Saturday, November 27, 2010


'Faster' (R) (rental/matinee)

Writers: Tony Gayton and Joe Gayton
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Mike Epps, Maggie Grace, Tom Berenger, Courtney Gains, Moon Bloodgood

"Faster" is simply a revenge picture tried and true and it is really not that bad. Is it worth paying $11,$12 dollars for? No. There are some different and interesting things going on here and Johnson is cool but I have seen better revenge movies. Lately there have been revenge movies that are failures like Mel Gibson's "Edge of Darkness". "Faster" is a much better movie because it is simple when Darkness was too much into plot and too complicated. I don't need all these twists and complex back stories, I want to see the hero shoot people in the head that deserve it. If you are the same way you might go for this movie and like it. It tells it's story without clutter and simply delivers the goods as in kills. I had a grudging respect for this movie even though I think it could of had more oomph to it.

Dwayne Johnson plays Driver, a man just released from prison who was involved in a bank heist gone wrong. The men who arranged the heist kill Driver's brother and when he comes out he wants to murder all the people involved. There are also two detectives on his trail. One is played by Carla Gugino (one of the sexiest women on this planet but not in this movie) and one played by Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton just makes me smile every time I see him in a movie. Maybe because I keep thinking about "Bad Santa" but I just love seeing the guy act. He plays a drug addicted cop and the casting is genius and Thornton might put this movie over the top. There is also an interesting hit man character played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen who looks like Jake Gyllenhaal's younger brother but hotter. This movie could get Cohen noticed in Hollywood because he looks flawless and he is pretty good here. His character is also paired up with the beautiful Maggie Grace (Lost) who is also good here.

So the acting is better than it should be, the direction and action scenes are pretty good and the movie keeps your attention. I like Dwayne Johnson, formerly The Rock, because he is a damn good action star and has great screen presence equal to a Stallone, Willis or a Schwarzenegger. I could see him doing more action movies and it would be much better for him than those insipid family movies he was headed towards. Those crappy family movies killed Vin Diesel's career and was about to kill Jackie Chan's career until "The Karate Kid". The only reason I am ambivalent is because a major plot twist I figured out ahead of time killed it for me. I also didn't feel like I saw something that made any impact on me. There is a very great revenge movie out there somewhere and this is just pretty good.

P.S. "Faster" reminds me of the "B" movies of past decades especially the 70's and 80's. Along with "The Expendables" it isn't rocket science but the movie somewhat gets the job done. A "B" movie can be a great surprise like "The Hidden" or "Assault on Precinct 13" (76) but there can be bad "B" movies also. On a "B" scale "Faster" is worth a matinee show or a good viewing on cable.

'Love and Other Drugs'

'Love and Other Drugs' (R) (rental/ matinee)

Writers: Edward Zwick, Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz
Based on book "Hard Sell: Evolution of a Viagra Salesman" by Jamie Reidy
Director: Edward Zwick
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jake Gyllenhaal, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Gabriel Macht, Judy Greer, Jill Clayburgh, Josh Gad, George Segal, Kathryn Winnick

There are two different kinds of tone at battle and a misguided and false ending to deal with in "Love and Other Drugs". It is a shame because I love the writers and director and Anne Hathaway gives a great performance. There is a raunchy and sometimes very funny comedy going on and then a sad, sobering drama also going on. So if you like comedy you might go for this and if you like a sad drama you will go for this. The movie is okay on those two sides but together it doesn't quite gel or work. I also didn't feel the ending fit the way the characters deserve it to and that it comes off as false and Hollywood phony. Jake Gyllenhaal (pretty good here) plays Jamie who is trying to make it as a salesman and starts to work in pharmaceutical sales. He is trying to push a new drug called Zoloft to doctors and in a certain doctor's office he meets Maggie, played by Hathaway. The way he meets her to me comes off as fake and smarmy but after they meet they start a nice relationship. Jamie has an overweight brother who stays with him and that role is the chubby, comic relief character played by Josh Gad. We find out (spoiler alert!) that Maggie is in early stages of Parkinson's. This is where the movie starts to get serious and the love affair also gets treated seriously.

I was sort of into this movie after it settled down and I thought when the real serious disease material came out it was handled truthfully and well. I just think the ending is all wrong for what happens to these two for it seems wrong and not a good fit, you can decide. I was disappointed in this film because it sometimes comes close to real greatness and with these writers and director I expect more. The film is co written and directed by Evanston native Edward Zwick who along with co writer Marshall Herskovitz created the television show "thirtysomething". They also made one of my all time favorite romantic movies in "About Last Night..." which is one of the best movies of the 80's. Zwick also directed another great film of the 80's, "Glory". I had to keep comparing "Love and Other Drugs" to "About Last Night.." because it is familiar with it's comedy (especially the Jim Belushi type role by Gad) and young adults in love story. "About Last Night..." handles the comedy and love story much better and the ending was perfect and Zwick's new movie ends on a false note that doesn't feel right.

I did love Ann Hathaway's performance that reminded me a little of Julia Robert's performance in "Pretty Woman", also a much better romance. I feel this movie could bomb because the illness part of the movie is not advertised. If it does bomb this will not further Hathaway's career but she will bounce back. I liked her down to earth appeal here and compared to Gyllenhaal trying too hard she comes off as more compelling. You kind of see why Jamie would fall instantly in love with this woman. I like how this movie deals with Parkinson's which is a nasty disease. I like when the movie shows us a Parkinson's support group that Maggie goes to. There is a powerful scene where Jamie goes to a meeting and hears a story from a man who is married to a woman with the disease and it is sobering and powerful. The movie is full of great scenes of drama and there is some funny stuff. I just think the movie doesn't succeed in combining the great parts into a satisfying whole. There is one thing that is refreshing in this movie and that is the sex scenes and nudity. I think we are in an age where terrorizing a woman in movies is not harped on but sex with a woman is overly scrutinized. I hate when two people have sex with the covers on or clothed. This comes off as fake and ridiculous because real love making is not like this. I commend Hathaway for doing these nude scenes when most big name actresses are afraid to. "Love and Other Drugs" is half way there to greatness but fails in the end.

P.S. I am giving "Love and Other Drugs" a new kind of rating. Before I gave movies that I was a ambivalent about a (rental) review which means I suggest you wait for it on DVD. I now feel it is unfair for me to suggest that especially if you feel you have to see the movie because say you just love Jake Gyllenhaal! So my new rating is (rental/matinee) so if you really want to see it maybe a discounted matinee price is better for you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1'

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1' (PG-13) (3 1/2 stars)

Writer: Steve Kloves based on book by JK Rowling
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Nighy, Richard Griffiths, Julie Walters, Jason Isaacs, Tom Felton, Peter Mullan, Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, Rhys Ifans, Robbie Coltrane

The Harry Potter movies have grown up with greatness and wonderful imagination. These are movies adapted from very complicated and great books and the later Potter films are better than the first movies and that is a great sign. The lead actors are also getting better with each film and they have gone from rough to polished and that is important. The movies are getting darker and the material here is adult stuff and you need young, adult actors who are effective. I don't have to go into the plot of the latest Potter movie because those of you reading this have read the books. I must say this though "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is the second best Potter movie next to Azakhban and I can't wait till Part 2. I have to admit I have only read the last book but concerning the movies this is easily one of the strongest.

I love how the great writer Steve Kloves (Fabulous Baker Boys) has adapted the Deathly Hallows book so far for this first part. I also love how the direction has gotten more assured and the movies have gotten darker. David Yates does a great job setting a dark tone with a number of very effective scenes. I think the first two movies are fine but easily the weakest movies of the whole series. I am sorry but director Chris Columbus is not a very good action/fantasy director and he is not that good with actors. The first movie was awe inspiring mostly because the effects and design were outstanding and the first book came to glorious life. The thing is that first movie should be great and it isn't because the later films are more compelling. I love that this movie is not afraid to be dark and handle pretty scary and deep material without dumbing it down and making it safe. There is also a great cast of wonderful, veteran actors and Radcliffe, Watson and Grint show they are ready for more challenging roles.

There are three scenes that I love so much in this movie that are four of the best scenes out of any Potter film. The first one comes at the start as Harry's friends and loved ones get transformed into several Harry's so that Voldemort can't find the real Harry. The scene is clever, the effects flawless and the flying scenes thrilling. The second scene is beautiful, haunting and a little scary as Harry visits his parent's grave. The light snow falling, the beautiful cinematography and Harry wishing Hermione a Merry Christmas is touching. Then when they both go inside a house and something surprising happens it is scary and effective. The third scene is written just for the movie and I loved it. Harry and Hermione are in a vulnerable state and a song is playing on the radio. Harry takes Hermione by the hand and starts to dance with her. The scene is great because it shows how close these characters are to each other and that they are becoming adults whether they like it or not. The fourth scene is a strikingly beautiful and haunting animated scene as Hermione explains the story of the Deathly Hallows. This is a perfect way to describe the story without losing us.

So the latest Potter movie has great acting, a great cast, great direction and breathtaking photography. The movie series has grown up, the effects are scarier and greater and the movie leaves you wanting more. The movie ends well with an effective scene for setting up a cliffhanger and it leaves us begging for more. There are certain lulls in this movie but it is more exciting than the last two movies. This movie did two things that I think make it a great movie. One is it makes me want to go back and have a Harry Potter movie marathon so I can see this series grow up again. The second thing the movie does is get me really excited for Part 2 and I can't wait.

'The Next Three Days'

'The Next Three Days' (PG-13) (2 stars)

Writer: Paul Haggis based on screenplay by Fred Cavaye
Director: Paul Haggis
Starring: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson Olivia Wilde, Brian Denehy, Jason Beghe, Aisha Hinds

I started thinking about something while watching "The Next Three Days" and it wasn't how wonderful the movie was. I thought all this talent and money on a forgettable story. I wish more producers would say no to some films and save the money for a young writer/director who has written a great movie but doesn't have the resources to make it. I am not trying to pick on this movie but there really was no reason for it to be made. It is watchable and well made but when a great writer is attached you expect more. Russell Crowe, who is not as bad here as some critics have said, plays John Brennan. John is married to Lara Brennan, played by the engaging Elizabeth Banks. We first see them at dinner with another couple and Lara is complaining about her female boss. The next morning the police come to their home and arrest Lara for the murder of her boss. She claims her innocence and not at any point in this lazy movie do we not believe her innocence. The movie thinks it is clever by keeping you guessing but come on. John then tries to break her out of prison after she tries to commit suicide.

The only great scene in the movie belongs to Liam Neeson and it lasts just ten minutes. He plays a man who has broken out of prison seven times and wrote a book about it. John comes to talk to him to get pointers. Neeson takes over the movie with a wonderful speech on the finer points of breaking out of a prison. He doesn't hold back either on laying down what dirty things John will have to do to succeed. When he leaves the movie goes back to being average. I was intrigued at first by what happens here but as the movie moves along it becomes more implausible and stupid. There are many plot holes here and moments where you scratch your head because the police and criminals here make stupid choices dictated by a screenplay on auto pilot. There are too many moments that are too good to be true. There is no way some of these things would happen. I know this is a movie but it does take itself seriously and Haggis thinks that there is logic to all this but I didn't buy it.

Elizabeth Banks is a great comic actress and I know she can handle dramatic roles but she is miscast and wasted here. She is an actress who seems real and not like a movie star and this is her appeal. The role she is given here is under written and she really doesn't have many scenes but she nails the ones she has. In the end she doesn't make an impression and that is Haggis's fault. The movie builds a little suspense but it is not great movie suspense. It keeps your attention but in the end the movie falls apart. The chase scenes here come off as competent but not that great. There is also a scene in the end where evidence of Lara's innocence is trotted out. That scene is laughable for putting it at the end for that shows what came before is unnecessary as this film is. Paul Haggis is a very good writer but here he under achieves and he wastes his time and energy on a forgettable movie.

Friday, November 12, 2010

'127 Hours'

'127 Hours' (R) (3 1/2 stars)

Writers: Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Treat Williams, Kate Burton, Lizzy Kaplan, Clemence Poesy

For the brave viewer "127 Hours" is a must see movie that is not easy to watch but ends up inspiring and powerful. It also has easily one of the best performances of 2010 by James Franco. I have been championing James Franco ever since "Freaks and Geeks" predicting that soon he would be nominated for an Oscar. Well my prediction will come true because Franco is a shoo in. This is tough material and Franco is up to the task with a maddening performance that is flawless and powerful. "127 Hours" is the true story of Aron Ralston who was a mountain climber who was trapped underneath a boulder. The boulder pinned Ralston's arm and he was trapped there for days. Now I really can't describe this movie without telling you the grisly details. It has to be done because some of what happens is tough to watch but adds to the power so don't read further if you don't want to know what happens. Ralston was trapped for so many days, runs out of water, gets a monsoon of water dumped on him almost drowning him and finally has to cut off his arm to escape.

I love how Danny Boyle films everything that happens with out making the movie tedious for it could have turned out that way. He brings energy to the beginning and inspires us at the end. There are compelling moments where Ralston has hallucinations, talks into his camera to loved ones and does a mock television talk show. James Franco is outstanding in making us feel his madness and pain. It is a difficult role but from the start he engages us and by the end he has us cheering. Ralston might have been reckless but due to Franco he comes off as likable. This movie made me squirm in my seat and it captures the feeling of being trapped perfectly. The scene where Ralston cuts off his arm is not for the weak of heart for it is shocking and bloody. I forgot and loved how the movie showed me that if you try to cut off an arm there are tendons there. Without anesthesia it probably hurts like hell to cut one of those tendons off so if that is too much for you, stay away from this movie. "127 Hours is a very powerful movie that is filmed uniquely by Danny Boyle who has always brought energy to his films. Also James Franco's performance is by itself worth it to see this movie. I can't totally embrace this movie for it stops short of real greatness for me. Though I can say that James Franco gives one of the best performances I have seen this or any other year.


'Unstoppable' (PG-13) (3 1/2 stars)

Writer: Mark Bomback
Director: Tony Scott
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Dunn, Ethan Suplee, Lew Temple, TJ Miller, Kevin Corrigan, Kevin Chapman

"Unstoppable" is a fast, clean, exciting and tense action thriller. There is little exposition or talk and a lot of action. It goes straight into the chase as a runaway train is on the path to destruction. It also has the benefit of having an actor like Denzel Washington starring in it. Other than Tom Hanks and George Clooney no one puts you at ease more than Washington does. He makes us care for the story because he plays the every man character better than anyone. That is what he does here as a train engineer who with the help of a young train conductor try to stop a runaway train. Chris Pine (Star Trek) plays the conductor and he is a bright young actor with star potential who has a nice camaraderie with Denzel. Supposedly based on true events, "Unstoppable" concerns a train that is unmanned due to an error by a very dumb employee. The half mile train has on board toxic materials and is headed to a major city. Washington and Pine have to try to catch the train, latch on to it and slow it down. Back at the control station the manager, played by Rosario Dawson (arguably the most beautiful woman in the World)tries to come up with her own solution.

The movie introduces us to the characters after the train is in motion so we don't have to stop for long speeches. Each character has baggage but their situations are dealt with quickly with little dialogue. We also don't get too may distracting characters like in most action movies who take away from the action or the heroes. We are focused on Washington and Pine and their characters who are just trying to do their job. Tony Scott's direction might be the best of his career in a long line of action movies. There are some amazing stunts and great thrilling moments when the leads have to climb outside to try to latch the two trains together. I was also impressed that the news coverage of the train incident is seriously done and believable. This is a thrilling, fun and exciting action movie, one of the best of the year. It also has a star in Denzel Washington who just makes you feel comfortable, makes you want to follow him on this joyride.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

'Morning Glory'

'Morning Glory' (PG-13) (3 1/2 stars)

Writer: Aline Brosh McKenna
Director: Roger Michell
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Matt Malloy, John Pankow, Ty Burrell, Patti D'Arbanville, Adrian Martinez

There is something addictive about morning talk shows on television even if you realize what you are watching is corny or fluffy. That is what former news anchor turned morning talk show host Harrison Ford can't stand, fluffy. The new romantic comedy "Morning Glory" nails that corny morning talk show feeling and feels like it knows it's subject. I believed that this was how one of these shows was actually made. This is not a deep satire or a great movie but thanks to Rachel McAdams it becomes great. This movie reminded me of James L. Brooks classic "Broadcast News" which was just put in my top ten list of my 100 Best Movies of the 80's. "Morning Glory" is in no way near as great as that movie but Rachel McAdams reminds me of Holly Hunter in that movie. McAdams owns the screen giving a performance that requires her to be manic, happy, frustrated and angry. She has that Julia Roberts, Amy Adams, Jennifer Garner presence that lights up the screen and makes us care.

"Morning Glory" is the story of Becky a television producer who gets hired to produce a struggling morning talk show. Becky has to hire a veteran news anchor to co-host the show with Colleen Peck, played by Diane Keaton. The co-host is Mike Pomeroy who is very cranky and stubborn and is played by Harrison Ford. Becky has to raise the low ratings of the show and has to deal with Mike and Colleen who hate each other. She is so busy she never has the time to find romance but she is attracted to another producer played by Patrick Wilson. I expected "Morning Glory" to become a romantic comedy but what makes this movie great has nothing to do with finding love. It would be too predictable to have the movie rely on whether Becky will find love. The strength of this movie is that it deals with a career woman who is trying to become successful and wants to get respect from her peers. She is not defined by a man and this movie doesn't focus it's attention on whether she will get her man. It all comes down to her career and a tough decision on whether to advance her career in a certain direction. The movie is very well written when it deals with a young woman trying to become successful in her career.

The movie is very funny in it's scenes between Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford. Separately they are not that strong but together their chemistry and how they play off each other is priceless. They don't like each other and Ford's insults are classic and his delivery is great. Also I love the look on his face and his reaction to some of the terrible stories that are reported. One of the best scenes has Ford and Keaton fighting to be the last one to say good bye at the end of the show. There are also many scenes in the movie that prove that Rachel McAdams is what makes this movie great. I love how she quickly deals with her show staff shouting at her at the same time with questions about the show. The way she stops before answering each question and then her reaction to each person is priceless. I love how she plays the scenes were she is called on to act nervous and flustered. There are shots of her smiling and of her reacting to Ford and to all the madness that surrounds her at the show that are magical. She brightens up the movie with her energy and determination and she plays off the other actors well. I also like what the movie had to say about these shows and how addictive and annoying they can be. After you see this movie you will know that in Rachel McAdams you have just witnessed a star in the making. Her performance is one of the best of the year and "Morning Glory" is fast, charming and a lot of fun.

Monday, November 8, 2010

'For Colored Girls'

'For Colored Girls' (R) (3 stars)

Writer: Tyler Perry based on play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough" By Ntozake Shange

Produced and Directed by Tyler Perry
Starring: Thandie Newton, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad, Loretta Devine, Janet Jackson, Anika Noni Rose, Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, Tess Thompson, Michael Ealy, Hill Harper, Richard Lawson, Omari Hardwick, Khalil Khan

It is a very good thing for our movie industry that we have Tyler Perry as a voice in cinema. At first I did not think that way for I found his style of movie over the top and maudlin. Each movie seemed like a play that was adapted to the screen with no sense of cinema quality. Tyler Perry has made at least one movie a year and I must say over time his movies have gotten better even though he is not a good visual director still. His movies have toned down the theatrics and told better stories one by one. I can't stand the Medea character in more than small doses so I hope he leaves her out from being the center of any movie he makes. It all started with "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" which I hated. I could never fully recommend a Tyler Perry movie yet but I keep getting closer. I kind of liked the last few but I doubt that Tyler Perry would find that my favorite so far, "Why Did I Get Married", would be his best film. With "For Colored Girls" I had reservations but I think I am coming around to the Perry mystique, this is his best film to date.

With his latest I am happy that Tyler Perry gives black women a voice and I love seeing the large crowds of black women this past weekend. I love movies about women and I am also glad that women are dragging their men to go see it. "For Colored Girls" has a few problems but I love the acting, how all the characters are juggled and at the end I got comfortable with it. The movie is based on a series of short poems by Ntozake Shange dealing with 20 characters. They are all women dealing with alcoholism, rape, self esteem issues, abortion and abuse of women. The strongest characters to me with the best acting belong to Thandie Newton, Kimberly Elise and Kerry Washington. All the characters in here will connect with each other and share each other's stories.

Kimberly Elise is a very great actress who gives a heartbreaking performance of a woman dealing with a war veteran husband who is an alcoholic. She is amazing in this movie dealing with a story that will have the most devastating climax of all the stories. There is another great performance by Thandie Newton, who is getting Oscar buzz, as a loose woman with a few self esteem problems. Thandie Newton has been a talented actress who has been ignored a lot but that will change. The third great performance is a more subtle one and the best performance in the movie for being that. It is by the beautiful and talented Kerry Washington who should be a star already. With this she proves she could headline a movie very soon and become a star. She plays a social worker who is in the middle of a few stories and also has to deal with a trying to have a child. Her performance is measured, quietly powerful and touching.

There are some other great performances including Loretta Devine who runs a clinic and deals with a cheating boyfriend who won't commit. Also Nona Anika Rose is very good here as a woman dealing with a date rape. There is a good, solid performance by newcomer Tess Thompson as a young teenager dealing with abortion. Now there are great characters here and some compelling stories and some of them have powerful moments. The only thing is there are a lot of weak and maudlin moments and characters and acting that are not so good. First a very religious character played by Whoopi Goldberg is one note, phony and unbelievable. Whoopi Goldberg overacts and doesn't fair so well but I think that is Perry's fault. Also Janet Jackson is very stiff but there is also a nice performance by Phylicia Rashad.

Another problem I have is the male characters who all seem under written. I don't mind most of the male characters being mostly evil and bad but please write them better. There is a very good performance by Hill Harper as a cop and I like the character but he is dropped and given no voice. I also think having the characters speak verses of the poems as dialogue is very weak and distracting. Perry should have taken the stories, dropped the verses and used them at the end credits. Usually I won't talk a great deal about a Tyler Perry movie but I have a lot to say here and that means something. I finally found a Tyler Perry movie that has a voice and says important things. Now if he improves on his weaknesses and tightens a few things then watch out because he could come up with something special.

Friday, November 5, 2010

'Fair Game'

'Fair Game' (PG-13) (3 stars)

Writers: Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth
Based on books "Fair Game" by Valerie Plame and "The Politics of Truth" by Joseph Wilson

Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Noah Emmerich, Brooke Smith, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Sam Shephard, Polly Holliday, Anand Tiwari, Jessica Hecht

"Fair Game" tells a fascinating story in by the book fashion and it is a good movie. Like last month's "Conviction" though it could have been told on cable but that is okay. The strength of the movie comes from the great performances and the depiction of a strong, married couple fighting for their marriage when it is being tested. The spy stuff we pretty much already know and the movie really kicks into gear when the story comes out. There is too much dull exposition layered out about 15 minutes too long. The true life story deals with the outing of C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame by the government. That outing came about when Valerie's husband, Joe Wilson wrote a New York op-ed piece in the year 2003. Wilson accused the Bush Administration of manipulating intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the war in Iraq. That is when White House Official Scooter Libby outed Valerie who gave Joe the opportunity to help in the case.

Since a lot of people know the story, the spy stuff, the gathering of information and the outing are common knowledge. I was kind of falling asleep during that exposition. The real power and juice of the movie comes after 45 minutes when Valerie and Joe's marriage starts getting tested. We get very upset and angry for what the government did to Valerie and Joe and we feel for them. I won't get into my feelings how the Bush Administration screwed up this country but you do get angry during the movie. Doug Liman does a great job creating suspense with the death threats and treatment that Plame and Wilson get. The performance by Naomi Watts is great and she handles the scenes of anger and hurt very well. She makes us cheer for her and makes us care and feel the outrage. Sean Penn is equally good as Wilson who will stand by his wife. The heart of the movie is how Plame and Wilson's marriage survives a great deal of stress, hurt and anger. Because of Watts and Penn you cheer for them to survive, fight back and get justice. They create a real, effective and married couple who prove that this travesty won't break them individually or together.

'Due Date'

'Due Date' (R) (2 stars)

Writers: Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel and Todd Phillips
Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galfiniakis, Michelle Monaghan, Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride, RZA, Jamie Foxx, Efren Ramirez

I really like Zach Galfiniakis a lot lately, always will love Robert Downey Jr. and I have liked every Todd Phillips movie he has made. Then why didn't I like "Due Date" as much as I should? Easily, I didn't really laugh out loud at all except at a few scenes. I smiled half the time and then I sat stone faced a lot more than I wanted to the other half. My problem could also be that they put all the funny scenes in the previews. I don't know why the studio feels a need to show all the funny parts in a preview for a movie that has Downey, Galfiniakis and is from the director of "The Hangover". It is pretty much guaranteed to make 40 million in it's first weekend but okay. For those who haven't seen the previews, even though they have been everywhere for a month, you might think this was pretty funny. The only problem with that is you will not laugh out loud half as much as you did during "The Hangover". Though Downey Jr, Galfiniakis and very good small performances by Juliette Lewis and Danny McBride keep this from being unwatchable. The material just doesn't have that many original jokes and scenes that don't involve physical pain to the characters. That is okay if you do it right but the physical humor isn't that funny. Actually the funniest scene to me involves abuse of a child and that of course wasn't in the previews.

There are also some good scenes with Jamie Foxx who plays Downey's best friend who also dated his wife a while back. Zach Galfiniakis is very good here and he has good chemistry with Downey Jr. Movies like this are pretty much critic proof and being more of a movie goer and lover I wouldn't say skip this but I was disappointed. As I mentioned before it is nowhere as good as "The Hangover" or "Old School". I don't see it becoming a future comedy classic for it is just agreeable. Maybe they should of added a Christmas theme to the movie to give it some juice. That is another problem about this, it reminds me too much of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" which had the same kind of slapstick style humor. That movie knew how to equally measure big laughs with physical slapstick better without being mean spirited. I am not against humor predicated on humiliating and painful stunts like "Kingpin" or "The Hangover" because those movies are both better at making us laugh. This is not going to hurt Downey Jr, Galfiniakis or Todd Phillip's careers and it won't hurt you. It is not a bad comedy but it is to me woefully disappointing.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest'

'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest' (R) (rental)

Writer: Ulf Ryberg based on novel by Stieg Larsson
Director: Daniel Alfredson
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Mikael Spreitz

"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" is the third and final film of the highly successful Stieg Larsson trilogy of novels. The first movie adaptation, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo", was a very intense mystery that lived and breathed with the lead performance by Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander. The movie was effective, engrossing and Rapace gave a great Oscar caliber performance in the title role. I did not read the books but seeing the first movie I wish I had. This is great material that is very compelling and I love the title heroine. This is an original character in a very well done thriller. I somewhat admired the second movie, "The Girl Who Played With Fire" but compared to the original it disappointed me. I first mentioned it was because the love story between Lisbeth and Michael Blomkvist(Micheal Nykvist) was neglected and I wanted to see more of them. I was wrong in that assessment because the Salander character doesn't need him and she is the character that stands out the most in the movies. That being said I thought the second movie was a step down in storytelling from the first.

I like this third movie much better than the second one but it still doesn't measure up to the first one. We are talking about a possible Best Picture and Best Actress nomination for the first movie. The second and third movie are not in the same league as the first but I felt more satisfied with this one than I was the last one. I can't fully recommend it but Noomi Rapace is again outstanding and she has to be in a hospital bed for most of the story. The middle drags but I like the courtroom scenes and I love the ending which should have people cheering. There seems to be more life in this movie than the second one but the first movie is in a class by itself. I like the wrap up here and and I love Noomi Rapace and I am interested in seeing her in American films like next year's "Sherlock Holmes" sequel.

I love the first movie but feel it is probably a tad over rated and I assume not as good as the novels. There also can be improvement in the sequel and the final movie. Which brings me to the David Fincher remakes being made now which I am actually excited for. I think David Fincher could make this trilogy even greater. There seems to be a little something missing from the Swedish films, a little tighter control and effectiveness. Though Rooney Mara (Social Network) has some pretty big shoes to fill if she wants to match Rapace's outstanding performance in the lead role. If you haven't seen the first movie I recommend you wait and rent all three at home and skip this one at the theatres.