Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Best Films of 2010

As we wind down the hours in 2010 I thought it would be an appropriate time to dole out my annual list of the 10 Best Movies. As a reminder, last year I had District 9, Inglorious Basterds and Star Trek in my Top 3. The first two were nominated for Best Picture but the Oscar went to The Hurt Locker which didn't even make my list. This year I have a few snubs that people may question, but more on that later. Keep in mind that this is by-far the year in which I've seen the most movies in the theater. By my count, I have posted 27 individual theater reviews this year (that means I saw a movie on the big screen on average once every 2 weeks!). Therefore I feel that this list may be my most complete list to-date.

Here we go, in reverse order as always:

#10 Kick Ass - There's a strong drop from #9 to #10 on this list but Kick Ass squeaks in there over The Town and Catfish for the last slot. This movie was very enjoyable to watch once it got going. Chloe Grace-Moretz plays the scene stealing Hit Girl and her performance alone makes this worth a rental.

#9 How to Train Your Dragon - I saw this early in the year with Josh and Alex and really enjoyed the 3D digital animation. You could get an actual sense of flight during some of the aerial dragon scenes. The story was solid and the voice acting was up to par. This gets a slight nudge over Toy Story 3 for my favorite animated movie of the year.

NOTE: In contrast to last year's crop of films, I think 2010 brought us more quality movies in general. The remaining 8 movies on my list all received at least 4.5 out of 5 JRs.

#8 - The King's Speech - I just saw this a few days ago and was extremely impressed by Colin Firth's performance as the speech-affected King of England during war times. He effortlessly portrayed a reluctant king with an annoying affliction. Geoffrey Rush was just as good in the supporting role of the speech therapist. One of the better movies about English royalty that I've ever seen.

#7 - 127 Hours - Danny Boyle's follow-up to his Academy Award winning directorial turn will most likely get another Oscar nomination. The story of hiker Aron Ralston who gets trapped in a crevasse while adventuring on his own is a perfectly raw and real glimpse into the human will to live. James Franco bursts into the A-actor category and gives the performance of his career. It's hard to imagine that he'll be able to top this and unfortunately he'll probably lose Oscar to Colin Firth.

#6 - Get Him to the Greek - Easily the funniest movie of 2010 for me. The comic chemistry of Jonah Hill and Russell Brand fuels the film and allows for some hilarious situations thanks to a great overall script. I actually enjoyed this more than Forgetting Sarah Marshall in which Brand's iconic Aldus Snow character gets his origin story. The real force of the movie though (and the reason this lands so high on my list) is P Diddy who made me LOL numerous times in the theater. I don't think we'll ever see Sean Combs entertain us as much as he does in this movie.

#5 - Tron Legacy - Critics have been harping on this movie due to the bland story and shoddy acting but I enjoyed it immensely. This is pure audio-visual stimulai as its finest. A movie that CAN ONLY BE TRULY APPRECIATED on the big screen in 3D. Again, I am warning anyone who has not seen this yet to go see it at the theater while you can. Waiting for a rental will not do this justice at all. This is this year's Avatar for sure (interestingly enough, Avatar is #5 from 2009).

#4 - True Grit - A really really good Western from some really creative directors (Cohen Brothers). This remake of the John Wayne classic stands alone thanks to excellent acting contributions from Jeff Bridges (on a serious roll right now) and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. Quick rapid-fire dialogue mixed in with some wry humor is the perfect recipe for one of the more engaging movies of the year.

#3 - Shutter Island - This movie was supposed to be released in 2009 but was pushed at the last minute to February 2010. Unfortunately the move has totally killed any Oscar buzz for this film. Marty Scorsese crafts a creepy suspenseful look at life in a New England mental hospital. Leo DiCaprio is very strong in the lead role and Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley provide excellent support. The twist ending is well composed and packs a serious emotional punch.

#2 - The Fighter - David O. Russell is back with a vengeance after a series of duds. This is easily his best directorial effort of his career (yes, better than Three Kings) and stands out from other boxing movies due to the deep character building and intense family drama. Christian Bale is unreal as Dicky, the former boxer / brother of Mark Wahlberg's lead character. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams fill the shows of two powerful female roles that help add depth to the story. Go see this movie right now for the acting and script and stay for the quality boxing footage. I debated on whether to put this at #1 but after some thought it just misses the cut. Which leaves...

#1 - Inception - This takes the top slot primarily because it is a movie unlike anything we've seen before. The twisty multi-layered story created from the brilliant mind of Christopher Nolan is a joy to experience (even through multiple viewings now that I have it on Bluray). DiCaprio is the soul of the movie but the ensemble cast (Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, J. G. Levitt, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, etc...) works so well together that we as the audience can get lost in the concept of shared dreaming itself. The last half of the movie, which begins with a dream on a cross-continent airplane ride, is one long thrill ride. If there's any cinematic achievement that should be rewarded this year it's the unique and groundbreaking work that Nolan and company put forth in Inception. We can only hope Batman 3 is nearly as good as this.

Missing from this list are a few films that movie critics seem to all be fawning over right now. I will address each "snub" briefly.

The Social Network - It may be tough for me to appreciate this movie objectively as I work in the IT industry, but I still don't get what all the fuss is about with this film. The story was solid and the acting was pretty good overall (great in the case of Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg), but I wasn't blown away at all. Entertainment Weekly called it "the most talked about movie of the year" which is totally a sham. I didn't really discuss this film with anyone and Inception completely deserves that praise instead. It will win Best Picture at the Oscars unfortunately. Maybe I need to give it another viewing on a rental to fully appreciate it.

Black Swan - An overrated artsy-fartsy mess of a movie. I just don't get Aronofsky anymore, but I hope Portman gets her dues from the Academy as she was really good in this.

Toy Story 3 - My movie experience on this one was interrupted by Becca and Alex not wanting to have anything to do with seeing it on the big screen. I waited for a rental to finish it up. It was a good Pixar offering but I wasn't overly impressed. I think the Toy Story arc has run its course (although Josh, Alex and I are looking forward to Cars 2 next year).

Movie Review: The King's Speech

Usually I don't go out of my way to see movies about British monarch history. There's nothing more boring to me than historical re-enactments of King George number-whatever that droll on and on about simpler times and regal accolades. With The King's Speech receiving such high acclaim this Winter, I felt I had to put my bias aside and give this royal film a shot. Thankfully this movie plays unlike most historical British epics and has a great underlying humor brought forth by the wonderful lead actors, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.

Speech tells the story of King George VI who begins his reign during the advent of global radio broadcasts which require His Majesty to give frequent addresses to his public. We find out early on in the film that Berdie (K G VI's nickname) has a speech problem that causes him to stutter often. In order to fix this issue he and his wife (played by a solid Helena Bonham Carter who for once isn't scary in a movie) seek out the help of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Rush). The movie is primarily about the tensions between Firth and Rush that grows into a long-lasting friendship. The back and forth between the two powers the whole movie and brings some light-hearted moments into a very serious time leading up to WWII.

The script from David Seidler is well written and we get engaging dialogue throughout that mixes drama with some really good laughs. Rush and Firth play off each other perfectly and I'd actually argue that Rush gives a more engaging and likable performance. Firth, however, pulls off the speech impediment very well and is extremely believable throughout. You can tell that he put a lot of work into researching the role. Director Tom Hooper shoots the speech scenes brilliantly so that you feel the tension that the King feels as he tries to avoid stammering through his words.

The performances by Firth and Rush will certainly earn Oscar nods. I feel Rush is a bit screwed to be going up against Christian Bale's masterpiece in The Fighter. Firth is probably a shoe-in for Best Actor and he cements himself as the best British actor working today. Speech is another 4.5 out of 5 movie that continues a very strong showing by Hollywood this holiday season. I feel that I am now way ahead of the game in seeing the Best Picture noms. My bet is that come January I will have seen 8 or 9 of the 10 Best Picture nominees for the awards in March.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Movie Review: Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky is without a doubt the most demented Director in Hollywood. His films (Requiem For a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, etc...) have all dealt with aspects of the dark side of humanity. The Wrestler is his most easily accessible movie and remains my favorite film that he's directed. His latest attempt to exorcise his demons through film is Black Swan, a drama/horror/thriller that focuses on a young ballet star and her experience in staring on the big stage in a performance of Swan Lake.

Let's get a few things straight. #1, I don't like ballet. #2, I've never seen Swan Lake. #3, I am not a huge fan of Aronofsky's movies. The reason I did want to see this movie, however, is the other positive reviews I've read and the appeal of Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis who play the ballet stars in the film. The film is a total Oscar vehicle for Portman. As Nina, the dancer who just can't let herself go to play the Black Swan role in Swan Lake, Portman shines as a vunerable character who goes through just about every emotion possible throughout the story. The tension and drama that Aronofsky arrogantly forces on the viewer is almost believable due to her performance. You really appreciate the amount of work Portman put into her role including learning traditional ballet dancing and maintaining a borderline unhealthy weight through the entire film. Kunis is a solid supporting.

Both Portman and Kunis definitely add some eye candy to the movie as they really are two of Hollywood's most beautiful actresses working today. Aronofsky knows this too and comes off as being a little pervy by shooting at least 3 scenes with Portman touching herself. Entirely too many unnecessary sexual innuendos are worked into the script and while I'm not complaining to see Portman in sexy scenes, they just seemed very forced overall. There are a few WTF moments that didn't make sense and most of them included a VERY SCARY Barbara Hershey who has gone through so much plastic surgery that she can probably play The Joker in Chris Nolan's next Batman movie.

The ending of the film is really ambiguous and leaves room for interpretation. Portman's performance is the best thing about Black Swan but I found myself very disappointed with the effort put forth by Aronofsky. He just seems to be so pretentious in his films and makes it seem like he's above the audience and wants to do things his way whether it makes sense or not. This movie is not very entertaining and is not they type of movie you'd ever want to see more than once. Wait for video/DVD/Bluray on Black Swan which receives a very mediocre 2.5 out of 5 JRs. This will be nominated for Best Picture but the only true deserving nomination it should receive is for Natalie Portman, a former child actress who has grown into one of the best actresses working today.

Movie Review: The Fighter

David O. Russell's The Fighter is a true achievement in casting and sports documentation. This movie that really came out of nowhere and debuted to glowing reviews is yet another in a long string of quality boxing films (Rocky, Million Dollar Baby, Raging Bull). What sets this film apart from most boxing epics is the spectacular character development throughout. By the time we get to the final fight, the audience is so invested in the main characters of this film that the tension seems to reach new heights.

The Fighter tells the true story of boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his brother Dickie (Christian Bale), a former fighter who once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. Micky is trying to make his own comeback to get a payday which would help financially support his daughter and his girlfriend (played by Amy Adams). Dickie helps out as Micky's trainer but is constantly battling the effects of being addicted to crack. We get to see the Ward family and their dysfunctional roster of characters including 7 typical townie (big hair) Ward sisters and their loving but hyper-controlling Mom Alice (played with vigor and brilliance by Melissa Leo).

I won't get into plot details as part of the enjoyment of this film is to experience the trials and tribulations of the Ward family along with the characters themselves. Needless to say this is really Christian Bale's movie. His portrayal of Dickie is spot-on (especially when you see the real-life Dickie during the end credits) and he totally convincingly conveys a serious drug addiction. You find yourself rooting for him in the end though as you get to experience a total character arc from disgrace to redemption. Leo is right behind Bale as the prototypical controlling Mom who wants the best for her family but doesn't realize that she's over-stepping her bounds. Adams and Wahlberg are excellent as well, in fact this is probably Marky Mark's best work since Boogie Nights. He perfectly fills the shoes of a Boston-bred boxer.

Russell shines once again in the Director's chair and nails the method of shooting his boxing ring scenes. They're shot via an HBO-style feed using digital video that makes it seem like you are watching the fights unfold on TV. There really isn't that much fighting in the film (despite the movie's title) but what we do see is produced perfectly. The drams that ensues between the fights are so vivid raw and real that you do feel like you are standing there witnessing the events first-hand. This is one of the grittiest, most authentic Boston movies to come around in a long time (with all due respect to Ben Affleck's The Town, this is REAL Boston).

When you add the cinematography, acting and overall entertainment value together you get the 3rd 5 JR movie of 2010. The Fighter is one of the best sports movies I've ever seen and has more heart and character than most of the Rocky films (I still have a soft spot for Rocky IV). The acting across the board is by far the best we've seen in 2010 and expect many nominations for this terrific ensemble cast. This is Marky Mark's crowning achievement and hopefully will bring home well-deserved Oscar gold for Christian Bale.

Movie Review: True Grit

I've had a love/hate relationship with Joel and Ethan Cohen over the years. For every great film they release (Fargo, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski), they balance their genius with annoying duds like No Country For Old Men and Oh Brother Where Art Thou. The most recent Cohen film I saw was Burn After Reading, a hilarious little film with some great performances from Brad Pitt and John Malcovich which gave me high hopes for this follow-up remake of a John Wayne classic.

True Grit managed to exceed all expectations I had going into the movie as the Cohens have once again produced a thrilling, engaging and at times very funny Western epic. Jeff Bridges assumes the Wayne roll of US Marshall Rooster Cogburn and delivers yet another outstanding performance hot off the heels of his Oscar winning turn in Crazy Heart last year. Bridges has definitely found his niche in the twilight of his movie career. He excels at playing drunk, colorful country heroes and his gruff portrayal of Cogburn and his pursuit of a fugitive is so very believable. Expect Bridges to be up for Oscar once again (but from what I hear, Colin Firth in The King's Speech is a shoe-in for that award - the next movie I need to see).

Sharing the acting spotlight in True Grit is 14-year-old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld who completely owns the screen throughout this movie. She plays Mattie Ross, a young girl who is trying to avenge her father's death by hiring bounty hunters to track down his murderer. Steinfeld's Ross is wise way beyond her years and holds her own with Bridges and Matt Damon. A scene early on in the movie has her bargaining with a store owner and getting her way without much effort. I hope the Academy honors her performance in what is actually her very first big screen role. The future is definitely bright for this young star.

Damon himself was not as good as I thought he'd be in this film. He just doesn't seem like he belongs in a Western. You're used to the Bourne, Rounders or Oceans 11/12/13 roles he's played and he just doesn't fit in as a Texas Ranger. I can't believe the most critical aspect of this film for me was the casting of Matt Damon. The Cohen Bros. do a remarkable job of shooting the film with wide shots and a grainy look that cements that Western feel. Their writing is outstanding as well with so many interesting lines of dialogue and some patented Cohen wit thrown in. Overall this movie deserves to be near the top of the Best-of-2010 lists. Extremely engaging and entertaining throughout, do yourself a favor and go see one of the best Westerns I've ever seen. 4.5 out of 5 JRs for True Grit.

A Day at the Movies

A few weeks ago, I decided to take the day before Christmas Eve off from work to take a break before the kids came over to stay on Christmas Eve. A few days ago, I realized that with my busy upcoming holiday schedule that I might not have enough time to see all the movies I "need" to say over the holiday break. As my quest to see all 10 future Best Picture nominees continues, I planned to do the unthinkable today. Walk five minutes from my apartment (which I couldn't be happier with by the way) over to the AMC Hoffman Theater at 10:15 AM to see back-to-back-to-back movies.

A few times in my life I have double dipped and saw two big screen movies in one day. I have never gone beyond that though and I decided to attempt the feat today, seeing True Grit, The Fighter and Black Swan in one sitting. The plan of attack went PERFECTLY. I missed the first two previews during The Fighter as I needed to get a pizza and giant Coke Zero. I had a nice 15 minute break before Black Swan to hit the bathroom and order a follow-on snack of chicken tenders (and another "small" soda). The theaters were semi-crowded (mostly with AARP members) but overall it could not have gone any better. I actually felt like a legitimate film critic (one that doesn't get paid however.... hmmm.... do I know of anyone like that?).

In all of the movies I sat in the exact same row (that weird handicapped row where there are isolated groups of two seats with a lot of leg room). The most amazing aspect of the marathon was that I did not once start to doze off in any movie. I attribute my alertness to the giant sodas filled with caffeine I downed. I was shocked that I never felt tired. I started getting a bit sleepy in Tron Legacy amidst all the dark neon visual hypnotics on the screen. And yes, I WAS tempted to just buy one ticket and theater hop for the rest of the day but I felt compelled to contribute to the box office for these three films. Overall, a total of $24 for three films isn't all that bad.

Now the tough part. Writing three reviews tonight. I am going to churn these out right now in order of viewing. I feel that I will be very far along in the process once the Academy announces the Oscar Nominations next month. And all I can think of is attempting a 4-movie marathon next holiday season (I honestly would have been able to make ANOTHER movie at 5 PM today).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Movie Review: Tron Legacy

Like The Matrix and Avatar before it, Tron Legacy is the rare type of movie that actually causes you to still feel like you are in a virtual world on your drive home from the theater. As I was driving home from the most immersive big screen experience I've EVER witnessed, I found myself seeing beltway traffic in a different light (more on that later). Needless to say, this film is completely meant to be seen in a movie theater and in 3D and with a kick-ass sound system. This is the movie that may save the big name movie theater chains from potential extinction (as Bluray, Netflix and home theater systems are taking over).

Tron Legacy is a loose sequel to the original 1982 cheesefest (which at the time was technically groundbreaking in its own right). The story picks up with Jeff Bridges' character (Kevin Flynn) mysteriously disappearing, leaving his tech company ENCOM in disarray. His son Sam (played via a wooden but effective performance from Garrett Hedlund) finds his dad 20 years later stuck in a virtual world created during the 1982 film. The plot is a bit suspect and I won't get into details but the story really doesn't matter with this movie. If you want an intriguing story, go see Black Swan or The King's Speech (both movies I need to see). If you want to be blown away in your stadium seat, see this movie.

I can't stress enough how brilliant the cinematography, art design and visual effects are in this movie. Most of the film is shot against a dark backdrop and is accented by vividly luminescent day-glo neon shades of reds, yellows, whites and blues. The CGI and 3D effects are insanely good and actually may surpass those delivered by James Cameron in Avatar. The depth of field is essential to the effectiveness of presenting a computer generated reality. Everything looks so crisp and detailed in the virtual world and you can actually believe that it is a world totally manufactured by computers. The stunt casting of Jeff Bridges playing both a younger and older version of himself is well done. You can tell the younger version is CGI but it is very believable none-the-less and as the movie progresses you forget about the gimmick factor.

The assault on the optical senses is only half the fun of Tron Legacy. An extremely effective and engaging score by acclaimed electronic French music duo Daft Punk pulses throughout the movie. The driving beats of Daft Punk's music is the PERFECT companion to what you are witnessing on the screen. This may be the best marriage of a score to a film in the history of cinema. Fortunately the persona and look of the musicians (see image) allow them to fit exactly into the virtual world of the movie as they make a guest cameo in the club sequence. Accompanying the amazing soundtrack is a well constructed sequence of bleeps, bloops and other authentic computer sounds that explode from the theater walls (make sure you see this in a digital theater).

The other supporting players outside of Hedlund and Bridges give their all. Michael Sheen is hardly recognizable as an eccentric club owner and Olivia Wilde is a product of supremely accurate casting as she plays a computer-generated human in the virtual world. Wilde has that perfectly flawless face (see here for example) and angular bone structure that makes it seem that she's been manufactured rather than born. The extras and bit players all look like they belong in the computer environment. It's obvious that a lot of time was spent in the pre-production phase of this movie.

With respect to Chris Nolan's Inception, this movie deserves the visual effects Oscar without a doubt. Daft Punk's score better be nominated as well. Due to the overall less-than-stellar acting and the underwhelming ending, I can't quite give this one 5 JR's. I will settle for a reluctant 4.5 (probably 4.75) out of 5 JRs for Tron Legacy. This movie falls solidly behind Inception and Shutter Island as my third favorite movie of 2010. I encourage all of my readers (especially those in the IT industry) to go out and see this on the big screen. As with Avatar, if you wait to rent this movie then you might as well not even bother. I only hope this movie is re-released in a few years when my sons are old enough to experience it. By then we may have a third Tron coming our way.

PS: Back to the beltway reference. Throughout the movie, the "good guys" are dressed in suits lined with white light while the "bad guys" are clad in red accented costumes. As I drove home at night from the film I stared at the red lights in front of me and the white lights coming the other way and felt that I was still "on the grid" in Tron. In my book, when a movie affects your experience on the drive home, it has done a damn good job of entertaining you.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Movie Review: 127 Hours

After helming 28 Days Later (and winning an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire), Danny Boyle returns to a numerical movie title in 127 Hours, the true story of climber Aron Ralston. Anyone who goes into this movie knows the story of Ralston who went canyon climbing in Utah and accidentally fell in a chasm, getting his right arm pinned beneath a boulder. The story of sheer survival is highlighted by the fact that Ralston had to amputate his own arm to free himself from his predicament. All of these facts are known in advance but that doesn't take away from the brilliance of Boyle's direction and the career performance of James Franco.

Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara play supporting roles as hikers who befriend Ralston (Franco) before his climbing mishap. They are merely bit players in the James Franco show however. For most of the movie Franco is stationary in the chasm and we slowly witness the toll that the 127 hours of survival take on his character. Boyle does a good job of transitioning to Ralston's memories and various personal reflections on his life so we as an audience don't totally feel trapped in one spot. One signature elements of Boyle's direction is highlighted in the way Boyle focuses on Ralston's water bottle. As we see Franco waiver physically and emotionally we become more and more concerned with how much water is left in his water bottle. Boyle does an amazing job of putting a camera in the bottle so we can see exactly how much water is being consumed. Another directorial trick comes towards the end of the movie during the arm-cutting sequence. When Ralston tries to cut through a nerve (yes it's as nasty as it sounds), Boyle plays a lone quick guitar strum to emphasize the nerve being hit. Through these cinematic visual and audio effects, Boyle completely brings the audience into the chasm with Ralston and we're all along for the thrilling and terrifying ride.

The middle portion of the movie does feature a few dull spots and I actually found myself fighting the urge to doze off a bit (I attribute this to the 10:15 start time of the movie I saw and the red wine I drank before hand). I managed to stay awake for 98% of the film though and I must say that I now view James Franco in a much different light as an actor. He's gone from mediocre stints as the Green Goblin to one of the best young actors working today (great performances in The Pineapple Express and Milk). 127 Hours is his Cast Away and he should definitely be nominated for Best Actor. He joins Jessie Eisenberg (The Social Network) as the front runner for the award in my mind. 4.5 our of 5 JRs for one of the best movies of the year. We should see Boyle being nominated once again for another gem in a stellar resume.

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One

I've read all the books. I know how this is all going to end. Part of me keeps wishing these were not the last two Harry Potter movies ever to be made. After seeing the first part of the two-part 7th and final installment of J.K. Rowling's literary creation, part of me think it's time for Harry, Ron and Hermione to step down.

Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves remained remarkably faithful to the book throughout Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 which results in a mixed bag of cinematic fare. After the death of Albus Dumbledore (seriously if you don't know this spoiler then you won't be watching this movie) in the 6th film, the overall tone of the series turns even darker in the final installment. The movie is set completely outside the walls of Hogwarts and focuses on the three main characters and their search to destroy several Horcruxes (objects that contain pieces of Lord Voldemort's soul). The first and last quarter of this movie are excellent and feature fast-paced action and killer special effects. You can really appreciate how far the Potter series has come and how it has entered the realm of other classic sci-fi / fantasy films. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have all grown nicely into their leading roles.

The problem with the movie as a whole though is the middle two quarters (half) of the story. We find Harry, Ron and Hermione milling about in the woods and camping out several times with some heavy plot exposition. It's all really REALLY boring and completely takes the wind out of the film's sails that was built up so nicely in the opening act. Kloves even decided to put in an awkward spontaneous dancing scene with Harry and Hermione that was not in the book. I found myself losing interest during this middle portion of the film and thankfully was treated to an outstanding final sequence that almost made up for the central snooze fest in the woods.

I suppose my criticism of this movie (barely 3.5 out of 5 JRs) stems mostly from the source material. The first part of the final book is rather boring at times and that transitions to the screen during a faithful adaptation. I feel that Yates has mastered the sinister portrayal of Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters and I wish more of the book focused on that evil side of the story. I'm hoping that Part Two of The Deathly Hallows improves upon this film and that the Harry Potter series can get the cinematic send off it deserves. As it stands, The Goblet of Fire is still my favorite Harry Potter movie (and book).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Movie Review: Morning Glory

I'm come to a conclusion. Rachel McAdams might be my favorite actress working today. She consistently gives good performances, is not annoying at all in any of her roles, looks pretty damn good and is totally believable in anything she does. McAdams completely carries Morning Glory, a quirky and often slow RomCom from the Bad Robot production studios (a J.J. Abrams joint). McAdams plays Becky, a TV producer who gets fired from a New Jersey morning show only to get a shot at being executive producer for a New York based morning show on a fifth place network (the fictional IBS).

Becky's biggest challenge is to get co-anchors Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford to play nicely together. Ford's character is a legend in the television journalism industry who is on the verge of retirement. He's lured back in to a fluffy daytime anchor job in order to make some more money towards the twilight of his career. Keaton's character feels that Ford is trying to step in and take some of her fame away from her. The two veteran actors do an admirable job of playing angry off each other. Ford is a little over-the-top with his deadpan voice and delivery as he plays the cranky old man role. Keaton is OK but nothing special and McAdams' love interest is a throw-away piece as well.

All in all this movie does a good job at depicting the behind-the-scenes nuances of network television. Several of the jokes do hit their mark but I found myself feeling a bit underwhelmed overall. There is nothing really "new" here and at times some of the chemistry seems forced, especially between McAdams and Ford. I hate to say it but Harrison is no longer an A-list talent in Hollywood. Yes his name is still notable and he is still a box office draw, but a good part of his appeal in his heyday was that he brought all of the physical traits to his performances.
As a headlining actor without a whip or a cool Star Wars vest, he just doesn't have that star power that he used to. I contrast what he's done lately with other aging stars as Robert De Niro and Clint Eastwood who still deliver strong performances at an advanced age. Thankfully we still have Rachel McAdams in her prime. Her performance alone lifts Morning Glory to 3 out 5 JRs. She really makes you believe that she's a driven young executive, hungry to succeed in the television industry.

One thing I failed to mention initially in writing this review is that the soundtrack for this film is probably one of the worst I've ever heard. Throughout the movie, song after song gets played way too loud in a tone that is so out of place. It was extremely distracting and took away from some of my enjoyment of the movie as a whole. We get goofy R&B ditties, Jack Johnson sound-a-like nonsense and other terrible songs that I would never want to hear again. Ideally a film's soundtrack should enhance the overall movie-going experience not severely hamper it.

Movie Review: Unstoppable

For the fifth time, Director Tony Scott and Denzel Washington have teamed up for another action thriller. Strangely enough, Unstoppable marks the second straight Scott/Washington combo that deals with trains. In last year's Taking of Pelham 123, Washington played an official in the underground subway industry. This time around Denzel is a train conductor above ground working one of his last shifts, operating an engine with the new up-and-coming company hire (Star Trek's Chris Pine).

Due to an error by a train worker, a fully linked multi-car train is on the loose, operating at speeds of over 50 MPH with no one driving it. Washington and Pine just happened to be in the wrong place and the wrong time and decide to try to run down the out-of-control train to slow it down before it reaches a populated area. As the action unfolds, we end up with three main characters in this movie: Washington, Pine and the runaway train itself. Scott does a great job with establishing the train as an independent character.

Unstoppable is an excellent action thriller that becomes a non-stop bundle of energy after the opening half-hour. Scott never eases up on the throttle and I never found myself bored or looking at my watch throughout the runaway train ordeal. Rosario Dawson is serviceable in a supporting role, but Denzel and Pine really do carry this film. Washington never really makes a bad movie and Pine is slowly but surely becoming one of the go-to young actors working today. The biggest problem I had with the movie was the constant coverage of Denzel's two daughters who worked as Hooters waitresses. Let's just say that their reaction of the perils that their dad was involved with on TV were rather unbelievable. Thankfully there is not much wrong with this movie and it really is one of the most exciting movies of 2010. A healthy 4 out of 5 JRs for Unstoppable.