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Friday, January 27, 2012

One for the Money - D

Rated PG-13, 106 minutes

I will say I probably haven't given Katherine Heigl a fair shake, especially after she walked out on her hit TV show "Grey's Anatomy" (and she now wants to return) and started showing diva-like behavior. I will attempt to treat her better, but it doesn't help when she keeps making crap formulaic romantic comedies like "One for the Money," which really seems like a reworked version of 2010's "Bounty Hunter" with Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston, itself a terrible movie (also, the film wasn't screened for critics, never a good sign). Recently divorced and desperate for a job following a string of misfortunes, 30-year-old Stephanie Plum (Heigl) goes to work at her cousin's bail-bond business, and begins investigating her first case. Stephanie proves to be a resourceful employee with a skill for ferreting out the truth however her first case is that of a Trenton, N.J., cop (Jason O'Mara) who broke her heart in high school and now stands accused of murder. One word to describe "One for the Money": awful. Based on Janet Evanovich's 1994 novel of the same, "One for the Money" is as bad as it looks, which means it could turn a profit based on Heigl's name alone. Part murder mystery and part romantic comedy, not a bit of it's original, funny or engaging, but "One for the Money" appears to have lost most of it's bite in post-production, which is unfortunate as the material, unlike many of the other things Heigl has done, had some potential; and for what it's worth, Heigl is less annoying than usual. The only memorable bits are those too brief-ones by scene-stealers Sherri Shepherd ("The View" co-host) as a funny hooker, and veteran performer Debbie Reynolds as Heigl's wise-cracking grandma. If one is truly for the money, do not waste it on this one.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Albert Nobbs - B

Rated R, 113 minutes

In 19th-century Ireland, painfully shy butler Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) hides an incredible secret: He is really a she. Terrified that someone will discover her identity, Albert keeps a very low profile, until the arrival of Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) who shares some qualities with Albert. Hubert is also secretly a woman and has managed to find a partner who helps her maintain her masquerade. Hoping to find a similar arrangement, Albert begins wooing a hotel maid (Mia Wasikowska). "Albert Nobbs" is a low-budget, well-acted period drama and labor of love from leading lady (or man?) Close, who spent years trying to get it made. Involving yet pensive, "Nobbs" isn't the uplifting, feel-good film its trailers make it out to be, but its emotionally rich performances will keep you engaged. Close gives a stoic, mannered performance as Nobbs that quietly centers the film, though the film's more memorable turn comes from McTeer (the film's best scene is Hubert's somewhat shocking "reveal" to Albert), a superb British character actress. Both Close and McTeer, who are deservingly nominated for Academy Awards for the film, make "Albert Nobbs" worth seeing.

The Grey - B-

Rated R, 117 minutes

"The Grey" is a fairly conventional, but entertaining and tense action thriller led by a prolific, superb actor in Liam Neeson, who has made hits out of wintery movies like "Taken" and "Unknown." Another gruff but textured performance from him carries a film that nearly veers off too much in the final act. Neeson leads an unruly group of oil-rig roughnecks when their plane crashes into the remote Alaskan wilderness. Battling mortal injuries and merciless weather, the survivors have only a few days to escape the icy elements – and a vicious pack of rogue wolves on the hunt – before their time runs out. Neeson is reunited with his "A-Team" director Joe Carnahan that plays to Neeson's strengths, chiefly his rough, everyman quality. On that note, "The Grey" works best as a survival piece than horror film, and the first half of the film, featuring a stunning plane crash and the introduction of the nasty canines, is better than the overlong second half, which veers off into some depressing monologues about faith and family. However, the frigid Canadian scenery is breathtakingly photographed and is just as essential to the plot as the wolves. Character actors Dallas Roberts and Dermot Mulroney help balance out the movie in supporting roles, but really this is Neeson's movie, and he carries it on his back just fine. For that reason "The Grey" is worth a look, and you'll want to stay over to the end of the credits for something a little extra.

Man on a Ledge - C-

Rated PG-13, 102 minutes

An ex-cop and now wanted fugitive (Sam Worthington) stands on the ledge of a high-rise building while a hard-living New York Police Department negotiator (Elizabeth Banks) tries to talk him down. The longer they are on the ledge, the more she realizes that he might have an ulterior motive. "Man on a Ledge" is a mildly entertaining but wildly implausible action thriller with a premise so contrived you'll have a hard time buying into it from the start. And even after key plot points are revealed, will you really care? Likely not. The talented, A-list cast provides a few good moments; Worthington is a nice action hero, and as the villain Ed Harris chews on scenery like no one's business, but the rest, including Banks, Edward Burns (typecast as yet another cop), Jamie Bell and Anthony Mackie, are given little to do. Worst of all, Emmy winner Kyra Sedgewick ("The Closer") is wasted in a small, unnecessary role that misuses her talents and contributes nothing to the plot. In spite of a few good moments, as a whole "Man on a Ledge" is so underwhelming and unsatisfying you'll likely figure it out before the predictable climax. Wait for the DVD.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oscar Noms Recap

The nominations for the 84th Academy Awards were announced this morning, and there were more surprises than usual, with some categories all over the place. "Hugo" led the pack with 11 nominations, followed by "The Descendants" and "The Artist" in capturing some of the major categories.

First, here is the complete list of nominations:

Given that 2011 was a lackluster year, the nominations seemed, as my friend Irma put it, "all over the place," and that was true. Here is a brief breakdown of some of the major categories.

Best Picture:
There were 9 total nominees, a mild surprise in such a down year. Not a surprise for "The Help," "The Artist," "Hugo" and "The Descendants." Most surprising was the inclusion of "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," given that it had been overlooked all awards season; a pleasant surprise and nice to see it there. Even more surprising was the exclusion of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," a better film than "Moneyball," "Midnight in Paris" and "The Tree of Life," all included here.

Best Actor:
Demian Bichir for "A Better Life" and especially Gary Oldman for "Tinker Tailor Solider Spy" were the biggest surprises. Bichir was less of a surprise given his SAG nomination, but Oldman is the dark horse here, given he hasn't been on the awards radar at all, but it's a nice one to finally see him recognized. I had expected DiCaprio, who seemed a lock in the category, or Michael Fassbender for "Shame."

Best Actress:
Rooney Mara was the surprise here but a good one for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Most had expected Tilda Swinton for "We Need to Talk About Kevin," which apparently not many had seen.

Best Supporting Actress:
A strong category this year, all my predictions held true. Would've been nice to see Shailene Woodley for "The Descendants" but it didn't happen.

Best Supporting Actor:
No Albert Brooks for "Drive," one of the year's biggest performances as the fork-wielding villain. That went to Nick Nolte for "Warrior," not a huge surprise given his SAG nomination and for Max Von Snydow for "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," which I had correctly predicted.

Best Director:
What, no love for Spielberg? Sure, he's nominated as producer for "War Horse," but he was overlooked for Best Director AND Best Animated Film (a bigger surprise than this one). Also, no David Fincher for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

As mentioned, probably the biggest snub was the exclusion of Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tin Tin" from the Best Animated Film category, instead two little-known, little-seen films in "A Cat in Paris" and "Chico and Rita."

And only 2 songs in the Best Song category? I don't think that's been done before. At least it's the funny "Man or Muppet" song from "The Muppets" and NOT Madonna.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Twin Towers Movie Cameos

The following videos only heighten my fascination with 9/11 and the movies. The Twin Towers appeared in about 700 movies, and the two video clips show some of these. A fitting tribute. You can easily spot them in most of the clips, but a handful may require a closer viewing. NOTE: Neither of these videos show the destruction of the towers, only their movie "cameos."

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - B+

Rated PG-13, 129 minutes

I admit was a little skeptical when seeing the trailers for the new drama "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close." Though fictional, it is a film that has 9/11 as the backdrop, which has the ability to go wrong in so many ways. After seeing it, my fears were allayed; 9/11 is handled well though incredibly emotional and heartbreaking to view. Directed by Stephen Daldry ("The Hours"), based on the best-selling novel of the same name and featuring an A-list cast including Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max Von Snydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman and newcomer Thomas Horn, it's about a bright young boy named Oskar (Horn) who loses his dad (Hanks) in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Feeling disconnected from the world at large, Oskar uncovers some mysterious messages from his late Dad that help him deal with his grief and move on from the tragedy. Slow moving, quite heavy but superbly acted, particularly by Horn (in his feature film debut) as the distraught boy, along with Hanks and Bullock as his parents, it's both heartfelt and heartbreaking; 9/11 is handled with care but it still may be difficult to watch for some, especially those who lost someone in the tragedy. Take plenty of tissues, especially for the emotionally affecting finale. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is definitely worth a look and one of the better but overlooked films this awards season.

Haywire - B

Rated R, 93 minutes

"Haywire" is the new spy action thriller from Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh. Intense and often satisfying, Soderbergh's new film features one of the first breakout performances of 2012 in newcomer Gina Carano, a professional mixed martial arts fighter-turned-actress. Soderbergh took a huge risk in giving Carano, an untested performer with limited film experience, the lead role in a serious spy thriller, but even with her flaws the film still works to her advantage. Carano is Mallory, a freelance covert operative who is double crossed while on assignment in Barcelona and must use her skills to exact revenge on those who set her up. Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum and Antonio Banderas are among those involved in her manhunt. Carano's limited range as an actress is actually an asset; her minimalist performance gives way to the movie's more entertaining scenes and something she does far better, which is kick some butt, reminding of a young Mariska Hartigay ("Law & Order: SVU") with martial arts skills. As a spy thriller, "Haywire" lacks depth even under Soderbergh's assured hand, but as a revenge flick it works perfectly which is why it's worth seeing. Memorable scene: Carano's up close and personal fight with Fassbender in a small hotel room that you won't easily forget.

Underworld: Awakening - D

Rated R, 88 minutes

The real question about the unsatisfying new action film "Underworld: Awakening" is how many? How many of these could they possibly make without covering the same territory as the others in this series? This has to be, by and large, one of the most unnecessary movie series (along with the "Resident Evil" films). The same basic plot, vampires versus werewolves (or lycans as they're called here) with OK special effects and a hot vampire in Kate Beckinsale (who wasn't in the third one but back for this one). This time the humans have started to figure out what's going on in the vampire-werewolf battle and a hot human hybrid mixture escapes with the key to ending the years long battle and it's up to Selene (Beckinsale) to track her down. Beckinsale, whose role here can be attributed to the fact her husband Len Wiseman is one of the film's producers, is the usual eye candy admidst a formulaic plot and some mediocre special effects and really the one thing worth seeing about the film. Dreary, overdone and bloody, this "Underworld" is a schlocky exercise in 3-D
filmmaking primarily for horror film enthusisasts who can't get enough of the vampire-werewolf battle, as if the "Twilight" series hadn't already made it irrelevant. Not worth it except for seeing the admittedly smokin' hot Beckinsale in a tight leather suit.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Red Tails - B-

Rated PG-13, 121 minutes

"Red Tails" is the new action drama about Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of African-American military combat airman in World War II. Produced and self-financed by George Lucas, the fictional story inspired by true events is an entertaining, somewhat earnest throwback to the old school war movies that harbor some of those films flaws. Featuring Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard and a large group of mostly unknowns (rappers Ne-Yo and Method Man are the most familiar faces) playing the airmen, here's the bad news first: the story is formulaic, the dialogue laughably corny ("Die you foolish Americans!" is one example) and the characters one-dimensional. The good news: unsurprisingly, the thrilling, well-executed aerial battle scenes are the most memorable part of the movie and serve as the real reason to see "Red Tails" (the tails of the airmen's planes were painted red, thus the name) and honor these real-life heroes. "The Tuskegee Airmen," a 1995 HBO film also featuring Gooding is superior, but "Red Tails" is still a decent effort.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Carnage - C

Rated R, 79 minutes

 "Carnage" is the stagey, unlikable dark comedy from Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski and starring Jodie Foster, John C. O'Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christophe Waltz. The four play parents of two kids who got in a scuffle at school and one gets seriously hurt. The four meet to discuss the incident and soon their true colors come out as verbal warfare erupts, with none unable to escape the carnage. Based on a French play, Polanski seems an unlikely fit for the material, which seemingly worked better on stage than it does here, providing an awkward, uneven blend of comedy and drama (Winslet throwing up is the most memorable). All four actors perform well (the ladies are nominated for a Golden Globe), but it's largely a contrived and unsatisfying effort, given that most people wouldn't allow themselves to spend so much time with people they truly dislike.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Iron Lady - C+

Rated PG-13, 105 minutes

"The Iron Lady" is an unrevealing, uneven biography of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and starring the remarkable veteran actress Meryl Streep. Streep, in another flawless and Oscar-worthy performance as Thatcher, is the best thing about the unconventional, flawed bio pic, which alternates between an older, tottery Thatcher and her remembering better times and her dead husband (Jim Broadbent). "Iron Lady" would've worked better as a straightforward biography, as the present day scenes drag down the story and don't provide much insight into Thatcher's controversial policies; still, Streep is magnificant, particularly in the flashbacks in the heyday of the PM. Considering Streep's astonishing performance, "The Iron Lady" is a disappointment, which could hurt her Oscar chances, but much like Thatcher herself, I wouldn't count her out, especially come Oscar night.

Joyful Noise - C-

Rated PG-13, 118 minutes

I will admit upfront that I'm not a huge fan of movie musicals. On top of that, add a January release date and you may smell something icky in the air, which is how I felt about seeing the new movie musical, "Joyful Noise." Given my low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised and entertained by the film that stars Queen Latifah and country music star Dolly Parton. The story, wholesome themes and characters are formulaic and cliched, at best, but the two leads make for a charming pair. And of course, the music and soundtrack, clearly the best thing about the film, is a winner. "Joyful Noise" goes on far too long with too many unnecessary subplots, but don't deny yourself that foot tap during the musical numbers. Also, watch for a cameo from Kris Kristofferson (yes, you read that right) that manages to be both bizarre and corny. Buy the soundtrack and skip the movie.

Contraband - C

Rated R, 110 minutes

For a film about having the goods, the new action thriller "Contraband" lacks some goods, namely emotional punch and bravado. Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale headline the cast in this remake of a 2009 Icelandic film, whose star directs this version. Wahlberg is Chris Farraday, a former criminal who made many "runs" of illegal goods back in the day. He has gone legit, but he must settle a debt with a slimeball (Giovanni Ribisi) so does what he knows best, make a run to Panama for some goods. Beckinsale is his wife and young character actor Ben Foster is a close friend in over his head. The film starts out well and is peppered with some decent action set pieces, but becomes too far fetched by the time it reaches its fast-paced finale. Foster and Ribisi are becoming typecast playing these types of lowlifes, but they do it well, in contrast to the bland likeness of Wahlberg and Beckinsale. This has been done before, and better (Wahlberg's "The Departed" comes to mind), so you may be better off waiting for the DVD.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Brief Reviews of Recent Films

The Devil Inside - D-
Rated R, 80 minutes
This horror film is another in the vein of "Paranormal Activity": lost footage, supposedly a true, disturbing story with a shocking ending. This exorcism-based, super low-budget (shot for less than $1 million), no-name cast starrer is also super-jumpy, boring and utterly ridiculous. There are a handful of jumpy moments, especially near the end, and what starts out as a decent premise goes way over the top, even for something like this. Unsatisfying, at best. First major release of 2012 and already one of the worst of the year.

Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol- B+
Rated PG-13, 133 minutes
Tom Cruise and company are back in the fourth installment of the action series, which appears shaky on the surface given the third installment didn't do too well. But "Mission: Impossible: Ghose Protocol" surprises, and in a big way. Fast-paced, loads of stunning action set pieces (the one with Cruise hanging on the side of the building is the most memorable in years) there isn't a dull moment to be had. I still don't like Cruise, but this is a winner.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - A-
Rated R, 157 minutes
One of the year's best, this is the Americanized version of the Stieg Larsson best seller, and what a thrilling ride it is, starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara and directed by David Fincher. With stunning visuals and an intensity that matches the 2008 Swedish version, the subject matter isn't for everyone, not to mention the lengthy running time. But definitely worth a look for fans of the novel.

War Horse - A-
Rated PG-13, 140 minutes
Another great movie from one of the master's of cinema, Steven Spielberg. The story, based on a British play, involves a horse and his owner, a teenage boy, as they are both affected by World War I. This is old-school movie making at it's best, as the masterful direction by Spielberg channels John Ford and great performances from mostly an unknown cast. And take note, take plenty of tissues for the ending.

We Bought A Zoo - B
Rated PG, 123 minutes
"We Bought A Zoo" is a remarkable true story of a widower (played by Matt Damon) who uproots his family to buy and manage a run-down zoo. Directed by "Jerry Maguire's" Cameron Crowe, in his first film in several years, the film is both a sentimental and heartbreaking look and new beginnings. Crowe goes a little soft in the overlong movie, but Damon's charming performance carries the film well. And the animals are fun to watch too.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - C
Rated PG-13, 128 minutes
"A Game of Shadows" is the sequel to the 2009 blockbuster starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as sleuth's Holmes and Watson, respectively. The first one, while not a classic, had some charming moments, but this stale effort is more of the same stuff, and grows tiresome until the finale, which is a decent action set piece. Wait for the DVD.

The Adventures of Tintin - B
Rated PG, 101 minutes
This is the other Steven Spielberg film, and it's an animated effort based on some 1930's Belgian comics. Colorful and fun, the animation and stop motion capture are astonishing, though you may be a bit worn out by the end. Busy, busy story and suitable for the family and the best animated film of 2011.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy - B
Rated R,  127 minutes
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy" is a decent spy thriller starring one of today's best actors, Gary Oldman, in a strong but minimalist turn as sleuth George Smiley, a part made famous by another great actor, Alec Guinness (otherwise known as Obi Won in "Star Wars") in the 1979 TV miniseries. The plot is thick, maybe too thick for some, and you have to stay on step with Smiley and company. Nice supporting turn from recent Oscar winner Colin Firth.

My Top 10 List for 2011

Below is my top 10 favorite movie list for 2012 (in order):

1. The Descendants       
2. War Horse    
3. The Help       
4. Bridesmaids  
5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo          
6. 50/50
7. Melancholia   
8. Hanna          
9. The Artist 
10. Win Win