Friday, September 30, 2011

'Dream House'

'Dream House' (PG-13) (1 1/2 STARS)

Writer: David Loucka
Director: Jim Sheridan
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Elias Koteas, Martin Csokas

It is a shame when bad movies happen to great people. Director Jim Sheridan has always directed quality projects including one of the best movies I have ever seen in "In America". I don't know how he got involved with a boring drag and laughable thriller like "Dream House". He makes the movie look beautiful with the help of cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (father of Zooey!)
but the screenplay is a joke. Word is Sheridan disowned the movie after losing final cut from the studio but did he read this screenplay?

"Dream House" stars great actors (also wasted here) Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz as a married couple with two little daughters. The father is first seen retiring from his editor's job and then we see him back with his family in their house. The kids start seeing a man in the window and think the house is haunted. Then the father finds out a family was killed there before, the husband supposedly shotting the wife and kids dead. Is the "Dream House" haunted? I will save you the trouble, no the movie advertises it as a horror, haunted house movie but the story turns into a lame murder mystery.

I did expect a haunted house movie and the trailer promises twists and turns and I thought a haunted house. There are three plot twists, the first one I guessed right away because THE TRAILER GIVES IT AWAY! The second one is a laughable twist and the final twist is just lame. There is no suspense here, no character development and when kids are used as props in a thriller when said thriller is pointless it is offensive to me. Anyway this movie is just too stupid, lackluster and lame to care about. The pace is also mind numbingly slow and the plot is so familiar it is just boring. "Dream House" may have been ruined by it's studio but where is the blame for the writer who wrote this terrible thriller?

P.S. The movie was not released to critics ahead of time because Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz didn't want to answer questions about their affair that turned into a marriage. Really? Really! Really? Is this where we have gone to? A movie not released to critics because of a Hollywood scandal? Nice cover there movie studio people. Come on, you didn't release it to critics because the movie is bad.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

'Dolphin Tale'

'Dolphin Tale' (PG) (3 STARS)

Writers: Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Starring: Nathan Gamble, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Austin Stowell, Frances Sternhagen, Kris Kristofferson

"Dolphin Tale" would be such an unabashed load of phony uplift if it weren't a true story. The strength of the movie is that it all comes across as inspiring and uplifting. I am also such a sucker for dolphins which are my favorite animal. I think it has to do with that they are smarter than most humans though cat lovers might think cats are smarter. This movie is based on an incredible true story and it is a great family movie when most family movies these days are a load of crap.

"Dolphin Tale" tells the story of Winter, a dolphin who gets it's tale caught in a crab trap. Winter is found by young Sawyer who follows the dolphin back to an animal hospital. Winter winds up having it's tale cut off to save it's life and Sawyer will get very attached to Winter. Sawyer will strike up a friendship with the dolphin and it is a sweet, touching friendship. Winter has a chance to receive a prosthetic tale with the help of Doctor Cameron McCarthy played by Morgan Freeman.

There is also a nice subplot about Sawyer's friend who is an older boy who gets called to Iraq for duty. That boy will come home damaged and his story will blend in nicely with Winter's plight. This movie has the requisite plot developments like the Mom who has to be convinced that Sawyer has to be a part of Winter's recovery. There is the little girl Sawyer's age, Hazel, who becomes his friend. The acting is very believable here to deepen the characters. Ashley Judd is good as the mother and Cozi Zuehldorff is very good and natural as Hazel. Also good here are Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr. and newcomer Austin Stowell who plays the older boy back from Iraq.

I was with this movie all the way and the movie choked me up a little from time to time especially when Sawyer's friend comes back from Iraq and gets introduced to Winter. Like I said I am a sucker for dolphins and I was sad and moved by Winter's plight. What happens when the doctor makes the prosthetic and what will follow seemed real to me. I was fascinated by how Winter tries to recover and how the prosthetic is fitted to make Winter adjust to it. You have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by this movie. The movie has a natural feel and never gets to be too heavy with sentiment. Nathan Gamble as Sawyer does a very good job here and he gives a relaxed performance and we like him.

"Dolphin Tale" was directed by actor Charles Martin Smith (The Untouchables) who starred in a nature, family movie just like this back in 1983. The movie was "Never Cry Wolf" and it is one of the best movies of it's kind. Smith knows the rythyms of these types of movies and he knows how not to cross the line into hokum. He gets great, natural performances by everyone and especially with the child actors. Smith was in a lot of the old Disney movies when he was a kid and he knows how to make this work. "Dolphin Tale" sounds like it will be a movie that adults will roll their eyes at but as an adult I grew to like it very much. It is an uplifting, inspring and sweet family movie in a good way.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


'50/50' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writer: Will Reiser
Director: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston Bryce Dallas Howard, Phillip Baker Hall, Matt Frewer

"50/50" could have been a real disaster and it is amazing how strong it is and I was pleasantly surprised. The movie is based on a true life story and I think that helps it from becoming phony and maudlin. "50/50" is based on the life of Will Reiser who is a true life friend to Seth Rogen. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam who is based on Will and Adam at a young age is diagnosed with cancer. Rogen plays Kyle who is his best friend and has to adjust to his friend's disease. This movie might sound like a chore to sit through but it is funny, touching and kind of poetic.

Adam also is assigned a therapist to check in with from time to time to help him cope with the emotions he will deal with. Katherine is played by Anna Kendrick and Katherine and Adam will grow to like each other. I was worried about this movie from looking at the previews but "50'50" turns out to be a nice low key treat. The movie being based on real life events helps it immensely because there are no Hollywood cliches here. I never felt manipulated and the movie could have turned sappy with those phony moments that most movies about cancer usually have. Look at old movies like "Windy City" and "Dying Young", movies that were obnoxious and phony, to see what I mean.

I felt that the situations that unfolded during the movie seemed plausible and scenes with the doctors felt right and truthful. The movie is also witty with very funny laugh out loud moments. I also felt that the love story with Adam and Katherine was sweet and touching. They are both good people and we want them to grow closer to each other. I also was moved by the friendship between Adam and Kyle. I liked Anjelica Huston as Adam's mother but her character was a weak link in this story and sometimes just a little over-the-top.

So I like the love story a lot and it's strength and subtlety made this movie greater. I also love that the movie doesn't pull any punches and goes over the edge in it's humor. The movie doesn't play it safe and there are some very funny, good scenes that could have been in bad taste but turn out true and hilarious. I felt that this movie was truthful and felt real and that it didn't go for that dramatic, false ending. The movie has an ending that doesn't end in melodrama. I also had back up because I saw this movie at a sneak preview with an audience that had a lot of cancer survivors in it. After the movie almost all of that audience was in tears and I knew then that the movie completed it's goal.

The acting in "50/50" is really strong and all the performances were effective. Joseph Gordon-Levitt to me is on a short list with Ryan Gosling as the two best actors in their age range working today. I may be being bold here but Levitt gives an award worthy performance here. He is very natural here and his scenes that require a lot of emotions are played just right here. He doesn't over reach for effect and there is a scene here where he lets his emotions go and it is powerful. Seth Rogen is very funny here and his character could have been shallow but Rogen makes him very likable. Anna Kendrick is also sweet and likable here and she just has an easy going way about her and I never see her acting.

"50/50" was a rewarding experience that was touching, realistic, funny and sad with poignant moments that seem true. It is a very good mix of everything and I was with it all the way.

Friday, September 23, 2011


'Moneyball' (PG-13) (4 STARS) (Highest Rating)

Writers: Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian based on the book by Michael Lewis
Director: Bennett Miller
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Kerris Dorsey, Chris Pratt

There is a brilliantly acted, directed and written scene in the new baseball movie "Moneyball" that is an example of why this movie is great. It is the last day before the baseball trading deadline. The General Manager of the Oakland A's Billy Beane is trying to trade some star players for cheaper, lesser known players. The speed, wittiness and execution of this scene of just talking on the phone is more fun and suspenseful than scenes in most action thrillers these days. For a movie that deals with baseball stats and strategy this is easily one of the most exciting movies of the year!

The power of that scene is also due to one of the best performances of the year by Brad Pitt as Beane. Equal to Pitt in what will be an under rated performance is Jonah Hill as Beane's assistant GM Peter Brand. "Moneyball" is based on the book of the same name and is about the 2002 Oakland A's. That was the season that Billy Beane became the GM of the A's and unloaded a lot of expensive and great players, dumped a lot of payroll and aquired cheaper players. With the help of Brand, who he steals away from the Cleveland Indians, he comes up with a new way to aquire good players that others have given up on. Brand is a genius with getting good players by exploring smaller stats like on base percentage. The result is a team that started to win, surprised baseball experts and changed the way the game was played.

"Moneyball" is a fascinating movie that hooks us right from the first frame. I have never seen a baseball movie that captivates us just by talking about baseball. The movie starts out with a brillant scene where Beane talks to all his scouts in a meeting. The scouts are really concerned in how they will replace stars like Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon. Beane is not worried because he feels that star players don't really guarantee winning. This is the first of many compelling scenes and the movie keeps up the greatness till the last frame. The movie is written by two masters of dialogue Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian and this is the best screenplay of 2011 so far. Sorkin alone now has written the two best screenplays of the last two years with this and last year's "The Social Network".

The writing is smart and the dialogue is fascinating and even subplots like Beane's relationship with his daughter are deep and well played. This is not your typical baseball movie but it is one of the best written baseball movies I have ever seen. The movie does not give us a lot of basball action but there is an amazing and thrilling sequence in the movie. It is the point of the movie where the new and improved A's are flirting with history and a 20 game winning streak. This is a powerful and highly effective segment of the movie and it it extremely exciting and suspenseful. This movie never bored me and I love how the movie impresses us with dialogue instead of hokey, cliched, dramatic baseball scenes.

The acting from the leads to all the supporting actors are magnificent. The director is Bennett Miller and Miller is now two for two in creating masterpieces with sublime acting. He made his debut with the fascinating and powerful "Capote". He just lets the screenplay breathe and he never hits a false note in creating momentum and intrigue. Brad Pitt gives what is probably his most well rounded and complete performance of his career so far. With his work here and in this year's "Tree of Life" he is marking his territory as one of our best movie stars and actors. Equally great is Jonah Hill who works off Pitt so well, they have an amazing chemistry here.

I also love the deadpan performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Manager Art Howe and the sweet and touching performance by Kerris Dorsey as Beane's daughter Casey. The scenes with father and daughter are touching, funny, sweet and subtle. There is a lot of funny moments, funny dialogue and baseball strategy and talk that sounds real. I have not read the book but this movie knows what it is talking about. This is the best baseball movie that has ever dealt with the strategy and logic of the game. Sorkin and Zaillian have obviously done their homework for they now have written one of the 5 best baseball movies I have seen.

"Moneyball" I guarantee will please people who love basbeball, I don't see how it can't. It is an adult movie that takes it's time to give us a smart story that also entertains us immensely. I do beat this dead horse a lot but it reminds me of a movie you would see in the 70's, the greatest era of movie making that there ever was in my opinion. Brad Pitt is doing what George Clooney is doing now, becoming one of our best liked movie stars. Also director Bennett Miller with this and "Capote" is a major new force in film making and I can't wait to see his next movie. "Moneyball" is an incredibly fun, compelling and entertaining movie that will become a new baseball movie classic.

'Straw Dogs' (11)

'Straw Dogs' (R) (11) (2 STARS)

Writer: Rod Lurie based on 1971 screenplay written by Sam Peckinpah and David Zelag Goodman and novel 'The Siege at Trencher's Farm' by Gordon Williams
Director: Rod Lurie
Starring: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard, James Woods, Walter Goggins, Dominic Purcell, Laz Alonso, Anson Mount

The 1971 movie "Straw Dogs" wasn't one of my favorite movies but back when I saw it as a teenager it affected me. The movie was co-written and directed by Sam Peckinpah who is probably the greatest director of violence ever. It starred Dustin Hoffman as a timid mathematician who along with his wife Susan George fend off attackers who are trying to break into their home to kill them. It included the rape of the wife who the movie makes out was something she asked for and kind of liked.

That movie was a neat little shocker that scared me kind of when I was 14 or 15 years old. I loved how quiet the movie was and then when the violence exploded I jumped and grabbed my blanket. Now it is 2011 and we are inundated with remakes of originally good movies. We now have movies that can't stay still, are noisy and have music scores hit us over the head. Instead of characters that are well written we have characters that are written as shallow morons. Now the original is not one of the greatest movies of the 70's though it shocked a lot of people back then with it's rape scene and violence. Compared to the original though the remake is superficial, dumb and shallowly written.

First of all the remake has been relocated from England to Louisiana so now the townsfolk are stereotypical redneck types instead of English cretins. The movie portrays the South in such a bad and obvious way I had to laugh and cringe. This is the fakest Southern town I ever saw and a lot of good actors are wasted here including James Woods as a blowhard ex high school football coach. The wife and husband here, played capably but blandly by James Marsden and Kate Bosworth, are a really dumb couple. The only saving grace is the subtle and effectively sleazy performance by Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood).
His performance is laid back, careful and on a totally different plane from the other actors who are given dumb roles. Skarsgard will soon become a movie star, mark my words.

The husband and wife here hire Skarsgard and his cretin friends to fix up their garage that is falling apart. The wife used to be involved in high school with the lead cretin. Predictably the bad guys will test the husband's manhood and become bullies. This leads to a rape scene just like it did in the original. Here the rape scene is not glorified but the screenplay lets it happen and then the after effects are never discussed or delved into. The wife never tells the husband because she is ashamed I guess. When the bad guys try to break in the house it is the result of such a stupid series of events and then the rape is pushed aside. In the original the couple confront what it has done to them. In the remake the rape is never mentioned and I felt offended by it.

I have a pet peeve with movies that have rape scenes just to cause a reaction and then never deal with it in the story. This makes the remake in my opinion a movie with just a rape scene that the movie is too chicken to explore what it has done to the husband and wife. The problem is here the couple are defending their house just because the screenplay says so and not for any sensible reason. The screenplay plays with us and manipulates us and I have no reason why the rape scene is included in this updated story. If you are going to shock the audience you can't wind up with a movie that ends with senseless violence. This just ends up as a movie with shallow and new ways to kill people that actually has been done to death by now.

P.S. For a better movie to pull your strings check out the original "Straw Dogs" from 1971 and a better though not good remake of "Last House on the Left".

Friday, September 16, 2011


'Drive' (R) (4 STARS) (Highest Rating)

Writer: Hossein Amini
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac

"Drive" is one of those movies that might satisfy film geeks amd major film buffs instead of the normal movie going public. It is not a movie you will just like or not care for. You will defnitely either hate it or love it and if you are into crime thrillers and are an adventurous movie goer you will love it. It is a near flawless movie because for it's genre it never makes a false move.

"Drive" has moments of violence that you will not see coming and when those moments come you will jump in your seats. Also if you are squeamish when it comes to gore you might be putting your hands over your eyes a lot. The gore is not explicit and a lot is left to your imagination off screen but it is still right there. It is ten times more effective than a movie like "Saw" or those torture porn movies. It makes those movies look like a walk in the park. It reminds me of a Quentin Tarantino movie with it's moments of dialogue and steadiness punctuated with violence. I am a big fan of Tarantino but here director Nicolas Winding Refn may have trumped Tarantino.

The story of "Drive" is nothing complicated and it seems like your typical crime movie. Ryan Gosling plays a stunt driver who is also a getaway driver for robberies. He gets involved with Irene who is a woman in his building and Irene's son Benicio. Irene's husband Standard is getting out of prison and the Driver gets involved in a robbery that is tied to Standard. The Driver also has his friend Shannon set up jobs for him. Also tied into the story is crime boss Bernie played by Albert Brooks and I think I will never look at Brooks in quite the same way again. Add to this another crime
kingpin played by Ron Perlman.

All the actors do a great job at setting up their characters flawlessly and for a genre, niche picture that is hard work. This is one of the best casts of the year headed by who I think is the best actor of his age working today. Ryan Gosling has a lot of quiet moments in this movie where he has to act without words and it is a subtle and powerful performance. Brooks is great at playing against type probably for the first time in his career. Carey Mulligan as Irene is solid again, Bryan Cranston as Shannon is proving himself a great character actor in motion pictures and Ron Perlman is also great here and very funny. Also in a small role Christina Hendricks from "Mad Men" makes an impression here in a very small role.

"Drive" also has a look and feel of a 70's or 80's heist/car chase movie where the car chase scenes are not inundated with CGI effects crap. There seems to be no camera tricks and the chases are executed like they are done solely by real stunt drivers. The movie is so great at lulling you into complacency with quiet scenes that suddenly explode into violence. It might strike some as Tarantino like but to some maybe much better. The violence is scary, unsettling and effective and I advise you not to eat a heavy meal before you see this.

I also love the use of music in this movie from the loopy synthesizer score that reminded me of Tangerine Dream to the eccentric choice of songs. The movie has a simple story but the execution of it makes it seem more exciting than just that. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has an amazing career ahead of him and his direction is near perfection here. The movie left me breathless and sometimes on the edge of my seat. It made my stomach churn and I enjoyed the acting and pacing so much. Now this is not a movie for everybody and some will hate it. The fact is "Drive" has a goal and it achieves that goal to near perfection. To me it was a thrill ride and I cared about the characters more than I should have. "Drive" is one of the best movies of it's kind I have seen in decades.

P.S. I agree with Roger Ebert that ratings are arbitrary and I give "Drive" 3 1/2 stars but I will see it again and that rating might go up to 4 stars. Again for a crime thriller it is one of the best movies of it's kind I have ever seen and is easily one of the best movies of 2011, you will probably see it on my top ten list.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

'Higher Ground'

'Higher Ground' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writer: Tim Metcalfe based on memoir "This Dark World" by Carolyn S. Briggs
Director: Vera Farmiga
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard. Dagmara Dominczyk, Norbert Leo Butz,
Nina Arianda, Bill Irwin, John Hawkes, Donna Murphy, Tarissa Farmiga

Religion has alwasy been a very provocative and controversial subject especially these days. Different people have different beliefs in a higher power and a lot of people struggle with their faith. There are also spiritual people who either don't believe in a higher power or just don't know. The powerful, beautiful and touching movie "Higher Ground" delves into one woman's struggle with her faith. I am not a very religious person but here is a film that moved me and made me think.

The movie is based on a memoir by Carolyn S. Briggs and tells the story of Corinne played by the beautiful and graceful Vera Farmiga who is one of our best actresses. Corinne is a woman who has a major development happen in her life that changes her faith in God. After this major incident Corinne and her husband Ethan join a cultish community and feel a sense of belonging. The whole group is loving and supportive and have a strong belief in God but Corinne sometimes has a struggle with her beliefs.

It doesn't help that the women in this community are often shoved to the background and sometimes supressed by the men. They definitely have a more nurturing role in the group but Corinne sometimes doesn't buy into that role. Her best friend Annika is a major life force and close friend for Corinne and Annika supports Corinne in her struggle. Annika is played by Dagmara Dominczyk in an Oscar caliber performance and it is one of the strongest characters I have seen in a movie this year. There is a major change that happens to Annika that affects Corinne. The character is so strong and memorable that after this incident happens I couldn't stop crying during the movie for at least 15 minutes.

This is such a wonderfully written movie and no matter what your religion is and what your beliefs are this movie will touch your heart. That is because foremost it is a movie about life pure and simple, about family and about the struggle we all have daily with faith. These are memorable characters I will never forget and the movie is thoughtful, true and never felt false to me. The movie starts strong in the beginning and has us hooked, loses a little momentum at times but ends on a beautiful note.

This movie raises a lot of good questions for me about religion and faith. Is religion really as sexist as I think it is? In this story and others about religion I see a lot of woman being treated like second hand citizens. I was rooting for how Corinne and Annika battle this in their group and what develops between Ethan and Corinne in their marriage. If you struggle with faith and sometimes you can't feel God's presence does that make you wrong and a bad person? I like how this movie thoughtfully and carefully delves into these questions.

"Higher Ground" is the directorial debut of actress Vera Farmiga and it is one of the best debuts I have ever seen. She tells this story simply and carefully and lets the characters breathe. There is nothing fancy here but I always felt that the movie felt confident and assured. Farmiga gets great performances by her actors and she herself gives the best performance of her career so far. This is an actress that was so good in "The Departed" and "Up In The Air" and she has a graceful presence and beauty and her performance here is wonderful. There are also great performances by Norbert Leo Butz as Ethan and John Hawkes who is our best character actor working today.

I also love the unforgettable performance by Dagmara Dominczyk as Annika. This is a strong performance and Dogminczyk gives one of the best performances of the year. This is a performance that is so strong that her charcater is always on our mind even when she is not all there on screen. This is a movie that is patient, makes us think and touches us, even those of us that are not religious. Like all great movies it gives us a peek into a real life and we are there with it all the way. It also might spark a lot of discussions between families and church groups and it is a must see for not only religious people but also people that don't believe in any higher power. This is easily one of the best movies of the year!

'The Debt'

'The Debt' (R) (2 STARS)

Writers: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan
Based on film 'Ha-Hov' written by Assef Bernstein and Ido Rosenblum
Director: John Madded
Starring: Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds, Sam Worthington, Martin Csokas, Jesper Christensen

"The Debt" comes and goes and does a serviceable job of creating a little tension. It just isn't a movie that grabbed me. I felt I has seen it before and I probably won't remember it a week from now. It has a solid cast but I felt they were wasted but I do know I can't keep my eyes off of Jessica Chastain. Without her and Helen Mirren this is just a straight to DVD type of movie.

"The Debt" has a plot that tries to surprise us but I didn't feel surprised. It tells the story of three Mossad agents, two that are married to each other, as they try to exterminate the evil Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel. He has killed thousands of Jews and the movie starts in 1997 when the retired agents are given information that might change things. The movie flashes back to 1966 when the three go after Dieter and this is the best part of the movie. The movie gets laughable and silly when it gets back to 1997 and concludes with a dumb ending.

Now the characters in their early years are not that well developed but there are some good shocks and action though. The characters are not well fleshed out and a promising actor like Sam Worthington does not register at all. The movie though is saved by the talented new actress Jessica Chastain who is on a roll now. She was amazing this year in "Tree Of Life" and "The Help" and will soon be seen in a lot more movies soon. She has a natural beauty and she does a lot with the little that she is given. We are witnessing a star and great actress in the making and she is the only thing in this movie that was interesting.

Helen Mirren of course is great as usual but what a bunch of over melodramatic and awkward scenes she has to wade through. The movie becomes a cheap thriller at the end and I didn't care about the characters after awhile. There is a wonderful scene in the middle when Chastain's character Rachel Singer tries to catch Dieter but it is the only scene that is very well handled. I have not seen the original film from Isreal so I don't know how close this remake is but enough with remaking foreign films that just came out a few years ago. The director is John Madden who rightfully won an Oscar for "Shakespeare in Love" over the over rated "Saving Private Ryan" but obviously his career has stalled. "The Debt" is nothing new and I was bored and disinterested most of the time.

P.S. For better movies on this subject check out the creepy and thrilling "Marathon Man" from 1976 with Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. Also check out the campy and hilarious and wonderful 1978 film "Boys From Brazil" with Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier. That movie was silly but it is ten times more entertaining and energetic then "The Debt". I think i might just check out the original movie, maybe it has a pulse.

Friday, September 9, 2011


'Warrior' (PG-13) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writers: Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorman and Gavin O'Connor
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Kurt Angle

I am not a fan of Mixed Martial Arts as I am not a big fan of boxing. I like professional wrestling because I like the drama and interviews more than watching men kick the crap out of each other. I could never get into wacthing a live boxing match but I love the "Rocky" movies. I could never get into MMA but I absolutely had a great time watching the new and exciting "Warrior". I also was surprised how I wound up cheering by the end and how emotionally involved I was.

The story is standard, nothing new and full of cliches but so was "Rocky" and "The Fighter" and I was highly entertained and moved by both. This is not as good as those movies but it is surprisingly great. This reminded me of how everyone was surprised and moved by the iconic sleeper, 1984's "The Karate Kid". It has characters we grow to like and care for, it has superb and stirring fight scenes. It also has three great performances, one award worthy and two more that are star making.

"Warrior" tells the story of estranged brothers Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) who is a war hero and Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) who is a school teacher. They are also ex MMA fighters who are both estranged from their father Paddy (Nick Nolte) an ex alcoholic who now is clean and sober. The father used to be a raging drunk and he left both boys and their mother. Later the father shows up to try to connect with both sons. There is an MMA tournament and both sons want to join it for different reasons. Tommy enlists his father to train him and Brendan picks an ex MMA legend to train him.

We know then from this plot description that there will be family drama and a lot of fights. What surprised me here is that after multiple fights I thought I would have started to get bored. I actually loved each fight and they are very well choreograped and extremely exciting. The director Gavin O'Connor directed the very fine hockey movie "Miracle" and he knows how to direct each fight here. He does a very good job at making movie goers who don't know anything about MMA able to follow the matches. Each match is different and exciting and we know what the final fight will be but I didn't expect it to be emotional and I didn't expect to cheer so much.

The emotional scenes between each son and their father also moved me and that was thanks to the great performances by the three lead actors. Nick Nolte is back in a big way with a very touching and emotional performance and I expected some false notes but Nolte was always on target. Joel Edgerton, who plays Brendan, is a very talented Australian actor who was very memorable in last year's fine crime drama "Animal Kingdom". Here he gets the more likable son role and he makes us care and he moves us. Tom Hardy, who was great in a small role in "Inception" and will soon get our attention as Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises", makes a great impression. He looks like a young Sylvester Stallone via Rocky Balboa here. He has a brute energy and intensity that jumps off the screen and he could become an amazing movie star.

The movie got me going and entertained me throughout its long running time. I was surprised at how much I loved the fights, how great the acting was and how touching the movie was. I was happy to see Nick Nolte back in full classic Nolte force. I fell in love with the screen presence, intensity and star power of Tom Hardy and I loved Joel Edgerton. I loved how Jennifer Morrison (TV's "House") took another thankless female role and made it a little better. I did want a little more of a sense of humor here and that was it's weakness, it gets too serious sometimes. Most of the humor comes from the MMA announcers and they are very amusing.

The movie does what all good underdog sports movies do. It gets us cheering and it has a story that touches us instead of giving us just a bunch of brutal fights. "Warrior" was a nice surprise and I got caught up in it. It will be intersting to see if this becomes a sleeper hit with movie goers and I hope it does, the movie earns it's cheers.


'Contagion' (PG-13) (2 STARS)

Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Demetri Martin, John Hawkes

"Contagion" is a respectful homage to 70's type disaster and conspiracy thrillers. It is respectful but also too laid back with characters that are not memorable save for a couple of them. I never felt that the movie was building any momentum or suspense. The movie starts off well setting up it's story. Then it throws all these characters at us and the all star cast distracts us. The movie just lumbers along with no dramatic moments for a movie with such an explosive subject.

The movie starts out with a business woman from Minneapolis, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, who comes back from a business trip from Hong Kong with flu like symptoms. She comes home to her husband, played by Matt Damon, and then passes away. Then we see a Tokyo man riding a bus suddenly having a seizure. Then others start to mysteriously die and an obnoxious blogger starts to throw out conspiracy theories on how the deaths started. Then a few representatives from Disease Control and Prevention (Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishbourne) and The World Health Organization (Marion Cottilard) start to trace back where the virus came from.

I know that "Contagion" is trying to be an adult thriller that takes it's time telling it's story. It is a welcome throwback to films of the 70's that are slowly paced, want to set a mood of doom and have a lot of thoughtful dialogue. The dialogue in this movie sounds realistic and at the start the movie is a little scary and thought provoking. I appreciate what Soderbergh is trying to do here but he fails in getting us involved. The doctors and representatives have no personality and I was bored with them all. The Paltrow character is given no build up so Damon has to make us care about her and his relationship with her but the movie doesn't help him.

This is missing what some of those 70's disaster films had and that is suspense and personality. It is much better than recent films of it's ilk including the very bad and unintentionally funny 1995 film "Outbreak" but I wish it was more like a classic film like 1979's "The China Syndrome". I don't expect "Contagion" to be as great as "China Syndrome", one of the best movies ever made period, but I wanted more oomph.

I like the serious and thoughtful tone of this movie and I am glad there were no cheesy, over-the-top killing and gruesome deaths. I like that the movie explores it's subject in a serious way. I like the Matt Damon character and his daughter and there is a very touching scene where the father sets up a mock Prom for his daughter in their house. Those were the only charcaters I cared for and the other character that should have moved us, played by Marion Cotillard, isn't given a big enough piece of the plot.

I just found the movie dull and too respectful and too careful. I felt that the all star cast distracted me because their characters are so lifeless. There is an explosive and powerful scene where a shortage of medicine causes a scary riot. That is a great scene but the only one that startled me. "Contagion" needed more scenes like that one and people I cared about. The only positive thing from this movie is that it will make you think, just not about this particular movie's story.

P.S. For an example of a scary, suspenseful, terrifying and sobering look at a topical threat or disaster that is much stronger check out the 70's classic "The China Syndrome" which in it's time scared the crap out of everyone who saw it. In my top five of the best movies of the 70's.