Friday, December 30, 2011

'The Adventures of TinTin' and 'War Horse'

'The Adventures of TinTin' (PG) (2 STARS)

Writers: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish based on comic strip
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Toby Jones

I didn't think the great Steven Spielberg would fall in the latest movie trap! My latest pet peeve gets stirred up again with the cold and too busy "The Adventures of TinTin". This is another movie with cardboard characters I didn't care about and endless action scenes that were all over the place. I am shocked for Steven Spielberg is usually focused even if he makes something lame like "Hook". The latest trend of animated films not sitting still for a minute to develop characters or a story has crippled Spielberg. In the press Spielberg has told us that he made this movie in the spirit of "Raiders of the Lost Ark". This is far beneath that movie and Spielberg shouldn't have even directed it.

I get why he has mentioned Raiders when speaking of TinTin for this tries for that same sense of adventure and non stop action as TinTin looks for buried treasure. This is a movie based on a comic strip series I had never heard about until now and I don't have a desire to go find it and read it. TinTin is a boring character and his cohorts are I guess Pirates but they would be kicked out off any ship that any of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" characters would be on. The movie is like one extended chase as TinTin and others flip, crash, swordfight and hit each other. None of the action scenes are clean, effective or thrilling. Even "The Goonies" (which I was reminded of watching this) was a thrill ride compared to this. This is an action, adventure movie wirth no thrills or suspense.

I think the major blame should go to the stop motion animation genre that creeps me out. That is where the faces of the people have eyes withdrawn and don't look animated but look deformed. That style of animation here has improved a little bit from the weird looking "Polar Express" and "A Christmas Carol". I am just not into that style of animation and I am definitely not into this boring, messy and cold lackluster movie.

P.S. For better movies than TinTin check out again "The Goonies" and the first "Pirates of the Carribean" movie. Also I was reminded of the Spielberg produced "Young Sherlock Holmes" from 1985 which is much more fun!

'War Horse' (PG-13) (3 STARS)

Writers: Lee Hall and Richard Curtis based on novel Written By Michael Morpurgo
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, Niels Arestrup, david Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Celine Buckens

All filmmakers are influenced by certain legendary directors from Hollywood's past. You can tell that Steven Spielberg was greatly infleunced by the great John Ford with his latest "War Horse". Those who don't know John Ford might find this movie corny and it is but I was entertained. This is not Oscar caliber but it is old fashioned, grand entertainment and it is like they used to make them. This is a movie full of cliches and a lot of dialogue you could hear if you watched an old Ford movie. But if you love horses you'll fall in love with this and if you don't you might be bored.

"War Horse" tells the story of young Albert whose parents own a farm that is in danger of being foreclosed. His father Ted drinks and his mother Rose is a loyal wife and mother. Albert's father buys a horse at an auction and Albert becomes close to the horse. Ted sells the horse to the Army to be used for battle in World War I so he can get the money to pay the land's owner. When Albert enlists in the Army he tries to track down his horse. From then the horse takes over as the main character that we will follow through on a journey and that is good because Albert is not that interesting of a character.

What you have in this movie with a huge heart is a lot of war movie cliches and a horse story that will remind you of "The Black Stallion". The horse is beautiful and I had fun watching the horse and his adventures in war. The movie pulls at your heart strings and I guess lately that is wrong. With this movie and last week's "We Bouight A Zoo" I can't understand the backlash this movie is getting from certain critics. Seriously critics, it is time to get the collective sticks out of our butts. I had some problems with this movie but sometimes you have to go with the flow and let the movie wash over you and have fun. There is terrible corn (New Year's Eve) and there is good corn like "War Horse".

The movie is beautiful to look at, Spielberg takes care and shows a lot of heart and warmth with his direction. The horse is amazing and sometimes you will scratch your head trying to figure how they filmed some scenes without hurting the horse. The human characters are sometimes cliches and not many are memorable but I loved Emily Watson as the mother and Tom Hiddelston will make some women's hearts swoon as an English soldier. One of my favorite moments in the movie that captivated me and took my breath away concerned a grandfather and his granddaughter who take part in the horse's journey. I wish they were in the movie longer and Niels Arestrup as the grandfather has a beautifully acted scene and his dialogue is the only time in the movie I felt like real people were talking. Plus Celine Buckens as the granddaughter is a natural and young girls will love this segment as should everyone else.

"War Horse" is a charming and very fun time at the movies and like I said if you love horses this won't dissapoint. I did have another little problem which are the war and battle scenes. They are really all well filmed but sometimes I found them lackluster though I do love a particular scene where the horse is hurt and in danger. Spielberg has made two war movies I am not a big fan of in "Saving Private Ryan" and "Empire of the Sun". They both have great battle scenes but their war stories I found too cliched and corny. I think "War Horse" could have done better in dealing with the war stuff but I will take this movie over "Ryan" and "Empire" any day. Most importantly this is a beautiful love story between a boy and his horse and in that way it is a winner.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

'A Dangerous Method'

'A Dangerous Method' (R) (2 STARS)

Writer: Christopher Hampton based on novel "A Most Dangerous Method" By
John Kerr
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon

Director David Cronenberg's career has been full of indelible and shocking moments in most of his films. My favorites are "A History of Violence" and "The Fly" but I could never get into a lot of his movies. Half of them are full of images so gross and shocking that they take away from their weak stories. For example I am not a big fan of "Dead Ringers" or "Naked Lunch" because there were images that I think took away from their promising stories. That is why I was surprised that with his latest "A Dangerous Method" I wanted not necessarily shock moments but more of a pulse.

The movie has gotten great reviews but I could never get into the story of how psychologists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud worked together to help patient Sabina Spielrein overcome her hysteria. Maybe it is just me but I was bored by a lot of this movie and I expected more intensity. This might be Cronenberg's nicest, quaintest movie but strangely I want the old Cronenberg back. I think there are moments that have potential but I wanted more intensity, the movie is too polite. Even when Jung starts spanking Sabina as part of the cure for her problem it felt to me like it was no big deal.

I like the acting in this movie and Viggo Mortensen gives a very interesting performance that works. Also Michael Fassbender continues his hot streak with another excellent performance and what I like about him is that each of his performances this year are all different types of characters and that is rare. This year each of his performances are in a different type of genre and again he is going to be someone special. Now I had a slight problem in the beginning with Keira Knightley's performance which I found clashed with the movie's tone. At first her performance is shrill and over acted but once she settles down half way through she rebounds.

"A Dangerous Method" has great art direction, costumes and a great look to it but I never got immersed in the relationship between Jung and Freud or Jung and Sabina. I found a lot of the exploration of Jung and Freud's methods a lot of mumbo jumbo and it is jargon I found boring. I guess I might be guilty of going for the "Good Will Hunting" and "Ordinary People" look at psychoanalysis. I am not a big psychology fan unless it has to deal with murder or depravity I guess. I was curiously uninvolved during "A Dangerous Method" and I am not saying avoid it because it might satisfy moviegoers who like deep thought with their movies. I usually like a deep movie but this time I couldn't get into the story.

Friday, December 23, 2011

'The Artist'

'The Artist' (PG-13) (4 STARS) (Highest Rating)

Written and Directed By Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell, John Goodman, Ed Lauter, Missy Pyle, Malcolm McDowell

This has been an unique year for showing that the love of the history of film can be a powerful thing. First Martin Scorsese gave us a valentine to the early birth of cinema with "Hugo" and now comes the brilliant "The Artist". I loved this movie more than words can say for it's loving look at the golden age of silent film. It is a beautiful looking, perfectly acted movie with a period detail that is flawless and breathtaking. I fear this will have the same effect it had on me only for movie goers that are into film history or silent film. I do have faith that it will delight, entertain and put a huge smile on everyone's face. "The Artist" is why we go to the movies, to fall in love with cinema all over again.

"The Artist" gives us the story of silent film star George Valentin, an actor in the mold of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. George is a huge star who acts in a lot of movies and one day he bumps into an ordinary woman from a crowd of fans. Her name is Peppy Miller and after that bump Peppy goes to some auditions for movie extras. Before you know it she becomes a movie star on her own and George is smitten with her. I will not give much more away for this movie is so great because of it's surprises. I can tell you there is a scene stealing dog named Uggie and that the dawn of a new age of movie called "The Talkie" will change George's career and life.

"The Artist" is a mix of a number of silent film genres including comedy, melodrama and love story. I guess there is backlash for this movie because it is said to be superficial with too many tonal shifts. I disagree and loved every facet and moment of this valentine to silent film. WIith this and my earlier review of "We Bought A Zoo" why can't critics get the so called stick out of their butts? Anyway I was with this movie every step of the way. I loved the beautiful black and white photography, the music, the pitch perfect acting and the pristine period detail. I was amazed by every perfect article of clothing, every piece of furniture and the flawless recreations of all kinds of silent movies.

The director is Michel Hazanavicious who has only made a couple of french spy spoof movies and I was not prepared for this masterpiece of his. He nails everything right here and if you showed this movie to an audience and you didn't tell them it was made today I swear you could make them think this was a real silent movie from the 20's. All the things I mentioned about all the flawless recreations are due to Hazanavicious's care, heart, precision and dedication to detail.

The acting is also amazing and Jean Dujardin is an actor I had only seen once in one of those french spy spoof films. His acting is flawless and he has to run the gamut of emotions including happiness, failure, sadness and depression and does a wonderful job. The real find here is Berenice Bejo as Peppy who amazed me with her grace, beauty, comic and dramatic precision. She is also easy on the eyes and brings an effortless charm to the role, you will fall in love with her. She reminds me of Marion Davies who was a major silent film actress. Dujardin's and Bejo's facial expressions and the way they capture every emotion without speaking is amazing and the reason they will both be nominated and might even win an Oscar. There are also great performances by Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell, John Goodman and that dog who was fantastic.

I think this movie might get backlash for not really producing any deep love or any emotional connection to the story and the characters. I think that view is completely wrong and I hope it doesn't happen. This is a beautiful movie to look at with a story that got to me and made me fall in love with the movie and fall in love with the power of movies all over again. I actually went back in the theatre to see this movie twice to confirm that I loved this movie and heck if I didn't even love it more the second time!

"The Artist" is a throwback to the magic of old movies and the golden age of cinema that makes all the crap I have seen this year dissapear. It is funny to think that the upcoming Oscar telecast will go back to old school Hollywood and will be hosted by Billy Crystal. I say this because don't be surprised if "The Artist" wins Best Picture, Actor, Actress and Director at this year's Oscars.

'We Bought A Zoo'

'We Bought A Zoo' (PG) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writers: Aline Brosh McKenna and Cameron Crowe
Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Colin Ford, Elle Fanning, Angus MacFayden, Maggie Elizabeth Jones

I am stunned lately by the cold hearts of critics who just can't relax and have fun with a movie. Not every movie released in December has to be prestigious Oscar bait. There are movies that tug at your heartstrings, sometimes shamelessly, that just win you over with their charm. "We Bought A Zoo" is a return to form for writer, director Cameron Crowe and it might be corny but I bought it hook, line and sinker and I choked up a lot and loved it. Let me honor Joel Siegel here and proclaim "I Bought This Zoo!"

Part of that charm and unabashed entertainment is due to Crowe's care and heart and to a lot of charming and good performances. Matt Damon is great and very likable as Benjamin who is a widdow with a young daughter and a pre teenage boy. Ben quits his adventure writing job and is dealing with his son's dark artistic drawings and his acting out in school. Ben wants a change in his life and he looks for a new home to buy. He finds one with a lot of land but it turns out to have an old dilapidated zoo in the backyard. Half of the Zoo's staff is gone but a few are left behind looking for guidance including Kelly who is the head animal keeper.

Kelly is played by Scarlett Johansson and I haven't seen her this relaxed and glowingly beautiful since "Lost In Translation". She has an effortless grace as Kelly and she is also charming like Damon. Ben's daughter is that standard cute kid that has all these one liners but she is a winner. I didn't learn a lot about the zoo staff characters but all the actors are charming and they care about the zoo which is all I care about. Of course Ben and Kelly have a great chance to become a couple and there is an underlying sexual attraction there.

A lot of the plot is predictable but one of my rules is that a movie can still be great even if it is predictable. I know when I am being manipulated but I did tear up a few times during the movie so obviously it got to me. Cameron Crowe has got to my heart numerous times with my favorite teen movie of all time "Say Anything", "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous". I have seen "Almost Famous" about 50 times and every time I cry throughout the entire movie. Crowe knows how to get to your heart and he knows how to pull your strings but he is so great at it. A lesser talent than him could have make Zoo maudlin. Crowe's movies can make you choke up and your heart soar without you knowing it and that's why he is such a great writer and director.

"We Bought A Zoo" is not up to par with Crowe's greatest films but it is a major step up from his last "Elizabethtown". I love the acting here, the animals, Thomas Haden Church as Ben's brother and I love the film's heart and humor. Critics are lambasting it for shallow writing, characters and manipulation. Sometimes you have to go with the flow and get caught up with the story and I did here. This kind of movie is why I invented the theme of my blog. If you want to see an entertaining, charming movie that will make you laugh and maybe even cry then ignore the stuffy critics. My blog is for movie goers who don't mind having their heartstrings pulled and just want to see a good movie. This might be a guilty pleasure and people will give me hell for it but it is my guilty pleasure, maybe it will be yours.

P.S. This would be an ideal movie to take the family to and I wish the previews would promote that but there isn't a singing chipmunk in it, there is a monkey though and a lion, a tiger....

Thursday, December 22, 2011

'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' (11)

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' (11) (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writer: Steve Zaillian based on the trilogy of novels Written By Stieg Larsson
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer, Joely Richardson, Robin Wright, Steven Berkoff

In the arts there is a feeling that movies adapted from books are never as good as the books. There is also a feeling that American movies adapted from foreign movies are never as deep or great as their foreign counterparts. I think it is all foolish and I don't care. Acting carries the day in David Fincher's adaptation of the first in a trilogy of books by Stieg Larsson. I have not read the books but I have seen the Swedish original so I wasn't surprised by the story in anyway at anytime. That is the drawback I think but does that mean I didn't like the American version better or at least equally?
I do think that moviegoers that love the original will be set back by the opening credit sequence with the jazzed up Trent Reznor version of Led Zeppelin's "The Immigrant Song" and that amused me.

Well I will report to you that I like both versions equally though the acting is better in Fincher's version. Knowing the story already, even with Fincher's tweaks, I wasn't enamored by the story this time. I didn't see that much of a difference. I do love the relationship between Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander better in this version. That is due to the amazing, powerful and quietly intense performance by Rooney Mara as Lizbeth. I do love the original performance by Noomi Rapace but I was knocked over by Mara's performance. Her and Daniel Craig have great chemistry that keeps building and when Lizbeth saves him in the end I was cheering.

The Lizbeth character to me ranks up there with Ridley from "Aliens" and Clarice Starling from "The Silence of the Lambs" as three of the strongest women characters in books or movies and my three favorites. Rooney Mara has a sure handle of the role and does it justice. I never thought the Mikeal character was that interesting, Lisbeth makes him a better man. Daniel Craig does a very good job but Mara's give and take with Craig make the characters more special. I don't need to explain the plot to most of you and Fincher makes little changes but not enough that I noticed them that much. I think I love the Lisbeth character better than the story. The story is just pretty much your average serial killer type story.

Rooney Mara gives a breakout performance and like Elizabeth Olsen in "Martha Marcy May Marlene" she will become one of our best actresses. She reigns in the performance and is always quietly intense and gives her the power she should possess. She might seem an abused woman who can't do anything about it but we know she can kick major ass. Mara gave a small memorable performance in "The Social Network" and now seeing her in this movie I am extremely impressed by her range. In the original Swedish movies I really liked the first movie but didn't care for the next two. I think there is a better chance that if there are more American movies that they have better potential because of Rooney Mara and her chemistry with Daniel Craig.

David Fincher is one of my favorite directors and I was wondering why he would make this retread but I am glad he did. The filmmaking is better in this version with the beautiful cinematography and subtly beautiful score by Trent Reznor. Fincher made what I think is the definitive serial killer movie in "Zodiac" which might be my favorite movie in the last 11 years. Fincher has added style to this movie but despite what critics say he gives it an extra special push and depth. A lesser director might have turned this into a cheap serial killer movie rip off of the original movie.

There is another outstanding performance here by Stellan Skarsgard (Breaking the Waves). He plays a nefarious and evil man but he plays the character with respect. He is subtle and finds a way to crawl under your skin and during the movie you can never see him tipping his hand and he is effective. David Fincher's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is not better than the original movie but some things are better. There is better acting, more chemistry between Lizbeth and Mikael and the movie looks better and draws you in with it's artistry and subtle intensity.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol'

'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol' (PG-13) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writers: Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec based on television series by
Bruce Geller
Director: Brad Bird
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Michael Nyqvist, Anil Kapoor, Josh Holloway, Tom Wilkinson, Ving Rhames

Lately with the crappy vanity projects like "Sherlock Holmes" and "New Year's Eve" being lazy and overly complicated I thank the heavens for "Mission Impossible". Please don't try to impress me with being clever and throwing all this junk at me. "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" has a simple plot, exciting action scenes and a show stopping scene on Dubai's tallest building. The action scenes are clean without slow motion goofiness like the "Sherlock Holmes" movie. Tom Cruise also knows now what kind of Blockbusters to make unlike all the movie stars in "New Year's Eve".

"Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" is a very fun time at the movies with a plot that might be old hat but is easy to follow. Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt who now has a new team of partners. They are involved in a bombing at the Kremlin and are being framed for it. The bombing involves a terrorist named Hendricks who has codes that can trigger nuclear bombs so Russia can destroy the World. Ethan and his team are joined by a new member, an analyst played by Jeremy Renner. There are a lot of cat and mouse games with the terrorist to wrestle the codes away from him and all these chases are cleanly directed without the clutter of most of the latest Hollywood Blockbusters.

The supporting cast working with Tom Cruise is a very attractive group including Simon Pegg, the beautiful Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner is a good addition half way through as the mysterious analyst. Pegg is very good comic relief and Patton is beautiful and engaging. Also Renner would be a good substitute if it is true he could take over for Cruise in later installments. There is also a nice turn by Anil Kapoor from "Slumdog Millionaire" as an Indian businessman who has information on the codes. The villain is played by Michael Nyqvist from the Swedish version of "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and he is not a totally memorable bad guy but his plan is evil enough.

I liked the foot and car chases but the moment that is on it's own worth the price of admission is the scaling up, down and sideways on the tallest building in the World. Cruise does his own stunts and you can tell but man am I surprised he didn't kill himself. Having vertigo I am glad I didn't see this in IMAX even though I bet it is awesome in that format. I just think seeing it in Imax would have made me pee in my pants. I know you want the scene as realistic as possible but at a certain point Mr. Cruise should use a stunt double for his own safety. I appreciate his sacrifice and I love the direction of the scene by Brad Bird. It is a breathtaking and incredible action set piece. Bird has only directed animation like "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille" but I was impressed by his life action direction.

"Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" is definitely better than the last two Mission films which I can't remember anything about. It is also one of the best action movies in awhile even though this year has been weak in that aspect. I also think that the James Bond movies better step it up based on the last one because this movie trumps it. It is a great time at the movies, Cruise is back after a little slump and it is a great popcorn movie. It doesn't have a lot of depth but compared to the latest over stuffed action thrillers these past years it delivers the goods in a fast paced, smart and enjoyable way.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

'New Year's Eve'

'New Year's Day' (PG-13) (1 1/2 STARS)

Writer: Katherine Fugate
Director: Garry Marshall

"New Year's Eve" is a holiday, romantic comedy on the heels of the same filmmaker's "Valentine's Day". I would like to first congratulate the filmmakers on something before I tear them up for what I call "New Year's Evil". "The same writer and director made "Valentine's Day" and that movie is "The Godfather" compared to "New Year's Evil", I mean Eve.

Now I can't even write a full review of this pathetic comedy so I will make some bullet points because this movie doesn't deserve my time on a review, I have to go watch Pro Wrestling now anyway which is actually smarter and more artistic than "New Year's Eve".

Oh and Pro Wrestling has better acting! "Ouch!"

1.) Congratulations to Garry Marshall, you have gotten the worst performance I have seen Robert Deniro ever give on screen.

2.) Deniro plays an elderly man who I guess is dying from cancer but I have never seen a more hokey, false and exploitative depiction of a man dying from cancer. Going through a death in the family due to cancer in real life recently this subplot made me sick to my stomach plus Deniro's direction he was given is pathetic.

Now let's have some fun:

3.) I know the filmmakers are trying to make Michelle Pfeiffer look like a timid, plain Jane but did you have to make her look mentally challenged? I have never seen a worse use of Michelle Pfeiffer ever on screen, even "Grease 2".

4.) There is zero chemistry between Pfeiffer and Zak Efron in one of many half assed written subplots.

5.) Ashton Kutcher and Lea Michelle have zero chemistry but at least one of only say 3 good moments in this movie belong to Lea Michelle singing "Auld Lang Syne". Lea Michelle's voice is stronger than Celine Dion's and equal to Barbra Streisand and she has charisma but being paired with the one note smirking Kutcher is career suicide.

6.) Congratulations to Katherine Heigl, you are annoying, obnoxious, over acting and nails scratching on a chalkboard bad again.

7.) Jon Bon Jovi has beautiful blue eyes but his acting is stiffer than a board. You are a great rock star so continue singing only or get charisma and acting lessons.

8.) Hilary Swank has won two Oscars but what a shallow, dumb and worthless role she was given here, the person in charge of the big New Year's Ball dropping. What an insult to an award winning actress and the make up artist who did up Swank, Heigl, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lea Michelle and Michelle Pfeiffer should be blacklisted from the make up artist's association if there is one. I have a little advice, less make up please.

9.) I guess this movie was filmed in New York with the sponsorship of Nivea but I swear it was really filmed in Canada. I have seen many New Year's Eve celebrations and ball droppings in New York on television and the celebration here looks cheesy and not anywhere close to the real thing.

10.) I used to love Sarah Jessica Parker but now I can't stand her and this movie explains why.

Besides Lea Michelle there are a few things I liked here keeping this from getting my famous Zero star review:

There are so many sappy, amateurishly written and horrible love stories in this movie but the only touching and real moment comes at the end with Halle Berry. She plays a nurse who after her shift gets dressed up in a killer dress and goes to a television to have a beautiful talk via satellite with her husband who is stationed in Iraq.

I also loved a subplot with Seth Myers and Jessica Biel and yes Seth Meyers gives the best performance in this movie! They play a couple whose wife is preganant and they are battling another couple to have the first New Year's baby. Myers is really funny, the writing is not half bad and I really think Jessica Biel is the most under rated actress today with one of the best bodies in Hollywood and here she is pregnant. Also Sofia Vergara steals this movie away from everyone, she is very funny, charming and sexy! Oh and finally Garry Marshall has now joined Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner in the old men who should never direct a movie again club.

P.S. I feel I am being too rough and hateful here but really I am sick and tired of these false, horrible romantic comedies and I am choking on them. Can someone please make a great romantic comedy soon!

Friday, December 16, 2011

'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'

'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' (R) (3 STARS)

Writers: Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan based on novel by John LeCarre
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik

When I was a tennager I wanted to be a spy, a secret service agent or a C.I.A. Operative so badly. I thought it would be super fascinating, exciting and dangerous and I could save lives and kill bad guys. I imagine most spy work is how it is portrayed in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" the new cold, brainy and intriguing spy thriller adaptation of one of my favorite writers John LeCarre. The movie is very slow and complicated and very realistic for I have heard a lot of spy work is not car chases, guns and killing bad guys. I assume it has to deal with long converastions and readings of long, thick documents.

There is a lot of talk and little action in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and that is the way it is supposed to be. It captures perfectly the smoky rooms filled with older spies who have seen it all talking about exotic locales. In an early scene we are in one of these rooms as we see a master, veteran spy named George Smiley. He is a reserved man with glasses who is about to retire. Thoiugh there is some unfinished work to be done for it is discovered that there is a mole in the British intelligence working for Russia. Most of this movie will be a lot of talk, some twists and spy machinations.

This is a very slow moving film and it is very cold but it is fun to see such a wonderful cast of British actors who are some of our best. It is fun to follow the story that is like a maze and sometimes you can't follow it and you get confused but isn't that what you should expect? I just enjoyed watching the change of pace, studied performance of Gary Oldman as George Smiley. I also love watching John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Mark Strong and Colin Firth go to town with charasmatic character performances. Gary Oldman is so reserved and subtle that he is almost in danger of being blown over. That is why I loved his performance because I am so used to seeing him go nuts and playing evil guys. I also particularly love Mark Strong here and he is becoming one of my favorites and Toby Jones does sniveling guys better than anyone.

This is not a movie that you will fall in love with or embrace. I wish it had more humor and a little more of a quick pace. Sometimes I did love how slow it was so I could catch up with it. It is a very smart movie just like LeCarre's books were. I didn't read this particular work but I used to read a lot of his books and they are filled with a lot of background, talk and description. This movie is faithful to the book and I am amazed at how much of the long book they fit in two hours. I just wish this was a movie in two parts or a mini series so it could cover more. Though I was glad this movie was made and it makes me want to do what all good movies make me want to do, see it again.

'Sherlock Holmes:A Game of Shadows'

'Sherlock Holmes:A Game of Shadows' (PG-13) (2 STARS)

Writers: Michele and Kieran Mulroney
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Rachel McAdams, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly

One of my first reviews on this blog was the original Sherlock Holmes movie and here I still am writing a review of it's sequel much later. In my review of the original I might have under rated the movie. I gave it a rental reccomendation because I loved the interplay between Robert Downey and Jude Law but thought the movie was too long, loud and lackluster. Now with "Sherlock Holmes:A Game of Shadows" I don't even have the the funny Downey/Law dynamic. This is a very long and boring movie and it does nothing to build on the Holmes character.

To me the original movie's story was thin, weak and too convoluted with a villain that hardly showed up. Though Robert Downey was great and funny as Holmes as was Jude Law as Watson. They were much better than the movie and Guy Ritchie's obnoxious direction. I got really tired of the slow motion, overly cut fighting scenes and explosions. Now with the sequel we have a better story but I now got bored with Downey and Law who both seemed cut off from each other. I laughed at their dialogue in the original but never cracked a smile during this pointless sequel.

The sequel has a story that has more depth than the original's plot but is again too convoluted. I also was very dissapointed in the villain here Professor Moriarty who is not as evil as the Moriarty from the older Holmes serials. Jared Harris who plays Moriarty has been more interesting and more evil in other things like TV's "Fringe". That is the fault of the screenplay which also gives us lame "Pink Panther" rip off disguises for Downey including a lame drag costume. This stuff was done much better in movies like "Victor/Victoria". There is also a thankless role for the wonderful Noomi Rapace (Girl With the Dragon Tatoo)who makes no impression here.

"Sherlock Holmes:Game of Shadows" has lost it's franchise's personality and all that is left is it's weak story, villain and it's overkill of slow motion and explosions. I know one thing, I will not review or even think about seeing a third Holmes movie. Two strikes and you are out in my opinion when it comes to movies.

P.S. Much better movies like this are another Holmes movie from the 70's "The 7% Per Cent Solution" and I like the original Sherlock Holmes movie much better.

Friday, December 2, 2011


'Shame' (NC-17) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writers: Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen
Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, Nicole Beharie, James Badge Dale

"Shame" is a thoughtful and intense drama about sexual addiction and I have never seen a movie like this on the subject matter. I have never seen this much truth, frankness and maturity in a movie about sex. It is also a pleasure to see a major actor and future movie star grow before our eyes. Co-writer and director Steve McQueen along with Abi Morgan have made a smart, emotionally deep and haunting character study. I keep thinking back to movies like 1972's "Last Tango in Paris" (which I dislike). "Shame" is more current but also way more thoughtful and powerful than that over rated so called classic.

"Shame" deals with the sexual addiction of Brandon who is played by the red hot Michael Fassbender. Brandon's life is full of picking up women and having meaningless sex with them. He always has computer porn at the ready on his laptop computer. One day his sister Sissy comes in to town and crashes at Brandon's apartment. They seem estranged and Sissy seems emotionally fragile and Brandon feels she is a distraction to his life but really to his addiction. Sex is always on the mind of Brandon and he seems to be incapable of having a deep relationship with a woman.

"Shame" could have gone wrong in so many ways but I was touched and happy that Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender treat this story with respect and maturity. There is not one false scene and no unintentional laughs like many movies that deal with this subject have. The acting is all wonderful and again the breathtaking Carey Mulligan adds to her power as an actress as Sissy. The movie is very dark and slow moving but rewarding and intriguing. I love the musical score and the pitch perfect cinematography. Though what makes this movie special is the smart writing and the amazing and vulnerable performance by Michael Fassbender.

Michael Fassbender will easily become the new star coming out of Hollywood but with "Shame" he proves he is already an award ready actor. Fassbender is subtle, brilliant and in the emotional scenes we see his heart breaking. He also shows the emptiness in Brandon's soul. His scenes with Carey Mulliagan are perfection and they work wonderfully off each other, we really feel they are brother and sister. Fassbender is extremely good looking but he is also a smart actor that shows us just enough vulnerability mixed with sex appeal. This is not a sexy movie and it shouldn't be and that is why it is powerful. I also think the movie ends on a perfect note. This is an amazing character study and writers Abi Morgan and McQueen are very smart and they never cheapen the material.

Michael Fassbender started getting noticed with performances like the one he gave in "Inglorious Basterds", "300" and "X Men:First Class". What really made Fassbender stand out is another amazing character study, the 2009 movie "Fish Tank". If you haven't seen that drama which is one of the best independent films of the last decade check it out. Another amazing performance Fassbender gave was in director McQueen's own "Hunger" based on Bobby Sands. Fassbender lost a lot of weight for that movie and his performance is completely powerful. Watch both "Fish Tank" and "Hunger" if you like Fassbender because with those movies and "Shame" you will see why he will become an amazing actor and star. He is wonderful in "Shame" and I wouldn't be surprised if you hear his name mentioned at awards time. Also writer, director Steve McQueen has a lot of talent. His movie "Hunger" was too dark and tough for me to watch but now with "Shame" I believe he has the goods.

The movie has the dreaded NC-17 rating that kills box office appeal but this is not a movie that screams blockbuster anyway. The games that the Motion Picture Ratings Board plays with this rating disturbs me and it is the dumbest things in Hollywood. I always find it weird that the Ratings Board takes it easy on violence but is skittish on sex. I always laugh at and think that Hollywood has no problems with torturing and decapitating women (Yes "Saw" movies I am looking at you) but having sex with women is just not right and has to be more strictly rated. It is not like "Shame" is wall to wall sex and pornographic acts. Also I think movie goers will be too caught up in the story and Fassbender's performance to care. "Shame" is an example of how a NC-17 rated movie can be a classy and great thing.

"Shame" is a heatbreaking and haunting movie and it got to me more than I expected. There are wonderful scenes of emotion, acting and there is a complete understanding of it's subject matter. An example of an amazing couple of scenes starts with a very funny and brilliant line of dialogue that if you don't pay attention you will miss it. It leads to Brandon asking a beautiful co worker to dinner. The woman is sweetly played by Nicole Beharie and it is s captivating dinner scene. This might be the first woman in a long time that Brandon can connect to but for more than sex. It ends with a sad and powerful scene that emotionally railroaded me. If you love excellent acting and thoughtful character studies "Shame" is one of the best movies of 2011.