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In this column we will feature thumbnail reviews by Wayne Case, a veteran of Hollywood's Big Machine who currently works for an independent film company in Los Angeles. Wayne ranks the films on a scale of 1 (bad) to 10 (good). The following are Wayne’s rankings of films for 2009.


(500) DAYS OF SUMMER Rated: 9
Sweet. Charming. Clever. Original. Wonderful!

ADAM Rated: 8 1/2
ADAM is the story of a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome (a type of autism) and his relationship with a young woman who is a new resident in the New York City building where he lives.
Both Hugh Dancy (EVENING - ‘07) & Rose Byrne (F/X Television’s DAMAGES 2007 - 09 so far) are charming, appealing, attractive and accomplished. Hugh Dancy is on my short list for an Oscar nomination as best actor which he surely deserves.

Since ADAM is about something other than explosions and noise, theatre business has been very mild. I urge you to seek it out on DVD when it becomes available.

This is the first film directed by writer/director Max Mayer. Hopefully his obvious talent will be on display again quickly.

AN EDUCATION Rated: 9

This one caught me by surprise. I was expecting another British/Mike Leigh type drab drama (VERA DRAKE - ‘04) or drab comedy (HAPPY-GO-LUCKY -‘08).
Although AN EDUCATION is in fact a British production, it is anything but drab. Thank the director, Lone Scherfig (WILBUR WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF -‘02) who is Copenhagen born and clearly gifted. She set the tone immediately and it grabbed me from the first frame. Although the plot is based on a very serious issue, high school girl falls for a man almost twice her age. While the situation is treated seriously, the telling of the tale is cheeky, riveting, realistic and ultimately satisfying.

Set in sixties London, AN EDUCATION was a standout at Sundance 2009 and I expect it to become a strong contender in all major categories for the 2009 Oscar and all other year end award sweepstakes.

AVATAR Rated: 8 1/2
AVATAR is a must see for anybody that likes movies. Writer/director James (TITANIC) Cameron has done it again and is likely to have the top two biggest worldwide grossing films listed on his resume. It’s easy to see where every penny of AVATAR’s huge budget went and it turns out to have been a very wise investment.
I liked all the cast/performances and am especially partial to Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver.

Expect deserved Oscar hardware in several technical categories.

BRIDE WARS Rated: 3 1/2
This is a miserable alleged comedy that is sure find its way onto my Worsts of 2009 list. I enjoyed the work of director Gary Winick on his earlier efforts, TADPOLE (2002) and 13 GOING ON 30 (2004) but but found this one sloppy, disjointed, mean-spirited and a total waste of time. I’ve never been a fan of Kate Hudson (ALMOST FAMOUS - 2000, HOW TO LOSE A GUY - ‘03) but continue to be fascinated by her ability to pick poor script after poor script to grace as an actress. This time she even adds a producer credit to her resume. On the other hand, I generally love her co-star Anne Hathaway (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN - ‘05, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA - ‘06, PASSENGERS - ‘08) but thought she was just awful as a terrible character here.

COUPLES RETREAT Rated: 4 1/2
While the premise is hardly new, the potential for a good film is still very much present here. COUPLES RETREAT misses the mark by a mile. I fully realize that I’m harder to please than most audiences for this type project but there’s no excuse for the sloppy writing in full flower here. Further, serious editing is desperately needed since there is
way too much repetition that makes the same points over and over. Tedium abounds.
Casting is good and the actors are all appealing and/or attractive. However, as written, almost all the characters as portrayed/writtten are actually jerks down deep, at least some of the time. They all come off as schizophrenic and none has any projected arc. Ultimately, I ended up disliking the entire group.

I wouldn’t want to keep anybody away that saw and liked the trailer. Chances are they those would be fully entertained. As for me, I wish I could get back the 113 long minutes I spent in the company of COUPLES RETREAT.

DUPLICITY Rated: 8
The two reasons to see DUPLICITY are movie stars Julia Roberts & Clive Owen. They are enough. Both are at the top of their game and are a delight to observe. This confirms that their chemistry in CLOSER (2004) was no fluke. I hope they work together again, soon.

This is the second feature film that well respected/successful screenwriter Tony Gilroy has directed. He wrote both scripts that he directed, and as with his first, MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007), DUPLICITY is set in the world of mega corporations where corruption & manipulation abound. I urge him to fish in another stream next time.

Problem: I found the DUPLICITY plot impossible to follow. Once I realized I’d never be able to keep up, I just relaxed and took surface pleasure without thinking too deeply. It’s just too clever for its own good with several twists too many.
It’s really unfortunate when films for adults fail to find a sizable audience since there are so few made these days.

Unfortunately but predictability, the mild results for DUPLICITY will make studios even less likely to gamble on projects that aren’t fodder for a video game version.

EASY VIRTUE Rated: 7 1/2
While not perfect, EASY VIRTUE is easy to enjoy and easy to recommend. I did and I do.

The casting is ideal and each of the 4 leads is as attractive as they are accomplished. Jessica Bile, the lone American, is probably best known for television series 7Th HEAVEN. She expands her career horizons significantly with this role. Kristen Scott Thomas (FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL - ‘94, THE ENGLISH PATIENT - ‘96,
I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG - ‘08) shows her impressive range and has become one of my favorites. Colin Firth, likewise, continues to show his range coming off musical smash MAMMA MIA! (‘08) as he extends a stellar career that started with ANOTHER COUNTRY (‘84) and includes such milestones as the two BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY films (2001 & 2004) plus his memorable turn as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 television series PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Ben Barnes captured my attention the first time I saw him in STARDUST (‘07). Although I’m not a fan of the NARNIA films, they have provided him with exposure that has significantly increased his popularity. Look for him to snag other highly prized parts soon.

How nice it is to have director Stephan Elliott back behind the camera following several years of career activity/recovery following a terrible accident. His 1994 Aussie delight, THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, remains in my Top 100 Film Favorites. I’d love to see Director Elliott put his unique spin on a pure musical next and soon.

My only really complaint about EASY VIRTUE is the staggering amount of on screen cigarette smoking depicted. Even given the time & place, in my opinion, by any reasonable standard, it is excessive here and inappropriate.

THE HANGOVER Rated: 8 1/2
Funny, really funny!

THE HANGOVER is comparable to WEDDING CRASHERS (2005) & OLD SCHOOL (2003) for in-your-face hilarity & off-the-wall surprises. And, unlike many comedies, it never runs out of steam. (Don’t miss the end credit still shots!)

All the major cast members deliver take-no-prisoner performances that are perfect for the material. I’m a long time fan of top billed Bradley Cooper and am delighted to see him as the lead in a blockbuster that’s sure to boost his career. I’ve been a fan of his since he lent outstanding support in WEDDING CHASERS (2005) & FAILURE TO LAUNCH (2006) along with staring in the Fox Television series called KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL (2005-06). I also found him a pure delight as recurring support in FX Channel’s series NIP/TUCK during 2007, 2008 & 2009, so far. Both Ed Helms & Zach Galifianakis are new to me but unforgettable. Particularly noteworthy in vivid support are Ken Jeong as “Mr. Chow” & Dan Finnerty as the singer at the wedding.

Credit producer/director Todd Phillips with bringing it all together masterfully. He is also the creative engine behind ROAD TRIP (2000) & OLD SCHOOL (2003). Although he does not share the writing credit for THE HANGOVER, I find it hard to believe he didn’t contribute mightily. This is especially true when realizing that the credited writers, Jon Lucas & Scott Moore, take writing responsibility for the wretched FOUR CHRISTMASES (2008) & the miserable GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST (2009). Todd Phillips has eleven (Count ‘em…11!) future projects listed as in development.

HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU Rated: 8
Based on the negative and unjustified early reviews/buzz, I was expecting this to be closer to that wretched mistake called THE WOMEN (2008) instead of the satisfying & successful hit SEX AND THE CITY (2008). While I continue to object to the judgmental tag, “chick flick”, it’s true that all three of these titles attract females and more mature audiences instead of the currently more prized young male demographic. I’m delighted that a little diversity is continuing to sneak back into the marketplace and amused that pundits continue to express surprise when this type film finds wide acceptance and boxoffice success that HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU has.

The large cast is uniformly well chosen, exceptionally attractive and delightful in parts that seem to have been written to show them at their best. Most prominent in the plot are Gennifer Goodwin (HBO’s BIG LOVE) and Justin Long (LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD -‘07). My two personal favorites are Bradley Cooper (FX’s NIP/TUCK, FAILURE TO
LAUNCH -‘06) and Jennifer Connelly (THE ROCKETEER -‘91, A BEAUTIFUL MIND -‘01, HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG - ‘03). Drew Barrymore (ET -‘82, BOYS ON THE SIDE -‘95, HOME FRIES -‘98, CHARLIE’S ANGELS - 2000) is cute & sweet in an extended cameo while taking an Executive Producer credit. Jennifer Aniston (NBC”s FRIENDS, THE BREAK-UP -‘06) and Ben Affleck (SCHOOL TIES -‘92, GOOD WILL HUNTING -‘97, THE SUM OF ALL FEARS -‘02) can proudly add this one to their resumes, and I even liked Scarlett Johansson (THE HORSE WHISPERER -‘98, LOST IN TRANSLATION -‘93, MATCH POINT -05). She’s never been one of my favorites; can it be that she’s growing on me and winning me over?! The only other top billed star is Kevin Connolly, best known for HBO’s ENTOURAGE.

I found him annoying but maybe it was just the character he plays.
Director Ken Kwapis is best known for directing multiple episodes of popular television series including MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE, THE BERNIE MAC SHOW, and THE OFFICE. Since I haven’t seen even one episode of any of these, I can’t comment on his work there. I can tell you that I loathed his previous theatrical endeavor, LICENSE TO WED (‘07), so his clever work here came as a pleasant surprise to me.

THE HURT LOCKER Rated: 9
Set in present day Iraq and dealing with the activities of an Army bomb squad, THE HURT LOCKER is amazing. It deserves multiple 2009 Oscar nominations and well might take home several pieces of hardware for its efforts. It’s hard to imagine that anybody is going to do a better job of directing that Kathryn Bigelow does here & lead actor Jeremy Renner simply couldn’t be better. This is a star-making performance. The script by Mark Boal is exceptional. Anthony Mackie as Sgt. Sanborn & Brian Geraghty as Specialist Owen Eldridge shine in support. All technical elements are perfectely matched to the material and serve it well. Guy Pearce & Ralph Fiennes are effective in cameos and Evangaline Lilly, from television’s “Lost”, hits all the right notes in her small part as the wife back home.

I LOVE YOU, MAN Rated: 8
I’ve been a fan of Paul Rudd going back to his small part in THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (1999). More recently, I especially enjoyed him in support on NBC’s television mega hit FRIENDS as recurring character Mike Hannigan during the 2002-04 seasons. Now, it sure is nice to see him all cleaned-up and the lead star in a big theatrical film that he helped carry to considerable boxoffice success.

Writer/Director John Hamburg, best know as the writer of all three
FOCKERS movies (2000, 2004, & 2011) does a competent job although the film is a bit tedious in parts and a little uneven. Nevertheless, I laughed out loud several times and suspect you will do the same.

Co-Star Jason Segel (FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL - ‘08 and of the Judd Apatow “company”) is growing on me and quite effective here as the newly found best friend/best man candidate. I also liked new-to-me SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE comedian Adam Samberg in support.

THE INFORMERS Rated: 5
THE INFORMERS is chaotic shambles masquerading as a movie.
Why then, you may ask, do I give it a mid-range rating of 5?
Answer: I was never once bored and couldn’t look away! On the other hand, if the film has a point, I missed it. Further, it has a tendency to fail to resolve several issues it raises with its multiple, sometimes intersecting plot strands. How this script got financing is a mystery. Credits list eight producers.

The reason I was entertained is the unusually well chosen cast which is extremely attractive, one way or another, mostly anyway. At the top of the physically attractive list is Jon Foster (THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR- 2004, THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH - ‘09) & Amber Heard. Jon Foster is one good part away from becoming a big star. Ms Heard earned my 2008 worst actress award for her perfectly dreadful turn in NEVER BACK DOWN and has no less than eight upcoming projects listed at IMDB.Although effective in this part, I still question her talent but appreciate her beauty. At the other end of the attractive scale is Mickey Rourke (THE WRESTLER - ‘08, NINE 1/2 WEEKS - ‘86 ) who continues to look unwashed. Further, the late Brad Renfro (THE CLIENT - ‘94, BULLY - ‘01) who was about 25 years old when this was shot, could well pass for a bloated forty-something. Sadly, he could serve as the poster person for the perils of drug addiction. He seems stunned in his part here and the script allows that to be appropriate. Even though his character is one of the few in this script that isn’t shown to be a drug abuser, the thought of his off screen heroin abuse never left my mind while watching him. I enjoyed seeing Oscar winner Kim Basinger (L..A. CONFIDENTIAL - ‘97, NINE 1/2 WEEKS - ‘86). She still looks good while playing a part that’s not too far removed from her personal life, if you believe tabloid reports. Billy Bob Thornton (SLING BLADE - ‘96, BAD SANTA - ‘03) has no trouble convincing as a creepy/peculiar studio head. Winona Ryder (LITTLE WOMEN - ’ 94, HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT - ‘95) is convincing as a troubled television anchor. Finally, her career seems to be recovering from her tabloid rich personal life and I wish her well.

The script/story/plot is the responsibility of writer Bret Easton Ellis who also wrote “Less Than Zero” - 1985, “The Rules of Attraction” - 1987, & “American Psycho” - 1991. Much of his writing is said to be based on personal experience.

INVICTUS Rated: 8 1/2
Clint Eastwood adds another terrific directing job to his resume and deserves a Best Director Oscar Nomination. The music and use of music couldn’t be better. It is moving and thrilling; I’ll be buying the CD. Other Oscar consideration is earned by Morgan Freeman as Best Actor and Matt Dammon as Best Supporting Actor. When announced, I wasn’t thrilled by the prospects based on the subject matter but found the film amazingly entertaining although it is a bit too long. No knowledge of history or rugby is necessary for thorough enjoyment.

JULIE AND JULIA Rated: 8
Intertwined stories of Super Chef Julia Child’s early adventures in France & a young NYC residing American woman who decides to write about her experiences while cooking each of the 524 recipes in one of Julia’s books in one year is the basis of this enjoyable light entertainment.

Fortunately, writer/director Nora Ephrom (BEWITCHED - ‘05, MIXED NUTS - ‘94, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE - ‘93) gets it right this time, not a sure thing based on her erratic track record. Speaking of track records, Meryl Streep continues to amaze and is sure to receive yet another well deserved Oscar nomination as she seems to actually become Julia Child right before our eyes. As the titular Julie, Amy Adams (JUNEBUG - ‘05, ENCHANTED - ‘07) is not quite as enchanting as she has been in the past, but blame that on the writing of her character, Julie, based on a real person, but she is still easy to watch and like, regardless.

Since JULIE & JULIA is based on real people and actual events, the accurate ending left me a bit unsatisfied. I suspect that a fantasy coda would have put a bigger smile on the faces of most in the audience and I know it would have pleased me!

THE MESSENGER Rated: 9

I wasn’t even aware of this one until a day or two before I saw it (Los Angeles early December 2009). What a pleasant surprise; what a remarkably inept/anemic marketing scheme.

I’m pleased to see that it made the National Board of Review’s Top Ten of 2009, an honor it certainly deserves. Also, it has received some Independent Spirit Award 2009 nominations.

Lead actors Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson & Samantha Morton give award worthy performances. Co-writer & director Oren Moverman does an amazing job with very difficult material.
Seek it out.

MY SISTER’S KEEPER Rated: 7 1/2
This is a good movie that just misses being more than just good.
The problem, for me anyway, is the jumbled timeline editing which is especially annoying since this is a true story that needs no such gimmick. Frankly, as I watched the film, I often found myself wondering whether we were witnessing the past or the present as the story was being told to me as a viewer. That back & forth device constantly took me out of the narrative flow and blunted emotional buildup.

Director Nick Cassavetes’ 2004 critical & financial success, THE NOTEBOOK is one of my Top 100 Film Favorites. Unfortunately, he doesn’t come close to duplicating that this time but there are some reminders here. For one thing, he isn’t afraid to show emotion on the screen and to encourage/allow viewers to participate.

The casting and acting are ideal. As the mother, in a change of pace, Cameron Diaz (THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY - ‘98) deserves award consideration. As the sister, Abagail Breslin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE - ‘O6) is fine, as expected. As the father, Jason Partic (AFTER DARK, MY SWEET - 1990) is more likable than usual as he shows some warmth and looks good. As the teenaged cancer victim, Sophia Vassilieva is amazing. As the brother, Evan Ellingson (Television’s 24 - 2007) is excellent in a part that, through no fault of his, lacks clarification and needed explanation. Further, for reasons unknown, his name is no where to be found on the one-sheet or in the trailer. I remember him from his stint as the nephew or son of 24’s Jack Bauer in the 2007 season and find it short-sighted to slight him in the promotion of the film.

THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH Rated: 8
Based on limited research, I strongly suspect I’ll be in the minority with my positive opinion of this one.

While I’ll grant that it’s not entirely successful since it has a unique rhythm, count me as a fan. Going into the April 2009 Arclight, Hollywood, CA screening, it had three strikes against it for me. (1) I was aware of bad buzz and had seen one very negative review. (2) I loathed director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s previous theatrical effort, DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY (2004). (3) I was anything but a fan of lead actress Sienna Miller (ALFIE - 2004, CASANOVA -2005) having actively disliked her every time I’d seen her on screen before & finding her off-screen romantic adventures off-putting, at best. The film, Sienna, and the director all won me over.

THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH is the director’s adaptation of the novel of the same title written by Michael Chabon. Author Chabon also wrote the novel “Wonder Boys” which became the film, WONDER BOYS (2000), one on my Top 100 Films ever. The two films have similarities.

Jon Foster (THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR - 2004, THE INFORMERS - 2009), Peter Sarsgaard (BOYS DON’T CRY - ‘99, SHATTERED GLASS - ‘03, KINSEY - ‘04) & the above mentioned Sienna Miller star and they are terrific. The casting couldn’t be better and all three look great. The cinematography by Michael Barrett (best known for his work on various episodes of television’s CSI series) is award worthy as is the original musical scoring by Theodore Shapiro (THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA - ‘06).

Seek it out on DVD.

NEW IN TOWN Rated: 4
This alleged comedy is the second 2009 film I’ve seen. What a way to start a new year of film! I’m reserving a spot on my 2009 Worst Film List for it. While not quite as aggressively obnoxious as BRIDE WARS (‘09), my first 2009 film experience, it comes close and I thought it would never end. Generally, I’m a fan of Renee Zellweger (THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD - ‘96, NURSE BETTY -2000, BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY - ‘01, CHICAGO -‘02, MISS POTTER - 06), but even such a gifted comedienne & charmer couldn’t make this stale/trite/predictable script come to life. (Even so, she’s better here than she was in 2008’s APPALOOSA where I thought she was awful.) As her co-star, Harry Connick, Jr.is good casting and I hope they work together again with a worthy script. Next…

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Rated: 8 1/2
Generally, I am anything but a fan of animated films. This is a major exception.
I laughed out loud several times and loved the music. I recommend it highly. Appropriate Oscar nominations are likely and deserved.

THE PROPOSAL Rated: 8
Although it includes no real surprises, THE PROPOSAL is charming and delightful. I found myself smiling during most of the brisk 107 minute running time and there are a few hilarious sequences. Happily, the humor is never mean-spirited and that’s unusual these days. I did
grow a bit tired of the humor offered by Oscar Nunez as “Ramone”
but the audiences I saw it with loved his scenes.

This is the third film as director for former choreographer, Anne Fletcher, and I’m a big fan of her style. Her other two successes are
STEP UP (‘06) AND 27 DRESSES (‘08). She deserves important future assignments and it likely to get them on the basis of these three.
Saving the best for last, stars Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds sparkle as only real movie stars can in roles that showcase their special appeal and charm while displaying their physical perfection. They have amazing chemistry and should work together again as soon as possible.

PUBLIC ENEMIES Rated: 6
I’m not a Johnny Depp fan. In fact, I just don’t like his persona or his appearance. Since he dominates both this film and the advertising campaign for it, I’m not going to waste a lot of my time or yours trying to give an objective opinion here.

Of director Michael Mann’s ten or so major theatrical films, I’m a big fan of MANHUNTER (‘86) & COLLATERAL (2004) and think his very best work is the exceptional THE INSIDER (‘99).
On the other hand, I hated every dull minute of THE LAST OF THE MOHICAN’S (‘92), and found HEAT (‘95), ALI (2001), & MIAMI VICE (2006) less than compelling…a lot less than compelling.

In PUBLIC ENEMIES, I liked Christian Bale and Billy Crudrup who both performed as effectively as the material and director allowed. Recent Oscar winner Marion Cotillard was ok as the girl friend but I never believed he relationship with Depp as Dillinger because of the script, direction, and/or editing. Therefore, her big, emotional scene left me cold. Prediction: Ms Cotillard will not be receiving an Oscar nomination for her work here, although Mr. Depp well might.

A SINGLE MAN Rated: 8 1/2
Colin Firth and Julianne Moore deserve Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations. In support, Nicholas Hoult, Joh Kortajarena & Matthew Goode are as effective as they are attractive. First time Director and co-writer Tom Ford is a major new talent. Recreation of the time and place, Los Angeles in the sixties, is perfect. This one is a must for serious, adult audiences.

SORORITY ROW Rated: 2
I rarely advise against buying a ticket to see any movie in theatrical release.

This is an exception. Avoid SORORITY ROW.

Even if the material appeals to you, I can’t imagine that you’ll be satisfied with this
stupid excuse for a film. There is no attempt to tell a coherent story and lapses in logic abound. There is considerable graphic violence but certainly nothing new or novel. Even though the violence and language assured a R rating from the MPAA, the limited and timid nudity is anything but erotic. The cast is attractive but interchangeable and no effort is extended to distinguish one character from several others similar in appearance.

Even after suffering through the entire long 100 minute running time, I still only have a vague idea of what story they were trying to tell but know that I couldn’t care less.

STAR TREK Rated: 9
This is outstanding entertainment & not to be missed.
Until now, I was never a fan of the STAR TREK phenomenon although I was well aware of it. I saw the first two theatrical features (1979 & 1982) and was not impressed.
I only became interested in this 2009 update/reworking of the material as imagined by J.J. Abrams after seeing the trailer.
Boy! Did he ever get it right! I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised considering that he is the creative force behind television’s FELICITY and LOST, but
it’s better than I ever thought it could be. I’ll be surprised and disappointed if it isn’t nominated for Oscars as best picture & best director along with numerous nods in other categories.

Predominately, the cast is made up of previously little know actors and each is pitch perfect in performance and appearance.I’ll start my list for praise with top billed Chris Pine as James T. Kirk & Zachary Quinto and I’m especially fond of the work of three of my personal favorites Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood & Karl Urban. Young Anton Yelchin continues his assent toward stardom, Zoe Saldana impresses, and Winona Ryder left me wishing she had more footage. Leonard Nimoy brings just the right heft/tone/style to a part that only he could play. Additionally, as James T. Kirk’s father, George Kirk, Aussie Chris Hemsworth hints here at why he has been cast for starring roles in three major upcoming productions.
The abundant special effects and action scenes are thrilling but do not overwhelm the story, a rare & commendable feat in these days of overkill.
I highly recommend STAR TREK to all who like movies.

TAKEN Rated: 7
The excellent trailer for TAKEN set my expectations quite high for this action thriller. For any fans of the genre, if you like the trailer, I suspect you’ll like the film. Although I was entertained and recommend it, I feel it became a little repetitious before the end, but maybe it’s just me.

French director Pierre Morel, who has previous impressive credits as a cinematographer, does a highly skilled job here directing his first English language film. Lead actor/star Irish Liam Neeson (SCHLINDER’S LIST - ‘93, LOVE ACTUALLY - ‘03, KINSEY - ‘04) absolutely shines in what could have been just a routine part and is a pleasure to watch. Maggie Grace (ABC Television series LOST) as the daughter and Famke Janssen (F/X Television series NIP/TUCK) as her mother are attractive and effective in support.

Question: How in the world did TAKEN get a PG-13 Rating from the MPAA!!? In my opinion, this subject matter and treatment deserves to earn it a R.

TERMINATOR SALVATION Rated: 7 1/2
Based on the trailer and the fact that I was increasingly less enthusiastic about the first three TERMINATOR movies (1984, 1991 & 2003) as they rolled out, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. My rather generous rating has been influenced by my limited expectations. It is relentlessly loud and annoyingly dark. Parts of the plot are confusing and the time travel elements went right over my head. Nevertheless, it did hold my attention and I came away generally pleased. I’m no longer particularly awed by this type action special effects no matter how good they are, but, my guess is that these will impress those who thrive on that sort of thing.

Although this script offers little challenge for the already proved ability and previously better exhibited charm of Christian Bale (EMPIRE OF THE SUN - ‘87, LITTLE WOMEN - ‘94, BATMAN BEGINS - 2005), he is as good as he needs to be here and earns the big paycheck he receives. The standout in the cast, however is Aussie Sam Worthington. I was impressed by him in SOMERSAULT (2004) and am glad to see him breaking through. He has at least 4 films approaching future release at this point and is sure to become a big star. Notable in support are Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, & Bryce Dallas Howard. Likewise, I continue to appreciate & enjoy Anton Yelchin, currently on screens everywhere in STAR TREK (2009) also. Direction by McG is appropriate and this proves he can handle big picture assignments.

TWO LOVERS Rated: 2
In my opinion, James Gray may be the the worst currently active American director. I hated both of his two more recent dirges, namely, THE YARDS (2000) and WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007) while 2009’s TWO LOVERS out drabs both of those. Joaquin Phoenix stars in all three and his recent announcement that he is retiring from acting seems redundant. I’d argue that what is on screen in these three shows he’s already given up on that pursuit or should have, anyway.

Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow looks good but is just plain silly in a very serious role.
Of course, there are those that disagree with me. I note that the one and same James Gray is going to direct no less than Brad Pitt in a hot property called THE LOST CITY OF Z. I’m ready with an alternate title for the film: THE LOST CITY OF ZZZ.

WHATEVER WORKS Rated 7 1/2
Fair warning: Generally, I am not a Woody Allen fan.

To clarify/amplify, of the forty-something theatrical films he has directed so far, I have fond memories of and good things to say about 6, count ‘um, 6. Namely, EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX…(‘72), SLEEPER (‘73), LOVE AND DEATH (75), ZELIG (‘83), EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU (‘96), and MATCH POINT (‘05). Now add WHATEVER WORKS to that list. And, no, I didn’t forget about multiple Oscar winner for 1977, ANNIE HALL, not a favorite of mine. I estimate that I saw well over half his output and many of those run together for me. Outstanding in the negative, however is CASSANDRA’S DREAM (‘07) easily one of the worst films ever made by anybody.

With the above in mind, I am pleased & surprised to report that I enjoyed WHATEVER WORKS and figure that a lot of Woody fans as well as non-fans will be diverted and/or amused. It’s rather mild, but clever and builds as it goes.

About the cast, without question, Larry David is the lead and does exactly what director Woody wanted. I find him abrasive and am not a fan but what he does here… works. I only managed to survive one episode of his hit HBO series, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM which ran from 2000 to 2007 and is to return in Fall 2009. (I won’t be watching.) Evan Rachel Wood (THIRTEEN - ‘03, THE WRESTLER - ‘08) is good here but she is not one of my favorites. Patricia Clarkson is as prolific as she is talented and this is a terrific showcase for her. I wouldn’t begrudge her consideration for supporting actress metal for this one. For reasons unknown, Henry Cavill (THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO - 2002, I CAPTURE THE CASTLE - ‘03, Showtime’s THE TUDORS 2005-07, STARDUST - ‘07), who is one of my favorites does not receive star billing although he is prominent, proficient & highly photogenic. Until I read an article interviewing him about his part in WHATEVER WORKS, and printed in the June 25, 2009’s issue of USA TODAY, I didn’t even realize he was in the film. This article convinced me to attend. I’m glad I did since it worked for me.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE Rated: 5
WTF?

This one is either far too complex or way too simple for me to become involved and
its 101 minutes seemed endless to me.

Before reading about and then seeing this film, I had never even heard of the children’s book upon which the movie is based. No regrets.

I found the film dull, dark and repetitious to the point of pure tedium.

But, what do I know?! According to Rotten Tomatoes, about 70% of reporting critics (112 out of 163) have responded favorably and the early boxoffice results are large ($36 1/2 million in the first 5 days of North American Release).

THE YOUNG VICTORIA Rated: 8 1/2
I strongly recommend the currently limited release movie, THE YOUNG VICTORIA.
Generally, I’m no fan of British historical drams but this one snuck up on me.
Emily Blunt exhibits a surprising range here and deserves award consideration. Rupert Friend & Paul Bettany are excellent also…and I loved the end credits song, “Only You (Love Theme from The Young Victoria”) as sung by Sinead O’Connor. Be sure to stay through the closing credits to listen to it.

...more to come!



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