Messenger' (R) ***1/2

Writers: Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman
Director: Oren Moverman
Starring: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi, Jenna Malone, Eamonn Walker

After the brunt of the Iraq War was leaving an impact with the numerous American troops being killed for what some say was an unjust war, critics said it was too early to make movies about the war. They might be right but I liked the first movie to be released "In The Valley of Elah" with Tommy Lee Jones. I think it is never too early if the movie is great. Now is definitely the time as evidenced by two powerful films that deal with the aftermath of the Iraq War. The first one is the beautiful, painful and quietly powerful movie "The Messenger" with two Oscar caliber performances. "The Messenger" is the story about two army men played by Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster whose job it is to inform immediate family that their son or daughter has been killed in the war. The film expertly conveys how hard it is to inform someone who you don't know that a family member has died. This is a devastating job just as hard as fighting in the war and it puts some emotional scars on these messengers.

The film deals with a few people who they break the news to and every individual responds differently sometimes with tears and sometimes with anger. They are well done scenes and hard to stomach and if the film just dealt with that it could become boring and monotonous. The movie wisely adds a subtle and beautiful love story and very powerful, funny or sad scenes between the two men. Ben Foster has recently been making a mark on screen especially with his psychotic bad guy in the great Western "3:10 To Yuma" and he is quiet and effective as the reserved one of the two. Along with George Clooney, Woody Harrelson seems to have the magic touch lately. Like Clooney he instantly makes you smile and sucks you into any character he does. They both have been picking some very smart movie choices. His screen presence is magical and he is the one actor I wouldn't mind having a beer with. He is profane, funny and powerful as the more outspoken soldier. Both men work well with each other and there is a great scene between the two as they sit down and each confront their hidden pain. There are two great scenes with the great Steve Buscemi one filled with anger and a later scene filled with forgiveness. There is also a nice tender love story with a widow played sweetly by Samantha Morton and Foster that is handled just right. This movie is very quietly powerful and moving and deals with the aftermath of war brilliantly and has some wonderfully written characters. I think it is time to deal with the pain.

'Brothers' (R) ***1/2
Writer: David Benioff based on the 2004 film "Brothers" directed by Susanne Bier
Director: Jim Sheridan
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Shepard, Bailee Madison, Carey Mulligan

"Brothers" also deals with the aftermath of the Iraq War but deals more with the family side of things and the effects of the war on a soldier who comes home and can't deal with the pain. It is based on a Danish film I have not seen and it is directed by Jim Sheridan who is the great Irish director who made one of my favorite movies of the decade "In America". He is a great movie director who always knows how to tell a story with a light and powerful touch and he knows how to make strong movies about family. "Brothers" deals with a soldier played by Tobey Maguire in probably his best performance of his career who is married to Natalie Portman and has two young girls. He is sent back to the war at his request and leaves his family behind. He also has a brother played well by Jake Gyllenhaal who has just been released from prison. As Gyllenhaal gets out of prison Maguire goes back to Iraq and goes through very painful combat as he crashes and is held hostage with another soldier and the results are horrifying. He comes back as he finds that his brother has been helping look after his wife and his daughters and has remodeled her kitchen. The film sets a great tone as it deals with setting up this family including the feelings of the father played by Sam Shepard who is more proud of his soldier son.

When Maguire returns from his ordeal in the war he also has to deal with bringing that emotional pain back and with his loss of control as he tries to adapt back to home life. Tobey Maguire is outstanding in a difficult role where much of his acting has to deal with inner pain and anger boiling at the surface. The beautiful Natalie Portman is outstanding as the wife and she has become one of our best actresses. She is not only a luminous beauty on the screen but is also a smart actress who doesn't over do the emotion. Jake Gyllenhaal is also very good playing the screw up brother who has to change and deal with the pain that he couldn't see coming. This movie is not just a love triangle soap opera but a very powerful movie about the strength of family and the horror of coming back from the war. The performances are outstanding, the story is tastefully told and never becomes maudlin and the movie becomes more powerful than I expected. Jim Sheridan has dome a masterful job at making a powerful movie that could have been very melodramatic and phony but never takes a wrong step.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

'A Christmas Carol'

'A Christmas Carol' (09) (PG) ***

Written and Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Robin Wright Penn, Bob Hoskins, Cary Elwes

Robert Zemeckis's version of "A Christmas Carol" is a faithful and jazzy update of the Christmas classic filmed in 3D. I am not sure the 3D effect is really needed because It think it would look better in 2D. It might be just me but I can't get comfortable looking at a 3D movie. It sometimes distracts me from getting involved in the movie. The movie though does look very beautiful and the motion capture animation is getting better and looks less creepy than it did in "The Polar Express". Jim Carrey is awesome as Scrooge and also as one of the three ghosts. He is somewhat the ideal choice to play Scrooge and is way better than he was in the other creepy Disney film "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas". The movie might be a little scary for young kids but kids have been watching other versions of the story for generations and it hasn't scarred them. There are a lot of cool special effects in the movie but I like that they stick with the meat of the story and don't let the effects take over. So this is a fun movie and it is a blast experiencing Jim Carrey do what he does best. I like the 50's version of "A Christmas Carol" better but this is a job well done and worth revisiting for Christmas.

'Old Dogs'

'Old Dogs' (PG) *

Writers: David Diamond and David Weissman
Director: Walt Becker
Starring: Robin Williams, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Bernie Mac, Rita Wilson, Lori Laughlin

What a career low point for Robin Williams and John Travolta in "Old Dogs"! They look horrible, are made to do unfunny things and have never been so dull and toothless. I did not laugh one time during this movie. I cringed a lot and I felt trapped in hell but I didn't laugh. Actually no one laughed at the screening I was seeing though there were two others in there. Boy I hope this piece of crap bombs! I apologize to "A Couples Retreat" and "The Proposal". I didn't like those but I could sit through them and not feel like upchucking. If you have seen the trailer then you have seen all the funny parts or so called funny parts (I didn't laugh at the trailer once either). If you find Rita Wilson playing a hand model and Robin Williams slamming the car trunk door on her hands funny then you might be a redneck. If you find Travolta taking the wrong pills and his face contorting and winding up looking like the Joker then you might be a redneck. If you find a man in a gorilla suit obviously looking fake maul little Seth Green then you might... forget it. I think I have made my point. Don't mean to spoil things for you but I am trying to save two hours of your life. Too bad we couldn't have dinner with Travolta and Williams in real life cause that now would be funny. The best thing I can say about this movie is that Lori Laughlin and Kelly Preston look really good!

This movie is full of embarrassment humor at the expense of the weak characters and it is never funny. You can call me overly critical and a party pooper but this movie I swear really sucks and I am the one who liked "Paul Blart Mall Cop"! Williams and Travolta could pick any movie they want to star in but they picked this and I think they are sellouts for doing it. The fact that the movie turns sappy at the end is really bad and reminds me of a bad "Full House" episode. What is sad is that with the family troubles of Travolta and the death of Bernie mac I felt depressed and the terrible comedy didn't help. In fact poor Bernie Mac's last role is in one of the strangest and jaw droppingly horrible scenes in any movie ever. All I can explain is Mac plays a clown who wires up Travolta in an electric suit connected to Williams. Williams tries to charm his new found daughter with a tea party as Travolta helps Williams dance with her. It is so out of place and weird I thought I was back in William's other turkey "Toys". "Old Dogs" is a terrible time at the movies and there has to be a better comedy this Christmas then this turkey.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On DVD: 'New In Town'

'New In Town' (PG-13) **

Writers: Kenneth Rance and C. Jay Cox
Director: Jonas Elmer
Starring: Renee Zelweger, Harry Connick, Jr., Jk Simmons, Siobhan Fallon Hogan

"New In Town" is one of those light romantic comedies where the two opposites attract and fall in love with each other. It is also one of those movies filmed in Canada that pretends to be filmed in the States. It is also trying to be a junior "Fargo" set in Minnesota where the home characters have those cute U.P. accents and then the city slicker has to come in and be the fish out of the water who has to adapt to the cold and the people. I wouldn't mind this if the movie had some meat to it and didn't just go through the motions. You have to care about the two main love interests but they have to be written better than this. Renee Zelweger plays the cold,bitchy executive and why does a woman who holds power always have to be a bitch and the men in power are just go getters and colorful. She takes over a food processing plant in Minnesota in a small town as she clashes with the Union rep and Chief. The Union rep is played by the always wonderful JK Simmoms and the Chief is played by Harry Connick, Jr. and by golly don't ya know they hook up at the end. Zelweger gets criticized a lot for being mannered and in this film since the character sucks she is mannered. Connick Jr. always seems to be on the cusp of stardom but picks too many duds. I wanted to see a better use of the great cold Minnesota but the film is shot in Canada, looks like a back lot set on a studio, and it is used for a car crash and Zelweger not wearing a coat and getting blasted with frigid air (Funny Ha!). If you want to see the real deal of this type of movie rent the DVD "Continental Divide" with the late John Belushi filmed wonderfully in Chicago and the great outdoors in real locations. Or you can rent "Feeling Minnesota" with Keanu Reeves and Cameron Diaz. Both films are fun and way better than this. This is like a light "Fargo" without the murder and there is another suggestion to see instead of this.

On DVD: 'The Uninvited'

'The Uninvited' (PG-13) **1/2

Writers: Craig Rosenberg, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard
Directors: The Guard Brothers
Starring: Elizabeth Banks, Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel, David Starthairn

"The Uninvited" is an interesting thriller that had me going and involved and I thought I was going to see a bad movie but I was wrong. This movie is like a second cousin to another thriller this year called "Orphan" which I loved. They both have an outrageous twist at the end and some goofy scares but "Orphan" wasn't afraid to go over the top but I think this one is a little scared and didn't want to push that R rating. The acting is good especially the two sisters played well by Emily Browning and Arielle Kebbel. I won't give away twists but the movie is basically two girls who lost their mother in a fire. They now live with their father and he is involved now with a younger woman who used to be the nurse for the mother. Well the girls think that the younger woman wants to kill them so she can have daddy to herself. Of course there is more to it than that as the movie ends on a "Sixth Sense" type note. Emily Banks is awesome here and she is going to become a major star soon. She has a great face for the screen and she can be funny, a bitch or terrifying and you sense she is having fun here. This is not a bad little thriller but I think it plays it too safe at times like it was geared towards 13 year old girls but I think adults and all audiences will appreciate it's craft. It was one of those movies where I dreaded to watch but found out it was actually surprisingly good.

On DVD: 'Management'

'Management' (PG-13) **

Writer and Director: Stephen Belber
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn, Woody Harrelson, Margo Martindale, Tzi Ma, Fred Ward, Mark Boone, Jr., James Hiroyuki Liao

"Management" is such a nice, easy going movie with two nice and attractive people who we hope will fall in love with each other. They are played by Jennifer Aniston who has built a nice career playing normal women in smaller films and Steve Zahn who is funny and having quite a great run these last few years. Jennifer Aniston has been playing wholesome, attractive women lately and I am impressed because seeing her in real life I find her more beautiful in person so there is a little de-glamorization going on. That makes a character like this more appealing because sometimes you liking seeing nice, normal people getting together in a movie. "Management" has a few nice moments but is very inconsistent. The first scene is set at a motel where Aniston is staying on a business trip. The Zahn character works at the motel run by his family. He comes to her room twice and offers her a bottle of wine on the house (or on the motel) and then after they talk he asks to touch her butt. That is cute but actually a little creepy so the movie is starting off on a weird tangent. The movie settles down then and has some nice, charming scenes and good supporting characters including the great Fred Ward and Margo Martindale as Zahn's mother. Martindale is sweet here and if you watch this and then look at her monster in "Million Dollar Baby" you will see how great of an actress she is. Woody Harrelson is also funny here and I found the movie watchable, liked the characters but didn't like what happened to them until the end which is a good ending but a little rushed. This is a very light film that was in danger of blowing away.

On DVD: 'The Ugly Truth'

'The Ugly Truth' (R) *1/2

Writers: Nicole Eastman, Kirsten Smith, Karen McCullah Lutz
Director: Robert Luketic
Starring: Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Cheryl Hines, John Michael Higgins, Eric Winter, Bree Turner, Nick Searcy

If people really acted and talked like the characters do in "The Ugly Truth" we would be living in sitcom land. This is a phony romantic comedy where I laughed maybe two times and then stared at the wall the rest of the time. This was torture to sit through and I really am not getting Katherine Heigel. She was good in "Knocked Up" but that was a great movie. This is crap and her acting is so hammy and annoying in this that I wanted to scratch my eyes out. I have seen her act well a few times in the boring and dumb "Grey's Anatomy" so I don't know what the director is telling her here though the director made "Legally Blonde" and that was good so. The blame has to go to the writing and it is stuff like this that I am shocked gets green lit in Hollywood. It is basically the man and woman who hate each other at first then grow to love each other crap and you know the ending after a half hour. It is set in the television industry as Gerard Butler plays a vulgar show host who tells the ugly truth about how men and women think. If this was a real segment on a news show it wouldn't make it a week it is so amateurish and bad. Gerard Butler is actually good here dealing with a badly written role because I find him charming but other actors like the great Cheryl Hines come off boring and the other love interest played by Eric Winter is good looking but dull and should be on "Grey's Anatomy" What I find funny is Katherine Heigl bad mouthed her only decent movie "Knocked Up" because she found it sexist. Everyone has an opinion but after seeing her in this what a hypocrite she is because this is doubly sexist and doesn't know anything about real men and women and their relationships. One thing though Roger Ebert was shocked by the foul language in the film and that it was written by women. That is not why this is bad because a woman wrote "Slapshot" and that was vulgar personified! This movie is bad because it is shocking that three women have written a woman character that is such a weak and shallow character. If I knew a woman like that in real life I would put a restraining order on her.

On DVD: 'Il Divo'

'Il Divo' (R) ***

Writer and Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Toni Servillo, Ama Bonaiuto, Gulio Bosetti, Flavio Bucci

"Il Divo" is an amusing black comedy from Italy based on the life of Giulio Andreotti who was Prime Minister of Italy. The film's style is played for dark laughs as it explores the dark underbelly of Italy's politics and it reminded me of the corruption in Chicago's politics so I had a good time. The film plays on the rumors that followed Andreotti's reign and it reminded me of great Shakespearean tragedy. It was rumored that Andreotti was tied to the Mafia and had his rivals in politics wiped out. He conducted assassinations and worked his way up by preying on the weaknesses of his rivals. This is all played for dark comedy with stirring Operatic music and a lead performance by Toni Servillo that is masterful. He is always slightly slunched over with a certain slow walk and an indifferent and smug face. It is not an epic movie that is trying to make a statement but it is done differently and originally and is entertaining. If you like movies about politics with a mix of "The Godfather" thrown in you will have a good time. "Il Divo" is now available on DVD.