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Warning you about crappy movies since 2008.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The King's Speech

A biopic set in pre-WWII England. A pedigreed cast. Rich, regal sets. And, it's about the royals, who, thanks to Wills and Kate Middleton, are hotter than ever. Even if it were a snoozer, this flick would have Oscar written all over it.

But, a movie about an accidental king with a life-long stutter turns out to be anything but dull. It's absolutely engrossing. And, so dear.

Here's the setting: King George V (Michael Gambon) is in declining health. His eldest son and heir to the throne (Guy Pearce) has embarked on an ill-advised love affair with a twice-divorced American. His second son, known as "Bertie" (Colin Firth) may well be called on to lead the kingdom, but Bertie has never been prepared for the duty. Even the nanny regarded him with little respect when he and his brothers were young.

As England will eventually be pulled into war with Germany, the kingdom needs a skilled orator to reassure an anxious public. A reluctant Bertie is hardly suited to the challenge.

But, he has a sweetheart of a wife (Helena Bonham Carter) who is willing to try an unorthodox therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), since all the other approved doctors and methods have failed.

Logue's approach is so unorthodox, in fact, that he insists on Bertie treated him as an equal. This doesn't set well with a monarch -- even a reluctant one. But, after initial reservations, Bertie is willing to go along with the treatment because it is, surprisingly, effective.

What happens next could be called a royal bromance, as the king and his speech therapist spar, needle each other, share childhood hurts and grow genuinely fond of each other. Firth will surely be nominated for an Oscar and is likely to give a big speech of his own at the ceremony in 2011. He'll deserve to. See it!

                                                               The King's Speech

Friday, December 17, 2010

Black Swan

While Natalie Portman gives a powerful, Oscar-caliber performance in Black Swan, the heavily hyped movie may well be the biggest cinematic disappointment of 2010.

Portman's acting and dancing are remarkable. Always diminutive, she lost a scary amount of weight to portray Nina Sayers, a physically and psychologically scarred ballerina. The music is a perfect, chilling companion to the psychosexual drama. It's the story that's the weak link here. Well, that and, it must be said, the directing.

Director Darren Aronofsky makes an interesting choice -- repeatedly -- in having the camera trail Portman. It follows her and her chignon through the apartment she shares with her has-been ballerina mother, played by Barbara Hershey; from the subway to the performance hall; through the labyrinthine corridors of the theater where she rehearses. We get it, already. She feels like she's being followed.

Along about the time Nina descends into madness, the chignon gets messy. A few of the bobby pins must've fallen out. You know, to symbolize that Nina may have a screw loose. Well, duh. She's anorexic, lets her mother undress her and get her ready for bed and has a scratching disorder.

As Nina comes undone, so does the movie. It devolves into utter silliness. I've seen movies of the week with less melodrama. In fact, the whole thing has sort of a "woman on the brink" quality you might expect in a Lifetime movie.

Aside from the four main characters (Nina, her mother, the predatory choreographer who challenges Nina to live a little -- and by that, he means, start doin' the nasty -- and her rival), the other actors may as well be props. The rival ballerina, Lily, (Mila Kunis) is all wrong. The "bad girl" shows up late for rehearsal, doesn't need to warm up, smokes, boozes it up and -- here's where it's really ridiculous -- eats. Burgers.

I guess there's a chance Lily is Nina's alter-ego. There are a few clues that Nina/Lily may represent two personalities of the same person. I'm not invested enough in any the characters to ponder it much longer. I thought this movie was going to be crazy good. Turns out, it's just crazy. Skip it.

Black Swan

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Morning Glory

This critic just saw Morning Glory a few hours ago, and she's almost forgotten about it. But, that's not to say it wasn't an enjoyable 90-some minutes.

The credit goes entirely to Rachel McAdams, a viable candidate -- along with Reese Witherspoon and Drew Barrymore -- for the position of America's sweetheart. (Surely, we can force Julia Roberts into retirement from that role.)

McAdams plays Becky Fuller, the pluckiest of heroines, in what could be called Broadcast News Lite. Becky enthusiastically takes on a thankless job as the executive producer of a tanking network morning show. Diane Keaton is underutilized as the female half of the anchor team, while Harrison Ford seems to be channeling Jack Donaghy with his odd, whispery voice. He compensates for the low volume of the voice by overacting. 

So, the movie rests squarely on McAdams' shoulders, and she manages to carry the weight quite well. Her love story with the character played by Patrick Wilson is underdeveloped, but that's explained away by her workaholic tendencies.

Can she save the morning show from getting axed? C'mon, what do you think? It's slight, but McAdams is a comic joy to watch. See it.

Morning Glory

Fair Game

This critic saw Fair Game with a very partisan audience. And, she supposes the only people going to see the screen adaptation of the book by Valerie Plame, the outed-by-the-Bush-administration CIA covert operative, are partisan. And, that's reason enough to see this bad boy in the theater.

It was such fun to hear the hisses of my fellow audience members each time W. bungled a speech or Cheney showed his menacing half-smile. And, the couple behind this critic giggled each time the actor portraying the doughy, bloated Karl Rove showed up.

But, there's nothing funny about the VP and his staff ruining the career and risking the life of a CIA agent and the lives of all the contacts she had in the field. Anyone who was outraged at the time will get mad all over again about the Bush White House retaliating against an American ambassador who told the truth about the lack of WMD in Iraq.

The acting is first-rate. Sean Penn disappears into yet another role. He is as much the attractive, cerebral and tough Joe Wilson as he was the effeminate, stubborn and heroic Harvey Milk. Naomi Watts plays Plame. And, while she doesn't look the part as much as Penn looks like the man he plays, she strikes the right balance of  tough, but weary. Plame, apparently, has been complimentary of the performance.

The movie, like the book, probably appeals only to those who are or were ever angry about the U.S. going to war over WMDs that didn't exist. But, those people should see it.  

Fair Game

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Inside Job

Most economists agree that the the Great Recession is over, but the Chronic Critic doesn't buy it. Unemployment is still high, houses aren't selling, people are underwater in their mortgages and things just, generally suck. There's a malaise in the air that's hard to deny. People are mad -- and with good reason.

Well, get ready to get even madder.

The documentary, Inside Job, dissects the crash of the financial markets and reminds us all over again about the greed on Wall Street that led to our undoing. But, there's plenty of blame to go around. Democratic and Republican presidents, Treasury secretaries, SEC chiefs, economic advisers, regulators and ratings agencies all get their due. As does Alan Greenspan.

Even the economics departments at our best academic institutions -- Harvard, Columbia, et al -- share in the blame. No one's ever been held accountable, and the movie suggests no one's even learned a lesson from the fall.

Matt Damon narrates the tale of corporate greed and massive corruption at the highest levels of business, government and academia. It'll burn you up (unless you're one of the elite who profited from this mess), but you still need to ... see it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mademoiselle Chambon

While I may have wished the pace of this French romance were a bit quicker, the leads are sheer perfection and compensate for the occasional lag in the story.

Veronique, a stunning, freckled strawberry blonde, with the most graceful neck since Audrey Hepburn, plays a world-weary elementary schoolteacher. Jean is the world-weary father of one of her students. He's in a comfortable, if less than exciting, marriage. The two meet, connect and begin a slow, hesitant, chaste affair of the heart.  

The characters are completely believable in their awkwardness, their attraction to one another and their reluctance to proceed. There's no villain here -- just the story of two people who long for each other and the seeming impossibility that they can be together. A mature, melancholy wonder. See it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mao's Last Dancer

The most stunning achievement about this film-based-on-a-true-story is not the exquisite and powerful ballet moves or the way it captures a poor, rural childhood in Communist China or the spot-on recreation of the disco era in the United States in the 1970s.

It's Bruce Greenwood's effeminate turn as the director of the Houston Ballet. I mean this with the utmost respect: His performance is the gayest thing I've seen on screen since Truman Capote was featured in Neil Simon's Murder By Death. (And, yes, I'm counting Martin Short's Franc, the wedding planner in Father of the Bride.) The Chronic Critic was but a fifth grader who didn't know what "gay" meant when she saw Murder by Death, but she knew Mr. Capote was something special.

Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, etc.) directs this sweeping film that follows the improbable journey of Li Cunxin from his small province in China to a prestigious, government-run ballet academy in Beijing to his days as an exchange student in Houston. The Communist government has tight control over Li and tries to ensure he doesn't like America too much. Fat chance, what with the discotheques, Pepsi colas, women and freedom.

Interspersed with the impressive dancing is a tale of international political intrigue as China battles to hold on to its beloved ballet superstar. Both themes are enthralling, and both are given equal screen time.

The acting is not uniformly great -- but, hey, the Chronic Critic understands it can't be easy to cast actors equally gifted at acting and ballet. And, the acting is actually good, with the exception of the actress who plays Li's American girlfriend.

But, the standout performance belongs to Greenwood. After a career of playing mostly macho, who knew he was capable of such? See it.

Monday, October 25, 2010


This critic generally dislikes documentaries that leave the audience wondering which parts were real and which were fake. (Paper Heart with Charlene Yi and Michael Cera is Exhibit A.) But, that conceit -- what can you believe and what can't you? -- is put to brilliant use in Catfish. You may not be sure what to believe at the end, but I think that's precisely the point.

Catfish is about people not being who they say they are. Especially online. It's a mystery and a drama and a cautionary tale. It leaves you wondering and doubting.

This critic also dislikes spoilers, so she's not going to say much more than this is a movie for the facebook generation. It's intriguing, sad, pathetic and thought-provoking. See it.

Waiting for Superman

With Waiting for Superman, Director Davis Guggenheim (of those Guggenheims and actress Elisabeth Shue's husband) does for public education what he did for global warming a few years back with An Inconvenient Truth.

There are those who still say global warming is a hoax orchestrated by the liberal media. This critic does not believe there's anyone who will watch this film and contend that it's slanted or half-true. Our public school system is a disgrace, and if global warming doesn't cause the oceans to rise and destroy us in the new couple of generations, then the dummies coming out of our drop-out factories will surely destroy us, anyway.

Guggenheim tries admirably to find some reasons for hope. But, the overwhelming feeling one is left with is despair. We have failed at educating our populace, and the rest of the industrialized world has long since surpassed us.

If you've ever gotten angry about U.S. jobs being outsourced to India and elsewhere, you need to see this film. It's not just cheap labor that led U.S. companies to send jobs overseas. It's, at least in part, that U.S. schools hadn't produced enough workers with the right technical skills. Shame on us.

This film is not an indictment of all public schools and teachers -- far from it. But, it lays blame on politicians, incompetent teachers and especially the behemoth teachers' unions that are more concerned with giving tenure to teachers (even those who shouldn't be given the privilege of teaching) than with educating kids.

This is essential viewing. See it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Let Me In

Let the Right One In was #3 on my top 10 movie list from 2008. Hollywood has remade the Swedish film and renamed in Let Me In. Surprisingly, the remake is almost as good as the original. It should be; it follows it nearly frame-by-frame.

In fact, it follows it so closely that I need not write a new review. I've trotted out the 2008 capsule review. In case you missed the original -- or, like my mother, you can't read subtitles --the remake is certainly worth a sit. If you've seen the original, the new version is redundant.

Let the Right One In. A love story masquerading as a vampire movie. A lonely, bullied middle school boy finds understanding and friendship with a new neighbor in his apartment complex. Yet, this equally lonely 12-year-old girl only comes out at night. And, there’s an awful secret she can only hint at. She tells him she’s “been 12 for a long time,” but several townspeople will be murdered – although by reluctant predators – before the boy becomes aware of the truth his only friend hides.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Town

The nation can now forgive Ben Affleck for Gigli and the whole Bennifer mess.

He starred in, directed and co-wrote the screenplay for what is likely to be remembered as one of the best movies of 2010.

Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a tough, smart bank robber who learned the trade from his father, as is apparently common in the working-class Boston suburb of Charlestown. Jeremy Renner is explosive as Jim, Doug's childhood best friend and partner in crime. They and two cohorts storm into a bank, take the manager (Rebecca Hall) hostage and depart with the loot before the bank opens and before the title and opening credits roll.

The hostage is released unharmed, but the robbers are unnerved to discover she lives in their neighborhood. Jim would like her "taken care of," just in case she saw any of their faces and might be able to identify them. Doug wants to protect her and quickly falls for her.

An unlikely romance develops, more banks gets robbed and Jon Hamm plays a fast-talking FBI agent in hot -- and I do mean hot -- pursuit of the perps. That guy is smokin'.

The dialogue is snappy and believable. The performances are uniformly superb -- including small roles by Chris Cooper and especially Pete Postlethwaite. And, the action -- both the car chases and the gun fire -- is intense, thrilling and much more coherent than other examples from this genre.

Affleck is back. See it!

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Everything in this review will contradict the advice I proffer at the end. So, you've been warned.

The story of the greatest racehorse in history and his unlikely owner, a pampered suburban housewife, would have been remarkable enough. But, then Disney got hold of it. Now, everything is bathed in a warm, amber glow; set to stirring music; given a Christian context (God must've wanted Secretariat to win); and made more wholesome than this movie critic can imagine a barn would likely be. Oh, and don't get me started on the four young "actors" who portray the children of Secretariat's owner. I've seen better at a kindergarten Christmas pageant.

Diane Lane conjures up June Cleaver in dress, hair and manner in her rendition of Penny Tweedy, who takes over her parents' horse farm and breeding operation after they kick it. John Malkovich calls to mind Jim Carrey in his ridiculous, overzealous portrayal of Lucien Laurin, Secretariat's trainer.

Careless storytelling shows itself in the form of Laurin saying, late in the movie, he's worked the horse so hard for two years that Secretariat must be resentful. "I'm not getting my hands anywhere near his mouth," he says. "He's been waiting for two years to get hold of me." Yet, we've never once -- not once -- seen any footage of trainer and horse working together. Not so much as a quick montage.

But, we're treated to two scenes of Penny, her ever-present secretary and the slightly slow-but-wise groom washing the horse and suddenly breaking into a dance routine.

Yet ...

I couldn't resist the power of the story. Despite the problems and the very conventional filmmaking, I was rooting for Secretariat and for Penny, whom no one thought could succeed. The audience was cheering, weeping and applauding loudly by the end. Even a chronic critic is not immune to such charms. Secretariat is a crowd-pleaser full of big Life Lessons. It's hardly award-winning filmmaking (and the acting is mostly laughable), but it's like a big, goofy, accident-prone Labrador you can't help but love. See it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jack Goes Boating

I take no pleasure in advising readers against seeing a movie starring and directed by my long-time love, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and yet ...

Jack Goes Boating is just dull, and there are no two ways about it.

Watching two socially retarded people attempt a courtship is not especially enlightening, and it is certainly not entertaining. Hoffman, at his huggable heaviest and wearing swim trunks for much of the film, again shows there's nothing he won't do on screen. He tries to woo a character played by Amy Ryan (best known as Michael Scott's post-Jan Levinson-Gould love on The Office) who is every bit his equal in the awkward department.

Hoffman is the titular Jack, a dreadlocked loser who can't keep a job, unless it involves working for a family member, and mumbles his way through life. Jack's best friend sets him up with a kindred spirit, and the long, uncomfortable silences that ensue made me wince. Jack has so little to say that he has a habit of repeating what someone else has just said. He constantly misunderstands people, and they him. It's an interesting concept -- this idea of wanting to be understood but not having the ability -- but it does not make for good viewing.

The acting is first-rate, and Hoffman, the director, makes interesting, intelligent choices. Would that he had a story worthy of his talent. Skip it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Last year's The Disappearance of Alice Creed was remarkable for a number of reasons, one of which was that just three actors, seen primarily in one small apartment, could create such action, drama and a sense of dread.

Buried is even more remarkable in that it stars one actor: Ryan Reynolds. All the action -- the entire 90 minutes of the film -- takes place inside the coffin in which his character has been buried alive. So, Reynolds can use only his head and hands to convey his emotions.

His character, Paul Conroy, is a contract truck driver in Iraq whose convoy was ambushed. He's been kidnapped and locked in a wooden box with only a cell phone and a lighter. You'll marvel at Conroy's resourcefulness and will to survive. But, the real marvel is what an acting tour de force pretty boy Reynolds turns out to be. See it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Never Let Me Go

The children at Hailsham, this picturesque and isolated boarding school in 1970s England, have their destinies laid out for them. They just don't know it yet.

Kathy H. (played by the remarkable Izzy Meikle-Small, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Carey Mulligan, the actress who plays the grown-up version of her) and her classmates are happily unaware of the fate that awaits them. They study, play and take good care of their health, all under the stern gaze of the headmistress, played by the first-rate Charlotte Rampling.

The three young classmates are involved in a love triangle, but it would hardly seem to matter who ended up with whom, given that their ultimate fates are predestined.

Then again, since they -- like all of us -- have only a finite number of days on earth, wouldn't it behoove everyone to make the most of our allotment? That's just one of the big, intriguing questions posed in this atmospheric and melancholy movie.

The whole premise -- once we learn Hailsham's secret -- seems a little scifi, until you remember the shameful Tuskegee experiments our own government was responsible for. The secret is horrifying, and all the more so since it's plausible.

Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield (seen recently in The Social Network) do well at playing mournful, lonely and resigned young adults, but the movie belongs to Mulligan. See it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Animal Kingdom

Pity the teenage "J," who goes to live with his grandmum and uncles after his mum dies of a heroine overdose.

Grandma Smurf is not your archetypal grandma. She's a tart who's a big player in an Australian crime syndicate, and she controls every move -- hardly any of them legal -- her adult sons make. Jacki Weaver is criminally good in her role as matriarch/criminal mastermind. And, J may as well be another foot soldier in her gun-toting, drug-dealing army.

The only actor better than Weaver is James Frecheville, the lad who plays J. He goes from naive to dumbstruck to bewildered to enraged and is never less than 100 percent believable, although he's in an unbelievable predicament.

The audience finds out, at the same time J does, just how sociopathic most of this family is. Yet, they're the only family he's got. His choices become more and more limited as the film progresses -- and as more and more of his seeming allies get bumped off.

It's good to see Guy Pearce on screen again, although his role as a benevolent police officer is small. J must struggle to figure out if he should remain loyal to his trigger-happy family or trust this policeman who offers him safety. With his family's connections, is safety even possible?

Gripping, twisted and compelling from start to finish. See it!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fanny, Annie & Danny

You've heard of families who put the "fun" in "dysfunctional."

That's not this family.

These people are downright hateful. There's a bitter, controlling mother (one of the most memorable performances I've seen this year!) who has a clear favorite among her three children and doesn't hesitate to let everyone know it. Her favorite is her son, Danny, who has no interest in his doting mother -- since he's too busy looking out for himself. One daughter, Annie, has built up a lifetime of resentment because she's had to look out for her developmentally disabled older sister, Fanny. There's a father around, too, but he's just trying his best to stay out of everyone's way.

When this fragile, wounded clan gets together for Christmas, there are sure to be awkward moments, tears and yelling, guilt trips, hurt feelings and plenty of drama. It's cynical, darkly comical, weird, angst-filled, quirky and a complete original. A wondrous discovery. See it!

Charlotteans: It's here for one night only, courtesy of the Charlotte Film Festival: Saturday, Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. at Park Terrace. I urge you to see it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The American

Think you can't get enough of George Clooney? I challenge you to sit through The American, a new movie that bills itself as a thriller and stars George and no one you've ever heard of, and see if you get your fill.

I agree with the rest of the population in thinking George is a perfect specimen of extreme good looks, charisma, humor and talent with a giant dose of humanitarianism tossed in. But, let me tell you: There is a chink in his armor, and it's called The American.

With its beautiful, but dangerous, women; varied European locales; secret agent-y, "Who can you trust?" aura; and copious amounts of gunfire, it could, at first blush, remind you of a James Bond movie. Except, there is a total lack of snappy dialogue. In fact, there's almost no dialogue at all. And, the European locales are all washed-out. The landscape matches the storyline and the acting. It's all ho-hum.

See George do push-ups and pull-ups. See George fashion a new weapon out of spare parts. See George have clandestine meetings in bland coffee shops. See George stare off into the middle-distance.

We never learn anything about George's background. Hell, we don't even know if his character's name is Jack or Edward. (He's known by both.) Who's he working for? Who's he out to get, and why? What's his mission? If you're looking for answers, you won't find them here.

Killing-for-hire, prostitution and Italy and Denmark have never looked duller.

George Clooney has joked in past interviews about his work in the sitcom Facts of Life. I think he'll one day joke about this lame effort, too. Skip it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Wild Grass

I have no idea what to think about this colorful, bizarre, dreamy, French mystery/love story/drama. Wild Grass starts out as a standard-enough crime drama (woman has fire engine red wallet stolen (from lemon yellow purse), man finds it and takes it the police). But soon enough, the man who did the good deed is stalking the woman with the missing wallet. So far, so good. And, the saturated color palette -- brilliant reds, yellows and blues -- is something to behold!

In most movies, the woman would get scared at the onset of the stalking and take out a restraining order.

But, this woman -- a wild-haired dentist/pilot -- begins stalking her stalker right back. Not for retribution -- but because she is intrigued by him. Maybe, she even loves him.

Along the way, we meet the fellow's much younger wife, the woman's best friend and fellow dentist and a host of other minor characters. We come to discover that the finder-of-the-wallet has a violent, criminal past and an interest in aviation.

The characters go about their quotidian lives -- working in the yard, filling cavities -- and continue to haunt each other. Is it all a dream? A fairy tale? An allegory? Who knows? But, it is well-acted, beautiful to look at and hard to forget. If only because I want someone to explain its meaning to me, I suggest you see it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I Am Love

First of all, the title. What the ...? I thought the movie would make it clear who exactly love was, but that, like a lot of things, is left up in the air.

I Am Love, and its magnificent star, Tilda Swinton, are gorgeous to behold. The modern-day Italian aristocracy sure does show well. Swinton's Emma is always elegantly turned out, beautifully coiffed and a superb hostess, to boot. As the wife of a fabulously wealthy industrialist, she's had to host her share of dinner parties at their villa. And, she enjoys it. Despite having an entire staff at the ready, Emma enjoys preparing meals, especially one of her son's favorites -- an old recipe she recalls from her native Russia.

Apparently, Swinton learned to speak not only Italian, but Russian-accented Italian, for this film. If only the screenplay were worthy of such a feat.

Swinton is marvelous to look at, but after dozens of close-ups where the camera lingers (and lingers ...) on her, you start to wish there were a story here.

Oh, some stuff happens. The company that created all this wealth is going to be sold. Tilda's daughter decides she's a lesbo. And, Tilda's son meets a young chef who will become Tilda's lover. (Hey, maybe he is love?)

He's horribly miscast. Rugged is one thing. But, this guy just looks unclean. He and Tilda cook together, she eats his food, she gives him that Russian fish recipe, blah, blah. It takes two hours for this stuff to unfold, and none of it -- none of it -- seems to matter.

This is the second movie I've seen this month where a character solves a "mystery" (that he/she didn't even realize existed) by finding red hair where it wasn't supposed to be. (The other was The Kids are All Right, which also stunk.) Hair!? HAIR?! Carolyn Keene left better clues than that in the Nancy Drew series.

So, then the drama becomes melodrama, and really, the whole thing just goes to hell. But, it never ceases to be beautiful to look at. Skip it.

The Other Guys

Everyone is going to be quoting lines from this Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg laughfest for some time to come. Some of the yuks may even wind up becoming part of the pop culture lexicon. (I can't wait to refer to someone as a "paper bitch" and will be trying desperately to find a way to insert "forensic accountant" into my lingo.) Unless you want to be left out, you should see it!

P.S. Welcome back to the big screen, Michael Keaton! His police captain who works a second job as a Bed, Bath and Beyond manager is pure joy to watch.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


After seeing Inception, I couldn't help but feel perplexed, and maybe a little cheated (POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT HERE) -- kind of like I felt when the series Newhart ended. Only much more confused. It's a movie about the power of dreams, yet I was left wondering, "Was the whole thing a dream?" Who knows?

I can't make heads or tails of the brilliant writer-director Christopher Nolan's latest effort, and yet I still recommend it.

It is a visual feast. We're taken from abandoned warehouses-turned-into-dream-factories to Parisian cafes to African street markets to snow-covered mountains topped by futuristic, multi-layered concrete structures. People float through zero gravity, and there's a terrific homage to Gene Kelly and his iconic dancing on the ceiling scene from Singing in the Rain.

If Giorgio de Chirico's and M.C. Escher's paintings were transferred to film, they might look something like some of the lonely cityscapes folding in on themselves in Inception.

If there are a few too many car chases, explosions, fireballs and avalanches, you can forgive, since the whole of the movie is so wondrous and imaginative.

Maybe too imaginative. The premise is too confusing to try to explain. This is a world where it is possible to invade someone's dreams to either swipe his ideas or implant a thought that the victim (if that's the right word) will believe was his own. As such, it's possible to change the future. Or, history. As I said, I'm confused.

Leonardo DiCaprio ably plays the leader of this gang of dream invaders-for-hire. The adorable and versatile Joseph Gordon-Levitt is his sidekick. Along the way, they pick up plucky Ellen Page who is able to design complex mazes for the victim/dreamers to get stuck in. They also pick up a chemist and some other specialists, too. There's a lot going on here, including a cornucopia of supporting characters who are hard to keep up with.

Just as in some of our own nightmares, these characters find themselves in impossibly intricate spaces, from which they can't get out. Just as in our own dreams, dead people make appearances. But in Inception, we're not sure if Leo's wife (Marion Cotillard), who haunts his dreams, is dead or alive.

Tom Berenger shows up, a little meatier than I remember, in his first good movie since The Big Chill. He does well in a small, but, important role. Pete Postlethwaite isn't put to much use, since all he's called on to do is lie in a hospital bed in precisely two scenes.

In Nolan's Memento, a widower with short-term memory loss must tattoo clues about his wife's murder on his body, lest he forget them. That movie made us invested in Guy Pearce's tortured character so that we actually cared about him and wanted him to solve the mystery. Inception isn't so much concerned with the outcome (or the storyline or characters) as it is with visual wizardry. And, that's dazzling enough for me to recommend you see it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Kids are All Right

There are elements to admire in this summer dramedy about a long-married couple and their teenage children.

First, it's original. In The Kids are All Right, the family is headed by two lesbians, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore). Then, there are the noteworthy performances by Bening, Moore and Mark Ruffalo, who plays Paul, the happy-go-lucky sperm donor who begat them their 18-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son, whose name is, inexplicably, Laser. (Ooo, wait, I haven't even gotten to the part about all there is not to admire.)

But, as long as I've gotten on that train of thought, I may as well continue:

-- The parts for the two kids are sorely underwritten. Even though the movie belongs to the three adult leads, these kids are so bland, they're practically props.
-- The college-bound daughter, Joni, is smart. We know this because she says she got straight As in high school. She never does or says anything, though, that makes her seem remotely intelligent.
-- The details are wrong. When the rudderless Jules buys a truck so she can begin a landscaping business, we wonder -- I did, anyway -- why she didn't begin with her own parched lawn. She doesn't appear to have even a passing interest in horticulture.
-- At one point, Jules marvels to Paul that she keeps seeing her kids' faces in his expressions. He squints, tilts his head and asks, "Really?" She mimics him, as if to say her kids make that gesture all the time. But, we never see them do it. Which brings me to another point ...
-- The kids look nothing like Nic, Jules or Paul. Wouldn't it have been a neater trick for a casting director to opt for teens who look remotely like one of the leads? Since the kids' parts are so blah, anyway, it seems that casting someone who looked like he/she could've been the offspring of one of these people would've been the main goal.
-- The two kids have best friends who seem to serve no purpose other than to annoy them ... and us.
-- The two moms are both so California crunchy, it's unbelievable that one of them turns her nose up at ... composting. (Which, by now, is mainstream.)

I could continue with what's not to like, but you're getting the idea. Skip it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Winter's Bone

If the Clampetts starred in a new version of Waiting for Godot, it might look something like Winter's Bone, a seriously depressing and inert drama in which trashy country folk smoke, cuss, git in fights and shoot and gut squirrels for dinner. I suppose the main story is that a gal goes off in search of her crack-cookin' diddy, who has apparently put up their ramshackle cabin as his bond money.

This is a movie in which one of the characters says, without the slightest trace of irony, "Didn't one of my nephews shoot your diddy?" Seriously, if there are people who live like this, the Chronic Critic would prefer they remain out yonder.

Over the course of the movie, I 'bout got my fill on bail bondsmen, banjos and girl fights. Will the main character (I can't even recall her name) find her diddy and git to save the "house"? I doubt you'll care much one way or the other. Skip it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Two movies about mother issues

If you've seen the trailer for Cyrus, the new "comedy" (and I use the term loosely) starring John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill, then you've seen the funniest bits. Actually, you've seen the only funny bits.

The premise alone had me eager for opening day. Reilly plays John, a pathetic, antisocial sad sack whose ex-wife (Catherine Keener), on whom he is still dependent, is about to get remarried. John meets Molly, a total hottie who, inexplicably, hasn't had a romantic relationship in about 20 years. They fall for each other instantly, but there is one obstacle to their love story: Molly's grown son. Cyrus lives at home, is still entirely dependent on his mother, takes an active interest in her sex life, walks in on her in the shower and may be a compulsive-lying kleptomaniac. All that looked hysterical in the trailer.

Cyrus turns out to be a great concept in search of a good screenplay.

Cyrus and John loath each other, but it takes the movie too long to get around to their open hostility, which is the funniest part of the movie.

The movie asks us to believe that the vibrant, witty, gorgeous Molly has given up her whole adult life to coddle her socially retarded, ne'er-do-well son. Clearly, Molly needs to be needed -- which can be the only explanation for her attraction to John. But, why? And, why does she indulge the creepy Oedipal desires of her oafish son? The movie never explains her motives, and the audience is ultimately left feeling cheated. Despite uniformly great performances, I say: Skip it.

The three main characters in Mother and Child all have serious mother issues, too, but theirs are fully examined. All three are struggling in some way with adoption -- Annette Bening's character gave a baby up for adoption, Naomi Watts' character was given up for adoption as a newborn and Kerry Washington thinks she wants to adopt after it's determined she and her husband cannot conceive.

The emotional struggles on display in these three interconnected stories include unfulfilled maternal instincts, abandonment, shame, a need for sexual control and the eternal struggle between mother and daughter. If the film sometimes verges on melodrama and hinges too much on coincidence, we can forgive, because its heart is always in the right place.

Look for Bening to be recognized come 2010 awards season for her turn as a bitter, brittle woman who can't let go of her past until she somehow makes peace with her own mother.

Even the supporting performances (Jimmy Smits, Samuel L. Jackson) are a joy to watch.
This movie continues to resonate -- long after the closing credits. See it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Joan Rivers is a human quilt.

She doesn't just look like she's had "work done." She looks like a cartoon version of herself.

But, you've got to love a show biz icon (and poster lady for excessive plastic surgery) who is willing to let her vanity go by the wayside to show us her vulnerability.

The documentary opens with an extreme close-up of Ms. Rivers, in all her pale, pinched and puffy glory, sitting in a make-up artist's chair. She doesn't yet have on her make-up; the sight is startling.

And, that's just the beginning of what Joan is planning to reveal.

She worries constantly about being irrelevant. Even at 75, she wants to be fully booked -- and not just in clubs in Peoria. Joan wants to play the top venues in the biggest cities across the country. And, she is relentless in demanding of her long-time agent that he get her booked. The two share a sweet, easy camaraderie (except for when Joan is barking at him) and a long history together.

This film shows us the humanity behind a hard-working Hollywood legend who refuses to go gently into retirement. You may not like Joan Rivers at the end of the movie, but you'll likely have plenty of respect for the woman who's devoted her life to making people laugh. See it.


The stars of this documentary about sheep are ... the sheep themselves. They have miles more personality than the mostly taciturn modern-day Montana shepherds who are charged with their care.

Once or twice, one of the cowboys does talk, and then it's an avalanche of expletives aimed at the docile, but sometimes stubborn, creatures. The Chronic Critic, no stranger to curse words herself, has never heard language like this, and she is a student of both David Mamet and Quentin Tarantino.

Other than the occasional string of cussin', there is hardly any dialogue in the film. Just the sounds the sheep make (and, boy howdy, are they noisy!) and the sounds of the sometimes brutal winds at the top of the mountain where the 3,000 sheep have been taken to graze for the summer.

The panoramas are beautiful, the sheep soulful (really!) and the music stirring. But, ain't much of a story here. The sheep, whom we see bleating, walking, running, birthing and nursing, are sweet creatures, but a person can get full-up on sheep footage. Had the cowboys any interesting insights -- or really, anything to say, at all -- this may have been a better movie.

Not until the closing credits do we learn that this trip up the mountain, c. 2003, would be the last time herds of sheep could graze on national park land. We never learn why that is or how the ranchers feel about it. If the movie is intended as an homage to a dying way of life, the filmmakers should have, I don't know, MENTIONED it before the closing credits. Skip it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Secret in their Eyes

I was surprised to see a nearly packed house on Saturday afternoon -- for a movie with subtitles. The Chronic Critic is accustomed to being one of only a handful of cultured folk in any given theater in her hometown.

She was not surprised, however, when the crowd burst into applause as the closing credits rolled. This Argentinian winner of the 2009 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film has everything.

"Having everything" is not always a good thing. To wit, T.G.I. Friday's could be said to have everything from potato skins to chicken tenders and quesadillas to surf and turf. But, none of it is done well.

The Secret is part murder mystery/part love story/part political thriller/part comedy/part a rumination on life and love ... and every aspect of it is superb.

Let's start with the first-rate acting. Ricardo Darin smolders as Benjamin, the brooding hottie at the heart of the film. We meet Benjamin in the present day, when he's retired from his work in the criminal justice system and is trying to write a novel about a 25-year-old unsolved murder/rape case he's never gotten over.

His romantic interest, Irene, is every bit his equal. She's as lovely and intelligent as Benjamin. There is chemistry and desire between the two, but it's not acted on. Benjamin seeks out Irene -- after a 25-year-absence -- to ask her advice on his manuscript. She's now a prominent judge with a family of her own. We don't know much about what Benjamin has been up to in those 20-odd years, other than he's been consumed by this unsolved case.

The movie quickly takes us back two decades and shows us -- in gruesome detail -- why Benjamin remains haunted. He and his sidekick -- the most comical deputy since Barney Fife -- investigate and are certain they've found the perp. They have, been in a corrupt political/judicial system, they'll never be able to make it stick.

Meanwhile, Benjamin can't shake his passion for Irene. And, the murdered woman's husband can't shake his love for his slain wife. There are parallels between the men and their lost loves. But, they're doled out bit by bit in an intelligent and delicious way.

The movie moves back and forth in time, yet there's never any confusion about where we are in the story. This is first-rate story-telling and film-making (those close-ups! those continuous shots!) that deserves whatever awards and applause are heaped on it. See it!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Get Him to The Greek

Get Him to The Greek is raunchy, juvenile and totally not-to-be-missed.

Russell Brand reprises his preening rocker character, Aldous Snow, from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. But this time, Snow has released a new CD to universally scathing reviews and has gotten sober. So, he's not nearly as interesting to his sexy rocker girlfriend, Jackie Q. She says as much on national TV, and that's enough to send Aldous back to the booze and pills. But, falling off the wagon might be enough to catapult him back to the top of the charts. Jackie Q. wasn't the only one who liked Aldous better with a buzz. Apparently, his fans feel the same way.

Jonah Hill is equally fun to watch as Aaron, the nervous record label rep sent to accompany Aldous from London to New York (for a Today show appearance) and then to L.A. for a comeback concert. Aaron is forced to live the life of a rock star for 72 hours while he's responsible for the notoriously irresponsible Aldous. He's also got to keep Aldous sober for part of that time, which proves to be as difficult as it sounds.

Aaron is willing to go to great lengths -- including several episodes where he vomits on himself -- to deliver his rock idol to The Greek Theater and to pacify his demanding boss, played by P. Diddy (if that is indeed what Sean Combs goes by these days). Diddy is not likely to be nominated for an Oscar, but he's great fun to watch as a tyrannical executive. (Remember Snoop Dogg's role as Huggy Bear in Starksy & Hutch? They're both so cool that you're willing to overlook their bad acting.)

Aside from Diddy, the supporting characters are as equally good and well-cast as the leads. Colm Meaney shows up as Aldous' washed-up, ex-rocker father. Elizabeth Moss is likable as Josh's sweet, always-exhausted live-in girlfriend. But, Rose Byrne gets to have the most fun as Aldous' fame-loving, oversexed girlfriend.

The most delightful surprise of all, though, is how much heart this movie has. Aaron eventually views Aldous as a human and not just an idol. Aldous proves to have some genuine emotion beneath his chest hair and man jewelry.

If you're not easily offended and in the mood for a feel-good, gross-out comedy, get yourself to Get Him to The Greek. See it.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Square

The first words in this Australian noir thriller are spoken to Ray, the architect at the center of the film by Carla, his mistress. "You're going to get me in trouble," she kids him.

And, how.

But, the hapless Ray doesn't intend to get Carla or anyone else in trouble. He's so p**-whipped, though, he agrees to a scheme he knows is wrong because Carla asks him to. The casualties of his greed begin stacking up in Biblical and almost comical proportions.

Turns out, though, that this plan he hatches with Carla isn't the only crooked plan Ray is involved in. His greed knows no bounds, and he gathers so many enemies that, when he begins to get blackmailed, he has no idea which one of his haters could be coming after him.

Actually, he does hazard some guesses. But, they all turn out to be tragically wrong. Things go from bad to worse to "Oh. My. God." in a hurry.

The passion Ray and Carla feel for each other at the beginning of the film must be put on hold (or was it really there to begin with?), as both deal with the tragic consequences of their greed, ineptitude and plain bad luck.

The Square is a murky, well-acted cautionary tale with a bitchin' original soundtrack. I consider it a must-see. See it!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Casino Jack: The United States of Money

Even if you followed the tawdry case of disgraced uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, you may not have realized he was once a producer of B-movies. Alex Gibney, the filmmaker behind this documentary about the rise and fall of perhaps the greediest sumbitch to ever walk down K Street, shows us the evidence of that abandoned career and points out an irony. Abramoff, a lover of schlock action-adventure movies, is now the subject of, in Gibney's words, a "dreary documentary."

Far from being dreary, this flick nearly forced your Coke Zero'd-up critic to lose control of her bladder as she tried to find a lull in which she could excuse herself.

But, Gibney's movies tend to have that effect on her. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side (about how the Bush administration concocted reasons to start a war with Iraq) are among his previous credits.

This time, Congress and its pay-to-play structure (especially under the leadership of exterminator-turned-Congressman Tom DeLay) are Gibney's targets. Most of the players tarnished by Abramoff are GOP legislators. But, plenty of Dems took his money, too. Patrick Kennedy, Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Harry Reid are among the recipients of Abramoff's ill-gotten gains.

DeLay appears on camera extensively, as does the convicted former Rep. Bob Ney. Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist are prominently featured, although not interviewed.

Neither is the subject of the movie himself, although we see him and hear his words throughout. Several people express genuine shock at the emails Abramoff sent, which characterized his native American clients as buffoons, dimwits and jackasses. This, after collecting tens of millions in fees from them.

This movie isn't just a smear job -- although Abramoff wouldn't appear to deserve much more. The filmmaker digs deep to try to uncover what led Abramoff from being an earnest leader of the college Republicans to a felon.

The movie makes it seem as if there's a very fine line between being a true believer to your cause and being a pimp for it. See it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


A lot happens in the French documentary, Babies. Children are born in four corners of the world (Tokyo, Namibia, Mongolia and San Francisco) and live the first 12 months of their lives.

But, some people may feel that not much happens at all.

The pace is slow. There is almost no dialogue. And, the camera focuses almost exclusively on the four babies who are the film's stars. Even the parents are seen (or heard, rather) mostly as disembodied voices.

The babies' lives couldn't be more different -- beginning with the circumstances of their birth. Some babies are born in a hospital and almost immediately hooked up to gizmos. Some are born to mothers, alone, in grass huts.

Hattie, the baby in San Francisco, lives a life of overindulged privilege. She goes to classes where babies sing and clap with their parents. The baby in Africa amuses himself by crushing rocks.

The San Francisco baby gets clean in the shower with her daddy. The Mongolian baby gets clean in a small tub full of water -- and shares the tub with a thirsty goat. The little boy in Africa gets licked clean by his mom.

But, the movie aims to show us the similarities among the babies rather than point out the profound differences. All across the globe, siblings battle each other. Pets patiently endure the unintended torture inflected on them by toddlers. And, mothers love and nurture their children using whatever tools they have at hand.

Babies (the movie), like babies (the human variety), may not be for everyone. But, I found it to be a little miracle. See it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

North Face

The Chronic Critic is no adventurer herself. Far from it. But, she does like to read about and watch other people risk their lives in pursuit of a dream.

If the risk-taking adventurers on screen -- rock climbers in the case of the movie, North Face -- are smokin' hot Germans, so much the better.

It's 1936, and two best buddies are out to be the first men to climb The Eiger, a 13,000-foot peak in the Alps. Their childhood best friend, a fetching lass now fetching coffee for her newspaper editors, is a budding photojournalist who wants to be there to capture on film their moment of triumph.

Oh, she's also in love with the hottest of the climbers (Benno Furmann), as he is with her.

But, the love story plays second fiddle to story about man vs. nature. It's a matter of national pride for the two Germans to conquer the mountain. The media are camped out at a luxury hotel at the base of the mountain to cover either the triumph (which seems less and less likely as conditions worsen) or tragedy. Throw into this mix two Austrian climbers on the mountain at the same time and with the same goal and a nasty storm (and lost glove), and you've got yourself an icy, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.

That this movie is based on a true story makes it all the more riveting. See it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

City Island

Everyone has secrets. Spouses keep secrets from each other. Children -- even adult children --keep them from their parents. Some secrets, if revealed, could topple a family. And, there are smaller secrets -- like telling your spouse you've quit smoking when you are, in fact, sneaking cigs on the roof or in the backyard.

Secrets are the theme at work in City Island, and while some of them will ultimately have serious consequences, the movie itself is breezy, lighthearted fun.

Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) is a corrections officer -- as he keeps having to remind people who refer to him as a prison guard -- living in a sweet, little fishing village in the Bronx. The Brando-obsessed Vince confides in his acting partner (Emily Mortimer), as part of an assignment for class, that his "secret of all secrets" is that his wife, Joyce, (Julianna Marguiles) thinks he's at a poker game instead of at acting class. Even after 20 years together, he can't tell her he wants to be an actor.

Joyce, a disgruntled wife, assumes that poker is his cover for an affair. Joyce might not care so much about the acting bug, but she would almost certainly blow up over the much bigger secret her husband is harboring. That secret soon reveals itself at the correctional facility where Vince works.

The two Rizzo children have embarrassing secrets of their own, and they'll go to great comic lengths to keep them hidden.

When these secrets are uncovered -- and all at once -- the family comes undone. It's positively Greek in scope, as Mortimer's character points out.

The acting is uniformly good, the storyline original and the whole of it is charming and satisfying. An unexpected little gem of a movie. See it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Internet research (even hacking into other people's computers) and looking through stacks of old notebooks of negatives (even when looking for a killer) are just not that interesting to watch. And, a significant portion of this film's two-and-half-hour run time is dedicated to just those pursuits.

Those boring scenes are made to look even duller, when punctuated with squirm-inducing scenes of bondage and extreme, graphic and sexual violence. This film is either lulling you to sleep or making you wince, and there's not much in-between.

The actress who plays Lisbeth (the girl who has the dragon tattoo of the title) is perfectly cast. She's the right mix of tough street broad -- with multiple facial piercings, in addition to a ginormous tattoo -- and wounded soul. Her leading man, however, is much less than I had hoped for after reading the book.

Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist-turned-detective, was -- as conjured in my mind -- Harrison Ford (pre-Calista Flockhart) kind of hunky. A man's man and a ladies' man. The Blomkvist of the film is a pockmarked dweeb. (And, I am not knocking pockmarks. Ray Liotta and Tommy Lee Jones prove they can be sexy.)

The tale is almost impossibly complex. Much easier to keep up with on the page than on screen, it involves -- get ready -- journalism and a libel suit, a decades-old crime that may be a murder (or a disappearance), Nazis, torture, S&M, serial rapists/killers, cyber-sleuthing, the book of Leviticus, family business shenanigans, a girl with a mysterious and painful past and a love story. Good luck keeping up with all of it.

When I finished the book, which had been positively riveting in parts, I told friends that it went on about 100 pages too long. The Swedish movie adaptation had the opportunity to correct that and tighten up the story where tightening was needed. It failed. Skip it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Joneses

I was so taken with the premise of this movie -- it's an alleged comedy poking fun at conspicuous consumerism -- that I overlooked one obvious and insurmountable flaw: Demi Moore.

I'll give props to Demi for being such a hot babe at her (by Hollywood standards) advanced age. No such props for her acting ability.

Demi and David Duchovny (no comic genius himself) play actors hired to pose as husband and wife. Their "set" is an Ethan Allen-furnished McMansion, and they have two perfectly gorgeous teenage children (also actors) as accessories. They're paid to shill brand-name goods to the unsuspecting neighbors who are all taken with the good looks and material wealth of the Joneses.
The Chronic Critic was reminded of any number of Saturday Night Live sketches that start out funny and drag on too long. The Joneses begins with an interesting idea -- that marketing could become so insidious that our friends and neighbors are being paid to sell us stuff -- that falls flat about 20 minutes into the run time.

It's a comedy devoid of laughs that takes a misguided turn for the serious toward the end. What could've been an interesting character study (What made these people leave their lives behind to pose, full-time, as a model family?) is left untouched.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is that out-of-control consumerism is bad. The moral of my story is not to see a movie where Demi Moore is the lead actress. Skip it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Anyone reading this should immediately get on the interweb, check to see if Mother is playing in your city and, if it is, drop what you're doing and rush out to the next showing.

On the surface, this Korean film is a whodunit, but at its heart, it's about maternal love and just how far a mother may be willing to go to protect her son.

The son is a sweet, developmentally delayed adult who follows a young woman home from a bar one night. The next morning, the woman turns up dead. (The police officers are more excited than traumatized by the public display of her corpse. They can't remember the last time this sleepy town has experienced a homicide!) The son is soon charged with her murder. The mother knows he can't be capable of such brutality and sets out to prove him innocent and find the real killer.

She goes to unimaginable lengths in her attempt.

As with any good mystery, there are a few red herrings along the way to the finale. Even as these plausible suspects present themselves, this devoted-to-the-point-of-madness mother will not be dissuaded in her attempt to get justice for her son.

Also along the way are some wonderfully tense moments and unforgettable shots. The scene where mama hides in a closet while the guy she suspects is the real murderer makes whoopee with the local tramp may well become a cinematic classic. It may ultimately be dissected, frame by frame, like the shower scene in Psycho. Once the would-be killer and his lover fall asleep -- and mother tries to sneak out without waking them -- well, just wait ...

Suspenseful, beautifully shot and with an Oscar-caliber performance by Hye-ja Kim (as Mother), this one is not-be-be-missed. See it!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Prophet

Critics internationally are hailing A Prophet as an instant gangster classic and its director, Jacques Audiard, as a French Scorcese. I cannot add my tiny voice to the chorus.

Leading man, Tahar Rahim, is brilliant as a prisoner whose six-year incarceration the film follows. (And, at a bloated two-and-a-half hours, very little of those six years seems to be left out.) Tahar's character -- the film has so many superfluous characters that it's hard to recall any one's name -- is an Arab in a prison run by a Corsican gang. Apparently, that means he's f***ed.

He's propositioned in the shower on one of his first days in the slammer and summoned the next day by the head of the Corsican gang (a Godfather-like figure) and instructed to slit the throat of the guy who came on to him. He's given little choice in the matter.

Soon enough, he's the Godfather's beeatch, doing his dirty work and getting beaten up in the process. Apparently, because he's an Arab.

I'm sure there are some messages here about ethnic warfare, the nature of evil and what-have-you. But, I can't for the life of me figure out what they are, because the overly long movie is so convoluted and confusing.

I know I'm part of a tiny population of critics not to embrace this opus, but I say: Skip it!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine ... and Chloe

I saw two movies this weekend. Neither merits is own review, so I've combined them into one. Hot Tub Time Machine (an alleged comedy) and Chloe (an unintentional comedy) have nothing in common, other than that neither is good.

While there are a couple of laughs to be had in HTTM, the buddy movie that transports us back to the 1980s, it is mostly a retread of movies you've seen before that were done better the first time. Casting John Cusack in the lead was clever, but think of all the '80s idols who aren't here. And, it's hard to imagine C. Thomas Howell, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall couldn't have cleared their calendars.

The generally reliable director, Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Felicia's Journey), doesn't intend the laughs in his psycho-sexual drama, but -- boy! -- are they there. Liam Neeson sleepwalks through the film, and Julianne Moore seems a little embarrassed to be part of it. They play a long-married couple who have grown bored with (him) or suspicious of (her) one another. Amanda Seyfried plays Chloe, the hooker hired by Moore's character to tempt her husband into cheating, and then tell Moore all about it. Everyone has sex with everyone else in this movie, and it's still dull.

If you've seen Fatal Attraction, then you've already seen a much better version of Chloe. Likewise, if you've seen The Hangover, you've seen a much better version of HTTM. Skip them.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


I don't want to waste any more time than I already have on this turd, so I'll make this brief, and I'm not even going to spell-check it.

This movie should never have been made. It is a complete waste of Ben Stiller, and an utter disappointment coming from writer/director Noah Baumbauch, who so impressed this critic back in 2005 with The Squid and The Whale (my #1 movie that year).

Two depressed, social misfits sharing long, awkward conversations should not a movie make. The only funny bits were shown in the trailer and made this film seem like a comedy. Which it is not.

Avoid it. You're welcome. Skip it!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

I went with two seven-year-olds (my nephew, Will, and his friend, Carter) to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid and asked them to serve as guest bloggers.* Let's cut right to the chase with the important stuff. Both boys liked the movie and recommend it. Will calls it "funny," while Carter warns, "It's gross at the end."

Carter further cautions: "It's way different from the book."

As for character development, both Will and Carter give the filmmaker and actors thumbs-up. Carter especially liked the older brother, Roderick, because, "He has 'Loded Diper' [the name of his high school band] painted on his van.'" The little brother is not as likable, according to Carter, because "he's not potty-trained."

Will's favorite parts of the movie involved a cartoon about an acid puddle and another with the punch line, "Zooie, mama!"

Any lessons to be learned? "Don't mess with teenagers," said Carter.

"Never eat a piece of cheese on a basketball court outside," said Will.

"Don't play 'Gladiator' in middle school," said Carter.

Both fellas say: See it.

* The opinions presented here are not necessarily those of The Chronic Critic.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Ghost Writer

Having your wife and unborn child murdered by the Manson family could make anyone go a little loco. But, drugging and raping a 13-year-old is more than a little loco. It's illegal. And, if you can't do the time, well then ... you shouldn't do the crime. Unless, of course, you can live out your days in Switzerland.

If you can forget that Roman Polanski is a fugitive from justice, you just may find yourself thinking that Ghost Writer is the first Oscar-caliber movie of 2010. It's as moody and atmospheric as the best Hitchcock thrillers, but the themes at play here have been ripped straight from today's headlines.

Pierce Brosnan plays Adam Lang, a Tony Blairesque ex-prime minister of Great Britain. Like Blair, Lang has a brilliant, well-educated wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams) who is an important behind-the-scenes player in national and international affairs. Lang has been collaborating on his memoirs with a ghost writer who turns up dead on a beach near the PM's secluded Martha's Vineyard home. (Was his drowning accidental? Suicide? Or, something more sinister?)

Ewan McGregor is perfect as the writer hired to finish the dead guy's manuscript. He soon realizes he's in over his head. And, while he's not interested in politics nor is he an investigative reporter, he quickly develops a sense for both.

The austere house is the stateside home to Lang and his wife as well as the former and current ghostwriters. But, it's anything but cozy. The house, straight out of Architectural Digest, becomes almost a character itself. There's tight security, an efficient staff (someone is constantly sweeping the back deck, which, on windswept Martha's Vineyard, is completely futile) and big picture windows from which a menacing sky is always visible.

Those gathering clouds do more than portend a storm. Lang is facing a political storm of his own and perhaps of his own making. He's recently been accused of being a war criminal. The allegations charge that he aided in shuttling suspected terrorists to countries where they could be tortured. They (and the PM) are flown by Hatherton aircraft. (Remind you of Halliburton? It's supposed to.)

Lang's efficient personal assistant (and mistress?) Amelia (Kim Cattrall) does all she can to protect him from the media. Her ice princess act here is so good, you forget that she's best-known for her work in the sub-par Sex and the City.

Everything about Ghost Writer is good. Polanski may be a criminal, but his artistic genius is undeniable.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oscar Eve!

In a perfect world, The Hangover would be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper would be vying for Best Actor honors, director Todd Phillips would be a shoo-in for Best Director and screenwriters Phillips, Jon Lucas, Scott Moore and Jeremy Garelick would get a Lifetime Achievement Award for penning an instant classic.

Alas, it is not a perfect world (and don't even get me started on what all is currently wrong with it), and The Hangover has been inexplicably shut out.

But, those golden statues are going to be handed out tomorrow night, and if I were in charge, here's who the envelope would go to:

Best Picture: An Education, a coming-of-age story where the bookish ingenue learns tough lessons in life and love.
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, who is better as a hard-drinking, has-been musician than the material in Crazy Heart deserves.
Best Actress: Carey Mulligan, who came out of nowhere to nail the role of an innocent schoolgirl who falls for a debonair older man in 1960s London in An Education.
Best Supporting Actor: The Messenger's Woody Harrelson for his work as hardened military officer assigned the grim duty of telling the next-of-kin when a family member has been killed in the line of duty.
Best Supporting Actress: It will be a disgrace if Mo'Nique doesn't win for her explosive turn as an abusive welfare mother in Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire.
Best Director: Hhmmmm. A tough one, since I'm not a big fan of any of the work nominated. I'll go with Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker because it would be nice to see a woman go home with Best Director honors for the first time ever.

Almost as nice as it would be to see The Hangover honored by the Academy.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Favorites of 2009

Sheesh, was it ever a bad year for the movies. But, it wasn't really a good year for anything.

Last year, I had a tough time narrowing down my list. In 2007, I couldn't stop at 10; I named my 25 top movies. This year, I struggled to come up with 10 I thought merited a spot on my list.
But, my favorite movie of the year is so good (I've seen it thrice) that it almost makes up for the dearth of good movies. Almost.

1. The Hangover. Hilarious, and it stands up to repeated viewings. It's also the movie that made Bradley Cooper the matinee idol he deserves to be. Why does an outrageous comedy about a lost night in Vegas rank as my #1? Because, 10 years from now when I'm flipping through channels (or having my robot do it for me), this is the movie I'll want to stop and see.

2. An Education. Carey Mulligan (nominated for an Oscar for best actress, and with good reason) plays an Oxford-bound high school girl who falls under the spell of a sophisticated older man (Peter Sarsgaard) in 1960s London.

3. A Serious Man. The Coen brothers ruminate on nothing less than fate, our place in the universe and the existence of God. A modern retelling of Job, with a lead actor (Michael Stuhlbarg) who should've been nominated for an Oscar.

4. Up. Of course, you'll appreciate the message that we should live our dreams before it's too late. Kids will love the colorful story, the crusty curmudgeon and the eager young Scout who unwittingly tags along on the adventure of a lifetime.

5. The Disappearance of Alice Creed. One of two closing night films at The Toronto International (TIFF) Film Festival. I'll tell you what the director of TIFF said when he introduced the film: "I hope you know nothing about this movie. It deserves to be seen as I first saw it. Let it grab you by the jugular from the first frame and not let up until the last." Twisted, suspenseful and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Oh, and there are only three actors in the entire thing. They tear it up. This is the movie Quentin Tarantino might make, if he didn't have a budget.

6. The Blind Side. This movie has more heart than any I saw this year. Let's all be thankful Julia Roberts turned down the role that seems custom-made for Sandra Bullock. This one's for anyone who likes football, brassy Southern matriarchs and/or happy endings.

7. Broken Embraces. Colorful, mysterious, multilayered. There's a movie-within-a-movie, shady characters with questionable motives, a blind former movie director left only with memories of his gorgeous muse/leading lady (Penelope Cruz) and, of course, given that Pedro Almodovar wrote and directed, themes of love -- romantic, paternal and maternal. In Spanish with subtitles.

8. Food, Inc. A horrifying documentary that shows us where our food really comes from. It has the power to change the way you live.

9. Bruno. Thoroughly offensive, and thoroughly hilarious. Sacha Baron Cohen plays Bruno, an over-the-top Austrian model who wants to be famous in America. Once Bruno realizes that all the Hollywood leading men are straight (He points to Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kevin Spacey), he goes in search of someone who can convert him. To say that "things get weird" just doesn't do it justice.

10. Shall We Kiss? Such a simple question, yet it takes nearly two wondrous hours for the leading lady to explain (in flashbacks) to the man she's attracted to why it may be better if they didn't kiss. In French with subtitles.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Broken Embraces

I've just seen Pedro Almodovar's latest movie and loved it enough -- and had enough questions about the twisted plot -- to have sat through the very next showing.

Not since Alfred Hitchcock cast Grace Kelly in a string of movies has a director been as smitten with a leading lady as Almodovar is with Penelope Cruz. And, it's easy to see why. Not since Rear Window has an actress looked more radiant.

Cruz plays Lena, a would-be actress and love interest of both a film director and a wealthy Venezuelan businessman. Here's where it gets confusing. Lena is starring in a movie directed by one lover and financed by the other. That Lena is romantically interested only in the film director (known first as Mateo and later -- after an accident that leaves him blind -- as Harry Caine) is irksome to her sugar daddy. He assigns his dorky, pimply teenage son to follow them around on set and try to catch them in the midst of shenanigans -- on tape.

That tangled business was all 16 years ago. The movie opens in the present, but the past is still very much haunting the characters.

Harry has long since quit directing, but he is still a screenwriter. And, he still has an eye for the ladies. He uses his handicap to seduce lovely young things and bring them back to his apartment, where his disapproving assistant (who hides secrets of her own) comes and goes as she pleases.

I haven't even gotten to the mysterious guy who shows up one day wanting to write a screenplay with Harry on a theme that sounds eerily familiar to him.

Almodovar weaves his dense story together beautifully. The melancholy score and his characteristic vibrant color palette add to the drama. Visually stunning, impeccably acted and a marvelous, layered story that is a treat to unravel ... see it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Single Man

You know how sometimes, when you're at Starbucks for a latte, you see the pastries and muffins in the case ... and since you're kinda hungry anyhow, you order one? And then, you're inevitably disappointed that it's totally tasteless and that you just wasted money and calories on something you never should have expected to be good.

But, then you're not mad at Starbucks, are you? You're mad at yourself because Starbucks is a coffee shop -- not a patisserie.

A Single Man is the cinematic equivalent of the muffin you paid for and then want to give back. But, are you mad at Tom Ford, the uber-sexy sophisticated designer-turned screenwriter/producer/director? No. With his design pedigree, gorgeous clothes (one presumes; an unpaid movie critic can scarcely afford designer threads), perpetual razor stubble and shirt unbuttoned to reveal the perfect amount of chest hair, Tom can be commended for trying to expand his brand.

He makes a hell of a set designer. Every single detail is perfection. Every frame is worthy of Vogue. From the glass house George (Colin Firth) lives in to the bouffant curls and frosty lipstick worn by Charley (Julianne Moore), the early 1960s have rarely looked more authentic. The movie is gorgeous to look at. And not much else.

Firth plays a bereft English professor who's trying to figure out if life is worth living after the unexpected death of Jim (Matthew Goode), his partner of 16 years. The partner is seen only in flashbacks -- a few scenes that drag on far too long -- where it's established that this is indeed a couple in love and cozily comfortable with one another.

Julianne Moore shows up in a handful of scenes -- one dinner scene that seems to take place in real time -- as George's best friend and former lover. She's a well-dressed, pathetic drunk who probably isn't reason enough for George to decide not to end it all.

But, maybe the boy toy student of George's will turn out to be his Reason to Live. I'm not going to trouble myself to learn the name of the "actor" who plays this kid. His performance is so wooden, it's hard to imagine he'll be showing up in anything else.

At one point, George meets a hot, Spanish gigolo outside a liquor store, and they notice the lovely color L.A.'s smog has turned the sky. The gigolo says something like, "Sometimes, there can be something awful about a thing of beauty."

An apt metaphor for this movie. Beautiful to look at, but decidedly awful.

Let Starbucks stick to coffee and Tom Ford to design. Storytelling is not the man's forte. Skip it.