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Warning you about crappy movies since 2008.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Water for Elephants

I hate reviews that give away or even hint at a movie's ending. Yet, I find it impossible to review Water for Elephants without telling you, my readers, how I feel about the final act. If you'd rather not have a preview of the finale, then cease reading now.

I didn't read the best-selling novel on which the movie is based, as I cannot tolerate reading about cruelty to animals -- even a fictional telling of such. But, my mother, with whom I saw the movie, did read the book. And, she made sure we both had extra Kleenex with us for the waterworks the film adaptation was sure to draw forth.

They went unused.

The movie ending is, apparently, different from the book ending. And it feels out of place even to someone who didn't read the book. In fact, it's so incongruous that I suspect the film studio filmed two or three different endings and "focus grouped" them to see which audiences loved best. The movie hints at and builds up to a tragedy that never happens. I'm no fan of unnecessary tragedy, but I felt cheated that I was kind of promised one and didn't get it.

Hollywood has definitely had its way with what was supposed to be an animal lovers' version of a forbidden love triangle.

I don't mean to take anything away from the luminous Reese Witherspoon or her equally dazzling leading man (Robert Pattinson). Both are wonderfully wounded as people who have nowhere to go but a traveling circus. Christoph Waltz is a great, animal- and spouse-abusing villain. The cinematography is lovely. The pacing feels right -- except for that tacked-on ending. The costumes, make-up and hair are all spot-on.

If you think it's all about the journey and not so much about the destination, you may find plenty to admire in this visually glorious film. If you prefer an ending that feels like it was meant for the 115 minutes that preceded it, then ... Skip it.

Water for Elephants

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Two Reviews in One: Two Girls in Trouble

The Chronic Critic saw two movies this weekend. In an effort to maximize her efficiency, she will now attempt to review both films in a single blog entry.

Jane Eyre and Annie Cameron are both young girls in trouble.

Jane is a strong-willed, independent, somewhat plain girl who has been orphaned and is being raised by a wicked aunt. She lives in England in the mid-1800s.

Annie is a strong-willed, independent, somewhat plain girl who has a loving, nurturing family. She lives in Chicago in the present-day, digital age.  

In both girls' stories, secrets nearly undo them.

In the latest screen adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane (Mia Wasikowska) is anachronistically self-reliant. Due only to her will and wits, she escapes the cruel lot to which her hateful aunt has consigned her and makes her way to a country estate whose lord is one dashing, wealthy, mysterious Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Jane works as a governess for a young French girl who winds up living in the mansion, and ole Edward can't help but take notice of her smarts and no-nonsense attitude. Very much unlike the flighty, flirty gals he's used to courting. But, Edward is a secretive sort. And, that castle seems kinda haunted. Mysterious fires get started. Mysterious strangers from foreign lands show up. And, the seemingly kindly Edward is none too forthcoming about any of it. What's he hiding?

In Trust, David Schwimmer's directorial debut, the protagonist is a 14-year-old trying to assert her independence. She has all the latest technical gadgetry, but her folks (Clive Owen and Catherine Keener) don't seem to be familiar with parental controls. She starts chatting up a slightly older boy (he's 16) and develops a mad crush. Before she knows it, "Charlie" has confessed that he's actually a college sophomore. Fast forward a few days, and he admits online he's actually in his 20s. It's too late. Annie's already walked into his trap and has allowed herself to be convinced that this age thing doesn't matter. When we finally see "Charlie" for the first time, we're not surprised to discover that his 20s are a distant memory. Annie is surprised, though.

Both heroines fall for potentially dangerous men.

Annie's "boyfriend" (and that really is how she thinks of him), will seduce and rape her. Her family -- particularly her dad -- will come apart. Jane's suitor has a secret of his own that will devastate her and drive them apart.

Jane Eyre is a beautifully made, superbly acted Gothic soap opera. The legendary Dame Judi Dench is a delight to watch as the caretaker of the manor. And, even the smallest roles -- Sally Hawkins as the wicked aunt, for instance -- are perfectly cast and played.

Trust, on the other hand, has the feel of an after-school special or made-for-TV movie. In spite of the fine acting, this cautionary tale feels like something that was much better suited to the small screen. Not surprisingly, Schwimmer is a straightforward, and at times dull, director. This is very conventional filmmaking, right down to the stereotypical frumpy psychologist (Viola Davis) in an oversized cardigan.

The audience is beaten over the head with the sexy images of scantily clad tween girls in ads that Annie's dad, Will (the owner of an ad agency), has created. So, not only does Will feel guilt over allowing Annie unfettered access to sex chat rooms, he now has to live with the guilt over having contributed to the societal exploitation of young girls. Maybe he has, but the link is made way too overt in Schwimmer's hands.

Both Jane and Annie are likable heroines worth rooting for. But, only one movie is worth your money. Jane Eyre: See it. Trust: Skip it.

Jane Eyre   Trust

Monday, April 4, 2011


I'll tell you what's limitless: Bradley Cooper's hotness. The dude is smokin'. Everyone's always talked about Elizabeth Taylor's eyes. I don't know why people aren't talking more about these baby blues. They -- and he -- are astonishing.

I've been a Bradley Cooper fan since well before he was a leading man. I always thought he was better (and hotter!) than the supporting parts he landed -- in the made-for-TV movie, I Want to Marry Ryan Banks, for instance -- and I am delighted to see him get his due.

(I was also an early champion of Judith Light. She was so much better than the rest of the cast in One Life to Live. And, I was right! She did move on to prime time and starred with Tony Danza in Who's The Boss? Not much better than playing Llanview's most neurotic, scheming citizen, Karen Wolek. But, still.)

Back to Bradley. Did you know he's an honors graduate of Georgetown? That's right; there are brains that go along with this brawn.

And, on top of all that, he can act. Not that he needs to, as he would be matinee idol material based on looks alone. He's equally adept at comedy (Who's ready for the sequel to The Hangover? I am!) and drama.

Is his new thriller any good? I'll answer a question with a question: Does it matter? See it.

P.S. Limitless is actually an enjoyable, twisty, sophisticated tale of a down-on-his-luck writer who becomes wildly successful after tapping into his full mental potential courtesy of an illegal drug. But then again, what if it were footage of Bradley Cooper sleeping for an hour and 45 minutes? I'd still think it worth seeing.

                                                      Bradley Cooper

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Source Code

I want to like the director Duncan Jones, if only because I love his dad, David Bowie, so much. But, I thought his first movie, Moon, was so slow-moving and alien that I walked out on it. And, I don't waste my movie dollars lightly. I went into Source Code with an open mind and high expectations, given all the good press the sci fi film is getting. And, I left a little disappointed -- and very puzzled.

Jake Gyllenhaal is winning, as always. And, leading ladies don't come much cuter than Michelle Monaghan. (Up in the Air's Vera Farmiga, a dead ringer for Sarah Jessica Parker -- and I do not mean that as a compliment to either actress -- is miscast as a ... oh, I don't even know what she's supposed to be. She gives orders to Gyllenhaal's character, who's trapped in some sort of capsule, via a TV monitor.)

So, let me try to explain the crazy premise. Gyllenhaal plays Capt. Colter Stevens. Or, is it someone named Sean? I'm not exactly sure. There's a case of mistaken identity or amnesia going on here. The movie's a little like the far superior Groundhog Day, in that Colter/Sean has to keep reliving the same episode over and over. At Vera's orders. (But, is he really reliving it? Or, is it all in his head? Good luck trying to figure it out.)

He's on a commuter train in Chicago that's destined to explode. If he can find out who done it before the crash (that keeps happening over and over again?), then he can somehow stop it from happening. Even though it's already happened.

The way he can stop it from happening is to time travel (or mind travel?) repeatedly to the scene of the crime to look for clues. He's able to do this courtesy of something called the source code that was developed by a vaguely malevolent scientist who walks with one crutch. Of course.

Oh, and Colter/Sean may already be dead. We're never sure.

I couldn't make heads or tails of this mess. Skip it.

                                                           Source Code