About Me

Warning you about crappy movies since 2008.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


If you were served your favorite meal -- fresh Maine lobster, say, or a perfectly cooked filet -- but it came with sides that were overcooked, straight-from-a-can, school cafeteria-grade mush, could you still call it a great meal? Can you overlook substandard fare when it's paired with an exceptional entree?

The way you answer that may help you decide if you'd like the new Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu movie, Biutiful. The main course (Javier Bardem) is a beautiful hunk of meat, but it's surrounded by a pile of crap.

Bardem has been nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Uxbal, a world-weary lowlife with a heart of gold. He's dying of cancer. His estranged, mentally ill, drug-addled wife and mother of their two children is sleeping around. (And, Uxbal's brother is among her lovers.) His brother is a lowlife, too -- but minus the heart of gold. Uxbal is dealing with a ruthless (and gay) Chinese couple that runs a sweatshop. He seems to be in charge of some Africans who sell the goods made in the sweatshirt on the gritty streets of Barcelona. There's a woman (who is she?) who's given Uxbal some magic tchotchkes to give his kids before he dies. There's a dead father who's alluded to throughout the film, and there's some eerie action that takes place in funeral homes. (Uxbal can apparently commune with the dead.) Even eerier action takes place in a topless bar.

If I'm not doing a good job summarizing the plot, perhaps it's because the plot was incomprehensible.

The bleak scenery is a total downer. The Barcelona tourism board should consider suing Inarritu for making the city look like a waste dump. Antoni Gaudi's Barcelona, this is not.

Bardem does his best. He's feisty, tender, angry, raging and ultimately resigned. But, he can't, in this critic's opinion, compensate for the crazy, mixed-up stew in which he's the main ingredient. Skip it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Way Back

The Way Back is a survival story of epic proportions. A handful of men make a daring escape from a Siberian gulag during WWII. Some were wrongly imprisoned; others (Colin Farrell's character, for instance) have a criminal past. The escapees slog through the toughest terrain during the most adverse conditions imaginable. The landscape and the elements prove to be even harsher than prison.

You can't help but root for these men (and the runaway girl, played by Saoirse Ronan, they inexplicably pick up along the way) to make it to safety. But, that doesn't mean you'll enjoy or even appreciate the journey.

The first blizzard we see them caught in is terrifying. By the fourth one, we're almost bored. But eventually, they find themselves in the Mongolian desert, where the landscape is completely different -- and a relief to see -- yet just as unforgiving as the snowy mountains. Again, there are only so many times we can see their sunburned faces and swollen feet before the shock wears off ... and we start to nod off.

The religious imagery is, by turns, subtle and heavy-handed. The runaway girl sporting a makeshift crown of thorns is an example of the latter. She's hardly a Jesus figure, so the crown makes little sense.

What makes less sense is the total lack of character development. This critic saw the movie a couple of hours ago, and she's already forgotten all the characters' names, except for one "Mr. Smith" (Ed Harris).

If you're a fan of closure, you will undoubtedly be frustrated by this flick. We don't find out the fates of any of the escapees, including the one who wanders off mid-journey with little explanation. I suppose when you haven't bothered to develop your characters, you figure the audience won't grow attached enough to any of them to care.

My hat's off to the real men on whom this story is based. But, my hat is firmly on with regard to the screenwriter and director. While the one-dimensional characters searched for the way back, I was just looking for a way out. Skip it.

                                                          The Way Back

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Top 10 of 2010

It was mostly a ho-hum year, cinematically speaking. Some of the most heavily hyped, critically praised movies turned out to be, to my mind, duds. Some were superduds.

Kenneth Turan, Rex Reed and I were practically the only critics to scoff at the absurd Black Swan. I don't mind being a voice of reason in all the hyperbole and hubbub. I'm in esteemed company.

Here are the movies that, for me, made going to the cinema worthwhile this year.

1. The Ghost Writer. Easily my favorite film of the year. I don't get why it's being left out of all the big award nominations. A modern-day mystery/political thriller that Hitchcock might've made today. It was fun to see Pierce Brosnan in a dramatic role again (as a retired British PM), and Ewan McGregor is at the top of his game as the ghost writer hired to pen the PM's memoirs -- after the first ghost writer turns up dead. Fugitive Roman Polanski directed.

2. The Town. Career bank robbers are thrown off their game when they take a hostage and Ben Affleck's character ends up falling for her. Jon Hamm chases the gang and looks darn good doing it.

3. Blue Valentine. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling fall for each other, wed, have a child and then end up being the source of each other's suffering. Bleak and tough to watch, but a must-see due to the two powerful performances from its leads.

4. The King's Speech. We don't often see a member of the British royal family as an underdog, but Colin Firth's King George VI is a reluctant king with a severe stutter. His nation needs him to be a brilliant orator, as Britain heads for war with Germany. You'll be rooting for George ("Bertie" to his family) to overcome his impediment with the help of the speech therapist played by Geoffrey Rush. Rush's Lionel turns out to be the best friend a monarch could hope for. A royal bromance!

5. The Fighter. Mark Wahlberg shows off his buffness but allows co-star Christian Bale to shine as his twitchy, has-been older brother. Both brothers are boxers; one (Wahlberg's Micky) is on his way up. The other (Bale's Dicky) has already peaked, although he's convinced he'll make a comeback. Melissa Leo is perfect as the matriarch of her gritty, working-class brood, and Amy Adams plays the Boston barkeep who may help turn Micky's fortunes around.

6. The Social Network. The movie for the Facebook generation. Building web code should not make for fascinating viewing, yet much of the film's drama centers on the technical aspects (and ticking clock) involved in launching this enterprise. Jesse Eisenberg makes Mark Zuckerberg human and even a little likable. Plus, it's always fun to see the multitalented Justin Timberlake on screen.

7. Catfish. What can you believe and what can't you? That's the central question at the heart of this documentary. (Or, is it a mockumentary?) Catfish is about people not being who they say they are online. It's a mystery, a drama and a cautionary tale. If The Social Network is the narrative feature for the Facebook generation, this is the equivalent documentary.

8. Fanny, Annie & Danny. Haven't heard of San Francisco-based writer/director Chris Brown? You will. In this quirky drama, he's created a family whose members hate themselves and, for the most part, hate each other. When this fragile, wounded clan gets together for Christmas, there are awkward moments, tears and yelling, guilt trips, hurt feelings and unpleasant surprises.

9. Animal Kingdom. Grandma Smurf (Golden Globe-nominated Jacki Weaver) is a big player in an Australian crime syndicate, and she controls every move -- hardly any of them legal -- her adult sons make. She's all her grandson, J, has left, and he must decide if he'll stay loyal to his trigger-happy family or trust this policeman who offers him safety.

10. Waiting for Superman. Director Davis Guggenheim tries to find reasons for hope in his expose of the shoddy state of our national public education system. But, we're left with the discouraging feeling that the education each child in this country gets is up to nothing more than luck.

Honorable mention:

Rabbit Hole

The Other Guys

Inside Job

127 Hours

True Grit

Year's biggest disappointments:

Winter's Bone. The Clampetts meet Waiting for Godot.

The Kids are All Right. No, they're not. And, neither is this movie.

Black Swan. One hot, trashy mess.

I Am Love. Beautiful to behold, but a one-dimensional bore.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Blue Valentine

Blue is right.

It's the appropriate color to represent a husband and wife who have fallen out of love and have nothing but contempt for one another.

When we first meet Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) in their sad, small kitchen, she's doing her best to get herself and their daughter fed and ready for the day. He's trying to be a  jokester and is doing nothing but hampering her efforts. There's little love or affection on display here. There may not be any left in the marriage.

We see a bit more of the couple's painful present-day life together before we're taken back five years or so to watch them meet for the first time. He's instantly smitten. She's a serious student, from modest means, with a sometime-boyfriend. Dean's persistence wins her over. Even as we watch their tentative, awkward courtship and see them falling for each other, we see signs of trouble.

The action takes us back and forth in time between the early days of their relationship and, a few years hence, when the two are completely disappointed in themselves, their choices and each other. (It's never tough to know where in time we are because the characters change so much, emotionally and physically, in the course of a couple of years.) Loser Dean can't live up to the selflessness he first showed Cindy when they met. And, Cindy was too smart -- or should've been -- to have married for convenience someone she barely knew.

Yet, here they are in abject misery. Dean tries what little he can (a "sex motel" for a night, for instance) to reignite their spark. But, you get the sense that it's coming a bit too late.

Cindy is done. The way Williams plays her is a marvel. Her perpetually slumped shoulders convey a woman much older and utterly without hope.

As dark and dismal a tale as you're likely to see on screen this year, Blue Valentine is a masterpiece. It's one of the year's best, and Williams and Gosling are wondrous to behold in all their pain. See it!
                                                          Blue Valentine

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rabbit Hole

In Rabbit Hole, a couple grieving the death of their young son go crazy with grief -- each in his or her own way. Neither can understand the other.

Nicole Kidman's Becca would rather forget and move on -- or so it seems to her husband, Howie (Aaron Eckhart). She balks at going to their group therapy sessions, belittles the other grieving parents and snaps at her well-meaning mother (Diane Wiest in an Oscar-caliber supporting performance) and ne'er-do-well sister (Tammy Blanchard). She removes evidence of their son's life -- taking down his drawings from the fridge and giving away his little clothes.

Howie prefers sharing his feelings with the other bereaved parents in group and looking, again and again, at  cell phone videos of their son, Charlie. He can only heal through remembering; Becca would rather forget.

Each maintains a secret life the other knows nothing about. Howie is growing close to a bereaved mother (Sandra Oh) from group. Becca is stalking the teenaged boy who accidentally killed their son.

David Lindsay-Abaire successfully adapted his own script (from the Broadway play) into the screenplay. Stage-to-film adaptations can suffer from being too "talky," but not here. There are sufficient silences and close-ups of actors (mostly Kidman) sobbing or staring blankly.

Lindsay-Abaire's most brilliant words aren't spoken by either of the leads. Wiest gets the most poignant lines in her scene (with Kidman) that brought on the sobs in the theater where this critic saw the film with other viewers/mourners.

Director John Cameron Mitchell surprised this critic with his restraint and muted palette. That's because Mitchell also directed the raucous, transgender musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the unforgettable, as-close-to-porn-as-mainstream-cinema gets Shortbus. (I recommend both.)

Kidman's wardrobe and the colors of her house match her mood and the mood of the film. Everything's in shades of gray and khaki -- drab, fading. Watching people come undone isn't easy. But, this film is worthwhile -- especially for the strong performances by all involved. See it.

                                                     Rabbit Hole

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Fighter

Let the menfolk think The Fighter is a sports movie if that's what gets them to the cinema. It's really a love story, based on real people and events, that uses the boxing ring as its setting.

And, it's not so much a romantic love story, although a cast-against-type Amy Adams does a terrific job as a tough, determined Boston barmaid who helps turn around the fortunes of Mark Wahlberg's Micky Ward, a boxer who wants to follow his locally famous older brother, Dicky, into the ring. 

The love story at the heart of this movie is a familial one. It's about the love half-brothers Micky and the ne'er do-well Dicky (a perfect, twitchy Christian Bale) have for each other. It's about the tough love their mom (the formidable Melissa Leo) rains down on her brood. The family doesn't always do right by each other, but they mean well. Including the hilarious Greek chorus of interchangeable sisters. How many of them are there -- four? five? seven? Who can tell? They move -- and talk -- as a group and don't seem to do much of anything besides bitch, judge and smoke. They provide much-needed comic relief amid all the fighting -- inside and outside the ring.

Dicky, Micky's brother and trainer, is forever yammering about his comeback. He relives his glory days often, egged on by the neighbors and shopkeepers in his gritty Boston suburb who treat him like the royalty he once was. HBO camera crews are always close by, since they're filming a movie about the comeback he swears is imminent. 

Dicky seems to fail at everything -- including his job as his kid brother's trainer. So, Micky has to ponder the unthinkable -- firing his trainer brother and manager mother -- if he is to ever succeed as a boxer. With the love of a good woman, he just may be able to do it.

The biggest knockout punch of the movie comes, not from the fighting, but from the discovery of the real topic of the HBO documentary.

All the lead actors -- Wahlberg, Adams and especially Leo and Bale -- bring their best to this venture and will likely be remembered with Oscar nominations. The Fighter is gritty, brutal, honest and sweet. See it.
The Fighter