About Me

Warning you about crappy movies since 2008.

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.