The mist rising over the moors feels right, and so does the slant of moonlight coming over a Victorian village-scape. And if the moon is full, this must be The Wolfman, Universal's 2010 attempt to revive one of the crown jewels in its deservedly legendary horror stable. Benicio Del Toro takes on the old Lon Chaney Jr. role of Lawrence Talbot, an American visitor to his ancestral home in England. Talbot's brother has recently been torn to bits by a beast in the forest, leaving behind a grieving fiancée (Emily Blunt) and a not-visibly-grieving father (Anthony Hopkins). This central situation seems drained of blood even before the full-moon transfigurations begin to bloom, and Del Toro's Talbot--an actor by trade, which raises interesting possibilities for a story of a man divided by different personalities--is mystifyingly blank. The intriguing casting of Del Toro (what an opportunity for a cool werewolf!) comes to naught as Talbot seems to languish on the periphery of his own story. Hugo Weaving tries to generate some interest as the police inspector on the case, but he too is defeated by the combination of mechanical storytelling and bland computer-generated werewolves. The script skips from one exposition scene to the next, but nothing registers long enough to create character, tension, or the slimmest desire to see what happens in the next scene. Every once in a while director Joe Johnston (Jumanji) finds a grand staircase or CGI fog that conjures up the atmosphere of the old Universal horror classics, but otherwise this is a clueless affair--not as bad as Van Helsing, but flat-out dull. The movie can't even find a way to get the old Gypsy lady (Geraldine Chaplin stepping into Maria Ouspenskaya's tiny shoes) to deliver a proper recitation of screenwriter Curt Siodmak's great "Even a man who is pure in heart" doggerel from the 1941 film. Instead, it's thrown away in a voice-over at the beginning--one hairy way to start the movie.
12/11 she's out of my league
A gorgeous girl takes an interest in an ordinary guy in She's Out of My League, only to find their relationship questioned, criticized, and outright scoffed at by their friends and families. When airport security guard Kirk (Jay Baruchel, best known from supporting roles in Knocked Up and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) recovers the cell phone of knockout Molly (Alice Eve, Crossing Over), she asks him out to a hockey game as thanks. When a romance blossoms, Kirk is amazed--but not half as amazed as his buddies, who explain at length why Kirk is inferior in every way to this "perfect girl." This emphasis on the social ripples of the romance separates She's Out of My League from the usual average-guy-beautiful-girl romance; the web of admiration, envy, insecurity, and social anxiety is the real topic of the movie, not bland morals like "love is blind" or "true beauty is within." Well, that and a lot of embarrassing comic bits involving shaving, premature ejaculation, and more--some bits wouldn't be out of place in There's Something About Mary. It's not a great movie (Molly's role is underdeveloped, though not as badly here as in most boy-centered sex comedies), but Baruchel's puppy-dog charm, the better-than-average dialogue, and a strong supporting cast (particularly T.J. Miller, Cloverfield, and Krysten Ritter, Confessions of a Shopaholic) lift She's Out of My League above the ordinary.
12/18 couples retreat
Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau team up after their '90s career-making hit, Swingers, to write and costar in Couples Retreat, a romantic comedy that's heavy on the satire, but is also knowing and wry, as Swingers is at its best. Vaughn and Favreau are joined in the top-notch cast by the always engaging Kristin Bell (whose appearance with Vaughn, in a romantic tropical setting, may remind viewers of Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Jason Bateman, Kristin Davis (Sex and the City), Faizon Love, and Jean Reno. Fans of romantic comedies, and comedies of manners, will be delighted at the snappy interaction among the actors, and the zingers delivered by the script.
"You are not buying some 20-year-old broad a motorcycle!" yells Vaughn's character, Dave, to Love's character, Shane, who's having an early midlife crisis. "She's a kid! Buy her a Hello Kitty book!" Turns out that all the couples in Dave and Shane's circle are having issues, and decide to take a group tropical vacation. Ah, but there's a catch: the island getaway comes with mandatory couples counseling and bonding events. Most of the film's laughs come from cringe-worthy fish-out-of-water moments, though there are some pretty great fish-in-water moments, too: Dave begins to panic during a test involving swimming with sharks. "It's time to get the gun, and shoot some fish!"
Reno is also a standout, as the unctuous New Age-y director of the retreat, fearless in spewing half-nonsense yet having the almost admirable courage to stand behind his convictions. The film was directed with a light hand by Peter Billingsley, who starred as young Ralphie in A Christmas Story, and who has acted with Vaughn in Four Christmases and The Break-Up. And somehow, among the lunacy and the beauty of nature, friends and soulmates may just find the way back to each other. Just steer clear of the Jet Skis.
12/25 up in the air
Up in the Air transforms some painful subjects into smart, sly comedy--with just enough of the pain underneath to give it some weight. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) spends most of his days traveling around the country and firing people; he's hired by bosses who don't have the nerve to do their layoffs themselves. His life of constant flight suits him--he wants no attachments. But two things suddenly threaten his vacuum-sealed world: his company decides to do layoffs via video conference so they don't have to pay for travel, and Bingham meets a woman named Alex (Vera Farmiga, The Departed), who seems to be the female version of him… and of course, he starts to fall in love. Writer-director Jason Reitman is building a career from funny but thoughtful movies about compromised people--a pregnant teen in Juno, a cigarette-company executive in Thank You for Smoking. George Clooney has a gift for playing smart men who aren't quite as smart as they think they are (Michael Clayton, Out of Sight). The combination is perfect: Bingham is charming and sympathetic but clearly missing something, and Up in the Air captures that absence with clarity and compassion. The outstanding supporting cast includes Anna Kendrick (Rocket Science), Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Danny McBride (Pineapple Express), Melanie Lynskey (Away We Go), and others, each small part pitched exactly right.
Nicolas Cage stars in this largely unsatisfying science-fiction tale that begins as a taut and spooky story concerning psychic legacies and ends up falling back on Steven Spielberg's old, cosmic playbook for default explanations about weird phenomena. Cage stars as astrophysicist and widower John Koestler, whose young son attends a school where a 50-year-old time capsule is dug up and opened. Koestler's son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), is given an envelope from the capsule containing a sheet of paper inscribed with seemingly-random numbers. Koestler interprets groupings of the numbers as prophesies (made in 1959) of disasters leading up to a globally catastrophic event late in 2009. Moreover, some of the later tragedies involve him or members of his family, suggesting the paper was meant to fall into his and Caleb's hands. That’s not the only freaky thing drawing father and son in a direction they really don't want to go. Among other things, a quartet of mute strangers keeps showing up with a powerful interest in Caleb's whereabouts, and the daughter and granddaughter of the little girl who originally scribbled those numbers in 1959 are under the shadow of a separate prediction of doom. Everything goes swimmingly until it's time for director Alex Proyas (The Crow) to begin tying up all the strings, and cliches start falling like rain. On the plus side, Knowing includes a couple of breathtaking scenes of calamity, the most horrifying (and realistic) of which is a jet crash the likes of which has never been committed to film
12/18 extraordinary measures
Imagine Harrison Ford as a rogue scientist exploring not ancient artifacts of lost arks, but biochemical research to help cure rare diseases. In Extraordinary Measures, Ford manages to keep some of that wry rebellious Indiana Jones energy as he plays Dr. Robert Stonehill, a fringe researcher whose findings just might help keep alive the two children of John Crowley, played with heart and sobriety by Brendan Fraser. Extraordinary Measures is based on a true story, one chronicled in the gripping book The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million--and Bucked the Medical Establishment--in a Quest to Save His Children, by Wall Street Journal reporter Geeta Anand. The cast is excellent, with Ford tamping down his occasional urge to vamp for the camera, and Fraser grounded in his first true adult role. The supporting cast is also strong, including Keri Russell as Crowley's frantic wife, facing the near-certain death of both of her children; Dee Wallace, Jared Harris, and Courtney B. Vance also appear as strong supporting characters. Director Tom Vaughan switches gears from his wildly successful romp What Happens in Vegas to turn in a crisply paced and suspenseful family drama. As Crowley and Dr. Stonehill team up to raise money to support Stonehill's research, Crowley says, "Who's going to be half as motivated as the dad who's trying to save his own kids?" Extraordinary Measures brings to mind similar dramas like Lorenzo's Oil, but its heart and drive are unique to the story of the Crowleys, a very special family indeed.
"Be Italian!" comes the thundering command from one of the catchiest songs in Nine, and the movie version of this Broadway musical hit is undeniably solid on that point. It's drenched in cool cars, glamorous Italian threads, and cozy Roman neighborhoods, all circa 1962. That, you will note, is the vintage of Federico Fellini's classic film 8 ½, the source for both the stage show and Rob Marshall's frantic musical picture. As in the Fellini, the story revolves around film director Guido Contini, a glamorous public genius who's expected to begin shooting his expensive new movie in a few days. The only problem is, the maestro has no idea what his next film will be about, and he spirals through a week of mistresses, cigarettes, and robust fantasy as he avoids the subject. Marshall's approach to musicalizing this massive case of writer's block is to shunt the songs off into the giant studio where the sets for Guido's new movie have been built; the idea, presumably, is to frame them so the audience isn't perturbed by the old-movie convention of characters breaking into song in the middle of a scene. Fair enough, maybe, but did the numbers themselves have to be so aggressively vulgar? All of Guido's women have their turn to vocalize (and invariably writhe around in slutty underwear): Marion Cotillard plays his faultless wife, Penélope Cruz a hot-tempered mistress, Nicole Kidman his elegant star, Kate Hudson a horny journalist, Black Eyed Peas member Fergie the voluptuous beachside prostitute of Guido's childhood. And that's not the end of Guido's feminine carousel; Judi Dench plays his loyal costumer, and Sophia Loren lends her iconic stature to the role of Guido's mother. The man himself is played by Daniel Day-Lewis, who doesn't have the sheer movie-star presence of Mastroianni in 8 ½, even if he creates an intriguing visual figure--all bony intensity and nicotine jags. The film's empty flash is quickly numbing, and even fans of the original musical will likely find it a chore sorting through the glitz. On the upside, it may make you want to watch 8 ½ again.
12/4 Brooklyn's finest
Fans of the grit of HBO's The Wire, as well as of the mean-streets story intersection plot of Crash, will find a lot to like in the intense crime drama Brooklyn's Finest. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) with a sure hand, Brooklyn's Finest follows three NYPD cops who come from very different places (geographically and personally) as their lives, and the compromises they have made daily to coexist with the mean streets of Brooklyn, dovetail to a climax that will have viewers on the edge of their seats. Fuqua has assembled a stellar cast here, including Richard Gere, a veteran cop just a week from retirement; the always amazing Don Cheadle, an undercover officer whose loyalties to the force may be compromised by his growing loyalties to the groups he's infiltrating; and the film's true revelation, Ethan Hawke, a young corrupt cop whose morals make the stomach turn, though Hawke's performance is nuanced and riveting. Supporting cast members include Wesley Snipes as a badass gangster whom even the police have second thoughts about messing with. Other great performances are turned in by Vincent D'Onofrio, whose wooden delivery works here to make his character all the more menacing; Lili Taylor; and a ravishing, world-weary Ellen Barkin. The action is propelled along by the great performances, the excellent cinematography, Fuqua's deft direction, and the moody score by Brazilian composer Marcelo Zarvos. If the plot is a little far-fetched, even for a crime drama, the stellar performances more than make up for it, making Brooklyn's Finest one of Fuqua's, and certainly Hawke's, finest.
12/18 the bounty hunter
In the bouncy romantic comedy The Bounty Hunter, Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler aim to be a contemporary Nick and Nora for an audience that's never even heard of The Thin Man. Ex-cop-turned-bounty hunter Milo Boyd (Butler, 300) is ecstatic when he gets his new assignment: his ex-wife, reporter Nicole Hurley (Aniston), has skipped bail to pursue a breaking story. Naturally, when he catches her, he also gets caught up in the mystery--though the mystery is really just an excuse for quirky comic bickering between the estranged lovebirds. Refreshingly, the script has the kind of off-beat rhythms and flavors of comedy-action flicks like Midnight Run, Out of Sight, and Something Wild, and the supporting cast (featuring Christine Baranski, Mamma Mia!; Peter Greene, Pulp Fiction; Jeff Garlin, Curb Your Enthusiasm; Siobhan Fallon, Saturday Night Live; Cathy Moriarty, Raging Bull; and beloved character actress Carol Kane) is a colorful collection of great faces and pungent personalities. It's unfortunate that the leads are a tad bland; Aniston and Butler aren't bad, but they don't have the snap, crackle, and pop that the movie craves. Nonetheless, The Bounty Hunter rises above the average Hollywood rom-com.
12/4 sherlock holmes
Guy Ritchie (Snatch, RocknRolla) attempts to reinvent one of the world's most iconic literary figures as an action hero in this brawny, visually arresting period adventure. Robert Downey Jr. is an intriguing choice for the Great Detective, and if he occasionally murmurs his lines a pitch or two out of hearing range, his trademark bristling energy and off-kilter humor do much to sell Ritchie's notion of Holmes. Jude Law is equally well-equipped as a more active Dr. Watson--he's closer to Robert Duvall's vigorous portrayal in The Seven Per-Cent Solution than to Nigel Bruce--and together, they make for an engaging team. Too bad the plot they're thrust into is such a mess--a bustling and disorganized flurry of martial arts, black magic, and overwhelming set pieces centered around Mark Strong's Crowley-esque cult leader (no Professor Moriarty, he), who returns from the grave to exact revenge. Downey and Law's amped-up Holmes and Watson are built for the challenge of riding this roller coaster with the audience; however, Rachel McAdams as Holmes's love interest, Irene Adler (here a markedly different character than the one in Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Scandal in Bohemia"), and Kelly Reilly as Mary Morstan, the future Mrs. Watson, are cast to the wind in the wake of Ritchie's hurricane pace. One can imagine this not sitting well with ardent Sherlockians; all others may find this Sherlock Holmes marvelous if calorie-free popcorn entertainment, with the CGI rendering of Victorian-era London particularly appealing eye candy
sports documentary abut vince lombardi, head coach of the green bay packers.
12/18 the book of eli
With unflappable cool and surprising gentleness, Denzel Washington strides a bleak and barren world in The Book of Eli. Eli is headed west, but on the way, he passes devastation and squalor, and occasionally he must mete out some devastation of his own with a sharp blade. But when he arrives in what passes for a town in this dust-and-ash future, the power-hungry owner of the town's bar, Carnegie (Gary Oldman, looking a million years old), covets his one important possession. (Spoiler alert, sort of: it becomes apparent pretty quickly that it's a King James Bible.) Conflict ensues! Though the plot is simple and the "mystery" of the book doesn't last long, The Book of Eli is carried along effortlessly by its star. Washington has always had a compelling mixture of authority and tenderness, and it's this latter quality that makes this contribution to the testosterone-and-violence-drenched post-apocalyptic subgenre unexpectedly human. The script, while not particularly original, has effective dialogue and is smart enough not to explain too much. The supporting actors--including Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Jennifer Beals (who hasn't aged a day since Flashdance), and Ray Stevenson (Rome)--are all capable and easy on the eyes. The movie's bleached-out, sepia-tone look isn't new either, but it suits the subject matter. Anyone who wants to be offended by the movie's spiritual conclusion would be wiser to enjoy the subversive insinuation that religion can enslave as much as save. All in all, a competent action movie with some enjoyably atypical elements.
12/25 tooth fairy
Dreams and "what ifs" have no place in the life of hockey player Derek Thompson (Dwayne Johnson). As a major league player who's been moved down to the minor leagues following an injury, Derek thrives on negative attention, is ruthlessly pragmatic, and doesn't think twice about crushing the hopes and dreams of even his youngest fans. His poor attitude spills over into his personal life when he almost convinces his girlfriend's young daughter Tess (Destiny Whitlock) that the tooth fairy doesn't exist. As if the potential end to his relationship with girlfriend Carly (Ashley Judd) wasn't bad enough, Derek's actions inexplicably result in a nighttime summons from the "Department of Dissemination of Disbelief." Transformed into a tutu-wearing fairy with wings and whisked away to a fairy world, Derek assumes that his fanciful journey--and his sentencing by the head fairy (Julie Andrews) to a two-week stint as a tooth fairy--is just a bad dream. When his pager starts buzzing and wings sprout from his back at inopportune times, he realizes that his sentence is for real, yet he continues to deny the possibility that dreams and imagination have value. Derek's disbelief makes him an extremely inept fairy, but with the help of fellow fairy Tracy (Stephen Merchant) and some bonding time spent with Tess and her brother Randy (Chase Ellison), he begins to glimpse the importance of dreams and imagination and even manages to rediscover some of his own dreams in the process. Derek is definitely one crazy fairy, but Dwayne Johnson's skilled performance drives home the message that it's OK to dream, believe, and imagine. (Ages 7 and older)
Edited by seanbr, 21 November 2010 - 07:31 AM.