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Warning you about crappy movies since 2008.

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.