Film Monthly Home
Archives
Wayne Case
Interviews
Steve Anderson
The Rant
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
The Indies
Horror
Film Noir
Coming Soon
Now Playing
Television
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
Interviews TV
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 2011.


ABDUCTION Rated: 3
ABDUCTION is destined for major Razzie recognition as their choice for Worst Film of 2011 with Taylor Lautner likely to take the prize as Worst Actor. Most of the time, he looks as if he just smelled something unpleasant. Sigourney Weaver gives the worst performance of her career but it probably isn’t her fault given the level of overall incompetence on display.

I can’t think of one good thing to say about this silly film, so I’ll stop here.

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU Rated: 8
While not a classic or particularly special, I really enjoyed THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU and suspect most who see it will feel the same.

At its core, it is simply a love story. As the lovers, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are terrific. I’ve been a fan of Matt Damon’s since SCHOOL TIES (1992). Among my favorites of his are GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997), SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998), THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (1999), THE BOURNE Trilogy (2002, 04, 07), THE DEPARTED (2006), THE GOOD SHEPHERD (2006), INVICTUS (2009), & HEREAFTER (2010). I expect to add many more to that list in coming years. I loved Emily Blunt in both THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006) & THE YOUNG VICTORIA (2009). Expect a stellar future. In my opinion, chemistry between actors is generally in the eyes of the viewer and not always obvious to everybody…but it would be hard for anybody to fail to see it here. I hope they work together again…and often.

The setup, which is based on a short-story by Philip K. Dick (“Blade Runner”, “Total Recall”), is rather far fetched and difficult to explain and rather hard to swallow. It presents as fact that a group of hat-wearing men control the lives of the principals here (and who knows who else and/or why!) but their job is to “adjust” these two lives to keep them on their predetermined paths. Huh? But never mind. The film works because of the actors and they make it all worthwhile.

BAD TEACHER Rated: 6 1/2
I loved the trailer and key art for BAD TEACHER. Unfortunately, the film does not live up to my expectations. That said, it did make me laugh and I’m glad I saw it. The problem would seem to be the script and the lack of believable story arc(s). As edited, continuity concerns are largely ignored and various story threads fail to mesh. Nevertheless, I thought stars Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel were super well cast, looked great and were shown to excellent advantage. Also, I especially liked Phyllis Smith in support as Lynn.
Although the film is uneven, I’m guessing that is not the fault of director Jake Kasdan.

I’m a big fan of two of his earlier films, namely THE TV SET (2006) & WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY (2007). [ Note: Jake Kasdan is the son of favorite veteran writer-director Lawrence Kasdan ( BODY HEAT -‘81, THE BIG CHILL -83) and brother of Jon Kasdan (IN THE LAND OF WOMEN -‘07).]

Fair Warning: The R rating is well deserved and bad taste abounds.

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES Rated: 4
Keep in mind that I know that I am NOT the target audience (teenage, male) for this piece of noisy crap. Nevertheless…

I went mainly to see Aaron Eckhart, the lead actor, who is a favorite. He did exactly as expected/required and earned what I hope was a big paycheck for his efforts. However, it’s a long way from this to his much better films including RABBIT HOLE (2010), THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), THE BLACK DAHLIA (‘06), NURSE BETTY (‘06). ERIN BROCKOVICH (‘06), and ANY GIVEN SUNDAY (1999).

Since I live in the Los Angeles area and am from near Baton Rouge Louisiana, both sites used for location filming of this Los Angeles set epic are very familiar to me. I resisted the urge to walk out by occupying myself trying to figure out which scenes were shot where. I couldn’t tell the difference. Credit skill for that or maybe it’s just that everything was too dark and/or dirty, plus I didn’t really care.

It’s the same old familiar story. Aliens arrive from another planet. The invaders are smart enough to build spaceships that can accomplish interplanetary travel but they aren’t smart enough to defeat a determined group of dedicated US Marines. I just don’t buy it…ever.

BEASTLY Rated: 7 1/2
Clearly, I like BEASTLY but it should probably be best described as a “Guilty Pleasure”.
It is one of those simple & sweet little romantic fantasy/fables that I respond to every once in awhile. (Call it a flaw if you wish.)

Count me in as a fan of lead actor Alex Pettyfer. As I write this, his other recent starring vehicle, I AM NUMBER FOUR, is playing on other screens at your same local theatres.

It’s rare for any actor to have two major films in wide release at the same time and this is especially true for a young actor so early in a career. While IMDB shows a couple of earlier credits, I was unaware of him (or those titles) until now. Further, he has another completed film awaiting release and is strongly humored to be cast in two additional major projects. Although only 19 or so when both BEASTLY & I AM NUMBER FOUR were filmed, he actually acts and looks more mature than that to me. I’m much less enthusiastic about co-star Vanessa Hudgens who is best known for the three HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL films (2006, 07, 08). She is cute and sweet enough and I don’t want to be too hard on her since I feel she was miscast. However, I am very enthusiastic about three in support. I was anything but a fan of Olsen Twin, Mary-Kate Olsen, until now but I got a real kick out of her here. I can’t imagine anybody being better as this teen-aged witch and would have liked even more of her in this mode. I was and am a fan of Neil Patrick Harris (CBS Television’s HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER) and enjoyed him as a tutor. He got the spirit of his character just right. The same for LisaGay Hamilton.

This is a mild little movie with the familiar message based on the tale of “Beauty And The Beast”. It worked for me.

THE CHANGE-UP Rated: 2 1/2
I hated this one.

It is infantile, vulgar, inept, annoying and disgusting. The level of humor here is best illustrated by the scene where a child projectile shits from his crib directly into the mouth of the attending parent.

Given the tone established by Director David Dobkin, blaming the cast is probably inappropriate. However, I thought Ryan Reynolds was ever worse than the material at hand. I’m going to have trouble erasing the memory of him in this for a long, long time no matter how good he may be in future projects. Jason Bateman was only slightly less aggravating and I was embarrassed for Leslie Mann although her awkward/pointless nude scene shows her to be in great shape unless she was photo-shopped.

I did manage to watch the whole very long 112 minutes of THE CHANGE-UP but it wasn’t easy.

Unfortunately, I decided to see another current release (August 2011) called 30 MINUTES OR LESS a few days later. It is equally bad and has a similar IQ. Since I don’t review and/or rate films I don’t see from start to finish, I’ll just leave it at I only lasted for 30 minutes or less before I staggered for the exit.

CONTAGION Rated: 8

CONTAGION is a good movie. It is quite well done in every way. Be warned however that I did find the subject matter disturbing. It held my attention throughout and left me considering the possibilities raised so I left the theatre content.

Even though there is no scene where any of the three women appear together, three (count ‘um, three) former Best Actress Oscar Winners are prominent in the cast of CONTAGION. Namely, Gwyneth Paltrow (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE - 1998), Marion Cotillard (LA VIE EN ROSE - 2007) & Kate Winslet (THE READER - 2009). I wonder is this is the first film to feature three best actress Oscar winners all in starring roles. Another interesting casting note is that the three stars of 1999’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY are reunited here. Namely, Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow. (Jude Law has no scenes here with either but Matt & Gwennie share scenes as man and wife.)

I never know what to expect from director Steven Soderbergh but I’m pleased to put this one clearly in the success column. It’s not quite up to the standard he set with his ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000) or TRAFFIC (2000) but he also delivered THE INFORMANT! (2009) which I loathed. He directed several others that fall in between and he has at least three upcoming projects that show real promise.

I recommend CONTAGION and think you’ll be pleased if the premise appeals to you.

THE DEBT Rated: 8 1/2
I really didn’t know what to expect with this one and was not very optimistic since the release date was a full year after it screened a full year ago as part of the 2010 Toronto Film Festival. I was quite pleasantly surprised at how it grabbed me from the start and never let go. It’s a terrific, edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Above all else, THE DEBT is a smart film and to enjoy/appreciate it requires that careful attention be paid! It’s worth the effort.

Director John Madden is not a favorite of mine generally and was a rather unlikely choice for this tough material. However, he proves he fully understood and delivers on the intentions of the several credited writers whose work here is based on the 2007 film from Israel, HA-HOV.

The rather large cast is excellent to a person. The major characters are played by two actors each since the action takes place in both 1966 and 1997. Jessica Chastain & Helen Mirren are Rachel, Marton Csokas & Tom Wilkinson are Stephan while Sam Worthington & Ciaran Hinds are David. Each is quite effective and it’s hard to single any out…but I will. Jessica Chastain impress me more each time I see her. She was vivid in JOLENE (2008), charming and lovely though muted by direction and editing in THE TREE OF LIVE (2011), while vulnerable, sexy and luminous in THE HELP (2011). In THE DEBT, she shows she can also handle physical confrontation in her part as a secret military agent. I liked Sam Worthington in AVATAR (2009) but his appearance as himself on the March 7, 2010 Oscar Telecast convinced me that he was a total jerk. Basically, right or wrong, I wrote him off. Perhaps I was hasty. I saw LAST NIGHT (2010) a few months back and was impressed by both his acting and his likability in that part. His work in THE DEBT seems to build on that performance and I look forward to his future parts now. Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson deliver as expected in good parts worthy of their impressive and acknowledged major talents. New to me, New Zealand born Marton Csokas fits in perfectly. Also, I took notice of new-to-me Jerusalem born actor, Jonathan Uziel who plays a “Mossad Agent” and deserves to be cast again soon

While I don’t expect THE DEBT to receive year end award consideration in major categories, it’s very likely to make my Top 20 of 2011 and it certainly does deserve award attention for music by Thomas Newman and cinematography by British Ben Davis.

THE DILEMMA Rated: 3
Lame and unfunny. Vince Vaughn looks bloated. What has happened to Director Ron Howard’s talent?

DREAM HOUSE Rated: 3
Incomprehensible.

This is a total waste of time. Don’t be lured in by the stellar cast headed by Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts & Rachel Weisz although they are not to blame. Do blame the writers and/or the editors for delivering this random mess.

DREAM HOUSE does include one classic line of dialog. Halfway into its very long/confused/muddled 92 minute running time, in all seriousness, Daniel Craig’s character states that “I’m not liking any of this.” Hear, hear!

DRIVE Rated: 8
I liked DRIVE but found the graphic gore as unpleasant as it is unnecessary.

Question: When we see a character shot-gunned in the head at close range, do we really need to see brains splattered all over the wall? My Answer: No, thanks. Not for me.This particular scene is but one example of the abundant overkill and the splatter factor intensifies as the film progresses. I especially disliked the way a scene in an elevator was shot and edited. Generally, I have little trouble watching film violence but the depiction here is distracing and really hurt the film…in my opinion. I’m in the minority with these complaints since most critics love the film and don’t object to the gore. If you see the film after reading this, you’ll know what to expect. I didn’t.

The single best thing about DRIVE is its star, Ryan Gosling. An Oscar nomination as Best Actor is a real possibility for him. I like Carey Mulligan (AN EDUCATION - 2009, NEVER LET ME GO - 2010) and thought she was good here although she well may have been miscast. The writing provides little insight into her character so who knows. She just doesn’t strike me as the type that would have bedazzled “Driver” so quickly and completely. Similarly, the writing gives Ryan Gosling’s character no back story and not even a name. (He is referred to only as “Driver”.) Effective in support are Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks while Albert Brooks (BROADCAST NEWS - 1987), cast very much against type, will receive award consideration as supporting actor for his solid tern.

Danish-born director Nicolas Winding Refn spent age 8 to 17 in New York City with his parents before returning to Denmark to finish his High School education. After that he bounced back and forth between NYC and Denmark studying film and made several very violent films before being hired to direct DRIVE. Clearly, based on his previous projects, he was selected to make this a very violent film. That he did. I don’t deny his talent but question his taste.

As always, I especially enjoy films that are shot in areas that I’m very familiar with. While avoiding familiar Los Angeles landmarks, carefully selected locations add texture to the look and feel of this exciting action/drama. Further, the sound and music are first rate.

THE EAGLE Rated: 7
While not totally successful by any standard, I was moderately entertained. Thank male leads Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell for keeping me interested.

The battle scenes are dark, repetitious, and plentiful, too plentiful.

FAST FIVE Rated: 5 1/2
I’m in the minority about this one since most critical and customer response has been very positive/favorable. Count me unenthusiastic but know that I’m well outside the desired/targeted demographic.

I did like the first sequence featuring a train robbery that ended with a spectacular stunt reminding me of a similar one in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969). After that, I never became involved again although I wouldn’t have been as bored if it hadn’t gone on so long and become so repetitious. I did like the location work in Rio de Janerio and appreciate the production values.

The principal cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Jordana Brewster return and do exactly what they did in whichever of the earlier chapters of the series they graced. This time, these three pillars are joined, effectively enough, by several others returnees from editions one, two, three and/or four. Newcomer Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson joins in and is a very effective addition. Expect him to return for the inevitable SIX. Both Vin Diesel and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson have great screen presence and must compete for parts regularly. I continue to be a big fan of Paul Walker and have been since THE SKULLS (2000). I also continue to be surprised that he has not become a big star and hope it can still happen. I like beautiful Jordana Brewster and feel she has untapped potential.

50/50 Rated: 9
I can’t think of a thing I don’t like about 50/50! It is sure to be prominent on my top favorites list of 2011.

Star Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as Adam) continues his rise to major star status and deserves consideration for year-end awards for this really special work. This may be my favorite of his performances but I also like his work in the totally different HESHER (2011), along with several others including INCEPTION (2010), 500 DAYS OF SUMMER (2009), STOP-LOSS (2008), and the film he first captured my attention, THE LOOKOUT (2007).

50/50 is the story of a young man who is diagnosed with cancer while in his mid-twenties and how he deals with it. While some consider the film a comedy, I think of it as a drama with some very funny interludes included, not unlike the mix in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983).

The supporting cast is strong with deserved special mention going to several including Anna Kendrick. Although she was Oscar Nominated for UP IN THE AIR (2009), this is the first time she impressed me. Likewise, I was slow to warm to Bryce Dallas Howard, but now consider myself a fan after liking her in three consecutive outings starting with HEREAFTER (2010), followed by THE HELP (2011) and now 50/50. I think Oscar winner Anjelica Houston gets her tricky part as Adam’s mother just right.
And, for a change, I liked Seth Rogen who co-stars and co-produced.

Credit director Jonathan Levine and writer Will Reiser with jobs really well done.
SEE IT.

FOOTLOOSE Rated: 7
FOOTLOOSE is one of the most uneven film I can recall seeing. There are several really excellent scenes, musical numbers all…and then there is the rest. Some of the dialog made me cringe and I hated the section where they raced old school-buses.

I loved both the bar line dance number performed to the “Fake ID” song sung by Big & Rich and the “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” sequence cut & performed to the song as sung by Jana Kramer.

I was not especially fond of either of the leads, Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough but it may not have been their fault. Both seem far too mature to be playing high school students. On the other hand, I really liked male sidekick Miles Teller as Willard. (Remember him as Jason in 2010’s RABBIT HOLE.) Also impressive is Ziah Colon as female sidekick Rusty.

Since I love musicals and wish there were lots more of them getting made, I don’t want to dump on this one…but must admit to being disappointed with FOOTLOOSE.

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS Rated: 8
Of the 2011 Summer RomComs (romantic comedies), FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS is my favorite. It gets the balance between the blatant and the sweet just exactly right for my taste. The explicit language and nudity are present but feel natural and unforced.

I loved the cinematography by Michael Grady who makes sure that we know that the New York exteriors were actually shot in New York and the Southern California exteriors were shot there…and both beautifully. Director Will Gluck can expect many tempting offers for his services based on his sharp work here. All other technical components are exactly on target and the use of music is expert. I especially enjoyed the updated version of Kander & Ebb’s “Theme from New York, New York”.

Stars Justin Timberlake (THE SOCIAL NETWORK - 2011) and Mila Kunis (BLACK SWAN - 2011) have real chemistry and prove how versatile they are when properly cast and appropriately directed. And, neither is likely to ever be more likable. Speaking of versatile, Woody Harrelson, a flamboyant sports writer here, could hardly be more different from his military man turn in THE MESSENGER (2009). Shining brightly in support are Patricia Clarkson (SHUTTER ISLAND - 2011), Richard Jenkins
(THE VISITOR - 2007) & Bryan Greenberg (PRIME - 2005).

This one is worth seeing in a theatre but if you miss it, be sure to add it to your must-see DVD list.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO Rated: 9 1/2
This is one of the best films of 2011 and is outstanding in every way.
It’s a prime example of why I LOVE MOVIES. Director David Fincher is a film genius.
And, amazingly these days, the major credits are at the start of the film, just where they belong!

THE GREEN HORNET Rated: 3
The worst super hero movie I’ve ever seen, so far.

THE GREEN LANTERN Rated: 6 1/2
I wasn’t impressed with the advance trailers so that the film is disappointing came as no big surprise to me. However, it’s not anywhere near as bad as many of the reviews would have you believe. Since I’m not part of the “fanboy” target audience, I can’t speak to their reaction but grosses in relation to production costs indicate a lack of enthusiasm from that sector as well as the rest of the current movie theatre potential audience.

Personally, I liked the non-CGI segments of THE GREEN LANTERN just fine, but could care less about all the special effects which I don’t consider special at all. The result doesn’t look like what I’d expect the reported $200 million budget to buy and the film lacks snap and/or tension.

The best thing about the film is Ryan Reynolds and the clever suit and mask treatment. I also thought Blake Lively did all anybody could do with this type part and looked good doing so. I’m a fan of Peter Sarsgaard and have no idea why anybody as naturally attractive as he is would be cast in a part that calls for aggressively ugly. I hope he puts his paycheck to good use and don’t object to him getting a good payday after working in so many low budget films for what I’m guessing is a lot less.

Overall, I was mildly entertained by THE GREEN LANTERN but can’t recommend it in theatres with today’s expensive ticket prices.

HANNA Rated: 9
Audacious. Riveting. Exhilarating.

As of mid-April 2011, HANNA is my favorite film of this year. Expect it to be among my personal Top Films for the year. While it probably won’t be a serious contender for best picture and/or best director honors, I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t at least receive serious consideration for best actress, best cinematography, best editing, and best musical scoring. I’ve rarely seen audiences pay such rapt attention!

Irish Saoirse Ronan (ATONEMENT - 2007), just 16 during filming, is amazing and likely to become both a major star and an award winner. Australian Eric Bana (TROY -‘04, MUNICH -‘05, FUNNY PEOPLE -‘09) continues to be one of my very favorites. He shows that he is in outstanding physical shape and hits all the right notes, as usual, in a vigorous performance. Oscar winning Australian Cate Blanchett (VERONICA GUERIN -‘03, THE AVIATOR -‘04, NOTES ON A SCANDAL -‘06) is a delight in a take-no-prisoners turn as a formidable adversary. In Tallulah Bankhead makeup, she seems to enjoy delivering her lines in Ms Bankhead’s heavy Southern accent as much as I enjoyed hearing them! In support, the balance of the cast is flawless. Deserving special mention is the British family of four that befriend Hanna for the section of the film set in Spain. They are: Olivia Williams as mother/wife Rachel, Jayson Flyemyng as father/husband Sebastian, Jessica Braden as daughter/sister Sophie & Aldo Maland as son/brother Miles. Each is vivid and adds considerable to the overall texture of the piece. I’m a huge fan of Olivia Williams and am still disappointed that she wasn’t Oscar nominated for her support in THE GHOST WRITER (2010). She also captured my attention in AN EDUCATION (2009) and has an unlimited future.

Based on director Joe Wright’s previous shining successes, PRIDE & PREJUDICE (2005) and ATONEMENT (2007), his selection was surprising and risky. Evidently, he was recruited for this project by star Saoirse Ronan who had worked so well with him earlier in ATONEMENT. Her hunch really pays off. [I’m guessing she missed his other effort, THE SOLOIST (2009), a film I couldn’t manage to even sit through!]

Original music, appropriately highlighted in ad materials, is credited to The Chemical Brothers, a British electronica duo. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, by name, they are very popular in the current music scene.Their contribution to the overall success of the film is significant and award worthy.

HANNA is not intended for the faint-of-heart, but I found it fascinating and will see it several times.

HESHER Rated: 7
Strange. Peculiar. Unhinged. Overwrought. Fascinating.
These words describe the film as well as the titular character.

I went to see HESHER knowing only that I hated the one sheet even though I’m a big fan of its star, Joesph Gordon-Levitt.

To be continued…perhaps!

THE HELP Rated: 9
This is a must-see film and will easily find its way onto my Top Films of 2011 List.
It is award-worthy in all categories and could easily fill all five slots for the Oscar Best Supporting Actress category.

HORRIBLE BOSSES Rated: 7 1/2
HORRIBLE BOSSES is a very funny film but a bit repetitious and slightly uneven.
The cast is all fine with Jennifer Aniston a real standout since she steps way out of her comfort zone and makes it work.

This one is well worth seeking out on DVD.

Although none of my bosses were as extreme as these in the film, I was reminded of several that would easily qualify as horrible. Among them: Mel Klein, Al Boodman, Dick Graff, all sadists and all deceased. There are a few more, including D.C. & S.G. but I’ll exercise some restraint and leave this list at that. (On the other hand, at least three great bosses come quickly to mind, also! Namely Byron Shapiro, Ray McCafferty & Norman Levy,,,,sadly, all deceased.)

I AM NUMBER FOUR Rated: 7
I AM NUMBER FOUR is entertaining, up to a point, but it should have been better.
Toward the end, all hell breaks loose and the clang factor takes over. Suddenly, I felt like I’d stumbled into another edition of TRANSFORMERS. The battle between the gadgets was unnecessary, uninvolving and overblown. Nevertheless, I still came away content because of what came before and after this noisy segment.

Count me in as a fan of lead actor Alex Pettyfer. As I write this, his other recent starring vehicle, BEASTLY, can been seen on other screens of your local theatres. If his rumored off screen attitude doesn’t do him in, I expect him to become a big star. I also like young lady lead Dianna Agron (from television’s GLEE) and Timothy Olyphant (from television’s JUSTIFIED) although neither is allowed to project as vividly as they can and should.

I became a fan of director D.J. Caruso with 2004’s TAKING LIVES, a film I consider seriously under-rated. TAKING LIVES features Angelina Jolie & Ethan Hawke and I’ve never liked either of them more that I do in it. I also like his EAGLE EYE (2008) & DISTURBIA (2007). I think he is just one good script away from moving to the top of the list of most sought-after directors.

With reasonable expectations, I AM NUMBER FOUR will entertain most.

THE IDES OF MARCH Rated: 8 1/2
THE IDES OF MARCH will be among my top 20 favorites of 2011. Frankly, I liked it a lot better than I expected to based on the ads and the trailer and I was surprised at plot developments. It is easily the most accessible, complete and likable film George Clooney has directed so far.

The casting and acting is uniformly special. Ryan Gosling deserves his top billing and will get votes as best actor for this one along with his other award worthy work this year in DRIVE (2011). George Clooney can expect strong and deserved consideration in the best supporting actor category once again. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti & Marisa Tomei sparkle with their usual and expected excellence. In pivotal support, Evan Rachel Wood stands out as Molly. And, as usual, I enjoyed Max Minghella as Ben.

THE IDES OF MARCH is the kind of film for adults that has something to say and it delivers well. It’s not meant for fan boys but I am grateful that a few film makers still provide entertainment for the rest of us.

IN TIME Rated: 8
Not well received by critics and business is only so-so but I’m a fan of IN TIME. I found it both intriguing and entertaining. And everybody looked great!

I like both Justin Timberlake ( THE SOCIAL NETWORK - 2010) and Amanda Seyfried (MAMMA MIA - 2008) better each time I see them. Also notable here are Olivia Wilde (Fox Television’s THE O.C. - 2005), Matt Bomer (USA Television’s WHITE COLLAR - 40 episodes so far 2009-2011) Cillian Murphy (RED EYE - 2005) & Alex Pettyfer (BEASTLY - 2011 and I AM NUMBER FOUR - 2011).

Previously, writer/director Andrew Niccol wrote THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998) and wrote/directed 1997’s GATTACA.

J. EDGAR Rated: 9
J. EDGAR is easily one of the best films of 2011 and should receive an Oscar Nomination as Best Picture. I’ll be pulling for it to do so.

Further, J. EDGAR deserves serious Oscar/award consideration in every category for which it qualifies. Without hesitation, among the major categories, I would nominate Clint Eastwood as Best Director, Leonardo DiCaprio as Best Actor, Dustin Lance Black for Best Writing and Armie Hammer for Best Supporting Actor. Also, I’ll be shocked if Sian Grigg doesn’t win the Best Makeup Oscar for his transformation of Leonardo DiCaprio into J. Edgar Hoover at many different ages right before our eyes.

Generally, I prefer films that tell their story in a linear style but got beyond that this time.
I’ll admit that the pace is measured but that’s entirely appropriate for this material. I highly recommend J. EDGAR.

JANE EYRE Rated: 8
British period dramas are not my favorite genre but I may be mellowing and expanding my range. Of late, I loved PRIDE & PREJUDICE (2005) and ATONEMENT (2007) and now comes JANE AYRE. [ Nevertheless, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998) is overrated and should never have won the Best Film Oscar. ] While I’m not as enthusiastic about JANE AYRE as I am about these earlier two, I found myself totally involved and was never bored.

Although I was well aware of the Charlotte Bronte novel, I haven’t read it and don’t recall seeing any of the various earlier production. For me, it was all fresh and I didn’t know the plot.

The casting and acting are both ideal. Australian Mia Wasikowska is Jane. With this outing quickly following ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010) and THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, her career is on deservedly firm ground and her future is bright with 6 upcoming IMDB listed future vehicles. As Mr. Rochester, German born Irish actor Michael Fassbender continues to impress following stellar work in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) and FISH TANK (2009). He has 7 major IMDB listed upcoming projects. Both of these actors will receive deserved 2011 acting award consideration. Effective in support as expected are Judi Dench, Jamie Bell and Sally Hawkins. Direction by Cary Fukunaga is just right as is the adapted script by Moria Buffini. Score, cinematography, production design, editing, and makeup all contribute to the overall pleasing effect.

I strongly recommend JANE EYRE.

JUST GO WITH IT Rated: 3
Accused director Dennis Dugan strikes again. I hated it.

Adam Sandler continues to be Adam Sandler and this is the first time I’ve actually disliked Jennifer Aniston on screen. In the Sigourney Weaver part, Nicole Kidman is awful. Maybe she and hubby Keith Urban needed a vacation in Hawaii but to have her play a character with a closeted gay husband is a terrible idea as it concurs up real life tabloid rumors.

LARRY CROWNE Rated: 5
As I wrote this, my face hurt from cringing after seeing this one. It was all I could do to keep from walking out. My rating of a very generous of 5 is largely a thank you to those who allowed a film for adult audiences to get made. Since there are so few of this type film made currently, it becomes especially disappointing when one that materializes is bad. This is that.

Blame the lame script mostly but the direction is without tension or snap. I was especially annoyed at all the surrounding sub-plots/characters that were raised/introduced and never really pay off. And, even more troubling is that there is no romantic chemistry between the two stars. None. In fact, I was surprised/stunned the first time they kissed.

To be fair, the mostly older and mostly female audience at opening July 2011 Friday matinee audience at The Grove, Beverly Hills, clearly enjoyed themselves. I wouldn’t want to discourage any in that demographic, or any other demographic actually, from checking it out since some may enjoy it although it just didn’t work for me on any level.

I am a long time fan of both Tom Hanks and of Julia Roberts. While both have good scenes here, I never believed either character would behave the way the script had them behave. The arc for Julia Roberts’ college teacher Mercy is reasonable I suppose but Tom Hanks’ titular Larry Crowne character is not even given a stable identity and his arc is erratic at best. At various points in the film he comes across as bright and aware but at other times he seems limited and dull.
Music, blamed on usually praise-worthy music master James Newton Howard, is insistent and annoying.

Obvious but not troubling prominent product placement is granted: Coke, Ford, Apple.

LAST NIGHT Rated: 8
What a pleasure to see Keira Knightley (PRIDE & PREJUDICE - 2005, ATONEMENT - ‘07, NEVER LET ME GO - 2010) in a strong contemporary part.

What a pleasure to hear Sam Worthington (AVATAR - 2009, CLASH OF THE TITANS -‘10) speak with his own (Australian) accent while cleaned-up in and in a contemporary setting. Somewhat surprisingly, these two have strong chemistry and are very believable as a couple that has been married for several years on the night when the film takes place. They totally dominate the film and one or the other or both are on the screen for the entire brisk 90 minute running time. Three other actors provide vivid support: (1) Cuban born Eva Mendez (TRAINING DAY - 2001) is the one who is a pleasant surprise. (2) Frenchman Guillaume Canet is a big star in France but new to me. He deserves more parts in English language films. (3) Griffin Dunne makes his screen time count.

The theme of the piece and the question raised concerns the nature of and importance of relationship fidelity. While I don’t generally like films that have non-stop dialog, my interest never wavered and I found everything said to be interesting. Further, I agree with every choice made by first time Writer-Director Massy Tadjedin when it came time to decide on what to show the audience and what not to show. The editing is expert.

With the exception of having Keira Knightley filmed smoking several times for no good plot reason, I can’t come up with a thing I didn’t like about this film. In addition to the solid writing and direction, everything looks and sounds just right. Kudos to all involved.
Make no mistake, however, this is a small film with limited ambitions & no action or special effects. Along with the fact that it sheds considerable light on a very complex and interesting subject/situation, perhaps this lack of effects and action is just what makes it special.

AND about the distribution of the film…
What a shame that it got caught in a management changeover and became a stepchild. There was only a bare minimum print campaign here in Los Angeles and no money was spent on television advertising as far as I can tell. That slight guarantees failure in the current marketplace. It would be no understatement to say that LAST NIGHT was “allowed to escape” rather than receive distribution. (It has also been available on VOD but that’s another story that I’ll resist the urge to rage about here.)

Seek it out on DVD where it is likely to be and soon.

LIMITLESS Rated: 8
Feeling kindly towards star Bradley Cooper is probably a prerequisite for enjoying LIMITLESS since he totally dominates the film from first frame to last.
I am a fan and have been since WEDDING CRASHERS (2005) continuing through FAILURE TO LAUNCH (“06), television series KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL (‘06), FX Television’s NIP/TUCK (‘07, ‘08, 09), & THE HANGOVER (‘09).

Even when he plays conventional, agreeable, likable and/or appealing, I’m always suspicious that a dark side is hiding just below the surface. That could well be a part of his appeal, and it makes for perfect casting here.

LIMITLESS is based a clever and intriguing idea and the film-makers deliver smartly on the premise that taking a special pill allows this man to access his full potential, but with potential disastrous consequences.

I was never less than completely involved and loved the high energy and revved-up pace. Technically, everything very satisfying. Give plenty of credit for its success to director Neil Burger who was one for two with his previous films as far as I’m concerned. While I liked his under-appreciated 2008 release, THE LUCKY ONES, I found his previous effort, THE ILLUSIONIST (2006) dull and boring. Look for LIMITLESS to energize his career.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER Rated: 8
I was completely engaged throughout by THE LINCOLN LAWYER which is straightforward, unpretentious entertainment that delivers exactly what it promised. And, it even has the major credits right at the start of the film where they belong.

While watching, I was a bit concerned that there may be too much stuff going on, but everything was resolved to my total satisfaction by the end. Now I’m hoping for quick/similar sequels from the same core cast, the same writers (John Romano & Michael Connelly), and the same director, Brad Furman. This would seem to be a good possibility since THE LINCOLN LAWYER is based on one novel from a series of best selling novels by Michael Connelly that feature the Mickey Haller character referred to in the film as “Mick Heller”. He is cast & played to perfection here by Matthew McConaughey in his best performance since his 1996 breakthrough as another attorney in John Grisham’s A TIME TO KILL. Whoever is responsible for principal casting has my respect and admiration. In strong/atmospheric support, include the following who could/should return in hoped for sequels: Marisa Tomei, John Lucas (one of my personal favorites), John Leguizamo, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Mason. Not available to return for plot reasons, but especially vivid are Frances Fisher and Ryan Phillippe as the brazen mother and son. Likewise, William H. Macy contributes significantly.

Further catching my eye in small parts are Margarita Levieva (SPREAD - 2009) as Reggie & Katherine Moennig (THE L WORD -television 2004-09) as Gloria. As Detective Krulen, I’m happy to see eighties favorite Michael Pare’ looking fit and handsome. He is fondly remembered by many of us as the lead in EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS (‘83), THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT (‘84) & STREETS OF FIRE (‘84). While he has continued to work with a low profile from then until now, this outing could get him more and better future parts.

I highly recommend THE LINCOLN LAWYER as easy-to-enjoy low key entertainment.

NOTE: Obvious Product Placement Observation… Minute Maid Orange Juice.

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE Rated: 3
I sat/squirmed all the way through this piece of pretentious s*it recently and hated it. It even left me in a foul mood.

I always like Hugh Dancy and thought he, Sarah Paulson & John Hawkes performed as directed without damage to their careers but I wouldn’t allow writer/director Sean Durkin to even direct traffic in the future if it were up to me.

I’m indifferent about Elizabeth Olsen but consider praise for her in this woefully misplaced.

…and about the ending…HUH?!
This is the second film in a row that I’ve seen where the last scene stunned, annoyed and just plain sucked. (The other being TAKE SHELTER.)

THE MECHANIC Rated: 8
What a pleasant surprise! Jason Statham is good, Ben Foster is better. New Orleans location filming is a big plus.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS Rated: 7-1/2
Generally, I am not a big fan of Woody Allen or of Woody Allen films.

Of the 45 films he directed before MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, I’m enthusiastic about just 5.

Namely: SLEEPER (1973), ZELIG (83), THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (85), EVERYBODY SAYS I LOVE YOU (96) and MATCH POINT (2005). Add MIDNIGHT IN PARIS to that list now. BTW: I found his 1975 Oscar winner, ANNIE HALL over-rated, and pretentious but can understand its appeal. On the other hand, CASSANDRA’S DREAM (2007) would easily make my list of the worst fifty films I’ve ever seen.

Quoting Wikipedia for the record here: “Woody Allen has won three Academy Awards and been nominated a total of 21 times: 14 as a screenwriter, six as a director, and one as an actor. He has more screenwriting Academy Award nominations than any other writer; all are in the “Best Original Screenplay” category. His actors have regularly received both nominations and Academy Awards for their work in Allen films, particularly in the Best Supporting categories.” And, he totally ignores the Academy at every opportunity.

I predict he will receive his 15Th original screenplay Oscar nomination for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. No objection here since he earns/deserves the praise for this one. It is a very clever, unique and original. I’m less satisfied by his direction, however. While the performances are all impressive though not award worthy, I thought the pace was sluggish at several points and wished he’d just get on with it. My objection is to the narrative flow and not to the generous use of beautiful Paris location shots.

Owen Wilson is the lead and he is very effective in the part that would have been played my Woody himself when Woody was age appropriate (or at least not outrageously age inappropriate). Rachel McAdams, a personal favorite, does as directed playing the ditsy, annoying fiance. Michael Scheen and Lea Seydoux are competent is key parts. French First Lady Carla Bruni is attractive and fits in seamlessly in her couple of scenes as a museum guide. Special kudos to cameo players Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, Alison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald & Tom Hiddleston as F. Scott Fitzgerald. [Actor Hiddleston can also seen currently in THOR (2011) as brother Loki and is a star in the making.]

The use of popular period appropriate music is masterful and provides an extra layer of pleasure. All technical components are worthy while visuals and aurals are classy.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is Woody Allen at his best. Even non-fans are likely to be pleased.

MONTE CARLO Rated: 7
MONTE CARLO is a guilty pleasure for me and quite a pleasant surprise.

It simple, sweet, and a frothy little trifle that I didn’t expect to endure much less enjoy.
Having suffered through part of TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011) and all of LARRY CROWNE (2001) earlier this week, I was probably primed to enjoy almost anything else but I’m glad I stumbled into MONTE CARLO. Although only 40-something percent of critics give it a ROTTEN TOMATOES favorable rating, it scored slightly better with the critics than either of those other two wide-release films that opened this first weekend in July 2011 . There is no question in my mind that it is the best of the three.

Clearly, the target audience is young girls and I’d expect them to be well pleased. Again, according to ROTTEN TOMATOES, over 80% of early viewers responded favorably to MONTE CARLO. Credit the cast, beautiful locations, and a script with a light/subtle/positive message. Much of the music was appropriate and enjoyable, but I found a French language version of fifties hit “Tweedlee Dee” a jarring and very peculiar choice as used on the soundtrack early in the film.

Although deserving her top billing since she has the key/pivotal role(s), Selena Gomez is the cast member I liked least. I found her insubstantial but adequate as Good Girl Grace while her Rich Bitch Cordelia was ridiculous. Although she is several years younger than her also co-stars, she came off as much less mature than any of the rest of them and was probably mis-cast. Katie Cassidy (11 2010 episodes of GOSSIP GIRL) as Emma was fine. Leighton Meister was better as Meg. Ms. Meister is still probably best know for her 108-and-counting-episodes of The CW Television Channel’s hit series, GOSSIP GIRL (2007 - 2011 plus). After her last two films plus this one, count me as a big fan of hers. She first captured my attention and impressed me as a country singer in COUNTRY STRONG (2010) followed a few months later by a totally different characterization in THE ROOMMATE (2011) where she chewed the scenery to my delight. With another change of pace here, her range is obvious and likely to get put to good future use.

Clearly, the male cast members were carefully selected based on their handsome appearance. The two that I knew and liked before seeing MONTE CARLO are fifty-something Brett Cullen and twenty-something Cory Monteith. Cullen has 111 IMDB acting credits (!) and has been a favorite of mine for several decades. He has appeared in almost all of my favorite television series including the following dozen! THE THORNE BIRDS, ALLY McBEAL, COLD CASE. DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, THE WEST WING, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, BURN NOTICE, LOST, THE MENTALIST, DAMAGES, JUSTIFIED, and LONE STAR I knew Canadian Cory Monteith only as Finn of current television favorite GLEE. Very impressive and new to me are Australian Luke Bracey as Riley & Frenchman Pierre Boulanger as Theo.

While not a must-see at theatres, I suggest you look for it on DVD starting in October 2011.

THE MUPPETS Rated: 8
Although I saw one or more earlier movies and television shows featuring ” The Muppets”, I was not really a fan. Therefore, I’m very surprised at how much I enjoyed this one. Credit Jason Segel who stars, co-produced, and co-wrote it. He is probably best known for CBS Television hit HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. I know and like him from KNOCKED UP (2007), FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (2008) and especially I LOVE YOU, MAN (2009) plus BAD TEACHER (2011). He is fearless and with this, he adds singing and dancing to his resume. Count me now as a big fan. I usually really like his human co-star Amy Adams but not this time…and I didn’t even like the way she looked.

THE MUPPETS is essential a musical and there were at least three really good new songs featured. I especially like “Man Or Muppet” which was done as a split screened quartet by Jason Segel, Jim Parsons and their Muppet alter egos.

I figure most audiences will find things to like in this one. I sure did.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN Rated: 9
I loved this one. It’ll be in the top tier of my favorite 2011 films.
Generally, I especially like good films that are about the making of films and/or about the people that make them. It’s no big surprised I was hooked from the start since it all takes place during the shooting of 1957’s Marilyn Monroe film, THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL. Marilyn Monroe was always one of my favorites & Michell Williams brings her back to life for me. Amazing performance!

I’ve been a fan of Eddie Redmayne since I first spotted him in THE GOOD SHEPHERD (2006) and am delighted that he has been cast as Marius in the upcoming LES MISERABLES (2012). Kenneth Branagh limes Laurence Olivier is a role that could have easily gone so wrong and I really enjoyed Judi Dench as a very supportive and kind Dame Sybil Thorndike. In her brief but telling scenes, Julia Ormond suggested Vivien Leigh exactly as I imagine she was at that point of her life and career.

I liked everything about MY LIFE WITH MARILYN and plan to see it again soon. My compliments to all responsible.

NEW YEAR’S EVE Rated 6
Going in, I expected to find this one hard to take and parts of it truly are…especially the first-baby-born-in-the-new-year-competition narrative plot which is one of the 8 (count ‘um…eight) stories intertwined rather randomly! Hoverer, I was entertained and came away content. Lea Michele, one of the stars of Fox Television’s GLEE, is a favorite of mine and I really liked her here. (I hope this helps her get the LES MIZ film part that she’s rumored being considered for.) On camera, she sings “Auld Lang Syne” as well as I’ve ever heard it sung.

From the very large and well known cast, I particularly liked Zac Efrom…and that a big surprise since I’ve never appreciated him before. Although not shown to particularly good advantage, as usual, I liked Ashton Kutcher. Of the women, I thought Katherine Heigl and Hillary Swank looked great and gave as good as they got from the script. Jon Bon Jovi performed some music and I enjoyed it and him.

NEW YEAR’S EVE is superficial but much of it worked for me.

NO STRINGS ATTACHED Rated: 6
Bring on the soap to wash out its distracting potty mouth. Natalie Portman is good, Ashton Kutcher is better.

PRIEST Rated: 5 1/2
The only reason I went to see PRIEST is the cast. Three, count ‘um, three of my favorite male actors are prominent in it and that was enough to get me to go see it.

Unless you’re a young male, I don’t recommend it but it was not anywhere as bad as I expected it to be. (Damning with faint praise?) I suspect a decent percentage of fans of current hit, FAST FIVE, will like this much cheaper production since it is directed toward the same young male demographic. In fact, the matinee audience I saw it with at The Grove in Beverly Hills, CA (mid-May 2011 )was just that and they seemed to be having a good time.

I could have happily done without all the vampire splatter & gore stuff but since the film runs only a brisk and blessedly brief 87 minutes, cutting those sequences is out of the question since nobody wants a 60 minute feature film. I am a big fan of the television series on the CW Network, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (2009, 10, 11 so far) but the vampires on that series like the vampires in the TWILIGHT film series have nothing in common with the creatures that PRIEST identifies as vampires.

I was surprised at how striking some of the visuals in PRIEST are. I now realize Don Burgess did the cinematography and among his many earlier credits include FORREST GUMP (1994) and SPIDER-MAN (2002). I’m no longer surprised.

London born Paul Bettany takes the titular role. No real acting is required here but he does a convincing job in a role featuring lots of action. Some of his line delivery reminded me of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry mode. My favorite Paul Bettany films are A KNIGHT’S TALE (2001), A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001), WIMBLEDON (2004), and THE YOUNG VICTORIA (2009). All are better films than PRIEST and worth well worth seeing. New Zealand born Karl Urban first caught my attention as an assassin in THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004) although he is much much better know for his work as Eomer in two of the three in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (2002, 2003). Here he plays Black Hat and is very much in Clint Eastwood spaghetti western mode. I also like him in STAR TREK (2009) and RED (2010). Washington State native Cam Gigandet plays Hicks and did not remind me of any of Clint Eastwood’s characters. I’ve been a fan since he appeared in 15 episodes of THE OC during its 2005-06 Fox Television Network seasons. I also like him in both BURLESQUE (2010) and THE ROOMMATE (2011). British born Stephen Moyer of HBO Television hit series TRUE BLOOD (2008-11) has a small part, does not play a vampire here and brings no past Clint Eastwood parts to mind.

Since I’ve spent a lot more time writing this than I did seeing the movie, I’ll stop.

PUNCTURE Rated: 8
In very limited Fall 2011 theatrical release, PUNCTURE is well worth seeking and seeing.
Chris Evans, in a radical change-of-pace, deserves a Best Actor Oscar nomination but is likely to be overlooked since it takes money to mount a campaign and that’s not likely to happen for this.

The subject matter concerns attempts at replacing old style syringes with new safe ones and how money/lobbying prevents that in favor of continuing the dangerous status quo.

RED RIDING HOOD Rated: 4
Keep in mind that I am NOT the target audience (teenage, female) for this piece of dark dung, and I know it. However…

Putting everything else aside for the moment, my biggest complaint is the projected image quality. Don’t blame Director of Photography, Australian Mandy Walker, however. She knows better. Among her major accomplishments are favorites: LANTANA (2001), SHATTERED GLASS (‘03), AUSTRALIA (‘08) and the recent BEASTLY (2100), all of which look great. My best guess is she was following the instructions of the producers and/or director but the entire film looks like it was shot through the bottom of a sink full of dirty dishwater. Maybe it wasn’t even shot that way but the decision was made to process it in this lights-out look. Indoor scenes, outdoor scenes, daytime, nighttime…everything seems stuck in endless twilight. GROAN. I resisted the urge to yell: “Who turned down the lights?!”

Don’t blame the cast. They managed to speak their lines with a straight face and as if they were reciting Shakespeare or passages from the Bible. They were obviously directed to do so. But why?! There is not one intentional bit of humor in the entire exercise. The casting is good enough, but neither of the young male leads will give TWILIGHTers Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner competition for future parts and they were intended to be able to do just that. I remain a fan of Amanda Seyfried, Billy Burke, Julie Christie and Virginia Madsen. All have been better before and will be better again in the future.

I am inclined to give women directors the benefit of the doubt since they get few opportunities, so I’m not happy to point out that the problem here seems to be director Catherine Hartwicke. This is her fifth feature film as a director with mega-hit TWILIGHT (2008) by far her most successful. Her background is production design so I have to wonder if she made the decision to shoot almost all of RED RIDING HOOD indoors. Bad idea.

It’s rare that I can’t think of a single thing I like about a film but that, alas, is my position on this one.

And that ending!!!

RESTLESS Rated: 3
The best single word I can come up with to describe RESTLESS is listless.
It wasted an extremely long 90 minutes of my life that I wish I had back.
If your choice is seeing RESTLESS or watching paint dry for 90 minutes, go with the paint option.

RESTLESS looks awful and I believe that was intentional rather than accidental. With the exception of one short sequence, it looks as if it were shot while a fishbowl full of dirty water was sitting between the camera and the action, with the word “action” being a generous term when describing what occurs where the camera is pointed.

This is the first writing credit for Jason Lew. I don’t look forward to his next although the blame for this failure is only partially his.

Gus Van Sant directed adequately but with little or no energy. While he has done much better work, (DRUGSTORE COWBOY - ‘89, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO - ‘91, TO DIE FOR - ‘95, and especially GOOD WILL HUNTING - ‘97 & MILK - ‘08), he has also done considerably worse. I refer especially to ELEPHANT (2003) and several others I couldn’t force myself to see.

Mia Wasikowska does as instructed but this performance is very weak when compared to her vivid work in the excellent films THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT - 2010 & JANE EYRE - 2011). It’s too soon to totally dismiss 21 year-old Henry Hooper but I found him charisma-free here. He does look a lot like his late father Dennis Hopper did back in George Stevens’ 1956 masterpiece GIANT, but, unfortunately, he reminds me more of current pop music curiosity Justin Bieber.

THE RITE Rated: 7
Diverting, but THE EXORCIST (1973) it ain’t…and THE LAST EXORCIST (2010) is a better take on this type material. Veteran Anthony Hopkins is effective as expected & newcomer Colin O’Donoghue is an effective and attractive discovery.

THE ROOMMATE Rated: 7
Think SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (1992) goes to college.

Minka Kelly is lovely, Leighton Meester is fun in as she hams it up, and I like Cam Gigandet.

SHAME Rated: 8 1/2
I”m not sure what SHAME was saying (or attempting to say) but I sure liked the way it looked and sounded saying it. Without question, Michael Fassbender deserves a best actor Oscar nomination. Carey Mulligan gives a very special performance in support and her rendition of “The Theme From New York, New York” is fascinating, moving and lovely. The cinematography & the musical scoring are perfect for the material. The editing (and lack of editing) is unusual and makes a major contribution to the story telling. The NC-17 (“for some explicit sexual content”) MPAA rating is appropriate and only those surprised are likely to be offended.

SOURCE CODE Rated: 7
Unless you like Jake Gyllenhaal, you’re probably not going to like SOURCE CODE since he totally dominates the film. I’ve been a fan since OCTOBER SKY (1999) and count the following among my favorites from him: THE GOOD GIRL (2002), ZODIAC (2007), and BROTHERS (2009). So far, his best work was in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005) and he was my choice to win Best Supporting Actor for that nominated performance. On the other hand, I felt he was woefully miscast in the miserable 2010 turkey, PRINCE OF PERSIA and badly directed by bad director Ed Zwick in LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS (2010). SOURCE CODE puts him back on the right career path and his next two projects are very promising.

I was entertained by SOURCE CODE but found the ending (ENDINGS) confusing and/or unsatisfactory. As always, I enjoyed Vera Farmiga (THE DEPARTED - 2006, UP IN THE AIR - ‘09). As always, I continue to like Michelle Monaghan (GONE BABY GONE - ‘07, EAGLE EYE - ‘08) and look forward to her very interesting next two projects.

I like Duncan Jones’ direction and all technical components contribute appropriately.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT ALERT: Dunkin Donuts

STRAW DOGS Rated: 6
My generous rating of STRAW DOGS is mainly because I’m a long time fan of James Marsden (THE NOTEBOOK - 2004, HAIRSPRAY - 2006, ENCHANTED - 2007) & a relatively new fan of Alexander Skarsgard (HBO’s TRUE BLOOD 47 episodes - so far- 2008-2012) and I enjoyed seeing them in it. They are both well cast, effective and interesting. Without them, I well may have walked out. This film will help Skarsgard get more parts while it won’t hurt Marsden’s casting chances. On the other hand, I’ve never liked female lead Kate Bosworth (BLUE CRUSH - 2002). In my opinion however, she is remarkably well cast here. I enjoyed disliking the actress as much as I disliked the character she plays so well! (Meow.)

If I were limited to use only one word to describe STRAW DOGS, I’d pick lurid.

I can’t recommend STRAW DOGS but, personally, I was entertained is a “guilty pleasure” sort of way.

SOMETHING BORROWED Rated: 4
I liked the costumes.

I hated the muddled and silly script. I found the direction erratic and lax.

The cast is attractive but they are asked to play characters that are unlikable, self-centered, obnoxious, delusional, insecure, and/or weak.

I’m no fan of Kate Hudson (HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS - 2003) but appreciate the fact that she isn’t afraid to play a jerk and give it an appropriate “take-no-prisoner’s” rendering. I enjoyed disliking her. Ginnifer Goodwin (Television’s BIG LOVE - 2006-11 so far) got on my nerves but I’m not sure whether to blame her or the character she played. She frequently reminded me of a younger, less-talented Sally Field. I liked Colin Egglesfield as “Auggie” on the recent television redo of MELROSE PLACE (2009-10) but not so much here. He looks a lot like the superstar whose initials are TC and that might well reduce his chances for a big career. Least objectionable of the bunch is John Krasinski (Television’s THE OFFICE 2005-11) but his character is especially poorly defined with no consistent arc. Krasinski has a promising future, however and would be an excellent choice to play parts calling for a young Tom Hanks. As Marcus, the male equivalent of Kate Hudson’s obnoxious Darcy, Steve Howey makes his scenes count.

A sequel is threatened.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT ALERT: Heineken Beer is prominently placed and brightly lit in numerous scenes throughout the film. The next step would be just to have the characters step out of the action and recite ad copy.) Briefly, also: Sprint, Yahoo & Pepsi.

SUPER 8 Rated: 9
SUPER 8 is a wonderful movie and a perfect example of the type film that hooked me on the movie going habit when I was just a young boy.

That said, I must also comment here on my surprise and annoyance at how much negative comment SUPER 8 generated before it was released. I am NOT referring to reviews from critics which are running about 85% favorable or measured audience response, also approximately 85% positive.(Both stats are according to ROTTEN TOMATOES.) It is feature writers and boxoffice analysts who have bashed it. For reasons not immediately obvious, these folks seem to have wanted it to fail both as entertainment and as enterprise. Perhaps they are jealous and/or feel that Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams already have too much success. There was also chatter that it was hyped far too much. I don’t even know what that means. It is the job of distribution/marketing to make sure an upcoming film is in the public eye before opening and I think they did so and well. Evidently, I don’t know the difference between good promotion and hype but the word “hype” has negative connotations and that is unjustified here. Regardless, based on early boxoffice returns, SUPER 8 is a totally deserved success and I’m happy about that.

Some scenes in SUPER 8 bring back fond memories of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977), E.T. (1982) and STAND BY ME (1986). Plus, the train crash intentionally recalls a similar scene from THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (1952) and shows just how much more realistic special effects are now. Producer Steven Spielberg’s influence and gifts are obvious and essential to SUPER 8’s success.

The casting and acting are “mint”. Best known is Kyle Chandler from NBC Television favorite series, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS where he starred and shined in all 76 episodes from 2006 thu 2011. Twelve year old Elle Fanning excels and continues to build her career with this follow-up to her impressive starring role in 2010s SOMEWHERE. She and her work this time recall Jodie Foster & Drew Barrymore when they were about her age. Also familiar and effective is Ron Eldard, a regularly working actor I first noticed in NBC’s series ER when he guested there in 1995 & 96 episodes. It’s hard to believe but this is the first professional acting gig for 15 year old Joel Courtney as Joe Lamb. He is the central character and carries the film on his talented young shoulders. The other young actors are all gifted newcomers who have little or no previous acting experience. I was especially impressed by Riley Griffiths as Charles & Ryan Lee as Cary. I also noticed a new twenty-something actor named Ben Gavin. He has a small part as Deputy Milner. I hope to see him in future films and figure he’d be a good fit for several upcoming J.J. Abrams projects.

With SUPER 8, J.J. Abrams has moved way up near the top of my favorite currently working director list. Although I love his STAR TREK (2009), in general, this is even better. Here’s hoping he decides to direct the STAR TREK sequel (2012?).

I love Larry Fong’s cinematography & Michael Giacchino’s original music. Both worked with J.J. Abrams on ABC Televisions’ LOST. Equally impressive is Martin Whist’s production design. He worked previously with J.J. Abrams on CLOVERFIELD (2008).

Carping: (1) I didn’t find the “visitor” particularly satisfying visually, but then, I’m not sure it’d be possible to find a look that I would find more appropriate. Minor complaint. (2) Even though probably in keeping with the time period represented and the character’s likely choices, I still could have done without the brief scene showing tobacco use.

As of this writing (June 23, 2011), SUPER 8 is the Best Film of 2011 I’ve seen so far. Expect it to easily make my Bests of 2011 List. I give SUPER 8 my highest recommendation for all.

THE TREE OF LIFE Rated: 6
Almost always, I go to see films to be told a story that the film maker wants to tell.
Almost always, the degree to which I respond favorably is directly related to how well the story is told. By that standard, THE TREE OF LIFE fails for me badly. In my opinion, writer-director Terrence Malick “bit off way more than he could chew” here as he takes on depicting the forming of the universe.

Unless I had read articles in advance concerning what this film attempts and about the personal relationships presented/probed, I suspect the first half hour would have sent me running for the exit. I did stay but ultimately found it confounding, annoying and disturbing. As expected, it looks and sounds great, but I never got hooked and came away disappointed though not surprised.

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS Rated: 8 1/2
On it’s own terms, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is an excellent movie and I highly recommend it to anybody that likes movies intended for general adult audiences. I most definitely don’t want to discourage anybody from seeing it. That aside, personally, I was disappointed since I wanted it to be special and it isn’t. Excellent, but not exceptional.

Generally, I hate movie reviews that spend a lot of time comparing the film to the source material rather than commenting on what they see. Similarly, I prefer praising or panning what is there on the screen rather than complaining about what isn’t.
This review will be an exception for me because I read/loved the book very recently and had strong thought about what the film should be.This adaption both entertained and disappointed me at the same time.

Cutting to the chase, my major complaint about the film is the lack of edge and mild intensity levels. The book read as an R and the film plays as a PG as far as I’m concerned. My guess is that this was a conscious decision by the filmmakers with an eye to wider boxoffice potential. This may well have been a miscalculation since there really is a market for good R rated films currently. Further, only the major three characters (plus Hal Holbrook) register significantly in the film while I felt I knew many of the others as presented in the book.

Based on how I pictured the leads while reading the book, casting couldn’t have been better on the surface. Oscar winner Christoph Waltz looks the part as “August” and fully captures the character. Robert Pattinson is exactly as I pictured “Jacob” and I was pleasantly surprised by his spot-on rendering. Not once did I even think of his “Edward” character from TWILIGHT fame and this erases any memory of his drab appearance and dull performance in the dreadful REMEMBER ME (2010). Now, count me as a new fan. When a young Robert Mitchum type is required for future productions, his phone should be the first to ring. Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon (WALK THE LINE - 2005) perfectly fits the part visually but is less successful emotionally. For whatever reason, I just never quite believed her as “Marlena”. Maybe it was the way she was directed, but she never suggested the harsh/world-weary background traits a character with her hard life backstory would certainly have exhibited. I was looking for Jean Harlow instead of Doris Day! Even so, my complaints are minor overall.

Visually and technically WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is award worthy. Previously nominated production designer Jack Fish & previously nominated cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto deserve Oscar nominations for their strong contributions.

THOR Rated; 8 1/2
If I had been shown a list of 100 possible directors for a film based on the Marvel Comic Book character THOR, Kenneth Branagh (DEAD AGAIN -‘91, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING - ‘93, HAMLET - ‘96), would not have made my top 50 choices. Now, after seeing the film he directed, I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job.

Further, Chris Hemsworth is the perfect THOR and he allows the film to work. Striking just the right balance between bombast and humor, he looks like just what I think a comicbook god brought to life ought to look like. From the uniformly excellent cast, I especially liked Natalie Portman (BLACK SWAN - 2010, WHERE THE HEART IS - 2000) as scientist Jane Foster & Tom Hiddleston as brother Loki. Each would fit nicely into a welcome sequel. I’m ready.

Product Placement Alert: 7-Eleven.

Also: USA TODAY, Dr. Pepper, Southwest Airlines. (Generally, they are subtle enough and appropriate but still very noticable.)

UNKNOWN Rated: 4
UNKNOWN is endless and awful.

Don’t blame Liam Neeson. He delivers as directed in a part that simply makes no sense even after all the “secrets” are revealed. This is one of those annoying films where the audience is totally mislead…and I always hate that. Furthermore, it is incomprehensible and even in retrospect, the explanations won’t wash. There are several lengthy car chase/crash scenes that are way out of proportion to the rest of the film throwing off any chance of balance.

I like actress January Jones. Actually, I like January Jones in character on AMC’s television series, MAD MEN. Here, not a bit. Maybe it isn’t her fault since I doubt that even Vanessa Redgrave in her youthful prime could have made this part work. But, Ms Jones plays it as if she wasn’t given the last pages of the script until well after she had shot her early scenes. Maybe she wasn’t since there isn’t even a hint of coming revelations in her performance. The same is true of the entire woe-begotten venture and I wonder if the last half of the script was even written while the first half was before cameras.

Ugh. Pass.

WAR HORSE Rated: 9 1/2
This is one of the best films of 2011 and is outstanding in every way.
It’s a prime example of why I LOVE MOVIES. Director Steven Spielberg is a film genius.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN Rated: 8
I went to this one at a theatre I’d never been to before, The Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, because this was the only theatre playing it. Based on what I knew about the subject matter, I didn’t expect to be favorably impressed and I didn’t want Tilda Swinton to earn Oscar consideration yet again. I was wrong.

While I wouldn’t say I liked it or that I was “entertained”, I was totally engaged throughout. Director and co-writer Lynne Ramsey earned my respect for a remarkable job. And, Tilda Swinton will make her way onto my top 5 or 6 best actress list. I was also very impressed by young Ezra Miller who is compelling as one of the least likable characters in film history!

The subject matter echos elements of the Columbine Tragedy and THE BAD SEED so be prepared. Fair Warning: I found the film very disturbing but fascinating.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS Rated: 9
So far for me, the best two movies that are comic-book related and/or that feature this type action hero are SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) and THE DARK KNIGHT (2008).
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS comes close. [I also like the very recent THOR (2011) almost as much as these three.]

If you are at all attracted to X-MEN: FIRST CLASS or think you might enjoy it, I believe you will. Even if you don’t generally like this genre, this could prove to be an exception. I was not especially fond of the trailers and I don’t like the print ads, so I was surprised at how positive my reaction was. What a nice surprise!

All production values are appropriate and impressive. Especially noteworthy is the original musical score by Henry Jackman (no relation to Hugh as far as I can discover).

I suggest you sit through the long end credits and listen to it soar. Year-end Award consideration is earned.

Director Matthew Vaughn masters the material in this, his fourth film as director. I liked his LAYER CAKE (2004), and liked STARDUST (‘07) better but found KICK-ASS (‘10) almost unendurable due to its self-conscious/cutesy/jokey style which had to be his choice. I’m pleased that my concerns about him being up to the task for this big budgeted franchise film were unfounded. And, credit Bryan Singer with strong contribution to making X-MEN: FIRST CLASS the class act it is. Singer, who directed the first two X-MEN Films (2000 & 2003), is credited here as one of the producers and for writing the story upon which the script/film is based. His imprint is obvious, significant and crucial.

The cast is…well…first class! At the top of any list of current rising young male actors who are likely to become big stars, you would be sure to find James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Their work here is sure to raise their profiles and stock. I first became aware of/impressed by Fassbender in FISHTAKE (2009) quickly followed by INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009). Next, in a major change-of-pace, he excelled in JANE EYRE (2011). As I write this, he has already completed his work in at least three major unreleased films, is filming another & is attached to three more in pre-production. Whew.

I first noticed James McAvoy in WIMBLEDON (2004) then came THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND (2006) for which he received strong reviews. Until now, he was best know for hits ATONEMENT (2007) and WANTED (2008) which allowed him to show his exceptional range. While I have been slightly disappointed in his two more recent films, he was excellent in both. I expect more and better again soon.

In support, in no particular order, the following pleased me most:
(1) Long time favorite Kevin Bacon makes an excellent villain.
(2) Rose Byrne is lovely and is as effective here as she is she is in hit televisions’ DAMAGES [2007,08,09,10 so far].
(3) Jennifer Lawrence finally won me over. I found her charming here. Oscar nomination or not, I just didn’t like her in WINTER’S BONE [2010]. On the other hand, she impressed in 2008’s THE BURNING PLAIN, which is woefully under-rated. Now, I do look forward to her as the lead in highly anticipated THE HUNGER GAMES [2012].
(4) Up until now, I only knew January Jones in AMC’s MAD MEN [2007, 08,09,10, so far]. She gets a chance to broaden her range her and is solid doing so while looking great.
(5) Nicholas Hoult broke through in 2002’s ABOUT A BOY where he played the titular boy. His next high profile part came in 2009’s A SINGLE MAN where he excels as a teenager. I liked him here and note that he is filming a big budget film now and is attached to two more films in pre-production.
(6) Lucas Till was the best thing about 2009’s HANNAH MONTANA: THE MOVIE. He has one film in post-production and one in pre-production currently and is obviously on the rise. I’m struck by how much he resembles GLEE’S Chord Overstreet.

I highly recommend X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and eagerly await sequels.

YOUR HIGHNESS Rated: 2
Disgusting. Incompetent. Relentlessly vulgar. Not funny.

Films just don’t get any worse than this.

Expect well earned Razzy Award recognition next January.

...more to come!



Got a problem? E-mail us at filmmonthly@gmail.com