Sunday, July 18, 2010


'Inception' (PG-13) (4 stars) (Highest Rating)

Written and Directed By Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Tom Berenger, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine

I had to see "Inception" twice because I knew I was seeing something special but I needed a second viewing to make sure. Seeing the movie on the giant IMAX screen transformed me to an unique dream world. The movie looks breathtaking on the IMAX screen, the cinematography is bold and the visual effects are masterful. The story is like a puzzle and it is very convoluted but on a second viewing, on a smaller screen I concentrated more on the story. On this second viewing I totally saw how ingenious the story is. Writer and Director Christopher Nolan has now become one of our best directors and casting the brilliant Leonardo DiCaprio, arguably our best actor now, was smart. I can see the care, the detail and the heart that has gone in this movie by Nolan and his lead actor. You also have one of the most unique and original movies I have ever seen. With multiple viewings and some time this could be a classic and groundbreaking movie even more so than "Avatar". The movie also has one of the best casts of this or any other year and they are all our smartest and our brightest. You have my pick as Heath Ledger's successor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the very intelligent Ellen Page, a wonderful return by Tom Berenger and a scene stealing performance by newcomer Tom Hardy. The rest of the cast is very well put together and it is impressive how great the acting is in a movie that really showcases special effects. What makes this movie special is it's mixture of many film genres seamlessly mixed together. It is a fantasy, heist movie, a brain twister, action epic and to me it is one thing I am surprised no one has mentioned yet, classic film noir. Strip away the huge special effects and you have a beautifully complex movie that could have been made in the 1940's.

The movie's plot is hard to explain and the beauty of this movie is in not knowing much beforehand and discovering every wonderful plot development. The movie is layer upon layer of different dream states and I love how Nolan kept it all together without distracting us. To me this is not a gimmick film like Nolan's "Memento" which was a great movie but does not have "Inceptions" depth and heart. Even after a second viewing I feel you can discover so much more and peel away all the layers and find something new with each viewing. There are so many angles and areas where you think you know what is happening but the movie keeps springing up new surprises. The movie has been knocked by some as not giving us an emotional connection. I think this misses the point because at no time did I feel that Nolan was trying to make that connection. This is not "Steel Magnolias" here and we do not have to have our hand held and told when we should cry and that we should feel something. All I know is that I experienced one of the most intricate, imaginative and smartest movies I have seen in a long time. I didn't care to feel anything, I just wanted to have my mind blown away. If I wanted to feel emotion I would have seen another movie. It is refreshing to have a summer blockbuster that is about something. We have been inundated with mindless, loud, obnoxious movies that are just special effects and dumb stories. With a full slate of t.v. show adaptations, remakes and sequels here is one of the most original and awe inspiring movies in my lifetime. It will have you thinking for days trying to figure out what it all means. It should be mentioned in the same breath as movie classics like "12 Monkeys", "2001" and even Hitchcock. The dream world that Nolan created washes all over you and stimulates your brain. Hollywood always assumes that we need our movies dumbed down for us. I think the majority of movie goers want visceral experiences with stories that are complicated and smart. Some people will get frustrated by this movie and give up which is perfectly fine. Some might hate it, a lot will definitely love it and see it again. What makes the movie a masterpiece is that it will create wonderful discussions among people and inspire and that is what all the best movies do. Again I can't leave out the ingenious story created by a very brilliant artist in Christopher Nolan. Also with a movie that is full of visual delights I can't stress how great DiCaprio, Hardy, Watanabe, Murphy, Page, Cottilard and Berenger are. This is a movie with the best acting by an ensemble cast. You also have a movie that transforms us into another world of wonder and imagination. Christopher Nolan has topped himself again and we now have a film maker that is bringing back the discovery of imagination that is sorely missing from our movie lives lately.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'

'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' (PG) (1 1/2 stars)

Writers: Matt Lopez, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Monica Belucci, Omar Benson Miller, Alice Krige, Teresa Palmer

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" comes from Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney Pictures and like all Bruckheimer pictures it is all light, noise and explosions. There aren't any characters to really like or root for. The writing is terrible and the story is recycled from many other movies. It is all heartless CGI effects and it is messy, too busy and also mind numbing. The only reason I didn't hate it is because I can see kids getting into it but I was close to despising it. It is no different than "The Mummy" movies or "The X Men" movies or the plethora of fantasy films out in the past few years. They are all the same movie and there is nothing that separates these movies in my mind. CGI effects have taken over and these movies don't require any story or well written dialogue. This is another lackluster fantasy movie this year and the only thing you can count on these days are the Harry Potter films. I was absolutely bored by the whole movie and I can only see very little kids liking it. So if you are a parent leave the kids at this movie and duck into "The Kids Are All Right" or how about you take the kids to go see "Despicable Me" and "The Karate Kid" again, both movies considerably better. There is no heart to this movie and Nicolas Cage is sleep walking again through another role. Alfred Molina is wasted and the blond love interest is a typical boring girlfriend role. The breathtaking Monica Belucci is totally wasted, and no offense to Nick Cage, when him and Belucci kissed I went "Ewww". I know sorcerers are from the Middle Ages but come on take a shower! Cage is all dirty and he looks like he does not want to be there. I could explain the plot but then I would be disrespecting the old, classic "Fantasia" segment of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" with Mickey Mouse. The hero, Jay Baruchel, does look like Mickey Mouse but he is miscast and is unusually lifeless. I strongly urged everyone to see "The Karate Kid" and "Despicable Me" was fun so please avoid this and see those movies if you haven't. I think it is about time to send a message to Jerry Bruckheimer that his act is getting old. Let's make this turkey a box office bomb so we can get more movies with personality.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

'The Kids Are All Right'

'The Kids Are All Right' (R) (3 1/2) stars)

Writers: Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta

Sometimes we go to the movies in the summer to see action, comedy, things blowing up and light fun. At a certain point you become numb to it all, especially this summer, easily the worst summer movie season in ages. What a breath of fresh air "The Kids Are All Right" is! I have been starving for an adult movie with people that are real, comedy that comes naturally and serious and dramatic moments that feel right. Here is a movie with characters I loved, wanted to spend two hours with and who come off as likable even with their faults. The movie displays two of the best performances I have seen by two actresses. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a married lesbian couple with two kids that were born by the help of a sperm donor. The daughter, solidly played by Mia Wasikowska, wants to find the sperm donor which leads her to the very laid back Paul played by my favorite actor these days, Mark Ruffalo. The movie is very well written and the married couple, Jules and Nic, seem like a real married couple. The chemistry between and impeccable work done by Moore and Bening make us believe they have been together for a long time. The movie does well in portraying that a married, gay couple has the same pains and ups and downs as heterosexual couples. The movie is nearly perfect in it's depiction of this marriage, how the kids fit into it and how things can change. We can't quite figure Paul out but I know that he was someone I would have liked to know in real life. Paul is a good person and means well, and even when a major shift comes in his relationship with Jules and Nic we still like him. The kids seem like real kids who say real things and that is due to the writing and brilliant work of Mia Wasikowska and also Josh Hutcherson. All the characters mean well and the best moments come when Bening and Moore play off each other. Watching this movie I realized all over again how beautiful and what great actresses Bening and Moore are. Their interaction off each other is funny, touching and strong. They will definitely be remembered at Oscar time and this is the first sure-fire nominee for Best Picture.

Mark Ruffalo has become one of my favorite actors and he does his best work here since "You Can Count On Me" which is one of my favorite movies of the past decade. He has been great in a lot of movies like "Zodiac" which is also one of my favorite movies of the past decade. He has been knocked for playing the same character lately, and I might agree, but here I found the old Mark Ruffalo.Here he is totally charming, warm and believable and his performance is natural and not forced. He probably will be over looked at award season so I will nominate him for a Snavely award right now. Mia Wasikowska with this performance and her performance in "Alice in Wonderland" will be an actress to keep an eye on. All these actors make you feel that they have inhabited their characters and never come off like they are acting. This movie feels real and doesn't have phony dialogue. This feels like a real family built over many years. The ending feels just right and the movie never feels overly long or incomplete. I enjoyed spending time with these characters and eavesdropping in on their lives. The writing is fresh and adult and Lisa Chlodenko lets the movie unfold naturally and doesn't force her hand. This is a definite crowd pleaser and it is very funny, touching, sad and finally uplifting. Lisa Cholodenko is building an impressive resume with movies set in L.A. and capturing the lifestyle there perfectly. Her "Laurel Canyon" is another great study of life in L.A. This is one of the best and most enjoyable movies I have seen recently. I strongly urge everyone to go see this with someone right away, you will feel very good coming out of this one.

P.S. A good companion piece to this movie is "You Can Count On Me" with Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo who should have received an Oscar nomination for his performance. Also as I have mentioned Lisa Chlodenko's "Laurel Canyon", with Frances McDormand, is also a great character study focused in L.A.


'Predators' (PG-13) (2 stars)

Writers: Alex Litvak and Michael Finch
Director: Nimrod Antal
Starring: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishbourne, Oleg Taktarov, Danny Trejo

"Predators" would like to infuse a bolt of fresh energy to an old tired series but to me it is the same stuff all over again. There is nothing new to explore and deep down the movie borrows from not only the other "Predators" but steals from other movies as well. This is a step up on the "Alien vs. Predator" films but so would a movie shot in someone's back yard. Compared to the trashy but very effective first movie this is very much inferior. I thought adding someone more human like Adrien Brody to the mix would make this a smarter action thriller but he can't add anything to this either. Not only does this borrow a lot from the other Predator films but it also seems like a very bad episode of "Lost". A bunch of different warriors are dropped into a jungle and have to coexist or the scary monsters might eat them. The movie also tries to make us guess where these characters actually are. Is it purgatory, hell or a new planet? None of the characters register except for two, one played by Topher Grace and the other played by Walton Goggins (The Shield). Laurence Fishbourne does make another impact half way through the movie. His storyline and character seem interesting at first but the movie ruins it by pretty much steering the interest in a disappointing way.

In the final half hour it just comes down to a bunch of fights with the monsters and I became really bored. What you have here is a weaker version of the first "Predator", the only movie that counts to me in the series, and a waste of a promising start. Goggins and Grace have some very funny lines and the movie does start out well but turns into the same old material of battles by the end and they are not that exciting. The movie also rips a lot of stuff from "Aliens" which was James Cameron's sequel to "Alien". It also rips off "Aliens" surprise bad guy turn and it's claustrophobic battle as these warriors are locked in an enclosed area and are picked off one by one. Adrien Brody is a smart actor but this is the first time he has seemed cold and flat on screen. "Predators" is a movie you have seen before many times and there is no reason to see it. This is a stale, boring and ordinary thriller without thrills or excitement.

Friday, July 9, 2010

'Despicable Me'

'Despicable Me' (PG) (3 stars)

Writer: Ken Daurio
Directors: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Starring the Voices of: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Miranda Cosgrove, Kristen Wiig, Will Arnett, Julie Andrews, Jack McBrayer

Pixar has cornered the market on superb animated movies and usually the other studios give us weak product. "Despicable Me" is not a Pixar movie but it is pretty funny and a major step up from the last few "Shrek" movies. "Despicable Me" is not "Toy Story 3" good but it is a lot of fun. The writing is clever, the gags are pretty funny and Steve Carell is outstanding as Gru. There are also some very cute and very funny little minions that provide the best laughs. They are like little Charlie Chaplins running around doing major slapstick. The movie is about a very evil villain who looks a lot like Dr. Evil from "Austin Powers". In fact I would say this is an animated version of that movie but centered on Dr. Evil. Gru is battling for top bad guy with a nerdy antagonist named Vector voiced by Jason Segel. To infiltrate Vector's evil fortress Gru adopts and recruits three orphan girls. The girls are cute and the youngest one is a scene stealer as she yells how furry her stuffed unicorn is. "Despicable Me" really belongs to Steve Carell and the little minions who are hilarious. Steve Carell's voice work here is perfection and is very funny and delivered with great polish. As I mentioned before, the huge laughs come from these little minions and I like the movie's sly satire on evil bad guy movies. This is not a great movie because the little girls do go over the top in the cute department and it kind of wears thin by the end. Also Jason Segal as Vector doesn't really register with me because his character is the least interesting and kind of blah. That being said, I love the use of 3D here and this time it is not a rip off like "The Last Airbender". There is a wonderful scene at an amusement park and when Gru and the kids go on a roller coaster ride it looks awesome in 3D. There is also some great closing credit scenes as the minions play around with the 3D format. There are a lot of laughs in "Despicable Me" and I think it will be fun for kids and adults.

"The Girl Who Played With Fire'

'The Girl Who Played With Fire' (R) (rental)

Writer: Jonas Frykberg based on novel by Stieg Larsson
Director: Daniel Alfredson
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Mikael Nyqvist, Peter Andersson, Yasmine Garbi, Georgi Staykov

I did not read Stieg Larsson's first book "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" but I admired the taut, suspenseful and intriguing movie based on the novel. I have not read the second book but in reviewing "The Girl Who Played With Fire" I am wondering what went wrong. I did not feel the same feeling of suspense, surprise or deep character development. Oh there is plenty of suspense here but not like the first movie. The first movie did kind of shock me with it's explicit sex and violence. The movie wasn't afraid to let it all hang out. The second time around I felt like I had seen this all before. I also felt that I found out a lot more about the heroine here but not the secondary character of Mikael played by Mikael Nyqvist. It also doesn't help that Mikael and Lisbeth don't share screen time until very late in the movie. My favorite part of the first one was the subtle love story between Mikael and Lisbeth that was moving and bittersweet. There is no real motivating force here that got to me. That being said I love the performance of Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth and I think she is one of the best characters in recent film memory. I also did get into the story here and it is well told but I did not feel that this movie moved me as much as the first one. Rapace's performance actually is even better than her performance in the first movie and that is a credit to her. She is still a fascinating character and Rapace makes us feel for her.

If you have seen the first movie or read the novel it is based on then you really don't need a back story to follow this second movie. Though if you didn't see the first one I recommend you rent it and this movie instead of going to a theatre. If you come in cold, knowing nothing about this movie I don't think you will totally get it. I am very interested to see what people who read the second book think about the movie. Not being a reader of the books, I felt that the first movie is a near masterpiece and that the second one is a bridge to the third story. I just wanted to see more of Lisbeth and Mikael together. Their relationship is why I felt the first movie was a great movie. Here I felt I saw a pretty good story that was great to watch but kind of a letdown.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Snavely Classic: 'About Last Night...'

'About Last Night...' (R) (4 stars)

(Top 5 movies filmed in Chicago) (Top 50 movies of the 80's)

Writers: Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue based on David Mamet play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago"
Director: Edward Zwick
Starring: Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Jim Belushi, Elizabeth Perkins, Megan Mullally, Catherine Keener, Tim Kazurinsky

I revisit "About Last Night..." every year around July 4th because it is one of my favorite romantic comedies I have ever seen. Originally back on July 4th weekend in 1986 I did not want to see this movie because I thought it would be really bad. It turned out to be a movie I have seen more than 50 times and a movie that makes me cry for some reason. It is one of the funniest movies of the 80's, has one of the best soundtracks and has surprisingly beautiful moments of romance. I have not seen many movies that have nailed perfectly what it is like to be in a relationship like this movie. It also has performances by Rob Lowe and Demi Moore which are the best of their careers. This movie showcases the fact that Demi Moore is a powerful and touching actress. It also shows that Rob Lowe had it in him all the time to be a great actor, look at his stellar television acting career now! I think Jim Belushi has wasted most of his career on material beneath him and I am not a big fan. His comic performance in this movie is pure gold, one of the best of the 80's and very funny. He shares the best lines with Elizabeth Perkins who is also very great here. Their comic chemistry is some of the best Hollywood has ever produced. This movie did not do real well at the box office and not many embrace it but I will defend it to death because I know what I love and I love this movie! Perkins, Belushi and the screenplay are all Oscar worthy and the director would become a television writer transformed into a great movie director. Edward Zwick created "thirty something" for television and after "About Last Night" he would go on to make "Glory". The screenplay by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue is flawless, funny, touching and powerful. It feels true at every moment and anyone that has gone through the ups and downs of relationships can identify with this movie. I identify with this movie more than most others and every time I watch the movie it is fresh and exciting each time. It is one of the best times I have ever had at a movie.. It is also filmed in Chicago and it uses the city beautifully, more than most filmed in Chicago. I consider it a classic because I can watch it over and over and laugh, cry and be moved by it all each time I watch it.

'The Last Airbender'

'The Last Airbender' (PG) (1 star)

Writer and Director: M. Night Shyamalan. Screenplay based on Anime series
Starring: Dev Patel, Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Cliff Curtis, John D. Alonzo, Summer Bishil

"The Last Airbender" brought back past nightmares from my childhood. No, nothing scary but it brought me back to one of my worst movie going experiences I ever had. In 1984, David Lynch assaulted our imaginations with the big screen adaptation of "Dune". I really hate that ugly looking, flat, boring, badly acted and goofy fantasy film. It is probably if not the worst, one of the worst movies I have ever seen. I finally found a movie pretty much equal to that travesty and it is maybe signaling the end of greatness for director M. Night Shyamalan. "The Last Airbender" is painful to sit through, insipid, unintentionally funny and badly acted. It seems to think it looks beautiful with it's cinematography but it looks flat and ugly. M. Night really shocked Hollywood with one of the most successful thrillers ever in "The Sixth Sense". It was a movie deserving of it's success because it was a brilliantly filmed thriller. I also loved "Signs" and I have defended M. Night against others for his under rated and clever movie "Unbreakable". He is famous for the twist ending and it became ridiculous with his terrible turkeys "The Village" and "Lady in the Water". "The Last Airbender" doesn't have a trick ending but I can't believe I would prefer a movie with his twist ending specialty than this laughable turkey.

"The Last Airbender" is based on an anime television series on Nickelodeon. It would have been a smarter move to keep this story in animation, it might have been much better. All I can say is that it is about a kid and others who can bend air, water, fire and earth to master them or something. The movie is terrible in explaining it's plot for it is confusing and excruciating to follow. The special effects are cheesy and M. Night has appeared to forget how to construct a movie. There are a bunch of unknown child actors and they can't act at all. The dialogue is short sentence grunting and laughable. I have seen old martial arts films, the ones with the bad dubbing, that are masterpieces compared to this crap. I was bored, annoyed and uncomfortable and I was about to fall asleep. The action sequences are a mess and there is no humor, none at all! I would expect a few funny moments wouldn't you? It is so somber and serious with itself that I swear the makers of this movie think they are being profound. Has Hollywood forgotten that the summer blockbuster should be joyful, fun and exciting? First "Robin Hood" then "The A Team" and now this horrible exercise in tedium, pretentious and heavy handed hooey. Please, someone rescue me from this pompous crap, give me a fun, mindless summer movie! To make things more insulting is that the movie was shot in 2-D and transferred like other movies now into 3-D. So we are being charged extra to watch a movie that wasn't shot in 3-D just so the studio can make more money. I wouldn't be that pissed off if I was sitting through a movie that wasn't embarrassing and pathetic.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

'Love Ranch'

'Love Ranch' (R) (2 stars)

Writer: Mark Jacobson
Director: Taylor Hackford
Starring: Helen Mirren, Joe Pesci, Gina Gershon, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Scout Taylor-Compton, Bryan Cranston, Taryn Manning, Bai Ling

It is always a disappointment when a great director and two great actors show up in a lackluster and dull movie. Judging by the previews, "Love Ranch" should be a lot of fun. Period 60's music, prostitution, boxing, sex, violence sounds like a wild time. The problem with "Love Ranch" is that it turns into a sappy soap opera that is flat, uninteresting and too safe. I was looking forward to the return of Joe Pesci after a long absence from acting. Pesci used to be hot back in the late 80's and 90's with the "Lethal Weapon" movies, "My Cousin Vinny" and "Good Fellas". Then he tried to be in every movie and they were all bad and Pesci walked away smartly. I wish his return would be in something special and with Hackford involved I expected more. "Love Ranch" is the based on true story of the Love Ranch or in real life The Mustang Ranch. Maybe a straight up documentary on A & E would be a better ideal because this movie is hammy and ordinary, not exciting. The main characters in the movie are the husband and wife owners of the Ranch Grace and Charlie Bontempo, played by Mirren and Pesci, who get involved with a boxer. A love triangle starts to grow and that is when the movie starts to lose appeal. Helen Mirren is really good here as is Pesci but the movie just didn't keep my attention. Helen Mirren is an amazing actress and can make anything look good even weak movies. She still looks breathtaking and sexy in her 60's and she commands the screen here with the best performance in the movie. She is the only reason this is not one of the worst movies of the year. Pesci is amusing but he looks like a shrunken Elvis Presley and he gets the sappiest lines to say. He is playing a variation of his "Good Fellas" character and the movie suffers for it. The debut of Sergio Mencheta is fair but I couldn't care less about his character and his back story is weak. Taylor Hackford is a better director than this and with "Ray" and "An Officer and a Gentleman" on your resume I expected more excitement. "An Officer and a Gentleman" was a glorified update of an old time Hollywood melodrama but it was a fun, exciting and powerful movie. "Love Ranch" is an old time melodrama that fizzles and dies. This could have been a "Boogie Nights" style movie and maybe more shock material and less sappy, hammy moments might have helped. Anything would have helped juice up this movie because when you get a brothel, prostitutes and a violent sociopath in your movie sparks should fly.

P.S. A better movie dealing with a Love Ranch is a guilty pleasure of mine "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" with the best version of "I Will Always Love You" by Dolly Parton. That is much better than Whitney's version in one of my least favorite movies "The Bodyguard".